Pregnant stone delivers

3 July 2014
The baby stone

The baby stone

Today, I received a message from a friend in Beirut, who recently visited Baalbek. When you arrive to that city, you will pass the ancient quarry, where you will see the largest stone that was ever cut by men. It is called Hajar al-Hibla, the “pregnant stone”. The owner of the nearby souvenir shop greeted my friend with the words that “the pregnant has delivered!”

What had happened? Archaeologists had been inspecting the site, when they discovered a small, straight stone edge. They investigated it, and soon discovered a “baby stone” that is probably even bigger than its mother. Hajar al-Hibla has a length of twenty meters and a height and width of 4½ meters, this one is 5 meters wide; its width is still unknown. No doubt, both stones were cut out for the nearby temple of Jupiter.

The photo above was sent to me by my friends at travel agency Libanva.

PS

Judith Weingarten reminds me of the unfinished obelisk attributed to Hatshepsut. It is 42 m long and 2.5-4.4 m wide. It is even bigger than the stones at Baalbek.


Le Clos de la Lombarde

31 July 2013

House of the Genius

Michel Gybels sent me a nice piece, with photos, of a usually closed excavation in Narbonne (France), called Le Clos de la Lombarde. In the 1970s, archaeologists discovered the foundations of houses, workshops, and a bathhouse. Later, the remains of a Christian basilica and a cemetery were excavated as well.

Go here for the story and the photos.


Several new pages

30 June 2013

One of the new Behistun photos

The Livius website was founded, in a different form and on another URL, in 1995: almost twenty years ago. It desperately needs to be rebuilt, using new software. Methodological points need to be explained as well, and I want to use the upgrade to add references to the sources that have in the meantime become available on reliable sites, such as LacusCurtius. I also want to undo the fatal error I described here: obliging to a request by several universities not to add references to secondary literature.

Unfortunately, I do not have the time to upgrade it, and I hesitate to add new pages, because I suspect that work I do now, will have to be done again after the conversion. So, that brings the website to some kind of standstill.

This does not mean that nothing happens. Mr Michel Gybels, who has already contributed to the website before, has sent me pages on several archaeological sites in Asia Minor: Euromos, Alexandria in Troas, Phocaea, Clarus, Labranda, and Magnesia on the Meander. I also added a page on Jupiter Heliopolitanus (the god of Baalbek) and Majdel Anjar, plus new photos of the Behistun relief.


The Tomb of Daniel

16 March 2013

The mausoleum of Daniel, seen from the Bronze Age settlement

We would have expected the tombs of Esther and Mordecai, about which I already wrote, in Susa, but they are in Hamadan. In Susa, though, you can find the tomb of the prophet Daniel, which you would have expected in Babylon.

In its present form, the mausoleum dates back to the twelfth century, with many more recent additions. It is mentioned by the Jewish writer Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Susa in 1167. You will not meet many Jews over there, because the mausoleum is Islamic. A modern wall painting quotes Imam Huseyn (the man who died at Kerbala), who invites Shi’ite Muslims to visit the place: “Anyone who visits my brother Daniel, it is like he visited me.” There used to be another wall painting, showing Daniel in the lions’ den, but it has been overpainted.

But why do Muslims venerate Daniel? After all, the prophet is not mentioned in the Quran. The answer is given by Tabari, a Persian collector of historical anecdotes who lived in the late ninth and early tenth century, and wrote about the Arabian conquests.

The tomb of the prophet

He tells that the Arabs had invaded southwestern Iran (Khuzestan) and started to besiege Susa. The Christian priests and monks insulted their enemy, boasting that the Arabs could only capture the city only if they’d receive support from the devil. However, the city gate collapsed more or less spontaneously, and the Arabs took Susa without much effort. Persian noblemen were executed and the treasury of the church was looted.

Here, the conquerors found a silver sarcophagus with a mummy, which was believed to Daniel’s. A signet ring showing a man between two lions seemed to confirmed this, and when Caliph Umar, who had first ordered the sarcophagus to be buried in the river Shaour, heard about this, he had second thoughts and ordered a decent funeral.

An ancient Christian cult for a Jewish prophet had become an Islamic cult, even though the Quran knew nothing about Daniel. This is quite interesting, because it proves that in the age of the great Arab conquests, the Islamic religion still had to get its own character. I like the idea, proposed by Fred Donner, that it was a kind of ecumenical movement of Jews, Christians, and Arabs who had accepted monotheism. If that was indeed the nature of early Islam, it is less of a surprise to find a Jewish prophet being venerated by Muslims.


The Tombs of Esther and Mordecai

16 March 2013
The mausoleum of Esther and Mordecai

The mausoleum of Esther and Mordecai

There have always been Jewish communities in the Islamic countries. After all, the Jews are “people of the book”, or dhimmis, who are entitled to protection and are not to be forced into conversion. However, there is no denying that the Jewish communities in the Near East are in decline. I am afraid that the beautifully restored synagogue in Beirut will never be used. There’s a famous joke that in Baghdad, there are only two Jews left, who are quarrelling. In Hamadan, a great city in western Iran, there are some thirty Jewish families, which is considerably less than the 3,000–6,000 Jews that used to live there after the Second World War, or the 30,000 mentioned in the Middle Ages.

Nevertheless, the place is of some significance to oriental Judaism, because in the city center, there’s a small mausoleum, which is dedicated to Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai, the two heroes of the Biblical book Esther. It is a beautiful, small building, made of bricks. Even when you don’t have a Ph.D. in architectural history, you can easily date it to the Middle Ages: it looks like a Seljuk türbe, or tomb-tower.

The two cenotaphs

The two cenotaphs

The two tombs inside the building can be dated to the thirteenth century. They are empty. The Hebrew inscription on the walls inform us that the cenotaphs were built by the mother of two brothers, who had served as physicians at the court of a Mongol ruler.

So, the mausoleum has nothing to do with the two Biblical persons. However, it must be noticed that the veneration of Esther and Mordecai is quite old: it was mentioned by Benjamin of Tudela, a Jewish author who visited Hamadan in the mid-twelfth century. Why the Jews of Hamadan had, by that time, started to venerate the Achaemenid queen and her relative, is a bit of a mystery: after all, the scene of the story is laid in Susa. Nevertheless, it seems certain that the cult of Esther and Mordecai antedates the building of the mausoleum that is now shown as their final resting place.


Lebanon, again

31 December 2012
Beirut (in the distance) seen from Byblos

Beirut (in the distance) seen from Byblos

For the second time in less than a year, I had the privilege to visit Lebanon. Starting in Beirut, where we visited the splendid National Museum again, we embarked upon a very, very leisurely trip around. At the Nahr al-Kalb, we managed to reach the inscription of Nebuchadnezzar, which is covered by all kinds of vegetation, and will soon have disappeared.

Byblos, which I could not really appreciate during my earlier visit because I did not understand its stratigraphy, turned out to be a lot more accessible now that I knew what to expect. It was interesting to think where Wen Amun must have built his tent and where the king must have had his throne.

We proceeded to the Kadisha valley, which is the heartland of Maronite Christianity. Before entering it, we visited Amioun, Bziza, and Aïn Akrine, three sites with Roman temples. In Bsharre (the town of Kahlil Gibran), we climbed to a Phoenician tomb, and had lunch with a view of the snow-covered cedar trees.

Cedar tree

After this, we visited the Bekaa valley and Baalbek. Because we had started early and had slept in a hotel in the valley, we could arrive very early in the morning, and were almost the only people at the site, except for the guards. Returning to our hotel, we passed along Qsarnaba, Niha, and Nabi Ayla.

We also saw the Palestinian refugees who had been bombed away from Damascus – but this is not the place to write about those poor people, who most certainly did not deserve this.

Sidon

Next day, it was raining cats and dogs, but we were in Sidon, where we greatly enjoyed watching how the storm pushed the surf against the sea castle. Some of the waves must have been fifteen meters high and it was really spectacular. The same can be said of the lovely mosaics in the Beiteddin palace. The last place we visited in Beirut was the museum of the American University.

There was a bonus, though: our airplane was delayed and we were unable to catch the connecting flight in Istanbul. So, our trip lasted an additional day, and we saw a snow-covered Hagia Sophia and, in the archaeological museum, the royal sarcophagi from Sidon.

Beiteddin

Beiteddin

I cannot wait to go back to the only place in the world where you can listen to “o come let us adore him” and at the same time hear a mu’ezzin’s call for prayer. My Facebook photos are here and here; and today I added photos of the temples of Aïn Akrine, the rock tombs of Amioun, the Phoenician tomb at Bsharre, the sanctuary at Bziza, and the temple at Qsarnaba. Some older stuff from Lebanon is here.


Bagacum (Bavay)

25 November 2012
Photo Marco Prins

The Basilica

I visited Bavay in northern France several years ago, returning from Saulzoir, where Julius Caesar had once defeated the Nervii. The ruins of Bavay were something of a bonus after a day that had been very well-spent, and we were not in a particular hurry. So, we were too late to see the exhibition, but could take some photos of the forum and the basilica. They were impressive, which comes as no surprise, as Bagacum, as it was called, was some kind of showcase of Roman power.

Although I still hope to see the exhibition, some information is already available here.


Baalbek, Tyre, Belgrade

2 October 2012

Tyre, Al-Bass: Great Arch, probably dedicated to Hadrian.

Over the past months, I have traveled to Lebanon and along the Danube. I have put online quite a lot of stuff.

That’s it for today.

 


Das goldene Byzanz

28 September 2012

Saw and mill

“A series of one thousand years of crime, weakness, iniquity, and lack of character”: that is how Georg Hegel described the history of the Byzantine Empire. This image still exists – if there is an image at all, because the western world has almost forgotten Byzantium. In our schools, there is hardly any attention paid to the medieval empire, and in our daily conversation “Byzantine” is almost synonym to luxury, decadence, splendor, corruption, and overcomplexity.

One example may suffice: during last year’s primaries, the Republican candidate Herman Cain called for abolishing America’s “Byzantine tax system”. As a matter of fact, the Byzantines knew only two taxes: a poll tax and a land tax. Compared to this, Cain’s own 9/9/9 plan was quite, eh, Byzantine.

My fascination for Byzantium started when a friend took me to the Byzantine Museum in Thessaloniki. Since then, I have visited several other museums, churches, castles, and other monuments, in Istanbul, Greece, Syria, Israel, Italy, and Turkey. I have read several sources and once made a detour to Manzikert. So, it was inevitable that I would visit the exhibition “Das goldene Byzanz” in the Renaissance castle of Schallaburg in Austria, along the road from Munich to Vienna.

I do not regret it. There are beautiful animations, nice models (of a ship, for example), and good maps. The first thing you see is an engine that used a water-mill to saw natural stone. The number of objects is not very large, but they have been chosen well: beautiful busts, icons, and manuscripts.

Not just Byzantine objects, by the way. Sassanian, Arabian, Slavonic, and Turkish objects show Byzantium’s relations to surrounding nations. You will see both objects from daily and courtly life, although the stress is on the latter. (The title “Golden Byzantium” illustrates this.) The final room illustrates Byzantine influence on western civilization, and was the one room that might have been better: there is more to say about the subject and we also must say more about it. The catalog, on the other hand, is a good one.

If I may offer one point of criticism: the castle is a bit too small and dark for this exhibition. During my visit, two groups occupied entire rooms, making it difficult for other visitors to enjoy the many, many beautiful objects, which are certainly worth a detour.


“Die Welt der Kelten”, Stuttgart

28 September 2012

Glass bracelet

When archaeologists talk about the Celts, they are usually referring to the Hallstatt and La Tène civilizations: the Iron Age cultures of the people living in Central Europe between, say, 850 and 50 BCE. Right now, there are two exhibitions in Stuttgart about the Celts, together called “Die Welt der Kelten”.

The first exhibition, “Kostbarkeiten der Kunst”, is in the Altes Schloβ. I liked it, even though I profoundly hate it when objects are left in the half-dark, just being beautiful in poorly-illuminated rooms. The quality of the information – important questions like “is this art?” were not ignored – offered sufficient compensation. Moreover, this exhibition is important. The idea is still alive that the Celts were making primitive imitations of classical art. The fact that Paul Jacobsthal’s Early Celtic Art, which was published in 1944, is still a standard work, proves that the subject is a bit ignored.

Princely tomb

The other exhibition, “Zentren der Macht” in the Kunstgebäude, was even better. It is about the history of the Celts, and while the first exhibition was a successful attempt to explain an unusual type of aesthetics, the second one is an extremely successful attempt to introduce you to the ancient people themselves. The two first rooms allow you to understand the problems (“what is a Celt?”, “how reliable are the sources”), and after that, there is the real story.

Dying Gau (Rome): a Celt from the migration age

You can see how social stratification came into being when Celtic leaders managed to control the trade in Mediterranean products. These people were very rich, as you can deduce from their splendid tombs. Agricultural innovations made them even wealthier. After 400, the Celts started to migrate: peasants and bands of warriors reached Italy, Greece, and Turkey.

The end of the exhibition illustrates its high quality. You learn that around 80/70, the great settlements came to an end, and after that, you get information about the campaigns of Julius Caesar (58-50) and Augustus (20-15). In this way, the traditional account, based on written sources, that the Roman conquests put an end to the Celtic states, is challenged. You learn that textual and archaeological evidence are asymmetric.

Yes, this is a good exhibition. And it is so nice to see al those objects together: the Coligny calendar, the Warberg warrior, the finds from Eberdingen-Hochdorf, a copy of the Vix crater. There are animations, models, and drawings; quotes from the ancient authors are written on the walls, and are clearly secondary to the archaeological evidence.

I would have loved to know more about the place of the Celts in nineteenth-century European culture. It was believed that they were, for their own good, subdued by the Romans, and this made them the ancient counterparts of the subjects in the European colonies. I am not convinced that this image is now completely dead.

Heuneberg

Another point of criticism is that photography is prohibited. Granted, there is a good catalog, but catalogs never show the objects from the angle from which you want to study the object. There ought to be some kind of rule against this prohibition, which is the museological equivalent of the paywalls that scientistific publishers use to keep information away from the people who are most interested.

There are two small additional exhibitions, one for school classes and one about the excavations at the Heuneberg (“das Schwäbische Troia”). You will need about five hours to see it all.


Thuin

15 July 2012

The same excavation, two times

Last Tuesday, we visited Thuin, not far from Charleroi in Belgium. It is, at the moment, the place that is considered the most likely location of the Belgian defeat against the legions of Julius Caesar. Absolute certainty cannot be achieved, but it is not too far from the Sabis battlefield and Caesar’s description fits the situation quite well. The matter is dealt with in N. Roymans e.a. (eds), Late Iron Age gold hoards from the Low  Countries and the Caesarian conquest of Northern Gaul (2012), and you can read more here, here (with map), and here.

To be honest, Thuin is not worth a detour, and we only went there because we wanted at least one photo for the English translation of De rand van het Rijk (“Edge of Empire”), the book Arjen Bosman and I wrote about the Roman presence in the Low Country.

The site is covered by a nice forest where it is nice to walk; it’s called the Bois du Grand Bon Dieu, and there’s a nice chapel. It is best approached from a country house called “l’Ermitage” in the southwest or from northeast; over here, you can still see the remains of an old excavation – see photo above.

Other photos here. More about Edge of Empire here.


Additions to Livius.org (very minor)

13 May 2012

The entrance of the Hellespont

I visited Turkey and returned with some new photos. You can find them on the pages dedicated Tenedos, Abydus, to Adana (a nice photo of Hadrian), the Hellespont, Alexandria in the Troad, Alexandria near Issus, the river Scamander (I like this page because it combines photos from four places), and the funeral mound of Caracalla’s favorite Festus at Üvecik Tepe (scroll down a bit). It’s mostly from museums I visited, and not really important.

There’s also a photo of the battlefield at Aigospotamoi, but the steep shoreline on the site made me wonder whether the identification was right.


Nahr al-Kalb

30 April 2012

Reliefs of Ramesses II (left) and Esarhaddon (right).

In the thirteenth century BCE, the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II left three reliefs on the south bank of the Nahr al-Kalb, north of Beyrut, which commemorated the northern campaigns that culminated in the battle of Kadesh (1274). Several centuries later, the Assyrian king Esarhaddon conquered Egypt, and chose to put a memorial opposite the relief of Ramesses. Ever since, armies have left inscription at the Nahr al-Kalb, a custom known to Herodotus (more).

All in all, there are twenty-two inscriptions and two monuments, with texts in seven languages (Egyptian, Akkadian, Greek, Latin, Arabic, French, and English). Together, they give a nice overview of Lebanese history.

A complete overview is here (and an overview of all Lebanese posts on this blog is here).


Roman Beyrut

30 April 2012

Roman baths

I have now blogged about the new web pages about the Bekaa Valley and the Lebanon, about Niha, about Faqra, and about Machnaqa. There’s a lot more to be written – think of Baalbek, Byblus, Sidon, and Tyre – but for the moment, I will only add Beyrut.

We found it a lovely city, with two beautiful museums (the National Museum and the Archaeological Museum of the American University) and a couple of ancient ruins, which were not very special. Nevertheless, the city’s history is quite interesting, and some objects from the museums are really important.

My favorite is an amulet from the Louvre, in which many celestial beings are invoked to protect one Alexandra. Officially, she was Christian, so she mentions “the One who sits among two cherubs” and “the One God and His Christ”, but after that, we read about the seven lords of the seven heavens (Marmarioth, Uriel, Ael, Gabriel, Chael, Moriath, Chachth), the beings responsible for the weather (Riopha, Zonchar, Tebriel, Tobriel), the protectors of the sea and mountains (Suriel and Nuchael), the celestial dragon keeper Iathennuian, and a protector of the firmament named Chrara. So much for orthodoxy.

Two new webpages can be found here. Enjoy!


Faqra (Lebanon)

30 April 2012

The Small Altar at Faqra

One of the most spectacular sites we visited during our trip through Lebanon was Faqra. It is situated along the road from the coast to a ski resort with the same name.

When we visited the place, it was covered with snow.  It was the Easter Weekend (according to the Maronite calendar) and many people had a day off, which meant that they were snowboarding, picnicking, barbecuing, and even dancing at the place where – in the Summer – you would have crossed the mountain pass. To judge from the scarfs, Christians were not the only one enjoying a holiday.

Faqra itself consists of two parts. To the north of the road are four altars, to the south are two temples, dedicated to Adonis and Atargatis, and a church.

Eight small but new pages on the Livius website can be found here. Other recent pages are about the Bekaa Valley and the Lebanon, about Niha, and about Machnaqa.


Machnaqa

29 April 2012

Machnaqa

As some readers of this little blog will have noticed, I am currently uploading photos from my trip to Lebanon. I already mentioned Niha, the Bekaa Valley, and the Lebanon Mountains, and I still hope to add Beyrut and Faqra.

Today’s addition is Machnaqa, a sanctuary along the road from Byblus to Afqa and Baalbek. There’s tower altar (photo), a number of rock tombs, and some weathered reliefs. It’s not of the greatest historical importance, but quite beautiful.


Lebanon and Bekaa

29 April 2012

Natural bridge at Kfardebian

I have been privileged that I have been able to travel through Turkey, Syria, and Israel before I visited Lebanon. Everywhere, you will see the line of mountains that runs parallel to the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. In southern Turkey, the mountains are called the Amanus Mountains, which are separated by the river Orontes from the Bargylus Mountains in Syria. In Israel, you will see the Mountains of Judah.

None of these is comparable to the Lebanon, which is much higher. The name, “the white peaks”, ought to have been a warning to us: we optimistically believed we could drive from Byblus to Baalbek, but had to make a long detour because the passes were still covered with snow.

East of the Lebanon is the Bekaa valley, where you will find Baalbek and the four temples of Niha, about which I already wrote something. I now added webpages on the Lebanon and on the Bekaa.


Nihata

28 April 2012

The high priest Narkisos

Our visit to the temples of ancient Nihata (modern Niha) was one of the highlights of our visit to Lebanon. There are two sanctuaries, an oracle dedicated to the Syrian goddess Atargatis and a smaller shrine for Hadanares, who was comparable to the Baal-Zeus-Jupiter of Baalbek. There are two other temples, never finished, at nearby Hosn Niha.

The site must have been well-known, as it was situated along the main road from Antioch to the south: along the Orontes to Aleppo and Baalbek, and down to Tyre through the Bekaa valley. Many travelers must have seen the shrines of Nihata, and must have stayed there, as it is exactly one day from Baalbek.

My new webpages are here.


Acragas

23 April 2012
Photo Nico Kaas

The temple of Hera

Agrigento in southern Sicily is best-known for its temples. One of them, usually called “the temple of Concord”, belongs to the best-preserved sanctuaries from the ancient world. I remember a nice museum, but to be honest, my memories of Agrigento are a bit overshadowed by the sudden death of my friend Jaap Velt in 2004.

I still have some photos, though. I have now put them online. I hope that Jaap, who must have been brought up to Paradise by angels immediately, will like them.

The new webpage is here.


Pella

22 April 2012

Eros

I visited Pella, the capital of ancient Macedonia and the place where Alexander the Great was born, on several occasions, my latest visit being in the late autumn of 2010, after the new museum and the excavation area had been reopened. I already blogged about it (here). Because I did not find time to write a web page about this important site, I am very grateful to Mr Michel Gybels, who sent me the text I needed.

You can find it here. There’s a second page with thirty-five photos here.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 317 other followers