Archive of Interviews

Drink of the Gods: Wine in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean

AncientphoenicianportTyreA symbol of fertility, immortality, and divinity, wine was the favored drink of choice across the ancient Near East and Mediterranean. Wine is mentioned frequently in biblical scriptures, and was used for everyday purposes in cooking and medicine. In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks to Mr. Joel Butler, co-author of Divine Vintage: Following the Wine Trail from Genesis to the Modern Age, about the religious, cultural, and social importance of wine across the centuries.

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Reconstructing Angkor Wat through Fiction

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShrouded in mystery and lure, the Khmer city of Angkor is one of the most mesmerizing places in the world. Founded around the year 800 CE by Jayavarman II (c. 770-850 CE), Angkor was the center of the powerful Khmer kingdom, which dominated much of what is present-day Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma, and Vietnam until the 15th century CE. At its height, Angkor was one of the largest and most technologically sophisticated cities in the world, crowned by a stunning architectural achievement: the temple complex of Angkor Wat.

In this feature interview, James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks to Mr. John Burgess — the author of A Woman of Angkor and former Washington Post foreign correspondent — about his new novel, the intricacies of ancient Khmer court culture, and why he has spent his life exploring the ruins of Khmer civilization.

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Sublime Sicily: A Hellenic Gem in Antiquity

gm_330941EX1Sicily evokes the fiery majesty Mt. Etna, the wine-dark hues of the surrounding sea, and the delicious flavors of arancini and limoncello. Situated at a pivotal intersection between Greece, Italy, and North Africa, Sicily is not only the largest island in the Mediterranean, but the site of over 5,000 years of human history. Few are aware, however, that Sicily experienced a spectacular golden age from the fifth century to the third century BCE, while under the rule of ancient Greek émigrés. Enriched by its immense agricultural bounty, the sociocultural milieu of Hellenic and Hellenistic Sicily was diverse and innovative, rivaling the sophistication and refinement of the “mother country” during its classical apex.

Sicily: Art and Invention between Greece and Rome — an exhibition at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles, California — presents the grandeur and glory of ancient Sicily or “Sikelia” in all its complexity, beauty, and ingenuity. In this exclusive interview with the Ancient History Encyclopedia, James Blake Wiener speaks to Dr. Alexandra Sofroniew, co-curator of the exhibition, about Sicily’s special role in Mediterranean antiquity.

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The Ancient Shards of Central American Art and History

CentroamericapoliticoLike the Central Valley of Mexico and the Andes of South America, Central America has been home to dynamic and sophisticated civilizations for thousands of years. A series of distinct cultures left behind remarkable ceramic objects, which attest to considerable wealth, intricate belief systems, and singular artistic achievements. Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed a bilingual (English/Español) exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington D.C. — explores seven ancient regions of Central America, encompassing modern Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Examining the vibrancy of Central America’s diverse ancestral heritage with a broad selection of objects, this exhibition also underscores the interconnectedness of Central America’s pre-Columbian peoples with their Mesoamerican, Caribbean, and South American neighbors.

In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks to Dr. Alexander V. Benitez, co-curator of the exhibition and director of the Smithsonian Latino Center sponsored Central American Ceramics Research Project (CACRP), about the exceptional artifacts featured in the exhibition.

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A Closer Look at Ancient Korea

BaekjeAmbassadorFrom the first century BCE until the seventh century CE, the Korean peninsula experienced an unprecedented era of immense wealth, political power, and cultural efflorescence. Although the kingdoms of ancient Korea are not familiar to many researchers in Anglophone countries, the fields of early Korean history and archaeology are active and pertinent components of academic programs in East Asia, where it is recognized that an understanding and appreciation of the pre-historical and early historical periods are necessary for a proper grasp of Korea in an age of globalization.

In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks with Dr. Mark Byington, Founder and Project Director of the Early Korea Project at the Korea Institute, Harvard University, who has dedicated his life to the development of academic study of early Korean history and archaeology in North America.

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The Merovingians: The Kings and Queens of the Franks

MerovingiandynastymapMythologized and circumscribed for over 1500 years, the Merovingians were a powerful Frankish dynasty, which exercised control much of modern-day France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and the Low Countries. During the Early Middle Ages, the Merovingian kingdoms were arguably the most powerful and most important polities to emerge after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, blending Gallo-Roman institutions with Germanic Frankish customs. Recent discoveries and new research in the field of mortuary archaeology — the study of how cultures treat the dead and what they believe about the afterlife — has renewed considerable interest in the Merovingians.

In this feature interview, James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks to Dr. Bonnie Effros, a Professor of History at the University of Florida, about the ways in which the “archaeology of the dead” can help rewrite an important chapter in European history.

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The Enigmatic Poison King: Mithradates VI of Pontus (120-63 BCE)

coverWhile relatively unknown today, Mithradates VI of Pontus inspired fear, romance, courage, and intrigue across the Near East during the first century BCE. Claiming descent from Alexander the Great and Darius of Persia, Mithradates challenged the might of late Republican Rome, creating an empire that stretched from the northern reaches of the Black Sea to Syria and Armenia. While loathed by Rome for his massacre of 80,000 Roman civilians in 88 BCE, Mithradates was hailed by Greeks and Persians as a “savior” from oppressive Roman misrule. Mithradates’ ambition, coupled with his advanced knowledge of poisons, make him one of the most intriguing personalities in antiquity.

In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks to Dr. Adrienne Mayor, a Research Scholar at Stanford University, who examines the tumultuous life of this most tantalizing of ancient kings in The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates. Contextualizing his political importance, intellectual brilliance, and complex character, Mayor also shares insights as to why Mithradates has been largely ignored in recent scholarship.

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Petra: Wonder in the Desert

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Few places on earth have captivated humanity as much as the ethereal city of Petra, which is located in present-day Jordan. Constructed by the Nabataeans–ancient traders who dominated the export of frankincense, myrrh, balsam, and spices from Arabia to the Greco-Roman world–Petra was a beautiful desert metropolis of theaters, temples, palaces, and immense markets. ‘Rediscovered’ in 1812 by an eccentric Swiss adventurer, Johan Ludwig Burckhardt, Petra is the focus of a new show at the Antikenmuseum Basel in Basel, Switzerland. Opened last fall by HRH Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan of Jordan, Petra: Wonder in the Desert. In the Footsteps of J. L. Burckhardt alias “Sheikh Ibrahim,” showcases nearly 150 artifacts, demonstrating the power, prestige, and sophistication of one of Antiquity’s most alluring cities.

In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia converses with Mr. Laurent Gorgerat, a Co-Curator of the exhibition, and learns how a mysterious kingdom of former nomads created a luxurious, urban oasis in an inhospitable climate.

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The Legacy of Antiquity at the Dawn of the Renaissance

“Of all the art forms, sculpture was the first to give a comprehensive and coherent voice to the new formal Renaissance idiom, the roots of which went back to the classical world. But it was the coherence of the Renaissance visual language that made the difference… These were major works of art, yet when they were cited, it was as fragments, without a comprehensive and coherent vision.”

610Renaissance Florence was the center of a pulsating creativity, which would redefine the spectrum of Western aesthetics over the course of two centuries. At the dawn of the Quattrocento, Florentine artists found inspiration in the sculptures of their Greco-Roman predecessors. The Springtime of the Renaissance: Sculpture and the Arts in Florence, 1400-1460, now on show at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, highlights how ancient sculptures–in stone or bronze–provided the catalyst for far-reaching and revolutionary innovations in art and design. Through the presentation of 140 sculptures and paintings from major international collections, the exhibition carefully traces the classical inspiration behind the Renaissance.

In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks to Dr. James Bradburne, Director General of the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, about this remarkable exhibition, and of how artists like Ghiberti, Filippo Lippi, and Donatello recycled and augmented ancient forms and styles.

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Roman Riches in Iron Age Denmark

otherartifacsDanish archaeologists made an unprecedented discovery in the municipality of Ishøj, located just 18 km (11 mi) outside of Copenhagen, in October 2007: an intact grave of a high-ranking man or “prince” from the Roman Iron Age (c. 1-400 CE). Hailed as one of the most important discoveries in recent memory, the grave provided a unique glimpse into the material wealth and aesthetic tastes of the ancient Danish elite. Sensational objects like gaming pieces cast in glass, gold jewelry, and an exquisite Roman wine set in bronze were among the items uncovered. All of these and more are now presented in a new exhibition, The Ishøj Prince (Danish: “Ishøjfyrstens”), at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, Denmark.

In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks to Dr. Jan Kindberg Jacobsen, Curator of Ancient Art at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, about the importance of this discovery, and of how a Danish prince amassed the trappings of a Mediterranean magnate.

“Although richly furnished burials from the late Roman Iron Age are not an unknown phenomenon in Denmark, the one belonging to the ‘Ishøj Prince’ stands out. The grave was excavated, restored, and analyzed in accordance with today’s scientific standards. This has allowed for a very detailed reconstruction of the violent events that resulted in the death of the Ishøj Prince, providing a broad insight into the funeral rites and dedication patterns of the period.”

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