Breviaria Archaeologica

Some assorted  items caught in the screen:

Will Bowden is fighting to have a buried Roman villa site in Notthingham preserved from development:

A bit out of the period of our purview, but likely of interest, is a report of a mosaic from a synagogue at Ma’On Nirim being cleaned and open to the public:

Similiter, a Byzantine ‘bath house’ find near a kibbutz:

Strange — to me at least — is this story about archaeologists explaining failure to find a Roman wall in Gloucester as the result of ‘medieval recycling’ (seems plausible; I just find it strange that this would warrant press coverage):

Reassessing the Roman occupation (or lack thereof) in Wigan:

Heritage Lottery funding to tourisify Colchester Roman Circus has fallen through:

Centurion Update

An excerpt from Jessica Barnes’ piece at Cinematical:

Centurion centers on the famed 9th Legion fighting for their lives behind enemy lines after a devastating guerrilla attack, and joining Kurylenko for the hacking and slashing are Michael Fassbender (Inglorious Basterds), who plays the title character, Dominic West, and Noel Clarke. Marshall spoke with Empire during a set-visit and he described Kurylenko’s character Etain thusly: “Her family were butchered by the Romans, she had her tongue cut out by the Romans, she’s had a hell of a time and she’s out for Roman blood.” In reality, the 9th Legion were Cesar’s most faithful soldiers who were believed to be lost during their stay in Britain while fighting the Scots — a theory that while the inspiration for plenty of historical novels, has since been debunked. But, true or not, I won’t hold it against Marshall, because it probably made for a much more interesting story than the truth.


Breviaria 04/04/09

Assorted items which have caught my eye of late:

The headline says it all:

Some sort of 3d modelling project for the Acropolis was recently undertaken:

We linked to several of Suzan Mazur’s posts relating to Robert Hecht and Marion True a few years ago … her (excellent) articles are apparently now part of some Harvard Law syllabus:

The latest issue of the American Journal of Archaeology is out, with a number of online articles of interest available:

Short item on the Classical Studies Club at the College of New Jersey:

Feature on an historical reenactment group based in Rome called SPQR:

Bulgarian coverage of the recent returns by of a couple of thousand of purloined items from Bulgaria (includes a small slide show of various items):

The Classics folks at Warwick are venturing into the world of podcasting … here’s the first (I’ll hopefully get a chance to listen to it and review it in the near future):

The latest installment of Dear Socrates at Philosophy Now (I still don’t understand how there can be a viable philosophy magazine and there’s no Classics magazine on the newsstands):

Charlotte Higgins was talking about odd Classical etymologies:

The BBC had a feature on Albania trying to cash in on Butrint (and other sites):

Andrew Chugg is involved in a project to reconstruct Cleitarchus’ History of Alexander … the promo book site has a pile of interesting things (including videos and the like not necessarily connected to Cleitarchus) … worth a look:

If you haven’t downloaded the full Gnomon Bibliographical Databank yet:

Discovery News’ Jennifer Viegas recently interviewed Rachel Havrelock about the historical Jesus:

Latest from the Spoof:

More Roman Humour

Mary Beard continues to make the rounds talking about ancient humour, and it appears she was asked about who she believed was the funniest Roman. She decided it was Cicero (!) and you can read the Times coverage to find out why … I’m using this as an excuse to excerpt the chunk which shows other Romans’ histohumorical quips:

A funny thing happened on the way to the amphitheatre

— The elder Crassus was said to have laughed only once in his life. What caused Crassus to crack up? The sight of a donkey eating thistles and the well-known saying that came to mind: “Thistles are like lettuce to the lips of a donkey”

— In the middle of the Civil War the exasperated Pompey is reputed to have said of his reluctant ally Cicero: “I wish to goodness Cicero would go over to the enemy, then he would learn to fear us”

— A man leaving the Roman theatre was asked by another whether he had seen the play. “No, stupid,” he replied. “I was playing ball in the orchestra”

— Gaius Memmius, the tribune of 111BC, was said to have had taken a bite out of the arm of a man called Largus, as they were tussling over the affections of a woman.

— Crassus claimed that all over the town of Terracina the letters MMLLL were pasted up on the walls: “Mordacious Memmius Lacerates Largus’ Limb”

— A joke made to a one-eyed man, Gaius Sextius: “I shall dine with you my friend, for I see you’ve got a place for another one.” “This,” said Cicero, “is the unacceptable joke of a scurra [professional clown] both because it was unprovoked, and because it could be used against any one-eyed individual”

— Cicero was defending his client Milo on the charge of murdering the infamous Clodius in 52 BC and was under interrogation from the prosecution. The case was going to hinge on exact timing. When did Clodius die, they asked him. And here is the joke, the one that is, on its own, enough to justify the whole category of double entendres: Cicero replied with just one word, sero. The pun is on the two senses of sero: both “late” and “too late”. Clodius died late in the day, and he should have been got rid of years before.

In a related item, Charlotte Higgins ponders whether Cicero is actually worthy of our praise:

See also/cf. (from May of last year … a piece by Dr Beard for the Times):

‘Jesus Ossuary’ Trial Update

In case you were wondering … the trial of all those folks associated with the so-called ‘Jesus Ossuary’ has ‘stalled’ (for want of a better term, I suppose). The Jerusalem Post has a lengthy piece … here’s the interesting bits:

According to the Antiquities Authority, Deutsch and Golan conspired to forge an ancient decanter, several inscribed pieces of pottery and dozens of seal impressions – known as bulae – some bearing the names of Israelite kings mentioned in the Bible. They are accused of publishing scholarly papers on the items to enhance their value, and then selling them for thousands of dollars to unsuspecting collectors.

After Deutsch was indicted, he was fired from a teaching post at the University of Haifa and dismissed as a supervisor at the Megiddo excavations.

“I have never faked anything in my life,” said Deutsch. “I’m the first person to call something a fake, because it pollutes the profession that I have made my expertise.”

On the witness stand, Deutsch said he knew Golan, his alleged co-conspirator, only through business. He said the Antiquities Authority and police had failed to find a single e-mail between the two men, or any evidence linking him to forgery despite repeated raids on his home and shops.

Deutsch said the trial was an attempt to shut down the licensed trade in antiquities in Israel, even though it is legal and he has held a license from the authority for the past 30 years.

“The Antiquities Authority thinks we are no better than antiquities thieves,” he said. “They believe that our legal trade is worse than theft because we are encouraging the robbers.”

“They went to the Knesset and tried to pass legislation banning trade in antiquities and they failed. Now they are using this trial to destroy our business,” he said.

“I don’t know how much lower they can get, the people who cooked up this trial,” he said. “They misled the prosecution, they misled the press and they came up with all sorts of stories with no basis in reality.”

One charge against Deutsch and Golan is that in 1995 they conspired to inscribe an ancient decanter with a text linking it to the Temple service and sell it to billionaire collector Shlomo Moussaieff.

“To increase the significance of the decanter and enhance its price,” the indictment charges, “Defendant No. 2 published the decanter in a volume of archeology which he authored on the subject of Hebraic inscriptions from the First Temple period.”

But Deutsch produced the book in court – exhibit No. 4 – and showed that it was already at the printer in 1994, by which time the decanter was already in the Moussaieff collection. The book cannot have been used to enhance the sale price.

In addition, Deutsch and Golan have both produced compelling evidence to show that the decanter, like the rest of the items, is authentic.

The prosecution, which took nearly three years to present its case, has had difficulty proving the alleged conspiracy. When Oded Golan took the stand last year, he produced plausible explanations for the all the apparent evidence of forgery found in repeated raids on his home, business premises and storage facilities.

Expectations that the prosecution would produce an Egyptian craftsman it alleges actually faked most of the items were dashed when he refused to come to Israel to give evidence.

The star prosecution witness, Tel Aviv University’s Prof. Yuval Goren, was forced to recant some of his testimony based on scientific tests that showed the patina – the encrustation that adheres to ancient objects – to be a modern concoction. Further scientific evidence based on isotopic analysis of the patina looked increasingly unconvincing after other scientists tested the same items and came to the opposite conclusion.

Last October, the trial appeared close to collapse after Judge Aharon Farkash advised the prosecution to consider dropping the proceedings.

“After all the evidence we have heard, including the testimony of the prime defendant, is the picture still the same as the one you had when he was charged?” the judge pointedly asked the prosecutor. “Maybe we can save ourselves the rest.”

“Have you really proved beyond a reasonable doubt that these artifacts are fakes as charged in the indictment? The experts disagreed among themselves” Farkash said.

The trial continues.

Sounds like someone seriously mishandled this one …

Hannibal Flick Update

Vin Diesel’s Fast and the Furious is getting a pile of reviews right now … at the end of the one in the LA Times (and probably elsewhere) we read:

And for the last six years, Diesel has remained relentlessly dedicated to bringing a biopic about the Carthaginian military commander Hannibal to the screen. Over that time, producers have balked at its initial price tag of $230 million as well as Diesel’s insistence on directing. Still, the ambiguously ethnic actor has gone as far as hiring a screenwriter to translate the script he and other writers have been working on into Punic — an ancient language that has been extinct for more than 2,000 years.

Diesel said he identified with Hannibal on several levels.

“It’s about overcoming insurmountable odds. But nothing speaks more to me than the fact that this was the first champion of multiculturalism,” he said. “Rome’s empire flourished because they were able to adopt the idea that many nationalities could coexist together. They learned that from Hannibal.”

He weighed the consequences of pursuing his dream project.

“It takes someone with enough of an ego to believe they can tell this story better than anybody else. That’s where I’m at,” Diesel said, breaking into a wide grin. “They can’t stop me. They can stomp me. Kick me when I’m down. But they won’t stop me. Cross your fingers for me, brother!”

Perhaps further evidence that the project is still going on  is word that Diesel is also developing an online video game which is clearly connected. Neoseeker reports (inter alia):

This new game — that has been in development for 2 or 3 years already, apparently — is going to be a MMO with RPG qualities, set around 200 B.C, in the Punic Wars. (Shotgun blast history lesson: the Punic Wars were a series a battles in the Mediterranean against the dominating empire of day, the Carthaginian State, against the upstart Roman Republic. Hannibal Barca was a fearsome, legendary talented Carthaginian general, raised from birth to kill Romans.)

“The reason why it’s my dream game is because it is an MMO …  where you create an avatar that lives in the reality of Hannibal Barca, the Punic Wars and life 200 B.C,” Vin Diesel said to Destructoid. “You would have avatars that you would invest [in] — it would be an RPG game — and creating that ancient world as your backdrop. Creating an ancient world that is your ‘Azeroth.’ That is probably my dream scenario,” Diesel went on to say.

From the interview, it seems that Diesel has a sincere interest and affinity for the world of the ancient West. In that period before the Roman Empire began, when the whole ‘civilization’ ball really started to roll, warfare was entering a new conceptual stage of tactics, and massive, well-equipped armies where deciding the entire course of history in the West.

It appears that Barca B.C has at least a few years of development before it will see the light of day. But it is a project the Diesel is personally motivated to see through to the end: “We all know those games take a lot of work to create, a lot of funds. We are just in the first two or three years of putting it together. It could probably take another four years before we see that game…When we talk about dream case scenarios, man, I would love to play as a Carthaginian soldier 200 years before Christ. Sailing around the Mediterranean, that’d be pretty damn cool. If you could add some historical elements to it, the better.”

So I guess all these Fast-and-Furious-type flicks are subsidizing the Hannibal one …

Lucy Lawless in Spartacus Flick?

Variety reports (inter alia):

Lucy Lawless is returning to her action-hour roots, signing on to star in the new fantasy-and-fighting series from “Xena: Warrior Princess” masterminds Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi. The previously announced project from Starz Media, “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” will feature the New Zealand-bred thesp, who starred in “Xena” from 1995-2001, as the proprietor of a camp for gladiators.

A female lanista?

Hellenistic Harbour Remains from Ptolemais/Akko/Acre

By whatever name you recognize it, this is interesting … the Israel Antiquities Authority has issued a press release (and photos) of evidence of a floor (pavement is probably a better word) one metre below the water level in the harbour at Akko, the erstwhile Ptolemais. An excerpt from the press release:

As part of the project, a temporary rampart that serves as both a road and dam was built in the sea. The pool of water that formed between the rampart and the seawall was pumped out so as to create dry conditions for rehabilitating the seawall.

The part of the floor that has been revealed so far extends for a distance of 15 meters and is 4 meters wide (the full dimensions of the floor have not yet been exposed). The floor was built of rectangular, smoothly dressed kurkar stones that were placed atop a foundation course of roughly hewn kurkar stones arranged next to each other as “headers”. In probes that were conducted beneath the floor, numerous fragments of ceramic jars of Aegean provenance (from Rhodes, Kos and elsewhere) were found that were used to transport wine, as well as tableware and cooking vessels. Among the other artifacts recovered were a Greek style bronze arrowhead and bronze coins that are covered with marine encrustations. A preliminary identification of the finds shows that the floor was constructed in the Hellenistic period (end of the third century until the middle of the second century BCE) as part of a national project.
According to Kobi Sharvit, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Marine Archaeology Unit, “The location of the floor, its size, the building style and the building method, which is mainly known from the construction of harbor installations, indicate with a high degree of certainty that the floor has a marine connection suggesting it belongs to a large pier or dockyard structure”.

The floor constitutes an extremely important indicator for studies that deal with changes in sea level and in the location of the shoreline during the Hellenistic period in Akko. This find raises other questions regarding the tectonic changes that occurred in Akko, which is located on a geologic fault, and sea levels.

Not sure how they recognize this as part of a “national project”, unless that comes from text-based evidence vel simm. Whatever the case, here’s a relevant photo:

IAA photo

IAA photo

Restoring Philip II’s Palace

ANA has a brief item on the restoration work ongoing at Philip II’s palace at Aigai. From the conclusion:

The restoration of the two-storey gallery (stoa) in the building’s front section was a “revelation” for archaeologists’ studying ancient architecture, as it contradicted earlier beliefs according to which such galleries were a later practice, dating in the 2nd century BC. The galleries’ architectural sections are built based on the “golden mean” ratio (1 to 1.6). Archaeologists believe that Pytheos was the palace’s architect, who had also designed the mausoleum of Halicarnassus, while the mausoleum’s sculptor Leocharis had also worked on the palace of Aigai.

Exhibition: Etruscan Treasures from Tuscany

From the Temple and the Tomb: Etruscan Treasures from Tuscany

January 25-May 17

Meadows Museum (SMU Dallas)

Exhibition website (not much there; a few general images; elsewhere SMU has a slideshow):

Reviews/Press Coverage:

Training Legions

Another claim about the ancient world, this time from something called Total Health Breakthroughs:

Rocky Marciano did it. Muhammad Ali did it. And many, many other old-time boxers(and old time wrestlers for that matter) did it too.

But maybe the most unique and unusual group to use this exercise — that you never heard of — were the Roman legions.

How do you train hundreds upon hundreds of men to be in tip-top physical shape to go into battle?

Good question.

History reveals these men twisted thin green grapevines together and used them as jump ropes.

I think we’ve mentioned this ‘skipping legions’ claim before, so again we ask … does anyone have a source for this?

Hypatia Flick

Not sure if we’ve mentioned this Hypatia flick yet, mention of which I had misfiled quite a while ago. Agora appears to be a movie about Hypatia, set in the late 4th century A.D. and possibly portraying a Christian-inspired burning of the Library of Alexandria. There’s an official website, but all it seems to have at this point is the following trailer (albeit better quality):

Pet Peeve

I am always bugged when newspapers, which presumably have authors, spellcheckers, and editors, mess up the spelling of a less-than-obscure name from the ancient world, to wit, a review of a Galileo exhibition in the Financial Times (emphasis mine):

Ancient Greek scientific advances did nothing to diminish the power of celestial deities. Pythagorus’s conception of the universe as a sphere is embodied by the Farnese Atlas. A Roman copy of a Greek statue, probably the first three-dimensional representation of a globe, it shows the muscled Titan buckling under the weight of a globe of constellations.

Roman Pollution in Iceland?

Science Direct has an abstract of an article (which folks can get the full version of if they have the right access, of course) as follows:

We report a record of atmospheric Pb deposition at a coastal site in western Iceland that spans the last two millennia. The elemental concentrations of Pb, Al, Li and Ti are determined using ICP-MS from a sediment monolith collected from a salt marsh. Multicollector (MC) ICP-MS analysis is used to obtain isotopic ratios of stable Pb. The Pb/Ti and Pb/Li ratios are used to separate natural Pb background concentrations from Pb derived from remote anthropogenic sources. The pollution record in western Iceland is subdued in comparison with Pb records from the European mainland, but the isotopic character, profile and timing of Pb deposition show good agreement with the atmospheric Pb fall-out reported from sites in Scandinavia and northwestern Europe. At the bottom of the sequence we isolate a low-level (0.1–0.4 mg kg- 1) Pb enrichment signal dated to AD 50–150. The isotopic signature and timing of this signal suggest Roman metal working industries as the source. In the subsequent millennium there was no significant or very low (i.e. elemental concentrations < 0.01 mg kg- 1) anthropogenic Pb deposition at the site up to, and including, the early Medieval period. Above a pumice layer, dated to AD 1226–1227, a small increase in Pb deposition is found. This trend is maintained until a more substantive and progressive increase is signalled during the late 1700s and early 1800s. This is followed by a substantial enrichment signal in the sediments (> 3.0 mg kg- 1) that is interpreted as derived from industrial coal burning and metal working during the 19th and 20th centuries in northern Europe. During the late 20th century, significant fall-out from European fuel additives reached Iceland.

Miller-McCune Magazine’s blog adds a bit of detail (inter alia):

An isolated salt marsh on the coast of contemporary Iceland is the last place most people would think of looking for Roman-era air pollution. But traces of atmospheric lead pollution found in the sedimentary cores of an Iceland salt marsh, most likely originated from first- and second-century C.E. Roman mining and metal-working operations, a new study reports. The research, which appeared in the April 1 issue of the journal Science of the Total Environment, indicates that the lead most likely found its way aloft from what is now Somerset in Britain. William Marshall, a research fellow in geoscience at the University of Plymouth in the U.K., and the paper’s lead author, says it’s the most distantly detected example of such Roman atmospheric pollution from Britain. Previous evidence of Roman-era atmospheric lead pollution has been found in peat deposits in Europe, in sediments from Swedish lakes and in ice cores from Greenland.

Passing over the unintended non-pun in the phrase ‘lead author’, the item is interesting, if true, but I don’t understand why there would be no similar ‘Roman Pollution’  between 150 and 1226. It’s not as if Roman (or other) metalworking in Britain (or elsewhere) stopped during this period. I can’t help but wonder whether the lead detected here might be connected to say, the eruption of Vesuvius vel simm.. 

Goalkeeper’s Reading

The Independent has an item on books read by assorted Premier League footballers/soccer players … Robert Green’s seems appropriate:

Robert Green, the West Ham and England goalkeeper, selected Homer’s The Iliad – a departure from 2007′s list, when he plumped for Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

CONF: Ports and Canals of the Roman World


University of Oxford

Ioannou Centre for Classical and Byzantine Studies
Saturday 9th May, 2009

The Oxford Roman Economy Project


14.00-14.35 Constructing Port Hierarchies: harbours as
indicators of global and

Katia Schörle local interconnectivity

14.35-15.10 ImportedBuilding Materials of Sebastos
Harbour, Caesarea

Greg Votruba Maritima

15.10-15.45 Shipping Stone: Roman quarries and their

Ben Russell



16.15-16.50 Tidying up the Red Sea: looking for Leuke

Dario Nappo

16.50-17.25 Roman Shipwreck Cargoes and the Organization
of Trade

Candace Rice

17.25-18.00 Canals and Connectivity: the infrastructure
of artificial waterways

Hannah Friedman

18.00-18.30 General discussion


Please note that the conference is an open event, free of charge, but
since numbers may need to be restricted please register as soon as
possible by email to:

CONF: Classics, Theatre and Thought in Frances

HOLLOWAY, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON, is please to announce a Bastille Day
Symposium 2009 (220 years on)

Classics, Theatre and Thought in France

Confirmed Speakers:

Froma Zeitlin, Brigitte le Guen, Amy Wygant, Dominic Glynn, Cecile Dudouyt,
Joe Harris, Rosie Wyles, Tom Wynn

Ioannou Centre for Classical & Byzantine Studies, 66 St Giles’,Oxford OX1 3LU

July 14th 2009, 10.00-5.30 plus reception

ALL WELCOME: Admission Free

CONTACT either edith.hall AT or fiona.macintosh AT

Harvard Marketing Classics (etc.)

Some excerpts from a lengthy piece in the Boston Globe:

When Harvard was founded nearly four centuries ago, all students read and spoke Latin. They had to: Lectures were delivered primarily in the ancient tongue, and the classics was pretty much all they could study.

Today, the number of students conversant in Cicero and Plato has dwindled, with only 42 – less than 1 percent of Harvard’s 6,640 undergraduates – choosing classics as a major. Then there’s Sanskrit and Indian studies, which has three students, and astronomy and astrophysics, with five starry-eyed souls.


To entice students to explore such subjects, Harvard has more than tripled the number of small freshman seminars taught by star professors. Among the 132 diverse classes: “The Beasts of Antiquity and their Natural History.”


Whether Harvard can sell Latin and Byzantine Greek as marketable undergraduate degrees remains to be seen. More than 700 students major – or concentrate, in Harvard parlance – in economics each year, making it the most popular field, followed by government, with nearly 500 students.

“For students, there’s an increasing need to think of one’s education as economically viable and productive and useful,” said Anne Monius, a South Asian religions professor.

While most students think of government and economics as more practical majors, leading to careers in politics and business, said classics major Veronica Koven-Matasy, “Classics is something you just want to do for its own sake.”

Koven-Matasy, president of the Harvard Classical Club, began studying Latin in seventh grade at Boston Latin School and wants to teach. Many other classics majors, though, go on to become investment bankers, doctors, and lawyers, said Mark Schiefsky, director of undergraduate studies in classics.

The classics department, where enrollment has hovered between 40 and 50 in the last eight years, is drawing up plans to preserve, perhaps even brighten, its future. Professors agreed this month to make the language-intensive field more accessible by introducing a classical civilization focus that requires four instead of eight language courses. Princeton and Yale have already taken similar steps.

Starting next year, Harvard also plans to do away with a rigorous six-hour comprehensive classics exam for seniors majoring in the subject.

“We had such Draconian requirements that really did date from another era,” said Schiefsky, who pushed for the changes, the first overhaul of the department’s requirements in about 40 years.

At Yale, where just 17 students are majoring in classics, the department offers unusual courses like “Food and Diet in Greco-Roman Antiquity” to draw undergraduates. Princeton has introduced “turbo” language courses that cram a year of Greek and Latin into one semester. The move has attracted students who are impatient to read and translate Homer without wading through an entire year of fundamental language instruction, said Denis Feeney, chairman of the classics department there.

Princeton has also embraced a decadelong university-wide effort to encourage students to be more adventurous in their choice of majors. That has lead to growth in interest in several small departments, including classics, where the number of majors has risen from 21 to 37 over the last 10 years.

“We’re really thrilled, but we still want more students,” Feeney said. “We’re empire builders here in the classics.”