Thursday, 22 February 2018


Botticelli's Birth of Venus
In Roman mythology, Venus was the goddess of love, sex, beauty, and fertility. She was the Roman counterpart to the Greek Aphrodite.

The Roman Venus had many abilities beyond the Greek Aphrodite; she was a goddess of victory and even prostitution. According to Hesiod's Theogony, Aphrodite was born of the foam from the sea after Saturn castrated his father Uranus and threw his genitals into the sea.

Her beauty became a source of tension among the gods, all of whom wanted to take her as wife. To calm matters, Zeus decided that Aphrodite would marry Hephaestus, the crippled smith god.
Hephaestus fashioned for her a magic girdle to ensure her fidelity. However, she proved unfaithful and had multiple affairs with both mortals and gods. Some of her offspring were the Cupids (Erotes) who were a collection of winged love deities who represented the different aspects of love.

Images of Venus have been found in countless forms from sculptures to mosaics to shrines and even domestic murals and fresco. Venus, due to her beauty and sexual nature, was often depicted nude. Venus continued to be a popular subject matter for artists through antiquity and the renaissance even into the 20th century.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Expensive Ancient Coins

The record holder for an ancient Greek coin is the facing portrait gold stater of Pantikapaion, which brought $3,250,000 in a 2012 New York auction. Pantikapaion on the Black Sea coast of Crimea grew wealthy shipping grain from Ukraine’s fields to feed Greek cities. Weighing 9.12 grams, the coin was struck between 350 and 300 BCE. On the reverse a griffin stands over an ear of wheat, surrounded by the first three letters of the town’s name. The obverse shows the bearded head of a satyr.
Syracuse Tetradrachm of Kimon. Greek cities of Sicily during the fifth century BCE brought the art of coin die engraving to levels that would not be seen again for 1300 years. Cities like Syracuse, Akragas, Leontinoi and Naxos competed to celebrate their deities on large silver ancient coins. $3m a record for a Greek silver coin.
Akragas Dekadrachm. Until it was sacked by the Carthaginians in 406 BCE, Akragas (now Agrigento) was one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the Greek world. Shortly before its fall, Akragas issued a magnificent dekadrachm to honor a winner of an Olympic chariot race. $2.4m
Dekadrachm of Athens. With only around 40 genuine examples known (and many convincing fakes), the silver dekadrachm of Athens struck c. 467-465 BCE is one of the most desired ancient coins. The obverse depicts the helmeted head of the goddess Athena. The reverse shows an owl, wings outspread. At 42.5 grams, the coin is so large that it pushed the limits of hand-hammered minting. $ 850,000
Gold Stater of Athens. A handful of gold staters and fractions were struck as an emergency wartime issue in 406-407 BCE. Four examples of the 8.6 gram gold stater are known, three of them in museums. The fourth brought $ 783,000 in 2008.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Roman road unveiled beneath McDonald's restaurant

Two thousand years after legionaries tramped along its well-worn paving stones, an exceptionally well-preserved stretch of Roman road has been opened to the public – beneath a McDonald’s restaurant. The 150ft-long stretch of basalt road has been cleared, cleaned and made into a permanent attraction at Frattocchie, south of Rome.

Customers in search of cultural heritage along with their Big Macs and fries can descend underground and view the Roman road, as well as three skeletons. The bodies are believed to have been buried in the period after the road was abandoned. The skeletons belong to three men, the oldest of whom was aged 35-40.

McDonalds customers view the Roman road, as well as three ancient skeletons that were found buried in the culverts either side of it.
The find came to light in 2014 when the area was being excavated for a new McDonald’s restaurant. Archaeologists were summoned and the US fast food chain contributed 300,000 euros to the three-year restoration of the site. Experts say the paved road connected with the Appian Way.

Named after the Roman official who conceived it, Appius Claudius Caecus, it became known as the “regina viarium” or queen of roads.

The stretch of road is about 150ft long and more than 7ft wide. It was built in the 2nd century BC but fell into disuse by the 3rd century AD and remained buried for more than 1,700 years.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Roman “Gates of Hell”

Roman legend says that mortals could access the underworld at certain points on Earth. Located across the Mediterranean, these “gates of hell” were marked by stone passageways built over geologic features like hot springs or caves. In displays of supernatural power, ancient Roman priests would lead an animal through the passageways—an act that killed the creatures, but left the eunuchs unharmed.

Researchers say they’ve discovered how these gates work. The Hierapolis gate is still deadly to this day. Locals report finding dead mice, cats, weasels and even foxes at the site. So how did the ancient priests survive?
Hierapolis’ gate is positioned on a fault. Fissures emit a steady stream of volcanic carbon dioxide. Though the gas is harmless in limited quantities, clouds of CO2 can swiftly suffocate any living creatures that pass through. Researchers measured the CO2 concentration at various heights over time, and found that the concentrations of gas differ during day and night. With the sun overhead, the clouds of CO2 dissipate. But at night, the gas collects, forming a thick layer.

Trajan's Column in Rome
The concentrations grow high enough overnight that they could kill a person within a minute, according to the study. Since the clouds of CO2 streaming up from the fissure are denser than air, it collects at ground level.

This means that sacrificed bulls or rams, whose heads were too short to reach above the deadly layer of gas, would swiftly die. But the priests were likely tall enough to avoid death.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Diving Robbers Looting Underwater Treasure

4th century C.E. Roman shipwreck
Diving robbers looting underwater sites are the bane of marine archaeologists. The items stolen from the sea floor, ranging from coins to amphorae to scrap metal from World War II warships, are usually sold on the black market. Stopping the ravage of the ancient sites is all but impossible.

The problem of maritime looting is especially acute in Israel where the narrow Levantine coast has been inhabited throughout human history and traces of long-vanished civilizations remain on land and under water. Every storm exposes new artifacts on the seabed. It is often a matter of who gets there first – the authorities or thieves.

A bronze embolos - a ram used aboard ships of antiquity to smash holes in enemy vessels.
The sea is very shallow in Gaza, about 5 meters. The popular mentality says that the sea belongs to nobody.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

History of Blue

Egyptian Juglet, ca. 1750–1640 B.C.
Blue is considered to be the first synthetically produced color pigment. Egyptian blue ( cuprorivaite) was created around 2,200 B.C. It was made from ground limestone mixed with sand and a copper-containing mineral, such as azurite or malachite, then heated between 1470 and 1650°F.

The result was an opaque blue glass which was then crushed and combined with thickening agents such as egg whites to create a paint or glaze.

The history of ultramarine began around 6,000 years ago when the semi-precious gemstone it was made from—lapis lazuli—began to be imported by the Egyptians from Afghanistan. The Egyptians tried and failed to turn it into a paint, with each attempt resulting in gray. Instead, they used it to make jewelry and headdresses. Also known as “true blue” lapis lazuli first appeared as a pigment in the 6th century and was used in Buddhist paintings in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. It was renamed ultramarine—in Latin: ultramarinus, meaning “beyond the sea”.

It remained extremely expensive until a synthetic ultramarine was invented in 1826 by a French chemist, which then aptly named it “French Ultramarine.”

Cobalt blue dates back to the 8th and 9th centuries, and was then used to color ceramics and jewelry. A purer alumina-based version was later discovered in 1802 with commercial production beginning in France in 1807.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Treasures of Ancient Nubia

Gilt-silver mummy mask of Queen Malakaye (664–653 BC)
An exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, titled 'Gold and the Gods: Jewels of Ancient Nubia', provided insight into the meticulous craftsmanship of Ancient Nubia (located mostly in what’s now Sudan).

The show included more than 100 treasures from the MFA’s collection of jewelry from Ancient Nubia. The MFA’s collection dates from 1700 BC to AD 300 and is considered the most comprehensive of any outside of Khartoum. Gold and the Gods showcases elaborate necklaces, amulets, stacked bracelets, and earrings discovered inside the tombs of Nubian kings and queens.

Ancient Nubia ruled the entire Nile Valley during the apex of its power in the eighth century BC. Nubian artisans turned out some of the most sophisticated, finely crafted jewelry of the ancient world.
Hathor-headed crystal pendant (743–712 BC)
In addition to an array of gold objects, the exhibition shows jewelry made with lapis lazuli (imported from Afghanistan), blue chalcedony (imported from Turkey), amethystine quartz, and carnelian. Several pieces incorporate enamel and glass, rare and valuable materials at the time. Owners of these adornments valued them not only for their intrinsic beauty and as signs of wealth and status, but for magical powers that protected them both during their lifetimes and on their journey to the afterlife.
Nubian goldsmiths and jewelers employed methods that wouldn’t be reinvented in Europe for another thousand years.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

‘Screaming man’ is Prince Pentewere

Archaeologists have solved the mystery of the “screaming mummy”, an ancient Egyptian corpse preserved with its mouth open in a silent scream. Known as “Unknown Man E”, the precise identity of the body found in the Deir el-Bahari tomb complex in Egypt has eluded researchers. However, DNA analysis of the remains suggests they belong to Prince Pentewere, a son of the pharaoh Ramses III who was involved in a conspiracy to murder his father. Historical records indicate the prince was sentenced to be hanged as a result of his treachery
Marks around the neck of the screaming mummy appear to confirm this account.
The New Kingdom Pharaoh Ramesses III was assassinated by multiple assailants — and given postmortem cosmetic surgery to improve his mummy's appearance. Researchers used CT Imaging of royal mummies from the 18th to 20th dynasties of Egypt, spanning from about 1543 B.C. to 1064 B.C. Rulers during this period included famous names like Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Tutankhamun, Seti I and the murdered Ramesses III.

Ramesses III's throat was slit, likely killing him instantly. Now researchers say the pharaoh's toe was hacked off, likely with an ax, suggesting he was set upon by multiple assailants with different weapons. Ancient papyrus documents refer to a plot to assassinate Ramesses III, who ruled Egypt from 1186 B.C. to 1155 B.C. Court documents outline the tale of a harem conspiracy to take Ramesses III's life, hatched by one of his wives, Tiye. Her son Pentawere was in line for the throne after his half-brother, Ramesses IV. Tiye and other members of the royal household meant to kill Ramesses III and then oust Ramesses IV to install Pentawere as ruler.
They seem to have succeeded in killing Ramesses III, but were brought to trial for that murder under the rule of Ramesses IV. Tiye, Pentawere and their conspirators were convicted and executed. A mummy thought to be Pentawere's has been studied, and Egyptologists believe he died of suffocation or strangulation.

The new book adds detail to this lurid tale, suggesting that Ramesses III's attackers outnumbered him. Part of his big toe had been hacked off and had not healed, meaning the injury happened around the time of death. Embalmers had fashioned a sort of postmortem prosthesis out of linen to replace it when they mummified him. It seems ancient Egyptian embalmers deliberately poured large amounts of resin to glue the layers of linen wrappings to the feet.
A second mummy found in the same tomb is known as the Screaming Man. Screaming Man is an anomaly. Although found in a royal tomb, he was buried in an unmarked coffin devoid of proper ritual markings and with his hands and feet bound. He was also covered with a goatskin, a “ritually impure” element that would prevent him from reaching the afterlife. Screaming Man is very probably Pentawere. Genetic testing has confirmed that Screaming Man and Ramesses III were directly related to each other in the paternal line.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Roman gold : Coins of the Twelve Caesars

Gaius Julius Caesar (born 13 July 100 BCE), belonged to the Caesares family of the large Julian clan. He would live to make the name “Caesar” a title for emperors and their sons; a title that would endure for millennia, becoming Kaiser in German and Tsar in Russian. None of Caesar’s gold coins bear his portrait; many depict an uncertain female goddess.

A particularly rare example struck by a military mint moving with Caesar’s army in 48-47 BCE sold for over $US300,000.

The assassination of Caesar renewed the civil war, which ended 17 years later when his great-nephew Octavius received the title of “Augustus” from the Senate.

On much of his elegant gold coinage the only inscription is the word AUGUSTUS. Although he lived to the age of 75, his coin portrait remained youthful and idealized. A superb aureus of Augustus sold for nearly US$400,000.
Caligula was born on 31 August in the year 12. His father Germanicus was a successful, popular general. Caligula’s mother, Agrippina was the daughter of Marcus Agrippa, the organizer behind Octavius’s victory in the civil war.

Caligula’s silver and gold coins are scarce – usually the most difficult for completing a set of the Twelve Caesars.

Following the murder of Caligula (24 January 41), the Praetorian Guard declared his uncle Claudius, aged 51, as emperor. Claudius proved to be an effective ruler for the next 13 years.
Nero is remembered as the depraved emperor who “fiddled while Rome burned.” In numismatics, Nero is remembered as the depraved emperor who debased Roman coinage. Nero’s gold coins survive in large numbers and are some of the most affordable aurei of the Twelve Caesars.
Nero’s suicide resulted in another civil war. The governor of a Roman province in Spain, Servius Sulpicius Galba (born 3 BCE), was proclaimed emperor by his legions. Galba’s coinage is surprisingly abundant, considering that his reign lasted only seven months.Aulus Vitellius was born in 14 CE. Galba appointed him commander of the legions on the German frontier. He defeated Otho’s forces and occupied Rome in June, 69. He lasted eight months. When the legions of the East under general Vespasian advanced on Rome, he tried to resign, but his troops would not allow it. He was hunted down and killed on December 22. The coinage of Vitellius is quite scarce.
Titus Flavius Vespasianus was the son of a humble tax official. He rose through the ranks and distinguished himself in the invasion of Britain (43 CE). In 67, Nero sent him to crush the revolt in Judaea. On July 1, 69, the legions proclaimed Vespasian emperor at Alexandria.

An example sold for US$155,000 in 2017
Titus was 40 when he succeeded his father but lived only two years. The Arch of Titus in Rome commemorates his destruction of Jerusalem and triumph over the Judeans. His most famous coin is a very rare bronze sestertius depicting the Colosseum.
Domitian was about 30 when he succeeded his elder brother Titus. His coinage was prolific.