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Strabo

By the 1st century BCE, the world of antiquity under the rule of Rome, was perhaps more united than ever and was on a path to experiencing a golden age of knowledge and technology with social development hitting heights it would not see again for a thousand years or more. In this world of increasing interconnectedness, a Greek from Amaseia in Anatolia, named Strabo, would create one of the most influential works on geography of all time. …


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The UK at night, showing how concentrated our population is

Like many people over the last 6 months or so, I have found my work situation drastically changed. The experiences of this experiment in a different way of working that has been forced upon us has affected us all in different ways, but for my part I have discovered a new found appreciation for many things in life that the rush of the commute and office working all too often overshadows. …


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Statue of Pytheas outside the Palais de la Bourse, Marseille

When we turn our minds to the western Mediterranean of antiquity images of the titanic struggle between Carthage and Rome, known as the Punic wars, are what is most readily invoked, however this does not tell the whole story. Indeed, for a time Greek colonists who headed west were in the ascendancy and chief amongst them was the city of Massalia, modern Marseille, France. …


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Mithridates VI of Pontus

He gathered all the springs to birth

From the many-venomed earth;

First a little, thence to more,

He sampled all her killing store;

And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,

Sate the king when healths went round.

They put arsenic in his meat

And stared aghast to watch him eat;

They poured strychnine in his cup

And shook to see him drink it up:

They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:

Them it was their poison hurt.

I tell the tale that I heard told.

Mithridates, he died old.

A.E Houseman (1896)

Mithridates VI Eupator Dionysus, 135 BCE — 63 BCE, also known as Mithridates the Great, was king of Pontus in Anatolia from 120 BCE — 63 BCE. Known to many as the poison king, he was said to have an unrivalled knowledge of poisons and their antidotes, and to have habituated his body to their effects to the point where poison could not harm him, the above poem illustrates this legend. It also reflects the character trait which above all describes Mithridates, his dynasty and his eventual legend; he was indomitable. …


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Hanno the Libyan started out from Carthage and passed the Pillars of Heracles and sailed into the outer Ocean, with Libya on his port side, and he sailed on towards the east, five-and-thirty days all told. But when at last he turned southward, he fell in with every sort of difficulty, want of water, blazing heat, and fiery streams running into the sea. — The Campaigns of Alexander, Book VIII, Arrian of Nicomedia

The city of Carthage, later famous for its apocalyptic struggle with the Roman Republic, was founded in about 814 BC as a stop off point for Phoenician ships sailing between their homeland and the western Mediterranean. Positioned perfectly at the centre of the Mediterranean, it would rise to become a great metropolis, dominating the sea and poised to become the greatest city of the Antique world. This article is the 6th in a series, parts 1 and 2, 3, 4 and 5 set some context, but you do not need to have read them first to follow this one. …


Towards the end of the 4th century BCE the all-conquering and monolithic Empire of Persia would come crashing down. Despite its defeat at the hands of the Greek cities in the previous century, Persia stood strong at the head of the world, until a King of a once obscure kingdom came storming out of the west, sweeping all before him. This article is the fifth in a series, parts one, two, three and four set some context, but you do not need to have read them first to follow this one.

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The conquests of Alexander the great would usher in the Hellenistic age, opening the core territories of antiquity to the new frontiers of the west and expanding horizons to the east. The city that still bears the conquerors name, which he ordered constructed at the mouth of the Nile, would become a microcosm of this age. The library built and patronised by the Ptolemaic Kings in Alexandria would become the centre of scholarship in the known world, and one of its finest minds, amongst many achievements, would be hailed as the father of geography, like Hecataeus of Miletus two centuries before. …


Here are presented the results of the enquiry carried out by Herodotus of Halicarnassus. The purpose is to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time, and to preserve the fame of the important and remarkable achievements produced by both Greeks and non-Greeks; among the matters covered is, in particular, the cause of the hostilities between Greeks and non-Greeks.

— Herodotus, The Histories

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Herodotus of Halicarnassus

Our next stop as we follow the development of knowledge of the world through antiquity is with the man who Cicero called the ‘father of history’Herodotus of Halicarnassus. …


This article is the third in a series, parts 1 and 2 set some context, but you do not need to have read them first to follow this one.

Hecataeus the Milesian speaks thus: I write these things as they seem true to me; for the stories told by the Greeks are various and, in my opinion, absurd[1]

The above quote is one of the few fragments we have of the work of Hecataeus[2] of Miletus, a Greek historian and geographer of the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, known as “The Father of Geography”. …


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The Babylonian World Map

In 1881 the Iraqi born archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam discovered a clay tablet whilst digging at the site of Sippar about 60km from Babylon. Rassam was searching for evidence of the Biblical flood and being unable to read the Cuneiform script dismissed the find as of little importance.

It was not until years later, in the late 20th century, that the scholars at the British museum deciphered the text and realised its significance. The tablet was in fact perhaps the oldest known world map, offering one of the few opportunities to glimpse the world view of Babylonian Civilisation[1].

To start the journey through Classical Antiquity, this article is going to take a close look at the Babylonian world map. Exploring the map itself and what it can tell us about the civilisation which produced it. …


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Possible Invasions and Migrations during the Bronze Age Collapse

The aim of this publication is to explore, through maps, texts and historical accounts of expeditions, what the people of what we can loosely call Classical Antiquity knew of the world and how their knowledge of the world’s geography evolved, changed and grew over time. Through this we will see how antique civilisations interpreted this knowledge and how this knowledge in turn influenced their world view. The series of articles following this one will trace the story of knowledge of the world from the dawning of the classical age in ancient Mesopotamia, through the Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans, to the end of the classical world where so much of that accumulated knowledge was lost and forgotten. …

About

Lewis D'Ambra

I write about history and its echoes and lessons for the present.

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