6 March 2011
Iphigenia being led to the sacrifice
A few weeks ago by happenstance I found myself at Under the Umbrian Sun, a site that documents the recent and ongoing excavations at Vicus ad Martis on the Via Flaminia in Umbria; and to my surprise bumped into an entry titled “Bill Thayer on Massa Martana and Umbria”, which praised me for a rather weak site on the town, although to some extent rightly: among the blind the one-eyed is king, as the proverb goes. But it was really embarrassing; all the more so that I’d been sitting on a few dozen photos of the very church that stands just 100 meters from the ad Martis digs: an interesting church that I know pretty well — and in 14 years I’d managed to avoid having a webpage on her. A 3‑page site now repairs that, with 23 of those photographs; and although it’s nominally about a medieval church, the site follows the church itself, about half of which is about Roman stone, including a carved fragment that has been identified as a Sacrifice of Iphigenia.
The process of writing up the carving also resulted in me translating the entry “Iphigenia” in Daremberg & Saglio; I wasn’t completely happy with what I’d been finding about her elsewhere online in English, so this is an additional resource.
Leave a Comment » | ancient history, ancient rome, Archaeology, italy, LacusCurtius, Roman religion, storia antica, umbria | Tagged: earthquakes, Iphigenia, Massa, Massa Martana, restoration, Roman spolia, Romanesque churches, Via Flaminia, Vicus ad Martis | Permalink
Posted by Bill Thayer
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.
Leave a Comment » | ancient history, ancient rome, LacusCurtius, umbria | Tagged: Italic sanctuaries, Roman religion, Sabines | Permalink
Posted by Bill Thayer
3 July 2009
A wild pig, the companion of St. Anthony.
Up on Lacus this morning, a little piece on Poisons and Poisoning among the Romans: it could have, should have, been entertaining, but is instead a pretty bland compendium of the subject in Roman authors, and only the more famous of them at that. Still useful: it collects a number of sources.
These days, though, I’m never too far from Plutarch: and sure enough, here too the fine Italian hand of that author; my only real reason for putting up the poison article was that it’s cited in a footnote to Plutarch’s much more entertaining Gryllus, a charming dialogue between Odysseus and a pig, in which Grunter comes out better, naturally — hey, he’s a sophist. The Greek text and a French translation, as often, can be found on Philippe Remacle’s site.
My illustration — since Jona seems to crave one for every posting — is not quite as irrelevant as it might seem. Once again, Plutarch has written us something that reads rather like the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, the first of whom was St. Anthony, staying in his cave well away from people (sensibly enough) and keeping a pig and a raven for company; the faithfulness of the crow comes in for praise from Plutarch in this dialogue as well. This pig was prominent in the life of the saint, becoming one of Anthony’s two main iconographic attributes; even when saint and inscription have vanished from a medieval depiction, the pig is enough to identify him. This particular bit of fresco is, if I remember correctly, one of those. It’s in Bovara, a little town near Trevi in Umbria, named not after pigs but cows; it seems to have been an important cattle market in Roman times — see my page on the place.
Leave a Comment » | ancient history, ancient rome, Greek philosophy, italy, LacusCurtius, online texts, storia antica, umbria | Tagged: animals, Bovara, iconography, natural virtue, pigs, poison, poisoning, St. Anthony, Trevi | Permalink
Posted by Bill Thayer
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.
<Overview of Common Errors>
4 Comments | ancient history, ancient rome, ancient turkey, common errors about Antiquity, storia antica, umbria | Tagged: Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Etruria, Etruscan language, Etruscans, Herodotus | Permalink
Posted by Jona Lendering
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.
Leave a Comment » | ancient history, ancient rome, italy, Livius.Org, military history, umbria | Tagged: ancient history, ancient warfare, Hannibal, Lake Trasimene | Permalink
Posted by Jona Lendering