Monday, December 31, 2007

Nero Treasure Trove in Lombardy?

Although this item is a little dated, I encountered a reference to it and did not remember reading the original article.

"Traces of a legendary treasure trove left by the infamous Roman Emperor Nero have been found at this northern Italian city.Half a million artefacts have emerged in a three-year dig at a patrician villa that appeared during the construction of a multi-storey car park.Among these, a handful of precious fragments are believed to have come from the fabulous array of riches the emperor assembled from all over the empire before his death in 68 AD.According to Roman historians, Nero's treasure was lost when his successor Vespasian wiped out all traces of the unpopular emperor in Rome - covering his fabled Golden House in rubbish and building the Colosseum in its grounds.But there has been repeated speculation that parts of the magnificent trove were smuggled out of Rome during a civil war in the Year of the Four Emperors (Galba, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian) in 69 AD.According to Lombardy's archaeological superintendent, Lynn Passi Pitcher, "Otho probably snatched precious objects from the Domus Aurea - objects which then came into the possession of Vitellius after his victory over Otho and the sack of Cremona"."They somehow ended up here in the house of this affluent Cremona patrician," she said." - Italy.News.Net

I wonder where the artifacts are now?
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Monday, December 24, 2007

National Museum of Rome hosting exhibit featuring over 100 paintings from 1st century

I wish I could have seen this exhibition. The Romans seemed to love incorporating birds and flowers into many of their frescoes. The picture at left looks very similar to a garden fresco from the villa of Augustus' wife Livia and paintings adorning the walls of the villa at Oplontis that I visited in October.

"A unique exhibition of 2,000-year-old paintings called Pompeian Red has opened at the National Museum of Rome.

More than 100 paintings - including Nightingale (on the left) - shed light on the beliefs, home decorations, fashions, architecture, landscape, dining tables and people who lived in the ancient city of Rome and in Pompeii before its destruction by a volcanic eruption in AD79." - David Willey

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Flooding of Roman excavation site appears imminent

Archaeologists are still holding their breath over Allianoi, an ancient Roman health spa in western Turkey that is a well-preserved but not yet fully excavated archaeological site. Early this year, local and international archeologists protested

against plans to submerge the site under a reservoir created by the 700-metre-long Yortanli Dam, as part of a massive irrigation project along the Ilya River.

Under a barrage of protest from European officials and others, the Turkish authorities have not yet given the green light to close the dam gates and start the flooding. Ahmet Yaras, head of the Allianoi excavation team (which has uncovered 20% of Allianoi, yielding some 10,000 artefacts including ceramics, coins, glass and statues), says the government has indicated that flooding will begin by February. Yaras, who has appealed for a flooding delay of five years to completely excavate the site, thinks that this time the government, under pressure from farmers, will go ahead with the reservoir.
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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Roman villa excavations use technology to help visitors relive the past

What an excellent combination of technology and "hard" science!

"The restored ruins of two opulent Roman villas and private thermal baths will open to the public Saturday, along with a 3-D reconstruction that offers a virtual tour of the luxurious residences discovered in downtown Rome.

The 19,375-square-foot complex, dating from the second to fourth centuries, features well-preserved mosaic and marble floors, bathtubs and collapsed walls that archaeologists believe belonged to a domus — the richly decorated residences of Rome's wealthy and noble families.

"We found part of a residential high-class neighborhood, where probably senators and knights used to live," archaeologist Paola Valentini said.

Visitors will be able to walk on glass catwalks above the villas' underground remains, immersed in semidarkness just a few feet from the modern city. A 3-D virtual reconstruction recreates the elaborate decorations of the ancient residences through colored lights and projections.

The two villas were likely inhabited by a senator, his family and servants, and included libraries, halls, gardens, kitchens and stables, archaeologists said. One villa was abruptly abandoned during a fire in the fifth century, they said. Among the remains on display are parts of a basalt Roman road and a floor made of 500,000 multicolored mosaic tiles."

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Roman surgical instruments focus of new show

One of the most complete sets of surgical instruments from the ancient world has gone on show in the Italian city of Rimini.

Archaeologists there have been excavating the house of a surgeon who operated nearly 2,000 years ago.

They found more than 150 different surgical instruments, like scalpels, scissors, weighing scales, and forceps.

The house was built in the 2nd Century AD and destroyed by fire in the barbarian invasions a century later.

Painstakingly, for 17 years archaeologists have been digging away in the centre of Rimini, a city on the Adriatic sea, laying bare the ruins of one of the world's oldest doctor's surgeries.

Greek inscriptions

One unique tool, unknown to archaeologists until now, was a device apparently designed to extract arrowheads from wounded soldiers.

They also found a pestle and mortar in which the surgeon most likely mixed compounds of herbal anaesthetics to relieve pain.

A ceramic hot water bottle in the shape of a foot is believed to have been used for treating foot pains.

The consulting rooms included a high backed chair for the doctor, who may have been a Greek, to judge from the Greek language inscriptions found.

An operating room has a bed along one wall and the name Eutyches, which may have been the doctor's name, was scratched upon the wall.

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Site of ancient Lupercalia found in excavations on the Palatine Hill

Italian archaeologists have inched closer to unearthing the secrets behind one of Western civilization's most enduring legends.

On Tuesday, the government released photographs of a deep cavern where some archaeologists claim that ancient Romans honored Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome.

The cavern, now buried 16 meters, or 52 feet, under the ruins of Emperor Augustus's palace on the Palatine Hill, has a height of 7.1 meters and a diameter of 6.5 meters. Photographs taken of the cave by a camera probe show a domed cavern decorated with extremely well-preserved colored mosaics and seashells. At the center of the vault is a painted white eagle, a symbol of the Roman Empire.

"This could reasonably be the place bearing witness to the myth of Rome," Italy's minister of culture, Francesco Rutelli, said at a news conference in Rome on Tuesday where a half-dozen photos were displayed to journalists.

The myth concerns Lupercal, whose name comes from "wolf" and refers to the mythical cave where Romulus and Remus - the sons of the god Mars who were abandoned by the banks of the Tiber - were found by a female wolf who suckled them until they were found and raised by a shepherd named Faustulus. The brothers are said to have gone on to found Rome on April 21, 753 B.C., with the legend culminating in fratricide when Romulus killed his twin in a power struggle.

The cave later became a sacred location where the priests of Lupercus celebrated certain ceremonies until A.D. 494. At that time Pope Gelasius put an end to the practice.

It is that location that has been discovered, according to some leading archaeologists. Its presence was first announced in January by Irene Iacopi, the archaeologist in charge of the Palatine. It was found during restoration work on the palace of Augustus, Rome's first emperor, after workers took core samples from the hill and were then alerted to the possible presence of the cave.

"This is one of the most important discoveries of all time," Andrea Carandini one of Italy's most renowned archaeologists, said Tuesday.

Carandini has long held that the myths of ancient Rome, at least in some slightly altered iteration, could quite possibly be true, and so he derived added satisfaction from the find.

"The fact that this sanctuary is under the lower part of the house of Augustus is significant because Augustus was a kind of Romulus himself who refounded Rome and he did it in the place where Romulus had been," he said.

The positioning of the cave, discovered at the base of a hill between the Temple of Apollo and the Church of St. Anastasia, could prove to be problematic for continued excavation.

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Traces of Roman Superglue found on helmet from Xanten

Roman warriors repaired their battle accessories with a superglue that is still sticking around after 2,000 years, according to new findings on display at the Rheinischen Landes Museum in Bonn, Germany.

Running until Feb. 16, 2008, the exhibition "Behind the Silver Mask" presents evidence that the ancient adhesive was used to mount silver laurel leaves on legionnaires' battle helmets.

"It's a sensational find and a complete stroke of luck that we were still able to find traces of the substance after 2000 years," Frank Willer, the museum's chief restorer, told Discovery News.

Willer found traces of the superglue while examining a helmet unearthed in 1986 near the German town of Xanten, on what was once the bed of the Rhine.

"The helmet, which dates from the 1st century B.C., was given to the museum for restoration. I discovered the glue accidentally, while removing a tiny sample of metal from the helmet with a fine saw. The heat from the tool caused the silver laurel leaves on the helmet to peel off, leaving thread-like traces of the glue behind," Willer said.

Willer was amazed to discover that despite such a long exposure to water, time and air, the superglue did not lose its bonding properties.

He said that other Roman battle accessories kept by the museum have traces of silver decorations which most likely had been glued to the iron with the same adhesive and technique. Unfortunately, the objects are too deteriorated to find traces of the superglue.

However, the helmet unearthed at Xanten featured enough material to determine how the adhesive was made.
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Palace of the Emperor Augustus to Reopen

I'm so excited to see this note. My friend Richard White had previously toured the Palatine Hill and told me there wasn't much to see there. This will probably change his mind!

"Emperor Augustus' frescoed palace atop Rome's Palatine Hill, one of the city's famous seven hills, will partially reopen to the public March 2 after decades of restoration work, officials said Monday.

Since the palace was closed in the 1980s, experts have spent at least $17.6 million to restore the porticoed garden of Rome's first emperor and piece together precious frescoes that time had reduced to fragments. The palace was built in the first century B.C.

Groups of up to 10 people will be guided through the decorative marvels in Augustus' studio and in the hall where the emperor received guests, as well as rooms in the nearby palace built for his wife, Livia.

"We can finally enter into these places that have been preserved for some 2,000 years," said Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni.

Restoration of other parts of the residence will continue, officials said."

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No newborns found in Spartan Pit

"The Greek myth that ancient Spartans threw their stunted and sickly newborns off a cliff was not corroborated by archaeological digs in the area, researchers said Monday.

After more than five years of analysis of human remains culled from the pit, also called an apothetes, researchers found only the remains of adolescents and adults between the ages of 18 and 35, Athens Faculty of Medicine Anthropologist Theodoros Pitsios said.

"There were still bones in the area, but none from newborns, according to the samples we took from the bottom of the pit" of the foothills of Mount Taygete near present-day Sparta.

"It is probably a myth, the ancient sources of this so-called practice were rare, late and imprecise," he added.

Meant to attest to the militaristic character of the ancient Spartan people, moralistic historian Plutarch in particular spread the legend during first century AD.

According to Pitsios, the bones studied to date came from the fifth and sixth centuries BC and come from 46 men, confirming the assertion from ancient sources that the Spartans threw prisoners, traitors or criminals into the pit.

The discoveries shine light on an episode during the second war between Sparta and Messene, a fortified city state independent of Sparta, when Spartans defeated the Messenian hero Aristomenes and his 50 warriors, who were all thrown into the pit, he added."
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Excavation of Herod monumental architecture continues in Jordan

With their findings on the mountain Tall adh-Dhahab (West) in the Jabbok Valley the archeologist Thomas Pola could substantiate one assumption: everything points to the fact that the building remains from the Hellenistic and Roman era, found in 2006, were part of a yet unknown monumental building of Herod the Great (73-4 BC).

This assumption is based on the floors of one of the discovered peristyle yards (yards enclosed by continuous columns) which the archeologists were able to excavate. Prof. Pola sees the parallels with the architecture of Herod’s West Jordan Alexandreion as prove that there also was a monumental building of Herod the Great on the plateau of the mountain Tall adh-Dhahab. That would mean that in addition to his reign over the West Jordan Land, the Jewish king had a security system with which he could have controlled the ancient long-distance traffic in the middle Jordan Valley and the access ways to the plateau of the East Jordan Land.

Above that, the team of Prof. Pola for the first time discovered a layer from the late Bronze Age or the Early Iron Age on a natural terrace directly underneath the plateau. The ruins of a tower from the city wall at least show three building phases. “On the level of the oldest building phase we took samples from a burnt layer. A C14-analysis carried out by Prof. Manfred Bayer (Physics at TU Dortmund) showed that the charcoal originates from the time 1300 to 1000 BC. At this location we will continue to work in 2008.”

Finally Prof. Pola’s team discovered the purpose of the monumental military facility half way up the mountain: it is a casemate wall. It is supposed to have been finished in Roman times. This is yet another argument for the identification of the mountain with the stronghold Amathous mentioned in the ancient world. The historian Josephus (37 to 100 AD) described Amathous as the biggest stronghold in the East Jordan Land.

Even reworking the campaign 2006 revealed a sensation: the carve-drawings which had been discovered by Dr. Batereau-Neumann, a sponsor of the project, at that time, were dated to the ninth or tenth century by the internationally renowned specialist for Middle East iconography, Prof. Othmar Keel (Universität Freiburg). According to him the two pictures, the head of a lioness and the fragment of a cultural scene, belong together. The sensation: they point to the existence of a temple on the mountain plateau in the New-Assyrian time.
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Monday, November 5, 2007

DNA studies used to identify ancient cargo

For the first time, researchers have identified DNA from inside ceramic containers in an ancient shipwreck on the seafloor, making it possible to determine what the ship's cargo was even though there was no visible trace of it.For the first time, researchers have identified DNA from inside ceramic containers in an ancient shipwreck on the seafloor, making it possible to determine what the ship's cargo was even though there was no visible trace of it.

By scraping samples from inside two of the containers, called amphoras, the researchers were able to obtain DNA sequences that identified the contents of one as olive oil and oregano. The other probably contained wine, and the researchers are conducting further analyses to confirm this.

Many archeologists specialize in the study of amphoras, which were the cargo containers of the ancient world, used for shipping all kinds of liquid or semi-liquid goods. But the study of these containers can be frustrating, Foley said, because after centuries on the seafloor, the contents have usually been washed away and archeologists are "just left with empty bottles."

The new research points the way toward analyzing hundreds of containers, which could "tell us what was being traded, and something about the total agricultural production of a country," Foley said. Such analysis of ancient crops could even yield insights into the climate of that period.

The discovery of DNA from olive oil and oregano in one amphora came as a surprise, Foley says, because Chios was well-known in the ancient world as a major exporter of highly prized wines, and archeologists had assumed that amphoras from a ship in that area would have been carrying wine.

The other amphora from which Foley and Hansson were able to extract DNA may indeed have contained wine, although that is not yet certain. The short fragments of DNA they found may have come from pistachios or from resins used to coat the insides of amphoras that carried wine. Analysis continues, using present-day samples of plants from the island to pin down the identification.
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Friday, October 26, 2007

University of Kentucky Students to examine Magna Graecia sites

The University of Kentucky will offer a course in Italy in summer 2008, designed to give students the opportunity to take part in an excavation at a Greek fort on the summit of Monte Palazzi in the Calabria region of southern Italy. The course will be of special interest to students studying art, anthropology, architecture, archaeology, geography, history and art history.

Working in teams, UK students will begin to reconstruct the architectural history of the site, which was inhabited by Greek settlers between the sixth and third centuries B.C.E. Students will also get hands-on experience in processing archaeological data. During the four-week UK program, participants will visit Pompeii; museums in Locri, Crotone, Scolacium and Reggio Calabria; and classical sites around the region.

The program, directed by Paolo Visonà, a scholar in residence for the UK art history program, will run May 26 to June 20, 2008. It is open to undergraduate and graduate students.

"This course will be a full immersion into Mediterranean archaeology," said Visonà. "Participants will learn about the history, art and architecture of Magna Graecia before leaving. Students will be trained to excavate with a variety of tools, to sift soil, and to process and record the ceramic, lithic and metal finds under the supervision of experienced archaeologists. These UK excavations will be the first large-scale archaeological project at Monte Palazzi since 1961, when this site was discovered."
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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mosaics in Ravenna Still Dazzle

I was searching for a picture of the Amazon Warrior sculpture that was recently found in Herculaneum and stumbled across this blog about Mosaic Art and these wonderful pictures of the tomb of Galla Placidia, the powerful half-sister of Honorius and wife of Emperor Constantius III. I had heard that the mosaics in Ravenna are particularly spectacular and if these are any indication, they certainly are!

"Galla Placidia was the daughter of Roman Emperor Theodosius I (379-395) and his second wife, Galla, the daughter of Valentinian I. She was the half-sister of the young Roman emperors Honorius (393-423) and Arcadius (383-408), the aunt of Theodosius II, the wife of Athaulf, King of the Goths, and then of Flavius Constantius (421) (who was promoted to co-emperor with Honorius shortly before his death), and the mother of Valentinian III.

When, under the leadership of Alaric, the Goths sacked Rome in August 410, they took Galla Placidia with them to Gaul. After the death of Alaric, Athaulf became the king. Galla Placidia married him in Narbo in January 414 -- against the wishes of her half-brother Honorius, and had a son named Theodosius who died soon thereafter. Following the death of Athaulf in 414, the Goths returned Galla Placidia to the Romans who wanted her to marry Flavius Constantius, who had succeeded Stilicho to power. Reluctantly, Galla Placidia did so and produced two children, Justa Grata Honoria and Valentinian. When, on February 8, 421, Constantius was made co-emperor (Constantius III) in the west by Honorius, Galla Placidia was named Augusta. Constantius died on September 2, 421. Galla Placidia and her childless half-brother Honorius became very close for a while, but then they quarreled. Galla Placidia fled with her children to Constantinople in 423 to escape a charge of aiding her brother's enemies. Although earlier Theodosius hadn't recognized the imperial elevation of Constantius and therefore, the status of his aunt as Augusta, he welcomed her, and soon recognized both her status and the legitimacy of her son as heir. Honorius died soon after, on August 27 of the same year. A usurper John assumed the throne in Ravenna. Theodosius set out to win the throne back for his family. When the imperial party reached Thessalonica the young Valentinian was made Caesar. Placidia was regent for her young son for the next 12 years. She had legislation passed in her son's name (according to Oost), stating that the emperor was subject to the laws of the land, as opposed to the situation in the east where the emperor was above the law. Galla Placidia was also involved in the power play between Felix, Boniface, and Aetius, who has been called the last of the Romans. Earlier, Placidia is thought to have been involved in the conspiracy against the Vandal Stilicho and the subsequent execution of Serena, Stilicho's wife and Galla Placidia's cousin." - About Ancient History

Image by designucdavic
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Friday, October 5, 2007

Descendants of Crassus' Army in China

In preparing for my upcoming trip to Italy next week I was trying to clean out my email inbox and came across a message from a friend in England with a link to a fascinating article about Roman descendants in China: "Residents of a remote Chinese village are hoping that DNA tests will prove one of history's most unlikely legends — that they are descended from Roman legionaries lost in antiquity.

Cai Junnian, Roman descendants found in China?
Villager Cai Junnian with his green eyes and ruddy complexion

Scientists have taken blood samples from 93 people living in and around Liqian, a settlement in north-western China on the fringes of the Gobi desert, more than 200 miles from the nearest city.

They are seeking an explanation for the unusual number of local people with western characteristics — green eyes, big noses, and even blonde hair — mixed with traditional Chinese features.

"I really think we are descended from the Romans," said Song Guorong, 48, who with his wavy hair, six-foot frame and strikingly long, hooked nose stands out from his short, round-faced office colleagues.

"There are the residents with these special features, and then there are also historical records about the existence of these people long ago," he said.

Studies claiming that Liqian has Roman ancestry have greatly excited the impoverished county in which it is situated. The village is now overlooked by a pillared portico, in the hope of attracting tourists. A statue at the entrance of the nearby county town, Yongchang, shows a Roman legionary standing next to a Confucian scholar and a Muslim woman, as a symbol of racial harmony.

Even entrepreneurs have caught on: in "Imperial City Entertainment Street" there is a Caesar Karaoke bar.

Rome to China map, Roman descendants found in China?

The town's link with Rome was first suggested by a professor of Chinese history at Oxford in the 1950s. Homer Dubs pulled together stories from the official histories, which said that Liqian was founded by soldiers captured in a war between the Chinese and the Huns in 36BC, and the legend of the missing army of Marcus Crassus, a Roman general.

In 53BC Crassus was defeated disastrously and beheaded by the Parthians, a tribe occupying what is now Iran, putting an end to Rome's eastward expansion.

But stories persisted that 145 Romans were taken captive and wandered the region for years. Prof Dubs theorised that they made their way as a mercenary troop eastwards, which was how a troop "with a fish-scale formation" came to be captured by the Chinese 17 years later.

He said the "fish-scale formation" was a reference to the Roman "tortoise", a phalanx protected by shields on all sides and from above. Gu Jianming, who lives near Liqian, said it had come as a surprise to be told he might be descended from a European imperial army. But then the birth of his daughter was also a surprise. Gu Meina, now six, was born with a shock of blonde hair. "We shaved it off a month after she was born but it just grew back the same colour," he said. "At school they call her 'yellow hair'. Before we were told about the Romans, we had no idea about this. We are poor and have no family temple, so we don't know about our ancestors."

Another resident, Cai Junnian, 38, said his ruddy skin and green eyes meant he was now nicknamed Cai Luoma, or Cai the Roman, by friends. He has become a local celebrity, and was recently flown to the Italian consulate in Shanghai to meet his supposed relatives. The professor's hypothesis took almost 40 years to reach China. During Chairman Mao's rule, ideas of foreign ancestry were not ideologically welcome and the story was suppressed.

Mr Cai said his great-grandfather told him that there were Roman tombs in the Qilian mountains a day and a half's walk away, but he had never connected them to the unusual appearance he inherited from his father. "People thought I had a skin problem," he said."

I tried to find a followup article but came up empty handed. I would be interested to know the results of the DNA tests. The theory is certainly plausible. I found this reference to 1st century BCE contacts between the Chinese (Seres) and Rome:

"The Roman historian Florus describes the visit of numerous envoys, included Seres (Chinese), to the first Roman Emperor Augustus, who reigned between 27 BCE and 14 CE:
"Even the rest of the nations of the world which were not subject to the imperial sway were sensible of its grandeur, and looked with reverence to the Roman people, the great conqueror of nations. Thus even Scythians and Sarmatians sent envoys to seek the friendship of Rome. Nay, the Seres came likewise, and the Indians who dwelt beneath the vertical sun, bringing presents of precious stones and pearls and elephants, but thinking all of less moment than the vastness of the journey which they had undertaken, and which they said had occupied four years. In truth it needed but to look at their complexion to see that they were people of another world than ours." ("Cathey and the way thither", Henry Yule).

In 97 CE the Chinese general Ban Chao went as far west as the Caspian Sea with 70,000 men and established direct military contacts with the Parthian Empire, also dispatching an envoy to Rome in the person of Gan Ying.

Several Roman embassies to China soon followed from 166 CE, and are officially recorded in Chinese historical chronicles."

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Encaustic Art Makes Comeback

I was interested to note that a major art museum is featuring an exhibit of encaustic art. My favorite ancient application of the art form is, of course, the Fayum mummy portraits of Egypt. I also read that Julius Caesar once paid the equivalent of 1/4 of a million dollars for an encaustic painting for his villa.

"The new Marin Museum of Contemporary Art is sponsoring Re-Newal, an exhibition that focuses on contemporary art using wax. Juried by Bob Nugent, Re-Newal includes more than fifty works from artists who are members of International Encaustic Artists.

Enkaustikos-the name means "to burn in." The ancient Greeks gave the art of painting with hot beeswax more than a name, they gave it a form. The exact timeline is unclear, but at a point some three thousand years ago, Greek shipbuilders began experimenting with uses for heat and wax other than simple hull caulking. By adding pigments for color, and resin for hardness, they created a painting medium like no other. Before long, encaustic could be found everywhere, from painted ships to depictions of everyday life on urns and lifelike colors applied to statuary.

Encaustic painting weaves in and out of art history, gaining prominence for a time, then slipping back into the shadows for centuries. A thousand years after the Greek shipbuilders discovered it, Egyptian painters resurrected the medium, crafting exquisite portraits to decorate the mummy after a patron's death. In the seventh century, veneration of a Byzantine icon made of beeswax, using the ashes of Christian martyrs for pigment, was credited with saving Constantinople from attack by the Persians.

Fast-forward to the mid-twentieth century. Almost single-handedly, artist Jasper Johns reintroduced encaustic to the art world. Since that time, it has steadily gained acceptance. The medium's popularity has begun picking up momentum rapidly in the last decade. It's no wonder that we keep revisiting this ancient art form-few others can match its versatility, both in technique and result.

Re-Newal will be on view at MarinMOCA at 500 Palm Drive, Novato, CA from September 29-October 27."

I found a website for aspiring encaustic artists that sells supplies and features a gallery of modern encaustic art. I notice modern encaustic artists have incorporated the use of a hot air blow dryer to create unusual effects. I found this image entitled "Purple Dawn" particularly interesting.
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Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Ubians

A history resource article by Mary Harrsch © 2007

I was watching my DVD set of HBO's Rome with a feature activated called "The Road to Rome". This feature displays explanatory notes about references made in the character's dialog or activities that characters are engaged in or watching.

In the episode where Vorenus and Pullo are taking an advance guard to Rome to post a notice that Caesar is on his way, the auxilliary troops that are with them are dressed in furs and carrying slashing swords. The information posted about them was that they were Ubians, a tribe of Germano-Celtic people that allied with Rome and that Caesar employed as bodyguards.

Romeo Model of a Germanic Warrior (54mm) beautifully rendered by artist Sergey Popovichenko

I had not studied anything about them before so I researched them on the web. I found an interesting article about them on The History Files website.

"The Ubii tribal name is an easy one to break down. Without the '-i' plural suffix, the proto-Germanic forms of the word are 'uba' and 'ubaraz', meaning 'up, over, above'. This was retained in Old High German as 'oba', meaning 'up, over’. The tribe seemingly were above everyone. As this wasn't meant in a geographical sense by the middle of the first century BC, it was either meant as an expression of superiority or it related to their original homeland, perhaps at the top of the Jutland peninsula. Given the German habit of using place names for tribal names, this would make sense geographically." - The History Files

It points out that Caesar's foray across the Rhine was supposedly in response to a plea from the Ubians to defend them against the Suevians (also spelled Suebians).

"As recorded by Julius Caesar in his work, Commentarii de Bello Gallico, the Tencteri and Usipetes tribes are driven out of their tribal lands in Germania by the militarily dominant Suevi. This probably places them on the middle Rhine. They force their way into the lands of the Belgic Menapii, also attacking the Condrusi and Eburones tribes. Feigning a withdrawal to lure out the Menapii, the Tencteri and Usipetes defeat them, capture their ships and occupy many of their villages for the winter. 
Caesar, alarmed at this threat to the north of territory in Gaul that he has already conquered, takes a force into the region. After much diplomatic effort and some delays, he attacks the Germanic tribes and drives them back into Germania with heavy losses. Both tribes follow the east bank of the Rhine upstream and find refuge with the Sicambri. They remain settled in these lands for much of the remainder of their existence. Caesar crosses the Rhine to follow them and to show the Germans that Romans are not afraid to stage a counter-invasion. Another reason is that a portion of the cavalry of the Usipetes and Tencteri had not been present at the recent battle. Instead they had proceeded to the territories of the Sicambri to join this tribe, remaining defiant, while uniquely amongst the peoples across the Rhine, the Ubii petition Caesar for help against the oppressive Suevi who until recently have been ruled by the powerful Ariovistus. 

A model of Caesar's Rhine bridge at the Museo nazionale della civiltà romana in Rome, Italy.
Photograph by Jona Lendering cc by-nc-sa 4.0.
 Several other tribes submit to Caesar, but the Sicambri withdraw from their territories on the advice of the Usipetes and Tencteri. Caesar remains in their lands for a few days before burning down their villages and taking their corn. He moves his forces into Ubii territory to show solidarity with them against the Suevi threat before returning to Gaul.
Having left a strong guard with the Treveri following the conclusion of their revolt, Caesar again crosses the Rhine to deal with their German supporters. The Ubii reaffirm their loyalty to him while Caesar discovers that the auxiliaries that had joined the Treveri had been sent by the Suevi. They are drawing together units of infantry and cavalry from all across their vast domain and, having learned of Caesar's approach, they withdraw to the vast wood called Bacenis (a thick forest of beech trees which has been equated with the Harz), which separates the Suevi from the Cherusci. Unwilling to follow them, Caesar fortifies the bridge that connects to the Ubii and stations twelve cohorts there." - The History Files
Wikipedia also had this information:

"They [the Ubians] were transported in 39 BC by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa to the left bank [of the Rhine]. This was apparently at their own request, as they feared the incursions of the Suevi.

A portrait bust of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa at The Louvre
in Paris, France.  Photo by Mary Harrsch © 2008

Agrippa founded the city of Cologne as their capital, whose Latin name Colonia Agrippensis is the origin of the current form. The Ubii remained loyal allies of Rome, and were instrumental in crushing the Batavian rebellion in 70. They seem to have been so thoroughly Romanized that they adopted the name Agrippenses in honour of their “founder”, and their later history is submerged in that of eastern Gaul as a whole."

The Oppidum Ubiorum was founded in the first century BC, on a site that had seen occupation since the Neolithic period, but it was Rome that turned it into the city of Cologne.  Public domain image courtesy of The History Files.
Gravestone of an Ubian bodyguard for Nero
Gravestone of an Ubian bodyguard for Nero.  Image courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons.
The Ubians remained loyal to Rome into the 4th century CE with many serving as personal bodyguards to the emperors.  Archaeologists have recovered a gravestone of one such body guard for the emperor Nero.

I also found this interesting legend related to the Ubians:

"The Dogs of St. Cassius

The majestic Minster of Bonn rises high above the surrounding houses. In olden times, when the tribe of the Ubians was still dwelling in that part of the country, a heathen temple stood on that very site. It had been an important place of worship for the whole Rhine valley. The Ubians offered their numerous human sacrifices there.

Some time ago the big altar of the ancient temple was excavated, and is still preserved under the name of Ara Ubiorum. Many prisoners of war and poor slaves have been slain on this mouldering stone.

When St. Helena, mother of Constantine, came to Bonn, the old heathen temple was burnt to ashes. The pious empress destroyed many sanctuaries of the idolaters, and hewed down the gigantic oaks of the sacred forest near. She built a Christian church in the same place, and dedicated it to St. Cassius.

After some time this church was enlarged and embellished. A high tower with slender spires crowned the lofty fane, and big bells hung in the steeples. For long centuries they rang in good and evil days.

Portrait Sculpture of the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine at the Capitoline Museum in
Rome, Italy.  (This 4th century CE sculpture was once thought to be Agrippina The Younger,
the mother of the Emperor Nero)  Photographed by Mary Harrsch  © 2009

In the lapse of time they saw war and peace, joy and woe passing by. They mingled their deep solemn tones with the joyful cries of the populace, when the German Emperor, Frederick the Beautiful, and Charles, Father of Bohemia, marched in splendid procession to the Minster to be crowned.

Whenever the electors of Cologne, who chose Bonn as their residence, were singing high mass in the church below, the bells joined in the Te Deum with their melodious peals.

Originally the Minster was the collegiate church of Saints Cassius and Florentius, who were Roman legionaries of the legendary all-Christian Theban Legion. The legion's garrison, according to legend, was in the Egyptian town of ThebesRoman Emperor Maximianus Herculius ordered the legion to march to Gaul and assist in subduing rebels from Burgundy. At some point during their march, the legion refused to follow the emperor's orders either to kill fellow Christians or to worship Maximianus Herculius as a god. As a result, a large number of legionaries were martyred in Agaunum, now named Saint Maurice-en-Valais after Saint Maurice. According to legend, Saints Cassius and Florentius, who were under the command of Saint Gereon, were beheaded for their religious beliefs at the present location of the Bonn Minster.  Image courtesy of  Hans Weingartz, Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0-DE

But when the French had pitched their tents in Bonn and the brave warrior Brandenburg lay outside its gates, the Minster bells rang in woeful shrill sounds, for their steeple was set on fire.

Often when a thunderstorm threatened to burst the clouds, the bells gave their clear warning, and rang loudly as if they would drown the roaring of the thunder.

At midnight a thunderstorm round the old Minster is an awful thing. The legend records that as soon as the first growling of the thunder is audible, the idolaters who had dominated the minds of the Ubians during long centuries with their grim rites rise from their ancient burial places that surround the Christian church. United with the gods of darkness, they rage with shrill howlings round the grey building, where now the remains of St. Cassius are resting. They hate the pious saint whose martyrdom converted thousands of heathens.

Busts of Saint Cassius and Saint Florentius at the Bonn Minster.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In vindictive anger they fill the air with burning brimstone, thicken the clouds, and direct lightnings towards the quiet Minster, to devour it with fire. But the saint himself watches over his tomb.

All at once the bells ring, though no human hand has touched the ropes, and sound clearly above the infernal noise below. The spirits of the heathens cry out. "Woe to us, the saint watches, the dogs of Cassius announce us. Woe to us, the dogs of Cassius are barking!"

With these cries and with terrible maledictions they vanish into the night. For a little while the thunder is still heard in the distance, but soon a deep stillness envelops the high Minster once more. Undamaged and as serene as ever, it stands pointing majestically towards heaven.

Time however, which has destroyed so many of the old customs, has hushed the dogs of Cassius into silence The bells of the Minster sound no more of their own accord at the approach of a thunderstorm at midnight.

Yet let us hope that in spite of this, the saint watches from heaven over his town, and will preserve his sanctuary for many years to come. "

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Roman Military Camp Display Reopens in Slovakia

"Visitors to the renovated Roman Gerulata military camp in the Bratislava district of Rusovce experienced the atmosphere of ancient Rome on September 8.

Hundreds of visitors, mainly whole families, took advantage of the free admission to the camp. The all-day events ended with a two-hour 'Roman Freakshow' in the evening, in which Cleopatra, the Empress Minerva, Cicero, and other leading figures of the period came back to life.

The Roman Gerulata military camp is a national cultural monument administered by the Bratislava City Museum. It was built in the second half of the first century to defend the border of the Empire.

The camp was under renovation from February 1, 2006 until July 31, 2007, and it was re-opened with a special Roman Games this summer. The European Union and the Slovak government made a joint contribution of Sk4.3 million (€127,000) to finance the project, along with Sk500,000 from the City of Bratislava."

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Lebanese play "Zenobia" draws cultural and historical parallels

A history resource article by  © 2007

Queen Zenobia's Last Look Upon Palmyra, by Herbert Gustave Schmalz
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
This play sounds fascinating! I am presently reading The Chronicle of Zenobia by Judith Weingarten so the characters portrayed in this performance are known to me. Zenobia's leadership in a culture where women were seldom seen and not officially heard is nothing short of miraculous. Her adaptability is even more amazing as, unlike her distant relation Cleopatra, Zenobia endured being the captured prize in a Roman triumph and even later married a Roman senator. I wish I could see this play. I wonder if anyone has thought about filming it?

"History is a mirror of the future," says Oussama Rahbani. "If you don't have a history, you don't have a future." It was with this notion of embracing the past in order to greet the future that Lebanese composer Mansour Rahbani, in collaboration with his sons Marwan, Oussama, and Ghady Rahbani, created the epic musical "Zenobia," which opened a five-night run on Wednesday evening for the Byblos International Festival, in the old port city north of Beirut.

Though in many ways a tragedy, ending in defeat and suicide, the play is at heart a celebration - of culture, music and freedom, and, perhaps more forcefully, of the strength, determination and ferocity of the female spirit.

What makes "Zenobia" enveloping and believable is the plot's adherence to the play's historical foundation. Zenobia was the third-century queen of Palmyra, an oasis in the desert of central Syria fueled by caravans snaking along the Silk Road. Sandwiched between the two great powers of the day, the Persians to the east and the Romans to the west, the city was caught between two empires jockeying for position. Palmyra became a Roman province in the first century.

A head said to represent Odenathus in the Palmyra
Museum.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
When her husband Odenathus was murdered along with his heir, Zenobia, ruling in the stead of her young son Vaballathus, rebelled against Rome. She was eventually defeated and hauled off to answer for her defiance but not before liberating greater Syria, Palestine and parts of Egypt.

With this historic episode as a reference, the Rahbanis succeed in fabricating a performance of savory meaning and depth. This is not to say that they do it alone - close to 100 actors and actresses took the stage on Wednesday night, with a supporting army of technicians, designers, choreographers and assistants - but the creative energy behind the production is exemplary of the quality of theater Lebanese audiences have come to expect from a Rahbani production.

The play opens with a dream sequence in which Zenobia, played by Carole Samaha, receives a prophecy from Cleopatra that she will be ruler of the East. In reality Cleopatra was Zenobia's idol - she even claimed to have descended from her as Zenobia's mother hailed from Egypt. But in the play, Cleopatra takes on the additional role of Zenobia's subconscious, mentor and, at times, tormentor.

Odenathus, the king of Palmyra, returns with the army from a victorious battle against the Persians. While Zenobia asserts that the victory belongs to Palmyra and not Rome, her counselor Longinus - modeled after the queen's real-life advisor, the philosopher and rhetorician Cassius Dionysius Longinus - tries to convince her to break away from Rome. Zenobia is reluctant to cut the alliance, even though she remains intensely tethered to the East.

This state of affairs does not last long, however. Odenathus travels to Emesa (modern day Homs in Syria) against the advice of Zabdai (played by Ghassan Saliba), the leader of Palmyra's army. There the king is betrayed by his nephew Ismail Maeonus, who, after killing Odenathus and his son, declares himself "the king of kings."

Zenobia, who now fears that her city will be trampled underfoot by the Persians and Romans alike, takes charge and vows to extend her territory into Asia Minor and up to the gates of Rome itself."

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Syrian mosaics restored in Ravenna featured in exhibit

A history resource article by  © 2007

A Syrian mosaic fragment from the late Roman
The following article was a press release from ANSI.

Ravenna, the capital of Roman and Byzantine mosaics, has turned its hand to a fresh clutch of works, restoring a number of priceless designs on loan from Syrian museums.

"The mosaics, which are currently on display, were created by artists during the late Roman period, when Syria was a province of the Roman Empire.
Ravenna was the centre of late Roman mosaic art in the fifth century CE but Syria was also considered a crucial production point."
 "Its capital Antioch was particularly renowned, and it was for a long time one of the most important areas of mosaic production in the entire Roman Empire."
“Mosaici d’Oriente. Tessere sulla via di Damasco” (“Mosaics of the East. Tiles on the Road to Damascus”) will showcase a selection of precious artworks from this era.
Most of the mosaics were designed for the floor and feature a variety of animals, symbolic designs whose meaning is still being studied by experts."
"One shows a series of animal pairs — a zebra and a lion, a cheetah and a unicorn — facing a fruit tree. Another depicts identical pairs of birds and quadrupeds standing next to a large urn."
"A third panel shows scenes from a hunt, including animals chasing one another, against a background of stylized rose-designs."
"The exhibition, the result of months of careful restoration work by Ravenna experts, is the second in a series of collaborations between the western Italian city and Syria." 
"A show last year focusing on the golden age of Ravenna, explored the town’s influence throughout the Mediterranean and included a number of Syrian mosaics among its 100 pieces on show."
"Ravenna developed rapidly after first replacing Rome as capital of the western Roman Empire in the fifth century CE and then becoming the capital of the Byzantine Empire."
"Its rulers built the finest Byzantine churches outside Constantinople and to this day, the city retains its name as the ‘Capital of Mosaics.’"
"Among the city’s most famous pieces is its Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, from 425-430, which shows a gold cross in the middle of a starry sky. Later pieces, completed after Ravenna was conquered by the Byzantine Empire, include mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale, showing a series of scenes from the Old Testament, and small sequences in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, depicting Christ’s miracles and parables on one side, and the Passion and Resurrection on the other.""

The Good Shepherd mosaic from the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy, a World Heritage Site.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Julian the Apostate's support of the Jews

A history resource article by  © 2007

Julian the Apostate presiding at a conference of sectarians by Edward Armitage, 1875.  Image courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons.
I found this article about Julian's support for the reconstruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem quite interesting. I have read Michael Curtis Ford's "Gods and Legions", a novel about the life and reign of the emperor Julian and gained an admiration for this "soldier, inspired military commander and rhetorician" despite the centuries of vilification heaped upon him by subsequent Christian rulers.

"The Roman Emperor Julian, who ruled 361-363 CE, called on the Jews to return to the Land of Israel and rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem. Whatever his motives, he showed our ancestors unusual respect and understanding. 
Julian was hardly an ordinary emperor, though history has failed to pay sufficient attention to his policies. In Julian, the Romans had a just ruler and brave soldier. He was a modest man who labored to relieve the distress of his subjects while endeavoring to connect authority with merit and happiness with virtue. 

A bronze coin portrait of the Emperor Julianus II (the Apostate)

As a young soldier Julian subdued, against the odds, the German threat in Gaul with a small force. He ruled ancient Gaul with wisdom and authority, hardly ever seeking a personal gain. He slept on the ground with his legionnaires, earning their respect. Julian was an excellent organizer, an honest judge, a writer and a philosopher. 
Brought up as a Christian, Julian rejected the religion and turned back to the paganism of Greek and Roman days. He argued that Christianity would weaken and ultimately destroy the Roman Empire. As a result, he attempted to restore Hellenism, which earned him everlasting Christian disdain. 
Known to Christians as Julian the Apostate, the emperor restored pagan temples and the cult of the old Roman gods. These were to be served by a reform-minded pagan clergy with high moral character, who would compete with the Christian clergy in meeting the religious needs of the people. 
Julian remains famous for having declared absolute freedom for all religious beliefs - making him perhaps the first leader to extend toleration of religion to all Romans. 
ON THE July 19, 362 C.E., Julian left Constantinople and arrived in Antioch to prepare for the invasion of Persia. However busy he must have been, he met with "the chiefs of the Jews." 
The details of this fascinating meeting, preserved only in Christian sources, are cited in Michael Avi Yona's The Jews under Roman and Byzantine Rule - A Political History from the Bar Kochba War to the Arab Conquest. 
Julian, who wanted to form a common cause with the Jews against Christianity, asked: "Why do you not sacrifice to God, as required by the laws of Moses?" 
The Jews replied: "We are not allowed by our laws to sacrifice outside our Holy City. How can we do it now? Restore to us the City, rebuild the Temple and the altar, and we shall offer sacrifices, as in days of old." 
He promised: "I shall endeavor with the utmost zeal to set up the Temple of the Most High God." 
THE RESTORATION of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem would, in Julian's opinion, defeat the Christian argument of replacement theology - that the Church was the true Israel, and that the Temple's destruction and the subsequent exile was the just punishment suffered by the Jewish people for the Crucifixion. The Temple's restoration, Julian figured, would persuade Christian converts that God still favored the Jewish people. 
As an army commander, embarking on a war against a formidable Persian enemy, Julian could also expect that the Jews of Mesopotamia would assist his legions. But there can also be no doubt that Julian's attitude of fairness and his respect for the stubborn stand of the Jewish remnant played a role in his desire to achieve a Jewish restoration. 
In his "Four Letters" addressed to the Jewish people, Julian recognized their dire situation and appealed to them to join him in his campaign. That's a vast difference from the Persian ruler Cyrus, who had only allowed the Jews to rebuild the Temple; Julian virtually ordered them to do so, and perhaps, upset by their initial hesitation, appointed Alypius, a pagan native of Antioch and his best friend, to supervise the work. 
In a letter to the Jewish Patriarch Hillel II, residing in Tiberias, Julian abrogated the entire gamut of anti-Jewish legislation and recognized Jewish authority in Israel, including the right to levy taxes. 
ACCORDING TO the Christian sources, there was considerable initial enthusiasm among the Jews of Diaspora. Many purses were opened. But other leading Jews were confused and apprehensive. The community had only recently suffered yet another painful defeat in the failed uprising against Gallus (351 C.E.), which erupted in protest against discriminatory anti-Jewish legislation. The Patriarchate had lost Lydda, the few remaining settlements in Judea and several vital Galilean villages. 
A 354 CE sketch of Constantius Gallus.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The people quoted a verse from Daniel (11:34): "Now when they shall stumble, they shall be helped with a little help; but many shall join themselves unto them with blandishments." 
The Jews were doubtless divided between those who believed that Julian was a savior and those who remembered Rabbi Simon Ben Eliezer's warning against the youthful enthusiasm of the second generation after the Bar Kochba disaster: "If children tell you: 'Go, build the Temple - do not listen to them.'" 
Above all, could Jewish hopes depend on the fortunes of one man? 
In the end, no attempt was made to set up a temporary altar and offer sacrifices on the former Temple grounds, as the Maccabeans had done. While the Jews could not oppose the will of the Roman emperor, they could drag their feet. Apparently the majority did. They remembered Rome as Amalek, not as a benefactor. 
THE WORK ordered on the Temple's foundation advanced slowly. It took time to provide silver spades and pickaxes, since no iron was allowed to be used. And then, according to the Roman writer Ammianus, "balls of fire" supposedly erupted from the foundations and rendered the place inaccessible. 
The Christian majority of Jerusalem described this fire in glowing terms, as a splendid miracle, a further proof of the rightness of Christianity. The Jews suspected Christian arson. Meanwhile Alypius, Julian's pagan friend, seemed hardly in a hurry to carry out the emperor's order."
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