Considerable mystery surrounds
the disclosures about a vast tomb in Greece, built during the period of
Alexander the Great, with archaeologists now claiming that they have found
ancient remains of five people. Ever since the tomb was discovered in 2014,
there has been intense speculation that it may have been built for Alexander
the Great, for his mother or a General in his military. But the disclosure of
archaeologists on Monday that they unearthed bones of five people, including a
woman above the age of 60, a newborn baby, two men aged between 35 and 45,
overturned many of the hitherto held assumptions. The ruins of another body,
believed to be of an adult, could not be verified in terms of its age.
The ancient tomb dates back to
300-325 BC and was located at the Kastas hill in Amphipolis, reported The
Telegraph. Alexander died in 323 BC, at the age of 32, in Babylonia, and his
body was supposed to have been transported to Alexandria for burial. Inside the
tomb, archaeologists also found some marble statues of sphinxes and a mosaic
pavement that depicted the abduction of Persephone by Hades, who was the king
of the underworld.
According to the experts, the
bones of one of the men had cut marks, possibly from a sword or a dagger,
adding a new twist to the occupants of the necropolis. A Daily Mail report said
there is also speculation whether the woman buried at the Amphipolis site was
Roxana, Alexander's Persian wife. It quoted the Culture Ministry, which said
the woman was approximately 5ft 1inch tall.
Born in Pella, the ancient
capital of Macedonia in July 356 BC, Alexander, despite of his short life that
ended at the young age of 32, became world famous for his heroic military
expeditions across the Persian territories of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt. He
came and literally conquered the lands he surveyed. The warrior's greatest
victory was at the Battle of Gaugamela, now in northern Iraq, in 331 BC. His
triumphant treks across Persian territories made him known as Alexander the
Great. After the battle in Gaugamela, Alexander led his army further 17,800 km
and found 70 cities. The expedition led to Alexander creating an empire that
stretched across three continents-- from Greece to Egypt and further to Indian
Creating one of the largest
empires in the world with territories that stretched from the Mediterranean to
the Indus, Alexander became a military legend of all times. But the death of
Alexander also unleashed a bitter succession war to take control of the empire.
During the war, Alexander's mother, widow, son and half-brother were murdered
near Amphipolis. Now the mystery is whether the tomb in questions is housing
We know that the ancient Greeks
had a massively entertaining sets of gods and goddesses. So it's no wonder that
when Rome conquered Greece, they replaced their own dull pantheon with renamed
versions of Zeus, Athena, and the others. But not all Roman gods were Greek
copies — here are a few of the more important ones.
Despite Rome's wholesale
acquisition of the Greek pantheon, perhaps their most important deity was
uniquely their own. Janus was the god of beginnings and endings, transitions,
doors, basically anything that had two different but complementary functions —
epitomized by the fact he had two faces. Janus was so important he remained a
part of the Roman pantheon even after they had co-opted the Greek gods, and
arguably stayed their most important deity, receiving the bulk of the worship
for important beginnings and ending like births, marriages, days, seasons,
deaths, etc. Since he presides over beginnings, he had to be worshipped first
in all major religious ceremonies; this also made him the god of omens, and the
Romans loved omens and trying to divine the future. Even though Jupiter was the
king of the gods after the great Greek pantheon acquisition, Janus was the door
between heaven and earth, and had been since the beginning of time — which
effectively meant Janus could have metaphorically locked Jupiter in his room.
He didn't, of course, but he could have.
When Rome was founded, it was
near a group of people called the Sabines. Some of the Sabines were absorbed
into Rome peacefully — some were very much not — but they brought Quirinus with
them, a god of war, before the Romans took Ares and redubbed him Mars. By the
first century B.C., somehow Quirinus had become the divine form of Rome's
legendary founder Romulus, making him a pretty big deal. He effectively became
the god of the Roman state; as the republic turned into an empire, and the
empire grew, he was eventually supplanted by Jupiter and the other formerly
While Rome obviously loved
borrowing religion from their Greek neighbors, Mithra was one of the few
divinities that came to the empire from somewhere else. Original a Persian god,
Mithra began to be worshipped by soldiers in the Imperial armies, but as part
of a cult — they had secret rituals and prayers and temples, although it
doesn't seem like there were any crazy cult leaders or nefarious dealings. They
just worshipped Mithra and hung out and refused to tell other people about it,
almost like a club.
Not all gods needed worship
from the masses; every Roman household had a variety of smaller, more personal
gods that they worshipped at a family altar right in their home. Among the most
important were the Lares, the gods of the family, which included the spirits of
their ancestors. Obviously, as part of the family themselves, they had a vested
interest in keeping their descendents happy and protected, and the descendents
had good reason to keep them satisfied. They were offers of small tokens of
food and grain and wines every day, but more elaborate rituals were held for
important family events like weddings and births.
5) Dis Pater
Originally a god of land-based
riches — which is to say fertile land, precious minerals, etc. — Dis Pater
eventually turned into a god of the underworld because anything precious in the
ground was considered the treasure of the underworld. It's kind of a weird
association to move from God of Gems and Stuff to God of the Place People Go
When They Die, which is likely why he was absorbed into Pluto, nee Hades, when
the Greek gods came over. Pluto was a much more impressive, imposing god of the
The Etruscan were a group of
people living near Rome that got absorbed/conquered early in Rome's history. As
such, Orcus is believed to have been the Etruscan god of death and the
afterlife, alongside Rome's Dis Pater. Eventually, Orcus came to represent the
more evil, monstrous aspects of the afterlife, and became seen as a demonic
tormentor of the damned; between that distinction and the fact that he was
mostly worshipped on farms instead of in the cities, he continued to exist as a
divinity long after Dis Pater had disappeared into Pluto. Fun fact: Orcus is
the origin of the name of J.R.R. Tolkien's evil Orcs.
The origin of Liber is mostly
unknown — he was definitely worshipped in Italy for quite some time, and was
joined by his female companion Libera — but he was a major god in the Roman
pantheon. He was the god of male fertility, the transition to adulthood, the
bounty of harvest and the common man — a weird conflation of rights, manhood,
fertility, and partying. Perhaps "liberty" is the best word for it.
Rome devoted a whole month to celebrating him — the Liberalia festival — in
which of course a giant penis was paraded about, ostensibly to protect the
crops, as penises are wont to do. Eventually Liber was superceded by the Greek
god of wine, Dionysis, renamed Bacchus, but worship of Liber continued,
evolving into cults with outrageously unsavory reputations for sexual
free-for-alls and occasional murder.
8) Divus Julius
Going into all the reasons why
Julius Caesar was deified while he was still ruling Rome would be incredibly
complicated, but you need to know two things: 1) Caesar had been a friend to
the common people of Rome forever, and they loved him even before he brought an
end to a horrible civil war and ruled the nation, and 2) Caesar's willingness
to be honored, including having a month named after him, a priest devoted to
him, countless statues, etc., was a primary reason why many people in the
Senate wanted him dead. But after the murder, Marc Antony helped get Julis
officially recognized as a deity, which gave him more or less a divine mandate
to punish Caesar's murderers and take over, although that also got
super-complicated thanks to Julius' nephew Octavian. Julius Caesar's divinity
was primarily a political move, first by him, and continued by his successors
to legitimize their power.
9) Divus Augustus
Julius' nephew Octavian did not
make the same mistakes his uncle had. Even when he defeated Mark Antony and
became emperor, he refused to be voted divine honors while he was alive — and
since he ruled for over 40 years, that was quite a long time. Even when the
"savages" of Rome's furthest provinces specifically requested to be
allowed to worship their Emperor as a god, Augustus did not want to follow in
his uncle's footsteps. But he also didn't want to offend his new subjects. As
such, he basically told them to worship the spirit of Rome itself, and hey, if
they happened to mention him too, no biggie. But he refused to allow any
pretense of divinity in the more traditional Roman portion of the empire. He
also helped restore countless temples and festivals, thus worshipping every god
he felt he should; between that, and the fact that he ruled for 40 pretty
peaceful, incredibly prosperous years, when he died in 14 AD both the common people
and the senate were more than happy to declare him an official god.
With trademark trident in hand, Poseidon, characterized with
a sturdy build, thick wavy hair and full beard, looms large in Greek mythology.
He’s the central figure in the battle between the Olympian
gods that brought order to the world and a monstrous race of giants.
The Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College in Hanover on
Saturday opens an exhibition dedicated to how ancient societies in the
Mediterranean realm worshipped this heralded figure, who had dominion not only
over the sea but horses and diverse natural phenomena.
“Poseidon and the Sea: Myth, Cult and Daily Life,” to run
through March 15, includes ancient vases decorated with mythological scenes and
other objects that demonstrate cult worship of this god known as Poseidon to
the Greeks, Nethuns to the Etruscans and Neptune to Romans.
The showing was curated by Dartmouth alumnus Seth Pevnick,
Class of 1999, who is acting director, chief curator and Richard E. Perry
Curator of Greek and Roman Art at the Tampa Museum of Art, as well as a former
Hood Museum of Art intern.
Pevnick was inspired to organize the show by the nearly
life-sized marble statue of the god from the Tampa collection, which presides
over the entrance to the exhibition.
The works of art and material culture on view were created
by ancient Greek, Etruscan and Roman artists and artisans. They include
striking black-figure and red-figure pottery; sculptures in terracotta, marble,
and precious metals, and examples of ancient glass, mosaics, carved gems and
According to myth, Poseidon’s most famous sanctuary was at
Isthmia, where the Peloponnesos joins the Greek mainland, but he was also
worshipped at landlocked sanctuaries. Votive offerings, from a small bronze
horse and schools of fish made of lead to representations of the god himself —
were meant to illuminate and impress. The exhibition also includes a bronze
trident from the J. Paul Getty Museum that is more than a dozen feet long and
is believed to have accompanied a colossal statue of the god that has since
Beyond mythology and religion, however, the sea was the
center of daily life in towns and cities along the coast of the Mediterranean.
It provided food and other resources, and allowed for easy travel and trade.
Allusions to the sea are found throughout ancient art, from cargo boats and
warships to dolphins, fish, and octopi.
ATHENS, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) -- At least five persons were
buried at the Amphipolis tomb which was unearthed last summer in northern
Greece, the Greek Culture Ministry announced on Monday.
The results of the forensic study of part of the skeletal
material showed that the 157 bones, out of a total of intact and fragmented 550
bones discovered, which have been examined so far belonged to at least five
individuals, a press release said.
Some bone fragments were identified as belonging to animals,
including a horse.
One of the dead buried at the massive 4th century BC tomb
was an elderly woman over 60 years old, according to the results of the
macroscopic study of the bone tissue.
Some of the remains belonged to two men aged 35-45 and some
to an infant. The fifth person's body had been cremated and specialists cannot
tell whether it was a male or female, the team of scientists from two Greek
Greek archaeologists refrained from any guesses on the
identities of the buried persons at the Alexander the Great era impressive
burial complex at the Casta hill, about 550 km north of Athens.
They stressed that the analysis of the skeletal material and
studies on the rest of the findings which are expected to give more detailed
information on the buried persons' social and economic status, life style and
health problems, will continue for several months.
The mystery of the identity of the buried tomb occupants
will drag on.
The findings are expected to be compared to a sample of some
300 skeletons unearthed in the broader Amphipolis area dating to between 1000
and 200 BC.
In parallel archaeologists continue to study architectural
finds which include a pair of 2 meter-high sculptures of Sphinxes, two
captivating Karyatids (female figures), a mosaic depicting the Abduction of
Persephone (a daughter of God Zeus in ancient Greek mythology) and drawings.
The excavation works will also continue this year, as
scientists have identified with a geophysical survey at least one more ancient
chamber at the 200-meter diameter and 33-meter high hill.
The Culture Ministry refuted allegations that the skeleton
found at the Amphipolis tomb belongs to Olympias, the mother of Alexander the
Great. Historians said that she was stoned to death in 316 BC at approximately
The excavation's chief archaeologist Katerina Peristeri had
implied during a first press briefing on the findings in November that the tomb
was maybe built for a prominent Macedonian general close to Alexander the
The Greek scientists had stressed then that the Amphipolis
tomb had been looted in ancient times.
Bettany Hughes is a classical
historian, author of Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore
In ancient Greece the rules of
beauty were all important. Things were good for men who were buff and glossy.
And for women, fuller-figured redheads were in favour - but they had to contend
with an ominous undercurrent, historian Bettany Hughes explains.
A full-lipped, cheek-chiselled
man in Ancient Greece knew two things - that his beauty was a blessing (a gift
of the gods no less) and that his perfect exterior hid an inner perfection. For
the Greeks a beautiful body was considered direct evidence of a beautiful mind.
They even had a word for it - kaloskagathos - which meant being gorgeous to
look at, and hence being a good person.
Not very politically correct, I
know, but the horrible truth is that pretty Greek boys would have swaggered
around convinced they were triply blessed - beautiful, brainy and god-beloved.
So what made them fit? For years, classical Greek sculpture was believed to be
a perfectionist fantasy - an impossible ideal, but we now think a number of the
exquisite statues from the 5th to the 3rd Centuries BC were in fact cast from
life - a real person was covered with plaster, and the mould created was then
used to make the sculpture.
Those with leisure time could
spend up to eight hours a day in the gym. An average Athenian or Spartan
citizen would have been seriously ripped - thin-waisted, small-penised, oiled
from his "glistening lovelocks" down to his ideally slim toes.
A rather different story though
when it comes to the female of the species. Hesiod - an 8th/7th Century BC
author whose works were as close as the Greeks got to a bible - described the
first created woman simply as kalon kakon - "the beautiful-evil
thing". She was evil because she was beautiful, and beautiful because she
was evil. Being a good-looking man was fundamentally good news. Being a
handsome woman, by definition, spelt trouble.
And if that wasn't bad enough,
beauty was frequently a competitive sport. Beauty contests - kallisteia - were
a regular fixture in the training grounds of the Olympics at Elis and on the
islands of Tenedos and Lesbos, where women were judged as they walked to and
fro. Triumphant men had ribbons tied around winning features - a particularly
pulchritudinous calf-muscle or bicep.
My favourite has to be the
contest in honour of Aphrodite Kallipugos - Aphrodite of the beautiful
buttocks. The story goes that when deliberating on where to found a temple to
the goddess in Sicily it was decided an exemplar of human beauty should make
the choice. Two amply-portioned farmer's daughters battled it out. The best
endowed was given the honour of choosing the site for Aphrodite's shrine.
Fat-bottomed girls clearly had a hotline to the goddess of love.
So wide hips and white arms,
sometimes blanched by the application of white-lead make-up, were all good for
the Greeks. Redheads could also take comfort. Though they were spurned as
witches across the later medieval world - and still are in some countries even
today - they had prehistoric power, as shown in one of the most sublime pieces
of art from all of antiquity.
The Bronze Age wall-paintings
on the Greek island of Thera (modern-day Santorini), preserved when the
island-volcano erupted c1600BC, show a gaggle of beauties. Just one young woman
is allowed to approach the goddess - after restoration it became clear this
exquisite creature is unique thanks to a mane of deep red hair.
Xanthos - "golden" or
tawny - is a standard epithet used to describe heroes in epic literature.
Orthodox thought tells us this is just a literary trope, but anyone who has
stood with a tawny or redhead friend, backlit by a Mediterranean sun, will know
something magical does happen. Here in front of you is spun gold. For a magpie
culture that collected gold trinkets and golden jewellery so fine a single
necklace could be made of 16,000 individually worked pieces, the power of the
blonde was believed to be real.
femme-fatale-ness of one blonde-bombshell - Helen of Troy - was considered to
stem not from the way she looked, but how she made men feel and what she made
men do. When we first meet her in book three of Homer's Iliad, the old men
sing, their voices rising and falling, like cicadas: "Oh what
beauty!" they say. "Terrible beauty - beauty like that of a
goddess" - meaning the kind of presence that drives men to distraction.
If Helen represents the real
aristocrats of the Bronze Age Aegean we know a Spartan queen 3,500 years ago
would have sported fierce, kohl-rimmed eyes, red tattoos of suns on her chin
and cheeks, her hair shaven as a teenager and then dressed to look like snakes.
Her breasts would have been bare or covered in a diaphanous gauze.
The literary Helen drew men
both to her bed and to their deaths. Her beauty was a weapon of mass
destruction. In the Greek mind everything had an intrinsic meaning; nothing was
pointless. Beauty had a purpose; it was an active, independent reality, not a
nebulous quality that only came into being once it was discerned.
Beauty was a psycho-physical
parcel that had as much to do with character and divine favour as chest size.
The philosopher Socrates famously confounded all ideas of how a beautiful Greek
should look, with his swaggering gait, swivelling eyes, bulbous nose, hairy
back and pot belly. Passages in the Socratic dialogues are dedicated to a
radical exploration of how this satyr-like shell might in fact contain a
luminous character. But Socrates and his pupil Plato were fighting an uphill
battle. The sheer number of mirrors found in Greek graves show that beauty
really counted for something. Looks mattered. The Ancient Greeks were, I'm
200 years ago, a French painter created what would become a famous depiction of
the Greek author Homer. In it, Homer looks like a pretty big deal. In the
shadows of the Pantheon, he’s ensconced among a throng of muscle-bound
specimens draped in robes, one of whom is playing the harp. “Homer, in this
view, was the product of a new, dynamic, politically inventive and culturally
burgeoning moment in Greek history,” writes historian Adam Nicolson in a new
book on Homer. “Homer was the poet of a boom.”
this image of Homer, Nicolson said, is inaccurate. The painting glorifies all
the antiquated theories that held that Homer was a blind, illiterate genius
poet who singlehandedly created two of the greatest stories in human history,
the Odyssey and the Iliad. As appealing as that portrayal may be, it’s most
likely not true. Homer perhaps never even existed — or, at least, he was
nothing like he is often portrayed.
rather, was an idea. A cultural manifestation. A figment. “Homer is a
foundation myth, not a man nor of the natural world, but of the way of thinking
by which the Greeks defined themselves, the frame of mind which made them who
they were,” Nicolson wrote in his recently published book, “Why Homer Matters.”
an interview with the Washington Post, Nicolson compared Homer to a Viking
ship. It was a gorgeous thing, he said. “Just this exquisitely-made thing. And
yet no one ever says there needed to be some great maker behind it. It was
emergent from a tradition.”
existence has been in doubt for years. In fact, there’s an academic field of
inquiry that examines everything involving Homer called the “Homeric Question.”
Homer has puzzled just about every scholar who has studied him for the simple
reason that there isn’t much to study. There’s no reliable historical
information about him. “Who was Homer, if there was a Homer?” asked Martin West
of Oxford University in 2010. “When and where did he live? Did one poet produce
both epics, or was there a different poet for each? Or was there in each case a
succession of poets, or a syndicate of poets and redactors?”
the reasoning that supports Nicolson’s theory is different from most. There’s a
general consensus among scholars that Homer — if there was a Homer — lived
sometime during the 8th century B.C. This was already a problematic conclusion
for many academics, given the fact the earliest “ascription of both poems to
Homer can’t be traced further back than about 520 B.C.,” West wrote. “… A
century or more after the poems came into existence.”
however, says the time gap between when the poems first materialized and when
that parchment emerged was actually significantly wider. He contends that the
poems actually came into being around the year 2000 B.C. — nearly 1,200 years
before others thought.
elements support his theory, Nicolson told the Washington Post Tuesday morning
in an interview. Numerous aspects of the Homeric works are shared across the
European continent and into parts of India, Nicolson said, and have nothing to
do with either Greece or the Aegean region. That suggests the works were
actually a confluence of numerous tales floating around at that time. “So the
implication is that you have to have a common root for all of that,” Nicolson
said. “Elements of these stores are shared across many lands.”
the second issue deals with The Iliad’s description of ancient Greece, which
Nicolson says does not conform with conditions that existed in the 8th century
B.C. The savagery depicted in The Iliad reflects a much earlier period.
“Outside Troy is this camp of wild barbarians — the Greeks,” he told National
Geographic. “The Greeks’ are Homer’s barbarians. … All ideas of rule and law
and love count for nothing. The only thing that makes sense is revenge and
self-assertion. And that picture of the Greeks doesn’t make sense any later
than about 1800 to 1700 B.C.”
if the epic poems derived from a much earlier period than others have thought,
where does that leave us? Does that mean “the Homeric Question is dead?”
Nicolson asked. Not by a long shot. It appears the question, even centuries
after its birth, yet lives. Even if Homer himself never did.
McCoy writes on foreign affairs for The Washington Post's Morning Mix. Follow
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