The Ancient History of Diglossia

Diglossia is when a single community uses two languages or dialects. It is only diglossia if this is a stable situation -- not a transition from one language to another. In diglossia, one language is for everyday use (the low language), and one language is for specific situations (the high language) such as literature, formal education, or religious activities. The high language usually has no native speakers. Examples are Latin, used by scholars in the European Middle Ages, Mandarin for official communications and local dialects for everyday use in China, and literary Tamil versus spoken Tamil.

The earliest known diglossia is Middle Egyptian, the language in everyday use in Ancient Egypt during the Middle Kingdom (2000 - 1650 BCE). By the New Kingdom (1550 -1050 BCE) the language had evolved into Late Egyptian. And by the Persians, then Ptolemies, then Roman Empire, the language had evolved into Demotic (700 BCE - 400 CE). But Middle Egyptian remained the standard written, prestigious form, the high language, and was still in use until the 300s CE. That means it was used, unchanged, for over 1,900 years after people had stopped speaking it!

Earliest Image of a Feathered Serpent in South America

This is just such a cool image. An Olmec priest is sitting in the lap of a snake larger than he is. Monument 19, from La Venta, Mexico (1200–400 BCE).

Ancient Carthage Practiced Infant Sacrifice

A tophet means a sacred precinct outside a city used for burials of sacrifices. In English it also means hell. Which is fitting, because recent evidence from Carthage's tophets contained tiny cremated human bones packed into urns and buried underneath tombstones with inscriptions that gave thanks to the gods. A recent study found that these burials were evidence that Carthage practiced infant sacrifice. As evidence, the researchers cited the inscriptions on the tombstones, which recorded that the gods had “heard my voice and blessed me." Some urns contained animal remains which have definitely been sacrificed and were buried in the exact same way as the children. Finally, the discovered skeletons were far too few to represent all the stillbirths and infant deaths that would occur in a city the size of Carthage 2,000 years ago. The evidence points towards elite Carthaginians engaging in child sacrifice to give thanks for blessings they have received from the gods.

Roman historian Diodorus claimed that in the city of Carthage there was a bronze statue of Cronus with his hands extended, palm up. All babies placed within would roll down into a pit of fire. The historian even made mention of rich families who bought poor children and raised them specifically for sacrifice. Romans and Greeks dismissed Diodorus' claims as anti-Carthaginian propaganda. But modern archaeology may have vindicated him -- though frankly this is something that he probably would have been happy to be wrong about.

The Foundation of Carthage

Carthage was initially founded by Phoenicians from the city-state of Tyre in the 800s BCE. They named it Qart-hadasht, which simply means “new town.” Situated in today's Tunisia, the settlement was one of many Tyrian colonies dotted around the Mediterranean basin, which brought new materials and goods back to Phoenicia and strengthened and expanded Phoenicia's trading network. Eventually the new town gained its independence around 650 BCE, and became a prosperous trade-based city-state with colonies of its own.

Tattoos Are For The Ladies

While designs that apparently represent tattoos are seen on paintings of both men and women in Egyptian art and statues, all the tattooed Egyptian mummies discovered to date are female.

The Face of a 2,000-Year-Old Woman

This is Meritamun. Her name means "beloved of Amun," the great Egyptian creator/sun god. She lived in ancient Egypt, sometime between 1500 BCE and 331 BCE, and was likely high status judging by the quality of the linens she was mummified with. Meritamun was between 18 and 25 when she died.

What was this?

This is an ancient Etruscan bronze mirror! Though its not very reflective anymore. Said to be from an Etruscan tomb, 465-450 BCE.

Athletes in ancient Greece smeared olive oil on their bodies before a competition. The oil made their skin more supple and made them appear, as classical writers described, "like gleaming statues of the gods."

The Scientist Who Denied The Gods

Anaxagoras was an ancient Greek philosopher and scientist from the late 6th and early 5th centuries BCE. He deduced that the moon was a rock which reflected light from the sun, another burning rock. Anaxagoras was not the first to posit this. But he went a step further than those who had gone before, and used his theory to explain lunar phases eclipses, and predict that the moon's surface would have mountains and valleys.

Anaxagoras was (probably correctly) labeled by ancient Athenian society as a denier of the sun and moon gods. Unfortunately for him, Anaxagoras was a teacher and friend of the influential statesman Pericles. Unable to directly strike at the very-popular Pericles, his political enemies began attacking his friends. Anaxagoras was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death, ostensibly for breaking impiety laws while promoting his ideas about the moon and sun. Pericles was able to use his influence to get the sentence commuted to exile. Anaxagoras was an early martyr for scientific truth. And a crater on the moon was named after him

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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