The Power Suit

The modern American woman is at a pinnacle of equality and freedom of expression more so than ever before.  Claiming ownership of intellectual and physical expression, women have come a long way in the past century from housewife subordinate to capable and genitive goddess.  Surely, creating a power base upon which this ladder to women’s suffrage was built, necessitates climbing with tact and intelligence. The evolution of swimwear has always been linked with women’s liberation.

Though it might be hard to imagine any itsier bitsier swimwear than what is worn today, the modern bikini is surprisingly similar to the bathing suits worn in Greece as far back as 300 B.C.  The communal bathhouse was a central gathering place for conversation and gossip over a luxurious hot or cold bath.  After the fall of the Roman Empire, Western society viewed bathing as being strictly therapeutic, rather than recreational.

Greece Swimwear, Greece, Bathing Suit

This view of bathing as a private activity conjured more modest beach attire.  Early swimsuits were gowns with weighted hems to prevent the wool from floating up revealing any leg.  Women would dress in bathing houses which were then wheeled out into the water so that the women would never be seen in their raunchy swim attire on the beach.

The bikini, invented in 1946 by Paris designer Louis Reard, was suspect to strike the world like a bomb; hence it recieved its nuclear nickname after the prevalent South Pacific test bombing site Bikini Atoll.  The public was shocked and repulsed by this “suspect garment favored by licentious Mediterranean types”.  A 1957 issue of Modern Girl claimed: “It is hardly necessary to waste words over the so-called bikini since it is inconceivable that any girl with tact and decency would ever wear such a thing.”  In fact, Reard had to hire a stripper, Micheline Bernardini to debut his creation because no reputable model would dare wear it.

Bikini debut - It fits into a matchbox.

Bikini debut – It fits into a matchbox!

Facing much resistance from the media and social normality, the bikini was banned from beauty contests and films and those who donned them were arrested for indecent exposure.  Not fifteen years passed before people began to change their attitudes about the bikini as the sexual revolution of the 60’s encouraged conversation about decency and the effects of showing skin on women’s rights.  But how did if effect the men?

Photo by Michael Irwin/Rex Features

Photo by Michael Irwin/Rex Features

A study conducted by Princeton University used brain scans to measure activity in the pre-frontal cortex when men were shown images of women in bikinis.  The pre-frontal cortex is the region of the human brain responsible for thoughts, feelings and intentions.  When men saw pictures of women wearing bikinis, the brain scans showed without fail little activity in the pre-frontal cortex.  In a separate Princeton study, men tended to use first-person action verbs to refer to women in bikinis and third-person action verbs when describing a woman in modest clothing.  This suggests that in wearing the bikini, women do hold some form of power – the power to shut off man’s capability to see them as a person, rather than as an object.  Weather or not this is the kind of power women fighting for equality should desire, the bikini is certainly here to stay.

Since the growing popularity of the bikini, there has been continued controversy spurring much needed dialogue about the effects of this “thoughtless act” (Esther Williams).  The bikini exposes the young girl to the significance of her figure as a tool of womanly power.  Explicitly demonstrating stick-thin models as an image of perfection is harmful on a developing self-image, removing any acceptance of individual variation.   When asked who shouldn’t wear a bikini, American fashion designer Norma Kamali respnded “anyone with a tummy”.  The bikini is less supportive for curvy women and has been a means for promoting the provocative.

From the beginnings of the bikini and the splash it has made in modern society, modesty and women’s movement have been certainly intertwined.  As a topic of discussion today, it’s important for both women and men to consider the effects of this power suit.  All in all, is less more?

Ancient Greek Coinage

What were the first coins of Ancient Greece?

The first coins actually came from Lydia sometime before 600 BC. The Lydians’ coin system inspired the Greeks to start making their own coins. They didn’t create the same coins for the whole country, however. Instead, each Greek city-state (of which there were more than two thousand) issued its own coins.

Lydia electrum coin.

Lydia electrum coin

Of course, the coins sometimes wandered far past the boundaries of their city-state in inter-city trade. These coins were usable anywhere in Greece, however; as a result, coins with plenty of different designs and styles circulated their way around Greece.

The Greeks made many of their coins out of silver. They struck small lumps of silver with a hammer that had a mold on it, flattening the silver into a coin while imprinting the design on it at the same time.

So how were denominations judged if different city-state coins circulated all over Greece? They were minted to an “Aeginetan” weight standard by which everyone could judge the value of the coin. But Athens struck a different standard and slowly developed a dominance in trade, making Athenian coins another weight standard through the Classical period.

An Athenian coin.

An Athenian coin.

Greek coins from the archaic period had a cruder, less polished look to them, but the design and production of the coins evolved over time into a more elegant look. Often, larger cities designed their coins with their patron god or goddess or a famous hero. For instance, Athenian coins featured the owl of Athens and a portrait of Athena.

When Greek culture expanded geographically in the Hellenistic period, the coins themselves also found their way into other countries in the Western world. Some of these newer coins had portraits of living people; kings wanted to celebrate their divinity by putting their own portraits on coins. This is where the tradition of showing royalty on currency began.

What’s your favorite ancient Greek coin?

What Were the First Coins?


We’re used to them now, but how did humans move from the bartering and trading system to the use of coins?

Before coins other pieces were used as a kind of currency. The ancient Chinese used shells and ancient Mesopotamians used a banking system of grains, livestock and other valuables that they could trade.

But eventually, money for the sake of money came around. No longer were otherwise valuable items used for trade. Gold and silver coins began to gain value.

Lydian coin with an archer. (Via dynamosquito on Wikimedia)

Lydian coin with an archer. (Via dynamosquito on Wikimedia)

The first-ever coins likely originate from Lydia (an ancient kingdom in where modern Turkey is now). The coin materials came from a natural mix of gold and silver called electrum and the coins featured the head of a lion. Their value was determined by their weight. One “stater” weighed about 14.1 grams; other denominations included half-staters, thirds, sixths, twelfths, and 1/24ths through 1/96ths. Maybe not the straightforward numbers we’re used to today, but at the time the system was quite innovative.

An ancient Lydian coin. (Via Jastrow on Wikimedia)

An ancient Lydian coin. (Via Jastrow on Wikimedia)

The first Lydian coins have the names Walwel and Kalil inscribed on them; however, historians don’t know who these names refer to. They could be the names of kings or the men who produced the coins.

Lydia succeeded in their coin system, and soon the coinage spread to Greek and Mediterranean cities. Their material also consisted of electrum. One early Greek coin reads “I am the badge of Phanes”, possibly an early stamp of guaranteed quality.

The major cities, including Athens, started to make their own coins by the 6th century B.C. All this local pride made the system complicated at first – how did a Persian coin’s value stack up to an Athens coin?

The earliest dated electrum coin hoard was found at the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in 1904-5. A pot of 19 coins had been buried near 74 other coins in the temple’s foundation.

Traveling with Art: The Erechtheion Temple in Athens, Greece

It’s no longer in one piece, but just by looking at it you can tell the Erechtheion was once a grand, majestic Greek temple. Ancient Greeks went there to worship Athena and Poseidon.

Built somewhere between 421 and 406 BC, this temple’s ruins still stand for visitors to admire.

The whole of the structure has had an elaborate attention to detail paid to it, especially on the doorways, windows and columns. The marble that makes it up comes entirely from Mount Pentelikon, a mountain famous for its marble. Decor details once included highlights of gilt bronze and multicolored glass beads.

Another view of the Erechtheion Temple in Athens, Greece.

Another view of the Erechtheion Temple.

The temple had different areas of dedication for different Greek gods and goddesses; Athena in the eastern part and Poseidon in the western part, along with altars to Hephaestus and Voutos (brother of a hero and the temple’s namesake, Erichthonius).

A postcard of the Erechtheion Temple in Athens, GreeceA Caryatid is a sculpted female figure standing in place of a column as architectural support.

One of the most prominent features on this ancient architecture is the Porch of the Caryatids, or “Porch of the Maidens”. This porch hides the 15 foot beam supporting the southwest corner standing over the metropolis.

In 1801 Lord Elgin, perhaps a little overeager about Greek statues, moved one of the Caryatids to his Scottish Mansion. According to Athenian legend, if you listen closely at night you can hear the remaining five Caryatids crying for their lost sister.

Lord Elgin later attempted to remove another of the statues; when it wouldn’t budge, he put a saw to it, trying to break it into pieces, but this smashed the statue and it was left in pieces at the site.

Today, the Caryatids stand in the New Acropolis Museum, replicas replacing the originals at the site of the temple. The originals had been damaged over time and are currently being cleaned and restored with lasers at the museum, a process that’s visible to visitors through a camera.

Check out some of our other travel posts:

Mount Vesuvius and Naples in Italy

New York City Architecture

Bray, Berkshire, England