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


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


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


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

CONF: Durham Seminars


Department of Classics & Ancient History, University of Durham

Wednesday 21 January, 5.30pm [Ritson room]
Dr Daniela Colomo (Oxford)
The Leipzig Callimachus: scholia to Iambus XII on a new papyrus fragment

Wednesday 28 January, 5.30pm [PG20]
Professor Ulrich Eigler (University of Zürich)
The death of a villain

Wednesday 4 February, 5.30pm [Seminar room] [Classical Association]
Dr Jennifer Ingleheart (Durham)
Ovid, Metamorphoses VIII

Wednesday 11 February, 5.30pm [PG20]
Professor Maurizio Bettini (Siena)
Figuratively speaking: Greek and Roman metaphors for being human

Wednesday 18 February, 5.30pm [Ritson room]
Professor Malcolm Heath (Leeds)
Human uniqueness and human diversity in Aristotle

Wednesday 25 February, 5.30pm [Ritson room]
Dr Martin Ruehl (Cambridge)
Greeks, beasts, supermen: Nietzsche’s anti-humanist philhellenism

Wednesday 4 March, 5.30pm [Seminar room] [Classical Association]
Professor Tom Harrison (Liverpool)
History as myth: the memorialising function of Herodotus’ Histories

Wednesday 11 March, 5.30pm [Ritson room]
Professor Lloyd Gerson (Toronto)
Is Plato’s Theaetetus an Aporetic or an Euporetic dialogue?

Wednesday 18 March, 5.30pm [Ritson room]
Dr Nigel Kennell (Athens)
The aftermath of the ephebate? The neoi in the Hellenistic Greek city

The lectures by Ulrich Eigler, Maurizio Bettini, Malcolm Heath, and Martin Ruehl are part of the series ‘Being Human – Classical Perspectives’, which is co-sponsored by the Durham Centre for the Study of the Classical Tradition (http://www.dur.ac.uk/classical.tradition/) and the Durham Institute of Advanced Study (http://www.dur.ac.uk/ias/). Please contact Ingo Gildenhard (ingo.gildenhard AT dur.ac.uk) for more information on those lectures.

For further information on the seminar programme, please contact Ted Kaizer (ted.kaizer AT durham.ac.uk).

CFP: Hexameters of Homer and Vergil (APA Panel)

Call for Papers for a panel at the next Annual Meeting of the American
Philological Association

Sponsored by the Society for the Oral Reading of Greek and Latin Literature.
Organized by Andrew S. Becker, Virginia Tech.

The contemporary poet Kenneth Koch has said that poetry is language Œin
which the sound of words is raised to an importance equal to that of their
meaning, and also equal to the importance of grammar and syntax.¹  Poets and
scholars have been telling us such things for many years.  Recent
innovations in technology can enhance our ability to note and describe
aural, rhythmical, and metrical phenomena: for example, James Dee
Repertorium Homericae Poesis Hexametricum.  Other recent studies focus on
the literary significance of rhythm and meter in local contexts: for
example, Mark Edwards, Sound, Sense, and Rhythm: Listening to Greek and
Latin Poetry.  Still others serve as protreptic anthologies of verse
performed rather than read silently: for example, Clive Brooks Reading Latin
Poetry Aloud: A Practical Guide to Two Thousand Years of Verse, and several
web sites, including that of the Society for the Oral Reading of Greek and
Latin Literature (SORGLL).

We welcome abstracts that treat the sounds of the Homeric and/or the
Vergilian hexameter, including but not limited to the relationship between
sound, rhythm, meter, and sense.  Although sound need not be rhetorical to
be worth noting, those moments when it is‹those passages in which sound and
sense seem mutually supportive and interdependent‹are often the most
striking and notable.

Equally welcome are abstracts that deal with, inter alia, the linguistics of
poetic sound, rhythm, and meter; the ancient Greek and/or Roman reception
and perception of such phenomena; adaptations of or responses to the sound
of Homeric and/or Vergilian hexameters; the historical development of
scholarship on the sounds of Homer and Vergil.  And equally welcome are
papers that treat only Homer or only Vergil, as well as papers that take a
comparative perspective.  Presenters should be prepared to support their
views with oral demonstration.

Abstracts should be sent as e-mail attachments by FEBRUARY 15, 2009
to Andrew S. Becker at:
andrew.becker AT vt.edu

Abstracts must be only one page in length, and contain no indication of
authorship. In accordance with APA regulations, all abstracts for papers
will be read anonymously by three outside readers. Please follow the
instructions for the format of individual abstracts that will appear in the
APA Program Guide.

Breviaria ~ 01/14/09

Let’s see if I can clear out some of the backlog …

A column in the Ottawa Citizen is all about Herodotus and Thucydides (not sure what the motivation for this one is):

A chatty, semi-touristy thing about Boudicca:

A touristy thing about various sites in the eastern Mediterranean, including comments from Herodotus on each:

… more to come later tonight; I have a bunch of link checking to do ….