The train which we boarded in Istanbul stops at the Turkey â€“ Bulgaria border – and, refusing to be outdone by the Australian rail system, this train is old and slow and leaves from some part of Istanbul far from civilisation – a 45 minute bus ride from central Istanbul – what Australians would call woop woop.
The central Istanbul station – but you can’t leave from here
Inside Sirkeci. The non-station station
Turkish high speed rail – just like Australia
The station which is not a station (Sirkeki)
The train, itself, is some form of exercise in Turkish logic. My carriage is numbered 483 even though the train contains just four carriages. One assumes this is designed to confuse foolish yabangee (foreigners) since, no doubt, Turks understand this logic.
Err…carriage 483 on the four carriage train
High speed rail to Bulgaria
The border is where modern nationalistic, autocratic Turkey meets the remnants of the centralised monolithic communist state and its obsession with bureaucracy and control. Never let it be said that the era of easy globalised travel has reached the Turkish, east European and Balkan borders.
Here the obsessive nationalism, paranoia and xenophobia of some or all of these countries conspires with an antiquated infrastructure, and a disregard for the modern desire for speed, to ensure that no traveller shall go unpunished for daring to cross the border.
Pulling into Kapikule on the Turkish border we are first disembarked at 2.30 am. All of the 30 odd people on the train to Sofia are woken and de-trained in the dead of night. There is no purpose to this that could not be achieved by a single immigration officer boarding the train and politely requesting passports and ID cards so that they can be checked against the database to ensure that we haven’t just fled from Daesh controlled Syria. Having evicted the passengers from the depth of their sleep and the warmth of their beds, those passengers arrive on the platform only to find that there is nothing that resembles officialdom anywhere within rifle shot and no sign of a passport office.
Eventually we discover that they have hidden the passport office on the other platform cunningly hidden by the train. On discovering this we all head, sheep-like, for the crossing over the rail lines where, we have noted, various railway staff and security personnel are crossing.
They shall not pass. Turkish and Bulgarian customs posts
But, no, this is not acceptable since there may be a train passing this way sometime between now and Christmas. A phalanx (well 3, at least) of Turkish security/police shouting â€œyou shall not passâ€ and waving their AK47s, ALRs or Uzis blocks our way.
So, we are forced to march 100 metres east, through a tunnel with harsh, flashing, white lights which would, undoubtedly, have sent survivors of the Gulag Archipelago into a frenzy and then 100 metres back to the passport office which is, as the crow flies, a mere ten metres across the lines and platform from the train.
Here we queue as the indolent passport officer scrutinises us at his leisure, while his colleague standing next to him is, presumably, taking his annual leave. Very slowly, presumably to avoid RSI, he checks each person off against a list of passengers after which we are allowed to return to the train.
Should any of the passengers marked as being on board the train not appear at the passport control the train shall not leave. In their wisdom, however, this turns out not to be a problem, since our train sits at the station for a further 90 minutes while the Turkish locomotive which, clearly, does not have a visa for Bulgaria is changed for a Bulgarian locomotive.
This gives Turkish immigration plenty of time to search the train for errant passengers. In the process they wake us twice, for light entertainment, presumably to check that no passenger has transmogrified into a refugee or alien from space or smuggled a refugee on board while the train was standing at the station.
In addition, presumably to ensure that no one actually has the presumption to try and sleep, the locomotive changing exercise takes the full 90 minutes and involves, apparently, smashing the new engine into the carriages repeatedly. The purpose of that ritual is unknown unless it is some form of crash test using live passengers as dummies. As it is the entire train suffers a form of horizontal whiplash with their heads being violently catapulted side to side.
The end result is that what could have been a pleasant nights sleep is turned into the sleep equivalent of coitus interruptus where what is, theoretically, pleasurable is interrupted to ensure that Turkey does not lose anyone which it wishes to protect in its internment centres and that Bulgaria is not impregnated by the arrival of unwelcome guests.
The detritus of the Communist era. Decaying building and half finished buildings everywhere
Arrival into Sofia is at 8.30, an hour later than scheduled. Mussolini clearly never visited Bulgaria. Here we are disgorged into a railway station that appears to be a practice run for building Bangkok which, as any person who has visited Thailand knows, is the world leader in ugly concrete structures.
To ensure that every passenger knows that they are in an ex-Soviet satellite state the front entrance to the station is adorned with a large-ugly-concrete-something that apparently served to use up the spare truck of concrete when they had finished the station.
The concrete thing, Sofia Station
Sofia – welcomed by a very concrete station and an large ugly concrete something
Bulgaria can’t quite decide whether it is Sovexit or Eurentry. The result being a sort of schizophrenic society which retains large slabs of the former Soviet society, culture and architecture, like a brutalised lover that can’t quite bear to throw out the photo of their tormentor; someone s/he didn’t really love or even, really, like but to whom s/he has a type of sentimental love/hate relationship. On the other hand s/he doubts the bona-fides of the EU, the new flash lover who promised much but has so far delivered far less than the marriage vows described.
This is reflected in the visual and economic aspects of Bulgaria and, even Sofia. Rural Bulgaria is old agricultural Europe. Depopulated with abandoned houses everywhere as people have fled to â€œbetterâ€ lives in the cities. Then as you approach Sofia you move into the old Soviet Union. Abandoned factories and warehouses and, everywhere, piles of litter, building waste, industrial poisons, the detritus of a society that cared/cares little or nothing for the environment.
Then, finally, there is central Sofia a pleasant, small modern city strewn with the monumentalism of the Soviet Union and the religious fervour of a part Catholic and part orthodox Christianity.
In this context symbolism is everything and the bigger the better. From the massive Orthodox Cathedrals, the latter with more gold on the roof than that hoarded by every Indian on planet. For the environmental and social destruction wrought by its obsession with gold and gold leaf, the churches should be doing penance until the second coming.
Sveta Nedelya Orthodox Church
When it’s not the churches hoarding the wealth of society in its land and buildings it’s the grandiose neo-fascist symbolism of the ex-Soviet Union and its satellites celebrating the theft of millions of lives in their monuments to their so-called communism â€“ that communist society being more akin to that which is feverishly being pursued by modern day neo-cons â€“ in other words more a controlled klepocracy than anything resembling socialism.
The Russian Orthodox (Alexander Nevksy) Cathedral. More bling than Sarkozy
If, however, you ignore the religious and political follies that created these various buildings they are undoubtedly fine specimens of their type. The Russian Church, the St George Rotunda, and the Cathedrals of Sofia are all worth a visit if you are passing through, as is the Russian memorial, the Presidents Building and the ex-Communist Party headquarters. At the Presidents Building if you arrive just before the hour you can enjoy a remnant of the Soviet era in the spectacle of the goose-step driven changing of the guard.
Always hard to leave your authoritarian past behind. The changing of the guard at the President building
The nadir of this obsession with big and grand can be found at the Eagle Bridge which though by no means the largest symbol of stalinist excess is a suitable folly. This fine bridge adorned by four magnificent eagles spans a concrete drain containing a rivulet. This rivulet contains about as much water as the Darling River after Cubbie Station, in Australia, has extracted its billions in water to be wasted on a cotton crop. It’s a typical Australian plan. Take one of the world’s iconic rivers on the world’s driest continent and suck it dry for a crop that would be better grown almost anywhere else in the world.
Monumentalism everywhere both ancient and modern, including the famous Eagle bridge and the river (ditch) it runs over)
Cubbie, for non-Australians, is a cotton â€œfarmâ€ in Queensland which has been allowed by Government to pretty much destroy the Darling River by extracting so much water, along with some other culprits, that the second longest river in Australia is now an empty ditch.
Nevertheless, despite being burdened with a large quantity of cynicism I found Sofia, a pleasant city to visit. Most of the major attractions within the city centre boundary can be walked around in a day and the city is clean, open, populated with numerous gardens, has a good public transport system if you don’t feel like walking and is stacked with interesting buildings, if that’s your thing. It does have its idiosyncrasies among which are the paving of streets and public areas with large quantities of yellow pavers.
These pavers not only are a distinct vomit yellow but are specially designed to ensure that, should it be wet, no visitor to Sofia shall walk the city without sliding and falling on them at least a couple of times. This presumably is an economy building exercise since injured tourists, unable to walk, stay longer and spend more money. While I didn’t witness the large number of rear end collisions that presumably occur when cars try and brake in the wet, these accidents, one assumes, these also add to the GDP in much the same way as wars and earthquakes.
I arrive in Rhodes on a slow winter’s day. The 60 kilometre journey from Fethiye, in Turkey, by hydrofoil has taken twice as long as expected due to heavy weather. The Rhodians are fortunate because, had I decided to behave like almost everyone else who has arrived for the last couple of thousand years, I would have invaded it.
Rhodes harbour at dawn
As it is, looking at Rhodian history, it seems that it was a bit like a conga line of uninvited dinner guests. They arrived sans wine or food, hung around for a while, behaving unpleasantly,Â living off the hosts and then leaving when someone even more unpleasant arrived. Occasionally unable to find a better dinner party they’d return and gatecrash a second time.
This unparalleled complexity of Rhodian history has left an 80 kilometre long island full of rich mixture of fabulous archeological sites from a dazzling array of cultures all within a days drive.
Rhodes was inhabited from Neolithic times but around the 16th century BC, theÂ MinoansÂ came to Rhodes followed by the Mycenaeans the following century.
Later Greek mythology recalled a Rhodian race called theÂ TelchinesÂ and associated the island of Rhodes withÂ Danaus; it was sometimes nicknamedÂ Telchinis.
Then from around 700 BC the arrival of uninvited dinner guests accelerated starting with the Dorians for pre-dinner drinks. The Persians arrived for aperitifs about 460 BC but left when the Greeks arrived in time for hor d’oeuvres in 458 BC. InÂ In 357 BC, the Carians turned up from Turkey but left when the Persians returned in 340 BC, for soup. The Persians clearly didn’t get along with the Hellenes because they left again when the Macedonians returned.
By this time we are on to main course and all the uninvited guests have left and the Rhodians and their invited guests (the Romans) stayed and enjoyed themselves until the Arabs and Genoese started coming around and dropping in for the odd year or two. Finally the Knights Hospitallers turned up around 1310 AD, followed by the Ottomans for coffee in 1522. In 1912 the Italians came for port and cigars and stayed until 1945 when the British arrived for a quick pre-bed time snack before finally handing the entire place to the Greeks in 1947.
Most visitors I talked to seemed largely unaware of this history and for them Rhodes is just famous for the Colossus and for the fabulous medieval city left by the Knights Hospitallers of St John.Â Apart from that all they know is that it is just another Greek Island.
But Rhodes (Î¡ÏŒÎ´Î¿Ï‚ to the Greeks, Rodi inÂ Italian, Rodos in Turkish and Rodi in Ladino) is anything other than just another Greek Island. To begin with it’s also Turkish in the sense that it is one of the few remaining large Turkish communities in Greece. Around 2000 Muslim Turks live in Rhodes, a historical anomaly due to the fact that Rhodes was under Italian rule when the population exchange was done between Greece and Turkey in 1923. It also had one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in Europe until the Germans sent most of them, except a few dozen rescued by the Turkish Consul, to Auschwitz.
Memorial to members of the Jewish community murdered by the Nazis
The city of Rhodes is also the largest remaining intact medieval city in Europe, with the old city being a world heritage property. And like everywhere else in Europe if you visit in winter you can have it almost entirely to yourself with just the small disadvantage that three out of every four cafes, restaurants and bars are closed and that most museums and archaeological sites close at 3 pm.
This has both advantages and disadvantages depending on your preparedness to get arrested and left to rot in some Greek jail. Essentially almost all closed archeological sites are, simply, open archeological sites with a closed gate and no security. Walk around and, generally, somewhere, there will be a gap in the fence, steps up the wall or a combination of both, thus inviting you to have a very personal, free and uncrowded tour,
Given that security costs money there is rarely security and, if there is and you are caught, indulge in the Gallic shrug and explain that you actually got locked in when the site closed. Regrettably if you are not prepared to take this risk and you arrive too late, well tough. And, yes, yes, we all know the “but what if everyone did that argument?”. Well they won’t.
A quick visit to a deserted Ialysos courtesy of dodgy fences
Time was, when arriving in a strange city, you’d simply jump in the nearest taxi go to your hotel, check in and sort yourself out. Said hotel had a reception and someone awaited to, at worst, let you in or, alternatively, you just stayed at one of a plethora of hostels which were also permanently open.
Today, however, in the epoch of mobiles and AirBnBs one may well arrive to a locked door and, in the event that you do not have a local sim card, you end of standing by the front door in a form of limbo. Do you wait and hope that someone turns up? Or leave and try and find a wifi connection? Is so where? And can you justify investing in your 26th coffee of the day just to have a wifi connection? Or just go and get a coffee and hope someone turns up by the time you get back? Will the host arrive and leave again before you return?
Normally, in these circumstances, it will start to get dark, the rain will start to come down, you will realise your parka is at the bottom of your pack under 10 other items. If you go for a coffee, the nearest cafe is closed and, if not, you only have a 100 Euro note to pay for a 2 Euro coffee.
By now your bad knee is hurting walking around town past past ten other closed cafes and, as you realise you are finally and completely lost, you notice standing, on the corner, in the shadows, a group of 5 large tattooed bikies. It’s no good appealing to God or Allah because you are an atheist and you prepare to hand over your computer, camera, wallet and passport. So, wishing for something good to happen, like the death of Donald Trump you walk on in hope.
As you approach the only bad thing that happens is that you realise your prejudices and cowardice are as rank as the next persons, as one of the five heavily tattooed female soccer players greets you pleasantly in broken English…then as you turn the corner you see your AirBnB with the light streaming through the open door. Still, life was simpler when you either booked into the local Hilton or you couldn’t afford to travel at all.
There is little about Rhodes that is not to like. Stunning coastal scenery, friendly locals, one of the most beautiful medieval cities in the world, the three ancient Dorian/Roman cities of Lindos, Kamiros and Ialysos, plus an incredible mixture of Greek, Turkish/Ottoman and Jewish cultures, among others. Not counting of course the indelible traces of 200 years of occupation by the Crusaders.
A couple of hours to the south are the remains of two of the six great Doric cities, Lindos and Kamiros. Of the third Ialyssos, just above Rhodes City, little remains apart from a temple and some stairs and fortifications. All of these ancient sites sit in stunning locations above the water and for hundreds of years during the Dorian and Roman eras were the most important Rhodian cities.
A winter trip to Lindos down the highway takes just an hour, followed by a further fifteen minute walk from the empty car parks through the winding white-washed deserted streets of the modern day Greek city and up the ancient stairs to the fortress. This is a place of four ages, first the Dorians, then the Romans, the Crusaders in the form of the Knights Hospitallers and the modern Rhodians.
From here the inhabitants were masters of all they could survey and that, perched in their fortified eyrie, was a large slab of Rhodes.
Rhodes, though is far more than the grand gesture. The real beauty of the old city of Rhodes are hidden lanes, gardens, the lights, the fountains, the footpaths, the doors and steps and a myriad other bits of the city that in other places are simply sources of light or places to walk but in Rhodes are works of art.
Around the streets of Rhodes
The most famous building and street on Rhodes is, arguably, the Palace of the Hospitallers and its adjacent road. Certainly it and its surrounding defensive network of moats and walls are impressive and as the Ottomans found, initially, an attackers nightmare. But while it’s certainly worth investing time in visiting it, for me the surrounding laneways, alleys, ruins, mosques, synagogues and the hospital etc are equally if not more impressive.
The palace in Rhodes
One of the features of the palace are the mosaics, a number of which came from Roman ruins in Kos. In the absence of almost any interpretive signs – the Greek custodians, presumably, believing that if you don’t provide signs then visitors will be obliged to buy guidebooks – you are required to guess at the use of most parts of the building.
This includes guessing whether the mosaics were stolen from Kos by the Hospitallers (which given the propensity for the Catholic Church to steal most things it owns is highly likely), or later by the Italians who decided that they knew best what Rhodes should look like.
Mosaics in the Palace
The Hospitallers hung out in Rhodes for a couple of hundred years having returned from killing Muslims on the crusades and, following a four year campaign ending in 1310, they made Rhodes their headquarters and their private domain until evicted by the Ottomans. What goes around comes around. From there they went to Malta after their defeat by the Ottomans.
At the bottom of the Street of the Hospitallers is the famous hospital, now a museum. Here the victims of the church, the dead and wounded from numerous campaigns were bought to recover or die having been sacrificed for God or King. The knights were well known for the medical practice, ironically enriched by their contacts with the Arabs, with significantly improved hygiene practices.
My departure under a beautiful winter sky heading out on the next stop on my mini circuit of southern Turkey and adjacent Greek islands. Next stop Kos, via Symi.
The complete archive of Rhodes images can be found below:
“Life is art, art is life, I never separate them.” Ai Weiwei (AWW)….and everything is political.
If you take the view that I do, which is that even drawing breath is a political act, then Ai Weiwei’s exhibition, in Istanbul is a great expression of the philosophy that Art is Life and that everything in life is political.
I slipped, almost literally, through the front door on a rainy, slippery, Istanbul day. For a cultural illiterate, such as I, who normally can’t tell the difference between Mahler and Wagner or between a Rembrandt and a Vermeer and who thinks a Concerto is a brand of Honda car, an Ai Wei Wei exhibition is perfect.
You don’t need to know anything about art or about Ai Weiwei. You just need to know something about life and politics. Everything else is explained.
Vases as columns against a backdrop of scenes depicting refugees, emigrants, prisoners and other similar groups
The exhibition is eclectic ranging over the Sichuan earthquake, Palestine, tigers, refugees, freedom of speech, the destruction of his studio,Â attitudes to power and authority, Chinese labour camps, beatings, stone age tools, war, iconoclasm, still life, traditional art.
For those who haven’t been to an Ai Weiwei exhibition here is a virtual tour……
Countries as art and political statements -Â as you enter you are greetedÂ by a map of China in ceramic, it’s a form of jigsaw in a way, and it’s really reflective of the rest of the exhibition which binds together art and political statement – with interesting cultural bits of information about the use of iconography as political dissent.
Much of the exhibition utilises common place objects as a link between the everyday and the political and cultural. A coat hanger as the basis for a portrait and car window winders to demonstrate the absurdity of totalitarianism which attempted to prevent protests from moving vehicles over Tiananmen Square by removing all the window winders from cars.
Between 2008 and 2011 Ai Weiwei became the subject of political persecution by the Chinese Government, a process that began with his investigations of and blogging about political corruption that had allowed shoddily built buildings to kill tens of thousands of people during the Sichuan earthquakes in May 2008. The dead included 5000 schoolchildren killed byÂ poorly-built schools throughout the region. AWW named each of the dead children.
There are echoes of history in his subsequent detention. His father, the famous Chinese poet, Ai Qing, who was exiled to the Gobi Desert, said in 1946: “I believe that art and the revolution must go together; they can never be separated. We are political animals, and sometimes we write as political animals. If the revolution fails, the art will fail, but in as far as is possible the artist must be a revolutionary. As a revolutionary and as an artist he must represent his times.â€
Left: the earthquake zone, centre: ceramics recreating twisted metal reo from the buidings
Ai responded to the deaths in Sichuan with a series ofÂ angry blog posts, and by the next year had set up the Citizens’ Investigation on Sichuan earthquake. The police responded by making a threatening visit Aiâ€s home, and a few months later, when Ai was in Sichuan to attend the trial of an earthquake activist, police broke into his hotel during the night and beat him. He was left with a cerebral hemorrhage and required emergency brain surgery.
AWW filmed part of the earthquake zone and superimposes a series of negative responses from officials that he received when he tried to get information on the impacts of the earthquake and who was responsible.
A part of the exhibition uses the beating and the brain scans that led to surgery as as the basis for two ceramics using a scan of his brain.
It was during this period that AWW was arrested, as he was boarding a flight to Taiwan, and then detained for 81 days. Subsequently he was barred from overseas travel and the studio he had been invited to build was torn down by the Chinese Government.
In literally 24 hours the entire building was demolished, razed to the ground and the rubble trucked away so that not one shred of evidence of the buildings existence remains – a sort of instant re-writing of history (at left, below, the building before demolition and then the paddock shown after the building’s removal at right, below). AWW documents the process in a video.
From here the exhibition moves on to document a series of images of AWWs response to authority in a very simply and symbolic series of images of iconic buildings which in some form or other represent wealth, power or images of a society’s culture…such as, in the case of Australia the opera house. In each AWW stands with finger raised as we all wish to do to authority figures, much of the time.
Similarly he uses images such as those of massed crabs to document mechanisms of secret protest against authoritarian regimes. Chinese people use the word for the crabs as a synonym for censorship as it sounds similar to the Chinese word for “harmonious” and refers directly to Chinese attempts to create a harmonious society via censorship.
Following AWW’s arrest and detention he was put under house arrest and then had his passport removed so he could not travel abroad, specifically, in the beginning, to prevent him receiving his nobel prize. His resistance to the removal of his travel rights is documented in a series of images of flowers (perhaps resonant of the famous 1967 images of George Harris and Jan Rose Kasmir using flowers in the face of the rifle barrels of National Guardsman.
Jan Rose Kasmir (left and centre photographed by Marc Riboud) and George Harris (right photographed by Bernie Boston) – at a rally of 100,000 against the Vietnam war
Over a period of 600 days Ai Weiwei placed flowers in the basket of his bicycle to protest against the loss of his passport. His use of flowers as a symbol of protest is repeated in a number of works in the exhibition and the centrepiece (centre, below) is a wall-papered room showing each of the bunches of flowers that were placed in the bicycle basket.
The rest of the exhibition follows similar themes using a variety of artistic mechanisms to document his views on Palestine through his videos of the last tiger, starving in Palestine’s zoo following the Israeli blockade (the tiger was later saved) and documenting the treatment of refugees and other groups around the world (bottom images).
Moving through Lycia on cool winter’s day. The sun shines. I am absolutely completely alone with the old stones and the graves. Nothing moves. No sounds but the breeze and the tinkle of goat bells as they move, invisibly, through ancient Lycian ruins and pines.
The ancient Lycian city of Pinara
The Lycians ruled this part of Turkey for around 2000 years and their presence is evident in the ruins of six major cities. The three I visited were Pinara, Tlos and Xanthos. The Lycians had powerful sea and land forces by the second millennium BC and had already established an independent state.Â The earliest historical references to the Lycians date back to the Late Bronze Age (ca 1500-1200 BC) in numerous Egyptian, Hittite and Ugaritic texts.
I discovered these things on my visit to Lycia (more on that here:Â Pinara, in the Valley of the living Dead)Â which was not only fascinating but it simply compounded the sense that I had, from travelling in these parts, of my profound ignorance of Ancient World history (although others might say “and pretty much everything else too!”).
My suspicion is that most others would know little more than me about Lycia or most of the rest of the region. If so this post is for you.
If you are like me you may have heard of the Lycian Way, especially if you are some bushwalker who likes stomping around Turkey in your boots, eroding the ancient landscape. But do you know anything about Lycia and its culture?
I’d guess for 99% of people that’s a no. Along with me, until recently. And that’s just for starters. What about the Sumerian, Babylonian, Parthian, Seleucid, Carian, Carthaginian, Assyrians, Akkadian, Hittite, Egyptian, Mongolian, Phoenician, Ptolemic, Roman, Greek, Persian, Ottoman cultures/empires, among others.
And those empires are just the beginning. After that you start on the semi-independent, largely self-governing states of Rhodes etc. – Rhodes being my next stop. In fact there are more empires than you can poke a stick at, half of which I’d never even heard of (or at least barely). Have you been to the Dordogne in southern France and counted the number of chateaux? If you were gobsmacked at how many chateaux there were, that has nothing on the number of little tinpot trading and military empires between 4000 BC and now.
Since we started with the Lycians, one of the more interesting aspects of their society was that it was also one of the few non-Hellenistic societies of antiquity which could not be called â€˜barbariansâ€. In fact, their image, in antiquity, was much like that of today’s Swiss: a hard-working and wealthy people, neutral in world affairs but fierce in the defence of their freedom and conservative in their attachment to ancestral tradition.
Lycia was the last region on the entire Mediterranean coast to be incorporated as a province in the Roman Empire and even then the Lycian Union continued to function independently. The Lycians spoke a language of their own, with their own unique alphabet, before adopting Greek around the 3rdÂ century BC. Their many monuments, especially their beautiful tombs which embody their ancestor cult, still dot the entire landscape of the southwest coast of Turkey between the Gulf of Fethiye and Phaselis.
The ancient Greeks knew and admired the Lycians, for the Lycians had solved a problem which baffled the ancient world: how to reconcile free government in the city-state with the needs of a larger political unity.
Besides their unique form of government, the Lycians may have had one unusual custom that the Greeks found very unfamiliar. Their society had strong matriarchal elements. Herodotos noted: “They have customs that resemble no one elseâ€s. They use their motherâ€s name instead of their fatherâ€s.
Not that this great commitment to Matriarchy actually did the women much good. When the Lycians were about to be defeated by the Persians, at Xanthos, the men whipped back into the city and killed all the women and children so that, presumably, they couldn’t be either enslaved or raped. That was just before the men then sallied forth again to be killed…
“Now, dear, those nasty Persians are about to come over the kill and rape you. I don’t want you to have to endure that, so I’m going to kill you right now, ok?”
“Ok dear, no worries.”
You can find out more about the Lycians, if you are interested: here and here.
The rest of this post is, well, not really a traditional post – it’s more a history tour of the local neighbourhood spread over several thousand years – if that interests you – read on. If not go for a coffee or something.
Leaving aside South America, China, India and the ancient cultures of south-east Asia, Australia and the north Americas, I’ve discovered that, even within my own lineage and it’s near geographical neighbours, i.e. the Caucasian cultures of Europe, North Africa, West Asia, South Asia and parts of Central Asia my knowledge of the history of 6000 years of “civilisation” is pitifully poor.
We look about us now and see what is happening in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, West Africa, Yemen, Somalia and, yet, compared with ancient times, we live in an age of relative peace and tranquility. Small comfort, of course, to those currently having their lives torn apart by the grasping at power by our corrupt rulers and petty despots.
To read ancient history is to get the impression of a never ending wave of wars, looting, rape and then revenge. An eye for eye, a tooth for a tooth. A cesspool of violence. To be fair, though, we are talking a span of 4000 years, so I’m sure that the Egyptians got the odd moment to sit back and read their papyrus scrolls in between, allegedly, enslaving thousands to build pyramids and wage wars (although in fact this appears to be largely myth).
For many of these former civilisations there is little left to see primarily because the behaviour of each successive successful despot was akin to the behaviour of Assad or the Burmese or the Saudis. Or perhaps, in Australian terms, to the attempted genocide of Australian Aboriginals.
In other words, let nothing stand in the way and let nothing remain. Or if you are thinking rape and pillage, we need look no further than the behaviour of the Serbs in the Balkan wars to understand what happened in the ancient world. Or for Australians the similarity might be to the male entitlement ofÂ Canterbury Bulldogs of 2004.
So here’s a potted history of some of these places, as well as a map of where all these dudes hung out in and around the Middle East, Anatolia, the Mediterranean and the other trendy parts of the ancient world.
Many of these empires hung out and did their thing in Mesopotamia – after the Greek word meaning “the land between the rivers (the Euphrates and Tigris)”.Â Mesopotamia consists of modern day Iraq, Kuwait, northeast Syria, and southeast Turkey. The dates of many of the empires overlap as they co-existed in different parts of the Mediterranean, Middle East and Anatolia concurrently. The dates shown below are approximate only.
5000 BC – 2000 BC SUMERIA
2300 BC – 2150 BC – AKKADIA
2200 BC – 1900 BC – BABYLON
2686 BC – 2181 BC EGYPT (OLD KINGDOM)
2040 BC – 1782 BCÂ – EGYPT MIDDLE KINGDOM
1900 BC – 600 BC – ASSYRIA
1800 BC – 1100 BC EARLY GREECE (MYCENAE)
1800 BC – 1100 AD TROYÂ
1600 BC – 1180 BC HITTITES
1570 BC – 1069 BC EGYPTIAN NEW KINGDOM (EMPIRE)
1500 BC -Â 240 AD LYCIA
1500BC -322 BC – PHOENICIA
788 BC – 550 BC -Â MEDIA
626 BC – 539 BC – NEO BABYLONIA
550 BC – 300 BC ACHAEMENID PersianÂ Empire
700 BC – 146 BC -MACEDONIAN/GREEK EMPIRE (CLASSICAL GREECE)
312 BC – 64Â BC SELEUCID KINGDOM
305 BC – 30 BC PTOLMAIC EMPIRE
247 BC – 224 AD PARTHIAN EMPIRE
27 BC – 476 AD ROMAN EMPIRE
330 AD -Â 1453 A.DÂ – BYZANTIUM
1206 AD – 1368 AD MONGOL EMPIRE
1300 AD – 1922 AD OTTOMAN EMPIRE
332 BC – 146 BC CARTHAGE
5000 BC – 2000 BC The SUMERIANS:Â Were the burnout merchants of the ancient world and the first of the well known Mesopotamian empires from around 5000 BC. They hung out between the Tigris and Euphrates, in lower Mesopotamia, just around the Gulf of Arabia. They invented the wheel so were the original hoons. They were also big beer drinkers which may explain their liking for fast chariots.
They also invented the plow, and writing (the system which we call cuneiform), so are to blame for both modern agriculture and 50 Shades of Grey. They were great at metalwork, so we can probably blame them for the car and modern weapons too.
Sumer was a collection of city-states or cities that were also independent nations, some of which endured for 3,000 years, the largest beingÂ Uruk at around 80,000 people which, when you consider the total estimated population of 40 million, was equivalent to a modern day mega-city of around 15-20 million.
The others wereÂ Eridu, Ur, Nippur, Lagash and Kish. Gilgamesh was most likely a real king of Uruk and he stars in his own biopic, the â€œEpic of Gilgamesh,â€ a 3,000-line poem that follows the adventures of a Sumerian king as he battles a forest monster and quests after the secret of eternal life.
The origin of the Sumerians remains a mystery. A bit like Queenslanders really. We know they exist but no one can quite work out why or how they came to exist in that strange form. They are variously ascribed to Turkey/Anatolia or to India.
2300-2150 BC – AKKADIA: Next were the Akkadians:Â the world’s first “real” empire was formed in 2350 B.C.E. byÂ Sargon the GreatÂ inÂ Mesopotamia. Sargon’s empire was called the Akkadian Empire. There were five rulers of Akkad: Sargon, Rimush, Manishtusu, Naram-Sin (also known as Naram-Suen) and Shar-Kali-Sharri who maintained the dynasty for 142 years before it collapsed.
The civilisation founded by Sargon the Great, prospered during the historical age known as the Bronze Age. Like Sumeria it was a collection of city states under the control of Sargonâ€s capital city, Akkad.Â Sargon reigned from approximately 2334-2279 BC.
Sargon’s empire included the Sumerian cities of the Tigris-Euphrates Delta in Mesopotamia, and all of southern Mesopotamia as well as parts of Syria, Anatolia, and Elam (now western Iran) establishing the region’s first Semitic dynasty.
After taking control of these, Sargon went through modern day Syria to the Taurus Mountains near Cyprus.
The Akkadian Empire eventually also stretched across modern day Turkey, Iran, and Lebanon. Sargon is, less plausibly, said to have gone into Egypt, India, and Ethiopia. The Akkadian empire spanned approximately 800 miles.
AfterÂ the fallÂ of theÂ AkkadianÂ Empire, the people of Mesopotamia eventually coalesced into two majorAkkadian-speaking nations: Assyria in the north, and, a few centuries later, Babylonia in the south. The site of the capital Akkad, in modern Iraq, has never been found.
2200 BC – 1900 BABYLON:Â BabylonÂ is the most famousÂ cityÂ from ancientÂ MesopotamiaÂ whose ruins lie in modern-day Iraq 59 miles (94 kilometres) southwest of Baghdad.Â The town became an independent city-state with the rise of the First AmoriteÂ BabylonianÂ Dynasty in the nineteenth century BC. After the Amorite king Hammurabi created a short-lived empire in the 18th century BC, southern Mesopotamia became known as Babylonia and Babylon eclipsed Nippur as its holy city. The language wasÂ Akkadian.
An Amorite king named Hammurabi first created the short lived Babylonian Empire in the 18th century BC. It was from this time that South Mesopotamia came to be known as Babylonia, and the city of Babylon itself grew in size and grandeur.
The empire quickly dissolved upon his death and Babylon spent long periods under Assyrian, Kassite,Â Aramean,Â Chaldean and Elamite domination.
After being destroyed and then rebuilt by the Assyrians, Babylon again became the seat of the Neo-Babylonian Empire from 608 to 539 BC which was founded by Chaldeans from the south east corner of Mesopotamia, and whose last king was an Assyrian from Northern Mesopotamia. After the fall of Babylon it came under the rules of the Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Roman and Sassanid empires.
The ancient Egyptian culture and society was one of history’s most long lived. From its inception in the Early Dynastic period, through the old Kingdom, around 2600 BC it lasted for about 3000 years, longer if the fall of the Ptolmaic Empire is not seen as the end of ancient Egypt. The exact duration of the different periods are still matters of debate by scholars and Egyptians do not recognise, for example, any differentiation between the Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate period.
The old Kingdom was the era of the pyramid builders including Giza.Â The historical records of this period, the 4th-6th Dynasties ofÂ Egypt, are scarce and historians regard the history of the era as literally ‘written in stone’ and largely architectural in that it is through the monuments and their inscriptions that scholars have been able to construct a history. (see: How the pyramids were built)
The pyramids themselves relay scant information on their builders, but the mortuary temples built nearby and the stelae which accompanied them provide king’s names and other important information.
The Old Kingdom
The Old Kingdom, with its capital at Memphis, is “possibly unparalleled in world history for the amount of construction they undertook”. The pyramids at Giza and at Saqqara (Pyramid of KingÂ DjoserÂ at, the first pyramid ever built in Egypt), and elsewhere, during this period required unprecedented bureaucratic efficiency to organise the labor force which built the pyramids, and this bureaucracy could only have functioned under a strong central government.
Egypt was divided into a total of 42 provinces. There were twenty-two provinces in Upper Egypt and twenty in Lower Egypt. Each province was headed by a governor who tried to build up power within his own province.
After the old Kingdom collapsed, Egypt had theÂ First Intermediate PeriodÂ (2181-2040 BC) during which Egypt was ruled regionally by local magistrates who made and enforced their own laws. The rise of these local officials and the power of the priesthood were not the only causes of the collapse of the Old Kingdom, however, in that a severe drought toward the end of the 6th Dynasty brought famine which the government could do nothing to alleviate.
The Middle Kingdom
TheÂ Middle KingdomÂ (2040 BC -1782 BC) during the 12th Dynasty is considered Egyptâ€s â€œgolden ageâ€ when cultural and artistic achievements reached their height. During the 13th Dynasty, however, the kings were weaker and more concerned with their own pursuits and court intrigues than the good of the country.
During this time, the Hyksos were able to establish themselves at Avaris in Lower Egypt and steadily consolidated their presence until they were able to wield significant political- and military power. The Middle Kingdom fell as the Egyptian central government grew weaker and both the Hyksos in the north and the Nubians in the south grew stronger, initiating the Second Intermediate Period.
The New Kingdom
TheÂ Egyptian EmpireÂ rose during the period of theÂ New KingdomÂ (c. 1570 – c. 1069 BC), when the country reached its height of wealth, international prestige, and military might. TheÂ empireÂ stretched from modern-dayÂ SyriaÂ in the north to modern-day Sudan in the south and from the region of Jordan in the east to Libya in the west.
Since the empire rose and fell in the course of the New Kingdom, historians refer to the period as either the New Kingdom or the Egyptian Empire interchangeably.
Egyptian history is divided by later scholars into eras of â€œkingdomsâ€ and â€œintermediate periodsâ€; kingdoms were times of a strong central government and a unified nation while intermediate periods were eras of a weak central government and disunity.
Statue of Ramses
Temple of Hapsetshut
Obelisk of Hapsetshut
The New Kingdom rose out of the Second Intermediate Period in which the country was divided between a foreign Semitic people known as theÂ HyksosÂ holding power in northern LowerÂ Egypt, the Nubians ruling to the south in Upper Egypt, and theÂ cityÂ ofÂ ThebesÂ in the middle representing the traditionalÂ Egyptian government.
The Theban king Ahmose I (c. 1570 – c. 1544 BC) drove the Hyksos out of Egypt and defeated the Nubians, uniting Egypt under his rule from Thebes. In his early campaigns, Ahmose I created buffer states around Egyptâ€s borders to prevent any other foreign powerÂ from gaining a foothold in the country as the Hyksos had. In doing so, he initiated the policy ofÂ conquestÂ which would be followed by his successors and give rise to the empire of Egypt.
Part of the expansion of the Empire was built around the first professional standing army established by Amenemhat I (c. 1991-1962 BC) of the 12th Dynasty in the Middle Kingdom.Â Not only were the weapons of the army new and improved but so was the structure of the military itself.
Amenhotep I continued the policies of Ahmose I and each pharaoh who came after him did the same. Thutmose I (1520-1492 BCE) put down rebellions in Nubia and expanded Egyptâ€s territories in the Levant and Syria.Â Little is known of his successor, Thutmose II (1492-1479 BCE) because his reign is overshadowed by the impressive era of queen Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE).
Hatshepsut is not only the most successful female ruler in Egyptâ€s history but among the most remarkable leaders of the ancient world. She broke with the tradition of a patriarchal monarchy with no evidence of rebellion on the part of her subjects or the court and established a reign which enriched Egypt financially and culturally without engaging in any extensive military campaigns.
When Hatshepsut died, she was succeeded by Thutmose III (1458-1425 BCE) who, possibly in an effort to prevent future women from emulating her, had Hatshepsutâ€s name erased from monuments. As a resultÂ later kings knew nothing of her accomplishments and she would not be known to history again for over 2,000 years.
Thutmose IIIÂ is often referred to as the Napoleon of Egyptâ€ for his success in battle as he fought 17 campaigns in 20 years and, unlike Napoleon, he was victorious in all of them.
By the time of the reign of Amenhotep III (1386-1353 BCE), Egypt was among the wealthiest and most powerful in the world. Amenhotep III was a brilliant administrator and diplomat whose prosperous reign established Egypt firmly in what historians refer to as the â€œClub of the Great Powersâ€ â€“ which includedÂ Babylonia,Â Assyria, Mittanni, and the Land of theÂ HattiÂ (Hittites) â€“ all of whom were joined in peaceful relations through trade and diplomacy.
Amenhotep IIIâ€s son and successor was Amenhotep IV who, in the fourth or fifth year of his reign, changed his name to Akhenaten. His wife was the famous Nefertiti.
Under the reign of Akhenaten, the capital was moved from Thebes to a new city, Akhetaten, designed and built by the king and dedicated to his personal god. The temples in all the cities and towns were closed and religious festivals abolished except those venerating his god, the Aten.
This led to intense conflict with the priests of the cult of Amun and led to a decline in Egyptian power asÂ Akhenaten ignored the central cultural value of Egypt â€“Â maâ€atÂ (harmony and balance) â€“ which was the foundation of theÂ religionÂ and the society was ignored by Akhenatenâ€s administration and so were the diplomatic and commercial ties with other powers.
Akhenatenâ€s successor was Tutankhamun (1336-1327 BC) who was in the process of restoring Egypt to its former status when he died young. His work was completed byÂ HoremhebÂ (1320-1295 BC) who erased Akhenatenâ€s name from history and destroyed his city.
During the 19th Dynasty which followed Horemheb, the most famous pharaoh in Egyptâ€s history would claim to have finally restored the country to power: Ramesses II (the Great, 1279-1213 BC). Ramesses II is not only the best-known pharaoh in the present day but also in antiquity thanks to his talent for self-promotion
The empire continued through to the 20th Dynasty â€“ and ended with the death of Ramesses XI. The country was, by this time, divided between rule by the pharaoh in Lower Egypt and by the High Priest of Amun at Thebes in Upper Egypt. Ramesses XIâ€s successor, Smendes (1077-1051 BC), would attempt to reign like the pharaohs of the past but, in reality, was a co-ruler with the high priest Herihor of Thebes (c. 1074 BC) at the beginning of the era known as theÂ Third Intermediate PeriodÂ (c. 1069-525 BC).
1600 BC – 1180 BC – THE HITTITES.Â The Hittites were an ancient group of Indo-Europeans who moved into Asian Minor and formed an empire at Hattusa in Anatolia (modern Turkey) around 1600 BCE. The history of the Empire is split in two the Old Kingdom and the New Kingdom. In the intervening period the empire was much diminished.
The Hittite Empire reached its greatest heights during the mid-1300s BCE, when it spread across Asia Minor, into the northern Levant and Upper Mesopotamia.Â Hittites were pioneers of theÂ Iron AgeÂ and began manufacturing iron artifacts around 1400 BCE. This is significant because the Hittitesâ€ use of iron and steel created tools and weapons that were more efficient than those made of bronze.
One military engagement the Hittites are famous for is the Battle of Kadesh against the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses IIâ€s army in 1274 BCE. This battle is especially important because both sides claimed victory, which led to the first known peace treaty in the history of the world, in 1258 BCE.
The final decline of the empire started at the Battle of Nihriya, in c. 1245 BCE when the forces of Tudhaliya IV were defeated by the Assyrian army.
1900 BC – 600 BC THE ASSYRIANS:Â For 300 years, from 900 to 600 B.C., the Assyrian Empire expanded, conquered and ruled the Middle East, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, and parts of todayâ€s Turkey, Iran and Iraq.
Initially in the Old Kingdom era, at other times Ashur, the first capital, and other Assyrian cities came under the control of the Akkadian empire under Sargon the Great. At other times, Assyria was a vassal state to Urâ€s Third Dynasty in southern Mesopotamia.
From around 1250 B.C., the Assyrians had started using war chariots and iron weapons, which were far superior to bronze weapons. These tools and tactics made the Assyrian army the most powerful military force of its time, both doctrinally and technologically advanced.
Assyriaâ€s competitors in the Old Kingdom included Hittites, Amorites, Hurrians, Mitanni, Elamites as well as Babylonians and Sumerians. The Amorites began to settle in the area, taking vital resources needed by Ashur.
An Assyrian king named Shamshi-Adad I (1813 to 1791 B.C.) succeeded in driving out the Amorites and uniting the Assyrian cities of Arbel, Nineveh, Ashur and Arrapkha. Along with the city of Nimrod, this was the core of the fledging Assyrian empire.
Under King Shamshi-Adad I, the Assyrian trade network with Anatolia flourished, giving Ashur power and wealth. While stronger competitors prevented the empireâ€s growth, the Assyrian core cities were secure. The year after King Shamshi-Adadâ€s death, Hammurabi took the Babylonian throne and Assyria became vassals to the Babylonians during Hammurabiâ€s rule.
The final stage of the Assyrian empire began in 745 B.C. when Tiglath Pileser III took the throne. Tiglath Pileser III received the empire in a slump with a demoralised army and disorganised bureaucracy. He took control and began reorganising all aspects of the empire from the army to the bureaucracy to re-conquering rebellious provinces.
Following Tiglath Pileser III, the Assyrian empire was ruled by Shalmaneser V, Sargon II and Sennacherib. Sennacheribâ€s reign (705 to 681 B.C.) welded the empire into an even greater force; he conquered provinces in Anatolia, Judah and Israel, even sacking Jerusalem. Sennacherib moved the capital of Assyria to Nineveh, where he built a splendid palace and exquisite gardens. Given that no one has actually found any sign of any hanging gardens at Babylon, many scholars speculate that the famous gardens might have been at Nineveh.
One assumes that some Assyrian media manager, in a Trump-like moment, decided that “Hanging Gardens of Babylon” sounded better than “Hanging Gardens of Ninevah”, and stuck out a Tablet Release, to that end, so we have been stuck with the former ever since.
Ashurbanipal was the last great Assyrian king. After his reign of 42 years, the huge empire began to fall apart. It had become too large, taxes were too high and entire regions rebelled. In 612 B.C., Nineveh itself was razed by a host of Persians, Babylonians and Medes. The great Assyrian empire was over.
After the fall of the Assyrian Empire, a Chaldean named Nabopolassar took the throne of Babylon and, through careful alliances, created the Neo-Babylonian Empire.
His son, Nebuchadnezzar II (604-561 BCE), renovated the city so that it covered 900 hectares (2,200 acres) of land and boasted some the most beautiful and impressive structures in all of Mesopotamia. Every ancient writer to make mention of the city of Babylon, outside of those responsible for the stories in the Bible, does so with a tone of awe and reverence. Herodotus, for example, writes:
The Neo-Babylonian Empire continued after the death of Nebuchadnezzar II and Babylon continued to play an important role in the region under the rule of Nabonidus and his successor Belshazzar (featured in the biblical Book of Daniel)
3000 BC – 1100 AD / 1800-1100 TROY – Troy was the most important Bronze Age city in the North Aegean, reaching the height of its prosperity in the middle Bronze Age (1800-1100), contemporary with theÂ Mycenaean civilizationÂ on the Greek mainland and theÂ HittiteÂ empireÂ to the East.
Inhabited from the Early Bronze Age through to the 12th century AD the archaeological site which is now called Troy is 5 km from the coast but was once next to the sea.
The site was situated in a bay created by the mouth of the river Skamanda and occupied a strategically important position betweenÂ AegeanÂ and Eastern civilizations by controlling the principal point of access to the Black Sea,Â AnatoliaÂ and the Balkans from both directions by land and sea.
In particular, the difficulty in finding favourable winds to enter the Dardanelles may well have resulted in ancient sailing vessels standing by near Troy.
Excavations at the site of Troy were carried out by Heinrich Schliemann fromÂ 1870 AD until 1890. This and later excavations have revealed nine different cities and no less than 46 levels of inhabitation at the site. These have been labelled Troy I to Troy IX after Schliemannâ€s (and his successor Dorpfeldâ€s) original classification.
Troy VIÂ (c. 1750-1300 BCE) is the period most visible today at the site and is the most likely candidate for the besieged city of Homerâ€s Trojan War. Impressive fortification walls 5 m thick and up to 8 m high constructed from large limestone blocks and including several towers (with the rectangular plan as in Hittite fortifications) demonstrate the prosperity but also concern for defence during this period. The walls would have once been topped by a mud brick and wood superstructure and with closely fitting stonework sloping inwards; as the walls rise they certainly fit the Homeric description of â€˜strong-built Troyâ€.
1800 BC – 1100 BC EARLY GREECE (MYCENAE)Â – The earliest inhabitants of mainland Greece (called Mycenaeans after excavations found at Mycenae) developed an advanced culture. But, around 1100 BCE, the Mycenaeans were invaded by barbarians called Dorians and all their civilization disappeared. Greece went into a â€œDark Ageâ€ to re-emerge hundreds of years later.
TheÂ Mycenaean civilizationÂ flourished in the late Bronze Age, from the 15th to the 13th century BCE and extended its influence not only throughout the Peloponnese inÂ GreeceÂ but also across theÂ Aegean, in particular, onÂ CreteÂ and the Cycladic islands.
The Mycenaeans were influenced by the earlierÂ Minoan civilizationÂ (2000-1450 BCE) which had spread from its origins atÂ Knossos, Crete to include the wider Aegean. Architecture, art and religious practices were assimilated and adapted to better express the perhaps more militaristic and austere Mycenaean culture.
With the mysterious end of the Mycenaean civilization during the Bronze Age Collapse around 1200 BCE (possibly through earthquake, invasion or in-fighting) came the so-called Dark Ages and it would be many centuries before Greek culture would finally regain the heights of the late Bronze Age.
1500BC – 322BC PHOENICIA Strictly speaking this was never an “empire” in the sense we think of empires – at best it was a maritime trading empire dominated by city states, principally Tyre and Sidon.
Because their goods were so highly prized, Phoenicia was often spared the kinds of military incursions suffered by other regions of the Near East.Â For the most part, the great military powers preferred to leave the Phoenicians to their trade.
The city-states of Phoenicia flourished through maritime tradeÂ between c. 1500-322 BC when theÂ majorÂ citiesÂ were conquered byÂ Alexander the GreatÂ and, after his death,Â the region became a battleground in the fight between his generals for succession andÂ empire.
TheÂ PhoeniciansÂ were a great maritime people, known for their mighty ships adorned with horsesâ€ heads in honor of their god of the sea,Â Yamm, the brother of Mot, the god of death.
The island city ofÂ TyreÂ and the city ofÂ SidonÂ were the most powerful states in Phoenicia with Gebal/ByblosÂ andÂ BaalbekÂ as the most important spiritual/religious centres. Competition was particularly keen between the cities of Sidon and Tyre, arguably the most famous of the city-states of Phoenicia.
The city of SidonÂ (modern Sidonia, Lebanon) was initially the most prosperous but steadily lostÂ ground to her sister city of Tyre.
Phoenician city-states began to take form c. 3200 BCE and were firmly established byÂ c. 2750 BCE. Phoenicia thrived as a maritime trader and manufacturing center from c.1500-332 BCE and was highly regarded for their skill in ship-building, glass-making, the production of dyes, and an impressive level of skill in the manufacture of luxury and common goods
In 334 BCE Alexander the Great conquered Baalbek (re-naming it Heliopolis) and marched on to subdue the cities of Byblos andÂ Sidon in 332 BC.
When Alexander arrived at Tyre, Tyre offered to submit but their conditions were unacceptable to Alexander and so he sent envoys to Tyre demanding their surrender.
Alexander ordered the siege of Tyre and was so determined to take the city that he built a causewayÂ from the ruins of the old city on the mainland to the new island city. Used debris, and felled trees were used to build a causeway from the mainland to the island (which, owing to sediment deposits over the centuries is why Tyre is not an island today).
After seven months, Alexander’s forces breached the walls and massacred most of the populace. It is estimated that over 30,000 citizens of Tyre were massacred or sold into slavery. Only the rich and powerful were able to buy there way out and left to found a new trading city in Carthage.
After the fall of Tyre,Â the other city-states followed surrendered to Alexander’s rule, thus ending the Phoenician Civilization and ushering in theÂ HellenisticÂ Age.
ByÂ 64 CE the disassembled parts of Phoenicia were annexed byÂ RomeÂ and, by 15 CE wereÂ colonies of theÂ Roman Empire with Heliopolis remaining an important pilgrimage site which boasted the grandest religious building (the Temple ofÂ JupiterÂ Baal) in all of the Empire, the ruins of which remain well preserved to this day.
The most famous legacy of Phoenicia is undoubtedly the western alphabet but their contribution to the arts, and their role in disseminating the cultures of the ancient world, is equally impressive.
626 BC – 539 -BC NEO BABYLONIA.Â Babylon was reborn under the Neo-Babylonians (792 to 595 B.C.), also known as the Chaldeans, who succeeded the Assyrians and established a large empire. The empire reached its peak in the 6th century B.C. under Nebuchadnezzar, the famous Biblical ruler.
Until it was conquered by the Persians, Neo-Babylonian EmpireÂ was the most powerful state in the ancient world after the fall of the AssyrianÂ empireÂ (612 BCE).Â Neo-Babylonian” refers to the last great Babylonian empire (Babylon was its capital). The Neo-Babylonian empire lasted from 626 BCE, when a Babylonian king conquered the Assyrian empire, to 539 BCE when it was conquered by the Persians.
The Neo-Babylonians began as a little known Semitic people. They rebuilt Babylon and established it as their capital. Their army sacked Jerusalem and enslaved entire races of people. After the Assyrian empire collapsed Jerusalem enjoyed 70 years of independence before it was taken over by Nebuchadnezzar after a year and a half siege.
Â The Neo-Babylonians made great contributions to science, astronomy and mathematics, which were later passed on to the Greeks. Many of the achievements in these fields credited to the Babylonians were actually accomplished by the Neo-Babylonians.
In Nebuchadnezzar’s time Babylon was built in the shape of a 1.6 mile square and was exquisitely planned. It was surrounded by massive walls and centered around 25 major streets paved with slabs of stone that were organized into a grid. Gates made of brass penetrated the walls. A massive bridge spanned the Euphrates which ran through the middle of the city. Mud brick palaces were adorned with glazed tiles of blue, red and green.
At its peak Babylon was a religious center that was the Jerusalem of its day. It was multi cultural and a free city for refugees. The most elaborate temple was dedicate to Marduk, the patron God of Babylon. Extemenanki—a brightly painted, 300-foot-high, stepped ziggurat—that stood near the Temple of Marduk may have been the inspiration for the Tower of Babel.
The temples not only supported a caste of priests but also a sages and prophets such as Daniel. In the markets were silver, gold, bronze, ivory, frankincense, myrrh, marble, wine, grains, imported woods brought in by caravans and ships from as far away as Africa and India.
Much of the debauchery associated with Babylon occurred under the Neo-Babylonians. According the Bible, debauched partiers at King Belshazzar’s feast were warned by the prophet Daniel that their kingdom would fall with the wordsÂ Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. Daniel lived in Babylon. He impressed the Babylonian court with his prophetic interpretations of Nebuchadnezzar’s death
788 – 550 MEDIA – The Medes were a largely nomadic tribe from Persia. Prior to their dominant rule there was little centralised authority but occasionally a tribe succeeded in gathering a collection of other tribes under its leadership.
The Medes were one such. They built a capital at Ecbatana (â€˜meeting placeâ€) in the eastern Zagros from where they extended their power. In 612 BCE, Cyaxares, King of the Medes, stormedÂ NinevehÂ with the Chaldeans, after which he pushed into the north-west. In 585 BCE, the Medes were fighting the Lydians on the Halys river when a solar eclipse frightened both sides into making peace. Soon afterwards, Cyaxares died leaving an empire of sorts to his son Astyages (585â€“550 BCE).
One of the regions whose tribes paid tribute to the Medes wasÂ Persia, which lay south-east of Ecbatana, beyond Elam. There were around 10 or 15 tribes in Persia, of which one was theÂ Pasargadae. The leader of the Pasargadae always came from theÂ AchaemenidÂ clan, and, in 559 BCE, a new leader was chosen: Cyrus II (â€˜the Greatâ€).
We are told that Cyrus was the grandson of Astyages, the Median King, on his motherâ€s side, but that did not stop him wanting to shake off the Median yoke. By 552 BCE, he had formed the Persian tribes into a federation and begun a series of uprisings. When the inevitable showdown with his grandfather came in 550 BCE, the Medes mutinied and joined Cyrus to march on Ecbatana. the Median capital.
550 BC – 300 BC TheÂ ACHAEMENID PersianÂ Empire conquered Babylonia and led to its fall.Â TheÂ FallÂ ofÂ BabylonÂ denotes the end of the Neo-Babylonian EmpireÂ after it was conquered by the AchaemenidÂ EmpireÂ in 539 BCE. … In 539 BCE, Cyrus the Great invadedÂ Babylonia, turning it into a colony of Achaemenid Persia. Cyrus then claimed to be the legitimate successor of the ancientÂ BabylonianÂ kings.
At its height the Achaemenid Persian empire was the largest that the ancient world had seen, extending from Anatolia and Egypt across western Asia to northern India and Central Asia. Its formation began in 550 B.C., when King Astyages of Media, who dominated much of Iran and eastern Anatolia (Turkey), was defeated by his southern neighbor Cyrus II (â€œthe Greatâ€), king of Persia (r. 559â€“530 B.C.). This upset the balance of power in the Near East.
The LydiansÂ of western Anatolia under King Croesus took advantage of the fall of Media to push east and clashed with Persian forces. The Lydian army withdrew for the winter but the Persians advanced to the Lydian capital atÂ Sardis, which fell after a two-week siege. The Lydians had been allied with the Babylonians and Egyptians and Cyrus now had to confront these major powers. The Babylonian empireÂ controlled Mesopotamia and the eastern Mediterranean.
In 539 B.C., Persian forces defeated the Babylonian army at the site of Opis, east of the Tigris. Cyrus entered Babylon and presented himself as a traditional Mesopotamian monarch, restoring temples and releasing political prisoners. The one western power that remained unconquered in Cyrusâ€ lightning campaigns was Egypt. It was left to his son Cambyses to rout the Egyptian forces in the eastern Nile Delta in 525 B.C. After a ten-day siege, Egyptâ€s ancient capital Memphis fell to the Persians.
The Persian empire ebbed and flowed in strength and area reaching a new height underÂ Darius IÂ (the Great). Backed by the army and the noble clans of Persia, grown rich from imperial rule, Darius expanded the Empire further and extended it into theÂ Indus Valley, a prize worth several times more in tribute than Babylon.
Cyrus the Great and his empire
Darius also established a common currency, which made working far from home much easier. He brought together teams of craftsmen from all over the Empire to build, under the direction of Persian architects, an imperial capital atÂ Persepolis.
Ultimately Darius III was murdered by one of his own generals, and Alexander claimed the Persian empire. However, the fact that Alexander had to fight every inch of the way, taking every province by force, demonstrates the extraordinary solidarity of the Persian empire and that, despite the repeated court intrigues, it was certainly not in a state of decay.
700 BC – 146 BC -THE MACEDONIAN/GREEK EMPIRE The classical Greek period begins as early as 7th century BCE, though we tend to be more familiar with its history in the 5th century when Greece consists of a group of constantly warring city-states, the most famous being Athens and Sparta. The Greek victory at the Marathon (490 BCE),(1) the destruction of the Persian fleet at Salamis (480 BCE) and the victory at Plataea (479 BCE) brought and end to the Persian Empireâ€s attempts to conquer Greece. During the last three decades of the 5th century, Athens and Sparta waged a devastating war (Peloponnesian War 431-404 BCE) which culminated in the surrender of Athens. More inter-Greek fighting followed in the 4th century but later in that century all of Greece would succumb to Phillip II of Macedon, who paves way for his son, Alexander the Great, to spread the Greek civilization across the world.
Alexander, born in 356BCE, was the son of Phillip II (382-336BCE), the King of Macedonia in northern Greece. (And considered a barbarian by the southern Greek city states).
Phillip created a powerful, professional army which forcibly united the fractious Greek city-states into one empire. From an early age, Alexander, displayed tremendous military talent and was appointed as a commander in his fatherâ€s army at the age of eighteen.
Having conquered all of Greece Phillip was about to embark on a campaign to invade Greeceâ€s arch-enemy, the Persian Empire. Before he could invade Persia he was assassinated, possibly by Alexander, who then became king in 336BCE. Two years LATER, in 334 BC, he crossed the Hellspont (in modern-day Turkey) with 45,000 men and invaded the Persian Empire.
In three Colossal battles, Granicus, Issus and Gaugamela, that took place between 334 and 331 Alexander brilliantly (and often recklessly) led his army to victory against Persian armies that may have outnumbered his own as much as ten to one.
In battle he would lead his Campanion Cavalry right at the strongest (rather than the weakest) point of the enemy line. When he fights the Persians, for example, he goes for the most heavily protected point of the Persian force surrounding the Persian Emperor, aiming to destroy the leadership.
When the Persian emperor Darius flees at the battle the Persian army collapses.
By 331 BCE the Persian Empire was defeated, the Persian Emperor Darius was dead, and Alexander was the undisputed rival of the Mediterranean.
His military campaign lasted 12 years and took him and his army 10,000 miles to the Indus River in India. Only the weariness of his men and his untimely death in 323BCE at the age of 32 ended the Greek conquest of the known world.
At its largest, Alexanderâ€s empire stretched from Egypt to India. He built six Greek cities in his empire, named Alexandria.
The late 5th and the 4th century are as eventful culturally for the Greeks as it was militarily. Despite constant warfare, this is also the golden age of classical Greek cultureâ€”the birth of democracy, the time of Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato.
312 BC – 64Â BC The SELEUCID KINGDOM was an ancientÂ empireÂ that at its greatest extent stretched fromÂ ThraceÂ inÂ EuropeÂ to the border ofÂ India.
It was one of four “empires” carved out of the remains ofÂ Alexander the Great’s the MacedonianÂ Â empire by its founder,Â Seleucus I Nicator
Seleucus, one of Alexanderâ€s leading generals, becameÂ satrapÂ (governor) ofÂ BabyloniaÂ in 321, two years after the death of Alexander. In the prolonged power struggle between the former generals of Alexander for control of the disintegrating empire, Seleucus sided with Ptolemy I ofÂ EgyptÂ against Antigonus I, Alexanderâ€s successor on the Macedonian throne, who had forced Seleucus out of Babylonia.
In 312 Seleucus defeatedÂ DemetriusÂ at Gaza using troops supplied by Ptolemy, and with a smaller force he seized Babylonia that same year, thereby founding the Seleucid kingdom, or empire.
By 305, having consolidated his power over the kingdom, he began gradually to extend his domain eastward to theÂ Indus RiverÂ and westward toÂ SyriaÂ andÂ Anatolia, where he decisively defeated Antigonus at Ipsus in 301. In 281 he annexed the Thracian Chersonesus. That same year, he was assassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus, the disgruntled son of Ptolemy I.
Seleucus was succeeded by his eldest son,Â Antiochus I Soter, who reigned until 261 and was followed by Antiochus II (reigned 261â€“246), Seleucus II (246â€“225), Seleucus III (225â€“223), andÂ Antiochus IIIÂ the Great (223â€“187)
By controlling Anatolia and its Greek cities, the Seleucids exerted enormous political, economic, and cultural power throughout the Middle East. Their control over the strategic Taurus Mountain passes between Anatolia and Syria, as well as the Hellespont between Thrace and Anatolia, allowed them to dominate commerce and trade in the region. Seleucid settlements in Syria, primarily Antioch, were regional centres by which the Seleucid kingdom projected its military, economic, and cultural influence.
The Seleucid kingdom was a major centre of HellenisticÂ culture, which maintained the preeminence of Greek customs and manners over theÂ indigenousÂ culturesÂ of the Middle East. A Greek-speaking Macedonian aristocratic class dominated the Seleucid state throughout its history, although this dominance was most strongly felt in the urban areas.
The Seleucid kingdom began losing control over large territories in the 3rd centuryÂ BC. An inexorable decline followed the first defeat of the Seleucids by the Romans in 190.
Rest of Asia (Seleucus) – so founding theÂ Seleucid EmpireÂ which was comprised ofÂ Syria,Â Babylon, Persia, & India.
TheÂ Ptolemaic dynastyÂ controlledÂ EgyptÂ for almost three centuries (305Â â€“Â 30 BCE), eventually falling to the Romans. While they ruled Egypt they never became Egyptian. Instead, they isolated themselves in the capitalÂ cityÂ ofÂ Alexandria, a city envisioned byÂ Alexander the Great.
The city wasÂ GreekÂ both in language and practice. There were no marriages with outsiders; brother married sister or uncle married niece.Â In the end even the famous Cleopatra (Cleopatra VII)Â remained Macedonian.
Ptolemy I Soter (Savior) (366 â€“ 282 BCE) was a Macedonian nobleman and, according to most sources, the son of Lagos and Arsinoe. He had been a childhood friend of Alexander, his official taster, bodyguard, and even possibly a relative; rumors abound that he was the illegitimate son ofÂ Philip II, Alexanderâ€s father.
ExceptÂ for the first two Ptolemaic pharaohs,Â Ptolemy IÂ and his son Ptolemy II, most of the family was fairly inept and, in the end, only maintained authority with the assistance ofÂ Rome.
Apparently, Ptolemy II was one the last truly great pharaohs of Egypt. Many of those who followed failed to strengthen Egypt both internally and externally. Jealousy and in-fighting were common.
Unlike many of his successors, Ptolemy II expanded Egypt with the reclaiming of Cyrene (the city had declared independence from Egypt) and acquisitions inÂ Asia Minor andÂ Syria.
He fought two warsÂ â€“Â the Syrian WarsÂ â€“Â against Antiochus I and Antiochus II (260 â€“ 252 BCE) and would marry his daughter Berenice to Antiochus II. Unfortunately, he also fought and failed in the Chremonidean War against Macedon (267 â€“ 261 BCE).
In Egypt, he established trading posts along the Red Sea, completed construction on the Pharos, and enlarged the library and museum. ToÂ honorÂ his parents he established a new festival, theÂ Ptolemaeia.
After 63 BC the Ptolemies ran up against the Romans. The then Pharoah wasÂ Ptolemy XIIIÂ (63 â€“ 47 BCE) was the brother and husband of the infamous Cleopatra VII.Â Initially, he had expected to gainÂ favorÂ with Caesar when he killed the Roman generalÂ Pompey, who had sought refuge in Egypt and presented the severed head to Caesar.
However, the Roman commander grew irate because he wanted to kill Pompey himself. Ptolemy XIIIâ€s army was defeated after an intense battle, and he drowned in the Nile River when his boat overturned.
The final pharaoh of Egypt was Cleopatra VII who is known to history as simply Cleopatra. She ruled Egypt for 22 years, controlling much of the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Like many of the women of her era, she was highly educated, being groomed for the throne by her father Ptolemy XII in the traditional Greek (Hellenistic) manner. She endeared herself to the Egyptian people, participating in many Egyptian festivals and ceremonies as well as being the only Ptolemy to learn the Egyptian language besides speaking Hebrew, Ethiopian, and other dialects.
Her relationship with Julius Caesar has been the subject of the dramatists and poets for centuries. With the death of Caesar and the balance of power in Rome in question, she sided, unfortunately, with the Roman generalÂ Mark Antony, only to lose it all at the Battle of Actium. Regrettably, she failed to find compassion inÂ Octavian, the future EmperorÂ AugustusÂ and committed suicide. Her sons by Caesar andÂ Antony, Caesarion (Ptolemy XV) and Antyllus were put to death by Octavian.
In 245 BCE, a satrap named Andragoras revolted from the young Seleucid King, Seleucus II, who had just succeeded to the throne.
In the confusion, Parthia was overrun by the Parni, a nomad tribe from the Central-Asian steppe. In 238 BCE, they occupied the district known as Astavene.
Three years later, a Parnian leader named Tiridates ventured further south and seized the rest of Parthia. A counter-offensive by King Seleucus ended in disaster, and Hyrcania was also subdued by the Parni. The first king of the Parthians (as the Parni were called from now on) was Tiridates’ brother Arsaces I. His capital was Hecatompylus.
Through the conquests ofÂ Mithradates IÂ (reigned 171â€“138Â BC) andÂ Artabanus IIÂ (reigned 128â€“124Â BC), all of the Iranian Plateau and the Tigris-Euphrates valley came under Parthian control.Â In 92Â BC,Â Mithradates II, whose forces were advancing into northÂ SyriaÂ against the declining Seleucids, concluded the first treaty between Parthia and Rome.
The earliest Parthian capital was probably at Dara (modernÂ Abivard); one of the later capitals wasÂ Hecatompylos, probably near modern DÄmghÄn. The empire was governed by a small ParthianÂ aristocracy, which successfully made use of the social organizations established by the Seleucids and which tolerated the development of vassal kingdoms.
Parthia regularly came into conflict with the Roman Empire.Â Rome considered itself obliged to enter upon the inheritance of Alexander the Great and, from the time of Pompey, continually attempted the subjection of the Hellenistic countries as far as theÂ Euphrates RiverÂ and had ambitions to go even farther eastward.
With this objective,Â Marcus Licinius Crassus, the Roman triumvir in 54Â BC, took the offensive against Parthia; his army, however, was routed atÂ CarrhaeÂ the following year. After this battle Mesopotamia was regained by the Parthians, but, apart from the ravaging of Syria (51Â BC), the threatened Parthian attack on the Roman Empire never materialized.
Finally, in southern Iran the newÂ dynastyÂ of the SÄsÄnians, under the leadership ofÂ Ardashir IÂ (reigned 224â€“241), overthrew the Parthian princes, ending the history of Parthia.
332 BC – 146 BC CARTHAGE Carthage was effectively a re-incarnation of the Phoenician trading empire. When the Phoenicians were defeated by Alexander the Great, Alexander’s army massacred most of the population (allegedly around 30,000 people) and only the rich and famous were able to buy their lives and freedom.
TheÂ cityÂ (in modern-day Tunisia, North Africa) was originally known asÂ Kart-hadashtÂ (new city) to distinguish it from the older Phoenician city ofÂ UticaÂ nearby. The Greeks called the cityÂ KarchedonÂ and the Romans turned this name intoÂ Carthago.
Originally a small port on the coast, established only as a stop for Phoenician traders to re-supply or repair their ships, Carthage grew to become the most powerful city in the Mediterranean before the rise ofÂ Rome.
The Carthaginians who arrived after the fall of Tyre drove the native Africans from the area, enslaved many of them, and exacted tribute from the rest. From a small town on the coast, the city grew to one of size and grandeur. Within one hundred years Carthage was the richest city in the Mediterranean.
The harbour was immense, with 220 docks, gleaming columns which rose around it in a half-circle, and was ornamented withÂ Greek sculpture.
As Carthage sought to expand it came into conflict with Rome leading to the three Punic Wars between the two empires.
The most famous episode in the Punic wars was during the Second Punic War when Hannibal invaded Rome over the Alps from the Carthaginian territories in Spain.
This second warÂ (218-202 BCE) was fought largely in northernÂ ItalyÂ as Hannibal invaded Italy from Spain by marching his forces over the Alps.
Hannibal won every engagement against the Romans in Italy but in the manner of the Greek general,Â Pyrrhus, suffered sufficient losses that he could not consolidate his victories and was forced to return home.
He was defeated by theÂ RomanÂ generalÂ Scipio AfricanusÂ at the Battle of Zama, in North Africa, in 202 BCE and Carthage again sued for peace.
The term pyrrhic victory comes from the episode involving Pyrrhus who defeated the Romans at Asculum in 279 BC but suffered such heavy losses he had to return to Greece.
Following the second Punic war, Carthage believed that once their reparations to Rome were paid they no longer owed the Romans anything. The Romans felt that Carthage should be obliged to bend to Roman will; so much so that the Roman Senator Cato the Elder ended all of his speeches, no matter what the subject, with the phrase, â€œFurther, I think that Carthage should be destroyed.â€
In 149 BC, Rome suggested just that course of action and theÂ Third Punic WarÂ (149-146 BC) began. The Roman generalÂ ScipioÂ Aemilianus besieged Carthage for three years until it fell. After sacking the city, the Romans burned it to the ground, leaving not one stone on top of another.
509 BC – 27 BC THE ROMAN REPUBLIC -Â During the early republic (fromÂ res publica, or â€œproperty of the people), the Roman state grew exponentially in both size and power.
Though the Gauls sacked and burned Rome in 390 B.C., the Romans rebounded under the leadership of the military hero Camillus, eventually gaining control of the entire Italian peninsula by 264 B.C.
The wars with the North African city ofÂ CarthageÂ (known as theÂ Punic Wars, 264-146 AD) consolidated Rome’s power and helped the city grow in wealth and prestige. Rome and Carthage were rivals in trade in the Western Mediterranean and, with Carthage defeated, Rome held almost absolute dominance over the region.
27 BC – 476 AD ROMAN EMPIRE -Â Few people need much of an introduction to the Roman Empire. Technically Rome had an empire long before scholars recognise the start of the Empire, proper, in 27 BC when Augustus the Great was formally crowned emperor.
Prior to Augustus’s crowning, Rome already had extensive territories gained both during the era of the Republic and after Julius Caesar became Dictator (technically he was never crowned Emperor).
Following theÂ BattleÂ of Actium in 31 BC, GaiusÂ OctavianÂ Thurinus,Â Julius Caesar‘s nephew and heir, became the first emperor of Rome and took the name Augustus Caesar.
Although Julius Caesar is often regarded as the first emperor of Rome, this is incorrect; he never held the title `Emperor’ but, rather, `Dictator’, a title the senate could not help but grant him, as Caesar held supreme military and political power at the time.
In contrast, the senate willingly granted Augustus the title of emperor, lavishing praise and power on him because he had destroyed Rome’s enemies and brought much needed stability.
Rome expanded massively under the so-called “five good emperors”. Between 96 and 180 AD, five exceptional men ruled in sequence and brought the Roman Empire to its height: Nerva (96-98),Â TrajanÂ (98-117),Â HadrianÂ (117-138),Â Antoninus PiusÂ (138-161), andÂ Marcus AureliusÂ (161-180).
Under their leadership, the Roman Empire grew stronger, more stable, and expanded in size and scope reaching it’s maximum extent and the height of power around 117 AD
From 376-382 AD, Rome fought a series of battles against invadingÂ GothsÂ known today as the Gothic Wars. At the Battle of Adrianople, 9 August 378 AD, the Roman Emperor Valens was defeated, and historians mark this event as pivotal in the decline of the Western Roman Empire.
Various theories have been suggested as to the cause of the empireâ€s fall but, even today, there is no universal agreement on what those specific factors were. Edward Gibbon has famously argued in hisÂ The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman EmpireÂ that Christianity played a pivotal role, in that the new religion undermined the social mores of the empire which paganism provided.
The Western Roman Empire officially ended 4 September 476 CE, when Emperor Romulus Augustus was deposed by the Germanic King Odoacer.
330 AD -Â 1453 A.DÂ – BYZANTIUMÂ After the fall of Rome the Eastern empire founded with Constantinople as it’s capital continued on. TheÂ Byzantine EmpireÂ was the continuation of theÂ Roman EmpireÂ in theÂ Greek-speaking, eastern part of the Mediterranean. Christian in nature, it was perennially atÂ warÂ with the Muslims.
The emperorÂ Constantine the GreatÂ (reign 306-337 CE) was one of the first to realize the impossibility of managing the empire’s problems from distantÂ Rome.
In 330 CEÂ ConstantineÂ decided to make Byzantium, which he had re-founded a couple of years before and named after himself, his new residence. Constantinople lay halfway between the Balkan and the Euphrates, and not too far from the immense wealth and manpower ofÂ Asia Minor, the vital part of the empire.
Most times the history of the Empire is divided into three periods.
The first of these, from 330 till 867 CE, saw the creation and survival of a powerful empire.
During the reign of Justinian (527-565 CE), a last attempt was made to reunite the whole Roman Empire under one ruler, the one in Constantinople. This plan largely succeeded: the wealthy provinces inÂ ItalyÂ and Africa were reconquered, Libya was rejuvenated, and money bought sufficient diplomatic influence in the realms of the Frankish rulers inÂ Gauland the Visigothic dynasty in Spain.
The refound unity was celebrated with the construction of the church of Holy Wisdom,Â Hagia Sophia, in Constantinople. The price for the reunion, however, was high. Justinian had to pay off the Sasanian Persians, and had to deal with firm resistance, for instance in Italy.
The second period in Byzantine history consists of its apogee. It fell during the Macedonian dynasty (867-1057 CE). After an age of contraction, the empire expanded again and in the end, almost every Christian city in the East was within the empire’s borders. On the other hand, wealthy Egypt and large parts of Syria were forever lost, and Jerusalem was not reconquered.
In 1014 CE the mighty Bulgarian empire, which had once been a very serious threat to the Byzantine state, was finally overcome after a bloody war, and became part of the Byzantine Empire. The victorious emperor,Â Basil II, was surnamedÂ Boulgaroktonos, “Slayer of Bulgars”. The northern border now was finally secured and the empire flourished.
Throughout this whole period the Byzantine currency, the nomisma, was the leading currency in the Mediterranean world.
Constantinople was the city where people of everyÂ religionÂ and nationality lived next to one another, all in their own quarters and with their own social structures. Taxes for foreign traders were just the same as for the inhabitants. This was unique in the world of the middle ages.
For its time, the Byzantine Empire was quite modern. Its tax system and administration were so efficient that the empire survived more than a thousand years.
The culture of Byzantium was rich and affluent, whileÂ scienceÂ and technology also flourished. Very important for us, nowadays, was the Byzantine tradition of rhetoric and public debate. Philosophical and theological discources were important in public life, even emperors taking part in them.
The third period saw a new Dynasty the Comnenes, come to power. This occurred after theÂ BattleÂ of Manzikert in 1071 CE. Here, the Byzantine army under the emperor Romanus IV Diogenes, although reinforced by Frankish mercenaries, was beaten by an army of the Seljuk Turks, commanded by Alp Arslan (“the Lion”).
After the battle, the Byzantine Empire lost Antioch, Aleppo, and Manzikert, and within years, the whole of Asia Minor was overrun by Turks.
During the succeeding years Constantinople was plundered by the Crusaders who, effectively considered the Greek Orthodox Church, which had split from Rome, as heretics. From that moment on Western monarchs controlled that part of the empire based on Constantinople while the Comnenes continued to rule in and around the Anatolian mini-states surroundingÂ Trapezus,Â while the Palaiologan dynasty ruled around Nicaea.
These two mini-Empires managed to survive largely because the Seljuk Turks suffered a defeat, in 1243 CE, in a war against the Mongols. The Palaiologans even managed to capture Constantinople in 1261 CE, but the Byzantine Empire was now in decline.
It kept losing territory, until finally the Ottoman Empire (which had replaced the Sultanate of Rum) under Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453 CE and took over government. Trapezus surrendered eight years later.
1206 AD – 1368 AD MONGOL EMPIREÂ -Â The creation of the Mongol Empire was largely driven by Genghis Khan (born Temujin in the 1160s). Genghisâ€s first efforts were to conquer all the Mongolian tribes, who had never come together as one people before.
Genghisâ€s strengths in making strong alliances and in military tactics soon saw him proclaimed Great Khan in 1206 by all the Mongol and Turkic peoples. From there, the Mongols struck out in every direction, east to Chinese lands and west to the Khwarazmian empire that spanned parts of Central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan and parts of Iraq.
Genghis Khan died of natural causes in 1227 while at war against the Tangut people in Xia (northwestern China).
The death of the Great Khan left the leadership role to Genghisâ€s son Ogedai, who ruled successfully from 1229 to 1241. Ogedai succeeded in expanding the empire even further into Russian territory in the west and into the Jin dynasty territories in China. Ogedai established the Mongolian capital of Karakorum in Mongolia, which became the seat of the empire.
Ogedaiâ€s death in 1241 led to succession struggles between Genghis Khan’s sons, a pattern for the empire from then untilÂ the election of the Mongke Khan, the son of Tolui Khan, Genghis’s youngest son. Under his rule the empire continued to expand, into Bulgaria, Eastern Europe and Iraq in the west and into Vietnam in the east.
Mongkeâ€s brother Halagu defeated and occupied Baghdad. Kublai, brother of Mongke and Halagu, campaigned in Song, the south China state. In 1260, after the death of Mongke, Kublai and Ariqboke, another brother, both claimed to be Great Khan. A war for succession ensued, which Kublai eventually won in 1264. By this time, the great Mongol Empire was weakening.
Mongkeâ€s brother Halagu defeated and occupied Baghdad. Kublai, brother of Mongke and Halagu, campaigned in Song, the south China state. In 1260, after the death of Mongke, Kublai and Ariqboke, another brother, both claimed to be Great Khan. A war for succession ensued, which Kublai eventually won in 1264. By this time, the great Mongol Empire was weakening.
Gradually, the Mongol empire broke up into four remaining empires: the Yuan of China, established by Kublai Khan, the Chaganate of Central Asia, the Ilkhanate of the Middle East and the Golden Horde of Russia
1300 AD – 1922 AD OTTOMAN EMPIRE -Â The Ottoman Empire was created by Turkish tribes inÂ AnatoliaÂ (Asia Minor) that grew to be one of the most powerful states in the world during the 15th and 16th centuries.
The Ottoman period spanned more than 600 years and came to an end only in 1922, when it was replaced by theÂ Turkish RepublicÂ and various successor states in southeasternÂ EuropeÂ and theÂ Middle East.
At its height theÂ empireÂ encompassedÂ most of southeastern Europe to the gates ofÂ Vienna, including present-dayÂ Hungary, theÂ BalkanÂ region,Â Greece, and parts ofÂ Ukraine; those portions of the Middle East now occupied byÂ Iraq,Â Syria,Â Israel, andÂ Egypt;Â North AfricaÂ as far west asÂ Algeria; and large parts of theÂ Arabian Peninsula.
The term Ottoman is a dynastic appellation derived fromÂ Osman IÂ (Arabic:Â UthmÄn), the nomadicÂ TurkmenÂ chief who founded both theÂ dynastyÂ and the empire about 1300.
The Ottomans originated from north-central Anatolia, now modern Turkey. Their expansion started with the decline of the Seljuk Turks from central Asia who had established a dynasty in Iran and Mesopotamia.Â Following the final Mongol defeat of the Seljuqs in 1293.
Osman, and his immediate successors, such as Orhan, concentrated their attacks on Byzantine territories bordering theÂ BosporusÂ and theÂ Sea of MarmaraÂ to the west.Â Starting in 1354, Orhanâ€s sonÂ SÃ¼leyman transformed Gallipoli, a peninsula on the European side of theÂ Dardanelles, into a permanent base for expansion intoÂ Europe
In 1361 the Ottomans captured Adrianople, the second city of the Byzantine Empire. RenamedÂ Edirne, the city became the new Ottoman capital, providing the Ottomans with a centre for the administrative and military control of Thrace. ByÂ 1389 the Ottomans controlled the whole of the Balkans, except Bosnia, Albania and Belgrade, following the defeat of the Serbs at Kosovo.
While the Ottoman Empire suffered numerous setbacks, including an interregnumÂ (1402â€“13), during which four of Sultan Bayezidâ€s sons competed for the right to rule the entire empire, it continued to expand reaching its zenith around 1683 having taken Constantinople in 1453.
Sometimes, when travelling, one comes across extraordinary and special places. In this particular case not just because the place is, in itself, extraordinary and special but because it was empty. As I walked through the streets of this long dead city, following the footsteps of people who live 2000 years ago, there was an utter stillness, amplified only by a very gentle breeze and the distant sound of goat bells.
There was, literally, not a single other person in the entire city. Even the ticket office was deserted. It was empty of tourists, of noise, of crowds, of a single reminder of the crowded world we live in. Despite this you have no sense of being in a tomb. On the contrary one has the sense of being surrounded, everywhere by the Lycians and memories of their lives.
Pinara was settled when a group if Lycians decided that Xanthos, the largest of the Lycian cities was becoming overcrowded. It’s about 20 kilometres as the crow flies from Xanthos. The place they chose is one magical location.
(For more detail about the Lycians read this post)
Drive up over the crest of the hill and the whole of Pinara is laid out before you. Not in the sense that you can see the remaining buildings but, there, laid out before you, and completely surrounded by escarpments, is the bowl, in the mountains, which the entire city sits.
It’s impossible to know what the city would have looked like in it’s heyday, whether it would have been largely devoid of trees, but today it’s an enchanted circular valley full of fallen buildings, great rock tombs and pines.
I arrived in Pinara, on December 5. It was a glorious winter’s day. Sunny. 20Âºc. To get there you drive up the valley below, turn off the sealed road and go a further 2 kms along a roughish dirt track.
From the car park it’s about 800 metres to the Roman theatre. Above along the main road through the city lie all the main buildings, or what are left of them, scattered in among the pines. And, surrounding the city, the famous rock tombs, some hundreds of metres up in the cliff faces.
At this time of year the sun never gets high and at 2 pm it is starting to dip towards the escarpments which surround the city. As you walk through the fallen stones the sun pierces through the surrounding pines which, themselves, are being stirred by the faintest of breezes. You have that sense that you sometimes get, in a suddenly deserted house or building, of the original inhabitants being just around the corner.
If you get a chance to visit this magical ancient city, do so. But go in winter or when there are few crowds.
The full set of images of Pinara and other Lycian Cities can be found below:
Travel gives you not only new landscapes but new eyes. Immerse yourself in different cultures and you cannot help but see things differently. This is blog not only about the places we visit and the cultures we experience but also about the good, bad and ugly we find along the way………
I was ripped from the Land of My Mother’s (Wales) at age three and dragged halfway across the world at age 3 months. This formative experience and 16 subsequent years moving from Thailand to Egypt to Iran to South Africa marked me for life – creating a never ending itinerant who has spent much of his life endlessly roaming from country to country and job to job.
â€œThe real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes,â€ according to Proust.
This blog is about those places, the travels and the people in those countries. It’s also about the anecdotes, the trials, the tribulations, the disasters. It’s also about the beauty of the places and people and the experiences of those places. The name of the blog comes from idiotic things that happen, the situations that people, both myself and others get themselves into.
In this blog you can find anecdotes, poetry, stories about trips, people and places, about culture, society, the environment including:
Did you notice that every Renault twelve in the known universe had disappeared? Are you worried that some black hole had appeared and was sucking matter into its vortex? You might be next? Fear Not. Every Renault 12 ever produced is, apparently, hanging out, doing its thing, in and around Fethiye, Turkey. The Black hole, if it exists, is disgorging matter in and around Fethiye.
So if your Renault 12 has gone missing – it’s in Fethiye. Having a good time like some sort of large gnome.
You know that feeling of something not being quite right? For example, you are driving along and a Renault 12 goes past. Odd you think, I could have sworn the last one was put to death in the 2000’s. After all they stop producing them in 1990 so even the youngest is 27 years old. But then another appears, then another. In fact a veritable plague of them.
So many, in fact, that I was forced to take photos just to prove the phenomenon. In just 30 minutes more than 60 Renault 12’s assaulted my senses. So bizarre was the congregation of Renault 12’s that I almost died taking photos of them, as I swerved to take another picture. There were so many Renault 12’s that within 30 minutes driving (yes, seriously) I managed to take 39 photos containing around 45 Renault 12’s.
And, mind you, this is not counting, at least, the same number which I couldn’t take photos of because I was going too fast, I was overtaking at the time, to do so required a death stop or u-turn in front of a truck, or the target car was hidden by a tractor or a similar large object.
In all, at least another 40 Renault 12s. So 85 Renault 12’s it total – & that’s just those visible. In 30 minutes, on a 20 kilometre stretch of road. Never mind the fact that I had to make a quick escape on numerous occasions when people set their dogs or guns on me because they saw me lurking taking photos of their Renaults, So I missed many opportunities to record and report on yet more Renault 12s.
If you work on the same principle as letters to politicians (they estimate for each letter of complaint another 100 people feel the same way) – then for each of those 85 Renault 12’s there are another 100 lurking, loitering and secreting themselves in the bush, on farms, up side streets. Up to no good. That’s 8500 Renault 12’s in 20 kilometres.
Extrapolate if you will. Let’s say in the 60 kilometres surrounding Fethiye there are 1000 kms of roads. That’s 425,000 Renault 12’s just within 60 kilometres of Fethiye. Never mind the rest of Turkey. Presumably all because one old bugger bought a Renault 12 around 1980 and it didn’t break down. So his brother bought one. And then 3 for the kids. And then the neighbours got in on the act. Eventually the entire town had Renault 12s. Like some sort of virus. Sheeplike impulses are strong, clearly.
Now we are not talking the odd dozen here, or even hundreds but thousands of cars. In fact pretty much, I reckon every Renault 12 ever produced is living quietly up some side lane in Anatolia. Or even more – perhaps there are also Renaults from some parallel French universe. They are scattered along every conceivable road for miles around, on every farm, driving along every freeway at 60 kms per hour. Not singly, but often in clusters like some sort of car cancer. In one case four in row parked, together, on the main road into Fethiye.
It’s some sort of febrile madness that has led Fethiyans to lust after a car that only French people and francophiles could love. The French made 2.8 million of the little buggers and about 2.79 million apparently exist in some sort of time warp near Fethiye.
These 27, plus, year old cars are not dying a quiet death curled up in some corner of a foreign field. No, they have been turned to every conceivable use. People transporters, farm cars, beasts of burden, jazzed up hipster machines. You name it. It’s here. In Fethiye. I kid you not.
Nothing: nothing to do, nothing to fix. No work to go to, no garden to tend. No meetings to go to, no dance classes…absolutely nothing to do except watch the world go by.
The local shops
Sun on the death of summer
It’s perhaps the greatest indulgence of travel, especially travel where you hang out in a place or places for a long time. Sit on the great meeting place of the Bosphorus, the great melting pot of Istanbul and watch the people and the ships go by.
One of the world’s busiest waterways
Between two continents
Such is my pleasure, at least for now. I can stand or sit in the autumn sun and watch the leaves fall. Watch the gardeners in Emirgan Park planting the bulbs for the Spring Festival. Just ahead a single worker is marking out into which areas which colour bulbs will go.
Sun on the death of summer
Planting out bulbs for Spring
Up the hill a couple are practicing for their wedding day, this coming weekend and the photographer is taking a few pre-wedding photos. Other wedding couples walk the paths.
The fishermen cast their lines as they do every day along the Bosphorus, hundreds of them line the water catching God knows what from the murky waters below.
No fish shall remain un-caught
Bosphorus jellyfish and other detritus
Between two continents
Into the distance a line of ships shimmies up the Bosphorus heading for the Black Sea just an hour away. At this time of day they are all heading north. In a few hours the line will reverse and head for the Mediterranean. Oil, bulk carriers, containers.
Just nearby a group of older homeless men are listening to four young Turks playing guitar and singing
Each five minutes a ship from a different country passes along the Bosphorus and under the bridges linking Europe and Asia while, if you stand and listen carefully, you will hear a dozen different languages in 30 minutes. The main road is a melee of traffic, Mercedes and BMWs mixing with the ubiquitous scooters. Traditional Turkish cafes sit just up the road from a mess of McDonalds and Starbucks. Across the road Ai Wei Wei is hanging out his latest exhibition in the local museum.
Last of the summer flowers
Down the main road to the Bosphorus
Ai Wei Wei doing his thing
The park is a blaze of autumn colours and sunlight peopled with walkers, sitters, basket ballers and the emptiness of the off-season, absent of tourists.
Sun on the death of summer
Turn left out of the park entrance and head down past old Ottoman buildings.
Just on the left part of that past is being redeemed – an old Ottoman building – forbidden from being knocked down is being renovated at huge expense. Right takes you up the cobbled street past the car wash and the hairdresser, along past the giant old plane trees and past a bit of the old Ottoman past boarded up and yet to be redeemed.
The past being redeemed
Cobbles and old planes
Old Ottoman – yet unredeemed
Finally the last 100 metres and it’s back to the flat. All in a walk of just a kilometre, easily strolled at quarter pace in just 30 minutes.
After 93 days, this is the last stage of my short European trip. I will hop on the ferry from Dubrovnik to Bari and then by train on up to Rome for my first visit to the Eternal City.
First, however, I must survive the trip to Bari, deck class. Travel terms are a bit like those used by real estate agents. When you buy a house (not that most people will ever be able to), you go out on the deck/verandah, tie yourself to the handrail, stand on it, peer through your binoculars at the tiny window of blue ocean and ask “Is that what you mean when you say ‘ocean glimpses'”. To which the real estate agent replies, “No that is what we call expansive ocean views”
Secondly, it’s definitely not classy. No, the words “airline” and “class” should never be uttered in the same breath. Similarly with “first class”. I mean, first? This is like offering someone a Big Mac and calling it gourmet food. It would only be gourmet if the only other choice were a turd sandwich.
Random Rome – 1 – round every corner a little treat
So it is with first class on airlines. It is only “first” in comparison with “economy” which, if we had truth in advertising, would be called “jail class”. You are effectively locked in for the term of your flight (life if you crash) and fed pigswill. Once imprisoned the jailers come around and give you orders in return for your $2,000. Seat upright, blinds up (or down), you can’t listen to that now, put that under your seat, do not leave your seat, don’t breathe out, prepare to die etc.
Whichever way you look at it flying is a turd sandwich, uncomfortable, evil smelling, bad for your digestion, your health, your wallet and your temper. And that’s before you board the plane.
Which, in a roundabout way brings me to “Deck Class” on ferries. In theory this means that you get a nice comfy reclining seat in which you can sleep. But, no. You get an unpleasant, uncomfortable, narrow, plastic lined seat, hard as rock which smells of the vomit from the last 20 passengers that had the misfortune to sit in that very seat.
Random Rome – 2 – No Roman was ever too tiled to build a fountain
So every passenger who is in “Deck Class” knows they have two choices. They can literally sleep on the deck or they can compete for the ten comfortable spots in the bar where you can stretch out and there are cushions. Even here, the ferry owners have attempted to ensure no one gets a good sleep by putting up little separators on each lounge just where your knee or shinbone would be if you were to fully stretch out. So you are forced to sleep partially in foetal position.
But before you get to enjoy this luxury seating, however, you must race up the boarding ramp and fight off your fellow deck passengers who, when you beat them to the spot, will spend the rest of the trip trying to work out how they can pay you back by stealing your camera, iPad etc or by by infecting you with the Ebola virus they contracted in West Africa. Nevertheless anything is better than real deck class – unless you are carrying your own mattress around all of Europe, of course.
Unexpected explosions of old buildings on the new
It is a beautiful full-moon lit night as we leave Dubrovnik for Bari and we enjoy a smooth crossing to Bari arriving at 8 am. Bari is a well designed port, if you are a long distance walker. Â The ferries come in approximately 2 kilometres from the entrance to the port and the ticket offices. This makes a lot of sense to foot passengers with plenty of luggage who have to lug it the entire 2 kilometres. I am later informed that there was/is a shuttle bus – but in the form it appeared it was clearly wearing an invisibility shield.
I start walking but it’s already hot and after 500 metres I find myself opposite the street which goes to the train station – which is my destination. I can either walk the remaining 3.5 kilometres up and back to the street which, as the crow flies, is just 40 metres away or I can jump over the fence and risk getting either impaled or shot by trigger happy Italian Carabiniere.
The Pantheon. A little old building just around the corner from the……
This is Italian humour at its best. “They” made jokes for 20 years (until it became politically unacceptable) about Italian tanks with one forward gear and ten reverse gears. So we, Italians, will make the foreigners unnecessarily walk for kilometres with a 20 kilo bag.
I examine the 3 metre high metal fence with a view to climbing it. It appears that someone has filed ever point on fence to a razor tip, presumably anticipating just such a plan.
“Luigi, what are you doing, today?”
“Please go and sharpen our fence”
“But Paolo, I only did that yesterday”
“Yes but the three tourists who were impaled yesterday, on one of them the points didn’t penetrate entirely through their body”
Around the corner from the….Largo de Torre Argentino & the Fountain of Trevi
Nevertheless I find a relatively hidden spot where the columns and adjacent trees make climbing and descending relatively easy and not withstanding the imagined fusillade of shots from the guards, two minutes later I find myself on the other side of the fence.
Two hours later I am on my way to Rome on high speed train. I shall be staying with my friend, Mike Krockenberger, from day 2 onwards, but the first night I at an AirBnB about 15 minutes from the station. Because I am much later than anticipated, mine host has taken himself off to work at his restaurant.
I am stranded outside the flat, Idiot Traveller, style. I have no way to contact him because my phone has gone flat. My only option is the grocer’s opposite. It turns out, in due course, that the shop owner has a highly honed skill in deduction. Strange tourist comes in pointing at the phone and gesticulating at the tower block opposite but he does not deduce that this is the person for whom his mate Alessandro has left the keys.
…….Which are around the corner from the Italian Parliament, the Egyptian Obelisk of Montecitorio (every city must have one) and Aurelio’s Column…and just before you get to…..
Eventually I get to make a call at which point mine host tells me he has left the keys in the grocery shop opposite and asks to speak to the owner. Now, I’m not one to judge but I feel the shop owner was lacking a little in his use of grey matter.
Day 1 in Rome starts with a 3 kilometre walk up the banks of the Tiber, crossing at Garibaldi Bridge, and then on a standard tourist track up around the Largo di Torre Argentina, the purported site of the assassination of Julius Caesar, , then on to the Pantheon, passing in front of the Montecitoreo Palace, home of the Italian Chamber of Deputies. Immediately adjacent is the Marcus Aurelius ColumnÂ dedicated, of course to yet more wars waged by the powerful using the bodies of the poor as cannon fodder. From here the Fountain of Trevi is a mere 200 metres away.
The fountain was originally the “terminus” of the Acqua Vergine one of theÂ aqueductsÂ that supplied water to ancient Rome. Nowadays it is the home of a never ending infestation of tourists who come not only look at, to give it its due, what is a pretty spectacular fountain Â but also to throw coins into the fountain. The Fountain is best avoided except at quiet times.
Trajan’s Market and Trajan’s column
An estimated 3,000Â EurosÂ are thrown into the fountain each day.Â In 2016, an estimated US $1.5 million was thrown into the fountain. The money has been used to subsidise a supermarket for Rome’s needy;Â however, there are regular attempts to steal coins from the fountain although it is illegal to do so. The coin throwing is based on two myths. The first is that the throwing of a coin from the right hand over the left shoulder will ensure thatÂ you will return to RomeÂ in the future.
The second legend was the inspiration behind the film “Â Three Coins in the Trevi Fountain“. This legend claims that you should throw three coins into the fountain. The first coin guarantees your return to Rome, the second will ensure a new romance, and the third will ensure marriage.
This is, of course, another Italian joke because you will, for certain, be required to return to Rome when your romance has ended and your marriage has crashed and burned. All you will get for your coin is heartbreak and having to endure the crowds in Rome for a second time.
From the Fountain of Trevi it’s less than a kilometre down to the Roman Forum and Trajan’s market which was the Roman equivalent of Walmart with over 150 shops.
The world renowned symbols of ancient Rome are, of course, not to be missed but for me the real charm of Rome are the myriad and random bits of ancient Rome on which one stumbles in places one would least expect them. Columns emerging from the side of modern buildings, bits of ancient wall tacked onto apartment building, Roman era drinking fountains still operating today and a thousand other surprises.
Random Rome – just outside Mike’s flat someone scattered an old arch and a bit of wall
It’s around these areas too that you get to enjoy many of city buskers – most of which or whom are incredibly talented such as the Cocktail Band who were playing next toÂ Trajan’s column.
In the afternoon I head over to Mike Krockenberger’s flat. He has spent the last two summers here having found that his health is much better in Europe than it has been in Australia. His flatmate is away working so I get to stay in the spare room. In hindsight this turns out to be a mistake since my minor cold turns into major health trauma for Mike and pretty much knocks him out for a week – including his planned trip away.
Mike spends two days chaperoning me around Rome before I nearly kill him with the dreaded lurgy. Â I am as always a grateful guest.
Our first walk takes us around Rome by night. As mentioned, in other posts about this trip, night time tourism is always a good choice in busy tourist spots. The floodlit buildings are beautiful, the other tourists have dematerialised, it’s cool and you can enjoy the beauty and culture unhurried and un-harried.
Rome by night: Capitolini Hill, museums and steps and Septimus Arch
We descend via the remains of Nero’s Palace and then on to the Colosseum. Nero’s Palace stands on the ancient Palatine and Esquiline Hills. Here my erstwhile tour guide informs me that these giant mud brick remnants of Nero’s Palace and the stone exterior of the Colosseum were not always so. He also tells me that the Colosseum is not named the Colosseum because of its size but because it originally stood next to a giant statue of Nero – the area being named after the statue.
Originally most Roman palaces and the Colosseum were covered with marble and/or mosaics etc. But Nero’s successors and, later, the Catholic Church stripped all these buildings of their marble for use elsewhere.Â Because Nero was so hated his Golden House was a severe embarrassment to his successors. So after his death it was stripped of its marble, its jewels and its ivory within a decade. As for the Colosseum, you can see the holes on it where the marble was removed.
It’s very appropriate of course that some of the major Catholic buildings in Rome utilised stone stripped from the buildings of one of the bloodiest of emperors. From the butchers of empire to the butchers of religion.
Some old building from which the Catholics flogged the marble fascias – you can see where the marble fascias were, allegedly, attached as shown by the holes in the stone at right
The palace and grounds, encompassing 2.6Â kmÂ², were filled with earth and built over: theÂ Baths of TitusÂ were already being built on part of the site in 79 AD. On the site of the lake, in the middle of the palace grounds,Â VespasianÂ built theÂ Flavian Amphitheatre, which could be re-flooded at will, with theÂ Colossus NeronisÂ beside it.
TheÂ Baths of TrajanÂ and theÂ Temple of Venus and RomeÂ were also built on the site. Within 40 years, the Golden House was completely obliterated, buried beneath the new constructions, but paradoxically this ensured the famous wallpaintings’ survival by protecting them from dampness.
For centuries, so well did the later Emperors obliterate all sight of Nero’s Palace, most of it was buried and remained “undiscovered”. It wasn’t until the 15th century when a young Roman inadvertently fell through a cleft in theÂ EsquilineÂ hillside and found himself in a strange cave orÂ grottaÂ filled with painted figures that the rooms of the ancient palace were rediscovered. Soon the young artists of Rome were having themselves let down on boards knotted to ropes to see for themselves.
Building on the left: home of some mystic whose followers have been stealing and buggering children for centuries; on the right home of some old emperor (artist’s impression of Nero’s Palace) – who did the same to half the citizens of the ancient world, if not always literally.
Today the site is a part of an extraordinary effort at restoration involving the removal of thousands of tonnes of covering earth and replacing it 3 metres above where it is now, with a subsurface infrastructure designed to seal off the underground architecture from moisture and regulate temperature and humidity.
The ultimate aim is to conserve the Domus Aurea and its ornamentation, removing salts, mineral deposits, fungal growths, and pollutants that are destroying the frescoes that still cover more than 300,000 square feetâ€”the area of 30 Sistine Chapels.
From here we go up over Capitoline HillÂ where you can check out the square and buildings, including the Capitoline Museums which are, in fact, a single museum containing a group of art andÂ archeologicalÂ museumsÂ inÂ Piazza del Campidoglio, the designs for which were created by Michaelangelo.
Rome by night. The Roman forum (top), Trajan’s market and the wolf with Romulus and Remus
From here it is down to the Roman Forum, up past Trajan’s column and Market and back to home. This little walk which takes little more than an hour or two passes not only those buildings but Constantine’s Arch, the Circus Maximus and the Roman Forum including Septimus’s Arch. A quite extraordinary circuit of some of the Europe’s greatest antiquities in just four kilometres.
The following morning I repeat my trip around the area we visited past Nero’s little pied-Ã -terre and round the Colosseum. At 7 am there is already a queue 30 metres long in front of the Colosseum even though it doesn’t open until 8.30 am. The entrance to the excavations under Nero’s Palace are closed but it’s easy to climb over for a quick look around the area above the work area. Not a lot to see but important to look just because they don’t want you to (yes I know, what if ALL tourists did this. Well they won’t).
Mike joins me later in the day for a visit to the Vatican, the source of a quarter of the world’s suffering, with the remaining 75% of its suffering emanating from Mecca and various political capitals around the world. Mike and I decide not to go inside since a goodly proportion of the population of Rome is already resident in long queues in their desire to see how the church of the poor and oppressed has transformed itself into a symbol of wealth, corruption and oppression.
This is the 15th and final part of the blog series â€œ97 Days Adrift in Europeâ€. Links to other episodes and related content can be found below:
I leave Budapest on one of the few rainy days of the trip, so far. And on a day that turns out to very Australian, based on the efficiency of my transport choice.
As you head south the trains head south too. Slower, rattlier, fuller. The reclining seats, the speed, the power sockets all disappear. The restaurant car feels like a bit of an old 1950s film with the red velvet seats and the full meals for less than $10.