Day with Macedonian Archaeology – Forms of Fatalist Beliefs in Ancient Macedonians

The most eminent mysteries of the ancient world took place on the island of Samothrace[1], located in the northern coast of the Aegean Sea, once regarded as the center of the mysterious cult of the Cabeiri venerated as protectors of sailors and ships, the meeting place of Philip and Olympias[2] amidst the celebration of the holiday of the Mighty Gods in the period from 365 to 361 BC, as recorded by Plutarch[3]. During the celebration, the ghosts of the dead were called upon and secretive rituals, orgies, purgation and purifications were held that only the immersed and initiated into the mysteries of the Cabeiri attended.The aim of the immersion into the Cabeiri mysteries was to relieve oneself of the past sins and protect oneself from future misfortune.[4] The influence of the Samothrace mysteries[5] and the respect that the Cabeiri enjoyed among the Macedonians of the ancient world is witnessed by the reliefs discovered on the territory of Macedonia. According to V. Bitrakova-Grozdanova, the Samothrace gods, the Cabeiri, were also known in western Paeonia by the name of Dioscuri and in compliance with the samples discovered in Macedonia, it is evident that this cult held a significant place in the religious beliefs of Macedonians in the ancient period.[6] IMG_1143

It is not known why Philip was on Samothrace, but it is known that Olympias was very religious and deeply mystical, having great respect for the orphic rituals and always participating in the holy dances dedicated to the gods of nature with great pleasure, as recorded by Plutarch.[7] She showed greater courage in handling the snakes than most women, a sight that “would make most men tremble with fear”[8] as A. Weigall would record.  It is assumed that her mysterious behavior and wild and untamable nature caught the attention of young Philip, who fell in love with her and married her five years later.

In the ancient period, beside the oracle of Delphi, the oracle of Dodona in Epirus was considered to be the most consulted one. It is the birthplace of Olympias, who is presumed to have been a frequent visitor of this place.The Oracle of Dodona was located in the immediate vicinity of the temple of Zeus, nestled between oak and beech woods whence the responses to prophecies were discerned through symbolic interpretation of the sounds of nature, the whisper of the tree leaves, the cooing of the doves, the babbling of the brooks and the songs of the brass vessels lulling to the wind.  A. Weigall discerns another type of prophesying used in the Oracle of Dodona. This involves a young man hitting a kind of gong with a whip with three chains, and thus the response of the deity corresponded to the nature and degree of the vibrations. [9] Due to simultaneous beginnings, similarity in the prophesying, as well as the choice of location in regards to oracles nestled in woods, the Oracle of Dodona is considered to be a twin-oracle to the Egyptian oracle of Siwa , known among the people as the Place of trees (Sekbet – iemy), located in the Egyptian desert, as recorded by Herodotus.[10]  Since the Oracle in Siwa was dedicated to Ammon, and Dodona dedicated to Zeus, the two Gods were equated into one, Zeus-Ammon and as such was worshipped amongst the peoples of the ancient world.  Philips visits to the Temple of Ammon in Thebes, Boeotia where the statue of this deity inscribed by Pindar was placed, as recorded by Pausanius,[11] as well as Philip’s offering of holy sacrifices at the famous Oracle in the Temple of Ammon in Macedonia, speak volumes of the cult of Ammon in Macedonia and the reverence he enjoyed among the ancient Macedonians.[12] In Donona, Zeus was worshipped under the name of Nayos, god of birth and the fertilizing moist of nature, whereas in Egypt Ammon was likened to Min, god of fertility.  The connection of Zeus from Dodona with Min-Ammon from Egypt is done through the use of a whip with three chains, the most characteristic symbol of Min in the prophesying ceremonies. Its use is also noted in the Oracle in Dodona during prophesying through hitting a gong with this kind of whip.    According to legend, after the arrangement of the wedding of Philip and Olympias, it is most likely that she directed all her prayers to Min-Ammon, god of fertility, whose power amongst the people was experienced through thunderbolts and the shooting stars in the sky. [13]

When weaving the legends of the birth and life of Alexander the Great, apart from the prophecies of oracles,a considerable role was also played by the beliefs in ancient forms of foretelling the future through different occurrences that were believed to be infallible signs or omens.   As the most common form of seeing into the future, prophetic dreams were considered to be the most enlightened and most significant form, followed by prophesying through the flight of the birds, odd signs as well as dream interpretation.    Predicting the future was in the hands of seers, prophets, druids, fortunetellers or astrologers. In the time of Philip and Alexander the great, Aristander was considered to be the most skilful seer.[14]

Legends that refer to the birth of the greatest leader and conqueror of all time, Alexander of Macedon, are most consistently described by Plutarch through the account of Olympias’ dream she dreamt a day before her wedding to Philip as well as Philip’s dream the next night, after the wedding ceremony.[15] The interpretation of Philip and Olymipias’ dreams was in the hands of Aristandar, the seer, who according to Plutarch: considering how unusual it was to seal up anything that was empty, so consluded that Olympias was with child of a boy, who would one day prove as stout and courageous as a lion.[16] The conception of Alexander of Macedon was followed by Olympias’ dream on the same night:  “The night when he was conceived, his mother dreamt that she had laid with a extraordinary serpent; and the dream was not a lie since, in her womb, she was carrying an offspring who was larger than human mortality.”[17] According to Egyptian legends, characteristically, Ammon would visits of the marital beds of mortal queens so as to infuse a certain divinity in the royal blood.  Thus, the legends that explore this dream imply a divine conception between Olypias and Ammon, incarnated as a serpent, as well as the people’s beliefs that she is to bring unto this world a child of Fate, son of Ammon in the role of Min-Ammon, the main god on the Egyptian oracle of Siwa. [18]

According to Plutarch, the weaving of legends about the estrangement between Philip and Olympias, and the dying out of his fiery passion for her are due to the constant presence of serpents in their marital chamber and bed. Olympias could not live without the serpents, but Philip in fear of poison, magic or the belief that she may be enamored by some divine creature, was ever after less fond of her company.   Thence Plutarch’s episode which describes Philip looking through the gap of the door before entering their marital chamber, so as to see whether there are serprents inside: “[he] presumed to peep through that chink of the door, when he saw the god, under the form of a serpent, in the company of his wife. [19]

The fear that Philip felt due to the constant presence of serpents in their bed chamber, as well as the belief he held in her divine conception, brought about an anxiety in him, and according to Plutarch:  Philip sent Chaeron of Megalopolis to Delphi, by whom an oracle was brought to him from Apollo, who bade him sacrifice to Ammon and hold that god in greatest reverence, but told him he was to lose that one of his eyes which he had applied to the chink in the door when he espied the god, in the form of a serpent, sharing the couch of his wife.…” [20]According to folk beliefs this would be his punishment for seeing something that no mortal was ever to see. [21]It is believed that this legend is connected to the later wounding of Philip’s right eye, which took place during the siege of Methone in 354 BC, and which the people interpreted as god’s punishment for the done deed.[22]His return to Pella with a patch on the eye further strengthened Olympia’s beliefs that Ammon did in fact visit her in the marital bed as a serpent and stirred up the precautions from the oracle in Delphi regarding Philip, which are now coming true.[23]

Many historiographers have noted down the legends that depict a series of peculiar omen prophecies which mark the birth of Alexander of Macedon. According to their scripts, the same night when Olympias gave birth, the ancient old temple of Ephesus, dedicated to Ephesian Artemis was engulfed in a fire and burnt to the ground. [24]Althought, Quintus Curtius Rufus gives a rational explanation as to the reason of the fire as an “act of profligate incendiary, who, being apprehended and put to the torture, admitted that despairing of fame by good actions, his view in perpetrating this impiety was to transmit his mane to after-ages by a stupendous crime”,[25] the fatalist belief in prophecies overcame reason among the Magiand the people, as stated by Plutarch: But all the Magi who were then at Ephesus, looking upon the temple’s disaster as a sign of further disaster, ran about beating their faces and crying aloud that woe and great calamity for Asia had that day been born.”[26]The Ephesus soothsayers interpreted this catastrophe as the onset of a great power fatal to the Orient, and according to their words “today there is a torch burning in one part of the world that one day is going to burn the East.”[27]Legends can be found that depict prophecies rooted in astronomical phenomenon which also indicated the future greatness and might of the newborn: “It was witnessed that Alexander’s birth was attended with lightning, thunder, and a local convulsions of the earth.” [28] Quintus Curtius Rufus records the legend of the two eagles sitting on the roof of the house where Olympias gave birth, interpreted by the diviners as a sign that the child born in that house would rule two kingdoms.[29] The legend of the three joyous messages Philip received after conquering the Athenian province of Potidaea, was interpreted as: “…and the seers raised his hopes still higher by declaring that the son whose birth coincided with three victories would never fail to be victorious.[30]

The belief in the divine origins of Philip and Olympias, their meeting of the island of Samothrace, and the influence of the religious beliefs, mysteries and prophecies gave rise to legends of the birth, life and death of their son Alexander III of Macedon, most probably to explain his life accomplishments. Although the story of Alexander of Macedon lives on more than two millennia, his legends in the Macedonian folklore have a national meaning and thence carry messages of the ethnogenesis of Macedonians and comprise the identity of the Macedonian people.

[1]Plutarch, 7, Translated from ancient Greek by Sarakinski, V., comments by Proeva, N. (2008) 183.

[2]Stoneman, R. (1997) 13.

[3]“And we are told that Philip, after being initiated into the mysteries of Samothrace at the same time with Olympias, he himself being still a youth and she an orphan child, fell in love with her and betrothed himself to her at once with the consent of her brother, Arymbas.” Plutarch, 7, 2,Translation by Sarakinski, V., comments by Proeva, N. (2008) 109.

[4]Weigall, A. (2006) 43

[5]Herodotus, II, 51, Translated from ancient Greek, preface and comments to text by Chadikovska, D. (1998) 135.

[6]A series of cult reliefs portraying the Dioscuri or Cabeiri ana a goddess among them have been discovered in western Paeonia in the villages of Zivojno, Krushevjani and Dunje, around Prilep, in addition samples have been discovered from Kavadarci (Sirkovo) to Stobi, from Negotino to Demir Kapija. Bitrakova-Grozdanova, V. (1999) 236 -238.

[7]“Now Olympias, who affected these divine possessions more zealously than other women, and carried out these divine inspirations in wilder fashion, used to provide the revelling companies with great tame serpents, which would often lift their heads from out the ivy and the mystic winnowing-baskets,or coil themselves about the wands and garlands of the women, thus terrifying the men.”Plutarch, 7, 2,Translation by Sarakinski, V., comments by Proeva, N. (2008) 109.

[8]Weigall A. (2006) 45.

[9]Loc. cit. 45.

[10]Herodotus,II, 54-58,  Translation, preface and comments to text by Chadikovska, D. (1998) 136-137.

[11] Paus., IX, 16,1.

[12]Plutarch, 7, Translated from ancient Greek by Sarakinski, V., comments by Proeva, N. (2008) 185.

[13]Weigall, A. (2006) 47-48. Macedonian traditional folklore beliefs that a new star is born on the sky with the birth of each child and said star dies away upon their death are maintained as rudiments from the oldest of times. Kovacehva, L. (2009) 53.

[14]Plutarch, 7, Translation from ancient Greek Sarakinski, V., comments Proeva, N. (2008) 184.

[15]“The night before the consummation of their marriage, she dreamed that a thunderbolt fell upon her body, which kindled a great fire, whose divided flames dispersed themselves all about, and then were extinguished. And Philip, some time after he was married, dreamt that he sealed up his wife’s body with a seal, whose impression, as be fancied, was the figure of a lion.“ Ibidem 109, 184.

[16]Ibidem 109.

[17]Justin, History of Philip,Translation from Hellenic by Basotova, Lj. (2008) 67.

[18]Weigall, A. (2006) 50-51.

[19]Plutarch, 7,2, Translation from ancient Greek Sarakinski, V., comments Proeva, N. (2008) 110.

[20]Ibidem 109-110.

[21]Weigall, A. (2006) 49.

[22] Plutarch, 7, Translation from ancient Greek Sarakinski, V.,comments Proeva, N. (2008) 185.

[23]Weigall, A. (2006)  53.

[24]Alexander was born the sixth of Hecatombaeon, which month the Macedonians call Lous, the same day that the temple of Diana at Ephesus was burnt. Plutarch, 7,3 Translated by Sarakinski, V., comments by Proeva, N. (2008) 110; According to Quintus Curtius Rufus.: “The night when Olympias gave birth, the most famous temple on all of Asia, dedicated to Diana at Ephesus burnt.”  Quintus Curtius Rufus, The History of Alexander, Translation from Hellenic by Basotova, Lj. (2008) 33.

[25]Quintus Curtius Rufus, The History of Alexander, Translation from Hellenic by Basotova, Lj. (2008) 33.

[26]Plutarch, 7,3, Translation from ancient Greek Sarakinski, V., comments Proeva, N. (2008) 110.

[27]Waigall, A. (2006) 52.

[28]Quintus Curtius Rufus, The History of Alexander, Translation from Hellenic by Basotova, Lj. (2008) 34.

[29]It has been recorded, as another remarkable incident, that two eagles set, during the whole day, upon the house where the queen was delivered, a presage that Alexander should become master of the empires both of Asia and Europe.” Loc.cit. 34.

[30] Plutarch, 7,3, Translation from ancient Greek Sarakinski, V., comments Proeva, N. (2008) 110.

By Phd. Lidija Kovacheva

Pete Rauxloh: A Busy Day in Archaeological IT

05:40 Youngest child cannot sleep anymore too light, too hot, tells her father (who was asleep)

06:00-07:30 Start up children make breakfast, iron shirts, make breakfast, packed-lunches, and package them off to school.  Feed fish, rabbit, cat and washing machine in that order, make beds, shut windows lock back door pedal off to work

08:15 Arrive at work – strong westerly wind makes going tough – and so many of those Boris bikes to avoid!

08:30 – Check inbox and general helpdesk call queue down to 8, my queue – generally full of slower burn more tricky development tasks – sticks at a belligerent 12.

08:40 Tried to understand a change in Microsoft pricing structure for charities which would affect any new licence purchases we wished to make.

09:00 Passed on message to Rafel  – our engineer who works for the outsourced helpdesk team – from Jazz (my colleague in IT) that Jazz will be watching all 6’2″ of Maria Sharapova on court number 1 at Wimbledon today while we bake in the office.

Jazz’s day of archaeology

10:00 Finally nail the MS licensing issue.  We need to have more than 10% of our income from charitable donation to qualify for their special pricing, which while we don’t now we could do in a few years with the launch of the new MOLA charitable foundation about which I am very excited.  This could be a great resource and banner for so much of the community outreach, applied research, educational and capacity building ideas in UK and abroad which we need to get further into.

11.00 Short discussion re the new MOLA website.  We want to re-align our website to focus on the needs of our major clients so we can build revenue in this area and thereby have the financial momentum to keep the organisation healthy and to allow us to really get involved in those engaging, worthy and ultimately valuable activities such as research partnership project, volunteer inclusion programmes and community engagement, which are generally less lucrative. New website has to have a more user-friendly authoring interface and we need to understand our audience, their language how they’re likely to navigate our site. We then need to have that information architecture translated in to a web site design then get the thing built and tested. We have some short deadlines and I am suspicious of external consultants not being as frank as we need them to be about what we absolutely must do as opposed to what we could do. Am reminded of Paul Theroux who wrote in the Mosquito Coast about Amazonian Indians seeing a block of ice for the first time produced by a massive homemade fridge built by Harrison Ford, that ‘ any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,’ and worry that some consultants assume that the same is true of arcane knowledge, and hope that punters will pay for their advice because they don’t understand it. We need to be on our guard for half-naked emperors, people!

11.15 More responses received on familiarity with Office 2010 poll, conducted by email; looks like 1 in 5 people have never used it.  One commented it was rubbish and should be thrown out, but I pointed out he’d said the same things when we migrated from a Unix Word editor to our first Word for Windows in 1995.

11:20 My turn to make Rafel tea, into which 7 spoonfuls of sugar are shovelled; reminded of Jazz’s idea to deduct costs from monthly helpdesk payment to cover this wanton consumption; we’ll call it  a saccharine levy

Talk about a sweet tooth

11:30 Start manipulating a surface model of the City of London and the home boroughs interpolated from about three thousand modern spot heights.  Aiming to use this as an upper surface then interpolate beneath it a surface representing the top of natural (aka the bottom of archaeology). This is interpolated from archaeological and geological borehole data and the thousands of deposit survival forms, which are filled out at the end of excavations, recording the height at which geological layers were encountered. First results encouraging, notwithstanding concerns over identification of truncation (which would show geological deposits as being un-naturally deep) and I have a satisfactory wedge of cheese, which very roughly represents the layer of archaeological deposits overlying the two hills of the City.  Enthused and with the idea of Eskimos cutting out ice blocks from the surface of a lake in my head, I experiment with extruding building footprints downwards to represent the pieces of cheese (or ice) which have gone,  due to cutting of basements.  Having pleaded for a sample city building height data from a friendly supplier,  am able to extrude a small area of the city upwards, and render things so you can see the bit above and the bit below ground.  It’s all pretty vague of course, but it may do as a proof of concept for EH and archaeological advisors to have them contemplate the benefit of a decent basement data collection project.  Fingers crossed.

Layer of archaeological deposits overlying the two hills of the City

13:30-14:00  Helped Rafel  bring 16 new PCs and monitors up from the goods yard. As if by magic  Jamie turns up with a pallet truck which saves us using our cake-trolley, and I drag the lot through the middle of the office. Am greeted like Vespasian in Triumph entering Rome; everyone always wants a new PC.  Piled them up on the desk and had our photograph taken – sent to Jazz on number 1 court to show him how we suffer while he is enjoying himself (Maria was winning).

Hail the conquering heroes!

An update from our correspondent in the field

14:15 – Laura says it is 32 degrees in the office – we mumble about the cost of fans and electricity used to push the hot air about our un-air conditioned “air conditioned” offices

14:25 I eat three digestive biscuits and remember I’ve had no lunch again – it’s the heat!

14.30 15:15 Discuss with Sarah next week’s Geomatics seminar on one recent and one current mapping project.  These involved digitally stitching together scanned version of 16th and 18th century maps, georeferencing them, and the extracting a road and place network from them which were then given an identify by relating them spatially to an existing index which had been located on the individual scans. Phew, we wrote a blog about it too you can see it here

This picture is an example of how good a fit we were able to get between adjoining sheets of the 1746 Rocque map through cunning manipulation of the sheet scans to allow for the differential shrinkage and warping that map sheet experienced since they were made.

Fleet prison with a lovely horizontal seam going straight through it

And now… the seam is gone

The movie (linked below) shows a traverse of the street network of London c.1746 used during processing to check that the graph was truly connected, but it also has geo-social research applications interested in proximity, distribution and so forth.

Traverse of the street network of London c.1746

16:00 Fill out a change control form to inform IT and the outsourced helpdesk of a server re-boot I want to do tomorrow.  We have a problem with old GIS files that access data on an older server (which we want to decommission) hanging when that server is switched off, rather than failing gracefully by opening but without the unreachable layers. Purpose of shutdown is so I can log the TCP connections the old GIS file tries to make as it starts up.  This should help diagnose the problem.

16:15 Query Jamie on uncertainties regarding the modification wanted to the dendrochronological recording form on our central database. This one was around date ranges.  Do we need and if so which fields ought we to be using to record the date range of the tree? – i.e. acorn to death, the date range of the archaeological feature of which the timber is part, or the lifespan of the tree.  How to best record an estimate or actual lifespan if the entire record of rings is not present which it often isn’t.  Sometimes we can also identify timbers from the same tree (as possible amongst the massive Roman and Medieval oak waterfront  timbers recently excavated on a large site on the Thames foreshore), but how best to record? Appears to be a one to many situation but to avoid a horrible Cartesian product,  the likely SOP is that timbers from the same tree are mapped to that with the lowest context number; on the logic that the lowest one is more likely be the first discovered.

Timber structure on recent Thames foreshore site

16:45 Prepare screen shots for staff meeting, and recruit Steph and Nigel to enthuse about on-going vitality of our Facebook and Twitter streams. Much interest indicated following our discussion of the Shakespearian Curtain Theatre in Hackney. This was a major find and such a well-timed one. Named after the nearby Curtain Close, it was the main venue for Shakespeare’s plays between 1597 and 1599 until the Globe was completed in Southwark. Popular recent posts include other small wonders such as the discovery of a bricked-up collection of head-gear and other apparel during our work at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

Curtain Theatre foundations (those knobbly things which make up a yard area are Sheep knuckle bones)

17:00 We say good bye to an old colleague who is retiring after 30 years work with MOLA.  Andrew was an old mentor of mine when I first arrived as a green student, in the then Department of Urban Archaeology (DUA) 22 years ago. Having been used to excavations on the wide open spaces of Salisbury plain, I probably drove him mad with all my questions about how the DUA dig this complex urban stratigraphy, and how they understand what it is they have dug.  Getting my head around all the procedures that had been devised to allow accurate but also time-effective recording.  He was all over it and remained so.  A great archaeologist and friend, I will miss him.  Carol, our bubbly receptionist, does him proud with a wonderful homemade cake which she produces for all leavers – the woman is a diamond.

17:30  Intense discussion with training supplier on subject of Application Express, a data entry environment  for Oracle databases that’s totally web-based and would be a valuable tool in our tactic to move more data entry into the field to reduce double-handling of information. The big idea is to re-appraise the paper recording sheets used on site for various types of context (a valuable exercise on its own) and then from that look at what could be usefully recorded digitally.  Don’t want to record stuff digitally simply because we can, there has to be a purpose and a benefit.  That benefit should be in greater efficiency, but equally I want to ease some of the more mundane aspect of recording.  For example change a prompt requiring a discursive response, which analytically does not have great value, into a tick-box.  Want to do this as we need to get our archaeologists, especially the younger ones coming into the profession more engaged with the process of thinking what it all means.  We don’t want people just filling out checklists, we want them engaged, and enfranchised, and if we can give them more time to do that by streamlining the data collection then that will really help.

17:40-18.30  Have third and final cup of tea, update helpdesk call list with work done, restart the computer, turn off the screens and pedal for home.