This seems to be more covert hype for a(n interesting) book than ‘news’ per se (maybe not), but … from a Carlos III University of Madrid press release:
This line of research, coordinated by Luz Neira, who is a professor in the Department of Humanities: History, Geography and Art, as well as a researcher in UC3M’s Institute for Culture and Technology (Instituto de Cultura y Tecnología), continues on the path established by previous studies that examined the images of women and certain legends in Roman mosaics. “We had previously shown the memory and conscious, self-interested reuse of myths, but this new volume also examines the possibility that there is a subliminal message regarding the elites’ fundamental concept of the civilization versus barbarism binomial,” explains the historian, who was in charge of the coordination and publication of ‘Civilización y barbarie: el mito como argumento en los mosaicos romanos’ (‘Civilization and Barbarism: Myths as plots in Roman Mosaics’) (CVG, 2012). A variety of specialists in Roman mosaics also collaborated on this book, which offers a new perspective in the approach to mythology and its reuse throughout history, which was a result of “a conscious and self-interested phenomenon of re-semantization.”
Specifically, there are premeditated and conscious recreations of certain mythological characters and episodes from different areas of the Empire, which were selected and even distorted in order to generate a spirit, deepen principles, or recall the foundations upon which their privileged position within the Roman state had been established, the researchers explain. “They re-used certain Greek myths as symbols that reinforced what Rome stood for,” states Luz Neira, “because they were of transcendental importance, due to the universal values they depicted, and they became champions of civilization”.
The scene of Achilles in Skyros, one of the most frequently depicted among the mosaics of the imperial epoch and which can be found, for example, in the villa of La Olmeda (Palencia), seems to be intended to highlight the archetype of the hero who is capable of giving his life for his country. The legends of divinities such as Dionysius and Aphrodite, the Labors of Hercules, the Journeys of Perseus and the battles between Amazons and centaurs are some of the other mythological episodes that originated in Greece that the Romans appropriated as their own and converted into models to be followed. “The memory of a legendary war and a mythological hero would become with the passing of time, and even up to the present day, the phenomenon with the greatest impact on people and individuals; this is what led us to analyze the myth as the story of the struggle between civilization and barbarism,” concludes the researcher.
Historiography in mosaics
Until now, the concept of the civilization in the Roman Empire had been analyzed using written sources and official images found in public spaces, in sculptures or relieves of certain monuments, such as arcs, steles or commemorative columns. However, very little in-depth research had been done on the representation of these concepts in private spaces, perhaps due to their domestic character, the researchers point out. “We were surprised by the absence of references of this type in the form of mosaics, where due to their unusual circumstances of conservation in situ the mosaic documentation offers an authentic repertoire of tile work, with geometric, plant and human figure decoration, connected to the private domestic contexts that pertained to the most privileged sectors of Roman society in any urban or rural location of the Empire,” comments Professor Neira.
In this respect, according to this historian, it seemed unthinkable, a priori, that members of the elite, who were involved in the government and matters of the Empire, would not have made use of the significant surface area of the mosaics that paved the living spaces of their domus and villae to commemorate their victories and their identification with Rome as a guarantor of civilization as opposed to “barbarism”. “They did it,” states Luz Neira, “by depicting re-used myths that evoked the values that, from an ideological point of view, Rome wished to represent.”
- via: The Romans used Greek myths in their mosaics as symbols of civilization (Carlos III University of Madrid)
In the wake of the evil deeds in Aurora, Colorado last week, I was trying to remember whether the Romans had an ancient equivalent of ‘gun control’ and I seem to recall some prof or another in my distant past suggesting that Rome did, in fact, disarm their subjects. I also recall reading from time to time on the web that the Romans did this sort of thing and I have also wondered if those folks have considered the logistics of it. Whatever the case, the source for this view is likelyRamsey MacMullen’s Roman Social Relations, where it is mentioned sort of in passing (p. 35, with a list of exempla in n. 26). Without coming down on one side or the other of the ‘gun control debate’, I do want to point out that MacMullen’s views need to be tempered with the extensive study by P. A . Brunt in Phoenix 29.3, 260-270, “Did Rome Disarm Her Subjects”, wherein Brunt examines MacMullen’s exempla and counters with several others. Here’s the opening paragraph:
In his Roman Social Relations 50 B.C.-A.D. 284 New Haven and London 1974) Professor Ramsay Macmullen presents a sombre picture of the condition of the lower orders in the Roman empire, which in general appears to me to represent the truth only too well. But among the many suggestions he throws out which provoke reflection, at least one may challenge dissent. In his sketch of Roman taxation he urges that the resistance movements it caused “reveal in rough outline a common pattern of desperation: first, initial conquest by the Romans; next, the rapid confiscation of all hidden weapons;” and then assessments and “recurrent spasms of protest against the weight of tribute harshly calculated and still more harshly exacted.” His belief that even in the early empire taxation was heavier than is commonly assumed seems to me justifiable, but that is not my subject here. Is it right that disarmament, indeed rapid disarmament, was normally the first act of the conquerors as a prelude to taxation? Macmullen founds this claim on (a) a few texts relating to the disarmament of particular peoples and (b) an interpretation of the law or laws de vi, which in his judgement show that disarmament was universal.’ By implication, it was also permanent. There is perhaps some risk that this view will gain credit, unless rebutted. A fuller survey of the evidence suggests to me that disarmament was far from normal and, where attempted, without lasting effect.
… and the conclusion:
When Roman conquest deprived a people of “liberty,” the loss affected not so much the masses as the old ruling class; we must, however, remember that most of Rome’s subjects had been previously under the control of some other king or hegemon, and that relatively few of the provincial civitates had any real sovereignty to lose. Whatever political loss they did sustain was compensated from the first by the blessings of peace and by Rome’s readiness to uphold their local dominance, and in course of time by an increasing share in the imperial government. The notables were in the best position to discern the difficulty or impossibility of successful revolt, and to enjoy the benefits of order, civilization, and actual participation in Roman power. Without the leadership they alone could give, resistance to Rome could not be effectively organized and had even less chance of success. The rise of provincials in the imperial service and the endless panegyrics they pronounced on Rome’s beneficence alike attest the growth of active consent to Roman rule among the subjects who mattered most, if that rule was to endure. It was by winning over the magnates and not by disarming the masses that the Roman government secured submission and internal peace. Disarmament was neither practicable nor necessary as a systematic rule of policy; it was a mere expedient of no more than temporary utility, to be employed against some peoples at the moment of surrender or when there was some particular reason for apprehending disturbances. The “common pattern” is quite different; the local ruling class is left to control the masses and share in their exploitation, and Rome adapts the warlike proclivities of her subjects by giving them arms to protect and maintain her own empire.
… definitely worth a read if you’re asked “What would the Romans do in this situation? Didn’t they …”
The incipit of a very interesting item from the Telegraph:
Scholars discovered the 100-yard-wide (90-metre-wide) canal at Portus, the ancient maritime port through which goods from all over the Empire were shipped to Rome for more than 400 years.
The archaeologists, from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton and the British School at Rome, believe the canal connected Portus, on the coast at the mouth of the Tiber, with the nearby river port of Ostia, two miles away.
It would have enabled cargo to be transferred from big ocean-going ships to smaller river vessels and taken up the River Tiber to the docks and warehouses of the imperial capital.
Until now, it was thought that goods took a more circuitous overland route along a Roman road known as the Via Flavia.
“It’s absolutely massive,” said Simon Keay, the director of the three-year dig at Portus, the most comprehensive ever conducted at the site, which lies close to Rome’s Fiumicino airport, 20 miles west of the city.
“We know of other, contemporary canals which were 20-40 metres wide, and even that was big. But this was so big that there seems to have been an island in the middle of it, and there was a bridge that crossed it. It was unknown until now.”
The subterranean outline of the canal was found during a survey by Prof Martin Millett, of Cambridge University, using geophysical instruments which revealed magnetic anomalies underground.
The dig, which is being carried out in partnership with Italian archaeologists, is shedding light on the extraordinary trading network that the Romans developed throughout the Mediterranean basin, from Spain to Egypt and Asia Minor.
The archeologists have found evidence that trading links with North Africa in particular were far more extensive than previously believed. They have found hundreds of amphorae which were used to transport oil, wine and a pungent fermented fish sauce called garum, to which the Romans were particularly partial, from what is now modern Tunisia and Libya.
Huge quantities of wheat were also imported from what were then the Roman provinces of Africa and Egypt.
“What the recent work has shown is that there was a particular preference for large scale imports of wheat from North Africa from the late 2nd century AD right through to the 5th and maybe 6th centuries,” said Prof Keay.
90 metres wide! That’s huge! Where did the water come from to fill it?
The BBC seems to be first off the mark with this one, and it will likely be picked up:
Archaeologists in Herefordshire have uncovered the remains of what could possibly be a female gladiator.
Amongst the evidence of a Roman suburb in Credenhill, they have found the grave of a massive, muscular woman.
She was found in an elaborate wooden coffin, reinforced with iron straps and copper strips, which indicate her importance.
Her remains were found in a crouched position, in what could be a suburb of the nearby Roman town of Kenchester.
The archaeological Project Manager, Robin Jackson, said: “When we first looked at the leg and arm bones, the muscle attachments suggested it was quite a strapping big bloke, but the pelvis and head, and all the indicators of gender, say it’s a woman.”
“The coffin would have been made of wood – we haven’t got any of the wood left, but we’ve got the nails around the outside then three huge giant straps that run all the way around the coffin, and also bronze strips on the corners which would have probably strengthened it, but probably decorated it.
“It’s quite an elaborate and probably a very expensive coffin, and yet the person in it looked like they had a hard working life, and so there’s an anomaly there.”
An offering of beef and a fired pot were also found in the grave, and she was buried on top of a base of gravel.
Also unusual was the place where she was buried – in the suburb, instead of in a cemetery on the edge of the settlement, which was the law in Roman times.
This archaeological find is as a result of excavations in advance of the construction of the Yazor Brook Flood Alleviation Scheme, which will protect homes and businesses in Hereford.
The road east from Kenchester was constructed by the Roman army in the mid 1st century AD, as they pushed westwards into Wales.
Very little was known previously about the suburb which grew up beside this road, however, preliminary results suggest that the main period of development for the suburb was the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, and that it was much more extensive and densely occupied than had previously been thought.
Trial work, undertaken in 2009, showed that the area contains the well-preserved remains of Roman buildings, yards and rubbish pits situated to either side of a major Roman road, which ran east out of the town.
These form part of an important Roman suburb, which developed alongside the road, but now lies buried, along with the rest of the town, beneath fields and a footpath.
A team of archaeologists from Worcestershire Historic Environment and Archaeology Service, working in close co-operation with Amey Consulting and Herefordshire Council’s archaeology team, are carefully excavating a 10-metre wide corridor, to allow the flood culvert to be built across this area.
A huge amount of information has already been gleaned, and this is beginning to allow the archaeologists to gain an understanding of this part of the town.
It is hoped that by the time the excavation is completed, at the end of July 2010, the archaeological team will have built up a detailed understanding of the development and nature of this Roman suburb.
The original report also includes a brief audio interview with the archaeologist (Robin Jackson) … much of it is transcribed in the above interview, of course, but something extremely important has been left out. We seem to start in medias res with:
It’s an outside possibility, but we have a very interesting female body on the site …
… so we wonder what that ‘outside possibility’ might be, then later we hear from the journalist after the ‘there’s an anomaly there’ bit in the written piece:
Because if it was somebody that was working in the fields, the strength came from that they would have been buried in a shroud out of the way of the way of the settlement. This is why we’re thinking she’s a fighting lady …
Well that’s one theory that can be pursued; I can’t say that I can come up with any better … [I omit bits about the burial, the joint of beef, the pot, etc. as evidence of 'elaboration' which doesn't "sit happily"] … so maybe the warrior idea is one that you can pursue, but I’ll leave that to peoples’ imaginations rather than what I formally write down.
So clearly we’re just dealing with some ‘thinking out loud’ rather than a formal theory at this point. I highly doubt we’re dealing with a female gladiator in these environs (someone like that would have surely been sent to Rome). The burial in the ‘crouched position’ would also suggest that she’s probably buried in a coffin that wasn’t made specifically for her … I wonder what other burials in the area are like.
UPDATE (A few hours later):
The incipit of a brief item from the Hereford Times:
EXPERTS at an archaelogical dig near Hereford say reports they have found an ancient gladiator are inaccurate.
A local radio station has this morning stated that a female warrior had been unearthed during the dig at Credenhill.
But Robin Jackson, of the Worcestershire Historic Environment and Archaeology Service, said the body was merely of a woman of “considerable stature” representing a lifetime of hard work.
This one from Sify/ANI is annoyingly lacking in details … I can’t find a name for al-Bahred in ancient times, but it seems to be the right distance away from Apamea to be a mansio at least …:
Archaeologists have unearthed an archaeological temple dating back to the Hellenistic and Roman eras.
They have also found a stone-made bridge dating back to the Roman era.
The findings were uncovered in the village of al-Bared River, 20 kms to the west north of Apamea, central Syrian Province of Hama, reports the Global Arab Network.
According to Director of Hama Antiquities Department, Jamal Ramadan, the temple was built in Hellenistic architectural style, of 210-centimeters long and 170-cenetimeters wide stones inscribed from their internal side.
The unearthed stone-made bridge dates back to the Roman Era, and is 10-meter long and 3-meter wide with three asymmetric arches.
Following an initial excavation of two weeks, the archaeological team revealed details of the earliest discoveries.
The building’s walls were made of blocks of dried clay, the first ever example of Etruscan-made brick, said Rafanelli. Clay plaster was also found, along with a door handle and the remains of bronze furniture. Of particular interest is the basement of the house. Built of drystone this was apparently used as a cellar for storing food supplies. A massive pitcher which stood in the corner of the main room was used to hold grain.
Other finds include the original flooring of the house, made of crushed earthenware plaster, along with remains of vases, amphorae and plates painted black.
A large quantity of metal nails in the house, along with their placements, indicates the main room might have once contained a kind of mezzanine level built from wooden beams. Six Roman and Etruscan coins discovered on a small alter inside the structure suggest it collapsed in 79 BC, during a period of war sparked by the Roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla.
Experts believe the building, which was used both as a home and for commercial activity, belonged to a wealthy and influential family at the time of its collapse. The variety of styles discovered so far indicates it was extended and renovated several times during its three centuries of existence. “The building was part of the ancient town of Vetulonia and is much older than other sections of the town uncovered so far,” said Rafanelli. “We also want to work towards transforming this building into an open air museum,” she added, promising the excavations would continue.
This one’s kind of confusing for me … from the 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.
… I’m not sure what a ‘stone crown’ is … is it just another type of capital?
Oh, those clumsy work crews:
Work crews in Cyprus have accidentally unearthed four rare clay coffins estimated to be some 2,000 years old, the country’s Antiquities Department director said Wednesday.
Maria Hadjicosti said the coffins adorned with floral patterns date from the east Mediterranean island’s Hellenistic to early Roman periods, between 300 B.C. and 100 A.D.
She said the coffins were dug up this week from what is believed to be an ancient cemetery in the eastern coastal resort of Protaras.
Hadjicosti said similar coffins dating from the same period have been discovered. Two such coffins are on display in the capital’s Archaeological Museum, while three others remain in storage there. But she called the latest find significant because the coffins were untouched by grave robbers.
“The undisturbed coffins will help us add to our knowledge and understanding of that period of Cyprus history,” Hadjicosti said.
She said other items found at the site included human skeletal remains, glass vessels and terra cotta urns, indicating that the cemetery was in use over a long period of time.
The official said the cemetery is one of several found throughout island’s northeast, but scientists don’t know which undiscovered settlement the bodies came from.
Crews stumbled on the coffins – or sarcophagi – while working to complete a sidewalk at the resort. [...]
Some photos accompany the original AP article …
Interesting press release from the Austrian Mint:
For some five centuries the River Danube formed an essential part of ancient Rome’s northern border against the barbarian tribes of Germania. The Austrian Mint’s new silver series called “Rome on the Danube” breathes life back into the ruined remains of the towns and forts that played such prominent roles in the life of the Roman Empire in Austria.
The province of Noricum covered about two-thirds of modern day Austrian territory. It had been originally a kingdom of Celtic tribes until it was taken over by the Romans in a peaceful occu-pation under the Emperor Augustus in about 15 B.C. Thirty years later the Emperor Claudius converted Noricum into a regular Roman province and established the city of VIRUNUM as its adminis-trative capital. Military command was vested not in the governor at Virunum, but rather in the commander of the legions standing guard along the River Danube in the north. The governor was ap-pointed by the emperor in Rome. His primary responsibility was for finance and taxation as well as for the administration of Roman law and order. His capital stood on a Roman road connecting it to Aquileia in the south and to Ovilava (Wels) in the north and the Limes or string of forts and towers guarding the Danube border.
Virunum was the cultural centre of life in Noricum with the only great amphitheatre to have been discovered on Austrian territory. Built on the classical Roman system of a rectangular grid of streets with large open forums housing temples and grand basilicas, Virunum was an unfortified township like many other such settlements – a tribute to the Pax Romana (the Roman Peace). The streets were unpaved, but the city had a plentiful supply of water feeding public fountains and a good drainage system with lead piping. On an artificially built terrace above the city were a military camp and an elliptically shaped arena for animal and gladiatorial combat, as well as military exer-cises and training or parades.
The lack of walls rendered Virunum vulnerable to marauding tribes that managed to cross the Danube and raid the rich Roman province of Noricum, and in times of weakness and turmoil the city did fall prey to plundering barbarians. In the early Chris-tian era Virunum had its own bishop and church. Exactly when the city was abandoned we do not know, but abandoned it was. Its noble buildings of stone and marble became quarries for building materials, until the earth itself decently covered over the wounds of its ruins, leaving it to modern archaeologists to re-awaken Roman Virunum once more from its centuries’ long sleep.
The new 20 Euro silver coin shows a profile portrait of the Emperor Claudius, who founded Virunum (“Municipium Claudium Virunum”). In the background one sees a Roman wagon drawn by a pair of horses. It is part of a grave stone from Virunum, pres-ently affixed to the south wall of the church in neighbouring Maria-Saal. The reverse side displays an imaginary street scene. A Roman wagon drives past the portico of a temple. At the back rise the high walls and roof of a grand basilica. In the foreground to the left we find a blacksmith hammering the highly-prized Noric iron into swords for the Roman legions. The name at the base of the coin identifies the city as Virunum.
The new € 20 silver coin is struck in proof quality only and to maximum mintage of 50,000 worldwide. Each coin comes in an attractive box with a numbered certificate of authenticity. A collection case for the whole series of six coins may be purchased separately.
In September the second coin of the series, “VINDOBONA” (Vienna), will be issued.
An item from the Sydney Morning Herald caught my eye at some point this week … here’s the incipit:
TONY ABBOTT is under pressure to justify telling students it was considerably warmer when Jesus was alive after leading scientists said his claim was wrong.
He urged year 5 and 6 pupils at an Adelaide school to be sceptical about the human contribution to climate change, saying it was an open question.
In a question-and-answer session on Friday, the Opposition Leader said it was warmer “at the time of Julius Caesar and Jesus of Nazareth” than now.
Leading scientists said there was no evidence to suggest it was hotter 2000 years ago. [...]
… back when rogueclassicism was young, we mentioned a study in CO2 Science on the so-called Roman Warm Period, which ran roughly from 250 B.C. to 450 A.D.. A more recent study (which didn’t get any press attention, near as I can tell, but is all over the interwebs) uses mollusk evidence to suggest the period was actually warmer than the present day. Interesting implications about the Romans’ activities rarely, if ever, seem to be mentioned in connection with the RWP (cf., e.g., claims of Roman pollution found in Iceland). Seems to be some sort of ‘elephant in the room’ situation …
UPDATE (05/22/10): The study seems to be filtering to the editorial pages, e.g.:
- <a href=”http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/may/19/nero-was-hotter-than-al-gore/”>EDITORIAL: Nero was hotter than Al Gore | Washington Times</a>
I think this is something many folks suspected …
Military warmongers took over the Roman Empire in the third century. The senate, the administrative elite of the Roman empire watched from the sidelines. Dutch researcher Inge Mennen investigated the balance of power in Imperium Romanum during the ‘crisis of the third century‘. Conclusion: senators lost their military power but retained their status. Meanwhile military emperors pulled the strings.
Inge Mennen studied biographies of the most prominent men from the turbulent third century to gain an impression of the shifts in the balance of power.
For decades power in ancient Rome was in the hands of the senators who traditionally came from a small group of wealthy aristocratic families. Status and network paved the way to the top. Military experience assumed second place. The senate was also the rearing ground for future emperors: only the ordo senatorius could cultivate emperors. At least that was the case until the third century AD. Then senators had to make room for men of an utterly different class: military emperors from the equestrians. Within just 100 years the Roman Empire changed almost beyond recognition: emperor Diocletianus realised large-scale reforms. He reorganised the army and shared the power with his most important general. The Roman Empire was then effectively split in two. How could that have happened within such a relatively short space of time? Inge Mennen attempted to answer this question.
In the third century the border areas of the immeasurably large empire came under pressure. Emperors had to spend increasing amounts of time dealing with the far corners of the empire and the increasing threat of war. Senators, with their limited military experience, were overshadowed by military leaders. Yet Inge Mennen’s research also reveals that some of the senators managed to use the new situation to their advantage. They retained their high social position but at the same time quietly expanded their power in the more peaceful parts of the empire. They relinquished some of their military might but flourished in legal, administrative and financial positions. Appointments up to the level of the senate were made via the emperor who in this way honoured the elite of Rome and at the same time could consolidate his own power.
Meanwhile the ‘new era’ at the start of the tumultuous crisis century ensured the expulsion of the equestrians from Rome. For a long time equestrians had occupied mainly advisory positions in the emperor’s palace. Yet with the absence of the emperor in times of war and the increasing power of cunning senators, this group became superfluous. That left the equestrians with just one option: defending the empire. Professional soldiers also saw an opportunity to climb up to the equestrians via a career in the army. Gradually the composition and culture of this social class changed. The Roman Empire at war made grateful use of this growing group of warmongers: they now advised the emperor and controlled the border areas. Equestrians who had won their spurs in the Roman army even rose to the rank of emperor, an honour which up until that time had been the exclusive privilege of the senators.
The senators continued to control Rome, the empire’s old seat of power, whereas the equestrians gained increasing control of the periphery of the empire. The focus came to lie on the peripheral provinces, in the regions of the empire where wars had to be fought. In order to retain control of these areas the emperors needed a military background. They also devoted an increasing proportion of their time to military matters and so they frequently felt obliged to put off other tasks. At the worst of times, the emperors were even forced to give up parts of their empire.
The old imperial dynasties were not reinstated in the third century. Instead military emperors emerged: powerful generals who, with the support of their troops, gained the emperorship for a short period of time. They reigned until the next coup by an ambitious general. Military and civil affairs came into the hands of two completely different groups until these issues were formally separated by emperor Diocletianus. According to Inge Mennen, the reforms implemented by this emperor are not as radical as they might initially appear. The biographies of the powerful men of the third century reveal that many changes had already been set in motion a good century previously. Although Diocletianus put these ideas in writing, they were not entirely new.