Archive | January, 2016

The Year of Destruction: The Fall of Two Great Cities: 146 BCE:

28 Jan

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The Romans grew tired of their involvement in the affairs of the warring Greeks, they would provoke the Greeks as Roman victory against Carthage grew near. The Greeks would make the fatal error of declaring war on their Roman saviors. In one year, 146 BC, two of the most prosperous cities of antiquity would be wiped off the face of the Earth by the bloodthirsty Romans.

The Romans had fought their Mediterranean archenemy Carthage all the way to the walls of their city in North Africa, and the slaughter that followed in the spring of 146 BC would leave Carthage uninhabited for 100 years. 50,000 citizens of Carthage locked themselves in the citadel while the Romans entered the city. 900 Roman deserters locked themselves in the temple of Eshmun and set it ablaze, they would rather perish by fire than face the tortures of the Romans. Hasdrubal, the leader of Carthage, ran from the burning temple to surrender to Rome, while behind him the fires consumed hundreds of his people, including his wife and child. Not a single building would be left standing in Carthage, the old enemy of Rome would pass from history forever.

Vengeance for the Greeks followed swiftly in the months that followed. Marching from Macedon, the Romans swept south into the Peloponnesian Peninsula, defeating a Greek army on the way.  Flush from the heady slaughter of Carthage, the Romans crushed their Greek host at Corinth and stormed into the city. What followed was a bloodbath, every man was put to the sword, and the women and children were enslaved. Corinth was raped and looted, the ancient city was destroyed to a stone. For a hundred years hence the land would be desolate and empty, its field’s laying fallow, until in 44 BC Julius Caesar founded a small colony in the area. He would do the same for Carthage.

 

Rome & the Macedonian Wars: (precursor to 146 BC)

28 Jan

The Romans were a young republic, a new power player on the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea. They had contended with their rivals on the Italian Peninsula, and bitterly fought their rival Carthage, an empire descended from the purple-clothed, mercantile Phoenicians of the Levant. Rome was connected by sea to the greatest empires the world had seen. Egypt and Greece were far older, more mysterious realms that had survived centuries of turmoil, and cataclysm. They were bastions of culture that the Romans were in awe of. The Romans were not hungry for conquest, and would normally invade only when invited into the conflicts between lesser powers. Rome would soon be involved closely with the ancient Mediterranean empires, eventually calling the Mediterranean Sea by the name Mare Nostrum: “our sea”.

The Greek City States had long found themselves in-battled with each other. Petty warlords, generals, and seers all vying against each other like vipers in a pit. The Roman Republic had sought to avoid these conflicts, especially with kingdoms who predated them by centuries. Exceptionally, Rome once intervened in Greece in 227BC to defeat Teuta, the pirate Queen of Illyria.

Alexander the Great who had conquered the world in ten years beginning at the age 19, had brought the kingdom of Macedon a mighty legacy to uphold, but few kings since could fill his mighty shoes. The world was ruled by a Hellenistic, Greek speaking empire. His empire had sundered after his death in 323BC, shattering into seven bickering empires led by his former generals. They were the Seleucids in Persia, Attalids in Pergamum, Ptolemies in Egypt, and four other generals in the Greek heartlands. The world belonged to Greeks, but they fought amongst themselves.

There was a balance of power within Greece during the two centuries that followed, to ensure that no single empire could rise strong enough to conquer the others. Three kings of Macedon in secession: Philip, Perseus, and finally Andriscus attempted to restore the power of Macedon. Spurred on by the legendary past conquests of Alexander the Great, these kings of Macedon began aggressions in Greece that soon involved the powerful Roman Republic. In the four Macedonian wars (214 to 148 BC), Rome defeated the upstart Macedon on behalf of the smaller Greek kingdoms. Rome even protected a beleaguered Ptolemaic Egypt from the depredations of the Seleucids (Greek rulers of Levant/Persia). In the wars, the Macedonian phalanx was thrice defeated, once on the planes of Thessalonica. Macedon was henceforth claimed as a Roman province. The Romans declared the “liberation of Greece” at the Olympic Games, a pompous and ceremonial occasion that was proclaimed so often by victorious kings of the warring Greeks that it had come to mean nothing.IMG_6085.JPG

Florence, Italy:

27 Jan

Florence rose from classical obscurity to become “the birthplace of the Renaissance”, becoming central among the competing Italian city states. Rising from the sea of terra-cotta tiled roofs in Florence, the Duomo of Florence is the largest masonry dome in the world. It is suitable that the Italian word for cathedral is Duomo, literally translating to dome. The modern Italian language originates from the accents of Tuscany, through the prominence the region achieved by leadership of Florence during the Renaissance.

The Egg & The Architect:

Built by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1436, the dome was the finishing touch to a cathedral whose construction started 140 years earlier in 1296. The Duomo of Florence was the largest in the world at the time, and the dome would have to be larger than what was thought possible. The city of Florence put out a call all across Europe, which was answered by all the most esteemed architects, including a gold smith who had been studying the domes of Rome: Filippo Brunelleschi. Each architect was asked to present their plan on how to build the dome: one idea was to build a giant column to hold the dome up, another was to build it of a light ‘sponge stone’. Finally, Brunelleschi presented, verbally describing his plan, but the commission asked him for a physical representation. He feared the prying eyes of those who would steal his plan, so instead he pulled an egg from his cloak. Whoever can make this egg stand on end would prove to be the architect for the job. The commission allowed this incredulous test, to which none of the architects could succeed. Bruneleschi took the egg, and lightly smashed it into the table, and indeed it stood upright on its leaking, flat bottom. Impressed with this show and boasting, the commission awarded him the project. To this day the egg shaped dome of Florence stands towering over the city of Florence, a feat defying gravity and a product of ingenuity.

Tuscany: The Heartlands of Antiquity

27 Jan

Tuscany is one of the most recognizable regions of Italy, perhaps due to its frequent appearance as a subject of landscape paintings. Tuscany has become one of the most celebrated and iconic regions of Italy, its yellow or pastel colored villas with red terracotta roofs becoming emblematic features of the Italian countryside. The cypress trees and warm Mediterranean climate lending a timeless arboreal feeling to the place. The region is largely hill country, fertile and dotted with vineyards and olive groves. Gentle rolling hills rise to the mountainous heights of the Apennine Mountains, the backbone of the boot-shaped Apennine peninsula (Italian Peninsula). The fertile Vale de Arno, valley of the river Arno, guards the largest settlements in this region. The great cities of Pisa, Florence, and Siena are all nestled within the Vale de Arno, growing yields of crops to feed lands further afield.  Tuscany earns its name from the ancient land of Etruria, home to the Etruscans. The highlands still hide hill fortresses and defensive bastions built by the Etruscans. Indeed, many of these settlements remained safe on their rocky plateaus, evolving into Tuscan hill towns. Siena is one such city, a medieval town hewn from the cliffs on which it stands. Together with Latium and Rome, Etruria lay in the heartlands of Roman antiquity. The importance of this region would reach a zenith during the Renaissance, born from the city of Florence, which would shape the history of Europe. The modern Italian language, with Latin at its root, would originate during that period from the accents of Tuscany, and the dialect of Florence. With its heyday long behind it, Tuscany has eased into a tranquil slumber, its glories and triumphs enshrined in the halls of its museums. Tuscany remains an idyllic land, its stories like faded memories, yearning to be remembered.

 

Based on the painting “Tuscan Villa 24 x 30 Oil” by Armand Cabrera at the Berkley Gallery (http://www.armandcabrera.com/BerkleyGallery.html)
((*A google search of “Tuscany landscape paintings” will show just how much awesome renditions of Tuscany are out there… not to mention Photography!))IMG_2634.JPG