The Incense Route (Shen Fei)

The clock of the medieval church of Zutphen has just struck ten and I am sit here on the patio of my hotel, with a glass of local beer and a laptop. It may seem a bit strange that I am still working at this time of day – and let’s face it: it is strange – but it is a fine way to close what has been an excellent day.

Over the past weeks and months, we have done a lot to create Ancient History Magazine. Not just a particular issue, but the magazine itself, which must have a face of its own. We had to make decisions about the themes we wanted to devote attention to, we had to attract subscribers, we had to think about the lay-out, we had to make our trial issue, we had to attract new illustrators. People like Shen Fei and Ken Broeders, whose work I trust you’re going to like. And, of course, they had to find out what it is to work with us. The illustration on the right, by the way, is by Fei.

In the meantime, we prepared the first issue (and the second, about Caracalla, and the third, about Pergamon, and the fourth, about early Egypt…). It’s only been since the beginning of August that we can focus on our debut issue about explorers, but yesterday and today, we really made progress. Three articles are now more or less ready, and the first author has already received his first proof. Others will have to wait a bit longer, but we’re now really advancing.

So, what can you expect? We will begin with a beautiful map, made by Maxime Plasse, of the seven voyages of discovery discussed in this issue. Judith Weingarten will tell you about Queen Hatshepsut and her expedition to the land of Punt. The eternal question “Where on earth is the land of Punt?” will finally be solved: prepare yourself for a surprise; perhaps not about the location, but about the method to determine it. Murray Dahm has written a delightful piece about the voyage of Hanno of Carthage. I love this article, because it really conveys the sense of adventure that we wanted to focus on in our first issue. Johnny Shumate’s illustration will be the perfect accompaniment.

The world map of Herodotus is, technically, not about exploration, although the author of the Histories explored Egypt and Scythia. Owen Rees’ article shows that the ancient explorer’s adventure was not just about travel, but also about breaking with the ideas of one’s society. My own contribution, about the Incense Route, is not about real exploration either, but it shows how travel and travelers can change world history.

Three other articles are about real explorers, who were really driven by a passion to boldly go where (almost) no man had gone before. Joe Hall has a lovely article about Pytheas of Massilia, who searched for the Tin Isles and found Thule. Again, the mystery of the location will get a plausible solution. Eudoxus, who explored both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, is the subject of Edwin de Vries’ contribution: a fascinating story about monsoon trade winds and Oceanic gyres. Finally, Sidney Dean takes us to the deep south, searching for the sources of the Nile, evaluating competing theories. We hope to convey a sense of adventure, but we also hope to show that the world known by the ancients was larger than is often assumed.

Moving beyond the theme: this issue will also include an article about the Dark Age of ancient Media by Daan Nijssen. Lucas Petit will tell you about a museum object that was long believed to be a fake but turns out to be real. The Roman vigiles are the subject of an article by Mark McCaffery and a great illustration by Angel Garcia Pinto. Christian Koepfer writes about a Roman wine merchant in Germany and Nicola Bergamo tells about a Byzantine charioteer (with an exciting illustration by Fabrice Weiss). Archaeologist Richard Kroes will explain a curious verse from the Bible in a three-page article that combines information from just about every discipline that has something to do with the study of Antiquity.

You can expect book reviews (think ‘Ugarit’) and features such as “The Number”, “On the cover”, and “How do they know?”: three recurring segments that will explain how we know what we believe we know. And finally, there will be the list of backers of our Kickstarter campaign – worth mention indeed, because it’s their support that launched this magazine devoted to all disciplines and all parts of the ancient world.

In short: our first issue – eighty-four pages brimful of entertaining, fascinating, intriguing information – will be great and I am grateful to the people who have helped us. I was happy, the past few days, to see it mature. It was also nice to learn that we have hundreds of subscribers already. (If you are not yet among them, go here.) In an age in which the humanities are under pressure, to be present when something new and positive is growing, is quite a privilege.

And it’s something I can drink to, sitting on a terrace in Zutphen, where the bell of the medieval church has just struck midnight. Time to go to bed. These have been awesome days.

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