Weekly Roundup of Archaeology, History and Historical Fiction July 15-21

Here are some posts I enjoyed this week:

Modern politicians spend a lot of time justifying their bad or at least suspect behavior. And when a leader comes to power in let’s say “nonstandard” methods, then said leader gets even more carefully constructed propaganda to persuade the public of the leader’s right to power. None of this is new. Ancient rulers who had usurped the throne or otherwise muddied their reputations wrote apologia. The king I write about, the Hittite Hattusili wrote one when he overthrew his nephew. Darius the Persian wrote one. The Biblical stories of David seem founded upon a similar outpouring, possibly oral. The usurper always says the gods, usually one special god, really loves him and put him on the throne to right a bad situation. And the previous guy is bad mouthed and portrayed as misguided and incompetent and rejected by the gods. Darius came up with the most creative story. He said the guy before wasn’t actually the guy before. He’d been killed already and impersonated by a magus. So that murder was actually righting a wrong, not regicide. I like the magic disguise explanation for its sheer guts. Historians don’t buy it, of course. I wonder how widely the people of Darius’s world did? Have to say, Hattusili’s apologia often rings reasonably true. Clearly putting best foot forward and brushing some stuff under the rug, but we do have a couple of his nephew’s slightly crackpot letters to other rulers. He seems to have had a complex about not being taken seriously (he was a concubine’s son, not so strong a position). Hmm, complex about always being the biggest and best… Might have been for the good of the empire to shift to the uncle. Hard to tell from a few millennia away. Lots of contemporary echoes, eh? Fun ASOR blog post. Click through for the full story.

The Big Bad Wolves of the Ancient Near East Speak: Royal Apologetic in Context


photo of Greek Theater at Messene, photo by Rokaroll Wikimedia Commons

Greek Theater at Messene, photo by Rokaroll Wikimedia Commons

Japanese archaeologists re-examining the Greek theater at Messene and two similar theaters at Sparta and Megalopolis, have decided, based on some stone cut rows, that the classical Greeks had movable set backdrops that rolled on and off the stage and were kept in a storage room to the side of the stage. We know Roman stages got elaborate with paraphernalia of staging, but mostly people thought the Greeks kept it simple. So repaint that mental image of Euripides’ Medea in its original staging. People will still debate this issue, archaeological evidence being what it is. I love the modern use of old Greek theaters with simple staging, so I don’t really feel any great desire for painted wooden backdrops as part of this portrayal, but good to know what really happened, if it did. Probably someone will refute strongly next week. Click here for International Business Times “Dramatic Discovery reveals secrets of 2000 year old lines in the ground at Ancient Greek Theater”



photo image Hendraburnick Quoit, photo by Derek Harper Wikimedia Commons

Hendraburnick Quoit, photo by Derek Harper Wikimedia Commons

Imagine a full moon and a mysterious religious rite under that night sky around a large stone at the top of a hill. Pieces of quartz have been broken up around the stone to give off luminescence. The huge ax-shaped stone is carved with many figures that can only be seen by the light of the moon. Such is the new interpretation of Hendraburnick Quoit in Cornwall when imaging done at night unexpectedly uncovered far more artwork carved into the stone than had ever been seen under the sun’s light. The archaeologists wrote, “As in many cultures where darkness is associated with the supernatural and the heightening of senses, it is possible that some activities at Hendraburnick Quoit may have been undertaken at night.” Now this paints a vivid picture of Neolithic life in Cornwall. Click here for the Telegraph, science section “Ancient stone monuments may have been used for mysterious moonlit ceremonies”



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