Spain, The Roman Empire

Roman Zaragoza

Caesaraugusta is the only Roman city bearing the full name of its founder, Caesar Augustus. Its thought to have been founded in 14 BCE, perhaps 23rd December, coinciding with the 54th birthday of the Emperor. Caesaraugusta received the status of tribute-exempt colony of Roman citizens. During the 1st and 2nd century CE it experienced a period of splendour in which large public works were undertaken. The Roman City Walls, Theatre and River Port are just some of the remains from the Roman period still visible in Zaragoza where the former colony’s commercial, economic and cultural activities took place.

The Roman Theatre was discovered by chance in 1972 when construction of a new building began on Verónica street. After archeological campaigns Zaragoza City Hall took over the final excavations 1998-2002, and the museum was built. Of the Roman buildings from Caesaraugusta, the theatre is the best preserved of the city. For 200 years it was a meeting place, a focal point for social life and leisure activities for both the city and its surrounding area, transmitting the cultural, political and religious values of the Roman Empire.

Its location, at the highest point of the city meant that it overlooked a line of monumental buildings of which important archeological remains are preserved in the city’s different museums: the forum and its area devoted to the river port, and the public baths. The theatre, built in the 1st century within the town perimeter, stood out from the rest of the buildings as a point of reference in an essentially flat landscape. As time passed the theatre’s activity declined and during the 2nd half of the 3rd century the building was looted for its materials that were then used to build the nearby city wall during a period of political instability. Visiting its ruins today its difficult to appreciate the grandiosity of the building which once stood some 25 metres high, the hight at which the present roof has been installed.

During the demolition of a series of old buildings in 1989, remains of the Roman River Port were discovered, from the northeast boundary of the Roman Forum of Caesaraugusta. The structures remaining from this sector of the forum, dating from between the end of the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE, are the arches of a spectacular facade oriented toward the river, leading onto a vestibule and the flight of steps that joined the port docks and the forum square. In some of the ashlar stones in this sector there are still the quarry marks made by the builders: soldiers belonging to the VI Victrix legion which, together with the IV Mecedonia legion, founded the city of Caesaraugusta.

The Ebro River was navigable in Antiquity from the town of Vareia (Logroño) and its banks were dotted with wharfs and large ports. The port of Caesaraugusta occupied most of the right bank of the city along a straight, protected stretch of quiet waters after a tight meander. The port became the most supplying point in the centre of the valley. Imported goods were brought upstream from Dertosa (Tortosa) a sea and river port. The raw materials of the valley were transported downriver towards the Mediterranean. The coins minted by Dertosa bear images of the boats that sailed the Ebro in Roman times. Cables were used to pull the boats upriver, an activity requiring great physical strength and which was still used well into the 20th century.

Information and illustrations from Museums of the Ceasaraugusta Route and ‘Alexander Omega’ by Hands Of Doom.

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016

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Anatolia, The Roman Empire

The Cotton Castle: A visit to an ancient Health Spa

Pamukkale, meaning cotton castle, is an ancient health resort in present day Turkey and a wonderfully different experience up close. A characteristic set of white terraces cover it’s hillsides giving rise to it’s name. They’re actually made of travertine, a sedimentary rock deposited by the warm mountain springs.

This stone has typically been used for construction and the romans made bases for statues or egyptian obelisks from it, letting harder materials like granite settle into the softer travertine. Travertine is also the main building material for the Colosseum.

People have enjoyed the warm springs in Pamukkale for millenia and during the 2nd centruy BCE it became a health resort at the behest of heirs to Alexander the Great. The Greco-Roman city of Heirapolis was founded on near the springs and would eventually have 100.000 inhabitants well into the Byzantine era.

Inside the former roman bath complex, later convertet to a Byzantine basiclica, is an archeological museum today with artifacts from Heirapolis and the surrounding area. Among the ruins strewn across the hills is the roman theatre, built in the time of Hadrian in 129 CE. Heirapolis suffered large earthquakes during both Nero and Tiberius and was rebuilt several times.

The city was renovated again under Septimus Severus (193-211) who did much renovating across the empire and Caracalla also visited the city in 215 CE bestowing it with the title of neocoros (imperial sanctuary rights) which ensued a golden age. Hierapolis prospered into the Byzantine era until the 6th century after 7th century attacks by persian armies and another major earthquake resulted in it’s decline and eventual abandonment.

Song in the film: “Doomsday Trilogy” by Hands of Doom
Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2015

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Greece, The Roman Empire

Rule of the People

Athens, Greece. Democracy, the greek word for rule of the people, demos meaning people and kratos = rule, is not the only form of government the world has known using a sophisticated process of dividing power amongst a larger group of individuals in an equalizing manner.

Have a look around beutiful Athens where modern democracy was born and visit the Acropolis!

From prehistoric times up to the present, tribal societies tend to have a chief ultimately calling the shots. But the cheif then also usually developed contacts with other cheifs in the area. This might lead to a council, able to more effectivaly handle matters concerning common interests. This is true of most early cultures, in Scandinavia for instance great rings of boulders are still left all around the landscape were proceedings of a similar kind are thought to have taken place. There are also evidence of a sort of proto-democratic council of Viking chiefs on Iceand.

The Romans also had their version of a more divided ruling power, the Republic, or res publica, meaning the common cause. Republic and Democracy have ever since been an alternative to the many other centralized power systems througout written history. The greek philosopher Aristotle, one of the most studied thinkers of all time and tutor to Alexander the Great, held specific views about democracy, influencing what was long a standard interpretation right up to modern times. Aristotle claimed that a state can be ruled in benevolent or despotic ways by either a monarch, an aristocracy or a polity, democracy being the despotic version of this third form of gorvenment as it fueled tensions between classes against one another. Instead of everyone working for the common good, everyone was primarily looking out for themselves, at great disadvantage of the state. Democracy was in other words a rampant form of ‘everyone for himself’ and the benevolent dictator was incidentally Aristotle’s own favourite system. This is perhaps not surprizing given the conquests of his former pupil Alexander. After Alexander died however, Aristotle’s luck turned quickly as he had to flee Athens in the instability that followed. It’s not known wether he ever revised his theories and the great philosopher died shortly after.

Even stable democracies of today sometimes experience changes. Mostly are of minor importance, but sometimes worthy of note in a more historical context. It’s interesting to see for instance how a recent crisis in the Swedish parliament has now slightly altered the regular parliamentary process. This was done in order to exclude the voting power of Sweden’s third largest party, Sverigedemokraterna, the ‘Sweden Democrats’, or SD, after the new Socialist government was forced to back down from their proposed budget. Being in minority, and after having previously failed to negotiate any settlement with the other liberal-conservative parties of the former government, the openly xenophobic SD were then able to cast the final vote agains the budget, creating a deadlock. They also added a statement claiming that this act would be reapeated indefinatley until their own policies, mostly regarding significant reductions in immigration, would be adhered too.

This growing hostility in the Swedish parliament first led to the announcemnet of a new election date in the spring, followed by the now agreement by all parties, except the SD, to allow the government ‘to rule’, and prevent this situation from reacurring until at least 2022, during which there will have been another election according to the ordinary time shedule, cancelling the need for the previously announced re-election.

The question is if the political system will ultimately benefit from this messure and the main goal, to undermine the power of SD in the Swedish parliament, will be achieved? Chances are this new party might simply keep on growing. In that case giving at least some credulence to Aristotle’s argument that diffrent groups becoming set against one another, in turn makes society vulnerable to leaders ruling by emotion rather than strict adherence to the law as he once put it. If nothing else, it’s at the very least democracy as it’s absolute worst.

 

Song: Acropolis by Mayflower

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2014

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Italy, On a more personal note, The Roman Empire

Bound for Rome

Bound for Rome | Journey Thru History

Great news: I just learned today that I’ll receive a sought after scholarship from Gothenburg University, so unless the only fear of Chief Vitalstatistix comes true and the sky actually falls I’ll be spending 10 weeks in the spring of 2015 staying at the Swedish Institute in Rome!

From there I’ll travel around Italy, to places like Sicily and Pompeii, meeting people, learning new things, while obviously enjoying the vistas. And last but not least I’ll also get to indulge in some of that Italian cuisine, easily my favorite food in the world. I also wouldn’t mind to learn a bit more Italian. Right now I can just about order a meal and the right type of coffee. But it’s a start I guess.

Chances are I’ll probably have to learn some Latin and perhaps Greek as well as I’ll be preoccupied with the origins of Roman culture, tracing it back to it’s predecessors around Italy such as the Etruscans and the Greeks.

Being a fan of history, I must admit I’m usually more interested in the politics of maybe Alexander the Great or the First Emperor of China than current events. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, in fact rather the opposite. I try to remedy this though from time to time by reading the teletext (or Text-TV as us swedes call it). That way I quickly get up to speed on what’s happening around me without quite as much of the political jargon, overemphasis on endless sports results or boring celebrity culture that permeates our somewhat insecure postmodernist world.

It’s good to note however that the new Swedish government was recently forced to back down from a proposal to terminate funding for the very Institute where I’ll now be spending quite some time. All politics aside, It’s good to see that they’ve finally come to their senses and committed to supporting these important institutions which, in my opinion at least, are absolutely instrumental in providing key connections between Swedish academia and the outside world.

I guess the outcry in utter disbelief and disgust at this folly and obvious contempt for higher learning that spewed out from parts of the academic world probably also helped.

After having spent more than a month at a time in a few major cities around the world such as Los Angeles, New York, Stockholm and Shanghai, I probably – now that I think of it – wouldn’t rather be in any other city next. It would thus appear that the Gods are treating me favorably at this moment, I shall try to make the most of it.

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Turkey

Temple of Artemis

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The remains of the Temple of Artemis outside Ephesus. A single pillar is now all that remains of a building once comparable to the Parthenon. The temple famously crumbled on the same day that Alexander the Great was born but was later rebuilt. It was one of the most important places of pilgrimage in the whole Mediterranean area in ancient times and is one of seven wonders of the ancient world.
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