Monday, August 31, 2009

First Saudi in space opens up the Kingdom to western archaeologists

How exciting to read that Saudi Arabia, after decades of discouraging excavations of pre-Islamic civilizations, has begun to allow foreign archaeologists to explore largely untouched sites. I was also intrigued to learn that Madain Saleh, Saudi Arabia's first UNESCO World Heritage Site is now open to the public.

[Image - Nabatean tombs at Madain Saleh, Saudi Arabia's first UNESCO heritage site, resemble those of Petra in Jordan over 450 miles away. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.]

The ancient city, once known as Hegra, was built by the Nabateans and its tombs resemble those found in Petra, 450 miles away. The UNESCO site encompasses 131 tombs over about 13 kilometers. Roman archaeologists were particularly excited when an inscription referring to the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was discovered there in 2000.

Prince Sultan bin Salman, the first Saudi to venture into space aboard the U.S. space shuttle Discovery in 1985 and now secretary general of the governmental Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, is leading the effort. Small bronze statues of Hercules and Apollo on display at the King Saud University in Riyadh hint at the remains awaiting researchers in the desert sands.

Will Fragments of Augustan Equestrian Statue Found in Germany Lead to Insight on Turmoil after Varus Disaster?

A beautiful horse head with traces of gilt has been retrieved from a well near Waldgrimes in central Germany. Archaeologists speculate that the horse was part of an equestrian statue bearing the emperor Augustus that was ritually destroyed by Germanic tribesmen after their victory over Roman legions at Teutoburg Vald in 9 C.E. The rider's foot was also recovered.

It would be wonderful if enough fragments could be found to reconstruct the work. There is only one other equestrian statue of Augustus known in the world at this time. Sadly, equestrian statues contained so much bronze that they were prized targets of medieval recyclers so few Roman period equestrian statues survive intact. It is said that the famous equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius at the Capitoline Museum in Rome only survived because it was thought to be Constantine I, revered by early Christians for making Christianity the official religion of the empire. Judging from the picture provided by the Science Ministry of Hessen (above left), the Augustan statue must have been as breathtaking as the Aurelian statue in Rome (right). The horse's bridle depicts figures of Mars, the Roman god of war, and Nike, personification of victory.

Previous excavations at Waldgrimes have yielded a Roman forum, lead waterpipes and a retail center. The statue may have been the centerpiece of a cult temple of Augustus. Such a temple was erected in Lugdunum by Drusus as a transitory step to making Gaul a Roman province following suppression of a revolt over a Roman census there. As a symbol of Romanization, it would have naturally been a target following news of the successful ambush by Arminius.

Panic swept through Roman settlements in Germania and Gaul.

"After the defeat of Varus there was panic throughout the Roman population living in Gaul and Germany. Most of the forts established by Drusus and Tiberius in Germany were abandoned immediately after the disaster. All but one of the Roman garrisons stationed in Northern Germany was destroyed, with only the garrison at Aliso holding out. Dio describes the events which surrounded Aliso. Aliso has been tentatively identified as the base Haltern. Haltern, a Roman legionary base in Germany illustrates the panic that spread through the Romans in Germany. Haltern, founded in 5 BC, is situated about 54 km from Vetera on the north bank of the Lippe River, where the river has its confluence with the Stever River. Haltern may have served as the wintering quarters for Varus and his legions in the winter 9 AD. The fort supported a large number of troops and had all the logistical and administrative support that a large force of soldiers would require to function. The amount of housing for officers is unusually high at Haltern implying that the post served as an administrative hub for the Roman army deployed east of the Rhine River. Dio attributes the Romans success at Haltern to German ignorance of siege warfare and Roman employment of archers. The archers held the Germans off, inflicting heavy losses on the Germans.

Nevertheless the Romans soon ran out of supplies and had to make an escape attempt. Using a rainstorm and darkness as cover the Romans slipped out and met up with Roman forces to the west. Archeological evidence from Haltern shows that it was hastily abandoned around 9 AD as shown by the tremendous amount of buried hordes throughout the fort. Romans fleeing to the Rhine, not wanting to be slowed down with material goods, buried several hordes around the fort in anticipation of retrieving them again. These hordes consist primarily of weapons and coinage. Other Roman bases on the Lippe were similarly abandoned: Anreppen, Oberaden, and Holsterhausen. " - Rome’s Bloody Nose: The Pannonian Revolt, Teutoburg Forest and the Formation of Roman Frontiers by Nolan Doyle, Western Oregon University.

We've all heard of Augustus' response - rending his clothes and crying out "Varus, give me back my legions!" But Augustus was not just being melodramatic. Cassius Dio writes, "... there were no more men available in reserve. The Roman armies had reached the point of breaking, between the rebellions in Pannonia and Germany the losses could not be easily replaced anymore. Augustus had to resort to conscriptions of men and nobody wanted to be conscripted. Augustus made the men draw lots with twenty percent of those under the age of thirty-five and ten percent of those older conscripted into the army. When people still were not excited enough to be conscripted Augustus had several men executed. Augustus also called up veterans and conscripted freedmen and put them into service. " - Rome’s Bloody Nose: The Pannonian Revolt, Teutoburg Forest and the Formation of Roman Frontiers by Nolan Doyle, Western Oregon University.

For a graphic view of the battle of Teutoburg Forest, check out these videos on YouTube, excerpts from the History Channel series "Decisive Battles."

Hopefully, we'll learn even more about this tumultuous period with continued excavations.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Vespasian's Villa Found?

It looks like there's a real possibility the villa of the Roman emperor Vespasian has been found! Vespasian is one of those "good" emperors that rose from the ranks to claim the purple. He even took a freedwoman for a mistress and, although unable to marry her because of his social status, maintained a relationship with her throughout his lifetime. Their relationship is the subject of one of my favorite books by English author, Lindsey Davis, entitled "Course of Honor".

[Image - Fragmentary Colossal Bust of the Roman Emperor Vespasian, Museo Archaeologico di Napoli, Naples, Italy. Photo by Mary Harrsch]

Suetonius tells us how Vespasian, far from wealthy as a young man, was viewed by the common people of Rome:

"...he got by lot the province of Africa, which he governed with great reputation, excepting that once, in an insurrection at Adrumetum, he was pelted with turnips. It is certain that he returned thence nothing richer; for his credit was so low, that he was obliged to mortgage his whole property to his brother, and was reduced to the necessity of dealing in mules, for the support of his rank; for which reason he was commonly called "the Muleteer."

He didn't make many points with the emperor Nero either since he fell asleep during the emperor's musical performances.

"Caius Caesar, being enraged at his not taking care to have the streets kept clean, ordered the soldiers to fill the bosom of his gown with dirt, some persons at that time construed it into a sign that the government, being trampled under foot and deserted in some civil commotion, would fall under his protection, and as it were into his lap. - - C. Suetonius Tranquillus, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars.

Of course the Romans were very sensitive to perceived omens and many more omens were related that pointed to Vespasian's eventual exalted position:

He dreamt in Achaia that the good fortune of himself and his family would begin when Nero had a tooth drawn; and it happened that the day after, a surgeon coming into the hall, showed him a tooth which he had just extracted from Nero. In Judaea, upon his consulting the oracle of the divinity at Carmel [740], the answer was so encouraging as to assure him of success in anything he projected, however great or important it might be. And when Josephus [741], one of the noble prisoners, was put in chains, he confidently affirmed that he should be released in a very short time by the same Vespasian, but he would be emperor first [742]. Some omens were likewise mentioned in the news from Rome, and among others, that Nero, towards the close of his days, was commanded in a dream to carry Jupiter's sacred chariot out of the sanctuary where it stood, to Vespasian's house, and conduct it thence into the circus. Also not long afterwards, as Galba was going to the election, in which he was created consul for the second time, a statue of the Divine Julius [743] turned towards the east. And in the field of Bedriacum [744], before the battle began, two eagles engaged in the sight of the army; and one of them being beaten, a third came from the east, and drove away the conqueror. - C. Suetonius Tranquillus, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars.

Italian archeologists may have uncovered the summer villa of the Roman Emperor Vespasian near his birthplace in the mountains northeast of Rome, La Stampa newspaper reported. Four years of digs led by archeologist Filippo Coarelli of the University of Perugia have uncovered an ornate villa with marble quarried in North Africa and ornate mosaic floors, Stampa said. While no inscription has been found that says the villa belonged to the emperor, the location, size and quality of the structure suggest it was, Coarelli said. - More:

Read more about him:

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Skeleton of Early Bronze Age Warrior Found in Beach Tomb near Rome

This find is especially interesting because it predates Roman, Etruscan and even proto-Villanovan cultures.

[Image - Villanovan ceramic head Italy 6th century BCE. Photographed at the Musee du Louvre, Paris France. Photo by Mary Harrsch.]

If we use the migration theories of Italian scholar, Massimo Pallottino, we can speculate that this warrior spoke one of three Indo-European languages inherited from Asiatic ancestors who migrated into the area during the early Bronze Age, bringing kiln-fired pottery and domestic horses to the Italian peninsula.

Three waves of Indo-European language speakers, speaking closely related languages, arrived in small groups over time across the Adriatic sea and moved inland.[6] The first occurred in the Middle Neolithic starting with the Square-necked Pottery Culture and prevailed for the remaining Neolithic and the Proto- and earlier Apennine. The Latin language evolved ultimately from their speech, in Italy. The second wave is associated with Mycenaean civilization of the Late Bronze Age and brought the ancestors of the Italic language speakers into central and south Italy. They prevailed during the remainder of the Apennine. The third wave came with the Proto-Villanovan Culture and is ultimately responsible for the Venetic language speakers. - More:

From sites like Colle della Capriola excavated in 1958 just 5 km south of Bolsena in central Italy, researchers have discovered that people of this period lived in pole-supported wattle-and-daub huts with thatched roofs built upon rock-cut foundations and encircled with defensive stone walls. They ate wheat, barley, beans and peas and raised cattle, pigs, sheep and goats.

We could even go so far as to suggest he probably was a member of the J Haplogroup carrying the J2 (M172 subgroup) y-chromosome. According to the Genographic Project
, descendants of this group that originated in the Mesopotamian Fertile Crescent 15,000 - 10,000 years ago made their way into the Italian peninsula where they pioneered the Neolithic revolution, in which hunter-gatherer populations became settled agriculturists. Almost 20% of the men still living in Italy today carry this genetic marker.

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have found the skeleton of a warrior from up to 5,000 years ago floating in a tomb filled with sea water on a beach near Rome, Italy's art squad said Friday.

The bones - believed to date from the 3rd millennium BC - were discovered in May as art hunters were carrying out routine checks of the region's archaeological areas, Carabinieri art squad official Raffaele Mancino said.

Archaeologists believe the warrior was likely killed by an arrow, part of which was found among his ribs, Mancino said. There was also a hole in the back of the skull, and six vases and two daggers were found buried nearby.

The tomb of the warrior, nicknamed "Nello" after the archaeologist who found him, could be part of a wider necropolis lying just a few steps from the sea, Mancino told a news conference. - More: Fraser Coast Chronicle