An Image of Cleopatra?

While killing some time this weekend, I was poking around the archives of the New York Times via Google and in the October 12, 1884 edition I found this very interesting excerpt in an Arts column:

If you click on that, you’ll get the full image (I think) but the gist of it is the following:

  • at Cortona there was on view an encaustic image of Cleopatra
  • it is said to be the word of Timomakos of Byzantium (a contemporary of Julius Caesar)
  • it depicts the famous queen sporting jewellery reminiscent of that found by Heinrich Schliemann
  • the queen is also holding an asp

We are told that a Mr. John Sartain would be writing a book all about this image and include an engraving.  This is where the interwebs get all interesting because, as might be anticipated, that book is available online at the Internet Archive: On the antique painting in encaustic of Cleopatra, discovered in 1818 (1885 — there are apparently later versions) . The frontispiece includes the promised image:

Even though it’s a depiction of a depiction, I’m sure folks will readily recognize that ‘upward gaze’ as belonging to an later time in Roman art and it doesn’t seem to be the norm in wax encaustic paintings which we have, but I digress. Another version of the book at Google seems to be missing this frontispiece. The book only spends a few pages on this specific item, but it has an interesting provenance/backstory … especially in these days when we’re used to simply reading that something comes ‘from a Swiss collection’.

This is from pp 10 ff, after a section describing the ‘Muse of Cortona’, found in the same area:

The other example of ancient tablet painting is one of greater importance, and is preserved in the Villa of the Baron de Benneval at the Piano di Sorrento. This also is ingood hands but it ought to find a permanent resting-place in some national collection, where it should be forever safe. It represents Cleopatra receiving her death from the bite of an asp, and of course it cannot be claimed that it is a portraint from life, as it was obviously painted subsequent to her tragic end. It was discovered by Micheli, the well-known antiquary, under the cella of the temple of Serapis, at Hadrian’s Villa.

I haven’t been able to identify this ‘well known’ antiquary (is he someone associated with forgeries?); if folks can point me in a direction, that would be much appreciated … after a digression on the finding of the other painting we get more details on the discovery:

The history of the Cleopatra since its discovery is briefly this. Dr Micheli and his brother, who were associated in the ownership, endeavoured to secure a safe and permanent repository for their treasure in the famous Florentine Museum through a sale to the Grand Duke of Tuscany,but the large price demanded was refused, at a time so little removed from the political convulsions and great wars of the first French Empire, the finances of the Duchy requiring yet many years of economy for their re-establishment. Some years later, the business of the Micheli brothers falling into a decline, they realized funds by pledging the picture with some Jews, and soon after both died. The charges went on increasing with time, and the heirs finding themselves unable to redeem it, sold it to an acquaintance of the Baron de Benneval, subject to these accumulated charges, and he rescued it from the hands of the usurers at serious sacrifice. Subsequently the new owner also found he could not afford to keep it, and the present owner purchased it from him in the year 1860.

I omit a paragraph on times it was exhibited and a passing mention that it was placed “on an underbed of a peculiar cement” for stability purposes; it continues:

In 1869 the Emperor Louis Napoleon made an offer to purchase, which was reluctantly agreed to, and the picture was transported to Paris with the view to the fulfillment of the arrangement; but the war with Germany began, and just on the arrival of the picture in Paris there occurred the battle of Forbach, which caused hesitation as to risking its delivery. During the German siege of Paris and the Commune following, the painting was under the protection of the Prince Czartoryski, and after the liberation of the city the picture was returned to Sorrento, where it has remained ever since.

Now we get an ancient reference:

I have now only to relate what appears to have been the origin of the picture, and how it came to the place where it was found. Augustus Caesar being deprived of the presence of Cleopatra in person to grace his triumph (the Queen having evaded that humiliating exposure by suicide), decided on having at least a representation of her. It is on record that a picture was painted for this purpose, and was borne on a car or litter near his own, along with other objects of Egyptian interest and of great value, taken from the monument in which she died; and since it was carried on the attendant car, it was obviously a tablet picture. After it had answered this use, he placed it as an offering in the temple of Saturn at Rome. There can be little doubt that this is the Sorrento picture.

Before the rest, we should mention that Plutarch’s Life of Antonius (86.3) mentions an image being carried in the triumph. Dio (51.21) mentions an ‘effigy’ of Cleopatra on a couch in the procession. As often, we seem to be getting ambiguous/conflicting messages from our sources who are writing more than a century after the fact. In any event, the relevant bit of Sartain continues:

This painting has given rise to voluminous literary research, and some writers claim that it is the work of the famous Byzantine artist, Timomakos, who was the author of two pictures purchased by Julius Caesar at the enormous price of eighty talents ($350,000), which he presented as an offering to the temple of Venus Genetrix. One of these was of ” Medea,” the other “Ajax,” the former one unfinished. It is also asserted that this artist saw Cleopatra when she visited Greece, sum-moned thither by Mark Anthony, and Anthon places him as cotemporary with Caesar and the Egyptian Queen, although some authorities locate him at an earlier period. Be this as it may, by whomsoever done, it was doubtless painted about twenty-nine years before the Christian era — assuming it to be the identical picture known to have been produced for the use named. Some hundred and forty years later, the Emperor Hadrian removed from Rome a large amount of the choicest art treasures of the city to enrich and adorn the vast villa he had caused to be built near Tivoli (the ancient Tibur), and no doubt the Sorrento Cleopatra picture was among the objects thus gathered, and it found an appropriate resting-place in the temple of the Egyptian god Serapis, since that was the locality of its discovery.

Timomachus is, in fact, an encaustic artist of the time mentioned by Pliny the Elder (NH 35.136 … thanks to assorted folks on Twitter and Facebook for helping me track that down efficiently). The rest of Sartain’s book really has little of interest for us. My next foray was into a magazine/journal called Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly (vol. 27; 1889). An article by one John Paul Bocock (pp. 537 ff) entitled “Some Artistic Conceptions of Cleopatra” has an interesting statement on p. 539:

Marvelous as it may seem, the authenticity of the Encaustic Cleopatra was questioned chiefly on account of the freshness of the colors, says Dr. R Schoener, the great German expert. Fragments from the slate have been ground up,however, and the age of the wax and resin colors verified.

I’m not sure what dating methods would have been in use in 1889 … anyone know?

Last, and certainly not least, I direct the reader to a very interesting page at Lacus Curtius (which I stumbled upon, archaeologist-like) while doing the ref to Plutarch above. It’s an extract from Sir Thomas Brown’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica, which seems to be describing just such a painting back in the 17th century. The notes are more interesting, and seem to relate to the discovery of the encaustic under consideration by us. There are also some more references to ancient sources. What I find interesting — but not surprising — is that the author of the page (James Eason) has been unable to trace the whereabouts of this encaustic. He speculates that it’s possibly in a museum in Cortona. Does anyone know what happened to this? It seems very likely to be a fake — does anyone know of any scholarly literature debunking its authenticity? As far as I can find, the Popular Monthly item is the last mention, but it’s clear that there was skepticism about its authenticity by that time.

UPDATE (the next morning):  while getting my five shots of espresso in me this a.m., I came across James Jackson Jarves,  “An Assumed Example of Greek Easel-Painting of the Best Period of Antiquity,” The Art Journal (1875-1887), New Series, Vol. 1, (1875), p. 177, which obviously predates Sartain’s work. A notable quote:

“Certain critics, however, considered it to be one of the experiments made in the last century by Count de Caylus to resuscitate the lost Art [sc. encaustic].”

Jarves doesn’t seem to have actually seen it; he goes on to talk about the Muse of Cortona. Anne Claude de Caylus (the Comte de Caylus) is suitably introduced in the relevant Wikipedia article. He does seem to have been trying to revive the encaustic technique.

Ancient Stuff at io9


Image via Wikipedia

Over the past couple of weeks, it’s becoming clear that the gang at io9 are either looking for some rogueclassicism love or (more likely)  have sensed the popculch value of the ancient world. Consider some of their recent posts (all worth a look) …  They first caught my eye with A brief history of alternate history fiction, which mentioned Livy’s digression on what Alexander the Great would have done if he had headed west. Poking around a bit, I found they had also had a feature called Advanced Imaging Reveals a Computer 1,500 Years Ahead of Its Time (about the Antikythera Mechanism, of course). Then last night one of my twitterfeeds brought me Five ancient technologies that were ahead of their times, which included a bit on Hero’s steam engine (and some borderline von Danikaan stuff). And finally, this a.m., we find in our mailbox: Great moments in alternate history: the non-fall of the Roman empire, which is a nice little compendium of novels about what might have happened if Rome didn’t ‘fall’.

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem vii idus junias

Temple of Vesta in the Forum Romanum in Rome.

Image via Wikipedia

ante diem vii idus junias

  • the ‘inner sanctum’ of the Temple of Vesta was opened to the (female) public
  • ludi piscatorii (?) — a private festival celebrated by fishermen
  • 17 B.C.. — ludi Latini et Graeci honorarii (day 3)
  • 20 A.D. — Nero Julius Caesar, son of the emperor-in-waiting Germanicus, dons his toga virilis; a congiarium is given to the people as well
  • 86 A.D. — ludi Capitolini — a festival involving poetic contests, inaugurated by Domitian based on something done by Nero (day 2)
  • 204 A.D. — ludi Latini et Graeci honorarii (day 4)

Gladiator Graveyard?

From the Times … seems to be hyping an upcoming TV documentary:

Archaeologists believe that they may have discovered a Roman gladiator cemetery near York city centre. About 80 remains have been found since the investigation began in 2004, with more than half of them decapitated.

Researchers believe they may form part of the world’s only well-preserved Roman gladiator cemetery.

Kurt Hunter-Mann, a field officer at York Archaeological Trust who is leading the investigation, said: “The skulls were literally found somewhere else in the grave — not on top of the shoulders.

“We could see that in quite a few cases the skulls had been chopped with some kind of heavy bladed weapon, a sword or in one or two cases an axe.

“But they were buried with a degree of care. There are no mass pits. Most of them are buried individually.”

He said that bite marks on one of the skeletons helped to steer the team to its initial theory.

“One of the most significant items of evidence is a large carnivore bite mark — probably inflicted by a lion, tiger or bear — an injury which must have been sustained in an arena context.

“There are not many situations where someone is going to be killed by something like that, and also to have other wounds, and also to be decapitated. They may have been a gladiator involved in beast fights.”

He added: “Other important pieces of evidence include a high incidence of substantial arm asymmetry — a feature mentioned in ancient Roman literature in connection with a gladiator; some healed and unhealed weapon injuries; possible hammer blows to the head — a feature attested as a probable gladiatorial coup de grace at another gladiator cemetery, Ephesus, in Turkey.

“The arm asymmetry would also be consistent with weapons training that had already started in teenage years, and we know from Roman accounts that some gladiators entered their profession at a very young age.”

Most losing gladiators who were put to death were stabbed in the throat. However, decapitation may have been adopted as a custom in York in response to a prevailing local preference, he said.

“At present our lead theory is that many of these skeletons are those of Roman gladiators. So far there are a number of pieces of evidence which point towards that interpretation or are consistent with it.

“But the research is continuing and we must therefore keep an open mind.”

The size and importance of York suggested it might have had an amphitheatre, he said, but so far none has been found.

The skeletons date from the late first century AD to the 4th century AD. Fourteen of them were interred with grave goods to accompany them to the next world.

The team said that the most impressive grave was that of a tall man aged between 18 and 23, buried in a large oval grave some time in the 3rd century.

Interred with him were what appear to have been the remains of substantial joints of meat from at least four horses, possibly consumed at the funeral — plus some cow and pig remains.

He had been decapitated by several sword blows to the neck.

Additional research has also been carried out by forensic anthropologists at the University of Central Lancashire.

Dr Michael Wysocki, senior lecturer in forensic anthropology and archaeology at the university, said: “These are internationally important discoveries. We don’t have any other potential gladiator cemeteries with this level of preservation anywhere else in the world.”

I’m not sure whether this is connected to the Roman ‘Cold Case’ we mentioned four years ago (which also seemed to be hype for a television program) … or the Roman Graveyard we mentioned a month before that (which also seemed to be hype for a television program). I think that program was a Timewatch episode called The Mystery of the Headless Romans, but perhaps this one is new.

FWIW, the Times seems to have also reported on an early stage of this excavation back in 2005: Mystery of 49 headless Romans who weren’t meant to haunt us

Overnight we appear to have had a pile of other coverage of this story, most of which are really playing up the ‘lion, tiger, or bear’ wound angle; we’ll forgive the media this time for not distinguishing between gladiatorial participants and those who participated in venationes:

Aqua Traiana in Peril?

Back in January/February we featured a series of posts highlighting the discovery of the source of the Aqua Traiana:

… a spectacular find, of course,  and the last we had heard, the O’Neills were working to have the site preserved.  As such we were quite dismayed to have this Telegraph piece land in our mailbox this a.m.:

In January father and son team Edward and Michael O’Neill discovered the headwaters of the aqueduct, which was built by the Emperor Trajan, hidden beneath a crumbling 13th century church north of Rome.

A sophisticated example of Roman hydraulic engineering, the aqueduct, known as the Aqua Traiana, was inaugurated in 109AD and carried fresh water 35 miles to the imperial capital.

But since the discovery was publicised, the archeologists claim that the farmer on whose land it stands has begun a crude excavation of the site in the hope of finding valuable Roman treasure.

They claim to have photographic evidence that the owner has burned vegetation around the entrance to the underground grotto, cut down mature fig trees which are holding the fragile structure together with their thick roots and started to dismantle sections of masonry.

“It’s a complete tragedy,” Edward O’Neill told the Daily Telegraph. “He’s doing some kind of treasure hunt.

“What is needed is an expert process by archeologists to preserve the site.” Repeated telephone calls to the landowner, Davide Piccioni, went unanswered yesterday.

In an attempt to stop the alleged damage to the site, the O’Neills and two American archeologists – Prof Katherine Rinne of Virginia University and Prof Rabun Taylor of the University of Texas at Austin – have sent a letter to Italian heritage authorities.
They have called for urgent intervention in order to prevent the landowner from further damaging the site, which they say has been “completely transformed” in the last six months.

They have also complained that the farmer has closed off access to the site since the grotto and spring were discovered five months ago.

The mayor of the local town, Lucia Dutto, said she too was concerned. “We have asked the superintendent of archaeology to carry out an immediate inspection of the site, so that further interference can be prevented. But until that happens, we can do nothing because it is private property.”

via: British archaeologists fight with Italian farmer to save ancient aqueduct | Telegraph

Ted O’Neill has also written directly to us, and sent along some photos which may be of interest. Here’s a photo of what the site looked like a while ago:

image via Ted O'Neill

Ted O’Neill writes, inter alia:

The very upsetting news for us, is that on the important Santa Fiora
site – the location of the Nymphaeum shrine at the head of Trajan’s
aqueduct, seriously damaging works are in progress that we are
currently powerless to stop.

We and the archaeologists have been locked out of the site
since the date of the Press Conference in January. In mid-March we were able to
come fairly close (within about 50 yards) of the nymphaeum-church and
we were shocked by what we saw.

The owner had destroyed vegetation above the roman and Christian
ruins, up to the level of some masonary structures which he was bent
on removing. We are convinced that the masonary belongs, if not to
the roman nymphaeum, then to the early-christian church structure
which was added to the front of the nympheum shortly after the decrees
of Emperor Teodosio in 391AD which forbade pagan worship.

The steps have been removed ...

More perilously, the destruction of fig-trees above the nyphaeum
itself is likely to have led to the collapse of roman hydraulic cement
attached to the walls of the roman spring chamber. Roman building
materials in this type of construction teach us a great deal about the
science of how Trajan’s great water-supply worked. The fig tree
roots were the only thing still holding the this once rock-hard
material to the walls when we last visited in 2009. The material is
now extremely crumbly because the fig trees have sucked out all the
calcium, so a particular professional preservation technique is
required to save it.

the fig stumps ...

Currently the local Council is powerless to act because they are
waiting for a “Vincolo” – like listing a listed building in the UK –
which would allow them to initiate a compulsory purchase, but the
owner is blocking this whole process by not allowing the Council or
Archaeologist Quilici to enter and make a detailed relief map.

In conclusion, these arbitrary interventions, carried out without the
slightest historical or archaeological understanding are undermining
the structural integrity of the Santa Maria della Fiora site. We
want to ensure that the monument is saved, but if the owner continues
digging about, there will be nothing left.

As mentioned above, the O’Neills have sent off a letter to the various Soprintendenzas … here’s some addresses (in Italian) if you’d like to add your voice:

1) La Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici per l’Etruria Meridionale ha responsibilita’
per tutta la roba antica e tutto che sia sotto il livello della terra.
Loro stanno a Villa Giulia, indietro di Villa Borghese a Rome.

L’indirizzo e':
Soprintendente Dott.ssa Annamaria Moretti
Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici per l’Etruria meridionale
Piazzale di Villa Giulia, 9 – 00196 ROMA
tel.06/3226571 – fax 06/3202010

Chiamando 06.322.6571, potresti chiedere la inspettrice Dott.ssa Ludovica Lombardi
o la inspettrice Dott.ssa Ida Caruso. Siccome voi state al confine del Comune di
Bracciano e Comune di Manziana, queste due condividono la responsabilita.

Dott.ssa Lombardi e davvero una persona gentile e simpatica. Dott.ssa
Caruso e simpatica anche lei, e’ molto influente li a Villa Giulia, e una stretta amica
della Soprintentende, e tiene una interessa personale sull’acquedotto di Traiano.

Si puo scrivere per la cortese attenzione della Soprintendente Annamaria Moretti,
e mettere Lombardi e Caruso per conoscenza.

Chiamando 0669624202 potresti parlare con Arch. Anna De Luca oppore con
Arch. Sandro Mantovanni. De Luca e’ risponsabile per la zona di Bracciano e
Mantovanni per Manziana, credo, e entrambi sono tosti e appassionati per
il tuo acquedotto e il suo ristauro.

2) Sovrintendenza per I Beni Architettonici Ed Il Paesaggio e Per Il Patrimonio
– Provincia di Roma, Viterbo ecc. tengono responsabilita’ per tutto quello
sopra terra – i Monumenti – in questo caso, la chiesetta / ninfeo.
Loro stanno nel Ghetto, vicino il Portico d’Ottavia.

L’indirizzo e':
Sovrintendente: Dott.ssa Federica Galloni
Sovrintendenza per I Beni Architettonici Ed Il Paesaggio e Per Il Patrimonio
via Cavalletti, 2, 00186 Roma
Tel. 06.696.24202 / 06.696.24203

This Day in Ancient History: pridie nonas junias

Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1...

Image via Wikipedia

pridie nonas junias

  • 468 B.C. — birth of Socrates (by one reckoning)
  • 218 B.C. (?) — dedication of the Temple of the Great Custodian Hercules (and associated rites thereafter)
  • 105 A.D. — The emperor Trajan departs on his second campaign against the Dacians
  • 204 A.D. — ludi Latini et Graeci honorarii (day 1)

Latin Major at LSU Threatened!

This one doesn’t appear to have been widely bruited about yet, but an item in the Baton Rouge Advocate shows that Latin (among other majors) is on the chopping block for that always-questionable ‘budgetary reason’ (with the usual platitudes about having to make ‘tough decisions’ yadda yadda yadda). As expected, the Louisiana Classicist blog is on the case:

We await the petition …

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem iv nonas junias

Dupondius-Didius Julianus-RIC 0012

Image via Wikipedia

ante diem iv nonas junias

This Day in Ancient History: kalendas junias

Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211 CE). ...
Image via Wikipedia

kalendas junias

  • rites in honour of Carna, a nymph who was somehow associated with the health of bodily organs
  • Saecular Games (day 1) — celebrating Rome’s thousand-year anniversary
  • 388 B.C. — dedication of the Temple of Mars (and associated rites thereafter)
  • 344 B.C. — dedication of the Temple of Juno Moneta (and associated rites thereafter)
  • 259 B.C. — dedication of a Temple of the Tempests near the porta Capena (and associated rites thereafter?)
  • 37 A.D. — the emperor Gaius (Caligula) gives the people a congiarium
  • 67 A.D. — the future emperor Vespasian captures Jotapata
  • 165 A.D. — death of Justin Martyr
  • 193 A.D. — emperor-for-a-little-while Didius Julianus is deposed; Septimius Severus is recognized as emperor at Rome

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem v kalendas Iunias

Total Solar eclipse 1999 in France. * Addition...

Image via Wikipedia

ante diem v kalendas Iunias

Greek ‘Stone Crown’ from Syria

This one’s kind of confusing for me … from the Global Arab Network:

via Global Arab Network

Remarkable archaeological finds from the Greek and Roman eras have been found in different archaeological sites in Deir Ezzor Province during current excavation season.

A Greek stone crown, the first of its kind in the region, was discovered by the Syrian-French mission operating in Dura Europos site, Director of Deir Ezzor Antiquities Department Amir al-Haiyou told Syrian local media.

A 30 cm statue of a man on top of a camel, and a number of coins and clay pieces were also unearthed in the site, added al-Haiyou.

The Syrian-Spanish archaeological mission working in the site of Tell Qaber Abu al-Atiq (hill), 75 km north of Deir Ezzor, found a collection of cuneiforms dating back to the Middle Assyrian period.

The city of Dura Europos was founded around 300 BC by the Seleucids in the Hellenistic era and was discovered accidentally in 1920. It became a battlefield between the Seleucids, the Parthians, the Romans and the Sassanids.

via: Syrian-Spanish archaeologists find Greek stone crown | Global Arab Network

… I’m not sure what a ‘stone crown’ is … is it just another type of capital?

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem vi kalendas junias

Publius Septimius Geta. Marble, Roman artwork,...

Image via Wikipedia

ante diem vi kalendas junias

  • 270 A.D. — martyrdom of Restituta at Sora (?)
  • 302 A.D. — Martyrdom of Julius at Durostorum

Homer’s Odyssey … in Canada?

Odysseus bei den Laestrygonen
Image via Wikipedia

Once upon a time, there was almost an annual event of some guy coming up with a new theory about where Homer’s Odyssey or Iliad really took place … haven’t had one for quite a while, but in the Toronto Star I was gobsmacked to read this one:

The first thing to know about George Fowler is that, strictly speaking, he is not a full-time classics scholar. He’s just a couple of courses short of a degree in that field.

The other thing is that Fowler is a retired engineer, late of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Nova Scotia. So he knows a thing or three about currents, tides and trade winds.

It’s that curious combination of amateur and professional interests that has fuelled Fowler’s belief that the seafaring Odysseus, hero of Homer’s Odyssey, actually ended up in, well, the Bay of Fundy.

He first dreamed up this theory back in 1997 for a conference of the Marine Technology Society, whose organizers wanted a session on exploration to mark the 500th anniversary of John Cabot’s voyage to Newfoundland. “I just sort of got carried away,” says Fowler, 69.

Not that he makes a point of mentioning all this to his literary colleagues. The classics crowd tends to pooh-pooh such speculations. For them, it’s the poem’s allegorical meanings that resonate, which is partly why Fowler hasn’t done much to publicize his views.

Fowler certainly isn’t alone in his pursuit. Over the centuries, countless scholars have tried to plot Odysseus’s exact voyage, culling clues from 12,109 lines of hexameter verse.

It may be the ultimate parlour game, matching landmarks in the poem with current geography, figuring out which natural phenomenon might have inspired the descriptions of various monsters.

And while others have situated Odysseus somewhere in the vicinity of Nova Scotia, Fowler may be the first to detail his ramblings around the Bay of Fundy.

The Odyssey is , of course, an epic journey filled with all sorts of extravagant perils. It begins with Odysseus (known as Ulysses in Latin) departing the ruins of Troy around 1200 BC, ostensibly homeward bound to Ithaca. (Homer’s recounting of the journey dates from much later, likely about 700 BC.)

Odysseus is, in other words, sailing all the way around modern Greece, from the Aegean Sea to the Ionian Sea in the eastern Mediterranean.

But he and his men get blown off course, and sent further west for nine days into relatively unknown waters. Most of those who’ve attempted to chart Odysseus’ subsequent travels have him bouncing around the western Mediterranean, which, in Homer’s day, was starting to be actively explored and colonized by the Greeks.

A few outliers, however, figure Odysseus got past the Straits of Gibraltar to the “Ocean River” mentioned by Homer. Fowler is one of them. “If you go outside, you’re no longer in control of your own destiny,” he says.

Fowler’s account of where Odysseus journeys from there is long and detailed, and even includes descriptions of the stars as they would have appeared in 1200 BC.

But the general outline first puts Odysseus in the grip of the Great North Atlantic Gyre, the massive system of currents and winds that circles the Atlantic, moving from Europe to North America and back again. That would carry him south to the Canary Islands and then across the ocean to the Caribbean, roughly the same course followed by Columbus.

Assuming Odysseus then opted to follow the Gulf Stream, he would have sailed up the coast of North America toward Nova Scotia.

On its own , this wouldn’t take him to the Bay of Fundy. Fowler’s assumption is that, faced with a crew anxious to get ashore anyplace, Odysseus decided to make landfall. That would mean crossing the cold Labrador Current that hugs the shore of Nova Scotia, flowing southwest and rotating around the southern end of the province.

The poem tells us that Odysseus “saw smoke and heavy breakers, heard this booming thunder.”

Fowler equates this “smoke” with the heavy fogs in that part of Nova Scotia, while the “thunder” could be the roar of water making its way around Cape Split into the Bay of Fundy’s Minas Basin.

Then come the whirlpools, which the poem describes as “awesome Charybdis” gulping dark water. “Three times a day she vomits it up, three times she gulps it down.”

It turns out that, in addition to having the highest tides in the world, the Bay of Fundy is home to three major whirlpools in the course of each tidal cycle. “It really does look like a hole in the water,” says Fowler.

So, what about the nearby monster of the poem, yelping Scylla in her cave? Masses of writhing seals, says Fowler, and the black, basalt columns jutting upward on Cape Split.

He figures Odysseus, having escaped, turned up next in the Annapolis Basin, where the Annapolis River flows into the Bay of Fundy, the spot where Samuel de Champlain camped out much later.

It’s there that Odysseus’s starving men do the forbidden. They slaughter and feast on the Sun god’s cattle, “those splendid beasts with their broad brows and great curving horns,” as Homer puts it.

Fowler maintains these cattle were such a wondrous novelty because they were actually moose, a beast unknown in the Mediterranean. Killing them comes with a price. Zeus destroys Odysseus’s ship, and he’s left to float alone on a makeshift raft, first deep into the Bay of Fundy and then back toward the ocean.

He eventually hooks up with the goddess Calypso on the Island of Ogygia (which Fowler takes to be Grand Manan Island), and spends his time eating grapes (reminiscent of the Vikings’ Vineland).

But Homer also mentions “spread-beaked ravens of the sea, black skimmers who make their living off the waves.”

As it happens, black skimmers — a tern-like seabird — aren’t native to the Mediterranean, or at least not in recent memory. They do, however, show up with regularity in the Bay of Fundy, whenever storms blow them north from Cape Cod.

It turns out that Odysseus would have seen a great many black skimmers. He seems to have grown quite fond of the Bay of Fundy. Or maybe this “tough cookie,” as Fowler calls him, just needed a lot of rest after his adventures.

Odysseus ends up staying with the lovely goddess Calypso for seven years before duly heading back across the Atlantic to his actual home and lawful wife.

Well being a (rogue)classicist, I am duty bound to “pooh pooh” this, although I have to admit that when one sees the tides in the Bay of Fundy, one does think of Scylla and Charybdis … of course, what all these ‘relocations’ actually are are just a testament to the universality of Homer’s text: people can and do make personal connections, and sometimes those connections are geographical … sadly, what will likely happen is that someone will now make the ‘logical’ leap and notice the ‘similarity’ between the words “Mi’kmaq” and Mycenean and subsequently make connections between M’ikmaq writing and Linear B (Barry Fell notwithstanding)  … or maybe someone can take it even further (and Odysseus too) and have him go as far as the site of the Peterborough Petroglyphs; I’m kind of surprised that no one has made an Odyssey connection there …

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem vii kalendas junias

Dacians assault a Roman fortification, from Tr...
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ante diem vii kalendas junias

  • 17 A.D. — Germanicus celebrates a triumph for his victories in Germany
  • 106 A.D. — martyrdom of Zachary in Gaul
  • 107 A.D. — Trajan arrives in Rome and celebrates a triumph for his victories over the Dacians
  • 303 A.D. — martyrdom of Felicissimus, Heraclius, and others at what is now Todi (Umbria)

Vidfest: We’re all Spartacus

I thought of tying this to the Times piece (below) but it seems sufficiently different to warrant its own little chunk of rogueclassicism. The incipit of a column in the Post … where possible, I’ve interspersed bits from Youtub of the clip in question:

1. In the Stanley Kubrick epic “Spartacus,” the Romans offer slaves leniency if they’ll turn in the title character, played by Kirk Douglas. But when Spartacus rises to identify himself, Tony Curtis’ Antoninus screams “I’m Spartacus!” So does another man, then another, and by scene’s end, the infamous “No Snitching” movement is born.

And so, too, is an iconic movie moment, as “I’m Spartacus” became a legendary movie line in league with “You talkin’ to me?” “I coulda been a contender,” and “Don’t call me Shirley.”

As such, the line has generated more parodies and offshoots in pop culture than the “Single Ladies” video has on YouTube. On the occasion of the film’s 50th anniversary Blu-Ray release this Tuesday, here are some of our favorites.

MONTY PYTHON’S “LIFE OF BRIAN” (1979) As the Romans seek Brian (Graham Chapman) in order to release him from his crucifixion, they ask him to identify himself. Caught unaware, as he’s cursing out John Cleese’s People’s Front of Judea, the also-crucified Eric Idle sneaks in with, “I’m Brian of Nazareth.” When the real Brian screams “I’m Brian,” so does another man on a cross; then another, and another, until it becomes a chorus — including one man who announces, “I’m Brian, and so’s my wife.” The gesture of generosity from “Spartacus” is flipped into a cowardly act of self-preservation.

“MALCOLM X” (1992) Spike Lee ends his biopic of the civil rights icon with a depiction of Malcolm’s assassination, followed by footage of the actual murder. Then real African and African-American children declare, in the same spirit of unity as Spartacus’ fellow slaves, “I am Malcolm X.” [the bit comes towards the end of this long clip; some nice oratory by Nelson Mandela follows]

“MONK” (2002) The episode “Mr. Monk Meets the Red-headed Stranger” finds Willie Nelson, playing himself, suspected of killing his road manager after a financial dispute. When the police come to arrest him, his band members loyally step up, intoning “I’m Willie Nelson” one by one. The real Willie wisely surmises, “I don’t think they’re goin’ for it, boys.” [sorry ... can't find one for this]

“SOUTH PARK” (2005) In the episode “Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow,” which aired two months after Hurricane Katrina, Cartman and Stan accidentally breach a local beaver dam. This leads to Katrina-level flooding, and a parody of the hysteria and whirlwind of blame surrounding that tragedy that includes the mantra, “George Bush doesn’t care about beavers.” At episode’s end, after Stan confesses, the townspeople misconstrue his guilt for altruism and declare “I broke the dam” one after the other, Spartacus-style, as the music swells, with Stan screaming the details of his crime aloud to no avail. [can't find this one either, although I suspect it's there somewhere]

PEPSI COMMERCIAL (2005) Incorporating clips from the film, here the Romans simply want to return a lost lunch bag with the name “Spartacus” written on the back, and a can of Pepsi inside, to its rightful owner. As a Roman holds the can aloft and screams “Is there a Spartacus here to claim this?” Douglas and Curtis rise, Curtis screams his line, and the noble scene is transformed into a greedy grab for a can of soda as Douglas looks on, forlorn. In the end, the Roman declares that he is Spartacus, and takes the can for himself.

via Agenda: We’re all Spartacus –

… and as long as we’re doing things Spartacan, I came across this little vid thing of the Mediaeval Baebes singing Salva Nos, with images from the 2004 tv version of Spartacus:

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem ix kalendas junias

Bust of Germanicus. Marble, copy of the archet...

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ante diem ix kalendas junias

  • Quando Rex Comitavit Fas — the rex sacrorum had to perform some sort of ceremony before the day’s legal business could be conducted (possibly connected to the idea of Regifugium)
  • 15 B.C. — birth of the emperor-to-be-who-never-was Germanicus (brother of the emperor Claudius)
  • 299 A.D. — martyrdom of Donatian and Rogatian

The Curse of Cleopatra?

The Osiris temple at Taposiris Magna, Ptolemai...
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I’ve really got to stop reading email … every time I open it, it seems, there’s something about Cleopatra’s tomb and it’s presented in such a way that I feel I HAVE to respond to it. The latest comes from the venerable Al-Ahram, whose reporter seems (as will be made clear later) to have been at the same news conference/presentation/whatever as our National Geographic correspondent from t’other day. We’ll begin this one a few ‘graphs in, whence comes the title of this post … seems Dr. Hawass was being lowered down one of the shafts at Taposiris that we’ve been hearing about. Ecce:

By this time Hawass, in his Indiana Jones hat, was enclosed inside a red iron cage hung on an anchor which suspended him on a thick wire from an electronic engine. Hawass went downwards, and when he had almost reached the bottom he gave the order for the engine to stop as he had found subterranean water covering the bottom of the shaft. After a few moments of thought, and under the spell of his passion for archaeology, Hawass decided to take the plunge because, he said, he believed that underneath the water there would most probably be a monument or a collection of artefacts. However, when the team on top resumed their drilling, the engine refused to operate and Hawass was trapped inside the cage which swung bashing Hawass against the rough sides of the stony shaft. This went on for 20 minutes until, following several failed attempts, workmen pulled the cage out manually.

“It’s Cleopatra curse!” one of the workers cried out. Hawass laughed, and said that it was not the first time he had been in such a position. “I always face circumstances like this when I am up to something special,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly. “When I was digging inside the Valley of the Golden Mummies I got an electric shock from a lamp I was holding. The shock threw me two metres away and I hit the floor of the tomb. And an hour before my lecture at the opening of the Tutankhamun exhibition in the United States, the light of the gallery went out and the computer didn’t work. “I think this wasn’t the Pharaohs’ curse but Hawass’s curse,” he said with a huge grin.

If nothing else,  you have to admire the guy’s sense of humour. The report goes on:

He went on to say that the ancient temple site might hide the tomb of the legendary lovers Queen Cleopatra VII and Mark Anthony as it was a perfect place to hide their corpses, especially since Egypt was in a very bad political situation at the time of the war with Octavian — later the Roman Emperor Augustine.

… we’ll forgive the typo; they get it right later on … but again we see the ‘hiding the corpses’ scenario. It continues:

“Searching for the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony is very exciting,” Hawass said. He pointed out that his fondness for Cleopatra blossomed in his early youth, when at 16 years old he began to study Graeco-Roman archaeology in the Faculty of Art’s Greek and Roman Department at the University of Alexandria. He once asked Fawzi El-Fakharani, professor of Greek and Roman archaeology, about the place that he thought might be the location of the tomb of Cleopatra. Fakharani told him at the time: “To our knowledge and information Cleopatra was buried in a tomb beside her palace, which is now submerged under the Mediterranean Sea.”

Hawass relates that he forgot about the issue until four years ago, when Dominican archaeologist Martinez came to pay him a visit and tried to convince him of a theory that Cleopatra and Anthony were buried in Taposiris Magna, near Alexandria.

“When actually you look at such a temple and remember the Osiris myth, you will be convinced by such a theory,” Hawass said. He explained that the temple was dedicated to the worship of the god Osiris, who according to ancient Egyptian myth was killed by his brother, the god Seth, who cut his corpse into 14 pieces which he spread over the Earth. Egypt has 14 temples dedicated to Osiris. Each temple is known in hieroglyphics as Per Oser, or the place of Osiris, and each contains one of these pieces. And that, according to Hawass, is why such a temple could be a perfect resting place for the legendary lovers. We know from the Greek historian Plutarch, he says, that the pair were buried together.

I don’t get it. Yes, the place does sound like a perfect place for burials — and as will be seen below, it clearly was — but again (and again and again) we have to ask why would Tony and Cleo have any special connection to this place?  And if it’s such a great place for burials, why don’t we hear of other pharaonic types being interred in such milieux? And as long as we’re claiming Plutarch as a source, we should confirm that in the life of Marcus Antonius 84 we read (via Lacus Curtius):

But Caesar, although vexed at the death of the woman, admired her lofty spirit; and he gave orders that her body should be buried with that of Antony in splendid and regal fashion. Her women also received honourable interment by his orders.

Again, we stress that it is Octavian directing the funerary matters here and, if the reader does explore the section of Plutarch dealing with Cleo’s final days (book 80 and following) there is no indication of any of the events happening anywhere other than Alexandria and although an argument e silentio, I think we might reasonably expect at least one ancient source to mention the burial site if it were in an ‘irregular’ place. But even if we avoid such arguments (as I’d prefer to do)   as before, we can again wonder whether the body of one or both would have undergone mummification — I have had no enlightenment in regards to the burial practice of the Ptolemies and the sources seem confused in regards to the treatment of Antony’s remains. Timelines for ‘traditional’  mummification may or may not have been possible. Now we can skip a bit and bring up something that occurred to me while stuck in traffic today … writing about that recent statue find:

The statue is very well preserved, and is was one of the most beautiful statues ever found carved according to the ancient Egyptian style as it bore the traditional shape of an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh wearing a collar and kilt. “I believe that the statue may have been an image of King Ptolemy IV, the founder of the temple,” Hawass suggested. Inside the temple, Hawass continued, the mission found a temple dedicated to the goddess Isis, mythical sister and wife of Osiris.

One of the things that always seems to be brought up as evidence that Tony and Cleo were buried here are the various statues and coins we mentioned quite a while ago. By that same logic, should we not think/postulate that Ptolemy IV is buried here?

Skipping a couple of graphs:

The mission began excavating at Abusir five years ago with the goal of discovering the tomb of the famous lovers Cleopatra and Anthony. According to Hawass, there is evidence to prove that Cleopatra was not buried in the tomb built for her beside the royal palace — which now lies under the waves in the Eastern Harbour on the Mediterranean coast of Alexandria.

And what is that evidence? Apparently that very statuary, along with something WAY more interesting:

Hawass pointed out that over its years of excavations the mission had unearthed a number of headless royal statues, which might have been destroyed during the Christian Byzantine era. A number of heads featuring Cleopatra VII were also uncovered, along with 24 metal coins bearing an image of the queen’s face and one of Alexander the Great. All these objects suggest that Queen Cleopatra once built a religious chapel for her cult inside the temple of Osiris at Taposiris Magna. Outside the temple, at its back courtyard, a necropolis containing mummies from the Greek and Roman eras has been discovered. Hawass describes it as the largest ever Graeco-Roman cemetery to be found, stretching for more than half a kilometre. “Up to now the mission has succeeded in uncovering 22 rock- hewn tombs with stairs inside the necropolis,” Hawass told the Weekly. He went on to explain that skulls and mummies were also unearthed inside, two of which were gilded. On the west side of the temple another cemetery was located. “Early investigations show that the mummies were buried with their heads turned towards the temple, which indicated that the temple housed the tomb of a significant royal personality,” Hawass said, pointing out that if this were not so nobles would not have dug their tombs near the temple because, according to ancient Egyptian traditions, nobles always built their tomb near their kings and queens as demonstrated in the Valley of the Kings and Queens on Luxor’s west bank.

So it is the statuary. Outside of that, though, we’ve had hints that there were other burials here, but I don’t think we’ve heard of  how huge this necropolis is or anything about these ‘gilded mummies’ before (perhaps we have and I’ve missed/forgotten about it … we did hear about the rock cut tombs etc. a year ago last summer). That said, we have to ask: did any “nobles” have tombs near the mausoleum of the Ptolemies? Do we have any evidence that burial practices in Ptolemaic times mirrored those of Valley of the Kings times?  Or better, let’s ask: What pharaoh is buried at the Bahariya Oasis where all those gilded Greco-Roman mummies were found — they’re clearly “nobles and dignitaries”? It’s interesting that Dr Hawass makes no suggestion of pharaonic burials at Barhariya in any of his pages about the site. It’s even more interesting that he believes (probably not unreasonably) that  the Greco-Roman burials were in that area because of their proximity to a temple to Alexander the Great. Should we not be using the same logic as we’re using at Taposiris Magna and suggest that Alexander is buried at Bahariya? (and no, I don’t think Alexander is buried there).

We then get something similar to what was said in the National Geographic piece:

A radar survey carried out in the area revealed three anomalies or locations inside the temple, and it is possible that one of them could be the entrance of a tomb that goes down 20 metres below ground. “We are hoping that it could be of Queen Cleopatra and Mark Anthony,” Hawass said. “But as I always say, archaeology is based on theories and here we are experiencing one of them. If we succeed in discovering such a tomb it will be the discovery of the 21st century, and if not we still unearth major objects and monuments inside and outside the temple which shed more light on the history of the era and this mythical queen.”

After a few paragraphs with Kathleen Martinez reiterating that ‘political situation in Egypt’ claim, the journalist lets his imagination run a bit in his conclusion (note the leap in logic in regards to the gilded mummies; I wonder if that’s what Martinez was alluding to in July of 2009):

Hawass promises that next week he will travel to Alexandria in an attempt to explore the shaft. But first the water must be pumped out of it. As for now, searching for the lost tomb of Cleopatra and her beloved Mark Anthony is still in full swing, but can the mission find the tomb of the legendary lovers who, according to Plutarch, took their lives in 30 BC after losing a power struggle between Mark Anthony and his rival Octavian, who later, as Emperor Augustus of Rome, ordered that Cleopatra be buried in a splendid and regal fashion along with Anthony? The question is, where? Could the gilded mummies recently found of a man and a woman have been the two lovers? Or perhaps the three shafts found inside the temple will reveal their tomb; or does it house more anonymous skulls and bones? Nothing is in hand, and we must wait and see what the days hold.

via: So where are Anthony and Cleopatra? | Al Ahram

I suspect we all really know why there’s all this hype and this desire for a ‘big find’ in the next week or so … on June 5th, the Cleopatra exhibition is opening at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Interesting, though, that Action News is heading to the harbour at Alexandria … Okay … now unless Hawass and Martinez find something REALLY spectacular when they pump out that tunnel, I’m declaring a personal moratorium on anything related  Taposiris Magna for at least the long weekend.

This Day in Ancient History:ante diem xii kalendas junias

Bust of Septimius Severus (reign 193–212 CE).

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ante diem xii kalendas junias

  • Agonalia — the rex sacrificulus would offer a ram to various deities
  • rites in honour of Vediovis
  • 429 B.C. — birth of Plato (by one reckoning)
  • 70 A.D. — Roman forces break through Jerusalem’s middle wall
  • 194 A.D.(?) — Septimius Severus acclaimed as Imperator
  • 293 A.D. (?) — elevation of Galerius to the rank of Caesar by Diocletian
  • 1920 — birth of John Chadwick (The Decipherment of Linear B)
  • 1929 — death of Rodolfo Lanciani (perhaps May 22)
  • 1953 — birth of Don Fowler

More Cleopatra Tomb Stuff

Reliefs of Cleopatra VII and her son by Julius...

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In my mailbox this a.m. is an interesting little piece from National Geographic which seems to be answering some of the questions I raised (again) a few days ago about the continuing claims about Taposiris Magna as the site for Tony and Cleo’s tomb (or mostly the latter, I suppose). The post is, ostensibly, about that headless statue find, but goes further. Here’s the first excerpt of interest:

The newfound black granite statue—which stands about 6 feet (1.8 meters) without its head—is thought to be of King Ptolemy IV, because a cartouche carved of the same stone and bearing his name was found near the figure’s base.

Ptolemy IV was one of several Greek royals who ruled Egypt during the Ptolemaic period, from 332 to 30 B.C.

In addition to the headless statue, the Egyptian-Dominican dig team found an inscription, written in Greek and hieroglyphics, in the foundation deposits of one of the temple’s corners. The writing says Ptolemy IV—who ruled from 221 to 205 B.C.—commissioned the temple.

Previously experts had thought that the temple was built during the reign of Ptolemy II, who ruled from 282 to 246 B.C.

“If you are arguing for it to be a burial place for Cleopatra, then the later it is built, the more chance we have to have connections with her—the greater the possibility it was still active during her lifetime,” said Salima Ikram of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, who is not associated with the Taposiris digs.

… not sure I’m being nitpicky, but the difference between Ptolemy IV and Ptolemy II in terms of ‘proximity’ to Cleopatra VII really isn’t significant … anyhoo, we then get some more interesting stuff at the end:

So far, the temple’s cemetery has been found to contain at least 12 mummies, 500 skeletons, and 20 tombs. The bodies were buried facing the temple, which could mean the building contains the tomb of an important figure, Martinez said.

Inside the temple, the team found a place for a sacred pool, rooms likely used for mummification, and chapels dedicated to the gods Osiris and Isis. The powerful pair were husband and wife in Egyptian mythology—a fact that could have inspired the couple to chose the temple as their burial site.

“Cleopatra could [represent] Isis and Marc Antony could be Osiris,” said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), who is supervising the digs.

And in 2008 the team unearthed an alabaster bust of Cleopatra, coins bearing her image, and a bronze statue of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, among other artifacts.

“After excavations, we have uncovered what belongs to this temple, to this huge complex, proving it really was one of the most sacred temples in Alexandria” during the Ptolemaic period, said archaeologist and dig leader Kathleen Martinez.

“And because of the solemnity of this temple, and it was so sacred at that time, I believe it could have Cleopatra’s tomb.”

“Perfect Place” to Hide the Dead

Hawass added that Taposiris Magna is a good candidate site for the tombs of Antony and Cleopatra because the legendary couple would have wanted to be sure Roman conquerors couldn’t find and desecrate their graves.

Marc Antony likely suspected that Octavian would have paraded the dead bodies around Rome to show off his military might. The couple would have therefore wanted to be buried in a sacred but secret location outside Alexandria’s royal quarter.

About a year ago the SCA allowed Martinez to start using ground-penetrating radar inside Taposiris Magna. The results show a series of tunnels and as many as eight underground chambers that are still being explored.

“It’s the perfect place to hide their tombs,” said Hawass, who is also a National Geographic explorer-in-residence.

Excavation leader Martinez added that the sheer size of Taposiris Magna would have made any tombs there hard to find.

“This temple complex is five square kilometers,” or roughly two square miles, Martinez said. “We have been searching with new technology—how would the Romans have found them?”

via: Headless Egypt King Statue Found; Link to Cleopatra’s Tomb?

Okay, so it is clear now that we are dealing with a  theory based on a genuine example of ‘begging the question’. We are to believe that the Romans — especially in Augustus’ time — had a history of ‘desecrating burial sites’, which, as far as I’m aware, is utterly foreign to the superstitious Roman mindset. Even if examples of same can be found, for this theory to have any legs, one has to totally ignore the testimony of our ancient sources in regards to the corpses of both Antony and Cleopatra, both of which Octavian clearly would have had access to if he was of a ‘desecration mindset.’ Most damning, of course, is the line in Suetonius Aug. 17 which we’ve mentioned before:

Ambobus communem sepulturae honorem tribuit ac tumulum ab ipsis incohatum perfici iussit.

Octavian ALLOWED them to be buried together and clearly knew the site of the tomb. Martinez and Hawass REALLY have to explain the MAJOR  discrepancy between our ancient sources and their apparent ‘argument’ for continuing to claim this site as the “secret”  burial place of Cleopatra. “Solemnity” and vague ‘conspiracy theories’ don’t cut it.

The Search for Cleopatra’s Tomb Redux

With a Cleopatra exhibition about to hit Philadelphia and plenty of hype to be associated with it (if it isn’t already), it seems like a good time to see what — if any — developments there have been in the search for Cleopatra’s tomb. To bring folks up to speed, after finds of statuary linked to Cleopatra and (purportedly) Marcus Antonius, the folks at Taposiris Magna were forced to shut down operations last July because the President was summering in the area vel simm. Digging resumed (apparently) in October. In November we had a semi-coherent piece about the woman in charge of this particular dig — Kathleen Martinez — and it seemed to be treading a fine line between a link to Ptolemy and ‘Cleopatra’s Tomb’. Our November update also had links to most of our previous coverage.

Now we can get to some ‘new’ stuff. Back in December, I never got around to posting about the discovery/raising of some monumental gateway associated with Cleopatra’s palace complex from the waters off Alexandria. Here’s a bit from the Guardian:

A team of Greek marine archaeologists who have spent years conducting underwater excavations off the coast of Alexandria in Egypt have unearthed a giant granite threshold to a door that they believe was once the entrance to a magnificent mausoleum that Cleopatra VII, queen of the Egyptians, had built for herself shortly before her death.

They believe the 15-tonne antiquity would have held a seven metre-high door so heavy that it would have prevented the queen from consoling her Roman lover before he died, reputedly in 30BC.

“As soon as I saw it, I thought we are in the presence of a very special piece of a very special door,” Harry Tzalas, the historian who heads the Greek mission, said. “There was no way that such a heavy piece, with fittings for double hinges and double doors, could have moved with the waves so there was no doubt in my mind that it belonged to the mausoleum. Like Macedonian tomb doors, when it closed, it closed for good.”

Tzalas believes the discovery of the threshold sheds new light on an element of the couple’s dying hours which has long eluded historians.

In the first century AD the Greek historian Plutarch wrote that Mark Antony, after being wrongly informed that Cleopatra had killed herself, had tried to take his own life. When the dying general expressed his wish to pass away alongside his mistress, who was hiding inside the mausoleum with her ladies-in-waiting, he was “hoisted with chains and ropes” to the building’s upper floor so that he could be brought in to the building through a window.

Plutarch wrote, “when closed the [mausoleum's] door mechanism could not open again”. The discovery in the Mediterranean Sea of such huge pieces of masonry at the entrance to what is believed to be the mausoleum would explain the historian’s line. Tzalas said: “For years, archaeologists have wondered what Plutarch, a very reliable historian, meant by that. And now, finally, I think we have the answer.

“Allowing a dying man to be hoisted on ropes was not a very nice, or comforting thing to do, but Cleopatra couldn’t do otherwise. She was there only with females and they simply couldn’t open such a heavy door.”

The threshold, part of the sunken palace complex in which Cleopatra is believed to have died, was discovered recently at a depth of eight metres but only revealed this week. It has yet to be brought to the surface.

The archaeologists have also recovered a nine-tonne granite block which they believe formed part of a portico belonging to the adjoining temple of Isis Lochias. “We believe it was part of the complex surrounding Cleopatra’s palace,” said Zahi Hawas, Egypt’s top archaeologist. “This is an important part of Alexandria’s history and brings us closer to knowing more about the ancient city.”


Here’s a bit more detail from al Ahram:


Ibrahim Darwish, head of museums in Alexandria and one of the archaeologist-divers, said the tower was part of an entrance to a temple dedicated to Isis Lochias and was located on Cape Lochias. According to ancient sources, Cleopatra’s mausoleum stood near this temple. A door lintel and a coin bearing the image of a similar tower were among objects discovered there in 1998.

Archaeologist Harry Tzalas, who headed the 1998 underwater archaeological mission, told the Weekly that the lifted pylon was the most important artefact found in the submerged Royal Quarter as it is a symbol of an amalgamation of Greek and Pharaonic architectural styles. Tzalas pointed out that since the pylon, which is cut in the ancient Egyptian architectural style, was found at the entrance of the Greek temple of Isis Lochias, and shows that some of the monuments of Alexandria were not only in the Graeco-Roman style but Pharaonic as well.

Although the Eastern Harbour is the place where Mark Anthony died after being defeated by Octavian, and where Cleopatra tragically ended her life, Tzalas said, the couple were not buried there. He explained that the Cleopatra mausoleum was being built near the Isis temple but was not ready when she died, and she was not buried there.


The AP coverage — which has largely disappeared from the interwebs, alas — included a nice little paragraph, inter alia:

Hawass has already launched another high-profile dig connected to Cleopatra. In April, he said he hopes to find the long-lost tomb of Antony and Cleopatra – and that he believes it may be inside a temple of Osiris located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Alexandria.

More coverage:

Now here’s where I was confused — and was hoping for clarification (which is why I didn’t immediately post all that) which never came — because it appeared that we had one archaeologist saying they had found something known to be near the actual tomb of Cleopatra while the Supreme Council of Antiquities head was still saying things about Taposiris Magna. Further adding to the confusion was an excerpt from Dr. Hawass’ blog at the time:

The Greek expedition was able to recognize the artifacts, and they worked in cooperation with the Department of Underwater Antiquities of Alexandria at the coastal area of Chatby. The two most important of the 400 the Greek mission found are the 9-ton pylon tower, and the 15-ton threshold of a door. Both are made of granite and are of great historical importance in reconstructing the great city of ancient Alexandria. Ancient authors such as Plutarch and Strabo write about Cleopatra’s palace being located in this area, with her mausoleum and a temple of Isis right next to it. It seems likely that this pylon tower was for that temple of Isis, since it was the only temple in the area, and the threshold, which was found very near to it, could be for the door of Cleopatra’s tomb.

… and one from an associated press release:

According to Harry Tzalas who headed the 1998 mission, the tower was part of an entrance to a temple dedicated to Isis Lochias located on Cape Lochias. According to ancient sources, Cleopatra’s Mausoleum was near this temple – a door lintel and a coin bearing the image of a similar tower were among objects discovered in 1998.

At the eastern harbor is where Mark Antony died after being defeated by Octavian. It is also where Cleopatra tragically ended her life. However, we do not think the couple was buried here.

Why not? Why not? Why not? Much of the coverage mentioned below also claims ‘evidence’ that the couple wasn’t buried in Alexandria, but the details are lacking.

In any event the ‘latest’ discovery at Taposiris Magna is being touted as the latest ‘evidence’ of Cleo’s tomb being there. Indeed, just a quick overview of some of the headlines might give you the impression that it has definitely been found, e.g.:

What has been discovered in the past week or so is a headless statue of one of the Ptolemies (Ptolemy IV is apparently the likeliest candidate). The Independent’s reportage is more representative of the more reasonable coverage of this find:

Archaeologists excavating at Taposiris Magna, a site west of Alexandria, have discovered a huge headless granite statue of a Ptolemaic king, and the original gate to a temple dedicated to the god Osiris.

In a statement issued by the SCA, Dr Zahi Hawass says that the monumental sculpture, which is a traditional figure of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh wearing collar and kilt, could represent Ptolemy IV, the pharaoh who constructed the Taposiris Magna temple. He added that the statue is very well preserved and might be one of the most beautiful statues carved in the ancient Egyptian style.

The joint Egyptian-Dominican team working at Taposiris Magna discovered the temple’s original gate on its western side. In pharaonic Egypt the temple was named Per-Usir, meaning ‘A place of Osiris’. Legend has it that when the god Seth killed Osiris he cut him into fourteen pieces and threw them all over Egypt. This is one of fourteen temples said to contain one piece of the god’s body.

The team also found limestone foundation stones, which would once have lined the entrance to the temple. One of these bears traces indicating that the entrance was lined with a series of Sphinx statues similar to those of the pharaonic era.

The team, led by Dr Kathleen Martinez, began excavations in Taposiris Magna five years ago in an attempt to locate the tomb of the well-known lovers, Queen Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony. There is some evidence that suggests that Egypt’s last Queen might not be buried inside the tomb built beside her royal palace, which is now under the eastern harbour of Alexandria.

Dr Hawass pointed out that in the past five years the mission has discovered a collection of headless royal statues, which may have been subjected to destruction during the Byzantine and Christian eras. A collection of heads featuring Queen Cleopatra was also uncovered along with 24 metal coins bearing Cleopatra’s face.

Behind the temple, a necropolis was discovered, containing many Greco-Roman style mummies. Early investigations, said Dr Hawass, show that the mummies were buried with their faces turned towards the temple, which means it is likely the temple contained the burial of a significant royal personality, possibly Cleopatra VII.


A related report in VOA includes a paragraph which gives us a glimpse, I think, of why folks might be tenaciously clinging to this Taposiris theory:

The idea of Taposiris as the burial place of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, who killed themselves rather than submit to Antony’s rival Octavian, was proposed by a young Dominican archeologist, Kathleen Martinez. She tries to evoke the couple’s last days, the end of Egypt as an empire. “She has to choose a place that she must be safe after life,” she says, because “the Romans hated her so much, they will search for her body and they will destroy it.”

… which, of course, is interesting insofar as the Romans (at the official level) don’t seem to have ever had a problem with allowing burials. It was the mob who did the inter Tiberim sort of thing. But getting back to the ‘responsible coverage’ , much of it echoes what is found in a press release at Hawass’ blog. What’s more interesting, however, is the concluding paragraph in the aforementioned Independent piece,  which includes something not in the press release:

Dr Hawass has already hailed the dig as a success, whatever the outcome: “If we discover the tomb… it will be the most important discovery of the 21st century. If we do not discover the tomb… we made major discoveries here, inside the temple and outside the temple.”

Seems like Dr. Hawass is leaving the door open to back away from the Taposiris-as-tomb-site theory, no? Whatever the case, it’s increasingly starting to look like the ‘evidence’ that is preventing them from choosing the more logical site for Cleo’s tomb (in Alexandria) is the ‘non evidence’ from Taposiris Magna. I seem to hear the sound of hammers being applied to evidence …