Today from the J Paul Getty Museum, an impressively life-sized marble bear. The depiction of bears this size in Roman art is comparatively rare and this piece, probably from a larger group, dates to the beginning of the second century.
Under Fraser Nelson, the Spectator has been much less clasically oriented than it had been under his predecessor, but there is a nice piece in this week's issue by Roderick Conway Morris ahead of the Moi, Auguste, Empereur de Rome exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris.
Mark Antony sought contemptuously to dismiss the upstart — small in stature, with sandy hair, bad teeth and delicate health — addressing him as ‘you, boy, who owes everything to your name’. But Octavian bided his time, and having disposed of his other rivals, this ‘boy’ provoked a war with Antony, defeated him at Actium in 31 BC, drove him and his lover Cleopatra to suicide, and annexed Egypt as a personal fiefdom. With the wealth of Egypt and other provinces now pouring into his own coffers, he became by far the richest man in the Empire. In Rome itself he created a staggering dependency culture by paying out of his own pocket for the regular corn-dole, with additional periodic distributions of wine and oil, for a quarter of a million plebs, thus guaranteeing their perpetual devotion.
The traditional view is that the third century was one both of militarism and of urban decline. Modern historians, scarred by their own political experience in the first half of the twentieth century and a paucity of classical sources, viewed that period of the Roman empire pretty much entirely in negative terms. That view was backed up by archaeology of increasing fortification and burned layers.
Simon Esmonde Cleary's The Roman West, AD 200-500: An Archaeological Study. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013, is a useful antidote to the "crisis of the third century" and provides a different perspective. Reviewed in BMCR:
Regarding Northern Gaul, Esmonde Cleary suggests that changes in the use of urban spaces from the late second century, such as the abandonment of fora and bathhouses, and the erection of defensive circuits, do not signal continual military crisis. Rather, he argues, they show a development in the kind of citizen the region was attempting to produce: under the high empire, the region could concentrate on producing citizens versed in the niceties of the Graeco-Roman lifestyle; under the progressive militarisation of the late second century onwards, their architectural focus adapted to the circumstances, adopting an increasingly militaristic flavour. The shift to militarisation was not absolute, and the 'function' of cities varied.
See full review by the University of Manchester's Steven Spiegl here.
Thanks to the wonderful Susan Mills, museum and heritage officer for Clackmannanshire Council, for clearing up the mystery of the Roman sword found on the Harvistoun Estate in 1796. I wrote about it yesterday and wondered both what had happened to it and whether there had been any write up of the find. As I said at the time, Roman discoveries in the county are few and very far between.
The good news is that the iron sword is both in good condition and safely in the National Museums of Scotland.
The less good news (from some perspectives) is that it is not Roman. The SCRAN description has it
This iron sword was found at Harvieston in Clackmannanshire. The sword is of a type found in Anglo-Saxon England. It was used between 800 and 1100.
The upper guard curves upwards, the lower guard downwards. The guards and the pommel are damaged.
The period between 850 and 1050 saw the gradual formation of a unified Scottish kingdom. However, there were outside threats: from Scandinavians settled in the northern and western Isles, from the Strathclyde Britons and the Anglo-Saxon kings.
A question this morning that I was hoping someone might be able to answer. Clackmannanshire, just north of the Antonine Wall in Scotland, is Scotland's smallest county. Roman remains in the county are few and far between - predominantly coins - even though Roman soldiers must have been fairly active in the area.
What intrigues me particularly is a Roman sword that was found on the Harviestoun estate in 1796. It is not surprisingly that one was found there. The estate sits close to what is now the A91, the main east west route along the base of the Ochil Hills and parallel to the Antonine Wall. I first came across mention of the sword in JP Day's Clackmannan and Kinross, CUP, 1915:
It seems probable that, during the Roman occupation, some of the expeditions beyond the Antonine wall may have passed through Clackmannan. Roman coins have been discovered; a double-edged straight iron sword, 31 inches long, was dug up near Harviestoun in 1796; cinerary urns have been found at Alva, Tillicoultry and elsewhere. In 1828, while an old road at Alloa was under repair, a supposed Roman burial-ground was discovered. Twenty cinerary urns of coarse pottery, rudely ornamented, were found, along with two stone coffins and a pair of gold penannular armlets.
An early mention of the discovery is in The New Statistical Account of Scotland: Dumbarton, Stirling, Clackmannan (Blackwood) from 1845:
In 1796, when digging a drain behind Harviestoun House, a sword was found; and in 1802, when making the west approach to Harviestoun, an urn; both of which are now in the possession of John Tail, Esq. Sheriff of Clackmannanshire. The sword is iron, but totally oxidized. It appears to have been double-edged, and is perfectly straight. It is 31 inches long, including the handle, which is remarkably small, not large enough for an ordinary-sized man's hand. There is no basket at the handle, but a small narrow piece of iron, curved outward in a semicircular form, at each extremity, one of which serves as a guard, separating it from the blade. It is thought to be Roman, as the Romans were certainly in this part of the country, and as it resembles some of the swords used by them.
There is a little more more detail in Reminiscences of Dollar, Tillicoultry and other Districts adjoining the Ochils by William Gibson (Andrew Elliot, 1883):
From several urns containing human bones having been dug up at the north end of the Cunninghar Hill, it is supposed the Romans had a station here; and an old rusty sword, evidently of Roman make, was dug up a little farther east, near to Harviestoun Castle.
But I have been unable to find any modern mention of the discovery. Can anyone help?
A particularly strange piece in HNA.de. It is a comic based on the Battle of the Harzhorn... though to the trained eye (or even untrained eye) it owes a great deal to our favourite indomitable Gallic warriors. And then half way through turns into a local political punch up about recycling. Very odd indeed. Full comic here.
You saw the videos... now read the book. The seventy-eight Roman emperors who ruled in the West, from Augustus to Romulus Augustulus. With sixty-nine colour illustrations. Buy it now! Go on. You will enjoy it.
Three days in and we haven't moved forward at all. Two new poems have appeared which are generally reckoned to be by the seventh century Greek lyric poet Sappho. Dirk Obbink, author of the article on the discovery of the Sappho poems and university lecturer in papyrology and Greek literature at Oxford, has remained resolutely silent for the past week - not answering emails or telephone calls.
Aside from that nothing is known, except perhaps that Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 189 when it emerges later this year, is going to get more readers than it has in the past forty-seven years.
Bar Obbink's silence, perhaps the most surprising element has been the blind refusal of many papyrologists to engage in the issue of provenance. Debate on New Sappho, the website set up to discuss the new Sappho papyrus, has become particularly heated over the past few days. Just a few of the comments:
Dr. Obbink is a very experienced and distinguished papyrologist, who should be given time to publish a full article and the benefit of any doubts in the meantime.
Dr. Obbink should be given the benefit of the doubt.
As for private correspondence and the lack of a reply, we ought to remember that Dr Obbink is an extremely busy person... he may be unable to answer every single email straightaway
You catch the drift. All of which might have some credibility if Dr Obbink hadn't taken the time to talk to the media rather than his peers. But even here it should be mentioned that Annalisa Quinn, who writes on books for npr in the US, has complained that Obbink didn't responded to any of her questions on provenance either.
As Justin Walsh, faculty member of art history at Chapman University, says: "It’s been a week. I’m tired of hearing from Obbink’s defenders saying we just need to wait him to give answers to some incredibly simple questions — let’s hear from the man himself."
Until Obbink's vow of silence is broken, we remain in the land of speculation.
The best round-up yesterday was David Meadows' at Rogueclassicism. Read it here.
UPDATE Dirk Obbink's article has appeared in the TLS. It answers some of the questions that have been under discussion. Read it here.