Friday, September 4, 2015

Site in Athens revealed as an ancient temple of twin gods Apollo and Artemis

Ancient Origins

An ancient well has been uncovered in Kerameikos in central Athens, Greece, with inscriptions calling upon Apollo, the Greek god of prophecy. Archaeologists speculate that Kerameikos seers used the well to try to foretell the future using hydromancy rituals.
It is the first known place in Athens where Apollo was invoked to divine the future, in this case by consulting the waters to see if the god would deliver messages or visions in them.  (“Hydro” means water and “mancy” means divination or prophet).  The archaeological team working at the site, from the German Archaeological Institute, says the oracle (a shrine consecrated to the worship and consultation of a prophetic deity) was in use in early Roman times.
“The finding is exceptionally significant as it identifies the spot as the first and unique Apollo divination site in Athens, confirming the worshipping of the ancient god along with his sister Artemis and restoring the accurate interpretation of the site as a shrine rendered by K. Mylonas in the late 19th century to a third goddess, Hecate,” says the Archaeology News Network.
The wall of the well has the phrase:  ΕΛΘΕ ΜΟΙ Ω ΠΑΙΑΝ ΦΕΡΩΝ ΤΟ ΜΑΝΤΕΙΟΝ ΑΛΗΘΕC, which means 'Come to me, Paean [a common epithet refering to Apollo], and bring the truthful prophecy.’ The site has 20 inscriptions with the same content, which reveals the place as the only oracle of Apollo in Athens where he was worshipped along with Artemis, a goddess of the wilds, chastity and girls.
Apollo and Artemis on a Greek cup from about 470 BC. Apollo, who was the Archer, is on the left. Artemis, the huntress, is shown with the bow.
Apollo and Artemis on a Greek cup from about 470 BC. Apollo, who was the Archer, is on the left. Artemis, the huntress, is shown with the bow. (Wikimedia Commons)
Kerameikos was also a settlement of potters and a burial ground from about 2700 BC. The uncovering of the well and apparent shrine to Apollo and Artemis from the Roman era shed new light on the full significance of the site.
The worship of the god and goddess together at the same site seems to point to a yin and yang type of dichotomy: Apollo, famous for his pursuit of nymphs, was worshiped as the protector of domestic flocks and herds and the patron of the founding of colonies and cities. While Artemis, who protected girls, seems to recall an earlier time as the goddess of hunting and nature.
A 5th century BC funerary stele with griffins and other figures from Kerameikos cemetery
A 5th century BC funerary stele with griffins and other figures from Kerameikos cemetery (Photo by Marsyas/Wikimedia Commons)
The book The Goddess Within quotes A History of Greek Religion: “Artemis was the most popular goddess of Greece, but the Artemis of popular belief was quite a different person from the proud virgin of mythology, Apollo’s sister. Artemis is the goddess of wild Nature, she haunts the woods, the groves, the luscious meadows. A favorite subject of archaic art is the figure formerly called ‘the Persian Artemis,’ now the ‘Mistress of Animals,’ a woman holding in her hands four-footed animals or birds of different kinds.”
While the site of Kerameikos is the only known oracle to Apollo in Athens, he had other oracles, including at Delphi on Mount Paranassus, where he slew the Python that protected the place, which had been considered magical from great antiquity.
At Delphi, a Pythia or priestess, first young virgins and later crones, would repeat prophecies or oracles Apollo revealed to her. This was a different kind of oracle than the one at Kerameikos, which involved water.
“Priestess of Delphi”, by John Collier.
“Priestess of Delphi”, by John Collier. Photo source: Wikimedia.
The Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend says Apollo was sometimes called Loxias, which means crooked or ambiguous, because his prophecies were hard to understand. However, Plutarch seems to contradict this in his work Moralia:
The prophetic priestesses are moved [by the god] each in accordance with her natural faculties.  . . .  As a matter of fact, the voice is not that of a god, nor the utterance of it, nor the diction, nor the meter, but all these are the woman's; he [Apollo] puts into her mind only the visions, and creates a light in her soul in regard to the future; for inspiration is precisely this.
In an article titled “The Delphic Oracle” at the Theosophical Society’s website, Eloise Hart writes that the oracles were unusually clear and direct. And other websites that recount some of the prophecies showed how they came true, though modern people may ask whether historical events were later attributed to an earlier Pythia. The Delphic injuction “Know Thyself” was carved into the lintel of Apollo’s temple at Delphi. Could there be a pithier (Pythia) admonition?
Hydromancy, as opposed to the serpent oracle, involved reading the movements, flows and changes in water as well as the visions that a seer might see in them. Similarly, when fortunetellers gaze into crystals they may see visions, ghosts or future events.
Featured image: This is the mouth of the well where modern archaeologists believe ancient Athenians invoked Apollo to tell the future in the water. (Photo by Greek Ministry of Culture)
By Mark Miller

Rare ancient sarcophagus discovered in Israel

An Israeli Antiquities Authority employee cleans an 1,800 years old stone sarcophagus. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

An elaborate ancient sarcophagus has been discovered at a building site in the Israeli city of Ashkelon, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Thursday.
However, the sarcophagus, which is around 1,800 years old, was severely damaged when building contractors attempted to remove it improperly from the ground, according to officials.
The Israel Antiquities Authority said that it will take legal action against those involved.
Described as one of the rarest sarcophagi ever discovered in Israel, the stone coffin weighs 2 tons and is 8.2 feet long. Sculpted on all sides, a life-size figure of a person is sculpted on the sarcophagus’ lid.
Related: Israeli archaeologists unearth unique stepped structure in City of David
“One side of the sarcophagus lid is adorned with the carved image of a man leaning on his left arm,” explained Gabi Mazor, a retired archaeologist and expert on the classical periods, in an Israel Antiquities Authority press release. “He is wearing a short-sleeved shirt decorated with embroidery on the front. A tunic is wrapped around his waist. The figure’s eyes were apparently inlaid with precious stones that have disappeared and the hair is arranged in curls, in a typical Roman hairstyle.”
The other side of the lid features a carved relief of a metal amphora, a vessel used for transporting liquids such as wine, from which there are intertwining tendrils bearing grape clusters and grape leaves. The sarcophagus is also decorated with wreaths and images of bulls' heads, naked Cupids, and the head of the mythical creature Medusa.
The sarcophagus, which was apparently excavated last week, was repeatedly struck by a tractor in different places, scarring the stone and damaging the decorations sculpted by on its sides, according to the press release.
“The irreparable damage was caused by contractors who encountered the impressive sarcophagus during the course of their work,” officials explained. “They decided to hide it, pulled it out of the ground with a tractor while aggressively damaging it, concealed it beneath a stack of sheet metal and boards and poured a concrete floor in the lot so as to conceal any evidence of the existence of the antiquities site.”
Related: Egypt invites expert behind new theory on Nefertiti's tomb
"This is an extremely serious case of damage to a rare antiquity of unprecedented artistic, historical and cultural importance,” said Amir Ganor, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Inspection Department.

History Trivia - Athelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, crowned King of England.

Sept 4

 476 Romulus Augustus, last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, was deposed when the barbarian Odoacer proclaimed himself King of Italy, and ended the Western Roman Empire. 

925 Athelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, was crowned King of England. First elected king of Wessex and Mercia, Athelstan was crowned king of the entire country at Kingston. 

1666 (September 2-5) Great Fire of London destroyed the medieval city of London inside the old Roman city wall. The fire also threatened but spared the aristocratic district of Westminster, Charles II's Palace of Whitehall; unfortunately St. Paul's cathedral was destroyed.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Life of the Week: Hatshepsut

History Extra

Hatshepsut was one of the longest-reigning and most prominent female pharaohs of ancient Egypt

A statue of Hatshepsut in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, US. (Credit: © M.Flynn / Alamy)

Hailed as one of the most politically minded pharaohs to ever rule ancient Egypt, until the 19th century surprisingly little was known about her reign.
In a new series beginning this week on BBC Two, Dr Amanda Foreman reveals the remarkable stories of women who made their mark on history, including Hatshepsut. Here, we explore the life of one of ancient Egypt’s most successful rulers…
Born: c1508 BC
Died: c1458 BC
Remembered for: Being one of the most prominent female pharaohs in ancient Egyptian history. Hatshepsut is praised for taking a great interest in the administration of her kingdom, and for constructing some of Egypt’s most famous buildings, including the temple of Deir el-Bahri, located on the west bank of the Nile.
Until the 19th century, historians were unaware of Hatshepsut’s reign, as all traces of her rule were destroyed under the commands of her successor – her stepson, Thutmose III. Any images, inscriptions or monuments relating to her were ordered to be demolished.
Family: Hatshepsut was the daughter of King Thutmose I, a pharaoh of ancient Egypt. Her mother, Ahmose, was an Egyptian queen.
Thutmose I had another wife, Mutnofret, and together they had a son who succeeded as the pharaoh Thutmose II after Thutmose I’s death in around 1492 BC. Upon her father’s death, Hatshepsut married her half-brother when she was around 12 years old, and together they had one daughter named Neferure.
Her life: Hatshepsut was born into one of the most famous dynasties of ancient Egypt – the 18th dynasty. This dynasty produced the some of the most prominent pharaohs in history, including Tutankhamun.
Despite being of royal descent, Hatshepsut was never expected to become a pharaoh of Egypt. In order to protect the dynasty’s lineage from rivaling noble families, heirs were encouraged to marry their siblings and close family members. In around 1492 BC, Hatshepsut was married to her half-brother Thutmose II.
In approximately 1479 BC, Hatshepsut’s husband died, leaving his young son from another marriage to inherit the throne. As was customary at the time, Hatshepsut acted as a regent on behalf of her stepson, Thutmose III, who was around three years old.
However, in around 1486 BC, after holding the position of regent for nearly seven years, Hatshepsut demanded more political power. Consequently, she was promoted to the position of co-ruler alongside Thutmose III. Despite being equal rulers, some historians have argued that Hatshepsut dominated political decisions throughout their joint rule, and that the young Thutmose III was not as involved in governmental decisions.

A depiction of Hatshepsut's trading expedition to the Land of Punt on the walls of the mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri. (Credit: Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
Historians are also divided on Hatshepsut’s motive for taking control of the throne. While some have argued she did so out of sheer ambition, more recent historians have suggested there might have been a threat to the throne from a rivaling branch of the royal family at the time, and that Hatshepsut became a co-ruler in order to secure and protect her family’s control of the throne.
Determined to demonstrate her authority as a legitimate pharaoh, Hatshepsut developed Egypt’s economy through the expansion of trade. Early in her reign, she launched an expedition to the Land of Punt, one of Egypt’s traditional trading allies. The ships brought back masses of gold and ivory, along with numerous myrrh trees. This great expedition was so significant at the time that it was later commemorated on the walls of the temple of Deir el-Bahri.
Hatshepsut also made her mark on the landscape of Egypt. She rebuilt many buildings, created impressive temples, and restored the Temple of Karnak that her father, King Thutmose I, had built. Hatshepsut also expanded the temple by building a chapel and assembling two obelisks that towered at nearly 100 feet.
Hatshepsut is believed to have died in around 1458 BC, though archaeologists are unsure of the precise date. Hatshepsut was laid to rest at the mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri. Her father’s sarcophagus was reinterred with her in her tomb – Hatshepsut had requested that it be moved there after her death.
Following Hatshepsut’s death, her stepson, Thutmose III, became the sole pharaoh of Egypt and ruled for around another 30 years. During the later years of his reign, Thutmose III attempted to destroy any evidence of Hatshepsut’s rule. Originally, historians argued that Thutmose was motivated by animosity towards his stepmother’s overriding power during their joint reign. However, historians have since suggested that Thutmose was faced with the threat of usurpation from rivaling family members at this time, and so he ordered Hatshepsut’s name to be eradicated in order to strengthen his position on the throne and secure his heir’s succession.

The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut in Egypt. (Credit: Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
With traces of Hatshepsut’s reign demolished, until the 19th century there was very little evidence available of her rule. In the 1800s, archaeologists began to translate the hieroglyphics that adorn the walls of the temple of Deir el-Bahri. These revealed Hatshepsut’s position as a pharaoh and her success as a female ruler.
Howard Carter, the British archeologist who later discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, located the first of Hatshepsut’s sarcophaguses in 1903, but it was found to be empty. In 1904, two additional sarcophagi were found in the Valley of the Kings.
More than a century later, in 2007, Hatshepsut’s mummy was finally discovered in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. It is now held at The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo.

Submitted by: Jessica Hope

Archaeologists unearth marble sarcophagus from ancient Thracian burial mound

Ancient Origins

Archaeologists from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia in Bulgaria have discovered a massive ancient marble sarcophagus in the south east of the country. It once belonged to an aristocrat in Thrace, a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe, centered on the modern borders of Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey.
The mound (tumulus) in which the tomb was found can be dated to the third century AD in the Roman period, and is located near the town of Boyanovo in Bulgaria’s Elhovo Municipality. The sarcophagus is 2.7 meters (8.8 feet) long and 1.4 meters (4.6 feet) wide with walls that are 15 centimeters (6 inches) thick and archaeologist Daniela Agre and her team have estimated its weight at around 6 metric tons (2,200 pounds).
The ancient Thracian marble sarcophagus once housed a coffin and a body, as well as numerous artifacts. It’s thought to date to the third century AD.
The ancient Thracian marble sarcophagus once housed a coffin and a body, as well as numerous artifacts. It’s thought to date to the third century AD. Credit: ElhovoNews
The archaeologists have also discovered a colonnade, and a second tomb constructed of brick masonry which has murals painted on its walls. However, the mound has been raided on several occasions by treasure hunters, over at least the past couple of centuries, meaning that many artifacts that the tomb may have contained are now lost. One of the raiders was a local Turkish Bey (a governor during the period when the country was occupied by the Ottoman Empire). Nevertheless, the archaeologists managed to recover a number of minor items that the treasure hunters overlooked.
The Romans conquered much of the area south of the Danube in 46 AD. The Thracian rulers were subsequently absorbed into the Roman provincial aristocracy. Thrace itself was named after the Thracian tribes by the Ancient Greeks. The word may also refer to a mythological character who was a sorceress and daughter of Oceanus and Parthenope. Her sister was Europa, after whom the continent of Europe was named. Thrax, an ancestor of the Greeks who was a son of the war god Ares, was also said to reside in Thrace. In Homer’s Illiad, the Thracians allied themselves to Troy during the Trojan War and the city-state is also mentioned in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Painting depciting the legend of Europa and the White Bull, Zeus. The sorceress ‘Thrace’ was said to be daughter of Oceanus and sister to Europa.
Painting depciting the legend of Europa and the White Bull, Zeus. The sorceress ‘Thrace’ was said to be daughter of Oceanus and sister to Europa. Public Domain
“We have an exceptional archaeological site here” said Ms. Agre, speaking to The ElhovoNews, in turn reported by the Archaeology in Bulgaria website. “This mound also presents interesting events from Bulgaria’s more recent past. Its ‘excavation’ began in the middle of the 19th century by the bey of Boyanovo who, in his search for treasures, had the local peasants dig up the mound. They found a very interesting sarcophagus, crushed its lid, and found inside a golden vessel, and several silver and bronze vessels.”
Agre added that these events were recorded at the end of the 19th century by two Czech-Bulgarian brothers called Karel and Hermann Skorpil, who are widely considered to be the founders of modern Bulgarian archaeology following the liberation of the country from the Ottoman Empire in 1878. The treasure in the sarcophagus inspired the locals to start talking about the King’s Mound, which had been unknown until the present discovery.
When the archaeologists investigated the site, they found that the mound had been raided in 2000. Indeed, the investigation itself was triggered by reports of more digging by treasure hunters earlier this year. The local people heard that they had reached the sarcophagus and that’s when they alerted the authorities. Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture decided a rescue mission was in order.
“Our goal has been to unearth the sarcophagus, and to prepare it for its moving to the Elhovo Museum of Ethnography and Archaeology” Agre continued. “In the course of time, the sarcophagus had filled up [with earth]. Inside it, we have found a very interesting fragment from an alabaster vessel, several fragments of glass vessels, a bronze buckle. All of these are item demonstrating the wealth of the buried Thracian aristocrat who lived during the Roman Age. Based on the materials that we have found, our estimation is the beginning of the third century AD.”
The occupant of the tomb was placed in a coffin inside the sarcophagus. Archaeologists have discovered fragments of its lid, which means it could be restored by a skilled craftsman.
The brightly painted murals inside the Thracian tomb of Aleksandrovo, at Haskovo Province, South-Eastern Bulgaria. Representational image only.
The brightly painted murals inside the Thracian tomb of Aleksandrovo, at Haskovo Province, South-Eastern Bulgaria. Representational image only. (KLMircea, Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)
The colonnade dates to the Roman period and may have been constructed in front of a façade, with columns on both sides. This may be related to the second tomb, built of masonry, and decorated with murals in a number of colors, including yellow, green, blue and shades of red. The murals also incorporate floral and geometric motifs. Unfortunately, this tomb has also been raided, first in the Antiquity period and also more recently.
Ruins of an ancient colonnade were found at the recently unearthed King’s Mound in Boyanovo, Bulgaria.
Ruins of an ancient colonnade were found at the recently unearthed King’s Mound in Boyanovo, Bulgaria. Credit: ElhovoNews
Bulgaria is home to hundreds of such rich burial mounds, such as the Thracian tombs of Sveshtari and Kazanlak, UNESCO World Heritage sites. It is thought they might represent royal burials.
Beautiful friezes are found within the Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari, Bulgaria.
Beautiful friezes are found within the Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari, Bulgaria. (KLMircea, Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)
Featured image: The commanding stone walls and doorways of the Thracian tomb of Kazanlak in Bulgaria. Such Thracian tombs are found across Bulgaria, such as the King’s Mound and marble sarcophagus as unearthed by archaeologists at Boyanovo recently. Representational image only. (KLMircea, Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)
By: Robin Whitlock

Take a flyover tour of ancient Rome [video]

History Trivia - Edward III of England begins the siege of Calais,

Sept 3

36 BC In the Battle of Naulochus, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, admiral of Octavian, defeated Sextus Pompeius, son of Pompey, which ended Pompeian resistance to the Second Triumvirate.

189 Richard I of England (the Lionhearted) was crowned King at Westminster.

 1346 Edward III of England began the siege of Calais, along the coast of France.