A brief holiday. Back on Wednesday.
The exploits of plebeian soldiers Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo - played respectively by Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson - form the thread that holds the series together. They go from brothers in arms, to buddies, to bitter enemies and beyond. Their estrangement and reconciliation in episode 11 is emotionally exhausting - watching Vorenus agonising with himself as he decides Pullo's fate confirms McKidd as an acting powerhouse. Yet Stevenson's is the more nuanced performance (despite vocally lapsing into his native Geordie occasionally).
Polly Walker's Atia of the Julii, niece of Julius Caesar and arch manipulator, is by turns hateful and charming, while Lyndsey Marshal gives a haunting turn as opium-addicted Cleopatra. "Die screaming, you pigspawn trollop," Atia whispers to Cleopatra as the latter leaves a party for the Egyptians.
I also like James Anthony's description of it as: "Horrible Histories for grownups".
Review at BMCR of JHF Dijkstra, Philae and the End of Ancient Egyptian Religion: A Regional Study of Religious Transformation (298-642 CE) by Robert Gozzoli at the University of Siam. A rewrite of his PhD, Dijkstra asks what happened to the cults at Philae in the Late Antiquity? What was the role played by Christianity on the island? And was Philae exceptional?
The original PhD can be downloaded here, but note that it is a hefty pdf file.
Brief piece on Bloomberg about the discovery of a temple of Mithras in the in the Badri Mountains in the northern province of Duhok. Although Bloomberg can't decide on how to spell the province (Dohuk in the headline, Duhok in the piece), it is worth a look:
The temple, which consists of three parts, lies in the Badri Mountains in eastern Duhok, and includes a place for prayer facing the sun, the province’s antiquities director, Hassan Ahmed Qassim, said in a statement to the Web site of President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party.
“This discovery is important in helping to understand and learn the region’s history, and the important stages it passed through,” Qassim was quoted by Aswat al-Iraq newspaper as telling a news conference at Duhok University.
This blog tries to find nice things to say about most dabblers in the classical world, but occasionally I come across articles that are so asinine, so far beyond common sense, so painfully written that the only answer is ridicule. Last week I mentioned a silly piece in the FT, but this from Forbes magazine redefines trite. In a special section, plugging his own book, Steve Forbes writes:
Really? Thanks for the fabulous insight. I could quote more, but it is too painful. I was planning to spill bile over Forbes' leaden prose at some point... but found that the excellent The AWL had done so already - elegantly and in great detail:
Unfortunately, as readers plod on, Hannibal-like, atop the elephantine course of Forbes’ pedagogy, the principles become as fuzzy as our narrator’s historical vision. Take the sermonette on “Ego and Ambition.” Here the antique model is Julius Caesar — who we learn would be “a highly effective CEO” in “today’s communication age”; “an amazingly capable executive, who successfully undertook enormous endeavors fraught with risk.”
Hey, just like Steve Forbes! But politics proved the Great Man’s undoing — again, just like Steve Forbes! The impression that Caesar was a clued-in leader “mutated into an imperious arrogance that cost him his life.”
Now, you’d think, our author’s c.v. aside, the contemporary business scene doesn’t lack for similar “parallels,” with the flameouts, the bailouts, the market seizures and the AIG bonuses and whatnot. But Forbes and coauthor Prevas decide that the best “recent example of an executive who let ambition warp his sense of judgment and perspective is Edward Finkelstein, a highly respected and successful retailer who shocked the corporate world by presiding over Macy’s bankruptcy in 1992.”
That’s right: the perfect specimen of rudderless ambition and hubris in the American economy isn’t a credit-default swapper or hedge fund manager, but a retail executive who got the heave-ho 15 years ago. It’s a bit like the record industry blaming its present woes on that Macarena craze now sweeping the nation.
Absolutely spot on. One of his closing lines - "Rome’s fall doesn’t really offer that many hard-and-fast axioms of history, for carmakers or bondholders or anyone else" - should be beaten into every management writer. Oh yes, and take time to read the comments: both fun and often pertinent. Thanks to Davos Newbies for the hat tip.
A press release - no one appears to have picked up the story yet - detailing the work that the University of Nottingham has carried out at Venta Icenorum at Caistor St Edmund in Norfolk. A new survey suggests that life continued at Venta after the fifth century:
In December 2007 a team of experts, led by The University of Nottingham, unveiled an extraordinary set of high-resolution images that gave an insight into the plan of the Roman town of Venta Icenorum at Caistor St Edmund in Norfolk.
The new research demonstrated that Caistor is a site of international importance — and tomorrow there will be an event to showcase the work and to clarify some of the mysteries of this buried roman town and highlight the impact of the research in developing Caistor as a cultural resource for Norfolk.
The high-resolution geophysical survey used a Caesium Vapour magnetometer to map buried remains across the entire walled area of the Roman town. It produced the clearest plan of the town yet seen confirming the street plan, the town's water supply system, and the series of public buildings including the baths, temples and forum, know from earlier excavations.
The survey also showed that earlier interpretations of the town as a densely occupied urban area — given by reconstruction paintings — may be totally wrong. Buildings were clustered along the main streets of the town, but other areas within the street grid seem to have been empty and were perhaps used for grazing or cultivation.
The research at Caistor is being directed by Dr Will Bowden, an
Associate Professor of Roman Archaeology at The University of
Nottingham. He worked with Dr David Bescoby and Dr Neil Chroston of the
University of East Anglia on the survey which was sponsored by the
British Academy with subsequent phases sponsored by a major private
The site was discovered by the crew of an RAF aircraft. They took photographs over the site which now lies in open fields to the south of Norwich. The exceptionally dry summer meant that details of the Roman town were clearly revealed as parched lines in the barley. The pictures appeared on the front page of The Times on March 4 1929 and caused a sensation.
The new investigations, by Dr Bowden and his team, have shown that
rather than simply being a provincial Roman town, Caistor may represent
the development of a major settlement from the Iron Age until the 9th
century AD. Crucially, however, the site was ultimately superseded by
medieval Norwich and reverted to green fields.
This is quite unlike other Roman towns that have the same long occupation sequence which now lie buried beneath the modern towns of Britain and Europe.
This fortunate change of settlement location means that these same green fields at Caistor are a unique time-capsule that could give us vital clues to the complex processes through which our towns and cities developed.
One of the most exciting new discoveries from the survey is what looks like a Roman theatre. Clear traces of a large semi-circular building have been found next to the town's temples — the typical location for a theatre in Roman Britain.
Caistor lies in the territory of the Iceni, the tribe of Boudica who famously rebelled against Roman rule in AD 60/61. The survey revealed numerous circular features that apparently predate the Roman town.
These are probably of prehistoric date, and suggest that Caistor was the site of a large settlement before the Roman town was built
Image: Caistor St Edmund from the NW when the cropmarks of the Roman street pattern were showing particularly well in the corn in 1959. The dark lines along some of the streets may represent street drains. Traces of various buildings can be seen.
© Cambridge University Collection of Air Photographs.
A slightly confused article from the Yemen News Agency about the theft of a late antique coin hoard from Aden museum which includes Constantinian and Theodosian coins originally found in Lahj. The article is a Q&A with Raja'a Ba-Taweel, manager of general authority for antiquities and museums' Aden Branch:
We haven't had a name check for Romulus Augustulus for a while, but Michael Posner mentions him in a piece in the Globe and Mail at the weekend:
The Egg Castle - so called because the poet Virgil is said to have inserted a magical supporting egg put into the foundations - was the seat of power for Greek, Roman and Norman rulers.
According to local legend, as long as Virgil's egg remains intact, so will Naples. The last western Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, went into exile here in 476 AD, fleeing the marauding Goths. No doubt thankful for his life, he founded a monastery.
An artificial underground cave, the largest in Israel, has been exposed in the Jordan Valley in the course of a survey carried out by the University of Haifa's Department of Archaeology. Prof. Adam Zertal, who headed the excavating team, reckons that this cave was originally a large quarry during the Roman and Byzantine era and was one of its kind. Various engravings were uncovered in the cave, including cross markings, and it is assumed that this could have been an early monastery. "It is probably the site of "Galgala" from the historical Madaba Map," Prof. Zertal says.
The enormous and striking cave covers an area of approximately 1 acre: it is some 100 meters long and about 40 meters wide. The cave is located 4 km north of Jericho. The cave, which is the largest excavated by man to be discovered in Israel, was exposed in the course of an archaeological survey that the University of Haifa has been carrying out since 1978.
As with other discoveries in the past, this exposure is shrouded in mystery. "When we arrived at the opening of the cave, two Bedouins approached and told us not to go in as the cave is bewitched and inhabited by wolves and hyenas," Prof. Zertal relates. Upon entering, accompanied by his colleagues, he was surprised to find an impressive architectonic underground structure supported by 22 giant pillars. They discovered 31 cross markings on the pillars, an engraving resembling the zodiac symbol, Roman letters and an etching that looks like the Roman Legion's pennant. The team also discovered recesses in the pillars, which would have been used for oil lamps, and holes to which animals that were hauling quarried stones out of the cave could have been tied.
The cave's ceiling is some 3 meters high, but was originally probably about 4 meters high. According to Prof. Zertal, ceramics that were found and the engravings on the pillars date the cave to around 1-600 AD. "The cave's primary use had been as a quarry, which functioned for about 400-500 years. But other findings definitely indicate that the place was also used for other purposes, such as a monastery and possibly as a hiding place," Prof. Zertal explains.
The main question that arose upon discovering the cave was why a quarry was dug underground in the first place. "All of the quarries that we know are above ground. Digging down under the surface requires extreme efforts in hauling the heavy rocks up to the surface, and in this case the quarrying was immense. The question is, why?" For a possible answer to this mystery, Prof. Zertal points to the famous Madaba map. This is a Byzantine mosaic map that was found in Jordan and is the most ancient map of the Land of Israel. Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley are depicted with precision on the map, and a site called Galgala is depicted next to a Greek inscription that reads "Dodekaliton", which translates as "Twelve Stones." This place is marked at a distance from Jericho that matches this cave's distance from the city. According to the map, there is a church next to Dodekaliton; there are two ancient churches located nearby the newly discovered cave. According to Prof. Zertal, until now it has been hypothesized that the meaning of "Twelve Stones" related to the biblical verses that describe the twelve stones that the Children of Israel place in Gilgal. However, it could be that the reference is a description of the quarry that was dug where the Byzantines identified the Gilgal. "During the Roman era, it was customary to construct temples of stones that were brought from holy places, and which were therefore also more valuable stones. If our assumption is correct, then the Byzantine identification of the place as the biblical Gilgal afforded the site its necessary reverence and that is also why they would have dug an underground quarry there," Prof. Zertal concludes. "But" he adds, "much more research is needed."
Next up a video of the discovery from Reuters: