Roulette, Zodiac, and Saqia

The New Year has come in the world of the Gregorian calendar and people have celebrated this rite of passage in all forms possible. Two of the most popular “rituals” of these festivities are the game of the roulette and the consultation of astrological predictions. Both actually share a common characteristic: they are based on the idea of the turning of luck – like turning of a wheel – by the passing of time.

This idea is ubiquitous in both eastern and western religious traditions, giving rise to discussions about mystical truths shared by the knowledgeable aristocracies in both ends of the world. Reminiscence of ancient iconographic patterns in an antiquarian spirit of often illegible inspirations has been one of the ways to explain the persistence of the custom of representing time as a wheel reeling the seasons of the earth and the ages of man in a perpetual cycle.

The wheel of life from a 17th century codex in the National Library of Greece, Athens

But what if the sources of such an iconography can find roots in much more tangible realities, in experiences of everyday life in outmost secular contexts?

The idea that the GNM is putting forward here concerns the discovery of the waterwheel: this new means for the technology of Late Antiquity increased the cultivation potential of – at least – the riverine human communities, and must have been seen by the contemporaries as indeed a tremendous turning point in their lives.

Among those riverine human communities, the Nubian societies constitute for GNM the case study par excellence. Actually, the people living along the river Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, as well as the Indus river, have all been under the influence of the Hellenistic world and the Roman Empire, which propagated the waterwheel – called saqia in Arabic – when the iconography of the wheel of life seems to be taking root in this vast region.

Although our suggestion is only – and very – tentative, it opens (again) the discussions concerning:

– The use of the waters of the Nile;

– The dynamics between the old ways of the saqia having lost the balance in front of the technological breakthrough of the oil generated pump finally under serious threat to be submerged in a future of dams along the Nubian Nile;

– And the role of archaeology in that reality.

Can it be that the wheel of time should turn backwards!?!

More in the next entry…

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