Sparta was one of the most important cities in ancient Greece, and the stories of its heroic warriors continue to be retold through modern films and stories. However, the popular image of Sparta propagates a version of Sparta, our version of Sparta, and this is often quite removed from the ancient sources and idealised. As such, this post includes some interesting facts (and theories) about ancient Sparta that you might not know, enjoy!
When you visit the Sunken Cities exhibition at the British Museum, you feel as if you are diving beneath the waters of the Nile River. You pass through a corridor illuminated by blue light and into galleries painted in a navy blue. There are dappled lighting effects to imitate water – it’s a wonder they don’t hand out snorkels to complete the illusion. The idea works, however, and you feel just like the archaeologists whose work has formed the basis for this display. It is as if you are discovering a world that has been hidden for more than a thousand years.
Most, if not all, of our readership knows about the intentional destruction of ancient artifacts, buildings, mosques, shrines, and the contents of Mosul museum contents by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The Governorate of Mosul in Iraq is the site of several ancient Assyrian cities (Nimrud, Kouyunjik, and Dur-Sharrukin), in addition to Hatra. The 3,000 year old ancient city of Kalhu (modern-day Nimrud; Biblical Calah) received the bulk of the blow, and a propaganda video issued by ISIS in April 2015 showed the dramatic and shocking explosion of the northwest palace of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II. The in situ artifacts of Nimrud were composed of palace wall reliefs, mainly from the northwest palace of Ashurnasirpal II,and few lamassu, which are mythical human-headed and winged bulls or lions. Thanks to the great work and excavations conducted by archaeologists from many parts of the world, in addition to Iraqis, artifacts from the Assyrian city of Nimrud are now displayed to the public in many museums and private collections all around the globe.
I was attending a neurology event in Erbil (the ancient city of Arbela also known as Hawler in Kurdish), which is the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan. The last time I had visited the Erbil Civilization Museum (Kurdish: موزه خانه ي شاره ستاني هه ولير ; Arabic: متحف أربيل الحضاري) was in September 2014. In comparison to the Sulaymaniyah Museum (the other archaeological museum in Iraqi Kurdistan), this museum is much smaller in terms of size and number of displayed antiquities. However, it has a considerable collection of interesting artifacts to view. The following is a tour of some of the museum’s highlights, which are little-known outside of Iraq.
The Israel Museum in Jerusalem is giving the public an unprecedented opportunity to explore ancient Egyptian relations with Canaan during the second millennium BCE in Pharaoh in Canaan: The Untold Story. This exhibition presents more than 680 objects, which reflect the rich cross-fertilization of ritual practices and aesthetic vocabularies between these two distinct cultures. In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) discusses the exhibition and the countless ties that bound ancient Egypt to Canaan with Dr. Eran Arie, Curator of Iron Age and Persian Period Archaeology at the Israel Museum.
At the beginning of May an exciting initiative began by the IAA (Israeli Antiquities Authority) to excavate the caves in the Judean Desert in search of the remaining Dead Sea Scrolls. The catalyst for this was partially due to the area being a prime spot over the last few years for looters and antiquities thieves who have been selling their findings on the black market. Thats why the IAA along with the several other organisations have come together to begin a national plan to find the remaining Dead Sea Scrolls, before the looters do. The Dead Sea Scrolls (for those who do not know) were a collection of over 900 manuscripts from the Second Temple Period found in caves in Qumran, northwest of the Dead Sea. During this period, families and rebels were hiding from the Roman Empire in caves, hence why the scrolls were found hidden in caves. This excavation was south of that location in a place known as The Cave of Skulls in the Judean Desert.
Leiden, Netherlands is not exactly the first place that comes into mind when you think about ancient history. Even if you are in the city, you would most likely walk past the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (National Museum of Antiquities) without noticing it. Hidden in an unremarkable building in the historic city center, it’s nothing like entering the magnificent building of the Louvre or the British Museum. Yet, judging the book by its cover would be a huge mistake. Once inside, right in the middle of the entrance hall, you are greeted with an actual Egyptian temple, built c. 2000 years ago, originally dedicated to Isis and later used as a Christian church, transported to the museum stone by stone from Taffeh, Egypt.
Enjoying a privileged and bucolic position on the eastern slopes of Mount Olympus, the ancient Greek city of Dion prospered for thousands of years as a sacred center for the cult of Zeus and as the gateway to Macedonia. Gods and Mortals at Olympus: Ancient Dion, City of Zeus, now on show at the Onassis Cultural Center in New York, N.Y., examines the development and trajectory of Dion, from a small rural settlement to a thriving Roman colony, through the presentation of remarkable archaeological artifacts not seen outside of Greece. In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks to Dr. Dimitrios Pandermalis about this exhibition and Dion’s importance in the wider Greco-Roman world.
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 …
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. 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 …