Rostrum Followup

From an American Chemical Society news thingie:

A new study puts some finishing touches on the 2,300-year history of the beak-like weapon that an ancient warship used to ram enemy ships in the First Punic War, the conflict between ancient Rome and Carthage. The report, in ACS’ journal Analytical Chemistry, also identifies a major threat that conservators must address in preserving this archaeological treasure for future generations.

Patrick Frank and colleagues explain that the ram, called a rostrum, was found in 2008 under 22 feet of water, 150 feet offshore from Acqualadrone (which means “Bay of the Pirates”) in northeastern Sicily. The Acqualadrone rostrum is bronze, with a wooden core that was preserved because of burial beneath the seafloor. Carbon-14 dating suggests that the warship sank around 260 B.C. after being damaged in the battle of Mylae during the opening stages of the First Punic War, which may have been among the largest wars of its time. Earlier research localized the metals in the bronze to mines in Spain or Cyprus. The authors, from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University and the University of Palermo, set out in the new research to learn more about the origin and condition of the rostrum wood.

Their analysis of the acids and other substances in the wood showed that the strutwork of the Acqualadrone rostrum was pine, waterproofed with pine tar. Other woods, like juniper and oak, and other ancient marine sealants, like beeswax, were ruled out. Importantly, the research found copious sulfur in the wood that could turn into sulfuric acid, an extremely corrosive substance. Sulfuric acid is known to appear in recovered wooden marine archaeological treasures and can threaten their existence. The authors argue that iron and copper permeating the wood may catalyze that transformation, but they suggest that removing ozone from museum air could slow the conversion.

The whole article, in all its technical jargon glory, is available at:

I think this is the same rostrum mentioned here: Rostrum Found

Classics and the Greek Debt Crisis

There have been plenty of non-Classicist commentators dropping the word ‘tragedy’ and making all sorts of facile comparisons to the ancient world in regards to the ongoing debt crisis in Greece … finally, a Classicist — Oxford’s Armand D’Angour — wades in with some useful comparanda. From the BBC:

What advice would the ancient Greeks provide to help modern Greeks with their current financial worries?

1. Debt, division and revolt. Here’s the 6th Century BC news from Athens.

In the early 6th Century BC, the people of Athens were burdened with debt, social division and inequality, with poor farmers prepared to sell themselves into slavery just to feed their families.

Revolution was imminent, but the aristocrat Solon emerged as a just mediator between the interests of rich and poor. He abolished debt bondage, limited land ownership, and divided the citizen body into classes with different levels of wealth and corresponding financial obligations.

His measures, although attacked on all sides, were adopted and paved the way for the eventual creation of democracy.

Solon’s success demonstrates that great statesmen must have the courage to implement unpopular compromises for the sake of justice and stability.

2. What happens next? The Delphic oracle

Ancient Delphi was the site of Apollo’s oracle, believed to be inspired by the god to utter truths. Her utterances, however, were unintelligible and needed to be interpreted by priests, who generally turned them into ambiguous prophecies.

In response to, say, “Should Greece leave the euro?” the oracle might have responded: “Greece should abandon the euro if the euro has abandoned Greece,” leaving proponents and opponents of “Grexit” to squabble over what exactly that meant. It must have been something like listening to modern economists. At least the oracle had the excuse of inhaling the smoke of laurel leaves.

Wiser advice was to be found in the mottos inscribed on the face of Apollo’s temple at Delphi, advocating moderation and self-knowledge: “Know yourself. Nothing in excess.”

3. Nothing new under the sun: The sage Pythagoras

If modern Greeks feel overwhelmed by today’s financial problems, they might take some comfort from remembering the world-weary advice from their ancestor Pythagoras that “everything comes round again, so nothing is completely new”.

Pythagoras of Samos was a 6th Century BC mystic sage who believed that numbers are behind everything in the universe – and that cosmic events recur identically over a cycle of 10,800 years.

His doctrine was picked up by the biblical author of Ecclesiastes in the 3rd Century BC, whose phrase “There is nothing new under the sun” is repeated more than 20 times.

If you look at the picture at top of the story, the young man with a laptop on a Greek vase from 470 BC (in fact, a writing-tablet) seems to prove the proposition.

4. Mind you, it could be worse… Odysseus and endurance

“Hold fast, my heart, you have endured worse suffering,” Odysseus exhorts himself in Homer’s Odyssey, from the 8th Century BC.

Having battled hostile elements and frightful monsters on his return home across the sea from Troy to his beloved Ithaka and wife Penelope, Odysseus here prevents himself from jeopardising a successful finale as a result of impatience.

The stirring message is that whatever the circumstances, one should recognise that things could be, and have been, even worse. Harder challenges have been faced and – with due intelligence and fortitude – overcome.

5. Are you sure that’s right? Socrates and tireless inquiry

“The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being,” said Socrates.

By cross-examining ordinary people, the philosopher aimed to get to the heart of complex questions such as “What is justice?” and “How should we live?” Often no clear answer emerged, but Socrates insisted that we keep on asking the questions.

Fellow Athenians were so offended by his scrutiny of their political and moral convictions that they voted to execute him in 399 BC, and thereby made him an eternal martyr to free thought and moral inquiry.

Socrates bequeathed to humanity a duty to keep on thinking with tireless integrity, even when – or particularly when – definite answers are unlikely to be found.

6. How did those jokers end up in charge? Aristophanes the comedian

The most brilliantly inventive of comic playwrights, Aristophanes was happy to mock contemporary Athenian politicians of every stripe. He was also the first to coin a word for “innovation”.

His comedy Frogs of 405 BC, which featured the first representation of aerial warfare, contained heartfelt and unambiguous advice for his politically fickle fellow citizens: choose good leaders, or you will be stuck with bad ones.

7. Should we do the same as last time? Heraclitus the thinker

“You can’t step into the same river twice” is one of the statements of Heraclitus, in the early 5th Century BC – his point being that the ceaseless flow of the water makes for a different river each time you step into it.

A sharp pupil pointed out “in that case you can’t step into the same river once”, since if everything is constantly in flux, so is the identity of the individual stepping into the water.

While change is constant, different things change at different rates. In an environment of ceaseless flux, it is important to identify stable markers and to hold fast to them.

Bond markets, debt and bail-outs must feel like a similar challenge.

8. Tell me the worst, doctor. Hippocrates faces the facts

Western medicine goes back to Hippocrates, late 5th Century BC, and doctors still take the “Hippocratic oath”. An extensive set of ancient medical observations details how patients fared when they were treated by means such as diet and exercise.

What is exceptional in ancient thinking about health and disease is the clear-sighted recognition that doctors must observe accurately and record truthfully – even when patients die in the process.

Magical or wishful thinking cannot bring a cure. Only honest, exhaustive, empirical observation can hope to reveal what works and what does not.

9. Seizing the opportunity: Cleisthenes and democracy

The ancient Greeks were strongly aware of the power of opportunity – in Greek, kairos. Seizing the moment – in oratory, athletics, or battle – was admired and viewed as an indication of skill.

In many cases, such temporary innovation, born of the moment, will be more enduring, especially if successive innovators build on its principles.

When the tyrants of Athens were deposed at the end of the 6th Century, the leading citizen Cleisthenes needed to think up a constitution that would cut across existing structures of power and allegiance.

He devised with amazing rapidity a system of elective government in which all the citizens (the Greek word “demos” means “the people”) had a single vote – the world’s first democracy.

10. Big problem, long bath: Archimedes the inventor

Asked to measure whether a crown was made of pure gold, the Sicilian Greek Archimedes (3rd Century BC) puzzled over a solution.

The story goes that when he eventually took a bath and saw the water rising as he stepped in, it struck him that an object’s volume could be measured by the water it displaced – and when weighed, their relative density could be calculated.

He was so excited by his discovery that he jumped out of the bath and ran naked through Syracuse shouting “Eureka!” – Greek for “I’ve got it!”

Finding the solution to a knotty problem requires hard thinking, but the answer often comes only when you switch off – and take a bath.

The Looting of Sardis

The previously-mentioned video from the ASCSA begins with some upcoming events, among which is mention of a lecture by Fikret Yegül on the looting of Sardis … while we look forward to that being put online, for now we can read a coincidentally-written piece in Athens News on the same subject (advertising the talk, of course):

AT FIRST, it may not be surprising to learn that ancient Sardis, in western Asia Minor, once home to the mythically wealthy Lydian king Croesus, was the target of greedy looters; but what is unsettling is the fact that the looting occurred only about a century ago, in 1921-1922, and was encouraged by prominent American archaeological and business-world figures as well as a particularly brazen group (the Executive Committee of the Society for the Excavation of Sardis, or ECSES) determined to enrich one of the world’s most important museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (or Met) in New York. To top it off, the actions of the smugglers were publicly announced and advocated in the pages of the New York Times.

The subject of the ethically and legally dubious exportation of antiquities to the West is a familiar one in Greece, where Lord Elgin is often vilified for having run away with the Parthenon Marbles and later selling them to the British Museum. But Elgin looted Athens at the start of the 19th century, between 1801 and 1810, whereas Sardis’ American raiders were acting at a time when one might consider attitudes concerning the rightful ownership of a country’s archaeological heritage to have been rather more modern, advanced and responsible. Moreover, some of the historical riches from Sardis were carried off to New York in September 1922 aboard a US navy ship, in direct disregard of well-known Ottoman Turkish antiquities laws, in effect since 1884.

Ultimately, it was determined that the primary culprit behind the illegal action was a rogue American civil servant, George Horton, general consul of America in Smyrna, who not only sent an initial load of 56 crates of archaeological material out of Anatolia, but who also later himself carried a prized collection of 30 gold coins from Sardis to New York, where he personally delivered them to the doorstep of the Met.
Horton’s (apparently unilateral) decision to export the Sardis material was effected, however, in the weeks following the Ottoman Turkish invasion of Smyrna; perhaps even during the period of 13-22 September 1922, when the port city was burning and in a state of tragic, wartime confusion. While reprehensible, Horton’s unauthorised exportations were not isolated examples, but instead were symptomatic of a larger trend in which rapacious European and American individuals and institutions sought to take advantage of the late 19th- and early 20th-century decline of the Ottoman Empire to enrich private collections and national museums. Prominent among those figures advocating the removal of Greco-Roman and other antiquities from Ottoman lands were two Princeton professors, Howard Crosby Butler, Sardis’ first excavator, and Edward Capps, chair of the managing committee of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA).

Treasured Anatolia

Now, to provide an insider’s look at the fascinating, troubling story of the intrigue and complicity behind Sardis’ early 20th-century looting, Harvard-trained specialist Fikret Yegul, a longtime archaeologist, architect and restorer for the Harvard/Cornell Sardis Expedition and a member of Ohio State University’s excavation team at Isthmia in Greece, will speak at the ASCSA on 29 May 2012 (see box on facing page, bottom C). In a 2010 article, Yegul notes the clear statement of intentions made in January 1922 by Lloyd Warren, secretary of the ECSES (see box below), who pushed for the fruits of future Sardis excavations to be brought home to America. Yegul observes: “The sheer mendacity of this candidness may be jarring to our modern sensibilities, but for the business and museum crowd that the secretary was addressing, it was very much the culturally responsible and patriotic thing to do.”

The question that seems to lie at the heart of the looting of Anatolian archaeological sites in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, according to Yegul, is whether the moribund Ottoman Empire had any right to the rich cultural heritage that lay within its boundaries. “To cast the followers of Mohammed,” Yegul writes, “in the role of caretakers of classical culture – a culture all European nation states claimed as their own, with similar noises coming from across the [Atlantic] – was an anathema.” Indeed, the Ottomans’ “exotic” eastern empire “was seen as an illegitimate and barbaric power, especially as concerned dominion over the Greco-Roman heritage of Western Anatolia and Christian Jerusalem”.

Despite the attractiveness of Yegul’s elegantly stated assertions, which recall an anti-Muslim attitude dating back to the time of the mediaeval crusades, when western religious authorities and armies of knights sought to rid the Christian “holy places” of Turkish hegemony, one has to wonder if nothing more complicated than sheer greed was the primary motivation behind the looting of Anatolian archaeological sites. (The same might be said of the Crusades themselves.) Sardis’ respected raiders, like Elgin and others before them, may simply have been exploiting the Ottomans’ laxity, systemic corruption or current political troubles as an opportunity to benefit themselves, their employers or their favourite museums.

Antiquities law

The Ottomans’ revised antiquities law of 1884, which prohibited all cultural materials from leaving the country, had been a reaction to a host of past offences committed on a grand scale across western Asia Minor. As early as 1841 the English traveller Charles Fellows had shipped an entire Classical temple-tomb, the Nereid Monument from the southwestern town Xanthos, to the British Museum. Briton Charles Newton plundered the decorative sculpture of the 4th century BC Mausoleum of Halicarnassus for the same museum in the 1850s. Shortly after, in 1863, John Wood, an English engineer, removed whatever he could find of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, leaving only a gaping hole. Then, in the 1870s, Carl Humann spirited away to Berlin the bulky, intricately carved remains of the Hellenistic Altar of Zeus at Pergamon.

The passage of the 1884 Ottoman antiquities law was perceived as a bothersome development by foreign excavators and collectors, but it did not stop them from continuing to export their archaeological discoveries. They simply found ways to circumvent the law, even – like David Hogarth at Priene in 1905 – appearing surprised that the new regulations applied to them. Exportations carried on, with Theodor Wiegand, director of the German Archaeological Institute at Istanbul, removing the entire Agora Gate at Miletus in 1908. The Austrians, too, led by Otto Bendorf, in the years 1896-1906, packed off to Vienna nearly everything they unearthed at Ephesus.

Turkish veto

The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 abruptly halted archaeological excavations in Anatolia, including Butler’s now five-season-old expedition at Sardis, which had already revealed more than 1,000 Lydian tombs. After 1918, however, the digging gradually resumed, as did illegal exportation. At ancient Colophon south of Smyrna, a joint excavation by Harvard University and the ASCSA was undertaken in 1922, according to Yegul, to enrich Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum. Excavations began again at Sardis on March 3, running to July 8. That season is now infamous, since later that autumn 56 crates of antiquities, enough to fill three railroad cars, were shipped back to the United States.

Upon learning of the clandestine shipment, the cultural authorities of the newly established Republic of Turkey immediately stopped the Americans’ excavation permit for Sardis and for all other Anatolian sites. A diplomatic resolution was finally reached after 53 of the original crates – including the 30 gold coins and 122 silver coins – were shipped back to Turkey in 1924, where they were inspected and divided up. Ultimately, 12 crates containing various artefacts and four gold coins arrived back in New York by the end of August 1925 – a “gift” from Turkey.

Sardis’ first excavator, Butler, did not live to see the international skirmish over the 1922 discoveries. He died in Paris on 13 July 1922, while returning from Asia Minor. With him also seems to have died an era when Anatolian antiquities were regularly used by both Turks and foreigners as currency with which one could purchase fame, professional success and political favour. Turkey’s antiquities authorities scrambled to make up for centuries of Ottoman neglect of the country’s cultural heritage, building seven new archaeological museums between 1923 and 1926. The strictly scientific investigation of Sardis, which began anew in 1958 under the direction of professors George Hanfmann of Harvard and A Henry Detweiler of Cornell, continues today to illuminate the remarkable history of Greek-influenced western Anatolia and the golden capital of King Croesus’ Lydian empire.

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem viii idus junias

ante diem viii idus junias

Alexander routs Persians on one of the long si...

Alexander routs Persians on one of the long sides of the Alexander Sarcophagus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

356 B.C. — birth of Alexander the Great (according to one reckoning)

17 B.C.. — ludi Latini et Graeci honorarii (day 1)

86 A.D. ludi Capitolini (day 1)

204 A.D. — ludi Latini et Graeci honorarii (day 3)