Why is it that a lot of writers steer clear of ancient religious practices in fiction?
Is it because it’s awkward and clashes with their modern beliefs, religious or otherwise? Or perhaps it’s because they don’t feel comfortable writing about something so strange, practices they really know very little about?
There is a lot of good fiction set in the ancient world and I’m always trying to find new novels to entertain and transport myself. One thing I’ve noticed is that when it comes to the religious practices of ancient Greeks and Romans, they are often (not always) portrayed as half-hearted, greeted with a good measure of pessimism. It might be a passing nod to a statue of a particular god or goddess, or a comment by the protagonist that he or she was making an offering even though they didn’t think it would do any good.
There is often an undercurrent of non-belief, a lack of mystery.
Now, I’m not full of religious fervour myself; it’s difficult for anyone who has studied history in depth to be so. However, I see the value of it and respect its meaning for people across the ages. Religion is not necessarily at the forefront of our thoughts in modern, western society, but, in the ancient and medieval worlds, faith was often foremost in people’s thoughts.
It’s easy, blinded by hindsight, to dismiss ancient beliefs in the gods and goddesses of our ancestors.
As a writer, why would I want to dismiss something that is so important to the period in which my novels take place, something so important to the thoughts and motives of my characters?
People in ancient Greece and Rome (for example) believed in a pantheon of gods and goddesses who governed every aspect of life. From the emotions one felt or the lighting of a family hearth fire, to the start of a business venture or a soldier’s march to battle, most people held their gods and goddesses close. Indeed, there was a god or goddess with accompanying rituals for almost everything.
Religion enriches the ancient world in historical fiction and sets it apart from today, transports the reader to a world that is foreign and exotic. And the beauty is that there is so much mystery, so little known, that the writer can spread his or her creative wings.
Of course, it’s always important to do as much research as possible – if the primary texts don’t tell you much, then look to the paintings on ceramics, wall frescoes, statues and other carvings. If you can get to the actual sanctuaries of the ancient world, even better, for they are places where even the most sceptical person can feel that there is (or was) indeed something different going on.
When I write, I try to do something different by having my main characters in close touch with the gods of their ancestors. Since it is historical fantasy, I can get that much more creative in having characters interact with the gods who have a clear role to play and are characters themselves.
The beautiful thing about the gods of ancient Greece and Rome is that they are almost human, prone to the same emotions, the same prejudices, that we are. From a certain point of view, they’re more accessible.
Despite this however, their worship, be it Apollo, Venus, Magna Mater, Isis, Jupiter, Mithras or any other, is still shrouded in mystery, clouded by the passage of time. Thousands and thousands of ancient Greeks and Romans flocked to Elefsis to take part in the mysteries dedicated to Demeter and Persephone, but little is known because devotees were sworn to secrecy. Oaths then were ‘water-tight’ as the saying went. Also, at one point, most of the Roman army worshiped Mithras, the Persian Lord of Light and Truth. Do we know much about Mithraism? Some, but there is still much that is not known and perhaps never will be.
In one of my books some of the characters pay a visit to the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, which was still revered in the Roman Empire. Today, if you watch a documentary on Delphi, you will hear about how the oracle was used by politicians to deliver fabricated answers to those seeking the god’s advice. It is true that politics and religion in the ancient and medieval worlds were frequent bedfellows, but one can not dismiss the power of belief and inspiration. If the Athenians had not received the famous answer from the Delphic Oracle about being saved by Athens’ ‘wooden walls’, then they might not have had such a crushing naval victory over the Persians at Salamis.
There is a lot of room for debate on this topic and many, I suspect, will feel strongly for or against the exploration of ancient religion in fiction. If we feel inclined to dismiss ancient beliefs, to have our characters belittle them, to explain them away, we must ask ourselves why.
Do we dismiss ancient beliefs because we think they are silly, quaint, barbaric or false? Or do we stay away from them because we just don’t understand? Taking an interest in them, giving them some space on our blank pages, doesn’t mean we dismiss our own beliefs, it just means that we are open-minded and interested in accurately portraying the world about which we are writing.
I like my fiction to be vast and multi-hued. Like the Roman Empire, all gods and goddesses are welcome to be a part of the whole and it is my hope that, being inclusive, my own stories will be more interesting, more true to life, more mysterious.
I suppose, at the end of the day, we each have to decide whether to take that leap of faith.
Thank you for reading.
Those of you who have read the books in the Eagles and Dragons series will know that they are set during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus who waged a mostly successful war on Rome’s longstanding enemy, the Parthian Empire.
What you may not know, however, is that long before Severus, Verus, Trajan, and Mark Antony’s campaigns, there was a Roman who was the original punisher of the Parthians.
His name was Publius Ventidius Bassus.
We all hear about the big names of history often enough, but once in a while, I like to highlight some of the secondary and tertiary characters who played a role in the history of the ancient world.
If you missed the previous post on Gaius Asinius Pollio, the founder of the first public library in ancient Rome, you can read that one by CLICKING HERE.
But today, we’re going to take a very brief look at Ventidius.
When I came across Ventidius I couldn’t help but admire his rise from very humble beginnings to the heights of glory on the battlefield for Rome.
He was not from Rome, but rather from Picenum, the birthplace of Pompey the Great, and located in what is now Abruzzo, to the West of Rome.
When the Social War of 91-88 B.C. broke out – this was the war between Rome and the Italian allies – the young Ventidius was in the eye of the storm.
After the Samnite Wars, Rome basically controlled the Italian allies, and the terms that were reached eventually led to great inequalities around money, land ownership, foreign policy, troop levies and more.
This left the Italian allies in poverty, despite their having contributed so many men to Rome’s legions.
In 91 B.C. the Tribune of the Plebs, Marcus Livius Drusus, proposed a series of fair reforms to remedy the situation with Rome’s allies, but for this he was assassinated.
When the Italian allies heard this, they declared independence and war broke out. Most of the Latin cities remained loyal to Rome, but a confederation of eight tribes joined forces (with their Roman-trained men) with the capital at Corfinium, in Abruzzo.
Ventidius and his mother were taken prisoner in the ensuing slaughter of that war and paraded through the streets of Rome in the subsequent triumph of the Roman general, Pompeius Strabo.
But Ventidius survived his ordeal, and as he grew up he became a skilled muleteer. Eventually, he joined the Roman army and after some time, came to the notice of Julius Caesar.
During Caesar’s Civil War, Ventidius acquitted himself admirably and came to be one of Caesar’s favourites.
After the assassination of Julius Caesar, Ventidius threw in his lot with Mark Antony who, after the creation of the Second Triumvirate, sent Ventidius to hold the Parthians back.
When the Parthians invaded Cilicia in 40 B.C., along with some Roman mercenaries led by Quintus Labienus, Ventidius went to meet them head-on with several legions of his own.
The muleteer from Picenum now had a large command!
Ventidius crushed the Parthian forces in two major battles: the Battle of the Cilician Gates, and a battle at the Amanus Pass.
Antony heard the news in Athens and celebrated:
It was while he was spending the winter at Athens that word was brought to him of the first successes of Ventidius, who had conquered the Parthians in battle and slain Labienus, as well as Pharnapates, the most capable general of King Orodes. To celebrate this victory Antony feasted the Greeks, and acted as gymnasiarch for the Athenians. He left at home the insignia of his command, and went forth carrying the wands of a gymnasiarch, in a Greek robe and white shoes, and he would take the young combatants by the neck and part them. (Plutarch, The Life of Antony)
The Parthians were not to be deterred however. They proceeded to bring a massive force into Syria, this time led by Pacorus, the son of King Orodes.
Ventidius’ legions marched to meet the Parthians and utterly crushed them and slew Prince Pacorus at the battle of Cyrrhestica.
Because of Ventidius’ victory, the Parthians were held back in Media and Mesopotamia, and Rome attained a sort of vengeance for the horrible defeat of Marcus Licinius Crassus and his legions years before at the battle of Carrhae.
After the battle of Cyrrhestica, Ventidius pursued the Roman allies who had sided with the Parthians – mainly Antiochus of Commagene – and laid siege to them at a place called Samosata.
When Antiochus proposed to pay a thousand talents and obey the behests of Antony, Ventidius ordered him to send his proposal to Antony, who had now advanced into the neighbourhood, and would not permit Ventidius to make peace with Antiochus. He insisted that this one exploit at least should bear his own name, and that not all the successes should be due to Ventidius. But the siege was protracted, and the besieged, since they despaired of coming to terms, betook themselves to a vigorous defence. Antony could therefore accomplish nothing, and feeling ashamed and repentant, was glad to make peace with Antiochus on his payment of three hundred talents. After settling some trivial matters in Syria, he returned to Athens, and sent Ventidius home, with becoming honours, to enjoy his triumph. (Plutarch, The Life of Antony)
When I read this passage from Plutarch, I can’t help but shake my head at Antony’s jealousy of Ventidius.
It would obviously not do for Antony, who had always lived in the shadow of Julius Caesar, who was Triumvir of the East, to be outdone by a mere muleteer from Picenum.
But he was.
Publius Ventidius Bassus, a man who had worked his way up the ranks of the Roman army, had done what no Roman had done before, nor would do again for a long time.
He was the only Roman general (not an emperor) to celebrate a triumph for victory over the Parthians.
And the sad thing is that we never hear of Ventidius again in history.
Ventidius… was a man of lowly birth, but his friendship with Antony bore fruit for him in opportunities to perform great deeds. Of these opportunities he made the best use, and so confirmed what was generally said of Antony and Caesar, namely, that they were more successful in campaigns conducted by others than by themselves. (Plutarch, The Life of Antony)
I’ve been told by some folks that people only like to read stories about the ‘marquee characters’ of history, people like Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, or Alexander the Great.
But I have to disagree with this. When I read about men like Ventidius, I’m captivated by their story, and because there are so few details about their lives compared with the big names of history, I find myself filling in the blanks, trying to figure out how they did what they did, how they might have felt when they achieved the heights of glory.
Now that makes a great story! Not only do I want to read about these secondary and tertiary characters, I also want to write about them, to tell their story as more than an anecdote of history whispered in the shade of a larger tree.
Thank you for reading.
I had an urge this week to write about doing laundry in ancient Rome.
Because our laundry machine broke down and we are waiting to get it repaired.
As with many things, history geek that I am, it reminded me of ancient history. When I need to clean some piece of clothing without a machine, I use the sink with fresh running water and soap. If you lived in the 19th century, you might have used an old fashioned wash-board with some lye soap – plunge and scrub, plunge and scrub!
But the Romans didn’t have soap, or wash-boards.
So what was a Roman to do when their tunica or stola needed a good cleaning?
Oddly enough, they did not wash their clothes at home.
They took them to a fullonica, the ancient version of a laundry mat or dry cleaners.
Fullers, or fullones, were washers and scourers of clothing and new cloth, and they did a pretty good business in ancient Rome.
I mean, those streets were dirty! And with all the olive oil and garum stains on their clothing, their clothes would have needed a good scrubbing.
There were apparently many fullonicae in ancient Rome and other towns such as Pompeii and Ostia, but how did fullones get the clothes of their fellow citizens clean without any soap?
Why, with human pee of course!
Ok, I’m sensationalizing this a bit, but urine was certainly a part of the process.
Basically, there were three steps to doing laundry properly in the Roman world.
First, the clothing or new cloth had to be washed by the fuller, the fullo.
This was done by putting the clothes in a small tub full with a mixture of water, nitrum or fuller’s earth (known as creta fullonia), some alkali elements, and of course, urine. Water and urine appear to have been the main ingredients of this ancient detergent.
But how did a large prosperous fullonica get enough urine to do the laundry of Rome or Ostia? Well, they placed jars on street corners around the neighbourhood where they operated so that passersby could make a…donation.
I’m guessing the jars near tabernae might have been the most useful. You have to feel for the poor sod whose job it was to go and bring the full jars of urine back to the fullonica through the busy streets of Rome. Maybe people gave him a wide berth so as not to get splashed?
At any rate, once the clothes were in this cleaning mixture, the fuller would get in barefoot and stomp away, over and over, until the clothes were scrubbed of oil, dirt, and grease. This little dance was known as the saltus fullonicus, or the ‘fuller’s jump’.
The next step in the process was to rinse the clothing or cloth. This was done in a series of larger, interconnected wash basins into which poured fresh running water from the town water supply.
The fullo would start at the the dirty end, near the spout where the water exited, and then move up the basins toward the clean end where the water came out.
The final stage involved brushing the clothing (usually wool) with either thistly plants, or the skin of a hedgehog (insert sad face here). They were then hung to dry on a large upside-down wicker basket work with sulphur placed beneath it so as to allow the fumes to whiten the clothes.
High-end fullones, as part of this final stage in the process, might also have rubbed in cimolian, a fine white earth that was supposed to whiten the garment even further.
Once this was all done, your toga was ready to wear to your next imperial banquet!
I don’t know about you, but I’m grateful that we have soap and machines to do our laundry these days.
However, if you want to read more about ancient laundry, fullonicae, fuller’s earth, and the saltus fullonicus, our friends Pliny the Elder, Martial, Plautus and others do talk a lot about it. Apparently, laundry was a hot topic for Romans…
Right… Now I’m off to wait for the repair man!
Thank you for reading.
We’re heading into the wilds of Caledonia in this week’s post.
I wanted to discuss a topic that is often neglected although it is very interesting: the Picts and Pictish art.
As I’ve been packing for a move, I discovered some of my old photos from my days in St. Andrews, Scotland. I came across a packet of prints from an outing with some of my MLitt colleagues to visit Pictish sites in Angus and Perthshire.
The main attraction for us was the wide array of ornate carvings on several Pictish gravestones, most of which are maintained by Historic Environment Scotland at the Meigle Museum which is itself an old school house on the A94 Coupar Angus to Forfar road (for those of you who are interested in visiting). This little museum is a true gem and well worth a visit.
Before looking at the carvings however, I suppose I should answer one simple (or not so simple) question. Who were the Picts?
In brief, they are the direct descendants of the Caledonii, the blanket name given to those tribes who lived in the lands north of the Firth of Forth.
We hear about the latter in relation to the Roman invasion of what is now Scotland by Agricola in AD 79. The action-packed movie Centurion, with Michael Fassbender, which came out in 2010, deals with Agricola’s operations north of the Firth of Forth and the presumed disappearance of the Ninth Legion. In the film, the Caledonii/Picti are portrayed as a society run by a warrior elite, the members of which paint themselves with blue woad. The film is very entertaining, if not violent, but the best thing is that it was filmed where much of the history presumably took place. It’s worth a gander for that, if anything.
But were the Picts simply a mass of blue barbarians as they’re so often portrayed? Likely not.
Contrary to the usual portrayal, the Picts were not simply one enormous group living and fighting north of the Antonine Wall. They were indigenous Celts and the term ‘Picti’, like ‘Caledonii’ or ‘Maeatae’ is more of a blanket term that included approximately twelve Celtic tribes north of the Forth and Clyde rivers. These were recorded by the Roman geographer Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD. Because of the military threat posed by Imperial Rome, the Celts in the area amalgamated into two larger groups. The Caledonii and the Maeatae and, in turn, came to be later referred to as ‘Picti’.
The tribal federation survived the various Roman incursions (the last one being the Severan invasion of Scotland in the early 3rd century – the setting for Warriors of Epona). As a result the Picts were able to develop mechanisms of kingship and by the 6th century there was a Pictish kingdom.
In Pictish art, there are certain recurrent symbols such as those found on the Aberlemno stone including the ‘serpent’, the ‘double-disc’, the ‘crescent’ and the ‘Z-rod’. When I visited the Meigle museum I was struck immediately by the amount of Christian imagery, having had in my mind typical images of paganism when it came to the Picts. The presence of crosses and other Christian images is due to the conversion of the Picts to Christianity after the Irish abbot of Iona, St. Columba, ventured into ‘Pictland’ in AD 565. Columba met the Pictish king, Bridei son of Maelchon in a fortress near the River Ness and thus began the conversion of the Picts, a process that was complete by about AD 700.
The Pictish symbol stones are one of the most important sources for information about the Picts, and the symbols, common from one end of Scotland to the other, were widely understood by all the tribes. Now, however, we know very little of their actual meaning except that they functioned as memorial stones or territorial boundary markers.
The church yard at Meigle contained a large number of Pictish stones, implying that Meigle was itself a very important centre of burial for the Pictish church and under the patronage of the kings of the Picts. Eventually however, Pictish rule, which had survived the onslaught of Rome in Late Antiquity, was taken over by the Gaelic-speaking settlers of Dalriadia (or ‘Dal Riata’ – modern Argyll) which led to the reign of the Scots King, Kenneth mac Alpin and his subsequent dynasty.
Before we bid farewell to the Picts however, there is an interesting Arthurian connection with Meigle and one of the Pictish stones (cross-slab no.1).
On entering the graveyard at Meigle, there is a grassy mound known as Vanora’s Grave. Local tradition has it that Vanora was actually Queen Guinevere, the wife of Arthur. Vanora was abducted by the Pictish king, Mordred, and held captive near Meigle. When she was returned to her husband after this forced infidelity, she was sentenced to death by being torn apart by wild beasts, hence the scene of Vanora’s death on the back of cross-slab no.1. Her remains were buried at Meigle.
Tradition also says that Vanora (and Guinevere for that matter) was barren and it is believed that any young woman who walks over her grave risks becoming barren herself. True or not, this is yet another interesting anecdote of history and legend.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Once more, if you ever get the chance to visit Meigle’s museum and some of the stones in the surrounding area, it’s well worth it.
If Picts are your thing, then you may also wish to take a look at the map and pamphlet of Pictish sites released by the Angus Council by CLICKING HERE.
Thank you for reading!
I hope your Summer has been brilliant thus far.
For myself, I returned from Greece a couple of weeks ago and I am well into my bout of Aegean Blues.
But that’s ok, because I have a couple thousand pictures to gaze at and rich memories of historical outings to keep me inspired.
I hope you enjoyed the pictures on Instagram – if you haven’t seen them, you can do so by CLICKING HERE. I will, of course, continue to post more of them as time goes on.
Today however, I want to share with you my experience visiting a site I’ve longed to see for some time – the Pyramid of Hellinikon.
I’ve mentioned this site before, but now that I have actually been to it I want to give you my impressions before the sound of cicadas fades from my ears, and the memory of intense heat upon my skin cools into Canadian autumn.
In short, this site exceeded my expectations and fired my imagination.
It also nearly fired my physical body as we had arrived in Greece on the tail end of a heat wave that saw temperatures soar into the mid-forties Celsius!
So, after a night of wine and food beneath the stars at the southern tip of the Argolid peninsula, we set out early(ish) over the high peak of Mt. Didyma, down toward ancient Epidaurus, and across to that beautiful jewel-of-a-city, Nauplion.
Now, I know my way around the area pretty well, but let’s just say that finding the Pyramid of Hellinikon was not easy, even with Google Maps.
Our car meandered around the curve of the Argolic Gulf to Nea Keos, then to the far side where we turned northwest.
You might think that with a map, and seeing it on a screen, the place would be easy to find. However, the routes we had to follow were the shape of a Greek Key at best.
And it was HOT!
There was also very little signage, so we had to stop and ask a man who was out watering his grass. As an aside, I think he is the only man in Greece with a large patch of manicured lawn!
Anyway, the fellow simply pointed up the mountain in the direction we were already headed, so we continued on our path, climbing up, turning, climbing again in the shadow of terraces where orange and olive trees grew on the side of the mountain.
We came around a corner and there it was. A pyramid!
The site is just adjacent to a church in the village of Hellinikon. The funny thing is that it stands out like a sore thumb compared with the village houses and church, but it blends almost completely with the ancient landscape itself. By rights, we should have seen it from the road along the gulf below, it stands in such a prominent position.
I pulled the car into the shade of a single tree (hoping it could cool off in thirty-seven degrees in the shade), and got out.
I had to stop and stare at this place, for no pictures had prepared me for the sheer size and antiquity of it. I didn’t feel the sun or heat anymore. I only saw the pyramid, and at the back of my mind the words of Pausanias crept in…
On the way from Argos to Epidauria there is on the right a building made very like a pyramid, and on it in relief are wrought shields of the Argive shape. Here took place a fight for the throne between Proetus and Acrisius; the contest, they say, ended in a draw, and a reconciliation resulted afterwards, as neither could gain a decisive victory. The story is that they and their hosts were armed with shields, which were first used in this battle. For those that fell on either side was built here a common tomb, as they were fellow citizens and kinsmen. (Pausanias; Description of Greece 2.25)
If what Pausanias, writing in the second century A.D., said was true, then I was standing before a pretty well-intact monument of the Greek Heroic Age.
Even now, it sends shivers down my spine…
According to Pausanias, who wrote many hundreds of years later, this pyramid was believed to be a tomb or monument to the fallen Argive soldiers in the opposing armies of Proetus and Acrisius.
Now, Proetus and Acrisius were brothers, sons of Abas and Aglaea, and mythical kings of Argos. Proetus was king first but after many battles with Acrisius, and subsequent losses, went into exile. Acrisius became King of Argos, and this is the same Acrisius who banished his own daughter, Danae, to the sea, along with her infant son – you guessed it! – Perseus.
In truth, nobody is really certain of the age of this pyramid. There is no exact date for the battle between the legendary kings of Argos, Proetus and Acrisius. Another battle mentioned in the sources, in which a large number of Argive soldiers died, apparently took place in c.669 B.C.
It seems that as far as history and sources, the evidence is pretty misty. This is when archaeology and dating can help us a little.
From what I’ve read, the dating of the Hellinikon pyramid is highly controversial. On the one side we have the legend mentioned by Pausanias. Then, in 1937, excavations were undertaken by the American School at Athens in which they found pottery ranging from the proto-Helladic period to the Roman period. This shows the site was in use for some time, but what about dating?
There is a method of dating called thermoluminescence dating, and this was carried out on the pyramid of Hellinikon. Without going into too much detail about this, this method of dating measures the accumulated radiation in objects or sediment.
The team that carried this out, in addition to geophysical surveys, excavations, and a study of the masonry of the pyramid, dates the Hellinikon to the period of about 2000-2500 B.C.
That’s also about contemporary with the pyramids on the Giza plateau. It also falls more or less in the broad period of the Greek Heroic Age.
But this dating method has been highly criticized as inaccurate and sloppy, with one camp of academics taking shots at the group that undertook the study of the pyramid. Other groups believe the style of masonry sets the Hellinikon pyramid in the Classical period.
When I arrived at the site, however, I wasn’t so much concerned with academic theories or arguments. I was just captivated.
In Greece, history and mythology have a way of coming to life unlike anywhere else I’ve been. Perhaps it’s the remoteness of the sites, the landscape that has changed little since ancient times, or the fact that sites such as this are not encased, guarded or protected (for better or worse).
As I stood before the slanted cyclopean walls of this ancient structure I wondered not about the age of the structure, but more of its use. There are a very few pyramids in this part of Greece, and this one is the best preserved.
But what was it for?
I remembered reading that it was either a tomb or monument, as Pausanias suggests, or a sort of guardhouse.
I opened the gate of the rusty fence surrounding the pyramid and approached, scanning the rocks and shrubs for any snakes or scorpions before pressing on.
Maybe it was my overactive writer’s imagination, but this place seemed to be pervaded by a deep thrumming, as if an ancient drum were being beaten in the earth below. I wondered if the shades of the fallen Argive soldiers might still dwell in that place. Had their ashes been placed within?
I wandered around to the back which faced the plain of Argos far below and found that there was a doorway, an arched gallery leading into the pyramid, not unlike the galleria at ancient Tyrins.
First I decided to explore the outside, to get a better feel of the place before heading in.
It hit me as I turned around to see the view from the pyramid…
The entire plain of Argos was clearly visible from the pyramid! You could see every approach – from the South along the sea, from between the mountains to the southwest, from the North toward Argos itself, from the mound of ancient Tyrins to the East, and from the other side of the Argolic Gulf and Nauplio to the southeast.
Then I thought of the other use of this place as a guardhouse. It was perfect. The pyramid blended perfectly into the landscape when ‘seen’ from far below, and it provided a perfect view of the surrounding area, a place from which to spot any threat to Argos itself. Also, I wondered if the shape was better suited to that high and no doubt lonely, windswept place in Winter.
In truth, I can’t be sure either way. Was it a tomb or monument, or was it a guardhouse? Both uses have merits.
After looking around, I turned and went in.
From the rubble strewn about, and the discolouration of the stone around the entrance, it did seem like the pyramid had been sealed at one point, otherwise, one of the corners would have been flat.
I pictured a procession of priests or warriors carrying the urns containing the remains of their fallen comrades into the pyramid beneath the peaked gallery, or a soldier finishing his shift on watch outside and heading back into the pyramid to sleep or eat while another took over outside to watch the valley.
There was a high step at the end of the gallery, and then a door frame with grooves for hinges. I stood on this and looked down into a large square room.
This inner room of the pyramid was in good condition, and free of litter left by modern visitors. There were no stone shelves upon the cyclopean walls, just cracks and the odd, occasional circle cut into the stone. Below the door, there appeared to be a sort of broken basin or drain, but it was difficult to tell.
I stood in the middle of the room and turned around, noticing that it was much cooler and quieter inside the stone walls even though the roof is gone and it’s open to the sky.
After looking around and taking more photos, I made my way back outside to look at those wonderful walls once more and take in the view from that commanding position.
I stood there beneath the full heat of Helios’ orb in the heavens, the cicadas having reached fever pitch now, and lizards skittering away at my footfalls to hide in the shadowy cracks of rubble from the pyramid.
I had never been to a place like this before, and I doubt that I will again, for the Pyramid of Hellinikon is truly unique. True, it’s nowhere near as grand as other pyramids, but it made me feel directly linked to that ancient land and the events that had (or may have) taken place there.
As I took one last look from the wall of the pyramid to the valley, the roads disappeared far below and the air was filled with the sounds of battle, of warriors in bronze and leather, the charge of horses and cry of eagles.
You can’t help but see the past through romantic lenses in a place like this, and that’s ok. It makes it exciting.
I didn’t know if the shades of dead Argives were standing beside me then, but I do know that while at the Pyramid of Hellinikon, I did not feel alone.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour of the Pyramid of Hellinikon. If you ever find yourself near Argos or Nauplio, you should definitely check it out.
If you want to see the rough video clips I took on the site, I’ve put them all together below in a short YouTube video…