Social Networks at Pompeii?

Another one from the AIA shindig/LiveScience/Stephanie Pappas … since most of our readers will be aware of Pompeii political graffiti, we’ll jump to the end of this one about the work of Eeva-Maria Viitanen from the University of Helsinki:

[…] The first find was that politicians wanted an audience. The campaign ads were almost invariably on heavily trafficked streets, Viitanen reported Friday (Jan. 4) at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Seattle.

The second, more surprising, discovery, was that the most popular spots for ads were private houses rather than bars or shops that would see a lot of visitors.

“Bars were probably more populated, but could their customers read and would they vote?” Viitanen said.

Some 40 percent of the ads were on prestigious houses, she said, which is notable because there were only a third as many lavish homes as there were bars, shops and more modest residences. Clearly, candidates were vying for space on the homes of the wealthy.

That discovery makes Viitanen and her colleagues think the ads reveal early social networking. It seems likely that candidates would need permission from the homeowner to paint their ads, suggesting the graffiti is something of an endorsement.

The research is preliminary and not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal, and Viitanen said there is much more work to do to map the social networks revealed on the ancient walls.

“So far, we have barely scratched the surface on this,” she said. “There are hundreds of texts and locations, and it takes a lot of time to go through them all.”

Interesting Black Sea Hoard

The incipit of an Owen Jarus piece at LiveScience:

Residents of a town under siege by the Roman army about 2,000 years ago buried two hoards of treasure in the town’s citadel — treasure recently excavated by archaeologists.

More than 200 coins, mainly bronze, were found along with “various items of gold, silver and bronze jewelry and glass vessels” inside an ancient fortress within the Artezian settlement in the Crimea (in Ukraine), the researchers wrote in the most recent edition of the journal Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia.

“The fortress had been besieged. Wealthy people from the settlement and the neighborhood had tried to hide there from the Romans. They had buried their hoards inside the citadel,” Nikolaï Vinokurov, a professor at Moscow State Pedagogical University, explained. [See Photos of the Buried Treasure]

Artezian, which covered an area of at least 3.2 acres (1.3 hectares) and also had a necropolis (a cemetery), was part of the Bosporus Kingdom. At the time, the kingdom’s fate was torn between two brothers —Mithridates VIII, who sought independence from Rome, and his younger brother, Cotys I, who was in favor of keeping the kingdom a client state of the growing empire. Rome sent an army to support Cotys, establishing him in the Bosporan capital and torching settlements controlled by Mithridates, including Artezian.

People huddled in the fortress for protection as the Romans attacked, but Vinokurov said they knew they were doomed. “We can say that these hoards were funeral sacrifices. It was obvious for the people that they were going to die shortly,” he wrote in an email to LiveScience. The siege and fall of the fortress occurred in AD 45.

Curiously, each hoard included exactly 55 coins minted by Mithridates VIII. “This is possibly just a simple coincidence, or perhaps these were equal sums received by the owners of these caskets from the supporters of Mithridates,” the team wrote in its paper. […]

… as indicated, there’s a photo that accompanies the article (and a slide show). Is it right to call it a hoard when it seems obviously an offering of some sort (I’ve wondered this about many ‘coin hoards’ as well). We always seem to link these things to times of troubles and ‘hiding’ things … maybe we need to start thinking simply in terms of offerings …

WCC Honours for Helen King

From an Open University press release:

Professor Helen King has been awarded a prize by the Women’s Classical Caucus for the best article published in the last three years relating to their mission of ‘fostering the study of gender, sexuality, feminist theory, or women’s history’.

The winning article by Professor King, Professor of Classical Studies at the OU called Galen and the widow, questions existing orthodoxy on the history of masturbation as something practised by doctors on women in the ancient world and beyond.
Professor King challenges assumptions made by Rachel Maines in her book published in 1999, The Technology of Orgasm. Maines argued that therapeutic masturbation had a very long history even before technological change enabled the development of the object at the centre of her research, the vibrator.

“I have found that Maines’ work obscures female agency,” Professor King said. “She uses a translation of Galen’s text from which female healers and midwives are absent. Galen presents women’s desire as based on expelling their ’female seed’: Maines too assumes that this is all about an orgasm modelled on the male, playing into a male fantasy of passive women waiting for men to give them pleasure.”

The Women’s Classical Caucus was founded in 1972 to foster feminist and gender-informed perspectives in the study and teaching of all aspects of ancient Mediterranean cultures and classical antiquity. Based in the USA, it works to advance the goals of equality and diversity within Classics. For further information, visit:

CJ Online Review: Ruzicka, Trouble in the West

posted with permission:

Trouble in the West: Egypt and the Persian Empire 525–332 BCE. By Stephen Ruzicka. Oxford Studies in Early Empires. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. xxv + 311. Hardcover, $74.00/£45.00. ISBN 978-0-19-976662-8.

Reviewed by Jan P. Stronk, Universiteit van Amsterdam

Though ancient Greek historians frequently make it appear that Greece was the main concern in the west for the Achaemenid Persian kings, figures present a different picture. It seems, therefore, appropriate to seek for a (more) balanced view on Persian interests in the west. Greek sources “make possible at least a skeletal account of the sixth–fourth-century Persian-Egyptian conflict” (xxiv–xxv). Such an account should, though, be fleshed out with additional evidence.

Ruzicka has set himself the task to provide, in twenty chapters, such a fleshed out account. The first chapter (3–13) starts with developments as early as the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE before it ends with the announcement of Cambyses’ campaign against Egypt in 525 BCE. Chapter 20 (210–18) constitutes both a short synthesis of the intervening chapters and a preview of developments in the Hellenistic period and beyond. In the chapters between, Ruzicka follows the Achaemenid Persian–Egyptian relation in chronological order.

A substantial part of the book (chapters 5–18) is devoted to the period of 401–341 BCE, when Persia had lost control of Egypt. The attention to this period fits the book’s title: it is the period in which the situation in Egypt was a major concern for the Achaemenids. Ruzicka describes, wherever possible, Persia’s strategies and actions in some detail, mainly based upon Greek literary texts. His treatment of these sources is not always satisfactory, however: regarding a passage of Diodorus (Diod. 15.93.1–6), e.g., he provides on the same page (152) two contradictory analyses, not signalling the different approach.

The downside of his method is indicated by Ruzicka himself, explaining that as a consequence of the King’s Peace of 386 BCE, Greek “sources turn primarily to Greek mainland affairs and provide only sparse information about developments in Anatolia and the eastern Mediterranean” (83). Though archaeological evidence might fill some gaps, Ruzicka uses it (too) sparsely. The same applies for his use of numismatic evidence.

I have some problems with Ruzicka’s explanation for Persian expansion towards Egypt. First he mentions that it was “Cyrus’ strategy … to seek secure frontiers” (13); next he affirms Diodorus’ observation (Diod. 1.31.6; 15.42.1) that “Egypt was ‘fortified on all sides by nature’” (14) and that it generally was difficult to get to Egypt. Not to invade Egypt would, then, seem like having quite a secure frontier. Ruzicka points at Assyrian expansion into Egypt in the past and Egypt’s role in “the middle territory” (i.e., Phoenicia, Philistia and adjacent territories) to explain the Achaemenids’ almost constant urge to conquer Egypt. He fails to notice the inconsistency of ambitions that becomes visible by Persia’s obvious incapability of securing a safe border on Egypt’s western side. A more thorough analysis of Persian motives to (continue to) involve itself in Egypt might well have served the book’s purpose.

Ruzicka pays much attention to the interaction between the occurrences in the Aegean basin and those in Egypt and the “middle territory” as well as Persia’s role and activities in both theatres. Ruzicka’s analyses, e.g. on the Persian-Athenian détente between c. 465 and 415 BCE, on the miscalculation of Abrocomas regarding Amyrtaeus’ revolt in the period 404–401, and the relationship between the location and military importance of Egyptian Memphis are interesting and to the point.

The same conclusion goes for Ruzicka’s discussion of the Persians’ arrival in Egypt around 525 BCE. Starting with Herodotus’ account, he complements it with Egyptian sources, like the text on the stele of Udjahorresnet.[[1]] This text significantly alters the picture of Cambyses drawn by Herodotus. The image emerging from Ruzicka’s account of Cambyses, and later of Darius I, as an Egyptian king, seems to be largely correct and is, moreover, supported by Egyptian monuments. The consequences of the “fateful decision” (28) of Xerxes to administer Egypt as a Persian king sufficiently prove the importance of royal identity for the Egyptians. The discussion of the stela of Somtutefnakht (197) provides a welcome addition to the accounts of the conquest of Egypt by Artaxerxes III. This also goes for Ruzicka’s discussion of the importance of the site of Bubastis in Egypt (188–9). On these topics Ruzicka does succeed in fleshing out Greek accounts. In Chapter 19 (199–209), moreover, discussing a period for which there is no Greek account, he fills the vacuum by presenting some relevant texts like Ptolemy’s so-called Satrap Stela.

In spite of the critical remarks above, I am pleased with this account of the Achaemenids’ western policy, an account, moreover, accessible to a wider audience. Possibly this aim of accessibility led to the decision to assemble all references into a single corpus of endnotes (227–83). Such a solution, however, does not invite or challenge the reader to follow up on the evidence: at the very least, a missed opportunity. For a wider audience the appendixes (A and B: 219–22) may be very helpful. The bibliography (285–306, with some emphasis on publications in English) is good, as are the maps (xiv–xviii) and the index (307–11).


[[1]] I am, though, slightly at a loss why Ruzicka displays (111) a photograph of the statue of the priestess Utahorresenet, dating to the Ptolemaic period, instead of the statue of physician and admiral Udjahorresnet, that should be dated to 519 BCE (cf., e.g., A.B. Lloyd, “The Inscription of Udjaḥorresnet: A Collaborator’s Testament,” JEA 68 (1982) 166–80 at 166), even though both statues look somewhat similar, have similar names, and sit in the same museum.