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  • Oedipus the King › Who was
  • Trdat the Architect › Who was
  • The Aftermath of Looting › Origins

Ancient civilizations › Historical places, and their characters

Oedipus the King  › Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Donald L. Wasson

The 5th-century BCE poet and dramatist Sophocles is considered one of the most successful tragedians of his time. Although Sophocles wrote at least 120 plays, only seven have survived. Of his surviving plays, the most famous is Oedipus the King ,also known as Oedipus Rex or Oedipus Tyrannos ('Tyrannos' signifies that the throne was not gained through an inheritance).The play is part of a trilogy along with Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus.
The plot - an old myth already known to most of the audience - was simple: a prophecy claiming he would kill his father and lie with his mother forces Oedipus to leave his home of Corinth and unknowingly travel to Thebes (his actual birthplace). On route he fulfills the first part of the prophecy when he kills a man, the king of Thebes and his true father. Upon arriving in Thebes, he saves the troubled city by solving the riddle of the Sphinx , then he marries the widowed queen (his mother) and becomes the new king. Later, when a plague has befallen the city, Oedipus is told that to rid the city of the plague he must find the murderer of the slain king. Unknowingly, ignorant of the fact that he was the culprit, he promises to solve the murder. When he finally learns the truth, he realizes he has fulfilled the prophecy; he blinds himself and goes into exile.


Sophocles (c. 496 BCE - c. 406 BCE) was born to a wealthy family in the deme or suburb of Colonus outside the heart of Athens . Besides being an author, he was extremely active in Athenian public life, serving as a treasurer in 443-42 BCE and a general 441-40 BCE. When he was in his eighties, he was named a member of the group of special magistrates assigned to the dubious task of organizing both financial and domestic recovery in 412-11 BCE after the disastrous defeat at Syracuse .He had two sons; Iophon by his wife Nicosrate and Ariston (also called Sophocles) by his mistress Theoris. Both sons would eventually become playwrights. Among his close friends were the historian Herodotus and the statesman Pericles .

Bust of Sophocles

Although active in Athenian political circles, his plays rarely contain any references to current events or issues - something that makes the dating of his plays difficult. Classicist Edith Hamilton wrote that he was a passionless, detached observer of life. In her book The Greek Way, she said that the beauty of his plays was in their simple, lucid, and reasonable structure. He was the embodiment of what we know to be Greek. She wrote that “… all definitions of the Greek spirit and Greek art are first of all definitions of his spirit and his art. He has imposed himself upon the world as the quintessential Greek, and the qualities pre-eminently his are ascribed to all the rest” (198-199). She added that he was conservative in politics and believed in the established order of things, even in theology. Author David Grene in his translation of Oedipus the King said that his plays had tightly controlled plots with complex dialog, character contrasts, an interweaving of spoken and musical elements, and the “fluidity of verbal expression.”


Greek tragedians performed their plays in outdoor theaters at various festivals and rituals in competitions. The purpose of these tragedies was to not only entertain but also to educate the Greek citizen, to explore a problem. Along with a chorus of singers to explain the action, there were actors, often three, who wore masks. Sophocles' contemporaries included Aeschylus, author of Prometheus Bound, and Euripides , author of Medea . At the festival of Dionysius, Sophocles won 18 competitions, while Aeschylus won 13, and Euripides only five. Few accurate dates are known for his plays; Oedipus the Kingwas probably written in the mid-420s BCE. This estimate is based on his reference to a plague that beset the city during Oedipus's time on the throne. Oddly, while it was one of his most popular plays then and now, it did not win first prize. The play's characters are few: Oedipus, the king; Creon, his brother-in-law; Teiresias, an old blind prophet; Jocasta, his wife and mother; two messengers, a herdsman, a priest, and of course, the chorus.


The play opens with the city of Thebes in turmoil, beset by a plague. A priest speaks to Oedipus: “A blight is on the fruitful plants of the earth, a blight is on the cattle in the fields, a blight in on our women that no children are born to them…” (Grene, 74). He reminds the king that he had freed the city from the tribute paid to the Sphinx, and now the city pleads for him to find some way to rescue the city and “set it straight.” Oedipus replies that he understands the plight of the people and has sent his brother-in-law Creon to the temple of Apollo (often referred to in the play as King Phoebus) to find an answer. Upon returning to the city, Creon requests to speak to the king in private, but Oedipus replies, “Speak it to all, the grief I bear, I bear it more for these people than for my own life” (77). To rid the city of the plague they must find the murderer of King Laius. Knowing little about the former king's death, Oedipus listens to the details of the murder, a crime supposedly committed by robbers. He vows to find the murderer: “Whoever he was that killed the king may readily wish to dispatch me with his murderous hand: so helping the dead king I help myself” (79).

Oedipus & the Sphinx

Oedipus speaks to the audience, begging that if anyone knows the murderer to come forward, promising that he has no punishment to fear, only exile. However, he invokes a curse “… whether he is one man and all unknown, or one of many - may he wear out his life in misery to miserable doom” (82). He is told of a local blind prophet, Teiresias, who often sees what Apollo sees and might help him solve the murder. However, after the prophet arrives, he is afraid to speak, fearing for his life if he tells the truth. Oedipus pleads, “You know of something but refuse to speak. Would you betray us and destroy the city?” (86) To try and force him to speak, Oedipus accuses him of being part of a plot. Reluctantly, the old prophet relents, telling Oedipus that he, himself, is the murderer. Oedipus is irate, threatening Teiresias. The old man replies that Oedipus taunts him “with the very insults which everyone soon will heap upon yourself” (89). The king questions if this accusation comes from him or Creon. The old prophet replies that Creon is not to blame. The old prophet then inquires of Oedipus if he knows who his parents are, adding that a “curse from father and mother both, shall drive you forth out of this land, with darkness on your eyes” (91).
Oedipus and Creon meet to talk. Immediately, Oedipus threatens his brother-in-law, calling him a traitor and plotting against him. In defense, Creon asks if he is to be banished. When Jocasta arrives, the king tells her that her brother is plotting against him, but she replies in defense, “… what was it that roused your anger so?” (104) He tells her that Creon accuses him of killing her husband, the king. She responds that he should not concern himself with the matter and tells him of the prophecy of the oracle and the death of her husband. “… it was fate that he should die a victim at the hands of his own son … (b)ut see now, he, the king was killed by foreign highway robbers at a place where three roads meet” (105). With his curiosity aroused, Oedipus asks about the murder: How long ago was it? What did he look like? How old was he? She tells him of the only survivor, an old servant who was sent away. Oedipus asks to speak to the old man, and if their stories are the same, he will be free of any guilt.
Oedipus then relates the story of his own departure from Corinth. He had been called a bastard at a dinner party held by his parents, the king and queen. Although his parents denied the accusation, he soon learned that a prophecy fated him to murder his father and lie with his mother. To avoid fulfilling the prophecy, he fled the city only to come to a crossroads where he encountered a carriage. A dispute ensues and he ends up killing the carriage's occupant and the driver. “I killed them all.” He asks of Jocasta, “Was I not born evil? Am I not utterly unclean?” (110)

Oedipus at Colonus

A messenger arrives to tell Oedipus that his father, the king of Corinth is dead. Oedipus realizes that the old prophecy was wrong. “They prophesied that I should kill my father. But he's dead and hidden deep in the earth, and I stand here who never laid a hand or spear near him…” (116). However, he is confused and not completely relieved, still fearing that the prophecy may be proven to be true. The messenger adds that King Polybius was not Oedipus' real father, for he had received a baby - Oedipus - from a shepherd and given it to the king. Oedipus realized that this shepherd was the same man who had been sent away by Jocasta. To help appease the king's anguish Jocasta tells Oedipus that she hopes the gods keep him from finding out who he really is.
The old herdsman arrives to speak to Oedipus. After the king pressures him, he reluctantly relates the story of how he had pitied the baby that came from the house of Laius and given it to the messenger. After hearing the herdsman's confession, Oedipus is beside himself, begging for a sword so he could kill his wife, his mother. Speaking to the chorus, a second messenger arrives and tells that the audience that Jocasta is dead; she had committed suicide. When Oedipus enters her room, he finds her hanging with a twisted rope around her neck. He tore the brooches from her robe and stabbed himself in his eyes, repeatedly. Blinded, he begs to be shown to the men of Thebes as his father's killer. He laments: “Why should I see whose vision showed me nothing sweet to see? (134) He proclaims that he is godless and a child of impurity. “If there is any ill worse than ill, that is the lot of Oedipus” (135). Creon comes to him but not to laugh, only to ask what he could do. Oedipus asks to give Jocasta a proper funeral, and for himself, to be driven out and live “away from the city.”


Oedipus the King was not only staged throughout antiquity but is still performed to this day and is required reading in many schools. It survived as the model for plays by such noted authors as Seneca, Dryden, and Voltaire. The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud even coined the phrase “Oedipus Complex” to describe the developmental phase when one may experience a desire for one's parent of the opposite sex. David Grene wrote that Oedipus serves as “a metaphor for every human being's quest for personal identity and self-knowledge in a world of ignorance and human horrors” (11).

Trdat the Architect  › Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: James Blake Wiener

“ Trdat the Architect ” or Tiridates (c. 940s-c. 1020s?) was a Armenian architect who is noted for his role in the reconstruction of the Hagia Sophia ’s dome in Constantinople following an earthquake in the 10th century CE, as well as the Cathedral of Ani and the Church of Gagik in what is now present-day Turkey . Along with Momik (c.1270-1333 CE), Trdat is the most famous Armenian architect of the Middle Ages.
Very little if anything concrete is known about Trdat's earliest years aside from that he was Armenian with extensive talents in mathematics and architectural design. Trdat's life coincided with the medieval Armenian golden era as well as the so-called “Macedonian Renaissance” of the Byzantine Empire (867-1056 CE). After centuries of intermittent warfare and constant invasions, Armenians and Byzantines halted the tide of the Arab onslaught, stabilizing their borders and safeguarding their population centers. This was a time of political and economic stability in addition to cultural effervescence in both Armenia and Byzantium . Historians and archaeologists can trace Trdat's movements based on his construction and reconstruction projects around historical Armenia as well as the Byzantine Empire . Trdat lived and worked primarily in Shirak province, which in the 10th and 11th century CE included the city of Ani, the capital of Bagratid Armenia (885-1045 CE).


Trdat is sometimes credited as the architect responsible for the construction of several churches at the Sanahin Monastery, the Haghpat Monastery, and the Marmashen Monastery, which are all located in present-day Armenia. According to the Universal History , written by the Armenian historian Stepanos Asoghik in the 11th century CE, Trdat is mentioned by name as responsible for the construction of the Argina Cathedral, which had become the seat of the Armenian Catholicos in the late 9th century CE. Located just to the north of Ani and in a current state of partial collapse, Argina Cathedral was once an aisleless structure characterized by a dome on pendentives. This cathedral's linearity and longitudinal space divided by piers foreshadowed Trdat's subsequent work on Ani Cathedral.
Historians are able to trace Trdat's life primarily through his work in and around Ani, although it should be noted that Trdat was active in Armenia prior to and after his repair of the Hagia Sophia. Ani was a new, but grand city that stood at the crossroads of trade between the Byzantine Empire, the Abbasid Caliphate, the Kievan Rus, and the Persianate states of Central Asia.Founded in 961 CE, Ani grew quickly and at its height, it contained a population of perhaps 100,000 people. Because of the city's rapid growth, King Ashot III of Armenia (r. 953-977 CE) and his sons, King Smbat II (r. 977-989 CE) and King Gagik I (r. 989-1020 CE), ordered the construction of new walls, public spaces, caravanserai (roadside inns), and churches. Ani soon became known throughout the Near East and Mediterranean as the “city of a thousand and one churches."

Ani Cathedral

In 989, Smbat II commanded Trdat to build a new cathedral in Ani and construction of this building ended around 1001-1006 CE under the supervision of Queen Katramide (c. 970-1010 CE), the wife of Gagik I and sister of King Bagrat III of Georgia (r. 1008–1014 CE). Historians contend that Trdat then worked on the Church of Gagik (occasionally referred to as Gagkasen).This church, dedicated to St. Gregory of Armenia, was built in imitation of Zvartnots Cathedral , having "brilliant splendor, lofty vaults, and a sanctuary surmounted by a heaven-like dome” ( Evans et al, 352). However, despite their similarities, Trdat elongates the church's arches and supports, and profiles large interior spaces at the Church of Gagik. Trdat here was perhaps influenced by the linear aesthetics of the Hagia Sophia and other Byzantine churches.


It is not known how Trdat first came to Constantinople and was ultimately entrusted with the reconstruction of the Hagia Sophia, following an earthquake in 988 CE. It is entirely possible that Trdat was already in Constantinople while work halted on Ani Cathedral after the death of Smbat II in 989 CE. Armenians frequently rose to positions of great prominence as scholars, generals, and rulers under the Byzantine emperors of the Macedonian dynasty (867-1056 CE). Many of the Byzantine emperors of this dynasty were also either Armenian or partially Armenian by ancestry. Emperor Basil II (r 976-1025 CE.), ever concerned with the boundaries of his eastern frontier with the Georgians, Armenians, and Arabs, might have heard of Trdat and his work from those he encountered while campaigning in the Caucasus. According to the Chronicle of the Armenian historian Matthew of Edessa (d. 1144 CE), Basil II conversed with Armenian scholars during his frequent travels throughout the Caucasus.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Byzantine churches were quite different from the imposing and austere, geometric stone structures the Armenians employed to support their faceted-domed churches. The Byzantines favored bricks and mortar in their churches, avoiding too the conical domes favored by Armenians. Nonetheless, Trdat was charged by Basil II to repair the Hagia Sophia's western dome arch.This was no simple task as the Hagia Sophia employs four triangular pendentives to transpose the weight of its circular dome to a quadrilateral supporting superstructure without the use of columns or pillars in interior spaces. Trdat rebuilt and strengthened the destroyed dome arch with fifteen dome ribs. Repair and reconstruction took six years, and the Hagia Sophia reopened in 994 CE. The fact that the Hagia Sophia has not suffered severe damage in the same area for over 1,000 years serves as a testimony to Trdat's brilliance and acumen as an architect.


Trdat stands out amongst medieval Armenian architects as he undertook large-scale projects in both Armenia and Byzantium.The scholastic debate as to the amount of cross-cultural exchange in architecture facilitated by Trdat continues, but it is difficult to deny that Trdat's enduring legacy lies in his ability to have refined and expanded the architectural models and traditions of his Armenian and Byzantine patrons.
This article was made possible with generous support from the National Association for Armenian Studies and Researchand the Knights of Vartan Fund for Armenian Studies.

The Aftermath of Looting  › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

Author: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin

He who saw everything in the broad-boned earth, and knew what was to be known,
Who had experienced what there was, and had become familiar with all things.
The Epic of Gilgamesh .


After the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 CE and the catastrophic collapse of the Republic of Iraq, the tragedy of the looting of the Iraq Museum and several other museums in Iraq, as well as the wide-spread illegal excavations in Mesopotamia(Iraq) prompted the government of Kurdistan and its Ministry of Councils to issue a decree.
Accordingly, thanks to the government of Kurdistan and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and their unlimited sponsorship, the Sulaymaniyah Museum, from 2003 CE to the present, has built, protected, and stored a very large cache of relics, belonging to several Mesopotamian periods, cultures, and histories. Many of the objects, bought by the Sulaymaniyah Museum, belonged to the Iraq Museum in Baghdad (the letters “IM” followed by numbers were written on the surface of the object); the Sulaymaniyah Museum returned and delivered these artefacts to that Museum in Baghdad. It is noteworthy to mention that the Sulaymaniyah Museum is not sponsored or funded by the central federal Government in Baghdad!

Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

This clay tablet was black in color (an aftermath of fire). The surfaces were "stamped" many times. This angle of view demonstrates three beautiful stamp impressions containing cuneiform signs. Never-before-seen, exclusive photo. Illegally excavated from Southern Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq.
Many people would consider this bargain unacceptable, as it would/will encourage more looters to sell their merchandise legally and more easily. Others argue that in that way, Iraqi Kurdistan, has been largely successful in intercepting the smuggling of Mesopotamian relics, and it is a very bold step to announce this publicly. I agree with the last opinion. For example, this is how the world enjoyed the newly unearthed tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh ! I have heard and read many news stories that many objects from the Iraq Museum have been returned, but how? Many relics were in the United States, European countries, and neighbour countries. No one says how, or at the best, the majority will say no further information! It is understandable that some degree of lack of transparency should attend the scene.


I will now show you here some examples of these Mesopotamian clay tablets, currently housed in the Sulaymaniyah Museum.None of these tablets is on display and these photos are exclusive and never-before-seen. The hand which appears in each photo is mine; I held the tablets and shot them with my Nikon D90 camera in September 2014 CE. I have chosen 16 images out of approximately 10,000 ones I have.
Let us start with this tablet:

Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

“Hi hi…it's ty ty!” While I was shooting this tablet from several angles, I found this. This is an Arabic word (وركاء) written on the tablet using a blue marker. It reads Warka ( Uruk ). The Museum's staff had no idea about this and did not notice it either! It was written by the plunderers; the tablet might well have been unearthed at the city of Uruk! Bang bang! Illegally excavated tablet.

Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

I remember seeing a very similar clay tablet, on display, at the British Museum, dating back to the 3rd millennium BCE. The looters had cleaned the surfaces of this complete and intact tablet in a very professional way. The cuneiform inscriptions are crystal-clear! Illegally excavated tablet.

Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

Another illegally excavated tablet, which is entirely black in color (an aftermath of fire). There are many cuneiform inscriptions on the surfaces but this tablet also has many obvious stamped impressions on it. Among a large collection of tablets, I have noticed that stamp impressions were found only on those "burnt tablets"; this may well suggest that they were excavated from a single spot!

Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

When I held this tablet in my hand, my body became numb. It was intact, complete, marvellous, and a breath-taking 5000 years old piece. The Sulaymaniyah Museum was successful in protecting this priceless relic from going outside Iraq; thanks to the Government of Iraqi Kurdistan. Illegally excavated tablet.

Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

This was a heavy clay tablet. It was complete, intact, and very beautiful. The overlying cuneiform inscriptions are easily readable. Illegally excavated tablet.
Now, let's see some other examples of how those plunderers managed to do surgical operations on their merchandise to fool future potential buyers:

Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

This was a large and heavy tablet, which was cut into two halves by the excavators in order to be sold as two pieces, which means more income! The other half is lost (with whom is it now I wonder?) and the cuneiform text is therefore incomplete. We have here lost very valuable information because of those gold -diggers. Illegally excavated tablet.

Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

This tablet was broken into many pieces. The excavators tried to join its fragments. Note the modern cement which was used to fill in some lost spaces and to join the pieces all together. The right lower piece was remodelled and re-shaped using modern cement and in situ debris. Still, some pieces were missing and could not be replaced. Such a process of “repair" has resulted, not only, in a distorted shape, but also ended-up with the loss of many cuneiform signs; a disaster to scholars! Illegally excavated tablet.

Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

Another tablet which was broken into many pieces. Modern cement as well as in situ debris and unrelated fragments were used to “revive” this tablet. A brown paint was also used on some of the surfaces as a make up! Illegally excavated tablet.

Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

A multi-fragment clay tablet joined together by modern cement and in situ debris. Some of the filling in fragments are unrelated; the tablet had to appear a complete item. Illegally excavated tablet.

Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

Modern cement and in situ debris were used to fill in the gap in the upper part of this tablet. The process has also resulted in the loss of some the adjacent cuneiform signs. Illegally excavated tablet.

Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

This looks like a bump on the forehead! Modern cement, sand, and in situ debris were used to fill in the lost angle of this illegally excavated tablet.

Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

Another tablet which was broken into many pieces; this is the reverse aspect of the tablet. Modern cement as well as in situ debris and unrelated fragments were used to “conserve” this tablet. Illegally excavated tablet.

Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

This tablet was split into two longitudinal pieces. Note how the gang has filled in the spaces in between the fragments and the use of modern cement. Illegally excavated tablet.

Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

An expert at the Museum told me that the left piece is unrelated. The looters had re-shaped a fragment of another unrelated tablet to adjust it onto the vacant space. The use of modern cement can be seen.

Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

And last but not least, this exemplifies the mode of thinking of these looters. Note the bump at the upper margin; this is filled in by an unrelated fragment. This attitude of filling in each and every lost space has resulted in a loss of information, damage to adjacent cuneiform signs, adding misinformation, and finally a misshaping of the tablet. Illegally excavated tablet.
These examples represent a drop in the ocean. From where do these tablets come? They have not popped-up from nowhere.Why it is very easy for plunderers to excavate and find such priceless relics? It seems that everybody knows that this or that hill or place is an ancient one and it holds ancient objects. What have our governments done so far through legal and scientific excavations and expeditions? Why is it difficult and time-consuming to scientifically unearth something, while illiterate gangsters do it in a very short time using primitive tools? Yes, I'm sure our readership knows the answers.
The aforementioned tablets came from Southern Mesopotamia, everybody knows that, and from already “diagnosed and labelled” crystal-clear ancient mounds, but the question is who is behind this organized illegal excavation which was done when the sun was at the heart of the sky?


Let us take the newly discovered tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was bought in late 2012 CE by the Sulaymaniyah Museum; this priceless tablet actually only cost $800 and was on its way to a neighbouring country. Researchers have added many new pieces of information to the Epic after transliterating the cuneiform text of this tablet. The tablet is on display in the Sulaymaniyah Museum of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Part of Tablet V, the Epic of Gilgamesh

This is the newly discovered tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was illegally excavated, probably from an ancient mound at the Governorate of Babylon , Iraq. It is currently on display in the Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraqi Kurdistan.
Finally, I had the honour of seeing all of those illegally unearthed tablets, touching them, holding them, and above all, exclusively photographing them for research purposes.
A special gratitude goes to Mr. Hashim Hama Abdullah, director of the Sulaymaniyah Museum, and Mr. Kamal Rashid, director general of the Directorate of Antiquities in Sulaymaniyah for their extreme help and unlimited cooperation.
This article was written in memory of the late Iraqi Archaeologist Taha Baqir (1912-1984).
It is not what you find, it is what you find out.
David Hurst Thomas.
Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
Content is available under License Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. CC-BY-NC-SA License

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