The ancient world


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Achilles slaying Penthesilea. Detail from an amphora, 530-525 BCE. Photo courtesy the Trustees of the British Museum

Essay/
The ancient world
Black Achilles

The Greeks didn’t have modern ideas of race. Did they see themselves as white, black – or as something else altogether?

Tim Whitmarsh

The Course of Empire: Destruction (1836) by Thomas Cole. Courtesy Met Museum, New York/Wikipedia

Essay/
Nations and empires
The road from Rome

The fall of the Roman Empire wasn’t a tragedy for civilisation. It was a lucky break for humanity as a whole

Walter Scheidel

A fresco inside the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome, November 2013. The catacomb was used for Christian burials from the late 2nd through the 4th century CE. Photo by Reuters/Max Rossi

Essay/
Religion
Christians were strangers

How an obscure oriental cult in a corner of Roman Palestine grew to become the dominant religion of the Western world

Michael Kulikowski

Photo by Paolo Cipriani/Getty

Essay/
The ancient world
Slaves or wage slaves

Incentives, rewards, bonuses and bonding experiences – Roman slaveowners were the first management theorists

Jerry Toner

From beginning to end; The Great Day of His Wrath (1851-3), by John Martin. Works of end-time prediction did not appear until the Seleucid era. Courtesy Tate Britain, London

Essay/
History of ideas
A revolution in time

Once local and irregular, time-keeping became universal and linear in 311 BCE. History would never be the same again

Paul J Kosmin

Moai at Ahu Tongariki on Easter Island, believed to have been carved by the island’s Rapa Nui Polynesian inhabitants between 1600 and 1730. Photo by Stefan Boness/Panos

Essay/
The ancient world
Do civilisations collapse?

The idea that the Maya or Easter Islanders experienced an apocalyptic end makes for good television but bad archaeology

Guy D Middleton

An Ashokan pillar at Vaishali, India. Photo by Rajeez Kumar/Wikipedia

Essay/
The ancient world
Ashoka’s moral empire

Being good is hard. How an ancient Indian emperor, horrified by the cruelty of war, created an infrastructure of goodness

Sonam Kachru

A small stele, probably used as a home altar, depicts Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti with their three eldest daughters. Aten is represented as a sun-disc with the Sun’s rays ending in hands proffering Ankh signs to the royal couple. Amarna period, c1340 BCE. Courtesy the Neues Museum, Berlin

Essay/
Religion
The first God

Out of the many gods of ancient Egypt an inspired Pharaoh created a monotheistic faith. What was Atenism and why did it fail?

James K Hoffmeier

Study in Orange (1904), by René Le Bègue. Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1933. Courtesy the MET Museum, New York

Essay/
Stories and literature
Eros at play

Why the ancient erotic poems of Sappho and Wallada bint al-Mustakfi are far more stimulating than modern pornography

Jamie Mackay

Artwork by G Clausen. Photo by SSPL/NRM/Pictorial Collection/Getty

Essay/
Education
Classics for the people

A classical education was never just for the elite, but was a precious and inspiring part of working-class British life

Edith Hall

Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, from R Havell’s The Costume of the Original Inhabitants of the British Isles (1815), London. Courtesy the British Library Board

Essay/
The ancient world
Boudica the warrior queen

How a widowed queen became a rebel warrior, defying Roman patriarchy, and leading her people to glory even in defeat

Caitlin C Gillespie

A clay impression of a cylinder seal from Nippur, Iraq. Akkadian civilisation, 2330-2150 BCE. Photo By DEA/De Agostini/Getty

Essay/
The ancient world
The deep roots of writing

Was writing invented for accounting and administration or did it evolve from religious movements, sorcery and dreams?

Michael Erard

Aerial view of Masada showing the Roman ramp. Photo by HG/Magnum

Essay/
The ancient world
The Masada mystery

Have archaeologists proven the ancient tale of mass suicide in the Judaean desert or twisted science for political end?

Eric H Cline

Bhima fighting with Jayadratha in a page from the Mahabharata (c1615), Popular Mughal School, probably done at Bikaner, India. Photo by Getty

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Stories and literature
The living Mahabharata

Immorality, sexism, politics, war: the polychromatic Indian epic pulses with relevance to the present day

Audrey Truschke

Photo by Corbis/Getty

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Language and linguistics
A history of punctuation

How we came to represent (through inky marks) the vagaries of the mind, inflections of the voice, and intensity of feeling

Florence Hazrat

‘Aristotelian education, like its Platonic predecessor, is almost lifelong.’ In the reading room of Widener Library, Harvard University, 1974. Photo by Constantine Manos/Magnum

Essay/
Education
The well-educated person

If we took Aristotle seriously we would revolutionise our educational systems to enable citizens to learn throughout life

C D C Reeve

Women of Phoenicia (1879) by Robert Fowler. Image by Public Catalogue Foundation. Supplied by National Museums Liverpool

Essay/
The ancient world
Phantasmic Phoenicia

The British, Irish and Lebanese have all claimed descent from the ancient Phoenicians. But ancient Phoenicia never existed

Josephine Quinn

Detail of Battle against the inhabitants of Veii and Fidenae (c1598), by Guiseppe Cesari, also known as the Cavaliere d’Arpino. The National Gallery, London. Courtesy Wikipedia

Essay/
Nations and empires
Enlisted, enslaved, enthroned

Vandals, Goths, Alemanni, Sueves… the Romans grappled endlessly with the status of ethnic peoples in their vast empire

Douglas Boin

The cellar of the Codorníu winery Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Catalonia. Photo by Richard Kalvar/Magnum

Essay/
Archaeology
Accumulation and its discontents

Whether collecting, storing or hoarding, we’ve always had our issues with stuff – not least deciding what’s worth having

Astrid Van Oyen

Detail from a fresco decoration within the House of the Golden Bracelet in Pompeii, Italy, dating from the 1st century. Photo by Mondadori/Getty

Essay/
Animals and humans
Birds are ‘winged words’

The Classical world abounded with avians – and so birds took up in the human imagination, nesting in our language and art

Jeremy Mynott

Photo by Elliott Erwitt/Magnum

Essay/
Language and linguistics
Talk like an Egyptian

If we want to safeguard our languages, stories and ideas against extinction, we had better study Egyptology

Grayson Clary