2,500 years ago, the bay of modern Porto Heli would have looked pretty familiar to us now – a great protected bay, with hills no doubt covered with olive trees. But there was no Porto Heli that we could recognise, though there may have been buildings and farms which have completely disappeared. What we would have seen was a compact walled town called Halieis that lay on the southern side of the bay (opposite the hotel), with ships pulled up on the foreshore or riding at anchor. Above the town was the acropolis, the high town, with defences to give refuge to the lower townspeople from enemies and pirates. The bay provided protection from storms from the east or south.
I’ll be honest, every time I look at the photo above I long to visit Greece again. It’s not just the awe-inspiring scenery, amazing food, or ancient history. It’s the way of life. Slow, calm, relaxed, and beautiful. Yes, Greece is going through some tough economic times right now, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from visiting. The USD goes a long way in Greece.
If you’re staying in Athens then you will almost certainly visit the world famous National Museum and so have your breath pleasurably taken from you as you marvel at the treasures of Greece‘s glorious past. As this stupendous collection seems to have been pillaged from every local museum across Greece you might be forgiven for thinking that those other museums must have nothing more to present than empty shelves and little cards indicating, with some apology, that said artefact has been moved to Athens. Astonishingly though, even more wonders await the more intrepid traveller, in this case just down the road in nearby Piraeus.
Though this post only discusses 10 ancient Greek inventions and discoveries, there are, in fact, many more attributed to them.
Greek findings range from astronomy and geography to mathematics and science. Greek interest in the scientific specification of the physical world started as far back as the 6th century BCE. They proved quite versatile in this area. Greece contributed a lot of knowledge to the modern world. Many ancient Greeks hold the title of the Father of Science, the Father of Medicine, or Zoology. Even remarkable leaders like Alexander the Great and Pericles with their innovative and philosophical ideas motivated many others to follow in their footsteps.
10. Water mill
Jan van der Crabben, CEO & Founder of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE), recently sat down with Nick Brown, a teacher of archaeology and now novelist, to discuss his latest title: The Wooden Walls of Thermopylae. Brown’s book is a work historical fiction centred on the battle of Thermopylae, as told from the perspective of a foot soldier.
AHE: Mr. Nick Brown, thank you for granting AHE this interview. In a few sentences, what is the basic plot of The Wooden Walls of Thermopylae ?
NB: Wooden Walls follows on from Luck Bringer and is a research-based novel. I wanted to fill in the gaps with evidence based conjecture to flesh out a great narrative. The Athenians have won their battle at Marathon and Athens is a city seething with fear and treachery as it awaits the revenge of Xerxes, king of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. It tells the story of the desperate alliance between Sparta and Athens, and how it led to Thermopylae and the destruction of the city of Athens. It also gives a flavour of the experience of the men and women who lived through these years, providing an answer as to how the three hundred Spartans came to die in the pass of the Hot Gates.
AHE: What is it that fascinated you so much about this particular period in history?
NB: I cannot understand why this period with its range and excitement is neglected in fiction when compared to Rome. I have been fascinated by this period since studying ancient history at university. Early on, I had to produce a piece of work on the Athenian general, Miltiades, who led the Athenians at Marathon. I found it amazing that a renegade like Miltiades managed to persuade the hostile Athenian politicians to leave their city and face what looked like certain death on the beach at Marathon. Within two years the Athenians tried and convicted Miltiades for acts against the city.
What happened? This period of Greek history is the foundation of Western culture, but in 490 BCE this nascent democracy looked unlikely to survive. And yet in a period of about fifty years, modern politics, philosophy, architecture and drama were born. The story of those years is one of sacrifice, courage and innovation unrivalled by any other time.
The Erechtheion temple of the Athenian acropolis was constructed between 421 and 406 BCE under the supervision of the architect Philocles. The temple was built to house the ancient cult wooden statue of Athena and as a shrine to other local gods such as the early Athenian kings Erechtheus and Kekrops, and Boutes and Pandrosos. Poseidon and Zeus also had sacred precincts within the building. The south porch has the iconic Caryatids which make the building one of the most distinctive surviving structures of antiquity.
The Erechtheion, named after the demi-god Erechtheus, the mythical Athenian king, was built using local Pentelic marble. The largest inner chamber housed the diiepetes, the olivewood statue of Athena Polias (of the city-state), clothed in the specially woven robe which was carried in the Panathenaic procession, held in the city every four years. In front of the statue stood a gold lamp designed by Kallimachos which had a bronze palm-shaped chimney and an asbestos wick which burned continuously. The sacred serpent (oikouros ophis), which was believed to be an incarnation of Erechtheus, dwelt in one of the western chambers and acted as guardian to the city. Well looked after, it was regularly fed with honey cakes.
Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World underscores the power, prestige, and pre-eminence of ancient sculpture during the Hellenistic Era. This blockbuster show, which opened at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy this spring, is the first major international exhibition to assemble nearly 50 ancient bronzes from the Mediterranean region and beyond in a single venue. Prized over the centuries for their innovative, realistic displays of physical power and emotional intensity, the sculptures of the Hellenistic world mark a key and important transition in art history.
In this interview, Dr. James Bradburne, the recently departed Director General at the Palazzo Strozzi, introduces James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) to the finer points of the exhibition.
The New Acropolis Museum in Athens opened its doors to the public on June 20th 2009. Since then, millions of visitors have flocked to its airy halls. It was decided that a new museum was needed to replace the old nineteenth-century museum building (situated on the Acropolis) in order to house the ever increasing amount of archaeological material and to act as a fit and proper house for the marble sculptures of the Parthenon. We are so used to seeing old artefacts housed in old buildings, drowned in artificial light, but this museum, with its vast glass walls and lofty atmosphere, brings a true feeling of vitality to what it holds. It is because of this that the New Acropolis Museum is easily in my ‘Top 5 Museums’ list; how could it not be when the museum building itself is part of the attraction?
One of the things that strikes me on each visit to this museum is just how much you can see in every single direction. On the first floor, you can look down and see the ruins of the archaeological site upon which the museum was built. If you look to your sides you will see ceiling-high displays of some of the finest Greek pottery. “Mind your back!” You nearly walked straight into a votive dedication to Asclepius, which thanks the god for healing an ancient Athenian’s ear, foot, and eye ailments (with the affected parts carved into the marble). In stooping down to look at some low-level displays you stand up and find yourself at the feet two Nikai statues, and if you look up, you see the ‘Bluebeard pediment’ looming where the first floor ramp meets the second floor. If you are looking for ancient Greek art and artefacts, you have certainly come to the right place! The entire first floor of the museum is this long gradual ramp, and it displays artefacts that were found on the slopes of the Acropolis (video displays, a shop and a cloakroom fill the rest of the floor).
The National Archaeological Museum of Athens can effortlessly lay claim to being one of the very greatest museums in the world. It can do that because it is literally jam-packed with most of the most famous art objects from ancient Greece, so much so, a first-time visit here is a strangely familiar experience. From the towering bronze Poseidon to the shimmering gold mask of Agamemnon, the antiquities on display here provide the staple images of ancient Greece; adorning guidebooks, calendars, and travel agents’ windows around the world. Familiar many of these works might be but the wow-factor is certainly no less for it. Wandering around the museum one has a constant urge to re-trace one’s steps for just one more glimpse of a stunning piece before moving on. As everything is arranged in chronological order, your tour of the museum gives you a perfect vision of the evolution of Greek art and there is even an Egyptian section as an added bonus if your senses have not already been blown away by everything on the ground floor.
I was in Athens, on a rooftop restaurant under a floodlit Acropolis, marveling at how a Greek salad never gets boring. It was the last day of a long trip. I was reviewing, as I always do after completing an itinerary, how effectively our time was spent. We had kept our focus more on seeing historic sights on the mainland rather than luxuriating on Aegean Islands. Given that focus, here are the top ten stops — in itinerary order — that make what I consider the best two weeks Greece has to offer:
Athens, a big ugly city, has obligatory ancient sights (the hilltop temple of the Acropolis, and the ruined forum of the Agora); an extremely touristy old quarter (the Plaka); and fine museums — the best in the country. Its four million people sprawl where no tourist ventures, including new immigrant zones with poor yet thriving communities. The joy of Greece is outside of Athens. See it and scram.