Not an emperor anyone knows anything about any more. I was a huge fan of Alfred Duggan’s novel Family Favourites as a teenager, but I suspect that no one reads it these days. Reviewing Leonardo de Arrizabalaga y Prado's The Emperor Elagabalus: Fact or Fiction? Mary Beard gives us a splendid romp through the life and times of the emperor in the Times:
Elagabalus is not now such a household name, even among professional classicists. This is partly because of the era in which he lived. The third century AD, with its baffling succession of short-lived emperors, repeated coups and mutinies, gets relatively little attention in either popular or scholarly literature. And it is partly because – unlike the villainies of the first-century emperors, Caligula, Nero or Domitian, which were memorably charted by such “classic” Roman authors as Tacitus and Suetonius – the misdeeds of Elagabalus have been transmitted by ancient writers who are now little known outside the university lecture room (and, honestly, not even particularly well known there).
Many of the most intriguing anecdotes of his crimes... come from a strange semi-fictional “biography” of Elagabalus in the series of emperors’ lives, from Hadrian to the joint rulers Carinus and Numerian at the end of the third century, known as the Augustan History. These lives purport to be the work of a group of six different writers at the beginning of the fourth century AD, but they are now thought to be an extravagant historical confection written by a single author a hundred or so years later, some time in the fifth century. Other stories, including the Emperor’s plans for a sex-change operation (which would have been the first in recorded human history), are drawn from Byzantine excerpts from Cassius Dio’s History of Rome. Dio was a Roman senator, who lived through the reign of Elagabalus, though he was not at that period in Rome itself and so cannot – as Leonardo de Arrizabalaga y Prado insists in his new study, The Emperor Elagabalus: Fact or fiction? – count as an eyewitness of whatever was going on in the capital. The surviving portions of Dio’s vast History, which originally covered the story of Rome from its foundation to his own day, are not particularly admired or much read; the parts that are known only through medieval quotation (and that includes his account of the early third century) are even less so.
You can now get the Emperors of Rome podcasts from iTunes or if you want to do it directly from within iTunes, from here. If the earlier emperors appear out of chronological order, I apologise - the formatting for Apple was a little fraught. It should be fixed going forward.
Although I have been tweeting about the archaeological chaos in Egypt, I have deliberately not blogged about it. Events have moved too quickly. I am not closely enough tied in to that network to add much that is useful, nor do I just want to add to the white noise. For those who are interested, especially now in the aftermath, the best person to follow is Dorothy King. PhDiva has consistently had the latest news and she has been in regular contact with people on the ground.
See also the piece in Discovery News today on the stolen statues of Tutankhamun:
According to classical archaeologist Dorothy Lobel King, giving conflicting accounts can only lead people to wonder.
"Hawass' previous claims that nothing was stolen from the Egyptian Museum were ... optimistic -- or bull, depending on where one stands on his pro-Mubarak politics," King wrote in her blog, which contains images of the missing pieces.
"The timing of the admission, soon after the departure of President Mubarak, a man Dr. Hawass took to defending on various international news programs, is also suspicious," King added.
I am spending the weekend tweaking bits and pieces on the website. Apologies if things look a little strange. I will try and make sure that all is ship-shape by Monday. If you are after the Emperors of Rome videos, you can also see them here.
It has been mooted for a while, but Glasgow University has taken a further step to throwing itself on the academic scrapheap. The lead in the BBC story:
Glasgow University's senior management group has proposed dropping several modern language courses and merging history with archaeology and classics.
The languages appear to be German or Italian and Russian in the Herald.
The archaeological merger is spectacularly short-sighted. I liked the line about cost-savings, also in the Herald. An alarm bell always goes off when a spokesman refuses to give his or her name. Here they are anonymous, but give this mealy-mouthed quote:
“Our approach is twofold: to generate more income, and to pursue cost savings."
I hope that the quote was given in an email.
This does beg the obvious question of what on earth they were doing when they closed GUARD, the much-lamented archaeological research unit at Glasgow University that was forced to shut up shop at the end of last year. Not only did it do incredibly valuable academic work, it more than covered its costs.
There is a reason that Oxford and Cambridge can charge GDP9,000 a year. Before too long they are going to be the only game in town.