Category Archives: ANCIENT HISTORY
In AD 350 the gladiatorial games were as popular, magnificent and widespread as they had ever been. An unbroken history of development and adaptation stretching back some 600 years lay behind the combats. A century later not a single gladiator, lanista or munus was to be found anywhere. For an institution that had survived for so long and been so popular to disappear so completely was dramatic indeed.
Hawara mummies created a sensation when they were discovered, and in 1997 visitors to the British Museum found the first major exhibition of the mummy portraits from the Fayum very disquieting. Some burst into tears, some had to leave, unable to bear the clear bright gaze of the living dead.
The Apollo of Delphi was the god of black jokes. Herodotus says that Croesus, legendarily wealthy king of Lydia, feared an attack from the envious Persians. He couldn’t decide whether to hold fast or launch a pre-emptive strike, so he sent emmissaries to consult the oracle at Delphi. She said that if he crossed the River halys and attacked with vigour he would destroy a great nation. He did, in 532 BC, and he did destroy a great nation, his own. His army was annihilated.
On his death, Alexander left as heirs only a mad brother and a posthumous son, neither of whom were able to rule. Power in the provinces was seized by Alexander’s generals and the empire broke up in a complex series of conflicts known as the Wars of the Diadochi (‘the successors’). The big winners were Ptolemy (r. 323 – 283 B.C.), who seized Egypt, and Seleucos (r. 312 – 281 B.C.), who took Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia.
By the autumn of 48 BC, Pompey the Great’s ambitions were in ruins. He had been the most powerful man in Rome; but now, almost 60, he had seen it all slip away. His army smashed by rival Julius Caesar at the battle of Pharsalus, he was on the run across the Mediterranean. There was just one hope left; if he could win Egyptian support, Pompey thought, he might yet turn the war around.