Richard Miles: A Graphic History


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Archaeology: A Secret History - BBC Four 

Episode 1 “In the Beginning”

Christian religious relics like The Holy Tunic of Christ and the Holy Nails -with which Jesus Christ was crucified- are some of the first archaeological discoveries ever made. The tunic has been preserved in the Cathedral of Trier for over 1500 years (but other traditions place it in different churches).

The person who is said to have discovered these artifacts is the Empress Helena -Saint Helena, Helen of Constantinople- (Flavia Iulia Helena Augusta,  249 - 330 AD) mother of the emperor Constantine the Great, who converted the Roman Empire to Christianity. In 326, Constantine sent Helena -who was also converted- off to find evidence of Rome’s new official religion. She went on a pilgrimage to the Roman province of Syria Palaestina, where she ordered the construction of several churches and discovered the True Cross of Jesus’s crucifixion plus other relics. She was canonized and became a Saint in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church.

Helena is is known as the patron saint of archaeologists. Ironically she eventually ended up as a religious relic herself (her skull is displayed in Trier).

Trier Cathedral, Trier, Germany

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two

Episode 4 “Return of the King”

The Battle of Gaugamela (Battle of Arbela) took place in 331 BC between the forces of Alexander the Great of Macedon and the Persians led by Darius III. It was a decisive victory for the Hellenic League that led to the fall of the Persian Empire.

Many Persian soldiers lost their lives, so many that the enemy ensured that Darius would never again raise an imperial army. Some classical sources proclaim that one of the determinant factors in the Persian’s defeat against the Macedonians was king Darius: he realised that victory was hopeless, panicked and fled the battle before any victor had been decided. Another source accounts that Darius was abandoned by his men and not -as Macedonian propaganda would say- that he let his men down.

In 330 BC Alexander the Great reached Persepolis, the capital of the Achaemenid empire. The troops looted its treasures. A fire broke out, burned to the ground the Palace of Xerxes and spread to the rest of the city, destroying it. It is not clear if the fire was an accident or a deliberate act of revenge for the burning of the Acropolis of Athens during the Second Persian invasion of Greece. Persepolis, one of the wealthiest cities under the sun, would be known for generations only as `the palace of the forty columns’ (Chehel Minar), for the remaining palace columns left standing in the sand. When Alexander returned several years later and saw the ruins, he regretted his act.

Nearly one year after his escape, Bessus, Darius’ cousin and Satrap of Bactria, betrayed and kill him. Alexander gave Darius a magnificent funeral. He was buried, like all his royal predecessors, in the royal tombs. Alexander eventually married Darius’ daughter Stateira at the Susa weddings in 324 BC.


Pictures  n. 1, 2, 3: Persepolis, Iran

Pictures n. 4, 5: The Battle of Gaugamela, ivory relief (anonymous artist), National Archaeological Museum of Spain, Madrid, Spain

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 4 “Return of the King”

The Battle of Gaugamela (also Battle of Arbela) took place in 331 BC between the forces of Alexander the Great of Macedon and the Persians led by Darius III. It was a decisive victory for the Hellenic League that decided the fate of the Persian Empire.

Attempting to stop Alexander’s incursion into the Persian empire, Darius prepared a battleground on the Plain of Gaugamela, near Arbela (in northern Iraq), and posted his troops to await Alexander’s advance. Darius had a significant advantage in numbers; 15 elephants and 200 chariots, but most of his troops were of a lower quality than Alexander’s and lightly armed compared to the Greek forces. Alexander’s pezhetairoi (the battalions of the Macedonian phalanx) were armed with a six-metre spear, the sarissa. But the length of the sarissa, while making them terrifying for an enemy to oppose, severely limited the maneuverability of the men. 

Greek and Roman authors offer detailed descriptions of the advances and manoeuvres that took place on 1 October 331. Their reports amount to saying that Alexander charged at Darius with such energy and terrifying ferocity that he panicked, turned around and thereby put the mass of the Persian army to flight. The actual course of events was probably rather different. After a day of fighting in a dust storm, Alexander’s army emerged in control of the field. The Macedonians shattered Darius’ royal guard and adjacent formations. With the troops in the immediate area retreating, Darius fled the field and was followed by the bulk of his army.


Pictures: Details of the Battle of Gaugamela, ivory relief (anonymous artist) inspired by a Charles Le Brun’s painting on the same subject.

National Archaeological Museum of Spain, Madrid, Spain

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 5 “The Republic of Virtue”

The Marsala Ship is a Punic warship discovered in an area called Punta Scario, north of Marsala, in western Sicily.

The Marsala Ship’s “nationality” is perfectly clear, having been written onto it its builders: Carthage. It was a small, narrow military craft in use sometime around the mid third century BC. The ship went down around the time of the Battle of the Egadi Islands, which concluded the First Punic War (fought between the Roman Republic and Carthage) in 241 B.C. 

Archaeologists found letters of the Phoenician-Punic alphabet painted onto the planking, as well as other marks and guidelines (both painted and incised) that helped to understand the construction method used by the Punic shipwrights. The Marsala’s “prefabricated” marks  would have been easy enough to follow, suggesting a form of mass production that accounts for the remarkable speed of ship-building described by some classical writers. When the Romans captured an intact Carthaginian warship they copied the design, plank by plank using it as a  blueprint for their own fleet.

Some of the vessel’s contents are pottery, rope, leaves of cannabis sativa and ballast stones. The crew’s diet appears to have consisted of preservable foods such as meat (horse, beef, venison, poultry, pork and goat) and nuts (almonds and walnuts). Wine appears to have been drunk in response to the lack of fresh water.

Picture n.1: virtual reconstruction of the ship

Regional Archaeological Museum Baglio Anselmi of Marsala, Sicily, Italy

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 6 “City of Man, City of God”

The Imperial Cult regarded emperors and some members of their families as gods. Emperor-worship was a unifying factor in the Roman Empire and served as imperial propaganda.
The Emperor was treated widely as a divine figure, to whom temples, altars and priesthoods were dedicated. The Imperial cult wasn’t just about religion, it was also about political control. It helped to focus the loyalty of provincials on the emperor at the centre of the empire. In some regions Roman authorities took the initiative in setting it up.
A deceased emperor could be voted a state divinity (divus) by the Senate and elevated as such in an act of apotheosis (transformation into god).

Pictures 1, 2: Emperor Antoninus Pius being elevated to the heavens on the wings of an eagle (eagles were associated with imperial power and Jupiter). Capitol Temple, Roman ruins of Dougga, Tunisia

Picture 3: Base of the Column dedicated to Antoninus Pius in Rome, Italy. The relief shows the apotheosis (transformation into gods) of Antoninus Pius and his wife Faustina. They are being carried into the heavens by a winged, heroically nude figure and also flanked by eagles.

Picture 4: Temple of the divine Hadrian in Ephesus, Turkey

Picture 5, 6: La Maison Carrée, in Nimes, France. This temple was dedicated -or perhaps rededicated- to the two adopted heirs of Emperor Augustus, Gaius and Lucius Caesar, who both died young.


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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 6 “City of Man, City of God”

Bronze statue of the Emperor Claudius (10 BC - 54 AD) from the shrine of the Collegium of the Augustales in Herculaneum.

Tiberius, the second Emperor of Rome, was Caudius’ uncle. When Caligula (Tiberius’s successor) was assassinated in January 41 AD, the Praetorian Guard found Claudius in the palace and acclaimed him as emperor.

Caudius suffered from ill-health, physical disabilities and a lack of social skills, for which most believed him mentally handicapped. He was treated with disdain by his family and never considered as a future ruler. When Claudius was proclaimed emperor the Senate first considered the restoration of the Republic and held out against him for two days but but faced with the praetorians’ decision the senators fell in line and finally accepted him.

Although he lacked a military reputation, the essential attribute of an emperor, under Claudius, the Roman Empire underwent its first major expansion since the reign of Augustus. Despite his lack of experience he proved to be an able and efficient administrator. He also undertook the conquest of Britain.

The Imperial Cult regarded emperors and some members of their families as gods. Emperor-worship was a unifying factor in the Roman Empire and served as imperial propaganda.

Imperial cult wasn’t just about religion, it was also about political control.
The emperor needed to connect with his millions of subjects over a vast empire, people who he was never going to meet personally. The Imperial cult helped to create some kind of personal connection with his subjects.


Naples National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two

Episode 5 “The Republic of Virtue”

Eryx (located at the site of modern Erice) was an ancient city -and a mountain- in the west of Sicily. On the summit of the mountain stood a Punic sanctuary to the goddess Astarte and therefore also linked to her consort, Melqart.

Pyrrhus (318/19 - 272 BCE) was one of the finest generals of the ancient world, king of the tribe of the Molossians, king of Macedon and later king of Epirus, a small Hellenistic kingdom. He was one of the strongest opponents of the Carthaginians and early Rome.

During the Phyrric War, Pyrrhus defeated the Roman legions several times. The victories at Heraclea and, especially, at Ausculum in 279 came at such a cost to the king that he was said to have pithily exclaimed that if we won one more victory like that then he would be utterly ruined. After those devastating Pyrrhic victories his army suffered irreplaceable casualties and was seriously weakened but he was invited by the Syracusans (in Sicily) to take command against the Carthaginians. Although Pyrrhus had initially landed in the island with a very modest force, he was quickly provided with troops, money and supplies by the anti-Carthaginian group of Sicilian cities. He was able to acquire an army of 30.000 infantry and 2.500 cavalry for the campaign ahead.

Pyrrhus made a vow to institute games and a sacrifice in honour of Heracles if he captured the Punic stronghold of Eryx. The attack was successful. The cities in the Carthaginians’ zone on the island quickly fell, until only Lilybaeum remained under control of Carthage. Pyrrhus’ army then began besieging Lilybaeum and he launched unsuccessful assaults on the city for two months.

Pyrrhus finally left Sicily in 276, invited by the desperate Greek cities in Italy to protect them against Rome. After a defeat at the hands of the Roman army at Beneventum he left the shores of Italy to never return.

Picture n. 6: Bust of Phyrrus at the Naples National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy

-Monte San Giuliano- Erice, Sicily, Italy

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 5 “The Republic of Virtue”

The Capitoline Hill is one of the seven hills of Rome. It was the citadel (acropolis) of the ancient Rome.

During the Gallic invasion of Rome, in 387 BC, some Roman defenders retreated to the Capitoline Hill to endure a siege, while civilians fled through the city gates to the city of Veii and the surrounding countryside. The Gauls attempted an uphill attack on the heavily fortified capital, but were repulsed and never able to dislodge the occupants. For seven months the Gauls remained and wreaked havoc around Rome. Several assaults on the Capitol all failed, and one such night attempt was even said to have been thwarted through the timely intervention of the sacred Geese of the Temple of Juno.

During the 5th and early 4th centuries BC Gallic Celt tribes living in the Danube regions migrated South in search of new territory. They crossed the Alps, settled in the Po River valley and conquered the Etruscans living there. One of the tribes, the Senones, was under the command of the king Brennus, who led his Celts to the Etruscan city of Clusium. The Etruscans there called to Rome for help and in response the Romans sent a delegation of 3 envoys to treat with Brennus but those ambassadors became involved in an argument with the Gauls that escalated in violence. Later that year, the angered Gauls headed for Rome to seek revenge. Eleven miles to the north of Rome, an outnumbered Roman army mustered under the command of Quintus Sulpicius, met them in July, 387 BC. They suffered a crushing defeat on the banks of the River Allia. The Gauls then attacked Rome, slaughtering civilians while looting and burning everything in their path.

After seven months of siege the Romans engaged with Brennus for terms that would ensure that the Celts depart. Brennus apparently agreed to leave after the payment of a large sum of gold.

As a result of the siege and near total destruction of the city, Rome reorganized the legion and adopted new and better military weaponry. The military system that resulted remained the basis of all Roman armies for the next few centuries, as well as the instrument that made possible the Roman Empire.

Picture n. 4: Fragment of marble relief with Juno’s sacred geese (noticing enemies trying to enter the Capitol) found near the Basilica in the forum, Ostia - Museo Archeologico Ostiense

Capitoline Hill, Rome, Italy

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 2 “The Age of Iron”

The ruins of the ancient Canaanite city-state of Ugarit, one of the great cities of the Bronze Age world. 

Ugarit flourished most from about 1450 to 1200 BCE but sometime around the 1190s the city declined and then mysteriously came to an end. A group of people called the Sea Peoples conquered the Hittites and migrated into Canaan. The Sea Peoples was a collective name applied to several peoples, which may include the Philistines and the Sherden, who sailed around the eastern Mediterranean and invaded Anatolia, Syria, Canaan, Cyprus, and Egypt toward the end of the Bronze Age. Ugarit likely found itself utterly destroyed from wars, the invasion of the Sea Peoples and natural disasters.

On excavation of the site, several deposits of cuneiform clay tablets were found; all dating from the last phase of Ugarit, around 1200 BC. The tablets are written in Sumerian, Hurrian, Akkadian (the language of diplomacy at this time in the ancient Near East), and Ugaritic.

Some letters to and from the “last king of Ugarit”, Ammurapi, are preserved. One fragment comes in a letter from the Hittite king Suppiluliuma II to Ammurapi. He asks for assistance from Ugarit:

"The enemy [advances(?)] against us and there is no number […]. Our number is (?) […] Whatever is available, look for it and send it to me."

Another letter, from Ammurapi to the ruler of Alasiya (Cyprus), his father-in-law highlights the desperate situation facing Ugarit: 

"My father behold, the enemy’s ships came (here); my cities were burned, and they did evil things in my country. Does not my father know that all my troops and chariots(?) are in the Land of Hatti, and all my ships are in the Land of Lukka?…Thus, the country is abandoned to itself. May my father know it: the seven ships of the enemy that came here inflicted much damage upon us.”

A dramatic letter to someone called Zrdn says:

"Our food on the threshing floor is burned and also the vineyards are destroyed. Our city is destroyed and may you know it."

Ugarit, Ras Shamra, Syria

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two

Episode 1 “Come Together”

Hattusa, the capital of the Hittite Empire, one of the most powerful civilisations in ancient times. 

In the 14th century the Hittites marched to establish an empire which reached into northern Syria, east of the Euphrates, and extended down the Mediterranean coast to confront the Egyptians. A hard-fought but inconclusive engagement at Kadesh (Battle of Kadesh, 1274 BC) stabilised the frontier between the two power blocs.

The Hittites were also pioneers of diplomacy. Numerous fragments of peace treaties were found in Hattusa. The most important is the Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty (Treaty of Kadesh), signed between the pharaoh Rameses II and the king Hattusili III some years after the Battle of Kadesh. On Rameses II’s monuments, the battle was commemorated as a great victory for Egypt, but a study of the peace treaty and other historical accounts show that the Hittite were probably the victors although the victory was not complete.

The Hittites disappeared from history during the 'Bronze Age Collapse'. In the 12th century BC, during the late Bronze Age, the cities of  the Near East, Aegean Region and the Eastern Mediterranean suffered a series of disasters and many of them were destroyed, reduced to rubble. Trade routes were interrupted, literacy was severly reduced and there was a decrease in population and technology. This called Dark Age was caused by a combination of causes including including enviromental (earthquakes, droughts, climate change), migrations and invasions (the Sea Peoples), wars and plagues, leading to a so-called systems collapse.

A series of hieroglyphs were discovered in an underground area in excavations at Hattusa. They explained how a fratricidal civil war combined with external threats weakened the Empire and destroyed the city. The archaeologist discovered that the palace and temples had been burnt down, but not in war. They concluded that the city had been abandoned and the population took with them everything that could be carried. The city had been evacuated.


Hattusa, Bogâzkale, Anatolia, Turkey

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