The Lost Cities of South Asia
and the Far East (2 of 4)
The Great Bath at Mohenjo-daro. Unlike its sister city Harappa, Mohenjo-daro escaped the attention of the railway workers, and its structures survived in better conditions.
The round building in the background is the Buddhist stupa built atop the mound of Mohenjo-daro in the Kushan era.
Location: Indus Valley, Pakistan
Date of Construction: C 2600 B.C.
Abandoned: C 1500 B.C.
Built By: Indus Civilization, Also Known as Harappans
Key Features: Citadel; Lower Town; Plumbing and Sewage; Great Bath; Great Hall; Assembly Hall; Street Grid; Beads; Seals; Plaques; Weights; Figurines; Lack of Monumental or Public Art
The largest and best known of the cities of the Indus civilization is Mohenjo-daro, which, unlike Harappa, was spared the depredations of brick-looters and survived beneath its mounds until the 20th century, when wholesale excavation revealed an almost intact brick-built metropolis with lanes and streets sandwiched between towering walls.
Mohenjo-Daro, which scholars believe means “hill of the dead,” was an ancient Indian city located on the west bank of the Indus River in the Indus-Sarasvati region.
The ruins of Mohenjo-Daro were discovered in 1922. The other Indus-Sarasvati city that was known of at that time was Harappa, discovered in 1826.
Over time, thousands of ancient settlements have been discovered along the banks of the Indus River and the now-dried-up Sarasvati River. Most of these settlements are clustered around the Sarasvati River and include cities as large as Mohenjo-Daro, such as Ganweriwala, Kalibangan, and Rakhigarhi.
Having survived 4,500 years, however, the remains of the great city are now under severe threat of crumbling into dust.
On the banks of the Indus, about 250 miles upstream from the ocean in the Sindh state of Pakistan, lie the remains of Mohenjo-daro (one of several alternative translations applied is ‘Mound of the Dead’).
Although the earliest detected period of occupation at the site dates back to 3500 B.C., the main phase of occupation began in 2600 B.C. and lasted for another 700 years, during which time the city dominated the southern Indus plain.
The total area of the site is over 617 acres, but the heart of the city is split into a Citadel and an adjoining 198-acre Lower Town, a pattern seen in many of the larger Indus Valley settlements.
Almost all of the city is made of kiln-fired bricks, manufactured in huge quantities to standardized dimensions with the ratio 1:2:4.
Today the great mounds left by the city rise up to 394 feet above the surrounding flood plain; in ancient times they would have stood even higher.
Where today the Indus flows to the east of the city, threatening at times to wash chunks of it away, in ancient times it flowed to the west and the city was strategically positioned between it and the Saraswati, another great river to th6 east, which has since become extinct.
Citadel and Lower Town
Of the two main areas, the large western mound proved to conceal what is now called the Citadel (or the Acropolis), which was built up over hundreds of years, with mud brick platforms for houses and surrounding city walls that have now eroded away.
This steatite statue, known as the Priest-King, is the most famous artefact of the Indus Valley Civilization.
The diadem and the eyes may have originally been inlaid, while small holes beneath the ears suggest that a necklace would have been attached.
The cloak he wears is decorated with trefoil patterns, which were originally filled with red pigment.
The back of the head is flat and may have had another piece attached, representing a bun or headdress.
Several major buildings have been excavated in the Citadel. Their exact roles are unclear – presumably they were public buildings but were they religious, royal or corporate?
A large colonnaded building contains a specially engineered tank or pool, 391 feet long, 23 feet wide and up to 7 feet deep, known as the Great Bath.
It was lined with bitumen to waterproof it and was designed to be easy to empty and clean. It is speculated that it might have been for ritual cleansing.
Next to it is a massive structure with narrow hypocaust-like passages in its floor, which led to it being initially identified as a hammam or hot-air bath.
Later it was interpreted as the State Granary, where the grain tribute was stored (dispensation of which would have been a key element in exercising authority), on the basis that the passages were ventilation shafts.
But the way in which the building was excavated means that there is no concrete evidence for this attribution and the more conservative label is probably simply the Great Hall.
Other major buildings have been labelled the Assembly Hall and the College or Seminary, on the basis that it was the priest’s quarters.
A collection of slightly smaller mounds to the east comprises the Lower Town.
Each mound may have a represented a walled neighborhood (although as at Harappa the walls are more likely to have been for control of access or flood defenses than fortifications).
Gridlike streets are oriented to the cardinal directions, with main avenues up to 33 feet wide and smaller streets separating city blocks that measure around 404 X 273 yards each.
The above view is looking northwest toward the excavated portion of the mound and stupa.
This stupa is a Buddhist building, from the Kushan period, much later than the underlying ruins.
The area surrounding the stupa is filled with many important buildings, including the Great Bath, the `granary’, and `assembly hall’.
While the bath is obviously a bath, but the other buildings can be debated.
The connection between the bath and surrounding buildings makes the whole area very intriguing.
Over 700 wells may have supplied the city with water, while each house had bathing areas that fed into covered drains that ran beneath the streets. The wells were so well constructed that they remain intact to this day.
Houses generally had at least two stories and were designed to minimize dust and noise from the crowded streets.
The original scholarly interpretation of the Citadel-Lower Town divide was that the different mounds represented distinct functional sectors: the Citadel was the administrative sector, while the eastern mounds were industrial and residential.
It is now thought that these functions shifted between districts over time and that all areas show evidence of residential and industrial uses at different periods, perhaps representing shifting prosperity or jockeying for political power between districts.
Another Brick in the Wall
Archaeologists and historians have traditionally been rather sniffy about the aesthetics and by extension the culture and spirit of the Indus civilization, as represented by Mohenjo-daro.
Looking south down the main street near the bath. This street has rocks covering the drains, an unusual feature to the extensive drain system.
As at Harappa, no public or large-scale art has been found here; nothing proclaiming military might, imperial glory or even simply urban exuberance. No murals, reliefs, mosaics or monumental sculptures.
Almost all of the arts and crafts objects that have been recovered are small – e.g. beads, votive figurines, clay and steatite seals and tablets.
The symbols, motifs and styles represented are remarkably homogenous across all the Indus civilization sites, prompting scholars to dismiss the culture of this ancient society as displaying “a dead level of bourgeois mediocrity”.
Confronted with the monotony of Mohenjo-daro’s endless brick vistas, which leave the impression of a giant termite mound now bereft of its teeming life, it is hard to disagree.
But there are intriguing suggestions from arts and crafts recovered at Mohenjo-daro that the exuberance of later Hindu/Buddhist aesthetics has its roots in its ancient precursor society.
The most famous Indus Valley artefact, a steatite bust of a bearded figure wearing a diadem, usually interpreted as a priest-king, displays a zenlike serenity, while a common figure seen on seals and tablets is of a seated male in a lotus-like yogic position.
Also, archaeologists working on Indus sites in Pakistan today draw parallels between modern-day sang festivals (annual spring fairs) and the fairs that their excavations show probably visited the same sites, and that were celebrated in the same way, 4,500 years ago.
The Decline of Mohenjo-daro
The traditional view was that Mohenjo-daro and other cities were abandoned in around 1750-1500 B.C., as the culmination of a general decline of the Indus civilization finished off by the Aryan invasion.
Looking south at the stupa and main Citadel excavations. The small people on the right side of the picture are near the Bath.
Which was the influx of Indo-European peoples recorded in the ancient Rig Veda, which tells of the god Indra helping his people to overcome mighty forts and ancient castles?
The discovery of a few groups of skeletons at Mohenjo-daro, some with apparent signs of violence and some in attitudes suggesting an escape attempt, lent weight to this attempt to link the ancient Vedic accounts with modern-day archaeological finds, just as Schliemann tried to do for Homer and Troy.
Today there is considerable doubt over whether there ever was an Indo-Aryan ‘invasion’, and a more considered view of the archaeological record shows that occupation continued at Mohenjo-daro and other sites long beyond 1500 B.C.
There are gaps in the archaeological record but it is considered unlikely that the city was ever fully abandoned due to its favorable position high above the floods.
But Mohenjo-daro did undoubtedly decline and dwindle. During the late phase of occupation, from 1900 B.C. on, there is evidence that the city became increasingly crowded, with rooms subdivided and streets encroached upon, and that social order and central control were breaking down, leaving drains unrepaired the city walls unmaintained.
The Indus script (also Harappan script) is a corpus of symbols produced by the Indus Valley Civilization during the Mature Harappan period between the 26th and 20th centuries B.C.
Most inscriptions are extremely short. It is not clear if these symbols constitute a script used to record a language, and the subject of whether the Indus symbols were a writing system is controversial.
In spite of many attempts at decipherment, it is undeciphered, and no underlying language has been identified.
There is no known bilingual inscription.
The first publication of a seal with Harappan symbols dates to 1873, in a drawing by Alexander Cunningham.
Since then, over 4,000 inscribed objects have been discovered, some as far afield as Mesopotamia.
In the early 1970s, Iravatham Mahadevan published a corpus and concordance of Indus inscriptions listing 3,700 seals and 417 distinct signs in specific patterns.
The average inscription contains five signs, and the longest inscription is only 17 signs long. He also established the direction of writing as right to left.
Cuboid weights, inscribed seals and tablets, distinctive pottery marked with Indus script and raw materials and trade goods from far away – all the indicators of a functioning, well-ordered culture – disappear.
Mentions in Mesopotamian texts of trade with Meluhha, a nation generally accepted to be the Indus civilization, cease.
There were probably multiple causes for this decline. As mentioned above, there were major changes to the Indus and Sarasvati rivers.
The latter drived up altogether, presumably driving large numbers of people who had depended on it to seek aid and sustenance elsewhere, contributing to overcrowding in in Mohenjo-daro.
Meanwhile the Indus changed course, damaging the city and disrupting its agricultural base.
Possibly these riverine changes were linked to wider ecological problems – the industrial-scale brick production of Indus Valley cities, together with their other industries, which have consumed vast quantities of wood, which in turn could have led to deforestation and consequent climate changes (lower rainfall, flash floods, etc.).
With the decline of the Indus civilization the archaeological record shows the spreading influence of new cultures that represents a restructuring of the overall social order.
Some of these cultural traditions are indigenous to the northwestern subcontinent and is and others indicate connections to the northwest and to the east.
Eventually a new social order emerged in which new technologies were dominant – use of the horse, use of iron, and also new languages and religion that can be inked to Vedic and early Hindu, Jain and Buddhist culture.
The Indus calendar dates from ca 3100 BC and it has something in common with the Chinese symbolism. Since we find similar symbolism in Indus as in the rest of the Old World it is important to study their culture and get some answers too.
What became of the Indus Valley people? According to Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, the leading authority on Indus civilizations, most of them probably stayed put and blended with the new cultural arrivals.
This contrasts with the popular view of what happens when a new civilization takes over an area – for instance, the Aryan Invasion – which generally envisages wholesale population replacement.
In practice genetic studies show that while the cultures may change, populations are remarkably invariant; in other words, the roles may be different, but the actors stay the same.
Tomorrow we will…
Paul Travels to Cesarea
1 And it came to pass, that after we were gotten from them, and had launched, we came with a straight course unto Coos, and the day following unto Rhodes, and from thence unto Patara:
Ruins of Caesarea, ancient port and administrative city of Palestine, on the Mediterranean coast of present-day Israel south of Haifa. It is often referred to as Caesarea Palaestinae, or Caesarea Maritima, to distinguish it from Caesarea Philippi near the headwaters of the Jordan River.
“Rhodes” – the leading city of the island of Rhodes, once noted for its harbor colossus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (but demolished over two centuries before Paul arrived there). It took them a day to get to Rhodes.
“Patara” – on the southern coast of Lycia. Paul changed ships from a vessel that hugged the shore of Asia Minor to one going directly to Tyre and Phoenicia.
2 And finding a ship sailing over unto Phenicia, we went aboard, and set forth.
3 Now when we had discovered Cyprus, we left it on the left hand, and sailed into Syria, and landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unlade her burden.
“Tyre” – Paul had passed through this Phoenician area at least once before.
4 And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.
5 And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed.
6 And when we had taken our leave one of another, we took ship; and they returned home again.
7 And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day.
For centuries, only Joppa in the south and Acco in the north provided modest havens for ships.
But in 22 B.C., work began on a new port—a vast harbor befitting the grand ideals of its visionary, King Herod the Great.
Caesarea – Explore Israel’s Harbor & Herod’s Palace
At Caesarea today, a modern harbor rests in the same location as the ancient one.
The few fishing vessels and pleasure boats moored to the modern pier do little justice to the port of the first century.
“Ptolemias” – the modern city of Acco, north of and across the bay from mount Carmel. It was one day’s journey from Tyre on the north and another 35 miles to Cesarea on the south.
8 And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him.
“Cesarea” – a Gentile city, the capital of Roman Judea.
9 And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.
10 And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus.
11 And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.
12 And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.
13 Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.
14 And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.
15 And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem.
Castle in Rhodes
16 There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge.
17 And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.
18 And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present.
“James” – the brother of Jesus, author of the letter of James and leader of the church in Jerusalem. He’s called an apostle, but wasn’t one of the original twelve.
19 And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.
20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:
21 And they are informed of thee that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.
22 What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come.
23 Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them;
Patara was founded by Patarus. So, it is known with his name.
Patarus was one of the sons of famous Greek commander Apollo. In the past, Dorians coming from city of Crete lived in this small town.
It witnessed many wars of Greek and Egyptians. In 1st century B.C., it was joined to Roman Empire and Rhodians occupied the ancient Patara.
It was joined to Pamphylia in the year of 43.
According to the quotes in Bible, Paul of Tarsus and Luke changed their ships in Patara.
24 Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.
“Purify thyself” – in some instances the purification rites included the offering of sacrifices. Such rites were observed by choice by some Jewish Christians but were not required of Christians, whether Jews or Gentile.
“Keepest the law” – Paul had earlier taken a vow himself, he had been a Jew to the Jews and Timothy had been circumcised. However, Paul was very careful not to sacrifice Christian principle in any act of obedience to the law (he would not have Titus circumcised – Gal 2:3).
25 As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.
26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.
27 And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him,
28 Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.
You might imagine that something as simple and basic as the alphabet would have been around forever.
But of course it hasn’t. As you may well know, the elaborate pictures of Egyptian hieroglyphics and the intricate reed-poked-into-clay marks of Mesopotamian cuneiform used to be the way people communicated in writing.
Gradually these were simplified into syllable symbols instead of word symbols, but were still fairly daunting and only a few scholars ever learned to write.
We are often told that the Phoenicians invented the alphabet, though some debate this.
Regardless of who put pen to papyrus to create it, the Phoenician contribution was none-the-less major and critical.
They were the major sea-traders of the Mediterranean, and they went everywhere.
“Brought Greeks also into the temple” – explicitly forbidden according to inscribed stone markers (still in existence). Any Gentiles found within the bounds of the court of Israel would be killed. But there is no evidence that Paul had brought anyone other than Jews into the area.
This shows what religion causes. Religion is not the same as faith. We are not to have faith in a religious faith, but to have faith in Jesus Christ – see Rom 16:17-18.
Paul did his best to please the Jews, i.e., abide by their laws, but he wouldn’t go against God’s laws, i.e., faith in Jesus Christ.
29 (For they had seen before with him in the city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)
30 And all the city was moved, and the people ran together: and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple: and forthwith the doors were shut.
31 And as they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.
32 Who immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down unto them: and when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, they left beating of Paul.
33 Then the chief captain came near, and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and demanded who he was, and what he had done.
34 And some cried one thing, some another, among the multitude: and when he could not know the certainty for the tumult, he commanded him to be carried into the castle.
35 And when he came upon the stairs, so it was, that he was borne of the soldiers for the violence of the people.
36 For the multitude of the people followed after, crying, Away with him.
37 And as Paul was to be led into the castle, he said unto the chief captain, May I speak unto thee? Who said, Canst thou speak Greek?
The names Tyre and Sidon were famous in the ancient Near East. They are also important cities in the Old and New Testaments. Both are now located in Lebanon, with Tyre 20 mi south of Sidon and only 12 mi north of the Israel-Lebanon border. Today each is just a shadow of their former selves.
“Castle” – the Fortress of Antonia was connected to the northern end of the temple area by two flights of steps. The tower overlooked the temple area.
38 Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?
39 But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people.
“No mean city” – the Greek means that Tarsus was not an obscure or insignificant city.
40 And when he had given him license, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying,
“the Hebrew tongue” – more likely Aramaic than Hebrew since Aramaic was the most commonly used language among Palestinian Jews. Jesus had also spoke Aramaic.
…finish the study of this city.