Thursday, August 29, 2013

History mystery: Mysterious Caves in Nepal

Making discoveries on ancient findings can lead to a lot of speculations and excitement when confronted with it. There are a good number of manmade caves, 155 feet from the ground, hidden within the Himalayans, separated by the Kali Gandaki River, which are some of the world’s amazing mysteries, yet to be discovered. It is estimated that around 10,000 caves have been found in former Kingdom of Mustang in North Central Nepal, some of which have either been dug into the Cliffside or tunneled from above. While some sit by themselves, others are in groups of holes stacked eight or nine storey high on a vertical neighborhood. These caves seem to be thousands of years old and the unknown fact is yet a mystery, of why and by whom were they built. Being 155 feet above the valley floor, it is also unknown how people climbed into the caves at these heights. Some of them who have seen these mysterious caves relate that the effect of the cliff face makes it look like a giant sand castle with dozens of holes carved into the sandy colored cliff, hidden within the Himalayas in a large gorge and dwarfs the Grand Canyon.

 In the mid 1990s, several groups made attempt to discover these mysterious caves and found some bodies which were at least 2000 years old and since then the adventure to these mysterious caves is still on. Adventurer photographers, Cory Richards, who was joined by climbers, Pete Athans, and archaeologists, Mark Ardenderfer, along with a team of explorers set out to unravel some of the mysteries to us with pictures and their own findings. They started their expedition, though it was not an easy task to climb the sky caves with the rocks being unstable and posing to be dangerous while climbing. They envisaged a few dangerous threats all along their expedition to these mysterious caves. As they began with their exploring process to get to know more on these mysterious caves, they faced a lot of challenges during the dangerous climb with loose rocks around them which were very scary. With these loose rocks around them they had a feeling of everything crumbling down during their expedition.

They also encountered a few mishaps and faced physical injuries during their climb which were at times unnerving, but they were determined and excited in making discoveries to unravel the hidden mysteries of these caves. Their exploration lead them to what seemed a 12th century village culture beneath the caves with amazing history to it having villages which they used to live in but now unfortunately forgotten. This intrigued and further excited them in making more headway in their exploration of these caves. On arrival at the caves it seemed to be grander and bigger than they had imagined and made them wonder how the people at that time accessed and got into these caves. As they began exploring they came across images of eroded mural on the walls of Ritseling Cave in Upper Mustang. This exploration took a good many years to unravel and to discover it. Moreover since the climb and access to these mysterious caves seemed a lot difficult than they had envisaged, they had to thread with caution and care, since Cory Richards had already encountered an injury when he had lost his footing and fell down breaking his back. In another, incident videographer Lincoln Else had also faced injuries when he was hit by a falling rock and fractured his skull. Their exploration in solving the mysteries of the caves kept them perplexed as to how the original inhabitants accessed into these caves without any signs of ascending of ropes, scaffolding or even steps, in any of the caves which were at a height of 155 feet above the ground.

Some of the caves which they found were empty though some showed signs of inhabitation with sleeping spaces, hearth, and grain storage bins, besides the murals related to Buddhist history together with calligraphic manuscripts. Mustang cliffs are gorgeous with the walls melting like wax under the intense heat of the sun, with the ridgelines eroded into wild shapes of bony fingers lending support to the colossal rocky basketballs and with towering tubes spread similar to an endless pipe organ. The most amazing thing about these rocks is that its color keeps changing as the day progresses encompassing it in shades of red and ocher and brown and grey. According to the Scientists, the caves in Upper Mustang have been divided in three periods, one as early as the 1000 BC, where the caves may have been used as burial chambers. Towards the 10th century, the region may have encountered frequent battles and hence for safety purpose rather than convenience the people of that time, moved into the caves making it their living quarters. By 1400s, the caves may then have been used as meditation chambers, storage units since the people had moved into village or even military lookouts.

Friday, August 23, 2013

History mystery: CONSTANTINOPLE the City of the emperor Justinian -2

Justinian’s wife, the empress Theodora, was no less impressive. The daughter of a humble bearkeeper at the Constantinople Hippodrome, she was endowed with remarkable beauty and an exceptional strength of will. In her youth she had bee a popular actress and courtesan, achieving notoriety for evading a ban on stage in nothing but a minuscule girdle. Justinian married her in 523, four years before he came to the throne. Theodora seemed to wield considerable power, and with her background she was an easy target for gossip. Yet she exercised her authority with much common sense and political foresight. Her husband saw himself as God’s representative on Earth and his state as an earthly model of the Kingdom of Heaven. Pursuing his dream, he spent many nights studying state files, hoping to become the ‘perfect legislator’. As he walked the corridors of his palace, the shrewd, realistic Theodora was constantly at his side, moderating his wilder schemes.

Justinian was a man of astonishing energy; his citizens called him ‘the emperor who never sleeps’. But the city he inherited presented a daunting challenge even to his titanic capabilities. Though created as the heir to Rome, the city had more in common with the old, densely populated Babels of the East – Alexandria, Antioch, Ephesus, Pergamum – bustling centres of business which survived while the cities of the Western Empire fell. It was overcrowded, and choked with squalor, misery, and disease. As the Roman Empire slowly crumbled in the west, the eastern capital attracted adventures, from refuges and rebels to deserters and prisoners of war. Peasants from neighbouring areas flocked to the city in search of work. Constantinople still prided itself on its Greek heritage. Greeks held the highest positions in society.

They called themselves the politikoi – the people of the town, the ‘Byzantines of Byzantium’ to distinguish themselves from the alien multitudes. Among these multitudes were peoples of the Middle East – Syrians, Anatolians, and Jews. When Justinian reconquered Rome’s western provinces, more visitors and immigrants arrived. Egyptians and Africans from Nubia and Ethiopia rubbed shoulders with fair-haired white giants from the north: Germans, and Viking traders and mercenaries who had come via Russia. Barbarians civilized by their settlement in Italy sent their children to Constantinople to study Christianity, literature, law and philosophy. But Constantinople also sheltered those with smaller ambitions.

Squatters infested the marble porticoes of the city’s great colonnades; in winter the authorities had to nail boards across the entrances to give the vagrants some protection against the cold. Justinian, devout Christian that he was, distributed bread and opened hostels, workhouses, orphanages, and leper hospitals. Theodora founded a house for repentant prostitutes. But charity could not rid the city of its plague of poverty. In Justinian’s mind, another solution was born: to build. He would quite simply expand his busting city. The scheme was, of course, partly intended to immortalize his own glory that of his Lord. But there was more. Justinian saw in the vagrant multitude an immense pool of manpower. Harnessing the army of the unemployed, he organized the construction of schools, baths, theatres, palaces, gardens, harbours, aqueducts, monasteries, and especially churches. For Justinian, building became an obsession. Yet vagrancy could not be eliminated. In 539 the emperor was still ordering new public works, but was also applying increasingly strict surveillance: ‘Natives’, he decreed, ‘who are sound in body and have no means of subsistence must be sent without delay to the organizers of public works, to the heads of bakeries, and to those who maintain the gardens and so on. If they refuse, they must be expelled from the city. The physically handicapped and the old shall be left in peace and looked after by the inhabitants who are willing to do so. The others shall be asked why they have come to Constantinople, to ensure that no idlers remain; and as soon as they have finished…they shall be asked to return home.’ The building programme did not get rid of unemployment, but it turned the city into the wonder of its age. The works of contemporary writers and excavations by archaeologists have created a comprehensive picture of the Byzantine capital. Constantinople borrowed much from the mother city. The public buildings were mostly Roman in style. As chance would have it, the city even included seven hills, like the original. It was also divided into 14 districts for the purposes of administration. Titles of office were borrowed from Roman tradition: magistrate, consul, and so on. There was even a senate house. The Imperial District, sited at the tip of the peninsula, was the city’s commercial, administrative, and ceremonial hub. The Sacred Palace, begun by Constantine and enlarged by Justinian, was built there amid beautiful gardens that descended in terraces to the sea. It is now the site of the Blue Mosque, built by the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I. Today, only a few mosaics remain from Justinian’s palace, but it is known to have consisted of a complex of pavilions, with adjoining churches and barracks.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

History mystery: CONSTANTINOPLE the City of the emperor Justinian -1

When Rome perished under barbarian fire and sword, a second imperial capital kept alive the glorious traditions of the fallen city. The new centre of power was Constantinople: luxurious, refined – and seething with poverty on an unimaginable scale. More than a million people lived in Constantinople (now Istanbul) in the 6th century AD. Its beauty was renowned far and wide. Suffused with the grey light of the Bosporus – the strait separating Europe and Asia – an undulating skyline of domes rose from a soft shimmering sea of pink brick. Constantinople’s churches, gardens and palaces, wondrous in their own right, housed some of the finest works of the finest works of classical Greek statuary.

 Marbled walls flashed with iridescent mosaics. Despite undercurrents of suffering and depravity that accompanied its affluence, this city at the crossroads of the East and West was farmed as a beacon of civilization – the heir of Rome and guardian of the Christian faith. Its site is a promontory jutting out from the western shore of the Bosporus where the warm Aegean climate is tempered by cold moist winds blowing down across the Black Sea. Greeks from Megara are said to have founded a settlement here around 668 BC. Their leader, Byzas, gave it its name – Byzantion, later Romanized to Byzantium. A deep water inlet known as the ‘Golden Horn’ provided the site with a natural harbour, and gradually the city became a focal point for trade, handling timber and wheat supplies on their way to Greece from the steppes of southern Russia. Greek tradition took root, but it was the rise of imperial Rome that began the city’s ascent to glory. In AD 196 Byzantium fell to the legions, and under Rome it developed into a metropolis. By the 3rd century AD, storm clouds were gathering over the Roman Empire. Warrior tribes of Goths from the Black Sea region, and Franks and Alemanni from along the Rhine, threatened its western frontiers. By the early 4th century Rome was no longer secure, and the emperor Constantine (307-37) looked to Byzantium as an alternative capital.

The city was sheltered geographically from the incursions of the Germanic barbarians, and could also act as a bastion against oriental tribes to the east. The decision to make Byzantium in imperial capital was followed by a rapid and extensive building programme. A senate house, baths, a palace, and a forum were set up. The empire was secured for splendid monuments, which were imported from Rome, Alexandria, Athens, and Ephesus in order to beautify the city. In 330 Constantine formally declared it the Roman Empire’s second capital. Its provinces were also to be known as Byzantium, and the city itself took on an alternative name – Constantinople, city of Constantine – in honour of its benefactor. Constantine managed to hold off the barbarian threat to Rome. But persistent onslaughts from tribes north of the Danube continued to plague his successors. Religious and ethnic divisions also began to split the eastern and western provinces. On the death of the Pious Christian emperor Theodosius I in 395, the Roman Empire was formally split into two halves. The eastern capital, Constantinople, increased in prestige as the beleaguered western territories began to crumble in the face of constant invasions by Germanic tribes. In 410, Rome fell to the Visigoths – invaders originally from the Balkans – and was sacked and burnt. Constantinople now became the main guardian of classical civilization, protector of the Greek and Roman heritage, and of the Christian faith.

It was left to the emperor Justinian to fulfil the city’s potential. Justinian (527-65) is one of the most imposing and enigmatic figures in Roman history. A country boy from the Balkans, he was brought up in Constantinople by his childless uncles, the emperor Justin I. On his uncle’s death he inherited the throne of Rome. Traces of his Slavonic roots remained with him – it was said that he spoke Greek with a barbarian accent. Yet this upstart was to become the last of the great Roman emperors. Justinian was a military leader of the highest rank. Brilliantly served by two generals, Belisarius and Narses, he held the eastern frontier of Byzantium against the Sassanian monarchs of Persia. More, he managed to claw back from the barbarian Goths and Vandals much of the territory that they had occupied in North Africa and Italy. The Byzantine Empire ruled by Justinian eventually included many of the territories which had made up the old Roman Empire: the Balkans, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa. To his victories in war Justinian added achievements at home. He reconciled, at least temporarily, the warring factions in the Eastern and Western churches. Passionately concerned with the law, he drew together the strands of the existing Roman legal code into four major compilations: the Codex, Digest, Institutes, and Novellae. The code of Civil Law, or Justinian Code as it is generally known, was the means by which Roman law was committed to prosperity.

Monday, August 19, 2013

History mystery: Chanchan, A target of the Inca conquest -2

The Chimu were energetic builders, and established urban centres less grandiose than Chanchan in almost all of the valleys they ruled, including Tucume Viejo in the Leche valley and Pacatnamu in the Jequetepeque. They followed a tradition of urban construction established by earlier Andean civilizations, executing their work with greater skill, and on a larger scale. Only a powerful administration was capable of organizing such large building works. Some information has survived on the nature of Chimu government. The king was supreme, wielding absolute power. Known as the Quie quic, or Great Lord, he was like the Inca sovereign in claiming to be descended from the gods. Below the king were the Chimu chieftains, known as alaec, and the members of the royal family. One myth states that the king and the nobility were descended from two stars, while the common people sprang from two others.

The tale suggests that a strict class system existed, and that there was no possibility of movement between the classes. At the bottom of the social scale were the commoners, who were referred to as paraeng and yana, generally taken to denote vassals and servants. Agriculture was the main source of livelihood, on land owned mainly by the king and nobility. A few animals such as the dog and the Muscovy duck were raised for food. Fishing and hunting also supplemented the diet. The large-scale manufacture of craft goods also supported the economy, and trade was based on barter. The centralized state supervised various public works. For example, a network of roads was built to link the kingdom’s different regions. An irrigation system, begun by the Moche a few centuries earlier, was extended to reach some of the desolate spaces around the valleys, to secure abundant harvests. Like other ancient peoples all over the world, the Chimu watched the movements of the heavenly bodies with fascination. Yet no divinity seems to have been worshipped as a supreme force. Legends refer to a variety of gods – notably the sea, the stars, the sun, and the moon goddess Si. Si was considered more powerful than the sun, because she was visible even during daylight hours. While knowledge of the Chimu’s beliefs remains sketchy, ample material survives to form a picture of their superlative craftsmanship. Their goods included figures identical to those on wall friezes in the capital.

This suggests that a single model was used for multiple copies. Weavers worked on tapestries, embroidery, and ceremonial mantles made with feathers. Chimu potters specialized in a gleaming black ware – vessels cast in moulds and ingeniously embellished with human and animal figures. But it was in goldwork that the Chimu excelled. Chimu goldsmiths mastered the arts of soldering, chasing, and filigree work. Most goldwork was made from hammered sheet metal, although some pieces were cast in moulds. The results were exquisitely shaped golden bowls and goblets, masks, breastplates, and jewellery. The Chimu goldsmiths were famed beyond the frontiers of their own state. When the Incas overran the Chimu kingdom, they took the most skilled craftsmen back with them. In about 1460, the Incas began to penetrate the northern regions of Peru.

 But Minchan-saman could offer only ineffective resistance, and Chimor was defeated and brought within the Inca domain. The Chimu king was treated well, and his son, Chumun-caur, was appointed to govern the defeated kingdom. But between 1485 and 1490, the unity of the kingdom was destroyed – its ruler became merely a provincial chieftain of the Moche valley, with no power over the neighbouring territories. The Incas went on to absorb Chimu achievements into their own empire, which extended beyond modern Peru to much of Ecuador and Bolivia, and parts of Chile and Argentina. Like Chimor, the Inca domain was rigidly centralized, with a system of roads and couriers running between the main centres. But now they carried the orders of the supreme Inca, the Child of the Sun. After the disintegration of the Inca Empire and its subjugation by the Spaniards, Chanchan – which was already partially abandoned – was sacked by the treasure-hungry conquistadores. The city fell into ruin, and the native goldwork was melted down in huge quantities and cast into ingots sold at the metal’s market value. Yet neither time nor conquest has completely obliterated Chimu civilization. The Incas disseminated Chimu culture over an area much larger than the original kingdom, and the Spanish chroniclers preserved their legends. And even in their fallen state, the regal ruins at Chanchan evoke the majesty of the Chimu rulers and the inventive energy of their people.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

History mystery: Chanchan, A target of the Inca conquest

On the northern coast of Peru, a field of ruins stretches as far as the eye can see. This was Chanchan, capital of the Chimu, which fell to the Incas only decades before the Incas themselves perished under the swords of the Spanish conquistadores. When the spaniards defeated the incas in the 16th century, they inherited the remains of more than one civilization. Inca Peru, also an empire of conquest, embraced many different societies. But the Incas extinguished earlier traditions as mercilessly as the Spaniards were to crush their own, and many of the cultures that rose and fell in the Andes and its fringes are shrouded in mystery. The first major culture to arise in Peru was that of the Chavin, around 1000 BC. Others followed: the Paracas of central Peru, who mummified their dead and wrapped them in magnificent fabrics; the Moche of the northern coast, who were great builders and goldsmiths.

Farther south, the mysterious Nazca culture emerged round AD 500, leaving behind a fantastic network of designs – birds, spiders, and geometric figures – indelibly scored across the desolate southern plains. By about AD 1000, the culture of the upland Tiwanaku people dominated much of Peru, which now enjoyed a rich cultural heritage. Among the civilizations that built on this heritage, none was more impressive than Chimor, the kingdom of the Chimu, ruled from the city of Chanchan. A handful of legends collected by Spanish chroniclers have survived through the centuries to explain the origin of Chimor. The tales centre on the semi-mythical hero Taycanamo, founder of the Chimu royal dynasty. Taycanamo, so the stories say, arrived in the Moche valley on a raft as an envoy from a great lord beyond the seas. He brought with him a magical yellow powder – probably gold dust. He built a palace, learned the language, and was eventually recognized by the locals as their chief.

Taycanamo is said to have founded his dynasty in about 1300, but archaeology has shown that Chanchan, the Chimu capital, dates back to an earlier period. The site is thought to have been settled as far back as 800 BC, and monumental construction began in about AD 850. But it was not until the Taycanamon dynasty that the city became the wonder of its contemporaries. Taycanamo’s dynasty continued through nine more kings. His immediate successors conquered the whole of the Moche and six other valleys. But the empire reached its peak under the last monarch, Minchan-saman. In the mid-15th century, when the Incas were expanding southwards from their capital at Cuzco in the central highlands, Minchan-saman brought the valleys of the central coastlands within the fold of Chimor.

The kingdom now stretched along 960km (596 miles) of coast, from Tumbes in the north to a point near present-day Lima. Chanchan was even larger than Cuzco. It covered about 20km2 (7½ sq miles), and supported 40,000 people. With its workshops, factories, warehouses, and temples, it was the hub of Chimu trade, religion, and administration. The heart of the city was dominated by ten great enclosures, with tapering walls ranging from 7.5m to 9m (24½ft to 29½ft) high. Each enclosure conformed to the same rectangular plan, with a single, narrow entrance in the north wall and an interior divided into three sections: north, central, and south. The north and central sections contained living quarters, kitchens, audience chambers, courtyards, colonnades, storage areas, and water tanks. The southern sections often contained a mound or platform. When archaeologists excavated one of these mounds in 1969, they uncovered the remains of almost 100 young women. They had been sacrificed – perhaps by poison. In the centre, they found a T-shaped tomb and burial offerings. What purpose did the enclosures serve? There were ten such structures, built one after another – and ten kings in the dynasty of Taycanamo. The generally accepted theory is that each king constructed an enclosure as his own royal residence. After death, it would have served as a shrine devoted to his worship, and his heir would then build his own complex. The royal enclosures were built with a combination of clay and sun-dried mud bricks, as were the city’s houses, storage areas, and colonnades, which were roofed with reeds, straw, and clay. Clay friezes of geometric motifs, animals, and various mythological monsters decorated the walls. The reliefs often depict sea-birds, fish, starfish, and crustaceans. Chanchan was close to the sea, and the ebb and swell of the Pacific must have been constantly in the minds of its inhabitants. The ocean was a divinity known as Ni, worshipped by casting offerings of maize and red ochre into the waves. Around the outskirts of the citadels were humble dwellings made of cane. Two depressions at each end of the city appear to have been planted with gardens, and water was supplied to areas that needed it by a system of irrigation channels. A pyramid complex, probably a temple compound, stood just outside the city. This way not an innovation of Chimu society – flat-topped pyramids had existed in Peru as early as the 2nd millennium BC.

Friday, August 9, 2013

History mystery: NARA A Japanese capital of Chinese culture -2

In 735, a severe epidemic of smallpox struck down members of the imperial family. To appease the gods, the emperor Shomu (724-49) decided to build a huge gilded bronze effigy of the Buddha at Nara. The colossal statue, 15m (49ft) tall, can still be seen today – much restored, but intact. A vast hall was erected around the statue while work was still in progress, flanked to the east and west by two ten-storey pagodas. By 752, it had become part of a temple complex, known as the Todaiji. This was the pride of Nara, and it continued to be embellished for another ten years, during which time a Chinese monk architect named Ganjin arrived at Nara with some of his disciples. Ganjin founded a new school of architecture. He also attempted to bring Shintoism more firmly within the Buddhist fold, declaring that the native gods were earthly incarnations of Buddhist deities, and founded another school of Buddhism. In religion, as in all else, Japan displayed a remarkable ability to assimilate outside influence. Religion was not Nara’s only concern. Among the city’s notable buildings is the fabulous treasure house, the Shosoin – the world’s oldest museum, built in 756 by the widow of the emperor Shomu. Its walls are constructed of horizontally stacked cross-sections of timber, which drain water, absorb moisture, and shrink to allow ventilation when the air is dry. The humidity of the interior remains constant all year round, and as a result the exhibits remain intact to this day.

The museum’s 3,000 treasures provide a rich picture of court life during the 8th century. They include silks, brocades, inlaid furniture, mirrors, and ceramics, most of which were gifts offered by high officials to their sovereign. The emperor also stored tributes from travelers returning from China and Korea: medicinal plants, sacred manuscripts, technical treatises, Buddhist paintings, musical instruments, weapons, devotional objects, and numerous utensils. Goods from distant lands include a glass bowl Persian origin, fabrics from Central Asia, and a marble bas-relief of Byzantine inspiration. China’s influence had changed life in Japan immensely – at least for the lords, courtiers, and religious leaders. But the peasant masses continued to live as they had done for centuries. Japan’s many peasants, by their sweat, produced the wealth that supported the imperial court. Yet to the privileged citizens of sophisticated Nara they ranked no higher than animals. They wore clothes made of bark fibre, and their homes were simple mud huts. Their lives revolved around toiling in the fields, or breeding silkworms to produce finery for the elite. They were illiterate, and continued to worship their rural gods. Because of this class distinction, ordinary people were almost completely ignored in the great works of Japanese literature of the time.

They are mentioned only obliquely in the chronicles. The main change in their lives brought about by the foundation of Nara was a change for the worse. The taxes levied to finance building the capital weighed heavily on the poor. They paid the price for their country’s prestige – partly in crops, and partly in labour.

At least they were not plagued by warfare. The Nara period was, on the whole, a peaceful age. It came to an end in about 794, as the monk’s of the capital’s six main sects grew increasingly powerful. Peasants who could no longer bear the tax burden abandoned their fields. Finally, to escape the influence of the Buddhist priests, Emperor Kanmu established a new capital at Heiankyo (present-day Kyoto) – the ‘Capital of Peace and Content’. But the lessons learned at Nara were not forgotten. Japan had gathered all the elements necessary to produce a culture of its own, and at Heiankyo, a tradition of native Japanese architecture asserted it. Chinese influence remained strong for the next 150 years, but the country was emerging from its formative era. By the 10th century, Japan’s links with the mainland had been severed, its influences consolidated, and its high society had become one of the most sophisticated civilizations of all time.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

History mystery: NARA A Japanese capital of Chinese culture -1

One of the most striking aspects of Japan’s history has been its ability, at certain periods, to learn from foreigners. What happened at Nara, 13 centuries ago, was an example of the islander’s genius for adapting the traditions of other countries. ACCORDING TO MYTH, THE ISLAND OF JAPAN were divinely created, and the first Japanese were descended from the gods. In reality, their ancestors arrived from mainland Asia during the Palaeolithic period. Large numbers of immigrants also came from Korea in the 1st millennium BC, introducing rice cultivation and metallurgy. And it was from the mainland – China in particular – that Japan imported the beginnings of urban culture. Chinese Buddhism also took root in Japan, in the 6th century AD. The new religion came under the protection of Japan’s emperors, supplementing the existing official religion known as Shinto, the Way of the Gods.

By the late 5th century of the once fragmented nation, made up of small independent tribes, came under the rule of an imperial government established at the royal court of Asuka, today a small village 24km (15 miles) south of modern Nara. Major administrative reforms in the 7th century centralized authority under the emperor. The glamour and richness of the civilization in China exercised a magnetic attraction of Japan’s rulers. In AD 607 an imperial envoy, Ono no Imoko, was sent from Asuka to the Chinese court. He was granted an audience with the great Emperor Yangdi of China’s brilliant Sui dynasty. At the imperial palace the Japanese envoy started the interview by announcing with confidence: ‘The Emperor of the Land of the Rising Sun greets the Emperor of the Land of the Setting Sun.’ To the Chinese – who thought of Japan as a semi-barbaric island – this opening was highly offensive.

It must have taken some delicate diplomacy to smooth over the outrage, for in the end the mission was a success. Over the years, many large delegations arrived from China in Japan. There were ambassadors with their secretaries and countless specialists, including doctors, monks, astrologers, soothsayers, sculptors, painters, carpenters, potters, and blacksmiths. The diversity of skills was immense. Many of the newcomers attached themselves to the Japanese court and became permanent residents. What Japan lacked was a capital city worth of its growing splendour. There were no major urban centres, and the imperial court – first established at Asuka – had moved as each monarch constructed a new palace complex. The Emperor Temmu planned a splendid capital comparable to those of China, and his widow, the Empress Jito, oversaw its construction at Fujiwara, which became the capital in 694.

But it was not until 710 that their vision was fully realized. Under the Empress Gemmyo, Nara was chosen as the permanent site for the imperial court. The city, known at the time as Heijo-kyo, was laid out like a vast chequerboard in the style of the Tang capital, Chang’an, in China. The architecture was Chinese-inspired, from palaces and monasteries with tall pagodas to administrative offices and imposing mansions with stone paving, painted wooden pillars, and roofs with semi-translucent glazed tiles. The power of the central government at Nara was open to challenge by provincial clan leaders. So in 712, to cement the authority of the throne, Empress Gemmyo (707-15) sponsored the writing of chronicles glorifying the myths of the imperial dynasty. The Kojiki, ‘Records of Ancient Matters,’ were written using Chinese script to represent Japanese sounds. At the same time, monks and scholars were copying out Buddhist texts, and Japan developed its own style of exquisite calligraphy. Manuscripts brought to Japan by Chinese monks and scholars include Buddhist, Confucian, and Daoist treatises, and works on astrology and fortune-telling such as the Yi Jing (The Book of Changes). Nara became a centre for Buddhist learning and worship. Japanese Buddhism mixed several different traditions, and came to be represented by six different sects founded in the capital. Each had its own monasteries and temples, and its own aristocratic patrons. The monks were recruited chiefly from the nobility, who fought constantly for influence at court. In a spirit of toleration, the new religion accommodated the spirits and gods of the Shinto cults.

History mystery: Carthage Gateway to rich Western trade -4

There is no question of the nightmarish ceremonies being merely an invention of enemy propaganda. At Carthage and other Punic sites, archaeologists have discovered sanctuaries with urns containing the ashes of infants. The sanctuaries, known by modern writers as tophets after a place of sacrifice in the Bible’s Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, are walled enclosures, open to the sky. The urns were buried in pits, and a stone monument or stele about the size of a modern gravestone was erected nearby. The Carthage tophet contains some of the earliest reliable evidence of Phoenician settlement in the West: fragments of pottery discovered at its lowest level date back to about 725 BC. From then until the city’s fall, layer upon layer of urns containing the remains of thousands of sacrificed children were deposited, along with commemorative steles. The area of the Carthage tophet eventually stretched across some 2ha (5 acres). Most children seem to have been sacrificed individually, and the studies of teeth found among the charred bones confirm that most were two years old or younger.

Some were newborn. Occasionally, two children have been found in one urn, characteristically a newborn with a small child. Perhaps the parents promised to surrender a child in advance of its birth – if the child was stillborn, they would have to present their elder infant. Why did this barbaric practice persist among such a sophisticated people living in one of the most advanced civilizations of the classical world? During the last 200 years or so of Carthaginian civilization, the grave steles are often inscribed with a standard dedication: ‘To the lady Tanit and her consort Baal Hammon, -, the son of the son of -, dedicates this in fulfillment of a vow.’ The family’s social status is frequently indicated – those sacrificed were always the property-owning class.

 Trying to understand why only the children of the rich were sacrificed, and why the brutal tradition survived for so long, American excavators speculated that the practice may have had a social purpose: the sacrifices may have been a convenient form of family planning, allowing the property-owning class to prevent their wealth being divided between two many heirs. Cynical as it sounds, there are parallels elsewhere. The Greeks, for example, used to expose unwanted children on hillsides. Carthage was unusual in the ancient world in having a constitution acknowledged by the Greeks. In the Greek’s opinion, the Carthaginians, like the Romans, did not entirely qualify for the label ‘barbarians’. Although evidence of the city’s constitution is sketchy, it is clear that by the 4th century BC, three elements of authority existed side by side: monarchy, oligarchy (rule by a small dominant faction), and democracy.

Before about 450 BC, something approaching kingly authority had been held by one family, the Magonids (among whom was Hanno the navigator). But later, the great merchant families and the landowners used their political muscle to guarantee a share in government. The kingly element survived in the role of two principal officers of state, known as the suffetes. They were similar to the Roman consuls: two were elected annually from among the most influential families. Leading citizens were represented in a Council comparable to the Roman Senate. From the several hundred Council members, who held their positions for life, two powerful committees were chosen: one to carry out day-to-day policy, the other to administer justice and review the actions of the generals. A citizen body represented the democratic element in the constitution. The body could vote on proposals put before it, and had the power to elect certain administrators. In practice, its influence was small throughout most of Carthage’s history. When the suffetes and Council decided on a course of action, they rarely allowed the issue to go to a popular vote. The closing chapters of the city’s history began in the 3rd century BC, when Rome moved into the world of Mediterranean politics after taking control of the Greek cities in southern Italy.

Almost by accident the Romans and Carthaginians – previously allies in wars against the Greeks – fell out over the control of Sicily. The disagreement was to spark the first of the three great Punic wars. The first brought 23 years of intermittent fighting by land and sea (264-241 BC). It ended in victory for the Romans, and Sicily became their first overseas province. Following the loss of Sicily, and later of Corsia and Sardinia, the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca launched a masterly campaign to seize the southern half of Spain. Here, Carthagena, ‘the New Carthage’, was founded in 221 BC. But the contest with Rome had not been resolved. Hannibal Barca, son of Hamilcar, now led the army. When a second Punic War broke out in 218 BC he crossed the Alps with an army of 35,000 men and 37 elephants, but narrowly failed to take Rome. In the treaty that followed a later defeat, Carthage lost all its possessions in Europe, its fleet except for ten ships, and with it control of the Mediterranean. And yet the city still prospered. Cato the Elder, a Roman ambassador to Carthage in 153 BC, was so awed by the city’s grandeur that he was consumed with jealous rage. On returning to Rome, he would conclude every speech he made, on whatever subject, by declaring that ‘Carthage must be destroyed’. That destruction came at the end of the third Punic War (149-146 BC). The inhabitants of the ancient city held on with heroic tenacity against the Roman onslaught. Their last stand was made in the Temple of Eshmun. When the temple fell, the invading troops plundered and burned, leveling the city. Scipio Aemilianus, the Roman general who presided over the destruction of Carthage, wept over the rubble of the ruined city. He was moved less by pity than by awe that so gigantic a power could be laid so low. ‘This is a glorious moment,’ he observed, ‘and yet I am seized with fear and foreboding that some day the same fate will befall my own country.’

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

History mystery: Carthage Gateway to rich Western trade -3

Ancient Carthage is still being excavated, but only glimpses of the city are likely to be revealed. Not only is the site overlaid by the remains of a later Roman city, but modern Carthage, a suburb of Tunis, lies on top. The only overall view of a Punic city clear of the debris of later habitation lay to the north-west, at the small town of Kerkouane on Cape Bon. Little evidence of early Carthaginian produce has survived. Textiles were woven for the domestic market and for export and recent excavations uncovered purple-dye works in a suburb of the city, and in Kerkouane. Salted fish and slaves were major exports as well as being in great demand in the city. The eastern Phoenicians were renowned craftsmen in ivory and metals, and the Carthaginians maintained these high standards.

They took inspiration from the products of their neighbours and combined this with their own ideas to create distinctive Carthaginian pieces. Their workshops manufactured a wide variety of objects, from gaudy trinkets to exquisite jewellery and fine furniture. Domestic crafts were probable overshadowed by the city’s many imports, from Etruria, Egypt and Greece. Nearly all of the fine pottery found at Carthage is of Greek or Graeco-Italian origin. But Carthaginian workshops did produce small terracotta figurines and extraordinary terracotta images of grimacing faces, perhaps once hung in homes to protect against evil spirits. And Carthage excelled at food production. After the 4th century BC, shipments of Carthaginian grain are recorded in Athens.

In a famous incident in the Roman Senate, Cato the Elder brandished Carthaginian figs while expounding on the threat that the city posed to Rome. The Carthaginians were valiant seamen. A tantalizing reference in a later Roman text credits one Himilco with a northward voyage of many months that may have reached Brittany and even Cornwall. The merchants of Carthage are known to have dealt in Cornish tin ore, but there is no evidence that the city’s own ships made such a long and perilous voyage; Spanish or Gallic traders were probably the link with distant Britain. One great Carthaginian sea voyage has been recorded. In the 5th century BC, a man named Hanno is said to have travelled down the west coast of Africa, reaching as far perhaps as the modern Ivory Coast. On his return, he recorded his journey on a bronze tablet at Carthage, and a version of the text survives in Latin. The account remains controversial. Only part of the narrative is straightforward reporting – for example, a section describing how the explorers took colonists to Lixus in Morocco. More intriguing passages describe pygmies, wild animals, a volcanic eruption, and various geographical features such as rivers and mountains. The order of the text is jumbled, and the full length of the journey is unclear; colourful inventions seem to have been mixed with factual statements.

 In their more far-reaching ventures, Greek writers relate, the Carthaginians used a so-called ‘silent barter’ for trading with primitive tribes. Seeking gold, the Carthaginians would spread out their wares and signal to attract the natives. The natives would then present their offerings of the precious ore. If it was sufficient, the Carthaginians would take it, leaving their own goods in payment; if not, they would wait until more gold was brought. Both sides apparently respected the system. Like the Greeks and Romans, the Carthaginians believed in Gods and goddesses with their own special roles. There were two main deities: Tanit, who was patron goddess of Carthage and an earth mother who has presided over the moon; and Baal, the sky god. Between them they represented the very basic powers of human and agricultural fertility – powers that a primitive society depended on their survival. The people also worshipped various lesser deities – gods who sometimes corresponded to minor deities venerated in Greek and Roman religion. Where the Carthaginians differed most strikingly from their contemporaries was in the survival of primitive religious practices – in particular, the rite of human sacrifice. This dark practice had been known in Bronze Age Greece and elsewhere, but it horrified the writers of classical times. The Carthage ritual is described in detail by Diodorus, the Sicilian Greek historian. Sacrifices took place at night before a great bronze statue of the supreme god, Baal Hammon. The parents brought their sacrificial child to the site – an infant between two and three years old, sometimes older. The ceremony included loud music and a great deal of festivity (which would drawn out the crying of the child), and at the appropriate moment the child was taken by a priest to have his or her throat slit in a secret ritual. The body was then placed on the statue’s outstretched arms, from which it rolled off into the flames of a fire. During the crisis in the 4th century when Agathocles besieged Carthage, 200 children are said to have been sacrificed.

Friday, August 2, 2013

History mystery: Carthage Gateway to rich Western trade -2

In Tunisia, they looked inland. Some of the most fertile land in North Africa was within reach of their city. By the time of Agathocle’s invasion they were farming it, producing cereals, livestock, fruit, and vegetables. A Sicilian historian, Diodorus, gives a vivid impression of Agathocle’s soldiers gazing open-mouthed in awe at the abundant orchards and rich country houses of Cape Bon, north-west of the city. Meanwhile, Carthage extended control over the trading bases on the North African coast and the Mediterranean islands. Almost accidentally, an empire was born, and Carthage came to rival the most advanced cities of the Greek world.

Its population was estimated by the geographer Strabo at 700,000. This seems excessive; Athens itself had no more than about 250,000 inhabitants. The figure may refer to Carthage and the territories it administered but a six-figure population is plausible for a city which, at its height, covered an area of 5km2 (nearly 2sq miles), with a further 15 to 25km2 (6 to 9½ sq miles) of suburban villas. Archaeological evidence, once meagre, has grown rapidly since UNESCO launched a ‘Save Carthage’ campaign in 1972. It has emerged that Carthage was every bit as magnificent as the descriptions suggest.

The heyday of the city is termed Late Punic, referring roughly to the years between 30 and 146 BC. (Punic is simply a term of Phoenicians of the west.) The key period in the city’s expansion corresponds with the era when the Carthaginians started farming and established themselves as an imperial power. But remains of an earlier, more modest Carthage have also been found – tombs, a sacrificial precinct, and the debris of a few buildings. The position of these tombs provides fascinating evidence of the city’s growth. Historians believe that, like the Greeks and Romans, the Carthaginians had religious taboos about burial within the city limits, and moved their burial places farther out as the settlement grew bigger. But early cemeteries lie beneath the later town.

For example, 6th century BC burials lie under 3rd and 2nd century BC houses on the hill which dominates the city. The hill is the Byrsa, or citadel, of Carthage – mentioned in ancient texts as the last bastion of the defenders under the final Roman onslaught. On its slopes, archaeologists have discovered one complete insula or block of buildings, with its surrounding streets, and parts of neighbouring insulae and streets. From this evidence the shadowy city begins to take form and substance. The main buildings were grouped around a large market square, which served as a meeting place. On top of the Byrsa was the Temple of Eshmun, the Carthaginian god of healing. The other buildings on the Byrsa – shops and houses – date back to the city’s later days. They seem to have been two storeys high, built of sun-dried brick and stone. Their walls were faced with plaster, and their floors decorated with mosaic and coloured cements. The shops opened onto the street, and people gained access to the houses behind them through corridors leading to small courtyards. Other houses, found by German archaeologists working down on the coast, reveal the same basic plan, but are larger, with colonnades surrounding the courtyards. These were the seaside homes of the wealthy – though the sea view must have been obstructed by the massive city wall in front of them.

 The wall, according to an ancient text, was over 12m (39ft) high and 9m (29½ ft) thick, with arsenals and even stabling for elephants set into its stones. This daunting fortification enclosed the whole of the city, including the harbours and some suburban areas, over a circuit of 32km (20 miles). The harbours were among the most striking feature of ancient Carthage. The two man-made basins, one for merchant shipping and one for military fleets, were connected by a channel of water. Covered dry docks could take in a fleet of 220 vessels. British excavations in the military basin revealed sheds for vessels measuring about 5m (16ft) across and 30m (98 ft) in length. The warships would have been shallow-bottomed oared galleys, which relied on speed for their effectiveness in battle. The harbours were only about 2m (6½ ft) deep, but were extensive; the merchant basin covered some 6ha (15 acres) or more, and the military some 5ha (12 acres). Scooping them out was an impressive feat – it would have yielded some 191,150m3 (6.75 million cu ft) of soil. The work seems to have been carried out as late as the 3rd century BC.