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

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

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 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

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

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

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

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

‘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

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

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

Penelope Unraveling Her Work at Night (1886), Dora Wheeler, on silk. Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sylvia and Leonard Marx Gift 2002

Essay/
Stories and literature
Sex and death in Homer

Why would Odysseus dump a hot nymph? Or toyboys lust after his wife Penelope? Unveiling the erotic mysteries of the Odyssey

C D C Reeve

Photo by Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum

Essay/
Thinkers and theories
Atoms and flat-Earth ethics

As for most ancient philosophers, Lucretius saw no boundary between his scientific interests and his ethical claims

James Hannam