Interviews

Tasty Ancient Recipes from Mesopotamia

Cover for "Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine."

Cover for “Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine.” (Photo, courtesy of Nawal Nasrallah.)

Mesopotamia (from the Greek, meaning “between two rivers”) was an ancient region in the Near East, which corresponds roughly to present-day Iraq. Widely regarded as the “cradle of civilization,” Mesopotamia should be more properly understood as a region that produced multiple empires and civilizations rather than any single civilization. Iraqi cuisine, like its art and culture, is the sum of its varied and rich past. Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and a History of the Iraqi Cuisine, by independent scholar Nawal Nasrallah, offers more than 400 recipes from the distant past in addition to fascinating perspectives on the origins of Iraqi cuisine.

In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) speaks to Nawal Nasrallah about the research behind her unique, encyclopedic cookbook, the origins of Iraqi cuisine, and her passion for cooking ancient recipes.

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Gold and the Gods: Jewels of Ancient Nubia

Winged Isis pectoral 538–519 B.C. Gold * Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition * Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Winged Isis pectoral 538–519 B.C. Gold. Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Located at the intersection of long distance trade between East Africa, the ancient Near East, and the classical world, ancient Nubia was Egypt’s rich and powerful neighbor to the South. Successive Nubian cultures dominated what is modern-day Sudan and southern Egypt for over two millennia, developing in turn a distinctive set of cultural aesthetics and an impressive level of craftsmanship. Gold and the Gods: Jewels of Ancient Nubia, a new exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, entices visitors with 95 items on display, including jewels, gems, and exquisite artifacts of personal adornment.
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Ireland’s Exquisite Insular Art

<em>The Book of Kells</em> completed in Ireland, c. 800 CE. This folio shows the lavishly decorated text that opens the Gospel of John.

The Book of Kells completed in Ireland, c. 800 CE. This folio shows the lavishly decorated text that opens the Gospel of John.

While much of Europe was consumed by social disarray in the centuries following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE, a remarkable golden age of scholasticism and artistic achievement began in Ireland. Untouched by centuries of Roman rule, Ireland retained an ancient cohesive society characterized by rural monastic settlements rather than urban centers. From c. 400-1000 CE — an era more popularly known as the “Age of Saints and Scholars” — Irish missionaries spread Christianity, bringing monastery schools to Scotland, England, France, the Netherlands, and Germany. In doing so, they also transmitted a new, effervescent style of art throughout western Europe: Insular art.

In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) speaks to Dr. Dorothy Hoogland Verkerk, Associate Professor of Art History at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, about the astonishing history of Insular art.

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Real History in Total War: Attila

TWA_Battle_Saxon_AttacksIn this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks to Janos Gaspar, Lead Designer of Total War: Attila, about Creative Assembly’s newest historical video game.

JW: What provided the impetus for Creative Assembly to make Total War: Attila? Why create a computer game about the Hunnic invasions of Europe (c. 370-469 CE) and the decline of the Roman Empire given the popularity of the Roman Total War series?

JS: In Rome II, we told the story of Rome becoming the world’s first superpower — from its first steps outside of Italy to the major body of its conquests; from a small republic to a vast empire. This time, we jumped almost 400 years into the future — right to the brink of the so-called “Dark Ages” — in order to recreate the last moments of this glorious empire and the birth of the new Europe. One of the major catalysts for such profound change is Attila himself. Overall, we thought it would be a fascinating era to cover.

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Seja Majeed – The Forgotten Tale of Larsa

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Born in Algeria to Iraqi refugees, Ms. Seja Majeed grew up in the United Kingdom, where her family claimed asylum. Impassioned by history, archaeology, and especially Iraqi culture, Seja yearned to be a writer. In her début novel for young adults, The Forgotten Tale of Larsa, Seja explores the themes of love, loss, change, and exile in an ancient Near Eastern setting. In this conversation with James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia, Seja relates the joys and struggles one faces in writing the “young adult novel,” in addition to her thoughts on the current perils facing Iraqi cultural patrimony.

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The Kingdoms of Ancient Arabia

Griffon_hadhramautIn antiquity, the Greeks and Romans referred to the pre-Islamic kingdoms of ancient Arabia as “Arabia Felix” or “Arabia the Blessed,” due to their immense wealth and political power. Flourishing along caravan and maritime trade routes for over a thousand years, these kingdoms achieved impressive feats in technology, engineering, and the conservation of natural resources.

In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) speaks to Dr. William Glanzman, one of the world’s leading experts on ancient Arabia, about the importance of these polities as well as recent archaeological discoveries in southern Arabia.

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Eternally Beautiful: Byzantine Art from Greece

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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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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

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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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The Veil of Promise: A Novel on the Life of St. Helena

EmpressHelenaThe life of St. Helena — Roman empress, Christian saint, and mother to the celebrated Constantine the Great — remains shrouded in mystery, controversy, and intrigue. To commence the start of the holiday season, James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks to Dr. María Lara Martínez — a talented Spanish historian and writer — about her award winning novel on St. Helena, The Veil of Promise (El Velo de Promesa), in this exclusive English language interview.

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