Archive for January, 2011
Many people have been to see the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. This massive structure is actually the only remaining example of the Seven Wonders of the World. They know that it is where an Egyptian Pharaoh was buried. But who was it? And why did he want to be buried in such a large and elaborate tomb?
The man at the heart of the pyramid is the Pharaoh Khufu who reigned in Egypt from 2589BCE to 2566BCE. Khufu was the second Pharaoh of the fourth dynasty, which lasted from 2613 to 2494BCE. The Greeks knew him as Cheops. He was not the first pharaoh to be buried in a pyramid. That was his father, the Pharaoh Sneferu. Prior to Sneferu’s reign and death, the pharaohs were buried in rectangular burial structures called mastabas. But Sneferu wanted something larger and grander than his predecessors. He actually had three pyramids constructed in Dahshur. Each of the pyramids allowed architects and builders to perfect this building method and it was these earlier attempts that allowed the Great Pyramid to have such a perfect design. But although those earlier pyramids were stunning, it is Khufu’s Great Pyramid that gained a lot of attention.
The man who ordered it to be built was not known for being a gentle or reasonable ruler. The historian Herodotus claimed that the country was miserable under Khufu’s reign. He was said to have closed down temples and forbade the offering of sacrifices. This is something that many Egyptians would have had a serious problem with. It was also believed that Khufu used forced labor to build the pyramid and that he even sent one of his daughters to a brothel. The claim was that she was supposed to help raise money for the pyramid’s construction.
Another text also outlines Khufu’s cruel actions and attitudes. A document known as the Papyrus Westcar was penned in the period known as the Hyksos period that took place before the 18th Dynasty. In it, it reports that Khufu arranged to have a prisoner killed jus so that he could test the claims that a magician named Djedi could bring people back to life. The prisoner’s life was spared on the request of the magician.
Khufu had multiple wives and many children. He had nine sons and five daughters. He was known to have at least two wives that were buried in smaller pyramids that were attached to the Great Pyramid. The third of the three smaller pyramids is believed to have housed the remains of Khufu’s mother, Hetepheres I.
It was believed that Khufu reigned for anywhere from 50 to 63 years depending on the histories that you consult. Whether or not he was remembered as a cruel and unusual ruler the fact remains that his funerary cult was still in existence until Egypt’s 26th dynasty (672 to 525BCE) and that his funeral mound remains as one of the enduring symbols of the ancient world. People from all around the world have come to gaze on this massive tomb that stands as a lasting testament to this ancient ruler.
It seems like a lot of changes have been going on in the cosmos. First, Astronomers talked about Pluto, the planet that was suddenly not a planet. The next discovery came in the form of an announcement that a “new” Zodiac symbol had been discovered. This new Zodiac symbol was believed to have thrown the entire system on its head. Or did it? The announcements surrounding this symbol, Ophiuchus, have sent many people running to figure out what their new symbol was, and lamenting that their birth date no longer falls under the symbol they have lived with all of their lives.
What many people do not realize is that Ophiuchus is far from being a “new” Zodiac symbol. It was actually listed by Ptolemy, a famous second century astronomer. It was a part of the sidereal astrological system that is used by Jyotish or Hindu and Indian astrologers. It is not a common part of the system normally used by Western astrologers. While Ptolemy identified 48 different constellations, there are actually 88 modern constellations that are visible in the sky.
The name Ophiuchus actually means “serpent bearer” in Greek. This translates to the word Serpentarius in Latin, and this is a former name for this constellation. The image that is connected with this constellation is of a man grasping a snake. This snake is represented by the constellation Serpens.
Each of the Zodiac constellations has a story or symbol that goes along with it. The Gemini twins are Castor and Pollux, Sagittarius is believed to represent the centaur Chiron and Taurus represents the bull form that Zeus took when he seduced Europa. Each of the symbols has their own link to Greek mythological figures. The symbol Ophiuchus was believed to represent Asclepius, a healer who was killed by Zeus when he discovered the secret of immortality.
Another theory is that the symbol represents a Trojan priest named Laocoon. Laocoon warned the Trojans to refuse the Greeks’ gift of the Trojan horse that ultimately led to their downfall. It was believed that the gods sent a pair of sea serpents to kill Laocoon. It is believed that the Babylonians knew about this constellation as well but that they followed it in the form of the constellation known as the Sitting Gods.
Still other possibilities for Ophiuchus include Apollo wrestling with a python, and Phorbas. Phorbas was a Thessalonian who was able to rescue people living on the island of Rhodes. It was believed that he was placed in the sky after he saved the people of Rhodes from a plague of snakes. This is why this constellation is in the shape of a human grasping a snake.
There are several significant stars in this constellation. One is Barnard’s Star. This is one of the stars which lie closest to our own Solar System. The star that gave rise to Keppler’s supernova was also part of this constellation prior to it going supernova in 1604. Other celestial discoveries surrounding this constellation include a cavity in the solar system known as a super bubble, the discovery of several star clusters, a nebula, and the presence of a planet that orbits in the constellation. Studies have shown that this planet may possess large quantities of water, a trait that can be seen by this planet’s low density.
For some ancient cultures, bathing was a necessity. Others avoided keeping clean for a multitude of reasons. For the Romans, not only were baths important for maintaining health, they were also an important part of social life. Roman public bath houses were centers for socialization and in some areas, were quite large and lavish indeed.
Roman baths actually fell into two categories: balneae and thermae. Balneae were built on a smaller scale than thermae. There were public balneae as well as private ones that were attached to homes. Their main function was to enable people to clean themselves. Although these were popular and the Romans did enjoy using them to get clean it was at the thermae that the action really happened.
This is because thermae (some of which were large Imperial bath complexes) were much larger and were designed to allow a person to spend an entire day relaxing and getting clean. Some of the Imperial Roman bath complexes were absolutely massive. For example a public thermae that was constructed n 19BCE was a large complex that featured a 25 meter rotunda. It also featured a pool and an artificial river as well. Later complexes, such as the Baths of Diocletian were larger. Over 3,000 bathers used the Baths of Diocletian each and every day.
A Roman bath complex featured three main rooms. Two of the rooms contained pools of water. There was a frigidarium, a room with a pool of unheated water. In some baths, the frigidarium pool was large enough for swimming. This was the room that bathers entered first and where they would disrobe. After plunging into the cold water, a bather could decide whether they wanted to enter the tepidarium to be anointed, or whether they wanted to move on to the caldarium.
The caldarium was a room with a pool of hot water in it. It was built directly over a hypocaust. This was a form of central heating. A raised floor allowed hot air from a furnace to move around underneath and this warmed the entire room or complex. Because the caldarium was located directly over the furnace, the room was extremely warm and the water inside was very warm as well. Although women were welcome at the baths they did not use the same rooms as the men. Their rooms were generally smaller and configured differently although they did serve the same purpose as the men’s bath did.
Bathing was a process that could take hours. It was not uncommon for individuals to spend the day at the bath moving from one room to another. In some bathing complexes there were additional areas as well. One was the palaestra. This was an outdoor gym where men could exercise. Some thermae also had libraries and areas where food could be purchased and consumed. It was not uncommon for people to meet at the baths and make social plans or to use the baths to find an audience for political speeches.
As the Romans spread out and exerted their influence in other areas in Europe, they brought their baths with them. Some, like those built at the hot springs in Bath, England still have ruins that are visible today.
In the ancient world, female rulers were few and far between. While many male rulers have had spouses and consorts that were mentioned in history books, very few of these women ruled in their own right and ancient female rulers were unique enough that when they did exist, they generally received a lot of press both at the time that they ruled and in historical reports about the time that they lived in.
One of these female rulers was born in 624 and lived in China during the Tang dynasty. Her name was Wu Zetian (or, as she is known Empress Wu) and her beginnings were surprisingly humble. Although she was born into a noble family it was not the ruling family. Wu Zetian’s beauty caused her to be sent to the palace of Emperor Tai Tsung (also known as Emperor Taizong) as a concubine. All of the reports of the time talked about her beauty, her intelligence and her wit so it was no wonder that she was chosen to hold that position in the Emperor’s court.
If power had stayed with Emperor Tai Tsung, Wu Zetian would likely have never become Empress. She was unable to bear the old emperor any children. It was the custom of the time that when an Emperor would die, childless concubines would become Buddhist nuns. But luck was on the side of Wu Zetian. It turns out that Empress Wang, the wife of the old emperor, did not want her son to be swayed by the influence of Consort Xiao. Because of this, Wu was returned to the palace and given the position of consort or concubine to Emperor Gaozong.
At this point, Wu began to consolidate her power. She became a favored concubine of the new emperor and bore him the male children that the Emperor wanted. She was able to eliminate Empress Wang, the Emperor’s wife, by framing her for the death of Wu’s infant daughter. Some historians claim that she may have killed the little girl herself in order to frame Empress Wang.
The ability to seize power came about five years after they were married. The Emperor suffered a stroke that left him crippled. When this happened, Empress Wu put herself into a position where she had control over the administration of the empire. Historians say that she was willing to do anything and get rid of anyone that stood in her way.
Empress Wu ruled the country officially as empress from the year 690 to 705. During that time, she established a secret police force that terrorized the country but, as time went on and she became more confident in her rule, this became less of an issue in the empire. She was a capable ruler and was able to rule well. Until her rule, Daoism had been the state religion but she changed this and instead, Buddhism became the religion favored most by the state.
In 705, Wu was deposed and the throne passed to her third son, Emperor Zhongzong who she had had exiled years earlier. Although she was deposed she was not killed. Instead, she died peacefully during that same year at the age of 80.
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