Monday, February 18, 2008

Topographer claims Palatine cave not fabled Lupercal

"A leading Roman topography expert said a grotto found under the home of Emperor Augustus in the Italian capital is not the historical Lupercal cave.

Roman Antiquity Professor Filippo Coarelli wrote in a La Repubblica article Friday that there is not "a shred of evidence" the grotto is the legendary Lupercal where Roman founders worshiped a she-wolf.

Coarelli claimed that the cave, located under Rome's Palatine Hill, was likely a monument devoted to water nymphs or a fountain built "in the first few decades of the imperial era," ANSA reported Friday.

He said the cave's decorations ''have nothing to do with the appearance of the mythical grotto, which is known from ancient descriptions and numerous paintings."
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Friday, February 15, 2008

Corning Museum to feature glass inspired by Ancient Rome

Open a major exhibition of glass in the middle of February?

That's what the Corning Museum of Glass will do Friday when it unveils "Reflecting Antiquity: Modern Glass Inspired by Ancient Rome."

"This spectacular assemblage offer scholars and the general public alike a new perspective on the history of Roman glass and its influence on modern production," said David Whitehouse, executive director of the Corning Museum of Glass and co-curator of the exhibition.

More than 70 of the 112 objects on view in the exhibition -- prepared in cooperation with the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles -- come from the collection of the Corning Museum of Glass. The other objects are on loan from a variety of museums around the world and from private collectors. The exhibition will be on display through May 27.

Among the objects in the exhibition:

•The fourth century Rothschild Lycurgus Cup from the British Museum.

•The Patella Cup from the Corning Museum of Glass, an example of original Roman mosaic glass.

•The Auldjo Jug from the British Museum, an example of Roman cameo glass.

•Imitations of Venetian Renaissance originals, including the 1878 copy of the Coppa Barovier.

•Gold glass, represented by the fourth century Disch Cantharus from the Corning Museum of Glass.

Associated programs:

•At the daily live glassblowing demonstrations, glassmakers will use the techniques of ancient glass artists to reproduce the forms used by Roman glassmakers.

•Visitors also will be offered hands-on activities, including creating designs for their own Roman-style patterns with paper rubbings.

•During the exhibition, visitors may design sandblasted vessels inspired by ancient Roman glass styles.
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Barbaians focus of new exhibit in Venice

"HISTORY has been unkind to the Barbarians. Some 1,600 years have passed since they began to redraw the boundaries of Europe, yet their names are best remembered for the anti-social and savage behaviour always associated with Vandals, Goths and Huns. Now an exhibition in Venice seeks to help rehabilitate them. The Vandals? They took Carthage when the locals were watching a circus. Huns? Attila was not always as bad as he is painted; he forbore, after all, to sack Rome. As for the Goths, they were not without their redeeming features, either.

This show is the latest sign of a growing interest—visible in fiction, film, television and even computer games—in the hordes that felled Rome. The chief curator is Jean-Jacques Aillagon, a French former culture minister, who dramatises the traditional view of the Barbarians by exhibiting a scattering of 19th-century paintings that depict them in the worst possible light. In one, two near-naked hooligans are destroying an elegant marble statue of a Roman nobleman. Mr Aillagon's historical method is to look for similarities between today's Europe and Europe during the decline and fall of the Roman empire.

“Europe at the start of the third millennium is living through a cultural revolution not unlike that of the first,” writes Mr Aillagon in the preface to the exhibition catalogue. Does this mean the Barbarians were entrepreneurial capitalists, economic migrants and asylum-seekers? Not quite. Attila the Hun (played in the BBC's latest biopic by Rory McCann, pictured above) is best known for his furious savagery. He behaved so cruelly in cities such as Aquileia and Verona that some survivors fled to islands in the nearby lagoon and laid the foundations of Venice.

The exhibition begins and ends with different varieties of triumphalism. It starts by proclaiming the shrewdness of a Roman empire that kept the Barbarians at bay for almost 300 years, after the shocking defeat by German tribes in the Teutoburg forest in 9AD until the final gasp of Rome's western stronghold in 476AD.

The first exhibits are sarcophagi decorated with mounted Roman soldiers trampling half-naked Barbarians. Since the Romans were fearful of this new enemy—named after the Greek barbaros, which mocked the babbling sounds of foreigners' languages—the efficient Roman propaganda machine commissioned public statues to reassure a nervous populace. There is a fine early example in the exhibition showing a kneeling, near-naked Barbarian with his hands tied behind his back.

The Romans decided that assimilation was the best form of defence, and many of the exhibits illuminate the lengths to which Roman bureaucrats and soldiers went to absorb foreigners into the machinery of empire. Barbarian religions were widely tolerated, and one of the most striking exhibits, which was found in Arras, is a stone image of a bald Freyr, the Norse god of fruitfulness, as a fertility god, clutching his penis to his body.

With the fall of the Roman empire, historical evidence becomes scarce. Unlike the Romans, the Barbarians did not build for posterity, and their story is told principally through displays of funerary jewellery and weaponry, with the odd cooking pot thrown in. These can grow monotonous and, since the explanatory cards are not much help and are translated only randomly, the audio-guide is a necessity.

The second triumphalist episode, in which the cross becomes a common object in Barbarian graves, is reflected in the exhibits in the final rooms. Rather as Romans aspired to Greek virtues, the new Barbarian aristocracy aspired to live like Romans. By the sixth century no Roman custom was more influential than Christianity. What happened was a rare case of the religion of the defeated spreading among the victors..."

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Friday, February 1, 2008

Developer of Course Materials about late antiquity garners award

"Michele Salzman, professor of history at UC Riverside, is one of five UC researchers honored by the American Philological Association for developing course materials for sixth- and seventh-grade social studies teachers about the world of late antiquity.

The 2007 APA Prize for Scholarly Outreach, presented at the international association’s annual meeting in Chicago in early January, recognizes the work of the University of California Multi-Campus Research Group in the History and Culture of Late Antiquity.

“This is an important affirmation of our efforts to share information and new insights into late antiquity with middle school teachers,” Salzman said. “The teachers have been really excited and appreciative of our efforts to explore the ancient world. And it is rewarding to receive this recognition from the American Philological Association since this is the only award they give for outreach.”

Other members of the group include Claudia Rapp of UCLA, Emily Albu of UC Davis, Harold Drake of UC Santa Barbara and Susanna Elm of UC Berkeley.

The team began working in 1999 to develop instructional materials for middle-school social studies teachers about the world of late antiquity, including the fall of the multicultural Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity and, to a lesser extent, Islam.

The group offered one-day workshops – including at UC Riverside and California State University San Bernardino – and provided teachers with course materials such as extensive maps, images, bibliography and directions for further study.

“The group's project was intellectually valuable for demonstrating with rigor, clarity, and imagination the enormous breadth of the world of the Roman Empire and its eventual division into East and West,” Helene P. Foley, chair of the prize committee, said in the citation announcing the winning project.

The project filled a gap in the middle-school curriculum and introduced an important and novel global perspective to the study of the ancient world, she said."
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