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The Spartan relationship with those that they conquered was designed to maintain their superior strength as a fighting power. To do this they needed an underclass of workers who could maintain the living standards of their society. Those that they subjugated within the Peloponnese were called Helots, and they fulfilled this role. To consider whether this relationship could be described in terms of class struggle it is necessary to identify who the Helots were, their particular role in Spartan life, their reaction to this role, their treatment by the Spartans and its eventual effects.


Excepting for a few Achaean centres, when the Mycenaean period ended in about 1200 BCE it was followed by a severe depopulation of the Peloponnesian peninsula. In about 1000BCE, the Dorians, a northern migrant-warrior tribe invaded and settled Laconia. This occupation of the land happened over a long period, with any pre-Dorian population being used as slave labour or expelled, as the Dorians were not an agricultural people[1].

The city of Sparta began as a conglomeration of villages on the Eurotas River[2], on a site founded in the early tenth century that was previously uninhabited, evidenced by the absence of Mycenaean sherds[3]. About ten kilometres south of Sparta was Amyclae, the centre of the Laconian Achaeans. It was captured by the Dorian Spartans in the middle of the eighth century adding a fifth village to the four villages of Sparta. The land of Helos at the mouth of the Eurotas River was also subjugated[4]. In this early Spartan period of settlement and occupation social conditions developed that were the result of a relationship between the conquerors and the conquered[5].

Being a warrior community of small numbers, the Dorian-Spartans needed others to work the land for them. The land was divided into lots and tilled by the conquered that filled the role of serfs, or Helots [captives[6] ], and provided the livelihood for their masters. These early Helots were made up of a pre-Dorian agricultural community[7]. The Spartans, being a dominant force and increasing in number, acquired land in the west, north and south[8], but in particular the land of Messenia in the west of the Peloponnese.

This led to the First Messenian War around the latter part of the seventh century[9]. After the battle for the Messenian’s mountain fortress at Ithome, the Spartans were victorious and turned the inhabitants into Helots[10]. The seventh Spartan poet Tyrtaeus describes the Messenians paying tribute to their new masters ‘just like donkeys, worn down by heavy burdens[11]. This burden was great, in that Helots had to deliver half of their crop to their Spartan masters[12]. Yet there were many of them and consequently they became a threat to the Spartan state.

Although the expansion of Spartan territory into Laconia and Messenia doubled the state’s size and resulted in whole populations being subjugated into serf-like primary producers, it also found the Spartans constantly having to control ‘an enemy within’[13]. Unlike slaves elsewhere in Greece who were bought and sold by individual masters at will, Helots were not of disparate origin but born only in Laconia or Messenia and not sold beyond these lands[14]. Ehrenberg states that ‘it was the Messenians who ever afterwards threatened to revolt against Sparta’[15]. Forrest also asserts that through their numbers, their race and their identity, being of Messenian or Dorian-Greek origin, these Helots were a constant threat to Spartan society[16].


Surface surveys conducted in southwest Messenia show isolated settlements across the landscape, rather than individual farmsteads. This suggests that Helots lived together on estates and under some surveillance, not spread out in small family groups on cultivated land[17]. Xenophon saw the Helots as being integral to the Spartan state, much like slaves elsewhere[18]. Other than agricultural tasks, the functions performed by Helots were as domestic servants, wet nurses, grooms, attendants to Spartans on military campaigns, as well as troops and even hoplites between  424-369BCE[19]. Kennell thinks that Helots may have been owned individually[20]. Xenophon writes that the Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus allowed anyone to borrow another’s hunting dogs, horses or helots[21], which suggests that they were considered private property[22]. However, this could also mean that, rather than being owned, they were considered part of an individual’s share of the common good.

Helots did have a form of property and marriage rights and some form of social life. Talbert argues that, for some Helots, life must have been good through having some influence and power in administrating property while the owners were away fighting or in the city. This meant that they might profit from their work and their loyal military services and might suggest an acceptance of their position[23]. Herodotus states that Helots were used as troops in the Battle of Thermopylae in 480BCE[24] (Herod. 6.80; 8.25), and at the Battle of Plataea in 479BCE there were seven armed helots to one Spartan hoplite[25]. There was a substantial drop in the Spartan population during the fifth century and therefore the number of Helots required serving in Spartan military expeditions increased[26]. Being small in number and located in the city itself unless on official business, the Spartans must have left the Helots to their own devices much of the time[27].

The territory of Sparta was extensive and difficult with many mountain ranges isolating various areas. Spartan households used a large amount of domestic attendants to do tasks such as wool-working that were normally carried out by women in other areas of Greece[28]. As a Spartan’s whole life was training for war, the whole orientation of society needed an enslaved population to assist this and constructed their lifestyle to make this hierarchy. In this way, the Helots were fundamental to the Spartan economy[29]. To rely for their survival on the helots the Spartans had to turn their city into a military barracks, but the compensation for this meant that Sparta became one of the most powerful cities in the Hellenic world[30]. However, this also resulted in Sparta having to devote much energy to asserting its power over the Helots and, until the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BCE; it involved a constant rebalancing of benefits and dangers[31].


Talbert asserts that the longevity of Helot submission is more significant than Helot rebellion, and the fact that population numbers remained high points to general well-being[32]. The helots had the advantage of being in a country that was protected from outside invaders. It was also a country where the masters had limited literary or cultural interests, therefore it is unlikely that isolated Helots would have been politically interested. As Sparta’s neighbours were all oligarchies, rather than democracies like Athens, it would appear that there was little chance for political organisation for the Helots, being isolated and uneducated[33]. As Helots infrequently came into contact with free people, this situation may have changed with the use of Helots in military expeditions in the early fifth century.

While the first revolt of the Helots came in the latter half of the seventh century, the Spartans took years to quell the rebellion and suggests a cause for the ongoing tensions between the Spartans and the Helots. While there are no accounts of rebellion in the sixth century, there are more than a few accounts of Helot disloyalty or conflict in the fifth and fourth centuries. By the time of Thucydides it seems that Spartan society was designed to keep it secure against the Helots[34].

Thucydides[35] states that all Helots, whether Laconian or Messenian were called Messenian, which suggests that the Spartans saw them all as potential dissidents[36].  An earthquake that devastated Sparta in 465/4 BCE[37] had an immediate effect upon the helots, with those in Messenia revolting and again being garrisoned in their mountain stronghold at Ithome. It was not until a decade later that there was a compromise[38]. However, Xenophon writes that by the late fifth century the Helots would have been happy to eat the Spartans raw[39].


In the Parnian area of Sparta a seventh century pattern can be seen through site surveys of small single-family farmsteads and hamlets. Surveyors surmise that these were evidence of the perioeci, free people who were neither helots nor Spartans. After the middle of the fifth century these decrease sharply indicating Spartan security concerns after the earthquake[40]. All Spartan treaties with their allies had a clause calling for assistance in case of a helot uprising[41] , and the Spartan state allegedly maintained an annual declaration of war against the helots through the use of a secret service of young warriors who would murder unsuspecting helots[42].

A fragment from Myron[43] tells of how the Spartans forced the Helots into the most insulting and degrading positions in order to reinforce their inferior position, even to the point of giving a death sentence if they looked too robust. Plutarch cites the practice of making Helots get drunk within the Spartan common dining halls as a form of humiliation designed to reinforce their inferior status[44]. Also, during a siege at Sphacteria during the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides wrote that many Helots came to assist the Spartans who offered them silver and freedom[45]. Later 2000 of these Helots were alleged to have been executed by the Spartans in fear that they had become too powerful[46].

Spartan apprehension of Helots is highlighted by them sending seven hundred with Brasidas to Thessaly[47] during the Peloponnesian War. When they returned in 421BCE they were freed by the state and offered land at Lepreum becoming known as ‘Brasedeoi’[48] and part of a new class of Neodamodeis [‘new men’]. This new status for Helots may have been a state action to balance the societal problems that arose through the stark inequalities of the Spartan/Helot relationship[49]. However, while they were granted land in return for military service, they were not granted citizenship[50]. There is also evidence of the state allowing Helots to be freed in exchange for helping besieged Spartans with food and also on the eve of the Theban invasion of 369BCE. However, so many volunteered to be hoplites that the Spartans retracted their offer in fear that they were arming their enemy[51].


It appears that with the severe decline in Spartan population during the fifth century, there was a need for Spartans to rely upon Helots as a fighting force which contradicted the underpinnings of their society, where Spartans were the soldiers and Helots were the workers. However, the longevity of the relationship over centuries between Spartans and Helots infers that the relationship was much like that of serfs in medieval society. Although there were periods of unrest the relationship relied upon a mutual security which could not be completely undone unless there was a significant change in political outlook. This change may have occurred with the use of Helots in more military expeditions, allowing them to observe other relationships and societies outside of their own isolated experience and being the likely cause of demands for freedom in the fifth and fourth centuries. Therefore, as population decline was a major contributing factor to the eventual demise of Spartan society, it would seem that Cartledge overstates the role of class struggle in Sparta.


  1. Cartledge, P. (2009), Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities, Oxford University Press, New York
  2. Ehrenberg, V. (1971), From Solon to Socrates- Greek History and Civilization during the sixth and fifth centuries B.C., Methuen & Co Ltd, London
  3. Forrest, W.G., (1968),  A History of Sparta: 950-192 B.C., W.W. Norton & Co., New York
    1. Herodotus, The Histories, viewed 16 April, 2013 on
    2. Kennell, N. (2010), Spartans: A New History, Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex
    3. Pausanius, Description of Greece, 4.14.4, viewed 19 April 2013 on
    4. Plutarch, Lycurgus, viewed 17 April, 2013 on
    5. Thomas, R.M., (n.d.), An Overview of Classical Greek History from Mycenae to Alexander, 6.8 viewed 20 April 2013 on
    6. Talbert, R.J.A. (1989) “The role of the Helots in the class struggle at Sparta”,  Historia , 38:2 , 1989
    7. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, viewed 15 April, 2013 on
    8. Xenophon, Anabasis, viewed 15 April 2013 on
    9. Xenophon, Constitution of the Lacedaemonians, viewed 15 April 2013 on
    10. Xenophon, Hellenica, viewed on 16 April 2013 on

[1] Ehrenberg, V. (1971), From Solon to Socrates- Greek History and Civilization during the sixth and fifth centuries B.C., Methuen & Co Ltd, London, p. 29

[2] Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 1.10.2

[3] Ehrenberg, (1971), p.29

[4] Ehrenberg, (1971), p.30

[5] Ehrenberg, (1971), p.31

[6] Cartledge, P. (2009), Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities, Oxford University Press, New York, p.75

[7] Ehrenberg, (1971), p. 31

[8] Ehrenberg, (1971), p. 39

[9] Ehrenberg, (1971), p. 34

[10] Ehrenberg, (1971), p. 35

[11] Thomas, R.M., (n.d.), An Overview of Classical Greek History from Mycenae to Alexander, 6.8

[12] Pausanius, Description of Greece, 4.14.4

[13] Cartledge, (2009), p. 75

[14] Kennell, N. (2010), Spartans: A New History, Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, p. 81

[15] Ehrenberg, (1971), p. 35

[16] Forrest, W.G., (1968),  A History of Sparta: 950-192 B.C., W.W. Norton & Co., New York, p.31

[17] Kennell, (2010), p.81

[18] Kennell, (2010), p.79

[19] Kennell, (2010), p.81

[20] Kennell, N. (2010), p. 82

[21] Xenophon, Constitution of the Lacedaemonians, 6.3

[22] Xen., Hellenica, 6.4.11

[23] Talbert, R.J.A. (1989) “The role of the Helots in the class struggle at Sparta”,  Historia , 38:2 , 1989 , p.31

[24] Herodotus, The Histories, 6.80; 8.25.1;

[25] Herod., 9.10.1; 9.29.2; 9.30

[26] Talbert, (1989), p. 23

[27] Talbert, (1989), p.33

[28] Xen. Lac. 1.3-4

[29] Cartledge, (2009), p. 71

[30] Cartledge, (2009), p.81

[31] Forrest, (1968), p. 39

[32] Talbert, (1989), p. 32

[33] Talbert, (1989), p.30

[34] Thuc. 1.132.4-5

[35] Thuc. 1.101.2

[36] Talbert, (1989), p. 37

[37] Thuc. 1.101.2

[38] Thuc. 1.103. 1-3

[39] Xen. Hell. 3.3.6; Anabasis 4.18.4

[40] Kennell, (2010), p.81

[41] Talbert (1989), p. 34

[42] Plutarch, Lyc., 28.2

[43] Talbert, (1989), p.36

[44] Plut, Lyc. 28.4

[45] Thuc. 4.26.5-6

[46] Thuc.4.80.3-4

[47] Thuc. 4.80.5

[48] Thuc. 5.67.1, 71.3, 72.3

[49] Thuc. 5.34.1

[50] Talbert, (1989), p. 27

[51] Xen. Hell. 6.5.28-9

hoplite 001

How an adherence to dogma led to Spartan decline

Conservatism appeals to those who do not like to be unsettled. It is an appeal where custom is preferred over reason, and where things are so because they have always been so. Inherited customs that reinforce privileges and benefits on a few consecutive generations within a population are difficult to explain through rational means. So an appeal to tradition is one which demands a static lack of thought, and a state that relies upon such an appeal is liable to fall due to its lack of movement or change[1]. For the Spartans, the Lycurgan reforms of the 8th century BCE were the only reforms that they were ever likely to need and they conformed religiously to them even after their defeat at Leuctra.

The Lycurgan reforms are attributed to Lycurgus, an obscure figure of around the eighth century who is known more through his works than his life. In about 800 BCE the Spartans, or Lacedaimonoi, were the inhabitants of about four villages in Lacedaimon ruled by two kings. Beneath the kings was an aristocracy whose role was to be the generals in war, the priests, judges and advisors, and to run a pyramidal household supported by lesser households. This was a common social dynamic throughout Greece at that time. In Sparta, this was termed the phratry. However, although the primitive elements of phratry were kept, the Lacedaimonoi practiced them with an aspect of communal education for children and communal life for adults which was unique amongst the Greek states[2]. Lycurgus was considered the lawmaker for the Lacedaimonoi and his laws were the basis for the constitution which Xenophon wrote about in the 4th century BCE.

Xenophon begins his Constitutions of the Lacedaimonians with an account of the way Lycurgus thought women should uphold their primary duty that of bearing ‘fine children’. In order to produce ‘vigorous offspring’. Lycurgus thought that physical training through competitive games was as important for women as it was for men. Sexual intercourse between a man and a wife was to be kept to a bare minimum in order for desire to be increased, an element that Lycurgus also thought necessary for optimum reproduction. For the same reason, men were only allowed to take a wife whilst in their prime, and if an elderly man had a young wife he had to take into his house a suitable younger man to assist in reproduction. A man without a wife could also find an aristocratic married woman with whom he could father children with her husband’s consent. This was done in order that inheritance could be legitimately conferred through families and also so that the Lacedaimonoi would breed a premium race of people[3]. In comparison to the other Greek states these seemed like fairly radical reforms but they were conservative in the sense that the purpose of them was to reinforce and uphold the status quo within these tribal communities.

The sons of the Lacedaimonoi were taken from their households at six years and educated by older boys under the supervision of a warden until they were twenty. The purpose of their education was to make them as hardy as possible. Modesty, obedience, endurance, chastity and strategy were the chief characteristics that the Lacedaimonoi wished to imbue in their offspring[4]. As young men they graduated to a class of eirenes, not full citizens but liable for military service and engaged in training the next generation[5]. This emphasis on military training allowed the Lacedaimonoi to become renowned as an army and by the eighth century they had subjugated much of the people around them with the annexation of Laconia and Messenia. This produced increased state wealth and the development of an effective army which no longer relied upon the aristocracy for a military monopoly[6]. However, it was also reliant on a large slave population (helots) as its economy, unlike the rest of the Greek states, was largely agrarian-based. This new land needed a large non-Lacedaimonoi labour force which was difficult to control and seen as a constant threat[7].

While Xenophon points out the role of cooperation and sharing in the life of the Lacedaimonoi[8], and the subsequent corruption of this ideal in the Spartan society of his time[9], he neglects to mention that this was only practiced to a certain extent. The reforms of Lycurgus had implied a constitutional guarantee of equal political rights and equal allotments of public land (kleros) to all citizens. However, these so-called equalities were illusions with only a few being eligible to be part of the governing Gerousia, or senate, and the concurrent existence of private lots of land[10]. This situation was exacerbated in the period before the Spartan defeat at Leuctra in 371 BCE by subsequent gross inequalities in wealth of land after periods of Spartan military success. The kleros had to be sufficient to support the family and the helots that worked it, and also provide a contribution to the state. In the period after the 7th century BCE the Lacedaimonoi had raised their standard of living as did their perioikoi, the citizens of the largely autonomous surrounding communities that provided the bulk of Spartan troops. The kleros was not conceived for luxury living and contributed to a decline in the birth-rate amongst the Lacedaimonoi[11].

So, while obedience to the state was a virtue which Spartans appeared to practice even after Leuctra, it was this unquestioning obedience that led to the eventual ‘sclerification’ of Sparta itself. Xenophon berates the latter generations of Lacedaimonoi of his time for their corruption through the accumulation of wealth, yet it was reliance upon a militaristic life underpinned by a static agricultural society dependent upon a large slave population that contributed to Spartan decline. The conservative appeal to persist with societal values that may no longer function was apparent in the decline of the Spartan birth-rate and the danger of revolt from a large underclass upon which the society was dependent for its success. Therefore, Xenophon’s history may be coloured with his concept of a golden Lacedaimon past, and his despondent view of contemporary Spartan society.


  1. Forrest, W.C. (1969), A History of Sparta, Norton Library, N.Y
  2. Scruton, R. (2006), Political Philosophy, Continuum International Publishing Group
  3. Xenophon, The Constitution of the Lacedaimonians, in Xenophon. Xenophon in Seven Volumes, 7. E. C. Marchant, G. W. Bowersock, tr. Constitution of the Athenians. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; William Heinemann, Ltd., London. 1925. , viewed on 25 February 2013

[1] Scruton, R. (2006), Political Philosophy, Continuum International Publishing Group, pp. vii-viii

[2] Forrest, W.C. (1969), A History of Sparta: 950-192 B.C., Norton Library, p.40

[3] Xen. Const. Lac. 1

[4] Xen. Const. Lac. 2

[5] Forrest, (1969), p.53

[6] ibid. pp.58-62

[7] Forrest, (1969), pp.33-38

[8] Xen. Const. Lac. 6

[9] Xen. Const. Lac. 14

[10] Forrest, (1969), p.51

[11] ibid., p.136




The Sacred Ibis (Threskionis aethiopicus) once lived in Egypt and is depicted in many ancient Egyptian wall murals and sculptures. It is also found as mummified specimens at many burial sites and played a significant religious role, in particular during the Late and Ptolemaic periods. The ibis represented the god Thoth, god of wisdom, knowledge and writing, and was considered the herald of the flood[1]. It was of practical use to villagers as it helped to rid fish ponds of water snails that contained dangerous liver parasites[2]. However, it is now extinct throughout Egypt because of gradual aridification through swamp drainage and land reclamation[3].


Ibises are waterfowl found in swamps, marshes, riverbanks and coastal lagoons on almost all the continents. They eat grasshoppers, locusts, crickets and water beetles. They also eat worms, molluscs, crustaceans, fish, eggs, carrion and refuse[4]. They are large birds measuring up to 76cm in length with long legs and a thin downward-curved beak which is used by the bird to look for food in mud and shallow water. It has white feathers covering most of its body and black plumes on its lower back. The head and neck are featherless but covered in a black scaly skin. They are generally silent other than making a harsh croaking sound. Ibises have a gregarious nature and build colonies of up to 300, along with other species such as spoonbills, in trees and bushes[5]. Both parents attend a clutch of 2-4 eggs for about 3 weeks and then take turns feeding the nestlings. The young leave the nest at 14-21 days old but continue to be fed until they grow flight feathers at about 35- 48 days old[6]. However breeding success is generally very low, with an average of 0.01 young fledged per nest.


At the archaeological site at Saqqara, about 1.75 million ibis remains were interred and at Abydos there are thousands more. Another four million were found in the catacombs of Tuna-el-Gebel[7]. Organs were not removed from the mummies however, in 2006, an excavation of a Late Period tomb discovered a mummified ibis with snails in its bill. Other mummies with similar foodstuffs placed within them were also found within the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Peabody and Redpath Museums[8]. This suggests that food was placed there during the mummification process as a source of food in the afterlife[9]. Various radiographic findings of these collections have described the head and the bill being placed between the tail feathers. A layer of resin-impregnated linen surrounds the birds followed by further layers of plain linen[10]. Some of the birds have their body cavities emptied of organs but have small packets of rocks with perhaps some fish and a feather within them and some grains of wheat[11]. The ibises vary in age-at-death, and their position, resin treatment and ornamentation, with one hatchling being stuffed with grain. However, they all contain foodstuffs placed in the body cavity. It is suggested that the original contents were returned to the body[12].

A radiographic study from the Peabody Museum of the Abydos Sacred Ibis mummies showed that there were variations on positions, similar death (spinal fracture), and a similar mummification process, such as complete evisceration and replacement of gizzard and contents[13]. Other studies have shown that some birds were prepared for mummification by dessication through natron without evisceration[14]. These studies also show that the birds were covered in linen decorated with appliquéd images of Thoth, the god whom the ibis represented, painted features and appliquéd eyes, sometimes with the pupils made of glass[15]. Although a blue faience wadjet-eye amulet was found in an ibis from Abydos most birds were buried without funerary jewellery[16]. Radiographic analysis of mummified ibises from the Ancient Egyptian Tissue Bank found a frequency of skeletal pathologies that showed that the birds were mummified at a young age. Research is now being done into soft-tissue samples to see if there are any pathological disease markers because it is considered that diseases would have been prevalent in the ibiotropheia (the ibis feeding places) due to overcrowding, in-breeding and dietary factors[17].


The use of birds in cultic activities reached its zenith from the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty (664-525 BCE) to the Roman Period when the sanctuaries dedicated to the cult of the ibis were scattered throughout Egypt[18]. Birds for the cult were both raised in captivity and found in the wild. Royal subsidies of fields allowed the cultic administrations to feed the birds and raise capital by leasing land for cultivation[19]. It is not known how the expenses were covered for the operation of such an exhorbitant proposition as the processing of 10000 birds per year but some suggest that it could have been funded by a pilgrimage industry that used the votive offering of the mummified birds[20]. The cost of the cult would have been enormous in feeding and caring for the birds, with a separate pottery industry attached for making the vessels within which the birds were interred. However, it is considered that the royal subsidies showed that the royal house was particularly interested in the sacred animals[21].

Although ibises have a low breeding success in the wild, it is said that the sacred ibis is easy to rear if the eggs are removed and incubated[22]. The archaeologist, Sami Gabra, discovered not far from the Great Temple a garden excavated with a large reservoir which may have been a place to rear house birds. It is described in the Tebtunis Papyri[23]. Priests were to care for the flocks and incubate the eggs, and eggs have been found at ibis burial sites in Egypt[24]. Individuals may also have played a part in raising a large amount of birds as inscriptions on some bird mummy vessels show that not all of them were locally produced[25].


In Ancient Egyptian the ibis on a perch was the heiroglyphic for the god Thoth. Thoth is often referred to as ‘Lord of the Divine Words’ and recognised as the god of writing, scribes and wisdom. The Egyptians ascribe to him the invention of letters with the first letter of the Greek alphabet being hb or an ibis[26]. In the “Contendings of Horus and Seth”, Horus-Re emerges victorious to claim the throne but, in the process, loses an eye. Thoth reassembles the eye and accounts for it in The Eye of Horus: “I came seeking the eye of Horus,/ that I may bring it back and count it./ I found it [and now it is] complete, counted and sound, /so that it can flame up to the sky and/ blow above and below…”[27]. Thus the Eye of Horus becomes a counting tool used by scribes in their accounting calculations and known as the Horus Eye fractions[28]. An interesting inscription revealed scribal students and their life of continual study: “So he says namely, The one-who praises-knowledge, he says, “The ibises who are here, difficult is their food, painful is their mode of life.”[29].

The Book of Thoth is a modern title for a text from the Greco-Roman period which dealt with initiation into the House of Life[30]. It was used for training scribes and is structured as a dialogue between a Master, perhaps Thoth or a priest playing the role, and a Disciple[31]. At line 420 Jasnow suggests that it describes Thoth destroying an enemy of the sun-god: ‘I shall raise my hand to the great, great, great one [Thoth], and jubilate to the ibis who tramples the turtle’[32]. At line 412 Jasnow suggests it describes the weighing of the dead’s heart against the feather of Maat, a symbol of truth: “Let me hurry to the ibis who is at the top of his brush, he who has ordered the earth with his scale plates”[33]. A letter, preserved on papyrus known as IM E19422 and rolled and stored within the necropolis of Tuna el-Gebel during the time of the Persian rule of Egypt in the period of Darius I (522-486BCE), was written by an administrator of the cult of the ibis at Hermopolis. The letter was a plea to Thoth listing injustices committed against the man[34]. These texts characterise Thoth in his form as an ibis being an administrator and minister of justice.




Because of its importance in its representation of the god Thoth, the ibis is depicted in many forms of Egyptian art, from appliqué to large three-dimensional sculpture. In the earliest times it was depicted as an ensign of the provinces and later became the hieroglyphic sign[35]. In the Middle Kingdom it featured on gold amulet necklaces and later frequently as faience, finely glazed ceramic beads or decorated wooden inlays. In the Late Period it was frequently found as a votive figure in ibis burial grounds. It is also rendered many times as a life-size figure in painted wood or bronze[36]. Ibises are also featured as an ibis-headed human on stone reliefs at the Temple of Luxor and the Temple of Horus at Edfu, the Philae Temple of Isis[37] and on wall paintings at Beni Hasa and Thebes[38]. In 2010, archaeologists unearthed two large four metre granite statues of the god Thoth as an ibis-headed human from the New Kingdom Period in the city of Luxor at the temple of Amenhotep III[39].

Ashmunei has revealed a faience ibis which was put in a group of inlays decorating a wooden shrine. The multicoloured glaze of these inlays are produced by inlaying pastes of colours into hollows cut into the base before firing and polishing the surface. They are also found on the appliqués sewn onto linen-covered mummified bird remains[40]. The Thoth Rebus is a post New Kingdom amulet made of carnelian. It depicts a striding ibis crowned with a moon. The hieroglyph of Thoth is inscribed where it holds the feather of Maat in its beak. The amulet can be interpreted as ‘Thoth, Lord of Truth’ and highlights the primary aspects of Thoth as a moon deity and the healer of the eye of Horus, and also in his position as scribe in the underworld court of Osiris[41]. An ibis coffin made of gessoed wood, silver, gold leaf, rock crystal and pigment from the Ptolomaic period is a manifestation of Thoth and depicted with its silver legs bent as if brooding[42]. The coffin was found at Hermopolis which was the chief sanctuary of Thoth where the Temple was used for ceremonies and festivals[43]. The coffin itself retains the remains of an ibis within a cavity made from a covered hole in its back. It is also covered in such details as a necklace incised at the base of the neck, carefully rendered scaly skin and creases on the legs, with rock crystals outlined in gold inserted for the eyes[44].


Animals played a significant role in ancient Egyptian religion. In hieroglyphic script animals signify a quarter of the hieroglyphs. Humans did not play the central role in life as they did in other near East and Mediterranean religions. Hornung contends that humans were not considered the lord of the animals but more like partners[45]. Animals were seen as living beings like humans and gods. In the Shabaka text it states that creative forces are in ‘all gods, all people, all cattle, all crawling creatures, all that lives[46].

In Egyptian ethics it was necessary to morally consider animals in much the same way as humans. In a text of the first millennium BCE it reads: “I have given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothing to the naked. I have given food to the ibis, the falcon, the cat and the jackal’[47]. As humans and other animals were considered living beings, gods could be represented in human and animal form as well as hybrid form[48]. Thoth was seen as the moon-god and the healer of the sacred eye of Horus-Re between whom there was a close connection[49]. Thoth prepares the way for Re to travel. Consequently Thoth is seen standing in the prow of the sun-boat and, in the Book of the Dead, it relates Thoth saying of himself: “ I have knotted the rope of the ship, I let the ferry sail, I bring the East nearer to the West”[50].

Thoth is also known as the god of wisdom who is capable of reconciling demoniacal and unpredictable gods such as Seth and Tefnet with more rational and ordered mortals[51]. In the Pyramid Texts it is Thoth that the other gods turn to for assistance. Thoth is the dreaded avenger of injustice (pyr. 2213)[52]. In two funerary texts Thoth acts as legislator and judge: “I, Thoth, am the eminent writer, pure of hands…the writer of the truth (maat) whose horror is the lie…the lord of the law…I am the lord of maat, I teach maat to the gods, I test (each) word for its veracity…I am the leader of the sky, the earth and the netherworld”. “I, Thoth, am protector of the weak and of him whose property is violated”[53]. Thoth is the word of the creator in the Shabaka Text and through this is the guardian of the regulations of creation[54].


The Sacred Ibis held a significant role in ancient Egypt in its representation of Thoth, god of writing, scribes, wisdom, time, justice and deputy of the sun-god Horus-Re. It was bred, nurtured, and mummified with the same attention to ritual given to many humans of that time. There is a large amount of archaeological evidence for the birds in Egypt, being the burial grounds at Saqqara, Abydos, Tuna el-Gebel and Hermopolis. The use of ibises in cultic activities meant that they played a major role in daily life helping to keep water clean and cleaning up refuse. The ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs featured the ibis as the first letter because of Thoth’s association with writing and scribes. The ibis, as the human hybrid form of Thoth and in its own form, occurs across art forms in Egypt, especially due to its  significance from the New Kingdom period onwards.   Although it is extinct in modern Egypt because of aridification, it is now found throughout the world where it successfully cohabits with humans in places such as parklands and wetlands.



  1. Bailleul-Le Seur, R., (2012), “From Kitchen to Temple: The Practical Role of Birds in Ancient Egypt”, in Rozenne Bailleul Le-Suer (ed), Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt, The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, pp. 23-32
  2. Bailleul Le-Suer, R. (2012), “Birds as Protection in Life (Catalogue No.7)”, in Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt,p.143-146
  3. Bailleul Le-Suer, R., (2012), “Demotic Letter to ‘The Ibis, Thoth’: (Catalogue 29)”, in Rozenne Bailleul Le-Suer (ed.) Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt, The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, pp. 189-200
  4. Bailleul Le-Suer, R. (2012), “Coffin for an Ibis (Catalogue no.28)”, in Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt, p.189-200
  5. BBC, (2012), “Sacred Ibis”, Science and Nature: Animals, viewed 4 February, 2013
  6. Bleeker, C.J. (1973), Hathor and Thoth: Two Key Figures of the Ancient Egyptian Religion,Volume 26, E.J. Brill, Leiden
  7. Christian Science Monitor, Archaeologists unearth statue of Egyptian god “Thoth”, 16 March 2010, viewed on 15 February 2013,
  8. Clark, R. & Rundle, T., (1978), Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt , Thames and Hudson, 1991
  9. Eichorn, G., (n.d.), Thoth: God of Wisdom and the Scribes- Travel Pictures from Egypt, viewed on 15 February 2013,
  10. Ezzamel, M., (2009), Order and accounting as a performative ritual: Evidence from Ancient Egypt, Accounting, Organisations and Society, Vol 34, Iss.3-4,  (2009), Cardiff University pp. 348-380
  11. Gabra, S., (1971), Chez les derniers adorateurs tu Trismégist. Biblioteque Arabe 119. Cairo: al-Hai’a al-Misrîya li’t-Ta’lîf wa’n-Našr
  12. Ikram, S., (2012), “An Eternal Aviary, Bird Mummies from Ancient Egypt”, in Rozenne Bailleul Le-Suer (ed), Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt, The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, pp. 41-48
  13. Jasnow, R. & Zauzich, K., (2005), The Ancient Egyptian Book of Thoth, 2 volumes, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz
  14. Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens, (2013), Animal Facts: Sacred Ibis, viewed 4 February 2013,
  15. McKnight L.M., (2012), “Studying Avian Mummies at the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology: Past, Present, and Future”, in Rozenne Bailleul Le-Suer (ed), Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt, The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, pp.99-106
  16. Scalf, F., (2012), “The Role of Birds Within the Religious Landscape of Egypt”, in Rozenne Bailleul Le-Suer (ed), Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt, The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago,p.33-40
  17. te Velde, H. (1980): ‘A few remarks on the religious significance of animals in ancient Egypt’, Numen 27 (1980), 76-82
  18. Wade et al., (2011), “Food placement in ibis mummies and the role of viscera in embalming”, Journal of Archaeological Science 39, (2012) 1642-1647
  19. Wade et al., n.d., Backroom treasures: CT scanning of two ibis mummies from the Peabody Museum Collection, viewed on 7 February 2013,

[1] BBC, (2012), “Sacred Ibis”, Science and Nature: Animals

[2] ibid.

[3] Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens (2013), Animal Facts: Sacred Ibis

[4] BBC, (2012), “Sacred Ibis”, Science and Nature: Animals

[5] Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens (2013), Animal Facts: Sacred Ibis

[6] ibid.

[7] Wade et al., (2011), “Food placement in ibis mummies and the role of viscera in embalming”, Journal of Archaeological Science 39, (2012) p.1642

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid., p.1643

[10] ibid., p.1644

[11] ibid., p.1645

[12] Wade et al., (2011), p.1646

[13] Wade et al., n.d., Backroom treasures: CT scanning of two ibis mummies from the Peabody Museum Collection

[14] Ikram, S., (2012), “An Eternal Aviary, Bird Mummies from Ancient Egypt”, in Rozenne Bailleul Le-Suer (ed), Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt, The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, p. 45

[15] Ikram, S., (2012), p.46

[16] ibid., p.47

[17] McKnight L.M., (2012), “Studying Avian Mummies at the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology: Past, Present, and Future”, in Rozenne Bailleul Le-Suer (ed), Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt, p.105

[18] Bailleul-Le Seur, R., (2012), “From Kitchen to Temple: The Practical Role of Birds in Ancient Egypt”, in Rozenne Bailleul Le-Suer (ed), Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt,p.30

[19] ibid., p.37

[20] ibid., p.39

[21] Bailleul-Le Seur, R., (2012), “From Kitchen to Temple: The Practical Role of Birds in Ancient Egypt”, p.39

[22] Ikram, S., (2012), p.43

[23] Gabra, S., (1971), Chez les derniers adorateurs tu Trismégist. Biblioteque Arabe 119. Cairo: al-Hai’a al-Misrîya li’t-Ta’lîf wa’n-Našr pp. 59, 156-58

[24] Scalf, F., (2012), “The Role of Birds Within the Religious Landscape of Egypt”, in Rozenne Bailleul Le-Suer (ed), Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt,p.33

[25] Ikram, S., (2012), p.43

[26] Gaudard, F. (2012), “Birds in the Ancient Egyptian and Coptic Alphabets”, in Rozenne Bailleul Le-Suer (ed), Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt, p. 65

[27]Clark, R. & Rundle, T., (1978), Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt , Thames and Hudson, p.225

[28] Ezzamel, M., (2009), Order and accounting as a performative ritual: Evidence from Ancient Egypt, Accounting, Organisations and Society, Vol 34, Iss.3-4,  (2009), Cardiff University, p.356

[29] Jasnow, R., (2012), Birds and Bird Imagery in the Book of Thoth, in Rozenne Bailleul Le-Suer (ed), Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt,p.73

[30] Jasnow, R., (2012), p.71

[31] ibid.

[32] ibid. p.72

[33] ibid.

[34] Rozenne Bailleul Le-Suer (2012), “Demotic Letter to ‘The Ibis, Thoth’: (Catalogue 29)”, in Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt,p.192

[35] Clark, C.R. (n.d.), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Sacred Ibis, viewed on 12 February 2013, p.181

[36] Clark, C.R. (n.d.), p.181

[37] Eichorn, G., (n.d.), Thoth: God of Wisdom and the Scribes- Travel Pictures from Egypt

[38] Clark, C.R. (n.d.), p.184

[39] Christian Science Monitor, (2010) Archaeologists unearth statue of Egyptian god “Thoth”

[40] Clark, C.R. (n.d.), p.184

[41] Rozenne Bailleul Le-Suer (2012), “Birds as Protection in Life (Catalogue No.7)”, in Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt,p.143

[42] Rozenne Bailleul Le-Suer (2012), “Coffin for an Ibis (Catalogue no.28)”, in Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt, p.189

[43] ibid.

[44] Rozenne Bailleul Le-Suer (2012), “Coffin for an Ibis (Catalogue no.28)”, p. 189

[46] ibid., p.77

[47] ibid., p.78

[48] ibid., p.79

[49] Bleeker, C.J. (1973), Hathor and Thoth: Two Key Figures of the Ancient Egyptian Religion,Volume 26, E.J. Brill, Leiden, p.121

[50] Bleeker, C.J. (1973), p.121

[51]ibid., p.130

[52] ibid., p.134

[53] ibid., p.136

[54] ibid., p.137




‘If only thou couldst feel as I do, and couldst get thee power of speech’

                                                                   (Od. 9.455-58)[1]

An important feature of the relationship between humans and animals since the early Neolithic age is one of reciprocity. In this line from Odysseus, Homer draws our attention to the close symbiotic relationship between a shepherd and his flock. The shepherd provides protection and the sheep provide sustenance and companionship in his lonely life[2]. However, Hesiod stated that it is the notion of justice that holds us apart from animals, with justice demanding that we do not prey on our own kind[3]. Lonsdale notes that Xenophon went further and argued that man is different because of his capacity to speak and reason, and also in his deep religiosity[4]. Yet, while the Greeks were deeply anthropocentric, the Egyptians did not have such a notion of division between human and animal. Humans were not considered superior and animals were considered the vehicle of earthly representation of the gods[5]. To consider ancient notions of the important attributes differentiating human and non-human it is necessary to review the literature left by ancient writers. These writers tend to relegate these attributes into three distinct types: rationality, intelligence and language, and argue for difference or deny it. The ancient argument that is most valid is the one propounded by writers such as Alexander, Plutarch and Porphyry and denies the superiority of humans, as it takes into account what we may not understand.

The first criterion that many ancient writers cite is the lack of rationality found in animals. In the 5th century BCE Alcamaeon of Croton wrote that humans have xunesis, an understanding which is the basis for rational thought. This allows language to develop which assists cultural maturity. He argues that animals do not have this facility and only have perception, or aesthesis, which humans have also[6]. Plato also states that the difference between humans and animals is human rationality and goes on to say that humans who do not use rational thought are no better than beasts[7]. Aristotle also denies animals reason but concedes that they have phronesis which is the knowledge needed to cope with their environment[8]. For Aristotle, humans live by skill and reason, whereas animals live by experience made up of impressions and memories[9]. In his protestation against his nephew Alexander’s assertion of the rationality of animals, Philo of Alexandria declares that, while animals might exhibit courage, only man has the understanding that enables him to form laws and governments, and to worship God[10]. Such a determination was later reflected even more vehemently by Augustine who stated that humans were made in God’s image and that animals were for their use. For Augustine, the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” only referred to humans[11].

Other writers, such as Alexander, claimed that animals were very much like humans. Alexander said that there were two types of reason: logos endiathelos (reason within the mind) and logos proporikos (uttered reason), and that animals had both. Alexander used the ability of different animals to construct complex dwellings, especially some birds and bees, to prove reason in animals, and also contended that the deliberation of a dog in following its prey is proof of reason[12]. Plutarch and Porphyry also used such an argument, but Plutarch added that good rational thinking was not apparent in many humans and only came about through much education. He argued that because animals chose between useful and harmful and exhibited fear, hope and desire this proved their rationality[13]. Porphyry extended this further by stating that justice should be awarded to animals because both humans and non-humans are endowed with reason and practise justice[14]. However, Diogenes Laertius contended that the practice of reasoned thought in humans, especially after the fourteenth year, showed that humans have a governing principle, or hegemonikon[15], that allows one to express meaningful language and is considered to be the foundation of intelligence.

Intelligence is the second criterion that ancient writers advance when they assert the superiority of humans over animals. For Aristotle, man is deliberative in that he has intentionality; only man has the ability of recollection and reason which differentiates him intellectually from animals[16]. Philo thought that pleasure and self-preservation were the prime motivating factors of animals and that they did not need intelligence for these[17]. The Stoics stated that humans have no intellectual kinship with animals as they are irrational, and for this reason humans owe them no obligation of justice[18]. There are other ancient writers who disagreed with this view. Alexander asserted that animals do have a sovereign mind[19], while Plutarch contended that the cleverness and intellect animals use for their survival ought to be enough for us to treat them respectfully[20]. Plutarch also believed that humans shared kinship, or oikeinsois, through manner or lifestyle[21]. Lonsdale writes that Aristotle’s follower, Theophrastus, argued that animal sacrifice was wrong because humans and animals shared an intellectual kinship[22]. Further, Cicero thought that while humans were superior in that they had higher intentions, such as the pursuit of comfort, industry and sympathy for others, he conceded that some animals have such higher intentions and some intellect[23].

Higher intentions and intellect could be prerequisites for engaging in contractual behaviour, a foundation of justice. Epicurus stated that, as animals do not have the capacity for language, they do not have the capacity for forming tacit contractual agreements with an intention to respect one another’s interests[24]. Language is the third criterion for the moral status of animals. For Xenophon, humans were superior to animals both intellectually and physically, and this was manifested in the human capacity for articulate language[25]. This view was also reflected by Diogenes Laertius, who stated that the lack of intelligible language in animals proved their inferiority[26]. While Aristotle thought that animals did communicate through language, he countered that it was not based in semantics and therefore inferior to humans[27]. Philo took this argument further, stating that animal utterances are as meaningless as musical notes[28]. However, Lucretius argues that humans and non-humans do engage in tacit contractual agreements. This is illustrated by the guardianship of humans to animals and the return of services and products by animals, and does not require the understanding of languages for it to be beneficial to both parties[29]. Plutarch and Porphyry also argue that humans lack the capacity to understand the language of animals not that animal language has no meaning[30]; as the modern philosopher, Wittgenstein, stated: “If a lion could talk we would not understand him”[31].

Most of the arguments above that deny non-humans the capacity of reason, intelligence and communication result in the denial to animals of any moral obligation. The Stoic, Chrysippus, puts this argument as such: humans and non-humans have three things on common: senses, utterance and reproduction. Humans can also reason, whereas animals are only motivated by impulse. Therefore, humans need not consider the interests of animals[32]. As Aristotle stated, slavery is a natural phenomenon because it is natural for one human to rule over another and as animals are intended for human use it is natural for humans to rule over animals[33]. This denial of interest to animals culminated in Augustine’s use of Aristotle’s and the Stoics’ arguments to defend the use of animals to benefit human lives on the grounds that God gave humans animals in order to help them to salvation[34]. To attribute reason to animals was tantamount to denying Christian notions of humans being fit for the divine recreation of God[35]. The Egyptian practice of animals representing the gods on earth was sacrilegious to Christian sensibilities. Therefore, animals became ‘the other’ and the primacy of humans became paramount.

Rather than a symbiotic and reciprocal relationship based upon the interests of both humans and non-humans, this reliance on a criteria of reason, intelligence and language to assert an anthropocentric world view discounts and ignores all the ancient contentions that counter such a view. Porphyry, Plutarch and Alexander were right in using the many examples from their environment to show that other animals are very much like humans. They live in complex societies, they build complex dwellings, they make choices between good and bad, they exhibit hopes, fears and desires, and have autonomy. As Lucretius stated, humans and non-humans do engage in tacit contractual agreements when they breed animals for their products or services. However, these agreements can quickly degenerate into master/slave relationships when humans disregard the interests of animals. Also, just as some humans cannot understand the language of other humans from another society, so too it is with other animals. Therefore, arguments used by ancient writers to support the claim that animals are different to humans rely upon criteria that are not exclusive to human beings and have caused the suffering of animals for over two thousand years.


  1. Alcaemon of Croton, DK1a, Hermann Diels & Walther Kranz, eds, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, 6th edn (Berlin: Weidmann, 1951-52)
  2. Aristotle, “Metaphysics”, from Newmyer, S.T., Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, (2011), Routledge Press
  3. Aristotle, “Parts of Animals”, from Pierre Louis, ed., Aristote; Les Parties des Animaux (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1956)
  4. Aristotle, “Politics”, Jean Aubonnet, ed., Aristote; Politique, Livres I et II (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1968)
  5. Augustine, “De civitate dei” [The City of God], from B. Dombart & A. Kalb, eds, Sancti Aurelii Augustini de Civitate Dei Libri I-X (Turnhout: Brepols, 1955 (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 47)
  6. Beck, J., (2012), “Why we can’t say what animals think”, Philosophical Psychology, 2012, 1-27, Routledge Press
  7. Chryssipus, “SVF”, from Johannes von Arnim, ed. Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta (Stuttgart; Teubner, 1964; reprint of the edition of 1905)
  8. Cicero, “De finibus bonorum et malorum” [On the Ends of Good and Evil], from Claudio Moreschini, ed., M.Tullius Cicero Scripta Quae Manserunt Omnia Fasc. 43: De Finibus Bonorum et  Malorum (Munich and Leipzig: Saur, 2005)
  9. Diogenes Laertius, “Lives of the Philosophers”, from H.S. Long, Diogenis Laertii Vitae Philosophum (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964)
  10. Epicurus, kuriai Doxai [Soveregn Maxims] XXXI and XXXII, as cited in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers X. 150 [from the life of Epicurus], from Newmyer, S.T., (2011), Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, Routledge Press
  11. Gilhus, Ingvild S. (2006) “The religious value of animals” in Animals, Gods and Humans: Changing Attitudes to Animals in Greek, Roman and Early Christian Ideas , Gilhus, Ingvild S. , 2006 , 93-113
  12. Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Works and Days. Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd, 1918
  13. Homer, The Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, PH.D. in two volumes, Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919
  14. Lonsdale, S.H., (1979), “Attitudes Towards Animals in Ancient Greece”, Greece and Rome, 2nd Ser., Vol.26, No.2, (Oct., 1979), 146-159
  15. Lucretius, “De rerum natura” [On the Nature of Things], from Joseph Martin, ed., T. Lucreti Cari de Rerum Natura Libri Sex (Leipzig: Teubner, 1963)
  16. Newmyer, S.T., (2011), Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, Routledge Press
  17. Philo of Alexandria, “On Animals”, from Newmyer, S.T., Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, (2011), Routledge Press
  18. Plato, “Laws”, Burnet, J., ed., Platonis Opera (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901-1902; rept. 1962-1967)
  19. Plutarch, “De esu cranium” [On the Eating of Flesh), from Newmyer, S.T., (2011), Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, Routledge PressPlutarch, “On the Cleverness of Animals”, from Newmyer, S.T., Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, (2011), Routledge Press
  20. Plutarch, “De Stoicurum repugnantis” [On the Self-Contradictions of the Stoics], from Michel Casevitz & Daniel Babut, eds, Plutarque: Ouvres Morales XV (Sur les Contradictions Stoiciennes, etc.) (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2004)
  21. Porphyry, “On Abstinence from Animal Flesh”, from Jean Bouffartigue, Michele Patillon, Alain Segond and Luc Brisson, eds, Porphyre; De l’Abstinence (Paris: Les Belle Lettres, 1977-1995)
  22. Wittgenstein, L., (1973), Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Blackwell
  23. Xenophon, “Memorabilia” [Recollections of Socrates], from E.C. Marchant, ed., Xenophontis Opera Omnia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967)

[1] Homer, The Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, PH.D. in two volumes, Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919

[2] Lonsdale, S.H., (1979), “Attitudes Towards Animals in Ancient Greece”, Greece and Rome, 2nd Ser., Vol.26, No.2, (Oct., 1979), 149

[3] Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Works and Days. Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd, 1914

[4] Lonsdale, Attitudes Towards Animals in Ancient Greece, Greece and Rome, (1979), 156

[5] Gilhus, Ingvild S. (2006) “The religious value of animals” in Animals, Gods and Humans: Changing Attitudes to Animals in Greek, Roman and Early Christian Ideas , Gilhus, Ingvild S. , 2006 , 99

[6] Alcaemon of Croton, (DK1a)

[7] Plato, Laws, 766a

[8] Aristotle, Politics 1332b3-8

[9] Aristotle, Metaphysics, 980a28-981a4

[10] Philo of Alexandria, On Animals, 85

[11] Augustine, De civitate dei [The City of God] , 1.20

[12] Philo of Alexandria, On Animals, 17; 45

[13] Plutarch, On the Cleverness of Animals, 960D-E

[14] Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Flesh III. 13.1-3

[15] Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers VII.55 [from the life of Zeno the Stoic]

[16] Aristotle, History of Animals, 488a20-26;588a16-18-588b3

[17] Philo of Alexandria, On Animals 44

[18] Newmyer, S.T., (2011), Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, Routledge Press, 28

[19] Philo of Alexandria, On Animals 29

[20] Plutarch, On the Cleverness of Animals, 960D-E

[21] Plutarch, De Stoicurum repugnantis [On the Self-Contradictions of the Stoics] 1038B

[22] Newmyer, (2011), Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, 28

[23] Cicero, De finibus bonorum et malorum [On the Ends of Good and Evil] II. 109-110

[24] Epicurus, kuriai Doxai [Soveregn Maxims] XXXI and XXXII, as cited in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers X. 150 [from the life of Epicurus]

[25] Xenophon, Memorabilia [Recollections of Socrates] 1.4.11-14

[26] Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers VII.55

[27] Aristotle, Parts of Animals 660a35-660b2

[28] Philo of Alexandria, On Animals, 98

[29] Lucretius, De rerum natura [On the Nature of Things] V. 855-877

[30] Plutarch, De esu carnium [On the Eating of Flesh] 994E; Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Flesh III.2-4

[31] Wittgenstein, L., (1973),Philosophical Investigations,  Oxford: Blackwell, XXxi

[32] Chryssipus, SVF 2.821

[33] Aristotle, Politics 1256b15-23

[34] Augustine, De civitate dei, 1.20

[35] Gilhus, (2006) “The religious value of animals” in Animals, Gods and Humans: Changing Attitudes to Animals in Greek, Roman and Early Christian Ideas, 99

scarab jewellery 001

Bracelet c.1400BCE (New Kingdom) Egypt, findspot unknown, gold, lapis lazuli, cornelian and glazed composition, 20.0cm length, British Museum, London

Scarab beetles were associated with the gods Atum/Re and Khepri in ancient Egypt[1]. According to one conception of the universe, the scarab beetle was the sun travelling across the sky[2] and its protective imagery was used as a stone seal on the mummified remains of the heart, as its hieroglyph meant ‘come into being’ or ‘to exist’[3]. It also was known to actually replace the heart within the mummy[4]. In particular, it was the movement that the dung beetle, Scarabeus sacer, made as it rolled a ball of dung across the ground that was considered interpretative of the sun’s movement across the sky, with the scarab god, Khepri, being responsible for the sun’s transit[5]. The analogy of the self-creating Khepri, known as ‘he who is coming into being’, was reinforced by the scarabs being seen to emerge from these balls, which was the result of these balls containing the beetle’s eggs[6].

This New Kingdom bracelet from Egypt is dated c.1400BCE. Its composition is gold, lapis lazuli, cornelian and glazed ceramics. The lapis lazuli scarab beetle plays a central role in its design, with the main features of the beetle being outlined in gold filigree focusing on the head, thorax and wings. The six legs of the insect are designed so that they provide linkages to the rest of the bracelet, with the strong front and back legs holding the links and the smaller middle legs maintaining the balance of the design. The filigree outlines the wing casings and the thorax of the beetle and the lapis lazuli is carved out to give tiny detailed eyes to the front of the head. Overall, the scarab maintains a strong ovoid design which is also displayed in many other depictions of the scarab beetle in Egyptian art and design.

The actual scarab beetle can be monotone black, brown, patterned or iridescent. They are large and ovoid in shape, have six rather sturdy legs and three distinct parts- the small hemispheric head which extends to the thorax and the large wings joined at their centre by a small, reverse semicircle. Attached to the head are two short, thick antennae. The dimensions of the beetle have been replicated exactly in the design of the bracelet, with the details of the two forward-looking eyes and lines of the body being also accurate. The wings are delineated accurately yet without the addition of the joining semicircle. The eyes and mouth have been depicted on the bracelet without the addition of the antennae. The muscular front legs are also accurately crafted, but the middle and back legs are more simplified. Owing to the emphasis on the beetle in the design of the bracelet, it could be suggested that the bracelet had a protective as well as aesthetic role, perhaps having a use in reproduction such as a cultic charm bracelet.


  1. Teeter, E. (2002) “Animals in Egyptian religion” in History of the Animal World in the Ancient Near East , Collins, Billie Jean , 2002 , pp.335-360
  2. Kritsky, G.; Cherry, R. (2000) “Insects in Egyptian mythology” in Insect Mythology , Kritsky, Gene; Cherry, Ron , 2000 , pp.49-63
  3. Potts, T. (1990) “Egyptian jewellery” in Civilization: Ancient Treasures from the British Museum, Potts, Timothy, 1990, Australian National Gallery, pp.76-79

[1] Teeter, E. (2002) “Animals in Egyptian religion” in History of the Animal World in the Ancient Near East , Collins, Billie Jean , 2002 , p.337

[2] Ibid. p.343

[3] Ibid. p.346

[4] Kritsky, G.; Cherry, R. (2000) “Insects in Egyptian mythology” in Insect Mythology , Kritsky, Gene; Cherry, Ron , 2000 , p.52

[5] Ibid. p.49

[6] Potts, T. (1990) “Egyptian jewellery” in Civilization: Ancient Treasures from the British Museum, Potts, Tim. 1990, p.76

[7] Ibid. p.78


To assess the foundations of Christianity and whether it was influenced by the teachings of the community at Qumran this essay will compare and contrast the texts of the Gospels of Matthew and John, the two apostles of Jesus of Nazareth, and the Qumran scrolls, which provide first-hand information on Palestinian-Jewish relationships during the the first century CE[1], as paleographic datings put the Qumran texts into the correct time frame[2]. The Old Testament also provides a background to the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth[3] and the particular Gospels were chosen because of the close relationship Matthew and John had to the life of Jesus. Although the Gospels have been redacted and are more than likely community documents written by more than one person, the texts of Qumran[4] and the books of the Old Testament also have these features. Therefore, through this method I hope to assess whether Christianity was more influenced by mainstream Judaism or the teachings of the Qumran community.

Christianity was based in the community of mainstream Judaism both religiously and geographically. The Gospels and the Qumran texts both refer to books of the Old Testament. In giving the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth, the Gospel of Matthew begins with a tabling device found in the beginning of the First Book of Chronicles[5]. The writer of the Gospel seems to use this initial device to provide a voice of authority. A tendenz appears in the Gospels to select passages of the Old Testament to legitimize a certain stance[6], such as Jesus’ infancy[7] with the Immanuel Prophecy of Isaiah 7.14 or the Egyptian exile[8] with Hosea 11.1. The Qumran scrolls, on the other hand, used the authority of ancient texts in a different context. It is the right interpretation of the Law that has primacy for the Qumran community. For example, one can be expelled from the community for not adhering to the Law, and must study the Law[9], but can have alternative views of the prophecies contained within the doctrine[10].

Like the Qumran community, the teachings of Jesus are deterministic. In Matthew 10.29 Jesus states: “And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your father’s will”. Also, in John 6.65 it states that, “…no one can come to me unless it has been granted to him by my Father”. This can be compared with the 1QS[11] which states ‘that they may love all the sons of light, each according to his lot in God’s design…’. However, the teachings of the Pharisees are only semi-deterministic while the Sadducees are not at all[12]. This determinism in both sets of texts is also noted in a fulfilment of law. In John 5.17, Jesus states: Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil’ and advocates for the commandments to be kept. Similarly, the 1QS[13] (1.4), and 4Q255, 257 state that the Master will do as commanded by the hand of “Moses and all His servants the Prophets”. This view has at its heart a strong dualistic notion of good and evil.

The dichotomy of good and evil has the Gospel of Matthew showing a marked similarity to 1QS and CD by offering potential converts the choice between darkness and light[14]. At 5.14 it states: “[Believers] are the light of the world”. This is similar to the dichotomic view in the1QS with all the children of righteousness being ruled by the ‘Prince of Light’[15] and all the children of injustice being ruled by the Angel of Darkness’[16]. At Matt. 8.12 it is stated: “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” In particular, the Gospel of John at 6.13 states that John [the Baptist] was the witness to the True Light. Again at John 12.46 “I have come as a light into the world that whoever believes in me should not abide in darkness.” However, there is a significant difference to the Dead Sea sectarians in that Jesus also offers a mission statement: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.”[17]

This missionary movement is seen in the Gospel of John at 21.42 where it expands Christianity beyond Judaism and the Temple, quoting Psalm 118.22: “The stone which the builder rejected has become the chief corner-stone”. In 1QS at 8.8 also refers to the community being the ‘corner-stone’. Matthew 3.9 states that John offered ritual baptism not only to Jews but to many non-Jews as well. However, there does not seem to be an apparent effort to convert non-Jewish followers in the Qumran Scrolls. The difference is that the communities described in the Dead Sea Scrolls tend to keep themselves separate for the sake of purity – ‘No member of the Community shall follow them in matters of doctrine and justice, or eat or drink anything of theirs, or take anything from them except for a price’[18], whereas, the Gospel of John quotes Isaiah to include Gentiles in its teachings[19].

Christianity also has an emphasis on purity, but it is an abstracted version.  Matthew 4 shows a similarity to the 1QS by telling about how Jesus went into the desert as a ‘purification’ process after baptism. In 1QS they also state that members should go into the wilderness and quote Isaiah[20].  However, in Matthew 18 a figurative measure of purity is used in that the greatest are as ‘little children’. Also, in John 9.6-7 Jesus tells the blind man to purify himself in the pool at Siloam. The 1QS also refers to such cleansing processes: ‘And when his flesh is sprinkled with purifying water and sanctified by cleansing water…’ [21]. However, in John 1.25 there is a dispute between John’s disciples and other Jews about purification, and at 4.2 it states that, unlike John, Jesus did not baptise. These types of contradictions seem to emphasise the nonconformity that Jesus appeared to uphold in his ministry.

While much of Jesus’ ministry was to do with healing the sick, blind, lame, and insane[22], the CD excludes such people[23] and the 1QS does not mention them at all. The Essenes, on the other hand, were known to be healers that travelled about the land[24]. They were thought by some to be a part of the Dead Sea sectarians and that John the Baptist was an Essene raised in the desert at Qumran[25].  Pliny the Elder also wrote about the Essenes living in a desert community as a place of no women and no money[26]. However, John is not identified as an Essene by Josephus or the gospels. Also John practiced the purification by baptism only once[27], whereas purification was seen as a ritual by all other known Judaic sects. That being so does not mean that it was impossible for John the Baptist to have started a splinter group from either of these groups at a time when he thought the Messiah had come. This situation may come about when a person involved in a belief changes that belief to encompass what they consider another reality. A clue to the possibility of a new belief is the revelation of a ‘new commandment’ by Jesus to ‘love one another, as I have loved you’[28] and the introduction of the ‘Holy Spirit’ or the ‘spirit of truth’[29] which become fundamental to the doctrine of Christianity.

While the 1QS and CD used the solar calendar, there is no evidence in either gospels of Matthew or John that the lunar calendar, used in the mainstream Jewish religion[30], was not used by Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth preached in synagogues and the Temple and he attended such feast days as the Passover[31], thereby implying that Jesus’ doctrine did not involve any change to traditional worship only a change to doctrine, and that Christian changes from the lunar calendar to a solar calendar came after the death of Jesus. The 1QS, like mainstream Judaism, was particularly strict about the keeping of festivals and holy days, however Jesus calls himself ‘Lord of the Sabbath’ and defends his healing of others on this day[32]. This would have been seen as sacrilegious by the other sects in Judaism, particularly the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Also, as the doctrine of Qumran revolved around paying particular attention to upholding ‘the seasons of Jubilee’[33] in which the holy Sabbaths have been revealed by God’[34], it infers that Jesus, although perhaps influenced by them, had no interest in complying with the doctrines of the Qumran texts.

Christianity is based in mainstream Judaism as much of Jesus’ ministry was spent preaching in synagogues and the Temple and upholding mainstream feast days such as Passover. Yet the doctrine of Jesus of Nazareth shows remarkable similarities to the doctrines of the Qumran texts through its determinism, dualism and emphasis on spiritual purity. Jesus’ ministry also holds some similarity with the Essene sect through Jesus’ practice of healing and John the Baptist early life hold some similarity with descriptions of the Essene movement. However, the amount of contradiction between the doctrines of these mainstream and unconventional religious movements and the particular teachings of Jesus of Nazareth about the ‘new commandment’ and the ‘Holy Spirit’ show that Christianity was influenced by all facets of Judaism but was primarily a new missionary doctrine which was intended to be preached to Gentiles as well as Jews. Therefore, it can be said that Christianity was influenced by the Qumran sectarians but only as much as it was influenced by mainstream Judaism.





  1. Beall, Todd S. “Conclusion” in Josephus’ Description of the Essenes Illustrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls , Beall, Todd S. , 1988 , 123-130
  2. Betz, Otto. “Was John the Baptist an Essene?” in Bible Review , 1990 , 18-25
  3. Brooke, George J. “Biblical interpretation in the Qumran Scrolls and the New Testament” in Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament , Brooke, George J. , 2005 , 52-69
  4. Burg A. et al., (date unknown) Christian Calendar- Jerusalem Centre for Jewish Christian Relations, viewed 21 November 2012,
  5. Fitzmyer, Joseph A. “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins: General methodological considerations” in Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins , Fitzmyer, Joseph A. , 2000 , 1-16
  6. Josephus, The Jewish War, trans. G.A. Williamson, London: Penguin Books, 1970
  7. Pliny the Elder, Nat. hist. 5.15 (73) Natural History: With an English Translation, LCL 10; H. Rackham; Cambridge, Mass / London: Harvard University Press / Heinemann, 1962, PA6156.P65/1962
  8. The Holy Bible- Revised Authorised Version, (1982), British usage edition, Samuel Bagster & Sons Ltd, London
  9. Vanderkam, James  C. “The origin, character, and early history of the 364-day calendar: A reassessment of Jaubert’s hypotheses” Catholic Biblical Quarterly , 41: , 1979 , 392-411
  10. Vermes, G. (ed. & trans.), The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English London: Penguin Books, 2011

[1] Fitzmyer, Joseph A. “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins: General methodological considerations” in Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins , Fitzmyer, Joseph A. , 2000 , p.4

[2] Fitzmyer, 2000, p.6

[3] Fitzmyer, 2000, p.5

[4] Fitzmyer, 2000, p.15

[5] Chron. 1; Matt. 1-17

[6] Brooke, George J. “Biblical interpretation in the Qumran Scrolls and the New Testament” in Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament , Brooke, George J. , 2005 , p.55

[7] Matt. 1.23

[8] Matt 13.15

[9] 1QS V 6-7

[10] CD VI, 18; XX, 32-33

[11] 1QS I, 10

[12] Josephus, BJ,2

[13] 1QS I, 4

[14] Matt 3.16

[15] 1QS III,20

[16] 1QS III, 21

[17] Matt 5.16

[18] 1QS V, 17

[19] John 12. 18-23

[20] Isaiah 40.3

[21] 1QS 3.8

[22] Matt 8-9

[23] CD XV, 15

[24] Josephus BJ, 2.145

[25] Beall, Todd S. “Conclusion” in Josephus’ Description of the Essenes Illustrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls , Beall, Todd S. , 1988 , 123-130; Betz, Otto. “Was John the Baptist an Essene?” in Bible Review , 1990 , 18-25

[26] Pliny the Elder (Nat. hist. 2, 5.15, 73)

[27] John 2

[28] John 13.34

[29] Matt, 12.31; John 7.37;16.5

[30] Vanderkam, James C. “The origin, character, and early history of the 364-day calendar: A reassessment of Jaubert’s hypotheses” Catholic Biblical Quarterly , 41: , 1979 , p.411

[31] Christian Calendar- Jewish Centre for Christian-Jewish Relations, viewed on 23/11/2012

[32] Matt. 12.1-8; John 710; 9.13

[33] 1QS IX, 15; CD IV, 1

[34] CD III, 15

This essay will explore the similarities and the differences between the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, being the Community Rule (1QS) and the Damascus Document (CD), and posit implications for the historical environment of the documents.


The 1QS scroll was found in a desert cave at Qumran in 1948. It contains the rules for a religious community that occupied the site from around the late second century BCE to the middle of the first century CE. The CD is a scroll found in the late nineteenth century in a synagogue in Cairo and is a medieval copy of scrolls also found at the Qumran site. The two texts show remarkable similarities in their intent but appear quite different in the theological method and the lifestyle of the two communities that they describe. It will be argued that the two texts have fundamental similarities which show that the CD was a prior document written in a time of persecution and that the 1QS was the later document that showed how the sect evolved to cope with the circumstances of its isolation.

In investigating the similarities between each text, three fundamental similarities appear. Firstly, both texts stress their community’s separation from the mainstream community. Secondly, both texts anticipate the arrival of a Messiah. Finally, both texts show a similarity between terms. In particular, they emphasise reliance upon the Law of Moses but as it is interpreted through a received divine Covenant. In this way, they show their roots in mainstream Judaism. However, both texts diverge from Judaism in the use of a solar calendar through which they must keep firmly ‘to the elect of the time’ and uphold ‘the seasons of Jubilee[1] in which the holy Sabbaths have been revealed by God[2]. The term ‘sons of zadok’[3] is applied to the authorities of both texts which shows that at some point in their history they recognised the authority of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, that officiated the change of religious authority from king to priest. Yet, in keeping to the original solar calendar, they seem not to recognise the change to the lunar calendar wrought after Babylonian exile. Therefore, both texts refer to a Hebraic priestly community that uses a prior system of keeping Sabbaths and festivals.

Separation from mainstream Judaism is stressed in both texts and results in an emphasis on perfection, which is asserted by the people of the community[4]. This emphasis on perfection reveals that both texts are based upon hierarchical communities where one’s position is determined by the leader[5]. The concept of hierarchical perfection may allude to the plant metaphor used to describe the community in both texts, where the root of the plant comes ‘from Israel and Aaron’[6] and will become the ‘Everlasting Plantation’.  It is inferred in both texts that this hierarchical perfection will allow the community to survive an age of wrath under the dominion of ‘Belial’[7]. Therefore, it seems that the similarities between the two documents point to a description of a similar, if not the same, community in two different periods of time.

The similarities that point to different time periods also show the crucial differences between the texts. The CD contains a history that relates the origins of the community which is not contained within the 1QS. In contrast, the 1QS scroll is composed as a set of community rules with a prayer at the end that is based upon the structure of a psalm[8]. The time stated within the CD text is 390 years after the capturing of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar[9].  There is also a reference to the ‘visitation’, in which the community was saved while ‘the apostates’ were given up to the sword and their ‘destruction was by the hand of Belial’[10].  Shortly after, the text refers to the ‘head of the asps [who] is the chief of the kings of Greece who came to wreak vengeance upon them’[11]. So perhaps it refers to the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV, who violently suppressed a Jewish revolt in 168 BCE[12]. This would date the document’s origins in approximately the mid-second century BCE when there began a power struggle between different factions within the Jewish community in Judea[13]. The CD also relies upon the mainstream Hebrew texts as the scroll has fifty-one references to the books of the Old Testament, whereas the 1QS only has four. This implies reliance by the CD on the mainstream religious authorities while the 1QS has little reference to these authorities.

This reliance upon mainstream texts is reflected in the references to Temple worship found in the CD which are not found in the 1QS. In the CD, the three main sins cited are fornication, riches and the profanation of the Temple[14]. This stands in contrast to the concept of the Temple found in the 1QS, which sees the Council as the Temple[15]. The attainment of perfection in the 1QS is stated as being atonement for rebellion and unfaithfulness ‘so that they may obtain loving-kindness for the Land without the flesh of holocausts or the fat of sacrifice[16]. Further, it is stated in 1QS that the divine offering will be a blessing from the lips, which seems to be reliance upon the offering of prayers that uphold the seasons of Jubilee, rather than animal sacrifice[17]. This difference could imply that the community of the CD lived in a settlement that had already had a temple cult while the 1QS needed to find other methods of religious worship that suited their location in the desert.

This difference in the concept of the Temple is also borne out in the concept of the community. While the CD has rules for marriage and children[18] the 1QS makes no mention of women or children. The CD also excludes people from their community if they are found to be physically or mentally defective[19] and only allows men of a certain age to be in authority, while the 1QS is a semi-monastical community that shares its possessions and meals and makes no mention of exclusion through age or disability[20].  Both texts share the concept of a special Covenant with God but the CD advocates a New Covenant -‘a pact’- that will be (or has been in some parts of the text) declared in the land of Damascus[21]. The Covenant for the 1QS has a strict set of rules that governs every aspect of one’s life[22] whereas the CD demands a more generalised strict adherence to the ‘Laws of Moses’[23]. Therefore, there are quite distinct religiously conceptual differences between the two texts.

The historian, Eyal Regev, uses these theological differences to explain the divergences between the two texts and asserts that each text is based upon a different sect[24]. For Regev, the difference lies in the descriptions of each text’s social structures. Firstly, Regev points out that the CD was run by overseers who had exclusive authority[25], whereas the IQS was less hierarchical with the overseer not having religious authority[26]. Regev also points to theological differences such as concepts of divine revelation and the total separation from Israel that is stipulated by IQS[27].  However, the similarity in the texts requiring ten men of the Council needing one priest among them[28], their reliance upon the two prophesied messiahs from the houses of Aaron and Israel[29], and the endorsement of the solar calendar show that both texts had fundamental conceptual roots. The differences in divine revelation and total separation from the mainstream religion could infer that the sect evolved over a period of time into a much smaller and more intense community than the original sect.

This is also asserted by the historian, Charlotte Hempel, who uses the literary differences between the texts to map out their evolution[30].  Hempel states that the CD and the 1QS are more inter-textual than the other Qumran texts, with a particular reference to the perfection and holiness with which each text’s community describes itself[31]. This leads to Hempel’s conclusion that the texts originated independently of their place[32]. However, although they use similar vocabulary, one text appears to be a text that advocated a similar type of temple cult that was fundamental to the mainstream, while the 1QS became a more particular type of document that saw itself as the Temple. Therefore, textuality does not seem to be a completely effective method of explaining the two texts divergence and it could be inferred that each text shows its place through either the conformity to the temple cult of CD or the semi-monastic lifestyle of 1QS.

The historian, Phillip Davies, posits that the 1QS is based upon the older CD and that this text legitimised the community of 1QS[33]. For Davies, the CD is a description of a point of origin from Babylonian departure onwards, and rejects notions of the CD being a document from the religious strife in Judea during the mid-second century BCE. However, the CD is written in the historical genre and relates to itself as living in an age of wrath, with particular mention of the Greek kings. If one critically analyses the text, as Davies asserts one must[34], then it appears that the CD was the one of the original texts of the Dead Sea Sectarians that gives its history as a splinter group formed around the middle of the second century BCE during a time of persecution and religious strife.

The CD and the 1QS had a fundamental similarity and that was their belief that they had a special covenant based upon a more ancient law than the one advocated by Ezra and Nehemiah after the Babylonian exile. The sectarians considered themselves true believers that would be redeemed through their pursuit of perfection and strict adherence to ancient laws based upon the older, solar calendar. They suffered persecution for their beliefs, trying to remain separate themselves from the mainstream religion, and subsequently took refuge in camps in the desert. As time passed, this led to their semi-monastic isolation at Qumran, with the CD text being the one of the sect’s initial documents written while they were still in the mainstream community, and that evolved into the Community Rules of the 1QS. So, rather than a sect that splinters and dissipates into the mainstream, as Regev suggests, the Dead Sea Sectarians appear to be a splinter group of mainstream Judaism that became more isolated, intense and idiosyncratic over time.





  1. Vermes, G. (ed. & trans.), The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (London: Penguin Books, 2004 or 2011)
    1. Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, William Whiston, A.M., Ed.
    2. Regev, E., ‘Between Two Sects: Differentiating the Yahad and the Damascus Covenant’, in The Dead Sea Scrolls: Text and Context (ed., C. Hempel; Leiden: Brill, 2009)
    3. Hempel, Charlotte, ‘CD manuscript B and the Rule of the Community—Reflections on a Literary Relationship’, Dead Sea Discoveries 16 (2009)
    4. Davies, Philip R. “The prehistory of the Qumran community” in Dead Sea Scrolls: Forty Years of Research , Dimant, Devorah; Rappaport, Uriel , 1992


This essay will explore the similarities and the differences between the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, being the Community Rule (1QS) and the Damascus Document (CD), and posit implications for the historical environment of the documents.



[1] 1QS ix 15; CD ivi 5

[2] CD iii 15

[3] 1QS v 2; CD iv, 1

[4] 1QS i 12; CD ii 15

[5] 1QS ii 22; CD xiii 13

[6] CD i 7; 1QS xi 7

[7] 1QS. ii, 5; CD iv, 14

[8] 1QS, x.5 – xi.23

[9] CD. i,6

[10] CD. viii, 2

[11] CD. viii, 11

[12] Josephus, BJ 1.1.34

[13] Josephus, BJ 1.2.67

[14] CD. iv, 16

[15] 1QS. viii, 7

[16] 1QS. ix, 5

[17] 1QS. x, 1

[18] CD, vii, 6

[19] CD, xv, 15

[20] 1QS, v, 2; 1QS, vi, 2

[21] CD, viii, 21- ix, 12

[22] 1QS, vi, 25

[23] CD, xv, 12

[24] Regev, E., ‘Between Two Sects: Differentiating the Yahad and the Damascus Covenant’, in The Dead Sea Scrolls: Text and Context (ed., C. Hempel; Leiden: Brill, 2009) p. 431

[25] Regev, 2009, p.432

[26] Regev, 2009, p. 435

[27] Regev, 2009, p. 437

[28] 1QS, vi, 4; CD, xiii, 1

[29] CD, i, 7; 1QS, ix, 11

[30] Hempel, Charlotte, ‘CD manuscript B and the Rule of the Community—Reflections on a Literary Relationship’, Dead Sea Discoveries 16 (2009) p.374

[31] Hempel, 2009, p.382

[32] Hempel, 2009, p.374

[33] Davies, Philip R. “The prehistory of the Qumran community” in Dead Sea Scrolls: Forty Years of Research , Dimant, Devorah; Rappaport, Uriel , 1992 , p.121

[34]  Davies, 1992 , p.125


The main feature of the ethos of the Roman aristocracy at the time of the second century BC was a particular set of elite values and objectives. These were borne out in ambitious military and political careers and they entailed such objectives as high office, famous deeds and supremely persuasive oratorical skills. The four terms that ascribe such a rigorous set of ideals are gloria, nobilitas, virtus and auctoritas. This essay sets out to describe the meaning of these four terms, and to assess their strengths and weaknesses.

Roman aristocracy was obsessed with family both living, dead and unborn for reasons of preserving the honour of the family name[1]. The term gloria was defined by Cicero as ‘praise given to right actions and the reputation for great merits in the service of the Republic which is approved not merely by the testimony of the multitude but by the witness of all the best men[2].’ For Sallust, it was the memory of the great deeds of his ancestors that kindled a quest to uphold the glory of the family name in a young man’s heart[3]. The various epitaphs written on the tombs of the family of Scipioni attest to their valiance in battle and high office. For example, Lucius Cornelius Scipio was inscribed as being ‘the very best of all good men’, that he was ‘aedile, consul and censor’ and that he ‘captured Corsica and Aleria[4]. Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus belonged to this patrician family. As a general he achieved total victories in the troublesome wars of Carthage and Numantia[5]. He went on to be twice consul, censor and triumphator.

The aristocracy developed out of wealthy plebian and patrician families called by the term nobilitas[6]. The qualification to be entitled noble was to hold public office and the attainment of consulship ennobled a man’s family forever[7]. The display of the imagos of their ancestors gave the nobility authority to establish the institution of clientage. This allowed people to oblige themselves to a noble in return for legal representation and financial aid. Scipio Aemilianus was the patron of many people and therefore referred to as nobilis. This patronage was fundamentally important in Roman politics and due deference was given to such status. Clientela allowed the nobility to display and enhance their prestige within the Senate. ‘New men’ were also allowed to obtain the status of nobilitas through their achievements, as the aristocracy was always looking for new talent[8]. Cato, who was one of these ‘new men’, earned the epithet catus meaning man of outstanding wisdom and experience[9]. Cicero said that the public nature of nobilitas means that a distinguished name must be scrutinized and that the words and deeds of these men were not expected to be kept secret[10].

TheRoman nobility were obsessed with morality and the pursuit of power, glory, position and prestige[11]. The term boni or ‘good men’ referred to the moral worth of the nobility [12] and this was expressed in the ideal of virtus [13]. Virtus consisted of winning preeminence through service to the Roman state and it was the tradition of Rome itself[14]. The use of superlatives to establish virtus is attested to in the epitaph of L. Cornelius Scipio: ‘This man Lucius Scipio, as most argue, was the best of all good men at Rome’[15]. Personal virtue was frowned upon. For the Roman nobility it was the service of state that was the only acceptable activity and this demanded private goodness but public achievement[16]. Furthermore, virtus was connected with family, honour and office and the obligations of political associations and alliance[17]. In pursuing the ideal of virtus a noble must have proper conduct and carry his office with dignitas. Wealth must be acquired in the correct manner or bono modo such as by inheritance or investment in land and must be used for honourable ends[18].

One of the outstanding features of the Roman senate was its exercise of auctoritas or moral authority. A young Roman noble was expected to rise from his ten years of military service to become a preator, consul and censor to give service to his family’s gloria. He was expected to achieve distinction in his military career and be enrolled in the senate. Real power in Republican Rome lay with around twenty families who ‘commanded armies, governed provinces and guided the policies of the senate’. It was only by originating and implementing public policy could the Roman nobility attain auctoritas, which was the highest form of prestige[19]. The ambition of the young Scipio Aemilianus was to serve the Republic as a warrior and general, as an orator and senator and to achieve great deeds[20]. The interlinking of one’s military and political talents was a considerable asset in Republican Rome and Scipio became known as a skilful orator, earning the expression summa eloquentia[21]. His ambition to become an outstanding man of state led him to state these words which express the ideals of the Roman nobility: ‘From innocence is born dignity, from dignity honour, from honour the right to command, from the right to command liberty’[22].

The strengths of such ideals could be determined as a rigorous system of merit in which only the ‘best of men’ achieve the highest status. The exacting standards and the scrutiny of the people could be said to allow a high degree of government transparency and fidelity. However, the quest for family gloria  could also allow for one to take advantage of their position and exaggerate the qualities and achievements of forebears. Also, the practice of being nobilis could allow for sycophancy and the development of corruption within the government, where public policy succumbs to private desires. Furthermore, the use of oratorical skills in the practice of auctoritas makes the most persuasive politician the most successful, rather than the right policy for the people. Therefore it could be said that virtus was the most important of these ideals, as it required the nobility to answer for their actions and demanded their service to the state alone.


  1. Astin, A. E. “P. Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus” in Scipio Aemilianus , Astin, A. E. , 1967 , 12-25
  2. Astin, A. E. “Epilogue” in Scipio Aemilianus , Astin, A. E. , 1967 , 242-244
  3. Cicero, Pro Sestio,79
  4. Cicero, On Duties, 2.44
  5. Cicero, Brutus,82 f.
  6. Earl, Donald. “Morality and politics” in The Moral and Political Tradition of Rome , Earl, Donald , 1967 , 11-43,133-138, Thames and Hudson
  7. Plutarch, Makers of Rome, 4.1, Trans. Ian Scott-Kilvert, (1965) Penguin Books, London
  8. Polybius VI, 53f
  9. Sallust The Jugurthine War 4.5
  10. The Scipionic Epitaphs(from the translation of E.H. Warmington, Remains of Old

Latin, Vol. IV, Loeb Classical Library)

[1] Polybius VI, 53f

[2] Cicero, Pro Sestio,139

[3] Sallust The Jugurthine War 4.5

[4] Warmington, 1. ii

[5] Astin:18

[6] Earl: 12

[7] Ibid: 13

[8] Ibid: 13

[9] Plutarch, Makers of Rome, 4.1

[10] Cicero, On Duties, 2.44

[11] Earl: 16

[12] Ibid: 18

[13] Ibid: 20

[14] Ibid: 21

[15] Warmington 1, ii

[16] Earl: 23

[17] Earl: 27

[18] Ibid: 32

[19] Earl: 14

[20] Ibid: 24

[21] Cicero, Brutus, 82.f

[22] Astin: 22

Celsus was a Neo-Platonist that lived in the time of the late second century. He wrote a book against Christianity called The True Word. Celsus’s work is only known through the Christian apologist Origen’s writings. Origen of Alexandria was a Christian theologian who cites much of Celsus’s work in his book Against Celsus. Porphyry was a philosopher born in the Roman near East and who wrote in the second half of the third century after the persecutions of Decian and Valerian. His book, Against the Christians, was responded to by various Christian apologists such as Eusibius, Methodius, Jerome and Augustine.

Celsus’s first criticism is to do with God’s descent amongst men. For Celsus, this is an impossibility because God, even by Christian belief, is immutable, unchanging and pure. For God to undergo such a transformation, he would have to go from a pure to a blemished state, from good to bad and Celsus states that this is wrong. Celsus asserts that if God wished to bring about the moral reformation of men he did not need to come down onto the earth because he is omnipotent. In other words God could have used his divine power to enact such a reformation. Cesus also questioned why God only decided to make this action in the generation of Jesus , stating that such an act shows that the Christian idea of God is arbitrary and capricious, which makes Christians a group of impious babblers.

Celsus’s second major criticism of Christianity was the belief in the resurrection of Jesus. As far as Celsus is concerned this is contrary to nature as it reverses the natural process of disintegration and disrupts the order if the world. He questions why God would wish to do such a thing because if God is reason, he obviously is not going to do anything contrary to reason. Therefore, if the Christian believes in a God who does things contrary to reason, they are worshipping a God that is unfit for devotion.

The third major criticism of Christianity for Celsus is the worship of Jesus as God. For Celsus, Jesus was not worthy of being venerated as divine as he was just a low-grade magician not a great hero such as Heracles or Orpheas. The practice of magic was a criminal offence in the Roman Empire and Celsus contends that the miracles of Jesus were simply magic tricks. The Gospels presented Jesus as a wonder worker and Celsus sees the prayers that the Christian’s used as incantations or spells. Celsus contends that by Jesus being conferred the status of God by the Christians that they were making him a rival to the one true God. In Celsus’s view, Jesus’s mortality must make him inferior to God and he asserts that the monotheism of Christians is undone by the adoration of him. As far as Celsus was concerned, Jesus was a lesser deity and excessive adoration robbed the one high God of his proper due.

Porphyry’s first point was that the Book of Daniel had been used by Christians to verify their belief that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. Porphyry thought that the Old Testament Book of Daniel was a Maccabean pseudograph that had been written contemporarily in the time of Antioch in the second century BC as encouragement for Jewish resistance. The Christian use of the book as a prophecy of Christ’s birth and the destruction of Temple was invalid as far as Porphyry was concerned. He was able to do this through a detailed analysis of the Book of Daniel.

Porphyry’s second point against Christians was their account of the New Testament. He claimed that the disciples based their writings on hearsay because only Matthew and John were eyewitnesses whereas Luke and Mark based their writings on the testimony of the former. Porphyry’s main criticism is that the disciples made Jesus out to be more than he was actually, such things as Jesus being the Son of God, and that he was able to express the word of God through he and God were one was a suspension of belief .

Porphyry also brought to attention the inconsistencies in the writings, behaviour and character of the apostles. One of the main inconsistencies he points to is the conflict between Peter and Paul over circumcision. Porphyry thought that this made the apostles, upon whom the Christians based their belief, unreliable. He points to examples of where there was strife and division in the church from the beginning.

Porphyry’s final and main argument against the Christians was the teaching by the disciples of the worship of Jesus. Porphyry thinks that they are mistaken and that Jesus taught the worship of the one God whereas the disciples turned this into the worship of Jesus. Porphyry thought that the disciples advocated apostacy from their true religion, that of Judaism and questioned why they did not follow the teachings of Moses, or practice the religion inaugurated by Jesus.

The Christian apologist Origen answered these Celsus’s claims by attacking him for being extremely relativistic. Rather than appealing to a specific doctrine that others should follow, for Origen Celsus only appeals to traditon; that things should be done because they were done in the past, that people should obey laws because established social conventions ought to be maintained. Augustine, who wrote a criticism of Porphyry’s work called him the most learned of all, as Porphyry knew the Christian writings as well as any Christian teacher did. However, Augustine states that although the critics of Christianity believe that Jesus should be worshipped as a wise man, he cannot understand why they do not accept that he should be worshipped as God. Augustine states that even Porphyry had to admit from his own consultation with the oracles that Jesus should be praised. Other Christian apologists say they at a loss to understand why such pagans are hostile to the Christians when they both believe in the one true God.

Celsus’s three most important criticisms of Christianity were to do with the Christian beliefs that God came to live amongst men, the belief on the resurrection of Jesus and the worship of Jesus as God. Porphyry’s rested on four core points being the Christian belief in the prophecies of Daniel, the exaggerated fabrication of the life of Jesus, the inconsistencies in Christian writings and the apostacism of Christianity from its foundation belief of Judaism. The Christians apologists responded with incredulity as to why these philosophers were so dependent upon reason and tradition in their arguments against Christianity.


The persecution of Christians by Diocletian began in 303 C.E. at a time when the Roman Empire was under extreme economic pressure. The economy of currency had been ruined and the tax system had to be based on payments in kind, just as the military were also paid in kind. Certain occupations that were considered to be essential for the maintenance of the Empire became known as ‘compulsory services’ and those engaged in them were prohibited from changing them. To try and unify the Empire at this politically difficult time, Diocletian used the state religion.

Diocletian had divided the Empire into four princeps to be run by four emperors. In 293 C.E. he appointed Galerius to the eastern empire of the Balkans. Galerius married Diocletian’s daughter Valerian who, along with her mother, was a Christian. It is considered by Eusibius that it was Galerian, at the behest of his mother, who instigated Diocletian to carry out persecutions of the Christians. Eusibius goes on to state that Diocletian thought that it would be foolish to have so many put to death, especially seeing that the Christians were eager to be martyred. Diocletian suggested that it would be enough to exclude Christians from court. However, he had many advisors who thought that Christians should be cut off ‘as enemies of the gods and adversaries of the established religious ceremonies’.

They began in the March 305 C.E. with the destruction of the church in Nicodemia, and the next day an edict was published that deprived Christians of all honours and dignities, that they would undergo torture, that all lawsuits against them would be accepted, that they could not be a plaintiff, and finally that they should not be free or have suffrage. Diocletian’s wife, Priscia, and Valeria were forced to sacrifice to the gods. Presbyters and officers of the church, along with their families, were seized without trial and executed by being burnt alive. The judges were dispersed to all the temples to compel everyone to sacrifice. Eusibius writes that the prisons became crowded and that the courts were set with alters so that every accused could turn and sacrifice. All the other emperors followed suit except for the emperor Constantinus, who only called for the demolition of churches.

In 305 Diocletian abdicated along with the second emperor Maximianus. Constantinus and Galerius became the new Augusti. Under Galerius the persecutions worsened, he began a mode of executions by edicts against the Christians, who were slowly and tortuously burnt to death. This punishment along with others became normal for all people. Under Galerius people were burnt, crucified and killed by wild beasts daily. Eusibius writes that this eventuated in a general illiteracy, with lawyers slain or exiled and the use of writing to be considered the same as magical or forbidden arts. All those who possessed books were considered enemies of the government and, once the law was dissolved, licence to be a judge was given to any rude and illiterate men.

Eusibius writes that the worst calamity to beset the Empire was the imposition of a capitation tax on all provinces and cities, where marketplaces were assembled with all the people, and sons hung on the rack to determine the effects of the fathers. Imaginary effects, the result of attestation through torture, were recorded on the lists. This infliction of all the subjects of Rome led to the number of animals decreasing and men dying. Eusibius goes on that all that was left were beggars and even they were rounded up and drowned in the sea. Constantinus in the meantime gave his sovereignty to his son Constantine in 306 C.E., much to the grief of Galerius.

By 312 C.E. Constantine was made the sole ruler of the Western Empire after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Lactantius, who was the tutor of Constantine’s son and close to the imperial family, reports that Constantine was commanded in a dream to place the sign of Christ on the shields of his soldiers. From that day Constantine identified himself as a Christian. Galerius had died the previous year after a terrible disease that, Eusibius writes, ate away his insides. Before he died, Galerius issued an Edict of Toleration which stated that because Christians in great numbers still persisted in their opinions, even after many were persecuted, they were permitted to worship their god and restore their places of worship. After Galerius’s death, Maximinius Daia proclaimed himself emperor of the east and continued the persecution of Christians in his realm.

In February 313C.E. Licinius, one of the emperors of the Eastern Empire met Constantine and formed a common religious policy. Although at that time Licinius issued an edict of toleration, he went on later to persecute Christians. Constantine, however, decided to use the church as an instrument of imperial policy and thus deprived it of its former independence. The church fathers throughout the Diocletian persecutions had struggled to maintain some control of their ‘flock’. This is attested to in a letter from four Egyptian bishops who questioned the bishop Melitius of Lycopolis and his authority to ordain priests. This caused a schism in which Peter of Alexandria wrote to his flock that ‘Miletius acts in no way for the common good’. This seems to imply that the martyrdom of many church leaders during the Diocletian persecutions was causing leadership stress within the church.

Constantine was dismayed when he discovered the disunity within the church, specifically in the province of Africa where there was conflict between the rigorist position towards the lapsi, those who had succumbed to the demand to sacrifice, and those who had a more forgiving position. Constantine convened two councils of bishops in 313 and 314 to resolve this problem unsuccessfully. The rigorists, under Caecilian bishop of Carthage, established a separatist church in North Africa. By 324 Constantine was the sole ruler in the Empire and wanted to to reconcile differences in beliefs about the Holy Trinity through convening the First Ecumenical Council of the church in 325. This was also unsuccessful. Eusibius eventually became the emperor’s chief spiritual advisor in 327. In 330 Constantine’s desire to have Byzantium become the new capital of Rome was realised. Here, he had built three major churches and made New Rome, unlike the pagan Old Rome, be a Christian capital.

It could be said that the effects of the persecutions on Christianity were the instigation of a Christian emperor and the ceding of much authority to him through a level of disunity among the bishops over key issues of forgiveness of the lapsi and beliefs about the Holy Spirit which resulted in breakaway churches.