The Indian Kingdom That Frightened Alexander the Great
You've probably heard of the Mauryan Empire, but have you heard of the Magadha Kingdom -- its immediate predecessor? It existed from the 500s to the 300s BCE. Formidable, it controlled the entire eastern part of the country through alliances with smaller vassal states, and at the height of its power claimed suzerainty over the entire eastern part of the country (roughly the size of England).
The kingdom lasted for three dynasties, during which Siddhartha Gautama lived, preached, and died. The kingdom survived, and even encouraged, the spread of this new religion. Two Magadha kings held the first and second councils of Buddhist monks. It is an open question whether, without the support of this major regional power, Buddhism could have survived.
But in the 300s, the power vacuum left by Alexander the Great's conquests in western India opened the door for Chandragupta Maurya to rise and create a new power on the subcontinent. He killed the last Magadha king (who was reportedly extravagant and unpopular) and Magadha was absorbed into Maurya's new empire which would eventually control the whole subcontinent.
Magadha touches upon a major figure in western imagination: Alexander the Great. In 326 BCE, Alexander arrived at the edge of India. He and his army camped on the river Beas, in what is today far western India, but his army mutinied and refused to go any further. The chronicles tell us the men had heard about the great Magadha Kingdom and were afraid of going up against such a mighty foe. They were not wrong to be afraid: they arrived when Magadha , renewed under a forceful new Nanda dynasty, was at the height of its territorial and military power.
The Tabnit sarcophagus is the sarcophagus of the Phoenician king Tabnit (Tennes) of Sidon (circa 490 BCE). It has an inscription in hieroglyphics on the main body and in Phoenician below that. The hieroglypics tell us the sarcophagus was originally intended for the Egyptian general Pen-Ptah. This sarcophagus, as well as the sarcophagus used by Tabnit's son Eshmunazar II, were possibly acquired by the Sidonians following their participation in the Battle of Pelusium in 525 BCE, when the Persian Empire conquered Egypt.
In the Roman Republic from 450 to 445 BCE, intermarriage of patricians and plebeians was banned. It was unpopular with the people and quickly lifted.
Over 400 years later, in 18 BCE, Emperor Augustus introduced a similar set of laws that were more widely accepted, and remained in place for centuries. The new laws limited some senatorial and equestrian individuals from marrying outside their rank. It also more generally limited marriages across class boundaries by limiting the marriage of Roman citizens with people who were registered as immoral -- actors, adulterers, prostitutes, and those living off prostitution like pimps.
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!
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.
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.
Enjoy this posts and want to show support? Buy me a coffee or two :P
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!