Video: Brian Rose on the ‘Warts and All’ Thing

And we might as well include official descriptions of these UPenn videos too:

When one visualizes the Roman Republic, the first image that usually comes to mind is that of a male aristocrat whose portrait bears the signs of advanced age: incised lines on or around the forehead, eyes, and mouth, and short, closely cropped hair that is often receding. On occasion there is no hair at all, and the irregularly shaped heads frequently feature large ears, thick lips, and sharply aquiline noses. Why did the Romans choose such an unusual type, and how long did it remain in vogue? In this lecture, Dr. C. Brian Rose, Curator-in-Charge, Mediterranean Section, answers these and other questions about Roman portraits, and presents new archaeological evidence from the northern Galilee that bears on the date of the type’s creation.

Classics Confidential: Daniela Manetti on Ancient Medicine

I think I’ll include the original description with these Classics Confidential posts …

This week’s interview features Professor Daniela Manetti from the University of Florence, who at the time of filming was visiting the Humboldt University in Berlin as part of the research programme ‘Medicine of the Mind, Philosophy of the Body: Discourses of Health and Well-Being in the Ancient World’. Professor Manetti has published on a wide variety of ancient medical texts, but in this conversation she focuses on the intriguing papyrus fragment known to us as the Anonymus Londinensis, which was found in Egypt and bought by the British Library in 1889. This text, which discusses the multiple causes of illness, is a treasure trove for ancient medical historians, but it also gives us a unique and precious insight into the processes of ancient textual composition.

Corruption Scandal at Pompeii!

This one’s snaking through the various British papers … the Guardian seems to have the most details:

Italian police have arrested a former restorer of Pompeii on corruption charges and are investigating five others, including the former commissioner appointed to deal with the increasing degradation of the historic site.

Italy declared a state of emergency in 2008 at Pompeii after archaeologists and art historians complained about the poor upkeep of the crumbling site, pointing to mismanagement and lack of investment. A special commissioner, Marcello Fiori, was also appointed for the Unesco world heritage site, an ancient Roman city which was buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

But investigators say Fiori and the director of restoration at the time, Luigi D’Amora, awarded irregular contracts to the restoration services company Caccavo and paid inflated prices for its work. Collapsed walls and columns since 2008 have renewed concerns about the condition of the site.

Prosecutors say the officials broke the terms of the state of emergency, overspent on various restoration projects and agreed to non-essential work on Pompeii, one of Italy’s most popular attractions, visited by 2.5 million tourists each year. They have accused Fiori of abuse of office while D’Amora is being investigated for fraud.

Police have put Annamaria Caccavo under house arrest and are investigating her for aiding abuse of office, corrupting a public official and fraud.

The company has been banned from doing business with public administration and police have ordered the seizure of €810,788 worth of its assets. Three engineers are also being investigated for fraud and corruption.

The accused parties were not immediately available for comment.

… sadly, whenever we read about funding for Pompeii, I’ve always had this incident from five or six years ago lurking in the back of my head: Pompeii Vandalism

H-Net Review: Atkinson, Queen Salome: Jerusalem’s Warrior Monarch of the First Century B.C.E.

Kenneth Atkinson. Queen Salome: Jerusalem’s Warrior Monarch of the
First Century B.C.E. Jefferson McFarland and Company, 2012. 296
pp. $45.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7864-7002-0.

Reviewed by Karl C. Randall
Published on H-War (February, 2013)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

Queen Salome is an interesting but long-overlooked figure in ancient
history. Kenneth Atkinson has finally redressed this oversight in his
work _Queen Salome__._ Atkinson has taken great pains to gather every
source of information on Salome Alexandra, making it the only
comprehensive work about her life. The author’s evaluation and
collation of sources relating the same event are both careful and
clear. Some materials, such as Josephus, are stripped of their bias
while others, such as sections of the _Gemara_, which are often
discounted as non-contemporary, have been included–but only after
proving that they are either clearly based on or match earlier works.
In short, Atkinson has done a masterful job of gathering and vetting
his source material.

Given the topic of the book and the fact that a number of the primary
sources take a strongly patriarchal slant, it is only natural that
_Queen Salome_ includes a fair amount of information regarding the
life and lot of females during the first century BCE and female
rulers in particular to provide contextual balance not shown in
source material. Atkinson skillfully teases out the truth hidden
behind the almost complete purge of Queen Salome’s accomplishments
that has occurred with the passage of time. At times, however,
Atkinson pushes the issue somewhat harder than necessary and his tone
occasionally takes on a decidedly feminist slant.

The sum total of information directly mentioning or alluding to Queen
Salome, however, remains woefully small, a fact that will remain
unchanged unless new sources come to light. To compensate for such a
narrow array of sources, Atkinson wisely chose to expand his focus to
include Queen Salome’s immediate family, ancestors and descendants,
and other female rulers of her time. While this expansion is well
done and natural given the dearth of source material, the finished
work is somewhat less of a biography of a single person than a
history of Hasmonean-ruled Judea. That being said, Atkinson’s work
remains the first and only unified work on Queen Salome and as such
it is worthy of praise.

The book provides sufficient amount of background information on
early Jewish beliefs that adds a layer of depth and understanding to
not only the Jewish religion and its early beliefs, but also to how
those beliefs affected the relationship of first-century Judea with
foreign influences and foreign nationals and others in the region.
The inclusion of this background information is vital to anyone not
conversant with Jewish customs and traditions of the period, making
it a boon to both laymen and professional historians not specialized
in biblical or Judean studies.

_Queen Salome_ does have its flaws though. Atkinson’s prose
occasionally becomes slightly repetitive, and transitions are choppy
early on–most particularly in the preface. This flaw largely
subsides as the work progresses, as the author becomes more
comfortable with his task. The book also contains upward of a dozen
typographical errors. While none of the errors are critical, the
combination of these two problems gives the impression that _Queen
Salome_ could have benefited from a slightly more stringent editorial
process prior to release.

It is my sincere hope that the lack of polish does not deter
prospective readers, for Atkinson has managed to create a volume that
is both comprehensive and original in focus, a rare accomplishment
indeed. For anyone wishing to learn more about Queen Salome’s
remarkable life and accomplishments, Atkinson’s volume is the first
and only source on the subject. Of interest for anyone in gender
studies, or classical or biblical history, it manages to be of use to
both the layman and the serious scholar alike.

Citation: Karl C. Randall. Review of Atkinson, Kenneth, _Queen
Salome: Jerusalem’s Warrior Monarch of the First Century B.C.E._.
H-War, H-Net Reviews. February, 2013.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Moving Mithras Update

The incipit of a piece in the Londonist:

British archaeology has enjoyed a surge of interest of late, with the recent unearthing of Richard III in a certain Leicester car park. However, one London archaeological site remains in limbo: the Temple of Mithras is still waiting for its new home, as one of the City’s biggest ever digs continues.

The temple, dating from 240AD, has been dismantled and is currently in storage with the Museum of London. It’s awaiting a permanent home in the rebuilt Bucklersbury House on Queen Victoria Street, which is set to be the European headquarters of media giant Bloomberg LP.

Bloomberg was granted planning permission in 2010 to uproot the temple’s remains and incorporate them into its new corporate base. However, work on the £300m project, designed by Foster + Partners, hasn’t yet begun. The site, occupying a huge city block, is still a big hole in the ground. Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), which is leading the project to move the temple, says it will be “a matter of years” before it is once again visible to the public.

Part of the delay has to do with ongoing excavation work on the Queen Victoria Street site, which has evolved into the Walbrook Discovery Programme, one of the largest digs undertaken in the City of London, according to MOLA, with more than 50 archaeologists combing through the mud of the Roman River Walbrook.

“The ground conditions are perfect for preserving organic remains and hundreds of metal, wood, bone and leather artefacts and wooden structures are being recovered and recorded,” MOLA says. “These finds will contribute to our understanding of life in this part of Roman London and will help to tell the story of the development of the Mithras site.”

The dig has uncovered the original foundations of the Temple of Mithras, which will inform a more accurate reconstruction. “Bloomberg LP will restore the temple to its original Roman location and in a more historically accurate guise,” says MOLA. “Upon completion of Bloomberg’s new development, the new reconstruction of the Temple of Mithras will be housed in a purpose-built and publicly accessible interpretation space within their new building.”

There’s still no word on what that space will look like, or whether it will take any cues from a similar space designed to display the nearby London Stone, which is also awaiting removal to new premises in a corporate building. The City of London Corporation did tell us, however, that the temple will be in a new display area at ground and basement level with a separate entrance as part of the new building. […]

… this is a rather long delay, see, e.g. Temple of Mithras to be restored to its original location (Past Horizons) … not sure if we covered it previously

CJ Online Review: Forsdyke, Slaves Tell Tales

posted with permission:

Slaves Tell Tales. And Other Episodes in the Politics of Popular Culture in Ancient Greece. By Sara Forsdyke. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2012. Pp. xiii + 265. Hardcover, $39.95/£27.95. ISBN 978­-0-14005–6.

Reviewed by Carl A. Anderson, Michigan State University

In this original and imaginative study, Sara Forsdyke seeks to understand the ways that ordinary farmers, craftsmen and slaves in ancient Greece made sense of their world and their place in it. Following an introduction, the book is organized into two major sections, Discourses and Practices, each of which contains two chapters. Endnotes for the individual chapters are followed by the Epilogue. The bibliography, index locorum and general index round out the work.

The introductory chapter, “Peasants, Politics, and Popular Culture,” asks how historians of ancient Greece might begin to recover a world view of non-elites given the paucity of surviving evidence. For the perspectives and experiences of these groups Forsdyke suggests going beyond the confines of ancient Greek history to examine comparative studies of popular culture from later historical periods, and argues how such an approach might be used to produce an analysis of non-elite culture in ancient Greece. She is careful to stress the importance of recognizing the distinct social and cultural context of ancient Greece in the study. Forsdyke offers a brief survey of relevant research of cultural historians, political theorists and anthropologists of popular culture and concludes with an overview of her key assumptions before moving on to a more detailed discussion comparing the economy, social structure and political institutions of the Greek city state with those of the other societies that she surveys.

Part One: Discourses

This part begins with Chapter 2, the longest chapter in the book, “Slaves Tell Tales: The Culture of Subordinate Groups in Ancient Greece.” Forsdyke draws on the political scientist James Scott’s model of the “hidden transcript” and the “public transcript” in popular culture to show how oral story-telling, folk tales, fables and proverbs can appeal to non-elite audiences, but also function to affirm the ideology of the dominant social class.[[1]] The “hidden transcript” is defined as the ways peasants and disempowered groups talk about and understand their place in the world among themselves when those in authority are not present. The “public transcript” concerns the ways such groups present themselves before their social superiors.

The first case study is the tale of the Chian slave-hero Drimakos, whom both masters and slaves honored in cult (Athen. 265d–266e). Drimakos ran away to the mountains, established a refuge for slaves fleeing cruel uncaring masters, conducted raids on the local landowners, and negotiated a treaty and armistice. Surprisingly, the story also presents Drimakos advocating the return of slaves who fled their owners without justification, and appearing in dreams after his death to warn certain masters of the plots their slaves were making against them. Forsdyke points to the tale of the Roman bandit hero Bulla Felix as another example of a marginal figure negotiating benefits for his followers by engaging the ruling class. The author links these two tales as well as other forms of story telling, such as proverbs, animal fables, and tricksters tales, to the themes of role reversal, fantasies of magical abundance, and revenge of the weak against the strong common to popular culture. Whether they circulated in ancient Greece or Rome, early modern Europe, the slave experience of the antebellum United States, or modern peasant society in Malaysia, these informal modes of communication, the author suggests, are key to uncovering the hidden perspectives and world views of non-elite groups in ancient Greece.

The remainder of this chapter concerns the ways in which the story of Drimakos can be understood as a collaborative creation of slaves and masters. Forsdyke begins with a proverb attributed to a comedy of Eupolis: “A Chian has bought himself a master” (PCG 5: 296). What matters is that the proverb shows that slaves (at least in fantasy) could be “on top.” Advancing this observation, she suggests that the proverb in Eupolis’ comedy may have something to do with the fact that “there was something about the slaves of Chios that made them a fertile source of the popular imagination, even in Athens” (85). This has some support in the historical record (cf. Thuc, 8.39.3, 8.40.2), inviting Forsdyke to speculate that slaves and masters invented the tale of Drimakos “to stabilize their relations: a dual hero-cult and corresponding aetiological legend through which slaves and masters enacted and articulated the terms of their mutual accommodation” (87). This strikes the reader as a fresh and original interpretation that explains what appears merely to be an entertaining story. It also invites the reader to reflect anew on the ways in which stories told by or about slaves in Greek literature might be understood by enslaved populations in the ancient Greek world.

In Chapter 3, “Pigs, Asses, and Swine: Obscenity and the Popular Imagination in Ancient Sicyon,” Forsdyke analyzes Herodotus’s story about how the tyrant Cleisthenes ridiculed the inhabitants of Sicyon by renaming the Dorian tribes of the city after lowly barnyard animals, pigs, asses, and swine, and about how he attempted to expel the cult of the Argive hero Adrastus in order to introduce the rival cult of Melanippus (5.67–8). She argues that these stories are in fact invented fifth-century anti-tyrannical traditions projected back into the past. She further suggests that the names of the Dorian tribes and introduction of the cult of Adrastus were not adopted at Sicyon until the late sixth century. She draws comparative evidence from Mikhail Bakhtin’s observation that the blurring of distinctions between the animal and human is a key characteristic of the popular attacks on officials of the Middle Ages,[[2]] and the model of “peer-polity interaction” centered on ethnic identity and inter-polis cultic competition to support her interpretations. Of necessity the arguments of this chapter are speculative.

Part Two: Practices

In Chapter 4, “Revelry and Riot in Ancient Megara: Democratic Disorder or Role Reversal?”[[3]] Forsdyke focuses on several accounts in Plutarch about the poor rioting and resorting to violence against the wealthy in archaic Megara (Moralia 295c–d, 304c–f). Modern historians have tended to regard Plutarch’s explanation of these incidents as evidence of a radical democracy in sixth-century Megara. Forsdyke rejects this view. Instead, she looks to accounts of rituals of temporary breakdowns and inversions of social hierarchies and norms from early modern Europe and elsewhere as a way to analyze the account in Plutarch. These comparative models, she argues, suggest a pattern across historical periods of ritualized violence and rioting as an informal, extra-legal, means for negotiating relief and reforms rather than as a form of revolutionary action. Thus the festive revelry by the poor of sixth-century Megara, apparently spinning out of control spontaneously, can be understood not as an example of the violent nature of radical democracy, a popular fourth-century critique, but as an expression of popular discontent aimed at forcing the wealthy elite to take responsibility for the distress of the poor.

In Chapter 5, “Street Theater and Popular Justice in Ancient Greece,” Forsdyke examines street theater and extra-judicial forms of punishment through practices of public shaming, particularly in cases of adultery, the collective razing of the houses of elites, and community stoning of those seen as public enemies. The author argues that these manifestations of informal extra-legal traditions overlapped and complemented institutional modes of justice, and “could also serve as a mechanism for the symbolic disciplining of the elites by the masses” (175). In both this chapter and the previous chapter of this section, Forsdyke argues that the poor as well as women and slaves participated in these rituals. She usefully summarizes the arguments of the case studies presented in the individual chapters in the epilogue.

This is a well argued and thoughtful book. Given the absence of written texts to illustrate the experiences and perspectives of common people in ancient Greece, Forsdyke must rely by necessity on inference and conjecture. Some readers may question aspects of her interpretations, as is the case with all comparative historical reconstructions, about the individual case studies and about the ways of using comparative evidence. But the fact remains that this study suggests largely unrecognized ways for ancient historians to draw on comparative history and social science research to construct a productive methodology for the study of ancient Greek popular culture.

The text is well edited. I noticed only two corrigenda, “another way…” p. 47, and “Athenaeus reminds…” p. 75.


[[1]] J. C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, 1990).

[[2]] M. Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, translated by Hélène Iswolsky (Bloomington, 1984).

[[3]] This chapter contexualizes the author’s article of the same title, “Revelry and Riot in Ancient Megara: Democratic Disorder or Role Reversal?” JHS 125 (2005) 73–92.

Classical Words of the Day


This Day in Ancient History: ante diem viii idus februarias

ante diem viii idus februarias

  • 46 B.C. — victory of Julius Caesar over pro-Pompey forces at Thapsus
  • 300 A.D. — martyrdom of Theophilus Scholasticus ‘The Lawyer’
  • 1811 — birth of H.G. Liddell (co-author of the massive Greek Lexicon which is still standard and father of Alice in Wonderland)
  • 2001 — death of Emily Vermeule (author of Greece in the Bronze Age, among several other works)