Richard Miles: A Graphic History


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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 3 “The Greek Thing”

The ancient Theatre of Argos

Argos was a powerful city-state in ancient times and a major stronghold during the Mycenaean era.

The ruins of two distinct theatre sites, situated just 100 meters from each other, have been excavated in the city.

With a capacity of 20.000 seats approximately, the ancient Theatre of Argos (pictures) counts among the largest ancient theatres in Greece -although the ruins would only accommodate only half that number today. It was built during the Hellenistic period, in the early 3rd century BC. The seats are carved directly in the rock, following the natural amphitheatric shape. Reports indicate that the acoustic quality at the site remains excellent today even without the resonance provided by a high wall which was situated at the top of the auditorium.

The theatre was remodelled during the Roman period (around 2nd century AD), in the reign of emperor Hadrian, resulting in the transformation of both the orchestra and the scene. In recent years archeologists have cleared a later Roman scene house which had partially obstructed the orchestra. This revealed the original Hellenistic construction as having a full circle orchestra delineated by a stone boundary like that of theatre of Epidauros. The theatre was definitively abandoned in the late 4th century AD but it remained visible for the next centuries.

The so-called Odeon is the oldest and the smallest theatre, dating from the 5th century BC (one of the oldest in Greece). The theatre was originally carved into the rock, with straight rows of seats, and was used for public meetings. The Romans later covered it with a roof.

Argos, Peloponnese, Greece

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Archaeology: A Secret History - BBC Four 

Episode 2 “The Search for Civilisation”

Pitt-Rivers was an English army officer and also one of the leading anthropologists and archaeologists of the Victorian age. He is often described as the ‘father of scientific archaeology' because he had such a precise approach to recording his evidence. 

Pitt-Rivers’ Wessex Collection is housed in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.

His excavations at Cranborne Chase, in Wessex, were meticulously documented. He uncovered everything from Bronze Age barrows to Roman farmhouses and Saxon burials.

Picture n.1: Pitt-Rivers (in his horse and carriage) and a group of draughtsmen and excavators in Cranborne Chase. It was said that,
to keep the spirits up, he sometimes had a brass band playing whilst they worked.

Picture n. 2: one of the stone markers that he put down on one of his many excavations, giving precise information about exactly where ancient monuments were, where he’d found them, measurements and what function they had.

Pictures n. 3,4,5: One of Pitt.Rivers’ contour plans, which were basically
a series of models that were made of the archaeological sites that he excavated. Like an early example of 3D modelling: it’s the site to scale, showing the locations of the features from one particular area. The pits and artefacts are all shown, but also he’s painted on labels showing where the objects in the pits were found, too, and the depth at which they were found.


Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, Salisbury, UK

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Archaeology: A Secret History - BBC Four 

Episode 2 “The Search for Civilisation”

With Adrian Green, from the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, a Pitt-Rivers expert.

Pitt-Rivers was an English army officer and also one of the leading anthropologists and archaeologists of the Victorian age. He is regarded as having been a generation ahead of his time and is often described as the ‘father of scientific archaeology' because he had such a precise approach to recording his evidence. Pitt-Rivers viewed archaeology as an extension of anthropology and, as consequence, built up matching collections of archaeological and ethnographic objects to show longer developmental sequences to support his views on cultural evolution. His style of arrangement, designed to highlight evolutionary trends in human artefacts, was a revolutionary innovation in museum design.

Pitt Rivers’ Wessex Collection is housed in the museum.

In Pitt-Rivers and his meticulous records, we are seeing the very birth of
modern archaeology. And more than a hundred years later, everything he found is still carefully stored. Pitt-Rivers understood that in the future,
archaeologists might have new scientific techniques that would allow them to extract new types of data from artefacts.

Pictures: An illustrated catalogue, extraordinarily detailed. Each object is numbered and carefully drawn, then coloured, to give an idea of what it may have looked like (the illustrator has painted in to show corrosion).


Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, Salisbury, UK

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 3 “The Greek Thing”

Pericles (or Perikles, 495-429 BC) was a charismatic Athenian politician, general and orator, leader of the radical democrats during the Golden Age (a period of Athenian political hegemony between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars). He was a member of the noble family of the Alcmeonids.

Pericles was the leading politician in Athens. Almost every year, he was reelected as general, and controlled the people’s assembly.

After the second Persian invasion of Greece in 479, Athens and its allies throughout the Aegean formed the Delian League, a military alliance focused on the Persian threat. But in 454 the League’s treasury was transferred from Delos to Athens. By the time Pericles was elected strategos, the league was well on its way to becoming an Athenian empire. He tapped the league’s treasury to fund the rebuilding of Athens and vast cultural projects in the city, most notably a series of structures on the Acropolis: the temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheum and the Parthenon. Pericles also promoted the arts and literature, maintained close friendships with the leading intellects of his time (like the playwright Sophocles and the sculptor Phidias) and worked to democratize the fine arts by subsidizing theater admission for poorer citizens and enabled civic participation by offering pay for jury duty and other civil service. His consort was Aspasia of Miletus, one of the best-known women of ancient Greece.

Pericles remained in charge of Athens until his death in 429 BC from the plague that swept the city.

Pictures: Bust of Pericles. Modern copy after an original in the British Museum -picture n. 4-. The marble portrait was a Roman copy of an original bust which was perhaps created in Pericles’ own day, or shortly after his death. It is an idealised portrait and probably bears little physical resemblance to Pericles’ actual appearance. It is said to come from the Roman emperor Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, near Rome.

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 5 “The Republic of Virtue”

Sulla (Lucius Cornellius Sulla Felix, 138-78 BC) was a major figure, general and dictator (dictator legibus faciendis) in the late Roman Republic and one of the most controversial figures of Roman history.

Sulla was the first man to use the army to establish a personal autocracy. He grasped an essential truth about the late Republic in Rome: political power derived from the army. He set the pattern that powerful generals like Pompey and Caesar followed, and within a generation, the Republic had become little more than a military dictatorship.

With no state provision for paying its soldiers, Rome depended on its successful generals to do so with the spoils of war. These essentially private armies would come to increasingly bedevil the Republic as their Generals used force to pursue their own political agendas.

Fearing that his political enemies were plotting against him, Sulla, already a successful consul, marched on Rome (then a military and political taboo). The terrified Senate voted to make him dictator. He used his powers to enact a series of reforms to the Roman constitution meant to restore the balance of power between the Senate and the tribunes and introduced a new judicial device called proscription. Lists of the proscribed, those condemned as enemies of the Roman Republic, were put up in the Roman Forum. Rewards would be made to those who brought them in, be they dead or alive (sometimes their decapitated heads put up on spikes, as a warning to others). 40 senators and 1600 equestrians (aristocratic class) supposedly died in this first wave of gruesome proscriptions. Helping or sheltering a person who was proscribed was punishable by death. The State confiscated the wealth of the outlawed and then auctioned it off, making Sulla and his supporters vastly rich. The sons and grandsons of the proscribed were banned from future political office, a restriction not removed for over 30 years.

In late 82 Sulla assumed the name Felix, The Fortunate, in belief in his own luck. Unusually for a tyrant, he retired in 79 BC, spending his last years on his country estate and writing his memoirs.

Picture n 2: Sulla Imperator, Dictator, L.Manlius Torquatus, Proquaestor in the War with Mithridates, 82 BC
A gold coin, not a usual monetary metal for the Roman Republic

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 5 “The Republic of Virtue”

The ancient Harbour of Carthage (Cothon, generally found in the Phoenician world).

Carthage had two splendid artificial harbours built within the city, connected by a canal. There their fleet was stationed. Above the harbors on a hill was the Byrsa, a walled fortress.

The ancient harbour is represented today by two lagoons north of the bay of al-Karm (el-Kram). In the 3rd century BC it had two parts, the outer rectangular part being for merchant shipping, the interior, circular division being reserved for warships; sheds and quays were available for more than 200 warships. This inner harbour, the circular, was surrounded by an outer ring of structures divided into a series of individual docking bays for ship maintenance, along with an island structure at its centre that also housed navy ships. It was all cleverly camouflaged away from prying eyes; those who were approaching by water could not get any clear view of what took place within. Not even incoming merchants could see the docks at once, for a double wall enclosed them, and there were gates by which merchants’ ships could pass from the first port to the city without traversing the dockyards.

But subterfuge on this scale couldn’t last for long and the Romans learned of the harbour’s existence. The fall of Carthage came at the end of the Third Punic War in 146 BC at the Battle of Carthage. The Romans, led by Scipio Aemilianus, pulled the Phoenician warships out into the harbour and burned them before the city, and went from house to house, capturing and enslaving the people.

Excavations have established that the ports of Carthage were magnificent technical achievements; a massive effort that required the excavation of some 230,000 cubic meters of earth.

Pictures n. 1,2,3: virtual reconstruction of The ancient Harbour of Carthage

el-Kram, -Carthage- Tunis, Tunisia

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two

Episode 1 “Come Together”

Kudurru (boundary stone) from the Temple of Marduk in Babylon, dating from around 900-800 BC. It is a commemorative monument set up in honour of a private individual called Adad-etir, an official in the temple, known as ‘the dagger bearer’, and this stela was erected by his son.

The figures carved in relief on the front represent the father and son together. Their shaven heads show that they are both priests, it being normal in ancient Mesopotamia for a son to adopt his father’s profession. There are three divine symbols above the two priests: a winged solar disc representing the sun-god Shamash, a crescent of the moon-god Sin and a lion-headed mace on a pedestal.

The cuneiform inscription includes a curse upon anyone who defaces the stela. It translates:

"May Marduk, the great lord, in anger look upon him, and his name and his seed may he cause to disappear.
May Nabu, the scribe of all, curtail the number of his days.
But may the man who protects it be satisfied with the fulness of life.”

British Museum, London, UK 

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 4 “Return of the King”

Alexander the Great visited the Oracle of Ammon (the temple of Amun) at Siwa, in the Lybian desert, in 332 BC. His expedition to Siwa is considered as one of the most fascinating and enigmatic events of his reign.

The Oracle of Ammon was one of the most prominent and reputed ancient oracles, very well-respected in Greece, but no Egyptian pharaoh before Alexander had ever visited it. It was said that Perseus and Heracles had consulted it. Alexander was seeking to trace his birth back to Ammon, just as mythology traces that of Heracles and Perseus to Zeus.

Accounts of Alexander’s trip to the Oasis of Siwa have survived in Strabo’s Geographica and in Arrian of Nicomedia’s Anabasis. The latter claims that he drew his information mainly from Ptolemy and Aristoboulus who were present at that time.

The Siwa expedition was both mad and dangerous; Alexander risked his army and his life. In order to reach the remote oasis, deep in the Sahara, Alexander and his troops had to cross the desert, hundreds of kilometres from the heartland of Egypt. For days they marched into the unknown, enduring blistering heat and blinding sandstorms, advancing aimlessly and their guides could not tell the way. They became lost.

Ptolemy relates that two speaking snakes preceded the army and Alexander ordered the guides to follow them and trust in the divinity; the snakes then led the way to the oracle and back again. But Aristobulus says (and most writers agree with him) that two crows flew in front of the army and served as guides to Alexander.

The oracle supposedly confirmed Alexander as both a divine personage and the legitimate Pharaoh of Egypt, as well as the future ruler of the whole world. Having received the answer which his heart desired he returned to Egypt by the same road, as Aristobulus says, though according to Ptolemy he followed a straight road to Memphis.

Lybian desert, Siwa Oasis, Egypt

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 5 “The Republic of Virtue”

The Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples) in Agrigento (ancient Akragas), Sicily, is the largest archaeological site in the world.

The valley includes remains of some great Doric temples of ancient Akragas, many of them dating from 5th century BC.

The Temple of Hera (Juno) Lacinia, built around 450 - 440 BC, has remarkable dimensions, similar to its “twin”, the Temple of Concordia. It has 34 columns, 6 on the short side and 13 on the long side (counting the corner ones both ways). The northern colonnade with the architrave and part of the frieze is completely preserved, while the colonnades on the other three sides are only partly surviving, with four columns missing and nine severely damaged.

Signs of a fire which followed the Siege of Akragas of 406 BC have been detected on the remains of the temple. In 406 BC the Carthaginian army, led by Himilco Mago, besieged, captured and sacked the city


Archaeological and Landscape Park of the Valley of the Temples, Agrigento, Sicily, Italy

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