This Day in Ancient History ~ ante diem vii idus octobres

ante diem vii idus octobres

This Day in Ancient History ~ iii nonas octobres

iii nonas octobres

  • mundus patet – the mundus was a ritual pit which had a sort of vaulted cover on it. Three times a year the Romans removed this cover (August 24, Oct. 5 and November 8) at which time the gates of the underworld were considered to be opened and the manes (spirits of the dead) were free to walk the streets of Rome.
  • ludi Augustales scaenici (day 1 — from 11-19 A.D. and post 23 A.D.) — festival in honour of Augustus involving primarily mime and pantomime theatrical displays
  • ludi Augustales scaenici (day 3 — from 19-23 A.D.)
  • 287 A.D. — martyrdom of Palmatius

Roman Vicus at Gernsheim

A Goethe-Universitat press release:

Dennis Braks foto

Dennis Braks foto

FRANKFURT/GERNSHEIM. During their first Gernsheim dig last year, Frankfurt University archaeologists suspected that a small Roman settlement must have also existed here in the Hessian Ried. Now they have discovered clear relics of a Roman village, built in part on the foundations of the fort after the soldiers left. This probably occurred around 120 AD. At the time the cohort (about 500 soldiers) was transferred from the Rhine to the Limes, and a period of peace lasting until about 260 AD began for the Roman village (which was part of the Roman province of Germania Superior) with the “Pax Romana”.

Until a year ago, little was known about Roman Gernsheim even though Roman finds have repeatedly been made here since the 19th century. “We now know that from the 1st to the 3rd century an important village-like settlement or ‘vicus’ must have existed here, comparable to similar villages already proven to have existed in Groß-Gerau, Dieburg or Ladenburg”, explains dig leader Dr. Thomas Maurer from the Goethe University, who has been going from Frankfurt to Southern Hesse for years in search of traces. He has published his findings in a major journal about the North Hessian Ried during the Roman imperial period.

Thomas Maurer foto

Thomas Maurer foto

During the second excavation campaign running from 3 August to early October, the 20 students of the “Archaeology and History of the Roman Provinces” course under the direction of Maurer have already uncovered the well-preserved foundation of a stone building, fire pits, at least two wells and some cellar pits. They also filled boxes with shards of fine, coarse and transport ceramics, which will undergo scientific examination in order to allow more accurate dating of the fort and the village. “We’ve also found real treasures such as rare garment clasps, several pearls, parts of a board game (dice, playing pieces) and a hairpin made from bone and crowned with a female bust”, explains a delighted Maurer.

Thomas Maurer foto

Thomas Maurer foto

The people who settled in the village around the fort were primarily family members of the soldiers and tradespeople who benefited from the purchasing power of the military. “A temporary downturn probably resulted when the troops left – this is something we know from sites which have been studied more thoroughly”, Maurer adds. However, stone buildings were already erected in the “Gernsheim Roman village” during the 2nd century, which suggests that the settlement was prospering. The population probably had mainly Gallic-Germanic origins, with perhaps a few “true” Romans – persons with Roman citizenship who moved here from faraway provinces. This is illustrated by specific archaeological finds; most notably pieces of traditional dress but also coins. One of the historic finds from Gernsheim is a coin from Bithynia (Northwest Anatolia), which was certainly not among the coins in circulation in Germania Superior but would instead have been a form of souvenir.

A troop unit with about 500 soldiers (cohort) was stationed in this area between 70/80 and 110/120 AD. Evidence of two V-shaped ditches typical of this kind of fort as well as other finds dating from the time after the fort was abandoned have been discovered here over the past year. An unusually large number of finds have been made. This is because when the Romans left they dismantled the fort and filled in the ditches. A lot of waste was disposed of in the process, especially in the inner ditch. “A stroke of luck for us,” comments Prof. Dr. Hans-Markus von Kaenel from the Institute for Archaeological Sciences at Goethe University, who has been retired since 2014. Together with his colleagues and students, von Kaenel studied the Roman Southern Hesse for almost 20 years, carrying out surveys and digs as well as preparing and evaluating material. The results have been published in over 50 papers.

The fort with the settlement was erected in order to take possession of large areas to the east of the Rhine around the seventh decade of the 1st century AD, and to expand the traffic infrastructure from and to the centre Mainz-Mogontiacum. The significance of Gernsheim am Rhein during Roman times is supported by its easily accessible l

Thomas Maurer Foto

Thomas Maurer Foto

ocation, with a road to Mainlimes branching from the main Mainz – Ladenburg – Augsburg road. A Rhine harbour is suspected to exist as well, but this couldn’t be confirmed during the course of this dig – “and that wasn’t really expected from this particular site”, Maurer says. The continued expansion of Gernsheim throughout the 20th century threatened to obliterate the archaeological traces more and more. In August of this past year, the first educational dig of the Institute for Archaeology at Goethe University began here on one of the few as yet undeveloped properties, a double lot at Nibelungenstraße 10-12.

During this year’s excavation campaign, covering an area of 600 square meters on the property and thus twice as large as last year, the 20 students ensured that the soil was carefully removed, findings surveyed and documented, and objects recovered and packaged carefully. The work has been supported by the Frankfurt archaeologists from the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Hessen (hessenARCHÄOLOGIE, Darmstadt branch) as well as the Cultural and History Association of Schöfferstadt Gernsheim. Some members of this association, which also operates the Heimatmuseum, provide help and advice to the dig team on a daily basis. The documentation and finds from this excavation campaign form the basis for further scientific work, including in the form of university theses, which will be completed at the Goethe University in the near future.



Originally posted on Classics for All Reviews:

By Rex Winsbury

Bloomsbury (2015) p/b 246pp £21.99 (ISBN 9781474237123)

At the beginning of this book W., a veteran journalist and historian, puts Pliny in the dock. He acknowledges that his letters give us a unique insight into the social, literary and domestic conventions of upper class life in first century AD Rome, so that we seem to know their author, a genial and bumbling lawyer, almost better than any other Roman writer, but records too that others have seen him as a fraud and hypocrite, one who wittingly falsified the details of his career to his own advantage, and as a staggering bore with a hugely inflated view of his own abilities, both literary and political. Is Gaius Plinius Secundus innocent of these offences, asks W., or is he guilty as charged?

To answer the question he embarks on a cross-examination of Pliny’s life, at pains to point out…

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Originally posted on Classics for All Reviews:

By Ann Vasaly

CUP (2015) h/b 209pp £55 (ISBN 9781107065673)

Was Livy really a ‘small man, detached from affairs’ (Ogilvie), a ‘non-political moralist’ (Walsh) and a ‘political innocent… unable to interpret historical phenomena or visualize historical change’ (the view of Collingwood and Syme, as summarised by Walsh)? In this book Ann Vasaly sets out to poke holes in the traditional image of Livy the armchair historian, through close analysis of key passages from the first five books of his history, placed in their historical and historiographical context.

The volume consists of a short introduction to the life and times of Livy, followed by six chapters: The Historiographical Archaeology; Livy’s Preface: A Reader’s Guide to the First Pentad; Monarchy and the Education of the Roman People; Tyranny and the Tyrannical Temperament; The Best Citizen and the Best Orator; The Roman People and the Necessity of Discord.

A brief conclusion is…

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Originally posted on Classics for All Reviews:

By Gwendolyn Compton-Eagle

CUP (2015) h/b 198 pp £65.00 (ISBN 0781107083790)

Aristophanes’ first productions made great use of visual effect. Slapstick performances, seriously inventive staging and occasionally fantastical costumes enhanced their comedic impact. Drawing on the evidence of texts, vase paintings and terracottas, C-E demonstrates how Aristophanes drew on earlier tradition to exploit to the utmost the dramatic possibilities of costume, ‘an underappreciated weapon in the comic poet’s arsenal’.

At the heart of her thesis is an exploration of the power dynamics of costume, which has a long literary pedigree. The control of costume in comedy, she argues, demonstrates a superiority just as potent as the control of armour in the Iliad. Thus, for example, Homeric stripping and humiliation of the bodies of fallen enemies parallels Aristophanic stripping and humiliation of unsympathetic characters (such as the informer in Wealth). No less powerful is the use of inappropriately feminine…

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Originally posted on Classics for All Reviews:

By Jerry Toner

Profile (2015) p/b 152pp £8.99 (ISBN 9781781254202)

OUP has been publishing ‘Very Short Introductions to…’ for over twenty years, and Profile is now trying its luck in the same field with its ‘Ideas in Profile’ series, subtitled ‘Small Introductions to Big Topics’, of which the book under review is the fourth.

Compared with OUP’s productions, this new series is slightly larger in format, but in the same hard-ish paper-back and with the same fold-out front and back covers; the paper is not quite as good, with the result that some of the b/w pictures are of poor quality. There are two maps, one of the Hellenistic World, one of the Roman Empire (none of Greece/Athens), reading lists for each chapter, and an index.

If the series sets out to be unconventional, it certainly succeeds in this case. There is, for example, no introductory trot through the…

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BMCR ~ Smith: Man and Animal in Severan Rome

Steven D. Smith, Man and Animal in Severan Rome: The Literary Imagination of Claudius Aelianus. Greek culture in the Roman world.   Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2014.  Pp. xii, 308.  ISBN 9781107033986.  $99.00.

Reviewed by C. W. Marshall, University of British Columbia

Preview (

Man and Animal in Severan Rome is an exciting and imaginative study detailing the literary virtues of Claudius Aelianus—Aelian— with a particular emphasis on De natura animalium (NA). Smith’s Aelian emerges, perhaps surprisingly, as both a sophisticated literary stylist and a politically savvy observer of the Severan court. His polished anecdotes (Smith regularly calls them “fragments”, which is misleading), strung together with deliberate haphazardness, are shown to reveal an author maintaining his position just outside the periphery of the imperial circle: “Aelian’s moralizing should be understood not as an instrument of power, but as an expression of disavowal and longing for a transformation of the world” (273). […]

καὶ τὰ λοιπά …

Penelope Returns to Tehran

From the Tehran Times:

Islamic Republic News Agency Photo

Islamic Republic News Agency Photo

Iran’s life-size marble statue of Penelope excavated in Persepolis in 1945 will return home after its four-month show at Milan’s Prada Foundation.The torso along with its other Roman counterparts will go on display at the National Museum of Iran beginning on September 21 concurrent with the International Day of Peace, director of the museum Jebreil Nokandeh said in a press release on Sunday.

Earlier in March, Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization Director Masud Soltanifar had announced Iran’s plan to lend the statue for the exhibit based on an agreement with the Italian government.

Italy was also due to lend four historical statues to Iran for a showcase after the exhibition ends. The statues will be displayed for four months.

It is surmised that the artifact was brought back to the Persian capital of Persepolis by Xerxes after the sacking of Athens.

It lay scattered in three fragments in the ruins of the Persepolis Treasury, a headless torso lying in Corridor 31, with its shattered right hand in Hall 38.

The circumstances of discovery recall the destruction of Persepolis by Alexander the Great in spring 330 BC. Before torching the palace, Alexander removed the gold stored in the Treasury and allowed his army to plunder the rest of its contents.

Penelope is a character of Homer’s Odyssey, one of the two great epic poems of ancient Greek literature. Penelope is the wife of the main character, the king of Ithaca, Odysseus (also known as Ulysses), and the daughter of Icarius and his wife Eurynome.

She waited twenty years for the final return of her husband from the Trojan War, while she had hard times in refusing marriage proposals from several princes for four years after the fall of Troy. For this reason, she is often regarded as a symbol of connubial fidelity.


via: Iran’s Penelope to return home (Tehran Times)