Lowell Edmunds in the Top Five!

A gin martini, with olive, in a cocktail glass.

Image via Wikipedia

The Wall Street Journal has a piece on the top five books on alcohol, and Lowell Edmunds’ Martini book is there … inter alia:

5. Martini, Straight Up

By Lowell Edmunds

Johns Hopkins, 1998

In the midst of his distinguished career as a classicist, Lowell Edmunds paused to focus his critical talents on a cultural artifact packed with just as much meaning as a Minoan terracotta or an Ionic capital. Originally published in 1981 as “The Silver Bullet: The Martini in American Civilization,” Edmunds’s book finds seven meanings in the martini (among them: “The Martini Is Optimistic, Not Pessimistic,” “The Martini Is the Drink of Adults, Not of Children”) and four ambiguities (“The Martini Is Sensitive—The Martini Is Tough”). He’s not quite the cocktail snob that I am—he is willing to consider that a martini can be made from vodka—but one suspects that Edmunds does prefer his bullets straight up and very dry.

via Five Best Books on Alcohol – WSJ.com.

… and I’m sure he doesn’t consider the horror of the ‘Appletini’ and its ilk in the Martini category either; just because it’s in a Martini glass doesn’t make it a ‘tini’ …

Infanticide at Buckinghamshire Brothel? I Doubt It …

As is typical, when life is most hectic comes the time when the most interesting bloggables start flashing past me on Twitter, Facebook, and in email. I can’t get to them all today, but I do want to quickly comment an item from the Telegraph regarding possible evidence of infanticide associated with remains of a Roman ‘brothel’ in Buckinghamshire:

An extensive study of a mass burial at a Roman villa in the Thames Valley suggests that the 97 children all died at 40 weeks gestation, or very soon after birth.

The archaeologists believe that locals may have been killing and burying unwanted babies on the site in Hambleden, Buckinghamshire.

Unwanted pregnancies were common in Roman brothels due to little contraception and Romans also considered infanticide less shocking than it is today.

Infants were not considered to be human beings until about the age of two and were not buried in cemeteries if they were younger than that.

Consequently, infant burials tended to be at domestic sites in the Roman era.

“The only explanation you keep coming back to is that it’s got to be a brothel,” Dr Jill Eyers, of Chiltern Archaeology, told the BBC.
Experts say that the number of children killed at Yewden villa in Hambleden is unusually large.

“There is no other site that would yield anything like the 97 infant burials,” said Dr Simon Mays, a skeletal biologist at English Heritage’s Centre for Archaeology, who has been investigating the finds.

There is possibly some compression of thought going on here, either by the archaeologist or the journalist or both. The brothel suggestion is likely connected to a similar sort of find at Ashkelon over a decade ago, although in that situation the remains were found in the drainage system beneath a bathing complex. But there seems to be a bit of circularity going on here, no? A pile of dead babies suggest a brothel nearby. A brothel nearby suggests the babies must have been unwanted, and so killed on purpose. What I don’t understand is why if these babies were unwanted ‘ab initio’ as it were, why they wouldn’t simply have been aborted. It’s not as if the ancient Greeks and Romans weren’t aware of abortion.

The babies were all found to be of roughly the same size, suggesting systematic infanticide at birth rather than death from natural causes, which would have struck infants at different ages, Dr Mays added.

… which is not really the Roman practice; not sure about native Briton-types. As far as we can tell from our sources, unwanted Roman infants were “exposed” and wouldn’t likely have been buried at all if they died.

The Hambleden site, close to the River Thames, was excavated 100 years ago and identified as a high status Roman villa.
Alfred Heneage Cocks, an archaeologist, reported the findings in 1921. His report, along with photographs, and hundreds of artefacts, pottery and bones were recently rediscovered at Buckinghamshire County Museum.

The records gave precise locations for the infant bodies, which were hidden under walls or buried under courtyards close to each other.

The remains are now being tested for the first time by English Heritage.

The team plans to carry out DNA tests on the skeletons in a bid to establish their sex and possible relationship to each other.

The Hambleden investigation features in a new BBC TV archaeology series, Digging for Britain presented by Dr Alice Roberts, to be broadcast on BBC Two in July and August.

An important detail which is left out of all this is the date of the Hambledon site … presumably this is the Yewden Roman Villa, as the Mill End Villa doesn’t seem to have been excavated. A page on the site tells us the date: the site was used from the first to the fourth centuries A.D.. Hopefully there is enough information in the notes from the original excavation (1912) or datable organic materic material to establish some dates for the remains. 97 infant burials sounds like a lot, but when you spread it over three centuries it isn’t so sensational. As such, while an epidemic seems unlikely,depending on how the remains are dated, one could speculate that these are all stillborn remains …

via: Romans killed babies at brothel | Telegraph

UPDATE (06/27/10): David Keys in the Independent provides a good summary of the possible explanations:

Some argue that the Hambleden complex might have been a Roman imperial agricultural administrative and processing centre serving a relatively large area. The dead infants could represent a mixture of still births, natural perinatal deaths and infanticide victims, born to women employed at the centre. Some of the infants may have been born with deformities – a fact that would have made them particularly vulnerable to infanticide.

Some archaeologists have suggested the infants were children of prostitutes serving the potentially large staff at the complex, although it would be archeologically unprecedented to find a brothel in a non-urban context.

Alternatively, the site could have had a partly religious function with the infants being the subjects of illegal rituals or even human sacrifice. Certainly newborn infants were sometimes buried as ritual foundation deposits in Roman Britain – though never in such large numbers.

… and a tip o’ the pileus to Terrence Lockyer for drawing our attention to the excellent blog post on the subject over at Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives (Rosemary Joyce), which delves into the claims about lack of contraception and the identity of the site as a brothel:

For some background on prostitution in the ancient world:

More coverage:

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem vii kalendas quinctilias

Trajan receives homage from a Dacian chieftan ...

Image via Wikipedia

ante diem vii kalendas quinctilias

  • ludi Taurei quinquennales (day 1) — an obscure festival possibly in honour of the di inferi (read Bill Thayer’s note on the ‘quinquennales’ part)
  • 107 A.D. — the emperor Trajan arrives in Rome and celebrates his second triumph over the Dacians

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem viii kalendas quinctilis

ante diem viii kalendas quinctilis

  • under Servius — dedication of two temples to Fors Fortuna (and associated rites thereafter)
  • 1 B.C. — birth of John the Baptist (traditional date)
  • 79 A.D. — dies imperii of the emperor Titus
  • 109 A.D. — the Aqua Traiana are officially dedicated
  • 1741 — Birth of Alexander Adam (Classics educator)
  • 1989 — death of Russell Meiggs (author of Roman Ostia, among others)

Roman Fort in Cornwall?

Roman Roads in Britain around 150 AD/CE.
Image via Wikipedia

From the Telegraph:

Pottery and other evidence suggesting the presence of an ironworks have been found at the undisclosed location near St Austell, Cornwall.

Experts say the discovery challenges the belief that Romans did not settle in the county and stopped in neighbouring Devon.

The site had previously been regarded as an Iron Age settlement but the recent discovery of pottery and glass was found to be of Roman origin.

John Smith, from Cornwall Historic Environment Service, said: ”This is a major discovery, no question about it.

”For Roman Britain it’s an important and quite crucial discovery because it tells us a lot about Roman occupation in Britain that was hitherto completely unexpected.

”In finding the pottery and glass, it’s saying the occupation goes to about 250AD, which turns the whole thing on its head.”

Archaeological Jonathan Clemes discovered various artefacts by studying the earth after it had been ploughed.
He said: ”You’ve got to know your pottery. If you come across a bit of pottery and you know what it is, it can tell you a great deal about the activity that went on in that area.”

Following the discovery of the artefacts a geophysical survey uncovered a fort and a marching camp.

Prior to the discovery it was believed that Roman forts had only been positioned close to the Devon border before the Roman’s left the region for south Wales.

It will now be considered whether to excavate the area or to leave it for a future excavation when techniques have advanced.

The map shows the ‘current view’ of Roman settlement (generally) in Britain; if the St Austell thing proves true, perhaps there will be more evidence further west as well …

via Romans ‘may have settled as far south-west as Cornwall’ | Telegraph.

More from Sofia/Serdica

On the heels of last week’s announcement of the opening of a major Roman site to the public, the Sofia News Agency tells us that archaeologists are on the trail (they hope) of Constantine’s palace there too:

A large ancient building located under the St. Nedelya Cathedral in downtown Sofia might turn out to be a palace of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, according to Bulgarian archaeologists.

The building might also turn out to be the ancient thermae, or public baths of the ancient Roman city of Serdica, today’s Sofia, according to architect Konstantin Peev, head of the EKSA company, which is helping the Sofia Municipality with the excavation and restoration of the archaeological heritage of the Bulgarian capital.

The excavations at the Sofia Largo and the so called Metro Station 2-8 next to the Tzum retail store were made necessary by the construction of the second line of the Sofia Metro.

According to Peev, the bouleuterion of the city of Serdica was located under the northwestern corner of today’s building of the Sheraton Sofia Hotel Balkan. The bouleuterion was a small amphitheater-like building which housed the council of the citizens in the Antiquity period. The Serdica bouleuterion had a diameter of about 20 meters.

Peev also said that the archeaological excavations in the spring of 2010 have so far revealed a number of Roman insula, i.e. homes closed off among four streets.

He pointed out that the archaeologists have revealed the main streets of the Roman city of Serdica – the main street, decumanus maximus, connecting the Eastern and Western Gates, was wide about 7-8 meters and paved with huge pave stones. The cardo, the secondary street, went in the north-south direction.

Architect Peev stated that the municipality and the Culture Ministry were currently considering various options for conserving and displaying the archeaological heritage of Sofia.

via Bulgarian Archaeologists Hope to Find Constantine’s Palace | Sofia News Agency.