Examples in Archaeology: The Multiple Burial in the Corner of the Hexamilion North of the Roman Bath (Gully Bastion)

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 When and where the feature was found

The multiple burial (Grave 2 Gully Bastion) is located in the Corner of the Hexamilion North of the Roman Bath at Isthmia.  The grave cut into what is assumed to be ground level at the time of the construction of the Hexamilion wall which is a hard white soil.  The grave itself was excavated in the 1970 season and was found under a later kiln or oven.

Location of Grave 2 in corner of the Hexamilion wall,
Gregory, T.E., Isthmia: Vol.5, The Hexamilion and the Fortress (1993)

 Topelev = 41.08

Botelev = 40.18

 Brief Description

Located in a corner of the Hexamilion wall the Gully Bastion Grave Two has the interior face of the wall forming both the West and the North sides with the North side slightly undercutting the Hexamilion by around 20cm. The sides of the grave are lined with large tiles, these tiles also included in their number one stamped tile[1]  and another which being heavily smoke stained indicates that it may have originally been part of the nearby Roman Bath.[2] The interpretation of this tile as formerly of the Roman Bath is also suggested by how the smoke staining does not extend to the corners of the tile where it would have been resting on top of hypocausts.

 The grave is actually split into two irregular sections, North and South.  These two sections were split by a line of vertical tiles which ran West to East across the grave.  Within the north section was found two skeletons with their heads to the west and within the south compartment eight skeletons were uncovered also with their heads to the west.  There is some debate to who these individuals were, whether they were part of the garrison assigned to guard or build the Hexamilion or from some other associated part of society.

 Underneath the lowest body in the southern section a number of artefacts were found, namely an Athenian glazed lamp fragment which shares much of the characteristics of other lamps found in the Roman Bath (IPL 70-100)[3] which can be dated to the second half of the fourth century after Christ. There is debate over the function of the lamp in the grave.  Was it part of some religious ceremony for the deceased or simply just lost or for another reason yet to be thought of? Either way this lamp fragment allows for the best dating of the grave in relation to similar lamps found in the Roman Bath as mentioned previous.  Several other items were found in the same area as the lamp fragment including a coarse dark reddish bowl (IPR 70-26) which like the lamp can be dated to the second half of the fourth century.[4]  A bronze buckle (IM 70-32) and a bead on a wire (IM 70-54) were also excavated.


The north side of the grave undercutting the Hexamilion along with the relation between the lamp fragment found in the south section of the grave in relation to lamps found in Roman Bath dating to the fourth century suggest that the grave was contemporary with the construction of the Hexamilion.  This is further indicated by how the grave sides are the interior of the wall on two sides.  The graves construction can hence be placed either at the time the Hexamilion was being built or slightly after but before the kiln/oven was placed on top.

The position of the skeletons within the grave suggests primarily a Christian burial with the skeleton’s heads to the west. Christian burials of the period were generally orientated East-West with the head to the West end of the grave in order to mirror the layout of the Christian Church and the direction from which Christ is meant to come on judgement day.


Gregory, T.E., Isthmia: Vol.5, The Hexamilion and the Fortress (1993), pp.42-45


                  Gully Bastion 1970 Vol.2 – pp.47-72 May 1970

                  Gully Bastion 1970 Vol.3

 Wohl ‘Deposit of Lamps’ No. 24

Fraser, P.M., Archaeology in Greece, 1970-71, Archaeological reports, No.17 (1970-71), p.9

[1] Gully Bastion Notebook Vol.2, p.47 and 53

[2] Ibid., p.49

[3] Ibid., p.55

[4] Ibid., p.68

The Persecution of Christians in Eusebius

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Koenig wrote that “Religious tolerance is something we should all practice; however, there has been more persecution and atrocities committed in the name of religion and religious freedom than anything else.” This post will look at the persecution of Christians through Eusebius’ Historica Ecclesiastica and other primary and secondary sources.  

It is difficult to apportion blame for this persecution, or whether individuals can even be held responsible, for truly the greatest contributors to persecution are those who do nothing when they have power to make a difference.  Eusebius like Lactantius implies that blame lies with Galerius though his implication does not directly name him; instead addressing Galerius as the long accepted “prime mover in the calamitous persecution.”[1] Lactantius agrees with this claim announcing that, due to his mother’s conceived hatred against the Christians for not following her ways, she instigated Galerius to destroy them.[2]  Why would Eusebius make the suggestion that Galerius was responsible? Barnes asserts that Eusebius was a prime supporter of Constantine and wrote in his reign.[3] His support for Constantine suggests that he could not offend those related to the Emperor, such as Constantius who reigned during the same period as Galerius as he would be indirectly offending Constantine himself.  It is also possible that Eusebius had a personal vendetta against Galerius, blaming him for the persecution of his fellow Christians.

Eusebius’ account also suggests that divine judgement was responsible for the persecution of Christians.  Eusebius expresses that “increasing freedom transformed our character to arrogance and sloth.”[4] Eusebius goes on to explain that divine judgement, God himself, gradually began to order things and the persecution began with the Christians in the army.  This indicates that Eusebius thought the Christians brought the persecution upon themselves for ignoring sins and abusing their own freedom. Eusebius’ suggestion of divine judgement further indicates that he was attempting to put a positive spin on the circumstances, making it appear that persecution was part of God’s ultimate plans, God being infallible. Barnes asserts that the purpose for this suggestion was to strengthen the belief that “God intervenes in history to ensure that the Christian Church shall prosper.”[5] This indicates that Eusebius may have even been suggesting that the persecution had its benefits in the prosperity of Christianity by laying the blame of the persecution in divine hands.

The account by Eusebius and other scholars shows that the persecution affected different areas with varying intensities, some greater than others. For instance, Eusebius describes the persecution at Thebais where people were subject to wild animals and other horrendous tortures.[6]  An analysis of Eusebius’ account of Thebais, Antioch and Nicomedia among others gives us the impression that though the Christians suffered horribly, there was always a faith that could not be taken from them, that there was a “most wonderful eagerness…in those who had put their trust in Christ.”[7] This gives us the impression that many Christians saw the persecution as a chance to prove their loyalty to God.

 The place where the persecutions appear to be carried out with the greatest intensity according to Eusebius and Lactantius was not a location in the geographical sense.  Eusebius highlights that the army was a key target and starting point of the persecution.[8]  An assessment of the army being central to the persecution suggests that there was an aim to strengthen the loyalty of military powers.  Eusebius also asserts that Nicomedia was a focus point.[9]  From this account we gain the impression that the intensity in Nicomedia was to primarily strengthen imperial powers. 

Other areas where we see an intensity of persecution as told by Eusebius were Antioch and Tyre.  ‘Historica Ecclesiastica’ recounts the “ordeal of the Egyptians who championed the faith so gloriously at Tyre.”[10]  Eusebius also indicates the great intensity in Egypt and Syria, stating that “we should feel equal admiration for those of them [Egyptians] who were martyred in their own country.”[11]  This statement also suggests that the persecution was wide spread.

Religion is more apparent in history than any other reason for persecution.  The persecution of the Christians under Diocletian is one such example where the persecution had varying consequences to the population and church even with the introduction of an edict of toleration.[12] The edict of toleration would have provided the majority of the Christians with a sense of relief.   Though, the sheer number of volunteer martyrs mentioned by Eusebius and Lactantius implicate that for the few the edict removed their chance to show their devotion.  Momigliano asserts that one such response is that some Christians voiced resentment in light of those who “survived in fear”[13] through the persecution rather than in physical pain. An analysis of this suggests that there may have been some resentment for the minority who appeared to seek the persecution.[14]  

The edict also created consequences in relation to ‘conscience’ and the unification of the church.  Chadwick assesses that there were many problems of conscience as a result of the persecution and that one such response was the rise of certain militant extremist groups such as the Donatists.[15]  The Donatists counted even the smallest of physical punishments as a worthy martyrdom and saw those who denied their faith, as traitors.  This suggests that militant ideas forced a widening division focusing on the legitimacy of certain clergy members. Chadwick assesses that these problems of ‘conscience’ in light of the persecution led to many adaptations of the law to meet particular cases. [16] 

Eusebius explains another ramification of the edict’s responses was that it set bishops against each other due to certain cleric’s militant ideologies.[17]  In achieving this, the church was further divided even though Constantine appears to be looking for a means of unification.  An evaluation of the responses to the edict suggest that it created a new though less severe bout of persecution, this time between the various factions of the Christian population.

The persecution of Christians under Diocletian is one example of the many religious conflicts throughout history.  Through primary and secondary sources we see where the blame of this persecution is aimed and that the persecution looked towards securing military and imperial power.  The persecution had several ramifications, showing us that even with an edict of toleration the church lay divided.  We do however see one continuing theme; that even in the face of extreme controversy and persecution, faith stood tall in the hearts of many even in the face of death.

[1]: Eusebius, Historica Ecclesiastica, Book 8 (Eusebius, The History of the Church, Penguin (London 1989), p.280 – Eusebius addresses Galerius as “the author of this edict” rather than by name.  Further reference to Galerius as the prime instigator of the persecution is found on p.281 as the man whom Eusebius wrote of on the previous page.

Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History was rewritten at least twice in light of the persecution, Eusebius wishing to leave a permanent account of the martyrs of his day

[2] Lactanius, De Mortibus Persecutorum,, 11-13 in Stevenson, J., A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD337 (London 1987), p.271 – Lactantius recounts the nature of Galerius’ mother in regards to the Christian religion not agreeing with her own and how she made sure her hatred continued in her equally superstitious son.

[3] Barnes, T.D., Constantine and Eusebius (London 1981), p.150

[4] Eusebius, op.cit, p.257

[5] Barnes, op.cit., p.162

[6] Eusebius, op.cit., p.265

[7] Ibid., p.265

[8] Ibid., p. 260 – primary attack on the army as an example as well as a means to secure military power on the part of the Arian persecutors

Lactanius, De Mortibus Persecutorum, 31.1-52.5 (Creed, J.L. (trans.), (Oxford, 1984), p.49

[9] Eusebius, op.cit., p.261 – significant centre of imperial power in the period, by securing the power of the imperial forces you secure more significantly the population which they rule over

[10] Ibid., p.264

[11] Ibid., p.264

[12] Barnes op.cit., p.159

[13] Momigliano, A., The Conflict Between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century (Oxford, 1963), p.80

[14] Cameron, A., The Later Roman Empire: AD 284-430 (Glasgow. 1993), p.66 – provided a link to the apostles

[15] Chadwick, H., Studies on Ancient Christianity (Hampshire, 1984), p.XX47

[16] Ibid., p.XX47

[17] Eusebius, Vita Constantini, 22.1-61.1, Cameron, A. & Hall, S.G. (trans.), Eusebius, Life of Constantine (Oxford, 1999), p.115, book II 61.2-62

The Historical Background to Zombie Mythology

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I have been watching the TV show The Walking Dead, excellent by the way, and I came to wonder the specific historical background behind the Zombie character. It is fairly well known that there are origin stories in the traditions of South America but as a Graeco-Roman historian I wondered also about European origins.

Zombie comes from the Haitian Creole ‘zonbi’ or the North Mbundu ‘nzumbe’ expressing the idea of an animated corpse being brought back to life. However, originally it was used in the metaphoric sense to describe someone bereft of consciousness. West African Vodun tenets explain that a corpse can be reanimated by a sorcerer to whom they remain in control with no personal will. Funnily enough there is also the idea of a zombie astral where these animated beings are kept in bottles to sell for luck quite like the idea of a genie. South Africa also has the idea of zombies where some places believed that one can be created by a child through the use of the right words of power. The Tibetans have the idea of a Ro-Langs meaning literally a corpse that rises up created by a spirit or magician which cannot bend at the joints. The Chinese interestingly also have the idea of the Kiangshi which was known as a ‘hopping’ vampire or zombie.

Let us now look into Greek mythology; the idea of the undead becomes more varied throughout time and locations, in the case of Greece the closest we get are probably the Keres who were female death-spirits. They were the daughters of Nyx, sisters of fate, death and sleep among others. While in contrast to other ideas of zombies, the Keres were wilful creatures, they express the similar and time long idea of the dark and frightening side of death and the end of humanity which is personified throughout history and literature. For instance, the dead rising from their graves in Revelations. The Keres had that thirst for flesh and blood that we see in popular fiction, brought death with an association with Cerberus and are mentioned throughout Greek literature including: Homer’s Iliad IX.410ff and the Odyssey XII.158. Additionally the Keres had connection to battles as deities of war choosing those who shall meet their doom. Some have chosen because of this to compare them to Valkyries but where as Valkyries are benevolent, Keres are definitely depicted as malevolent and this idea is where the Keres get their name from; Keres ‘choice’.

In Roman mythology we see the Lemures who again were spirits of the malignant dead personified in the likes of Horace and Ovid’s Fasti. Again though the Lemures are willful creatures, rather than the will-less undead of the Haitian and African traditions, being vengeful. They were believed to be created when an individual was not afforded a proper burial or mourned by the living or given tomb offerings. Additionally though Ovid expresses them as ancestral gods or spirits of the underworld.

The Norse traditions have the Draugr who shares many traits of the modern fictional character. They were literally ‘ones who walks after death’ or spirits that inhabited the graves of the dead and animated the bodies. Like in much of popular culture they carry the stench of decay and retain only some sense of intelligence only in the suffering that they cause, devouring the flesh of the living and being immune to weapons. Strangely though the Norse believed that Draugr could increase their size at will and had superhuman strength and some maintain more intelligence with magical abilities. Examples of binding spells have been found on Norse Runestones to keep the dead in their graves.

There are many other examples of similar ideologies and traditions relating to both the Zombie and Vampire myths, often overlapping. In fact there are far too many to list and discuss here. But it is always interesting to explore origin stories in order to understand the human side in the supernatural; the natural and evolved fears and dreads embedded in the Human psyche that have exhibited themselves in similar but varying ways throughout the world.

The Translation of Hieroglyphs since the Roman Period

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The slab stela of the Old Kingdom Egyptian princess Neferetiabet (dated c. 2590–2565 BC), from her tomb at Giza, with hieroglyphs carved and painted on limestone.

Egyptian hieroglyphics have always been seen as a mysterious and exotic area that has captured the interest of society from the Roman occupation of Egypt, right down to the present day.  Though they have always been a subject of interest, people’s understandings of this ancient script have been forever influenced by aspects that limited their understanding for hundreds of years.  This postlooks into those influences passed down from generation to generation of scholars and within normal society, from the days of the Roman tourists in Egypt, where Egyptian guides purposely gave the Romans misinformation and the interpretation of hieroglyphs was mistaken by the Roman views. Through the renaissance and classical periods, scholars were still influenced by early writings and the society, in which they themselves lived, right down to the eighteen hundreds, until one man, Champollion, decided to take a different view after being introduced to other ideas. But before this sudden change, he, like hundreds of others was unable to accept any other possibilities.  These early influences included the effects of Hor-Apollo’s writings, Kircher and Young, plus many others.  There are however some historians who don’t believe these writings were major influence.

The understanding of hieroglyphs, has like the majority of areas in society, been partial to the past writings on the subject.  Writers and in this case translators, can not help but be influenced by their own beliefs and understandings of the past.  J.B Bury assesses that writings are influences by the writer’s background.  R.M Crawford agrees, evaluating that there are always influences from training, from teacher to student, to teacher to student, down the generations.  It is evident that the translations of hieroglyphs have been effected by this transition of beliefs down the ages.  Therefore, the misinterpretations were also passed on, creating an obstacle that future generations were unable to avoid in their own interpretations.

The writings associated with the translations of hieroglyphs have greatly influenced the general interpretation of their meanings even in the Roman times.  Hilary Wilson demonstrates  in her book ‘Understanding Hieroglyphs’ that the writings of early translators influenced the understanding of the script until the nineteenth century AD.  Robinson, author of ‘The Story of Writing’, evaluates that the understanding of the Romans was misguided by an Egyptian priest by the name of Hor-Apollo.  Wilson asserts that Hor-Apollo wrote a book in Coptic which had a dramatic effect on the study of Hieroglyphs for many hundreds of years.  Hor-Apollo’s work insisted that each sign had a single pictorial or symbolic meaning, this makes it clear that he completely misunderstood the writing system used by his ancestors.  Unfortunately, because it was considered to have been written by someone informed, Hor-Apollo’s work was used as a guide for all future students of hieroglyphs.

Though the translations of Hor-Apollo were meant to be correct and did not intentionally lead people into thinking incorrectly, there were other influences on the Roman understanding of hieroglyphs that were purposely trying to lead them astray.  Pierre Montet asserts that under the Greek and Roman occupations, it gave the Egyptian community great satisfaction to mislead their foreign masters.  They did this by concocting unintelligible documents, of which the foreigners could make nothing.  Perrottet explains that because of this misinformation; it was misguidedly thought that hieroglyphs were only magical riddles, enchantments and spells.  Perrottet however disagrees with Hor-Apollo being the original major source of the misinterpretation.  He assesses that the Roman tourists were misled by spell books supposedly written ten thousand years earlier by Hermes Trismegistus.  These writings however were nothing more than items to entice tourist.

Hoijer is one of a group of historians who believe differently.  Hoijer evaluates that the Romans were not influenced by the writings and misinterpretations of others, but by the fact that like the majority of historians and society, they viewed the land and its culture through the distorted prism of their own culture.  Due to this, we can evaluate that as a result they misinterpreted almost everything.  Parkinson agrees with the point relating to culture, but also attributes the misinterpretation to the before-mentioned points concerning historians in the ancient world fueling the beliefs of the Romans, mentioning that the Egyptians also contributed to this, by fueling the disinformation.  The majority of translations supplied to the Roman tourists in the occupation of Egypt were catering for the tourist industry, showing that the first explanations of hieroglyphs were made to cater for needs of the ‘writers’.

Ostracon of ‘The Tale of Sinuhe’: a limestone ostracon with the concluding stanzas of ‘The Tale of Sinuhe’ written on one side in eight lines of hieratic (the other side is blank). Verse-points in red ink mark the ends of metrical verses.

This is an element of historical writing that can not be avoided, as assessed by J.B. Bury.  With the Roman’s great depth of superstition and with nobody to contradict the Egyptian guides’ explanations; they had no reason to doubt what they were being told. This concept is explained by Carl L Becker, that we write history according to own present purposes, desires, prepossessions and prejudices.  These influences corrupted the understanding of the Romans and the future understandings of the hieroglyphic script.

The understanding of the Romans set groundwork for classical writers, along with the influence of ancient writers.  Robinson outlines that with the renaissance, the revival of classical learning, came with a revival of the Roman belief in Egyptian hieroglyphic wisdom.  Due to this revival, renaissance writers continued to write and translate hieroglyphs to the standards set out by the Roman beliefs.  This led to the first book, written in the sixteenth century by Pierius Valerianus, on hieroglyphs, being basically fictitious.  This is because Valerianus took a narrow-minded view in his translations, taking his cue directly from Hor-Apollo’s incorrect translations and not even attempting to look at them in any other way.  Though, I must add even in the sixteenth century, they could be seen as obviously flawed as they accounted for little in the actual translations of texts.  Valerianus’ writings are in direct contradiction to Hoijer’s idea that the writers are influenced only by their beliefs.  This is evident because it was Roman influence that renaissance writers based their works on, if Hoijer was correct then Valerianus’ work would not have taken much, if any cue from Hor-Apollo, but more from his own culture and teachings.  This point is also conveyed by Sacks, who demonstrates the limitations of the sixteenth century interpretations.  Sacks assesses that because the translations of text were flawed and made no logical sense, classical scholars continued to believe long after the time of the Romans, that hieroglyphs were nothing more than riddles and enchantments.

Scholars and philosophers continued to attempt to translate the hieroglyphs as they believed they would find ancient wisdom and long-forgotten truths.  Wilson assesses that spiritual and religious scholars wished to find confirmation of biblical stories and some proof of the existence of figures such as Abraham, Joseph and Moses.  This is another example of how the writing of history affected the understandings of hieroglyphs.  In this case, the religious scholars were taking their experience of the Bible and religious areas, and trying to link it to the translation of the hieroglyphs.  This was mainly because of the writings in the Bible illustrating the land and culture of the Egyptians, so they alleged that the Bible would be confirmed by the ancient script.  Wilson is therefore acknowledging that the understandings were based on both ideas of influence: the writers and the cultures and experiences of society and individuals.

In the late seventeenth century, the Coptic language was revived and would later be essential in the deciphering of the hieroglyphs.  But scholars were still under the impression that the writing of Hor-Apollo and Valerianus held the key to translating the hieroglyphs.  In the renaissance, scholars were interested in Egypt and were anxious to discover the meaning of the hieroglyphic writing.  The Jesuit, Kircher, was the best known of these pioneers. Kircher outlined that Egyptian hieroglyphics for the most part, only expressed ideas, rather than sounds and ideas.  Due to this misinterpretation, Champollion was still possessed by this idea in the nineteenth century. In the mid seventeenth century, Athanasius translated a cartouche for a priest and came out with a long rambling paragraph, however the cartouche really only read the name ‘Psamtik’ spelt phonetically. This mistake is an example of how the ideas and experiences of others have caused a distortion in finding the truth and what is thought of as the truth.

Robinson evaluates that it was only later that the enlightenment made by the revival of the Coptic language brought about questions of the classical views of the hieroglyphs.  Though the views did start to be questioned by the few, the original views were still held by the majority.  It was the few who made progress towards the actual deciphering of the hieroglyphics.  This shows progress could only be made by those who took a more impartial view over their work.  As in the writing of history, scholars cannot create a reasonable view of the truth without looking at all the evidence; the academics on the path to decipherment had to do the same to find progress to a true understanding.  For instance, Barthélemy discovered that the cartouches contained the names of pharaohs only by looking outside society’s understandings and beliefs drawn from Hor-Apollo’s writings.  However it was Zoëga who finally commented that some hieroglyphs might be phonetic signs.  This was only because, unlike other academics, Zoëga thought more on his own terms, rather than further illustrating the writings of others, this independence of thought further contradicts the idea that it was only culture and experience that led to a misguided understanding.

Napoleon Bonaparte played a large role leading up to decipherment.  When he traveled to Egypt he took with him a large number of scholars.  These scholars studied and measured every site and every visible monument, finally publishing their findings in ‘La Description de l’Egypt’.  However the influence of past work in the decipherment of hieroglyphs prevented them from deciphering the elements they studied.  Scholars in the case of the Rosetta stone immediately concluded that the inscription was wholly non-phonetic, its symbols expressing ideas in the manner of Hor-Apollo.  This demonstrates that even in the early eighteen hundreds, scholars were bound by the words of Hor-Apollo.

In the mid-seventeenth century, certain European scholars theorized that Egyptian hieroglyphs were the source of inspiration for the ancient Hebrew letters.  This was because of their need to find a source for their own studies and a desire to inflate the importance of these studies by linking them to the ever mysterious hieroglyphs.  The wants and needs of these scholars show that in research and writing of history and historical elements, writers write for their own needs and desires, rather than looking at the full picture.  This reiterates Crawford’s explanation for writing history.  There was no real evidence that backed up their theory, but only small insignificant links that could have applied to a large number of scripts.  Therefore, the decipherment of hieroglyphics in 1823 didn’t agree with their theory, for the two scripts were shown to work on completely different principles.  None the less, the scholars were convinced for some time that their theory was correct because they were influenced by the mysterious and fantastic mystery behind the hieroglyphs, again showing that ideas of understanding are influenced by both writings and experiences.

Parkinson outlines that, in the decipherment efforts in the early nineteenth century, it was seen that there was a difference between the hieroglyphic and the Egyptian Demotic writings found on the Rosetta stone.  With the weight of the renaissance tradition concerning Egyptian hieroglyphs, scholars were convinced that the invisible principles of operation of the two scripts were completely different.  This, however, was later proven untrue, but the scholars could not see past the understandings of yesteryear.  It was Thomas Young who first noted what he called a ‘striking resemblance’ between some demotic symbols and the ‘corresponding hieroglyphs’, he noted that ‘none of these characters could be reconciled, without inconceivable violence, to the forms of any imaginable alphabet’.  Young put a step forward in right direction but came unstuck as the spell of Hor-Apollo’s writings was too strong.  The influence of the early work of Hor-Apollo and Young’s experience and teachings, made Young unable to accept anything but that all hieroglyphs (apart from foreign names) were non-phonetic.

Even Jean-Francois Champollion, the final decipherer of the hieroglyphic script, at first continued to believe that the hieroglyphs were entirely non-phonetic.  Champollion was not only influenced by Hor-Apollo and other past historians and translators, but also by the scholars of his own time.  He was mostly influenced by Young’s work.  Unlike Young, Champollion had an originality and rigour, which was based on a knowledge of Egypt and its languages far superior to his predecessors.  This was a key component in translating the hieroglyphs, as it allowed Champollion to look at a far bigger picture, yet he was still caught in the webs of disinformation from the past.  Robinson outlines that the early efforts of Champollion in 1822 were based on the premise that non-Egyptian names and words in both demotic and hieroglyphic were spelt alphabetically.

Champollion did not expect that this decipherment would apply to the entire hieroglyphic system.  The idea dating back from the classical times, that hieroglyphics for the most part only expressed ideas, rather than sounds and ideas, still possessed Champollion’s mind.  Champollion was also greatly possessed by the work of Kircher, therefore his progress was impaired because he did not want to even think of challenging the work of these writers who were said to be educated in the true values of the hieroglyphs, though this was not true.

Adkins evaluates that Champollion, though for unknown reasons, later changed his mind about the phonetic issues with hieroglyphs, this was most likely due to yet another outside influence.  A French scholar of the Chinese language suggested that there were phonetic elements even in the indigenous spellings of the Chinese script with its thousands of characters.  This outside influence, though not directed at hieroglyphics, could have made Champollion wonder whether the same philosophy could be assumed for deciphering Egyptian Hieroglyphics.

Champollion also realized that among the one thousand four hundred and nineteen signs in hieroglyphs on the Rosetta stone it contained only sixty-six different signs.  Through his understanding of languages and his experience and teachings of them, Champollion grasped an understanding of hieroglyphs never before realized.  His experience told him that if the signs were truly and only semantic symbols, there would logically expected to be more than sixty six signs on the Rosetta stone, each one representing a different word as they would have been logograms.  It was only through Champollion’s change of mind that we today understand the true nature of hieroglyphics, that the writing system is a mixture of semantic symbols, phonetic signs, phonograms and pictograms.

The understanding of the Egyptian hieroglyphs has been influenced greatly by misguided writings and explanations.  It is only through evaluation of these influences that we can grasp an idea of how the writings have influenced and changed that understanding.  Though scholars have varying views on these influences, whether they believe that understanding was based on writings, culture and experiences, or solely on culture and distorted views, we see that understanding has indeed changed throughout time.  It has evolved from a misguided, narrow-minded view, to one only achieved by people thinking outside society’s understandings.


Adkins, L and R. (2001), The Keys of Egypt, Harper Collins, London, pp. 1-12, 34-35, 37-43, 63, 82

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Bloomfield, L. (1933), Language History, Holt Publishers, California, USA, pp. 288 – 291

Davis, C.S.H., The Ancient Egyptian Language, in Science, Vol.21, No.542 (June 23, 1893), p.345

Edgerton, W.F., Egyptian Phonetic Writing from It’s Invention to the Close of the Nineteenth Dynasty, in Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol.60, No.4 (December, 1940), pp.473-506

Faulkner, R.O., Wente, E.F. and Simpson, W.K., The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions and Poetry, New Edition (London, 1973)

Flinders Petrie, W.M., Egyptian Tales Translated from the Papyri (London, 1895)

Gardiner, A., Egyptian Grammar: Being an Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs (Cambridge, 2005)

Gardiner, A.H., The Nature and Development of the Egyptian Hieroglyphic Writing, in The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol.2, No.2 (April, 1915), pp.61-75

Griffith, F.L., On the Writing in Ancient Egypt, in The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol.30. (1900), pp.12-13

Lichtheim, M., Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume One: The Old and Middle Kingdoms (London, 1975)

Lichtheim, M., Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume Two: The New Kingdom (London, 1976)

Ockinga, B.G., A Concise Grammar of Middle Egyptian (2005)

Parkinson, R., Cracking Codes: The Rosetta Stone and Decipherment (London, 1999)

Parkinson, R.B., The Tale of Sinuhe and Other Ancient Egyptian Poems 1940-1640BC (New York, 1998)

Parkinson, R.B., Voices From Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Middle Kingdom Writings (London, 1991)

Ray, J.D., The Emergence of Writing in Egypt, in World Archaeology, Vol.17, No.3, Early Writing Systems (February, 1986), pp.307-316

Shaw, I., and Nicholson, P., The British Museum: Dictionary of Ancient Egypt (London, 2003)

Shaw, I., The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (New York, 2003)

Ephesus: A Turkish Pompeii and Tourist Homing Beacon

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In my recent adventures in Turkey we were lucky enough to visit the amazing site of Ephesus on the Western coast of the country. This site is a must see and I certainly understand the hype but as an academic a few things struck me which need to be addressed. Namely the lack of accurate information that is actually given by the tour guides we pasted. So here is some accurate information on this awesome site. And remember (I see this everywhere) the tour guides are not always right, do your research before you go.


Before I tell you about the site’s amazing archaeology, let me give you some background. Ephesus was established in the Greek period and was a major city all through to the later Roman periods. In Turkish it is now called Efes (yes like the beer) but the original Greek was Ἔφεσος which is where we take our English transliteration. In its height it was one of the largest cities in the Graeco-Roman world with a population of around 250,000 people in the first century BCE which certainly accounts for the large amount of material on the site. This site is huge!

There are two modern entrances to the site at either end but the main entrance is down at the bottom of the hills in the valley where you are immediately struck by the massive theatre which sits at the end of a long colonnaded street leading to the city’s harbour. To the right of this theatre is the entrance to the main part of the site, the paved streets that are lined with houses, shops, bath houses, toilets, government buildings and of course the famous library of Celsus. If you do get a chance to visit this site then be warned it is easy to miss this path to the main site because of the huge number of tourists that dwell in the shade in that area and block the entrance. It took us three attempts to find it.

The site itself has been inhabited since at least the Neolithic age. Excavations at the mounds in the area have demonstrated this. The habitation appears to be continuous as excavations at the Ayasuluk hill in the 1950s also turned up Bronze age material and a burial ground from the Mycenaean period. Artefacts included ceramics and tools around the ruins of the later site of the basilica of St John which you can still visit today. Hittite sources also tell us that the area held a settlement named Abasa which was in use under the rule of the Ahhiyawans before the Greek migrations took over the area in the 13th and 14th Centuries and established a new settlement. Ephesus was eventually founded as a colony in the 10th century BC. The mythical story of its origins involved King Kadros who was led to the place of Ephesus by the famous Delphic oracle. Though there are several other origin stories including those discussed by Pausanias and Strabo concerning the queen of the Amazons, Ephos, as a founder.

Over the centuries the city saw many conflicts including attacks by the Cimmerians and the Lysians. The city though continued to prosper and became the base of and producing a number of significant historical figures. For instance, the poets Cllainus and Hipponax, the philosopher Heraclitus and the physicians Soranus and Rufus whos writings we still have today. The Classical period saw more conflicts with the Ionian revolt and the Peloponnesian war, in which Ephesus originally allied with Athens and then switched to Sparta in the later stages. During this time though it continued its upward climb and produced even great female artists like Timarate who is mentioned in Pliny the Elder as the painter who produced a fabulous representation of the goddess Diana.

Alexander the Great liberated the site from Persian rule at the end of the Classical period and is said to have entered Ephesus in triumph. He even proposed to rebuild the Temple of Artemis which had been burned down in previous conflicts. After the death of Alexander though turmoil retuned under the rule of his general Lysimachus but after his eventual death, Ephesus became part of the Seleucis Empire and then was governed under Egyptian rule from the late 2nd century BC. Ephesus eventually became a part of the Roman Republic. All these influences and changes certainly led to a diverse site with establishments of buildings and institutions in all these periods. And the diversity continued as the site continued to function as part of the Byzantine era when Constantine I rebuilt much of the city and built a new public bath after the conflicts of the Roman period. Unfortunately though Ephesus has one enemy which they couldn’t defeat, the area is often troubled by earthquakes and one in 614 partially destroyed the city again.

Considering all the conflicts it has seen, all the people and leaders, it is both understandable and surprising that so much is left of this site. And so now we have got through the date part and you have some background information let me tell you about the site itself from an archaeologist’s perspective.

Ephesus - Efes
Library of Celsus

This site really is the archaeologist’s dream, I would happily dig on this site for years and years. You can see obviously that much of the site has been reconstructed which is fabulous and appears to be very well done. There are certain areas though that obviously stand out. The first of these being Celsus’ library. Apart from witnessing teen girls posing doing duck faces next to a status of wisdom (I’m so glad these statues are replicas because i can see the real ones throwing themselves out of their niches in horror), this is by far the most magnificent part of the site. It is truly a shame that the majority of people who visit the site do not know much about it. The library was built at the beginning of the second century CE for Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, who was the governor of the province, by his son Galius Julius Aquila and was actually built as a tomb rather than specifically a library. The façade is all that really remains today but once upon a time this building is thought to have been able to hold over 12,000 scrolls. As such it is thought to have once been the third richest library of the ancient world following the libraries of Alexandria and Pergamum. The library is an amazing building and to someone who understands its significance it really does stand for the virtues that are inscribed on its walls including knowledge, wisdom, intelligence and valour. Just ignore the posing tourists who are updating their Facebook profile pictures.

While it appears that most people go round, look at the theatre and the library and then have an ice cream, this site has some truly amazing parts that you only really appreciate if you have researched them before hand or know about archaeology. The agora for instance, which was built in the Roman period played an important role as a social and political meeting place but the archaeology shows that the area was in use far before these functions. Excavations have brought to light graves from the seventh and sixth centuries BCE including an archaic sarcophagus made from terracotta. There is also a well preserved water reservoir in the corner of the ahora which demonstrates just how technically accomplished these people were. Its water was supplied by the Pollio Aqueduct which supplied the whole city from 5km away. The agora also contained stoas and a temple with dedications to the cult of Isis and evidence of rebuilding in different periods indicative of the turmoil the city suffered.

The emphasis on the large theatre is well justified but the odeon is also a significant area. Unfortunately it was while looking at this I heard a tour guide tell tourists incorrectly that they used to have gladiator fights here…It’s an odeon, it is tiny, just no. First of all this area was used as a Bouletarion (a meeting place) for meetings of the Bouleia (council) and members of the Demos. It was also used for performances. The building is impressive though fairly small in size and demonstrates the wealth of its benefactors. It was orders by Publicus Vedius Antonius and his wife in the second century.

Among other impressive areas of the site is the well reconstructed fountain of Trajan built at the start of the second century CE. It’s columns and pediments really give you an idea of what it would have looked like in its prime. It is an excellent tool for giving the visitors more of an idea of the ancient city and its statues are now in the museum. It is just a real shame that the Ephesus Archaeology Museum is shut for renovations for an entire year!

There is so so much to this site it can not be written down. I could tell you about the temples, the gateways, fountains, houses, whole city but you have to visit it to appreciate everything. Either way I encourage that you look up this site and read more because this really was a site to remember.

Odeon at Ephesus
Inscriptions at the Library of Celsus
Colonnaded street
Gateway with Greek Inscriptions