Category: Ancient History Encyclopedia

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EMPRESS ZOE: ZOE Porphyrogenita was empress of…


ZOE Porphyrogenita was empress of the Byzantine Empire from 1028 CE until her death in 1050 CE. In an eventful career, she reigned alongside three husbands, had a hand in the succession of her adopted son, and, in 1042 CE, she was co-ruler with her sister Theodora. Zoe is the subject of a colourful and somewhat unflattering biography in the Chronographia of the 11th-century CE Byzantine historian Michael Psellos.

Zoe was born c. 978 CE, one of three daughters of ConstantineVIII (r. 1025-1028 CE). She first appears on the stage of history when her uncle emperor Basil II (r. 976-1025 CE) promised her in a marriage of alliance to Otto III (r. 996-1002 CE), the Holy Roman Emperor. Zoe, then 23 and said to have been a great beauty, set sail in 1001 CE from Constantinople, but on arrival at Bari, she was given the sad news that Otto had died of fever. It was one of those moments in history of “what might have been?”, if the imperial families of the two great empires of the west had been united. Instead, Zoe returned home to spend the next 27 years in the seclusion of the Great Palace of Constantinople, but her time would come.  

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ROMAN COINAGE: ROMAN coins were first produced…


ROMAN coins were first produced in the late 4th century BCE in Italy and continued to be minted for another eight centuries across the empire. Denominations and values more or less constantly changed but certain types such as the sestertii and denarii would persist and come to rank amongst the most famous coins in history.

Roman coinage, as in other societies, represented a guaranteed and widely recognised value which permitted an easy exchange of value which in turn drove both commerce and technology development as all classes could work to own coins which could be spent on all manner of goods and services. Even more significantly, large and identical payments could now be easily made which made possible a whole new scale of commercial activity. Coins also had a function as a vehicle to spread the imagery of the ruling class as coinage was the mass media of the day and often carried likenesses of emperors and famous imperial monuments which would be the nearest most Romans ever got to see of them.

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PUNIC WARS: The Punic Wars were a series of co…


The Punic Wars were a series of conflicts fought between the forces of ancient Carthage and Rome between 264 BCE and 146 BCE. The name Punic comes from the word Phoenician (Phoinix in the Greek, Poenus from Punicus in Latin) as applied to the citizens of Carthage, who were of Phoenician ethnicity. As the history of the conflict was written by Roman authors, they labeled it ‘The Punic Wars’. 

Carthage grew from a small port-of-call to the richest and most powerful city in the Mediterranean region before 260 BCE. She had a powerful navy, a mercenary army and, through tribute, tariffs, and trade, enough wealth to do as she pleased. Through a treaty with the small city of Rome, she barred Roman trade in the Western Mediterranean and, as Rome had no navy, was able to easily enforce the treaty. Roman traders caught in Carthaginian waters were drowned and their ships taken.

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MOUNT ATHOS: MOUNT Athos, located on the Chalk…


MOUNT Athos, located on the Chalkidike peninsula near Thessalonica, Greece, is a holy site which first saw hermit monks living there in the 9th century CE. Regarded as one of the most important monastic sites in the Byzantine Empire, there were at one time 46 monasteries on the mountain, which attracted monks from all over Europe and beyond. Today the peninsula boasts 20 monasteries, many of which offer a well-preserved glimpse into Byzantine monasticism as well as being treasuries of medieval Christian architecture, art, and manuscripts.

Mount Athos, height 1,935 m (6,350 ft), is situated on the easternmost of the three promontories of Chalkidike which is located to the southeast of the city of Thessalonica in northeast Greece. The name Athos comes from the giant of Greek mythology who threw a mountain into the sea. For the ancient Greeks this mountain, which descends directly into the Aegean Sea, was sacred to Zeus. The rocks of the peninsula certainly proved troublesome and were responsible for many shipwrecks, notably the entire fleet of the Persian king Darius on its way to the battle of Marathon in 491 BCE. As a result of this loss, a decade later Darius’ successor Xerxes decided to avoid the mountain altogether in his invasion of Greece and built a canal across the promontory which measured 2.4 km (1.5 miles) in length and up to 30 metres (100 ft.) in width. Another maritime victim of Athos was a Spartan fleet in 411 BCE during the Peloponnesian War.

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ROMULUS & REMUS: IN Roman mythology, Romul…


IN Roman mythology, Romulus and his twin brother Remus were the founders of the city of Rome. They were the children of Rhea Silvia and Mars (or in some variations the demi-god hero Hercules) and their story is recorded by many authors including Virgil who claims their birth and adventures were fated in order for Rome to be founded.

Romulus and Remus were the direct descendants of Aeneas, whose fate-driven adventures to discover Italy are described by Virgil in The Aeneid. Romulus and Remus were related to Aeneas through their mother’s father, Numitor. Numitor was a king of Alba Longa, an ancient city of Latium in central Italy, and father to Rhea Silvia. Before Romulus’ and Remus’ conception, Numitor’s reign was usurped by Nimitor’s younger brother, Amulius. Amulius inherited control over Alba Longa’s treasury with which he was able to dethrone Numitor and become king. Amulius, wishing to avoid any conflict of power, killed Nimitor’s male heirs and forced Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin. Vestal Virgins were priestesses of Vesta, patron goddess of the hearth; they were charged with keeping a sacred fire that was never to be extinguished and to take vows of chastity.

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TEMPLE OF GARNI: The Temple of Garni (Armenian…


The Temple of Garni (Armenian: “Garnu tacar”) is located in the village of Garni in Kotayk Province, Armenia, and it was once a pagan temple dedicated to the Armenian sun god Mihr. Built in the middle of the 1st century CE, the Temple of Garni remarkably survived the destruction of pagan temples following Armenia’s conversion to Christianity in the 4th century CE, and countless invasions and earthquakes until its collapse in 1679 CE. After continuous excavations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries CE, the Temple of Garni was reconstructed between 1969-1975 CE. Today, it is the only free-standing Greco-Roman structure in Armenia and seen by many as a potent symbol of Armenia’s classical past as well as its deep historical ties to the civilizations of Greece and Rome.

The Temple of Garni is situated in a very strategic location, on a cliff, overlooking a range of the Geghama mountains as well as the Azat River near the Ararat Plain. Located 30 km (19 mi) from Yerevan, the Temple of Garni is quite near Geghard Monastery, which is only 11 km (7 mi) up the Azat River, and not too far from the ancient capital of Artashat. The site was inhabited in prehistoric times, and there is evidence that it was also used by the Urartians between the 8th-6th centuries BCE.

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SHEILA Hoffman looks at colour in ancient Gr…

SHEILA Hoffman looks at colour in ancient Greek sculpture. Contrary to popular belief, the ancient Greeks actually painted their statues… they were not white! 

This is the first video in a series of 4 so make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel, if you haven’t already.