Herculaneum | ancient city, Italy | Britannica

Source: Herculaneum | ancient city, Italy | Britannica

Herculaneum, ancient city of 4,000–5,000 inhabitants in CampaniaItaly. It lay 5 miles (8 km) southeast of Naples, at the western base of Mount Vesuvius, and was destroyed—together with PompeiiTorre Annunziata, and Stabiae—by the Vesuvius eruption of AD 79. The town of Ercolano (pop. [1995 est.] 59,695) now lies over part of the site. The excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii in the mid-18th century precipitated the modern science of archaeology. Collectively, the ruins of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Torre Annunziata were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.

Ancient tradition connected Herculaneum with the name of the Greek hero Heracles, an indication that the city was of Greek origin. There is, however, historical evidence that toward the end of the 6th century BC a primitive nucleus of Oscan-speaking inhabitants came under Greek hegemony there and that in the 4th century BC Herculaneum came under the domination of the Samnites. The city became a Roman municipium in 89 BC, when, having participated in the Social War (“war of the allies” against Rome), it was defeated by Titus Didius, a legate of Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Herculaneum was severely shaken by an earthquake in AD 62, and the serious damage suffered by its public and private buildings had not yet been repaired when it was buried by the Vesuvius eruption of August 24–25, AD 79. Because few human remains were found during early excavations, it was assumed that, unlike the people of Pompeii, most of the inhabitants succeeded in escaping toward Naples, in the direction opposite to the fall of lapilli and ashes. In the 1980s, however, excavations at the ancient shoreline of the Bay of Naples (an area that is now inland) uncovered more than 120 human skeletons, suggesting that numerous additional inhabitants had also perished while attempting to escape. Nuées ardentes (a type of pyroclastic flow) were the most likely cause of death.

The particular circumstances of the burial of Herculaneum, unlike those of Pompeii, led to the formation over the city of a compact mass of tufaceous material about 50 to 60 feet (15 to 18 metres) deep. Although this layer made excavation very difficult, it preserved Herculaneum and prevented tampering and looting. The special conditions of ground humidity made possible the conservation of wooden frameworks of houses, wooden furniture, the hull of a sizable boat, pieces of cloth, and food (carbonized loaves of bread left within ovens). Thus, Herculaneum offers a detailed impression of private life that is only with difficulty achieved in other centres of the ancient world. Excavation began in the 18th century, when all memory of the existence of Herculaneum had been lost for centuries and the only available reports of it were those that had come down through the authors of antiquity, without any information as to the exact position of the ancient city. Quite by accident, in 1709, during the digging of a well, a wall was discovered that was later found to be a part of the stage of the Herculaneum theatre. Tunnels were soon dug at the site by treasure hunters, and many of the theatre area’s artifacts were removed. Regular excavations were started in 1738 under the patronage of the king of Naples, and from 1750 to 1764 the military engineer Karl Weber served as director of excavations. Under Weber, diagrams and plans of the ruins were produced, and numerous artifacts were uncovered and documented. Magnificent paintings and a group of portrait statues were excavated from a building thought to be the ancient basilica of Herculaneum, and a large number of bronze and marble works of art were recovered from a suburban villa, called the Villa of the Papyri because of its having contributed a whole library of ancient papyri in Greek. These papyri, on philosophical subjects of Epicurean inspiration, are preserved in the National Library of Naples.

The excavations were resumed in 1823 with the intention of discontinuing the previous tunneling and instead working from above ground, a method used with success at Pompeii; up to 1835 the work proved to be of value, bringing to light the first houses of Herculaneum, among which was the peristyle of the House of Argus. Abandoned and again resumed in 1869, after the unification of Italy, the excavations continued until 1875, when, because of the poor results obtained and the presence of the inhabited dwellings of Resina (now Ercolano), they were once more abandoned.

After the efforts of the English archaeologist Charles Waldstein to internationalize the excavations at Herculaneum (1904) by collecting contributions for this purpose from various nations in Europe and America, the work was finally resumed in May 1927 with Italian state funds and with the object of conducting the excavations with the same continuity as those of Pompeii. The results of this work, interrupted only by World War II, made it possible to have a clear picture of the ancient city. The larger decumanus (“main road”) forms one side of the quarter of the ancient forum with its public buildings. The insulae (“blocks”) to the south of the decumanus are laid out in a strictly geometric pattern facing the cardines (“crossroads”). Many of the nobler houses afforded their patrons a view of the bay. Inside the residential quarter, houses of rich republican and patrician construction alternate with houses of the middle class (such as the Trellis House), also finely decorated, or with commercial houses and workshops.

The public monuments uncovered include the palaestra (sports ground), with a large portico surrounding a vast central piscina (swimming pool), and thermae (baths), one of which adjoins the former beachfront. This bath is in a remarkable state of preservation, having remained largely protected against the pyroclastic flows of the eruption.

Excavation continues, since the demolition of part of Ercolano, at the forum of the ancient city and at the ancient coastline.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Kathleen Sheetz.

August 10 612 BC: Nineveh, the Largest City in the World, Fell | Ancient Origins

Source: August 10 612 BC: Nineveh, the Largest City in the World, Fell | Ancient Origins

On this day, 2,632 years ago, the ancient metropolis of Nineveh fell. “ ABC 3 ” is a historiographical text from ancient Babylonia which records August 10th 612 BC as the date of this dramatic occurrence. At that time, Nineveh was the largest city in the world and the capital of Assyria. This all came to an abrupt end when Nabopolassar, the Chaldean king of Babylonia and a central figure in the fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, siezed Nineveh. This marked what historians know as one of the most shocking events in ancient history: The “First” Fall of Nineveh. The “second” Fall of Nineveh occurred in 2015 with more destruction by ISIS.

The Discovery of Nineveh: A Unparalleled Archaeological Find

Ancient Mesopotamia was a cradle of civilization in the northern part of western Asia’s Fertile Crescent, corresponding to modern Iraq, Kuwait, eastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and areas along the Turkish–Syrian and Iran–Iraq borders. In 1839, Paul-Émile Botta of France excavated a series of mounds in the Iraqi desert that led to the incredible discovery of Nineveh, the vast ancient Assyrian city of Upper Mesopotamia located on the outskirts of modern-day Mosul in northern Iraq.

This discovery in mid-19th-century Europe was truly amazing, because it meant that at least one of the ancient cities and cultures mentioned in the Bible actually existed. This gave the Holy Bible a breath of newfound esteem at a time when scientists were demanding the empirical testing of supernatural claims, replacing time worn myths with logic and reason. The discovery of ancient Nineveh changed everything.

Ancient Nineveh: A Royal City Envied Far And Wide

The Assyrian Empire started to become unstable after the death of King Aššurbanipal in 631 BC when the Babylonians ended their independence. Around 627 AD the Babylonian general Nabopolassar defeated the Assyrians in a battle near Babylon and became king, marking the beginning of the Babylonian Empire which lasted until Nineveh was captured by the Persian Cyrus the Great in October 539 AD.

Assyrian military campaign in southern Mesopotamia, 640-620 BC, from an alabaster bas-relief located in the South-West Palace at Nineveh. (Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Assyrian military campaign in southern Mesopotamia, 640-620 BC, from an alabaster bas-relief located in the South-West Palace at Nineveh. (Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Although he had liberated Babylonia, Nabopolassar also wanted destroy its capital cities including the religious center at Aššur, the first Assyrian city, and the administrative center at Nineveh. To prevent this, which would have caused a major shift of power in the Near East, the Egyptians offered military support to Assyria. The Fall of Nineveh Chronicle says that on 25 July 616 AD Nabopolassar defeated an Assyrian force on the banks of the Euphrates to the south of Harran. However, soon after he retreated when an Egyptian army closed on his forces. By at the end of the following year, the Medes, a tribal federation living in modern Iran, seized the moment, amidst all the unrest, and had took control of Nineveh.

This image, taken in April 2017 during a UNESCO mission to Nineveh, which was heavily destroyed and excavated by ISIS in the “second” Fall of Nineveh in 2015. (UNESCO / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Nabopolassar tactfully signed a treaty with the Medes king Umakištar (Cyaxares). The Babylonian crown prince Nabû-kudurru-usur (Nebuchadnezzar) is said to have married Amytis, who many historians hold to have been the daughter of Cyaxares’ son Astyages. The joint Medes-Babylonian army invaded Nineveh in May 612 AD the city finally fell in July. According to an article on Livius after the suicide of King Sin-šar-iškun, “the looting of Nineveh continued until 10 August, when the Medes finally went home,” and that the fall of Nineveh “shocked the ancient world.” From distant Greece, the poet Phocylides of Miletus reported of the destruction of this ancient city.

ISIS soldiers in the Museum of Mosul destroying ancient Nineveh artifacts with sledgehammers in 2015. (Aljazeera / Screenshot)

ISIS soldiers in the Museum of Mosul destroying ancient Nineveh artifacts with sledgehammers in 2015. (Aljazeera / Screenshot)

2015: The “Second” Fall of Nineveh By ISIS Destruction

While Nineveh fell for the first time over 2500 years ago, destruction of the ancient city continued in 2015 when a priceless Assyrian winged bull was demolished at the Nineveh site. An article in The Guardian discussing the destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) described the destruction as a war crime.” At the same time, the terrorist organization attempted to attract a sympathetic audience to gain new recruits in their homeland, while provoking reactions in the West.

A 2015 Aljazeera video shows the destruction of several 7th century artifacts from Nineveh on February 26 2015, when ISIS publicly destroyed the Mosul Museum. Many other artifacts were stolen and put up for sale in foreign markets. However in 2019, the BBC announced that since Iraqi troops recaptured Mosul in 2017, part of the Mosul Museum has been restored and reopened to exhibit contemporary art, while the rest of the museum remains closed “to protect what is left,” said the museum director. If the first Fall of Nineveh was incredible, the second fall of Nineveh was both tragic and disturbing.

Top image: Assyrian soldiers carry beheaded heads of their prisoners as depicted on a wall in the South-West Palace at Nineveh, during the “First” Fall of Neneveh.         

Source: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin / CC BY-SA 4.0

By Ashley Cowie

Ancient DNA may reveal origin of the Biblical Philistines

Source: Ancient DNA may reveal origin of the Biblical Philistines

The authors of the Hebrew Bible made it clear that the Philistines were not like them: This “uncircumcised” group is described in several passages as coming from the “Land of Caphtor” (modern-day Crete) before taking control of the coastal region of what is now southern Israel and the Gaza Strip. They warred with their Israelite neighbors, even seizing the Ark of the Covenant for a time. Their representatives in the Bible include the giant Goliath, who was felled by the future king David, and Delilah, who robbed the Israelite Samson of his strength by cutting his hair.

Modern archaeologists agree that the Philistines were different from their neighbors: Their arrival on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean in the early 12th century B.C. is marked by pottery with close parallels to the ancient Greek world, the use of an Aegean—instead of a Semitic—script, and the consumption of pork.

Now, a study published today in the journal Science Advances, prompted by the unprecedented 2016 discovery of a cemetery at the ancient Philistine city of Ashkelon on the southern coast of Israel, provides an intriguing look into the genetic origins and legacy of the Philistines. The research appears to support their foreign origin, but reveals that the reviled outsiders were soon marrying into the local populations.

The study analyzed DNA from ten sets of human remains recovered from Ashkelon across three different time periods: a Middle/Late Bronze Age burial ground (about 1650-1200 B.C.), which pre-dates the Philistine presence in the area; infant burials from the late 1100s B.C., following the arrival of the Philistines in the early Iron Age; and individuals buried in the Philistine cemetery in the later Iron Age (10th and ninth centuries B.C.)

Daniel Master, director of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon and a co-author of the study, hails the results as “direct evidence” that supports the theory that the Philistines began as migrants from the west who settled in Ashkelon in the 12th century B.C.

“It fits with the Egyptian and other texts that we have, and it fits with the [archaeological material].”

What researchers find even more unusual is that this specific “European blip” disappears quickly and is statistically insignificant in the DNA from study samples recovered from the cemetery at Ashkelon only a few centuries after the infant burials. The later Philistine burials have genetic signatures very similar to local populations who lived in the region before the Philistines showed up.

“We managed to catch this movement of people coming to Ashkelon from southern Europe,” says Michal Feldman, an archaeogeneticist at the Max Planck Institute and study co-author. “Then it disappears very quickly within 200 years, probably because [the Philistines] intermarried and this kind of genetic signature was diluted within the local population.”

“For more than a century, we have debated the question of where the Philistines came from,” writes archaeologist Eric Cline in an email from his excavation at the Canaanite site of Tel Kabri (Cline was not involved in the current research.) “Now we have the answer: Southern Europe, and probably more specifically mainland Greece, Crete, or Sardinia. This fits with what had seemed the most likely answer previously, especially judging from [the archaeological remains], and so this seems a logical finding.”

“[W]hile I fully agree that there was a significant [foreign] component among the Philistines in the early Iron Age, these foreign components were not of one origin, and, no less important, they mixed with local Levantine populations from the early Iron Age onwards,” Maeir writes in an email.

For Master, what’s most interesting is the fact that—despite the quick genetic assimilation that the Philistines underwent —they remained a distinct cultural group that was clearly identifiable from their neighbors for more than five centuries, until they were conquered by the Babylonians in 604 B.C.

“It’s kind of interesting how you see [the Philistine genetic mix] has changed so quickly,” the archaeologist observed. “Because if you were only relying on the Hebrew texts, you’d think that nobody would want to mix with the Philistines, right?”