Colin Nouailher’s Alexander and Julius Caesar

I’m always interested in seeing how folks in different eras portrayed the big names of the folks within our purview and, as it happens, the Metropolitan Museum’s ‘Featured Artwork of the Day’ (via Facebook) is Colin Nouailher’s plaque of Alexander the Great, which forms part of a series of depictions of the ‘Nine Worthies’ a.k.a. ‘Nine Heroes’ which were popular ‘at court’  in sixteenth century France (due to Jacques de Longuyon’s Les Voeux du Paon). In any event, check this depiction out:

from the Metropolitan Museum

… the official description page with further details can be found here but it is interesting how — to a Classicist — ‘unAlexander-like’ this depiction is, not least because of the beard. One could make a similar comment about another plaque in the series depicting Julius Caesar:

via the Metropolitan Museum

… more info here. Both look more like oriental potentates than anything else, which probably reflects on the French court’s ideas of ‘power’ at the time (that’s me drawing conclusions rather quickly). The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History does have an interesting article on this sort of thing: Images of Antiquity in Limoges Enamels in the French Renaissance.
Outside of that, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France has a very nice manuscript of Les Voeux du Paon online, although it isn’t illustrated. The Bodleian has some pages of illustrations  from the same work (I think), but they are kind of grotty. I’m sure there are better ones out there …

CJ Online Review: Dodge, Spectacle in the Roman World

posted with permission:

Hazel Dodge, Spectacle in the Roman World. Classical World Series. London and New York: Bristol Classical Press/Bloomsbury Academic, 2011. Pp. 96. Paperback, £12.99/$19.95. ISBN 978-1-8539-9696-2.

Reviewed by Linda Maria Gigante, University of Louisville

Hazel Dodge, the Louis Claude Purser Senior Lecturer in Classical Archaeology at Trinity College, Dublin, has published extensively on topics related to the ancient city and building technology in the Roman Empire. In this small but highly informative book, she presents a concise overview of spectacles in the Roman world from the later Republic through the first two centuries of the Imperial age. There are seven chapters, each averaging between 10–15 pages in length, that include information on various types of entertainments and the structures where they were presented. Dodge illustrates her key points by presenting recent archaeological discoveries and modern perspectives on Roman entertainment, and, while her primary focus is the city of Rome, she also includes evidence from both the eastern and western Empire.

In Chapter 1, which serves as the general introduction, Dodge sets forth the types of evidence for various Roman spectacles, highlighting new discoveries of entertainment structures (like the amphitheater in Sofia, Bulgaria, found in 2006) and ancient sources like Martial’s Epigrams, and other evidence including gladiator tombstones and floor mosaics. Chapters 2 through 5 focus on the types of spectacles, such as the circus and chariot racing (2); gladiators and gladiatorial displays (3); animal hunts (4); and naumachiae and aquatic displays (5). In Chapter 6 Dodge considers the fragmentary nature of the evidence for spectacles in late antiquity, noting that, while we know a considerable amount about chariot-racing, a full complement of events continued to take place in Rome into the 4th century CE, with the last chariot races held in the Circus Maximus in the mid 6th century. Chapter 7, which serves as the conclusion, is concerned with the ancient context for spectacles in Roman society and our perceptions of them today. Dodge reminds the reader that, regardless of the nature of these public entertainments, they all were meant to enhance the political authority of the person paying for them and reinforced the Romans’ social and gender hierarchy. In the Appendix there are definitions of entertainment building-types, the types of events associated with them, as well as well-preserved examples and plans. “Further Reading” consists of a list of secondary sources, most of them in English and dated from the 1980s to the present, that are organized according to headings that parallel the titles of the book’s chapters.

Dodge’s expertise in the field of Roman spectacles is evident throughout the text in her insightful interpretations of the literary and archaeological evidence and in her recognition that there is still much to be learned about the topic. In Chapter 5, for example, she acknowledges that there is no consensus regarding the flooding of the Colosseum and points out that the necessary water-source has yet to be found. And in Chapter 3, on gladiators and gladiatorial displays, she points out that the 20 or so different costumes worn by gladiators had their origins in the battle-gear worn by Rome’s early enemies (including Samnites and Thracians), underscoring the professional fighters’ popularity as exemplars of virtus. Dodge also discusses the 1993 discovery of a gladiators’ necropolis near the stadium at Ephesus, where the remains of 68 gladiators revealed that the deceased had received relatively good medical care and consumed a diet high in carbohydrates.

The stated objective of the Classical World Series is to explore the culture and achievements of the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome by publishing affordable books designed for advanced high school and introductory level university students. Dodge makes an important contribution to this Series by writing on a topic of particular interest to all students of Roman civilization: public spectacles. She strikes a good balance between art, archaeology, social history, and literary sources by discussing the buildings where these events took place, the identity of the people who were involved with them, and the Romans’ comments about them. Dodge obviously took great care in selecting a manageable number of black and white illustrations for the text, to include plans and photos of specific entertainment structures, as well as mosaics, coins, graffiti, and reliefs. Additionally, the ancient authors she discusses cover a wide scope, ranging from Pliny the Elder and Suetonius to Tertullian and Augustine. In presenting the evidence for spectacles in this fashion, Dodge provides students with an important perspective on the multidisciplinary nature of scholarship in Roman studies. This book will surely inspire them to pursue further study in the field.

CJ Online Review: Frederiksen, Greek City Walls of the Archaic Period

posted with permission:

Rune Frederiksen, Greek City Walls of the Archaic Period, 900–480 BC. Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xxx + 238. Hardcover, £100.00/$170.00. ISBN 978-0-19-957812-2.

Reviewed by Benjamin Sullivan, Cornell University

The archaeology of Early Iron Age (EIA, 900–700 BCE) and archaic (700–480 BCE) fortification walls is a relatively obscure subject, yet as Rune Frederiksen demonstrates, it deserves much more of our attention. Frederiksen’s book derives from a dissertation produced under the auspices of the Copenhagen Polis Centre, and the painstakingly elaborated rubrics characteristic of the Centre’s work can be observed throughout. It is a skillfully assembled and judiciously synthesized contribution that will be an invaluable help to researchers whose work touches on aspects of early Greece. The thesis Frederiksen develops from his research, namely that EIA and archaic Greek communities were usually fortified, may be counted a somewhat less successful effort.

Eight chapters of discussion precede a 78-page catalogue of 132 walled sites. In the catalogue and throughout the book, the primary categorizing is into three groups, categories A (walls dated by excavation evidence), B (walls dated by masonry style) and C (walls attested by literary sources). Catalogue entries provide summaries of the walls at each site, subdivided under various headings (location, construction, date, etc.), and include essential bibliography. Many entries are accompanied by photographs and plans. The latter vary in quality, since they are reproduced from a wide variety of sources, but are almost always informative. Fifteen tables summarize the catalogue findings and arrange them by categories such as geographic distribution, chronology, and the elements and dimensions of walls; four maps plot the tables’ most important categories.

A review this brief cannot do justice to the many problems illuminated in the text. Chapters include treatments of the “types” (i.e., the variety and character of spaces the walls enclosed) of fortification (Ch. 2); the Greek terminology of fortifications and their (meager) representation in the visual arts (Ch. 3); the destruction of early walls and the manifold ways walls were obscured by later settlement (Ch. 4); the physical characteristics and construction of walls (Ch. 5); and the notoriously difficult questions related to the dating of walls (Ch. 6). Chapter 7 is an attempt to answer how walls were constructed, how they developed over time, and how pre-classical walls differed from later walls. Here Frederiksen employs a periodization with divisions into EIA (C9–8), seventh century, middle archaic (600–550) and late archaic (550–479), each period analyzed under the headings of distribution and topography, and construction and architecture.

Chapter 8 presents final conclusions and includes a valuable discussion of the importance of city walls for establishing the shape and identity of a polis. Frederiksen importantly asserts the usefulness of walls as an urbanization metric, as against temples. Adopting admittedly optimistic interpretations of the data, he thus argues that walls were the most common monumental structures in early Greek towns, and tentatively concludes that the polis may have developed along more secular lines than usually supposed.

The basic flaw in Frederiksen’s thesis is that it often relies on evidence that does not yet exist and is likewise too sanguine about evidence that does exist. The former tendency is apparent in his discussion of what he calls the “problem of central Greece” (105–8). While Mycenaean urban centers concentrated in the Peloponnesos and central Greece, EIA concentrations shifted dramatically to the islands and Anatolian littoral, a phenomenon that seems to indicate that the mainland was isolated from eastern urbanization trends. Frederiksen implies, however, that the mainland walls of the Homeric poems have not been discovered because they have not been an archaeological priority, which may come as a surprise to Peloponnesian excavators. Frederiksen offers Lefkandi as a possible solution to the problem. While no fortifications have been found here, Frederiksen believes that their discovery will show that mainland EIA sites were fortified; yet this is to construct an argument for which there is at present no evidence.

Frederiksen’s interpretation of existing evidence can also be problematic. As he acknowledges (7), ethnicity is a slippery concept, and while he claims it will not affect his thesis, he includes Cypriot Paphos and Salamis as evidence for EIA fortification, since they developed into Greek poleis by the C5. Ethnicity aside, the size of the Cypriot and Cretan intramural spaces and the relative sophistication of their walls are so much greater than other EIA sites that they should probably be considered outliers. In fact, only ten EIA sites outside Crete and Cyprus were fortified. Even granting that these walls have been accurately identified and dated (by no means certain), the number is exiguous. Moreover, again excepting Cretan and Cypriot sites, the estimated intramural areas are tiny in comparison with later periods and at most of the sites it is possible that the walls enclosed refuges rather than settlements proper. The C7 evidence is no better, and it is perhaps significant that Frederiksen restructures his chronological analysis from four groupings in the penultimate chapter to only two in his final analysis, before and after 600, for polis fortification only really becomes widespread after this date.

None of these criticisms mean that Frederiksen is not cautious or lacking excellent judgment at every turn, and it should be stressed that he diligently exposes his findings to alternate interpretations. Whatever the validity of its thesis, the book is extremely well conceived and a trove of information about a neglected subject.

Latest from Silchester

It  always bothers me when journalists feel a need to ‘overstate’ (for want of a better word) the recent discoveries at a particular site … last year around this time, the BBC’s coverage of the Silchester excavation was bothering me (Pre-Roman Silchester Town Planning? NOT NEWS!) … this year, the Guardian‘s follows suit:

Iron Age Britons were importing olives from the Mediterranean a century before the Romans arrived with their exotic tastes in food, say archaeologists who have discovered a single olive stone from an excavation of an Iron Age well at at Silchester in Hampshire.

The stone came from a layer securely dated to the first century BC, making it the earliest ever found in Britain – but since nobody ever went to the trouble of importing one olive, there must be more, rotted beyond recognition or still buried.

The stone, combined with earlier finds of seasoning herbs such as coriander, dill and celery, all previously believed to have arrived with the Romans, suggests a diet at Silchester that would be familiar in any high street pizza restaurant.

The excavators, led by Professor Mike Fulford of Reading University, also found another more poignant luxury import: the skeleton of a tiny dog, no bigger than a modern toy poodle, carefully buried, curled up as if in sleep. However it may not have met a peaceful end.

“It was fully grown, two or three years old, and thankfully showed no signs of butchery, so it wasn’t a luxury food or killed for its fur,” Fulford said. “But it was found in the foundations of a very big house we are still uncovering – 50 metres long at least – so we believe it may turn out to be the biggest Iron Age building in Britain, which must have belonged to a chief or a sub chief, a very big cheese in the town. And whether this little dog conveniently died just at the right time to be popped into the foundations, or whether it was killed as a high status offering, we cannot tell.

“The survival of the olive stone, which was partly charred, was a freak of preservation. But there must be more; we need to dig a lot more wells.”

Fulford has been leading the annual summer excavations at Silchester, which bring together hundreds of student, volunteer and professional archaeologists, for half a lifetime, and the site continues to throw up surprises. It was an important Roman town, but deliberately abandoned in the 7th century, its wells blocked up and its buildings tumbled, and never reoccupied. Apart from a few Victorian farm buildings, it is still open farmland, surrounded by the jagged remains of massive Roman walls.

Fulford now believes that the town was at its height a century before the Roman invasion in 43AD, with regularly planned, paved streets, drainage, shops, houses and workshops, trading across the continent for luxury imports of food, household goods and jewellery, enjoying a lifestyle in Britain that, previously, was believed to have arrived with the Romans.

This sodden summer have driven the archaeologists to despair, with the site a swamp of deep mud and water bubbling up in every hole and trench.

“Conditions are the worst I can ever remember. Ironically, the wells are the easiest to work in because we have the pumps running there,” Fulford said.

The tiny dog is one of dozens that the team has excavated here over the years, including one that was buried standing up as if on guard for 2,000 years. A unique knife with a startlingly realistic carving of two dogs mating was another of the spectacular finds from one of the most enigmatic sites in the country.

Yes, the olive stone is a significant find, but last year’s coverage (the BBC’s, referenced above … links to previous coverage there as well) mentions that the inhabitants of Calleva Atrebatum had imported olive oil and wine, so this really isn’t a stretch. What was bothering me last night as I was reading this between downs of a football game, was that there seems to be this belief that the Romans didn’t have any effect on the island until Claudius, as if that little foray by Julius Caesar didn’t open up some trade, if it wasn’t occurring already (eh Pytheas?). We should be using finds like this to marvel at ancient trade and what was traded, not use it to build up some lingering ‘mythology’ about how the folks of Britain were before the Romans ‘came’.

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