Thursday, October 30, 2003

Roman adoption of Celtic Samhain ritual evolves into Halloween

"Many of the ancient peoples of Europe marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter by celebrating a holiday in late autumn. The most important of these holidays to influence later Halloween customs was Samhain, a holiday observed by the ancient Celts. Among the Celts, Samhain marked the end of one year and the beginning of the next.

Samhain began at sundown on October 31 and extended into the following day. According to the Celtic pagan religion, known as Druidism, the spirits of those who had died in the preceding year roamed the earth on Samhain. The Celts sought to ward off these spirits with offerings of food and drink. The Celts also built bonfires and performed rituals, often involving sacrifices.

By the end of the 1st century AD, the Roman Empire had conquered most of the Celtic lands. In the process of incorporating the Celts into their empire, the Romans adapted and absorbed some of their traditions as part of their own pagan and Catholic religious observances.

Celtic influences lingered a long time in the western fringes of Europe and Samhain was abandoned only when the local people converted to Christianity during the early Middle Ages. The Roman Catholic Church often incorporated modified versions of older religious traditions in order to win converts. An example is when Pope Gregory IV sought to replace Samhain with All Saints’ Day in 835. All Souls’ Day, closer in spirit to Samhain and modern Halloween, was first instituted at a French monastery in 998 and spread quickly across Europe. Folk observances linked to these Christian holidays, including Halloween, thus preserved many ancient Celtic customs associated with Samhain."

See article.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Pliny's Description of Mummification Proved Accurate

"Modern science has finally found the secret of why some mummies can last for thousands of years," Ulrich Weser of the University of Tübingen told Reuters Wednesday. Chemists from the University of Tübingen and the Munich-based Doerner-Institut replicated an ancient treatment of cedar wood and found it contained a preservative chemical called guaiacol.

The team extracted the cedar oil using a method mentioned in a work by Pliny the Elder, a Roman encyclopedist who wrote of an embalming ointment called “cedrium.” Although there are no contemporary descriptions of how the tar was made, modern Egyptologists had overlooked Pliny’s account, as he was writing centuries later.

Weser said that, despite ancient mentions of “cedar-juice,” scholars believed juniper to be the source because of similar Greek names and some mummies being found clutching juniper berries. But, tests of juniper extracts found they did not contain the guaiacol preservatives.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Roman Arthur portrayed in Disney's King Arthur Set for 2004 Release

Clive Owen will be seen as King Arthur in Disney's big-budget adaptation from director Antoine Fuqua and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

"'I play Arthur, who is half-Roman,' Owen says. 'He's a commander of a crack team of military knights who, at the beginning of the movie, gets the mission from hell -- to go into dangerous, unknown territory and rescue a family as the Saxons are invading by the thousands, and the rebels are out there fighting. Meanwhile, Arthur has always held onto Rome as something he wants to return to and something he reveres, but it keeps changing.'"

Monday, October 20, 2003

Imag(in)ing Livia and Cleopatra in Augustan Rome

by Mary McHUGH

"Whether or not she actually possessed the positive qualities for which she is credited in Julio-Claudian art and propaganda, in the Roman imagination the images of Livia, the wife of Augustus, stand in marked contrast to those of Cleopatra VII, the last Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt. Livia exemplifies traditional matronly virtue and marital respectability, whereas Cleopatra exemplifies the excesses of extravagance, drunkenness, and sexual impropriety. And yet, the visual language employed in the praise of Livia at Rome is nearly identical to that used by Cleopatra in her own propaganda in Egypt. This paper is a study in how the praise of Livia and the vilification of Cleopatra in Augustan propaganda emerged from the same source, conditioned by their unique socio-historical contexts."

Mary McHugh's paper in its entirety will be presented at the 2004 Joint Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and the American Philological Association to be held Friday, January 2, 2004 - Monday, January 5, 2004 at the San Francisco Hilton.

Diviciacus' Tears: the Portrayal of the Aedui in Caesar's Bellum Gallicum

By Alexa Jervis

"In the Bellum Gallicum, Caesar's loyalty to the Aedui appears unbounded, as does his admiration for one of their leading men, Diviciacus. Caesar justifies his determination to take military action by invoking the Aedui and Caesar's portrait of Diviciacus has recently been cited as evidence of the author's tendency to burnish the reputations of Gauls loyal to Rome. But Diviciacus and his fellow tribesmen display one trait, often ignored by scholars, that suggests Caesar's portrayal of them may not be entirely positive in their propensity to weep."

"Romans cry at their lowest, most unroman moments during the panic that precedes their encounter with Ariovistus, and shortly before Ambiorix's fatal attack on Sabinus and Cotta's men...The frequent appearance of Aeduan tears signals a feeble nature, and subtly undercuts Caesar's apparent esteem."

Alexa Jervis' paper in its entirety will be presented at the 2004 Joint Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and the American Philological Association to be held Friday, January 2, 2004 - Monday, January 5, 2004 at the San Francisco Hilton.

Gladiator at the Millenium

by Emily Albu

"In films as disparate as Roman Scandals (1933) and The Sign of the Cross (1932), Rome typically stands as a mirror to American foibles, fears, and aspirations. We are so used to the analogy that we do not blink when Roman history shifts cataclysmically to accommodate our metaphor. So for instance, Gladiator has noble democrats in the senate and army ally with an imperial daughter to restore the republic - defying history to fulfill democratic wishes dearly held by viewers. This paper explores the ways that Gladiator satisfied these and other longings of the US electorate, during the 2000 presidential campaign, for a decent leader uncorrupted by politics, a Cincinnatus ambitious only for his home, wife, and son. "

Emily Albu's paper in its entirety will be presented at the 2004 Joint Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and the American Philological Association to be held Friday, January 2, 2004 - Monday, January 5, 2004 at the San Francisco Hilton.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Zeugma Featured On Nova

Last night I watched another program on the last-minute excavations at Zeugma. I had seen one earlier but I think this one was different. Of course, I love beautiful mosaics and the mosaics uncovered at Zeugma were some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. In fact, when it showed a computer recreation of the triclinium, I wondered how anyone could concentrate on their meal with such a breathtaking colorful mosaic on the floor.

"Forty-five kilometers away from Gaziantep close to the town of Nizip on the Euphrates is the tiny village of Belkis, whose inhabitants carefully tender their groves of pistachio trees. The nuts are their sole source of income. Yet not all wealth can be measured in currency, and the villagsed real asset is the magnificent ruins of the ancient city of Zeugma, which has stayed buried beneath the pistachio groves for nearly two thousand years.Belkis/Zeugma is considered among the four most important settlement areas under the reign of the Kingdom of Commanage.
In the Hellenistic Era the city was called “Seleukeia of Euphrates”. The ancient city of Zeugma, originally, was founded by Selevkos Nikador, one of the generals of the Alexander the Great, in 300 B.C. At that time the city was named after the general and called “ Selevkaya Euphrates.” And the population in the city was approximately 80 000. In 64 B.C. Zeugma was conquered and ruled by Roman Empire and with this shift the name of the city was changed into Zeugma to mean “bridge-passage.”

During the roman rule, the city became one of the attractions in the region, due to its commercial potential originating from geostrategic location. Because, the Zeugma city was on the silkroad connecting Antiach to China with a quay on the river Euphrates. In 256 A.D." - Dr. M. Semih SUMMAK (P.hD)

See also:

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Boudicca's Last Battle

"Suetonius chose a position in a defile, with a wood behind him," explains military historian Martin Marix Evans. "There could be no enemy, he knew, except at his front, where there was open country without cover for ambushes."

With archaeological estimates for a British population now at upwards of five million in Boudica's time - a figure not reached again until the 17th century - it is possible she had well over 100,000, not an army but a whole people bent on revenge.

"Grandparents, children, carts, cows," said Marix Evans. He estimates that Suetonius had something like 10,000, all regular soldiers.

"So, just as at Agincourt, he has to get the enormous enemy into a funnel. And here, beside this stream, under what would then have been a wooded hill, he has it, his army backed like a hermit crab in its shell. One and a half legions, men standing six feet apart to throw their javelins, a front of getting on for half a mile, auxiliary troops and cavalry on the slopes."

The two javelins thrown, which would have checked the British charge, the shields come down and the short swords begin stabbing.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Scotsman Gives BBC's Colosseum: Arena of Death Thumbs Up

"The really sexy new history shows have been entrusted to the BBC’s Special Projects, and the BBC’s two most prestigious productions for the autumn are not drama series, nor comedies, but proud examples of their new toy: 'drama reconstruction'. It’s a genre they pioneered last year with a somewhat enervating portrayal of the construction of the Great Pyramid. If the computer graphics, sets and location filming were all groundbreaking, Pyramid was let down by concerning itself with, well, groundbreaking. Try as you might, it is difficult to make a building site exciting, even if these were the foundations for one of the wonders of the ancient world. The stilted and witless 'dramatisation' also stopped well short of arresting the attention. "

Pyramid established the blueprint of looking at history through the eyes of a contemporary participant, and half-invented a slave toiling among the masonry. Colosseum has the advantage of an off-the-peg hero, the gladiator Verus, whose exploits in the arena were delineated in some detail by the Roman poet Martial. Unusually, it’s a story with a happy ending.

"Verus is given a credible back-story, as a slave captured in Rome’s Balkan campaign and sent to work in a stone quarry in Latium. We follow his recruitment to a gladiatorial training school, his first bouts, and eventually his arrival at the newly built Colosseum, which Titus launched with a 100-day orgy of continuous spectacles."

"The slightly malign influence of Gladiator serves the BBC production well, in that it demonstrated the importance of convincing action sequences, and showed how risible bad history can be. In terms of action Colosseum doesn’t stint on the sweaty close-ups, and the occasional bloody coup de grâce. You suspect the soundman spent a lot of time shoving steel into wet meat. "

Our British friends will get to view this program tonight. Those of us in the states can only hope PBS or The History Channel snags a copy for us at a later date.

See also:

BBC Disappoints With Warrior Queen

I, too, finally got a look at Warrior Queen last night. I see what everyone was talking about in the costuming. The Roman’s armor looked like it came from a store specializing in cheap Halloween costumes and it seems like every time the Romans were the primary scene, the cinematographer turned the color setting so low they almost appeared in black and white with ghoulish white faces. Camulodunum looked like the backlot of a B-rated movie studio with cheap props scattered around a vacant lot. The attack scene made no effort to portray the ferocity of that battle.

"The Trinovantes who joined the Iceni had developed a hatred of the veterans settled at Colchester. The veterans had treated them badly, taking land, enslaving and now expanding, exploiting them generally. The omens at Camulodenum were bad for the Romans, Tacitus reports that the statue of victory fell from its plinth for no reason, and lay with its face averted. That the theatre was filled with the sound of wild howling, an image of a colony in ruins was seen in the water of the Thames and the sea became blood coloured.

Despite ample warning, Colchester had not been sent sufficient extra soldiers and civilians had not been evacuated. Tacitus comments on the lack of defence; 'Secret enemies mixed in all their deliberations. No fosse was made; no palisade thrown up; nor were the women, and such as were disabled by age or infirmity, sent out of the garrison'. The colony was easily defeated, the temple held out but after a two day siege it too fell. As Boudicca’s army moved they met and defeated the ninth legion. Suetonius made for London but with the news of the defeat of the ninth legion and the destruction of Colchester with the loss of 70,000 lives, changed his mind."

See also: "Warrior Queen"

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Nero and The Great Fire of 64 CE

Last night I watched a "Secrets of the Dead" presentation on PBS about the great fire of Rome. I think I've seen it before but I couldn't remember. Anyway, it sounds as if Art historian Eric Varner seem to think that Nero really didn't have anything to do with it. It was just an unfortunate event that he eventually was blamed for. The narrator said that one of the reasons that archaeologists think it was not set by Nero was that it began in the poor district over by the Circus Maximus. Nero's primary support base was the poor. It was the senators that didn't support him. The program also mentioned that Nero rushed back to Rome and provided food and shelter for the thousands that were left homeless following the disaster. This does not sound like someone who would have intentionally set the fire. The program also demonstrated how the contents of the rich marble and stone villas would have provided ample fuel for the spread of the fire in the wealthier districts, especially after the fire had reached the level of a firestorm in the highly inflammable tenements of the suburra.

Archeologist Andrea Carandini disagrees. "Everything was destroyed," he says, "there was not one single house standing." Specifically, Carandini explains that fire destroyed the portion of the Forum where the senators lived and worked. "All these houses were destroyed, so the aristocracy didn't have a proper place to live," he says. The open mall in the middle of the Forum remained, but it became a sort of shopping mall, a commercial center "built on the top of aristocratic Rome ... so it's the end, in a way, of the power of the aristocracy in Rome."

Monday, October 06, 2003

Ancient Visionary Mostly Ignored by Modern Scholars

"In the late fourth century A.D., a citizen of the Roman Empire wrote a treatise known to history as De Rebus Bellicis (On Matters of Warfare). The author, whose name is unknown, offered dramatic proposals for inventions and reforms to shore up the Empire's defense. The manuscript was addressed to the highest level: the Emperor himself.

Among the proposals (complete with illustrations) were an oxen-powered warship, a portable bridge, and new types of chariots and artillery. Anonymous (as I'll call the author) pressed for an expansion of border fortifications and faster promotion and discharge of soldiers. Anonymous also called for nonmilitary reforms, including changes in the monetary and legal systems and an end to corruption by provincial officials."

Author of 'The Manchurian Candidate' charged with plagiarizing "I, Claudius"

C.J. Silverio, a software engineer in Menlo Park says author Richard Condon plagiarized "I, Claudius" in his famous novel "The Manchurian Candidate.

"She picked up Condon's novel after seeing the 1962 John Frankenheimer film starring Frank Sinatra, and early on in the book read, 'Johnny knew in his superstitious heart of hearts that his marriage to Raymond's mother was an impious thing and this knowledge, it seems, affected him nervously, putting an inner restraint upon his flesh.'
' 'Impious?' I said. 'Inner restraint on his flesh?' I've read that sentence before,' Silverio wrote. 'I went to the straight-fiction bookshelves and found 'I, Claudius' and read the original passage.' The original passage reads, 'He knew that the marriage was impious: this knowledge, it seems, affected him nervously, putting an inner restraint on his flesh.'
This was but one of many phrases and word choices similar to those in 'I, Claudius' that Silverio discovered, and she ran on her Weblog excerpts from each book side by side for people to look at for themselves. "

See her weblog at: