Archive for the ‘Ancient Mediterranean’ Category
Many people have heard of the Trojan War or, at the very least, the Trojan horse. But the war and the horse are both myths and there are many people who think that the city was a myth as well. While there may have been no Helen, no jealous Greek gods or goddesses and no large wheeled wooden equine, the fact is that the city itself was very real indeed.
Historians certainly thought that the city was a myth. After all, there were no ruins, no digs that had unearthed proof of the city’s existence. Homer’s Troy seemed like nothing more than the fictional setting for a tale of betrayal, revenge and godly intervention. It seemed doomed to exist only in books and, later, in movies and television shows.
One archaeologist found what he thought may have been the site of this ancient city. In 1865, Frank Calvert purchased a field near Hisarlik in Turkey. The area was located near Mount Ida in an area southeast of the Dardanelles. Calvert began to excavate the area using a series of trenches. He was later joined by a German archaeologist by the name of Heinrich Schliemann. Their digging and excavation revealed not one city, but several which had been built in succession.
A total of nine different cities ranging from the third millennium BCE up until the first century BCE were discovered on the same site. The last city to have been built on the site was actually not called Troy. Instead the city, which was built during the time of the Emperor Augustus was named Ilium. It actually remained in existence until Constantinople was established and it began to decline during the Byzantine era.
The city began as a mercantile city. It was able to dominate trade in the area since it controlled access to the Dardanelles, a narrow strait that was once known as Hellespont. It connected the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Many ships travelled through this strait and so being able to control access to the area meant that Troy was very powerful indeed.
One incarnation of the city was destroyed by an earthquake around 1300BCE. When the area occupied by this city (named Troy VI) was excavated, only one artifact (an arrowhead) was unearthed and there were no bodies discovered. Another incarnation of the city actually was destroyed by war. It was dated to the mid to late 13th century BCE.
Even as late as the founding of Ilium the city was known as an important trade city. This city was not destroyed. Instead, it declined gradually as Constantinople became established as the Roman Empire’s eastern capital. Ruins can still be viewed today although this area is not considered to be the Troy of Homeric legend.
Individuals who are interested in viewing the ancient and fabled ruins are able to do so by travelling to Truva, a Turkish city located near the Troia archaeological site. In 1998, the Troia site became a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Although many ancient cities have been destroyed by time, the ruins of ancient Carthage are still visible. The city was dominated by a large necropolis or burial ground. One area of this necropolis is known as the Tophet, a massive child cemetery where the remains of approximately 20,000 urns have been unearthed. The remains inside were charred and often belonged to newborn babies although remains belonging to children as old as two.
A number of theories have arisen about how the children came to be buried in the Tophet. Worship of the god Ba’al Hammon and the goddess Tanit called for child sacrifice and it is the remains of those sacrifices that are found buried in the Tophet. Other theories are that the infants had died naturally of causes such as disease.
But if the babies in the Tophet had been sacrificed to Tanit and Ba’al Hammon, where did they come from? Were the Carthaginians sacrificing their own children? And how many children were sacrificed at one time?
If historical accounts are to be believed, the babies that were sacrificed were often the children of servants or were purchased by affluent Carthaginians rather than offering their own children to the flames. Some circumstances called for special sacrifices, however, and in cases such as famine, war or other disasters, Carthaginians may have been forced by the priests to offer their own children up in sacrifice. One story states that in 310 BCE, up to 500 children were killed and their bodies were then placed into a sacrificial fire pit. The urns were used to store the remains which were gathered up after the ceremony was complete.
A number of historians wrote about the child sacrifice that was practiced in Carthage. Noted historians and philosophers such as Orosious, Philo and Plutarch mentioned that child sacrifice was performed at the Tophet (a name which actually means “roasting place”).
However, some individuals believe that since the authors of these reports were Roman for the most part that it may have been an attempt to slander the Carthaginians and turn public opinion against them. The Carthaginian military commander Hannibal vowed to destroy Rome and travelled across the Alps accompanied by his army and a number of elephants in an attempt to take the city itself. He occupied much of Italy for approximately fifteen years before being defeated by the Roman general Scipio Aemilianus. Rome and Carthage fought in a series of Punic Wars which ultimately led to the fall of Carthage in 146 BCE.
Whether you believe that the Tophet was a scene of numerous child sacrifices or you believe that the area was a graveyard for children the facts remain the same. The area, which was estimated to be as large as an acre and a half by the fourth century BCE, was home to the remains of more than twenty thousand infants and children. It is no wonder, then, that visitors to the area still find the Tophet to be a spooky and unnerving tourism destination.
The ancient town of Tiberias is located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel, and is perhaps most famous for its prominent place in Jewish history – even though its origins are situated in Rome, since it was built by around 20 AD by Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, and named after the Roman Emperor Tiberius.
Recent excavations in Tiberias have exposed finds that date to the town’s founding during the 1st century, as well as a Byzantine church from sometime between the 4th and 5th centuries AD. The mosaics that were uncovered in this church are incredibly detailed and extremely colorful, and are decorated with geometric patterns of shapes and crosses.
In addition, there are three inscriptions written in ancient Greek that appear to be dedications – part of one of the inscriptions begins: “Our Lord, protect the soul of your servant…”. Another mosaic has a prominent medallion in the center with a large cross inside and the Greek letters alpha and omega, which was a typical Byzantine monogram for the name of Jesus.
Since this is the oldest church to be discovered in Tiberias thus far, it is interesting to see that the buildings which surrounded the church in ancient times were far from religious – they were typical public buildings, including a bathhouse, some shops, and a basilica. What is more, the church was built right in the center of the city, which falls contrary to the previous notion about Christian and Jewish relations at the time.
It was originally theorized that the Jewish leadership at Tiberias prohibited Christians from establishing their own places of prayer in the middle of the town, instead claiming this area for exclusively Jewish religious needs. The position of this church now disproves the theory conclusively – apparently town planning and Christian-Jewish relationships at Tiberas during the Byzantine era were not as straightforward as previously thought.
Although the exact date of the church’s construction is not yet known, there was a decree issued in 427 AD that prohibited the placement of crosses in mosaic floor designs, after it was decided that stepping on a sacred symbol was not appropriate. Since there are a large number of crosses in the mosaic designs from this church, at the very least, it was constructed before the ban was put into place.
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Tomorrow: Extreme home makeover…in ancient Egypt!
Around six million years ago, something rather drastic happened: the world lost an ocean. Fortunately, it’s returned since then, but during the Messinian Salinity Crisis, there was no Mediterranean Sea. Instead, there was a bit of a wading pool… or possibly even completely dry land.
During the Messinian period of the Miocene epoch, it seems that what is now known as the Strait of Gibraltar actually closed up, disallowing the flow of water from the Atlantic and resulting in the Mediterranean seabed simply evaporating – in some places up to 3 miles below sea level. As this occurred, there were also some cases of extreme erosion, creating several enormous canyons in and around the coastline, after which the evaporation procedure left behind deposits of evaporite mineral sediments.
It was during some routine geological work in the Mediterranean that geologists found evidence for this ancient desiccation of the sea, as they found mineral deposits that only form when large amounts of isolated salt water evaporate over time. Combined with layers of marine fossils, which indicats repeated periods of drying and flooding, as well as now submerged canyons that are cut into the sides of the sea basin, geologists realized there was enough evidence to confidently assert that, for some period of time, there was no Mediterranean sea.
During the period of dehydration, earth’s sea levels rose by 10 meters – if this happened today, many of the world’s major cities and landforms would be completely submerged! The global climate was also changed during this time, causing almost the entire Mediterranean basin to become a wasteland devoid of plant and animal life, and at 3 meters below sea level inside the basin, the temperature would have been almost 50 degrees hotter at the bottom than the temperature at sea level. With that kind of heat in and around the basin, added to the increased salinity of the area, the great civilizations of Egypt, Greece, Rome, and any other known Mediterranean culture could not have developed – unless the sea was refilled.
Eventually, the Strait of Gibraltar opened again, allowing water from the Atlantic to once again refill the Mediterranean basin, but not until the earth’s oceans had already been permanently altered by the loss – the freezing point of the ocean had been raised, and the average salinity of seawater significantly reduced. Even today, the salinity of the Mediterranean is higher than the North Atlantic, and thus it continues to have a higher rate of evaporation.
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Tomorrow: Iranian Salt Men.
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