Heroes: The Sources of the Sources

29 June 2015
Astruc

Astruc

As I explained in an earlier installment of this series, Nanni of Viterbo (1437-1502) had published a collection of bogus sources on ancient history. The sixteenth century witnessed a lively debate about the authenticity of these texts. One of the advances during this debate was that scholars learned what they might expect of a reasonable chronology of the ancient world. However, this was not the only advance. The scope and potential of numismatics and epigraphy was recognized. Today, we’ll focus on source criticism: the study of the sources of the sources.

In the Renaissance, history was very much an instrument that could be used for other purposes. Historical truth was not the most important aspect. For example, historical examples could be presented to teach explicit lessons. An example is the famous list of Roman emperors in Machiavelli’s The Prince, in which the author offers examples that confirm his theories. Of course, we would not call this objective history, because the author left out what he could not use.

[Read more on the blog of Ancient History Magazine.]


Heroes: the chonological debate

15 June 2015
Scaliger (portrait from Leiden university)

Scaliger (portrait from Leiden university)

Two weeks ago, I blogged about Nanni of Viterbo (1437-1502), the man who claimed to have rediscovered several ancient texts that confirmed what the bible told about the ancient history of the Jews. His books stimulated a lot of debate. Among those who believed that the texts were genuine, was Martin Luther, but others were more skeptical. They turned out to be right, but it took almost a century until this was accepted.

Of course, it was a bit suspicious that Nanni had discovered so many texts, but in itself that was not an argument that every text was fake. The fact that each text confirmed the biblical account was not decisive either, because few doubted that the biblical account was true. But what to think of the words of ‘Berossus’ that the ten lost tribes of Israel had migrated to Spain, the home country of Pope Alexander VI? What to make of the claim that Noah, calling himself Janus, had been king of Italy? Was it really possible that Osiris had been a king, not a deity, and that the first capital of the world had been Nanni’s own hometown Viterbo?

[Read more on the blog of Ancient History Magazine.]


The Master Hoaxer

2 June 2015
Michelangelo, The Sibyl of Delphi

Michelangelo, The Sibyl of Delphi

Today, I am resuming my series on the great scholarly heroes who were fundamental to the study of Antiquity. (For earlier instalments, go here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.) Today’s hero is actually an anti-hero: a monk from Viterbo named Giovanni Nanni (1432-1502) or, as he wanted to be called, Annius. He illustrates how in the world of scholarship, even fraud can help to improve our knowledge of the distant past!

In 1498, several years after the death of the great Poliziano, Nanni published seventeen volumes of Commentaries on ancient texts which, he claimed, he had received from an Armenian monk. The texts themselves were completely new, although the names of their authors, like Berossus and Megasthenes, were known from other sources. Some fragments of these ancient historians were known, too. A third writer, Manetho, was another old acquaintance: several ancient authors quoted his Egyptian History.

[Read more on the blog of Ancient History Magazine.]


Caracalla

31 May 2015
Caracalla (Altes Museum, Berlin)

Caracalla (Altes Museum, Berlin)

Although we still have to publish the first issue of Ancient History Magazine, we’re already busy with the second one. We have been considering “the Severan age” for some time, and finally decided how to tackle it.

It’s a fascinating period. There’s the spectacular career of the founder of the dynasty, the Libyan senator Lucius Septimius Severus. There’s his sophisticated wife Julia Domna: a Syrian princess surrounded by a circle of mathematicians and scholars. There’s their son Caracalla, who made all freeborn men Roman citizens. And there are the two final emperors, Heliogabalus and Severus Alexander, who are portrayed as a devil and an angel. It’s a great cast.

[Read more on the blog of Ancient History Magazine.]


Inflation and the Second Punic War

14 May 2015
Een quadrigatus van voor de inflatie

A quadrigatus (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum)

The Dutch news website NU.nl recently wrote the following as regards currency depreciation:

Consumers don’t lose any sleep over the daily news items that the euro has decreased in value again compared to the dollar or the pound. They don’t notice this at all. The shopping cart with their groceries is exactly as expensive now as it was before, and their salary is still worth the same as when the euro was stronger.

Currency depreciation would indeed be this simple if our economy was a closed system.

The Second Punic War

Sometimes, it is indeed this simple. An example is the Roman Republic during the Second Punic War. Rome had been attacked by the Carthaginian commander Hannibal and suffered a number of shocking defeats: in the Po Valley (218 BC), at Lake Trasimene (217), and at Cannae (216).

[Read more on the blog of Ancient Warfare.]


Moving Forward

11 May 2015
Queen Hatshepsut (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden)

Queen Hatshepsut (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden)

Three weeks ago, the Kickstarter campaign to launch Ancient History Magazine came to an end. As you may remember, we received all the money we needed and more. The first issue of the new magazine will, therefore, have no less than 84 pages (instead of 68).

So, what will this issue look like? Immediately after announcing our plan to start a new magazine, people started offering their help. There were several proposals for articles on the theme of the first issue, “Discoveries in the ancient world” (or, more simply, “Explorers”): some from people who have in the past contributed to Ancient Warfare, others from among our close associates, who were sympathetic to our plan to offer a modern take on ancient history. I had expected that it would be hard to get sufficient content for the first issue, but Josho and Jasper believed that it would be quite easy. They were right.

[Read more on the blog of Ancient History Magazine]


Cyrenaica 7: Renewal

27 April 2015
Ananeosis, mosaic from Theodorias (Qasr Libya)

Ananeosis, mosaic from Theodorias (Qasr Libya)

When Synesius died in 413 AD, he feared that Cyrenaica would be conquered and completely destroyed by Laguatan nomads. “They have taken the land as if in a dragnet,” he wrote in his Catastasis. In Letter 73, he describes how the people in Cyrenaica felt abandoned by the central government. This may be a bit exaggerated, because Synesius also mentions effective military leaders. Still, it seems that the area was undergarrisoned. Other areas of the Empire were even more threatened and Constantinople needed the soldiers.

By the end of Synesius’ life, the nomads were in control. Cyrene had been abandoned and only the ports along the coast were still controlled by the Empire. Writing much later, Byzantine author Procopius described the situation in Cyrenaica as “neglected”.

[Read more on the blog of Ancient History Magazine]


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