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The Battle of Nisibis: Parthia VS Rome

by on August 23, 2019

By Edward Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
The Battle of Nisibis (217 AD) was the last battle between the Roman and the Parthian Empire. They had battled each other regularly for almost three centuries. This two-day battle was a particularly brutal and bloody one.
Parthian horse archer

Parthian horse archer

The Background to the Battle of Nisibis
Caracalla was one of the bloodiest tyrants ever to rule Rome. He murdered his own brother and massacred the inhabitants of Alexandria. He was possibly mad and believed himself to be a second Alexander the Great. In 216 AD Parthia was convulsed by a civil war between King Atrabanus V and his brother. Caracalla decided to take advantage of this, to seize more territories. He first cunningly offered to marry the daughter of Artabanus V, but the Parthian monarch rejected his proposal.

Aristophanes’ The Frogs: A Way to Stop a War?

by on August 21, 2019

By Jocelyn Hitchcock, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
The Frogs, an ‘old’ comedy play by Aristophanes, was performed in 405 BCE at the Lenaia festival of Dionysus. With the Peloponnesian War raging on, plays of the time had a tendency to deal with saving the state, matters of right and wrong, and background events of the war itself. Writers focused on political themes, pushing the idea that a poet has the ability to save the state from war.
Illustration of the Peloponnesian War

Peloponnesian War, where Athens suffered tragic defeat

The Plot of Aristophanes’ The Frogs
Originally disguised as Heracles, the god Dionysus ventures down to the underworld to seek out Euripides, the tragic poet who had died in the previous year. Against the backdrop of war, Dionysus thinks that Euripides is the only one who can safe Athens from itself. Dionysus crosses the lake with Charon while debating with a chorus of frogs along the way.

What is an Educated Person?

by on August 20, 2019

What is an educated man?
This a dear reader wrote in to ask us, and I feel it is an excellent question. One, I’d like to present to you, and to the wider Classics community.
Of course the ancient Greeks and Romans had strong feelings on the subject. Many of the most famous schools in history were formed in ancient Athens, presided over by famous philosophers.
Mosaic of the Philosophers

Plato’s Academy mosaic (from Pompeii)

Plato’s Academy is often considered the first institution of higher learning in Europe, and there, students would have studied philosophy, mathematics and scientific endeavors. Aristotle’s Lyceum likewise holds a honorable ‘educated’ position in history. A more structured set up, the Lyceum consisted of lessons, lectures and cooperative research. Students were assigned historical or scientific research projects as part of their studies, the results of which contributed to Aristotle’s library.

Agamemnon and The Cursed House of Atreus

by on August 18, 2019

Agamemnon, was the first of a trilogy of plays (the Oresteia), performed back to back during the Great Dionysia of 458BC; it focused on two generations of ‘The Cursed House of Atreus’. Regular readers will be well-aware of the bad blood flowing through, and often out of, the members of this unfortunate dynasty.
Agamemnon and The Cursed House of Atreus

The Cursed House of Atreus

Tantalus (grandfather of Atreus) founded this woeful household of parricide, infanticide, cannibalism, incest and hubris. His sins that doomed his descendants? Not merely stealing from the gods, but also serving them his murdered son, Pelops for dinner.
His punishment? Eternal hunger and thirst in the darkest recesses of the underworld (Tartarus) and a bloodline with filth in its veins.
Aeschylus‘ trilogy begins three generations later. By its end, the family’s seemingly perpetual cycle of hubris and nemesis, sin and vengeance, betrayal and blood will have drawn to a close.

The Machine Gun of Ancient Greece

by on August 16, 2019

By DHWTY, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
The polybolos (which may be translated literally as ‘multiple thrower’) was a type of weapon used in the ancient world. The polybolos has been described as a sort of ballista / catapult that was capable of firing several projectiles before needing to be reloaded. That’s why it’s sometimes referred to as an ancient machine gun.
Polybolos: Improving on the Catapult
Whilst the catapult was likely to have been used since the 9th century BC (based on a relief from Nimrud), it was during the 4th century BC that the catapult began gaining popularity throughout the Mediterranean. In the Greek world, early catapults were large bows that relied on winches to draw the weapon back for firing. It may have been during the time of Philip II of Macedon (the father of Alexander the Great) that tight bundles of sinew / rope that functioned as ‘springs’ were used to replace the bow arms of the catapult. These catapults relied on torsion to fire their projectiles, and could either be used to fire arrows, like their predecessors, or be modified so that heavier projectiles, such as stones, could be hurled at enemy defenses.

The Battle of Adrianople

by on August 14, 2019

By Edward Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
The Battle of Adrianople (378 AD) was one of the most important battles in ancient history. It was one of Rome’s greatest defeats and left an Emperor missing, presumed dead… it was the beginning of the end of an empire.
Roman Infantryman

Re-enactor dressed as a 4th-century Roman infantryman.

Background to the Battle of Adrianople
The Roman Empire was already greatly weakened by the death of the Emperor Julius, the Apostate in Persia. When Valentinian became Emperor, he was able to stabilize the situation. He then appointed his brother, Valens (328-378), to be the ruler of the Roman East, despite the fact that was not an able soldier. Indeed, he once nearly resigned in a panic during a revolt! Valentinian died of a stroke in 375 AD and left the Western Empire to his son Gratian. It was at this moment that a crisis developed on the Danuban frontier.