Category Archives: Places
What if we throw into the mix the names Bomilcar, Hasdrabul, Hamilcar and Terrence?
If you’ve got the answer, well done!
One could say that geographically and historically Carthage has been always the bridesmaid…but never the bride.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves; let us begin at the beginning.
Though practical metals were far from the be-all-and-end-all of Carthaginian trade.
Their immense fleets (both trade and naval) saw them wheel and deal in lead, stones, garum (a salty fish sauce used as a condiment), fish, skins, hides, ivory, salt, exotic animals, timber, textiles, glass, pottery, wine, gold and the pound-for-pound most valuable commodity of the ancient world, purple dye.
Well, first it gained its independence from the Phoenicians around 650 BC.
Though the fledgling state seems to initially have been governed along monarchical lines, there is evidence for an advanced and sophisticated political system via the adoption of an oligarchic constitution by the sixth century BC.
But it was the fascination with Sicily that set Carthage on an inevitable crash course with the Greeks, themselves keen to expand their sphere of influence into what became known as Magna Graecia.
This now quintessentially Italian isle was anything but in the ancient world and for 200 years (from the fifth century BC onwards) it set the stage for a tit-for-tat war between the Greeks and Carthaginians.
Indeed, Greek mistakes were often at the heart of Roman expansion.
What happened next is well known: The Punic Wars, Hannibal and his elephants, initial success, and ultimate failure.
Rarely does history roll over the points in such a clear and stark fashion, but this is one moment we can pinpoint and say from here on in… Europe had Africa in its thrall.
Overlooked, undervalued, and a postscript to the main attraction… even so, Carthage somehow survived the sword and salt of Rome.
True, it may have had little in the way of original and distinctive art as well as a pagan pantheon that was derided by contemporaries (for its practice of child sacrifice). Nonetheless, it is well worth more than a mere fleeting thought.
Two issues rise starkly out of the noble intentions of our forefathers; the system… and the results.
But let’s deal with the latter first; to see if any means can justify such ends!
Despite this technical independence, Athenian democracy did little to cover itself in glory… even when its self-determinism was tangible rather than merely theoretical.
It is this state-sanctioned murder of one of the first great minds of our culture that forever leaves Athenian democracy with an indelible stain.
But can the means do much to exonerate such rancorous ends? Well… you be the judge.
The Nuts and Bolts
Athenian democracy evolved as any ‘work in progress’ democracy should and as such the citizens contributing to the various bodies of state had sometimes more and sometimes less involvement/power at different times.
Despite its selectively egalitarian nature, the referendum-style Assembly was by no means a political free-for-all. The business of the day was dictated by the Council (boule). This 500 strong body was the nearest thing that Athens had to an executive or cabinet.
One of which was the courts. 6,000 judges were appointed a year and they would congregate in the agora to be assigned trials for the day.
The day-to-day running of the mundane affairs of state was in the hands of the 1,200 archai. 1,100 of these former-day civil servants were chosen by lot with a further 100 being voted for by the Assembly. Only those voted in could hold the same office twice (with the exception, by numerical necessity, of those who went into the boule).
The only offices not attainable by lot were the 10 associated with the armed forces. Consequently, these generals (strategoi) were the only people who could hope to carve out a political niche for themselves.
The democrats of Athens believed that demokratia was intrinsically bound to liberty and equality; they defined the terms thus:
Liberty = the ability to live as one pleased and the freedom to participate in politics.
Equality = the right to speak in the Assembly and the right to a fair trial.
Free-speech (parrhesia) was thought to underpin both of these. Though many critics have pointed out exercising this was precisely what cost Socrates his life.
Ultimately the question must be one of self-determinism; were the ancient Athenians content to preside over the first functioning democracy the world has ever known?
Well, the fact that they made Democracy a goddess in the 4th century BC certainly suggests they had strong feelings towards its retention. As does the fact that they relinquished it so very reluctantly.
“I recall the astonishment with which I first noted the unique position of Sparta amongst the states of Hellas, the relatively sparse population, and at the same time the extraordinary power and prestige of the community. I was puzzled to account for the fact. It was only when I came to consider the peculiar institutions of the Spartans that my wonderment ceased.”-Xenophon (Polity of The Lacedaemonians)
Xenophon begins his examination with the topic of child bearing in the Spartan society. It was the aim of Sparta that all children be born healthy, strong, and grow up to be warriors.
The actual training of the Spartan youth was brutal, focusing on cultivating skills such as fighting, stealth, pain tolerance, as well as dancing, singing, and developing loyalty to the Spartan state. With the exception of the first born sons of the ruling houses, the young boys of Sparta entered into this training curriculum, known as Agoge, starting at the age of seven. They would train in the art of fighting for decades, eventually becoming reserve infantry at the age of eighteen, regular foot soldiers at the age of twenty, and eventually full Spartan citizens, with the rights to vote and hold office, at the age of thirty.
The specifics of the Agoge training are not clear. Xenophon does describe in some detail that young boys were not only allowed to fight, but were regularly encouraged to challenge each other to regular bouts.
“So they, the Lacedaemonians, visit penalties on the boy who is detected thieving as being but a sorry bungler in the art. So to steal as many cheeses as possible [off the shrine of Orthia] was a feat to be encouraged; but, at the same moment, others were enjoined to scourge the thief, which would point a moral not obscurely, that by pain endured for a brief season a man may earn the joyous reward of lasting glory.” -Xenophon (Polity of The Lacedaemonians)
Even today, while the rest of Italy is known for the widespread practice of folkloric rituals, the former lands of the Etruscans eclipse all in terms of superstitions and tales of witchcraft.
During the reign of the unknown “Monster of Florence” (1968 -1985), many Florentines, who inhabit the Etruscan heartland of Tuscany, took seriously the rumors that the serial killer was part of a wider network of Satanic witches and warlocks. Even the highly-publicized trial of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito in the ancient Umbrian city of Perugia (which the Etruscans called Perusna) included official accusations of sexualized Satanic rites.
Yet, despite this legacy, their language and origins are still up for debate.
Using this analogy, a small minority of Anatolian Lydians would have been at the top of Etruscan life in terms of politics, the arts, and religion, while leaving the rest of the populace indigenous.
(IMAGE: A recreation of the Egyptian relief showing Ramesses III battling the Sea Peoples in the Nile Delta)
(IMAGE: Golden griffins taken from the Regoloni-Galassi tomb)
Still, the major roadblock towards complete assurance is the mystery of the Etruscan language, which is a language isolate with only a paltry few documents left.
Etruscan clearly influenced Latin (the name Rome comes from the Etruscan “Ruma”) and its alphabet may have even been the foundation of the Runic alphabet of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples. The Roman subjection of the Italian peninsula, however, caused the sharp decline of not only the Etruscan language, but also its Raetic cousin.
“I don’t think there is any other field of human knowledge in which there is such a daft cleavage between what has been scientifically ascertained and the unshakeable beliefs of the public…”
What do we really know about Abraham?
But the question remains, why did Abraham’s family live in Ur and then eventually leave?
The answer is not simple or conclusive, and of course, while we can come up with many reasons, we’ll never know for certain. One possibility, however, as to why they went to Ur, only to later pack up and to head north, was due to the economy.
Overall, Ur-Nammu was the king of public works and restoration, which allowed the population to conduct business and to go about their lives without fear.
But there was one glitch.
What was once the function of the state was now, once again, in private hands, and out of the powers of Ur.
Consequently, the end of Ur finally happened around 2004/1940 BCE (depending on the chronology). It was officially all over when the Elamites and Amorites overran the Empire and dismantled it.