Flooded ruins at Angkor
PEOPLE OF THE ANCIENT WORLD: Mesrop Mashtots (Saint of the Armenian Church)
MESROP Mashtots (360/370 – c. 440 CE) invented the Armenian alphabet in 405 CE. Besides greatly increasing levels of literacy in the country, the language permitted ordinary people to read the Bible for the first time, thus helping to further spread and entrench Christianity in Armenia, which was the original intention behind the script’s invention. For these achievements Mashtots (Mastoc) was made a saint of the Armenian Church.
Mashtots came from a family of modest status living in Hatsekats, a provincial town in the Taron province of ancient Armenia. After an education focussed on Greek literature and an early career in the military, Mashtots served at the Armenian royal court before joining the Christian church and working as a missionary in the southeast of Armenia. It was then that the young evangelist realised how important it could be for his conversion rates if the people could read about the Gospel message in their own language, spoken Armenian not having, at that time, a written form. Christian texts were useless to common people as they were written in either Greek or Syriac, both of which only highly educated people could read. To do anything useful, though, Mashtots needed a powerful sponsor and state backing.
POMPEII was a large Roman town in the Italian region of Campania which was completely buried in volcanic ash following the eruption of nearby Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. The town was excavated in the 19th and 20th century CE and due to its excellent state of preservation it has given an invaluable insight into the Roman world and may lay claim to being the richest archaeological site in the world in terms of the sheer volume of data available to scholars.
The area was originally settled in the Bronze Age on an escarpment on the mouth of the river Sarno. The site of Pompeii and the surrounding area offered the twin advantages of a favourable climate and rich volcanic soil which allowed for the blossoming of agricultural activity, particularly olives and grapes. Little did the original settlers realise that the very escarpment on which they built had been formed by a long-forgotten eruption of the now seemingly innocent mountain that over-shadowed their town. However, in Greek mythology, a hint at the volcano’s power was found in the legend that Hercules had here fought giants in a fiery landscape. Indeed, the nearby town Herculaneum, which would suffer the same fate as Pompeii, was named after this heroic episode. In addition, Servius informs us that the name Pompeii derives from pumpe, which was the commemorative procession in honour of Hercules’ victory over the giants.