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Article

John Weisweiler

The just distribution of social goods was fiercely debated in the ancient Mediterranean and the ideologies of egalitarianism and inegalitarianism developed in Rome and Athens shaped Euro-American political thought from the Enlightenment onward. By contrast, the study of actual income and wealth distributions in ancient societies is a more recent development. Only in the early 21st century have scholars begun to make systematic attempts to quantify levels of inequality in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. Since we lack the documentary sources on which the study of inequality in contemporary economies is based, most of these reconstructions rely on a combination of modelling and the interpretation of isolated figures found in literary texts. This fragmentary evidence suggests that in the best-attested regions of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East inequality was considerable. In particular, the formation of large territorial states—most notably the empires of Babylon, Persia, and Rome—facilitated the concentration of wealth into fewer hands. But it is unclear whether inequality increased over time. At least, there is no unambiguous evidence that wealth and income were more unequally distributed in late antiquity than in earlier periods of Roman history.

Article

Noah Hacham

The short book of 3 Maccabees, written in Egypt in the Hellenistic or Roman period and almost unknown in antiquity, records king Ptolemy Philopator’s (221–204 bce) two failures to harm the Jews: In the first he failed to enter the sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem, and in the second the God of Israel thwarted the king’s three attempts to annihilate all Egyptian Jews with intoxicated elephants. The Jews instituted a holiday commemorating this rescue.

While the book’s historical credibility regarding these events is dubious, it should be seen as an important historical source for the life of Egyptian Jewry and the challenges that it faced during the Hellenistic-Roman period. The book has a discernible four-faceted agenda: (a) Jews are loyal both to their God and to the king, although they cannot be confident of the king’s goodwill toward them; (b) the God of Israel is the Jews’ protector and savior; (c) He also revealed Himself in the Diaspora, far away from the Jerusalemite Temple. The book is also (d) an anti-Dionysiac polemic.

Article

Dimitri Nakassis

Linear B is a script used to write the Greek language during the palatial period of Mycenaean civilization, c. 1400–1200 bce. It employed 87 syllabic and 143 logographic signs written from left to right. The vast majority of Linear B texts take the form of clay tablets, labels, and sealings that were used by palatial administrators to record diverse transactions. The other major document type is the inscribed stirrup jar, a coarse transport vessel with short texts painted before firing. Major deposits of Linear B texts are located at palatial sites on the Greek mainland and Crete, especially at Pylos and Cnossus. The texts are entirely administrative in nature and are therefore silent on historical events, but they shed light on many aspects of the Late Bronze Age world, especially economy, society, religion, and of course language and writing itself.Linear B is a Late Bronze Age script that was used to write documents in the Greek .

Article

The Greeks and Romans did not develop a concept of “the economy” or discuss economic matters at any length; the study of the ancient economy therefore began only in the late 18th century, in parallel with the developing study of contemporary economic development, and was heavily influenced from the beginning by the question of the relationship between antiquity and modernity. The field has long been dominated by two different but closely connected debates about the nature and degree of development of the ancient economy (was it “primitive” or, on the contrary, proto-modern?) and about the correct theoretical and methodological tools for studying it, with constant anxieties about the dangers of anachronism. A notable trend has been the increasing weight given to material as compared with literary evidence, as archaeologists have accumulated ever greater information about economic activity, leading to calls in recent years to focus on ancient economic performance rather than on the structures of culture and thought that supposedly inhibited ancient development.

Article

Rebecca Futo Kennedy and Katherine Blouin

Natural environments such as the air currents, temperatures, waters, and topography were thought to shape humans, animals, and plants. For humans, the impact was physical, behavioural, and cultural. For animals, the impacts were mostly physical (e.g., oxen in Scythia have no horns because of the cold). This is typically referred to as environmental or climatic determinism. Early explicit examples of this idea include the HippocraticAirs, Waters, Places and occasional comments in Herodotus, but arguments for such a relationship between identity and environment as early as Homer’s Odyssey and Hesiod have been made.1 There is a long-standing tradition beginning with Homer and extending through the Roman imperial period of humans, animals, and their hybrids being associated with geographic distance from an imagined centre, dwelling in designated climate bands, or being earth-born or autochthonous (gēgenēs, autochthōn) that may reflect early forms of environmental determinism. The ideas continue to circulate in much the same form as found in the Hippocratic Airs in Roman authors such as Vitruvius, Manilius, Pliny the Elder, and Vegetius.

Article

Lyktos  

Antonis Kotsonas

Lyktos (or Lyttos, from the Classical period on) is an ancient city on the island of Crete. It is located on the central part of the island, a short distance to the east of the modern town of Kastelli Pediadas and close to the village of Xydas (also spelled Xidas). The ancient site occupies a double acropolis which is part of the northwest foothills of the Lasithi mountains, and is crowned by two modern chapels. The acropolis of Lyktos rises to an elevation of over 600 m (2,000 ft) and overlooks the fertile plain of Pediada. The name Lyktos may refer to the highland location of the site (Steph. Byz., s.v. Λύκτος).The history and culture of Lyktos is amply documented in ancient literature and epigraphy (I.Cret. I xviii), to a degree which is unusual for any Cretan city. Indeed, Lyktos has produced the second largest epigraphic record from anywhere on Crete (after .

Article

Laura Mecella

Eustathius of Epiphania (modern-day Hama, Syria), late 5th–early 6th ce. He authored a lost summary of universal history in Greek, known only from Evagrius Scholasticus, John Malalas, the Suda, and Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulos (14th century). It seems likely that both Evagrius and Malalas had direct access to it, while the Suda knew its existence only from Hesychius of Miletus’s Table of Eminent Writers (Onomatologos). We do not know the details of the link with Nicephorus, who quotes Eustathius in a passage concerning Theodosius II’s reign and Attila’s campaigns against the Romans (Historia ecclesiastica 14.57). A Patmos manuscript attests the existence of Eustathius’s work as late as the 13th century, so such direct access by Nicephorus cannot be ruled out.1 However, Nicephorus’s narrative is based on several different sources, and it is impossible to identify what could have been taken from Eustathius.2 Furthermore, the possibility that many fragments of John of Antioch’s Chronological History preserve a large part of Eustathius’s work has little credibility: according to this hypothesis, both John Malalas and John of Antioch would have drawn widely on Eustathius’s history, copying it extensively.

Article

Emma Cole

Ancient drama has had a vast influence upon the literary, performance, and intellectual culture of modernity. From ancient Greece thirty-two tragedies, eleven comedies, and one satyr play survive, and from ancient Rome ten tragedies and twenty-seven comedies remain, alongside countless fragments from all genres. Many of the surviving plays are staged in contemporary theatre in both literal translation and more liberal adaptation, and today more ancient drama is seen in professional theatres than at any point since antiquity. Although all ancient dramatic genres have a rich reception history, Greek tragedy dominates the field, particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries. Productions of Greek tragedy today range from masked performances in the original language through to radical, avant-garde, immersive, and postdramatic reinventions. Greek tragedy is also frequently used as a touchstone within literary theory and broader intellectual discourse, from the theorisation of the ideal form of performance (Wagner’s Gesamtkuntswerk) to the development of psychoanalytic theory (Freud’s Oedipus complex) and structuralism (Lévi-Strauss). Ancient drama has also provided inspiration for entirely new dramatic forms; the influence of Roman tragedy, for example, can be felt within the revenge tragedies of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, while traces of Roman comedy can be felt in slapstick comedy and Italian commedia dell’arte. Current growth areas within both artistic practice, and academic research into the reception of ancient drama, include the performance reception of dramatic fragments, an increased interest in forms such as burlesque and pantomime, and the use of ancient drama as a tool of resistance against oppressive political regimes.

Article

What makes Alexander Great? His story has captured the imagination of authors, artists, philosophers, and politicians across more than two millennia. He has provided a point of convergence for religious and spiritual thinkers, he has been co-opted as a champion for gender and sexual openness, he represents a paradigm for would-be charismatic dictators (and their opponents), he gives us scientific imperialism and justification for conquistadorial dreaming, and he exemplifies the risks of cultural appropriation. To understand why Alexander resonates so widely across so many different fields of study, interest groups, and media, is an exercise in reception. This Alexander who has captured the imagination is triumphantly equivocal and it is in the plurality of traditions through which this complexity is expressed that his enduring “greatness” lies. The imaginary quality of Alexander is unsurprising because more profoundly than for any comparable individual from classical antiquity, his history is a product of reception from the start: every encounter with Alexander the Great is part of a conversation that depends substantially on accounts and narrative evidence from long after his death, and at the least at one remove from the historians who first and contemporaneously chronicled his life and achievements.

Article

Sofie Remijsen

Whereas chariot races gained popularity in late antiquity, athletics declined. Traditional agones, such as the Olympics, disappeared in the course of the 4th and 5th centuries ce. The traditional explanation, that they were abolished by Theodosius I, is no longer widely accepted, as the imperial policy clearly remained positive towards games. Changes to the administration of the cities, which administered the funds of these games, must have had a stronger effect, as did the rise of new, and in particular Christian, values. The drive to compete in the individual competitions typical of Greek athletics can be linked to the ambition to excel that was typical of the earlier political culture, but which was increasingly perceived as a vain pursuit and replaced by an ideal of humility. Not all forms of athletics disappeared, however, as the spread of circus games created new opportunities for the demonstration of spectacular feats by athletes.