Saturday, December 16, 2006

Exhibit Shows Egypt's Sunken Treasures -

Exhibit Shows Egypt's Sunken Treasures -
The great port of Alexandria was a bustling trade hub, a transit point for merchandise from throughout the ancient world - until much of it vanished into the Mediterranean Sea.

Treasure hunters have long scoured the Egyptian coast for vestiges of the port, thought to have disappeared about 13 centuries ago. Now an exhibit at Paris' Grand Palais brings together 500 ancient artifacts recovered from the area by underwater archeologists using sophisticated nuclear technology.

"Egypt's Sunken Treasures" features colossuses of pink granite, a 17.6-ton slab inscribed with hieroglyphics, a phalanx of crouching sphinx, pottery, amulets and gold coins and jewelry - all painstakingly fished out of the Mediterranean. Some of the oldest artifacts are estimated to have spent 2,000 years underwater.

The show, which runs through mid-March, spans more than 1,500 years of Egyptian history and traces the decline of the Pharaohs and occupations by Greeks, Romans and Byzantines.

Some of the oldest pieces, such as a sphinx dating from the 13th century B.C., were brought to Egypt's coast from other regions of the country. Later objects clearly show the influence of the Greeks, who controlled much of Egypt starting in the fourth century B.C.

In an exquisite black-granite sculpture, the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis strikes a quintessentially Pharaonic pose, with one leg forward and arms pressed tightly at her sides. But the sensual drape of her gown, with its delicate folds, belies an unmistakably Greek touch.

The Stela of Ptolemy, a mammoth marble slab standing 19.5 feet high, bears inscriptions in both hieroglyphics and Greek.

Sculptures from the Greco-Roman period show the degree to which the European colonizers assimilated Egyptian culture, and vice versa. In a second century B.C. bust, the Egyptian god Serapis looks just like the Greek god Zeus, with a full beard and curly locks. With its wild expression and frizzy hair, a second century A.D. bust of an Egyptian water god is the exact image of a Roman Bacchus.

One of the most impressive objects in the show is the so-called Naos of the Decades, a hieroglyphics-covered prayer niche dating from around 380 B.C.

The roof of the niche was discovered in 1776 and taken to Paris, where it became part of the Louvre Museum's permanent collection. In the 1940s, archaeologists working under Egyptian Prince Omar Toussoun discovered two more bits - the naos' back and the base. But it wasn't until the recent submarine excavations, which uncovered several more fragments, that archaeologists finally managed to put the naos together again.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


By Walter Scheidel (Stanford)

Despotism and differential reproduction

In the Roman literary imagination, one-man rule and despotic power are intimately associated with polygyny and the forcible accumulation of sex partners. A few salient examples will suffice to illustrate this point. Caesar had a reputation as a major womanizer (Suet. Caes. 50-2); Augustus even ?as an elderly man is said to have harboured a passion for deflowering girls, who were collected for him from every quarter, even by his wife - (Suet. Aug. 71; cf. above, section 2.3.1, on the wife of Zimri-Lim of Mari); Tiberius comes across as hopelessly debauched, abducting freeborn girls to corrupt them; Caligula reportedly likewise spoiled married matrons (Suet. Cal. 36); Claudius is credited with insatiable sex drive and many affairs (e.g., Dio 40.2.5-6), and again, his wife - Messalina - procured mistresses for him (Dio 40.18.3); Nero put married women into brothels (Suet. Nero 27); Vespasian, in his role as a more
restrained "good" emperor, kept several mistresses after the death of his principal freedwoman concubine (Suet. Vesp. 21), whereas his son Domitian, designated one of the "bad" emperors, constantly engaged in sexual activities, which he referred to as "bed-wrestling" (Suet. Dom. 22). Commodus, also "bad", "herded together women of unusual beauty, keeping them like purchased prostitutes in a sort of brothel for the violation of their chastity" (HA Comm. 5.8); in this way, he acquired 300 concubines, "gathered for their beauty and chosen from both matrons and harlots" (ibid. 5.4.). Even the "good" emperor Pertinax, having at first dismissed Commodus's entourage, had many of them brought back "to administer to the pleasures of the old man" (HA Pert. 7.8-9). Elagabalus, beyond the pale even by the standards of "bad" rulers, "never had intercourse with the same woman twice except with his wife", and installed a palace brothel (HA Elag. 24.2-3). In a more exotic flourish, he is also made to hitch chariots to women of the greatest
beauty, driving them "usually himself naked" (ibid. 29.2).

Asking "how much was the economic and political inequality in the Roman empire matched by
reproductive inequality, or polygyny" (310), Betzig 1992b: 313-20 makes much of these stories. At first sight, her willingness to accept them as reliable evidence will seem naive to the literary critic. Strictly speaking, her suggestion that the internal consistency of such anecdotes confirms their credibility remains a non sequitur: the reverse interpretation " that sexual conduct of this kind was a topos that could indiscriminately be ascribed to different individuals " seems at least as plausible. Then again, her point that the Roman biographical tradition tallies well with what is more reliably known about other premodern kings and emperors may carry greater force. The one thing we can be sure of is that Roman upper-class authors consistently associated the despotic use - for them, abuse - of monarchical power with promiscuity in general and with transgressive sexual behaviour in particular. Thus, while reasonably "good" rulers (such as Caesar, Augustus or Vespasian) are merely credited with strong sexual appetites
and polygynous affairs, their "bad" counterparts are portrayed as violating social norms by compelling sex from non-consenting free or even married women. From a Darwinian perspective, this explicit link between political inequality in its most extreme form and reproductive potential is in itself of considerable interest, given that it mirrors faithfully a fundamental principle of differential male reproductive success.

The close match between what Romans thought, or found expedient to claim, their rulers did and what we know rulers in more overtly polygynous cultures actually did is similarly striking (see above, sections 2.2-3).

Even so, it remains difficult to resolve the tension between these underlying realities and the
creative power of literary representation. For a literary critic, the actual conduct of Roman emperors may be of secondary importance or even irrelevant, and it is perfectly feasible to dissect the biographical tradition as a patchwork of complementary stereotypes that could be re-arranged in a limited number of constellations in keeping with the biases of the observer. Intertextual relationships also come into play: when the Roman aristocrat Fabius Valens is said to have advanced "with a long and luxurious train of harlots and eunuchs" when he campaigned for Vitellius (Tac. Hist. 3.40-1), we are immediately reminded of such quintessentially "oriental" characters as Dareios III or Surenas, the victor of Carrhae (see above, section 2.3.3). By contrast, the student of reproductive variance must address a more intractable - and less
fashionable - question: does the literary tradition reflect existing mechanisms of creating mating
opportunities for powerful Romans? Are we to believe that the Romans would have created lurid images of the reproductive consequences of despotic power that are both perfectly plausible in Darwinian terms and compatible with comparative evidence if they had lacked any practical experience with these consequences? Without proper contextualisation, this common sense "no smoke without fire" approach will seem simple-minded; when judged against the background of evolutionary theory and comparative data, it may become more respectable. However that may be, Roman elite authors inhabited a world of habitual sexual coercion; they were men for whom the sexual availability of disempowered women - slaves - was a given. In their search for a definition of the "tyrant", it seems to have been attractive to model the relationship between disempowered citizen/subject and ruler/master (dominus) on their own relationship with their slaves. Reducing respectable - i.e., free and/or married women - to the status of
sexually available slaves, the tyrant-emperor overturns the social order by re-staging in the sphere of the free (and upper-class) citizenry patterns of interaction that are unquestioningly accepted between owners and slaves.

Given their immense wealth and the correspondingly large number of women at their disposal -
from female slaves and freedwomen to women who would have been attracted by their status - Roman emperors cannot have found it difficult to mate with as many women as they wished.84 Whether certain emperors chose to display their power by interfering with the reproductive rights of their subordinates - a central theme of the biographical tradition - remains open to debate. In my view, this tradition is instructive for two different reasons. First, it shows that with regard to the correlation between cultural success and the proximate determinants of reproductive variance, the literary imagination operates within a conceptual framework that puts heightened emphasis on critical evolved behavioural mechanisms. In this regard, Roman biography resembles Homeric myth (see above, section 3.3.1). And second, by likening the sexual conduct of emperors to that of slaveowners, this particular strand of the literary tradition helps corroborate our model of chattel slavery as the primary means of translating cultural into
reproductive success in societies which upheld SIM (see above, sections 3.2-3 and 3.5.2).

Studies of 3rd century papyri reveals emperors in crisis changed legitimization
Dutch researcher Janneke de Jong, who was analyzing about two-hundred Greek papyrus texts from a digital database containing 4500 documents including edicts, contracts, petitions, administrative correspondence and censuses, noticed a change, beginning in the third century, in the form of legitimisation the emperors used in their titles denoting their position of power. (In the third century, Greek was the administrative language in the eastern part of the Roman Empire.)

The emperors increasingly emphasized their dynastic position by referring to their sons and future successors in the titles. They also increasingly laid claim to godly support.

De Jong believes that the texts reflect a development in the emperor ideology that was a response to other events in the Roman Empire. The third century was a period of crisis and transformation in the history of the empire. The borders were threatened and there were monetary, socioeconomic and religious tensions. During the second half of the third century, in particular, there was a rapid succession of emperors during civil wars and revolts.

When the emperor Diocletian came to power in 284, he and his successors implemented a range of reforms in the governing system and the army. This included a change in the position of emperor who became more of an absolute monarch claiming to rule by the grace of god.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

New exhibit displays artifacts from Jewish Wars

I noticed a new exhibit has opened in Nashville that includes items from Masada. The exhibit was organized by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Archeology. It should be interesting although I would be a bit skeptical about its objectivity.

The A new exhibit that organizers are calling the largest collection of Holy Land antiquities to ever hit U.S. soil is now open at the Convention Center in downtown Nashville.
The "From Abraham to Jesus" exhibit features 340 artifacts, multimedia presentations of Bible stories and a re-creation of an ancient bazaar.

The exhibit of artifacts considered holy to both Jews and Christians is designed to show the linkage between the two faiths and to give people unlikely to visit Israel the chance to view them, said Cary Summers, CEO of Way Makers, the company that organized the exhibit.

"The vast majority of Americans will not get the opportunity to go to Israel," Summers said.

"We decided to get the key items to the United States."

Those key items include a child's leather sandal excavated in the 1950s from Masada, the site of a mass suicide by Jews in 70-72 AD to escape Roman conquest.

They also include an ossuary, or bone box, believed to have once held the remains of the son of Simone the Cyrene, the man who carried the cross for Jesus. And there are palm-size remnants of some of the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls that have never before been exhibited in the United States, including a fragment containing the Hebrew inscription "Man cannot eat by bread alone, but by the words of God."

The 30,000-square-foot exhibit's artifacts, multimedia presentations and re-creations are intended to walk visitors through a tactile experience of 2,500 years of biblical history.

Visitors to the exhibit are guided, via headset, by an hour- and-a-half audio featuring the voices of a fictional archaeologist explaining the exhibition's significance to his granddaughter. At the end of the exhibit, visitors can put on 3-D glasses for a panoramic film shot in Israel.
At the end of the tour, there is a 5,000-square-foot bazaar, with merchandise for sale from Israel, including ceramics, hand-blown glass, food, paintings by Israeli artists, spices and shofars, or traditional Jewish horns, among other items.

Official site:

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A Corpus of Writing-Tablets from Roman Britain

By Dr. A.K. Bowman FBA, Prof. J.M. Brady FRS FEng., Dr. R.S.O. Tomlin FSA, Prof. J.D. Thomas FBA, Research Assistant - Dr J. Pearce

Lead 'curse tablets' comprise thin rectangular sheets which, when complete and unrolled, generally measure 6 - 12cm long and 4 - 8cm wide, although many survive only as fragments. Though often described as 'lead', metallurgical analysis of tablets from Bath, for example, shows that many are better characterised as pewter, given their high tin content. The sheets, having been cast and / or flattened, were generally trimmed to provide a roughly rectangular surface area. The text was inscribed on the tablet with a point, perhaps a stylus like those used to write on wax tablets, and the tablet was then rolled or folded with the written surface innermost, and the ends folded over. This is the state in which they are usually found. The tablets were sometimes pierced by nails, which occasionally survive in situ, although more frequently only the holes indicate their original presence. This nailing provides one explanation of the name of defixio by which these artefacts are often known (the Latin verb from which it is taken, defigere, has the meaning both to fasten and to curse). Some tablets may have been nailed to a wall or post prior to deposition, perhaps to display their message. However nails often seem to have been hammered through the blank side, making the text invisible if the tablet had been on view (Click here for images of curse tablets).

In Britain the majority of lead tablets seem to have been deposited on temple sites, famously at Bath and at Uley in Gloucestershire. At Bath they were deposited in the hot spring. Instances are also recorded from other 'watery' contexts, graves and settlements. On settlements occasional evidence suggests a preference for wet places; for example individual tablets come from the ditch of a fort and the drain of a bathhouse. As tablets are often found outside formal excavation, it can be difficult to identify the type of site on or context in which they were deposited. This is therefore a question for which we need much more reliable information.

In order to read the texts the tablets must be carefully unfolded. Given their usually brittle condition, this process can only be successfully performed in the laboratory. Distortion and cracking from folding and rolling have frequently affected the appearance of the texts. When freshly cut the strokes of the text would have shone against their background, but subsequent oxidisation has made both tablet surface and incisions the same dull grey. Corrosion has sometimes removed or damaged the surface of the tablets. Light must be cast from several different angles on to the tablet in order to render visible all the separate strokes that make up letters. The results of this examination are produced in drawings, on which the readings and subsequent translations of the tablets are based. It is impossible for a single photograph to reproduce adequately all the parts of all letters.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Exhibit of North African Mosaics now at the Getty Villa!

I was so excited to see the notice about the "Stories in Stone" exhibit of north African Roman Mosaics that has opened at the Getty Villa! I had hoped to go down there and now I have a particular reason to go before April 30, 2007!

"This exhibition presents a selection of mosaics from the national museums of Tunisia. They are among the finest of the thousands of mosaics produced between the second and the sixth centuries A.D. in the Roman province of Africa Proconsularis, a portion of which is known today as Tunisia.

These works, fashioned as pavements for both public buildings and private homes, represent subjects such as nature, theater and spectacle, and myths, gods, and goddesses. The exhibition also includes material on the conservation of mosaics and on the work of the Getty Conservation Institute's field project on conservation of mosaics in situ.

Mosaic art flourished in North Africa, where the diversity of limestone and marble fostered a tradition of polychromatic (multicolored) work. Beginning in the late second century, mosaics made in Roman Africa became more colorful, featuring geometric designs embellished with floral patterns. During the third century, scenes with figures emerged. In public baths, for example, mosaics often related to the sea and depicted natural elements as well as marine gods. In the fourth century, increasingly original decorative motifs included laurel garlands and crowns as borders. Figural compositions portrayed vignettes of daily life, such as hunting, fishing, athletics, and amphitheater games."

I was afraid I might never get a chance to travel to Tunisia to see their wonderful mosaics because of my husbands fear of me traveling in the region because of all of the anti-American sentiment. Now I have a chance to see at least some of them.

Maybe I can arrange to visit by February 1 and then I can see the special lecture, Puzzling Iconography:

Christine Kondoleon, senior curator of Greek and Roman art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, explores the enigmatic iconography of several mosaics in the exhibition

Thursday, February 1, 2007, 8:00 p.m.

I also noticed that the Getty is selling two very interesting books on mosaics:

Stories in Stone: Conserving Mosaics of Roman Africa
Edited by Aicha Ben Abed and

Tunisian Mosaics: Treasures from Roman Africa
By Aicha Ben Abed

The Getty is charging $75 for the first book (a hardcover) and $29.95 for the second book but I found the first book on Amazon and preordered it for only $29.95 and the second book for only $19.77. Plus I don't have to stuff them in my suitcase!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Carlisle's Roman History subject of new website

News & Star: "CARLISLE?S Roman history is the subject of an interactive website launched at Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery yesterday.

The website for primary school teachers and pupils, is an informative resource for teachers as well as having child-friendly activities which deliver information on the Romans in the area.

An interactive map details what the Romans were doing and where, in relation to modern Carlisle, and there is a reconstruction of a skull found at an excavation site at the north end of The Lanes.

Julie Wooding, Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery learning and access officer, said it has taken a lot of hard work and creative skills to ensure it is the resource teachers require. "

Friday, September 08, 2006

Teaching Company's new course on Classical Archaeology fascinating

I'm presently listening to the Teaching Company's new course on Classical Greek and Roman archaeology and am enjoying it immensely. I had no idea that Sir William Hamilton, husband of the Emma Hamilton who was the paramour of Admiral Horatio Nelson, was the man that really began the serious study of Greek vases. I also found it interesting that the lecturer, Dr. John Hale of the University of Louisville, observed that the original Bourbon-sponsored excavation at Herculaneum under the supervision of military engineer Rocco Gioacchino Alcubierre was conducted with a high degree of professionalism and was not as amateurish as so-called father of classical archaeology, Johann Winckelmann, would have people believe.

According to Dr. Hale, Winckelmann was outraged that he was not allowed to go down into the tunnels when he first visited Herculaneum and subsequently published unfounded claims that the work there was being shoddily done.

Dr. Hale is also more sympathetic to Heinrich Schleimann than other classicists. He said he feels that Schleimann, although orignally recklessly greedy for fame and unscrupulous in his original methods, eventually attempted to conduct work in his later life with a much more professional approach. He also feels the study of archaeology needed these types of flamboyant individuals from time to time to continue to spark enthusiasm for the field.

In this morning's lecture he also talked about the efforts of German archaeologist Edmund Buchner to find remnants of Augustus' mighty Horologium, a giant sun dial the size of two football fields that used an Egyptian obelisk originally created for Pharaoh Psammetichus as its gnomon, constructed on the Campus Martius. Of course Buchner succeeded in 1979, uncovering part of it in the cellar of a cafeteria in the Via di Campo Marzio. I noticed a website that said permission to see the original marble paving revealed by Buchner is available from the German Archaeological Society.

A good article about it can be read at:

Friday, August 04, 2006

Imperial Rome new exhibit to open September 23 at the Fernbank Museum

The Weekly Online!: "Fernbank Museum of Natural History presents 350 years of illustrious world history with the world-premiere of a special exhibition that explores the legacy of the Roman Empire. Featuring 450 artifacts that range from small coins to larger-than-life statues, Imperial Rome showcases the brilliance of ancient Roman society during its glory days. The exhibition will open on the 2069th birthday of Caesar Augustus, Rome?s first emperor, and will be on view from September 23, 2006-January 3, 2007.

Created through a collaboration between Italy?s Contemporanea Progetti, Florence, and Atlanta?s Fernbank Museum of Natural History, the exhibition examines life during the era of Imperial Rome through a series of galleries showcasing the legendary emperors, gods, households, lifestyles, and peace, or Pax Romana, established by the powerful military. "

Teaching Company offers new course on Roman Archaeology

I see that The Teaching Company is offering a new course on Greek and Roman Archaeology.

" In these 36 half-hour lectures, archaeologist John R. Hale of the University of Louisville guides you through dozens of ancient sites with the skill of a born storyteller. Dr. Hale mixes the exotic adventures, unexpected insights, and abiding mysteries of archaeology's fabled history with anecdotes of his own extensive field experience to create an extremely fast-paced narrative that unfolds like a series of detective stories.

The detective metaphor is particularly apt because archaeologists approach their work like sleuths at a crime scene, using a range of tools, techniques, and technologies to piece together clues that paint a vivid portrait of life during the formative era of Western civilization.

For example, in Lecture 18, Dr. Hale recounts his own search with geologist Jelle de Boer for the secret behind the ecstatic trances of the Oracle of Delphi?a project celebrated in the recent book The Oracle: The Lost Secrets and Hidden Message of Ancient Delphi by Pulitzer Prize?winning reporter William J. Broad of The New York Times. Dr. Hale and Dr. de Boer used traditional archaeological techniques, combined with geological mapping and chemical analysis of rock and water samples, to solve the mystery of the priestess's famous altered states.

Dr. Hale's other research includes a long-running position as field director for the University of Louisville's excavations at Torre de Palma, and he is a participant in the search for sunken ships from the armada that attacked Greece during the Persian Wars, as recounted by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus. The winner of many classroom teaching awards, Dr. Hale has also lectured widely beyond the university, bringing archaeological discoveries to the general public."

It sounds really interesting so I have ordered my copy!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Early "anti-tank" vehicles used at the battle of Asculum

In Dr. Gerald Fagan's lecture series, "Great Battles of the Ancient World", he mentioned that at the battle of Asculum where the Romans squared off against the Epirotes under King Pyrrhus, the Romans introduced a new weapon to counteract the use of war elephants. Dr. Fagan describes these vehicles as anti-elephant wagons. They apparently were enclosed vehicles bristling with spears that contained javelineers.

Wikipedia describes them as "these were ox-led chariots, equipped with long spikes to wound the elephants, pots of fire to scare them, and screening troops who would hurl javelins at the elephants to drive them back."

Dr. Fagan pointed out that they may have been effective if they had been deployed properly. Apparently the Roman commander deployed them on the Roman left so Pyrrhus simply moved his war elephants to the other end of the line.

Since I had never heard of these early "anti-tank" vehicles, I found it all very interesting.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

British outbred by Anglo-Saxon 'apartheid'

IOL: "The Anglo-Saxons who conquered England in the fifth century set up a system of apartheid that enabled them to master and outbreed the native British majority, according to gene research published on Wednesday.

In less than 15 generations, more than half of the population in England had the genes of the invaders, investigators say.

'The native Britons were genetically and culturally absorbed by the Anglo-Saxons over a period of as little as a few hundred years,' said Mark Thomas, a University College London biologist.

'They prevented the British genes from getting to the Anglo-Saxon'
'An initially small invading Anglo-Saxon elite could have quickly established themselves by having more children who survived to adulthood, thanks to their military power and economic advantage.

'We believe that they also prevented the native British genes getting into the Anglo-Saxon population by restricting intermarriage in a system of apartheid that left the country culturally and genetically Germanised,' he said.

'This is what we see today - a population of largely Germanic genetic origin, speaking a principally German language.'"

Roman militarism and the definition of warfare

I am listening to a new Teaching Company lecture series entitled "Great Battles of the Ancient World" presented by Professor Garrett G. Fagan
of Pennsylvania State University. His first few lectures explores the various theories about what characteristics define warfare as opposed to other forms of communal violence. One predominate theory is that warfare is distinguished by the use of formations, tactics, and generally uniform weaponry and training. (Sorry, I don't have my course handbook with me so I don't remember the scholar's name putting forth this definition. This made me wonder, though, how proponents of this theory would categorize Roman battles with ethnic groups that did not embrace these hallmark traits, like the Celts or the Germanic tribes. Does warfare exist if only one side employs the distinguishing characteristics of what some scholars define as warfare? I was also surprised that this theory did not take into account communal political goals usually surrounding governance that, to me, would be more of a hallmark of formal warfare than the physical trappings of combat.

Another point Dr. Fagan discussed was that formal warfare appears to become more culturally entrenched in more segmented societies. By segmented, I assume he means hierarchical. This made me wonder about the cultural differences between Rome and Carthage. Both cultures engaged in warfare but Carthage concentrated on commerical development and trade rather than military conquest as its mode of growth. Was Roman culture more segmented than that of Carthage? I know both cultures had slavery and both cultures had an elite aristocracy, but were the social rules governing the "middle class" far more structured in Rome than Carthage? Was this a factor in the emphasis on military achievement in Rome as compared to commercial achievement in Carthage?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

BBC production examines the 'why' of art

BBC production examines the 'why' of art: "'How Art Made the World' may sound like a grandiose title, but the five-part series makes some good arguments in support of that saucy assertion.

Co-producers public television station KCET and the BBC reject the predictable chronological format of 'who did what when' and focus on the question 'Why?' Why are representations of the human body frequently so unrealistic? Why do abstract patterns appear in prehistoric cave paintings? Why do humans create images of death?

The episodes visit sites both remote and spectacular on several continents (Asia is not represented, but that's a longer series) to explore the earliest known examples of artistic expression. They couple those objects -- which range from figurines to temples -- with the latest thinking of not only art historians and archaeologists but of psychologists and neuroscientists.

Highlights of some of the episodes are cave and rock paintings in Europe, Africa and North America, presented with evidence that their abstract patterning derives from trance states, and the filming of such a ritual; works commissioned by the likes of King Darius of Persia, Alexander the Great, and the Roman Augustus for political empowerment and propaganda; a first-century Greek grotto with digitally re-created statues depicting a dramatic scene from Homer's "Odysseus"; an Australian aboriginal storytelling ceremony that amplifies the impact of archetypal painted images; and an Etruscan tomb wherein heavenly and hellish scenes of the afterlife encourage self-sacrifice for the common good over surrender."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Heroic literature's role in reducing warrior violence

I have now started a new lecture series about the High Middle Ages and find it interesting that with the loss of an emphasis on education and classical literature there seems to have been a precipitous decline in what I would call social conscience during late antiquity up to the High Middle Ages. Dr. Philip Daileader is presenting this lecture series too and he described how severe the problems of noble violence became. Where in the Roman Empire, the wealthy elite were expected to provide civil service and public works, a large number of the warrior elite of the early and high Middle Ages simply used their power to brutalize and extort more wealth from those around them whether another noble, merchant, or peasant.

Dr. Daileader said that clerics tried to stem the tide of violence with the peace and later truce of God movements but the most successful efforts to rein in the aristocracy were achieved with the introduction of chivalric literature modelled somewhat after classical heroic literature.

Dr. Daileader's description of early tournaments was also quite eye-opening. Like war games with fully loaded weapons, these tournaments would be as hazardous to those living near the site where the tournament was to take place as it was to participants. He said that if an opponent hid in a farmhouse, a participant would often burn down the farmhouse to "capture" the opponent, apparently without any concern for the farmer whatsoever. He also described kippers who were peasants with clubs hired by tournament participants to run out on the field and club an unhorsed knight senseless so he could be more easily stripped of his armor. If the person died, I guess that was just considered the breaks! These activities didn't sound any kinder or gentler than gladiator combat!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Depopulation as a primary cause of the fall of the western Roman Empire

In the concluding lecture of "The Early Middle Ages", Dr. Daileader
points out the shortcomings of the "fall" theories of both Edward
Gibbon and Henri Pirenne. Instead, he points to widespread
archaeological evidence of severe depopulation occuring between the
2nd and 7th centuries as the factor underming both the Roman economy
and the Roman military.

He stated that there was evidence of urban decay as early as 200 CE
with successive footprints of towns and cities growing smaller and
smaller. Although some of the urban population may have moved back to
the country, studies of laws dealing with deserted lands also became
increasingly more desperate from the 2nd century onward.

He admits climate change and increased warfare may have played a role,
but there is evidence that new diseases introduced during the second
century, measles and smallpox (probably from China), were devastating
even before the Bubonic plague made its first appearance in the 6th
century. The resulting deurbanization severely impacted such Roman
institutions as its educational systems.

Although he attributed the loss of organized institutions to
depopulation it still leaves the question of why there was a cessation
of tutorage among the elite unless they, too, became so impoverished
they could no longer afford tutors?

As for Pirenne's theory of economic collapse because of disruption of
trade routes by Islamic conquests, Dr. Daileader points out that
current research shows that trade was still quite active through the
Northern Arc via Viking traders. In fact, Daileader points out that
the number of major routes (via Russia) connecting the Mediterranean
with Carolingian Europe actually increased sixfold. He highly
recommended Michael Mccormick's book "Origins of the European Economy:
Communications and Commerce" that was published in 2001 as an
excellent study of this phenomenon.

Church efforts to reshape Roman and Barbarian family structures

I continue to be enthralled by Dr. Daileader's course "The Early Middle Ages" offered through The Teaching Company".

Another fascinating area that Dr. Daileader expounds upon is the
evolution of the family structure during Late Antiquity and the Early
Middle Ages. Dr. Daileader pointed out that Roman and Germanic
families shared several important traits. These include the fact that
a family was based on a concept of household rather than core family
unit. The household would include servants, clients, and property.
Heads of households wielded extensive power over its members including
the acceptance or rejection of newborns. Both Roman and Germanic
peoples practiced marriage but accepted other relational forms such as
concubinage and divorce was an acceptable practice to terminate a
relationship. Both Romans and Barbarians favored indogamy (marriage
within the kin group) to preserve concentrations of wealth within the
extended family. Adoption was also viewed as a totally acceptable way
to augment a family if appropriate heirs had not been produced.

But, significant differences existed as well. Romans practiced
monogamy while polygamy was widely practiced among Germanic tribes.
In a Roman marriage, property was transferred from the bride's family
(dowry) to the groom while in Germanic marriage, the property transfer
went from the groom to the bride in form of bride price and morning
gifts. A Roman marriage required the freely given consent of the two
individuals but a Germanic marriage did not. (He pointed out that
under Roman law a pater familias could involk the death penalty if an
offspring refused to go through with a prearranged marriage but the
marriage itself could not be performed unless both parties agreed to it).

As the two cultures began to fuse and Christianity spread, however,
the church sought to openly reshape family patterns. The church began
to impose sanctions against marriage within the kin group going as far
as the sixth cousin and even forbid marriage to members of godparents
families and even in-laws family members. The church condemmed
infanticide but also opposed adoption. The church opposed divorce but
also opposed remarriage of widows and widowers. Lastly the church
condemned concubinage.

Historian Jack Goody theorized that the church attacked these
practicies because they were strategies of heirship designed to
maximize the possibility of producing an heir so family property could
be transmitted to the next generation. He speculates that this was
done to increase the chances that the church would ultimately receive
bequests of property and increase its concentration of wealth.

Historian David Herlihy argued that the church condemed these
practices for reasons of morality, theology, and social utility. As I
do not see what the moral purpose was for opposing adoption,
remarriage of widows and widowers, and marrying extremely distant
relatives, I find it hard to accept Herlily's argument. It was also at
this time that the Carolingians introduced the 10 percent tithe
extracted with the force of secular law from all practitioners in an
effort to increase church finances so a network of churches could be
built throughout the Carolingian empire. So I personally would be
more receptive to Goody's theory than Herlihy's.

Friday, June 16, 2006

'The Rape of the Sabine Women' Will Preview at the Nasher Museum of Art

'The Rape of the Sabine Women' Will Preview at the Nasher Museum of Art: "The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University will present the preview exhibition of a new video, ?The Rape of the Sabine Women,? by Eve Sussman and her international company of collaborators, The Rufus Corporation, from July 6 through Sept. 24.

The new work is a video-musical inspired by the French neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David?s masterpiece, ?The Intervention of the Sabine Women? (1794-1799), documenting the ancient Roman myth of abduction. It features choreography by Claudia de Serpa Soares, costuming by Karen Young and an original score by composer Jonathan Bepler.

The video, about one hour long, will be on a continuous loop on a large screen as the sole exhibition in one of the museum?s main galleries. The NasherMuseum is the first venue to preview the video, a work in progress that Sussman and The Rufus Corporation will continue to edit.

The Nasher Museum of Art is a major new arts center on Duke?s campus that serves the university, Research Triangle area and surrounding region with exhibitions and educational programs.

The Rufus Corporation?s sources for the project include contemporary news photography; paintings by David, Peter Paul Rubens and Nicolas Poussin; early modern architecture in Greece and Berlin; and experimental films of the 1960s. The video was shot on location in Greece and Germany.

?The Rape of the Sabine Women? is a modern process piece that pits the mid-20th-century ideal of ?better living through design? against such eternal themes as power, longing, aggression and desire. Months of improvisation went into creating a work in which the banality of a love triangle grows to epic proportions. Women and children ultimately intervene in a battle that develops from the modernist dream gone awry.

The final fight is staged at Herodion theatre in Athens. Five iconic locations (the PergamonMuseum and the TempelhofAirport in Berlin; the Athens Meat Market; a seaside home built in 1961 by the architect Nikos Valsamakis and the Herodion Theatre at the Acropolis) metaphorically echo classic, fascist and modernist themes behind the power struggles played out by the characters."

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Dr. Philip Daileader Teaching Company course on the Early Middle Ages fascinating!

I began listening to the Teaching Company course ?The Early Middle Ages? presented by Dr. Philip Daileader of the College of William and Mary and became almost immediately intrigued by a discussion of the writings of Belgian historian Henri Pirenne. Unlike Edward Gibbon who attributed the fall of the Roman Empire to a loss of moral fiber and incursion by the Germanic barbarians, Pirenne postulates that the fall didn?t really occur until the 7th and 8th centuries and attributes the eventual decay of European urban centers to the disruption of international trade networks brought about by the Muslim conquest of the Mediterranean region. Pirenne based this thesis, outlined in his book ?Mohammed and Charlemagne? published in 1937, on such observations as the disappearance of gold coin and papyrus north of the Alps that he points to as a clear indication that Europeans no longer had access to the richer areas of the Mediterranean during this time.

Lecture 2 about the Early Middle Ages focused on Diocletian?s reforms to the economic and social structures of the Roman Empire in his attempt to strengthen the empire through authoritarian means. As most of my study of the Roman Empire has been centered on the late Republican period, I know very little about the third century CE except that Diocletian formed a tetrarchy in an attempt to make management of the Roman Empire more efficient and responsive. But, today I learned about Diocletian?s more radical social and economic reforms that essentially lay the foundation for development of the feudal system. Dr. Daileader explained that Roman taxation was based on land production so it was detrimental to have citizens abandoning their farms and migrating to the cities looking for better opportunities. So Diocletian enactied laws that essentially bound people to the land and made them responsible for whatever taxes the land should be capable of producing. He then empowered large landowners to act as judicial officers to not only handle legal problems that might arise on the estate but eventually to collect taxes (ostensibly for Rome although abuse was almost immediate) as well (I couldn?t help but envision the Sheriff of Nottingham!). Diocletian implemented this system by conducting an empire-wide census that required people to register at their place of origin.

Diocletian also analyzed the economy and designated certain occupations as essential to the empire. For people engaged in these occupations, he made it mandatory that their family members would succeed them in the business if the primary provider died. For example, he determined that baking bread was essential to the empire so all sons of bakers had to become bakers to ensure that an adequate amount of the commodity would always be produced.

As for Diocletian himself, I guess he succeeded in requiring petitioners to prostrate themselves in front of his throne (apparently 3rd century CE Romans were more easy to manipulate than the Macedonians of Alexander the Great?s time!), kiss the hem of his gown, and call him ?Lord and God?. No more of this ?princeps? business!

More interesting details today in Dr. Daileader?s lecture about the Emperor Julian?s efforts to reestablish paganism as the religion of choice in the 4th century. He described how Julian issued an edict that restricted the teaching of classical Greek literature to only pagan tutors. Julian thought that the elite considered Greek literature the very foundation of a proper education so would hire pagan tutors for their children if the study of Greek literature was not available from anyone else. These pagan tutors would then influence their charges much in the same way Julian himself was influenced by a pagan tutor.

Dr. Daileader said in response to this edict, Christian tutors took passages of the gospels and transformed them into examples of Greek tragedies, comedies, and Homeric epics so their students would have an understanding of these classical literary forms. I wonder if any of those efforts are extant?

I wish modern educational institutions would place as much importance on the elements of a classical education as the Romans did!

Trajan's Squares exhibit part of Italian June in Bucharest

BUCHAREST DAILY NEWS: "The Italian Embassy will hold a series of cultural events in Bucharest throughout June, in an effort to emphasize the partnership between Romania and Italy.
Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini suggested that the series of events that encompass cultural happenings in some of the most popular locations in Bucharest are part of a greater strategy of making the Italian culture known to Romanians.

The events will start on May 30, when the National History Museum will inaugurate an exhibition entitled "Traian's Squares," which will depict one of the most flourishing epochs of ancient Rome. The History Museum will also host a show performed by Faber Theatre at 3 p.m. The Italian performing also announced their participation for the Theater Festival in Sibiu. Also on June 1, the Italian Cultural Institute will host a photography exhibition by Italian artist Maurizio Biancarelli under the auspices of Perugia Province. On June 2, on the occasion of the Italian National Day, the ambassador will host a reception that will include a demonstration of flag throwers from Gubbio, in the region of Umbria. The flag throwers will also demonstrate their talent on June 4 with a show beginning at 12 p.m. at Charles de Gaulle Square. On June 8, the Italian Embassy will host the illumination of the Romanian Athenaeum. Green Hours, which is well known for its jazz concerts and experimental theater evenings, will also host the tango concert of the Italian "Nuovo Tango Ensamble" on June 9. The "Summer Celebration" will be opened by I Solisti Veneti, supported by the George Enescu Philarmonic.
Professor Valerio Massimo Manfredi will hold a press conference at the Italian Cultural Institute. According to Ambassador Daniele Mancini, Massimo Manfredi is a well-known historian and archaeologist and is one of the most translated writers in his field. The writer is to present his second most recent novel, "Il Tirano," which is a study of the island of Sicily before the Roman conquest."

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Matthew B. Roller - Horizontal Women: Posture and Sex in the Roman Convivium - American Journal of Philology 124:3

American Journal of Philology 124:3: "Contrary to the view that "respectable" women dined seated until the Augustan era, I argue that a women (of any status) could always dine reclining alongside a man, and that this signifies a licit sexual connection. The sitting posture, seen mostly in sub-elite visual representations, introduces further complexities of practice and ideology. In general, postures attributed to women function more as indicators of sexual mores than as direct representations of social practice?."

"...To begin with the earliest Roman literature, several Plautine dramas (late third to early second century B.C.E.) contain convivial scenes in which high-status males dine and drink while reclining in one another's company and alongside courtesans. The convivium is thus a place where such males enjoy a nexus of pleasures: wine, food, companionship, and the prospect (at least) of sex. 8 These convivial pleasures persist in the late republic as well.

Cicero, early in his treatise on the ideal orator (De Or. 1.27), contrasts such pleasures with more serious activities and concerns (i.e., negotia). He relates that, when he was a young man, the senior senator and orator Cotta regaled him with a story from Cotta's own youth. Cotta said that he himself had participated one day in a gloomy and difficult discussion with certain eminences grises regarding the condition of the state. Following this discussion, however, when the party repaired to the dining couches, the host Crassus dispelled the prevailing gloom with his humanity, urbanity, and pleasantness. Cotta contrasts these moods as follows: "in the company of these men the day seemed to have been spent in the senate-house, while the dinner party seemed to have been spent at [a suburban villa in] Tusculum." 9 That is, the grave affairs of state (negotia), which filled the day's conversation, stereotypically occupied the curia at the political heart of the Roman republican forum, while the pleasurable, cheerful fellowship of the evening convivium (otium) better suited a country villa. Cicero himself, says Plutarch (Cic. 8.4), almost never reclined for dinner before sundown, pleading a bad stomach and also his ascholia (i.e., negotia) as keeping him away. Julius Caesar, a busy man, rather eccentrically combined business with pleasure: Plutarch remarks upon the fact that he regularly dealt with his correspondence while reclining at dinner. 10

Moving onward, Horace contrasts otium and negotium, though not necessarily in these terms, in some of his dinner-invitation poems (e.g., Carm. 2.11, 3.8, 3.29), for he dangles before his addressee?in each case, a magistrate busy with public affairs?the enticements of companionship, sex, and especially wine, requesting that he seize these pleasures and yield for the evening his anxious cares on behalf of the state. 11 Likewise, one declamation in the elder Seneca's collection (Cont. 9.2) posits that a provincial governor executed a criminal in the midst of a convivium at a prostitute's request. Many of the declaimers who handle this theme explore the shocking collapse of the otium/negotium distinction that this situation envisions. For judicial matters, such as punishing criminals, belong in the forum, not the dining room; they should be done by daylight, not at night, and so on. 12 The younger Seneca, in Ep. 71.21, contrasts "lying in a convivium" with "lying on the rack" (i.e., for torture). The former, he acknowledges, is pleasant while the latter is unpleasant, yet the two kinds of reclining are indifferent in regard to Stoic moral value. Finally, Martial (Epig. 14.135) gives voice to an outfit of dining-clothes (cenatoria), which primly defines its proper realm by contrast with "serious" business: "neither the forum nor going to bail are familiar to us: our job is to recline on embroidered couches." 13 These passages are purely illustrative, and by no means exhaustive; they merely show how elite Romans consistently slotted conviviality into the category of otium and regarded it as encompassing a variety of specific pleasures: wine, food, conversation, companionship, sex. They also show how such Romans distinguished conviviality broadly, and the reclining posture that symbolizes it, from activities they perceived as serious or mundane (i.e. negotia), or unpleasant."

"...The next body of evidence dates from the late republic. In this period, too, we find women of diverse social and sexual statuses reclining alongside elite males at convivia. Certainly women of low status figure among these. In his second Catilinarian oration (Cat. 2.10), delivered in 63 B.C.E., Cicero invokes the specter of a debauched convivium in which wine-soaked, gluttonous, perfume-drenched followers of Catiline, exhausted by their illicit sexual exertions, embrace "shameless women" as they recline, plotting murder and fiery destruction for the city. Similarly, in a letter of 46 B.C.E., Cicero describes a convivium at the house of Volumnius Eutrapelus in Rome, attended by a number of male aristocrats, in which the actress and courtesan Cytheris was also present and reclining to dine: infra Eutrapelum Cytheris accubuit. . . non me hercule suspicatus sum illam adfore (Fam. 9.26.2). Bradley (1998, 47) explains that Cytheris reclined because "[s]he was an actress, and for a woman of her profession, or that of a meretrix, the conventions of respectable society did not apply," where by "conventions of respectable society," he presumably means the "strict protocol" (mentioned in the same paragraph), whereby the dutiful, subordinate wife sat while her husband reclined. Cytheris was assuredly not married to Eutrapelus but was his freedwoman and was almost certainly his sexual partner at one time or another. 46<>Att. 5.1), Cicero describes the rudeness of Atticus' sister Pomponia to her husband Quintus Cicero, Marcus' brother, during a day the three spent together while traveling. First, Marcus reports, she harshly rejected Quintus' suggestion that the three collectively host a dinner. Then she refused to join the Cicero brothers and their guests as they reclined for a meal and rejected food that Quintus sent her from the table. Finally, to cap it all, she refused to sleep with Quintus. 47 Marcus makes clear that at every stage Pomponia behaved unreasonably, unsociably, and undutifully. He faults her, then, not merely for refusing to recline with Quintus among the dinner company and then refusing to retire to bed with him. By commenting also on the harshness of her words and on her rejection of food sent her from the table, Marcus seems to invoke a larger social expectation or norm that wives (at least elite ones) were equal partners with their husbands in the pleasure and leisure of the convivium. They should enjoy the same nourishment (hence the gesture of sending food), the same company and conversation, and presumably the same sexual titillation (hence the expectation of retiring to bed together) that normatively characterize the convivial experience for reclining men. These are precisely the expectations that Plautus' Alcmena invoked in conversation with her own spouse. 48 This Plautine and Ciceronian evidence begins to suggest a pattern. Since, in all these passages, the woman who reclines (or is expected to recline) alongside a man on a dining couch is known or likely to be sexually attached to him, it is tempting to propose that the converse is true: namely, a man and woman who recline together on the same couch in a convivial setting thereby signal their sexual connection, regardless of the woman's status. Such a partnership presents itself as "licit"?i.e., involving a man and women who can have sex without stuprum. "Licit" relationships range from marriage proper to quasi-marital relationships (concubinatus or contubernium), to the sexual use of one's own or others' slaves, to prostitution. 49 Conversely, it is a grave transgression if a couple who cannot have licit sex reclines together to dine, for their posture and juxtaposition would be taken to imply that they do, nevertheless, have sex and so are guilty of stuprum. 50< This interpretation is incompatible with the scholarly communis opinio (itself an interpretation of Varro and Valerius) that "respectable" women dined seated in the republican period. I suggest, rather, that any women not precluded under the rubric of stuprum, including both "respectable" ones (i.e., wives) and "non-respectable" ones (e.g., prostitutes), could and did dine reclining alongside their male sexual partners, thereby visibly affirming the existence and social legitimacy of that partnership. Nevertheless, crucial differences remain between women at the high and low ends of this social spectrum. Slave prostitutes, for instance, being inherently instrumental to the pleasure of the privileged, reclining males, can only have reclined on the males' sufferance and only if they thereby made an especially significant contribution to the males' convivial pleasure (e.g., by charging up the erotic atmosphere or providing entertainment). Presumably they could be reduced to standing in service, or be required to do something entirely else, at any time. At the other social extreme, elite wives, in reclining alongside their husbands in convivia, thereby participated substantially or fully in the leisure and various pleasures of the event. They benefited from the slaves' attention no less than their husbands; they shared the same food, drink, entertainment, and erotic subjectivity as their husbands; and?on the evidence of Pomponia?they substantially controlled their own level of engagement, far from being automatically subject to their husbands' commands or wishes. What modes of participation might have been available to a socially intermediate figure like Cytheris?neither a slave nor a wife, but a freedwoman who socialized at the highest levels of elite male society?is less clear, though we catch sight of her reclining alongside her patron and (probable) sexual partner, apparently participating fully.

Representations of women's conviviality become more plentiful in Augustan and imperial texts. These representations confirm that a woman's dining posture?at least in elite male company?expresses her sexuality, but they show considerable ambivalence about the consequences of such expression. Especially striking are several tableaux in Ovid's elegiac poetry where the male lover, reclining in a convivium, observes his beloved reclining on another couch with another man and plots to seduce her. In Amores 1.4, the woman in question is explicitly described as reclining alongside a man, the image of her "warm[ing] the breast of another, placed close below him" (alteriusque sinus apte subiecta fovebis? v. 5), and the other gestures of intimacy that the poet-lover observes or fears that the two may exchange (vv. 4-6, 15-16, 29-30, 33-44) suggest that readers would understand this couple as reclining in close physical contact, with the man at the head of the couch and the woman slightly toward the foot, her back against his chest. That is, he reclines above her (in the high position on the couch) and she below him (in the low position). Clearly, this positioning facilitates physical contact, among other things. 51The lover, for his part, proposes a set of signals that he and his beloved might exchange, across the distance that separates them, to signify their attraction and perhaps set up a tryst. A similar tableau in the Heroides (16.217-58) depicts a banquet in Sparta in which the hosts, Helen and Menelaus, recline together on a couch exchanging various physical intimacies, while Paris, their guest, watches enviously from another couch. Here, too, the sexually charged atmosphere made possible by mixed-sex reclining on a dining couch is vividly portrayed. 52In a third passage, Ars Amatoria 1.565-608, Ovid presents these same convivial practices and social dynamics in a didactic mode: he advises his reader how to proceed if, at a convivium, he should notice an attractive woman reclining on another couch alongside another man."

Friday, May 12, 2006

Lucius Artorius Castus by Linda A. Malcor

Having just returned from England, I have renewed my interest in the complex history of Roman Britain and find myself resesarching more an more about the various cultures that inhabited that land. I think, despite the criticism levied about the film, the movie "King Arthur" starring Clive Owen is probably closer to the truth surrounding the possible existence of a real King Arthur than any medieval legends.

I know the programs I watched about the foundations of the King Arthur legend did mention the existence of a Roman officer named "Lucius Artorius Castus" who led a documented campaign against the Armoricans in the second century C.E. and some scholars speculate a descendant of his could have been the Arthur of the early Dark Ages.

"Castus has gained in popularity over the years as more has been deduced about him and the period in which he lived. The primary evidence that Castus even existed is slim: one, extremely extensive, autobiographical resume on three fragments from a sarcophagus, which were found in a fence/wall near Epetium (modern Strobrez in Podstrana) and one corroborating memorial plaque found near the chapel of St. Martin (Sveti Martin) of Podstrana on the Adriatic Highway.3 The reconstruction of the main inscription can be translated as:

To the spirits of the departed: Lucius Artorius Castus, centurion of the III legion Gallica, also centurion of the VI legion Ferrata, also centurion of the II legion Adiutrix, also centurion of the V legion Macedonica, also primus pilus of the same [the V legion Macedonica], praepositus of the classis Misenatium (the fleet on the Bay of Naples), praefectus of the VI legion Victrix, dux of the legions of cohorts of cavalry from Britain against the Armoricans, procurator centenarius of the province of Liburnia, with the power to issue death sentences. In his lifetime he himself [possibly: "fecit," "had this made"] for himself and his family . . . ["possibly H. s. est," "lies buried here".4

In addition to the Castus inscriptions, there are what I believe to be other references to him in some of the "nameless" figures that appear in the histories of Cassius Dio and Herodian.

When Malone wrote his article, the stones bearing the Castus inscriptions had not, to his knowledge, been dated. Scholars now believe that the pieces of Castus's sarcophagus date to no later than 200 (Kirigin and Marin 1989:143),5 which means that Lucius Artorius Castus most likely died prior to that date. There is precisely one military action known to have been lead by a dux in the late second century, and that is a military expedition to Armorica in 185, which is documented by Herodian (10.1-7; Whittaker 1969:61-67).6 The dux for this expedition is not named in the text, but, given the inscriptions from Liburnia, the officer had to be Lucius Artorius Castus.7 Given the known date for the Armorica campaign and the fact that the Artorii were of the equestrian class, it becomes possible to reconstruct the life of this obscure individual in rather surprising detail." - Linda A. Malcor, "The Heroic Age: Lucius Artorius Castus, An Officer and An Equestrian

Ms. Malcor goes on to describe the various tours of duty this outstanding cavalry officer had, correlating them to other historical events occurring during his service and reflects her extensive research. If he wasn't the ancestor of "King Arthur" he definitely should have been. His relationships with conquered Sarmatians is paralelled in the Hollywood film. If you saw the film in the theater, try renting or buying the DVD. It contains more background material and is far superior to the theatrical release.

I just finished listening to Valerio Manfredi's "The Last Legion". It is a work of fiction but takes place during the takeover of Italy by Odacer. In it, Manfredi postulates that the last boy emperor Romulus is wrested from confinement on Capri and is spirited away to Britannia where he fulfills an ancient legend of a boy from the east who will lead the Britons in a victorious battle for freedom at a place called Mount Baden under the banner of a dragon. Romulus does so and his followers dub him "Pendragon". He marries the daughter of a local chieftain and they have a son they name "Arthur" - an entertaining piece of alternative history!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Romans in Malta Subject of New Heritage Trail

I see that Heritage Malta is conducting another thematic heritage trail on Sunday 7th May with the focus on the Roman Domus in Rabat and the archaeological site of Tas-Silg. "Tas-Silg has been identified by Ancient Greek and Roman geographers and writers -- most importantly in the works of Cicero -- as having served as an active cultural, political and commercial centre of the ancient world. Excavation works, carried out by the Missione Archeologica Italiana of the University of Rome and the University of Malta in collaboration with Heritage Malta and which are still taking place, uncovered structures and artefacts dating back to the Prehistoric, Phoenician, Punic, Roman, Byzantine and the Middle Age periods."

The Roman Villa and Museum sounds very interesting: "The villa probably belonged to a wealthy Roman merchant or a senior official. The siting has an Italian flair, looking west over the valley towards what is now Mtarfa.

The villa and its grounds were first excavated in 1881. The clean Neo-Classical temple museum building now camouflaged by a forecourt of citrus trees was built in 1921-24 during the second round of excavations.

Not all the museum's exhibits were unearthed within the villa's grounds. Among the artifacts and architectural fragments is an olive-pipper found in Marsaxlokk, parts of flourmills made from Italian lava, and tombstones. The cabinets display terra-cotta ornaments, theatrical masks, glassware, amphorae, lamps from Imperial Rome and a section of fine mosaic from the villa.

The corner stairs lead down to what remains of the villa itself. The main attraction is the now-roofed square mosaic-covered atrium, or central court, enclosed by 16 columns, only one of which is original. The whole of this area would have been roofed except for the impluvium of two birds sitting on a water bowl, from which rainwater would drain to the cistern in the corner. The two rooms off the atrium were, on the left, the triclinium or dining room, which housed the mosaic in the museum, and the reception room. Some heavy-handed restoration has left the remaining mosaics in poor order. In the small annex are relics from later Arabic graves found within the grounds.

Other items in the courtyard include the famous motif of an astonished open-mouthed woman from a mosaic's border, a blurred scene of either a satyr being teased by maenads (orgiastic nymphs) or Delilah and Samson, and marble statues and busts including Octavia, the mother of Emperor Claudius."

The 5th Century Anglo-Saxon Invasion of England

When I was in England recently, I was surprised by a change in thought about the Saxon invasion (or should I now say immigration?) of Britain during the fall of the Roman Empire. A tour guide made it sound as if the Saxons were well settled in Britain by then and indicated they just "rose to prominence" after the Romans left. This is in stark contrast to tales of Saxon "Sea Wolves" fascinatingly rendered by such authors as Rosemary Sutcliff. So I became curious about what the archaeological record had to say about it. I found this interesting article by William Bakken about the subject.

The 5th Century Anglo-Saxon Invasion of England: "An increasing amount of new information about the transition period is being supplied by archaeology. The evidence from first-hand archaeology is free of errors induced by copyists and editor, but is susceptible to improper interpretation and must be used carefully. The chronology of English artifacts requires correlation of evidence in England and on the continent with coins or other materials that can be accurately dated. From this a rough chronological sequence has been developed primarily based on changes in the styles of pottery and jewelry.20 In general, the recovered artifacts are grave goods many of which tend to be durable. It is necessary to look at all of the grave goods for chronological indications as heirlooms and plunder may be included in graves. Sequences of pottery, brooches, buckles and spear heads are now reasonably well established for dating.21 In addition to chronology, pottery and brooches particularly can be used as evidence of continental homelands of immigrant groups.

There was a gradual transition from cremation early in the settlement period to inhumation as the English were influenced by British customs and particularly as they were introduced to Christianity. This happened both in England and on the continent. Therefore, cremation indicates an early grave. Pagan inhumation burials were generally supplied with grave goods which makes them excellent sources of information.

Archaeological artifacts of the sub-Roman Britons are difficult to find. They appear to have continued to use the durable goods produced in the Roman period as long as possible and then replaced them with goods of less durable leather and wood construction. In addition, on sites that were abandoned, the latest levels are the least well preserved. It requires specialized techniques to recover the upper remains of wood construction. However, when allowances are made, the archaeological record still shows a drastic reduction in population and standard of living of the British remaining in southeastern and central England.22

Archaeological evidence indicates there were Germanic troops in what became England well before the fifth century.23 The Romans used auxiliary troops from all over the world to provide garrisons for their military installations. Thus from Roman records, we know that German troops were stationed on Hadrians wall. These troops did not leave identifiable artifacts because they were issued Roman equipment. By the fourth century, the Romans were enlisting Germanic troops under their own leaders with their own equipment. Artifacts show that Germanic troops were guarding towns and roads in England from the fourth century on. Much of the pottery that identifies Germanic people has been found along the Saxon Shore where it appears auxiliary troops were stationed. Cremation cemeteries have been found that date from before the end of Roman rule in Britain. These early cemeteries are generally concentrated near Roman towns, forts or transportation routes. Their location pattern is similar to that of a wheel made pottery decorated in Saxon styles called Romano-Saxon ware. This pottery was apparently made by British potterers for the Germanic trade.24

Brooches, commonly used as clothing fasteners provide a valuable indication of date and origin. The shape and type of decoration varied between tribal groups. Round and equal arm brooches were common among Saxons, while the Angles and Jutes preferred cruciform brooches. In addition, wrist clasps were common among the Angles.25

Pottery fashions have about the same division as brooches. The Angles and Jutes favored rectangular decoration while the Saxons used more curvilinear styles. In addition, stamped decoration was common on Saxon pottery and was not used by the Angles and Jutes.26

Weapon ownership was almost essential in the settlement period and, therefore, weapons were commonly placed in graves. Spears were the most common, typically an iron tip riveted to an ash shaft. Shields of lime wood with a leather cover and an iron boss at the center have also been found. Knives and swords were too valuable to be placed in the graves of ordinary soldiers and farmers and are thus an indication of aristocracy. The swords used by many of the German nobility were heirlooms passed down from generation to generation.27 Helmets and arrows were also rarly found."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

How Gladiators really lived

How Gladiators really lived: "The fury of gladiatorial combat first came to Ephesus in 69BC, courtesy of Lucullus, the Roman army's commander-in-chief. The city was a vital centre, on a par with Alexandria in Egypt, or Antioch in Syria. Under the Emperor Augustus, it became the first city of the Roman province of Asia, and the residence of the proconsul. A political and commercial centre with a population of an estimated 200,000, it sat astride trade routes that ran from West to East, and from South to North.

To accommodate the contests, the eastern part of the Ephesus stadium built by the Greeks was converted into an elliptical arena. One of the biggest monuments of the city, the stadium was oval-shaped, about 330 yards long and 160 yards wide. Some 25,000 spectators - half the capacity of the Colosseum - could watch the athletic games favoured by the Greeks. Centuries later, people could watch chariot races, and the gladiator combats that began in the afternoon with the participants, right arms raised, hailing high officials, nobles and senators with the ritualistic words: 'Those who are about to die salute you.'

There was no mistaking the purpose of these fights: they were designed to impress people with the might of Rome, and they allowed the cities of the entire empire to show that they belonged to it. Significantly, the Ephesus contests were organised by the high priest who oversaw the worship of the emperor. In the amphitheatre, the audience embodied the Roman nation, the sovereign people of the Earth. It was the people, and not their ruler, who decided whether a vanquished gladiator had demonstrated sufficient fighting spirit and courage to obtain a pardon. The people could also decide to grant a gladiator freedom - most of them were prisoners of war, slaves or condemned offenders - just as they could call for his execution on the spot.

When a gladiator died, his body was carried only a short distance from the scene of his last stand. Some 300 yardsaway, off a covered passage built with huge limestone blocks, lay a cemetery. There, the body was placed in a sarcophagus that rested on the ground. No other objects were buried with the body. But the dead man was often honoured with an inscription that would guarantee him later recognition. Some epitaphs carried the word 'gladiator' in both Latin and Greek, and detailed the cities he had fought in and the victories he had won. One related how Pandos, from Asia Minor, had won 10 contests and that, even though he had had the sun in his eyes, he had managed to kill an opponent 'as if he were a donkey'.

The epitaphs were discovered in 1993, when archeologists stumbled across them as they tried to trace the path taken by holy processions from the centre of Ephesus to the Temple of Artemis - one of the seven wonders of the ancient world - on the city's outskirts. The cemetery, now covered by an orchard and off a street where shepherds walk their sheep, yielded not only the inscriptions but also - much more excitingly - enough material to allow for the first mass autopsy ever performed on the bones of gladiators."

Friday, March 24, 2006

Case Studies in Indigenous Developments in Early Italian Centralization and Urbanization, a Dutch Perspective


The first study concerns the colonisation of the Sibaritide, the modern name for the wide coastal plain around Sybaris and its hilly hinterland, situated on Italy?s east coast, below the heel. In this project of the Groningen Institute of Archaeology (GIA) the indigenous colonisation, occurring in the Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age, is compared with the Greek colonisation, best known from the colonies of Sybaris and Thurioi. The Greek foundation in circa 700 BC of the central colony city of Sybaris, in a difficult to defend, flat coastal area amidst a number of regularly spaced Enotrian (the indigenous people of present day Calabria is usually referred to as the Enotrians) hilltop villages evokes questions as to the connections between Greeks and the Enotrians. The general aim of the project is to recuperate the non-dominant archaeological history of the native societies from the dominant archaeology of the Greeks. The colonisation processes are studied by means of the GIA excavation of a protohistoric, Enotrian, settlement at present-day Francavilla Marittima (since 1990) as well as from the documentation of the excavations and surveys by prof. Renato Peroni and his group of two Enotrian hilltop sites, Broglio di Trebisacce in the northern and Torre Mordillo in the southern Sibaritide, dating from the seventeenth till the eighth century BC. The databases drawn from the excavations are supplemented by field surveys, environmental and technological research. The three sites presently under excavation in the Sibaritide all seem to demonstrate a different model of contact with Greek traders and settlers: Torre Mordillo shows destruction in the transitional period from the Bronze to the Iron Age; the site at Broglio di Trebisacce, after it had flourished in the Late Bronze Age and even had produced local- Mycenaean pottery, was unoccupied after the foundation of Sybaris, while the cult place and the settlement on the Timpone della Motta at Francavilla Marittima are continuous. This state of the archaeology in the Sibaritide warrants further research into the Late Bronze Age 'Mycenaean' experience and its influence on native leadership, as well as into the formative period of the flourishing Enotrian Iron Age villages in the Sibaritide and their rapport with the Greeks. One of the big questions is to what extent the Sibaritide coastal plain may be considered a (remote) part of the ?Mycenaean? urbanized landscape. If it can be proved that ?Mycenaean? arboriculture, redistribution and technology remained intact after the fall of the Bronze Age palace burocracies the rapid rise of the Enotrian villages would be explained. Detailed archaeological research of the site at Francavilla Marittima, at a distance of 18 km from Greek Sybaris, should be able to answer a number of questions on the 'Mycenaean', Enotrian and Greek periods, because the site demonstrates the continuous presence of a large population till circa the middle of the fifth century BC. The GIA research furthermore especially concentrates on the creation of gender and ethnic identities in relation to technology, burial and cult as well as to power relations.

People at the origins of Rome

We all know how Rome has been the leader in the first unification of the peninsula, precursor of the idea itself of Italy, as well as a light for the western civilisation. Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento (Aeneid, VI, 851-853). And among these people, first the ones to whom Rome belongs, and that it is at the same time its extension, from the Alps down all along the Italic boot: fecisti Patriam diversis gentibus unam (said Rutilio Namaziano, magistrate from Gaul in 416 A.D.). But whom Rome is supposed to thank for its same origin? We quite know the legend; it talks about its Olympic and Trojans origins. More likely the truth was another, but perhaps not so much far away. Or perhaps the story went in all another direction from what we learned on the books at school. We will discover now different hypothesis, and the result is that the simpler thing seems to be the one which explains Rome like a mix between more people, more or less contemporary, and that they had likely a common origin. - SENATOR Marcus Iulius Perusianus

Ancient Peoples of Italy by Jeff Matthews

Ancient Peoples of Italy: "The future of the Italian peninsula was shaped by the different peoples who inhabited it between the years 800 and 200 BC. These include the Etruscans, Greeks and the many Italian tribes such as the Latins, Campanians, Samnites, Sabines, etc. Such tribes had spread out much earlier into Europe from the east and southeast both as invaders and, more gradually, as farmers, giving up hunting and gathering for the more efficient process of tilling the soil. In the process they developed towns, government and written language. This slow diffusion started before 6,000 BC.

By 1000 BC most of the peoples in Italy were ?Indo-European,? a term that declares common origin (at least 10,000 years ago) of people as different as Swedes and Iranians or Punjabis and Spaniards. Work in both linguistics and molecular genetics supports this idea of common Indo-European origin. In Italy this meant that the speakers of Latin (hence ?Lazio,? the area around Rome) spoke a language like Oscan, the language of their neighbors the Sabines, Samnites and Campanians (Naples is in ?Campania?). Though no modern descendant of Oscan exists, it was to Latin as, say, modern Italian is to Spanish. An additional sister language of Latin was Umbrian, spoken by inhabitants of central Italy."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Classicist Says Power Hair Political Tool of Cleopatra

Discovery Channel News: "Egyptian queen Cleopatra used her hairstyles in calculated ways to enhance her power and fame, according to a book published recently by a Yale art history and classics professor.

Statues, coins and other existing depictions of the queen suggest Cleopatra (69-30 B.C.) wore at least three hairstyles, according to Diana Kleiner. The first, a "traveling" do that mimicked the hair of a Macedonian Greek queen, involved sectioning the hair into curls, which were then often pulled away from the face and gathered into a bun at the back.

The next was a coiffure resembling a melon, and the third was the regal Cleopatra in her royal Egyptian headdress, complete with a rearing cobra made of precious metal.

Cleopatra did not invent any of these styles, but she used them to her advantage, Kleiner indicated in her book "Cleopatra and Rome.

"From the time of (Egyptian King) Ptolemy I, the Ptolemaic queens wore the 'melon hairstyle' with its segmented sections resembling a melon or gourd," Kleiner told Discovery News. "When Cleopatra followed suit, she was more traditionalist than trendsetter. These same Ptolemaic queens were also depicted in art with the usual Egyptian wigged headdress that had its origins in Pharaonic times. Cleopatra did as well, so again she followed tradition and did not innovate when it came to hair."

"But," Kleiner added, "Cleopatra appears to have worn different coiffures in different circumstances, playing to her audience, so to speak, in life and in art."

Kleiner explained that when the queen was in her homeland, her likely objective was to look like a traditional Egyptian ruler ? since she was in fact Greek ? and to legitimize the Ptolemaic dynasty by linking it to the time of the Pharaohs. A group of Egyptian statues recently has been linked to Cleopatra, although the identification cannot be proved since there are no accompanying inscriptions.

"These show her with the customary Egyptian wig and the triple uraeus (rearing cobra)," she said. "This Egyptian coiffure is the one we most often associate with Cleopatra today. Think Elizabeth Taylor!

The uraeus was associated with a cobra goddess Wadjyt, the sun god Ra and the goddess Hathor, so wearing it signified that the individual had taken on the attributes of a divinity.

Cleopatra also probably often wore the melon hairstyle in Egypt, where she had many slaves to attend to her appearance, including some that were responsible for maintaining the royal wigs.

The Egyptian queen extensively traveled, and did so in style. Not unlike film depictions, Cleopatra would arrive via elegant barge with her attendants catering to her every need.

In Rome, Kleiner believes Cleopatra wore her "Hellenistic traveling coiffure" in places where it would be seen and "gossiped about at cocktail parties." At about the same time, Kleiner notes the melon hairstyle turns up in Roman portraiture, which suggests Roman women admired Cleopatra and attempted to copy her.

Roman leaders Octavian and Antony both seduced the Egyptian queen. Kleiner theorizes that Octavia, Antony's wife, invented a hairstyle called "the nodus" to compete with Cleopatra. The nodus featured a roll over the forehead that Kleiner suggests mimicked Cleopatra's well-known rearing cobra ornament.

The nodus was the height of Roman fashion in the 30s B.C., just before Cleopatra's death by suicide at the age of 39."

Monday, February 27, 2006

Hannibal produced by the BBC

I saw an article today about Alexander Siddig (Star Trek's Dr. Bashir) playing Hannibal in a new program by the BBC that supposedly was to air in January. I went up to the BBC site but could not find any articles about it. I did find some screenshots up at

Perhaps it will make its way to the Discovery Channel or History International. I'm presently reading "Pride of Carthage" by David Anthony Durham so the BBC program would make a nice supplement to my reading.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Honours and Worship: Emperors, Imperial Cults and Associations at Ephesus (1st to 3rd centuries C.E.)

Philip A. Harland: "Historians of Greco-Roman religion such as Arthur D. Nock, Martin P. Nilsson, G.W. Bowersock, Kurt Latte, Ronald Mellor, Dieter Ladage and Eleanor G. Huzar emphasize aspects of political expediency and loyalty and underplay or discard the importance of 'genuine' religiosity with regard to cults of the emperors.(4) These imperial cults are frequently portrayed as [321] empty shells void of any real religious meaning for the participants. Nilsson, for example, states that imperial cult 'lacked all genuine religious content,' and, with very few exceptions, the imperial cult's 'meaning lay far more in state and social realms, where it served both to testify to loyalty to the rule of Rome and to the emperor and to satisfy the ambition of the leading families.'(5) Though Nilsson and others may be partially correct in acknowledging this social and political role, exclusion of religious significance on a local level for various strata of society is not justified.

Similar assumptions are evident among scholars who discuss religious associations and guilds specifically.(6) For example, in his monumental study of associations, Franz Poland states that 'the cult of the emperors appears relatively seldom [within associations] and, where it does occur, has little independent meaning'; moreover, it had little significance for an association's 'self-understanding.'(7)

But the above outlined view or paradigm is not without some opponents. E. Will, H.W. Pleket, Fergus Millar and, more recently, Robin Lane Fox, for example, criticize the general tendency within scholarship to overemphasize the political and neglect the religious aspects of imperial cults.(8) More recent research focussing on the cult of the emperors in Asia Minor by scholars such as S.R.F. Price, Steven J. Friesen and Stephen Mitchell(9) also [322] demonstrates both the inadequacy of some previous assumptions and the need to re-view cults of the emperors on a regional basis.

Underestimating the religious significance of cults of the emperors is partially the result of the imposition of modern viewpoints onto ancient evidence. First, for example, the traditional interpretation of imperial cults reflects the modern distinction between politics and religion. In antiquity, however, the social, religious, economic and political aspects of life were intricately intertwined. Thus to say that worship of the emperors was simply an expression of political expediency or to say that it was utterly an expression of religious piety are both misleading. As we shall see, what we can say is that worship of the emperors in western Asia Minor certainly encompassed religious and other aspects to a degree underestimated in the past.

Second, the issue of whether the ancients who engaged in worshipping the emperors believed the emperor to be human or divine, which reflects modern ontological concerns, has also contributed to scholars' undermining the religious character of imperial cults.(10) From a modern perspective it is difficult to comprehend that what we as moderns know to be human could be worshipped as a god by ancients, and, as a result, a modern scholar is more inclined to suggest that apparent worship of a human as divine must be superficial (or simply political in the case of emperors). But an approach which focusses primarily on the ontological status of the emperors is inappropriate since we cannot get into the minds of ancients to see what they actually believed, and, more importantly as the present essay begins to show, the vast majority of the evidence that we do have for local imperial cult activities and rituals shows that the characteristics of and practices connected with worship of the emperors virtually coincide with those connected with worship of more traditional deities.(11) Moreover, the evidence [323] suggests that in practice, within the context of imperial cults, the emperors functioned as gods.(12)

Third, it is quite common in modern contexts to measure true religiosity and piety in terms of emotion or feelings and this tendency sometimes extends to scholars' assessments of ancient religion.(13) Though there are certainly some cases where religious feelings are very strongly expressed by individuals in antiquity,(14) piety (eusebeia) and religiosity were more frequently concerned with the proper performance of cultic acts to maintain fitting relations between communities and the gods rather than with the inner feelings of individuals.(15) This does not make such activity any less genuinely religious within that context.(16)