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Skopelos: The Tranquility of Greece’s Mamma Mia Island

Skopelos Mamma Mia
A beach on the stunning island of Skopelos, where the blockbuster movie Mamma Mia was filmed. Credit: Long lasting memories/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Belonging to the Northern Sporades group of Greek islands, Skopelos is one of the many places across Greece that have never failed to enchant visitors throughout the decades.

With its hilly, verdant landscapes and sparser crowds compared to more popular Greek spots, it is a persistent draw for travelers from all over the world.

The charming island of Skopelos

Located a bit off the beaten path, in the Northern Sporades archipelago, Skopelos can truly be described as an unspoiled Greek paradise. A natural landscape which has remained untouched for centuries is one of the most valuable assets visitors discover there.

Skopelos Harbor
Sailboat in Skopelos Harbor. Credit: Patricia Claus/Greek Reporter

Skopelos Town is the main village of the island; it surrounds the harbor in a crescent shape, offering wonderful views to newcomers as the ferry approaches the island. The port is located on a spectacular bay, which is always busy with ferries and yachts, while the waterfront promenade is home to dozens of bars and tavernas.

Skopelos Mamma Mia
White-washed buildings on the island of Skopelos. Credit: Herbert wie/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

In contrast, the scenery in the upper town consists of tranquil lanes and alleys full of flowerpots, mazes ending in small squares and ancient Byzantine churches.

The island is full of the traditional architecture of Greece, with whitewashed houses with terracotta-tiled roofs, blue-hued shutters and wooden balconies. Built on a steep slope, the old town is mostly inaccessible to vehicles — which only adds to its tranquility and allure to visitors.

Skopelos
Cliff guarding the entrance to Skopelos Harbor. Credit: Patricia Claus/Greek Reporter

Filled with natural beauty

One of the must-see places on Skopelos is the Sporades National Marine Park, which, in addition to its unspoiled beauty, also has endless numbers of sea creatures for visitors to admire.

Skopelos is also an island with breathtakingly beautiful beaches, all of them sharing the character of other Greek beaches around the country — minus some of the excessive crowds.

Among the loveliest beaches are Kastani, Stafilos, and Panormos, which are easily accessible from Skopelos Town. Agios Ioannis is another favorite beach, located about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the island’s capital.

Skopelos Mamma Mia
The stunning rocky terrain of Skopelos features a chapel atop this craggy hill, the site of the wedding in Mamma Mia. Credit: Long lasting memories/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Agios Ioannis is one of the most picturesque areas of the island, boasting unique turquoise waters and a stunning landscape.

The church of Agios Ioannis is located high on the cliffs surrounding the area, overlooking the small bay and offering spectacular views of the island itself as well as of nearby isle Alonissos. Both the church and the beach of Agios Ioannis have become famous since it was the location where many scenes from the movie “Mamma Mia!” were filmed.

The local cuisine of Skopelos represents the rich tradition of the area, and a few popular dishes are hard to find in other places. Lobster is the undisputed rock star on the island, and astakos giouvetsi, served with orzo pasta, is the must-try lobster dish. Other seafood typical of Skopelos include sea urchins and grouper fish.

Agios Ioannis
The church that featured heavily in “Mamma Mia!”, Agios Ioannis, is perched high on a rocky outcrop along the western side of the island of Skopelos. Credit: Screenshot from YouTube/@HarryDolekamp

“Mamma Mia!” movie catapults Skopelos into international fame

This stunning Greek retreat of Skopelos was also the setting for one of the most engaging films of the last few years, “Mamma Mia!”

The universally beloved movie, with an iconic soundtrack by the band ABBA, turned Skopelos into the fictional island of “Kalokairi” for the original film in 2008. However, the successful sequel, released in 2018, was mostly filmed in Croatia for tax reasons.

Skopelos shared the spotlight with the neighboring island of Skiathos in the film, although the iconic wedding sequence was filmed at Agios Ioannis church, perched atop a seaside cliff on Skopelos.

A video showing some of the sights on Skopelos which were featured in the movie can be found below.

Your idyllic island vacation awaits you on Skopelos!

The World’s First Coins were Minted in Ancient Lydia

Gold stater coin
A gold stater from Lydia, one of the first coins in the world. Such coins were the very first coins to be used in the world. Credit: Mark Cartwright/ CC4

Ancient Lydia holds the distinction of creating the first coins in the world; at first not much more than blobs of metal with basic stamps, they soon evolved into beautiful works of art in and of themselves, featuring figures from Greek mythology.

Created as a means to authenticate payment, coinage represents a sea change in human development that was part of the increasing complexity in trade between peoples as far back as 600 B.C.

Coinage as we know it today was minted first in Lydia, an Anatolian kingdom with ancient Greek ties. The realm of the legendary King Croesus, it is only fitting that the coins produced there were of shining gold and silver.

Gold staters from Lydia were first coins in the world

Croesus is responsible for constructing the temple of Artemis (Artimu in Lydian), which was one of what many historians consider to be the seven wonders of the world; Lydians and Greeks worshiped the same gods, as is clearly seen on their coinage.

The Lydian stater became the official coin of the Lydian Empire, which flourished for many years before it fell to the Persian Empire. The earliest coins of any on the planet are believed to date back to approximately the second half of the 7th century BC, during the reign of King Alyattes, who was in power from 619 to 560 BC.

Numismatic historians agree that the Lydian stater was the very first coin officially issued by a government and it served as the model for virtually all subsequent coinage everywhere.

Unlike other tokens, or items used in barter, coins are issued by a central authority or government. Of course, a coin can be made of any substance but because of a need for durability they were made of metal from this period onward.

Naturally, when made of a precious metal like gold, they had their own intrinsic value. Other features of coins which made them so revolutionary are that they are portable, hard to counterfeit, and have some kind of value, whether intrinsically or by a decree established by the government.

Two staters with stamps
Lydian gold stater coins. Credit: Mark Cartwright/CC4-1

Gold coins from Lydia also featured stunning artwork, symbols of cities

According to the nineteenth-century historian Barclay V. Head, “the precious metals had long…commended themselves to the civilized peoples of the East as being the measure of value least liable to fluctuation, most compact in volume, and most directly convertible.”

The precious metals of gold and silver had long been used as currency in trace before the first coins came into being, of course. Either in the form of rings or ingots (or bars), they were used by traders all across the ancient world.

Their use, however, was cumbersome since they had to be weighed and verified each time such a transaction took place in order for their true value to be ascertained. This situation, however, created a Eureka moment for one unknown individual, who was the first person in the world to have the idea of creating one easily-carried token issued by a central government, with an agreed-upon value.

With standardized weights, coins eliminated this time-consuming and vexing problem, making them quickly become a universally-accepted means of trade.

It was the great ancient Greek historian Herodotus, known as the Father of History, who said with perhaps some stretching of the truth that the Lydians were the world’s first merchants. Whether or not this is technically true, they undoubtedly lived at a great crossroads of peoples in Asia Minor, and had a well-earned reputation for being at the center of commerce.

In his work titled “The Coinage of Lydia and Persia,” Barclay Head acknowledged “the spirit of commercial activity which the natives of Lydia possessed,” while another 19th-century historian, Ernst R. Curtius, said they were like Phoenicians in that they occupied an essential niche in trade: “The Lydians became on land what the Phoenicians were by sea, the mediators between Hellas (Greece) and Asia.”

Situated near the Bosporus and Hellespont, which connect the Black Sea to the Aegean, it comes as no surprise that the Lydian Empire even as far back as the late 7th and early 6th century BC would already have risen to be a commercial power.

Croesus
King Croesus, who finessed the idea of a coin that as invented during his father’s reigh, was eventually defeated by the Persians and his empire was subsumed into theirs. This Attic red-figure amphora shows his death on a pyre. Credit: :Bibi Saint-Pol,Public Domain

Lydian empire gave great importance to trade, merchants

The Lydians, as part of the rigidly-stratified society in those times, granted special status to merchants, terming then “agoraios,” or “People of the Market;” accordingly they enjoyed a higher rank than commoners in the social realm, according to the World History Encyclopedia.

However, the beautiful gold coins were minted in those times which were the first coins in the world may not have been common currency, used for everyday purchases in the agora.

Archaeologists hold that the absence of such coins in places such as Sardis, in the ruins of shops and marketplaces, are evidence of that theory; in reality, they hold, coins were likely hoarded by the king and the upper classes. They also may have been issued for the collection of taxes, and perhaps used in long-distance, high-value trade between Lydia and  neighboring states, since a great number of staters have been found at the sites of Ionian temples.

Although some historians believe that India or China may be the site where coinage was first used, the evidence appears to indicate that this occurred later than the Lydian minting of coins.

Although appearing to be made of solid gold, the stater coins actually consisted of electrum, a glittering alloy of gold and silver which occurs naturally; however, the actual coins were made from a consistent mix of approximately 55% gold, 45% silver, and a tiny amount of copper. Historians and numismatists believe that the silver and copper were added to natural electrum to make a more durable metal alloy. In addition, the extra copper gave the coins a spectacular golden gleam, unlike the pale white-gold of pure electrum.

The Pactolus River whose bed is full of electrum likely supplied the raw materials for the coins. The river itself is mentioned in legend, said to have been blessed with the shining metal after the famed King Midas of Phrygia bathed in its waters when he tried totake awy his curse of the “golden touch,” in which everything he touched, including his daughter, turned to gold.

For those who study the history of coinage, the new idea that included stamping a piece of precious metal with an official seal, conferring official value to it, which was undertaken during the reign of Alyattes and his son Croesus, set the stater apart from all other tokens that had been used in trade previously.

Like all the ancient coins that came after it, including shekels, drachmas, and others, the coins represented units of weight rather than a specific monetary value — with the word “stater” coming to mean “that which balances scales” in ancient Greece.

The beautiful coins were minted in the ancient city of Sardis (or Sardes), the capital of Lydia, and they had a design that gave homage to the symbols of the city, the foreparts of a lion and a bull facing one another.

Croesid
A silver croesid, showing the lion and bull symbolizing the city of Sardis. Credit: Jastrow /CC BY 2.5

“Lydian Lion” hallmark set coins apart from all previous currency

This is another mark of the stater which set it apart from all previous financial tender in that the “Lydian Lion” hallmark showed that the coins were the official currency of the king; this concept had never before been seen in the ancient world.

After King Croesus introduced the first coin standard involving the intrinsic value of the two precious metals, the Greeks later created their own system of silver coinage based on the drachm. Most historians believe the Greek Ionians brought smaller, silver coins to the retail market.

Croesus served as viceroy under his father Alyattes; historians believe that it was this experience that brought him to understand the usefulness of a circulating gold stater had to increase the influence and power of Lydia overseas, especially with her Greek trading partners.

He later became so associated with this gold stater, replacing those made of electrum, that those coined during this period are classified as “croesid.”

Also important is the fact that an exchange rate of ten silver staters to one new gold stater shows that Croesus took enormous care to mint coins that could be used internationally, with a universally-accepted value. This notion in itself helped contribute to the expansion of Lydia’s empire, especially by the time Croesus took power, when the lands on the west coast of Asia Minor were incorporated into the Lydian Empire as vassal states.

Incredibly, even after Lydia was conquered by the Persians, the croesid coinage remained in use for some time thereafter. So many Lydian-style gold and silver staters dating to after the fall of Croesus have been found over the centuries that many historians believe the new Persian rulers of Anatolia continued to use the same coin dies at the Sardis Mint for some many years.

The Lydian stater clearly ruled the merchant world until the introduction of the gold daric issued by Darius the Great of Persia before the 5th century BC. Still, the electrum, gold, and silver staters first created in Lydia stand alone as the first coins in the history of the world.

Most likely following the Lydians, the Phocaeans also began to make and use coins as money. Its earliest coins were also made of electrum. The British Museum has a Phocaean coin containing the image of a seal dating from 600 to 550 BC. “Phocaea” even means “seal” in Greek and speakers of modern Greek use the same word, “Phocea,” today for seals.

Four Greek Ports Get EU Financing For Infrastructure Upgrades

Igoumenitsa New Port
The port of Igoumenitsa is in a strategic location, as it connects Greece with Italy and the Balkans. Credit: Evmeos / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Four Greek ports across the country have secured EU financing for the implementation of significant infrastructure upgrades.

The major ports of Greece -Pireaus, Thessaloniki, Heraklion and Igoumenitsa– are to get upgrades using European funds, while a separate process is underway to optimize the infrastructure of a fifth port, the port of Alexandroupolis, due to its important geostrategic nature, AMNA reported on Sunday.

EU-funded improvement projects at major Greek ports

A total of six infrastructure improvement projects have been approved for EU financing from the Connecting Europe Facility 2021-2027 fund, according to AMNA.

Three of those projects will benefit the port of Piraeus. They include port facilities to provide electricity to ships using hybrid propulsion technology; digital technology for Just-in-Time (JIT) arrival; and the SMILE project for the use of digital data to promote sustainable logistics.

In the North, the port of Thessaloniki has asked for financing to restore minimum depths and dock 6 infrastructure.

The port of Igoumenitsa, north-western Greece, will be building energy infrastructure to reduce its carbon footprint, including by supplying electricity to ships docked in the port.

In the South, the port of Heraklion, on the island of Crete, has submitted a plan for improving its container terminal, and also for supplying electricity to ships which carry controlled temperature containers.

Port of Alexandroupolis set for revamp

As about the port of Alexandroupolis, in the north-east, an interministerial strategic investments committee will be in charge of a separate process to carry out essential infrastructure improvements.

The General Secretariat for Ports and Naval Investments has prepared a plan for restoring the minimum depths in the Alexandroupolis port channel, up to a distance of 2.5 km, so that big warships can dock.

Additional road works within the port area are expected to facilitate the transport of cargos. A highway is being constructed to link the port with the Egnatia Highway, and there are plans to optimise the port’s lighting with the use of LED lights.

A tender for the privatization of the state-owned port of Alexandroupolis, near the border with Turkey, was canceled in November, due to the port’s elevated geostrategic importance.

Melina Mercouri: The Epitome of the Hellenic Spirit

Melina Mercouri
Melina Mercouri in Amsterdam in 1985. Credit: Public Domain

Melina Mercouri is engraved in the minds of millions of Greeks. In her life she was several things: a striking woman; a stage and movie actress; a patriot; an activist; a politician; but above all — and this is what she remains even after her death — she is a great Hellene.

Mercouri loved Greece so much that she epitomized the Hellenic spirit, becoming its ambassador worldwide.

In the heart of every Greek, she was the first politician who fought for what is the ultimate right of the Greek people: the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to their home, at the Parthenon, atop the Acropolis.

Melina Mercouri’s fight for the Parthenon Marbles

It was 1982 when Mercouri, with her overwhelming passion and the shine of the star that marked her, started her campaign for the return of the so-called Elgin marbles.

Her passion, her desire, her fight for the return of the priceless sculptures to their rightful home is summed up in her phrase: “I hope to see the marbles return to Athens before I die. But if they return later, I will be reborn to see them.”

Even in the sometimes-sketchy world of museums which routinely obtain artwork of questionable provenance from other countries, the Parthenon Marbles were a special case since they were part of a building and not a self-contained work of art.

Millions of objects which have been obtained by various means from foreign countries, such as the Venus de Milo, are exhibited at the best museums in the world. But the Marbles, which had been chipped off the building atop the Acropolis in the 1800s and carted off, are another story.

The Parthenon Marbles campaign began at the UNESCO General Policy Conference in Mexico when Mercouri – then Minister of Culture and Science – put forward the Greek request for the return of the Sculptures.

According to political legend, Mercouri’s internationally-known name and her glamorous persona were factors contributing to the assignment by Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou of the enormous weight of such a difficult diplomatic endeavor.

“You must understand what the Parthenon Marbles mean to us. They are our pride. They are a tribute the philosophy of democracy. They are our ambition and our name. They are the essence of our Greekness,” Mercouri had stated during her campaign for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures.

The draft recommendation for the return of the sculptural decoration of the Parthenon to Greece was submitted by the Greek delegation in 1982, with 56 votes in favor, 12 against and 24 abstentions.

Two years later, in October 1984, Greece submitted a formal request for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, but in April of that year the British side rejected it.

That year, Greece filed an official request for the return of the marbles to UNESCO, which had initiated the agenda of the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation.

Her life

Born Maria Amalia Mercouri on Oct. 18, 1920, she was the favorite granddaughter of Athens Mayor Spyros Mercouris and daughter of United Democratic Left party lawmaker and Minister Stamatis Mercouris.

Mercouri studied acting at the National School of Dramatic Art (1943-46) and made her debut on stage in 1944.

She was established as a leading lady in 1949 with the stage role of Blanche in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire”.

Her first cinema role was as the leading actress in Michael Cacoyannis’ Stella (1955). However, it was the role of Ilia in the Academy Award-nominated “Never on Sunday” (1960), as well as the theater rendition of the movie in New York, that won Mercouri an international reputation.

In 1965, she married American director Jules Dassin, who directed her in “Never on Sunday” (1960), “Phaedra” (1962), “Topkapi” (1964) and “A Dream of Passion” (1978).

Mercouri’s political activism was shown in her protests against the military junta from abroad. After the restoration of democracy in Greece, she returned to the country of her birth and became a politician.

She was elected to represent PASOK, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, in 1981 and became Minister of Culture and Sciences, an office she held until the end of the first eight years of the Andreas Papandreou administration.

As Culture Minister, her primary vision was the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum. At the same time, she also created “Municipal Regional Theaters” to bring theater to the Greek provinces.

Along with her French counterpart Jacques Lang, they created the institution of the “European Capital of Culture” in 1985.

Mercouri’s star dimmed forever on March 6, 1994, but the Greek people still call her only by her first name, as if she is a beloved relative.

Ten years after Greece’s formal request for the return of the Marbles, when Mercouri passed away, the precious sculptures were still at the British Museum. The British fought to keep them in their possession and they “won.”

But if one day the Parthenon Marbles do return to Greece, the spirit of Melina Mercouri will rejoice. And perhaps even be reborn.

American Movie Becomes First Ever Filmed At The Acropolis Of Rhodes

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The Wedding Veil Journey movie cast on the Acropolis of Lindos, Rhodes, Greece.
Credit: The Hallmark Channel

The 6th telemovie of Hallmark Channel’s The Wedding Veil saga becomes the first production to have ever been allowed to film at the majestic Acropolis of Lindos, on the Greek island of Rhodes.

The Wedding Veil Journey, directed by Ronald Oliver and starring Alison Sweeney, Victor Webster, Lacey Chabert and Autumn Reeser, premiered January 21 on the Hallmark Channel.

It sees couple Tracy (Alison Sweeney) and Nick (Victor Webster) travel for a long overdue honeymoon to Greece. When they are stranded on a secluded island, they confront their life choices.

Filming at the Acropolis of Rhodes

In a Facebook Live ahead of the premiere, the film’s cast discussed details of their experience filming on the island of Rhodes.

“I don’t even know where to begin. […] I think every day, every new location was just breathtakingly beautiful and maybe a place I would never have gone by my own, so I was getting to see something really different. It was just spectacular,” said actress Alison Sweeney.

“We would arrive at the destination and we would spend the first ten minutes just taking pictures of everything and looking around and taking it all in and just gasping like, I can’t believe I get to be here and to work here. Every day was something new and beautiful and sharing that all with you was really special,” she told her co-stars.

“I loved everything that Alison said – and the cats,” joked Victor Webster. The Canadian actor explained that the filming took place during wintertime, which is low season for Greek tourism. “Everything was shut down, so we had the entire place to ourselves,” he noted.

Webster appeared particularly grateful and stunned by the fact that the production was the first that has ever been licensed to shoot inside the archaeological site of the Acropolis of the ancient city of Lindos, also known as the Acropolis of Rhodes.

“Nobody has ever been allowed to film on the Acropolis [of Rhodes] before. No Grecian production, no North American production, noboby. Pavarotti asked if he could do a concert and sing there and they said “no,” and they allowed us to go up there and shoot, so this will be the first time that [the Acropolis of Rhodes] has ever been seen on film with actors.”

“We all got up there and just to see that view and to see these ruins, it was just unreal. […] We were all so excited and captivated,” said Lacey Chambert.

The American actress felt that she got a small taste of Greece during her 6-day stay on Rhodes, and expressed her wish to go back to some of the other Greek islands as a tourist this summer, so that she can “really soak up what it’s like to be there.”

Warrior Women: the Ancient World Was Full of Female Fighters

Queen Zenobia Addressing Her Soldiers woman
“Queen Zenobia Addressing Her Soldiers.” Credit: Wikipedia/Public domain.

One of the great things about computer games is that anything is possible in the almost endless array of situations on offer, whether they are realistic or fantasy worlds. But it has been reported that gamers are boycotting Total War: Rome II on the grounds of historical accuracy after developers introduced female generals, apparently to please “feminists”.

But while it’s true that the Romans would not have had female soldiers in their armies, they certainly encountered women in battle – and when they did it created quite a stir. The historians of the ancient world recorded tales of impressive female military commanders from across many cultures.

In the ancient world, when women did go to war, it was usually reported as a complete reversal of the natural order of things. The ancients believed as Homer’s Iliad claimed, that “war will be men’s business.” In the eyes of the (male) contemporary historians, female warriors were aberrations and often remembered as embodiments of the mythical one-breasted Amazons. These legendary warriors were usually portrayed as slightly unhinged women who behaved unnaturally, and symbolized – to ancient men at least – a world turned on its head.

Achilles slaying Amazon queen Penthesilea in combat
Achilles slaying Amazon queen and ancient warrior woman Penthesilea in combat. Credit: British Museum/CC BY-NC 4.0

Yet the star-crossed tale of Achilles and the Amazon warrior queen Penthesilea fascinated the ancient chroniclers. Penthesilea, who led her troops to the support of Troy, was the mythical daughter of Ares, the god of war. She was killed in combat by Achilles — who then mourned her, falling in love all too late with the warrior queen for her beauty and valor. The moment, captured on a famous 6th-century BC vase now in the British Museum, was represented in text and imagery across classical Greece and Rome.

When Artemisia of Caria commanded ships on the side of Persians at the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC she fought so well that the Persian king Xerxes exclaimed: “My men have become women and my women men.” It was a world turned upside down, according to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus – but the soldiers who willingly followed Artemisia into battle could not have thought that way. She must have been skilled and competent and inspired those she commanded.

Cleopatra’s warlike family

In the Hellenistic period – which is generally held to be the period between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the conquest of Egypt by Rome in 31 BC – women with real power and agency appear in numerous kingdoms across the Eastern Mediterranean. These extraordinary and influential queens often held the keys to power, had personal armies, and would not hesitate to go to war.

They were the mothers, daughters, and sisters of the kings and generals who succeeded Alexander the Great. The fabulous Cleopatra VII – best known for her affair with Julius Caesar and marriage to Marc Anthony – was the last of a long line of impressive Egyptian queens who went to war. The role of the fighting queen had already been well established by her namesakes, including Cleopatra Thea and Cleopatra IV.

The indomitable Cleopatra Thea held her own in the ruthless world of Hellenistic dynastic chaos as the queen to three Hellenistic kings, while Cleopatra IV, when divorced from one husband, took a personal army with her to her next husband as dowry.

Palmyra’s ancient warrior women

Centuries later, Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, took advantage of a period of upheaval in the Near East in the late 3rd century AD to carve a kingdom for herself and her city – and it was no coincidence that she connected her ancestry back to the fighting traditions of the Hellenistic Cleopatras.

When Zenobia led her armies, she did so in the name of her son, and took on the Roman emperor Aurelian to protect her city, her region and the interests of her realm. According to the ancient Greek historian Zosimus, Zenobia commanded her troops in battle and people from across the region flocked to her side. Ancient writers were scandalized at the idea of a woman dominating Roman power but she remained a legend across the Middle East in Classical and early Islamic histories.

Boudica: Britain’s greatest warrior queen

Boudica woman statue on the Thames Embankment in London
Boudica statue on the Thames Embankment in London. Boudica is one of the most famous ancient warrior women Credit: Thomas Thornycroft/CC BY-SA 4.0

The most iconic of the female warriors from antiquity has to be the Iceni queen Boudica. When Boudica led her rebellion against the Roman occupation of her land in c. AD 60, the historian Cassius Dio remembered it thus:

“All this ruin was brought upon the Romans by a woman, the fact which in itself caused them the greatest shame.”

There is a visceral image that accompanies her name, with long red hair (although Dio says she was blonde) flowing behind as she charges forth in her war chariot. The ancient writers speak of her terrorizing the Roman occupants of newly-conquered Britannia with her tall stature and fierce eyes. Boudica was viewed by the Roman men who recorded her history as a woman wronged and hell-bent on vengeance.

Tacitus, our best source for Boudica’s rebellion, claims that the Celtic women of the British Isles and Ireland frequently fought alongside their men. And when wars were about the survival of a kingdom, a family or a home and children, women would fight if they had to — especially when the only other option was slavery or death.

So when women took to the field in battle in antiquity it was both astonishing and terrifying for the men who recorded the events, and shameful to lose to them. It almost always occurred at times of political chaos and dynastic upheaval, when society’s structures loosened and women had to, and could, stand up for themselves. Ancient men did not like to think about having to fight women or having women fight – and it still seems to irk some people today.

By Eve MacDonald ,

Lecturer in Ancient History at Cardiff University.

This article was published at The Conversation and is republished under a Creative Commons License.

The Platonic Academy of Athens: The World’s First University

Platonic Academy of Athens
”The School of Athens” – Fresco by Raphael, depicting the Platonic Academy in Athens. In the center we can see Plato and Aristotle, discussing. The fresco now decorates the rooms now known as the Stanze di Raffaello, in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican

The Platonic Academy, or simply, ”The Academy,” was a famous school in ancient Athens founded by Plato in 387 BC, located on the northwestern outskirts of Athens, outside the city walls. The site acquired its name from the legendary hero Academos.

Plato is the one figure who must receive the credit for giving birth to this unique institution. He firs acquired the land on which the Academy was eventually built, and began holding informal gatherings there to discuss philosophical issues with some of his friends.

The gatherings included thinkers such as Theaetetus of Sunium, Archytas of Tarentum, Leodamas of Thasos, and Neoclides. These meetings and discussions continued for years but it was not until Eudoxus of Cnidos arrived in the mid-380’s BC that Akademeia was recognized as a formal Academy.

The Platonic Academy is considered the world’s first university

Platonic Academy
Roman copy of a portrait bust by Silanion for the Academia in Athens (c. 370 BC). Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain

The Platonic Academy was not an educational institution as we know it in modern times, but because it had the characteristics of a school and covered a wide variety of topics such as philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, politics, physics and more, it is considered to be the first university in the entire world.

The garden which Plato decided to use for his discussions had also been used previously by many Athenian groups, both civil and religious, with the Akademeia hosting a nighttime torchlight race from altars in Athens to the altar of Prometheus in its gardens.

The road that led to the University was also lined with the gravestones of many Athenians, and funeral games took place there, along with a Dionysian procession from the city of Athens to the site and then back into the city.

An exclusive group of intellectuals met in Akademeia, with Plato’s “students” not truly bearing the title of a student apart from their distinction between junior and senior members of the body.

Platonic Academy
Roman copy in marble of a Greek bronze bust of Aristotle by Lysippos, c. 330 BC, with modern alabaster mantle. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

One of them, Aristotle, came to be one of the world’s most influential philosophers of all time.

The teaching methods used by Plato, including both lectures and seminars, focused on his instructions, in addition to dialogue between teachers and students.

According to an unverifiable story that has become a legend throughout the centuries and into modern times, the Academy had the phrase «Μηδείς αγεωμέτρητος εισίτω μοι τη θύρα» inscribed above its entrance, a phrase which means “Let none but geometers enter through this door.”

The Academy was free

It is worth mentioning that during Plato’s leadership of the Academy, its members did not pay any fees, and following his death, the Academy continued its operation for nearly 200 years.

Diogenes Laertius, a biographer of ancient Greek philosophers, divided the operating history of the Academy into three periods; The Old, the Middle, and the New. At the head of the Old he naturally placed Plato; at the head of the Middle Academy, Arcesilaus; and of the New, Lacydes.

In the year 86 BC, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, a Roman general and statesman who held the role of consul twice and revived Rome’s dictatorship, laid siege to the city of Athens and conquered it. The Academy was destroyed and razed to the ground.

Tragically, the magnitude of the destruction was so massive that the school never reopened. Still, the legacy of The Academy has stayed alive throughout the millennia, giving us vital knowledge and insights even today about the world in which we live.

How the Ancient Greeks Measured Time Shows What they Valued

clepsydra Amphiareion
The ancient Greeks measured time with the clepsydra, or “water thief,” at the Amphiareion of Oropos. Credit: Nefasdicere at English Wikipedia J. M. Harrington, personal digital image/CC BY 2.5

The ancient Greeks measured time in part because human beings have felt the need to track the passage of their hours and days since time immemorial, prompted certainly by the need to plant things at the appropriate time, on the appropriate day at just the right time of year.

Perhaps there has just always been in us the need to chronicle our days and record their passage for their own sake. Some historians believe that the first timekeeping devices were created through a desire to chart our lives using the principles of astrology.

Whatever first prompted us to try to record time, doing so has been a drive in human beings since the Neolithic era, according to a new book by physicist Chad Orzel called “A Brief History of Timekeeping,” published by BenBella Books in 2022.

Water clocks, sundials are first ancient timepieces

People around the world were already making valiant attempts to predict solstices and other astronomical occurrences back in the Neolithic era.

Orzel traces the evolution of recording time, from the water clocks that showed how long it took water to flow out of a container to elegant sand-filled hourglasses to the first mechanical and pendulum-driven clocks.

As can be appreciated by anyone, the attempt to conquer time by being able to quantify it appears to be a universal need.

Water clocks, along with sundials, are most likely the oldest time-measuring instruments, with the only exceptions being the tally stick, which counts days. Given their extraordinary antiquity, where and when these time pieces first existed is not known — and perhaps will remain unknowable, according to Scientific American.

The bowl-shaped outflow water clock, or clepsydra (“water thief”) is the simplest form of such clocks; they are known to have existed in Babylon and in Egypt around the 16th century BC.

The ancient Greeks — of course — were among the first to create mechanical clocks to measure time; the perfection of the clepsydra and the alarm clock created by Plato are just two such brilliant inventions.

Great philosopher Plato invents the alarm clock

Plato,  the famous ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician who lived from ca. 427 BC to 347 BC, and who founded the first institution of higher education in the Western world, the Academy of Athens, was said to have been the first person to introduce the snooze alarm into human history.

In his effort to wake people up and get them to their lectures on time — at dawn — Plato designed a mechanism which can be considered the first alarm clock.

In his mechanism, water would drip from one vessel into another via a small hole, and as the second vessel filled during the night, trapped air was forced out of a side vent, making it whistle like a tea kettle when it filled up quickly.

The Water Clock, or Clepsydra, at the Amphiaereon of Oropos

Located at the Amphiareion of Oropos, a sacred site which contains the ruins of a theater, altars, a sacred spring and many other historical artifacts of immense value, this water clock — roughly contemporary with Plato’s alarm clock — is one of the most outstanding for the level of scientific expertise it represents.

The site of a holy spring where tales of heroes blended into myth, it is said that the earth once opened up and swallowed a chariot owned by Amphiaraos in that very spot. It became a site of worship and the place where athletic games took place once every five years.

A sanctuary was dedicated in the late 5th century BC there to the hero Amphiaraos, where pilgrims went to seek oracular responses to their questions as well as healing from infirmities. The cult that grew out of the site was both public and private.

On the southeast side of the streambed opposite the sacred spring there is the wonderfully well-preserved clepsydra, which incredibly still has its bronze stopper. This artifact is especially important in the study of ancient methods of timekeeping in that it is an example of an inflow water clock.

Since an inflow clock measures time by the filling of a known volume from a constant rate of inflow, it is much more accurate than an outflow water clock in measuring the gradations between full and empty.

The clepsydra at Oropos was composed of a central, square reservoir with a steep stairway on the south side to allow access to the bronze plug at the bottom of the reservoir, all of which are still extant.

An academic paper on this amazing work of human ingenuity was published in the journal Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry in 2010.

Ctesibus water clock
Ctesbus’ perfected water clock had features that made it the most accurate timepiece in the world for approximately 2,000 years. Credit: Gts-tg /CC BY-SA 4.0

Ctesibius’ water clock was most accurate timepiece in the world for 2,000 years

Ctesibius — who is known today as the father of pneumatics, or the physics of air pressure, and who is credited with the invention of the hydraulic organ, improved on the water clock so much that his version was the most accurate clock ever constructed — for more than 2,000 years — until the Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens’ invention of the pendulum clock in 1656.

“Now what Ctesibius did was particularly cunning,” explains Marty Jopson, a model maker who created a new version of the clock invented by Ctesibius, noting that he made sure that the height of water in the initial chamber never changes.

He accomplished this by feeding water into one chamber and attaching an overflow pipe which fed into another chamber. The water in that second chamber would rise at a precise rate, allowing time to be measured accurately. This was nothing less than a stroke of genius.

But in order to have a water clock that would operate continually, without a chamber having to be emptied, something had to be altered.

“What he did was that he added a siphon to the system,” Jopson notes, adding “this may well be the very first time a siphon was fitted to a machine.” Ctesibius is therefore known as the creator of the siphon.

This allowed the clock to be emptied and refilled automatically, which was nothing short of revolutionary.

But how the Greeks measured time itself posed a problem. They divided the daylight hours into twelve — so that the hours were shorter in the winter than in the summer. That led to the need to create a clock on which they could rely for accurate timekeeping.

So Ctesibius created a waterwheel and a series of cogs that turned a cylinder which turned a tiny amount every day, tracing the hour lines on a pole, which would be nearer or father apart depending on the time of the year. This itself is a marvel of human engineering.

“Ctesibius’ water clock ran seven days a week, 365 days a year. For over two thousand years, this was the most accurate clock in the world,” Jopson says.

Astrolabe
An exploded view of an astrolabe, an instrument that was invented by the Greek scientist Ptolemy. Credit: Elrond /CC BY-SA 4.0

Ptolemy’s astrolabe measured time and the stars

An early astrolabe was invented in the Hellenistic civilization by Apollonius of Perga between 220 and 150 BC, but it was often attributed to Hipparchus. The device, a marriage of the planisphere and the dioptra, was effectively an analog calculator capable of working out several different kinds of problems in astronomy as well as the time of day or night and the seasons.

The Greek scientist Ptolemy of Alexandria, who lived from 85 to 165 AD, created an early astrolabe he called the “Planisphaerium,” which dealt with the problem of mapping figures from the celestial sphere onto a plane, by a method now known as ‘stereographic projection’, that preserves circles.

This stereographic projection later became the mathematical basis of the plane astrolabe, which developed into all later forms of the device.

Theon of Alexandria, who lived from c. 335 – c. 405, wrote a detailed treatise on the astrolabe; it is believed that Ptolemy used his astrolabe to make the astronomical observations recorded in the “Tetrabiblos.”

The “Tower of the Winds” or Horologion

Tower of the Winds
The Tower of the Winds was not only the word’s first meteorological station but boasted a water clock as well for the use of the public. Credit: Joanbanjo/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Greek astronomer Andronicus of Cyrrhus supervised the construction of the Tower of the Winds in Athens about 300 years later, in the 1st century B.C., in another example of Greek scientists who desired to quantify time.

The Tower of the Winds, or the Horologion, is an octagonal Pentelic marble clocktower in the Roman Agora in Athens that functioned as a large timepiece that was understandable and accessible to everyone.

It is considered the world’s first meteorological station. Unofficially, the monument is also called Aerides (Greek: Αέρηδες), or “Winds,” since it features a combination of sundials, a water clock, and a wind vane. It was designed by Andronicus of Cyrrhus around 50 BC, but some historians believe that it might have been constructed in the 2nd century BC, before the rest of the forum.

Chad Orzel explains to Scientific American that the advent of clocks — as seen in the many permutations of timepieces in ancient Greece — ultimately changed history in that the average person in a society could know just exactly what time it was. You didn’t have to be a wizard or astrologer or have access to a particular structure which had been created to mark the solstices to know what time it was after the invention of clocks.

In the end, it was the cumulative brilliance of all the inventions that came before it, coupled with the genius of the great mathematician Archimedes, that went into the creation of the Antikythera Mechanism, known as the World’s First Computer.

This had less to do with trying to track the events marked by time — such as Olympiads — created by humans as it was a way to celebrate creation for its own sake. As such it goes far beyond a “mere” timepiece — but it represents the fruition of the ancient Greeks’ brilliant inventions.

This incredibly intricate machine, made of bronze with mechanical movements showing the planets and stars in their different orbits around the Sun, was the ultimate representation of all that the ancient Greek thinkers valued — in that they attempted to recreate a small universe as a way to grasp its unimaginable complexity intellectually.

“The democratization of time” over the millennia

“There’s an interesting democratization of time as you go along,” Orzel states, adding “The very most ancient monuments are things such as Newgrange in Ireland. It’s this massive artificial hill with a passage through the center. Once a year sunlight reaches that central chamber, and that tells you it’s the winter solstice. This is an elite thing where only a few people have access to this information.”

However, “with the advent of water clocks, that’s something that individual people can use to time things. They’re not super accurate, but that makes it more accessible. Mechanical clocks make it even better, and then you get public clocks — clocks on church towers with bells that ring out the hours. Everybody starts to have access to time.”

Water clocks such as those created in ancient Greece went on to be used for many centuries afterward. Orzel says “There’s a famous example. There was a fire in a particular monastery, and the record says some of the brothers ran to the well, and some ran to the clock. That tells you that it was a water clock because they’re going there to fill up buckets to put the fire out.”

All of the hours counted by these timepieces add up to days, weeks and months — and how a society’s way of keeping time reveals what it values in many ways, Orzel maintains, as seen in how it compartmentalizes time relative to the seasons.

“None of the natural cycles you see are commensurate with one another. A year is not an integer number of days, and it’s not an integer number of cycles of the moon. So you have to decide what you’re prioritizing over what else. You have systems such as the Islamic calendar, which is strictly lunar. They end up with a calendar that is 12 lunar months, which is short [compared with about 365 days in a solar year], so the dates of the holidays move relative to the seasons.

“The Jewish calendar is doing complicated things because they want to keep both: they want holidays to be associated with seasons, so they have to fall in the right part of the year, but they also want them in the right phase of the moon.”

Meanwhile, he states “The Gregorian calendar sort of splits the difference: We have months whose lengths are sort of based on the moon, but we fix the months, so the solstice is always going to be June 20, 21 or 22. We give the position of the year relative to the seasons priority above everything else.”

Djokovic Defeats Tsitsipas, Triumphs At Melbourne Final

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Novak Djokovic Australian Open champion
Djokovic Defeats Tsitsipas, Triumphs At Melbourne Final. credit: Novak Djokovic / Instagram

Greek tennis champion Stefanos Tsitsipas lost the Australian Gran Slam to Serbian tennis icon Novak Djokovic 3-0 sets at the Australian Open men’s singles final on Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena on Sunday.

The winner of the Men’s Singles final claimed both the trophy and the top spot in the world ranking.

Djokovic, 35, made tennis history as he scored his record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title, which is also his 10th at the Australian Open tournament.

24-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas was hoping for his breakthrough major, had he won the final.

45,832 fans were at the Australian Open for the twilight session; a final Sunday attendance record, smashing the previous final Sunday record of 31,020 fans (in 2020), the tournament said on its official Twitter account.

Hard-fought game for Tsitsipas vs. Djokovic

Djokovic won the first set 6-3, dropping only five points on his serve. He also took the second set with 7-6, same score as the third and final set.

This was the second major final for Tsitsipas, and the 33rd for tennis legend Djokovic, who has not lost in Melbourne since 2018. 

The only other Grand Slam final that Tsitsipas had played so far was the 2021 French Open – which he had also lost to Djokovic.

The Australian Open is a special place for the Greek champion, since he made his junior Grand Slam debut there in 2015. Since then, he has gotten to the semifinals of the Australian Open three times.

“I knew that’s a very long journey to get there. I did finish as a junior number one. Now I want to do it in the senior side,” Tsitsipas told reporters earlier this week.

Who Beheaded the Kritios Boy, the Masterpiece of Ancient Greek Art?

Kritios Boy ancient Greek art
The magnificent statue of the Kritios Boy is displayed at the Acropolis Museum. The torso was found separately from the head. Credit: Acropolis Museum

The Kritios Boy, a statue displayed at the Acropolis Museum is one of the most important works of ancient Greek art and the most characteristic of the so-called “Severe Style.”

The statue’s torso was found in 1865 to 1866 southeast of the Parthenon,while the head was found in 1888 near the south walls of the Acropolis. Archaeologists have dubbed it the “Kritios Boy,” after the name of the sculptor believed to have created it.

The “Kritios Boy” is depicted standing in the nude. He supports his weight on his left leg while the right one remains bent at the knee in the characteristic posture of the Severe Style.

Ancient Greek art masterpiece

His expression is solemn and his eyes, which were originally crafted from another material, have not survived.

His hair, which follows the shape of his scalp, is tightly gathered around a ring with a few scattered strands falling on his temples and the nape of his neck. Traces of red dye are preserved on his hair.

The attribution of this statue to the sculptor Kritios is based on the similarities it presents with the statue of Harmodios from the bronze group of the Tyrannicides, a work of Kritios in collaboration with Nesiotes.

This group, known to us today through marble copies of the Roman period, was erected in the Agora of Athens.

Who this statue portrays, however, is not known. Some scholars believe he represents a young athlete, the winner of an event in the celebration of the Greater Panathenaia.

Others claim he depicts a hero, most likely Theseus. Moreover, they link the dedication of the statue on the Acropolis with the activities of 476 to 475 BC, when Kimon transferred Theseus’ bones from the island of Skyros to Athens.

Who beheaded the Kritios Boy statue?

The statue is a touchstone of Greek art. It features prominently in textbooks and it travels to major international exhibitions.

But there is still a mystery over who beheaded the statue in antiquity with an axe-blow to the back of the neck and why.

Early scholars blamed the Persians, who sacked the Acropolis during their invasion of Greece in 480 B.C. More recently, the statue has been dated to the Early Classical period by art historians; this would then imply that the Athenians themselves did the deed.

It is clear that the Athenians did, upon occasion, behead statues; there is no other explanation for the many heads (severed from their no longer preserved bodies) that have been excavated from the Acropolis fill.

Rachel Kousser, a professor of art history at the City University of New York, is pretty sure that the beheading was the work of the Persian invaders.

Writing for the Research Bulletin of The Center for Hellenic Studies, she explains:

Many of the Acropolis korai—dated prior to 480 B.C., and indisputably attacked by the Persians—have parallel injuries, including not only the blow to the back of the head, but also the missing hands and feet.

So, too, mutilation in 480 B.C. would help to explain why the Kritios Boy was interred so soon after it was set up (otherwise, one has to assume it was created in the 470s, and ‘killed’ in thirty years or less, a rather short life expectancy for a sturdy marble statue).

I would guess that the statue was set up shortly before 480, injured, and then buried—all on the Acropolis, since as an inhabitant of sacred space, it could never lose its sanctity.

But it is hard to be sure; this murder mystery from 2,500 years ago offers few clues. What we can say for certain, though, is that this ‘murder’ testifies to the significance of the image, so powerful it had to be ‘killed’ to be negated.