The following seven Roman mosaics are all currently on display in the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme National Museum, Rome. Mosaics were a common feature of Roman private homes and public buildings across the empire from Africa to Antioch. Mosaics, otherwise known as opus tesellatum, were made with small black, white, and coloured squares typically measuring between 0.5 and 1.5 cm, but fine details were often rendered using even smaller pieces as little as 1 mm in size. These squares (tesserae or tessellae) were cut from materials such as marble, tile, glass, smalto (glass paste),pottery, stone, and even shells. A base was first prepared with fresh mortar, and the tesserae positioned as close together as possible with any gaps then filled with liquid mortar in a process known as grouting. The whole was then cleaned and polished. Mosaics were by no means limited to flooring. Vaults, columns, and fountains were often decorated with mosaic, especially in Roman baths. Popular subjects were figures and scenes from Roman mythology, landscapes, and still-lifes.
To read more about this fascinating art form, see Ancient History Encyclopedia’s article on Roman Mosaics.
A Roman floor mosaic dating to the 3rd century CE and depicting one of the four seasons. Black and white mosaics were very popular throughout the Roman period in Italy. Provenance: via Prenestina, Rome.
Greek sculpture from 800 to 300 BCE took early inspiration from Egyptian and Near Eastern monumental art, and over centuries evolved into a uniquely Greek vision of the art form. Greek artists would reach a peak of artistic excellence which captured the human form in a way never before seen and which was much copied. Greek sculptors were particularly concerned with proportion, poise, and the idealised perfection of the human body, and their figures in stone and bronze have become some of the most recognisable pieces of art ever produced by any civilization.
They created life-size and life-like sculpture which glorified the human and especially nude male form. Even more was achieved than this though. Marble turned out to be a wonderful medium for rendering what all sculptors strive for: that is to make the piece seem carved from the inside rather than chiselled from the outside. Quite simply, the sculptures no longer seemed to be sculptures but were figures instilled with life and verve.
This Crouching Aphrodite marble statue is a Roman variant of the 2nd century CE after a Hellenistic type. It depicts Aphrodite as bathing, crouching with her right knee close to the ground. (Louvre Museum). Photo by Carole Raddato, CC-BY-SA.
After visiting Babylon and Borsippa, I planned to visit the ancient city of Kish in modern-day Iraq. I had an obstacle; how to get there? It is not a typical site for tourists or the public. The site was an American military base for a few years after the US-led invasion in 2003. After they withdrew from the site, the Iraqi army prevented people from going there, because, simply, it is a target for looters and illegal excavations!
I drove my car and kept my fingers crossed. The ancient city of Kish lies about 12 km to the east of Babylon. I took my uncle and cousin with me. I’m not familiar with the area, but we found it in the end. A security checkpoint stopped us… no way to Kish! My cousin made some phone calls to certain people; bingo, we could go in!
The most striking thing you encounter when you visit Kish, is this: ruins of a ziggurat.
The British Museum in London is rim-filled with treasures. Not only does its Mesopotamian section blow your mind, but you can continue and wander through time, enjoying the ancient Greeks and Romans. Almost hidden, at the back of the museum on the first floor, is the Egyptian section. It’s filled with the usual mummies and papyri, but my personal favourite of this section is the tomb chapel of Nebamun.
Nebamun was an accountant in the Temple of Amun at Thebes (modern Karnak), living around 1350 BCE. He must have been good at what he was doing, as his family was so rich that he was buried in a richly-adorned tomb. The tomb is covered with beautiful wall paintings that show many facets of ancient Egyptian life… or at least how the wealthy classes in Egypt wanted to portray their life. These murals are an idealised view of how life was like in Egypt, but seeing it you can still imagine how things might have been.
Hunting in the Egyptian Marshes
Standing on a small boat, Nebamun hunting in the marshes. His wife and their daughter have come along for the ride. Like many cultures, the Egyptians hoped to enjoy life and see beauty in the afterlife. Isn’t the wildlife stunning?
This year marks the bimillennial anniversary of the death of the first Roman emperor, Augustus. He died on 19th August AD 14 at the age of 75 after a 41-year reign, the longest in Roman history.
Augustus left his mark on Rome and western civilisation like few others. He vastly expanded the Roman Empire, established a period of relative peace known as the “Pax Romana” (or “Pax Augusta”), a period of immense architectural and artistic achievement whose effects were felt far beyond the capital. His legacy is perhaps best represented in the abundance of statues that were erected throughout the empire during and after his reign.
Augustus of Prima Porta, discovered in the Villa of Livia at Prima Porta © Carole Raddato
Portraits of Augustus were used as symbols of his political propaganda. Abandoning the realistic style of the Republican period, his portraits always showed him as an idealized young man. This would set the standards for imperial portraiture used by Roman emperors over the next three centuries.
The temple in the ancient Greek world was perhaps the most recognisable building in the urban landscape. Typically constructed in an eye-catching location using the finest of marble, they were the focus of Greek religious practices and could house magnificent treasures and monumental stautes of the Greek gods on the inside and display some of the greatest of Greek sculpture on the outside. Built wherever the Greeks colonized across the Mediterranean world, they would go on to influence the Romans and, even today, their architectural features can be seen across the world in all manner of public buildings. To read more on temples see Ancient History Encyclopedia’s definition, Temples in the Ancient World.
Temple of Apollo, Naxos
The remains of the foundations, crepidoma and doorway leading from the prodromos to the cella of the 6th century BCE temple of Apollo on Naxos in the Cyclades. The doorway is 6m high and 3.5 m wide. The temple itself, as indicated by its surviving foundations, measured some 59 by 28 metres.
Cover for “Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine.” (Photo, courtesy of Nawal Nasrallah.)
Mesopotamia (from the Greek, meaning “between two rivers”) was an ancient region in the Near East, which corresponds roughly to present-day Iraq. Widely regarded as the “cradle of civilization,” Mesopotamia should be more properly understood as a region that produced multiple empires and civilizations rather than any single civilization. Iraqi cuisine, like its art and culture, is the sum of its varied and rich past. Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and a History of the Iraqi Cuisine, by independent scholar Nawal Nasrallah, offers more than 400 recipes from the distant past in addition to fascinating perspectives on the origins of Iraqi cuisine.
In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) speaks to Nawal Nasrallah about the research behind her unique, encyclopedic cookbook, the origins of Iraqi cuisine, and her passion for cooking ancient recipes.
The National Archaeological Museum of Athens can effortlessly lay claim to being one of the very greatest museums in the world. It can do that because it is literally jam-packed with most of the most famous art objects from ancient Greece, so much so, a first-time visit here is a strangely familiar experience. From the towering bronze Poseidon to the shimmering gold mask of Agamemnon, the antiquities on display here provide the staple images of ancient Greece; adorning guidebooks, calendars, and travel agents’ windows around the world. Familiar many of these works might be but the wow-factor is certainly no less for it. Wandering around the museum one has a constant urge to re-trace one’s steps for just one more glimpse of a stunning piece before moving on. As everything is arranged in chronological order, your tour of the museum gives you a perfect vision of the evolution of Greek art and there is even an Egyptian section as an added bonus if your senses have not already been blown away by everything on the ground floor.
The bronze Antikythera Youth c. 340 BCE.
We had a 4-day national holiday. Meaning what? No clinic and no hospital! I said to myself, “It’s been a long time since I have visited Babylonia.” I drove my car for about 11 hours, continuously. Finally, I was there. I went to my uncle’s house, which lies about a quarter of hour from the ancient city of Babylon. The ancient city lies within modern-day city of Hillah, the center of Babel Governorate, Iraq, about 83 kilometers south of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital city.
After the US-led invasion in 2003, the American and Polish armies established a military base within the ancient city. God only knows what happened there during their presence! A British Museum report has found that extensive damage was done to the site by this military occupation. In 2009, the local government of Babylon opened the city to the public.
It was a very sunny and hot day in mid-July, with temperatures exceeding 55 oC (131 F). I took 8 bottles of cold water with me!
A general view of the ancient city of Babylon. The picture was shot from Saddam’s Palace, which lies on a mound which looks over the city. The South Palace of Nebuchadnezzar lies on the right. Babylon, modern day Babel Governorate, Iraq.