To The Black Sea And Back: The Late Antique Dura-Europos ‘Shield’ Map

 

Dura-Europos as visualized on the Pelagios Project’s Peripleo map.

Dura-Europos is an ancient site on the Euphrates river in modern-day Syria. The objects excavated at the site by Yale University (later famously led by Mikhail Rostovtzeff), and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters during the 1920s and 1930s provide some of the most vivid wall paintings, mosaics, and material culture from the ancient world that we have today. One of the most stunning finds is a parchment shield cover that dates to around 260 CE, which has a map of the Black Sea on it. There is debate over whether it was on the inside of a shield used by a soldier or was a dedicatory object; however, the map provides a rare glimpse into how geography was visualized.

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Surviving parchment fragment of the Black Sea ‘Shield Map’ from Dura Europos dated to before 260 CE. It depicts staging posts along the Black Sea (Bibliotheque Nationale Gr. Suppl. 1354, no. 5). Images via Cumont (see citation below) with added scale and color enhancement. 

Hand drawing of the map via Wikimedia (D. Herdemerten Hannibal21, CC BY-SA 3.0).

The parchment contains a number of place names in Greek, but is interestingly mixed with the distances in Roman miles. Here is the transcription as provided by Papyri.info:

[Π]αν[υσὸς ποτ(αμὸς) μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
Ὀδεσ[σὸς μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
Βυβόνα [μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
Κάλ[λ]ατις μί(λια)   ̣  ̣
5Τομέα μί(λια) λγ
Ἴ[σ]τρος ποτ(αμὸς) μί(λια) μ
Δάνουβις ποτ(αμὸς) [μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
Τύρα μί(λια) πδ
Βορ[υ]σ[θέν]ης [μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
10Χερ[σ]όν[ησος -ca.?- ]
Τραπε[ζοῦς -ca.?- ]
Ἀρτα[ξάτα μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]

The map is oriented west-southwest and thus is a reminder that most maps did not consistently orient north until the early modern period. The stations on the shield maps are listed in Greek with vivid white, while the ships are manned by small sailors. It is a two-dimensional visualization of a Euxine route that shows the mix of languages and peoples in the late antique Eastern Mediterranean. In particular, it visualizes the Roman relationship with places in modern Armenia. An interesting mention of Ἀρτα[ξάτα] (Artaxata=Artashat) hints at the Roman connection to this busy commercial center. 

Although the map was likely on a round shield, the only surviving scutum from antiquity is from Dura-Europos. It too dates to the 3rd c. CE. It is now at the Yale Art Gallery. Image is in the Public Domain.

As historian Dragoş Hălmagi puts it, “The surviving sequence runs clockwise along the shores of Black Sea, from Odessos in Thrace to the Cimmerian Bosporus, and indicates a symmetric original design, consisting of a circular coast surrounding the Black Sea and perhaps parts of the Mediterranean, as well.” About a century earlier, the historian and governor Arrian had written a work in the form of a letter to the emperor Hadrian (131/2 CE) called Περίπλους τοῦ Εὐξείνου Πόντου (The Periplus of the Euxine Sea) while in Cappadocia. Arrian demonstrates the beginnings of the late antique fascination with the geography of this area that would continue into the third and fourth centuries CE when the rise of the Sassanids would be a point of major contention.   

The circumnavigation of the Black Sea as recounted by Arrian, Periplus Maris Euxini, in a firsthand report (1–11) and a secondhand description (12–25). Adapted by Erenow from A. Liddle, ed. and trans., Arrian, Periplus Ponti Euxini (London: Bristol Classical Press, 2003), 136–39, maps 1–2.

As we know from the Antonine Itinerary and many other itinerary inscriptions, the listing of locations and the miles between was quite common for itineraria, but this is our earliest surviving example of a route map from antiquity. Today this rather small piece of parchment lives in Paris, in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (ms. Suppl. gr. 1354 V, nr. 5), but seeing as I had never viewed a color version of it before, I thought it might be nice to get a glimpse at that technicolor world of the Romans I am always talking so much about. 

Attempted restoration of the entirety of the shield as drawn in Figure 1 in Arnaud (1989).

Bibliography:

Monsieur Pascal Arnaud, ‘Une deuxième lecture du “bouclier” de Doura-Europos,’ Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 133e année, N. 2, (1989): 373- 389.

Franz Cumont, ‘Fragment de bouclier portant une liste d’étapes,’ Année 6.1 (1925 ): 1-15. 

Leif Isaksen, “The application of network analysis to ancient transport geography: A case study of Roman Baetica,” Digital Medievalist. 4. DOI:http://doi.org/10.16995/dm.20.

Dragoş Hălmagi, “Notes on the Dura Europos map,”  CICSA Journal, New Series 1 (2015): 41-51.

 

Pass the Dormice: Breeding, Selling, And Eating Honeyed Dormice in Antiquity

Ponticuli etiamferruminati sustinebant glires melle ac papavere sparsos.
“There were also dormice rolled in honey and poppy-seed, and supported on little bridges soldered to the plate”

–Petronius, Satyricon, 31 (trans. Heseltine).

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The famed so-called ‘asaratos oikos‘ mosaic now at the Vatican Museum has a small mouse on it that is much smaller than the Roman dormouse would have been.

Look, I know you may think mice are cute. I, myself, raised adorable hamsters as a child and thus have sympathy for all rodents. But we do have to face the fact that these little critters may or may not be delicious haute cuisine.

First of all, dormice (Lat. a glis) are quite large rodents that are more akin to squirrels. Roman villas oftentimes raised edible dormice to be eaten locally or sold at the market to those with expensive taste. Excavations at Poggio Gramignano in Teverina (about 70 km north of Rome) have turned up the remains of the three standard types of dormice: the Garden dormouse, the Hazel dormouse, and the Edible dormouse.

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Photo of buried gliraria via the Museum of Prehistory – San Lazzaro, near Bologna. 

These rodents were fattened in buried ceramic vessels with little ledges inside them and with holes poked through the walls. Water could be poured through the top. These vessels were called dolia or gliraria, and during the winter hibernating period, dormice were given chestnuts, walnuts, and acorns along with water (Mart. 3. 58; 13. 59) in these little ceramic hamster cages. Pliny notes that the little critters also like beechnuts. Archaeological examples of these ceramic vessels have been found at Pompeii and elsewhere in Roman Italy.

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A glirarium for fattening dormice exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum in Chiusi. (Wikimedia, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Marco Daniele).

As Roman archaeologist and ancient Umbria expert Claudio Bizzarri has noted, there was often a villa economy predicated on smaller livestock that could also turn a profit for a villa owner (what we might call today a side hussle): “The pastio villatica concerned the more prized and profitable courtyard animals such as pigeons, doves, thrushes, geese, ducks, peacocks and hare, but also boar, roe and fallow deer and even snails, dormice, freshwater and saltwater fish.” Ancient historian Grant Nelsestuen discussed in his recent book on Varro the Agronomist the fact that the pastio villatica was a rural setup used to rear small or unusual animals near to the villa and mostly catered to the luxury market–but dormice were indeed relatively easy to raise in gliraria containers. 

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A Roman glirarium recently shown at the British Museum but from Pompeii (Inventory Number SAP 10744 38.3 x 33.5 cm Collection/Museum: Pompeii Excavation: Pompeii, II,1,11).

These small delicacies were often part of the starter of the meal for Romans, referred to as the gustatio. Roasted dormice rolled in honey and poppyseed was one of the starters for Trimalchio’s guests in Petronius’ Satyricon. The lone surviving cookbook, authored by Apicius (who may or may not have been a mix of various chefs), notes the following recipe for glires (stuffed dormice): “[It] is stuffed with a forcemeat of pork and small pieces of dormouse meat trimmings, all pounded with pepper, nuts, laser, broth. Put the dormouse thus stuffed in an earthen casserole, roast it in the oven, or boil it in the stock pot.” Double-stuffed dormice appear to have been best when roasted rather than boiled.

To conclude, I want to circle back to the irregularity of these little guys in the Roman diet. The tie between dormice and the luxury market is important to remember; most Romans did not subsist on honeyed dormice (and I think you might get scurvy if you did). Just as most extant Roman literature provides a reflection of elite living rather than a mirror of the impoverished day-to-day life of most Romans, many of the recipes and satirical anecdotes that survive from antiquity provide a skewed idea of the quotidian Roman diet. Archaeological objects like gliraria can indeed give us some insight into the luxury market, but they shouldn’t then be taken as typifying the contents of all Roman tables.

Author’s note: A table of the surviving gliraria is listed by ancient historian Kim Beerden in her 2012 article on the fattening of Roman dormice.

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Kim Beerden, Table 1: Dormouse-jars, in “Roman dolia and the Fattening of Dormice,” Classical World, Volume 105, Number 2 (Winter 2012): 227-235.

 

 

 

 

The Argument Made By The Absence: On Whiteness, Polychromy, And Diversity In Classics

It has been a few days since I published a piece on my Forbes blog regarding the perception of whiteness and statues in antiquity. I knew when I started taking notes on the subject of polychromy many months ago that this column would likely cause a stir within the field, among colleagues, and online. I had thought that I was prepared for the internet trolls. After all, I have crossed many proverbial bridges on Twitter––where they usually lurk. However, the hatred and invective I received from this post was more than anything I have ever received to date. As a result, I wanted to write a post on my personal blog in order to:

1) to provide a context for my argument through a broader bibliography on the subject of polychromy 2) to encourage the incorporation of the subject of race and art history into course syllabi and to provide an open discussion of racism in the 19th and 20th centuries to our students 3) to use these materials to recognize and then address the severe lack of diversity in the field of Classics.

My main thesis is that despite our knowledge of the prevalence of polychromy on ancient statuary, there is a predominantly neon white display of skin tone in respect to classical statues and sarcophagi. This assemblage of neon whiteness thus creates a false sense of homogeneity across the Mediterranean world. Moreover the idea that white marble is beauty is not an inherent truth of the universe; it was in part developed by influential art historians during the early modern period in Europe. This visual argument continues to be asserted and to shape what we in the West consider to be pulchritudinous.

As I pointed out in the column, a number of fantastic museum shows throughout Europe and the U.S. in recent years have addressed the issue of polychromy. Digital humanists and archaeologists played a large part in making these shows possible. Archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann in particular has applied technologies such as ultraviolet light in order to analyze the minute vestiges of paint on ancient statues and then recreate polychromy versions of them.

If you have a moment, check out the 2003 “Gods of Color” exhibit that travelled the world after its initial display both at the Glyptothek in Munich and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. Many of the photos in this post come from that exhibit––including the famed Caligula bust (Forbes column) and the Alexander Sarcophagus (above). One of my favorites is the archer from the Temple of Aphaia in Aigina (490-480 BCE). Also make sure to check out the open content and images on the Getty Portal from a show called “The Color of Life“, which was on display at the Getty Villa in 2008.

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Blank marble and polychromy version of the archer from the west pediment of the Temple of Aphaia in Aigina (490-480 BCE). Reconstruction by Vinzenz Brinkmann.

Now that we have some background, the next question is: How can we address the problem of the lily white antiquity that exists in the public imagination? To be clear, I am not suggesting that we go back with a bucket in hand and repaint every marble statue across the country. However, I believe that better museum signage, the presentation of side-by-side 3D reconstructions, and the use of light (e.g. projections similar to the ones used on the Ara Pacis) can supplement and produce a contextual frame for understanding pieces. What a number of commenters have pointed out is that even when these statues are given color, they remain “white” and that, regardless of their color in antiquity, the restored color is simply too gauche. First, what do you even mean by “white”? I do not have the time to get into the cultural construction of whiteness and how it has changed to include Greeks and Italians in the 20th century, but please refer to historian Nell Irvin Painter‘s work on the subject and particularly to her piece in the New York Times, “What Is Whiteness?” White is not a category of analysis or identity used by those in antiquity.

 

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The 2008 light show at the Ara Pacis museum, which sought to use color mapping to restore the polychromy to the Ara Pacis of Augustus. The image is via La Repubblica.

In doing the research for this piece and then reading Painter’s book on the subject of whiteness, I had to confront the incredible amount of racism that has shaped the ideas of scholars we continue to cite today in the field of ancient history. Art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (d. 1768) is just one example. A more current racist that is often cited by Roman economic historians is Tenney Frank. Recently, I came across Frank’s disturbing article, “Race Mixture in the Roman Empire” (The American Historical Review, 21.4 [Jul., 1916]: 689-708) while looking through an edited volume. The article was then reprinted without comment in Greek historian Donald Kagan’s collection of articles on the “fall of Rome” (published in 1962) called Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Why Did It Collapse? I am not suggesting that Prof. Kagan is or is not a racist, but I am arguing here that the essay deserved to be contextualized in his introduction to the volume and highlighted as an example of the virulent racism in Classics in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As Denise Eileen McCoskey points out in her excellent book, Race: Antiquity and Its Legacy, Frank’s attempt to count inscriptions in order to gauge whether “race mixing” contributed to the decline of Rome is not only untrue, it is dangerous. It also provides ammunition for white supremacists today. I am not telling you to avoid citing Frank altogether, but just like those museum placards, we must annotate, contextualize, and question the theories of these individuals closely before we use them.

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Tenney Frank, “Race Mixture in the Roman Empire” The American Historical Review, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Jul., 1916): 689-708. This article was then reprinted without comment in Donald Kagan’s collection of essays on the “fall of Rome” (1962) called Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Why Did It Collapse.

The last thing I wish to argue for in this post is a moment of reflection that endures. When we ask ourselves, as classicists, why we are such a non-diverse field we must consider whether we make it easy for people of color to want to study the ancient world. Do they see themselves in the ancient landscape that we present to them? Because they should. Moreover, discussing the shifting idea of what whiteness is remains important. Notably, I am a pretty white-looking lady, though I became less so in the eyes of internet trolls who this week found a blog post I wrote earlier in my life, wherein I discussed the fact that my maternal grandmother was indeed Jewish. Thanks for the parentheses treatment, guys, but I am quite okay with my heritage.

The dearth of people of color in media depicting the ancient world is a pivotal issue. Until I played Ryse: Son of Rome with my friend and colleague Hannah Scates Kettler, I didn’t realize how extreme this was. Hannah is a digital librarian and an ancient art historian, but she is also a woman of color. As she remarked to me, she does not see herself when watching movies or playing video games set in antiquity. I am not suggesting that we can change this fact over night, but I am telling you that 70% of my students tell me that these very video games and the watching of movies like Gladiator (which has a man from New Zealand playing the Spaniard Maximus) and the 300 (which has xenophobic depictions of Persians and predominantly northern European people playing Spartans) led them to take my course. If we want to see more diversity in Classics, we have to work harder as public historians to change the narrative, to talk to filmmakers, to write pop articles, and to do more outreach that emphasizes the vast palette of skin tones in the ancient Mediterranean. We do have the power to return the technicolor to the ancient world, but it does start with us.

Legitimizing The Blog: On Reading, Citing & Archiving Blogposts

Over at the Forbes blog this week, I wrote about an issue within academic blogging that has been bugging me for a long time: Why aren’t more academic blogs cited in the footnotes of journal articles and within academic books? While there are certainly still specious blogs that abound on the web, the number of trusted, well-sourced, and highly researched academic blogs is on the increase. This post was meant to point out some blogs that are dependable and quite rigorously reviewed, to demonstrate how they might be cited, and then to show readers how to archive a blogpost. I will briefly go through these steps below.

  1. The Blogs: There are myriad blogs (Fun fact: In the plural, a Greek myriad=10,000) focused on classical antiquity. Tom Elliott (NYU-ISAW) runs a comprehensive feed aggregator called Maia Atlantis that will allow you to explore almost everything posted on the web having to do with the ancient world. In terms of my morning blog habits? While sipping coffee, I tend first to turn to the Rogue Classicist and then to move onto the medieval world by skimming any new posts from Littera Visigothica or Medieval Books.Trust and familiarity are big parts of reading and then citing academic blogs, but you will quickly come to learn the notable professors, librarians, scientists, and researchers in each field who post reliable content; however, just like anything else, you are still responsible for evaluating each post. Reading academic blogs may require a bit more source criticism and critique, but they are a great way to hear new ideas, to find out about recently discovered archaeological remains, or to find out about news fast. For instance, the AAIHS’ Black Perspectives blog is rigorously peer reviewed and contributed to by numerous scholars that provide citations and copious bibliography, all while reacting to current issues in real time.
  2. The Citation Format: Once we have a blog post we wish to cite in our own book manuscript or journal article, it is time to properly cite according to the accepted style manuals. There are standard formats for citing a blog post in MLA and Chicago Style, which can then easily be integrated into your footnotes and bibliography.First name Last Name, “Title of Blog Post,” Blog Title (blog), Publisher/Sponsor of Blog (if applicable), Month Date, Year of post, URL.Here is the Chicago Style format for a blogpost from Kristina Killgrove on crucifixion:Kristina Killgrove, “Line on the left, one cross each: Bioarchaeology of Crucifixion,” Powered by Osteons (blog), November 4, 2011, http://www.poweredbyosteons.org/2011/11/line-on-left-one-cross-each.html.

    I find that using the Zotero extension for your browser helps you keep track of online reading. This open source citation tool (originally created at George Mason University) will allow you either to find the proper citation through a Worldcat search or you can take a snapshot of the webpage and then cite that.

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    Screenshot that exemplifies how to use the Zotero extension in the Chrome browser.

    3. The Archive: On my own blogs, I tend to cite primary sources by giving the classical citation  (as stipulated by the Oxford Classical Dictionary [PDF]) or by hyperlinking back to the texts themselves. Usually this means a link to the Perseus Project or to LacusCurtius. I trust both Tufts University and LC’s Bill Thayer, who respectively run these sites, and also have confidence in their stable URIs. However, there are still a lot of dead or broken links when you only hyperlink back to either a primary or secondary source, and certainly this won’t work well for an ebook or journal article. The fear of corpse-links is not only founded, it keeps people from citing blogposts or webpages.

    Taking the attitude that webpages are ephemeral and thus unworthy of proper citation is something we have got to abandon. My institutional repository scrapes my blogs and then archives my posts in my individual IRO account. However, you don’t have to have an institutional repository in order to create an archive of your own blogposts or of the ones you wish to cite. We have at our disposal a number of citation tools (e.g. the aforementioned Zotero snapshot) and archiving sites that can allow us to archive a post in order to verify the words we quote for future audiences or to provide a later reference. Over at the Internet Archive, there is the so-called WayBack Machine. This service has permitted thousands of datasets from the federal government to be recorded, saved, and archived prior to their deletion under the Trump administration. It can also allow you to save a webpage and then site a stable, archived version via a link provided by the site.

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Screenshot of the Internet Archive’s ‘WayBack Machine’ interface. Just capture a web page’s current content by entering the URL and then hitting “save page.” The you can use the link in your bibliography, footnotes, or research records.

Academic blogging is a rather thankless task at times, but take heart: the visibility and recognition of blogs as valid publications is increasing. As authors, bloggers are still responsible for what they publish and should be held accountable for the things they say. But that means that readers must, in turn, cite the blogposts they are using in their own work. Over the years, I have seen a number of the ideas, images, and translations that I have posted reused without attribution. I am not here to point fingers, I am simply going to state the obvious: We live in a digital world, but plagiarism is still plagiarism, whether you copy and paste from a book or a blogpost. Our citation habits must expand to include the academic blog if we are to further legitimize them as publications. There really are no more excuses.

 

Modeling the Tincu House: A New 3D Model from Roman Gabii

Over on the Forbes blog this week, I explore the new publication of an interactive 3D model for a mid-Republican house from the site of Gabii. The University of Michigan Press and the Gabii Project were kind enough to let me read the new e-publication, which links together maps, 3D models, an archaeological object database, and text in order to create a multimedia publication. Admittedly, the publication is not fully open-access. It costs $150.00 to buy, a price-tag that will largely be paid by libraries and research institutions. However, the database is online and easily searchable, and you can read the introduction to the publication as well.

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Map of Gabii, a city-state about 11 miles to the east of Rome. It was active in the first millenium BCE until the 3rd century CE (Image via the Pelagios Project’s Peripleo map).

The most significant aspect of this e-publication (beyond continuing to make the case for digital publications generally) is that it begins to engrain a set of best practices for all archaeological publications in the future. I excavated for many years as an undergraduate, and excavation reports can often take a decade or more to be released. Even then, they are limited in circulation because these publications are usually gigantic  over-sized folios that are both expensive and unwieldy. However, the Gabii Project shows how digital tools can and should be integrated both on the ground and when it is time to publish. Excavators use on-site tablets to allow modeling and GIS mapping in real time, and then transfer data quickly to a central cloud. As such, final excavation reports can be produced, published, and disseminated much more quickly than ever before. In the process, they have also saved me a lot of bookshelf space.

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Screenshot of the new 3D interactive publication of the Tincu House, a house dating originally to the early third century BCE (Image used with permission from the Gabii Project and the University of Michigan Press under a CC-BY 4.0 International License).

The widespread and persistent myth that it is easier to multiply and divide with Hindu-Arabic numerals than with Roman ones.

The Renaissance Mathematicus

Last Sunday the eminent British historian of the twentieth century, Richard Evans, tweeted the following:

Let’s remember we use Arabic numerals – 1, 2, 3 etc. Try dividing MCMLXVI by XXXIX ­– Sir Richard Evans (@Richard Evans36)

There was no context to the tweet, a reply or whatever, so I can only assume that he was offering a defence of Islamic or Muslim culture against the widespread current attacks by drawing attention to the fact that we appropriated our number system along with much else from that culture. I would point out, as I have already done in my nineteenth-century style over long title, that one should call them Hindu-Arabic numerals, as although we appropriated them from the Islamic Empire, they in turn had appropriated them from the Indians, who created them.

As the title suggests, in his tweet Evans is actually guilty of perpetuating a widespread and very persistent…

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