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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
“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
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
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
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…
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!
Built in 1974 over the remains of a Roman villa, the Romano-Germanic Museum in Cologne houses an extensive collection of Roman artefacts from the Roman settlement of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (named after Agrippina the Younger, born in Cologne), the capital of the Imperial Province of Germania Inferior. The museum houses the largest worldwide collection of Roman glasses including the Cologne cage cup and the miniature portrait of Emperor Augustus in turquoise glass. It is also home to the world famous Dionysus mosaic and the Sepulcher of Poblicius.
Reconstructed plan of the Roman city of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (Cologne) in the 3rd/4th century AD, Romisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne © Carole Raddato
National Geographic maintains a list of what they consider to be the Top 10 Museums of the World. While that list is of course debatable, all of the museums on that list are very impressive heavyweights when it comes to museums. We wondered: How does Ancient History Encyclopedia compare to those museums when it comes to internet traffic to their websites?
The surprising finding: We’re estimated to have more internet visitors than all but two of the world’s top ten museums! More than the British Museum in London or the Louvre in Paris, both of which have very prestigious and substantial websites. Only the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York get more traffic than us.
The top five websites when it comes to museums and Ancient History Encyclopedia, based on Alexa ranking. A lower number means more visitors.
WOW! This is mindblowing! Clearly, our readers (yes, that’s you) like what we’re doing, and support us by coming back and recommending us to their friends. We thank you very much for all your support… without it, our little group of less than 10 volunteers would never have achieved this in only five years.
This week’s sculpture from Hadrian’s Villa is a head of a goddess made of Pentelic marble. She is wearing a diadem in her wavy hair that are centrally parted and dressed in a chignon at the nape of her neck. It was found in a cryptoporticus near the circular temple dedicated to the Venus of Knidos.
Bust of a diademed goddess, found at Hadrian’s Villa Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome © Carole Raddato
The head of this female deity was made separately for insertion onto a larger than life-size body. The type is known from other copies of the Roman period deriving from a Greek, probably Attic, model in the severe style (470-460 BC).
This sculpture is on display at the National Roman Museum – Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome.
Source: Following Hadrian