Saturday, March 28, 2009

Forensic pathologists claim Arsinoe's skeleton found in Ephesus

I was browsing my news alerts this morning after being gone for a couple of weeks in Rome and came across this fascinating piece of news:

"ARCHEOLOGISTS and forensic experts believe they have identified the skeleton of Cleopatra’s younger sister, murdered more than 2,000 years ago on the orders of the Egyptian queen.

The remains of Princess Arsinöe, put to death in 41BC on the orders of Cleopatra and her Roman lover Mark Antony to eliminate her as a rival, are the first relics of the Ptolemaic dynasty to be identified.

The breakthrough, by an Austrian team, has provided pointers to Cleopatra’s true ethnicity. Scholars have long debated whether she was Greek or Macedonian like her ancestor the original Ptolemy, a Macedonian general who was made ruler of Egypt by Alexander the Great, or whether she was north African.

Evidence obtained by studying the dimensions of Arsinöe’s skull shows she had some of the characteristics of white Europeans, ancient Egyptians and black Africans, indicating that Cleopatra was probably of mixed race, too. They were daughters of Ptolemy XII by different wives..."

"...The distinctive tomb was first opened in 1926 by archeologists who found a sarcophagus inside containing a skeleton. They removed the skull, which was examined and measured; but it was lost in the upheaval of the second world war.

In the early 1990s Hilke Thür of the Austrian Academy of Sciences reentered the tomb and found the headless skeleton, which she believed to be of a young woman. Clues, such as the unusual octagonal shape of the tomb, which echoed that of the lighthouse of Alexandria with which Arsinöe was associated, convinced Thür the body was that of Cleopatra’s sister..." - much more: Times Online.

I must admit I am still a little skeptical as the skeleton's age was estimated at 15 - 18 years of age - seemingly too young for Arsinoe. As the article points out, Arsinoe was younger than Cleopatra, who was about 27 at the time she ordered her sister's execution. But, such a young age would mean she was little more than a child when she assumed control of the Egyptian army during the Alexandrian Wars with Caesar and ordered the execution of Egyptian commanding general Achillas, replacing him with her tutor Ganymede. Although she may have been as precocious as her older sister, this level of political acumen would seem to be a bit of a stretch unless she was being used as merely a figure head for an ambitious Ganymede. If this were so, however, why would Cleopatra be so nervous about her potential to cause political problems in the future? If the ancient sources were more precise about her age or birthdate it would be a tremendous help but the struggle for control of the throne of Egypt during this period has left a number of conflicting documents with various dating methods to confuse the issue.

However, one cannot dismiss the implications of the age, shape, and decor of the tomb in which the skeleton was found or the DNA analysis that indicates the skeleton had a combination of European, ancient Egyptian and North African traits. If the remains are, indeed, that of Arsinoe, I cannot help but feel excited to have, at last, some physical biological remnant of a member of the Ptolemy royal house available for future study. I also found the computer reconstruction of Arsinoe interesting. Although she had a different mother than Cleopatra, surely some of her appearance could have been shared by her more famous older sister.
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Friday, March 6, 2009

3rd century Roman Battlefield uncovered in northern Germany

This is really exciting. Apparently, Rome didn't totally withdraw from Germania after the Teutoburg Forest disaster after all.

[Image -The battle in the Teutoburg Forest in 9AD, by H. Knackfuss, 1890. Norddeutsches Schulmuseum, Friesland (School Museum in Northern Germany), courtesy of the Museum and Park at Kalkriese]
"Archaeologists have found an ancient battlefield in Germany that indicates that the Roman Legions were still fighting Germanic tribes deep inside "barbarian" territory as late as the 3rd Century AD – 200 years later than hitherto believed.

The discovery comes as preparations are being made to commemorate the 2,000th anniversary of the famous Battle of Teutoburg Forest in September 2009. In the battle, Germanic guerrilla fighters annihilated three elite Roman Legions, the XVIIth, XVIIIth and XIXth, in September of the year 9 AD.

...the new archaeological discovery, if verified, could mean that the history books must be rewritten, as the newly discovered 3rd Century battlefield is located 100 miles (160 kilometres) further east of the Teutoburg Forest.

"The find can be dated to the 3rd Century and will definitely change the historical perception of that time," said Dr. Henning Hassmann, director of historic preservation in the state of Lower Saxony.

So far, 600 artefacts have been unearthed that are clearly of Roman 3rd Century origin and dating, says Michael Wickmann, an official in the town of Northeim, where the dig has been conducted over a period of months.

Initial reports said that DNA fingerprinting evidence indicated that some of the arrows had been made of African wood, which was the preferred wood used in the manufacture of Roman arrows. However, Hassmann said he could not confirm those reports.

It is unknown whether that outpost predates the 9 AD battle of Teutoburg Forest or whether it might be a later tribal camp where Germanic warriors stocked up on Roman-made armaments smuggled or looted from imperial frontier garrisons.
I thought this little "hagiographic view" of Arminius' victory at Teutoburg was like a classical period "Triumph of the Will"

The Battle of Teutoburg Forest between
myth and reality: an hagiographic view

I think a little more objective explanation of the events surrounding the disaster are contained in the History Channel presentation, "Decisive Battles". I really liked this series that used the game engine from "Rome Total War" to recreate a number of important battles in the classical world. I bought the entire set on DVD. I think I would have preferred the "big picture" game images interspersed with reenactment closeups though. It would have given the presentation more of a human touch.
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