We continue our series in which we look at each of the works in A History of the World in 100 Objects. The exhibition from the British Museum runs at the WA Museum, Perth, until June 18.
'In week two, we look at objects 2 0-29. '
' : The First Cities (3000–700 BC)'
'20. Lunula (‘little moon’ in Latin), 2400–2000 BCE, Mangerton, Kerry, Ireland, Gold.'© Trustees of the British Museum
Over 80 gold lunulae have been found in Ireland. But how were they worn? What did they symbolise? They were probably worn as jewellery, and their skilled craftsmanship suggests they were prestige items. But there is no evidence of a complex social hierarchy or of developed cities, usually associated with the appearance of gold in prehistoric societies.
'21. Statue of Ramesses II, about 1280 BCE, Temple of Khnum, Elephantine, Egypt. Granite. © Trustees of the British Museum'
Ramesses II was one of Egypt’s most successful pharaohs, ruling from about 1279 BCE for 66 years and presiding over a golden age of prosperity and imperial power across the kingdom. He consolidated his reputation by erecting numerous statues of himself throughout a united Upper and Lower Egypt, and adding his name to statues of his predecessors.
' : Power and Philosophy 700 BCE – 100 CE'
'22. Gold Coin of Croesus, about 550 BCE, minted in Lydia (modern Turkey). © Trustees of the British Museum'
One of the earliest coins in the world, this was minted during the reign of King Croesus of Lydia (modern Turkey) or shortly afterwards. Before coinage, precious metals like gold and silver were traded by weight. The first coins followed this system since their value was in their weight.
'23. Assyrian Relief, gypsum, 700–695 BCE, Kouyunjik (Nineveh), Iraq. © Trustees of the British Museum'
This relief, one of many celebrating the military campaigns of the Assyrian king Sennacherib, decorated a royal building at his capital of Nineveh. It depicts two Assyrian army guardsmen, an Aramean archer and a spearman from the Levant. The Assyrians established a mighty empire, controlling land from Egypt to modern Iran, through the power of their army.
'24. Shabti of Taharqo, granite, c. 664 BCE, Sudan. © Trustees of the British Museum'
The ancient Kingdom of Kush, based in what is now mostly Sudan, ruled the joint kingdoms of Egypt and Kush from about 747 to 656 BCE (the 25th Dynasty). They adopted Egyptian traditions including the placement of shabtis in the tombs of important people to work for the deceased in the afterlife. This shabti is from the tomb of the Kushite King Taharqo in Nubia.
'25. Zoroastrian Figures, gold, 500–400 BCE, found near the Oxus River, on the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan. © Trustees of the British Museum'
2,500 years ago the Persian Empire was the world superpower. While the state religion was Zoroastrianism, Persians were relatively tolerant of other faiths. These precious gold figures represent Zoroastrian priests or worshippers, holding bundles of sticks for burning, reflecting the sacredness of fire. Their mouths are covered to prevent their breath polluting the sacred flames.
'26. Coin with Head of Alexander, silver, minted 305–281 BCE, Turkey. © Trustees of the British Museum'
This coin depicts Alexander the Great, King of Macedon. It was minted forty years after his death by Lysimachus, one of his generals. After Alexander's death in 323 BCE his empire was divided amongst his warring generals and Lysimachus became King of Thrace, an area now straddling Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. Use of Alexander’s image on his coinage helped legitimise Lysimachus' authority and right to power through association with Alexander.
'27. Funerary Stela, limestone, 100 BCE–100 CE, Egypt. © Trustees of the British Museum'
Ptolemy, one of Alexander the Great's Greek generals, was the first ruler of Egypt’s powerful Ptolemaic dynasty. This funerary stela, for a man named Didymos, has three scripts —Greek, the official state language, Egyptian hieroglyphs and Demotic, the everyday script used by literate Egyptians. This ensured effective communication with wider Egyptian society. When Cleopatra VII, the latest queen of the Ptolemy line, died in 30 BCE, Egypt became part of the Roman Empire.
'28. Head of Augustus, bronze, glass, calcite, 27-25 BCE, Meroë, Sudan. © Trustees of the British Museum'
Caesar Augustus — the first Roman emperor — communicated his personal authority to his subjects by erecting statues across his empire. Until his death aged 76, these statues depicted him as a young man in his prime, an enduring symbol of his and Roman power. Some of these statues were erected in Egypt which Augustus (then known as Octavian) had conquered for Rome by defeating Cleopatra VII and her lover the Roman general Mark Antony. In 25 BCE, six years after Augustus seized Egypt, the Queen of Kush invaded Egypt from the south, capturing many towns and forts, her army carrying several statues of Augustus off as plunder. In the early 1900s CE, this decapitated head from a bronze statue was discovered underneath the steps of a temple to Victory in the Kushite capital Meroë. Was this deliberate, to ensure it was permanently below the feet of its Meroitic captors?
'29. Carving from the Great Stupa of Amaravati, limestone, 200–240 CE (carving), India. © Trustees of the British Museum'
Amaravati was one of the most important Buddhist sites in ancient India. At its heart was the great stupa — a mound built to house a relic of the Buddha. This carved drum slab, an element of the original splendid sculptural decoration, depicts the stupa itself protected by a five-headed serpent, as well as guardian lions. Scenes from the life of the Buddha are shown in miniature on the stupa exterior.