Classic Bleacher Report

I’m sure I’m not the only Classicist who gets some of his sports news from the Bleacher Report, but I might be the only one who caught not one, not two, but three Classical references in Bleacher Report items over the past while. Back on May 21 (sorry … it’s been sitting in my box for a while), Brandan Fahey opened his commentary on the Magic-Cavaliers game thusly:

Orlando just stole our Helen—home-court advantage.

In a stunning loss, the Cavaliers were dominated by a juggernaut. They were beaten and beaten badly.

Shooting 55 percent from the floor? How nasty is that? Not in our house—well, actually it was in our house. Orlando’s young princes Hector and Paris (Howard and Lewis) ran away with the most coveted thing that Cleveland posses—home-court advantage. Its what we played the last 82 games for.  Aaaagh!

Oh well, as Homer put it, a thousand Greek warships descended upon the waiting Trojans. Orlando, unlike the real Trojans, do not have a wall to hide behind. Or at least, I don’t think they do.

However, Cleveland does have and Odysseus—and an Achilles on their side.

On the same day, Greg Caggiano was pondering NHL trade rumours:

One of the greatest thinkers in human history—the historian, the epistemologist, the philosopher. The man known as Socrates. Although he died around four-hundred B.C, I’m pretty sure that he knew what was coming in the later centuries to come even though the sport of hockey wasn’t even an idea until thousands of years later.

Of all his great achievements and works, Socrates is perhaps best known for a quote that said, “All I know is that I know nothing,” and that is how our Greek friend relates directly to not just trade rumors involving the NHL, but for all sports.

More recently, on June 12, Dayne Duranti was pondering the question of why Americans need football, inter alia:

I believe human beings are inherently violent. It’s not anything that we can control. It is subconscious, it is dark, and it is real. Football pleases our subconscious violence in a way that no other sport can quench.

Like the Romans and the Lions, the coliseums are packed every time. No one can (or wants to) really answer why we have this inner need for carnage, to see a grown man unload on another, nor do we care. It is pleasing and soothing during troubled times.

Outside of the cliche involved in the latter reference, I wouldn’t mind seeing more Classical references in the sports pages besides Achilles’ injuries …

Gela Shipwreck?

This is another one from the Italian press which I’ve been hoping would get some notice in the English press, but it doesn’t appear that that will be happening. The Carabinieri have been diving in the sea near Caltanisetta to recover assorted archaeological items which appear to be associated with several periods and several (?) shipwrecks (and, to judge from the divers, a crime of some sort). Artifacts are said to come from Roman, Greco-Hellenistic, and Byzantine periods. The only artifact that is specified as being recovered is an intact Byzantine patera, inscribed with a dove.

CFP: The Alexander Romance in the East

… seen on the Classicists list:

*The Alexander Romance in the East*

July 26-29, 2010

The University of Exeter’s Department of Classics and Ancient History and the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies will be hosting a conference at Exeter which sets out to explore issues and growth points in the study of the Greek Alexander Romance and its transformations in the Persian and Arab traditions, as well as aspects of the Hebrew tradition as it impinges on the Muslim world. For more details see our website,

Over three days we hope to include some twenty contributions on such topics as the following:

The development of the Greek tradition and its texts, from the Hellenistic to the Byzantine period
The historical impact of Alexander on the east and Central Asia
Indian reactions
Mapping Alexander and the east in the medieval west
Alexander in the Qur’an and in the Arabic romances
Persian versions of Alexander
Alexander in the Talmud and its influence
Specific stories – including the Water of Life, the Flying Machine, the Diving Bell, the encounter with the Brahmans

A number of scholars have agreed to speak, but we have room for more. To offer a paper, or for information about attending the conference, please contact:

Richard Stoneman at the Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Exeter, AmoryBuilding, Rennes Drive, Exeter EX4 4RJ, UK: richard14stoneman AT OR R.Stoneman AT

of proposed papers (twenty minutes) should be no more than 250 words long and should be sent to Richard Stoneman by **31st January 2010** for consideration by the conference committee.

UK News

Seems like a good time to catch up with a pile of brief news items from the UK that have accumulated over the past few weeks:

A caesium vapour magnetometer was used at Caistor St Edmund to get a better idea of the layout of Venta Icenorum:

A pair of Roman burials turned up in a Leicestershire garden:

Plans are afoot to reveal more of Wroxeter Roman City (a.k.a. Viroconium):

Digging has resumed at a bath site in Northamptonshire:

Remains of a Roman road at Tesco:

Some letters from the 1940s by the schoolboy who found Bristol Roman Villa were found:

Digging has resumed at Arbeia Roman Fort:

They’re still fighting to preserve the site of Colchester’s Roman circus:

Castleford’s Roman bathhouse is getting some recognition:

A Roman well from Chester:

A metal-detecting group from Bridlington has found a hoard of 75 silver coins and 10 bronzes dating to the mid-fourth century:

There were also a few reenactment events which folks might be interested in reading about … in Carlisle YorkSt Albans (sort of) …

CSI Ancient Greece?

Interesting item from New Scientist which is making the rounds of Slashdot (and I just saw it float past on a couple of Twitter entries too). Here’s the incipit:

You might call it “CSI Ancient Greece”. A computer technique can tell the difference between ancient inscriptions created by different artisans, a feat that ordinarily consumes years of human scholarship.

“This is the first time anything like this had been done on a computer,” says Stephen Tracy, a Greek scholar and epigrapher at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, who challenged a team of computer scientists to attribute 24 ancient Greek inscriptions to their rightful maker. “They knew nothing about inscriptions,” he says.

Tracy has spent his career making such attributions, which help scholars attach firmer dates to the tens of thousands of ancient Athenian and Attican stone inscriptions that have been found.

“Most inscriptions we find are very fragmentary,” Tracy says. “They are very difficult to date and, as is true of all archaeological artefacts, the better the date you can give to an artefact, the more it can tell you.”

Just as English handwriting morphed from ornate script filled with curvy flourishes to the utilitarian penmanship practiced today, Greek marble inscriptions evolved over the course of the civilisation.

“Lettering of the fifth century BC and lettering of the first century BC don’t look very much alike, and even a novice can tell them apart,” Tracy says.

But narrowing inscriptions to a window smaller than 100 years requires a better trained eye, not to mention far more time and effort; Tracy spent 15 years on his first book.

“One iota [a letter of the Greek alphabet] is pretty much like another, but I know one inscriber who makes an iota with a small little stroke at the top of the letter. I don’t know another cutter who does. That becomes, for him, like a signature,” says Tracy, who relies principally on the shape of individual letters to attribute authorship.

However, these signatures aren’t always apparent even after painstaking analysis, and attributions can vary among scholars, says Michail Panagopoulos, a computer scientist at the National Technical University of Athens, who led the project along with colleague Constantin Papaodysseus.

“I could show you two ‘A’s that look exactly the same, and I can tell you they are form different writers,” Panagopoulos says.

Panagopoulos’ team determined what different cutters meant each letter to look like by overlaying digital scans of the same letter in each individual inscription. They call this average a letter’s “platonic realisation”.

After performing this calculation for six Greek letters selected for their distinctness – Α, Ρ, Μ, Ν, Ο and Σ – across all 24 inscriptions, Panagopoulos’ team compared all the scripts that Tracy provided.

The researchers correctly attributed the inscriptions to six different cutters, who worked between 334 BC and 134 BC – a 100-per-cent success rate. “I was both surprised and encouraged,” Tracy says of their success.

“This is a very difficult problem,” agrees Lambert Schomaker, a researcher at University of Groningen, Netherlands, who has developed computational methods to identify the handwriting of mediaeval monks, which is much easier to link to a writer compared with chisel marks on stone.

I wonder, though, if an apprentice would make letters the same way his mentor did …

The New Scientist piece seems based on a couple of papers, one ‘techie’, one ‘arky’:

Jericho Quarry – That Legionary Banner (not)

I think I might be onto something here … just yesterday I was wondering about claims of an image purported to be a “legionary banner” found in that cave full of Christian symbols. If you read my coverage already, you know that I was having great difficulties seeing a banner in what was presented (apparently) as such. Amicus noster Joseph Lauer sent along a pile of links to photos from the site, including a better one of the item in question:

from ynet

from ynet

I’ve been staring at this for roughly an hour now, trying my darnedest to see a Roman vexillum or something vaguely military in it. I fiddled with it in photoshop to see if something was ‘hiding’. All to no avail. Then I realized I had seen this thing before … at Dura Europos. Ecce:

Wikimeda Commons

Wikimeda Commons

It’s that fresco usually dubbed ‘Ezekiel’s vision’. The thing on the right is the Mount of Olives being rent in two with all the resurrected folk spilling out. It seems to me that the incised image from the cave near Jericho is a stylized version of this … a single olive tree on top (the triangular thing) to designate the ‘olive’, and the mountain is split in two down the middle and across. Feel free to comment …

New Finds at the Villa of the Mysteries

A pair of articles in the Italian press have been lingering in my box for a couple of days … I figured something would have appeared more widely in the Italian press and at least something in the English press on this by now, but apparently not. Anyhoo, according to the news reports, there have recently been revealed at the Villa of the Mysteries:

  • a wine cellar with a row of dolia
  • ‘rustic’ rooms with their tiles intact
  • new areas of the first floor

Other features are mentioned in passing as well. Perhaps more importantly, though, the article highlights the difficulties faced by the folks in charge in regards to dealing with illegal building on the site (including that restaurant that’s ‘right there’ and a family of gypsies living next door).

Forum Follies?

Interesting review in the Times of  David Watkin, The Roman Forum … here’s a pair of excerpts:

A caption in the exhibition on the Emperor Vespasian currently in the Colosseum describes the Arch of Titus – only a few hundred yards away – as one of the best-preserved monuments from the Flavian dynasty. Yet what we have now is largely a nineteenth-century reconstruction. In 1819–22 the neoclassical architects Robert Stern and Giuseppe Valadier pulled down the private houses that had encroached on the sides of the arch and thoroughly rebuilt these sides together with the attic, using travertine instead of the original Pentelian marble. The inside of the arch includes the famous relief celebrating the taking of Jerusalem, with the Menorah looted from the Temple prominently displayed. Indeed until 1846, when the ceremony was abolished, every new pope’s inaugural procession passed through the arch, where a Jew was obliged to stand and pay homage to the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

Both facts – the evolution, as it were, of Titus’ Arch, and its use in papal pageantry – not to be found in most guidebooks, are relevant to David Watkin’s excellent, handy new book, whose main object is to see the Forum not as it looks now – “a long, clean, livid trench”, as Émile Zola wrote in 1896, in which “piles of foundations appear like bits of bone” – but through its metamorphoses over more than 2,000 years, when every age has left its mark. The Forum only ceased to be lived in, by both people and animals, in the second half of the nineteenth century, when it was turned into an open-air museum, and archaeologists imposed the view that whatever was Roman must be retrieved, and whatever they considered irrelevant, removed. Uninterested as they were in Baroque architecture, which after all shapes modern Rome much more than relics from antiquity, they ruthlessly destroyed several Baroque churches from the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries; these churches are now recorded only in Piranesi’s incomparable etchings.


Professor Watkin acknowledges that excavations made such monuments as the great Arch of Septimius Severus much more visible than they had been for centuries, but he argues that in most cases only the foundations – that is, holes in the ground – were unearthed, to be exhibited to the visitor with stones of no visible meaning. Even more questionably, edifices have been reconstructed from small fragments, much in the way a dinosaur might be assembled from a single cartilage. Today’s much-admired Temple of Vesta, for instance, in truth dates from the 1930s.

That seems a bit misleading as worded (by the Times … I’m sure Dr Watkin has a less controversial spin). Reading the description of the Temple in Platner (via Lacus Curtius) one will see that although it was just the podium and ‘various architectural elements’ which were found during various excavations, there was/is quite a bit of documentation from coins, reliefs, etc., of what the Temple looked like. I don’t think we’re in the same sort of ‘use your imagination to reconstruct things’ world like Evans did at Knossos …

CONF: Communities & Networks in the Ancient Greek World

… seen on the Classicists list:

6-9 JULY 2009

Organisers: Dr Claire Taylor, Trinity College Dublin;
Dr Kostas Vlassopoulos, University of Nottingham

Registration is still open for this conference in Dublin on 6-9 July 2009.
Please contact Claire Taylor (claire.taylor AT to reserve a place (there
is no fee).

For further information, see

Annelies Cazemier (Oxford): TBC
Claire Taylor (Trinity College, Dublin): Social networks and social hierarchies:
towards a model of social mobility in Athens.
Ben Gray (All Souls, Oxford): Exile communities and the citizen ideal in the
later classical and hellenistic Greek world.
Kostas Vlassopoulos (University of Nottingham): Free spaces: contexts of
interaction between citizens, metics and slaves in classical Athens.
Ben Akrigg (University of Toronto): The metic population in Athens.
Peter Hunt (University of Colorado, Boulder): Ethnic identity among slaves at
Barbara Kowalzig (Royal Holloway, London): Trading gods and trading networks:
economies of trust in ancient Greece.
Vincent Gabrielsen (University of Copenhagen): Naval and grain networks at
Christy Constantakopoulou (Birkbeck, London): Beyond the polis: island koina and
other non-polis entities in the Aegean.
Esther Eidinow (Newman College, Birmingham): Networks, narrative and
negotiation: magical practices and polis religion.

CFP: Dining Divinely: Banqueting in Honour of the Gods

… seen on Romarch:

Dining Divinely: Banqueting in Honour of the Gods
July 7-9, 2010
The Department of Classics at the University of Canterbury,
Christchurch, New Zealand

Commensality marked a range of public and private occasions in the
ancient Mediterranean world. This colloquium will explore the evidence
for banquets and feasts held in conjunction with or as a form of
religious observance. Offers of papers from any branch of Classical
Studies concerning the following topics are welcomed:

• The archaeological evidence for banquets (architecture, furnishings,
food remains, representations of banqueting) with a religious dimension.
• Banquets associated with particular religious festivals or rites, or
part of private occasions with a religious dimension (eg funerals).
• Literary or epigraphical evidence for religious banqueting.

An abstract of 250 words indicating the thesis, evidence and conclusions
of the paper offered and including the name, academic affiliation,
postal address and email address of the presenter should be sent to the
conference organiser at the address below. Email attachments and
facsimiles are preferred. Papers will be 20-30 minutes long, depending
on the final number of participants.

Abstracts must be received on or before October 1, 2009. Authors of
accepted papers will be notified by December 15, 2009. The registration
fee will be around US $120/€85/ NZ $175 (postgraduates US $85/€60 /NZ

Alison B. Griffith, Department of Classics, University of Canterbury,
Private Bag 4800, Christchurch 8140 NEW ZEALAND
Ph: ++64-3-364-2987 ext. 8578
Fax: ++64-3-364-2576
alison.griffith AT