Student Reference Page

As you can hopefully see at the top, I’ve started cobbling together a student reference page and I’m seeking input. The backstory is this: in a week or so, number one son is heading off to university and is actually doing a Classics program (no, I didn’t push him towards it; he came by it honestly). So I’m sitting around thinking of a good ‘going away’ gift for someone with a speedy laptop and initially thought of giving him a jump drive full of Loebs and links. The Loebs are still going to be there, but I thought I could spread the joy and make the links available to all the up-and-coming Classicists who will be striving to complete what we all know is not a simple program.

So, the intended audience of this Student Reference Page are upper level high school students and Classics undergrads. I’m going to assume a ‘standard’ sort of Classics degree, with some Greek, some Latin, and all sorts of ‘civ’ and ‘arky’ things with the primary language being English. I’m also thinking that this will be the sort of place where a Classics student might go when they don’t have a dictionary handy or when they’re casting about for some initial bibliography for a term paper (i.e. in terms of the latter, I don’t want ‘specific’ websites).

Please send things which you think might be useful for such people …

Happy Birthday Lacus Curtius!

Meant to mention this yesterday — when it was already a day late — but this past Sunday was the fifteenth anniversary of the establishment of Bill Thayer’s Lacus Curtius website. It’s been stunningly important for the presence of Classics on this internet thing and should be applauded for it’s longevity! If you’ve never been to Lacus Curtius, you really should check it out now:

[congrats Bill!]

The Battle of Alesia Continues

Tip o’ the pileus to Ian Spoor for sending this one in from the BBC … I wasn’t aware of this controversy:

Every French schoolchild has learned about Alesia.

It was the battle in which Julius Caesar beat the Gauls under Vercingetorix, thus bringing France into the Roman world.

Had it gone the other way, the French might have ended up German.

In the Asterix comic book The Chieftain’s Shield, the opening scene shows Vercingetorix throwing his weapons not before, but on Caesar’s feet.

Right now, there is an added reason to contemplate this key moment in early European history.

An impressive new museum-cum-activity centre has just opened on the official site of the battle, in northern Burgundy.

The Alesia MuseoParc, beneath the village of Alise-Sainte-Reine, consists of a circular museum building containing artefacts and displays, and then – outside – a full-scale reconstruction of part of the Roman siege lines.

Visitors come away with a thorough grounding in Gaulish fighting techniques, or in Caesar’s strategic genius.

What they hear little of is a controversy that questions the museum’s very raison d’etre.

Understandable perhaps, because after 10 years of planning, and 75m euros (£60m) of investment, who wants to be told that the battle never took place here at all?

Unifying spirit

The more recent battle of Alesia – about its whereabouts, that is – goes back 150 years, to the time of France’s Emperor Napoleon III.

After the surrender of Vercingetorix in 52BC, the Gaulish town was said to have been obliterated and lost for good. In The Chieftain’s Shield, there is even a running gag about no-one knowing where Alesia is.

But in 1864, Napoleon issued an imperial decree stating that Alesia had now been officially identified as Alise-Sainte-Reine.

The emperor, the nephew of the original Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, saw Vercingetorix as an embodiment of France’s national identity.

Though he was the loser at Alesia, Vercingetorix had by then forged the first ever pan-Gaulish alliance of tribes.

Nearly two millennia later, Napoleon III, whose legitimacy was, to say the least, precarious, wanted to harness this unifying spirit.

So when archaeological evidence began to emerge that possibly linked Alise-Sainte-Reine to some kind of Roman-Celtic confrontation, Alise-Sainte-Reine in Burgundy became the officially designated site, and a monumental statue of Vercingetorix was erected on the hilltop where the citadel of Alesia was presumed to have stood.

Tellingly, behind his drooping moustaches, the chieftain bears the features of a young Napoleon III.

However from the start, there were doubts about the decision, which some said had been made in haste and with clear political motives.

It was not that there was no evidence for Napoleon’s claim. The very place-name – Alise – suggested a link.

And excavations carried out in the 1860s brought to light a wealth of remains – coins, weapons, trench-lines, armour – that seemed to lend further proof.

But there were suspicions that it was all too, well – convenient.

Caesar’s account

And then exactly 50 years ago, the story took the dramatic twist whose repercussions are still with us today.

An archaeologist called Andre Berthier was profoundly uneasy about the identification Alise-Sainte-Reine as Alesia.

His method was to go back to the only sure evidence – contemporary histories – and construct an “identikit” for a location. Then he would pore over detailed military maps to find places that might correspond.

Applying this technique to the Alesia conundrum, he absorbed himself in Caesar’s own De Bello Gallico, the general’s personal account – known to generations of Latin students – of the conquest of Gaul.

It provides a clear description of Alesia. It is on a “very high” hill, impregnable except by siege. The feet of the hill are washed by two rivers, and there is a plain in front extending for three Roman miles.

These and other details convinced Berthier that Alesia could not be at Alise-Sainte-Reine. The portrait simply did not fit.

The hill, he thought, was not sufficiently high to oblige Caesar to lay siege. The plain was too wide, and as for the two rivers – “flumina” in Latin – they were pathetic little streams.

In 1962, after eliminating 200 alternative sites one by one, he came to a place called Chaux-des-Crotenay in the Jura, about 35 miles (56km) from Geneva.


It was exactly as Caesar had described.
‘Lethargy, careerism and money’

Fifty years later, Berthier’s work is being continued by his disciple, Sorbonne classics professor Danielle Porte, who is fired by an overpowering sense of injustice.

“The archaeological establishment has never paid the slightest heed to our doubts. They are too wrapped up in their own reputations, and now there are the economic interests at stake as well, with the museum.

“No-one dares question the orthodox thesis. Lethargy, careerism and money are all taking precedence over historical truth, and that is something I cannot put up with,” she says.

Having identified the place from Caesar’s texts, Berthier’s next task was to explore the area for physical evidence.

Another ancient writer – the Greek Diodorus of Sicily – wrote that Alesia was an extremely important religious centre for all the Celtic peoples of Europe.

So the true Alesia should contain signs of that past. Excavations at Alise-Sainte-Reine had mainly revealed traces from the later Gallo-Roman period, in itself suspicious because the town is supposed to have been wiped out.

Berthier’s researches at Chaux excited him beyond his wildest expectations.

Buried in woods, he found the remains of an ancient rampart wall. Ms Porte says it is a classic “Cyclopean” bronze-age fortification, originally 10m (33ft) high.

They also found a rare anthropomorphic menhir – a stone “goddess” that would have guarded an entrance – as well as other Celtic and pre-Celtic artefacts.

In addition, a short distance away, the association claims to have found signs of a Roman siege camp, seemingly further confirmation.

In short, they not only believe the famous battle took place at Chaux, they also think Alesia itself was a substantial Gaulish centre.

This means that, lying beneath the woods, there is a wealth of ancient remains waiting to be excavated.

“We believe this is the most important unexcavated archaeological site in Europe,” says historian and broadcaster Franck Ferrand.

“And yet the French state refuses to authorise excavations here. Why? Because it might jeopardise the official theory.

“It is the only case in history of an excavation being banned for cultural reasons.”


The “Jurassics”, as the dissidents are known, are convinced that the original excavations at Alise-Sainte-Reine were deliberately falsified.

Ferrand quotes a worker who allegedly told a reporter at the time that the finds were so amazing, “it was if they had been put there!”

Some items are said to have been previously seen up for sale at auction, and there are questions over a chest of treasure that was supposedly found in the Roman lines.

According to the Jurassics, this contained quantities of coins from different Gaulish tribes in exact proportion to their reported presence at the battle. How perfect, they say. And how unlikely.

But these charges of what might be called skuldiggery are hotly contested by defenders of the official line.

Laurent de Froberville, director of the Alesia museum, will not quite say the Jurassics are cranks, but he does insist the vast body of scientific opinion supports the Alise-Sainte-Reine claim.

“So much evidence has been found in the ground here,” he says.

“Just one example: There were three types of horses in the battle, from the Roman, Gaulish and Germanic cavalries. And we have found bones here from all three breeds.

“The Jurassic people rely far too heavily on one element: Caesar’s texts. But we cannot be sure how accurate these writings are.

“Most experts rely on an accumulation of a different evidence. There comes a point – like in an detective enquiry – when everything points in one direction, and you have to say: It’s here.”

Buried truth

The arguments will no doubt run and run. Until Chaux is excavated, the dissidents will always be able to say the truth is buried in the earth.

For those tempted to ask “Why should we care?”, Ms Porte has several answers.

First, on the location of Alesia hinges a great deal of the reputation of chief Vercingetorix.

If Alesia is indeed at the Burgundy site, then one is entitled to question the chieftain’s leadership skills: The place is not particularly defensible.

However, if Alesia is in the Jura, Vercingetorix was blocking Caesar’s path from a position of almost impregnable strength, and loses only because of the last-minute defection of one of the tribes.

Second, much dating of Celtic and Roman weaponry and coins hinges on the identification of Alesia with Alise-Sainte-Reine.

If a certain type of sword has been found there, it means that sword existed in 52BC, so similar swords found elsewhere must be from the same period.

All that archaeological science would have to be re-written, if it turns out that the remains come from a different period.

Ms Porte’s third reason is that the site at Chaux-des-Crotenay needs to be preserved.

“I remember when I first came here with Andre Berthier, he said to me: ‘This is the biggest Celtic site in Europe, and we are the only two to know it.’

“But one day the truth will out.”

If you want to follow up on this, there really isn’t much on the web.  A l e s i a The Jurassic hypothesis is mostly in French and presents ‘the argument’ and has some publications to order. No indication of any archaeological evidence at this particular website, though. To judge by a forum discussion (in French), the apparent  ‘lack’ of archaeological evidence for the claim is the main turning point — does anyone know if any of the finds associated with Chaux-des-Crotenay have been published in a peer-reviewed journal? I remain unsure about this one and — given past patterns — can only wonder if the BBC has a documentary in the works …

Death of Alexander Redux Redux Redux

With West Nile being back in the news (as it is around here, anyway) it seems inevitable that someone will — once again — suggest a connection between that and the death of Alexander the Great. And so it isn’t surprising to read Did Alexander the Great die from West Nile? in the Mother Nature Network that exact thing. But before this hits the mainstream press, it seems salutary to note that this item is based on a study from almost a decade ago, which we mentioned when rogueclassicism was in its infancy, so I won’t bother repeating (CHATTER: West Nile and Alexander) … we’ll also point to our more recent roundup of all the theories about Al’s death (Puddle Question: What Killed Alexander the Great?). About the current one, however, we will make note of the final line:

Perhaps the history books should finally acquit Aristotle?

via: Did Alexander the Great die from West Nile?

… wow … the last person I recall implicating Aristotle in the death of Alexander was Lyndon LaRouche and it was so long ago, I can’t even remember where or when. Am I incorrect in that? Did I miss a memo?

JOB: Roman History @ UofT

Seen on various lists:

The University of Toronto Department of Classics invites applications for a tenure-stream appointment in the field of Roman History. This position will be at the rank of Assistant Professor and will commence July 1, 2013. An appropriate doctoral degree in Classics or a closely related discipline must have been earned by that date and salary will be commensurate with qualifications and experience.

We seek candidates with expertise in the history of ancient Rome. Expertise in late antiquity, law and/or religion is especially desirable. The successful applicant will demonstrate excellence in research and teaching, and will be expected to contribute to a research-intensive doctoral programme and to a thriving undergraduate programme in Latin, Greek, and Classical Civilization; an ability to teach Latin and Greek language at all levels is required.

The department welcomes a wide range of methods and innovative approaches to the study of history and is particularly interested in candidates who combine a thorough training in Classics with an interest in other disciplines in the humanities or social sciences. The Department of Classics collaborates with the graduate Department of History at York University through the Collaborative Program in Ancient History, and cooperates closely with the Archaeology Centre, the Centre for Medieval Studies, the Women and Gender Studies Institute, and the Departments of Art, History, Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Political Science, and Religion, among others, at the University of Toronto.

Applications should include a cover letter, curriculum vitae, evidence of excellence in teaching (including a statement of teaching philosophy), a short description of the applicant’s current research plans, and a sample of academic writing. All application materials should be submitted online at The UofT application system can accommodate up to five attachments (10 MB) per candidate profile; please combine attachments into one or two files in PDF/MS Word format. Submission guidelines can be found at

Applicants should also ask three referees to send letters directly to Professor Alison Keith, Chair, Department of Classics, University of Toronto, at by the closing date, October 15, 2012. Inquiries about the application may be sent to chair.classics AT

For more information about the Department of Classics, please visit our home page

The University of Toronto is strongly committed to diversity within its community. The University especially welcomes applications from visible minority group members, women, Aboriginal persons, persons with disabilities, members of sexual minority groups and others who may contribute to the further diversification of ideas. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadians and permanent residents will be given priority.