The Search for Cleopatra’s Tomb: Update

Here’s the latest semi-coherent press coverage from Dominican Today, presented in its entirety lest I forget to add it to the record:

“That’s the mystery of the past, we’ve found doors as small as 20 by 20 centimeters which lead to great chambers,” revealed the Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, regarding the search for Cleopatra’s tomb by a Dominican-Egyptian team.

Zahi Hawas is in the country to receive a decoration in the National Palace and a Doctorate degree from the Catholic University of Santo Domingo in the company of Dominican archaeologist Kathleen Martinez, who leads the team which searches for Cleopatra’s tomb.

“So far only 30 percent of archaeological artifacts and tombs have bee found,” Hawas said of the investigation in his country, despite the constant excavations by teams from around the world. “But with cameras we can now see what’s behind those magic walls.”

The Egyptian scholar said Egypt’s Government seeks to assure that the excavations are transparent and allow people around the world can observe the work. “We also use National Geographic so that everyone can see what we’re doing,” he said Wednesday morning in an interview on Telesistema Channel 11.

A Dominican’s dream

“I saw that it was a dream of Kathleen, I then realized that the place had to be important since no one would have built anything there unless it was for an important figure,” Mawas said.

Whereas Martinez, an attorney-turned-archaeologist who’s proud to proclaim that her work is part of a larger effort by a Dominican-Egyptian team, noted that she convinced the Supreme Council of Antiquities to let her look for Ptolemy’s Temple, near Alexandria, where she’s convinced she’ll come across one of Egypt’s most enduring secrets. “I know inside that I’m close to finding Cleopatra’s tomb.”

She said with Hawas’ support, she has found the largest mummy tomb uncovered so far and among the important sites found, she noted that of the Taposisirs Magna, or the temple of Osiris, and Isis, determined from the gathered evidence in Greek script, which she said reveal the link to Ptolemy

“I halted the Louvre museum’s excavations until they return five Egyptian paintings which they did, and so far 5,000 artifacts have been returned from around the world,” he said, adding that he’s also working for the return of five unique pieces, such as the Nefertiti bust and a Rosetta stone in London’s museum. “I’ve centered by demand on Nefertiti’s bust.”

Cleopatra live

The scholar also invited the hosts of the Telesistema program El Dia, Huchi Lora and Patricia Solano, to transmit the excavation live via Egyptian satellite “to see all the artifacts we’ve found,” whereas Lora invited the scholar to visit the country for a conference on January.

FWIW … Here’s our previous coverage:

The last one there has links to previous coverage of this story (which features another non-archaeologist) …

Cambyses’ Lost Army Found? Don’t Eat That Elmer …

I’m sure folks have all heard/read about the latest news from the Egyptian desert — presented with varying degrees of credulity by a less-than- incredulous media –about the claimed discovery of remains of Cambyses’ ‘lost army’ by the brothers Castiglioni. Google, fora, lists, discussion groups are all agog at this apparently amazing discovery ‘proving’  one of many hitherto unverified stories in Herodotus. So let’s begin with Herodotus (3.26 … from the Internet Classics Archive; Rawlinson translation):

The men sent to attack the Ammonians, started from Thebes, having guides with them, and may be clearly traced as far as the city Oasis, which is inhabited by Samians, said to be of the tribe Aeschrionia. The place is distant from Thebes seven days’ journey across the sand, and is called in our tongue “the Island of the Blessed.” Thus far the army is known to have made its way; but thenceforth nothing is to be heard of them, except what the Ammonians, and those who get their knowledge from them, report. It is certain they neither reached the Ammonians, nor even came back to Egypt. Further than this, the Ammonians relate as follows:- That the Persians set forth from Oasis across the sand, and had reached about half way between that place and themselves when, as they were at their midday meal, a wind arose from the south, strong and deadly, bringing with it vast columns of whirling sand, which entirely covered up the troops and caused them wholly to disappear. Thus, according to the Ammonians, did it fare with this army.

Back in the beginning of 2004, rogueclassicism had its first taste of the search for this ‘lost army’ with a story from Egypt Today about a tourist company’s plans to have tourists take part in the search (hopefully the reason I’m doing this will become clear later) … here’s a better excerpt (I think) than I originally had, via the Wayback Machine:

The fate of Cambyses’ army is one of the great mysteries of archaeology. Attempts to find traces of it have ended in failure, and some historians suspect the tale was a fabrication, or at the very least a gross exaggeration.

Tourism companies, however, see it as a potential cash cow.

“It is a great opportunity,” says Hisham Nessim, manager of Aqua Sun Resort. “We will give tourists a chance to participate in solving this ancient mystery and we will sell it as a touristic product.”

Nessim, a former desert rally driver, leads the Egyptian Exploration Desert Team (EEDT), an exploratory “archaeological” mission funded entirely by private tourism firms. The plan, approved by the Ministry of Tourism, is to comb the Western Desert in 4WD vehicles packed with paying tourists hot on the trail of Cambyses’ army.

Archaeologists have reacted with suspicion and horror.

“It’s a very, very bad idea,” contends Salima Ikram, associate professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo.

“The more people go trampling through the desert, the more they muck up the archaeological evidence.” A foreign archaeologist, preferring not to be named, railed: “Do you think that if they find anything they will leave it intact? Of course not. They’ll pick it up, manhandle it and take home a few souvenirs. This is just the sort of sh-t we don’t need.”

Nessim brushes off his critics, who he says are blowing things out of proportion.

Hundreds of desert safari expeditions take tourists to the Western Desert each year.

The only difference here is that the safari’s route winds through areas deemed likely to contain remains of the lost army. Any evidence discovered will be referred to experts for analysis.

“My license is not to dig, so if I find something I must report it to the authorities,” Nessim says, indicating that the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) has no objections to the project. So far, Aqua Sun and co-sponsor Emeco Travel have organized two expeditions. Neither trip, each of which went ahead despite last-minute cancellations, made significant discoveries.

“We still have far to go. This secret has been hidden for over 2,000 years and we can’t expect to find it in just two trips,” says Nessim, who is reportedly cooperating with US space agency NASA to prepare a route for a third mission. “There are some places on the ground that I suspect and they [NASA] will check with satellites.”Remote sensors will also scan an area 50 km southwest of Siwa Oasis, where a Helwan University geological team prospecting for oil in 2000 discovered human bones, arrow-heads, frayed textiles and daggers in the dunes. The find sent shivers of excitement through the archaeological community, but an SCA team dispatched to excavate found nothing at the GPS coordinates they were given. The sand may have simply swallowed the evidence.

“The dunes in the Great Sand Sea move about 30-50 cm a year to the south and southeast because of the prevailing wind,” explains geologist and EEDT guide Bahei El-Asawi. “It’s hard to find anything, because the sand can cover one area and expose another.”

The nature of the desert adds a challenge, says desert safari specialist Hani Zaki of Emeco Tours, who compares the search for Cambyses’ army to finding a needle in a haystack.

“When you’re in the Great Sand Sea you can look 360 and all you see is sand. There are no landmarks, mountains or anything,” he says. “You don’t see anybody and there is almost no sign of life, but there is plenty of natural beauty.”

EEDT expeditions run between 10 and 22 days, traversing parts of the most beautiful and inhospitable desert in the world. The team’s 4WD vehicles are specially equipped for deep desert exploration, carrying extra fuel, water, rations, parts and GPS equipment.

“There’s always a risk, but it’s greater if you’re not following the rules, are not well-equipped or don’t have experience,” says Zaki. “Without risk it’s not an adventure. Our role is to avoid major risks and minimize minor ones.”

While Zaki is apologetic that the EEDT team does not include a professional archaeologist, he strongly rejects arguments that tourists are being deceived. Clients do not sign up for an archaeological dig, he says, they come to explore the desert with veteran guides “who know the desert like the back of their hand” and can provide valuable insights into desert history, geology, flora and fauna.The search for Cambyses’ lost army is “just a theme,” he says, insisting clients are aware that the chance of actually finding 50,000 desiccated soldiers and the bleached-white bones of their pack animals is remote. Instead, they hope to find traces like clay water vessels, trail markers, discarded weapons and – if lucky – the remains of a stray soldier.

Rival outfit Zarzora Expeditions is promoting similar themed trips, with itineraries that trace the steps of 19th Century German explorer Gerhard Rohlfs as well as Hungarian spy Count Laszlo Almasy (upon whom the 1996 film The English Patient was loosely based). The firm is also hoping to put together its own quest for Cambyses’ lost army.”It is an irresistible marketing tool,” says Wael Abed, the company’s general manager.

Even before that, in September/October of 2004, Archaeology Magazine was reporting:

A Helwan University geological team, prospecting for petroleum in Egypt’s Western Desert, has come upon well-preserved fragments of textiles, bits of metal resembling weapons, and human remains they believe to be traces of the lost army of the Persian ruler, Cambyses II, who conquered and ruled Egypt in the sixth century B.C.

A feature at Tour Egypt gives a few more details:

Lately, there has been considerable petroleum excavation in the Western Desert. Anyone traveling the main route between the near oasis will see this activity, but the exploration for oil stretched much deeper into the Western Desert. It is not surprising that they have come upon a few archaeological finds, and it is not unlikely that they will come across others. Very recently, when a geological team from the Helwan University geologists found themselves walking through dunes littered with fragments of textiles, daggers, arrow-heads, and the bleached bones of the men to whom all these trappings belonged, they reported the discovery to the antiquity service.

Mohammed al-Saghir of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) now believes that this accidental find may very well be at least remnants of the mysterious Lost Army of Cambyses II, and he is now organizing a mission to investigate the site more thoroughly. If he is successful and the discovery is that of Cambyses II’s 50,000 strong lost army, than it will not only answer some ancient mysteries, but will probably also provide us with a rich source of information on the Persian military of that time, and maybe even expand our knowledge of Cambyses II himself. The Persian armed forces consisted of many elements, including companies of foreign mercenaries such as Greeks, Phoenicians, Carians, Cilicians, Medes and Syrians. Hence, if this is not another false lead, we may expect excellent preservation of helmets, leather corselets, cloth garments, spears, bows, swords and daggers – a veritable treasure trove of military memorabilia. The rations and support equipment will all be there, ready for detailed analysis.

However, it should be noted that some Egyptologists question the very existence of such an army, rather believing that the whole affair was simply a fable told by a very prejudiced Greek.

A vague item from the BBC appears to be referring to the same thing.

Skipping ahead a bit, a quick scour of past issue of my Ancient World on Television Listings note a documentary called The Lost Army of  King Cambyses, which appeared on the Canadian History Television network in 2004 (not sure if it ever was on in the US). I don’t recall seeing it myself, but a program summary at ABC (Australia) seems to be referring to the same thing. Here’s a good excerpt therefrom:

The Lost Army of King Cambyses follows Bown and MacKinnon on their journey from Luxor into one of the most dangerous deserts on earth on the trail of the lost army.

Bown has developed his own theory to explain the army’s fate and has meticulously calculated how long the journey would have taken it. He believes the Persians’ lack of understanding of local geography led them into the towering dunes known as the Great Sand Sea, where they perished.

They explore the area for lost weapons and bones to prove his theory. But, although they find pits from which the dagger and arrowheads were excavated, there is no sign of the bones and skulls and a sandstorm blows up before they can search further.

When they do find bone fragments, MacKinnon is sceptical they belonged to a Persian soldier and puts a brake on Bown’s unbridled enthusiasm.

So much for recent history … before getting to the ‘recent’ stuff, I think it’s also worth noting something I found while poking around Google Books in an idle moment today which may or may not be relevant. From Gentlemen’s Magazine, vol 135 (1824):

FWIW … the common denominator seems to be a bunch of bones lying around, with the more recent ones mentioning arrowheads and a dagger. For another ‘backgrounder’, see Rossella Lorenzi’s excellent piece at Discovery News. Outside of that, most of the other coverage seems to derive from another piece at Discovery News, so we’ll do some clipping from that … Dixit Dario del Bufalo, who is described as “a member of the expedition from the University of Lecce”:

We have found the first archaeological evidence of a story reported by the Greek historian Herodotus

The article continues:

Now, two top Italian archaeologists claim to have found striking evidence that the Persian army was indeed swallowed in a sandstorm. Twin brothers Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni are already famous for their discovery 20 years ago of the ancient Egyptian “city of gold” Berenike Panchrysos.

Presented recently at the archaeological film festival of Rovereto, the discovery is the result of 13 years of research and five expeditions to the desert.

“It all started in 1996, during an expedition aimed at investigating the presence of iron meteorites near Bahrin, one small oasis not far from Siwa,” Alfredo Castiglioni, director of the Eastern Desert Research Center (CeRDO)in Varese, told Discovery News.

While working in the area, the researchers noticed a half-buried pot and some human remains. Then the brothers spotted something really intriguing — what could have been a natural shelter.

It was a rock about 35 meters (114.8 feet) long, 1.8 meters (5.9 feet) in height and 3 meters (9.8 feet) deep. Such natural formations occur in the desert, but this large rock was the only one in a large area.

“Its size and shape made it the perfect refuge in a sandstorm,” Castiglioni said.

Right there, the metal detector of Egyptian geologist Aly Barakat of Cairo University located relics of ancient warfare: a bronze dagger and several arrow tips.

“We are talking of small items, but they are extremely important as they are the first Achaemenid objects, thus dating to Cambyses’ time, which have emerged from the desert sands in a location quite close to Siwa,” Castiglioni said.

A bit later:

“Termoluminescence has dated the pottery to 2,500 years ago, which is in line with Cambyses’ time,” Castiglioni said.

In their last expedition in 2002, the Castiglioni brothers returned to the location of their initial discovery. Right there, some 100 km (62 miles) south of Siwa, ancient maps had erroneously located the temple of Amun.

The soldiers believed they had reached their destination, but instead they found the khamsin — the hot, strong, unpredictable southeasterly wind that blows from the Sahara desert over Egypt.

“Some soldiers found refuge under that natural shelter, other dispersed in various directions. Some might have reached the lake of Sitra, thus surviving,” Castiglioni said.

At the end of their expedition, the team decided to investigate Bedouin stories about thousands of white bones that would have emerged decades ago during particular wind conditions in a nearby area.

Indeed, they found a mass grave with hundreds of bleached bones and skulls.

“We learned that the remains had been exposed by tomb robbers and that a beautiful sword which was found among the bones was sold to American tourists,” Castiglioni said.


There is also a very interesting Discovery News video report up at YouTube (which is mentioned in the Discovery News report mentioned above):

There’s a similar sort of thing (in Italian) at Archeologiaviva (not sure how long it will be on the front page). Also of interest is a slideshow of some of the finds, which, interestingly enough, are bones, arrowheads and a dagger. And a horse bit.

So far, so good … it seems to be a spectacular find and I can’t help but wonder whether that claimed sale of a sword to an American tourist occurred on one of those tours we mentioned above. But whatever the case, to paraphrase Hank Hill, something ain’t right about all this. Consider another video up at Youtube, which appears to be an excerpt from the Castiglioni brothers’ film:

While watching this, I had a very uncomfortable feeling … these guys don’t seem to be acting much like archaeologists, even perhaps in a survey situation. There doesn’t seem to be any concern for context and they appear to be pulling random artifacts out from random places. Not a good sign. I also get very suspicious that they happen to find what appears to be an Achaemenid horse bit, and I don’t see anything resembling horse bones in any of the photos. Not a good sign. I also see a bunch of broken pots and they are described as “artificial wells” which the army supposedly used … does an army on the move carry water in pots? Does it create ‘artificial wells’? To what end? Not a good sign.

So I do some poking around, and while the Castiglioni brothers are touted as archaeologists, they are, it seems, filmmakers. They are included as exemplars of “mondo” (a.k.a. “Shockumentary”) films in the English version of Wikipedia. The Italian listing for their names reveals their education background is economics/commerce. Not a good sign.

Poking around for some info about Dario Del Bufalo, I was somewhat gobsmacked to find I had a mention of him in a previous post at rogueclassicism. According to an item I excerpted from the Museum Security Network — and I can’t vouch either way for its authority — Del Bufalo was once (perhaps still is?) a bigwig in the Italian Ministry of Culture who was possibly connected to Frieda Tchacos, of ‘Gospel of Judas’ fame. Possibly not a good sign.

Finally, and certainly not least, there is up at Dr Zahi Hawass’ blog (hmmm … is that why Facebook was suggesting I should “reconnect” with him?) a very important press release:

I need to inform the public that recent reports published in newspapers, news agencies and TV news announcing that “twin brothers Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni have unearthed remains of the Persian army of Cambyses,” are unfounded and misleading.

The brothers are not heading any archaeological mission in Berenike Panchrysos at the small Bahrin Oasis near Siwa Oasis. This site has been excavated since 2002 by an Italian mission led by Dr. Paulo Gallo of Turin University. The Castiglioni brothers have not been granted permission by the SCA to excavate in Egypt, so anything they claim to find is not to be believed.

The Supreme Council of Antiquities has already informed the proper legal and security authorities in Egypt and are taking the necessary procedures.

I think it’s time to let the air out of this balloon …

UPDATE (11/17/09): driving home from school today I realized the other name in the report is known to us as well … Aly Barakat is the Egyptian geologist who ‘confirmed’ that those things in Bosnia were pyramids … and that they were man-made like the pyramids in Egypt … I think that puts the final nail in the credibility coffin on this one …

More skepticism:

This Day in Ancient History: idus novembres

idus novembres
  • rites in honour of Jupiter
  • epulum in honour of Jupiter
  • rites in honour of Feronia
  • rites in honour of Fortuna Primigenia
  • rites in honour of Pietas (?)
  • ludi Plebeii (day 10) — the Jupiterfest goes on and on and on (much of the above must be connected to it all)…
  • 36 B.C. — ovatio of Octavian for “his” victories over Sextus Pompeius in Sicily; the real author of the victory, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, was granted the corona rostrata
  • 354 — birth of Augustine

Another Department in Peril: UMD College Park?

In the wake of the threat to Classics at MSU, it has been brought to my attention that the Classics program at UMD College Park is also threatened, although to what extent at this point isn’t certain (merger with other departments is the current suggestion … maybe). From what I’ve been able to gather, UMD has had major cuts imposed on it by the state and the fallout of that can be seen in this item from the Diamondback:

The classics department may be merged with another department as part of the university’s ongoing push to cut costs and increase efficiency in the face of severe state budget cuts.

The move could insulate the department, which houses three undergraduate majors and a popular Greek and Roman mythology class, from reductions that would devastate a small department but could be weathered by a larger one, arts and humanities college officials said. But classics Chair Hugh Lee feared the department could lose some of its independence.

“In some ways I have a little bit of sadness because I think the classics department is now in its golden age, and the faculty are very active nationally and internationally,” Lee said. “In an ideal world, I think we’d like to stay independent.”

Lee said he believed the department was targeted for a possible merger because it is small and does not offer a doctorate. The department includes 40 undergraduate students and about a dozen graduate students.

A merger might be necessary to protect small departments such as classics from a bleak budgetary future, arts and humanities college Dean James Harris said.

“Part of it is looking to the future. In other words, … we’re trying to position units to put them in the best situation to cope with the future, and the future doesn’t look good right now budgetarily, and it’s especially true of small units,” Harris said. “Can they survive on their own?”

A merger could save money on operating costs by pooling resources like paper, copiers and telephone service, Harris said, and by reducing the number of staff members. For example, one secretary could serve two combined departments. While Harris doesn’t plan to lay off any staff at the moment, vacant faculty and staff positions may go unfilled, he said.

Lee said he hoped the classics department would be able to keep the same number of students after the merger, but many details about the structure of the new department would need to be worked out. How many classes would every faculty member be expected to teach in a merged department? Who would be responsible for sitting on various university governing bodies?

“There’s no clear model for this kind of merger that I know of,” Lee said. “But I think we would probably have to give up some of our resources — some of our budget would have to go over to the larger unit.”

No final decision has been made on whether to merge the classics department, Harris said. The college is also considering merging the African American studies, American studies, women’s studies and LGBT studies programs. Across the university, departments are being forced to offer fewer and larger courses because of declining university fundraising and $86.2 million in state budget cuts over the past two years.

There is no timetable to make a decision, Harris said. It is unclear which department classics could merge with, although Lee said he has already talked with the English department and the languages, literatures and cultures school.

Lee said he hoped the academic quality of the department can be maintained.

“When Maryland talks about its peer universities … they all have free-standing classics departments,” he said. “I think we’ve over the years tried to build up a department; even though we don’t have a Ph.D., our teaching and our scholarship is something that the university can be proud of.”

Anyone else having 80s/90s flashbacks?

Vomitorium Watch

Richard Ackland in the Sydney Morning Herald, inter alia:

It was not until 2002 that St Andrew’s threw open its doors to women. Having lived there as a student in the 1960s I went back a few years ago for dinner and was bowled over at the change. What was once a vomitorium was now mildly civilised. This is not to say that all is perfect. Far from it – if recent advertising for a St Andrew’s College students’ informal is any guide.

… my guess is that he isn’t referring to an exit. Come on journalists … get this right!

Classics Threatened at MSU!!!

This seems to be a developing story but it doesn’t seem to be getting as much attention as these things normally get, so … let’s begin with the incipit of a news release (full of the usual bureaucrateze) from MSU:

As Michigan State University continues to shape its future and look for ways to reduce expenses while maintaining quality, efficiency and effectiveness, the MSU Board of Trustees today received a report outlining a series of recommendations that could do just that.

At its Oct. 30 meeting, the board was presented outlines from Provost Kim Wilcox and Vice President for Finance and Operations Fred Poston that are part of the university’s ongoing budget-reduction process. Wilcox told the board that he is endorsing a series of changes that have been identified at this stage of the planning process.

“We are in the early stages of a focused MSU budget reduction process,” said MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. “We have committed to making that process transparent. As we saw at today’s meeting many voices will continue to be heard as we work through the process.”

As many as 30 academic majors, specializations and other programs could be affected. It could also include the closures of two departments – the Department of Geological Sciences and the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders. While communicative sciences and disorders could be closed, graduate degree programs would continue, relocated within the Department of Communication.

Of concern to us, of course, is the threat to the Classics program, which currently resides in a department along with French and Italian . According to a powerpoint included on another page of the MSU site, the plans are to add Portuguese and Spanish to the mix to create a Romance Languages department. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing — it’s done at numerous other universities with varying degrees of success — but there are also plans to eliminate the major in Classical Studies, for reasons which seem vague and bizarre. It’s also bizarre that the only degree program in the College of Arts and Letters that IS threatened is something as seminal as Classical Studies.

Below I reproduce a letter from the faculty in Classical Studies at MSU which appeared on the Latinteach list that deserves wider dissemination on this issue:

Statement on Proposed Elimination of the Classical Studies Major at Michigan State University:

On October 30, Michigan State University Provost Kim Wilcox recommended the elimination of the Classical Studies Major as well as several other programs as part of a budget reduction plan that he presented to the Board of Trustees. The budget challenges facing the University are indeed severe, but cutting Classics will not result in any budget savings, and it is detrimental to our students, our faculty and to the reputation of the University itself.

Provost Wilcox admitted on October 30 that he did not know what, if anything, would be saved by cutting programs, and our Dean, Karin Wurst, has only referred vaguely to the “current economic climate” as justification for eliminating the program. This is disturbing given the urgency of realizing actual savings in the budget, because nothing is saved by eliminating Classical Studies. There are no administrative costs for Classical Studies, no dedicated support staff, no graduate students, no temporary instructors, no lab or material costs, and the current faculty will remain on staff.

In a recent e-mail to our current majors, the Dean claims that in the last five years we have had only a total of 11 majors. Our current major did not exist five years ago. It was first offered in January of 2006 and students did not begin enrolling in significant numbers until fall of that year. In fact, we have had an average of 24 majors enrolled each of the past three years, and we have graduated six majors in each of the past two years. These numbers are above average for other programs of comparable size in our College.

The Dean has also claimed that our courses are too specialized and that we do not reach a broad student audience. This reflects a profound misunderstanding of the nature of our program and the typical enrollments in our courses. For example, CLA 160, which is offered this semester, has 160 students with 47 different majors represented from across the University. This would seem, by any definition, to be a “broad” audience. We offer three or more civilization courses each semester and enrollments typically range from 30 to 200, with only a small minority in Classical Studies. All of the courses that support our major attract a diverse student audience and have strong enrollments, as shown by the fact that we have an average of 34 students per class (including the upper-level language) in the current academic year.

The Dean has told us that after the elimination of our program we will all be assigned full-time to general education. This means that of all the faculty in programs that may be affected by proposed cuts we will be only ones who will not be allowed to teach in our discipline.

The elimination of the Classics program along with all Greek, Latin and Classical Civilization courses not only makes no sense in budgetary terms, it also strikes at the heart of the mission of MSU as a land grant institution.

In 1855, the Michigan legislature passed Article 13, Section 11, which founded the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan. Article 13 became the model for the Morrill Act, signed by President Lincoln in 1862, which established MSU and other Land Grant institutions. Section 4 of the Morrill Act authorized the sale of public land to create endowments for states to establish colleges of agriculture and the mechanic arts “without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics.”

“Classical studies” in this context can only refer to Latin and Greek and related fields, and it is the only discipline in the humanities named in the act. This wording was part of an addition to original version of the Morrill Act that had been vetoed by President Buchanan in 1859, and it shows that Lincoln and other supporters of the Act recognized that the discipline of classical studies is essential part of the educational goals the public land grant schools, and this continues to be recognized by land grant universities across the country.

Cutting Classics clearly contradicts the Morrill Act, and it would give MSU, “The Pioneer Land Grant University,” the embarrassing distinction of being the only Land Grant university in the Big Ten and in the CIC that does not offer Classics.

Michigan State University is a premier land-grant university, but it is also preeminently an AAU university, one of only a handful of public universities that have such distinction. To cut Classics is to negate our intellectual heritage and to deny generations of students training in the core discipline of liberal arts education.

The economy poses serious challenges to universities across the country, especially so in Michigan. In the case of Classical Studies, however, MSU seems to have lost sight of budgetary goals as well as educational values. The hasty and unnecessary elimination of Classical Studies undermines the University’s claim to be a center of learning and a leader in global education. There is nothing to be saved by cutting Classical Studies, but much to be lost by our students, by our faculty, and by the University itself, all for no reason.

We urge colleagues in the profession and in the liberal arts in general, as well as informed and concerned citizens across the state and county, to write letters to our chief academic officers, President Lou Anna Simon, Provost Kim Wilcox, and dean of the College of Arts and Letters Karin Wurst in support of retaining and indeed fostering the study of Classics at Michigan State.

The Faculty in Classical Studies
Michigan State University

contact information for MSU administration:

Lou Anna K. Simon, President
EAST LANSING MI 48824-1046

Kim Wilcox, Provost
EAST LANSING MI 48824-1046

Karin A. Wurst, Dean, Arts and Letters:
EAST LANSING MI 48824-1044

Just to add some fuel to the fire, there’s something ‘not quite right’ about all this in general. Back in September, the president of the university — Lou Anna K. Simon — wrote a brief letter which suggests all these challenges would be guided by some “overarching design principles”, which include, interestingly enough, under the rubric ‘research’:

As a comprehensive, international, research university built on land-grant traditions, continue to strengthen the liberal core in arts, humanities, social sciences while focusing on areas of traditional strength, opportunity, and need including …

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is confused as to how one can strengthen arts, humanities and social sciences, while hobbling the discipline which pretty much is the basis for all of them. In any event, we also note that an online petition has been set up (and as of this writing has 350+ signatures).

Please find a way to get the point across to the powers-that-be at MSU that the young (comparatively speaking) Classical Studies major is something worth saving …

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem viii idus novembres

ante diem viii idus novembres

  • ludi Plebeii (day 3) — the major festival in honour of Jupiter continues
  • 63 B.C. — Lucius Sergius Catilina and his co-conspirators meet, with nefarious plans for the morrow
  • 15 (or 16) A.D. — birth of Julia Agrippina (“the younger”), daughter of Germanicus, sister to the emperor Gaius (Caligula), mother of the emperor Nero, wife of the emperor Claudius … a very powerful woman

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem iv nonas novembres

ante diem iv nonas novembres