Richard Miles: A Graphic History

RICHARD MILES: A GRAPHIC HISTORY

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 5 “The Republic of Virtue”

The Portonaccio sarcophagus is a 2nd-century ancient Roman sarcophagus found in the archaeological site of Portonaccio, quarter of Rome. It was probably used for the burial of a Roman general involved in the campaigns of Marcus Aurelius (a military insignia which can be seen on the upper edge of the casket identifies the deceased as Aulus Iulius Pompilius, official in command of two cavalry squadrons during the Marcomannic Wars -German and Sarmatian Wars).

The marble sarcophagus shows on its front a symbolic -and very dramatic- picture of a battle between Romans and Germanic tribesmen staged on two levels. The composition focuses on the progress of a Roman horseman (his face unfinished) in a melee of soldiers, spears and horses. The Romans are delivering savage blows, devastating their enemies -undoubtedly winning the battle. The bloody scenes are framed by standards and standing prisoners who, while sharing the same space as the figures battling are larger and do not engage in the action. The battle seems uncontrollable. Figures are shown only partially as they attempt to climb over one another. There is no background in the pictorial field; instead the entire surface is carved with densely packed action. The harsh lines and drilling result in great contrasts between the light and dark. The extreme contrast of shadow and deeper lines makes the expressions of pain and suffering more painful. 

The sarcophagus would serve as a reminder to visitors to the necropolis of the strength, valor and achievements of this high ranking officer.

Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome, Italy

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Archaeology: A Secret History - BBC Four

Episode 2 “The Search for Civilisation”

During excavations in Mesopotamia in the 1850s, thousands of photographs were taken of cuneiform tablets which had been found there. The inscriptions were written in a mysterious language which nobody yet understood. The photographs were distributed all over Europe, and all of its finest scholars quickly got to work, in a race to try and decipher this mysterious code.

The French-German scholar Julius Oppert (together with other 19th century Assyriologists) made decisive contributions to the decipherment of cuneiform inscriptions. In 1855, he published Écriture Anarienne, advancing the theory that the language spoken originally in Assyria belonged to the Ural-Altaic group (non-Semitic) and he classified it as Casdo-Scythian. In 1869 he renamed it Sumerian language -based on the known title “King of Sumer and Akkad”, reasoning that if Akkad signified the Semitic portion of the kingdom, Sumer might describe the non-Semitic annex-. He also asserted that the entire system of cuneiform writing was Sumerian in origin

Sumerian is generally regarded as a language isolate (a language that has no known historical or linguistic relationship to any other language family) and is the oldest written language in existence. Sumerian was spoken in Sumer, in southern Mesopotamia, from perhaps the 4th millennium BC and it flourished during the 3rd millennium BC. Sumerian was replaced as a spoken language by Semitic Akkadian (Assyro-Babylonian) but continued in written usage almost to the end of the life of the Akkadian language, around the beginning of the Christian era.

Some of the very first pictures of cuneiform tablets took during excavations in Mesopotamia in the 1850s

French National Archives, Paris, France

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Archaeology: A Secret History - BBC Four 

Episode 3 “The Power of the Past”

Marija Gimbutas was an archaeologist known for her research into the Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures of Old Europe”. Gimbutas’s assertion that Neolithic sites across Europe provided evidence for matriarchal pre-Indo-European societies was not well received in scholarly circles, but her discoveries took on great symbolic importance for feminists across varied disciplines and became a keystone of the Goddess movement. Gimbutas argued that women in ancient societies were the driving forces in these cultures.

Her archive in California contains records of hundreds of artefacts unearthed from many digs in Europe. She believed that an ancient civilisation she called Old Europe was once firmly centred not upon strong men, but wise women. At its heart was a recurring Goddess Figure. Images of the Goddess, (and some male Gods, both anthropomorphic and zoomorphic), expressed a sacred participation in the great natural cycles of fertility/birth, death and regeneration. People worshipped divinities associated with fertility. And in their feminine, fertile forms, she saw evidence of a far more peaceful, egalitarian, nature-revering society.

Gimbutas was willing to formulate theories, not just in terms of what archaeological evidence she did find but also what she didn’t find. On one of her digs in Old Europe, she claimed there was an absence of weapons of war and this she saw as a fundamental piece of evidence for a peaceful epoch led by women.

One of the accusations which is placed against her is that she used feminist ideology as a weapon and didn’t pay sufficient attention to the actual archaeological material, claiming that archaeology can easily slip into reflecting what people want to see, rather than teaching people about an unfamiliar past. But modern archaeology owes Maria Gimbutas an enormous debt of gratitude because archaeology had, for too long, ignored women.

Opus Archives and Research Center, Santa Barbara, California, USA

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 4 “Return of the King”

The Royal Tombs of Aigai, the ancient first capital of the Kingdom of Macedonia, near Vergina.

Tomb II, “Tomb of Philip" the tomb thought to have belonged to King Philip II of Macedonia contained a wealth of exquisite valuables and weapons including a gold wreath and a gold gorytos (quiver-and-bow-case) The relief decoration is a narrative of warriors fighting, as a female figure runs away in fright. The specific battle is the capture of a city.

Fourteen ivory portrait heads were also found in the main chamber; one of them was identified as Philip II.

PART II

Vergina, Macedonia, Greece

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 4 “Return of the King”

The Royal Tombs of Aigai, the ancient first capital of the Kingdom of Macedonia, near Vergina.

The most important tomb of all is the tomb thought to have belonged to King Philip II of Macedonia (382–336 BC, father of Alexander the Great). This tomb is one of the longest and highest of all Macedonian tombs excavated to date.

Tomb II, “Tomb of Philip" contained a wealth of exquisite valuables and weapons including a gold decorated cuirass, an iron helm, the remains of an elborate shield, a golden larnax and a golden crown.

The golden larnax was found in the main chamber of the tomb inside of a sarcophagus. It contained the cremated remains of an adult male.

PART I

Vergina Museum, Vergina, Macedonia, Greece

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 1 “Come Together”

Clay Cuneiform Tablets found in the archaeological site of Kültepe, ancient city of Kanesh, Anatolia, Turkey.

Assur, the capital of the Old Assyrian Kingdom, established the largest trade network the world had ever seen. The main trading centre of the Assyrians merchants was established at Kanesh (Karum Kanesh). It was here that the earliest written documents -dating to the early second millennium B.C.E.-, the so-called Cappadocian tablets, were uncovered. Since this was a major trading center, the majority of the tablets are of a commercial and legal nature. They record business transactions, dealings with, among others, the Hittites. Personal letters describing the quality of trade goods, family relations, prices, foodstuffs, marriage proposals and other daily affairs have also been found.

Kanesh produced, up to now, 22.500 cuneiform tablets, recorded in the Old Assyrian dialect of the Akkadian language using the cuneiform (wedge-shaped) script, the knowledge of which came into Anatolia with Assyrian merchants.

The Assyrians left their wives and children in Assur; this family break-up explains the abundance of the letters discovered in the site. One of the best of these letters was written by a lady called Lamassi to her husband Pusu-ken, who was an Assyrian merchant in Kanesh. Lamassi writes:

"When you left, you did not leave me any silver, not even one shekel.
What is this extravagance about which you always write to me? There is nothing here to buy our food! But you think we are extravagant? I sent everything we have to you, and today I am living in an empty house! Send me the money you have received for my textiles so that I can buy some necessities!

Since you left, Salim-ahum has already built a house double the size! When will we be able to do the same?”

PART III

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 1 “Come Together”

Assyrian animal shaped vessels found in the archaeological site of Kültepe, ancient city of Kanesh, Anatolia.

Kültepe became a key centre of culture and commerce between Anatolia, Syria, and Mesopotamia by the end of the 3rd millennium B.C. and especially during the first quarter of the 2nd millennium B.C

Assur, the capital of the Old Assyrian Kingdom, established the largest trade network the world had ever seen. The main trading centre of the Assyrians merchants was established at Kanesh (Karum Kanesh).

The Assyrians could get things that people in Anatolia wanted. Donkeys transported tin (picture n. 4), essential for making bronze, from Iran, textiles from Mesopotamia, and more exotic raw materials, like lapis lazuli (picture n. 5), which came all the way from distant Afghanistan. 

A huge assortment of artefacts from the Assyrian colony period have been recovered in the excavations at Kultepe. These include the distinctive animal-shaped vessels, drinking jugs, with which they honoured their now-distant gods.

PART II

"The Assyrian exhibit", Anatolian Civilizations Museum, Ankara, Turkey

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 1 “Come Together”

The archaeological site of Kültepe, the ancient Kanesh, in Anatolia, Turkey.

A naturally advantageous position allowed Kültepe to emerge as a centre of importance in the world of ancient politics and trade. Kültepe thus became a key centre of culture and commerce between Anatolia, Syria, and Mesopotamia by the end of the 3rd millennium B.C. and especially during the first quarter of the 2nd millennium B.C

The site is composed of two parts, an Upper Mound (picture n. 1) and a Lower Town.

Rising 21 m above the surrounding plain, the Mound measures approximately 550 x 500 m in diameter. It is nearly circular in appearance and is one of the largest among central Anatolian ancient mounds. Excavations revealed that the Upper Mound was inhabited from the earliest phase of the Early Bronze Age, to the end of the Roman Period

The Lower Town, which the Assyrians (Assyrian merchants established an important colony there) called the Karum, surrounds the Mound. This is the part of the site where foreign -and native- traders lived and conducted business. It was inhabited for approximately 300 years. The Assyrian merchants conducted their commercial activities under the guarantees of protection given by the Anatolian kingdoms. The city of the Old Assyrian Trading colony period comprised stone-paved streets (with subterranean drainage channels) and open spaces separating individual neighbourhoods. Most houses had two storeys.

The ancient city of Kanesh (Karum Kanesh) was the centre of a highly complex and wide-reaching trade network beetween north Mesopotamia (Ashur/Assur, the capital of the Old Assyrian Kingdom as its most important city) and Anatolia,stretching all the way from Afghanistan in the east to the Mediterranean coast in Egypt.

PART I

Site of Kültepe - Kanesh, Kayseri, Anatolia, Turkey

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 1 “Come Together”

A Nilometer was a structure for measuring the river Nile's clarity and water level during the annual flood season. Predictions to the water levels for the coming season could be issued. Measures could be taken if there was danger of drought. But also, these predictions allowed easier calculations for taxes on the local farmer.

There are two Nilometers at Elephantine Island. The more famous is  Satet’s nilometer (Temple of Satet) -pictures-, a staircase going all the way down to the river, with measuring holes in its walls. It is one of the oldest Nilometers in Egypt, last reconstructed in Roman times and still in use as late as the nineteenth century CE. Elephantine marked Egypt’s southern border and was therefore the first place where the onset of the annual flood was detected.

The level of Nile water has been measured for 5000 years.

Elehantine Island, Aswan, Egypt

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 5 “The Republic of Virtue”

The Bridge of Arta is a stone bridge that crosses the Arachthos river in the west of the city of Arta, in Greece. It has been rebuilt many times over the centuries, starting with Roman -or perhaps older foundations (according to some chroniclers the bridge was first built under the Roman Empire). The current bridge is probably a 17th-century Ottoman construction.

The bridge has acquired mythical proportions with numerous legends taking shape around its carefully placed stones. The famous folk ballad “The Bridge of Arta" tells a story of human sacrifice during its building. It describes how the masons built the structure all day long just to find that it collapsed overnight. With this process repeating itself for a long time to the desperation of the masons, only divine intervention could save the bridge, and it came in the form of a message from a bird. The building of the bridge according to the message required the personal sacrifice of the foreman’s wife. The ballad revolves around the foreman’s conflict between his own tragic personal loss, and the resulting common good. The conflict resolves itself with the tragic death of the young wife as she becomes victim for the benefit of the greater society.

From the ballad, a number of Greek proverbs and customary expressions arose, associated with interminable delays, as in the text of the ballad: “All day they were building it, and in the night it would collapse.”

In Western Europe, the documentation of human sacrifice to ensure safe construction of bridges is found in folksongs. These songs hint toward females, usually virgins, sacrificed in order for spring to appear or a building or bridge to successfully be built. Evidence of bones and other sacrificial rites have been found near the foundation of buildings and bridges across Europe and Africa. These findings uphold the superstitious belief that sacrifice ensures successful building. Children were also chosen for sacrificial rites. Whether these children were already dead and used as sacrifice or hand-picked is not clear.

Arta, Epirus, Greece

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