Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Ancient Discoveries Highlights Ctesibus and Heron

Last Sunday I watched a wonderful series of programs about Ancient Discoveries. The first program focused on the Antikythera sometimes called the first computer, and discoveries by Archimedes and the often-overlooked contributions of Ctesibus. Ctesibus is probably most lauded for his work with the water clock.

"Ctesibus of Alexandria was the first to put wheels into the water clock. In so doing he added another chapter to the "romance of the wheel" and also made the clock run itself. Here was a float with a pointer the rise of which was controlled by water. Ctesibus fastened a cord to the float, ran the cord over a pulley and let the cord turn a wheel. The rising of the water supplied the motive power to keep it going, just as the flowing of water keeps water wheels turning in a stream. If a wheel was kept turning regularly by the rise of the water, a pointer on that wheel could be made to show the time on a clock face, much as the shadow marked it on the face of the dial. The old "water-thief" really looked a little like our modern clocks. Like them it marked the time, clicking it off by the turns of its wheel so that to those who stood and watched it turn, it seemed to be actually stealing away the time. Sometimes a tiny figure of a man with upraised arm was set as the pointer, that he might be a warning to all who saw him moving around the circle of the clock face. As he moved time was passing, slipping away into eternity."

This article also mentioned that Pompey the Great introduced water clocks into the Roman courts to manage the length of court pleadings:

"Clepsydras were used throughout the Roman world. They were expensive. If they were to keep time accurately their machinery had to be made very carefully and constantly kept in order. But for public buildings and squares and for rich private homes they were most useful. Pompey the Great, the Roman general who lived from 106 to 48 B.C., had these clocks put in the courts where the lawyers were given to endless speech making, "to stop their babblings." He may have taken the idea from the Athenian courts of justice where the "water-thief" was also used to limit the length of pleas. "The first water," says an ancient writer, Æschines, "was given to the accuser, the second to the accused, and the third to the judges." A special court official was charged with the duty of watching the clock and giving notice to the speakers."

Ctesibus also developed a number of war machines including "a catapult using two bronze springs in a vertical frame to provide the powerful pressure against the heel of each bow limb. An even more interesting concept was the use by Ctesibus of compressed-air springs: the heel of each bow limb, when the string was drawn back, would press against a bronze piston, which in turn would be pushed into a bronze cylinder, thus storing energy as compressed air."

The second program focused on the Roman physician Galen. Unfortunately, I was so tired I fell asleep and missed most of it. Hopefully it will be repeated and next time I’ll be ready with the video recorder!

The third program was about Heron of Alexandria. I thought this was such a coincidence because we had just been talking about Heron. Heron was famous throughout the ancient world for his automaton theaters--puppet theaters worked by strings, drums, and weights--automatic doors, and coin-operated machines. Heron’s intricate systems of spindles studded with pegs and wound with ropes used to propel his automatic theater is like an early version of computer programming. Being a technologist, I particularly enjoyed this part of the discussion and a recreation of his Nauplius theater which had scenes that changed automatically and "actors" that built ships and dolphins that leaped from the waves. Heron turned to the theater as an outlet for his creative energies after he found designing war machines was too limiting. In this program they demonstrated one of his war machine designs – the first "machine gun". A chain-driven ballista-like device that could fire multiple bolts.
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Thursday, December 18, 2003

Replica of 3500-year-old Minoan Ship Launched

"Under the aegis of the culture ministry and the expert supervision of Vice-Admiral Apostolos Kourtis, the vessel has been constructed to be as exact a replica as possible of a Bronze Age Aegean vessel of about 1500BC. Ancient building methods have been observed and materials identical to those of antiquity have been used.

Advising Kourtis in the design have been seven other members of the Ancient Shipping and Technology Research Institute and the Naval Museum of Crete. Of particular help, says Kourtis, has been a precious wall-painting of a Bronze Age vessel at sea miraculously preserved for over 3,000 years under volcanic ash and pumice in the town of Akrotiri on Thera (Santorini), buried in the great Late Bronze Age eruption. Invaluable practical boatbuilding input to the project has come from Hania's last living master boatbuilder, Haralambos Kokkinakis.

Cypress trees were felled in the village of Anoskeli, about 25km from Hania, using a Bronze Age type of serrated, two-handled saw. The central beam (tropida) is from a single 22m cypress tree given a gentle curve by the warmth of a suitably distant fire. Overlapping timbers were put together using bronze tools: a bow-drill (toxotrypano), hammers and chisels.

To make the vessel watertight, a mixture of lard (from cows) and resin (from pine trees) was applied to the timbers like varnish, then covered with linen canvas, the whole plastered with lime. The timbers are expected to swell as the vessel lies moored in the harbour over the winter, awaiting spring weather next year to embark on her maiden voyage via Kythira and Monemvasia to the Saronic Gulf. The Minoa will skim over the sea powered by a crew of two dozen rowers clad in the dark-blue and white Greek Olympic Games uniform. Helmsmen will stand on either side of the skipper seated in the stern in an enclosure protected up to shoulder level by animal hides. As in antiquity, the vessel will stick as much as possible in sight of land and confine sailing to daylight hours.
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Thursday, December 11, 2003

West Nile Virus may have felled Alexander the Great

" 'When [Alexander] arrived before the walls of [Babylon],' Plutarch recorded, 'he saw a large number of ravens flying about and pecking one another, and some of them fell dead in front of him.'
The ravens might have been dying of West Nile virus infection, the researchers suggest. Ravens belong to a family of birds that are particularly susceptible to the pathogen - members of the same family are responsible for the virus' spread across the United States. "

"Epidemiologist John Marr of the Virginia Department of Health in Richmond and infectious-disease expert Charles Calisher of Colorado State University in Fort Collins suggest that the virus may finally have toppled Alexander the Great."
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Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Myths of Male Love Explored in Lovers' Legends Unbound CD

Combining archaeology, literature, theater and music, four artists from New York State have united their efforts to bring back to life the lost Greek myths of male love. Culminating four years of labor, they have released their work, titled 'Lovers’ Legends Unbound,' as a radio-drama genre production on audio-CD plus text with color illustrations of ancient art. The stories, painstakingly pieced together from ancient fragments and re-written by Andrew Calimach, have as protagonists characters we all thought we knew, but who reveal here a side censored out of popular literature ever since Roman times.

Listening to these magic stories – movingly narrated by Shakespearean actor Timothy Carter and spiced with flute music by Steve Gorn, of the contemplative music band Drala – we discover that Narcissus fell in love with a beautiful boy in a pond, ignorant it was his own reflection, all because of a curse upon him for having spurned the love of another man. Here too are Hercules and Hylas, in love, and together “morning, noon and night.” The stories integrate passion with spiritual and moral teachings: there is the shamanic story of Tantalus and the Olympians; and Pelops in Pisa, whose lover helps him gain a wife but can’t protect him from paying for his crimes. Stories about Orpheus, the prophet of male love; Zeus & Ganymede and jealous Hera;"
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Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Unknown verses of Menander discovered at the Vatican

A manuscript containing possibly unknown verses penned by the ancient Greek playwright Menander more than 2,000 years ago have come to light at the Vatican Library, the Vatican's newspaper has said.

While half of the 400 verses, copied on to a parchment in the ninth century, appear to be come from Menander's only salvaged play "The Grouch", or "Dyskolos", researchers believe 200 verses could be completely new finds.

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Ancient Helike Reveals Ties With Troy

"Digging on a coastal plain at the Gulf of Corinth three years ago, archaeologists came upon some ruins of Helike, a Greek city destroyed by earthquake in Plato's time. A search for the rest of Helike has now turned up something even more ancient, rare and inviting.
The archaeologists say they have uncovered the stone foundations, cobbled streets and pottery of a well-preserved 4,500-year-old urban center, one of the few Early Bronze Age communities ever found on the Greek mainland.
Preliminary investigation at the prehistoric site, the researchers say, reveals that this was a prosperous town at the time pre-Homeric Troy enjoyed one of its richest periods. The new-found ruins yielded a tall cylindrical cup in the style of graceful cups known from Troy, suggesting a wider Trojan influence than previously established."
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Tanagras Exhibit Featured At The Louvre

"Louvre visitors are now viewing displays of 240 statuettes of modestly draped and veiled matronly or maidenly figures found in thousands of graves from the era of Alexander the Great in cemeteries round the vanished hilltop city of Tanagra, about 20km east of Thebes in Viotia."

"The baked clay Tanagras are hardly more than 30 centimetres tall, about the height of a wine bottle. Some are thought to represent deities, but most realistically show figures, generally female, less often youths or children. They are above all marked by a charming grace."

Russian art historian GA Beloff once described them. "They spoke of the daily life of ancient Greece as expressed in a variety of poses and action full of grace and harmony. This ability to accentuate the beauty of the human figure, to model in clay resorting to all the artistic methods which had been perfected in time, is what makes the anonymous Tanagra sculptors genuine masters of plastic art, and the terracotta statuettes they made works of great artistic significance."
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Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Stone's Alexander the Great

Oliver Stone's film depicting the life and conquests of Alexander the Great looks promising, at least from this production still.

"Past and present collide to form the puzzle of the protagonist, a tapestry of triumphs and tragedies in which childhood memories and Alexander's rise to power unfold side by side with the latter day expansion of his empire, its gradual decline and ultimate downfall. From his youth, fueled by dreams of glory and adventure, to his lonely and mysterious death as a ruler of a vast state, from the tumultuous relationship with his parents -- a powerful king and a queen determined to put her child on the throne at any cost, including murder -- to the rousing 'band of brothers' bond with his closest companions and vast army, as they fought from the sun-scorched battlefields of the Persian Empire across the snow-peaked mountains of India, the film chronicles Alexander's journey to become a living legend. For as Virgil wrote, 'Fortune favors the bold.' And no king or emperor, either before or after, ever achieved such fortune, or indeed was so bold, as Alexander the Great."
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Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Herodotus and Historical Accuracy

We have been discussing the historical accuracy of many classical sources on my Imperial Rome discussion group and it reminded me of the problems with some of the numbers Herodotus quotes in his "Histories".

Even though Herodotus is often referred to as the father of history, I know many historians are skeptical about much of his narrative. One issue that seems to draw their incredulity is Herodotus’ statement of the size of Xerxes invasion force. Herodotus relates that Xerxes counted his troop strength by having 10,000 men pack themselves tightly into a circle. A circle was then drawn around them and successive groups of men were then herded into the circle until the entire army was counted. Herodotus reports the total at over one million. Historians say this would have been impossible.

Later, Herodotus recounts a conversation between Xerxes and Demerotus, the exiled Spartan king, about the fierceness of the resistance the Lacedaemonians would present. Xerxes exclaims that even if the Lacedaemonians fielded 5000 men, the Persians would still outnumber them 1,000 to 1. A little quick math returns the total this time of 5 million.

As the Persians marched through the countryside, Greek kings that had provided the token submission of earth and water to the great king were asked to feast the army for one night as the army passed through their country. Herodotus reports that the kings each had to expend a total of 400 talents of silver to provide enough food for the army and golden dinnerware for the king. He reported that each client king had to collect grain and livestock to feed this massive host. Now, if you knew the average cost of grain, goats, chickens, etc., you could probably devise still a third number based on a man’s average food consumption for a meal.
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Monday, November 24, 2003

Was the Golden Fleece Dyed with Saffron Crocuses?

This article was intended to offer a gardening tip but I was intrigued by this reference to the Golden Fleece.

"Back then, an expensive, golden dye was made from saffron crocuses, and sheep fleeces were often dyed to make them more valuable. "
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Sean Connery Eyes Role As Cyrus the Great

"The £50 million film, Cyrus, is being financed by a new London-based company called Chayaha, which is co-owned by Marinah Embiricos, a relative of the Aga Khan and a member of the Greek shipping family that controls the Embiricos Group."

"The screenplay is based on the extraordinary life of Cyrus the Great, who lived from 580-529 BC and founded the first Achaemenian empire in Persia."

"He was a notable warrior but his fame rests upon his decisions to free all slaves in the empire, to tolerate all religions, to allow exiled Jews in Babylon to return to Jerusalem and to order his governors to treat the people as if they were their children."

"No star roles have been cast but Sean Connery is being courted to play Cyrus and Angelina Jolie to be his empress."
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Clooney the new Leonidas?

I was particularly interested to note that George Clooney may be the next Leonidas. I’ve heard rumors about Hollywood making “Gates of Fire” but hadn’t seen anything about it for months. Maybe there is hope for it yet. I was also interested to see that Essex’s book “Kleopatra” is being considered for the screenplay treatment as well. My sister bought me the book a couple of Christmases ago but it is still in my “to read” pile.

"Among other epics in the pipeline, George Clooney might lead the Spartans in battle in a movie based on the Battle of Thermopylae; and Vin Diesel is set to play Hannibal in a film by Ridley Scott. However, the biggest epic of them all might just be Kleopatra, which is based on a two-part novel by Karen Essex. "
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Wednesday, November 19, 2003

5,000-year-old burials discovered in Jordan

In the first of a series of articles that the Lebanaon newspaper, The Daily Star, will publish on an ongoing basis with the cooperation of the American Schools of Oriental Research, the leading North American scholarly body for the study of the ancient Middle East, Professor Larry G. Herr of Canadian University College describes ancient burials found in one of the few preserved dolmens in Jordan.

"Dolmens can be found throughout the Mediterranean and Europe, dispersed between sites ranging from Wales to Tunisia. Until recently, thousands existed in concentrated groupings in Jordan. Constructed with large boulders, the dolmens often exceeded 3 meters in size. Sadly, modern construction activity in towns and villages has destroyed many of the dolmen fields, leaving few behind."

"There are several types of dolmens, all of them bearing similar features. The most common type found in the Middle East are composed of two large rectangular blocks standing upright and parallel to each other, about a meter apart. Smaller stones were placed at the end, with a large stone capping the construction. The ends of the capstone often overlapped the edges of the walls. Archaeologists rarely find more than the two parallel side stones and the capstone, sometimes collapsed."

"Because the ancients built dolmens above ground, forces of nature have largely swept away their contents, leaving archaeologists to debate when and how they were used. The most widely accepted theory is that they were used as tombs, but others have suggested that were employed as stables for small flocks or storage caches."

"Thanks to the Umayri discovery, archaeologists have been able to suggest that the structures were indeed used for burials and that they date to the late fourth millennium BC."
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Monday, November 17, 2003

Aeschylus' Achilles in Cyprus to be performed after 2050 years

"Cyprus's national theater company, Thoc, plans a modern-day world premiere of Aeschylus's Trojan War story Achilles in Cyprus next summer. The play will then be performed in Cyprus and Greece.
Scholars had believed the trilogy to be lost forever when the Library of Alexandria burned to ashes in 48 BC.

'But in the last decades archaeologists found mummies in Egypt which were stuffed with papyrus, containing excerpts of the original plays of Aeschylus,' Thoc director Andy Bargilly told Reuters.
Drawing on references to the trilogy by other ancient playwrights and the recently discovered papyrus texts, Thoc and researchers believe they have the closest possible adaptation of Aeschylus's masterpiece. "
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Friday, November 14, 2003

'The Centaur's Smile': Finding the Beast Within, and Portraying It Without

"The centaur, the mythic being with the body of a horse and the head and torso of a man, is the star of a new exhibit at the Princeton University Art Museum, but satyrs (part horse, rather than goat, in early Greek art), sphinxes (winged lions with human heads), sirens (half bird) and gorgons (who had serpentine hair) also have leading roles. Those we know by their proper names also have cameo parts, like the bull-headed Minotaur, the goat-man Pan and Typhon, the embodiment of wind and fire, who had wings and a serpent's lower body.

"Given how vividly composite beings have been represented in art and literature over the centuries and how they continue to thrive in our imaginations, some viewers may be disappointed at first by how fragmentary and modest much of the material here is. The exhibition focuses on the years 750 to 450 B.C., centuries in which art evolved from a primitive geometric style to representations anticipating the heroic human image-making of the Classical era."
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Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Bactrian treasure saved by security guard

"The fate of the Golden Hoard of Bactria, an ancient collection of 20,000 artefacts, has been the subject of fantastic rumours: that it was stolen by Soviet troops or looted by the Taliban to be sold through antique dealers in Pakistan to fund a terrorist network.
But the treasure remained safe largely due to the efforts of one man: Askerzai, who has been guardian of the vaults for 30 years. Mr Askerzai, 50, an employee of the central bank, is one of the few people in history to have seen the 20,000 gold objects. 'It's the best heritage of our country,' he said."

"The coins, medallions, plates, and necklaces set with precious stones were excavated in 1978 in modern Balkh province, northern Afghanistan, which was known as Bactria when Alexander the Great conquered the country."
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Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Ancient Evidence Points to A Real Jason and the Argonauts

I saw an interesting program Sunday night on the Discovery Channel about the real Jason and the Argonauts. Apparently, Greek archaeologists have excavated what they think is the site of Jason’s city. Although ancient Colchis is believed to have had timber forts that have not survived to the present day, archaeologists excavating an early Greek colony dated to several centuries after the mythical journey in Georgia (ancient Colchis), speculate that it must have been preceeded by a much earlier interaction between the cultures that would coincide with the period that Jason’s quest supposedly took place.

The program also talked about the legend’s reference to the women of Limnos being shunned by their men as perhaps a storyteller’s embellishment of a description of the industry of the island. Women there rendered purple dye from Murex snails. The smell of the process resembles rotten garlic and probably would have permeated the people’s clothes that were employed in its production. Of course they also mentioned the ancient practice of using sheepskins in the gold mining process in Georgia as well. So the Golden Fleece itself was probably a historical reality as well.

See also:
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Monday, October 27, 2003

Scientists speculate Thera eruption larger than Krakatoa

Dr. Floyd W. McCoy, a University of Hawaii geologist who has studied the eruption of Thera for decades has proposed that it was much more violent than previously thought. During a field trip to Anafi, an island some 20 miles east of Thera, he found fresh cut roads had exposed layers of Thera ash up to 10 feet thick. Factoring in such evidence, Dr. McCoy calculated that Thera had a V.E.I. of 7.0 — what geologists call colossal and exceedingly rare. In the past 10,000 years only one other volcano has exploded with that kind of gargantuan violence: Tambora, in Indonesia, in 1816, It produced an ash cloud in the upper atmosphere that reflected sunlight back into space and produced the year without a summer. The cold led to ruinous harvests, hunger and even famine in the United States, Europe and Russia.

Dr. William B. F. Ryan, a geologist at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory has woven such clues into a tantalizing but provisional theory on how distant effects might have slowly undone Crete. First, he noted that winds at low and high altitudes seem to have blown Thera's ash into distinct plumes — one to the southeast, toward Egypt and another heavier one to the northeast, toward Anatolia. Even if the changes wrought by Thera helped trees there, they apparently played havoc with delicate wheat fields.
Mursilis, a king of the Hittites, set out from Anatolia on a rampage, traveling between the plumes to strike Syria and Babylon and seize their stored grains and cereals. The subsequent collapse of Babylon into a dark age, Dr. Ryan said, also undid one of its puppets, the Hyksos, foreigners who ruled Egypt and traded with the Minoans.
He theorized that the new Egyptian dynasty had no love of Hyksos allies. So Minoan Crete, already reeling from Thera's fury, suffered new blows to its maritime trade.
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Tuesday, October 14, 2003

New Material Developed to Restore Ancient Frescos

"A new kind of material has been developed in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province,to help ancient frescos recover their original color.

The material, which is developed by the Xi'an Archive Protection Institute, can easily dissolve itself into organic fluorine, thus forming a kind of anti-weathering agent.

Studies have found that frescos tend to lose their colors because the pigments used eventually form a layer of compact powder, which will scatter and refract light.

However, the agent, after being sprayed on the frescos, can eliminate light scattering or refraction on the layer of compact powder and enable light to enter the pigment, hence recovering theoriginal colors. "
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Monday, October 13, 2003

Jason and the Argonauts Just Ancient Shoppers?

"After fiddling about in the mud and muck of northern Greece, retracing Jason's route as detailed in Apollonius of Rhodes' telling of the Argo's journey, and wandering the hills and valleys of Georgia, some smug historians punctured Jason's fable. Rather than a hero of epic proportions, he was probably just a trader sent to the eastern end of the Black Sea on a shopping trip. There, he bartered with the Georgians, a race of people who used - and still use - sheep fleeces to pan for gold. It was 'highly likely' that Jason was 'a diplomat, a bureaucrat' rather than a warrior, and that his trials at the court of King Aeetes involved trading negotiations, not hand-to-hand combat with the undead. Such were the pedestrian origins of an incredible myth. "

These are the findings explained in the new BBC program "Jason and the Argonauts: Revealed". My son is going to be devastated. When he was young he went through a phase where each day he would come home from school and watch a tape of "Jason and the Argonauts". In fact, recently, after watching the Hallmark remake, I put in a tape of the original "Jason and the Argonauts" and found the music soundtrack as irritating as I did years ago (even though I still admire Ray Harryhausen's stop motion work). I teased my son about it on the phone (he's now grown with a family of his own) and he retorted "Hey, we don't knock the classics!" He apparently still watches it nostagically from time to time.
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Elgin Marbles exhibition opens in London

"A virtual exhibition, which shows how the Elgin Marbles would look if they were reunited, has opened in London. Marbles Reunited shows those sculptures removed from Greece 200 years ago by Lord Elgin next to those which remained in Athens.
The London marbles are shown in colour while the others are depicted in white. "
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Renovated Mesopotamian Gallery Opens Oct 18 at the Chicago Oriental Institute

"One of the world’s great collections of antiquities from ancient Iraq will be on display at the University’s Oriental Institute, beginning Saturday, Oct. 18. The Edgar and Deborah Jannotta Mesopotamian Gallery, remodeled as part of an ongoing renovation project, will open with an exhibition devoted to the Oriental Institute Museum’s Mesopotamian collection. "

“The gallery documents the powerful sweep of the rise and growth of civilization in the region—from its foundations in prehistoric times, through the glories of the city-states at the time of Ur, to the great empires of Babylonia and Assyria, and on into the 7th century A.D.,” said Karen Wilson, Director of the Oriental Institute Museum.

At the far end of the gallery, opposite the visitor’s center, is the most spectacular object in the Mesopotamian collection—a human-headed winged bull that stands 16 feet tall. The statue, known by many Chicagoans as the “Assyrian Bull,” is one of the museum’s most popular items and gains splendor in a new setting that calls attention to its original architectural purpose.

Six 10-foot stone reliefs from the throne-room facade in the palace of the Assyrian king Sargon II (who ruled from 721 to 705 B.C.), flank the bull statue. Oriental Institute archaeologists excavated the bull and the reliefs at Sargon II’s capital city Dur-Sharrukin, known today as Khorsabad. This stunning new installation, the Yelda Khorsabad Court, which is the result of more than 10 years of work, evokes the feeling of grandeur and power of the palaces and temples of the mighty Assyrian Empire.

I can attest to the breathtaking nature of the bull statue as I was fortunate enough to see it on a visit to the museum several years ago where I also attended the "Treasures From The Royal Tombs of Ur" exhibit.

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Friday, October 10, 2003

Herodotus and Gold Digging Ants

As you know, I’ve been listening to Herodotus on my commute. Many of his descriptions of people and places are surprisingly accurate but I thought the Arabs who described how the Indians collected gold dust were playing a joke on him. He said he was told that there were ants the size of foxes that dug gold out of the ground. Men would approach these ferocious animals riding a female camel with a male camel tethered on each side. If the “ants” saw the men collecting the gold dust they would attack and the men would flee with their camels. The ants were so tenacious that they would persist in the chase. As the camels began to tire, the rider would loose one male and then the other male, presumably to be overtaken and consumed by the ants. Herodotus explained that the female camel’s motherly instincts would make her strive harder to escape the ants and return to her young.

Well, I thought this sounded like a plot from a B0-rated 1950s horror movie (Remember the movie “Them” about the huge irradiated ants?) so you can imagine my surprise when I read that Onescrites, one of Alexander’s officers, reported in his journal during their exploits in India that he had seen ants as big as foxes digging gold. Now, either Onescrites was quite familiar with Herodotus and was doing a little exaggeration of his own or both Greek translations are incorrect and the men must have been talking about ant eaters and not ants.
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Thursday, September 25, 2003

Over 20,000 expected at Persian Mehregan Festival in Costa Mesa

The 8th annual Mehregan festival will be held Oct 4 – 5 at the Orange County Fair& Exposition Center in Costa Mesa, California.

“The ancient Persian Goddess Mehr, the spirit of love, knowledge and commitment, would be honored by attending the annual Mehregan (pronounced ‘meh-re-gahn’), the Persian Festival of Autumn. This two-day outdoor family event celebrating nature and the seasons, envelopes you in the many aspects of Persian culture from exhibits, art, pop and traditional music, and folk dance to crafts, ancient sports, live performances, movies, children's activities and exotic food. Held at the Orange County Fair & Exposition in Costa Mesa, this event grows more popular each year and now hosts over 20,000 visitors. Over 100 vendor booths sell everything from intricate Persian rugs to modern art.”

“This year, the attendees will experience a special opening ceremony show celebrating the country's ancient Sassanian Dynasty (AD 224-651) in a play on the main stage with actors dressed in Sassanian-era costumes.”

I wish it was just a month later as I will be attending the 2003 Educause Conference in Orange County Nov 3 – 8! Maybe I can still see some museum exhibits about the ancient Persians when I am there.
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Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Herodotus Relates Egyptian Role In The Trojan War

I’ve been listening to Herodotus on my commute. I found his “Egyptian digress” quite interesting. One thing he mentioned that was not discussed in my formal lectures about the work was the practice of delaying the embalming of female corpses to avoid having them violated. I wonder if Dr. Brier has ever noticed a difference in the quality of preservation observed in male and female mummies that would tend to support this statement.

I was also particularly intrigued by his discussion of the Egyptian participation in the story of the Trojan War. He describes a Pharaoh named Proteus (in Greek) that sounds very much like Seti I. He relates how Alexander (Paris) and Helen were blown off course and landed in Egypt on their way to Troy. Alexander was called before Proteus and asked to explain the circumstances of his situation and, when he attempted to lie about how he acquired Helen and the Spartan treasure, his slaves blurted out the truth to the pharaoh. Proteus became angry and said Alexander had but three days to depart his kingdom. Herodotus mentions that there were several versions being told to him and that in one version, Proteus kept Helen and the treasure, since it was ill-begotten and sent Paris back to Troy empty handed. When Menelaus and the Achaens arrived at Troy, they demanded the return of Helen and the treasure then wouldn’t believe the Trojans when the Trojans reported they did not possess them. When the Greeks had finally defeated the Trojans and sacked Troy discovering that indeed Helen and the treasure were not there, Menelaus traveled to Egypt where Proteus welcomed him and restored Helen and the Spartan treasure to him.

Some of my reasons for thinking that Proteus was Seti I was that Herodotus named Proteus’ successor as Ramsenitas (sp?) and described Proteus’ burial shrine as a pyramid built within a great lake that had been created by diverting the Nile into a canal. Seti’s temple known as the Osireion built behind the temple at Abydos featured a central mound surrounded by canal water, symbolic of the origins of life from the primeval waters. It was here that Seti rested after his death before his mummy was moved to the Valley of the Kings. The timing of Seti’s reign is also relatively close to the time of the Trojan War as well. Seti ruled until about 1278 B.C. The confusing part is that Herodotus then mentions the reign of Cheops after Proteus. This does not fit in the Egyptian chronology that indicates Cheops ruled over 1000 years before Seti. But perhaps, Herodotus got his notes a little mixed up.

I was also intrigued by a description of the trading and colonization policies of Sesostris. Herodotus claims that the Egyptians ventured as far into EurAsia as Thrace. I don’t remember reading about Egyptian exploits that far north but upon researching Sesostris, I did find this reference that mentions his son Amenemhat II continued his policies.
“The foreign policy of Amenemhat II appear to have been a continuation of his father's. There is evidence of extensive trade with parts of the Near East, Mesopotamia and even Crete. Several Egyptian objects, among them small statues and scarabs, were found at several Near Eastern sites. Among them a sphinx of princess Ita, that was probably sent to Syria as a trading gift. Especially favored were the Syrian port of Byblos, where the native ruling elite even made short inscriptions in hieroglyphic, referring to Egyptian gods. The foundation deposits of the temple of Tod, dated to the reign of Amenemhat, contained objects of Mesopotamian and Cretan origin. Not all contacts with Asia were as peaceful, however, as is shown by raids of Bedouin, probably in the Sinai and some Egyptian military activity against two unnamed Asian cities.”
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Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Oldest Egyptian Remains Ever Found Surface In the Delta

"Archeologists including members of a French team, have unearthed the oldest human remains dating back to 3,800 BC (around 6,000 years old), in the Delta.
The find was made at Kom Al Khilgan in Mansura where the complete male skeleton relates to a 6,00-year period preceding the first Pharaonic dynasties.
Director of Upper Egypt Antiquities Dr Mohamed Abdul Maqsoud said that the site of the find includes antiquities from the Predynastic civilization of Naqada, which later formed the cultural base for ancient Egyptian civilization. "

I wonder if this means the proponents of the western desert theory need to rethink their suggestion of Egyptian origins?
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2000-Year Old Skull Reveals Successful Surgery

"Hippocrates recommended trepanation for wounds that involved indentation of the skull accompanied by fracture or contusion. He wrote a detailed manual on the delicate operation, instructing surgeons to frequently cool their saws to prevent overheating the bone. Several other trepanned skulls have been found in ancient Greek graves."

Now archaeologists working on an excavation on the island of Chios have unearthed the remains of a man who appears to have survived this ancient procedure for at least 5 - 6 years.
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Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Cats Have No Respect for Ancient Greek Walk of Fame

"After more than a century buried in the sprawl of the modern Greek capital, the fourth-century BC Tripodon Street has re-emerged into the light in Plaka, under the Acropolis. Constantine Kazamiakis, the architect who oversaw the excavation, believes dramatic history has been uncovered, because the street was once flanked by tributes to the greatest actors, playwrights and producers of the age."

The result of the first phase of restoration is a modest 50sq metres of pink gravel, supported by a weed-proof mat. Unfortunately, it has proved irresistable to local stray cats.
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Tuesday, September 02, 2003

396 Unplundered Tombs Found In Macedonia

Eighty pit graves of warriors richly adorned in gold, carrying weapons and near their wives, who were also adorned with gold have been found in a 20-hectare necropolis near the ancient site of Archontiko in Macedonia. The ancient settlement was the most important urban center in the northern part of the ancient province of Bottiaia during the prehistoric and historical periods until the end of the 5th century BC, when Pella became the new capital of the Macedonian kingdom.
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Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Denigrating Cultural Heritage Not Worthy of the NY Times

I was very irritated by this article in the NY Times.

First of all, I don’t see anything wrong with recreating a significant historical structure for the purpose of promoting culture heritage. I am a financial supporter of Colonial Williamsburg and isn’t that the same type of thing? Just like reenactment is a vibrant way to teach history, I think “living history” exhibits are interesting and educational. Perhaps the author of the article felt compelled to denigrate this effort to revive a people’s pride in their cultural heritage because Saddam Hussein was the proponent of the project.

I also don’t know what was to be gained by labeling Nebuchadnezzar a despot. One of the definitions of despot in the online dictionary is “a person who wields power oppressively; a tyrant.” Is this label applied because he captured Jerusalem and enslaved the Hebrews? That activity was common practice throughout the ancient world so if that is the criteria, you would have to say most of the rulers of the ancient world were despots.
According to the Catholic encyclopedia, “During the last century of Ninive's existence Babylon had been greatly devastated, not only at the hands of Sennacherib and Assurbanipal, but also as a result of her ever renewed rebellions. Nabuchodonor, continuing his father's work of reconstruction, aimed at making his capital one of the world's wonders. Old temples were restored; new edifices of incredible magnificence (Diodor. of Sicily, II, 95; Herodot., I, 183) were erected to the many gods of the Babylonian pantheon; to complete the royal palace begun by Nabopolassar, nothing was spared, neither "cedar-wood, nor bronze, gold, silver, rare and precious stones"; an underground passage and a stone bridge connected the two parts of the city separated by the Euphrates; the city itself was rendered impregnable by the construction of a triple line of walls. Nor was Nabuchodonosor's activity confined to the capital; he is credited with the restoration of the Lake of Sippar, the opening of a port on the Persian Gulf, and the building of the famous Median wall between the Tigris and the Euphrates to protect the country against incursions from the North: in fact, there is scarcely a place around Babylon where his name does not appear and where traces of his activity are not found. These gigantic undertakings required an innumerable host of workmen: from the inscription of the great temple of Marduk (Meissner, "Assyr. Studien", II, in "Mitteil. der Vorderas. Ges.", 1904, III), we may infer that most probably captives brought from various parts of Western Asia made up a large part of the labouring force used in all his public works.

From Nabuchodonosor's inscriptions and from the number of temples erected or restored by this prince we gather that he was a very devout man. What we know of his history shows him to have been of a humane disposition, in striking contrast with the wanton cruelty of most of the iron-souled Assyrian rulers. It was owing to this moderation that Jerusalem was spared repeatedly, and finally destroyed only when its destruction became a political necessity; rebel princes easily obtained pardon, and Sedecias himself, whose ungratefulness to the Babylonian king was particularly odious, would, had he manifested less stubbornness, have been treated with greater indulgence (Jer., xxxviii, 17, 18); Nabuchodonosor showed much consideration to Jeremias, leaving him free to accompany the exiles to Babylon or to remain in Jerusalem, and appointing one of the Prophet's friends, Godolias, to the governorship of Jerusalem; he granted likewise such a share of freedom to the exiled Jews that some rose to a position of prominence at Court and Baruch thought it a duty to exhort his fellow-countrymen to have the welfare of Babylon at heart and to pray for her king.”

This doesn’t sound like a despot to me. It makes me think even more that the purpose of the article was to denigrate the historical culture of Iraq (and therefore its people) – very unworthy of a publication with the general respect of the New York Times.

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Polo's Origins

"'Don't give your son money,' Winston Churchill once advised parents. 'As far as you can afford it, give him horses. No one ever came to grief -- except honourable grief -- through riding horses. No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle. Young men have often been ruined through owning horses, or through backing horses, but never through riding them; unless of course they break their necks, which, taken at a gallop, is a very good death to die.'"

Churchill, learned the game in 1895 when he was a young cavalry officer. However, polo did not originate with the British, as is often thought. Four thousand years ago the tribes of central Asia domesticated wild horses, migrated to Persia and mastered the art of warfare on horseback. To practise their manoeuvres, they began playing polo. The first references to the game in Persian literature date to 600 BC.
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Friday, August 08, 2003

Fragments of Childhood: Growing Up in Ancient Greece

"The study of childhood in ancient Greece can illuminate both what is universal and what is specific about child rearing, what effects this might have had on Greek civilization,” writes Jenifer Neils, the Ruth Coulter Heede Professor of Art History at Case Western Reserve University. Neils is cocurator of a new exhibition, Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past, with John Oakley, chair of classical studies at the College of William and Mary.

“No one tells the full story,” says Neils. “We wanted to look at depictions in art to see what they could tell about children.” The exhibition brings together vase paintings, terra-cotta, bronze sculpture, and stelae--marble grave memorials to individual children who died young--and examines depictions of children and their activities. Included are artifacts relating to children such as high chairs and baby bottles in the shape of animals.
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Greeks using technology as far back as 1800 B.C.E.

Greek Technology
"Long before Galileo changed the course of history in the 1600s with his astronomical discoveries, ancient Greeks were calculating the circumference of the earth, gauging lunar eclipses, pumping water, making steam engines and even building toy automatons for lack of another purpose in pre-industrial antiquity.
'Greeks had been using technology to carry out engineering feats as far back as 1800 BC,' says Theodossios Tassios, president of the Ancient Greek Technology Studies Association and engineering professor at Athens Polytechnic. 'The persisting inclination of ancient Greeks for robots and automatons and their veneration of the god of engineering, Hephaistos, proves that these tribes were very, very open to technology,' he says. "

Even the jet engine lay within the grasp of Hero of Alexandria (100 BC or 1st Century AD), a great mathematician, physicist and mechanical engineer. He developed an aeolipile, a steam-powered engine which had much in common with a jet engine, transformed steam into rotary movement by forcing steam through a small opening in a boiler.
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Sunday, August 03, 2003

The Spartans Come to PBS

Explore "the birth of the unique Spartan social system. Militaristic, communal and disciplined, the state enforces eugenics and euthanasia. Priests decide which babies should live and which should be left to die. Seven-year-old boys are forced to fend for themselves on the harsh mountainside. Policed by secret spies, the society is supported by a nation of slaves. "

But, Sparta’s women are "liberated, independent, opinionated, they take an active part in sport, race horses and chariots, celebrate nudity and wield power in the absence of their men."

Sparta eventually defeats Athens and assumes the reins of empire. "But under the fascinating, flawed King Agesilaus, the dreams of the Spartan utopia come crashing down. By setting out to create a perfect society protected by perfect warriors, Sparta makes an enemy of change. A collapsing birth rate, too few warriors, rebellious slaves and outdated attitudes to weaponry and warfare combine to sow the seeds of Sparta’s destruction, until eventually the once-great warrior state is reduced to a stop for Roman tourists who came to view bizarre sadomasochistic rituals. "
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Was Nefertiti the original monotheist?

One of the members of our Imperial Rome discussion group mentioned the possibility that Akenaten turned to the Aten after Nefertiti died when she was not healed by his prayers to Amun. I don't think Akenaten blamed Amen-Ra for Nefertiti's death as she didn't die until well into the Amarna experiment when a plague swept through Egypt. Several of their daughters died at that time as well. (This was apparently concluded by scholars because records of the plague are known and Nefertiti disappears from the historical record at the same time.)

This website mentioned another scenario:

"Some have even claimed that it was Nefertiti, not Akhenaten, who instigated the monotheistic religion of Aten. It was around the 15th regnal year of Akhenaten that Nefertiti mysteriously disappeared from the scene. It could be that she died, although, to this date, there are no existing indications of that. Some scholars believe that she was banished, and that she lived the rest of her life in the northern palace. "

"Two reasons could be used for explaining Nefertiti's banishment. First, it could be that she disapproved of the slow return to the worship of Amon, which was taking place at that time, with Smenkhkare becoming co-regent and the moving back to Thebes to re-open some temples. The second opinion is that perhaps she believed that Akhenaten was losing touch with his people and angering them by destroying all other gods besides his own, thus she could have been banished by Akhenaten for going against his religion. Whatever the case, she is replaced by her eldest daughter, Meritaten. "

I also found this interesting site:

You can also read an online time-travel story about her at:
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Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Sumerian culture and its influence on subsequent societies

One of the members of my Historical Novel Society discussion list mentioned that she was working on a novel about ancient Sumer. This culture fascinates me, especially after I attended the "Treasures of the Royal Tombs of Ur" exhibit when it was displayed at the University of Chicago's Oriental Museum a couple of years ago. Although the artifacts in the exhibit are dated to the Early Dynastic Period ending in 2370 B.C.E., they were excavated from a cemetary containing tombs dating all the way back to 4500 B.C.E. The new novel will be set during the Jemdat Nasr period (3200 BCE to 2900 BCE).

I found this excellent overview of the culture on the web:

"Sumer may very well be the first civilization in the world (although long term settlements at Jericho and Çatal Hüyük predate Sumer and examples of writing from Egypt and the Harappa, Indus valley sites may predate those from Sumer). From its beginnings as a collection of farming villages around 5000 BCE, through its conquest by Sargon of Agade around 2370 BCE and its final collapse under the Amorites around 2000 BCE, the Sumerians developed a religion and a society which influenced both their neighbors and their conquerors. Sumerian cuneiform, the earliest written language, was borrowed by the Babylonians, who also took many of their religious beliefs. In fact, traces and parallels of Sumerian myth can be found in Genesis." - Christopher Siren, Sumerian Mythology.

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Monday, July 28, 2003

Ancient Merv Threatened by Irrigation Seepage

"Genghis Khan's hordes couldn't wipe out the great city at Merv even as they killed hundreds of thousands in their bloody wave of conquest. Centuries later, though, modern man's meddling with nature threatens to obliterate the once magnificent metropolis. "

Merv is unique because ruins dating to the 6th century B.C. to the 18th century A.D. from the five settlements once located here sit side by side, scattered across 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres), rather than stacked on top of each other.

The city's golden age was in the 11th and 12th centuries, when the Sultan Kala fortress was the eastern capital of the Turkish Seljuk Empire and one of the world's biggest cities. As legend goes, the blue dome of the Sultan Sanjar mausoleum was visible a day's journey away.

That era ended when Mongolian warriors led by Genghis Khan's son sacked the city in 1221. A 13th-century historian put the body count after their rampage at 1.3 million.

Today, in at least two of the key remaining buildings at the site _ fortresses known as the Great Kyz Kala and Little Kyz Kala dating from the 6th or 7th centuries A.D. -- walls are beginning to lean and are at risk of toppling.

See also: Merv Threatened

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Nationalists Turn To Archaeology To Validate History

"While modern-day archaeologists rarely have to confront lava pits, animated stone statues or the undead, they increasingly contend with entire peoples, becoming the frontline troops in the clash of civilizations. As empires and superpowers fade, cultural, religious and nationalistic movements have been growing in strength — and they are looking to archaeology to give them the validation of history, said Philip Kohl, editor of the book Nationalism, Politics and the Practice of Anthropology."

Jerusalem is far from the only place in the world where these sort of disputes have occurred.

Archaeologists point to the widespread destruction of holy sites during the Bosnian war, and the efforts of each side to erase any trace of the other's connection to the land. Serbs consider Kosovo the birthplace of their civilization because the area was once the seat of the Serb Orthodox Church and the site of a 1389 defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. Albanians trace their ties to the area to another people who lived in the Balkans as far back as 1200 B.C.

However, archaeology does not provide a guarantee to political lineage. In 1971, the last Shah of Iran held an immense celebration on the ruins of Persepolis, the ancient capital of Persia, to celebrate 2,500 years of the Persian monarchy. But, less than 10 years later, the monarchy collapsed with the advent of the Iranian revolution.

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Minoan ship born again in time for 2004 Olympic Games

"In 2000, the Navy Museum of Crete decided to embark on an extremely challenging project: the reconstruction of a Minoan ship, the most ancient European seagoing craft.
Part of an integrated research program titled Experimental Naval Archaeology and with the cooperation of the Navy Museum of Crete and the NA-U-DO-MO Ancient Shipbuilding Research Group, which designed and constructed the model, the entire project has been under the auspices of the Culture Ministry since last May. The main goal of the project is to build a realistic model of the Minoan ship by the beginning of summer 2004, when it is to sail from Cape Spatha on the island of Crete to Piraeus."

See also: Nautical Museum of Crete
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Thursday, July 24, 2003

Bronze Age Burial Site Uncovered at Gibraltar

The question of the initial arrival of eastern Mediterranean sailors, such the Phoenicians, to the south of Iberia has been the subject of great debate for a long time. Until now, archaeological evidence has not confirmed the classical texts of the ancient writers that suggested an arrival at the end of the second millennium BC. But a bronze age burial site within a natural cavity inside of Bray's Cave now supports the ancient claims that early pre-colonial mariners did indeed reach the Strait of Gibraltar.
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Thursday, July 10, 2003

Multispectral Imaging May Reveal Contents of Burned Medieval Manuscripts

A medieval library consisting of over 2,000 volumes dating back to the 12th century and charred by an allied bombing raid on Chartres, France the evening of 26 May, 1944, may once more be studied by a new generation of scholars thanks to a new technology called multispectral imaging.

"The library at Chartres was possibly the greatest medieval library," said associate professor Constant Mews, an expert in medieval literature at Monash University in Victoria, Australia. The centrepiece of the collection was the Heptateuchon, a treatise on the arts by the 12th Century philosopher Thierry de Chartres.

A key member of the team using multispectral imaging to decipher burned scrolls from the Roman town of Herculaneum, which was buried by the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in AD 79, says the technique could be ideal for reading the damaged Chartres manuscripts.
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History Detectives premieres on PBS

PBS is producing a new series called History Detectives. It sounds like fun and the techniques could be used to explore historical sites, artifacts, etc. in places around the world (as well as the US).

"History Detectives features a team of scientists, historians and other
inquisitive fact-finders who explore the true stories behind historic
sites, artifacts and tall tales told in cities across the U.S. At the
companion site, meet the team and examine their most trusted sleuthing
tools, try your hand at solving a variety of historical mysteries,
access lesson plans, browse a handy glossary and more. Plus, submit your
own historical mystery for possible use on an upcoming episode of the
show!" - Carrie Lowe, PBS Education
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Monday, July 07, 2003

"Caesar" miniseries embellishes history

TNT's "Caesar" miniseries was much anticipated and although the history was "embellished" by Hollywood, I appreciated the effort. Of course members of my Imperial Rome group began to share their impressions as soon as Part 1 ended. One observation was that Sulla, played by an ancient Richard Harris, was only in his fifties when he returned to Rome with his legions. Well, not only was Richard Harris too old but the politics and personality of Sulla was all wrong as well. Sulla's "reforms" were intended to restore power to the Senate. He was not a "man of the people" in any stretch of the imagination. He was also ruthless and his proscriptions were brutal but he was not fickle or insane at the time he reentered Rome. He also didn't die while he was dictator and not in the bath (I think the screenwriter got his dictators mixed up). He retired and died about a year later from a liver disorder - probably cirrhosis from drinking too much as a remedy to his terrible skin condition that he contracted in the east. Of course, they also did not portray anything of this bisexual nature either.

Then we come to the issue of Cornelia being portrayed as too old and little Julia as way too old. Caesar's encounter with the pirates was a pathetic attempt at typical hollywood tension instead of the more interesting way that it actually unfolded with Caesar being aristocratic and writing and reciting poetry to his captors then having them executed just as he promised. Of course the ridiculous scene of Pompey "saving" Caesar's life was totally conjured out of thin air. Caesar also joined the army and had served courageously winning the Corona Civica before returning to Rome. The miniseries didn't seem to indicate Caesar had any military experience until he went to Gaul which was ridiculous.

However, despite all of hollywood's blunders in historical film making, I would still rather watch an inaccurate film about the period than much of the outright trash hollywood produces for "the mob". I went to "The Matrix: Reloaded" recently and was actually bored by the long drawn out sequences of kicking, punching, flipping, etc. meant to make the audience marvel at the film's special effects. After all, hollywood had to take 3 1/2 minutes of plot and make it last 2 hours so I guess you have to cut them a little slack!

What I find most disappointing is that Caesar's life - as it was lived - was absolutely fascinating and didn't need any tinkering to make it an absorbing film. I read an article that said Chris Noth commanded such a screen presence as Pompey that the filmmakers decided to plump up his part. This resulted in the Pompey saving Caesar, etc. sequences. I think Noth was quite regal as Pompey too but the resulting effort to showcase his talent ended up detracting from Jeremy Sisto's portrayal of Caesar, who was supposed to be the focus of the work.

I also think the film should have been forthright about Caesar's numerous affairs instead of portraying his relationship with Cleopatra as a modern soap-opera. I think portraying Caesar as a bit of a rascal in this regard would have added more depth to his character. I also don't think Calpurnia would have let his philandering influence her relationship with him. It was common for wealthy men to have mistresses and Calpurnia would have also recognized the political factors in the relationship with Cleopatra. I'm sure she didn't particularly like it but Calpurnia also recognized that as his legitimate wife, she ultimately held the most important position. I think McCullough's portrayal of the situation in "The October Horse" was much closer to the mark.

One member dismissed the series as another victim of bad acting along with "Gladiator". I'm afraid I disagree with the "bad acting" label for "Gladiator" and even to some extent for "Caesar". Russell Crowe's recent performances have impressed me, particularly his work in "A Beautiful Mind" and "The Insider" as well as "Gladiator." I also thought Joaquin Phoenix was excellent as Commodus (He also was outstanding in "Quills" even if the story was a bit bizarre), Connie Nielsen did a great job as Lucilla, and Oliver Reed was most memorable in his performance as Proximo. (I'm glad they were able to preserve his performance even though he died before shooting ended).

As for "Caesar", I agreed with other members that Jeremy Sisto suffered from a lackluster script more than from bad acting. I also found the actor playing Vercingetorix to have quite a screen presence. Of course, I think the Alesia segment was the highlight of the program although the sacrifice of the women and children is not recorded in Caesar's Commentaries. Hollywood must have embellished some of the references such as:

"The matrons begin to cast their clothes and silver over the wall, and bending over as far as the lower part of the bosom, with outstretched hands beseech the Romans to spare them, and not to sacrifice to their resentment even women and children, as they had done at Avaricum. Some of them let themselves down from the walls by their hands, and surrendered to our soldiers." - Caesar's Commentaries, Chapter 47.

"When a great multitude of them had assembled, the matrons, who a little before were stretching their hands from the walls to the Romans, began to beseech their countrymen, and after the Gallic fashion to show their disheveled hair, and bring their children into public view." - Caesar's Commentaries, Chapter 48.

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Saturday, June 14, 2003

Greek Mosaic from 500 B.C. Unearthed in Israel

The birth of the Hellenistic period, when Greek culture began to spread far beyond its native territory, has long been set around 334 B.C. to 323 B.C., when Alexander and his troops began their 20,000-mile conquest, thundering from Macedonia south through what is now Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. The troops then set off for Persia and India. But, a University of California, Berkeley-led group of researchers, excavating the ancient town of Dor in Israel, is challenging the common history that credits the Macedonian king with initiating the spread of ancient Greek culture throughout the Middle East during his conquest of the region during the 4th century B.C.

Team members will direct their attention to the wealth of materials found at the ancient Israelite seaport site of Dor, established by the Canaanites around 2,000 B.C. and once the harbor of King Solomon. Alexander the Great passed by Dor on his march from Tyre to Gaza and Egypt, by which time the city hosted a lively mixture of Phoenicians, Jews, Greeks and others. Finds thus far have included a 5th century B.C. headless statue of the Greek winged goddess Victory, together with fragments of a demolished Greek temple, and an elaborate and intricate mosaic floor featuring a masked actor from a Greek comedy.
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Sunday, June 01, 2003

Drought Brought An End To The Mayan Civilization

I saw an interesting program Friday night on the collapse of the Mayan civilization, "Ancient Apocalypse: The Fall of the Mayan Civilisation". Although I saw it on the Discovery Times Channel, it was apparently produced by the BBC. Remembering the devastating droughts of his childhood, Texas archaeologist, Dick Gill, theorized that drought caused the Mayan collapse. But he had quite a time getting other scholars to give his theory serious consideration. He combed historical records looking for references to drought and found such references not only in Spanish records of 1795 but even in a Mayan text that had escaped the Spanish conflagration. He also studied weather patterns and discovered that at the time of the Mayan collapse, there was evidence of unusually cold weather in the Arctic and northern Europe. Further investigation revealed that a high pressure system that normally remains in the central north Atlantic occasionally moved southwest. Each time this occurred, the Arctic would experience record cold and Central America would experience drought. The clincher came when a team of archaeologists from the University of Florida that were studying core samples from the bed of Lake Chichancanab in the Yucatan peninsula found evidence that in the ninth century the area experienced the driest period in 7,000 years.

I am always fascinated by such discoveries that produce an answer to mysteries that were discussed in my history classes as a child. I felt a similar thrill when evidence was discovered that the dinosaurs extinction was the result of a meteor impact.
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Monday, May 05, 2003

The Tomb of Gilgamesh Found?

A German-led expedition has discovered what is thought to be the entire city of Uruk--including, where the Euphrates once flowed, the last resting place of its famous King. In the book--actually a set of inscribed clay tablets--Gilgamesh was described as having been buried under the Euphrates, in a tomb apparently constructed when the waters of the ancient river parted following his death.

"We found just outside the city an area in the middle of the former Euphrates river the remains of such a building which could be interpreted as a burial," said Jorg Fassbinder, of the Bavarian department of Historical Monuments in Munich. We covered more than 100 hectares. We have found garden structures and field structures as described in the epic, and we found Babylonian houses."

He said the most astonishing find was an incredibly sophisticated system of canals.

See also:

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Thursday, May 01, 2003

Were the Vandals more "barbaric" than the Visigoths?

I found this very interesting website about the invasion of Gaul and Italy by Attila the Hun. It contained an interesting detail about the animosity between the Vandals and the Visigoths:

"Another of the great barbaric chieftains of the age, Gaiseric, King of the Vandals, played a role in the prelude to Chalons. He urged Attila to attack the Visigoths in the West because of the hostility between Vandals and Visigoths. A generation earlier Gaiserics son had married the daughter of Theodoric I, King of the Visigoths, but in 442 the Roman Emperor Valentinian III agreed to the betrothal of his daughter to Gaiserics son, and the Visigothic princess was returned to her people with her nose and ears inhumanly mutilated. From that time on the enmity of Vandals and Visigoths was great, and when Attila did cross the Rhine, the Visigoths joined Aetius against the Huns, but the Vandals stayed out of the war."

I wonder why the Vandals did that?
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Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Brier poses interesting literary analysis of the Exodus story

In my latest series of lectures on ancient Egypt, Professor Brier applied his literary analysis method to the Exodus story. Here are some interesting points he makes:

Internal evidence:
The cities of Pithom and Ramses (Pi-Ramses) were real.
Bricks, not stones, were used to build storehouses.
Bricks were made with straw in Egypt but not in Canaan
Midwives were told to watch "between the two stones" for male Hebrew infants. In Egypt, women giving birth used birthing stools or stones so this was probably a reference to the Egyptian style of giving birth.
The name Moses is Egyptian not Hebrew. Iit means "birth" or "is born". Tuthmosis means the god Toth "is born".)

External evidence:
A Leiden Papyrus says "Distribute grain rations to the soldier and to the Apiru who transport stones to the great Pylon of Ramses". "Apiru" is used to describe tribal people of the desert and sounds somewhat like "Hebrew". This may be a reference to the Hebrews.

(I found a very interesting article by Rabbi Dovid Lichtman including this same reference: Since it is written by a rabbi, it may be subject to a lack of objectivity. However, I found the evidential statements intriguing--Much more coherent than the recent Discovery Channel program "Did Moses Exist?")

The Merneptah Stela from year 5 of Merneptahs reign (1207 BC) refers to Israel: "Canaan has been plundered into every sort of woe; Ashkelon has been overcome; Gezer has been captured. Yano'am was made nonexistent; Israel is laid waste, its seed is not." Brier points out that this is the earliest non-Biblical reference to Israel. Another thing he points out is that on the stella, foreign nations were denoted with a hieroglyph resembling three mountains (because most foreign countries had such mountains). But the reference to Israel does not include this determinative hieroglyph. He believes this indicates the Israelites were still a wandering people at the time the stela was carved and had not yet founded a nation.

Brier also asserts that counting backward from this time places the Exodus around year 20 of Ramses the Great's reign. Ramses first son, Amunhirkepshef, disappeared from the historical record about this time too although he was obviously a grown man not a young boy as depicted in DeMilles "Ten Commandments".

Brier does point out, however, that there could not have been 600,000 men not including families involved in the exodus since Egypt at that time only had a total population of just over 1 million. He thinks this aspect of the story was simply exaggerated over time. He says a more rational figure would be no more than 600 and maybe as few as 60.

He recommends Ernest S. Frerichs and Leonard H. Leskos Exodus: The Egyptian Evidence, Winona Lake, IN, 1997.

I also wondered about the finality of the statements on the Merneptah Stela. "Israel is laid waste, its seed is not". So why do traditionalist believe there is a continuity between later Israelite civilization and the Israel of Merneptahs time. I guess I'm not the only one as I found this interesting article on the subject:

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Thursday, April 24, 2003

No Aristeias in Helen of Troy Miniseries

Well, I watched Helen of Troy part 1 Sunday night twice just to make sure I didnt miss anything. (It took my husband, who was casually reading the paper, an hour to figure out I was just watching the same program again!) Overall I found the program entertaining and noticed there was an attempt to at least follow some of the events in mythology. I didnt remember Theseus being killed by Pollux (and my web research confirmed my suspicion). I also didnt remember Paris being abandoned and raised by a shepherd but I checked on that and it is part of the myth. (This new grandmother must be getting senile!)

There are several things that do detract from a reasonably well-made story. Achilles is nearly a non-character and totally out of character with the other members of the cast. (That shaved head just looks totally wrong and the scriptwriter has not given the actor any lines to work with either) I noticed on the USA website that he isnt even mentioned as a main character. Of course by downplaying Achilles, USA was able to side-step the Patroklas issue. Paris is also portrayed as being able to defeat Hector in hand-to-hand combat. Hectors character should be fleshed out and epitomize honor and courage but in this program he is definitely taking a back seat to Paris.

On the positive side, Rufus Sewell is excellent as Agammenon. He commands such screen presence that he virtually steals the scenes in which he appears. Matthew Marsden is doing a good job as Paris too. Sienna Guillory is putting a lot of effort into her part as Helen and I enjoyed the brief but amiable appearance of Stellan Skarsgard as Theseus. Emilia Fox is also suitably otherwordly as Cassandra.

I watched part 2 last night. Although it had some intense battle scenes (I notice that the director attempted to recreate the "Saving Private Ryan" effect with the whizzing arrows and water level landing scenes) I felt the storyline lost a great deal without the morality lessons of Achilles, Patroklas and Hectors aristeias. Achilles was just a vicious brute. Since there was no grief for Patroklas, his dragging of Hectors body behind his chariot had no particular significance except to make him look like he was just vainglorius. (Alexander the Great would have never idolized a person like that!) Of course, in real Greek mythology, Agammenon brought Cassandra back to Mycenae as a slave. There is no mention of any rape of his brothers wife Helen. I assume this scene was intended to thoroughly villify Agammenon since the entire program seemed focused on him as the antagonist. I also did a double take when Clytemnestra showed up in Troy. I guess the director was running out of time so they didnt have time to have Agammenon sail back to Greece to be murdered in his bath. I also found the Paris-Menelaus duel strange. In the Iliad, Menelaus supposedly wounded Paris so grievously that Paris had to be rescued by Aphrodite. Having Menelaus show clemency was confusing. I guess it was intended to show Menelaus was not so bad after all. I couldnt reconcile this view of Menelaus, though, with the fact that he apparently allowed Agammenon to take over his wife as was shown in the bath murder scene with Clytemnestra.

The hubris of the Greek sack of Troy was also not shown. Priam was killed but not at the household altar. Cassandra was not shown raped in the temple of Athena by Aios the Lesser. (although according to this website, Cassandra may not have been raped after all. Queen Hecuba was murdered rather than enslaved and of course there was no mention of Andromache and little Astyanax. (

All in all, however, it was much more interesting to watch than Junkyard Wars!

I found this review of the "Troy" feature film script an interesting contrast to the TV version:
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Monday, April 21, 2003

Horemheb a more reasonable suspect in the death of Tutankhamun

Dr. Brier has been discussing the death of Tutankamun in my audio lecture series and he thinks Tut was murdered by Aye too. However, the more I learn about Horemheb the more I think he is a more likely suspect. Although its true Aye became Pharaoh after Tut, Aye was a relatively old man (60) and, as Im sure Horemheb expected, did not live long. Today, Dr. Brier mentioned that its very curious that many of the same scenes depicted in Tuts tomb were duplicated in Ayes tomb. He mentions a scene of 12 baboons that is almost identical in both tombs. He said the style of painting is so similar hes relatively sure they were even painted by the same artist. Aye obviously wanted to be closely associated with Tut (since he could not celebrate his association with the heretic pharaoh Ahkenaten). He was even buried in a tomb began originally for King Tut near the burial of Tuts grandfather, Amenhotep III.

But, when Horemheb came to power, all evidence of the "Amarna" period were eradicated, including the reign of his predecessor, Aye. It may just have been Horemheb that was pressuring Anaksunamum to marry Aye, knowing that she would probably never produce an heir from such an old man (in their way of thinking). Who knows, perhaps she did become pregnant anyway and was murdered because of it. As a career military man, Horemheb would have been outraged by Anaksunamuns request for a new husband from the Egyptians old enemies the Hittites and Horemheb would have certainly had the military force to ambush and kill a Hittite prince protected by a large entourage. Horemheb reigned for thirty years after Aye so obviously he was a much younger man and had no way to know that he would never have an heir either.
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Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Literary analysis as an alternative to archaeological findings

I am presently enjoying a series of 48 lectures about ancient Egypt by Professor Bob Brier. I really enjoy his presentations and found his approach to biblical archaeology, and to the authenticity of the Joseph story, interesting. He points out that there has been no archaeological evidence (so far) of the presence of the early Israelites in Egypt. However, he said that if you have no physical evidence, you can at least conduct a literary analysis to see if the story "holds water".

He pointed out several key aspects of the Joseph story that indicates to him that whoever wrote the story at least had a very good knowledge of Egypt. For example, he mentioned that in the Coptic version of the story (he had previously explained that Coptic is the ancient Egyptian language written with the Greek alphabet), the word for "magicians" that Pharaoh consulted to interpret his dreams would be translated as "dwellers in the house of life". He said in ancient Egypt, a temple was called the house of life so this passage is really referring to the priests. In actual fact, ancient Egyptian priests kept texts used for dream interpretation in the "house of life". People desiring to have a dream interpreted would go to a priest in the house of life where the priest would consult the texts for the proper interpretation. So, this part of the story is accurate to the time period and culture.

Another example he pointed out was the name of the Egyptian man who purchased Joseph. He said Potiphar was an accurate example of an Egyptian name. The third example he mentioned was the pharaoh awarding a gold ring to Joseph to symbolize his authority. He said that in ancient Egypt, a highly placed official was usually given a gold signet ring by the pharaoh as a token of the new official's authority so even that small detail was accurate. He also mentioned that, even though there was no archaeological evidence of the presence of ancient Israelites, there was an inscription that recorded a famine that lasted for seven years. So, although this type of analysis cannot verify the actual existence of an Israelite named Joseph, the story was obviously related to or recorded by someone with extensive knowledge of Egyptian culture from that period.
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Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Petrie Museum receives grant worth more than $83 million

The Petrie Museum in London, which owns one of the largest intact collections of Egyptian antiquities outside Egypt, received a grant worth more than $83 million. The museums collection, encompassing over 800,000 items including the worlds oldest dress, was built up by William Flinders Petrie, an archaeologist and the first Edwards professor of Egyptian archaeology and philology at the university. Petrie, who died in 1942, is referred to as the father of scientific archaeology.

See also:
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Translating the Hieroglyphs

I am presently listening to The Teaching Company lecture "The History of Ancient Egypt" presented by Professor Bob Brier. Even though I am a passionate viewer of any program having to do with ancient history and ancient historical characters, I learn new things with each lecture. For example, most of us are familiar with the rosetta stone and its role in translating the ancient hieroglyphs. But I did not realize one of the other important factors was Champollions knowledge of Coptic. I knew about Egypts Coptic-sect of Christians but I did not realize their written texts are the ancient Egyptian language written in the Greek alphabet.
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Monday, March 31, 2003

Ancient swords discovered in southeast Turkey

Apparently, swords dating back to 3000 B.C.E. have been discovered near Arslantepe in the Taurus mountains of the southeast Turkey. They were cast in one piece of a arsenic-copper alloy and three of them were decorated with inlaid silver.
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Friday, March 28, 2003

Byron on the Fall of Rome

"The Niobe of nations! There she stands,
Childless and crownless in her voiceless woe;
An empty urn within her withered hands,
Whose holy dust was scattered long ago;
The Scipios' tomb contains no ashes now;
The very sepulchres lie tenantless
Of their heroic dwellers; dost thou flow,
Old Tiber! Through a marble wilderness?
Rise with thy yellow waves, and mantle her distress."
Childe Harold, IV.79
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Thursday, March 27, 2003

Gabriele Albarosa translates Gladiator script into Latin

I enjoyed comparing the English script of Gladiator with the Latin translation provided by Gabriele Albarosa. I could even deduce what some of the Latin words meant because they formed the root of their English equivalent.
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Glory to the victor not always the result of Roman triumphs.

I was reading an interesting essay about Cleopatra and found descriptions of several Roman triumphs particuarly illluminating.

"Julius Caesar, in his triumph of 46BC, had treated the gawping crowds to a series of pictures of the last moments of his rivals in civil war: Cato disembowelling himself "like a wild beast", Scipio throwing himself into the sea, Petreius stabbing himself at dinner. (It is a striking insight into Roman notions of good taste that one ancient commentator should note that Caesar refrained from displaying the names of these casualties - apparently that would have been too much for the sensibilities of the audience.) "

"In AD118, the Emperor Trajan enjoyed a posthumous triumph for his victories over the Parthians. In its bizarre procession, the part of the triumphant Emperor in his chariot was played by a dummy."

"In 61BC, for example, in the triumph of Pompey the Great - then victorious over King Mithridates, though later defeated by his arch-rival Julius Caesar in the civil wars of the early 40sBC - the extravagance of the artwork proved counterproductive in the eyes of some. In his encyclopedic Natural History, Pliny the Elder gleefully bemoaned the effeminate luxury of one particular portrait of Pompey that was carried in the procession: it was a head made entirely of pearls and was, Pliny crowed, an uncomfortable omen of Pompey's ultimate, undignified fate - to be beheaded by a eunuch on the shores of Egypt.

"In a famous procession in the 2nd century BC, the eyes of the crowd all fell, not on the Roman victor, but on the pathetic infant sons of the defeated Eastern king, who were walking with the captives."

The article goes on to speculate about the problems a triumph including Cleopatra would pose for Octavian:

"Octavian must have known of the impact that Cleopatra's sister, Arsinoe had made when she was displayed in Julius Caesars procession in 46BC: no rejoicing at her well-deserved fate, but pity and sympathy at the sight of an exotic princess in chains, and tears shed by the onlookers as her misfortune reminded them of what they themselves had suffered in the wars."

So, the article points out, Cleopatras last public appearance in the city of Rome was in the form of a wax model, complete with model asp, carried in the victory parade of Octavian in 29BC.
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Thursday, March 13, 2003

The development of ritual in late Roman antiquity

My latest audio course is "The World of Byzantium" by Professor Kenneth Harl of Tulane University. Professor Harl pointed out that with the increasing number of soldier-emperors of the late imperial period, ritual was developed to counteract the discrepancy in education between emperors from the army camps and the aristocratic elite. He said that when the emperor Julian tried to dispense with all of the elaborate rituals that had been developed around the emperor and return to a more accessible "princeps" model like Marcus Aurelius, he was criticized by his subjects for not being regal enough. I thought this was very interesting but was a little confused because I thought most Roman commanders were educated aristocrats.
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Friday, March 07, 2003

Apuleius and "The Golden Ass"

Dr. Fears also spent an entire lecture on Apuleius and his literary work "The Golden Ass". I had never read this work either so I was researching it and found the following link that is an extensive examination of the novel.

Dr. Fears mentioned that the work influenced such literary classics as "Don Quixote" and "Gullivers Travels". The web page author, Benjamin Slade, a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University, recognizes its influence in even more modern work:

"In more modern literature, the little known, but very important work of Anglo-Indian novelist G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr also carries on Apuleius's mad, bathetic style of story-weaving. More well-known Booker-Award winning Anglo-Indian author Salman Rushdie too writes very much in the Apuleian style--both in the sense of bathos as well as adapting Apuleius's particular manner of interweaving 'mirroring' stories together (see below). In addition to style, an episode in Rushdie's (in)famous novel, The Satanic Verses, displays a thematic borrowing, in that it involves a transformation of the protagonist into bestial form and his subsequent attempts to regain human form--serving as the central intertext of Satanic Verses, in the words of Dr. Margareta Petersson.

The shape-changing theme also occurs in Kafka's Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis). This theme, while obviously ubiquitous in human imagination, is unusual in Apuleius in that a first-person narrative is provided by the metamorphed man, as in Kafka. Kafkas novel owes something to the Golden Ass in its plot of an ordinary person who one day suddenly finds himself in a shape not his own--a repulsive shape; and in the protagonists struggle to survive with his humanity intact."
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The Stoic Philosopher Epictetus

In my study of famous Romans, Dr. Fears spends one entire lecture on the philosopher, Epictetus. I had never heard of him before so I was intrigued. I was also surprised that his teachings appear to parallel teachings and even quotations found in the Bible and was wondering if he had studied the Hebrew Bible in the course of his own education. Since he was born in 55 C.E., it would have been too early to have studied the New Testament. Example:

"What has He given me for my own and subject to my authority, and what has He left for Himself? Everything within the sphere of the moral purpose He has given me, subjected them to my control, unhampered and unhindered. My body that is made of clay, how could He make that unhindered? Accordingly He has made it subject to the revolution of the universe--along with my property, my furniture, my house, my children, my wife. But how should I keep them? In accordance with the terms upon which they have been given, and for as long as they can be given. But He who gave also takes away.
And so, when you have received everything, and your very self, from Another, do you yet complain and blame the Giver, if He take something away from you? (Discourses 4.1.100-3, with omissions, trans. Oldfather)

Another example: "To be instructed is this, to learn to wish that every thing may happen as it does. And how do things happen? As the disposer has disposed them. And he has appointed summer and winter, and abundance and scarcity, and virtue and vice, and all such opposites for the harmony of the whole; and to each of us he has given a body, and parts of the body, and possessions, and companions." (Discourses 1.12.15-17, trans. Long)
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Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Excavations of ancient Sidon reveal trade links to Crete

A key discovery was a distinctive, finely wrought Minoan cup, the first example of exports to Lebanon from Crete within a closed, dated context. These were highly decorative and probably used at feasts. There are hints at great wealth also in the discoveries of warriors graves. One body wore scarab rings and was buried with an ornamental axe, suggesting ancient Sidon had its share of upper class warlords.

See also:
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Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Samnite culture distinctly different from Roman society

The Osco-Umbro people, including the Samnites as well as the Sabins, were derived from the fusion of local people with indo-european infiltrations during the iron age. By 600 B.C. they became the well defined Osco-Umbro tribes and in 500 B.C. if not before, the people, now historically known as the Samnites, were clearly identified as having the indisputable control of the Samnium region.
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Monday, March 03, 2003

Alexandria Library Scholars Collective hopes to digitize all books

Alexandria Library Scholars Collective is apparently hoping to virtually recreate it's ancient predecessor with the goal of eventually digitizing every book in the world.

"The library has scanned only about 100,000 pages of its own material, mostly medieval Arabic texts, Mr. Serageldin said. But it has embarked on a plan to digitize thousands of books over the next several years, most of them Arabic texts, with French and English translations, he said. Other works are scheduled to be scanned elsewhere in Africa, including a whole library of crumbling medieval manuscripts in a monastery in Timbuktu in Mali, Mr. Serageldin said."
"The library will also have access to one million books that are now being scanned by Carnegie Mellon University, which is creating its own vast digital archive and is one of Alexandrias partners. And the library has a vast trove of Web material already donated by the Internet Archive, a California partner with similar universal ambitions. The collective then plans to begin bargaining for access to digital collections at other libraries and universities around the world, offering access to its own materials and its network of scholars in exchange. The cooperative also plans to begin urging authors to donate their digital rights in the hopes that the courts will let them be used."

See also:
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Friday, February 28, 2003

Screenplay in the works for new Manfredi novel "The Last Legion"

A screenplay is being polished up for the film version of the latest novel of archaeologist turned author Valerio Manfredi, "The Last Legion". The story is set at the end of the Roman Empire, in the fifth century AD, with a band of diehard Roman soldiers defying the barbarian hordes to rescue the young Romulus Augustus, the last emperor, from imprisonment at the Villa of Tiberius on Capri. They then take him to safety in Britain, where he takes on a new identity as Pendragon, the father of King Arthur. Thus the world of ancient Rome merges into the mystical world of Arthurian legend.

A bit far-fetched? "Well, it is true that as one empire dies it gives birth to another," Manfredi says. "It is also true that the story of the Knights of the Round Table had its origins in the fifth century AD, even though it was written up in the Middle Ages. And Excalibur was almost certainly a Roman sword."

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Friday, February 21, 2003

The Significance of the Battle of Carrhae

In Dr. Fears lecture on Crassus, he expressed his opinion that the battle of Carrhae was one of the most important Roman defeats of all time because it essentially resulted in the demarcation point between what would become the Islamic east and the Christian west. I found this very good article about "Romes Persian Mirage":

I also found it very interesting that Dr. Fears said the 10,000 Roman prisoners taken by the Parthians were trained to create mosaics that survive to this day. It seems almost ironic that men who wrought death and destruction would leave a legacy of art and beauty.
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Best of the Historical Artwork of Angus McBride featured in Ospreys "Warriors & Warlords"

The best of Angus McBrides beautiful historical illustrations of the worlds most fearsome warriors including Rome and her enemies are featured in this new title published by Osprey. "Battle dress and arms are shown in unrivalled detail and brought to life in vivid scenes of fighting, pillaging and carousing. A full text commentary accompanies each piece of artwork, providing the background to the image and helping readers to get more out of each illustration."
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Monday, February 17, 2003

Genghis Kahn may be the ancestor of 16 million men in Central Asia

According to Nicholas Wade of the NY Times, a remarkable living legacy of the Mongol empire has been discovered by geneticists in a survey of human populations from the Caucasus to China. They find that as many as 8 percent of the men dwelling in the confines of the former Mongol empire bear Y chromosomes that seem characteristic of the Mongol ruling house. If so, some 16 million men, or half a percent of the world's male population, can probably claim descent from Genghis Khan. David Morgan, a historian of Mongol studies said "Its pretty clear what they were doing when they were not fighting."

I wish they would do a study like that of potential descendants of the Julii or some other famous Roman family group.

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Saturday, February 15, 2003

Footwear through the ages

I was working on another page of my website about the U.S. Cavalry Museum in Fort Riley, Kansas and was researching the barracks shoe when I came across this interesting website by Cameron Kippen, a member of the Department of Podiatry at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia. Cameron explains that the thong or toe strap became distinctive in sandal design. Subsequent civilisations preferred different toes, the Greeks for example made use of the great toe; the Romans, the second digit; and the Mesapotanians, the third toe.

Etruscan sandals were rather delicate footwear with thin straps and binding laces, attached to leather sole There was an open toed and backless variation which laced at the instep. The soles of the sandals were made from wood with thin bronze plates. Shoes were made with closed fronts and heel shields with gilded straps. They were low cut and had pointed toes similar to those worn by the Egyptians in the XIX and XX dynasties. Some had soles which were jointed or hinged and re-inforced with wood and bronze. Noted for their metal work they included nails on the sole of their shoes, which gave, better traction. Also to protect feet from mud the thick wooden sandals were hinged with a piece of flexible leather nailed with bronze nails to the two halves of the wooden sole. These manufacturing techniques were eventually adopted by the Romans who started to make robust military sandals.

With the introduction of Christianity, idea of dress to glorify and display the body was replaced by the new Christian belief to cover up. Sandals were replaced with shoes which had no distinction between left and right and made walking more difficult!
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Thursday, February 13, 2003

Human sacrifice in ancient Rome

In our discussion of human sacrifice in ancient Rome, I found an excellent website about the Roman viewpoint of the propiety of using humans for sacrifice in religious rituals. It seems the Romans were particularly concerned about the violation of "boundaries". "Roman laws were considered to have been handed down by the gods, and those who broke the laws were therefore considered to have violated sacred prescriptions. Especially in matters of violating oaths, or moving boundary markers, violating the sacred bonds of the society which were safeguarded by the gods, the guilty were judged to be executed in order to restore the divine order, and in that sense might be considered as sacrificial victims."

An example: "When Servius expanded the city walls, a sacrifice was made of four individuals, buried beneath the old pomerium wall that encircled the Palatine Hill. Those bodies were only recently discovered after Carandini discovered the old Palatine pomerium wall. The four tombs included the usual ritual elements, dating to about 650 BCE. Tomb 1 was an adult male; age 30-40, with his head inclined and arms at his side. Along with him were buried two amphorae, a collana (necklace), one plate and two fibulae. Tomb 2 was a child laid in a sleeping position, along with one small amphora and two fibula. Tomb 3 was a young adult male aged 16-18, laid out like the older male. He was buried with one amphora; a large cup, two little cups, two plates, two pieces of bronze and one ring, all placed on the left side of the tomb. Tomb 4 was a female laid out in a fetal position, and oriented in a different direction from all the others. She was buried along with one amphora. These sacrifices were made because the old wall was being violated in the process of extending the pomerium with the new Servian Wall."
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Lares - Roman spirits of the ancestors

On my Imperial Rome discussion group, several members were discussing lemmures also known as lares. Gaius Caecilius found a website that described them as "the spirits of the unquiet dead devoid of all human warmth and emotion pursuing the living to drive them mad. He said he found a rather odd web site that said they were particularly active during May (Is the is the source of the frenetic "May Day" celebration of the Middle Ages?) The website also mentioned a festival called the Lemuria that was held to drive them off utilising drums, as they were sensitive to noise. However, I found a reference that puts a little nicer face on the Lares: "Lares. The LARES [lar'ez] were household spirits, often linked with the PENATES [pe-na'tez] (see Vesta). They could bring prosperity to the householder (in early times a farmer), and they were honored at the winter festival of the Compitalia, at which dolls were hung up in shrines, one for each member of the household. Each house had its Lar Compitalis, and each city had its Lares praestites (guardian Lares). The Lares also protected travelers by land and sea. "

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Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Roman worship of Hercules

In his discussion of Roman religious beliefs, Dr. Fagan mentioned that in the later imperial period, Diocletian and Maximian promoted the worship of both Jupiter and Hercules as the recognized patron gods of the empire.

"The emperors of Rome had long associated themselves with the hero Hercules, known to the Greeks as Herakles. His exploits and 'labors' had been celebrated for many centuries, and demigod Hercules came to represent strength, virility and power - all personal features that were important to an emperor. There were countless minor emperor-associations with Hercules earlier in the empire, as well as several blatant ones: Commodus donned the lion's skin on coins and medals late in his reign, Caracalla was likened to Hercules (and his brother Geta to Bacchus), and Gallienus often promoted his Herculean efforts by striking coins and medals with just such an association. We certainly must include Postumus, the Romano-Gallic rebel who founded his own separatist empire, as chief among rulers who likened themselves to Hercules. The Tetrarchy created by Diocletian in 293 was a logical expansion of the Diarchy he founded in 285 by hailing Caesar his comrade-in-arms Maximian. The arrangement became more logically structured in 286, when Diocletian raised Maximian from Caesar to Junior Augustus. In this Diarchy there were two divine associations, which, in terms of describing the dynastic structure, came to be known as 'houses.' The Senior Augustus, Diocletian, chose as his patron the supreme deity Jupiter (Jove), whereas Maximian adopted the mythological hero Hercules: hence the common reference to the Jovian and Herculian houses of the Tetrarchy."