A-Z of the ancient world
Explore incredible icons of Classical Antiquity
Take a ride through the alphabet in the ancient Mediterranean
A is for Alexandria
A port located on the northern coast of Egypt, Alexandria was one of over 70 cities said to be founded by the mighty Macedon king Alexander the Great.
Shortly after it appeared in roughly 331 BCE, it replaced Memphis as the home of Egypt’s ruling Ptolemy dynasty. Not only that, but Alexander supposedly designed the plan for the city himself.
The city is perhaps most famous for its great lighthouse, Pharos, one of the original seven wonders of the world. Alexandria was also home to one of the greatest libraries the world has ever known. With a hefty amount of original Greek and Egyptian works, the shelves also boasted a number of foreign texts that had been translated into Greek for study. While no one knows when exactly the library was destroyed by fire, it was most likely when Julius Caesar sided with Cleopatra in a bitter war against her brother, Ptolemy XIII, in 48 BCE.
The city itself was considered the largest in the Mediterranean world in the 1st century BCE. For years it was the centre of Hellenic science and learning, and it served as the capital of Egypt from its inception to its surrender to Arab forces in 641 BCE. Alexandria still stands today, on the west side of the Nile Delta.
B is for Bastet
Do you want your home protected from evil spirits and disease? Call on Bastet, the Ancient Egyptian goddess of the home, women’s secrets, cats and fertility. She was the daughter of the sun god Ra, and her cult was centred in the city of Bubastis – people even made pilgrimages there to bury their dead cats.
C is for Croesus
The last king of Lydia was known for his piety with the rich offerings he made to Apollo at Delphi – mostly of solid gold. In fact, Croesus was an incredibly wealthy and powerful man, capturing nearly all of the Greek towns on the coast of Asia during his reign. Born the son of a king, Croesus did have other siblings, but we know that he was crown prince as he served as governor of Adramyttion, which was the usual position given to a Lydian heir. Croesus had two sons but as one was mute and thus considered unfit to rule, the burden of being crown prince fell to the other, Atys. Until he died in a hunting accident. But the royal succession was never going to be a problem for Croesus. As he prepared for war against the Persians, he consulted the oracle at Delphi and was allegedly told that if he went into battle, one great empire would crumble – he just didn’t realise that it would be his.
D is for Delphi
According to the Ancient Greeks, Delphi was the centre of the world. This island held a temple dedicated to the god Apollo, which was home to a famous oracle that would offer guidance to both Greek city-states and individuals. Known as the Pythia, this oracle was said to channel prophecies from Apollo himself, while in a dream-like trance. To obtain an augury, you would be expected to offer laurel branches, money and a black ram to sacrifice.
The ceremony would involve the Pythia bathing in Delphi’s Castalian Spring before descending into a special chamber of the temple, which was filled with the smoke of burning barley meal and laurel leaves. Sat on covered tripod cauldron, the oracle would inhale the fumes, before making their judgment.
Traditionally the Pythia would only be consulted once a year, but at the peak of the Delphi’s popularity there were three Pythiai in office. The Pythia was also always a woman and when she died a replacement was chosen from the priestesses of the island temple. The Delphic temple of Apollo was established in the 8th Century BCE and the last prophecy was given there around 393 CE, when Roman emperor Theodosius closed all of the pagan sites to make way for Christianity.
The lighthouse was one of the city’s defining landmarks
She also played a role in the afterlife as a guide and helper
Delphi as it looks today
A popular phrase in the past to describe wealth has been ‘as rich as Croesus’