Plato and Aristotle; in their ontological and teleological views

Plato and Aristotle are both well-known philosophers throughout the Western history. While the former is known for his Cave Allegory and the Two World Theory, the latter is famous for his Four Causes, as far as their ontological accounts concern. This short blog entry will briefly have a look at basic backgrounds of both philosophers and their relationship first, then will try to examine differences in their ontological view points by comparing their accounts in the following order; (1) to have a look at Plato’s Two World Theory, (2) Aristotle’s rejection of this theory and his logics that led him to establish the Four Causes, (3) similarity between Plato and Aristotle, especially in their teleological views, which would reach to (4) a conclusion to point out a certain fallibility.

Plato (427/428 B. C. – 347/348 B. C.) was born in Athens and was a disciple of Socrates, who was executed in 399 B. C., whilst Aristotle (384 B. C. – 322 B. C.) was born in Stagirus, Macedonia and studied under Plato at the Academy, an educational institution established by the latter, in Athens. Both were born in wealthy family background, lost their father in their young age, and received education designed by their guardians: as for Plato, ‘his family had a history in politics’ ( of Athens, his father ‘died while Plato was young’ (ibid), and he ‘studied at a gymnasium owned by Dionysios, and at the palaistra of Ariston of Argos’ (ibid). Similarly, Aristotle’s father ‘was court physician to King Amyntas of Macedonia’ ( called Nichomachus, who ‘died while he was a child’ (ibid), and his guardian ‘sent him to Athens at age 17’ (ibid). However, in terms of relationship between the philosopher himself and his mentor, Plato and Aristotle do not look alike: (1) whilst Plato followed Socrates voluntarily, Aristotle was sent to Plato’s Academy by his guardian’s will. (2) Similarly, whilst Plato established his own thoughts based on Socrates’s teachings and though his mentor’s influence gradually diminished towards his later works, in general, it could be said that largely Plato remained loyal to his mentor all through his life. On the contrary, after the death of Plato, Aristotle began to reject his mentor’s teachings – most famously Plato’s so-called two world theory.

In his theory, Plato sees the physical earthly world as being ‘full of unevenness, imperfections, and impurities’ (Baron, 2012). He observes ‘Physical objects are constantly changing (in flux, to use the Heraclitean term)’ (Brown, 2001) and therefore ‘They are transient and ephemeral’ (ibid). He goes further, with his famous Cave Allegory, to explain that ‘what we see on earth are mimics of the real thing, only with a lot of imperfections’ (Baron, 2012), in other words, ‘In real life all that is seen is an illusion (smoke) of the real thing’ (ibid). From this view point, Plato presents his two world theory, in which, ’there are two separate worlds or realms’ (Brown, 2001), namely the visible world of ordinary physical objects and the intelligible world of the Forms. Needless to say, in his Cave Allegory, the former is described as prisoners’ world in the cave whilst the latter as the real world out of the cave. In this theory, there are Forms in the intelligible world that ‘are unchanging and eternal’ (ibid), unlike physical objects we see in our visible world. Furthermore, Plato argues that the visible world ‘is a kind of shadow or reflection of the world of the Forms’ (ibid), ‘Physical objects (in the visible world) are less real than the Forms (in the intelligible world). Physical objects get what reality they have by their participation in the Forms’ (ibid), in other words, what he calls Forms ‘are what really exists’ (ibid).

Now, there arises a question whether the so-called intelligible world is accessible from our visible world or not. On this point, Plato gives the metaphor of the Divided line, another metaphor – along with the Cave Allegory – in his work The Republic and explains as it follows: ‘The intelligible world consists of the things above the (main) line’ (ibid), namely images and Forms, whilst ‘The visible world consists of the things below the (main) line’ (ibid), namely physical objects that are shadows or reflections of the Forms. Nonetheless, in practice, it is yet unclear what does it mean above/below the divided line and though Plato postulates in case where ‘once the humans rose above (the divided line from) their physical environment, they would understand the Forms which were present in the invisible world’ (Baron, 2012), nevertheless, this still holds a room to be answered, as it is argued ‘Whether he meant this would occur after death or during life remains a mystery’ (ibid).

In the meantime, Aristotle famously rejects Plato’s two world theory. He argues that ‘one cannot know the type of interaction which is occurring between the two Forms. If the “real or ideal forms” are eternal, pure and unchanging then how do they relate to the material objections or Forms on earth with all their physical imperfections? This participation or imitation link between the real and the imaginary… is erroneous thinking as no one can/has established such a link’ (ibid). Having objected his former mentor, Aristotle determined to stick to his belief that ‘our natural world itself was real and physical’ (ibid) and to ‘place himself in direct continuity with’ (Falcon, 2012) the tradition done by his predecessors: a causal investigation of the natural world around us. In doing so, he had to face to the same fact that physical objects – or matters, in his words – are constantly changing, in other words, ‘Matter underlies and persists through substantial changes. A substance is generated (destroyed) by having matter take on (lose) form’ (Cohen, 2002). This may suggest that ontological substances – or primary substances – could be ‘compounds of form and matter’ (ibid). However, ‘in the Metaphysics, Aristotle suggests that a compound cannot be a substance (Z3, 1029a30)’ (ibid). Instead, he defines requirements to be a substance as being ‘separable and a this something’ (ibid) As for the latter, Cohen adds a description that this locution is ‘usually translated, perhaps misleadingly, as “an individual”’ (ibid).

Subsequently, Aristotle ‘considers the claim of matter to be substance, and rejects it’ (ibid) because ‘Substance must be separable and a this something’ (ibid). To cut a long story short, it could be summarised that ‘perhaps Aristotle’s point is not that matter is neither separable nor individual; all he is committed to saying is that matter fails to be both separable and individual’ (ibid), therefore, ‘The only remaining candidate for primary substance seems to be form’ (ibid). Whilst the form Plato argued was separable from their shadows in the visible world, it is said that the form Aristotle argues is not ‘separable from all matter (except, perhaps, in thought). And it cannot exist if it is not the form of something’ (ibid). In his logic, individual substances are ‘compounds of matter and form’ (ibid), and ‘they’re not just unstructured collections of elements, but have a structure that is essential to their being what they are’ (ibid). In this relation, the form provides matter ‘a structure that is essential to their being what they are’ (ibid), therefore, ‘the form of a compound substance is essential to it (whilst) its matter is accidental’ (ibid). Due to its own nature, the form in Aristotle ‘is not a “thing,” (but)… the way something is’ (ibid) and this is where his form differs from Plato’s and where the following criticism arises from; what Aristotle counts as the form or ‘primary substance is one that is not in any way universal’ (ibid).

Nevertheless, Aristotle insists that ‘Substances are supposed to be objects of knowledge, and objects of knowledge are universals… (and are supposed to be) definable’ (ibid). As for knowledge, in its proper meaning, he also gives a following condition: ‘we think we have knowledge of a thing only when we have grasped its cause’ (Falcon, 2012). As for causes, through examining traditional causal investigations conducted by his predecessors, he reaches to a conclusion that ‘all his predecessors were engaged in an investigation that eventuated in knowledge of one or more of the following causes: material, formal, efficient and final cause’ (ibid). In summary, Aristotle supposedly means ‘proper knowledge is knowledge of the cause’ (ibid). Here, it would be useful to mention that what Aristotle actually had in mind was something that could be only described by using the Greek word aitia, which ‘is translated as “causes,” is probably better rendered as “that which explains”’ (Baron, 2012). In other words, ‘knowledge of the form or essence is in effect knowledge of the thing’s causes, of what explains why it is what it is’ (ibid). As a result of these arguments, Aristotle gives one of his flagship accounts known as the Four Causes, which can be summarised as following:

  • ‘The material cause: “that out of      which”, e.g., the bronze of a statue.
  • The formal cause: “the form”, “the      account of what-it-is-to-be”, e.g., the shape of a statue.
  • The efficient cause: “the primary      source of the change or rest”, e.g., the artisan, the art of      bronze-casting the statue, the man who gives advice, the father of the      child.
  • The final cause: “the end, that for      the sake of which a thing is done”, e.g., health is the end of walking,      losing weight, purging, drugs, and surgical tools’ (Falcon, 2012).

Among these four causes, the final cause only regards to explain why it is and by providing this, it is argued that ‘Aristotle offers a teleological explanation… that is to say, an explanation that makes a reference to the telos or end of the process’ (ibid). In general, it is said that ‘for Aristotle, an end (telos) is always something good’ (Henry, 2013). Strictly speaking, ‘final causation requires invoking the good as a per se cause. This is why Aristotle thinks no one before him grasped the final cause. For they may have employed the good in their accounts but only as an incidental cause’ (ibid). In this quest for the good as per se (good in itself), Aristotle’s tune resonates with his old mentor, Plato, whose teaching could be summarised in a following way: ‘A life focused on the question of its greatest good is a life lived to its fullest—an excellent or virtuous life’ ( Seeking for the good as per se, or the greatest good, whilst Aristotle takes a direction for the Ethics, Plato sees the best example in his old mentor, Socrates, and whose wisdom. In Plato’s Apology, Socrates ‘identifies his activity with “wisdom”’ (ibid) as the wisest who ‘understands that his wisdom is worthless’ (ibid). This wisdom, and its ultimate state called wisdom as not knowing, provide the very basis of Plato’s thoughts. From his first-hand experience, Plato impersonates his late mentor and retells, ‘…the greatest good for a man [is] to discuss virtue [excellence] every day… for the unexamined life is not worth living for men’ (ibid). Nevertheless, as his mentor’s example clearly shows, wisdom at its wisest only achieves to wisdom as not knowing due to ‘the limited nature of human knowing—as he says, all human wisdom is worthless, nothing, in other words, fallible. Even in their best operation, even regarding those beliefs for which we have the best reasons, and spent the most time considering, human knowing is still fallible, and error is still possible’ (ibid). A clear cut difference between Aristotle and Plato here is, while Aristotle sticks to conduct his causal investigation, following the tradition of his predecessors, basically by counting on his own might, Plato rather recommends Socratic dialectic to minimise the effect of human fallibility, since it helps to ‘overcome our own defensiveness, prejudice, haste, lack of confidence’ (ibid).

However Aristotle’s causal investigation could be more realistic or scientific, in Plato’s view it would be ended up to be described as it follows: ‘We learn about physical objects empirically, by means of the senses: we look at them, taste them, listen to them, and so on. But none of the information we gain in this way is reliable or trustworthy: we don’t have real knowledge of the visible world, just mere “opinion.”… Empirical evidence is at best irrelevant, at worst misleading’ (Brown, 2001). Having rejected to learn by means of the sense, Plato tries to replace it with means of Reason. Upon this differentiation, once again, Plato inevitably goes back to his two world theory. In his view, ‘Our physical bodies are a part of the visible world. Our bodies are responsible for our appetites. Our sense organs, by means of which we learn about the visible world… But there’s also another part of us which links us with the eternal realm of the Forms, namely our soul (which for Plato is more or less identical with our reason). So one result of coming to learn about the Forms is that we will become less concerned with physical matters; we will be less governed by our appetites, and less reliant on our unreliable senses for knowledge’ (ibid).

Thus, this short blog entry briefly tried to examine differences of ontological views between Plato and Aristotle. At first, it had a look at Plato’s two world theory, which sees the physical earthly world as an illusion and sets up the intelligible world that accommodates the real Forms. Then it looked at Aristotle’s rejection of this theory and how he reached to establish the Four Causes, his ultimate conclusion through the traditional method called causal investigation. Subsequently, it tried to compare both theories, especially focusing on their teleological view points, and found that both weighed on similar terms; the good as per se, and the greatest good. Finally, through examining the terms above and comparing the difference in methods they took, i. e., Aristotle’s causal investigation and Plato’s Socratic dialectic, it was made to point out the former’s fallibility, which provides one of key issues to be dealt with for the latter, human fallibility.


Baron, Peter (2012), Explain the differences between Plato and Aristotle’s view of reality, Philosophical Investigation – Philosophy – Aristotle (electronically accessed on 28/08/2013)

Brown, Curtis (2001), Plato’s Metaphysics and Epistemology: Two Worlds, Trinity University – Philosophy Department – Introduction to Phylosophy (last updated 17/03/2001, electronically accessed 29/08/2013)

Cohen, S. Marc (2002), Aristotle on Substance, Matter, and Form, University of Washington – Philosophy 320, History of Ancient History – Lecture Notes (last updated on 09/07/2002, electronically accessed on 02/09/2013)

European Graduate School, The (2012), Aristotle of Stagirus – Biography, Library / Encyclopedia (electronically accessed 11/09/2013)

European Graduate School, The (2012), Plato – Biography, Library / Encyclopedia (electronically accessed 10/09/2013)

Falcon, Andrea (2012), Aristotle on Causality, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (electronically accessed 05/09/2013)

Henry, Devin (2013), Allan Gotthelf, Teology, First Principles, and Scientific Method in Aristotle’s Biology, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, An Electronic Journal (electronically accessed 12/10/2013)

Smillie, Mark (year unstated), Wisdom as Virtue or Human Excellence, Plato’s View of the Search for Wisdom (i.e. Philosophy), Carroll College (electronically accessed 16/09/2013)

Posted in Ancient Greece, philosophy / theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Discovery and deciphiering of the Crete inscriptions ‘Liner B’

The palace of Knossos in Crete was excavated by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans in 1900. The excavation also ‘discovered a large number of clay tablets inscribed with mysterious symbols’ (Ager, 2013) and Evans ‘dubbed the inscriptions and the language they represented as “Minoan”’ (ibid) because he believed that ‘he had discovered the palace of King Minos, together with the Minotaur’s labyrinth’ (ibid), told in the Greek mythology. Later, Evans categorised the inscriptions in three different languages; a hieroglyphic script, linear scripts A and B. This blog entry would like to examine how one of these mysterious scripts was deciphered, focusing on three scholars’ contributions basically in chronological order; Sir Arthur Evans, Alice Kober and Michael Ventris. Through looking at the process of deciphering of Linear B, it will also try to explain why the language was a form of ancient Greek.

Sir Arthur Evans was born in 1851, in Nash Mills, England. He was ‘the son of the famous prehistorian Sir John Evans’ (Ashmolean Museum, 2012), and was ‘educated at Harrow School, Brasenose College, the University of Oxford’ ( in between 1870 and 1874. He ‘travelled across Europe for many years’ (Ashmolean Museum, 2012) before he was ‘appointed Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum’ (ibid) in 1884. His work in the Museum did not prevent him from further travelling and ‘from 1893 onwards his interests shifted to Greece and especially Crete’ (ibid). This shift seems to be triggered by his interest in languages as well for ‘Evans visited Crete for the first time in 1894 in order to study and decipher the unknown script that could be made out on seal stones, he also purchased about quarter of the site. A year later he published the results in Cretan Pictographs and Pre-Phoenician Script (

Political situation also backed up his further researches and enabled him to conduct a massive excavation at Knossos ‘when the island had been declared an independent State’ (ibid) in 1900. The excavation at the site continued until 1931. As for the excavation, it is said that ‘it proved necessary to preserve and restore the monuments that were being uncovered’ (ibid) from the early stage, but the method of restoration Evans took ‘has received much criticism since it introduced materials foreign to Minoan architecture’ (ibid). As for deciphering of the discovered inscriptions, Evans made a certain achievement in his life time:

‘He realised that the inscriptions represented three different writing systems: a ‘hieroglyphic’ script, Linear A and Linear B.

The hieroglphic script appears only on seal stones and has yet to be deciphered. Linear A, also undeciphered, is thought to have evolved from the hieroglyphic script, and Linear B probably evolved from Linear A, though the relationship between the two scripts is unclear.

Evans figured out that short lines in Linear B texts were word dividers. He also deciphered the counting system and a number of pictograms, which led him to believe that the script was mainly pictographic. Evans also discovered a number of parallels between the Cypriot script, which had been deciphered, and Linear B. This indicated that the language represented by Linear B was an ancient form of Greek, but he wasn’t prepared to accept this, being convinced that Linear B was used to write Minoan, a language unrelated to Greek.

In 1939, a large number of clay tablets inscribed with Linear B writing were found at Pylos on the Greek mainland, much to the surprise of Evans, who thought Linear B was used only on Crete’ (Ager, 2013)’.

With the hindsight that has been available after the deciphering of Linear B, now the puzzlement Evans faced can be explained as following: ‘Linear B was used between about 1500 and 1200 BC to write a form of Greek known as Mycenaean, named after Mycenae, where Agamemnon is said to have ruled’ (ibid). It is said that Mycenaean ‘adapted the Linear A alphabet to allow them to write down their own language, and that the language spoken in Crete at least by the rulers and their officials after 1450 BC was Greek, lending further credence to the theory that the island was conquered by the Mycenaeans’ (BBC h2g2, 2002). In the meantime, Linear A was used by the previous rules of Crete, who built the palace of Knossos but ‘all attempts to decipher the Linear A texts have failed’ (ibid) because nobody knows the language in its spoken form. Sir Arthur Evans died in 1941 at the age of 90, before Linear B was deciphered. Evans ‘is constantly admired for his intuition, his creative imagination and his profound scholarship. It is to him that we owe the discovery of the marvellous Minoan Civilisation, which until his time was only dimly reflected in Greek Mythology’ (

After the death of Evans, his ambition for deciphering the clay tablet scripts was left to surviving scholars, experts and individual researchers. Among them was an American female classicist, Miss Alice Kober. According to Margalit Fox, an author on Linear B, Kober ‘was an assistant professor at Brooklyn College in New York where she taught Latin and Greek classes all day’ (Gallafent, 2013). She ‘lived with her widowed mother, and there is no record in her papers of a social or romantic life of any kind. Instead, for almost two decades (in 1930s and 40s), Alice Kober devoted herself to trying to crack this mysterious Bronze Age script’ (ibid). Through her ‘hours and hours of unseen labour’, Fox adds, ‘She turned herself into the world’s leading expert on Linear B’ (ibid). On top of Latin and Greek, she also learned Egyptian. Akkadian. Sumerian, and Sanskrit – partly due to the academic climate on Linear B where, ‘Greek had been ruled out by scholars at the time’ (ibid) – but she also rigorously refused ‘to speculate on what the language was, or what the sounds of the symbols might be’ (ibid). Instead, she established her own methods and poured her efforts described as following:

‘… she set out to record the frequency of every symbol in the tablets, both in general, and then in every position within a word.

She also recorded the frequency of every character in juxtaposition to that of every other character.

It was a mammoth task, performed without the aid of computers. In addition, during the years surrounding World War II, writing materials were hard to come by.

Kober recorded her detailed analysis on index cards, which she made from the backs of old greetings cards, library checkout slips, and the inside covers of examination books.

By hand, she painstakingly cut more than 180,000 tiny index cards, using cigarette cartons as her filing system’ (ibid).

As a result of her hard work, she ‘spotted groups of symbols that appeared throughout the inscriptions – groups that would start the same, but end in consistently different ways. That was the breakthrough. Kober now knew that Linear B was an inflected language, with word endings that shifted according to use’ (ibid). Despite her marvellous achievement and the fact that she was ‘on the verge of deciphering Linear B’ (ibid), misfortune fell on her before she could complete the work. Alice Kober ‘fell ill, suddenly, and died soon after. The cause of her death is not known for sure, but it may well have been a form of cancer. It was 1950, and she was 43’ (ibid). At the point, where Kober ‘had correctly deciphered around one third of the Linear B characters’ (ibid), the mission was left for the third person – Michael Ventris.

Michael Ventris’s early careers can be summarised as following: he ‘was born on 12 July 1922 to an Indian Army officer and the daughter of a wealthy Polish landowner. He was educated on the continent and at Stowe School in England. He spoke several languages at an early age and showed a precocious interest in ancient scripts, having bought a book on Egyptian Hieroglyphs when he was seven.

His interest in Linear B began in 1936 when he went with a school group to an exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the British School at Athens. Sir Arthur Evans, then 85 years old, happened to be present in the gallery and showed the boys his finds from Knossos, including the Linear B documents. His teacher remembers Ventris asking: “Did you say the tablets haven’t been deciphered, Sir?” Thus began a life-long fascination with “the Minoan problem”.

Ventris wrote to Evans — who kindly wrote back — and soon published his first article on the subject, when he was just 18 years old. This came out in the American Journal of Archaeology in 1940. The same year, Ventris began a course at the Architectural Association School in Bedford Square to embark on his chosen profession as an architect’ (University of Cambridge, 2007).

During the WWII, Ventris ‘served as a navigator’ (ibid) while Sir Arthur Evans died ‘just in time to be spared news of the occupation of Crete’ in 1941. But Ventris ‘never forgot the Aegean scripts problem’ (ibid) and after the death of Evans, he ‘corresponded thereafter with Sir John Myres, who had been entrusted by Evans with the publication of Scripta Minoa II, the Linear B tablets of Knossos’ (ibid).

After the war, it still took Ventris a few more years to settle things back on track. He was further mobilised to Germany due to this excellence in 1946, and after that he had to concentrate for his architect degree, which he finished in 1948. Through these years, Ventris visited John Myres in Oxford twice and in both occasions he had to decline the invitation for helping publication of Scripta Minoa II due to his busyness. Interestingly, Ventris had an opportunity to meet Alice Kober, who was brought in by Myres, in the second occasion on August 1948. Though this was the sole opportunity for Ventris and Kober to see each other, it is said that the meeting ‘was not a great success, and… It has been said that Ventris withdrew because, as an amateur, he was intimidated by academia’ (ibid) while it would be worth adding that ‘many academics themselves found Kober and Myres rather formidable!’ (ibid) Furthermore, other factors that made this meeting unsuccessful are allegedly pointed out as it follows: there was a crucial ‘disagreement over how the tablets should be classified’ (ibid) between Ventris and others and in this, ‘he was justified’ (ibid) when ‘a new set of transcriptions were later prepared by himself, (John) Chadwick and (Emmett) Bennett’ (ibid). As for compatibility between Ventris and Kober, some argues that ‘each underestimated the other deeply… She underestimated him because he was an amateur, and he underestimated her because she was a woman’ (Gallafent, 2013).

Following the circulation of his “Mid-Century Report” on Linear B in 1950, he ‘gave up his architectural job to work full-time on Linear B’ (University of Cambridge, 2007). In his attempt for deciphering, Ventris ‘wondered about the repeated groups of symbols identified by Kober as evidence of inflection’ (Gallafent, 2013). Then he began to work – in his words, ‘rather like doing a crossword puzzle on which the positions of the black squares haven’t been printed for you’ (University of Cambridge, 2007) – assuming the characters as a syllabic system and focused on finding some place names because these are ‘exactly the kinds of thing you’d expect to crop up all the time, especially on official palace documents. And place names often don’t change much, even after centuries’ (Gallafent, 2013). By February 1952, ‘he wrote to Myres about the Knossos place names’ (University of Cambridge, 2007) he had deciphered in the script and by May, ‘he felt the code was “breaking” and that, to his astonishment, the Linear B documents were, after all, written in Greek’ (ibid). Then, Ventris was invited to talk about Myre’s publication on the BBC Third Programme and he ‘took the opportunity to announce the decipherment and it was broadcast to the world on 1 July 1952’ (ibid). The broadcast enabled Ventris to collaborate with John Chadwick, a professional philologist – especially an expert on early Greek – who heard the programme, and they worked together closely for deciphering the script for a next few y ears.

As a result, it turned out that Linear B was ‘a form of ancient Greek, which had been taken to Crete by invaders from the mainland. The Greeks themselves did not develop an alphabet until centuries later, but at Knossos their language was written down for the first time, using an ancient script indigenous to the island’ (Gallafent, 2013). It would be worth to mention that ‘In a lecture after he had cracked Linear B…Ventris did however give substantial credit to Kober for her contribution – but this acknowledgement went largely unnoticed’ (ibid). Some argue that ‘Ventris would never have been able to crack the code, had it not been for an American classicist, Alice Kober’ (ibid) whilst others ‘question whether Kober would have had the creative spark to jump the final hurdle’ (ibid). Long before answering to this question, Michael Ventris ‘died in a tragic car accident on 6 September 1956’ (University of Cambridge, 2007), while he was ‘At the height of his fame and just weeks before the publication of his great joint work with Chadwick, Documents in Mycenaean Greek’ (ibid). The accident ‘has never been fully explained (and) some believe it may have been suicide’ (Gallafent, 2013).

Thus, this blog entry looked at how the Minoan scripts were discovered at the palace of Knossos in Crete, excavated by Sir Arthur Evans in 1900 and how he dubbed the inscriptions with legendary King Minos in his mind. It also saw it was Evans, who differentiated the scripts in three languages and one of them was called Linear B. After the death of Evans, it was Alice Kober, who made a significant progress on deciphering Linear B due to her hard work through the 1930s and 40s. Despite the war time hardship, she established her own method for analysing the characters and achieved to correctly decipher around one third of the Linear B characters, nonetheless, she fell ill and suddenly died in 1950 before she could crack the code. The end of the WWII enabled Michael Ventris, who was originally inspired by Sir Arthur Evans during a school trip, to work full-time on deciphering of Linear B and when he finally managed it, in 1952, it was revealed that the language written in Linear B was a form of ancient Greek, which had been spoken by Mycenaean, who ruled Crete from around 1450 B. C. after the decline of indigenous people, who had built the Palace of Knossos and developed their writing system, Linear A.


Ager, Simon (2013), Linear B, Omniglot – the online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages (electronically accessed 09/07/2013)

Ashmolean Museum (2012), Sir Arthur Evans, The Sir Arthur Evans Archive, the Department of Antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (electronically accessed 11/07/2013)

BBC h2g2 (2002), The Menoan Civilisation of Crete (electronically accessed 10/07/2013)

Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge (2007), Life of Ventris, The Faculty – Research Groups and Societies – Mycenaean Epigraphy Group – Decipherment (electronically accessed 17/07/2013)

Gallafent, Alex (2013), Alice Kober: Unsung heroine who helped decode Linear B, BBC News – Magazine (last updated 05/06/2013, electronically accessed 16/07/2013)

Maguire, Daryl (year unstated), Sir Arthur Evans (1851-1941) (electronically accessed 24/07/2013)

Posted in Ancient Greece, European history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ovid’s banishment and the Julian Marriage Laws

Ovid is one of the most famous poets in the field of classical literature, especially as the author of Metamorphoses, his masterpiece. Despite his works’ contemporary popularity and long lasting fame that followed up to today, little things are known about his own life. This entry would like to have a look at basic biography of the poet and some of his works that seem to be related to the author’s downfall. Then it will look at social and political background, especially focusing on the so-called Julian Marriage Laws. Finally, it will briefly look at the poet’s life in exile from which, he could never return.

Little things known about Ovid’s life until his banishment can be summarised in the following way:

‘Ovid was born Publius Ovidius Naso on March 20, 43 B.C.E., at Sulmo (modern Sulmona), Italy, about ninety miles from Rome. His father was wealthy {equestrian} and intended for him to become a lawyer and an official. He gave Ovid an excellent education, including study under great rhetoricians (masters of language and speech).
Ovid preferred exercises that dealt with historical or imaginary circumstances… {After the death of his brother, Ovid renounced law and began travelling to} Athens, Greece, {then, further} toured the Near East, and lived for almost a year in Sicily. His father convinced him to return to Rome, where he served in various minor legal positions, but he disliked the work and {resigned to pursue poetry}.

After leaving legal work, Ovid moved in the best literary circles. He had attracted notice as a poet while still in school and in time came to be surrounded by a group of admirers {including his patron Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, a Roman General}. This period of Ovid’s life seems to have been relatively peaceful as well as productive. Of his private life we know little except that he was married three times…
In 8 or 9 C.E. Ovid was banished to Tomi, a city on the Black Sea in what is now modern Romania. The reasons behind Ovid’s exile have been the subject of much guessing. He himself tells us that the reason was “a poem and a mistake.”’ (Advameg Inc., 2013), with supplemental information from {}.

In the meantime, Ovid’s most famous work Metamorphoses is generally regarded as his masterpiece and it is said that the work was completed ‘By AD 8’ ( However, ‘a poem’ in question that implied by Ovid himself as a possible cause for his banishment is usually regarded as his earlier works, The Amores and The Ars Amatoria. Whilst the latter was pointed out by Ovid himself as the poem, which was the ‘cause of his banishment’ ( during his exile, the former has been speculated as the poem in charge, due to its contents. Although both seem to have much in common in their contents – whilst the latter is about the Art of Love, which ‘parodies didactic poetry whilst being a manual about seduction and intrigue’ (ibid), the former ‘made fun of conventional (socially accepted) love poetry and offered vivid portrayals of contemporary Roman society’ (Advameg Inc., 2013) – a significant difference between them is that the author ‘writes about adultery, rendered illegal in Augustus’s marriage law reforms of 18 BC’ ( in the former.

It is said that The Amores is one of Ovid’s early works and its original edition can be traced back to ‘a five-book collection, circa 20 BC’ (ibid), before the marriage law reforms take place. Furthermore, it seems that Ovid continued to work on this title for a couple of decades because there is a ‘surviving, extant version, reduced to three books, includes poems written as late as AD 1’ (ibid). This means that despite the criminalising of adultery with severe penalties such as ‘exile and confiscation of property’ (Lefkowitz and Fant, 1992) nearly a couple of decades ago, the final form of completed work was not only yet in circulation but also was described as ‘an immediate and overwhelming success in fashionable society’ (Advameg Inc., 2013) roughly for eight more years until the author’s banishment.

Augustus’s marriage law reforms in 18 B. C. is also known as the Julian Marriage Laws, named after the Emperor’s daughter, who became one of representing figures of the consequence of the law reforms. Julia was born in about 36 B. C. and was ‘a highly intelligent woman, well read and knowledgeable, with a penchant for lively and witty company (Barrett, 2001, p. 18). She married Agrippa, one of close friends of her father Augustus and gave birth to several children including prospective successors of the emperor, Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar, before her husband’s sudden death in 12 B. C. Facing to his close friend’s death, Augustus ‘forced Tiberius to … marry Julia’ (Oracle’ThinkQuest, 2011) by also forcing him to divorce his wife Vispania Agrippina, ‘whom he loved dearly’ (ibid). Tiberius was one of candidates for the future successor of Augustus and he had no choice but to obey the order. Nonetheless, it is said that ‘his marriage to Julia was not a very happy one. Julia bore Tiberius only one son who died soon after birth and there were no other children made between the two’ (ibid). Despite her father’s marriage law reforms, which made adultery a criminal offence, she ‘took lovers from at least the time of her marriage to Agrippa’ (Barrett, 2001, p. 19) since she was ‘quite “bohemian” and considered any behaviour socially acceptable if her own personal inclinations recommended it’ (ibid, p. 18).
In 2 B. C., while Tiberius was voluntarily withdrawing to Rhodes since 6 B. C., Augustus, in his age of 60 years old, heard shocking accounts of then 38 years old Julia, who allegedly ‘had scores of lovers and roamed about the city looking for thrills, even prostituting herself with strangers in the forum at the statue of Marsyas’ (ibid, p. 19). Although this made Augustus so angry that he intended to ‘put her to death… he limited himself to denouncing his daughter in a letter to the senate and requesting strict exile’ (ibid) and accordingly, Julia ‘was sent to the island of Pandateria, off the coast of Campania’ (ibid).

Julia’s disgrace and banishment were followed by further misfortunes and grieves that fell upon both of Julia’s sons through her marriage to Agrippa. It is said that ‘Lucius Caesar, on his way to Spain in AD 2 fell ill at Marseilles and died… (then) Gaius Caesar, died of wounds on his way back from the east in AD 4’ (ibid). Having lost all his realistic male heirs from his daughter Julia, Augustus arranged for Agrippina the Elder, daughter of Agrippa and Julia, to marry Germanicus, a nephew of Tiberius, who had been allowed to return from Rhodes in AD 2 to be adopted by the emperor, together with Agrippa Postumus, in AD 4. Despite the latter was the sole surviving son between Agrippa and disgraced Julia, he ‘was never seriously considered’ (ibid, p. 21) to be a candidate for Augustus’s successor, presumably because he was born on ‘after 26 June’ (Lendering, 2007) of 12 B. C., probably after his father’s death that took place in the same year. Though he managed to be adopted, his good fortune did not last long but it was followed by being sent to exile within a couple of years and he ended up to receive a decree of ‘eternal exile’ in AD 8, the year in question.

Ovid was relatively a less important figure in comparison with those who had to face cruel punishments sentenced by Augustus in between AD 6 and AD 8. Along with Agrippa Postumus mentioned above, whose sister Julia, who is usually called Julia the Younger to avoid confusion with her mother – Julia the disgraced – ‘was convicted of adultery’ (ibid) and banished in AD 8, whilst her husband, ‘Lucius Aenilius Paullus, was put to death for conspiracy against Augustus’ (
To consider the nature of conspiracy here and severe punishments as its result, the following aspects would be inspiring and helpful for inferring what happened behind official records of punishments:

‘… the borderline between immorality and conspiracy is a fine one, when the imperial family is involved. An amorous entanglement with a ruler’s daughter must always involve mixture of both erotic attraction and political ambition. Under English law, for instance, it is still a treasonable offence, punishable by death, to be involved in a sexual liaison with the spouse of the heir to the throne. If the paramour is someone with an impressive personal pedigree the situation becomes especially dangerous, even if there is no over conspiracy’ (Barrett, 2001, p. 20).

Given the Ovid’s own accounts over his banishment, ‘a poem and a mistake’, and his further explanation that the latter ‘was worse than murder, more harmful than poetry’ (, it could be plausible to establish a hypothesis that he was banished ‘for political reasons’ (ibid) possibly related to one of conspiracies that involved some prominent figures disgraced around AD 8.

It is said that it took Ovid nearly a year for his journey to exile in Tomis, where ‘was subject to attack by hostile barbarians and to bitterly cold winters’ (Advameg Inc., 2013). Although he consistently wrote letters of appeals to be allowed to return to Rome by lamenting his situation in Tomis, where ‘books and educated people were not to be found and Latin was practically unknown’ (ibid), his laments only fell into deaf ears of successive Emperors; Augustus, who excluded Ovid’s works from the public libraries of Rome, and his successor Tiberius, who ‘was even more unyielding’ (ibid) against Ovid’s appeals. Nevertheless, it seems that the poet of poets did not only bear with his misfortune. On the contrary, it is said that ‘Ovid’s exile was not so unbearable as his letters indicate. He learned the native languages, and his pleasantness and friendliness made him a beloved and revered figure to the local citizens. They exempted him from taxes and treated him well’ (ibid). Ovid died in Tomis in his exile in circa 18 A. D.

Thus, this entry looked at early years of Ovid, where he received gifted life and education for becoming a lawyer due to his father’s will, and his success as a poet until his downfall in 8 A. D. Subsequently, it tried to examine his early works, in relation to his own remark – ‘a poem and a mistake’ – and political/legal background and provisionally reached to a conclusion that The Amores is the most likely poem in question. Then it looked at the impact of Augustus’s marriage law reforms enacted in 18 B. C. and found examples of other prominent figures’ downfalls including the emperor’s daughter Julia the disgraced and her daughter Julia the Younger. Pondering on these scandals also enabled it to come close to get a grip of possible implication of Ovid’s remark on his banishment – ‘a mistake’ – in relation to a speculation of hypothetical conspiracy. Finally, it also looked at Ovid’s life in exile and found his living condition might have been more comfortable than his own accounts left in his letters of appeals.


Advameg Inc. (2013), Ovid Biography, Encyclopedia of World Biography (electronically accessed 06/04/2013)

Barrett, Anthony A.(2001), Agrippina – Sex, Power, and Politics in the Early Empire, The Taylor & Francis e-Library – Google Books (electronically accessed 20/04/2013)–Xtl5Hz469ybR8cPAX6xytuT0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=s2RyUdPoAoK3kAW8jIGYCA&sqi=2&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=Agrippa%20Postumus%20julia%20younger&f=false

Lefkowitz, Mary R. and Maureen B. Fant (1992), Legal Status in the Roman World, Women’s Life in Greece & Rome (electronically accessed 11/05/2013)

Lendering, Jona (2007), Agrippa Postumus, Livius.Org (electronically accessed 18/04/2013)

Oracle’ThinkQuest (2011), Tiberius: 42 BC to 37 AD, The Empire – A List of Emperors (electronically accessed 27/05/2013) (year unstated), Biography of Ovid (electronically accessed 16/04/2013)

Posted in Rome | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Exodus in the history of ancient Egypt

The Exodus is one of the most significant and dramatic events described in the Old Testament. However, making an attempt to find a suitable time frame for placing this event in the course of real history usually ends up in a deadlock. One of the most difficult obstacles to solve this problem is to find a suitable time frame for the huge scale of catastrophic disasters described in the Book of Exodus 14:5-15:21. This entry would like to examine relatively known attempts for placing the Exodus in 1447 B. C. E, in 1250 B. C. E. and in the fall of the Hyksos in circa 1570 B. C. E. If none of these attempts seemed to be successful, it would change the view point and look for a suitable Pharaoh described in the Book of Exodus first.

Firstly, there are a couple of conventional views on when the Exodus took place; circa 1447 B. C. E and circa 1250 B. C. E. It is said that the former is based on biblical chronology whilst the latter comes from ‘certain archaeological data in Israel, which looked more suitable to the Conquest, (which followed the Exodus,) down around 1200 B.C.’ (Ardsma Research & Publishing, 2007; However, putting aside the complicated issues over the biblical chronology, there are various problems to place the Exodus into the known history of Egypt in both of these so-called ‘conventional’ dates . As for the latter, despite the catastrophic disasters described in the book of Exodus, in around 1250 B. C. E., it is said that Pharaoh Merneptah, who ruled Egypt at that time, ‘left a record of his military success in Palestine in which he mentions that he decimated Israel. This single inscription guarantees that Israel was established as a nation in Palestine by the reign of Merneptah, forcing the date of the Exodus into the early part of the reign of Ramesses II at the latest. But… there is no sign of anything which could possibly correspond to the biblical Exodus in the reign of this pharaoh or his immediate predecessors’ (ibid).

As for the former, there are more convincing studies that pick out the year 1447 B. C. E. based on calculations of biblical chronology. However, in Egyptian history, this year seems to fall in to the reign of Amenhotep II, who is ‘generally acknowledged to have taken care of his military duties early on, thereafter establish(ed) a peaceful and prosperous reign suitable to fairly extensive expansion of temple monuments’ (Dunn, 2012). Even though the exact time frames of Amenhotep II’s reign are arguable as Dunn points out that ‘While the Chronicle of the Pharaohs by Peter A. Clayton (ISBN 0-500-05074-0) gives his reign lasting from 1453 until 1419 BC, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (ISBN 0-19-815034-2) provides a reign between 1427 until 1400 BC’ (ibid), this doesn’t break through the obstacle. The year in question, 1447 B. C. E., falls into the sixth year of Amenhotep II’s reign in the former case, whilst twenty years before his reign in the latter. However, his antecedent Pharaoh Tuthmosis III was ‘well recognized as a military leader, sometimes referred to as the “Napoleon of ancient Egypt”’ (ibid). Thus, having looked at every possible candidate for the Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus, it became clear that both conventional dates falls into unlikely Pharaohs’ relatively stable and peaceful reigns; Memeptah or Ramesses II for 1250 B. C. E. and Amenhotep II or Tuthmosis III for 1447 B. C. E.

Subsequently, looking for misfortunes of Egyptians in wider time frames in the history inevitably makes researchers focus on the 15th Dynasty, also known as the Hyksos. As the etymology of the word Hyksos clearly shows, they were ‘hekau khoswe, “the rulers of foreign lands”’ (The Gale Group, 2008) and this must have been one of the most humiliating misfortunes for ancient Egyptians. It is said that the Hyksos ‘exercised political control over Egypt between approximately 1655 and 1570 B.C.E.’ (ibid) from Avaris, the capital city they built, which is later identified as ‘Tell el-Dabʿa in the Northeast Delta’ (ibid). The people so-called the Hyksos are usually described as Asiatics, ‘the standard name for the inhabitants of the Eastern Mediterranean littoral, Canaan and Syria’ (ibid) and it is also known that ‘Most of the Hyksos personal names are west-Semitic, in the same language group as Amorite and the Canaanite and Aramaic dialects’ (ibid). Little more following things are also known relating to the Hyksos; (1) their culture belongs to ‘Middle Bronze Age Palestine and Phoenicia’ (ibid), (2) ‘The horse and chariot made their appearance in Egypt during the rule of the Hyksos, but there is no evidence that they were introduced specifically by the Hyksos’ (ibid) and (3) ‘At the beginning of the 18th Dynasty (c. 1580 B.C.E.) Pharaoh Ahmes expelled the Hyksos from Egypt and pursued them to southern Palestine’ (ibid). Information above may seem to be encouraging for researchers to attempt establishing a hypothesis for identifying the Hyksos with the biblical Israelites’ sojourn in Egypt led in by Joseph and led out by Moses. Actually, Josephus, a famous Jewish historian in the first century A. D., is one of known historians tried to do so, by directly quoting from Manetho, a Ptolemaic Egyptian writer lived during the 30th Dynasty, who had wrongly interpreted the meaning of the word Hyksos as ‘king-shepherds’ (ibid) or ‘captive shepherds’ (ibid). However, even though there is a further fact that ‘some of the Hyksos rulers bore names echoed in the Bible’ (ibid), attempts made by some scholars ‘to set the Exodus within the chronological framework of the 18th Dynasty’ (ibid) achieve little success. It is said that ‘There is no warrant either in the Bible or outside it for simply equating the Hyksos with the later Hebrews’ (ibid) and as far as the biblical account of catastrophic damages allegedly left on Egyptian soil concerns, it would be relatively easier to find a counter argument such as; Egypt would  have eventually benefited ‘considerably from their experience of foreign rule, and it has been suggested that the Hyksos rule of Egypt was far less damaging than later 18th Dynasty records would lead us to believe’ (Dunn, 2012). In other words, through the experience of foreign rule, Egypt rather became ‘a stronger country, with a much more viable military’ (ibid).

So far, every attempt on seeking for a suitable time frame to accommodate the biblical Exodus in the history of ancient Egypt didn’t go well. Does this mean that the biblical account is merely a fiction? Before jumping to a conclusion, it might be worthwhile to change the strategy and look for the suitable Pharaohs first. According to the Book of Exodus, it is the same Pharaoh, ‘whose daughter adopted three-month-old Moses’  (Ardsma Research & Publishing, 2007; and who ‘died when Moses was nearly 80 years old’ (ibid). This means that this Pharaoh must have ruled longer then nearly 80 years. Such a long reign by a mortal human Pharaoh inevitably disqualifies almost all Pharaohs in the real history of Egypt, except for Pepy II, who ‘is traditionally thought to have governed the country for ninety-four years’ (ibid). The name of Pepy (or Pepi) II can be found as the fifth Pharaoh of the 6th Dynasty, who allegedly ruled between 2246 and 2152 B. C. E. The 6th Dynasty has a couple of Pharaohs after the long reign of Pepy II, however, both of them, Merenre II and Nitocris ‘are only known through the (Abydos) king-lists and Manetho (the 30th Dynasty historian). No known monuments give their names and they are not even mentioned in inscriptions of high officials’ (Kinnaer, 2009). As for these successors of the long reigned Pharaoh, following trivial but supplemental information can be found: ‘The Abydos king-list mentions a Merenre II (also called Antiemdjaf)…, who reigned for only a single year’ (Ardsma Research & Publishing, 2007; and he ‘would have been married to Queen Nitocris, who according to Manetho was the last Sixth Dynasty ruler’ (ibid). Now, at least these findings could secure a clue for connecting the history of ancient Egypt and the Book of Exodus, both of which should provide a situation where, ‘an extremely long reign is followed by a very short reign’ (ibid).

The fact that the names of both successors of Pepy II are only known in the Abydos king-lists implies how miserable their reigns would have been. Quoting from Nicholas Grimal (1993), the author(s) of the web site referred above further continues to establish a following strong case:

‘The Biblical account of the ten plagues is quite detailed. It describes the pollution of the water supply, and devastation of the livestock and vegetation of the land. The Israelites left, depriving the land of its slave labor, and they carried away much of the land’s wealth in the form of silver, gold, and clothing [Exodus 12:36]. Also, the army and the Pharaoh were drowned in the “Red Sea,” leaving the country with weakened defences… Grimal says: “The Old Kingdom ended with a period of great confusion… It was the collapse of the whole society, and Egypt itself had become a world in turmoil, exposed to the horrors of chaos which was always waiting for the moment when the personification of the divine being – the Pharaoh – neglected his duties or simply disappeared… This time period was characterized by famine, an expected result of the plagues… This famine was limited to the Nile valley… (Egypt’s foreign trade ceased and Egyptian mining in the Sinai peninsula) also seems to have been abandoned”… The nation of Egypt had obviously suffered a severe blow—as one would expect from what the Bible tells us of the events accompanying the Exodus.Reference: Grimal, Nicolas (1993), A History of Ancient Egypt Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers Inc.’ (ibid).

Interestingly, endorsement for the argument above can be found in a short description genuinely written about the 6th Dynasty, which points out a following assumption: ‘It is believed more and more that changes in climate and a lower inundation of the Nile are likely to have played an important part in the downfall of the dynasty’ (Kinnaer, 2009). Furthermore, it says ‘Most kings of the 6th Dynasty also chose to build their funerary monument in Saqqara’ (ibid), which makes sure the geographical match between the 6th Dynasty and the story of the Exodus for Saqqara is less than 20 miles from modern day’s Cairo. It also hints a possible catastrophic power vacuum that might occurred in the end of the Old Kingdom by mentioning the next period that followed the fall of the 6th Dynasty as following: ‘during the 1st Intermediate Period (between the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom), the power of… local rulers appears to have increased’ (ibid). Having given these accounts so far, to explain the plausibility over why a widowed wife had to succeed the Dynasty that might have caused a foreseeable result of power shifting to local rulers, it would be quite convenient and helpful to fit the death of Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus into the death of Merenre II because this removes not only the Pharaoh, ultimately merely a person, but also the whole army that most likely includes powerful candidates for future successors of Merene II serving as military commanders and generals all together.

Nevertheless, this hypothesis also faces to an obstruction to break through; the biblical chronology, most famously in 1 Kings, says ‘And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel…’ (1 Kings 6:1). It is usually regarded that Solomon ‘became ruler in approximately 967 B. C. E.’ (Schoenberg, 2013) and this automatically gives the interval between the death of Merenre II in 2152(1) B. C. E. and Solomon’s reign in 967 B. C. E. longer than 1,000 years, far longer than 480 years given from the Bible. To solve this problem, one should prove or insist that what the Bible says is, at least partly, incorrect. However, stepping into this realm of argument far exceeds the main intention of this entry, which should satisfy with only presenting and analysing related information, and therefore it would be appropriate for this entry to end here.

Thus, this entry tried to examine various attempts on placing the Exodus in the real history of ancient Egypt and resulted in to show each attempt ends up in a deadlock. First of all, it looked at relatively known attempts, so-called conventional views, and found a difficulty to place the biblical account in both 1447 B. C. E and 1250 B. C. E. for every possible Pharaoh ruled in these dates was too prosperous. Then it looked at another attempt for placing the Exodus at the fall of Hyksos in circa 1570 B. C. E. and faced to the similar difficulty. It even found that Egypt rather became stronger through the experience of foreign rule. Finally, it looked for the most suitable candidate for the Pharaoh first and found an extraordinary long reign of Pepy II in the end of the 6th Dynasty. By focusing on his successor Merenre II, it discovered some supportive points for identifying him as the Pharaoh, who allegedly faced the catastrophic disasters described in the Book of Exodus. It also speculated that the disaster associated with the Exodus provides a plausible explanation over why his successor was not any other male candidate but his wife, a woman. Nevertheless, it refrained from jumping to a conclusion because the end of the 6th Dynasty doesn’t fit in within the range of the biblical chronology’s requirement.


  • Book

Ivy Books (1991), The Holy Bible, King James Version

Published by Ballantine Books, New York

  • Internet

Ardsma Research & Publishing (2007), Is there evidence of the Exodus from Egypt?, – Topics (electrically accessed 25/02/2013)

Ardsma Research & Publishing (2007), What’s wrong with the conventional dates for the Exodus?, – Topics (electrically accessed 25/02/2013)

Dunn, Jimmy (2012), Egypt: Amenhotep II, 7th Pharaoh of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, Tour Egypt (electrically accessed 04/03/2013) 

Dunn, Jimmy (2012), Who were the Hyksos?, Tour Egypt (electrically accessed 05/02/2013)

Gale Group, The (2008), Hyksos, Encyclopaedia Judaica, Jewish Virtual Library (electrically accessed 04/02/2013) 

Kinnaer, Jacques (2009), 6th Dynasty, The Ancient Egypt Site – History – Old Kingdom (electrically accessed 23/03/2013)

Schoenberg, Shira (2013), Solomon – Biblical Jewish King, Jewish Virtual Library (electrically accessed 02/04/2013)

Posted in Bible, History of Egypt | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Battle and the Treaty of Kadesh

The Battle of Kadesh was fought between two powerful empires at the time; Egypt and Hittite, in circa 1275 BC. It is known as one of important battles fought in the ancient Middle East for a couple of unique elements attached to it; 1) it is ‘the first true battle for study, for it is the first time in history where enough historical evidence survives, from both sides, to paint a fairly accurate picture’ (Sansal, 2011), and 2) as a result of the battle, the earliest peace treaty known in the human history emerged. This short entry tries to explore the Battle of Kadesh and the resulted Treaty from following view points; (1) background history of the both empires, mainly focusing on the rulers at the time of the battle; Ramesses II, the Egyptian Pharaoh, and Muwatallish II, the Great King of Hittite, (2) how the battle was fought, (3) controversies surrounding the outcome of the battle, (4) damages the battle brought to the both empires, especially focusing on political problems in Hittite, and (5) known facts about the Treaty of Kadesh.

  • Background

When the battle was fought, in circa 1275 BCE, Egypt and Hittite were both acknowledged as super-powers of the day. However, both empires had to overcome their political instabilities in the preceding decades before the battle, respectively; The Hittites, based on Anatolia, had ‘lost much of their northern Syrian territories to the Hurrians’ (ibid) before the succession of Suppiluliumas I, who restored ‘Hittite prestige’ (ibid) largely by introducing vassal treaty system, whilst Egypt had been ‘Occupied with her religious revolution’ (ibid) took place in the end of the XVIII Dynasty, led by Amenhotep IV, who changed his name to Akhenaten due to his religious conversion.

Suppiluliumas I, now the king of Hittite empire, at first attempted an alliance with Egypt, however, ‘he eventually decided against such a step’ (ibid), then persuaded ‘Ugarit – the last main Egyptian stronghold in Syria – to defect’ (ibid), and he ‘led a successful assault against the Pharaoh’s forces in Syria, pushing Egyptian boundaries back behind Kadesh’ (ibid). At that time, ‘Egypt was in no position to rebuke the Hittite advances’ (ibid) and it would be also worth to mention that although her real intention is uncertain, ‘the widow of the young-king Tutankhamun asked for the betrothal’ (ibid) of a son of Suppiluliumas I at this occasion, that resulted in only to see ‘the Hittite prince…assassinated on his way to her’ (ibid).
Nevertheless, the newly established XIX Dynasty saw ‘the rise of the more aggressive and military-apt’ (ibid) Pharaohs and it was Sety I, one of such Pharaohs, who ‘set the stage for the conflict between Egypt and the Hittites’ (ibid). Although he ‘had secured Palestine and Kadesh for Egypt… (being) content with the victory, (Sety I) had made no provision for holding the city’ (Mark, 2012) so that his ‘attempt to capture (Kadesh) was… proved unsuccessful’ (Sansal, 2011). Before the Battle of Kadesh, rulers of both empires replaced to the next generation; Muwatallish II, the king of Hittites, who ‘rose to power in 1308 BCE, and was content with defending the current borders of the Hittite empire, roused to action only when required’ (ibid) and Ramesses II, son of Pharaoh Sety I, who succeeded the throne in c. 1279 BCE ‘at the age of just 15’ (Devillier Donegan Enterprise, 2006). Nonetheless, the former was careful enough on defence policy and he ‘had been making regular incursions into Egyptian territory for some time and, having now fortified Kadesh’ (Mark, 2012).

  • The Battle

In 1275 BCE – ‘in the fifth year of his reign’ (ibid) – Ramesses II ‘marched from Egypt toward Syria to secure the border City of Kadesh, a valuable stop on the trade routes of the day’ (ibid), leading his ‘force of around 20,000’ (Sansal, 2011) divided in four divisions. It is said that the detail of the battle can be vividly pictured since enough documents were written by the both sides, including various reports, bulletins and even a poem by the Pharaoh himself. According to these accounts, it seems that the battle roughly went like the following way:

‘Ramesses, completely confident of victory, marched his first division in such haste that he soon outdistanced the other three. Nearing Kadesh, two bedouins were taken prisoner and interrogated as to the whereabouts of Muwatalli(sh) and his army, answering that the army was nowhere near Kadesh and that Muwatalli(sh) feared the might of Egypt and the young Pharaoh. The bedouins were actually spies, however, planted by the Hittites, and Muwatalli(sh) had already fortified Kadesh and his chariots (3,500 of them) and infantry (37,000 men) were waiting just over the next hill… (Then) Ramesses captured some other spies who revealed the unpleasant truth of his situation but the intelligence came too late. In his zeal to capture Kadesh and conquer the Hittite king, Ramesses had cut himself off from the rest of his army. He hastily sent messengers to the other three divisions just before the Hittite chariots crashed into his camp… ‘(Mark, 2012)


‘Ramesses… sped in haste, with his small personal guard, to strategic hill near the marauding Hittites, erecting a fort and valiantly fending off his enemies, despite overwhelming numbers. Relief was at hand, when the second army that had travelled by boat, arrived and fought of the now disorganized Hittite forces. The enemy withdrew and took to Kadesh’ (Sansal, 2011). 

Finally, Ramesses lead the remains of his divisions all together, which featured ‘the faster and more agile two-man… chariot(s) as compared with the three-man, heavier, Hittite vehicle(s)’ (Mark. 2012)and drove ‘the Hittite forces back to the Orontes river where many drowned’ (ibid).

  • Both sides claim victory

Despite the survival of various historical evidences, the conclusion of the battle is equivocal due to the fact that both sides claimed victory, as it follows;

‘Ramesses claimed a great victory at Kadesh and had a scribe take down his account of the glorious battle; Muwatalli(sh)’s account differed considerably, most notably in that he set down Kadesh as a Hittite victory. While Ramesses failed to achieve his objective of capturing the city, he did break the Hittite army on the field and, while Muwatalli(sh) retained control of Kadesh, he failed to crush the Egyptians as he hoped to’ (ibid).

In addition, Mark focuses on Muwatallish II’s mysterious inaction at the decisive point during the battle when Ramesses II was trapped to self-inflicted predicament by having outdistanced other divisions. He argues, ‘At this point Muwatalli(sh) only needed to march from the walls of Kadesh to trap Ramesses’ forces between his army by the river and his advance but, for reasons unknown, he decided to remain in the city and never committed his reserve troops to battle’ (ibid).

  • Aftermath of the battle before the treaty

Reasons why it took about 16 years before ratification of the treaty after the battle could be explained by looking at the damages the battle brought to the both empires.

‘Though Muwatallish had halted Egyptian expansion and defined a peaceful border of the Hittite Empire, this battle had serious consequences for the Hittites. During the conflict with Egypt, Assyria had annexed Mitanni, removing the buffer that the Hittites so relied upon. For Egypt, the defeat of her army led to an all-out revolt by her Canaan vassals, and with them went the last great possessions of the Pharaoh’s beyond the Sinai’ (Sansal, 2011).

Furthermore, Hittite saw a huge turmoil after the death of king Muwatallish II, which caused civil war between the legitimate successor Mursilli III, son of the deceased king, and the challenger Hattusili, a younger brother of the deceased. According to official accounts, ‘Hattušili took up Muršili when Muwattalli(sh) died and made him Great King… Hattušili was loyal to Muršili, but Muršili broke his word to Hattušili and did wrong against him, so that Hattušili revolted against this oppression. The judgment of the gods made Hattušili victorious’ (, 2000).

It would be needless to point out that official history has been always written by the winners, in this case, Hattusili III. To make the background a little bit clearer for better understanding, it would be useful to go back the time to Suppiluliuma I’s reign, where the seed of Hittite’s issues was sown:

‘Without any known exceptions, previous usurpers came to the throne through assassination, not civil war. The reason for this was fairly straight forward. Until the empire (introduces the vassal treaty system), armies were led by generals who were appointed by the king on a campaign-by-campaign basis. Therefore a general had little opportunity to build up a power base against his sovereign.

The vassal treaty system would ultimately undermine this system. Šuppiluliuma I introduced the widespread use of the treaty to control vassal kings. His reasons were undoubtedly sound. He made treaties with kings of distant lands which he could not reasonably incorporate into the closely controlled provincial system. But, from the very beginning, this system demonstrated a dismal record for maintaining a vassal’s loyalty. Even worse… this system was internalized by Muwattalli(sh) II when he created the kingdom of Hakpiš for Hattušili. This may have meant a reduction in imperial expenditure on this deeply troubled region, but it also meant that there was now an army whose loyalty was centred around the vassal king(Hattusili), rather than upon the Great King (Muwattallish II). Whether or not he realized it, Muršili III undoubtedly had the right idea when he tried to eliminate this threat to his authority. In the end, however, Muršili proved unable to undo the damage done by his father. Hattušili used the army of Hakpiš to defeat the imperial army and seize the imperial throne (ibid).

Even though Hattusili III, attempting to establish his legitimacy and authority, forced ‘the loyalty oath which the Men of Hatti were required to swear to the new Great King’ (ibid), it seems that, due to the vassal treaty system, his reign failed to bring back stability to the empire. Especially in the west part, it is said that ‘Hattušili rapidly lost control of the situation’ (ibid) because vassal kings ‘were sworn to support the legitimate king, and to attack a usurper. If ever a vassal wished to throw off the yoke of Hittite rule, he was now presented with the perfect excuse to do so’ (ibid).

  • Treaty of Kadesh

Given the situation above, ‘Hattusilis evaluated the condition of his empire and… he became increasingly friendly with Egypt. In the twenty-first year of Ramesses’ reign, ca. 1259, Hattusilis and Ramesses created a diplomatic treaty, the first document of its kind. Hattusilis sealed this deal by marrying his daughter to Ramesses’ (Sansal, 2011).

This diplomatic treaty between Hattusilis III of Hittites and Ramesses II of Egypt is known as the Treaty of Kadesh. It is argued that its contents can be roughly summarised in a couple of following points:

a)      Mutual military assistance: ‘If domestic or foreign enemies marches against one of these two countries and if they ask help from each other, both parties will send their troops and chariots in order to help. If a nobleman flees from Hatti and seeks refuge in Egypt, the king of Egypt will catch him and send back to his country’ (Istanbul Archaeological Museums).

b)      Mutual extradition: ‘If people flee from Egypt to Hatti or from Hatti to Egypt, those will be sent back. However, they will not be punished severely, they will not shed tears and their wives and children will not be punished in revenge (ibid).

In addition, due to the troublesome situation of the Hittite empire, the treaty also made sure of Egypt’s support for the ‘Security in the problem of Hattusilis’ succession’ (Sansal, 2011).

The contents of the Treaty had been known through a text ‘carved on a stele in the Egyptian Tempel of Karnak in Egyptian hieroglyphs’ (Istanbul Archaeological Museums) until the discovery of a clay tablet at Boğazköy in 1906. The tablet was written ‘in Akkadian, then the language of diplomacy’ (ibid) and it ‘had many missing pieces and contained only about half of the text. During later excavations, four pieces belonging to the main text were found and the missing parts were completed’ (ibid).

Due to the fact that ‘it is the first written peace treaty in the history, a 2-meter long copper copy of the original tablet’ (ibid) is hanged on a wall of ‘the United Nations building in New York, demonstrating to modern statesmen that international treaties are a tradition going back to the earliest civilizations’ (Sansal, 2011).

Thus, this short entry tried to examine the Battle of Kadesh, which was fought between Egypt and Hittite, in circa 1275 BC. In doing so, it began with looking at troublesome background the both empires, where Hittite suffered loss of her territory until the succession of Suppiluliumas I whilst Egypt was also in turmoil due to the religious revolution until the establishment of the XIX Dynasty. Then it shifted its focus to the battle itself, where Ramesses II, the Egyptian Pharaoh, was trapped in a partly self-inflicted predicament whilst Muwatallish II, the Great King of Hittite, refrained from giving the opponent a fatal blow at the decisive point during the battle for reasons unknown. Subsequently, it assessed the result of the battle in which, both sides claimed victory although Ramesses II failed to achieve his purpose – to capture the city of Kadesh – and Muwatahhish II could not achieve to crash the Egyptian army as he had hoped. It followed by looking at instabilities brought to the both empires due to the aftermath of the battle, in which, Egypt lost control of her Canaan vessels whilst Hittite was thrown into the civil war after the death of Muwatallish II. As for the latter, it also focused on the vassal treaty system introduced by Suppiluliumas I as an important element that caused the civil war between Mursilli III and his uncle Hattusili and further instability extended to the Hattusili III’s reign. Finally, it briefly looked at the contents of the Treaty of Kadesh, history of its discovery and excavations and referred to a copper copy exhibited in the United Nations building in New York and its symbolical meaning there.


Devillier Donegan Enterprise (2006), Ramesses II, PBS – Egypt’s Golden Empire – New Kingdom (accessed 06/01/2013) (2000), Hattušili III (~1274~1249), Son of Muršili II, History – Late Empire, Part 3 (accessed on 12/01/2013)

Istanbul Archaeological Museums (year unstated) Treaty of Kadesh, Collections – Ancient Orient Museum (accessed 01/01/2013)

Mark, Joshua J. (2012) The Battle of Kadesh and the First Peace Treaty, Ancient History Encyclopedia (accessed on 01/01/2013)

Sansal, Burak (2011), Battle of Kadesh (c. 1275 BC), All About Turkey – History (accessed 02/01/2013)

Posted in History of Egypt | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,900 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 8 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Solomon’s Temple and King Hiram of Tyre

King Solomon is known for his construction projects like fortress cities of Meggido, Hazor and Gezer and his own palace in Jerusalem. Among them, the most important achievement during his reign must have been the construction of the Holy Temple. The Old Testament describes how magnificent the Temple used to be: ‘The length by cubits after the ancient measure was threescore cubits (103.5 feet / 31.5 metres), and the breadth twenty cubits (34.5 feet / 10.5 metres). And the porch that was before the house, the length of it, according to the breadth of the house, was twenty cubits, and the height a hundred and twenty (207 feet / 63 metres); and he overlaid it within with pure gold’ (2 Chronicles 3:3-4, conversions to foot and metre inserted by the researcher). For what purpose did he build such a huge temple and how could he finance a seemingly quite expensive project? This short entry would like to focus on examining these specific questions relating to the Holy Temple.


It was not Solomon, who originally intended to build the Temple in Jerusalem, but David, his father and previous king of Israel. As it is mentioned in a previous entry in this blog (, it was David who brought back the Ark of Covenant from the House of Abinadab to Jerusalem, the capital city of his kingdom. Therefore, it would be quite natural to presume that David ‘had wanted to build the great Temple… as a permanent resting place for the Ark of the Covenant which (allegedly) contained the Ten Commandments’ (Telushkin, 1991). However, according to the Old Testament, it was God who forbade David to do so by saying, ‘Thou shalt not build an house for my name, because thou hast been a man of war, and hast shed blood’ (1 Chronicles 28:3).

Accordingly, it was after the death of David when Solomon, his successor king, first issued the order for the construction of the Temple and actually, it is said that the ‘Construction began in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign and took seven years’ (Dolphin, 2011) to complete.


For the main purpose of this huge construction, a special room known as the Holy of Holies was situated inside of the Temple in order to provide a suitable place for housing the Ark of Covenant. On the contrary to the magnificent outlook of the Temple, it is said that it’s ‘most important room contained almost no furniture at all’ (Telushkin, 1991). The distinctive uniqueness of this room could be imaginable from the following descriptions too:


‘In Solomon’s Temple the Holy of Holies formed a part of the house of Yhwh (I Kings vi. 1 et seq.), which was 60 cubits in length, 20 cubits in breadth, 30 cubits in height, and built of stone (Josephus, “Ant.” viii. 3, § 2: “white marble”), and was divided into two sections by a partition of cedar-wood with a door covered by a costly curtain (Josephus, l.c.§ 3; II Chron. iii. 14). The section farthest from the entrance, designated also as the “debir” (the “oracle” “the most holy place,” I Kings vi. 5, R. V. margin), was 20 cubits high and presented the shape of a cube. The stone of this inner or hinder part, like the outer room, was completely hidden with cedar boards carved with knops or gourds and open flowers and then covered with pure gold. This room must have been without light. In it was placed the Ark (ib. vi. 18, 19)’ (Jewish Encyclopedia, 2011).

Accordingly, the following custom followed to be established presumably due to the notion of the Holy of Holies: ‘That part of the Tabernacle and of the Temple which was regarded as possessing the utmost degree of holiness (or inaccessibility), and into which none but the High Priest—and he only once during the year, on the Day of Atonement—was permitted to enter’ (ibid).


Seven years of time was not the sole investment Solomon made for the construction of the Temple but also it took expensive materials and the vast amount of labour force. Nonetheless, it is said that ‘Solomon spared no expense for the building’s creation. He ordered vast quantities of cedar wood from King Hiram of Tyre (1 Kings 5:20-25), had huge blocks of the choicest stone quarried, and commanded that the building’s foundation be laid with hewn stone. To complete the massive project, he imposed forced labor on all his subjects, drafting people for work shifts that sometimes lasted a month at a time. Some 3,300 officials were appointed to oversee the Temple’s erection (1 Kings 5:27-30). Solomon assumed such heavy debts in building the Temple that he is forced to pay off King Hiram by handing over twenty towns in the Galilee (1 Kings 9:11)’ (Telushkin, 1991).


However, 1 Kings continues to describe that ‘Hiram was not happy with’ the towns he was given ‘and complained to Solomon that they were worthless (9:12-13)’ (Bradshaw, 1999) whilst Solomon was not an incompetent ruler who could balance his financial problems by only selling off some parts of his territory. Furthermore, Hiram was one of the most important allies for Solomon and his kingdom ever since his father’s reign. Now, it would be appropriate to take a glance at King Hiram and the background history of Tyre, his kingdom.


According to Bradshaw, ‘The city of Tyre was located on two islands 600-700m from the mainland and 40 km south of Sidon… and we have evidence that she was inhabited from early in the 3rd millennium BC. The first written reference appears in an Egyptian Execration text dating from c. 1780-1750 BC [Katzenstein & Edwards, 1992]. The book of Joshua refers to Tyre a “the fortified city” (19:29), an apt description of a fortress with strong walls ascending from the very edge of the sea… The island had two ports, one on the North side, the other on the South, but lacked agricultural land, an adequate supply of fresh water, fuel and room for burials [Liverani, 1988: 932]. The city’s population is estimated to have been about 30 000 in its heyday [Katzenstein & Edwards, 1992]. To support these inhabitants water and food had to be ferried to the island from the mainland city which contained large freshwater springs [Pritchard, 1955: 477]… The city grew rich through its extensive trade in timber with Egypt and in turn relied on Pharoah’s protection… as Egyptian power declined during the 12th Century BC… Tyre fell victim to the invasion of the Sea Peoples’ (Bradshaw, 1999).


In contrast, ‘Before Solomon’s time, Israel was not known for maritime trade’ (King et al, p. 183, 2001). However, ‘the biblical text describes how important trading by sea became for Israel’ (ibid) during his reign so that ‘“King Solomon built a fleet of ships at Ezion-Geber, which is near Elath on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom” (1 Kings 9:26)’ (ibid). Having given above backgrounds, it might have been quite plausible for both kings to have embarked on a co-operative joint venture in a following way: ‘The fleet was Solomon’s, but it was manned by Phoenicians skilled in sailing. Together Solomon and Hiram may have controlled trade from the Red Sea eastward to Africa and Arabia. “They [sailors of Solomon and Hiram] went to Ophir, and immediately imported from there four hundred twenty talents [14,400 kilograms] of gold, which they delivered to King Solomon” (1 Kings 9:28)’ (ibid). Furthermore, ‘Solomon built a commercial fleet called “ships of Tarshish”, a biblical term signifying heavy, seagoing merchantmen. From the context it is evident that these ships were able to make long voyages: “For the king [Solomon] had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks” (1 Kings 10:22)’ (ibid).


Despite there have been various academic arguments, it would be safe to say that the location of both Ophir and Tarshish yet remain uncertain. More importantly, the points here could be summed up as following: ‘What Solomon gained by the alliance was knowledge of the Phoenician manner of trading… he built ships and sent his own servants, under Phoenician masters, to trade with (a gold-producing country, possibly) Arabia. The profits went into the king’s coffers. As Arabia was a gold-producing country, we need not suppose that South Africa was reached by these fleets. Whether the commerce of India reached him by this route is not certain. The list of products imported has sometimes been interpreted in this sense. But one or two obscure words in a comparatively late text can hardly establish the conclusion’ (Knight, 2009). In addition, the relationship between Israel and Tyre worked beneficial for both nations because ‘Tyre depended upon Israel for its food supply (Acts 12:20), while Israel made use of the two major assets of Tyre: its access to the sea-trading routes and its abundant supply of timber (1 Kings 5:8-11) [Patterson & Austel, 1988: 58]’ (Bradshaw, 1999).


Telushkin describes that ‘When the Temple was completed, Solomon inaugurated it with prayer and sacrifice, and even invited non-Jews to come and pray there. He urged God to pay particular heed to their prayers: “Thus all the peoples of the earth will know Your name and revere You, as does Your people Israel; and they will recognize that Your name is attached to this House that I have built” (1 Kings 8:43)’ (Telushkin, 1991). Needless to say, king Hiram of Tyre was one of those who was invited to the inauguration, nonetheless, ‘The fact that Scripture records Hiram offering praise to Yahweh (1 Kings 5:7; 2 Chron, 2:11-12) does not mean that he was converted. It was common in polytheistic cultures to accept the existence of other people’s gods and even enter into their theology to some extent [Keil, 1989: 60]’ (Bradshaw, 1999).


Thus, this short entry tried to examine the purpose of the construction of the Temple and how King Solomon managed to finance it. As for former, it argued that the purpose was to house the Ark of Covenant, which had been brought back by his father King David, and as for the latter, it weighed on Solomon’s relationship with his neighbouring king, Hiram of Tyre, who had been allied with Israel since the reign of King David as well.




  • Book


Ivy Books (1991), The Holy Bible, King James Version

Published by Ballantine Books, New York


  • Internet


Bradshaw, Robert I. (1999), Tyre, Biblical Studies. Org. UK (electrically accessed 25/06/2012)


Dolphin, Lambert (2011), The Temple of Solomon, Lambert Dolphin’s Library (electrically accessed 02/07/2012)


Jewish Encyclopedia (2011), Holy of Holies (Vulgate, “Sanctum Sanctorum”; Hebr. “Ḳodesh ha-Ḳodashim,” or, more fully, “Bet Ḳodesh ha-Ḳodashim,” II Chron. iii. 8, 10; R. V. “the most holy house”): (electrically accessed 01/07/2012)



King, Philip J. and Lawrence E. Stager (2001), Life in Biblical Israel, Library of Ancient Israel, Google Books (electrically accessed 26/06/2012)


Knight, Kevin (2009), Solomon, New Advent – Catholic Encyclopedia (electrically accessed 26/06/2012)


Telushkin, Joseph (1991), Jewish Literacy, Jewish Virtual Library – The Temple – Beit HaMikdash, (electrically accessed 25/06/2012)

Posted in Bible, History of Palestine, Jewish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment