Use our images
Download images for
personal or educational
use for £2.99/US$5 each
Subject: ‘Ancient History’
All of these articles and images are available for licensing: click on an image to see further details and licensing options; contact us about licensing textual content.
Posted in Ancient History, Archaeology, Boats, Historical articles, History, Rivers, Sea, Ships, Trade, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 22 May 2013
This edited article about seafaring originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 263 published on 28 January 1967.
Queen Hatshepsut's expedition to Punt with inset diagram showing details of the boat construction
How did seafaring begin? Who first made a raft, a dug-out, a bark canoe? We haven’t much idea, any more than we can find out now who first thought up the idea of making a wheel.
But it is pretty sure that the same materials available to men over much of the earth led to the development of the same sort of floating ‘vehicles’ – so much so, indeed, that many exceedingly primitive craft are still with us. After all, logs, burned-out hollow trees, curled bits of bark, rafts and even lashed-up reeds will float anywhere. So will blown-up animal skins and big baskets, woven and caulked with bitumen or tar, or just trampled-down grass held together with any gooey stuff that happens to be to hand, like resin out of trees.
Rock drawings; scratchings on stone; stylised decorations on ancient vases scarcely identifiable as any sort of vessel, actual models of very old Egyptian river-craft; all these still exist and we can make what we want of them. So do the vessels themselves on which the drawings and models were based, in surprising profusion: reed boats on Lake Titicaca in South America, for example, which are nothing but bundles of bulrushes in which a fisherman may sit and control a small sail of light woven reeds set from a bipod mast of sticks; basket-boats woven from bamboos and caulked with a mixture of cow-dung and coconut oil in Vietnam; the one-man rafts of small balsa logs lashed together which are used for fishing inshore along the coasts of Peru and Brazil; and dug-outs with or without outriggers; twin-hulled or single, large and small, still abound in parts of the South Sea Islands, and around the coasts of India, Ceylon, Burma, East and West Africa.
With one exception, none of these craft would ever grow into any sort of seagoing ship. Even the primitive Australian aborigines made a raft of mangrove poles, but they got no farther. Rafts, reeds and baskets did all that was needed.
In all probability, using these primitive craft began on rivers, which were the only easy means of transport for early man. Rivers held fish. Fish was food. Early man had fire, sharp stones to cut with, and time – especially time. If it took half a year to burn and cut a dug-out canoe from the trunk of a large tree, that was no bother to him.
He soon began to use such water-borne transport as he could contrive for raiding and warfare too, and for hunting. He could sneak up on both animals and man by water.
There was one thing more he needed before he could get very far. That was some stability of society, for man in his dug-out or on his raft was himself vulnerable. Before there could be sea-going ships, there had to be order. There was plenty of time for the dug-out, built up slowly with planks-on-edge above its base, to grow into a craft fit at least for estuary, bay, and the more placid open-sea sailing. Good conditions for such craft exist in the fine-weather seasons over almost the whole of the tropical Asian coasts. They have a good season and a bad season. In the bad season, make the dug-out: in the good weather, sail it. That was the way of things, and still is in some places.
So the dug-out in time grew into the mere foundation – the keel – of larger craft, and the planks sewn on edge to its sides became a hull. The vessel was no longer vulnerable to any water that slopped in. Sails of matted leaves sufficed to catch tropic winds. Twisted bits of leather, tough lengths of forest vines made the essential rigging. Pieces of wood, roughly shaped, served as paddles: longer pieces became oars. Then some brilliant pioneer came up with a thole-pin – a fulcrum by the use of which man could make an oar into a lever, and learn to row.
And slowly, slowly, men learned also to make directional use of the stars, for Asian skies were clear, and men had time to observe them.
Even more slowly, areas of ordered government were evolved; civilisations grew. It was possible to trade, to make voyages to other lands by sea. Navigation was unnecessary because early seafarers hugged the coasts.
One of the areas where civilisation began was the valley of the great river Nile in Egypt. The Nile was made for water commerce. Caravan trails led to the Red Sea coasts. Early Pharaohs cut primitive versions of the Suez Canal to connect the Nile delta with the Red Sea. In the Red Sea, unlike the Mediterranean, there were steady winds and assured good weather over much of the year. There were also places to go, and they could be reached by coasting, by sailing along a sort of God-made inland waterway inside the reefs. So even primitive craft, developed from Nile boats, could get somewhere and – more important still – get back again.
Five thousand years ago, Egyptians knew how to ship blocks of granite of up to 500 tons from Aswan; over 500 miles up-river from Cairo. This was river sailing, of course, but those transports had to be strong. Building such large vessels, inevitably the Egyptians had to learn about accepting stresses and to turn out craft which were strong, able to carry goods and survive in the sea.
We find records from 4,000 years ago, carved into great stone faces in the Valley of the Hammamat, telling of an organised voyage of five ships from Egypt to the ‘Land of Punt’. Scholars still argue about just where Punt was, but many think that it was possibly Somaliland. Later hieroglyphs carved into the stones of the great temple of Deir el Bahri by a queen named Hatshepsut, tell us what cargoes these ships carried – incense, ebony and ivory, cinnamon wood, ‘eye-cosmetic . . . apes, monkeys, dogs, and skins of the southern panther, with natives and their children . . .’
The sculptors cut pictures of the ships into the stone. We get a reasonable idea of how they were built and how they looked. If, to moderns, their cargoes might seem overmuch for such small vessels to carry, one must remember that all the items listed were precious or semi-precious, even the eye-cosmetic. This was expensive stuff, and small parcels would be worth a fortune.
In those days too, and for thousands of years afterwards, neither seamen nor the usual kind of passengers were given any accommodation as we know it. Only high priests, kings, and nobles rated ship-board shelter. Others had to live aboard the best way they could. They stretched out anywhere, wrapped in their cloaks, and their worldly goods were on them.
So the five small ships to Punt were adequate for their enterprise. What they started was carried on. The science of long coastal passage-making had arrived in Eastern and Middle Eastern seas, though the very fact that Queen Hatshepsut considered the Punt passage worthy of permanent record indicates that such enterprises were then exceptional.
Thousands of years before Christ was born, Man was learning how to make voyages in Eastern seas where the monsoons, the high, readily recognisable mountains along so many coasts, the richness of the products for barter and exchange, and the many great river-mouth ports offered conditions unknown in Northern Europe.
A tougher kind of seafaring was essential there, and that development took time. A great deal of time.
Posted in Ancient History, Religion, Saints on Wednesday, 22 May 2013
This edited article about Saint Agnes originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 262 published on 21 January 1967.
The Roman soldiers realised that the pyre would not burn beneath young Agnes
“It will not burn! A miracle! A miracle!” cried the Roman crowd.
A legionary with a smoking torch in his hand walked over to the officer.
“It is just as the people say, sir,” he said. “I cannot get the wood to light.”
He pointed to where a young girl was tied to a stake in the public square, a large pile of faggots at her feet.
“Miracle or no miracle, it is the Emperor Diocletian’s order that these Christians must die and his orders must be obeyed,” said the officer. He drew his sword and marched towards the bound girl.
This happened in the year 304, when the persecution of Christians in Rome was at its height. The girl who had been sentenced to death by burning was called Agnes. The daughter of Christian parents, she had been arrested by the agents of Diocletian for her beliefs. The Prefect Sempronius had conducted her trial, saying that if she would renounce Christianity, she could go free. Agnes refused, and now, on this day of 21st January, at the age of only 13, she watched calmly while the officer with the drawn sword approached her.
With one stroke he severed her head from her shoulders.
“So perishes another Christian,” he muttered.
But the spirit of Agnes was to live on. Eight days after her death, Agnes’s parents had a vision. They believed they saw their daughter again, accompanied by a snow-white lamb. Since then the lamb has been the symbol of the saint.
Later a church was built in Rome in memory of Saint Agnes. There, on each anniversary of her martyrdom, a special service is held where two white lambs are blessed. When their wool has grown long, it is shorn and woven by nuns into a pallia. This is a special vestment worn by Catholic archbishops.
In the years following her death, the young saint became regarded as the patron of young girls, and a curious belief grew that, if a girl dreamed of a young man on Saint Agnes’s Eve, he was destined to become her husband.
Posted in Ancient History, Geology, Historical articles, History, Interesting Words, Language on Tuesday, 21 May 2013
This edited article about language originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 261 published on 14 January 1967.
Roman soldiers were paid in salt
The province of Salzburg, of which the city of Salzburg is the capital, is one of the most beautiful regions in Austria. It attracts many visitors who come each year to see the rich and varied landscape, through which the rivers flow into the broad plains of Bavaria. In winter people flock to the ski slopes; in August they come to the Salzburg Festival.
The Festival was first staged in 1917, and includes the production of plays, operas and concerts, often featuring the music of Mozart, who was born and lived in Salzburg.
Salzburg is on the curve of an alpine river, the Salzach, and once aspired to be the ‘Rome of the north’. Narrow, sloping streets with houses built tall to conserve space, crowd the narrow piece of land between the swiftly flowing river and the steep mountain ledge which towers above.
The grandest buildings are those of the Prince-Archbishops who ruled the region until a century and a half ago. There are princely palaces, churches by the dozen and a cathedral with a dazzling white interior which its builder hoped would rival St. Peter’s, Rome. The nave is more than 100 yards long, the dome nearly 240 feet high, and the building can hold about 10,000 people.
In the middle ages, the Archbishops of Salzburg were Imperial princes as well as churchmen and the importance of Salzburg was firmly established.
In Salzburg, too, is the world’s oldest nunnery, where Julie Andrews was filmed in The Sound of Music, the story of the Trapp family. Frau Trapp had been a novice there.
Salt drew the earliest settlers to this region. Whole mountains of salt have been mined, leaving behind vast caverns. So many of them inter-connect that a person can walk through them for 25 miles without coming to the surface.
Salt is less important to Salzburg now, but for centuries the main job on the river Salzach was to carry salt boats on their way to the Danube. Castles sprang up along the series of rivers to exact tolls from salt and other goods.
Salzburg was a trading centre for salt in Celtic and Roman days. Hence its name – Salzburg, or salt fortress.
The Romans ruled this area for several centuries. They settled amongst the Celtic population, building settlements in places where the river was wide enough to facilitate trade. They began to build up a network of roads. The region prospered because, as men’s diet broadened to embrace agricultural products, extra salt became a valuable seasoning, imperative to health and almost as precious as gold.
Surviving phrases emphasise the value of salt – phrases like being ‘worth one’s salt’, ‘the salt of life’, or, as a measure of distinction, ‘sitting above (or below) the salt.’ At one time the Romans paid their soldiers in salt, for which the Latin word is sal. Later, the Romans replaced salt with a money allowance for buying it. They called this sum a salarium, or salary. Today, the salary is still the term used to describe the regular payment made to people at work.
Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, History, Medicine, Plants on Friday, 17 May 2013
This edited article about vegetables originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 258 published on 24 December 1966.
Feeding lettuce to the rabbits
We do not know how old this plant is, although most authorities agree that it has been cultivated in Europe since the earliest times. The ancient Greeks and Romans knew it, and it was served at the royal tables in Persia over 500 years before the Christian era. The Moors were very fond of lettuce and developed many types, among them the Romaine. Lettuce was esteemed highly by the Greeks also and it is said that a famous Greek philosopher even irrigated his growing plants with wine, to produce a distinctive flavour.
Lettuce has had a somewhat stormy history. It once caused the death of a queen and was responsible for great honours being paid to a slave. The queen, whose unfortunate end came about indirectly because of it, was the wife of Cambyses, the son of Cyprus The Great. Cambyses murdered his brother, and then forced his sister to marry him. One evening, when they were dining together, the queen stripped a head of lettuce of its leaves and the king remarked that it was not as beautiful as it had been.
“It is the same with our family,” replied the queen, “since you cut off a precious shoot.”
King Cambyses never forgave her this indiscreet remark and later had her executed.
The slave’s story had a much happier ending. Augustus, the Emperor of Rome from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14 was gravely ill and the royal physician Musa, who had once been a slave, put him on a diet of lettuce. The Emperor recovered and for this great service Musa received not only a large sum of money, but permission to wear a gold ring, a privilege usually reserved only for aristocrats. But even greater honours were to come to him, all due to the humble lettuce. When the news spread around Rome and the citizens realised that they owed the life of their Emperor to the skill of Musa, they took up a popular subscription and erected a statue in his honour.
Do you wonder that lettuce leaves have a tendency to curl a bit scornfully at the edges? They are probably shrinking away from other vegetables, who have never been responsible for the death of a queen, or the honouring of a slave!
Like all plants, at one time or another in their history, the lettuce was considered to have great medicinal value. According to old writers, it was an antidote against the bite of a scorpion or any poisonous spider and was also prescribed for diseases of the spleen and as a cure for insomnia. King George I of England once sent his royal courier to Holland to procure a special lettuce for his ailing queen. History fails to tell us whether it cured the lady, but we hope so. Having caused the death of one queen, the lettuce should certainly have tried to atone by curing this one.
Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, History, Legend, Myth on Wednesday, 15 May 2013
This edited article about vegetables originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 256 published on 10 December 1966.
Asparagus, like garlic, belongs to the lily family, and has been cultivated as a food for over 2,000 years. The Romans grew it as high as 20 feet, and they have left records of stems being cooked and eaten that weighed as much as three pounds. They must have been served half raw, as a favourite expression those days was to do things ‘as quickly as asparagus is cooked’.
The Romans used the berries too, fermenting them and making them into a drink.
There is a rather pretty story about the asparagus plant that is still told in Greece. Perigyne, a character in Grecian mythology, had fled into an asparagus thicket, after her father had been killed.
“If you will hide me from my enemies,” she begged, “I will never destroy or burn you.”
The asparagus heard her plea and concealed her well. Because of this, it is said, the Ionians, who claim to be descended from Perigyne, will never permit the asparagus plant to be destroyed.
In order to have a fine asparagus bed, an old Roman book tells us, ‘pound up a ram’s horn until it is reduced to a fine, white powder and use this to fertilise the young plants’. However, the book goes on, ‘you must put your plants in the ground at the exact moment the moon pops over the horizon’, otherwise your crop will be ruined.
Another curious belief, prevalent in both Greece and Rome, was that asparagus, if beaten up with oil and smeared liberally over your body, would make you immune to bee stings. Handle them as much as you like, so the book says, and they will not sting you.
An interesting theory, but one we may prefer to let others test!
Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, Nature, Plants on Tuesday, 14 May 2013
This edited article about mushrooms originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 254 published on 26 November 1966.
Red-capped toadstools are poisonous and hallucinogenic mushrooms
Did you ever see a knife made from golden amber? They say that Roman aristocrats used such knives to slice mushrooms to tell whether they were poisonous, as amber is supposed to be a detector of poisons.
In those days, mushrooms were viewed by everyone with the deepest suspicion and called ‘vehicles of death’.
One of the most notorious crimes in which mushrooms played a leading part was the murder of the Roman emperor Claudius, around the beginning of the Christian era. His empress, Agrippina, poisoned him with ‘mushrooms’ – undoubtedly toadstools – to secure the throne for her son, the infamous Nero.
Two other monarchs, Tiberius, of pagan Rome, and Charles VI of France, both accused the poor mushroom of attempting their murders.
The real reason, of course, that the mushroom got such a bad reputation lay in people’s complete ignorance that there were poisonous and non-poisonous varieties.
Pliny, an ancient Roman botanist, gives us the most fantastic theories about the plant. He wrote: “If they grow near a piece of rusty iron or rotten cloth, they will instantly absorb the flavour and transform it into poison.”
Serpents, he asserted, were another hazard. “Nothing is more deadly than a mushroom that grows near the hole of a serpent, or has even been breathed upon by one.” And he goes on to give rule after rule for deciding when serpents have retired to their holes, at which time it might be possible, he said, to enjoy a dish of mushrooms without coming to an untimely end.
Very little seems to be known about either the age or the origin of mushrooms. They were known in early Rome and have been cultivated in modern Europe since the 17th century. In Ireland, especially, the country people are always happy when they find mushrooms growing in their fields. They will tell you that when everyone is asleep, the Little People come out and dance across the turf.
“They leave the mushrooms behind,” they whisper, “because there are persons so stupid, they don’t believe in the Little People. As if you couldn’t see, with one eye closed, that it’s a fairy plant.”
It’s a lovely tale, and much like an older one told by Grecian mothers to their children about the Moon Goddess.
“She dances in the fields on spring nights,” they said, “when the wind blows from the west. Her slippers are silver clouds, studded with jagged pieces of broken star, which take root to mark the places where her feet have pressed.” In the morning, wherever her feet had touched, there would be a tiny white mushroom growing, exactly the shade of a soft, fleecy cloud.
We like to think of this fungus being a gift from the Moon Goddess, rather than to dwell too much on an emperor murdered for his throne, or Romans slicing mushrooms fearfully with their golden amber knives.
Posted in Ancient History, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Sport, War on Monday, 13 May 2013
This edited article about the Battle of Marathon originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 254 published on 26 November 1966.
Pheidippides bringing news of Pan's promise to Athens in 490 BC by Alberto Salinas
The runner was at the point of exhaustion, for it was September and the land around was swimming with heat. It was an inhospitable area, this stretch of country between Athens and Sparta. The rocky ground rose steeply on each side of the track, forming cliffs pitted with deep caves.
As he reeled past one of the larger caverns the runner saw – or thought he saw – a strange figure emerging from its depths: the figure of a man with the legs and horns of a goat. It could only be Pan, the god of nature, and, in his exhaustion, the runner thought that the god spoke, promising victory to the Athenians in coming battle, if they would honour him.
The year was 490 B.C., and the Persian army was on the move – an army created out of an enormous empire that stretched from the Black Sea to Egypt – sworn to destroy the arrogant Greeks.
There could have seemed little doubt as to the issue. The Persian general had under his command Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Medes, all knitted into one great army numbering perhaps 30,000 men. Opposing it were the tiny independent cities of Greece, whom all the world knew were incapable of combining against a common enemy.
The Persians crossed from Asia into Europe by the narrow sea now known as the Dardanelles and then turned southward, but, before Athens, there was a small plain called Marathon where perhaps the great hordes could be held at bay until help came. The Athenians marched all their available troops to Marathon, but these numbered only 10,000. The Spartans had promised to send an army and therefore an Athenian citizen, the runner Pheidippides, was sent hastening to them to warn them that the time was at hand.
It was about 150 miles from Athens to Sparta – and Pheidippides covered the distance in just 48 hours! In all that time he could have snatched only the briefest periods of rest. But there was bitter disappointment for him when he arrived at the city. The Spartans agreed to send help – but not until the night of the full moon, nearly two weeks away. Pheidippides did not reproach them, for all Greeks were bound by the oracles. He turned and ran the long, weary way back to Athens with his bad news. But he brought, too, the promise of the god Pan.
There could be no further delay, for the Persian army were already at Marathon. Tradition has it that Pheidippides continued on to Marathon in time for the fantastic Greek charge which completely routed the dismayed Persians. A mile separated the two forces, but the heavily-armed Greeks charged the distance at the double in the stifling heat. The Persians fled: the Athenians believed that Pan had kept his promise and spread dismay among them, and so they later erected an altar to his honour.
Pheidippides, too, had his memorial, and one that outlasted that of Pan. The Athenians named one of the great races of their Olympic games the ‘Marathon’, after his run, and even today the name is used for any great feat of endurance.
Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, Nature, Plants, Religion on Monday, 13 May 2013
This edited article about vegetables originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 253 published on 19 November 1966.
Chick peas, the ancestors of our popular green peas, have been cultivated for well over 5,000 years. Old Egyptian tombs have yielded specimens that prove that they were known in that country as far back as 2400 B.C., although at the time of Herodotus (about 500 B.C.) the Egyptians regarded the vegetable as unclean. Possibly this arose from the shape of the unripe seed, which resembles a ram’s head. In India, the use of the chick pea goes back to a remote time, as shown by the Sanskrit name.
Many botanists believe that chick peas came originally from Western Asia, but as they no longer grow wild there, the point is difficult to prove. Others claim that their native home was northern India.
Chick peas were well known to the Romans for many centuries, but considered inferior to other vegetables. There was one variety of pea, however, historians tell us, so popular that politicians actually bought votes with them and during entertainments, vendors went around selling them, as we sell candy or soft drinks. We are sure that this must have been our present green pea, as, unlike the chick pea, it is sweet.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, Legend, Myth, Plants, Religion on Saturday, 11 May 2013
This edited article about vegetables originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 251 published on 5 November 1966.
The humble cabbage is not only a very old vegetable – it has been cultivated for over 4,000 years – it is also one with an interesting history.
A little girl feeding cabbage to her pet rabbit
In Egypt the cabbage was worshipped as a god and, to show their great respect for the vegetable, it was the first dish Egyptians touched at their banquets. The Ionians believed that fairies rode on cabbage stalks and held it in such high respect that they swore their most sacred oaths on it. “I swear on the cabbage” was a very solemn promise, not lightly broken.
Due to its great antiquity and the numerous varieties, botanists do not agree on the cabbage’s place of origin, but mythology has made up for this by giving us a number of fascinating themes.
The Romans did not deify the cabbage, but they did give it a divine origin. They claimed that Jupiter, the father of all their gods, was attempting to explain two contradictory oracles. He laboured so hard that perspiration came out on his brow and, as the drops fell to earth, they turned into tiny cabbage plants.
Curiously enough, Grecian mythology also ascribes a watery origin to the cabbage. The story goes that Lycurgus, a prince of Thrace, destroyed all the grapevines in Dionysus’ garden. Dionysus was a most important god and, when he saw the damage to his garden, a very angry one. Lycurgus was brought before him and condemned to be bound to a grapevine for the rest of his life. As Lycurgus wept, lamenting his lost liberty, his tears took root and tiny cabbage plants came up.
Several hundred years later a reflection of this legend was found in a belief, widely held by both Greeks and Romans, that eating cabbage would cure intoxication. The cabbage, having sprung from Lycurgus’ tears, was the enemy of the vine, of which Dionysus was the God.
Intoxication was not the only thing the cabbage was supposed to cure. One old writer states that at one stage in their history the Romans expelled all doctors and preserved their health for over 600 years by prescribing cabbage as a remedy for every disease – a tale that must be viewed with a certain amount of scepticism! Less fancifully, Cato, the censor, urged all Romans to grow cabbages for their slaves, as they were both cheap and nourishing.
There are a lot of strange members of the cabbage family. Some of them are not really related to it at all, but the word ‘cabbage’ appears as a part of their name. In the West Indies, there is a tree called the Cabbage Palm, whose end is cooked and eaten in exactly the same way as we prepare the vegetable. (This same tree is found in Australia, but there the natives dry the leaves and make hats out of them.)
Another cabbage tree is found in the Channel Islands, whilst on rocks near the Antarctic Circle, a shipwrecked crew kept themselves alive for days on cabbage growing there.
Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, History, Medicine, Plants, Religion, Superstition on Friday, 10 May 2013
This edited article about vegetables originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 250 published on 29 October 1966.
Pythagoras taught his followers that the spirits of the dead lived again in the bean, by J Armet
In the ancient world, some vegetables were gods, but beans were hated as if they were devils, and even to pronounce their name was forbidden to holy folk. It is almost certain that the species of bean singled out for distrust was our field bean, a close relative of the broad bean, because this has a black spot which aroused alarm, and botanists agree that it is one of the oldest of all vegetables.
The Hebrews knew the field bean 1,000 years before the birth of Christ; it is spoken of in Homer’s Iliad, and specimens of it have been found in the excavations of Troy and in the Lake Dwellings of Switzerland. This means they must have existed in that country around the Bronze Age.
Exactly where the bean’s birthplace was is not known. Some botanists say Asia, others northern Africa, and still others that it came from some region south of the Caspian Sea.
Read the rest of this article »