18 December 2009


Although I'm an archaeologist, I still have the classics at heart. So let's begin this edition of Carnivalesque with a nod to those who may dream of reading the world through the prism of Ancient Greek, which is what you can do on Akropolis World News .

The brainchild of J. Coderch (Senior Language Tutor in Greek and Latin at the University of St. Andrews) AKWN offers the latest headline stories in ancient Greek. Dr Coderch hopes that this news service will help students lose their fear of the language while it offers everyone the pleasure of seeing Thucydides’s and Plato’s language used for current affairs. He wants to get away from the idea that ancient Greek is a “closed world” and promote it as almost a living language.

Of course, there are words that the ancients never knew -- such as 'airplane', 'tank', and 'computer', not to mention President Obama -- which therefore are taken from modern Greek and adapted into the Attic language.

So you can now read in plain Attic dialect (above):

Inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki criticise Obama's speech

The full news article in Ancient Greek will be found here.

A question for Dr Coderch: How would Plato have dealt with "Click on Google Map"?

Via ArchéoFacts (Quand le Passé nous revient),

The West Bank and East Jerusalem Searchable Map

Winner of the ASOR 2009 Open Archaeology Prize, an Israeli-Palestinian Archaeology Working Group (as part of a research project authored by Prof. Rafi Greenberg [Tel Aviv University] and Adi Keinan [University College London] gathered details about each site in the West Bank excavated or surveyed since 1967. Data includes the site name(s), GIS grid location, description of the site's major components (e.g. olive oil press; ritual bath; sheikh's tomb; church, synagogue, village); details about the periods when the site was occupied (e.g. Neolithic, Byzantine [Christian]; Iron Age II; Ottoman); and information about the excavators or surveyors and relevant publications/bibliography.

The database is available in a visually searchable Google Map interface. Click on any pin on the map, Plato, and read on....

From the holy land to the heavens, Alun Salt is blogged on The Astronomical Orientation of Ancient Greek Temples (on Anthropology.net):

Despite it appearing to be a simple question to answer, there is no consensus as to whether or not the alignments of ancient Greek temples reflect astronomical intentions. Now, Alun Salt presents the results of his survey of archaic and classical Greek temples in Sicily, comparing their alignments with temples in Greece. He argues that Greek temples are, in fact, astronomically aligned and that this acts as an ethnic marker of religious activity.

Temples in Sicily and Greece do, however, differ in their alignments. The reason for this, he suggests, is that temples in Greece were frequently built on sites that had been sacred for generations -- reaching back into the Bronze Age at places like Thermon, where the later classical temples were built over the remains of a Mycenaean era megaron. In Sicily, on the other hand, they were built by Greeks who saw themselves as immigrants in a distant land. With no historical precedent to shape the construction, temples were much more likely to be purely the products of seventh-, sixth- and fifth-century cosmology. Thus, it is no coincidence that he found that 40 of 41 Sicilian temples in Sicily were oriented to face sunrise. The sole exception was the Temple of Hekate, which he suggests may have been built to honour a Moon goddess.

I do like that exception.

Read the whole paper (with statistical analyses of temple orientations) at PlosOne, the open access on-line journal of peer-reviewed science.

Rome Still Matters...

... not just for historians but for everyday Europeans.

For the blog Roman Imperialism,
Rome is the archetypal empire, shaping our conceptions of and attitudes towards modern as well as ancient imperialism. How we view ancient Rome is often how we view ourselves, as in New Europe, New Rome. Is the European Union a Good Thing, or a Bad Thing? For most of us, opinions may change day by day but there is one group

"whose view of Rome isn't ambiguous in the slightest, and who therefore have no hesitation in drawing analogies with the equally satanic force of the European Union: the Christian lunatic fringe. "

An obliging lunatic-fringer blogged, Europe will one day almost certainly be the heart of the Antichrist beast-system of governmental, economic and religious control prophesied to engulf the world.

The fifth world empire symbolized in the statue is prophesied to be an extension of the fourth kingdom. That is exactly what the EU is – an extension of the ancient Roman Empire.

Europe will be where Antichrist rises to power as the new emperor of Rome's successor ...."

... and let's not start on the number of websites that think Tony Blair is the obvious candidate for the joint post ... of European President and Antichrist.

We can thank our lucky stars he didn't get the job!

Et tu Brute?

Meanwhile, over at LacusCurtius & Livius, they have been busy demolishing some Common Errors that practically everyone believes about the ancient world . This is CE # 26:

The last words of Julius Caesar are often quoted as Et tu Brute?, “You too, Brutus” They are also quoted as Tu quoque, Brute?, which means the same.

That those famous last words are quoted in two versions, already suggests that something’s gone wrong. They cannot both be correct.

In fact, Caesar probably did not say either.

According to Suetonius ( Life of Caesar, 82.2 ) he just sighed, or said something in Greek.

Read what that might have been ... and click for an overview of all the Common Errors. Which ones do you believe in, dear Reader?

What we believe about the past may be all wrong, but we believe it all the same.

A stunning 7-part series, Displaying Modernity, by Dimitris Plantzos at (pre)texts examines the appropriation of Cycladic art by both Greek nationalism and modernist aesthetics in the 20th c. This art is viewed as thoroughly 'Hellenic' -- though if we are to believe its modernist enthusiasts, it is anything but that. You might say that these opposing claims have manufactured Cycladic art as a full-blown 20th c. cultural phenomenon. While, for the Greek nationalist imagination,

Continuity of landscape is all we need to establish the uninterrupted sequence of Greek art-history, even if we cannot really argue that it was the same 'collective consciousness' of the Greek city-state that actually produced the spirituality of Cycladic sculpture.

The series concludes, "... the silent, featureless, poignantly blind faces of the Cycladic figurines functioned (they still do) as double-faced mirrors reflecting the country’s 'antiquity' and its 'modernity' at the same time."

Perhaps this is not the illegitimate appropriation of prehistoric archaeology so much as its inescapable consequence and an integral part of our object of study. To be read and savoured over the holidays: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Fini.

Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo

There's quite a lot of it about in the blogging world. LatinLanguage.Us signals this "delightful opening of a hendecasyllabic wishing the best for two of the poet’s critics."

Umm, yes.

This opening line by the 1st c B.C. poet Catullus (16.1) has been the focus for lawyers trying to prove that investment banker Mark Lowe illegally dismissed one of his female employees. Mark Lowe, you see, had studied Greek and Latin at Oxford. And so...

Out of court, Mary Beard, the eminent professor of classics at Cambridge University, was interviewed on National Public Radio. An excerpt:

RAZ: And what's it mean in English?

Prof. BEARD: I can tell you what it means in English, and you will have to bleep it out. It means (BLEEP).

RAZ: Oh, my gosh. Well, here's roughly what it means.

Prof. BEARD: What it indicates is that what you should do to your enemies is something quite different from love them in the Christian sense.

(Soundbite of music)

If you want to know what Catullus really meant, have a look at Mary Beard's blog on the subject.

After all that bleeping, the archaeologist in me is still twitching about ceramics (as is our wont) so here is Graham's Potted History on Experimental Archaeologist or Ancient Technology Specialist.

Should archaeologists or practitioners of the particular technology under investigation conduct experimental archaeological experiments?

"As a potter I wouldn't dream of stomping onto an ancient site, spade in hand, and starting digging unless I was under the strict guidance of someone who knew exactly what they were doing. However there does see to be a tendency for archaeologists to construct a replica kiln, fire it, without consulting anyone who might know how to fire the thing, and then writing up the results in a learned journal as if it meant something.

After firmly damping down an experiment intended to reproduce the workings of the Norton Priory kiln , Graham concludes,

I’m not saying don’t experiment, in fact I’d like to see much more experimentation. What I am saying is; if you experiment with ancient technologies seek out the best expertise you can find. I love working with archaeologists and by working together we can get great results that combine the best aspects of both disciplines.

A real downer, if not a 'kil(n)er' for us digging folk.

But we get our own back with a sharp jab at astrophysicists in Leap Second Dating, describing a novel gravimetric dating technique for archaeological artefacts. Stephen Chrisomalis at Glossographia has the story:
Two astrophysicists (Takehisa Fujita, Naohiro Kanda) are claiming that the predictions of general relativity allow us to estimate the time shift of the earth’s rotation around the sun at ~ 10.3 minutes / 1000 years. The same process that leads to us adding ‘leap seconds’ to the calendar allows us to measure the difference in sunrise / sunset over long time periods.
“[S]ome of the archaeological objects may well possess a special part of the building which can be pointed to the sun at the equinox.” So, if you expect the alignment to occur at sunrise but you’re off by 10 minutes, well, it must be because it was built 1000 years ago -- a shift of 10 minutes per millennium. I can't say I understand any of this but I do grasp that there is a huge caveat: “It should be noted that the new dating method has an important assumption that there should be no major earthquake in the region of the archaeological objects.” Or, for that matter, any other movement of the celestially-aligned features, or so I imagine.

O Lord, Give me back my wiggles on the calibration curve.

Speaking of wiggles, the Catalan church around the turn of the first millennium knew how to make wiggle room.

Over at TenthMedieval, Jonathan Jarrett takes on Yer Actual Simony, when Count Ermengol I of Urgell (993-1010) and Bishop Sal·la of Urgell (981-1010) agree that Sal·la’s nephew, also called Ermengol -- seen left in the mitre -- will succeed his uncle as bishop ... and set out the price that Count Ermengol demands for ensuring that this occurs: 100 pesa now, or else 200 later of which 60 to be paid now.

We don’t know how much was actually being paid because we don’t know what the promised 100-200 pesa was worth at this time -- perhaps 100 times an ounce of gold or a pound of silver; anyway, a lot.

You could probably just about argue that this is not simony, but insurance: Count Ermengol doesn’t say that he will oppose Ermengol as bishop if the money isn’t paid, just that he won’t help him or perform the investiture. Technically he’s being paid to ensure that Ermengol does become bishop. However, I don’t think many canon lawyers in Rome would have seen it that way. I also don’t think anyone in AD1003 Catalonia cared.

Still, all's well that ends well and Ermengol not only gets the bishopric but was later recognised as a saint -- albeit largely for his war-leadership against the Muslims; so subsequent papacies have forgiven him this unfortunate slip into simony.

Two Ermengols in one document is confusing (even the scribe tied himself up into knots to keep them unentangled), but medieval bloggers can cope. As does also Hannah Kilpa Trick of Mony wylsum way. In Structure and Symmetry in the Gilte Legend, Trick sorts out the plethora of Julians in the Gilte Legende, all cloistered under the entry for St Julian (v. 1 pp. 141-47) just to make sure we know which St Julian is the right St Julian. And that's the Julian she tells us about.

The future saint, fleeing a prophecy that he will kill both his parents (laid on him as punishment by a hart he was hunting), moves away, marries and gets set up as a lord in a nice feudal castle. When his parents find his castle, his wife invites them in, lavishes hospitality on them and gives up her bed to them, going to sleep elsewhere for the night. Returning home, Julian sees a man and a woman in his wife’s bed and kills them both in a fit of jealousy. As he emerges from the bloody chamber he meets his wife and is slightly chagrined to hear her explanation.

In this reworking of the Oedipus myth, Julian flees his castle and becomes a hermit – albeit a hermit with a wife, who refuses to desert him. Until one day, a horrible slimy smelly old leper turns up and says HELP ME ACROSS THE RIVER. He helps the leper, and, because he's dying of cold, “toke hym in his armes and bare hym to his bedde and hilled hym diligently” And lo and behold, the leper is secretly an angel sent by God to receive his penance and promise him that he will be taken to God soon.

This story invites a structural diagram (I think the red blob is the murder). All in all, a very clever example of certain elements from classical legend rewritten enough not to feel disjointed and inserted seamlessly into a medieval Christian moral setting.

As an Aegean archaeologist, I like stories like this that transform Greek myths -- and those, too, in which a memory of the pagan past suddenly floats to the surface -- just what happens in Will Wonders Never Cease: St. Erkenwald with Claustrophilia . Karl Stee, on In The Middle, tells about the late fourteenth-century Middle English alliterative poem St. Erkenwald, a story that purports to take place in seventh-century London, during the rededication of England's pagan temples to Christianity.
Deep in the greatest temple, which would become St. Paul's, workmen unearth a gothic tomb, carved with mysterious letters. Prying it open, they discover an immaculate body, royally dressed. The bewildered citizens summon their bishop, Erkenwald, who speaks to the corpse, which confesses itself an ancient pagan judge, buried as a king for his righteousness, but barred as a pagan from heaven. Erkenwald weeps, accidentally baptizing the corpse, which promptly rots while its spirit ascends to paradise. Then Erkenwald and the crowds parade through London, while the bells of the city ring out about them.
In the poem, "time is piled up, mixed, all moments touching: it takes place 'noȝt fulle longe' [not very long] after the crucifixion, yet somehow in the seventh century; the judge, asked when he had lived, answers enigmatically, interweaving dates, and the 'New Werke' at St. Paul's took place in the thirteenth, not the seventh, century. The alliterative christening of London's temples preserves as much as it converts: those of Jupiter and Juno become the churches of Jesus and James," sustaining the past as a point of contact, as an echo.

Meanwhile, as the crowd goes out to celebrate and, thinking that the past is finally shut up, they leave nothing behind in St. Paul's except an empty tomb.

Bloody but not unhorsed, there is yet more wiggle room for the knights in Christ as Tourneyer who claimed God's blessing for rapine and slaughter while pledging fealty to the Prince of Peace.

Richard Kauper's new book on Holy Warriors, which is reviewed in Muhlberger's Early History, examines how clerics and military elites avoided the contradictions inherent in their fusion of chivalry with a religion that urged you to turn the other cheek, and where, lest we forget, the meek shall inherit the earth.

Duke Henry of Lancaster, one of Edward III's best generals in the Hundred Years War, wrote a spiritual autobiography, visualizing what he saw as the ideal knight's resemblance to Jesus:

In discussing how the tears shed by the Blessed Virgin will wash the wounds of his own wretched body, [Duke Henry] comes to nasal wounds, a topic which puts the realist in him in mind of the blows that struck Christ's nose during his scourging. Christ's nose, he thought, must have looked like that of a habitual tourneyer, and his mouth must have been discolored and beaten out of shape.

Christ did fight in a tournament, he avers, and he won it, securing life for humanity.

A very martial Christ indeed.

Luckily, No One Has Come to Blows [Yet] Over The Staffordshire Hoard

As everyone who has a television knows, a few months ago a jobless metal-detecting enthusiast hit the jackpot on his first outing, pinging the so-called "Staffordshire Hoard", a buried cache of Anglo-Saxon gold consisting mostly of war booty -- sword fittings, decorative armour clasps and panels, and some jewellery -- probably from the end of the seventh or the beginning of the eighth centuries.

While the media have focused on the value of the hoard (estimated at 3.3 million pounds [$5.5 million]), Got Medieval enthused instead over the weird entwined and stylized beasties that decorate the items from the hoard.

Like these animals around the edges of a golden dagger hilt (left).

Though to our eyes they look like four-legged eels or duck-billed monsters, these synchronized leg-biting animals are probably wolves -- or lions or domesticated dogs.

The labels elucidate the various parts.

This, in turn, helps makes sense of another image on a folded-up brooch in the hoard (below) -- variously described as person's crossed arms, a pair of fish or eels, Ouroboros serpents, or even as meant to represent Odin's two ravens.

The labelled wolf-parts makes it clear what this is: a foreleg and paw attached directly to a snout that's chewing on an identical foreleg and paw attached directly to a snout that is chewing right back. In other words, it's a bit of visual nonsense made up out of isolated elements of the highly stylized seventh- and eighth-century decorative vocabulary.

Interestingly, what I'm calling "stylized visual nonsense" is a feature that characterizes earlier migration-era art. As time goes on, these clever bits of wonkiness fall out of fashion in favor of less-stylized, more realistic depictions of animals....[W]ith the Anglo-Saxons and Celts of the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries, art gradually lost its experimental abstract character and slowly became, for lack of a better term, "square," even conservative.

And to end the Carnival, a last remark or two on another subject dear to my heart, to wit, the flower of my adopted homeland, the tulip.

Unlike everything we have ever learnt (especially in Dutch), the tulip may not have arrived first in Holland more or less directly from the Ottoman Empire. According to the latest blooming theory, as reported on Medieval News, the origin of the flower is in Byzantium and it arrived in Europe in the 11th century in what is today Andalusia, then still under Islamic domination, and hundreds of years before tulips were known in Amsterdam.

Based on the Umda, a botanical work dated from between the 11th and 12th centuries, it seems likely that an 11th century agronomist from Toledo, Ibn Bassal (the so-called¨the onion-vendor's son¨) played a major role in the introduction and the early cultivation of the tulip in Iberian territory.

According to researchers at the School of Arabic Studies in Cordoba, "The existence of representations of tulips in the temples of Konya (Turkey) which date from the 11th century, and the mention of al-Andalus in the Umda, point towards the introduction of tulips into Europe some 500 years before the references known up until today."

Yikes! Their introduction into Holland had previously been dated to the end of the 16th century.

The tulip is the national flower in Iran, Turkey and the Netherlands. Turkey has precedence . Already by the 13th century, the Turkish poet Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi had imagined the tulip with, "the most sad smile of them all."

So, it is with a most sad smile that we Dutch may have to hand the palm to al-Andalus.

On the other hand, Ibn al-‘Awwam, who wrote the Kitab al-Filaba -- an agricultural document about a century after the Umda -- grubbily described the tulip as a 'Macedonian onion', so we might still argue that they didn't give it quite the recognition it deserved. Admittedly, al-‘Awwam could distinguish a tulip from an onion:
Its flower is yellow inside and pink outside, shaped like a cube. Another beautiful and aromatic flower is found in its interior. It grows in moist and mountainous places and is cultivated like the yellow narcissus.
But, even if true, it took the Dutch to bring this bloom down from the mountains and plant it securely in the Low Lands ... just in time for the "Tulip Mania", too.

End of Carnivalesque # 57 and end of 2009 as well. My warm thanks to those who contributed so many fascinating blog nominations, and to all readers my best wishes for a peaceful, productive New Year.


All from the mentioned blogs except Alun Salt's photo of Temple B at Naxos from Flickr, showing the wall of the later Temple built shortly after the first temple which you can see above left. It's aligned further south than the Temple A it replaced, which means it would have been aligned towards sunrise in early or late summer.


  1. In commenting on experimental kiln firings, I wasn't trying to suppress experimentation rather I was hoping to open dialogue. I admit I may have been a little harsh! Best wishes,

  2. Re: The Staffordshire Hoard
    I think one of the labels on the little beastie is wrong. The bushy tail is most likely the back foot, curved under and behind the body. It seems slightly off, so it's not the best job; but examples of how this can be the foot of the back leg can be seen in even more dramatic curvature on the animal/circle carpet page of the Book of Durrow.


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