Category: classical history

The Moon Star Flag: How Turkey’s Flag Came To …

The Turkish national flag is mostly red, with a white star and a crescent in the center. Ottoman Sultan Selim III formalized the look in 1793, but the flag is actually much older.

The crescent-and-star combination has been used in Turkey since Hellenistic times (400s to 100 BCE). It likely came from ancient Mesopotamian iconocraphy. Ancient depictions of the symbol always show the crescent with horns pointing upward and with the star placed inside the crescent, for reasons that have been lost to time. When it came to Turkey, they gave it their own meanings. For Byzantium the moon symbolized Diana, also known as Artemis, the patron goddess of the city.

In 1453, when the city was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, the flag remained unchanged. With time, it became not just Istanbul’s flag but the Ottoman flag, with its design formalized in 1793 and its status as national flag formalized in 1844. Turks affectionately call the flag “ay yildiz” – the “moon star” flag.

Many nations that were once part of Ottoman Empire adopted the star-and-crescent when they gained independence, including Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. In the 1900s the symbol became associated with not just the Ottomans, but with Islam in general, and many states that were never part of the Ottoman Empire adopted it too, including Pakistan, Malaysia, and the Maldives. Pretty amazing that an ancient Mesopotamian symbol is flown around the world today.

Annoyed Roman Lady Didn’t Enjoy Sitting Still …

This bust was found in Rome, and dates to between 98 and 117 CE.

Was the Persian Army so Big Its Arrows Really …

The army of the Persian Empire had enough archers that they were said to be able to “block out the sun.” You might remember the Spartan’s famous answer to that: great, we “can fight in the shade.”

Were those ancient chroniclers exaggerating? We do not know, but conservative estimates of the Persian army’s capabilities was that they had 50,000 men in their army. Yes, that’s a conservative estimate. Previous armies in the region are believed to have fought with mainly infantry, with archers being a supporting group; we know the Persians innovated by increasing the numbers of archers. Let’s crunch some numbers. 

As a conservative estimate, let’s say there are about 20,000 archers in the Persian battle line. Each archer can fire about 5 arrows a minute. And their quivers held 120 arrows, but let’s assume they had to go hunting for dinner the last few nights, and give them 100 arrows. When you do the math, that means the Persian Army could fire 100,000 arrows a minute. And they could do that for as long as their arms held out, or until their arrows run out, so about 20 minutes.

The Persian army could fire 100,000 arrows a minute, for 20 minutes. As a conservative estimate. Now, I’ve never been on an ancient battle field, but that sounds like it could block out the sun.

Coin Collection From Classical Corinth Present…

A hoard of about 119 coins, together with an iron lock that may have locked the container holding the coins, have been found inside a collapsed building in the harbor of the ancient city of Corinth in Greece.

The earliest coin in the hoard dates to shortly after the death of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (who reigned from 306-337 CE), while the most recent two coins in the stash date to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I (who reigned from 491-518 CE). Based on their weight and size, the coins from Anastasius I’s reign likely date to sometime between 491 and 498 CE, before Anastasius I reformed the Byzantine Empire’s coinage system. So the building collapse no sooner than the 500 CE. When the coins come from is not the conundrum, however.

Why didn’t anyone come to collect the stash after the building collapsed? That’s the big mystery that has archaeologists scratching their heads. The coin collection represents significant wealth at the time, and the lack of bodies suggests the collection’s owner wasn’t killed when the structure collapsed. The coins were found just 12 to 16 inches (30-40 centimeters) below modern ground level. It wouldn’t have been much work to retrieve the coins. But instead they were left, to be discovered by modern archaeologists. Not that the archaeologists are complaining!