Welcome to Londinium
The Roman outpost of Londinium, a lonely collection of cottages along the banks of a dark and unknown river, was typical of a Roman armed camp in hostile territory. The Romans expected trouble from the natives, and they got it. In the 160 years of Roman occupation, the city was attacked countless times and burned down twice. Let’s take a walk down the muddy streets of Roman London, a frontier town in a very dangerous neighborhood.
The English Countryside In the Time Of The Romans
A wide and lazy river winds through a lonely forest. Bears, stag, and even forest lions still roam these hills, beautiful and green in the summer but bitter and cold the winter through. There is good fishing and swimming, and the southern bank of the river is close enough that they might build a bridge there someday.
Just a little downstream of where the Fleet River joins the Thames, between Walbrook Creek and the marsh, there are two small hills by the river. Between them is an open field, and it is here that the Romans have built their settlement.
Until the amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann began excavating the supposed site of the city of Troy, writes Hilary Green, people believed that the story of the Trojan War was just a legend. Schliemann proved that not only had Troy existed, but it had been destroyed and rebuilt many times. He then moved on to excavate Mycenae, the city of Agamemnon, leader of the Greeks, and found evidence of a rich and sophisticated society, where the palaces were decorated with beautiful frescoes and the dead were buried with their faces covered by masks of beaten gold. Yet for three thousand years, the only indication that Mycenae had ever existed was the Lion Gate which was still visible above the ruins.
The City of Pylos
What happened to destroy Mycenae and its associated cities so completely that they were consigned to the realm of myth? The first clues came when Carl Blegen from the university of Cincinnati began to excavate the city of Pylos on the west coast of the Peloponnese. Pylos was the fabled city of King Nestor, who plays a large role in the Iliad. Sure enough, Blegen uncovered the remains of a palace and surrounding buildings situated on top of the hill of Epano Englianos. It was a sumptuous building, with a wide courtyard leading to a colonnaded portico that gave entrance to the megaron, the main hall and throne room of Nestor and his descendants. (Pictured is the Lion Gate, the entrance to the city of Mycenae and the only evidence of its existence that was visible before Heinrich Schliemann started excavating).
Aristotle was perhaps the first and the greatest of all polymaths. He is known to have written on everything from the shape of seashells to sterility, from speculations on the nature of the soul to meteorology, poetry and art, and even the interpretation of dreams. He is said to have transformed every field of knowledge that he touched (apart from mathematics, where Plato and Platonic thought remained supreme). Above all, Aristotle is credited with the founding of logic.
When Aristotle first divided human knowledge into separate categories, this enabled our understanding of the world to develop in a systematic fashion. But in recent centuries our knowledge expanded to the point where it was being seriously hindered by this categorisation. Such systems of thought allowed knowledge to develop only along certain predetermined paths, many of which were in danger of petering out. A radically different approach was needed. The result is the modern world of science.
The fact that it took us over twenty centuries to discover these limitations in Aristotle’s thought only demonstrates his unparalleled originality. Yet even the demise of Aristotelian thought has given rise to many fascinating philosophical questions. How many more of these limitations have we yet to discover? How dangerous are these flaws in our way of thinking? And exactly what are they preventing us from learning?
On a promontory above the village of Stagira, in northern Greece, stands a rather uninspired modern statue of Aristotle. Its expressionless face gazes out over the lumpy wooded hills toward the distant blue Aegean. Aristotle’s pristine white marble form, almost luminescent in the brilliant sunlight, wears a décolleté toga and sandals, bearing a slightly chipped scroll in its left hand. (This damage is said to be the work of a souvenir-hunting Argentinean philosophy professor.) Carved into the plinth in Greek are the words ‘Aristotle the Stagirite’.
More than 3,300 years ago a man named Akhenaten rose to power to rule over Egypt during the 18th dynasty. His radical belief in monotheism was cause for alarm during his reign and later rulers of Egypt tried to omit him from the official lists of kings. The Pharaoh Akhenhaten, who came to the throne in 1353 BCE, is an attractive figure to historians and archeologists: what possessed a pharaoh to abandon all the traditional gods and put so much effort into one deity? What caused his rapid fall from grace following his death? Was he the father of the boy king, Tutankhamun, and why did images of Akhenaten depict him with such strange features?
Shortly after coming to power, the new pharaoh changed his name from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten, meaning “He who is of service to the Aten”, in honor of what he believed to be the one true god. Although he initially allowed the continued worship of traditional Egyptian gods, he eventually forbade worship of any deity other than the Aten.
Akhenaten is believed to be the world’s first monotheist by putting his faith in a single god (although other gods were still mentioned in inscriptions). His belief in the one god, Aten, was so powerful that he moved his capitol city from Thebes, one of the largest cities in Egypt at the time, to the city of Akhetaten (modern-day Amarna). This city was to be a tribute to the sun disc god and roughly translates as “Horizon of Aten”.
Akhenaten began removing depictions of other gods as he pushed his people to follow his monotheistic view. Statues, carvings, and paintings of other deities were defaced or destroyed. Any tribute or economic gains offered to other gods were absorbed into the new belief system.
Hypatia of Alexandria, the fourth century philosopher, lived during a period of religious and cultural transformation. Under Emperor Theodosius I, a slow but inexorable campaign had begun that was to replace the traditional pagan religion and culture of the Roman Empire with an Orthodox Christian authority.
The Emperor issued edicts that limited the public activities of pagans and stopped imperial subsidies to Rome’s main public cults. In Alexandria, a cosmopolitan city where daily cultural exchange among pagans and Christians was commonplace, the effects of this official marginalization of paganism sometimes resulted in violence. One flashpoint resulted in the murder of Hypatia in 415, the culmination of growing political tensions between rival Christian and pagan factions. (Pictured is a 1908 depiction of Hypatia by Elbert Hubbard).
The Life of Hypatia
Hypatia of Alexandria was born into an intellectual family. Her father, Theon, was a mathematician and connected with Alexandria’s famed Museum. She was educated by him, and progressed from mathematics to the study of philosophy. She ran her own philosophical school in Alexandria, attracting both pagan and Christian students. One of her most famous students was Synesius of Cyrene, later a bishop of Ptolemais, whose correspondence with Hypatia and his fellow students provides some insights into the activity within her classroom.
During the third century BCE, the city of Alexandria was home to a remarkable event in the development of ancient medicine as two physicians, named Herophilus and Erasistratus, conducted ground-breaking investigations into internal human anatomy. This research was important not only because it corrected many ancient misconceptions about the body, but because the doctors are believed to have reached their conclusions by dissecting human corpses, a practice outlawed in the Ancient World.
Although both doctors are known to have written several books, no complete work by either author survives. Our knowledge of the two physicians therefore comes from references and quotes by later writers.
Anatomy at Alexandria
‘Let it be your serious concern not only to learn accurately from books the shape of each bone, but also to carry out a keen visual examination of the human bones… This is very easy at Alexandria… [and] for this reason, if for no other, try a visit to the city.’ - Galen, On Anatomical Procedures
Founded in 331 BCE by Alexander the Great, the ancient city of Alexandria was the purpose-built capital of Greek-ruled Ptolemaic Egypt. Designed to act as a link between Greece and the fertile Nile Valley, Alexandria was located on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast and served as both an economic and cultural centre. Continue reading
On 4 November 1922, Howard Carter made one of the most remarkable and important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century. In the Valley of the Kings, he unearthed the tomb of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, a boy king named Tutankhamun. Unlike every other tomb excavated in modern times, it quickly became apparent that Tutankhamun’s resting place had not been entirely ransacked by grave robbers soon after it was sealed. An unparalleled wealth of extraordinary treasures, that had lain buried for over three millennia, were about to be revealed to the world.
Years of Searching
Howard Carter was born in Britain in 1874 and developed a passion for Egypt in his youth. He first journeyed to the Land of the Pharaohs at the age of seventeen and in 1907 began working for Lord Carnarvon, a British aristocrat who often passed the winter in Egypt due to ill health. Carnarvon provided funding for excavations and was granted a license to dig in the Valley of the Kings, where Carter believed the tomb of Tutankhamun was located.
Work was put on hold during World War One, but Carter maintained that several funerary items he had uncovered, all bearing the name Tutankhamun, constituted strong evidence that there was a tomb to be found. Excavations continued from 1917 to 1922, but after five years no significant discoveries had been made. Carnarvon was losing faith and interest in Carter’s endeavours, but granted him funding for one last season in the Valley of the Kings. On 1 November 1922, Carter’s men set to work.
The First Step
Howard Carter was both methodical and meticulous in his techniques, dividing the area into rectangles and marking them off one by one. On 4 November, his patience and logic were finally rewarded, as a stone step was uncovered in one of the final spaces to be excavated. Removal of sand soon revealed fifteen more steps, at the bottom of which stood a sealed doorway.
Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean and perhaps most famously in historical terms, it is the home of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. There is evidence of human settlement that stretches back over 12,000 years. Consequently, it’s full of historical sites to explore, many of which have been exceptionally well preserved by the hot and generally dry Cypriot climate. Flights to Cyprus take around four hours making it an easily accessible holiday destination. Despite its title as the third largest island in the Med, Cyprus is relatively small which is ideal for visitors wanting to see as much as they can in a shorter space of time. There are over 170 sites which could be considered historically interesting; we’ve put together a list of our top five.
Khirokitia (also spelled Choirokoitia)
Khirokitia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features the remains of a settlement that dates back to the Neolithic period. Although it’s unclear when the site was first inhabited, it appears it was abandoned quite suddenly circa 6000BC. Khirokitia was finally fully excavated in the late 1970s and some of the original buildings have been reconstructed to give visitors an idea of what it would have been like. It’s estimated that the village was never home to more than about 600 people at any one time and they existed primarily from subsistence farming.
Gambling is a hugely popular activity and has been so for as long as the old tales can retell. It is one of mankind’s oldest activities and evidence of the art has been found across the globe throughout the ages. Gambling is as old as history itself.
One of the first mentions of gambling was in Ancient Roman and Greek history. Everyone, from the upper elite to the peasants and slaves enjoyed gambling and while it was illegal at the time, many still regularly practised it.
The Romans worshipped many gods, and among them, the goddess named Fortuna was considered to be the ruler of fortune and chance. Several temples were erected throughout the Velabrum and the Roman Forum in her glory and she became known as Felictas, meaning “good fortune” or “good luck”. She became a symbol of wealth and prosperity in the Roman Empire, and was called upon by gamblers when wagering and making bets.
The Greeks, much like their Egyptian predecessors, also believed that the act of gambling had been born from the Gods. According to Ancient Greek mythology, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades cast lots to win parts of the Universe. After the final wager had taken place, Zeus won the Heaves, Poseidon the sea and Hades, who got the short straw, won over the Underworld. Many mentions have been made in history as to the gods betting over the power of mere mortals.
Ramesses II was about twenty years of age when he succeeded his father, Sety I, a leading general, to the throne of Upper and Lower Egypt. His royal wife, Nefertari (not to be confused with Nefertiti), remained his primary wife and his great love until she died at an early age. Nefertari whose name means ‘the most beautiful’ was laid to rest in an exquisitely decorated rock-cut tomb in the Valley of the Queens.
Ramesses the Great, as he was known, ruled Egypt for sixty-seven years, coming to power, Egyptologists believe, on 31 May 1279 BCE. During his reign the Egyptian Empire was greatly expanded through both military conquests and treaties. The two great foes of the Egyptians during this period were the Hittites, who emerged from southern Turkey as a fearless and ruthless power bent on expansion, and the Nubians to the south in modern-day Sudan, whose desire always had been to campaign northwards to overthrow Egypt and acquire the fertile Nile valley for their own nation.
Ramesses and Nefertari
Ramesses the Great mounted military excursions and repelled Nubia on several occasions. He ordered a temple to be built on the banks of the Nile at Egypt’s southern border (at Abu Simbel) where four colossal statues of Pharaoh Ramesses glowered menacingly at anyone who might dare to challenge his might. On the same site he erected a beautiful temple for Nefertari, dedicated to the goddess Hathor. Nefertari is shown in statues at the front of the temple standing next to Ramesses the Great. Her statues are the same size as those of Ramesses, an almost unheard of tribute to his royal wife. The inscription reads, Nefertari, for whom the sun does shine.