Paola Pugsley explores the history of this now established custom
When faced with a crisis like the death of a much beloved sovereign, human beings tend to seek comfort in ritual. One of these is the tradition of the lying in state, when the deceased is laid in his or her coffin and mourners are invited to file past to pay their respects. One might think that this was a custom hallowed by the centuries. The truth is rather different.
The procedure refers to the placing of the body in an open or closed casket and displaying this in an opulent or solemn setting, as happened in Westminster Hall in the case of the late Queen Elizabeth II. The coffin stood on a raised plinth, covered by the royal standard and topped by a wreath, with the imperial crown, the golden orb and the sceptre on a purple cushion and huge candle stands all around. A selected contingent kept the vigil, dressed in elaborate unifoms, and a steady stream of mourners, some of whom had been queuing for hours, filed slowly past in complete silence. Only the shuffling of feet was heard.
But just how old is this custom? An early mention of the term ‘lying in state’, in the London Gazette in 1705, refers to Sophia Charlotte of Hanover, Queen Consort of Prussia, who died of pneumonia in that year. But there is no suggestion of crowds of commoners filing past to pay their respects. Her death remained a private matter.
That does not mean that the demise of a powerful leader was always kept private. Far from it. Monumental tombs, intended to endure forever, were a good way to announce the fact indelibly to everyone. One need only think of the pyramids. The populace did not visit them to pay their respects, as such, but they would certainly have stood before them in awe. Another, perhaps more subtle way of manipulating public perception was the use of conspicuous consumption. The target in this case was not so much the ordinary people but rival clans and power centres, who could be led to believe, seeing so much money lavished on a monument, that if so much disposable income was available, then there must surely be plenty more where it came from. This conspicuous consumption could take the shape of immense banquets, or the burial of vast riches with the deceased, as happened in the so-called Midas Tomb in Gordion ,Turkey. The procedure was one involving priests, relatives and officialdom. The populace played its role later, as tomb robbers.
Human sacrifice is also recorded. A man’s entire retinue of household servants might be bludgeoned to death and summarily embalmed, according to the latest research, to join their deceased master and ensure faithful, eternal service in the afterlife (mid-3rd millennium in Ur, Mesopotamia). But this system seems not to have endured. The Egyptians made do with moulded models, and the famous terracotta army was made of clay, not of people. For a long time the death of a ruler remained an affair between the surviving relatives and the religious authorities, but prestige might be lent by the architect of a monument. In Florence, Lorenzo the Magnificent had a simple tomb in San Lorenzo, but it was designed by Michelangelo.
The lying in state of a person of authority for the benefit not only of relatives and members of the apparatus of state but also of the common people, seems to have developed in the US, starting in 1852 with Henry Clay, a senator with a long and distinguished political career. In 1865 Abraham Lincoln was the first president to lie in state. The place of choice was the Capitol in Washington, DC. While we know when, however, it is not clear why it came about. Certainly the dramatic circumstances of Lincoln’s death played a part; moreover, as a young country looking for a common identity, the shared moment of grief acquired a momentum of its own in the United States and needed an outlet. The first statesman to be awarded the honour in the UK was Gladstone, in 1898, and from then on the practice spread and has now become routine. The first member of the British royal family to lie in state was Edward VII in 1910.
Another possible explanation for the custom of placing a body in an open casket is the fear of mistaken death. This encouraged people to delay burial for a few days to make sure that the departed was truly no more. The corpse would be kept in the house while well-wishers would come to pay their respects and comfort the family. While the medically accepted phenomenon of autoresuscitation (or Lazarus syndrome) is rare, the fear of being buried alive was and is very real. One can find all sort of examples on the web, including the case of a person who came back to life during his own autopsy.
Paola Pugsley is the author of Blue Guides to Crete and Turkey
Visitors touring Ephesus might easily end their visit at the Terraced Houses, with their beautiful frescoes and opulent marble floors. The degree of preservation is stunning. Left to the elements frescoes do not survive undamaged to such a height but as there is no trace of immediate reconstruction as such, one is left to wonder how and why they were protected. Taphonomy (the way artefacts are accrued to the archaeological record) can shed light on the process.
The destructive event is dated to around AD 620, an act either of human aggression (the Sassanids) or a natural disaster (earthquake)—or indeed both. The damage was terminal: the houses were not repaired but nor was the site abandoned. A quick backfill followed and the location was terraced again, at an unspecified time, and occupied by a long narrow building, apparently used for storage. This is Late Antiquity, a time when archaeological evidence becomes quite scarce. Buildings, generally speaking, were flimsier constructions, while early excavators looking for solid Roman and Greek solid stonework tended to clear the surface of any later structure, skimp on recording and sometimes publish nothing. From this period on, archaeology is greatly assisted by historians—eminent among them Clive Foss—who have pondered over any available documentation from archives to travellers’ accounts, to graffiti, to piece together Ephesus’s trajectory from the fateful event in the early 7th century to about 1,000 years later, when the great metropolis truly died.
The next two centuries are in many respects a black hole, but one thing is clear: Ephesus regrouped and took a fateful decision. Defence came to the fore. Ephesus received a new set of walls that halved the size of the city, leaving out the whole of the Embolos and both agoras. All efforts were concentrated on the Harbour. The wall, 4m thick (squared stones filled with rubble), ran from the Harbour to the Theatre, along the Arcadian Way and up to the Stadium, and then back to the Harbour.
About a mile to the northeast, the barren hill known to the Byzantines as Helibaton (‘The Steep One’), where Justinian had built the grand basilica dedicated to St John the Apostle in about the mid-6th century, another Ephesus had developed, cashing in on the pilgrimage trade. St John had apparently died here and his grave lay beneath the altar. In addition to this, there was the Cave of the Seven Sleepers, a holy site for pagans, Christians and Muslims alike. And there was always the passing trade of pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.
Helibaton, according to the archaeology, was not settled at the time; it was used as a necropolis, the oldest grave being Mycenaean. So, how come its fortune changed? Procopius, the contemporary historian, states very clearly that there was no water. One has to conclude that the aqueduct that made settlement possible dates roughly to the time of the grandiose church, another mark of imperial favour. A wall was built to defend the settlement, using spolia from earlier structures both nearby (the Temple of Artemis) and far away (the Stadium). In these new circumstances, Ephesus fared better than contemporary Sardis (a fortress and some villages) and Pergamon (a small fort). That was certainly the impression of Bishop Willibald, who visited on his way to the Holy Land in 721. After the great havoc of the Arab incursions, the ravages of the plague and other afflictions such as civic unrest, our bishop found Ephesus the capital of a thema (a Byzantine military and administrative district), functioning although diminished. In addition to trade, Ephesus had always had a rich and productive hinterland, not having in its Greek past dissipated its energies in setting up colonies, as Miletus had done.
The next 350 years of Byzantine presence mark a steady decline. By about the 10th century the harbour had silted up, making it no longer suitable for the Byzantine fleet. The fleet moved about ten miles south, to Phygela, an unexcavated Genoese colony also known as Scalanova, now covered over by the modern settlement of Kuşadası. Trade suffered. Tellingly it is about now that the whole of Ephesus started to became known as Hagios Theologos (from which later on it became Ayasoluk for the Muslims and Altoluogo for the Latins).
The time of Lascarid rule was particularly auspicious. This was when the Latins ran Byzantium, in the first half of the 13th century, and the ruling Byzantine dynasty was based in Anatolia. Borders were well defended by the akrites, a sort of elite caste of freelance fighters, and the marauding Turks from the east were kept in check. The walls of Ayasoluk were remodelled, with the building of a separate fortress with pentagonal and rectangular towers, the ancestor of the tower we can admire today. The great basilica seems to have fared less well: according to Bishop John Tornikes, it was full of hedgehogs, bird droppings and fallen mosaics. The atrium was covered in buildings. Indeed, while Ephesus emptied, Ayasoluk was bursting at the seams and expanding beyond the walls. The original trickle of nomads from the east, after the fateful battle of Manzikert 1071, was now turning into a flood down the Meander valley. Recent political developments such as the setting up of the Sultanate of Konya had upset the pattern of trade. Communication with the east was severed.
The incorporation into the Emirate of Aydın (which moved its capital to Ayasoluk) brought some sort of stability. Trade resumed, with Venetian and Genoese merchants looking for raw materials (alum, grain, rice, wax and hemp) in exchange for manufactured products such as the ever-popular brightly coloured cloth. The original harbour, now unusable, was abandoned. The new harbour (Panormus) was at a location four miles due west of Ayasoluk. A map drawn by Choiseul-Gouffier, French ambassador to the Porte from 1784–91, shows the spot just north of the mouth of the Cayster. It is labelled ‘Lake full of reeds’ and was at that time by the sea, whereas the present coastline is two miles further west. Older accounts mention merchants’ houses, docks, churches, a lighthouse and a ‘deep’ harbour around the eastern end of the inlet. Investigations have been sporadic. Merchandise could move by road and down the river. The local emir pocketed the dues and indulged in some piracy to supply the slave market. Times were prosperous. The Isa Bey mosque went up, the first monumental building in the area since the time of Justinian. The court of the emir patronised the arts and sciences.
St John’s basilica was turned in part into a mosque (the frescoes were hidden under coloured marble slabs) and the rest of the building was used as a market for the produce of the fertile hinterland. Locally minted gold coinage imitated that of Florence. By now the fame of St John had acquired an extra twist: not only did the sacred tomb beneath the altar exude a miraculous manna on certain dates, but the saint, it turned out, was not really dead. He was merely asleep, and his snoring could be heard. Pilgrims continued to flock to the sacred site and paid the entrance fee imposed by the business-minded Turks.
This sort of mutually beneficial cohabitation required a lot of delicate footwork, not least because the emir’s authority was never beyond challenge by other members of his family. The intervention of the Ottoman Sultan Bayezıt I (known as Yıldırım, the ‘Thunderbolt’) was as unwelcome as it was inopportune. He plunged the emirate into chaos in 1390. When Tamerlane captured him at the battle of Ankara in 1402, the Anatolian emirs breathed a collective sigh of relief. But the respite was short-lived. The Ottomans returned in 1425, and this time they stayed. Serious decline set in. Trade gradually moved to Scalanova and Izmir. Istanbul was distant and indifferent. Nomadism took root in the hinterland, with serious ecological consequences: deforestation, the neglect of drainage ditches and therefore increased silting.
Under the conservative Ottoman rule, Ephesus maintained its administrative role as the head of a kaza, an administrative division under a kadı (a judge); the mint still operated. Western travellers attracted by the Classical ruins had to go to Ayasoluk to find lodgings and to pay their respects to the kadı, a process that involved bringing a suitable gift (coffee and sugar were welcomed). Their accounts paint a dismal picture of the place: houses with earthen roofs, lodgings full of fleas, howling jackals; but the Isa Bey mosque was in good repair and was at times mistaken for St John’s basilica. Evliya Çelebi, who visited in the mid-17th century, was certainly not fooled. Finding little reason to rejoice in the present state of Ayasoluk, he berated the locals and their laziness for the sad state of affairs while at the same time conjuring up a mythical, glorious Islamic past when Ayasoluk had had 300 baths, 20,000 shops, and 3,800 mosques, both large and small. The reality was that the place was riddled with malaria, a fact greatly responsible for the misery witnessed by visitors.
By the 18th century the Turkish population had moved into the castle while the Greeks had decamped to the surrounding hills. By the 19th century the castle was in ruins but there was still a kadı; he lived in the village.
The planned railway put Ephesus back on the map as a communication hub, which had been its calling since antiquity. Its construction brought with it a young engineer, John Turtle Wood, who pinpointed the correct location of the Artemision and thereby started the rebirth of Ephesus.
Empires that tend to be large, and try to unite peoples of disparate ethnicities under one ruler, certainly have a communication problem, more so in antiquity when getting ideas around was a much slower business. The power, the benevolence—indeed the very existence of a new emperor had to be drummed in one way or another. Coinage was pressed into service. Everyone needed coins to pay taxes while soldiers, paid in coins, could see the ruler’s portrait on them.
Colour, as exclusive to the top end of the ruling class, was also used at least from the 2nd millennium BC according to written sources. And the colour used was purple, the colour of a dye extracted from a marine mollusc and developed on the east Mediterranean coast and subsequently commercialised widely by the Phoenicians. The Hittites and later the Assyrians mention it as a tribute extracted from the area. Persia adopted purple wholeheartedly. Such success, apart from personal taste, is probably down to the fact that it was the only colour-fast commercial dye known in antiquity. Empires are not supposed to fade. And besides, it was very expensive, reassuringly so, worth its weight in silver. Wannabes who tried to cheat with a dye extracted from radicchio endives were soon exposed.
When Alexander the Great toppled the Persian Empire, he adopted the Persian style with enthusiasm: purple hat, purple shoes, tunic, mantle and a profusion of purple soft furnishings: cushions, rugs and carpets. He gifted purple things to his entourage as a mark of favour. The chosen few were called the ‘porporati’. As he died in Babylon it was left to his successors, the diadochoi, to bring the fashion westwards. The up-and-coming power of the time, Rome, adopted purple as a symbol of power but in a more modest version, as consonant with a republic that did not wish to be associated with the absolutism and tyranny of the defunct Persian Empire. Senators and other worthies had bands of purple on their togas, of differing widths according to rank. Only a victorious general was allowed a full purple toga embroidered with gold (the toga picta).
As the wheels of history moved on and the Roman Empire became a reality, the colour purple took a new dimension. On 23 July AD 18, at the beginning of the reign of Tiberius, Caius Cominius Leugas discovered the quarries of red and black porphyry in the Eastern Desert of Egypt. So says the inscription found in a location some 30km inland from Hurgada on the Red Sea in one of the quarry villages. The date suggests that the province of Egypt was being prospected for mineral resources. After the demise of Antony and Cleopatra, Egypt came under the direct control of the Emperor, being too rich and important to be left to senators or equestrians. The Egyptians had been aware of this stone, with its stunning purple hue dotted with white specks, but had not exploited the quarries. They had only used the odd loose boulder, found lying on the valley floor, to make vessels. Perhaps they did not particularly like it, or were defeated by the logistics of extracting and moving large pieces. Not so the Romans. About 50 years later the operation was up and running, roughly at the same time as the exploitation of the granite quarries on Mount Claudianus about 50km to the south. These in due course provided the columns for the front porch of the Pantheon, still there to be admired.
The Roman activity at Mons Porphyrites, which lasted almost without interruption until the 5th century, has recently been investigated by a British team. Another reason for the study is because the site is under threat from nearby tourist development at Hurgada. Access has become too easy: the desert is not what it used to be.
The area is mountainous and the porphyry is present as intrusions in dikes, most of which are vertical. Therefore the quarries are high up and connected to the wadi floor with slipways. Workers lived in villages; the military personnel, indispensable for security and for technical expertise, lived in a fort together with the administrative staff. It is thought that the workforce was mainly Egyptian, as the two temples identified are dedicated to Egyptian gods. The vexed question of slave labour remains difficult to solve but ostraka (pottery sherds reused to write messages on) talk of payments to workers—or at least, to specialists, such as the blacksmith for whom wood had to be found, as indeed it was: oak has been identified, which must have been sourced outside Egypt. A blacksmith was required for the metal tools. Porphyry being harder that granite, it could only be obtained with the use of metal wedges and chisels.
Transport, first to the Nile (some 140km), then down the Nile and finally to Rome, remains a bit of a mystery. If you look at Nero’s colossal monolithic basin, now in the Vatican Museums but formerly in his Domus Aurea, you can see the extent of the problem. The diameter of the basin (some 470cm, never mind the supporting structure which may not be original) suggests a weight of several tons (a cubic metre of porphyry weighs 2.7 tons), quite a job to shift and transport. Eighteenth-century evidence from Carrara in Italy suggests that a wagon load of 18 tons could be handled by 12to 18 pairs of oxen. But this is a desert area and cattle do not prosper here. Indeed the animal remains suggest the presence of horses (for the military), donkeys, mules and camels. Camels are very strong but also have a foul temper and are difficult to harness in large numbers for a long trek.
Somehow or other, however, the stone was moved, starting off from Badia, a nearby fort just out of the wadi in a very fine location (as the picture above shows) to the southwest to Qena on the Nile. It was moved north in such quantities that when the Roman Empire collapsed there was enough porphyry in Rome to adorn the successor capitals from Ravenna (where Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths, had a porphyry bath manoeuvred into his extravagant tomb) to Byzantium and beyond. There were enough spare columns to beautify churches and palaces, to satisfy everyone. Only statuary perhaps suffered, as there were no fresh blocks to carve. Byzantium went as far as panelling a whole room with porphyry for the heir to Empire to be ‘porphyry-born’ (Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus). Porphyry sarcophagi continued to be used; a good selection can be seen in the garden of the Archaeology Museum in Istanbul.
These were heady days for the Byzantines: the Arab incursions had been repelled and the Turks were not yet on the world scene. Many years later, Fatih Sultan Mehmet, who turned Byzantium into Istanbul, had no time for porphyry: the colour of Islam was green.
All roads lead to Rome. And Rome still leads the world in roads. The streets of the ancient city were paved in huge, irregular blocks of stone known as basolato. Today only a very few segments of such paving survive: along the Via Appia, for example, or in parts of the Forum. But the streets of central Rome are still paved in stone: most retain their sanpietrini (or sampietrini), small, square, regular cobbles.
The skill of the ancient Romans in building roads throughout the empire was essential to their military victories. Many of the straight roads which they laid out are still used by modern thoroughfares, and are immediately recognisable all over Europe. In the Republican era, roads were the responsibility of censors and consuls, who had to see to their maintenance. Consular Roman highways were often provided with a raised kerb and sidewalks (crepidines) and good drainage. The key to a good road, however, lay beneath it, in the preparation of the bed on which the paving stones were laid. For centuries the durable Roman technique was forgotten and it was only in 1811 that John Loudon Macadam rediscovered it, noting that ‘a road made of small broken stone, without mixture of earth, of the depth of ten inches, will be smooth, hard and durable.’ He and his descendants went on to make a fortune out of designing Britain’s turnpikes, which came to be described as ‘Macadam’ or ‘Macadamised’ roads.
In 2019 there were protests from some of Rome’s inhabitants, who complained that the streets were too uneven and were causing accidents. One can sympathise with these worries, but if ever the sanpietrini were to be replaced by the ubiquitous tarmac, as has happened in other historic towns where the ancient paving has been eliminated, the entire feel of Rome would be irrevocably changed. For now, at least, it seems the sanpietrini cobbles are here to stay, preserving the age-old appearance of the streets as a complement to the buildings at either side.
Archaeology used to be mainly about the material remains of the past. They stood as witnesses of events and civilisations long past and encouraged archaeologists in their main activity, namely digging to find out more. Normally, if no clues could be seen above ground, nothing very much happened. Seeing beneath the soil and knowing precisely where to put your spade has in the past years developed stupendously, as the recent work of the Armenian-German team at Artaxata has shown.
Artaxata in today’s Armenia, 30km northeast of Mount Ararat as the crow flies, just on the border with Turkey, might seem an unlikely place to look for Roman remains. Yet the Romans were here and going by the efforts they made to beautify the city they were intending to stay. That was certainly the emperor Trajan’s idea in the early 2nd century of the present era but things did not quite go according to plan. His successor Hadrian gave up on the provinces of Armenia and of Mesopotamia which the Romans could not defend against their eternal enemy in the East, the Parthians; relations were not much better later with the Sassanians.
Work has been going on in Artaxata since the 1970s, revealing among other things dwellings, fortifications, workshops and Roman inscriptions. Somewhere there must also be a military camp since we know that the Legio III Scythica was stationed here. Stamped bricks and roofing tiles, a monumental inscription of Emperor Trajan as well as munitions and weapons have been found. Among the monikers given to this legion, the one that goes ‘Operosa et felix’ (‘Industrious and fortunate’) is a good reminder that a soldier’s job was not limited to fighting. A legion of something like 3,000 to 6,000 people had its own surveyors, engineers and architects while at the same time the lower orders and the auxiliaries (the non-Roman citizen corps attached to a legion) would provide the manpower. It is very possible that the makeover of Artaxata was both intended to impress the local populace and to keep a lot of idle hands busy.
Among the building unearthed was a bathing complex with the tell-tale stacks of round bricks of the sospensura characteristic of the heating system of Roman baths. Normally baths imply a regular water supply, i.e. an aqueduct. This fact, together with stray remains of an urban piped water system, set the archaeologists looking for it. But there was nothing visible above ground; no clay or stone pipes, no stumps of arches, no holding tanks. An extensive geomagnetic survey of the area to the east of Artaxata revealed crucial anomalies set in a straight line, anomalies that upon excavation were proved to be the closely spaced foundation pillars of arches intended to control the gradient of the water arriving from the nearby mountains. The starting point of the aqueduct has not been pinpointed but the estimated total length varies between 25 and 30km, a distance well within Roman engineering capabilities.
That there were no surface remains is taken as proof that the aqueduct was actually never built. It had been carefully planned and the closeness of the foundations suggests that the engineers were well aware of the seismic nature of the area and of the dangers of building on marshy ground. Trajan would have been proud of them! But it seems as if the local people were not convinced.