Interviews

Everyday Life in Pompeii

Triptych featuring images of various foods. Painted plaster. MANN 8760. ©The Superintendence for the Archaeological Heritage of Naples (SAHN).

Triptych featuring images of various foods. Painted plaster. MANN 8760. ©The Superintendence for the Archaeological Heritage
of Naples (SAHN).

Two thousand years ago, Mount Vesuvius – a stratovolcano located close to the Gulf of Naples – erupted with tremendous force and little warning. Within only 24 hours, the Roman city of Pompeii was buried under a rain of hot ash and falling debris. Lying undiscovered for over 1,600 years, the city’s rediscovery remains one of the greatest archaeological finds of all time.

Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano, which opened last month at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, Canada, examines everyday life in Pompeii through six distinct sections on those who called the ancient city home. In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) speaks to Curator Paul Denis about the exhibition as well as the ways in which our lives mirror those from the distant past.

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The Aztecs of Ancient Mexico

Wings outspread, jagged talons projecting front and back from his knees, his face emerging from an eagle’s beak, this is an eagle warrior. Templo Mayor Museum, INAH. National Council for Culture and Arts – INAH.

Wings outspread, jagged talons projecting front and back from his knees, his face emerging from an eagle’s beak, this is an eagle warrior. Templo Mayor Museum, INAH. National Council for Culture and Arts – INAH.

Around 1325 CE, southward migrating Mexicas or “Aztecs” came upon an island in Lake Texcoco, located in the highlands of Central Mexico. On this spot, they consecrated a temple and founded their capital city — the legendary Tenochtitlán — from which they initiated a wave of imperial conquests throughout Mesoamerica. Aztec civilization flourished for nearly two hundred years before falling to the might of the Spanish, led by Hernán Cortés (1485-1547 CE), in 1521 CE. Despite their remarkable innovations in engineering, agriculture, and architecture, many remember the Aztecs solely for their bloody rituals of human sacrifice.

This summer, Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Archaeology and History Museum in Montréal, Canada presents a major international exhibition, The Aztecs, People of the Sun, which offers glimpses into the lost world of a culture that reigned over much of what is present-day Mexico. In this interview, James Blake of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) speaks to Ms. Christine Dufresne, Project Manager at Pointe-à-Callière, about the exhibition and the finer points of Aztec civilization.

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The Berthouville Treasure at the Getty Villa

Mercury, 175 - 225. Roman. Medium: Silver and gold. Object: H: 56.3 x Diam.: 16 cm, Weight: 2772 g (22 3/16 x 6 5/16 in., 6.1112 lb.). D: 24 cm (9 7/16 in.). Accession No. VEX.2014.1.1. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des monnaies, médailles et antiques, Paris.

Mercury, 175 – 225. Roman. Medium: Silver and gold. Object: H: 56.3 x Diam.: 16 cm, Weight: 2772 g (22 3/16 x 6 5/16 in., 6.1112 lb.). D: 24 cm (9 7/16 in.). Accession No. VEX.2014.1.1. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des monnaies, médailles et antiques, Paris.

Accidentally discovered by a French farmer in 1830 CE, the spectacular hoard of gilt-silver statuettes and vessels known as the Berthouville Treasure was originally dedicated to the Roman god Mercury. Following four years of meticulous conservation and research at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles, CA, Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville allows visitors to appreciate their full splendor and offers new insights about ancient art, technology, religion, and cultural interaction in Late Roman Gaul. James Blake Wiener, Communications Director at Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE), learns more about this exhibition from Mr. Kenneth Lapatin, Associate Curator of Antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum, in this exclusive interview.

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What Caused The Mysterious Bronze Age Collapse?

“Fire of Troy” by Kerstiaen de Keuninck (1560-1632 AD). Oil on panel, last third of the 16th century CE (?). H. 58.3 cm (23 in), W. 84.8 cm (33 in). Public domain.

The decline of the Late Bronze Age civilizations of the Mediterranean and Near East has puzzled historians and archaeologists for centuries. While many have ascribed the collapse of several civilizations to the enigmatic Sea Peoples, Professor Eric H. Cline, former Chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at George Washington University, presents a more complicated and nuanced scenario in his new book, 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed.

Professor Eric H. Cline speaks to Ancient History Encyclopedia’s James Blake Wiener about his new title and the circumstances that lead to the collapse of the cosmopolitan world of the Late Bronze Age in this interview.

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The Power and Pathos of Hellenistic Bronze Sculpture

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Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World underscores the power, prestige, and pre-eminence of ancient sculpture during the Hellenistic Era. This blockbuster show, which opened at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy this spring, is the first major international exhibition to assemble nearly 50 ancient bronzes from the Mediterranean region and beyond in a single venue. Prized over the centuries for their innovative, realistic displays of physical power and emotional intensity, the sculptures of the Hellenistic world mark a key and important transition in art history.

In this interview, Dr. James Bradburne, the recently departed Director General at the Palazzo Strozzi, introduces James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) to the finer points of the exhibition.

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The Secret History of Iddi-Sin’s Stela

Osama Shukir Mohammed Amin sets out on a detective journey to discover the mysterious history of Iddi-Sin’s stela in Iraqi Kurdistan. Going back into this region’s troubled past, he disentangles a family dispute and discovers what really happened to this exquisite artefact.

I posted a picture on my personal Facebook page of what is commonly called “the rock of the Martyr Ghareeb Haladiny” (Kurdish: به ردي شه هيد غه ريب هه له ديني; Arabic: صخرة الشهيد غريب هلديني), which depicts a limestone stela of Iddi(n)-sin, king of Simurrum. Shortly after, one of my friends phoned me. He was very upset. He said that the “title” of the rock with respect to Martyr Ghareeb is wrong and that the rock was found by local people of the village of Qarachatan, and that Martyr Ghareeb had nothing to do with the rock. “They have altered the stela’s history and ignored the role of people of the village of Qarachatan, who found and protected this rock for 15 years,” he said.

Interviewing Mr. Nejem-Alddin Ahmad (who stands between the stela and Mr. Hashim Hama Abdullah, the director of the Sulaymaniyah Museum. A snapshot using VLC media player; video interview using my Nikon D610.

Interviewing Mr. Nejem-Alddin Ahmad (who stands between the stela and Mr. Hashim Hama Abdullah, the director of the Sulaymaniyah Museum.

A few days later, I met with Mr. Hashim Hama Abdullah, the director of the Sulaymaniyah Museum (Sulaymaniyah Governorate of Iraqi Kurdistan), where the stela is currently housed and displayed to the public. I told him what my friend said. He replied: “Yes the matter is complicated and the rock has passed through very turbulent times. It is a long subject that we have not uncovered its root till this moment. Many rings of its chain are still lost. Some people from Qarachatan village claimed that they did find and store the stela.”

The right edge of the stela. The edge has been broken and a large fragment has been lost. This has resulted in a large lacune; the cuneiform signs at the beginning of the lines have been lost. March 30, 2015.

“OK, let’s uncover the truth,” I suggested. “Let’s go there and meet the people who have any information about the stela.” Mr. Hashim replied positively and phoned Mr. Nejem-Alddin Ahmad, one of the Museum’s employees. Mr. Nejem-Alddin still lives in Qarachatan village and is the guard of the rock-relief of Rabana (mountain Rabana looks over the village and the relief lies on the cliff of that mountain, about 3-4 Km far from the village).

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Easter Island Statues, History and Art at Manchester Museum

Easter Island or “Rapa Nui” is among the most remote islands in the world, located some 3541 kilometers (2,200 miles) off the coast of Chile in the Pacific Ocean. Famous for its mysterious yet iconic statues (moai), Easter Island is currently the subject of a new exhibition at Manchester Museum in Manchester, UK: Making Monuments on Rapa Nui: The Statues from Easter Island. This show explores the incredible artistic, cultural, and religious traditions of the Rapanui people.

In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener speaks to Mr. Bryan Sitch, Deputy Head of Collections at Manchester Museum, about the engineering and construction of the moai, their purpose in the lives of the islanders, and the intrepid explorers who sought to understand them.

Moai against a setting sun on Easter Island, Chile. Adam Stanford @Aerial-Cam for RNLOC. (Courtesy of Manchester Museum.)

Moai against a setting sun on Easter Island, Chile. Adam Stanford @Aerial-Cam for RNLOC. (Courtesy of Manchester Museum.)

JW: Mr. Bryan Sitch, welcome to Ancient History Encyclopedia! This is the first interview we have ever conducted with Manchester Museum, as well as the first to encompass the perennially intriguing topic of the moai statues.

Why has Manchester Museum chosen to create an exhibition encompassing Rapanui and their moai? One cannot deny that there is considerable public interest in these monolithic statues.

BS: Thank you for inviting me, James. Manchester Museum’s temporary exhibition Making Monuments on Rapa Nui: The Statues from Easter Island is the happy convergence of an offer to lend statue from Easter Island, “Moai Hava,” as part of the British Museum’s National Programs, and the fact that Professor Colin Richards of the University of Manchester’s Department of Archaeology has been carrying out excavations on Rapa Nui. Richards is one of the co-investigators on an AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) funded program of fieldwork involving the University College London, University of Manchester, Bournemouth University and Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), University of Highlands and Islands, as well as Rapanui and Chilean archaeologists.

Manchester Museum regularly works with academics across the campus on temporary exhibition projects, the intention being to bring the results of their research to a wider audience here in the museum. In this way the museum is able to draw upon the most recent research in support of its temporary exhibitions, which implement the two principal strands of the organization’s mission: to promote understanding between cultures and to develop a sustainable world. The Making Monuments exhibition is the latest such “academic-led” project with which I, as Curator of Archaeology and Deputy Head of Collections, have been involved.

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Byzantine Medicine, Health and Healing at Istanbul’s Pera Museum

Life is Short, Art Long: The Art of Healing in Byzantium, at the Pera Museum (Pera Müzesi) in Istanbul Turkey, offers visitors a glimpse of Byzantine culture and society through the three traditional methods of healing practiced side-by-side: faith, magic, and medicine. Health has always been a chief concern of humanity, and this landmark show examines Byzantine civilization from the perspective of its approach to the body, in sickness and in health.

In this exclusive English language interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) speaks to Dr. Brigitte Pitarakis, curator of the exhibition, about the ways in which Byzantines understood medicine, health, and healing from ancient Roman times until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 CE.

JW: Dr. Brigitte Pitarakis, it is an immense pleasure to speak to you on behalf of Ancient History Encyclopedia! This interview marks the first time that we have worked with a curator associated with a cultural institution in Turkey. Merhaba!

Entrance to "Life is Short, Art is long" at the Pera Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. (Courtesy: Pera Museum/Pera Müzesi.)

Entrance to “Art is long, Life is Short” at the Pera Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. (Courtesy: Pera Museum/Pera Müzesi.)

The topic of health in the Byzantine Empire is a unique prism through which one can analyze Byzantine history, culture, and identity. Why did the Pera Museum choose to explore this subject? Additionally, I am curious to know if medicine in the ancient and medieval world is an interest of your own.

BP: Despite the tremendous progress of scientific research, we are surrounded by a growing number of people affected by emotional and physical pain. There is also growing interest in various forms of body care (spas and massages), natural foods, and therapy. These are two closely related aspects of a universal phenomenon that seems to have parallels in earlier societies. Byzantium is an interesting example because of its place at the intersection between antiquity and the Renaissance, as well as between East and West. The multifaceted behavior of the Byzantines toward illness and wellness lies at the root of our own behavior today.

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Barry Strauss on the Assassination of Caesar

Cover of Barry Strauss's "Death of Caesar," which was recently published by Simon & Schuster.

Cover of Barry Strauss’s “Death of Caesar,” which was recently published by Simon & Schuster.

The assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar on March 15, 44 BCE is one of the most dramatic and notorious events in Roman history. Many of us living in Anglophone nations are familiar with the events of Caesar’s demise thanks in large part to William Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar. However, Shakespeare dramatized only a few vignettes of a story written in cold blood. In The Death of Caesar: The Story of History’s Most Famous Assassination, by acclaimed military historian Barry Strauss, the reader learns how disaffected politicians and officers carefully planned and hatched Caesar’s assassination weeks in advance, rallying support from the common people of Rome. One is also introduced to fascinating character of the man who truly betrayed Caesar — the wealthy and intelligent Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus. In this exclusive interview to commemorate the Ides of March, James Blake Wiener, Communications Director at Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE), speaks with Dr. Barry Strauss about his new title and why he chose to revisit the world of late Republican Rome.

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Treasures Of The Lost Dhow

One of the most important discoveries in marine archaeological history occurred in 1998, just off Indonesia’s Belitung Island in the western Java Sea: A 1,200-year-old Arabian dhow with an astounding cargo of gold, silver, ceramic artifacts, coins, and tangible personal effects. The ship’s hold contained some 57,000 pieces in total and yet no human remains. The Lost Dhow: A Discovery from the Maritime Silk Route, now on show at the newly opened Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada, explores the movement of cross-cultural exchange, trade, and technology between the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258 CE) and Tang dynasty China (618-907 CE) through the prism of an ancient shipwreck.2.0_exhibitions_theLostDhow_1246x620In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) speaks to Mr. John Vollmer, Guest Curator for the Aga Khan Museum’s presentation of this exhibition, about the importance of the objects in this exhibition and what the exhibition means to the recently opened museum.

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