Catching Up with Cambyses’ Lost Army

Longtime readers of rogueclassicism will recall a short series of posts dealing with claims about Cambyses’ army which supposedly disappeared in the Egyptian desert lo those many years ago:

As such, a press release from Leiden University (from a month or so ago) offering an alternative explanation is of obvious interest:

It is one of the greatest archaeological mysteries of all times: the disappearance of a Persian army of 50,000 men in the Egyptian desert around 524 BC. Leiden Professor Olaf Kaper unearthed a cover-up affair and solved the riddle.

It must have been a sand storm, writes the Greek historian Herodotus. He tells the story of the Persian King Cambyses, who entered the Egyptian desert near Luxor (then Thebes) with 50,000 men. The troops supposedly never returned; they were swallowed by a sand dune. A fantastic tale that was long the subject of many debates.

Long quest

Egyptologist Olaf Kaper never believed it: ‘Since the 19th century, people have been looking for this army: amateurs, as well as professional archaeologists. Some expect to find somewhere under the ground an entire army, fully equipped. However, experience has long shown that you cannot die from a sandstorm, let alone have an entire army disappear.’

Petoebastis III

Kaper is now putting forward an entirely different explanation. He argues that the army did not disappear, but was defeated. ‘My research shows that the army was not simply passing through the desert; its final destination was the Dachla Oasis. This was the location of the troops of the Egyptian rebel leader Petubastis III. He ultimately ambushed the army of Cambyses, and in this way managed from his base in the oasis to reconquer a large part of Egypt, after which he had himself crowned Pharaoh in the capital, Memphis.’

Spin doctor

The fact that the fate of the army of Cambyses remained unclear for such a long time is probably due to the Persian King Darius I, who ended the Egyptian revolt with much bloodshed two years after Cambyses’ defeat. Like a true spin doctor, he attributed the shameful defeat of his predecessor to natural elements. Thanks to this effective manipulation, 75 years after the events, all Herodotus could do was take note of the sandstorm story.

Pieces of the puzzle

Kaper made this discovery accidentally; he was not looking for it actively. In collaboration with New York University and the University of Lecce, he was involved for the last ten years in excavations in Amheida, in the Dachla Oasis. Earlier this year, he deciphered the full list of titles of Petubastis III on ancient temple blocks. ‘That’s when the puzzle pieces fell into place’, says the Egyptologist. ‘The temple blocks indicate that this must have been a stronghold at the start of the Persian period. Once we combined this with the limited information we had about Petubastis III, the excavation site and the story of Herodotus, we were able to reconstruct what happened.’

See also:

Seems like a reasonable explanation; I doubt it will stop folks from speculating, though …

Stephen Fine and YU Students Tracking the Temple Menorah

When last we heard about Stephen Fine and his crack teams of Yeshiva University students, they were detecting the colour of the Temple Menorah on the Arch of Titus (The Golden Menorah on the Arch of Titus). Now the WSJ reports on their activities checking into the semi-frequent claims that the Temple Menorah, after the sack, eventually ended up in some secret place in the Vatican. Definitely research we need on record here (and a tip ‘o the pileus to Joseph Lauer for alerting us to the article):

It is a tale that seems at home in an espionage thriller about ancient religious secrets, such as the “The Da Vinci Code.”

For nearly 2,000 years, stories have circulated about the ultimate fate of sacred Jewish objects plundered from the Jerusalem Temple by Romans in A.D. 70—including a human-size, solid-gold Menorah. One widely shared theory among some Jews holds that the artifacts are hidden inside the Vatican, which many believe inherited the wealth of the Roman Empire.

There is only one problem, say many scholars: It isn’t true.

Steven Fine, a Jewish history professor at Yeshiva University, has dedicated the past two decades to debunking these stories. This summer, he turned the question into the subject of his class on the Arch of Titus, an ancient monument still standing outside the Roman Forum that commemorates the capture of Jerusalem and depicts the Menorah being paraded through the streets of Rome in A.D. 71.

The assignment was prompted by a recent public flare-up: In late May, Mr. Fine spotted an open letter to then-Israeli President Shimon Peres. In it, Israeli Rabbi Yonatan Shtencel urged Mr. Peres to approach the Vatican and ask for the return of the Menorah, a cultural symbol so important it is pictured on Israel’s state seal.

“I have a myth to kill,” said Mr. Fine, speaking of the secret-Vatican-hoard theory. Mr. Fine is writing a book about the Menorah and its many legends, to be published next year by Harvard University Press. “If we don’t nip it, it’s going to get worse,” he said.

In their own letter to Mr. Peres sent last month, Mr. Fine’s students disputed each assertion in the rabbi’s letter, after contacting his sources and consulting rare books. They haven’t received a response from Mr. Peres, who left office this month, they said.

Rabbi Shtencel said he hadn’t read the Yeshiva University response because it is in English, but said, “These aren’t my claims. I am relying on several extremely serious sources.”

Among them: Shimon Shetreet, a former Israeli minister of religious affairs, who said he raised the question of the artifacts during a meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1996 and separately with the Vatican’s secretary of state, but got no answer. He wasn’t surprised by that, he said, because “they are a very silent organization.”

He said the issue wasn’t raised when Mr. Peres traveled to the Vatican in early June.

“No one can dispute that they were taken to Rome,” said Mr. Shetreet of the artifacts. “The question is what happened. It lies between legends, rumors and facts.”

The Vatican dismissed accusations that it had the objects in a statement provided to The Wall Street Journal.

“I had heard once in the past rumors about such [a] story. But I never thought it was worthy of attention,” said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman. “It belongs to the genre ‘mysteries of the Vatican,’ in which some people exercise their fantasy.”

Paolo Liverani, a professor at the University of Florence, said he received a handful of letters every year asking about the Menorah when he worked at the Vatican as a museum curator, but never came across the artifacts in the Vatican storerooms.

Still, he said, “it is very difficult to demonstrate things that don’t exist.”

Scholars say the myth surfaced in the U.S. during the 1950s and ’60s, as the Vatican was working to improve relations with Jews in the wake of World War II. Additionally, they say troves of lost, buried Jewish treasures do exist—many hidden by Nazis.

“There’s a whole world of subterranean manuscripts and antiquities,” said Prof. Lawrence Schiffman, director of the Global Institute for Advanced Research in Jewish Studies at New York University. “A lot of that world is real.”

But, he said, the Vatican theory isn’t. “The story was created in the 20th century,” Mr. Schiffman said. “There’s no historical continuity.”

Myths are also hard to uproot once they take hold, said Mr. Fine.

“People still feel pain,” Mr. Fine said. “It’s hard to get rid of that.”

Some of Mr. Fine’s students were initially wary of the class assignment. “At first I was almost afraid that this was anti-Jewish,” said David Silber, a 21-year-old rising junior at Yeshiva. “But as we went further, the truth is the truth.”

While the Arch of Titus and rabbinical sources depict the treasures in Rome in ancient times, that doesn’t mean they ended up in storerooms of the Vatican, which was founded centuries later.

Some books Rabbi Shtencel cited in his letter weren’t available in the U.S., so students had friends in Israel track down copies in university libraries there. Scouring the texts, they said they didn’t find any eyewitness accounts of the temple artifacts inside the Vatican, as Rabbi Shtencel had claimed.

Their research didn’t prove that the Vatican doesn’t have the treasures. But “I’m convinced that his proofs are not valid proofs,” Mr. Silber said.

There are many myths surrounding the fate of the Menorah, which is linked with the coming of the Messiah in Jewish lore, experts say. Some hold that it was stashed in a cave in Galilee, others that it lies submerged in silt under the Tiber River in Rome and still others that it is buried under a monastery in the West Bank.

Mr. Fine has his own theory: that it was taken by invaders who ravaged Rome in the fifth and sixth centuries and probably melted down.

“I say to people when I give lectures, ‘Gold doesn’t disappear. Maybe you’re wearing the Menorah in your ring,'” he said. “That’s a really unsatisfying answer for a lot of people.”


If the claim is new to you, you might want to check out The Vatican and the Temple Vessels (reprinted from the December issue of  Ami Magazine) which includes many comments from Rabbi Shtencel and Dr Schiffmann. Almost a decade ago, Dr Fine penned this (available online in pdf):

… which is good for showing why there might be a belief that the Vatican has it somewhere.

Roman Golf Origins?

Something that has popped up on a semi-regular basis (usually in the context of one of golf’s majors) is a claim that golf can be traced back to the Romans. Most recently it’s popped up at the News.Az site in an article that begins:

Some historians trace the sport back to the Roman game of paganica, in which participants used a bent stick to hit a stuffed leather ball. One theory asserts that paganica spread throughout Europe as the Romans conquered most of the continent, during the first century BC, and eventually evolved into the modern game. […]

This link to ‘paganica’ is popular on a pile of sites, all apparently deriving (it seems) from an entry in Encyclopedia Britannica. A little digging and one finds the rather tenuous base on which the claim is made. In an aged tome called Gallus: or, Roman scenes in the time of Augustus, we get a nice summary of what is known about paganica in a section on Roman ball games (I don’t think our knowledge on it has advanced in a century and a half). Here’s the text version (I think I caught all the OCR typos; a link to the original follows):

Roman authors mention numerous varieties of the game of ball, as pila simply, follis or folliculus, trigon, paganica, harpastum, sparsiva, in addition to which we have the expressions, datatim, expulsim, raptim ludere; geminare, revocare, reddere pilam. But it seems that we can only admit of three different kinds of ball; pila, in the more confined sense, the small regular ball, which however might be harder, or more elastic, for different kinds of play; follis, the great ballon, as the name indicates, merely filled with air (like our foot-ball) and paganica. Concerning the use of the last we have the least information; Martial mentions it only in two passages, vii. 32:

Non pila, non follis, non te paganica thermis
Praeparat, aut nudi stipitis ictus hebes.

and xiv. 45:

Haec quae difficili turget paganica pluma,
Folle minus laxa est, et minus arta pila.

As the paganica is opposed in both places to the follis and the pila, and no fourth kind is mentioned in addition to them, we must suppose that one or other of these three balls was used in all varieties of the game. The words paganica, folle minus laxa, minus arta pila, are incorrectly explained by Rader and Mercurialis, as applying to the contents of the ball. The use of both adjectives leaves no doubt that the size of the ball is spoken of, and in this respect it stood between the follis and pila. No doubt it also so far differed from the former, that it was stuffed with feathers, and was consequently somewhat heavier; this is all that we know about it. The poet gives no hint concerning the origin of the name, nor about the game for which it was used. On an intaglio in Beger, (Thes. Brand. 139), a naked male figure sits holding in each hand a ball, supposed to be the paganica, because apparently too small for the follis, and too large for the pila, for they are not clasped within the hand. But this is evidently a very insecure argument, and, as regards the game, nothing would follow from it.

… so it seems likely that the golf connection was solely made on the basis of balls filled with feathers (as were early golf balls); no mention of a ‘club’ really, so, as often, a likely spurious connection.

The Search for Cleo’s Tomb is on Again!

Brief item from CDN (dated February 14) … just the concluding bit:


Explicó que en su visita al presidente Medina le contó de su experiencia, y le informó que ha recibido los permisos de lugar para iniciar una nueva temporada.

La arqueóloga informó que la investigación comenzó en el año 2005 y que actualmente solo le quedan unos meses para finalizar dicha investigación.

“Será el próximo domingo cuando iniciemos la etapa final, la más importante del proyecto y el Presidente de la República se sintió muy orgulloso y me brindó todo su apoyo”, dijo.

In case you don’t want to press the google translate button, basically Martinez has the permit by now and is digging for at least a month … stay tuned.

The “Apollo” of Gaza: A ‘Pedestrian’ Issue?

In one of my previous posts on this puzzing chunk of bronze I mentioned I wanted to have a better look at the base and see how the feet attached. The CNN video has some good shots toward the end, and while I’m still wondering about the attachment, there is another very interesting detail which might be worth noting. Here’s a screencap:


I’m not sure if it is a problem with the camera angle, but it seems to me that the right foot is a “Roman” foot (with the second and third toes the same length as the big toe). The left foot seems to be a “Greek” foot, with the second toe longer than the big toe. As many people who stare at ancient statues like to point out, the “Greek” foot was a sort of ideal, and is seen on most ancient statues … divinities almost always have the “Greek” foot. For the record, I’ve never seen a “Roman” foot on an ancient statue, but, as often, that doesn’t mean anything. That there seems to be a mix of styles again raises the question: Crappy artist or ancient fake? Or modern fake?

The “Apollo” of Gaza Followup: CNN and the Gouging of the Eye

So I’m a Daylight Saving Time zombie here and am killing time wandering down assorted backroads of the internet and I came across a very interesting photo in an arabic newspaper:


Two things of interest here … obviously it’s a CNN exclusive, so it’s a screencap of some sort, and also it looks like the statue still has both eyes! Plenty of us wondered when/why the eye was missing (see, e.g., Sam Hardy’s useful post which includes another photo of the intact eye), so I managed too find the video:

… the shot comes from the beginning and I never did see this video on TV. Clearly, the statue has both eyes, and so the one must have been gouged out before that September ‘press conference’ we mentioned in our timeline post. So where did CNN get this video? This is the jeweller’s video! It’s also clear that the ‘patch’  — as Sam Hardy clarified today — is on the leg.

This video dates from February 16 … how did everyone (especially me) miss it?

UPDATE (a few minutes later): I also notice the left hand is missing quite a few fingers (as we already knew). You don’t suppose Hamas stepped in because they heard that whoever had custody of the statue was snipping off bits here and there? And maybe that ‘press conference’ was them taking custody?

The “Apollo” of Gaza ~ Part II: Questions of Condition and Authenticity

In case you missed our previous installments:

In our previous installment(s) on the so-called “Apollo” of Gaza, we primarily questioned the apparently ever-developing story of the find as told by the fisherman of many names as reported by various news outlets. Now it is time to look at the statue itself and see if it’s possible, from the information we have been given, to discern whether this thing is a genuine antiquity or a fake.

At the outset, though, we should deal with another question related to provenance, specifically whether it was actually found in the sea or not. Despite the engaging story told by the fisherman, opinions on this seem to be divided. Our first opinion comes from the oft-quoted Jean-Michel de Tarragon of the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem, who seems to be one of the few academics consulted on the issue by the press:

The apparently pristine condition of the god suggested it was uncovered on land and not in the sea, he said, speculating that the true location of where it was unearthed was not revealed to avoid arguments over ownership.

“This wasn’t found on the seashore or in the sea … it is very clean. No, it was [found] inland and dry,” he said, adding that there were no signs of metal disfigurement or barnacles that one normally sees on items plucked from water.

An archaeologist from Gaza, Fadel al-Utol, agrees:

Young Gaza archeologist Fadel al-Utol said the statue, with its green patina, was unlikely to have come from beneath the waves.

“It is 90 percent intact and was probably found on land,” he told AFP. “If it had spent time underwater, the bronze would be blackened.”

“It’s more likely that the statue was found in an ancient temple in the Gaza area. We need to search and find out,” he said.

Utol said statues of such a size are rare, although a smaller example is held by the Louvre in Paris.

The Tourism Ministry folks are totally buying into the found-in-the-sea story (which can be spun in numerous ways, depending on how conspiracy-minded one is):

“We are not denying that the statue was found in the sea — as a matter of fact, that is a very authentic and real story,” Al-Burch said.

Jawdat Khoudary, who was one of the first ‘knowledgeable’ folks to observe the statue provides an interesting argument for it being found in the sea:

There’s no doubt the statue came from the sea, Khoudary says. Sitting in the lobby of his hotel on a December evening, he wraps his portly frame in a wool robe and warms his neck with a black-and-white keffiyeh, the emblem of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In his left hand he works a silver coin purchased minutes earlier from two beachcombing treasure hunters. One side of the coin, encrusted with black sand, bears the outline of a face. Khoudary says it’s Alexander the Great, who conquered Gaza in 332 B.C. en route to taking Egypt.

Khoudary lays out his grim reasoning as the lights go off and on, a result of Gaza’s fuel shortage. “I know how they excavate in Gaza, it’s by shoveling,” he says, making the motions of a mechanical backhoe with his hand. In his collection’s catalog, an entry for clay wine jars even lists “bulldozer trenches” as the method of discovery. Clandestine hunters usually dig until they hit something, a process that’s speedy but damages the finds. In the case of the bronze, however, “It’s not damaged,” he says. “It’s 100 percent from the sea.”

Not sure if we need to (cynically?) point out that the same logic could be used to suggest that the statue was never underground in the first place (i.e. It’s a fake).

The second ‘knowledgeable’ observer Bauzou disagreed, however (I’m still not sure of Bauzou’s first name):

Neither Humbert nor Bauzou believes Ghurab discovered the bronze underwater. “It does not come from the sea. It’s obvious,” Bauzou says. The giveaway, they say, is the lack of any sea encrustation or damage from hundreds of years underwater. Instead, they suspect the bronze came from a clandestine excavation somewhere on land. “This story has been fabricated to hide the real place where the statue was found so they can continue digging.”

To its credit, the lengthy Businessweek article (referenced above, of course) does try to weigh the apparent evidence for it not being found in the sea somewhat objectively:

It’s possible the fisherman’s story is an elaborate hoax. It is true the Apollo isn’t encrusted with barnacles, but not all submerged bronzes get crusty. Photos of the 1996 Croatian find and the 1964 Getty bronze show thick layers of sea growth, but the Riace bronzes from 1972 appear to have come ashore with skin as smooth as that of the Gaza bronze. It might be no coincidence they were found under similar conditions: in shallow water, partly buried in sand, by a swimmer.

With that in mind, it is useful to compare (as others have done, most notably Sam Hardy: the Apollo of Gaza: less innocent origins, equally problematic destinations) the find condition of those other statues which were plucked from the sea to get an idea of what we might expect to observe.

Here’s the Croatian Athlete at the time of discovery(I have another post mentioning this one in another context … stay tuned; Sam Hardy’s article above has a different photo):

Department of Underwater Archaeology of Croatia, via UNESCO

Department of Underwater Archaeology of Croatia, via UNESCO

… Here’s the Getty’s ‘Victorious Youth”

via the Getty

… Finally, one of the famous photos of one of the Riace Bronzes:

This one was all over the internet a short while ago; this copy comes from

This one was all over the internet a short while ago; this copy comes from

This is possibly an important detail … if the “Apollo” of Gaza did actually come from the sea and came out looking, patina-wise, like the Riace Bronzes, then the frequently-mentioned concerns about its current condition probably are  even more concerning now (given that we haven’t had any news reports of any conservation help actually being given). The CNN coverage of February 15 mysteriously downplayed the deterioration:

A green spot — a sign of decay — has formed on the leg of the statue, which is exposed to the air.

A (single?) green spot? Anyone who has seen any of the photos has seen a statue that seems to be suffering from the early states of ‘bronze disease’ (or something similar), which can be the result of emerging from the sea and being exposed to air, or it can be the result of highly humid conditions (which does appear to be the case in Gaza … check the weather network for today’s humidity there). It’s difficult to tell whether there has been any change as seen from the two previously-mentioned photos (taken perhaps two weeks apart):

A picture taken in Gaza on Sept. 19, 2013 shows a 2,500-year-old bronze statue of the Greek god Apollo discovered by Palestinian fishermen in August (Gaza's Ministry of Tourism/AFP)

A picture taken in Gaza on Sept. 19, 2013 shows a 2,500-year-old bronze
statue of the Greek god Apollo discovered by Palestinian fishermen
in August (Gaza’s Ministry of Tourism/AFP)


… but it seems noteworthy that the more recent one seems to come from a place which is likely air-conditioned, which would, in theory, slow down the progress of deterioration. Then again, the Businessweek article concluded thusly:

The Apollo is in a Hamas Interior Ministry office, somewhere in Gaza, being kept away from sources of humidity, he says. It is propped up in a corner.

In regards to condition, we should also draw attention to another photo that was making the rounds from the ‘Smurf blanket’ phase:

Rear view of the statue, via the BBC

Rear view of the statue, via the BBC

What’s interesting in this photo is that the back of the statue (including the head)— which was, of course, in contact with the blanket/mattress and not really exposed to air — is largely free from any signs of the green patina. Does this give us an indication of the original condition? Or did moving it on and off the mattress do something to the patina (unlikely).  If it does indicate the original condition,  according to our timeline, all that green patina would have accumulated in less than a month and we can only hope that something more than ‘propping it up in a corner of an office’ is being done about it.

Outside of conservation issues, the statue itself raises a number of questions. A photo from the Palestinian Tourism folks which accompanied the Businessweek article (and appeared elsewhere) seems to touch on many of them:

Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquitiesvia Businessweek, but it is also available elsewhere

Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities via Businessweek, but it is also available elsewhere

A major item that has been bugging me from the outset is the reported weight of this thing: 450 kg/1000 pounds. Why does it weigh so much? Although it is roughly the same size (possibly a bit smaller), it is almost double what each of the Riace Bronzes weighs, and if it is the actual weight, it probably suggests a rather massive core, which certainly wouldn’t be in line with traditional statue construction methods of the time (as far as I’m aware).

The graphic marvels that the feet are intact, but what seems to be more interesting is that they are not only intact, but are attached to their original base. I’m sure someone can correct me on this, but finding bronzes of this size still attached to their base is pretty rare. I’d be very interested to know whether the base was cast with the feet or whether it was later attached.

Two other items on the graphic raise other questions. We are told that three fingers are missing — we know the fisherman had one, his “cousin” (or jeweller) had one too. How did the third go missing? And what happened to the thumb? We also wonder about the eye and are unsure whether it was always missing or was gouged out/fell out later (more on the surviving eye in a bit). In one of the news reports, it “sounds” like it was something that happened later, but that might be just one of those things that comes during the translation of an interview:

Ahmed Elburch, an official at the Hamas-run Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Gaza, says he last saw the statue in October. He was concerned about its condition, he says, as the colour appeared to be changing, and one of the eyes had been cut out.

That said, over the past few weeks a number of us (namely, Sam Hardy, Vernon Silver, Justin Walsh, and myself) have engaged in an on-again, off-again discussion of the statue on Twitter and much of what follows is the result of those discussions. Stylistically, as several, including Sam Hardy have noted the head of the statue seems to have great affinities with a head from Herculaneum, which includes the very interesting ‘dreadlocks’ hair treatment, although they seem a bit more ‘orderly’ along the brow (the photo, by the way, comes from an article by Carol Mattusch on early bronze statuary which is definitely an appropriate read for this: Changing Approaches to Classical Bronze Statuary)

via INAH ... in the above-referenced article

via INAH … in the above-referenced article

The twisty curls also appear in another head from Herculaneum, albeit flatter and in a clearly non-Apolline context (as Vernon Silver reminded me). Here’s Ptolemy Apion in the Naples Museum:

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

In passing, we should note that the condition of the ‘free’ curls on the Gaza example is probably one of the best bits of evidence that the fisherman’s story of the recovery of the statue (by the ‘cartwheel technique’) is less-than-truthful. I have a very difficult time believing that those curls would have survived recovery according to his description.

As long as we’re looking at the head, I’m wondering if I’m the only one who finds the face of the statue to be somewhat strange. In some of the photos, depending on the angle, it does seem to be a reasonable ‘Greek’ visage, but in others (especially straight on) it does not and is certainly not the ‘idealizing’ sort of thing one might expect. The aforementioned ‘bronze disease’ also has almost ‘outlined’ a certain part of the face, which makes it look like it was somehow attached to a faceless head. I’m honestly not sure if that is the case or if that’s just an illusion caused by the deterioration, but clearly it would be an oddity. Indeed, when I first saw the outline, it struck me that this looked more like the face of a Roman cavalry mask than anything else. Here are the “headshots” from the BBC:

via the BBC Magazine

via the BBC Magazine

Also worth noting about the head is that it really isn’t unusual that a bronze might have lost its inlaid eyes (which were usually made from glass paste or other materials). What is interesting here, however, is the one eye that remains in the head is apparently blue and made from some sort of stone (maybe; not sure if a trained ‘eye’ determined that or not).

The pose of the statue is one which comes close to many statue styled an “Apollo” or “Kouros” or “Ephebe” but the closest analog seems to be the so-called ephebe of Selinunte, now in the Palermo Museum (tip of the pileus to Justin Walsh and Adrian Murdoch for helping me track this one down, there’s a huge version of the photo if you click on it):

via trapani tourism

via trapani tourism

The Ephebe from the ‘House of the Ephebe” in Pompeii also seems to have affinities both in terms of height and pose, sort of (and we might wonder if the Gaza statue carried something in its now largely broken left hand, but seems to be the product of a more-talented artist:

via the Getty

via the Getty

Another stylistic analog, but again the product of a better artist, would be the somewhat smaller (1.15 m) Piombino Kouros, originally from Etruria but now in the Louvre (this is a cast from Cambridge’s archive):

from the Cambridge Casts Archive

Perhaps related to this notion that the Gaza “Apollo” is the product of a less-talented artist is an observation which came up just last week: a photo which clearly shows a square hole on the back of one of the legs or upper arms (Sam Hardy has recently dealt with the confusion many of us had trying to figure out where this ‘hole’ is: Is it an arm? Is it a leg? What the hell is that hole?). Similar squares on other ancient bronzes usually indicate the site of a repair done in ancient times. Depending on where it is, however, it might also indicate where a statue attached to something else for stability purposes. If it is on the upper arm, it seems to be a patch. If it’s on a leg, it could be a patch or an attachment spot. Until some genuine conservationist/art historian gets an in-person look at the statue, I doubt we’ll know for sure.

I’m also not sure how much should/can be read into the above observations (I can’t really call them evidence) that all of the analogs for the Gaza “Apollo” seem to come from southern Italy/Sicily. As far as I’m aware, most of the bronzes which have survived to this point come from that part of the world. At the same time, Herculaneum for a long time was the site of numerous thefts, including a spectacular break in in the early 1990s, although no large scale statuary seems to have gone missing in that one (tip o’ the pileus to Dorothy King for help with that reference). Whatever the case, it’s obviously highly improbable that a statue might have been taken from southern Italy to Gaza to create a provenance, and then suddenly be subject to deterioration.

Which brings us to the bigger question: is the Gaza “Apollo” genuine or is it a clever fake? It’s interesting, I think, to note that the head from Herculaneum and the Piombino Kouros are considered in the category of ‘ancient fakes’ (I.e. Fakes/replicas made in antiquity to appeal to a contemporary market). Even so, I keep hemming and hawing on this issue and I still can’t come down firmly on one side or the other. The provenance strikes me (and most critical observers, it appears) as obviously manufactured. The weight, the face, and the survival of the base of the statue also combine to lead me to think there’s something very much amiss with this one. I’m still not too sure about the hair treatment either. Why Hamas (or whoever is in possession of it) is not giving scholars access to it to do some basic conservation and examination is puzzling and doesn’t lend any confidence to claims of authenticity. Despite all those considerations, it still seems possible that it is genuine and perhaps an archaizing sort of thing like the head from Herculaneum or possibly simply the product of a crappy artist. The whole situation is clearly being mishandled and I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t hear anything more about this one for a year or two, if at all.

The “Apollo” of Gaza ~ Part Ib: Implications of the Arabic Press Coverage

This is another addendum to our initial post on the so-called “Apollo of Gaza” stemming from the Arabic press coverage and photos which were brought to my attention yesterday. While there were issues with different names being involved (via Google Translate), what was most interesting was the photo of the “Apollo” laying on a mattress which did NOT have the erstwhile ever-present Smurf blanket beneath it. As Sam Hardy has pointed out much more clearly than I did, the new photo clearly indicates a change of location for the statue (When was the “Apollo” of Gaza taken into “custody”?).

What needs to be done, I think, is to try and fit this photo into our timeline from the other day. The photo dates (at the latest) from October 4th, which coincides with the period we suggested was when the Louvre and other such institutions were likely consulted. This makes sense, I think, and allows us to possibly further create the following scenario:

We know the bulk of the photos out there seem to come from a major photo session on September 19th. The initial photos released from that day were of the laying-down-on-the-smurf-blanket variety, but later photos (especially the ones from Reuters and/or the) also include photos of the statue standing up. I’d suggest that they were standing up the statue because on September 19th they were moving it to another location. The photos from that session were the ones which which shown to Khoudary and/or Bauzou, the latter of whom seems to have been enlisted to write a report of some sort for purposes of getting the Louvre or other institutions interested. It seems likely that someone mentioned that the smurf-blanket-photos were probably inappropriate if they wanted to impress Louvre-types and so some new photos were taken in early October. Coincidentally, the smurf photos were used to advertise the item on eBay, perhaps to gauge interest and/or get people talking. The text of the ad and the haste in which the item was taken down might suggest there was no real intent of selling it, but was just ‘getting the word’ out that the rumoured statue actually did exist. At about the same time, a La Repubblica reporter was approached to write a news backgrounder; perhaps significantly, it was published on the internet in both Italian and English (which is, as far as I can remember, unheard of for something of archaeological interest), in order to gain the widest possible audience. Also noteworthy is that the La Repubblica coverage is the first to include the Fisherman’s Tale, which is certainly more compelling from a creating interest point of view than what seems to have appeared in the Arabic press sources. Sadly, the initial Fisherman’s Tale didn’t quite make sense, and so a new and improved version was revealed by another unconventional avenue in Business Week in late January. That’s when the major press organizations sat up and took notice.

… let’s say that’s our working hypothesis at this point.

UPDATE (an hour or two later): An Arabic language forum post includes the ‘new’ picture with a date of September 26th, which seems to add to the credibility of our scenario above …

The “Apollo” of Gaza ~ Part Ia: Fishy Tales and Timelines

This is an appendage to my previous post on our initial foray into the
“Apollo of Gaza” and it’s a fresh post so those who have read the previous one will get it. (hence part ia)

Tip o’ the pileus to Vernon Silver on Twitter for pointing us to some coverage in the Arabic press. I do not read Arabic but can get the gist, of course, from Google Translate. Your mileage may vary.

The first one comes from SamaNews on September 24 … I’m not positive it refers to our find (the photo doesn’t match and the names are different, but it seems to be a stock photo). It does suggest an Egyptian origin for the statue!

The second one is far, far, far, more important. It comes from something called Dostorasly and dates to October 4th. The name seems to be the same one as in the previous article (and it isn’t the one we know). More importantly, however, we get a non-‘photoshoot’ photo from the Palestine Press News Agency. Ecce:

ppnaSmurf blanket gone …

Tantalizing Tunnels From Niksar

Another rather annoying item from Hurriyet:

Two secret tunnels have been discovered under Turkey’s second largest castle, in the northern province of Tokat’s Niksar district. The tunnels date back to the Roman period, and it has been claimed that one of the tunnels was used by a Roman king’s daughters in order to go to the bath in the Çanakçi stream area.

The excavations are being carried out by the municipality in the 6.2 kilometer-wide Niksar Castle, which is Turkey’s second largest castle after Diyarbakır Castle. The tunnels are located in the southern and northern facades of the castle and are approximately 100 meters long.

The earth masses in the tunnels have been removed, but work was subsequently halted as permission for the excavations expired and the number of staff was insufficient.

The 100 meter tunnel in the northern façade is said to have been used by the king’s daughters to reach the Roman bath near the castle. Niksar Mayor Duran Yadigar, who has inspected both tunnels, said works in the castle unearthed the entrance of the tunnels. “One tunnel goes to the stream below the castle. We have also excavated a parallel tunnel used by the king’s daughters. When the works are completed, the two tunnels in the south and north of the Niksar Castle will be completely unearthed. The artistic features of the castle will be revealed,” Yadigar said.

Yadigar added that once these structures are completely revealed, the castle will make a great contribution to cultural tourism in the region. “We expect the Culture and Tourism Ministry to be interested in the Niksar Castle.

A quarter of the castle’s western section has been restored. Once it is completely restored, this place could be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, and we could present the value of the Black Sea region to the world. I ask the relevant officials to show an interest in these tunnels,” Yadigar said.
Halis Şahin of the Tokat Museum, who provided information about the excavations, said works to reveal the Roman era tunnels would continue throughout the year.

Of course, the “Roman king’s daughters” thing is a bunch of hooey … in Roman times, Niksar was called Neocaesarea and it’s one of those cities that changed ownership several times over several millennia. I’m not sure if the photo accompanying the original article is of one or the other of the tunnels in question, but I see nothing that identifies it as Roman. Curious to know why this is identified as Roman, other than the story makes for good tourist fodder …

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