This Day in Ancient History: pridie kalendas septembres

pridie kalendas septembres

  • 12 A.D. — birth of the future emperor Gaius (Caligula) at Antium
  • 40 A.D. — Gaius (Caligula) celebrates an ovatio after his attempted military campaigns in Gaul and Britain
  • 161 A.D. — birth of the future emperor Commodus (and his twin, Titus Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus)

Statues of Cleopatra

I’ve been sitting on this one for a while … an excerpt from a piece by Zahi Hawass in Asharq Al-Awsat:

However what is strange is that there is not one statue of Queen Cleopatra, and thanks to historians we know that such statues did exist. However there is an image of Queen Cleopatra on the walls of the Temple of Hathor in Dendera, in which she is depicted with her son Caesarion…while there is also a boat rest-stop at the Temple of Kom Ombo whose construction is attributed to Cleopatra, and a maternity house in the Temple of Dendera, and a carving at the Louvre Museum that is allegedly of Cleopatra VII.

Now I’m not sure if I’m reading that correctly, but I was under the impression that that black basalt statue from the Hermitage Museum — which was part of the Cleopatra exhibition at the British Museum — was Cleopatra VII, i.e.:

I know a couple of the busts from that exhibition were ‘identified’ as Cleopatra (but hesitant), so we can probably grant him that; I can also note that some of the press coverage, such as that from the BBC, noted:

Many of the images of Cleopatra during her reign were destroyed by Octavian, Mark Antony’s successor, who took over after the couple killed themselves.

… although I don’t recall that being attested in our ancient sources. Do we really have no statues of Cleopatra VII?

… and of course, we can also argue forever about who the Esquiline Venus is …

Intact Minoan Tombs Found!

Saw this on Aegeanet … it’s in Greek and Google translate is okay on it but a bit vague for my liking; the upshot seems to be the discovery of some Minoan tombs in the Heraklion area, with pots, jewellery, etc. inside. Not sure if there’s any evidence of looting at all, but this is clearly a major find. Hopefully we’ll hear/read more:

Allianoi Update

From a press release:

An ancient city in Turkey’s Aegean area will be covered with sand instead of silt and clay then inundated with reservoir water from a new dam, officials say.

Environmentalists say the decision to use sand to cover the ancient city of Allianoi will mean the ultimate destruction of an architectural treasure, Hurriyet Daily News reported Friday.

Despite efforts by environmentalists, a Turkish preservation board said sand would be used to cover the city before waters from the Yortanli Dam flood the region.

The Allianoi Initiative, spearheading a legal fight against the construction of the dam, objected to the new ruling. The group contends it will bury a rich repository of history and the sand cover will not be enough to protect the important ancient site.

The decision was a surprise, a lawyer for the initiative said, adding the group would immediately go to court to stop the sand-filling.

Allianoi, a hot springs settlement of the Roman Empire during the second century A.D., sits on the flood plain of the Bergama Yortali Dam, which environmentalists have been fighting since 1993, Hurriyet reported.

Allianoi has been a long-time legal saga … here’s much of our previous coverage (I’m sure I’ve left some out; they all seem to say the same thing):

Caistor St Edmund Dig Update

A very nice report from the Evening News … note the link at the end to the project’s blog:

They have been excavating for just a week, but already members of an archaeological team at a Roman town on the outskirts of Norwich have found “huge quantities” of artefacts.

A thousand visitors have been to see the dig at Caistor St Edmund in its first week and the excavation, the first inside the walls for 75 years, is uncovering more about how people in the town lived and worked.

The volume of writing implements being discovered shows that it was a thriving administrative centre, while the range of remains of animals unearthed makes archaeologists think that animals were being butchered within the town walls.

That would mark out the Roman town of Venta Icenorum, as it was called, as a very rural and agricultural place, as in many of the Roman urban centres animals were slaughtered outside the walls and then brought into the town.

Dr Will Bowden, the project director from the University of Nottingham, said the voluntary finds washing team were struggling to keep up, such was the volume of coins, pottery and bone being found dating back to the second, third and fourth centuries.

He said: “We are finding all the different parts of an animal you could want, which shows they were butchering on site.

“That’s been quite a nice discovery because you start to get an idea of how people were living and to build up a picture of what the town was like.

“Various things are emerging quite strongly and one is the amount of writing going on here.

“We are getting lots of styli, the pens used for writing on wax tablets. On a dig in the late 20s they found a lot of them too so it is one of the things that keeps turning up at Caistor.

“It really is a centre of administration, and people are writing a lot of things down, probably about taxation.

“We might talk about the Romans, but this was a local population who were living here.

“This would have been the Iceni population. By 200 years after the Roman invasion everyone would have thought of themselves as being a Roman.”

Visitors to the dig will also get the chance to see the full scale of the Roman site as the streets of the town have been painstakingly painted in 14km of white lines on the grass, courtesy of former Norwich High School for Girls groundsman Fred Marsham.

The dig has uncovered a part of one of the Roman roads and jaw bones of cattle or horses and parts of antlers can be seen embedded in the road, and dark strips show where wheel ruts were made by travelling vehicles.

But over the next couple of weeks the team is planning to dig deeper and see if they can discover evidence linking the settlement to East Anglia’s Iceni queen Boudica.

Archaeologists will also be searching for clues to discover the exact date when the Roman streets were originally laid out and if the town continued to be occupied beyond the Roman period.

Parts of the site were originally excavated between 1929 and 1935 following the publication of dramatic aerial photographs showing evidence of streets and public buildings.

Since then, the site has been undisturbed, until last year, when Dr Bowden and his team began excavating the field to the south of the town, which is a scheduled ancient monument owned by the Norfolk Archaeological Trust and managed in partnership with South Norfolk Council.

On that occasion the remains of a fourth-century Roman buried in a shallow grave were uncovered.

Dr Bowden, who also worked on the archaeological dig during the building of Castle Mall, said: “I did my PhD at the University of East Anglia and I used to pass this on the train and I could see what a brilliant site it was and how you could answer so many questions by digging here.

“This sort of site it very rare in Europe, as there are very few Roman towns that don’t have modern settlement build on top of them.

“Roman towns were often built in good locations, but this wasn’t the case there. The better location for the town was Norwich, because it has much better access by river, and that’s a good result for us.”

The dig will continue until Saturday, September 11, with people welcome to visit for free to watch the archaeologists in action.

Visitors to the site could also bump into Time Team’s Tony Robinson, who has been to the dig and will be visiting again as part of filming for a special for the Channel 4 programme, due to be aired next year.

Follow the dig team’s blog at http://caistordig2010.wordpress.com/.

We first heard of this dig back in 2007 (and even before, I guess), when there was much excitement over what might be found. Some high tech equipment was used last year (and this year too … check out the blog) to find promising dig sites. Whatever the case, what I find most interesting is that they keep finding styli all over the place and are making the reasonable connection that this is an administrative centre of some sort. Compare that to that much-more-publicized ‘brothel’/infanticide site from Buckinghamshire, whence one report suggests they’ve found over 70 styluses … again we wonder about the quantities of styluses found at other sites.  A preliminary scan of the interwebs a while back  brought back to me:

  • Pearce John. Archaeology, writing tablets and literacy in Roman Britain. In: Gallia. Tome 61, 2004. pp. 43-51.

… which is available online. It is a preliminary survey and concentrates more on writing tablets than styli, but there are passing mentions of such finds (although not quantities). An interesting extract:

The presence of writing tablets (admittedly in small numbers) on a variety of rural sites is more surprising. Inscriptions on stone in a rural context are very scarce, but rural temples and settlements account for a high proportion of the 35 settlements on which lead curse tablets have been found (Ingemarck, 2001) and writing equipment has been found during the excavation of many rural settlements. We may tentatively suggest on this basis that the use of documents in a rural milieu in the north-west provinces has been significantly underestimated, even if it is unlikely to have ever approached the intensity of document use attested, for example, in rural Roman Egypt.

… but what about these apparently large quantities of styli?

Rethinking the ‘Domus of the Dancing Cherubs’ at Aquileia

This probably won’t last long at ANSA:

Archaeologists working on the remains of an ancient dwelling in northern Italy have reassessed their ideas about the site after uncovering lavish decorations and imposing architectural features. The building in Aquileia, which previously appeared to be a normal Roman villa, has now emerged as a majestic mansion complex, covering an entire block. Archaeologists say the house, or domus, was the largest building in the Ancient Roman city of Aquileia and was probably the residence of a powerful figure, perhaps an imperial official. The location of the ‘Domus of the Dancing Cherubs’, between the river port and the forum, has long indicated that its owner was an important person.

But a string of recent discoveries have revealed the extent of its inhabitant’s status, said the archaeologist leading the team, Federica Fontana.

“During the latest excavations we have found the eastern entrance to the home,” she explained. “This was preceded by a large, paved piazza with a well in it”.

This is considered an exceptional find, not only for its size, but also because few entrance ways have been identified at the underground site over the years. “We have also found a room, at the same level as the entranceway, which had underground heating and a floor decorated with an exquisite multicoloured mosaic,” she said. “Thanks to these and other discoveries we can conclude that the house probably covered the entire quarter. It was divided into a series of small courtyards with colonnades. “One of these even had a large, limestone canal with drainage for rain water, of a type usually only seen in public buildings”. The team also uncovered a beautifully sculpted woman’s marble bust in the complex’s innermost courtyard that was probably once part of the architectural decoration. “All these elements make it clear just how important this domus was in Aquileia,” said Fontana. Work on Via Gemina, where the Domus of the Dancing Cherubs once stood, has yielded up a number of key discoveries in recent years. In 2005, two coloured mosaics were uncovered in astonishing condition, while 2009 saw the discovery of an extremely rare “cage cup”.

These luxury Roman drinking vessels, only a handful of which have survived the centuries, consist of an inner glass beaker surrounded by an outer decorated cage of metal.

Much of Aquileia, which was once one of the largest and wealthiest cities of the Early Roman Empire, still lies unexcavated beneath fields. Adding the site to its World Heritage List in 1998, UNESCO cited the fact that most of ancient Aquileia survives intact underground, making it the most complete example of an Early Roman city in the Mediterranean world.

I’m pretty sure the mosaic mentioned is not the one which Adrian Murdoch mentioned on Twitter a couple of days ago (which dates from the fourth century) …. that said, here’s a photo from the ANSA coverage in La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno (English edition):

… which I find very interesting as I’ve seen that ‘fishing cupids’ motif at Piazza Armerina (when I find my portable hard drives that disappeared a couple of months ago, I’ll post the photos I took … until then, here’s an example I found at flickr … might have to dig into this motif a bit more).

Previous reports from Aquileia (where a major did has been going on for quite a while) includes the excavation of the public baths (2006) … not sure why we don’t hear more about this dig.