Ancient History et cetera

Angkor: Temples of Delight

Today we have another contribution from Timeless Travels Magazine in which Annabel Venn writes about her visit to the Angkor Archaeological Park.

Angkor Wat reflected in surrounding pool. Photo © Annabel Venn

Angkor Wat reflected in surrounding pool. Photo © Annabel Venn

Angkor is one of the most famous archaeological sites in Asia. Filled with fellow travellers, it can be overwhelming at times. Annabel Venn gives her advice on how to beat the crowds and experience this fabulous site in peace

The small light flickers on the front of my bicycle, barely illuminating the dark road ahead. A minibus full of snoozing passengers passes me, rather too close for comfort, offering me a brief glimpse of where I am pedalling. With a free hand, I wrap my Cambodian krama up around my neck; it is already warm but the cool breeze is chilling at this time of the morning. Not often am I persuaded to get up before the sun does, but today I am guided by a sense of exploration. Ahead of me lies the ancient city of Angkor.

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Trier: The Rome of the North

After so many years of travel, it is difficult to choose one single place as a favorite, but there is one place stands out in my mind more than the others. Trier, Germany’s oldest city, and nicknamed, “the Rome of the North,” calls me back again and again. Every visit to Trier is like the first visit. If you wander around long enough you’ll find something new every time. Trier is situated along the Moselle Valley in Germany, near Luxembourg. Trier boasts not one or two, but eight UNESCO World Heritage sites. If you’re looking to check a few UNSECO sites off your travel bucket list, Trier is an excellent place to begin.

Trier Black Gate

Although the history of Trier spans more than two millennia, it’s the Roman history that keeps bringing me back. I’ve been to Rome once, Trier at least five times, and there is no question that Trier wins out for me. Rome has more, and the ruins are bigger, but in Trier you get a sense of being back in time that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s not crowded so you can wander this beautiful city as slowly or as quickly as you like. Everything is within walking distance so there is no metro, and there is no need to jostle and bustle for a spot in line to see the ruins.There are no crowds, no matter the time of year, and there is a sense of relaxation and history everywhere. Coffee shops are everywhere and many offer a spectacular view of Trier’s famous monuments. Everything in Trier, with the exception the badly deteriorated ruins of the Barbara Baths are within walking distance of the central square.

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The Success and Failure of Greek History in Film

Ancient Greece has been represented in cinema several times over the years and has received mixed reviews, unfortunately primarily negative. The genre appears to have fallen behind the dark shadow of Rome and perhaps with good reason. Despite any failures that filmmakers have made along the way, films based in antiquity continue to be popular for they possess the ability to bridge the gap between the past and the present, offering spectacular and compelling interpretations of history that are both relevant and educational for viewers. This can be said for both Greek and Roman history, yet what is it about Greek history that seems so difficult to portray on screen? Evidently, there are three primary issues in regards to filming Greek history in a manner that modern audiences will be able to both understand and connect with: the problem with “Greek love;” the lack of unity within ancient Greece; and the difficulty of filming key “Greek” ideas. The famous tales of the battle of Thermopylae and Alexander the Great have emerged as the most “successful” Greek stories to be represented in film, however, they are not without fault. By examining how filmmakers have addressed the issues of representing Greek history through films such as Alexander the Great (1956), Alexander (2004), The 300 Spartans (1962), and 300 (2007) the success and failure of each will be identified as well as how such films may mark a shift in this trend of unpopularity.


What has become one of the most notorious aspects of ancient Greek culture is also one of the main issues when representing Greek history on screen. This aspect is, of course, the idea of “Greek love,” and it has come to be a very uncomfortable theme within the modern world, often dismissed repeatedly as outrageous and/or disgusting. Interestingly enough, not only does modern society take issue with the idea of Greek love, it is also uncomfortable with the idea of nudity during athletics. This is extremely obvious when watching any Greek historical film, for individuals represented exercising are always depicted in loincloths rather than in the nude. Take300 or Alexander for example, where king Leonidas wrestles with his son, and young Alexander with his companions under the tutelage of their instructor. Clearly, depicting actors in the traditional nude would be too much for a modern audience to handle, and if that is deemed inappropriate, then how could “Greek love” be represented?

Alexander the Great in Combat

An artistic impression of Alexander the Great in combat (played by Colin Farrell), from the motion picture Alexander (2004), directed by Oliver Stone. Photo by Warner Brothers.

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Novelist Nick Brown on ‘The Wooden Walls of Thermopylae’

Nick Brown’s latest novel, The Wooden Walls of Thermopylae

Jan van der Crabben, CEO & Founder of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE), recently sat down with Nick Brown, a teacher of archaeology and now novelist, to discuss his latest title: The Wooden Walls of Thermopylae. Brown’s book is a work historical fiction centred on the battle of Thermopylae, as told from the perspective of a foot soldier.

AHE: Mr. Nick Brown, thank you for granting AHE this interview. In a few sentences, what is the basic plot of The Wooden Walls of Thermopylae ?

NB: Wooden Walls follows on from Luck Bringer and is a research-based novel. I wanted to fill in the gaps with evidence based conjecture to flesh out a great narrative. The Athenians have won their battle at Marathon and Athens is a city seething with fear and treachery as it awaits the revenge of Xerxes, king of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. It tells the story of the desperate alliance between Sparta and Athens, and how it led to Thermopylae and the destruction of the city of Athens. It also gives a flavour of the experience of the men and women who lived through these years, providing an answer as to how the three hundred Spartans came to die in the pass of the Hot Gates.

AHE: What is it that fascinated you so much about this particular period in history?

NB: I cannot understand why this period with its range and excitement is neglected in fiction when compared to Rome. I have been fascinated by this period since studying ancient history at university. Early on, I had to produce a piece of work on the Athenian general, Miltiades, who led the Athenians at Marathon. I found it amazing that a renegade like Miltiades managed to persuade the hostile Athenian politicians to leave their city and face what looked like certain death on the beach at Marathon. Within two years the Athenians tried and convicted Miltiades for acts against the city.

What happened? This period of Greek history is the foundation of Western culture, but in 490 BCE this nascent democracy looked unlikely to survive.  And yet in a period of about fifty years, modern politics, philosophy, architecture and drama were born. The story of those years is one of sacrifice, courage and innovation unrivalled by any other time.

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The Newly Discovered Tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh

I was taking photos in the main hall of the Sulaymaniyah Museum and came across a display case containing a small clay tablet. The description beside it said the tablet was part of the Epic of Gilgamesh and a fragment of tablet V. Immediately I thought it was a ‘replica’ as the description was superficial. It did not say the tablet was genuine, that it was newly discovered or even told about the many new pieces of information it had revealed.

A newly discovered tablet V of the epic of Gilgamesh. The left half of the whole tablet has survived and is composed of 3 fragments. The Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraq. Photo © Osama S.M. Amin.

A newly discovered tablet V of the epic of Gilgamesh. The left half of the whole tablet has survived and is composed of 3 fragments. The Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraq. Photo © Osama S.M. Amin.

After the US-led invasion of Iraq and the dramatic looting of Iraqi and other museums, the Sulaymaniyah Museum (directed by the council of ministers of Iraqi Kurdistan) started an initiative. They paid smugglers to ‘intercept’ archeological artifacts on their journey to other countries. No questions were asked about who was selling the piece or where it came from. The Sulaymaniyah Museum believed this condition kept smugglers from selling their merchandise to other buyers, as they would have otherwise done so ‘with ease and without any legal consequences.’ Read more…

The Tomb of Poulnabrone: A Portal to the Past

Today we have another contribution from Timeless Travels Magazine in which Joshua Mark writes about his visit to Poulnabrone, Ireland.

Puluabrone. Photo © Joshua Mark

Pulnabrone. Photo © Joshua Mark

The Neolithic Age is a quiet time for the history enthusiast. There are no great epics, no legends, not even king’s lists but only the moss covered sites, standing stones, sometimes with enigmatic carvings, and sombre, stone monuments.

These sites do have their stories however, whispered in soft tones, and if one listens carefully one can sense their stories in the presence of the past. Poulnabrone, a dolmen in the region known as the Burren in County Clare, Ireland, is one such site.

In January of 2015 I visited Poulnabrone with my wife, Betsy. It was a cold day with a strong wind coming down from the highlands across the strange, cratered, rock slabs which make up the Burren.

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Ancient History Short Courses

Hello Ancient History enthusiasts!

Over the last two years I have been doing some investigating and today I will share with you my efforts. This post contains a collection of free ancient history courses you can find on the web. I believe it is important to learn and always expand our knowledge. Not only is it exciting to learn a new area of study but being so informed helps us to make better choices for our future, as they say in Battlestar Galactica, “all of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.” Therefore, it is my hope that you find something of interest in this post. 


Old World Inspirational sign. Photographer: Nicolas Raymond, CC BY 3.0.

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Rediscovering Ancient Colombia’s Rich Past

Despite the popular appeal of the legendary city of El Dorado, our collective understanding of ancient Colombia’s history remains largely obscured by the advanced civilizations of Mesoamerica and the Andes. A new exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in Los Angeles, CA, however, reveals that ancient Colombia’s past is far older and more diverse than is apparent in documents written by Spanish conquistadores. Drawing from LACMA’s impressive collection of ancient Colombian artifacts, Ancient Colombia: A Journey through the Cauca Valley offers fresh perspectives on the material culture and indigenous history of Colombia’s native peoples.

M2007_146_447In this interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) speaks to Dr. Julia Burtenshaw-Zumstein, a Post-Doctoral Curatorial Fellow in LACMA’s Art of the Ancient Americas department, about this exciting new exhibition, which juxtaposes colonial Spanish documents with recent archaeological finds.

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10 Hidden Ancient Treasures in Caria, Turkey

The Sanctuary of Zeus Labraundos, Labraunda, Caria, Turkey

The Sanctuary of Zeus Labraundos at Labraunda overlooking the plain of Milas, Caria, Turkey.

Located at the crossroads of many ancient civilizations, Turkey is a haven for archaeology lovers. Over the centuries, a succession of empires and kingdoms – Hittite, Lydian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and, finally, Ottoman – ruled over Anatolia. The country’s unique cultural legacy, its remarkably beautiful landscape as well as the friendliness of its people make visiting Turkey a rewarding experience. The country is scattered with so many archaeological wonders that each visit always seems too short. I have myself come back several times discovering one fascinating place after another. Having visited most of the great classical sites in western Turkey, I invite you to discover the ancient treasures of Caria, a region of considerable historical importance and geographical diversity. Some sites, such as the coastal city of Miletus and the oracular sanctuary of Didyma are already familiar to the modern visitor. Other lesser-known ancient cities that are no less spectacular are to be found inland, in relatively remote areas.

Interactive Map of Ancient Sites

Interactive Map of Ancient Sites

Caria is the name given during ancient times to the south western region of Anatolia’s Aegean shore in Asia Minor, present-day Turkey. Caria’s neighbours included Ionia in the north and Lycia in the east whereas nowadays it mostly covers the Muğla province. Its inhabitants were the Carians and the Leleges (the descendants of the Carians). Even though Carians are mentioned frequently in ancient literature, their history is still largely unknown. In the Iliad, Homer writes that they fought against the Greeks as allies to the Trojans. The historian Herodotus, who was born in the Carian city of Halicarnassus, describes them as fierce, seafaring warriors and as being of Minoan descent. However Pausanias, the intrepid Greek traveler of the 2nd century AD, tells that the Carians were the former inhabitants of the land and that colonists from Crete mixed with them and adopted their name. The Carians themselves thought that they were indigenous people of Asia Minor. Read more…

Rome: 4 Triumphal Arches

by Mark Cartwright September 10, 2015 Photos 0 Comments

The triumphal arch was a type of Roman architectural monument built all over the empire to commemorate military triumphs and other significant events such as the accession of a new emperor. Arches were often erected over major thoroughfares and as the structure had no practical function as a building it was often richly decorated with architectural details, sculpture and commemorative inscriptions, typically using bronze letters. The city of Rome has four outstanding examples of these lasting testaments to Roman vanity.

Arch of Constantine I, 315 CE

The largest surviving Roman arch was built to celebrate Constantine's defeat of Maxentius in 312 CE.

The largest surviving Roman arch was built to celebrate Constantine’s defeat of Maxentius in 312 CE.

The Arch of Constantine I, erected in c. 315 CE, stands in Rome and commemorates Roman Emperor Constantine’s victory over the Roman tyrant Maxentius on 28th October 312 CE at the battle of Milvian Bridge in Rome. It is the largest surviving Roman triumphal arch and the last great monument of Imperial Rome. The arch is also a tour de force of political propaganda, presenting Constantine as a living continuation of the most successful Roman emperors, renowned for their military victories and good government. Read more…