Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Beautiful Persepolis

Persepolis (Old Persian Pârsa, modern Takht-e Jamshid): Greek name of one of the capitals of the ancient Achaemenid empire, founded by the great king Darius (522-486 BCE). 

There are some indications that the site of Persepolis was already a government's center under Cyrus the Great (559-530) and his son Cambyses II (530-522), but there are no archaeological traces of this older phase. However this may be, it seems as if Darius 'invented' Persepolis as the splendid seat of the government of the Achaemenid Empire and as its center for receptions and festivals. The wealth of Persia was to be visible in every aspect of its construction. Persepolis was a showcase .

The Treasury

The first building phase may have lasted from 518 to 490. Darius' men leveled the ground and created a terrace of 450x300 meter, on which stood a large building and an audience hall. In the Treasury, the booty of the conquered tribes and states and the annual tribute sent by the king's loyal subjects on the occasion of the New Year's festival, were stored. Many people were employed to keep the gold and silver shining: from the Fortification tablets, it is known that in 467 BCE, no less than 1348 people were employed in the treasury.

The Treasury

The Treasury Tablets

The square audience hall, which was at the heart of the terrace, is usually called the Apadana. Its eastern stairs are famous for its representation of the people of the empire. (The decoration of the northern stairs, which is roughly similar, is of lesser quality.) 

The Apadana

The hall could contain hundreds, probably thousands, of people at the same time. It was the largest and probably the most beautiful of the buildings at Persepolis. 
The Apadana

The Apadana

The seventy-two columns which supported the roof were twenty-five meters high (thirteen can still be seen). The founding inscription reads:

Darius the great king, king of kings, king of countries, son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenian, built this palace.

During this first building phase, a complex system of water channels and drainage was cut into the rocky terrace.
The second phase, between 490-480 , consists of buildings started by Darius but completed in the first years of the reign of his son and successor, Xerxes (486-465). Actually, Persepolis is mostly the work of this king. He tells us in an inscription:

“When my father Darius went away from the throne, I became king on his throne by the grace of Ahuramazda. After I became king, I finished what had been done by my father, and I added other works.”

The Apadana was finished and a small palace was added to the south of the Apadana . It is usually called Darius' Palace, although he probably did not live to see the building finished. The ancient Persian name was Taçara, 'winter palace'. 

The Gate of All Nations

To the north of the Apadana, the Gate of All Nations  (also known as Xerxes' Gate) was built, which was guarded by a pair of large bulls in the west and lamassu's in the east (a lamassu is a bull with the head of a bearded man).


 Walls were constructed on the northern ridge of the terrace fortification. In front of Xerxes' gate was a monumental double-ramped stairway, which was designed in such a way that one could only proceed slowly and with dignity.
Above these lamassu's, an inscription was written:

A great God is Ahuramazda, who created this earth, who created yonder sky, who created man, who created happiness for man, who made Xerxes king, one king of many, one lord of many.
     I am Xerxes, the Great King, King of Kings, King of countries containing many kinds (of men), King in this great earth far and wide, son of King Darius, an Achaemenian.
     Proclaims Xerxes the King: By the favor of Ahuramazda I built this Gateway of All Nations. I built many other beautiful things in Persia. I built them and my father built them. All beautiful things we built, we have built by the favor of Ahuramazda.
     Proclaims Xerxes the King: May Ahuramazda protect me from harm, and this land, and whatever was built by me as well as what has been built by may father.

Xerxe's Palace

In the next decade, 480-470, Xerxes' palace  was built between the Treasury and the Apadana. The Persian name was Hadiš, 'dwelling place'. It was twice as large as the palace of Darius. Meanwhile, the western part of the Treasury was reconstructed; this part became known as the Queen's Quarters. The women lived in their own rooms, situated around a spacious courtyard. In these years, the Treasury -probably not big enough to store the booty of Xerxes' successful wars- was enlarged to the north. Many buildings were built on the southern edge of the platform; they may have been magasins.

Xerxe's Palace

In the fourth phase, the Palace of Artaxerxes I and the Hall of Hundred Columns were added. It was Persepolis' second largest building, measuring 70 x 70 meters. This throne hall was finished by Xerxes' son Artaxerxes I Makrocheir (465-424). At a certain moment, its function was changed and it became a store room, probably because the treasury was again too small to contain everything.
In about 450 BCE, the complex was more or less finished and there was probably no building activity for almost a century.
King Artaxerxes III Ochus (358-338), who was in a sense the last ruler of the Achaemenid empire, added a Hall of Thirty-two Columns, a corridor, the tomb of Artaxerxes II and his own tomb.  

The Hall of 1000 Columns

The rock-cut tomb has a relief, which shows the king worshiping before a fire altar; this is inspired by the tombs of Darius the Great and his successors at Naqš-i Rustam, which is one hour's walk north of Persepolis. The corridor connected the Gate of All Nations with the Hall of Hundred Columns; we can imagine how delegations from the subject countries passed through this corridor to bring their tribute to their ruler. On both sides of the corridor were store-rooms.
Artaxerxes III Ochus' successors Artaxerxes IV Arses (337-336) and Darius III Codomannus may have done something to build a large gate; but this gate was still unfinished when the Macedonian king Alexander the Great captured Persepolis in the first weeks of 330 BCE.
Archaeologists found two cuneiform archives. The oldest and largest archive are the Persepolis fortification tablets, 25,000 to 30,000 in number, of which some 2,000 are published and an additional 1,500 were read but not really published. They were written in Elamite, the language of the Persian chancellery, and deal with economic transactions up till 493. Payments are done in kind. The other archive, the Persepolis Treasury Tablets is smaller (139 tablets) but similar to the first one; it describes payment in silver between 492 and 458. Moreover, king Xerxes left a 'letter to posterity' in the harem room, a long but stereotypical text which is known as the Harem inscription.

As we have already seen, Persepolis was taken by the Macedonian king Alexander the Great in the first weeks of 330. He destroyed several palace buildings (not all!) in April, because he was not yet sole ruler of the Persian Empire, and it was too dangerous to leave the enormous treasures behind, where his enemies could recapture them. The Palace of Xerxes seems to have received a special treatment, because it was damaged more severely than other buildings; it is likely that the Greek soldiers in Alexander's company had their revenge for the destruction of Athens in 480 BCE. When Alexander returned several years later and saw the ruins, he regretted his act.
Alexander the Great looting and destroying Persepolis

Although a new capital for Persis, called Istakhr, was built nearby, the old capital was a mere ruin for the next two thousand years. The local population invented legends to explain the existence of the ruins of what was called Chehel Minar, 'forty columns'.
The first westerner to visit Persepolis was a missionary man from Portugal, Antoine de Gouvea, who noticed cuneiform inscriptions in 1602. Sixteen years later, the Spanish ambassador Garcias de Silva y Figueroa saw the ruins; he must have planned his stay, because he visited the place with the World History of the Greek historian Diodorus of Sicily in his hand.

During the next century, several diplomats interrupted their voyage to the Persian court to see Persepolis, but they were no scholars. Between 1664 and 1667, however, the French travelers Jean de Thévenot (1633-1667) and Jean Chardin (1643-1713) did some serious research. In his Voyage au Levant, Thévenot reached the conclusion that Chehel Minar could never have been the palace of the kings of ancient Persia, because it was too small. The columns he saw, were, in his view, the pedestals of the idols of the Persians. As we have seen, he was wrong, but other observations were correct.

The first to make a real contribution to the study of the ruins and to identify them as the capital of ancient Persia, was a Dutchman, Cornelis de Bruijn (1652-1727), who visited Persepolis in 1704/1705. He made many beautiful drawings, which he published in 1711 in Reizen over Moskovie, door Persie en Indie. His drawings were long considered as the best representations available, until the first photographers visited the place in the twentieth century.
After a dig in 1878, which was organized by the Persian governor of the Shiraz region, the first archaeological research was executed by the Oriental Institute of Chicago: Ernst Herzfeld and F. Schmidt were working in Persepolis from 1931 to 1939. Ever since, archaelogists of many nations have been working at the Persepolis.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chinese Legend: How Yu the Great Controlled the Flood

The story of Yu is based on a king of the same name who ruled in Chinese legend from 2205 to 2197 B.C. Like all demigods of ancient times, Yu changes into different shapes whenever necessary. Unlike the demigods of ancient times, Yu is the first to pass on his status as ruler to his descendants and thus create a dynasty, or ruling family. He named his dynasty the Xia Dynasty. It isn’t a mythical dynasty, the archaeological evidence has proven its existence.
The ruling king in this story is the Yellow Emperor, a good leader who struggled with the mighty rivers that flooded the country each year. According to ancient myths, the Yellow Emperor had a pile of magic dirt that could absorb water. His grandson Kun stole the magic earth and dropped little balls of dirt wherever he went. The dirtballs swelled into huge, fertile mounds of soil as they absorbed water. The peasants then scooped up the fertile soil and spread it over their sopping fields. Kun also built dams to control the flooding of the country’s unpredictable rivers. Unfortunately, the dams often burst and flooded the land again. When the emperor found out about the theft, he was furious and sent Zurong the fire god, now the chief executioner, to track down and kill his grandson Kun. Zurong chased Kun to the ice glaciers of the arctic and struck him dead with a flaming sword Kun’s body lay trapped and frozen in the ice.

Three years later, the Yellow Emperor sent Zurong the fire god to check on his grandson Kun’s body. When he reached the spot where Kun was buried in the ice, the fire god was amazed to find that Kun’s body was perfectly preserved in the ice. As he hacked open the glacier with his sword, Zurong accidentally split open Kun’s body. A huge Loong flew out of the corpse Terrified, Zurong fled to warn the Yellow Emperor. The huge Loong became Yu, son of Kun, who was born with all the memories and knowledge of his father.
Like his father, Yu was filled with compassion for the farmers. However, unlike his father, he did not wish to incur the wrath of the Yellow Emperor. Immediately, he hurried to the Yellow Emperor’s court. Bowing before the ruler, Yu pleaded for the lives of the farmers, “Your majesty, I beg you to pity the people for their suffering. Please help them restore their land.” The Yellow Emperor was not impressed with Yu’s pleas. He bellowed, “Do not forget that your father stole my magic earth and tried to restore the land without my permission!”
Yu replied, “Then give me some magic earth and your permission, and allow me to complete my father’s work.” Secretly, the Yellow Emperor agreed that the world was a big, muddy mess. None of his gods had any ideas about how to stop the raging rivers that flooded the country year after year. Kun had tried to divert the rivers with dams but had failed. Therefore, every spring, the rivers continued to burst their banks, drown innocent people, and destroy property. Furthermore, the emperor was pleased that Yu had asked for the magic earth, rather than attempt to steal it. At last, the emperor said to Yu, “Pile the magic dirt on the back of this tortoise and go forth to control the floodwaters. With the help of this tortoise and a winged dragon, rebuild the world in your father’s vision.”
Yu was curious about the size and shape of the earth. Therefore, before leaving the emperor’s court, he dispatched one of the lesser court gods to measure the country north/south and another god to measure the country east/west. Each returned to report exactly the same number: 233,500 li (three li make one mile) and 75 paces. Delighted, Yu created a map from the gods’ descriptions, which made the earth a perfect square. Then Yu divided the country into nine areas, or provinces. Only then did he begin his construction work.

Unlike his father, Yu was not content merely to build dams to control the rivers. Instead, he studied the shape of the land in each area. He observed the course of the rivers and planned their most natural route to the sea. To guide the rivers, Yu dug canals, carved tunnels, leveled hilltops, created dams, and formed lakes. In each area, Yu used the tail of the dragon to gouge out new channels for the rivers.
As he plodded across the country, Yu found 233,559 large holes in the earth. Year after year, water had bubbled up in these cavities and flooded the world. Now Yu plugged up the gaping holes with dirt and reeds, and dropped in magic dirt balls from the tortoise’s back to dry up the soggy earth caused by the floods.
When he worked, Yu often used the form of a human to avoid frightening the farmers. Even in his human form, he had an ugly face like an insect, with a mouth like the bottom of a crow’s beak and a long neck like a snake. The farmers did not care about his appearance, however. They loved him for his efforts on their behalf.
As Yu traveled across China, he named the tribal groups and recorded their customs: Leather-Skin people; Goat-Fur people; Oyster-and-Pearl people; Kingfisher¬Green-Silk people; Grass-Skirt people; Felt-Tent people; Mountains-of-Jewels people; Dew-Drinkers; Red-Grain-Growers; Lacquer-Makers; Winged people; Short people; Deep-Set-Eyes people. He charted their land and collected samples of their soil as he traveled across the fifty rivers and mountains of China.
Wherever he went, Yu found happy families. Their happiness only made him aware of his own loneliness. Although Yu was married briefly, his wife and son both abandoned him because they had no fondness for digging dirt. With neither wife nor son by his side, Yu continued his work alone, with only the tortoise and the dragon for company. His hands were covered with sores and calluses. His skin was blackened and blistered from the sun. One leg shriveled and twisted as Yu limped around the rough terrain. Wherever he traveled, farmers hailed him as the Great Yu.
Their widespread affection caused the ruling emperor to choose Yu as the next emperor. It was thus that Yu became the founder and ruler of the Xia [She ah] dynasty. Soon plentiful grain harvests blessed the land. The rivers ran peacefully to the sea and did not overflow. The people lived happily in their villages and blessed the name of Yu in their joy and contentment..

Friday, September 23, 2011


From The Robber Baby:
Stories from the Greek Myths
By Anne Rockwell
The ancient Greeks believed in many gods and goddesses. Greek myths told stories about how the actions of gods and goddesses affected people on Earth. Read on to discover one of the best-known Greek myths. Particularly, I love this one a lot.
Pandora was made, not born as other people are. Hephaestus modeled her out of clay. He made her a young woman as beautiful as his wife, Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty.
Each of the gods and goddesses gave Pandora a gift. Then Athene, the goddess of wisdom, breathed life into her. Most of the gifts the gods gave her were good ones. But unfortunately, Hermes, as always full of tricks and mischief, gave her more curiosity than was good for her.
the tricky Hermes

Pandora was sent to live on earth. She had no trouble finding a good husband, for the gods and goddesses had given her the gifts of smiles and sweetness and wit and winning ways. Besides that, she was rich, for as a wedding gift the gods and goddesses gave her a box that had been made by Hephaestus. It was as beautiful as Pandora and very valuable, too.
“Never open that box!” all the gods and goddesses warned Pandora. She promised to obey them, but as time went on Pandora grew more and more curious about what was in the box that she had promised never to open.
In those days, there was no sadness among the mortals on earth. And should it have been otherwise? There was not sickness, no hunger, no jealousy, no laziness, no greed, no anger, no cruelty. Even death was like a long and gentle sleep when people were very tired. There was no suffering of any kind.

Perhaps things would have remained that way if tricky Hermes had not given Pandora so much curiosity. But every day Pandora grew more and more curious about just what was in the box. At last, when she could no longer sleep for wondering what her box contained, she said to herself early one morning, “I will just take a peek!”

So she opened the box, just to take a little peek. And out of that box flew dreadful things. Greed and Envy came out first and soared up into the clean, bright air. Pandora tried to slam the box shut, but she could not. Out flew Hatred and Cruelty with terrible force. Hunger and Poverty followed. Then Sickness came, and Despair, and all other terrible things that the gods and goddesses knew should remain safely hidden in the box. Pandora had set them all free.
“Come back! Come back where you belong!” Pandora called out to the terrible things as they flew around her. She grabbed at them in the air, but they soared out of her reach and up into the sky. None came back. they are still out there bringing misery and trouble to people on earth.
But the gods and goddesses had not put only dreadful things in Pandora´s box. Hidden in among the terrible things was something small and fragile-winged and good. This thing was Hope. Who was the kindly god or goddess who thought to put Hope in among all the miseries and misfortunes? No one knows.

But because Hope was hidden in Pandora´s box, whenever there is too much trouble and sadness among us mortals, Hope makes us think that tomorrow will be better.
And soon Pandora dried her tears. “I hope I will never be too curious again!” she said. And she never was.
Analyze the Literature:
1.   What caused Pandora to open the box?
2.   In what ways does the story explain how the actions of the gods affected people on Earth?
3.   Why do you think myths were important to ancient Greeks?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Late Period


525 - 332 BC

Dynasty 27: (First Persian Period)

Cambyses II
Darius I
Artaxerxes I
Darius II
Artaxerxes II
seal of Darius I hunting lions

The Persians, led by Cambyses II took over Egypt after their conquest in 525 BC. Writings tell of outrages performed by Cambyses, such as the stabbing of the sacred Apis bull at the Serapeum and the urning of the embalmed body of Ahmose II. He however returned to Persia and ruled from Susa. His successor Darius I took more control over the internal affairs of Egypt and built a temple at the Khargah Oasis and repaired other temples around the country. He completed the canal begun by Necho. While he was fighting against the Greeks at Marathon, the Egyptians took the opportunity to revolt but they were defeated by Darius's successor, Xerxes. The Egyptians tried to revolt again and assassinated Xerxes, who was succeeded by Artaxerxes I, who again put down the revolution and ruled in relative peace for 30 years. Revolution began again during the rule of Darius II, even though he had tried to subdue the people with building works, but the Egyptians, helped by Greek mercenaries, took advantage of family problems within the royal household. This reulted in a form of independence throughout the rest of Darius II's reign and that of his successor Artaxerxes II.

Dynasty 28:


After the death of Darius II, Amytrtaeus, prince of Sais, declared himself king.He managed to assert his authority as far south as Aswan, but little else is known about him.

Dynasty 29:


Nefaarud I
ushabti figure of Nepherites I
(Nepherites I)
ushabti figure of Achoris (Achoris)
Nefaarud I moved his Delta capital from Sais to Mendes. He maintained the cult of the Apis bull and there is also evidence of building work during his rule. After his death, his son and a usurper struggled for power but both were overcome by another.... Hakor undertook much rebuilding work. He also made a treaty with Greece but this only lasted 3 years. He kept the Persians at bay using Greek soldiers . He named his son as successor but he was ousted by Nectanebo I

Dynasty 30:



basalt relief of Nectanebo I making offering
(Nectanebo I)

gold coin from the reign of Teos

tiny statue of Nectanebo II with Horus

(Nectanebo II)

Nectanebo repelled an invasion on Egypt by a combined Persian and Greek army using the Nile inundation to their advantage. During his 18 year reign he restored many temples and built a kiosk in his name on the Island of Philae. Teos succeeded his father Nectanebo but was unpopular in Egypt because of heavy taxes collected to pay for his army to march against Persia. While he was away his grandson was made king. Grandson of Teos Nectanebo II returned to the old Egyptian religion and temples were rebuilt. He stood against a Persian advance with the help of Greek mercenaries. However the Greeks fighting on the Persians side were stronger and a defeated Nectanebo was pushed back to Nubia.
Nectanebo II was the last native Egyptian Pharaoh.

Dynasty 31: (Second Persian Period)


Artaxerxes III
Darius III
silver coin with head of Artaxerxes III
Following the fall of Nectanebo II The country was ruled by Artaxerxes III. The Persians robbed the temples and taxed the people. When Artaxerxes was recalled to Persia the coutry was ruled by a young successor, Arses, but he only survived 2 years before being murdered by his successor Darius III. Not much evidence survives about Darius III but he is known to have struck some coins with his name on them. He opened the gates of Egypt to Alexander the Grat in 323 BC and was transferred to high office in Babylon.