What you are looking for, is here.
In 1981, Ramsay MacMullen published his Paganism in the Roman Empire, a great book on, well, paganism in the Roman Empire. What I have never forgotten, is how the American scholar tried to investigate which gods were really popular. He used the indices of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, counted the deities to which people had dedicated inscriptions, and discovered that people in, for example, North Africa venerated other gods than the people in Gaul and the German provinces.
This tedious labor must have taken lots of time. Today, we have digital archives and can do the same job in one evening, for example with this nice databank. I know this, because I checked some thirty deities, trying to zoom in a bit more than MacMullen has been able to. One of his categories was “Gaul & Germany”, and I needed to know whether there were differences between Germania Inferior and Gallia Belgica. I compared my results to Latium (minus Rome). Here are the results; the popularity of the deities is relative to Jupiter (=100).
I had expected that Jupiter and Mars would be the only gods to make it to the top-5 everywhere, but there were a few surprises. In the first place, the relative unpopularity of Isis, Minerva, and Neptune. In the second place, the popularity of Mercurius and Liber Pater in Belgica, who must be “romanized” local gods. In the third place, I had not expected that Silvanus -extremely popular in Italy- was also pretty well-known in the north. In the fourth place, I had expected Cybele to rank high in Germania Inferior and Belgica, because she is well-known from representations (statuettes can be seen in any museum); but this popularity is not matched in the epigraphical record.
Finally, the people of Latium were “wide” polytheists, venerating many gods, while the people of the north concentrated on a few deities. This was the greatest surprise – I had never realized that there might have been various degrees of polytheism.
And of course, what MacMullen already knew remains valid when we zoom in on smaller geographical units: that book on ancient mythology you have, you can throw it away. Those twelve Olympic Gods were completely irrelevant.
Several years ago, LacusCurtius‘ Bill Thayer started to put online some articles from scholarly journals. He called this section of his website the Antiquary’s Shoebox, and every now and then, he adds to it. The articles may be a bit old, but at least you do not need an expensive JSTOR account.
If I have counted correctly, it now contains 140 articles. The latest contributions are on seven places in Italy called Ferentum and Ferentinum and on Roman Milestones and the Capita Viarum (which also deals with more than one place called Nuceria). Finally, it’s a somehow reassuring thought that someone has written an article on The Roman Craze for Surmullets.
The Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta consists of two parts: the Archidamian War (431-421) and the Decelean or Ionian War (413-404). When the first part had ended in an Athenian victory, the Athenians believed they could now try to expand their empire. A large expedition to Sicily was believed to be the best idea, and in 415 a large armada left Greece and went to the west. Over there, everything that could go wrong, went wrong. The Sicilian Expedition ended in failure; of the many who had left, only a few a returned.
Benefitting from the absence of a great part of the Athenian forces, the Spartans decided to renew the Peloponnesian War (413). This time, they were more successful: in 404, Athens surrendered. Nearly always, the Spartan victory is explained from the demise of Athenian power after the expedition to Sicily, but this cannot be correct. In fact, Athens recovered quickly, and in 410, the Spartans regretted their declaration of war. They offered peace negotiations, but Athens declined: after all, Sparta had twice broken a treaty (in 431 and in 413), and Athens demanded some kind of guarantee that the Spartans would leave the Athenians in peace. When Sparta was unwilling to offer this, fighting was resumed.
In the meantime, however, the Persian king Darius II Nothus had decided to support the Spartans. Now, Sparta had the money to create a navy, and although it still suffered several defeats in naval battles, in the end, it was victorious at Aigospotamoi (405). Athens no longer controlled the sea, and was starved into surrender.
What caused the fall of Athens? Not the Sicilian disaster: Athens recovered sufficiently to make the Spartans decide to negotiate again. It was Sparta’s Persian alliance that shifted the balance of power, so the ultimate question must be why the great king decided to abandon his policy of non-interference.
The answer to this question, and the deepest cause of the fall of Athens, is that the Athenians had supported one Amorges, a rebel in Asia Minor, fighting against the Persians. This was unacceptable to king Darius, who now decided to support Sparta. The orator Andocides explains (On the Peace 31-32):
The king’s runaway slave, Amorges, induced us to discard the powerful support of his master as worthless. We chose instead what we imagined to be a more advantageous understanding with Amorges himself. The king in his anger replied by allying himself with Sparta, and furnished her with 5,000 talents with which to prosecute the war; nor was he satisfied until he had overthrown our empire.
Her support of Amorges, and nothing else, lost Athens the war.
It is one of the most impressive movie scenes I have ever seen: how Archimedes set Roman warships afire with a burning mirror, in the famous Italian movie Cabiria (1914; scene starts at 20’24). The incident, which took place during the siege of Syracuse in 212 BCE, can be found in many history books and continues to amaze. Unfortunately, it can not be true.
There are two arguments. In the first place, the laws of physics. On at least three occasions, people have tried to repeat the trick; they established that, if you use dozens of mirrors, you can indeed set fire to an object at a short distance (50-60 meter). The sources, however, refer to only one mirror or a couple of mirrors. Worse, the object must remain on the same place for some time, which is not very likely: the Roman galleys were subject to waves, winds, and swell. To really work, the mirror must have a diameter of at least eleven meters, which is larger than the largest telescope mirror ever made.
As a practical instrument, the weapon can, therefore, not exist, unless Archimedes could suspend the laws of nature. The story is pseudoscientific in its most elementary sense.
The second argument is that the famous incident is not recorded in our sources. Historians like Polybius, Livy, and Plutarch offer detailed descriptions of the siege of Syracuse and mention new weapons, but the heat ray is not among them. This is sufficient to send the story to the country of fairy tales.
But what are the origins of the story? Now, things become more complex.
The first to refer to Archimedes as firemaker appears to have been the satirical writer Lucian, who praises an engineer for having surpassed several legendary engineers, including Archimedes, who invented an instrument to set ships afire (Hippias 2). We know more about this from Lucian’s younger contemporary Galen, who offers an account of spontaneous combustion of houses, and adds that “this, they say, was how Archimedes set fire to the enemy ships by means of pyreia” (On Temperaments 3.2). Pyreia is usually translated as “firesticks”. Note that Lucian and Galen do not identify the enemy.
As far as I know, the first to refer to Archimedes using mirrors, is the Byzantine author Anthemius of Tralles (sixth century) in a book called On miraculous engines. On page 153 and 156 (ed.Westerman), he informs us that Archimedes’ secret weapon consisted of many small, flat mirrors. The Byzantine author Tzetzes (twelfth century) even offers a detailed description:
Archimedes constructed a kind of hexagonal mirror, and at an interval proportionate to the size of the mirror, he set similar small mirrors with four edges, moving by links and by a kind of hinge, and made the glass the centre of the sun’s beams … So after that, when the beams were reflected into this, a terrible kindling of flame arose upon the ships, and he reduced them to ashes a bow-shot off (Chiliades, 2.109-123).
This is the instrument shown in Cabiria, but the experiments have shown that it is too simple to do the job; Tzetzes cannot have used an authentic source.
There’s perhaps one author before Anthemius who may have referred to burning mirrors: the third-century historian Cassius Dio, but his account of the siege is lost. However, Tzetzes’ older contemporary Zonaras summarizes Dio’s History of the Roman Empire, and refers to the burning mirror. The problem is that Zonaras often introduces stories to his excerpt, and this may be one of these additions; worse, he also writes that this weapon was used in 514 by one Proclus, when he defended Constantinople against the ships of the Gothic adventurer Vitalianus (Annals 14.55).
Summa summarum: I think that Proclus’ experimental weapon, which must have been known to Anthemius, is the origin of the story. Alternatively, the story of Archimedes’ mirrors appears to have been invented in the age of Lucian, Galen, and Cassius Dio, about half a millennium after the siege of Syracuse.
This is not unique: think only of Pythagoras, who is never credited with the theorem that is now named after him, until the fourth century CE.
As promised yesterday, a site on the Churches of L’ Aquila is on its way: the orientation page is now up. For now, a photosampler of the 13 that I saw. The site will be expanded to cover at least some of the churches in their own pages.
Of these 13 churches, five are gravely damaged, including S. Bernardino da Siena, where the saint is buried. A sixth church, the most important in town both historically and artistically, the Basilica of Collemaggio, site of the first Catholic Jubilee and burial place of Pope Celestine V who instituted it, was apparently only slightly damaged, with both façade and papal tomb unscathed. The seven others, I have no information yet.
Normally, I wouldn’t announce an item in progress, but there’s always room for an exception. In view of this morning’s devastating earthquake at L’Aquila in the Abruzzo that has left much of the town destroyed, including some of its best churches, for the next few days I’ll be dropping whatever else I was doing to put up a site on the Churches of L’Aquila. For now, just this appropriate photo of a detail of an outside door of the Duomo:
St. John Chrysostom’s precept in English: “Let the dead person be assisted not by tears, but by prayers, supplications, and alms.” If you have some spare cash, consider making a contribution to rebuilding L’Aquila; the Italian Red Cross’s website is also taking online donations for the immediate human needs.
The Via Sacra (or Sacra Via) in Rome is the road that connects the valley that is now dominated by the Colosseum, passing over the crest of the Velia, to the Forum Romanum. People celebrating a triumph used this road. What you can see today when you walk from the Temple of Caesar to the Arch of Titus is the road as it was in the age of Augustus.
However, it is possible to imagine what it looked like at a later stage. In an article originally posted in the American Journal of Archaeology (in 1923), Esther Boise Van Deman showed how the area was restructured during the last regnal years of Nero: a straight road leading to the Vestibulum of the Golden House (where the Colossus stood) with basilicas to the left and right – now the site of the Basilica of Maxentius and the Horrea of Vespasian. The article has been made available now by LacusCurtius‘ Bill Thayer, and you can find it here.
Most scholars (like this one) believe that Velia is the ancient name of the ridge that connects the Palatine and the Esquiline; it is one of the eight places mentioned in the list known as Septimontium. In an article on the historical topography of the Velia, originally in the Transactions of the American Philological Association, H.F. Rebert shows that the name Velia in fact refers to a slightly different area, to the west of what is now believed to be the Velia. The article has been made available now by LacusCurtius‘ Bill Thayer, and you can find it here.
Motya is a Phoenician city, situated on a small island in a lagoon in the west of Sicily. The city was destroyed in 396 BCE by Dionysius of Syracuse, but was not really abandoned: archaeologists have found villas from the fourth century. Still, the island had become more or less empty, and remained so until archaeologists started to dig. They found city walls, a port, sanctuaries, and tombs. The finds are now in museums on the island itself, in Marsala, and in Palermo. You can find the first of three pages devoted to Motya here; a satellite photo is here.
I was also occupied with Assos, in the west of Assos. We visited the site in 2004, and later, we saw many finds in the Paris Louvre and the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul. Everything is brought together on this page.
Slonta in Libya is one of the weirdest ancient sanctuaries, as you will see on this page; for a more regular ancient city, go to Roman Cordoba; and for the delighs of rural life, go to Suq al-Awty, which was part of the Limes Tripolitanus.
The regular reader of this blog will have noted that I am still moving pages. I still have 154 pages to go.
Today, I moved the entire photo section of ancient Rome. Even though it is not a fraction of what there is to be seen in the capital of the Mediterranean Empire, it was still thirty-one pages, and even though many were just small, it cost me one day:
- Arches: Arch of the Bankers, Arch of Dolabella, the so-called Arch of Drusus, Arch of Gallienus, Arch of Janus Quadrifrons, Arch of Septimius Severus (two pages);
- Baths: Baths of Agrippa, Baths of Caracalla (two pages);
- Bridges: Bridge of Aelius, Bridge of Agrippa (actually, nothing to be seen), Bridge of Fabricius, Bridge of Nero;
- Temples: Temple of Portunus, Temple of Elagabal;
- Circus of Maxentius; Clivus Scauri; Cloaca Maxima; Column of Marcus Aurelius; Curia Julia; Horologium Augusti; Lacus Curtius; Ludus Magnus; Mausoleum of Augustus; Mithraeum of San Clemente; Pantheon (two pages); Porta Maggiore; Pyramid of Cestius; Servian Wall; Tomb of Eurysaces.
Plus Delphi (in fact still to be written), and that’s it for today. Only 161 pages left…
Book 21 has the story of Alaric’s treasure buried in the river (5c AD), or wait, no, is it Decebalus’ treasure buried in the river Sargentius (2c AD); no, hang on, it’s Audoleon’s treasure buried in the river Sargentius (3c BC) — hmm, probably only one of these stories is true, if any of them. Read: urban legend. River remains unidentified, and of course, none of these three purported treasures has ever been found.
Book 22 mentions toothpicks. An obvious idea, but there’s not much in our literary sources about ancient dental hygiene (other than the nastinesses of tooth powder etc., for which see Smith’s Dictionary, s.v. Dentifricium).
Going back a bit, Book 20 is interesting primarily for confirmation from an unlikely source — the writer of an ancient history himself! — that everybody knows that we don’t read those long-winded rhetorical speeches put by many ancient authors in their characters’ mouths (20.1.1‑5).
Welcome back, Jona; I hope the end of your trip went as well as the rest of it seems to have gone.
I’ve just completed putting the first 17 Books of Diodorus’ Library of History online at Lacus; English translation only, no Greek, about 2000 pages of print. Non-Jonas out there should know that he did a fair chunk of the work himself: the quasi-endless proofreading of I don’t know how many Books (for which my warm thanks, and maybe yours as well, gentle reader, because otherwise we may never have got this monster online) — so that this is an appropriate welcome-back item, I guess.
The remaining Books, 18-40, will find their way onsite in the fullness of time. It’s in fact not as bad as it sounds, since these Books are for the most part fragmentary or even very fragmentary, and thus what’s still missing onsite accounts for only 30% of what we have of him.
Not to be left out of things, and inspired by you and by Jolanda’s striking photos, I too have put online an Aetna; the transcription of the Latin poem so long attributed to Vergil: in the original Latin, plus an English translation, plus the Loeb editor’s Introduction. It’s not much about Mt. Etna, and rather more about explaining volcanoes; and it’s interesting because it’s not altogether wrong, and emphasizes seeking knowledge by looking at things, instead of starting from a priori ideas. Anyhoo, Aetna is here.
Mount Etna is the subject of a Latin poem that was probably written in the first half of the first century. The anonymous author does not belong to the greatest ancient poets, but his enthusiasm is sincere and he convincingly advises his readers to observe closely if they want to be good scientists. He tells several ancient myths about the mountain, but also argues that they are no sound sources of knowledge (“let none be deceived by the fictions poets tell”).
As I already announced, I am moving several pages of my website. Today, several towns in Italy -all very small pages- received new locations. In the first place, the Aeolian Islands and Mount Eryx, which means that now everything Sicilian is now more or less where it’s supposed to be for the next year. In southern Etruria, Nepete, Sutrium, and Clusium. Finally, in Latium Fidenae and Aricia. And outside Italy: four Roman milestones from The Hague. Don’t expect too much of it. As I said: very small articles.
Still 228 pages to go…