Thursday, February 26, 2004

Scipio Africanus: The Man and the Model

by Greg DiFranco

It was 211 BC and the two most powerful city-states of their time were locked in the mortal combat of the Second Punic War. It was the wealthy maritime power of Carthage pitted against Republican Rome. By now Carthage had brought Rome to the brink of total destruction, and arguably to the lowest point in its history. Hannibal and his fellow commanders had successfully defeated many Roman armies, and had completely annihilated a number of them in the process. Most notable was Hannibal’s annihilation of one of the largest armies Rome had ever assembled (70,000 troops) at the battle of Canne. Many of Rome’s most prominent citizens were lost in this battle, as in keeping with Republican Roman tradition, the most important citizens fought in the front ranks. The city of Rome itself was left almost helplessly exposed and was in chaos with the expectation of a siege. And if things weren’t desperate enough for the Romans, the Carthaginians now took complete control of Iberia (Spain), one of the most important economic areas of the region. In the process two of the most highly respected and admired Roman commanders were killed on the same day, they were the Scipio brothers. Although Rome fielded formidable armies, armies that in fact had beaten Carthage in the first Punic wars, they were proving no match for Hannibal’s troops and tactics. Rome fielded a non-professional citizen army with rather static legionary tactics based on breaking the enemy’s center, and without a strong cavalry contingent. On the other hand, Hannibal had successfully trained and honed an array of professional foot and mounted troops from African, Iberian (Spain) and Celtic stock, into a superior fighting force capable of flexible tactical maneuvers. To this he applied brilliant tactics, including classic flanking maneuvers the Roman legions were unable to counter.

Somehow, in the middle of the carnage that was Rome’s defeat at Canne, the young son of Scipio the Elder managed to survive. In an unprecedented move, the desperate Romans elected this young patrician to lead the remnants of the Roman army in Spain, he was just in his early twenties. Young Scipio immediately exhibited an uncanny ability for leadership and quickly set about retraining and improving the moral of the defeated Roman army of Spain. With the winter season as his respite, Scipio began laying plans for correcting the Roman legions weaknesses, and laying the groundwork for an army that could match Hannibal’s. No detail was left unattended, from the complex work of adding flexibility to legionary level tactics, to strengthening man to man fighting techniques, to details such as which sword would be most effective in close quarter combat.

Attila and the legacy of the Huns

"Perhaps no other people have struck greater fear in the west than the Huns. In the end of the fourth century the Huns seemed to have materialized out of nowhere and crushed they way into the Hungarian plains. From there they extended their domains south of the Danube River, into Gaul and then northern Italy, leaving a trail of destruction and terror wherever they went.

However, in Western Europe, the Huns failed to achieve any long-term effect other than a rearrangement of barbarian power, the relocation of the Goths westward, and the founding of Venice by those who fled the Huns in Northern Italy. Thus, in western history the Huns are best remembered as one of the barbarian groups that contributed to the collapse of Rome. Because of this, they are generally seen as being cruel and barbaric.

In Eastern Europe, however, the Huns had a different effect. In countries such as Hungary, Attila is regarded as a hero and a symbol of power, bravery and courage. The Hungarian dynasty of Arpad even claimed direct descent from Attila and the procession of Attila’s sword. Whether Attila was a ruthless barbarian or a man of bravery and courage, the Huns will always be remembered for the fierocity of their warriors. "

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Roman Mosaics added to Yale University Art Gallery

"The Yale University Art Gallery has acquired and will display five fragments of a Roman floor mosaic from Gerasa (now Jerash), a site in present-day Jordan that Yale excavated in association with the British in the 1920s and '30s. A fat garlanded boy sitting astride a panther, a partially nude maenad and two conversing satyrs are all part of the tableau of one of the five pieces of Roman mosaic recently acquired by the University art gallery."

Penal Tattooing in Late Antiquity

By Mark Gustafson
Calvin College

"The origins of tattooing are very ancient, and the modern fascination with the practice serves to remind us that it has been an enduring fixture in human history. Its functions are many and often overlap, but the particular focus here is on the tattoo as an aspect of punishment. Comparative evidence, however, is welcomed whenever it proves useful. This article first marshals and examines the late antique literary evidence (which is predominantly Christian) extending from North Africa in the third century to Constantinople in the ninth. Then that evidence is put in its legal context.

From at least the time of Augustus, the penal tattoo, which was generally placed on the face or forehead, had been associated with degradation. Such remained the case in late antiquity, and it also becomes clear that the tattoo accompanied a sentence of exile and hard labor, usually in mines or quarries. The deeper meaning of the tattoo and its placement on the forehead is considered in the light of modern understandings. There follows a discussion of the actual form taken by the tattoo, which normally displayed the name of the crime, the name of the emperor, or the name of the punishment. Based on the available data, the last option appears to have been the most common penal tattoo in this period.

Finally, the article hypothesizes that the Christians effected a transformation of the tattoo and subverted its original intent, so that, rather than being a sign of punishment, it became a sign of glory in which one could take pride. Thus the penal function, in some settings at least, was overtaken by a primarily religious one. "

Roman Wall Painting

By M. Hoover, San Antonio College

"Roman wall painting is described as having four distinct styles, identified from the wall paintings found at Pompeii, Herculaneum, Boscoreal and other cities buried under the volcanic ash of Mt. Vesuvius. Roman mosaics either imitated the painting styles or became very abstract.

The First Style Roman wall painting, called 'Incrustation style' is thought to imitate Greek painting that created flat areas of color and 'faux' finishes (like a fake marble or oak finish). In the second style Roman wall painting, called the "architectural style," space extends beyond the room with various perspective ("illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat two-dimensional surface) devices. Roman artists came close to developing a true linear perspective.

In the Third Style Roman Wall Painting, called the "Ornate Style," pictorial illusion is confined to "framed" images, where even the "framing" is painted on. The overall appearance is flat rather than a 3-d illusion of space. The Fourth Style Roman Wall Painting, called the "Intricate Style," confines full three-dimensional illusion to the "framed images," which are placed like pictures in an exhibition. The images themselves do not relate to one another nor do they present a narrative, as in the Second Style. The Fourth Style is also characterized by the open vistas and the use of aerial perspective, as well as the elaborate architectural framing.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Romans Originated Concept of Enclosed Plant Conservatories

"THE concept of displaying and preserving plants as botanical treasures is as old as civilization itself. After all, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the wonders of the ancient world.
The Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese and Japanese were also ancient exhibitors of plants, although it was the Romans who developed this predilection into a science with their cultivation of exotic foliage brought from conquered corners of the empire.

However, the historical development of conservatories is also unavoidably connected to the progress made in the manufacture of flat glass.

There is some evidence that the ancient Romans first attempted to construct buildings that let in light but kept out cold, making use of sheets of mica in place of glass. They, unfortunately, fell with the Roman Empire. "

Monday, February 16, 2004

Triennial Meeting of the Greek and Roman Societies Begins July 25

"A live performance of Homeric storytelling by Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden (the acclaimed Iliad Project) will be the featured entertainment at the Triennial Meeting of the Greek and Roman Societies in Oxford, UK. The 'Triennial' is the highest-profile event in the UK classical calendar - at once a major classics conference and also a summer celebration of the subject in beautiful surroundings. Held alternately in Oxford and Cambridge, it brings together teachers, students and amateurs of classics from a comprehensive range of backgrounds and sub-disciplines. Plenary lectures of broad interest alternate with thematically designed discussion sessions centred round sets of shorter papers. Other sessions showcase the work of graduate students, and promote group discussion of selected classical texts, including some from the current A-level syllabus. "

Friday, February 13, 2004

Interactions of Indigenous and Foreign Cults in Magna Graecia June 8 - 11

From June 8 - 11, 2004, the Vergilian Society will present a four-day symposium at the Villa Vergiliana in Cuma, Italy, focusing upon the archaeology, ancient history, philology, linguistics, iconography, and ritual activities at Italian cult centers, and the degree to which these cults were retained, modified, or replaced under foreign influences. This symposium will be an extension of an earlier symposium, held in June 2002, which focused on Greek, Roman and foreign divinities worshiped in Magna Graecia. Because of the wide interest in this topic, the symposium for June 2004 will revisit the topic, focusing now on religious perspectives and cult practices of indigenous populations of Magna Graecia, and their evolution or replacement under Greek and eastern influence."

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Catapult Makers: Rock Stars of Antiquity

"The making of catapults, known as 'belopoietics' (poietike meaning 'making of'; belos meaning 'projectile or projectile-throwing device') required an ingenious combination of geometry, physics, and technology.
The fearsome machines terrorized battlefields and sieges until the proliferation of gunpowder. Their power was impressive and terrifying. Roman catapults could hurl 60-pound (27-kilogram) boulders some 500 feet (150 meters). Archimedes' machines were said to have been able to throw stones three times as heavy.
The origins of the catapult are unknown. They appear in the historical record as early as a 9th-century B.C. relief from Nimrud in modern-day Iraq. "

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Celts through Roman Eyes

By Darren Kneen

'The Celts had drawn up the Gaesatae from the Alps to face their enemies on the rear ... and behind them the Insubres .... The Insubres and the Boii wore trousers and light cloaks, but the Gaesatae in their overconfidence had thrown these aside and stood in front of the whole army naked, with nothing but their arms; for they thought that thus they would be more efficient, since some of the ground was overgrown with thorns which would catch on their clothes and impede the use of their weapons.' On the other hand the fine order and the noise of the Celtic host terrified the Romans; for there were countless trumpeters and horn blowers and since the whole army was shouting its war cries at the same time there was such a confused sound that the noise seemed to come not only from the trumpeters and the soldiers but also from the countryside which was joining in the echo. No less terrifying were the appearance and gestures of the naked warriors in front, all of whom were in the prime of life and of excellent physique. All the warriors in the front ranks were adorned with gold torcs and armlets. The Romans were particularly terrified by the sight of these men, but, led on by hope of gain, they were twice as keen to face the danger. '... to the Celts in the rear their trousers and cloaks afforded good protection, but to the naked men in front events turned out differently to what they had expected and caused them much discomfiture and distress. For since the Gallic shield cannot cover the whole body, because they were naked, the bigger they were, the more chance there was of missiles striking home. At length, unable to ward off the javelin throwers because of the distance and the number of javelins falling upon them, in despair and distress some rushed upon the enemy in wild rage and willingly gave up their lives; others, retreating step by step towards their comrades, threw them into confusion by their manifest show of cowardice.' - Polybius, Battle of Telamon, 225 B.C.E.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Did the Carthaginians Introduce Tobacco to the New World?

This interesting article uses the arguments of language taxonomy to suggest tobacco was actually brought to the New World by ancient African traders.

"The British introduced the Luo to cigarette smoking only a century ago. So how is it that the Luo have an indigenous word for a 'cigarette', ndawa? And why is ndawa – a 'Nilotic' word – so closely related to Kiswahili dawa and other Bantu words to do with healing?
Let us approach the question from another direction. Our President is called Kibaki. This is a native Kikuyu name. Yet there is something universal about it. Without the prefix ki (which denotes largeness), we get baki.

This is very close to the Luo mbaki and both are very close to the English baccy. The question is: Is the word kibaki etymologically related to the words tobacco (English), tumbaku (Hindi) and their cognates in other Indo-European languages? "

"The emerging evidence is that the plant and its name are totally native to Africa. It was the Africans who took it to both the Americas and Europe – and even Asia – and they did it millennia before the "Age of Discovery".

Monday, February 02, 2004

Deed Of Earliest Woman Sold in London Goes On Display

"A Roman writing tablet bearing the deed of sale of a slave, the first to be found in Britain, has gone on display at the Museum of London. Unearthed in 1996 by Museum of London archaeologists, the silver fir tablet contains 11 lines of text inscribed into black wax with a sharp metal stylus for a rich Roman bureaucrat over 2000 years ago.
The legal document relates to a Gallic slave-girl called Fortunata who was sold in around AD 80-120 for 600 denarii, a price far higher than the annual salary of a legionary soldier."

"Translated by Roger Tomlin, Oxford University lecturer in Late-Roman History, the text reads: 'Vegetus, assistant slave of Montanus the slave of the August Emperor, has brought the girl Fortunata, by nationality a Diablintian for 600 denarii. She is warranted healthy and not liable to run away.'

"It seems that Fortunata had been bought by Vegetus, himself a slave owned by Montanus, who was also a slave once owned by another slave called Secundus."