Jefferson’s Books

Washington University in St. Louis

Image via Wikipedia

As long as we’re talking about Greek (see next post) we might as well mention an item from Washington University in St Louis which  mentions the recent identification of a number of books which once belonged to Thomas Jefferson. Some excerpts:

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation and Washington University in St. Louis announced the discovery by Monticello scholars that a collection of books, long held in the libraries at Washington University in St. Louis, originally were part of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library.

These books, held at the university’s libraries for 131 years, have been confirmed by Monticello scholars as having belonged to Thomas Jefferson himself. They are part of the university’s rare books collection, and were not identified by the books’ donor in 1880 as a part of Jefferson’s personal collection.

Monticello scholars identified several notable books among the 28 titles and 74 volumes, including:

* Aristotle’s Politica, which was likely one of the last books Jefferson read before his death on July 4, 1826.
* Architecture books used by Jefferson to design the University of Virginia, which, like Monticello, is recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site. Two of these volumes, Freart de Chambray’s Parallele de l’architecture antique avec la moderne and Andrea Palladio’s Architecture de Palladio, contenant les cinq ordres d’architecture contain a few notes and calculations made by Jefferson.
* A small scrap of paper with Greek notes in Jefferson’s hand tucked in a volume of Plutarch’s Lives.

The best part is that they have a high res photo of that small scrap of paper:

WUStL photo


They have ‘posed’ the scrap on the page of Plutarch’s Lives which compares Marcellus and Pelopidas, but I don’t think what is written thereon has to do with them. Seems to be an awful lot of ‘corrections’ being listed and I can’t figure out that word before ‘bibliothekes’ …

Greek Turns Up in the Oddest Places!

Erstwhile Classics prof Ken Mayer sent along an interesting item last week … it’s a photo of a can of Kuang Chuan Mountain Coffee (the company is from Taiwan) and the inverted image shows that there’s some sort of Greek manuscript lurking on the label:

photo by Ken Mayer (with permission)

What’s somewhat infuriating about this is that the company doesn’t appear to have an (English) web presence where one could research the label. Folks who want to try their hand at figuring out the text can check out largers sizes at Flickr:Kuang Chuan Mountain Coffee with Byzantine Greek manuscript. Feel free to provide glosses, etc. in the comments.


UPDATE (early the next morning): G. Dachris and Neils Grotum write in to identify the passage as the beginning of Thucydides Book 5 … (thanks!)

Aurora Borealis Tiberii

Every now and then, it turns out the journalists get it right. An excerpt from an item in the Telegraph last week:

Solar winds are plumes of electrically charged particles spewed out by the Sun that occasionally hit Earth. The planet’s protective magnetic field pushes these particles to the poles, where they react with oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the atmosphere to produce light. These eerily beautiful curtains of light are the aurora borealis and australis (or Northern and Southern Lights).

Sometimes a particularly violent solar blast known as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) means the auroras are visible at lower latitudes. In AD37, according to the historian Seneca, the Emperor Tiberius saw a vivid red light in the sky and dispatched battalions to the seaport at Ostia, “in the belief that it was burning”. In London in 1839, fire brigades rushed north to put out a conflagration that turned out to be an aurora. The same thing happened in January 1938, when the Associated Press reported that a “ruddy glow led many to think half the city was ablaze”.

Now when I saw the mention of “the historian Seneca”, my alarm bells went off, but thanks to amicus noster John McMahon (who pointed me in the right direction and so gets the traditional tip o’ the pileus), it turns out the source for this actually is Seneca’s Quaestiones Naturales. Here’s the relevant bit via the Latin Library (1.15.5):

Inter haec licet ponas et quod frequenter in historiis legimus caelum ardere uisum, cuius nonnumquam tam sublimis ardor est, ut inter sidera ipsa uideatur, nonnumquam tam humilis, ut speciem longinqui incendii praebeat. Sub Tiberio Caesare cohortes in auxilium Ostiensis coloniae cucurrerunt tamquam conflagrantis, cum caeli ardor fuisset per magnam partem noctis parum lucidus, <ut> crassi fumidique ignis.

FWIW, plenty of news outlets (e.g. the Huffington Post) last week were suggesting we might be able to see the Northern Lights much further south due to solar flare activity, but I didn’t see any such thing …

Do You Own More Than One Prius?

A Toyota press release, via the fine folks at Engadget:

Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), USA, Inc. today announced that the general public has selected ‘Prii’ as the preferred plural term for Prius.

The Prius Goes Plural voting campaign was launched on January 10 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit and challenged the public to help the automaker determine the plural nomenclature of Prius. The campaign coincided with the world premiere of the Toyota Prius family of vehicles. With 25 percent of the votes, Prii becomes the word not only endorsed by the public who chose it, but also as the term recognized by Toyota. As such, has updated its entry for the word ‘Prius’ to reflect this.

Toyota unveiled the winning word at the Chicago Auto Show this morning. Jay Schwartz, head of content for, was on hand to inform the public that, as the plural of Prius has now been determined, the term ‘Prii’ will be reflected in

After the more than 1.8 million votes were cast during the course of the six-week campaign, Prii beat out its four competitors: Prius, Priuses, Prium and Prien. Prius came in at a close second with 24 percent of the votes. A video recap of the campaign and winning word celebration can be viewed at

“Community has always been a big part of the Prius brand, so it was only fitting that we invite the online communities to participate in the plural discussion,” said Colin Morisako, advertising manager for Toyota. “The people have spoken-Prii will be the accepted term used to describe multiple Prius vehicles going forward.”

I think the Engadget folks got it right … we are looking on admonishingly. They seem to be thinking Prius is a second declension masculine noun like dominus which has a stem ‘pri’  — which doesn’t make sense — or it’s like filius and has a stem ‘pr’ — which also doesn’t make sense. We probably should point out that the Latin word prius is actually an adverb (meaning ‘before’) which can’t be pluralized by dropping the -us and adding an -i.

… I’m glad I drive a Nissan (a Rogue, of course) …

Footprints in the … Well, Lots of Stuff

One of the reasons I like having days off — it’s ‘Family Day’ here in Ontario (which curiously matches up with President’s Day in the U.S.) — is that it allows me time to give items the time they deserve and also to catch up on things which I’ve been putting off posting for various reasons. In this post’s case, we get to catch up on a pile of items which have a common theme of ‘footprints from the ancient world’.  Back in 2007, we had our first post about footprints, when a Roman soldier’s sandal impression was found during excavations at Sussita. A couple of years later (in October of 2009), I never got around to blogging about some artisans’ footprints which turned up when archaeologists were removing the Lod Mosaic (now on exhibit at the Met) from its footings. Here’s the coverage from Arutz Sheva at the time:

The ancient footprints of the artisans who built a stunning 1,700-year-old mosaic floor in Lod were discovered recently when conservators from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) were in the process of detaching the huge work of art from the ground.

As the conservation experts worked on the plaster bedding to be done before detaching the mosaic, they were surprised to notice there were ancient foot and sandal prints beneath it. Clearly, the builders that had worked on the floor sometimes wore their sandals, and sometimes worked in their bare feet.

“It’s exciting. This is the first time I have ever encountered personal evidence such as this under a mosaic,” said Jacques Neguer, head of the IAA Art Conservation Branch, who referred to it as “a real archaeological gem that is extraordinarily well-preserved.” When removing a section of mosaic, it is customary to clean its bedding, and that way study the material from which it is made, and the construction stages, Neguer explained. “We look for drawings and sketches that the artists made in the plaster and marked where each of the tesserae will be placed.”

Neguer said this is also what happened with the Lod mosaic. “Beneath a piece on which vine leaves are depicted, we discovered that the mosaic’s builders incised lines that indicate where the tesserae should be set, and afterwards, while cleaning the layer, we found the imprints of the feet and sandals, sizes 34, 37, 42 and 44.” At least one imprint of a sole resembled a modern sandal, he added. Based on the concentration of foot and sandal prints, “it seems that the group of builders tamped the mortar in place with their feet.”

The mosaic is one of the largest and most magnificent ever seen in Israel, but although it was discovered in 1996, it was covered over again when no resources could be found for its conservation. Thirteen years later, the IAA received a contribution from the Leon Levy Foundation specifically earmarked for the preservation and development of the Lod site. The mosaic was re-excavated, exhibited to the public, and then conservators began the delicate process of removing it from the area for treatment in the IAA conservation laboratories in Jerusalem.

Measuring approximately 180 square meters, the mosaic is composed of colorful carpets that depict in exquisite detail mammals, birds, fish, floral species and sailing and merchant vessels that were in use at the time. It is believed that the mosaic floor was part of a villa that belonged to a wealthy man who lived during the Roman period.

The site, which is located in the eastern section of Lod, next to the entrance at Ginnaton Junction, is intended to become a springboard for tourism to the city. It is situated between HeHalutz and Struma Streets, which lead to the open air market and to the city’s center.

“It is fascinating to discover a 1,700 year old personal mark of people who are actually like us, who worked right here on the same mosaic,” Neguer remarked. “We feel the continuity of generations here.”

… we might as well include a couple of photos from there as well:

Niki Davidov (IAA) via Arutz Sheva

Niki Davidov (IAA) via Arutz Sheva

See also:

In November of 2010, we did mention a brief item about a Roman legionary bath house being discovered in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, that was one of those situations where I posted the first instance of what was found … subsequent coverage included information about a dog’s footprint being found in one of the tiles at the site. An excerpt from the IAA’s official release:

Dr. Sion adds, “Another interesting discovery that caused excitement during the excavation is the paw print of a dog that probably belonged to one of the soldiers. The paw print was impressed on the symbol of the legion on one of the roof tiles and it could have happened accidentally or have been intended as a joke”.

… and here’s a photo from the site:

IAA photo

(I think I need to tip my pileus to Dorothy King on this one … I think she sent it to me and I filed it away)

At some point after that, I came across an item at the BBC’s History of the World site, which included a brief item on a similar canine footprint in a terracotta tile now housed in the Hunterian Museum. Here’s the photo just for comparative purposes:

BBC/Hunterian Museum photo

… which brings us to our most recent example, a child’s footprints found near an outpost of that ubiquitous Ninth Legion, which keeps coming up . Some excerpts from Sky News‘ coverage:

Archaeologists made the remarkable discovery while excavating a muddy area of a former Roman settlement on the A1 near Leeming.

Helen Maclean of archaeology firm AECOM described the find as very rare.

“I’m not aware of many other footprints being found, everybody was quite amazed by it,” she said.

Photographs show a right footprint clearly visible in soft ground followed by two left prints – suggesting that the boy or girl who made them was hopping or skipping.

The perfectly-preserved footprints were uncovered in 2010 during a dig at Healam Bridge, but photographs have only now been released after Sky News heard of their existence.

The site was excavated as part of a £318m Highways Agency scheme to upgrade part of the A1 to a three-lane motorway.

The area where the child had been playing was close to a stream where archaeologists believe the Romans struggled to keep their feet dry.

Experts found evidence of repeated attempts to make the area less muddy, with stones and plant material spread on the soft ground.

“It was quite close to where the stream probably ran”, said Ms Maclean.

“The child was probably running through the mud, jumping in puddles or possibly just trying to avoid getting its feet wet.”

The dig was close to an imperial fort which served as a frontier outpost for the famous Ninth Legion which took part in the Roman invasion of Britain in AD43.


Archaeologists were unable to preserve the footprints and the photographs are the only evidence that remains of the child’s brief skip through the Yorkshire mud.

Northern Archaeological Associates via Sky News

There … I hope I’ve made some sort of impression for you …

UPDATE (a few minutes later): I note that Heather Pringle is blogging footprints too: What’s in a Footprint?

Whither Legio IX Hispana?

As reviews of The Eagle seem to be tapering off (see the ‘Sword and Sandal’ section in our footer, e.g.) the Daily Mail comes out with a bit of hype for an upcoming television program on the ‘mysterious’ disappearance of the Roman legion portrayed in that movie (and, fwiw, also in Centurion). Tip o’ the pileus to Dorothy King for sending this one along:

For centuries, historians have puzzled over the disappearance of a legion of 5,000 battle-hardened Roman soldiers in northern Britain around 108 AD.

The ancient riddle, which has captivated storytellers, has just been dramatised by Hollywood in The Eagle, starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell.

Now, experts have revealed that the children’s book on which the film is based is more fact than fiction.

After helping to quell Queen Boadicea’s rebellion, and later crushing Caledonian tribes at the battle of Mons Graupius in Scotland in 83 AD, nothing more is recorded of the legendary Ninth Legion.

Historians were left baffled how thousands of heavy infantry soldiers could simply disappear. They suggested that the most likely explanations were that the legion disbanded and its members joined other units, or it was deployed to an eastern part of the empire.

Meanwhile, the myth-making continued. In 1954, children’s author Rosemary Sutcliff published The Eagle Of The Ninth, an adventure novel in which the heroic legion was massacred by Pict hordes in hostile mountainous terrain.

Now a group of experts say the elite infantry force was indeed defeated by a band of ‘barbarians’ in a military catastrophe that shamed the empire, prompting a conspiracy of silence.

The dramatic new evidence hinges on a single gravestone tribute and was brought to light by historian and film-maker Phil Hirst, whose documentary Rome’s Lost Legion will be screened next month.

‘The battle of Mons Graupius was thought to have marked the end of any serious threat to imperial might,’ he said. ‘But the discovery of a tombstone of a centurion stationed at the Northumbrian fort of Vindolanda shows the Romans were under attack from the north 20 years later.’

Historian Neil Faulkner, of Channel 4’s Time Team, said: ‘It is likely the insurgents formed a confederation of tribes. So what the Romans could have been facing was a rising of pretty well the whole of the north of Britain.’

Rome’s reaction after the Ninth’s disappearance lends weight to the theory. Reinforcements were drafted in to Britain to fight a major war at the beginning of Emperor Hadrian’s reign around 117 AD and the construction of Hadrian’s Wall was ordered.

Mr Hirst said: ‘The loss of the Ninth may have led Hadrian to realise that the total conquest of Britain was unachievable and a dividing wall needed to be built separating occupied territory from the barbarian hordes.’

Mr Faulkner added: ‘My guess is that the Ninth Legion was destroyed in a carefully executed ambush by northern tribes.’

Rome’s Lost Legion is on the History Channel on March 18. The Eagle opens in UK cinemas on March 25.

As often, there’s quite a bit of misinformation going on in this one, and it’s pretty clear that scholarship since Sutcliff’s novel came out (yes … a novel; I’ve never understood why historical fiction is often taken as the starting point for historical fact) back in the 1950s is being glossed over. Perhaps most importantly, the centurion’s tombstone thing isn’t a new discovery, if it’s the one I’m thinking of, namely the one which A.R. Birley published as “A New Tombstone from Vindolanda”, Britannia 29 (1998), pp. 299-306. The tombstone itself is broken and much has to be ‘filled in’:

I D[
2 T ? ANN[

Out of this, however, it is speculated (based on what would fit in the missing spaces and other features which you can track down Birley’s article for) that we might be dealing with a centurion named Titus Annius Rufus who was a member of the cohors Tungrorum — Birley speculates he may have been in command thereof, postulating the existence of an abbreviation of praepositus at the end of line three. Jumping to line six, it is clear our Annius died in battle (interfectus), and Birley speculates that what followed was an indication of who the enemy was (i.e. a barbaris or ab hostibus). On the basis that he died in a war against some Britanni at the time Hadrian came to the throne, the stone is assigned a date of 117 or thereabouts (the argument is much more detailed than that, but is still rather speculative).

That said, I really have no idea whether this is the stone which our ‘historian and film maker’ will be highlighting in his television program, but I can’t think of anything that was found recently that would fit (please correct me if I err in this regard). If it is, however, it should be clear from the above that it piles speculation upon speculation and really cannot be reliably used as evidence for the mysterious ‘disappearance’ of the Legio IX Hispana. We should also point out however, that there is evidence that the Legio didn’t actually ‘disappear’ when it is said to have.  Jona Lendering has an excellent overview of the Legio VIIII Hispana‘s history and it seems possible, if not likely, that it may have been in existence down to the early 160s A.D..

Alas Poor Boris … I Feel Your Pain (sort of)

Poor Boris Johnson … another Classicist trying to manage in an increasingly unclassical world. He uses a word which is common enough in our discipline — euergetism — and the Daily Mail feels a need to gloss the term for the teeming millions. Some excerpts:

The super-rich must pay for schools and hospitals to stop the gap between rich and poor in recession-hit Britain becoming as big as it was in Victorian days, Boris Johnson has warned.

Drawing on his background as a Classics scholar, the London Mayor called for a ‘greater sense of euergetism’ – a word derived from Classical Greek that means philanthropy.


It is not the first time that Mr Johnson, who studied Classics at Oxford University, has used his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Ancient World to illuminate his arguments.

He drew again on his classical heritage when asked his political hero and villain.

His hero was Pericles, the great Athenian democrat, orator and general.

As his villain he picked Alcibiades, a Greek statesman renowned for his treachery.

Both men lived in the 5th Century BC.

Asked if he thought he would succeed David Cameron, Mr Johnson said: ‘I haven’t got a cat’s chance in hell of becoming Prime Minister,’ before adding mischievously: ‘As I’ve said before, if I was called from my plough to serve in head office, then obviously I would do my best.’

This is yet another classical reference – in this case to Cincinnatus, a Roman aristocrat who left Rome to work on a small farm before returning triumphantly to the city to lead its defence against invasion in the 5th Century BC.


The term euergetism was coined by French historian A. Boulanger, who derived it from a Greek word meaning ‘I do good things’ and describes ‘the practice of notables to distribute a part of their wealth to hoi polloi’.

The Oxford Companion To Classical Civilisation says that euergetism is ‘a socio-political phenomenon of voluntary gift-giving to the ancient community embracing the beneficence of Hellenistic kings and Roman emperors, whose subjects saw such philanthropy as a cardinal virtue of rulers’.

Tim Cornell’s book Bread And Circuses: Euergetism And Municipal Patronage In Roman Italy explains that: ‘Cities in the ancient world relied on private generosity to provide many basic amenities, as well as expecting leading citizens to pay for “bread and circuses” – free food and public entertainment.’

The term euergetism is very close in meaning to another word with Greek origins – philanthropy, which means ‘the love of humanity’ and is used more commonly to describe charitable and other good works funded by the rich.

For what it’s worth, I’ve always thought ‘philanthrophy’ was a rather wishy-washy word, and more suited to donations to museums and the like. Euergetism is more directed at actually doing good things for one’s fellow human being.

Hellenistic Tomb from Apamea

Tantalizingly-brief item from Zawya:

The Hama Archeology Department on Wednesday unearthed an ancient burial chamber dating back to the Hellenistic period.

The burial chamber, which was discovered during maintenance work in the historic city of Apamea, contains 6 graves dug into the earth, one of which contains pottery fragments from a cone-shaped burial urn.

According to custom during the Hellenistic period, these funeral urns were placed alongside the deceased’s body alongside some of their earthly possessions.

d.m. Willi Dansgaard

I can already hear my readers saying “Who?”. Willi Dansgaard was a climatologist who pioneered checking Greenland ice cores and the like for evidence of climate change. From a Classics perspective:

Dansgaard later organised or participated in more than 19 expeditions to the glaciers of Norway, Greenland and Antarctica, and went on to develop ways to date gases trapped in the ice as well as to analyse acidity, dust and other influences on climate, including volcanic eruptions.

Thus, analyses of the acidity levels in ice cores have shown that a particularly large eruption produced of acidic fallout on Greenland for three years roundabout 50BC (possibly supporting accounts of a dimming of the sun after Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44BC, which is reported in the writings of Virgil and Pliny the Elder).

… which is one of the many ‘Bethlehem stars’ for the Classics set (along with Halley’s comet, which doesn’t quite match Julius Caesar’s assassination).

Barack Obama and the Lessons of Antiquity: Robert Garland

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

Image via Wikipedia

While poking around Youtube yesterday, I came across a pile of videos from the Hauenstein Center, which apparently hosted a conference called Barack Obama and the Lessons of Antiquity in which a pile of big name Classicists made some interesting comparisons. Near as I can tell, all of the talks are available, so over the next few days I’ll be posting them here. The first is Robert Garland on American Empire and Global Leadership (this is the first paper after Bruce Thornton’s keynote address, which I’ll post at the end … there are, of course, some introductory remarks prior to Dr Garland’s assumption of the podium):