Antisthenes of Athens › Antonine Wall › The Battle of Pelusium: A Victory Decided by Cats » Origins and History

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  • Antisthenes of Athens › Who was
  • Antonine Wall › Origins
  • The Battle of Pelusium: A Victory Decided by Cats › Origins

Ancient civilizations › Historical places, and their characters

Antisthenes of Athens › Origins

Definition and Origins

Author: Joshua J. Mark

Antisthenes of Athens (c. 445-365 BCE) was a Greek philosopher who founded the Cynic School. He was a follower of Socrates and appears in Plato ’s Phaedo as one of those present at Socrates' death. He is one of the primary interlocutors in Xenophon ’s works Memorabilia and Symposium. Antisthenes, like Crito, was among the older students of Socrates' and Charles Kahn writes that he was regarded as Socrates' most important follower (Kahn, 4-5). He believed that virtue could be taught and that only the virtuous were truly noble. It should be noted, however, that `Virtue' here is a translation from the Greek word `arete' which meant something closer to `personal excellence' than the English word `virtue'. In Plato's Meno it was argued that arete could not be taught (else noble fathers would have produced noble sons and such was not, empirically, the case) but Antisthenes argued otherwise in that he had learned arete from Socrates and, therefore, arete could be taught.


Socrates' students all founded philosophical schools of one kind or another and all of them were so diverse that it is a testimony to the expansive quality of Socrates' philosophy that so many men could interpret his teachings in such different ways. The hedonistic philosopher Aristippus, for example, claimed to be following Socrates' example in living a life in pursuit of pleasure while Plato claimed he was carrying on Socrates' vision through an ascetic discipline of the mind. Antisthenes, also, asserted that his philosophy was grounded in Socrates' original vision. It seems almost impossible, at first, that Aristippus, Plato, and Antisthenes could have had the same teacher, so different are their philosophies at first glance. Underlying all three, however, is that very same virtue which Socrates held so dear: the importance of being free to be true to oneself and one's own convictions in life. The Cynic School Antisthenes founded stressed the importance of prevailing over adversity by acceptance of it, that arete is the same for women as it is for men, and that this personal excellence is displayed in deed more so than in word. These same values, expressed differently, were taught by both Plato and Aristippus.


Regarding his early life, the biographer Diogenes Laertius (3rd century CE) writes:
Antisthenes was an Athenian, the son of Antisthenes. And he was said not to be a legitimate Athenian; in reference to which he said to someone who was reproaching him with the circumstance, "The mother of the Gods too is a Phrygian;"
for he was thought to have had a Thracian mother. On which account, as he had borne himself bravely in the battle of Tanagra, he gave occasion to Socrates to say that the son of two Athenians could not have been so brave. And he himself, when disparaging the Athenians who gave themselves great airs as having been born out of the earth itself, said that they were not more noble as far as that went than snails and locusts.
Originally he was a pupil of Gorgias the rhetorician; owing to which circumstance he employs the rhetorical style of language in his Dialogues, especially in his Truthand in his Exhortations. And Hermippus says, that he had originally intended in his address at the assembly, on account of the Isthmian games, to attack and also to praise the Athenians, and Thebans, and Lacedaemonians; but that he afterwards abandoned the design, when he saw that there were a great many spectators come from those cities. Afterwards, he attached himself to Socrates, and made such progress in philosophy while with him, that he advised all his own pupils to become his fellow pupils in the school of Socrates. And as he lived in the Piraeus, he went up forty furlongs to the city every day, in order to hear Socrates, from whom he learnt the art of enduring, and of being indifferent to external circumstances, and so became the original founder of the Cynic school (I, II).

Antisthenes Bust


The focus of Antisthenes' work was ethics (although he also wrote on physics, logic, and literature ) and he seems to have devoted himself extensively to that subject. He also wrote a literary criticism on the Odyssey, an essay on dying, and works dealing with every subject from music to `the uses of wine'. Diogenes Laertius claims there “are ten volumes of his writings extant” though, today, only his Ajax and his Odysseus remain. He is considered the first Cynic philosopher (`cynic' from the Greek for `dog', Kynos, or Kynikos which means dog-like) and, by example, taught Diogenes of Sinope and others, like Crates, how to live truly and shamelessly. Regarding the origin of the name `cynic' Diogenes Laertius writes, “He used to lecture in the Gymnasium, called Cynosarges [meaning place of the white dog] not far from the gates; and some people say that it is from that place that the sect got the name of Cynics. And he himself was called Haplocyon (downright dog).” The word `cynic' did not have the same meaning at the time as it does in the modern day and did not mean `skeptical' or refer to someone who believes human beings are only motivated by self-interest and personal desires, but meant `dog-like' in that the Cynics were thought to live like dogs. Antisthenes and his followers had few possessions beyond their cloaks and bags, lived where they could find shelter, and did not seem to engage in any kind of work. The evolution of the word `cynic' to its present meaning may come from the Cynics' lack of regard for accepted theories on ethics, morality, the gods, and the proper way to live one's life.


Whether Antisthenes was, in fact, the founder of the Cynic school or whether that honor belongs to Diogenes of Sinope has long been disputed. It is argued that Antisthenes could not have taught both Diogenes of Sinope and Crates of Thebes and impossible that Crates went on to teach Zeno of Citium as he lived long after the deaths of these men. This argument further claims that the disputed chronology was created by the Stoics later in order to link Zeno of Citium's teachings directly back to Socrates. The other side argues that Antisthenes did, in fact, have Diogenes of Sinope and Crates of Thebes as pupils and Crates certainly could have taught and influenced Zeno of Citium. This claim is further disputed by scholars who claim that Diogenes came to Athens after Antisthenes had died and point out that Aristotle refers to the followers of Antisthenes as `Antistheneans' and not as `Cynics'. There is no resolution to this debate in scholarly circles thus far but the majority contend that Antisthenes founded the Cynic School and taught Diogenes of Sinope the Cynic philosophy which found full expression later through Zeno of Citium.

Diogenes of Sinope


The Cynic School was characterized by the discipline of self-denial which rejected luxuries, social status, and the acquisition of wealth and unnecessary material objects. It was thought that, by freeing oneself from those social conventions associated with `being someone' that one would be free to become oneself. Since virtue could be taught, and virtue (or, specifically, personal excellence), led to contentment, one could lead the happiest life by placing the pursuit of one's own virtue before all else. Since material gain was seen to often interfere with such a pursuit, it was rejected in favor of the ascetic life. Further, concerns about the future and one's fate were considered superfluous and a needless distraction. Adherents of Antisthenes' philosophy were encouraged to focus on the present and be content with what they had and what they were doing in the present day rather than waste time worrying about what they might be doing or where they might be tomorrow. Regarding Antisthenes' philosophy, Diogenes Laertius writes:
And the doctrines he adopted were these. He used to insist that virtue was a thing which might be taught; also, that the nobly born and virtuously disposed, were the same people; for that virtue was of itself sufficient for happiness. And was in need of nothing, except the strength of Socrates. He also looked upon virtue as a species of work, not wanting many arguments, or much instruction; and he taught that the wise man was sufficient for himself; for that everything that belonged to any one else belonged to him. He considered obscurity of fame a good thing, and equally good with labour. And he used to say that the wise man would regulate his conduct as a citizen, not according to the established laws of the state, but according to the law of virtue. And that he would marry for the sake of having children, selecting the most beautiful woman for his wife. And that he would love her; for that the wise man alone knew what objects deserved love (V).
Antisthenes died in Athens of a disease which may have been consumption. He is said to have borne his illness and impending death with calm and acceptance as simply another part of the life he had so enjoyed and so saw no reason to complain.

Antonine Wall › Origins

Definition and Origins

Author: Dr Darrell J. Rohl

The Antonine Wall was the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire. Located in central Scotland, north of Edinburgh and Glasgow, the Wall was a linear barrier that stretched from the Firth of Forth near Bo'ness to the Clyde estuary at Old Kilpatrick.Chronologically, the Wall post-dates the initial construction of Hadrian 's Wall, and was probably constructed in the early 140s CE, on the orders of the emperor Antoninus Pius, who assumed the throne upon Hadrian's death.


The Wall was a rather short-lived imperial frontier, and the preponderance of evidence suggests that it was abandoned by the early 160s CE, when Hadrian's Wall was recommissioned. While limited—and unstratified—finds have been dated to later periods, and there is evidence for continued Roman activities up to and beyond the Wall (as, for example, with the short campaigns of Septimius Severus in the early third century CE), the archaeological evidence strongly favours the view that the Antonine Wall was never recommissioned or reoccupied by the Roman military after the early 160s CE. It can be seen, then, as a frontier that had its origins, functional life, and end probably entirely within the roughly two-decade reign of Antoninus; it is, thus, quite appropriate that it is now known by the name the "Antonine Wall."


As with many other frontiers, the Antonine Wall was a complex of various interconnected features. These can be classified as either linear components that stretch along most of the Wall's length, or as additional installations occurring at specific points along this line. While public perception of the term "wall" often revolves around an enclosing structure or rampart—generally of timber, stone, or brick—the term "Antonine Wall" is used by scholars and heritage managers to refer to a collection of inter-related features, of which a rampart, or "wall," is but one. This is similar to Hadrian's Wall, where the monument consists of more than the stone curtain, including the Vallum and its associated mounds, the northern ditch, berm and mound, forts, milecastles, towers, turrets, and other installations.
The Wall was composed of several linear features that ran almost continuously from one end to the other, including the Military Way (or Roman road), Rampart, Berm, Ditch, and Outer Mound. One calculation suggests that work on all of these linear features may have been completed in only about eight months, though it is possible that work was spread across several seasons. Unlike with Hadrian's Wall, the Antonine Wall's Rampart was not constructed of stone but, rather, turf or earth revetted by clay or turf cheeks atop a kerbed stone base. Unsurprisingly, this superstructure has not survived very well and, for most of the length of the Wall, the Rampart is no longer visible on the surface, with the Ditch representing the most identifiable linear feature. Because of this lack of preservation, how the top of the Rampart was finished remains unknown: it was probably squared flat on top and may have featured stakes set into the top, or, "more probably, the flat top was covered by a wooden duckboard walk, and along the north edge...there could have been a wooden breastwork or palisade" (Robertson 2001, 11).While there is some evidence that the original plan may have been to build (or eventually rebuild) the Rampart in stone, this was never acted upon.

Map indicating the Antonine & Hadrian Walls

The Wall also featured a range of installations, including at least 17 forts (out of an hypothesised total of 19) and a number of intervening fortlets (of which nine are currently known, but which may have been located at intervals of one Roman mile). Most forts have been found to include an additional fortified space, called an "annexe." The precise purpose and nature of these annexes remain uncertain; in some cases the annexe is significantly larger in area than the fort itself, and these are likely to have been later additions; few have been excavated, though several have produced the remains of bath-houses. In fewer locations, there is evidence for additional activity or settlement outside of the fort and annexe, probably representing the non-military civilian settlements, or vici, and it is possible that the annexes played a dual role, serving both the military and civilian communities.


Nineteen or twenty inscribed stone tablets, most discovered before the twentieth century CE and two subsequently lost, record the work of building the Wall. Known as "distance slabs," these stones bear an inscription honouring the emperor Antoninus Pius, and record the name of the responsible legion and the completed distance. It has been suggested that there may have been as many as 60 of these inscriptions and, while building inscriptions are common throughout the Roman world, the Wall's distance slabs are in a class of their own, being not only inscriptions but often elaborate sculptures. The closest parallels on Hadrian's Wall or the German Limes are far simpler, recording only the emperor and responsible military unit without the ornate details or noted distances. Importantly, two of the slabs refer to the commemorated task as opus valli, "the work of the wall," suggesting that they may refer specifically to construction of the Rampart itself. Total construction of the Wall, its various linear features, forts and other installations may have taken twelve years or more to complete.
The Wall also has a rich post-Roman history, with several medieval castles being built on its line, and a coast-to-coast canal (the Forth and Clyde Canal) being constructed parallel to and across it during the Industrial Revolution. These periods have received far less attention by historians and archaeologists than the roughly 20-year period of the Wall's functional life as a Roman frontier.

The Battle of Pelusium: A Victory Decided by Cats › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

Author: Joshua J. Mark

The ancient Egyptians had a great reverence for life in all its forms. Life had been given by the gods and reverence for it extended beyond human beings to all living things. Although the Egyptians did occasionally eat meat, and their royalty certainly engaged in the hunt, the Egyptian diet was primarily vegetarian or pescatarian, and this reflected the understanding of the sacred nature of all existence. Even when animals were eaten, thanks were given for the sacrifice, pets were well cared for, and wildlife in nature was respected.
This value is visible everywhere throughout their culture from art to Egyptian religion but is epitomized by the Battle of Pelusium of 525 BCE. This engagement was the decisive clash between the Pharaoh Psametik III (526-525 BCE) and the Persian king Cambyses II (525-522 BCE), resulting in the first Persian conquest of Egypt.

The Gayer-Anderson Cat

It has been suggested that the battle would have gone to the Persians regardless of the tactics used since Cambyses II was far more experienced in war than the young Pharaoh Psametik III. The victory, however, was due far more to Cambyses II's knowledge of Egyptian culture than his record as a field commander. The battle was won through a very unusual strategy on Cambyses II's part: the use of animals as hostages and, especially, cats.


Cats were a popular pet in ancient Egypt and closely associated with the goddess Bastet (also known as Bast) who appears in Egyptian art with the body of a woman and the head of a cat or as a sitting cat in a regal pose. She was the goddess of the home, domesticity, women's secrets, cats, fertility, and childbirth. She protected a household from evil spirits and disease, especially diseases affecting women and children, and also played a role in one's afterlife.
Bastet was extremely popular throughout Egypt with both men and women from the 2nd Dynasty (c. 2890 - c. 2670 BCE) onward, with her cult centered at the city of Bubastis from at least the 5th century BCE. She was first represented as a woman with the head of a lioness and closely associated with the vengeful goddess Sekhmet, but the two diverged over time until Bastet was imagined as more of a close companion while Sekhmet remained a force of divine vengeance. Even so, this did not mean Bastet could not dispense justice or right wrongs when she saw the need. Egyptologist Geraldine Pinch writes:
From the Pyramid Texts onward, Bastet has a double aspect of nurturing mother and terrifying avenger. It is the demonic aspect that mainly features in the Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead and in medical spells. The "slaughterers of Bastet" were said to inflict plague and other disasters on humanity. (115)
Among the many ways people could offend the goddess was to harm one of her cats. Cats were so highly regarded in ancient Egypt that the punishment for killing one was death, and as Herodotus reports, Egyptians caught in a burning building would save the cats before saving themselves or attempting to put out the fire. Herodotus says, further, "All the inmates of a house where a cat has died a natural death shave their eyebrows" as a sign of their grief, and cats were mummified with jewelry just as people were (Nardo, 96). It has been suggested that cats were sacrificed to Bastet in the same way dogs were to Anubis, but this claim has been challenged. It is possible the mummified cats found at Bubastis were pets who had died naturally and were brought to be interred at a sacred spot. This precedent is set by graves of humans and animals buried at Abydos in order to be close to Osiris.

Cat Mummy

The respect the Egyptians had for animals extended beyond the cat and dog, however. Mummified pets of different kinds have been found including gazelles, baboons, birds, and even fish. Certain animals, like the cat and dog, did seem to have a special significance, however, due to their association with deities and it was this knowledge of Egyptian culture and values which gave Cambyses II the victory at Pelusium regardless of the youth of his opponent or Egypt's decline as a world power after the New Kingdom.


The period of the New Kingdom of Egypt (c. 1570 - c. 1069 BCE) was a time of prosperity and growth in every area of the civilization. This was the age of the Egyptian Empire during which its borders expanded and treasury filled. The best-known rulers in Egyptian history come from this era: Ahmose I, Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Amenhotep III, Akhenaten, Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, Horemheb, Seti I, Ramesses the Great, Nefertari, and Ramesses III are all New Kingdom nobility. The opulence and success of this era could not last, however, and by c. 1069 BCE the empire was falling apart and the country entered what later scholars have called the Third Intermediate Period of Egypt (c. 1069 - 525 BCE).
This time is characterized by a lack of a strong central government, civil war, and social instability although it was not as dark or dismal as early Egyptologists would claim. Even so, the country was nowhere near the strength or military might of the New Kingdom. In the latter part of the 22nd Dynasty, Egypt was divided by civil war and, by the time of the 23rd, the country was divided between self-styled monarchs who ruled from Herakleopolis, Tanis, Hermopolis, Thebes, Memphis, and Sais. This division made a united defense of the country impossible and allowed for the Nubian invasion from the south.

Map of the Third Intermediate Period

The 24th and 25th dynasties were then unified under Nubian rule, which was quite successful, but the country was not strong enough to resist the advance of the Assyrians first under Esarhaddon (681-669 BCE) in 671/670 BCE and then by Ashurbanipal (668-627 BCE) in 666 BCE. Although the Assyrians were driven from the country, Egypt would not have the resources to withstand the coming of the Persians.


Pharaoh Amasis of the 26th Dynasty (also known as Ahmose II, 570-526 BCE) was among the greatest rulers of this period and restored some of Egypt's former glory and military prestige. He would be among the last of the effective kings in Egypt's history, however, and, if Herodotus is to be trusted on this, initiated the problem which led to the Persian invasion.
According to Herodotus, Cambyses II invaded Egypt after being insulted by Amasis. Cambyses II had written to Amasis asking for one of his daughters as a wife, but Amasis, not wishing to comply, sent the daughter of his predecessor Apries. The young woman was insulted by this decision - especially since it was a tradition that Egyptian women were not given to foreign kings - and when she arrived at Cambyses II's court, she revealed her true identity. Cambyses II accused Amasis of sending him a 'fake wife' and mobilized his troops for war.
Whether this story is true, the Persians would have eventually attacked Egypt anyway. The Assyrians had already conquered the country in the late 7th century BCE, and the Egyptian army had proven itself no match for the superior weapons and tactics of the Mesopotamian forces. The Persians, who were expanding their empire, would have known of the earlier conquest and Egypt's inability to defend itself as it could in the New Kingdom and so would have had little hesitation in launching an invasion.


Assuming Herodotus is correct, in between the insult and the battle, Amasis died and left the country in the hands of his son Psametik III (also known as Psammeticus III). Psametik III was a young man who had lived largely in the shadow his father's great accomplishments and was hardly equipped to fend off a hostile force. When word of the Persian mobilization reached him, however, he did his best to mount a defense and prepare for battle. He was counting on the assistance of Greek allies, who deserted him, and he was without the military counsel of Phanes of Halicarnassus (his father's advisor), who had already gone over to the Persian side. Psametik III was therefore left on his own to handle the crisis.
Psametik III fortified his position at Pelusium near the mouth of the Nile and awaited the Persian attack while simultaneously preparing his capital city of Memphis to withstand a siege. The fortress of Pelusium was strong and well provisioned and so was the capital. The young pharaoh, who had only ruled for six months at the time, must have felt confident he could repel any attack. What Psametik III did not count on, however, was Cambyses II's cunning.


The 2nd-century CE writer Polyaenus describes Cambyses II's approach in his Strategems, which he wrote in the hopes of helping Marcus Aurelius and Verus in their campaigns. Polyaenus recounts how the Egyptians were successfully holding back the Persian advance when Cambyses II suddenly switched tactics. The Persian king, knowing the veneration the Egyptians held for cats, had the image of Bastet painted on his soldiers' shields and, further, "ranged before his front line dogs, sheep, cats, ibises and whatever other animals the Egyptians hold dear" (Polyaenus VII.9). The Egyptians under Psametik III, seeing their own beloved goddess on the shields of enemies, and fearing to fight lest they injure the animals being driven before the enemy, surrendered their position and took flight in a rout.
Many were massacred on the field, and Herodotus reports seeing their bones still in the sand many years later; he even commented on the difference between the Persian and the Egyptian skulls. Those Egyptians not killed at Pelusium fled to the safety of Memphis with the Persian army in pursuit. Memphis was besieged and fell after a relatively short interval. Psametik III was taken prisoner and was treated fairly well by Cambyses II until he tried to raise a revolt and was executed.

Cambyses II of Persia

Thus ended the sovereignty of Egypt as it was annexed by Persia and, henceforth, changed hands a number of times before finally ending up as a province of Rome. It is said that Cambyses II, after the battle, hurled cats into the faces of the defeated Egyptians in scorn that they would surrender their country and their freedom fearing for the safety of common animals.
It should be noted, however, that Herodotus' depiction of Cambyses II has been challenged. Cambyses II is often depicted as a brutal and careless monarch by the Greek writers who had no love for the Persians. Cambyses II is also said to have killed the sacred Apis bull and thrown its carcass into the street and also to have defiled and banned sacred rites and traditions throughout Egypt.
This claim is contradicted by reports of other writers, inscriptions, and artwork which shows Cambyses II's great appreciation for Egyptian culture and religion including his rebuilding of Memphis and its continuation as the capital of the Persian satrapy.The very fact that he used their values against them in battle attests to this admiration; he knew the Egyptians would respond exactly as they did because they could not do otherwise. They would have thought it better to surrender than betray their beliefs.
After the Battle of Pelusium, the Persians would rule Egypt in the 27th and 31st Dynasties and pose a constant threat, even when they were driven out, in the 28th - 30th. Except for brief periods, Egypt ceased to be an autonomous nation following the Persian victory. Alexander the Great arrived with his armies in 331 BCE and conquered the land, and it was then ruled by a Greek monarchy until annexed by Rome in 30 BCE.
Polyaenus observes how, through this trickery, Cambyses II opened up the route into Egypt and the path to victory. He further observes that one must never trust in one's own strength or goodness in battle but instead prepare for any contingency. While this may be sound advice, the refusal of the Egyptians to compromise their beliefs - no matter the cost - is a telling detail in understanding what made their culture so admirable and their civilization among the most impressive.


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