Romans in India Again

Interesting item from the Times of India:

Ancient Romans did not restrict themselves to coastal Tamil Nadu; they set up trading centres even far inland. A team of archaeologists exploring a dry lake bed in Naduvirapattu village, some 12km from Tambaram, unearthed a few days ago some artefacts, including broken pieces of amphorae (jars used by Romans).

The team comprised assistant professor Jinu Koshy and students S Vasanthi and K Vignesh of the department of history and archaeology of the Madras Christian College.

The evidence at the site, archaeologists said, was a sign that the village may have been a transit staging area for the Romans before they proceeded towards Kancheepuram, a famous trading centre since the pre-historic era, to exchange their glass utensils and wine for rice, sesame oil, spices and silk.

In fact, they said, the pieces of amphorae were clear evidence of the presence of Romans. Earlier, similar jars had been found at excavation sites in Kancheepuram, Vasavasamudram and Arikamedu near Puducherry. These sites are located near the shore or river (Kancheepuram is near the Palar river), but Naduvirapattu is far from the coast or a river.

“The findings are interesting because the site is between two towns – Somangalam and Manimangalam – important since the pre-historic era,” said former deputy superintending archaeologist K Sridharan.

It was a tip by a villager, engaged in sand-mining on a dry lake bed, that took the team to the site where it found artefacts of the Sangam Age (between 3rd century BCE and 4th century CE) and some from ancient Rome. Among them, the archaeologists said, were black-and-red ware, black ware, red slipped ware, double slipped ware, broken handles of vessels, hopscotch and lid knob.

Brick from Sangam Age also found

We also found two shreds that formed the base of a conical jar. The conical jar is an imitation of the Romans’ amphorae and is indigenously made,” said assistant professor Koshy. Also found was an old brick structure, reportedly from the Sangam Age. Each brick, it was found, was 31cm long, 20.5cm wide and 7.5cm thick.

Just in passing, given the rather frequent mentions of Roman finds in India, it’s interesting (is it not) that we don’t seem to have some village in India claiming to be descended from a lost legion or something like that?

Reactive Classicists

This is what we need more of … Classicists taking the time to write letters to the editor when the paper doesn’t quite get it. In this case, David Blank (UCLA) comments on a recent review of Greenblatt’s The Swerve in the New York Times:

Sarah Bakewell, reviewing “The Swerve: How the World Became Modern,” by Stephen Greenblatt, writes that the original texts of Epicurus “didn’t make it; . . . we know them only secondhand” (Oct. 2). As with Mark Twain, reports of the death of the works have been much exaggerated. Scholars have papyrus fragments of Epicurus’s 37-book magnum opus “On Nature” from the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum to keep them busy, not to mention three letters summarizing his philosophy for his followers and a collection of pithy sayings encapsulating it. The latter two survived via the medieval manuscript tradition, in Diogenes Laertius’s “Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers,” which also contains an account (and defense) of Epicurus’s life, and was a major source for the Renaissance and early modern revival of atomism, as well as a best-selling Italian edition, a few years ago, of the “Letter to Menoeceus” — proof that Epicurus himself still speaks directly to us.

If you missed the review via my #classicalbook Twitter tag or via Explorator last week:

… perhaps what we really need is a bunch of Classics types to ‘Occupy Fleet Street’ …

Vatican Underground

I’m sure I’m not the only one who was disappointed to go to the Vatican and then find that I couldn’t get to the swell stuff beneath it (not all of it, anyway) … here’s some useful deets from the Irish Times (blame Virgin Mobile for getting that word ‘deets’ into my vocabulary):

NO TRIP TO Rome would be complete without a visit to St Peter’s Basilica. For total wow factor however, don’t look up, look down.

Excavations (scavi) under the Basilica by the Vatican during the second World War revealed an underground complex extending back almost two millennia.

Today, by contacting the Scavi offices, visitors can take a 90-minute tour of what lies beneath.

The current basilica was built on top of one created by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. It, in turn, was built on top of a Roman necropolis.

Visitors can now travel via a spiral staircase back in time to a brick-built Roman street of mausoleums, each with the family plaque of those buried over the entrance.

Among the wonders inside is a funerary urn decorated with a Gorgon head to ward off evil, and a coffin with libation holes to allow food and drink be passed to the dead person, so that they too could enjoy their funeral.

For Christians, the most important element is, of course, the sacred Grave of St Peter.

Only 200 visitors a day are allowed on the Scavi tour. To be one of them, e-mail up to three months in advance, giving the exact number of your party, your preferred tour language, and the dates you are visiting.

The Scavi office – which does not acknowledge such e-mails – may or may not get back to you with a time for your tour.

If you do get the green light, approach the Swiss Guard on duty at the Scavi entrance 10 minutes before the appointed time and show him your confirmation e-mail.

CONF: BES Autumn Colloquium 2011

Seen on the Classicists list:

British Epigraphy Society Autumn Colloquium 2011: REMINDER

The British Epigraphy Society will hold its Autumn Colloquium on 19 November 2011 in the Institute of Classical Studies in London. Speakers at the Colloquium include Profs. Thomas Corsten, Michael Crawford, Silvia Orlandi and Robin Osborne. The full programme and a registration form can be found on the Society’s website:

The Colloquium is open to members and non-members alike.