For the lack of posts–been an unusually busy week over here.
A Greek breastplate from Paestum. It’s probably not the type you usually picture, but hoplites (like almost all soldiers prior to the reformed Roman legions) supplied their own equipment, rather than having it provided. The styles would often be similar–to fight in a phalanx you need certain items like a shield and pike of particular dimensions–but not uniform.
Back to Roman Britain for a minute, this time a coin hoard from Shropshire.
One of the largest hauls of Roman coins ever discovered in Shropshire could go on display as a permanent exhibition at Shrewsbury’s new £10 million heritage visitor centre, experts said today.
The collection of more than 10,000 coins, most of which were found inside a pot, was uncovered by Nick Davies from Ford during a search of land in the Shrewsbury area last summer.
Coin hoards rule. Coins in general a treasure for archaeologists, as beloved as pottery. They’re like little tags that say hey, here’s a date for you. Now you know what you’re looking at, archaeologist. One of my favorite spots where this happened is in Pompeii. There aren’t actually any coins there, but impressions at the bottom of the wall where a child pushed a coin into the paint while it was still wet. The impressions are good enough that you can read what the coin says, giving an incredibly precise date to when the paint was applied.
Hoards like these are different though; they’re ancient banks. People regularly stuffed their money into a pot and buried it under the house (or in another identifiable spot, say next to a particular tree–just think like an eight year old boy here) in order to keep it secure, and that’s likely what happened here. Then for whatever reason, the person never retrieved it. Forgot the location, died before needing to get it, was run out by an invasion, whatever. So we find these coin hoards all over the place, and while they’re not as useful for dating (the coins tend to be a mix of everything in circulation, and often aren’t found in sites where dating would be valuable) they do give us insight into trade patterns. For example, Roman coin hoards have been found in China and southeast Asia, allowing us to reconstruct the Roman-Chinese trade routes more accurately.
So, hooray for ancient coins!
An interesting program that’s been making the rounds, which aims to promote the Mediterranean’s Phoenician heritage.
The project MARE NOSTRUM – A Heritage Trail along the Phoenician maritime routes and historic port-cities of the Mediterranean Sea targets six Mediterranean Countries that in the past have been routes of the Punic people and culture.
MARENOSTRUM aims at enhancing the antique relationship port-city as core of the tangible/ intangible Mediterranean heritage promoting effective management plan to reduce the marginalisation of archaeological sites, and promoting sustainable tourism and craft of quality through appropriate management plans of the target sites.
Poor Phoenicians never get any respect. Poor choice of name as well–if the project’s intended to promote the neglected Phoenician era, using the Latin name for the sea seems odd. Given that it means “Our sea”, and the our in this case refers Rome, not Phoenicia.
But all that aside, I like the idea. The Phoenicians are one of those really important ancient civilizations that tends to only be mentioned in relation to others, instead of being the focus of writing or research. It’s a lot like how the Etruscans usually only come up in how they contributed to Rome, or the Minoans contributing to Greece. In reality the Phoencians were a big damn deal; they popularized a little invention called the alphabet, colonized all around the Mediterranean, and set up trade routes that encouraged cultural exchange. One of their colonies, Carthage, also played a rather major role in the development of the western world (though in relation to Rome, so we’re back on that issue).
I’m as guilty of this as everyone else, by the way. I know about Phoenicians only because they were important ancestors to everybody else. I still appreciate the effort to explore Phoenician heritage more directly, and I always like any attention being paid to archaeology at all.
I have a big archive of pictures from visits to archaeological sites. Everyone enjoys them, so I thought, why not post them here? And I can’t come up with a why.
I’m going to make it a regular feature. I haven’t decided on a schedule yet, but look for a picture and short description of what the hell you’re looking at on a regular basis, coming soon.
In what they describe as a ‘sensational’ discovery, archaeologists from Århus find the remains of 10th century king’s royal residence
After speculating for centuries about its location, the royal residence of Harald Bluetooth has finally been discovered close to the ancient Jelling complex with its famous runic stones in southern Jutland.
The remains of the ancient wooden buildings were uncovered in the north-eastern corner of the Jelling complex which consists of royal burial mounds, standing stones in the form of a ship and runic stones.
Unlike Constantine’s palace, this is (probably) not an example of archaeologists being full of shit to get funding. Here’s the salient difference:
Archaeologists had speculated that the wooden building was a church but because of its location in relation to the newly uncovered longhouses, Dengsø Jessen thinks that it is almost certainly Harald Bluetooth’s royal hall.
Jelling is revered as the cradle of the Danish kingdom, and the larger of the two runic stones which is often described as the baptismal certificate of the Danish nation directly refers to Harald Bluetooth and his conversion of the country to Christianity.
First, they’ve compared this to known royal sites and the layout is the same. For the “Constantine’s palace” article, there’s no evidence of this kind of comparison. That’s not enough to be certain, though, but in this case they have the archaeologist’s smoking gun: written evidence. That on its own is not necessarily conclusive (copies of the stones could’ve been put up in numerous important sites, for example) but the combination of written evidence and archaeology makes this vastly more probable than the other site.
I can’t be certain, given that this isn’t my field and all I know is from this article rather than a legit academic paper, but this is a good example of an archaeology news article that’s reliable.
Prompted by this article on a dig in Sofia, Bulgaria.
A large ancient building located under the St. Nedelya Cathedral in downtown Sofia might turn out to be a palace of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, according to Bulgarian archaeologists.
The building might also turn out to be the ancient thermae, or public baths of the ancient Roman city of Serdica, today’s Sofia…
Guess which one of those options is more likely?
It’s a little secret of the archaeology community: we (and I include myself loosely) are full of shit.
I don’t mean that we lie about our research (usually–there are always dicks out there). Nor do I mean that we make up stuff without evidence. You can be sure that what you’re reading in your history book, if it’s a reputable book, is probably the best construction of history and archaeology we’ve been able to put together from the evidence. Romans existed, don’t worry.
However, when you read a news article about a new find and the archaeologists in question immediately attribute it to some historical figure you’ve heard of, be skeptical. I mean, look at the excavation photo. They just started digging a few months ago. They have no clue what they’re excavating yet, other than in the broadest possible terms. It’s Roman, maybe the structure suggests insulae or they’ve found a hypocaust. Great.
I guarantee you there is nothing at all there to suggest it’s Constantine’s palace. It may turn out to be Constantine’s palace, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.
So why are they claiming it is?
It’s pretty simple, and sad, and I can’t even blame them for it. Archaeology is at the bottom of the priority list in most places. There are never enough archaeologists, and there’s never enough money available (which directly causes the first problem). Archaeology relies on funding from the government, from universities, and occasionally from wealthy private donors. There are way, way more sites than there’s money available for excavation/preservation.
So what happens is archaeologists discover something, and when the media shows up to report on the discovery, they will claim that it might be the palace of Really Famous Guy. Constantine’s a favorite, as well as Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Alexander the Great, the usual suspects. Now by saying might, they’re technically not lying. This site could indeed be a palace that Constantine lived in. It could also be a warehouse for fertilizer. Judging by the level of excavation I doubt you could rule out anything at this point.
At this point, the following exchange happens:
Archaeologist: We’ve discovered Constantine’s palace!
Rich White Guy, Probably Smoking a Cigar: That Constantine?
Archaeologist: Yep! It’s a shame we don’t have the funding to excavate it properly. Everybody involved would get so much credit.
RWGPSC: Credit, you say.
Archaeologist: Oh yeah. The new Schliemann, you know.
RWGPSC: I like credit. Here’s $5 million for the excavation.
Archaeologist: Great! Now we can find out if it’s Constantine’s palace.
RWGPSC: But you said–
Archaeologist: Bye! *vanishes in a puff of smoke*
It’s a shitty way to do business, encouraging archaeologists to stretch the truth in the hope of getting more table scraps so they can keep exploring. But it’s the way things work. So next time you see an article breathlessly claiming a discovery like this, I’m not saying you should never believe it–we do sometimes find Julius Caesar’s bathrobe or whatever–but you should be skeptical unless the evidence is solid. And it’s not going to be solid on a new excavation unless the first thing they dig up is a stone tablet with “Caesar’s Bathrobe Storage House” carved in it.
Courtesy of the Telegraph, a letter was discovered from Hitler’s time in Landsberg prison. It’s somewhat more mundane than his famous Landsberg work, Mein Kampf: he was asking for a loan to buy a Mercedes.
“But the hardest thing for me at the moment lies in the fact that the biggest payment for my work is not expected until the middle of December,” he wrote in September 1924 to Herr Ferlin.
“So I am compelled to ask for a loan or an advance. Naturally something in the order of several thousand marks would be a big help.” The letter also voiced concern about the engine of the vehicle; “That is the only thing about the 11/40 that makes me cautious. I can’t afford a vehicle every two or three years or pay for expensive repairs either.” Hitler was freed from his five-year jail sentence in December 1924, the month that he told Herr Ferlin he would be getting his first advances on Mein Kampf. But it is not known whether the auto dealer ever did business with him or not.
More polite than you’d expect from Hitler.
Other than the inherently amusing image of Hitler doing mundane things like trying to get a car loan, I always find these types of stories important because they’re mundane. It’s helpful to remember that the Nazis were just people, not cartoon supervillains.