A-Z of the an­cient world

Ex­plore in­cred­i­ble icons of Clas­si­cal An­tiq­uity

All About History - - CONTENTS - Writ­ten by Katharine Marsh

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’

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