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 VisonĂ , 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 VisonĂ . "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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