Queen Hatshepsut

30 August 2015

featured_promoI must confess that I have considered calling this piece “lifting the veil”, but that’s too much of a cliché. Still, the banner above does indeed offer a glimpse of the first issue of Ancient History Magazine. It’s a detail of Miłek Jakubiec’s cover design. I have also considered asking you whether you could guess what it represents, but that would be a cliché as well. And that would be wrong. Not just for stylistic reasons, but also because Ancient History Magazine will try to avoid the standard and the safe, and wants to offer fresh perspectives instead.

So, without lifting the veil or making you wonder: it’s (or will be, in its finished version) Queen Hatshepsut, who is talking to the leaders of the expedition to the Land of Punt. This happened in c.1471 BC and is the oldest voyage of discovery mentioned in our debut issue. Jakubiec’ drawing is based on a relief in Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple.

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



17 August 2015


Pergamon was a small town on a steep hill, dominating a fertile plain. It was the perfect place to keep a treasure: the hill was easy to defend, the plain offered sufficient opportunities to feed the garrison. So in 301 one of Alexander’s successors, Lysimachus, decided to store his money in Pergamon. The commander of the city, a man named Philetaerus, promised to take care of it.

Except that he didn’t. Somewhere in the 280s, after he had improved the fortifications, he decided to leave his master and collaborate with Seleucus, the “king of Asia”, who claimed (with some justification) to be Alexander’s true successor. We don’t know exactly why Philetaerus changed his mind: our sources state that he got involved in a conflict within Lysimachus’ family, but that may well be propaganda.

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


14 August 2015
Along the Incense Route (illustration Shin Fei)

Along the Incense Route (illustration Shen Fei)

The clock of the medieval church of Zutphen has just struck ten and I am sit here on the patio of my hotel, with a glass of local beer and a laptop. It may seem a bit strange that I am still working at this time of day – and let’s face it: it is strange – but it is a fine way to close what has been an excellent day.

Over the past weeks and months, we have done a lot to create Ancient History Magazine. Not just a particular issue, but the magazine itself, which must have a face of its own. We had to make decisions about the themes we wanted to devote attention to, we had to attract subscribers, we had to think about the lay-out, we had to make our trial issue, we had to attract new illustrators. People like Shen Fei and Ken Broeders, whose work I trust you’re going to like. And, of course, they had to find out what it is to work with us. The illustration on the right, by the way, is by Fei.

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

Killing a King

10 August 2015
The road from Cirrha to Delphi, site of the attack.

The road from Cirrha to Delphi, site of the attack.

The story is told by Livy: in 172 BC, King Eumenes of Pergamon came to Rome, where the Senate received him with all pomp and fanfare the Romans believed to be due to one of their most loyal allies. The king had something to say indeed: he warned the conscript fathers that King Perseus tried to restore Macedonian power and might become dangerous.

After the summit, Eumenes returned to the east, making a brief stop in Cirrha, the port of Delphi, because he wanted to visit the sanctuary of Apollo. Apparently, Eumenes’ religious sympathies were well-known, because a Macedonian agent had sent assassins, who knew that the king would want to pay his regards to the god. They knew where to strike.

The report that the Macedonians had killed a king confirmed all suspicions against Macedonia and during the winter of 172/171, diplomats traveled everywhere to create coalitions for the war that had become inevitable. The Third Macedonian War lasted from 171 to 168 and was the end of Macedonia.

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

Archaeology in Israel (2)

6 August 2015

probabilityIn the first part of this article, I explained how information from ancient sources is not always confirmed by archaeology. In asymmetric situations like these, “maximalists” assume that the information from written texts can be accepted: this is supposed to be reliable unless archaeology contradicts it. “Minimalists”, on the other hand, think that information from written sources can only be accepted if it is archaeologically confirmed.

Usually, it is not important which of these two research strategies is preferred. No Englishman cares there is no archaeological confirmation for Caesar’s claim to have invaded Britain and no Iranian is worried that Herodotus’ seven walls of Ecbatana have not been found. This is different in Israel, where there is no unequivocal archaeological evidence for the powerful state of King Solomon. Given the fact that Israel has supporters who believe the Bible to be literally true, and given the fact that it has enemies who will mercilessly point out flaws in the Biblical narrative, the asymmetrical evidence has political consequences.

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

Archaeology in Israel (1)

3 August 2015
Jerusalem, "Large Stone Structure"

Jerusalem, “Large Stone Structure”

The study of the ancient world is so fascinating because all those cultures, nations, tribes, states, and civilizations share one characteristic: a great shortage of data. If you want to study an aspect of Antiquity, you need every bit of information you can get: texts, archaeological finds, parallels from other cultures. Antiquity, I’m sure you’ll agree, is the largest and most interesting puzzle the world has ever seen.

Unfortunately, the available information is often inconsistent. Herodotus tells us that Ecbatana was a big city with seven walls, but archaeologists found nothing. Caesar claims to have visited Britain, but not a single camp has been identified.

In situations like these, when information obtained from texts and excavations is asymmetrical, it’s up to the historian to decide what to do next. He might say: “I prefer to believe the written sources. If the archaeologists continue to dig, they will find what we’re looking for.” In other words, as long as archaeological data are absent, you lend maximum credence to your written sources. This approach is called maximalism. The alternative would be to argue “The sources may not be literally true. Unless the archaeologists find something, I must reconsider my way of reading the texts.” If you think you should not believe your source unless it is confirmed archaeologically, that’s called minimalism.

[Continued on the blog of Ancient History Magazine]

Before the pyramids

30 July 2015
The name of one the first pharaohs: Djer

The name of one the first pharaohs: Djer

Some time ago, I was in Beirut and visited the archaeological museum of the American University: a carefully chosen, lovely selection of objects that represent all major cultures of the ancient Near East. It was over there that I suddenly realized that I liked the reddish Naqada ware, which was made in Upper Egypt in the fourth millennium.

It’s not just an age in which they made intriguing pottery: it’s the age in which the people living along the Nile started to cooperate. Trade began. The first ships were built and soon became status symbols: the owner of Tomb 100 in Hierakonpolis asked someone to paint boats on the tomb’s walls. In the same city, archaeologists have found mummies with the first funeral masks.

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