Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Byzantium explored in exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts in London

The first major exhibit of Byzantine art in the last 50 years in the UK is on display now until March 22, 2009 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. I hope those of you near London or visiting London during this time will take the opportunity to see these breathtaking works. Alas, my travel calendar is already booked for the coming year.

[Image - Perfume brazier in the form of a domed building, Constantinople or Italy, end of the twelfth century. Silver, partially gilded, embossed and perforated, 36 x 30 cm. On loan from the Basilica di San Marco, Venice, Tesoro, inv. no. 109. Photo per gentile concessione della Procuratoria di San Marco/Cameraphoto Arte, Venice]

"Byzantium 330–1453 follows a chronological progression covering the range, power and longevity of the artistic production of the Byzantine Empire through a number of themed sections. In this way the exhibition explores the origins of Byzantium; the rise of Constantinople; the threat of iconoclasm when emperors banned Christian figurative art; the post-iconoclast revival; the remarkable crescendo in the Middle Ages and the close connections between Byzantine and early Renaissance art in Italy in the 13th and early 14th centuries.

Between 1204 and 1261, Constantinople was in the hands of the Latin Crusaders, but the return of the Byzantine Emperors to the city initiated a final period of great diversity in art. Art from Constantinople, the Balkans and Russia show the final phase of refinement of distinctively Orthodox forms and functions, while Crete artists like Angelos Akotantos signed their icons and merged Byzantine and Italian styles. Up to the end of the Byzantine Empire, with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, manuscripts, micromosaics and metalwork demonstrates the virtuosity of its artists.

The exhibition shows the long history of Byzantine art and documents the patrons and artists and the world in which they lived. Seeing themselves as the members of a Christian Roman Empire they believed that they represented the culmination of civilisation on earth. The art emits an intellectual, emotional and spiritual energy, yet is distinctive for the expression of passionate belief and high emotion within an art of moderation and restraint."

The Academy's website includes a downloadable illustrated guidebook and a podcast from curator Robin Cormack.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Trajan and the Jewish Revolt on Cyprus

An interesting reference to Roman clashes with the Jews on Cyprus during Trajan's reign:

[Photo: My image of a bust of Trajan at the Capitoline Museum in Rome. All of my images are freely available for noncommercial use with attribution on Flickr]

"Under Roman rule Cyprus remained in peace or "pax romana" as it was known for over three hundred years until 115 AD. At this time the Jews inspired by a belief that the coming of their Messiah was imminent started a revolt against Rome on the Island. They were led by a man called Atermion a Jew who had taken a Greek name as was the custom at the time. There were hardly any Roman troops stationed in Cyprus at this time which explains why the revolt grew so quickly. The Roman emporer Trajan dispatched one of his generals to the Island and the rebellion was quelled. Historians say that 24,000 Jews were massacred on the Island by this roman army but there is a likelyhood that the actual numbers were significantly less. Following the revolt a decree was issued that Rome would forbid any Jew to ever set foot in Cyprus ever again even if shipwrecked." - Destinations gives us much more details:

The revolt started in Cyrene, where one Lukuas -sometimes called Andreas- ordered the Jews to destroy the pagan temples of Apollo, Artemis, Hecate, Demeter, Isis and Pluto, and to assail the worshippers. The latter fled to Alexandria, where they captured and killed many Jews. (With a population of some 150,000 Jews, Alexandria was Judaism's largest city.) In 116, the Jews organized themselves and had their revenge. The temples of gods like Nemesis, Hecate and Apollo were destroyed; the same fate befell the tomb of Pompey, the Roman general who had captured Jerusalem almost two centuries before.

Meanwhile, the Cyrenaican Jews plundered the Egyptian countryside, reaching Thebes, six hundred kilometers upstream. The future historian Appian of Alexandria records that he made a providential escape from a party of Jews pursuing him in the Nile marshes (more...). There was nothing the Roman governor Marcus Rutilius Lupus could do, although he sent a legion (III Cyrenaica or XXII Deiotariana) to protect the inhabitants of Memphis.

Trajan sent out two expeditionary forces. One, consisting of VII Claudia, restored order on Cyprus; the other was to attack Lukuas' rebels and was commanded by Quintus Marcius Turbo. The Roman general sailed to Alexandria, defeated the Jews in several pitched battles and killed thousands of enemies, not only those in Egypt but also those of Cyrene. It is unclear what became of Lukuas, except for the fact that according to our Greek source Eusebius he had styled himself 'king' (= Messiah?). After this war, much of northern Africa had to be repopulated. The emperor Trajan and his successor Hadrian confiscated Jewish property to pay for the reconstruction of the destroyed temples.

Trajan was afraid that this revolt would spread to the Jews in the rebellious eastern provinces. Perhaps, there was some cause for his anxiousness. After the end of the revolt in Mesopotamia, someone had written the Book of Elchasai, in which the end of the world was predicted within three years. Of course, Trajan did not read this book, but he may have sensed that the Jews remained restless.

Therefore, he ordered the commander of his Mauritanian auxiliaries, Lusius Quietus, to clean the suspects out of these regions. Quietus organized a force and killed many Cypriote, Mesopotamian and Syrian Jews - in effect wiping them out; as a reward, he was appointed governor of Judaea. (He is one of the few blacks known to have made a career in Roman service.) He was responsible for a forced policy of hellenization; in response, the rabbis ordered the Jewish fathers not to teach their sons Greek (Mishna Sota 9.14).

Meanwhile, Trajan had reached his military aims and returned home. On his way back, he fell ill, and not much later, he died (8 August 117). His successor Hadrian gave up the newly conquered countries and dismissed Lusius Quietus, who was killed in the Summer of 118."

We are supplied with the following sources:

The revolt against Trajan is the subject of a book by Marina Pucci, La rivolta Ebraica al tempo di Traiano (1981 Pisa). Another discussion of this rebellions can be found in Gedaliah Alon's The Jews in their land in the Talmudic age (1980 Harvard).

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Stolen Hecate Bust Recovered

I'm truly grateful the police were able to recover this piece but can't help but feel outraged over the facts around its initial theft.

[Photo courtesy of Reuters]

A rare 9th century three-faced marble head of the Greek goddess Hecate was seized from a store in Rome's historic center after it was stolen by thieves last year, Italian police said on Wednesday.

The unusual bust was one of hundreds of stolen ancient artifacts ranging from large earthen jugs to small saucers that Italian police displayed after recovering them during various operations.

A probe at a small lake south of Rome led to the discovery of more than 500 miniature antiquities, while a Roman mosaic dating to the 4th-3rd century B.C. was seized after police stumbled across an Internet posting, hawking it for 55,000 euros ($77,060).

The bust of Hecate, the Greek goddess linked to witchcraft and the afterlife who is usually depicted with three heads, was found in a store near Rome's Campo dei Fiori square.

It had been missing since June 2007, when thieves made off with it from a Roman house after drugging the owner's family with sedatives. - More, Reuters India

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Romans believed drinking from amethyst kept you sober

I found this interesting reference in an article in the American Chronicle. There was no source quoted but it sounds like a typical Roman legend:

The name [of amethyst] is Greek for "sober." Now, this makes sense once you hear the story of Bacchus. He was the Roman god of wine and revelry. One day, he was in a foul mood and set his tigers on the next person to cross his path. This unlucky person happened to be a maiden named Amethyst who was on her way to the Goddess Diana's temple. Diana turned her into a pillar of quartz to stop the tiger attack. Bacchus was so remorseful; he poured wine over the pillar as an apology and stained the pillar purple.

As a result, the stone was believed to have the power to stave off drunkenness. In fact, the ancient Greeks and Romans would carve drinking goblets from the violet quartz rather than wear them as amethyst and diamond rings, in an attempt to remain sober as they drank their wine.

I found a reference to amethyst cups, though, in the book "Roman Life In The Days of Cicero" by Alfred John Church. Apparently, the corrupt governor of Sicily, Verres, ripped off the amethyst cups of good king Antiochus:

The dining-room and table were richly furnished, the silver plate being particularly
splendid. Antiochus was highly delighted with the entertainment, and lost no time in returning
the compliment. The dinner to which he invited the governor was set out with a splendour
to which Verres had nothing to compare. There was silver plate in abundance, and there
were also cups of gold, these last adorned with magnificent gems.

Conspicuous among the ornaments of the table was a drinking vessel, all in one piece,
probably of amethyst, and with a handle of gold. Verres expressed himself delighted with
what he saw. He handled every vessel and was loud in its praises. The simple-minded
King, on the other hand, heard the compliment with pride. Next day came a message. Would
the King lend some of the more beautiful cups to his excellency ? He wished to show them
to his own artists. A special request was made for the amethyst cup. All was sent without a
suspicion of danger.

But the King had still in his possession something that especially excited the Roman's cupidity. This was a candelabrum of gold richly adorned with jewels. It had been intended for
an offering to the tutelary deity of Rome, Jupiter of the Capitol. But the temple, which had
been burnt to the ground in the civil wars, had not yet been rebuilt, and the princes, anxious
that their gift should not be seen before it was publicly presented, resolved to carry it back with
them to Syria. Verres, however, had got, no one knew how, some inkling of the matter, and
he begged Antiochus to let him have a sight of it. The young prince, who, so far from being
suspicious, was hardly sufficiently cautious, had it carefully wrapped up, and sent it to the
governor's palace. When he had minutely inspected it, the messengers prepared to carry
it back. Verres, however, had not seen enough of it. It clearly deserved more than one
examination. Would they leave it with him for a time ? They left it, suspecting nothing.

Antiochus, on his part, had no apprehensions. When some days had passed and the candelabrum
was not returned, he sent to ask for it. The governor begged the messenger to come
again the next day. It seemed a strange request; still the man came again and was
again unsuccessful.

The King himself then waited on the governor and begged him to return it. Verres hinted, or rather said plainly, that he should very much like it as a present.

"This is impossible," replied the prince, " the honour due to Jupiter and public opinion forbid it. All the world knows that the offering is to be made, and I cannot go back from my word."

Verres perceived that soft words would be useless, and took at once another line. The King,
he said, must leave Sicily before nightfall. The public safety demanded it. He had heard of a
piratical expedition which was on its way from Syria to the province, and that his departure
was necessary. Antiochus had no choice but to obey ; but before he went he publicly protested
in the market-place of Syracuse against the wrong that had been done. His other
valuables, the gold and the jewels, he did not so much regret ; but it was monstrous that he
should be robbed of the gift that he destined for the altar of the tutelary god of Rome. -
Roman Life in the Days of Cicero: Sketches Drawn from His Letters & Speeches,By Alfred John Church,Published by Macmillan, 1895.
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Beautiful Sphinx part of antiquities lot up for bid at Sotheby's Dec 10

I noticed there is an upcoming antiquities auction at Sotheby's slated for December 10. Although the news article I read enthused about a sculpture of an Egyptian priest, I found this beautiful Roman Imperial period bronze sphinx listed in the collection catalogue. I've seen a number of sphinx sculptures and statues from Greece and Rome at different museums but I don't think I've seen any as delicately detailed as this one. Although other sphinxes I have seen may have a female appearing face, this one even reveals the upper part of a female torso as well - sort of a blending of the huntress Artemis (the Roman Diana) with her prey.

I do hope it ends up in a public museum, as opposed to being secreted away in some private collection, so there is at least a possibility of seeing it someday. The late 1st century BCE to early 1st century CE Roman Imperial Period piece is expected to bring $8,000-$12,000.

If you've never been to Sotheby's website it's like an online museum in itself. You can browse the collections of upcoming auctions one item at a time. Each item has been photographed in very high resolution and can be examined with a zooming navigation tool to see all the fine details of a piece. Many items offer alternate views as well. They also offer a sold lot archive that is a lot of fun to explore. You can even purchase lot catalogues. The one for this particular lot of antiquities was listed at $48 - about what you would pay for an exhibit catalogue at a museum.
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Monday, November 24, 2008

Luna Roman-era painting lost for over a century to be auctioned by Christies

This article about a beautiful painting by Philippine artist, Juan Luna y Novicio (1857-1899), caught my eye, not only because it has an ancient Roman subject, but because it reminds me so much of one of my favorite Victorian artists, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. It is expected to bring close to $10 million dollars when it goes up for bid on November 30.

Christies lot notes:

Las damas Romanas
(Roman maidens) by the Filipino painter Juan Luna y Novicio (1857-1899) was an unlocated work for over a century ever since it was painted. Documentation was scant: Las Damas Romanas was but a title in the 1957 biography of Luna by Carlos E. Da Silva; it was but a faded black and white photograph from the file of the pre-war art dealer and historian Alfonso T. Ongpin, reproduced by Santiago Pilar in the standard work on the artist (1980). Las Damas Romanas, an early work, enlarges our knowledge and appreciation of Luna who is unfortunately remembered for his largest work Spoliarium (1884) that may well be his most important painting historically, but is not necessarily the best aesthetically.

To appreciate the dark and gory Spoliarium that now dominates the Hall of the Masters in the National Gallery in Manila, one has to remember that aside from being an artist, Juan Luna is also considered a hero and patriot of the Philippines. Spoliarium won the first gold medal in the Madrid Exposition of Fine Arts in 1884, a triumph that made Luna and his contemporary, Felix Resurrection Hidalgo, who won a silver medal, the first "international artists" of the Philippines. Luna painted a scene from ancient Roman history, the corpse of a gladiator being discarded in a room under the Coliseum. So powerful was this image it was used by Filipino propagandists as an allegory of the abuses of Spain in the colonial Philippines. It takes a bit of imagination and a heavy dose of textbook history for young Filipinos to see oppression and the Philippines in a painting best understood alongside the recent films like "Gladiator". One can read many meanings into a painting, sometimes, even meanings unintended by the artist. For example, in 1983, Spoliarium was seen to be quite prophetic. Benigno S. Aquino was assassinated on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport and one in a series of photographs showing soldiers dragging the corpse into a military van has been said to mirror the main element in Luna's 1884 canvas.

Las Damas Romanas is likewise drawn from ancient Roman history, but is more cheerful. Two ladies lie on the wide steps of a dwelling, one of them holding the reins of two frisky pet dogs, restraining them from scaring away frolicking doves. In the background behind them appears to be a shelf with assorted artifacts, to their left is a small shrine with a triangular pediment with incense smoke rising from a burner in front of it. Should Las Damas Romanas be seen at face value? Is it but a typical domestic scene in ancient Rome or does it have deeper, hidden meanings?

There are three main pictorial elements here: women, dogs, and doves. Dogs were part of Roman life and were basically used: for hunting, as guardians of home or property, and in this case as women's companions. These slim and elegant dogs were pets, although they had to be kept on a leash. An inscription said to have been found in the ruins of Pompeii reads "cave canis." This is a warning still used today---"Beware of Dog". Doves were often given erotic connotations; in the Philippines, to refer to a woman as kalapatingmababaanglipad (low-flying dove) means she is of ill-repute. So is this an allegory of restrained lust or merely a way for Luna to execute many details copied from trips to Naples, Pompeii, Venice and Florence? It has even been suggested that the dark-haired woman on the right is Luna's wife, Paz Pardo de Tavera, who he shot and killed in Paris in 1892 at the height of a jealous rage. That would have fitted the theme of love and lust but unfortunately, Luna was not married when he painted Las Damas Romanas in Rome in 1882. He had not even met his future wife at the time. That multiple meanings, different interpretations can be found in one painting always adds to its interest.

Las Damas Romanas was painted while Luna was a student of the Spanish Academy in Rome. It is a work completed between his prize-winning works "Death of Cleopatra" that won a silver medal in the Madrid Exposition of 1881 and the Spoliarium that garnered the first gold medal in the Madrid Exposition of 1884. It is not well known that Luna spent six years in Rome from 1878-1884. He enrolled in the school of painting in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando (Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando) in Madrid in 1877 and there took courses in color and composition and began a study of ancient art. One of his professors, Alejo Vera, went to Rome in 1878 to fulfill some commissions and he took Luna along as an apprentice.

Two years after arriving in what Luna described as "the capital of the Caesars", his teacher returned to Madrid and Luna stayed another four years to complete his studies. Many students of the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid were allowed to gain credit for their stay in Rome. The course of study usually took three years: the first year was spent copying Greek and Roman sculpture to learn anatomy, they studied and copied classical architecture to learn ideal proportion, and finally they copied old master paintings; the second year they did work on the human figure; and by the third year they utilized all the skills learned by practice, travel, and observation into one large historical painting drawn from either religious, classical, or historical texts. Hence the 1881 "Death of Cleopatra" acquired by the Spanish government could be seen as his graduation work. Recognizing his talent, Luna was then awarded a four-year grant by the Ayuntamiento de Manila to continue his studies in Rome. The grant was also a commission to do one painting for the Ayuntamiento but the grateful Luna gave them three, one of these, Pacto de Sangre (Blood Compact) is still extant and hangs in the seat of government, Malacanang Palace in Manila.

Las Damas Romanas is one of a number of drawings, watercolors, and oils by Luna that have surfaced in the past quarter of a century. As an important example of his early work, Las Damas Romanas helps us understand his training as an academic painter and enriches our knowledge of his life and work. - by Ambeth R Ocampo, Chariman, National Historical Institute, The Philippines
I always thought doves were a symbol of purity and were used as such in ancient augury rituals. Apparently, the article author points this out as well:

"Against the dark interpretation of the doves, some observers have noted that the doves in Roman mythology really symbolize the divine. The fact that the two ladies seek to restrain the dogs from attacking the birds appear to highlight the sacredness of the divine. This makes it really a picture of the abundant richness of life, with humankind shown in harmony with Nature." - By Lito Zulueta, Philippine Daily Inquirer
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Saturday, November 8, 2008

3D Rewind Rome Now a Reality Near the Colosseum

I was thrilled to see that the "Rewind Rome" project will open November 20 complete with 3D gladiators! I look forward to seeing it when I travel to Rome once more in March!

For tourists who struggle to make sense of the ruins around the Roman Forum, a new high-tech show provides a 3D sense of what life was like for plebeians and gladiators in ancient Rome.

Blending Hollywood animation and video-game technology Photowith Cinecitta studio technicians' versions of ancient frescoes and brickwork, plus academic research, "3D Rewind Rome" sucks the visitor back in time to 310 AD, the reign of Emperor Maxentius.

In a refurbished theatre just off the Colosseum, the visitor centre opening to the public on November 20 tries to breathe life into the tourists' experience of Rome's ancient artefacts, which for all their majesty are sorely lacking in orientation.

"Now all of Rome is at your feet," says Sapientus, the tubby, balding, toga-clad 3D guide to a detailed virtual model of the city, developed by University of Virginia archaeologists.

Smoke, grime, graffiti and street scenes involving 60,000 virtual characters give visitoPhoto rs a 30-minute taste of what life was probably like in ancient Rome.

You get a peeping-tom's view of the Vestal Virgins, watch a rowdy Senate debate and see the plebeian district Suburra. There is even a financial crisis that may ring a bell with modern viewers.

"Oh no! My life savings! I could have earned more by keeping my money under the mattress!" moans Sapientus.

But the effects are most dramatic in gladiatorial scenes in the Colosseum. A preview audience kitted out with 3-dimensional glasses leapt back when evil gladiator Bestia shoved his sword at them. - More

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Drug Use Among Ancient Civilizations: Everybody musta got stoned

Portrait bust of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius at the
Palazzo Altemps in Rome, Italy.
Photo by Mary Harrsch © 2009
Historical resource article by Mary Harrsch © 2008

I found this article not only fascinating from a scholarly perspective but an interesting indictment of the modern approach to classical study.
Some of us wondered in geometry class how Pythagoras came up with his famous theorem regarding the relationship between the hypotenuse and the remaining two sides of a right triangle. Madison author David Hillman has a theory about the ancient Greeks that may grate on a few nerves in the classical studies world. It comes down to this: Maybe Pythagoras was smoking something.

"Everyone," attests Hillman, "was using drugs, from farmers up to [Roman emperor] Marcus Aurelius."

Hillman's new book, The Chemical Muse: Drug Use and the Roots of Western Civilization, takes a closer look at the use of drugs by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

"The early Greek philosophers who inspired the mental revolution that influenced the birth of democracy were the biggest drug-using lunatics of them all," attests Hillman. "Seriously, they were much more like medicine men than philosophers. So not only did democracy spring up in a drug-using culture, but its roots lie in a drug-using, shamanistic, intellectual movement. I think it's perfectly safe to say: 'No drugs, no democracy.'"

But Hillman says this tradition of drug use has largely been written out of history by scholars and historians, who have brought their own moral perspectives to the texts.
At his home on Madison's southwest side, Hillman displays a 22-volume collection of Galen, a second-century physician who represents the pinnacle of the Greek medical tradition begun by Hippocrates. Only a fraction of it has ever been put into English, enough to fill about three trade paperbacks. Passages show Galen prescribed opium to Marcus Aurelius for his headaches — and that, over time, the strength of his "prescription" gradually increased. 

Hillman also uncovered examples of virgins being given a mild narcotic on their wedding nights. He argues that the typical classicist — on whom the rest of us rely for English translations — don't read or can't understand these texts. 

"There is an entire work regarding drugs used for gynecology," he says. "Do you think a classicist knows the difference between a drug that's meant to close the cervix and why that's important and a drug that's meant to open it and why that is important for, say, a prostitute? No." 

Academic resistance to claims about ancient drug use outside of medical practice are not new. Carl Ruck, a tenured classical studies professor at Boston University, endures what he calls "official silence" over similar claims. 

In 1978, when Ruck collaborated with the late Albert Hofmann — the discoverer of LSD — and R. Gordon Wasson, a mycologist, to write The Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secrets of the Mysteries, the idea that an important Greek ritual and secret initiation involved ingestion of a psychoactive chemical potion was extremely controversial. 

"Classical antiquity is a construct of modern scholarship," says Ruck. "We've made them into something they weren't really. Scholarship has chipped away at it. Suddenly, after the feminist movement, people became aware that women had a strange role in [ancient] society. There are frescos showing people having opium parties. [Classicists] don't want to admit Greeks had this kind of experience." Ruck looked for deeper meanings in metaphor patterns and wondered if wine was one way of freeing the psyche. He began to suspect that the Eleusinian Mysteries were about more than just wine. 

"It is well known they drank something," says Ruck. "We have the formula of what they drank. That wasn't prohibited. The exact formula was intricate and not well known to regular people. They drank and they saw something." 

Such ideas haven't sparked outrage; rather, they've occasioned silence. 

"There's no great dialogue going on," says Ruck. "People don't come up to me and try to refute what I'm saying. They just don't mention it." 

Ruck says he published a book that was available for free online for a month. Ruck sent a link to his colleagues on the East Coast. No one contacted him. He published an article in New England Classical Journal regarding a drug-initiation ceremony in pre-Christian Rome. It was peer reviewed, yet no one ever talked to him about it.- MUCH more from The Daily Page

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Related Reading - A Kindle Preview:

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Spartacus to be center of new STARZ series to debut summer 2009!
I was afraid after HBO abandoned "Rome" that we wouldn't get any more ancient historical epics or series on any of the premium channels but it looks like I'll need to subscribe to Starz next summer!!

[Thracian gladiator - left - courtesy of]

"The world of gladiators comes to life as the Roman Empire's most brutal fighters clash in the ultimate arena. Starz's new series, "Spartacus," an entirely new twist on the ancient legend, will utilize virtual environments giving it a unique graphic novel look and style, along with a fresh narrative approach. Debuting exclusively on Starz, "Spartacus" will be produced by Starz Media with Executive Producers Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Joshua Donen. The announcement was made today by Stephan Shelanski, executive vice president, programming, for Starz Entertainment. It will begin production in early 2009, debuting on Starz and its suite of channels later in the year.
From the talented team responsible for some of the biggest action feature film hits, and consistently popular action TV series, "Spartacus" will take the story of the rebellious warrior-slave and re-imagine it for a generation of TV viewers raised on graphic novels and cutting-edge production technology. Audiences will get 13 hour-long episodes of unsparing action, set in the brutal world of gladiators. Because the series is being produced for Starz -- the fastest-growing premium television service -- there is no shortage of intense action and vivid, R-rated storytelling. This will be a TV series with an original narrative and a very unique look and feel.

"When 'Spartacus' debuts in the summer of 2009, it will give our subscribers a show unlike anything currently on TV: a fresh, high-energy action series with nothing held back," Shelanski said. "We think it will be the destination show for next summer. It, along with our other original productions underscores our commitment to being a new kind of TV company, programming the biggest movies and the best new television series."
"By utilizing the latest digital filmmaking techniques to create the look of this series, we'll be able to tell the story in a way never before seen with production values far beyond what even the most ambitious TV series can offer," Tapert said. Raimi added "It is going to be very exciting to take one of the most beloved and inspiring characters of all time, re-invent and bring them to life for a whole new generation of TV viewers."
Starz's new "Spartacus" series was inspired by the actual slave of the Roman Republic who in 73 BC led a slave revolt that grew to more than 120,000 fighters. Defying the Roman Republic's legions of soldiers, they campaigned for two years through much of what is now Italy before succumbing to a much larger army. The new series will tell a new set of stories rich in character, action, sex and combat." - More
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Saturday, October 18, 2008

A God From Dresden

I found the following article very interesting. Having photographed hundreds of statues in some of the world's finest museums, including the Getty Villa, I often marvel at the subtle clues scholars use to identify art that is often unearthed in fragments with no inscriptions to provide a hint of identify. Often it is the hairstyle, fashion or degree of sensuousness and comparisons to existing identified statues from the time period (if period can be ascertained) that often determine the description presented to the public.

In this case, a headless statue from a Dresden museum collection, is being studied by modern conservators at the Getty to see if some agreement can be reached as to how to present this work of art. I found it amusing that conservators across the centuries have identified it as Alexander the Great (adding suitable accessories), Antinous and, ultimately, Bacchus at different points in time. At a Getty colloquium in August, attendees generally expressed their leanings toward Bacchus, but the Getty has decided to make the conservation of the statue (to be exhibited headless), rather than a predetermined identity, the focus for its upcoming premiere at the Getty in December.

"On a recent sunny Saturday, while most Southern Californians were deployed somewhere enjoying a weekend hiatus, 20 art historians, conservators and museum officials shifted in their chairs around a long, U-shaped table in an air-conditioned conference room at the Getty Villa in Malibu, theorizing, listening and pondering out loud whose head to put on a headless 1,800-year-old Roman statue.

The result of their scholarly exchanges and deliberations would determine whether the future identity of the monumental white marble semi-nude, 2nd century male being reassembled in the Getty's workshop would be the Roman god Bacchus or the real-life boy lover of the Emperor Hadrian, known as Antinuous, or the Greek conqueror Alexander the Great.

Imagine such a group in future millenniums trying to decide whether a headless torso dating from 20th century America was originally a likeness of Elvis Presley, Truman Capote or Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Such challenges have faced collectors and curators of classical antiquity since Roman statuary began being unearthed by archaeologists in the 17th century, often missing heads and limbs and conclusive identities. The decisions made by museums through the years regarding how best to present and display these precious remains of the Greek and Roman past have reflected changing attitudes toward conservation and its purposes, aligned with improved methods and techniques.

The Saturday workshop convened by the Getty's Antiquities Conservation Department offered a case study in the current state of the rarefied craft. It wasn't until the mid-20th century that conservation became a profession and the custom of restoring damaged statues by whatever means was supplanted by the desire to display them closer to the state in which they were found.

"How comfortable are we, after all these restorations, to show a statue without a head?" Jens Daehner, the German-born assistant curator of antiquities at the Getty, asked during his own formal remarks that reviewed the statue's various incarnations since its first known display in Rome in 1704, when it carried an ancient female head (not original to it), probably a likeness of Athena but restored with a helmet so as to match an image of Alexander the Great seen on Greek coins. Though this sounds contrived by today's standards of archaeology, during the Baroque era a preference for complete sculptures allowed and encouraged such improvisation.

After the statue was removed from Italy in 1733 by a Saxon prince and brought to Dresden, it was modified again to include a fig leaf and a spear, still identified as Alexander. Then in 1804, according to a contemporary catalog of the museum's collection, it became Bacchus (Dionysus to the Greeks), a result of prevailing notions about its body type and drapery style, but retained the previous head and helmet associated with Alexander -- while losing the earlier restored right arm along with the fig leaf and spear.

Changing parts

WHAT Podany referred to as "the unrecognized power of the restorer" was demonstrated when, during the tenure of the sculptor Emil Cauer the Elder as a restorer in the Dresden antiquities collection, the statue became "Antinuous in the guise of Bacchus," with a new head made of plaster and a new plaster right arm attached.

Then, in 1894, a new director of the museum replaced Cauer's Antinuous head with a plaster cast of another Antinuous on display in the British Museum. The right arm was again removed, and this was the state of the statue when it was placed in storage during the Dresden museum's closure due to World War II. It was not damaged during the bombing of Dresden but in June 1945 was shipped to Moscow along with the rest of the collection, regarded as the spoils of war.

By the time it was returned to Dresden by train in 1958, the statue had suffered extensive damage in transit and had broken into 158 pieces. It remained out of sight, stored in four wooden crates until those crates were air-freighted to the Getty in November.

In his remarks, Daehner mentioned the "high, wide chest" to be a signifier of Antinuous, yet the absence of long hair on the shoulders pointed again to the god of wine. "I am convinced we are dealing with a statue of Dionysus," the curator said. He also noted that a piece of paper plugged into a plastered hole turned out to be a page from a book published in 1894, but this detail did not aid the investigation.

After Marc Walton, a scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute, showed a microscopic slide of the statue's Carrara marble exterior that looked like the surface of the moon and revealed "multiple plasters, referring to different campaigns of restoration," the group adjourned to the studio to see the statue itself, headless but otherwise impressive. It rose somewhat larger than life (6 feet, 8 inches) from a wood pallet, its white torso supported temporarily by a heavy chain hoist. Seeing the statue reassembled for the first time in their lifetimes, the scholars and conservators circled it and examined the details of its drapery; the pitch, or attitude, of its interface with the platform; the fissures and lines revealing where the fragments had been attached." - More
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Naples Archaeological Museum Exhibit to Feature Ancient Roman Fabrics

Some of the greatest discoveries pulled from the ruins of the ancient Vesuvian town of Herculaneum have been reunited under one roof for the first time for a major new exhibition that opens here today.

Statues, skeletons, artefacts and textiles go on show from the small seaside town south of Naples, which was destroyed in the same eruption that buried Pompeii on August 24, 79 AD.

''It's an extraordinary collection of 150 works that restores to the world the richest existing testimony of the classical age,'' said Campania President Antonio Bassolino at the show's inauguration.

While Pompeii was covered by hot ash and lava, its less famous neighbour disappeared under an avalanche of molten rock, which mingled with mud and earth and solidified, allowing fragile organic matter like wood, fabrics, wax tablets and papyrus rolls to survive.

Archaeologists began digging at the site at the beginning of the 1700s and continue to make discoveries today. Among the highlights of the show are sacks, little bags, and pieces of material thought to have belonged to tunics and cloaks that were dug from the town and which form part of the museum's little-known collection of 180 ancient Roman fabrics - the largest in the world.

On display for the first time ever is fabric from a mass of organic material discovered in July 2007 on what was once the terrace of a large thermal bath complex. A fragment of cloth made from hemp was among the material, discovered alongside a leather bag, carbonised wood belonging to a boat and a fishing net with lead weights. -

The biggest crowd-puller is likely to be the skeletons of ancient Romans in the act of fleeing the town - one of the most extraordinary archaeological discoveries of the last few decades.

Men, women and children were fleeing to the ancient beach when the first volcanic surge hit.

While at Pompeii bodies decomposed in the ash (allowing archaeologists to make plaster casts of the spaces left by the bodies), Herculaneum's solidified mud preserved the skeletons intact, providing a rare treat for researchers because of how frequently ancient Romans cremated their dead.

The exhibition is divided into three sections, focusing first on the magnificent statues of gods, heroes and emperors found among the ruins.

The second section is dedicated to the noble Herculaneum families such as that of the proconsul Marcus Nonius Balbus, one of the town's main benefactors, and showcases many statues found at the Villa of the Papyri.

The villa, the largest and most sumptuous found outside Rome, is thought to have belonged to Lucius Calpurnius Piso, father of Calpurnia, Julius Caesar's wife.

Only partially excavated, the villa has so far yielded 1,800 papyri, half of which have been deciphered to reveal Epicurean philosophy, and some experts say there may still be lost literary treasures of antiquity hidden in the ruins.

In the third section, the skeletons of fleeing townspeople are on show with other objects putting the daily life of the common people under the microscope, while fabrics go on display in the final section.

Herculaneum: Three Centuries of Discoveries runs at the Naples Archaeological Museum until April 2009.Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
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Tomb of Marcus Aurelius' Favorite General uncovered near Rome

"Italian archaeologists have discovered the tomb of the ancient Roman hero believed to have inspired Russell Crowe's character in the hit movie "Gladiator," Rome's officials announced on Thursday at a press conference.

Marble beams and columns, carvings and friezes first emerged from the Roman soil during construction work to build a residential complex in Saxa Rubra, not far from the headquarters of Rai, Italy's state-run television station.

According to Cristiano Ranieri, an archaeologist who led the excavation at the site, the huge fragments belonged to a monumental marble tomb built on the banks of the Tiber River at the end of the second century A.D.

Further excavation revealed a huge marble inscription that declares the tomb belonged to Marcus Nonius Macrinus, a general and consul who achieved major victories in military campaigns for Antoninus Pius, the Roman emperor from 138 to 161 A.D., and Marcus Aurelius, emperor from 161 to 180 A.D.

Born in Brescia in northern Italy in 138 A.D., Macrinus was one of the emperor's favorite men (his villa on the shores of Lake Garda is currently under excavation). He was consul in 154 A.D. and proconsul of Asia in 170 to 171 A.D (consuls were the highest civil and military magistrates in Ancient Rome).

The life of Marcus Nonius Macrinus is believed to have inspired the fictional character Maximus Decimus Meridius in Ridley Scott's film. In the movie, Meridus, also a general and a favorite of Marcus Aurelius, fell from grace after the emperor's death and ended up in exile in North Africa — to return as a gladiator and take revenge.

"We know that the area was subjected to frequent floods in ancient times. Just like Pompeii, a disaster helped preserve the monument. After a particularly strong flood, the mud from the river basically sealed the collapsed marble blocks," Rossi said.

While the construction work for the residential complex has been halted, Rome's officials plan to first reassemble the tomb in a 3-D model, and then fully reconstruct it as the centerpiece of a public archaeological display now underway in the area." ...More

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Roman cellars in Lisbon architectural mystery

Nobody knows what the galleries beneath Lisbon’s Baixa were used forTHEY OPEN but once a year and the queues to see them are so long they stretch the entire length of two blocks. They are Lisbon’s ancient Roman Cellars

Only rediscovered during the rebuilding of Lisbon in 1771 after the Great Lisbon Earthquake, nobody knows for sure what this system of Roman arched underground tunnels beneath the city’s Baixa was used for.

There are several theories. One is that they were used as storage cellars beneath the smart Roman shops that once lined Lisbon’s Roman Forum when it was the busy port of Olisypio.

Alternatively, they formed part of a Roman foundation system used to level undulating ground so that buildings above would be on a flat, if artificial, surface made from an early form of concrete.

They could, too, have been Roman thermal springs used to supply a series of wells for the Roman populace.

Whether they were the smart underground shopping galleries beneath the Roman Forum, similar to the ones one finds in Naples, or simply foundations supporting buildings up above, used as cellars for shops, town villas and public buildings, today the visible part consists of a network of perpendicular galleries, all of different heights, leading into small compartments or cells which could very well have been storage areas.

The pillow stone arches, which withstood the earthquake, date from the early part of Imperial Rome, between the Emperors Julius Cesar and Claudius.

It was only in 1859, when Lisbon’s first sewage system was being installed, that archaeologists were able to really study the Roman ruins extensively for the first time, while the first journalists allowed down to photograph and see them at first hand was only in 1909.
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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer scheduled for BBC

Cleopatra is to be the focus of a new historical documentary for BBC One this winter, revealing dark and ruthless aspects of the "original femme fatale" and Queen of Egypt.

Known as one of greatest love affairs in history, the one-hour special says Cleopatra and Mark Antony's passion spilled into cold-blooded murder in their bid to hold on to power.

Cleopatra: Portrait Of A Killer is billed as a tale of rivalry, lust, incest, murder and power that destroyed an empire.

It brings to life scenes from the life and loves of Cleopatra - her marriage to Caesar, the murder of her brother Ptolemy and a boat where Mark Antony and Cleopatra draw up a "most wanted" list.

Richard Bradley, executive producer of Lion Television which made the programme, said: "We hope that this story will help the audience see Cleopatra as a real woman wrestling with power, rather than the semi-mythical figure of Liz Taylor and Carry On movies."

Using new and exclusive forensic evidence, the show is based on the discovery of a tomb containing human remains. Archaeologists are convinced that it is the skeleton of one of Cleopatra's victims, murdered by her Roman lover Mark Antony on her orders, the BBC said. - More

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Monday, August 25, 2008

"Pompeii and the Roman Villa" exhibit opens October 18 in Washington D.C.

In the first century BC, the picturesque Bay of Naples became a
favorite retreat for vacationing emperors, senators, and other
prominent Romans. They built lavish seaside villas in the shadow of
Mount Vesuvius where they could indulge in absolute leisure, read and
write, exercise, enjoy their gardens and the views, and entertain
friends. The artists who flocked to the region to adorn the villas also
created paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts for the residents of
Pompeii and nearby towns. Pompeii and the Roman Villa
presents some 150 works of sculpture, painting, mosaic, and luxury
arts, including recent discoveries on view in the U.S. for the first
time and celebrated finds from earlier excavations. Exquisite objects
from the richly decorated villas reveal the breadth and richness of
cultural and artistic life, as well as the influence of classical
Greece on Roman art and culture in this region. The exhibition also
focuses on the impact that the 18th-century excavations and rediscovery
of Pompeii and Herculaneum had on the art and culture of the modern


Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples is
organized by Museum of Art, with the cooperation of the
Direzione Regionale per i Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici della Campania
and the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association
with the Los Angeles County Napoli e


National Gallery of Art, October 19, 2008–March 22, 2009;
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, May 3–October 4, 2009

For those of you that cannot attend either of the venues, a DVD about the exhibit will be released October 28, 2008 from MicrocinemaDVD with a list price of $19.95.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Antony and Cleopatra a Love/Hate Relationship?

I finished reading Colleen McCullough's latest addition to her "Masters of Rome" series of novels, "Antony and Cleopatra" and found her characterization of the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra as one of a combination of love and exasperation to be quite convincing.

This seems to be born out by a quote by Pliny the Elder that I stumbled across today on a very good website offering essays on the history and culture of Rome:

"Pliny (XXI.7.9) relates how Cleopatra played on Antony's fear of being poisoned. Refusing to take any food that had not been tasted [sic], she instead laid a garland of poisoned flowers on his head, suggesting, as the revelry grew wilder, that they all drink their chaplets. As Antony began to drink from the cup into which he had scattered his flowers, she stopped him. A prisoner was brought in and commanded to drink, dying on the spot."

This act, if indeed it ever happened, appears to be much less playful than Cleopatra ordering a diver to go underwater and tie a dried fish to Antony's fishing line.

Of course Pliny is also the source for the story of Cleopatra dissolving one of her almost priceless pearls in a cup of vinegar to impress Antony:

"There have been two pearls that were the largest in the whole of history; both were owned by Cleopatra, the last of the Queens of Egypt--they had come down to her through the hands of the Kings of the East....In accordance with previous instructions the servants placed in front of her only a single vessel containing vinegar, the strong rough quality of which can melt pearls. She was at the moment wearing in her ears that remarkable and truly unique work of nature. Antony was full of curiosity to see what in the world she was going to do. She took one earring off and dropped the pearl in the vinegar, and when it was melted swallowed it....With this goes the story that, when that queen who had won on this important issue was captured, the second of this pair of pearls was cut in two pieces, so that half a helping of the jewel might be in each of the ears of Venus in the Pantheon at Rome." - Pliny, Natural History (IX.59.119-121)

The value of the pearl that Cleopatra dropped in her cup was said by Pliny to be worth ten million sesterces (a hundred thousand gold aurei). It's as if Antony and Cleopatra were engaged in constant competition to see which one could outdo the other in startling behavior.

This page, peppered with interesting asides, also mentions Julius Caesar restricting the wearing of pearls to individuals with a certain status. It's an anecdote about him I had not read before:

"Suetonius relates that Caesar had attempted to restrict the wearing of pearls, a symbol of wealth and prestige, only "to those of a designated position and age" (XLIII).

Suetonius goes on to attribute Caesar's invasion of Britain to a desire for the fresh-water pearls found there and that, "in comparing their size he sometimes weighed them with his own hand" (XLVII)."

I also had to chuckle at Seneca's wit when criticizing the ostentatiousness of Roman women wearing pearls. "Seneca (On Benefits, VII.9) complains that the ears of women are trained to carry pearls in pairs, with another fastened above, and are not content unless the value of two or three estates hang from each lobe."
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Monday, August 4, 2008

Rome Reborn to be featured at SIGGRAPH 2008

"A view of the Circus Maximus seen from the Palatine in Rome Reborn 2.0. Model copyright Past Perfect Productions srl (Rome Italy) 2008. All rights reserved. Rendering courtesy Procedural (Zurich, Switzerland)."

"A significantly enhanced version of Rome Reborn will make its public debut at SIGGRAPH 2008 this August in Los Angeles. It is one of several cutting-edge New Tech Demos that exemplifies how the past invigorates the future of computer graphics and interactive techniques. Considered the largest virtual reconstruction, cultural heritage, and digital archaeology project to date, Rome Reborn is an international collaboration designed to create an interactive 3D digital model that illustrates the urban development of ancient Rome.

Rome Reborn showcases new approaches for exhibiting historical findings in museums, classrooms, and on the Internet. Approximately 7,000 buildings recapture Rome at the peak of its glory in 320 AD, at the time of Constantine the Great. The project opens new channels for education, collaboration between scholars, and communication of archaeology to the general public.

"Rome Reborn is re-inventing the way we explore, understand, and celebrate our past by bringing together technologies that invigorate and define the future of computer graphics and interactive techniques," said Cole Krumbholz, SIGGRAPH 2008 Associate Producer of Encounters. "This exhibit demonstrates the impact modern computer graphics is having on other fields, such as archeology and the humanities."
In real time, visitors to the exhibit will be able to explore the ancient city landscape and its numerous buildings and immerse themselves in the reconstructed 3D models of ancient Roman architecture, rendered interactively.

The exhibit will also feature a series of scheduled talks by representatives of the participating Rome Reborn partners, detailing how this unique and ambitious project was brought to life."
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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Capware Virtual Museums Try to Relieve Pressure on Pompeii and Other Sites In Crisis

Images of what the bath complex in Pompeii originally looked like.

With the cries of alarm going up from the archaeological superintendent of Pompeii and other ancient sites around Vesuvius, digital artists from Capware, an Italian computer graphics company, have stepped forward to create virtual museums of many of the endangered sites in Italy in an effort to relieve the pressure from too many on-site visitors.

At the real site of Pompeii, "chunks of frescoes depicting life in the Roman city are missing, carried away by visitors or eroded by the elements. Graffiti is gouged into walls. Tourists ignore signs forbidding flash photography as they take pictures of erotic designs inside the Lupanare, an ancient brothel."

"Frescoes which would have been a rich "Pompeii red" when excavated in the 1800s have turned pinkish grey or peeled off altogether.

Scaffolding and steal beams prop up crumbling columns and roofs infiltrated by water. Many of the 1,500 houses at the site are closed to the public, either for repair works or for lack of custodians -- guards who retired have not been replaced."

"At least 150 square meters (1,600 square feet) of frescoes and plaster are lost to lack of upkeep each year and 3,000 stones crumble away, Antonio Irlando, the Campania region's alderman for culture, told newspaper Corriere della Serra on July 3." - Bloomberg

But, in Capware's virtual Pompeii, Herculaneum, Boscoreale, Baiae, Capri, and Stabiae, the structures appear as they did to the ancient Romans themselves complete with vibrant frescoes, breathtaking sculpture and intricately adorned furnishings.

I particularly like some of the physicality effects of Capware's Musei E Mostre (click on the link in the lower left corner of the website then the Technologie tab in the center of the screen and watch the movie in the lower right corner. I love how they have combined graphics effects with motion sensors that enable a visitor to virtually swish their hand in the water of a mosaic pool! They must have combined their visuals with "Wii"-type controls.

As you explore their website be sure to check out the links on the colored bar just below each tabbed section as well. On the Pompeii tab, for instance, they have image collections for different sections of the city such as the House of the Faun, the brothel, the necropolis, and the House of the Tragic Poet. The site is in Italian but the breathtaking images speak for themselves!

If Capware's imagery was combined with the multi-directional treadmill (I mentioned in an earlier post) into a facility that permitted a kind of physical exploration of each site, some people's curiosity may be sufficiently gratified to the degree that they would be willing to forgo admission to the actual sites themselves. You would probably need one installation adjacent to Pompeii with only a small restricted portion of Pompeii available for foot traffic to satisfy the more adventurous travelers, then one touring facility that could not only provide an educational and cultural experience for milllions of others but serve as a focus of attention on the need to preserve our collective cultural heritage and encourage contributions to research and preservation efforts.

An restored interior view from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii.

Images of Roman Aqueducts



Capware's Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum

I had to marvel at the images of the Villa dei Papiri and was exhilarated to have confirmed the accuracy of its life-sized counterpart at the Getty Villa in Malibu, California that I visited again just a few weeks ago:

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chariots to Race Once More at the Circus Maximus!!

Yahoo! The only frustrating thing is I'm not scheduled to go to Rome again until March 2009! Argghhh!

"The thunderous sounds of Ancient Rome's chariot races could once more echo around the Eternal City, with plans to stage an event in the Circus Maximus.
A scene from the  film Ben Hur
In Ancient Roman times, races were held using either two or four horses but sometimes skilled charioteers would use up to 10 to impress the Emperor

For hundreds of years, citizens of the Roman Empire watched chariots tear around the famous racetrack in what was the Formula One event of its time.

Now the historical society, Vadis Al Maximo (To the Maximum), is in talks with city officials to bring the event back – with perhaps slightly less blood and carnage as depicted in the film, Ben Hur.

Franco Calo, of Vadis Al Maximo, said: "The event would last three days, starting on October 17, at the same period when the race took place in Roman times.

"According to our calculations, the Circus Maximus area could hold up to 35,000 people. If possible, we hope to involve charioteers from all over the world."

In Ancient Roman times, races were held using either two or four horses but sometimes skilled charioteers would use up to 10 to impress the Emperor.

As in modern day Formula One there were various teams and winners would be given wreaths made from laurel leaves, as well as prize money.

Successful charioteers were hero worshiped and treated as celebrities but their life expectancy was not very high.

The most famous was Scorpus, who won over 2000 races before being killed in a collision at the meta, the column used as a turning point at one end of the track, aged just 27.

Horses, too, could become celebrities, but their life expectancy was even lower with many killed or maimed in spectacular crashes.

Mr. Calo said he hoped the plan would extend beyond the Circus Maximus, which is now being used as a park, with recreations of other pars of Ancient Rome around the city.

"All the main squares of the capital would be transformed into scenes from Ancient Rome, using props on loan from the Cinecitta film studios.

"Various screens would need to be installed at various points outside the course so that people could watch the races."

Restoring the Circus Maximus would include setting up platforms, security exits, a stage at the centre of the course, a ditch and outdoor stables."

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Nice video clip of Roman Art From The Louvre Exhibit

Here's a nice video clip of some of the pieces included in the exhibit, "Roman Art from the Louvre", that is now on display at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. I was fortunate to see the exhibit when it opened in the US at the Seattle Art Museum in February.

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Capitoline Wolf Dated to 13th Century

It's rather ironic that just before I left for lunch today I lovingly touched the reproduction of the Capitoline wolf that I have on my bookcase before walking out the door. I returned and read the article below. Oh well, I'm sure the original wolf was just as enchanting. Sadly, it was probably the victim of the metal "meltdowns" that were widespread in the Roman Empire during the Dark Ages.

"A statue symbolising the mythical origins and power of Rome, long thought to have been made around 500BC, has been found to date from the 1200s.

The statue depicts a she-wolf suckling Remus and his twin brother Romulus - who is said to have founded Rome.

The statue of the wolf was carbon-dated last year, but the test results have only now been made public.

The figures of Romulus and Remus have already been shown to be 15th Century additions to the statue.

In a front page article in the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, Rome's former top heritage official, Professor Adriano La Regina, said about 20 tests were carried out on the she-wolf at the University of Salerno.

He said the results of the tests gave a very precise indication that the statue was manufactured in the 13th Century.

Damaged paw

Academics have been arguing about the origins of the statue - known as the Lupa Capitolina - since the 18th Century.

Until recently it was widely acknowledged that the statue was an Etruscan work dating from the 5th Century BC.

The Roman statesman, Cicero, who lived in the 1st Century BC, describes a statue of a she-wolf that was damaged by a lightning strike - the Lupa Capitolina has a damaged paw.

However, in 2006, an Italian art historian and restorer, Anna Maria Carruba, argued that the statue had been cast in a single piece using a wax mould - a technique unknown in the ancient world.

She suggested the damage to the Lupa Capitolina's paw was the result of a mistake in the moulding process."

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Pompeii Cyberwalk Seeks to Reduce Visitor Damage to Pompeii

Apparently a collaboration of the University of Rome with cybernetic companies like the Max Plank Institute for Biological Cybernetics, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) and the Munich Technical University has produced a virtual Pompeii Cyberwalk using an omnidirectional treadmill:

The Institute of Conservation reports:

"Growing numbers of tourists and visitors can pose serious problems for many fragile historic sites. The conservation of valuable documents in archives has for some time increasingly depended on the creation of digital surrogate copies, but the challenges surrounding the creation of a digital surrogate of an entire ancient city have proved too daunting until now. This week, it will be possible for the first time to - literally - take a stroll around virtual Pompeii.

A stroll around Pompeii is not just virtual reality – it involves real walking. Instead of sitting at a computer looking at a virtual streetscape, the ‘visitor’ walks - or even runs - on a multidirectional treadmill. As they move naturally, a 3-D headset changes the visitor’s view of the Pompeii streets so they can literally walk around a city which has not existed for 2000 years.

The walk around Pompeii is possible thanks to an EU-funded collaboration between the Max Plank Institute for Biological Cybernetics, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ), the University of Rome (La Sapienza), the Munich Technical University

Visitor numbers to heritage sites around the world continue to soar. It is expected that by 2020 there will be 1.6 billion international travellers per year, compared with 663 million in 1999. Over 16.5m Chinese tourists ventured abroad in 2002, twice as many as in 1998. The number of visitor to the Louvre rose from 5.6 million in 2001 to 8.35 million in 2006. In 2005 Angkor Wat received 1m visitors, Pompeii 2m, the Alhambra 2.2m and even Macchu Picchu has climbed well past 0.5m per year, growing at about 6% annually. If the world’s architectural heritage is not to be trampled flat by eager visitors, new ways have to be found of managing visitor numbers, and it is possible that a new generation of virtual reality experiences will have a part to play in this. It is not yet clear though whether high-tech encounters such as the Pompeii Cyberwalk will satisfy people’s desire for contact with the past – or whether they will just make the problem worse by stimulating their curiosity for ‘the real thing’ even further. "

There's a fascinating movie about the project at:
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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Astronomer Dates Caesar's Invasion of Britain

"Thank heaven for scientists who never mind their own business. Prof Donald Olson is an astronomer at Texas State University who has, for more than a decade, taken on a summer job as a historian. You may have heard him on Radio 4, delivering an update on his latest research: the date and place of Julius Caesar's momentous landing on the coast of Britain in 55 BC.

According to Olson, who reports on his intellectual adventures for Sky and Telescope magazine, there has always been an argument about quite when and where this happened. Caesar himself had no Ordnance Survey map, had sketchy local knowledge, and of course expected a lot of resentment from the locals. But he described, in book four of the Gallic Wars, the white cliffs of Dover, and a detour to find a more level playing field for the grim game ahead.

He did not give a precise date ("only a small part of the summer was left") but he was particular about the time he saw the hostile cliffs ("about the fourth hour of the day"), about how long he waited ("until the ninth hour"), and the distance he had to go ("about seven miles"). He also mentions, a bit later on, that on his fourth day in Britain as an illegal immigrant the cavalry reinforcements from Gaul were delayed by a storm, a full moon and an unusually high tide.

Such clues were enough to give scholars a crack at dating the invasion. Just as astronomers can predict future full moons, so they can confidently time them far in the past. So, they calculated, Caesar saw Dover but turned north-east and sailed around the South Foreland and landed at either Walmer or Deal on August 26 or 27. Latin scholars might have been happy with this conclusion, but hydrographers and astronomers were not; they calculated that the tides would be running the wrong way at the ninth hour of those days and take Caesar to the south-west.

So the team from Texas made the Julian date with destiny their summer assignment. They read all the texts, checked the tidal patterns, turned up in Dover in August 2007 just when the equinox and lunar cycle coincided to replicate the tidal conditions that Caesar reported, and figured that the problem could be sorted by assuming an easily-made clerical error by someone who copied the original manuscript. If so, time and tide would have been just right for a landing at Deal on August 22 or 23. Case closed - possibly.

This is arcane science applied to ancient history, and it makes both subjects lively. To get a more complete picture of the problem, Olson and his colleagues and students had to read Dio Cassius, and study Valerius Maximus, a chronicler from the first century AD. They had to consult classicists and archaeologists, match the Julian and Gregorian calendars, examine the verdicts of Victorian astronomers and naval hydrographers and use global positioning satellites to measure their own progress around the Channel coast."

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