Mary Beard‘s latest …
Hot on the heels of someone actually using the word ‘vomitorium‘ correctly, we lapse into our old sin … and it’s kind of surprising who is doing it. Here’s the incipit from the Times:
He owes his success to history, but the author Terry Deary has described historians as “seedy and devious”.
The bestselling writer of the Horrible Histories series added that all historians were out to “make a name for themselves”, denied that his books were history books at all and even started a spat with Niall Ferguson, one of Britain’s best-known historians.
“Historians are nearly as seedy and devious as politicians,” Deary, 64, said. “They pick on a particular angle and select the facts to prove their case and make a name for themselves … They don’t write objective history.”
Deary — whose books have sold more than 20 million copies — does not like any historians. “Eventually you can see through them all,” he said. “They all come with a twist.” However, he reserved his greatest ire for Ferguson, the former Oxford historian who now lectures at Harvard University.
… then further below, where we get some details of the Horrible History, we read:
During Roman feasts, guests could eat so much that they had to be sick, and a special room was set aside for them called a vomitorium. They would then go back into the dining room to continue eating.
… arrgh. The item concludes:
Meanwhile, Catharine Edwards, Professor of Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London, said that children “absolutely loved” the books. “If it takes toilets to get them interested in history, that’s fine. It’s the most gruesome side of things which attracts the young.”
Deary admitted that he was disappointed to be so closely linked to the Horrible Histories series, because he does not own the brand. He is also keen to turn his back on children’s books and move on to adult fiction. “It’s time for a new career direction,” he said.
I’ve got no problem with using disgusting items to get kids interested in history … but let’s make sure it’s accurate, no? Yes, it’s time for a new direction …
via the Canadian Classical Bulletin
Another item which was making the rounds this week related to the ‘basement’ of the Colosseum being opened up to visitors, e.g., in the Guardian:
Tourists in Rome will soon be able to visit the underground of the Colosseum, where gladiators once prepared for fights and lions and tigers were caged before entertaining a bloodthirsty public.
The city’s culture officials said today that, after several months of work to make the area safe for visits, the public will be allowed to add the underground section to tours of the arena starting in late summer. No exact date has been set.
Architect Barbara Nazzaro said tourists will be able to see the spaces where lions, tigers and bulls were kept in cages before they were hoisted on elevators to ground level for entertainment in the ancient arena.
Elephants were too heavy for the rope-hoisted elevators. They made their grand entrance into the Colosseum through main gates.
The ingenious system of lifts allowing the animals to suddenly pop up at ground level would have made for an awesome sight, she said.
The animal show was just one part of a day’s entertainment at the arena. First the audience watched a hunting spectacle, then came executions, and finally the gladiators squared off, said Nazzaro, who worked on the project to open the space to the public.
A piece of mortar recently broke off from a part of the Colosseum during closing hours, but caused no injuries. Officials say the monument is in need of constant monitoring and maintenance, but its overall stability is not at risk.
… but the AFP coverage included a different spin, inter alia:
However, Piero Meogrossi also said it was indispensable to put in place a more ambitious project encompassing restoration, maintenance, surveillance, the creation of a museum, and pursuit of scientific research.
A 23-million-euro plan (28 million dollars) supported by Rome’s mayor, would include cleaning the facade damaged by pollution from an estimated 2,000 cars passing the monument each hour, but it still needs sponsors.
“More than sponsors, we prefer to talk of partners, because we would like them to get involved along with us,” Meogrossi said.
Pointing out that the number of visitors to the Colosseum per year has grown from one to six million in a decade, Meogrossi deplored the lack of funds and staff at the Roman monument.
“We have a budget of between 400,000 and 500,000 euros a year for basic maintenance… there are checks, but not in a systematic way,” Meogrossi said, whose passion for the Colosseum goes back twenty years.
The monument, Meogrossi argues, is too narrowly associated with gladiatorial combat and the idea of the Colosseum as a “sacred place where Romans celebrated the past so as to better project themselves in the future,” should be restored.
… and coincidentally, Network World was pondering — with a slideshow — what would happen if tech companies owned the Wonders of the World. We won’t rag on them for not, apparently, knowing what the Wonders are/were, but will note this interesting bit of speculation in the context of branding the Colosseum:
… which would probably be somewhat appropriate, given the fact that pieces seem to be falling off the Colosseum and keys are always falling off my Dell laptops. For those interested, there’s also Windows-branded Parthenon in Network World’s slideshow (although I always figured he Parthenon for Apple)
Most of the press coverage this week comprised of variations on an AP piece on Franck Goddio’s explorations of the underwater ruins of Alexandria, with a special focus on Cleopatra’s palace (to coincide with the exhibition in Philadelphia). Here’s the incipit of a representative item:
Plunging into the waters off Alexandria Tuesday, divers explored the submerged ruins of a palace and temple complex from which Cleopatra ruled, swimming over heaps of limestone blocks hammered into the sea by earthquakes and tsunamis more than 1,600 years ago.
The international team is painstakingly excavating one of the richest underwater archaeological sites in the world and retrieving stunning artifacts from the last dynasty to rule over ancient Egypt before the Roman Empire annexed it in 30 B.C.
Using advanced technology, the team is surveying ancient Alexandria’s Royal Quarters, encased deep below the harbor sediment, and confirming the accuracy of descriptions of the city left by Greek geographers and historians more than 2,000 years ago.
Since the early 1990s, the topographical surveys have allowed the team, led by French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio, to conquer the harbor’s extremely poor visibility and excavate below the seabed. They are discovering everything from coins and everyday objects to colossal granite statues of Egypt’s rulers and sunken temples dedicated to their gods.
“It’s a unique site in the world,” said Goddio, who has spent two decades searching for shipwrecks and lost cities below the seas.
The finds from along the Egyptian coast will go on display at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute from June 5 to Jan. 2 in an exhibition titled “Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt.” The exhibition will tour several other North American cities.
Many archaeological sites have been destroyed by man, with statues cut or smashed to pieces. Alexandria’s Royal Quarters — ports, a cape and islands full of temples, palaces and military outposts — simply slid into the sea after cataclysmic earthquakes in the fourth and eighth centuries. Goddio’s team found it in 1996. Many of its treasures are completely intact, wrapped in sediment protecting them from the saltwater.
“It’s as it was when it sank,” said Ashraf Abdel-Raouf of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, who is part of the team.
Tuesday’s dive explored the sprawling palace and temple complex where Cleopatra, the last of Egypt’s Greek-speaking Ptolemaic rulers, seduced the Roman general Mark Antony before they committed suicide upon their defeat by Octavian, the future Roman Emperor Augustus. […]
A few more examples (the Daily Mail has very nice photos of some of the finds; the Yahoo link is also slideshow):
- Divers Explore Sunken Ruins Of Cleopatra’s Palace | NPR
- Divers explore sunken ruins of Cleopatra’s palace | Herald Tribune
- Sunken treasure – divers recover the stunning artefacts of Cleopatra’s palace | Daily Mail
- Sunken ruins of Cleopatra’s temple excavated Play Slideshow | Yahoo
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Inquirer was hyping the exhibition with a piece that mentioned the above briefly, but then went on about Taposiris Magna, and included some more from Dr. Hawass, inter alia:
Outside the temple, a large Ptolemaic cemetery was unearthed. Some of its many mummies were gilded, and all their heads were turned toward the temple, which Hawass said could mean an important person, or persons, were buried inside.
He didn’t venture to estimate when the team might discover the tomb itself, but said the excavation project itself was significant: While many have searched for the tomb of Alexander the Great in Alexandria and Siwa, no one has looked for the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.
“We know that Cleopatra built a palace and tomb . . . but both of these are now underwater in the harbor of Alexandria,” he said. “We know from ancient writers that Cleopatra was never buried in her tomb. This is why we have turned our focus to the Isis temple . . .. If they were buried inside the temple, they would be symbolic of the husband and wife, Isis and Osiris, buried together.”
Hawass’ favorite piece, which he found inside the temple, is an alabaster head of Cleopatra. “When I held the head in my hand,” he said, “I felt the magic of the queen, and I imagined what it would feel like if we found the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Antony.” […]
I guess we have to keep in mind the item I mentioned the other day as needing to be filed away for future reference, but we are now forced to ask in which ancient source we might read that Cleopatra was never buried in her tomb. Is any reader of rogueclassicism aware of such? Otherwise, we might want to ponder which cognitive bias we’re being presented with by Dr. Hawass …
Nice feature in Smithsonian Magazine about Imperial villas outside the big city:
A rather ‘inaspicious’ typo in that headline …
Demonstrating that chemistry sometimes can inform history, researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Colorado College and Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md., have shown that sensitive nondestructive evaluation (NDE) techniques can be used to determine the elemental composition of ancient coins, even coins that generally have been considered too corroded for such methods*. Along the way, the researchers’ analysis of coins minted in ancient Judea has raised new questions about who ruled the area while giving insight into trading patterns and industry in the region.
Elemental and isotope analysis of the metals in ancient artifacts sometimes can pinpoint the places where the metal was mined, because ores in a given region often have a unique composition. This can be combined with historical records of when mines in the area were operating to determine when the coin was likely struck. The results not only help date the coin, but also offer insight into trade and power relationships in the region.
To compare the effectiveness of various nondestructive analytical methods with destructive methods often used to determine the age and origin of ancient coins, the group studied coins minted by Kings Herod Agrippa I and Agrippa II in what is modern day Palestine and Israel, a biblically and historically significant period.
The vast numbers of a particular coin, a prutah, found in the archaeological record has led scholars to disagree about when they were struck and by whom. The provenance of the coin is important because it is used to establish dates for places and events in the early years of Christianity and the onset of the Jewish War (66-70 CE) against the Romans and the Diaspora that followed.
To better establish whether the coins were minted by Agrippa I (41-45 CE) or Agrippa II (after 61 CE), the team performed X-ray fluorescence and lead isotope analysis to fingerprint the ores used in the production of the coins. These NDE methods are not commonly used on corroded coins because the corrosion can affect the results—in some cases making it difficult to get a result at all. The team showed that these problems could be overcome using polarizing optics and powerful new software for X-ray fluorescence analysis, combined with careful calibration of the mass spectrometer using Standard Reference Materials from NIST**.
The lead isotope analysis, performed at NIST, showed that the coins that had been attributed to Agrippa I were indeed from that era. More interestingly, however, the group found that the copper from which the coins were made most likely came from mines that scholars thought hadn’t been opened until a century later.
“All the archaeological evidence has thus far suggested that the Romans had moved into Arabia in the 2nd century CE,” says Nathan Bower of Colorado College. “What this analysis shows is that the Romans may have reached the region earlier or found that these mines had already been opened. Either way, our findings suggest that the Romans had a much closer relationship with this particular region than scholars had previously thought.”
To follow up on their research, the group is planning to perform more tests to determine if the mines in question may have been operating even earlier than their recent findings suggest.