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May 2016 Museum Listings

Back by popular demand, Ancient History Encyclopedia will once again share news, on a monthly basis, about select museum exhibitions and events of interest to our global audience via AHetc. Exhibitions are arranged in alphabetical order by geographical location and region within this post: the Americas, United Kingdom, Europe/Middle East, and East Asia/Oceania. Here is a taste of what is on show at major museums around the world in May 2016:

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Sicily: Culture and Conquest

There I stood, the slopes of Mt. Etna rising before me, the glorious Sicilian coastline reflecting the brilliant blue sky. I hadn’t taken a trip to Sicily, but was rather at the British Museum’s latest exhibition, Sicily: Culture and Conquest, gazing into one of the many photographic vistas that adorn the walls.

When I first entered the exhibit, two objects immediately caught my attention. On the left, a terracotta pot dating to 650-600 BCE. Its importance? It is the earliest known depiction of what is now the official symbol of Sicily, the triskelion (three legs in a circle). The influence of Greek culture on Sicily is still felt to this day it seems.

The other object was a wonderfully ornate ivory casket. Made by Muslim craftsman, it bears a long Arabic supplication, but also Christian iconography (two haloed saints holding crosses). The casket was most likely made as a gift for the Cathedral of Bari, and demonstrates Norman Sicily’s multicultural exchange and religious co-existence.

These two objects sum up the story of this exhibition, which focuses on two key periods of Sicilian history. The first half of the exhibition explores the island’s early cultures, primarily those of its Phoenician and Greek settlers. The second half explores the role of Sicily’s Norman rulers in creating a period of vibrant cultural exchange.

The exhibition is divided into five key areas and runs from the 21st April until the 14th August (more info below).

Sicily: Culture and Conquest

Ceramic Dinos with Triskelion
Ceramic dinos with triskelion, Fired clay, Palma di Montechiaro, Sicily, c.650–600 BC. Museo
Archeologico Regionale Di Agrigento © Regione Siciliana


Sicily’s First Inhabitants

This period is conjured as one of myth, monsters and mysteries. A curious tomb door presents almost alien imagery, a terracotta basin alludes to a long-lost religious rite, and a Phoenician mask cuts a gruesome grinning image. These decidedly human artefacts are contrasted with how the Greeks viewed the first inhabitants of Sicily. Thucydides, the famous Athenian historian, wrote that the earliest inhabitants of Sicily were the famously barbarian Cyclopes, and the equally barbarian and cannibalistic Laistrygones (Thuc.6.2). For the Greeks, the earliest settlers of Sicily belonged to the realm of myth, whereas for us, while the earliest settlers of Sicily are still shrouded in mystery, their material culture shows a concern and care for death that is less mysterious than it is universal.


Sicily: Culture and Conquest

Gold Libation Bowl
Gold libation bowl decorated with six bulls, Sant’ Angelo Muxaro, c.600 BC © The Trustees of the British Museum


The Rise of Greek Sicily

As a self-professed philhellene, this was perhaps my favourite section of the exhibition, which looks at monumental architecture, chariot-racing, war, and the Sicilian tyrannoi who funded it all. It paints Sicily as a region of antagonistic cities, but a region which commanded a lot of power within the wider ancient world. Despite this, the monumental temples of Sicily were primarily of local stone, since importing foreign marble was very expensive (the island did not have its own local supply). The value attached to marble is witnessed through a fragmentary marble tomb relief of the 5th century, which shows signs of being reused and re-carved.

Sicily’s fortunes through the Hellenistic period were also explored in this section. Of particular interest to me was how Sicily developed its own style of pottery in order fill the gap left by the decline of Athenian red-figure pottery. A funerary vessel from Centuripe shows an eros flying towards a central seated figure flanked by two standing figures. The bright yellows and blues set on a vibrant pink background mark this as a truly Sicilian development.

Sicily: Culture and Conquest

Limestone head from a temple Selinous, Sicily, c. 540–510 BC. Museo Archeologico Regionale A Salinas, Palermo, © Regione Siciliana.


1,300 Years, 6 People

With the rise of the Roman republic, Sicily’s autonomy began to wane. Rome’s war against Carthage, and subsequent alliances and sieges all influenced the fate of Sicily, as she became the first province of Rome. Sicily nevertheless had great importance as the ‘granary of Rome’, in fact, the export of grain from the island was blocked on two occasions by politicians wishing to excerpt their power and influence over Rome. As the centuries progressed, Sicily was conquered by a number of peoples. First, the Vandals in 468 CE, then Odoacer, King of Italy, in AD 476. The Ostrogoths conquered Sicily in 493 CE, followed by the Byzantines in 535 CE. From the 660s CE, numerous Arab raids were made on Sicily, before the long Arab conquest of Sicily from 827-965 CE. It was then in 1061 CE, that the Normans began their conquest of Sicily.

As is the nature of such a condensed section, the objects on display act as foci for key events or changes to society that occurred during this long period. A Roman ship’s bronze battering ram acts as a witness to the decisive Battle of Egadi Islands, and a collection of humble lamps illuminate the different religions that were worshipped on Sicily. The carefully selected objects accelerate you from Greek Sicily to Norman Sicily.

Sicily: Culture and Conquest

Bronze Rostrum
Bronze rostrum from Roman warship, from the seabed near Levanzo, Sicily. c.240 BC.
Soprintendenza del Mare © Regione Siciliana


The Norman Kingdom of Sicily

Under their Norman Kings (the emphasis being on Roger II), Sicily developed into a world power, rivalling the might of the Byzantine Empire, the Egyptian Caliphate, and the Papal States. This Mediterranean island was now home to Byzantine Greeks, Muslim Arabs, Jews, and Christian Normans, creating a crucible of cultural collaboration.

Arabic influences are most strongly seen in the Arab-Norman architecture of Palermo, recently added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list. A photographic vista captures the skyline, and surviving architectural artefacts illuminate the interior splendour of these buildings. In contrast to Arabic inspired arches and geometric patterns is a mosaic of the Virgin Mary, originally from the Palermo Cathedral, which alludes to similar Byzantine forms.

While Roger II was a great benefactor of the arts, he was also a patron of the sciences. One of the oldest copies of a map created by Al-Idrisi, the Arabic cartographer, is on display, showing Roger’s concern over scientific investigation and his interest in the wider world. This scientific interest was continued by Roger II’s grandson.

Sicily: Culture and Conquest

12th century mosaic Byzantine-style mosaic showing the Virgin as Advocate for the Human Race. Kept at Museo Diocesano di Palermo, originally from Palermo Cathedral, c.1130-1180 AD. Museo Diocesano di Palermo Please note this object will only be on display until 14 June 2016


An Enlightened Kingdom

Roger’s grandson, however, was no ordinary citizen. This grandson grew up to be Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor who stationed his royal court at Palermo. Not only does this section of the exhibition continue to explore Arabic influences on Norman Sicily, it also explores how Frederick II emulated the grandeur of the Roman Empire. This can be seen in the way his coins mimicked the earlier mints of the Roman Emperor Augustus, and in a colossal marble bust which depicts Frederick as Augustus (or possibly Constantine).

The grandeur of this exhibition ends almost as abruptly as Norman Sicily did, for Frederick II died without an heir, and the kingdom of Sicily would never again maintain the level of autonomy that it once had. The final object on display, Antonello da Messina’s ‘Virgin and Child’, acts as an epilogue, a beacon of Sicilian artistic independence, soon to be outshone by the wildfire of wider European renaissance.

Sicily: Culture and Conquest

Bust of Frederick II
Marble bust of Frederick II, Italy, 1220–50 AD. Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Rome. ©
H. Behrens, DAI Rom


Having outlined the core elements of the exhibition (and leaving much for the reader to discover for themselves!), I will now highlight some of my favourite features and objects.



A lot of thought has gone into how the variety of objects are actually are displayed. A mirror was placed behind a Greek storage jar in order to see its rear decoration, so make sure to lean to the side and look at the rear reflection! Another favourite was a map of Sicily with coins from the various poleis placed where that city was. This gave a clear representation of each city’s unique iconography and visual allusions, but also of the unified medium in which their messages circulated. In the Norman section, the famous wooden honeycomb ceiling of the Cappella Palatina is reproduced on a backlit display on the ceiling, providing you with a perspective not too dissimilar to the one you would get viewing it in situ. I also really appreciated the photographic vistas of Sicily that decorated the walls, they really brought the essence of the Island to life.

Good news for anyone visiting with children too, various objects include a blue display marked by a gorgeion asking fun and engaging questions that make one think about the object for a little longer than a quick glance in a display case might. For example, I was asked to play ‘spot the difference’ with the three goddesses that decorate the below altar.

Sicily: Culture and Conquest

Terracotta Altar with three women
Terracotta altar with three women and a panther mauling a bull. Gela, Sicily. C.500 BC. Museo Archeologico Regionale di Gela © Regione Siciliana.



My favourite object in the exhibition is the Etruscan helmet dedicated by Hieron I of Syracuse at Olympia after a military victory. One of my favourite works of Greek literature happens to be Xenophon’s, Hiero, a fictional dialogue between the Sicilian tyrant and the poet Simonides. Being able to see some solid remnant of the tyrannos, and the way he interacted with the wider Greek world was particularly exciting. My second favourite object is the Sicilian temple drainage system because of its combination of aesthetics and utility. Each drainage spout is decorated in a different polychrome pattern, and in torrential rain the cascading waterfall that would have surrounded the temple would have been a spectacle in itself.

These are my personal favourites, different features and objects will appeal to different people… I leave you to decide what your favourite is! If you want a sneak-peek at some of the objects on display, including the helmet dedicated by Hieron I, check out the below video, where the exhibition’s curators discuss some of the objects that are on display in more detail!


Sicily: Culture and Conquest offers a fascinating insight into the island’s two key periods. The objects not only speak for themselves, but they communicate with each other, the monumental temples of Sicily’s Greek tyrannoi foreshadowing the architecture of Sicily’s Norman kings. Of particular interest is the exhibition’s allusion to a world that isn’t often heard today, Islamophile, for that is what the Norman Kings were. In the second half of the exhibition, the viewer is definitely encouraged to reflect upon how our modern multiculturalism measures up to the Norman’s.

Sicily: Culture and Conquest delivers what it promises, and is the culmination of three years of preparation and collaboration with twenty-four different museums, the Regione Siciliana, Assesessorato dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identita Siciliana, and Julius Bar, who sponsored the exhibition. “Sicily: Culture and Conquest” is recommended viewing for everyone able to visit. Further information about booking and opening hours is provided below.


Sicily: Culture and Conquest

21 April – 14 August 2016

Room 35

British Museum

Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG

Sponsored by Julius Baer

In collaboration with Regione Siciliana, Assessorato dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana


Tickets £10.00, children under 16 free

Group rates available

Booking fees apply online and by phone

+44 (0)20 7323 8181


Opening times

Saturday –Thursday 10.00–17.30

Friday 10.00–20.30

Last entry 80 minutes before closing time.


The British Museum is also running a series of lectures and public events throughout the duration of the exhibition. More information is available from their Press Office or via:


Sumer: A Digital Board Game with an Ancient Twist

Sumer is a digital board game inspired by M.U.L.E. and the Epic of Gilgamesh. Race across the Ziggurat in ancient Sumer to harvest barley, herd goats, and sacrifice to the great goddess Inanna. Sumer draws on modern Eurogame design elements like worker placement, territory control, and auctions. Its unique innovation is to place these into an action video game.

In this exclusive interview, Jan van der Crabben, CEO and Founder of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE), sat down with developers of Sumer at Game Developer’s Conference 2016 in San Francisco as they walk us through their accomplishments.


Inanna being worshiped. Photo ©

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Egyptian Throne

Recreating an Egyptian Throne Fit For a Queen

When you think of ancient civilizations, what comes to mind? Perhaps you imagine massive pyramids, majestic statues, or vast reliefs carved from stone. This is no coincidence – after all, they are what we see in both museums and ruins today. Stone and other materials such as bone are durable, allowing them to last to the present day and become embedded in the public consciousness at sites such as the Parthenon and the Roman Forum. But what about all of the objects that have been lost to time?

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East Greek Winejug

3D Scanning the Ancient World

In recent years, there has been a flurry of new technologies emerging at a price which makes them (just about) affordable, notably 3D scanners and printers, and such technologies have attracted attention in the news of late for their employment in the digital recreation of artefacts and archaeological sites destroyed by IS. Indeed, 3D printing is a wonderful tool for bringing the past to life: Museum3D, for example, uses its 3D prints to engage museum visitors with low-vision and Alzheimer’s. However, as this post will show, 3D scanning is just as important to public history.

A 3D model of an East Greek wine jug made via 3D scanning. Image © Ure Museum.

A 3D model of an East Greek wine jug. Image © Ure Museum.

There are many methods to creating a 3D model. One of the most popular methods for amateurs is photogrammetry, where all you need is a good camera and a modern computer. Thankfully, museums the world over have been engaging with such technologies, and have also been pretty generous in making their scans freely available: for example, the Smithsonian hosts some online via AutoDesk, while the British Museum has a collection freely available for download from Sketchfab, either to admire on a screen, or to print out (Links to these collections, as well as some other great examples, are listed below).

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Cartonnage mummy masks. Wealthier ancient Egyptians were keen to prepare for the afterlife. A mummy case was important part for the funerary equipment. After the body was embalmed and wrapped, in a linen bandage, the mummy was placed in case of coffin. Egyptians of a high social status often had lavish and colorful cases.  With thanks to the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.

Visiting the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London

During my last visit to London, I resided in a hotel at Gower Street of Bloomsbury. By chance, I discovered a hidden gem within the heart of University College London while surfing Google. It was located just few minutes away from me: the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. The Museum lies at Malet Place, hidden away from the main streets.

The Museum’s building and façade do not convey any message to the public that this is one of the most important museums in the world, housing more than 80,000 ancient Egyptian objects and artifacts! Actually, it ranks fourth, after the Cairo Museum, the British Museum, and the Egyptian Museum of Berlin in terms of the number of quality of ancient Egyptian objects. I emailed the Museum, requesting permission to take no-flash photos of the objects. Ms. Maria Ragan, the manager of the Museum, kindly replied and granted me permission. OK, let’s go!

The facade of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London, Malet Place London. The entrance door is just behind the walking women (with the blue dress). It will take you to the upper floor where the Museum's rooms are located. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.

The facade of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London, Malet Place
London. The entrance door is just behind the walking women (with the blue dress). It will take you to the upper floor where the Museum’s rooms (halls) are located. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.

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The Cinquantenaire Museum: A Hidden Gem in Brussels

There’s a hidden gem in Brussels, located just outside the heart of the old city, which far too many visitors miss: The Cinquantenaire Museum. Elegantly positioned inside Brussels’ Parc du Cinquantenaire, the Cinquantenaire Museum is teeming with priceless ancient, medieval, and modern treasures from around the world. This January, I was lucky enough to visit the museum with Nigel Hetherington of Past Preservers and see firsthand why the museum is aptly called “Belgium’s Louvre.”

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