Another Antiquities Dealer in Trouble

A different sort of case from the Guardian:

A British antiquities dealer who faces being deported to Greece and imprisoned over claims that he sold stolen ancient artefacts to an Athens dealer is expected to learn his fate within the next fortnight.

Malcolm Hay, 60, an Oxford-educated trader who has sold antiquities to museums worldwide, was arrested in 2007 – eight years after he sold broken pottery pieces to the dealer.

He claims the trader, who bought hundreds of shards from him, used his invoice falsely as “whitewashing” for valuable unprovenanced items that were later found in her shop by Greek police.

The items seized from the trader in 2000 were worth nearly £200,000. They included unbroken pots and figurines from around 6BC, which under Greek law belong to the state. She was later acquitted after claiming that she bought them from Hay, a charge he disputes.

Hay maintains that the only evidence is the word of the Greek dealer, which “the Crown Prosecution Service wouldn’t regard as evidence”. He says that he sold her the shards for £1,880 in 1999, invoicing them as “550 pieces of terracotta”.

Having previously sold to the Athens dealer, Hay was surprised when in 2000 Interpol requested an interview with him as a witness.

He heard nothing more until he was arrested by British armed police in 2007, based on a European arrest warrant (EAW) issued by Athens. He said: “I had never been notified, accused or summoned by the Greek courts in the intervening years, and this came like a blow.”

His plight has shocked the antiquities world and has led dealers to attach photographs to invoices.

Hay faces being jailed for four years if he is extradited under EAW legislation, which no longer requires foreign prosecutors to provide evidence of guilt to British courts. Lawyers say the advent of the EAW has sparked hundreds of extradition requests from member states – some, such as a request from Poland, for offences as minor as the theft of firewood.

The article continues, but it seems largely a duplication of the above … the ‘whitewashing’ claim is kind of interesting, as it is the sort of thing that I have long suspected is the purpose of many online auctions of antiquities (especially those strangely private ones which used to be regular features on eBay … not sure if they are still allowed) … we’ll see what happens in this one.

Latest Lysistratidai

Belgian politico-spouses are being urged to give their hubbies the Lysistrata treatment:

… we started keeping track of these things a couple of years ago … fwiw, I could have sworn I saw a sign suggesting a similar thing in the tv coverage of the recent Egyptian or Tunisian uprisings, but I can’t find any mention of it …

Gladiator Epics — Classics Departments’ Dirty Little Secret

Lengthy piece in the Miami Herald on the ongoing popularity of Gladiator/Roman movies … along the way, they interview some Classicists:

From the biblical epics of the ’50s to the toga dramas of the ’60s through more recent hits such as “300,” “Gladiator,” “Braveheart” and TV series such as “Hercules,” “Xena: Warrior Princess,” “Rome” and I, Claudius,” it seems there is always an audience out there that is as equally entranced by the ancient world as the modern – even if the genre is often dismissed as sword-and-sandal or toga trash.


No one knows that better than those who teach the classics for a living. They understand why some view movies/TV shows about the eras with which they are fascinated with a jaundiced eye.

“That’s a legacy of the ’50s, those great Roman biblical epics that were so serious. … but there were fake beards and visible smallpox vaccinations,” says Matthew Brosamer, an associate professor of English at Los Angeles’ Mount St. Mary’s College, who specializes in the literature of Roman, Middle Ages and Renaissance eras. “Literate moviegoers didn’t respect them.”

Richard Armstrong, associate professor of classical studies at the University of Houston who has taught a course on how Rome is perceived in cinema called “Epic Masculinity,” says in an e-mail response that the accents also get in the way. “Part of it is that we have these odd conventions that the Romans had British accents, while all the Christians sound like they’re from Kansas.”

(Actually, in “The Eagle,” Scottish director Kevin Macdonald flipped the script and wanted American actors to portray Romans and British actors to play their slaves and occupied peoples. “He wanted to make a bit of a political statement,” Tatum says.)

Of course, there’s the undercurrent of homo-eroticism which was most famously lampooned in “Airplane!” with the line from the late Peter Graves: “Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”

Not to mention sex in general which, in Hollywood’s eyes, Romans seemed to be having all the time with anyone, anywhere.

Armstrong thinks that Starz’ “Spartacus” series is aping the worst aspects of “Caligula,” the 1979 Roman Empire-era film produced by Penthouse magazine’s Bob Guccione that was derided at the time for being pornographic.

“‘Spartacus’ aspires to that level of transgression,” says Armstrong. “I think the constant juxtaposition of sex and utter brutality oversimplifies whatever it wants to say about the ancient world, and reflects more the worlds of cage fighting and the Playboy Channel than Rome, or Capua where it’s actually set. … Pretty boring unless you’ve never seen naked people before.”

That sense that the ancient world strutted to a different moral drummer is why some think that so many are intrigued by that time period. We can live vicariously through these characters and accept behavior from heroes and villains that we would be repulsed by if set in the contemporary world.

“Why can we be titillated by sexual situations involving Roman slaves but would perhaps object to modern pornography about sex slaves? Putting those actions among those ‘decadent Romans’ lets us turn our fantasies to 11 while displacing all, or almost all, the guilt,” sums up Ricardo Apostol, assistant professor of classics at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University in an e-mail. He teaches a course called “Sword and Sandal: The Classics in Film.”

“Some people can consume it that way, as straight ‘awesome.’ Others, needing a little more distance, ironize it into a guilty pleasure or camp,” he continues. “But it all comes down to the same thing, and our projections onto the Romans say a whole lot more about us than they ever could about them.”

Yet, for all of that, they feel there is also an upside to all this Hollywood revisionism. “The best of the genre, as in the case of HBO’s ‘Rome,’ can help give a sense of the texture of ancient life – not so much the ‘facts,'” says Armstrong.

Sums up Apostol, “Spectacles like these not only get students in the door, they offer ready starting points for discussions. … And, for students, it’s much more exciting and rewarding to hear that, no, Spartacus was not fighting against the institution of slavery, than it ever could be to hear random facts about a bunch of dead people that they never heard about. … I can only say to Hollywood: Keep ’em coming.”

I’ve always found it strange that the powers-that-be in those universities who decide to shut down Classics departments don’t realize the butts-in-seats side of things … it’s not like there is ever a long period without this sort of movie …

Pamphilus and Servilia, Reunited!

From the University of Reading comes a nice Valentine’s Day tie in:

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching romance is in the air and this year the University of Reading has played the ultimate role of Cupid.

Dr Peter Kruschwitz and Virginia Campbell from the University’s Department of Classics have used their expertise to reunite a married couple…after 2,000 years apart!

Sometimes little things result in couples going their separate ways, but sometimes it takes greater forces, like the AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Lucius Caltilius Pamphilus and his wife, Servilia, who lived in the ancient city of Pompeii, was such a couple. The funerary inscription Lucius commissioned for his beloved wife was broken apart, the pieces scattered and buried by the destruction caused by the volcanic eruption.

Excavation of the pieces begun as early as 1813 and scholars originally recorded them as separate fragments. Virginia, whose current PhD thesis is on Pompeian tombs, and Peter, an expert in Latin inscriptions, were examining material for Pompeii when they made the exciting discovery that the pieces are actually from the same inscription. Reconstructed with skill and loving care it now reads:

‘Lucius Caltilius Pamphilus, freedman of Lucius, member of the Collinian tribe, for his wife Servilia, in a loving spirit.’

Peter Kruschwitz said: “Amazingly the inscription was fragmented in such a way that all that was missing from the first part was the name of the wife. So identifying these as parts of the same inscription literally reunited the couple.

“Dealing with fragmentary Latin inscriptions is often like playing with a giant jigsaw puzzle. You have ten pieces of what used to be a 2,000 piece game. If you manage to discover adjacent pieces and then a beautiful little vignette emerges, this is among the most fulfilling moments for anyone dealing with ancient inscriptions. This case, of course, is even more beautiful than others, because it literally reunites two human beings who once were a loving couple almost 2,000 years ago.”

Lucius and Servilia are now happily side by side in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples

The Reading team’s findings have been published in the most recent volume of the journal Tyche:

The original article has links to the Museum of Naples and (obviously) Tyche, but they aren’t directly linked to anything pertaining to this, alas …