Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Mosaics of Aquincum

Aquincumi Museum: "At the beginning of urbanization, the architectural style of habitations used general Roman forms adopted to local conditions both in the Civil Town and in the area of the canabae. Mosaic floors made from tiny colored pieces of stone were among the most expensive luxury items. Only representative buildings financed from the state budget could muster such artistic features. Aquincum was the administrative center of Pannonia Inferior and the seat of the Legatus Augusti.

The Governor's Palace was built on todays Hajogyar Island. Its location in the northeastern corner of the canabae, across from the Barbaricum on the other site of the Danube, was supposed to demonstrate the monumentality and power of the Roman Empire. Public buildings of the governor's administration and the houses of high-ranking officials occupied the nothern zone of the canabae on the Obuda bank of the Danube branch separated by the island. Floors in the five large reception halls in the eastern, representative wing of the palace ere covered by mosaics as early as the beginning of the AD 2nd century. It is likely that mosaic artists trained in the Italian tradition were commissioned to make these floors characteized by bichromic, geometric patterns. The surface decorated by the contrasting effects of white limestone and black basalt, the rythmic elegance of simple geometric forms certainly showed the cultural superiority of Rome to visiting delegations from the Barbaricum. Meanwhile they were subtle enough not to distract the visitors' attention from the artistic wall-paintings and luxurious furniture. Thus, pompous receptions held in these halls had a full scale visual effect. Local mosaic artists in Aquincum are known only from the beginning of the AD 3rd century, that is the 'Golden Age of Severus'. Following the modification of the frontier by Caracalla in AD 214 the military power as well as political weight of Pannonia Inferior increased. Consesequently, the demand for representative mosaic work increased and such orders could provide a living for artists working in a local mosaic manufacturing workshop. In this new situation, it was again state and central funds that could be mobilized first. During the course of renovation and modernization in the northern bath wing new mosaic floors were laid as well. The central water drainage hole in the most impressive, octogonal exedra hall was surrounded by the figural pictures of a marine scene. In the surviving section of this mosaic picture a swordfish (Xiphias gladius) is chasing a carp-like creature (Cyprinidae) in the seacoast among the reeds. A mallard swims in the direction of a tree trunk covered with water plants such as bulrush, and a mussel is attached to a rock below. A huge dolphin plunges into the waves while a timid goldfish is escaping into the depths of the water. The aforementioned black and white tone dominates in the background of this mosaic that shows elements of incipient polychromism. Yellow highlights also appear in the band that frames the scene as well as in the dolphin's shiny body. The dolphin's eye and that of the goldfish are red. Both the style and execution of the black and white fish-scale patterns monotonously repeated in the frame motifs show harmonic similarity with AD 2nd century geometrical mosaics."

Athanasius and his Influence at the Council of Nicea - by Matt Perry

In the year 313, the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan which ended the persecution of Christianity. Now, it stood as a protected, even favored religion by the emperor. Once the crises of the persecutions from outside the church ended, crises arose from within the church about, among other issues, the nature and person of Jesus. These discussions had taken place around 150 years before the Edict was enacted with several groups coming to the fore in expressing their views.

Of considerable influence were the Monarchians ? who held to the unity or ?monarchy? (?one source?) of God. Some such as Sabellius, a third-century Roman teacher, who viewed God as one person revealing Himself in different modes throughout history as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (soon known as modalists). Other Monarchians known as adoptionists believed Jesus was adopted by the Father and endowed with complete divine presence. Neither of these views were embraced widely by the church because, as Mark Noll states, ?they either undercut the conviction that Jesus was a distinct person or shortchanged the fullness of his deity.?[10]

The word ?Trinity? was coined by Tertullian, a distinguished lawyer from Carthage. Origen (c. 185- c. 254) sought to preserve the unity of this concept, while at the same time to preserve the distinction between the Father and Son. Mark Noll states again that, ?some who followed Origen?s train of thought, however, did not share his concern for balance.?[11] This brings us to a presbyter from Alexandria named Arius (c. 250-c.336).

In 318, Arius told Bishop Alexander of his views of the Father and Son. The Father was eternal in character, but the Son was in a lower strata that the Father. Arius began making his teachings about the nature and person of Jesus Christ, the ?logos? of God, known throughout the area. He taught that ?God begat him, and before he was begotten, he did not exist.?[12] The Arians state:

If the Son were, according to your interpretation, eternally existent with God, He would not have been ignorant of the Day [of His return ? see Mark 13:4, 32], but have known it as Word; nor would he have been forsaken if he was co-existent ? nor have prayed at all. . . . [B]eing the Word, he would have needed nothing.[13]

In spite of what the Arians state, Christopher Stead argues that Arius was ?teaching a relatively high view of the Logos.? He continues:

He is determined to safeguard the Father?s preeminence; but ... he has no pressing concern to reduce the honours traditionally accorded to the Logos; he describes him as ?mighty God?, as Monogenes, as God?s first-born Son, as the Wisdom who assisted the Father at creation. Athanasius himself, while criticizing Arius? presentation of this last point, cannot deny that it was made. ... That Arius described the Logos as merely one of the creatures, or alternatively as a mere man, does not rest on good documentary evidence but on polemical sallies which have been wrongly treated as quotations.[14]

Regardless of Dr. Stead?s contentions, Arius? view even on the points of agreement concerning what he did say were still divisive and destructive to the unity of the church and the Gospel.

This teaching, condemned by the bishops of Egypt, forced Arius flee to Nicodemia. He gathered a following and influence and a place where he could state his position. Soon, a Christianity that battled the state in their persecutions now would be infighting concerning who the Son of God truly was and is.[15]

Justo Gonzalez puts it well when he says,

What Arius taught was that the one who had come to us in Jesus Christ was not truly God, but a lesser being, a creature. Such a notion was unacceptable to Athanasius ? as it was also to the monks who had withdrawn to the desert for love of God Incarnate. . . . For Athanasius, for the monks, and for many of the faithful, the Arian controversy was not a matter of theological subtleties with little or no relevance. In it, the very core of the Christian message was at stake.[16]

As mentioned previously, his book On the Incarnation of the Word dealt with this very issue and how it is central to the Scriptures. Athanasius compares it to a king who enters a large city and stays in one of the houses. His staying there guarantees protection not just for that house but for the whole city.

Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and inconsequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled, and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the huna race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.[17]

Athanasius debated that the implications of Arius? views were far-reaching, even to the point of affecting the efficacy of Christ?s ability to save us. If Christ does not share an eternal Godhood with the Father, then our salvation would be impossible for creature cannot redeem creature. Also, as Alistair McGrath points out, ?the Christian church was guilty of idolatry, as Christians regularly worshipped and prayed to Christ. As ?idolatry? can be defined as ?worship of a human construction or creation,? it followed that this worship was idolatrous.?[18] So it is clear that the lines were drawn. The clergy in Alexandria sided with the Godhood of the Logos, while those following Arius in Nicodemia (and soon in all parts of the Empire) believed that the Logos was a created being of God. This issue in particular led to the Council of Nicaea.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Bioarchaeology in the Roman World

by Kristina Killgrove
submitted as a Masters thesis at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Until recently, death in the Roman world was only known through literary sources
such as poems and histories. Even Jocelyn Toynbee?s (1971) compendium Death and Burial in the Roman World draws much evidence from funerary art and the epigrams
on funeral markers, two realms beleaguered by the same problems as textual evidence:
the identity of the author and the idealization of the deceased. Although Latin literary
scholars have begun to deal with issues such as authorial intent and intended audience by
appealing to literary theory, for the most part, there has been little in the way of an analogous
movement in Roman archaeology to deconstruct textual truisms using the wealth
of biocultural material from excavated sites. In particular, human skeletal remains, which
can elucidate various past behaviors through careful scientific analysis, have largely been
ignored as a credible source of information about the ancient Roman world of both the
living and the dead.

Osteology, or the study of bones, has been a part of Roman archaeology since at
least the nineteenth century. Cursory analysis of skeletons with the objective of culling
demographic histories, however, was always subsumed by publication of grave goods in
large site reports, sending biological material to languish in appendices. With sex of
a skeleton determined based on associated artifacts as often as estimated by biological
markers, osteological analysis in much of the Old World stagnated, especially when compared
with the advances made in physical anthropology in the United States in the late
19th and 20th centuries thanks in part to the creation of four-field anthropology programs
at universities around the country.

Yet human remains, not prone to the same biases in interpretation as literary evidence,
can help answer questions about diet, disease, war, gender, social status, occupation,
culture contact, and social organization. Through the practice of bioarchaeology, or
the investigation of human skeletal materials from archaeological sites, skilled anthropologists can directly engage with biocultural data to answer pressing questions about past
societies. Roman archaeology in particular can benefit greatly from a bioarchaeological
approach because of the potential to integrate textual, artistic, and other material evidence
with biological remains to create a more holistic picture of all levels of life and
culture in the Roman world.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

History into fiction: the metamorphoses of the Mithras myths

By ROGER BECK, Toronto

This article is neither about a particular ancient novel nor about the genre of
the ancient novel in general. But it is about story-telling in the ancient world,
and about the metamorphosis which stories undergo when they pass through
the crucible of religious invention. Its subject, then, is narrative fiction ?
narrative fiction as the construction of sacred myth and of myth?s dramatic
counterpart, ritual performance.

The fictions I shall explore are the myths and rituals of the Mithras cult.
Some of these fictions, I shall argue, are elaborations of events and fantasies
of the Neronian age: on the one hand, events in both Italy and the orient centred
on the visit of Tiridates of Armenia to Rome in 66; on the other hand,
the heliomania of the times, a solar enthusiasm focused on, and in some
measure orchestrated by, the emperor himself.

What I am not offering is an explanation of Mithraism and its origins. In
the first place, our subject is story and the metamorphosis of story, not religion.
In the second place, I would not presume to ?explain? Mithraism, or any
other religion for that matter, by Euhemeristic reduction to a set of historical
or pseudo-historical antecedents. In speaking of the ?invention? of Mithraism
and of its ?fictions?, moreover, I intend no disrespect. I would use the same
terms for Christianity (in which I happen to believe). By ?invention? I mean,
in the literal sense, the discovery by its founders of the religion?s fundamental
truths; and by ?fictions? I mean the stories and the ritual performances in
which those truths were expressed. I do not imply that the Mithraists willfully
or naively misconstrued recent history. Stories from the recent past, I shall
suggest, furnished Mithraism not with the substance of its mysteries, but
with some of the themes, incident and coloration of its myths and rites.

Fiction migrates through religion along a two-way road. The flow of
narrative traffic in the other direction, from the fictions of religion to the
fictions of secular literature, has been plotted, most recently and most brilliantly,
by Glen Bowersock. In Fiction as History (1994), Bowersock describes
a burst of inventiveness, starting in Nero?s reign, which engendered
new forms of literature, principally the prose romance. These works are full
of marvels, one of which is the Scheintod, the tale of the ?apparent death? of
one of the characters, usually the heroine. ?The question we must now ask?,
says Bowersock (1994: 119), ?is whether from a historical point of view we
would be justified in explaining the extraordinary growth in fictional writing,
and its characteristic and concomitant fascination with resurrection, as some
kind of reflection of the remarkable stories that were coming out of Palestine
precisely in the middle of the first century A.D.? Another daring suggestion
is that we read not only Achilles Tatius? story of the origin of wine (2,2?3)
but also the last extant episode of Petronius? Satyrica (141), the story of Eumolpus?
cannibalistic will, as plays upon the Christian rite of the eucharist
and the myth of its institution (Bowersock 1994: 125?138). With the Satyrica
we are back in the Neronian age itself.

The Labor Market of the Early Roman Empire

by Peter Temin

Journal of Interdisciplinary History 34:4: "Free urban workers in the early Roman empire were paid for their work and were able to change their economic activities. Hereditary barriers were nonexistent, and Roman guilds do not appear to have been restrictive. Workers in large enterprises, like mines and galleys, were paid wages, as in more modern labor markets. Workers engaged in more skilled and complex tasks received more elaborate compensation, probably for longer units of time than those doing wage labor, again as in more modern labor markets, even though explicit long-term contracts were not yet established. The force of competition under those circumstances probably brought wages and labor productivity into the same ballpark.8

Some of the work in the early Roman empire was done for wages and some under the duress of slavery. The early Roman empire even had salaried long-term free workers in Egypt. Craftsmen sold their wares in cities and also supplied them to rural and urban patrons in return for long-term economic and social support. Similarly, people who worked for, or supplied, senators and equestrians often worked for long-term rewards and advancement. The episodic nature of monumental building in Rome, accomplished largely by free laborers, gives evidence of a mobile labor force that could be diverted from one activity to another. Free workers, freedmen, and slaves worked in all kinds of activities; contemporaries saw the ranges of jobs and of freedom as separate [End Page 518] ?even orthogonal. In particular, rural slaves hardly comprised an undifferentiated gang of laborers; certain lists of rural slave jobs are as varied as the known range of urban or household 'slave' jobs. Some rural laborers received piece rates and others, daily wages. Cicero, anticipating Marx, conflated legal and economic relations by equating wages with servitude.9

A labor market in the early Roman empire would have tended to equalize real wages in different parts of the empire. Suggestively, Cuvigny found equal wages of miners in Egypt and Dacia in Eastern Europe. Nominal wages of unskilled workers were unequal in Rome and Egypt, but the price of wheat and other goods differed as well. Real wages?the buying power of wages in wheat?were close, however; the hypothesis of equality cannot be rejected. These scraps of data provide evidence of a well-functioning labor market. Only the ability and willingness of workers to change jobs in response to wage differentials would produce such uniformity.10

Moreover, in a functioning labor market, wages increase as the number of laborers decreases because of the competition to hire them; workers are more productive when fewer of them are available to work. It is hard to know of small changes in Roman labor supplies, but plagues led to rapid, large falls in the pool of available labor. Egyptian wages doubled after the major Antonine plague of 165-175 C.E. This clearly is the standard labor-market response to a sharp decrease in the supply of labor. It demonstrates that wages in the early Roman empire moved to clear markets, in this case to allocate newly scarce labor.11

Employment contracts also give evidence of labor-market activity in which workers could choose their jobs. The modern division between wages and salaries finds its analog in Roman Egypt: "As a general rule permanent employees of the Appianus and related [End Page 519] estates can be distinguished by their receipt of opsonion (salary), a fixed monthly allowance of cash and wheat and sometimes vegetable oil, whereas occasional employees received misthos, that is 'wages.'" some of these "free" workers were tied to the estate for life, like those subject to the more modern worker contracts studied by Steinfeld, but others were free to leave when their jobs were done.12

Miners and apprentices had employment contracts. One dating from 164 C.E. shows that workers were paid only for work done and that they had more right to quit than the nineteenth-century workers described by Steinfeld:

In the consulship of Macrinus and Celsus, May 20. I, Flavius Secundinus, at the request of Memmius, son of Asceplius, have here recorded the fact that he declared that he had let, and he did in fact let, his labor in the gold mine to Aurelius Adjutor from this day to November 13 next for seventy denarii and board. He shall be entitled to receive his wages in installments. He shall be required to render healthy and vigorous labor to the above-mentioned employer. If he wants to quit or stop working against the employer's wishes, he shall have to pay five sesterces for each day, deducted from his total wages. If a flood hinders operations, he shall be required to prorate accordingly. If the employer delays payment of the wage when the time is up, he shall be subject to the same penalty after three days of grace.13

Most free workers were farmers, many of them tenant farmers, although employment categories in the countryside were fluid. Roman tenancy contracts allocated risks between landowners and tenants in much the same way as analogous contracts did in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain. Major risks were borne by the landowners as events beyond the tenants' control, whereas minor risks were borne by tenants in return for the opportunity to earn more and keep their earnings: "Force majeure ought not cause loss to the tenant, if the crops have been damaged beyond what is sustainable. But the tenant ought to bear loss which is moderate with equanimity, just as he does not have to give up profits which are immoderate. It will be obvious that we [End Page 520] are speaking here of the tenant who pays rent in money; for a share-cropper (partiarus colonus) shares loss and profit with the landlord, as it were by law of partnership."14

We know a lot more about wages in England before industrialization than in the Roman empire. Wages for comparable work were similar throughout England, but they were not uniform. Agriculture was more prosperous in the South than in the North, and wages were higher in the eighteenth century. (This pattern was reversed in the nineteenth century when the North industrialized.) Substantial variation was evident within regions, due to the immobility of the population. A recent summary of the English data shows daily winter wages in the North to be only half of what they were in the South in 1700. They approached each other gradually during the next century and a half.15

England is much smaller than the Roman empire was. If we use Roman data from Egypt and Dacia, a more suitable comparison is pre-industrial Europe. Clearly, labor had even less mobility between countries than within England, and wages varied more, though they did remain at the same general level. Allen demonstrated that wages within Europe began to diverge in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By 1700, the real wages of masons inLondon and Antwerp were more than double those in other European cities.16

Based on this more modern evidence, we do not expect to find wages that are equal in distant places except by coincidence, but we expect wages to be similar. If the early Roman empire had a labor market that functioned about as well as the labor market in pre-industrial Europe, then wages in the early Roman empire would have been approximately equal. Real wages for similar tasks might have varied by a factor of two or three, as real wages did in eighteenth-century Europe, but they were not different orders of [End Page 521] magnitude. As just described, this presumption is consistent with the fragmentary evidence about wages in the Principate.

The army must be distinguished from the private sphere, as in modern economies. Peacetime armies are often voluntary, recruited via the standard organizational lures?favorable wages and working conditions. Wartime armies, by contrast, often rely on conscription, which is a non-market process. Actions within armies are directed by commands, not by market transactions. Armies therefore represent at best a partial approximation to a free labor market and typically an exception to it. Since armies, unhappily, are present in almost all societies, we place this exception to the general rule to one side.

The wages of the Roman army, which was staffed by a mixture of attraction and conscription, stayed constant for many decades at a time. When the army was not fighting, which was most of the time, soldiers had to be set tasks to keep them fit and out of trouble, like building roads and public monuments. This construction work did not interfere with the labor market in Rome or elsewhere in the center of the empire since the army was stationed at the frontiers.17

Slaves appear to be like soldiers in that they are subject tocommand, but such was not necessarily the case in the early Roman empire, especially in cities. Unlike American slaves, Roman slaves were able to participate in the labor market in almost the same way as free laborers. Although they often started at an extremely low point, particularly those who were uneducated, many were able to advance by merit. Freedmen started from a better position, and their ability to progress was almost limitless, despite some prominent restrictions. These conditions created powerful positive work incentives for slaves in the early Roman empire."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Asbestos use in the ancient world

Asbestos: "The asbestos industry ushers in thoughts of lung ailments such as asbestosis and incurable mesothelioma cancer. But long before modern medicine showed the dangers of this mineral, ancient people knew of its fire mastering properties and the problems it presented.

Asbestos is a Greek word meaning 'inextinguishable' or 'indestructible'. It is a naturally occurring silicate mineral consisting of magnesium, calcium and iron. It is composed of strong fibres, which are either silky in texture with curly fibres or straight with needle like fibres. When it is processed into manufactured products, very small fibres are created. These invisible fibres are the source of danger when inhaled.

The Romans mined or quarried asbestos from all over Europe and the Mediterranean. It was used in literally hundreds of products because it is strong, insulates well, and resists fire and corrosion. The ancient Greeks used asbestos in their cloth and the Romans used it in their building materials. They wove asbestos fibres into fabrics to make towels, napkins, nets and head coverings for women. It was also used in cremation robes and candlewicks and may have been used in the everlasting flame that was kept alight by the Vestal Virgins."

A Time of Giving: The Three Graces of ancient Greece and Rome

The ancient Greeks and Romans imagined the process of gift exchange in philosophy and art as three women with linked hands known as The Three Graces.

"The Graces were said to be the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome (one of the daughters of Oceanus), although other versions of their parentage mentioned Hera, Eunomia, Lethe and Aphrodite, and Uranus or Dionysus. There was also some ambiguity as to their number and their names, which varied from place to place. In the most distant past, their number was either one or two, and they were known as the wives of major gods or as divinities who rendered services to Aphrodite.

Homer first mentions a Grace who was the wife of Hephaestus. He also tells the story of one of the Graces who was married to Hypnos (=Sleep): Hera had promised her to this god, in exchange for his service in putting Zeus to sleep so that the gods could involve themselves in the Trojan War. At a later period, the Graces were generally considered to be three inseparable sisters, daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, named Aglaia (Brightness), Euphrosyne (Joyfulness) and Thalia (Bloom). They inhabited the summit of Mount Olympus, from where they arranged all things, ceaselessly singing hymns of praise to their father, the king of the gods. They spent much of their life feasting, as their presence was essential at the banquets of the gods: without the Graces, there could be neither pleasure nor dancing. They usually sat next to Apollo, praising Zeus and adorning the assemblies with their presence and their melodious voices."