Digging Selinunte

From Eurekalert:

The Greeks were not always in such dire financial straits as today. But is it necessary to look as far back as these Bonn archeologists did in order to see a huge, flourishing Greek commercial area? They have just discovered a very large commercial area from the ancient Greek era during excavations on Sicily.

Led by Professor Dr. Martin Bentz, Bonn archeologists began un¬earthing one of Greek antiquity’s largest craftsmen’s quarters in the Greek colonial city of Selinunte (7th-3rd century B.C.) on the island of Sicily during two excavation campaigns in September 2010 and in the fall of 2011. The project is conducted in collaboration with the Italian authorities and the German Archaeological Institute. Its goal is to study an area of daily life in ancient cities that has hitherto re¬ceived little attention.

“To what extent the ancient Greeks already had something like “commercial areas” has been a point of discussion in expert circles to this day,” said Bonn archeologist Dr. Gabriel Zuchtriegel, a research associate who coordinates the Selinunte project together with Dr. Jon Albers from the Institut für Klassische Archäologie der Universität Bonn at the Chair of Prof. Dr. Martin Bentz. ” A concentration of certain ‘industries’ and craftsmen in special districts does not only presuppose proactive planning; it is also based on a certain idea of how a city should best be organized – from a practical as well as from a social and political point of view. E.g., who will be allowed to live and work where?” The University of Bonn excavations are now contributing to finding a new answer to such questions.

Huge kilns, used communally

Concentration in a certain city district applied primarily to potteries in Selinunte, which were massed on the edge of the settlement in the very shadow of the city wall. “Consequently, their smoke, stench and noise did not inconvenience the other inhabitants as much,” ex¬plained Dr. Zuchtriegel. “At the same time, this allowed several crafts¬men to use kilns and storage facilities together.” The exca¬vations showed that the potters joined cooperatives that shared in the use of gigantic kilns with a diameter of up to 7 meters. The crafts¬men’s district in Selinunte probably stretched for more than 600 meters along the city walls and is thus among the largest ones known today.

The excavations are in the hands of faculty and students from Bonn and Rome – and they are exhausting. For excavations go on in August and September, when the heat reaches its peak – but in exchange, there is very little rain. “This work is a challenge for all involved,” commented dig manager Bentz. “This is no camping trip.” But for students, it is a great opportunity to learn archeological methods by doing. The Bonn researchers were surprised to find even older remnants of workshops under the 5th c. kilns. While these finds have not been completely excavated yet, indications are – so the archeologists – that pottery workshops existed in the same location during the city’s early phase in the 6th century B.C. This means that craftsmen were probably intentionally housed on the edge as early as during the design of the city, which was – like many colonies – planned on the drawing board.

Reconstructing the past

The finds from the craftsmen’s district are not exactly treasures, but they are still valuable for reconstructing the past. In the early phase, widely ranging finds of clay vessels, tiles and bronzes – among them also imports from Athens and Sparta – indicate that living and work quarters were housed together. Over the course of the 5th century, the two areas were separated increasingly.

“We hope to improve our understanding of that in future,” said Prof. Bentz. But so far, he continued, little was known about the social conditions prevailing during the founding of a colony. What was certain is that often, it was hunger and need that drove settlers to emigrate and found a new city. Why and under what conditions some of them became potters, other farmers, and others yet rich landowners who could afford to participate in the Olympic games – these are questions that the excavations can shed some light on.

… the original (German) press release is at: Ausgrabungen sind kein Campingurlaub

Andrew Stewart Talks About Olympic Attire (and Lack Thereof)

From the Dartmouth:

While most people expect clothing styles to change over the years, few people know that in ancient times, many athletes viewed wearing clothes as cumbersome, and opted to compete in the nude, Andrew Stewart, a Greek studies professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a Friday afternoon lecture in Carpenter Hall. Stewart began his presentation, “The Wardrobe Malfunction that Shook the World: Nudity, the Olympics and Greek Self-Fashioning,” by comparing the fashion choices of the upcoming 2012 Summer Olympic Games and those in the ancient Olympics hosted in Greece.

Ancient Greek athletes who participated in the track, field and combat events competed in the nude, Stewart said. Chariot racing participants “sensibly” wore clothes due to logistical considerations, he said.

The practice of competing in the nude was “unique” to Greece at the time, according to Stewart.

“Evidence shows that sports were practiced elsewhere but competitors wore belts or loincloths,” he said.

Nude competition began when Spartan athletes took off their clothing to rub their bodies with olive oil following exercise, according to Stewart.

“The Greeks gradually adopted this practice to show the uniqueness of their society and separate themselves from the barbarians around them,” Stewart said. “The Greeks once thought it was shocking and ridiculous to see men naked before adopting the practice.”

Art history and classics scholars continue to debate the exact date and origin of nude athletic competition, Stewart said. Scholars frequently reference the story of Orrhippos, a runner from Megara, Greece, who intentionally let his loincloth slip in 652 BCE since he thought it easier to run naked, Stewart said.

“His epitaph alleges that the whole thing was ‘wardrobe malfunction,’ like the term Justin Timberlake used after the Super Bowl,” Stewart said to a laughing audience.

Sir Isaac Newton first challenged the traditionally-accepted origin date in an unpublished pamphlet released in 1925, Stewart said. Newton studied eclipses to determine dates, and deduced that the first nude athletes originated in the 7th century BCE, according to Stewart.

Since records of the Olympics from before the Roman period are not dated, historians must rely on archeological evidence to study the history of the Olympics and the attire of the athletes, Stewart explained.

“Suggested dates for the first Olympics range from 776 to 700 BCE, under the assumption that first Olympic wells were dug around 700 BCE and these wells served athletes,” Stewart said. “Someone at the Olympics did drop their pants and did so during the Archaic period.”

Records suggest, however, that the trend was “slow to catch on” in more conservative communities, he said. Nakedness appeared in earlier Greek art to distinguish gender when human figures were depicted using abstract geometric shapes, Stewart said.

“Nakedness had been the default setting for men, and clothing the default setting for women,” he said. “She is a product of nature and her sexuality is a disaster waiting to happen, so she is constrained by a girdle and held back by man.”

Clothed figures became fixtures in archaic art scenes dating from 750 to 480 BCE, which suggested a new desire to visually separate athletes.

“Why would one want to do this unless to contrast the naked athlete and clothed bystander?” Stewart said.

In Sparta, athletes “made a fetish” of practicing athletics in the nude, according to Stewart.

“All Spartan boys over age 10 stripped to exercise as an expression of the increasingly egalitarian male warrior culture,” Stewart said. “Nakedness was a symbol of their intense physical training, the unbreakable male bonding expected between members and a marker of transition from boy to male warrior.”

In 510 BCE, “sporting fever gripped Athens,” as reflected in a rapid increase of artwork depicting nude athletes running and competing as jockeys on horseback, Stewart said.

As the notion of practicing athletics nude acquired a “mythological pedigree,” two new athletic commemorations developed — the statues and written odes to celebrate the victor, Stewart said.

“The victor statue remains on its base as a memorial, while the victory ode circulates the athlete’s name and fame as no statue can,” he said.

Although scholars can learn much about nudity in the Olympics from archeological records and art, much remains unknown, Stewart said.

The lecture was co-sponsored by the art history department, the classics department and the Hood Museum of Art.