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

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.

Marking Robert Fitzgerald’s “100th”

The Illinois State Historical Society is raising money to commemorate the 100th birthday of Robert Fitzgerald, a Springfield native who became a notable poet, editor and translator.

Fitzgerald, who died in 1985, worked with Flannery O’Connor, James Agee and William Maxwell. His translations of the “Iliad,” “Odyssey” and “Aeneid” remain standard reference works. He was Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard and consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, a position now equivalent to National Poet Laureate.

Organizers plan to commemorate the birthday Oct. 12 by dedicating an ISHS marker at the site of Fitzgerald’s boyhood home, 215 E. Jackson St.

Contributions can be sent to: Robert Stuart Fitzgerald historical marker, Illinois State Historical Society, POB 1800, Springfield IL 62705-1800. Checks should be made out to the historical society.

via Donations for Fitzgerald celebration being taken – Springfield, IL – The State Journal-Register.

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem vi kalendas septembres

ante diem vi kalendas septembres

  • Volturnalia — rites in honour of a divinity associated with fountains/waters
  • 479 B.C. — Greek forces defeat Persian forces under Mardonius at Plataea (according to one reckoning)
  • 413 B.C. — lunar eclipse which caused hesitation amongst  Athenian forces under Nikias in Sicily; the subsequent delay  ultimately led to their destruction

Roman Socks and Sandals Rereredux

Newspapers in the UK are starting to get agog over a recent find … the Telegraph seems typical:

New evidence from an archaeological dig has found that legionnaires wore socks with sandals.

Rust on a nail from a Roman sandal found in newly discovered ruins in North Yorkshire appears to contain fibres which could suggest that a sock-type garment was being worn.

Now scientists are examining the remains in the laboratory to see if it is true.

The fashion faux pas was found in a 2000-year-old “industrial estate” excavated as part of a £318 million Highways Agency scheme to upgrade the A1 between Dishforth and Leeming in North Yorkshire.

The unearthed site includes the remains of a water-powered flour mill used to grind grain and produce food for the soldiers, clothes, food remains, graves and pottery.

It also contains the evidence of the socks in 14 graves on the outskirts of the area.

Blaise Vyner, an archaeologist heading the cultural heritage team on site, said: “You don’t imagine Romans in socks but I am sure they would have been pretty keen to get hold of some as soon as autumn came along.”


Harry Mount (also in the Telegraph) writes a good accompanying column, but without giving the journalists a much-needed  lack-of-research slap-on-the-wrist:

I can quite believe the story that Romans stationed in north Yorkshire 2000 years ago wore socks with their sandals, and so kicked off an unfortunate British fashion that’s survived to the present day.

Yes, the Romans were a fantastically tough martial race with great imperial ambitions. But they were also from the hot south; the Geordie weather of Hadrian’s Wall was not for them.

35 years ago, just south of Hadrian’s Wall, at the fort of Vindolanda, archaeologists found letters to and from the legionaries there – most of them hailing from Gaul. Like anyone far away from home, they missed their wives, and their food.

The letters talk fondly of Mediterranean food and drink: Massic wine, garlic, fish, semolina, lentils, olives and olive oil. When they can’t get their favourite food imported, they have to make do with local British fare: pork fat, cereal, spices, roe-deer and venison, all washed down with beer. Walk into your local pub – things haven’t changed much.

What really gets the legionaries down, though, is the cold of Northumberland. They are desperate for “subuclae” – or vests – and “abollae”, thick heavy cloaks. The most famous letter just lists the items sent from Gaul to one freezing soldier: “Paria udonum ab Sattua solearum duo et subligariorum duo”; that is, “socks, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants”.

Socks, sandals and pants. Without them Roman Britain would not have lasted nearly half a millennium, until 410AD, when they packed their smalls and headed down south to warmer climes.

Okay … before we get to some more responsible coverage, let’s note that back in 2003, back when rogueclassicism was but a babe among blogs, the BBC had a report about a dig in London which began:

Evidence for what, by modern standards, would be considered a lack of style has been uncovered at a major archaeological dig in south London, where a foot from a bronze statue appears to be adorned with both socks and sandals.

Here’s a photo:

A couple of years later, when rogueclassicism was a bit more mature, the BBC also had:

The sartorial elegance of the Italians has been shattered, with news that woolly socks helped their ancestors’ conquest of northern England.

The evidence has emerged among archaeological objects found in the River Tees at Piercebridge, near Darlington in County Durham.

Among the items was an unusual Roman razor handle, made of copper alloy and in the shape of a human leg and foot.

The 5cm high foot is wearing a sandal with a thick woollen sock underneath. [...]

… here’s a photo:

Adrian Murdoch has responded to the present hype with a good post on other evidence for the practice: Roman socks and sandals

Dorothy King responds in a similar vein as I do, with some additional details: Socks and Roman Sartorial Sins ….

… and as long as we’re on the subject, we really should highlight the BBC’s responsible coverage of the current find, which is actually about a hitherto unknown ‘industrial estate’ which may have been home to a legion:

Archaeologists have discovered a Roman industrial estate near ruins which may once have been home to a lost legion.

The site has been excavated as part of a £318 million scheme to upgrade the A1 in North Yorkshire.

It is close to a fort at Healam Bridge, which might have been used by the Ninth Hispanic Legion, which disappeared some time in the 2nd Century AD.

The find includes evidence that the Romans may have worn socks under their sandals!

The unearthed site includes the remains of a water-powered flour mill used to grind grain and produce food for the soldiers along with clothes, food remains, graves and pottery.

Cultural heritage team leader Blaise Vyner said: “We know a lot about Roman forts, which have been extensively studied, but to excavate an industrial area with a mill is really exciting.

“We hope it can tell us more about how such military outposts catered for their needs, as self-sufficiency would have been important.”
Neil Redfern from English Heritage with the remains of a horse, found under a building. Image courtesy of COI Yorkshire & Humber

The industrial area comprised a series of large timber buildings, mostly on the north side of a beck, which powered the mill.

It would have supplied the fort with goods and provisions, probably processing meat and other food, as well as flour.

It could also have developed into something of a settlement in its own right.

There is also an indication that the Roman occupants may have worn socks. Rust on the nail from a Roman sandal appears to have impressions from fibres which could suggest that a sock-type garment was being worn.

Mr Vyner added: “You only have to look up the road to Catterick to see how garrison towns are serviced by local shops. Perhaps we have something similar here.”

Economic role

Neil Redfern from English Heritage said that the discovery of the site had given a “real insight” in to the industrial processes used by the Romans.

“The time span of the remains uncovered illustrates how the site developed from a frontier fort and settlement to a more settled site with strong local economic role relating to the presence of mills along the banks of the beck.

“The complexity and depth of deposits were unexpected and the excavation team has dealt with them very professionally.”

Very little is known about the Roman fort itself, which is now a scheduled monument.

It only came to light as a result of geophysical surveys carried out in the 1990s in readiness for the A1′s planned upgrading. The line of the new road was adjusted to avoid the main site.

Gary Frost, Highways Agency project manager, said the excavation, which began in July 2009 and was completed this summer, gave experts a unique window on the past.

cf: Roman ‘industrial estate’ unearthed in North Yorkshire | BBC

… they also have a video report at:

So the upshot is that we’ve known about the Roman socks-and-sandals look for quite some time; as for this new site, hopefully we’ll find some burials nearby which can tell us a bit more about the people who lived there.

On Latin and Getting Into College

Excerpts from a lengthy article in Bloomberg, which every high school Latin teacher will, no doubt, be posting on their door/bulletin board within seconds of reading it:

When Lena Barsky picked up her first Latin text in 2004, she couldn’t have known that memorizing the phrase “canes sunt in via” (“the dogs are in the street”) would help her win a place at Brown University six years later.

The book featured a family and its dog in ancient Pompeii, and led Barsky to “The Aeneid,” the epic poem composed in Latin more than 2,000 years ago. Her “carpe diem” (“seize the day”) passion drove her to teach fourth and fifth graders at Latin summer camp. As Barsky, of Arlington, Virginia, began to explore colleges, the language gave her “occasio,” or opportunity, to contact faculty members.

Students throughout the U.S. are finding that excelling in high school Latin can propel them to the most-selective colleges, including Harvard University, whose undergraduate admission rate was 6.9 percent this year. Because so few students these days master Latin, it can help an applicant, said William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid.

“We certainly do take notice,” Fitzsimmons said by telephone from his office in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “It can end up tipping the student into the class.”

While half of public high school students a century ago took Latin, that portion fell to about 1 percent in 1974 and was even lower at last measure two years ago, according to records maintained by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, in Alexandria, Virginia.

A Latin scholar would have excited an admissions officer 38 years ago when Fitzsimmons began his career, and “such a student today would be even a greater rarity, standing out even more,” he said.

Classics Focus

Harvard, whose motto is “Veritas,” Latin for “Truth,” received more than 30,000 applicants this year and took 2,110, Fitzsimmons said. Of 4,873 Harvard sophomores, juniors and seniors this past school year, less than 1 percent concentrated their course load in classics — a field comprising Latin and Greek language and literature, ancient history, archaeology and philosophy — said Jeff Neal, a spokesman for the Faculty of Arts & Sciences. That contrasted with the 14 percent who went for economics, the leading choice.


Seeking Scholars

The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia; Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts; the University of Chicago; and Brown in Providence, Rhode Island, all want Latin scholars in order to keep up enrollment in classics departments, admissions officials at the schools said in interviews.

Barsky’s journey was “ad augusta per angusta”– through narrow to lofty places — for the funnel to Brown is circumscribed.

Barsky, 18, said she wrote to Brown’s Joseph Pucci, who teaches classics and comparative literature, during her junior year and also met with him on campus. She exchanged e-mails with him for nine months before applying in November for early admission, she said. She was accepted, and plans to study classics and physics.

‘Expand My Thinking’

She didn’t set out to study Latin in middle school as a way to help open the door to a selective college, she said in an interview.

“I knew it would help me expand my thinking,” Barsky said. “At the time, it didn’t really occur to me that people didn’t take Latin.”

Since 1996, Pucci has been writing to applicants who tell the Brown admissions department that classics could be their major. He sent an e-mail last October to 300 students.

Pucci estimates he spends 160 hours per annum meeting with applicants, responding to e-mails, reading admission files and commenting on students who impress him. While Brown had more than 30,000 applicants this year and 9 percent won offers of admission, the odds were better for Latin scholars, according to the university.

A total of 222 applicants said classics was their probable course of study, and 26 percent won acceptance, said Panetha Ott, Brown’s associate director of admission, in an interview.


‘Hunting Grounds’

Farrell said he talks each year with 5 to 10 high school students who have taken Latin, and who find him through a Latin teacher or through his department’s website.

“They tend to get in,” Farrell said in an interview. “Many of the good New York prep schools are good hunting grounds for these kind of students.”


I have omitted a lot … this is definitely must-reading …

Odysseus’ Palace Claim

As usual, the day I’m away from my laptop some major news manages to accumulate in mailboxes, twitterfeeds, and on Facebook. At this point, the ‘best’ coverage (note the scare quotes) of this story comes from the Telegraph; skipping the intro bit:

Nearly 3,000 years after Odysseus returned from his journey, the team from the University of Ioannina said they found the remains of an extensive three-storey building, with steps carved out of rock and fragments of pottery. The complex also features and a well from the 8th century BC, roughly the period in which Odysseus is believed to have been king of Ithaca.

The location “fits like a glove” with Homer’s description of the view from the fabled palace, the archaeologists claim.

The layout of the complex, where Professor Thanassis Papadopoulos and his team have been digging for 16 years, is very similar to palaces discovered at Mycenae, Pylos and other ancient sites.

The claim will be greeted with scepticism by the many scholars who believe that Odysseus, along with other key characters from the Homer’s epic such as Hector and Achilles, were purely fictional.

“Whether this find has a connection with Ulysses or not is interesting up to a certain point, but more important is the discovery of the royal palace,” said Adriano La Regina, an Italian archaeologist.

Further complicating the identification of the site is the doubt over whether the ancient kingdom of Ithaca was located on its modern day namesake, Ithaki.

A British researcher, Robert Bittlestone, has said Homer’s descriptions bear little resemblance to the island and that ancient Ithaca was in fact located on the Paliki peninsula, on the island of Cephalonia.

He believes that Paliki was once an island, separated from the rest of Cephalonia by a marine channel that has since been filled in by rock falls triggered by earthquakes.

Enlisting the help of geologists and ancient historians, he documented the controversial theory in a 2005 book, Odysseus Unbound – The Search for Homer’s Ithaca.

The Telegraph also presents the stupidest headline of all the coverage:

In any event, the Telegraph coverage has to be supplemented with some details from ANA, which expand and also confuse the issue:

To date, the dig has uncovered remains of a three-storey building with an interior staircase cut into the side of sheer rock. Remnants of Mycenaean-era pottery were also found, along with a fountain dated to the 13 century BC. Similar fountains have been unearthed at the related sites of the acropolis of Mycenae and Tiryns , in southeast mainland Greece , and specifically in the Argolida plain in the NE Peloponnese.

Slightly different again, is Ria Novosti, inter alia:

Thanasis Papadopulos, who has been carrying out excavations on the Greek hero’s home island for 16 years, said he had discovered the remains of a three-storey palace and a well, which date back to the 13th century BC, which is when the Trojan war, described in Homer’s Iliad, is believed to have taken place.

Similar wells have been unearthed in Mycenae, 90 kilometers southwest of Athens, and in Tiryns on the Peloponnese Peninsula, the two centers of the Mycenaean civilization, which flourished between 1600 BC and 1100 BC.

A final interesting detail from the coverage by something called Island Crisis, inter alia:

Thanasis Papadopulos, the lead archaeologist of the group, said that he knew the right place of the remains since 2006. The team found the ruins of a three-level palace with a staircase carved into the rock. A well dating back to the 13th century BC (around the Trojan War era) was also found at the site.

It was also announced that after the discovery, the Greek ministry of Culture provided more funding to the continuity of the Ithaca excavation project.

I don’t think I’ve ever had to look at so many variations in coverage to get close to the ‘full story’. The Telegraph report seems to have dropped the ball in regards to the date, confusing the time of the probable composition of the Odyssey with the dating of the remains. With that out of the way, we seem to be dealing with some probably important Mycenean remains on Ithaka that appear to include a palatial structure. That in itself is significant, as Adriano La Regina, has suggested. Obviously it doesn’t ‘prove’ the existence of Odysseus, but I suppose if you want to attach a name to a palace, that would be the one to attach if you want to attract tourists and government funding.

Now for the backstory: the Telegraph piece does sort of hint at the ‘politics’ lurking behind this discovery, though. Back in 2005 or so, Robert Bittlestone came out with his book Odysseus Unbound, which suggested that the geography of Kephalonia included a bit called Paliki (which was theorized to once have been an island) that ‘fit’ Homer’s description better than long-standing belief that Ithaka was on Ithaki. The book was hyped a bit, and it was clear that Bittlestone was yet another ‘outsider’ taking on the archaeological establishment. The book was panned by Mary Beard. Interestingly, coinciding with these early reports, there was a passing report that the tomb of Odysseus had been found on Kephalonia as well. Nonetheless, about a year later, the BBC was hyping the theory, because of plans to use geology to add weight to theory. The geological testing appeared to confirm the detail that the Paliki peninsula on Kephalonia had, in fact, once been an island although the dating of when it ceased to be an island is somewhat confusing (5000 B.C.? … there was some badmouthing of the study prior to its official release). Two years ago (today!) we began to hear of digs on Ithaka to ‘reclaim’ Odysseus, and complaints about funding …

I think that brings everyone up to speed; it does seem that potential tourism is driving the archaeology on this one, while an ‘outsider’s challenge’ is being kept alive for ‘nationalistic’ reasons (I suspect). Clearly this will soon be a documentary of some sort, if it isn’t already.

More coverage:

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem viii kalendas septembres

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Image via Wikipedia

ante diem viii kalendas septembres

  • Opiconsivia — rites in honour of Ops, an old Italian earth deity and usually considered the spouse of Consus
  • 79 A.D. — death of Pliny the Elder in the wake of the eruption at Pompeii
  • 325 A.D. — Council of Nicaea comes to an end, having come up with the Nicene Creed, the ‘Twenty Canons’, etc..

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem ix kalendas septembres

A map showing the cities and towns affected by...
Image via Wikipedia
ante diem ix kalendas septembres

  • rites in honour of Luna at the Graecostasis
  • mundus patet — the mundus was a ritual pit which had a sort of vaulted cover on it. Three times a year the Romans removed this cover (August 24, Oct. 5 and November eighth) at which time the gates of the underworld were considered to be opened and the manes (spirits of the dead) were free to walk the streets of Rome.
  • 72 A.D. — martyrdom of Batholomew at Albanopolis
  • 79 A.D. — Vesuvius erupts, burying Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae
  • 410 A.D. — Alaric sacks Rome
  • 1971 — death of Carl Blegen (excavator of Pylos)
  • 1997 — death of Philip Vellacott

Pompeii and Sodom and/or Gomorrah

The July/August issue of Biblical Archaeology Review has a very interesting article by Herschel Shanks about Jewish oracles relating to the destruction of Pompeii. A useful summary can be found in the Jerusalem Post, post alia:

[...] Shanks recently told The Jerusalem Post that the idea to examine a connection between the two events came to him on a tour of the ruins of the Roman city located in the vicinity of modern-day Naples.

“On my own visit to Pompeii, I tried to find out when the destruction of the Temple occurred,” Shanks relates. “When I learnt of the supposed date, I thought, ‘Hey I wonder if anyone has connected the two.’” Shanks, described by the The New York Times as “probably the world’s most influential amateur Biblical archaeologist,” said he called Harvard’s Shaye Cohen, who directed him to Book 4 of the Sibylline Oracles, a text composed by “mostly Jewish oracles” shortly after the eruption.

The book first mentions the destruction of the Temple, and then seemingly refers to the Vesuvius eruption: “When a firebrand, turned away from a cleft in the earth [Vesuvius] In the land of Italy, reaches to broad heaven It will burn many cities and destroy men.

Much smoking ashes will fill the great sky And showers will fall from heaven like red earth.

Know then the wrath of the heavenly God.”

The second piece of evidence cited by Shanks is ancient graffiti etched onto a fresco at a Pompeii building. The grafitti reads “Sodom and Gomorra.”

In Shanks’s opinion, the text is proof that a Jewish visitor to the ruins believed its fate followed that of the two sin cities that the Bible says were destroyed by God.

In any case, if the destruction of Pompeii was an act of divine retribution, then some Jews were also caught up in his vengeance. It is almost certain there were some Jewish individuals, perhaps a fullyfledged Jewish community in Pompeii, that perished along with the city’s gentiles.

Shanks said a fresco of King Solomon, the most ancient depiction of a biblical scene, is located not far from where the Sodom and Gomorra graffiti was found.

Also, relates Shanks, a vase with what some believe is an ancient kashrut stamp has been found in the famous ruins.

For Jews elsewhere, it is easy to imagine how news of the catastrophe at Pompeii would have been greeted with joy in light of the devastating defeat they had suffered only a few years earlier.

“It attacked the core of Roman society and, as if to emphasize the point, it extended all the way to Rome,” Shanks said. “You had the scary white and dark soot as far as Rome. There’s very good reason to conclude there was a perceived connection and in the eyes of some, God was clearly at work.”

It’s rather nice that the full article is also this particular issue’s freebie:

While I like the idea of the oracle as a retrojective prophecy, the thing I can’t buy into are the comments on the Sodom and Gomorrah graffito. The JPost summary gives the impression that people visited the site of Pompeii shortly after Vesuvius was done with its wrath. I didn’t think he really meant that but in the online version of the article:

One such person came back to a house in an area of Pompeii designated today as Region 9, Insula 1, House 26. After having walked through the desolation of the city, he (unlikely to be a “she”) looked about and saw nothing but destruction where once there had been buildings and beautifully frescoed walls. Disconsolate and aghast, he picked up a piece of charcoal and scratched on the wall in large black Latin letters:

... the citation for this is:

See Carlo Giordano and Isidoro Kahn, The Jews in Pompeii Heculaneum, Stabiae and in the Cities of Campania Felix 3rd ed., Wilhelmina F. Jashemski, trans. (Rome: Bardi Editore, 2003), pp. 75–76.

… which I don’t have at hand. Will someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve always been under the impression that the site was covered with between four and six metres of ash and pumice. There was nothing to ‘visit’ and scratch graffiti on AFTER the eruption …

UPDATE (August 24): In addition to Mark Davidson’s comments below, see also Jim Davila’s coverage of this item over at PaleoJudaica, which includes a link to an article (also in BAR) from a few years ago by Theodore Feder about a fresco possibly depicting Solomon, Socrates and Aristotle. The excerpt from Feder (included at Paleojudaica, but not in the abstract at BAR) is much more realistic on this one …

Recreating the Heraia on Samos

From ANA:

Athletes and volunteers dressed as torch-bearers of antiquity participate in one of several events recreating an ancient festival in honour of the mythical goddess Hera (Heraion), which was held at the port of Pythagorion , on the eastern Aegean island of Samos on Friday 20 August 2010.

The ancient Heraia festival served as a sports event for women, and dates back to 200 BC. The games were organised every four years.

Female athletes would take part in a night race, following an ancient path, beginning from Hera’s temple and finishing at the port, where the lightning of the flame took place.

Ancient sports games for women recreated on Samos | ANA

Here’s Pausanias‘ account of the Heraia games (via

[5.16.2] Every fourth year there is woven for Hera a robe by the Sixteen women, and the same also hold games called Heraea. The games consist of foot-races for maidens. These are not all of the same age. The first to run are the youngest; after them come the next in age, and the last to run are the oldest of the maidens. They run in the following way:

[5.16.3] their hair hangs down, a tunic reaches to a little above the knee, and they bare the right shoulder as far as the breast. These too have the Olympic stadium reserved for their games, but the course of the stadium is shortened for them by about one-sixth of its length. To the winning maidens they give crowns of olive and a portion of the cow sacrificed to Hera. They may also dedicate statues with their names inscribed upon them. Those who administer to the Sixteen are, like the presidents of the games, married women.

[5.16.4] The games of the maidens too are traced back to ancient times; they say that, out of gratitude to Hera for her marriage with Pelops, Hippodameia assembled the Sixteen Women, and with them inaugurated the Heraea. They relate too that a victory was won by Chloris, the only surviving daughter of the house of Amphion, though with her they say survived one of her brothers. As to the children of Niobe, what I myself chanced to learn about them I have set forth in my account of Argos.

Not sure where the modern Samian race is getting the torch thing (confusion with a male event during the Panathenia?); I can’t find any mention of a female torch race. Matthew Dillon, “Did Parthenoi Attend the Olympic Games? Girls and Women Competing, Spectating, and Carrying out Cult Roles at Greek Religious Festivals” Hermes 128, 457-480 mentions (on 462) that no inscriptions of victories by women survive from Olympia, but there are inscriptions recording the victories of women at other (presumably Heraia-like) competitions. A trio of sisters named Tryphosa, Hedea, and Dionysia won various competitions in the Isthmian, Nemean, Pythian, Sikyonian, Epidaurian, and Athenian festivals in the second half of the first century A.D., by which time female participation in athletic competitions had apparently broadened in scope.. Most impressive (to me, anyway) is Hedea, who won the chariot-race-in-armour at the Isthmian games, the stade at Nemea and Sikyon, and the kithara-singing at the Sebasteia at Athens.

Inscriptions from Pompeiopolis

From World Bulletin … there seems to be a persistent misspelling of Pompeiopolis:

New inscriptions were unearthed during excavations in Pompeipolis ancient city in Taskopru in the northern province of Kastamonu.

Prof. Dr. Christian Marek, who has been examining inscriptions uncovered in Pompeipolis, told the AA correspondent that inscriptions were about festivals of Roman era.

Marek said that according to inscriptions, Roman emperors also participated in these festivals, most of which were religious. Marek said several competitions, shows and plays had been held within the scope of these festivals which had been started by Roman Emperor Alexander Severus.

Prof. Latife Summerer, a lecturer from Munich University, said that information on inscriptions were important and more would be uncovered in excavations in the ancient city.

The antique city of Pompeipolis is situated in the county of Taskopru of the province of Kastamonu. According to the historical records, the Romans after winning the battle against Mitridates. Pontus Pilate and his army in the northern valley of Gökirmak in 64 B.C. settled in this region. The Roman commander Pompeius built a city out of scratch on Zimbilli Hill and called the city Pompeipolis.

The antique city of Pompeipolis was discovered by Pascal T. Fourcade, who was the French consul during 1802 to 1812 at Sinop. It is claimed by the American and European archaeologists that the antique city of Pompeipolis is wealthier and bigger than the antique city of Ephesus in Izmir. The giant columns and the mosaic decorations found in the excavations conducted for the first time in 1910 in the antique city of Pompeipolis, remaining from the Byzantine era, were destroyed in the reconstruction of the town of Taskopru after four-thirds of the town was damaged by fire in the year 1927. The historical artifacts found in the excavations conducted by the governorate of Kastamonu in 1974 were placed in the Kastamonu Archaeological Museum for safekeeping. The excavation of Pompeipolis started again in the year 2006 under the leadership of Dr. Latife Summerer of the German Munich University.

As the archaeological excavation of Pompeipolis continues, a town museum or an archaeological museum must be built in Taskopru to protect and exhibit the artifacts discovered. With the historical artifacts to be discovered, the antique city of Pompeipolis will be the door opening the Black Sea to the world. If the antique city is well promoted and if the necessary investments for tourist visits are made, Pompeipolis, just like Ephesus and Zeugma, will become the symbol of the Black Sea within a short period of time and its name will take place among the sites to be visited in international tourism.

via: Inscriptions found in ancient Pompeipolis city in Turkey | World Bulletin

This seems to be a rather nice dig site … a few years ago they excavated a Temple of Augustus … the next season found mosaics and a marketplace … the spelling mistake seems to run in those reports too.

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem x kalendas septembres

ante diem x kalendas septembres

Pre Roman Remains at Brading Roman Villa

From the County Press:

THE third phase of the Big Dig at Brading Roman Villa may well have been one of the toughest excavations eminent archaeologist Sir Barry Cunliffe had ever undertaken but it has yielded some treasures and a greater understanding of Brading’s history up to its Roman occupation.
With the three-week dig ending yesterday (Friday), Sir Barry’s team has unearthed, over the past two weeks, numerous pottery remains, ranging from pieces of amphorae to a tray for sifting sea water to extract salt.
The discovery of a second century BC saucepan became the earliest evidence of occupation on the site, pushing its history back as much as two centuries.
Examples of early jewellery were also found, which included an example of a small mid-first century AD brooch inlaid with enamel.
A butt beaker, a type of Gaulish pre-Roman period drinking vessel, bronze tweezers, a flagon and a cremation jar were also discovered.
During the first week of the dig, Sir Barry’s team unearthed a rare cooking pot and a copper coin bearing the image of a goddess.
This year’s dig concentrated principally on a site to the rear of the villa’s car park.
There is, according to Sir Barry, strong evidence the villa was a high-status farmstead in the late Iron Age, trading with the Romans before the AD43 invasion of Britain.
“We’ve got reminders of Mediterranean manners and lifestyle before the Roman invasion and them being incorporated into community life,” he explained. “It is likely salt was a product of this area. The farmstead may well date back to an earlier period of the Iron Age. The dig was unrelenting — one of the toughest sites to dig any of us has ever seen.
“Yet it yielded a host of fascinating features and gave us a real understanding about the villa story.”