Monthly Archives: December 2016

ISIS and the Destruction of Palmyra

In May, 2015, ISIS militants took Palmyra, and began “…systematically destroying the city’s treasured ancient monuments” (Calderwood) until the site was retaken by the Syrian army over a year later. But that year took a heavy toll on one of the world’s most significant cultural resources.

Reporting for The Guardian, feature writer Stuart Jeffries points out, “…earlier Muslims who have occupied Palmyra didn’t see fit to destroy it. Under the Ummayyad caliphate that existed in the city in the 7th century AD, part of the Temple of Bel was used as a mosque. Isis is erasing, then, not just pre-Islamic culture, but Islamic heritage, too.” In May of this year, Abu Laith al-Saoudy, ISIS commander at Palmyra, told Alwan FM, an anti-regime Syrian radio station, “Concerning the historic city, we will preserve it and it will not be harmed, God willing….What we will do is break the idols that the infidels used to worship. The historic buildings will not be touched and we will not bring bulldozers to destroy them like some people think” (qtd. in Jeffries). Nonetheless, Australian professor Ross Burns described the destruction of the Temple of Bel, remarking that it “…was blown up with great proficiency.… The only part that appears to be standing is the remarkable western doorway into the shrine, which was a spectacular entry with a richly decorated frame that sloped inwards as it rose in an Egyptian-influenced style” (qtd. in Jeffries).

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Fig. 1. What remains of the Temple of Bel after being dynamited. “Missing monuments: Before and after pics of Palmyra show what ISIS has destroyed.” TV-Novosti. 3 April 2016. Web. Dec. 15 2016.

Despite its significance, “…as a symbol of polytheism, it was also a glaring target to Isis” (Jeffries). The reckless demolition of the Temple of Bel, unfortunately, was not an isolated incident. Soon after, “…photographs released by Isis showed that Palmyra’s second most important temple, the Temple of Baal Shamin … had been dynamited” (Jeffries)

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Fig. 2. The destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin. Coghlan, Tom. “Isis shows destruction of ancient temple.” The Times. n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

The casualties at Palmyra are not exclusively those of the historical and archaeological record. In August, ISIS decapitated Khaled al Asaad, the 81-year-old former director of the archaeological site at Palmyra. His body was hung on a column on one of the city’s colonnaded streets (Shaheen and Black). This was in more-or-less equal parts due to his affiliation with Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria; his management of the so-called “idols” at Palmyra; and for his failure, even when tortured, to provide details of the site’s most valuable antiquities, which ISIS would see sold on the black market, a hypocritical crime which ISIS has committed frequently over the past five years (Jeffries; Shaheen and Black). In July of 2015, ISIS took to the Roman Theater at Palmyra, producing a video of “Child executioners … being forced to brutally slaughter a group of more than 25 regime soldiers (Calderwood).

Waiting crowd: Earlier this month ISIS released an execution video from inside Palmyra, showing 25 child executioners lining up regime soldiers in a Roman amphitheatre and shooting them in the head

Fig. 4. Crowds watch as ISIS child executioners murder 25 Syrian regime soldiers. “Slaughter in the Roman Amphitheater.” The Daily Mail. 5 July 2015. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

Since the Syrian army’s recapture (discussed below) of the site, “…a mass grave containing more than 25 bodies including women and children” has been uncovered (Wintour). There is, however, the possibility that one of the casualties in the conflict may have prevented Palmyra from having been leveled into dust: “It also emerged that a plan to detonate 4,500 improvised mines that were linked to the telephone network was not carried out because the man responsible for triggering the explosions was killed by Assad loyalists working undercover” (Wintour).

In a more recent publication, The Guardian’s diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour quoted Syrian Director of Antiquities Mamoun Abdulkarim as claiming that “…at the time of the capture of the desert town by Isis … many of the most important works had been transported to government-held Damascus, and some of the remaining statues were reproductions” but added that some Roman sarcophagi exhibiting relief sculpture were left behind, having weighed several tons each. In April, taking account of the contents within the site’s museum, it was discovered that  the destruction “…appears to have been devastating, with wanton disregard for the archaeological and cultural value of the artefacts. Tombs have been broken open and heads systematically removed from statues” (Wintour).

Fig. 5. Mutilated statuary at within the museum at Palmyra. Eid, Joseph. “In Palmyra, Islamic State Left Behind Mass Grave, Destroyed Monuments.” NPR. 2 April 2016. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

In March of this year, CNN reported that “Syrian forces recaptured Palmyra from ISIS on Sunday, months after the city fell to the Islamic extremist group, state media reported” (Hutchison and Karimi). Since, UNESCO has laid plans to evaluate the damage, once security conditions allow, referring to the temples’ destruction as “a war crime” and assuring that “…those responsible for the destruction will be punished” (qtd. in Hutchison and Karimi).

Editor of British Archaeology Mike Pitts expressed the sentiment that best encapsulates the futility of jihadis’ destruction: “Isis has chastised archaeologists for digging up the past. Yet it cannot stop that happening. And no amount of physical destruction can remove the knowledge of mixed cultures, creative thinking and love of beauty that bequeathed a desert ruin. In the face of heritage, at the end of the day Isis is powerless” (qtd. in Jeffries).

Works Cited

Calderwood, Imogen. “Slaughter in the Roman Amphitheater: Horrific moment ISIS child executioners brutally shoot dead 25 Syrian regime soldiers in front of bloodthirsty crowds at ancient Palmyra ruin.” The Daily Mail 5 July 2015: n. pag. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.

Hutchison, Kimberly and Faith Karimi. “Syrian forces capture Palmyra city from ISIS militants, state media reports.” CNN. 28 March 2016: n. pag. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

Jeffies, Stuart. “Isis’s destruction of Palmyra: The heart has been ripped out of the city.” The Guardian 2 Sept. 2016: n. pag. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

Shaheen, Karim and Ian Black. “Beheaded Syrian scholar refuses to lead Isis to hidden Palmyra antiquities.” The Guardian 19 Aug. 2015: n. pag. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

Wintour, Patrick. “Isis destruction of Palmyra antiquities revealed in new pictures.” The Guardian 1 April 2016: n. pag. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

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An Archaeological Tour of Palmyra

The architectural styles of Palmyra are a testament to its history as a multicultural hub. Per UNESCO, “Architectural ornament including unique examples of funerary sculpture unites the forms of Greco-Roman art with indigenous elements and Persian influences in a strongly original style,” depicting “…the contact point between the cultures of Rome and Iran” (Linck and Fassbinder 21; “Site of Palmyra”). This is evident in “The local, stylized, frontal-figured ‘Parthian’ art [that] comprises statues depicting deities, notables … funerary busts … sarcophagi showing the deceased, wall paintings, including funerary Roman allegories (Achilles, Ganymede) plaster heads, and friezes” (Hornblower et al. 566). Subtle nuances in masonry observable when examining some column capitals even suggest a heavy influence from as far east as India (Seyrig 6). Until Roman occupation, Palmyrene artistic styles, in sculpture and architecture, were an extension of the Graeco-Parthian East, later adopting more Western forms, mimicking the styles of Hellenized Syria (Seyrig 6).

Temple of Bel

The Temple of Bel, dedicated in 32 CE, was the focal point of religious worship in Palmyra, dedicated to the Mesopotamian deity Bel, Aglibol, and Iarebol, gods of the moon and sun, respectively (Richmond 44; “Temple of Bel”).  As the British archaeologist Sir Ian Richmond explains, “…while the mode and, to a large extent, the decoration of the building is of Roman craftsmanship, its plan is based upon the requirements of a Semitic cult, no less individual in guise than Jehovah’s worship in the Jerusalem temple of Herod the Great” (44). Richmond describes this artistic meeting of East and West at the Temple of Bel as follows:

The group of gods worshipped at Palmyra … are represented in the military dress of Hellenistic type matched, for example, at Dura [Europas], and sometimes accompanied by the goddess Ishtar [(the Mesopotamian equivalent of Aphrodite)], who was the Tyche [(the Greek divinity of fortune and prosperity)] of the city. They are honoured by a great procession of male dignitaries wearing Parthian trousers and of women who are as heavily veiled as Eastern custom could at any time decree. A richly caparisoned camel bears sacred objects or offerings covered by a sumptuous canopy, reminding us of that which enshrines the sacred carpet on its procession from Damascus to Mecca. These vivid reliefs transport us into the Eastern world whose religious beliefs dictated the design of the great temple. The first quick glance might suggest a building of classical pattern. (44–45)

Seyrig adds to the discussion of divine icons at the Temple of Bel, citing another relief featuring “…two gods fighting against a monster, while other gods are pictured beside them, clad in Hellenistic armour, all standing stiff, all strictly frontal. Such repetition of similar figures had been attractive to the ancient Egyptian and Oriental artist” (3–4). The artistic element of frontality—figures represented as forward-facing and rigid intended not to dramatize a scene but to evoke the spiritual presence of the divine—is a distinct feature of Eastern art, a form not to return until the Orientally-influenced Byzantines (Seyrig 4), but these icons were showcased in a structure indistinguishable from the Graeco-Roman tradition. “Palmyra, therefore, a forerunner of Byzantine art as early as about the time of Christ, once more appears to us in that function as an outpost of the civilization of Parthian Babylonia” (Seyrig 4).  These motifs in relief sculpture were not the only elements exhibiting a hybridization of East and West—structural architecture spoke to this cultural confluence as well.

The temple was initially adorned with elements of metalwork; whether precious metals were used or if more common metals were merely gilded is unclear, but what is certain is that when the temple was repurposed as a church and later as a mosque, these elements were stripped from the façade (Richmond 46). At the height of its patronage, the temple would have been a spectacle. Its construction ensured that the “…high lateral windows, placed just in front of the sanctuary fronts, would … ensure that a subdued side-light would play upon the metallic surfaces,” illuminating the space to echo its divine purpose (Richmond 46). Commenting on two surviving relief sculptures within this space, Sir Richmond again describes scenes of Eastern belief enshrined in Western-influenced architecture:

The first bears on one side a wonderful processional relief with a horse and four male figures walking side by side, a canopy-bearing camel and attendant women…. The reverse of this bears a sacrificial scene, with a tall incense burner. Two more carry respectively processions of the gods and a sacrificial scene in which Bel receives a horse and attendant, with other male figures in the background. The architrave carved below the processional relief exhibits handsome scroll-work, more open in design than that on the soffit. This remarkable design as a whole emphasizes the fact that here the conventions of Graeco-Roman architecture are applied to liturgical requirements and structural forms which have nothing to do with Western practice or belief. (46)

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Fig. 2. Temple of Bel. “Palmyra’s Temple of Bel destroyed, says UN.” British Broadcasting Network. 1 Sept. 2015. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

Temple of Baalshamin

The Temple of Baalshamin is perhaps equal in importance to the Temple of Bel in illustrating Palmyra’s multicultural significance. The structure that stood until 2015 was “…in its present form … dedicated in A.D. I30-3I by Male, son of Yarhai, who had in A.D. I29 been host to the Emperor Hadrian and his cortege,” though earlier iterations date back seventy years prior—the colonnade over a century prior—evidenced by epigraphical data (Richmond 46). It was initially dedicated to “the Canaanite sky deity Baalshamin” and, like the Temple of Bel, converted into a Christian church four hundred years after the dedication of its altar (“Temple of Baalshamin”). Sir Richmond remarks on this site’s periphery, suggesting that the Temple of Baalshamin served a purpose different than that of the Temple of Bel:

To north lies a large colonnaded courtyard with a priests’ house on its north side, and to south a smaller court, also colonnaded, and associated with the banqueting chamber of a religious guild. The entire ensemble is thus to be connected rather with the cult of an individual group, no doubt connected with a great tribal sheik or caravan-family, than with the public cults of the city. The whole complex overlies an earlier cemetery on a different orientation, one of the sole traces of pre-Imperial Palmyra that has come to light. (47)

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Fig. 3. Temple of Baalshamin. “Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra.” Khan Academy. n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

The Roman Theater at Palmyra

The Roman Theater at Palmyra is unarguable the most striking work of architecture in the city. Like the aforementioned temples, the theater is accessed via Palmyra’s intricate, ornate system of colonnades, a sequence of which leads to two large entry archways at either side of the stage. Undoubtedly constructed around the time of Hadrian’s patronage, “Its style suggests that the building is Hadrianic, as would agree with the unusually complicated planning of the stage … The surrounding colonnaded street is met on the axis of the theatre by a short colonnaded avenue leading southwards to a monumental entrance which later became the rear-court of a fortified city gate” (Richmond 48).

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Fig. 4. Roman Theater at Palmyra. n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

The Agora at Palmyra

Adjacent the theater exists the ruins of Palmyra’s Agora, a 71-84-meter structure, entailing the Tariff Court and the Triclinium, within which stand two hundred columnar bases that once served as foundations of sculptures of prominent citizens: “the eastern side was reserved for senators, the northern side for Palmyrene officials, the western side for soldiers, and the southern side for caravan chiefs” (“Palmyra”). This market place was “…surrounded by a simple portico, of which the colonnaded front boasts twenty columns a side. The earliest inscriptions on the columns are Flavian, of A.D. 76 and 81, a time when Imperial road-making towards the Euphrates was in progress” (Richmond 48). That this complex was a public space is supported by the space’s resemblance to the Agora at Delos: “The back wall of the colonnade is pierced by no less than eleven doors, thus creating the impression not of a closed Forum, but of an open market-portico” (Richmond 48). Inscriptions deciphered within this complex exhibit evidence of trade networks on a surprising scale, indicating “…direct relations of Palmyra with Scythia, the current name for the Saka kingdoms of North-western India, to which Palmyrene merchant vessels, sailing from harbours on the Persian Gulf, had access by the mouths of the Indus,” suggesting that “…Palmyra and north-west India in those days belonged to a single cultural circle or sphere of influence, the centre of which most probably was in the Graeco-Parthian towns of Lower Mesopotamia” (Seyrig 6).

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Fig. 5. The Agora at Palmyra. “Palmyra (Syria), Part One.” n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

Other Notable Structures

Temple of Al-lat. Little of this temple has survived the centuries, save a few columns—and, fortunately, the Lion of Al-lat: a 3.5-meter-high, 15-ton relief that once protruded from the original temple walls (“Lion of Al-lat”). Its left paw bears the Palmyrene inscription roughly translated as “Al-lat will bless whoever will not shed blood in the sanctuary.” (“Lion of Al-lat”). When discovered in 1977, it had already been dismantled and repurposed for the temple’s foundation (“Lion of Al-lat”).

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Fig. 6. Lion of Al-lat. Flickriver. n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

Valley of the Tombs. The Palmyrene necropolis is comprised of a complex of funeral monuments: more than 50, four-story towers just outside the city walls. Elsewhere, the Palmyrenes constructed hypogea, or underground tombs (“Palmyra”).

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Fig. 7. Valley of the Tombs. “Palmyra.” Gatis Pavils. n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

The Camp of Diocletian. Though largely ruined, this complex still exhibits a grand public bath, its entrance entailing four 12.5-meter-high, 20-ton, Egyptian granite columns, behind which is the bath itself, circumscribed by Corinthian columns (“Palmyra”).

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Fig. 8. Baths of Diocletian. “Syria – Baths of Diocletian, Palmyra.” Manuel Cohen Photography. n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

Works Cited

Hornblower, Simon, Antony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow. The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Print.

Linck, Roland, Jorg W. E. Fassbinder, and Konstantinos Papathanassiou. “Multipol-SAR-Survey of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Palmyra (Syria).” Archaeological Prospection. Ed. Drahor, Mahmut G. and Meric A. Berge. Istanbul: Archaeology and Art Publications, 2011. Print.

“Lion of Al-lat.” Wikipedia. 14 Aug. 2016. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Palmyra.” Wikipedia. 7 Dec. 2016. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

Richmond, I. A. “Palmyra under the Aegis of Rome.” Journal of Roman Studies 53.1-2 (1963): 43-54. Print.

Seyrig, Henri. “Palmyra and the East.” Journal of Roman Studies 40.1-2 (1950): 1-7. Print.

“Site of Palmyra.” UNESCO World Heritage Centre. n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

“Temple of Baalshamin.” Wikipedia. 10 Dec. 2016. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Temple of Bel.” Wikipedia. 11 Dec. 2016. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Zenobia.” Wikipedia. 13 Dec. 2016. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

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A Brief History of Palmyra

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) synopsis of the site describes Palmyra as, “…one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world” (“Site of Palmyra”). This is largely due to its multiculturality, multiple imperial influences, and lengthy historical and archaeological records. The site of Palmyra stands in the heart of what is now Syria, a palm oasis situated between the Palmyrene mountain belt and the Syrian Desert (“Palmyra”). The al-Qubur wadi runs through the city, north of which most phases of construction were focused, and to the south lies the Efqa spring (“Palmyra”). It was first mentioned in archival, cuneiform tablets recovered from Mari, in modern-day Syria, dating back to the second millennium BCE, to the time of Sargon of Assyria, which mention the location as a destination for trade caravans, while another tablet recovered from Emar, dating to approximately the same time, refer to “…the names of two ‘Tadmorean’ witnesses,” Tadmor being the city’s original name (the etymology of which is obscure) (“Palmyra;” Seyrig 1; “Site of Palmyra”).

Fig. 1. Palmyra. “Palmyra (Syria), Part One.” n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

However, archaeological evidence suggests that Tadmor was occupied long before its appearance in the historical record. The Efqa spring attracted populations early, having created a hospitable environment in the middle of the unforgiving Syrian Desert. “As a result of its extraordinary location at the important trade route between the ports of the Mediterranean Sea and the [Euphrates], Palmyra has been settled since Paleolithic times” (Linck and Fassbinder 21). The spring has yielded lithic tools that date to between 7,500-7,000 BCE, a time when the area was only a small, ephemerally occupied site (Hornblower et al. 566).

It’s not until much later that “A first permanent settlement seems to have established in Hellenistic times in the 3rd century BCE by the sedentism of several tribes” (Linck and Fassbinder 21). Not long after, it fell under the control of the Seleucids, a domain comprised of the Mesopotamian fragment of Alexander the Great’s shattered empire (“Palmyra”). It remained, however, a small settlement of no real consequence.  By the 1st century BCE, the Seleucid empire was all but extinct, and Tadmor became an increasingly independent settlement (Hornblower et al. 566). The archaeological site’s first principle investigator, Henri Seyrig, remarks on the site’s initial steps onto the world stage:

[Tadmor], in the days when it became a city, seems to have been turned much more towards the Parthian empire, to which Mesopotamia then belonged, than towards Western Syria. Our information on this point, however scanty, seems very clear. Appian explains that the Parthians, after having defeated the legions of Crassus, developed great diplomatic activity in Syria, which was still struggling with the chaos that followed the dissolution of the Seleucid monarchy. (1)

Until the 1st century BCE, however, the site was located south of where most of the monumental structures stand today, a smaller city comprised of about 20 hectares, indicating prosperity before the era of Roman occupation (Linck and Fassbinder 21). It is during this phase of occupation that what we know as Palmyra today began to take form.

As the Roman Empire flourished during the 1st century CE, so too did Tadmor. In much the same way that the seas became a means of trade between Venice and the Levant during the Renaissance, the Syrian Desert’s vast seas of sand linked Rome with the kingdoms of Mesopotamia, and Tadmor’s sudden prosperity coincides with the lucrative market for Eastern luxuries that developed in Rome:

[This] was due to the clever policy of its merchants and camel-riders who knew how to keep order in the desert between their town and the great factories and warehouses of Lower Mesopotamia. From that time caravans were able to cross the Syrian desert instead of skirting it, and the transit brought huge profits to the [Tadmoreans] (Seyrig 1).

In 41 BCE, Marc Antony “…unsuccessfully tried to conquer the city,” largely because of its growing economic significance to the Parthians, after which, “the oasis secured its independent position between Rome and Parthia (Hornblower et al. 566; Seyrig 1). This attempt at taking Palmyra is believed to be among the reasons that Parthia declared war on Rome (qtd. in Seyrig 1). Ultimately, at the dawning of the 1st century CE, Tadmor was annexed into the Roman Empire as part of the province of Syria, at which time the city was given the name Palmyra (Hornblower et al. 566; Linck and Fassbinder 21). It then fell to Tiberius “…to restore Roman prestige and to consolidate the power of Rome by annexing Cappadocia, the door to Armenia and the back-door to Parthia. It is in these years that the first manifestations of wealth and civilization appear in Palmyra” (Richmond 44). The annexation brought “…soldiery, the use of Greek and occasionally Latin alongside Aramaic, … taxation (Tariff Law), administration, … urbanization, and religious syncretism” (Hornblower et al. 566). In retrospect, British archaeologist Sir Ian Richmond describes the site’s significance, stating, “The especial archaeological value of Palmyra is that it displays the effects of interchange between East and West in a community permeated by the interests and influences of both,” namely, at the time, those of Rome and Parthia (43).

In contrast to its time under the Seleucids and Parthians, Palmyra throve under Roman rule. Per UNESCO, Palmyra “…grew steadily in importance as a city on the trade route linking Persia, India and China with the Roman Empire, marking the crossroads of several civilisations in the ancient world,” giving the city its unique architectural aesthetic (“Site of Palmyra”). By the 3rd century CE, “…the Palmyrenes had created a handsome, largely limestone city, combining Semitic, Greek, Roman, and Parthian features,” including walls, gates, the great Temple of Bel, Romanized temples (like the Temple of Baalshamin), the Great Colonnade, and the Tetrapylon, among other notable structures, and it controlled a trade network stretching from Spain to the west and China in the east (Linck and Fassbinder 21; Hornblower et al. 566). In this trade network, “Imports included Chinese silks, [Roman] imperial and Athenian marble statues, and mosaicists” (Hornblower et al. 566).

By the mid-3rd century CE, the Palmyrene prince Septimius Udaynath (Odaenathus) and his queen, Septimia Zenobia, had created a Roman-style empire (Hornblower et al. 566). Initially, Odaenathus’ career was marked by defending Rome’s territory in Mesopotamia from the Persians, but when he was succeeded by his son, Vaballathus, Zenobia became queen regent of the Palmyrene Empire, officially seceding from Rome (“Zenobia”). At the height of her territory’s expansion, Zenobia controlled lands from Anatolia to Egypt (“Zenobia”). Perhaps inevitably, her empire was not long after razed to the ground by the Roman Emperor Aurelian c. 272 CE, and some decades later, emperor Diocletian constructed a large camp, defensive walls, and a bath complex at Palmyra (Hornblower et al.). Two and a half centuries later, Justinian refurbished many of the temples as churches and reinforced Palmyra’s defenses, before a series of Arab conquests a century later, which would persist, more or less, until the city’s rediscovery by Western Europeans in the 18th century as one of the most influential cities in the neoclassical movement (Hornblower et al.). Palmyra ultimately emerged from antiquity, its ancient ruins relatively intact. Excavations began in the late 1920s, and the city has been a consistent point of study ever since—that is, until the Syrian Civil War erupted in 2011, a conflict that would scar the face of Palmyra irreparably.

Works Cited

Hornblower, Simon, Antony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow. The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Print.

Linck, Roland, Jorg W. E. Fassbinder, and Konstantinos Papathanassiou. “Multipol-SAR-Survey of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Palmyra (Syria).” Archaeological Prospection. Ed. Drahor, Mahmut G. and Meric A. Berge. Istanbul: Archaeology and Art Publications, 2011. Print.

“Lion of Al-lat.” Wikipedia. 14 Aug. 2016. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Palmyra.” Wikipedia. 7 Dec. 2016. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

Richmond, I. A. “Palmyra under the Aegis of Rome.” Journal of Roman Studies 53.1-2 (1963): 43-54. Print.

Seyrig, Henri. “Palmyra and the East.” Journal of Roman Studies 40.1-2 (1950): 1-7. Print.

“Site of Palmyra.” UNESCO World Heritage Centre. n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

“Temple of Baalshamin.” Wikipedia. 10 Dec. 2016. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Temple of Bel.” Wikipedia. 11 Dec. 2016. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Zenobia.” Wikipedia. 13 Dec. 2016. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

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Health in Ancient Rome

Alexis Elinkowski

Blog Post #5: Roman Medicines

 The ancient Roman culture, the diet was viewed as medicinal. A good diet was seen as essential to healthy living. Food was viewed as having a healing effect or a causative affect on disease. The effect that transpired was determined by the impact the food had on the humors. For more information on the humors, see the previous blog post, titled “Important Figures”. Food and diet put an emphasis on prevention instead of treatment. Eating foods in moderation was an extremely important principle in ancient Rome. When the diet did not work to promote health for a person anymore, drugs, phlebotomy, cautery, and/or surgery were used. Patient autonomy seemed to have been valued because people managed their own preventative medical diets. They had control of their lives and could seek doctors if they wanted to (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

The use of herbal medicine was very popular during the Roman Empire. The ancient names of the herbal medicines used were often derived from Greek. However, they are not necessarily the same thing as individual modern species, even if the name is the same (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

Some herbal medicines used in ancient Rome were Fennel, Rhubarb, Gentian, Birthwort, Liquorice, and Aloe (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

The Latin/Greek name for Fennel was Ippomarathron. It was used to cure painful urination, expel menstrual flow, stop bowel discharge, bring out breast milk, and break kidney and urinary stones (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

The Latin/Greek name for Rhubarb was Ra. It was used to help with convulsions, intestinal disorders (stomach, spleen, liver, kidneys, womb, peritoneum) sciatica, asthma, and rickets. It was also used to help with flatulence and dysentery (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

The Latin/Greek name for Gentian was Gentiane. It was used to help with poisonous bites and liver disorders. Gentian was also used to treat deep ulcers and eye inflammation (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

The Latin/Greek name for Birthwort was Aristolochia. It was used to assist in childbirth (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). The function of Aristolochia was to expel the placenta in women who were ready to have a baby. Today, there is evidence suggesting that Aristolochia is a carcinogen and a kidney toxin (“Aristolochia”).

The Latin/Greek name for Liquorice was Glukoriza. It was used to calm the stomach. It was also used for chest, liver, kidney, and bladder disorders (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). Today, Liquorice is used as a flavoring for many products including tobacco, candies, and sweeteners. “Additionally, Liquorice may be effective in treating hyperlipidaemia (a high amount of fats in the blood). Liquorice has also demonstrated efficacy in treating inflammation-induced skin hyperpigmentation. Liquorice may also be useful in preventing neurodegenerative disorders and dental caries” (“Liquorice”).

The Latin/Greek name for Aloe was also Aloe. It was used to heal wounds, remove boils, and treat alopecia (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). Today, Aloe is used externally for skin discomforts. It is also used as a laxative, and Aloe Vera juice is used internally for digestive comfort (“Aloe”).


Aloe. Retrieved from

Wine was also used in ancient Roman medicine. It is well know today that alcohol is used to extract the active elements from plants. Wine was the only form of alcohol available to the ancient Romans. Herbs were often soaked in wine, so the active elements in the plants would come out (“Ancient Roman Medicine”).

Ancient Roman houses often included herb gardens, and ancient Roman recipes are full of herbs. The typical Roman herb garden would have included Angelica, Aniseed, Coriander, Elecampane, Fennel, Hyssop, Mint, Rosemary, Speedwell, Tansy, Thyme, Violets, and Wormwood, to name a few. Some herbs would be imported from the East, even though it was very expensive. One example of an imported herb would be Cinnamon (“Ancient Roman Medicine”).


Works Cited


“Aloe.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Ancient Roman Medicine.” Ancient Roman Medicine. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

Aristolochia.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Liquorice.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.        

“Medicine in ancient Rome.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

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Health in Ancient Rome

Alexis Elinkowski

Blog Post #4: Important Figures

 Many of the Roman physicians came from Greece. Some of the most famous include Dioscorides, Soranus, and espcecially Galen (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

Pedanius Dioscorides was a Greek botanist, as well as a doctor and pharmacologist. He lived from 40-90 A.D. He practiced in Rome during the reign of Nero. He was a well-known Roman Army physician. One of Dioscorides’ great works was an encyclopedia he wrote called De Materia Medica. It contained over 600 herbal cures, which formed a powerful and long-lasting pharmacopeia (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). A pharmacopeia is “a book published usually under the jurisdiction of the government and containing a list of drugs, their formulas, methods for making medicinal preparations, requirements and tests for their strength and purity, and other related information” (“pharmacopoeia”). For the next 1,500 years, his encyclopedia was used by many doctors (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

The next physician we will discuss was named Soranus. He was a Greek doctor from Ephesus. Soranus was alive around 98- 138 A.D., during reigns of Trajan and Hadrin. According to the Suda, he practiced in Alexandria and Rome. “The Suda or Souda is a massive 10th-century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world…” (Suda wiki). He became the chief representative of the Methodic school of medicine. His work called Gynaecology is still in existence. It was first published in 1838. In 1882, it was published by V. Rose, including a 6th century Latin translation by Muscio. Muscio was a physician of the same school as Soranus (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

Galen of Pergamon was known to be a very famous Greek physician. He was born in 129 A.D. and died around 200 or 216 A.D. His impressive theories ended up dominating Western medical science for over 1,000 years. By age 20, he had already served for four years in his local temple as a therapeutes, which means attendant or associate, of the god Asclepius. For more information about the god Asclepius, see the first blog post titled “Greek Influence”. Galen extensively studied the human body, but dissection of human cadavers was against Roman law. Because of this, he used pigs, apes, and other animals for dissection (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). The reason why Galen thought that anatomy was so important was because he believed in the Aristotelian doctrine that forms follow function. For example, he believed that in order to understand how a specific organ works, we must first understand what that organ looks like (K., David).


Galen. Retrieved from

Galen moved to Rome in 162 A.D. While in Rome he lectured and wrote. He also performed demonstrations about his anatomical knowledge. His reputation as an experienced physician grew, which led him acquiring many clients. One of his clients was named Flavius Boethius. Flavius introduced him to the imperial court, where he had the privilege of becoming Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ physician (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

Even though he was a member of the Court he did not like Latin. He preferred to speak in Greek, his native tongue. He treated Roman role models Lucius Verus, Commodus, and Septimus Severus. In 166 A.D. he returned to Pergamon until he went back to Rome permanently in 169 A.D. (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

Galen believed in Hippocrates theory of the four humors, which explained that a person’s health had to do with the balance between the four main fluids of the body- blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. Food was supposed to be the main component that stabilized the humors (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

Hippocratic medicine survived because of Galen. Galen referenced Hippocrates many times in his writings. He thought that Hippocratic literature should be the basic for physician conduct and treatments. Galen wrote about how a physician should have reasoning skills. He should practice temperance and despise all money. He should also treat every patient fairly (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).


Works Cited

K., David. “Galen.” Greek N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016

“Medicine in ancient Rome.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“pharmacopoeia”. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 15 Dec. 2016. <>.

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Health in Ancient Rome

Alexis Elinkowski

Blog Post #3: First Hospitals

The first hospitals were established in ancient Rome. Even today’s hospitals have a history that dates back to the Roman Empire. During the Roman Empire, military hospitals were set up to treat and care for the soldiers of the powerful Roman army. Unlike the hospitals we use today, Roman hospitals were only for slaves and soldiers. Physicians were assigned to follow certain armies or ships, where they would care for the injured. Unfortunately, medical care for the poor was nearly non-existent. Because of this, the poor would resort to spiritual aid (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

The earliest hospitals we know of were built under the reign of Emperor Trajan, during the first and second century A.D. The Roman army expanded beyond the Italian Peninsula, so the wounded could not be cared for in private homes any more. Because of this, The Valetudinarium was established (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). Valentudinarium is a Latin word. In English, it simply means “hospital” (“Valentudinarium”).

The Valentudinarium was also known by other names, including the Field Hospitals or Flying Military Camps. It started as a small group of tents and fortresses for wounded soldiers. As time went on, the fortresses turned into permanent facilities. The original hospitals were built along main roads. However, they later became part of Roman fort architecture and most of the time they were put near the outer wall in a quiet part of the fort (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

A regular valentudinarium was a rectangular building, like most hospitals today are. It had “…four wings that were connected by an entrance hall that could be pressed into the service of a triage center.” Each legion hospital could serve 6-10% of the legion’s 5,000 men. There was also a kitchen, dispensary, large hall, reception ward, staff quarters, and washing and latrine facilities (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).


Plan of Valentudinarium. Retrieved from

As we can see, the main reason why the Romans established the first hospitals was because they really wanted to have an effective army. In order to have an effective army, they needed to have strong, healthy, soldiers. When their soldiers got sick or injured, which was bound to happen, they wanted them to be back on their feet as soon as possible. The Roman ethic of military improvement expanded from the battlefield to actual military hospitals. The sick and wounded soldiers were treated in buildings that were specifically reserved for them. These buildings had large halls that were well lit. The halls had individual cells and large rooms off of the corridors. They also had baths, latrines, and areas for food preparation. Roman soldiers were treated with respect and honor in daily life. This special treatment extended to their medical care as well (“Hospital and Treatment Facilities in the Ancient World”).

Roman military hospitals were discovered as far north as Rhine River, which is in Germany. Inside hospitals, surgeries, drainage tubes, splints, and healing salves were applied to injuries. Roman gladiators also received treatments in clinics from the best physicians available. One of the best physicians was a man named Galen (“Hospital and Treatment Facilities in the Ancient World”). We will learn more about Galen in the next blog post, called “Important Figures”.

Prior to these military hospitals, in Greece, there were no hospitals. However, there were specific temples called healing temples. Healing temples were established as sacred places for the sick to receive divine help. They usually had public baths and spa-type facilities. Here, priest-physicians would lead healing rituals. They would also administer massage and herbal medicines (“Hospitals and Treatment Facilities in the Ancient World”). Herbal medicines used by the Romans will later be examined in the blog post called “Roman Medicines”.


Works Cited

“Hospitals and Treatment Facilities in the Ancient World.” Science and Its Times: Understanding the Social Significance of Scientific Discovery. 15 Dec. 2016 <>.

“Medicine in Ancient Rome.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Valetudinarium.” Valetudinarium definition | Latin Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

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Health in Ancient Rome

Alexis Elinkowski

Blog Post #2: Roman Technology and Practices

Some of the greatest technological advancements the Romans built came from an issue they had. The issue was poor sanitation. To help alleviate this problem, the Romans built an efficient, extensive aqueduct system. Today there is evidence of around 200 aqueducts from Spain to Syria and also from Northern Europe to North Africa. From the 13 aqueducts that delivered water to Rome, it is estimated that total capacity was 222 million gallons every two hours. It is incredible that an aqueduct system from thousands of years ago was able to deliver that much water to Rome every single day. Even at the peak of the Roman Empire, this was enough water to provide every Roman citizen with at least 40 gallons of fresh water every day. Measures were taken to make sure the water stayed clean and pure. Along the aqueduct, there were settling basins, where sediment could be deposited (Cottrell).


Roman Aqueduct. Retrieved from

The aqueducts provided water for drinking, bathing, and other needs. “A system of eleven aqueducts supplied the city with water from as far away the river Anio” (“Roman aqueduct”). The biggest systems were called Anio Novus and Aqua Claudia. All wastewater would drain into a sewage system called the Cloaca Maxima. During the end of the first century A.D., the emperor Nerva appointed a man named Frontius to be the water commissioner. Some of his duties included surveying and mapping the entire system, and investigating abuses of the water supply. An example of an abuse would be tapping into the pipes illegally. He also organized workmen for maintenance of the system. He tried to make sure that the best water went to drinking and cooking, while the lower quality water went to fountains, baths, and sewers- in that order (“Roman aqueduct”). Frontius wrote about his work in a two-book official report called De aquaeductu, which was published near the end of the first century A.D. (“De aquaeductu”).

Another technological advancement that stemmed from poor sanitation was underground sewers. These sewers carried away water and sewage. The main sewer in Rome emptied into the Tiber River. This sewer was 10 feet wide and 12 feet high, and during the 20th century, it was still being used as part of the sewer system in Rome (Cottrell).

While the issue of sanitation had been improved with aqueducts and underground sewers, it was still a problem because of improper garbage disposal. House-to-house garbage collection was not practiced. Garbage was left to collect in alleys between buildings in the poor sections of Rome. At times it was so thick, that stepping-stones were needed to walk through the alleys (“Roman aqueduct”).

The ancient Romans also made health advancements besides those linked to the poor sanitation issue. They observed the consequences of occupational hazards on health. They were also the first to build hospitals. The first hospitals will later be explained in detail in the next blog post called “First Hospitals”. By the 2nd Century A.D. a public medical service had been organized. Physicians were appointed to different towns and establishments. A system of private medical practice was also organized in ancient Rome (Cottrell).

Furthering the work of the Greeks, the Romans studied human anatomy and surgery. Unfortunately, some of the Roman anatomists dissected living human beings as a way to learn more about the human body. After getting royal permission, they would dissect prisoners. Some opposed the practice and others supported it. The people who supported these live dissections made the argument that because the people being dissected were prisoners, the practice was somehow acceptable. They also thought that the knowledge that came from dissections could help many people (Cottrell).

          Works Cited

Cottrell, Randall R., James T. Girvan, and James F. McKenzie. Principles & Foundations of Health Promotion and Education. San Francisco: Pearson/Benjamin Cummings, 2009. Print. 15 Dec. 2016.

“De aquaeductu.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Roman aqueduct.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

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Health in Ancient Rome

Alexis Elinkowski

Blog Post #1: Greek Influence

The time period of the Ancient Greeks was around 1000- 400 B.C. They were the first early culture to put an emphasis on disease prevention. They believed in the balance of the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of a person. Among early Greeks, religion was an important aspect of health care. However, later, the role of a doctor began to take on a clearer shape. Because of this, a more scientific view of medicine emerged. In Greek mythology, Asclepius was the Greek god of Medicine. Hippocrates was an important figure in Greek healthcare. He was the first epidemiologist and the father of modern medicine. He distinguished between endemic and epidemic diseases and discovered the theory of disease causation (Cottrell).

Ancient Romans accepted many health ideas, practices, and procedures from the Greeks (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). According to Prioreschi, “The ancient Greeks were the creators and founders of Western Civilization and the Romans were its builders.” Rome started out as a primitive agricultural society and then came in contact with a more sophisticated and advanced society- The Greek civilization. When it comes to medicine, it is commonly accepted that Roman medicine is basically Greek medicine practiced in Rome. However, this does not mean that there were not differences between the two (Prioreschi).

The Romans conquered the Mediterranean world, so this included the Greeks (Cottrell). That is why they received an abundance of medical information from the Greeks. Also, there was one major conquest that led to a lot of Greek information being available to the Romans. This was the conquering of Alexandria, a city in Egypt. The Romans conquered Egypt in 30 B.C. (“Library of Alexandria”). Alexandria was known for its incredible libraries and universities. For example, “In ancient times, Alexandria was an important center for learning, and its Great Library held countless volumes of ancient Greek medical information” (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

Greek symbols and gods also influenced the Romans. The Caduceus was one of those symbols. The Caduceus is “…a winged staff with two snakes wrapped around it” (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). It was first associated with a Hermes, the Greek god of commerce. Hermes carried around a staff with two snakes wrapped around it. During the Roman Empire, the caduceus became associated with Mercury, one of the Roman gods (“Medicine in ancient Rome”). Today, the caduceus is technically misused in North America. It is seen as a symbol of healthcare and medicinal practice. This is because of confusion with the original medical symbol, which is called the Rod of Asclepius. The Rod of Asclepius has only one snake wrapped around it and it does not have wings (“Caduceus”). The Rod of Asclepius, or the Staff of Asclepius, was held by the Greek god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicine (“Rod of Asclepius”).


The Caduceus. Image retrieved from

Just like Greek physicians, Roman physicians usually used naturalistic observations over spiritual rituals to heal the sick. However, spiritual belief was still prevalent in ancient Rome. For example, famines and plagues were often thought to have come from divine punishment, with spiritual rituals being the way to relief (“Medicine in ancient Rome”).

The Romans did not build upon everything the Greeks did concerning healthcare, however. They only kept the things they saw as beneficial for their large empire. According to Strabo, a Greek geographer, “The Greeks are famous for their cities and in this they aimed at beauty. The Romans excelled in those things which the Greeks took little interest in such as the building of roads, aqueducts and sewers” (“Medicine in Ancient Rome- History Learning Site”) The details about Roman roads, aqueducts, and sewers will be examined in greater detail in the next blog post, called “Roman Technology and Advancements”.

Works Cited

“Ancient Rome.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Caduceus.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

Cottrell, Randall R., James T. Girvan, and James F. McKenzie. Principles & Foundations of Health Promotion and Education. San Francisco: Pearson/Benjamin Cummings, 2009. Print. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Library of Alexandria.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.”Medicine in Ancient Rome.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Medicine in ancient Rome – History Learning Site.” History Learning Site. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

Prioreschi, Plinio. A History of Medicine: Roman Medicine. Vol. 3. Edwin Mellen Press, 1996. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Rod of Asclepius.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

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by | December 15, 2016 · 11:31 pm

Cavalry through the Middle Ages

Steven Dabb

December 15, 2016

Cavalry Use in the Early Ages

Horses used over time

Long before the ancestors of humanity walked upright, horses could be found roaming the earth. Evolving nearly 55 million years ago, horses did not have the same appearance as what we commonly see when we go to a ranch nowadays. The horses of today range in size, weight, speed, and purpose, while equines originally were about the size of dogs and lived mostly in forests. For more than 30 million years they maintained the same general appearance before mutant groups increased in size and weight, until they developed into a shape very similar to the appearance we associate with the horses of today (The Evolution of Horses).

We must remember that while the horse collar was invented during the 3rd and 4th century BCE it was not widely used in Europe until nearly the 12th century (Horse Collar). This means that for the majority of the western world, horses were not particularly useful in pulling large amounts of weight because the collars would choke them. As such, horses were most often used for moving people around, or for pulling relatively light chariots. For most early societies, cavalry as it is generally imagined was impractical because of many factors around that time. Although there is debate regarding when saddles were invented, some say as early as 700 BCE while others say around 300 C.E., if they were used at all. They were very primitive, they provided very little support and they were mainly used as a seat. Stirrups were not commonly found nor widely used in the west until about the 8th century C.E. (Stirrup), though they had been developed in Asia much earlier. As such, for many civilizations, the use of mounted soldiers was often a serious tradeoff: in many societies, firing a bow from a horse was not unheard of, but that particular maneuver often required a second horseman to grab the reigns so that the first could fire (Cavalry)

As the use of cavalry increased, and the tactical importance of it became recognized, it wasn’t long before horses began to be bred for war. This typically meant that larger, stronger breeds of horse became desirable because of their weight carrying capacity, as well as their natural aptitudes for dealing with the exhausting nature of warfare.

Weaponry used from horseback over time

The weaponry that has been used over time when making war has ranged depending on what was available at specific times of development and in specific geographical areas. Since the invention of the stirrup came so much later than that of the saddle or the domestication of horses, the weaponry used by mounted soldiers over time has evolved to accommodate the needs of warfare. The earliest mounted fighters were typically nomads and they were primarily armed with bows. Their primary purpose in being armed was to defend herds and livestock. A perfect example of a mounted archer who would have defended livestock is shown in the picture below:


There are some important distinctions between ancient mounted archers and the one pictured here, especially because the stirrups and the bow are easily visible. As previously mentioned, stirrups would have appeared in Asia much earlier than in Europe, but the earliest nomadic mounted archers would not have had these. The bow depicted in the picture above has similarities to the modern recurve bow, which was originally developed in the east, nomadic archers of the past would likely have been armed with some version of its predecessor. Something that could be assumed is that the relative size of the archer to the horse is similar to what would have been seen in the beginnings of the mounted archery forces. Although horses have increased in size through the ages, far eastern breeds of horses are usually smaller than western breeds.

Over time, some cultures like the Greeks moved away from the bow in favor of the javelin of the time. By the time of the Greek empire, horses were a bit larger, and could therefore carry more weight as well as armor for both the horse and the rider. In accordance with the change in size, weapons changed as well. The Greeks preferred the javelin over the bow used in far east cultures. The use of javelin had some pros and cons, for instance, javelin use on horseback did not require a second rider to hold onto the reins, and javelins hit harder than arrows, but because of the nature of javelin-driven combat, ammunition loss was great. To counter the decrease in ammunition available to the riders who used their javelins, the Greeks armed their cavalry riders with a short sword as a secondary weapon, the use of the sword by cavalry riders would continue through the ages up until the “phasing out” of cavalry from mainstream military roles altogether (Cavalry).

While spears and lances were used by the Greek cavalry, it was Alexander the Great that truly popularized them with his application of the xyston. The xyston was in essence a long spear. This spear, however, was equipped with a point on both ends. This allowed the weapon to be used even after it had been broken on first contact, by flipping it over and using the other end (Companion Cavalry). Cavalry played a much larger role in Alexander the Great’s conquests than it did during Greek campaigns, for reasons that will be discussed in the tactical usage of cavalry post. For the Romans, spears transitioned into the Spatha as the primary weapon.

The Spatha replaced the gladius as the main sword used by the Romans. While the gladius was much shorter and more suited for stabbing, the Spatha was closer in appearance to the swords than can be seen in modern times: it was long and straight, allowed for far better reach on horseback than the gladius, and lacked the ammunition constraints of bows and javelins.

As the cavalry evolved into the Middle Ages, it is important to remember that all aspects of warfare were also evolving. Larger horses became more desirable for war, because of the perception that the bigger they were, the more weapons and armor they could carry. Stirrups were becoming increasingly more widespread, which encouraged the increases in the weight that was carried on horseback. Thus, we see that the knight started to become the primary cavalry unit. Those cavalry officers known as knights wore heavy armor and were often armed in the stereotypical way, although not always all at once. The lance had its time in the sun, enhanced by the use of stirrups and the cantle saddle. Unlike the spears of the past, the lance had little to no thrusting use—its length and weight also made it unwieldy in melee (close quarters) combat. That being said, the stirrups and the cantle saddle used in conjunction allowed for a knight to apply all of his force, as well as the full momentum of the horse through the lance and the point, making it a powerful and dangerous weapon on horseback. There is some debate, however, about the efficacy of the lance in warfare. It often broke from its impacts, and when it didn’t, it was difficult to set up for another run at the adversary. During combats, knights were typically equipped with swords or maces for close quarter fights as well. The swords used by the knights were very similar to the Spatha used by the Romans, with only superficial alterations.

Armor on horseback over time

For many people, the knights in shining armor and on horseback seem to be the epitome of cavalry. However, for most of the effective life of cavalry, armor was either nonexistent or quite minimal. This was mostly due to the size of horses, and what their intended use was when they were bred. Large horses were uncommon before the middle ages, and not many cultures would have attempted to breed horses for size. The seeming lack of interest in breeding big horses would have been mostly related to the amount of food that those horses would have required, as well as the amount of waste they would have produced. When smaller horses were bred, an unintended consequence was the fact that they had a diminished capacity to carry large amounts of weight.

The earliest nomadic cavalrymen would likely have worn whatever their daily garb was on their horses. In times of war, lightweight armor constructed out of leather was possible, but there is no definitive answer as to its use.


As this relief carving shows, armor at this time (circa 860 BCE) was basically nonexistent for those on horseback. Around 490 BCE, a larger breed of horse began be used more often (Cavalry). This larger breed could carry men with some armor, but not much, as they were still not the size we think of when we generally imagine horses. The Greeks used this larger breed, as we can see here:


As we can see on this amphora, the Greek cavalryman carried a shield on his back, and appeared to be wearing some form of chest armor or tunic, possibly a jerkin. Although this armor might seem rather lacking to us in protective capabilities, we can see by looking at his compatriot, that it was only slightly less than the typical armor of the time.

Under Alexander the Great, cavalrymen had greater protection. His Companion Cavalry, as they were called, wore Boeotian helmets (what you see in the photograph), as well as a cuirass, which was a chest piece with a muscled physique cast into it. This would have provided more protection than that afforded by the Greek armor, which may have played a role in the nearly unprecedented success that they had in battle (Companion Cavalry).



By Mediatus – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Romans continued in the footsteps of the Companion Cavalry. We can see on the graphic above that the subject of the photo was armed in a very similar manner to those in the Companion Cavalry, and any differences are more superficial than actual modifications. It is possible that we would have seen an increase in armor on horses at the end of the Roman Empire, but only as a build up to the middle ages.

Armoring on horseback was drastically different from that found on its predecessors for one main reason, the advent of stirrups. Thanks to the invention, the need for absolute control and communion between rider and steed was not so critical, balance could now be maintained through both the feet and the knees. This meant that suits of full armor could be used on horseback. As an unintended result of the fact that knights often engaged each other in battle, horses quickly became targets in battle as well, and therefore the need to armor them quickly became crucial. This was not the first-time horses had been armored: cataphracts had been seen possibly as early as 550 BCE under Persian control, and were beginning to see increased use near the middle of the Roman Empire, armoring however still remained a rather small proportion of the overall cavalry forces (Cataphract).


The picture shown above is a modern representation of an ancient cataphract. Completely enshrouded with armor, these units were the predecessor to the modern tank, and required large, strong horses. They also lacked stirrups, so maneuverability was also extremely poor. With the advent of stirrups, heavy armor suddenly didn’t mean that all maneuverability was gone, and horses were able to gain armor as well. Shaffron armor, pictured below:



Shaffrons were typically placed around the head and neck. It provided some protection from lance and sword blows, and it also looked menacing.

Tactical usage of cavalry

            For ancient nomadic tribes, cavalry was primarily desired because of its speed and range. A group of archers on horseback at a time when most warfare was fought hand to hand suddenly made the battlefield much smaller. However, their use cost many of them their control. Without the widespread use of saddles, the reins controlled the horses and this presented a problem when archers where on horses in the battlefield. Bows required two hands to fire, so during a firing sequence, the horse had to be left to its own devices, or a second horseman had to grab the archer’s reins to control his/her horse. Not being able to control a horse while firing was a rather inefficient battle tactic and was a serious drawback for ancient cavalry, which is why for a very long time horses were preferred for pulling chariots, rather than for carrying individual soldiers. Chariots fell by the wayside in warfare near 84 A.D, mostly due to their limited functions. For nomadic groups, cavalry use was often multirole. They were well suited for herding animals and scouting, but inefficient for most other jobs. An important tactic of the nomads fighters was the Parthian shot. This tactic was generally used when the horsemen were retreating, at that point they would turn their bodies so that they were facing to the rear, and fire behind them. While it seems simplistic, if a shield were raised above one’s head to defend themselves, they would assume that they were momentarily safe while the enemy was retreating or regrouping. However, this Parthian shot caught many unaware, and could easily cause chaos and casualties if the enemy wasn’t prepared for it (Parthian Shot).

Many historians believe that cavalry was basically worthless to the Greeks because of the common usage of the phalanx. Existing as basically a shield wall and roof with spears sticking out, the phalanx was thought to outdo cavalry because “Few men wanted to risk impaling their expensive horse on a hoplite’s nine-foot spear.” (Weekley). Aside from the fact that the horsemen did not want to risk their horses, most horses were also not willing to run into spears voluntarily. This maneuver, would also assume that a general would just throw cavalry at the front of the phalanx in the hopes of breaking it. While it is possible that this did occur, it is much more likely that at that time the cavalry would have used their greater speed and maneuverability to harass the enemy from the sides or rear, thus causing disorder in the fray as the phalanx scrambled to attempt to adjust. Whichever method was used, however, cavalry had a definite secondary role, one which was easily optional as well. Most Grecian conflicts tended to be either infantry or naval based, and cavalry didn’t seem to have a major role in land conflicts for the Greeks.

During the time of Alexander the Great, the cavalry really came into its own and became a force to be reckoned with. Alexander worked very closely with his Companion Cavalry. In addition to their armor and weaponry, Alexander employed them very differently from previous generals. First, his cavalry moved in wedges. This allowed them to turn much easier while maintaining their formation, simply having to follow the leader. Next, he used them in a secondary role, but one much more involved than the Greeks. When his phalanx disrupted the enemy’s, the Companion Cavalry would plunge into the hole created in the enemy’s line. This maximized the disruption and chaos, while removing the primary danger to his cavalry, the unbroken phalanx. Using this tactic brought Alexander and his cavalry unprecedented success (Companion Cavalry).

Under Roman rule, cavalry declined in success. It had come to be a social class rather than a fighting force, leading to significant losses. As such, the Romans began hiring mercenaries to be their cavalry, especially Germanic tribes. These groups were used primarily for longer distance operations, spanning the width of the empire, they were also used in skirmishes or scouting expeditions, but they lacked the usage we saw during Alexander the Great’s reign. During the Middle Ages, cavalry was used primarily in warfare as shock troops. These divisions would be typically used separately from the main fighting force, either to attack enemy cavalry or defend or secure areas or high profile targets. The sentiment felt during Roman times of cavalrymen being elite evolved into the class of knights that we see, and likely contributed to the rise of feudalism during these times (Cavalry).

The use of horses over time has varied depending on the leadership of the period, what has been made clear has been the fact that horses have been a crucial part of the development of civilizations and warfare through the ages and human have been dependent on horses for one purpose or another.

Works Cited

Wikipedia contributors. “Cavalry.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free             Encyclopedia, 7 Dec. 2016. Web. 7 Dec. 2016.

Weekley, David J., and Patrick H. College. “The Role of Greek Cavalry on the Battlefield: A       Study of Greek Cavalry from the Peloponnesian Wars to the Second Battle of Mantinea.”    Vexillum Journal. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2016.

Wikipedia contributors. “Horse collar.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free             Encyclopedia, 6 Aug. 2016. Web. 6 Aug. 2016.

Wikipedia contributors. “Parthian shot.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free             Encyclopedia, 4 Sep. 2016. Web. 4 Sep. 2016.

Wikipedia contributors. “Ancient Macedonian army.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.            Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 7 Dec. 2016. Web. 7 Dec. 2016.

Wikipedia contributors. “Cavalry tactics.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The     Free Encyclopedia, 7 Nov. 2016. Web. 7 Nov. 2016.

Wikipedia contributors. “Saddle.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free             Encyclopedia, 1 Dec. 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.

Wikipedia contributors. “Companion cavalry.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia,    The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Nov. 2016. Web. 1 Nov. 2016.

Wikipedia contributors. “Stirrup.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free             Encyclopedia, 7 Dec. 2016. Web. 7 Dec. 2016.

“The Chariot.” The Chariot in Ancient Egypt. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.

West, Gene. “Confederate Bridle Cutter Pike, Louis Froelich.” Civil War Arsenal. N.p.,   07 Feb. 2016. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.

“The Evolution of Horses.” American Museum of Natural History. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.             <;.

Wikipedia contributors. “Cataphract.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free             Encyclopedia, 2 Nov. 2016. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.



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Part 1: Significance of Gothic Architecture

Josiah Oldham

HNRS 2210: Final Project

Gothic Cathedral Architecture


“Ugh, look at those ugly spires, those pointed ceilings. Not classical in the slightest.”

“I have to agree. It’s all because of the Goths. Those barbarians ruined everything good about architecture when they ended the Empire and its culture!”

“Exactly. This, fellows, is why we’re returning to the classical styles. We’re making things the way they used to be- good.”

Such, perhaps, was the dialogue between Giorgio Vasari and his fellow Italian renaissance writers, who falsely attributed medieval architecture to the Goths. Colored by their overwhelming admiration for classical Roman culture, they believed that the drastic change from Romanesque to medieval building came from the 5th century barbarian cultural takeover, and not from simple evolution of style. “Then arose new architects who after the manner of their barbarous nations erected buildings in that style which we call Gothic (dei Gotthi),” said Vasari in his book Lives of the Artists. Unfortunately, this misconception carried on for almost three hundred years from the renaissance era. “The term retained its derogatory overtones until the 19th century; at which time a positive critical revaluation of Gothic architecture took place” (Martindale). Today, we can look back at Gothic style cathedrals with admiration, for these marvels of art and engineering are certainly the pinnacle of their era.


The Reims Cathedral in France.

Before the Gothic style came into full usage, there was that of the Cistercian order. It may appear as if the simpler Cistercian designs evolved into the more grandiose Gothic style, however, the connection is not so simple. St. Bernard Clairvaux firmly believed in a stark contrast between architecture for the monks and for regular citizens. Rooted in the spirituality of the monastic lifestyle, “He readily conceded that [the secular cathedrals], ‘since they cannot excite the devotion of the carnal populace with spiritual ornaments, must employ material ones,’ in other words, that cathedral art had to make concessions to sensuous experience which the mystic no longer required” (von Simson). Rather than one deriving from the other, the Cistercian and Gothic styles ran parallel, connected to different ways of life.


The Fontenay Abbey, an example of Cistercian architecture.

But the Gothic style is, again, grandiose. Abbeys in the Cistercian style are expansive, but not elaborate. They emphasized function, for their inhabitants focused inward and upward in faith, not outward to everyday life. Gothic cathedrals impressed and inspired the general population with their ornate facades, vibrant colored windows and extravagant statuary. As Bernard claimed, the populous would draw closer to God in this atmosphere, full of tangible reminders and projections of glory. Fitting, considering the overwhelming focus on pointed arches as a theme of the Gothic style.

There was, of course, other significance in Gothic architecture aside from the spiritual, particularly in the construction of cathedrals. In the spirit of progress and innovation, masons would indirectly compete for the tallest, most expansive buildings. This competition, naturally, resulted in powerful engineering inventions- discussed in the next section- with incredible successes as well as spectacular failures. “Competition in height akin to that in twentieth-century American skyscraper construction led to a record spire at Strasbourg of 468 feet, equivalent to the height of a modern forty-six-story building, but also to the collapse of the nave at Beauvais in 1284, which put a damper on the competition” (Gies).

Strasbourg (left) and Beauvais (right) Cathedrals.

Gothic architecture is an incredibly significant aspect of art history. Those who built the cathedrals in the middle ages often knew that the work would not be complete in their lifetime. After all, some cathedrals took tens or hundreds of years to finish! Still, at the same time, these workers must have also known that the work was bigger than them, and would last far beyond them. That sentiment, an important trait of humanity, lasts to this day through these cathedrals, a silent reminder of hope.

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