Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Monday, December 29, 2008

Shedding Light on Ancient Women

Women have been marginalized throughout history.  Ancient Greece and Rome, hailed as paragons of western civilization, were not immune from misogyny.  It can perhaps be argued that women weren't as bad off as some historians may claim, but truth be told, women and men were far from equal.  Until the last few decades, the study of women's role in history was negligible. Besides taking a look at the most famous females of antiquity, every day women (and men for that matter) didn't fit into the upper class/white/male viewpoint on history.  Times are different now, and movements like Engendering Archaeology and Post-processual Feminism have allowed us to take a scholarly look at ancient women and the role they played.  

The new exhibit at the Onassis Cultural Center, Worshiping Women:  Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens, looks like a wonderful experience.  Women of the past deserve to have their story told, and this exhibit appears to do that story justice.  I'm surprised that it took until 2008 to see such an exhibit come to light.  I'm always excited to see new exhibits focused on the ancient world, especially when they appear to be of this high a caliber.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New Discovery of Roman Lamps

Pottery is a blessing for archaeologists.  Short of grinding pottery into dust, it is practically indestructible.  Also, pottery can be a wonderful dating tool, as styles tended to change often and relatively uniformly.  This latest find in Italy is another example of how pottery shapes our perception of the ancient world.  Lamps in the Roman Empire were as common as they are today (albeit of a different kind), and made in equally diverse shapes and sizes.  Lamps, being a necessity, were made to suit all budgets (see below) and some very plain as well as outrageously ostentatious examples have been found.  Its interesting to think of the different name brands and trendiness in pottery manufacture in the ancient world.  It just goes to show that no matter how much people have changed over the past 2,000 years, there are parts of us that are still the same.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Who owns Apollo?

The looting of antiquities is an ongoing problem that plagues us today, and it is a issue that I have talked about in this blog before.  The question of "who owns the past" is seemingly impossible to answer, and I certainly don't claim to know how the issue should be resolved.  One thing I do know is that politics and scholarship are not good bedfellows.  Take the Cleveland Museum of Art for example.  In their possession is a bronze sculpture of Apollo possibly made by Praxiteles himself.  For those of you who don't know, Praxiteles is one of the most famous Ancient Greek sculptors, and original large bronze sculpture from Ancient Greece is extremely rare.  The valuable bronze of ancient statues was too easy a target for later smelting.  A good deal of our knowledge of Greek bronzes comes from Roman copies made of marble.  Now, the true identity of the Cleveland Apollo's sculptor is in question, but an important chance to study the work in comparison with Roman copies of Praxiteles' work has been lost due to politics and the international illicit antiquities scandal.  Instead of recapping what happened here, please read the link below for full details.  To make a long story short, the Cleveland Apollo was shunned from a Louvre exhibit on the famous sculptor due to unsubstantiated claims by Greece that the statue was illegally looted.  It is a shame that a wonderful opportunity for scholarly research has been blocked by the ongoing international antiquities scandal.  When a country of origin can make claims with no evidence that an object has been looted, and the repercussions of those allegations lead to stifled research, a sad day has indeed come.

Also, the Cleveland Museum of Art has agreed to return 14 works of art to Italy that were proven to be acquired illegally.  In contrast to the Cleveland Apollo, if artifacts can indeed be proven that they were looted, they should be returned to the country of a point.  I know what a divisive issue that is, and I will dwell on it more in depth at another time.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pompeii comes to the National Gallery of Art

The art of Pompeii has always fascinated me. The beautiful frescoes, marble statues and mosaics are what started my love affair with ancient Rome and with ancient art in particular. Pompeii and the surrounding area gives us some of the best examples of Roman art from any period. The disastrous eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE was a tragedy for the inhabitants of the Bay of Naples, but a goldmine of art and culture for historians.

I saw a similar Pompeii exhibit in Chicago years ago, but the current exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C sounds even better than what I experienced. Pompeii still holds sway over people today because of the tragedy of life as well as the eerie completeness in which the city was preserved. I am glad to hear that Pompeii and the Roman Villa is more than strictly an art show; it tries to bring visitors into feeling like they are in a roman villa. Adding features to art museums to give patrons a more enriching experience is an issue I have talked about at length, and I feel that the success of Pompeii and the Roman Villa will only help reinforce my point.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ancient Cologne goes digital

Like many European cities, Cologne has a rich Roman history that lives more in the mind's eye than in actual physical form. A city like Cologne has been in constant occupation since Roman times, so the monuments left standing are usually few and far between. Most people associate Cologne with the Dom as opposed to the Roman-German Museum across the street. The latest project to come out of that museum hopefully will let visitors see ancient Cologne in a new, digital light.

Cologne, or Oppidum Ubiorum (Settlement of the Ubii) was founded in 39 BCE as a military base and Germanic colony. The settlement grew, eventually being renamed Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensis (Colony of Claudius and the altar of Agrippina) during the reign of the emperor Claudius and was adorned with all the trappings of a Roman town. Perhaps the most infamous event in the history of ancient Cologne is the fact that it became the capitol of the short lived Gallic Empire.

The digital views of ancient Cologne are very impressive; be sure to check out the video. Using advanced technology in the study of the ancient world is nothing new, but it seems that new and innovative uses for technology are happening more and more in the fields of archaeology, history and related disciplines.

Another great project just announced is the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri from Duke University; again we see technology put to use for the study of the ancient world. This project is geared toward scholars as opposed to museum patrons, but the use of technology, especially the Internet in this case, is a great step in the right direction. I consider the Internet to be one of the greatest inventions of all time. Never in the history of mankind, has so much information and knowledge been so readily available to millions. The Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri is a great way to bring scholars together from around the world and spread knowledge, and the digital ancient Cologne project is a great way to bring people to the world of the past. Technology and ancient studies definitely have the ability to work together, and who knows what next great project we will see.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Port of Rome gets a new look

Ostia, the port of Rome, has long been a tourist destination, if somewhat obscure. Though only a short trip from Rome, Ostia lacks the prestige and jaw dropping monuments of the Eternal City. It doesn't have the mystique and tragic aura of Pompeii. Nor does it have the imperial dignity and ostentatiousness of Tivoli. What Ostia lacks in tourist appeal is definitely made up for in its rich history, and anyone who ventures there will surely not be disappointed. Ostia is wonderfully preserved, mostly due to it's fading from history. There you will find an theater, beautiful frescoes and seemingly acres of mosaic floors. Rome, being too far up the Tiber to make it a port city, had Ostia as it's gateway to the sea. Ostia maintained it's position as the port of the largest city in the world until the construction of Portus just to its north, in the early second century CE. From then on, Ostia slowly declined until its eventual abandonment. Therefore, Ostia lacks the romance of the Pompeii disaster, but that doesn't mean it isn't an amazing site with wonderful architectural remains. That the Italian government has spent the money to restore the four buildings mentioned in the article below is great news. Judging from the slide show, the money has been well spent. As anyone who has studied Pompeii or even recently read a newspaper knows, open air sites like Ostia and Pompeii and extremely difficult to take care of. The elements take a huge toll on ancient sites, and constant maintenance and repair is required to keep them from disintegrating. Efforts like this restoration in Ostia is a great step, but only a small step towards protecting the past for the future. Recent news from Pompeii has shown us just how bad things can get when lack of funds and over site bring ruin upon an archaeological site. Perhaps the recent efforts at Ostia are a sign of things to come.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My thoughts on the Parthenon Marbles

The mere mention of the words "Parthenon Marbles" (also know as the Elgin Marbles) ignites a passionate debate in which everyone seems to have an opinion. I would like to share my opinions, which I'm sure many will agree with, though I know there are plenty who will think I'm wrong. The Parthenon Marbles were stolen, plain and simple. Now, before you jump to your own conclusions about my views, hear me out. The Parthenon Marbles where stolen from Greece between 1801 and 1812, and subsequently found their way to the British Museum. Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire when he purchased the marbles. At the time, as is the case now, the legality of that transaction raised a few questions. I feel that whether or not the sale and removal of the Parthenon Marbles was legal is a mute point after two hundred years. The marbles where taken, they now sit in the British Museum, and no amount of squabbling over the original transaction details is going to change that. My view is that the Parthenon Marbles were better off being bought/stolen. In the roughly two hundred years that have passed since their appropriation, they have been lovingly cared for in the British Museum and entertained millions of art fans from around the world. They are a cultural, historical and artistic treasure that have demanded professional care and respect. The British have taken far better care of the Parthenon Marbles than the Greeks could have.

So, what is my point? Though the British have been good stewards of the marbles, times have changed, both in Greece and around the world. Though the purchase of the Parthenon Marbles has always been suspect, the illegal trading of antiquities has gotten a lot of media coverage in the past few years, and public opinion is largely against such acts. Also, up until recently, Athens didn't really have an appropriate place exhibit and maintain the marbles. The New Acropolis Museum has changed that. And it's that museum that leads me to my conclusion. Greece now has a permanent home for the Parthenon Marbles, so there is no reason not to return them. No matter what excuses the British Museum or the British government make up, there is no good reason to keep the marbles in Britain. It's not a question of legality; every one knows that the marbles belong in Greece. The Parthenon Marbles owe their survival to Lord Elgin and the British Museum, but what they represent to Greece far outweighs any debt that is owed to Britain. The Parthenon Marbles belong in Greece not because of any law, but because when it comes down to it, it's the right thing to do.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Temple of the Deified Hadrian Restored

Rome is a city of architectural layers. Since antiquity, pieces of the city have been reused and incorporated into newer structures. Some early examples of this process would be the building of the Aurelian Wall, which incorporated existing buildings along its stretch, or the Arch of Constantine, which reused sculptural elements from previous reigns. Many later examples of this process are evident today, the Temple of the Deified Hadrian being among them. Built in 145 CE by Antoninus Pius to honor the deification of the Emperor Hadrian, the temple was eventually incorporated into Carlo Fontana's 17th century palace. Today the palace hold the stock exchange, with the still extant columns of the temple facing the Piazza di Pietra. Like most ancient marble structures, the remains of the temple have been ravaged by time and the elements, and in the last century, by smog and acid rain. I'm thrilled that Italy, with it's long history of looking the other way when it comes to monument repair, has spent 1 million Euros on the temple's restoration. The Temple of the Deified Hadrian, like all of Rome's monuments, is an important piece of history. It is our job to protect these remnants of the past so future generations can enjoy them and learn from them. I hope that this latest effort is a sign of Italy's renewed interest in historical preservation.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Amazing finds from ancient Pella

The graves recently unearthed in ancient Macedon are truly spectacular. Amour, weapons, gold, pottery; what more could you ask for. The early history of Macedon is incomplete, so hopefully with further study, these new artifacts can shed some light on one of the most important civilizations of the ancient world. Macedon, that uniter of the Greeks (under force) and conqueror of the Persians ushered in a new age, the Hellenistic, changing the shape of Europe and the Near East. The Hellenistic Era brought new heights to the arts and sciences, and set the example that the Romans emulated so well. Understanding the origins of the Macedonians will help complete the picture their history and the history of the Mediterranean world.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Large Roman Camp Found in Cumbria

The discovery of a large Roman camp in North Western England is an extremely important find and adds a new piece the the Roman Britain puzzle. As the article states, a Roman presence in that specific area has been hypothesized, but never proven. This camp obviously shows that the Romans where there, but when and for how long remains a mystery. It is interesting to think that this camp may have belonged to the Agricola period or before, but there is no way to tell without digging. I'm saddened to hear that excavations are not planned for this site, but that certainly may change in the future. I know it's impossible to dig up every archaeological site, so for now we'll have to hypothesize about the history of this Roman camp.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sagalassos yields yet another colossal statue

Oh to be in Turkey right now! The archeological site of Sagalassos has yet again yielded another colossal statue, this time of Marcus Aurelius. The bath complex where these statues have been found apparently housed some sort of imperial gallery of Hadrian and the Antonines. This most recent find is of particular craftsmanship and in an apparently exceptional state of preservation (the head at least). I was excited when I first heard about the Hadrian statue last summer and Sagalassos has continued to excite with these new finds. Hopefully the rest of the "family" will show up soon. We're still missing Sabina, Faustina the Younger and last but not least Antoninus Pius. Antoninus has always been a favorite emperor of mine, so finding his statute would be a particular treat for me. Be sure to check out the Archaeology Magazine link below for great pictures of the Marcus Aurelius statue being dug up. (As a side note, the Archaeology Magazine Web site always has great photos and a great photo viewing interface. Other Web sites should follow their example.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Some museum solutions

In a previous post of mine, I talked about some of the issues I have with art museums. My argument was that art museums, as opposed to history museums, present objects for their aesthetic value while glossing over the historical context in which they where made. Now I know that I may be generalizing and that many art museums do a good job of combining the aesthetic with with contextual, but I feel there is room for art museums to grow without compromising their mission. Let me outline some of my proposed improvements. Keep in mind that I do not want art museums to become history museums; I respect and encourage the idea of the art museum and some day hope to work in one.

Maps - You may think the addition of a map or two would be common sense, but you would be surprised to find out how many art museums don't employ such basic tools. I would place small maps in easy to find areas of galleries; a map of ancient Greece in the antiquities section and perhaps a map of Renaissance Europe in the appropriate gallery. These maps could be small enough and placed well enough so they wouldn't detract from the art on display, which is after all the main propose of the museum. Maps would help the lay person better understand where the objects they are viewing came from, which is of course an extremely important piece of the overall picture. The average person off the street probably doesn't know where Corinth is or isn't familiar with the borders of the Holy Roman Empire circa 1750. These maps shouldn't be a history lesson, but they would help the average museum patron.

Time line - In addition to maps, another important tool for understanding art would be a time line appropriate to the period. Again, these could be small and out of the way, but would help immensely with putting art in it's proper context. The same argument I make for maps applies for time lines, but here I'm talking about historical context as opposed to geographical context.

Diagrams - Again, some museums do this much better than others. A simple diagram goes a long way in telling a story. A step by step display of red-figure vase manufacturing or glass blowing would help translate a piece of art into a living, breathing artifact. I can't stress enough that these diagrams along with maps and time lines should not interfere with the presentation of art as an object; they should merely augment the object and help people better understand it and appreciate it.

For me , art is about more than viewing a beautiful object. Art is meant to be looked at for it's beauty, but that beauty goes beyond the surface. Knowing the story of an object makes the experience infinitely more enjoyable. Artifacts may be prized for their artistic qualities, but it is not until you place them with in the context of history that there true beauty comes through.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Another colossus from Sagalassos

Last year, a colossal head of the emperor Hadrian was unearthed at Sagalassos in modern day Turkey. I hoped at the time that a partial if not entire giant statue of the emperor would be discovered. Unfortunately, no other remains of the Hadrian colossus, save for his feet and a calf, have been found, but this new discovery sheds light in what else my be buried in Southwestern Turkey. This new giant head, of similar size and style representing Faustina the Elder, suggests that they were probably joined by other members of the imperial "family." I hope the digging continues at Sagalassos so more amazing finds such as this one can be discovered.

Here is a link to the Archeology Magazine story about this and the Hadrian statue. Check out the great pictures!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Not quite OS X, but still pretty impressive

The Antikythera Mechanism is an artifact that has awed us since its discover in 1902. What it was used for, when and where it came from are questions that have been debated for decades; the answers of which have helped change our outlook on the ancient world. The recent new discoveries in regards to the mechanism's purpose are fascinating and well timed in lieu of current events. I have come across countless articles about the new Olympic aspect of the mechanism, so I won't attempt to extol these new findings any more here. I will say, though, that the Antikythera Mechanism is a fascinating piece of history that with more research and extrapolation will help enlighten our current understanding of ancient technology.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wie viel ist ein Flugticket nach Xanten?

Speaking of museums! The new museum at the Roman baths in Xanten, Germany appears to be everything I could hope for in a museum and more. Not only is there a large, artifact rich museum to immerse yourself in Roman culture, but the complex houses continued excavations. The building, which melds contemporary architecture with red gabled roofs helps recreate the feel of the original Roman architecture without looking like a theme park. The inside sounds fascinating, though my preliminary Internet research didn't dig up too much information. I did find some pictures, which are linked below. I am happy that a whopping $35 million was invested in this project. A common theme in my blog entries is protecting ancient sites, and I will reiterate that point again. Italy should take pay attention to what other European countries are doing with their ancient sites and take note. I hope to find out more about this new museum, so stay tuned.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Some thoughts on musem exhibits

Say the word museum and I am guaranteed to get excited. I love museums and I'm not ashamed to say it, no matter how nerdy it makes me look. If they would let me, I would probably live inside of one. I have been a volunteer at the Milwaukee Public Museum for just over a year now, and my only regret is that I didn't sign up sooner. The MPM, like most other institutions of it's kind, are amazing places where you can learn just about anything you could imagine. In the middle of downtown Milwaukee, you can hike through a Costa Rican rain forest, you can walk amongst dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals, you can visit 19th century Europe or travel back in time the ancient Mediterranean. It's the latter part, of course, that brought me to the MPM in the first place. Unfortunately there permanent exhibit, Temples, Tells and Tombs, has been closed since last summer and just when it's going to reopen is any one's guess. It was, and hopefully again will be, an extremely well planned and researched exhibit spanning ancient cultures from the Egyptians through the Romans. The museum has a wonderful collection of artifacts, many of which are still on display throughout the museum, but it was the setting of these artifacts that really made the exhibit stand out. I love art museums, but they have always bothered me in the fact that they present artifacts for there sheer artistic importance as opposed to putting them in the context of their place in history. It is true that high quality artifacts from the ancient world are artistic masterpieces and should be treated as such, but something is lost in translation when a red-figure vase is looked at for it's beauty alone. That vase has a story; where it was found, who it was made by, what it was used for, what the story painted on it meant to it's owner. It is the details like these that tell the whole story of an artifact. Temples, Tells and Tombs had artifacts in cases just like any other museum, but it was the maps, diagrams, short history lessons and models that really brought the whole exhibit together. You didn't feel like you where merely looking at artifacts, you where transported back to the ancient world. The antithesis to Temples, Tells and Tombs is evident at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Now, it it's defense, I love the MAM and realize that ancient art is not it's focus. Milwaukee is lucky enough to have the outstanding ancient artifacts on display that we do, but I feel I must voice my opinion. The MAM room as it is, covers Egyptian through Roman art. The collection is small but diverse. The artifacts are displayed in the typical museum style, with placards describing where and when they came from and what they where used for. Unfortunately, that is all. A few maps, maybe a small tutorial on the differences between black-figure and red-figure pottery making would be nice. Something is needed to put the artifacts in their own time and place. They are beautiful for sure; the MAM has a wonderful Hydria by the Niobid painter which is exquisite. But, that Hydria is more than the sum of it's form and design. Now, I'm not saying that art museums should or need to be public history museums like the MPM, but a balance needs to be struck between the contextual and the aesthetic.

Here are some photos from the MPM and MAM exhibits for you to compare:

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Ancient "eye" found off Israeli coast

Talismans where a common sight in all societies in the ancient world. The most famous, and provocative that come to mind are the phallic charms found in Ancient Rome. Many different talismans had unique functions, but they primarily where all designed to ward of some kind of evil or misfortune. The giant eye designs on the bows of ships where no different; watching the seas ahead for signs of danger. That an Israeli lifeguard stubbed his toe on a unique and important archaeological find shows how archeology is as much about chance as it is science. Artifacts are sometimes literally below our feet without us knowing it. Sometimes it takes the digging of a new subway tunnel in Naples or a lifeguard's foot to bring to light new finds. That this artifact exists at all should come as no surprise. Sea travel in the Classical world was risky business, but the unfortunate fate of ancient sailors has preserved many a ship wreck for us to study today.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Another new discovery in Britain

Here's yet another intePublish Postresting find from Britain, this time from Caerleon in Wales. Roman military history is of course a fascinating aspect of Ancient Rome that many scholars devote their lives to. I'm especially partial the the history of Roman Britain, probably because most of my ancestors are from England, Ireland and Scotland. I'm glad this article includes a video. For once, a media web site is using tools from the 21st Century.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pompeii crubmling

I've never been to Pompeii. In fact, I've only been to Italy once, and I was mostly in Venice on that trip. The closest I've ever been to Pompeii was the "Pompeii" exhibit that rolled through the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry a few years back. Since long before then, I have dreamed of strolling through the ancient streets and peering into doorways to find polychrome frescoes or delicately laid mosaics. Nowhere in that fantasy do I picture myself having to step over someones used mattress, but apparently that's the reality today. It's shocking, though by no means surprising, that Italy has let Pompeii take a nose dive towards destruction. Italy, the very country that chases down illegally traded antiquities all over the world, can't even protect what is probably the most important Roman site ever discovered. Italy has a long history of under-maintaining its historical sites. But, in their defence, you can't walk ten feet in Italy without tripping over a Roman ruin. Still, it's politics that dictate where the money goes in Italy, and the Italian government works as smooth and efficiently as a 70's vintage Fiat. The fact that Pompeii has been left to crumble is an enormous blow not only to the Italy's reputation, but to future generations, who depend of the current stewards of historical sites to keep them in good repair. The damage is done in Pompeii and can probably only be slowed, not stopped or reversed. The irony is that digging up Pompeii in the first place is what brought about it's destruction; for a second time that is. I still dream about going to Pompeii and the surrounding area. I still read books on the subject and hope one day to do some research there. Hopefully there will be a Pompeii for me to visit one day, and I hope that I won't have to climb over any one's garbage in the process.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Roman Rostrum Found

What a find! As I mentioned in a previous post, I love nautical archeology. So much history is waiting beneath the waves waiting to be found; artifacts such as the Antikythera Mechanism and the statue of the Victorious Youth are just of few outstanding examples of what lies beneath the waves. Rostrums are an extremely rare artifact and of much historical importance; their bronze beaks helping shape both the worlds of Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, now that the Greek coast is open to divers, artifacts like the ones mentioned above may be easy prey for looters. The last thing the world of antiquities needs is another avenue for looting. At least this rostrum was found by scholars, not criminals, but I'm sure we'll be hearing more news about underwater sites ravaged by theft.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

French Romans in Oklahoma

If had unlimited funds and time, my dream vacation would be a grand tour of the entire Roman Empire. I would start in Rome and go from there; from southern Scotland to the Euphrates. No ancient ruin or museum would I let go unstudied. Now, I'm sure that trip would take more vacation time than my job currently gives me, but dreams are sometimes meant to be unreasonable. Fortunately, I live in a world that does a relatively good job in sharing it's culture. Hence Roman Art from the Louvre at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. I tend to get overly excited about all things Roman, but this exhibit really gets my pulse racing. Not only are the artifacts first rate, but the exhibit its self is a wonderful balance of artistic representation and historical substance. The juxtaposition between "wealthy"and "poor" artifacts I find especially interesting. Too often the general public sees the ancient world in the form of gold and marble. This exhibit should be a refreshing reminder of the huge class differences that existed in the Roman world and perhaps will teach museum goers that society hasn't changed all that much in 2,000 years. Now, if I only had the funds and time for a trip to Oklahoma.....

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Roman-era necropolis for the poor found intact

In my last post, I talked about how finding everyday cargo in sunken ancient ships helps us to understand the common man in the ancient world. This newly found necropolis takes that frame of though even further; by studying the ancient common man himself. The skeletons found in these 1-2nd century CE tombs represent the huge class divisions within the "Pax Romana." These laborers likely have skeletal damage similar to those of other contemporary burials found thoughout the empire. For everyone but the super rich and powerful, life was hard and the tolls taken by the body led to injury and early death. The Emperor Augustus lived to be 75. The unprivileged laborer or slave probably would have been lucky to see 40. The disparities in the lifestyle of classes in ancient Rome is nothing new and is a topic that has been well documented in recent years. What really peeks my interest about this necropolis is the male skeleton with the fused jaw. Today, differently-abled individual are treated as equal members of society, as of course they should be. The ancient world had different views. It was common practice in ancient Rome for the father of a new born the "judge" the child before accepting it into his household. Physically deformed children were commonly exposed, either to die or possibly be snatched up for the purpose of slavery. Physical deformities where not looked kindly upon, whether it be a new born or grown person. The Roman virtue of constantinum was at odds with being physically infirm. That's not to say that disabled people where rounded up the disposed of, but they weren't generally accepted as important members of society. Of course, I'm speaking in generalizations here, so let me not stray from my point. Ancient Roman sources are mute about such people, as they are mute about most people outside their social class. What this new found skeleton shows us is that we need to take a second look on how these people where treated in society. Someone obviously helped care for this person, though to what extent and how long we can not tell. Regardless, though, our perceptions on the treatment of physically disabled people in the ancient world need to re reexamined.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ancient ship was carrying the finest wine

I love nautical archeology. I've always loved the ocean, and I've always loved archeology, so I guess it's a natural fit. There have been many famous Greek and Roman discoveries made underwater, probably the most important being the Antikythera mechanism. Ancient shipwrecks that are discovered today provide us with a rare look into the the seafaring side of ancient civilizations. More often that not, it is the cargoes of these ships that provide the greatest amount of information, not the ships themselves. If you're looking to find an ancient wooden ship sitting quietly on the sea floor, the Mediterranean is a bad place to look. Shipworm and the passage of thousands of years eat away most wood and other biodegradable material. There have been several notable ships found, mostly burried in sand and mud, but these are more likely to be found close to shore or in rivers and lakes. It's the cargo, though, that really gives us incite into the ancient world. What the cargo is, where it was found and when it sank all help to paint a clearer picture of what ancient sea trade was like. Finds like the garum carrying ship a few years ago, and the wine carrying ship from the article above are important not because of sunken gold or statutes, but because of the seemingly mundane cargo of bulk goods. Though gold, coins, statues and such are indeed important artifacts, it's the cargo of these merchant ships that help us understand the "lower" aspects of Greek and Roman life. Much is knows about the Caesars and Senators ruling over Rome, or of great figures and philosophers of Greece, but studying the cargoes of merchant ships can put us in touch with the lower classes of ancient society. Cicero didn't neatly stack up those amphora full of fish sauce, a slave or pleb did. It's their story that is so often left untold, but by looking past the gold coins and studying the pottery shards encrusted with garum or wine residue, perhaps we'll be one step closer to hearing it.

Ancient Greek grave found during subway work

I touched base on the topic in a previous blog, and I have a feeling that I'm going to be writing about finds like this for the foreseeable future. I mentioned in a previous blog about the new subway in Naples, the construction of which has turned up some interesting Roman artifacts. Check out Archeology Magazine for more info on that dig. It's always fun to wonder what is under our feet waiting to be dug up.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Getty Adds to Antiquities With Third-Century Work

Getty Adds to Antiquities With Third-Century Work

When the story first broke years ago about the Marion True/Robert Hecht illegal antiquities trading conspiracy, I was afraid that the end was near for the industry. I was concerned that great works would be crated up and sent over seas and that American museums would never again buy a Greek red-figure vase or Roman bust. Well, I didn't really think that would happen, but I was worried that museums would treat antiquities like they had some disease and stay far away from them. But, every time I hear of an institution obtaining a new piece, my fears are relieved. The new guidelines put in place by the Association of Art Museum Directors (see previous blog) will hopefully usher in a new ear for the antiquities trading industry, but illegal dealings are still a problem and unfortunately will continue to be so for a long time. But, at least museums are trying to right past wrongs and are continuing to enrich us with artifacts from the past.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Museums Set Stricter Guidelines for Acquiring Antiquities

As someone who plans on working in a museum one day, I have been following the saga of illegally purchased antiquities for quite some time. The news in this article is refreshing, and I hope the introduction on the new Association of Art Museum Directors' guidelines help stem the trade of illegal artifacts. Unfortunately, illicit antiquities dealing if still a problem throughout the world, so I doubt this is the last time we hear about it in the news.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Roman remains found buried at infirmary site

I've said it several times now, and I'm going to say it again. Britain continues to dominate the news with important Roman finds and I'm convinced that it's only going to produce more valuable information in years to come. This new site found in Worcester in intriguing. Aside from the evidence of trade between Gaul and Britannia in the form of pottery shards, the "mysterious circular ditch" could prove to be very interesting. Hopefully new studies will determine it's function. Until then, keep on eye on Britain, because there's a lot still buried there waiting to be discovered.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Alexander, The Ambiguity of Greatness

I recently finished Alexander, the Ambiguity of Greatness by Guy MacLean Rogers. While the book didn't break any ground in the study of Alexander the III of Macedon, I still highly recommend it.

The book is a straight forward biography, starting with background info on Macedonia and Philip the II. From then on the book follows the chronological path of Alexander from childhood to his enormous conquest of Asia and premature death. Mind you, this is not a book for scholars of Alexander. It is, however, very user friendly and a vast knowledge of Alexander or the world of antiquity is not required to understand and enjoy the book. That's not to say the Alexander, the Ambiguity of Greatness glosses over facts and is elementary. In my opinion, this book is balanced enough to please people with a varied background on Alexander.

Before reading this book, I had a general knowledge on Alexander, his history, his conquests and the aftermath of his death. What I got out of this book was a greater knowledge of his (alleged) motives and a better overall understanding of the inner workings of his conquest. The ambiguity of greatness comes in the form of his legacy. Alexander is both loved and hated by historians for various reasons. Some see him as a cruel despot who ruthlessly conquered Persia and beyond, slaying men, women, children and friends who stood in his way. Others see him as a latter day multi-culturist who sought to incorporate the various people he conquered into his new government and adopted some of there ways and traditions himself. The true Alexander probably lies somewhere in between.

I feel that scholars, from whatever age, try and judge history using their own mores, which can be a flawed philosophy. The end of the book points out that we may revile someone like Alexander for the "war crimes" he committed, but we call a Truman, who ordered the deaths of thousands with the stroke of a pen, a patriot. I can see the where the potential disagreement on that point can come into play, but I think it raises an interesting question. The point is perspective. Truman died in 1972; his life and times are far more documented that Alexander's. There are plenty of people alive today that remember Truman. We can easily dissect every aspect of his decision to use atomic weapons. Alexander died 2,331 year ago. We don't have the luxury of mass media or eye witness accounts to tell of Alexander's motives. Perhaps the killing of Greek mercenaries or the wholesale murder of the entire population of Massaga seemed justified over 2,000 years ago, no matter how offensive it seems to us. Unfortunately for Alexander, he is judged by people now living in a different world, separated by over 2,000 years. I am not prepared to call Alexander a hero or a villain, and there in lies the ambiguity of his greatness.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Et tu.....Caesar?

Divers find Caesar bust that may date from 46B.C. They found what now? OK, let my state that I am not an expert on archaeology, or anything for that matter. But that bust kind of maybe looks like Gaius Julius Caesar......kind of. Ever since the Renaissance brought renewed interest in Ancient Rome, people have been tacking names on portrait busts without any historical evidence to back up the claim. Some guy digs up a bust of an old man and says "Hey, that must be Marius." Now, I'm not saying that is what happened recently in France, but they really don't give you any evidence in the article, do they. Now, I know I should only expect so much from a Yahoo! news article, but I'm left with my doubts. Just because you pull a male portrait bust out of the Rhone near Arles, you can't assume that it's Caesar. Nor can you assume that it's from 46 B.C. I know you can tell by the technique the general period from which a statute is from, but through around words like "undoubtedly," especially in the archaeological field, is asking for trouble. If there is "doubtless" proof on the origins of the statue, show me, because I would love to see it. Until then, I'm going to consider this bust a "possible" representation of Caesar. Here are some other busts of Caesar, both real and supposed.

Is the Rhone bust Caesar? What do you think?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Emperor Nero's gate discovered in Cologne

Yet again, another wonderful discovery of a Roman site. Many modern cities in Europe have been continuously inhabited since Roman times, so most traces of their ancient past have been covered up over the centuries (think London and Paris). So, more often than not, it's a new subway or construction project that ends up shedding light on the history buried below. Discoveries made this way will only continue to become more frequent in my opinion. Some good examples are in Rome and Naples, which are both expanding their inadequate subway systems. New discoveries in Naples where recently discussed in a fascinating article in Archaeology Magazine.

Speaking of Nero, I'm almost done with a wonderful biography on him. Nero, The End of a Dynasty by Miriam Griffin is a wonderfully researched look into the reign of one of Rome's most notorious emperors. The book is unique in the fact that it is not a chronological account of Nero's life, but more of a critique on his reign and himself as a man. The first part of the book goes into depth about all aspects of his Principate, ranging from his dealings with the Senate to his extravagant artistic endeavours. In the second part of the book, his eventual downfall is reviewed with scholarly precision. I definitely recommend Nero, The End of a Dynasty if you are looking to learn more about Nero and also looking for something other than a mere collection of chronological facts.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Rare statue of Roman Emperor found

It's always cool when new discoveries come to light, even if the circumstances are less than ideal. Illegal smuggling of antiquities is an ongoing problem which I have touched based on before. Luckily, these artifacts where saved before being sold on the black market. We can only hope the increased pressure on the smugglers will eventually put an end to this destructive criminal activity.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Last Parthenon marbles threatened by pollution: archaeologist;_ylt=Aovi0cDV8FHIvvvMTuHYQWpFeQoB

I lieu of my last post, this comes as no surprise. Greece has long history of letting it's monuments be eaten away by pollution. The new Acropolis Museum just opened, though Athens has been under a cloud of smog for decades. Acid rain destroys marble, as we have seen in Athens, Rome and abroad. I am glad that Greece is finally attempting to take care of its monuments, but it is a shame that so much is left out in the open, slowly disintegrating.

Archaeologists warn ancient Greek theatres crumbling

This just makes me so mad! Though I understand the complexities of running a country, it's sad that so much history is eroding away. How can Greece afford to maintain over 100 theaters? I don't have the answer to that question. All I know is that an answers must be found before it's too late. None of us "own" these historical sites. We merely are caretakers with the responsibility to maintain these sites for future generations. Hey Greece, find the money and make it happen!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ancient statue discovered in Rome

News like this always makes me happy. I only wish that articles like this would print a freaking picture! I know it's not as simple as that, but come on guys. People want to see what you've found. Sculpture is best appreciated if you can see it! Anyway, that gives me a good lead in to a topic I've been wanting to mention. I love books, and I'm sure most people who love Classics love books as well. I have a large and ever growing collection of books on all things Greek and Roman. I have my share of Tacitus, Cicero, Plato, Pliny and so on. But I have another category of books witch sometimes brings me to blush. I love what I call, Sunday morning coffee books. These are large format coffee table books, full of glossy pictures. Books like this are the porn of the Classics world. They have limited if sometimes dubious historical information, but the pictures are outstanding. I call them Sunday morning coffee books for reasons you can guess. I look forward all week to the time spent with my Sunday morning coffee books. It's a time where I can look as some glossy pictures of Pompeii fresco or the Colosseum and just day dream. Some people may laugh at me for spending money on these "bargain rack" books when there are plenty of "legitimate" books out there to be had, but I don't care. My Sunday morning coffee books are like a little escape for me. When I look out my window I see Milwaukee, not Rome or Athens, so it's nice to change the view sometimes, if just for a morning.

Artifacts desappear from Rome sites

It's fitting that this article came to my attention, seeing as how my last blog talked about protecting sites in Rome. This article absolutely blows my mind. How can people be so short sited to rob the world of it's history one pottery shard at a time? I'm sure people think that by taking a little pebble from the Forum or what have you makes no difference, but when you multiply that by millions of tourists with the same attitude, you've got big problems. Rome recently announced that it will start charging admission to the Forum Romanum, and I say more power to them. Sites like that need some sort of control, or greedy "turisti" will pick the place clean. I'm not saying that we should turn every historical site into a Carabinieri fortress, but some measures, though inconvenient to tourists, are need to preserved history for everyone. I think a lot of the worlds problems would be solved if people stopped thinking so much about themselves and considered how their actions effect the big picture.

Circus Maximus redux

I applaud the Italian's effort to bring the Circus Maximus back to life, but I question their motives. Rome is over run with ancient ruins that no one can afford to maintain. I would love to see new digs and restoration at the Circus Maximus, but before that happends, Italy needs to put in place some new policy regarding the treatment of it's history. Italy has done a good job in the past when trying to preserve it's ancient cites, but money is always a problem. You can't really blame the Italian government though, because Italy is plastered with ancient sites that need protection, at a very hight cost. I hope the new efforts at the Circus go well, and hopefully they uncover new and exciting archaeological finds, and who knows, maybe the PR surrounding the Circus restorations will generate new public interest in maintaining Italy's history.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Greece to Britain: Hand over artwork

Not bloody likely! This is an issue that has been around for quiet a while and is not going away any time soon. The issue of provenance is a touchy subject in the antiquities world at best. The dealings in allegedly stolen artifacts has plagued many museums and collectors is this county and abroad, and the problem, though diminishing, seems to be here to stay. That said, the Elgin Marbles present a different case. We know where they came from, when they where taken and who took them. The Elgin Marbles are not a few red figure vases dug up in some field and smuggle out of the county, they are part of the most famous and visible symbol of Greece, the Parthenon. Greece wants them back, and who can blame them. But, Britain says it acquired them fair and square, which it did. Here is where is starts to get complicated. To make a long story short, I don't believe that we will see the Elgin Marbles returned to Greece in the foreseeable future. And maybe they shouldn't. Just because a modern state happens to occupy an ancient land, does that give the right of ownership to that ancient culture's legacy? It's a very touchy subject and I'm not exactly sure where I stand. The modern state of Greece is not ancient Greece. "Ancient Greece" didn't even exist. It was a collection of city states that had numerous and ever changing alliances with each other. Does the modern Greece get to lay claim to all artifacts found withing it's present borders? Do Athenian and Spartan and Cypriot artifacts all get to be claimed by "Greece?" If so, Britain has the right to keep the Elgin Marbles, for once upon a time England was part of the Roman Empire, as was Greece. They were all part of the same "country" back then, so why shouldn't Greek artifacts reside in Britain? I know that's flawed logic, but you see my point. When we try to "own" history, someone is always left out. Greece wants the Elgin Marbles back as a matter of pride, Britain wants to keep them as a matter of stubbornness. In the end, we are arguing over the very thing we should be sharing with each other, our vast and wonderful history.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Remains of rare Roman roundhouse found during sewer works

Wow! It seems like every day there is a new Roman discovery in Britain. In my opinion, northern England and Scotland will bring forth the some of the better Roman archaeological finds in the coming years. Stay tuned!

Rome to 'paint' Trajan's Column with light

Interesting. I'm not sure how they're going to do this, seeing as they don't explain it in the article. They do have a good point though. Most people associate ancient Greece and Rome with stark white marble. Not so! Those lovely statues that grace todays museums where once polychrome and probably quite stunning.

Getting things started

Si vales bene est ego valeo.

Where to begin, where to begin. This being the first blog entry of my first blog, I feel like I should put forth some grand introduction explaining my purpose for writing and the ideals that make me who I am. Well, that's not going to happen. What I am going to tell you is that I am in love with the Classics, and that's why I'm here. I hope to share with you the ups and downs of my never ending reading habits, the latest info and opinions on what's going on the the archaeological world, as well and discussing Greek and Roman art, architecture, society, military history and what have you. Your feedback is always welcome; one of the main reasons behind this blog is to spark discussion on Classical issues. I hope you check in often.