Byzantine Beauty in Berlin

We are happy to welcome back Jaunting Jen to AHEtc!

Surprise! Byzantine at the Bode

church-of-san-michele-in-africisco-mosiac-from-ravenna-in-bode-museum-berlin-detailOne would never guess that the main attraction of the Bode Museum in Berlin is a mosaic from Ravenna, Italy. The Bode Museum, on Museum Island, houses a unique collection of Byzantine art, and I went there specifically for their Byzantine collection. I had no idea that a mosaic from Ravenna was waiting for me at the end of the exhibition hall. Ravenna holds a special place in my heart because it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. I have not yet been to Turkey to visit the Byzantine splendors there, but I’ve been to Ravenna and the Torcello Church in Venice, and there is just something special about those places and that time period.

The Ravenna Mosaic at the Bode Museum came from the Church of San Michele in Africisco in Ravenna, was dedicated by church-of-san-michele-in-africisco-mosiac-from-ravenna-in-berlinBishop Vittore in May 545 CE, and was consecrated by Archbishop Maximianus in 547 CE.  The mosaic depicts Christ in the center with the Archangels Gabriel and Michael on either side. The frieze of vine and doves is supposed to represent the twelve apostles. The basilica was paid for by a banker, Giuliano Argentario, and was originally intended as an offering to the Archangel Michael. The church survived until the time of Napoleon, when it was dismantled and sold to fill one of his requisitions. The bronze horses of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice suffered a similar fate, but they were eventually returned to the cathedral. The Ravenna Mosaic would never again return to its place of origin.

The fact that this mosaic survives at all is a miracle. The Church of San Michele in Africisco is not one of Ravenna’s Byzantine beauties or even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is in ruin today and used as a shopping area. If the mosaic had not been dismantled and sold in the early 19th century CE, it may have crumbled into ruin with the church. Somehow it managed to survive. In 1843 CE the King of Prussia, Frederick William IV, saw something special in the mosaic when he purchased it and had it brought to Germany. 160 years later, it stands as a monument to the Byzantine past at the Bode Museum.

Part of the mystery of the Ravenna Mosaic in Berlin is what happened to the two saints on either side. Saints Damian and Cosmus (physicians) were depicted on either side of the mosaic, but their images have been completely removed. I’d like to think they were saved and sit on the wall of someone’s private collection today.


Images: Byzantine mosaics from the Church of San Michele in Africisco in Ravenna, Italy, now in the Bode Museum, Berlin. Photos by Jennifer Brown, licensed under a Creative Commons – Attribution-Non-Commerical-ShareAlike 3.o license.

All images and videos featured in this post have been properly attributed to their respective owners. Unauthorized reproduction of text and images is prohibited. Ms. Karen Barrett-Wilt and Mr. James Blake Wiener were responsible for the editorial process. The views presented here are not necessarily those of the Ancient History Encyclopedia. Original blog post can be found at


Behind the Scenes

Ancient History Encyclopedia in 2013

Old TimeThe new year is here (at least in many parts of the world). This is, as usual, a good time to look back and examine what we’ve achieved, but also a time to look forward. We would like to share our thoughts on the past and future of Ancient History Encyclopedia with you.


The last year has been excellent for Ancient History Encyclopedia. We’ve had our best year ever since we launched in 2009. A whopping 2.6 million people visited our site, viewing 5.6 million pages. In the last few months of the year, we had almost 500,000 people visiting the site every month! Almost 200,000 history enthusiasts follow us on Facebook and tens of thousands more on Twitter and Google Plus.

Those are absolutely stunning numbers! Let’s put that into perspective…  Encyclopedia Britannica sold 120,000 copies in its best year (that was in 1990). Most history magazines have far fewer monthly readers than we do:

Compare that to our 500,000 per month! It’s incredible to know that this little website is reaching more people every month than most top publications do. Our interpretation: We’re doing something right.

We saw huge growth in September 2013, when Google switched to its “Hummingbird” search algorithm: They changed the way they rank pages, putting higher priority on pages with high-quality unique content… which was very good for us.

For 2014, we expect this growth to continue. We’re less likely to see another boost like in September, but we’ve seen a steady growth (of around 3% per month) in the previous years, and we expect that this will remain the same or increase slightly.


Almost every week we hear feedback from students around the world that our site has helped them learn about ancient history, complete their projects, or allow them to complete their homework. Many teachers use our site as set reading for class. More than ever before, Ancient History Encyclopedia is being used as an educational tool.

For 2014, we want to focus more on education. We’re analyzing textbooks and school curricula to make sure we deliver more of the content that teachers and students really need. We also want to create classroom materials for teachers, which contain selected texts, quizzes, and activities.

For this, we also need your help! If you’re a teacher, please write to us to let us know what you really need. Send us suggestions… we’re usually rather quick to act upon them.


We’re now nearing the 1,000 definitions + articles mark (we’re at 934 today). Of course we expect that number to increase, even more so than in all the years before. We’ve got more authors joining our ranks and our editorial team has nearly doubled last year, and we’re receiving more and more revenue from donations and advertising.

That money doesn’t go into anyone’s pockets: We use all revenue to produce more content! In 2013, we spent £1,251 on history source books for our authors, which they used to create a vast number of new definitions and articles. Without books, our volunteer authors have to rely on their private libraries, which are of course limited.

Thanks to our generous donors (thank you so much!) and ad-clicking visitors, we hope that in 2014 we will be able to purchase even more books for even more authors, producing much more new, unique, and high-quality content than before.


The primary goal of our non-profit company is to provide free ancient history information on our website, for students, teachers, and enthusiasts all over the world. We’re proud to be an Open Education Resource that is recommended by the European Commission and listed in the OER Commons. We’re always going to be a free online resource for the world — this is our mission.

We also want to explore other ways to bring out content to new readers, however. We’ve just finished creating an eBook on Ancient and Classical Greece (due to be published soon), which will be distributed to libraries across the world and also sold to the general public. We hope to publish at least one more eBook in 2014, and if we can make it work, possibly also publish a printed book. We’ve also repeatedly been asked to create a mobile app for offline reading, which is something we expect to do in 2014.

All revenue generated from the sales of books and apps will go towards creating more free content, of course!

Thank You

We hope that you will continue to enjoy Ancient History Encyclopedia, and that you’re pleased with what we’re doing. A special thanks goes out to our donors and sponsors, who are making this website possible. And we thank all those readers who have written to us with feedback, suggestions, and corrections. Please continue to do so!

All the best for 2014!

Jan van der Crabben, Founder & Director