Two articles recently published on the BBC website recently caught my eye. The first was a discussion of the earliest known writing on Earth, as part of a series on ‘50 things that made the modern economy’. These earliest written texts were economic texts: inventories of goods, sale contracts, IOUs, written in Sumerian Cuneiform more than 5000 years ago. Continue reading “Words that Last: Clay, Papyrus, and Computers”
I recently finished reading a book on an aspect of the Classical world that neither I, nor many other Classicists likely have thought much about. The book is Anthony Kaldellis’ The Byzantine Republic, which deals with the Eastern Roman Empire (called by modern scholars “Byzantine”) which ruled a fluctuating area centred on Anatolia and the Balkans from the fall of Rome to the Goths in 476 CE until the final capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 CE. Kaldellis’ work represents an intriguing attempt to reconnect the Byzantines to their Roman heritage, something which he argues has all-too-often been ignored and/or denied by scholars.
Content warning: Cults, Sexual Abuse, Snakes
One of the strangest stories from the ancient world comes from the pen of the Second Century CE writer Lucian of Samosata. Lucian, a Greek-speaking Syrian, was part of the great flowering of Greek culture under the Roman Empire that we refer to as the Second Sophistic. To generalize greatly, the Second Sophistic was characterised by great erudition, self-consciously elaborate language, and a playful attitude toward history, myth and literature. Lucian is one of the most emblematic of this movement, and many of his works are wonderful examples of wit, learning and subtle self-parody. Continue reading “Sock Puppets and Cult Leaders: The False Prophet Alexander”
In popular discussions of the attempted Persian invasions of 490 amd 480 BCE, one theme that is often heard is that they were a turning point of Western Civilization. The wars are presented as a battle between the nascent Athenian democracy, a city that would go on to produce the art, drama, philosophy, and political ideals on which the glorious of the West are founded, and the autocratic Persian Empire, ruled by Great Kings who wielded absolute authority over nations of abject slaves. Had the Persians won, the notion runs, the Persians would surely have crushed a form of government that they saw as anathema to their vision of a well-ordered empire bowing to a single Great King (as a random example of this narrative, see http://www.historynet.com/greco-persian-wars-xerxes-invasion.htm). Continue reading “The End of Western Civilization? What if Persia Won”