ANCIENT ANCESTORS - history

Where to begin

 

    Studies of our mitochondrial DNA suggest we may all be descended from a "mitochondrial Eve" who probably lived in East Africa some 200,000 years ago. Similar research on our Y chromosome DNA suggests we may be descended from five "Adams" who lived in various places some 70,000 years ago.

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    Many largely imaginary lines of descent from ancient dynasties have been published, including some from the 30 Pharaonic dynasties of Egypt beginning in about 3,000 BCE.  Unfortunately the fragmentary and incomplete records still available to us about those distant times provide scant support for such romantic claims. Although we now have records of the three dynasties of Ur from 2371 to 2006 BCE and a complete list of the Babylonian Kings from Sargon ca 2350 to Nabonidus in 529 when Babylon fell to Cyrus "the Great", these dynasties have no known family connections between them and have no known lines of descent to the present day.

    The old testament of the Judaeo-Christian-Moslem bible has also been a happy hunting ground for many of the faithful seeking descent from ancient religious leaders, two favourites being King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The Jewish Bible seems to have been compiled in Babylon after Nebuchannezzar had sacked Jerusalem in 587, and has been selectively quoted ever since by Jews, Christians and Moslems. However much of that bible (the Christian old testament) seems to have been taken without attribution from more ancient Sumerian and Babylonian writings, e.g. stories of the Creation and Flood from the 11th tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh, much of the 300 laws in the Code of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE) incorporated in Leviticus, the Sumerian "Poem of the Righteous Sufferer" copied in Job, and the Song of Solomon which was probably an adaptation of a Babylonian poem.

    Thus the Israelites were expressly forbidden to show mercy to people of other faiths, and were directed to "utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" - a direction which had been assiduously followed in the past by certain Christian groups and which we hear repeated even nowadays by certain so-called fundamentalist Moslems. The central belief in each national religion was that there was a single God who required the rival deities of other nations to be eliminated, and the understandable terror of this all-powerful God produced a slavish, self-accusing, remorseful, groveling head-on-the-ground behaviour in the general populace.

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    The Persians who took over Babylon in 529 BCE were 1st mentioned in the 843 BCE Assyrian campaign of Shalmenesar III, and the Indo-European Medes were first mentioned in 834 BCE Assyrian records of Shalmenesar III (858-24) who was succeeded by King Shanshi-Adad V, known as Ninus. Ninus was said to have fallen in love with one Sammu-ramat (Semiramis of Rossini) the beautiful Babylonian wife of the Governor of Nineveh. Possibly finding her 2nd husband less than fully satisfying she is said to have had him killed in 811 BCE and then reigned for 5 years as Queen Regent, during which she had a canal constructed to prevent the almost annual flooding of Nineveh and add to the glories of her birthplace Babylon. However her fame down the ages is mainly due to her frequent inspections of her troops and selection of the most stalwart to serve her in a more intimate way (cf. Catherine the Great of Russia) before having each lover pushed over a cliff the following morning.

    But lacking the family continuity for Semiramis and her Babylonian dynasty I’ve had to settle for beginning Ancient Ancestors with the Lydian, Macedonian, Medes and Persian dynasties of the 7th century BCE.

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Problems of sources

 

    The ancient historians were often writing about events that had occurred long before anyone still alive could remember from their personal experience, and some historians were not averse to padding the accounts passed down to them by word of mouth. 

    Thus Herodotus (ca 485-425 BCE) began his history as follows: "This is the account of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, undertaken so that the achievements of men should not be obliterated by time and the great works of both Greeks and barbarian should not be without fame . ."

However he has also been quoted (can someone email me the reference?) as writing: "Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all; the conscientious historian will correct these defects."

    Keen as he was to make a good story. Herodotus judged only two of the seven wonders of the ancient world to be in Babylon - its walls and hanging gardens - and he omitted its irresistibly beautiful women who charmed so many Kings of Persia down the centuries.

Problems of translation and censorship

    Reliable translation of the ancient primary history sources requires not only high competence in the ancient languages used but also a deep understanding of the relevant culture and history of the times. Such combinations of expertise are rare indeed.  

    There has also been the problem of censorship. Plato proposed doing it for the works of Homer. The King James Bible did it to the Latin Vulgate. Dr Gilbert Murray of the Oxford English Dictionary insisted on "to blow one’s nose" for "to break wind". And perhaps worst of all there were Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825) and his sister Henrietta who produced their first Family (i.e. censored) Shakespeare in 1807, followed by a 10 volume Family Shakespeare in 1818 (Swinburne wrote "no man ever did better service to Shakespeare") and a Family Gibbon's Decline and Fall. The Bowdlers also began the still thriving Family Bible industry and had a major influence on many 19th century English translations of classical texts, including the works of Aristotle and Pliny's huge Natural History.

    The Bowdler Family Shakespeare gave Othello the reason for strangling Desdemona as "she played the trumpet in my bed".

 

Some notes on the earliest individuals mentioned in Ancient Ancestors

 

    The Kingdom of Lydia, south of Phrygia in Asia Minor, spanned the Hermus and Cayster valleys which afforded two of the easiest routes between the Aegean coast and Anatolian plateau. King Midas of Phrygia ca 700 BCE had considerable influence over the Heraclid dynasty in Lydia which survived until Candaules, its last King, unwisely contrived to show his unsuspecting naked wife to his bodyguard Gyges (you can read all about it in Herodotus). However the Queen glimpsed Gyges as he slipped away and then forced him to murder Candaules the next night and marry her.

    The Bowdlerizing Plato (ca 428-347 BCE) seems to have plagiarised Herodotus (without attribution) when he wrote ca 360 in his Republic about a shepherd called Gyges who discovered a magic ring which made him invisible and helped him to win a kingdom. And of course in this pastoral resetting of Herodotus' account Plato left out all the sexy bits. Yet strangely, Plato greatly admired and was a Boswell for Socrates (d 399) who came to the hemlock largely because of his sexual perversion of Alcibiades.

    The Mermnad Gyges, who ruled Lydia from 687 to 652 BCE, sought help from the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal against the invading Cimmerians who had previously sacked Gordium, the Phrygian capital in 696/5. Gyges then allied himself with Pharaoh Psamtik of Egypt, but during 2nd Cimmerian invasion of Lydia Gyges was slain in battle against his former ally Ashurbanipal (who had assembled the famous library at Nineveh). During his reign Gyges had sent rich gifts to Delphi where the Pythia, semi-delirious after inhaling the ethylene "pneuma" (mentioned by Aeschylus in 458 BCE) emanating from a fissure in the rock made her obscure prophecies. The dynasty established by Gyges peaked in power under his successor Ardys, eventually falling when the last of his line King Croesus (ca 560-546) was conquered by King Cyrus the Great of Persia. Croesus had the Temple of Artemis built at Ephesus and donated many of its decorated pillars, some of which can still be seen in the museum there.

    According to Herodotus "The Lydians have much the same usages as the Greeks, save for the prostitution of their daughters".  He may have been referring to a Babylonian practice in which every young woman had to offer herself just once at the temple to the highest bidder for her services. In another period the marriageable Persian women were put up for auction and the prices obtained for the most attractive ones went towards bonuses for the purchasers of the least endowed. Later still the Byzantines held so-called "bride shows" (beauty contests), notably to select wives for the Emperors and their sons.

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    Achaemenes (in old Persian = Hakhammanish) ruled only Parsumash as a vassal state of Media. But in 681 he led armies from Parsumash and Anshan (Anzan NW of Susa in Elam) against the Assyrian Sennacherib (704-681), a descendant of Queen Sammu-Ramat (Semiramis). The Assyrian empire fell in 612 BCE in a joint uprising of the Medes and Babylonians, leading to the 2nd Babylonian Empire of Nebuchadrezzar (605-562) till it was conquered by Persia  in 539/8 BCE. Nebuchadrezzar married a Median princess and built for her the hanging gardens of Babylon.

    Achaemenes, who had founded the eponymous Persian dynasty, was the great-great-grandfather of Cyrus the Great and also a direct ancestor of Darius I, the Great King of Persia (521-585).

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    Media (land of the Medes) South-West of the Caspian Sea, peaked in power during the 7th-6th century BCE, conquering Urartu around Lake Van (now in Eastern Turkey). Cyaxares, King of Media (ca 640-585) defeated the Scythians in 615 BCE and appeared on borders of Assyria to the west in 590, conquering it as far as central modern Turkey.

     On the 28th May 585 Cyaxares was fighting the Lydians when an eclipse of sun occurred (can someone please check this?). Both sides abandoned the battle and made peace, leading to a marriage between Astyarges the son of Cyaxares and Aryenis the daughter of the Lydian King Alyattes and sister of his successor King Croesus. Mandane, a  daughter of King Astyarges and Aryenis, was the mother of King Cyrus of Great the Persia.

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    The "griffin nosed" Cyrus (Kurush in Persian) "the Great" was born in 581 BCE and in 559 became King of Anshan, a southern province of Persia. By 548 he had become King of Persia having defeated the Medes in 549, conquered Lydia in 546 and Babylon in 539. He had begun with no trained fighting force, but with great personal charisma charmed those he conquered, partly with a policy of religious tolerance. However he could be firm when necessary, e.g. having the ears cut off a certain Magus called Smerdis.

    The captured King Croesus of Lydia accompanied Cyrus in his 529 campaign to conquer the Massagetae ruled by Queen Tomyris, widow of the previous King. Hoping to avoid battle Cyrus offered her marriage but she declined, being as she put it "well aware he was wooing not herself but her dominions". So she sent him a message, "rule your own people, and try to bear the sight of me ruling mine." Then as Cyrus prepared to bridge the River Araxes (probably the river now known as  Jaxartes) Queen Tomyris sent him a proposal that if he would withdraw from the river she would cross over to negotiate with him. But Croesus instead urged Cyrus to invite the Massagetae leaders to a banquet and slaughter them. In this way Spargapises the son of Queen Tomyris was captured. In the subsequent and then inevitable battle Cyrus was killed and his body was brought to Queen Tomyris on a shield.

    The decade after Cyrus’ death in 529 was critical for Persia. His eldest son and successor Cambyses (son of Cassandane the daughter of Pharnaspes) conquered Egypt, defeating the last Pharaoh Psamtik III at Pelusium in 525, while Cyrus' 2nd son Smerdis (known as Bardiya, meaning the one person who could draw the Ethiopian bow) held what is now Iran. Cambyses, a man liable to fits of maniacal savagery, had married his two full sisters (he had asked some judges if it was permitted and they had diplomatically advised that while there was no law permitting a man to marry his sister there was a law which permitted the King of Persia to do what he pleased). 

    When Cambyses departed on his Egyptian campaign he had left the elder wife and sister Atossa behind in Susa but took with him the younger one and the ageing former King Croesus. During a fit of temper in Egypt Cambyses kicked his pregnant sister/wife in the stomach and she died. He had a dream that his brother Smerdis was on the throne of Persia and sent Prexaspes to murder him. The two Magi brothers Patizeithes (left behind by Cambyses to be in charge of his household) and the Magus Smerdis (whose ears had been cut off when he offended Cyrus the Great) usurped the throne in Persia, pretending that the Magus Smerdis was Smerdis the 2nd son of Cyrus. When Cambyses heard this in Egypt he set out for home but on 1 July 522 died of gangrene after injuring his thigh with his own sword.

    The wealthy Otanes, a son of Pharnaspes and thus brother-in-law of Cambyses, began to suspect that the King Smerdis was not the son of Cyrus because he never appeared outdoors. The King Smerdis had taken over all of Cambyses’ wives in Susa, including Phaidime, a daughter of Otanes, who persuaded her to find out whether the King Smerdis had ears. When she confirmed he hadn’t Otanes told two of his friends, the three of them told three more, and when Darius (spear carrier to Cambyses in Egypt) arrived the six also told him. These "seven", famous in Persian history, killed the earless usurper Smerdis on 29 Dec 522 and Darius ceased the throne.

    Darius, born ca 548, then ruled as Great King of Persia till he died in 485 BCE. To ensure that no one other than his descendants could claim the succession Darius took five official wives, including all the surviving daughters and grand-daughters of Cyrus the Great. Darius had 12 known sons and 4 daughters.

    Darius prided himself on keeping his temper when provoked, but upon his succession there were revolts on all sides and in one year he fought 19 battles and captured 9 minor Kings. His administrative reforms included the establishment of  regional satrapies and religious toleration. In 515 he completed the 125 Km long 80 ft wide Nile to Red Sea canal which had been begun by the Pharaoh Necho II in 610 and had been further constructed under Cambyses.

    Darius mounted three European invasion campaigns, having the Bosphorus bridged by Mandrocles. The Persians were experienced in building boat bridges, with several being in normal use over the Tigris, other rivers and canals.

    In 512 BCE Darius marched his army some 2000 miles north-west through Thrace to the Danube in an attempt to subdue the Scythians, but they withdrew in front of him. In 492 his fleet in the expedition led by his nephew Mardonius (son of Gobryas) was partly wrecked in a storm off the promontory of Athos, and the following year the Persians were defeated at the Battle of Marathon. Darius dislocated his ankle and was successfully treated by Demokedes of Kroton who also treated his wife Atossa for mastitis.

    Darius had his triumphs recorded in cuneiform Old Persian, Elamite & Babylonian on the Behistun rock face, and these inscriptions later enabled Henry Rawlinson to decipher the cuneiform script..

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    Xerxes, a contemporary of Gautama Buddha, was the son and successor of Darius. Xerxes was born ca 519 and ruled from 484 to 465 when he was murdered.

    Xerxes had many concubines but apparently only one official wife, Amestris, whom he evidently respected (cf Genghis Khan and his wife Borte). Amestris gave Xerxes a rich robe of many colours. However, while at Sardis Xerxes fell in love with the wife of his brother Masistes, the Satrap of Bactria. But out of respect for his brother Xerxes dared not force himself upon Masistes’ wife and devised a stratagem to prolong company with her by arranging a marriage between her daughter Artaynte and his son Darius. After the betrothal ceremony Xerxes left Sardis for Susa taking with him into his household his son Darius and the new wife Artaynte. At Susa Xerxes' infatuation with his  sister-in-law was replaced by lust for her daughter Artaynte whom he seduced and promised anything she might desire. She unwisely asked for the many coloured robe he'd been given by Amestris. When Amestris found out she waited till the annual Royal Supper at which the law demanded that no one be refused his or her request, and she demanded Masistes’ wife who she then had terribly mutilated. Masistes fled towards Bactria but was pursued and killed by Xerxes’ men.

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    When Xerxes renewed the Persians campaign to conquer Greece he had two bridges built over the  Hellespont (Dardanelles). The downstream one at Heptastadion consisted of 324 boats spanning 1400 yards, and upstream one some 3 miles north at Abydos Point was made with 360 boats. The two main flaxen cables for each bridge were winched tight with wooden "donkeys". After damage in a storm each bridge was repaired and further strengthened with two flaxen and four papyrus cables. Planks were laid crosswise on the cables and covered with brushwood and trampled earth. Hedges were fixed along the sides to stop the horses and oxen panicking. The upstream bridge was used by the infantry and cavalry, leaving the downstream one for baggage train and attendants. Some have calculated that 9,000 troops could cross per hour, but I think half that rate would have been nearer the mark. 

    Remembering that Mardonius' fleet had been wrecked by a storm off the Athos promontory, Xerxes had a 1½ mile canal built across isthmus of Athos. His forces failed against the Greeks at Thermopylae in July 480, his fleet lost the battle of Salamis on 20th September 480, his army had another defeat on the steep slopes of Plataea in July 479 and on the shore of Mycale in August 479

    Xerxes was murdered in his bedchamber by his chiliarch Artabanos who falsely accused the Crown Prince Darius of the murder and who was then killed by Artaxes. Xerxes' 2nd son Hytaspes was the Satrap in far off Bactria, so the 3rd son Artaxerxes who was nearer at hand got the throne.

    Artaxerxes I "Macrocheir" (long armed) (464-424) married Damaspi who died "of grief" only a few hours after him. Their son Xerxes II only two months after his succession was assassinated and succeeded by Artaxerxes' illegitimate son (by a Babylonian concubine) Sogdianos. Sogdianos only ruled for six and half months and was succeeded by Ochus, a  2nd illegitimate son of Xerxes by another Babylonian concubine. Ochus took the name Darius II and married his half-sister Parysatis

    Darius II (424-404) and Parysatis had 13 children,11 after she'd become Queen. Their sons included the heir Artaxerxes II and "Cyrus the Younger". Prince Cyrus "the Younger" was sent by his father Darius II to command the western satrapies and assisted Sparta to defeat Athens. After Artaxerxes II acceded to the throne (404-358) Prince Cyrus built up a strong corps of 10,000 Greek mercenaries to fight against his brother the King. When Cyrus was killed at the Battle of Kounaxa in 401 by wounding in eye after personally wounding Artaxerxes II with his javelin Xenophon (ca 435-354) was elected leader of the Greek mercenaries.

    Artasyras, the King’s Eye, brought the news of Prince Cyrus' death to Artaxerxes II, and Artasyras's son Orontes who had been present (and perhaps distinguished himself) at the Battle of Kounaxa and was given Rhodogunde the daughter of Artaxerxes II and made Satrap of Armenia. In the late 380s after Persia had suffered serious reverses in Egypt, Orontes was recalled from Armenia to head the Persian army while Tiribazes commanded at sea. They quarreled and their case went before a court of four Persian nobles who found for Tiribazes with Orontes being disgraced and dismissed from his position as Satrap of Armenia.

    In the 360s BCE several of the Persian Satraps revolted and chose Orontes as their leader. However he betrayed them to the King and made peace with General Ochus. Orontes was then reappointed as Satrap of Armenia and became the founder of the autonomous Armenian Orontid dynasty. Direct descendants of the Orontid dynasty included the medieval Georgian dynasty, one of whom was the famous Queen Tamara, co-ruler from 1178 and sole ruler from 1184, and who has many present day descendants.

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    The fourth of these 7th century BCE ancestral roots was in the Macedonian dynasty which ended with Alexander the Great. His grandfather King Amyntas II (393-69) had a second wife Eurydice who conspired to have her husband killed. Amazingly Amyntas forgave her "for the sake of her children". A year after Amyntas had died (cause unknown) and been succeeded by their eldest son Alexander, an illegitimate son of Amyntas known as Ptolemy of Alorus murdered Alexander, married Eurydice and ruled for four years as regent for Amyntas' second son Perdiccas. When Perdiccas came of age to rule in his own right he cleared the decks by killing Ptolemy, but not before Ptolemy and Eurydice had a daughter Arsinoë who after serving as a concubine of King Philip II (see below) of Macedon married Lagus and became the mother of Ptolemy I "Soter" of Egypt (see below).

    King Perdiccas was killed in battle against the Illyrians and his younger brother Philip succeeded him as King of Macedon in 359. Philip II had many wives, concubines and more casual lovers, the third and most famous being Myrtale, a daughter of King Neoptolemus of Epirus. Philip and Myrtale had met during their still youthful initiations into the Cabiric mysteries on the sacred Island of Samothrace and they were formally married in 357 BCE. When Philip heard about the birth of their son Alexander he renamed his wife Olympias because one of his horses had just won a race at Olympia. Queen Olympias, as she was thenceforth called, sometimes took to the hills to practice her wild Bacchic rites and taught her Macedonian maenads to have tame snakes around their shoulders and wear ivy crowns on their heads. At first Philip may have found all this stimulating but he soon came to dislike their marriage bed because of the snakes Olympias kept in it, and he then concentrated on his many other and less hazardous liaisons. 

    Although King Philip II had several children by his numerous wives and mistresses the only child with a putative historical line of descent to the present day appears to be Thessalonica (presumably so-called because her mother was a Thessalonian) who married the murderous Cassander.

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    The first six rulers of the incestuous Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt are putative ancestors of present day descendants through Cleopatra "Thea" whose third marriage was to Antiochus VII of the Seleucid dynasty in Syria. 

 

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