Social Networks at Pompeii?

Another one from the AIA shindig/LiveScience/Stephanie Pappas … since most of our readers will be aware of Pompeii political graffiti, we’ll jump to the end of this one about the work of Eeva-Maria Viitanen from the University of Helsinki:

[…] The first find was that politicians wanted an audience. The campaign ads were almost invariably on heavily trafficked streets, Viitanen reported Friday (Jan. 4) at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Seattle.

The second, more surprising, discovery, was that the most popular spots for ads were private houses rather than bars or shops that would see a lot of visitors.

“Bars were probably more populated, but could their customers read and would they vote?” Viitanen said.

Some 40 percent of the ads were on prestigious houses, she said, which is notable because there were only a third as many lavish homes as there were bars, shops and more modest residences. Clearly, candidates were vying for space on the homes of the wealthy.

That discovery makes Viitanen and her colleagues think the ads reveal early social networking. It seems likely that candidates would need permission from the homeowner to paint their ads, suggesting the graffiti is something of an endorsement.

The research is preliminary and not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal, and Viitanen said there is much more work to do to map the social networks revealed on the ancient walls.

“So far, we have barely scratched the surface on this,” she said. “There are hundreds of texts and locations, and it takes a lot of time to go through them all.”

Interesting Black Sea Hoard

The incipit of an Owen Jarus piece at LiveScience:

Residents of a town under siege by the Roman army about 2,000 years ago buried two hoards of treasure in the town’s citadel — treasure recently excavated by archaeologists.

More than 200 coins, mainly bronze, were found along with “various items of gold, silver and bronze jewelry and glass vessels” inside an ancient fortress within the Artezian settlement in the Crimea (in Ukraine), the researchers wrote in the most recent edition of the journal Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia.

“The fortress had been besieged. Wealthy people from the settlement and the neighborhood had tried to hide there from the Romans. They had buried their hoards inside the citadel,” Nikolaï Vinokurov, a professor at Moscow State Pedagogical University, explained. [See Photos of the Buried Treasure]

Artezian, which covered an area of at least 3.2 acres (1.3 hectares) and also had a necropolis (a cemetery), was part of the Bosporus Kingdom. At the time, the kingdom’s fate was torn between two brothers —Mithridates VIII, who sought independence from Rome, and his younger brother, Cotys I, who was in favor of keeping the kingdom a client state of the growing empire. Rome sent an army to support Cotys, establishing him in the Bosporan capital and torching settlements controlled by Mithridates, including Artezian.

People huddled in the fortress for protection as the Romans attacked, but Vinokurov said they knew they were doomed. “We can say that these hoards were funeral sacrifices. It was obvious for the people that they were going to die shortly,” he wrote in an email to LiveScience. The siege and fall of the fortress occurred in AD 45.

Curiously, each hoard included exactly 55 coins minted by Mithridates VIII. “This is possibly just a simple coincidence, or perhaps these were equal sums received by the owners of these caskets from the supporters of Mithridates,” the team wrote in its paper. […]

… as indicated, there’s a photo that accompanies the article (and a slide show). Is it right to call it a hoard when it seems obviously an offering of some sort (I’ve wondered this about many ‘coin hoards’ as well). We always seem to link these things to times of troubles and ‘hiding’ things … maybe we need to start thinking simply in terms of offerings …

WCC Honours for Helen King

From an Open University press release:

Professor Helen King has been awarded a prize by the Women’s Classical Caucus for the best article published in the last three years relating to their mission of ‘fostering the study of gender, sexuality, feminist theory, or women’s history’.

The winning article by Professor King, Professor of Classical Studies at the OU called Galen and the widow, questions existing orthodoxy on the history of masturbation as something practised by doctors on women in the ancient world and beyond.
Professor King challenges assumptions made by Rachel Maines in her book published in 1999, The Technology of Orgasm. Maines argued that therapeutic masturbation had a very long history even before technological change enabled the development of the object at the centre of her research, the vibrator.

“I have found that Maines’ work obscures female agency,” Professor King said. “She uses a translation of Galen’s text from which female healers and midwives are absent. Galen presents women’s desire as based on expelling their ’female seed’: Maines too assumes that this is all about an orgasm modelled on the male, playing into a male fantasy of passive women waiting for men to give them pleasure.”

The Women’s Classical Caucus was founded in 1972 to foster feminist and gender-informed perspectives in the study and teaching of all aspects of ancient Mediterranean cultures and classical antiquity. Based in the USA, it works to advance the goals of equality and diversity within Classics. For further information, visit:

CJ Online Review: Ruzicka, Trouble in the West

posted with permission:

Trouble in the West: Egypt and the Persian Empire 525–332 BCE. By Stephen Ruzicka. Oxford Studies in Early Empires. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. xxv + 311. Hardcover, $74.00/£45.00. ISBN 978-0-19-976662-8.

Reviewed by Jan P. Stronk, Universiteit van Amsterdam

Though ancient Greek historians frequently make it appear that Greece was the main concern in the west for the Achaemenid Persian kings, figures present a different picture. It seems, therefore, appropriate to seek for a (more) balanced view on Persian interests in the west. Greek sources “make possible at least a skeletal account of the sixth–fourth-century Persian-Egyptian conflict” (xxiv–xxv). Such an account should, though, be fleshed out with additional evidence.

Ruzicka has set himself the task to provide, in twenty chapters, such a fleshed out account. The first chapter (3–13) starts with developments as early as the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE before it ends with the announcement of Cambyses’ campaign against Egypt in 525 BCE. Chapter 20 (210–18) constitutes both a short synthesis of the intervening chapters and a preview of developments in the Hellenistic period and beyond. In the chapters between, Ruzicka follows the Achaemenid Persian–Egyptian relation in chronological order.

A substantial part of the book (chapters 5–18) is devoted to the period of 401–341 BCE, when Persia had lost control of Egypt. The attention to this period fits the book’s title: it is the period in which the situation in Egypt was a major concern for the Achaemenids. Ruzicka describes, wherever possible, Persia’s strategies and actions in some detail, mainly based upon Greek literary texts. His treatment of these sources is not always satisfactory, however: regarding a passage of Diodorus (Diod. 15.93.1–6), e.g., he provides on the same page (152) two contradictory analyses, not signalling the different approach.

The downside of his method is indicated by Ruzicka himself, explaining that as a consequence of the King’s Peace of 386 BCE, Greek “sources turn primarily to Greek mainland affairs and provide only sparse information about developments in Anatolia and the eastern Mediterranean” (83). Though archaeological evidence might fill some gaps, Ruzicka uses it (too) sparsely. The same applies for his use of numismatic evidence.

I have some problems with Ruzicka’s explanation for Persian expansion towards Egypt. First he mentions that it was “Cyrus’ strategy … to seek secure frontiers” (13); next he affirms Diodorus’ observation (Diod. 1.31.6; 15.42.1) that “Egypt was ‘fortified on all sides by nature’” (14) and that it generally was difficult to get to Egypt. Not to invade Egypt would, then, seem like having quite a secure frontier. Ruzicka points at Assyrian expansion into Egypt in the past and Egypt’s role in “the middle territory” (i.e., Phoenicia, Philistia and adjacent territories) to explain the Achaemenids’ almost constant urge to conquer Egypt. He fails to notice the inconsistency of ambitions that becomes visible by Persia’s obvious incapability of securing a safe border on Egypt’s western side. A more thorough analysis of Persian motives to (continue to) involve itself in Egypt might well have served the book’s purpose.

Ruzicka pays much attention to the interaction between the occurrences in the Aegean basin and those in Egypt and the “middle territory” as well as Persia’s role and activities in both theatres. Ruzicka’s analyses, e.g. on the Persian-Athenian détente between c. 465 and 415 BCE, on the miscalculation of Abrocomas regarding Amyrtaeus’ revolt in the period 404–401, and the relationship between the location and military importance of Egyptian Memphis are interesting and to the point.

The same conclusion goes for Ruzicka’s discussion of the Persians’ arrival in Egypt around 525 BCE. Starting with Herodotus’ account, he complements it with Egyptian sources, like the text on the stele of Udjahorresnet.[[1]] This text significantly alters the picture of Cambyses drawn by Herodotus. The image emerging from Ruzicka’s account of Cambyses, and later of Darius I, as an Egyptian king, seems to be largely correct and is, moreover, supported by Egyptian monuments. The consequences of the “fateful decision” (28) of Xerxes to administer Egypt as a Persian king sufficiently prove the importance of royal identity for the Egyptians. The discussion of the stela of Somtutefnakht (197) provides a welcome addition to the accounts of the conquest of Egypt by Artaxerxes III. This also goes for Ruzicka’s discussion of the importance of the site of Bubastis in Egypt (188–9). On these topics Ruzicka does succeed in fleshing out Greek accounts. In Chapter 19 (199–209), moreover, discussing a period for which there is no Greek account, he fills the vacuum by presenting some relevant texts like Ptolemy’s so-called Satrap Stela.

In spite of the critical remarks above, I am pleased with this account of the Achaemenids’ western policy, an account, moreover, accessible to a wider audience. Possibly this aim of accessibility led to the decision to assemble all references into a single corpus of endnotes (227–83). Such a solution, however, does not invite or challenge the reader to follow up on the evidence: at the very least, a missed opportunity. For a wider audience the appendixes (A and B: 219–22) may be very helpful. The bibliography (285–306, with some emphasis on publications in English) is good, as are the maps (xiv–xviii) and the index (307–11).


[[1]] I am, though, slightly at a loss why Ruzicka displays (111) a photograph of the statue of the priestess Utahorresenet, dating to the Ptolemaic period, instead of the statue of physician and admiral Udjahorresnet, that should be dated to 519 BCE (cf., e.g., A.B. Lloyd, “The Inscription of Udjaḥorresnet: A Collaborator’s Testament,” JEA 68 (1982) 166–80 at 166), even though both statues look somewhat similar, have similar names, and sit in the same museum.

Getty Returns Head of Hades

… and we didn’t know it was missing! From a Getty press release (sent directly to me!):

The J. Paul Getty Museum announced today plans to voluntarily return a terracotta head to Sicily representing the god Hades and dating to about 400–300 B.C. The Museum acquired the sculpture in 1985.

Joint research with colleagues in Sicily over the past two years has yielded previously unknown information on the likely provenance of the sculpture suggesting that it was appropriate to return the object. In keeping with the principle of repatriating works when compelling evidence warrants it, the decision to transfer this head is based on the discovery of four terracotta fragments found near Morgantina in Sicily, similar in style and medium to the Getty head. Getty Museum curators initiated discussions with Sicilian colleagues on the possible relationship between the head and the fragments in 2011, and then worked with the director of the Morgantina Archaeological Park to corroborate the identification. These fragments indicate that the original location of the head was the site of a sanctuary of Demeter, which was clandestinely excavated in the late 1970s.

“The Getty greatly values its relationship with our Sicilian colleagues, which culminated in the 2010 Cultural Collaboration Agreement,” said Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “This collaboration has brought significant opportunities for scholarly dialogue, joint conservation projects, and loans, most notably the ‘Charioteer’ from Mozia that is currently undergoing a thorough seismic conservation assessment and remounting in our conservation studios.”

According to Enrico Caruso, director of the Parco Archeologico di Morgantina, “Close collaboration with the Getty’s curators and conservators on the examination of the head has allowed us to give a name to the sanctuary shrine where several fragments of its curls of hair were found in 1978, as well as a name to the Getty’s anonymous sculpture. It is Hades, god of the Underworld, the terracotta body of which is in the course of an extensive restoration in the Archaeological Museum in Aidone.”

The head will be transferred to the Museo Archeologico in Aidone after it goes on display in the Getty-organized traveling exhibition Sicily: Art and Invention between Greece and Rome. The exhibition will be on view at the Getty Villa from April 3 to August 19, 2013, the Cleveland Museum of Art from September 30, 2013 to January 5, 2014, and will end at the Palazzo Ajutamicristo in Palermo from February to June 2014. The head is currently on view at the Getty Villa as part of the special installation The Sanctuaries of Demeter and Persephone at Morgantina until January 21, 2013.

See David Gill’s commentary as well:

Erotic Fresco (and Graffiti) From the Colosseum

Kind of surprised this isn’t getting more coverage … via AFP:

Italian archaeologists have found brightly coloured fragments of frescoes depicting heroic and erotic scenes inside a corridor of the Colosseum in Rome, along with samples of ancient graffiti.

“We have found traces of decorations in blue, red and green,” Rossella Rea, director of the 2,000-year-old amphitheatre, told AFP.

The fragments “seem to depict the glory of the gladiator world, with laurels, arrows, victory wreaths and even erotic scenes,” the Repubblica newspaper said.

The frescoes were found in a corridor currently closed to the public while archaeologists were working to restore an area between the second and third floor of the Colosseum, which has fallen into disrepair in recent years.

“We have also found writing dating back to the 17th century as well as the signatures of spectators and foreign visitors” who had come to watch the Colosseum’s famed gladiatorial contests and mock sea battles, Rea said.

“We hope to be able to find other traces in this corridor but that depends on the funds available to continue with the restoration,” she added.

The frescoes are located in an area covering several square feet in a corridor which is around sixty metres long, and should be open to the public by summer 2014, Rea said.

The Colosseum, which was completed in 80 AD by the Roman emperor Titus and is now one of the most visited sites in the world, is in a pitiful state.

Bits of stone, blackened by pollution, have fallen off in previous years, and some experts have voiced concern that the foundations are sinking, giving the amphitheatre a lean.

The number of visitors to the Colosseum, which measures 188 metres (620 feet) by 156 metres and is 48.5 metres high, has increased from a million to around six million a year over the past decade thanks mainly to the blockbuster film “Gladiator”.

… no photos yet … then again, there really isn’t much coverage of this one yet. One would suspect the fresco was to ‘encourage’ the gladiators in regards to what success might bring?

The coverage finally arrived:

Classical Words of the Day


This Day in Ancient History: ante diem iii idus januarias

ante diem iii idus januarias

  • Carmentalia begins (day 1) — a two-day festival (with a three day break between the days) in honour of the deity Carmenta, who was possibly a goddess of both childbirth and prophecy.
  • 49 B.C. — Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon (by another reckoning)
  • ?? B.C. — dedication of the Temple of Juturna in the Campus Martius
  • 29 B.C. — Octavian closes the doors of the Temple of Janus, signifying the Roman world was at peace