Beatus of Liébana on the Apocalypse.

In a monastery in the mountains of northern Spain, 700 years after the Book of Revelations was written, a monk set down to illustrate a collection of writings he had compiled about this most vivid and apocalyptic of the New Testament books. Throughout the next few centuries his depictions of multi-headed beasts, decapitated sinners, and […]

The Dark Side of Romulus and Remus.

The childhood of Romulus and Remus. Gregorio Lazzarini (1655—1730). Oil on canvas. Early 1700s. Saint-Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Romulus and Remus were born to the vestal virgin Rhea Silva after she’d been seduced, some say raped, by Mars. At their birth they were immediately sentenced to death by their great-uncle Amulius, who had previously […]

Phryne the Magnificent of Ancient Athens.

As a child, she was called Mnesarete (Greek for “virtue”), but because she was born with sallow skin, she was called Phryne (Greek for “toad”). Still, Phryne became the most successful and sought-after courtesan in ancient Greece, commanding 100 times the going rate. Supposedly, she was even the model for the sculpture called Aphrodite of […]

How Elephants built the Ancient World.

The Battle of Zama by Henri-Paul Motti. Public domain illustration Without elephants, the ancient Library of Alexandria might not have existed. By 275 BCE, Alexandria was the largest, most beautiful city in the world. Its buildings were made of limestone and marble, imported from places worlds away. Its relatively temperate climate meant that flowers were […]

Lovable Stegosaurus had a Brain as big as a Lime.

The stegosaurus is one of the more well-known dinosaurs out there, appearing in more forms of media than almost any of its lizardy brethren with the exception of the T-Rex and possible that dinosaur with wings on its legs. Interestingly, it’s also one of the dumbest. We say this not because we have anything against […]

An Ancient Maritime Mystery, Japan.

An area known as the Twin Megaliths at the Yonaguni Monument -Vincent Lou, Wikimedia // CC BY 2.0 In 1986, a diver looking for a good spot to watch hammerhead sharks off the coast of the Ryukyu Islands in Japan came across an extraordinary underwater landscape. The area reportedly looked like an ancient submerged village, […]

Llangernyw is an 4K year Old Ancient Yew Tree.

Photograph by Emgaol/Wikimedia Commons Llangernyw, a lush, 4,000-year-old yew tree, was inducted into a list of 50 Great British Trees by the United Kingdom Tree Council in 2002, which, as far as tree honors are concerned, is a pretty big deal. Llangernyw was planted in what is now a North Wales churchyard way back when […]

Book of Kells,Trinity College, Dublin.

One summer a few years ago I stayed in student rooms in Trinity College. Although the accommodation was rather spartan with the traditional blue tack scars on the walls, it was so atmospheric to be able to wander around the old buildings of the Dublin university long after all the tourists had gone. Best of […]

Circumcision in Egypt, circa 2400 BCE.

This is one of the oldest known illustrations of circumcision being performed. Actually, it’s a colorful re-creation of a bas-relief found in an Egyptian tomb built for Ankhmabor in Sakkara, Egypt. It dates back to around 2400 B.C.E. The origins of circumcision remain unclear. According to this online essay, a stele (carving on stone) from […]

Burst Pipe Reveals Crusader Murals.

Wall murals portraying Crusader knights and symbols of medieval military orders have been rediscovered in a Jerusalem hospital thanks to a burst water pipe and a storeroom reorganization. These paintings were the works of a French count, Comte Marie Paul Amédée de Piellat, who believed himself to be a descendant of Crusaders. The count was […]