Student Series! Power to the People

Ancient Greece brought us the idea of a historian, advancements in mathematics, philosophical thought, theater, a courtroom with juries, Greek salad, and the Olympic games, but, democracy also has its roots in Ancient Greece. In 500 BCE, the idea of citizenship started in Ancient Greece, specifically Athens. In this political system, “ordinary” people play a more significant role in their city-state/country.


The Start of Democracy

In a time where tyrannies and monarchies were common, the idea of democracy wasn’t thought of for a while. Who would want to lose total power over their subjects anyway? Philosophy brought up the ideas of democracy in the city-state of Athens. The famous philosophers of the time asked questions of who should rule, how, and why? They eventually came to the conclusion that man should have the ability to rule himself, not be ruled by another man.

The Greek word dēmos is what the word we know as democracy derives from. Just like the origin of the word, democracy also has its roots in Ancient Greece. Now, the common man had a much more influential role in his life and the life of those around him, through his government. This was the time of individualism.

Plaque of the Ergastines which is part of the AP Art History 250!

Democracy in Athens

In Athens, citizens could vote, but there were certain requirements to citizenship. To be a citizen, you had to be a:

  • Free,
  • Native-born,
  • Adult (eighteen or older)
  • Male
  • Or have had free, native-born parents.

On top of meeting these requirements, the men who became citizens also had to complete education and two years of military training! Women, slaves, freed slaves, citizens of other city states, and children could not vote or become citizens no matter what. As you can see we define the word “citizen” very differently than the Ancient Athenians. Thank goodness!


Ancient Greece Democracy vs Modern Democracy

Citizens of Ancient Greece would vote on all laws, not on representatives to vote for us like we do today. There were meetings, called assemblies, where citizens would come to discuss and vote on laws. 40,000 citizens would be eligible to attend meetings at the assemblies that occurred forty times a year. At least 6,000 citizens were necessary for the assembly to occur. At these assemblies, the citizens would discuss magistrates, maintaining food supplies, military matters, and any other significant political issues that arose. And, like our modern democracy, almost any citizen had the opportunity to become a political head; however, the wealthier usually would win the political positions and have the most control at the assemblies

In Athens, officials were chosen by lottery, a completely random process. These officials would be in one of the three bodies of Ancient Grecian government:

  1. The Council (made up of 500 elected citizens). They oversaw day-to-day operations of the government and served in their position for a year.
  2. The Assembly was made up of all the citizens who showed up to vote
  3. The Court handled lawsuits and trials and is similar to our court system today with a jury and judge. The Court would handle private and public cases; private would require a jury of at least 201 people and public would require a jury of at least 501 people.

This really reminds me of our three branches of government as well: legislative, judicial, & executive!

• Brigitta, Schwulst. “Ancient Greece Government: How They Formed the Basis of our Systems.” udemy blog (blog). Published on April 10, 2014.
• Carr, Karen. “Government in Ancient Greece.” Study Guides. Published April 2016.
• Cartwright, Mark. “Greek Government.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Published on March 17, 2013.
“Ancient Greek Government.” Ducksters. Accessed on December 14, 2016.

TEMPLATE- Student Series!


#25. Lamassu from the citadel of Sargon II

So literally the lamassu are some of my favorites to teach in the Ancient World – I just think they are incredibly adorable and they are so much fun to teach! I’ve seen two sets of lamassu, in the Pergamon Museum and the Metropolitan Museum, so you might see different backgrounds in the images.

Art Historical Background

In the most basic of terms the lamassu are guardian statues for the king right at the entrance his throne room; in fancy terms they were thought to be apotropaic (capable of warding off evil). So that is their function (if you are thinking in the FFCC way). Their function necessitates certain aspects of their form: they need to be intimidating. As you can see from the photo below they were quiet large and would have been flanking the doorways.

One thing incorrect about their placement here, is that the lamassu would have been facing out at visitors, not facing each other. The museum probably rotated them to ease the passage of museum goers.

There are a few more aspects of the lamassu that make them intimidating besides their size; if you look closely you can see that they are a conglomerate of fierce beasts: lion paws (sometimes bull hooves), large wings, and the head of a stern-looking man with a horned helmet/crown. This mythical creature combines the best qualities of each: wisdom of humans, strength of a lion, flight of a bird, and horns = divinity.

I made sure to take some good detail shots below so you can really see how intricate these creatures are. And there are incredibly impressive in person!


Lastly, I love to point of this funny little detail that students typically overlook the first (and second) time they gaze upon the lamas. Let’s see if you can figure it out: what is WRONG with the picture below?

Do you see it? The lamassu has FIVE LEGS! Why would the lamas have five? Here’s the idea: so when you are facing the lamassu head-on, how any visitor would have seen them in situ, the two legs in the front are at a hard stop. These legs are tense and firm; clearing sending a “you shall not pass” message. However, once you “speak friend and enter,” and presumably a guard lets you in, the lamassu is now symbolically walking besides you. There is no other way to show the two front legs standing firm and four legs walking unless you add a fifth.

P.S. Yes, I use those subtle Lord of the Rings quotes when I teach this image. And I silently wait for the chuckles slowly ripple through my classroom. 🙂


Next time: #26. Athenian agora. Archaic through Hellenistic Greek. 600 BCE-150 CE. Plan.

TEMPLATE- AP Art History 250

Student Series! Life in Pompeii

Pompeii was a lost city for many years. The remains of the city were discovered by an architect, Domenico Fontana, in the 16th century. Later on in 1997, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The remains of this city are located nearby Naples, Italy.

Note: It’s an EASY day trip from Naples! I’ve been to Pompeii twice, summer and winter, and it was increadible each time.


So, what’s so special about this city? Well, in 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted, causing volcanic ash to cover the city of Pompeii. The ash covered up the whole city, and Pompeii was completely erased from the map for centuries. The ash also froze the town creating molds of the people in their final moments. These molds show us what Pompeii’s society and everyday life looked like.

The Pompeians went to work right when the sun rise. Farmers began farming, marketers started working, and all the shops were opened and the streets became very busy of citizens. In the afternoon, they might relax after a long meal, go to the amphitheater, or some other entertainment. As the sun started setting they start headed back to their houses to have supper which normally consisted of olives and eggs, and if they were upper class, meat and fish. Ancient people usually ended up going to bed pretty early, by out standards, because the streets weren’t safe at night and there were no artificial lights besides candles.

The wealthy houses in Pompeii were often arranged around a courtyard and in order to get to their house, they would have to walk through a narrow street façade that had no windows and was very ordinary. The inside of their houses were highly decorated with mosaics and fantastical frescoes covering the walls (guess it made up for the lack of windows!)

Almost all well-to-do houses included:

  • 2-3 rooms
  • Small kitchen
  • A Basin- a place to store water
  • They cooked their food by putting a pot on tripods over burning wood or charcoal
  • Very few citizens owned ovens at this time so they had to go to a Baker to bake their bread
  • A living/family room (they used this room when they would eat and/or host company)
  • A garden full of useful plants in their courtyard

TEMPLATE- Student Series!

In Praise of the Egyptian Gods

This past year I did a new Egyptian gods project, shared with me by my fab co-Humanities teacher. It was such a great way to combine art, mythology, creativity, writing, AND presentation skills! To teach the Egyptian gods, I put the students in partners and each group was assigned a god they had to research. With their research, they create an artistic representation of the god based the Egyptian canon then they had to write a hymn to the god and then present it to the class.



The Visual God

The students had to follow the canon of art from Ancient Egypt  and were given dimension guidelines that their gods that to meet. They had to created a gridded sheet and draw their god meeting those dimensions. For example, we told the students their gods had to be at least 9″ tall with their waist at 1.5″ and shoulders 2.5″. They had to make a grid which each square measuring ½”.

After they drew their god, it was time to decorate! They had to follow conventions for how that god actually looked in Ancient Egyptian art but any material not part of the god’s body had to be from a material different from the gridded paper (i.e glitter, feathers, construction paper, tissue paper, fabric, etc.). They students REALLY got into this part and some of their gods are exquisite!

Read more Student Series! Egyptian Goddesses


The Hymn

In addition to the visual god, the students had to create a hymn to the god that explained aspects of the god’s protection/jurisdiction/role in Ancient Egyptian religion. They had to make the hymn 3 stanzas with 5 lines each and (obviously) could not copy an already existing hymn. Some of my students were incredibly clever with their rhymes and their explanation of the gods. They even wrote in some bad mouthing of other gods that were in competition with their deity. 🙂 These were hilarious! Here’s a sample of a great one:

Hail to you Anubis,
God of the afterlife, 
protector of the dead
with the body of a man
and a jackal for a head.
Wearing black to symbolize decay
punished those who offended the gods, the ones who betray.


After we are finished with the visual god and the hymn (about three 50-minute class periods) they had to present their god to the class and read out the hymn as the students jot down important notes about them. I told the students that they would see some of the gods appear again in the Book of the Dead activity so they needed to pay close attention.



Student Series! Sacred Prostitution


Introduction to the Near East

The Near East describes the land stretching from Northern Africa to the Middle East. Mesopotamia, is a specific a region within the Near East, encompassed the fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The map below depicts the geography of the ancient Near East..

Mesopotamian religion followed a pantheon of gods and goddesses that reflected the forces of nature. Important deities included Ishtar (Inanna), the goddess of war, love, fertility, and lust. The importance of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent was represented by fertility gods/goddesses. Temple priestess and sacred prostitutes were emblematic of these deities.


Temple Prostitutes

Temple prostitution, or sacred prostitution, refers to ritual sex used for religious purposes. Temple prostitution was common in the Near East. Both male and female prostitutes were active participants of ritual sex. High priestesses were believed to be the physical manifest of Ishtar, the Mesopotamian fertility goddess. Sacred prostitutes engaging in fertility rites encouraged the agricultural prosperity of the land, as they had the blessing of Ishtar. Payment for ritual sex was ceremonial, and complementary to the intercourse.

Read more: Teaching the Epic of Gilgamesh

A notable record of temple prostitution is the Epic of Gilgamesh. The holy prostitute, Shamhat, is sent by the god Shamash to seduce the wild man Enkidu. The priestess’s intercourse with Enkidu is an effort to civilize him.

Take a priestess, child of pleasure –
When he goes to the wells
He will embrace the priestess
And the wild beasts will reject him.
(Tablet One, Epic of Gilgamesh)

The Sacred Marriage

“Sacred marriage” refers to the ritual union of the gods, with human participants symbolizing deities. Historians believe that sexual intercourse was involved in sacred marriages in the Near East. Kings, representing the might and justice of Mesopotamian gods, coupled with high priestesses. Often, these high-ranking priestesses were symbols of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, war, fertility, and lust. Kings could validate their rule by solidifying their bond with the physical representation of the fertility goddess. These sacred marriages sought the blessing and appeasement of Inanna. Ritual sex was believed to bring agricultural prosperity to the reigning king’s city.
Stone carvings of Inanna show a naked goddess with curved hips and breasts. The roundness of her body suggests fertility, and the ability to conceive.


Semitic people of the Near East engaged in ritual sex to appease Ba’al, the god of fertility, weather, seasons, and wind. Both male and female prostitutes were engaged in ritual sex to encourage Ba’al to ensure favorable weather conditions necessary for agriculture.
In the stone relief above, the Ba’al is shown with horns and holds a plant. The horns show the importance of the domesticity of animals, like cattle and goats. The propensity of agriculture is mirrored in the plant held in his hand. Mesopotamian people would have been eager to please a god they believed was dynamic to farming.


Human Sexuality Today

In today’s Western civilization, sex is overshadowed by negative stigmas and stereotypes. In particular, the concept of women and sex are frowned upon. Women are shamed for promiscuity, despite the prevalence of intercourse in popular media and advertising. Though the access to pornography, sexual education, and suggestive ads has increased with the advent of the internet, human sexuality is not often addressed in modern Western civilization. Today, sex workers and prostitutes are not guaranteed safety or workers’ rights by the law.

In recent years, sex workers’ rights groups, like Amnesty International, The World Health Organization, and the Global Alliance in Trafficking Against Women, have fought to ensure the basic human rights of disadvantaged sex workers. Prostitutes and adult entertainers are often victims of abuse and human trafficking. These interest groups seek the decriminalization of prostitution, in the effort to guarantee sex workers’ protection under the law, property rights, and health care. Too often, the negative connotations associated with sex jeopardize the welfare and health of women around the world. Modern society can learn from the ancient worship and acceptance of intercourse as a natural aspect of life.

pinterest image:–the-harem-western-art.jpg

TEMPLATE- Student Series! (1)

Teaching the Egyptian Book of the Dead

There are tons of different ways to teach this fabulous funerary book from ancient Egypt. I’m going to illustrate some of the ways I’ve taught it in both my AP Art History and Humanities classes with some of my procedures with pros and cons to each method.

Read more Last Judgment of Hu-Nefer


National Geographic Documentary: The Egyptian Book of the Dead

Before the students watch the documentary, which is about an hour and a half, I taught an introduction to the Book of the Dead and important scenes in it in a 50-minute lesson. On the day of the documentary, I gave the students questions to think about connecting with the two different story lines appearing throughout the documentary:

  1. The first storyline is of the Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge as he discovers the pristine Book of the Dead and deals with the ethics of archaeology versus treasure hunting (and the grey area in between).
  2. The second storyline is the journey the Ancient Egyptian, Ani, goes through to get a Book of the Dead for himself and his journey through the pages of the book once he dies.

Pros: This method is pretty low-key; the video does a good job of simultaneously displaying two storylines dealing with the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead: one about early archeology and the second about the literary journey in the Book of the Dead.

Con: The quality of the documentary on YouTube isn’t the best, so try to find a DVD if you can. Also, my students liked parts of the documentary, but the whole thing kinda dragged on a little bit and some of the acting was weak. Also, in total this method takes about a week for a one-day introduction to the Book of the Dead with about an hour-and-a-half for the documentary plus an assessment at the end about the Last Judgment scene.


Making a Book of the Dead

For this lesson, the students are in partners and assigned different individual scenes from the Book of the Dead. They have to create a depiction of their assigned scene on “papyrus” (aka brown paper bags cut into strips) with paint and other art materials. In addition to the painting, they also have to research what the different gods look like and any  vocabulary words they do not know from the description I gave them. I split up the text from the ENTIRE Book of the Dead, so at the end of the project I display all of the scenes together like a big scroll so we can see the whole story together.

Click HERE to get text for the individual scenes from the Book of the Dead.

Pros: This really challenges the students on a few different levels: painting on a smaller scale with lots of detail, creating the scenes based on the written descriptions alone, research, and partner work. The end product is also super impressive when you see the different scenes strung together.

Cons: This method takes about a week for a one-day introduction to the Book of the Dead with about three 50-minute class periods for the research and painting of the scene from the Book of the Dead. It also requires some art supplies: one “papyrus” paper per partner and painting supplies.


Book of the Dead: “AP Style”

The above mentioned Book of the Dead activities are for my Humanities classes, unfortunately I can’t take as much time with AP Art History class. I have to cut out the fun art part for my AP lesson and I only focus on the scene from the AP curriculum: The Last Judgement of Hu-Nefer.  The students are assigned the Khan Academy video at home to watch before they come to class and then in class I lectured about Egyptian Funerary Arts in which we looked at the Book of the Dead, tomb of King Tut, and the Great Pyramids. It is my introduction to Ancient Egypt and it allows them to be able to pick out this theme throughout the unit.

Click HERE to get my Egyptian Funerary Arts PPT!

Pros: It gets all the main information in quickly and hits all the objectives for the AP test while still connecting it to other thematic topics.

Cons: Time!!! I would love to spend more time on this piece with my AP kids but I just can’t. 😦



#24. Last judgment of Hu-Nefer

Oh I love teaching the Book of the Dead in both AP Art History and Humanities because it allows us to dive into thoughts of the afterlife, Ancient Egyptian funerary traditions, and the Egyptian pantheon. All topics my students find fascinating.


Art Historical Background

Egyptian Pantheon

Many main Egyptian gods appear in this scene of the Book of the Dead so it is important to cover who the gods and (briefly) their roles in Egyptian religious life. I am going to describe the gods from right to left based on the picture above.


Anubis is the jackal-headed god seen leading the dead man, Hu-Nefer. He is the Egyptian god of mummification and the transition from life to death so it makes perfect sense that he is the god to be leading the man to the afterlife. You can see that Anubis appears twice here, first leading Hu-Nefer and secondly sitting under the balance.


Ma’at is the goddess of truth, balance, order, and law. Here she is symbolized as the balance with a head on top and she is also the feather on the scale. The dead man puts his heart on scale and it is weighed against the feather of Ma’at. If your heart is heavier than the feather then you are punished by getting your heart eaten by the next god, Ammit.


Ammit is the god sitting underneath the scale. She is one-third crocodile, lion, and hippo (the three fiercest animals along the Nile). Instead of going to heaven or hell like the Christian tradition, Ancient Egyptians believed you either existed in the afterlife of paradise or your soul ceases to exist because Ammit eats it. Of course the Book of the Dead would NEVER show this outcome because it is supposed to help you get to the afterlife.


Thoth is the god right after the scale and is seen writing. He is the god of magic and writing, which to us today it seems like a weird combination but you have to remember that in Ancient Egypt very few people could write to the ability to write and so reading was seen as magical. Thoth very diligently marks down who makes it to the afterlife or not, he is so erect we trust he is getting it right. He has the head of an ibis, as seen here, but sometimes seen as a baboon.

Read more What is a Book of the Dead?


Horus, the falcon-headed god, is the protector of the pharaohs.  Once the dead makes it past the judgment seen Horus presents them to the god of the underworld, Osiris. In front of Horus are the “four sons of Horus,” the four little statues who are also on the canopic jars (jars in which the dead person’s four important organs are kept). Horus also appears twice in this Book of the Dead, the second time he is symbolized as a falcon and “Eye of Horus,” this is another story about Horus that is not necessarily important here.


Osiris is the father of Horus and the god of the underworld. There’s a wonderful story about Osiris being killed by his brother Seth and thereby becoming the first mummy, later the Lord of the Underworld. That is why he is seen here under the special canopy seated on a throne covered in linen strips with green skin. To showcase his power and authority, Osiris hold a crook and flail and wears the white crown of Lower Egypt.

Behind Osiris are this two sisters, Nephthys and Isis (also the mother of Horus), they are in a traditionally feminine position behind Osiris. Nephthys is known as the goddess of the underworld and is seen as the opposite life force of her sister Isis.

Read more Student Series! A Journey through the Book of the Dead


Other symbols in the Book of the Dead

Underneath the canopy of Osiris is a white slate that represents natron, the salt that is used to dried out the bodies of mummies. And on top of the main scene of the Last Judgment is Hu-Nefer proclaiming in front of many gods that he has not committed any of the forbidden sins. Although hard to see, many of the gods hold ankhs, symbols of everlasting life in Ancient Egyptian, entirely appropriate here.

Whew, that was a TON of information! There is a lot conveyed in this piece but it really opens the door to understanding ideas of the Ancient Egyptian afterlife.

**Note, in AP Art History I ONLY cover these Egyptian gods because we are short on time but in Humanities I cover more Egyptian gods because its fun.


Next Time: #25 Lamassu from the citadel of Sargon II, Dur Sharrukin (modern Khorsabad, Iraq). Neo-Assyrian. c 720-705 BCE.

TEMPLATE- AP Art History 250