Friday, May 28, 2004

A proper Roman Eulogy

Menander the Orator (c. ad 300), who is very sound on how to eulogise a harbour, suggests the following for a great man’s funeral. It all sounds quite ghastly. Encomia of the dead person, he tell us, should be based on the following topics: family, birth, nature, nurture, education, accomplishments, actions, Fortune, ending with consolation. Under ‘family’, the eulogist must stress that there is none more brilliant in the city. ‘Birth’ is an important topic if a child has died: mention the rejoicing of the whole family, the splendid hopes, the prospect of a great destiny, all dashed by fate. ‘Nature’ should cover physical beauty and mental endowment; ‘nurture’ should touch on the speed with which the person developed; ‘education’ should stress that he was far ahead of his contemporaries; ‘accomplishments’ should deal with his fairness, humanity, approachability and gentleness. ‘Actions’, what the person achieved in life, is the topic that Menander suggests the eulogist should concentrate on, and he should point out that Fortune followed him all his life so that he was wealthy, loved by his friends, honoured by the great and good, and so on. Throughout, Menander goes on, the dead person must be shown to have been fit to rival any man in distinction.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

When in Rome

With all the current interest in the ancient world stirred up by such movies as "Gladiator" and "Troy", the regional government along with two historical societies is offering free Latin classes to tourists in a bid to lure even more of the sword-and-sandals loving crowd to Rome.

'Given all the excitement over the Roman Empire lately, we thought it was crazy not to do something here in the heart of it all,' said Alessandro Pediconi, one of the organisers.

The first courses are being offered for English and French speaking tourists using a comic book starring 'Caesar' and featuring cursory history and language lessons.

For those itching to really live the Roman experience, organisers plan to team up this summer with the Scuola Gladiatori Roma, or gladiator school, to offer a package with Latin classes and a crash course in gladiator fighting.

After donning tunics and helmets, tourists would also be treated to a typical Roman feast."

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Roman Marching Camps Used by Offensively and Defensively

There is an interesting article on Roman fortifications in this month’s issue of Military Heritage magazine. The author, Arnold Blumberg, takes issue with the conclusions of J.F.C. Fuller and Liddell Hart that the practice of entrenching each day slowed the Romans down to the point that they seldom had a chance to select advantageous positions for pending battles. Blumberg said that as far as Fuller was concerned, Roman warfare was little more than “mobile trench warfare” requiring them to always assume “the strategic and operational defensive”.

Blumberg says strategically, marching-camps proved to be an aggressive military instrument. He observed that not only were these displays of “massive military power” demoralizing to the enemy but that fortifications left in the wake of an advancing army served as stepping stones to sustain the army’s movements. Many were transformed into permanent fortified positions that became centers of territorial administration and troop staging areas protecting communication lines.

He says there are a number of examples of marching camps employed both offensively and defensively. He cites the battle of the Sambre River in 57 B.C.E. between Julius Caesar’s troops and the Belgae. The Gauls launched a surprise attack on the Roman camp but the legionaries used the camp as a protective screen for their flank and rear, pivoted, and routed the enemy.

Labienus reversed the strategy in Trier, Germany in 54 B.C.E.. “He unleashed a double flanking attack against the army of the Treveri. He sent his cavalry storming out of the front and rear gates of the compound on a devastating charge that killed the rebel leader and caused the collapse of the Gallic uprising,” Blumberg says.

He also pointed out that contrary to claims that building a camp slowed the Roman armies down, the Romans averaged 20 miles per day. On the other hand, Gallic and Germanic war bands usually included many more women, children and livestock herds, averaging only three to nine miles per day.

See also: Roman Camps

Monday, May 10, 2004

Acting Troupe Dedicated To Making History Interesting

"Stewart Hulme's mobile Bluesilver Theatre company is now bringing history alive to schools across the North and Midlands with his plays about key phases in time accompanied by just three other actors, a minimum of props and an extremely tightly-packed Vauxhall Vectra estate.

After participating in No Pasaran (They Shall Not Pass), a play about the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany, Hulme designed his first play for schools, Moved East, about the rise of Facism in Germany in the 1930s and its effect upon three young people living there. He began studying the national curriculum, carrying out self-styled market research among teachers about what were the favoured topics.

This spawned three other plays: The Great Dying about the Black Death epidemic in medieval Europe, A Spin o' The Wheel which deals with the Industrial Revolution and Speakeasy, focusing on the prohibition years and the Great Depression in 1930s America.

These 90-minute creations are all primarily designed for secondary schools and are proving to be extremely popular with both the teachers - and more importantly the pupils.

Another actress, Helena Jacks, from Woolton, joins Stewart for the Living Theatre performances, a series of plays written for primary schools by Jean and Peter Davies, from Great Budworth in Cheshire, from whom Bluesilver acquired the rights to perform.

These are far more interactive allowing the children to supplement the acting roles not covered by either Stewart or Helena.

For instance in Tudor Times, Stewart plays Henry VIII and a selection of pupils represent his Six Wives.

In another, The Ancient Greeks, pupils play the soldiers erupting from the Trojan Horse to rescue Helen (Helena).

"The kids really enjoy it," says Stewart. "And we do get through a lot of plastic axes and swords!"

Like Mr. Hulme, I've always been disappointed in history classes that seem to dehumanize a fascinating subject by emphasizing the memorization of names and dates. I think his creative solution to the problem a commendable one.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Authenticating ancient 7-inch barbarian proves to be an epic quest

"Nineteen years ago, Robert Cohon strode through the classical galleries of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo. The light was low. The room was quiet. A spotlighted statue in a display case stopped Cohon in his tracks.

The barbarian was only 7 inches tall, but, Cohon says, 'it was spectacular.'

The nude figure had muscular legs and a cape. It held the right hand high, the other low, as if carrying a shield and a weapon. The dark bronze surface was mottled with tiny patches of red and green patinas. With its twisted posture, the look on its face and a bandaged leg, the barbarian appeared wounded and in pain.

To someone steeped in the art of ancient cultures, this small bronze statue of a warrior was quite a prize. Its presence at the museum helped Cohon decide to take a job as the Nelson's curator of antiquities.

Yet, within a couple of years, his elation turned to doubt amid questions about the figure's authenticity.

Could it really be 2,000 years old? Or was it of more recent vintage - from the Renaissance, say, or even a forgery?

The barbarian appeared to be left handed and the barbarian's face was Christlike, with flowing locks and a goatee. His thigh was bandaged, also an unusual detail for 2nd century Roman depictions of conquered barbarians.

Now, 17 years later, Cohon has pieced together the truth, and in April, for an audience in a Nelson-Atkins auditorium, he revealed what he learned about the little bronze warrior and the thrills of archaeology."

New Interpretation Panels Installed at Roman Fort of Cramond

"Between 208 and 212AD, the African-born Roman Emperor Septimus Severus chose Cramond as a key base to lead the last major campaign of Roman conquest in Scotland.

In the last years of his reign, Severus travelled to Scotland where there were uprisings against the Roman Empire. He restored Hadrian's Wall and helped to strengthen the Romans' power in Britain again.

Severus built his fort on an existing Roman military settlement which was established around 140AD during earlier campaigns. He died in 212AD in York.

Now, new interpretation panels provide visitors with a fascinating insight into life at the 1800-year-old fort near Cramond Kirk, which was designed to help protect the empire's western flank, and at the nearby bathhouse, described as one of the best surviving Roman buildings north of the Border. The remains of the Roman fort are explored in detail on three of the information panels, which focus on the occupation of the fort during the third century AD.

The panels depict the fort within the landscape of the time, showing the harbour and also the large defended settlement attached to the fort’s eastern side.

The Roman remains are described by archeologists as of 'huge historical importance', and sit close to the River Almond site where a ferryman discovered the celebrated Cramond Lioness."