Envisioning the Colosseum

As long as I’m in my photo file, here’s something else I meant to post from my trip to Rome — We’ve all seen your standard touristy photo of the Colosseum, to wit:


… and we are usually told that all those little arches originally had statuary in them. So, presumably, it looked something like this store front from near the Spanish Steps:


… or so it seemed to me on a very hot day when the kids were insisting on seeing what McDonalds tasted like in Italy …


I’ve got to do some photoshopping this weekend and I just remembered something I’ve been meaning to post for a couple of years now. Many of the folks reading rogueclassicism have likely been sitting in a classroom and had their teacher tell them that — even now — SPQR is written all over Rome. Usually appended to that claim is that it’s even written on the drain covers. Rarely, however, is the claim ever actually demonstrated, so as a (Re)public service, here’s a photo of a drain cover from Rome which I took a couple of years ago:


… and just to provide another example, here’s a lamppost (admittedly on the Via  dei Fori Imperiali):


… and fulfilling the scholastic rule of three (and connecting to a post at Eternally Cool), one of Rome’s many, many water taps:



Submerged Mycenean Site

A fair bit of coverage for this one … presumably there will be more after the dig commences. Here’s the incipit of the coverage via PhysOrg:

The oldest submerged town in the world is about to give up its secrets — with the help of equipment that could revolutionise underwater archaeology.

The ancient town of Pavlopetri lies in three to four metres of water just off the coast of southern Laconia in Greece. The ruins date from at least 2800 BC through to intact buildings, courtyards, streets, chamber tombs and some thirty-seven cist graves which are thought to belong to the Mycenaean period (c.1680-1180 BC). This Bronze Age phase of Greece provides the historical setting for much Ancient Greek literature and myth, including Homer’s Age of Heroes.

Underwater archaeologist Dr Jon Henderson, from The University of Nottingham, will be the first archaeologist to have official access to the site in 40 years. Despite its potential international importance no work has been carried out at the site since it was first mapped in 1968 and Dr Henderson has had to get special permission from the Greek government to examine the submerged town.

Although Mycenaean power was largely based on their control of the sea, little is known about the workings of the harbour towns of the period as archaeology to date has focused on the better known inland palaces and citadels. Pavlopetri was presumably once a thriving harbour town where the inhabitants conducted local and long distance trade throughout the Mediterranean — its sandy and well-protected bay would have been ideal for beaching Bronze Age ships. As such the site offers major new insights into the workings of Mycenaean society.

The aim of Dr Henderson’s project is to discover the history and development of Pavlopetri, find out when it was occupied, what it was used for and through a systematic study of the geomorphology of the area establish why the town disappeared under the sea.

Dr Henderson, from the Underwater Archaeology Research Centre (UARC) in the Department of Archaeology, said: “This site is of rare international archaeological importance. It is imperative that the fragile remains of this town are accurately recorded and preserved before they are lost forever. A fundamental aim of the project is to raise awareness of the importance of the site and ensure that it is ethically managed and presented to the public in a way which is sustainable and of benefit to both the development of tourism and the local community.”

The submerged buildings, courtyards, streets, tombs and graves, lie just off a sandy stretch of beach close to an area popular with holiday makers and campers. Under threat from tourism and industry the remains are being damaged by boats dragging their anchors, inquisitive snorkelers on the hunt for souvenirs and the growth of marine organisms which are also taking their toll degrading the fragile 3,500 year old walls.

The survey, in collaboration with Mr Elias Spondylis of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, will be carried out using equipment originally developed for the military and offshore oilfield market but looks set to transform underwater archaeological survey and recording.

It should be noted that there was a competing (?) project to investigate this site mentioned last year involving a group from Florida State. I’m not quite sure how that group relates to this one …

cf. … from March, 2008:

… the Saronic Harbors Archaeological Research Project webpage hasn’t been updated for a couple of years …

Alexander Statue from Alexandria?

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to lend any credence to claims of artifacts from the period of our purview being found in Egypt. After all that Cleopatra business of a few weeks ago (about which I might blog some more items that I’ve been sitting on), we get this item from the Egyptian State Information Service:

The Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Zahi Hawwas said 9/5/2009 that a Greek archeological mission under Calliope Papacosta discovered a rare statue made of white marble in Alexandria.

The 80 cm long, 23 cm wide statue has been discovered eight meters deep under the earth surface, Hawwas said.

A ribbon around the head of the statue proves that it belongs to an important person for such ribbon was used only be rulers, Hawwas added.

The facial features of the statue are much similar to that of Alexander the Great especially the nose and hair style, he said.

… so that’s the automatic spin Dr Hawass puts on it. Here’s how the story of the find was spun in the Greek Press (ANA):

The director of the Hellenic Research Institute of the Alexandrian Civilization (HRIAC) this week described a marble statue unearthed on May 4 during excavations in Shalalat Gardens of Alexandria, referring to a “a very important Hellenistic statue, very rare in terms of craftsmanship and beauty, and one that depicts a great figure of Hellenic history.”

The 80cm-tall statue was found in very good condition and retains numerous characteristics reminiscent of statues depicting Alexander the Great.

HRIAC director Kalliopi Limneou-Papakosta, an archaeologist, underlined that the statue will have to be studied further in order to draw safer conclusions as regards the identity of the figure it depicts.

The specific statue is regarded as the most important discovery made in Alexandria in recent times, and will soon be on display at the city’s archaeological museum.

The SIS version, for what it’s worth, was accompanied by this tiny photo:

Egyptian State Information Service photo
Egyptian State Information Service photo

Looks more like an athlete than an Alexander to me, but it really isn’t that great of a photo. What’s worth noting, however — perhaps as a warning — is that the area where this was found (i.e. Shalalat Gardens) is the place where some folks — most recently Andrew Chugg (video here … takes a while to download) — would place the tomb of Alexander.

Roman Mass Production?

An item/press release in Earthtimes claims:

German scientists disclosed Friday new evidence that the ancient Romans used mass-production methods to make metalwares at lesser cost, just like modern factories do. A close study of a 28-centimetre-tall bronze figure of the god Mercury made in the 2nd century AD showed it was hollow – an indication of cost cutting – and that its legs were made separately, indicating some kind of assembly line to exploit economies of scale.

Technical University of Munich scientists at the FRM-II research nuclear reactor in Garching near Munich blasted the statue with neutrons to reveal metal joins that are invisible to X-rays. Physicist Martin Mühlbauer said the neutron tomography study was done on a statue lent by Munich’s Archaeological Museum. The scientists then realized the figure had been chiselled open after casting to remove the inner mould, a crumb of which was still left inside. The opening had then been covered with bronze sheeting and the join smoothed over and made invisible. Museum chief Rupert Gebhard said, “It does suggest mass production. Having it hollow saved copper, and the fitted-on legs were stronger than if the statue had been cast in once piece.”The statue was found on a dig at Obernburg in Germany’s Main valley.

Interesting claim, but I’m not sure whether what is presented in this article on its own can really be construed as evidence of ‘mass production’ — in the absence of similar pieces to compare it to, how can one discern whether the ‘stages of production’ inferred above aren’t just the normal methods for a ‘one of’ piece? For what it’s worth, the whole idea of mass production in the Roman world is a subject of debate, as seen in this abstract for a paper at the 2007 Oxford Roman Economy Project:

Ben Russell (LMH) Mass-production in the Roman world: the evidence from stone objects

The purpose of this paper is to explore what an examination of stone objects can reveal, if anything, about ‘mass-production’ in the Roman world. By ‘mass-production’, I mean the production on a large scale of the same type of artefact using similar methods, frequently, but not always, involving the division of labour – often resulting in the mechanization of parts of the process – and the standardization of products. Amphorae, tablewares, bricks, nails and other metal objects, including coins, were all ‘mass-produced’ in the Roman world but do not allow the same fine-grained mode of analysis of the stages of their production that stone objects provide.
Stone and stone artefacts are the most permanent material vestiges of the Roman world. As traceable indicators of the distribution systems through which they were moved, traded, and redistributed as commodities, they offer an insight the mechanisms of the ancient economy, but as objects, they can act also as documents which, as Peter Rockwell has observed, describe their own manufacture.
Studies of the ‘marble trade’ in the Roman world, particularly the 1st to 3rd centuries AD, are somewhat divided on the issue of ‘mass-production’. While standardization is frequently remarked upon in the production of architectural elements – objects that were required to fit together into a larger composition, often alongside pieces from other production centres – and sarcophagi, much less emphasis has been placed on this factor in the replication of known statue types. In particular, the question of whether stone objects, notably sarcophagi and statuary, were produced primarily to stock or to order has provoked disagreement. Debate has become polarised, therefore, between those who believe in an industrial model in which centralized mass-production dominated, and ‘pro-active’ production for stock was the norm, and those who argue for small-scale, de-centralized production, where sculptors responded to the individual demands of their clientele.
This paper will argue that neither reconstruction accurately reflects reality. As John Ward-Perkins astutely noted, ‘a great deal of misunderstanding would be avoided if scholars would cease trying to squeeze into a single mould what must often have been a very wide diversity of individual practices.’