Bactria | Baekje | Festivals in Ancient Egypt | Origins and History

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Ancient civilizations › Historical places, and their characters

Bactria › Origins

Definition and Origins

by Jan van der Crabben
published on 28 April 2011

 of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom (PHGCOM)
Bactria was a province of the Persian empire located in modern Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.
After the defeat of Darius III of Persia, Bactria continued to offer resistance against Alexander the Great, led by Bessus, who had proclaimed himself successor to Darius. Alexander conquered it with great difficulty between 329-327 BCE, largely with the help of local auxiliary forces. During his stay there, Alexander married a Bactrian woman, Roxanne, to aid his effort of controlling the region.
After Alexander's death, Bactria was part of the Seleucid Empire. The many difficulties against which the Seleucid kings had to fight and the attacks of Ptolemy II of Egypt gave Diodotus, satrap of Bactria, the opportunity to declare independence (about 255 BCE) and conquer Sogdiana, founding the Indo-Greek Kingdom.

Baekje › Origins

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 27 September 2016

Baekje Incense Burner (National Museum of Korea)
Baekje ( Paekche ) was one of the Three Kingdoms which ruled over ancient Korea from the 1st century BCE to the 7th century CE. Controlling territory in the south-western part of the peninsula the kingdom was in constant rivalry with the other two kingdoms of the period: Silla and Goguryeo, and the neighbouring Gaya confederation. The Baekje kingdom was noted for its high culture, many aspects of which it exported to its ally Japan. However, when the Silla joined forces with China 's ambitious Tang dynasty, the kingdom of Baekje was crushed and turned into a Chinese province before eventually being incorporated into the Unified Silla Kingdom.


The Baekje kings considered themselves descendants of the Buyeo (Puyo) tribes of north-east Manchuria. The traditional founding date of the kingdom is 18 BCE according to the 12th century CE Samguk sagi ('Historical Records of the Three States'), but this is unlikely to be accurate. The same source informs us that the founder was Onjo, son of Chumong who had founded the Goguryeo ( Koguryo ) kingdom. Onjo and his brother Piryu established their capital at Wirye-song (modern Seoul). The name Baekje means 'rule over 100 people' indicating the first group of followers who migrated with Onjo.
Modern historians, however, credit King Koi (r. 234-286 CE) with founding the kingdom of Baekje and forming a centralised state. Koi established a cabinet of six officials ( naesin ) to administer the newly-centralised state and a system of officer ranks with 16 levels. Koi also sought to reduce state corruption in 262 CE by imposing triple fines and exclusion from office of any official caught of improper conduct. The kingdom prospered due to its fertile agricultural lands and grew through the acquisition of neighbouring territories such as the fortified towns of Mahan and the Taebang commando (the former Chinbon state) in 314 CE.



Eventually, an aristocracy of eight clans (Sa, Yon, Hyop, Hae, Chin, Kuk, Mok, and Paek) would dominate all official positions in the kingdom. The aristocrats were themselves divided into three levels and distinguished by the colour of their robes. At the top were the purple-wearing chwapyong (who formed the naesin cabinet), in the middle the scarlet tok ranks, and at the bottom the blue-robed mun - dok and mudok. Only members of a particular level could access certain positions in the government administration. The higher officials wore silk caps with silver flowers while the king had a similar hat but with goldflower decoration.
In the provinces, local chiefs ruled over villages which were also overseen by a state-appointed magistrate ( kunjang ). The majority of the population were farmers, and they were expected to pay tribute to the state, sometimes even offer their labour or perform military service. Below the peasant class were slaves (mostly prisoners of war and criminals) who served on the estates of the aristocracy.

Three Kingdoms of Korea

Three Kingdoms of Korea


Chinese influence is evidenced in the Baekje monarch's adoption of the title wang (king) from the late 3rd century CE. Other instances of Chinese influence are seen in education, writing (adapted to the Korean language), poetry, the arts, and burialpractices, amongst others. Another area was the early popularity of Taoism and, even more so, Confucianism. In 384 CE, during the reign of king Chimnyu, Buddhism was adopted as the state religion by the Baekje kingdom after it was introduced there by the Indian ir Serindian monk Marananta. This replaced the former belief system based on the idea that the king was a son of God. Similarly, Baekje culture was exported abroad, especially via teachers, scholars and artists travelling to Japan and with them went Chinese culture such as classic Confucian texts but also elements of Korean culture, for example, as seen in the wooden buildings constructed there by Korean architects.


The 4th to 6th centuries CE saw a long-standing and bloody rivalry with the other two kingdoms of the peninsula: Goguryeo and Silla. The Baekje king Kun Chogo (r. 346-375 CE) conquered the Mahan federation and attacked Pyongyang, killing his Goguryeo counterpart king Gogugwon in 371 CE. During Chogo's reign diplomatic and cultural links were established with the Chinese Eastern Jin dynasty and the Wa (Wae) in Japan. There is evidence that the Wa was actually a feudal state ruled by the Baekje kings who now possessed a modern sailing fleet and controlled the lucrative trading areas around the Yellow and South Seas. Kun Chogo also established inheritance of the throne in the male line, established the convention that queens were selected from the Chin family, and gave a scholar named Kohung the task of writing the Sogi, a history of Baekje, in 375 CE. Unfortunately, the work has not survived but is is referenced in the later Samguk sagi.

The Baekje kingdom covered the south-western half of ancient Korea but was constantly rebuffed by the more dominant Goguryeo. In 475 CE an attack from the northern kingdom resulted in the death of King Gaero (who had reigned from 455 CE) and the abandonment of Hansong (modern Gwangju), his capital. A new capital was established (475 CE) at Ungjin (modern Gongju/Kongju) but was replaced by the more favourably positioned Sabi (modern Buyeo/Puyo) in 538 CE. The kingdom was redivided into 22 regions or tamno, with each governed by a member of the royal family.
Baekje formed an alliance with the Silla kingdom between 433 and 553 CE and enjoyed its greatest period of prosperity, but this came to a dramatic and violent end when the Silla occupied the lower Han River valley. Then, in a battle at Kwansan-song Fortress (modern Okchon) to reclaim their lost territory, the 30,000 strong Baekje army was defeated and King Song (r. 523-554 CE) killed.


In the following century, the Baekje and Goguryeo kingdoms joined forces against the Silla and went on the offensive, taking Taeya-song (modern Hapchon) in 642 CE and around 40 border fortresses. The following year Baekje captured Tanghang-song, which was a vital Silla link with China. The Silla, though, now had concrete support from the Chinese Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) who saw an opportunity to advance their interests in Korea and conquer the weakened Baekje and Goguryeo kingdoms. Baekje failed to tempt aid from Japan and could not prevent the fall of Sabi when the kingdom was attacked by land and sea in 660 CE. A Silla army of 50,000 led by the general Kim Yushin and a naval force of 130,000 men sent by the Tang emperor Gaozong proved more than enough to crush the Baekje army. Uija (r. 641-660), who turned out to be the last Baekje king, was taken prisoner and shipped off to China along with 12,000 of his compatriots.

Baekje Gold Earrings

Baekje Gold Earrings

There was brief hope of a revival when rebel forces finally persuaded the Wa of Japan to intervene with a 30,000 man army, but this was wiped out by a joint Silla-Tang naval force on the Paekchon (modern Kum) River. Over the next few years rebel Baekje forces did harass cities and even laid siege to Sabi and Ungjin but they were beset with leadership in-fighting and were finally crushed in 663 CE. The Baekje kingdom, thereafter, became a Chinese province.
The Silla eventually took over the entire peninsula and became known as the Unified Silla Kingdom, but following their slow collapse from the end of the 9th century CE, the state of Baekje, now known as Later Baekje to distinguish it from its predecessor, briefly rose again. The new state was founded in 892 CE by Kyon Hwon, a peasant leader, but soon succumbed to the more powerful Later Goguryeo state which would itself morph into the much more enduring Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392 CE).


The art and architecture of the Baekje kingdom are generally considered the finest of the Three Kingdoms, but unfortunately for posterity, these have also suffered the greatest destruction thanks to warfare with the Silla, Goguryeo, and China over the centuries. One notable artistic contribution of the Baekje kingdom is their tiles decorated with fine landscape paintings. Also in the field of ceramics, Baekje potters produced two distinct types of wares: high-fired stoneware and low-fired pottery light brown in colour. Bulbous jars, footed vessels, and tripods are common shapes. A typical Baekje decoration is the use of check stamps. Another product of the potter was roof tiles decorated with lotus petals. Baekje sculpture is perhaps best seen in gilt-bronze statues of the Buddha and the carved stone cliff faces such as at Sosan.
Regarding architecture, the 7th-century CE Miruk temple at Iksan (now lost) was built by King Mu (r. 600-641 BCE). It was the largest Buddhist temple in East Asia and had two stone pagodas and one in wood. One stone pagoda survives, albeit with only six of its original 7-9 storeys. The only other surviving Baekje pagoda is also of stone and located at the Chongnim temple at Buyeo. Finally, elements of Baekje architectural design can be seen in many surviving wooden buildings in Japan as a great number of Baekje craftsmen went there when Wa Japan was an ally.

Tomb of Muryeong-Wang

Tomb of Muryeong-Wang

Baekje tombs were first pyramid -like structures made of stone, sometimes with the deceased placed inside two ceramic jars positioned mouth-to-mouth but, under the influence of China, these structures evolved into brick and stone-chambered tombs covered in earth mounds. Many of the interior walls were painted with murals. Perhaps one of the most impressive tombs is that of King Muryeong-Wang (r. 501-523 CE) which, within its huge earth mound, has a semi-circular vault lined with hundreds of moulded bricks, many decorated with lotus flower and geometric designs. The structure, located near Gongju, dates to 525 CE, as indicated by an inscription plaque inside the tomb. The queen joined her husband within the tomb in 529 CE.
Despite the exception of Muryeong's tomb, the horizontal entrances of Baekje tombs made their looting much easier than the fully-enclosed tombs of the Silla. As a result, there are, alas, frustratingly few outstanding surviving artefacts from one of Korea's most distinguished kingdoms. However, one superb piece which has survived as testimony to the skills of Baekje artists is the gilt-bronze incense burner from near Sabi, the only such example from ancient Korea. The foot is in the form of a dragon and supports a mountain in the shape of an egg which is decorated with heavenly beings and clouds. The whole is topped by a lid decorated with a phoenix.

This article was made possible with generous support from the British Korean Society.

Festivals in Ancient Egypt › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 17 March 2017
The gods of the ancient Egyptians were always apparent to the people through natural events. The sunrise was Ra emerging from the underworld in his great ship, for example, and the moon was the god Khonsu traveling across the night sky. When a woman became pregnant, it was through the fertility encouraged by Bes or Tawaret, and the Seven Hathors were present at the child's birth to declare its destiny. Sycamore trees were sacred to Hathor and the home was protected by Bastet. There was no need for anything like a weekly worship service to pay homage to these gods because they were worshiped daily and nightly through various rituals during which individuals participated in the work of the gods.


Communal gatherings for worship took place during festivals, and as the Egyptians set a premium on enjoying life, there were many of them throughout the year. These festivals (known as heb ) allowed people to experience the god intimately, give thanks for gifts that were given, and make requests for divine favors. Egyptologist Margaret Bunson writes:
The purpose of most of the festivals was to allow the people to behold the gods with their own eyes. Particular images of the gods, sometimes carried in portable shrines, were taken out of the temple sanctuaries and carried through the streets or sailed on the Nile. Stations of the Gods were erected throughout the various cities in order to provide stages for the processions. Oracles were conducted on these festivals as the images of the deities moved in certain directions to indicate negative or positive responses to the questions posed by the faithful. (90)
These public gatherings also helped to maintain the belief structure of the culture in that everyone who attended was encouraged in the traditional understanding of how the world operated: through the will of the gods as interpreted by the priests and implemented by the king.


There were no religious services in Egypt corresponding to worship services in the present day. The priests served the gods, not the people, and their job was to administer to the gods' daily needs, recite hymns and prayers for the souls of the dead, and engage in rituals which ensured the continued goodwill of the gods to the people.
A deity was thought to live in the statue housed in the inner sanctum of that god's temple, and the high priest was the only person allowed in its presence until the position of God's Wife of Amun was elevated during the Middle Kingdom of Egypt(2040-1782 BCE). At this time, the female priestess in the role of God's Wife of Amun became the counterpart to the high priest and assisted in caring for the statue in the temple of Karnak at Thebes.

Temple of Amun, Karnak

Temple of Amun, Karnak

Although people would come to the temple complexes to offer sacrifices, offerings, receive various forms of aid, and make requests, they did not enter the temple to worship. Common people were allowed in the courtyard of the temple complex but not in the interiors and certainly not in the god's presence. As noted, people performed their own private rituals in communion with the gods, but collectively, their only opportunity for worship was at a festival.


The Egyptians observed national and local festivals annually. There were many such celebrations but those listed below are among the most important and best-documented. In some cases, the details of what went on at these gatherings have been lost, but for many, they are known in great detail. The festivals marked the progression of the year, notched on the staff of time by Thoth, and the year would end in the same celebration with which it had begun; thus emphasizing the cyclical, eternal, nature of life.
Wepet-Renpet Festival : The Opening of the Year - This was the New Year's Day celebration in ancient Egypt. The festival was a kind of moveable feast as it depended on the inundation of the Nile River. It celebrated the death and rebirth of Osiris, and by extension, the rejuvenation and rebirth of the land and the people. It is firmly attested to as initiating in the latter part of the Old Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2613 - c. 3150 BCE) and is clear evidence of the popularity of the Osiris cult at that time.
Feasting and drinking were a part of this festival, as they were for most, and the celebration would last for days; the length varied depending on the time period. Solemn rituals related to the death of Osiris were observed as well as singing and dancing to celebrate his rebirth. The call-and-response poem known as The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys was recited at the beginning to call Osiris to his feast.

Wag Festival : Dedicated to the death of Osiris and honoring the souls of the deceased on their journey in the afterlife. This festival followed the Wepet-Renpet, but its date changed according to the lunar calendar. It is one of the oldest festivals celebrated by the Egyptians and, like Wepet-Renpet, first appears in the Old Kingdom. During this festival, people would make small boats out of paper and set them toward the west on graves to indicate Osiris' death and people would float shrines of paper on the waters of the Nile for the same reason.
Wag and Thoth Festival : A combining of the Wag Festival with the birth of the god Thoth and centered on rejuvenation and rebirth. This festival was a set date on the 18th day of the first month of the year. Thoth was worshiped as the god of writing, wisdom, and knowledge - among other attributes - and associated with the judgment of the dead by Osiris, thus linking the two gods. Thoth's birth and Osiris' rebirth were joined in this festival from the latter part of the Old Kingdom onwards.
Tekh Festival: The Feast of Drunkenness : This festival was dedicated to Hathor ('The Lady of Drunkenness') and commemorated the time when humanity was saved from destruction by beer. According to the story, Ra had become weary of people's endless cruelty and nonsense and so sent Sekhmet to destroy them. She took to her task with enthusiasm, tearing people apart and drinking their blood. Ra is satisfied with the destruction until the other gods point out to him that, if he wanted to teach people a lesson, he should stop the destruction before no one was left to learn from it. Ra then orders the goddess of beer, Tenenet, to dye a large quantity of the brew red and has it delivered to Dendera, right in Sekhmet's path of destruction.She finds it and, thinking it is blood, drinks it all, falls asleep, and wakes up as the gentle and beneficent Hathor.

The Goddess Hathor

The Goddess Hathor

According to Egyptologist Carolyn Graves-Brown, the festival began in the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE), was most popular in the early New Kingdom (c. 1570-1069 BCE), fell out of favor, and was then revived in Roman Egypt. Graves-Brown describes the central part of the festival as depicted on a 'Porch of Drunkenness' in the Temple of Mut at Karnak: "It seems that in the Hall of Drunkenness, worshippers got drunk, slept, and then were woken by drummers to commune with the goddess Mut [who was closely linked with Hathor]" (169). Participants would lessen their inhibitions and preconceptions through alcohol and experience the goddess intimately upon waking to the sacred drums.
Opet Festival : One of the most important festivals in which the king was rejuvenated by the god Amun at Thebes. It was observed during the Middle Kingdom but grew in popularity in the New Kingdom of Egypt, where, in the 20th Dynasty, it was celebrated for twenty days. During this festival, the priests would first wash and dress the statue of Amun and then carry it out of the temple and through the streets of Thebes which were lined with people waiting to see the god. The statue was then transported to Luxor, by foot in earlier times, and later on a barge. Once at the temple of Luxor, the king would enter the presence of the god in the inner sanctum and emerge forgiven of sins and rejuvenated to continue his reign.
As at other festivals, the state supplied the people with food and drink, distributing bread, sweets, and beer while the crowds waited their turn to ask the god a question. The statue of Amun would answer these questions through the agency of the priests who would either interpret the god's answer or 'tip' the statue one way or another to indicate a positive or negative response.
Hathor Festival : Held annually at Dendera, the main site of Hathor's cult, this festival celebrated the birth of the goddess and her many blessings. It was similar to the Tekh Festival in many aspects. This festival dates from the Old Kingdom and was among the most anticipated. The cult of Hathor was extremely popular and, just as with the festival for Neith, the celebration was well-attended wherever it was held. As with the Tekh Festival, participants were encouraged to over-indulge in alcohol while engaging in singing and dancing in honor of the goddess. There may also have been a sexual component to the celebration similar to the Tekh Festival, but this interpretation, while not at all inconsistent or incredible, is not universally accepted.
Sokar Festival/Festival of Khoiak : Sokar was an agricultural god in the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt (c. 3150 - c. 2613 BCE) whose characteristics were later taken on by Osiris. In the Old Kingdom, the Sokar Festival was merged with the solemn Khoiak Festival of Osiris which observed his death. It was a very somber affair in its early form but grew to include Osiris' resurrection as well and was celebrated in the Late Period of Ancient Egypt (525-332 BCE) for almost a month. People planted Osiris Gardens and crops during the celebrations which honored the god as the plants sprung from the earth, commemorating Osiris' rebirth from the dead. The planting of crops during the festival no doubt dates back to the early worship of Sokar.



Herodotus places the number of attendees at the festival as over seven hundred thousand, and although this may be an exaggeration, there is no doubt the goddess was one of the most popular in Egypt among both sexes and so could be an accurate number. The festival revolved around dancing, singing, and drinking in honor of Bastet thanking her for gifts given and asking for future favors.
Nehebkau Festival : Nehebkau was the god who bound the ka (soul) to the khat (body) at birth and then attached the ka to the ba (the traveling aspect of the soul) after death. The festival commemorated Osiris' resurrection and the return of his ka as the people celebrated rebirth and rejuvenation. The festival was similar in many respects to the Wepet-Renpet Festival of the New Year.
Min Festival : Min was the god of fertility, virility, and reproduction from the Predynastic Period in Egypt (c. 6000 - c. 3150 BCE) onwards. He is usually represented as a man standing with an erect penis holding a flail. The Min Festival was probably celebrated in some form starting in the Early Dynastic Period but is best attested to in the New Kingdom and afterwards.
As at the Opet Festival, the statue of Min was carried out of the temple by the priests in a procession which included sacred singers and dancers. When they reached the place where the king stood, he would ceremonially cut the first sheaf of grain to symbolize his connection between the gods, the land, and the people and offer the grain to the god in sacrifice. The festival honored the king as well as the god in the hopes of a continued prosperous reign which would bring fertility to the land and the people.
Wadi Festival/The Beautiful Feast of the Valley : Similar in many ways to the Qingming Festival in China and the Day of the Dead in Mexico and elsewhere, the Beautiful Feast of the Valley honored the souls of the deceased and allowed for the living and dead to celebrate together while, at the same time, honoring Amun. The statues of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu (the Theban Triad) were taken from their temples to visit the mortuary temples and necropolis across the river. People visited with their departed loved ones at their tombs and brought bouquets of flowers and food and drink offerings. Egyptologist Lynn Meskell describes the focus of the celebration:
The Beautiful Festival of the Wadi was a key example of a festival of the dead, which took place between the harvest and the Nile flood. In it, the divine boat of Amun traveled from the Karnak temple to the necropolis of Western Thebes. A large procession followed and the living and dead were thought to commune near the graves which became houses of the joy of the heart on that occasion. (cited in Nardo, 99-100)
Images of the deceased were carried in the procession so their souls might join in the festivities and were left in the tombs when the festival was completed. As Meskell notes, "in this way a link was forged between celebrating the gods and the dead in a single all-encompassing event" which brought the past into the present and, through the eternal gods, on into the future.The Beautiful Feast of the Valley was among the most popular in Egypt's history and was celebrated from at least the Middle Kingdom on.
Sed Festival : Usually given as the Heb-Sed Festival, this celebration honored the king and revitalized him. It was held every thirty years of the king's reign in order to ensure he was still in harmony with the will of the gods and physically fit to rule Egypt.The festival began with a grand procession held in front of priests, nobles, and the public. The king would need to run around an enclosed space (such as the temple complex at Saqqara) in order to prove he was fit and, in later eras, would fire arrows toward the four cardinal directions as a symbol of his power over the land and his ability to bring other nations under Egypt's influence.
The festival probably dates from the Predynastic Period in some form but is certainly attested to from the reign of King Den (c. 2990-2940 BCE) of the First Dynasty. The name comes from the deity Sed, an early wolf-god (sometimes depicted as more of a jackal), who was originally among the most important gods, associated with the strength of the king, justice, and balance (and so linked with the goddess and concept of ma'at ). Sed was eventually absorbed by Wepwawet and Anubis and superseded by Osiris who, by the New Kingdom, had taken Sed's place in the festival. As with all the great festivals, the state provided the people with food and beer for the duration.
Although only supposed to be celebrated after the first 30 years of the king's reign (and every three years afterwards), the Heb-Sed was sometimes observed earlier and is often referred to as the king's jubilee. The length of a king's reign was once dated, in part, according to the observance of the Heb-Sed until it came to be understood that some kings initiated the festival earlier than the 30-year mark if they were in poor health (and needed the gods' rejuvenation) or for other reasons.
The Epagomenae : The Super-added Days. These were the five days at the end of the year added in order to bring the Egyptian calendar of 360 days in line with the solar year of 365. According to the myth, when Nut became pregnant by her brother Geb at the beginning of the world, it so enraged Ra (Atum) that he decreed she would not give birth on any day of the year. Thoth, however, played a game of senet with the moon god Iah (Khonsu) in which he gambled, and won, five day's worth of moonlight. He took this moonlight and created the five "super-added days" which Nut could give birth in.

On the first day, she gave birth to Osiris, on the second Horus the Elder, on the third Set, on the fourth Isis, and on the fifth Nephthys. These days were considered a potent time of transition by the Egyptians who saw them as either auspicious or ominous depending on the deity born on a given day. The third day, when Set was born, was thought especially unlucky, and Plutarch reports that business was not transacted on the third day and people would fast until evening.
The Epagomenae were not festivals, although observances could be conducted and, no doubt, rituals were performed in temples, but still are counted among others because they formed the transition in the cycle of the year between the old and the new. Following the Epagomenae, the Wepet-Renpet Festival was again observed and a new year was begun.


In addition to these, there were many more festivals celebrated throughout the year, which were considered just as important by the ancient Egyptians. The Festival of Neith, for example, united the entire nation as people lighted candles and oil lamps at night to mirror the sky and bring earth into harmony with the realm of the gods. The Festival of Ptah was one of the earliest, honoring the creator god. Another, the Raising of the Djed, dates from the Predynastic Period and is another of the earliest rites observed in Egypt which came to be associated with Osiris.
There are even more besides these since, as noted, there were national and local celebrations. According to Bunson, "these ceremonies served as manifestations of the divine in human existence and, as such, wove a pattern of life for the Egyptian people" (91). Meskell notes how "religious festivals actualized belief; they were not simply social celebrations" (Nardo, 99). The festivals brought the past into the present, elevated the people toward the divine, and, on the simplest level, were times when the people could relax and enjoy themselves. The great number of such festivals in the Egyptian calendar is the clearest evidence of the value the culture placed on joy in life and the most common form of its collective expression.


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
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