Inflation and the Second Punic War

14 May 2015
Een quadrigatus van voor de inflatie

A quadrigatus (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum)

The Dutch news website recently wrote the following as regards currency depreciation:

Consumers don’t lose any sleep over the daily news items that the euro has decreased in value again compared to the dollar or the pound. They don’t notice this at all. The shopping cart with their groceries is exactly as expensive now as it was before, and their salary is still worth the same as when the euro was stronger.

Currency depreciation would indeed be this simple if our economy was a closed system.

The Second Punic War

Sometimes, it is indeed this simple. An example is the Roman Republic during the Second Punic War. Rome had been attacked by the Carthaginian commander Hannibal and suffered a number of shocking defeats: in the Po Valley (218 BC), at Lake Trasimene (217), and at Cannae (216).

[Read more on the blog of Ancient Warfare.]

Moving Forward

11 May 2015
Queen Hatshepsut (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden)

Queen Hatshepsut (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden)

Three weeks ago, the Kickstarter campaign to launch Ancient History Magazine came to an end. As you may remember, we received all the money we needed and more. The first issue of the new magazine will, therefore, have no less than 84 pages (instead of 68).

So, what will this issue look like? Immediately after announcing our plan to start a new magazine, people started offering their help. There were several proposals for articles on the theme of the first issue, “Discoveries in the ancient world” (or, more simply, “Explorers”): some from people who have in the past contributed to Ancient Warfare, others from among our close associates, who were sympathetic to our plan to offer a modern take on ancient history. I had expected that it would be hard to get sufficient content for the first issue, but Josho and Jasper believed that it would be quite easy. They were right.

[Read more on the blog of Ancient History Magazine]

Cyrenaica 7: Renewal

27 April 2015
Ananeosis, mosaic from Theodorias (Qasr Libya)

Ananeosis, mosaic from Theodorias (Qasr Libya)

When Synesius died in 413 AD, he feared that Cyrenaica would be conquered and completely destroyed by Laguatan nomads. “They have taken the land as if in a dragnet,” he wrote in his Catastasis. In Letter 73, he describes how the people in Cyrenaica felt abandoned by the central government. This may be a bit exaggerated, because Synesius also mentions effective military leaders. Still, it seems that the area was undergarrisoned. Other areas of the Empire were even more threatened and Constantinople needed the soldiers.

By the end of Synesius’ life, the nomads were in control. Cyrene had been abandoned and only the ports along the coast were still controlled by the Empire. Writing much later, Byzantine author Procopius described the situation in Cyrenaica as “neglected”.

[Read more on the blog of Ancient History Magazine]

Cyrenaica, part 6: Synesius

16 April 2015
Byzantine church in Ptolemais, perhaps the one where Synesius served

Byzantine church in Ptolemais, perhaps the one where Synesius served

He is one of the most interesting authors from Antiquity: a philosopher, an aristocrat, a traveler, a sophist, a soldier, a bishop, and a descendant of the royal house of Sparta – or so he said. He was also a genuinely kind man. He left a considerable oeuvre of six essays, ten hymns, three speeches, two sermons, 158 letters. But nobody reads it. I am referring to Synesius of Cyrene.

From his essays and letters, we know a lot about his life. As the son of a very wealthy family, he was able to travel. He must have been some twenty years old when he visited Greece, where he seems to have been inaugurated in the Mysteries of Eleusis, shortly before the Emperor Theodosius put an end to this pagan cult (392). Returning to Africa, Synesius settled in Alexandria, where he was one of the students of the famous philosopher and mathematician Hypatia. Even as an old man, Synesius would refer to her as the philosopher: to him, there was only one who really mattered.

[Read more on the blog of Ancient History Magazine.]

Cyrenaica, part 5: Simon of Cyrene

15 April 2015
Simon of Cyrene

Simon of Cyrene

Cyrene was the hometown of many famous Greeks. Eugammon was the author of an important but lost poem about the events after the homecoming of Odysseus, the Telegony. Mathematician Theodorus of Cyrene developed the theory of irrational numbers. Another Theodorus was one of the founders of atheism. Callimachus was one of the most influential poets of Antiquity, while Eratosthenes was the first to measure the circumference of the earth. Philosophers of the Cyrenaean School taught that pleasure was the best thing in life.

They are all forgotten or almost forgotten. The best remembered Cyrenaean is a Jew named Simon, who is mentioned in the gospel of Mark (15.21).

And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.

That’s all.

[Read more on the blog of Ancient History Magazine]

Cyrenaica, part 4: Cyrene

14 April 2015
Downtown Cyrene

Downtown Cyrene

Cyrene was one of the great cities of the classical Greek world, comparable to Athens, Miletus, Syracuse, and Corinth. It was founded by people from the small island of Thera (Santorini), who first settled on another small island, off the African shore, before they settled on the mainland. When the colony proved successful, other settlers came, who founded Barca, Taucheira, and Euesperides (Bengazi). Ptolemais and Apollonia were originally the ports of Barca and Cyrene, but eventually became cities in their own right.

Being Greek cities, they looked to the sea. The Arkesilas cup, which was discussed on this blog the day before yesterday, illustrates the international contacts: to Greece of course, but also to the west. There were trade contacts with Carthage, Egypt, Phoenicia, and the inhabitants of the oases in the Sahara. Ostrich eggs and elephant tusks prove contacts with people much further, beyond the Sahara. The inhabitants of Cyrenaica were very international. There were also native Libyans, who must have shared characteristics with the Psylloi and the people from Slonta.

[Read more on the blog of Ancient History Magazine]

Cyrenaica, part 3: Slonta

12 April 2015
The snake of Slonta

The snake of Slonta

The day before yesterday, Edwin wrote about the Psylloi, and mentioned, at the end of his article, that several ancient authors attribute to the Libyan tribe a remarkable resilience to snake-venoms. That would be one of those countless ancient ethnographic stories which, back then, sounded plausible and were repeated by even the most intelligent writers, but fail to convince us. We wonder what on earth made a talented man like the elder Pliny believe that it was the custom of the Psylloi “to expose children at birth to extremely fiery snakes, and to use these snakes to test to faithfulness of their wives, since snakes do not flee people born of adulterous blood” (Natural History 7.12).

We will never understand the reality behind these stories, even though we know an archaeological site that may somehow support the stories about the Psylloi and the snakes: Slonta. It is hard to date precisely, but a Ionian column base proves that the site was in use in Antiquity. The main relief represents a big snake.

[Read more – and the other pars of this series – on the blog of Ancient History Magazine]


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