Michael Sightings

I’m killing time while the wife and kids watch the Bachelorette (gag), and have been posting assorted things on my Facebook page about claims that Michael Jackson is actually alive. Also on my Facebook page I’ve posted links to assorted Weekly World News covers suggesting the same thing about Elvis (and Princess Di). What I’ve always found interesting (ever since Elvis died and this phenomenon seemed to have started) is that the same thing happened shortly after Nero died so I might as well write some sort of blog post on this. We begin with what Tacitus relates in Histories 2.9:

About this time Achaia and Asia Minor were terrified by a false report that Nero was at hand. Various rumours were current about his death; and so there were many who pretended and believed that he was still alive. The adventures and enterprises of the other pretenders I shall relate in the regular course of my work. The pretender in this case was a slave from Pontus, or, according to some accounts, a freedman from Italy, a skilful harp-player and singer, accomplishments, which, added to a resemblance in the face, gave a very deceptive plausibility to his pretensions. After attaching to himself some deserters, needy vagrants whom he bribed with great offers, he put to sea. Driven by stress of weather to the island of Cythnus, he induced certain soldiers, who were on their way from the East, to join him, and ordered others, who refused, to be executed. He also robbed the traders and armed all the most able bodied of the slaves. The centurion Sisenna, who was the bearer of the clasped right hands, the usual emblems of friendship, from the armies of Syria to the Praetorians, was assailed by him with various artifices, till he left the island secretly, and, fearing actual violence, made his escape with all haste. Thence the alarm spread far and wide, and many roused themselves at the well-known name, eager for change, and detesting the present state of things. The report was daily gaining credit when an accident put an end to it.

Galba had entrusted the government of Galatia and Pamphylia to Calpurnius Asprenas. Two triremes from the fleet of Misenum were given him to pursue the adventurer: with these he reached the island of Cythnus. Persons were found to summon the captains in the name of Nero. The pretender himself, assuming a studied appearance of sorrow, and appealing to their fidelity as old soldiers of his own, besought them to land him in Egypt or Syria. The captains, perhaps wavering, perhaps intending to deceive, declared that they must address their soldiers, and that they would return when the minds of all had been prepared. Everything, however, was faithfully reported to Asprenas, and at his bidding the ship was boarded and taken, and the man, whoever he was, killed. The body, in which the eyes, the hair, and the savage countenance, were remarkable features, was conveyed to Asia, and thence to Rome. The Histories via the Internet Classics Archive

But it didn’t end there … Cassius Dio relates another false Nero during the principate of Titus:

In his reign also the False Nero appeared, who was an Asiatic named Terentius Maximus. He resembled Nero both in appearance and in voice (for he too sang to the accompaniment of the lyre). He gained a few followers in Asia, and in his advance to the Euphrates attached a far greater number, and finally sought refuge with Artabanus, the Parthian leader, who, because of his anger against Titus, both received him and set about making preparations to restore him to Rome. (Epitome of Book 66 via Lacus Curtius)

… and there was (perhaps) a third False Nero, mentioned in the last chapter of Suetonius’ Nero:

He met his death in the thirty-second year of his age, on the anniversary of the murder of Octavia, and such was the public rejoicing that the people put on liberty-caps160 and ran about all over the city. Yet there were some who for a long time decorated his tomb with spring and summer flowers, and now produced his statues on the rostra in the fringed toga, and now his edicts, as if he were still alive and would shortly return and deal destruction to his enemies. Nay more, Vologaesus, king of the Parthians, when he sent envoys to the senate to renew his alliance, earnestly begged this too, that honour be paid to the memory of Nero. In fact, twenty years later, when I was a young man, a person of obscure origin appeared, who gave out that he was Nero, and the name was still in such favour with the Parthians that they supported him vigorously and surrendered him with great reluctance. (via Lacus Curtius)

Tacitus, in the beginning of his Histories (1.2.1) mentions:

I am entering on the history of a period rich in disasters, frightful in its wars, torn by civil strife, and even in peace full of horrors. Four emperors perished by the sword. There were three civil wars; there were more with foreign enemies; there were often wars that had both characters at once. There was success in the East, and disaster in the West. There were disturbances in Illyricum; Gaul wavered in its allegiance; Britain was thoroughly subdued and immediately abandoned; the tribes of the Suevi and the Sarmatae rose in concert against us; the Dacians had the glory of inflicting as well as suffering defeat; the armies of Parthia were all but set in motion by the cheat of a counterfeit Nero. (Internet Classics Archive)

… this is usually assumed to be one of the aforementioned. The usual study of all these ‘sightings’ is Christopher Tuplin, ‘The False Neros of the First Century AD’, in C. Deroux (ed.), Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History (Collection Latomus, 206; Brussels: Latomus): 364-404.

The parallel is not exact, of course — the above situations seem to involve actual persons impersonating Ner0  (but we have that phenomenon too) . But in at least one, of course, we’re in the realm of rumours and the implication is there might even have been more ‘sightings’. Whatever the case, it’s an interesting, and  rather ancient phenomenon …

UPDATE (07/09/09) ~ rogueclassicism/Explorator reader Angelika Franz has written an interesting item on this ‘sightings’ phenomenon in modern and ancient times for Spiegel (in German):

Tuscans and Etruscans

Latest bit on the DNA front suggests there is no DNA link between the ancient Etruscans and their modern-day Tuscan counterparts. An excerpt from the ANSA coverage:

The current population of Tuscany is not descended from the Etruscans, the people that lived in the region during the Bronze Age, a new Italian study has shown.

Researchers at the universities of Florence, Ferrara, Pisa, Venice and Parma discovered the genealogical discontinuity by testing samples of mitochondrial DNA from remains of Etruscans and people who lived in the Middle Ages (between the 10th and 15th centuries) as well as from people living in the region today.

While there was a clear genetic link between Medieval Tuscans and the current population, the relationship between modern Tuscans and their Bronze Age ancestors could not be proven, the study showed.

”Some people have hypothesised that the most ancient DNA sequences, those from the Etruscan era, could contain errors or have been contaminated but tests conducted with new methods exclude this,” said David Caramelli of Florence University and Guido Barbujani of Ferrara University.

”The most simple explanation is that the structure of the Tuscan population underwent important demographic changes in the first millennium before Christ,” they said.

”Immigration and forced migration have diluted the Etruscan genetic inheritance so much as to make it difficult to recognise”.

The scientific data does not necessarily mean that the Etruscans died out, the researchers said.

Reading the Herculaneum Papyri

This one’s a bit old, but is still worth mentioning … there’s a new method/project afoot to reveal what’s in the Herculaneum Papyri. An excerpt from the coverage in the  Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The scrolls contained ancient philosophical and learned writings. But they were so badly damaged — turned to carbon by the volcanic heat — that they crumbled when scholars first tried to open them centuries later.

The remaining scrolls, stored away in Italy and France, haven’t been read — or even unrolled — since A.D. 79.

Now, a computer scientist from the University of Kentucky hopes that modern digital technology will allow him to peer inside two of the fragile scrolls — without physically opening them — and unlock secrets they have held for almost 2,000 years.

Brent Seales, a professor of engineering in the UK computer-science department, will use an X-ray CT scanning system to collect interior images of the scrolls’ rolled-up pages. Then, he and his colleagues hope to digitally “unroll” the scrolls on a computer screen so scholars can read them.

“It will be a challenge because today these things look more like charcoal briquettes than scrolls,” Seales said. “But we’re using a noninvasive scanning system, based on medical technology, that lets you slice through an object and develop a three-dimensional data set without having to open it, just as you would do a CT scan on a human body.” The two scrolls that Seales and his team will work on are stored at the French National Academy in Paris. The UK group will spend July working there.

Their system was developed at UK through the EDUCE project, or Enhanced Digital Unwrapping for Conservation and Exploration, which Seales launched through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Experts say that if the UK system works as well as hoped, it could provide a safe new way to decipher and preserve more scrolls from Herculaneum, as well as other ancient books, manuscripts and documents that are too fragile to be opened.

“No one has yet really figured out a way to open them,” says Roger Macfarlane, a professor of classics at Brigham Young University who also has worked on scrolls from Herculaneum. “If Brent is successful, it would be a huge, potentially monumental step forward.”

Seales admits that there are hurdles, the biggest being the carbon-based ink thought to have been used on the scrolls. He says that because the papyrus in the scrolls was turned to carbon by the fury of Vesuvius, it might be impossible to visually separate the writing from the pages.

“The open question is, will we be able to read the writing?” Seales said. “There is a chance that we won’t be able to do it with our current machine and that we’ll have to re-engineer some things. But if that’s the case, that’s what we will do.”

If it works, what will they find?

The best guess is that the scrolls contain writings by Philodemus, a Roman writer and Epicurean philosopher born about 110 B.C. Philodemus is not considered a classical thinker of the first rank, but he was a contemporary of Cicero. He taught Virgil and is thought to have influenced the Roman poet Horace.

Aurelian Walls in Danger of Collapse?

From AdnKronos:

There are fears for the future of Rome’s ancient Aurelian walls after chunks collapsed on Tuesday. A major street was closed in the Italian capital after bricks from the nearly 2000-year old wall fell down.

The city’s archaeological authorities want to save the historic treasure, but they claim protection and restoration is limited due to poor financial resources, according to the Italian daily, Il Messaggero.

Authorities told the daily that whenever chunks of the walls collapse, the area is usually fenced off, but restoration work is almost never completed due to a lack of funds.

“Their maintenance is a recurrent problem for Rome. We have a huge restoration project ready to be implemented but do not have enough funds to carry it out,” said Umberto Broccoli, head of archaeology at Rome’s city council.

“All the walls…must be continuously monitored and kept under control. That is why we are waiting anxiously for the ‘Rome-Capital’ reform.”

Broccoli was referring to a recently approved law on fiscal federalism which would provide funding to the city of Rome to finance the restoration process.

Until recently, Italy’s central government provided the funds to restore tourist attractions.

The ancient city of Rome was once contained by the 10-metre Servian Wall which was built in the early 4th century B.C. When barbarian tribes invaded the city during the Third century A.D. the Aurelian walls were built to provide additional protection.

The walls, built between 271 and 275 AD during the reign of emperor Aurelian, once surrounded the capital’s seven hills and ran for 19 kilometres.

They were considered a valuable defensive measure for the city until the late 19th century.

Miriam Papyrus

IAA photo

IAA photo

As I work through the last of the end-of-school backlog, the quarry thing (next item) reminded me of this very interesting (especially as regards the dating) papyrus which border police in Israel seized about a month ago. An excerpt from the IAA press release:

The document is written in ancient Hebrew script, which is characteristic of the Second Temple period and the first and second centuries CE. This style of the writing is primarily known from the Dead Sea scrolls and various inscriptions that occur on ossuaries and coffins. The document itself is written on papyrus. The papyrus is incomplete and was in all likelihood rolled up. It is apparent that pieces of it crumbled mainly along its bottom part. The holes along the left part of the document probably attest to the damage that was caused to it over time. The document measures 15 x 15 centimeters.
Fifteen lines of Hebrew text, written from right to left and one below the other, can be discerned in the document. In the upper line of the text one can clearly read the sentence “Year 4 to the destruction of Israel”. This is likely to be the year 74 CE – in the event the author of the document is referring to the year when the Second Temple was destroyed during the Great Revolt. Another possibility is the year 139 CE – in the event the author is referring to the time when the rural settlement in Judah was devastated at the end of the Bar Kokhba Revolt.
The name of a woman, “Miriam Barat Ya‘aqov”, is also legible in the document followed by a name that is likely to be that of the settlement where she resided: Misalev. This is probably the settlement Salabim. The name Miriam Bat Ya‘aqov is a common name in the Second Temple period. Also mentioned in the document are the names of other people and families, the names of a number of ancient settlements from the Second Temple period and legal wording which deals with the property of a widow and her relinquishment of it.
According to Amir Ganor, director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery in the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Theoretically, based on the epigraphic style, the material the document is written on, the state of preservation and the text, which includes a historic date that can be deciphered, we are dealing with a document that appears to be ancient as defined by the Antiquities Law. Since this object was not discovered in a proper archaeological excavation, it still must undergo laboratory analyses in order to negate the possibility it is a modern forgery”. Ganor adds, “The document is very important from the standpoint of historical and national research. Until now almost no historic scrolls or documents from this period have been discovered in proper archaeological excavations. A historic document that can be definitely dated based on a reference to a historical event such as the ‘destruction of Israel’ has never been discovered. Much can be learned from this document about the names of people, their surnames names and the locations of settlements in Israel during this period. From an initial reading it seems that this document deals with the property of Miriam Bat Ya‘aqov, who was apparently a widow. The deciphering of the entire document by expert epigraphers and historians may shed light on how the people of the period managed their affairs and supplement our knowledge about their way of life. What we have here is rare historic evidence about the Jewish people in their country from more than 2,000 years ago, during the days following the destruction which sent the people of Israel into exile for a very long time – until the creation of the State of Israel”.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is curious how the legal niceties compare with those seen in the Babatha archive.

Yet Another Second Temple Quarry

From an IAA press release:

An ancient quarry, c. 1 dunam in area and dating to the end of the Second Temple period (c. 2,030 years old), was uncovered in excavations being conducted on Shmuel HaNavi Street in Jerusalem, under the direction of Dr. Ofer Sion and Yehuda Rapuano of the Israel Antiquities Authority, prior to the construction of residential buildings.

Dr. Ofer Sion, the excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, believes, “The immense size of the stones (maximum dimensions: length 3 m, width 2 m, height 2 m) indicates it was highly likely that the large stones that were quarried at the site were destined for use in the construction of Herod’s magnificent projects in Jerusalem, including the Temple walls. It seems that a vast number of workers labored in the quarry where various size stones were produced: first they quarried small stones and when the bedrock surface was made level they hewed the large stones. The stones were quarried by creating wide detachment channels that were marked by means of a chisel which weighed c. 2.5 kilograms. After the channels were formed the stones were severed from the bedrock using hammers and chisels”.

“We know from historical sources that in order to build the Temple and other projects which Herod constructed, such as his palace, hundreds of thousands of various size stones were required – most of them weighing between two and five tons each”, said Dr. Sion. “The dimensions of the stones that were produced in the quarry that was revealed are suitable for the Temple walls. The large section that was exposed is actually a small part of an enormous series of quarries that was spread across the entire slope – from the Musrara Quarter to the Sanhedria Quarter. The massive quarrying effort, on the order of hundreds of thousands of stones, lowered the topography of Jerusalem in the vicinity of the Old City. Today, with the exposure of this quarry, the intensity of the building projects as described in the historical sources can be proven: Flavius Josephus wrote that before Herod built the Temple he prepared the infrastructure for it: the quarrying of the Temple’s stones lasted eight whole years. The Temple itself was built in a relatively short period of time of two years. With the exposure of the quarries in Sanhedria and Ramat Shlomo, it is clear that Herod began quarrying closest to the Temple and worked away from it: first he exploited the stone on the nearby ridges and subsequently he moved on to quarry in more distant regions”.

According to Dr. Sion, “In those days the world of hi-tech focused on quarrying, removing and transporting stones. Historical sources record that Herod trained more than 10,000 people to be involved in this work: they prepared suitable transportation routes and then moved the huge stones in a variety of ways – on rolling wooden fixtures that were drawn by camels, in pieces on carriages, etc.

Among the artifacts that were discovered in the excavation on Shmuel HaNaiv Street were metal plates (referred to in the Talmud as ‘cheeks’) that were used as fulcrums to severe the stones from the bedrock, and coins and pottery sherds that date to the end of the Second Temple period (the first century BCE).

As is often the case, the IAA provides a zip file of relevant photos. Coverage of the discovery last year of the quarrying in the Sanhedria area is available here.

More to See in Rome

The New York Times reports that a number of usually-closed-to-the-public monuments in Rome will be open for the next little while. An excerpt:

“The shortage of guards is a huge problem that really must be resolved,” said Maria Antonietta Tomei, director of the Palatine and Roman Forum, as she strode purposefully around the site. On a good day, she said, only about a quarter of the approximately 80 security guards assigned to the area are on the job (holidays, illness and days off account for the absences), “and that’s just not enough.” But there’s no money to hire any more.

“Even when we restore buildings, we usually only manage to keep them open for a few days, even if the restorations have been long and complex and costly,” she said. “Then we only open them up to scholars.”

The chance to see previously closed sites is being made possible with state money that is usually set aside for staff bonuses and special projects, Ms. Tomei said. Normally cantankerous unions have also signed on.

Among the attractions that await visitors is the House of Livia, once the home of the wife of the emperor Augustus. The two-story structure has been closed for more than two decades, but until October it will be open every Tuesday.

By later imperial standards, the house, with its panels of architectonic motifs and flowery festoons, might even be described as modest. “Augustus didn’t love waste,” Ms. Tomei said. “He lived in the same rooms for 40 years.”


The Colosseum, Palatine and Roman Forum, which can be visited with one ticket, are Italy’s biggest tourist draw, and in 2008 nearly five million visitors brought in more than $50 million. But the financial crisis has had an effect on tourism. Hotel occupancy was down about 8 percent in March from the year before, according to the most recent statistics available from Rome’s municipal tourist office. (It’s too soon to know whether the Colosseum numbers have changed.)

New monuments to visit might be one way to lure tourists. For example, buried under the ruins of the Domus Flavia, built by Nero and Domitian, are the remains of the so-called House of Gryphons, one of the most important residences of Republican Rome. Excavated in 1912, it is virtually unknown outside academic circles. It too is now open on Tuesdays.

Behind its massive original bronze doors, the misnamed Temple of Romulus in the Roman Forum (it was probably the Temple of Jupiter Stator) shows evidence of the gradual merging of pagan religions with the Christian usurper. Like the so-called Oratory of the 40 Martyrs, decorated with eighth-century frescoes of soldiers who perished in frozen waters in Armenia, the temple is now open on Fridays.

Wii Chariot Racing

From a press release:

Neko Entertainment an independent premier video game developer and publisher announced today the upcoming release of Heracles Chariot Racing on WiiWare™, a racer that will drive players new and old to distraction. Featuring ten circuits in five mythological fantasy settings, players take control of one of eight gods or legendary creatures from Heracles to Poseidon as they race to become Champion Charioteer. Heracles Chariot Racing will be released on July 6th on WiiWare, first in the Americas, then later in Europe.

“We are excited to announce the upcoming release of Heracles Chariot Racing for WiiWare”, said Laurent Lichnewsky, Managing Director of Neko Entertainment,“With its blisterning fast racing action, mytholigical tracks and enemies, split screen multiplayer modes, Heracles Chariot Racing is destined to become a WiiWare classic for players, both young and old”.

In Heracles Chariot Racing our hero Heracles has to undertake a challenge that none before him have survived– a chariot racing tournament. To win a series of sacred trophies and be crowned Champion Charioteer our hero has to race across mythological kingdoms against some of the most feared monsters in existence. The objectives are simple, survive the battles and race against some of the most fearsome and inventive foes in Greek mythology. Select a character and let fate, skill and ability decide the outcome!

Heracles Chariot Racing is an exciting journey into a mystical and colourful word of danger spiced with excitement, awesome weapons laced with humour. Featuring Championship, Single Player, Time Trial, Battle and intense 2 to 4 split screen multiplayer modes, players are the master of their own destinies, but with the divine actions of Gods they will require both skill and an element of luck to be crowned champions. Featuring 3 racing cups across 10 courses based on mythological fantasy settings including Nemean Lion, Realm of Hades, The Augean Stables, Stymphalian Lake and Mount Olympus, players select a character and race it out using fantasy weaponry including Zeus lightning rods, tridents, fireballs and more against their opponents.

CFP – Dining Divinely: Banqueting in Honour of the Gods (July 2010)

… seen on the Classicists list:

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 (e.g. 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 (postgraduates US $85/¤60).

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


… seen on the Classicists list:



Chairs: Kai Brodersen (Erfurt) and Anton Powell (Classical Press of Wales)

To form a conference panel at the sixth Celtic Conference in Classics, Edinburgh, 28-31 July 2010.

If, as a historical magazine puts it, ‘What happened then matters
now’, it may seem to follow that we should privilege those aspects of
ancient history which most clearly lead to the modern world, or at least had
long-lasting and obvious consequences in Antiquity. And so we may downplay
ancient expectations which were not fulfilled. But such expectations may
have been predominant in their day. To neglect them may make it impossible
to reconstruct ancient mentalities, or even to understand why history’s
winners acted as they did. Especially in periods of gross instability, unfulfilled
forecasts may be numerous and rewarding to reconstruct. Some examples: after the disgrace
at Sparta of three recent royal predecessors, what were Leonidas’ prospects
if he were to return alive from Thermopylai? After Caesar’s death, how
persuasive was the fear that his empire, like Alexander’s, would fragment
into permanent successor kingdoms? What chance did the militarily-inept
Octavian seem to have of surviving – before Naulochus? Or, given his record
of poor health, after Actium? But even in less troubled times, unfulfilled
forecasts which influence policy may be the norm, subject afterwards to
downplaying by historians in Antiquity as today.

The organisers of this conference panel believe that one of the most promising ways to
improve the writing of history is to train ourselves not to impose our hindsight
onto the necessarily-diverse and imperfect forecasting by political actors
of Antiquity. This approach is also currently under discussion by academic and other lawyers,
interested in the concept of `negligence’ in relation to the benefit of hindsight.

We warmly invite suggestions for papers on this theme, concerning any period
of Greek or Roman Antiquity.

Reply to:
kai.brodersen AT uni-erfurt.de
powellanton AT btopenworld.com