Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria Ariana (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in the Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The ancient city of Tenea

Together with Nemea and Tegea in the Greek Peloponnese, Tenea is one of the lesser known names although the site has been discovered back in the 1850s.

Over the past seven years, excavations at Tenea have yielded a huge amount of grave goods from the archaic cemetery all the way to later Hellenistic tombs. It appears that in archaic times, offerings accompanying the dead are rare or sparse, but in Tenea they were found in profusion. One Hellenistic grave in particular, contained a gold-plated wreath, together with jewelry, richly decorated vessels, painted bone objects and large numbers of lamps decorated with gladiators and masks. These images clearly referred to a theater, which was eventually unearthed, as well as an Odeon and a Stadium. Last year, Tenea’s public baths were located, including a solarium.

As late as 2018, archaeologists were able to trace a two-lane road from the late Mycenaean era that was still used far into the Roman times. The houses along this road were luxurious Hellenistic examples with marble floors, sewage pipes and more common objects testifying of an active community.

The agora with its surrounding workshops brought more interesting objects to light such as 30 gold seals, glassware, jewelry and scales that were apparently left behind after a raid or some natural disaster.

Recently, archaeologists were able to expose a Roman Mausoleum that had been looted in antiquity but other Roman burials yielded a rich collection of vessels, jewelry, together with glass and bronze artefacts. So much so, that they state that these burials offerings alone could fill a museum! So far, they retrieved an average of 300 coins a year!

It seems that excavations till now were concentrated around the rich cemeteries since nothing much has been said about the theater, the Odeon, the Baths or the Stadium – unless those remains are in a very poor state.

Since Tenea has being continually inhabited from the 6th century BC to the 6th century AD, it is quite amazing that it has not been better documented. After all, it lies only some 30 km from Corinth.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Project for a virtual Museum of Alexander the Great in Vergina

The renewed excavations around the Royal Palace of ancient Aegae and the adjacent theater seem to have reached completion (see: At last, the Palace of Aegae reopens to the public).

For many years, this area was widely neglected by tourists because the remains offered a rather poor idea of the wealth and beauty the Palace once displayed. Besides, it stood in the shadow of the marvelous exhibition space inside the Great Tumulus where the unlooted grave of Philip II was discovered in the 1970s as well as the tomb of a young prince attributed to Alexander IV, the son of Alexander the Great.

However, Vergina (modern name for Aegae) has much more to offer because the ancient city was widespread. In an attempt to connect the many known elements of Aegae, a new building has been constructed to become the entrance to what is called the Polycentric Museum. This space will house the statues and sculptures that were unearthed in the many sanctuaries of the city. It will also be used for temporary exhibitions and, most importantly, it will contain a virtual museum named “Alexander the Great: from Aigai to the World” – a true honor to their world famous citizen!

Honestly, it is about time that all the hitherto discovered remains are truly put on the map and disclosed to the general public. Many of the tombs and sanctuaries were off limits for years and the recent financial crisis that hit Greece did not help. It was important for Aegae to be recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, which eventually led to a funding of 4.5 million euro by the EU. Finally, the proud citizens of Vergina consider that their city played an important role in European civilization. Nicely said, but it was Alexander’s doing and not the work of Aegae or Pella!

However, their argumentation does not really matter. What really counts is the fact that by now all the known elements of Aegae are finally brought together, for they are many!

Take for instance the Sanctuary of Eucleia from the 4th century BC with the grave of Eurydice, Alexander’s grandmother that was always closed to the public. It further consists of a small temple from Hellenistic times, two stoas and at least three other burial sites of high placed people. Another Sanctuary was dedicated to Cybele, the mother of the gods, of which very little remains. Not much has been disclosed about the excavations in and around the private houses from the Hellenistic era, and only part of the city walls have been exposed.

The attention of archaeologists was focused mainly on the great number of necropolis (see: More Royal Tombs found at Aegae) located to the east of the Great Tumulus containing the grave of Philip. Here we find several clusters of necropolis, such as the cluster of the Queens, the cluster of the Temerid dynasty, the cluster of Heuzy and Bella, the general cemetery of the tumuli (apparently still to be investigated further), the archaic necropolis and the necropolis from the classical period. They certainly have their work still cut out!

Monday, January 4, 2021

Ithaca, a poem by C.P. Cavafy

The poet Cavafy most probably doesn’t ring a bell with most of us. I must confess I hadn’t heard of him until the death of Sean Connery on October 31, 2020. There is no obvious link between both names except that the actor has read Cavafy’s poem with musical background of the Greek composer Vangelis, who also composed the music of the Alexander movie directed by Oliver Stone.

Cavafy was born in Alexandria, Egypt, from Greek parents. After his father died in 1870, he moved to Liverpool where he developed his command of the English language. Eventually he returned to Alexandria.

Nothing predicted his destiny to become one of the most distinguished Greek poets of the 20th century. He remained obscure all of his life and he circulated his verse only among friends. The main reason probably was the fact that he was gay and that many of this poems were sexually explicit.

Cavafy was fascinated by ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, which was reflected in his poems describing life in those days.

The poem entitled “Ithaca, which I quote hereafter, is generally accepted as one of his great works. It is based on Homer’s Odyssey and talks about the importance of our journey in life to reach our final destination. In other poems, like “The Battle of Magnesia” and “To Antiochus of Epiphanes”, Cavafy develops his theory that the decadence of a civilization leads to its destruction.


As you set out to Ithaca 
hope that your journey is a long one, 
full of adventure, full of discovery. 
Laistrygonians and Cyclops, 
angry Poseidon-don't be afraid of them: 
you'll never find things like that on your way 
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high, 
as long as a rare sensation 
touches your spirit and your body. 
Laistrygonians and Cyclops, 
wild Poseidon-you won't encounter them 
unless you bring them along inside your soul, 
unless your soul sets them up in front of you. 

Hope that your journey is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when, 
with what pleasure, what joy, 
you come into harbors you're seeing for the first time; 
may you stop at Phoenician 
to buy fine things 
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind - 
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities 
to learn and learn again from those who know. 

Keep Ithaka always in your mind. 
Arriving there is what you're destined for. 
But don't hurry the journey at all. 
Better if it lasts for years, 
so that you're old by the time you reach the island, 
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting to make you rich. 
Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey. 
Without her you would have not set out. 
She has nothing left to give you now. 

And if you find her poor, Ithaca won't have fooled you. 
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Exploring the walls of Halicarnassus

Once again, Turkey is trying to promote tourism (in spite of the pandemic!) to their many archaeological sites and this time they are concentrating on Halicarnassus, today’s Bodrum. This kind of news has already aired in my previous blog, Putting Halicarnassus on the (tourist) map.

It is very regrettable that each time new excavation plans are published they come with very little new information. Although mostly buried beneath the modern houses and constructions, the layout of ancient Halicarnassus is pretty well known.

The most striking monuments are the inevitable theater that offers an unequaled view over the harbor and the castle, and the Mindus Gate, which has been partially reconstructed (see: Halicarnassus, capital of Caria).

In this rece
nt article published by The Hurriyet Daily News, they merely mention that the walls “cover a large area” (how large, I wonder?) and constitute a strong defense system with its 40 towers and four castles (where?). The article includes a picture of workmen digging or clearing the land around some big stone blocks (see above).

It is up to the reader to draw his own conclusions!

Sunday, December 27, 2020

About ancient trade between India and Rome

On my earlier blog Link between Egypt and Gandhara under Ptolemy Philadephus, I received an interesting comment referring to the article which I am sharing hereafter.

Ancient trade between India and Rome    A Note on Muziris


1. Muziris, as the ancient Greeks called it, was an important port on the Malabar Coast in Southern India . It was frequented by the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans.  Eudoxus of Cyzicus sailed into Muziris during his two voyages undertaken between 118 and 116 BC. Muzris,  is mentioned in the Periplous of the Erythraean Sea and in Ptolemy’s Geography and is prominent on the Peutinger Table. Pliny referred to it several times in his Naturalis Historia. Pliny called this port primum emporium Indiae. *

The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, which was written by an anonymous Greek merchant in the second half of the first century AD, shows a great increase in Roman trade with India.

The author of the Periplus, who probably visited India personally, described in detail the Roman trade with the ports of the Malabar Coast.

The most important port of the Malabar Coast was Muziris (Cranganore near Cochin) in the kingdom of Cerobothra (Cheraputra), which ‘abounds in ships sent there with cargoes from Arabia and by the Greeks’.

According to the Periplus, numerous Greek seamen managed an intense trade with Muziris:[29]

“Muziris and Nelcynda, which are now of leading importance (…) Muziris, of the same kingdom, abounds in ships sent there with cargoes from Arabia, and by the Greeks; it is located on a river, distant from Tyndis by river and sea five hundred stadia, and up the river from the shore twenty stadia.” – Paul Halsall. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, 53-54

They send large ships to the market-towns on account of the great quantity and bulk of pepper and malabathrum [cinnamon]. There are imported here, in the first place, a great quantity of coin; topaz, thin clothing, not much; figured linens, antimony, coral, crude glass, copper, tin, lead, wine, not much, but as much as at Barygaza [Broach]; realgar and orpiment; and wheat enough for the sailors, for this is not dealt in by the merchants there. There is exported pepper, which is produced in quantity in only one region near these markets, a district called Cottonora [North Malabar?]. Besides this there are exported great quantities of fine pearls, ivory, silk cloth, spikenard from the Ganges, malabathrum from the places in the interior, transparent stones of all kinds, diamonds and sapphires, and tortoise shell; that from Chryse Island, and that taken among the islands along the coast of Damirica [Tamil Nadu]. They make the voyage to this place in favorable season that set out from Egypt about the month of July, which is Epiphi.

This provides evidence for a great volume of trade in both directions. The Periplus reported the influx of coins; and, the largest number of Roman gold hoards has been found in the hinterland of Muziris;   most from the period of the Roman emperors Augustus (r. 27 B.C.E.–14 C.E.) and Tiberius (r. 14–37 C.E.).

Black pepper was a major item of trade with the West along both the western and eastern coasts. This rich trade continued on the Malabar Coast through the medieval period. Other items traded were spices, semiprecious stones, ivory, and textiles. Western products coming into India included wine, olive oil, and Roman coins—and in later centuries horses.

A text of the Sangam era highlights this, too: ‘The beautifully built ships of the Yavanas came with gold and returned with pepper, and Muziris resounded with the noise’

There is no doubt Muziris was a major port in its time and was an Emporium, as Pliny called it.

[Strabo was more interested in northern India and in the ports between the mouth of the Indus and present Bombay and he reported next to nothing about South India, Sri Lanka and the east coast of India.]

When Ptolemy wrote his geography around AD 150 Roman knowledge of India had increased even more. He wrote about the east coast of India and also had a vague idea of Southeast Asia, especially about ‘Chryse’, the ‘Golden Country’ (Suvarna-bhumi) as the countries of Southeast Asia had been known to the Indians since the first centuries AD. However, recent research has shown that this so-called Roman trade was integrated into an already flourishing Asian network of coastal and maritime trade.

Pliny the Elder also commented on the qualities of Muziris, although in unfavorable terms:[30]

“If the wind, called Hippalus, happens to be blowing, it is possible to arrive in forty days at the nearest market of India, called Muziris. This, however, is not a particularly desirable place to disembark, on account of the pirates which frequent its vicinity, where they occupy a place called Nitrias; nor, in fact, is it very rich in products. Besides, the road-stead for shipping is a considerable distance from the shore, and the cargoes have to be conveyed in boats, either for loading or discharging.” – Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturae 6.26

Regarding Muziris , Maddy in his webpage  writes:

Muchiri pattanam, a location close to today’s Kodungallur, was not really a sea port as some believed. It was a city on the banks of the Periyar somewhat inland and accessed through the maze of canals. Roman Ships anchored out in the sea and transported their goods in small boats guided by local pilots through the canals to Pattanam. From centuries in the past until the 14th, the city was well known to the Arab and especially the Roman sailors who conducted trade with Malabar. Sometimes the ships went to Barygaza or Baruch, sometimes to Nelycinda (will be covered in a separate blog) other times, they landed up in Muziris. They came in with Western luxury goods and gold and took away spices and Eastern goods. Sometimes the ships went around the Cape Comorin and docked at Kaveri Poompattinam close to Pondicherry.

The Romans had expatriate settlements or colonies in both places as I mentioned before and much information about them can be found in Sangam Era writings like the Silappadhikaram and Manimekhalai. The Peutinger table shows Muziris on the Roman map and even alludes to an Agustus temple (later studies assume it was an Agasthya temple) in Muziris. Writers like Ptolemy, Pliny and so on had written much about the trade, so also the Tamil poets. So let us conclude that robust trade took place, until the floods of the Periyar wherein the riverbed got silted in the 13th Century. Since that event and due to other issues at the Roman and Arab areas, the trade petered off and veered off to other places like the Cochin and Calicut. But by then the Arab traders had a stronghold on the route and they staved off any competition until the next aggressive bunch – the Portuguese came in – followed by the Dutch and finally the English who eventually settled down and colonized the lands they came to trade with. But we will not talk about all the events that took place in the process, we will instead focus on the Muziris papyrus, something that you do not see often mentioned in mainstream media. And so we go to the rather active Roman Colony or river port called Pattanam well before the advent of Christ

Image taken from De Tabula Peutingeriana de kaart, Museumstukken II (edited by A.M. Gerhartl-Witteveen and P. Stuart) 1993 Museum Kam, Nijmegan, the Netherlands

2. In what is called a third century map (perhaps a copy of an earlier map) Muziris is shown  prominently by drawing a circle round it. (Taprobane , indicated at the bottom of the map refers to Sri Lanka ). Pliny in his Natural History(6.26) mentioned that if one followed the wind Hippalus , one would reach Muziris in about forty days ( he was referring to the South West monsoon) . He also mentioned that the roadstead for shipping was at a considerable distance from the shore and that the cargoes are to be conveyed in boats, for either loading or discharging. He was indicating that Muziris was not along the coast but situated inland , reachable by a creek or a river. This was confirmed by the later Roman sources according to which “Muziris is located on a river, distant from Tindis – by river and sea, 500 stadia; and by river from the shore, 20 stadia”. Incidentally , Pliny did not recommended alighting at Muziris, as it was infested by pirates .

3. Since the days of Eudoxus, the Greeks and Egyptians established a flourishing trade with Southern India by taking advantage of what they called the Hippalus wind , meaning the South West monsoon winds. (Please see my post” Other Ancient Greeks in India ” for further details).The commodities the Greeks/Egyptians and Romans imported from India were precious gems, aromatics , spices – specially the pepper , besides cotton.

roman trade

4. According to Prof AL Basham (The Wonder That Was India) :

The main requirements of the West were spices, perfumes,jewels and fine textiles, but lesser luxuries, such as sugar, rice and ghee were also exported, as well as ivory, both raw and worked. A finely carved ivory statuette of a goddess oryaksi has been found in the ruins of Herculancum . Indian iron was much esteemed for its purity and hardness, and dye stuffs such as lac and indigo were also in demand. Another requirement was live animals and birds; elephants, lions, tigers and buffaloes were exported from India in appreciable numbers for the wild beast shows of Roman emperors and provincial governors, though these larger beasts went mainly overland through the desert trading city of Palmyra; smaller animals and birds, such as monkeys, parrots and peacocks, found their way to Rome in even larger quantities as pets of wealthy Roman ladies. The Emperor Claudius even succeeded in obtaining from India a specimen of the fabulous phoenix, probably a golden pheasant, one of the loveliest of India’s birds.

In return for her exports India wanted little but gold. Pottery and glassware from the West found their way to India, and many shreds of Arretine and other wares, mass-produced in Western factories, have been found in the remains of a trading station at Arikamedu, near Pondicherry.

As regards the Gemstones , Muzris acted as the collecting and clearing point . The garnets and quartz came from Arikamedu region (on the East coast of south India), the pearls were from Gulf of Mannar , while lapis lazuli beads were from Kodumanal in the neighboring region. The other stones included diamonds, agate, beryls, citrines etc. Please check the following links that carry abundant details on the Gem trade:

There was some demand for wine, and the Western traders also brought tin, lead, coral and slave-girls. But the balance of trade was very unfavorable to the West, and resulted in a serious drain of gold from the Roman Empire. This was recognized by Pliny, who, inveighing against the degenerate habits of his day, computed the annual drain to the East as  lOO million sesterces, “so dearly do we pay for our luxury and our women”.30 The drain of gold to the East was an important cause of the financial difficulties in the Roman Empire from the reign of Nero on wards. Not only gold, but coinage of all types was exported to India; Roman coinage has been found in such quantities in many parts of the Peninsula and Ceylon that it must have circulated there as a regular currency.

[Indian traders were active at both the Indian and the foreign ends of this maritime trade. Archaeological sites on the Red Sea have turned up potsherds with the names of Indians written in Tamil  and in Prakrit. In India, archaeologists have identied the port of Arikamedu  as the site of an ancient southeast Indian port mentioned in The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.

Excavations there revealed Roman pottery, beads, and evidence of wines imported from southern Italy and Greece. Arikamedu seems to have traded with the eastern Mediterranean region from as early as the rst century B.C.E.]

There is good evidence that subjects of the Roman Empire, if not actual Romans, settled in India. There is mention of a temple of the Emperor Augustus at Muziris. Early Tamil literature contains several references to the Yavanas, who were employed as bodyguards by Tamil kings, or as engineers, valued for their knowledge of siege craft and the construction of war-engines. While the term Yavana was often used very vaguely, and, from its original meaning of “a Greek”, came to be applied to any Westerner, it is by no means impossible that the Yavanas of South India included fugitives from the Roman legions in their number.

Ptolemy's Geography

Ptolemy’s geography of Asia

Ptolomy's Geographia. Muziris empo-rium

A section of the map of India drawn after Ptolomy’s Geographia, showing Muziris emporium

5. An indication of the importance of Muziris as a place for finalizing business deals by Roman traders was brought to light by L. Casson , a scholar, in his paper” New light on marine loans” .He mentioned about a papyrus (called P. Vindob. G 40822 -for identification purposes ), discovered during the year 1985 in  Vienna , which sets out the details of a maritime loan agreement between a ship owner – possibly of the Hermapollon mentioned on the verso of the papyrus – and a merchant using the ship as security. The document  suggests that the loan arrangement was agreed to while the parties were in Muziris (though possibly signed on arrival at the Red Sea), indicating a rather active Roman merchant colony on the Kerala coast


6. The heightened trade between Greece/Egypt and India came as a culmination of the trade relations that existed between India and the West even centuries earlier to Christian era.

7. Historians say Muziris, might be of significance in another way too. They say Christianity may have been introduced to the sub-continent through Muziris.

8. The successful run of the Greek/Egyptian trade with India suffered a temporary setback due to the rise of a new Parthian Empire that formed a sort of barrier between the Greeks and the Indians. However, when Rome  started to absorb the remnants of the Empire of Alexander, Egypt came under the control of Romans. Egypt became a Roman province in 30 B.C. Thereafter, Augustus settled down and took charge of Egypt , as his personal property.

Interestingly , According to Pliny , writing in about 51 AD , the use of monsoon winds to shorten the passage to /from India was made known to the Romans only in the days of Claudius .( Pliny, N. H., 8, 101, 86). This development, therefore, must have come around 51 AD.  There was, therefore, a long period of lull in the Egypt-India trade after 34BC.

9. The Roman trade with India, through Egypt, began in earnestness in the first century AD. Muziris then became an important Romans’ trading centre. The Rome/Egypt/India trade lasted famously until about sixth century.

10. Then suddenly and mysteriously, Muziris went off the radar. It was not mentioned again for a very long time. Dr  Roberta Tomber of British Museum said.

“What is interesting is that in the 6th Century, a Greek writer, writing about the Indian Ocean , wrote that the Malabar coast was still a thriving centre for the export of pepper – but he doesn’t mention Muziris”.

No one has  a clue how Muziris disappeared so completely.

[ Please read Indo-Roman trade by Ajoy Kumar Singh, Janaki Prakashan, 1988]

Roman coins

Regarding the trade in South India, Prof. Hermann Kulke and Prof. Dietmar Rothermund in their A History of India (Rutledge, London, Third Edition 1998-) write:

In the area around Coimbatore, through which the trade route from the Malabar Coast led into the interior of South India and on to the east coast, eleven rich hoards of gold and silver Roman coins of the first century AD were found. Perhaps they were the savings of pepper planters and merchants or the loot of highwaymen who may have made this important trade route their special target.

It also indicates that the South Indian ports served as entrepôts for silk from China, oil from the Gangetic plains which were brought by Indian traders all the way to the tip of South India, and also for precious stones from Southeast Asia. But, as far as the Eastern trade was concerned, the Coromandel Coast to the south of present Madras soon eclipsed the Malabar Coast. To the north of Cape Comorin (Kanya Kumari) there was the kingdom of the Pandyas where prisoners were made to dive for precious pearls in the ocean. Still further north there was a region called Argaru which was perhaps the early Chola kingdom with its capital, Uraiyur. The important ports of this coast were Kamara (Karikal), Poduka (Pondichery) and Sopatma (Supatama) (see Map 5). Many centuries later European trading factories were put up near these places: the Danes established Tranquebar near Karikal, the French Pondicherry, and the British opted for Madras which was close to Supatama


1.BBC News in its edition of 11 June 2006 , reported an archaeological investigation by two archaeologists – KP Shajan and V Selvakumar – has placed the ancient port as having existed where the small town of Pattanam now stands, on India’s south-west Malabar coast. The team believes Pattanam as the place where Muziris once stood. Until recently, the best guesses for the location of Muziris centred on the mouth of the Periyar  River , at a place called Kodungallor – but now the evidence suggests that Pattanam is the real location of Muziris.

2. Pattanam is a small town some 12 km south of the Periyar river mouth (present day Kodungallur) , in Kerala state. The artefacts recovered from the excavation site include amphora (holding vessels) of Roman make and Yemenis, Mesopotamian, and West Asian ones too, indicating that Pattanam had trade not only with Rome but also with places in the Persian Gulf . The other artefacts recovered include pottery shards, beads, Roman copper coins and ancient wine bottles.

3.There is no doubt that Pattanam was a major port and was important to the Indo-Roman trade But more collaborative evidence is needed to support the view that Pattanam was indeed Muziris.

4. The remote sensing data revealed that a river close to Pattanam had changed its course .The port may have been buried due to earthquakes or floods. This may perhaps explain the disappearance of the Muziris port. However, there are no definite answers yet.

5. Interestingly, while the excavations at Muziris are on, another set of archaeologists from UCLA and University of Delaware have excavated Berenike, a long-abandoned Egyptian port on the Red Sea near the border with Sudan . The team has uncovered the largest array of ancient Indian goods ever found along the Red Sea , including the largest single cache of black pepper from antiquity – 16 pounds – ever excavated in the former Roman Empire .

Dr. Willeke Wendrich, an archaeologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, said the research showed that themaritime trade route between India and Egypt in antiquity appeared to be even more productive and lasted longer than scholars had thought.

In addition, it was not an overwhelmingly Roman enterprise, as had been generally assumed. The researchers said artefacts at the site indicated that the ships might have been built in India and were probably crewed by Indians.

These again confirm the trade relations that existed between ancient Egypt and India

coins of Roman empire

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Aratus of Soli, poet and astronomer


Aratus was an astronomer and poet, who was born in Soli (near modern Mersin) in 315 BC. He came in the news after this year’s ongoing excavations in Soli, the Roman Pompeiopolis as archaeologists discovered a memorial tomb. This grave site was surrounded by two rows of hexagonal structures and arches and is being described as “a crater with a circular plot worthy of an astronomer”.

These elements led the scholar to link the monument to their citizen Aratus although he died in Alexander’s birthplace Pella in 240 BC.

It so happened that Aratus was invited to the Macedonian court by Antigonus II Gonatas, the son of Demetrios Poliorketes, in 276 BC. One year later, the poet penned down the king’s victory over the Gauls in verse form.

While he resided in Pella, Aratus wrote a hexameter poem on astronomy. In the first half of his Phenomena, he retells the work of Eudoxus of Cnidos describing the constellations and other celestial phenomena, which he set into verse. The second half was known as Diosemeia and talks about the weather. The interest for Aratus’ poem was such that it was translated into Latin and his work triggered a great number of comments from the Greek and Latin speaking public.

However, he also was active in the field of philosophy, grammar and medicine (some pretend he was a doctor).

He spent some time in Syria as a guest of Antiochus I Soter but returned to Pella where he died in 240/239 BC.

[Pictures from Greek City Times]

Friday, December 18, 2020

Link between Egypt and Gandhara under Ptolemy Philadelphus

As we know, after Alexander’s death, Egypt was ruled by Ptolemy and his descendents. Among them, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, his son, still carried on in the footsteps of this father. He was pharaoh of Egypt from 283 to 246 BC.

It was during that time that the port of Berenice or Baranis – in honor of his mother Berenice I - was founded on the west coast of the Red Sea. Over time, this city grew to become an important trading center that was active along the east coast of Africa as well as Arabia and faraway India.

I thought this was quite remarkable since we usually look at Egypt from the Mediterranean point of view rather than from its eastern boarders. As a result of the long Wars of the Diadochi, elephants had become a major weapon, the tank of antiquity and this is exactly why the harbor of Berenice was so important.

The trading activities of Berenice have been described in detail by a Greek merchant from Alexandria in the 1st century AD. His voyages carry the resonating title Periplus of the Erythraean Sea in which he covers the coastline south of Berenice but also all the way to the Horn of Africa, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the India Ocean. It is hard to imagine how in those early days of the Roman Empire, a trading route existed with the Sindh region of Pakistan (roughly around today’s Karachi conquered by Alexander) and southwestern India! 

Archaeologist recently carried out excavations around a temple dedicated to Isis and Serapis in Berenice. They unearthed several marble and stone artifacts including images of Serapis. Most surprisingly are the heads that imitate work from Asian Gandhara, i.e., roughly parts of modern Pakistan and Afghanistan. They also uncovered the statue of Sebiymeker, the supreme god of procreation and fertility from Meroe in modern Sudan. This Nubian god was generally found near doorways and for that reason has been interpreted as being a guardian god.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

About the Olympian gods

Walking through the history of Greece, we cannot escape the ever presence of the gods – in this case, the Olympian gods. Beside the written history, they all came to us in many shapes and forms such as statues, reliefs, mosaics and even paintings which are widely lost. Some of those earthly creations are true masterpieces, which I’d like to share at present.

The Greek pantheon counted basically twelve gods: Zeus, Hera, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Poseidon, Ares, Demeter, Aphrodite, Dionysos, Hermes, and Hephaistos. This number, however, was flexible and at times one of the lesser gods was replaced by another one.

We will remember how King Philip, Alexander’s father, proclaimed himself to be the 13th god when he made his triumphal entry into the Theater of Aegae where he was murdered that same day.

The Greek gods were very human and constituted one big family.

Zeus was the father of the gods and as such he ruled over heaven and earth. He was the god of thunder and that’s why he is generally depicted holding a thunder bolt in his hand. The most magnificent rendition, in my opinion, is the bronze Zeus from the Sea of Artemisia, c. 450 BC that dominates the room at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

Hera was Zeus’ wife and Queen of Mount Olympus. She was the goddess of marriage and the family. Although she was a very jealous spouse, she remained faithful to Zeus despite his many escapades. Her temple in Olympia left us many unusual artifacts, among which there is this (restored) terracotta Acroterium, which is now displayed in the local museum.

Athena was born from the head of Zeus and was the goddess of war and wisdom. Her name is closely tied to Athens after she donated the olive tree as a symbol of peace and plenty. A sacred olive tree stood on the Acropolis, where a more recent specimen has replaced its ancestor. The famous Temple of the Parthenon was built in the 5th century BC in her honor. The New Museum of the Acropolis exhibits a rather uncommon marble statue of a striding Athena that was part of the pediment of the archaic temple from c. 520 BC.

Apollo is probably the most loved of the gods and is generally associated with music. He also stands for youth and beauty and the source of life and healing. Delphi was one of his favorite places of worship but I was personally very much impressed by the larger than life statue of Apollo playing the Lyre exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Tripoli in Libya. It was retrieved from the Bath of Hadrian in Leptis Magna, Libya.

Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo, and often her temple stood right next to her brother’s – as we know from Didyma and Letoon (Turkey), for instance. She was best known as the protector of women in childbirth, although she was also famous as the goddess of hunting. We’ll remember that Artemis was so occupied in assisting the birth of Alexander that she neglected her tasks in Ephesos and let her temple burn down that same night. In this city, she is represented in the archaic eastern form with many breasts but that is not my favored picture. There is, of course, the nearly intact Diana, the Roman version, at the Louvre in Paris, but I’d prefer this cute little hairnet from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Poseidon, the later Roman Neptune, is best known as the god of the sea. He was famous for bringing floods and storms but he also was responsible for earthquakes. Yet, he had a good side also since he protected the seafarers. Here my favorite is this relief from the 1st or 2nd century AD on display at the Museum of Burdur (famous for the artifacts retrieved in Sagalassos) in Turkey.

Ares was the son of Zeus and Hera and a very bellicose god with a quick temper. His beauty and courage made him the perfect seducer of women, the most famous of which was Aphrodite. This scene is beautifully depicted in a fresco from the House of Lucretius Fromto in Pompeii, exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy.   

Demeter was Zeus’ sister and the mother of Persephone, who was raped by the god of the underworld, Hades. She was one of the oldest gods in the Greek pantheon, and as such she provided the fertility of the earth and protected the harvest. The votive relief from Eleusis is probably the most famous picture but I have a special connection with this remarkable relief tucked away in the Museum of Dion in Greece.

Aphrodite was born on the island of Cyprus near the city of Paphos – a place where her memory is still very much alive. She is said to be the daughter of Zeus according to some sources. Aphrodite, who later became the Roman Venus, is widely known as the goddess of love, beauty and sex. She not only protected the courtesans and prostitutes but also the seafarers. Quite uniquely, she was favorite among men and women alike and played an important role in the commerce, but also in politics and warfare. There are very many statues of Aphrodite and Venus to entice us. After in-depth comparisons, however, I chose this one from the Louvre in Paris.

Dionysos was another son of Zeus but from his liaison with Semele. Hera was very jealous of that relationship and killed Semele. However, Zeus took the unborn child and reared him in his thigh. Dionysus turned out to be the bad boy of the Olympus and is best known as the god of the wine – always playful and good natured. He is often represented in the presence of a Satyr and the example from Sagalassos exhibited at the Museum of Burdur, is one of the finest Hellenistic statues.

Hermes. In the crowded family on Mount Olympus, Hermes was another son of Zeus but this time by the nymph Maia. He is often seen in the company of Pan, his son, and was the patron of the shepherds. He was engaged in many fields and was the god of commerce and thieves, a clear illustration of his colorful personage. He also was active as god of travel, wealth, luck and language. His later Roman name of Mercury highlights his versatility. The splendid Hermes with the child Dionysus which Praxiteles created for the Temple of Hera in Olympia is the most perfect rendition.

Hephaistos was the brilliant blacksmith on Mount Olympus. He was the god of fire and metallurgy. Since he was born from Hera without a father, he appeared as an ugly figure – the only one among the overall near-perfect gods and goddesses. That may be the reason why I didn’t find (or photograph) a statue of Hephaistos, who has, however, left us his well-preserved temple in Athens.