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  • Asia Minor › Origins
  • Aspasia of Miletus › Who was
  • Grave Goods in Ancient Egypt › Origins

Ancient civilizations › Historical places, and their characters

Asia Minor  › Origins

Definition and Origins

Author: Joshua J. Mark

Asia Minor is a geographic region in the south-western part of Asia comprising most of what is present-day Turkey . The earliest reference to the region comes from tablets of the Akkadian Dynasty (2334-2083 BCE) where it is known as “The Land of the Hatti ” and was inhabited by the Hittites . The Hittites themselves referred to the land as "Assuwa" (or, earlier, Aswiya) which actually only designated the area around the delta of the river Cayster in Lydia but came to be applied to the entire region. Assuwa is considered the Bronze Age origin for the name `Asia' as the Romans later designated the area. It was called, by the Greeks, “ Anatolia ” (literally, 'place of the rising sun', for those lands to the east of Greece ). The name 'Asia Minor' (from the Greek `Mikra Asia' - Little Asia) was first coined by the Christian historian Orosius (c. 375-418 CE) in his work Seven Books of History Against the Pagans in 400 CE to differentiate the main of Asia from that region which had been evangelized by the Apostle Paul (which included sites known from Paul's Epistles in the Bible such as Ephesus and Galicia).The Byzantine Empire of the 9th century CE referred to the region as "East Thema" which meant, simply, Eastern Administrative Division, and later sailors called it "The Levant " which meant `the rising' or `to rise' referring to how the land rose up out on the horizon of the sea.
In the ancient world, Asia Minor was the seat of the kingdoms and cities of Thrace, Bythinia, Paphlagonia, Aeloia, Phrygia , Galicia, Pontus, Armenia, Urartu, Assyria , Cilicia , Pamphylia, Lycia , Pisidia, Lycanoia, Caria, Mysia, Ionia , Lydia and, most famously, Troy .
The accomplishments and advancements of the people of Asia Minor are vast and comprise a catalogue of some of the most famous people, places, and events in ancient history. According to the historian Philo of Byzantium ( writing in 225 BCE) and later writers, Asia Minor was the site of two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (in the region of Ionia) and the Tomb of Mauslos at Halicarnassus (also known as The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, in Caria). In the city of Miletus, in Ionia, the first western philosopher Thales, and his followers Anaximander and Anaximenes , sought the First Cause of existence, the matter which gave birth to all things, and initiated scientific inquiry and method.Herodotus , the `Father of History' was born at Halicarnassus. The great philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras was born on the island of Samos and Heraclitus, another important philosopher, at Ephesus, where he lived and wrote. Cilicia included the city of Tarsus where the Apostle Paul was born, a region known for its expertise in tent making, which was Paul's vocation.
Lydia was the kingdom of the great King Croesus who defied the Persian Empire under Cyrus and claimed to be the happiest man in the world until his defeat and capture by the Persians. Lydia was also the site where, in Greek mythology , the Titancalled Asia lived and, earlier, where the great mother goddess Potnia Aswiya (Mistress of Assuwa) was worshipped (who became Artemis and whose great temple was dedicated in the capital of Lydia, at Ephesus). Phrygia was the mythological birthplace of Rhea, the Greek Mother of the Gods and the City of Troy was made famous in Homer ’s 8th century BCE works the Illiad and the Odyssey . The region of Asia Minor is regarded as the birthplace of coinage and the first to use coined money in trade; which of the kingdoms were the first to do this, however, is much disputed.

Model of the Temple of Artemis

Between 1250 and 1200 BCE the Sea People 's invaded from the south, making incursions into Greece, harassing Egypt , and finally driving the Hittites from the region of Assuwa. The Sea Peoples did not remain to colonize the area, however (at least not to any important degree) and eventually moved on to settle, in part, to the south in Canaan . Greek colonists, mainly from Athens and surrounding Attica, settled the coastline of Asia Minor from the Mediterranean up to the Black Sea. It was these Ionian colonies which, supported and funded by Athens and Eretria, rose in revolt when the area came under Persian control, provoking the wrath of the Persian king Darius I and the first invasion of Greece in 490 BCE which was repelled at the Battle of Marathon .
Alexander the Great defeated the Persians in 334-333 BCE and conquered Asia Minor. In Gordium , capital of Phrygia, he is claimed to have famously cut the Gordian Knot which the oracles claimed meant Alexander would be king of Asia. Following his death the land was governed by his general Antigonus in the north and west and his other general Seleucus to the south and east and was prominently involved in the Wars of the Diadochi (the wars of Alexander's successors). The region remained unstable throughout the rule of the Hellenistic governors until the coming of Rome in 133 BCE (King Attalus III of Pergamon left his city to Rome in his will and thus invited the Roman presence into the region). After 133, Rome steadily conquered or annexed the cities of Asia Minor until it was wholly a Roman province.
Under Roman rule, the land became stabilized; roads were built and the infrastructures of many of the cities improved. The coastal communities flourished and Ephesus, especially, enjoyed great prosperity until the rise of Christianity when `earthly' advances in the region were neglected in anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ. The Byzantine Empire controlled the region after the fall of Rome in 476 CE and, after the rise of Islam, the later Byzantine Christians fought the Islamic Fatimids for the land until the coming of the Seljuq Turks in 1068 CE. Turkish control increased in the region until 1299 CE when Asia Minor became part of the Ottoman Empire and, after its collapse, became Turkey.

Aspasia of Miletus  › Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Joshua J. Mark

Aspasia of Miletus (c.470-410 BCE) was a teacher, writer, and intellectual in Athens , Greece , who became famous as the lover of the statesman Pericles . The only statement about Aspasia of Miletus which can be maintained as objectively true is that she was a foreign-born woman living in Athens c. 445 BCE who was the lover of Pericles and operated a salon of some sort. It is not even known if `Aspasia' was her actual name or a `professional' name as she seems to have been a hetaira (a high-class paid companion) and her name means `greeting with affection' or `welcome'.
It has been famously noted by Madeleine Henry that Aspasia is depicted by ancient writers according to those writer's individual biases and so a clear picture of who she was and what she accomplished is almost impossible to grasp. “When we need Aspasia to be a chaste muse and teacher, she is there; when we need a grand horizontal, she is there, when we need a proto-feminist, she is there also” ( Prisoner of History , 128). Ancient writers from Plato to Plutarch have characterized her according to their own particular need and so a modern reader must sift and measure the various accounts in any attempt to come to terms with who Aspasia may have been. A standard depiction of Aspasia in modern times reads thusly:
A contributor to learning in Athens, Aspasia of Miletus (c. 470-401/400 BCE) boldly surpassed the limited expectations for women by establishing a renowned girl's school and a popular salon. She lived free of female seclusion and conducted herself like a male intellectual while expounding on current events, philosophy , and rhetoric. Her fans included the philosopher Socrates and his followers, the teacher Plato, the orator Cicero , the historian Xenophon , the writer Athenaeus, and the statesman and general Pericles, her adoring common-law husband ( The Oxford Classical Dictionary , 1992).
Ancient depictions, however, vary between Aristophanes ' comical charge in his Acharnians that Aspasia started The Peloponnesian War over the abduction of “two whores” of hers to Plato's image of her in his Menexenus where she is Socrates' teacher in rhetoric. It must be noted that the Menexenus is a satirical dialogue and when the character of Menexenus says, “I marvel that Aspasia, who is only a woman, should be able to compose such a speech” Plato is most certainly writingtongue in cheek ( Menexenus , 235e). While Aspasia herself wrote nothing extant, her influence is apparent in the writings of her contemporaries and later writers (mainly derogatory slurs against her and her lover, Pericles, but some positive commentaries as well). Plutarch is intent on praising the accomplishments of Pericles and blaming any of his mistakes on Aspasia while Aeschines of Sphetto presents her as a clever speaker and an intellectual.
Broadly, Aspasia seems to have been a complex woman who embodied all of the virtues and defects, to greater or lesser degrees, attributed to her by the various ancient writers. She seems to have been born in Miletus and came to Athens in 470 BCE in the company of Alcibiades ' grandfather (she was his much younger sister-in-law). As a metic (a non-Athenian) she could not marry an Athenian and so was deprived of the most important social role of a woman of that time: producing children. Whether the `house' she set up in the city was a brothel, an intellectual salon, or both, depends on which writer one reads but it seems certain that many of the most influential men of her time visited her and, among them, Pericles, to whom she bore a son (also named Pericles who, in spite of his metic mother, was granted citizenship in Athens and became a General of note).
The great speeches given by Pericles (including his famous funeral oration) have been attributed to the pen of Aspasia and it has also been suggested that she modeled the Inductio (“getting one's interlocutor to assent to a doubtful proposition that resembles the earlier one”) for Socrates and so taught him the stratagems of argument. An example of the Inductio is seen in this fragment from the dialogue of Aeschines of Sphetto in which Aspasia uses it in conversation with Xenophon and his wife.She uses the Inductio to show them that each should be the best spouse to the other instead of wishing for an ideal spouse:
"Please tell me, wife of Xenophon, if your neighbour had a better gold ornament than you have, would you prefer that one or your own?"
"That one, " she replied.
"Now, if she had dresses and other feminine finery more expensive than you have, would you prefer yours or hers?"
"Hers, of course," she replied.
"Well now, if she had a better husband than you have, would you prefer your husband or hers?"
At this the woman blushed. But Aspasia then began to speak to Xenophon. "I wish you would tell me, Xenophon," she said, "if your neighbour had a better horse than yours, would you prefer your horse or his?"
"His" was his answer.
"And if he had a better farm than you have, which farm would your prefer to have?"
"The better farm, naturally," he said.
"Now if he had a better wife than you have, would you prefer yours or his?"
And at this Xenophon, too, himself was silent.
Then Aspasia: "Since both of you have failed to tell me the only thing I wished to hear, I myself will tell you what you both are thinking. That is, you, madam, wish to have the best husband, and you, Xenophon, desire above all things to have the finest wife. Therefore, unless you can contrive that there be no better man or finer woman on earth you will certainly always be in dire want of what you consider best, namely, that you be the husband of the very best of wives, and that she be wedded to the very best of men" (Henry, Prisoner of History , 44).
After Pericles' death in 429 BCE, Aspasia is said to have lived with the Athenian General Lysicles and to have aided him greatly in his political career. It is generally understood that she died in 401/400 BCE based on the chronology given by Aeschines but, as with her life, this is also uncertain. In the 19th and 20th centuries CE, mainly owing to the literary works of Walter Savage Landor and Gertrude Atherton, respectively, Aspasia came to be viewed as a romantic heroine of the Golden Age of Athens. She is recognized today as an intellectual and teacher of enormous ability in that such a diverse array of writers found cause to mention her in their work, sometimes at length.
Even Plutarch, who regularly presents her in a negative light, wrote,
Now since it is thought that [Pericles] proceeded thus against the Samians to gratify Aspasia, this may be a fitting place to raise the query what great art or power this woman had, that she managed as she pleased the foremost men of the state, and afforded the philosophers occasion to discuss her in exalted terms and at great length.
Whoever Aspasia was, it seems clear she was a woman of impressive accomplishments; even if it remains unclear exactly what those accomplishments were.

Grave Goods in Ancient Egypt  › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

Author: Joshua J. Mark

The concept of the afterlife changed in different eras of Egypt 's very long history, but for the most part, it was imagined as a paradise where one lived eternally. To the Egyptians, their country was the most perfect place which had been created by the gods for human happiness. The afterlife, therefore, was a mirror image of the life one had lived on earth - down to the last detail - with the only difference being an absence of all those aspects of existence one found unpleasant or sorrowful. One inscription about the afterlife talks about the soul being able to eternally walk beside its favorite stream and sit under its favorite sycamore tree, others show husbands and wives meeting again in paradise and doing all the things they did on earth such as plowing the fields, harvesting the grain, eating and drinking.

Antechamber of Tutankhamun's Tomb

In order to enjoy this paradise, however, one would need the same items one had during one's life. Tombs and even simple graves included personal belongings as well as food and drink for the soul in the afterlife. These items are known as ' gravegoods' and have become an important resource for modern-day archaeologists in identifying the owners of tombs, dating them, and understanding Egyptian history. Although some people object to this practice as 'grave robbing,' the archaeologists who professionally excavate tombs are assuring the deceased of their primary objective: to live forever and have their name remembered eternally. According to the ancient Egyptians' own beliefs, the grave goods placed in the tomb would have performed their function many centuries ago.


Grave goods, in greater or lesser number and varying worth, have been found in almost every Egyptian grave or tomb which was not looted in antiquity. The articles one would find in a wealthy person's tomb would be similar to those considered valuable today: ornately crafted objects of gold and silver , board games of fine wood and precious stone, carefully wrought beds, chests, chairs, statuary, and clothing. The finest example of a pharaoh 's tomb, of course, is King Tutankhamun 's from the 14th century BCE discovered by Howard Carter in 1922 CE, but there have been many tombs excavated throughout ancient Egypt which make clear the social status of the individual buried there. Even those of modest means included some grave goods with the deceased.
The primary purpose of grave goods, though, was not so show off the deceased person's status but to provide the dead with what they would need in the afterlife. A wealthy person's tomb, therefore, would have more grave goods - of whatever that person favored in life - than a poorer person. Favorite foods were left in the tomb such as bread and cake, but food and drink offerings were expected to be made by one's survivors daily. In the tombs of the upper-class nobles and royalty an offerings chapel was included which featured the offerings table. One's family would bring food and drink to the chapel and leave it on the table. The soul of the deceased would supernaturally absorb the nutrients from the offerings and then return to the afterlife.This ensured one's continual remembrance by the living and so one's immortality in the next life.
If a family was too busy to tend to the daily offerings and could afford it, a priest (known as the ka -priest or water-pourer) would be hired to perform the rituals. However the offerings were made, though, they had to be taken care of on a daily basis.The famous story of Khonsemhab and the Ghost (dated to the New Kingdom of Egypt c. 1570-1069 BCE) deals with this precise situation. In the story, the ghost of Nebusemekh returns to complain to Khonsemhab, high priest of Amun , that his tomb has fallen into disrepair and he has been forgotten so that offerings are no longer brought. Khonsemhab finds and repairs the tomb and also promises that he will make sure offerings are provided from then on. The end of the manuscript is lost, but it is presumed the story ends happily for the ghost of Nebusemekh. If a family should forget their duties to the soul of the deceased, then they, like Khonsemhab, could expect to be haunted until this wrong was righted and regular food and drink offerings reinstated.
Beer was the drink commonly provided with grave goods. In Egypt, beer was the most popular beverage - considered the drink of the gods and one of their greatest gifts - and was a staple of the Egyptian diet. A wealthy person (such as Tutankhamun) was buried with jugs of freshly brewed beer whereas a poorer person would not be able to afford that kind of luxury. People were often paid in beer so to bury a jug of it with a loved one would be comparable to someone today burying their paycheck. Beer was sometimes brewed specifically for a funeral, since it would be ready, from inception to finish, by the time the corpse had gone through the mummification process. After the funeral, once the tomb had been closed, the mourners would have a banquet in honor of the dead person's passing from time to eternity, and the same brew which had been made for the deceased would be enjoyed by the guests; thus providing communion between the living and the dead.

Shabti Box

Among the most important grave goods was the shabti doll. Shabti were made of wood, stone, or faience and often were sculpted in the likeness of the deceased. In life, people were often called upon to perform tasks for the king, such as supervising or laboring on great monuments, and could only avoid this duty if they found someone willing to take their place.Even so, one could not expect to shirk one's duties year after year, and so a person would need a good excuse as well as a replacement worker.
Since the afterlife was simply a continuation of the present one, people expected to be called on to do work for Osiris in the afterlife just as they had labored for the king. The shabti doll could be animated, once one had passed into the Field of Reeds, to assume one's responsibilities. The soul of the deceased could continue to enjoy a good book or go fishing while the shabti took care of whatever work needed to be done. Just as one could not avoid one's obligations on earth, though, the shabti could not be used perpetually. A shabti doll was good for only one use per year. People would commission as many shabti as they could afford in order to provide them with more leisure in the afterlife.
Shabti dolls are included in graves throughout the length of Egypt's history. In the First Intermediate Period (2181-2040 BCE) they were mass-produced, as many items were, and more are included in tombs and graves of every social class from then on. The poorest people, of course, could not even afford a generic shabti doll, but anyone who could, would pay to have as many as possible. A collection of shabtis, one for each day of the year, would be placed in the tomb in a special shabti box which was usually painted and sometimes ornamented.


Instructions on how one would animate a shabti in the next life, as well as how to navigate the realm which waited after death, was provided through the texts inscribed on tomb walls and, later, written on papyrus scrolls. These are the works known today as the Pyramid Texts (c. 2400-2300 BCE), the Coffin Texts (c. 2134-2040 BCE), and The Egyptian Book of the Dead (c. 1550-1070 BCE). The Pyramid Texts are the oldest religious texts and were written on the walls of the tomb to provide the deceased with assurance and direction.
When a person's body finally failed them, the soul would at first feel trapped and confused. The rituals involved in mummification prepared the soul for the transition from life to death, but the soul could not depart until a proper funeral ceremony was observed. When the soul woke in the tomb and rose from its body, it would have no idea where it was or what had happened. In order to reassure and guide the deceased, the Pyramid Texts and, later, Coffin Texts were inscribed and painted on the inside of tombs so that when the soul awoke in the dead body it would know where it was and where it now had to go.
These texts eventually turned into The Egyptian Book of the Dead (whose actual title is The Book of Coming Forth by Day ), which is a series of spells the dead person would need in order to navigate through the afterlife. Spell 6 from the Book of the Dead is a rewording of Spell 472 of the Coffin Texts, instructing the soul in how to animate the shabti. Once the person died and then the soul awoke in the tomb, that soul was led - usually by the god Anubis but sometimes by others - to the Hall of Truth (also known as The Hall of Two Truths) where it was judged by the great god Osiris. The soul would then speak the Negative Confession (a list of 'sins' they could honestly say they had not committed such as 'I have not lied, I have not stolen, I have not purposefully made another cry'), and then the heart of the soul would be weighed on a scale against the white feather of ma'at , the principle of harmony and balance.

Book of the Dead

If the heart was found to be lighter than the feather, then the soul was considered justified; if the heart was heavier than the feather, it was dropped onto the floor where it was eaten up by the monster Amut, and the soul would then cease to exist.There was no 'hell' for eternal punishment of the soul in ancient Egypt; their greatest fear was non-existence, and that was the fate of someone who had done evil or had purposefully failed to do good.
If the soul was justified by Osiris then it went on its way. In some eras of Egypt, it was believed the soul then encountered various traps and difficulties which they would need the spells from The Book of the Dead to get through. In most eras, though, the soul left the Hall of Truth and traveled to the shores of Lily Lake (also known as The Lake of Flowers) where they would encounter the perpetually unpleasant ferryman known as Hraf-hef ("He Who Looks Behind Himself") who would row the soul across the lake to the paradise of the Field of Reeds. Hraf-hef was the 'final test' because the soul had to find some way to be polite, forgiving, and pleasant to this very unpleasant person in order to cross.
Once across the lake, the soul would find itself in a paradise which was the mirror image of life on earth, except lacking any disappointment, sickness, loss, or - of course - death. In The Field of Reeds the soul would find the spirits of those they had loved and had died before them, their favorite pet, their favorite house, tree, stream they used to walk beside - everything one thought one had lost was returned, and, further, one lived on eternally in the direct presence of the gods.


Reuniting with loved ones and living eternally with the gods was the hope of the afterlife but equally so was being met by one's favorite pets in paradise. Pets were sometimes buried in their own tombs but, usually, with their master or mistress. If one had enough money, one could have one's pet cat, dog, gazelle, bird, fish, or baboon mummified and buried alongside one's corpse. The two best examples of this are High Priestess Maatkare Mutemhat (c. 1077-943 BCE) who was buried with her mummified pet monkey and the Queen Isiemkheb (c. 1069-943 BCE) who was buried with her pet gazelle.
Mummification was expensive, however, and especially the kind practiced on these two animals. They received top treatment in their mummification and this, of course, represented the wealth of their owners. There were three levels of mummification available: top-of-the-line where one was treated as a king (and received a burial in keeping with the glory of the god Osiris);middle-grade where one was treated well but not that well; and the cheapest where one received minimal service in mummification and burial. Still, everyone - rich or poor - provided their dead with some kind of preparation of the corpse and grave goods for the afterlife.

Cat Mummy

Pets were treated very well in ancient Egypt and were represented in tomb paintings and grave goods such as dog collars.The tomb of Tutankhamun contained dog collars of gold and paintings of his hunting hounds. Although modern day writers often claim that Tutankhamun's favorite dog was named Abuwtiyuw, who was buried with him, this is not correct. Abuwtiyuw is the name of a dog from the Old Kingdom of Egypt who so pleased the king that he was given private burial and all the rites due a person of noble birth. The identity of the king who loved the dog is unknown, but the dog of king Khufu (2589-2566 BCE), Akbaru, was greatly admired by his master and buried with him.
The collars of dogs, which frequently gave their name, often were included as grave goods. The tomb of the noble Maiherpre, a warrior who lived under the reign of Thutmose III (1458-1425 BCE) contained two ornamented dog collars of leather. These were dyed pink and decorated with images. One of them has horses and lotus flowers punctuated by brass studs while the other depicts hunting scenes and has the dog's name, Tantanuit, engraved on it. These are two of the best examples of the kind of ornate work which went into dog collars in ancient Egypt. By the time of the New Kingdom , in fact, the dog collar was its own type of artwork and worthy to be worn in the afterlife in the presence of the gods.


During the period of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (2040-1782 BCE) there was a significant philosophical shift where people questioned the reality of this paradise and emphasized making the most of life because nothing existed after death. Some scholars have speculated that this belief came about because of the turmoil of the First Intermediate Period which came before the Middle Kingdom , but there is no convincing evidence of this. Such theories are always based on the claim that the First Intermediate Period of Egypt was a dark time of chaos and confusion which it most certainly was not. The Egyptians always emphasized living life to its fullest - their entire culture is based on gratitude for life, enjoying life, loving every moment of life - so an emphasis on this was nothing new. What makes the Middle Kingdom belief so interesting, however, is its denial of immortality in an effort to make one's present life even more precious.
The literature of the Middle Kingdom expresses a lack of belief in the traditional view of paradise because people in the Middle Kingdom were more 'cosmopolitan' than in earlier times and were most likely attempting to distance themselves from what they saw as 'superstition'. The First Intermediate Period had elevated the different districts of Egypt, made their individual artistic expressions as valuable as the state-mandated art and literature of the Old Kingdom of Egypt, and people felt freer to express their personal opinions rather than just repeat what they had been told. This skepticism disappears during the time of the New Kingdom, and - for the most part - the belief in the paradise of the Field of Reeds was constant throughout Egypt's history. A component of this belief was the importance of grave goods which would serve the deceased in the afterlife just as well as they had on the earthly plane.
Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
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