Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC

The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC is wonderful, and covers some fascinating topics (I was on Who Owns the Past? in February).

The show from the 13th April had a segment about Hatshepsut - the queen who became pharaoh. It ties in with an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC (running until July 9th), which is itself illuminated by a PodCast.


Papyri: Artemidorus and Oxyrhynchus

Photos of Artemidorus Papyrus courtesy of Palazzo Bricherasio, Turin

The rediscovered Artemidorus Papyrus was shown in an exhibition in Turin this winter, and the catalogue is beautiful. Artemidorus wrote an eleven book geography in Greek in the 1st century BC, based on his travels around the Mediterranean. The geography was until now lost, except for a few quotations in Strabo. The rediscovered papyrus is a copy of his Book Two, made in Alexandria soon after the original had been written (maybe as early as 50 BC - for information about ancient copying, see this Oxyrhynchus papyrus). A mistake in the illustrations meant that it was kept by the copyist, and used as a sketch book. At then end of the first century AD it was re-used in the papier mache cartonnage of a mummy. The tomb was excavated a century ago, and the papyrus made its way to Italy in 2004.

My interest in the papyrus is simple - Book Two covered Late Republican Spain. This is where Gaius Marius spent part of his career: we first hear of him serving under Scipio Aemilianus at the siege of Numantia, then later as Praetor he was sent to Lusitania. Papyri tend not to be as appealing as gold coins or statues, but we can learn so much more about the Greeks and Romans from them. This particular papyrus can shed light on the Romanisation of Spain.

(I'm not sure if the head in the photo was one of the original illustrations of the Geography or from its later use as a drawing book, but I include it as a reminder how beautifully ancient papyri could be illustrated.)

Artemidorus of Ephesus wrote the Geography quoted by Strabo, part of which is preserved in this papyrus. A lot of people confuse him with Artemidorus Daldianus, who also came from Ephesus, sometimes combining their two lives: Daldianus lived in the time of Marcus Aurelius, and wrote books about dreams and divination. They were very different !

A distant cousin spent much of his career working on the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (the Artemidorus Papyrus is not one of them), and they are equally fascinating. As well as allowing us to rediscover lost works by ancient authors, personal letters found have told us a great deal about ancient life - we know about Ptolemaic and Roman butchers, for example, thanks to the papyri. Not all of it is pleasant reading, as they tend to present the ancients without the gloss of history. In one letter a man tells his wife to expose their baby if it's female (discussed in depth in this ZPE article).
A recent WNYC programme, Detectives Stories, included "The Greatest Hits of Ancient Garbage" about the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. It is available as a PodCast.
See also NPR's earlier Secrets of Ancient Papyrus Fragments Revealed, and Slate's Explainer: New Technology Unlocks Ancient Texts.


Marius' Victoire

A view of the Mont Sainte-Victoire by Cezanne, in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, from 1882-5.

Not a huge fan of Cezanne. When I drive down to France I pass the Mont Sainte-Victoire on the motorway, and tend to think of it in relation to Gaius Marius.

The mountain was first called "Vintour" by the Gauls. Gaius Sextius Calvinus established a military camp near the hot springs in the valley to the east, and the town of Aquae Sextiae was born (123/4 BC).

In 102 BC Gaius Marius defeated the German Teutones there, at the Battle of Aquae Sextiae, and the mountain was re-named in honour of his great victory. A triumphal arch was erected in the town, and the Romanisation of Gaul began. (The Romanisation was competed by his nephew, a certain Julius Caesar.) Back in Rome Marius was hailed as the greatest man in Rome, the general who had saved Italy from a barbarian invasion.

Today Aquae Sextiae is Aix-en-Provence, the name of the mount was Christianised - but Marius remains my hero.


A Roman 'Elephant Man' amulet

Source of image

I've been looking at the gold tablets found in a number of southern Italian tombs, with instructions on what to do in the underworld, and how to convince Persephone to grant passage to the Elysian Fields. The more I look at them, the more I believe they had nothing to do with Orphism, and very little to do with the Pythagoreans.

They are related to lead curse tablets. (see this ZPE article about curse tablets.) These are usually Roman - several examples were found at Bath in Somerset - but increasingly Greek magical tablets are being excavated, and the first examples I know of date from the 5th century BC. The idea was that they were buried with a coprse, the deceased would take them to Hades, and the gods of the underworld would have to grant the curse. Many ancient Greeks and Romans believed in magic, and it can be difficult to define a clear boundary between this magic and mainstream religion.

This magic charm on a silver lamella was rolled up and worn in a tube - either around the neck, or attached to a belt. The text - a mixture of Greek and gibberish - is a spell designed to protect the wearer from elephantiasis, and dates from the 4th century AD. It is now in Budapest, and was found at Tricciana in Hungary. The name Romulus appears repeatedly, although I can't make out enough of the text to be sure it's the wearer's name. Much of the text seems to be 'magic' letters or symbols, so good luck to anyone who wants to have a go at reading it.

Pliny (NH XXVI) tells us that elephantiasis was first seen in Rome during the time of Pompey.


Bellini and Mehmet II

Portrait of Mehmet II in 1480, attributed to Bellini (National Gellery, London)

Seated Scribe by Bellini (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston)

Venice maintained ties with the Ottomans - and several trading posts in Greece. After Byzantine Constantinople fell to Mehmet II (1453), the sultan invite Gentile Bellini to paint him and his court. The Venetian painter accepted, and produced some beautiful images.

A selection of these are currently on view at the National Gallery in London, in the exhibition "Bellini and the East" (until 25th June 2006).

Mehmet is of course the sultan who captured Athens, and turned the Parthenon into a mosque. For another mosque he built in Athens, to celebrate his conquest, see below.


Christians and the Closure of Pagan Temples

This image from the Goleniscev Papyrus has been in several books, and is discussed by Troels Myrup Kristensen in his Towards an Archaeology of Iconoclasm (brilliant site, can't wait to read his thesis, and only wish he would post more often - click on the link for for information).

I've borrowed the image from him, as it relates to the closure of temples by the Christians. Although many Byzantine Emperors such as Theodosius issued edicts ordering the closure of temples, as with the Parthenon these were often ignored. The Ilissus temple in Athens was converted into a church very early, but this was very unusual and might be because it was related to a cult of underworld gods. Most temples turned it churches are quite late. The Parthenon, for example, was abandoned for a while.

This 5th century Alexandrian papyrus shows Saint Theophilos standing 'on' a temple with a statue of Serapis within it. The text describes how he and the Alexandrian Christians destroyed the Serapeion in AD 391. The Byzantine image is thus an allegory of the closure (another image in the codex shows monks throwing stones at the temple) - not only the only certain image of Christian destruction of pagan temples, but one which can be linked with a known sanctuary.

For more on the papyrus, see Troels' site.

For a history of Christian attempts to close pagan temples, see my The Elgin Marbles.

Michael Greenhalgh wrote about the closure of temples in Italy: Christian re-use of antiquities in mediaeval Italy and knowledge of the pagan past (link broken).

Alison Frantz, The Middle Ages in the Athenian Agora, an Athenian Agora Picture book - Frantz was one of the pioneers of work on Late Antique Athens, and this short guide to the post-Constantinian Agora can now be downloaded from their web site.


Roman builder ... whoops

This story has always made me laugh, and shows that problems with builders are not a modern phenomenon. Nor are problems with large public projects.

A Roman inscription (CIL VIII 2728; found at Lambaesis, now at Bejaia) tells of difficulties connecting the water supply at Saldae in Mauretania Caesariensis, Algeria.

In the second century AD the Toudja Aqueduct was built to feed the fountains and many public baths of this Augustan colony. Most of the aqueduct channel was raised on arches above the ground, but some of it had to run through a 428 m long tunnel cut into a hill.

A Roman engineer had a bright idea - if they dug the tunnel from both ends simultaneously, it would speed up work. Unfortunately, the plan did not work because after four years of digging, the two tunnels failed to meet up. The inscription on a cippae tells us that in AD 150 the governor of Mauritania had to ask Marcus Valerius Etruscus, Legate of the Third Legion in Numidia, to "send back" Nonius Datus, an engineer (recently) retired from the Legion.

Nonius succeeded in resolving the problem by building a transverse channel linking the two tunnels, and Saldae's water supply was connected. Nonius has also left us his own account of the story, preserved in a second inscription on the cippea (CIL VIII 18122), where he blames the contractors, not himself as engineer, for the mess.

Nonius is often credited with 'solving' the problem of two tunnels in AD 152, but if you read the inscription, he also seems to have instigated the scheme in AD 137.

This is the sort of anecdote that makes the Romans more approachable, and would not have been known had the inscriptions not been preserved. The little on altar on which they are carved is decorated with carved figures labelled: Patientia, Virtus and Spes (Hope).

Article about the inscriptions:
J.-P. Laporte, Notes sur l’aqueduc de Saldae (Bougie), L’Africa Romana, 11, 1996, p. 711-762

Book review - Periklean Athens and its Legacy: Problems and Perspectives

Periklean Athens and its Legacy: Problems and Perspectives
Edited by Judith M. Barringer and Jeffrey M. Hurwit
Colour illustrations 1
b/w illustrations 167
ISBN 0292 706227

by Dorothy King

Minerva, May/June 2006

A good Festschrift is notoriously difficult to produce, but this volume, organised in honour of Jerome J. Pollitt, is exceptional both in the concentration and high level of its scholarship, with papers by his colleagues and students. Hurwit has written several brilliant books on Fifth century Athens, so the scope of the book falls neatly within his area of expertise, and must be a tribute to the encyclopaedic knowledge of Periclean Athens that he and Barringer have.

Several of the papers published are particularly noteworthy. David Castriota, who has previously examined the iconography of the Acropolis, now turns his attention to the earlier Stoa Poikile, which is unusual for having represented the battle of Marathon, a historical event amongst mythological ones. Hurwit’s parallels between the Parthenon and the temple of Zeus at Olympia are succinct but thought-provoking. Barringer publishes a study of Prokne and Itys, a statue group on which she first wrote about in an essay on Alkamenes at Yale for Pollitt, a touchingly personal touch to the festschrift. The group is closely related to post Periclean Athens through its sculptor, who was one of the leading students of Pheidias, and executed many of the Acropolis sculptures.

Ian Jenkins relates the riders from the Parthenon frieze to the creation of the Periclean cavalry. A contentious topic, on which he failed to persuade this reviewer, it is still fascinating to read his study and arguments. Olga Palagia’s comparative study of the Ilissos and Nike temple friezes helps to shed more light on both. We associate the Parthenon with Periclean architectural sculpture yet, as she points out, the sadness of the Ilissos frieze and the triumphalism of the Nike frieze provide an interesting counterpart to it: both were built a generation later, during the Peloponnesian War. Susan B. Matheson, Pollitt’s wife, writes about scenes of departing warriors on Greek vases. Although the volume begins with this paper, it also seems apposite to end with mention of it, as we are biding farewell to Pollitt, retiring as Professor at Yale, where he was one of the great scholars of Greek art and archaeology.

The section on the legacy of Periklean Athens has some interesting papers, but also bears only a tangential relation to the rest of the volume. The volume gains much from having followed such a narrow scope, and I only wish that future festschrifts would follow this formula rather than the more usual mess of accepting any contributions they can possibly get. Barringer and Hurwit deserve a great deal of credit for having gathered together so many interesting papers, which are not only of a universally high standard, but are also very readable.


Exhibition - Michelangelo

In London last week I saw the exhibition of Michelangelo Drawings at the British Museum.

A study by Michelangelo for the figure of Haman on the Sistine Ceiling.

He comes from the Book of Ester - according to the Bible he was hung on a cross (some read this as crucified) as punishment for having tried to kill the Jews out of wrath. So it seems appropriate to show the drawing, and continue the crucifixion theme.

I prefer to see drawings in exhibitions with the finished works next to them. Obviously that was not possible with the Sistine Chapel, so I have posted an image of the finished work below.


The Archaeology of Roman Crucifixion

Source of photos: http://www.joezias.com/CrucifixionAntiquity.html

First is a photo of the archaeological evidence for crucifixion, found in a first century AD tomb at Givat ha-Mivtar, to the north of Jerusalem in 1968. The man died in his twenties, and according to the inscription on the Ossuary in which he was placed was 'Jehohanan the son of HGQWL'. The remains of his heel to the right of the photo clearly show the nail that pierced it (a reconstruction to the left makes it clearer). Olive wood fragments were found between the large nail head and the bone, which show that a wooden plaque of wood was added to make it harder for him to pull his leg free from the cross.

There have been long theological debates over the centuries about how Christ was crucified: with a nail through both feet, or a nail through each foot. Jehohanan's nail is too short to have gone through both ankles.

Joe Zias and a colleague re-examined the evidence, and published the reconstruction of how the man had been crucified, as seen in the drawing above: J. Zias and E. Sekeles, The Crucified Man from Giv'at ha-Mivtar: A Reappraisal, Israel Exploration Journal 35, 1985: pp. 22-27.

It's the best account I know of the archaeological evidence for crucifixion.


Roman Crucifixion

The earliest depiction of a crucifixion, possibly 1st century AD [source].

Yesterday was Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified, and there was plenty of Blog and press coverage of crucifixion - a lot of it very superficial.

Rogue Classicist was an exception - he covered an article in a medical journal about ancient crucifixion methods. He pointed out that there is no reason Christ was not crucified as depicted in art, and that evidence from the Bible suggests that an upright crucifixion was most likely. If it ain't broke, why fix it: www.atrium-media.com/rogueclassicism//Posts/00003439.html
The medical article is available as a PDF here: www.rsm.ac.uk/media/pdf/j06-04crucifixion.pdf
See also an old New Scientist article on the cause of death in crucifixions: www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=lw195

Christians are meant to contemplate the Crucifixion today and tomorrow, before the miracle of the Resurrection. So here goes.

There are many mentions of crucifixion in ancient texts, but they give us few details of how it was actually done. As far as I know, it was first recorded as practised by the Greeks: Pericles crucified the ruler of Samos when he captured the island. Alexander the Great crucified the survivors after the siege of Tyre, then Hephaestion's doctor for failing to keep him alive. Herodotus claimed, like everything bad, that it was originally Persian.

The Romans took it to extremes - we all remember the ending of the film Spartacus, which was based on historical sources that tell us Crassus crucified Spartacus' 6,000 followers along the Via Appia. In the previous Servile Wars in Sicily, crucifixion was also used to punish the slaves, and this method of death is generally associated with slaves. Cicero also have an account of Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus as governor crucifying a Sicilian slave for having killed a boar with a spear (97 BC); slaves on the island were not allowed to carry weapons, and his death was designed to serve as a deterrent to others. Roman citizens seem not to have been crucified, as it was seen as a demeaning and dishonourable way to die. An exception is when Fimbra crucified Roman deserters in Asia during the Mithridatic Wars (Dio): the point he was making was that by refusing to fight they were worse than slaves.

During the Empire, the practice continued. Tiberius hated oriental cults, so when he closed the temple of Isis in Rome (AD 19), he ordered her priests crucified. A few years later, Christ was crucified in Jerusalem. Josephus wrote about crucifixions around the walls of Jerusalem; during the AD 70 Jewish revolt he says that some garrisons preferred to surrender. It seems to have been common in eastern provinces during the first century AD.

In 313 Constantine issued the Edict of Milan; Christianity was allowed, prosecution of Christians ceased. Eusebius tells us that he banned crucifixion soon after.

In modern history there are a few instances when crucifixion was used as the means of death. The Japanese banned Christianity, and to punish those who broke the law chose to crucify some Christians at Nagasaki in 1597 - the irony of this form of death could not have been lost on the Jesuits and Franciscans being martyred. Crucifixion seems to have been chosen as a way to kill Missionaries in other areas too. Christians in some towns in Mexico and in the Philippines still hold mock crucifixions each year on Good Friday.

Although many were crucified, the deliberate dishonour and punishment of their deaths means that few were buried in a way likely to preserve the evidence of crucifixion. Only one tomb, at Giv'at ha-Mivtar to the north of Jerusalem, has yielded physical evidence of crucifixion. See the article by Israeli archaeologist Joe Zias, with numerous illustrations.

The illustration above is probably the earliest known depiction of the crucifixion of Christ, the Alexamenos Graffito; the crucifixion is mocked in this caricature, and Christ given an ass's head. The inscription reads: "Alexamenos - worship your God !". It was found on the Palatine in 1857, and is now in the Palatine Antiquarium. Some date it to the first century AD: faculty.bbc.edu/rdecker/alex_graffito.htm. Others traditionally date the graffito to the third century, when Tertullian wrote of accusations that Christians worshipped an ass's head: "Somniatis caput asininum esse Deum nostrum" (Apol., xvi; Ad Nat., I, ii). The cross, and later the crucifixion, were depicted in Christian tombs, and we have many more examples after Christianity became the state religion.

Elgin's Mother

Allan Ramsay's portrait of Martha, Countess of Elgin.
(1762. Oil on canvas. Earl of Elgin and Kincardine collection, Scotland)

Lord Elgin's mother was a royal governess; an educated woman she was able to exert influence at court. George III admired the way she was raising his own grand-daughter and wondered about her Elgin children - he made enquiries, and his attention helped Elgin's career.
Thanks to this influence, Elgin went to Istanbul, then on to Athens, where he was able to save the Pathenon sculptures from destruction.