The Scottish Enlightenment and the Matter of Ancient Troy

The Scottish Enlightenment played a dominant part in the late-18th and early-19th century debate about the location of Troy. Abstract The modern world knows the Scottish Enlightenment as the nursery of today’s social sciences, when the outlines of economics, sociology and anthropology first became apparent in the works of Adam Smith and his contemporaries. However,[…]

The Plague in Ancient Athens: A Cautionary Tale

Thucydides indicates that this plague was extraordinary in that “a pestilence of such extent and mortality was nowhere remembered.” In his book, The History of the Peloponnesian War, the ancient Greek historian Thucydides provides the setting. Athens and Sparta had been the two principal leaders of the united Greeks who vanquished the mighty Persian Empire fifty[…]

How Did Ancient Greeks and Romans Celebrate Special Occasions?

Getty curators answer your questions about ancient parties. If the ancient Greeks and Romans were still around today, we might say they “know how to party.” With dozens of gods and goddesses to celebrate, plus birthdays and other religious holidays like Saturnalia, the Greeks and Romans had many opportunities for revelry and merrymaking throughout the[…]

The Ancient Athenian Calendar

Athenian calendars used lunar cycles and/or solar events to affix dates. Introduction The term “Athenian Calendar” (also called the “Attic Calendar”) has become somewhat of a misnomer, since Ancient Athenians never really used just one method to reckon the passage of time. Athenians, especially from the 3rd Century BCE forward, could consult any one of five[…]

The Archaeology of Bronze Age Mycenaean Pylos

At the site of Pylos, archaeologists are still working at both the Palace of Nestor and its surrounding mortuary landscape. By Kelly Macquire Introduction Pylos was a significant Mycenaean Bronze Age city located in the region of Messenia, Greece. The site is situated on the hill of Ano Englianos and during its Late Bronze Age occupation between c. 1600-1200 BCE it covered[…]

China’s Rendition of the Trojan War in the Abduction of Helen Tapestry

This tapestry, made in China to be sold in Portugal, is an example of a transcultural object, or one entangled with multiple cultures. The Story of Troy Twisting, overlapping warriors fill the foreground of a massive 12 x 16 foot tapestry. It can be difficult to tell where one person begins and another ends, making the[…]

‘Helen’: A Twist on the Trojan War from Euripides

His play replaces Helen in Troy with a decoy while the real Helen awaits the end of the Trojan War in Egypt. Introduction Helen is a Greek tragedy by Euripides (c. 484-407 BCE). It is usually thought to have first been performed at the Great Dionysia of 412 BCE and was part of the trilogy[…]

Gymnopaidai: Dance in Ancient Greece

Dance is largely defined in ancient Greek literature as an element of the mousike. By Nathalie Choubineh Introduction In ancient Greece, dance had a significant presence in everyday life. The Greeks not only danced on many different occasions, but they also recognized several non-performative activities such as ball-playing or rhythmic physical exercise as dance. In fact,[…]

The Ancient Greek Kouroi of Kleobis and Biton

In 1893 and 1894 French archaeologists uncovered two extremely similar kouroi while excavating the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi. Introduction In one of his memorable anecdotes, the ancient Greek historian Herodotus recounts the events of a fateful day in the city-state of Argos (on the Peloponnesian Peninsula). A priestess of the goddess Hera found herself[…]

Greek Fire: An Ancient Byzantine Mini-Nuke

Weakened by long wars with Sassanid Persia, the Byzantine Empire’s development of Greek Fire came at a critical moment. Introduction Greek fire was an incendiary weapon used by the Byzantine Empire beginning c.672 CE. Used to set light to enemy ships, it consisted of a combustible compound emitted by a flame-throwing weapon. Some historians believe it could be ignited on contact[…]

Ancient Greek Funeral and Burial Practices

Ancient Greek funerary practices are attested widely in the literature, the archaeological record, and the art of ancient Greece. Mycenaean Period The Mycenaeans practiced a burial of the dead, and did so consistently.[1][2] The body of the deceased was prepared to lie in state, followed by a procession to the resting place, a single grave or a[…]

The Cowardice of Alcibiades and the Revenge of Ancient Athens

He could not keep his word as he kept changing sides and lived in exile. Alcibiades, the son of Cleinias and an Alcmeonid woman named Deinomache, was not yet twenty years old when the Archidamian War (the first phase of the Peloponnesian War) broke out. With his mentor Socrates, he was present when general Phormio[…]

Ethical Didaxis and the Role of Poetry in the Lying Tales of Odysseus

Indirect communication is a central feature of the lying tales Odysseus tells. In book 13 of the Odyssey, Odysseus finds himself abandoned by his Phaeacian escort in a land which he does not recognize and with no certain way to protect the gifts he has obtained from King Alcinous. Soon met by Athena disguised as[…]

A Horse Is a Horse…or Not: Digging into the Ancient Story of the Trojan Horse

There are many interpretations of the story and what the horse actually was, if it even existed at all. The tale of the Trojan Horse is one of the most frequently told stories from the mythical Trojan War. It tells about the trick employed by the Greeks who were tired of besieging Troy for a[…]

Kratos: Brutal Tyrant of Ancient Greek Mythology

Kratos is characterized as brutal and merciless, advocating for the use of unnecessary violence. Introduction In Greek mythology, Kratos (or Cratos) is the divine personification of strength. He is the son of Pallas and Styx. Kratos and his siblings Nike (“Victory”), Bia (“Force”), and Zelus (“Zeal”) are all essentially personifications of a trait.[5] Kratos is[…]

Sisyphus: Deceitful Trickster God of Ancient Greek Mythology

As a punishment for his trickery, Hades made King Sisyphus roll a huge boulder endlessly up a steep hill. Introduction In Greek mythology Sisyphus, or Sisyphos, was the king of Ephyra (now known as Corinth). He was punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill[…]

Ancient Athens in the Hellenistic World

Apart from some futile attempts to recapture their freedom, for well over a century the Greeks remained under Macedonian rule. Introduction When we think about ancient Athens, it is almost always about the classical city. We think of such things as its numerous monuments (the Parthenon on the Acropolis for example), beautifying everywhere, the Agora swarming with people doing business, discussing current affairs,[…]

Minoans and Mycenaeans: Comparing Two Bronze Age Civilizations

These cultures are often examined separately, and thus the ample cross-cultural transmission between them is overlooked. By Kelly MacquireHistorian Introduction The Bronze Age Aegean in the eastern Mediterranean encompassed several powerful entities: the Minoans on Crete; the Mycenaeans on mainland Greece, and the Cypriots on Cyprus. These cultures are often examined separately, and thus the ample cross-cultural transmission between them is overlooked. Focussing on[…]

The Dorian Tribal Invasion of Ancient Greece

Intense tribalism in a pre-Hellenic world was deep and civilization itself would collapse in the region. Introduction The Ancient Greeks divided themselves into three tribes; the Aeolians, Ionians, and Dorians. The Mycenaeans (referred to as Argives, Achaeans, and Danaans by Homer in the Iliad) were Aeolians and Ionians. Sometime around 1100 BCE, the Dorians, who[…]

The ‘Fall’ of Classical Athens?: Problems with Historical Periodization

“Hellenistic” Athens may not shine as brightly as Classical Athens, but it has lived unfairly in the shadow of its famous predecessor. Athens: the most powerful city in ancient Greece; the birthplace of democracy; home to the great tragedies of Aeschylus. Sophocles, and Euripides; philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; brimming with large monuments[…]

Medicus: The Doctor in Ancient Greece and Rome

Me’dicus (ἰατρός), the name given by the ancients to every professor of the healing art, whether physician or surgeon, and accordingly both divisions of the medical profession will here be included under that term. In Greece and Asia Minor physicians seem to have been held in high esteem; for, not to mention the apotheosis of[…]

Chirurgia: Surgery in Ancient Greece and Rome

The earliest remaining surgical writings are those of Hippocrates. The practice of surgery was, for a long time, considered by the ancients to be merely a part of a physician’s duty; but as it is now almost universally allowed to be a separate branch of the profession, it will perhaps be more convenient to treat[…]

The Hyphasis Mutiny: Alexander the Great Pushing the Troops too Far

The men reached a consensus; they did not want to follow Alexander further into Indian territory. By Philip MathewHistorian Introduction The so-called Hyphasis Mutiny was a conflict between Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) and his army following their victory at the river Hydaspes in 326 BCE. Alexander voiced plans for further conquests in the Indian subcontinent, however, when[…]

An Introduction to Ancient Mycenaean Art

We know a lot about the Mycenaeans because they left written records which can be read. Introduction The ancient citadel (fortified city) at Mycenae is located on top of an isolated hill and provides truly spectacular views of the surrounding area, making it an ideal location for a defensive stronghold. Mycenaean culture dominated southern Greece,[…]

An Introduction to Ancient Minoan Art

The Bronze Age history of the island is one of development, increasing influence, and eventual destruction. Introduction The Bronze Age culture of Crete, called Minoan, after King Minos of Crete from Greek mythology, is one of the most vibrant and admired in all of European prehistory. According to the myth, the city of Athens was[…]

Exploring Ancient Minoan Knossos

Bronze Age Knossos is traditionally called a palace, a description used by its most famous excavator, Sir Arthur Evans. Introduction There aren’t many places in the world like Knossos. Situated 6km south of the sea, on the north central coast of Crete, several things make this archaeological site important: its great antiquity (it is 9,000[…]

Law and Politics in the Ancient Athenian Agora

The Agora was the central gathering place for all of Athens, where social and commercial dealings took place. Arguably, it’s most important purpose was as the home base for all of the city-state’s administrative, legal and political functions. Some of the most important, yet least acclaimed, buildings of ancient history and Classical Athens were located[…]

The Boetian War: Ancient Thebes Revolts against Sparta, 378 BCE

The Spartan Eurypontid king Agesilaus led two expeditions against Thebes but achieved little. Introduction and Background The Boeotian or Theban War broke out in 378 BCE as the result of a revolt in Thebes against Sparta. The war saw Thebes become dominant in the Greek World at the expense of Sparta. However by the end[…]

Overthrowing Oligarchy in the Athenian Revolution of 508-507 BCE

Athens had the largest and wealthiest city-state, but they also had a larger class of people excluded from political life by the nobility. Introduction and Background The Athenian Revolution (508–507 BCE) was a revolt by the people of Athens that overthrew the ruling aristocratic oligarchy, establishing the almost century-long self-governance of Athens in the form[…]