Sunday, June 29, 2008

Kimon and the Sea Raids of the Delian League

I am continuing to listen to the Teaching Comapany's lecture series "The Greek and Persian Wars" by Professor John Hale and today Professor Hale spent an entire lecture discussing the campaigns of the Delian League. For some reason, after listening to a number of other lectures about ancient Greek history, I had gotten the impression that, although the Delian League was formed to protect the Ionian Greek world from any new attacks by the Persians following the Persian defeats at Platea and Mycale, no such attacks subsequently occurred. So, Athens, as hegemon of the league, used the "protection" money to grow rich and become the Athenian empire.

However, this was apparently a misconception on my part. The Delian League lead by Kimon was quite active and went on the offensive against Persia after the formal battles of the Persian Wars had been won. Although these raids had the appearance of piracy, they were targeted specifically at Persian-controlled cities and actually garnered a large amount of booty that was split between the participating Ionian city-states and Athens with a further portion deposited in the League treasury on Delos.

Furthermore, Persia did begin to assemble another invasion fleet at the mouth of the Eurymedon River near the city of Cnidus on the southwest shore of Asia Minor. Kimon heard of these preparations and took the Delian fleet there and not only captured the Persian fleet and defeated the fleeing Persians on land but turned around and, using the captured Persian vessels, duped an oncoming Phoenician fleet into thinking the approaching ships were just welcoming them to the invasion force, and captured them as well.

I wonder why we seem to hear so much about the victories at Salamis and Platea but this astounding double victory by the Delian League seems to be virtually ignored by so many Greek scholars? I had also not heard of (or don't remember - I get older every day!) the battle at Mount Mycale either, for that matter, until I listened to this lecture series. It just seems that most authors focus on the "big four" - Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis, and Platea when writing about the Persian Wars. Likewise, we often hear about Miltiades, Leonidas, Themistocles, and Pausanias but seldom (if ever) about the equally impressive exploits of Leotychides, Xanthippos, Aristides the Just, and Kimon.

Another thing I found interesting was that the "protection" money paid by members of the Delian League was essentially money that was diverted from previous Persian tribute. Aristides the Just, chosen to organize the Delian League, ruled that cities could contribute either money or men and/or ships so cash-strapped cities would not have to further impoverish their citizens. I realize Athens later took advantage of these arrangements but the League did initially serve its members well and enriched them with spoils. It was not (at least in the beginning) engineered to simply exploit its non-Athenian members.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Researchers at Rockefeller University support Schoch eclipse date referenced in the Odyssey

"Plutarch and Heraclitus believed a certain passage in the 20th book
of the Odyssey (‘‘Theoclymenus’s prophecy’’) to be a poetic description
of a total solar eclipse. In the late 1920s, Schoch and
Neugebauer computed that the solar eclipse of 16 April 1178 B.C.E.
was total over the Ionian Islands and was the only suitable eclipse
in more than a century to agree with classical estimates of the
decade-earlier sack of Troy around 1192–1184 B.C.E. However,
much skepticism remains about whether the verses refer to this, or
any, eclipse. To contribute to the issue independently of the
disputed eclipse reference, we analyze other astronomical references
in the Epic, without assuming the existence of an eclipse, and
search for dates matching the astronomical phenomena we believe
they describe. We use three overt astronomical references in the
epic: to Boo¨ tes and the Pleiades, Venus, and the New Moon; we
supplement them with a conjectural identification of Hermes’s trip
to Ogygia as relating to the motion of planet Mercury. Performing
an exhaustive search of all possible dates in the span 1250–1115
B.C., we looked to match these phenomena in the order and
manner that the text describes. In that period, a single date closely
matches our references: 16 April 1178 B.C.E. We speculate that
these references, plus the disputed eclipse reference, may refer to
that specific eclipse." - Constantino Baikouzis,{dagger} and Marcelo O. Magnasco, Laboratory of Mathematical Physics, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY 10065; and {dagger}Proyecto Observatorio, Secretaría de Extensión, Observatorio Astronómico de La Plata, Paseo del Bosque, B1900FWA La Plata, Argentina

The scientists combed the epic to find specific mention of astronomical phenomena. Doing this, they found 4 events:
  1. The Day of the Slaughter is a new moon
  2. "Six days before the slaughter, Venus is visible and high in the sky"
  3. Two constellations were visible 29 days before the slaughter
  4. 33 days before there is a possibility that Homer refers to the relative place of the planet Mercury. Homer actually refers to the god Hermes. The scientists say that the association of gods with planets is a Babylonian invention that can be dated to about 1000 B.C. Their twelfth century B.C. date precedes this, and is not Babylonian, but they believe it works.
The scientists then looked for a date that would correspond with these discrete events that was within a century of the date of the fall of Troy(?).
"Ultimately, whether they’re right or wrong, the researchers are interested in reopening the debate. 'Even though there are historical arguments that say this is a ridiculous thing to think about, if we can get a few people to read The Odyssey differently, to look at it and ponder whether there was an actual date inscribed in it, we will be happy,' Magnasco says."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ancient Jewelry Unearthed in Temple of Sun near Bulgaria's Sliven

"The archaeologist team of Bulgaria's Georgi Kitov has unearthed precious jewels, dating back from second or third century in Drumeva Mound near the Town of Sliven, the manager of the expedition himself announced.

The scientists found golden earrings, silver bracelets and three bronze rings in a Roman brick tomb of woman, buried in the mound.

A mourning bronze coin was discovered in the mouth of the skeleton and there was clay beads round its neck, the deputy-head of the group, Nikolay sirakov, revealed.

Drumeva Mound was girded with a stone wall, which showed it probably was a temple of the sun, Doctor Kitov said few days ago in an interview for Darik Radio." -

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Odysseus Unbound Project Makes Progress

The researchers involved with the Odysseus Unbound Project were recently interviewed by the "Naked Scientists" (what's with this "naked" business? Naked archaeologist, naked scientist...) and related some of the progress that has been made this past year:

"The text of the Odyssey gives us three very clear indications on where
Ithaca is and what kind of island it was. These are they:
First of all, the Odyssey tells us that Ithaca is in a group of four islands - but
modern Ithaki is one of three. Secondly, the Odyssey tells us that Ithaca is the
farthest West and the farthest out to sea of these islands - but Ithaki is the
closest East and closest to the mainland. Finally, the Odyssey tells us that Ithaca
is low-lying – that it hasn’t got any mountains - but Ithaki is a mountainous
island with cliffs plunging sheer into the sea.

[We think]...we simply haven’t found the correct island. Given that we have found other places that are mentioned in the heroic poems like Troy and Mycenae (these have been excavated) we know that they existed. There’s therefore reason to believe that the poet described in great detail Ithaca he was talking about a real island.

...there’s been some massive ground movement which has made what was four
islands become three islands. One of them is the original Ithaca.

The western peninsula, Paliki is very low-lying. There is a narrow valley called Thinia which separates it from the main part of Kefalonia. If that particular valley were once underwater - and we’re talking 3000-2000 years ago - there are two independent references: the Homeric text of the Odyssey. The second is that Strabo,
the first geographer 2000 years ago (around the time of Christ that he was writing) actually says that there is a narrow isthmus where Kefalonia is narrowest. From time to time, not always, it saw waters going from end-to-end. We know very specifically where he was describing because there are two Roman settlements that he mentioned within his text. They both lie on either side, or at least the areas which they governed lay on either side of this valley.

The theory is very challenged in this valley. We should not underestimate that. The
valley itself rises to over 175m at the present day in the central saddle area. The
work that I’ve undertaken around the coastlines of Kefalonia indicate that we
cannot have recourse to uplift alone despite the seismicity; the earthquakes
recurrence in the area. Wave-cut notches and raised beaches in the area show us
that uplift is insufficient. We must appeal to other processes.

This particular area which we know to be the earthquake hotspot of Western Europe lies at the boundary between the Eurasian and African plates. Cephalonia is, in fact, the seismically most active part of Greece.

What was done to test the hypothesis that these four islands have become three?

The first thing we did was ground geology. We mapped the area and it was clear from a very early stage that the surface geology is insufficient to test the theory rigorously. You need to look beneath the ground. What you can see on the ground in the area is that there is massive landslide and rock fall debris strewn across the valley surface. Large boulders the size of houses, trucks and the like, which as we know from the August ’53 earthquake (depicted in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin of course), there were catastrophic failures of whole hillsides at that time. They’ve been captured on film and are in the record.

We think there was a big landslide potentially, that could have filled in the gap which previously was covered by ocean but filled in now by debris from a landslide. I think we would be foolish to think it was a single landslide. Catastrophic landslides occur regularly within this area. Indeed in November of last year without an earthquake attached to it a village, Nifi, was swept away unfortunately after a major landslide from the eastern slopes of Thinia - a test of the principle we are looking at.

The first borehole that we drilled was back in Autumn of 2006. It was located on the
eastern side of the valley. We drilled down from a surface elevation of 107m. We drilled down 122m so below sea level. Interestingly, that borehole found rockfall debris extending at least 40m below the current land surface i.e. 67m above present sea level.

Most importantly, the matrix to that borehole contained large boulders of cretaceous and other limestone material derived from the eastern slopes and a very young fossil called Emiliana Huxleyi, a marine fossil that is 80,000 years or younger. Actually within this area we know that marine waters only reached the region within the last 5000 years, so this is a very interesting result.

It was very exciting after that autumn drill hole when the borehole went right the way down and didn’t encounter any solid limestone. It encountered material that made us think of the possibility that an enormous rockfall event or series of events came thundering down the mountainside, hit a body of relatively shallow sea water and in the process of that perhaps thrust much of that water up into the air in such a way as to interpenetrate all the debris coming down and end up with all these tiny nanofossils.

But it’s tough to interpret the data. It takes a lot of work, a lot of resource and fortunately a lot of industry support that we’re now getting with the project. It mixes together a whole variety of blends with archaeology, geology, science of various kinds, mythology – just about everything. A wonderful multidisciplinary activity that we’ve got ourselves involved in."

Monday, June 16, 2008

Japanese use computer tomography to analyze fragile ancient artifacts

"Archaeologists working at an ancient tomb in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, are taking advantage of a newly developed, computer-based technique that allows unearthed artifacts to be examined without risking damage by physically handling them.

The technique involves first encasing artifacts in medical resin to protect them from harm. Computer-based technology then applies the principles of tomography--the study of the internal structure of solid objects--to generate three-dimensional images that reveal the encased items in great detail.

Okayama University and the Kyushu National Museum, which jointly developed the method, have used it to examine artifacts found at the late fifth-century Shobuzako tomb in Kurashiki.

Excavation work at the tomb last year uncovered an intact stone chamber that contained about 200 original burial items, including mirrors and harnesses.

Researchers at Okayama University applied large amounts of a synthetic resin, originally designed for medical use, to the artifacts. After the resin had solidified, the researchers were able to remove the items in 14 solid blocks, and analyze the treasures contained in each using the tomography software.

The three-dimensional images generated through the analysis revealed minute details of the items--for example, it showed that a mirror was wrapped in several layers of cloth, and its surface was colored with the red mineral cinnabar. Researchers were also able to tell precisely how the iron parts of a harness were combined.

Takehiko Matsugi, an associate professor at Okayama University and archaeologist, said: "Excavation work is extremely demanding in terms of time, expense and researchers' physical strength. This new method enables us to examine artifacts quickly and efficiently, and to make highly accurate analyses and reproductions."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The History of Pankration

A good article on the ancient sport of pankration:

"Eventually, Pankration became the core focus of a Greek soldier’s hand-to-hand training regime. This evidence suggests that Pankration was created to supplement a warrior’s battle prowess (as weapons would often break and combatants would have to use their bare hands and feet).

Ancient literary sources state that wrestling was a very important component of a Greek hoplite’s repertoire (heavy infantrymen were called hoplites). Hoplites would use their wrestling skills to stay balanced and get back to their feet quicker than the enemy if they fell down. Getting back to your feet quicker was often the difference between life and death.

Over time, the accomplishments of the strongest and most successful Pankratiasts formed the basis of legendary stories and mythical embellishments. One famous tale focuses on the Olympic victor Polydamas, who was rumored to have killed three fully armed Immortals (elite Persian warriors) with only a stick, after the king Darius invited Polydamas to his court and had him ambushed to test his skills.

Some competitors were well-rounded enough to win both the boxing/Pankration and wrestling/Pankration events at the same tournament, with the latter feat occuring more often than the former. The available evidence suggests that grappling was more integral than striking and that most fights ended on the ground, so those better trained in wrestling and submissions had an advantage in Pankration fights.

Rules and Regulations

There were two kinds of Pankration: ano pankration (when the fight had to stay standing, similar to kickboxing) and kato pankration(in which the fight could go to the ground). Only two rules prevailed: no biting and no eye gouging (similar to the early UFC events). In Sparta, even these techniques were allowed during their bouts.

Pankratiasts would compete naked in a wrestling-pit, and the referee would use a rod to enforce the rules. There were no rounds or time limits, and the fight only ended once somebody gave up or was rendered unconscious (or dead). Fighters would signal defeat by raising their arm or tapping out.

Fatalities were common, especially by strangulation, as many fighters refused to give up after being caught in a choke. Submissions were prominent, and there is ample evidence to suggest that the ancient Greeks knew all or almost all the submissions that current fighters use today, including knee bars, heel hooks, and a variety of chokes and arm locks.

Kicking was not neglected either, and one source sarcastically states that the prize in Pankration was awarded to a donkey due to his kicking ability. Broken fingers were often sustained while trying to sink in a submission, and even broken necks. An age group for younger competitors was introduced around 200 BC.

Pankration was regarded as dangerous, bloody, and brutal even by the ancient Greeks, who were certainly no strangers to the art of war and violence. Pankratiasts fought for honor and pre-eminence amongst their peers, and were very proud warriors. They would often rather die than submit to an opponent." - More