In the Italian Press: July 30 – August 5, 2017

Some items of archaeological interest from the Italian press which don’t appear to have received any coverage in English:

From Molise comes word of the discovery of a temple podium dating to the second half of the first century BCE on the site of a previously-unexplored section of the ancient site of Saepinum:

Word of the discovery of the sunken parts of Neapolis (Tunisia … we may have mentioned this):

Evidence of a large-scale Roman farm at Paestum dating from the first to second centuries BCE:

An upper class Bronze Age burial of a female teen from Pizzoli:



CJ-Online Review: The Museum of Augustus: The Temple of Apollo in Pompeii, the Portico of Philippus in Rome, and Latin Poetry

The Museum of Augustus: The Temple of Apollo in Pompeii, the Portico of Philippus in Rome, and Latin Poetry. By Peter Heslin. Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2015. Pp. xiii + 350. Hardcover, $65.00. ISBN 978-1-60606-421-4.
Reviewed by Christina Kraus, Yale University
This fascinating, beautifully produced book is a terrific read putting forward detailed and sophisticated arguments that will certainly provoke productive discussion.  Disclaimer: I am not an art historian or archaeologist-but neither is Heslin.  All the more remarkable, then, that he has produced such an intriguing, archivally rich study, with a methodology combining close reading of architectural and archaeological drawings, ancient artistic representations, and poetry with historiographical research into the excavations of the Temple of Apollo in Pompeii and the area of the Portico of Philippus in Rome. He reveals his method in his preface (xi): “Most of the research for this book was … done online rather than in museums, at sites, and in archives”; he also relies on enlargements-only possible digitally-of scanned drawings, reconstructions, and photographs of his sites and paintings.  He was fortunate in his publisher, who has reproduced quantities of these in fantastic clarity. (Paradoxically, this is a book that is very much a physical pleasure to handle and to read.) Heslin, an expert on the possibilities raised by the digital revolution, is certainly right that his method of research in this project is one of the best ways forward, not only for scholars who cannot travel to see the sites themselves, but also in cases such as this one where the on-site material has been degraded past legibility, or destroyed altogether.

Heslin begins with a detailed analysis of the drawings and reconstructions made by early visitors to Pompeii, after the frescoes in the Temple were uncovered (1817) and before they were irretrievably damaged by exposure; he also makes heavy use of the mid-19th century cork model of the city. He then moves via a study of copies of the more popular paintings in private Pompeian houses to an analysis of the now-lost Portico of Philippus, including a lucid investigation of its development from the Republican Aedes Herculis Musarum. (This was physically incorporated into the later, larger complex erected by Augustus’ stepbrother and uncle, L. Marcius Philippus.) He wants both to decipher the original fresco cycle and to show that the Apolline temple decorations in Pompeii were based on-if not copies of-Theorus’s cycle of frescoes in the Portico. Heslin’s real target is that Roman cycle which-together with the Portico itself and the other art it contained-was “the public justification in the language of Roman architecture of Augustus’s patronage of poetry … his importation of the Museum of Alexandria into a Roman context” (2). Augustus in fact, Heslin argues, separated the Alexandrian Museum complex into two: as a rebuilding of the Aedes, the Portico continued its longstanding tradition as a prestigious meeting place for the guild of poets, while Apollo-a god less congenial to the Romans, who did not build a temple to him in Republican times-received his own home on the Palatine, with the new libraries, trumpeting Augustus as the principal patron of the arts (187).

I have by necessity vastly oversimplified Heslin’s argument, the beauty and challenge of which is in the details, from readings of the Marble Plan to the Tabulae Iliacae to 19th century German engravings. For literary scholars, the payoff will come in his final chapter, “Imaginary Temples,” on the poets who responded to this art. Heslin looks closely at the poems that clearly refer to the Aedes Herculis Musarum: Vergil’s prologue to Georgics 3, Propertius (though the promised discussion of 3.4-5 is missing [300]), Horace’s Odes, and-most intriguingly to me-the decorations on Juno’s temple in Aeneid 1.
I would especially like to believe the thesis that Aeneas is misreading those paintings not (as we have long recognized) because he sees glory for the Trojans where the Carthaginians must be celebrating their slaughter, but because, having only his own, subjective experience of the war to go by, he simply misidentifies the people represented. What Aeneas describes can be mapped onto the cycle of paintings that Heslin reconstructs, but he gets the names wrong: so, e.g., when Aeneas sees the tide of battle being turned by a person he identifies as Achilles (instaret curru cristatus Achilles, 1.468), Heslin suggests that Aeneas recognizes the armor because he has seen Achilles in it, but that because he has not read the Iliad, he does not know that it is in fact Patroclus wearing Achilles’ armor who turns the tide in Book 16. If Heslin is right (and he has many other examples), then the depth of the effect of art on the reader(s) in the Aeneid-and the map of misreadings we can construct around it-is even more remarkable than has previously been understood.
But that’s a big ‘if’. Heslin disregards too much recent scholarship on the Aedes (especially the important work of Alexander Hardie), and he is at times overly reductive. So, for example, in his treatment of pattern books (143), which is a mixture of assertion (“there is no evidence at all” for them-but then why do archaeologists appeal to them?) and oversimplification: assuming that local artists used pattern books “reduces [them] to more or less competent robots, slavishly attempting to imitate artistic forms that they scarcely understood”. Either the books existed or they did not; but (1) if they did, then one could profitably look at studies of 19th-century architectural pattern book use, which demonstrate that robotic copying is far from what was going on; and (2) if they did not, then this is simply a straw man, related to the straw men on whom Heslin depends far too much, of the art historian who looks at all Roman art as copies of Greek “originals,” hand in hand with the literary scholar who ignores material culture.  Both of those creatures are on their way out; Heslin doesn’t need them. Better to direct scholars to works like the new book by Vibeke Goldbeck, Fora Augusta, on the reception of the Forum Augustum in the West, including Pompeii; that book came out too late for Heslin to take account of, but it and similar studies support his strong argument that the Pompeian cycle was part of the imitatio Vrbis, a reinterpretation of a complex and influential building program at Rome.

Posted with permission …

©2017 by The Classical Association of the Middle West and South. All rights reserved.

CJ-Online Reviews Archive

#classicaltwitter ~ February 2, 2017

The Shackled Burials from Phaleron ~ Another Possible Identification?

Way back in March/April there was an announcement of an  important discovery at Phaleron which — due to the usual too-much-going-on reasons — I never had a chance to relate here or comment on. Briefly stated, during excavations of a large cemetery there (which has been an ongoing excavation for quite a few years) a mass burial of some 80 individuals, including 36 who had their hands shackled, was revealed. At the time, the chief archaeologist, Stella Chryssoulaki gave an excellent press briefing on the findings:

Of the varied press coverage at the time, see Kristina Kilgrove’s piece in Forbes is probably the most useful:

Other coverage (largely based on the AFP coverage in the first item).

As can be seen, the coverage from back in  March/April all suggested that the mass burial section of the cemetery — which really has no grave goods of any kind directly associated with it — can be dated to the seventh century BCE and the ‘likely identification’ is that the skeletons belong to folks who had been associated with Cylon in his ill-fated coup attempt back in 632 BCE. From what I can gather, the identification is based largely on the apparently healthy bones of the deceased and the existence of some vaguely mentioned Archaic pottery nearby.

This past weekend, it struck me as strange that the story was once again in the news. From what I have seen so far, there is nothing really new to be added to the story and all I can think of is that this story is back in the news solely because Cylon was an Olympic victor and, of course, the modern version of the Olympics will be starting in Rio shortly.

And so, as usually happens when news articles appear to have been timed to coincide with some modern event, I decided to look closer at this purported association with Cylon. A natural starting point, of course, is Thucydides 126.3 ff (via the Perseus Project) and his account of how the Alcmeonidai came to be ‘cursed’:

[3] In former generations there was an Athenian of the name of Cylon, a victor at the Olympic games, of good birth and powerful position, who had married a daughter of Theagenes, a Megarian, at that time tyrant of Megara.[4] Now this Cylon was inquiring at Delphi; when he was told by the god to seize the Acropolis of Athens on the grand festival of Zeus.[5] Accordingly, procuring a force from Theagenes and persuading his friends to join him, when the Olympic festival in Peloponnese came, he seized the Acropolis, with the intention of making himself tyrant, thinking that this was the grand festival of Zeus, and also an occasion appropriate for a victor at the Olympic games. [6] Whether the grand festival that was meant was in Attica or elsewhere was a question which he never thought of, and which the oracle did not offer to solve. For the Athenians also have a festival which is called the grand festival of Zeus Meilichios or Gracious, viz. the Diasia. It is celebrated outside the city, and the whole people sacrifice not real victims but a number of bloodless offerings peculiar to the country. However, fancying he had chosen the right time, he made the attempt. [7] As soon as the Athenians perceived it, they flocked in, one and all, from the country, and sat down, and laid siege to the citadel.[8] But as time went on, weary of the labour of blockade, most of them departed; the responsibility of keeping guard being left to the nine archons, with plenary powers to arrange everything according to their good judgment. It must be known that at that time most political functions were discharged by the nine archons.[9] Meanwhile Cylon and his besieged companions were distressed for want of food and water.[10] Accordingly Cylon and his brother made their escape; but the rest being hard pressed, and some even dying of famine, seated themselves as suppliants at the altar in the Acropolis.[11] The Athenians who were charged with the duty of keeping guard, when they saw them at the point of death in the temple, raised them up on the understanding that no harm should be done to them, led them out and slew them. Some who as they passed by took refuge at the altars of the awful goddesses were despatched on the spot. From this deed the men who killed them were called accursed and guilty against the goddess, they and their descendants.[12] Accordingly these cursed ones were driven out by the Athenians, driven out again by Cleomenes of Lacedaemon and an Athenian faction; the living were driven out, and the bones of the dead were taken up; thus they were cast out. For all that, they came back afterwards, and their descendants are still in the city.

Herodotus’ account (5.71.1 ff via Perseus) is rather more brief:

How the Accursed at Athens had received their name, I will now relate. There was an Athenian named Cylon, who had been a winner at Olympia. This man put on the air of one who aimed at tyranny, and gathering a company of men of like age, he attempted to seize the citadel. When he could not win it, he took sanctuary by the goddess’ statue.[2] He and his men were then removed from their position by the presidents of the naval boards, the rulers of Athens at that time. Although they were subject to any penalty save death, they were slain, and their death was attributed to the Alcmaeonidae. All this took place before the time of Pisistratus.

What both accounts — all written long after the fact —  agree upon, of course, is that Cylon’s followers were suppliants, surrendered in the belief that they wouldn’t be put to death, and subsequently were killed in some unspecified manner. A significant difference is that Herodotus’ account suggests that the suppliants were ‘removed’ on the understanding that they would be punished and not subject to the death penalty. Thucydides’ account is a bit more vague and does not seem to have the punishment implied, much less the death but does suggest the suppliants were ‘starved out’. The two historians do agree, however, that the erstwhile suppliants were killed and their killing was considered sacrilege.

Plutarch’s account was written several hundred years after the fact and seems to have been embellished somewhat (Solon 12.1  via Perseus):

Now the Cylonian pollution had for a long time agitated the city, ever since Megacles the archon had persuaded Cylon and his fellow conspirators, who had taken sanctuary in the temple of Athena, to come down and stand their trial. They fastened a braided thread to the image of the goddess and kept hold of it, but when they reached the shrine of the Erinyes on their way down, the thread broke of its own accord, upon which Megacles and his fellow-archons rushed to seize them, on the plea that the goddess refused them the rights of suppliants. Those who were outside of sacred precincts were stoned to death, and those who took refuge at the altars were slaughtered there; only those were spared who made supplication to the wives of the archons.

This account really doesn’t provide a situation where shackles were put on any of the suppliants and the ‘braided thread’ story seems a bit fanciful.  Even so, what I haven’t been able to find any information on — and I gladly seek help on this — is whether it would be considered sacrilege to put shackles on a suppliant. As mentioned above, 36 of the 80 skeletons found in the mass grave at Phaleron are shackled, which clearly suggests they were prisoners of some kind. Were Cylon’s associates ‘led out in chains’? I’m also curious whether being ‘starved out’ would somehow affect the skeletal remains.

Given the possibility that the folks in the Cylon affair might not have been shackled before they were sacrilegiously slain, that opens the possibility that the bodies in the cemetery might actually belong to another massacre and it could be argued that these were the prisoners who were sent to Athens in the wake of the revolt of Mytilene in 428 BCE., a date which would be at the tail end of the finds in the Phaleron cemetery. In an interesting bit of synchronicity, this event has been mentioned recently in connection with possible ‘revotes’ of Brexit matters as originally the decision was to execute all the males of Mytilene and a ‘revote’ changed that to execution of folks who had been directly involved and already sent to Athens (see the account in Thucydides 3.36 ff). Whatever the case, the only problem with this suggestion is that according to Thucydides, the number of prisoners executed at the time numbered close to 1000 (3.50.1), which would be a rather large number of folks to put on ships to send to Athens perhaps. Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on the revolt gives — but doesn’t cite — the suggestion that the 1000 number is a “scribal error” and a figure closer to 30 is more likely. I would never base an argument solely on something from Wikipedia, of course, but I have been unable to locate any scholarly revision of the 1000 figure. Does anyone know where Wikipedia is getting this ‘closer to 30’ figure from? Presumably the ringleaders of the Mytilene revolt would have been healthy individuals and probably sent to Athens in shackles. It must be admitted that it does seem to fit the finds from Phaleron rather nicely, no?

Thinking out loud (the next morning):

Wilson, J. (1981). Strategy and Tactics in the Mytilene Campaign. Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte, 30(2), 144-163. Retrieved from  … notes the controversy over numbers, but defends the ‘1000’ suggestion on pp 147-148.

Quinn, T. (1971). Political Groups in Lesbos during the Peloponnesian War. Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte, 20(4), 405-417. Retrieved from … suggests the numbers might be plausible if oligarchs from other places were included, although even that has difficulties p. 408, n.21.

Debnar, P. (2000). DIODOTUS’ PARADOX AND THE MYTILENE DEBATE (THUCYDIDES 3.37-49). Rheinisches Museum Für Philologie, 143(2), 161-178. Retrieved from … p. 161 n.1 (note the Wilson article is cited above):



Aristotelian Skepticism: Is It Really His Tomb?

One of the things you get used to when you’re blogging things about the ancient world is that whenever there is some significant date for some significant ancient figure coming up, you can pretty much be sure that there will be some major — and usually ill-supported — discovery tied somehow to that event. Most commonly, e.g., the Easter season will bring claims about the discovery of ossuaries with Jesus or Mary’s name on them, or nails from the crucifixion being found, or the Shroud of Turin being proven authentic, yadda yadda yadda. In this case, 2016 marks the 2400th anniversary of the birth of Aristotle and there currently is the annual Aristotle World Congress going on at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. So if there’s going to be a major discovery announced about Aristotle, the smart money would suggest this year at this conference would be the best bet.

And so it was only moderately surprising when yesterday afternoon, my Greek press newsfeed started a trickle of news about the purported discovery of Aristotle’s tomb at Stagira. The first Greek coverage that popped in my box actually was pretty informative:

Culling (via google Translate) the information, we were told:

  • a Hellenistic structure was found in Stagira back in 1996 which had been incorporated into a later Byzantine structure
  • archaeologist Kostas Sismanidis presented a paper at the above-mentioned conference, citing a ‘convergence’ of archaeological and literary evidence
  • then again, he’s quoted as saying “Δεν έχουμε αποδείξεις αλλά ισχυρότατες ενδείξεις – φθάνουν σχεδόν στη βεβαιότητα.” (no definite proof … hmmm)
  • coins dating from the time of Alexander helped to date the structure
  • there is also mention of ‘royal pottery’ roof tiles
  • literary sources include “manuscript 257 of the Bibliotheca Marciana and an Arabic biography of Aristotle”
  • according to the literary sources:
    • after his death at Chalcis (322), the people of Stagira brought his ashes back in a bronze urn
    • they were placed in an above-ground tomb in the city, and an altar was placed next to it
    • the place was called the Aristoteleion
    • an annual festival/competition was established called Aristoteleia

Interestingly, subsequent Greek press coverage scaled back the coverage markedly, but did repeat the mention of the lack of convincing evidence. See, e.g., the Skai coverage, which includes:

Αν και δεν υπάρχουν αδιάσειστες αποδείξεις ότι πρόκειται για τον τάφο του Αριστοτέλη, πολυετείς έρευνες έχουν δώσει πληθώρα ισχυρών ενδείξεων ότι το μνημείο ταυτίζεται πλέον με τον σταγειρίτη φιλόσοφο.

AP was first with the English coverage and clearly they didn’t think much of the story. They came out with a very brief item with very sparse information about the actual find. As seen in the Stamford Advocate, there were only two paragraphs of interest, really:

Konstantinos Sismanidis concedes that he has “no proof but just strong indications” to back up his theory, presented Thursday at a conference marking the 2,400th anniversary of the philosopher’s birth.

[…] Sismanidis said the structure unearthed in the ruins of Stageira, 70 kilometers (43 miles) east of Thessaloniki, was once a public monument where Aristotle was honored after his death. No human remains were found there.

… there was also mention of “medieval references” about Aristotle’s remains being transferred to Stagira.

Then Greek Reporter was on the case, and their written report includes this useful video with a reconstruction of the ‘tomb’, which looks nothing at all like a tomb and for most of us I suspect the initial reaction is that is a Byzantine structure:

More photos can be found in the accompanying news article:

As coverage continued to pour in over the course of the day yesterday, I found it very interesting that nothing had appeared on the Greek Ministry of Culture site yet. All of the press coverage included the line about Sismanidis saying he had ‘no definite proof’ but the story was spreading. The Guardian’s coverage added a titillating bit of detail:

The claim was welcomed by Greece’s culture ministry; a senior aide to the minister, Aristides Baltas, said the academic community was awaiting further details.

“A team of independent archaeologists with no connection to a particular school or department have been working at the site,” the official told the Guardian. “What we know is that their excavation has been meticulous and we await further details with great anticipation.”

So Sismanidis is not actually affiliated with a university. That’s usually an alarm bell for me but it does appear he is somehow associated with the 16th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, so maybe that alarm bell should be silenced.

At this point, I was wondering about the tales of the people of Stagira bringing Aristotle’s remains back after his death. This clearly came from some literary source and I was — and continue to be — unclear about the ‘medieval biography’. Some discussion on the Classics International facebook group didn’t really clear it up for me and my brain continued to have issues trying to process the archaeologist’s claims of no certain proof along with claims that the people of Stagira not only brought Aristotle’s ashes back, but established a festival (which festival I couldn’t find any record of). But the coverage continued to build, and some of the more reputable press outlets were adding credibility to the claim:

And so it was with great interest that this morning’s feed from the Greek press brought a very interesting article from To Bema (To Vima?):

Paraphrasing via Google translate again:

  • the item (which seems to be an oped piece on the politics page) shows how the find has already been politicized (and in competition somehow with Amphipolis)
    • perhaps connected with gold mining activities nearby (maybe not)
    • probably connected with competition between Macedonian archaeologists
    • announcement made at a conference where it could not be really questioned as it would if published in a journal (I think that’s the gist)
  • in regards to the interpretation, it all hinges on the claim that the people of Stagira brought Aristotle’s ashes back
  • other archaeologists are looking for a dedicatory inscription of some sort

So … if we’re hanging the identification on claims of a return of ashes, one thing I’d really like to know when this return of ashes is supposed to have happened. I tried to track down assorted biographies of Aristotle and came up empty (which means they’re not readily available on the web, near as I can tell). What also bothers me is the actual claim that he was cremated, which doesn’t strike me as being what he expected to happen after his death. In his will, e.g., which is in Diogenes Laertius, we read provisions for the remains of his wife Pythias:

ὅπου δ᾽ἂν ποιῶνται τὴν ταφήν, ἐνταῦθα καὶ τὰ Πυθιάδος ὀστᾶ ἀνελόνταςθεῖναι, ὥσπερ αὐτὴ προσέταξεν: ἀναθεῖναι δὲ καὶ Νικάνορασωθέντα, ἣν εὐχὴν ὑπὲρ αὐτοῦ ηὐξάμην, ζῷα λίθινα τετραπήχη Διὶσωτῆρι καὶ Ἀθηνᾷ σωτείρᾳ ἐν Σταγείροις.”

And wherever they bury me, there the bones of Pythias shall be laid, in accordance with her own instructions. And to commemorate Nicanor’s safe return, as I vowed on his behalf, they shall set up in Stagira stone statues of life size to Zeus and Athena the Saviours.

Not sure if ‘the bones of’ is just an expression, but this sounds more like he expected a an interment situation for Pythias (and by implication, perhaps for himself) rather than cremation — but I might be reading too much into that.

What also continues to bother me is an item in Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine from May-October of 1892, specifically an article by entitled The Finding of the Tomb of Aristotle by Charles Waldstein. It’s an incredibly chatty piece and will probably remind many of those grad student situations where you were invited to a prof’s house for dinner and he/she regaled you with long (but interesting) tales of their adventures digging somewhere.

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In any event, Waldstein has a good Classical academic pedigree (and, incidentally, was one of the early advocates for excavating Herculaneum) so his claims — which don’t appear to have been accepted — should be taken into account if nothing else. I’ll leave it to you to follow the link above to read the actual article, but just as a tease, here are a couple of the images included in the article:

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Also interesting, was this statue find — which Waldstein actually downplays in the piece:

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Most interesting is mention of an inscription:

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Of course, we do not know of any daughter of Aristotle named Biote, which is probably why this was not accepted as being his tomb. Even so, the final lines of the article are interesting from a nihil novum point of view:

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So whatever has been found at Stagira, there is a long tradition of claiming lack of definite proof, but still making the claim anyway. I suspect the claim made by Sismanidis will be similarly met with skepticism by the scholarly community, unless a rather more tangible connection to Aristotle can be made.