31 December 2009
Artist's conception: after all, no one knows what Vacuna looked like.
Now I know that some of you thought that Vacuna was a somewhat bewildered-looking furry pack animal grazing the high Andes, but I’ll have to burst your bubble: it’s something I’m good at. The very obscure Sabine goddess Vacuna, you see, happens to have been worshipped in an even more obscure shrine somewhere in what is now Rieti province or maybe across the border in my beloved Umbria, in Terni province. Now scholars will argue about anything, even when there is so little information that there’s nothing really to argue about; human nature is amazing. So in the year of grace 1923 Mary Grant, disagreeing with other scholars of course, wrote a little paper about it, with a map and grammatical commentary, that doesn’t really convince me one way or the other, but it’s a good thing to have on an Umbrian site: The Location of a Shrine of Vacuna (CJ 18:220‑224); enjoy.
28 June 2009
Etruscan urn from Chiusi. Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden
Just north of Rome were the cities of the Etruscans, twelve in number, according to the tradition. This nation has a reputation of being very mysterious. And it is true that they lacked the necessary credentials to give other ancient nations the idea that they understood the Etruscans: their origins were contested. The Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus claims that they came from Lydia in western Turkey (Histories, 1.94). However, the Greek writer Dionysius – also a native of Halicarnassus – objected that the Etruscans did not speak Lydian and did not sacrifice to eastern gods (Roman Antiquities, 1.30.2). He concluded that they had to be native Italians.
The mystery was not diminished when nineteenth-century scholars discovered that the Etruscan language did not belong to the Indo-European language family. Its speakers were therefore unrelated to the other Italian and Anatolian people. Because it was believed, back then, that language told something about a nation’s nature, the Etruscans were more enigmatic than ever.
It would be exaggerated to say that all riddles have been solved in the twentieth century, but much progress has been made. DNA research appears to have shown that at least part of the people that were later known as Etruscans are related to people in Asia Minor: there seems to have been a migration from the eastern part of the Mediterranean to Italy. This conclusion has been corroborated by the results of DNA research on goats, which also appear to have arrived from the east. These results have not been without criticism, though. Still, the language is now better understood than ever. Although we can not establish to which languages Etruscan is related, we can read most inscriptions, recognize cases and conjugations, and make a dictionary. There’s little left of the Etruscan mystery.
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4 August 2008
The Battle of the Trasimene Lake was one of Hannibal‘s most splendid victories. The Romans were well aware that the Carthaginian general was a dangerous, capable opponent, and sent out several armies, making sure that he could always be attacked from two sides at the same time. Hannibal, however, managed to elude his opponents, and attacked the army of the Roman consul Flaminius on the northern bank of Lake Trasimene. Roman losses were high; in the following year, only an army of recruits could be sent out, which met its doom at Cannae.