New at LacusCurtius and Livius.Org (3)

31 December 2007

Bill really seems to like Dio Chrysostom; he has now put online Oration 1, Oration 2, and Oration 3, which are the three first instalments of a series of four dealing with the nature of imperial rule. They were addressed to the emperor Trajan (picture; Valkhof Museum, Nijmegen). He added Discourse 28 and Discourse 29, the notorious Melancomas texts.

In Bill’s Antiquaries Shoebox, an odd essay on Homeric heroes and fish, and a sequel.

I have added two very small articles, one on Alexandria ad Issum (modern Iskenderun) and one on the island of Tenedos. Nothing very special.

Lepcis Magna

29 December 2007

I have put online a long article on Lepcis Magna, the most important city of Roman Tripolitana, and the birth place of the emperor Septimius Severus. You can find it here. At the moment, there are four pages on Lepcis’ history (Phoenician beginnings, Romanization, Golden Age, Decline); five pages with sources; twenty-two inscriptions; and twenty-seven pages with photos of Lepcis’ buildings and the villas in the neighborhood. The photo shows the city’s most famous monument: the Arch of Septimius Severus.

I will add at least two pages before this year is out, and hope to add more in February, when I’m back from a new visit to that remarkable place, which is -from an archaeological point of view- less important than the Limes Tripolitanus, but still very much worth a visit.

Qumran / Scrolls of the Dead Sea

27 December 2007

qumran1.jpgThe preliminary report of the excavations at Qumran has been published; it can be downloaded here. If I may summarize the summary: there is no connection between the settlement and the famous scrolls, and the theory that the buildings were some sort of (Essene) monastery, is incorrect. The building may in fact have been a pottery manufactory center.

Although the authors of the preliminary report, Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg, are archaeologists, and have until now not commented upon the scrolls, they now propose that these important texts were left behind by refugees from Judaea, who tried to evade the Roman legions during the war of 66-70. This may explain why so many scrolls with Biblical texts have been found – too many for one monastery.

All this is not very new. The theory that the Qumran settlement was a monastery and that the scrolls were written over there, has always had its skeptics, and the idea that the scrolls belonged to more than one library has been proposed before.  Still, it is interesting to see that the people who have been excavating the area for more than a decade (1993-2004), now join those who are skeptical about the old thesis.

New at LacusCurtius and Livius.Org (2)

26 December 2007

I used Christmas day to reorganize part of Livius.Org. Revised articles include: the “treasure of Ambiorix” (photo), “Halys“, “Cinyps“, and “Legio III Parthica“. The latter is an update of an article based on Ritterling, taking into account the information from Le Bohec’s Les legions de Rome sous le Haut-Empire. I intend to do all legions, but I am not in a hurry.

Meanwhile, Bill expands LacusCurtius by putting online speeches by Dio of Prusa. Today, Discourse 6 was made accessible, which is called “Diogenes, or On Tyranny”, but in fact deals with Domitian, who had sent Dio into exile.

New at LacusCurtius and Livius.Org

24 December 2007

Continuing to put online translations of the orations of Dio of Prusa, Bill has made available Discourse 5, a Libyan myth about a monster that was half woman, half snake. It reminded me of a native Libyan sculpture I once saw in the temple of Slonta (photo). I read a bit about that sanctuary, but none of it referred to Dio, so perhaps the combination of these two pieces of evidence has never been attempted before, or is simply nonsense.

My own contribution to the web is more modest than Bill’s, but some of you may find the tombstone of Viatorinus interesting, a Roman soldier killed by Franks near Cologne. I’m currently more occupied with reorganizing all articles, to prepare for a migration to a Content Management System; the pages on Deutz, Cologne, and Alteburg were restyled. Also restyled is my Amsterdam section, which has nothing to do with Amsterdam, but I think you will like the section on Stone Tablets.

New at LacusCurtius (1)

23 December 2007
Coin of Postumus

Coin of Postumus

Bill Thayer has added a translation of Dio Chrysostom‘s Eighth Discourse to the LacusCurtius website, an essay on the nature of virtue. Another addition is the Latin text of the chapters on the “Thirty Tyrants” that belong to the Historia Augusta. This is the name that the anonymous author gives to a series of third-century usurpers. One of them was Postumus, who is shown on this coin from the delightful Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn.

Mount Ararat

23 December 2007
The summit of Mount Ararat

The summit of Mount Ararat

Mount Ararat is rightly famous for being the place where Noah and his relatives left the Ark. The Turks call this volcano Ağrı Dağı, the Kurds call it Çiyaye Agiri (“fiery mountain”), and hotel owners in the neighborhood do not hesitate to say that this is the Mount Ararat. And it is easy to believe them, because the snow-capped mountain is the largest and most impressive of all summits in eastern Turkey. The problem is – it can not be the place where Noah disembarked.

The Bible does not refer to a summit called Ararat, but to “the mountains of Ararat”, and this proper name refers to the ancient kingdom of Urartu (cf. Jeremiah 51.27). Ancient Jewish authors and early translators of the Bible were well aware that there was no mountain called Ararat. The author of the second-century BCE Book of Jubilees (5.28, 10.15) states that the Ark landed on “Mount Lubar” in “the land of Ararat”, and the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus knew that “Ararat” referred to a summit he calls “Baris”, which is in a country north called Gordyene (Jewish Antiquities, 1.93). Josephus adds that in his days, bitumen could still be found near the site of the Ark

Babylonian sources concur. In his account of the FloodBerossus mentions the presence of bitumen as well, the Epic of Gilgameš also refers to mountains in what is now Kurdistan, and the Quran speaks of Al-Gudi. The author of Jubilees, Flavius Josephus, the Babylonian writers, and the Quran have retained an older tradition, which puts the Ark’s landing site between Lake Van and the Tigris. This must be the site which the ancients believed was the location of the final act of the story of the Flood, where the hero disembarked and sacrificed.

It may perhaps be identified with a summit northeast of modern Cizre called Cudi Dağı (satellite), where eastern Christians, who were unaware of the identification of Ararat with Ağrı Dağı made in the Medieval West, and Muslims still venerate the tomb of Noah.


23 December 2007


The statue is not very special. Just a torso. In fact, it is rather damaged. It probably represents Penelope, the wife of Odysseus. It’s in wet drapery style, so it dates to the second or third decade of the fifth century. Because it’s made of Pentelian marble, we know it’s from Athens. Nothing special.

What makes it unique, is the place where it was found: the Treasury of the royal palaces of Persepolis. Which explains why it’s now in the National Archaeological Museum of Iran in Tehran. The question how an Athenian statue came to Persepolis is easily answered: it must have been stolen in Athens when the Achaemenid king Xerxes looted the city in September 480. This damaged torso is a silent witness to an almost legendary war, and that’s what makes it unique.

Pompeian Frescoes

22 December 2007

bird.jpgOver the past years, the archaeological authorities of Pompeii/Naples have organized several expositions in other museums. I remember a nice exhibition on Herculaneum in the Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis in Brussels, a similar exposition -with different objects- in the Valkhof Museum in Nijmegen, and recently visited “Luxus und Dekadenz” in Haltern (which I found rather disappointing). It will soon move to Bremen. Now, it’s the turn of the Italian capital: several frescoes from Pompeii are exposed in Rome’s Museo Nazionale, which is located in several buildings near Stazione Termini. Several photo’s can be seen on the website of the BBC.

A Jar of Ptolemy IV Philopator

20 December 2007
Jar of Ptolemy IV

Jar of Ptolemy IV

This fine jar, made of fayence, can be seen in the Württembergisches Landesmuseum in Stuttgart, Germany. It shows a small female figure, pooring out a libation on an altar. The inscription mentions that this jar was from the palace of the Ptolemaic king Ptolemy IV Philopator, ruler of the ancient kingdom along the Nile from 222 to 204.


basileôs Ptolemaiou Philopatoros
property of king Ptolemy IV Philopator

Because the king has been identified by this inscription, we can also identify the female figure. She must be queen Arsinoe. The precious object must have been made in Alexandria and shows us something of the immense wealth and luxury of the members of the House of Ptolemy.

A Jar from Halicarnassus

20 December 2007
Xerxes jar

Xerxes' jar

In the British Museum in London, you can see this calcite jar (almost 30 centimeters high), which was discovered in the ruins of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the monumental tomb of the satrap of Caria, Maussolus.

The object was probably made in Egypt and contains a very brief inscription in Egyptian, Old Persian, Babylonian, and Elamite: The great king Xerxes. The inscription itself is rather stereotypical and not extremely interesting, but the fact that Xerxes’ jar was discovered in the Halicarnassian Mausoleum, is quite sensational.

It is well-known that the Achaemenid king Xerxes, who ruled the Persian empire between 486 and 465, tried to conquer Greece in 480. However, unrest in Babylonia appears to have made it impossible for the Persians to keep their forces concentrated in the west, and Xerxes was forced to break off the war after he had conquered Thessaly and Boeotia, captured Athens, but lost a naval engagement at Salamis.

The Greek war is described in great detail by the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus, who does not mention a visit by Xerxes to his native city. Yet, only the great king can have given this precious object with the almost sacrosanct royal signature to the ruler of Halicarnassus, queen Artemisia, who is also said to have been among the best commanders in the navy of Xerxes. The present passed through the Carian royal line and was eventually given as a funeral gift to Maussolus and his wife, who was also called Artemisia.

It is an intriguing thought that this little jar has been in the hands of king Xerxes, queen Artemisia, satrap Maussolus, and his wife Artemisia. It is also a fascinating object that illustrates the way in which the histories of Persia, Egypt, and Caria were once intertwined.

A Coin’s Tale

20 December 2007
Coin of Legio IIII Macedonica

Coin of Legio IIII Macedonica

Haltern, on the banks of the river Lippe in Germany, is one of the best-excavated Roman legionary bases. It is also a very important one, because it was occupied only during Rome’s Germanic Wars – between 5 BCE and 9 CE, to be precise. This means that the finds can be dated pretty accurately, which makes Haltern one of the chronological anchors of the archaeology of the Roman army.

One of the most puzzling finds at Haltern was a coin of the Fourth legion Macedonica, now in the Westfälisches Römermuseum. The problem is that to the best of our knowledge, this unit never belonged to the army of the Rhine. It was in Hispania and took part in the Cantabrian wars. Later, it was moved to Germania Superior and stayed in Mainz, but this was not earlier than 41 or 43. This coin is, therefore, simply not supposed to be in Haltern, unless we accept that it was brought from Hispania to the Lippe valley by a soldier serving in one of the Spanish legions that was transferred to the Rhine: I Germanica and V Alaudae. In other words, the presence of a coin of the fourth legion suggests that soldiers of the First or Fifth were at Haltern.

War and Peace: Celts, Romans, Germans

18 December 2007

mask.jpgOne of my favorite museums is the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn, which I visited yesterday. One of its charms is that it is usually very quiet, and that the collection of Roman antiquities (all from the Rhineland) is absolutely marvellous. It is hard to say which museum is better: Bonn, Cologne, Haltern, or Mainz – the Germans have so many good museums.

This time, there was a small exposition on Roman helmets, including the replica on the photo (©Jasper Oorthuys). There was also a large exhibition of objects related to the Roman conquest of this area, called Krieg und Frieden. Kelten – Römer – Germanen. Needless to say that there were many military objects. The museum had taken several tombstones from its storage, which we had never seen before. On the other hand, there were several objects from Dutch museums that we already knew, like that bust of Caesar that is usually in Leiden, and several objects that are normally shown in the museum of Tongeren (which is now closed).

After the slightly disappointing visit to the Alexandrian exhibition in the Bundeskunsthalle, the Rheinisches Landesmuseum was a delight. You can still see everything until 6 January 2008. By the way, the museum restaurant is excellent.

Egypt’s Sunken Treasures

16 December 2007

Today, I went to Bonn with three friends, to see the exhibition “Ägyptens versunkene Schätze“. You can see many objects that were found by divers in the lagoon of Alexandria, and must have belonged to the residential area of the palace of the Ptolemaic kings. Some objects were really beautiful, like the head of the Nile god at the beginning of the exhibition and a large stela of pharaoh Nectanebo I. The displays themselves were excellent and the explanations were adequate.

Still, I was a bit disappointed. This exposition is certainly worth a visit -no doubt about that- but it must be noted that taking photos is not allowed. I sincerely regret this, because I like to study objects later, at my leisure. We bought a catalogue, but the details one wants to study are never the ones selected by professional photographers. There is something wrong here. A museum that obstructs study has something to explain.

My main objection, however, is that most objects were just art for art’s sake. There were some ceramics and coins, but utensils from daily life (which must have been the majority of the finds) were almost neglected. As a consequence, the context of the finds was missing; it was just art and some explanation, but the real questions remained unanswered. What I would have liked to know was, for example:

  • Who were the artists? Greeks, Egyptians, Macedonians, others?
  • Were these sculptures unique, or must we assume that other Hellenistic capitals had similar statues, busts, inscriptions?
  • Did these discoveries change our perspective on Greek and Egyptian art?

Et cetera. None of these questions received an adequate answer. Instead, there were several beautiful photos,like the one to the right. Now look how carefully this photo was arranged, with the light source that illuminates the statue hidden behind the obect in the hand of the diver. I can not remember one single photo odivern which I could see the tools of an archaeologist, like measuring tape. Was I looking at the finds of a professional underwater excavation, or at the results of mere treasure hunting?

Oh yes, the exhibition conveyed a sense of adventure. And it was all very beautiful. But the real questions remained unanswered, and it was more show than science. Consequently, my overall impression was that it was all rather empty.

The Baghdad Museum

15 December 2007

bbc.jpgWar is a nasty affair, and sometimes things go wrong. Terribly wrong. That’s inevitable, because war is terrible. A lot has already been said about the suffering of the Iraqi people during the years of dictatorship, the liberation, and the violent clashes of the last years. Sometimes, however, there is a little spark of light, like the reopening of the looted Baghdad Museum – even though it was for just one day. The BBC reports.


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