Criminalita from the Italian Press

I’ve got a major backlog of items from Italian sources, so I’ve decided to break them up a bit and treat all the ‘busts’ in a single post — besides being an organizational principle, it does highlight how the marketing of illicit antiquities continues to be a major problem in Italy, despite recent successes (some of these date back to May). Ecce:

We’ll begin with an item detailing the outcome of four major operations which resulted in the recovery of some stolen Byzantine frescoes stolen from Caserta in 1982, the return of some 250 items from Switzerland (apparently out of goodwill by a pair of dealers whose names aren’t given), a pile of items recovered from a villa, and some Egyptian-related items which some tombaroli had taken (value – some 3 million euros):

Not sure if this is the same as the ‘pile of items recovered from a villa’ mentioned above; a pair arrested at Salerno:

A man from Orta Nova was found in possession of 18 coins dating to the 3rd/4th centuries, as well as a pile of amphorae and other antiquities with a value of some 400 000 euros:

Brief/vague item on the recovery of a pile of fourth century items:

Brief/vague item on the recovery of some amphorae from some villas (not sure if this is the same as mentioned in the first piece):

700 items found in various tombaroli homes in Foggia after some information from Germany (not sure if this is connected to the Orta Nova thing above)

Discovery of a 50m long tunnel at Pompeii and the arrest of a tombarolo who was apparently using it are raising concerns about the security of antiquities there:

Arrests in Taranto arising from attempts to sell ancient/medieval coins and jewelry on the Internet:

An ongoing archaeological dig was hit by thieves in Montebello:

Police at Messina recovered five amphora taken from an unknown (nearby?) shipwreck:

A couple of metal detectorists were found working on the archaeological site of Torre Mordillo:

A seventy-year old at Torino was arrested with a pile of ancient coins:

… and another 70-year-old from Ivrea was similarly arrested with a pile of ancient coins:

… while a seventy-two-year-old from Frosinone was arrested with a couple of hundred Etruscan artifacts:

I guess they need to keep a closer eye on the pensioners in Italy … what’s sad, of course, is that the above only represents those who managed to get caught …

Socrates Had it Coming

… or at least that’s what Paul Cartledge asserts in his most recent tome (and I tend to agree with him), which is beginning to get some media attention (although the various news outlets seem unsure whether to consider this news or a review). Here’s a bit from the Independent:

In his new book, Ancient Greek Political Thought In Practice, published today, Professor Cartledge says that while politicians and historians have used the trial to suggest that democracy can sometimes descend into mob rule, this was not one such example. “Everyone knows the Greeks invented democracy, but it was not democracy as we know it, and we have misread history as a result,” he said. “The charges Socrates faced seem ridiculous to us but in ancient Athens they were genuinely felt to serve the communal good.”

In his book, Professor Cartledge questions traditional arguments that Socrates was purely the victim of political infighting. Historians influenced by ancient writers, including Plato, have claimed that Socrates’ open criticism of prominent Athenian politicians had made him many enemies, who then pinned the impiety and corruption charges on him to silence him. Other historian believe Socrates’ teachings stirred political rebellion, and he was made an example at his trial by those seeking to quash dissidents in Athenian society.

Professor Cartledge said Socrates questioned the authority of many of the accepted gods and claimed to be guided by his inner “daimonon”, a term which he may have intended to mean “intuition”, but which could also be interpreted as a dark, supernatural influence, which would have outraged conventional believers.

The charge of “impiety” was entirely acceptable in a democracy deeply reverential of their gods, Professor Cartledge said. Accusations were brought by amateur prosecutors before a jury of 501 ordinary citizens of “good standing” who acted on behalf of what they took to be the public interest. If the prosecution could prove that a defendant was responsible for jeopardising the public good, he was likely to be found guilty.

The author also believes that Socrates invited his own death. Under the Athenian system, in this kind of trial a defendant could suggest his own penalty. Instead of taking this opportunity seriously, Socrates first joked that he should be rewarded and eventually suggested a fine that was far too small.

Unsurprisingly, his jurors did not see the funny side and passed the death sentence. Instead of fleeing, Socrates accepted the verdict, claiming that “he owed it to the city under whose laws he had been raised to honour those laws to the letter”.

FWIW, I’ve always felt that the ‘traditional’ view of the trial of Socrates –which tended to see the religious side of things merely as a pretext, as mentioned above — has been one of the longest-lingering examples of modern scholars imposing modern values on the ancient world. There continues (I think) to be a view that the ancients — especially those rational Greeks, but even those brutish Romans — in general didn’t really take their religion seriously. Whenever they used it, it had to be for some other, cynical reason. Did Socrates take it seriously? Perhaps … perhaps not. But it seems to me that a large portion of the jury likely did and when he suggested an alternate form of punishment, he alienated a pile of others as well … I’ll have to keep my eye open for this one.

CONF: Archimedes 2010 International Conference

… seen on various lists

23 Centuries of Influence on
Mathematics, Science, and Engineering
Syracuse (Sicily) Italy
8-10 June 2010

(From official website, 23/06/09)

This World Conference will celebrate the extraordinary achievements and enduring influence of Archimedes, and it will take place in the ancient City of Syracuse where Archimedes lived and worked 2300 years ago.

The Conference will bring together researchers and academicians from the broad ranges of Mathematics, Engineering, and Science. Historians of Science are also invited to participate.

The three-day meeting will take place in the ancient city of Syracuse (Ortygia) on the island of Sicily. A richly appealing social program will surround the Conference, including the opportunity to view an ancient Greek play in the city’s 2500-year-old Greek Theatre—where Archimedes himself enjoyed dramatic performances in the third century BC!

Seed funding for the Conference has been obtained from a division of the European Union. Additional funding is anticipated from international cultural and professional organizations.

The Conference is Organized by
# The City of Syracuse (Italy)
# The Western Greece Region (Greece)
# The Institute of Culture and Quality of Life (Greece)
# The University of Cassino (Italy)
# The University of Patras (Greece)
# The Hellenic Open University (Greece)
# The e-RDA Innovation Center (Greece)

And is under the patronage of
# IFToMM, The International Federation for the Promotion of Mechanism and Machine Science
# The Hellenic Mathematical Society (Greece)
# European Society for the History of Science

For further information:
(official website)


CONF: The Olympian Gods: Local Representations, Universal Principles

… seen on the Classicists list

The Olympian Gods: Local Representations, Universal Principles

Department of Classics & Ancient History, Durham University
5th – 7th July 2009

This interdisciplinary workshop investigates how the local characteristics with which the Greeks invested their gods related to the view that they operated as universal principles within the cosmic economy. Everyone is welcome, and there is no registration fee. Places are available at dinner in Hatfield College on Monday, 6th July (please e-mail barbara.graziosi AT

+ + + +

*6th July*

ROBIN OSBORNE, The style of the Gods

FRITZ GRAF, Divine Epithets


MARIANNE SCHIEBE, ‘Air is Ether’s sister and consort.’ Primeval metaphor & the anthropomorphic image of the divine.

SHAUL TOR, Parmenides and the Love of Double Headed

IVANA PETROVIC, Divine powers in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo: an allegorical interpretation

LIZ IRWIN, Anthropomorphic gods and deified emotions in Euripides’ /Hippolytus/

*7th July*

SARAH ILES JOHNSTON, Demeter in Hermione: Local Variations on a Panhellenic Theme

ANDREJ PETROVIC, Chaining Ares: Panhellenic narratives, local cults

JULIA KINDT, The Local and the Panhellenic Reconsidered: Representations of Zeus at Olympia

+ + + +

All sessions will take place at 38, North Bailey, Durham DH1 3EU (opposite Hatfield College). For further details please contact: barbara.graziosi AT or g.r.boys-stones AT

Boka Kotorska Shipwreck

AFP seems to be the only major news agency that picked this one up … via IAfrica:

A shipwreck believed to date back to Roman times was found at the bottom of Montenegro’s Boka Kotorska bay, officials said on Tuesday.

“We believe we have found the wreckage of a ship that could have been used to transport goods,” Montenegro’s regional Cultural Heritage Preservation Institute said in a statement.

Officials refused to reveal the location of the shipwreck until the area was fully secured.

The wreckage was found by the crew of the US explorer ship Hercules. Since May, the crew and the ship have been assisting Montenegrin archaeologists to map and discover underwater findings.

The Romans were present in the waters off what is now Montenegro from the year 9 AD till the 5th and 6th centuries AD, before Slavic people inhabited the area.

The incipit of a similar piece at adds a few details:

Underwater archaeological exploration performed on 25th May from the research vessel “Hercules” resulted in the latest discovery of the remains of ship which carried ceramic tiles used as roofing material – it is assumed that it dates from the Roman period.

The General Manager of the Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, Ruzica Ivanovic, says that, in case additional analysis confirm that this is the boat of the Roman period it will be the most significant archaeological discovery made on the bottom of the sea in Montenegro.

Within the research project of the Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, the Regional Center for Training of Divers, the Center for Underwater Demining and the “RPM Nautical” Foundation from Florida, there were other important discoveries: the wreck of a German submarine sunk 90 years ago and one amphorae locality.

… it goes on with a plea from Ivanovic for more funding for cooperative projects like this one.

Finds from Pozzuoli

Most of the coverage of this one — both in Italian and English — is pretty much the same. The site is Rione Terra, which overlooks Pozzuoli. Here’s the coverage from AdnKronos:

Archaeologists have unearthed a number of ancient Roman treasures during excavation outside the southern Italian city of Naples. Twelve ancient statues, columns and fragments bearing inscriptions from what appear to be monuments from the Republican and Imperial periods of ancient Roman history have been uncovered.

A head of the Roman emperor Tiberius bearing a crown of laurel leaves, two other male heads and a fragment of a painting are among the objects from the late Republican period in the 3rd century BC discovered by a team of archeologists at the site in Rione Terra di Pozzuoli.

Two female heads were also uncovered. One may be the head of an Amazon warrior from the 2nd century AD, while the second is believed to be a Roman empress from the late Julio-Claudian dynasty.

The dig also unearthed part of a sculpture of a horse and an antefix, a giant mask depicting a Gorgon or mythological beast dating from the 2nd century AD.

Other finds include four busts, a statue of a robed woman, another of a woman wearing a toga, and a frieze portraying two human figures.

The area is located on a hill and archaeologists believe it contained public buildings and houses overlooking the sea. Only part of the site has so far been excavated.

The archaeologists are working under the supervision of the Italian culture ministry’s archaeological department for Naples and Pompeii.

… it would appear that the “Tiberius” mentioned up there should actually be Titus. Here’s a photo of the head:

from Cultural News

from Cultural News

This is possibly a photo of the ’empress’ mentioned:

from Cultural News

from Cultural News

A photo of the ‘Gorgon’ (I think) accompanies Rossella Lorenzi’s report for Discovery News. There may be a video report there as well, but I can’t seem to find it.

Mystery Burials at Dorset

This one is a week or so old, but its interest remains. Assorted news organizations have covered the discovery of a mass burial of possibly 1st-century date during road construction in Dorset. The burial itself is puzzling, however, as the 40-odd skeletons seem to belong to folks who were decapitated, and the skulls were buried in a different location than the trunks. David Score, head of Oxford Archaeology told various news organizations (this is the version from the Guardian‘s coverage), inter alia:

There are lots of different types of burial where skeletons may be aligned along a compass axis or in a crouched position, but to find something like this is just incredible. We’re still working on carefully recording and recovering all of the skeletons, which will be taken back to our offices in Oxford for detailed analysis, and trying to piece together the extraordinary story behind these remains … It’s very early days, but so far, after a visit to the site by our head of burial services, the skulls appear to be predominantly those of young men. At the moment we don’t fully understand how or why the remains have come to be deposited in the pit but it seems highly likely that some kind of catastrophic event such as war, disease or execution has occurred.

With Reuters, Dr. Score went a bit further in his speculations:

Were they fighting amongst themselves? Were they executed by the Romans? Did they die in a battle with the Romans? The exciting scenario for us possibly is that there were skirmishes with the invading Romans and that’s how they ended up chopped up in a pit.

The Reuters coverage also adds some details:

The grave site is close to Maiden Castle — Europe’s largest Iron Age hill fort where local tribes are said to have staged a last stand against the Roman legions after the invasion.

Some historians believe the Romans sacked the site, butchering its population including women and children, before burning it to the ground.

Score said they had counted 45 skulls so far in the 6-meter wide pit, together with a tangle of torsos, arms and legs, More could be found in the coming weeks.

Most of the skulls were those of young men, supporting the theory they could have been killed in battle or executed en masse.

Well it seems to me that the ‘epidemic’ theory is right out, unless it was some mass outbreak of some unknown disease which caused peoples’ heads to fall off. Killed in battle seems a bit odd as well — you don’t get a lot of decapitations in battles outside of Hollywood. Perhaps a post-battle execution is possible, but if these were young, capable warrior types, wouldn’t one expect such folks to be sent back to Rome to fight in the arena? Maybe … maybe not. Similarly, execution by beheading wasn’t generally how Romans treated foreigners (the quick and easy death was preserved for Roman citizens), although perhaps a need to move quickly occasioned these events. Of course, there is an assumption being made here that the Romans would be responsible … that’s due primarily to the proximity of the burials to Maiden Castle, which Sir Mortimer Wheeler had connected long ago to the Roman invasion in 43 B.C., which, in this part of England, was led by the future emperor Vespasian. To judge from English Heritage, the current tendency is to downplay the Roman side of Wheeler’s theories and perhaps the same should be done in this case.

UPDATE (09/21/09): Turns out the burials are Saxon


LOsservatore Romano

L'Osservatore Romano

It seems appropriate on this date of the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul to comment on all the news that broke over the weekend in regards to St. Paul (and St Peter as well, indirectly). First, on Saturday, L’Osservatore Romano broke the news of the discovery of the oldest iconic images of St. Paul, found in the catacomb of St. Thecla, dating to the late fourth century. The article gives the impression that the identity of the Saint wasn’t really clear until laser restoration of the fresco had taken place, and the online version of the article includes the photo you see to the left (there’s another photo at the site which shows the laser restoration in progress).

The story was picked up by piles of news services, as might be imagined, and we get some more details than the original Italian report. Firstly, the Telegraph appears to have the best version of the ‘official’ photo of the fresco:

via the Telegraph

via the Telegraph

The Telegraph also seems to be one of the few sources who interviewed includes some comments from Barbara Mazzei, who directed the work in the catacomb. Inter alia, she told the Telegraph:

We had been working in the Catacomb for some time and it is full of frescoes. However the pictures are all covered with limestone which was covering up much of the artwork and so to remove it and clean it up we had to use fine lasers. The result was exceptional because from underneath all the dirt and grime we saw for the first time in 1600 years the face of Saint Paul in a very good condition. It was easy to see that it was Saint Paul because the style matched the iconography that we know existed at around the 4th Century – that is the thin face and the dark beard. It is a sensational discovery and is of tremendous significance. This is then first time that a single image of Saint Paul in such good condition has been found and it is the oldest one known of. Traditionally in Christian images of St Paul he is always alongside St Peter but in this icon he was on his own and what is also significant is the fact that St Paul’s Basilica is just a few minutes walk away. It is my opinion that the fresco we have discovered was based on the fact that St Paul’s Basilica was close by, there was a shrine to him there at that site since the 3rd Century. This fresco is from the early part of the 4th Century while before the earliest were from the later part and examples have been found in the Catacombs of Domitilla.

On the apostle’s iconography, see this useful page … as for it being the “oldest”, I’m somewhat hesitant — I’m pretty sure there’s a solo image of Paul in the Catacomb of Priscilla which may or may not be older. I can’t find any enlightenment on the web for that one.

The other big news in regards to St Paul was that tests had been done on bones found in his in the Basilica of St. Paul. The sarcophagus believed to contain his remains was discovered at the end of 2006 and for quite a while, it seems, Vatican archaeologists were unsure whether there were any bones in it at all. Whatever the case, according to ever-increasing media coverage, Pope Benedict announced yesterday (Sunday) that C14 tests had been done on the bones found in the sarcophagus and indicated a date from the first/second centuries. The quote from the pontiff which is appearing all over:

This seems to confirm the unanimous and undisputed tradition that these are the mortal remains on the Apostle Paul.

Other details of note (via the Reuters report):

Pope Benedict gave details of the discovery, saying a tiny hole had been drilled in the sarcophaguus to permit inspection of the interior, revealing “traces of a precious linen cloth, purple in color, laminated with pure gold, and a blue colored textile with filaments of linen.”

“It also revealed the presence of grains of red incense and traces of protein and limestone. There were also tiny fragments of bone, which, when subjected to Carbon 14 tests by experts, turned out to belong to someone who lived in the first or second century,” said the pope.

… hmmm. Not sure about you, but purple linen with gold suggests the burial of a rather wealthy Roman, which may or may not accord with the traditional image of St Paul, who would have been under house arrest for a couple of years before being beheaded. I’m sure I’m not the only person thinking it would be interesting to properly open the sarcophagus and see if the remains inside indicate decapitation, and it appears that a Dutch archaeologist is in the same category. According to a piece at Monsters and Critics, inter alia:

Responding to the claim by Pope Benedict XVI that the bones of St Paul have been found in Rome, a Dutch expert, Rengert Elburg, said Monday this can never be proven.

Elburg, an expert on archaeological study of old bones and organic remains for the government of the German state of Saxony, told the German Press Agency dpa in an interview, ‘It’s impossible to establish that it’s him.’

Even a genetic analysis of the bones in a sarcophagus marked as Paul’s would reveal nothing, because there were no proven descendants whose DNA could be compared.

‘But the bones could tell you the sex and age of death of the person,’ he said. A face could be reconstructed if a skull were in the grave. ‘But we don’t know how Paul looked, so that doesn’t help identify the body,’ he said.

Elburg said scientists were likely to check for links to the historical account of the beheading of St Paul, the author of copious letters and first interpreter of Christianity.

‘Traces of beheading can be identified with absolute certainty,’ he said.

The cut was usually found between the third and fourth vertebrae.

Elburg counselled maximum precision in opening the sarcophagus, saying, ‘It will be comparable to opening the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh.’ Fabric in a coffin could fall apart at a touch.

He said dry, outside air would not damage fabric or the bones. The presence of any clothing was likely to depend on whether the sarcophagus had been hermetically sealed for 20 centuries.

… and we might actually get to that point; an excerpt from the coverage in the Times:

Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, the archpriest of St Paul’s, said that he had known for more than a year that the tests had shown that the bones were those of a man of the 1st century, but had been sworn to secrecy because it had been “up to the Holy Father to make this public”. He said this was why the Vatican press office had denied last week that the bones had been identified. “Only the Pope can make such an important and solemn announcement,” he said.

The cardinal said he was now waiting for permission from the Pope to open the tomb, which would be a “long and delicate operation” in order to avoid any “structural damage” to the sarcophagus. Andrea Tornielli, the papal biographer, said that Pope Benedict’s announcement recalled Pope Paul VI’s declaration 41 years ago that the bones of St Peter had been identified.

Of course, we’ll keep you updated in regards to any developments or additional details of note.

On the fresco:

On the bones:

d.m. Bob Mitchell

From Wicked Local Newton:

Former students remember Bob Mitchell as much for his stories and mystery that surrounded him as for the language they learned from him.

“He was one of the most brilliant people I have ever met, and also by far the most enigmatic,” said Arielle Weisman, who graduated from North in 2003 and took classes with Mitchell for four years. Weisman is teaching English in Spain and responded to questions via e-mail. “I mentioned before that he was enigmatic. I say this because unlike other teachers, who you could well imagine went home to their families at night, ate dinner and went to bed, what Mr. Mitchell did in his free time was beyond us. He spoke/read over 20 languages and had the most bizarre stories from every corner of the globe.”

The Newton North High School Latin teacher died May 27 after battling melanoma. He was 60.

Weisman said Mitchell would often share his globetrotting adventures with his students, but details about his more recent personal life were hard to get. Until last week, Weisman said she didn’t know Mitchell had cancer.

“I’m thankful to have been able to talk to him one last time to make sure he knew that he was, still is and forever will be my favorite,” she said.

Mitchell started teaching at North in 1990. Principal Jennifer Price said Mitchell left the school on March 23, two months before his death.

Like Weisman, 2003 North graduate Lincoln Brody, who is also teaching English in Spain, found out about Mitchell’s cancer shortly before his death. Brody sent Mitchell a letter thanking him for everything he taught him, but it may not have arrived before his death.

“His teaching style was rigorous, intense, often frantic and always with total passion and a sense of humor,” Brody wrote in an e-mail.

In his letter to Mitchell, Brody thanked his former teacher for instilling a passion for learning in him.

“Just as important for me was the constant exposure to your unbridled enthusiasm for learning and knowledge as was the actual material we learned. This attitude, this spirit, is something that I treasure to this day, and for which I largely have you to thank,” he wrote. “So thank you for everything you’ve shared with me, from your daily quips to your bottomless digressions, to the impeccably detailed story you told our AP study group, on the night before the exam, of how you got struck by lightning one muggy summer afternoon while dancing like Fred Astaire on a construction site.”

Nathan Guttman, a 2003 North grad who now lives in Los Angeles, remembered how Mitchell’s story about being struck by lightning made him feel better before his Latin Advanced Placement exam his junior year.

“Everybody was exhausted from work and nervous for the exam. Mr. Mitchell stopped our translating about 20 minutes before the end of class and proceeded to tell a captivating, uproarious story about how he was once struck by lightning while doing a Gene Kelly dance on top of a Big Dig concrete pylon,” Guttman wrote in an e-mail. “The class listened in rapt attention as Mr. Mitchell described time slowing down and the world turning slightly green as the debris around him lifted into the air from the shock of the lightning strike.

“Mr. Mitchell realized it was he who had been struck by lightning when the umbrella he was holding — ‘Of course I had an umbrella. How else would you do “Singing in the Rain”?’ — shot out of his hand and landed 20 feet away.”

When students asked what he did, Guttman said Mitchell told the class he picked up his umbrella.

Along with his stories, students said Mitchell’s class could be tough. He assigned numerous lines of translation every night and expected them to be completed.

“To be honest, there were always a few students in Mr. Mitchell’s classes who didn’t particularly love Latin or the workload, but simply loved Mr. Mitchell too much to ever drop the class,” said Guttman.

Like his students, Mitchell’s colleagues sensed his passion for learning.

“We suffered a huge loss, but he’d want the celebration to go on and to honor achievement. He believed so much in the teaching and learning of foreign language,” said Nancy Marrinucci, head of the foreign language department at North. “He used to say it was part of a liberal arts education, and it allowed students to more fully participate in the world.”

One former student, Marrinucci said, compiled a collection of “Mitchellisms.”