Shameless self-advertising

28 July 2013

Cover

Some time ago, my friend and colleague Arjen Bosman and I could proudly announce that Edge of Empire, our book about the Romans in the Low Countries, had been translated into English. However, it took some time until it reached the bookshops, but now the award-winning book ought to be available easily. You can also order it on Amazon or buy it directly at the website of the publisher. If you live in Holland, this webpage is the place to go.

Why you should buy this book? To read it, in the first place. Without false modesty: this is a nice book about a subject that deserves more attention than it usually gets. An English review of the original Dutch version is here.


The Eburones

24 April 2013
Model of the Eburonian village at Hambach-Niederzier (Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn)

Model of the Eburonian village at Hambach-Niederzier (Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn)

In 57 BCE, Julius Caesar conquered the valley of the Upper- and Middle- Meuse, which, he said, was inhabited by Belgian tribes. Among the members of the Belgic confederation were the Eburones. In his campaign notes, the Roman general mentions them together with three other tribes, adding that they were called Germanic (Gallic War, 2.4). This may indeed mean that they were of Germanic descent, but the four Eburonian names we know are perfectly  comprehensible in Celtic (Eburones is related to the word for yew; Aduatuca means “place of the soothsayer”; Ambiorix means “ruler-king”; and Catuvolcus means “hero”).

Caesar explains that the heartland of the Eburones was between the Meuse and Rhine (Gallic War, 5.24), which probably is more or less identical to the Belgian and Dutch provinces called Limburg, and the western part of Nordrhein-Westphalen. In any case, it was north of the Ardennes. South of these old mountains lived the Treverans, of whom the Eburones were a client-tribe, which was protected by the mightier tribe (Gallic War, 4.6).

Caesar tells his most important story about the Eburones in Gallic War 5.24-37. In the winter of 54/53 BCE, the Fourteenth Legion had its winter quarters on a place called Aduatuca or Atuatuca, when the Eburones attacked the Romans. Its commanders, Sabinus and Cotta, trusted the Eburonian king Ambiorix, who appeared to be trustworthy, even when he could not control his men. However, when the legionaries left their camp and started to march in the direction indicated by the Eburonian leader, they were unexpectedly attacked. After returning to Atuatuca, the Roman soldiers committed suicide.

This story is problematic. In the first place, we do not know where it happened. It is tempting to identify the Atuatuca of the Eburones with the later Roman city with the same name, modern Tongeren. However, there are no Roman finds that confirm the presence of the legion: it seems that the Roman city of Atuatuca was built on virgin soil. The objection that “absence of evidence is no evidence of absence” does not apply, because Tongeren has been investigated on many places.

The second problem is that the Eburones were a very small tribe. Caesar mentions them as being able to raise 40,000 soldiers together with three other tribes. Even if we assume that the Eburones were the largest of these four, it is impossible that they could raise sufficient warriors to annihilate a well-trained, heavily-armed legion.

Perhaps we will have more certainty about the campaign once Atuatuca has been identified. It must have been close to modern Tongeren, because the name was transferred from the camp of the Fourteenth to the later city. Two treasures from the mid-first century, found at Heers (2000) and Maastricht-Amby (2008), also suggest military activity in the neighborhood. A possible location is Caestert, where a Late Iron Age-hillfort has been identified; its excavator, Heli Roosens, has mentioned mass cremations, but has never published them, and it is not known where he has found it.

Caesar’s revenge was terrible. In the Spring of 53, he invited everyone who wanted to join him, to help massacre the Eburones. Ambiorix managed to escape (Livy, Periochae, 107) and his fellow-leader Catuvolcus committed suicide. Nothing more was heard of the Eburones. About three hundred days after they had defeated a Roman legion, they no longer existed as a political entity. Later, a tribe called the Tungri was living in the area.

However, it remains to be seen whether the Eburones were all wiped out, as Caesar claims. The ancient armies could hardly exterminate complete nations. On the other hand, from pollen findings in the area of Jülich (north of Aix-la-Chapelle), it appears that the number of pastures and cornfields fell from the mid-first century BCE and that forests were again growing there. On this land at least, there were no farmers any more. However, it is not clear if this is representative of the whole country of the Eburones, so this remains an open question.

Literature

  • Toorians, L., “Aduatuca, ‘place of the prophet’. The names of the Eburones as representatives of a Celtic language, with an excursus on Tungri”, in: Creemers, G. (ed.), Archaeological contributions to materials and immateriality, Atvatvca 4 (2013) 108-121.

Dutch History

23 April 2013
Liberty of Conscience crushing Tyranny. One of the windows in the church of St John, Gouda.

Liberty of Conscience crushing Tyranny. One of the windows in the church of St John, Gouda.

Fourteen years ago, I published a small Dutch book, Hollands glorie, which offered a history of the Dutch consensus culture, from its very beginnings to the latest developments, covering more or less the millennium that was, in 1999, coming to an end. Reprinted several times, it was completely revised and republished in 2005, this time called Polderdenken.

The text, which I have decided to call Consensus and Crises, has been translated by my friends Marie Smit-Ryan and Bill Thayer, and I have made a web version, which you can find here. Parts of it have been adapted, because I cannot reasonably expect foreigners to know Dutch topography. Most illustrations are from Amsterdam – I’m an Amsterdammer after all, and proud to be one – but I hope to add photos from other towns as well.

The text is about 35,000 words and tries to explain why the Dutch political system is currently in crisis, but this precise theme has not prevented me from digressing on things I found interesting.

Again, you can find it here. I hope you will enjoy it.


Velsen

28 October 2012

There’s no particular reason to put online this drawing by Graham Sumner, except for the best reason of all: that I like it. What you see is the Roman naval base at Velsen, just west of Amsterdam, which was in use during the reign of the emperor Tiberius. It is almost certainly identical to the fort named Flevum mentioned by Tacitus. You can read more about it here, or in Edge of Empire.

You can order Edge of Empire here.


Scaldis (Scheldt)

13 May 2012

The Eastern Scheldt

The river Scheldt flows from northern France through Belgium and empties itself, though two estuaries, into the North Sea in the Netherlands. It is not Antiquity’s most famous river, but I like the plains of Flanders and the vast stretches of brackish water of the Western and Easter Scheldt. Here were two sanctuaries of Nehalennia, a goddess who is, in spite of the fact that more than a hundred altars have been found in the sea, something of a mystery to us.

Some photos are here; a map will be added later this week.


Death of a Museum

16 December 2011

Today, the authorities of the Dutch province of Gelderland decided to terminate their support of Orientalis near Nijmegen, a beautiful, century-old museum park, dedicated to the cradle of monotheism. To renovate the park and make it ready for another century, 14 million euro were necessary and had been agreed upon: 2 million from private donations, 6 million from provincial funds, and 6 million from state funds. The Dutch government, which is trying to save on museum expenditure, had already decided to stop paying, while the province cannot pay an additional 6 million.

The end of one the most lovely “living history” parks in the world does not come as a surprise; still, it is a shock. Of course, a state monument is just a monument and 6 million is a lot of money. They could throw away only a few billions to bail-out our banks. Below, you can find an article I wrote in happier days.

****

Synagogue, reconstructed

Sometimes, the history of a museum is as interesting as its collection. The Dutch Museum Orientalis near Nijmegen was founded almost a century ago -in 1911 to be precise- and was meant to offer a taste of the Holy Land to Christians who were unable to travel to the Levant.

It was unique. Of course, there were other living history parks, like the Pompejanum (1848), the Saalburg (1897), the Kerylos villa (1902), but these were inspired by Greece and Rome. The Holy Land Foundation, as the Dutch museum park was originally called, concentrated on Palestine. In an age in which Catholic art was inspired by the Neogothic architecture and the Beuron Art School, it was revolutionary to show Christ as a human being living in Palestine.

My parents took me to the Holy Land Foundation in the early 1970′s. You could see a Jewish village with a synagogue (photo above), reconstructions of the Sanhedrin and the Palace of Pilate, Golgotha and the empty tomb. In the late afternoon, we attended a passion play. Although I was six or seven, I thought it was too pious, too devote.

Roman street

It must have been one of the last passion plays to be performed over there, because at that moment, the original museum park was already changing. It had been intended to bring people closer to Christ, and give them more love in their heart. There is nothing wrong with that. But the old kind of devotion was no longer popular. Instead, the museum started to stress the Jewish-Roman environment in which Jesus lived. For example, a nice street in Roman style was added (second photo), with expositions in the houses. From a visit in the 1990′s I remember beautiful models of Deir el-Medina, the Athenian Acropolis and Jerusalem.

The Temple, model from Orientalis

Nowadays, the museum park is meant as a meeting place, where people can learn about the three main monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam. You can see some multimedia presentations about, for instance, religious dress, food, and habits, and about more serious themes like religious hatred and religion as source for peace. The oriental landscape serves, as the museum says, as background for a “meeting of minds”.

Reenactors

Some time ago, I was in Nijmegen and made a walk though the park. It must have been my fourth or fifth visit. I was amazed by the high quality of the earliest reconstructions. The men who designed it, had travelled widely through the Middle East, and their Jewish village is an exact copy of a Palestine town.

Of course, we can now see that their orientalist philosophy was wrong: they believed that modern Palestine could help us understand the life of Christ, which implied that they thought that nothing had really changed over there – a rather unkind vision on the creativity and originality of the people living in Palestine. Still, their idea to put that Jew of Nazareth back in his original context, instead of reducing him to a European, artistic icon, is worth consideration, and I am glad that the old buildings are now on the Monument List.


Edge of Empire

6 December 2011

Yesterday, the Bryn Mawr Classical Review published a very kind review of De rand van het Rijk, the book about Germania Inferior that I published with archaeologist Arjen Bosman. What I like very much about this piece is that the reviewer, Birgitta Hoffmann, stresses an aspect that I also consider to be very important:

… the rise of the Frankish kingdoms as very much influenced by and the direct result of the history of Germania Inferior and Gallia Belgica from the third century onwards, rather than as a separate historical phase distinct from the preceding Roman empire.

The review was a complete surprise, because I did not know that my publisher had sent a copy of this Dutch book to a foreign journal. Even better, the article appeared just one day before I met the director of my English publisher, Karwansaray.

Today, we discussed the translation. For example, there will be some changes, because the Dutch version assumes knowledge of the topography of Holland and Belgium. Some photos need to be replaced, we need to take into account some new finds (like this one), we can benefit from other maps, we will add a long list of nice museums in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

The project will start in January, and I think it’s not unreasonable to expect that the book will be in the shops in the Spring of 2013. The book already won an award and now has a very good review. As we say in Holland, this will be “an unrelenting bestseller”.


Wall stones from Amsterdam

2 August 2011

Wall stone - one of about eight hundred

This is a blog about ancient history, but I take the liberty for a small digression. The stone to the right is a gevelsteen from Amsterdam. The translation “wall stone” is not really accurate, but is the best we have. Gevelstenen are small pieces of sculpture that decorate houses. In this way, houses could be identified. The person who ordered the gevelsteen to the right to be made, called his house “In Emmaus”.

The oldest I know (this one; the girl is typically Dutch) dates back to the sixteenth century, but the tradition still exists, even though houses now have addresses.

Almost every stone tells a story. This refers to the Dutch version of the story of Polycrates’ ring, this is an old coin and this is a new one, this is of course a pharmacist, here is Saint Luke as a painter, here‘s a dentist, our beloved patron saint is here and a war hero can be seen here, children smile at this one, this one‘s for a confused person, here is Julius Civilis, someone detested Frederic III of Prussia, and this one reminds us of the commercial foundations of Amsterdam’s prosperity, although some people just look tired. They are all works of art, like this Saturn, but you will never see them in art books, which show only old masters.

Before I forget: take a look at that Emmaus again. The painter really did his best to make the landscape look authentic. He even added… a mosque!

The whole story is here; and here‘s a map with some 250 markers. The overall number is 800.


Johannes De Laet and Hugo Grotius

28 July 2011

Johannes de Laet:
Notice his beard, which is part of the 'controversy'.

This seems a better place than elsewhere to report a small new item on my American history site: a transcription of a journal article in the Catholic Historical Review (October 1917), “Origin of American Aborigines: A Famous Controversy”.

The paper is not so much about the origin of the native peoples of the American continent as about the quarrel between two eminent 17c Dutch savants. In the author’s view, the less-known De Laet (whose geographical work places him, however, among the top scientists of his time in that field) comes out on top, for both his historical insight and his personal and professional courtesy.

That said, the various theories then held about where the American peoples might have come from do get enumerated; and all the candidates still in the running today — for genetic studies haven’t completely settled the question — were already being discussed, with here and there some surprisingly modern arguments (Acosta on animal migration, De Laet on linguistic drift).

The paper is of additional interest in that it touches on Dutch religious controversies, which the principals themselves more than hint at: Catholic vs. Protestant — although the writer could have dug more and presented a more interesting and affirmative result.


Apeldoorn

30 April 2011

The excavators

Exactly two years ago, the town of Apeldoorn suddenly and sadly caught the world’s headlines, and as a former inhabitant of that quiet city, I am glad that this year, I can blog about something more trivial but also nicer: the discovery of several iron melting ovens from the Roman age.

It was already known that in the Merovingian age, people were producing and melting iron ore, but the activity appears to have started earlier. So far, six or seven ovens have been found, and it turns out that some unidentified remains discovered several years ago, also belong to the Roman age. The place where charcoal was produced, has been identified as well; last month, a farm was discovered. Apeldoorn suddenly has an important Roman past.

The finds are unexpected, but they fit a more general pattern: the Romans were able to exploit the natural richness of the country beyond the Rhine, even though they must have done so indirectly.


Mercury in Amsterdam

30 April 2011

Mercury

Between 1600 and 1800, somewhere around ten thousand European ships sailed around the Cape of Good Hope to Persia, the Indies, China, and Japan. Half of these came from Holland. Of the vessels that sailed from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea, two-thirds flew the red, white and blue flag. Another ‘triumph’ for the Dutch entrepreneurship was the 45 per cent market share they had in the slave trade.

At that moment in time, Holland owned seventeen hundred ships, more than the fleets of France and England put together. It should also be borne in mind that the Holland flute ship could be manned by fewer sailors than ships from other countries, making for a much higher profit per ship.

Holland was responsible for sixty per cent of the Gross National Product of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands and within Holland, Amsterdam produced the lion’s share. So, it comes as no suprise that if there is an ancient god who is almost omnipresent in Amsterdam, it is Mercury.

I put some photos here.


A House Full of Flowers, Again

22 April 2011

The award, made by Carla Rump

Some time ago, I had the honor to be given an academic prize (this one), and I could blog that my house was suddenly full of flowers. Ever since, I’ve bought a bouquet every week, because I liked the scent.

Now history appears to be repeating itself, because yesterday evening, the NKV (a well-known, large association of people in the Netherlands and Belgium interested in classics) gave its annual award to De rand van het Rijk, a book I wrote with my Livius colleague Arjen Bosman. Again, my house is full of flowers.

The chairman of the jury, Mr Van Reeth from Antwerp, delivered a speech about the nominated books that made the Dutch people in his audience realize that the art of speaking in public is better preserved in Belgium than in the Netherlands. His speech is probably what I will remember best.

What I also liked was the bronze statuette we received. It represents a dancing Muse and is made by Dutch sculptor Carla Rump, who “creates images because they do not exist in reality”. That is a most unclassical point of view: in Antiquity, art was meant to represent reality (mimesis, imitatio), and it was only in the nineteenth century that artists decided to create images that did not exist. Not imitatio but creatio. The statuette is a modern approach to an ancient subject, exactly as we must necessarily approach Antiquity.


How Amsterdam Became A Roman City

2 September 2010

Cover of “De rand van het Rijk”

Today, my new book on the Romans in the Low Countries (this one) was officially presented. Livius Onderwijs, my employer, organized two lectures, one on Roman Tongeren and one on Roman Velsen: a city in Belgium and a naval base in Holland. The second speaker was Arjen Bosman of Gent University, my co-author.

One of the points he mentions in our book is that there was probably no gap between the two bases at Velsen. Until now, it was believed that Velsen 1 was used from 15 to 28, and Velsen 2 from 41 to 47. But Arjen has found evidence for continuous occupation, like a dendrochronological date in 37.

In an interview with an Amsterdam newspaper we told the kind journalist that Arjen’s discovery – in itself not terribly important – meant that people living in what would later be called Amsterdam would have seen Roman ships every day. The man or woman who lost a fibula that was excavated in the 1970s, belonged to the Roman Empire.

The journalist sent us the interview, we corrected a sentence or two, and gave the text our imprimatur. I knew that the paper would also publish a brief summary to make people curious about the main article, which was fine with me.

I should have asked if I could check the summary as well. I was surprised, this morning, by a phone call from a radio station: could I please tell a bit more about those excavations and that new foundation date of Amsterdam? I was surprised, because there’s no excavation (Arjen is reinvestigating old finds) and we hadn’t said anything about the foundation of the city. We had only said that this part of the world had been within the Empire, and that is also what the journalist had written down. The radio reporter told me she had read it on the website of the newspaper. I went on the air and told that the claim was exaggerated.

It was only later that I saw that webpage. It contained the summary of our article and was free of factual errors, although “investigation” had been changed into “excavation”, and it was not immediately clear that it dealt with Velsen. The real problem, however, was the headline: “Amsterdam inhabited for 2,000 years”, from which a careless reader might indeed deduce that the Romans had founded the city.

When I bought the newspaper itself, I noticed that this piece was on the frontpage. When I returned home, I found several e-mails from people who had been led to believe that Amsterdam had been a Roman town. To the best of my knowledge, there is no evidence for this. There must have been people living over there (someone must have lost that fibula), it was part of the Roman Empire, there are careless summarizers and ditto readers, and yours truly has failed to check a summary. That’s all.

[To be continued]


Common Errors (38): Via Belgica

25 August 2010
The road between Tongeren and Maastricht

The road between Tongeren and Maastricht

Centuries before the Romans arrived in Gaul, even centuries before the Celtic culture spread over Europe, there were already people living in what is now northern France and southern Belgium. Although these people were usually farmers, there must have been traders among them too, because we are certain that already in the last phase of the Neolithicum, there were important roads. They can be recognized if you plot the burial mounds on a map; immediately, you will see that they are arranged in long lines. The people wanted to be buried along a road.

One road appears to have been of extreme importance, as people continued to be buried along it in the Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Roman Age as well. It leads from modern Amiens to Bavay, Tongeren, and Cologne – in other words, it connected the capitals of the Atrebates, Nervians, Tungrians, and Ubians, the main ethnic units of Gallia Belgica at the time of the Roman conquest. It was used by Caesar when he invaded Belgica in 57 BCE and defeated the Nervians, was used by the Fourteenth legion Gemina when it had to suppress the Batavian Revolt (70 CE), and was used in the late fourth century by Frankish warriors who left Toxandria and settled on more fertile soils.

In the Middle Ages, the road from Bavay to Tongeren was called Chaussée Brunehaut (“road of Brunhilde”), a name that is still officially used and can be found in many municipalities in northern France and southern Belgium. This Brunhilda was one of the most powerful rulers of the late sixth and early seventh century. She became the heroine of many sagas, and it is now difficult to see behind the legend and find out whether she really had something to do with the streets still named after her.

The modern name Via Belgica, coined by archaeologists and planologists, is rather ill-chosen. The Romans named their roads after the men who built them: Via Appia or Strata Diocletiana. If a street has a geographic element in its name, this invariably indicates a destination, not the country it traversed (Via Labicana, Via Portuense). Via Belgica would therefore be the name of the road leading to Belgica and can never have been an indication for a road through Belgica.

<Overview of Common Errors>


Roman Festival Nijmegen

20 June 2010

A Roman cavalryman

Few sites are as suited for a Roman festival as the Kops Plateau in Nijmegen, one of the oldest Roman military settlements in the Low Countries, and almost certainly the headquarters of the legions that Augustus sent out to conquer the east bank of the Rhine. Drusus must have been here, perhaps Tiberius too. The site was later used by a mounted unit of auxiliaries, and may have hosted Caligula and Corbulo.

This weekend saw the third installment of the “Romeinenfestival”. There were shows by several Roman reenactment groups (from Holland Fectio, Corbulo, and X Gemina; from Belgium XI Claudia and the Corpus Equitum Legionis X Equestris; from Germany XV Primigenia and Time Trotter; from Britain the Roman Military Research Society, and from Hungary the Familia Gladiatoria). Elsewhere, you could buy books and objects. My friend Richard, who accompanied me, was more interested in pottery and returned home with a replica of a Drachendorff 37 bowl. I bought some books and a lead defixio; I still have to think of a person I want to curse, write down the name, bury it with a dead cat, and we’ll see what happens.

It was possible to eat Roman-style food, and various archaeological companies explained their activities. Children could take part in an excavation, and on one part of the Kops Plateau, the archaeology of the Prehistory and the Middle Ages was explained. It was interesting to compare the products of the various smiths on the field. The object I found most interesting was a big fifteenth-century gun: a careful replica of an original found in the Meuse. The Roman coach was also worth seeing.

Among the shows were the usual military exercises, which are always impressive. We watched a gladiatorial contest and a reconstruction of a Roman cremation. Had we been there on Saturday, we might have seen a reconstruction of the Mithraic mysteries – plus the soccer match Holland-Japan, because there are more important things than ancient history and archaeology.

One of the most interesting things was the place where people could show old objects they had found in their backyard – usually recent stuff, but who knows what they may have discovered. Maybe a dead cat with a lead defixio.

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Meanwhile at LacusCurtius: chous.


General Update

22 May 2010

Tomb of Amyntas, Fethiye (Telmessus)

Right now, Livius Onderwijs (the school in Holland that owns Livius.org), owns some 36,000 photos, and although I’m dreaming of make it all available, I first must finish the conversion to a content management system. That will take some time, because the website is not the first priority. Nevertheless, I managed to make some additional stuff available. It’s not worth summing up everything, but you may like the bizarre landscape of Bin Tepe, the tombs and theater of Telmessus (modern Fethiye), and the museum pieces of Laurum (Woerden).

I also put online an article on Polybius that was published earlier in Ancient Warfare magazine. If you have time to read only one article, make sure it’s this one, because the man is really interesting.


Colijnsplaat

20 April 2010

The reconstructed temple of Nehalennia

To be perfectly honest, it’s not really worth a detour, but if you happen to be in Colijnsplaat or have to cross the Zeelandbrug, you may consider a quick visit to the reconstructed temple of Nehalennia. It is close to the port (satellite photo) and was built in 2005 to keep the memory alive of the spectacular discovery of the site of an ancient temple, a bit to the northwest, about a kilometer off the coast. In 1970, Nehalennia, until then a little-known goddesses, rapidly became one of the best-attested deities of the pantheon of the Low Countries.

The ruin of the submerged temple was never identified, and will be hard to find, because the waters of the Eastern Scheldt have had about seventeen, eightheen centuries to destroy all. Nevertheless, 122 votive altars were brought to the surface and divers were able to recognize the streets of the ancient settlement. We know, therefore, more about the answered prayers of the faithful than about the sanctuary itself.

The reconstruction near the port of Colijnsplaat is, therefore, entirely hypothetical. Well, perhaps there is one clue. Flemish divers have found a rooftile that was sown with an angle of 45º. Objects like these have been found only in the ruins of Gallo-Roman temples, the ones with a portico surrounding the real sanctuary. It is not much evidence, but so far, the reconstruction seems to be more or less accurate.


Bishapur

8 December 2009

The statue in Shapur's cave

Today, I moved the pages of Bishapur, one of the places I like most in Iran. During my first visit, we were especially interested in locations that were Alexander-related, so we visited a lot of Achaemenid sites; yet, we all agreed that Sasanian Bishapur, for which we had not been prepared, was among the highlights of our trip. The six rock reliefs and the city are really spectacular. I already blogged about the recently reopened museum.

I’ve returned several times, and on each occasion, I discovered something new or met someone interesting. But the best memories belong to the climb to the cave with Shapur’s statue, one of the most splendid places in the world – not the cave with the statue, which is interesting but not very special, but the valley. It is the most beautiful place of Fars. You’ve just not been in Iran if you haven’t climbed that rock and enjoyed the scenery.

The Bishapur pages are something of a jubilee: Livius.org has now reached its 3500th page. I also added a very brief article on the Persepolis Treasury Tablets, and a third page of Amsterdam stone tablets, which brings the grand total to 3502.

And because there’s something to celebrate, here is the last version of my Google Earth markers (1437 sites).


Spijkers op laag water

9 September 2009
Spijkers op laag water

Spijkers op laag water

Only once have I visited a drydock, but I immediately understood what the Dutch expression spijkers op laag water zoeken (“searching for nails in pools”) means. Standing on a scaffolding, some carpenters were preparing the hull of a yacht, and they had dozens of nails with them. When a nail fell to the ground, it was rather silly to go downstairs and look for it, if only because the nails usually dropped into pools and were invisible. I could imagine that one day, the dock’s manager checked those pools, took the nails, presented them to his workers, complained, and ignored that they had actually been able to finish a hull that day. Ever since that day, the carpenters must have said that someone was “searching for nails in pools” when he was focusing on minor errors.

I took this proverb as the title of my book on common errors, because I did not want to suggest that all mistakes were really serious. Two of my best friends believe that the title is wrong, because people will not understand  its  self-deprecating nature. My publisher and another friend believe that the irony will be understood, so in the end I agreed, although some nagging doubt remains.

And there is another doubt. Are the mistakes I am dealing with really that innocent? Many of them certainly are, but if professional scholars repeat them, addressing the problem is not searching for nails in pools, but saying that our academics have become too specialized to have a good view of the entire field.


1350 Ancient Sites on Google Earth

16 August 2009
The Roman fort at Hardknott

The Roman fort at Hardknott

What you are looking for, is here.


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