Opium for the Masses
How the ancients got high By Robert S. Merrillees

The King David Hotel in Jerusalem has witnessed many historical scenes, some violent, others diplomatic. One of the more curious incidents took place in April 1974, when a security guard accompanying U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on an official visit to Israel happened to look out a window of the hotel; a former customs […]

Sons of God
The ideology of Assyrian kingship By Simo Parpola

The impact of Mesopotamian religious thought on the evolution of other ancient religious and philosophical thought has never been seriously investigated. What follows are my initial forays into this uncharted territory. I suspect the influence has been far greater than anyone has yet suggested. Take, for example, one small datum: There was a […]

Recovering 3,000-year-old cargo By Cemal Pulak

In the summer of 1982, a novice sponge diver working the waters off the southern coast of Turkey reported to his captain that he had seen “metal biscuits with ears” on the sea floor. The captain knew immediately that these “biscuits” were actually ancient metal ingots, so he alerted archaeologists from the Institute of […]

Priam’s Treasure
The story behind the 4,000-year-old hoard of Trojan gold By David A. Traill

Heinrich Schliemann’s second season of excavation in 1872 on the mound of Hisarlik, which he fervently believed to be the site of Homer’s Troy,1 had ended in triumph. He had discovered, so he thought, the “Great Tower of Ilium”—which Hector’s wife Andromache anxiously climbed upon learning that the Trojans were being pushed back by […]

The Great MFA Exposé
But will it stop archaeological looting? By Hershel Shanks

Last year, on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s, the lead story on the front page of The Boston Globe was not about President Clinton’s impending impeachment trial in the Senate, nor about Saddam Hussein’s effort to shoot down American planes over the no-fly zone in northern Iraq, but about the Boston Museum […]

The Enigma of Hatshepsut
Egypt’s female pharaoh By Gay Robins

The story of Hatshepsut is at first glance simple. She was the daughter of King Thutmose I, wife of King Thutmose II and mother of his daughter, Neferura. Upon her husband’s death (c. 1479 B.C.), she became queen regent of Egypt, ruling in place of the young heir who technically occupied the throne: Thutmose III, […]

The world’s oldest book By Dorit Symington

In 1986, two years into the excavation of the Uluburun shipwreck, the team from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, led by George F. Bass and Cemal Pulak, made one of its most remarkable discoveries. While sifting through the sediment of a large pithos that contained the remains of pomegranates, bronze implements and some […]

Who Owns Priam’s Treasure?: An Odyssey Debate
Discovered at Troy; smuggled to Greece, bestowed upon Germany; confiscated by the USSR—Schliemann’s gold is still causing a ruckus. By Klaus Goldmann, Özgen Acar, Stephen K. Urice

Return the Treasure to Germany Why should the events of World War II abrogate longstanding agreements over cultural ownership?

Bought on the Market
A gallery

In putting together this issue’s article on the Antiquities Problem (“The Great MFA Exposé”), our thoughts turned to unprovenanced objects that can now be studied by scholars because they were bought on the market. If these important remnants of the past had not been purchased—perhaps, in some cases, illegally—they would have disappeared from view […]

Architecture of Infinity
In their temples, the ancient Egyptians followed a simple plan that mirrored the creation of the universe. By David O’Connor

Most first-time visitors to Egypt will tell you that many ancient Egyptian temples have survived. But they’re wrong. It only seems that way on a two or three week tour. Although temples were once very common in Egypt, evidence of them today is surprisingly slight. For most of Egypt’s history, thousands of temples […]

A Great Empire’s Beating Heart
The Roman Forum was not just the center of a town, it was the center of a culture By Larry F. Ball

Ovid’s Ars Amatoria is a “how to” manual, in verse, for amorous young men. The poet spends some 200 lines (1.67–262) naming the best places in Rome to contrive supposedly chance encounters with women. Most of the sites are recognizable, and many are in or near the Roman Forum, but Ovid rarely names […]

Priam’s Treasure in Boston?

On at least two occasions, the famous Trojan gold nearly found a home in the United States.

The Master from Apulia
Living in southeastern Italy during the late fourth century B.C., the Darius Painter decorated vases with scenes from Greek Mythology—sometimes inspired by Alexander the Great’s campaigns in the East. By John Herrmann

The Darius Painter not only recreated the shimmering world of Greek myth on the surfaces of his vases; he also acted as a kind of journalist-bard, painting scenes of historical events as news came in from far-flung places. A Greek-speaker, the Darius Painter probably worked both in the Greek city of Taras (modern Taranto) […]

Floating in the Desert
A pleasure palace in Jordan By Ehud Netzer

For more than a century after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.E., his heirs, the Seleucids in Syria and Mesopotamia and the Ptolemies in Egypt, fought for control of the portion of southern Israel known as Judea. Early in the second century B.C.E., a Jew named Joseph stepped into the fray. The […]

Heinrich Schliemann: Improbable Archaeologist

Athens at the height of summer. Visitors are negotiating their way through the crowded Mycenaean room of the National Museum. The name “Schliemann” rustles through the air as the guides halt their groups at strategic points and launch into their mini-lectures on the finds. The tourists gaze in awe at the Mask of Agamemnon […]

Who Really Built the Pyramids?
A surprising discovery lay buried in the sands near the Giza pyramids—a cemetery containing tombs of the workers. By Zahi Hawass

History has not been kind to some of us. We typically refer, for instance, to the Great Pyramid of Giza, built by the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu during the Fourth Dynasty (c. 2575–2465 B.C.). But King Khufu did not build his pyramid; rather, he hired or conscripted others to do the work, a crew […]

The Image Destroyers
Only non-sacred images were destroyed in eighth-century Palestine By Robert Schick

A curious episode in the history of iconoclasm—the destruction of sacred images—took place in eighth-century Palestine (present-day Israel and Jordan). The region’s Byzantine churches were often decorated with colorful mosaic pavements, including depictions of plants, animals, ordinary human beings and holy figures such as Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the disciples and saints. Sometime during […]

The Egyptian roots By James P. Allen

Among the many features of Western intellectual history that can be traced to the ancient Near East, none has been more powerful than the idea of transcendental monotheism—the belief in only one god who exists eternally and apart from his creation. The early Hebrews are generally given credit for this concept, and the Bible […]

Littoral Truths
The perils of seafaring in the Bronze Age By Eric H. Cline

Poor Wenamun! Stranded in a foreign city, his money stolen and letters of introduction misplaced, the Egyptian official throws himself upon the mercy of the local administration—an all-too-familiar tale of a traveler in distress. But Wenamun’s story dates to the end of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1075 B.C.), in the days before American […]


Origins: A Codex Moment
2,000 years ago, a new writing surface and a renegade religion joined forces to create the modern book. By Timothy Rogers
Origins: You Can Look It Up!
Somebody had to invent the card catalogue. Why not a scholar at Alexandria’s ancient library? By J. Harold Ellens
Past Perfect: From Rome To Brindisi
The poet Horace steps across Italy—a trip that turns into a series of comic misadventures.
Past Perfect: Reinventing Antiquity
A gifted 18th-century engraver celebrates the grandeur that was Rome.
Past Perfect: Under The Volcano
America’s foremost humorist, Mark Twain, views ancient Pompeii through the sardonic eye of a 19th-century Midwesterner.
Editors’ Page: Let’s Do What We Can!
The impossible will take forever By Hershel Shanks
Destinations: Kerkouane, Tunisia
On an eroding stretch of Tunisia’s coastline, a Punic fishing community conjures up Africa’s great lost civilization. By Hershel Shanks
Origins: Interesting Developments
Just how did ancient bureaucrats set their interest rates? By Michael Hudson
Destinations: Swimming the Hellespont
Following in Leander’s wake, across the choppy strait separating Europe and Asia. By Susan Heuck Allen
Past Perfect: Away from the Big Top
Circus strongman Giovanni Belzoni finds fame and fortune in the Valley of the Kings.
Ancient Life: What, No Corkscrew?
It wasn’t the Swiss who invented the Swiss Army Knife.
Ancient Life: A Venerable Keepsake
Souvenirs from ancient Rome
Past Perfect: On a Mission from God
Assigned the simple task of buying wood for a temple, the ancient Egyptian official Wenamun gets more than he bargained for. By Ronan James Head
Destinations: Kourion, Cyprus
Destroyed by an earthquake in the fourthcentury A.D., the ancient city rises again. By Julie Skurdenis
The Forum
Should archaeology go corporate? Reassessing the pyramid builders.And a brief debate on the uses of the past.
The Forum
Remembering Jewish contributions to modern medicine. Tracking Cappadocia’s missing tuff. And setting the record straight about ancient infanticide.
Ancient Life: Tut-tut!
Tomb robbing in ancient times
Destinations: The Valley of the Tombs, Palmyra, Syria
On the outskirts of a ruined city, visitors encounter a suburb of the dead.
Destinations: Sounion, Greece
Even Lord Byron, charmed by Poseidon’s Temple, left his mark. By Julie Skurdenis
The Forum
A note of caution regarding the opium mystique. Allenby’s excellent adventure. And how to date a Pharaoh.
Ancient Life: Table Manners?
An ancient mosaic gives us a bird’s-eye view.
Ancient Life: Comic Relief
An ancient Egyptian bestiary
The Forum
Our readers submit new theories explaining the Qasr el-Abd reflecting pool. And who was “Apella the Jew,” referred to by the Roman poet Horace?
The Forum
Understanding god, translating the name “Akhenaten,” and disposing of Priam’s Treasure.