Gladiating Through University

show fight in Carnuntum: thraex vs.
Image via Wikipedia

From the Local:

Twenty students from the University of Regensburg plan to live and train in the style of Roman gladiators from 79 AD and stage a battle for scientific research this summer, the project’s Bavarian organisers said on Monday.

“We know hardly anything about the gladiators,” historian Josef Löffl said. “There are a lot of myths and clichés attached.”

Löffl and his colleagues plan to find out this August whether they can make modern young men into authentic gladiators following the Roman example.

The student warriors, who are all studying various disciplines at the university, won’t be eating pizza, hamburgers or steaks during their training. Instead they’ll have berries and white beans on their plates as the ancient Roman doctor Galen recommended in his texts.

They will also learn to fight wearing bronze helmets that weigh almost five kilogrammes at a camp that won’t allow girlfriends, showers, or washing machines.

“For me it’s a welcome change from sitting in front of the computer,” said athletic archaeology student Martin Schreiner.

He and the other gladiators are already training together four days a week. Following the summer training camp the group plans to perform at the former Roman army camp Carnuntum in Austria.

“We assume that those involved will weather the experiment quite well,” Löffl said.

Regensburg was once an important Roman stronghold along the Danube River, and historians at the university have conducted similar experiments in the past. In 2004 students built a Roman galley along the banks of the river, while others lived like legionnaires in the Alps.

This year’s project has been funded by €200,000 from businessman Hans Schaller, whose hobby is recreating historic events and participating as the character “Schallus Brutalus Maximus.”

via University students to live like ancient Roman gladiators – The Local.

Dr Loffl seems fond of putting grad students through these reenacment exercises

More coverage:

Guernsey as Roman Trading Post

The incipit of an item at the BBC:

A series of finds in 1980s completely changed the perception of the effect the Romans had on Guernsey.

Tanya Walls, La Société Guernesiaise archaeology secretary, said before the finds it had been thought they had little influence.

However, when evidence of settlements, trade and industry came to light it told a different story.

The island became a centre for trade, most obviously shown by the wreck of a Roman trading ship found off Guernsey.

Before the Romans, Guernsey had been well-known as a trading point for wine in the Iron Age as ships made their way north from Bordeaux.

The Romans capitalised on this settling in St Peter Port following their occupation of Gaul (modern day France).

In the 1980s a site was discovered at La Paladerie, in St Peter Port, where Roman artefacts and the remains of buildings were uncovered.

Amongst the items found on the site were locally produced Iron Age pottery alongside the finer type produced in Europe by the Romans and also remains of the household gods found in every Roman home before the empire’s conversion to Christianity.

A few years before this the Asterix, a Gallo-Roman trading vessel, was found in the mouth of the harbour and these two finds combined to show how Guernsey was used as a trading post.

Tanya explained that it is thought the Romans settled in Guernsey shortly after they conquered what is now France, but before they reached England, sometime in the first century BC, and: “Their influence would have been strong for around 300 years.”

Tiles from a Roman building were used in the construction of Castel Church

The idea that there was a Roman settlement in St Peter Port was furthered when the Town Market building was redeveloped in 2000 and a further series of settlements were found.

[...]

via BBC – Guernsey the Roman Empire’s trading post.

We mentioned the plans for the Asterix a few months ago …

Egalitarian Mycenean Burials?

Most of a very interesting item from the Independent:

A team of archaeologists have unearthed five chamber tombs at Ayia Sotira, a cemetery in the Nemea Valley in Greece, just a few hours walk from the ancient city of Mycenae. The tombs date from 1350 – 1200 BC, the era in which Mycenae thrived as a major centre of Greek civilization.

They contain the remains of 21 individuals who probably came from Tsoungiza, an agricultural settlement close to the ancient city. Despite the significant human remains, however, the team have found no evidence of elite burials, prompting speculation that Tsoungiza may have been an egalitarian society without leaders.

The team excavated the five tombs between 2006 and 2008, containing the skeletal remains of 21 individuals, including what appears to be an extended family made up of two men, one woman and two young children. Detailed analysis of the remains will be difficult to carry out as they are generally poorly preserved. The team have been advised by scientists that DNA analysis will not be possible, but it is hoped that analysis will reveal further information about the diet of the individuals.

The team also discovered pieces of obsidian and flint debris in the tombs, and believe that these tools would have been used to cut up bodies as part of ‘secondary burial’ procedures – a funerary practice that was not uncommon in the ancient world. Professor Angus Smith, of Brock University in Canada, is one of the directors of the excavation project. He explained:

“You bury somebody, then you wait for that person to decompose, then you go back into the tomb or grave and you collect the bones after all the flesh has decomposed”.

Professor Smith suggested that there were practical reasons to bury bodies in this way, in that the bodies would take up less space. But there may also have been ritualistic reasons. In Tomb 4 the team found a small pit that contained the secondary burials of two adult men. Both of their skulls were “displayed at a higher level than the rest of the skeleton,” said Professor Smith, suggesting that the men were “carefully placed in this pit”.

The team were surprised to find a lack of burial goods in the tombs. The Mycenaean civilization is known for its rich elite burials, but the goods found at Ayia Sotira were modest. They included alabaster pots, bowls, jugs, faïence and glass beads, and a female Psi figurine (one of three styles typical of Mycenae). After water-sieving the remains, they also found stone micro beads that were no bigger than a millimetre in size. One tomb contained 462 of these beads stowed in a side-chamber, and are thought to be the remains of a necklace.

There were no findings of the gold or silver artefacts expected in an elite burial, although they did find fragments of a conical rhyton – a two-hole vessel that can be used for libation rituals and is often associated with elite burials.

Professor Smith described the tomb complex as having a “distinctly different character to those around Mycenae. The wealthy and very wealthy tombs are missing”.

One explanation could be that the elite tombs were looted, either in ancient times or more recently. When the team arrived at Ayia Sotira, they found ‘probe holes’ that had been dug into the ground by looters searching for airways.

Another possibility is that the elite tombs at Ayia Sotira just haven’t been discovered yet.

A third possibility is that these people lived in a classless society – that despite being close to a rich city, the people of this settlement, for whatever reason, had no elites.

“It does seem to be a community of agriculturalists who don’t seem to have a clear leader or clear elite mixed in amongst them,” said Professor Smith. “Were they governed by the palace at Mycenae which sort of oversaw them? Or were they removed enough that they had their own system of politics and government but one that didn’t produce clear elites?”

via Mycenaean tombs discovered might be evidence of classless society | The Independent.

Interesting questions … it will be interesting to see where this all ends up going …

This Day inAncient History: pridie kalendas apriles

pridie kalendas apriles

  • rites in honour of Luna at her temple on the Aventine
  • c. 130 A.D. — martyrdom of Balbina
  • 250 (?) A.D. — birth of the future emperor Constantius I Chlorus
  • 307 A.D. — Constantine marries Fausta, the daughter of Maximian
  • 1596 — birth of Rene Descartes (author, of course, of that bit of Latin which a pile of folks know)

JOB: Generalist @ UArizona (one year)

Seen on the Classics list:

The Classics Department at the University of Arizona is seeking a Visiting
Assistant Professor for the academic year 2010-2011 beginning in August of
2010. This is a full time and benefits eligible position. Candidates should
be broadly trained classicists prepared to teach six courses (three courses
per semester), including one in the classical tradition, two large
enrollment classes depending upon the candidate¹s areas of expertise, and
Greek and Latin. A Ph.D. in Classics is required. The University of Arizona
conducts pre-employment screening for all positions, and this includes
verification of academic credentials, licenses, certifications, and work
history. This position is non-security sensitive and requires a name-based
criminal background check. The University of Arizona is an EEO/AA-M/W/D/V/
Employer.
Position open until filled.
Apply on line at www.uacareertrack.com

Burrito Burial From Gabii

This one’s making the rounds and is in multiple copies in my mailbox … excerpts from a very interesting item at the National Geographic.

A 1,700-year-old sarcophagus found in an abandoned city near Rome could contain the body of a gladiator or a Christian dignitary, say archaeologists who are preparing to examine the coffin in the lab.Found in a cement-capped pit in the ancient metropolis of Gabii, the coffin is unusual because it\’s made of lead—only a few hundred such Roman burials are known.Even odder, the 800 pounds (362 kilograms) of lead fold over the corpse like a burrito, said Roman archaeologist Jeffrey Becker. rectangular shape with a lid, he said.

The coffin, which has been in storage since last year, is about to be moved to the American Academy in Rome for further testing.

But uncovering details about the person inside the lead coffin will be tricky. For starters, the undisturbed tomb contained no grave goods, offering few clues about the owner.

What’s more, x-ray and CT scans—the preferred methods of coffin analysis—cannot penetrate the thick lead, leaving researchers pondering other, potentially dangerous ways to examine the remains inside.

“It’s exciting as well as frustrating, because there are no known matches in the record,” said Becker, managing director of the University of Michigan’s Gabii Project.

[...]

The newfound sarcophagus was the “most surprising” discovery made in 2009 during the largest ever archaeological dig in Gabii. Becker and colleague Nicola Terrenato received funding for the ongoing project from the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)
[...]

Lead was a high-value metal at the time, so a full sarcophagus made out of the stuff “is a sure marker of somebody of some kind of substance,” Becker said.

Past lead burials found throughout Europe have housed soldiers, elite members of the Christian church, and even female gladiators.

In fact, many lead coffins contain high-ranking women or adolescents instead of men, said Jenny Hall, a senior curator of Roman archaeology at the Museum of London, who was not involved in the new study.

However, the newfound sarcophagus’ tentative age may make the gladiator scenario unlikely, said Bruce Hitchner, a visiting professor in classical archaeology at All Souls College at the U.K.’s University of Oxford.

The coffin dates back to the fourth or fifth centuries A.D., while the gladiator heyday was centuries earlier, said Hitchner, who was not part of the excavation team.

[...]

What intrigues team leader Becker the most is the sarcophagus’s placement—”smack dab” in the middle of a city block. A taboo against burying the dead inside city limits was deeply ingrained in the Roman religious mindset of the time, he said.

“I don’t think it’s, We’re feeling lazy today, we’re going to bury Uncle Joe in the tomato garden,” Becker said. There may have been some major event that made people bury the body downtown—a possibility he intends to investigate during the next dig.

“As we seek to understand the life of the city, it’s important for us to consider its end,” Becker pointed out.

“To see someone who is at first glance a person of high social standing associated with later layers of the city … opens a potentially new conversation about this urban twilight in central Italy.”

Foot Bone Hints at “Extraordinary Preservation”

First, however, Becker’s team hopes to find out more about the person inside the lead sarcophagus. The researchers’ only hint so far is a small foot bone protruding through a hole in one end of the coffin.

Some lead burials have allowed for “extraordinary preservation” of human tissue and hair, Becker said, though the opening in the sarcophagus may mean that air has sped up decomposition of the body.

Still, early examinations reveal that the foot bone is “exceedingly” intact, Becker said: “Worst case, there’s an exceptionally well-preserved human skeleton inside the wrapping.”

[...]

via Lead “Burrito” Sarcophagus Found Near Rome | National Geographic.

The original article includes a very nice photo, which looks more like a paper airplane than a burrito to me; the purported gladiator connection (which is being hyped in some spinoff versions of this story) seems rather tenuous. The Gabii Project’s website is always worth a look … I can’t remember if we mentioned this similar burial from Yorkshire a couple of years ago …

More coverage:

Another Collapse at the Domus Aurea

The incipit of a piece from ANSA (tip o’ the pileus to Francesca Tronchin):

Part of the ceiling of Roman Emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea collapsed on Tuesday.Some 60 square meters of the baths built on top of the Golden House by the emperor who succeeded Nero, Trajan, came down because of seepage from recent heavy rains, civil protection experts said.The area where the collapse occurred, a tunnel that was once part of the baths, has been cordoned off because it is close to the entrance to public gardens above it, they said.”Now we’re trying to seal it off so no more rain will get into the hole,” they said.Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno said he was “very worried” about the state of the structure, one of Rome’s most celebrated tourist attractions.The special commissioner for the site, Luciano Marchetti, said “more collapses were possible”.The situation, he said, is “one of extreme alarm”.The Domus Aurea, built by Nero soon after the great fire in Rome in 64 AD, has been shut since 2005 for work to make it more stable.It was closed after masonry fell from flaking walls and a high level of dangerous seepage was detected.The current project aims to open up 2,600 square metres of the site.The top of the Domus on the Colle Oppio Oppian Hill is covered with parks, trees and roads whose weight and polluting effect are a constant threat.Archaeologists have also been trying to unearth more of the massive baths that Trajan built.The golden palace of the ill-famed Nero 37-68 AD first re-opened in June 1999 after 21 years in which it was Rome’s best-kept secret – open only to art officials and special guests.Some five billion lire 2.5 million euros were spent in refurbishing the visitable rooms filled with frescoes of weird animals like winged lions, griffins and tritons which led to the original coinage of the word ‘grotesque’, from the Italian word for cave grotto.

via Domus Aurea roof collapses | ANSA.it.

Long time readers of rogueclassicism will remember that the Domus Aurea reopened to the public back in 2006; by 2007, frequent rains had limited how much of it was open to the public;  it closed again in December 2008 and has not reopened since.