North Africa, Spain, The Roman Empire

Debod, a Ptolemaic temple in Madrid

The Templo de Debod was once located in the south of Egypt, in Lower Nubia, very close to the first cataracts and to the religious centre dedicated to the Goddess Isis, on Philae Island. This region, bordering with the powerful realm of Meroe, was the object of a dispute between the Egyptian and Meroite Governors up to the 1st century BCE, when Rome definitely established the frontier of Maharraqa. As of the 3rd century CE the region came under the control of the desert nomads and Roman control was lost.

Construction of the temple was started by Adijalamani, king of Meroe, at the beginning of the 2nd century BCE. He constructed a chapel dedicated to the Gods ’Amón of Debod’ and Isis. The chapel, decorated with reliefs, is one of the few monuments that makes reference to the life of this monarch. Subsequently, Ptolemy VI built new rooms around the original nucleus and gave it an appearance that bore more resemblance to its current appearance. His successors, Ptolemy VIII and Ptolemy XII ordered the construction of two side chapels, or naoi, also dedicated to Isis and Amón.

After Egypt was annexed to the Roman Empire, emperors Augustus, Tiberius and, possibly Adrian, decorated the entrance of the temple and added a special chapel, the mammisi. The temple was abandoned with the closure of the sanctuaries to Isis in the 6th Century. Debod in Madrid. Construction of the great Aswan Dam began in 1960. The huge lake that was created, more than 500 Kilometres in length, brought about the end of the archeological monuments and sites of the Lower Nubia, forever submerged under its waters.

At the request of Egypt and Sudan, UNESCO made an international plea for help to save the temples and monuments that were in danger. Four of the temples and monuments that were saved were donated by Egypt to the countries that contributed most to the salvage tasks. In 1968 Spain recieved the Templo de Debod in gratitude for its help in saving the temples of Abu Simbel. In 1970 the ashlars arrived in Madrid and were installed on the site of the former Cuartel de la Montaña

Sources and further reading:

The Song in the film is ’Principles My Ass (new version)’ by Hands Of Doom.

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016

Italy, The Roman Empire

An Altar to Peace

When I returned to Rome from Gaul and from Spain, in the consulship of Tiberius Nero and Publius Quintilio, having brought to a satisfactory finish my works in these provinces, the Senate decreed that there should be consecrated in the Campus Martius an altar to the Augustan Peace and ordered that the officials, priests and vestal virgins should celebrate a sacrifice at it every year.”

In these words from Res Gestae, Augustus himself described the Senate’s decision to honour him with an altar to Peace, following the sucessful campaigns North of the Alps in 16-13 BCE, having subjected both the Reti, the Vindelici and effectively put the Alpine passes under Roman rule. Augustus also had recently visited Spain, finally at peace, where he founded several new colonies and had received new tributes for Rome.

The official ceremony and dedication of Ara Pacis took place on the 30th of January in 9 BCE. According to Cassius Dio the Senate initially planned to build the altar within the Curia, but instead the northernmost part of the Campo Martius was chosen, a recently urbanised vast field, previously mostly used for military exercise of infantry, cavalry and gymnastics of the Roman youth.

The Altar of Augustan Peace is a richly decorated altar, standing within a sculpted marble enclosure.  The reliefs on the upper part of the monument represented various subjects relating to the legendary founding of Rome, such as Romulus and Remus and a double procession unfolds along the monument’s length: Augustus, members of the imperial family, priests, magistrates, and senators. A fragment of this procession is currently in the Louvre, portraying a family with two children. Their identity has not been firmly established, although they may be members of the emperor’s own family.

The altar depicts the Augustan state religion, it’s lower frieze consisting of vegetal works signaling abundance and prosperity and a new peaceful age. The coninous frieze of the north and south panels is a confident display of the participants of a sacrificial ceremony; Romans in togas wearing laurel crowns, senators, priests, magistrates, lictors, the occasional slave or freedman, along with women and children, normally not portrayed in these circumstances. At least two of the little boys might be foreign princes, on account of their gallic and asiatic costumes. The base is adorned with acanthus scrolls intertwined with swans (birds sacred to Apollo who was a protector of Augustus). These luxuriant natural elements evoked the peace and prosperity that Augustus had brought to Rome.

On the southern panel the Emperor himself is in the process of performing the ritual accompanied by his closest family in tow, a symbol of the the stability and guaranteed succession of the regime. The shorter western and eastern panels, pierced by entryways to the altar are adorned by mythological motifs pertaining to the founding of Rome, it’s people and gods like mother earth, godess roma (or perhaps venus), the mythic forebearer Aeneas who also might be the first king after it’s founder Romulus who along with his brother Remus is seen suckling the she-wolf that legend has it once nurtured them.

Song in the film is Sungam Zorba by Hands Of Doom and animations made by

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016

France, The Roman Empire

Glanum: Celts, Greeks and Romans

Glanum was founded in the 6th century BCE by the Salyens, a Celto-Ligurian tribe, on the flanks of The Alpilles, a small mountain range about 20 km  (12 miles) south of Avignon, just outside present day Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. It was a  fortified town or oppidum, (a term still in use ever since Caesar’s conquest of Gaul) known for it’s healing springs. Glanum later became a Roman city in Provincia, modern day Provence, until its final abandonment in 260 CE.

It’s known for two particularly well-preserved Roman monuments, known as Les Antiques; a mausoleum and the oldest triumphal arch in France, both from the 1st century BCE. The Salyens, Provence’s largest Celto-Ligurian tribe, first built a rampart of stones on the peaks surrounding the valley of Notre-Dame-de-Laval in the 4th century BCE, then Glanum was constructed in the valley with a shrine to the Celtic god Glanis built around the spring. Glanum grew until the 2nd century BCE when another city wall was added.

The town kept a strong Celtic identity with statues and pottery telling us of residents named Vrittakos, Eporix, Litumaros, and local god Glanis and his companions the Glanicae, similar to the Roman Matres with goddesses Rosmerta and Epona. Celtic customs where upheld, such as the displaying severed heads of enemies at the city gate and cooking utensils found in the ruins shows the inhabitants favoured boiling pots over frying pans setting them apart from other Mediterranean tribes.

Glanum had early contacts with Massalia (present day Marseille), a Greek colony founded around 600 BCE, resulting in Hellenic influences in both art and architecture. 2nd century wars with Massalia however meant the Greeks soon called upon their Roman allies. In 125 BCE the Salyens were defeated by the Roman consul Flaccus, and again the following year by Sextus when much of Glanum was destroyed. The town prospered again, thanks to its popular springs, Glanum minted silver coins and new monuments were built until another rebellion against Rome in 90 BCE. This was crushed again, this time by the Roman consul Caecilius, and public buildings were yet again destroyed and replaced by more modest structures.

In 49 BCE Caesar captured Massalia, and after the civil wars a general romanization of Provence began. Emperor Augustus created the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis in 27 BCE and gave Glanum latin citizen status. This was when Les Antiques where both built, the triumphal arch built slightly after the mausoleum between 25-10 BCE. Thet are shown at the start of the film (on the top of the page).

During the late 1st century BCE, and the early first centruy CE, a forum, temples, and a curved stone arch dam was built, Glanum Dam, the oldest of its kind, along with an aqueduct, supplying the fountains and baths in the town. Glanum became less prosperous than other Roman colonies such as Arles, Avignon or Cavaillon but still had several impressive buildings clad in marble by the 2nd century CE.

Glanum was finally overrun and destroyed by the Alemanni in 260 CE and subsequently abandoned, its inhabitants moving just a short distance north into the plain to found what later became Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Glanum then became a source of stone and other building materials. Since the Roman sewers and drainage sytem was not maintained, the ruins were eventually flooded and became covered with mud and sediment. “Les Antiques,” remained famous however, and where eventually visited by Charles IX of France, who had the surroundings cleaned up and maintained in the 16th century.

Some excavations were made around the monuments by the marquis de Lagoy in the Vallons-de-Notre-Dame who found sculptures and coins. Further excavations began in the 19th century culminating in 1921, when the architect of historic monuments, Jules Foremigé began working on the site and remained there until 1941. Archeologist Pierre LeBrun discovered the baths, the basilica, and the residences of the northern town between 1928 – 1933. Henri Roland worked on the Iron Age sanctuary, to the south from 1942-69, excavating the area from the forum to the sanctuary. The objects he discovered are on display today at the hotel de Sade in the Saint-Remy-de-Provence. New excavation and exploration work began in 1982, devoted mainly to preservation of the site, and to exploring beneath sites already discovered for older works.

Sources: on site information signs and Private Tours Blog:

The songs in the film are *Volgaz’ and ’Soulburner’ both by Hands Of Doom.

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016

France, The Roman Empire

The best Roman Theatre in Europe

Provence has much to offer history buffs interested in the Roman Empire. Several monuments are as beautiful as they are well-preserved. Pont Du Gard overlooking the Gardon River, Arles Amphitheater, the Mausoleum of the Julii and Triumphal Arch at Glanum outside Saint-Rémy-de-Provence and The Roman Theatre of Orange are some of the most magnificent Roman buildings anywhere in the world.

The Roman Theatre from the 1st century CE is a great example of this incredible state of preservation and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Located in the heart of the Rhône Valley it’s particularly known for the still remaining stage wall, a feature usually lost making it the best-preserved Roman theatre in all of Europe. The original roof and marble plaques covering the structure are missing along with damages in the wall from erosion through the years but the impressive stage wall still stands. It gives a unique perspective on what these theaters would actually have looked like. The stage wall formed the backdrop for comedies, farces, musical works and tragedies during antiquity, and the theatre is still used for concerts. Its comparatively superb condition is in fact owed to that its been kept in continuous use throughout the ages.

”La plus belle muraille de mon royaume.” 

Louis XIV once described the postscaenium or the exterior facade as ”the finest wall in my kingdom.” The wall is 103 metres long,  37 metres high and 1.80 metres thick and the interior side is divided into three levels. The first comprises three doors which open out onto the stage and secondary doors which open onto the corridors or rooms without any access to the interior. On the second level, the wall is bare of any decoration. You can see the stone corbels which supported the roof structure and a deep groove, the remains of the anchoring for the tiles on the roof. A blind arcade on the wall embellishes the third level. With the exception of the central arch and the arches located in line with the basilicae (towers positioned each side of the stage), each has a cavity that lets light into the passage located inside the wall. At the top, there are two rows of 43 corbels which supported the velum, a large canvas canopy that protected spectators from the sun and rain.

In 1996 several tons of rubble were cleared and since then only a few large blocks have collapsed, caused by the constant flow of rainwater which hollow out deep fissures in the wall, damaging the stage floor as well. The first attempts at restoration began in the 19th century, and a new stage roof was later added to protect the site preserving its authenticity: sheltering the facings threatened with ruin, while strenghtening it in the more fragile parts.

It became a fortress in the Middle Ages when the town took possession of the buildings and built dwellings there. It was not until the 19th century that the Theatre was restored to its former glory thanks to major clearance and restoration works undertaken by the State. By 1869 it was ready to stage events again and function as originally intended.

The original stage roof was destroyed by fire in the 4th century, and the wooden roof was designed to protect the stage and the stone towers and walls from the elements. Rather than pay for an approximate reconstruction of the original wooden roof, a decidedly contemporary form of protection was chosen, making it possible to protect the unique facing of the wall. A project to reduce the impact on the ancient structures as far as possible was composed of a main beam 60 metres long, supporting most of the load of the rectangular 16.7 metres wide roof. A glass covering on the roof with a fine metallic fabric dressing under the roof.
The stage wall, the frons scaenae was important as it helped to properly project sound and comprised the only architectural décor in the theatre. During the performance it did not change, but some mobile items and props were installed to create the illusion of movement, space and perspective. Its original height of 37 metres has been entirely preserved. The wall was richly decorated with slabs of multicoloured marble, statues in niches, friezes and columns.

 In 1931, excavations under the stage enabled the columns currently in place to be restored to their original position. Originally there were 76 of them. The stage wall is also arranged in three levels. At the centre of the first level is the Royal Door or valva regia. Reserved for the principal actors, it was topped with a frieze decorated with centaurs, the remains of which are on display at the Museum of Orange. This door is surrounded by niches which were adorned with statues. Narrower, the side doors called “hospitable” doors were used for the actors’ entrances and exits. The second and third levels, comprising columns, are purely decorative.

The central niche houses the imperial statue of Augustus measuring 3.55 metres in height. This niche almost certainly contained a representation of Apollo and it’s likely the triumphant emperor was only substituted at a later date, replacing an original statue of Apollo. Augustus is dressed in a general’s coat, the paludamentum imperatoris, and is holding his staff. It serves as a reminder that to preserve peace throughout the Roman Empire everyone must respect its laws.

The Song in the film is ’Principles, My Ass’ by Hands Of Doom. Some images made using Google earth and illustrations by

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016

France, The Roman Empire

The Pompeii of France

Vaison-la-Romaine (Latin: Vasio Julia Vocontiorum), sometimes referred to as “The Pompeii of France” is a commune in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France, and indeed has many wonderful Roman ruins. Both in the upper and lower parts of the city divided by the Ouvèze river, an area that has been inhabited at least since the Bronze Age. In the late 4th century BCE Vaison became capital of the Vocontii, a Celtic tribe.

The Roman conquest in (125-118 BCE) still allowed the Vocontii some autonomy as they managed to maintain their religious center in Luc-en-Diois. Vocontii authority in the Romanization of the Celtic oppidum (large fortified Iron Age settlent) meant the city plan wasn’t completely done over according to Roman orthography. Modern archeology (work done by Christian Goudineau) suggests that Vocontian aristocrats moved down from the oppidum and established villas along the river, around which the Gallo-Roman city then grew.

Vasio would become one of the richest cities of the Roman province Gallia Narbonensis, with many geometric mosaic pavements and a small theatre, probably built during the reign of Tiberius as his statue was found in a prominent place on its site. Also found in the theatre during the 19th century was The Polyclitan Vaison Diadumenos (now in British Museum) and Augustan historian Pompeius Trogus is an example of a prominent Roman born at Vasio.

Barbarian invasions then soon followed after the first raid hit in 276, from which Vasio actually recovered, but in the 5th century the state of affairs where such as the general disorder meant that Christians had began reusing the theatre benches as tombstones. Vaison then first belonged to the Burgundians, was taken by the Ostrogoths in 527, then by Clotaire I, King of the Franks in 545, and then became part of Provence.

Vaison-la-Romaine is well worth a visit, it’s obvius provencal charm aside it’s of particular interest for its geography and Roman ruins. The valley floor was safe from attacks during both Roman and modern times but during the Dark Ages attacks were frequent, and the medieval town retreated high on the rocky cliff to a more defensible position. The Roman ruins are found down in the valley on the banks of the river crossed by an ancient bridge from the 1st century CE, where the modern town is also located.

Reconstructions and fly-over shots in the film are by the Musée archéologique de Vaison-la-Romaine , Additional shots of the bridge from the film Vaison ville romaine éternelle. 

The song in the film is ’Dark Heart of the Woods’ by Hands Of Doom.

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016

Italy, The Roman Empire

The world’s first shopping mall?

Trajan’s Market is a large complex of ruins in Rome, located on Via de Foro Imperiali, on the opposite side of the Colosseum. Built as a part of Trajan’s Forum and nestled against the excavated flank of the Quirinal Hill, it was revealed in it’s entirety in the early 1900’s after a convent was demolished partly built over the structure.

Thought to be the world’s oldest shopping mall, the arcades are now believed to have been administrative offices for Emperor Trajan. The shops and apartments were built in a multi-level structure, and it’s possible to visit several of the levels. Highlights include delicate marble floors and the remains of a library.

It was built in 100-110 CE by Apollodorus of Damascus, the main architect associated with this period, who built bridges during Trajan’s military campaigns and who later planned out the Emperor’s new Forum, completed in 113 CE, Trajan’s Column and probably also rebuilt The Pantheon under Trajan’s successor Hadrian. After which the architect supposedly had a falling out with the new Emperor and was banished, a story that has come under criticism for seeming unlikely. The Museum of the Imperial Fora, housed within Trajan’s Markets has a wealth of artifacts from all of ancient Rome’s various imperial fora. The modern entrances to Trajan’s Market are at Via Quattro Novembre and Piazza Madonna di Loreto. 

Immediately, upon entering the museum one comes straight into a shopping area disposed on two different sides, where wheat was once distributed freely to the people of Rome. Each roman citizen (a comparatively privileged position in society among many slaves and freedmen) could on their daily free rations sustain at least one more person. In a household with several citizens there was therefore plenty of wheat from the state to go around, enough even for supplying their slaves. At the end of this hall, a large balcony offers a full view of the markets, Trajan’s Forum and the Victor Emmanuel Monument. This is actually a part of the Via Biberatica (Latin: bibo, bibere “to drink”; the street was once the location for several  taverns and grocers’ shops in the area). The road cuts through Trajan’s Market.

On the lower part there are also two large halls, perhaps used for auditions and concerts. A shop housed in the Market is known as a taberna. The giant exedra formed by the market structure was originally mirrored by a matching exedral boundary space on the south flank of Trajan’s Forum. The grand hall of the market is roofed by a concrete vault raised on piers, both covering and allowing air and light into the central space. The market itself is constructed primarily out of brick and concrete.

Find more information or take a virtual tour of the Museo dei Fori Imperiali nei Mercati di Traiano

The song in the film is ’Sungam Zorba’ by Hands Of Doom. The visual representations of reassembling the artifacts by

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016

Anatolia, The Roman Empire

Hagia Sophia: How Rome moving east changed architecture forever

All roads lead to Rome the saying goes: A great city who later fell and whose spectacular ruins let us contemplate today the former heart of an empire. This view is only partially historically accurate. Yes, the Roman influence expanded from Rome but always with a natural inclination towards the east. Tracing their own origins from there, that’s where all other great former empires besides Egypt also had come from. The greek influence – considered prevalent during the Roman empire – is often understood as having captured the conquering romans, resulting in greco-roman culture.

The greek influence was actually there all along from when greek colonists first stepped ashore on Sicily and southern Italy, a process having been underway since before the founding of Rome. The capital eventually consumed vast resources during the hight of empire, moving far beyond what could be produced locally. This caused problems for Rome whose supply lines ultimately became its Achilles’ heel. Goods in high demand came from as far away as China, making the silk road trade effectively come under Roman control though establishing trade stations and ports in present day Jordan and Pakistan.

Adding then also the volatile germanic tribes of northern Europe to the mix whose presence became increasingly problematic for Rome: First a conquest of these lands had been a high priority, present day France and Britain having both been successfully pacified, but after things went terribly wrong in Teutoburger Forest all plans to rule these lands were abandoned indefinitely in the first century CE. Threats of new germanic attacks coupled with a new religion firmly rooted in the east, Christianity, also eventually combined with Rome’s constant problems to sustain itself made an eventual move of the capital to the east, possible, plausible, perhaps even inevitable.

Constantine the Great supported the Edict of Milan in 313 that decreed tolerance for Christianity in the empire. He then called the First Council of Nicaea in 325, after which the Nicene Creed was professed by all Christians and he was finally the Roman emperor to build a new imperial residence at Byzantium and renaming the city Constantinople after himself, making it in fact become the new capital of the empire. It would remain so for over one thousand years.

Justinian I (East Roman emperor 527-565) sought to revive the empire’s greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the historical Roman Empire, thus he’s sometimes been called the “last Roman” in modern historiography. This ambition resulted in the partial recovery of territories of the fallen western empire. Belisarius, his general, restored parts of North Africa, Dalmatia, Southern Spain, Sicily, Italy, and Rome to the empire as well as parts of the Black Sea coast never before under Roman rule. Justinian reformed Roman law with Corpus Juris Civilis, which is still the basis of civil law in many countries today and his reign yielded a general blossoming in culture with such masterpieces as the Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia was built as a Christian basilica and later converted into an imperial mosque after the Ottoman conquest thousand years later and is today a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. From its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople (it was briefly a Catholic cathedral in 1204-1261) and was then converted into a mosque and remained so between 1453-1931 and has been a museum since 1935. Its massive dome is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and was the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was built in 1520. The current building was built in 532-537 by Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles on orders by Justinian  who wished to rival the Pantheon in Rome by combining it’s dome with a basilica.

The church was dedicated to the Wisdom of God, the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity and its full name in greek means “Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God”. The church contained a large collection of holy relics and was the focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly a millenium. The upper gallery is laid out in a horseshoe shape that encloses the nave until the apse. Several mosaics are preserved in the upper gallery, an area traditionally reserved for the empress and her court. The best-preserved mosaics are located in the southern part of the gallery.

The upper gallery of Hagia Sofia also contains runic graffiti presumed to be from the Varangian Guard, an elite unit of the Byzantine Army in the 10th-14th centuries, whose members served as personal bodyguards to the Emperors. They where primarily composed of Germanic peoples, specifically Scandinavians (it was formed about 200 years into the Viking age) and Anglo-Saxons (after the Norman Conquest of England created an Anglo-Saxon emigration, part of which found employment in Byzantium).

The film was made from personal footage of the Hagia Sophia with additional footage and animations from a NOVA/PBS documentary titled ’Hagia Sophia: Istanbul’s Mystery’. It’s a interesting look into how the Hagia Sophia has been able to withstand earthquakes for nearly 1500 years. The Song in the film is ’Soulburner’ by Hands Of Doom.

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016