In India there is said to exist and ancient book of astrology that contains information about the past, present, and future lives of millions of people. Known as the Book of Bhrigu, or Bhrigu Samhita, it is believed to give the soul horoscope of anyone who is destined to find it. Written in Sanskrit, some claim that the Book is the physical counterpart of the Akashic Records – an astral library spoken of in esoteric circles that allegedly holds the records of all humanity’s “lives”.
Legend states that it was originally written on palm leaves thousands of years ago by Maharishi Bhrigu, a great sage who assisted Brahma with the Creation of the universe. He intended the book to provide a livelihood for future generations of Brahmins, as only they had the knowledge and training to locate the correct horoscopes on behalf of seekers. The book survived in parts; copied through the ages onto new leaves. But waves of invaders and foreign rule at various times in India’s history meant that it was broken up into parts with no known complete version existing today.
THE BOOK TODAY
The most famous manuscript that currently exists is in Hoshiarpur, Punjab, and is 400 – 500 years old. It had been discovered (or re-discovered) in 1923 by Des Raj, the grandfather of the current family of astrologers/librarians who preside over it. Others are rumored to exist in Dehli, Meerut, Poona, and Benares, but their age is hard to establish since information on them is sparse.
What makes the Book of Bhrigu unique in terms of astrology is that only those who are destined to consult it can find it. While birthdate and place are factors, the most important element in finding a person’s horoscope in the book is the date and time of their arrival to the consultation.
Though scholarly information regarding the Book of Bhrigu is next to non-existent, due in part to the Brahmin families who own parts of the book being unwilling to allow anyone to study it, there are records of people consulting it and walking away astounded at its insight and accuracy. As such, its veracity is attested to by an impressive list of famous Indians, and even some Westerners.
The most publicized encounter with the Book in modern times comes from a 1982 article in Fate magazine, written by David Christopher Lane, Ph.D, Professor of Philosophy and Sociology at Mt. San Antonio College, California. While conducting research on the Radhasaomi Movement in 1978 he heard about the Book, and was invited to consult it by a trusted friend, Swami Yogeshwar Ananda Saraswati, and a local scholar. When they arrived at the “library”, located amid the back streets of Hoshiarpur, Lane saw that the Book consisted of two large bundles of leaves. The astrologers/librarians drew his chart based on birthdate/place and the date and time of his arrival at the library. After 15-20 minutes they found his horoscope-leaf. The first lines read:
“A young man has come from a far-off land across the sea. His name is David Lane and he has come with a pandit [Hindu scholar] and a swami. The young man is here to study dharma (religion) and meet with holy men and saints.”
This presents another interested facet of the Book – that it is precise enough to give names. This has prompted some, such as Vedic scholar Dr. Jai Narayan Sharma, to claim it is a fraud since there are no astrological theories that predicts an individual’s name. Of course, this presumes we are privy to all information and astrological theories from all time.
At this point, he was asked to pay the equivalent of $20 to remove a sin from a previous life. Although Lane says that he wasn’t pressured, he later uses this as an argument to express his skepticism of the document. This is despite claiming complete trust in his friend Swami Yogeshwar and the scholar he went with; who, in his own words had “…unremitting belief in the book's validity, which they claim resulted from their own experiences with its awesome accuracy…”. However if it were a fraud, as Lane suspects, the logistics and coordinated dishonesty involved to set up a scheme to swindle him out of $20 would have been monumental.
Two years later, in 1980, Lane discussed the Book with a Swedish astrologer, Anders Johannsen. Johannsen told Lane that he had consulted it 7 times himself and found it to be authentic and the most accurate astrological treatise he had encountered.
If the Book of Bhrigu is authentic, then the implications are astounding. Certainly, supernatural powers have been attributed to yogis throughout the ages, but the Book would argue strongly in favor of not only reincarnation, but also the existence of, and the ability of people (at least in the distant past), to access other dimensions (e.g. the astral realm).
Anyone going in search of the Book of Bhrigu today would be well advised that countless frauds have sprung up to prey on well-intentioned tourists. It is best to bring along someone who can translate Sanskrit in order to at least confirm that what the “astrologer” is saying is accurate. It’s true that many have tried and failed to consult the Book. But to those who are successful, astonishment and wonder await.
“Bhrigu Samhita.” Encyclopedia.com, updated February 11 2020, www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bhrigu-samhita.
“History of Bhrigu Samita.” bhrigusamhita.co.in/history.htm
Lane, David. “Ancient Astrology: An Adventure with the Bhrigu Samhita in India.” Integral World, April 2013, www.integralworld.net/lane51.html
Tarkovsky, Sacha. “The Book of Bhrigu - See Your Past Present & Future.” Ezinearticles.com, November 28 2006, https://ezinearticles.com/?The-Book-of-Bhrigu---See-Your-Past-Present-and-Future&id=370939.
Vinayak, Ramesh. “Punjab: The Bhrigus thrive on 500-year-old copy of 'Bhrigu Samhita' to draw crowds.” India Today, July 31st 1993, www.indiatoday.in/magazine/offtrack/story/19930731-punjabbhrigus-thrive-on-500-year-old-copy-of-bhrigu-samhita-to-draw-crowds-811330-1993-07-31.
Do you spend time alone contemplating what Life is all about? Ever worry that it has no meaning? Like your efforts are futile? Like your life has become a prison where the hours and days stretch on and on and on and on...? That might sound like the adult working life to some, but the early Christian desert monks had a name for it: Acedia.
If you’ve never heard of it, it’s probably because not too many people have used the term over the past few hundred years. The modern phrase “dark night of the soul” is close, however. Ever the bane of early Christian hermits and solitary monks, one might speculate that it has made a comeback in our own time; assuming it ever left.
The Desert Fathers of early Christianity were the first to report Acedia as a condition among their brothers and sisters. They were the leaders of early Christian hermits, ascetics, and monks who exchanged the pleasures of the city for the harshness of life in the desert. By withdrawing from society, they believed that they could become closer to God. Their style of living would give birth to what later became Christian monasticism. While some formed communities, where sharing and working together was the goal, others preferred solitude. These individual contemplatives were the hardest hit by Acedia.
Acedia had both a physical and psychological dimension, and was said to be the worst in the early afternoon – it therefore came to be known as the “noonday demon”. It was viewed initially as demonic since it aimed to cause the monk to give up on their spiritual lifestyle.
Acedia’s physical symptoms included chills, headaches, sleepiness, a bodily heaviness, and an inability to pray. Psychologically however, it was much more devastating. A strong sense of alienation, dejection, and listlessness would lay hold of the sufferer, and cause him to see all of his efforts as futile. He might also become hypersensitive and critical of fellow monks or the monastic way of life in general; believing he could do better elsewhere, with different people, with a new teaching. A species of bitter indifference and indignation would begin to permeate his thoughts. This resulted in a form of spiritual inertia: Either in overzealous efforts at asceticism and work, to the point of obsession (what we would call workaholism), or the inability to focus even on a few passages of scripture (boredom or ennui). The sufferer may also indulge in overeating/drinking, oversleeping, or flipping back and forth between lethargy and nervousness. This is why Acedia would later become lumped under the category of the deadly sin of sloth in the Middle Ages, and depression by psychologists. But neither sloth nor depression really captures the nuances of Acedia.
It was more than both of these actually. Much more existential, as it were. It’s when existence itself gets put on review and there’s little to answer for it. Like looking at life and saying, “Is this all there is?” To which life responds, “Sorry, bruh.” Or worse, doesn’t respond at all.
One website, “The Hermitary”, which deals with the history of hermits and solitaries, cites John of the Cross (1542-1591) (the same who originally coined the term “dark night of the soul”), when he identifies Acedia as an ailment that afflicts mostly newer monks. He reasons that their thoughtful nature, not yet tempered by experience, causes them to have a lower threshold of “non-virtue”. This means that they are less able to tolerate all the nastiness in worldly culture and essentially become disillusioned with their own pursuits as a result.
Disappointed dreamers and idealists everywhere, know just how easy this can happen.
The same site concludes that Acedia is “a personal statement against the contrivances of culture, the hypocrisy of public morality, alienation from the natural patterns of nature and simplicity.”
Does anyone with a conscience NOT feel this way today?
A strong sense of community and fellowship in itself might provide a good enough remedy to this. And it’s why Acedia doesn’t show up all that much in literature dealing with monks who lived in more communal settings. But for the introverted and the overly thoughtful, this was, and is, less of an option.
In a 2005 article for the Harvard Theological Review, Dr. Andrew Crislip advances the hypothesis that Acedia was in fact, a response to the concept of “anomie”. The renowned sociologist Emile Durkheim first introduced anomie in 1897, in his book, Suicide. In societies where individual achievement is heralded as supreme, when an individual feels he or she is unable to meet the standards set by that society they experience anomie. They become alienated and withdraw from “social norms and obligations.” As Durkheim pointed out, this also results in an increased rate of suicide - hence the title of the book.
When placed in the context of the early solitary monks, Crislip argues that Acedia happens as a result of the anomie they felt when, in their solitude, they were unable to reach the lofty heights of communion with God as quickly as they anticipated. Thus, their anomie gave way to Acedia and life’s purpose became as barren as the desert they lived in.
Seen in this light, when we translate anomie and Acedia to today, we see conditions for it are fertile. In fact, as recent as the middle of the 20th Century, Aldous Huxley said Acedia was the primary affliction of his age. And it’s only gotten worse. This is not to imply that there’s been a rise in contemporary populations of solitary desert monks, but rather, with advances in communication technology and the dissolution of traditional sources of community, solitude has become a much more common phenomenon. Meanwhile, the social standards we’re meant to strive for have become ever more artificial and/or hard to reach.
So what’s the antidote to Acedia? Older sources advocate perseverance, courage, and detachment. In modern parlance, one might translate this to the phrase, “keep on keeping on.” The Hermitary, proposes that gratitude for living and consciously altering one’s “threshold for non-virtue, in the ability to seek contentment” might do the trick. One might also consider some honest soul-searching and holding fast to teachings and traditions that are enduring and offer meaning. They do exist, but in the modern “winner-take-all”, disposable, culture we live in, they are largely forgotten or ignored. Regardless, we can take solace in knowing that even though the Noonday Demon has visited countless people throughout history, for those who persist, he eventually goes away.
“Acedia, Bane of Solitaries.” Hermitary, http://www.hermitary.com/solitude/acedia.html
Crislip, Andrew. “The Sin of Sloth or the Illness of the Demons? The Demon of Acedia in Early Christian Monasticism”. The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 98, No. 2 (Apr., 2005), pp. 143-169.
Norris, Kathleen. “Got Acedia? Who Cares?” The Washington Post, September 16, 2008. http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2008/09/got_acedia_who_cares.html
Robertus Magnus is the creator of Totally Awesome History. He hold and MA in History, B.Ed, Hons. BA (History and Classics), and a post-graduate Scriptwriting Certificate. He is also the author of "Perduo: Obadiah Emerson in the Place Where Lost Things Go".
HOW GLADIATORS GOT ALL THE GIRLS
The history of gladiators and gladiatorial combat is one that conjures to mind crowds cheering for blood and the armed athletes in the arena who would oblige them. In short, we think of the violence. But outside of the arena gladiators sometimes doubled as husbands and lovers; even to some of Rome’s highest-ranking women.
Gladiators were viewed as belonging to the lowest of social classes: prisoners of war, criminals, and slaves. Even free-born citizens who volunteered to fight as gladiators, called auctorati, were considered little more than pimps or actors, “selling their blood”, as it were [i]. Despite this, as athletes held to the highest physical standards, perhaps in all of history, they would have been paragons of masculinity. As such, they were just as popular in Roman society as modern professional athletes are today; their power over women equally as strong. Girls or women would scratch graffiti on the walls of gladiator schools declaring their love for those who had captured their hearts. Graffiti in Pompeii, for example, identifies “Creces, with his trident, who catches the girls at night in his net” and who is the “lord of the girls”. And “Celadus, the Thracian, who makes the girls’ hearts beat faster”[ii].
Some gladiators took mistresses and even wives. In the gladiatorial school of Pompeii, the bodies of eight men and one woman were found. Expensive jewelry lay next to the woman, allowing us to hypothesize that she was a woman of means engaged in a rendezvous with a gladiator lover [iii]. This, along with other accounts, tells us that female members of the Roman aristocracy were just as vulnerable to their charms as anyone else.
SENATORS' WIVES AND EMPRESSES
One curious case involves a gladiator named Sergius and the wife of a senator, Eppia. Eppia fell in love Sergius and ran off with him to Alexandria. Their story is documented by Juvenal. He begins by asking,
“Was it good looks and youthfulness set Eppia on fire?
What did she see in him to endure being classed with
The gladiators? After all, her Sergius had already begun
To smooth his throat, an injured arm presaged retirement;
And his face was seriously disfigured, a furrow chafed
By his helmet, a huge lump on the bridge of his nose,
And a nasty condition provoking a forever-weeping eye.”
Sergius was decidedly not a looker. Juvenal can only justify Eppia’s attraction to him by saying:
“He was a gladiator, though. That makes them Hyacinthus;
That’s why she preferred him to children and country,
Husband and sister. They love the steel.”[iv]
His description captures what must have been a common sentiment among “ordinary” Roman men at the time – that were it not for the fact that they were gladiators, no one would have looked once in their direction.
Another story involves Faustina, the daughter of Emperor Antoninus Pious (AD 86-161) and the wife of Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180). It was said that she had fallen in love with a gladiator and that she grew obsessed with him. When she confessed this to her husband, he consulted with Chaldean soothsayers on how best to remedy her obsession. They advised him that the gladiator must be killed and that Faustina needed to bathe in his blood. According to the Historia Augustina, “When this was done, the passion was indeed allayed, but their son Commodus was born a gladiator, not really a prince;…[and that] Many writers, however, state that Commodus was really begotten in adultery, since it is generally known that Faustina, while at Caieta, used to choose out lovers from among the sailors and gladiators.” [v] Cassius Dio (AD 155-235) likewise describes how another empress, Messalina, third wife of Emperor Claudius (10BC – AD54), intervened to save a defeated gladiator who was one of her lovers. [vi]
Although we mostly think of gladiators in terms of their activities in the arena, like modern professional athletes, they held a strong appeal to women from all walks of life. Their claim to definitive masculinity (all modern gender theories aside) gave them a halo that many found hard to resist. It also allows us to consider them in a more nuanced light. They were more than just fighters engaged in life and death spectacle. They were the male sex symbols of the Roman world. And they were the ones who got all the girls.
[i] Nossov, Konstantin. Gladiator: The Complete Guide to Ancient Rome’s Bloody Fighters, Lyons Press, 2011, p 148.
[ii] Meijer, Fik. The Gladiators, Thomas Dunne Books, 2004, p 70.
[iii] Nossov, 155.
[iv]Juvenal. The Satires, translated by A.S. Kline, 2011, web.ics.purdue.edu/~rauhn/Hist_416/hist420/JuvenalSatirespdf.pdf, SatVI:82-113.
[v]“The Life of Marcus Aurelius: Part 2.” Historia Augusta, Loeb Classical Library,
1921, penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Historia_Augusta/Marcus_Aurelius/2*.html, 19.
[vi] Cassius Dio. Roman History. Vol. VII, Loeb Classical Library edition, 1924 http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/60*.html Book 60, 28.
“Toxic Masculinity” is a hot topic these days. A minority even imply that all masculinity is “toxic” and that there’s too much of it. Upon reflection, exaggerated arrogance, aggression, and ignorance are what they really seem to be describing; though these qualities are hardly limited to men. What is clear is that we are experiencing a cultural crisis of masculinity. As traditional values fade and men are increasingly being left without any clear direction of how to be in the world, it begs the question: is there a healthy masculinity? One that is worth saving?
The Romans experienced a similar crisis of masculinity in the 1st Century BC. For them, masculinity was defined by their concept of virtus. Unlike today’s critics of masculinity, they saw the problem as there not being enough of it.
VIRTUS = ROMAN MASCULINITY
Virtus is where we derive our own word, virtue, but the two are not the same. Virtue covers a much wider set of qualities than virtus alone. To the Romans, virtus was among the most noble qualities a man could possess and was often counted as the single most important moral quality that made Rome and Romans superior to other nations and peoples. It represented nothing less than the Roman national character.
The basic definition of virtus is “manliness”, or “the qualities of a man at his best”. In early Roman history, it meant prowess in battle, courage in the face of the enemy, honesty, and self-control. While the military connotation of virtus would remain throughout Roman history, strength of character, readiness for action, and service to the state came to be key qualities of it for civilians as well as soldiers. Further, as the state developed and politicians and orators held greater influence, virtus also came to include courage in the face of shame. The satirist Lucilius (180-103 BC) also tells us that having a strong sense of morality was essential. He writes:
“…[a man should] be an enemy and hater of bad men and bad habits…a defender of good men of good habits or morals, to make much of these, to wish them well, to live with them as a friend, and, beyond these traits, to think of one’s fatherland, then of one’s relatives, and third and last of our own interests.”
In short, there was no room for thuggery in virtus. Rather, it was held as the quality by which a man could face life’s challenges bravely, responsibly, and morally.
Virtus was also not limited to men, citizens, or the elite. Livy (59 BC – 17 AD) tells the “novel” story of a woman named Cloelia who, in 506 BC, escaped an Etruscan camp and led a group of maidens to safety. The Romans later rewarded her with a statue to honor her virtus. Likewise, the paradoxical way Romans viewed Gladiators shows virtus cutting across class. In one sense Gladiators were the lowest of the low: slaves, prisoners of war, or criminals. Even those who voluntarily joined their ranks were held in contempt since they were “pimping their blood”, as it were. But they were also paragons of virtus. The way they courageously entered the arena, the valor they displayed in combat, and their willingness to face death when they lost served as an example of how a man should behave in the face of his duty and destiny.
ROMAN CRISIS OF MASCULINITY, 1ST CENTURY BC
But by the 1st Century AD, however, Roman masculinity, as demonstrated through virtus was in decline. With Roman successes came luxuria (luxury). Sallust (86-35 BC) writes that with luxuria “arose envy, evil ambition, the desire for domination and honors”. This was their “toxic masculinity”; though Sallust believed it was not masculinity at all. He saw in the character of Catiline (108-62 BC) the destination where such moral decay eventually led. In his time, many considered Catiline a demagogue; appealing to the lowest common denominator in society and seeking power through any means. He was accused of murder (including organizing the murder of his wife and son), adultery with a Vestal Virgin, bribery, and eventually treason – he had organized an armed coup to assassinate his political enemies and overthrow the Republic. It was only through the leadership of Cicero (106-43 BC), himself an advocate of virtus, that Catiline was defeated.
The antidote to luxuria was more virtus. Unfortunately, it was in short supply. It had even come to be seen as a little old-fashioned. Sallust identified Cato (95-46 BC), and Caesar (100-44 BC) as exceptions. Cato was a Senator known for his purist morality and strict support of the Republic. And Caesar was, well, Caesar. In a bizarre twist of fate, Cato and Caesar would find themselves on opposing sides in the civil war between Caesar and Pompey.
A STAR TO STEER BY
Though it may have been understood as something belonging to an earlier age, virtus would remain as an ideal of masculinity to be aspired to throughout the classical Roman period; only losing steam as Christian modes of thought and values become more dominant. Whether or not they fully lived it, however, virtus gave Roman men a star to steer by.
In this respect, one can see parallels between our present situation and that which befell the virtus of Roman men. With historically undreamed of wealth and prosperity, have we succumbed to the vices of luxuria? Have our own ideals of traditional masculinity such as chivalry, gentlemanliness, and living honorably become too old-fashioned to be practical? As we experience our own apparent crisis of masculinity perhaps we can learn something from the Romans. The answer lies not in destroying traditional masculinity altogether, but in promoting the very best qualities of it.
Bell, Sinclair. “Role-models in the Roman World.” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome. Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 7, Role Models in the Roman World. Identity and Assimilation (2008), pp. 1-39.
Boyd , Barbara Weiden. “Virtus Effeminata and Sallust’s Sempronia.” Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-2014), Vol. 117 (1987), pp. 183-201.
Buckingham, Timothy. “The Novus Homo and Virtus: Oratory, Masculinity, and the Self-Made Man.” CAMWS Meeting 2014, camws.org/meeting/2014/abstracts/individual/109.NovusHomo.pdf.
Cox, A.S. “To Do as Rome Does?” Greece & Rome, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Apr., 1965), pp. 85-96.
Elliot, Susan M. “Gladiators and Martyrs: Icons in the Arena.” The Fourth R, Volume 29, Issue 5
September – October 2016, www.westarinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Elliott-Gladiators-and-Martyrs.pdf.
Lind, L.R. “Concept, Action, and Character: The Reason for Rome’s Greatness.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 103 (1972), pp. 235-28.
Meijer, Fik. The Gladiators. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2007.
In the early 1900s at Knossos on the island of Crete, Sir Arthur Evans (1851-1941) began to uncover the ruins of one of the greatest civilizations of the Bronze Age. Not knowing what they called themselves, he called them Minoans, after the legendary King Minos of Crete from Greek mythology. What they called themselves, however, is among one of the many mysteries they left behind.
THE MYSTERIOUS MINOANS
Lasting from c. 2700–1400BC, the Minoans maintained cultural and trading ties with the other great civilizations of the Bronze Age throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. They had colonies on various Cycladic islands and were thought by Thucydides (c. 460–400 BC) to be the first great naval power in the Aegean. Yet mysteriously, they and their culture faded away around 1400BC; to be supplanted by the Mycenaeans of Mainland Greece (and the culture whose heroes inspired the Iliad and the Odyssey).
What’s more, in a time when all of the great civilizations in the “known world” glorified war, the Minoans left next to no evidence of their own military might. Instead, they left us art and artifacts rich in color, full of sophisticated designs, populated by elegant people, and set amidst elegant representations of the natural world. This is a sharp contrast to their contemporaries, who never missed a chance to inscribe their martial prowess on any surface they could find.
Likewise, there is little evidence of defensive walls or fortifications at any of the great Minoan centers. Even if they relied on the natural barrier of the sea to protect them from most threats, this alone could not account for the survival of their civilization for well over a millennia.
BULLS, DOUBLE-HEADED AXES, AND A BARE-BREASTED GODDESS
Certain symbols and motifs reoccur that have thus far also defied explanation. Bulls appear again and again in their art and artifacts. But what the animal represented to them is unknown. They also seemed to have practiced a sort of “bull-leaping” as seen in various depictions of youth vaulting over them in impossible feats of acrobatics. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the legend of the Minotaur (half-man/half-bull) in the Labyrinth (of Knossos) came to be tied to Crete.
Another symbol revered by the Minoans was the double-headed axe or labrys. One might suppose that over time, Knossos (or Crete in general), having once been known as the home of the labrys came to be interpreted as the place of the Labyrinth.
The repeated representation of a goddess of priestess, bare-breasted with her arms upraised and sometimes holding snakes also remains unexplained. Some have suggested that she represents a great Mother Goddess, possibly an early form of the Greek Titaness Rhea, the mother of the gods. Considering Zeus was said to have been born on Crete, and that the double-headed axe also came to be associated with him, there could be some truth to this.
What would help us in all of this would be if we had records written by the Minoans. Or at least understand those we do.
Both Minoan hieroglyphs (used c. 2000–1650BC) and Linear A (c. 1700–1400 BC), the Minoan system(s) of writing, have eluded our best attempts at deciphering them. The closest we have is Linear B (deciphered as an early form of Greek), which drew inspiration from Linear A but was used by the Mycenaeans as the Minoans had faded away.
Which brings us back to what they called themselves.
Unfortunately, unless Linear A yields its secrets to us, we may never know for certain. But we DO know what other civilizations of their day called them. Perhaps from that, we can move a little closer to an answer.
PEOPLE OF THE ISLANDS
Egyptian records speak of the Keftiu, or, the “People of the Islands” from the “Great Green Sea”. Prior to Evans’ discovery at Knossos, references on papyri as well as inscriptions and pictures of the Keftiu in the tombs of Pharaohs had puzzled Egyptologists. But once Knossos and other Minoan sites on Crete began to reveal their secrets, it turned out that the Keftiu were Minoans.
Inscriptions on the base of base of a statue at Amenhotep III’s mortuary temple lists a number of cities located in the Aegean under the headings of Keftiu and Tanaja (identified as Mainland Greece). Interestingly, the first two it lists for Keftiu (Crete) are Amnisa and Kunusa. These are respectively, Amnisos (the ancient port of Knossos) and Knossos itself. What’s remarkable is the closeness their names are to their Greek names. If the names on the inscriptions were so close with those names, could Crete itself have been named something close to Keftiu by the Minoans themselves?
It is entirely possible that at the very least, they went by a name that began with a “K” or hard “C” sound as we see in Keftiu. The Mesopotamian and Canaanite name for Crete was Caphtor (or Kaptaru). There are a number of references to items from Bronze Age Crete including one mentioning clothing and textiles made “in the Caphtorian manner”. Another tablet c. 1750 BC tells us how Zimro-Lim, King of the Mari, had “one pair of leather shoes in the Caphtorian style, which to the palace of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, Bahdi-Lim carried, but were returned.”
SO WHAT WERE THEY CALLED?
Again, we can’t say with any certainty what the Minoans called themselves. However, from what we do know, two possibilities present themselves.
The first is that they called themselves something completely different than anything we could ever imagine. Anyone in the future, for example, finding English records of Japan would have no clue that the Japanese call Japan “Nippon” and themselves “Nipponjin”.
However considering the close geographical proximity of Crete to Egypt and Mesopotamia, another compelling possibility emerges. Today the names of various countries and peoples differ from language to language, but most countries have a similar sound even in another language, especially when geographically close. Consider England and Angleterre (French), Inglaterra (Spanish), Angliya (Russian), etc. If a similar situation existed in the Bronze Age, we can hypothesize that if they were called Keftiu by the Egyptians and Captor by the Mesopotamians and Canaanites, they may have had a name that began with the sound of a K or a hard C. Ironically, the way Crete does, today.
So while we may not know precisely what they called themselves and their island home, until we’re able to decipher the Minoan hieroglyphs or Linear A, that might be as close as we can get. At the very least, it brings us one step closer to understand who the Minoans really were.
Cline, Eric H. 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. Princeton University Press, 2014.
Cline, Eric. H. and Steven M. Stannish. “Sailing the Great Green Sea? Amenhotep III’s “Aegean List” from Kom el- Hetan, Once More.” Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections, vol. 3:2, 2011 6–16, journals.uair.arizona.edu/index.php/jaei/article/view/111/109.
Cottrell, Leonard. The Bull of Minos. Pan Books, 1955.
Luis, Mireia Movellán. “Rise and Fall of the Mighty Minoans.”National Geographic, www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2017/09-10/Minoan_Crete/.
The southern coast of Spain and Portugal once comprised the homeland of a lost civilization known as Tartessos. It lay beyond the Pillars of Hercules and was widely renowned for its incredible wealth and the influence it brought. It also mysteriously vanished in the middle of the first millennium BC, leading some to believe it was the inspiration for Plato’s Atlantis or a descendent civilization of it. The origins of Tartessos, its people, and its fate remain a mystery. During its peak, it was like the ancient world’s version of El Dorado: a distant, exotic land of wonder full of riches unimaginable.
Traditionally, Tartessos is thought to have risen to prominence from 9th to the 6th Century BC, when the Phoenicians and the Greeks, with their vast trading networks, really put it on the map. The Phoenicians even established colonies there; Gadir (modern Cadiz) being the most notable. However, there is good reason to believe it was much older. Diodorus Siculus, writing in the 1st Century BC, confirms that the Phoenicians had arrived in Tartessos looking for silver well before they started establishing colonies there. Since Gadir (modern Cadiz) is said to have been established by the Phoenicians in roughly 1100 BC, Tartessos itself must have had an earlier beginning.
Archaeological and metallurgical evidence also tells us that the indigenous Tartessians had already developed the technology for mining that would produce the fabulous wealth that Tartessos became known for before the arrival of colonists from the Eastern Mediterranean. Located as it was in close proximity to the Iberian Pyrite Belt, it was loaded with silver, gold, copper, tin, and to a lesser extent, iron.
Tartessos is also the only civilization outside of the Middle East mentioned in the Old Testament. There it is referred to as “Tarshish”. In fact, it was there that Jonah tried to flee before the whale swallowed him. Other verses reference connections with King Solomon and Hiram, King of Tyre (c. 980-947) and speak to its great wealth in metals:
2 Chronicles 9:21: “For the king’s [Solomon] ships went to Tarshish with the servants of Hiram [King of Tyre c. 980-947]; once every three years the ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.”
Other ancient texts also speak to its age and great riches – especially silver. One collection of texts called “On Marvelous Things Heard” (and attributed to Artistotle), says: “It is said that the first Phoenicians who said to Tartessos took away so much silver as cargo, carrying there olive-oil and other petty wares, that no one could keep or receive the silver but that on sailing away from the district they had to make all their other vessels of silver, and even all the anchors.”
Likewise, Herodotus tell us that it was the Phocaeans who were “the first of the Hellenes who made long voyages, and these are they who discovered the Adriatic and Tyrsenia and Iberia and Tartessos…” and that “they became friends with the King of the Tartessians whose name was Arganthonios (meaning “The Silver King”): he was ruler of the Tartessians for eighty years and lived in all one hundred and twenty.”
Apart from its legendary wealth and general location, however, Tartessos remains a mystery. Its precise location (especially of its capital), its people, its culture, and what happened to it are all questions that have yet to be answered.
Today, Tartessos it is thought to have been located in Western Andalusia in the region of the modern Huelva, Seville, and into the Portuguese region known as the Algarve. Many think that its capital lay somewhere near the mouth of the Guadalquivir River.
One archaeologist, Adolf Schulten spent much of his career looking for Tartessos and until his death in 1960, insisted that its capital city lay beneath the modern Doñana National Park. Unfortunately, due to the high water table, excavations were foiled.
More recently, Peter Daughtrey, in his book Atlantis and the Silver City, makes a strong case for Arganthonios’s (Herodotus’ “Silver King”) capital being in the Portugese Algarve where the modern city of Silves is located. He also speculates, with some considerable justification, that the Tartessian culture was a descendant culture of the fabled Atlantis.
Two sites in particular offer some tantalizing clues to Tartessian culture.
The first is Cancho Roano, which functioned as a sanctuary from the 7th to the 5th century BC. It is located remarkably inland for a Tartessian site. It consists of 4 sanctuaries, each built on top of the one before. It appears to have been purposefully abandoned in the 5th Century BC, for no apparent reason. There is evidence of one final ceremony that saw bones, pots, plates, and vases thrown into the moat of the 4th stage of the sanctuary, after which the main entrance sealed and the building set on fire.
nother site nearby, Casas del Turuñuelo, was also abandoned around the same time and in a similar fashion: a final ceremony, with animal sacrifice, followed by burning and abandonment. In this case, horse remains were arranged purposefully, sometimes in pairs and with their heads entwined. Was the horse a sacred animal to them? Also found were artefacts from across the known world at the time; a testament to the far reaching trade connections exercised by the Tartessians and their Phoenician and Greek trading partners.
The Phoenicians always held the strongest influence in determining the evolution of later Tartessian culture. One ancient source mentions that the Tartessians worshiped the Phoenician Melqart (the equivalent of Heracles) and Astarte, the Phoenician goddess of war and love. What the indigenous beliefs of the Tartessians were originally is unknown.
The origin of their writing system has proven controversial. It is frequently argued that the Tartessian script, also known as the Southwestern script was derived from Phoenician and Greek influences. Some have suggested, however, that it was the other way around. The Roman historians, Tacitus and Diodorus Siculus, both attest that the Phoenicians did not invent their writing but received it from elsewhere. If the Tartessian script was the source, this would alter a lot of our understanding of the ancient world.
What makes it even more jaw-dropping is something that Strabo (64BC-AD34) tells us about the Turdetani: the Iberian tribe that some claim the Tartessians morphed into after their power and influence waned; even going so far as to call them “doppelgangers”. He says this about them:
“They are the most cultured of all Iberians; they employ the art of writing and have written books containing memorials of ancient times, and also poems and laws set in verse, for which they claim an antiquity of six thousand years.” This of course lends credence to those who would see Tartessos as Atlantis or at least a descendent of it.
After the Phoenicians started leaving in the 6th century BC, on account of their own homeland being invaded by Persia, Tartessos as it was known fades away as well. Its Greek contacts were also largely cut off due to conflicts between the Greeks and Carthaginians.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM?
What became of shining Tartessos and its people? No one knows. Perhaps they did become what Roman writers referred to as the Turdetani and quite possibly, also the Conii tribe, whose lands were in the Portugese Algarve and into parts of the Badajoz province in Spain – where we find Cancho Roano and Casas del Turuñuelo. Why they abandoned these sites we may never know.
One text, the Ora Maritima, written by Avienus in 300 AD, but whose source material is thought to have been a much older Carthaginian travel narrative from the 6th century says this about Tartessos:
… It was a great and wealthy city
In ancient times. Now it is poor, now it is small,
Now it is forsaken. Now it is a heap of ruins.
We saw nothing wonderful here,
Except the festival of Hercules.
But there was such power in those rites, or such glory,
In a former age…
Though Tartessian glory seems to have faded fast so great was its reputation, that it was still being referenced hundreds of years later. The Greek traveler and geographer Pausanias, in the second century AD tells us about a bronze treasury dedication at Olympia made by the Sicyonians in 648BC. He says: “In the treasury were two chambers, one Dorian, and one in the Ionic style. I saw that they were made of bronze; whether the bronze was Tartessian, as the Eleans declare, I do not know.” Even as late as the 2nd century AD, Tartessian wares were STILL known and considered to be objects of rare value.
Today, the mystery of Tartessos endures. A lost civilization full of riches spoken of in reverent tones by other ancient civilizations dazzles the mind with the prospect of uncovering hidden secrets and treasure. In light of this, perhaps the greatest mystery is why so few have heard of it. Until now.
Adams, Mark. Meet me in Atlantis. Dutton, 2015.
Ancient History Encyclopedia. “Tartessos.” www.ancient.eu/tartessos/.
Bartos, Nick. “Beyond the Pillars of Hercules – Excavating an Iron Age seat of power.” Current World Archaeology, www.world-archaeology.com/issues/beyond-the-pillars-of-hercules-excavating-an-iron-age-seat-of-power/.
Celestino, Sebastián and Carolina López-Ruiz. “Sacred Precincts: A Tartessian Sanctuary in Ancient Spain.” Archaeology Odyssey, web.archive.org/web/20031203010404/http://www.bib-arch.org/bswb_AO/bswbao0606f1.html.
Chamorro, Javier G. “Survey of Archaeological Research on Tartessos.” American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 91, No. 2 (Apr., 1987), pp. 197-232.
Daughtrey, Peter. Atlantis and the Silver City. Pegasus Books, 2013.
Kühne, Rainer W. “Tartessos-Tarshish was the model for Plato’s Atlantis.” 2011, vixra.org/pdf/1103.0040v1.pdf.
López-Ruiz, Carolina. “Tarshish and Tartessos Revisited: Textual Problems and Historical Implications.” in M. Dietler and C. López-Ruiz (eds.) Colonial Encounters in Ancient Iberia: Phoenician, Greek, and Indigenous Relations, The University of Chicago Press, 2009, pp. 255-80.
Pithom. “Why Semitic Tarshish is Greek Tartessos.” 1 Jan 2011, againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/2011/01/01/tarsh-tart/.
Villarías-Robles, Juan J.R. and Antonio Rodríguez-Ramírez. “The Representation of the Kingdom of Tartessus by the Ancient Greeks Revisited: New Evidence for a Forgotten Cause.” International Conference: Ancient Greece and Contemporary World: The Influence of Greek Thought on Philosophy, Science and Technology (Ancient Olympia, Greece, 2831 Aug 2016).
Primary Sources can be found at:
“Tartessos (Spain) 65 Huelva? – Ταρτησός.” ToposText, Aikaterini Laskaridi Foundation, topostext.org/place/373000PTar.