Mask of a boy named Heraklion, Roman Period 2nd century AD. This painted plaster mask covered the head and chest of the mummy. Heraklion offers a bunch of grapes to a small bird.
Visitors to Egypt tend to want to see the great sites of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. The pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, and the splendid temples around Luxor are all well worth a visit, but Egypt’s later periods are of interest as well. I just went on one of my semi-regular trips to Egypt with the specific intent to study the Greco-Roman period. It plays a role in the third book in my Masked Man of Cairo neo-pulp series and there’s no better inspiration than actually seeing the sites and artifacts themselves.
In many of Spain’s oldest cities, history comes in layers.
Dominating the southern skyline of Córdoba is the alcázar, a castle that takes its name from the Arabic word for fort, al-qasr. This medieval Christian castle/palace was built atop the foundations of an earlier Muslim palace, which was built atop the foundations of a Visigothic fortress, which was built atop the remains of a Roman governor’s palace, which was built atop. . .who knows?
The earliest structures all but vanished after the Moors expanded the building into a palace with a large garden, which was used by the local rulers until the Christians retook the city in 1236. In 1328, Alfonso XI of Castile began construction of a larger fortress on the site, although he maintained the luxuriant gardens of the Moorish palace as well as building generous living quarters. Even though the Christians demolished the majority of the original structure, the new building looked pretty Islamic thanks to the introduction of the Mudéjar style, an enduring Spanish architectural style that takes its inspiration from Moorish designs. Even some early twentieth century buildings near by house in Madrid are in this style.
Mummy portrait from the 2nd century AD of two brothers who appear to have died together
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo is an addictive place. On my two writing retreats in Egypt last year I found myself returning again and again. The collections are so vast, the displays so stunning, that no matter how many times you go you always find something that bowls you over.
Much of the museum is laid out chronologically, from the predynastic era all the way up to the Greco-Roman period (332 BC – 395 AD). This last period of ancient Egypt is often overlooked except for the famous mummy portraits like the one pictured above, lifelike paintings of the deceased. The rest of the art from this time is less compelling. Some of it is overdone, almost cartoonish, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. Here’s a small sample of what the museum had to offer.
I apologize for the quality of some of these photos. The Egyptian Museum is poorly lit and many of the cases are dirty, making good photography difficult. Hope you enjoy them anyway!
Statue of a Lusitani warrior, 1st century AD.
Note the torc and arm bands, indicating high rank
It’s the start of the summer exhibition season here in Madrid, and the National Archaeological Museum is offering a free exhibition called Lusitania Romana, about the Roman province that took up much of what is now western Spain and Portugal.
The province got its name from the native Lusitani, who were either a Celtiberian people or an older ethnic group culturally influenced by the Celts, depending on which historian you read. The Romans fought these people from from 155 to 139 BC, eventually defeating them. The Lusitani continued a guerrilla war for another century.
When the province was created in 27 BC, the capital was set as Emerita Augusta, now the modern city of Mérida in Spain, which still retains some fascinating Roman ruins including a well-preserved theater, plus an excellent museum. With pacification came acculturation, and soon the region had several sizeable cities with all the usual Roman public works, and the countryside had numerous villas with some fine mosaics that have survived to this day.
Happy New Year! Or Sana Sayeeda as they say in Arabic! I’m back from another trip to Morocco, and this time besides staying at our usual place in the medina of Tangier, I and my wife also visited the ancient city of Lixus on Morocco’s Atlantic coast.
Like many cities of Roman Morocco, it’s been inhabited since prehistory, and became a Phoenician colony starting around the 8th century BC. The Phoenicians called Lixus Makom Shemesh (“City of the Sun”). It is believed to be their southernmost colony, but considering the many good bays and coves that stud the Atlantic coast to the south, I’m wondering if an archaeological survey might uncover more.
The ruins stand on a hill overlooking Oued Loukos estuary and the city was an important fishing port as well as a fish processing and salt panning center, the products then being shipped to the Mediterranean. Salt is still being panned in this region today.
This week’s destruction of the temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria, has brought the Islamic State’s brutality into the international spotlight once again, just like they wanted it to. I’m grateful that at least I got to see the place before it was destroyed. I’ve written about it in my post Memories of Palmyra before ISIS.
Palmyra isn’t just a unique archaeological site, it’s strategically important too. Located at a crossroads in eastern Syria, from there it’s possible for ISIS to supply all their operations in that sector, including their push for the Syrian capital of Damascus.
Last week, I shared some of the Celtiberian artifacts at the newly remodeled Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Madrid. The museum also has a strong collection of Roman artifacts, reflecting Spain’s longtime importance in the Roman Empire. Most gripping are the mosaics. Spain had numerous wealthy villas both in the cities and countryside, and thankfully many of these have been discovered and preserved.