Ancient History et cetera

Looking back at 2014

Lion of BabylonThis last year was quite a ride for the team at Ancient History Encyclopedia. Like every company, we had highs and lows, but in the end everything worked out just fine and we’re in a much stronger position than when we started. Our biggest achievement is probably that this year, we became the world’s biggest ancient history website (more about that below). Even after five years, I’m still impressed by what we’ve achieved with almost no money!

I personally want to thank our team of volunteer editors and authors, who made this all possible. Our core team has invested countless hours of their free time into making this project possible. Our many authors from across the globe (all volunteers) have provided us with excellent content, both writing and photography, to give to the world for free. Also, a big thanks to our partners and of course our audience, who have always supported us, given great feedback, and kept coming back. Thank you all!

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The Intensity of Hebron, in Palestine

This worshiper has a view of Abraham's burial site from the Jewish side of the Tomb of the Patriarchs. (photo credit: Rick Steves/Rick Steves’ Europe)

This worshiper has a view of Abraham’s burial site from the Jewish side of the Tomb of the Patriarchs. (photo credit: Rick Steves/Rick Steves’ Europe)

Walking through the Hebron market, I dodged the head of a camel dangling from a chain. I love traveling through Palestine. It’s filled with vivid memories and startling moments. I had no idea the people of Hebron had a taste for camel. But I was told that people here appreciate a nice fresh camel steak because of their Bedouin heritage. And the butcher shops seem to follow that Bedouin tradition: They butcher whatever they have to sell and it hangs on their front porch until it’s all gone.

Today, with about 250,000 people, Hebron is the largest Palestinian city and the commercial capital of the West Bank. It’s a commotion of ramshackle commerce as its population generates about 30 percent of the West Bank’s economy. Just about an hour’s drive from Jerusalem, it’s a rewarding place to visit.

Hebron is an ancient city with archeological finds going back some 5,000 years. And for thousands of years it’s been a city of great religious importance. In the hierarchy of holy religious cities, Hebron makes the top four for both Jews and Muslims.

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Bethlehem’s Mix of Christians and Muslims

In Bethlehem, the Mosque of Omar with its towering minaret shares Manger Square with the Church of the Nativity. (photo: Rick Steves)

In Bethlehem, the Mosque of Omar with its towering minaret shares Manger Square with the Church of the Nativity. (photo: Rick Steves)

Lots of tourists go to Palestine, but I’d estimate that 90 percent of them do it in a rush from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square. (Bethlehem is just over the wall that separates Israel and Palestine, about six miles away.) They then return directly to Israel without spending a single shekel in restaurants or hotels in the West Bank. Obviously, there’s much more to experience in this country.

While the region’s hardscrabble vibe may be a bit too edgy for some Americans, it’s amazing how after a couple of days in Palestine, you feel right at home. Walking through the wall from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, all you need is your passport. Palestine uses Israeli currency. Just cross the border and haggle with the taxis…and after spending about $5 and 10 minutes, you’re looking at the spot where Jesus was born. If there were no border or traffic to deal with, you could bicycle from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 15 minutes.
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A Pilgrimage to the Sea of Galilee

For years, my travels have caused me to think about organized religion. (When I got my history degree in college, one of my favorite classes was “History of the Christian Church.”) And for years, I’ve believed that those who enjoy getting close to God should pack their spirituality along with them in their travels.

Christians from around the world come to Yardenit near the Sea of Galilee to be baptized in the River Jordan. (photo: Rick Steves)

Christians from around the world come to Yardenit near the Sea of Galilee to be baptized in the River Jordan. (photo: Rick Steves)

In Israel, religious tourism is a big part of the economy. And much of that is Christian tourism: bus tours of believers visiting sights from Jesus’ three-year ministry — places they’ve imagined since their childhood Sunday school classes. While Jerusalem is the major stop, they generally make a quick visit to Bethlehem (in the West Bank), and loop through the north to stop at several sights near the Sea of Galilee.

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Fabled Jerusalem

Before Columbus, many maps of the world showed Jerusalem as the center of the world. Jerusalem — holy, treasured, and long fought over by the three great monotheistic religions — has been destroyed and rebuilt more than a dozen times.

Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock marks the site where Jews believe Abraham was preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac and where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad journeyed to heaven. (photo: Rick Steves)

Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock marks the site where Jews believe Abraham was preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac and where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad journeyed to heaven. (photo: Rick Steves)

Its fabled walls corral a tangle of colorful, holy sites, and more than 30,000 residents — most with a deep-seated reason to live so close to their religious ground zero.

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China’s Tang Dynasty Golden Age

China’s Tang dynasty golden age is routinely described as one of the most brilliant eras in Chinese history. Under Tang rule and leadership, China became the wealthiest, most populous, and most sophisticated civilization on earth. While exerting political hegemony and a powerful cultural influence across East Asia, China was also open to influences from its Turkic and Indian neighbors.

In this exclusive holiday interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks to Dr. Jonathan Skaff, Professor of History at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania and expert on Chinese-Turkic relations during the Tang era, who reevaluates Chinese culture and politics during an age of commercial trade, technological innovation, and ultimately, political instability.

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Finding Roman Bridges in Provence, France

“Pontem perpetui mansurum in saecula mundi” (I have built a bridge which will last forever) – Caius Julius Lacer, builder of the Alcántara Bridge

Ancient Roman bridges represent one of the greatest wonders of the ancient world. They are an exceptional feat of Roman construction and I hold a certain fascination for these impressive ancient structures. Naturally, I always look for traces of Roman bridges while travelling. It was in Portugal that I really got excited about these engineering marvels. The country is indeed filled with perfectly preserved Roman bridges (see post here).

Last summer, I travelled to Provence in France and was asked by Ancient History Encyclopedia to write a piece on the 10 must-see ancient sites in Provence. Here I want to talk about the Roman bridges in this southern region of France where many have survived the centuries. Some are still in use today, some 2,000 years after they were built.

The Pont Flavien

The Pont Flavien, with its surviving triumphal arches at each end, is one of the most beautiful surviving Roman bridges outside Italy.

The Pont Flavien, Saint-Chamas © Carole Raddato

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10 Creatures From Greek Mythology

by Mark Cartwright December 19, 2014 Photos 0 Comments

The mythology of the ancient Greeks is positively packed with stories involving weird and wonderful creatures. Represented on pottery, in sculpture, and in literary tradition, they typically create havoc with the best laid plans of the Greek heroes but they could also prove helpful in certain situations. Hercules, Odysseus, Theseus, Perseus, Bellerophon, and Jason all had to fight monsters which were very often a mix of other more familiar creatures or were just downright bizarre. The heroes usually won, of course, and their battles with these monsters made them seem even more heroic. The imaginative blend of animals also served to represent the disorder of both the animal and foreign kingdoms in the Greek view of the world and perhaps also represented the unfamiliar wildlife of distant lands. The triumph of Greek heroes over these terrible creatures was an entertaining metaphor for the perceived superiority of the Greek way of life, the victory of light over darkness, reason and order over chaos.

You can read more extraordinary tales from Greek mythology in our article here.

Centaur: Half man-half horse

Metope depicting a centaur attacking Lapith from the Parthenon, 5th century BCE.

Centaurs were traditionally used to represent unruliness and drunkeness. Metope depicting a centaur attacking a Lapith. From the Parthenon, 5th century BCE. British Museum, London. Photographer: Mark Cartwright

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Mesopotamia in the Classroom

Cuneiform tablet made by a sixth grader in my class.

Cuneiform tablet made by a sixth grader in my class.

Sixth graders typically have some background knowledge of Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Maya when we begin studying those civilizations. Right now, we are near the end of the Mesopotamia unit, about which they typically know little coming in. It has been nice to spend three weeks with every day being a brand new topic for my students. I introduced the concept of a civilization and talked about the seven characteristics according to our textbook–social structure, government, stable food supply, religion, the arts, technology, and writing – before we delved into a project that combined these characteristics: making cuneiform tablets.

The most challenging concept for sixth graders to wrap their minds around is the importance of farming, many aspects of which were kept track of on cuneiform tablets. Coming from an urban environment, where most food comes from a store, the stages of food production prior to store arrival are lost and rarely contemplated. We ran a couple scenarios showing the extreme difficulty of hunter/gatherer tribes, and they truly appreciated the hardships and daily struggle for survival of prehistoric peoples. The archaeological discoveries at Jarmo indicating the early stages of a farming culture? No big deal.  If there was one takeaway I hope they grasp from this unit, it would be the importance of farming; but even on year five of teaching, I can’t quite connect the dots for them. Read more…

Visit our Online Shop!

We’ve set up an online shop! It’s that time of the year when greeting cards are in order. If you’re tired of sending reindeer or Santa cards, our shop on Etsy is just for you. We’ve selected four of our best photos on Ancient History Encyclopedia and turned them into postcards. They’re not only beautiful photos, but the cards are also of highest quality, with a satin finish. Go and have a look!

We've got a great selection of ancient history greeting cards!

We’ve got a great selection of ancient history greeting cards!