Strange Roman Ritual?

I keep coming across mention of matters Classical in ancient Jewish texts — in this case, the Talmud — which don’t sound quite ‘right’. Here’s one mentioned in the Jewish Journal:

The ancient Romans were known for their wild and weird rituals, but one of them, recorded in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 11b), is of special interest to us. It is said that once every 70 years, Romans would have a healthy man, wearing the legendary garments of Adam, ride on the back of a limping man, who wore the mask of a Jew as he walked through the streets of Rome. At the head of the parade an announcer would repeatedly say: “Our master’s brother is a forger. Whomever sees this parade let him enjoy, because there will not be another for 70 more years. Forgery has not benefited the forger nor deceit benefited the deceiver!”

via Epitome of Truth: Parashat Toledot (Genesis 25:19-28:9) | Torah Portion | Jewish Journal.

“Legendary garments of Adam”? Was he naked? A ritual held once every 70 years? Mask of a Jew? What would that look like? Sorry … this doesn’t sound  Roman at all …

House of the Gladiators Collapses

There was a pile of Italian coverage of this a few hours ago … now the English coverage is trickling in. So far Reuters seems to have the fullest coverage:

The 2,000-year-old “House of the Gladiators” in the ruins of ancient Pompeii collapsed on Saturday, officials said.

They said the stone house, on the main street of the world-famous archaeological site and measuring several hundred square meters (yards), collapsed just after dawn while the site was closed. Custodians discovered the collapse when they opened the site.

The structure was believed to be where gladiators gathered and trained and used as a club house before going to battle in a nearby amphitheatre in the city that was destroyed by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Known officially by its Latin name “Schola Armaturarum Juventus Pompeiani,” the structure was not open to visitors but was visible from the outside as tourists walked along one of the ancient city’s main streets.

Its walls were decorated with frescoes of military themes.

Officials speculated that the collapse may have been caused by heavy rains.

Art historians and residents for years have complained that the archaeological sites at Pompeii, among the world’s most important, were in a state of decay and needed better maintenance.

See also Blogging Pompeii’s coverage: Collapse in the House of the Gladiators




Anti-Foxy Alexander?

A claim in an item in the Telegraph:

Alexander the Great is known to have enjoyed fox-hunting, as did the Persians and the Romans.

via The rise and fall of Mr Fox – Telegraph.

… which possibly comes from Wikipedia:

The earliest historical records of fox hunting come from the 4th century BC ; Alexander the Great is known to have hunted foxes and a seal dated from 350 BC depicts a Persian horseman in the process of spearing a fox. Xenophon, who viewed hunting as part of a cultured man’s education, advocated the killing of foxes as pests, as they distracted hounds from hares. The Romans were hunting foxes by 80 AD.

via Red Fox | Wikipedia

… which possibly comes from:

Macdonald, David (1987). Running with the Fox.

… which, alas, represents a dead end for me (I don’t have access to it). Whatever the case, I’d be very interested in knowing the source for Alexander’s fox hunting; I was also under the impression that Xenophon only suggested not allowing your hounds to hunt foxes (e.g. Cynegeticus 6).  I’m also not sure why it appears to have taken the Romans so long to  be fox hunting …

Digging the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates at Alonia tou Episkopou

From a press release:

The Ministry of Communications and Works, Department of Antiquities, announces that from the 12th to the 31st August 2010 the French Archaeological Expedition at Pafos (dir. Dr Claire Balandier) and the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus (Dr E. Raptou), worked together at the so-called sanctuary of Apollo Hylates of Nea Pafos at the locality of Alonia tou Episkopou (Yeroskipou). The whole monument was cleared from the debris (corridor, first and second underground rooms and rocky surface), the site was studied archaeologically and precise drawings (plan and sections) were made. This monument is known for the two Cypro-syllabic inscriptions carved on its walls.

The cleaning of the monument revealed that the underground circular chamber (5m. diameter) has a rocky bench around it. At the centre of this room a semi-circular hollow was excavated which could have been used for libation. No archaeological artifacts were unearthed, but it could be supposed that this hollow was cut at the same time the chamber was created, since the northern extremity of its diameter is exactly under the highest part of the vault, the point where it starts to be carved. In the first room the remains of an alphabetic inscription were found: an alpha with a broken line can easily be read. The tool marks of the ancient workers can be seen in both rooms.

Only modern artifacts were found during the excavation, as well as a rock crystal carefully hidden in the eastern rocky wall of the dromos. The place was still respected when it became a quarry, probably sometime in antiquity. The survey of the surrounding ancient quarry noted the traces of ancient extraction of columns and blocks. It seems that in the Early Christian period the first room became a chapel and it was later used as a shelter for shepherds and their livestock.

In Search of Nemea’s Hippodrome

The inicipit of a piece from the East Bay Express:

UC Berkeley classics professor Kim Shelton and her largely student crew are back from a summer spent excavating, researching, and conserving at Nemea, Greece.

Ever since the Nemea Center for Classical Archaeology was founded within UCB’s Classics department six years ago, UCB has maintained the Nemea Archaeological Center on land that in ancient times held a temple to Zeus and a sports stadium — and to which Cal holds scientific rights .

“How thrilling it is to be ‘back from the trenches,'” wrote Shelton, NCCA’s director, in her first report after returning from another summer abroad.

“There were several points when we were certain that our planned efforts would be dashed by the global economic crisis and the resulting political and bureaucratic rollercoaster, not to mention striking Greek transportation workers.” But thanks to generous donors, avid volunteers, and cutting-edge equipment, “we had a great summer,” Shelton wrote.

“Excavation is a costly and time-consuming business. It is a good idea to find out as much as we can about ‘what’s down there’ without digging, so we can learn as much as possible about the site before we decide where to excavate. Subsurface, non- invasive investigation of the natural or man-made layers or features is thus an important weapon in our excavation armory. This summer, we made a geophysical (i.e., sub- surface) survey of much of the archaeological site.

“‘Remote sensing,’ as it is called, uses magnetometry and ground penetrating radar to provide data about what is ‘down there.’ In addition, a process called Electrical Resistivity Tomography is applied which produces a map of the stratigraphy of an area. …

“As a result of the survey, the area around the temple seems to have a number of features that may be of interest, especially to the south and southwest. East of the temple and the altar, the GPR identified strong reflections in a couple of areas that may be related to architectural remains. Very surprisingly, similar architectural features were identified under the site parking lot from a depth of about 70-80cm and extending to at least 180cm below the surface. The survey also discovered evidence of a possible road leading away from the Sanctuary to the east, but different from the road to the Stadium.”

Efforts continued to locate the site of an ancient hippodrome where horse-drawn chariots raced. [more … mostly about upkeep of the site]

via UCB Archeologists Hunt for Hippodrome | East Bay Express.

That Pompeii Donkey Thing

As often, of late, I’m a bit behind the news cycle, and one of the stories of the past week dealt with the misidenfication of remains of a ‘mysterious breed of horse’ at Pompeii which turned out to be a donkey. Here’s the coverage from Cambridge News:

An academic at Cambridge University has been left long-faced after discovering a mystery breed of Roman horse found at Pompeii was none other than a donkey.

Experts initially believed that they had unearthed a new, now-extinct breed of horse when they analysed DNA sequences from skeletons found at a house in the ancient Roman town in 2004.

But the idea fell at the first hurdle when scrutinised by Cambridge’s Susan Gurney, who is working with Peter Forster on horse genetics.

She realised there had been a mix-up in the lab, which resulted in horse DNA being combined with that of a donkey to create an artificial hybrid.

Mrs Gurney, from the university’s Institute of Continuing Education, said: “Looking at the research with hindsight, it’s possible to recognise two separate strands of horse and donkey DNA.

“In addition, the horse DNA that appears to have been inadvertently mixed in with the donkey’s genetic information is the same type as that found in another Herculaneum horse, which might be the source of the mistake.”

The original study six years ago analysed the skeletons of equids – animals in the horse family – that belonged to a rich Roman household in Pompeii.

All five were well preserved by the volcanic ash which covered the town and the nearby settlement of Herculaneum when Vesuvius erupted in AD79.

Mrs Gurney found that the first 177 nucleotides – molecules which form the structural units of a DNA sequence – match existing patterns for donkeys. The remaining 193 nucleotides match those of an existing breed of horse.

However, the research could still prove important. The Cambridge experts believe the newly-identified donkey may well be the first proof that the “Somali” ass lineage normally found in Italy dates back to at least Roman times.

Scouring the archives of rogueclassicism, I can’t find that this received any press attention back in 2004, although I might have missed it. The abstract of the article in the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry is available online … the payfer article too, of course. If you’re interested, here’s the abstract for the article with the initial misidentification:

DNA extracted from the skeletons of five equids discovered in a Pompeii stable and of a horse found in Herculaneum was investigated. Amino acid racemization level was consistent with the presence of DNA. Post-mortem base modifications were excluded by sequencing a 146 bp fragment of the 16S rRNA mitochondrial gene. Sequencing of a 370 bp fragment of mitochondrial (mt)DNA control region allowed the construction of a phylogenetic tree that, along with sequencing of nuclear genes (epsilon globin, gamma interferon, and p53) fragments, gave us the possibility to address some questions puzzling archaeologists. What animals—donkeys, horses, or crossbreeds—were they? And, given they had been evidently assigned to one specific job, were they all akin or were they animals with different mitochondrial haplotypes? The conclusions provided by molecular analysis show that the Pompeii remains are those of horses and mules. Furthermore one of the equids (CAV5) seems to belong to a haplotype, which is either not yet documented in the GenBank or has since disappeared. As its characteristics closely recall those of donkeys, which is the out group chosen to construct the tree, that appears to have evolved within the Equidae family much earlier than horses, this assumption seems to be nearer the truth. J. Cell. Physiol. 199: 200–205, 2004© 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.


See also:

Bulgarian Smuggling

A brief item from Standart which is kind of interesting from a naming-of-potential-markets point of view:

In Bulgaria there are 49,800 private collections of historical value which are not registered, Nikolay Solarov – prosecutor from the Supreme Cassation Prosecution Office announced at a seminar on prevention of traffic of cultural riches. Nikolay Solarov explained that only 200 collections are officially registered; less than 1% of the private collections in Bulgaria have ownership certificates.

Currently pieces of Bulgarian cultural heritage are smuggled mainly to Arabia Saudi and Japan. Smugglers carry Thracian treasures as some artifacts have been detected even in Australia.

Objects dated back from the Roman times unearthed in Bulgarian archeological sites are usually smuggled to Zurich, Munich or Vienna.

… which reminded me … we haven’t heard about the Maecenas Foundation and/or the Miho Museum in a while …  the former seems to have appeared in Wikipedia in the last month or so, but still hasn’t updated its website in the past five years. The latter’s website is somewhat more current, but not really …

Also Seen: “The Tyrant of the Classics”

We’re used to seeing various personages in American culture compared to ancient Roman types … here’s a somewhat different one making the rounds (it appears) of the Australian press, FWIW and inter alia:

The late Professor Norberto Bobbio, one of Italy’s greatest postwar political thinkers, authors and legal philosophers, once described Silvio Berlusconi as the incarnation of the demagogue of ancient times: “Berlusconi, in essence, is the tyrant of the classics, the man who believes it licit to do what mere mortals only dream. The defining characteristic of the man-tyrant is the belief he ‘can’ everything.”

via Scandals never hurt Silvio, Italy’s everyman | Brisbane Times.