Roman Spectacle Entertainments and the Technology of Reality
Arethusa – Volume 43, Number 1, Winter 2010, pp. 63-86
The Johns Hopkins University Press
Roman spectacle entertainment has attracted substantial scholarly interest because of renewed ways in which politics is seen as culturally enacted. Less attention has been paid to the technologies associated with these spectacles. When discussed, technologies emerge as a manufactured form of manipulation by a knowing elite over a gullible populace that heightened the anticipation of violence or magnified the charisma and prestige of the emperor. I suggest a more paradoxical result. These technologies, in their ability to extract that which is distinct and permanent from the environment, make both nature and humanity transitory, reproducible, and conformable to human desire. What I call technologies of reality produce a tension between the status-affirming function of spectacles and the status-collapsing effects of a new cultural politics as spectacles combined participation with consumption and hierarchic distinction with democratized desire.
The incipit of a recently-dated piece from AdnKronos which seems to be being picked up by some other papers:
An international team of archaeologists claims to have unearthed the 2000-year-old birthplace of the Roman emperor, Vespasian, north of the Italian capital. Vespasian ruled the Roman empire in the first century A.D. and was behind the construction of the Colosseum, one of Italy’s most popular landmarks.
Archeologists believe they have located his birthplace in the Falacrinae valley near the hill town of Cittareale, 130 km northeast of Rome.
“Ancient Roman historian Suetonius says Vespasian was born in the Falacrinae valley area. Field surveys and information from locals have told us tell us this must be Vespasian’s birthplace,” one of the project’s directors, British archaeologist Helen Patterson told Adnkronos International (AKI).
Vespasian was the ninth Roman emperor, who reigned from 69-79 AD. He was believed to come from humble beginnings and founded the short-lived Flavian dynasty after the civil wars that followed Nero’s death in 68 AD.
During recent excavations, the archaeologists uncovered sumptuous marble floors and mosaics at the site of the 3,000-4,000 square metre Villa of Falacrinae, Patterson said.
The team of 30-60 archaeologists recovered pots, numerous coins, ceramic and metal artefacts from the site which is 820 metres above sea level, overlooking the surrounding Falacrinae valley.
The archeologists are hoping to recover more items in fresh excavations in July and August, Patterson said. [etc.]
Not positive about this, but I see nothing new here compared to reports (about which I expressed some skepticism) last summer …
Our previous coverage:
The Fitzwilliam is certainly getting a lot of press attention, and each item revealed seems for interesting than the next. The Daily Mail, ferinstance, is highlighting the exhibition of a Roman precursor to the Swiss Army Knife:
The world’s first Swiss Army knife’ has been revealed – made 1,800 years before its modern counterpart.
An intricately designed Roman implement, which dates back to 200AD, it is made from silver but has an iron blade.
It features a spoon, fork as well as a retractable spike, spatula and small tooth-pick.
Experts believe the spike may have been used by the Romans to extract meat from snails.
It is thought the spatula would have offered a means of poking cooking sauce out of narrow-necked bottles.
The 3in x 6in (8cm x 15cm) knife was excavated from the Mediterranean area more than 20 years ago and was obtained by the museum in 1991.
The unique item is among dozens of artefacts exhibited in a newly refurbished Greek and Roman antiquities gallery at the Fitzwilliam Museum, in Cambridge.
Experts believe it may have been carried by a wealthy traveller, who will have had the item custom made.
A spokesman said: ‘This was probably made between AD 200 and AD 300, when the Roman empire was a great imperial power.
‘The expansion of Rome – which, before 500 BC, had just been a small central Italian state – made some individuals, perhaps like our knife-owner, personally very wealthy.
‘This could have been directly from the fruits of conquests, or indirectly, from the ‘business opportunities’ the empire offered.
‘We know almost nothing about the person who owned this ingenious knife, but perhaps he was one of those who profited from the vast expansion of Rome – he would have been wealthy to have such a real luxury item.
‘Perhaps he was a traveller, who required a practical compound utensil like this on his journeys.’
The spokesman added: ‘While many less elaborate folding knives survive in bronze, this one’s complexity and the fact that it is made of silver suggest it is a luxury item.
‘Perhaps a useful gadget for a wealthy traveller.’
Modern Swiss Army knives originated in Ibach Schwyz, Switzerland, in 1897 and were created by Karl Elsener.
The knives which provide soldiers with a ‘battlefield toolkit’ have since become standard issue for many modern day fighting forces thanks to their toughness and quality.
Nationalist Elsener decided to design the knives after he realised the Swiss army were being issued with blades manufactured in neighbouring Germany.
Other popular artefacts include an intricately designed Greek make-up box which was custom made almost 3000 years ago for a women of ‘wealth and status’.
… there follows a bit that seems to be an orphan description of some items mentioned before. In any event, lest folks think this is the only item of this sort know, the Armillum website has some photos of other examples (and there are, of course, some useful photos at the Daily Mail) …
Brief item on the amphitheatre at Caserta and its links to Spartacus: