This week: Mithras

There are some things we can say with certainty about the Roman god Mithras. We know, for instance, that this wonderfully enigmatic deity flourished between the 1st and 4th centuries AD, but was inspired by the much more ancient Indo-Iranian god Mithra. We know that his cult was popular among…

This week: Japanese stone circles

A fascinating exhibition opening at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre this autumn shines new light on a remarkable group of ancient stone circles. Spread across 17 sites, and mostly dating from c.2500 to 300 BC, these extraordinary monuments served for centuries as the focus for ceremonies associated with solar alignments and…

This week: submarines

Underwater warfare came of age on 15 September 1914, when Germany’s U-21 became the first submarine to sink a ship with a self-propelled torpedo. The U-boat’s devastating surprise attack, off the Firth of Forth, sank the British cruiser HMS Pathfinder in just six minutes, with the loss of all but…

This week: the Spanish Armada

With 130 ships, 2,431 guns, and 30,000 men, Philip II’s invasion force was, according to one English admiral, ‘the greatest and strongest combination that was ever gathered in all Christendom’. If it had been successful, the history of the past five centuries would look very different: with England a possession…

This week: Child’s play!

It was, according to the ship's captain, a 'once in a 100-year phenomenon'. On 13 February 1997, the 944ft-long cargo vessel Tokio Express was en route from Rotterdam to New York when it was hit by a freak wave about 20 miles off Land’s End, causing it to tilt so…

This week: Ancient Egypt

This year sees the marking of two significant anniversaries: the centenary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by the British archaeologist Howard Carter, in excavations funded by Lord Carnarvon; and the bicentenary of the use of the Rosetta Stone by the French philologist Jean-François Champollion to decipher Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.…

This week: China’s lost kingdoms

It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that Chinese culture began with the Qin – the regional powerbrokers who in the 3rd-century BC conquered their warring rivals to become the country’s first imperial dynasty, thereby ushering in a system that lasted until the 1911 Revolution, more than…

This week: Remarkable stones

According to the 12th-century cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth, the famous stones that make up the Stonehenge monument were erected originally in Ireland, before being moved to their current, more familiar home on Salisbury Plain. Geoffrey’s claim may seem fanciful, but almost a thousand years later, we can see that he…

This week: Augmented reality

Throughout history, writers and artists have used their imaginations to tell stories from former times. From The Iliad to A Tale of Two Cities, and from The Last Supper to the Sistine ceiling, the results have inspired countless millions down the centuries, opening a window that can never be shut.…

This week: Ancient alcohol

History, as we know, has been driven by the complicated love affair between humans and booze. Writing in the fourth-century BC, the Greek philosopher Plato summed it up for many, when he observed: ‘He was a wise man who invented beer.’ Nearly 3,000 years on, scientists now believe this ancient…

This week: Rome in Greece

These days, the term ‘philhellenism’ (literally, the love of all things Greek) is perhaps most often associated with the Romantic poets and thinkers of the late 18th and 19th centuries – a period during which a ‘new cult of the antique’, as one scholar described it, won many disciples among…

This week: Roman frontiers

The Roman Empire was at its height when Hadrian came to power in AD 117, its territory encircling the Mediterranean, and reaching from Britain in the north as far as Egypt in the south.…

This week: Butser Ancient Farm

'Through a series of spectacular experiments, the archaeologist Peter Reynolds... told us more about Iron Age buildings and agriculture than most of the excavations of that period put together,' said The Guardian in its 2001 obituary of the first director of Butser Ancient Farm, the pioneering archaeological open-air museum nestling in…

This week: shipwrecks

On 11 October 1982, an estimated global audience of 60 million people tuned in to watch one of the televisual events of the decade: the long-awaited raising of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's ill-fated Tudor flagship, from the seabed near Portsmouth, where it had rested since capsizing while fighting against…

This week: Feminine power

Few figures in our culture have been so vilified as Lilith, the first wife of Adam – who, according to Jewish tradition, insolently refused to submit to her husband's desires, preferring to leave the perfection of the Garden of Eden, and become the consort of Satan instead.…

This week: Golden manuscripts

Throughout history, gold has captured the imagination – as a glittering symbol of money, sex, power, divine love, or whatever else our hearts desire. From the Greek myth of the Golden Fleece to Titian's Danae, and from the golden objects found in Ancient Egyptian tombs to the quest at the…

This week: Ancient immigration

While the subject of immigration remains perennially high up the modern political agenda, there is a tendency still in Britain to view the movement of people to these shores as a relatively recent phenomenon – as if it only began in the post-war period, with the arrival of the 'Windrush…

This week: Marble Hill

The glorious, far-reaching south-western outlook from Richmond Hill has long been one of England's most famous views. For centuries, painters (including Reynolds, Gainsborough, Constable and Turner) have climbed to the top in search of inspiration from the landscape, and to marvel at the beauty of the Thames as it wends…

This week: Mapping the cosmos

These days, we take it for granted that we carry the world – and the cosmos – in our pockets. Powerful smart phones and ever-more-sophisticated technology mean that we can summon up highly detailed maps both of the earth and the heavens above with just a few taps of the…

This Week: natural disasters

It is a question that has been debated by archaeologists and historians for decades: to what extent can one of the worst disasters in human history, the catastrophic volcanic eruption in c.1600 BC that devastated the ancient Aegean island of Thera (now known as Santorini), be linked to the mysterious…

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