Category: ancient history

Cyrus the Great, the founder of the first Persian Empire, conquered the millennia-old city of Babylon on October 12th, 539 BCE. Local inscriptions tell us it was without a fight, or even a siege. This was probably because local rulers recognized all was lost and decided to give in and hope for a good settlement.

But Greek historian Herodotus tells a more exciting version. According to him, the city’s walls crossed the river Euphrates. Unable to get past the walls, Cyrus had sappers drain the river upstream into a nearby lake, until the river’s level fell “about to the middle of a man’s thigh.” As the Babylonians celebrated a religious festival the Persians simply walked – dripping – into a dancing city.

Whether it was surrendered or it was captured, Babylon would belong to the Persian Empire and Cyrus’ descendants for the next 200 years.

DEATH AND THE AFTERLIFE IN ANCIENT PERSIA: 

A vision of the afterlife is articulated by every culture, ancient or modern, in an effort to answer the question of what happens after death, and this was as true for the ancient Persian view of the afterlife as for any other ancient civilization. Ancient Persia had the same interest in what happens after death as any culture in the present day and provided one of the most interesting, and compassionate, answers.

The human concern with mortality informs not only the scriptures of world religions but the greatest literary works. The Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh – considered the oldest epic tale in the world – is centered on finding meaning in life in the face of inevitable death and innumerable works since have explored the same problem.

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Archaeologists worked with primatologists to re-examine wall-paintings of monkeys in a Minoan building buried in volcanic ash around 1600 BCE. at the site of Akrotiri, which is located on the Greek island of Thera in the Aegean Sea. No monkeys are known to have lived in Greece at the time. Most of the monkeys in the painting have been identified as olive baboons, which are native to Egypt, but one monkey, with distinctive fur and an S-shaped tail, was identified as a grey langur, a species that lives in Nepal, Bhutan, and the Indus Valley of India.

It was already known that the Minoans had contact with Egypt. And this wall mosaic hints at contacts with the Indus River Valley civilization, as well. Or perhaps it demonstrates the far-reaching and interconnected nature of the trade networks even in the Bronze Age.

Bust of the Roman Empress Tranquillina (reigned 241 – 244 CE). She was wife of Emperor Gordian III thanks to her father, the prefect of the Praetorian Guards, who were the emperor’s personal bodyguards and by this point controlled who ran the empire. Empress Tranquillina reigned with her husband for just three years before her father died and the emperor lost power – and his life.

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JERUSALEM: 

JERUSALEM is the capital of the modern nation of Israel and a major holy city for the three Western traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It sits on spurs of bedrock between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea area. To the north and west, it tapers off to the Jezreel Valley and the hills of the Galilee, while to the south lies the Judean desert. The city is surrounded by three steep ravines (to the east, south, and west). On the other side of the eastern ravine, across the Kidron valley, is the Mount of Olives.

Historically, Jerusalem was an urban center for approximately 5,000 years. Scholars debate the original meaning of the name (Sumerian “foundation” or Semitic “to found” or to “lay a cornerstone”). It could also derive from the name of the Canaanite god of dusk, Shalem, where the main consonants of s-l-m also denote the Hebrew (salam or shalom), which means “peace.” Ironically, the city has known very little peace over the centuries.

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The Sasanian Empire (224 CE – 651 CE),  which was a contemporary of the Roman and later Byzantine Empires, was once a great power. And like other great powers it built great walls to mark and control its borders. These included the Wall of the Arabs (in the southwest), Walls of Derbent (in the northwest at the Caspian Mountains) and Great Wall of Gorgan (in the northeast). Remains of the Sasanian border walls still exist, particularly in Derbent where they are a UNESCO world heritage site.

BIMBISARA: 

BIMBISARA (c. 545/544 BCE – c. 493/492 BCE) was a king of the Magadha Kingdom who is credited with establishing imperial dominance in the Indian subcontinent. Son of a minor king called Bhattiya, he belonged to the Haryanka Dynasty, which is said to be the second imperial dynasty of Magadha. However, it is only from Bimbisara’s reign that the historicity of different Indian kings can be verified with any certainty. Before the Haryanka Dynasty, the accounts of various Indian kings are mythical and cannot be verified with any archaeological evidence.

Bimbisara ruled at a time when Gautama Buddha (c. 563 BCE – c. 483 BCE) and Mahavira Vardhamana (c. 599 BCE – c. 527 BCE as per the Jaina tradition), the respective founders of Buddhism and Jainism, both started their teachings. Bimbisara has been given much importance in the early Buddhist and Jaina sources because he probably endorsed both these religions equally. He ruled from a place called Girivraja which was also known as Rajagriha and is identified with modern Rajgir in the state of Bihar today. It is said that the city of Rajagriha was built by Bimbisara himself. The city was covered on all sides by five hills creating a natural fortification, and later on Bimbisara’s son, Ajatashatru covered the gaps with stone walls.

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ALEXANDER THE GREAT & THE BURNING OF PERSEPOLIS: 

IN the year 330 BCE Alexander the Great (l. 356-323 BCE) conquered the Achaemenid Persian Empire following his victory over the Persian Emperor Darius III (r. 336-330 BCE) at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BCE. After Darius III’s defeat, Alexander marched to the Persian capital city of Persepolis and, after looting its treasures, burned the great palace and surrounding city to the ground, destroying hundreds of years’ worth of religious writings and art along with the magnificent palaces and audience halls which had made Persepolis the jewel of the empire.

Persepolis was known to the Persians as Parsa (‘The City of the Persians’), and the name ‘Persepolis’ meant the same in Greek. Construction on the palace and city was initiated between 518-515 BCE by Darius I the Great (r. 522-486 BCE) who made it the capital of the Persian Empire (replacing the old capital, Pasargadae) and began to house there the greatest treasures, literary works, and works of art from across the Achaemenid Empire. The palace was greatly enhanced (as was the rest of the city) by Xerxes I (r. 486-465 BCE, son of Darius, and would be expanded upon by Xerxes I’s successors, especially his son Artaxerxes I (r. 465-424 BCE), although later Persian kings would add their own embellishments.

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SULLA’S REFORMS AS DICTATOR: 

LUCIUS Cornelius Sulla (l. 138 – 78 BCE) enacted his constitutional reforms (81 BCE) as dictator to strengthen the Roman Senate’s power. Sulla was born in a very turbulent era of Rome’s history, which has often been described as the beginning of the fall of the Roman Republic. The political climate was marked by civil discord and rampant political violence where voting in the Assembly was sometimes settled by armed gangs. There were two primary opposing factions in Roman politics: the Optimates who emphasized the leadership and prominent role of the Senate, and the Populares who generally advocated for the rights of the people.

During this era, senatorial power was curbed and significant progress was made for the rights of the common folk, particularly the magistracy of tribune of the plebs, which was specifically created to be a guardian of the people. Sulla was an Optimate and after his rise to power, he declared himself dictator and passed several reforms to the constitution to revitalize and restore senatorial power to what it once was. Although his reforms did not last very long, his legacy greatly influenced Roman politics in the final years of the Republic until it fell in 27 BCE.

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