Category: persian empire

The Ancient Heritage of the Pearl

Pearls have long been considered a precious gem. They were presented as gifts to Chinese royalty as early as 2300 BCE! And we know they were used as adornment from ancient times because a fragment of pearl jewelry was found in a Persian princess’ sarcophagus dating to around 420 BCE.

Assyrians Did Not Skip Leg Day

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Or maybe they just knew the ladies love well-shaped calves…

Anyway, this is from a relief at the palace of Ashurnasirpal II. The leg is a genie’s leg: genies were beings that existed during a godlike generation of humanity, so maybe that’s why they have such well-defined leg muscles.

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Why Do We Have A Seven-Day Week?

The seven-day week has no correspondence to astronomy – unlike the presence of the sun giving us days, or phases of the moon giving us months. Historians generally think the seven-day week was “invented” by Mesopotamians and/or Jews. Both thought the number seven had mystic significance. Sumer had a (mostly) seven-day week system since at least the 21st century BCE. The Jewish weeks may have developed independently or been influenced by their Fertile Crescent neighbors.

From the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa the seven-day week spread around the Old World. The Greeks and Persians adopted the Babylonian system, and fro Persia it spread to India and China in various forms. In Japan, for instance, seven-day weeks were mainly used by specialist astrologers until the 1800s. In Europe, it was officially adopted by the Roman Empire in the 300s CE, but it was already in common use throughout the empire.

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.

How A Solar Eclipse Destroyed A City

Greek philosopher-historian Xenophon records that Larissa, a town on the banks of the river Tigris, somewhere in modern Iraq, had once been a well-fortified stronghold. Although it had become a deserted city by the time Xenophon saw it in 401 BCE. At its height, Larissa had 100 foot high clay brick walls, sitting on a 20 foot stone base, which encircled the entire city. Those are very tall, especially for the 600s BCE. It had proven too high for the Persian army. They had repeatedly tried, and failed, to take Larissa about 200 years before, according to Xenophon.

But then the heavens intervened. “A cloud covered up the sun and hid it from sight” Xenophon wrote. The Larissans, terrified, abandoned their city. Some hid on a pyramid nearby. Others simply fled. Larissa was left without defenders, and the Persians easily captured the city, although it probably wasn’t worth much without any inhabitants.

The track of the total eclipse which happened on May 19, 557 BCE, passed through southern Syria and Iraq. This may have been the astronomical event that Xenophon wrote about, 150 years later.

“I was twenty. I will let no one say it is the best time of life. Everything threatens a young man…”

“I was twenty. I will let no one say it is the best time of life. Everything threatens a young man with ruin: love, ideas, the loss of his family, his entrance into the world of adults. It is hard to learn one’s part in the world.”

Carsten Niebuhr or Karsten Niebuhr (1733-1815), a German mathematician, cartographer, and explorer in the service of Denmark, is renowned for his participation in the Royal Danish Arabia Expedition (1761-1767). He achieved fame as the only survivor of the Danish expedition to the Middle East and India. His fame is deserved not just for survival, however, but due to the excellence of his observations which resulted in detailed maps that were used for more than a hundred years.

He also copied inscriptions of cuneiform script that proved of great assistance to Georg Friedrich Grotefend and others in their work in deciphering ancient texts from the Persian Empire. Neibuhr’s explorations of what were, at the time, distant and difficult places for Europeans to travel laid the foundation for numerous later scholars to visit and uncover the secrets of past civilizations.