Wednesday, December 28, 2005

'Paradise' found in Brooklyn Museum

'Paradise' found in Brooklyn Museum: During the reign of the first Roman emperor Augustus, Carthage, once Rome's greatest enemy, became the capital of the Roman African Proconsularis. Important as a port and an invaluable source of grain and trade goods, Carthage became the home of very wealthy Roman citizens, including a large population of wealthy Roman Jews.

In the late 19th century, a captain in the occupying French army, Ernest de Prudhomme built a villa in the town of Hammam-Lif, a small town on the peninsula about 50 kilometers from Tunis. Wishing to add a new garden to his villa, Prudhomme instead discovered the remains of a Jewish synagogue of the Roman period, with beautiful mosaics of natural, personal, and religious themes inlaid in the floors, perfectly preserved beneath the villa?s yard.

This synagogue must have been a lovely place, if the mosaics in 'Tree of Paradise: Jewish Mosaics from the Roman Empire' are any indication. The floor of the main sanctuary must have looked like a Garden of Eden with menorahs. The mosaic panels overflow with roosters, partridges, ducks, lions, hyenas, fish, vines, flowers and date palms (the Tree of Paradise).

"In 1905, the Brooklyn Museum received 21 of these mosaics excavated in the North African ruins of the first Roman-era synagogue to be uncovered in modern times.

Now on exhibit until June 4, 2006, these mosaics are as fresh-looking as the day they were made -- mosaics keep well -- about 1,500 years ago in the city of Naro, not terribly far from the ancient stronghold of Carthage, in Tunisia. An inscription on one in Latin indicates they were donated to the synagogue by Julia of Naro. These mosaics are evidence that, although the Roman empire continued a policy of non-tolerance towards Jews throughout this period, in some places around the Mediterranean, Jewish people prospered.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Italy Offering "Loans" of Antiquities to Replace Works Without Provenance in American Museums

New York Times: "When Italian cultural officials faced off in Rome last month with Philippe de Montebello, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, they were gambling that they could make headway on a cause that had stymied them for three decades: getting the Met to give up a krater, or vase, by the fifth-century artist Euphronios, that they say was looted from an Etruscan tomb north of Rome.

On the face of things, it hardly seemed likely that the Met would suddenly consider returning an object that had been a prized mainstay of its Greek and Roman galleries for so many years.

But the Italians had seized on a new strategy: an offer to replace that work - and others they hope to get back from the museum - with loans of equal or similar value. The museum might even be able to hold on to some of the disputed objects as long-term loans, they suggested.

The strategy is part of a broader offensive to crack down on stolen antiquities. Italy has gained additional clout - at least in terms of public awareness - from the current criminal trial of Marion True, a former curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and of antiquities dealers with ties to top American museums."

The article goes on to say that several years ago Italy denied a Getty Museum request for the loan of a group of bronzes from the Naples Archaeological Museum that would have been featured when the newly expanded Getty Villa reopens January 28. I was sad to read this as I am anticipating a visit to the Getty Villa and I would have been thrilled to see the bronzes from the Naples Archaeological Museum since I didn't have time to visit that museum when I explored Pompeii last spring.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Romans may have learned from Chinese Great Wall

The construction of the Roman Limes was quite possibly influenced by the concept of the Great Wall in China, though the two great buildings of the world are far away from each other, said archaeologists and historians.

Although there is no evidence that the two constructions had any direct connections, indirect influence from the Great Wall on the Roman Limes is certain, said Visy Zsolt, a professor with the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology of the University of Pecs in Hungary.

The Roman Limes are Europe's largest archaeological monument, consisting of sections of the border line of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent in the 2nd century AD.

All together, the Limes stretch over 5,000 kilometers from the Atlantic coast of northern Britain, through Europe to the Black Sea, and from there to the Red Sea and across North Africa to the Atlantic coast.

Vestiges include the remains of the ramparts, walls and ditches, close to 900 watchtowers, 60 forts, and civilian settlements which accommodated tradesmen, craftsmen and others who served in the military.

Visy noted that there are a lot of similarities between the Roman Limes and the Great Wall. Both empires wanted to launch a strong barrier against "barbarians" and to prevent their invasions. In doing so, the Han Dynasty (226 BC-220 AD) built a continuous wall, but Rome built a wall only in special cases.

"It was an important point in both systems to build a military road along the limes, as well as a row of beacon towers in a strict sequence. Also the military centers and bigger forts are similar in the Roman and in the Chinese constructions," Visy said.

Archaeologists have found almost the same methods were used for providing signs at the Great Wall and the Roman Limes.

Visy said another factor that should not be neglected is that the western most sector of the Great Wall was built in the last decades of the 2nd century BC, during the strong rule of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty.

The trade connections between the two empires were quite intensive in the first century and at least in the first half of the second one. "It is worth noting that the north line of the Silk Road was opened also at the beginning of the 1st century AD," Visy said.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Hill near Evros holds story of Plotinopolis | Hill near Evros holds story of Plotinopolis: "Ever since the 1960s, the site where the hill of Aghia Petra rises between the Evros and Erythrpotamos rivers has been identified with the city of Plotinopolis. The Roman Emperor Trajan (AD 98-117) founded the city 2 kilometers from the Evros in honor of his wife Plotina.

In 1965, soldiers digging a trench in the area discovered a beaten gold bust of Septimus Severus, the Roman emperor who reigned from AD 193 to 211. That find is now in the Komotini Museum. In 1977, Georgios Bakalis and Dimantis Triantofyllos began systematic excavations, bringing to light new finds including mosaic floors.

Since Mathaios Koutsoumanis undertook the dig in 1996, he has unearthed many impressive finds, including the remains of mosaics from a large building complex, ceramics, coins (the most remarkable of which depicts Antiochus II of Syria), and inscriptions which show that the site was in use from the second to the sixth century AD."

Roman forts had a woman's touch.

Roman forts had a woman's touch. 13/12/2005. ABC News Online: "In a unique study, Dr Penelope Allison of the Australian National University has been analysing patterns of objects found throughout the forts that support the presence of women.

'The distribution of lost and abandoned objects, tells us quite a lot of about where people go and how they use a space,' she says.

Using computer software, she has mapped the distribution of over 30,000 artefacts.

She found objects used by women, such as hairpins, beads, perfume bottles and spindle wheels scattered in buildings and along the streets of the forts.

'They all tend to group together in different parts of the fort,' she says.

The location of these objects suggest women often played an active life in the fort, says Allison, which might be better described as a functioning town with a market rather than a sterile male-only province.

She says women were well and truly integrated into the forts, playing 'helpful' non-combatant roles of wives, mothers, craftspeople and traders."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Prison cells unearthed in Tiberias

Haaretz : "A bit of what prisoners suffered in ancient times can be seen as of yesterday at the archaeological dig in the old city of Tiberias. Excavations of the basilica compound in the eastern part of the old city recently unearthed two small chambers believed to have served as holding cells for prisoners awaiting trial.

The cells are located below the level of the main administrative building, the basilica. That fact bolsters the theory that they served as holding cells, where crowded prisoners waited to be called for trial. Each cell measures 1.8 by 2.7 meters, and is 2.07 meters high. Its walls are extremely thick, with the outer wall (1.1 meters thick) containing two narrow openings onto the city square. The slits presumably provided ventilation, and one also served as a food portal.

Narrow benches run along the length of the cells uncovered. One can only imagine what the prisoners experienced as they waited in the blazing heat of the Tiberias' summer. Some might have languished there for months, waiting for the governor to arrive, in the event of a complicated trial."

Five Untouched Sarcophagi Found Near Rome

"Italian archaeologists have found a remarkable trove of five untouched Roman sarcophagi in a burial vault outside Rome .

"It's really rare to find so many sarcophagi that have never been profaned or even opened - as can be seen by the intact lead clasps on their edges," said the head of the dig, Stefano Musco .

He said the sarcophagi dated from the II century AD and probably contained the remains of the wealthy residents of a villa that once stood in the area - now a building site on Rome's north-eastern outskirts .

All the sarcophagi are marble and all decorated, leading archaeologists to suppose they could have been made for a prominent aristocratic family .

One of them is much smaller than the others and believed to contain the remains of a small child.

The largest sarcophagus is decorated with lion's head masks and a central relief showing a reclining couple - a motif that dates back to Etruscan times .

Rome anthropologist Paola Catalano said she hoped the skeletons and funerary objects would provide information on burial rites and the lifestyles and social position of the dead, "even though the acidity of the terrain and rainwater has already corroded the marble."

Ancient Roman brickworks uncovered near Ronta : "An Ancient Roman brickworks in near perfect condition has been discovered in Emilia Romagna .

The complex, the largest anywhere in the region and one of the biggest in Italy, was unearthed near a canal in the central Italian town of Ronta .

'This is a truly extraordinary find,' said a culture ministry spokesman. 'It is so well preserved that with minimal restoration it would still work perfectly today.'"

So far, archaeologists have uncovered two large rectangular ovens for baking bricks, a tiled floor that was once part of a production vat, a large terracotta tub and the remains of the walls .

The largest oven-room is 4.2 by 5 metres and has a hole in the centre showing the cavern underneath for lighting the fires. This had two-metre-high walls supporting a layer where the bricks were laid to bake .

Experts say that the room was extended on three occasions, presumably coinciding with a period of general expansion for the brickworks .

The brazier in the second oven-room, which is 3.8 by 3 metres, is constructed from a series of arches and small walls, allowing larger pieces to be placed directly over the flames .

The walls of the room are made of soft clay tiles that were gradually baked solid by the heat .

The complex, which dates back to the 2nd century BC, is the second oldest brickworks uncovered in Emilia Romagna. An earlier structure in Ca Turci Cesenatico has been dated back to the end of the 3rd century BC, which was when the Roman first occupied the area."