Ajax

An excerpt from a piece in the Guardian notes, inter alia:

“Blyth Spartans were named after the Greek army,” James Henry points out, before getting to the heart of the matter: “What is the weirdest explanation for a football team’s suffix?”

Blyth are named after the Spartan army, the legendary fighting force of the 6th to 4th centuries BC. This kind of classical allusion wasn’t uncommon in the era of the late Victorian amateur. Corinthian, now Corinthian Casuals, were formed in 1882, their name referencing the mythic Greek code of amateur sportsmanship. This was a common practice across Europe at the time. Ajax of Amsterdam are named after Ajax the Ancient Greek warrior hero from the Iliad (and latterly also inspiration for a popular brand of domestic scouring powder). And the Spartans themselves left an imprint beyond Blyth – Sparta Rotterdam (Holland) and Sparta Prague (Czech Republic), both founded within a few years of Spartans, took their name from the same bunch of Greek hard-cases.

Speaking of Ajax, last summer I was pondering doing a little series of posts on towns in Ontario which seemed to have Classical origins and the one I began with was Ajax (near Toronto). Imagine my chagrin when I thought I had a sure thing, only to find out that Ajax, Ontario was actually named after a battleship — the HMS Ajax — which, along with the HMS Achilles and HMS Exeter, defeated the Graf Spee in 1939. I assume the ships had Classical origins, but it ain’t quite the same …

UPDATE: a number of folks have written in (thanks to all!) to note that the Ajax was a light cruiser, not a battleship. Special mention to Albert Nofi who suggested ” … calling her a battleship would be like calling a liburnian a quiquereme.”

Ancient Chemical Warfare

A paper by Simon James (University of Leicester) at the AIA is getting quite a bit of press attention. The abstract doesn’t seem to be online, so we’ll have to give you the gist in our own words. According to James, a deliberately-piled group of twenty Roman soldiers’ bodies found in excavations at Dura Europos died not through the usual sword or spear, but by asphyxiation. The scene was a battle with the Sassanian Persians ca 256 B.C. during which time the Romans tried undermining the walls in one of their time-honoured methods of conducting a seige.  Then, in Dr. James’ words:

“It is evident that, when mine and countermine met, the Romans lost the ensuing struggle. Careful analysis of the disposition of the corpses shows they had been stacked at the mouth of the countermine by the Persians, using their victims to create a wall of bodies and shields, keeping Roman counterattack at bay while they set fire to the countermine, collapsing it, allowing the Persians to resume sapping the walls. This explains why the bodies were where they were found. But how did they die? For the Persians to kill twenty men in a space less than 2m high or wide, and about 11m long, required superhuman combat powers—or something more insidious.”

Apparently the tunnel also had evidence of bitumen and sulphur, which give off noxious fumes when burnt.

“The Persians will have heard the Romans tunnelling,” says James, “and prepared a nasty surprise for them. I think the Sasanians placed braziers and bellows in their gallery, and when the Romans broke through, added the chemicals and pumped choking clouds into the Roman tunnel. The Roman assault party were unconscious in seconds, dead in minutes. Use of such smoke generators in siege-mines is actually mentioned in classical texts, and it is clear from the archaeological evidence at Dura that the Sasanian Persians were as knowledgeable in siege warfare as the Romans; they surely knew of this grim tactic.”

Our friend Adrienne Mayor mentions the evidence at Dura Europos in her book on biological and chemical warfare in the ancient world: Greek Fire (pp. 224-225). Folks can read that tome and decide for themselves whether this warrants being called the “first” use of chemical warfare (as is being bruited about by some news coverage).

A Potentially Interesting Auction

Just last week my spiders began picking up items from Live Auctioneers … apparently others have been doing so as well, as both  Dorothy King and ARLT mentioned a few days ago on what was actually the first one that popped into my box. Today I get notice of this “1st to 3rd Century Marble Roman Head”:

1st to 3rd Century Marble Roman Head

1st to 3rd Century Marble Roman Head

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Unfortunately, unlike the previous auction, this one doesn’t have any origins listed or any information of use at all. The Live Auctioneers are affiliated somehow with eBay (although their auctions run differently); I would think they would be more responsible in regards to provenance … I certainly hope this doesn’t become a method for the ne’er-do-wells to do an end run around the folks monitoring eBay for potentially suspicious antiquities sales.

Spartacus Series in the Works

Word’s out that there’s a new Roman-themed series in the works, drawing inspiration from “Rome” and “300”, and focussing on the story of Spartacus and his revolting ways. As described by Steven DeKnight, it will be:

“a totally R-rated, hard, hard show … There are decapitations, people being split in half … We don’t want to shy away from violence or sexuality. The beauty of being on premium cable is there is no story we can’t tell.”

Executive producer Rob Tapert describes the series as:

“Gladiator meets “Deadwood … We will make sure the process serves the storytelling and not the other way around.”

DeKnight adds:

“There’s a gladiator fight in the first season of ‘Rome’ that I leaped off my couch when I saw it …That will be more like what ‘Spartacus’ will be like.”

Hmmm … sounds like it will be either really, really good or really, really awful.

CONF: Manchester Seminars

UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER: CLASSICS & ANCIENT HISTORY DEPT RESEARCH SEMINARS AND CLASSICAL ASSOCIATION LECTURES, 2008-9, SEMESTER 2

With the exception of the very first meeting, all research seminars are on Thursdays at 5 pm in the Samuel Alexander Building, Room S. 1. 7.
CA lectures are on Wednesdays at 5.30 in Room A. 7 of the same building.
All are welcome at all meetings, also at drinks after the discussion and at the meal with the speaker later on.

Wed. 28 January, 5 pm, exceptionally in Room A. 116
Giuseppe Ucciardello (Messina)
New Fragments of Attic orators in a Vatican manuscript (Georgios Phrankopoulos’ lexicon)

CA Wed. 4 February, 5.30 pm, A. 7 [Joint meeting with the Hellenic Society]
Patrick Finglass (Nottingham)
Sophocles at Leiden

Thurs. 5 February
Bruce Gibson (Liverpool)
Causation in post-Augustan epic

Thurs. 12 February
Simon Corcoran (UCL)
The Code of Justinian: a sixth-century life

Thurs. 19 February
Fiona Hobden (Liverpool)
Enter the divine? Religious experience and sympotic performance

Thurs. 26 February
Laurent Pernot (Strasbourg)
Aelius Aristides and Greek books in the second century AD

Thurs. 5 March
Judy Barringer (Edinburgh)
The Olympic Altis in 476

Thurs. 12 March
Roger Brock (Leeds)
Greek political imagery in the fifth century BC

CA Wed. 18 March, 5.30 pm, A. 7 [Joint meeting with the Roman Society]
Tony Wilmott (English Heritage)
The Amphitheatre in Roman Britain

Thurs. 19 March
Ashley Clements (TCDublin)
Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae: a comedy of mortal error?

Thurs. 26 March
Loveday Alexander (Sheffield/Manchester)
Canon and exegesis in the medical schools of antiquity

EASTER

Thurs. 23 April
Jill Harries (St Andrews)
Inventing the lawyer in early imperial Rome

Thurs. 30 April
Alison Sharrock (Manchester)
Ovid and the epic cycle

Thurs. 7 May
Roslynne Bell (Manchester)
Augustus and the temple of Magna Mater (or: How can I ignore the god next door?)

CA Wed. 13 May, 5.30 pm, A. 7
April Pudsey (Edinburgh)
Family and household in Græco-Roman Egypt

Thurs. 14 May
Amy Coker (Manchester)
Aspects of grammatical gender in Greek

Thurs. 21 May
Philippe Mudry (Lausanne)
Umbricius’ astonishing choice in Juvenal, Satires 3

Thurs. 28 May
Hugh Bowden (KCL)
Eunuch priests in the Roman cult of Magna Mater

Thurs. 4 June
Ruth Morello (Manchester)
The letters of Pliny the Younger

David.Langslow AT manchester.ac.uk for inquiries about the research seminar;
Tim.Parkin AT manchester.ac.uk for inquiries about the CA meetings, including requests to dine with the speaker