PARTHIA: ROME’S ABLEST COMPETITOR:
AS a superpower in its own right and in competition with Rome, Parthia’s empire – ruling from 247 BCE to 224 CE – stretched between the Mediterranean in the west to India in the east. Not only did the Parthians win battles against Rome they were also successful commercial competitors. On the military front, as part of their original expansion, Parthia’s victories against the Seleucid Empire would include the defeat of Antiochus VII by Phraates II at the Battle of Ecbatana in 129 BCE and the expansion and consolidation of their empire through the military campaigns of Mithridates I (r. 171-132 BCE) and Mithridates II (r. 124-88 BCE), but perhaps their greatest victories were against Rome.
While in control of the eastern trade routes by way of the Red Sea and overland routes through Arabia, Rome wanted to expand its interests to include the lucrative Silk Road through Mesopotamia. There was only one problem; Parthia was in the way. Mesopotamia was theirs, and Parthia would prove capable in defending its interests. After Crassus’ defeat at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE and Mark Antony’s retreat from Media in 36 BCE, a peace agreement was reached with Rome in 20 BCE. With peace obtained and its silk routes protected, Parthia could now go on to successfully compete with Rome through trade.
BRONZE AGE COLLAPSE:
THE Bronze Age Collapse (also known as Late Bronze Age Collapse) is a modern-day term referring to the decline and fall of major Mediterranean civilizations during the 13th-12th centuries BCE. The precise cause of the Bronze Age Collapse has been debated by scholars for over a century as well as the date it probably began and when it ended but no consensus has been reached. What is clearly known is that, between c. 1250 – c. 1150 BCE, major cities were destroyed, whole civilizations fell, diplomatic and trade relations were severed, writing systems vanished, and there was widespread devastation and death on a scale never experienced before.
The primary causes advanced for the Bronze Age Collapse are:
- Natural Catastrophes (earthquakes)
- Climate Change (which caused drought and famine)
- Internal Rebellions (class wars)
- Invasions (primarily by the Sea Peoples)
- Disruption of Trade Relations/Systems Collapse (political instability)
PIRATES IN THE ANCIENT MEDITERRANEAN:
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 Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten (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.
TRADE IN THE ANCIENT WORLD:
TRADE has been going on for as long as humans have needed or wanted something that others had and they did not. Bartering for goods and trade in kind developed into more sophisticated forms of exchanges using commonly agreed commodity currencies such as bronze or copper ingots or even cowry shells. These were often only good for large scale trade deals though and for smaller transactions, something else was needed: coinage. Coins were often introduced in ancient cultures as a convenient way to pay soldiers but the idea quickly spread to civilian life.
Early trade largely focused on luxury goods like precious metals, spices and fine textiles but eventually, as transportation by ship became faster, more reliable and cheaper, even mundane items like olives and fish paste were exported across great distances. With the increased contact between cultures caused by trade, so too ideas and cultural practices spread, particularly in the areas of language, religion and art. International trade lead to the establishment of trade emporiums which in turn often developed into colonies. As the competition for resources and access to lucrative trade routes intensified, wars often then resulted when rulers looked to seize the riches of rival states and empires.
TRADE IN ANCIENT GREECE:
TRADE was a fundamental aspect of the ancient Greek world and following territorial expansion, an increase in population movements, and innovations in transport, goods could be bought, sold, and exchanged in one part of the Mediterranean which had their origin in a completely different and far distant region. Food, raw materials, and manufactured goods were not only made available to Greeks for the first time but the export of such classics as wine, olives, and pottery helped to spread Greek culture to the wider world.
In Greece and the wider Aegean, local, regional, and international trade exchange existed from Minoan and Mycenaean times in the Bronze Age. The presence, in particular, of pottery and precious goods such as gold, copper, and ivory, found far from their place of production, attests to the exchange network which existed between Egypt, Asia Minor, the Greek mainland, and islands such as Crete, Cyprus, and the Cyclades. Trade lessened and perhaps almost disappeared when these civilizations declined, and during the so-called Dark Ages from the 11th to 8th centuries BCE international trade in the Mediterranean was principally carried out by the Phoenicians.
ACCORDING to legend, Carthage was founded by the Phoenician Queen Elissa (better known as Dido) sometime around 813 BCE although, actually, it rose following Alexander’s destruction of Tyre in 332 BCE. The city (in modern-day Tunisia, North Africa) was originally known as Kart-hadasht (new city) to distinguish it from the older Phoenician city of Utica nearby. The Greeks called the city Karchedon and the Romans turned this name into Carthago. Originally a small port on the coast, established only as a stop for Phoenician traders to re-supply or repair their ships, Carthage grew to become the most powerful city in the Mediterranean before the rise of Rome.
After the fall of the great Phoenician city of Tyre to Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, those Tyrians who were able to escape fled to Carthage with whatever wealth they had. Since many whom Alexander spared were those rich enough to buy their lives, these refugees landed in the city with considerable means and established Carthage as the new centre of Phoenician trade.
The crew of HM Submarine UNISON display their ‘Jolly Roger’ at Plymouth, having returned from a successful 16 months in the Mediterranean, 10 October 1943.
BRONZE AGE SICILY:
THE Bronze Age in Sicily, considered one of the most important periods of the island’s prehistory, witnessed the establishment of a unitary and in some ways artistically vibrant culture. The three main phases of the period take their name from the most important centres at the time in question: Castelluccio (Early Bronze Age), Thapsos (Middle Bronze Age) and Pantalica (Late Bronze Age).
There was a marked increase in cultural and commercial trade between regions near and far, particularly with Cornwall, across the Atlantic coasts of France, Spain, Sardinia, the Tyrrhenian coast to the Strait of Messina, and from here to the Aegean-Anatolian area. It was a world, therefore, in great turmoil, that felt the need to interconnect to achieve a better future.
THE art of the Etruscans, who flourished in central Italy between the 8th and 3rd century BCE, is renowned for its vitality and often vivid colouring. Wall paintings were especially vibrant and frequently capture scenes of Etruscans enjoying themselves at parties and banquets. Terracotta additions to buildings were another Etruscanspeciality, as were carved bronze mirrors and fine figure sculpture in bronze and terracotta. Minor arts are perhaps best represented by intricate gold jewellery pieces and the distinctive black pottery known as bucchero whose shapes like the kantharos cup would inspire Greek potters.
The identification of what exactly is Etruscan art – a difficult enough question for any culture – is made more complicated by the fact that Etruria was never a single unified state but was, rather, a collection of independent city-states who formed both alliances and rivalries with each other over time. These cities, although culturally very similar, nevertheless produced artworks according to their own particular tastes and whims. Another difficulty is presented by the consequences of the Etruscans not living in isolation from other Mediterranean cultures. Ideas and art objects from Greece, Phoenicia, and the East reached Etruria via the long-established trade networks of the ancient Mediterranean.