The Repatriation Issue: Turkey Talks Tough

This is a rather interesting development … we’ll have to keep our eye on this to see where it goes:

Turkey’s culture minister on Thursday demanded Germany return an ancient sphinx uncovered from a German archeological dig nearly a century ago or it would revoke permits for other excavations.

Ertugrul Gunay told the Tagesspiegel daily in an interview that German authorities had until the start of the digging season in June to hand back the priceless artefact, thought to date from around 1400 BC.

The sphinx, dug up from the ancient city of Hattusha, the capital of the Hittite empire, in the early part of the 20th century, was taken to Germany for restoration but now sits in a Berlin museum, much to Turkey’s annoyance.

“If there is no commitment (to return the sphinx) by the beginning of the digging season, I am firmly determined to cancel the excavation licence for Hattusha,” said the minister.

Gunay also threatened several other German archaeological digs around the country, saying the permits could go to Turkish scientists.

“Turkey has new universities, new archaeological institutes as well as keen and successful archaeologists. If we do not see the hoped-for cooperation in this area, we would not hesitate to transfer the digs to our own universities.”

Germany is also embroiled in a row with Egypt, which has demanded the return of the 3,400-year-old bust of fabled beauty Nefertiti which currently has pride of place in the Neues (New) Museum in Berlin.

Cairo began to demand the restitution of the Pharaonic-era statue back in the 1930s, but successive German governments have insisted the piece was bought legally and that there are documents to prove it.

The foreign ministry in Berlin told AFP that experts from Germany and Turkey would hold talks in the first half of the year to determine the future of the sphinx.

As I recall, they were making similar demands a couple of years ago, but I can’t find any live links of that one  … the Wikipedia article on Hattusa says the one sphinx (of a pair) stayed in Germany as part of the usual ‘division of artifacts’ … not specifically Classical, all this, of course, but it likely will impact a number of digs if it isn’t resolved.





This Day in Ancient History: ante diem vi kalendas martias

Pico della Mirandola

Image via Wikipedia

ante diem vi kalendas martias

  • Regifugium — a festival which didn’t really happen on “February 24” but actually six days before the kalends of March, which was usually during a period of intercalation. Roman writers suggested this festival was a celebration of the expulsion of the Tarquins, although modern scholars have their doubts. Whatever the case, on this day the Rex Sacrorum would offer some sort of sacrifice in the Comitium and then run away as fast as he could …
  • 259 A.D. — martyrdom of Montanus and several companions at Carthage
  • 303 A.D. — edict of Galerius officially promoting the persecution of Christians (?)
  • 304 A.D. — martyrdom of Sergius in Cappadocia
  • 1463 — birth of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (usually described as a “Neoplatonist”)
  • 1999 — death of David Daube (author of Civil Disobedience in Antiquity, among numerous other works)

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem viii kalendas martias

Rome, Ara Pacis museum: cast of a portrait of ...

Image via Wikipedia

ante diem viii kalendas martias

  • Parentalia probably comes to and end with the festival of Caristia, which was a sort of ‘kiss and make up’ festival. The idea was that people had made peace with their dead, so now it was right to bring to an end any quarrels they were having with living members of their family. There was usually a big family reunion type banquet and worship was given to the Lares.
  • 4 A.D. — death of hoped-for-successor-to-Augustus Gaius Caesar (either February 21 or 22) in Limyra
  • c. 1st century A.D. — martyrdom of Aristion, place disputed
  • 1756 — birth of Gilbert Wakefield (Classicist)

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 …