African Soldier in Roman Stratford?

Not sure why there is such apparent surprise at this sort of thing any more … via the BBC:

A 1,700-year-old skeleton shows that people of African descent have lived in Warwickshire for far longer than was previously thought, experts say.

The skeleton of an African man was discovered buried in Tiddington Road, Stratford-upon-Avon, in 2009.

Archaeologists said they now believed the man may have been a Roman soldier who chose to retire in Stratford after serving in an African unit.

Investigations into the man’s background are continuing.

Malin Holst, of York Osteoarchaeology Ltd, said he had identified elements of the mature African male skeleton in bones unearthed from a Roman-period cemetery.

Stuart Palmer, from Archaeology Warwickshire, said: “African skeletons have previously been found in large Romano-British towns like York and African units are known to have formed part of the Hadrian’s Wall garrison, but we had no reason to expect any in Warwickshire and certainly not in a community as small as Roman Stratford.”

He added the bones revealed the man was heavily built and used to carrying heavy loads. He had suffered arthritis in one of his shoulders, his hips and lower back.

Mr Palmer said: “His teeth showed that his childhood was plagued by disease or malnutrition, but there was no evidence for the cause of death.

“He could have been a merchant, although, based on the evidence of the skeletal pathology it is probably more likely that he was a slave or an army veteran who retired to Stratford.”

There’s virtually identical coverage in the Daily Mail:

… suggesting this all stems from a press release somewhere that I’ll track down at some point (it doesn’t seem to be at the York Osteoarchaeology page). Whatever the case, folks should check out Kristina Kilgrove’s comments on the media coverage of the find:



This Day in Ancient History: ante diem vii kalendas februarias

An image of Halley's Comet from 1910.
Image via Wikipedia

ante diem vii kalendas februarias

  • Sementivae or Paganalia (day ?) — Sementivae was a festival of sowing which was actually a moveable feast (although I’m not sure of the moveability criteria; I’m guessing that the first day falls between January 24 and 26). By Ovid’s time it appears to have been coincident with Paganalia, which also obviously has some rural aspect to it. It appears to have been a two-day festival with an interval of seven days between (corrections on this welcome … my sources seem muddled on this one)
  • 66 A.D. — perihelion of what would eventually be called Halley’s comet (possibly mentioned in Josephus; less possibly mentioned in Suetonius)
  • 97 A.D. — martyrdom of Timothy
  • 1721 — death of Pierre Daniel Huet (editor of the Delphi Classics)

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem viii kalendas februarias

Portrait of Emperor Nerva. Marble, 96–98 CE. F...
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ante diem viii kalendas februarias

  • Sementivae or Paganalia (day 2) — Sementivae was a festival of sowing which was actually a moveable feast (although I’m not sure of the moveability criteria; I’m guessing that the first day falls between January 24 and 26). By Ovid’s time it appears to have been coincident with Paganalia, which also obviously has some rural aspect to it. It appears to have been a two-day festival with an interval of seven days between (corrections on this welcome … my sources seem muddled on this one)
  • 41 A.D. — recognition of Claudius as emperor by the senate
  • 98 A.D. — death of Nerva (?)
  • 275 A.D. — murder of Aurelian (according to one reckoning, which I don’t think is correct … comments welcome)

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem xi kalendas februarias

Emperor Caligula, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.

Image via Wikipedia

ante diem xi kalendas februarias

  • Ludi Palatini (day 4)
  • Sementivae or Paganalia (day 1) — Sementivae was a festival of sowing which was actually a moveable feast (although I’m not sure of the moveability criteria; I’m guessing that the first day falls between January 24 and 26). By Ovid’s time it appears to have been coincident with Paganalia, which also obviously has some rural aspect to it. It appears to have been a two-day festival with an interval of seven days between (corrections on this welcome … my sources seem muddled on this one)
  • 41 A.D. — murder of Gaius (Caligula); Claudius proclaimed emperor by the praetorian guard
  • 76 A.D. — birth of the future emperor Hadrian

Purported Tomb of Caligula ~ Followup

I’ve been sort of thinking aloud on Twitter and/or Facebook on this one and am thinking this whole Caligula tomb thing needs some sort of followup post. At some point yesterday I tweeted

… although it was somewhat heartening to start seeing headlines like:

… all of which had sensibly paid attention to Mary Beard’s post on the matter. Later in the day, however, I found myself tweeting:

… in response to headlines coming from sources further down the journalistic pantheon:

… and several others which clearly are already indexed in Google. But clearly I — along with plenty of folks (like you!) who know better — wasn’t the only one who was perplexed by the way this story had spun out of control. Tip o’ the pileus to Francesca Tronchin for sending along the coverage from the Italian version of National Geographic. They too, could not understand how the story had gone from ‘statue discovery’ to ‘tomb discovery’ and suggested quite plausibly:

Ma cosa c’è di vero negli articoli circolati fino ad ora? Difficilmente la tomba di Caligola, generata forse dalla fantasia di qualche cronista straniero che ha mal interpretato il termine “tombarolo”, nato quando gli scavatori abusivi violavano usualmente tombe, ma esteso oggi a indicare chi saccheggia ogni sorta di sito archeologico. Di certo c’è solo il salvataggio, dalle mani di uno scavatore clandestino, di una porzione di statua di epoca romana. Mancano invece del tutto immagini e attribuzioni ufficiali della stessa, così come elementi certi sulla sua provenienza.

… for those of you who don’t read Italian, they suggest that some foreign journalist has mistranslated the term ‘tombarolo’, which, once upon a time did apply strictly to folks who dug up ancient tombs and sold things illegally, but now applies to any purveyors of illicit antiquities. This is surely correct.

The same article, however, raises a point which is often brought up in relation to Caligula but which didn’t actually happen. Ecce:

Caligola, odiato per la sua dissolutezza e la feroce crudeltà, non solo venne ucciso da una congiura, ma fu poi sottoposto a quella che i latini chiamavano damnatio memoriae, una vera a propria cancellazione civile e morale. Essa comportava la distruzione di tutto ciò che poteva ricordarlo, rimuovendo la traccia storica di quel che egli aveva fatto, delle sue proprietà, della sua immagine pubblica, delle sue gesta; venivano distrutte le iscrizioni che lo citavano e i monumenti che lo raffiguravano, ed era proibito tramandare in famiglia il suo praenomen.

… that is, they are suggesting that Caligula underwent damnatio memoriae and, as defined by them, involved the complete removal of anything associated with him, his public images, deeds, and inscriptions which pertained to him. It was also supposedly forbidden to transmit his praenomen in his family. Not sure where that latter bit comes from, but this is a somewhat ‘standard’ definition of what damnatio memoriae involved. Interestingly, however, our ancient sources are somewhat clear that it didn’t happen. The account of the aftermath of Caligula’s assassination is somewhat problematical in one of our sources — Cassius Dio — because the relevant section is greatly reconstructed (for lack of a better term) from Byzantine epitomes. From the fifth-century account of John of Antioch, e.g., comes a bit which is usually appended to the end of Dio’s 59th book (translation here via Lacus Curtius):

Now he was spat upon by those who had been accustomed to do him reverence even when he was absent; and he became a sacrificial victim at the hands of those who were wont to speak and write of him as “Jupiter” and “god.” His statues and his images were dragged from their pedestals, for the people in particular remembered the distress they had endured.

This statement seems to be the source of claims that Caligula did undergo damnatio memoriae. But compare a couple of more excerpts: the first from Suetonius at the end of his Life of Caligula (ch. 60 via Lacus Curtius):

One may form an idea of the state of those times by what followed. Not even after the murder was made known was it at once believed that he was dead, but it was suspected that Gaius himself had made up and circulated the report, to find out by that means how men felt towards him. The conspirators too had not agreed on a successor, and the senate was so unanimously in favour of re-establishing the republic that the consuls called the first meeting, not in the senate house, because it had the name Julia, but in the Capitol; while some in expressing their views proposed that the memory of the Caesars be done away with and their temples destroyed. Men further observed and commented on the fact that all the Caesars whose forename was Gaius perished by the sword, beginning with the one who was slain in the times of Cinna.

… and then from the beginning of book 60 of Dio, outlining the events as Claudius took power (section 5 via Lacus Curtius):

He destroyed the poisons which were found in abundance in the residence of Gaius; and the books of Protogenes (who was put to death), together with the papers which Gaius pretended he had burned, he first showed to the senators and then gave them to the very men they most concerned, both those who had written them and those against whom they had been written, to be read by them, after which he burned them up. And yet, when the senate desired to dishonour Gaius, he personally prevented the passage of the measure, but on his own responsibility caused all his predecessor’s images to disappear by night. 6 Hence the name of Gaius does not occur in the list of emperors whom we mention in our oaths and prayers any more than does that of Tiberius; and yet neither one of them suffered disgraced by official decree.

… unless the two passages from Dio (or more correctly Dio and John of Antioch) are taken together with the passage from Suetonius, one really can’t see the big picture of what was going on during this brief revolution. Clearly Gaius was assassinated and shortly thereafter, unspecified folks were dragging his statues down. There was talk of restoring the Republic and all sorts of anti-imperial sentiment being bruited about. When Claudius comes to the purple, he is put in the somewhat difficult position of bringing all sorts of disparate groups together to agree to let him rule. He couldn’t really dishonour his nephew by damnatio memoriae because that was unprecedented in an imperial context and the familial connection probably would have created a situation where his own ‘legitimacy’ to rule was questioned (as if he didn’t have enough baggage in that area). So that’s out as an option. At the same time, he can’t allow the remaining images of Gaius in the city to remain on view and become a rallying point for those ‘Republic-restorers’ and similar groups. So he has those images removed under cover of darkness. We do know that some statues of Gaius survived, of course (pretty much every article on the purported tomb find has one) and we also know that some were worked into images of other emperors (see, e.g., chapter two of Eric Varner’s Mutilation and transformation: damnatio memoriae and Roman imperial portraiture, which is partially available via Google Books; he looks at the evidence in detail and seems to suggest an ‘unofficial’ damnatio memoriae).  We also have plenty of coins bearing the likeness of Caligula (even if the bronze ones were recalled) as well as inscriptions.

Speaking of coins, however, we probably should gloss  — in the interest of ‘full disclosure’ — the other bit of ‘evidence’ which is often mentioned in regards to Caligulan damnatio, namely, that his bronze coins were melted down (Dio 60.22.3):

These were the honours the senate bestowed upon the reigning family; but they hated the memory of Gaius so much that they decreed that all the bronze coinage which had his likeness stamped upon it should be melted down. And yet, though this was done, the bronze was converted to no better user, for Messalina made statues of Mnester, the actor, out of it

Whatever the case, it is clear that there was no official decree of damnatio memoriae successfully levelled against Caligula.

That said, another thought that occurred to me as this story unfolded this week was that the whole ‘Caligula’ thing might be getting big play in assorted European newspapers as the ‘epithet’ seems to be increasingly applied to Silvio Berlusconi in his latest bit of bunga bunga -ery. We’ll see how that plays out …

CONF: Sympotic Poetry

Seen on the Classicists list (please direct any queries to the folks mentioned in the item and not to rogueclassicism):


Christ Church, Oxford

Thursday March 31st – Saturday April 2nd 2011

The symposiast’s couch is a key vantage-point from which to survey Greek poetry. Poetry was performed at the symposium from the beginnings of Greek literature (judging from the sympotic traces in Homer) down to the fourth century and probably into Hellenistic times. Even later, echoes of the sympotic setting are exploited in literary games of generic appropriation. This conference proposes to examine the symposium both as a setting for the performance of poetry and as a ‘mental space’ rich in aesthetic, social, and political implications. What does it mean in practice to speak of ‘sympotic poetry’? How does the symposium as a performance context shape and cut across generic conventions? Are there conventions of sympotic song and, if so, what are they? How should we disentangle the symposium as the setting for poetry from the symposium as the imaginary place which is the product, rather than the precondition, of this poetry? How does the historical symposium in its various aspects (a politically defined group of people, a means of socialization derived from Near Eastern cultures, a carefully regulated set of customs, etc.) relate to the symposium as a setting for the competitive display of artistic competence, where something akin to literary criticism first begins? What is the role of the symposion in the early institution of corpora and canonisation of texts? How did sympotic performance affect transmission?

With the support of the Classics Faculty Board, the John Fell OUP Fund, the Craven Committee, the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, and the Classical Association.


Thursday 31st March

Session 1 Chair: tbc

14.00 – 15.00 Dr. Felix Budelmann (Magdalen College, Oxford) and Prof. Timothy Power (Rutgers University): ‘Song and Speech in the Symposium’

15.00 – 16.00 Dr. Dirk Obbink (Christ Church, Oxford): ‘Writing and the Symposium’

Session 2 Chair: Enrico Prodi16.30 – 17.30 Prof. Ewen Bowie (Corpus Christi College, Oxford): ‘Quo usque tandem…? Reflections on the Length of Sympotic Poems’

17.30 – 18.30 Prof. Gauthier Liberman (Institut Ausonius, Université Bordeaux 3): ‘Some Thoughts on the Symposiastic Catena’

18.30 Drinks receptionFriday 1st April

Session 3 Chair: Dr. Penelope Murray9.30 – 10.30 Prof. Ralph Rosen (University of Pennsylvania): ‘Satire, Symposia, and the Formation of Poetic Genre’

11.00 – 12.00 Dr. Renaud Gagné (Pembroke College, Cambridge): ‘Metasympotics: Embedding Context in Elegiac and Iambic Poetry’

12.00 – 13.00 Prof. Guy Hedreen (Williams College): ‘Portrait of the Artist in a Sympotic Context’

Session 4 Chair: Vanessa Cazzato
14.30 – 15.30 Prof. Deborah Steiner (Columbia University): ‘Swallow this: Reading the Bird in Sympotic Visual Culture’

15.30 – 16.30 Prof. Hans Bernsdorff (Goethe Universität, Frankfurt am Main): ‘A Use of Myth in Sympotic Poetry’

17.00 – 18.00 Prof. Simon Hornblower (All Souls College, Oxford):‘Menedemos or Kassandra? The two Poets called Lykophron and Sympotic versus other Hellenistic Types of Performance’

19.30 Conference dinner – Symposiarch: Oswyn Murray

Saturday 2nd April

Session 5 Chair: Dr. Bruno Currie9.30 – 10.30 Prof. Ettore Cingano (Università Ca’ Foscari, Venezia): ‘Exploring Sympotic Settings: Stesichorus, Ibycus, Simonides’

11.00 – 12.00 Prof. Lucia Athanassaki (Πανεπιστήμιο Κρήτης): ‘Pindaric Symposium’

12.00 – 13.00 Prof. Giambattista D’Alessio (King’s College, London): ‘Bacchylides’ Sympotic Songs’

Session 6 Chair: Dr. Dirk Obbink14.30 – 15.30 Prof. Ian Rutherford (University of Reading): ‘Comparative Symposiastics’

15.30 – 16.30 Prof. Richard Hunter (Trinity College, Cambridge): ‘Imagining the Symposium: Homer, Theognis, Plutarch’

17.00 – 18.00 Prof. Gregory Hutchinson (Exeter College, Oxford): ‘Hierarchies and Symposiastic Poetry, Greek and Latin’


Registration is now open online here.

Full rate: £50Reduced rate: £35 (for students/unwaged)

One-day full rate: £20

One-day reduced rate: £15

The deadline for registering is February 28th.

CFP: Text, Illustration, Revival: Ancient Drama from Late Antiquity to 1550

Seen on the Classicists list (please direct any queries to the folks mentioned in the item and not to rogueclassicism):

Text, Illustration, Revival: Ancient drama from late antiquity to 1550

The University of Melbourne: 13th to 15th July 2011

Convenors: Andrew Turner, Giulia Torello Hill

In 2011 the University of Melbourne, in association with the University of Queensland, will host an international conference with the title Text, Illustration, Revival: Ancient drama from late antiquity to 1550. Illustrated manuscripts of classical authors often transmitted an insight for much later readers into how ancient illustrators (and thus audiences) visualized these works, but also provided current reinterpretations of the texts. Both tendencies are best exemplified in a cycle of illustrations to the plays of Terence, which provides an almost unbroken continuum from the Carolingian era through to the dawn of the age of printing. But despite the fact that these illustrations represented the action on stage, even down to details of masks and props, there is no evidence at all that the plays were performed in the mediaeval period—they were simply literary texts, to be studied and at the most recited by a lector. Rather, revivals of the Classics on stage began in the Italian Renaissance, and the theoretical knowledge which critics gleaned from writers like Vitruvius were poured back into the illustrated tradition, providing an extraordinary amalgam of ancient and ‘modern’. This conference will explore the connections between text, illustration, and revival.

Confirmed speakers so far include Gianni Guastella (University of Siena), who has written several seminal publications on the reception of Roman comedy in the Italian Renaissance, Dorota Dutsch (University of California, Santa Barbara), author of Feminine Discourses in Roman Comedy (Oxford 2008), who has most recently been investigating the semiotics of gesture in the illustrated Terence manuscripts; and Bernard Muir (University of Melbourne), a world authority on the digitization of manuscripts, who has published extensively on Latin palaeography and on the mediaeval transmission of texts, and who most recently, with Andrew Turner, is the editor of a digital facsimile of a 12th-century manuscript of Terence from Oxford (Terence’s Comedies, Bodleian Digital Texts 2, Oxford 2010). We are hopeful that selected proceedings will eventually be published following the conference.

You are now invited to submit proposals for papers (lasting 30 minutes). We are particularly interested in submissions on the following topics, although we will look at other submissions on the broad area of classical drama between Late Antiquity and 1550 sympathetically.

• The manuscript traditions of the classical dramatists;

• Mediaeval scholia and commentary traditions;

• Illustrations of drama in the manuscript and early printed traditions;

• The physical environment of performances of ancient drama;

• Reception and translation of Greek dramatists in the West before 1550.

The deadline for submission of a title and an abstract of 100 words is 25th February 2011. We intend establishing a web site early next year which will progressively include information on the conference, registration, and accommodation. For the meantime, please direct any enquiries (including proposals for papers), to:

Andrew Turner

Classics and Archaeology Programme

Old Quadrangle Building

The University of Melbourne, 3010, AUSTRALIA

or email to: ajturner AT

Latin Intelligence?

242 px
Image via Wikipedia

This one’s kind of interesting, given our knowledge of Classicists among the spying set. SkyNews had a very interesting little post on one of its blogs with the headline:

… which reports on a closed session from the Chilcot Inquiry which (I had to look it up) is one of those parliamentary committees looking into the UK’s role in the Iraq War. The SkyNews thing includes some interesting dialog and also links to the transcript, so we’ll use the transcript version … check this out:

SIR LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: What were your views of the final report of Duelfer’s?
SIS4: “Sunt lacrimae rerum”,13 really.
SIR LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: Would you like to elaborate?
SIS4: I think it says it all.
SIR LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: All right. We will stop there.
THE CHAIRMAN: “Tendebantque manus, ulteriore amore.”14 Shall we break for ten minutes?
SIS4: Yes, that would be lovely.

Sir Lawrence Freedman is a Professor of War Studies from King’s College, who may or may not have understood the reference (can’t tell from the context). The Chairman is Sir John Chilcot, who is a diplomat (who knows the Aeneid well enough to quote a somewhat obscure line). SIS4 is presumably a member of the Secret Intelligence Service (who also knows Latin well enough to quote it and understand it when spoken!) … the ‘footnotes’ there offer a translation of the Latin:

13 Literally “These are the tears of things” – Virgil, Aeneid Book I, line 462
14 “Their hands outstretched in yearning for the other shore”. Virgil, Aeneid Book VI, line 314

Nice bit of ‘capping’ by the Chairman and SIS4 … don’t see that much outside of Classics department lounges any more …

UPDATE (the next day): Amicus noster Jim O’Hara writes in and note:

Word missing in the second James Bond quote:


tendebantque manus ulteriore amore


tendebantque manus ripae ulterioris amore.

Nice instinct though to change ulterioris into the ablative in the absence of a word for it to modify.  And if you allow hiatus and ignore the last syllable he’s almost turned turned the hexameter into a pentameter.  Or was it the person doing the transcription?

Archaeologists Work on a Shanty Town

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have unearthed further evidence of a Roman “shanty town” in Teesdale.
Two years ago, experts carried out a major dig in Bowes. They found significant remains of a large unplanned settlement, called a vicus, on the outskirts of the Roman fort.
Dubbed a “shanty town”, historians said the settlement was significant because it was inhabited longer than similar sites in the north – including Housesteads on Hadrian’s Wall.
The discovery threw up unanswered questions about the end of the Roman era.
Now another archaeological dig has been carried out in the village, again revealing an insight into the civilian life around the fort.
The Archaeological Services at University of Durham carried out the investigation.
In a report, the University of Durham said Bowes was an important place in Roman Britain.
The archaeologists said: “Situated at the east end of the Stainmore Pass, a main communication route between east and west, it would have long been an important route for exchange and possible trade for the indigenous population, which the Romans would have felt vital to control.”
Their report explained that two trenches were dug in the garden of Bowes Manor, near the Roman fort, as part of plans to build a house on the site.
Archaeologists discovered features, deposits and evidence that can be dated from Roman period to post-medieval times.
Evidence from the civilian vicus came from 1st to 4th century, the report added.
A well-laid cobbled surface, thought to be a Roman road into the fort, was found, along with 150 pieces of Roman pottery and 18 fragments of Roman tile.
Remains of oil and wine carriers, coarse wares, coins and cooking pots were unearthed.
Roman features also included a flag floor walls. A laminated layer of burnt material and charcoal, and a significant number of iron objects were also thought to be from the Roman town.
Grains of barley, corn, wheat and hazelnut shell fragments were recorded, as was evidence of human waste and animal bones.
The report said: “These features and deposits, belonging to the civilian vicus, suggest a number of phases over the period of occupation.”
A vicus was a civilian settlement that sprang up close to an official Roman site. It is likely that inhabitants would have been involved in trade and provided services to Roman soldiers.
Unlike the fort, the vicus would have continued to exist long after
the Romans left the area.
The project at Bowes could help expand knowledge of native and civilian life around Roman forts, the report said. [...]

via Archaeologists unearth more evidence of Roman shanty town | Teesdale Mercury.

The item goes on to mention medieval finds also being made at the site. I don’t think we mentioned this find before …

On Climate Change and the Fall of the Roman Empire

Map of the "barbarian" invasions of ...
Image via Wikipedia

T’other day we were criticizing the Guardian for its credulity in buying into a claim about the purported discovery of Caligula’s tomb. While that story was breaking, simmering on the backburner was a story that’s still making the rounds claiming some sort of correlation between the rise and fall of empires and climate change. To give you a sense of how varied the coverage on this one is, all you have to do is see the range in tone and the-sky-is-falling-ness of the headlines … ecce:

The original article (which is behind a pay wall) can be accessed via:

… where one can also read the abstract (the article itself is a rather difficult read):

Climate variations have influenced the agricultural productivity, health risk, and conflict level of preindustrial societies. Discrimination between environmental and anthropogenic impacts on past civilizations, however, remains difficult because of the paucity of high-resolution palaeoclimatic evidence. Here, we present tree ring–based reconstructions of Central European summer precipitation and temperature variability over the past 2500 years. Recent warming is unprecedented, but modern hydroclimatic variations may have at times been exceeded in magnitude and duration. Wet and warm summers occurred during periods of Roman and medieval prosperity. Increased climate variability from ~AD 250 to 600 coincided with the demise of the Western Roman Empire and the turmoil of the Migration Period. Historical circumstances may challenge recent political and fiscal reluctance to mitigate projected climate change.

We’ll reproduce the BBC coverage as it sort of falls in the middle of the ‘tonality':

A team of researchers based their findings on data from 9,000 wooden artifacts from the past 2,500 years.

They found that periods of warm, wet summers coincided with prosperity, while political turmoil occurred during times of climate instability.

The findings have been published online by the journal Science.

“Looking back on 2,500 years, there are examples where climate change impacted human history,” co-author Ulf Buntgen, a paleoclimatologist at the Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape, told the Science website.

Ring record

The team capitalised on a system used to date material unearthed during excavations.

“Archaeologists have developed oak ring width chronologies from Central Europe that cover nearly the entire Holocene and have used them for the purpose of dating artefacts, historical buildings, antique artwork and furniture,” they wrote.

“Chronologies of living and relict oaks may reflect distinct patterns of summer precipitation and drought.”

The team looked at how weather over the past couple of centuries affected living trees’ growth rings.

During good growing seasons, when water and nutrients are in plentiful supply, trees form broad rings, with their boundaries relatively far apart.

But in unfavourable conditions, such as drought, the rings grow in much tighter formation.

The researchers then used this data to reconstruct annual weather patterns from the growth rings preserved in the artefacts.

Once they had developed a chronology stretching back over the past 2,500 years, they identified a link with prosperity levels in past societies, such as the Roman Empire.

“Wet and warm summers occurred during periods of Roman and medieval prosperity. Increased climate variability from 250-600 AD coincided with the demise of the western Roman empire and the turmoil of the migration period,” the team reported.

“Distinct drying in the 3rd Century paralleled a period of serious crisis in the western Roman empire marked by barbarian invasion, political turmoil and economic dislocation in several provinces of Gaul.”

Dr Buntgen explained: “We were aware of these super-big data sets, and we brought them together and analyzed them in a new way to get the climate signal.

“If you have enough wood, the dating is secure. You just need a lot of material and a lot of rings.”

As can be seen in the penultimate quotation from Dr Buntgen, the study is somewhat careful to avoid making a cause-and-effect relationship out of this. Indeed, in the original article (which was kindly forwarded to me), the authors of the study say specifically (p. 3):

Comparison of climate variability and human history, however, prohibits any simple causal determination and other contributing factors, such as socio-cultural stressors must be considered in this complex interplay.

Despite that, we are seeing a pile of folks in newspapers and various social media venues who seem to be inferring from the study that climate change actually caused the fall of Rome to a greater or lesser degree. While the traditional date for the “fall” is outside of the purview of this blog, some of the material of this study does come from the mid- to late third century, so we feel a need comment on it.

The obvious starting point is that the study is based on evidence from some 9000 samples of wood (7200 or so which are oak), which certainly sounds like an impressive database. What isn’t made clear in much of the press coverage is that all these samples come mostly from central Germany and northeastern France, which seems somewhat ‘localized’ for the sweeping continent-wide claims being attached to it. The tree rings themselves are used to infer precipitation during April-May-June, which seems oddly specific and seems to ignore (doesn’t it?) that there might be precipitation in other forms at other times of the year. There are lots of impressive graphs which show variations in precipitation of roughly 100-150 mm in various semi-regular cycles as well as parallel temperature variations which are mostly +1 or -1 degrees ‘off’. I’m not really in a position to say how ‘serious’ such variations might be.

That said, we should note is that the article does make claims about anthropogenic climate change based on ‘historical tree harvest’. It isn’t clear what they mean by this, but I’m assuming there are fewer samples available in certain time periods and the authors assume this means there was less wood to harvest. That might be accurate, but it is also extremely possible that this is just another example of the fickleness of archaeological finds (cf. problems with studies which try to establish ancient life expectancy based on Latin inscriptions). Statistical studies based solely on what has been found in this or that dig are always hazy and need to be supported by other evidence. I’m not sure whether the claims in this study are.

The other thing which bothers me about both the study and the way this is being spun by various folks is that the links between ‘barbarian migrations’ and climate change don’t quite make sense. The idea seems to be that climate change meant the folks had to hop on their horses and invade some other place because they had problems adapting to changes in climate. We’ll ignore the implication that samples from Central Europe can be used to determine climate over a much larger area, which may or may not be valid. However, in regards to the period of our purview, the late third century falls into the people-having-problems-adapting category. For the most part, this is when assorted Goth and Germanic groups are moving down from the North into areas controlled by Rome. The question must be asked: did the climate variability — in areas where samples do not come from — cause the migration? Or were these folks just doing the migrating thing and decided it was good to settle in an area where climate variation and deforestation were apparently happening? Whatever the case, the purported links being made do not quite make sense in the period of our purview and possibly beyond it as well …

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem xiii kalendas februarias


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ante diem xiii kalendas februarias

  • ludi palatini (??)
  • 175 A.D. — Commodus is enrolled in all the priestly colleges
  • 225 A.D. (or 226) — birth of the future emperor Gordian III
  • c. 250 A.D. — martyrdom of Pope Fabian at Rome
  • c. 288 A.D. — martyrdom of Sebastian at Rome


CFP: Musical Reception

Seen on the Classicists list (please direct any queries to the folks mentioned in the item and not to rogueclassicism):

Call for Papers
Re-creation: Musical Reception of Classical Antiquity
A conference at the University of Iowa, October 27-29, 2011

Conference organizers: Robert Ketterer (University of Iowa), Andrew Simpson (Catholic University), Greg Hand (University of Iowa)

The power of music in Greek and Roman myth to move gods, men and even inanimate objects, and the descriptions of music in the imaginative and theoretical literature of antiquity, have inspired musicians since the Middle Ages to interpret and transform the ancient experience. Composers, librettists, and song writers have responded to the passions of the ancients in every available genre and style of musical expression. This conference will explore ways that vocal and instrumental music throughout the world has received and recreated the art and culture of the Greeks and Romans. A concomitant goal of this conference is to bring together artists and scholars in many fields – classics, music, theater, film – to engage in meaningful dialogue about the ways in which classical antiquity informs and shapes their own work. Presenters whose specialty is classics are asked to emphasize musical examples in support of their arguments; specialists in music and other performing arts are requested to focus their presentations on the ancient paradigms that have influenced the music of their particular field.

Conference activities will include lectures, paper sessions, live concerts, and a screening of silent films accompanied by live music composed by Andrew Simpson. Speakers who have already committed to the project include Mary-Kay Gamel (UC Santa Cruz), Simon Goldhill (King’s College, Cambridge), Wendy Heller (Princeton University), Jon Solomon (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), and Reinhard Strohm (Wadham College, Oxford). Concerts will include a performance by Iowa’s Center for New Music, and the first opera for which music survives, Jacopo Peri’s Euridice, premiered in Florence in 1600.

Scholars and artists interested in participating are asked to submit abstracts on relevant subjects that include, but need not be limited to:

• Stage music (e.g., opera, musical theater, incidental music)
• Choral and vocal music
• Instrumental music (e.g., chamber, orchestral, wind ensemble)
• Music for film, including silent film
• Electronic and digital music
• Interactive media including music
• Popular and folk music
• World (i.e., non-Western) musical responses to classical antiquity
• Social or political uses of antiquity in musical settings
• Ancient music theory and modern musical practice

The University of Iowa Classics Department’s journal Syllecta Classica will publish a collection of refereed papers from this conference. Syllecta Classica is available through Project Muse.

One-page abstracts should be sent as an electronic attachment to Professor Robert Ketterer, University of Iowa by April 15, 2011 (robert-ketterer AT

CONF: University of Reading Department of Classics Research Seminar

Seen on the Classicists list (please direct any queries to the folks mentioned in the item and not to rogueclassicism):

University of Reading Department of Classics Research Seminar

Spring Term 2011
Wednesdays at 4 pm, Ure Museum

Jan 19
Andrew Laird (Warwick),
“Classical humanism and ethnohistory in early colonial Mexico. A Latin letter from the native rulers of Azcapotzalco to Philip II of Spain”

Jan.26 Neville Morley and Christine Lee (Bristol),
“’Thucydides as a text for hard times”
(This paper is part of the series, “The Legacy of Greek Political Thought”).

Anna Boozer (Reading)
“Beyond romanization: an archaeology of daily life in Roman Amheida, Egypt”

Alan Greaves (Liverpool)
“Mantic practice in Ionia”

Matthew Hiscock (UCL)
"The professor as oracle: Porson and the construction of academic authority

Feb. 23
Peter Parsons (Oxford),
"Kalligone in the Crimea. A new fragment of Greek fiction”

Christina Riggs (UEA),
“’Shrouds and sorrow: mourning women in Roman Egypt’”

Edith Hall (RHUL)
“Why was Euripides’ Tauric Iphigenia so popular in antiquity?”

Oriol Olesti (Barcelona),
"The Roman occupation of the Pyrennes:Cities, landscapes and gold mines"

Mar.25 (NB: Friday)
International colloquium: “The aulos in antiquity”

All are welcome. Papers are followed by refreshments and in most cases dinner with the speaker.
For directions to the University of Reading, please see:

CONF: Research Seminars at Kent 2010/11 – Spring Term

Seen on the Classicists list (please direct any queries to the folks mentioned in the item and not to rogueclassicism):

Classical & Archaeological Studies

Research Seminars 2010–2011, Spring term

Thursday 27 January, 5.15 p.m., Cornwallis NW SR8

Professor Jun’ichiro Tsujita, Kyushu University, Japan

‘Romanization and State Formation: A Comparative Approach to Cultural Change in World Empires’

Tuesday 8 February, 5.15 p.m., Grimond GS8

Professor Christian Laes, Universiteit Antwerpen, Brussels

‘Learning from Silence? In search of the disabled in the Roman world’

Wednesday 23 February, 5.15 p.m., Grimond LT2

Professor Alan Bowman, University of Oxford, SECL Distinguished Lecture

‘The Economy of the Roman Empire – Boom and Bust?’

Thursday 10 March, 5.15 p.m., Cornwallis NW SR8

Dr Peter Talloen, Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski, Poland

‘Cult in Pisidia. Religious Practice in Southwestern Asia Minor from the early Hellenistic until the early Byzantine period’

Tuesday 15 March, 5.15 p.m., Cornwallis NW SR 10

Dr Huw Barton, University of Leicester

‘The Cultured Rainforest: social landscapes of foragers and farmers’

Thursday 24 March, 5.15 p.m., Cornwallis NW SR8

Dr Ben Croxford, Historic Environment Records Centre, Maidstone

‘Making and breaking sculpture in Roman Britain’

For a map of the campus and directions to the University of Kent please see:

For Further information please contact Efrosyni Boutsikas (E.Boutsikas AT

Exhibition: Roman Coins in India

Augustus Coin found in the Pudukottai Hoard India
Image via Wikipedia

Interesting item from the Times of India:

Coins are not only used as a mode of exchange but they also reflect heritage. Indian-Roman relations was one such area where coins played a major role in establishing and strengthening ties between two countries.

At a special exhibition on Roman coins and other Roman antiquities found in South India, inaugurated by the Italian Embassy Cultural Centre director Angela Trezza at the Government Museum in Egmore on Tuesday, rare coins and antiquities were put on display for the public. “The exhibition will showcase the story of Rome-India contacts through artefacts, photographs and charts. The museum has the biggest collection of Roman coins 4,000 outside Europe,” TS Sridhar, secretary and commissioner of museums, told The Times Of India.

The exhibition, jointly organised by the Government Museum, Italian Embassy Cultural Centre and Indo-Italian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, will be open everyday between 10am and 4.30pm till February 2 at the museum’s centenary exhibition hall.

Historically, trade between ancient Rome and India can be traced to the rule of Roman emperor Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD). Romans came to India in search of gemstones (mainly beryl), silk, cotton, ivory, spices (pepper and cardamom), sandalwood and peacocks. In return, India obtained coral, wine, olive oil and metals like gold, silver and copper.

Metals imported from Rome were mostly in the form of coins and medals. “The most striking feature of Roman coins found in India is that they have slash marks on them, generally 1 to 2 mm long and marked by a knife or a chisel or a file. In Tamil Nadu, Pudukkottai and Soriyapattu are the most important Roman coin hoards containing such slashed coins,” said N Sundararajan, curator, Numismatics section of Government Museum.

Another peculiar feature of the coins found in India is the occurrence of countermarks on some. Roman coins found in India are of gold, silver and copper mostly between 2nd century BC and 6-7th century AD the closing years of the Roman Republic to the time of Byzantine rulers. A majority of the Roman coins found in India occur as hoards buried underground in earthenware pots.

The range of coins is somewhat surprising, but even more surprising (isn’t it?) is that revelation that hoards have been found in India in pots just as they have been found all over the Empire. That would suggest settlement, wouldn’t it? Or was burying coins in pots a sort of ‘universal’ thing? The slash thing (as seen on the accompanying photo … not sure if it is part of the exhibition) is also a very interesting feature and clearly seems to be a way to check whether a coin was solid or merely plated.

Caligula Tomb Silliness

Caligula 02

Image via Wikipedia

Hot on the heels of Adrian Murdoch’s podcast on the nutty emperor, and just a few weeks before we mark the anniversary of the nutty emperor’s assassination,  comes nutty news from the Guardian (tip o’ the pileus to Tim Parkin, who first ‘broke’ the story on Facebook last night):

The lost tomb of Caligula has been found, according to Italian police, after the arrest of a man trying to smuggle abroad a statue of the notorious Roman emperor recovered from the site.

After reportedly sleeping with his sisters, killing for pleasure and seeking to appoint his horse a consul during his rule from AD37 to 41, Caligula was described by contemporaries as insane.

With many of Caligula’s monuments destroyed after he was killed by his Praetorian guard at 28, archaeologists are eager to excavate for his remains.

Officers from the archaeological squad of Italy’s tax police had a break last week after arresting a man near Lake Nemi, south of Rome, as he loaded part of a 2.5 metre statue into a lorry. The emperor had a villa there, as well as a floating temple and a floating palace; their hulks were recovered in Mussolini’s time but destroyed in the war.

The police said the statue was shod with a pair of the “caligae” military boots favoured by the emperor – real name Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; as a boy, Gaius accompanied his father on campaigns in Germany; the soldiers were amused he wore a miniature uniform, and gave him his nickname Caligula, or “little boot”.

The statue is estimated to be worth €1m. Its rare Greek marble, throne and god’s robes convinced the police it came from the emperor’s tomb. Under questioning, the tomb raider led them to the site, where excavations will start today.

The first thing we might advise the Guardian about is to not take the word of the police when it comes to matters historical/archaeological — Romans generally didn’t entomb folks on country estates is one obvious thing to point out. Another thing worth pointing out is the passage in Suetonius, which relates what happened to Caligula’s perforated corpse (ch. 59 via Lacus Curtius)

His body was conveyed secretly to the gardens of the Lamian family, where it was partly consumed on a hastily erected pyre and buried beneath a light covering of turf; later his sisters on their return from exile dug it up, cremated it, and consigned it to the tomb. Before this was done, it is well known that the caretakers of the gardens were disturbed by ghosts, and that in the house where he was slain not a night passed without some fearsome apparition, until at last the house itself was destroyed by fire.

Just to be legit, here’s the Latin (via the Latin Library):

Cadaver eius clam in hortos Lamianos asportatum et tumultuario rogo semiambustum levi caespite obrutum est, postea per sorores ab exilio reversas erutum et crematum sepultumque. Satis constat, prius quam id fieret, hortorum custodes umbris inquietatos; in ea quoque domo, in qua occubuerit, nullam noctem sine aliquo terrore transactam, donec ipsa domus incendio consumpta sit.

It is sometimes assumed (as in the Wikipedia article, which has already added the ‘discovery of the tomb’ story) that Caligula’s ‘reburial’ was in the Mausoleum of Augustus. This is not attested in any ancient source and as Anthony Barrett suggests in his biography of the guy (p. 167), it is “unlikely, but not impossible” that he was so interred. Knowing Roman burial practices, however, it is pretty much unlikely and impossible that Caligula would have been interred at the villa at Nemi, especially with all the haunting he supposedly did in the Lamian Gardens …

For the record, Mary Beard is also expressing her doots: This isn’t Caligula’s tomb | Times

UPDATE (later the same day): Rosella Lorenzi’s excellent coverage(Caligula Statue Hints at Lavish Villa) links to an item in the Corriere della Sera (Il tombarolo con la statua dell’ imperatore La villa di Caligola svelata da un furto) which is possibly the source of the Guardian piece and includes speculation about a ‘mausoleum’ and the possibility his remains might be there:

Proprio in quel paesino a due passi da Roma si era sempre immaginata l’ esistenza di una dimora fatta costruire dallo stravagante nipote di Tiberio, magari con un mausoleo. Ma non se ne erano mai trovate le tracce. Tanto meno decisive come una statua dello stesso imperatore: ragion per cui gli esperti sono quasi certi che villa fosse lì, affacciata sul piccolo lago vulcanico, in un punto spettacolare, da cui si vede il mare fino ad Anzio, dove Caligola era nato. Anzi, potrebbero essere lì anche i suoi resti.

… There are also details about the statue, including that it was headless and made of Parian marble. It depicted the emperor (presumably) as Zeus and had been broken in two pieces, apparently in antiquity.