A 1,500 year old mosaic floor, with a Greek inscription, was discovered this summer following groundwork for Partner communications cable infrastructures near the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.
David Gellman, the director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority said, “The fact that the inscription survived is an archaeological miracle. The excavation in a relatively small area, exposed ancient remains that were severely damaged by infrastructure groundwork over the last few decades. We were about to close the excavation, when all of a sudden, a corner of the mosaic inscription peeked out between the pipes and cables. Amazingly, it had not been damaged. Every archaeologist dreams of finding an inscription in their excavations, especially one so well preserved and almost entirely intact.”
Dr. Leah Di Segni, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the expert on ancient Greek inscriptions, deciphered the inscription. The inscription reads, “In the time of our most pious emperor Flavius Justinian, also this entire building Constantine the most God-loving priest and abbot, established and raised, in the 14th indiction”. According to Di Segni, “This inscription commemorates the founding of the building by Constantine, the priest. The inscription names the emperor Flavius Justinian. It seems that the building was used as a hostel for pilgrims.” Di Segni added, “‘Indiction’ is an ancient method of counting years, for taxation purposes. Based on historical sources, the mosaic can be dated to the year 550/551 AD.”
According to Gellman, “The Damascus Gate served for hundreds of years as the main northern entrance to Jerusalem. Knowing that, it is no surprise that this area is rich with archaeological remains. In the Byzantine period, with the emergence of Christianity, churches, monasteries and hostels for pilgrims were built in the area north of the gate, and the area became one of the most important and active areas of the city.”
The two people mentioned in the inscription are well known from both ancient historical sources and archaeological finds. The emperor Flavius Justinian was one the most important rulers of the Byzantine period, and was one of the most colorful and charismatic rulers of antiquity. Under his reign, the Roman empire was at its strongest, and its conversion to Christianity was completed. In the year 543 AD he established a
large church in Jerusalem, dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus, known as The Nea Church. This was the largest church built in Jerusalem and one of the largest in the entire empire. The abbot of the church was Constantine, whose name appears in the inscription discovered recently near the Damascus gate. Remains of this church were partially excavated in 1970, in the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, even then sparking interest among archaeologists and scholars of Jerusalem, throughout Israel and across the globe. This excavation was a part of the Jewish quarter excavations carried out immediately following the Six Day War in 1967.
According to Di Segni, the inscription found near the Damascus gate is fairly similar to an inscription found in the vaults of the Nea Church, currently exhibited in the Israel museum. The same two people are mentioned in the inscription, the emperor Justinian and the abbot Constantine. Di Segni adds, “This new inscription helps us understand Justinian’s building projects in Jerusalem, especially the Nea Church. The rare combination of archaeological finds and historical sources, woven together, is incredible to witness, and they throw important light on Jerusalem’s past.”
The new but ancient inscription was removed from its site by the conservation experts of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and is being treated in the IAA ‘s mosaic workshop in Jerusalem.
Greece is seeking to boost its presence in the Australian market with targeted promotional actions and the opening of a Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) branch in Melbourne, the Tourism Ministry said recently in an announcement.
The issue was discussed last month in Athens, during a meeting between Greek Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura and the President of the Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM), Bill Papastergiadis.
During his meeting with Minister Kountoura, Papastergiadis presented the activities of the Greek Community of Melbourne and highlighted the importance of promoting Greek tourism in Australia through the operation of a GNTO branch there, in a space within the community’s building in Melbourne.
Moreover, Papastergiadis underlined his strong interest in strengthening tourism relations as well as improving the connectivity between the two countries through an enhanced direct air service.
On her part, Kountoura discussed the ministry’s plans to dynamically promote Greece in Australia in order to attract more Australian tourists in the coming years.
The minister also informed Papastergiadis about Greece’s tourism policy that aims to attract tourists 365 days a year and also mentioned the positive course of Greek tourism in 2017.
The two parties also discussed the organization of the Lonsdale Street Greek Festival to be held next February, to which Papastergiadis invited Minister Kountoura to attend.
Papastergiadis’ proposal for the opening of a GNTO branch in the GCM building was also welcomed by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Moreover, Tsipras was impressed with the activities of the GCM and the Greek-Australian community in general, and expressed the wish to visit Australia next year, during the Lonsdale Street Greek Festival.
During his stay in Athens in July, Papastergiadis also met with Hellenic Republic President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, Culture Minister Lydia Koniordou and leaders of political parties.
Macedonia aims to solve protracted name row with Greece
After a quarter-century-long dispute that has blocked its entry to NATO and the European Union, Macedonia seems determined to end the row with Greece over its name.
The quarrel between Skopje and Athens dates back to Macedonia’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 and has poisoned neighbourly relations.
From the outset Greece denied its neighbour the right to use the name Macedonia, which is also the name of a northern Greek region.
Greeks have cited concerns about historical appropriation — both sides, for example, claim Alexander the Great as their own — and that the name Macedonia implies a broader territorial claim.
Athens and the European Union recognise the small landlocked country by its provisional name, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), under which it was also admitted to the United Nations.
Skopje has long insisted that this designation was only provisional, but in June, new Social Democratic Prime Minister Zoran Zaev seemed to relax the line of his nationalist predecessors.
“With a FYROM reference we can become a member of NATO,” Zaev said on a visit to the NATO headquarters in Brussels.
As a member of both NATO and the European Union, Athens has vetoed Macedonia’s attempts to join both blocs, but a calendar of bilateral meetings is now in place to try to resolve the dispute.
In everyday conversation, Greeks usually refer to the neighbouring country as “Skopje”, the name of its capital city.
Back in 1992, a million Greeks — one tenth of the population — took to the streets in protest over the name issue in Thessaloniki, the main city in the Macedonia region.
Tensions grew in 2006, when Skopje airport was named “Alexander the Great”. The building in 2011 of a huge monument of the warrior king on a horse added fuel to the fire.
Under international pressure, the statue in central Skopje was officially named “Warrior on a horse” but that did not deceive anyone — especially as, a year later, authorities inaugurated a giant statue of Philip II of Macedon, Alexander’s father.
The issue remains hugely sensitive on both sides.
Greece’s migration minister Yiannis Mouzalas last year faced calls to resign after referring to the country as “Macedonia” instead of “FYROM” during a television interview about the migrant crisis.
Mouzalas quickly apologised “for this error, which does not reflect my position and my convictions on the subject of FYROM”.
On Tuesday, the Greek women’s handball team was punished at the European Championship after refusing to play in Skopje against Macedonia’s team wearing national logo bearing that name.
In Zaev’s bid to end the row, he has spoken by telephone to his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras.
The Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov was in Athens in mid-June and his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias is going to Skopje later this month.
There is a “certain mobilisation,” a Greek diplomatic source told AFP, noting “some signs” of good will in Skopje.
But the source said it was now necessary to “wait for action”.
A top official in Zaev’s SDSM party, who also asked not to be named, warned that Greece “could keep the same position for two centuries. We should find a solution to deblock the process of integration with NATO and the EU”.
But, in the fragile country of about two million people, the official warned it would be necessary to reach a political “consensus” and to back up any decision with a referendum.
Many Macedonians are against a name change but some say they want a way out of the tiring row.
“We are Macedonians, we cannot name ourselves differently,” said Mirjana Jovanovska, 47, a dentist in Skopje.
She admitted, however, that “it would not be so terrible if a prefix was added to the name Macedonia”.
Suggestions to emerge in conversations include “Northern Macedonia”, “New Macedonia” or even “Vardarska” after a river that runs through the country.
The incumbent Greek government has not yet made any proposals, waiting for negotiations to resume before unveiling their game. In 2007 the government at the time proposed “a name with a geographic prefix”.
Upon an agreement, entering the 29-nation NATO is a much more likely prospect for Macedonia than the 28-country EU, which has frozen all enlargement until at least 2020.
“The question is: what is the price of joining the club?” asked Toni Deskoski, a law professor in Skopje.
The Greek Ministry of Agriculture is hoping to persuade the European Union to introduce rules which forbid “Greek yoghurt” being produced anywhere but in Greece.
They want the product to receive the same geographical protection as Champagne, Parma ham and Wensleydale cheese.
To make Greek yogurt, regular yogurt is strained extensively to remove liquid whey and lactose, leaving behind a thicker-textured yogurt.
In 2016, Greece and the Czech Republic clashed after the latter produced “Greek: and “Greek-style” yogurt.
Relations between the two countries were already poor after Czech President Milos Zeman said in December 2015 that his country would only join the eurozone on the day after Greece left it, suggesting the currency’s failures stemmed from the economic crisis in Athens.
The European Union offers three special marks for products which are deemed unique — protected geographical indication (PGI), protected designation of origin (PDO) and traditional speciality guaranteed (TSG).
To qualify for PGI, a product must be produced, processed or prepared in a geographical area which it is associated with.
The EU will only give a product the PGI mark if they decide it has “a reputation, characteristics or qualities that are a result of the area.”
In Britain there is a whole list of products which have PGI status, including Cornish pasties, Rutland bitter, Arbroath smokies, Lough Neagh eels, Jersey royal potatoes and Melton Mowbray pork pies.
But Athens wants Greek yogurt to qualify for Protected Designation of Origin status as well as a PGI.
The Association of Greek Breeders has persuaded the Greek ministry of agriculture to establish a working group to prepare an application for it to get both PGI and PDO status.
“We are taking another important step in securing our traditional product, Greek yogurt, which is famous for its unique quality on European and international markets,” said Greek Agriculture Minister Evangelos Apostolou.
“If we succeed, the benefits for yogurt would be great as it will be protected from other countries which increasingly try to usurp it considering the growing demand from consumers,” said Takis Peveretos, President of the Association of Greek Breeders.
But even if they are able to get PGI and PDO status for Greek yogurt, that protection will only apply in the EU and does not stop companies like Voskos in California from selling a product which they describe quite blatantly as Greek yogurt.
Ironically the word yogurt is actually Turkish and suggests it was invented by the Turks, rather than the Greeks.
Farmers in Greece are already angry about a trade deal between the EU and Canada which they say fails to protect their monopoly on the production of feta cheese.
Most of the products which have been granted PGI status are meats, dairy products, breads, pastries and confectionery.
But PGI status can also be granted for flowers and plants, natural gums and resins, cork, cochineal, wool and scutched flax.
The Greek government is requesting that the decades-long issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece be part of the Brexit negotiations citing EU treaty law, according to the Telegraph.
European Parliament member Stelios Kouloglou has called on the Commission to include the thorny issue in Brexit talks. “Brexit negotiators must take into account the need to protect European cultural heritage… The Parthenon Marbles are considered as the greatest symbol of European culture. Therefore, reuniting the marbles would be both a sign of respect and civilised relationship between Great Britain and the EU, and much more [than] a legal necessity.”
In response, an European Commission spokesperson said he believed that the Brexit team is not legally obliged to address the issue, citing Articles 3, 50 and 167. “The Parthenon Marbles were removed long before this date, and the EU has no competence in the matter,” Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport said, referring to a directive on the return of unlawfully removed cultural objects which applies to items removed after January 1, 1993.
For over three decades, Greece has repeatedly called on the British Museum to return the 2,500-year-old marble sculptures that once adorned the Parthenon and have been the subject of dispute since they were illegally removed and sold by Lord Elgin to the British Museum in 1817.