PIRACY, defined as the act of attacking and robbing a ship or port by sea, had a long history in the ancient Mediterranean stretching from the time of the EgyptianpharaohAkhenaten (r. 1353-1336 BCE) and throughout the Middle Ages (c. 476-1500 CE). Piracy in the Mediterranean remains a persistent threat in the present day only with different kinds of ships and more advanced technology.
Historians sometimes telescope the history of piracy for narrative convenience and wind up implying or even claiming that piracy in the Mediterranean began with the decline of the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd century BCE and ended when Pompey the Great (l. c. 106-48 BCE) defeated the Cilician pirates at the Battleof Coracesium in 67 BCE when, actually, Egyptian records substantiate piratical activities in the Mediterranean centuries earlier and Roman accounts report its continuance for centuries afterwards.
Piracy was engaged in by governments and was often considered a legitimate act of war. Pirates were not always the “outsiders” flying under their own flag but were frequently employed by governments and were encouraged in their piracy by the slave trade which continued throughout antiquity. Long after Pompey had defeated the Cilician pirates, Rome continued to rely on them for slaves for the empire and, after that empire fell, piracy and the slave trade continued for centuries.
For the ancient Egyptians, life on earth was only one part of an eternal journey which continued after death. One’s purpose in life was to live in balance with one’s self, family, community, and the gods. Any occupation in Egypt was considered worthwhile as long as one was performing one’s duties in accordance with ma’at (harmony and balance as personified in the goddess Ma’at), the central value of Egyptian culture. This is evident through inscriptions as well as artwork depicting people engaged in various jobs presented, for the most part, admirably.
The inscriptions were set down by scribes, among the most highly respected professions in Egypt, and while most of their works have other people, professions, or events as subject matter, there are a number which celebrate the occupation of scribe above all others. The most famous of these is The Satire of the Trades (from the Middle Kingdom, 2040-1782 BCE) in which a father encourages his son to become a scribe because it is better than any other profession. Another well-known work, this one from the New Kingdom (c. 1570 – c. 1069 BCE), is A Schoolbook or Be a Scribe which delivers the same message, this time from a teacher to a lazy student.
IN the trilingual MOOC (English, French, German) “Disovering Greek & Roman Cities”, an international team of experts from six different universities will explore the many facets of Greek and Roman cities. They will discuss mega cities like Rome, centres of international commerce like the Greek city of Delos and Palmyra in the Syrian Desert, regional centres of production like Pompeii, and frontier towns like Dura Europos on the Euphrates.
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This is Meritamun. Her name means “beloved of Amun,” the great Egyptian creator/sun god. She lived in ancient Egypt, sometime between 1500 BCE and 331 BCE, and was likely high status judging by the quality of the linens she was mummified with. Meritamun was between 18 and 25 when she died.
A study has recently revealed that the rapid expansion of the Roman Empire in the 1st century CE assisted the spread of tuberculosis around the world. The disease is first evidence in humans in Africa around 3000 BCE. But the spread out of Africa, of four of seven investigated genetic strains of TB, occurred during the 1st century CE. Just at the time that the Roman Empire conquered the Mediterranean basin.
The out-of-Africa spread of TB is thought to have been aided by the expanding Roman’s new transportation links – those wonderful Roman roads – as well as increased movement and exploration around the Mediterranean.
Bronze strap union (part of a chariot) from Nant-y-cafn in southern Wales (mid 1st century CE). This replica, based on an archaeological find, approximates what it would initially have looked like before it spent nearly 2,000 years in the dirt.