Wall stones from Amsterdam

2 August 2011

Wall stone - one of about eight hundred

This is a blog about ancient history, but I take the liberty for a small digression. The stone to the right is a gevelsteen from Amsterdam. The translation “wall stone” is not really accurate, but is the best we have. Gevelstenen are small pieces of sculpture that decorate houses. In this way, houses could be identified. The person who ordered the gevelsteen to the right to be made, called his house “In Emmaus”.

The oldest I know (this one; the girl is typically Dutch) dates back to the sixteenth century, but the tradition still exists, even though houses now have addresses.

Almost every stone tells a story. This refers to the Dutch version of the story of Polycrates’ ring, this is an old coin and this is a new one, this is of course a pharmacist, here is Saint Luke as a painter, here‘s a dentist, our beloved patron saint is here and a war hero can be seen here, children smile at this one, this one‘s for a confused person, here is Julius Civilis, someone detested Frederic III of Prussia, and this one reminds us of the commercial foundations of Amsterdam’s prosperity, although some people just look tired. They are all works of art, like this Saturn, but you will never see them in art books, which show only old masters.

Before I forget: take a look at that Emmaus again. The painter really did his best to make the landscape look authentic. He even added… a mosque!

The whole story is here; and here‘s a map with some 250 markers. The overall number is 800.

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Mercury in Amsterdam

30 April 2011

Mercury

Between 1600 and 1800, somewhere around ten thousand European ships sailed around the Cape of Good Hope to Persia, the Indies, China, and Japan. Half of these came from Holland. Of the vessels that sailed from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea, two-thirds flew the red, white and blue flag. Another ‘triumph’ for the Dutch entrepreneurship was the 45 per cent market share they had in the slave trade.

At that moment in time, Holland owned seventeen hundred ships, more than the fleets of France and England put together. It should also be borne in mind that the Holland flute ship could be manned by fewer sailors than ships from other countries, making for a much higher profit per ship.

Holland was responsible for sixty per cent of the Gross National Product of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands and within Holland, Amsterdam produced the lion’s share. So, it comes as no suprise that if there is an ancient god who is almost omnipresent in Amsterdam, it is Mercury.

I put some photos here.


How Amsterdam Became A Roman City

2 September 2010

Cover of “De rand van het Rijk”

Today, my new book on the Romans in the Low Countries (this one) was officially presented. Livius Onderwijs, my employer, organized two lectures, one on Roman Tongeren and one on Roman Velsen: a city in Belgium and a naval base in Holland. The second speaker was Arjen Bosman of Gent University, my co-author.

One of the points he mentions in our book is that there was probably no gap between the two bases at Velsen. Until now, it was believed that Velsen 1 was used from 15 to 28, and Velsen 2 from 41 to 47. But Arjen has found evidence for continuous occupation, like a dendrochronological date in 37.

In an interview with an Amsterdam newspaper we told the kind journalist that Arjen’s discovery – in itself not terribly important – meant that people living in what would later be called Amsterdam would have seen Roman ships every day. The man or woman who lost a fibula that was excavated in the 1970s, belonged to the Roman Empire.

The journalist sent us the interview, we corrected a sentence or two, and gave the text our imprimatur. I knew that the paper would also publish a brief summary to make people curious about the main article, which was fine with me.

I should have asked if I could check the summary as well. I was surprised, this morning, by a phone call from a radio station: could I please tell a bit more about those excavations and that new foundation date of Amsterdam? I was surprised, because there’s no excavation (Arjen is reinvestigating old finds) and we hadn’t said anything about the foundation of the city. We had only said that this part of the world had been within the Empire, and that is also what the journalist had written down. The radio reporter told me she had read it on the website of the newspaper. I went on the air and told that the claim was exaggerated.

It was only later that I saw that webpage. It contained the summary of our article and was free of factual errors, although “investigation” had been changed into “excavation”, and it was not immediately clear that it dealt with Velsen. The real problem, however, was the headline: “Amsterdam inhabited for 2,000 years”, from which a careless reader might indeed deduce that the Romans had founded the city.

When I bought the newspaper itself, I noticed that this piece was on the frontpage. When I returned home, I found several e-mails from people who had been led to believe that Amsterdam had been a Roman town. To the best of my knowledge, there is no evidence for this. There must have been people living over there (someone must have lost that fibula), it was part of the Roman Empire, there are careless summarizers and ditto readers, and yours truly has failed to check a summary. That’s all.

[To be continued]


Bishapur

8 December 2009

The statue in Shapur's cave

Today, I moved the pages of Bishapur, one of the places I like most in Iran. During my first visit, we were especially interested in locations that were Alexander-related, so we visited a lot of Achaemenid sites; yet, we all agreed that Sasanian Bishapur, for which we had not been prepared, was among the highlights of our trip. The six rock reliefs and the city are really spectacular. I already blogged about the recently reopened museum.

I’ve returned several times, and on each occasion, I discovered something new or met someone interesting. But the best memories belong to the climb to the cave with Shapur’s statue, one of the most splendid places in the world – not the cave with the statue, which is interesting but not very special, but the valley. It is the most beautiful place of Fars. You’ve just not been in Iran if you haven’t climbed that rock and enjoyed the scenery.

The Bishapur pages are something of a jubilee: Livius.org has now reached its 3500th page. I also added a very brief article on the Persepolis Treasury Tablets, and a third page of Amsterdam stone tablets, which brings the grand total to 3502.

And because there’s something to celebrate, here is the last version of my Google Earth markers (1437 sites).


Anne Frank in Amsterdam

5 October 2009
Statuette for Anne Frank at the Merwedeplein

Statuette for Anne Frank at the Merwedeplein

Maybe it was coincidence, maybe it was not. But today, I received an Anti-Semitic e-mail from someone calling himself “Aryan Warrior” (why the pseudonym if you have nothing to hide?), and I came across a blogger who posted a little movie clip about Anne Frank. So I decided to devote, especially for Mr. Anonymous, a webpage to the life of Anne Frank in Amsterdam; it was something I wanted to do for quite a long time. You can find it here, and you can find more information on the Frank family here. Or, if you want to know more about the other Dutch Jews killed during the Second World War, visit the Digital Monument.

(And next time I will be adding to this little blog, it will be about classics again.)