Obamaphilia: The Year of Obama

As I look back on my year, Obama played a large part in it.

He lured me away from the Republicans with his promises of not sending women back to the kitchen, his vision of change.

Plus, how can one resist a man that publicly admits to eating arugula, the ancient equivalent of Viagra.

In February I got out the vote on Super Tuesday.

In April I wore Givenchy to one of his fund-raisers (thank you, LVMH).

After getting a number of long distance phone calls from the GOP about this, I outed myself, and was soon labeled an Obamacon by the great founder and chronicler of this new movement, Andrew Sullivan.


Top Tips for Roman Recipes

Dormice are an endangered species in the UK. So if you are planning to serve Apicius' recipe [De Re Coquinaria, VII.396]:

Stuffed Dormouse

Is stuffed with a forcemeat of pork and small pieces of dormouse meat trimmings, all pounded with pepper, nuts, laser, broth. Put the dormouse thus stuffed in an earthen casserole, roast it in the oven, or boil it in the stock pot.

you will need a substitute. My top tip is: when buying hamsters or gerbils from Harrods' pet department, don't tell them about the recipe.


Recipes: Foie Gras is a Semitist Issue

In France foie gras is traditional for Christmas and New Year.

There seems to be a movement in the US to ban foie gras for 'cruelty' to animals. This is nonsense - neither ducks nor geese have a gag reflex - and anti-Semitic.

Sephardi Jews had olive oil, but Ashkenazim had to use fat. Pork schmaltz is not kosher, so instead they continued the ancient Roman practice of over-feeding geese and ducks to produce more fat for cooking. A fatty liver - foie gras - is an agricultural by-product of kosher cuisine. Banning foie gras can therefore be interpreted as anti-Semitism, striking at the heart of Jewish culture - the home.

Carolin C. Young, a food historian, got rather angry when I explained this theory, but the evidence is clear.*

Sertorius: Pirates and a White Fawn

After Sulla had re-seized Rome, Sertorius, for having supported Marius in 87 BC was declared a public enemy. He fled Italy to Spain and continued to fight the Civil War there, supported by many Marians, until his death in 72 BC.

The Romans of the Republic were surprisingly superstitious, and Sertorius was considered particularly favored by the Gods because of his white fawn. Which he tended to take advantage of ... [Plutarch, Sertorius, 11-12.1]:
Most of the people joined him of their own accord, owing chiefly to his mildness and efficiency; but sometimes he also betook himself to cunning devices of his own for deceiving and charming them. The chief one of these, certainly, was the device of the doe, which was as follows.
Spanus, a plebeian who lived in the country, came upon a doe which had newly yeaned and was trying to escape the hunters. The mother he could not overtake, but the fawn — and he was struck with its unusual colour, for it was entirely white — he pursued and caught. And since, as it chanced, Sertorius had taken up his quarters in that region, and gladly received everything in the way of game or produce that was brought him as a gift, and made kindly returns to those who did him such favours, Spanus brought the fawn and gave it to him.
Sertorius accepted it, and at the moment felt only the ordinary pleasure in a gift; but in time, after he had made the animal so tame and gentle that it obeyed his call, accompanied him on his walks, and did not mind the crowds and all the uproar of camp life, he gradually tried to give the doe a religious importance by declaring that she was a gift of Diana, and solemnly alleged that she revealed many hidden things to him, knowing that the Barbarians were naturally an easy prey to superstition.
He also added such devices as these. Whenever he had secret intelligence that the enemy had made an incursion into the territory which he commanded, or were trying to bring a city to revolt from him, he would pretend that the doe had conversed with him in his dreams, bidding him hold his forces in readiness. Again, when he got tidings of some victory won by his generals, he would hide the messenger, and bring forth the doe wearing garlands for the receipt of glad tidings, exhorting his men to be of good cheer and to sacrifice to the gods, assured that they were to learn of some good fortune.
By these devices he made the people tractable, and so found them more serviceable for all his plans; they believed that they were led, not by the mortal wisdom of a foreigner, but by a god. At the same time events also brought witness to this belief by reason of the extraordinary growth of the power of Sertorius.

These white bucks are Judas deer [source]; white deer are rare today, and were even more so in antiquity when whiteness was greatly admired.

Sertorius led an interesting life. He was one of the few to survive Arausio (105 BC) Marius' spy during the German Wars. After Marius' death he defied Sulla, fighting on in Spain and North Africa. When he needed help, he made a deal with the Cilician pirates [Plutarch, Sertorius, 8.3]:
Sertorius sailed back again to Spain. From this shore too he was repulsed, but after being joined by some Cilician piratical vessels he attacked the island of Pityussa, overpowered the guard which Annius had set there, and effected a landing.

They worked again against Metellus and Pompey the Great [Plutarch, Sertorius, 21.5]:
and so once more he advanced upon the enemy with large reinforcements and began to cut off their land supplies by means of ambuscades, flank movements, and swift marches in every direction, and their maritime supplies by besetting the coast with piratical craft; so that the Roman generals were compelled to separate, Metellus retiring into Gaul, and Pompey spending the winter among the Vaccaei.

Sertorius deserves a full biography, but for now the best read about him is Adrian Goldsworthy's chapter on him in:
In the Name of Rome: The Men Who Won the Roman Empire (Phoenix Press)- Amazon.co.uk
In the Name of Rome: The Men Who Won the Roman Empire (Phoenix Press) - Amazon.com

Pirates: China in Africa

The Chinese Navy is making its way towards Africa to help deal with the pirates off the coast of Somali, who are attacking ships in the Gulf of Aden.

Leaving aside the foreign policy implications, this is interesting as it's the first time that official Chinese ships have been sent there by the government since the Ming Dynasty.

The last such mission was that of Zheng He [Cheng Ho in Wade-Giles], sent there by the Yongle Emperor as part of his Sixth Voyage in 1421-2.

This is a later Chinese sailing chart based on one drawn by Zheng He.

It's sideways compared to modern maps, with North to the left. The coast of Africa is along the lower edge, and India is at the top; to the left is the Gulf, with the Indian Ocean to the right.

Unfortunately the next emperor, Hongxi, ordered the destruction of many documents relating to trade because of he wanted China to close itself off. As well as his naval charts, the records of Zheng He's Sixth and Seventh Voyages were destroyed. This has led to some silly ideas that he 'discovered' America in 1421.

Even without the written documents of the voyage, we have other records such as this scroll depicting a giraffe that Zheng He brought back from Somalia.
This is one of many Qing copies of the Ming original painted by the court painter Shen Du (1357-1434).

Shen was, as so many Chinese painters, also a poet, and composed these verses about the mythical beast (chi lin) he had painted:

In the corner of the western seas, in the stagnant waters of a great morass,
Truly was produced a chi lin, whose shape was as high as fifteen feet.
With the body of a deer and the tail of an ox, and a fleshy, boneless horn,
With luminous spots like a red cloud or purple mist.
Its hoofs do not tread on living beings and in itts wanderings it carefully selects its ground.
It walks in stately fashion and in its every motion it observes a rhythm,
Its harmonious voice sounds like a bell or a musical tube.
Gentle is this animal, that has in antiquity been seen but once,
The manifestation of its divine spirit rises up to heaven's abode.

What's interesting about Zheng He is that he was a member of the Muslim minority in China. When he went to East Africa he was making in reverse the journey made by Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas almost six hundred years earlier.

Sa'ad was Mohammed's maternal uncle, and one of the first converts. After Mohammed's death he took part in the Battle of the Camel, fighting with Aisha against Ali, making him one of the great figures in Sunni Islam. Under the Caliphs he continued to be important, and was part of the Council of that chose Uthman Ibn Affan as the Third Caliph.

Uthman sent Sa'as on an embassy to the Tang Emperor Gaozong in 651, with the aim of introducing Islam to China. The emperor agreed to the construction of a mosque in Guangzhou (Canton), and Islam flourished. The Muslim traders became important for Chinese trade, bringing the famous Ming blue and white pottery the Middle East where it was copies and exported to Europe.

This shard of Ming porcelain, for example, was excavated at Fustat in Egypt. [source]

- Chinese Heritage Newsletter


Marius: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

President-elect Obama and his sister have just scattered their grand-mother's ashes off the coast of her native Hawaii. [Photo]

The Romans in the late Republic overwhelmingly favored cremation on a funerary pyre over inhumation.
Because they used wood, which burnt to a much lower temperature than modern crematoria, they ended up with bones as well as ashes. These would be buried, and as part of the funerary ritual the family would eat a meal by them, then return later to pour offerings.

Artemisia II of Caria chose to drink Mausolus' ashes, washed down with an amphora of Chian wine, but this was not the norm nor encouraged, and she was a Persian anyway.

One notable Roman exception were the Cornelii, famous for their fondness for inhumation, due to which the most prominent branch built the fabulous Tomb of the Scipios on the Via Appia, just outside the Aurelian Porta San Sebastiano.

The sarcophagus of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus is the only complete sarcophagus from the tomb (Vatican). His name was painted at the top, and below the inscription reads:

For those whose Old Latin is a little rusty:
Cornelius Lucius Scipio Barbatus, sprung from Gnaeus his father, a man strong and wise, whose appearance was most in keeping with his virtue, who was consul [298 BC], censor [280 BC], and aedile among you - He captured Taurasia, Cisauna, Samnium - He subdued the whole of Lucania and brought back hostages.

The tomb elogia are interesting as they allow one to compare these - which were presumably based in the tituli of imagines - with the preserved literary record. And there are sometimes some large discrepancies.

The inscription from the tomb of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus is highly fragmentary, but that of his son and quaestor survives:

Also a Sciopio who was Flamen Dialis (like the young Caesar):

And Paula a Scipionic bride.

According to Cicero the mausoleum continued in use well into the first century BC. The main section of the complex was full soon after the burial of Ennius (d. c. 269 BC); Cato had brought Ennius to Rome after the Second Punic War, but he had soon become a favorite poet of Africanus and Scipio Aemilianus. Scipio Aemilianus is believed to have expanded the tomb complex and added the Hellenistic rock-cut facade of statues and columns.

The Cornelii Scipiones, despite a whole series of adoptions, died out during the first century BC; Fulvia was their heiress.

The tomb seems to have passed to other branches of the Cornelii, and ended up with the Cornelii Lentuli by the Imperial period. The last certain use of the tomb was for the daugher and niece of Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus. Since Cornelia had previously been engaged to Sejanus' son, it's a miracle she survived until the reign of Claudius or Nero.

Marius, as the sitting consul and the Third Founder of Rome, would probably have had the right to a tomb within the city walls. This was a right reserved for the Founders and re-founders of cities - everyone else was burried outside the walls, for hygiene reasons. Yet he chose to be buried like his peers, in a tomb outside Rome - though to be inhumed rather than cremated.

Sulla, since his full name was Lucius Cornelius Sulla, and he died the most powerful and feared man in Rome, could have chosen to be inhumed in the Tomb of the Scipiones - or to have been inhumed into a tomb that he himself built. So why, one might wonder, did Sulla chose cremation not inhumation? Fear that his enemies might ranksack his tomb, chop up his body and throw it into the Tiber? For that is exactly what Sulla did to Marius, throwing his body in the Anio, and why we know about Marius' form of burial. So Sulla chose cremation and a monument [Plutarch, Sulla 38]:
Many now joined themselves eagerly to Lepidus, purposing to deprive Sulla's body of the usual burial honours; but Pompey, although offended at Sulla (for he alone, of all his friends, was not mentioned in his will), diverted some from their purpose by his kindly influence and entreaties, and others by his threats, and then conveyed the body to Rome, and secured for it an honourable as well as a safe interment.
And it is said that the women contributed such a vast quantity of spices for it, that, apart from what was carried on two hundred and ten litters, a large image of Sulla himself, and another image of a lictor, was moulded out of costly frankincense and cinnamon. The day was cloudy in the morning, and the expectation was that it would rain, but at last, at the ninth hour, the corpse was placed upon the funeral pyre.
Then a strong wind smote the pyre, and roused a mighty flame, and there was just time to collect the bones for burial, while the pyre was smouldering and the fire was going out, when a heavy rain began to fall, which continued till night. Therefore his good fortune would seem to have lasted to the very end, and taken part in his funeral rites.
At any rate, his monument in the Campus Martius, and the inscription on it, they say, is one which he wrote for it himself, and the substance of it is, that no friend ever surpassed him in kindness, and no enemy in mischief.

The gods almost had the last laugh, as Sulla's funeral pyre was drenched in rain ...

Marius: Imagin[in]g an Ancient Commander-in-Chief

I think that it's key, when trying to write about someone, to be able to picture them in one's head.

The problem with Gaius Marius is that this is the only image we have of him - he's the little guy in his Triumphal chariot on the right (the big head is Roma as Victory in a winged helmet).

Although most text books will tell you that Caesar was the first living Roman depicted on a coin, there was an image of Sulla (or a statue of Sulla) depicted on a coin before that, and then before either: this coin, which is generally believed to represent Marius during his double triumph over the Cimbri and Teutones in 101 BC (the great Mary Beard, The Roman Triumph). Although it's the subject of scholarly dispute, I believe that it is Marius, so the tiny figure riding a horse would be his son or nephew.

Either way, it ain't much help, as one can barely make him out.

We have literary descriptions of statues, and even inscribed statue bases surviving, but no certain sculptural image of my favorite Roman general.

These two busts in Munich are often assigned to Marius and Sulla - it doesn't matter which, as they seem to be interchangeable. They are said to come from Rome, and the idea is that these were copies of the statues of Republican greats that lined the porticoes around the Temple of Mars in the Forum of Augustus (promised at Philippi in 42 BC, begun ca. 20 BC, dedicated in 2 BC).

Both date to ca. AD 10-20, and seem to copy second century BC portrait heads. That's possible for an original of Marius - though there is nothing to concretely link him to either - but not for Sulla, who was far too junior in the second century to have a portrait (portraits were the reserve of the highest achievers, and Sulla only achieved his first imagines around the time of the Jugurtine War).

In fact there are very few images from the Republic, and even fewer that can be linked with a specific person. The fresco from a tomb on the Esquiline is dated to the second century BC.

It is believed, because of one reading of the label - ...anio[s] St[ai] f[ilios] e Q. Fabio[s] - to copy a painting that was once in the Temple of Salus (Health) on the Quirinal, which according to literary sources [Valerius Maximus, 8.14.6]:
Illa vero etiam a claris viris interdum ex humillimis rebus petita est: nam quid sibi voluit C. Fabius nobilissimus civis, qui, cum in aede Salutis, quam C. Iunius Bubulcus dedicaverat, parietes pinxisset, nomen his suum inscripsit? id enim demum ornamenti familiae consulatibus et sacerdotiis et triumphis celeberrimae deerat. ceterum sordido studio deditum ingenium qualemcumque illum laborem suum silentio obliterari noluit, videlicet Phidiae secutus exemplum, qui clypeo Mineruae effigiem suam inclusit, qua conuulsa tota operis conligatio solveretur.
So this painting, by C. Fabius, would represent Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus, the victor of the Second Samnite War, which he helped end in 304 BC. Fabius was Master of the Horse, Dictator and held the consulship a record five times - until Marius came along and won a record seven elections. Some even believe that it might be Fabius Maximus' own tomb. [Marius tomb was destoyed by Sulla, so there is no chance of ever finding it].

Some scholars believe that imagines, the masks of ancestors kept in the Atrium cupboard and worn at funerals, were based on death masks. This Republican clay head in the Louvre is believed to have been based on a death mask. There is an exedra from the House of Menander in Pompeii with similar heads, but it's Imperial in date.
Having read Harriet Flower's Ancestor Masks and Aristocratic Power in Roman Culture, I find her arguments that imagines were made during the lifetime, maybe repeatedly, very convincing - so imagines were based on a living Roman rather than his wax death mask.

We know that Caesar brought out an imago of Marius at Julia's funeral, and re-erected statues of his uncle. We also know that Augustus erected statues of Marius, at least one of which was seen by Plutarch in the second century AD, but these are all lost. We haven't a clue what he looked like.

Since I needed to be able to imagine Marius, I thought I'd let my fantasies run wild. It is Christmas Day, after all ...

Eric Bana as Hector in Troy.

I know that the uniform is wrong for Marius, and that the Trojan war was about a thousand years earlier, but Marius might have stopped by Ilium during his Asian Embassy and tried on Hector's armor in the temple there, and Mr. Bana makes a fine warrior ...

Except that ... as I've discussed before, we know that this image of Marius is fake because of the beard. Republican Romans were clean-shaven. Plutarch made a big deal of Marius' beard during his exile, because beards were only worn as signs of mourning during the Republic (when loved ones died, when Romans were in exile or on trial, and so forth). Whilst this cameo supposedly honors Marius, so should depict him in his prime, not at his lowest ebb. If it's fake because of the beard, so alas we must also bid adieu to Mr. Bana.

Having perused the rest of the cast photos, Brad Pitt might be more suitable, if he got a haircut.
But if we're going to start making follicular suggestions to movie stars, we might as well get Mr. Bana to shave his beard.

Another statue sometimes linked to Marius is the Barberini Togatus. He's of roughly the right period and with suitable physiognomy for an image of the older Marius.
He wears a Senatorial toga, so would be Marius as homo politicus - except that Marius would probably have been shown in either a consul toga or, since he was awarded the privilege of wearing it at certain public events, his Triumphal robes.

What makes this statue unique is that the Senator holds two imagines or portrait busts, presumably of ancestors - but Marius boasted, when elected consul, of having no imagines in his Atrium ...

The statue is more likely to depict a patrician than a novus homo, and probably in any case dates to a few decades too late. The main head is closer to Caesarian examples, and whilst this would not be an issue if the heads are of older deceased ancestors ... it's also of a different marble.

Back to square one. In any case, coming from Greek archaeology, I prefer my Commanders-in-Chief wearing rather less.

Unless they look like this - Bill Clinton may have been Commander-in-Chief, but he never, as his torso clearly demonstrates, saw active service. Jelly-belly is quite unsuitable as an example of what Marius might have looked like.

What about other modern Commanders as examples?

Vladimir Putin saw plenty of active service, and has both the muscles and the macho attitude to prove it. Technically not currently Commander-in-Chief in Russia, like Marius, he hopes to be re-elected to the post soon.
He's holding a fishing rod, but it could be a sword or a gun. The hat though is more suitable for fair-skinned Sulla.
His eyes look off into the distance, scanning the horizon for enemy armies ....

David Cameron is just a party leader. Not in charge of a government, and could never be Commander-in-Chief anyway since that post is reserved for the Queen in the UK. The image is totally gratuitous.

Like Marius, Nicholas Sarkozy has a beautiful wife admired by all. Here he is in a boat, and one could imagine Marius during his exile, rowing away from the Italian coast ... except that Marius was noted for his austerity in battle, and President Sarkozy is known to be a bit Bling-Bling. Tony Blair ... pass.

Also, would-be commanders must, like Marius, be able to make stirring speeches on the eve of battle. Colonel Tim Collins certainly fits that criterion - his "We go to liberate not to conquer" speech in Kuwait will be studied for centuries to come.

But Collins was not technically Commander-in-Chief.

So the criteria are that he - or she - has to be a Commander-in-chief, an inspiring speech maker and have a good torso.
The winner is clearly President-elect Barack Obama. Obama is Gaius Marius.

So after an exhaustive international search for an image that could be my Marius, I alighted on the Tivoli General.

His date, as with so many Republican images, is debated, but before the period of Marius' death (d. 86 BC), or soon after, is possible - the current consensus amongst people I respect is 100 to 60 BC. It was found inside the Sanctuary of Hercules Victor in ancient Tibur, and is now in the Museo Nazionale / Palazzo Massimo.

The top of his head is missing, so we can't tell if he was balding or had a full head of hair, but enough of the face survives to show that it was weather-beaten, suggesting age. Marius was over 70 when he died.

Although I like my generals nude, the Romans of the period were far more conservative and this sort of Greek-style heroic semi-clad image only began in Italy around 100 BC.

Much is made by Plutarch of Marius' lack of education, with claims that he did not speak Greek. This was clearly a political stance taken by Marius to make him more of a 'real' Roman, like Cato, a man of the 'people' - Anthony the Orator would also claim not to speak Greek as part of his election campaign, just as Mitt Romney would claim not to speak French.

Marius in fact is said to have introduced Greek style Games to Rome, and supported the first Latin school of rhetoric, so was highly sophisticated. A Greek style statue would have been acceptable for him, and perhaps even more acceptable for someone such as Sulla.

Some scholars try to claim that this is an image of a 'local' ... but between the very avant-guard Greek style of the iconography, the location inside a sanctuary, and the cost of commissioning such a piece, it could only represent a leading Roman.

The statue has implications of heroization, even deification, which would work for Marius - to whom unprecedented libations were poured after his victory after Vercellae. The heroic drapery suggests a general rather than a politician, as does the support carved as a military corselet.

I believe that this is a statue of Gaius Marius - Rome's greatest general, the new Romulus, the new Camillus, third Founder of Rome.

[Ancient images looted from around the web. Photos of 21st century Commanders-in-Chief (and the aspiring Cameron) take from - Daily Mail and The Telegraph.]


Marius: Germans vs. Pirates

The Romans fought both in Marius' day, though one at a time. The German descent into Italy could have led to the sack of Rome, but the pirates were a menace to trade and prevented food from being shipped in, which in turn could have led to wide-spread famine. Marcus Gratidianus' father died fighting the pirates with Anthony, Marius executed his other nephew during the German Wars. Anthony the Orator and Gaius Marius may well have quibbled over which was the more formidable adversary - now we shall have a chance to find out once and for all.

German Navy joins hunt for pirates off Africa - The Local

Heraclius' Coins From Jerusalem

Close-up of some of the coins from the hoard of 264 found in a seventh century building in Jerusalem.

Heraclius reigned 610 to 641, and these are dated to the earlier part of his reign.

Heraclius is of course the Emperor that lost Jerusalem. Twice. To the Persians in 614, then to the Muslim Caliph in 638.

That's what makes the coins of Heraclius interesting - they were the Byzantine coins in circulation during and immediately after the life of Mohammed (d. 632), and were highly influential on the iconography of early Islamic coins.

I think claims that Mohammed was depicted on early Islamic coins in immitation of the Emperor on Byzantine ones is dubious at best. But if you look at the last coin here, of 'Abd al-Malik (AD 685-705) it is clear how the cross on one side of Byzantine coins was adapted.


Byzantine Coin Hoard Found in Jerusalem

The IAA press release -

A Hoard Comprising Hundreds of Gold Coins was Uncovered in the Excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is Conducting at the ‘Giv‘ati Car Park’ in the City of David, in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park (22/12/2008)

“This is one of the largest and most impressive coin hoards ever discovered in Jerusalem – certainly the largest and most important of its period”

One thousand three hundred year old Chanukah money in Jerusalem: a hoard of more than 250 gold coins was exposed yesterday (Sunday) in the excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting in the Giv ‘ati car park in the City of David, in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park. The excavations at the site are being carried out on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority and are underwritten by the ‘Ir David Foundation.

The hoard of coins before it was removed from the excavation area. Photograph: courtesy of the ‘Ir David Foundation.

Since the archaeological excavations began there about two years ago, they have not ceased in providing us with surprising discoveries that shed new light on different chapters of the city’s past. Currently a very large and impressive building is being uncovered that dates to about the seventh century CE (end of the Byzantine period-beginning of the Umayyad period). A large cache of 264 coins, all made of gold, was discovered among the ruins of the building.

According to Dr. Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, directors of the excavation at the site on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Since no pottery vessel was discovered adjacent to the hoard, we can assume that it was concealed inside a hidden niche in one of the walls of the building. It seems that with its collapse, the coins piled up there among the building debris”. Ben-Ami and Tchekhanovets believe, “This is one of the largest and most impressive coin hoards ever discovered in Jerusalem – certainly the largest and most important of its period. For comparison’s sake, it should be noted that the only hoard of gold coins from the Byzantine period that has been discovered to date in Jerusalem consisted of only five gold coins. All of the coins bear the likeness of the emperor Heraclius (610-641 CE). Different coins were minted during this emperor’s reign; however, all of the coins that were discovered in the City of David in Jerusalem belong to one well-known type in which the likeness of the emperor wearing military garb and holding a cross in his right hand is depicted on the obverse, while the sign of the cross is on the reverse. These coins were minted at the beginning of Heraclius’ reign (between the years 610-613 CE), one year before the Persians conquered Byzantine Jerusalem (614 CE).

Dr. Doron Ben-Ami and a volunteer after the discovery of the coin hoard. Photograph: courtesy of the ‘Ir David Foundation.

From the moment that the first coin was exposed, it stood out against the background of its surroundings. It is easy to imagine the excitement took hold of the excavators when they continued to discover many more dozens of gold coins alongside it. These were resting on the ground, in one place where they fell, and were buried there more than 1,300 years ago, until once again man laid eyes on them – this time the amazed eyes of the archaeologists.

picture of the coin hoard. Photograph: Yael Barshak, IAA

Although gold is not among the ordinary discoveries in archeological excavations, not long ago a surprisingly well preserved gold earring, inlaid with pearls and precious stones, was discovered at this site.

What is the building where this very valuable cache was hidden and who was its owner? What were the circumstances of its destruction which did not permit the coins’ owner to collect them? Should the building’s destruction be dated to the time of the hoard?
The excavation of the large building in which the hoard was discovered is still in its early stages and the archaeologists hope that they will soon collect further data that will enable them to answer these questions.


What Did Cleopatra Look Like?

There has been a lot of press coverage this week, because of a Channel Five documentary [UK only here] that claims Cleopatra VII of Egypt did not look like Elizabeth Taylor.

So far, I can agree.

I'll even confirm that Richard Burton was not the spitting image of Mark Anthony.

But ... the Five PR offensive claimed that Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra 'nowhere near reality'
[The Telegraph]
and THIS is the 'real' face of Cleopatra:
"Using images from ancient artefacts including a ring dating from Cleopatra's reign 2,000 years ago, Cambridge University's Sally Ann Ashton has pieced together an entirely different image that shows her as a mixed race beauty."

Sally Ann and I were in the same year as undergrads, and she's very sweet. She wrote her dissertation on Ptolemaic Portraiture, volunteered at the British Museum, etc. She had a hand in the BM's traveling exhibition Cleopatra of Egypt: From History to Myth. That's where the problems start ... Much of the exhibition, I was told by curators at the BM, was based on re-attributions by Sally Ann in her dissertation. And most scholars I chatted with did not accept any of those re-attributions .... they preferred to keep images of Arsinoe II as Arsinoe II, etc. Clearly there are people out there who agree with Sally Ann, but I guess I didn't get to speak to them.

So let's start with the obvious issue with the image Sally Ann has come up with - the woman is African or mixed race. If Sally Ann had done her research, she would have known that Cleopatra was a member of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, descended from Ptolemy I Soter. Ptolemy was a general of Alexander the Great and Macedonian - so Caucasian. His mother was Arsinoe - who started as a concubine of Philip II (father of Alexander), then married Lagus when pregnant; either could be the father.

The Ptolemies sometimes inter-married with other Hellenistic dynasties descended from Alexander's generals, such as the Syrian Seleucids, but tended to prefer to marry each other. It is sometimes unclear which child was born from which wife, but they were all Ptolemies. So please do not be mislead by academic discussions about which woman was Cleopatra VII's grand-mother - she might not be certain, but we are certain that she was a Ptolemaic princess or queen, not an 'Egyptian'. Also 'Egyptian' seems to be 'code' for 'black' - but ... Egypt is north of the Sahara, and most people black enough to have produce someone of this kind of mixed race lived south of the Sahara. Neither modern nor ancient Egyptians are or were black Africans. I have no clear evidence of racial sensibilities amongst the Ptolemies, and they might well have made a marriage with a suitable sub-Saharan princess, had she been important enough, but this alliance would have been both important and unusual enough to have been preserved in an ancient source.

I'm not saying that Cleopatra was a blue-eyed blonde, but she wasn't black or mixed race either.

So what did Cleopatra look like?

We can't be sure, as there are, even leaving aside Sally Ann's re-attributions, three different types of images of Cleopatra. For now we should set aside the images in the Egyptian tradition of Cleopatra as Pharaoh or as Isis. The remaining portraits can be divided into Greek style and Roman style images.

There are many uncertain or debated images, but coins she issued can be reliably claimed to have official images of Cleopatra.

The first coin is 'prettier' Greek style, with a smaller nose. [source] The second coin, issued with Mark Anthony, is Roman style, more 'warts and all' with a larger nose - this might have reflected reality or been the fashion of the times. [source] In both she has a strong chin, and the main difference is the nose - sculptures are not much help with this question, as the nose tends to be the first thing that breaks off (the first on statues of women, anyway) ...

Then the hair .... I set to work finding a sculpture with hair like Sally Ann's 'Cleo' and this is the best I could do.

This sculpture is a Roman copy of a Pergamene original, so the Hellenistic original would have had hair that Cleo as a Hellenistic queen might have had ... except that hair was often changed by copyists. And on the coins she is not depicted with this sort of hair style ... [source]

I think what Sally was aiming for in her reconstruction is a style called 'Melon' because the hair is divided into sections and looks like a melon ... [see here for a brief history of hairstyles].

This hairstyle is closer to the one depicted on the coins, particularly the Greek style coins. Since Cleopatra was a queen, she is shown on the coins wearing a diadem over her hair to indicate her status (that's the thick ribbon, which would have been either fabric or of gold like a tiara).

[source and source]

Once we've taken away the corn rows, and added a big hook nose, Cleopatra looks a lot less mixed race ... So, sorry Sally Ann, but that thing is not the real face of Cleopatra.

We can go through many more of the images assigned to Cleopatra another time.

The face reminded me of someone, so I went through my images of the various Hellenistic queens, and then it struck me ... the 'new reconstruction' of a mixed-race Cleopatra looks a bit like Sally Ann! [far left of photo - source]

Myra Theatre: the Weapons Frieze

Classical and Hellenistic Lycia was a highly martial society so it's not surprising that the area yields a large number of carvings of armour and weapons friezes. These can be hard to date, as the weapons and shields depicted are sometimes ones that are no longer in use, something that is best seen in Macedonia - and the execution is often crude. If you want more information, there's a whole chapter in my PhD. This frieze probably pre-dates the theatre, but was incorporated into the structure at some point in its later history.

Salamis: Artemisia I of Caria

Artemisia inherited the throne from her father the Persian Strap of Caria Lygdamis; she seems to have had an adult son, but was still considered fit to rule despite being a woman. I've been working on Artemisia and other warrior queens today, and I believe I've noted before that the East Mediterranean and Middle East had long histories of pre-Islamic women rulers and warrior queens. To the Greeks the Persians were barbarians, depicted defeated in architectural sculpture along other examples of lack of civilization: Centaurs, Amazons, etc. It strikes me that the large number of powerful women in Persian history, and the high social status of the 'weaker sex' might be a reason that the Achaemenids were seen as 'barbarian'?

Artemisia took part in Persian War II, as a military leader and adviser to Xerxes. After the Battle of Salamis [Greeks 1 - Persians 0], her sage advice and valiant combat are said to have inspired Xerxes to claim, according to Herodotus, that:
"My men have turned into women and my women into men ..."

After the battle she managed to escape, despite the fact that the Greeks had put a higher bounty on her head than on that of any other Persian commander including Xerxes - 10,000 drachmae.

Herodotus was brought up in Caria, and as a child would have heard tales told by men who had fought with Artemisia.

Interestingly Xerxes' grand-father, Cyrus the Great is said to have been killed by another warrior queen - Queen Tomyris of the Massagetai [Herodotus I.214]:

Tomyris, when she found that Cyrus paid no heed to her advice, collected all the forces of her kingdom, and gave him battle. Of all the combats in which the barbarians have engaged among themselves, I reckon this to have been the fiercest. The following, as I understand, was the manner of it: First, the two armies stood apart and shot their arrows at each other; then, when their quivers were empty, they closed and fought hand-to-hand with lances and daggers; and thus they continued fighting for a length of time, neither choosing to give ground. At length the Massagetai prevailed. The greater part of the army of the Persians was destroyed and Cyrus himself fell, after reigning nine and twenty years. Search was made among the slain by order of the queen for the body of Cyrus, and when it was found she took a skin, and, filling it full of human blood, she dipped the head of Cyrus in the gore, saying, as she thus insulted the corpse, "I live and have conquered you in fight, and yet by you am I ruined, for you took my son with guile; but thus I make good my threat, and give you your fill of blood." Of the many different accounts which are given of the death of Cyrus, this which I have followed appears to me most worthy of credit.

Although the position of women in formerly Achaemenid lands today might not be good ... in their day they seem to have been pretty advanced.
It helped being able to wield a sword and an army.


Temple Tax Found

Coin 1 is rather exciting, but no photo yet:
The first coin, a silver half-shekel, was apparently minted on the Temple Mount itself by Temple authorities in the first year of the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66-67 CE, said Bar-Ilan University Professor Gabriel Barkay, who is leading the sifting operation.
One side of the coin, which was found by a 14-year-old volunteer, shows a branch with three pomegranates, and the inscription "Holy Jerusalem"; the other side bears a chalice from the First Temple and says "Half-Shekel."

Coin 2, illustrated is:
The second coin discovered in the rubble was minted by, and bears a portrait of, the Greek leader Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who ruled from 175-163 BCE. During that time, he looted the Temple of its treasures and erected a statue in the sanctuary.
The Hasmonean rebellion was directed against his actions. The rebellion, the Hasmoneans' liberation of the Temple, and the events surrounding the Hanukka story took place on the Temple Mount.

Rubble yields silver Temple 'tax' half-shekel - Jerusalem Post.

Himera Necropolis: Mass War Graves

This is the most exciting find - a mass grave with arrows dating to the 5th century BC. Several such graves containing 15 to 25 men were found, containing the bones of healthy young men who died violent deaths. The excavators link them to the Battle of Himera against the Cathaginians in 480 BC. Which is very exciting.

This is an overview of the necropolis - it was a rescue dig before construction of the railway. The excavators expressed surprise at the number of burials; not sure why, as Himera was quite a big city.

It's always handy to find coins in a dig, as these make great evidence for dating - one can argue over the dates of pot sherds, but coins tend to have information regarding date included in the design. If you do find coins, my top tip would be ... do not over-clean them like this.

The necropolis also included graves of children - this one is described as an 'infant' and was excavated holding his bottle. A cup is next to it. His right arm is in a strange position, and his feet are missing. Himera's graves contained large numbers of newborns due to high infant mortality - that's not the case with all necropoli, since the very young were often thrown away (see the drains of the bath in Ashkelon).

This is aparently the ancient baby bottle found next to him, after it had been scrubbed. The shape is called a guttus.

All photos courtesy Stefano Vassallo / Archaeological Superintendence of Palermo