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
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2010. This is a full time and benefits eligible position. Candidates should
be broadly trained classicists prepared to teach six courses (three courses
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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
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Position open until filled.
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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 |

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.

Ancient Roman Manga

The incipit of an item from ANSA:

Tokyo, March 29 – An Ancient Roman time traveller who shuttles between his own era and modern-day Tokyo is the hero of the comic strip awarded this year’s global manga prize.Lucius, a Roman architect who specializes in designing public baths, stars in a strip called Thermae Romae, which has been announced as the winner of Japan’s 2010 Cartoon Grand Prize. Created by the Europe-based Japanese artist Mari Yamazaki, the comic tells of how Lucius, a resident of Hadrian’s Rome in the 2nd century AD, is transported into 21st-century Tokyo. The architect is sucked into a hole in a vast bathhouse in Ancient Rome and is ejected into a modern Japanese equivalent, a sento, where at first he doesn’t even notice the difference so similar are the two structures. After the first incident he learns to travel back and forward After the first incident he learns to travel back and forward between the two cultures, although he believes the voyage carries him merely to a far-off country, not another time.

Inspired by his trips into modern Japan, he develops similar innovations for the Ancient Romans, where his suggestions for fruit milkshakes and showercaps are an instant hit. Yamazaki, 42, is originally from Japan but has spent much of her adult life in Europe. She moved to Italy at the age of 17 to study fine art, where she met and married a comparative literature student and history buff, who helped inspire the character of Lucius. But the idea also came from Yamazaki’s own passion for Japan’s public bathhouses. Speaking at the award ceremony by video link from Lisbon, where she lives with her Italian husband, the artist said she still missed sentos despite her many years in Europe.

I haven’t seen a copy in English of this yet; here’s an info page of sorts with what seems to be the cover art if you want to keep your eye open for it ….

Restoring a Roman ‘Burial Fresco’

Interesting item from the Triad (I think):

The Beirut National Museum has launched a six-month project to restore an ancient fresco of Roman burial rites that was first discovered near the southern city of Tyre in 1937.The fresco, discovered in a cave in the region of Burj Shmali by British excavators, was moved to the Beirut National Museum in the 1940’s to save it from degradation. Over the years it was kept in the basement of the museum along with other ancient tombs and artifacts.

The restoration, which will cost around $261,000 provided by the Italian embassy, will help conserve the fresco containing images of soldiers and warrior horses. Some of the images are believed to depict burial rituals of ancient Romans who ruled Tyre and much of the eastern Mediterranean then.

It’s the second time the fresco has undergone restoration. The first was in 1998 to help protect it against humidity.

‘This is a project of conservation of this fantastic wall paintings of Roman age. We are in the tomb of the 2nd century after Christ and the mythology describes the classic mythology connected with the ultra terrain and with the after life and the main myths of the after life. And the project here started actually a few years ago with the rescue of the whole basement of the museum and trying to reduce the amount of humidity that was in here,” said Georgio Capriotti, leader of the team of Lebanese and Italian restoration experts.

The Beirut National Museum contains about 1,300 artifacts from the prehistoric and ancient eras. It was closed in 1975 due to the civil war and reopened in 1999.

The basement of the museum is currently closed to visitors but is expected to reopen in November with the unveiling of the newly-restored fresco.

The original article is accompanied by a not-so-useful photo, but a  nice little embedded CBS video of the restoration work in progress …

Satyr on Display

The incipit of an item in Corriere del Mezzogiorno mentions a satyr found at Santa Maria Capua Vetere two years ago, which is apparently a copy of a Praxiteles in the Capitoline Museum:

Nel foyer del teatro Garibaldi di S. Maria Capua Vetere, dal 15 aprile al 30 giugno, sarà per la prima volta esposto al pubblico il Satiro del II secolo d.C. rinvenuto a Santa Maria Capua Vetere due anni fa, durante gli scavi in via Anfiteatro. Il restauro della statua in marmo, perfetta riproduzione del Satiro di Prassitele conservato nei Musei capitolini a Roma, è durato 18 mesi da parte della della Sovrintendenza ai Beni Archeologici. L’imponente scultura, alta oltre 2 metri, è stata portata alla luce circa due anni fa, nel corso dei lavori all’interno di una proprietà privata. Il marmo, seriamente danneggiato e spezzato in più parti, era rovesciato all’interno dei resti di un ninfeo sepolto a circa tre metri dall’attuale pavimentazione. L’importanza della scoperta ha suscitato l’interesse di archeologi, studiosi e appassionati.

I can’t remember this find ever being reported (I don’t think it is the Marsyas from last summer); anyone know about it?