Ancient History et cetera

Assessing the Destruction at Hatra

Last month reports swept through the global media that ISIS had used bulldozers to level the ancient city of Hatra. ISIS has already destroyed a number of irreplaceable sculptures from Hatra in the Mosul Museum, lending immediate credibility to reports from Iraqi antiquities officials that ISIS fighters had destroyed Hatra itself as well.

However, no videos or other confirmation surfaced for a month afterwards and there was no way to assess the extent of the damage. The story gradually faded from the media. Given the massive size of Hatra, and its location in the middle of the desert, in a region of no strategic significance, over fifty kilometers from inhabited areas, some grew skeptical that ISIS had mounted a major operation to demolish Hatra.

On Saturday video surfaced on YouTube and other websites which showed ISIS fighters destroying sculptures at Hatra. The voice-overs from several ISIS fighters contained the standard spiel about shirk, idolatry, and Muhammad destroying the idols of the Kaaba. The video was quickly removed, but I took some screenshots that will suffice illustrate the items which have been destroyed while leaving out the majority propaganda elements.

The good news is that the damage to Hatra is not as extensive was was first feared. The bad news is that more irreplaceable and unique Hatrene art has been damaged, threatening to further erase an already under-studied field.

At the beginning of the video there is an aerial shot of the ruins of Hatra which seems to have been shot from a blimp or drone. A graphic then highlights the Great Iwans and the Temple of the Triad with a label which reads “idols and statues.”

036All of the artifacts shown being destroyed in the video are from the Great Iwans. None are seen from the Temple of the Triad.

Plan of the Great Iwan at Hatra. City of the Sun God, p. 332-333.

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Magnum incendium Romae (the Great Fire of Rome, 64 AD) — Nero the Arsonist on screen

This week marks the anniversary of the Great Fire of Rome, one of the worst disasters ever to hit the city of Rome. This tragic event took place during the reign of Nero in 64 A.D. The fire began in the merchant area of the city near the Circus Maximus  and rapidly spread through the dry, wooden structures of the Imperial City. According to Tacitus, the fire  burned for six days and seven nights. Only four of the fourteen districts of Rome escaped the fire; three districts were completely destroyed and the other seven suffered serious damage.

Colossal head of Nero belonging to a larger-than-life size statue,Glyptothek Museum, Munich © Carole Raddato

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The Aztecs of Ancient Mexico

Wings outspread, jagged talons projecting front and back from his knees, his face emerging from an eagle’s beak, this is an eagle warrior. Templo Mayor Museum, INAH. National Council for Culture and Arts – INAH.

Wings outspread, jagged talons projecting front and back from his knees, his face emerging from an eagle’s beak, this is an eagle warrior. Templo Mayor Museum, INAH. National Council for Culture and Arts – INAH.

Around 1325 CE, southward migrating Mexicas or “Aztecs” came upon an island in Lake Texcoco, located in the highlands of Central Mexico. On this spot, they consecrated a temple and founded their capital city — the legendary Tenochtitlán — from which they initiated a wave of imperial conquests throughout Mesoamerica. Aztec civilization flourished for nearly two hundred years before falling to the might of the Spanish, led by Hernán Cortés (1485-1547 CE), in 1521 CE. Despite their remarkable innovations in engineering, agriculture, and architecture, many remember the Aztecs solely for their bloody rituals of human sacrifice.

This summer, Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Archaeology and History Museum in Montréal, Canada presents a major international exhibition, The Aztecs, People of the Sun, which offers glimpses into the lost world of a culture that reigned over much of what is present-day Mexico. In this interview, James Blake of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) speaks to Ms. Christine Dufresne, Project Manager at Pointe-à-Callière, about the exhibition and the finer points of Aztec civilization.

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5 Great History Apps

Out of all the history apps available these select few are ones used by Ancient History etcetera’s blog editor, hopefully you find them useful too!

Byzantium at the Getty

GETTY If you are interested in exploring the visually rich and  spiritual art of the Byzantine Empire, this app is for you.  It contains audio, video and photography displaying  items of spiritual significance.

The Getty is available on both Android and Apple   phones. It was created in conjunction with two 2014  exhibitions, Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections and Heaven and Earth: Byzantine Illumination at the Cultural Crossroads.

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The Labours of Hercules reliefs from the Villa Chiragan, Musee Saint-Raymond Toulouse (France)

In honour of Twitter’s international Museum Week (#MuseumWeek), I invite you today to discover some of my favourite sculptures from the collections of the Musée Saint-Raymond in Toulouse (France). The museum is among the best and richest archaeological museums in France and visitors can discover the Roman town of Tolosa (Toulouse in Roman times), the sculptures discovered at the Villa Chiragan and the remains of a necropolis from late antiquity. Its collection, spread over three floors, gives a fascinating glimpse of the history of Toulouse and its area.

Known since the 16th century, the first excavations at the Villa Chiragan were conducted in 1826. The villa was occupied for over four centuries, from the end of the 1st century BC to the early 5th century. Dozens of Roman marble portraits were unearthed as well as a unique ensemble of reliefs depicting the twelve labours of Hercules. The reliefs date from the end of 3rd century AD, during the time of the first Tetrarchy (‘Rule of Four’) instituted by Emperor Diocletian. The empire was effectively divided in two, with an Augustus and a subordinate Caesar in each part. Diocletian appointed fellow officer Maximian as Augustus of the West.

The Labours of Hercules, marble relief discovered at the site of the Roman villa of Chiragan, end of 3rd century ADMusée Saint-Raymond

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The Berthouville Treasure at the Getty Villa

Mercury, 175 - 225. Roman. Medium: Silver and gold. Object: H: 56.3 x Diam.: 16 cm, Weight: 2772 g (22 3/16 x 6 5/16 in., 6.1112 lb.). D: 24 cm (9 7/16 in.). Accession No. VEX.2014.1.1. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des monnaies, médailles et antiques, Paris.

Mercury, 175 – 225. Roman. Medium: Silver and gold. Object: H: 56.3 x Diam.: 16 cm, Weight: 2772 g (22 3/16 x 6 5/16 in., 6.1112 lb.). D: 24 cm (9 7/16 in.). Accession No. VEX.2014.1.1. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des monnaies, médailles et antiques, Paris.

Accidentally discovered by a French farmer in 1830 CE, the spectacular hoard of gilt-silver statuettes and vessels known as the Berthouville Treasure was originally dedicated to the Roman god Mercury. Following four years of meticulous conservation and research at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles, CA, Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville allows visitors to appreciate their full splendor and offers new insights about ancient art, technology, religion, and cultural interaction in Late Roman Gaul. James Blake Wiener, Communications Director at Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE), learns more about this exhibition from Mr. Kenneth Lapatin, Associate Curator of Antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum, in this exclusive interview.

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8 More Amazing Ancient Roman Mosaics

This post is the start of a series of image posts Ancient History et cetera will be putting together each month and today’s post is all about amazing ancient Roman mosaics!

The Romans, well the wealthier ones, were well known for enjoying mosaic decorations in their homes and public buildings. As Roman culture spread far and wide the use of mosaics as decoration can also been seen in many other countries such as Carthage, Byzantine and Turkey.

A Roman floor mosaic dating to the 4th century CE and depicting Dionysos fighting Indians. Dionysos was a very popular subject in Roman mosaics. Provenance: Villa Ruffinella, Rome. (Palazzo Massimo, Rome). Photographer: Mark Cartwright

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Art and sculptures from Hadrian’s Villa: Statue of the young god Hermes, known as ‘Capitoline Antinous’

This week’s sculpture from Hadrian’s Villa is a marble statue of a young nude, the so-called ‘Capitoline Antinous’. It was found in 1723/24 during the time when Giuseppe Fede was undertaking the earliest concerted excavations at the Villa Adriana. However its exact provenance within the Villa is unknown.

The so-called Capitoline Antinous, now considered to be a late Hadrianic / early Antonine copy of an early 4th century BC Greek statue of Hermes, found at Hadrian’s Villa Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums

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Time Travel on Rome’s Ancient Appian Way

The Appian Way — Rome’s gateway to the East — was Europe’s first super highway and the wonder of its day. Built in 312 B.C., it connected Rome with Capua (near Naples), running in a straight line for much of the way. Eventually it stretched 400 miles to Brindisi, from where Roman ships sailed to Greece and Egypt.

While our modern roads seem to sprout potholes right after they’re built, sections of this marvel of Roman engineering still exist. When I visit Rome, I get a thrill walking on the same stones as Julius Caesar or St. Peter. Huge basalt paving blocks form the sturdy base of this roadway. In its heyday, a central strip accommodated animal-powered vehicles, and elevated sidewalks served pedestrians.

The ancient paving blocks of the Appian Way can be seen in a park just outside of central Rome. (photo: Rick Steves)

The ancient paving blocks of the Appian Way can be seen in a park just outside of central Rome. (photo: Rick Steves)

Fortunately, about the first 10 miles of the Appian Way is preserved as a regional park (Parco dell’Appia Antica). In addition to the roadway, there are ruined Roman monuments, two major Christian catacombs, and a church marking the spot where Peter had a vision of Jesus.

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