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It came from Mesopotamia, more than 1500

kilometers to the east. In Tuscany, Italy, equally

fearsome lion heads, imported from the kingdom

of Urartu in what is now Armenia and eastern

Turkey, ring the tops of bronze cauldrons. In the

waters off southeastern Spain, a recently excavated

shipwreck yielded African elephant tusks inscribed

with the names of Phoenician gods. These prizes

likely came from a Phoenician colony near Seville

or Cádiz, some 4000 kilometers from the heartland

of the Phoenicians at the eastern end of the Medi-

terranean. And these same seafaring merchants can

be thanked for the very existence of Homer’s




which were written down from oral

tradition between the eighth and the sixth centuries


, after the Greeks had adopted the Phoenicians’

clever idea of writing by using an alphabet.

It was the start of the Iron Age, the first half of

the first millennium


, long before “globalization”

and the Internet came to define our own hyper-con-

nected era, and trade routes had already woven the

Near East, North Africa and the Mediterranean into

a highly complex, deeply symbiotic web of cultures.

By Homer’s time, around the beginning of the millen-

nium, there was a flourishing, intercontinental trade

in exquisite gold, jewelry and ivory, exotic cult objects,

intricately crafted furniture and polished silver bowls

masterfully incised with elaborate scenes of heroic

hunting and battle, as well as more ordinary wares.

Likely carved early in Ashurnasirpal


’s 24-year rule (probably in 880



, this

winged figure was among the gypsum bas-relief frescoes that decorated the

Northwest Palace at Nimrud, the first Neo-Assyrian location in which such

frescoes are known to have been produced. The cuneiform script in the

middle records the ruler’s lineage and describes the city and palace.

Originally, it was brightly painted.

a speck of a Greek island off

the Turkish coast, one of the

oddest treasures on display in

the Archeological Museum is

a locally discovered, bronze

mace-head depicting the

frightful demon Pazuzu.

On Samos,