Tobruk (Antipyrgon)

28 April 2009
Tobruk Today

Tobruk Today

Tobruk is best known for the two sieges during the Second World War, but its military significance starts earlier. The importance of the natural port, which is well-sheltered against the northern winds that are prevalent in the Mediterannean world, was already understood by the Byzantine emperor Justinian (527-565), who built a fort on the site, Antipyrgon. It was part of the Ananeosis, the project to reorganize the Cyrenaica.

Only a small part of a wall can be seen today, and if you go there, I’d suggest you devote more time to the war cemeteries. Nevertheless, I made a small webpage on Antipyrgon, which you can find here.

Merida, Andujar, Alcantara

28 April 2009
Roman bridge at Alcántara

Roman bridge at Alcántara

Mérida, ancient Augusta Emerita, was the capital of Roman Lusitania. It was founded after the Cantabrian Wars and the first settlers were veterans of the legions V Alaudae and X Gemina. Among the sights are a splendidly preserved theater, an amphitheater, a circus, and a bridge that is still in use. The history of the city is briefly summarized here, the website of the lovely Museo Nacional de Arte Romano is here, and links to photos can be found here.

Other Roman bridges, both still in use, were at Andújar (ancient Isturgi) and Alcántara – the last one is one of the most spectacular monuments from ancient history.

This completes the transfer of the Spanish section of Livius.Org; other pages are devoted to Ampurias, Bera, Carmona, Córdoba, Italica, Segovia, and Tarragona. Now that I am finishing this section, I realize that I haven’t been to Spain for a long time. As a student, I was fascinated by Andalusia, and wrote a lengthy comparison of the romanization and arabization of the Iberian Peninsula.

Together, the Livius website now has 3,400 pages, and I still have 103 pages to move…

A glut of Tacitus

26 April 2009

I’ve now delivered on my threat of some time back: Tacitus’ Annals are now online on LacusCurtius. Just in English translation, although a more recent translation than the Church and Brodribb seen in a few copies elsewhere on the Web.

By something like 90% coincidence, my friend Susan Rhoads has just completed, if with my own fingers in the pie in some minor respects, putting online Tacitus’ Agricola and Germania, also just in English. There was, that I know of, no English translation of the Agricola anywhere online.

Emporiae (Spain)

26 April 2009
House of the Peristyle

House of the Peristyle

The excavation of Emporiae is one of the most splendid sites one can visit in Spain/Catalonia. There are actually two towns: the Greek one (satellite photo) that dates back to the Archaic age and a Roman one (satellite photo) that was founded in 195 BC by Marcus Porcius Cato on the site of an earlier, Iberian settlement. I already had a page online, but because I am moving several pages (explanation), I updated it, added some text, inserted additional links, and made a second page, expanding the number of photos from fourteen to forty-one. The first page is here.

Finally, I have a question that one of the readers of this little blog may be able to answer: is this fish really a mosaic from Emporiae? Something tells me that I’ve seen it somewhere else.

Common Errors (4): VIIII Hispana

25 April 2009
Object mentioning VIIII Hispana

Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) is one of the most charming children’s historical novels I know. It tells the story of a young Roman officer, Marcus Aquila, who can no longer serve in the army because he is wounded, and decides to look for the eagle standard of the Ninth Legion Hispana. According to Sutcliff, this legion was destroyed in c.117 by Caledonian tribes in what is now Scotland – in 1954 a common hypothesis.

Indeed, there is no evidence that the Ninth was in Britain in the second century, but that does not mean that it was annihilated. It was almost certainly transferred to Nijmegen in Germania Inferior (on the Lower Rhine), where it was in the 120s. One of the finds that prove this, is a metal object found in Ewijk, a bit west of Nijmegen, now in the Valkhof Museum. The fact that we know the names of several high officers of the Ninth who can not have served earlier than 122 (e.g., Lucius Aemilius Karus, governor of Arabia in 142/143), is another indication that the legion was not destroyed but transferred.

It is also certain that this unit no longer existed during the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180), because it is not mentioned in a list of legions from that age. Perhaps, it had been destroyed by the Jews during the revolt of Bar Kochba (132-136); perhaps it is identical to the unit that was destroyed by the Parthians in 161 (Lucian, Alexander 27). We simply do not know. What we do know, however, is that a movie has been announced about Rosemary Sutcliffe’s lovely book – and to be honest, this time fiction is far better than facts.


  • Duncan Campbell, “The fate of the Ninth“, in: Ancient Warfare 4.5 (2010) 48-53
  • Jan Kees Haalebos, “Römische Truppen in Nijmegen”, in: Yann Le Bohec, Les légions de Rome sous le Haut-Empire (2000 Lyon) 465-489

<Overview of Common Errors>

Jews and Christians (2)

24 April 2009

In an earlier post, I described my next book, about the rift between Judaism and Christianity. I never write my books alone. Except for the publisher, there’s always a team of people who help me with advice: sometimes pointing me to the latest scholarly debates, sometimes asking questions that I have failed to recognize as important, sometimes improving my Dutch. It really helps, although it is not a perfect method to prevent mistakes (at least eight people who have finished high school failed to see that in my last book, I gave the wrong value of the gravitational constant). This time, my team consists of a variety of people, ranging from professional scholars to evangelical Christians.

I was discussing this project with a rabbi and his wife, when a friend of theirs arrived, Marcel Poorthuis, who told me about a book of which he was coeditor, called Interaction Between Judaism and Christianity in History, Religion, Art, and Literature (2008). And in spite of the fact that it was a publication by Brill, and therefore way too expensive (€195), I am glad that I bought it. It is the right book at the right moment.

There are too many essays in this book (626 + xiv pages) to write a review, so I single out three chapters that I read today:

  • “A Remarkable Case of Religious Interaction: Water Baptisms in Judaism and Christianity” by Gerard Rouwhorst, who argues that early Christianity influenced Jewish conversion rituals; of course, it is usually believed that it was the other way round.
  • Eric Ottenheijm compares in an essay called “Learning and Practising: Uses of an Early Jewish Discourse in Matthew (7:24-27) and Rabbinic Literature” the authors of the Gospel of Matthew and the tractate Avoth, and stresses that they share the same rhetoric and have related aims.
  • In “On Trees, Waves, and Cytokinesis: Shifting Paradigms in Early (and Modern) Jewish-Christian Relations”, Daniel Stökl evaluates several models to describe how Judaism and Christianity grew apart.

I will probably use the first part of this book (“Jews and Christians in the Roman-Byzantine Period”) and will focus less on the parts on “Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages”, “The Problems of Modernity”, “Ritual and Theology in the Modern, Post-Modern, and New Ages”,  “Art”, and “Literature”. But what I’ve seen of it, backs up the claim of the editors in their introduction: “Jewish-Christian dialogue has become in the last half-century an institution of Western civilization”.

Jews and Christians (1)

24 April 2009
Coin of Bar Kochba: the temple with the Ark of the Covenant and a messianic star

Coin of Bar Kochba: the temple with the Ark of the Covenant and a messianic star

Historical fact: Jesus of Nazareth founded a new religious movement. But what kind of religious movement exactly? A new religion that competed with Judaism? Yes, used to be the common Christian view, stressing the use of expressions like “New Covenant”, the polemic against the Jews that can already be found in the Gospels, and the story that Jesus appointed Peter as leader of his church. Yes, agreed the Jews, and answered the polemic with several stories in the Talmud.

Now, we’re not so certain anymore. The expression “New Covenant” can also be found in the Death Sea Scrolls, and was probably common within Judaism. The Christian polemic is, when we look more carefully, often directed against the Judaeans (Jesus was from Galilee) and specific groups. And finally, Jesus appointed Peter as leader of his ekklesia, but this word could be used to describe any Jewish community (for example in the Diaspora) or the adherents of any Jewish religious leader (the World English Bible translates “assembly”, not “church”). None of this points to Jesus as founder of a religion that competed with Judaism – or even superseded it, as Christians have often thought.

I am preparing a book in which I describe how Judaism was, at the beginning of our era, very pluriform, consisting of Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, the sect that appears to be responsible for (parts of) the Dead Sea Scrolls, the movements of men like John the Baptist, Jesus, Bannus, and Theudas. This pluriformity came to an end when the Temple was destroyed, a disaster that only the Pharisees and the followers of Jesus could cope with: the first, because they had a network of teachers; the second, because salvation was possible through faith in Jesus, the Temple being of only secondary importance.

In this way, Roman imperialism was the cause of the rift between the two remaining types of Judaism, one of them still called Judaism, the other now known as Christianity. Both claimed -and usually still claim- to be the only continuation of Temple Judaism. Often, they have chosen diametrically opposed positions in the theological debates of the late first and early second century: e.g., when the Christians opened their ranks to pagans, the rabbis decreed that one could only be Jewish when one had a Jewish mother. And because rabbinical Judaism could claim the title of rabbi, the Christians -who worshipped someone who had also been called a rabbi- gave the leadership to priests, which is odd because there was no temple left.

These examples show that the two branches were still communicating – after all, you need to communicate if you chose opposite positions. But there must have been a more friendly dialog, and I think that the teachings about Good Works that are attributed to Yohanan ben Zakkai (‘Avot de rabbi Nathan 4.5) and are mentioned in the Epistle of James 2.14, may be examples of this. As I see it, this dialog continued as long as there were Jewish Christians, which appears to have been the case until the revolt of Bar Kochba.

[To be continued]

Common Errors (3): Herodotus in Babylon

21 April 2009
Herodotus (Agora Museum, Athens)

Herodotus (Agora Museum, Athens)

It is often assumed that the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus (c.480-c.429) visited Babylon, the cultural capital of the ancient Near East. His description of sacred prostitution is believed so widely that the word “Babylon” has become synonymous with sexual liberty. However, this custom is not mentioned in the thousands of cuneiform tablets that have been discovered in the nineteenth and twentieth century – and although we may one day find a tablet that confirms Herodotus’ story, this becomes increasingly unlikely. There is a point where absence of evidence becomes evidence of absence.

And there are more details that are simply wrong. No one who had visited the city could have said that it had hundred gates, had a wall that was 88 kilometers long, 100 meters high and 25 meters thick. In the eighteenth century, the British historian Edward Gibbon wrote in his copy of the Histories:

These dimensions, which have been devoutly swallowed by the voracious herd, are gigantic and incredible … Thirteen cities of the size of Paris might have stood within the precincts of Babylon … I much doubt whether he ever saw Babylon.

Many modern scholars agree, but we should be honest: Herodotus does not claim to have visited the city. He does write things like “people who have not been there, will find it hard to believe that…” and “this was still there in my days”. Highly suggestive, but there is not a single explicit statement that he actually visited the place.


  • A. Kuhrt, “Babylon”, in:  E.J. Bakker, I.J.F. de Jong, H. van Wees (eds.), Brill’s Companion to Herodotus (2002)
  • R.Rollinger, Herodots Babylonischer Logos. Eine kritische Untersuchung der Glaubwürdigkeitsdiskussion (1993)

<Overview of Common Errors>

Common Errors (2): Ararat

21 April 2009
The wrong mountain

The wrong mountain

There’s something tragic about researchers who travel to eastern Turkey to find the remains of the Ark of Noah on an ancient volcano. Not just because it is sad that they need evidence to support their faith, but also because they are looking in the wrong place. There was no mountain named Ararat, and the Bible does not refer to it.

The King James Version is accurate: “the ark rested … upon the mountains of Ararat” (Genesis 8.4). Ararat is known from other stories in the Bible: it is a country in the southeast of Turkey and northwest of Iran, and is also known as Urartu (cf., 2 Kings 19.37; Jeremiah 51.27). The author of Genesis was, therefore, not thinking of a particular peak, but of a general area. However, medieval travelers like (perhaps) Marco Polo and (certainly) Odoric of Friuli identified the mountain that the Turks call Ağrı Dağı with the summit on which the Ark rested, and started to call it Ararat. It is a comparatively young name for a mountain that has nothing to do with the Biblical story.

As it happens, we know the summit that the ancients identified as the place where the Ark rested. In the second century BCE, the author of the apocryphal Book of Jubilees spoke about a mountain named Lubar in the land of Ararat (Jubilees 5.28 and 10.15), and so does the author of the Genesis Apocryphon (x.12, xii.8, 13). The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus calls this mountain Baris and correctly translates Ararat as Gordyene: the name of that area in his own age. He adds that people went up the mountain to take away bitumen from the wreck (Jewish Antiquities, 1.93).

This is confirmed by Babylonian sources. In his account of the Flood, Berossus also tells that there was bitumen to be found on the place in Gordyene where the Ark rested. The Epic of Gilgameš refers to a Mount Nimuš (text), which is identical to the modern Al-Gudi in Kurdistan and is mentioned in the Quran too (11.44). It is opposite modern Cizre, east of the river Tigris.

Eastern Christians, who have never listened very much to European theologians (not to mention their topographical identifications), still venerate the tomb of Noah, reportedly together with the Shi’ite and Sunnite Muslims of Kurdistan. Whether the patriarch is really buried over there remains to be seen; but however that may be, the eastern Christians remember a tradition that is about thirty centuries older than the one followed by the people searching for the remains of the Ark on the Ağrı Dağı.

<Overview of Common Errors>

Related posts:

Ancient Warfare Magazine III.2

20 April 2009
Ancient Warfare III.2

Ancient Warfare III.2

“Alexander’s Funeral Games” is the (not very original) title of the last issue of Ancient Warfare. Its theme is warfare among the Successors. It is introduced by Bob Bennett and Mike Roberts, who give an overview of the endless campaigning that is remarkable for its clarity. Duncan Campbell tells essentially the same story, although he focuses on Demetrius Poliorcetes; it is a fine piece, as I have come to expect from this author.

Konstantin Nossov and Joseph Pietrykowski describe how the Successors fought. The first describes Hellenistic fortifications in an article about Philo of Byzantium, who dedicated a manual on poliorcetics to Ptolemy III Euergetes; the second deals with armies and tactics. Michael Park focuses on the battle of Gabiene, while, concentrating on an even smaller subject, Christian Koepfer describes the sarissa, the heavy lance of the Macedonian phalanx.

Demetrius Poliorcetes (Antikensammlung, Berlin)

Demetrius Poliorcetes (Antikensammlung, Berlin)

There are some splendid illustrations in this issue: Vladimir Golubev made several beautiful drawings of Hellenistic fortifications, and Hellenistic soldiers were painted by Igor Dzis and Johnny Shumate. I was unable to discover who made the frontispiece – it is not even mentioned in the “On the cover” series. (It’s Shumate, BTW.)

Was there something I missed? Yes: the economy. Scholars like Košelenko, Galataÿ, and Golenko (below) have proved that the amount of precious metal that Alexander had captured in Susa and Persepolis was exactly sufficient to pay for the armies of the Successors until 301. In other words, Ipsus was the final battle not because it was decisive, but because all money had been spent. In the next years, Seleucus Nicator declined to go to war to Ptolemy Soter and things appear to have become a bit more quiet, the only dynamic element being the adventurer Demetrius.

Seleucus Nicator

Seleucus Nicator

Personally, I would like to know more about the economic base of ancient warfare and social attitudes towards violence. Some of the articles in Ancient Warfare have in the past addressed this subject (e.g., an article on the portrayal of mercenaries in Greek comedies), but in my opinion, this may be a bit more. But that’s just a minor point of criticism; this issue was, as always, nice to read.

As always, Ancient Warfare has some articles unrelated to the main theme. This time, Svenja Grosser has a fine article on amphitheaters for gladiatoral shows near military bases, while Raffaele D’Amato describes a navy carpenter, whose dead body was found near Herculaneum (beautiful drawing by Graham Sumner). Murray Dahm continues his series “Be a General” with his second article on Vegetius, and this issue ends with five pages of reviews.

All in all, I greatly enjoyed this issue; and if you haven’t got a subscription yet, you can go here.


  • François de Callataÿ, “Les trésors achéménides et les monnayages d’Alexandre” in Revue des Études Anciennes 91 (1989) 259-276
  • V.K. Golenko, “Notes on the coinage and currency of the early Seleucid state,” in: Mesopotamia 28 (1993) 71-167

Common Errors (1): Archimedes’ Heat Ray

20 April 2009

It is one of the most impressive movie scenes I have ever seen: how Archimedes set Roman warships afire with a burning mirror, in the famous Italian movie Cabiria (1914; scene starts at 20’24). The incident, which took place during the siege of Syracuse in 212 BCE, can be found in many history books and continues to amaze. Unfortunately, it can not be true.

Scene from Cabiria: Archimedes hexagonal mirror (top) sets a Roman ship (front) afire.

Scene from Cabiria: Archimedes' hexagonal mirror (top) sets a Roman ship (front) afire.

There are two arguments. In the first place, the laws of physics. On at least three occasions, people have tried to repeat the trick; they established that, if you use dozens of mirrors, you can indeed set fire to an object at a short distance (50-60 meter). The sources, however, refer to only one mirror or a couple of mirrors. Worse, the object must remain on the same place for some time, which is not very likely: the Roman galleys were subject to waves, winds, and swell. To really work, the mirror must have a diameter of at least eleven meters, which is larger than the largest telescope mirror ever made.

As a practical instrument, the weapon can, therefore, not exist, unless Archimedes could suspend the laws of nature. The story is pseudoscientific in its most elementary sense.

The second argument is that the famous incident is not recorded in our sources. Historians like Polybius, Livy, and Plutarch offer detailed descriptions of the siege of Syracuse and mention new weapons, but the heat ray is not among them. This is sufficient to send the story to the country of fairy tales.

But what are the origins of the story? Now, things become more complex.

The first to refer to Archimedes as firemaker appears to have been the satirical writer Lucian, who praises an engineer for having surpassed several legendary engineers, including Archimedes, who invented an instrument to set ships afire (Hippias 2). We know more about this from Lucian’s younger contemporary Galen, who offers an account of spontaneous combustion of houses, and adds that “this, they say, was how Archimedes set fire to the enemy ships by means of pyreia” (On Temperaments 3.2). Pyreia is usually translated as “firesticks”. Note that Lucian and Galen do not identify the enemy.

As far as I know, the first to refer to Archimedes using mirrors, is the Byzantine author Anthemius of Tralles (sixth century) in a book called On miraculous engines. On page 153 and 156 (ed.Westerman), he informs us that Archimedes’ secret weapon consisted of many small, flat mirrors. The Byzantine author Tzetzes (twelfth century) even offers a detailed description:

Archimedes constructed a kind of hexagonal mirror, and at an interval proportionate to the size of the mirror, he set similar small mirrors with four edges, moving by links and by a kind of hinge, and made the glass the centre of the sun’s beams … So after that, when the beams were reflected into this, a terrible kindling of flame arose upon the ships, and he reduced them to ashes a bow-shot off (Chiliades, 2.109-123).

This is the instrument shown in Cabiria, but the experiments have shown that it is too simple to do the job; Tzetzes cannot have used an authentic source.

There’s perhaps one author before Anthemius who may have referred to burning mirrors: the third-century historian Cassius Dio, but his account of the siege is lost. However, Tzetzes’ older contemporary Zonaras summarizes Dio’s History of the Roman Empire, and refers to the burning mirror. The problem is that Zonaras often introduces stories to his excerpt, and this may be one of these additions; worse, he also writes that this weapon was used in 514 by one Proclus, when he defended Constantinople against the ships of the Gothic adventurer Vitalianus (Annals 14.55).

Summa summarum: I think that Proclus’ experimental weapon, which must have been known to Anthemius, is the origin of the story. Alternatively, the story of Archimedes’ mirrors appears to have been invented in the age of Lucian, Galen, and Cassius Dio, about half a millennium after the siege of Syracuse.

This is not unique: think only of Pythagoras, who is never credited with the theorem that is now named after him, until the fourth century CE.

<Overview of Common Errors>

Roman Music

17 April 2009
A flutist (Kerylos Villa, Beaulieu-sur-Mer)

A flutist (Kerylos Villa, Beaulieu-sur-Mer)

Today, the post brought me a nice CD, called Pugnate, with Roman music as it might have sounded during gladiatorial contests. It was made by Musica Romana. This German ensemble consists of eight archaeologists, historians, musicians and interested technicians who try to reconstruct ancient music. They do their own research, build their own instruments, and of course play music.

I am afraid that my knowledge of any music prior to, say, the Beatles, is too limited to have a right to say something about the quality of their reconstructions. What I do know, is that I found the little booklet included with the CD very interesting, and that the music is fascinating. I have been playing it the entire afternoon, and that is longer than any other reconstruction I have tried to listen to: this was the first one that I found actually pleasant.

You can judge for yourself on this website, and you can order the CD here.

Moving Livius.Org (12)

12 April 2009
Children at Gheriat esh-Shergia

Children at Gheriat esh-Shergia

As I already announced, I am moving several pages of my website, using the opportunity to revise and update them a bit. This weekend’s harvest consists of four Roman sites:

Still 107 pages to go… I also updated the Google Maps section, which has now 942 places, almost hundred more than I announced before.


11 April 2009
Roman houses

Roman houses

Until the Romans founded Narbonne, the oppidum (hill fort) of Ensérune was the most important settlement in the Languedoc. There were three phases: a simple settlement in the sixth and fifth centuries; a real town with walls and many trade contacts; and – after a violent destruction during the Second Punic War – a Roman town in the second and first centuries, which was eclipsed by Narbonne. A new article with eleven photos is here and a satellite photo is here.


11 April 2009
Gate of the castle

Gate of the castle

In the first quarter of the third century CE, the Sasanian dynasty overthrew the Parthian Arsacids, who had until then been ruling an empire that consisted of what is now Iran, Iraq, and parts of Afghanistan. The first Sasanian king, Ardašir, celebrated his victory with a splendid relief near his castle. Soon, a second relief was added, which commemorated his capture of the Parthian Empire, Ctesiphon.

South of these monuments, the conqueror founded a large, circular city, which he called Ardašir Khureh, “fame of Ardašir” (satellite photo; map). His palace is one of the most delightful monuments in Iran, certainly worth a day trip from Shiraz. (Make sure you have good shoes when you decide to climb to the castle.)

Churches of L’Aquila

7 April 2009

S. Maria di Collemaggio, 14c fresco

As promised yesterday, a site on the Churches of L’ Aquila is on its way: the orientation page is now up. For now, a photosampler of the 13 that I saw. The site will be expanded to cover at least some of the churches in their own pages.

Of these 13 churches, five are gravely damaged, including S. Bernardino da Siena, where the saint is buried. A sixth church, the most important in town both historically and artistically, the Basilica of Collemaggio, site of the first Catholic Jubilee and burial place of Pope Celestine V who instituted it, was apparently only slightly damaged, with both façade and papal tomb unscathed. The seven others, I have no information yet.


6 April 2009

Normally, I wouldn’t announce an item in progress, but there’s always room for an exception. In view of this morning’s devastating earthquake at L’Aquila in the Abruzzo that has left much of the town destroyed, including some of its best churches, for the next few days I’ll be dropping whatever else I was doing to put up a site on the Churches of L’Aquila. For now, just this appropriate photo of a detail of an outside door of the Duomo:

Iuvetur mortuus non lacrymis, sed precibus, supplicationibus, et eleemosynis

St. John Chrysostom’s precept in English: “Let the dead person be assisted not by tears, but by prayers, supplications, and alms.” If you have some spare cash, consider making a contribution to rebuilding L’Aquila; the Italian Red Cross’s website is also taking online donations for the immediate human needs.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes Vindicated

5 April 2009
Antiochus IV

Antiochus IV

In the Biblical book of Daniel, the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (r.175-164) is presented as a monster and a blasphemer: ‘the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods’ (11.36). The Greek author Polybius of Megalopolis (c.200-c.118) offers a similar judgment: ‘Antiochus surnamed Epiphanes gained the name of Epimanes [madman] by his conduct’, he writes (World History, 26.1), and continues with a catalog of mad acts.

There must of course be another side to the man, and the German historian Peter Franz Mittag has recently written an admirable book on the Seleucid king: Antiochos IV. Epiphanes. Eine politische Biographie (2006). It is a historical study as it should be. The author knows his sources – especially literary and numismatic – and also knows how to present them well.

After two introductory chapters and a chapter on Antiochus’ stay in Rome and coup, the fourth chapter deals with the empire at the beginning of his reign. It offers an interesting analysis of the (sometimes conflicting) political aims of the Seleucid administration, and an overview of its financial means. Mittag suggests that the yearly income was about 15,000 talents, which helps us understand that famous figure: that, according to the terms of the Peace of Apamea, the Seleucid Empire had to pay 1,000 talents to Rome every year. It was an immense sum, but it did not cripple the Seleucid economy. The Romans sheared their flock but did not skin it.

In the next two chapters, we read about the way in which Antiochus Epiphanes’ stabilized his power. Gifts to Greek towns created sympathy, which could be useful; embassies to Rome were equally important; Antioch benefitted from some building projects; and there were several cultic measures (there is no evidence for the forced introduction of a cult of Zeus Olympius). The assassination of Antiochus’ nephew, who might have claimed the throne, and a trip to the Phoenician cities are also presented as stabilizing measures.

No less than four chapters are devoted to the Sixth Syrian War. The first of these chapters describes Antiochus’ invasion of Egypt in 169, in which he reached Alexandria, which he found impossible to take. Next, we read about the ways the Seleucid king made his empire benefit from his victory: for example, a monetary reform served to improve conditions for trade. There is also a discussion of the status of Babylon in this chapter. The two remaining chapters deal with the second invasion of Egypt and Rome’s ruthless intervention. Mittag stresses that, although Antiochus was humiliated, it was not the disaster that Polybius says it was: the terms of the Apamea treaty appear to have been suspended – Rome did not complain about the Seleucid navy and Antiochus’ war elephants, even though they were forbidden.

The Maccabean revolt is the subject of the eleventh chapter. Mittag argues that Antiochus was – as always – especially interested in stabilizing and strengthening the empire, and supported the high priest Menelaus, who promised more tribute but was unable to keep this promise. When Antiochus realized his mistake, it was too late, but his consequent policy shows that he tried to restabilize the area. It might have worked, Mittag argues: general Lysias was able to pacify the area, and Judaea might have remained a province of the Seleucid Empire. However, Antiochus died and Lysias had to go to Damascus, which made it possible for the Maccabees to obtain their independence.

The festivities in Daphne (Polybius, World History, 30.25) receive a full chapter, and after this, we read about Antiochus’ anabasis to the east: he regained control of Armenia, visited Babylon, refounded Charax, visited Elam and Persis. The stories about his (unsuccessful?) looting of a temple are discussed, and presented as an attempt to regain arrears of tribute. Mittag finds no evidence for plans to attack Parthia and Bactria, and thinks that the town where Antiochus died was not Gabae/Isfahan, as is always believed, but a town with the same name in eastern Persis.

Cuneiform sources may one day settle this problem, which is important, because a visit to Gabae/Isfahan can be seen as a preliminary to a war against the Parthians, and a visit to Persian Gabae suggests that Antiochus was more interested in the Persian Gulf area.

The fourteenth chapter deals with Antiochus’ death and succession; the last chapter offers a general assessment of this king’s rule. In Mittag’s view, he was especially interested in stabilizing and strengthening his kingdom – or, as Appian says, ‘he governed Syria and the neighboring nations with a firm hand’ (Syriaca, 45).

As I already said, Antiochos IV. Epiphanes. Eine politische Biographie is excellent. I would have liked to learn more about the introduction of the Roman-style soldiers that Mittag mentions in his account of the festival in Daphne, but that is only a minor quibble. Generally speaking, Mittag has reduced the biblical monster to more human proportions and reintroduced him into history as one of the most capable and efficient rulers of the Hellenistic age.

  • Peter Franz Mittag, Antiochos IV. Epiphanes. Eine politische Biographie (= Klio: Beiträge zur Alten Geschichte. Beihefte, neue Folge Band 11) Akademie Verlag, Berlin, 2006.  ISBN 3-05-004205-2; €69.80.

Susa: 12 pages, 126 new photos

3 April 2009
Mountain goat on a cup from Susa (Archaeological Museum, Tehran)

Mountain goat on a cup from Susa (Archaeological Museum, Tehran)

I finally finished my pages on Susa, the capital of ancient Elam, well-known from Greek, Jewish (Esther), Persian, and Babylonian sources. The site was in the nineteenth century for a very large part excavated by French archaeologists, which explains why so many objects are in the Louvre. All in all, there are twelve pages, which contain 126 photos made in Susa and the museums in Tehran, London, Paris, and of course Susa itself.

For a general history of the ancient city, go here. Other links of interest: the Acropolis (oldest part of the city) with the remains of the Dynastic Temple of the Šutrukids; the Palace of Darius I the Great with its Apadana and Great Gate, its splendid Soldiers’ Relief and the Statue of Darius, situated on a terrace. Across the river Shaour, you will find the Palace of Artaxerxes, and at the foot of the hill are the Tomb of Daniel, a Muslim shrine, and the lovely museum about which I blogged earlier. Your satellite photo is here.

Also available: all Achaemenid Royal Inscriptions from Susa:DSa, DSb, DSc, DSd, DSe, DSf, DSg, DSi, DSj, DSk, DSl, DSm, DSn, DSo, DSp, DSq, DSs, DSt, DSu, DSv, DSw, DSy, DSz, DSaa, DSab, XSa, XSb, XSc, XSd, XSe, D2Sa, D2Sb, A2Sa, A2Sb, A2ScA2Sd. Enjoy!

The Awan King List & other things

2 April 2009
The Awan King List

The Awan King List

As the regular reader of this little blog will have noticed, I am currently occupied with all kinds of things related to the ancient city of Susa. It is almost finished.

Today, one photo of a well-preserved cuneiform tablet in the Louvre, which records the name of two times twelve rulers of Elamite princedoms, Awan and Simaški, who ruled in the last third of the third millennium. The text was written in the second quarter of the second millennium, by someone who will have been as puzzled by those names as we are: who was king Šušuntarana? what kind of man was Tan-Ruhurater? what happened to the dynasty after the reign of Puzur-Inšušinak?

There’s more here, but don’t expect too much; however, the real pages on Susa are worth waiting for. And BTW, I have moved the page on Kangavar to this place.


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