This week we are going to take a little stroll onto the African continent and discover the Kingdom of Kush and one of their queens (Kandake or Candace), Amanirenas. I was first introduced to the the Kingdom of Kush and Nubia in general last year when I took a MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) called The Art and Archaeology of Ancient Nubia by Emory University on Coursera. Despite having been born in South Africa, African history (even the ancient history) has been an aspect of my area of classics that I’d barely ever touched. Even my Egyptian history is somewhat shaky. I had never heard of the Kingdom of Kush and despite it not being one of the best MOOCs I’ve taken, it proved to be quite fascinating. A few things just to remember as we tackle this area is that the archaeology and research surrounding Nubia, Kush and Meroe is rather slim and contradictory. But let’s push through it anyway and see what we can discover about this astonishing woman!
This week’s Warrior Woman of the Ancient World in none other than the famed Zenobia of Palmyra. Zenobia was a Syrian queen whose heritage is debated. She herself was said to have claimed Seleucid (similar to Cleopatra and the Ptolemies) descent while others refer to her as a jewess (Athanasius of Alexandria) or the daughter of an Arab chief.
The most well-known biography of Zenobia comes from the Historia Augusta (HA). The author and date of this collection of biographies are disputed but it is believed to have been written sometime around the 4th century A.D. Another side of her tale comes from the Tarikh al-rusul wal-muluk (The History of Prophets and Kings). Her Arabic name is this text is al-Zabba but for this article I will simply be referring to her as Zenobia.
Her exact birthdate seems to be contested but it is clear that by 258 AD she has been married to Septimius Odaenathus, the King of Palmyra. The king had been married previously and already had a son by the name of Hairan. Zenobia gave him another son around 266 AD who was named Lucius Julius Aurelius Septimius Vaballathus Athenodiorus (but went mostly by Vaballathus). An assassination attempt in the following year left Zenobia’s husband and stepson dead. With her own child being only a year old, Zenobia stepped up, possibly as a regent for her son, but also styling herself as Augusta over Palmyra.
The other week a friend of mine visited Nashville, Tennessee and if you’ve been following my Parthenon Series you will know that there is a full-sized replica of the ancient temple built there. I was ecstatic when he told me that he had taken photos of the building and has kindly let me share them with you. Enjoy!
We kick off the new year with a new series, this time on warrior women of the ancient world. To start things off I would like to introduce Artemisia I of Caria, Queen of Halicarnassus, whose claim to fame was being a naval commander in the invasion army of Xerxes of Persia. Most recently she’s had another blaze of glory as one of the leading characters in the 2014 sequel movie 300: Rise of an Empire that depicts the Battle of Salamis in which she commanded several forces and ships.
I hope the everyone is having a good festive season. I just wanted to pop in and share this documentary that I found about the Parthenon. It is a very interesting look at the optical illusion techniques that I discussed in my architecture post. It also has a fascinating look at the construction and marble carving techniques that they are using to restore the temple. Definitely worth the watch.
Today we have an interview with the very talented artist, Kristina Gehrmann. She first caught my eye on DeviantArt with her beautiful exploration of Roman settings like the one above. She currently lives in Hamburg, Germany and works as a full-time illustrator. Unlike Jenny Dolfen who I interviewed before, Kristina works almost exclusively with digital media and her work has been published in Advanced Photoshop, ImagineFX and The Artist’s Magazine.
Polychromy, the use of applied colour in architecture and sculpture, in the ancient world has been a matter of much debate for several centuries within scholarship. In the past it was believed that the Greeks did not use colour but instead cherished the natural beauty of the marble that they so often carved. For others this view was seen as a clinging to and projecting the values of the Renaissance back further into history than it deserved. Eventually it became more than a debate over pigments and developed into ideologies around race. The whiteness of the Greek and Roman marbles seen as something beautiful, quintessentially European and pure. On the other hand, brightly coloured work seen in civilizations like the Egyptians and Persians were viewed as lurid, crass, primitive and fundamentally other. It was notions like this that led to the Elgin Marbles (the parts of the Parthenon sold to the British Museum by Lord Elgin) being cleaned in 1838 with caustic alkalis and finally dilute nitric acid in an effort to strip the patina (the natural honey-hued colour Pentalic marble turns when exposed to air). Needless to say that this treatment damaged a good deal of the marble irrevocably.