Hagia Sophia Angel Brought to Light

from Turkish NY

from Turkish NY

Technically, this one’s a bit out of our purview date-wise, but I just learned a few weeks ago that there were mosaics being revealed at Hagia Sophia. According to various reports, one of the angel mosaics from Hagia Sophia has been revealed again, a century-and-a-half after it had been plastered over. Here’s the coverage from Turkish NY:

Experts have uncovered one of the six angel mosaics within the world-famous Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul after it had been hidden for 160 years behind plaster and a metal mask.

The mosaic, which measures 1.5 meters by 1 meter, was last seen by Swiss architect Gaspare Fossati, who headed restoration efforts at the museum between 1847 and 1849, and Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid. Experts were surprised to see that the mosaic, believed to date from the 14th century, was so well preserved.

Hagia Sophia, built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian between A.D. 532 and 537, was originally a basilica before it was converted into a mosque when Ottoman Turks conquered the city in 1453. During the conversion process, the Ottomans covered the mosaics with plaster instead of removing them.

The building served as a mosque until 1934, when it was turned into a museum.

The uncovered mosaic is located in the pendentive, an arched triangular section supporting the building’s huge dome. After 10 days of work on the area, experts removed several layers of plaster and the metal mask to uncover the angel.

The mosaic’s true age will be assessed after an analysis by the Hagia Sofia Science Board compares it to similar mosaics. The six-winged figure is though to depict the seraphim, an angel described in the biblical book of Isaiah.

Ancient Skylletium?

I was having problems understanding the Italian coverage on this one yesterday (specifically, the architect’s description, which is also in Il Quotidiano), but thankfully it’s appeared in the English press this a.m. … here’s the ANSA coverage:

An amateur scuba diver has discovered what may be the ruins of an ancient city off the coast of Calabria, a local town council said Friday.

Alessandro Ciliberto, an architect with a passion for scuba diving, discovered a group of stone blocks around 3-4 metres under water while he was diving 15 metres from the shore near the town of Squillace on Calabria’s east coast.

”Standing out against the sandy seabed there’s a dark-coloured form of around two metres in length and a metre and a half wide which seems to be man-made,” Ciliberto said.

”Continuing to explore the zone a few metres away, I found a white-coloured plinth half a metre high. Further on, there are a pair of stone blocks, one rectangular and of modest dimensions and the other an undefined shape,” he added.

Squillace town council said it was possible that the ruins belonged to the ancient seaside city of Scylletium, founded when southern Italy was a Greek colony.

The town became a Roman colony in 124 BC and was the birthplace of 6th-century Roman writer and statesman Cassiodorus, who claimed that its founder was legendary Greek king Ulysses.

Ruins from the city have previously been found in the nearby town of Roccelletta di Borgia.

Not sure why ‘city remains’ are assumed here; it might be something associated with a shipwreck …

d.m. Lionel Casson

From the New York Times:

Lionel Casson, who melded his mastery of classical literature with the findings of underwater archaeology in scholarly but accessible books about the history of ancient seafaring, from the primitive dory to the vast armadas of the Roman Empire, died July 18 in Manhattan. He was 94.

The cause was pneumonia, his daughter Andrea Casson said.

Drawing from an array of sources — the writings of the historian Thucydides and the speeches of Demosthenes; cargo manifests kept by unknown captains; images of ships on sculptures; the dating and typing of timbers taken from sunken vessels — Dr. Casson’s gracefully written books traced the trade routes that bound the ancient world and described the early evolution of shipbuilding and naval warfare.

A particularly useful source for Dr. Casson were amphorae, the earthenware freight containers of antiquity that carried products like honey, olive oil, wine, frankincense and myrrh from port to port. Markings preserved on many amphorae identified not only the point of embarkation but the year and the month.

Dr. Casson, a professor of classics at New York University from 1961 to 1979, wrote 23 books on Greek and Latin literature and the maritime history of the ancient Western world.

In one of his best-known works, “The Ancient Mariners: Seafarers and Sea Fighters of the Mediterranean in Ancient Times” (Macmillan, 1959), he wrote of the Egyptians, Minoans, Mycenaeans, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans and how they ventured from timid voyages hugging the coasts to bold dashes across open seas.

He described how maritime commerce progressed from nearby exchanges to an integrated network stretching from the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas to shores as distant as Britain and India. With commerce and politics fomenting rivalries, warships evolved from flat-bottomed rowboats into leviathans bearing hundreds of oarsmen and warriors. The Athenian trireme, for example, was a war galley with 170 oars arranged in three banks; rowing was synchronized to the piping of a flutist.

“A trireme could sprint at a seven-knot speed or spin about in little more than its own length,” the book says. “Despite its size and power, it was light and shallow enough for the crew to run it up on a beach” so crew members could cook, eat and sleep on shore.

But there were even larger ships in the ancient world, the “supergalleys” built by Egyptian pharaohs and their Macedonian rivals. One, built by Ptolemy IV, Dr. Casson wrote, “was over 400 feet long and 50 feet wide; the figureheads on the prow and stern towered more than 70 feet above the water, and there were no less than 4,000 rowers manning its benches.”

Dr. Casson did not limit himself to ancient maritime history. His 1964 book “Illustrated History of Ships and Boats” (Doubleday) traces water travel from the days when men floated across a river on an inflated animal skin to the days of steel-skinned nuclear submarines.

Dr. Casson also published “Libraries in the Ancient World” (Yale University Press, 2001). By piecing together findings from archaeological digs, references from literary texts and even epitaphs relating to libraries, he offered a succinct view of the development of reading, writing and book collecting in Mesopotamia, Greece and the Roman Empire. He sprinkled the book with amusing asides, including all-time best-seller-list assessments. “Homer led by a wide margin, with the ‘Iliad’ favored over the ‘Odyssey,’” he wrote.

In 2005, Dr. Casson received the Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement from the Archaeological Institute of America.

Born in Brooklyn on July 22, 1914, Lionel I. Cohen (he later changed his name to Casson) was one of two sons of Abraham and Bess Cohen. His father owned a lumberyard.

Besides his daughter Andrea, he is survived by his wife of 63 years, the former Julia Michelman; another daughter, Gail Casson; and two grandchildren.

Dr. Casson received his bachelor’s degree in 1934, his master’s degree in 1936 and his doctorate in 1939, all from New York University, and was hired as an instructor at N.Y.U. In World War II, he served as a Navy officer, interrogating Japanese prisoners of war.

Andrea Casson said that when her father was a teenager, he and a friend bought a small sailboat and soon began plying the waters of Long Island Sound. In 1952, while teaching at N.Y.U., he received a Guggenheim Fellowship. It allowed him to study ancient maritime commerce and spend a year examining the site of every important ancient harbor on the European coast of the Mediterranean and most of those on the coasts of Asia and Africa.

The majesty of masts and billowing sails enraptured him throughout his life. When replicas of the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria made their way below the towers of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in July 1992, in observance of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America, Dr. Casson was standing on the shore of New York Harbor.

“They looked fine, until they dropped their sails,” he said. “Then they kept on moving, and you realized they had motor power.”

Yes Minister – Trojan Horse

While poking around to see if there was a way to make links to the Colbert Report more ‘universal’ (i.e. via Youtube) I came across this funny Yes, Minister clip (I used to watch this show … can’t recall ever seeing this episode) … there’s some good Latin stuff here (after a couple of minutes of introduction) … this is what happens to Classics majors when/if they grow up:

CONF: Judaea and Rome in Coins

seen on Ioudaios:


An International Conference

13 & 14 September 2010

A two-day conference with the theme Judaea and Rome in Coins, 65 BCE to 135
AD, will be held at the premises of Spink and Son Ltd. in London on Monday
13th and Tuesday 14th September 2010.

This event, co-ordinated by David Jacobson, Nikos Kokkinos and Philip
Skingley and co-sponsored by the Institute of Jewish Studies at University
College London (UCL), follows two previous London conferences (‘The World of
the Herods and Nabataeans’ in 2001 and ‘Herod and Augustus’ in 2005), which
were successful events and have become reference points.

The period covered spans the Roman conquest of Judaea by Pompey through to
the last major Jewish uprising against Roman rule under Simon Bar-Kokhba,
and encompasses the birth of Christianity. The past few decades have seen
considerable advances in numismatic scholarship dealing with this period,
partly stimulated by archaeological exploration and numerous coin finds,
which have shed new light on the historical events and associated political,
social and economic issues. We should like to use this conference to
exchange views and analyse the fresh developments from new perspectives.

Well-known experts in the fields of Roman and Jewish numismatics will be
delivering lectures in four sessions over two days, these are:

Michel Amandry, Dan Barag, Julian Bowsher, Andrew Burnett, Kevin Butcher,
Ted Buttrey, David Hendin, David Jacobson, Morten H rning Jensen, Nikos
Kokkinos, Larry Kreitzer, Kenneth Lonnqvist, Sam Moorehead and Danny Syon.

Hospitality in the form of buffet lunches and refreshments will be provided.
The Conference Proceedings will be published.

A small related exhibition will be on display in the Spink showrooms for the
duration of the Conference and a visit to the British Museum is scheduled
where a further related exhibition is planned.

The cost of participation for the four sessions is 80 or 50 for full-time
students. To register your interest in this event please contact Philip
Skingley at Spink and Son Ltd., 69 Southampton Row, Bloomsbury, London WC1B

Tel. +44 207 563 4045 / Fax. +44 207 563 4068 or email: pskingley AT spink.com

Due to limitations of capacity it is important to register your intention to
attend early. A 25% deposit payable now will secure a place on a first-come
first-served basis. Budget accommodation in University student halls of
residence is expected to be available to attendees. If you require such
accommodation, please indicate this in your registration of interest, but
this needs to be notified before the end of the year.

Berlusconi Hiding Antiquities?

Okay … this is a bizarre one (to me anyway) in the myriad ways it’s being covered. The Italian Daily l’Espresso has been publishing some ‘sex tapes’ which apparently were made by one of Silvio Belusconi’s paramours, and in one of them, he reveals that there are Phoenician (Punic, more likely … possibly even Greek) remains under one of his villas in Sardinia. Different press outlets are choosing to concentrate on ‘sex’ side, but many are looking at the ‘antiquities’ side as well … here’s excerpts from the Daily Mail coverage:

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s sex tapes are the talk of Italy today – but not because of their racy content.

Instead Italians are outraged at the Prime Minister’s inadvertent boast of 30 ancient tombs buried on his estate – an apparent find of great archaeological significance that should have been reported.

The recordings were made by high class escort Patrizia D’Addario, 42, and even include a conversation allegedly between her and Berlusconi, 72, in which she praises him for his sexual performance.


But Italians did not seem overly worried about the tapes allegedly detailing their leader’s sexual exploits – until the revelation of the existence of the tombs.

In one transcript published in Italian media yesterday, Berlusconi is heard apparently boasts to Ms D’Addario about the existence of 30 Phoenician tombs, from the 3rd century BC on his Villa Certosa estate on Sardinia where guests have included Tony Blair.

After some small talk about sex – including Berlusconi apparently giving Ms D’Addario some crude sex tips – he then appears to describe how at Villa Certosa there is a ‘fossilised whale and 30 Phoenician tombs from three centuries before Christ.’

Any discovery of historical significance should be reported to the Ministry of Culture in Rome and to the local paramilitary police office in charge of artistic heritage.
Berlusconi’s villa, near Olbia, Sardinia, is nestled in rolling countryside, and allegedly comes with ancient tombs which could further the story of Italy’s history

Berlusconi’s villa, near Olbia, Sardinia, is nestled in rolling countryside, and allegedly comes with ancient tombs which could further the story of Italy’s history

Failure to do so can result in a fine of up to 3,000 Euro and or a year in jail – and it would appear that Berlusconi has not reported the existence of the tombs.

Today Giuseppina Manca di Mores, of Italy’s National Association of Archaeologists, said: ‘If the presence of these 30 previously unknown tombs on Berlusconi’s estate is confirmed it represents a very significant discovery.

‘As an association we are calling for an immediate examination because the historical significance of these tombs is vital to the study of the Phoenician civilization which we know was significant in the Mediterranean.

The remains of a Phoenician city by archaeologists digging in Beirut in 1997. The find was touted as historic – and now archaeologists are concerned that a find of similar historic significance is buried on Berlusconi’s estate

The remains of a Phoenician city by archaeologists digging in Beirut in 1997. The find was touted as historic – and now archaeologists are concerned that a find of similar historic significance is buried on Berlusconi’s estate

‘For years historians have debated whether the nearby town of Olbia was founded by the Greeks or the Phoenicians and these tombs could be the breakthrough needed to provide the answer.

‘Greek artefacts have been discovered already in the area but Phoenician tombs would be a new piece to the puzzle and open up a whole new field of historical research.’

Today opposition leaders called for an inquiry into the tombs.


In case you’re wondering, Berlusconi was describing his villa and said, inter alia:

SB: Questa è una balena fossilizzata
SB: Sotto qua abbiamo scoperto 30 tombe fenice … del 300 avanti cristo
SB: Ecco, vedi, questi qua sono i meteoriti. Questi son quelli che mi ha regalato … visti questi qua io sono andato in India … questo qui è il labirinto …. che ti ho detto.

UPDATE (09/25/09): Berlusconi’s lawyer is doing damage control, according to Earthtimes:

Berlusconi’s lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, has disputed the veracity of the series of tapes that began appearing on left-leaning magazine L’Espresso’s site on Monday.

On Friday he slammed what he said were the latest “unverified reports.”

“Berlusconi would have never spoken of the discovery of 30 Phoenician tombs in his park, because nothing of the sort exists or has been found in the area of Villa Certosa,” Ghedini was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.

According to Ghedini, the grounds surrounding Villa Certosa – where Berlusconi often hosts foreign dignitaries – have been inspected by Italian judicial officials in the past.

UPDATE (later the same day): L’Espresso is  now contending that Ghedini is lying: Le ‘tombe fenicie’ esistono, Ghedini le visitò nel 2005 … but L’Unione Sarda claims no one has seen any such ruins: Nessun avviso archeologico di tombe fenicie a Sassari

Ancient Port of Trafalgar

I’m hoping we’ll get more on this one, but many of these items reported by ANSA never seem to make it beyond ANSA’s own English coverage:

Searches along the Cadiz coast have led Spanish archaeologist Joaquim Casellas to find the ancient port of Trafalgar, 50 metres below the waves and partly buried at a depth of 15 metres below the sea floor. “This is one of the most important archaeological finds ever in Spain” said the Spanish researcher, who previously discovered some of the new rooms inside the pyramids of Cheops and Giza together with Zahi Hawass. In his research in Andalusia, Casellas has employed the airborne radar survey techniques also used in Egypt. The ruins of the port of Trafalgar, uncovered together with many archaeological finds, date back to a time before the Roman period. As Casellas explained to the press, they could go back to the era of the Phoenicians or even further. The port was found in the area of the Cape which give its name to the historic battle in 1805 in which Napoleon’s dream to conquer Britain was shattered. The site “has a surface of 15 by 3km” according to the archaeologist, “the submerged part is 50m under water, the land part is 15m below the surface.” Thanks to radar survey techniques, Castellas can now reveal that “the port is surrounded by a 30m-high wall,” with “a large-scale geometric layout similar to the pattern found in the ruins of Ampurias,” the Greek-Roman city in the Catalan region of Upper Empordà in Girona. According to the researcher, several buildings were constructed on the port in successive periods. Castellas has used aircrafts equipped with radar in his search, since diving in the area, a protected nature reserve, is not allowed. The radar used in the research can find signs of urbanisation as deep as 400m, and “was designed to survey large land masses with a fine-toothed comb.”The results of the air survey were superimposed on Google maps of area: “They make clear” the archaeologist said “the ancient port is shown in red, which stands out against the surrounding area, shown in green, littered with archaeological relicts and finds.” The method used, according to Castellas, “gives us a much wider and detailed view, enabling us quickly to find valuable archaeological sites at a lower cost per expeditions, which is the most complicated and costly parts of research.” Interest in Spain by marine archaeology has been reawakened in recent years, partly thanks to the find in 2007 of the half a billion dollars worth of golden and silver doubloons by the North American treasure hunting company Odyssey. But Castellas said, referring to the antique port of Trafalgar, that no old relicts or treasure chests will be brought to the surface. “To recover some of the treasures of the ancient civilisations” he explained “we need investments which are only possible with real political interest in archaeology.”

This Google Earth modification from ECD might give you a better idea of the nature of this find:

CFP: Antiquity in Film – Gender on Screen

Seen on various lists …

Conference: “Antiquity in Film – Gender on Screen”
December 10-12 2009 at the Freie Universitaet, Berlin, Germany

Contact: AntikfilmGender AT gmx.de

Prof. Dr. Almut-Barbara Renger
Department of History and Cultural Sciences
Institute for Religious Studies
Chair in Ancient Religion, Culture and the History of their Reception
Gosslerstr. 2-4, 14195 Berlin

This conference shall explore reception(s) of antiquity in film – from the silent era through to sound film and to present-day blockbusters. Film adaptations of ancient figures and material and what they have to say about the present, about culture and society will be examined in light of the specific significance of gender. Aside from the return of antiquity in cinema, we can also see an increasing interest in antiquity on television, in the form of miniseries or fantasy series.

“Gender” here is an analytic category that will serve as our methodological basis. This thus assumes that “femininity” and “masculinity” are not biologically determined, transhistorical constants. As this project is based primarily on the body and sexuality and their representations and reproductions in film, they will be examined as parts of gender constructs in the sense of nature as cultural text.

Approaches in recent film and gender theory look at the performance and negotiation not only of gender, but also of cultural background and national identities, using concepts such as “bricolage” to bring their various facets in contemporary film into sharper focus. The body’s boundaries and the transgression of these boundaries, e.g. in scenes of excessive violence, are often dominant motifs. In the last few years, the literature of antiquity has been adapted to film and turned into blockbuster Hollywood films, yet this has rarely been discussed. It is therefore all the more important to examine the significance of these films and their socio-political function, and thus develop interpretations that reach beyond what has been considered analytical common sense for the past several years.

To date, a few Classics scholars have written articles dealing with this topic area. These have touched on the historical figure of Cleopatra as film heroine and symbol of oriental culture, and the mythical figure of Helen in film history, as well as the connection between gender on one hand and domination, barbarism and slavery on the other. With this in mind, we will also look at gendered codes of representations of state sovereignty, (post-) colonial power relations and expressions of cultural superiority.

The goal of this conference is to attract papers that demonstrate to what degree the representations – constructions, destructions and reconstructions – of gender and gender roles have changed along with the changes in film (and societal structures).

We particularly welcome projects from the following fields:
– History, Classics and Modern Languages and Literature
– Cultural Studies, Religious Studies
– Theatre, Film and Media Studies, Art History
– Philosophy, Theology and Political Science

In addition to issues in gender theory, we also want to address:
– analyses of films based on media theories
– the Production Code, a mode of self-censorship current in film studios as a response to pressures from social and religious lobbyists
– the effects of the Cold War and the end of it on antiquity in film
– new approaches in Gender Studies such as Postcolonial Theory, Critical Orientalism and Critical Racism

We aim to publish representative results of the conference’s profile in an anthology.
Abstracts should not exceed 1 page and should be submitted together with a short biography of a few lines by 1 August 2009.

We are looking forward to an inspiring conference and lively discussion!

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem ix kalendas sextilias

ante diem ix kalendas sextilias

  • ludi Victoriae Caesaris (day 5)
  • 64 A.D. — the Great Fire of Rome continues (day 7)
  • 69 A.D. — sacking of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (?)
  • 133 A.D. — the last holdout of the Bar Kochba Revolt — Betar – fell to the Romans (?)
  • 1895 — Birth of Robert Graves (author of I, Claudius, among others)
  • 1978 — death of Dame Kathleen Kenyon (excavatrix of Jericho)

Classical iPhone Apps

Froma Zeitlin posted this to the Classicists list:

To those of you who are IPhone users, there are two new wonderful applications now available, very easy to use, courtesy of Harry Schmidt, grad student (and whiz) at Princeton University:

1. Lexiphanes is a Greek dictionary for your iPhone. It contains editions of the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon and Autenrieth’s Homeric Lexicon (both now in the public domain, oldies but goodies).

Lexiphanes is really fast, with a slick and modern iPhone interface. It shows you the short definition of a word so you don’t need to visit the whole entry. You can bookmark a word and come back to it later.

Lexiphanes can even convert Greek numerals to and from regular (Arabic) notation.

The short definitions feature was automatically generated from the text of the dictionaries. It’s not perfect. We need your help! You can make changes and they’ll be sent to us automatically.

Please read Lexidium’s Instructions sheet carefully to learn how to input Greek characters. You can either turn on the Greek keyboard (new in OS 3.0) or you can use “beta code” input. Both work just fine.

2, Lexidium is a Latin dictionary for your iPhone. It’s based on a public domain version of the Lewis and Short dictionary.

It has the following features:

1 (NEW). Lexidium can interface with Perseus and parse inflected words for you. An Internet connection is required for this feature.
2. Lexidium is really fast. It makes lookups a breeze.
3. Lexidium displays a short definition of every word so you don’t necessarily need to look at the full entry.
4. You can bookmark entries and return to them later.
5. Lexidium includes a Roman numeral converter. Enter a number in either Roman or regular (Arabic) numerals and Lexidium will automatically convert it into the other format for you.

Each costs a piddling $1.99.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand Hype

The hype has begun for the Starz’ Spartacus series (it’s coming out in January; I hope some Canadian station picks it up) … outside of a press release outlining all sorts of events, there’s now an official website with at least one wallpaper, which folks might be interested in (not of Lucy Lawless, alas) … doesn’t seem to be any videos in the screening room yet, but the opening flash thing on the website seems interesting enough (and shows a nice interpetation of the awning shading the audience) …

Plato on Transfer Talks?

T’other day we had Plato on music remixing … now the Liverpool Daily Post tells us he knew about transfer talks too (for those of you in North America who don’t follow soccer across the pond, we’d call them ‘trade negotiations’):

THE philosopher Plato – as opposed to some other Plato you might know – told a tale about a group of prisoners in a cave who were chained up so that they could only ever see a blank wall.

On that wall they observed shadows of what was going on behind them, and in essence those shadows became their reality.

Now his opinions on the transfer system in the ancient Greek football league are unknown, but still the allegory about the cave wall and the prisoners holds up in the modern game.

You’ve probably gathered already that the fans are the prisoners, while the action at the mouth of the cave – that which they can never directly observe – is what goes on in reality between football clubs, players and their agents. The cave wall is the press releases and the interviews emanating from those sources, and from which the supporters try to piece together what’s really going on.

… it goes on to gloss it a bit further. I only bring it up because I’m thinking I might have to start monitoring references to ‘the Cave’ and sharing them here. Plato’s cave seems to have become an all-purpose metaphor of late. E.g., from the Maui News:

After languishing for weeks in the long, weird penumbra of Michael Jackson’s exit, boomers seemed relieved to back be in the news again, if only in retrospect. Like Plato, we watched our shadows cross the collective cave wall.

There we were: marching for civil rights in Washington; screaming for The Beatles at Shea Stadium; trekking through the mud of Vietnam; watching astronauts bounce gingerly across the moon.

… and a puzzling conclusion to a fashion column in the New York Times:

Véronique Nichanian of Hermès also showed some lovely, civilized clothes: slim linen trousers in pond shades of green and brown, as well as lush leathers and fine casual knits. But the setting for this low-key luxury was a vast, airless ancient room made more stifling by a packed earthen floor laid for the show — and probably at some expense. To the audience fanning itself madly in the gloom, it was not quite the joy of Plato’s cave.

… and from an editorial in the Kansas City Star on the Sotomayor confirmation hearings:

But we suffer from a collective amnesia as best described by Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” in “The Republic.” Briefly, we are chained to the wall and we think the shadows are reality. When we are unchained and face the light of reality, it is too painful. If we would just take time for our eyes to adjust, we would see the truth, not just the shadows of truth.

Roman Shipwrecks of Ventotene

This has finally hit the newswires, it appears … excerpts from the Reuters coverage:

A team of archaeologists using sonar technology to scan the seabed have discovered a “graveyard” of five pristine ancient Roman shipwrecks off the small Italian island of Ventotene.

The trading vessels, dating from the first century BC to the fifth century AD, lie more than 100 meters underwater and are amongst the deepest wrecks discovered in the Mediterranean in recent years, the researchers said on Thursday.


The vessels were transporting wine from Italy, prized fish sauce from Spain and north Africa, and a mysterious cargo of metal ingots from Italy, possibly to be used in the construction of statues or weaponry.


Due to their depth, the ships have lain untouched for hundreds of years but Gambin said the increasing popularity of deep water diving posed a threat to the Mediterranean’s archaeological treasures.

“There is a race against time,” he said. “In the next 10 years, there will be an explosion in mixed-gas diving and these sites will be accessible to ordinary treasure hunters.”

A few days ago, the primary researcher on this one (Dr. T. Gambin) posted to Ostia-l a link to the project’s webpage, which includes a very nice photogallery of finds. This sonar image of the set should give a sense of how major this find is (those are individual amphorae):

Aurora Trust Photo

Aurora Trust Photo

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem x kalendas sextilias

ante diem x kalendas sextilias

  • Neptunalia — an obscure festival (obscure in the sense that we really don’t know what went on) in honour of Neptune
  • ludi Victoriae Caesaris (day 4)
  • 64 A.D. — the Great Fire of Rome (day 6)
  • 79 A.D. — martyrdom of Apollinaris
  • 303 A.D. — martyrdom of Phocas the Gardener

GRBS Online and Free!

Seen on the Digital Classicist list:

Volume 49 (2009) will be the last volume of GRBS printed on paper. Beginning with volume 50, issues will be published quarterly on-line on the GRBS website, on terms of free access. We undertake this transformation in the hope of affording our authors a wider readership; out of concern for the financial state of our libraries; and in the belief that the dissemination of knowledge should be free.

The current process of submission and peer-review of papers will continue unchanged. The on-line format will be identical with our pages as now printed, and so articles will continue to be cited by volume, year, and page numbers.

Our hope is that both authors and readers will judge this new medium to be to their advantage, and that such open access will be of benefit to continuing scholarship on Greece.

– The editors


GRBS has been free online for a few years already; definitely worth bookmarking if you haven’t already.

Vatican Museums Open Late!

This is good news … from ABC:

The Vatican Museum, full of priceless paintings, sculptures and archeological treasures is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, and one of the most visited places in Italy.

Anyone who has been to the museum will recall the long lines snaking around the outer wall of Vatican City, the world’s smallest independent country completely surrounded by the city of Rome. Waiting times to enter the Vatican Museum can be as long as two hours or more. Last year, four and half million people endured the wait for the opportunity to see the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael rooms, and the other countless treasures inside the museum.

But in an experiment starting this Friday night, July 24, the museum will open for a trial period in the evening from 7pm until 11pm. Only once before has the museum ever opened at night, and that was for the special events during the beatification of Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

Vatican museum director, Antonio Paolucci, in an interview with Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, explains that this is an opportunity for average Romans – those who work during the day – to be able to come and visit. “I don’t believe there will be long lines of tourists,” he said. “We want to return the Vatican Museum to the citizens, to the Romans here who now at times feel it has been taken over by the tourists, by the foreigners.”

Mr. Paolucci says that most tourists usually book their visits well in advance, but during this special night opening, Romans can just show up and try to enter.

Typically, visitors usually start forming lines several hours before the opening each morning. The lines will last most of the day. Only those on vacation or with the whole day off to spend waiting have had an opportunity to visit up.

Normally, the Vatican Museum is open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (Monday to Saturday)


An interesting item made the rounds of assorted newspapers this weekend … here’s the version from the Sun Times:

Not only have Olympic swimmers and sprinters gotten faster over the last 100 years — but they have grown in average size at a much faster rate than the normal population, a new analysis finds.

While the average human has gained about 1.9 inches in height since 1900, the research shows that the fastest swimmers have grown 4.5 inches and the swiftest runners have grown 6.4 inches.

“The trends revealed by our analysis suggest that speed records will continue to be dominated by heavier and taller athletes,” said Duke University researcher Jordan Charles.

Using mathematical formulas, Charles also predicted running speeds during the Greek or Roman empires.

“In antiquity, body weights were roughly 70 percent less than they are today,” Charles said. “Using our theory, a 100-meter dash that is won in 13 seconds would have taken about 14 seconds back then.”

Olympic swimming juggernaut Michael Phelps is 6’4,” with a disproprtionate arm span of 6’7″ and size 14 feet. He weighs about 200 pounds.

Interesting, but I was really wondering about that 70 per cent claim; on this reading, your average Achilles type — assuming he was the ancient equivalent of a Phelps, more or less — would weigh only 60 pounds!!!  Happily, the Guardian seems to have picked up on the difference between “70 percent less” and “70 percent of” (albeit in a correction).

Pre Roman Silchester

I’m kind of surprised this hasn’t received a lot more media attention: an ongoing dig at Silchester (ancient Calleva Atrebatum) reveals evidence of a planned city with a possible population of 10,000 or more prior to the arrival of the Romans.

Mike Fulford — who has been digging at the site for years — dixit to the BBC, inter alia:

“After 12 summers of excavation we have reached down to the 1st Century AD and are beginning to see the first signs of what we believe to be the Iron Age and earliest Roman town … The discovery of the underlying Iron Age settlement is extremely exciting … While there are traces of settlement beneath Roman Verulamium (today’s St Albans) and Canterbury and close to the site of Roman Colchester, none of these resembles the evidence that we have here at Calleva of a planned town … We now have evidence that the town was burnt down sometime after AD 50 and before AD 80 … The possibility that this was at the hands of Boudicca when leading the largest British uprising during the Roman occupation is hugely significant. It was not thought the revolt passed this way.”

The BBC coverage below includes a very interesting video from the site as well …

FWIW, I can’t resist including this detail which concludes the Guardian‘s coverage:

Recent finds include skeletons of young dogs with marks of flaying – suggesting that among its many flourishing Iron Age industries, Calleva Attrebatum was the centre of a trade in warm fluffy puppy fur cloaks.

… wasn’t aware there was a market for such; I wonder why they didn’t suggest the dogs were being eaten

Shrine to Jupiter Dolichenus

via the Journal

via the Journal

Very interesting find at Vindolanda of a large shrine to Jupiter Dolichenus with a Latin inscription; quotes from Andrew Birley have appeared in a number of newspapers:

What should have been part of the rampart mound near to the north gate of the fort has turned out to be an amazing religious shrine …There is a substantial and exceptionally well preserved altar dedicated by a prefect of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls to an important eastern god, Jupiter of Doliche. Major altars like this are very rare finds and to discover such a shrine inside the fort is highly unusual … The shrine also has evidence of animal sacrifice and possible religious feasting … It all adds to the excitement of the excavations and is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most excavators.

The inscription translates:

To Jupiter Best and Greatest of Doliche, Sulpicius Pudens, prefect of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, fulfilled his vow gladly and deservedly.

Adrian Murdoch has a transcription of the Latin in his coverage of this find …

Patricia Birley noted:

Perhaps what the prefect had asked for had come to pass and he fulfilled his vow by paying out for this expensive stone … It would have cost him a bob or two.

Interestingly, Dr Birley notes that the Sulpicius Pudens is surely the same character who erected another altar which was later reused in a wall at Staward Pele sixty or so years ago (which a certain E. Birley wrote about in “A Roman altar from Staward Pele,” Archaeologia Aeliana [ser4] Vol28 p132-6 and 139-40.

Jupiter Dolichenus was really popular — especially among the military — during and after the principate of Septimius Severus …

UPDATE (09/23/09) – see now Adrian Murdoch’s followup post on the previous inscription ascribed to Suplicius  Pudens: New inscription at Vindolanda UPDATED

Golden ‘Mask’ From Ohrid

Reports are just starting to come out of the discovery of 17 Hellenistic-period tombs from a site near Ohrid, FYROM/Macedonia. Plenty of items were found, of course (including some in amber), but the most interesting seems to be the burial of a young girl of apparently noble status.

Pasko Kuzman, head of the Macedonian Department for Cultural Heritage dixit:

“There is something here which, from a scientific point of view, is more important even than the golden mask [discovered in Ohrid earlier], since the personality buried in this tomb had a golden object in the shape of eye glasses, a rhomboid-shaped golden plate on the mouth and a golden plate with a sun with 16 rays in the area of the heart. The two objects that were placed on the eyes and the mouth mean the dead person was masked. This kind of combination of masking was unique on the Balkans. Until now, separate golden plates were discovered, especially in the Aegean, but this kind of combination was unknown until now.”

… haven’t been able to track down any photos.