All posts by Thomas Martin

Comfort Rich in Friendship: The Ibrahim Pasha Hotel

We were thinking about our trip to Istanbul again and we decided to give you more details about what we saw and experienced! As you may know, Istanbul is historically known as Constantinople and Byzantium. It is culturally rich in history and rather marked with its heritage—and you do know that we’re nuts for anything that’s dripping with history.

The focus of our discussion today is the Ibrahim Pasha Hotel. It’s a lovely boutique hotel located in a rather quiet street in Sultanahmet, Istanbul. The furnishings speak of a nod to Ottoman architecture which is warm to the eyes. The rooms are homey and comfortable in size (something that is often overlooked in boutique hotels). You can request double beds or a queen sized bed.

Who is Ibrahim Pasha?

Born in March 15, 1495, this is a man with several achievements under his belt. Depending on the stage of his life, his name changes quite a bit. He could be known as Pargali Ibrahim Pasha (Ibrahim Pasha of Parga), Frenk Ibrahim Pasha (the Westener), Makbul Ibrahim Pasha (the Favorite), and finallyMaktul Ibrahim Pasha (the Executed). His titles varied because of his very special friendship with Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and the changes that occurred therein.

Ibrahim was born a Christian and was enslaved during his youth. He had met the young Suleiman at this time and became rather close with him. One of the more striking points about their friendship was that the Sultan had vowed that he would never take Ibrahim’s life.

The two were so close in fact that when Suleiman came into the throne, he appointed Ibrahim as Grand Vizier that replaced Piri Mehemed Pasha—the man the previous Sultan had appointed.  Ibrahim was rather good at his post brokering deals that strengthened trade and military accomplishments in the 13 years he held his position. One of his more notable achievements is convincing Charles V to turn Hungary into an Ottoman vassal state.

Ibrahim’s fell from grace occurred when he awarded himself a title that included the word ‘Sultan’ in it. This, according to word of mouth from the locals, was an opportunity that Hurrem Sultan (Sultan’s wife) used to her advantage. The Sultan, who had a vow to never take Ibrahim’s life, had to acquire a fetva. Suleiman built a mosque and this allowed him to take back his oath. After acquiring the fetva, the Sultan announced Ibrahim’s intended execution.

In the latter years, Suleiman greatly regretted having Ibrahim’s execution. Some say that the drastic change in the demeanor of the Sultan was a reflection of this. The Sultan gradually withdrew from governing and wrote several poems that emphasized the topics of friendship and of love and trust between friends.

What to See

Now that you have a better idea of the person the establishment is named after, let’s delve into the historically rich surroundings that you can find not even a stone’s throw away. The 6th century Hagia Sophia Museum, which is closed on Mondays, is nearby. Opposite the Hagia Sophia is the Byzantine Basilica Cistern. Across the hotel is the 17th century Blue Mosque—one of the more famous landmarks in the area.

If you’re looking to shop, the Covered Bazaar is ten minutes away on foot. If you want to really feel the Turkish history, visit Hurrem Sultan or Cembelitas for a traditional Turkish bath experience.

One of a Kind Stay

The Ibrahim Pasha Hotel is surrounded by walls and streets that just ooze with history. Oh if only these walls could talk, I wonder what stories they’d tell! If you ever find yourself in the area, staying at The Ibrahim Pasha Hotel is something you should try!

Windtalkers Final Part

Windtalkers Movie Nicholas Cage

Sergeant Joe Enders (Nicholas Cage): Honestly a better title for this movie would have been, Sergeant Enders: An American Hero. Rather than a film about the Navajo Code Talkers, which Windtalkers implies, the whole film is about Nicholas Cage winning the Battle of Saipan all by himself. The majority of the battle scenes are focused on Cage and his emotional turmoil, having had his whole detachment slaughtered in a flashback earlier in the movie. For all intents and purposes, Cage is bulletproof for 99% of the movie. He is constantly shown embarking on Rambo-like rampages where he kills all the Japanese with no problem at all. Amid the array of gunfire from the opposition, Cage remains untouched. Ben Yahzee only helplessly watches as Cage shoots an entire screen of enemies all at once whether it is one-handed, without looking, or behind the back. It is ironic that he even gets wounded. At one point in the movie, Yahzee gets wounded and both Cage and Yahzee fall. With a left arm wound and in the process of falling, Cage manages to turn around and kill four guys before he hits the ground.  Then, he shoots four more enemies one-handed with a pistol without even aiming before any of them get a shot off. Soon after, while wounded in his left arm and right leg, he picks up Yahzee over his shoulder and carries him across the battlefield. Somehow, on the brink of death, he manages to muster up the strength to lift up another human being over his shoulder with one arm and two wounds. The entire movie is based around Nicholas Cage making all the crucial kills, blowing up the bunker, receiving the Medal of Honor, and dying as the hero. Rambo is nothing compared to this guy.


Disregard for Morale: Leo Rosten once stated, “The best ‘morale’ movies are those which tell the individual the why, what, and how of the War, the Enemy, and the meaning of victory and of defeat.” Windtalkers failed to address any of these topics. In the opening of the movie, there is a brief introduction to code talking, Nicholas Cage is told to go to war again, and then we are thrown directly into the Pacific Theater without warning. There only a slight attempt to mention why the Navajos are even needed in the war before we are right in the middle of it. Woo seems too anxious to get to the action scenes without pausing to develop the story. Once we are thrown in the war, it is all fighting with little rest in between. There is no talk of the meaning of battle or even why American soldiers were needed in Saipan at all. Windtalkers gives the viewing audience no reason to identify with or even recognize the war effort.

Conclusion: Windtalkers is one of the worst war movies ever made. It deserves to be bashed in every allowable dimension. From a movie which had remarkable potential, John Woo erected a movie with a horrible, throw-away plot, fabricated war scenes, bad dialogue, and subpar acting. Especially in the eyes of the OWI and BMP, this movie was a humiliation. It failed all their criteria in the ways these organizations desired to affect the public on the basis of truth, realism, and morale. Ultimately, Windtalkers offers no relevance to its title and is, in essence, a random assortment of battle scenes thrown together equaling a dreadful war movie that is painful to sit through.

Windtalkers Part 2

Disregard for Navajo Intelligence: As a result of the historically erroneous orders given to Sergeants Enders in the beginning of the movie (protect the code at all costs), the Navajos are depicted as the babies and Enders is depicted as the babysitter. Throughout the majority of the movie, the Navajos are represented as helpless characters that can barely do their job of code talking, let alone fighting in a war. Especially in war scenes, the Navajos are absolutely clueless. The sergeants are constantly pulling them along and covering them all the time. Even when at gunpoint or relaying messages over the radio, they are hesitant and let their emotions interfere with their duty – hardly the characteristics of soldiers. When Ben Yahzee has a gun in his face, Enders is forced to come to the rescue and kill the enemy, which Yahzee does not have the backbone to do himself. He watches Enders slit the enemy’s throat and his eyes are filled with terror.  When Yahzee and Enders hide in the trenches, Yahzee crawls away from gunfire like he is deathly afraid and has no idea what he signed up for. At one point, Yahzee is told to put pressure on the wound of a dying comrade and he looks as if he is going to faint from the site of blood. Instead of representing the Navajos as strong Native Americans, who sacrificed their lives for our flag and were an essential part of the war effort, they were illustrated as wimpy boys who the audience believes are more likely to go AWOL than anything else. Instead of showing them as an asset, Navajos were shown as superfluous liabilities.

Neglect for the Code: There was no depiction of the Japanese efforts to decode the Navajo messages. The only 10 second segment that was dedicated to the complexity of the code was one baffled Japanese face. The film would have been much better if it had focused more on the coding, the central novelty that was foreshadowed by the title. In World War II, the Japanese were expert code breakers and it would have been beneficial to show their scrutiny and analysis of the Navajo messages with no success. The producer needed to relay the importance of the code, which is ultimately the reason why the U.S. was so effective in the Pacific Theater. The code allowed the U.S. troops to evade the interception of intelligence by the Japanese and aided in rectifying the strategic setbacks that previously occurred before it was created. In essence, Windtalkers neglected and devalued the Navajo Code Talkers along with everything they stood for.

Battle Setting: The Pacific Theater was one of the toughest places to battle in. Especially in the Battle of Saipan, soldiers were confronted with an overwhelming array of geographical obstacles to overcome. “Place names given the rugged Saipan terrain such as Death Valley, Purple Heart Ridge and Harakiri Gulch testify to the bitter fighting” (The Battle of Saipan). It was at these points where Americans troops suffered huge amounts of casualties. However, one might be fooled by the way that the terrain of Saipan is portrayed in Windtalkers. Truthfully, there were some wide-open hilly areas, but there was no depiction of the dense forests, mountains, steep ridges, or jungles of Saipan. Hollywood should have done a better job of showing the actual terrain rather than depicting what looked more like war games in someone’s backyard.

Additionally, Windtalkers showed very little evidence that the movie took place during World War II. Trench warfare was a characteristic of the Great War, not World War II. The Japanese were shown in trenches at the top of the hills as the American troops rushed toward them, even though, static defenses were not a huge part of the War of Attrition. Static defenses were quickly penetrated by large tank formations, which discouraged their use. The only justification that identified the battle in the movie as part of World War 2 was the use of enhanced technology, including radar, flamethrowers, and strategic airstrikes.

Battle Scenes: Windtalkers featured some of the most unrealistic battle scenes ever shot in American film. Every single scene looked fabricated and unauthentic. One of the most obvious impracticalities was the shoot to kill ratio for both the Japanese and Americans. Every time the Americans shot at the Japanese, the Japanese fell. Yet, the Japanese could not hit the broadside of a barn. Even at close range, the Japanese fell to our American troops. Perhaps, this aspect of the film was a rendering of American heroism because it lacked any connection to reality. The film glorified the Americans at every chance it got and belittled the Japanese.

Windtalkers made every attempt to illustrate how the Americans were superior. Throughout the movie, the Japanese soldiers were represented as senseless dolts, not at all worthy to even battle the American troops. There were various scenes where they were shown shooting each other, blowing each other up, or running out in the open and giving away their position. Even when charging the Americans, half the time they did not have their guns up and ready to shoot. For example, in the opening battle scene, the Japanese gave up a strong, fortified uphill position to run down and charge toward the Americans, who had just settled behind cover and were shooting. Who, in his or her right mind, would ever give up that position? They clearly had the strategic advantage in positions where the Americans could barely hit them, but they chose to run down the middle of wide-open terrain and get shot.  Even when the Americans were in the open, they would rather charge them than go prone and shoot to kill.

Windtalkers Part 1

Introduction: On paper, Windtalkers (2002) had tremendous potential. A plot derived from the story of the Navajo Code Talkers’ considerable role in World War II was a very clever and unique idea for a film. Director John Woo had the chance to portray war from a completely different angle, unlike any other in the genre. However, the predisposed hype ultimately set up the viewing audience for a dreadful let down. Windtalkers takes place in the Pacific Theater during World War II. At this time, the U.S. continued to face strategic setbacks in the South Pacific because the Japanese found a way to translate American intel by breaking code transmissions. As a result, a new code routed in the language of the Navajo Indians was created to evade the Japanese intercepts. Sergeant Joe Enders (Nicholas Cage) and Sergeant Ox Henderson (Christian Slater) are called into action and are assigned as bodyguards to the Navajo Code Talkers, Private Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach) and Private Charlie Whitehouse (Roger Willie), respectively. Both are told to protect the code at all costs and then dispatched to fight. What begins with a promising opening, soon turns into a disaster. Windtalkers is one of the most unrealistic war movies ever made and completely neglects the importance of the Navajos. Especially for the OWI and BMP, who stake their reputation on depicting the most realistic characteristics of war and the unvarnished truth, the movie is a mere disgrace to their cause.

The Neglect and Demeaning of the Navajo Code Talkers

Their Actual Role: In reality, the Navajo Code Talkers played a major role in every U.S. assault for all three years the U.S. participated in World War II (Naval History and Heritage).

“They served in all six Marine divisions, Marine Raider battalions and Marine parachute units, transmitting messages by telephone and radio in their native language a code that the Japanese never broke. The code talkers’ primary job was to talk, transmitting information on tactics and troop movements, orders and other vital battlefield communications…They also acted as messengers, and performed general Marine duties. Praise for their skill, speed and accuracy accrued throughout the war” (Naval History and Heritage).

The communication skills of the Navajos were crucial to all efforts against the Japanese in the Pacific Theater. “At Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, declared, ‘Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima’ ” (Naval History and Heritage). For people that were so vital to the U.S. in the war, Windtalkers did them no justice.

After having watched the film, one might wonder why that is even the title.  The Navajo Code Talkers in the movie, Yahzee and Whitehorse, are more like background characters than anything else. There is no emphasis placed on their role as code talkers or the role code talking played in the war effort. Besides for the brief introduction of code talking in the classroom, there is no depiction of how difficult it was to actually administer a message during combat.

Historically Inaccurate: Throughout the whole movie, the code talkers were only called on three times and it was to radio coordinates for airstrikes, a feat that is historically inaccurate. The Navajos radioed messages about battle updates, strategies, and military orders to other U.S. marines, not airstrikes. Code Talkers were employed more for intelligence than actual battle. They were used to safeguard important messages that needed to be passed from battalion to battalion: information that could easily destroy the Americans if the Japanese decoded it. Communicating coordinates for an airstrike does not qualify as an important message or one that even needs to be coded because it doesn’t matter if the Japanese understood it or not. Even if the Japanese did understand it, any effort to move all their heavy machinery and gun emplacements before the strike would be futile. At most, they could prevent a few casualties, but the whole point of the airstrike was to take out their heavy guns and strongly fortified uphill position. Clearly, this was a misguided attempt to show the Navajos importance in battle.

Later on, the movie depicted another fallacy. It showed Sergeant Enders killing Whitehorse with a grenade so he did not fall into enemy hands. This was another event that never happened in real life, perhaps a utilization of Hollywood’s creative license. The soldiers were told to try to keep the Code Talkers alive, but they were not told to keep them from being captured. Code Talkers were taught just like any other marine to not give up precious information if detained by the enemy. In Rosten’s eyes, this was a complete failure of the movie’s duty to “communicate facts about which the public is ignorant” because it only created more erroneous beliefs. Instead of clarifying for the audience, the movie in fact, filled their heads with more false information, and in turn, tarnished the memory of the Navajos.

The Status of Women in Egypt and the Reign of Hatshepsut

The article “The Social and Political Position of Women in Ancient Egypt,” written by Amelia Blanford Edwards in 2005, describes the high status of women in Ancient Egypt at a time when women in many other cultures were not seen as equals.  Edwards begins her article by referring to her studies of Ancient Egypt, most of which support her thesis that women and men were of equal status in Egyptian society.  The article delves in depth into the reign of each and every pharaoh that had an effect on the status of women.

Amelia Edwards is very qualified to write an article on Egypt.  Edwards has written novels, short stories, “popular histories”, and other literature.  She is the cofounder of the Egypt Exploration Fund and has received honorary degrees from Smith College and Columbia College for her scholastic and literary achievements.  It was also stated in the article that she has established a second career, advocating for a new science called Egyptology (842).   Edwards has studied Egypt very extensively and seems to know a great deal about the subject.  The only possible bias I can see is that her gender may affect her views on the equality of women in ancient Egypt.

The majority of the sources used in the article are primary sources.  The primary sources range from sculptured monuments to inscriptions on funeral tablets.  For example, in the first page of her article, Edwards writes about funeral monuments from the Great Pyramids of Giza.  She states that the statues were made in memory of a husband and wife (847).  The statue of the husband is the same size as the statue of the wife, which allows Edwards to infer that both the man and the woman were of equal social status.  As with the majority of Edwards’s sources, this example was very relevant to her thesis; many historians have used the size of statues as reinforcement for the idea that women and men were seen as equals in ancient Egypt.

Although many of Edwards’s sources are very legitimate, I questioned her use of one particular funeral tablet.  Edwards quotes a statement supposedly spoken by the first queen of Egypt, Queen Merhetep.  In the statement, the speaker describes her gratitude for being blessed with knowledge and words, and she also describes the praise she received for her successes as a ruler.  Edwards uses this source to infer that women could occupy positions in society based on intellect instead of beauty.  She does state that a scribe may have written these words down as having been spoken by the queen even if they were not, but still I feel as though this source should be omitted from the article.  Edwards has plenty of other, more legitimate sources to back up her thesis.

There are no real strong points or weak points to the article; the article is consistent the whole way through.  Edwards’s basic format for the article is to write about a certain period in Egypt, give an example that supports her thesis, and then explain why that example supports her thesis.  With regard to history, Edwards sees it as being motivated by important individuals.  Each person that she mentions has a specific effect on the status of women in Egypt.  There are no other apparent forces driving change in Egyptian society.

Based on the amount of information given in the article on Hatshepsut, it is obvious that Edwards sees her as being one of the most important individuals in changing the status of Egyptian women.  Hatshepsut had married Thothmos II.  When he died, she decided to reign alone instead of marrying her younger brother, which would have been customary (849).  This bold action provides the foundation for Edwards’s focus on Hatshepsut.  She then writes about Hatshepsut’s titles, which included high priestess, a rank historically filled by men (851).  Edwards then used these two important pieces of information to support the idea that Hatshepsut helped improve the political status of women through her bold actions as the new pharaoh.

The subject of this article is a very dry topic, but Edwards does a good job of keeping the reader interested.  I think that overall, the article was very well written and informative.  I had previously thought that men and women were not equal in Egyptian society because of the fact that the Pharaoh was almost always a man.  Edwards provides very strong evidence which suggests that men and women were indeed both politically and socially equal.  This article has changed my perspective on the status of women in Egyptian society because there are many sources that show women being treated as equals.  I would recommend this article to anyone who is interested in ancient Egypt because the reader will learn a great deal about the history of Egypt while Edwards establishes her thesis.

Nubia’s Relation to Egypt

The article “Diffusion, Biological Determinism, and Biocultural Adaptation in the Nubian Corridor,” written by David S. Carlson and Dennis P. Van Gerven in 1979, suggests that in situ evolution better explains the diffusion, biological determinism, and biocultural adaptation of Nubia than does the previously applied historical diffusionist paradigm.  Carlson and Van Gerven state that the purpose of this article is first to review investigations of the cultural history of Lower Nubia and examine the way in which skeletal remains have been used to “reconstruct” the cultural history of Nubia, and then to propose alternative methods of using skeletal remains.

David Carlson and Dennis Van Gerven are both highly qualified to write an article on this topic.  Carlson graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1974 with a Ph. D. in physical anthropology.  From there, he went to the University of Michigan where he completed his postdoctoral fellowship in craniofacial anomalies.  He has published a number of articles on craniofacial anomalies and has written books on related areas of biology and muscle adaptation.  These qualifications support his coauthored thesis that in situ evolution best explains the various cultural changes of Nubia.  A possible bias of Carlson could be an overemphasis on the effect he sees geographical location having on the evolution and development of groups of people.

Dennis Van Gerven graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a Ph. D. in physical anthropology three years earlier than Carlson, in 1971.  Upon graduation, Van Gerven taught anthropology at the University of Kentucky before transferring to the University of Colorado, in 1975.  He has written a plethora of articles on Early Nubia and on the skeletal biology of the Amerindian populations, which are indigenous to Brazil.  Van Gerven is likely subject to the same bias as Carlson.

This article reviews the use of primary sources by other researchers and anthropologists in explaining the cultural history of Nubia.  Due to the nature of this article, it is somewhat difficult to follow without having read the writings of the aforementioned researchers and anthropologists.  Nubia was located in Southern Egypt, in what is today Sudan.  Originally, Nubia was formed as a separate kingdom within Egypt.  According to William Adams and Anthony Arkell, numerous artifacts found in Nubia strongly suggest a trade-based relationship between Egypt and Nubia (564).  However, during the Second Intermediate Period in Egypt, it is believed that Egyptian military forces moved into Nubia and remained for an extended period of time (565).  This information is supported by primary sources from both Lower Nubia and Egypt.

After examining the work of many other researchers and anthropologists, David Carlson and Dennis Van Gerven proposed that many of the conclusions made about the cultural history of Nubia were very biased, possibly because of the “Romantic and simplistic notions popular in the 19th century” (576).  Carlson and Van Gerven believed that the previously accepted methods of anthropological questioning were inaccurate.  For example, in 1966, Michael Crichton analyzed the evolution of early Egyptian groups without giving consideration to the possible effect of geography (572).  Carlson and Van Gerven believed that geography needs to be considered because the groups Crichton identified were located 432 kilometers apart.  Carlson and Van Gerven stated that geographical adaptation probably played a strong role in the evolution of these early Egyptian groups.

Throughout the discussion section of the article, David Carlson and Dennis Van Gerven give many example of poor research done in the past.  I see these examples as the strong point of the article because they are very specific, detailed, and descriptive.  For each example, Carlson and Van Gerven identified flaws in the research of others and provided reasoning in regard to why they believed each example to be flawed.  The most prominent weakness in the critique by Carlson and Van Gerven is that they do not provide enough primary sources to support their conclusions on the research of others.  They draw conclusions based primarily on their years of schooling rather than drawing conclusions based upon research done by others.  This makes it difficult for the reader to assess the validity of the statements made by the coauthors.  Based on simple research online, I believe the cited research to be valid.

I feel that the subject of this article is very interesting because of the biological references included in the decision making of the various researchers mentioned.  Overall, the article was well written and informative.  I knew that Nubia was a separate kingdom within Egypt, but I never really considered the effect this location could have on Nubia.  In regard to anthropological research methods, most of the information I read was new to me.  However, I can clearly see why David Carlson and Dennis Van Gerven were frustrated with the lack of consideration given to the effect of geographical location on the evolution and development of groups in both Egypt and Nubia.  I would recommend this article to people who have an anthropological background because it is not an easy read.

The Origins of Civilization – Iraq, the Cradle of Civilization

The Origins of Civilization – Iraq, the Cradle of Civilization

Civilization of Sumer

The Origins of Civilization – Iraq, the Cradle of Civilization is one of a series of programs that uncover the history of ancient civilizations and evaluate their effects on present-day people.  Michael Wood, a historian and the narrator of the film, travels to Baghdad, Ur, and Sumer, the locations of the world’s first cities.  The film, created in 1991, promotes the thesis that life in Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq, did not change much until the discovery of oil around the time of the Gulf War.

The film covers the time period from the 26th century B.C. all the way to the year 1991.  In order to ensure its accuracy, I cross-referenced some of the information from the film with The American Encyclopedia and the History Channel website.  I also read film reviews from The New York Times,, and

Over the course of the film, I learned a great deal about the rich history of Iraq.  Sumer was the first recorded attempt in history to bring people together into an organized society.   Sumer was located in Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers; this area, in Southern Iraq, is considered to be the biblical Garden of Eden.  Mesopotamia did not have stone, wood, or any precious metals, but it did have water and soil.  Every year, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers would overflow, laying down a thick layer of silt, rich with vitamins and minerals; this made farming relatively easy and allowed for permanent settlement on the land because food could be grown and stored in great quantities.  Unfortunately, over the course of time, the land would be destroyed from overuse.  People had yet to discover that the fertility of the Earth had to be balanced with the demands of civilization.

The Sumerian civilization began with the foundation of the first known city in the history of the world, Eridu.  Founded in 5300 B.C., Eridu was built around a religious center.  In the middle of the city was a temple, which was built on top of a step pyramid and then dedicated to the gods; this was known as a ziggurat.

As the Sumerian population continued to increase, new cities were built along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  It was at this time that we saw the creation of the first form of writing and the first law.  Cuneiform script was developed to tell the story of one of the mythical kings of Uruk, Gilgamesh, who was best known for his heroic deeds.  His story gave the world its first piece of literature, known as the Epic of Gilgamesh.  This aided in the creation of the first law because cuneiform was used thereafter to record the legal codes that Sumerian citizens needed to abide by; the problem was that only very highly educated individuals, such as priests and scribes, could read the writing.

Overall, this film was very informative, but it could have been much better. My biggest criticism of the film was that it was relatively boring.  The facts and the history of Iraq were very interesting, but the manner in which the information was presented was not.  The film consisted of images of Iraq as it was in the year 1991.  The ruins of many of these ancient civilizations were either partially or completely covered in sand, meaning that the viewers could not tell what the cities looked like during their prime.  There were a few images of what some of the cities of Sumer may have looked like, but that was not enough.  Also, the constant images of the narrator standing on sand dunes, looking off into the sunset, while describing the destruction of the Sumerian civilization, were very cliché.

The film could be improved by adding more interactive features to better explain the information.  Maybe real photographs from these areas could be put into the film!  My friend Jake does tree removal and travels all over the place studying trees.  Ironically, he would be the perfect candidate because he’s been to the modern day area where Sumer used to be, for research.  Maybe someone could even create three-dimensional images of what the Sumerian civilizations may have looked like and incorporate those into the film.  Anything that would add more color to the film would be helpful as well.  A good film grabs the attention of the audience and holds onto it the whole time.


Byzantium: The Lost Empire

Byzantium: The Lost Empire

Following last week’s post about Byzantium, we thought it would be great to show you a fantastic documentary on this exact topic.  The documentary on the Byzantine Empire was originally aired on TV and is shown in 3 parts.  It has been loaded to YouTube for your viewing pleasure.

The video covers the entire timeline of Byzantine (Eastern Roman Empire) from it’s creation in the Middle Ages to it’s fall in the year 1453, when it was overrun by soldiers of the Ottoman Empire.  These documentaries take us through the building of the capital city of Constantinople, multiple events throughout centuries 4, 5, and 6, the rule of emperor Constantine, the legalization of the religion of Christianity, the rules of Heraclius and Justinian, and much more.


Prominence of the Byzantine Empire

Dr. Margo Stavros has a Ph. D. in Byzantine History.  On Monday, April 11th, Dr. Stavros began a three day lecture series on Byzantium covering from the 4th century to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in the 15th century.  Although time constraints forced Dr. Stavros to only briefly cover each century of the empire’s existence, she was able to give out a tremendous amount of information.

In my opinion, the significance of Byzantium lies in the growth of Christianity.  Constantine was the first emperor to support this minority religion.  In 313, Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which promoted religious toleration; this legalized the profession of Christianity.  During his reign, Constantine supported the Christian Church by restoring previously seized Church property, ending gladiatorial shows, restricting divorce, penalizing rape and adultery, making Sunday a holiday, forbidding animal sacrifice and divination, and financially supporting large building projects.  Three of the greatest buildings constructed during this period were the Basilica of St. Peter, the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Anastasis Rotunda.

In the 4th century, Emperor Constantine decided that it was his responsibility to clarify the Christian beliefs due to lingering theological controversy.  As a result, he organized the first Ecumenical Church Council at Nicaea.  This council was composed of Christian bishops who were charged with the duty of determining the nature of Christ and creating imperial policy toward dissident Christian groups.  The council defined Christ as being of the same substance as the Father; this meant that the Son and the Father were separate, but were considered one God.  This statement by the ecumenical council came to be known as the Nicene Creed, and is still recited today.  Because of Emperor Constantine’s involvement in this matter, the ecumenical statement had the effect of law.  Upon his death, the Christian Church canonized Constantine as a saint.

Although Emperor Constantine had a great effect on the promotion of Christianity, he was not the only ruler to endorse the Christian religion.  Emperor Theodosius I was also a supporter of Christianity.  Upon falling ill in 380 AD, he received the Christian sacrament of baptism; this act made him an official member of the Christian church.  Ten years later, Theodosius created a number of laws that prohibited the practice of any religion but Christianity.  However, issuing imperial laws that made Christianity the state religion would not cause every person within the empire to automatically switch to Christianity.  Because Christianity was a minority religion in the Roman Empire, it took a long time for it to be widely accepted in society.

The most interesting part of the presentation was Dr. Stavros’ analysis of the Arch of Constantine.  Constructed by the Roman Senate in 312 AD, the Arch of Constantine commemorated Constantine’s victory over Maxentius.  The triumphal arch stood on the main thoroughfare of the Roman forum, measuring 82 feet by 69 feet.  The following message was inscribed on the arch:

           To the emperor Caesar Flavius Constantine Maximus, Pius Felix Augustus, since through divine inspiration and great wisdom he has delivered the state from the tyrant and all his factions, by his army and noble arms, the Senate and Roman People, dedicate this arch decorated with triumphal insignia.

This message signifies that Constantine had the support of both the Senate and the Roman people.  On the left side of the arch was a Hadrianic ad locutio scene known as the Sacrifice to Diana.  This particular scene contained a bunch of symmetrically sculpted figures that were located in the front of the sculpture.  At that time, hierarchical scale was used to show the most important figure in a scene.  Therefore, the largest figure in the scene was meant to represent Constantine.  Something very interesting that Dr. Stavros pointed out was that the sculptors of this arch disregarded traditional sculptural methods by using schematic shapes to mold the figures in the scene.  The methods used in the arch’s construction made the scene appear more static, which went against traditional Greco-Roman artistic sculpture by decreasing its naturalism.  Dr. Stavros believes that these sculptural changes were made purposefully in an attempt to reflect the potential for change in the future of the Roman Empire with Constantine as the leader.  Out of all the buildings and pieces of art Dr. Stavros spoke about, I would like to be an expert on the Arch of Constantine.  Dr. Stavros did not have time to cover all of the sculptural elements of the arch, but the elements she did manage to cover were fascinating.

In comparison to the prominent Byzantine Empire of Eastern Europe, Western Europe was unable to achieve political unity and faced a steady economic decline (Bulliet 235).  Western Europe was split up into a handful of different kingdoms under various Germanic rulers.  The Franks controlled most of Gaul, the Visigoths controlled Spain, and the Ostrogoths controlled Italy, present-day Austria, and present-day Hungary.  These changes led to the rise of medieval Europe.  Lords maintained self-sufficient property by having serfs work the land and perform services for free; these serfs were agricultural laborers who were legally bound to the lord, and were forced to work on manors.  This became increasingly prevalent as Western Europe became less stable.

At the same time, the Islamic Empire was beginning to form, as the Muslims became more numerous.  Following the teachings of the prophet Muhammad, Muslims spread the monotheistic religion of Islam.  Muslim armies fought with great force to establish an office that would rule the Islamic Empire.  This office came to be known as the caliphate, and the ruler came to be known as the caliph.  Under the second caliph, Umar, Arab armies conquered the Byzantine provinces of Syria, Egypt, and Tunisia between 634 and 650.  By 711, Muslims had even conquered Spain.  These conquests continued to expand the Islamic Empire, as Byzantium began to slowly decline.

The lecture series given by Dr. Stavros was very extensive in regard to the number of years it covered.  Her insights were both factual and interesting.  Dr. Stavros not only emphasized the importance of Byzantium, but she emphasized Byzantium’s effect on the surrounding areas as well.  As the Roman Empire began its decline, Western Europe’s struggling economy fostered medieval practices, and the Islamic Empire became more prominent.

The Archeological Contributions of Sir Flinders Petrie

The article “The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology,” written by Barbara Adams in 1984, describes the career and legacy of Sir Flinders Petrie, who is considered to be the father of modern archaeology. Adams writes about the many accomplishments of Petrie, which support her thesis that Petrie’s findings, located in the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, serve as a continuously expanding wealth of knowledge of Egyptian culture.

Barbara Adams began her career working as a scientific assistant in entomology at the British Museum of Natural History (“Barbara Adams, 1945-2002” 1). After seeing the Hollywood movie “Valley of the Kings,” Adams was inspired to study Egypt, so she sought employment at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. There, she registered items, answered inquiries, and performed conservation work on artifacts. After an archeological dig in Egypt, she wrote Ancient Hierakonpolis, her first of many books on the topic of Egypt and Egyptian culture. She was soon promoted to assistant curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archeology, and is credited with writing the museum’s first guide book for its collection. Although Barbara Adams did not have formal education in her field of work, she was considered an expert on Pre-Dynastic Egypt (“Barbara Adams, 1945-2002” 5). One possible bias of Adams could be the fact that she worked for the museum that Sir Flinders Petrie established; this certainly must have influenced her opinions about Petrie.

Adams begins her article by summarizing the work of Petrie in his early years, and writing about his contributions to the study of Egyptian culture. According to Adams, Petrie began his career in Egypt in 1881 (240). Over the course of about thirty-five years, Petrie excavated forty-three sites, published thirty-seven reports, and also published twelve catalogues. In 1923, he retired and moved to Palestine, where he continued to publish reports until his death. Adams believes that Petrie’s findings are extremely valuable to the academic society’s current knowledge of Egyptian technology and culture. Adams’s primary sources include a wide array of artifacts from The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. One specific item that Adams finds particularly interesting is a reconstructed statue of a lion, weighing half a ton and measuring only four and half feet in length; it is said to have been during the First Dynasty of Egypt (242). Adams cites many other important artifacts that were also found by Petrie, before explaining their current use. Adams says that today, Petrie’s collection of artifacts is unparalleled (244). The primary role of Petrie’s collection is to foster the study of Egyptian culture within the academic society, but it is also used to educate undergraduate students.
The main source for this article is Barbara Adams herself; therefore, her account of Petrie’s career and accomplishments serve as a secondary source. Because of this, the validity of the article should be questioned. Adams does include descriptions of a number of important artifacts from Petrie’s collection, which are considered primary sources; these improve the validity of the article, and strongly support her thesis. The information is this article can easily be cross-referenced with other scholarly articles on the same subject in order to ensure its content is valid.

The strong point of the article occurs toward the middle, in the section called “The Unique Nature of the Collections.” At this point, Adams has already described Petrie’s career. She then begins to describe why his collection of artifacts is so important. This section is very interesting because Adams includes pictures of each item that she describes, which allows the reader to better understand the subject matter. The only apparent weakness of the article is the lack of primary sources on Petrie’s background. Adams forces the reader to trust her statements because there is no support behind them.

The subject of this article is quite interesting. Sir Flinders Petrie seems to have devoted most of his life to the collection and study of Egyptian cultural elements. The article is well-written, and clearly states why Petrie was so crucial to the academic society’s current beliefs on these elements. Adams provides strong evidence that shows the importance of Petrie’s findings, but she does not provide any references for the background information she gives about him. I would recommend this article to undergraduates who are interested in the growing subject of Egyptology. Petrie’s discoveries provide the foundation for this topic and are crucial to fully understanding it.