Category: ancient history




PEOPLE OF THE ANCIENT WORLD: Michael II (Emperor of the Byzantine Empire) 

MICHAEL II the Amorion, also known as Michael “the Stammerer”, was emperor of the Byzantine Empire between 820 and 829 CE. He founded the short-lived Amorion dynasty, named after his hometown in Phrygia, which would last until 867 CE. Surviving the major rebellion and siege of Constantinople led by Thomas the Slav, the emperor’s reign witnessed little else of success as the empire continued to crumble at its edges, with Sicily and Crete being notable losses.

Michael hailed from the strategically important city of Amorion (aka Amorium) in Phrygia, the capital of the military province of Anatolikon. Amorion protected the road from the Cilician Gates to the Byzantine capital Constantinople. Michael was a seasoned military commander in the Byzantine army and is described by the historian J. J. Norwich as “a bluff, unlettered provincial…of humble origins, with an impediment in his speech” (131).

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PEOPLE OF THE ANCIENT WORLD: Constantine IV (Emperor of the Byzantine Empire) 

CONSTANTINE IV ruled as emperor of the Byzantine empire from 668 to 685 CE. His reign is best remembered today for the five-year Arab siege of Constantinople from 674 CE, which the Byzantines resisted thanks to their strong fortifications and the secret weapon of Greek Fire. Although not hugely successful in other theatres, the reign of Constantine would at least stabilize the Empire, perpetuate the rule of Christianity in the East, and permit something of a revival of Byzantine fortunes under subsequent emperors.  

Constantine was the eldest son of Constans II (r. 641-668 CE) and he had been crowned co-emperor, as was customary for the chosen heir, in 654 CE. Constans was unpopular with the Church for his failure to reconcile the two sides of the raging debate on dogma and on whether Christ had one will and one energy, or two of both. He did not win any admirers for his military record, either, as the Arab Caliphate inflicted a series of defeats on Byzantine armies throughout his reign.

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ZVARTNOTS CATHEDRAL: THE ruins of Zvartnots Ca…


THE ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral are located on a flat plain within the Ararat Plateau between the cities of Yerevan and Etchmiadzin in Armenia’s Armavir province near Zvartnots International Airport. Built in the middle of the 7th century CE, under the instructions of the Catholicos Nerses III (r. 641-661 CE), Zvartnots is the oldest and largest aisled tetraconch church in historical Armenia. Its design strongly influenced later constructions of other Armenian churches with central-domed cross-halls, leaving an enduring architectural and artistic mark in what is present-day Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and eastern Turkey.

Although largely destroyed in an earthquake in the 10th century CE, Zvartnots Cathedral was excavated and rediscovered between 1900-1907 CE. It was partially reconstructed in the 1940s CE – based on the research of the Armenian architectural historian Toros Toramanian (1864-1934 CE) – and Zvartnots’ ruins can be visited today. UNESCO added the ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral to its World Heritage List in 2000 CE.

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PEOPLE OF THE ANCIENT WORLD: Romanos I (Emperor of the Byzantine Empire) 

ROMANOS I Lekapenos (“the Ignorant”) was emperor of the Byzantine Empire from 920 to 944 CE. Of Armenian descent, he was a military commander who usurped the throne to rule as co-emperor with the rightful heir, but still minor, Constantine VII (r. 945-959 CE). 

Achievements made during his reign include peace with Bulgaria, a reconciliation between the conflicting sides of the church over how many marriages an emperor could have, and the instigation of land reforms to prevent the aristocracy gobbling up peasant lands. There were also significant gains made in expanding the empire in Mesopotamia and Armenia, including the acquisition of Melitene and several frontier fortresses.

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WORKS AND DAYS: WORKS and Days is an epic poem…


WORKS and Days is an epic poem written in dactylic hexameter, credited to the 8th-century BCE Greek poet Hesiod. Hesiod is generally remembered for two epic works, Theogony and Works and Days but, like his contemporary Homer, he was part of an oral tradition and his works were only put into written form decades after his death. Work and Days is a tribute to the benefits of a life devoted to work and prudence. In the poem, Hesiod speaks directly to his brother Perses on how to conduct his life; a brother who had taken a larger share of their inheritance.

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AMONG the many contributions to world culture credited to Mesopotamia is an object so familiar to people in the modern world that few pause to consider its origin: the dog collar. Throughout the ancient world, from China to Rome, dogs are depicted in works of art on a leash attached to a collar. The dog collar was so integral an aspect of the people’s daily lives that even the dogs of the gods are seen in collar and leash; a relationship first evident in art from ancient Mesopotamia.

In the same way that scholars debate the origin of the dog and its first domestication, it is difficult to say with certainty that the people of Mesopotamia were the first to invent the collar. It is probable, even quite likely, that the collar – like people’s relationship with dogs themselves – developed independently in many different regions at different times. Even so, as far as the collar’s depiction in ancient art is concerned, the earliest come from Mesopotamia.

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A Queen Uncovered

Queen Ankhnespepy II was a particularly powerful female leader during Egypt’s Old Kingdom. She married not one but two kings during the Sixth Dynasty – Pepy I and Merenre – and she served as regent when her son Pepy II became king at just six years old. Recently, a Swiss-French archaeological mission at the Saqqara necropolis found the top portions of two obelisks, thankfully with inscriptions to help identify them, which would have marked the entrance to Queen Ankhnespepy II’s funerary temple.  They are the oldest Old Kingdom obelisk fragments found, and would have stood more than 16 feet tall.

The obelisks weren’t impressive just for their height. The two were made out of granite, a material usually reserved for kings. Any ancient Egyptian who saw them would instantly know the the power and stature of Queen Ankhnespepy II.

A new rock-cut chamber tomb has been found in …

A new rock-cut chamber tomb has been found in central Greece, near the city of Orchomenos, which was the most important center in the region during the Mycenaean period. Uncovered in a cemetery filled with similar tombs, the new discovery is distinguished by its size: at 452 square feet (42 square meters) it is the 9th largest Mycenaean tomb every excavated. And more than 4,000 Mycenaean tombs have been excavated since 1850!

What is inside this large tomb is also surprising. Contemporary tombs usually house multiple burials, but this tomb has just one. And the artifacts are unusual, too. Tombs from this time period, heck the other Mycenaean tombs in that cemetery, always have painted pottery, yet this burial has very little. In contrast, it has a lot of jewelry, which was previously considered to be for female burials only. This new find is raising a lot of questions about its occupant, and the Mycenaean society where they lived and died.