Showing posts tagged civilisation

ancientpeoples:

The sarcophagus chamber in the Pyramid of Unas; some of the Pyramid Texts can be seen written on the gable.

The Pyramid Texts are the oldest religious writings known to exist. They were first recorded in the pyramid of Unas, last king of Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty, and are called “Pyramid Texts” because they were carved in columns on the inner walls of the pyramid. Pyramids before Unas’ appear to have been undecorated on the inside. As the name suggests, these texts were reserved for the royal dead, and do not seem to have been available to the administrative élite for use in their tombs.

The Pyramid Texts are neither a theological discourse nor a mythological narrative, but present a sequence of often disjointed and seemingly nonsensical “utterances” or “spells”, which begin with the formula “Words to be spoken”. There are a total of 759 spells known to date, though not all of them are found in the same pyramid; Unas’ pyramid, for example, contains 228.

These spells vary from brief pieces of ritual, to lengthy description of the king’s behaviour in the afterlife, to long sequences which make little if any sense to the modern reader. Many of the spells appear to be connected with rituals for making the king live in the afterlife, and list items with them, perhaps to be offered or used in a ritual, as in Spell 90:

Osiris Unas, take the eye of Horus, the dim one, which Set has eaten from! (One Djesret-beer.)

In truth, though, no-one really knows what actions if any were performed with the Pyramid Texts, if the Pyramid Texts were performed at all. The above spell comes as part of a long series of spells exhorting the dead to “take the eye of Horus”.  The eye of Horus was a powerful amulet and icon, and could refer to the sun or the moon, or to Horus’ eye in a more direct sense. According to Egyptian myth, Horus’ left eye was gouged out in his battle with Set, his uncle (or in some versions of the myth, his brother), for control of Egypt, and this may be what this spell refers to. As can be seen, however, the meaning is far from clear.

Other spells give something closer to a narrative description of the king’s ascent into heaven to dwell in the afterlife. Among the more well-known of these are Utterances 273 and 274 from the Pyramid of Unas, which are together called the “Cannibal Hymn”. In this text, the king’s arrival in heaven is described, along with how he devours any god who stands in his way:

To say the words:

The sky is covered, the stars are darkened,

The bow-clouds tremble, the bones of the earth-gods shake,

The decans are still;

They have seen Unas, arisen as a soul, as a god, who lives on his fathers and feeds on his mothers.

Unas is the Bull of Heaven, who rages in his heart,

Who lives on the manifestation of every god,

Who eats the innards of those who come from the island of fire, their bellies full of magic.

It is Khonsu who gashes the lords, as he cuts their throats for Unas, and he removes for him what is in their bellies.

 …


It is not clear whether this should be taken as a literal reading, or as a more metaphorical description of the king’s assumption or absorption of the power of gods. The dramatic opening of the text, with the whole cosmos shaken by his arrival in heaven, is typical of a baw, the appearance or manifestation of a god in the world, which is often accompanied by similar, cataclysmic portents.

The Pyramid Texts are focussed exclusively on the royal afterlife, and were indeed almost exclusively used by the kings of the latter part of the Old Kingdom. It is also found in the pyramids of some queen-consorts, but in the Old Kingdom at least, a celestial afterlife appears to have been confined to the king. While the king hoped to join the gods in heaven, as a god in his own right, or to live everlastingly as one of the “imperishable stars”, the non-royal, elite dead could look forward to an eternity in their tombs, sustained by food-offerings from their living relatives. (What happened to the ordinary Egyptian who couldn’t afford a tomb when they died is unknown.)

In the early Middle Kingdom (c. 1900-1600 BC), parts of the Pyramid Texts re-appear, heavily redacted, in non-royal tombs and on the coffins of the elite, but these are sporadic appearances, and the Coffin Texts are more commonly found, a corpus more suited to the needs of the elite and incorporating some material from the Pyramid Texts. The Pyramid Texts reappear in non-royal tombs again in the Late Period (664 – 332 BC), when archaism became a major feature of funerary and religious practice. The Pyramid Texts had originally been written in archaic language, and by the Later Period were around 1500 years old, and appear to have been copied directly from the pyramid walls of the Old Kingdom, so it may be that their new readers could not fully understand the funerary texts they were borrowing.

(Reblogged from ancientpeoples)

ancientpeoples:

Maya script, also known as Maya glyphs or Maya hieroglyphs, is the writing system of the Maya civilization of Mesoamerica, presently the only Mesoamerican writing system that has been substantially deciphered. The earliest inscriptions found, which are identifiably Maya, date to the 3rd century BC in San Bartolo, Guatemala. Writing was in continuous use until shortly after the arrival of the conquistadors in the 16th century AD.

The Maya script is generally considered to be the most fully developed Mesoamerican writing system mostly because of its extraordinary aesthetics and because it has been partially deciphered. In Mayan writing, logograms and syllable signs are combined. Around 700 different glyphs have been documented, with some 75% having been deciphered. Around 7000 texts in Mayan script have been documented.

Maya writing used logograms complemented by a set of syllabic glyphs, somewhat similar in function to modern Japanese writing. Maya writing was called “hieroglyphics” or hieroglyphs by early European explorers of the 18th and 19th centuries who did not understand it but found its general appearance reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphs, to which the Maya writing system is not at all related.

The codices and classic texts were written by scribes who were usually members of the Maya priesthood in a literary form of the Ch’olti’ language. The Ch’olti’ language is an extinct Mayan language which was spoken in the Manche region of eastern Guatemala. The Ch’olti’ language has become of particular interest for the study of Mayan Hieroglyphs since it seems that most of the glyphic texts are written in an ancient variety of Ch’olti’ called Classic Ch’olti’an by epigraphersand which is thought to have been spoken as a prestige dialect throughout the Maya area in the classic period.

The decipherment of the writing was a long and laborious process. 19th century and early 20th century investigators managed to decode the Maya numbers and portions of the texts related to astronomy and the Maya calendar, but understanding of most of the rest long eluded scholars. In the 1960s, progress revealed the dynastic records of Maya rulers. Since the early 1980s it has been demonstrated that most of the previously unknown symbols form a syllabary, and progress in reading the Maya writing has advanced rapidly since.

(Reblogged from ancientpeoples)

The early Slavs were a diverse group of tribal societies in Migration period and early medieval Europe (ca. 5th to 10th centuries AD) whose tribal organizations indirectly created the foundations for today’s Slavic nations (via the Slavic states of the High Middle Ages).

The first mention of the name Slavs dates to the 6th century AD, by which time the Slavic tribes inhabited a vast area of central-eastern Europe. Over the following two centuries, the Slavs expanded further, towards the south and west towards the Balkans and the Alps, and the north and east towards the Volga. 

Jordanes, Procopius and other late Roman authors provide the earliest indisputed references to the early Slavs in the second half of the 6th century AD. Jordanes completed his Gothic History in Constantinople, in 550 or 551. A book which is an abridgement of Cassiodorus's much longer work. No doubt he also utilized additional sources, probably including other books, maps and oral tradition.

Jordanes wrote of the “Venethi”, the “Sclavenes” and the “Antes”, adding that all three names referred to the one and same people. His claim would be accepted more than a millennium later by Wawrzyniec Surowiecki, Pavel Jozef Šafárik and other historians. Accordingly, they have for searched the Slavic Urheimat (homeland) in the lands where the Venethi, a people in Tacitus's Germania, lived in the last decades of the 1st century AD. In Ptolemy of Alexandria's 2nd-century description, the same territories (encompassing all the forested areas of Central Europe) were already inhabited by the “Stavanoi”, thus they could also be identified with the early Slavs by the same modern historians. However, Jordanes' reliability has seriously been questioned. Recently Paul Barford stated that his “account has little value in discussion of the origin of the Slavs”, being “in fact a carbon-copy of a passage” of the Venethi in Tacitus's work. Similarly, Florin Curta maintains that “Jordanes built his image of the Slavs on the basis of earlier accounts and maps, without any concern for accurate description.”

Procopius completed his three works on Emperor Justinian I's reign (BuildingsHistory of the Wars, and Secret History) in the 550s. Each book contains detailed information on the raids by Sclavenes and Antes against the Eastern Roman Empire, and the History of the Wars provides a comprehensive description of them, including their beliefs, customs, and dwellings. Although not an eyewitness, Procopius had personal contacts with Sclavene mercenaries fighting with the Romans in Italy. Not in disagreement with Jordanes’s report, he stated that the Sclavenes and Antes spoke the same languages, but did not trace their common origin back to the Venethi but to a people he called “Sporoi”. The “sporoi” could originate from a reconstructed Proto-Slavic word for “multitute”.

A similarly comprehensive description of the Sclavenes and Antes can be found in the Strategikon, a military handbook written between 592 and 602 by an unknown author. He was apparently an experienced officer who participated in the Eastern Roman campaigns against the Sclavenes on the Lower Danubeat the end of the century. Likewise a member of the military staff was the source of Theophylact Simocatta’s narration about the same military operations.

Procopius stated the Slavs “are tall and especially strong, their skin is not very white, and their hair is neither blond nor black, but all have reddish hair’’. They are neither dishonourable nor spiteful, but simple in their ways, like the Huns (Avars)”. ”Some of them do not have either a tunic or cloak, but only wear a kind of breeches pulled up to the groin”.

Anthropological investigation of prehistoric Slav sites appears to support the historical literature, suggesting that Early Slavs were fair-haired. However, as Luca Cavalli-Sforza states, there is no guarantee that anthropological observations reflect genetic differences rather than socio-economic, nutritional, environmental, or other historic factors.

Early Slav society is often said to have been egalitarian and based around family clans, as noted by Procopius description of Slavic “democracy”. No individual held permanent power; however, brave and influential chiefs would arise during periods of conflict. When the conditions which brought them to power subsided, so too did their power.  

Early Slavic settlements were no larger than 0.5 to 2 hectares. Settlements were often temporary, perhaps a reflection of the itinerant form agriculture they practised. Settlements were often located on river terraces. The largest proportion of settlement features were the sunken buildings, called Grubenhauser in German, or poluzemlianki in Russian. They were erected over a rectangular pit and varied from four to twenty square meters of floor area, which could accommodate a typical nuclear family. Each house contained a stone or clay oven in one of the corners, a defining feature of the dwellings throughout Eastern Europe. On average, each settlement consisted of fifty to seventy individuals. Settlements were structured in specific manner; there was a central, open area which served as a “communal front” where communal activities and ceremonies were conducted. The settlement was polarised, divided into a production zone and settlement zone.

Embossed ornament in the form of a lion-griffin, from the Oxus treasure

Achaemenid Persian, 5th-4th century BC
From the region of Takht-i Kuwad, Tadjikistan

This embossed ornament is part of the Oxus treasure, the most important collection of silver and gold to have survived from the Achaemenid period. The treasure is from a temple and dates mainly from the fifth and fourth centuries BC.

This piece, in the shape of a winged stag with a horned lion’s head, is decorated with hollows for inlay. There are two long pins at the back for attachment, though it is unclear what the ornament originally decorated.

This composite creature reflects the ‘Animal Style’ of South Russia and demonstrates the close relations between the Persians and the nomadic people of the northern steppe lands. The Persian kings had indirect access to the wealth and artistic traditions of northern Central Asia and Siberia, and some contacts are illustrated by this piece.

(Source: The British Museum)

Stone Head

Maya, Classic period (AD 250-900)
From Copán, Honduras

The ancient Maya city of Copán is renowned for the large number of elaborate three-dimensional stone sculptures, scattered over the site. It attracted the attention of early travellers such as John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, who published images of some of the monuments in Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan in 1841. In 1881, another great traveller and pioneer of Maya archaeology, Alfred P. Maudslay, visited the ruins for three days using Stephens’ plans and descriptions of the monuments as a guide.

Maudslay returned for a few months in 1885. He took superb photographs of the monuments and their inscriptions. He recorded sculptural monuments using plaster moulds, each monument requiring hundreds of pieces, which were later re-assembled in London to produce the cast. For the inscriptions found on flat surfaces he used paper moulds.

A group of sculptures, including this astonishing head, were also brought back to England. The head was part of the elaborate decoration on the exterior of Structure 20. This structure, described by Maudslay as ‘the most curious building the excavation brought to light’, was destroyed by the River Copán before its diversion. According to him the head was probably part of a figure seated cross-legged.

(Source: British Museum)

Deir el-Medina is an Ancient Egyptian village which was home to the artisans who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings during the 18th to 20th dynasties of the New Kingdom period (ca. 1550–1080 BC)The settlement’s ancient name was "Set Maat" (translated as “The Place of Truth”), and the workmen who lived there were called “Servants in the Place of Truth”. During the Christian era the temple of Hathor was converted into a Church from which the Arabic name Deir el-Medina (“the monastery of the town”) is derived.

At the time when the world’s press was concentrating on Howard Carter’s discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 a team led by Bernard Bruyère began to excavate the site. This work has resulted in one of the most thoroughly documented accounts of community life in the ancient world that spans almost four hundred years. There is no comparable site in which the organisation, social interactions, working and living conditions of a community can be studied in such detail.

The site is located on the west bank of the Nile, across the river from modern-day Luxor. The village is laid out in a small natural amphitheatre, within easy walking distance of the Valley of the Kings to the north, funerary temples to the east and south-east, with the Valley of the Queens to the west. The village may have been built apart from the wider population in order to preserve secrecy in view of sensitive nature of the work carried out in the tombs.

The first datable remains of the village belong to the reign of Thutmosis I (c. 1506–1493 BC) with its final shape being formed during the Ramesside Period At its peak the community contained around sixty-eight houses spread over at total area of 5,600 m2 with a narrow road running the length of the village. The main road through the village may have been covered to shelter the villagers from the intense glare and heat of the sun. The size of the habitations varied, with an average floor space of 70 m2, but the same construction methods were used throughout the village. Walls were made of mudbrick, built on top of stone foundations. Mud was applied to the walls which were then painted white on the external surfaces with some of the inner surfaces whitewashed up to a height of around one metre. A wooden front door might have carried the occupants name. Houses consisted of four to five rooms comprising an entrance, main room, two smaller rooms, kitchen with cellar and staircase leading to the roof. The full glare of the sun was avoided by situating the windows high up on the walls. The main room contained a mudbrick platform with steps which may have been used as a shrine or a birthing bed, though this is hotly disputed. Nearly all houses contained niches for statues and small altars. The tombs built by the community for their own use include small rock-cut chapels and substructures adorned with small pyramids.

Due to its location, the village is not thought to have provided a pleasant environment: the walled village takes up the shape of the narrow valley in which its situated, with the barren surrounding hillsides reflecting the desert sun and the hill of Gurnet Murai cutting off the north breeze as well as the view of the verdant river valley. The village was abandoned c. 1110–1080 BCE during the reign of Ramesses XI (whose tomb was the last of the royal tombs built in The Valley of the Kings) due to increasing threats of Libyan raids and the instability of civil war. The Ptolemies later built a temple to Hathor on the site of an ancient shrine dedicated to her.

The surviving texts record the events of daily life rather than major historical incidents. Personal letters reveal much about the social relations and family life of the villagers. The ancient economy is documented by records of sales transactions that yield information on prices and exchange. Records of prayers and charms illustrate ordinary popular conceptions of the divine, whilst researchers into ancient law and practice find a rich source of information recorded in the texts from the village. Many examples of the most famous works of Ancient Egyptian literature have also been found. Thousands of papyri and ostraca still await publication.

The settlement was home to a mixed population of Egyptians, Nubians and Asiatics who were employed as labourers, (stone-cutters, plasterers, water-carriers), as well as those involved in the administration and decoration of the royal tombs and temples. The artisans and the village were organised into two groups, left and right gangs who worked on opposite sides of the tomb walls similar to a ship’s crew, with a foreman for each who supervised the village and its work.

As the main well was thirty minutes walk from the village, carriers worked to keep the village regularly supplied with water. When working on the tombs the artisans stayed overnight in a camp overlooking the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut (c. 1479–1458 BC) that is still visible today. Surviving records indicate that the workers had cooked meals delivered to them from the village.

The working week was eight days followed by two days holiday, though the six days off a month could be supplemented frequently due to illness, family reasons and, as recorded by the scribe of the tomb, rowing with wife or having a hangover. Including the days given over to festivals, over one-third of the year was time-off for the villagers during the reign of Merneptah (c. 1213–1203 BC).

During their days off the workmen could work on their own tombs, and since they were amongst the best craftsmen in Ancient Egypt who excavated and decorated royal tombs, their own tombs are considered to be some of the most beautiful on the west bank.

Ancient Maya art refers to the material arts of the Maya civilization, an eastern and south-eastern Mesoamerican culture that took shape in the course of the Preclassic period (1500 BC to 200 AD), saw its greatest flowering during the seven centuries of the Classic period (c. 200 to 900 AD), and went through an extended Postclassic phase before the upheavals of the sixteenth century destroyed courtly culture and put an end to the Mayan artistic tradition. Many regional styles existed, not always coinciding with the changing boundaries of Mayan polities. Olmecs, Teotihuacan and Toltecs have all influenced Maya art. Traditional art forms have mainly survived in weaving and the design of peasant houses.

The main Preclassic sculptural style from the Maya area is that of Izapa, a large settlement on the Pacific coast where many stelas and (frog-shaped) altars were found showing motifs also present in Olmec art. The stelas, usually without inscriptions, often show mythological and narrative subjects, some of which appear to relate to the Twin myth of the Popol Vuh. Nonetheless, it remains uncertain if the inhabitants of Izapa were ethnically Mayan. For the Classic Period of the Mayas, the following major classes of stone sculpture may be distinguished.

A common form of Maya stone sculpture was the stela. These were large, elongated stone slabs covered with carvings and inscriptions, and often accompanied by round altars. Typical of the Classical period, most of them depict the rulers of the cities they were located in, often disguised as gods. Although the rulers’ faces usually do not show individual traits, there are notable exceptions to this rule (e.g., Piedras Negras, stela 35). The stelas from Tonina and Copan approach sculptures in the round; those from Tikal have deep relief; from Palenque, otherwise a true Maya capital of the arts, no significant stelae have been preserved.

Another major group of stone carvings consists of stone lintels spanning doorways, and of panels and tablets set in the walls and piers of buildings and the sides of platforms. Particularly Palenque and Yaxchilan are renowned for this kind of art works - Yaxchilan chiefly for its long series of lintels in deep relief, some of the most famous of which show meetings with ancestors, Palenque for the large tablets adorning the inner sanctuaries of the Cross Group temples, and for refined masterworks such as the ‘Tablet of the Slaves’ and the multi-figure panels of the temple XIX and XXI platforms. King Pakal’s carved sarcophagus lid - without equal in other Maya kingdoms - might also be included here.

Altars, rounded or rectangular, sometimes resting on three or four boulder-like legs. They may be wholly or partly figurative (e.g., Copan turtle altar) or have a relief image on top, sometimes consisting of a single Ahau day sign (Caracol, Tonina).

Ball court markers, rounded relief carvings placed in the central axis of the floors of ball courts (such as those of Copan, Chinkultic, Tonina) and usually showing royal ball game scenes.

Monumental stairs, most famously the giant Hieroglyphic Stairway of Copan. The hewn stone blocks can be decorated with a great variety of scenes, including the ball game (La Corona). Sometimes, the ball game becomes the stairs’ chief theme (Yaxchilan), with a captive depicted inside the ball, or, elsewhere, a full-figure captive stretched out along the step (Tonina).

Thrones, with a broad, square seat, sometimes with the back iconically shaped like the wall of a cave, or the supports showing cosmologic carriers (Bacabs, Chaaks).

Stone sculpture in the round is represented by idols, such as the seated Copan scribe, by certain figurative architectural elements, and by giant sculptures, such as the symmetrically-positioned jaguars and simian musicians of Copán, that were integral parts of architectural design. The so-called ‘zoomorphs’ (large boulders sculpted to resemble living creatures), especially known from the petty kingdom of Quirigua, may have functioned as altars.

It is believed that carvings in wood were once extremely common, but only a few examples have survived. Most 16th-century wood carvings, considered objects of idolatry, were destroyed by the Spanish colonial authorities. The extant Classic examples include intricately worked lintels from some of the main Tikal temple pyramid sanctuaries. These wood reliefs, each consisting of several beams, and dating to the 8th century, show a king on his seat with a protector figure looming large behind, in the form of a Teotihuacan-style serpent (Temple I lintel 2), a jaguar (Temple I lintel 3), or a human impersonator of the jaguar god of terrestrial fire (Temple IV lintel 2). Other Tikal lintels depict an obese king wearing a jaguar dress and standing in front of his seat (Temple III lintel 2); and most famously, a victorious king, dressed as an astral death god, and standing on a palanquin underneath an arching feathered serpent (Temple IV lintel 3).

At least since Late-Preclassic times, modelled and painted stucco adorned the facades of buildings. Often, large mask panels with the plastered heads of deities in high relief (particularly those of sun, rain, and earth) are attached to the sloping retaining walls of temple platforms flanking stairs. Stucco modelling and relief work can also cover the entire building, as with Temple 16 of Copan, in its 6th-century form (referred to as ‘Rosalila’). It has the best-preserved plastered facades to date, all with their original colours, and is dedicated to the first king, Yax K’uk’ Mo’. Much more ‘baroque’ is the Late-Classic, Chenes-style stucco entrance on the Acropolis (Str. 1) of Ek’ Balam, a kingdom in north-eastern Yucatán.

Classic Period piers, friezes, walls, and roof combs, too, show varying, sometimes symbolically complicated decorative programs. Piers of the Palenque Palace, for example, are embellished with a series of lords and ladies in ritual dress. The frieze of a palace inAcanceh is divided into panels holding different animal figures; another, Early-Classic temple frieze from Campeche (exhibited in the Museo de Antropología e Historia of Mexico City) shows two ’Grandfather’-deities with extended arms flanking the large mask panel of a young lord or deity. A wall in Tonina has lozenge-shaped fields suggesting a scaffold and presents continuous narrative scenes that relate to human sacrifice. Roof combs usually show large representations of rulers, sometimes set within a cosmological framework (Palenque, Temple of the Sun).

Unique in Mesoamerica, Classic Period stucco modelling includes realistic portraiture of a quality equalling that of Roman ancestral portraits, with the lofty stucco heads of Palenque rulers and portraits of dignitaries from Tonina as outstanding examples. Some of these portrait heads were part of life-size stucco figures adorning temple crests. The portrait modelling recalls that of certain Jaina ceramic statuettes.

Unlike utility ceramics found in such large numbers among the debris of archaeological sites, most of the decorated pottery (cylinder vessels, vases, bowls) once was ‘social currency’ among the Maya nobility, and, preserved as heirlooms, also accompanied the nobles into their graves. The aristocratic tradition of gift-giving feasts and ceremonial visits, and the emulation that inevitably went with these exchanges, largely explains the high level of artistry reached in Classical times.

The precious ceramic objects were manufactured in numerous workshops distributed over the Mayan kingdoms, some of the most famous being associated with the ’Chama-style’, the ’Holmul-style’, and the so-called ’Ik-style’. Made without a potter’s wheel, they were delicately painted, carved into relief, incised, or - chiefly during the Early Classic period - made with the Teotihuacan fresco technique of applying paint to a wet clay surface.

The decorative programs show great variation: palace scenes, courtly ritual, mythology, divinatory glyphs, or even dynastical texts taken from chronicles. Ceramic scenes and texts painted in black and red on a white underground, the equivalents of pages from the lost folding books, are referred to as being in ‘codex style’.

Sculptural ceramic art includes incense burners and hand or mold-made figurines sometimes used as ocarina’s. Evolved from Early-Classic models, the profusely decorated, elongated Classic incense burners from the kingdom of Palenque show the central face of a deity (usually the jaguar deity of terrestrial fire) or a king.

Figurines are often of an amazing liveliness and realism. Apart from deities, animal persons, rulers and dwarfs, they show many other characters and scenes taken from daily life. Some of these figurines may have been used in rituals. The most impressive examples stem from Jaina Island.

The Ides of March (LatinIdus Martii or Idus Martiae) is the name of the 15th day of March in the Roman calendar.

The word Ides comes from the Latin word “idus”, a word that was used widely in the Roman calendar indicating the approximate day that was the middle of the month. The term ides was used for the 15th day of the months of March, May, July, and October, and the 13th day of the other months. The Ides of March was a festive day dedicated to the god Mars and a military parade was usually held.

In modern times, the term Ides of March is best known as the date on which Julius Caesar was killed in 44 B.C. Caesar was stabbed (23 times) to death in the Roman Senate by a group of conspirators led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. The group included 60 other co-conspirators according to Plutarch. Another point which arises is Shakespeare’s use of the Ides of March and (the lack of doubt in) Marcus Brutus’ decision to assassinate Caesar to portray an atmosphere of madness, pleasure, and pandemonium. It is said that on ides of March the sea succumbs to chaos and the full moon brings high tides. All these points give the Ides of March a very mysterious quality. 

According to Plutarch, a seer had foreseen that Caesar would be harmed not later than the Ides of March; and on his way to the Theatre of Pompey (where he would be assassinated), Caesar met the seer and joked, “The ides of March have come”, meaning to say that the prophecy had not been fulfilled, to which the seer replied “Aye, Caesar; but not gone.” This meeting is famously dramatised in William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, when Caesar is warned by the soothsayer to “beware the Ides of March.”

Furthermore, Suetonius writes that the haruspex Spurinna warns Caesar of his death which will come “not beyond the Ides of March” as he is crossing the river Rubicon.

Petra (Greek ”πέτρα” (petra), meaning stone; Arabic: البتراء, Al-Batrāʾ) is a historical and archaeological city in the Jordanian governorate of Ma’an that is famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system. Established sometime around the 6th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans, it is a symbol of Jordan as well as its most visited tourist attraction. It lies on the slope of Mount Hor in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. It was described as “a rose-red city half as old as time” in a Newdigate Prize-winning poem by John William Burgon.

Evidence suggests that settlements had begun in and around Petra in the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt (1550–1292 BC). It is listed in Egyptian campaign accounts and the Amarna letters as Pel, Sela or Seir. Though the city was founded relatively late, a sanctuary existed there since very ancient times. Stations 19 through 26 of the stations list of Exodus are places associated with Petra. This part of the country was Biblically assigned to the Horites, the predecessors of the Edomites. The habits of the original natives may have influenced the Nabataean custom of burying the dead and offering worship in half-excavated caves. Although Petra is usually identified with Sela which means a rock, the Biblical references refer to it as “the cleft in the rock”, referring to its entrance. The second book of Kings xiv. 7 seems to be more specific. In the parallel passage, however, Sela is understood to mean simply “the rock”.

On the authority of Josephus, Eusebius and Jerome assert that Rekem was the native name and Rekem appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls as a prominent Edom site most closely describing Petra and associated with Mount Seir. But in the Aramaic versions Rekem is the name of Kadesh, implying that Josephus may have confused the two places. Sometimes the Aramaic versions give the form Rekem-Geya which recalls the name of the village El-ji, southeast of Petra. The Semitic name of the city, if not Sela, remains unknown. The passage in Diodorus Siculus (xix. 94–97) which describes the expeditions which Antigonus sent against the Nabataeans in 312 BC is understood to throw some light upon the history of Petra, but the “petra” referred to as a natural fortress and place of refuge cannot be a proper name and the description implies that the town was not yet in existence.

The name “Rekem” was inscribed in the rock wall of the Wadi Musa opposite the entrance to the Siq, but about twenty years ago the Jordanians built a bridge over the wadi and this inscription was buried beneath tons of concrete.

More satisfactory evidence of the date of the earliest Nabataean settlement may be obtained from an examination of the tombs. Two types have been distinguished: the Nabataean and the Greco-Roman. The Nabataean type starts from the simple pylon-tomb with a door set in a tower crowned by a parapet ornament, in imitation of the front of a dwelling-house. Then, after passing through various stages, the full Nabataean type is reached, retaining all the native features and at the same time exhibiting characteristics which are partly Egyptian and partly Greek. Of this type there exist close parallels in the tomb-towers at el-I~ejr in north Arabia, which bear long Nabataean inscriptions and supply a date for the corresponding monuments at Petra. Then comes a series of tombfronts which terminate in a semicircular arch, a feature derived from north Syria. Finally come the elaborate façades copied from the front of a Roman temple; however, all traces of native style have vanished. The exact dates of the stages in this development cannot be fixed. Few inscriptions of any length have been found at Petra, perhaps because they have perished with the stucco or cement which was used upon many of the buildings. The simple pylon-tombs which belong to the pre-Hellenic age serve as evidence for the earliest period. It is not known how far back in this stage the Nabataean settlement goes, but it does not go back farther than the 6th century BC.

A period follows in which the dominant civilization combines Greek, Egyptian and Syrian elements, clearly pointing to the age of the Ptolemies. Towards the close of the 2nd century BC, when the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms were equally depressed, the Nabataean kingdom came to the front. Under Aretas III Philhellene, (c.85–60 BC), the royal coins begin. The theatre was probably excavated at that time, and Petra must have assumed the aspect of a Hellenistic city. In the reign of Aretas IV Philopatris, (9 BC–40 AD), the fine tombs of the el-I~ejr [?] type may be dated, and perhaps also the great High-place.

Petra declined rapidly under Roman rule, in large part from the revision of sea-based trade routes. In 363 an earthquake destroyed many buildings, and crippled the vital water management system. The ruins of Petra were an object of curiosity in the Middle Ages and were visited by Sultan Baibars of Egypt towards the end of the 13th century. The first European to describe them was Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.

Because the structures weakened with age, many of the tombs became vulnerable to thieves, and many treasures were stolen. In 1929, a four-person team, consisting of British archaeologists Agnes Conway and George Horsfield, Palestinian physician and folk-lore expert Dr Tawfiq Canaan and Dr Ditlef Nielsen, a Danish scholar, excavated and surveyed Petra.

The Great Wall of China is a series of fortifications made of stone, brick, tamped earth, wood, and other materials, generally built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern borders of China in part to protect the Chinese Empire or its prototypical states against intrusions by various nomadic groups or military incursions by various warlike peoples or forces. Several walls were being built as early as the 7th century BC; these, later joined together and made bigger, stronger, and unified are now collectively referred to as the Great Wall. Especially famous is the wall built between 220–206 BC by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Little of that wall remains. Since then, the Great Wall has on and off been rebuilt, maintained, enhanced; the majority of the existing wall was reconstructed during the Ming Dynasty.

Other purposes of the Great Wall have included border controls, allowing the imposition of duties on goods transported along the Silk Road, regulation or encouragement of trade and the control of immigration and emigration. Furthermore, the defensive characteristics of the Great Wall were enhanced by the construction of watch towers, troop barracks, garrison stations, signaling capabilities through the means of smoke or fire, and the fact that the path of the Great Wall also served as a transportation corridor.

The Great Wall stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Lake in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. A comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that the Ming walls measure 8,850 km (5,500 mi). This is made up of 6,259 km (3,889 mi) sections of actual wall, 359 km (223 mi) of trenches and 2,232 km (1,387 mi) of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers. Another archaeological survey found that the entire wall with all of its branches measure out to be 21,196 km (13,171 mi).

Some of the following sections are in Beijing municipality, which were renovated and which are regularly visited by modern tourists today.

  • "North Pass" of Juyongguan pass, known as the Badaling. When used by the Chinese to protect their land, this section of the wall has had many guards to defend China’s capital Beijing. Made of stone and bricks from the hills, this portion of the Great Wall is 7.8 meters (26 ft) high and 5 meters (16 ft) wide.
  • "West Pass" of Jiayuguan (pass). This fort is near the western edges of the Great Wall.
  • "Pass" of Shanhaiguan. This fort is near the eastern edges of the Great Wall.
  • One of the most striking sections of the Ming Great Wall is where it climbs extremely steep slopes. It runs 11 kilometers (6.8 mi) long, ranges from 5 to 8 meters (16–26 ft) in height, and 6 meters (20 ft) across the bottom, narrowing up to 5 meters (16 ft) across the top. Wangjinglou is one of Jinshanling’s 67 watchtowers, 980 meters (3,220 ft) above sea level.
  • South East of Jinshanling, is the Mutianyu Great Wall which winds along lofty, cragged mountains from the southeast to the northwest for approximately 2.25 kilometers (about 1.3 miles). It is connected with Juyongguan Pass to the west and Gubeikou to the east.
  • 25 km (16 mi) west of the Liao Tian Ling stands a part of the Great Wall which is only 2~3 stories high. According to the records of Lin Tian, the wall was not only extremely short compared to others, but it appears to be silver. Archeologists explain that the wall appears to be silver because the stone they used were from Shan Xi, where many mines are found. The stone contains extremely high levels of metal in it causing it to appear silver. However, due to years of decay of the Great Wall, it is hard to see the silver part of the wall today.

Another notable section lies near the eastern extremity of the wall, where the first pass of the Great Wall was built on the Shanhaiguan (known as the “Number One Pass Under Heaven”). 3 km north of Shanhaiguan is Jiaoshan Great Wall, the site of the first mountain of the Great Wall. 15 km northeast from Shanhaiguan, is the Jiumenkou, which is the only portion of the wall that was built as a bridge.

Before the use of bricks, the Great Wall was mainly built from rammed earth, stones, and wood. During the Ming Dynasty, however, bricks were heavily used in many areas of the wall, as were materials such as tiles, lime, and stone. The size and weight of the bricks made them easier to work with than earth and stone, so construction quickened. Additionally, bricks could bear more weight and endure better than rammed earth. Stone can hold under its own weight better than brick, but is more difficult to use. Consequently, stones cut in rectangular shapes were used for the foundation, inner and outer brims, and gateways of the wall. Battlements line the uppermost portion of the vast majority of the wall, with defensive gaps a little over 30 cm (12 in) tall, and about 23 cm (9.1 in) wide.

While some portions north of Beijing and near tourist centers have been preserved and even extensively renovated, in many locations the Wall is in disrepair. Those parts might serve as a village playground or a source of stones to rebuild houses and roads. Sections of the Wall are also prone to graffiti and vandalism. Parts have been destroyed because the Wall is in the way of construction.

More than 60 km (37 mi) of the wall in Gansu province may disappear in the next 20 years, due to erosion from sandstorms. In places, the height of the wall has been reduced from more than five meters (16.4 ft) to less than two meters. The square lookout towers that characterize the most famous images of the wall have disappeared completely. Many western sections of the wall are constructed from mud, rather than brick and stone, and thus are more susceptible to erosion.

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