Josephine Quinn

Josephine Quinn teaches ancient history at Oxford.

Howlsof rage greeted the new concrete paths that were laid over the notoriously treacherous rock of the Acropolis last year. Increasing the numbers the site can handle arguably brings visitors closer to the experience of visiting it in the fifth century BCE. At the height of the glory of classical Athens, built on empire and slavery, the sacred area would have been bustling with people....

Alaric’s initial target in the winter of 408 was not the city of Rome itself but its harbour, where he mounted a shipping blockade that caused months of food shortages. When Roman ambassadors asked what it would take to get him to open the port, his answer was not citizenship but five thousand pounds of gold, thirty thousand pounds of silver, four thousand silk tunics, three thousand scarlet cloaks (no boots or trousers for him) and three thousand pounds of pepper, a delicacy imported from India to treat eye disorders as well as to season food. Alaric then negotiated with Emperor Honorius himself, but citizenship still wasn’t on the agenda: he requested another position in the imperial administration, food and ‘permission to live on Roman land’ for himself and his followers.

Enemies on All Sides: Masada

Josephine Quinn, 12 September 2019

Highway​ 90 follows the Great Rift Valley from Jerusalem down to Masada alongside what’s left of the Dead Sea, making it the lowest road on earth. On the right, sheer cliffs hide the caves of Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. On the left, over-extraction from the River Jordan upstream and mineral harvesting from the inland lake itself means that the shoreline is receding,...

Nothing beside remains: The Razing of Palmyra

Josephine Quinn, 25 January 2018

The​ Syrian oasis town of Tadmur is close to the middle of nowhere, 140 miles east of Damascus, 125 miles west of the Euphrates, and 20 miles from the nearest village. It’s famous for two institutions established under the French Mandate at the turn of the 1930s. One is the archaeological site now known by the Greek name of Palmyra, until recently one of the most extraordinary...

Goose Girl: Empress Theodora

Josephine Quinn, 4 May 2017

One problem​ with writing about the lives of Greek and Roman women is that the Greek and Roman men who wrote about them first tended to be more interested in writing about other men. As a result, famous ancient women are usually famous because they had more famous male relatives. The protagonists of the ten books so far published in Oxford University Press’s series on ‘Women in...

Your own ships did this! The Hittites

Josephine Quinn, 18 February 2016

In​ 1982 a sponge diver spotted a ‘metal biscuit with ears’ on the seabed off the southwest coast of Turkey. It was a copper ingot from what is now known as the Uluburun ship, a single-mast sailing boat built of cedarwood from Mount Lebanon, which sank around 1300 bce. The wreck was lying at a depth to which archaeologists could safely scuba dive for only twenty minutes at a...

From The Blog
11 August 2014

Earlier this month a double celebration took place at Carthage, once the greatest city in the Mediterranean, destroyed by the Romans at the end of the Punic Wars and now a seaside suburb of Tunis. The anniversary of Hannibal's defeat of the Roman army at Cannae in southern Italy on 2 August 216 BCE could be commemorated on the same day (2/8) as the beginning of the 2828th year since the foundation of the city by the Tyrian princess Dido in 814 BCE. Scholarly talks on Carthage and its heroes were followed by a carnival, including a parade from the acropolis to the amphitheatre with Carthaginian and Roman soldiers. The Tunisian embrace of Dido, Hannibal and their city might seem surprising. The Phoenician colony of Carthage was as much a foreign power in North Africa as Rome was, even if Dido is supposed to have won over the local population with trickery rather than war: promising to live on no more land than she could cover with ox-hide, she cut the animal skin into such thin strips it could encircle the entire hill on which she then built her city. But its earliest known invader has helped to define the nation of Tunisia since independence from France in 1956.

From The Blog
17 March 2014

The port of As Sidr is on the Gulf of Sidra, the enormous bay biting through at the junction of Libya’s three major geographical regions: to the east, the lush agricultural land of Cyrenaica; to the west, the drier urban coastal strip of Tripolitania; to the south, the Saharan Fezzan. This has always been frontier territory, and often in dispute.

Certain places​ capture the imagination; others fade into the background, forgotten and overlooked. Phoenicia is one of the rare places that does both. In 1963, Sabatino Moscati, the founder of...

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