Saturday 25 June 2016

The Greeks in Asia

The Achaemenid Persian Empire had ruled over an area extending from the Mediterranean to the Indus valley. It was all conquered by Alexander the Great in less than 10 years, his army bringing with it ideas and tastes from Greek civilization that took root and flourished alongside local traditions.

Alexander's conquest created an empire even larger than the Persian empire empire at it's height under Darius I and his son Xerxes I in 6th century BC. The ceremonial capital of Persepolis was largely destroyed by Alexander, but its great stairways, decorated with reliefs of subject rulers bringing tribute, survived.

Relief of Subject Rulers, Persepolis 

Before his death Alexander had placed the key provinces in the conquered Persian empire under the control of trusted governors. After he died in 323 BC his son born out of his wife Roxana never grew up to succeed him and was killed by his own general in 310 BC. After a continues fight for succession from 323 to 279 BC three main Hellenistic states were established.

Hellenistic - The three centuries after Alexander's death in 323 BC are known as Hellenistic age when post-Classical Greek culture spread far beyond its original homeland. Greek ideas and artistic styles were adopted in Asia, Egypt and Rome. The smallest of them was Antigonid kingdom, which ruled in Macedonia and Greece. Constantly involved in war with Greek city states, it eventually fell to Rome in 168 BC.

The richest and most secure was Ptolemaic kingdom, which ruled Egypt and Palestine. It lasted until 30 BC when in the reign of Cleopatra VII, it was annexed by Rome.

The largest of the Successor states was, however, the Seleucid empire, founded in 312 BC by Seleucus I Nicator, when he secured Babylon and with it control of Persia, Mesopotamia, Anatolia and Syria. The three empires spread Greek ideas through their political institutions, town planning and architecture.

Seleucus I had a new capital Seleucia, built in Mesopotamia on the Tigris, near Babylon, but the capital was soon moved to Antioch in Syria. In the course of 3rd century BC the Seleucids had to abandon their Eastern provinces of Bacteria and Parthia.

Bactrian Deities  
The distant Bactrian kingdom retained a magnificent Greek coinage, archaeological sites such as Ai Khanoum (in modern Afghanistan) reveal that Bactrian cities continued to follow Greek models. This plate from Ai khanoum shows the Greek goddess Cybele in a chariot pulled by loins in front of a Persian priest at a fire alter.

Nemrud Dag, Turkey

In 1st century CE, the king of Commagene(southeast of present day Turkey) , Antiochus I, built a mountain top shrine where the fine statuary depict both Greek and Persian deities and uses a combination of Eastern and Western artistic styles. It broke away from  the Seleucids around 162 BC.

Philhellenism: Admiration for Greek philosophy, poetry, and sculpture survives to this day, although it probably peaked in 18th and 19th century Europe. The Apotheosis of Homer (below) embodies the spirit of admiration for classical Greece. Philhellenism takes no account of the fact that Greek women had no vote or that Greek society depended on the labor of slaves.

Apotheosis of Homer

In the 2nd century BC the Seleucids were driven from Persia and Mesopotamia by Parthians. By 100 BC the empire had been reduced to Antioch and a few Syrian cities. It was Roman general Pompey who put an end to the empire, annexing Syria as a Roman province in 64 BC.

When Romans tried to invade Mesopotamia in 53 BC, the Parthians defeated at Carrhae but Romans sacked Parthian capital of Ctesiphon in 2nd century CE. Parthians were later ousted by the Persian Sassanids in 236 CE.

Greek influenced Buddha, Bacteria, 3rd century CE

Aspects of Hellenistic culture also survived further East, in Bacteria(in Afghanistan) and parts of Northern India such as Gandhara.   Between the 2nd century BC and the 4th century CE, many sculptures from Bacteria and the so called Indo-Greek kingdoms display a combination of artistic styles of India, Persia and Greece. 

Sunday 19 June 2016

Alexander the Great

In less than a decade of warfare, Alexander of  Macedonia ,known as "the Great", created one of the largest empire the world has ever seen, stretching from Greece to Northern India. His career of conquest was built upon that of his father Philip II, king of Macedonia.

Philip II of Macedonia Reign: 359 - 336 BC

Philip turned Macedonia into a regional power in the Greek world and created an army of heavy cavalry and pike wielding infantry that became the instrument for Alexander's empire-building. When Philip was making an expedition against Byzantium in 340 BC, Alexander acted as the regent of Macedonia and keeper of the seals.

At the age of 18 he led a cavalry charge at battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC that crushed the Sacred Band - the famed elite Greek Infantry from Thebes. There were rumors that Alexander's mother, Olympias, tried to have Philip assassinated before a son by another wife could grow old enough to succeed him.

Alexander the Great Reign: 336 - 323 BC

After he became king Alexander led his army across Hellespont, the body of water that separates Europe from Asia Minor, in 334 BC to liberate the Greek cities under Persian rule. One year later he defeated Persian king Darius III at Issus in modern Syria.

Alexander the Great
This Roman mosaic shows Alexander riding his horse Bucephalus into battle against the Persians at Issus in 333 BC. Leading his army from the front, Alexander was never defeated in battle, despite fighting the armies three times the size of his own.

In 332 BC Alexander takes the cites of Tyre(Lebanon) and Gaza(Israel) and is crowned pharaoh of Egypt. Next year he encounters Persian army in Gaugamela and defeats them. Darius III is murdered by his own Bactrian entourage and Alexander declares himself king of Persia.

In 327 BC he marries Roxana(Roxanne) , a Sogdian princess and next year he invades Punjab in Northern India and defeats King Porus at the battle of the Hydaspes. Reaching River Hyphasis his soldiers mutiny and force Alexander to turn back, following the Jhelum, a tributary of Indus river, to the sea.

Alexander claimed descent in his father's line from the Greek hero-god Herakles(Hercules) and from his mother from the legendary hero of the Trojan war, Achilles. This coin shows Alexander as the semi-divine Herakles and on the other side he represented as the horned god Ammon, the supreme Egyptian deity.

Alexander as God
Alexander founded Alexandria as a Macedonian capital of Egypt. Its light house was one of the seven wonders of ancient world.

Alexandria's Lighthouse

On June 11 323 BC Alexender died of a fever on Babylon, leaving no clear successor. His mummified body was taken to Egypt, where it remained on display for more than 500 years.   

Saturday 11 June 2016

The Greek City States

The rise of the polis - city-state - in ancient Greece was a major development in world politics. Great states such as Athens, Sparta, and Corinth provided a variety of models for ruling through a system of law, with Athens in particular paving the way to a ground breaking idea: Democratic Government.

The period of Greek history leading up to the  Archaic period was preceded the rich civilization of Myceane and a period known as the "Dark Age" of Greece. Artifacts from Mycenae,Greece are evidence of a rich Mediterranean civilization that existed before the rise of the city-states. This culture peaked around 2nd millennium BC.

Between 1100 - 750 BC, ancient Greece was in a Dark Age about which little is known. All of the future city states may have been clusters of village at this time. At the start of Archaic period(750 - 480 BC), increasing Mediterranean populations fueled their rise. They reached their height during the Classical period(480 - 323 BC).

By the 7th century BC Athens was on the rise as a leading city state. Central to its identity was its legal system. Around 621 BC, Athenian magistrate Draco laid down a series of laws which were city's first significant legal code. Athenian statesman Solon (630 - 560 BC), brought in laws that helped protect rights of "Ordinary" people.


Central to city-state concept was that the inhabitants were identified by their state above all else. So being a citizen of Sparta - a Spartan, was more important then being Greek.  The types of government kept changing in these city-states and these included monarchy, tyranny(one strong leader,not necessarily an unpopular one), oligarchy(rule by small group of nobles) and democracy.

The period of city states saw philosophers and scholars such as Thales of Miletus bringing together Mathematical principles from Mesopotamia and Egypt to invent Geometry(geo meaning earth and metron measure in Greek).       

Thales of Miletus

The defining work on Geometry was written by Euclid a mathematician from Egypt, born 300 BC, author of treatise on geometry, "The Elements". His ideas on geometry and number theory remain key to mathematics today.

11th century relief of Euclid

City states of Greek model came to be found right across the Aegean and its islands, in western Asia minor(Ephesus), Sicily(Syracuse), southern Italy(Tarentum), Africa(notably Cyrene in Libya) and France(Marseilles).

Theater at Epidauros

This theater at Epidauros, a city state in Peloponnese, was built in 4th century BC. The best preserved theater to survive from ancient Greece, it seated around 12,000 people and has exceptional acoustics. The theater of the Ancient Greeks influenced both the development of drama and  theater design.

Athenian city state life in the 5th and 4th centuries BC saw remarkable flourishing of intellectual and artistic life. Playwrights including Aeschylus and Sophocles explored great philosophical themes that were later tackled by Plato and Aristotle. When Athens won over Persia in 4th century BC its Acropolis was rebuilt and the great Parthenon temple completed.     

The Parthenon

This breath taking marble temple was built on Athens' acropolis between 447 and 432 BC and was dedicated to city's patron goddess Athena. A gold and ivory statue(now lost) of the Goddess by the famous sculptor Phidas stood in the center of the temple.

Parthenon treasure

This exquisite sculpture from the Parthenon in Athens is widely believe to have come from the workshop of Phidas, the most famous sculpture of Ancient Greece.

Aristotle (384 - 322 BC)

Born in northern Greece, Aristotle was one of history's great philosophers. In his famous work, politics ,he analyzed many of the great city states in an exploration of what might be the best form of government. In general he had a great respect for the polis as a good way to govern.  

Rivalry between city states was constant, particularly between Athens and Sparta. Some events brought the states together, such as Panhellenic games which included the Olympic games, and religious festivals. City states combined forces against the Persians in 5th century BC, an alliance effectively led by Sparta. 

Sanctuary of Athena
Sanctuary of Athena is one of the several buildings clustered around the oracle at Delphi a sacred site close to Gulf of Corinth. From about 650 - 550 BC, Corinth experienced a golden era. With colonies in the Adriatic and Macedonia, its command of several important harbors made it important seafaring and trading center.  

Temple of Apollo at Corinth

In 338 BC, the Macedonian king Philip II defeated the Greeks and formed the League of Corinth to support its own imperial plans. Rome grew in power and ruled over an empire using some of the ancient Greek models.

Sunday 5 June 2016

Rameses II

The greatest pharaoh of the New Kingdom(1550 - 1069 BC), Rameses II reigned supreme for almost 70 years and brought stability and prosperity to Egypt. He used diplomacy, military strategy and propaganda to promote Egypt and maintain his empire.

Being the third pharaoh of the 19th dynasty(1295 - 1187 BC) , from his father Seti I ,Rameses inherited an established empire that stretched from modern day Syria on the North to Sudan in the south. The greatesst threat to his empire was the Hittite Empire further north in Anatolia.

Rameses II, Born - 1302 BC; Died - 1213 BC
His famous confrontation with the Hittites was at the battle of Kadesh in Syria in 1275 BC. Around 1258 BC after continues skirmishes, the Hittites and Egyptians drew up a groundbreaking agreement, effectively ending hostilities between them. Rameses married at least one Hittite princess to underline this new accord.

Egyptian-Hittite peace treaty

 The peace treaty between Rameses II and Hattuski III was first recorded on a silver tablet. An astonishingly modern document, it is seen as the first real international peace treaty, containing clauses on advanced concepts, such as amnesty issues for refugees and extradition of fugitives. It's copy is hanging in the headquarters of United Nations.  

Young Rameses II

This limestone fragment from a stele(commemorative pillar), shows Rameses sitting next to hieroglyphs(symbols) that indicate he is destined to become King of Egypt. He wears the side plait and a heavy ear decoration that was typical of a young Egyptian prince.

Battle of Kadesh
This bas relief from Abu Simbel portrays Rameses II fighting the Hittites single handedly. He is seen astride a chariot, wielding a bow and arrow, and wearing the crown of war.

Rameses built the famous temples dedicated to himself and his favorite wife, Nefertari, at Abu Simbel , close to Egypt's modern border with Sudan. The four massive statues of Rameses at Abu Simbel are one of the greatest achievements of Egyptian art.

Rameses II temple at Abu Simbel

Another major site was Rameses' vast mortuary temple, the Ramesseum, built on the west bank on the Nile at Thebes. A symbol of pharaoh's power and wealth, it was a part of grand complex included a splendid funerary temple dedicated to his parents, courts framed with statues of himself and grand avenues of sphinxes.


Rameses' reign was the last great era of imperial glory for ancient Egypt, and he made his presence felt as far as modern Turkey. He left a wonderful record of art and history, and a real taste of the grandeur and power of the pharaohs.

Rameses' mummy

Discovered in the 19th century the mummy of Rameses II was later unwrapped to reveal his body. He was a tall man for the times, with a long narrow face, prominent nose, large jaw and red hair. He is thought to be about 90 years old when he died.

Follow me on Blogarama