Synopsis: With Rome encroaching from the north and south, the sons of Grypus battle Parthians, usurpers and local powers to keep their hold on Syria.
“As he lingered on the banks of the Euphrates, (Sulla) received a visit from Orobazus, a Parthian, who came as an ambassador from King Arsaces, although up to this time the two nations had held no intercourse with one another. This also is thought to have been part of Sulla’s great good fortune, that he should be the first Roman with whom the Parthian held conference when they wanted alliance and friendship.” – Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Sulla
“Straton, the tyrant of Berroea…called in Zizon, the ruler of the Arabian tribes, and Mithridates Sinax, the ruler of the Parthians, who coming with a great number of forces, and besieging Demetrius (III) in his encampment, into which they had driven them with their arrows, compelled those that were with him by thirst to deliver up themselves. So they took a great many spoils out of that country, and Demetrius himself, whom they sent to Mithridates (II).” – Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XIII, Chapter 12
(Absolutely awesome and super-useful) map of Syria and surrounding territories c. 95 BC
Synopsis: While the Ptolemies intrigue in Coele Syria, Antiochus VIII Grypus and his half-brother Antiochus IX Cyzicenus struggle for seventeen years to win control of the north. After the rivals die in quick succession, the kingdom comes under control of Seleucus VI and Demetrius III, the allied sons of Grypus.
“Then Grypus proceeded to besiege Antioch, the city where Cyzicenus’ wife Cleopatra (IV) was to be found, and when it was captured Tryphaena, the wife of Grypus, ordered that the highest priority be given to hunting down her sister…to ensure that she escape one of the miseries of captivity. For Tryphaena believed that it was from feelings of jealousy towards herself that Cleopatra had entered this kingdom rather than any other, and that she had declared herself her sister’s enemy by marrying her sister’s foe.” – Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, Book 39
Synopsis: Cleopatra Thea convinces her son Antiochus VIII Grypus to return to Syria and share the throne. But once Zabinas is defeated and the kingdom secure, Grypus decides to avenge his brother’s murder.
“Ptolemy (Physcon)…proceeded to devote his entire strength to the destruction of Alexander (Zabinas’) kingdom, which the latter had acquired by Ptolemy’s resources solely because of his hatred for Demetrius (II). He therefore sent assistance to Grypus on a massive scale and also gave him the hand of his daughter, Tryphaena, in marriage.” – Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, Book 39
“After recovering his father’s throne and being freed from threats from abroad, Grypus became the target of his mother’s treachery. Through her lust for power she had already betrayed her husband, Demetrius, and killed her other son; now she took it ill that her prestige was diminished by Grypus’ victory, and so she set before him a cup of poison.” – Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, Book 39
Synopsis: Demetrius II returns to Syria, but his unpopularity – and support for the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra II – results in a usurper named Alexander Zabinas taking most of his kingdom. Fleeing a military defeat, Demetrius is denied entry to Ptolemais-Akko by Cleopatra Thea, an act that leads to his death. The elevation of their son Seleucus V results in a darker tragedy.
“Released from confinement among the Parthians and restored to his throne, Antiochus’ brother Demetrius (II) decided to make war on Egypt…For his mother-in-law, Cleopatra (II), promised him the throne of Egypt as the reward for his assistance against her brother.” – Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, Book 39.
“Demetrius (II), for his part, was defeated by Alexander (Zabinas) and, with misfortune besetting him on all sides, he was finally abandoned even by his wife and children. Left with a few slaves, he made for Tyre, intending to use the sanctity of the temple to protect himself; but as he disembarked from this ship he was killed on the orders of the governor.” – Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, Book 39.
Synopsis: A Syrian man from Apamea, enslaved on the island of Sicily, renames himself King Antiochus and launches the first large-scale slave rebellion against the Roman Republic.
“The Sicilians, through the enjoyment of a long peace, grew very rich, and brought up an abundance of slaves; who being driven in droves like so many herds of cattle from the different places where they were bred and brought up, were branded with certain marks burned on their bodies….their masters were very strict and severe with them, and took no care to provide either necessary food or clothing for them, so that most of them were forced to rob and steal to get these necessities; so that all places were full of slaughters and murders.” – Diodorus Siculus, The Historical Library, Book 34
“Then they made Eunus king, not for his valor or skill in warfare, but on account of his extraordinary tricks, and because he was made the leader and author of the defection…At length, putting a diadem upon his head and graced with all the emblems of royalty, he caused his wife, who was also a Syrian from the same city, to be called queen, and chose such as he judged to be the most prudent to be his councillors.” – Diodorus Siculus, The Historical Library, Book 34
Synopsis: After Mithridates is struck down by an illness, his son Phraates II defends Parthian gains against the army of Antiochus VII. Forced to retreat to Hyrcania, Phraates sets events in motion that result in the deaths of both kings.
“On Antiochus (VII)’s approach, many eastern princes came to meet him, surrendering their persons and their thrones, with curses of the arrogance of the Parthians. The first encounter took place forthwith. Victorious in three battles, Antiochus seized Babylon and began to be dubbed ‘the Great.’ Thus, as all the peoples were defecting to him, the Parthians were left with nothing but the lands of their fathers.” – Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, Book 38
“When word of (a revolt) came to Antiochus (VII), he advanced with the contingent which was wintering with him in order to assist those who were closest at hand, only to meet while on the march the king of the Parthians, against whom he put up a braver fight than did his forces. Finally, however, the enemy’s valor prevailed and Antiochus, deserted by his craven troops, was killed.” – Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, Book 38
“Let’s sit on the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings, how some were overthrown and others killed in war. Some were haunted by the ghosts of the kings they had overthrown.” – Shakespeare, Richard II: Act 3 Scene 2
Map of the Parthian Empire c. 96 BC, which is fairly similar to what they held under Mithridates I c. 138 BC:
Synopsis: Ongoing strife in Anatolia and Egypt allows Antiochus VII to campaign east against the Parthians. His early successes inspire hopes of a resurgent Seleucid Empire, hopes shattered by his unexpected death.
“In Asia, Attalos III as soon as he came to the throne began to manage affairs in a way quite different from all the former kings; for they, by their clemency and kindness to their subjects, reigned prosperously and happily themselves and were a blessing to the kingdom; but this prince being of a cruel and bloody disposition oppressed his subjects with many slaughters and grievous calamities.” – Diodorus Siculus, The Historical Library, Book 35
“Ptolemy Physcon, when he saw that his sister Cleopatra (II) was so great an enemy to him, and could not revenge himself otherwise upon her, contrived a most abominable piece of villainy for that purpose. For, imitating the cruelty of Medeia, he murdered her son, begotten by himself, in Cyprus; the son was called Memphites, and was still a young boy.” – Diodorus Siculus, The Historical Library, Book 35
“(Queen) Laodice (of Cappadocia) had had six children of the male sex by King Ariarathes (V); she feared that she would not long remain in control of the kingdom once any of them grew up, so she resorted to murder, killing five of them by poison.” – Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, Book 37
Map of Anatolia after the Treaty of Apamea (c. 188 BC):
“In this battle, Antiochus’ horse was wounded and killed, and the king himself was struck through the mouth and lost some of his teeth. On the whole, he acquired on that occasion the greatest reputation for valor. Because of this battle, Euthydemus was caught off guard and retreated with his forces into the Bactrian city of Zariaspa.” – Polybius, The Histories, 10.49
Synopsis: After the death of Alexander the Great, Bactria came under Seleucid rule before gaining its independence under the Diodotid and Euthydemid kings. In the second part of my interview with historian and author Tristan Hughes, we discuss how the Bactrian Kingdom was born, preserved itself against multiple attempts at Seleucid reconquest, and finally met its end.
Tristan Hughes @BattlesAncients on Twitter
Battles of the Ancients website www.turningpointsoftheancientworld.com
“I am engaged in a land of a leonine and brave people, where every foot of the ground is like a wall of steel confronting my soldiers. You have brought only one Alexander into the world, but every mother in this land has brought an Alexander into the world.” – Alexander the Great, in a letter written to his mother Olympias from Bactria
Synopsis: Five years of campaigning brought Alexander the Great to the doorstep of Bactria, but he’d spend much of the next three years – arguably the most difficult of his life – trying to control the region. In this first episode of an occasional series called “The Ancient World – Spotlight” I’m joined by historian and author Tristan Hughes to discuss the uprising of the Sogdian warlord Spitamenes, quite possibly Alexander’s greatest foe, and the later revolts of Hellenic troops upon news of Alexander’s death.
Tristan Hughes @BattlesAncients on Twitter
Battles of the Ancients website www.turningpointsoftheancientworld.com
Synopsis: Cleopatra Thea marries Demetrius II’s brother, Antiochus VII, becoming the simultaneous queen of two Seleucid kings. While Antiochus crushes Tryphon’s revolt and recovers former Seleucid territories, Demetrius is defeated by Mithridates and imprisoned in distant Hyrcania.
“But as Antiochus, the brother of Demetrius (II) who was called Soter, was not admitted by any of the cities on account of Tryphon, Cleopatra sent to him, and invited him to marry her, and to take the kingdom. The reasons why she made this invitation were these: That her friends persuaded her to it, and that she was afraid for herself, in case some of the people of Seleucia (Pieria) should deliver up the city to Tryphon. As Antiochus was now come to Seleucia, and his forces increased every day, he marched to fight Tryphon; and having beaten him in battle, he ejected him out of Upper Syria into Phoenicia, and pursued him thither, and besieged him in Dora which was a fortress hard to be taken, whither he had fled.” – Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, Book XIII, Chapter 7
“Antiochus well remembered that his father had been hated for his arrogance and his brother despised for his idleness. To avoid falling into the same vices himself, he married Cleopatra, his brother’s widow, and took vigorous action against the cities which had defected at the start of his brother’s reign. He subdued them and added them once more to the territory of his kingdom.” – Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, 36.1.9
Synopsis: The Seleucid rebel Diodotus Tryphon uses Thea and Alexander Balas’ young son, Antiochus VI, to capture most of Syria. Though paralyzed at home, Demetrius II embarks on a bold plan to challenge the conquests of Mithridates.
“Now there was a certain commander…whose name was Diodotus, who was also called Tryphon, who took notice of the ill-will the soldiers bore toward Demetrius, and went to (Iamblichus) the Arabian, who brought up Antiochus, the son of Alexander…and persuaded him to give him Antiochus, because he would make him king.” – Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, Book XIII, Chapter 5
“And so cities in all districts rebelled against (Demetrius’) rule; and to remove the stigma of indolence he decided to attack the Parthians.” – Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, 36.1.7
Map of Syria c. 200 BC (courtesy of www.timemaps.com)
Synopsis: The rediscovery of Ai Khanoum testified to the wealth and power of the Bactrian Kingdom. Mithridates’ conquest of Babylonia is countered by an unlikely coalition.
“The cities of Bactria were Bactra, which they also call Zariaspa and through which flows a river of the same name that empties into the Oxus, plus the city of Darapsa, and others more. Among these was a city called Eucratideia, named after its ruler… (The Greeks) also controlled Sogdiana, which lies above and to the east of Bactria between the Oxus River – demarcating Bactrians from Sogdians – and the Jaxartes River, likewise separating the Sogdians from the nomads.” – Strabo, Geography, 11.11.2
“These wise sayings of earlier men, the words of well-known men, are enshrined in the holy Pytho. There Clearchus copied them faithfully, and set them up here in the sanctuary of Kineas, blazing from afar.
As a child, be well-behaved.
As a youth, be self-controlled.
As an adult, be just.
As an elder, be wise.
As one dying, be without pain.”
– Inscription at the Heroon (hero’s tomb) of Kineas, oikistes (founder) of the city of Ai Khanoum, Afghanistan, dated 300 – 250 BC
Map of Ai Khanoum and Ashoka Rock Edicts
Map of the Eastern Satrapies
Synopsis: On the eastern frontiers of the Seleucid Empire, Parthia, Bactria and the Indo-Greeks struggle for regional supremacy. The stalemate in Syria and murder of Eucratides advance the fortunes of Mithridates.
“At about the same time that Mithridates was beginning his rule in Parthia, Eucratides was beginning his in Bactria, both of them great men. But the fortunes of the Parthians prevailed, carrying them to the zenith of their power under this king.” – Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, 41.6
“The Yavanas (Greeks) will command, the Kings will disappear. But ultimately the Yavanas, intoxicated with fighting, will not stay in Madhadesa (the Middle Country); there will be undoubtedly a civil war among them, arising in their own country (Bactria), there will be a terrible and ferocious war.” – Gargi-Samhita, Yuga Purana, Chapter 7
Synopsis: With Syria beset by regional enemies, three kings face off at the Battle of the Oenoparos River. The lone survivor, King Demetrius II, inaugurates his reign with the violent destruction of Antioch.
“And the king of Egypt gathered together a great host, like the sand that lieth upon the sea shore, and many ships, and went about through deceit to get Alexander’s kingdom, and join it to his own…Wherefore he took his daughter from him, and gave her to Demetrius, and forsook Alexander, so that their hatred was openly known. Then Ptolemy entered into Antioch, where he set two crowns upon his head, the crown of Asia, and of Egypt.” – 1 Maccabees, Chapter 11
Synopsis: Demetrius struggles to preserve his throne but ends up falling in battle. Alexander Balas begins his reign by marrying Ptolemy’s daughter, Cleopatra Thea. While the sons of Demetrius remain a threat, the couple are also forced to confront the growing menace of Parthia.
“Then gathered king Alexander great forces, and camped over against Demetrius. And after the two kings had joined battle, Demetrius’ host fled: but Alexander followed after him, and prevailed against them. And he continued the battle very sore until the sun went down: and that day was Demetrius slain.” – 1 Maccabees
Synopsis: Demetrius seizes the Syrian throne and stems immediate threats from Media and Judaea. But deposed officials and regional rulers conspire to engineer his downfall.
“When it became known that the Romans were ill disposed towards Demetrius, not only the other kings but even some of the satraps subject to him regarded his kingship with scant respect. Of these satraps the most outstanding was a certain Timarchus…By launching many accusations against Demetrius (he) persuaded the senate to enact (a decree making him king). Emboldened by this decree he raised an army of considerable size in Media; he also entered into alliance against Demetrius with Artaxias, the king of Armenia.” – Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History, Book XXXI
Synopsis: Lysias attempts to exercise control through the young King Antiochus V, but a deadly incident with a Roman delegation gives hope to the captive Demetrius. Ptolemy Physcon challenges his brother Ptolemy VI for control of Egypt and Cyprus.
“They then went on board, and the pilot weighed anchor and started just as the day was breaking, having absolutely no idea of the real state of the case, but believing that he was conveying some soldiers from Menyllus to Ptolemy…It was not until the fourth day after his start that, Demetrius being looked for in vain, the truth was suspected. On the fifth the Senate was hastily summoned to consider the matter, when Demetrius had already cleared the Straits of Messina. The Senate gave up all idea of pursuit.” – Polybius, The Histories, Book XXXI
Synopsis: Antiochus the Great restores Seleucid fortunes, but his son Antiochus IV sews the seeds of the Empire’s destruction.
“On (Antiochus IV), after reading the dispatch, saying that he desired to consult with his friends on the situation, Popilius did a thing which was looked upon as exceedingly overbearing and insolent. Happening to have a vine stick in his hand, he drew a circle round Antiochus with it, and ordered him to give his answer to the letter before he stepped out of that circumference.” – Polybius, the Histories, Book XXIX
Synopsis: Seleucus I Nicator forges the Seleucid Empire, and his descendants spend the next century struggling to preserve his legacy.
“In Asia, after the defeat of Demetrius at Gaza in Syria, Seleucus, receiving from Ptolemy no more than eight hundred foot soldiers and about two hundred horse, set out for Babylon.” – Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History, Book XIX
with the lovely and talented Drew from the Wonders of the World podcast, where we talk about the exotic Roman Emperor Elagabalus, the amazing temple complex at Baalbek, and lots of other fun stuff. Enjoy! And please also check out his other episodes (it helps if you bring a healthy love of Demetrius Poliorcetes 😉
Synopsis: Monotheism, modern Syria, the world’s first romance story, and the end of the Bloodline.
“The oasis and town of Palmyra owe their existence to the plentiful spring that runs from Jebel Muntar. This spring dominates a narrow passage in the principal route between the Homs pass and the Euphrates River and is in the heart of the Syrian desert. The oasis furnishes a resting place between Iraq and Central Syria, and it was a primary stop for caravans plying between the Gulf, Iran, and the Mediterranean.” – Khaled Al-Asaad and Adnan Bounni, Palmyra: History, Monuments & Museum
Synopsis: Aurelian returns East to crush Palmyrene revolts in Syria and Egypt. The sources relate differing accounts of Zenobia’s ultimate fate.
“To the tumultuous throng which crowded under these porticoes the solitude of death has succeeded. The silence of the tomb is substituted for the hum of polite places.” – Count C.F.C deVolney, The Ruins, or Meditations on the Revolutions of Empires
“The elevation of Odaenathus and Zenobia appeared to reflect new splendor on their country, and Palmyra, for a while, stood forth the rival of Rome; but the competition was fatal, and ages of prosperity were sacrificed to a moment of glory.” – Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
“When the sand seems to disappear, not beneath the verdure of an oasis but beneath an accumulation of marble and worked stones, silence falls among the travelers…it is then that a man, even the least civilized, feels himself to be small and, despite himself, meditates on the presence of that mighty ruin as upon a mighty sorrow.” – L. Double, 1877
Synopsis: Boxed in by Aurelian’s siege, Zenobia makes a desperate attempt to enlist the support of the Persians.
“Palmyra was the last resource of the widow of Odaenathus. She retired within the walls of her capital, made every preparation for a vigorous resistance, and declared, with the intrepidity of a heroine, that the last moment of her reign and of her life should be the same.” – Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
“You have the prospect of such Magnicient Ruines, that if it be Lawful to frame a Conjecture of the Original Beauty of the place, by what is still remaining, I question somewhat whether any City in the World could have challenged Precedence over this in all its Glory.” – W. Halifax, A Relation of a Voyage from Aleppo to Palmyra in Syria, 1695
Synopsis: After a crushing defeat at the Battle of Emesa, Zenobia retreats to Palmyra. Aurelian has a divine encounter at the Temple of Elah Gabal.
“After this, the whole issue of the war was decided near Emesa in a mighty battle fought against Zenobia and Zabdas, her ally. When Aurelian’s horsemen, now exhausted, were on the point of breaking their ranks and turning their backs, suddenly by the power of a supernatural agency, as was afterwards made known, a divine form spread encouragement throughout the foot-soldiers and even rallied the horsemen. Zenobia and Zabdas were put to flight, and a victory was won in full.” – The Historia Augusta
Synopsis: Aurelian’s vision compels him to spare the defiant citizens of Tyana. As the Romans advance through Anatolia, Zenobia concentrates her forces in Syria, and the two sides finally clash at the Battle of Immae.
“As soon as the Emperor was on his march thither, Ancyra submitted to the Romans, and afterwards Tyana, and all the cities between that and Antioch. There finding Zenobia with a large army ready to engage, as he himself also was, he met and engaged her as honor obliged him.” – Zosimus, the History
“Zenobia would have ill deserved her reputation, had she indolently permitted the Emperor of the West to approach within a hundred miles of her capital…The Queen of Palmyra animated the armies by her presence, and devolved the execution of her orders on Zabdas, who had already signaled his military talents by the conquest of Egypt. The numerous forces of Zenobia consisted for the most part of light archers, and of heavy cavalry clothed in complete steel.” – Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Synopsis: Zenobia orders her general Zabdas to capture Anatolia. After subduing the Marcomanni and the Goths, Aurelian makes preparations to reclaim the East.
“(Aurelian) was naturally of a severe disposition. A peasant and a soldier, his nerves yielded not easily to the impressions of sympathy, and he could sustain without emotion the sight of tortures and death. Trained from his earliest youth in the exercise of arms, he set too small a value on the life of a citizen, chastised by military execution the slightest offences, and transferred the stern discipline of the camp into the civil administration of the laws.” – Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
“Since there were in the army two tribunes, both named Aurelian…the soldiers game him the nickname of ‘Sword-in-hand,’ so that, if anyone chanced to ask which Aurelian had done anything or performed any exploit, the reply would be made ‘Aurelian Sword-in-hand,’ and so he would be identified.” – The Historia Augusta
Synopsis: Zenobia’s armies successfully capture Arabia Petraea and Egypt. The death of Claudius and his brother Quintillus pave the way for the Emperor Aurelian.
“Zenobia began to think of extending her dominion, and therefore sent Zabdas into Egypt.” – Zosimus, The History
“Nor was the plague confined to the Barbarians alone, but began to infest the Romans, many of whom died, and amongst the rest Claudius, a person adorned with every virtue…Quintillus, the brother of Claudius, was then declared emperor. He had reigned but a few months, and had performed nothing worthy of notice, before Aurelian was raised to the imperial throne.” – Zosimus, The History
Synopsis: Following the murder of the Emperor Gallienus, Zenobia successfully defends Palmyra against both Roman and Persian aggression.
“Zenobia then took upon her the administration of affairs. She was the wife of Odaenathus, but had the courage of a man, and with the assistance of her husband’s friends, acted in every respect as well as he had done.” – Zosimus, The History
“This Heraclianus, however, on setting out against the Persians, was defeated by the Palmyrenes, and lost all the troops he had gathered, for Zenobia was ruling Palmyra and most of the East with the vigour of a man.” – The Historia Augusta
Synopsis: Odaenathus declares himself King of Kings, twice besieges the Sasanid capital, and combats Gothic pirates on the Black Sea coast. At the height of his power he’s betrayed and murdered, and Palmyrene power passes to Queen Zenobia.
“While Valerian was growing old in Persia, Odaenathus the Palmyrene gathered together an army and restored the Roman power almost to its pristine condition.” – The Historia Augusta
“Him will glory attend. He himself, unblemished and great, will rule over the Romans, and the Persians will be powerless.” – The Thirteenth Sibylline Oracle
Synopsis: Odaenathus helps drive the Persians from Syria and preserve Gallienus’ throne. After his peace offering is spurned by Shapur, Odaenathus prepares to invade the Sasanid Empire.
“Had not Odaenathus, prince of the Palmyrenes, seized the imperial power after the capture of Valerian, when the strength of the Roman state was exhausted, all would have been lost in the East.” – The Historia Augusta
Synopsis: After his humiliating defeat at the hands of Shapur, Valerian joins tens of thousands of Roman captives deported to the heartland of Persia.
“Going without consideration to Shapur with a small retinue, to treat for a peace, (Valerian) was presently laid hold off by the enemy, and so ended his days in the capacity of a slave among the Persians, to the disgrace of the Roman name in all future times.” – Zosimus, The History
“Whatever treatment the unfortunate Valerian might experience in Persia, it is at least certain that the only emperor of Rome who had ever fallen into the hands of the enemy, languished away his life in hopeless captivity.” – Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter X, Part IV
Synopsis: Samsigeramus saves Emesa from Sasanid destruction, then proclaims himself Augustus. The arrival of Valerian marks the end of his reign and the elevation of Odaenathus to provincial governor.
“And then there shall be a flight of Romans; and thereafter there shall come the priest heard of all round, sent by the sun, from Syria appearing, and by guile shall he accomplish all things. And then too the city of the sun shall offer prayer; and round about her shall the Persians dare the fearful threatenings of the Phoenicians.” – The Sibylline Oracles, Book XIII
Synopsis: The revolt of Iotapian shows Eastern nobles the possibilities among the chaos. Shapur’s invasion of Syria drives Samsigeramus to make a bold stand.
“As there were at that time many disturbances in the empire, the eastern provinces – which were uneasy, partly owing to the exactions of exorbitant tributes, and partly to their dislike of Priscus, their governor, who was a man of an intolerably evil disposition – wished for innovation, and set up (Iotapian) for emperor.” – Zosimus,The History, Book 1
“So rapid were the motions of the Persian cavalry, that, if we may credit a very judicious historian, the city of Antioch was surprised when the idle multitude were fondly gazing on the amusements of the theatre. The splendid buildings of Antioch, private as well as public, were either pillaged or destroyed; and the numerous inhabitants were put to the sword, or led away into captivity.” – Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter X, Part IV
Synopsis: Shortly after Hatra’s destruction, Shapur inherits the Persian Empire. Gordian’s invasion the following year ends in defeat and humiliation for Rome.
“When at first we had become established in the Empire, Gordian Caesar raised in all of the Roman Empire a force from the Goth and German realms, and marched on Asoristan against the Empire of Iran and against us. On the border of Asoristan and Misik a great frontal battle occurred. Gordian Caesar was killed and the Roman force was destroyed.” – The Great Inscription of Shapur I, Naqsh-i-Rustam
The Roman Near East c. 240AD
Synopsis: After the death of Elagabalus, Uranius Antoninus served as High Priest of Elah Gabal in Emesa. From this vantage, he witnessed the birth of Ardeshir’s Persia and the changing fortunes of the Palmyrenes.
“Even the name of Tadmor, or Palmyra, by its signification in the Syrian as well as in the Latin language, denoted the multitude of palm-trees which afforded shade and verdure to that temperate region…Palmyra, for a while, stood forth the rival of Rome; but the competition was fatal, and ages of prosperity were sacrificed to a moment of glory.” – Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter XI, Part III
Dedicated with great respect to Khaled al-Asaad, Palmyra’s devoted protector
Synopsis: Alexander marches East to counter Ardeshir’s invasion, but the conflict ends in a stalemate. A short time later, a legionary rebellion along the Rhine brings the Severan regime to a bloody end.
“The lenity of the Emperor confirmed the insolence of the troops; the legions imitated the example of the Guards, and defended their prerogative of licentiousness with the same furious obstinacy. The administration of Alexander was unavailing struggle against the corruption of this age…Fresh mutinies perpetually broke out; his officers were murdered, his authority was insulted, and his life at last sacrificed to the fierce discontents of the army.” – Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter VI, Part IV
The Roman War Plan for 233 AD
The Bloodline Family Tree (Part 1)
The Bloodline Family Tree (Part 2)
Synopsis: Overseen by his mother and grandmother, Severus Alexander’s early reign was marked by wisdom and temperance. A decade later, a Sasanid invasion would test both Rome and its emperor.
“When Alexander received the empire, the appearance and the title of Emperor were allowed him, but the management and control of imperial affairs were in the hands of his women, and they undertook a more moderate and more equitable administration.” – Herodian, History of the Roman Empire from the Death of Marcus Aurelius to the Accession of Gordian III, Book VI, Chapter I
“(Ardeshir) did not remain quiet, however, nor stay on his side of the Tigris River, but, after scaling its banks and crossing the borders of the Roman empire, he overran Mesopotamia and threatened Syria. The entire continent opposite Europe, separated from it by the Aegean Sea and the Propontic Gulf, and the region called Asia, he wished to recover for the Persian empire…When the Eastern governors revealed these developments in their dispatches, Alexander was greatly disturbed by these unanticipated tidings, particularly since, raised from childhood in an age of peace, he had spent his entire life in urban ease and comfort.” – Herodian, History of the Roman Empire from the Death of Marcus Aurelius to the Accession of Gordian III, Book VI, Chapter II
Synopsis: Ardeshir defeats Artabanus in battle and claims the Parthian Empire for the Sasanids. After a failed attempt to conquer Armenia, he sets his sights on the Roman East.
“Then (Ardeshir) came to battle with Artabanus, killed the entire army of the latter, seized their wealth, property, horses, and portable lodges, and settled himself in Istakhr. He collected soldiers in large numbers from Kerman, Mokristan, Isfahan, and different districts of Fars, and came to fight with Artabanus himself. So Artabanus sent for soldiers and provisions from different frontiers…But as the Glory of the Kayanians (Achaemenids) was with Ardeshir, the latter gained success. He killed Artabanus, whose entire wealth and property fell into the hands of Ardeshir, who married Artabanus’s daughter, and went back to Fars.” – The Book of Deeds of Ardeshir Son of Pabag, Chapter IV
“Artaxerxes, a Persian, having conquered the Parthians in three battles and killed their king, Artabanus, made a campaign against Hatra, which he endeavored to take as a base for attacking the Romans. He did make a breach in the wall but, as he lost a number of soldiers through an ambuscade, he transferred his position to Media. Of this district, as also of Parthia, he acquired no small portion, partly by force and partly by intimidation, and then marched against Armenia. Here he suffered a reverse at the hands of the natives, some Medes, and the children of Artabanus, and either fled (as some say) or (as others assert) retired to prepare a larger expedition. He accordingly became a source of fear for us.” – Cassius Dio, Rome, Book 80
Map of the Roman-Sasanid Frontier c. 232 AD:
Synopsis: Elagabalus spearheads a religious revolution in Rome, but his unpopular rule drives Julia Maesa to enact a back-up plan.
“To this temple, as to the common center of religious worship, the Imperial fanatic attempted to remove the Ancilia, the Palladium, and all the sacred pledges of the faith of Numa. A crowd of inferior deities attended in various stations the majesty of the god of Emesa; but his court was still imperfect, till a female of distinguished rank was admitted to his bed. Pallas had been first chosen for his consort; but as it was dreaded lest her warlike terrors might affront the soft delicacy of a Syrian deity, the Moon, adorned by the Africans under the name of Astarte, was deemed a more suitable companion for the Sun.” – Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1, Chapter 6
Synopsis: Deception, good fortune, and Macrinus’ failings allow the Severans to retake the Roman throne. As Emperor, Elagabalus makes plans to install the black stone of Elah Gabal in the Capital.
“(Elagabalus and Severus Alexander) were priests of the sun god, whom their countrymen worship under the Phoenician name Elagabalus. A huge temple was erected to this god, lavishly decorated with gold, silver, and costly gems. Not only is this god worshipped by the natives, but all the neighboring rulers and kings send generous and expensive gifts to him each year. No statue made by man in the likeness of the god stands in the temple, as in Greek and Roman temples. The temple does, however, contain a huge black stone with a pointed end and round base in the shape of a cone. The Phoenicians solemnly maintain that this stone came down from Zeus; pointing out certain small figures in relief, they assert that it is an unwrought image of the sun, for naturally that is what they wish to see.” – Herodian, History of the Roman Empire from the Death of Marcus Aurelius to the Accession off Gordian III, Book V, Chapter III
Synopsis: King Artabanus of Parthia gathers his forces to seek revenge on Rome. Usurpation and war gain the Sasanids control over the southern territory of Fars.
“Macrinus, seeing that Artabanus was exceedingly angry at the way he had been treated and had invaded Mesopotamia with a large force, at first of his own accord sent him captives and used friendly language, urging him to accept peace and laying the blame for the past on (Caracalla). But the other would not entertain his proposition, and furthermore bade him build up the forts and demolished cities, abandon Mesopotamia entirely and offer satisfaction in general, but particularly for the damage to the royal tombs. For, trusting in the large force that he had gathered, and despising Macrinus as an unworthy emperor, he gave reign to his wrath and expected that even without Roman consent he could accomplish whatever he wished.” – Cassius Dio, Rome, Book 78
Map of the Parthian Empire
Synopsis: Caracalla cuts a murderous path through Rome, and provokes a dangerous war with Parthia. After his murder, Julia Domna is forced to contend with a would-be usurper.
“Julia Domna deserved all that the stars could promise her. She possessed, even in advanced age, the attractions of beauty, and united to a lively imagination a firmness of mind, and strength of judgement, seldom bestowed on her sex. Her amiable qualities never made any deep impression on the dark and jealous temper of her husband; but in her son’s reign, she administered the principal affairs of the empire, with a prudence that supported his authority, and with a moderation that sometimes corrected his wild extravagancies.” – Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1, Chapter 6
The Bloodline Family Tree – Part I
The Bloodline Family Tree – Part II
Synopsis: Severus’ close friendship with Plautianus estranges him from his family. In his final years, a rebellion in Britannia provides one last opportunity to shape his legacy.
“The contemporaries of Severus, in this enjoyment of the peace and glory of his reign, forgave the cruelties by which it had been introduced. Posterity, who experienced the fatal effects of his maxims and example, justly considered him as the principal author of the decline of the Roman Empire.” – Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1, Chapter 5
Synopsis: Severus confronts Albinus at Lugdunum, then launches a war against the Parthians. At the pinnacle of his power, the oracle of Zeus Belos reveals his family’s fate.
“The youth of Severus had been trained in the implicit obedience of the camps, and the riper years spent in the despotism of military command. His haughty and inflexible spirit could not discover, or would not acknowledge, the advantage of preserving an intermediate power, however imaginary, between the Emperor and the army.” – Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1, Chapter 5
“Here is one man who overthrew three Emperors after they were already ruling, and got the upper hand of the Praetorians by a trick…He prevailed over them all by his courage. It is not possible to name another like Severus.” – Herodian, History of the Roman Empire from the Death of Marcus Aurelius to the Accession of Gordian III, Book 3, Chapter 7
Map of the Near East c. 198AD (provinces):
Map of the Near East c. 198AD (cities):
Synopsis: Severus defeats Niger and wages a limited Eastern campaign. While Julia Domna is hailed as Mother of the Camps, Caracalla’s elevation to Caesar prompts a second civil war.
“There used to be an oracle about Hannibal’s death.
‘The soil of Libyssa would cover Hannibal’s body.’
The later emperor of the Romans, Severus,
Who was a descendant of the Libyans, he put upon this man’s
Tomb a white piece of marble to honor the commander Hannibal.”
– John Tzetzes, Chiliades (or Book of Histories), Book 1, 801 – 805
Synopsis: After Pertinax and his successor are killed in the same year, Severus’s claim to the Empire is contested by two rivals.
“Pertinax was one of those men to whom no exception can be taken, but he ruled only for an exceedingly brief space of time and was then put out of the way by the soldiers.” – Cassius Dio, Rome, Book 73
“The Pannonian army was at that time commanded by Septimius Severus, a native of Africa, who, in the gradual ascent of private honors, had concealed his daring ambition.” – Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1, Chapter 5
Bloodline Family Tree (c. 193AD):
Synopsis: Julia Domna marries Septimius Severus and gives birth to Caracalla and Geta. Left behind in Rome with her young children, Julia watches as Commodus re-founds the Empire in his own image.
“The effect of Commodus upon the Romans was worse than that of all pestilences and all villainies.” – Cassius Dio, Rome, Book 72
Detailed Map of the Roman Empire (brilliantmaps.com):
Julia Domna Family Tree:
Synopsis: Julia Domna was daughter of the Emesene High Priest, destined to marry a king. Then she met Septimius Severus.
“Our history now descends from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust.” – Cassius Dio, Rome, Book 71
“The primitive Christians perpetually trod on mystic ground, and their minds were exercised by the habits of believing the most extraordinary events.” – Edward Gibbon, The Christians and the Fall of Rome
Bloodline Family Tree (c. 182AD):
Synopsis: The revolt of Avidius Cassius.
“There is only one thing I fear, fellow-soldiers…and that is that (Avidius Cassius) may either kill himself because ashamed to come into our presence, or someone else upon learning that I shall come and am setting out against him may do it. Then should I be deprived of a great prize both of war and of victory, and of a magnitude such as no human being ever yet obtained. What is this? Why, to forgive a man that has done you an injury, to remain a friend to one who has transgressed friendship, to continue faithful to one who has broken faith.” – Marcus Aurelius, quoted by Cassius Dio, Rome, Book 71
Avidius Cassius Family Tree:
Synopsis: The overthrow of King Gaius Julius Sohaemus of Armenia leads to war between Parthia and Rome.
“For Vologases had begun war by assailing on all sides the Roman camp under Severianus, situated in Elegeia, a place in Armenia; and he had shot down and destroyed the whole force, leaders and all. He was now proceeding with numbers that inspired terror against the cities of Syria.” – Cassius Dio, Rome, Book 71
Avidius Cassius Family Tree:
Synopsis: The Macedonian kingdoms of Central Asia endured for centuries before being absorbed into the Kushan Empire. Hadrian’s actions in Judea spark a third Jewish Revolt.
“Has it ever happened to you, O king, that rival kings rose up against you as enemies and opponents?
-Then you set to work, I suppose, to have moats dug, and ramparts thrown up, and watch towers erected, and strongholds built, and stores of food collected?
-Not at all. All that had been prepared beforehand.
-Or you had yourself trained in the management of war elephants, and in horsemanship, and in the use of the war chariot, and in archery and fencing?
-Not at all. I had learnt all that before.
-With the object of warding off future danger.” – Milinda Panha (The Questions of King Menander), Book III, Chapter 7
Map of Central Asia:
Synopsis: At the far point of his campaign, Trajan’s Eastern conquests begin to slip from his fingers.
“Thence he came to the (Persian Gulf) itself, and when he had learned its nature and seen a boat sailing to India, he said: ‘I should certainly have cross over to the Indi, if I were still young.’ He gave much thought to the Indi, and was curious about their affairs. Alexander he counted a happy man and at the same time declared that he himself had advanced farther. This was the tenor of the dispatch that he forwarded to the Senate, although he was unable to preserve even what territory had been subdued.” – Cassius Dio, Rome, Book 68
The Near East c. 116AD – Provinces and Kingdoms
The Near East c. 116AD – Major Cities
Synopsis: Silas guides Emesa in its transition to a pilgrimage site. The death of King Tiridates I of Armenia brings Rome and Parthia into conflict.
“(Parthomasiris) greeted him, took off his diadem from his head, and laid it at (Trajan’s) feet. Then he stood there in silence, expecting to receive it back. At this the soldiers shouted aloud, and hailed Trajan imperator as if on account of some victory (they termed it an uncrowned, bloodless victory to see the king, a descendant of Arsaces, a son of Pacorus, and a nephew of Osroes, standing beside Trajan without a diadem, like a captive). The shout terrified the prince, who though that it heralded insult and destruction for him.” – Cassius Dio, Rome, Book 68
Synopsis: Gaius Julius Sohaemus is compelled to help the Romans conquer Commagene.
“Petus…fell upon Commagene before Antiochus and his people had the least expectation of his coming. He had with him the tenth legion, and also some cohorts and troops of horsemen. These kings also came to his assistance: Aristibulus, king of the country called Chalcidene, and Sohaemus, who was called King of Emesa. Nor was there any opposition made to his forces when they entered the kingdom, for no one of that country would so much as lift up his hand against them.” – Josephus, The Jewish War, Book VII, Chapter 7
Synopsis: The destruction of Jerusalem.
Shalim (semetic): Caananite god of dusk and the evening star, paired with Shahar, god of dawn and the morning star. Root of Hebrew shalom and Arabic salam(peace), associated with sunset and the completion of the workday. Related to the Caananite sun goddess Shapash, a possible manifestation of Shamash. An element in the names of King David’s sons Solomon and Absalom. Original guardian, patron and protective deity of Jerusalem.
“Before the fifteenth of July all Syria had sworn the same allegiance. Vespasian’s cause was now joined also by Sohaemus with his entire kingdom, whose strength was not to be despised, and by Antiochus who had enormous ancestral wealth, and was in fact the richest of the subject princes. Presently Agrippa, summoned from Rome by private messages from his friends, while Vitellius was still unaware of his action, quickly crossed the sea and joined the cause.” – Tacitus, The Histories, Book II
Synopsis: Tiberius Julius Alexander throws Egypt’s backing behind Vespasian’s bid for the throne.
“Accordingly, in order to overthrow John (of Gischala), they determined to admit Simon (bar Giora), and earnestly to desire the introduction of a second tyrant into the city…Accordingly he, in an arrogant manner, granted them his lordly protection, and came into the city, in order to deliver it from the zealots. The people also made joyful acclamations to him, as their savior and their preserver; but when he was come in, with his army, he took care to secure his own authority, and looked upon those that had invited him in to be no less his enemies than those against whom the invitation was intended. And thus did Simon get possession of Jerusalem.” – Josephus, The Jewish War, Book IV, Chapter 9
Synopsis: Joseph ben Matityahu fought the Romans as a Jewish General before becoming a trusted advisor to the Flavians.
The Josephus Problem (mathematics): Given a group of n men arranged in a circle under the edict that every mth man will be executed going around the circle until only one remains, find the position L (n, m) in which you should stand in order to be the last survivor.
Synopsis: Nero crowns Tiridates King of Armenia. A succession of brutal and corrupt procurators set Judea on the path to revolt.
“Go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom (Gehenna), which is by the entry of the east gate, and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee…
Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents;
They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind.
Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter.” – Jeremiah 19:2-6
Synopsis: The birth of Drusilla and Sohaemus’ son Gaius Julius Alexio. The Empire confronts the revolt of Boudica, renewed warfare in Armenia, and the Great Fire of Rome.
“Rome shall perish – write that word
In the blood that she has spilt;
Perish, hopeless and abhorr’d,
Deep in ruin as in guilt.” – William Cowper, Boadicea: An Ode
Map of Near East c. 64AD:
Synopsis: Drusilla marries the Emesene Priest-King Gaius Julius Sohaemus. Rome and Parthia go to war over Armenia.
“Our ancestors worshipped the Sun, and they were not that foolish.
It makes sense to revere the Sun and the stars, for we are their children.” – Carl Sagan
Syria and adjacent regions:
Emesene family tree:
Synopsis: The divorce of Felix and Drusilla. James and Paul struggle for the soul of early Christianity.
“And then it was that the sicarii, as they were called, who were robbers, grew numerous. They made use of small swords, not much different in length from the Persian acinacae, but somewhat crooked, and like the Roman sicae, as they were called; and from these weapons these robbers got their denomination; and with these weapons they slew a great many; for they mingled themselves among the multitude at their festivals, when they were come up in crowds from all parts to the city to worship God, as we said before, and easily slew those that they had a mind to slay.” – Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Chapter 8
Synopsis: The early life of Drusilla of Mauretania, and her marriage to Marcus Antonius Felix, Roman Procurator of Judea
“This Judas, having gotten together a multitude of men of a profligate character about Sepphoris in Galilee, made an assault upon the palace there, and seized upon all the weapons that were laid up in it, and with them armed every one of those that were with him, and carried away what money was left there; and he became terrible to all men, by tearing and rending those that came near him.” – Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Book XVII, Chapter 10
Nero Family Tree:
Regions of Judea:
Select Cities of Judea:
Synopsis: The death of Tiberius, elevation of Caligula, and final years of King Ptolemy I.
“Ptolemy, whom (Caligula) invited from his kingdom, and received with great honors, he suddenly put to death, for no other reason, but because he observed that upon entering the theatre, at a public exhibition, he attracted the eyes of all the spectators, by the splendor of his purple robe.” – Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, XXXV
“Meanwhile Gaius sent for Ptolemy, the son of Juba, and on ascertaining that he was wealthy put him to death.” – Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 59
Heirs of Mark Antony:
Synopsis: The end of Tacfarinas, and the bloody co-rule of Tiberius and Sejanus.
“Then, as the campaign had demonstrated Ptolemy’s good-will, an old-fashioned distinction was revived, and a member of the Senate was dispatched to present him with the traditional bounty of the Fathers, an ivory scepter with the embroidered robe, and to greet him by the style of king, ally and friend.” – Tacitus, The Annals, Book IV
“There followed from now onward a sheer and grinding despotism: for, with Augusta still alive, there had remained a refuge; since deference to his mother was ingrained in Tiberius, nor did Sejanus venture to claim precedence over the authority of a parent. But now, as though freed from the curb, they broke out unrestrained.” – Tacitus, The Annals, Book V
Updated Julio-Claudian Family Tree:
Synopsis: The ongoing rebellion of Tacfarinas, and the death of Juba.
“For Tacfarinas, in spite of many repulses, having first recruited his forces in the heart of Africa, had reached such a pitch of insolence as to send an embassy to Tiberius, demanding nothing less than a territorial settlement for himself and his army, and threatening in the alternative a war from which there was no extrication.” – Tacitus, The Annals, Book III
Synopsis: Germanicus travels to Syria to assume his Eastern Imperium.
“‘The prime duty of friends is not to follow their dead with passive laments, but to remember his wishes and carry out his commands. Strangers themselves will bewail Germanicus: youwill avenge him – if you loved me, and not my fortune. Show to the Roman people the granddaughter of their deified Augustus, who was also my wife; number her six children: pity will side with the accusers, and, if the murderers allege some infamous warrant, they will find no credence in men – or no forgiveness!’ His friends touched the dying hand, and swore to forgo life sooner than revenge.” – Tacitus, The Annals, Book II
Updated Near Eastern Family Tree:
Updated Map of the Near East:
Synopsis: The death of Octavian, elevation of Tiberius, and early military careers of Germanicus and Ptolemy.
“Even during the years when he lived at Rhodes, in ostensible retirement and actual exile, (Tiberius) had studied nothing save anger, hypocrisy, and secret lasciviousness.” – Tacitus, The Annals, Book I
“Yet the temper of the soldiers remained savage, and a sudden desire came over them to advance against the enemy: it would be expiation of their madness; nor could the ghosts of their companions be appeased till their own impious breasts had been marked with honorable wounds. Falling in with the enthusiasm of his troops, (Germanicus) laid a bridge over the Rhine, and threw across twelve thousand legionaries.” – Tacitus, The Annals, Book I
Synopsis: Juba accompanies Gaius Caesar on his Eastern expedition.
“Tigranes…marched forth with an army of such huge proportions that he actually laughed heartily at the appearance of the Romans present there. He is said to have remarked that, in cases where they came to make war, only a few presented themselves, but when it was an embassy, many came.” – Cassius Dio, Rome, Book 36
“Pompey…announced to his soldiers that Mithridates was dead…Upon this the army filled with joy and, as was natural, gave itself up to sacrifices and entertainments, feeling that in the person of Mithridates ten thousand enemies had died.” – Plutarch, The Life of Pompey
Map of the Near East c. 1 BC:
Near East Family Trees:
Synopsis: The birth of Juba and Selene’s children, Ptolemy and Drusilla, and the death of Cleopatra Selene.
“The moon herself grew dark, rising at sunset,
Covering her suffering in the night,
Because she saw her beautiful namesake, Selene,
Breathless, descending to Hades,
With her she’d had the beauty of her light in common,
And mingled her own darkness with her death.” – Crinagoras of Myteline, Epigram for Cleopatra Selene
Updated Octavian Family Tree:
Synopsis: Juba and Selene begin their rule of Mauretania.
“Cato said…they must make no prayer for him; prayer belonged to the conquered, and the craving of grace to those who had done wrong; but for his part he had not only been unvanquished all his life, but was actually a victor now as far as he chose to be, and a conqueror of Caesar in all that was honorable and just.” – Plutarch, The Life of Cato the Younger
“My husband has died and I have no son. They say about you that you have many sons. You might give me one of your sons to become my husband. I would not wish to take one of my subjects as a husband… I am afraid.” – Queen Ankhesenamun of Egypt, Letter to King Suppiluliuma I of Hatti
Map of Mauretania:
Synopsis: The early years of Juba II, fostered in the family of Octavian and Octavia.
“(Scipio) increased the honor by observing, that among the Romans there was nothing more magnificent than a Triumph; and that those who triumphed were not arrayed with more splendid ornaments than those with which the Roman people considered Massinissa alone, of all foreigners, worthy.” – Livy, The History of Rome, Book XXX
Synopsis: The early years of Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony.
“And herein particularly did he give offense to the Romans, since he bestowed the honorable and solemn rites of his native country upon the Egyptians for Cleopatra’s sake.” – Plutarch, The Life of Marcus Antonius
“Pity fixed the eyes of the Romans upon the infants; and many of them could not forbear tears, and all beheld the sight with a mixture of sorrow and pleasure, until the children were passed.” – Plutarch, The Life of Lucius Aemilius Paulus
“I am a faithful servant of the king, and I have not rebelled and I have not sinned, and I do not withhold my tribute, and I do not refuse the requests of my commissioner. Now they wickedly slander me, but let the king, my lord, not impute rebellion to me!…If the king should write to me, ‘Plunge a bronze dagger into thy heart and die!,’ how could I refuse to carry out the command of the king?” – Labayu (Caananite warlord) writing to Amenhotep III
Discoveries at Tell El Amarna and the Valley of the Kings showed the wealth and influence of the Egyptian New Kingdom, while archives uncovered in central Anatolia shed light on Hittite civilization. Excavations and Knossos confirmed Mycenaean Greek dominance and revealed the majesty of Minoan Crete.
“Surpassing all kings, powerful and tall
beyond all others, violent, splendid,
a wild bull of a man, unvanquished leader,
hero in the front lines, beloved of his soldiers –
fortress they called him, protector of the people,
raging flood that destroys all defenses…” – the Epic of Gilgamesh
George Smith’s 1872 discovery of the Mesopotamian Flood tablet won him widespread acclaim. Four years later, his ill-timed expedition to Nineveh would end in tragedy.
“Whilst fully recognizing his enterprise, devotion, and energy in carrying out these excavations, I cannot but express the regret that Dr. Schliemann should have allowed the ‘enthusiasm,’ which, as he himself admits, ‘borders on fanaticism,’ to make it so paramount an object with him to discover the Troy described by Homer, as to induce him either to suppress or to pervert every fact brought to light that could not be reconciled with the Iliad.” – Frank Calvert, 1875
Despite numerous returns to Hisarlik, Heinrich Schliemann was unable to establish the layer holding Homer’s Troy. It was only near the end of his life, with the aid of Wilhelm Dorpfeld, that his quest was finally rewarded. In the meantime, Schliemann’s excavations at Mycenae and Tiryns had shed new light on the wealth and power of Late Bronze Age Greece.
“Who will persuade me, when I reclined upon a mighty tomb, that it did not contain a hero? – its very magnitude proved this. Men do not labour over the ignoble and petty dead – and why should not the dead be Homer’s dead?” – George Gordon, Lord Byron, 1810
Three millennia after its fall, British archaeologist Frank Calvert used clues from Homer, and his own deep knowledge of the region, to establish the most likely site of ancient Troy. Unable to finance the excavation, he was compelled to partner with wealthy enthusiast Heinrich Schliemann.
“I should weary the reader, were I to describe, step by step, the progress of the work, and the discoveries gradually made in various part of the great mound. The labours of one day resembled those of the preceding; but it would be difficult to convey to others an idea of the excitement which was produced by the constant discovery of objects of the highest interest.” – Austen Henry Layard, Nineveh and Its Remains
While Layard resumed his Assyrian excavations, and Rawlinson continued to decipher Akkadian, both efforts began to shed light on the even older civilization of ancient Sumer.
“The Major constantly and indefatigably employed himself, from daylight to dark, revising, restoring and adding to his former materials. This was a work of great irksomeness and labour in the confined space he was compelled to stand in, with his body in close proximity to the heated rock and under a broiling September sun.” – Felix Jones, 1844
After the debacle of the First Anglo-Afghan War, Henry Creswicke Rawlinson made two more excursions to Behistun. His attempts to copy the remaining inscriptions nearly cost him his life.
“What can all this mean? Who built this structure? In what century did he live? To what nation did he belong? Are these walls telling me their tales of joy and woe? Is this beautiful cuneiformedcharacter a language? I know not. I can read their glory and their victories in their figures, but their story, their age, their blood, is to me a mystery. Their remains mark the fall of a glorious and a brilliant past, but of a past known not to a living man.” – Paul-Emile Botta
The excavations of Botta and Layard brought the majesty of ancient Assyria into the modern world.
“My antiquarian studies go on quietly and smoothly, and despite the taunt which you may remember once expressing, of the presumption of an ignoramus like myself attempting to decipher inscriptions which had baffled for centuries the most learned men in Europe, I have made very considerable progress…I aspire to do for the cuneiformalphabet what Champollion has done for the hieroglyphics.” – Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, July 1836 (writing to his sister Maria)
In 1836, Henry Creswicke Rawlinson – British soldier, adventurer and Orientalist – first encountered the Behistun Inscription. He would devote the next few decades to deciphering its three cuneiform scripts.
“His Majesty…has dispatched a few days ago by the vessel Greenland a group of scholars, who will travel by way of the Mediterranean to Constantinople, and thence through Egypt to Arabia Felix, and subsequently return by way of Syria to Europe; they will on all occasions seek to make new discoveries and observations for the benefit of scholarship…” – Copenhagen Post, 12th January, 1761
Carsten Niebuhr survived malaria, earthquakes, civil wars, bandits, plagues and the deaths of all his colleagues to successfully complete the first modern scientific expedition to the Near East.
“To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.” – Ancient Egyptian saying
Rediscovered two millennia after its creation, the Rosetta Stone provided two brilliant scholars with the key to unlocking the history of ancient Egypt.
“Rome was not a monarchy, but a free City, and they had made up their minds to open their gates even to an enemy sooner than to a king. It was the universal wish that whatever put an end to liberty in the City should put an end to the City itself.” – Livy, The History of Rome, Book 2
Publius Valerius Poplicola overcame Roman distrust and Etruscan aggression to set the young Republic onto firm foundations. Aristagoras’ failed attempt to capture the island of Naxos led to open warfare between Greece and Persia.
“The Athenians, when ruled by tyrants, were no better in war than their neighbors, but freed from tyrants they were far superior. This shows that when they were constrained they let themselves be defeated, since they were working for an overlord, but when they were freed each one was keen to do the deed for himself.” – Herodotus
Delivered from Spartan destruction, the Athenians were forced to defend their new democracy against the Thebans and Chalsidians. Shocked by a horrific crime, the Romans followed the guidance of Brutus, exiled Tarquin the Proud and declared their first Republic.
“He added the Athenian people, who had formally not been in the center of things, to his own party, changed the names of the tribes and increased their number. He made ten tribal commanders instead of four and distributed demes into the tribes ten at a time. Once he had got the people on his side he had the upper hand over his rivals.” – Herodotus on Cleisthenes
Darius enlisted Greek tyrants in his Scythian campaign, then extended Persia’s dominion to the foot of Mount Olympus. Spartan intervention put an end to Hippias’ oppressive rule. Inspired by Cleisthenes’ bold ideas, the Athenians rejected both tyranny and foreign domination, and restructured their polis into the world’s first democracy.
“Black is your path, Agni, changeless, with glittering waves! When like a bull you rush eager to the trees.
With teeth of flame, wind-driven, through the wood he speeds, triumphant like a bull among the herd of cows,
With bright strength roaming to the everlasting air: things fixed, things moving quake before him as he flies.”- Rigvedas, Book 1, Hymn LVIII
Darius retraced Cyrus’s footsteps to expand Persian control of Vedic India. Hipparchus met a bloody end at the hands of a jealous rival. Tarquin kept Rome’s military and infrastructure sound while alienating both rich and poor.
“After I became king, I fought nineteen battles in a single year and, by the grace of Ahura Mazda, I overthrew nine kings and I made them captive…As to these provinces which revolted, lies made them revolt, so that they deceived the people. Then Ahura Mazda delivered them into my hand; and I did unto them according to my will.” – Darius I, Behistun Inscription
Darius spent years reconquering the rebellious territories of the Persian Empire. Peisistratos was successful in passing his Athenian tyranny down to his sons, Hippias and Hipparchus. Cleomenes set his sights on Spartan domination of the Greek mainland.
“So Darius son of Hystaspes was made king, and the whole of Asia, which Cyrus first and Cambyses after him had conquered, was subject to him…and everything was full of his power. First he made and set up a carved stone, upon which was cut the figure of a horseman, with this inscription: ‘Darius son of Hystaspes, aided by the excellence of his horse, and of Oebares his groom, got possession of the kingdom of Persia.'” – Herodotus
Cambyses successfully conquered Egypt, but forays beyond its frontiers met with frustration and disaster. The promise of Lydian gold lured Polycrates to a gruesome death in Sardis. Bardiya briefly wrestled the Persian Empire from his brother, only to lose it to a conspiracy of nobles led by Darius.
“Remember this lesson well: Whenever you can, act as a liberator. Freedom, dignity, and wealth—these three together constitute the great happiness of humanity. If you bequeath all three to your people, their love for you will never die.” – Cyrus the Great (quoted by Xenophon)
Servius Tullius laid the foundation for the Roman Republic, but his dubious claim to the throne led to his violent overthrow by Tarquin the Proud. Cyrus the Great governed his vast empire with wisdom and temperance before meeting his end along Persia’s volatile eastern frontier. Cambyses II’s Egyptian designs were aided by a high-level betrayal in the court of Ahmose II.
“In winter, as you lie on a soft couch by the fire,
Full of good food, munching on nuts and drinking sweet wine,
Then you must ask questions such as these:
‘Where do you come from? Tell me, what is your age?
How old were you when the Mede came?’” – Xenophanes of Colophon
The return of Harpagus to Anatolia signaled the end of Ionian Greek freedom. After securing his third tyranny, Peisistratos brought stability and prosperity to Athens. Fresh from a series of Eastern conquests, Cyrus II used propaganda and military might to overthrow Nabonidus and claim his third Near Eastern empire.
“But in every matter it behooves us to mark well the end: for oftentimes God gives men a gleam of happiness, and then plunges them into ruin.” – Solon of Athens
Peisistratos’ first two attempts at tyranny were thwarted by the Athenian eupatridae. The Spartans cultivated a reputation as the most fearsome warriors in Greece. Prophesied to destroy a mighty empire, King Croesus of Lydia led Anatolian forces against the Persians and Medes, but the unconventional strategies of Cyrus brought him to a bitter end.
“So it was that the Persians, who had once been the slaves of the Medes, became their masters.“ – Heroditus
Nebuchadnezzar II turned Babylon into the most magnificent city of the ancient world, but the Chaldean line dissipated in his wake. Nabonidus’ fervent devotion to the moon god, Sin, served to spark a war and drive the Babylonian king into self-imposed Arabian exile. The military and political skills of Cyrus, and a high-level Median betrayal, enabled the Persians to win the empire of Astyages.
“Ahmose became a lover of the Hellenes; and besides other proofs of friendship which he gave to several among them, he also granted the city of Naucratis for those of them who came to Egypt to dwell in; and to those who did not desire to stay, but who made voyages thither, he granted portions of land to set up altars and make sacred enclosures for their gods. Their greatest enclosure and that one which has most name and is most frequented is called the Hellenion, and this was established by the following cities in common: –of the Ionians Chios, Teos, Phocaia, Clazomenai, of the Dorians Rhodes, Cnidos, Halicarnassos, Phaselis, and of the Aiolians Mytilene alone.“ – Heroditus
After his overthrow of Apries, the pharaoh Ahmose II increased Egyptian prosperity by centralizing and facilitating Greek trade at Naucratis. King Alyattes used Lydia’s vast mineral wealth to maintain a powerful army and mint the world’s first coins. Thales and the philosophers of the Milesian school introduced rationality and scientific inquiry into their studies of the cosmos.
“I freed those here who suffered unseemly enslavement and feared the tempers of their masters. I did this by harnessing force and justice together with power, and I carried through my promises. I wrote statues alike for those of high and of low social status, fitting straight justice for each. If someone other than I had taken the goad, some ill-intentioned and greedy man, he would not have been able to control the people. For had I been willing to do what pleased the opposing party then, or what the others planned for them, this city would have lost many men. That is why I made a stout defense all round, turning like a wolf among many hounds.” – Solon of Athens
The leaders of Rome, Carthage and Greece relied on strength, wisdom and cunning to navigate the turbulent political waters of the early sixth century Mediterranean. The delicate balance struck by Solon allowed Athena to prosper, while also unleashing the popular forces that would define the city’s future.
“So they took the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, and he pronounced judgment on him. Then the king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. And he killed all the princes of Judah in Riblah. He also put out the eyes of Zedekiah; and the king of Babylon bound him in bronze fetters, took him to Babylon, and put him in prison till the day of his death.” – Jeremiah 52
After eliminating the last Assyrian holdouts, King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon warred against Egypt over control of the Levant. Repeated Judean defiance resulted in the sacking of Jerusalem. Cyaxares of Medea found his Anatolian designs curtailed by the powerful kingdom of Lydia.
“But when earth had covered this generation also, Zeus the son of Cronos made yet another, the fourth, upon the fruitful earth, which was nobler and more righteous, a god-like race of hero-men who are called demi-gods, the race before our own, throughout the boundless earth. Grim war and dread battle destroyed a part of them, some in the land of Cadmus at seven- gated Thebe when they fought for the flocks of Oedipus, and some, when it had brought them in ships over the great sea gulf to Troy for rich-haired Helen’s sake: there death’s end enshrouded a part of them. But to the others father Zeus the son of Cronos gave a living and an abode apart from men, and made them dwell at the ends of earth. And they live untouched by sorrow in the islands of the blessed along the shore of deep swirling Ocean, happy heroes for whom the grain-giving earth bears honey-sweet fruit flourishing thrice a year, far from the deathless gods…” – Hesiod, Works and Days
During the eighth and seventh centuries BC, the Archaic Greeks struggled with tyranny, warfare and social division. But their creativity in matters of art, politics, warfare and religious practice foreshadowed the coming brilliance of the Classical Age.