Last days of Silchester

26 March 2008

Silchester! Let’s face it: there’s something seriously wrong with a schoolboy when he has read Rosemary Sutcliff‘s The Eagle of the Ninth and did not develop (a) a life-long love for everything Roman and (b) a longing to visit Silchester. Those of us who have not yet been able to visit the remains of the ancient Roman city, will be delighted with the century old article from the English Historical Review on the Last Days of Silchester that is now online at LacusCurtius. The eagle is mentioned in footnote 6.

Also available: an even older article with English Topographical Notes; two lists of brief entries, beginning with B and L, to the online edition of Plattner’s Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome; and again two discourses by Dio of Prusa, to wit 9 (the “Isthmian Oration”) and 73 (On Trust).


Marktbreit am Main

23 March 2008

In 1985, German archaeologists discovered a Roman legionary base from the reign of Augustus east of the German town Marktbreit am Main. What was unusual, was that the fortress had never been used. It was probably built for two legions that were to attack the kingdom of Maroboduus, the leader of the Marcomanni, in Bohemia. This military operation was to take place in 5 CE, but an insurrection in Pannonia prevented its execution and the base at Marktbreit was abandoned. Some photos (not very spectacular) are here; the satellite photo is not very helpful either.

Forum Hadriani (Voorburg)

22 March 2008

Forum Hadriani, modern Voorburg, was the capital of the Cananefates, a romanized tribe in the western part of the Netherlands. It was a small town with about 1,000 inhabitants, that appears to have grown from a settlement that may have been founded by Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, who in 47 ordered his soldiers to dig a canal to connect the rivers Meuse and Rhine. Today, I revised an older article, and put it online. If you want to visit the site: prepare for a disappointment – it is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage and can therefore not be excavated. Still, you can visit the small, charming museum Swaensteyn.

Star Names. Their Lore and Meaning

22 March 2008

In 1899, Richard H. Allen published his book Star Names. Their Lore and Meaning, in which he collected information on the nomenclature and historical evolution of the constellations and their stars, but also on ancient myth and religion, folklore, astrology, and the occasional bit of botany or zoology. If you like Pliny the Elder‘s Natural History, you will also appreciate Allen’s book, as it is a similar collection of facts, based on extensive reading, presented in a slightly chaotic fashion.

Sometimes, his information is outdated – especially where he discusses ancient Mesopotamian astronomy. Still, the subject matter is interesting and when he presents Greek and Roman mythology, the book has not been superseded by more recent studies.

Bill Thayer prepared the online edition; he also put online three discourses by Dio of Prusa: 23 (in which he argues that a wise man is fortunate and happy), 26 (On Deliberation), and 51 (In Reply to Diodorus). To the online edition of Platner’s Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, Bill added Balnea and Ludi – the two things that ruin life and make it worthwhile. Finally, a piece on the cottabos game.

Synesius of Cyrene online

21 March 2008

Synesius of Cyrene (c.370-c.413) was a Neo-Platonic philosopher and a sophist, who converted -without much personal conviction but because as a wealthy landowner he had to take care of a war-stricken country- to Christianity and became bishop of Ptolemais in the Cyrenaica. I discovered his publications about two years ago, and found his more than 150 letters and his treatises extremely interesting. They tell a lot about the problems of his city, which was attacked by native Libyan warriors, relations with the imperial court in Constantinople, philosophy, religion, and daily life. In the past months, I’ve made a translation of his complete works available at Livius.Org.

Today, the last treatise went online: the Dio, in which Synesius discusses the relation between general education (study of the arts) and philosophy – symbolized by the Muses and Apollo. General education, or paideia, is a preliminary to philosophy, comparable to the development of Dio, who was (according to Synesius) a sophist first, but later converted to philosophy. General education in itself is insufficient to become happy: the sophist and the grammarian are unhappy people, and even Socrates was interested in poetry. The best part of the Dio is a diatribe against uneducated people who pretend that they are philosophers and can tell something about the Divine – no doubt an attack on the Christians, which makes Synesius’ conversion even more remarkable.


16 March 2008

The naval battle of Actium (31 BCE) is an interesting example of a conflict that can, for one side, be a defeat and a victory at the same time. The Romans were fighting a civil war. On the one hand was Marc Antony, supported by queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt and 23 legions; on the other hand were Octavian, his friend Agrippa, and 24 legions.

Because Agrippa cut off Antony’s lines of contact, his army was beginning to suffer from hunger, and Antony decided to break away from Actium. He succeeded – and seen from this persepective, Actium was a victory. But at the same time, he had suffered a strategic defeat, because he had lost his army, had lost his reputation as an honest commander who would never abandon his men, and had lost any chance to win the war. In 30, Marc Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, and Octavian became sole ruler of the Mediterranean world.

Hannibal in the Alps

15 March 2008

In 1978, Peter Connolly published his book Hannibal and the Enemies of Rome. It contains, on one single page, a convincing theory about Hannibals‘ route across the Alps, which deserves a bit more attention. Years ago, I checked the area myself; now I’ve devoted two pages to the subject: one on the route, and one in which the texts by Livy and Polybius are placed next to each other, so that the reader can easily see the differences.

And on LacusCurtius: the Greek text of Dio of Prusa‘s Discourse 16 (on distress) and the constellation of Sagitta.