G.W. Bowersock is Professor Emeritus of Ancient ­History at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. His latest book is The Crucible of Islam.
 (November 2019)


The Invention of Time

A portion of a mosaic excavated between 2013 and 2015 from the Huqoq synagogue, likely depicting the resistance of the Maccabees to the Seleucid king Antiochus IV in the mid-second century BCE, Lower Galilee, Israel; photograph by Jim Haberman

Time and Its Adversaries in the Seleucid Empire

by Paul J. Kosmin
Calendars are the bones of history. They fortify the memory of individuals and societies, and they suggest explanations for documented events. Without them there would be no structure to what happens apart from sequential order. All calendars depend on astronomy and the cycles of the seasons, but fixing a starting date is unavoidable. The history of the Greek and Roman world is full of different calendars, often called eras, which served states and rulers as a means of commemorating them for good or ill.

The Many Lives of Palestine

Edward Lear: Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, Sunrise, 1859

Palestine: A Four Thousand Year History

by Nur Masalha
In the opening chapter of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon evoked in a few lapidary sentences the two most ill defined and yet most celebrated regions of the ancient Near East. As always, Gibbon chose his words carefully: Phoenicia and Palestine were sometimes annexed to, …

Rootless Cosmopolitans

Phoenician glass masks from Carthage (modern-day Tunisia), third century BC

In Search of the Phoenicians

by Josephine Crawley Quinn
In her book In Search of the Phoenicians Josephine Quinn has opened up the history of a people who have been thoroughly familiar to European scholars since the nineteenth century, when Ernest Renan traveled to the Near East to study them. His Mission de Phénicie (1864) drew upon observations he …


The Venice of the Sands in Peril

The ancient city of Palmyra, a day after ISIS began its siege, May 18, 2015

The fall of the ancient city of Palmyra before the brutal forces of ISIS last week raises the terrifying prospect of damage that could potentially eclipse the recent destruction at Mosul, Nimrud, and Hatra in Iraq. The tragedy of all this is the calculated disregard of a tradition of Palmyrene achievements that really means something to the Arab world.

The Lod Mosaic

It’s not easy to make sense of the remarkable Lod Mosaic, a large, ancient floor newly discovered in Israel and now on display in the United States for the first time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But the very difficulty of interpretation, together with the excellent state of preservation, is what makes it so fascinating. We simply don’t know whether it was part of a residence or an official building, and we can’t even say whether the owner or owners were Jewish, Christian, or pagan. The date is not secure either, although the excavator proposes about AD 300 because late third-and-fourth-century coins and ceramic scraps were found immediately above it. Miraculously, what is on display at the Met survived intact apart from one large gash near the bottom that the excavator considers ancient damage, although not everyone agrees. The mosaic at the Met is the main part of an ensemble of floor mosaics that the Israeli Antiquities Authority uncovered in 1996 at Lod (ancient Lydda) during the construction of a road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Measuring some twenty-three and a half feet by thirteen feet, the mosaic consists of a large square containing a central octagonal medallion, with narrow rectangular panels above and below the square.