Category: Ancient History Encyclopedia


THE Tower of London is a castle located in London alongside the River Thames which was first built by William the Conqueror from c. 1077 CE and significantly added to over the centuries. Often referred to in England as simply ‘the Tower’, it has served as a fortress, palace, prison, treasury, arsenal, and zoo. Fallen kings, queens, and traitors were amongst those sent to the Tower, although surprisingly few inmates were executed within the castle’s grounds. Today, it is a major tourist attraction with visitors eager to experience for themselves a place steeped in the history of England like no other, to admire the picturesque Beefeaters, and be dazzled by the fabulous Crown Jewels.  

When William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy won the Battle of Hastings in 1066 CE and embarked on the Norman Conquest of England, the new king sought to make his realm secure by building motte and bailey castles at strategically important locations. London was an obvious choice for a new castle and so work began on what would become the Tower of London around 1077 CE. The castle was one of the first in England to have a free-standing tower keep or donjon. 

Work continued until c. 1100 CE using Kentish ragstone with details using dressed limestone from Caen in Normandy, and by the time it was finished, the two-storey rectangular tower was so impressive it gave its name to the whole castle: the Tower of London. The keep only received its now-famous name, the White Tower, thanks to a whitewashing project in 1240 CE using white lime.

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THE Ten Thousand Immortals were the elite force of the Persian army of the Achaemenid Empire (c. 550-330 BCE). They formed the king’s personal bodyguard and were also considered the shock troops of the infantry in Persian warfare. Their name comes from the policy of always keeping their number at exactly 10,000; if one of their number were killed or could not otherwise fulfill his responsibilities, another was chosen to replace him, thus giving the impression that they could not be killed and so were immortal and invincible.

They are first mentioned by Herodotus (l. c. 484-425/413 BCE) in his Histories (VII.83.1, VII.211.1, VIII.113.2), and later writers who mention them such as Heracleides of Cumae (c. 350 BCE) or Athenaeus of Naucratis (l. 2nd/early 3rd century CE) and others are thought to have drawn on Herodotus’ work. Whether writers such as Xenophon (l. 430 – c. 354 BCE) or Polyaenus (l. 2nd century CE) who also mention them drew on Herodotus as well seems unlikely since they both provide information not found in Herodotus’ Histories. Xenophon, who fought as a mercenary in Persia for Cyrus the Younger (d. 401 BCE) would have no doubt heard stories of the Immortals.

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THE Mongol Empire (1206-1368 CE) eventually dominated Asia from the Black Sea to the Korean peninsula following the initial conquests of its founder Genghis Khan (aka Chinggis, r. 1206-1227 CE), the first Great Khan or ‘universal ruler’ of the Mongol peoples. Genghis forged the empire by uniting the nomadic tribes of the Asian steppe and creating a devastatingly effective army based on fast, light, and highly coordinated cavalry. Expert horsemen and archers, the Mongols proved unstoppable, defeating armies in Iran, Russia, Eastern Europe, China, and many other places.

The descendants of Genghis each ruled a part of the empire – the four khanates – the most powerful of which was the Mongol Yuan Dynasty in China (1271-1368 CE), established by Kublai Khan (r. 1260-1279 CE). Eventually, the Mongols became part of the sedentary societies they had so easily overwhelmed and many converted from traditional shamanism to Tibetan Buddhism or Islam. This was a general symptom of the Mongols not only losing part of their cultural identity but also, too, their famed military prowess, as the four khanates all succumbed to damaging dynastic disputes and the armies of their rivals.

Although not famed for creating any lasting architectural wonders or political institutions, the Mongols did make the significant contribution to world culture of finally connecting the eastern and western worlds via expanded trade routes, diplomatic embassies and the movement of missionaries and travellers from Eurasia to the Far East.

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PERSIA (roughly modern-day Iran) is among the oldest inhabited regions in the world. Archaeological sites in the country have established human habitation dating back 100,000 years to the Paleolithic Age with semi-permanent settlements (most likely for hunting parties) established before 10,000 BCE. The ancient kingdom of Elam in this area was among the most advanced of its time (its oldest settlement, the archaeological site of Chogha Bonut, dates to c. 7200 BCE) before parts of it were conquered by the Sumerians, later completely by the Assyrians, and then by the Medes.

The Median Empire (678-550 BCE) was followed by one of the greatest political and social entities of the ancient world, the Persian Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BCE) which was conquered by Alexander the Great and later replaced by the Seleucid Empire (312-63 BCE), Parthia (247 BCE-224 CE), and the Sassanian Empire (224 – 651 CE) in succession. The Sassanian Empire was the last of the Persian governments to hold the region before the Muslim Arab conquest of the 7th century CE.

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Roman Republic & Empire – Government & Social Structure:

Our editor, Joshua J. Mark, has put together this mini podcast series on the government and social structure of ancient Rome. Enjoy! 



AUTHORITY in ancient Rome was complex, and as one can expect from Rome, full of tradition, myth, and awareness of their own storied history. Perhaps the ultimate authority was imperium, the power to command the Roman army. Potestas was legal power belonging to the various roles of political offices. There was also auctoritas, a kind of intangible social authority tied to reputation and status. 

In the everyday Roman household, the absolute authority was the father, known as the paterfamilias. In this article, we will examine these various types of authority which spanned across centuries and covered all facets of Roman life – from the household to public politics to the battlefield.  

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