Tobruk (Antipyrgon)

28 April 2009
Tobruk Today

Tobruk Today

Tobruk is best known for the two sieges during the Second World War, but its military significance starts earlier. The importance of the natural port, which is well-sheltered against the northern winds that are prevalent in the Mediterannean world, was already understood by the Byzantine emperor Justinian (527-565), who built a fort on the site, Antipyrgon. It was part of the Ananeosis, the project to reorganize the Cyrenaica.

Only a small part of a wall can be seen today, and if you go there, I’d suggest you devote more time to the war cemeteries. Nevertheless, I made a small webpage on Antipyrgon, which you can find here.


Merida, Andujar, Alcantara

28 April 2009
Roman bridge at Alcántara

Roman bridge at Alcántara

Mérida, ancient Augusta Emerita, was the capital of Roman Lusitania. It was founded after the Cantabrian Wars and the first settlers were veterans of the legions V Alaudae and X Gemina. Among the sights are a splendidly preserved theater, an amphitheater, a circus, and a bridge that is still in use. The history of the city is briefly summarized here, the website of the lovely Museo Nacional de Arte Romano is here, and links to photos can be found here.

Other Roman bridges, both still in use, were at Andújar (ancient Isturgi) and Alcántara – the last one is one of the most spectacular monuments from ancient history.

This completes the transfer of the Spanish section of Livius.Org; other pages are devoted to Ampurias, Bera, Carmona, Córdoba, Italica, Segovia, and Tarragona. Now that I am finishing this section, I realize that I haven’t been to Spain for a long time. As a student, I was fascinated by Andalusia, and wrote a lengthy comparison of the romanization and arabization of the Iberian Peninsula.

Together, the Livius website now has 3,400 pages, and I still have 103 pages to move…

A glut of Tacitus

26 April 2009

I’ve now delivered on my threat of some time back: Tacitus’ Annals are now online on LacusCurtius. Just in English translation, although a more recent translation than the Church and Brodribb seen in a few copies elsewhere on the Web.

By something like 90% coincidence, my friend Susan Rhoads has just completed, if with my own fingers in the pie in some minor respects, putting online Tacitus’ Agricola and Germania, also just in English. There was, that I know of, no English translation of the Agricola anywhere online.

Emporiae (Spain)

26 April 2009
House of the Peristyle

House of the Peristyle

The excavation of Emporiae is one of the most splendid sites one can visit in Spain/Catalonia. There are actually two towns: the Greek one (satellite photo) that dates back to the Archaic age and a Roman one (satellite photo) that was founded in 195 BC by Marcus Porcius Cato on the site of an earlier, Iberian settlement. I already had a page online, but because I am moving several pages (explanation), I updated it, added some text, inserted additional links, and made a second page, expanding the number of photos from fourteen to forty-one. The first page is here.

Finally, I have a question that one of the readers of this little blog may be able to answer: is this fish really a mosaic from Emporiae? Something tells me that I’ve seen it somewhere else.

Common Errors (4): VIIII Hispana

25 April 2009
Object mentioning VIIII Hispana

Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) is one of the most charming children’s historical novels I know. It tells the story of a young Roman officer, Marcus Aquila, who can no longer serve in the army because he is wounded, and decides to look for the eagle standard of the Ninth Legion Hispana. According to Sutcliff, this legion was destroyed in c.117 by Caledonian tribes in what is now Scotland – in 1954 a common hypothesis.

Indeed, there is no evidence that the Ninth was in Britain in the second century, but that does not mean that it was annihilated. It was almost certainly transferred to Nijmegen in Germania Inferior (on the Lower Rhine), where it was in the 120s. One of the finds that prove this, is a metal object found in Ewijk, a bit west of Nijmegen, now in the Valkhof Museum. The fact that we know the names of several high officers of the Ninth who can not have served earlier than 122 (e.g., Lucius Aemilius Karus, governor of Arabia in 142/143), is another indication that the legion was not destroyed but transferred.

It is also certain that this unit no longer existed during the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180), because it is not mentioned in a list of legions from that age. Perhaps, it had been destroyed by the Jews during the revolt of Bar Kochba (132-136); perhaps it is identical to the unit that was destroyed by the Parthians in 161 (Lucian, Alexander 27). We simply do not know. What we do know, however, is that a movie has been announced about Rosemary Sutcliffe’s lovely book – and to be honest, this time fiction is far better than facts.


  • Duncan Campbell, “The fate of the Ninth“, in: Ancient Warfare 4.5 (2010) 48-53
  • Jan Kees Haalebos, “Römische Truppen in Nijmegen”, in: Yann Le Bohec, Les légions de Rome sous le Haut-Empire (2000 Lyon) 465-489

<Overview of Common Errors>

Jews and Christians (2)

24 April 2009

In an earlier post, I described my next book, about the rift between Judaism and Christianity. I never write my books alone. Except for the publisher, there’s always a team of people who help me with advice: sometimes pointing me to the latest scholarly debates, sometimes asking questions that I have failed to recognize as important, sometimes improving my Dutch. It really helps, although it is not a perfect method to prevent mistakes (at least eight people who have finished high school failed to see that in my last book, I gave the wrong value of the gravitational constant). This time, my team consists of a variety of people, ranging from professional scholars to evangelical Christians.

I was discussing this project with a rabbi and his wife, when a friend of theirs arrived, Marcel Poorthuis, who told me about a book of which he was coeditor, called Interaction Between Judaism and Christianity in History, Religion, Art, and Literature (2008). And in spite of the fact that it was a publication by Brill, and therefore way too expensive (€195), I am glad that I bought it. It is the right book at the right moment.

There are too many essays in this book (626 + xiv pages) to write a review, so I single out three chapters that I read today:

  • “A Remarkable Case of Religious Interaction: Water Baptisms in Judaism and Christianity” by Gerard Rouwhorst, who argues that early Christianity influenced Jewish conversion rituals; of course, it is usually believed that it was the other way round.
  • Eric Ottenheijm compares in an essay called “Learning and Practising: Uses of an Early Jewish Discourse in Matthew (7:24-27) and Rabbinic Literature” the authors of the Gospel of Matthew and the tractate Avoth, and stresses that they share the same rhetoric and have related aims.
  • In “On Trees, Waves, and Cytokinesis: Shifting Paradigms in Early (and Modern) Jewish-Christian Relations”, Daniel Stökl evaluates several models to describe how Judaism and Christianity grew apart.

I will probably use the first part of this book (“Jews and Christians in the Roman-Byzantine Period”) and will focus less on the parts on “Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages”, “The Problems of Modernity”, “Ritual and Theology in the Modern, Post-Modern, and New Ages”,  “Art”, and “Literature”. But what I’ve seen of it, backs up the claim of the editors in their introduction: “Jewish-Christian dialogue has become in the last half-century an institution of Western civilization”.

Jews and Christians (1)

24 April 2009
Coin of Bar Kochba: the temple with the Ark of the Covenant and a messianic star

Coin of Bar Kochba: the temple with the Ark of the Covenant and a messianic star

Historical fact: Jesus of Nazareth founded a new religious movement. But what kind of religious movement exactly? A new religion that competed with Judaism? Yes, used to be the common Christian view, stressing the use of expressions like “New Covenant”, the polemic against the Jews that can already be found in the Gospels, and the story that Jesus appointed Peter as leader of his church. Yes, agreed the Jews, and answered the polemic with several stories in the Talmud.

Now, we’re not so certain anymore. The expression “New Covenant” can also be found in the Death Sea Scrolls, and was probably common within Judaism. The Christian polemic is, when we look more carefully, often directed against the Judaeans (Jesus was from Galilee) and specific groups. And finally, Jesus appointed Peter as leader of his ekklesia, but this word could be used to describe any Jewish community (for example in the Diaspora) or the adherents of any Jewish religious leader (the World English Bible translates “assembly”, not “church”). None of this points to Jesus as founder of a religion that competed with Judaism – or even superseded it, as Christians have often thought.

I am preparing a book in which I describe how Judaism was, at the beginning of our era, very pluriform, consisting of Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, the sect that appears to be responsible for (parts of) the Dead Sea Scrolls, the movements of men like John the Baptist, Jesus, Bannus, and Theudas. This pluriformity came to an end when the Temple was destroyed, a disaster that only the Pharisees and the followers of Jesus could cope with: the first, because they had a network of teachers; the second, because salvation was possible through faith in Jesus, the Temple being of only secondary importance.

In this way, Roman imperialism was the cause of the rift between the two remaining types of Judaism, one of them still called Judaism, the other now known as Christianity. Both claimed -and usually still claim- to be the only continuation of Temple Judaism. Often, they have chosen diametrically opposed positions in the theological debates of the late first and early second century: e.g., when the Christians opened their ranks to pagans, the rabbis decreed that one could only be Jewish when one had a Jewish mother. And because rabbinical Judaism could claim the title of rabbi, the Christians -who worshipped someone who had also been called a rabbi- gave the leadership to priests, which is odd because there was no temple left.

These examples show that the two branches were still communicating – after all, you need to communicate if you chose opposite positions. But there must have been a more friendly dialog, and I think that the teachings about Good Works that are attributed to Yohanan ben Zakkai (‘Avot de rabbi Nathan 4.5) and are mentioned in the Epistle of James 2.14, may be examples of this. As I see it, this dialog continued as long as there were Jewish Christians, which appears to have been the case until the revolt of Bar Kochba.

[To be continued]