Dining and Roman Luxury, The Getty

Passover is coming up, and whilst I don't want to get involved in the debate about whether Jesus' Last Supper was a Jewish Passover, there is one point that strikes me every year.

Every Passover the youngest of the group asks the Four Questions as part of the religious rituals at the dinner table, the last of which is:

"On every other night we eat whilst sitting upright, but on this night we dine reclining Why?"

The simple answer given is that on that night we Jews celebrate freedom from Egyptian slavery, and that in earlier dining rituals slaves did not recline, but on that night we celebrate our freedom by reclining as real Roman lords at the table. Of course, this is the 21st century, but even in the 20th I have never actually attended a Passover Seder where the guests reclined. The "acceptance" of the question and answer is a universal part of the ritual, but the actual reclining is theoretical and went out centuries ago.

There is no Passover link to the Berthouville Treasure currently on show at the Getty. But I did find it interesting that much of the treasure was probably made in Gallo-Roman workshops specifically to be dedicated to Mercury in the later 2nd and early 3rd centuries BC ... except for the very finest pieces, which were dedicated by Q. Domitius Tutus, and which I will blog separately. As well as being of much higher quality - some of the finest surviving ancient silver wares - these items were made outside the area, probably in Italy, and were already rather old when dedicated (picture 2). This has led to them being described as "family heirlooms" because of their stupendous quality, but part of me wonders whether they were not just bullion too, the importance of their dedication more related to the weight of their silver than their intrinsic artistic value.

The other point is to differentiate between "old" and "heirlooms" - because too many of us discuss "Rome" or "Antiquity" as if it had been one monolithic block, but in fact dining habits changed dramatically over the years both in terms of how the diners arranged themselves physically at the table and in terms of the items they used at the table.

To quote Ken Lapatin's brilliant book accompanying the exhibition (p. 33): "The treasure testifies to the almost complete disappearance of scyphi and canthari (two types of cups) in the second century in favor of shapes that continued in vogue until the end of antiquity." He writes about the later dedications, but interestingly at roughly the same period there were significant architectural changes taking place in Roman dining rooms - as well as those who preferred to dine "old style" for centuries in the same slightly archaising manner as Late Antique consuls being depicted wearing togas even though those had long gone out of style for actual wearing.

For the move from the three-couch triclinium to the semi-circular couch stibadium, around the same period as the majority of the Berthouville Treasure was probably dedicated, this Getty Education blog post is worth looking at: Reclining and Dining (and Drinking) in Ancient Rome | The Getty Iris (NB this is my suggestion, in this post, to correlate the dates, not theirs, so don't blame them for it!)

The villas around Vesuvius provide beautiful evidence for dining before AD 79, but many later depictions of dining that survive are of the Last Supper. The earliest Christian images of dining are not the actual Last Supper but rather of the communal agape meals which were an integral part of Early Christian society (left).

The great early Last Supper at Ravenna, ca AD 500 (below) of course shows Jesus and his Apostles dining reclining. But was it necessarily anachronistic and archaising, the way later Medieval versions of it were?

There are earlier images of people seated whilst "dining" but those seem to be either outdoor 'picnics' or religious rituals or archaeological evidence for 'lower class' individuals at bars, but ... This mosaic in the Bardo from Carthage, probably dating to the mid 4th century AD (image from The Roman Banquet: Images of Conviviality, by Katherine M. D. Dunbabin fig. 47) is the first certain scene showing members of the ruling class eating whilst seated. Dunbadin's date around 350 AD is interesting as the great cultural change of the period was of course Constantine's legalisation of Christianity and it subsequently becoming the state religion (others had dated it to ca AD 400). I cannot help wondering whether the move from reclining to sitting was linked to this. 

Descriptions of reclining diners largely faded from 3rd century literary descriptions, but that was a time of political chaos, and the archaeological record shows that villas continued to be constructed with couches so seated did not become the norm then.

In fact, although "Germanic" people seem to have preferred eating seated on chairs during the Empire, by the Late Antique and Byzantine periods there had been a back-lash against this. Although the sanctuary of Mercury is believed to have been destroyed in the Germanic invasions of the Empire, and the nearby villa, probably of its priests (?) would probably also have ceased to operated around the same time, other Gallo-Roman villas in the area continued to emphasise Roman-style dining and use couches, as has been shown in the archaeological record. By the period of Theodosius, who commissioned the Ravenna Last Supper above, the Germans had become more Roman than the Romans, so he, for example, revived the image of the Lupercalia, and embraced pre-Christian Roman institutions, including dining on couches. Even the Vandals who took Carthage like to recline and dine, as an account by Procopius of Guntharis' dinner there in AD 546 makes clear; the proconsul's residence went so retro that they skipped the semi-circular stibadium shown in Christian art and went back to the three couch triclinium!

The history of how the Romans and Byzantines dined is complicated, because they didn't all choose to do the same thing the same way. This c. 1080 fresco from Capua was almost certainly anachronistic, as was the depiction from the later Pala D'Oro in San Marco, each influenced by earlier depictions, neither showing contemporary practices - just as the line we recite at Passover each year bears no relation whatsoever to how we are all arranged at the Seder table. From ca AD 400, as parts of Gaul increasingly fell increasingly to Germanic "war lords" ... the archaeological record shows that both these new local rulers and their 'nobles' in fact embraced older Roman dining practices. Literary records confirm this, with the 5th century Christian Bishops of Ravenna not only dining a la Romaine on couches, but with Bishop Neon commissioning an old-fashioned stibadium dining room for his new episcopal palace. As the Franks became the Merovingians, and kings of France, they also embraced Roman dining - for the men, women seem to have been seated, which was of course an even old idea abandoned by the Romans many centuries before.

I'll blog more about the actual objects in a series of posts, but I just wanted to mention their 'dining' context not just their dedicatory one.

Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville, is at the Getty Villa until August 17th 2015, then it will be on tour.

The book accompanying the exhibition is very good and worth picking up a copy of: The Berthouville Silver Treasure and Roman Luxury (Amazon UK); The Berthouville Silver Treasure and Roman Luxury (Amazon US), and the usual places.

Bethouville silver photographs courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des monnaies, médailles et antiques, Paris, via The Getty.


Hellenistic Bronzes: Pride ... and Prejudices

Jens Daehner and Kenneth Lapatin of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles have curated the most extraordinarily brilliant exhibition on Hellenistic Bronzes, currently at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, of which both they and the museum should be immensely proud. The catalogue for the Italian portion of the exhibition also looks fabulous, although my copies were immediately ‘borrowed’ by friends, so I have not yet been able to read the essays by many luminaries of the field, although Lapatin, Carol C. Mattusch and Sophie Descamps-Lequime very kindly let me tag along as they went around it. (Obviously any dubious ideas or dodgy theories are entirely my own, and not their fault).

The exhibition is full of exquisite sculptures which would make any ancient Greek proud of their bronzes, but in this first blog post about the exhibition I’d like to discuss some of the more banal works – sculptures against which I admit I tend to be slightly prejudiced. Other posts will discuss the greater works in the Palazzo Strozzi show, and then during the summer works which will join the exhibition in California.

Sleeping Eros. III-II C BC, bronze, cm 41,9 x 85,2 x 35,6, cm 45,7, with base. New York, 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund 1943, 43.11.4 
(in the Palazzo Strozzi exhibiton; image courtesy of them)
My first ‘prejudice’ is a personal one, and against these sleeping cupids or putti. When I first went around the exhibition I ignored it. The reason why is simple; whilst Michelangelo is known to have made copies of ancient sculptures, every country house in England seems to have a badly re-carved ancient one of these in marble, which they now insist is not Hadrianic but by the great Michelangelo. It gets a little boring. This bronze in the Met is however a beautiful sculpture well worth looking at again, with the feathers of Cupid’s wings, and his tubby little sleeping limbs showing how good Hellenistic bronzes from high quality workshops could be.
When it comes to ancient statues of “famous” types reworked in the later Hellenistic and Roman periods, the quality can be highly variable. Scholars from the Renaissance period onwards tended to read Pliny and see them as fabulous works, sculptures that could be lost originals or at least help us restore their original appearance. Nowadays they are being recongnised as having been less “great art” and more furniture, decorative pastiches of the often kitsch variety still produced for “interior designers” of little taste today, and that would not have looked out of place in Saddam’s or Gadhafi's palaces. 
Two archaising bronze Apollos, brought together for the first time, illustrate this point perfectly, and that is why I have, unusually, chosen to first blog about the pieces in the exhibition that I dislike ... but which were also the most interesting from an educational point of view.

Apollo (Apollo di Piombino). ca 120-100 BC; bronze, copper, silver; cm 117 x 42 x 42. Paris, Musée du Louvre, département  des Antiquités grecques, étrusques et romaines, inv. Br 2 (in the Palazzo Strozzi exhibiton; image courtesy of them)

The earlier and finer of these two archaising “Apollos” is the Piombino Apollo found in the sea in 1832, and which entered the Louvre in 1835.

When the mud and assorted marine excretions were removed there, an even more startling discovery – one so unexpected that it was at the time dismissed as fakery by the archaeologist – was made: a lead strip, now broken into three pieces, was removed via the statue’s eyes naming in Greek the sculptors who had created it:

The diagram comes from p. 357 of Sterling Dow’s old Hesperia article available here.
the style of the letters seems to suggest the first century BC, and in conjunction with better understanding of both techniques and styles of ancient bronzes we now know that the Piombino is not an Archaic original as once thought, but rather a good quality later Hellenistic imitation made by a known school of Rhodian sculptors. The silvered inscription on the foot suggests that it was originally dedicated to Athena soon after being made, and was being shipped to Italy at some later period when the ship carrying it sank. We know from examples excavated around Vesuvius as well as literary references that ancient Greek bronzes were also faked and sold off to Romans as genuine “Archaic” sculptures too, so there is a possibility that the ancient Roman buyer of this piece thought he was buying a ‘kosher’ ancient sculpture and not just an Archaising work of the later period.

In 1977 a similar statue of an archaising Apollo was found at Pompeii in the villa of C. Julius Polybius, and based on photographs the two were soon ‘associated’ ... the slight scandal of the Pompeian piece is that it was excavated with tendrils which probably held a wooden tray, and so its nature as a piece of decorative furniture in a fancy Roman house could not be denied.

Apollo (Kouros). 1st century BC or AD; bronze, copper, bone, dark stone, glass; cm 128 x 33 x 38. Pompei, Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Pompei, Ercolano e Stabia, inv. 22924 (in the Palazzo Strozzi exhibiton; image courtesy of them)

Bringing the two statues together, which are of slightly different heights and stylistically not quite as similar as they initially were assumed to be, is one of the great joys of an exhibition such as this one. When the two Apollos stand next to each other, it is clear that they differ enough to not be assigned to the same workshop, and they show how one (the Piombino example) could have been made as a votive offering for a Greek sanctuary, but that the other was clearly made as a slightly ostentatious decorative ‘objet’ for a Roman who wanted the decorative ‘style’ of ancient Greece, not ‘art’ necessarily. This was sculpture one could probably order by the set, whether for the house or the garden, the ancient equivalent of buying books by the yard for their decorative bindings.

Some bronze furnishings based on Greek sculptures in the Roman period were of high quality, and can be evidence for the now lost original masterpieces, but others were not. Although connoisseurship is currently out of fashion, and the trend is to study all archaeology as "material culture" and being equally important ... differentiating good and bad copies is key to reconstructing the originals, as is accepting that bronzes could be and were mass produced in Antiquity. We know these "copies" varied and since bronzes were easier for workshops to adapt than marbles as well as easier to produce, this should also be taken into account.

Another good example of kitsch archaising furnishings a la Romaine - and of my own prejudices - is the Gaza Apollo (not in the exhibition). It first came to attention when (possibly Hamas) tried to list it for sale on eBay (with local collection only!). The story told - that it had been found in the sea - was clearly false, and my own prejudice against it was mostly because of that (ie if they're lying about where it came from, what else where they lying about?). The furniture aspect was another prejudice - so the Gaza Apollo probably is a genuine Roman bronze of archaising style, and probably served some sort of decorative function in a Roman seaside villa, but it is more likely to have been found whilst digging into the ground there than in the sea. Another strange story associated with this Gaza bronze was the finger being hacked off and taken to a jeweler as they thought it was made of gold - this is probably as many ancient bronzes were gilded to enhance their bling factor, and we can thus assume that some of the gold survived on this example.

With lower quality Roman replicas it is easy to identify them; the problems are greater when it comes to higher quality ones, as then too many scholars make the assumption that the higher the quality, the earlier the date ... an assumption that this Hellenistic Bronzes exhibition shows is clearly erroneous.

The Marathon Boy in Athens (not in the exhibition) is a good example of the issue. The bronze is a work of high quality, so since it was found in 1925 it has been labelled a Greek 'original' of the 330s BC.

His left hand is however slightly problematic.

"Obviously" this is "original" and he held a phiale in his hand was one explanation; another is that he was reworked by those naughty Romans and the hole to hold something dates from their barbarity ... The more I look at it, the more I suspect that it was a first century BC or later Greek work based on an earlier Greek sculpture, rather than a 4th century original, created by a Greek workshop for the flourishing export market. Whilst when it comes to marble copies we acknowledge that Greeks had a thriving market producing and exporting imitations of earlier works, for some reason we still seem to have a mental "block" when it comes to bronzes in assuming they didn't do the same thing with them. If anything bronze was easier to produce copies in, and Pliny's (probably slightly hyperbolic) statistics suggests that there were thousands of these in Roman cities.

The Marathon Boy is a nice sculpture, but I believe that Greek bronzes were exceptional not just 'good' - as the finds being made by the Underwater Ephoria show increasingly - and that makes me question the date and wonder whether this quality might not be Roman instead.

The famous 'Idolino' in the Palazzo Strozzi show is a good example of a work once considered an ancient original of genius, but now seen as interesting for having been found in the Renaissance and been influential on many artists - for example the Bronzino drawing below - but now considered a nice Roman copy of a Greek Ephebe but little more.

Ephebe (Idolino di Pesaro), 30 BC circa; bronze, con agemine in lamina di rame e aggiunte in piombo; cm 148. Firenze, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, inv. 1637 (in the Palazzo Strozzi exhibiton; image courtesy of them)

The statue still stands on its huge Renaissance base, looking ridiculously important ... but oddly enough the Palazzo Strozzi chose not to exhibit it with the various bronze attachments found with it (photo below). The attachments below, which were associated with his left hand, and probably formed a garland around him like the similar but much smaller Ephebe found in the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus at Pompeii, make it clear that he was more slightly cheesy interior design in the house of a slightly nouveau Roman and less 'great' art ... I suspect that's why the Florence Archaeological Museum insisted on keeping him on his elaborate Renaissance base, but not sending along these integral ancient parts of the 'work' to the Palazzo Strozzi:

Without the attachments, the Idolino is a "work of art" presented on the base to show how it has been greatly appreciated since it was found in 1530. With those attachments, it is clear that it was just a decorative knick-knack to the Romans, in the same genre as this tree-shaped bronze candelabrum, a detail of which shows that it too was of high quality, and would probably have been ordered from the same sorts of craftsmen that produced those Apollo tray-holders.

I realise that covering the exhibits I liked least in the exhibition is a little like children eating their vegetables first to get them "out of the way" but ... in many ways I found this aspect of the exhibition the most illuminating. More blog posts will cover the better bronzes.

The exhibition runs until the 15th June at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence: Potere e Pathos. It will transfer to The Getty as Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World with slightly different items included from July 28–November 1, 2015, before moving on to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The English and Italian editions of the Palazzo Strozzi exhibition catalogue do not appear to be easy to order online, but the Getty edition with the same photographs and text can be pre-ordered from the usual places: Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World (Amazon UK), Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World (Amazon US) etc.


Hellenistic Bronzes at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence

The exhibition is officially open today and they very kindly let me see it yesterday. Proper blog post to follow, but this is an amazing exhibition very much worth seeing in Florence, then again later at The Getty and subsequently at the National Gallery in DC when slightly different pieces will be included such as the Croatian bronze and the Thracian head.

At the Strozzi, L'Arringatore is amongst the many beautiful bronzes on loan from Florence Archaeological Museum, including the Medici Horse, the Arezzo Athena and the Idolino. For those worried that the Archaeological Museum is denuded, they currently have the most incredible exhibition of finds from Etruscan tombs, Lorenzo de Medici's coins and cameos restored by Cellini are on display and from the 20th they will have a related exhibition on small bronzes.

The exhibition previously at Cluny on Medieval Travel also opens at the Bargello on the 20th, and I assume will also include that amazing scroll of the Peutinger Map - so for those interested in Antiquity this is the perfect time to visit Florence and Fiesole.


Getty: Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville

In case anyone is anywhere near Malibu, I highly recommend visiting this exhibition at the Getty Villa, which is on to August 17, 2015. I'll be blogging about the more interesting pieces, the core of which come from the Berthouville Treasure.

This treasure owned by the BNF, was extensively studied and conserved by the Getty, a more interesting way to acquire works - through loans than purchases on the art market. It was found in the 19th century, seemingly the hoard of an obscure Norman sanctuary, and escaped being melted for scrap luckily. The cups are some of the finest surviving examples of ancient silverware, and if this is the quality to be found in an obscure provincial sanctuary on the fringes of the Empire, one can only wonder at what kind of glories would have graced the great sanctuaries of Greece and Rome.

More soon, but if you're in the area do visit it as the BNF Cabinet will be closed for restoration for some time.

Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville, on view at the Getty Villa November 19, 2014, to August 17, 2015.


Amphipolis ...

... look, I had literally refused to go on TV for well over five years as I don't want the "fame" and I only went on Greek TV as I was tired of people who had never been to the site at Amphipolis (Palagia, Chugg) talking crap; I wanted to defend the work of the amazing team who actually are working at Amphipolis.

I also should admit that whilst a book about Amphipolis would be lovely in the long term, I also had never planned to 'rush' to publish one before the archaeologists. I knew a book by me on the market would blow out others' attempts to get advances for a book, and that was my main plan. Also, if a book of mine one day is published and makes money, obviously I would split the profits with the guys there as they did the hard work.

I am happy to try to explain the archaeologists' finds, and try to theorise about them but ... I am currently taking a break as I was close to the CharlieHebdo office and the doctor told me I need to go for a rest. I have had absolutely no news or contact about the excavation finds from the team since the news broke in August - no-one is leaking to me as I gave the few (minor) people who tried hell. Theorise away, just be aware that we are just theorising and discussing possibilities!

Normally excavations are complicated, but the public and press only see the end results. Amphipolis may look a "mess" because unusually here people are seeing the excavation as it goes along. This is normal! As is changing theories as new evidence comes to light ... whoever this turns out to be, it is already the most important find of the century.

Michaelis Lefantzis has been there from the start, he was the one who went looking for bits of the Lion and thus in turn found even more amazing discoveries. Lefantzis is one of the most talented archaeologists (in Greece it's "architect" but in the UK & US we include that within "archaeologists") that I am aware of, not just in Greece but the world. He's the hero of Amphipolis, and the idiots claiming other crap are just that - idiots. Greece voted for change, so let's give Amphipolis a chance to change too.


CSI: Amphipolis - Murder

One body had old injuries that had healed, the other had so many stab marks on the bones - which went through skin, flesh, muscle and are pretty hard to do with a knife - so there is no doubt in my mind that the younger man was assassinated.

UPDATED Amphipolis: The Bones ... Murder!

Υπουργείο Πολιτισμού και Αθλητισμού - Μελέτη Σκελετικών Καταλοίπων Ταφικού Μνημείου, Λόφου Καστά, Αμφίπολη:
"The bodies of those buried have been distinguished: In a woman (person 1), two middle aged men (people 2 and 3) and a newborn person (4 person)."
The woman in the cist grave, around which the others seem to have been buried, was over 60; Olympias was born circa 370 BC and died in 316, so the maths is wrong for her.

The two men were in their later 30s or earlier 40s, and the younger of the two shows signs of several sharp blows - possibly injuries, more likely murder by stabbing. The older, taller man has an old wrist fracture that has heeled. Interestingly "both men have degenerative osteoarthritis and spondylitis lesions in different parts of their skeletons." - this suggests they could have been related as these are genetic issues.

In addition as Edson noted in his article The Tomb of Olympias, inscriptions show she was buried at Pydna; so Amphipolis could not have been built pre the Battle of Pydna around her earlier tomb there ... you can download the article here.

There are also animal bones (those of the 550 which are not the human 157?) including horses, which further supports the idea of a Macedonian royal burial - way back when everyone was poo-pooing Amphipolis, I asked if there were horse bones or equipment by the entrance, as to me that was a key indicator. 

The skeletons are fragmentary, so we might be missing people, but this many figures is unusual; family mausolea were not the norm at the time.

Philip III Arrhidaeus was murdered and is the right age for one of the men. We know that he died in 317 BC, but was later honourably buried with his wife Eurydice II Adea, whose suicide had been forced and her mother Cynane: Diodorus 19. 52; Athenaeus 4. 41.

Whilst I can't find a source that mentions Adea having a baby, a newborn son could well have been the issue that forced Olympias' hand, and led him to murder them all. Cynane died in 323 and is too young to be the woman buried in the cist grave; her mother Audata vanishes from the records after Philip II, and is assumed to have died but need not have. (Obviously this is just a guess!)

The bottom line is not just any noble could have built this sort of tomb, and the Argead Dynasty had strong ties to Amphipolis for centuries - Alexander I famously defeated the Persians there.

Hephaestion died not stabbed at 32, so has to be excluded. 

Update - the reason I left to Philip III and Eurydice II is that near Amphipolis is where they were kept hostage and probably killed. 

Everything I have seen fits a tomb built the period of Alexander and soon after, but the cremated bodies could have been added later. Cassander honourably buried them, and he married Alexander's half-sister Thessaloniki after Pydna to cement his claim to the throne ... so yes the making a point of honourably burying is odd, but so were the politics of the day!

The uncremated 60+ woman could be the tomb of an "ancestor" such as Deianira from whose child with Heracles the Argeads claimed descent, or another early royal - don't forget the earlier Macedonians were Persian vassals, and practiced certain rituals that differed from other Greek states.

A cremated fifth body is in such a poor state the sex could not be determined, and if it was a woman, Eurydice is a candidate but if she is a separate death then she'd be Cynane.

CORRECTION as he rightly pointed out, I was using an old book and forgot the new source showing Olympias murdered them (Cassander killed Roxane and Alexander IV at the Amphipolis fortress):

UPDATE: also, I sometimes state the conclusion and forget to explain the thought process ... "Aegae" in the sources is possibly two later writers making a mistake / misinterpretation of a lost source that describes a "royal cemetery" or "mausoleum" and an assumption made it was the traditional one at Vergina etc. Ancient sources can be wrong which is why we tend to trust more contemporary inscriptions more ... Athenaeus was around AD 200 and gathered interesting titbits; and Diodorus was Augustan.


Amphipolis Bones: News Soon

I thought the press conference was scheduled for the 20th, but some on Twitter are saying the results will be released today. This was the previous press release from December is below, and the new one will be here.

Just a quick re-cap: the tomb was constructed at the time of Alexander the Great, and possibly / probably construction continued after his death.

The body found inside seems to have neither been cremated nor mummified; earlier suggestions from the archaeologists suggest that it predates the main body of the tomb. We know that after the Persian Wars Cimon went to find the bones of Theseus so that they could be buried in a shrine to him (probably on the hill over the Agora, the so-called Hephaisteion); whether he took them from a long-known 'tomb' of Theseus or they were random old bones is of course open to question. Alexander adores Achilles, but his tomb is elsewhere in later sources, so we need to look for a suitable hero or ancestor that was thus honoured, and my best guess would be Alexander I who defeated the Persians at Amphipolis and was the first Macedonian king to take part in the Olympics ... but obviously that is just an "educated guess"!

The Source of Papyri ...

Mummy Mask May Reveal Oldest Known Gospel:
Evans told Live Science, "We're not talking about the destruction of any museum-quality piece."

 Oh yes they are! And here's the proof they themselves provided:

And as I noted before, I am confused how fragments of the same old Mark are supposedly coming out of a "legally acquired" cartonnage in Texas AND via a dealer in Istanbul selling on eBay ...

How To Tell a Fake 101

It's a very pretty ring, and when I was in Paris someone Tweeted a photo of this Greek 2nd Century BC ring in the Benaki, and trying to stay positive I RTed it. Almost immediately I thought "no!" ... I undid the RT and made a passing remark that it was interesting that the ancient Greek creator had knowledge of the work of Michelangelo.

Recent events have made me realise too few people spend enough time with originals, and so I thought it might be worth taking the time the explain my thought process.



Norwegian Design: Pia Tjelta byTiMo

What feels like the most beautiful dress in the world arrived in the post yesterday ...

I have bought items from By Ti Mo in the past, and am generally rather sceptical when celebrities collaborate with brands, but Norwegian actress Pia Tjelta's designs are simply stunning.

This photo is of the shorter version, the Nº 12 The Vega Dress (note the model is very tall, and one shorter women it would come to above the knee), whilst I bought the floor length white cotton and lace Nº 11 The Helena Dress.

Introducing the Master of the Miami Vice Hermes

This "ancient" head was seized by Turkish police (here) as the smugglers were trying to get it to a buyer who was apparently willing to pay $1 m. Tiny problem ... I have photos of his work in progress circa 2009.


The Looting of Papyri & Islamophobia

I do love how my years of work, after all the people in papyrology couldn't have care less as about looting, being dismissed as bombastic. But then again if I were an old man who was just a lecturer at an obscure State college rather than someone who has achieved things ... well I might too have a chip off my shoulder. I do find it odd that so many "scholars" find discussing - or in the case of papyrology ignoring - looting from their (in his case faux) ivory towers ... and go out of their way to disparage people who actually do the work, and get pieces returned.

Whilst I am thrilled that someone else in papyrology, PhD candidate Brice Jones is now enthusiastically anti-looting ... may I just make the point that my comment pointing out that the Galatians on eBay was being illegally offered for sale was not originally moderated and posted amongst his comments. And like others working in this field I am horrified by the way he blogs about identifying papyri on eBay, therefore raising their values and making them more valuable rather than unsaleable.

Roberta Mazza is the only papyrologist I can name that has not only become an enthusiastic crusader against looting but is also doing some good.

Smuggling papyri, which all either passed through or are linked to a dealer who has admitted repeatedly to smuggling is shocking. The way so many US academics turned a blind eye to them, justifying that they were 'saving' Christian texts from "Muslim countries" is pretty shocking. That was bigotry, racism and self-serving - their old boy's club turned a blind eye as they saw themselves as superior to 'barbarian' Muslims and also because of the pressure in the field to come up with new discoveries. They really only started getting interested in the issue when the Sappho Papyri hit the media, and suddenly the topic became 'sexy' ... So yes I might not be an expert in papyrology, but at least I have morals.


Roberta Mazza on The new Sappho fragments acquisition history

Roberta is covering some of the same ground as my posts, but much more elegantly and both this and her earlier posts are highly recommended reading. Neither of us are making direct accusations, just raising the increasing catalogue of issues.

Galatians etc I've been on the trail of for years but Christians "saving" Christian fragments from 'nasty' "muslim countries" wasn't 'sexy' and Roberta is the one who made it so by linking those eBay fragments to the new Sappho ones by getting this info out of the Green collection:

The new Sappho fragments acquisition history: what we have learnt so far | Faces &Voices:
The new paper tells a different story. I understood that the version of events was going to be different, when David Trobisch, director of the Green collection, suddenly started to mention in conversations and emails that both the Coptic Galatians 2 and the Sappho fragments (all of them) had in their acquisition history files a Christie’s auction of 2011.
What interests me is that Eugenio Donadoni, a young "Specialist" at Christie's "was so kind to confirm via email that the source is that lot" - despite mistakenly also telling her (I assume he panicked and miss-wrote) that there were no images:
When I asked for images and documents relative to the 59 folders and
their content, he told me there aren’t any: the only record is the short
entry in the printed catalogue. Believe it or not, Christie’s has no
snapshot or any other form of catalogue file for the lot. When I raised
the point that this lack of documentation – which Mr Donadoni said is
not unusual – opens a breach in the acquisition history of ancient
artefacts, and is problematic for everybody from academics to
responsible collectors and dealers, Donadoni said they have budget
issues and too much work with too few personnel.
Hmm, odd as what I've been looking at make it difficult for me to work out how large fragments were hidden in the small fragments in the lots ... I guess I'm just being a dumb blonde again.

Is this More of the "First Century" Gospel of Mark?

Interesting similarity of handwriting ... between these fragments I posted photos of yesterday from the Turkish eBay seller "Zelis eksioglu" ...and the newly discovered Gospel of Mark ;-)

These top three photos of material he was touting to sell "off eBay" and below the ones of the Gospel of Mark Josh McDowell recently 'discovered' ... although frankly when the seller is boasting of what it is ...