Ancient History

The Nile

June 22, 2014

In The Nile:A Journey Downriver Through Egypt’s Past and Present, popular Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson leads the reader on a historical travelogue that moves from Aswan, home of the river’s First Cataract, to Cairo’s Gezira Island, from Paleolithic rock drawings to the Arab Spring. The voyage that shapes The Nile is not simply metaphorical. Wilkinson floats […]

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History on Display: Lost Kingdoms

April 26, 2014

On my annual visit to New York for writerly stuff, I always try to squeeze in a visit to a museum or that mecca for all book lovers, the Strand Bookstore. This year, with my office over-flowing with books and a move on the horizon, I promised My Own True Love that I would stay […]

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Traveling the Silk Roads

April 23, 2014

We tend to use the phrase “the Silk Road” as if it were the Route 66 of East-West commerce. In fact, it is a metaphor. German geographer Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen (1833-1905) invented the name in the late nineteenth century, long after the overland luxury routes between Asia and the West had been supplanted by […]

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Realpolitik In Ancient India

September 20, 2013

Renaissance Italy had Machiavelli. Nineteenth century Prussia had Otto von Bismarck. Ancient India had the Arthashastra*–a political manual attributed to Kautilya, chief minister to India’s first emperor, Chandragupta Maurya , in the fourth century BCE.** Kautilya described his subject as the science of being a king, which he summarizes as “the acquisition of what is […]

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Word With A Past: Parchment

September 6, 2013

For hundreds of years papyrus was the principal material on which books (or at least hand-copied scrolls) were written. Since it could only be made from the pith of freshly harvested papyrus reeds, native to the Nile valley, Egypt had a monopoly on the product–and a potential monopoly on the written word. In the second […]

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The Riddle of the Labyrinth

June 6, 2013

In The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest To Crack An Ancient Code, Margalit Fox adds a new layer to the story of how the ancient script known as Linear B was deciphered. In 1900, archaeologist Arthur Evans uncovered a cache of clay tablets in an unknown script on Crete. For fifty years, scholars across […]

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Prehistoric Redheads

May 14, 2013

Like every other redhead I know, I have a mental list of notable gingers from history:  Richard the Lion-Hearted, Christopher Columbus, Elizabeth I, Thomas Jefferson, Lucille Ball…*  It’s a natural defense against phrases like “red-headed stepchild” and that popular playground taunt, “I’d rather be dead than red on the head.” ** Not speaking for anyone […]

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Learning to Read Egypt: Hieroglyphics and the Rosetta Stone

April 4, 2013

As I believe I mentioned recently, European scholars at the time of the Renaissance rediscovered ancient Egypt in the writings of classical Greece.* Like the ancient Greeks before them, they believed Egypt was the source of art, religion, and science: a land of mystery and arcane knowledge. The belief in Egypt as a land of […]

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Black Athena

March 28, 2013

A recent exchange with a slightly disgruntled reader of Mankind: The Story of All of Us * led me to pull a book off the shelf that I hadn’t looked at for several years: the first volume of Martin Bernal’s Black Athena . Sub-titled The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Bernal’s book was a smack […]

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Road Trip Through History: Bath

January 1, 2013

Having spent many hours enthralled by the novels of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, I was excited to arrive in Bath, our last stop in England. It was thrilling to have lunch in the Pump Room, to stroll through the Assembly Rooms where some of my favorite heroines danced the quadrille, and to see the […]

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