Protecting the Riace Bronzes from Earthquakes

This one’s been lurking in my mailbox for a few months, but the recent seismic activity in Turkey reminded me of it. Hopefully all museums are taking the possibility of earthquakes into account when they’re constructing displays …. the following is all in Italian, but it’s not difficult to figure out what’s going on if you’re Italianless:

In a Nutshell

One of the more frequent things my spiders drag back to me are references to Pliny the Elder as a source for some strange fact in some newspaper article. Most of the time, they don’t come with a reference, of course, and a lot of times it seems like the press is just dropping the name of Pliny to give their article that air of authenticity, so usually I’m immediately skeptical. One such item was related to the phrase “In a nutshell”, which was mentioned in a couple of reviews of a book called The Etymologicon:

According to the book (via the Sun):

In a nutshell: Another one from ancient times. Roman writer Pliny claimed to have seen a copy of the poem The Iliad that was so small it could fit in a walnut shell.

… I’d never heard of this before (but I suspect many of my readers have), but after some poking, ecce, there it is (NH 7.21 via Lacus Curtius):

Oculorum acies vel maxime fidem excedentia invenit exempla. in nuce inclusam Iliadem Homeri carmen in membrana scriptum tradit Cicero.

Even more interesting, is that someone in the 19th century no less, actually proved it could be done:

The Iliad in a nutshell. Pliny tells us that Cicero asserts that the whole Iliad was written on a piece of parchment which might be put into a nutshell. Lalanne describes, in his Curiosités Bibliographiques, an edition of Rochefoucault’s Maxims, published by Didot in 1829, on pages one inch square, each page containing 26 lines, and each line 44 letters. Charles Toppan, of New York, engraved on a plate one-eighth of an inch square 12,000 letters. The Iliad contains 501,930 letters, and would therefore occupy 42 such plates engraved on both sides. Huet has proved by experiment that a parchment 27 by 21 centimètres would contain the entire Iliad, and such a parchment would go into a common-sized nut; but Mr. Toppan’s engraving would get the whole Iliad into half that size. George P. Marsh says, in his Lectures, he has seen the entire Arabic Koran in a parchment roll four inches wide and half an inch in diameter.

… then again, if Austin Powers could fit in a nutshell, the Iliad would be easy:

Birthplace of Augustus Found?

Another one which we hope will make it to the English presses, but this is one I just can’t sit on any longer. Tip o’ the pileus to Martin Conde for alerting us to Clementina Panella et al’s find of what is believed to be the house where Augustus was born. The identification is based on the find of a house which belonged to Octavius (i.e. Augustus’ father) near the curia veteres (within the Palatine pomerium), where, we are told, Augustus was born (see the entry from Platner at Lacus Curtius). Here’s the coverage from la Repubblica:

Lungo le pendici nord orientali del Palatino, quasi ad affacciarsi sulla via Sacra, a ridosso dell’Arco di Tito, gli archeologi hanno riportato alla luce la casa natale di Augusto, la dimora del padre Ottavio dove nel 63 a. C. nacque il futuro primo imperatore di Roma. Si è conclusa l’undicesima campagna di scavo archeologico dell’università La Sapienza diretta dalla professoressa Clementina Panella e le ipotesi solo avanzate attraverso le indagini di tre anni fa, sembrano oggi trovare la conferma: “Quest’anno abbiamo trovato almeno otto vani di questa splendida domus di età repubblicana che si affaccia sulla valle del Foro romano racconta Panella È la prima dimora aristocratica di qualità, testimoniata da un mosaico eccezionale, con tessere bianche e nere abbinate ad un tappeto policromo disegnato a triangoli”.

Il dettaglio cruciale è la vicinanza ad un’area sacra. “È la prima residenza che troviamo sul Palatino dopo un santuario, che abbiamo identificato con le cosiddette Curiae Veteres, luogo sacro che la tradizione ricollega a Romolo, quale punto che delimitava il terzo vertice del leggendario pomerio disegnato da Romolo nella fondazione della città”.

Le fonti antiche offrono la conferma: “Sappiamo che Augusto nacque in Curis Veteribus, ossia nelle Curie vecchie avverte Panella e la scoperta della casa natale di Augusto sembra giustificata dal fatto che questa è la prima domus che s’incontra dopo il santuario delle Curiae salendo verso il Palatino”. Qui Augusto avrebbe vissuto i primi tre anni della sua vita, per poi cambiare domicilio: “Le fonti dicono che tre anni dopo la nascita, la famiglia si trasferisce alle Carine, la zona dell’antica Velia ai confini dell’Esquilino dice Panella Poi a diciotto anni Augusto compra una casa alle Scalae anularie nei pressi del Foro romano, quindi a trentasei anni acquisterà la famosa e meglio conosciuta residenza sul Palatino”.

Ma la Casa natale di Augusto è solo un tassello svelato nella storia archeologica di questo sito che sarà illustrato venerdì prossimo alla stampa con un sopralluogo cui parteciperà anche il rettore Luigi Frati. Sulla domus di Augusto, infatti, si innesta l’impianto di un horreum (magazzino) d’età adrianea, che è andato bruciato nel 193 d. C. e ricostruito per essere trasformato nel IV secolo in un’area di piacere: “L’edificio si arricchisce incredibilmente di fontane, portici, ninfei, sale con tavola da banchetto racconta Panella La tradizione topografica lo associava alle Terme di Elagabalo, ma ora possiamo identificarlo nella sede di un alto funzionario dell’imperatore Massenzio”.

Dall’Arco di Tito alla valle del Colosseo, con uno scarto di svariati secoli, le pendici del Palatino restituiscono anche un insediamento abitativo dell’età del Ferro: “Si tratta di capanne della fine del IX secolo inizio VIII secolo a. C., una propaggine dell’abitato che precede la fondazione di Roma avvenuta nel 753 a. C. racconta Panella Si tratta di una scoperta eccezionale perché non si avevano notizie di insediamenti capannicoli verso la valle del Colosseo”. A riemergere perfettamente i fori dei pali con tracce di legno e pareti di fango e argilla. Gli scavi hanno documentato anche le fasi storiche del Santuario delle Curiae Veteres, distrutto dall’incendio del 64 d. C. (tanto da lasciare tracce di bruciato sul pavimento), di cui sono state riconosciuti nuovi ambienti datati all’età GiulioClaudia. E in questo angolo di Palatino si legge anche la fine dell’antica città, tra tombe del VI secolo, una calcara di X e un pozzo medievale del XII secolo.

Repubblica also has a slideshow of the dig site with some of the mosaics and a bit of a fresco … see Martin Conde’s flickr photostream for ongoing coverage from the Italian press.

Sarcophagus of the Moment

Speaking of the Met (see next post), one of the things my spiders regularly drag back from the interwebs is a sarcophagus photo of some sort, usually from the Met, but sometimes from the Walters. I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with these (since they are usually quite interesting) and so I’ll see if a ‘Sarcophagus of the Moment’ feature is sustainable. Here’s the first entry (from the Met):

This is the one that got me thinking about having such a feature since it is so darned interesting. There is absolutely no concept of scale here … the focus is, supposedly, Theseus and Ariadne, but what really catches your eye are the giant erotes hauling whatever it is that frames the comparatively tiny scenes from the myth. Even more interesting is the upper register with the chariot-driving erotes … one pulled by dogs, one by lions, one by bulls, and one by boars (all, ostensibly, the same scale!).

… there’s a larger view at the Met’s page, of course, and a couple of photos of the ‘ends’ … not sure what’s on the other side, if anything.

Also Seen: 1930s Society Women Dressed as Mythological Figures

I thought I’d mentioned this a few months ago when it first appeared in the Guardian (but maybe I just mentioned it on facebook or twitter) … whatever the case, Flavorwire has reprised (sort of) the Guardian‘s bit, but includes a slideshow of all the photos … not sure any of them really ‘catch my eye’, however (can’t decide if it’s the photography or the ‘interpretation’ or what) …

Major Roman Military Camp on the Lippe

This is one I’ve been sitting on waiting for some coverage in English to share …  Adrian Murdoch (via his blog) and Lindsay Powell (via facebook)  first made us aware of German coverage of what is surely a spectacular find that will keep archaeologists busy for years … this a.m. we are getting some brief coverage from the Telegraph, but the coverage from the Local has more detail:

Archaeologists are celebrating the find of a Roman military camp which was a crucial link in Emperor Augustus’ conquest of Germany – after more than a century of looking for it.

The find, near the small town of Olfen not far from Münster near the Ruhr Valley, has already produced a collection of artefacts, not only pottery but also coins and clothing fasteners. These enabled researchers at the Westphalia-Lippe Municipal Association (LWL) to confirm what they had hoped.

“It’s a sensational discovery for Roman research in Westphalia,” LWL-director Wolfgang Kirsch said in a statement.

He said the newly-discovered Roman camp marks the end of a hunt that started more than 100 years ago to find the “missing link” in the chain of Roman camps on the Lippe River.

“Olfen was strategically very important for the legionaries during the Drusus campaigns in Germania,” LWL’s chief archaeologist Michael Rind said in a statement.

Roman soldiers used the camp from 11 to 7 B.C. as a base to control the river crossing – which makes the find one of the most important logistical landmarks of the Roman conquerors, he said.

Finding the camp – and its bits of buried treasure – was akin to a scavenger hunt, with clues unearthed slowly over the last century.

In 1890, archaeologists discovered a bronze military helmet near Olfen, leading archaeologists to the area. But it was not until earlier this year that volunteers discovered Roman pottery shards, which sparked action by the LWL. Aerial photography was used to try to identify potential remains of building works, while archaeologists and volunteers searched the area for artefacts which could confirm where the camp was.

They found enough to be sure – and also traced a moat surrounding the camp as well as evidence of a wooden wall that could have protected 1,000 legionaries from attack within an area equalling seven football fields.

The camp’s size – relatively small in comparison to other Roman military establishments in the area – along with the construction of its wood and earthen wall and location on the Lippe River, suggest it functioned as a supply depot, according to researchers.

Although the LWL is responsible for five other Roman military ruins along the Lippe, with discovery of some sites dating back to the 1800s, the new Olfen find will likely remain untouched for awhile.

“The monument has up to this point been allowed to lie in the ground widely undisturbed for over 2,000 years – an absolute rarity, and from an archaeological point of view, absolutely ideal.

“Our primary concern is to protect and preserve this monument for the future – and not, to completely excavate it as soon as possible,” Rind said in a statement. “The exploration of the camp will probably take several decades to complete.”

Discoveries from the association’s latest find will be on display from Saturday, October 29, at the LWL Roman Museum in Haltern. The pottery, coins and garment clips will be shown through the end of the year, along with the bronze helmet, the original discovery.

The Local also has a slideshow of some of the finds, including some very interesting Roman coins (but you have to turn your head to see them properly) … I’m sure we’ll get some more extensive coverage in the coming days. Adrian Murdoch has also updated his list of German sources in a followup blog post …