Ancient History Encyclopedia

Eternally Beautiful: Byzantine Art from Greece


byzantine5For over a millennium, Byzantine artists in Greece produced sumptuous works of extraordinary quality and caliber. Whether inspired by the ethos of the new Christian religion or the tangible legacy of classical antiquity, these Greek artisans and craftsmen created a uniquely “Byzantine aesthetic,” which in time came to influence the artistic traditions of Italy, Russia, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and the Near East.

In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks to Dr. Mary Louise Hart, Associate Curator of Antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum, about Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections, on view now at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles, CA. This magnificent exhibition explores the breadth, balance, and beauty of Byzantine art from medieval Greece.

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AHE Partners with for Content Curation

Ancient History Encyclopedia LogoTheneeds.com_orange copy

Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) is partnering with in order to connect with a virtual audience keen on accessing curated media pertaining to the ancient world via the web and mobile devices.

Launched in 2013, Theneeds is the fastest growing content discovery platform. Theneeds offers users a place to discover, vote on and share the best news, articles, videos, social posts, and more, tailored to their specific interests. Based in San Francisco, CA, Theneeds brings users a personalized web and iPhone app experience, and its underlying technology constantly learns from user’s activity to get smarter and more relevant over time. Read more…

NuSphere Sponsorship

by Jan van der Crabben June 10, 2014 Behind the Scenes 0 Comments

logo-nusphereThe kind folks at NuSphere are now sponsoring us! They have provided our programming team with the latest version of their flagship product PhpED. This is going to help us greatly in programming our website and adding new features, so that our readers can enjoy an ever improving free ancient history website. Thank you very much!

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Collaboration with Past Preservers

Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) will be collaborating on future projects with Past Preservers, enlarging the creative hub between the media, heritage organizations and academic institutions. AHE’s global reach will increase public attention to archaeology, documentary programming, and educational research.

Founded by archaeologists Nigel J. Hetherington and Kelly Krause in 2005, Past Preservers provides a creative space between the heritage and media worlds. They have established a production consulting team with the sole purpose of producing quality history-based, non-fiction programming by focusing on the creative aspect of each project including concept development, production, historical consulting and casting of experts and presenters. Their projects include work for major networks, such as History Channel, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel and Al-Jazeera International. At the heart of their operation are over 1400 heritage professionals from over twenty countries including archaeologists, historians, Egyptologists, classicists, conservationists, forensic biologists, anthropologists, authors, and heritage specialists. Read more…

AHE is now on Pinterest!

pinterest_logoAncient History Encyclopedia is now on Pinterest!  Pinterest is a fine addition to our existing social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. With over 270K social media followers, AHE has a sizable and influential social media presence, and our numbers will only continue to grow. Pinterest provides AHE a new audience, and we feel strongly that Pinterest redefines the way in which people find and access information through multimedia.

Pinterest is a visual discovery and social media tool, which individuals can use to find ideas for personal projects and interests. Pinterest users can browse, upload, save, and manage images –known as “pins– and other media content through collections known as “pinboards.” Not surprisingly, Pinterest is  the first social media platform to bring a “curated vibe” to its user experience.

Please be sure to follow our Pinterest account and share our pins! We look forward to interacting with you there.

Yoga in Indian Visual Art and Culture

Five_faced Shiva_2014.2.011(1)Yoga is practiced daily by millions worldwide, but few are cognizant of its origins and relative importance to Indian culture and identity. Although its history is long and complex, yoga reflects the rich philosophical and cultural currents that traversed the Indian subcontinent over thousands of years.

In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks to Mr. Jeff Durham, Assistant Curator of Himalayan Art at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, about Yoga: The Art of Transformation and Enter the Mandala: Cosmic Centers and Mental Maps of Himalayan Buddhism, which are currently on view at the Asian Art Museum.

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Reimagining The Epic of Kings: The Shahnameh of Ancient Iran


For hundreds of years, the Shahnameh has been revered in the Near and Middle East as the epic of the Persian-speaking peoples. Written over a thousand years ago by the famed poet Ferdowsi of Tous, the Shahnameh shares tales of adventure, romance, conflict, and betrayal. Although its stories and characters have inspired generations of artists and poets, it is still relatively unknown in the West.

In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks with Mr. Hamid Rahmanian about Shahnameh: The Epic of the Persian Kings, and the process of creating a new edition of this timeless classic (see also AHE’s Shahnameh: The Epic of the Persian Kings review).

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Byzantine Beauty in Berlin

We are happy to welcome back Jaunting Jen to AHEtc!

Surprise! Byzantine at the Bode

church-of-san-michele-in-africisco-mosiac-from-ravenna-in-bode-museum-berlin-detailOne would never guess that the main attraction of the Bode Museum in Berlin is a mosaic from Ravenna, Italy. The Bode Museum, on Museum Island, houses a unique collection of Byzantine art, and I went there specifically for their Byzantine collection. I had no idea that a mosaic from Ravenna was waiting for me at the end of the exhibition hall. Ravenna holds a special place in my heart because it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. I have not yet been to Turkey to visit the Byzantine splendors there, but I’ve been to Ravenna and the Torcello Church in Venice, and there is just something special about those places and that time period.

The Ravenna Mosaic at the Bode Museum came from the Church of San Michele in Africisco in Ravenna, was dedicated by church-of-san-michele-in-africisco-mosiac-from-ravenna-in-berlinBishop Vittore in May 545 CE, and was consecrated by Archbishop Maximianus in 547 CE.  The mosaic depicts Christ in the center with the Archangels Gabriel and Michael on either side. The frieze of vine and doves is supposed to represent the twelve apostles. The basilica was paid for by a banker, Giuliano Argentario, and was originally intended as an offering to the Archangel Michael. The church survived until the time of Napoleon, when it was dismantled and sold to fill one of his requisitions. The bronze horses of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice suffered a similar fate, but they were eventually returned to the cathedral. The Ravenna Mosaic would never again return to its place of origin.

The fact that this mosaic survives at all is a miracle. The Church of San Michele in Africisco is not one of Ravenna’s Byzantine beauties or even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is in ruin today and used as a shopping area. If the mosaic had not been dismantled and sold in the early 19th century CE, it may have crumbled into ruin with the church. Somehow it managed to survive. In 1843 CE the King of Prussia, Frederick William IV, saw something special in the mosaic when he purchased it and had it brought to Germany. 160 years later, it stands as a monument to the Byzantine past at the Bode Museum.

Part of the mystery of the Ravenna Mosaic in Berlin is what happened to the two saints on either side. Saints Damian and Cosmus (physicians) were depicted on either side of the mosaic, but their images have been completely removed. I’d like to think they were saved and sit on the wall of someone’s private collection today.


Images: Byzantine mosaics from the Church of San Michele in Africisco in Ravenna, Italy, now in the Bode Museum, Berlin. Photos by Jennifer Brown, licensed under a Creative Commons – Attribution-Non-Commerical-ShareAlike 3.o license.

All images and videos featured in this post have been properly attributed to their respective owners. Unauthorized reproduction of text and images is prohibited. Ms. Karen Barrett-Wilt and Mr. James Blake Wiener were responsible for the editorial process. The views presented here are not necessarily those of the Ancient History Encyclopedia. Original blog post can be found at


Ancient History Encyclopedia in 2013

Old TimeThe new year is here (at least in many parts of the world). This is, as usual, a good time to look back and examine what we’ve achieved, but also a time to look forward. We would like to share our thoughts on the past and future of Ancient History Encyclopedia with you.


The last year has been excellent for Ancient History Encyclopedia. We’ve had our best year ever since we launched in 2009. A whopping 2.6 million people visited our site, viewing 5.6 million pages. In the last few months of the year, we had almost 500,000 people visiting the site every month! Almost 200,000 history enthusiasts follow us on Facebook and tens of thousands more on Twitter and Google Plus.

Those are absolutely stunning numbers! Let’s put that into perspective…  Encyclopedia Britannica sold 120,000 copies in its best year (that was in 1990). Most history magazines have far fewer monthly readers than we do:

Compare that to our 500,000 per month! It’s incredible to know that this little website is reaching more people every month than most top publications do. Our interpretation: We’re doing something right.

We saw huge growth in September 2013, when Google switched to its “Hummingbird” search algorithm: They changed the way they rank pages, putting higher priority on pages with high-quality unique content… which was very good for us.

For 2014, we expect this growth to continue. We’re less likely to see another boost like in September, but we’ve seen a steady growth (of around 3% per month) in the previous years, and we expect that this will remain the same or increase slightly.


Almost every week we hear feedback from students around the world that our site has helped them learn about ancient history, complete their projects, or allow them to complete their homework. Many teachers use our site as set reading for class. More than ever before, Ancient History Encyclopedia is being used as an educational tool.

For 2014, we want to focus more on education. We’re analyzing textbooks and school curricula to make sure we deliver more of the content that teachers and students really need. We also want to create classroom materials for teachers, which contain selected texts, quizzes, and activities.

For this, we also need your help! If you’re a teacher, please write to us to let us know what you really need. Send us suggestions… we’re usually rather quick to act upon them.


We’re now nearing the 1,000 definitions + articles mark (we’re at 934 today). Of course we expect that number to increase, even more so than in all the years before. We’ve got more authors joining our ranks and our editorial team has nearly doubled last year, and we’re receiving more and more revenue from donations and advertising.

That money doesn’t go into anyone’s pockets: We use all revenue to produce more content! In 2013, we spent £1,251 on history source books for our authors, which they used to create a vast number of new definitions and articles. Without books, our volunteer authors have to rely on their private libraries, which are of course limited.

Thanks to our generous donors (thank you so much!) and ad-clicking visitors, we hope that in 2014 we will be able to purchase even more books for even more authors, producing much more new, unique, and high-quality content than before.


The primary goal of our non-profit company is to provide free ancient history information on our website, for students, teachers, and enthusiasts all over the world. We’re proud to be an Open Education Resource that is recommended by the European Commission and listed in the OER Commons. We’re always going to be a free online resource for the world — this is our mission.

We also want to explore other ways to bring out content to new readers, however. We’ve just finished creating an eBook on Ancient and Classical Greece (due to be published soon), which will be distributed to libraries across the world and also sold to the general public. We hope to publish at least one more eBook in 2014, and if we can make it work, possibly also publish a printed book. We’ve also repeatedly been asked to create a mobile app for offline reading, which is something we expect to do in 2014.

All revenue generated from the sales of books and apps will go towards creating more free content, of course!

Thank You

We hope that you will continue to enjoy Ancient History Encyclopedia, and that you’re pleased with what we’re doing. A special thanks goes out to our donors and sponsors, who are making this website possible. And we thank all those readers who have written to us with feedback, suggestions, and corrections. Please continue to do so!

All the best for 2014!

Jan van der Crabben, Founder & Director

Paint It Black? Understanding Black Figure Pottery

Welcome to our third post on AHEtc! This week we welcome Ancient History Encyclopedia Editor Ms. Karen Barrett-Wilt. Karen is a freelance editor, writer, and blogger who loves to tap into her inner history nerd at AHE.  She holds a BA in English, an MA in the History of Art (focusing on Medieval and Islamic Art), and her current obsession is the art and architectural history of Turkey, particularly Istanbul. In the following blog post, she traces the path that she followed to finally really understand how black figure pottery was made by the ancient Greeks. Enjoy!

So how is black figure pottery created, anyway?

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