Ancient Kingdom's Lost City, Re-Discovered

Archaeologists have recently rediscovered remains of a trading and religious center of Aksum. Aksum, a kingdom principally located in today's Ethiopia, thrived from the 1st to 8th centuries CE, and was the state which saw the region converted to Christianity. It traded with the Roman Empire and India, minted its own coins, and took over the declining kingdom of Kush which had long rivaled ancient Egypt. The newly found city lay between the capital (also called Aksum) and the Red Sea.

The city has been renamed Beta Samati, which means "house of audience" in the local Tigrinya language. It was discovered in 2011, hiding more than 10 feet below the surface, in Ethiopia's Yeha region. The remains are already changing what we think we know about Aksum. It had previously been believed that societies in the region collapsed in the period before the rise of the Aksum Kingdom. But Beta Samati continued through the period of supposed abandonment just fine, functioning as a major connection on trade routes linking the Mediterranean and other cities which would end up under Aksum control.

The ancient Roman orator and politician Cicero once wrote poetry! And it was notoriously poor, too. Over a hundred years after Cicero’s death, the Roman historian Tacitus quipped that Julius Caesar and Brutus wrote poetry too, and "though they were no better poets than Cicero, they were more fortunate, because fewer people know about their poetic endeavors."

A Long, Long Wall Found in Iran

A poorly preserved stone wall stretching southward 71 miles from the Bamu Mountains have been identified in western Iran. Yes, you read that right: a 71-mile-long wall. Similar structures have been found in northern and northeastern Iran. Pottery found along the structure, known to locals as the “Gawri Wall,” has been dated to between the 300s BCE and the 500s CE. The archaeological examination also found that there may have been turrets or buildings placed along the wall, which was made with local materials such as cobbles and boulders fixed with gypsum mortar. Archaeologists estimate the wall may have stood about 10 feet tall and 13 feet wide. But why was it built? Based on the location and the length, Gawri Wall may have been built as a border wall by the Parthians or the Sassanians. But because it is so poorly preserved, whether it actually functioned to keep things out, or was more symbolic, is unknown.

New Nazca Line Figure of a Person

Discovered with AI via collaboration with IBM Japan and Yamagata University. It has been dated to between 100 BCE and 300 CE. This is one of 143 new geoglyphs that the researchers found!

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!

The Most Deadly War (Until World War II)

Did you make a guess? Okay, here's the answer: maybe the War of the Three Kingdoms, or the Mongol Conquests. Let's explain each of those in turn. First, what was the War of the Three Kingdoms? When the Han Dynasty lost its grip on power in about 184 CE, China was split into three kingdoms: Wei, Shu, and Wu. The three fought continuously from 184 until 280 CE, when the Jin Dynasty conquered Wu. Historians estimate that between 36 and 40 million people died in all the fighting which occurred during that 96-year period.

The Mongol Conquests are probably better-known to those reading this blog post in English. The long version of the Mongol Conquests dates from 1206 when Genghis Khan burst out of Mongolia's steppe heartland to 1368, when the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty of China fell. Historians estimate between 30 million and 40 million people were killed.

But what about the An Lushan Rebellion, some of you are saying? That rebellion against the Tang Dynasty, which dragged on for 7 years and three Tang emperors before it was finally over, cost somewhere between 13 and 36 million. That's a very wide range. On the upper end, that could top the War of the Three Kingdoms and the Mongol Conquests. But that's only if they are in the low end of their possible death tolls, and the An Lushan Rebellion is at the very highest end of its possible death toll. Of course, historical death counts are always guesswork, so it may be that an entirely different war actually takes the top prize!

For those who are curious, World War II killed at minimum 56,125,162 people.

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."

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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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