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Askos with painted scenes and applied figures. 

Dating to about 270-200 BCE, this askos was found at Cuma in Campania, Italy, and was made at Canosa, Apulia (modern Puglia).

Vessels of this type were evidently not intended to be functional, and were often made to be placed inside tombs. The British Museum houses another Canosan vessel shaped like a head, which you may view here. Canosa was a highly important city of ancient Apulia, which, although influenced by the Greeks, was able to maintain its local culture through to Roman times.

This vase is basically an askos, a simple globular spouted vessel of a shape found in Italy for over two millennia. By the Hellenistic period askoi were over-burdened with a wealth of decoration. This example has two winged horses flying over a brown sea on a pink background. Three winged figures of Nike or Victory stand on the false spouts and handle, and foreparts of horses spring from the body of the vessel. The applied reliefs depict a winged head of the gorgon Medusa and a dancing maenad, a follower of Dionysos. (BM)

Courtesy of & currently located at the British Museum, London, GR 1862.7-12.2. Photos taken by SpirosK photography.

A rare & fascinating coin pertaining to the Oracle at Delphi:

This coin is from the Asyut Hoard of 1968/9 and it sold for $600,000. It is extremely rare and of the greatest artistic, historical, and architectural importance - a superb example, probably the finest known.

This tridrachm from Delphi, Phokis (c. 480-475 BC) shows two drinking vessels (rhytons) in the form of rams heads; above them, two dolphins swimming toward each other. On the reverse is a quadripartite incuse square in the form of a coffered ceiling; each coffer decorated with a dolphin and a spray of laurel leaves.

The tridrachms of Delphi are among the most historically interesting of all Greek coins. The fact that almost all the known examples were found in Egypt suggests that the unusual weight standard might have been chosen specifically with Egyptian trade in mind. The obverse type is a direct reference to the Greek victory over the Persians at Plataea in 479 BC, when a great deal of booty, including silver vessels like the two on this coin, were taken by the Greeks. These two rhyta, which are of Persian design, were certainly from that booty and must have been brought as a dedication to Apollo in Delphi (rams were sacred to Apollo, along with dolphins).

The reverse is also very unusual: it is not a normal quadripartite incuse but, rather, clearly shows the stepped coffering that we know decorated ancient ceilings, especially those of prestigious buildings like that of the Temple of Apollo. It is interesting to consider that the coffered ceiling design might be an actual representation of the ceiling that existed in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The dolphins that ornament these coffers make the identification sure as they are a punny play on both the name of Delphi (delphis means dolphin) and on the fact that Apollo himself could appear in the form of a Dolphin. Mythology says that he first came to Delphi in the guise of a dolphin swimming into the Corinthian Gulf.

Delphi was famous in the ancient Greek world for being the mountain location of the Temple of Apollo and the Delphic Oracle. The oracle was consulted by kings and by private individuals, the responses being interpreted by the Pythia, who would sit in a trance-like state while she spoke. It is from this place where many important questions were asked and decisions were made in the ancient Greek world - Alexander the Great’s decision to conquer Persia and the rest of the known world being one of them.

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 5 “The Republic of Virtue”

The Portonaccio sarcophagus is a 2nd-century ancient Roman sarcophagus found in the archaeological site of Portonaccio, quarter of Rome. It was probably used for the burial of a Roman general involved in the campaigns of Marcus Aurelius (a military insignia which can be seen on the upper edge of the casket identifies the deceased as Aulus Iulius Pompilius, official in command of two cavalry squadrons during the Marcomannic Wars -German and Sarmatian Wars).

The marble sarcophagus shows on its front a symbolic -and very dramatic- picture of a battle between Romans and Germanic tribesmen staged on two levels. The composition focuses on the progress of a Roman horseman (his face unfinished) in a melee of soldiers, spears and horses. The Romans are delivering savage blows, devastating their enemies -undoubtedly winning the battle. The bloody scenes are framed by standards and standing prisoners who, while sharing the same space as the figures battling are larger and do not engage in the action. The battle seems uncontrollable. Figures are shown only partially as they attempt to climb over one another. There is no background in the pictorial field; instead the entire surface is carved with densely packed action. The harsh lines and drilling result in great contrasts between the light and dark. The extreme contrast of shadow and deeper lines makes the expressions of pain and suffering more painful. 

The sarcophagus would serve as a reminder to visitors to the necropolis of the strength, valor and achievements of this high ranking officer.

Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome, Italy

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Ancient Persian Freezers —- The Yakhchals

Today in the modern world we take freezers, and the frozen results of freezers for granted.  But in ancient times, cold drinks, frozen desserts, and chilled tropical cocktails were a luxury unknown to most people.  However the idea of artificially freezing goods is nothing new.  As far back as 400 BC, the ancient Persians built special freezers called yakhchals.  Yakhchals were large buildings used for storage of ice and foodstuffs during the hot Persian summers.  Typically they were around 60 feet tall, and had a large subterranean storage space dug out from under it.  The Yakhchal itself was made from a special type of mud clay called sarooj which was composed of clay, sand, lime, goat hair, egg whites, and ash mixed in a special proportion which made it extremely resistant to heat transfer.  In other words the inside stayed cool, while heat from the outside was prevented from entering the building because of the thick insulated walls.  This combined with the subterranean storage ensured that whatever goods were stored in the pit stayed cool, as temperatures below ground level are usually around the 60 to 65 degree Fahrenheit range.  However, these designs were not what made a yakhchal a freezer.  There was one other brilliant design feature which ensured that the yakhchal would stay frosty all year long.

At the top of the dome was a small hole, or series of small holes called windcatchers.  Typically windcatchers were pointed in the direction of the prevailing winds.  Due to its conical shape there was always a negative pressure gradient inside the yakhchal.  According to Bernoulli’s Law air flow at a high pressure will always move toward areas of low pressure.  Thus air from the outside was constantly flowing through the yakhchal.  In addition, according to Venturi’s Principal, whenever air flows through a small hole, the smaller the hole, the greater the speed of the flow.  The small hole, or series of holes of the yakhchal ensured that air passed into it at great flows.  What resulted was a great amount of outside air entering into the yakhchal at high speeds.  While the air itself wasn’t cool, the flows at which it was being entrained into the yakhchal created temperatures that were below freezing. Typically the windcatchers were cut in such a way that the incoming jet of air would be directed onto the storage pit.

The ancient Persians primarily used their yakhchals for storing ice and foodstuffs.  During the summer, Persian nobles often enjoyed a refreshing frozen treat called faloodeh (pictured above), which is made from thin noodles with syrup made from sugar and rose water, then flavored with lemon, lime, fruits, almond, pistachio, and other flavorings.  Due to the Persian’s freezing technology, faloodeh (which is still popular today) goes down in history as one of the first frozen desserts.  The practice of building and using yakhchals continued up to the 20th century, when they were eventually replaced with modern freezers and refrigerators.

Faience amulet of goddess Nut 

The goddess is shown sitting on her legs, spreading her wings. She is wearing a crown of horns that enclose the sun. This represents her as the sky goddess. 11.5 x 23.6 in centimeters ( 4 1/2 x  9 5/16 inch.) 

It was found in Abydos, Upper Egypt. 

Egyptian, Third Intermediate Period, 21st - 25th dynasty, 1070 - 664 BC.

Source: Metropolitan Museum

Monumental Double Spiral, Urnfield Period, 12th - 10th century BC

An unusually large example made of square wire, the upper edges with decorative notches in some places. Beautiful dark green patina. Width 21 cm.

The Urnfield culture (c. 1300 BC – 750 BC) was a late Bronze Age culture of central Europe. The name comes from the custom of cremating the dead and placing their ashes in urns which were then buried in fields. The Urnfield culture followed the Tumulus culture and was succeeded by the Hallstatt culture. The Urnfield culture is the earliest archaeological period that can be justifiably considered Proto-Celtic.

goddess-bound said:

Hi, i don't know if this is too early for you, but is there any record of free black people in Roman times, specifically pre-empire? My father was saying that it was "very unlikely" for it to have been, but i think otherwise.

*sigh*

This is just another example of the overwhelmingly pervasive idea in our culture that no matter where or when you go in history, anyone who wasn’t Black and who SAW a Black person immediately thought, “Hey! Thisperson and everyone on earth who looks anything like them would make great slaves!” So…before we play remedial education, can we all take a moment to think about how horrible that is? That the idea of Black people=slaves is SO dominant that we project it into ancient history???

Okay, first of all, slavery in the Ancient Mediterranean was not the same as American chattel slavery. It was not race-based slavery. Your race had nothing to do with whether or not you were enslaved.

Basically, what you’re asking about (roughly) is the Hellenistic Era.

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After Alexander the Great’s ventures in the Persian Empire, Hellenistic kingdoms were established throughout south-west Asia (Seleucid Empire, Kingdom of Pergamon) and north-east Africa (Ptolemaic Kingdom).

This resulted in the export of Greek culture and language to these new realms, and moreover Greek colonists themselves.

Equally, however, these new kingdoms were influenced by the indigenous cultures, adopting local practices where beneficial, necessary, or convenient. Hellenistic culture thus represents a fusion of the Ancient Greek world with that of the Near East, Middle East, and Southwest Asia, and a departure from earlier Greek attitudes towards “barbarian” cultures.

The Hellenistic period was characterized by a new wave of Greek colonization (as distinguished from that occurring in the 8th–6th centuries BC) which established Greek cities and kingdoms in Asia and Africa. Those new cities were composed of Greek colonists who came from different parts of the Greek world, and not, as before, from a specific “mother city”.

As explained above, what you would have had is a “melting pot” of many different languages, “races”, cultures, schools of art, ethnicities, et cetera.

The art of this period reflects that.

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Greek architects and sculptors were highly valued throughout the Hellenistic world. Shown on the left is a terra-cotta statuette of a draped young woman, made as a tomb offering near Thebes, probably around 300 BCE. The incursion of Alexander into the western part of India resulted in some Greek cultural influences there, especially during the Hellenistic era. During the first century BCE., Indian sculptors in Gandhara, which today is part of Pakistan, began to create statues of the Buddha. The Buddhist Gandharan style combined Indian and Hellenistic artistic traditions, which is evident in the stone sculpture of the Buddha on the right. Note the wavy hair topped by a bun tied with a ribbon, also a feature of earlier statues of Greek deities. This Buddha is also wearing a Greek-style toga.

-Essential World History by Duiker, Spielvogel, p. 101

As for trade routed in the Ancient World, well. The Silk Road has existed for pretty much as long as the continents have been in their current configuration and populated by humanity. I’m not exaggerating-the prehistoric version of what became known as the Silk Road is known as The Steppe Road. The Silk Road ITSELF was established for trading purposes at least 2,000 years ago. Here’s a mockup of the Silk Road as it existed during the era you’re asking about:

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Here are some Hellenistic Era Greek artworks that feature Black people. There is NO correlation in this era between a person being Black and a person being enslaved.

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In general, Greek attitudes towards anyone with Black or dark brown skin were sort of ethnocentric, but not negative OR associated with slavery. After all, the idea of “white people” wouldn’t exist for another 1,500 years at LEAST.

Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks by Frank M. Snowden contains many, MANY invaluable interpretations and translations of primary sources that help to really explore attitudes and philosophies that the people in the time had about appearance, human difference, and personality traits. From page 86:

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If you want something a bit more definitive, The Image of the Black in Western Art Vol. 1:From the Pharaohs to the Roman Empire explores the Greek and Roman preoccupation with physical type+personality traits as a form of PROTO-racism, but please note that nothing in their writing or art indicated the association of Blackness or Black skin with slaves or enslavement/enslavability:

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"Race" as we have this concept today did not exist then. the "races" they are talking about have to do with ethnicity and culture, NOT skin color by necessity. In addition, the "proto-racist" writing is describing geographical origin and climate to correlate with personality type, with the “perfect balance” being conveniently, Greeks.

As for the beginnings of the Roman Empire, the above is wehre you’re pretty much starting from, and then you have EVEN MORE intermixing between peoples. Including the Emperor born in the Roman Province of “Africa”, Septimius Severus, who led a campaign of additional conquering there around 200 C.E.

He then of course sent tens of thousands of Roman soldiers up directly into Britain and Scotland, and there are extensive records of Black military legions at Hadrian’s Wall in the 3rd century. Incidentally, leading to a rather multicultural population in Roman York (England), which is also extensively documented (Ivory Bangle Lady, one of the richest women in that area at that time, was definitely of African descent).

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This would have been the Roman Empire about 100-200 years before the time of Ivory Bangle Lady. Excavations in the area combined with the cutting edge of academia and science combined have this to say:

"We’re looking at a population mix which is much closer to contemporary Britain than previous historians had suspected," Hella Eckhardt, senior lecturer at the department of archaeology at Reading University, said. "In the case of York, the Roman population may have had more diverse origins than the city has now.”

Isotope evidence suggests that up to 20% were probably long distance migrants. Some were African or had African ancestors, including the woman dubbed “the ivory bangle lady”, whose bone analysis shows she was brought up in a warmer climate, and whose skull shape suggests mixed ancestry including black features.

"We can’t tell if she was independently wealthy, or the wife or daughter of a wealthy man — but the bones show that she was young, between 18 and 23, and healthy with no obvious sign of disease or cause of death."

The authors comment: "The case of the ‘ivory bangle lady’ contradicts assumptions that may derive from more recent historical experience, namely that immigrants are low status and male, and that African individuals are likely to have been slaves. Instead, it is clear that both women and children moved across the Empire, often associated with the military."

Feel free to go tell your dad he’s full of it.

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Egyptian blue — a bright blue crystalline substance — is believed to be the first unnatural pigment in human history. Ancient Egyptians used a rare mineral, cuprorivaite, as inspiration for the color. Cuprorivaite was so rare searching and mining for it was impossible. Instead, using advanced chemistry for the time, Egyptians manufactured the color. It was made by mixing calcium compound (typically calcium carbonate), a copper-containing compound (metal filings or malachite), silica sand and soda or potash as a flux, then heating to between 850-950 C.

Egyptian blue was widely used in ancient times as a pigment in painting, such as in wall paintings, tombs and mummies’ coffins, and as a ceramic glaze known as Egyptian faience.  Its use spread throughout Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and the far reaches of the Roman Empire. It was often used as a substitute for lapis lazuli, an extremely expensive and rare mineral sourced in Afghanistan. After the decline of the Roman Empire, though, Egyptian Blue quickly disappeared from use.

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The Dhamek Stupa of Sarnath, India.

The Archaeological Survey of India, and many alike, claim this to be the location where Buddha first encountered the five Parivajrakas and delivered the First Sermon.

Built in approximately 500 CE, the Dhamek Stupa is a huge cylindrically shaped stupa (Buddhist commemorative monuments which traditionally usually house sacred relics associated with Buddha), and is about 44m tall, with a diameter of 29m. Around it are 8 niches which are thought to have once contained images. Below these niches is a section of beautifully carved ornamentation, which remains partly preserved today, and highlights the high skill level of stone artisans of the Gupta period.  

A Chinese traveler who visited Sarnath in 638 CE by the name of Hiuen-Tsang records seeing the Dhamek Stupa, and observing over 1,500 priest there.

The first photo is by Dennis Jarvis, and remaining two, Ramón.

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Badass Queens 
     O L Y M P I A S; Ὀλυμπιάς

Olympias, (born c. 375 BC—died 316 BC), wife of Philip II of Macedonia and mother of Alexander the Great. She had a passionate and imperious nature, and she played important roles in the power struggles that followed the deaths of both rulers.

“Olympias had long been a devotee to the cult of Dionysos, something that angered many of the Macedonian people and she may even have introduced the practice of handling snakes to the cult…(x)”

The daughter of Neoptolemus, king of Epirus, Olympias apparently was originally named Myrtale. Later she may have been called Olympias as a recognition of Philip’s victory in the Olympic Games of 356 BC. Philip’s polygamy did not threaten her position until 337, when he married a high-born Macedonian, Cleopatra. Olympias withdrew to Epirus, returning after Philip’s assassination (336). She then had Cleopatra and her infant daughter killed. Olympias quarreled repeatedly with Antipater, regent of Macedonia during the early years of Alexander’s invasion of Asia, and eventually retired again, about 331 BC, to Epirus. Upon the death of Antipater in 319 BC (Alexander had died in 323), his successor, Polyperchon, invited Olympias to act as regent for her young grandson, Alexander IV (Alexander the Great’s son). She declined his request until 317 BC, when Antipater’s son Cassander established Philip II’s simpleminded son Philip III (Arrhidaeus) as king of Macedonia. The Macedonian soldiers supported her return. She put to death Philip Arrhidaeus and his wife, as well as Cassander’s brother and a hundred of his partisans. In response Cassander entered Macedonia and blockaded Olympias in Pydna, where she surrendered in the spring of 316. She was condemned to death by the Macedonian assembly, but Cassander’s soldiers refused to carry out the sentence. She eventually was killed by relatives of those she had executed. (x)

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August 19th 14 AD: Augustus dies

On this day in 14 AD the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, died aged 75. Born Gaius Octavius and known as Octavian, he was named as heir of his great uncle Julius Caesar. Upon Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC, Augustus formed an alliance - the Second Triumvirate - with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Mark Antony, to rule and take vengeance on Caesar’s assassins. The alliance soon fell apart and the three fought for sole rule of Rome. Octavian emerged victorious after defeating Mark Anthony at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. Octavian then set about ‘restoring’ the Roman Republic, which had been ruled by Caesar as Dictator, by formally returning power to the Senate. However in reality the new leader kept considerable power in his person, adopting many titles which became part of the imperial pantheon, including ‘Augustus’ (which loosely translates as ‘magnificent’), ‘princeps’ (first citizen), ‘pontifex maximus’ (priest of Roman religion) and ‘tribunicia potestas’ (power over the tribune assemblies elected by the people). Augustus’s constitutional system gave way to the birth of the Principate, the first period of the Roman Empire. He is also considered the first Roman Emperor because the empire greatly expanded under his rule. Augustus died in 14 AD, and was succeeded by his step-son and adopted heir Tiberius. Augustus thus began the stable line of ‘adoptive’ Roman Emperors which ended with Marcus Aurelius’s decision to name his birth son Commodus, who came to power in 180 AD. This year is the momentous 2000th anniversary of the death of the first Roman Emperor. Even today Rome is remembered as a pinnacle of civilisation and empire and much of modern Europe continues to be shaped by its legacy.

2000 years ago today

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