How to Find a Brothel in Pompeii

Pompeii’s material remains, frozen in time by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, offer an unparalleled look at what a first-century A.D. Roman city was like. We are all familiar with Pompeii’s lavish villas and colorful wall paintings—some of which, wrote a bashful Mark Twain, “no pen could have the hardihood to describe.” But […]


To think of the Minoans, the Bronze Age inhabitants of Crete, is to think of snake-goddess figurines, sculpted and painted bulls, frescoes depicting athletes, and tablets inscribed with strange—and sometimes indecipherable—writing. We imagine palaces with broad staircases, paved courtyards and painted walls commanding splendid views of the surrounding terrain. As the Booker Prize-winning British […]

Antiquity’s High Holy Place
The Athenian Acropolis By Harrison Eiteljorg II

In 80 B.C.E. the Persians invaded Athens. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, they “plundered the temple and burnt the whole of the Acropolis.”1 Although the Athenians and their allies followed up with a victory at the famous naval battle of Salamis, the Persian army returned the following year and “burnt Athens and utterly […]

Narmer’s Enigmatic Palette
What Does It Tell Us About Egypt’s First Kings? By David O’Connor

Rarely do I come across works of art that make my blood run almost cold with excitement. One such image, carved on a stone cosmetic palette some 5,000 years ago, has fascinated Egyptologists as the first fully articulated example of Egyptian royal representation—so that it seems to stand as a symbol of dynastic Egypt […]

When the Games Began
Sport, Religion and Politics Converged in Ancient Olympia By David Gilman Romano

It’s one of history’s curiosities. A rural sanctuary of Zeus in a relatively obscure part of Greece—far from the bustle and brilliance of Athens—became the site of the most famous athletic-religious festival of the entire ancient world, the direct precursor of the modern Olympic Games. As in antiquity, we call these celebrations Olympiads, and […]

Etruscan Women—Dignified, Charming, Literate and Free

Most travelers’ tales from the ancient world have been told by men, so it’s not surprising that their yarns devote special attention to the local women they encounter. The most famous of all those ancient travelers, Homer’s Odysseus, trooped off to Troy in pursuit of Helen of Sparta, lingered nine years on the […]

Imagining the Minoans

Love Crete or not—and I have yet to meet anyone who has spent much time there and doesn’t—it is hard to think of anywhere else on earth where so many firsts and mosts are crammed into a space so small. At scarcely more than 3,000 square miles in area, it comes only fifth in […]

Is Homer Historical? An Archaeology Odyssey Interview
To Harvard classicist Gregory Nagy, the man we call “Homer” is a myth.

The most influential Homer scholar of our generation is Gregory Nagy, Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature at Harvard University and director of the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. Nagy has permanently changed our understanding of the Iliad and the Odyssey. No longer can we think of them as ancient “novels” […]

Uncovering Nineveh
A New Review of the 1849 Bestseller Nineveh and Its Remains By Deborah A. Thomas

Nineveh and Its Remains: A Narrative of an Expedition to Assyria During the Years 1845, 1846, & 1847 Austen Henry Layard (Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2001; this revised abridgment orig. published 1882) 384 pp., $16.95 025 “Wasted is Nineveh; who will bemoan her?” With this prediction, the Old Testament prophet Nahum consigned the great […]

Excavating Minoan Sites

Around the turn of the last century, a young Bostonian named Harriet Boyd wanted very much to dig at Corinth. She was a student at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, which in 1896 had begun important excavations in the ancient city. However, the school’s director, Rufus Richardson, would have none of it: Field archaeology, he believed, was not a suitable activity for a proper young woman.

The Cairo Museum
Celebrating a Century of Finds By Zahi Hawass

The artifacts at the Cairo Museum represent the best that ancient Egypt has to offer, including fabulous statues, jewels of glittering gold and precious stones, miles of inscribed and decorated reliefs, the coffins and sarcophagi and mummies of kings, pottery spanning the ages, and countless pieces that are classified as “minor objects” but […]

Death at Halmyris
Two Christian Martyrs at a Roman Outpost on the Danube By Mihail Zahariade, Michael Phelps

The fabled Danube, Europe’s second longest river, has its source in Germany’s Black Forest and winds eastward 1,800 miles to Romania, where it empties into the Black Sea. Just south of where the Danube flows into the sea is a rocky strip of land that has been inhabited for more than four millennia, […]

Birth of Narrative Art
How Writing Led to Picture Painting By Denise Schmandt-Besserat

Pottery painting was a major art form in the ancient Near East as early as the seventh millennium B.C. For thousands of years, the designs painted on ceramic pots were largely limited to geometric or animal patterns, though these decorations were often very elaborate and striking. Then, in the third millennium B.C., Mesopotamians and […]

Roman Latrines
How the Ancients Did Their Business By Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow

According to the satirist Juvenal (c. 55–130 C.E.), ancient Rome was a nasty place of piercing noises, rotting food, precariously loaded wagons, sweaty crowds and thick mud (or choking dust, depending on the time of year). And things got even worse after dark, when muggers, hoodlums and drunks reigned in the streets. The […]

Letters from the Frontier
Tablets Unearthed at a Roman Fort in Northern England By David Frye

In March 1973 the British archaeologist Robin Birley made a puzzling discovery. He had spent years in the thick, gray clay of northern England, excavating a first-century A.D. Roman fort called Vindolanda, but he had never before encountered so many small slivers of wood. Inwardly, he even began to wonder about the possibility of […]

Going, Going, Going, Gone!
A Report on Archaeological Sites in Iraq By Francis Deblauwe

A great deal of attention has been paid to the events of April 2003—when Baghdad fell to Coalition forces and looters pillaged the National Museum. Fortunately, most of the high-value artifacts on display in the public galleries of the museum had been securely stored elsewhere by the conscientious museum staff. Nonetheless, the losses, especially […]

TV Archaeology

These days most people get their information about archaeology from educational programs on such TV networks as The Learning Channel, Arts and Entertainment, The Discovery Channel, PBS and NBC. But how accurate are these programs? Are facts fudged to grab better ratings and to entertain? Are some networks better than others at reporting archaeology? […]

Walking to Olympia
Who Went, How They Got There, and Where They Stayed By Tony Perrottet

“There was a man who thought the journey to Olympia would be too much for him, and Socrates said: ‘What are you afraid of? Don’t you walk around all day in Athens? Don’t you walk home to have lunch? And again for dinner? And again to sleep? Don’t you see that if you […]

Deciphering Cretan Scripts

As children we learn that A is for Apple, B is for Boy and C is for Cat, and that CAB is the machine we use to travel downtown. We also sing the alphabet song, whose words are the alphabetic signs sung in a sing-song rhythm that helps us to remember them all. We […]

The Other Games
When Greeks Flocked to Nemea By Stephen G. Miller

The Olympics may be the best known of ancient Greece’s athletic competitions, but the sanctuary at Olympia was only one of four sites where games were held. Greeks also flocked to games at Delphi, Isthmia and Nemea. These so-called panhellenic festivals were governed by a sacred truce that protected people traveling to any of […]

Augustus Takes the Cure
To heal his ailing liver, the emperor bathed in “icy water” By David Soren

In 3 B.C. the Roman emperor Augustus should have felt on top of the world. He had conquered most of western Europe, and the might of his Roman legions stretched deep into North Africa and the Near East. Culturally, he was presiding over a golden age, represented by some of the greatest poets who […]

Under Siege!
How the Ancients Waged War By Paul Bentley Kern

Siege warfare was the most arduous and terrifying form of war in the ancient world. For the attacked, defeat threatened not only their warriors but their women and children. For the attackers, a siege meant long weeks in a filthy camp, short rations and backbreaking labor under extremely hazardous conditions. Massacre, enslavement and rape […]

Digs 2004
Pick up a Spade & Go for the Gold!

As the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens approach, people from Kalamazoo to Katmandu are refocusing on the ancient world as never before. Images of the Parthenon and Mycenaean masks appear in print ads, movies are set in ancient Rome and Jerusalem, and documentaries are full of aqueducts, pyramids and Persians. Antiquity is “in.” […]

Ancient Combat Sports

“You know that the Olympic crown is olive, yet many have honored it above life,” wrote the Greek orator Dio Chrysostom (c. 40-110 C.E.).1 Indeed, the occasional philosopher or doctor may have condemned the brutality and danger of ancient athletics, but the Greek public nevertheless accepted a good deal of hazard, injury and death.2 […]


Editors’ Page: Losing Iraqi Antiquities For Good
Proposed Legislation Will Cause Only Harm By Hershel Shanks
Origins: Filthy Lucre
A simple invention, coins, completely transformed the world.
Origins: Tuning Up
The structure of modern music goes back to the ancient Greeks.
Editors’ Page: The Enemy of the Good
Work Out a Compromise with Salvors By Hershel Shanks
Past Perfect: 3-D, 19th Century Style
Instrument makers Henry Negretti and Joseph Zambra immortalize London’s Crystal Palace in stereoscopy
Past Perfect: When the Reindeer-Hunters Came to Cro-Magnon
Edouard Lartet and his son Louis discover relics of human prehistory in the rock-shelters of Les Eyzies, France
Past Perfect: Along the Nile
In the late 19th century, the peripatetic Bonfils family photographed ancient Egypt
Editors’ Page: Mesopotamia in Us
Why We Must Protect Iraqi Archaeology By Jack Meinhardt
Editors’ Page: A Flame that Burns
The Olympics Aren’t All Fun and Games By Jack Meinhardt
Origins: Got Nytt År!
Just Who Decided to Celebrate the Birth of the Year in the Barrenness of Winter?
Ancient Life: Desert Fruit
A History of Dates
Destinations: Desert Fortresses
Al-Jouf, Saudi Arabia
Past Perfect: Unearthing the Fayum Paintings
British archaeologist William Flinders Petrie, father of modern Egyptology, makes an extraordinary discovery.
Ancient Life: Tying the Knot
Marriage in Ancient Greece
Ancient Life: Cats
Woman’s Best Friend
Destinations: Beneath Malta
Constructed 5,000 years ago, a vast subterranean temple lies under the island of Malta’s busy urban streets. By Nancy Breslau Lewis
Ancient Life: Sustaining Ka
The Longest Journey
Ancient Life: Minting Maps
Ephesus Cast in Silver and Bronze
Ancient Life: The Cruelest Cut
Castration in the Ancient World