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The Dual Monarchy of Sparta

by August 9, 2016

By Julia Huse
When it comes to Ancient Greece I am particularly
spartaSpartan Warrior
fond of Athens. As the birthplace of democracy, the epicenter of Greek tragedy, and the intellectual hub of the classical age, Athens had a lot going for it.
Today, however, we look elsewhere. Classical Athens, after all, wasn’t the only place where new and dramatic changes were taking place.
You might be familiar with Sparta, the intensely militaristic city-state of the Ancient world made famous by the movie 300.
Imagine if the United States Marine Corp founded and governed their own country.
That would be Sparta…
Key players in the Greco-Persian War, we often admire Sparta for its toughness and courage. With a focus on its military, however, we hardly ever hear about its government. This is a real shame because Sparta had its own unique political system with two, count them, two kings sitting on the throne at once.
In his Histories, Herodotus explains to us how this dual kingship came about. A Spartan king named Aristodemus had twin sons. Almost immediately after the two boys were born Aristodemus croaked. The Spartans were then faced with a dilemma; who was going to be Aristodemus’ successor? The Spartans wanted to make the older of the twins the new king, as was custom, but the two boys were so “alike and equal” that they could not determine which of the two was the older twin. The Spartans then turned to the mother of the twins, Argeia, who told the Spartans that she couldn’t even tell them apart. This was a lie. She knew which of the two was older but she wanted both her sons to become king.
Better Ask the Oracle
So the Spartans, not sure what to do, did what any good city-state would do at the time: ask the oracle at Delphi.
When they asked the Pythia (for those who don’t know the Pythia was the priestess at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi who gave the oracle), she told the Spartans to make both the boys king. From that point on the Spartans had two kings, one from the lineage of each twin. As the twins grew up they were in constant competition with each other, which then became an important part of the dual kingship.
Power with Limits
These kings were equal in every sense. Both kings dealt equally in the matters of religion, laws and military. Over the years, however, the say that the two kings had in these matters dwindled. By the 5th century BC most of their judicial duties had been handed over to the ephors, a democratically elected group of law makers, and the gerousia, a group of 28 elders elected for life normally part of royal households. Even though their judicial power had been reduced, the kings still held a decent amount of military power.
Either king could lead armies in to war with the approval of certain councils, but it was not permitted for both the kings to lead an army at the same time. One king always had to remain in Sparta in order to prevent anarchy, or the ever-frequent helot (slave) uprising.
A Modern Revival?
The idea of monarchy in Sparta was clearly very complicated. Not only does the “mono” part of monarchy not really apply to their dual kingship, but also the power of these kings were closely regulated and controlled by other councils in their government. This rather odd form of monarchy was somewhat genius in its own way though. Not only did these kings have two councils to check their power, the competition between the two kings kept them in line as well.
The kings held opposing opinions on issues, thus providing a voice for citizens on either side of the issue. Also, making one king always remain in the city ensured order and calm for the Spartans even in times of war. The nature of the two councils also had added benefits. The relative permanence of the gerousia provided stability in their government while the annually elected ephors allowed the Spartans to have a voice in their government.
This whole system seems very similar to the perfect government described by Cicero in his De Re Publica with its mixture of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. Have we been so distracted by democratic Athens that we’ve missed the odd genius of the Spartan political system?
Now, I’m not calling for a modern revival. I’m not saying that the United States, just as an example, should elect two presidents. Put Hillary AND The Donald in office; let them sort it out amongst themselves.
Yeah…that would work.
But for the ancient Spartans, it DID work, for a while at least.
The next time you think of Sparta, put out of your mind the image of behemoth warriors in leather speedos. Instead, perhaps remember the ancient Spartans as innovative, dare we even say revolutionary, political thinkers.

Carthage: Always the bridesmaid

by January 2, 2015

By Ben Potter
What do Spain, Portugal, Malta, Gibraltar, Libya, Morocco, Italy and France have in common?
Weather… perhaps. Food… some. Sea? Ah! Now we’re warming up!

What if we throw into the mix the names Bomilcar, Hasdrabul, Hamilcar and Terrence?

If you’ve got the answer, well done!

If you haven’t, then it’s probably because I’ve been tricky, having omitted the key place, person and animal associated with this land; they are Tunisia, Hannibal and the elephant, respectively.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, today we will be looking at that erstwhile champion of the Mediterranean, the forgotten superpower of the ancient world, Carthage!
The inhabitants of this land, originally a large peninsula which washed into the gulf of Tunis, often have to play second, or indeed third fiddle, in the annals of history to their Greek and Roman neighbours.
It is perhaps a quirk of geography that casts Carthage in shadow. While the Hellenes and the Latins understandably dominate proceedings, ancient-lovers’ who are drawn towards Africa are normally met with pyramids, sphinxes, and the hypnotic eye of Ra.
This rings more true when combined with the fact that this impressive society never quite managed to become truly imperious… though they often came close.

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.

Legend has it that Carthage was founded out of the Phoenician stronghold of Tyre (in Lebanon) in the latter part of the ninth century BC.
Phoenician ship
Archaeological verification is yet to be made within a century of the date, but the influence of those great Semitic traders and seamen, the Phoenicians, is certain.
Less so is the idea that Carthage’s first ruler was the mythical and tragic queen Dido.
Whatever her origins, Carthage became an essential port, first rivalling, and then outstripping, its motherland. This was due to its fine farmland, two excellent harbours, important strategic position and judicious buying and selling of commodities from as far afield as Britain and the Canary Islands.
Its trade of precious Iberian metals, and especially its monopoly of tin ore, meant that…ahem…unalloyed wealth streamed into the colony. Indeed, without this booming industry the Bronze Age might have existed in only a nominal sense.

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.

Carthage Reconstruction
Thus Carthage was not merely the marketplace of the Mediterranean, it was the very conduit from which other cities were able to become cosmopolitan.
Though loyalists might baulk at the suggestion that, without trade, Carthage would have been nothing, we can confidently state that no other ancient civilization (and perhaps no modern – discuss!) was so dependent on foreign commerce as was this one.
But just how, as they were initially in the thrall of Tyre, did Carthage manage to manoeuvre itself into a position to be a major Mediterranean player?

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.

However, the break from their Phoenician forefathers (who were being overrun by the Persians) was not merely a functional or symbolic one; this was not a simple taxation vs. representation equation.
What occurred would have been the equivalent of the 1776 United States of America becoming lord and master of parts of India, Canada, South America and Africa!
Map of Carthage Empire
Yes, with an unfettered vim, Carthage went about exerting hegemony over the key Tyrian trading posts and colonies of the Mediterranean basin. The effect of which was not merely the establishment of a trading realm, but of a full-blown (and capital-lettered) Empire!
Indeed, by 509 BC Carthage’s rampages forced Rome to sign a treaty recognising that these seafaring swashbucklers had control over both Sardinia and Sicily.
With regards to the inland areas of Africa, the Carthaginians (generally) made peaceful treaties with the indigenous peoples therein. It is quite likely such pacts were eagerly signed as Carthage had enough coin to hire half the mercenaries of Europe and decimate the African hinterland… should she have wished to do so.

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.

Carthage was peerless in naval terms, but its small native population necessitated an overreliance on mercenaries. For whatever reason, these swords-for-hire never quite managed to overwhelm or intimidate the Greeks into submission.
Susceptibility to plague and a formidable opposition meant that Carthage, though never losing its foothold in the West of the island, by equal measures, never managed to drive the Greeks into the sea.
This centuries-long stalemate not only cost both sides time, men and money, but it had another effect. It allowed the Roman Republic to slowly blossom into a major player while their two most likely rivals slugged it out down south.

Indeed, Greek mistakes were often at the heart of Roman expansion.

Pyrrhus of Epirus
The most famous example is Pyrrhus, king of Epirus and Macedon (remembered today though the expression ‘a pyrrhic victory’), who looked to expand his empire.
He assaulted Rome and Sicilian Carthage, which briefly made the two states allies to counter his machinations (to the Carthaginians eventual downfall). His failure gave Rome the casus bellum to assimilate the Greek portion of the Italian peninsula.
This meant that when Carthaginian ships were stationed in the stretto di Messina (between Italy and Sicily), Rome’s newly swollen boundaries were suddenly under threat.

What happened next is well known: The Punic Wars, Hannibal and his elephants, initial success, and ultimate failure.

Battle of Zama
The battle of Zama (202 BC) between Hannibal and Scipio Africanus was a catastrophic defeat for the Carthaginians. Rome was on the path to greatness, while Carthage, a forlorn and broken foe, was left to muse over that saddest of sad reflections: ‘it might have been’.
146 BC saw the annihilation of Carthage, its earth salted, and its population enslaved or massacred. Crucially for the fate of world history, this meant that Rome was now the dominant force in the region, with a greatly expanded empire and without any serious military rivals.
Though it is never expedient to play ‘what if…’ in such situations, it is a simultaneously sobering and humbling thought to think that Western civilization may have hinged on the outcome of this moment.

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.

Decline of Carthage
Though that’s not to say this was quite the end of Carthage; it’s difficult to keep a good people down after all. Like the proverbial phoenix, Carthage rose again, albeit under the auspices of Rome.
The age of emperors saw a renaissance in the colony with Augustus (understandably shy of tempting fate in Egypt) making it the base for his proconsul to Africa.
As Africa was swelling the Empire’s breadbasket, providing it with a vital corn supply, Carthage became more and more important. Within 200 years, it was second only to Rome itself in the western Mediterranean.
In addition, the great city became a bastion of both education, producing or polishing great orators and lawyers, and of Christianity. The bishop of Carthage was Rome’s number two (at least according to the man himself).

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.

Through us, Carthage lives on… and will continue to do so as long as men and women through the ages occasionally rise a glass and a smile to the bridesmaid who never quite got the breaks to become a bride, but without whom the wedding would hardly have been worth attending.

Athenian Democracy

by September 11, 2014

By Ben Potter
Athens, July 514 BC. Two of Athens’ most disgruntled sons, Harmodius and Aristogeiton become forever known as ‘The Tyrannicides’. With their swords plunged into the Tyrant Hipparchus, these two soon-to-be martyrs become the symbol of Athenian democracy.
Harmodius and Aristogeiton
This is because these brave men’s actions paved the way for Athens to unfetter herself from oppression and tyranny. Her screaming infancy was at an end; it was finally time for the demos (people) to unleash their kratos (power).
So harmony and joy ensued in what was now the cradle of democracy?
Not at all.
Not even slightly.

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!

Athenian democracy, despite a couple of interruptions and renaissances, is generally agreed to have reigned supreme from 508-322 BC.
Those who know their important dates will see an instant red flag; didn’t KING Alexander the Great die in 323 BC? How could Athens remain an independent, democratic state while under the yoke of Macedonian imperialism? A very intelligent question; you should congratulate yourself for asking it.
Whilst Athens remained a functioning democracy during the reign of Alexander the Great, it could not in all earnest be called independent. In other words, it was a democratic client kingdom that could have easily had its powers removed should they have been used ‘irresponsibly’ (c.f. American involvement in Guatemala, Iran, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and even Greece itself).

Despite this technical independence, Athenian democracy did little to cover itself in glory… even when its self-determinism was tangible rather than merely theoretical.

Peloponnesian War

For instance, the bloodthirsty rule of the people forced Athens to hubristically overstep her reach during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), which resulted in the temporary suspension of the democratic experiment. Importantly, it also seemed suspicious of, and hostile towards, some of the greatest minds of that time.
Indeed, such was the poor judgement of the demos that it drove the city’s greatest commander (and lover), the legendary Alcibiades, to flee during the Peloponnesian War and take up residence with their antagonists, the Spartans.
It has been often speculated, and with much justification, that Alcibiades’ defection was the tipping point in the war.
However, national security was only one sphere in which the people strove to raise their own standing simply by reducing the mean quality of the demos as a whole. Art and philosophy were the chief victims of a short-sighted and covetous populace.
It’s thought that popular pressure and threat of persecution forced the tragedian Euripides to quit the city for a ‘retirement’ in Macedonia. Though some now dispute the veracity of such a story, the mere fact that it was popularly believed tells a tale in itself.
Death of Socrates
Aristotle, likewise, opted to jump before he was pushed into the next world. He was particularly concerned that the demos would condemn him to the same fate it bestowed upon Socrates.
Unlike the other three men mentioned above, Socrates was not merely chased out of town, but actually executed by a jury of 501 of his peers (greatly multiplying Herbert Spencer’s maxim that “A jury is composed of twelve men of average ignorance”).

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.

However, the really poignant thing about political participation is that it was a) assumed and b) direct.
It was taken for granted that men must not merely take an interest in or talk about politics, but perform actively within the political arena. Indeed, men who deliberately spurned politics were known as idiōtēs. While the world literally meant ‘one who minded his own business’, it was a term of the utmost disdain.
The idea that democracy was ‘direct’ meant that the votes in the Assembly (ekklêsia) were de facto referenda. Though minor votes seemed to be able to get through without much difficulty, major votes could only be passed if 6000 men were in attendance. Motions carried with a simple majority.
All free men over 18 could vote, but due to the two years of compulsory military service, political activity usually started at the age of 20. Women had to wait a bit longer… until 1952 in fact. However, this imbalance was slightly redressed by the fact that men had to be 30 in order to hold political office, sit on a jury or even table a motion!

The Boule

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.

Even if there was no guarantee that the Council would be selected judiciously, it was at least selected randomly. 50 members of each of the 10 Athenian tribes (demes) were appointed by lot to serve for a year with members from alternating tribes taking turns to lead the Council day-by-day.
The boule also had to maintain the fleet, liaise with the generals, entertain dignitaries, assess the competence of magistrates and handle the city purse. These last two responsibilities did, for a time at least, fall in part under the remit of other organs of state.

The Courts

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.

Private cases were overseen by either 201 or 401 judges and public cases by 501. Trials were supposed to be concluded by sunset, making jury tampering and corruption not only extremely costly, but logistically impossible.
The most serious public cases seem to have been political in nature and were brought against those charged with treason, corruption, or those who proposed unconstitutional legislation in the Assembly.
N.B. it didn’t matter if the legislation had passed the vote, the individual could still be tried, condemned and even executed for misleading the demos. The demos was always immune from any form of accountability, if it acted incorrectly it was always because it had been ‘misled’.

The Archai

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 Strategoi

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.

However, such an appointment was fraught with peril, as the demos was notoriously unforgiving of failure. The case in point being the 406 BC defeat at the battle of Arginusae. Six of the eight generals involved in this débâcle were tried en masse and executed, despite such a process being illegal.
The leader in charge of proceedings for the day of the vote was, amazingly (as it was random which citizen it could have been), Socrates. Despite refusing to allow an illegal vote to take place, the demos went ahead and committed collective treason against itself.
Some speculate that the enemies Socrates made on that day may have come back to haunt in him in 399 BC.

The Demokratia

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.

There was not even a suggestion of attempting to provide men with an equal social or financial status; democratic Athens was actually extremely snobbish and elitist.

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.

Critics have also claimed that, in order to financially sustain such a democracy, it was necessary for Athens to extend (and then overextend) her imperial reach. This included having a slave class whose ranks were swollen far beyond those of any of her close neighbours.
Additionally, as the demos could act with impunity, when mistakes were made – scapegoats needed to be found (e.g. the 6 generals or Socrates).
That said, this was a political system without entrenched parties. Indeed, it was with few factions of any sort, with minimal corruption and, most importantly, without any concept of lobbyists!
And we cannot deny that the democratic period gave us some of the most amazing tragedians, comedians, philosophers, architects, visionaries, historians and characters the ancient world ever produced.
Would we have had the Parthenon if not for Pericles and his building plan? Or Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes if theatrical festivals, competitions and prizes were not organised by the demos?
Also, perhaps that inevitable product of democracy, bureaucracy, is why this period of history is one with such relatively fine records. The importance of posterity was such that even the ignominy survives. Would a king or an oligarchy have been so transparent?

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.

One can imagine that, when the Macedonians wrenched democracy away from the clawing grasp of the demos, tear-drops, much like the blood from the Tyrannicides’ blades would have salted and stained the terrain at the foot of the Acropolis.

Spartan Training: Crafting Warriors Of Legend

by August 11, 2014

While the Spartans may not have been running laps around the Flatiron building with a kettlebell slung over their shoulder, they certainly did undergo some of the most intensive and brutal training of any civilization in ancient history.
SpartaThe Spartans, for whatever reason, wrote next to nothing of their culture, or if they did it has been lost. Almost all of what we know of the Spartan society comes from outside observers. And while many ancient authors make mention of the militaristic Lacedaemonians, it is Xenophon, a pupil of the philosopher Socrates, who associated most with the Spartans and, as a consequence, wrote extensively of the Spartan culture in his essay “The Polity of the Lacedaemonians”.
“The Polity of the Lacedaemonians”, sometimes referred to as “The Constitution of Sparta”, is most certainly an examination of Spartan culture at the height of supremacy. However, one might also mistake it as being a slight against other hellenic city states, including his own home-town, Athens.
He never comes right and shakes your shoulders, screaming “this is how it ought to be done!”. However, his admiration for Spartan society is so pronounced that one might find it difficult to keep in mind that Xenophon’s own birthplace, Athens, was undoubtedly Sparta’s bitterest rival.
Then again, it is possible that Xenophon’s bias might come from the fact that the Spartans took him in and granted him land after he had been exiled from Athens for associating with the Persian Empire and his support of the recently executed Socrates.
Whatever the reason for Xenophon’s admiration, there is no denying that “The Polity of the Lacedaemonians” is one of the most detailed descriptions of Spartan life. It lists the treatment of citizens, the education of children, and the duties of a warrior. And, at least according to Xenophon, the results seem to speak for themselves.

“I recall the astonishment with which I first noted the unique position[2] of Sparta amongst the states of Hellas, the relatively sparse population,[3] 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.

With this in mind, the Spartan women were treated with a level of equality that was unheard of in the days of ancient Greece. Rather than being confined to the household, Spartan women regularly competed in athletic competitions and trained, just as the men would, in a gymnasium. The idea behind such treatment is that in order to produce the best children, both the father and the mother must be healthy, fit, and strong.
When it came to the training of the children, Xenophon makes a point to mention that within most Greek city states it is common for individual children to be educated by a tutor, normally a slave owned by the father. For the Lacedaemonians, such a practice would be unthinkable.
Instead, the Spartan boys are taken en masse and assigned to a group of guardians and mentors known as Paidonomos, or “pastors”. The Paidonomos were selected from the most revered of the magistracies and were assigned by the Legislature of the city. They were given complete authority over the children of Sparta, often punishing them with lashings.
While we might frown on such a practice, the result, in the words of Xenophon, was that…
“…in Sparta modesty and obedience ever go hand in hand, nor is there lack of either.” -Xenophon (Polity of The Lacedaemonians)

XXXThe 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.

“Necessity, moreover, is laid upon them to study a good habit of the body, coming as they do to blows with their fists for very strife’s sake whenever they meet.”-Xenophon (Polity of The Lacedaemonians)
To develop a tolerance for pain, the Spartan youth were deprived of certain luxuries. For instance, during the Agoge, Spartan boys were never given shoes. In time, their feet would grow hardy and strong. It is reported by Xenophon that a barefooted Spartan soldier could outrun and out climb any other Greek citizen clad with shoes.
StatueAdditionally, the boys were given only one garment of clothing. They were regularly subjected to extreme cold, all while only wearing a single cloak. In this way the young soldiers would gain a tolerance to the elements.
They were given minimal food, not so little that they would ever suffer from the sharp pangs of hunger, but never enough that their body would be completely satisfied. This was, again, a way to condition the boys for the pains of hunger and allow them to fight all the more ferociously on an empty stomach.
If the boys wished to find meals outside of their mess halls, it was encouraged that they should steal food. This might seem strange. While the boys were encouraged to steal, they were also severely beaten if they were ever caught in the act. Xenophon rationalizes such a practice by saying that in this way those who lack proper stealth will be punished and learn to acquire their quarry more effectively.

“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[17]] 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)

And so the young Spartans were crafted and honed into some of the greatest warriors of the ancient world. They knew no other life than that of protecting the Spartan homeland and they sought no higher goal than an honorable death in service of Sparta.
It would have been unthinkable for a Spartan warrior to retreat while on the battlefield. As regular infantry, the soldiers would rather die in battle rather than face the shame of retreat in Sparta.
This tradition of bravery and ferocity in battle has recently been dramatized in popular media and has captured the imagination of modern society. For whatever reason, the ancient Spartans remain a topic of intense fascination. They lived according to a code of war. And whenever they entered battle, they knew that they would either return home carrying their shields, or else carried upon it.

The Mystery of the Etruscans

by June 6, 2014

By Benjamin Welton
“Etruria is the originator and mother of all superstition.”
This was stated by Arnobius the Elder, a Christian apologist living during the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian, who was a great persecutor of Christianity.
By “superstition” he meant the Etruscan religion, which, along with Greek, was the primary influence on Roman worship. Etruscan religious texts even outlived the general use of the Etruscan language. It was this regionally unique belief system that is whispered to have subtly influenced the early Christians of Italy.

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.

Despite the vast distance of time, Etruria, it seems, still remains the mother of superstition – both in the habits of the people… and their mysterious origins.
Nowadays, Etruria corresponds with the Italian states of Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio. Its name comes from the Greek and Latin word for its inhabitants – the Etrusci, though they are known today as the Etruscans.
For hundreds of years they were the predominate power in Italy and bequeathed to the later Roman Republic not only its founding myth (the Greco-Etruscan house of Tarquin and the legendary kings of Rome), but also much in the way of religion and scholarship. The Etruscans left an indelible mark on Roman history, and therefore a mark on the entirety of Western civilization.

Yet, despite this legacy, their language and origins are still up for debate.

The Etruscans

Many people maintain that the Etruscans were most likely an Eastern people transplanted to northern Italy due to a famine. The Greek historian Herodotus, who often interspersed mythology inside of nominal histories, wrote that the Etruscans originally came from Lydia, in Anatolia. Ancient Lydia was part of the Ionian Greek orbit, and the Indo-European Lydians, who are most commonly known to mythology enthusiasts by the Lydian king Croesus, were participants in the semi-historical Trojan War.
According to Herodotus (and later echoed by Virgil in the Aeneid), the forefathers of the Etruscans were led out of Lydia by the brothers Tyrrhenus and Tarchon. After arduous sailing, the siblings and their people eventually settled in northwestern Italy near the sea that still bears their name – the Tyrrhenian Sea.
During the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, the Etruscans established a league of twelve cities, which became the vehicle for greater Etruscan expansion in the Mediterranean. They were able to increase their power north, past the Po River, and south to Campania. Along the way, the Etruscans not only fought the Alpine Gauls, but also laid the groundwork for the eventual city of Rome.
In this Anatolian theory, Etruscan civilization can best be compared to Norman England. After William, Duke of Normandy’s conquest of England in the 11th century, a process of “Normanization” occurred throughout Great Britain. Consequently, the French language began to take root in the native English one. Still, throughout the many years of Anglo-French rule in Great Britain, the local, non-royal population remained overwhelmingly either Anglo-Saxon or Celtic in origin.

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.

Egyptian Relief

(IMAGE: A recreation of the Egyptian relief showing Ramesses III battling the Sea Peoples in the Nile Delta)

This population model is just theory… and with regards to the Etruscans, it’s far from the only one.
Some Ancient Greek authors believed that the roots of the Etruscans lay with the Pelasgians, the “Sea People” of the island of Lemnos. During the late 19th and early 20th dynasties of Egypt, the “Sea Peoples” were a loose confederation of Indo-European pirates from all across the Mediterranean responsible for attacking the Egyptian Empire in the Levant, as well as the Hittite Kingdom in Anatolia.
This chaotic period is the source of much speculation about the ancient world, from the possible Greek origins of the Philistines, to the founding of potentially Indo-European kingdoms and colonies all throughout the Near East. The “Sea Peoples” came out of nowhere, and just like that, they were gone. Few historical accounts record much about them after the naval Battle of the Delta, when Ramesses III soundly defeated them, sometime in 12th century BCE.
Some have speculated that the Ancient Greek classics of the Iliad and the Odyssey hold clues to the prolonged settlement of the Mycenaean Greeks in the Near East. Meanwhile, others have maintained that this so-called “Bronze Age Collapse” not only resulted in the Indo-European colonization of certain parts of the Near East, but also in a reverse colonization, whereby Anatolian and even Semitic peoples left their war-torn homes in order to settle in Europe.
Supposedly, the Etruscans were part of this East-to-West migration.
Golden Griffins
Supporters of this theory tend to point out the clear Eastern influences in Etruscan art. The Regoloni-Galassi tomb in the ancient city of Caere (today’s Cerveteri) is an Etruscan family tomb that is most commonly dated to the 640s BCE.

(IMAGE: Golden griffins taken from the Regoloni-Galassi tomb)

The art contained within the tomb shows motifs and images that are more commonly associated with the “Orient,” from Assyrian lions to Egyptian Sphinxes and scarabs.
For many, this showcases the fact that the Etruscans were culturally Eastern. For most scholars, however, this is an indication of Etruscan “Orientalizing,” or the intentional fusion of Greek and Eastern Mediterranean culture with the local Etruscan one. There is a historical precedent for this as well; the Archaic Age in Greece, for instance, saw a widespread injection of Egyptian, Persian, and Phoenician art and culture.
The “Orientalizing” theory rejects the idea that the Etruscans were Anatolian or Aegean colonists. Instead, it promotes the idea that Etruscan civilization was autochthonous, or indigenous to northwestern and central Italy. This theory is more than likely the correct one, and most scholars agree that the Etruscans were Italian through and through.

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.

By the first millennium AD, the Latin Romans had gutted the Etruscan language. With the coming of Christianity, Etruscan civilization was effectively destroyed and the rolling hills of Tuscany went back to holding their vestigial secrets.
Modern Etruscology is a fascinating sub-discipline of history. Much like Egyptology, which has often been the fodder for Hollywood glamorization, Etruscology has an air of mystery that is hard to ignore. The many legends swirling around the Etruscans make them one of history’s more suggestive groups, while their clear importance, but lack of concrete evidence, makes them and their civilization all the more open for inference.
It’s easy to write magic into places where the facts haven’t yet permeated the popular imagination. As the eminent Italian archeologist, Massimo Pallatino, once wrote in the introduction to D.H. Lawrence’s Etruscan Places:
“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…”

Abraham and the Boom and Bust of Ur

by May 14, 2014

By Cam Rea

Abraham traveling
What do we really know about Abraham?

Well, it was written in Genesis that his birth name was Abram, before God changed his name to Abraham, and that he was the son of Terah. Additionally, we can conjecture that he was born sometime during the 20th century BCE and dwelt in the land of Ur, commonly referred to as Ur III by historians.
A Sumerian city-state at one time, Ur had expanded its territory substantially in the 22nd or 20th century BCE, and was where the ruling dynasty was located. During the time of Abraham’s stay, Ur was, for the most part, prosperous, but that didn’t last long. It never made it to its full potential.
Then, at one point, the family patriarch, Terah, decided to move. According to Genesis, Abraham, his wife, and Lot, Terah’s grandson, went with him and eventually settled in Haran.

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.

The Empire of Ur boomed when the ruler Ur-Nammu ascended the throne, after Sumer King Utu-Hegal had died. Ur-Nammu was likely the governor of Ur at the time and when Utu-hegal passed away, he left a power vacuum in the region, just waiting to be confiscated.
Unfortunately the specific reasons for Ur-Nammu’s success, such as his battles for territorial expansion, are not well documented. We do know, however, that he broadened his borders and sphere of influence significantly, making Ur a respectable power in the region.
Moreover and very importantly, Ur-Nammu’s conquests stabilized Ur.
He, “freed the land of thieves, robbers and rebels.” He revived the agricultural industry, dug new canals to improve communications, and fortified a number of towns, in case of any future attacks. Most famously, he oversaw the creation of a number of ziggurats.

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.

And when Ur-Nammu passed away, his son Shugli carried the torch. He continued the building and refurbishing of temples, along with the construction of a defensive wall at the narrow waist of the Tigris-Euphrates to guard against attacks from the west.
Both father and son fortified the empire, which enabled business to expand beyond the borders. Grain from Gursu, in modern day Turkey, provided a secure food supply. Umma, a nearby Sumerian city-state, provided wood, reeds, and leather. Copper, tin, and luxuries came all the way from Northern India and Afghanistan.
Much of the produce shipped eastward, such as fish, textiles, barley, and wheat, were classified as exchangeable goods by the palace of Ur-Nammu.
Map of Ur III
With commodities flowing soundly and without hindrance, wealth increased. With an increase in prosperity, the people began to use money, particularly silver, instead of the previously preferred method of bartering. The quantity of silver circulating into Ur allowed just about everyone to spend or save.

But there was one glitch.

Ur-Nammu and his successors realised that they could control things to their benefit through their own merchants (mercantile). They did this by fixing the prices of the commodities and pegging them to silver.
Previously, items like copper, tin, lumber, spices, wines, and cattle fluctuated greatly in the marketplace, organically responding to the supply and demand of each seller and buyer. In fact, it had functioned quite well as a democratically driven exchange. But then the government of Ur decided to tamper with the price structure of the market, pegging items to a certain ratio of silver.
Steele of Ur-Nammu
By interfering, the rulers inadvertently caused production to divert from one channel to another, which in turn, created shortages.
When Ibbi-Sin, the last ruler of Ur took power, the market had spiraled out of control… with devastating effects.
While food was still available in the countryside, consumers were paying a hefty price because the suppliers demanded higher payments in silver to cover their losses. If people couldn’t cover the bill, they exchanged certain privileges, such as titles and authority from the king, as back payment. Workers soon rose up and disorder ensued. With the workers in revolt, wealthy farmers entered the downtrodden cities buying, lending, or forcing their way to elitism.
Eventually, merchants operated on their own in order to avoid the set prices. International trade began to pass into the hands of the self-employed, leaving the crown merchants behind. By 2000 BCE, the trading pattern had become far more complex, as the concept of private enterprise expansively grew across Mesopotamia.

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.

While we can never know for certain, we can hypothesize that Terah moved the family into Ur, seeking to prosper from the booming economy. As time went on and the market became unstable, Terah decided it was best to move out of the land of Ur. Abraham, along with the rest, followed, most likely due to the economy spiraling out of control, making life harder to prosper in the Empire. The rest, as they say, is history.