New items on Livius.org

26 March 2011

The stele of Marcus Valerius Severus in Volubilis. Photo Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum

I have been abroad for some time and it was difficult to add things to the Livius website, but there are some additions that you may or may not find interesting. Bouke Slofstra wrote about the ‘Libyan’ Inscriptions in Numidia and Mauretania: an interesting subject I did not know about. Bouke also wrote a piece on the stele of Marcus Valerius Severus in Volubilis (in what is now Morocco).

I also made available a double review of the recent book on Alexander the Great by Heckel and Tritle. In the first part, I judge it as a historian, and conclude that it is “a state-of-the-art series of articles”; in the second half, I look at the book from a more general point of view, and I conclude that the art itself is seriously in decline. The book is better than average, but for a discipline that is no longer what it should be.

Other stuff: some photos from Israel, illustrating 1 Maccabees 9, the career of Pilate (the stadium of Caesarea and the famous inscription), king Agrippa II, the legions IIII Scythica and VI Ferrata, and – from Iran – the river Araxes.


Sodom and Gomorrah? They Will Never Find It

22 March 2011

The destruction of Sodom (Doré)

When you look for the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah, the obvious book to ignore is the Bible. Just like evangelical explorers looking for Noah’s Ark investigate everything except for the text that helps to identify the location of the object they’re looking for, searchers for Sodom and Gomorrah simply forget to read.

Here‘s a pretty shocking article that Russia and Jordan have signed an agreement to search the bottom of the Dead Sea for the remains of the Biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah”. The project apparently receives state support from Jordan, after Israel had already sent out a submarine. Unfortunately, wherever the remains of the destroyed cities were seen in Antiquity, they were not at the bottom of the Dead Sea. The Bible is quite explicit:

Sodom and Gomorrah — covered with thornbushes (Zephaniah 2.9)

If there are thornbushes, Zephaniah must have seen the ruins on the land. Looking for the remains of the destroyed cities in the sea is just stupid. QED.


Iranian Panoramas

22 March 2011

During our visit to Iran, my sister Maria Kouijzer, who is a professional photographer, made these two nice panorama photos.The first one shows Persepolis from the southeast…

Persepolis

… and the second one the great square of Isfahan, taken from the terrace of the Ali Qapu Palace. From left to right you can see the entrance to the bazaar, the Lotfollah Mosque, and the Shah Mosque.

Isfahan


The Fate of the Ninth Legion Hispana

19 March 2011

This second century object mentions the Ninth Legion and is one piece of evidence that this unit existed after 117 (Valkhof, Nijmegen)

Opinions are immune to facts, and the notorious hoax that the Ninth Legion Hispana was destroyed during a Caledonian insurrection in c.117 has recently resurfaced. (Thanks Hollywood.) I have already discussed this in my series on common errors (here) and will not repeat myself; I merely refer to the fact that Duncan Campbell‘s excellent treatment of the evidence, “The fate of the Ninth“, can now be downloaded. It originally appeared in Ancient Warfare 4.5 (2010) 48-53.

A comparable online publication is P.J. Sijpestijn, “Die Legio Nona Hispana in Nimwegen“, in Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 111 (1996) 281-282.


Aryans

19 March 2011
Photo Richard Kroes

The Aryan Body Building School in Sari

The Iranians’ English will always be better than my Farsi, so it is somewhat out-of-place to criticize their use of English expressions. Yet, I would be happier if they stopped calling the ancestors of the ancient Medes and Persians “Aryans”.

The point is that, when you learn a language, you must not just learn words and syntax, but also the cultural codes that indicate which (grammatically correct) expressions you can and cannot use in a given context. For example, the former Dutch prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, is on record for publicly using the f-word; he was apparently not aware of the extreme vulgarity of the expression (although he must have known Joe Biden’s gaffe), and must have lost all credibility among native speakers of the English language.

Now, to return to the word “Aryans”: modern Iranians use that expression for the migrating tribesmen of the Iron Age, and I am aware that in Iran, it is completely acceptable. You can find an Aryan Hotel in Hamadan and the photo of the Arian Body Building School was taken in Sari. It is common. I also know that the expression has been used in English, German, French, and so on. I won’t blame the Iranians for using the expression in their own language. But the horrors of World War II have given the word, when used in English, a completely new meaning; it is no longer idiomatic and should be avoided when you write English.

It will, for a non-native speaker, always be difficult to know the latest colloquialisms, and no one will argue that we must use all politically correct expressions, but foreigners writing English must also seek to steer clear from false friends. In this case, “Aryan”, although perfectly acceptable in Iran and found in old books, is better substituted by “Indo-Iranians” or “Proto-Iranians”.


Persepolis 2011

19 March 2011

The Cyrus Cylinder in a Crystal Ball

A visit to the ruins of the palaces of Persepolis is always a pleasure and a prerogative. There are two hotels in the close neighborhood, which make it is easy to spend the two days you need without being forced to return to Shiraz. Compared to last year, the visit is even more delightful, because some shops have been reopened and there’s a new, small pub next to the Queens’ Quarters. The old pub, beyond the Treasury, used to be closed but is now a restaurant.

The reopening of the pub was long overdue. You cannot spend several hours on a site without having a cup of tea or coffee. The souvenir shop – well, let’s be honest: most of the objects are crap, and it is only rarely that they are so tasteless that they get a campy beauty of their own. I am glad I saw that replica of the Cyrus Cylinder in a crystal plastic ball. (Interesting question: Shi’ites and Roman Catholics have produced the most beautiful art – how come that in Iran and Italy, they also sell the most terrible kitsch?)

Still, it is better if they sell ugly objects and outdated books than nothing at all. Of course, I would prefer that they had a decent bookshop where you can buy, say, an excavation report (compare the Museum of Tabriz), but crap is at least something. People do take those souvenirs with them, will laugh about them at home, but will also say that Iran is a beautiful country where you can see, for example, the most splendid tile work in the world. They will add that the Iranians are friendly and courteous, that the landscape is incomparable, and that they had a superb holiday. They will show photos, and will convince others that Iran is not the terrible place it appears to be in the western media. This will – I hope – convince others to visit Iran. Postcards may have the same result, and fortunately, they are now for sale.

I will leave it to pundits to discuss the political benefits of people losing prejudices, and just mention that the road to good bookshops and nice souvenirs starts by creating a larger market. Persepolis is back on track.

Yet, much needs to be improved. What greatly disturbed me was “The World Heritage, Introduction Salloon” in front of the entrance. I passed along it, and there were loud sounds coming from it; an English voice explained the significance of the site, making several exaggerated claims. Now I can live perfectly with that; the Greeks believe they’ve invented about every art you can think of, in Syria they claim to be the cradle of religions, and I won’t even mention Israel, so the Iranians may boast a bit too much as well. But what I find unacceptable is the noise. Even when we were watching the Gate of All Nations and the Apadana, we had some difficulty to talk, because of the loudspeakers. I got the impression that no one entered the World Heritage Introduction Saloon, and it is not hard to understand why.


Bastam

11 March 2011

One of the impressive walls

(Jona’s peregrinations in Iran, continued:)

Bastam is not Iran’s most famous archaeological site and it will not be my favorite site either, yet it is worth a detour when you’re traveling from, say, Tabriz to the Armenian church of Saint Thaddaeus, the famous Qara Kelisa, at Tadios.

An inscription suggests that the town was originally called Rusai-URU.TUR, the last two elements being — I think — sumerograms: Sumerian signs used in later scripts. We do not know how they were pronounced by the users of these later scripts. The first element refers to the founder of the town, king Rusa II of Urartu, who ruled in the first half of the seventh century. Measuring 850 × 400 meters, the stronghold is larger than any other Urartian, except for two settlements in Van. The civil settlement to the north of it measures 600 × 300 meters. Among the things to see are the walls, gates, and a large temple of Haldi.

We were actually on our way to Qara Kelisa, but I was glad to have visited the site, even though it was only a brief visit. What I remember best, is the modern village, where all people were cleaning their carpets to prepare for the Now Ruz celebrations.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 335 other followers