Infant Burial from Austria

Here’s one from a month or so ago that I was hoping would get a bit more coverage, only to have it get lost in my email box … from the Austrian Independent:

Builders digging up land for a bypass at Schützen am Gebirge in Burgenland have unearthed a child’s grave dating back to Roman times.

Archeologists say that the tiny grave surrounded by heavy stones had been undisturbed until it was found by the road workers, and that it dated back to the first century after Christ.

They said the grave still had pottery and glass items inside which in many other cases had been stolen by grave robbers.

Archeologist Kurt Fiebig from the organisation PannArch that is doing the dig said: “It was a child’s grave, which unusually for the time was a whole body burial and not a cremation. We have found milk teeth in the skull that will help us identify the age of the body.”

The team said they had also found another grave nearby and what was the foundations of a house. The second grave however had already been plundered.

There are some photos of the finds here:

CFP: Beauty, Bravery, Blood and Glory

Seen on the Classicists list:

Beauty, Bravery, Blood and Glory: Ancient Virtues and Vices in Modern Popular Culture

Bar Ilan University/Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel 10-11 June, 2013.

Ancient Greece and Rome are rarely depicted objectively in modern popular culture. Sometimes these ancient cultures, epitomised by smooth white marble and classical beauty, are idealised and glorified. More commonly, they are depicted as wicked and corrupt, decadent and licentious, characterised by excessive drinking, the violence and bloodlust of the arena, sexual deviance and a lust for world domination. Intertwined with these characterisations are other groups, notably Jews and Christians, who may be depicted as foils to the pagan population. Portrayals of ancient Judaism and Christianity also often present exaggerated ideals of heroism and virtue in popular culture. This conference aims to explore the way particular virtues and vices are considered to be particularly representative of the ancient world, and to reflect upon how these virtues and vices are portrayed in twentieth and twenty-first century popular culture, in all its forms and media, including cinema, television, radio, literature, comics, advertising, the internet and video games.

We invite proposals for papers (20 minutes plus discussion) exploring the many ways that the vice and virtues of the ancient world are popularly represented in the modern world. Possibilities of subjects include, but are not limited to, depictions of the following aspects of ancient Greece and Rome:

– Modern Representations of the Ancient Body

– Greek, Roman or Christian virtues

– Male and Female Sexuality

– Imperialism and Democracy

– Rhetorical virtues

– Ancient Heroism

– Freedom Fighters

– Slaves and Slave-owners

– Love, Sex, Orgies and Debauchery

– Ancient Religion in a Modern World

Keynote speakers: Monica Cyrino (New Mexico) and Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones (Edinburgh).

Please send proposals to arrive by 30 November 2012. Paper proposals should be no more than 300 words, and should be accompanied by contact details.

For further information please contact Eran Almagor (almagore AT or Lisa Maurice (mauril68 AT

CJOnline Review: Causey, Amber and the Ancient World

posted with permission:

Amber and the Ancient World. By Faya Causey. Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2012. Pp. 144. Hardcover, $25.00. ISBN 978-1-60606-082-7.

Reviewed by Rachael Goldman, Graduate Center, City University of New York

Faya Causey has studied the subject of ancient amber for a long time. Ever since her 1985 Berkeley dissertation, “Studies on Greek, Etruscan and Italic Carved Ambers,” she has engaged with the subject in a serious way, providing her well-trained eye to catalogue descriptions, analysis and re-evaluation of several major collections of major art. So it seems only fitting that she should have written this small but authoritative text on amber, prepared as an introduction to the online catalogue of Ancient Carved Amber in the J. Paul Getty Museum.

For some reason, amber exhibits evoke a natural curiosity that is not found in most ancient art. Causey’s book is divided into roughly three sections, ranging from the scientific properties of amber to its production and use in ancient Italic and Etruscan art.

Her first chapter deals with the creation and use of amber in ancient jewelry, defining what the scope of ornament and decoration had been for ancient men and women. She then deals with the employment of amber in magic and religious spells, commenting on Pliny the Elder’s lengthy list of uses for amber. She comments on how pieces of amber were also included in burial contexts. Here she discusses the composition of amber: unfortunately, as a resin produced from the bark of trees, there is no set way to determine how old a piece of amber is, because of variations in the composition of the resin. Most importantly Causey explains all the possible types of detritus that can be included in the hardened resin, such as bacteria, fungi, worms, snails, insects, spiders and even some small animals.

Her next section discusses the various geographical contexts in which amber is found, claiming that the sea beds of the Baltic Sea are most plentiful, but she also mentions the ancient sources that list Sicily, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan as places that were amber-rich. Her most illuminating chapter examines the scientific properties of amber, which includes its rare magnetic ability, which was used in the earliest experiments with electricity (which gets its name from the ancient Greek name for amber, elektron). For the enthusiast, the photographs on pages 42–3, showing two Etruscan examples of carved amber, a translucent portrait head with an archaic smile and an embracing satyr and maenad, beautifully illustrate the variety of carving in this delicate medium.

Causey next changes direction and focuses on amber in its ancient context, particularly the sources that name elektron in Greek or glaesum in Latin, sometimes slightly absurd, as when she cites a graphic illustration in a medieval bestiary showing amber as the product of lynx urine. She includes a useful compilation of ancient literary sources ranging from Pindar to Herodotus and Ovid to Martial. She discusses how amber was spread and how it was used, including attempts to deceive collectors; even Leonardo da Vinci knew the exact recipe of making fake amber from hardened egg whites. She explains the complex process of transporting amber through the Mediterranean, showing that there was no single route and that there is no literary evidence for the amber trade until the time of Pliny the Elder. If there is any fault to this chapter, it is that her discussion is relegated to Italian routes across the Adriatic Sea, when perhaps there were more developed routes along the silk route through Asia. She concludes with chapters on amber medicine and amulets, archaeological evidence for the use of figured amber, the working of amber, and the production of figured amber objects.

This is a text for a wide audience, ranging from ancient historians to enthusiastic collectors and educators. The sumptuous array of photographs is a feast for the eyes and also highlights the details that might ordinarily be overlooked in many of these tiny examples. A few minor critiques of the book are that it is slightly disorganized and the title is a little misleading since it focuses exclusively on Italic and Etruscan pieces. The bibliography and source citations are extensive and scholarly. Often the subject of amber is neglected in general surveys of ancient art and this is a welcome addition to anyone curious about this remarkable and beautiful material.

CJ Online Review: Robinson, Democracy Beyond Athens

posted with permission:

Democracy Beyond Athens: Popular Government in the Greek Classical Age. By Eric W. Robinson. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. 2011. Pp. ix + 275. Hardcover, £63.00/$103.00. ISBN 978-0-521-84331-7.

Reviewed by Sydnor Roy, Temple University

This book provides an overview of democracies that have some attestation in the Classical period (480–323). Robinson utilizes a wide range of literary, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence to construct a convincing argument that democracy was wide-spread outside of Athens. He succeeds in revealing the problems of an Atheno-centric view of ancient democracy and opens the door for more work on how democracy functioned and spread.

The introduction offers a working definition of democracy that includes both institutional and ideological criteria. The primary principle he follows, however, is “whether or not contemporary Greeks did call or would have called (as best we can determine) such a state demokratia” (3). Robinson argues that each facet of his definition of democracy should be handled on a case-by-case basis in terms of the polis in question and the source material. He recognizes the potential for authorial bias and the multivalent connotations of several terms, but analysis of these problems does not feature strongly in his case studies of individual poleis. In addition, his definition of democracy includes the feature that “freedom and equality serve as guiding principles of the order” (4). This is a particularly vague criterion and it receives little attention. Robinson uses a cautious approach to identifying democracies. He collects corroborating data and presents strong “big picture” arguments for the democracies he identifies.

The first three chapters offer case studies of poleis that seem to have had some form of democratic government at some time in the Classical period. Each chapter covers a wide geographic area (the Greek mainland; western and northwestern Greece and Cyrene; and eastern Greece). The cities are organized alphabetically, although especially prominent (Syracuse) or closely linked (Abdera and Teos) cities break this schema. In each case he reviews and situates the evidence, and also offers brief conclusions about each democracy’s nature. When necessary, Robinson digresses into issues which are potentially distracting, such as the dispute over Syracuse’s constitution during the Sicilian Expedition and Athenian influence over the constitutions of eastern Greek cities. These three chapters build Robinson’s argument and will serve as a useful reference work for other scholars.

Chapter Four includes a number of informative tables and graphs which provide a picture of the geographic and temporal spread of democracy. Robinson tackles the argument that Athenian democracy was the model and motivating factor for democracy because of Athens’ role as a military and cultural power. His strongest argument is that the incidence of democracies in the Aegean did not increase at a greater rate than democracies outside of the Athenian sphere of influence. Given the assumption that Athens promoted or even installed democracies in its subject states, the evidence is surprising. I agree that this suggests that something more is at play in motivating democracy. Robinson then proposes two explanations for democracy’s expansion. First, he argues for the influence of regional democratic powers such as Argos and Syracuse and imperial pressures from Persia or Alexander. Second, Robinson offers peer polity interaction as an explanatory model. This model has been applied to both Archaic Greece and Hellenistic Greece to explain the development in parallel of similar structures in autonomous poleis. These kinds of interactions contributed to the spread of knowledge about democracy. It is difficult to see the difference between Athens’ role as cultural hegemon influencing the spread of democracy and Athens’ involvement in peer polity interaction, although his contention that the (primarily non-Athenian) early travelling sophists spread democratic ideology is another convincing argument that more factors than Athens alone are involved. He concludes that Athens played a role as a regional hegemon and as a participant in peer polity interaction, but claims that it is mistaken to see Athens as the chief cause of democratic expansion. What is missing here is a more overt discussion of Sparta, which could also have been a factor in spreading as well as inhibiting democracies.

In Chapter Five, Robinson draws provisional conclusions about the nature of democracies beyond Athens. He introduces the premise that Athens is the only “fully realized” democracy. He convincingly argues through primary source material that the Greeks at least did not consider Athens the sole true democracy. I was surprised, however, to see no mention of Polybius here, who explains why he rejects Athens as a model in his constitutional comparison (6.43). Robinson then reviews democratic commonalities. The problem here is that he finds as common practices the very elements he listed as criteria for democratic constitutions in the first place. Next he addresses some “false commonalities.” He argues against the position that sea power and democracy go hand in hand by examining prominent non-democratic naval powers, such as Minoan Crete, Corinth, Aegina, Samos, and Phocaea. It would have been much more convincing to emphasize democracies that were not naval powers. In his discussion of democratic peace, he uses the evidence of ancient democracies to refute the view, common in modern political thought, that democracies do not go to war against each other, although he acknowledges that constitutional form increasingly became a motivation for alliances during and after the Peloponnesian War. Robinson then presents variations between different democracies, such as differences in populist tendencies, the titles of officials and institutions, means of voting, and the education of citizens. The result is a complex picture of how ancient democracies may have functioned.

Even in light of this study and the discussion of archaic democracies in this book and discussed in more detail in Robinson’s The First Democracies (1997), it is difficult not to view Athens as the paradigm for ancient democracy. The overwhelming amount of Athenian primary source material provides us with the fullest picture of a working democracy. But this should not lead us to develop political theory from a singular example of political practice. What this book succeeds in doing is to remind us that we should not use the institutions and ideology of the Athenian paradigm alone to set the rules for what constitutes a democracy nor should we conflate it with Greek democracy in general. Rather, we should cast a wider net and be more flexible when examining and proposing arguments about ancient constitutions.

Classical Tweetup on Thursday!

The folks at Chiron sent this one along:

Chiron has always supported the direct method for teaching classical languages. In other time Comenius already encouraged to avoid an excessive use of grammar in teaching. Nowadays methods such as Ørberg LLPSI, Rouse’s Greek boy or Athenaze are more and more usual in our classrooms.

Today more than ever we should treat our languages for what they are, something alive, to be used, to be touched, to be spoken. Against the black future offered by the Wert law in Spain, which reduces the presence of Classics in secondary school, we intend to bring Latin and Greek to the fore, display them on the network as they are, far from the academicism of the classrooms: alive languages ready to be used, tools to communicate. And, for that purpose, we will use social networks. So we encourage all willing students and teachers of classical languages to participate in the Pipiatio Classica, on Twitter, to be held next Thursday, November 15th. Of course, all we are going to write will be in Latin and Greek.

Introduce yourself, meet people, learn to express yourself in Latin and Greek. Mistakes are allowed! Let’s learn together! Add the hashtag #pipiatioclassica to your tweets in order to follow the event from here.

We also encourage all the institutions or associations related to the Classical World to take part in it and to disseminate it.

… not sure what time the festivities begin …