All Hail The Butterfly God

A Zapotec figural ceramic of the Butterfly God found at Monte Alban in Oaxaca, Mexico. 200 - 600 CE.

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 Sasanian Empire (224 CE – 651 CE), which was a contemporary of the Roman and later Byzantine Empires, was once a great power. And like other great powers it built great walls to mark and control its borders. These included the Wall of the Arabs (in the southwest), Walls of Derbent (in the northwest at the Caspian Mountains) and Great Wall of Gorgan (in the northeast). Remains of the Sasanian border walls still exist, particularly in Derbent where they are a UNESCO world heritage site.

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.

Lapis lazuli enjoyed great popularity in the late Roman and Early Byzantine periods; its rich purple-blue color was associated with royalty. From the 200s on, coins and medallions often showed the emperor carrying a scepter topped with an eagle, emblem of victory and authority. This particular lapis lazuli eagle was found in Italy and dates to the 300s or 400s CE, meaning it may very well have once perched on a Roman emperor’s scepter.

The Territory Ever Controlled By Istanbul, by Length of Control

Note that in this map, the Aceh Sultanate is considered a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans did send a fleet and other military aid to help the Acehnese in wars with the Malay kingdoms and the Portuguese, and the Acehnese did acknowledge the Ottoman sultan as caliph. It's still a stretch to say that the Ottomans in Istanbul "controlled" the Aceh territory on Sumatra.

The Mythical Birth of The Lion People

The Sinhalese people are native to Sri Lanka, speak Sinhala, are majority Theravada Buddhists, and today make up about 75% of the island's population. They also have a pretty cool origin myth. The Mahavamsa, a Sri Lankan epic from the 400s CE, tells how the Indian prince Vijaya was the grandson of a lion. (No mention of whether Vijaya had a mane or ate really, really raw meat.) According to the Mahavamsa, Prince Vijaya traveled to the island of Sri Lanka and married Princess Kuveni, a lady of Sri Lanka's previous inhabitants the Yakkhas. Vijaya eventually overcame the Yakkhas, and with his followers took control of Sri Lanka, becoming the first of the Sinhalese people.

The Mahavamsa says the Sinhala never forgot their origins: Sinhala literally means “of lions.” In the Sinhalese tradition the lion is the mythical ancestor of kings and a symbol of royal authority. Because, you know, the first king was a quarter lion and people tend to remember that.

Fragments of tree bark inscribed with a Buddhist manuscript written in Sanskrit were discovered in Mes Aynak, a prosperous Buddhist city occupied from the 200s to 600s CE. The manuscript fragments themselves appear to be from the 600s. Researchers think the ancient manuscripts may have been housed in an archive at the site, which has also yielded a monastery complex, murals, and more than 400 Buddha statues and stupas.

One man, Kumarajiva, is responsible for revolutionizing Chinese Buddhism. He lived from 334 to 413 CE during China's Sixteen Kingdoms Era, and was tasked by the Later Qin emperor with translating key Buddhist texts into Chinese from Sanskrit. This is harder than mere literal translation. Sanskrit and Chinese are very different, linguistically, and Kumarajiva complained that the translation work was like having to eat rice after someone else had already chewed it!

Kumarajiva was able to translate many key Buddhist texts. In China today, millions of Chinese speak the words of Kumarajiva every day.

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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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