Podcast/The Omphalos Code

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[edit] Eli Hunt - Thelostgames.com - Podcasts


[edit] The Omphalos Code

  • Watch the podcast at thelostgames.com
  • Watch the podcast at dotSUB
  • Downloadable slides are included in the transcript below
Imagine you're wandering the countryside of ancient Greece. You're lost, and the only clue you have to your location is a stone marker inscribed with the number 6-7-6 -- [onscreen] The Omphalos Code With Historian Eli Hunt -- and a bow and arrow, the sign of the Olympian God Artemis. Would you be able to find your way home?

In this podcast, I'm going to teach you an ancient code for navigation; a secret orientation system that the Greeks used for centuries. Their ingenious system of accurate coordinate mapping predates our modern GPS technology by thousands of years. However, it was abandoned when the Romans came to power. And today, it is all but forgotten. I'm Eli Hunt, and this is the story of the Omphalos Code.

An omphalos is an ancient artifact a hollow, dome-shaped stone, several feet tall, carved with a knotted netting around its entire surface. The Greeks believed that during religious rituals an omphalos could serve as a portal into the world of the Gods. So they installed an omphalos at every major temple throughout the Hellenic world in order for for their oracles to receive visions from the Gods.

What many people do not realize today, is that besides this religious function, the sacred stones served another important purpose in ancient Greek life. The omphaloi also stood as secret way-points for travelers.

From any single omphalos, a person could easily plot a course to anywhere else in the ancient world. Of course, that person would have to know the code used to inscribe the omphaloi with navigational instructions. A code made of of a combination of astronomy, mythology, and earth science.

Here's how the Omphalos Code worked.

Instead of having an address or a GPS coordinate, every major site in the Hellenic world was described as being a particular distance and direction from its nearest omphalos. At each omphalos a plaque would list a series of possible places to go, such as the city of Athens, of the city of Sparta. For each of these potential destinations, the plaque identified a specific distance and direction of travel.

Of course, the ancient Greeks didn't have compasses of GPS devices to point them in the right direction, so the Omphalos Code used astronomy instead.

Its directions were based on a star-map that shows the 12 constellations of the zodiac. To picture this star-map, imagine a clock-face with the omphalos at the center. The constellations appear on this map exactly where we would put the numbers on clock face; with Virgo at 12, Libra at 1, Scorpio at 2, and so on. These locations also correspond with directions on a compass - so you can imagine Virgo as due North, Sagittarius as due East, and so on.

Each constellation was meant to mark off a specific 30 degree angle of potential travel - with 12 signs of the zodiac, they formed a complete circle of 360 degrees. Today, we might say "you should travel 3 degrees East of due North," but the ancient greeks would say to travel Virgo 3 degrees.

Adding another layer of complexity to the Omphalos Code, the Greeks frequently substituted visual symbols of the Olympic Gods for their corresponding zodiac signs. So, a traveler needed to remember which symbol was associated with which God and which God was associated with each sign of the zodiac.

For instance, the bow and arrow was associated with the Goddess Artemis, who was associated with the sign Sagittarius.

Instead of telling someone to travel Sagittarius 3 degrees, the greeks might have written instead, "3 degrees" next to a drawing of a bow and arrow.

Finally, you must remember, of course, that the ancient Greeks didn't use miles or meters like we do today, instead they measured distance in stadia, the length of an ancient Olympic stadium. In todays measurements, 1 stadion is 185 meters. Each stadium is equal to 184.9 meters.

So for instance, a traveler going from the omphalos at Delphi to the city of Thebes would be told to travel 540 stadia, or nearly 100 kilometers, in the direction of Sagittarius, or Artemis, on an angle of 0 degrees. But if the traveler were heading instead to Thermopylae, the address would be 162 stadia Virgo, or Demeter, on a 10 degree angle.

Curiously, by retracing these coded navigation routes, historians have found something very unusual in the layout of the omphalos network. Somehow, the Greeks managed to construct their omphaloi of the center nodes of a system of perfectly equidistant destinations. For every destination in one direction, you could travel exactly the same distance in another direction, and arrive at an important site.

How were the Greeks able to build their civilization according to such ideal mathematical structures? This remains a much debated puzzle of ancient history.

This complex system of omphaloi, served the Greeks well for thousands of years. In the 21st century, navigation with the Omphalos Code remains a lost science. However, if the network of the omphaloi were still in existence, the ancient coordinates would undoubtedly still hold their secret meaning for us today.


[edit] Slide details

[edit] Arrow
(translation by j5)
From Delphi
Thebai (Thebes)
40 and 500 stadia, Artemis 0 degrees (540 stadia)
Thermopylai (Thermopylae)
two and sixty and one hundred stadia, wheat delta degrees (162 stadia, 10 degrees)

[edit] Quiz

How much do you know about the Omphalos Code?

Try the quiz.

1. What is an omphalos?

  • A stone tablet inscribed with Greek poems about war
  • A sacred stone shaped like a dome and carved with a net
  • A heavy shield used by ancient Olympic athletes in the full-armor marathon
  • A wooden rod used to record jumps by athletes in ancient Greek athletics

2. What modern technology does the Omphalos code most resemble?

  • DNA sequencing
  • Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
  • Computer binary code
  • The Global Positioning System (GPS)

3. Which ancient constellations are part of the Omphalos code?

  • The zodiac constellations, like Aries and Leo
  • The dog constellations, like Canis Major and Canes Venatici
  • The Perseus constellations, like Pegasus and Cassiopeia
  • The monster constellations, like Hydra and Cetus

4. According to Ancient Greek measurements, what is one stadium equal to?

  • 49 centimeters or .54 yards
  • 91 meters or 298.56 feet
  • 184.9 meters or .11 miles
  • 21.6 miles or 34.76 kilometers

5. Using the Omphalos Code, what does mean 3100 Athena 10° mean?

  • Travel 21 kilometers in the easterly direction of the Scorpius constellation, on an angle of ten degrees.
  • Travel 573 kilometers in the southwesterly direction of the Aries constellation, on an angle of ten degrees.
  • Travel 898 kilometers in the northeasterly direction of the Libra constellation, on an angle of ten degrees.
  • Travel 3100 kilometers in the northernly direction of the Virgo constellation, on an angle of ten degrees.
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