Category: bija-knowles - Part 2

Mafia Nuclear Waste Scandal Leads to Roman Amphorae Discovery in Italy

An underwater probe searching for evidence of vessels blown up by the Mafia to dispose of radioactive waste in the Mediterranean has found evidence of a shipwreck of a different kind containing several hundred Roman amphorae. The large clay ‘pots’ used to contain Roman foodstuffs (olive oil, wine, grain or fish sauce/garum) were spotted on the seabed off the coast of Campania in southern Italy by the company managing the underwater exploration.

The Aberdeen-based company, Hallin Marine, which provides under-sea services to industry, was using remote operated vehicles (ROVs) as part of an Italian government-run investigation into the disappearance of up to 42 ships. They were searching off the coast of Capo Palinuro, near Policastro, at a depth of 500 metres.

According to a press release from the company, Hallins ROV supervisor, Dougie Combe and his crew were stunned when they spotted the amphorae on the seabed more than 500m down. The crew carefully raised five amphorae from the seabed with special baskets. Mr Combe, from Speyside, near Aberdeen said: It was a big surprise when we came across the pots. The operation we were on had nothing to do with them – we were looking for slightly more modern wrecks from the last 20 years or so. We managed to get five [amphorae] up altogether, but there must have been hundreds of them there.”&QUOTE

The amphorae are now in the hands of the National Archaeological Museum of Paestum and are being studied by the Superintendancy for Archaeological Heritage of the Province of Salerno and Avellino.

Roman Shipwrecks in the Med – Two-a-Penny

The discovery of the Roman amphorae off Capo Palinuro isn’t that rare hundreds of Roman-era shipwrecks are thought to be dotted around the Mediterranean and a number of discoveries are made each year. Last year there were discoveries off Ventotene and Cyprus, for example.

The western coast of Italy was a busy trade route if not the busiest throughout the years of the Roman republic and empire. Merchant ships would have sailed up and down the coast since pre-Roman times carrying tin and copper from southern France, Cornwall and Spain. By the time the Roman republic was at its peak in the second and first centuries BC, wheat from Africa as well as wine and olive oil were also transported up and down the west coast of the Italian peninsular. This trade would have continued throughout the empire until the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century AD.

Rome, as well as other large centres such as Pozzuoli near modern-day Naples, had large ports where imports and exports were handled. The Romans were big consumers of olive oil (they used it in lamps too) and Monte Testaccio in Rome a small mountain 50m high made up of discarded Roman amphorae is visible proof of just how many of these amphorae were shipped into the city.

The Mafia Radioactive Waste Scandal

The more remarkable aspect of this story probably isn’t the archaeological discovery, but the fact that it seems likely that radioactive waste has been dumped into the sea off the coast of Italy by the mafia-like criminal network in Calabria known as the ‘Ndrangeta.

An article in the Guardian explains that in 2006, Francesco Fonti, a boss of the ‘Ndrangheta, gave evidence that his criminal network was paid 100,000 to dispose of’ a ship, the MV Kunski, which was carrying toxic and nuclear waste off the coast of Cetraro, Calabria. The investigation being carried out, of which Hallin Marine is a part, is looking for evidence of the 42 ships carrying toxic waste that have gone missing.

The Spartacus Effect: Why we all Want to be Sexy, Blood-thirsty Romans

So despite objections from campaign groups such as MediaWatch UK, it now looks as though British viewers will be able to watch the new TV series Spartacus: Blood and Sandafter all.

Pay-TV channel Bravo, owned by Virgin Media, has bought the rights to the first two series and is planning to air the 13-part series this summer the dates are still to be confirmed.

The show, which was broadcast by Starz Network in the US, has raised a few eyebrows with its graphic violence, scenes of orgies and ‘full-frontal’ nudity.

So British viewers are certainly in for an eye-full this summer. You only need to see the trailer (below) to see that Starz (also the series’ producers) have got that blood-squirting special effect down to a very fine art.

The Gore Factor

But there’s been some debate about the wisdom of screening something so explicit on television particularly since, even if it’s screened after the 9pm watershed, there are concerns it could be watched on digital boxes after the screening, and that children will be able to see it easily.

The gore and explicit sex is probably aimed solely at scoring high viewer ratings rather than an attempt at historical authenticity. And for all our protests and qualms about sensationalist soft-porn creeping onto our screens, it’s likely that viewing figures for Spartacus: Blood and Sand will be high. Similar shows, such as HBO’s Rome, broadcast in the UK on BBC2, had viewing figures (when it was first broadcast in 2005) of 3 million or 13 per cent of the population, according to Broadcast magazine. While the sexy historical drama The Tudors (on BBC2 in the UK) was also netting an audience of well over 2 million in 2009. Spartacus, with the hype surrounding its high blood and sex content, could reel in even higher figures.

Were Romans Really That Sex-Mad?

But while these historical dramas are liberal with the historical facts as well as with their characters’ love affairs, perhaps they manage to sum up the spirit of the ages they portray far better than more straight-laced (but factual) productions. According to one academic, Roman contemporary writers made a lot of references to sexual exploits and violence and they are known for having a far more open attitude to sex than modern audiences. A classics professor at Birkbeck, University of London, Catherine Edwards, told the Telegraph: We do find Roman writers going on at great length about the terrible sexual excesses of their peers, or else castigating the Roman plebs for spending too much time watching gladiator fights.

The Romans during the first century BC (Spartacus’s rebellion lasted from 73-71 BC and the first two series of Rome span 49-31 BC) were beyond doubt far more liberal, physical and violent than we are today. Between 18-17 BC, Augustus tried to calm what he saw as the immoral behaviour in Rome by issuing his pro-family and anti-adultery laws, part of his Lex Julia. It was also a pagan age, before Christianity took hold and spread its message of virtue and restraint. So it’s quite likely that the Romans of the first century BC felt far fewer constraints or inhibitions when it came to physical conflict or sex.

Where is the Gore (and ‘Phwoar’) Factor Today?

Perhaps in watching the Romans frolicking in Spartacus: Sand and Blood, we realise how many inhibitions and constraints we have these days. There are endless good reasons why we’d choose not to fight or sleep around: diseases, guns, the police, disapproval, preference or some might say even a lack of opportunity. Some of these existed in Roman times, some didn’t.

It’s a dark, animal side to human nature that we might like to think we’ve evolved away from. The viewing figures for Spartacus might suggest otherwise.

So do we wish we were back in that state of ‘freedom’, able to settle disagreements with a battle rather than in court, and free to be as promiscuous as we like without having to think about the consequences, condoms, paternity tests, STDS or the huge social upset that affairs cause these days (you don’t have to scratch your head too hard to think of a celebrity castigated for having a fling or two there’s John Terry, Tiger Woods and now shock horror Mark Owen from Take That).

Adulterous ancient Romans before 18 BC certainly weren’t subject to the same level of social disapproval (perhaps the prevalence of marriages made for power and status, not love, had something to do with this). Maybe this is a more natural state of things for human beings and one we have hankerings for. It might be no wonder we want some escapism from the high-pressured lives we lead where marriages that don’t last forever are branded failures and celebrities who cheat on their partners are demonized by the press.

Our Animal Instinct

Apart from the free and open attitude to sex, Spartacus is a production based heavily on combat scenes inside and outside the arena. With the afore-mentioned blood-squirting special effects, these scenes aren’t pretty and could make even a professional butcher feel slightly sick.

It’s true that the ancients led far gorier and bloodier lives than we do. They killed their own animals for eating, and would have been used to deaths by childbirth, fighting, execution and injury. In contrast, people in the west today live a step removed from most of this we have hospitals to deal with the sick and with birth, supermarkets to prepare and pre-package our (pre-washed) food and police or law courts to settle disputes.

Perhaps it’s the sanitation, order and lack of risk in most people’s lives that means they are titillated by the blood and sex of shows like Spartacus or Rome. These shows, very much like the mixture of stories on grizzly crimes and celebrity love lives found in tabloids, pander to what seems to be an insatiable public thirst for images of sex and violence together if at all possible. It’s a dark, animal side to human nature that we might like to think we’ve evolved away from. The viewing figures for Spartacus might suggest otherwise.

‘Vanished Rome’ Turns up on Facebook

A page on social networking site Facebook has been gathering and publishing historical photos of the city of Rome. Roma Sparita (‘Vanished Rome’) has so far clocked up more than 64,500 fans since January (it’s growing rapidly) and has more than 7,200 ‘vintage’ photos online. The site is becoming far more than its four administrators ever expected.

Most of the photos show Rome throughout the 20th century (up until 1990) and there are plenty of iconic scenes of people in the 50s and 60s riding Vespas or in vintage Fiats. Some of the photos also date back as far as the very beginnings of photography in the mid-19th century, showing the city in the days when it was still the size of some provincial towns. Although the population of Rome peaked at around one million during the Roman empire, it then dropped off and dwindled to around 30,000 during the Middle Ages. By 1850 the population was about 150,000, rising to about 200,000 in 1870 when Rome became part of unified Italy (and was then re-designated the capital in 1871). By 2007 there were 2.7 million people living in Rome, with almost 4 million in greater Rome.

Roma Sparita

Roma Sparita was set up in 2009 as a Facebook group by Daniele Chiu’, a civil servant in Rome, and it wasn’t until January 2010 that he expanded the page with the help of archaeologist and tour guide Lucia Prandi, IT specialist and amateur photographer Fabio Pucci and a computer programmer known by his Facebook name Tekkaman. The four administrators share the work of uploading and categorising the photos emailed in by fans of the site.

The photos show communities, fashions, cars, green fields where buildings now stand and the Tiber as it would have looked before the banks were strengthened with flood-resistant walls. They show Rome at a time before many of the modernisations of the 20th century had taken place before Mussolini built via dei Fori Imperiali through the Roman Forum and before the Ara Pacis was put back together and placed by the river where there was once a busy port.

Some photos also show some of the less savoury periods in the city’s history, such as Termini station decked out in swastikas for the Hitler’s state visit and others show the destruction of allied bombing and the rebuilding of the city during the post-war years.

Some of the earliest photos go back to the 1850s and some are of the Aurelian Walls and Porta Pia, which was bombarded during the seige of 20 September 1870 when Rome was annexed to the rest of Italy.

Rome’s Online Community

The site shows how a community of people can pool their own personal information (in this case photos kept in old family albums that might otherwise be lost) to create a public record of a city’s past.

The cultural identity of Rome and Romans is very strong and unique even within Italy and this comes through in the comments posted on the photos. There is a wealth of historical information that comes out in the comments, with some fans demonstrating an encyclopaedic knowledge of the city’s history and streets. Romans well known within Italy for their cheeky humour and quick wit don’t hold back on the comments and there are plenty of typical Roman jokes many of them written in ‘Romanaccio’ dialect.

Many of the photos are also personal and show families and grandparents in Rome during the wars, and during the post-war years when parts of Rome were badly bombed. Comments left by fans of the site show that many feel very emotional when they see the old photos of their city.

Roma Sparita Documenting the Lost City

One of the administrators of Roma Sparita, Lucia Prandi, first became interested in the page because of the photos showing archaeological sites during excavations and before modernisations or ‘restorations’. She believes that many of the site’s fans are archaeologists and historians interested in the development and the changes that have happened in Rome. She notes the photos showing the excavations of the temples at Rome’s Largo di Torre Argentina, the demolition of the theatre built on the Mausoleum of Augustus (now a ruin) and the 19th century views of the Roman Forum as being among some of the most interesting from an archaeological point of view.

There are photos showing some of the city’s most famous ancient monuments in a very different state or context to the one they are in today. For example we see the Colosseum open to all and surrounded by grass a far cry from the ticket office, barriers and turnstiles there today. Some of the now-vanished monuments of the Roman Forum (such as the Meta Sudans, an ancient fountain) are photographed and documented, as are the excavations of the Roman villas now buried underneath the forecourt of Termini station.

The Roman Forum and the Colosseum

The Meta Sudans was a conical fountain that once stood 17m tall between the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine. It’s thought that it would have ‘sweated’ (hence the name ‘sudans’) water rather than having jets of water. The brick and concrete remains of the Meta Sudans can still be seen in the early photos of the Colosseum. It was finally dismantled by Mussolini in 1936. Some photos on Roma Sparita show the Colosseum without a gate and open to all, while the Roman Forum also appears in its pastoral state in photos before 1901 when it was still a pasture field for cows.

What’s Under Rome’s Termini Station?

Termini station is shown in its previous incarnation as a rather elegant 19th century railway station reminiscent of the Gare D’Orsay in Paris. The photos of the excavations of the Roman villas in the station’s forecourt are quite spectacular. The area around Termini is on the Esquiline Hill and would have been a fashionable residential district during the Roman empire. In front of Termini are the Baths of Diocletian. Comments on Roma Sparita suggest that the name Termini might come from the Latin/Italian name Thermae di Diocleziano although this is debated.

The Ara Pacis and the Lost River Port

The area around the present-day Ara Pacis (Augustus’ altar to peace) is also shown in its former context. The area has changed almost beyond recognition since the early 20th century and some beautiful structures such as the theatre on the Mausoleum of Augustus have been pulled down. Today the mausoleum looks like a neglected building site and is closed to visitors while some photos on Roma Sparita show the building before the 1930s looking majestic and dominating the neighbourhood.

The area in front of the church of San Rocco, where Richard Meier’s Ara Pacis building now stands, was once a river port called Porto di Ripetta. The port was built by the architect Alessandro Specchi in 1707 and was a much-loved area of 18th and 19th century Rome.

Work began in the 19th century to strengthen the river banks to prevent flooding and the port was demolished in around 1901. The Cavour bridge was built instead of it (following the construction of a temporary iron bridge) and the whole area where the Ara Pacis now stands was built over the old port. Judging by comments on Roma Sparita, the loss of Porto di Ripetta is something that the local Romans regret bitterly.

Photos on Roma Sparita also show the original Fascist-era construction built to protect the Ara Pacis a small boxy wooden shed. This too was torn down and Richard Meier’s modern white building replaced it in 2006.

These are just a few examples of some of the fascinating photos giving some insight into Rome’s evolving urban space. Comments left by the site’s fans leave no doubt that the Roman people are very attached to their city and want to see it preserved in the best way possible which isn’t always what those in charge over the past century have succeeded in doing.

Photos courtesy of the Facebook page ‘Roma Sparita‘, added by fans of the group.

New York’s Met Returns Looted Morgantina Treasure to Italy

It’s not often that stories of looting have a happy ending, but at the weekend a collection of illegally excavated silverware from the third century BC went on display for the first time back in their home-country of Italy. The treasure of Morgantina, as the collection is known, has been returned to Rome by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it has been housed since 1982.

How the pieces got to the Met is a dramatic and nebulous story of illegal antiquities smuggling and dodgy dealing. American antiquities dealer Robert Hecht sold the pieces to the Met in two batches in 1981 and 1982 for a total sum of $2.7 million. He is now on trial in Rome for his part in the scandal. In other cases related to looted antiquities, Marion True, former curator of the Getty museum in California, is also defending charges brought by the Italian government of conspiracy in trafficking, while Italian art dealer Giacomo Medici has been sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in trafficking.

Morgantina’s Treasure and Destruction

The Morgantina collection consists of 16 pieces of intricately-worked silver objects, some gilded, many of which would have been used at the banquet table. They include two large bowls for mixing wine, honey and spices, three drinking bowls with embossed and gilded patterns inside, a two-handled silver cup for drinking, a small silver altar, a pair of silver horns that may have been attached to a helmet, a ladle and small boxes with beautiful bas-relief lids depicting a woman and a child.

The items weren’t all made by the same artist, which suggests they had been collected over time. They may have been hidden from plunderers during one of the periods of chaos at Morgantina.

Although today there is little to see at the site, Morgantina was once a bustling and powerful town in Sicily’s interior. Near Aidone, 5km east of Piazza Armerina (home to the stunning mosaics of Villa Romana del Casale), there is also evidence of several plush Classical villas at Morgantina. It was conquered by the Romans in 263 BC and definitively came under Roman rule in 211 BC. It was also involved in Sicily’s two slave rebellions during the second century BC, but by the first century BC, nothing the town had been completely destroyed and nothing was left of it.

Archaeologists who later excavated at the site say that a 100 lira coin from 1978 was found at the scene, suggesting the looting took place at the end of the 70s or early 80s.

An agreement between the Met and Italy’s Ministry for Heritage in 2006 has meant that the ancient silverware is now on its way back to Sicily (with a short stop-over in Rome), where it will go on display in Palermo from 4 June.

But is this really a story with a happy ending? There are two sides to the argument. Some argue that justice has now been done (better late than never) and that historical artefacts should be displayed in or near to the context in which they were found. The other side of the coin is that Italy has possibly the highest density of Classical heritage on the planet, so is it possible that a wonderful collection of silverware from ancient Sicily may not have the attention or impact that it would get if it was displayed abroad?

The Case of the Euphronios Krater

Italy is pushing hard for many objects to be repatriated and the Morgantina treasure is just the latest in a flurry of antiquities that are making their way back to Italy having been illegally exported and sold to high-profile museums in the 1970s and 80s. The Euphronios krater was repatriated from the Met in 2008, while the Venus of Morgantina is due to be sent back to Italy from the Getty museum soon.

The Euphronios krater, a 515 BC painted vase by Greek artist Euphronios looted from an Etruscan tomb in Cerveteri, north of Rome, in the early 1970s caused some debate when it was returned in 2008. Like the Morgantina silverware, this vase also passed through the hands of Robert Hecht and was sold to the Met in 1972. It is now on display at Villa Giulia, the national Etruscan museum in Rome.

But Michael Kimmelman, in the New York Times, argues that while the krater was the star piece in the Met’s collection of ancient vases, at Villa Giulia it is overshadowed. While the Met has visitor numbers of around 5.2 million per year, I suspect Villa Giulia’s visitor figures are much lower, although those visitors may be there because they are specifically interested in the Etruscans and no doubt really appreciate being able to see such an important vase in the context of an Etruscan collection.

The director of Villa Giulia, Anna Maria Moretti, told La Repubblica that, on the contrary, the Euphronios vase is on display in one of the museum’s central rooms near to the famous Etruscan statue Apollo from Veio. Far from being overshadowed, it is now the primary exhibit in a museum dedicated to Etruscan culture and art, in the heart of Rome (so accessible to the millions of tourists who visit each year) and also not more than about 50km from the tomb that was originally robbed by the tombaroli 40 years ago.

Next Stop Palermo

The final destination of the Morgantina treasure is Palermo’s Archaeological Museum of Antonino Salinas where it’s due to go on display from 4 June 2010. It may not have the grand surroundings of New York’s Met, but it will now be housed on the island where it was illegally dug up and the Italian authorities feel as though justice has been done.

In the meantime, it will be on display at Palazzo Massimo alle Terme in Rome until 23rd May. Click here for details of prices and opening times.

Roman Gladiator Costumes and Weapons on Display in Colosseum Exhibition

Question: What does a gladiator wear on a night out? The answer, of course, is that he puts on his glad rags! Apologies for the terrible joke, but for those who want to know what a gladiator would really have worn, not on a night out in ancient Rome, but in combat in the arena, then an exhibition inside Rome’s Colosseum has opened to show us just that.

The exhibition – Gladiatores – is displaying replica gladiatorial weapons, dress and armour made authentically according to nine years of historical research by Silvano Mattesini, a trained architect and expert in ancient Roman military dress.

Many of the costumes use bright colourful feathers and silk, as well as the more expected leather and metal and they are all inspired by or taken from historical evidence of gladiatorial culture in Italy. The weapons and accessories on display were designed by Silvano Mattesini, who then commissioned professional craftsmen (metalsmiths, tailors, carpenters) to make the pieces.

The 30 objects on display are the results of in-depth research into historical texts by classical writers, as well as evdience from Roman paintings and frescoes, mosaics and graffiti, every-day objects such as statues and vases as well as authentic armour and weapons found at Pompeii.

According to the exhibition’s organisers, the contrast between the original ancient objects on display, and the modern replicas, highlights the difference between the originals as we see them now, and how they must have appeared almost 2,000 years ago. Of course the archaeological items have lost much of their colour and brightness both of which would have been very important in a large amphitheatre such as the Colosseum, where the audience in the higher seats would be able to see only the colours and flashing metal of swords and helmets.

Evidence of gladiatorial combat dates as far back as the fourth century BC to some figurative art in tombs at Paestum.

The first documented gladiatorial spectacle in Rome was in 264 BC when the two sons of Brutus Pera held the event in honour of their (deceased) father. Gladiatorial combat continued to be associated with funerary celebrations until the Augustan age and during the late republican era the combat became more elaborate, with 320 pairs of fighters on display in games given by Julius Caesar in 65 BC. By this time gladiatorial schools had been set up – the ones in Capua and Rome (the Ludus Magnus) were especially well known.

Gladiatorial shows became an important political and electoral tool and the building of amphitheatres such as Vespasian’s ‘Flavian amphitheatre’ in the 70s AD consolidated the status of the spectacle.

The educational exhibition – Gladiatores – is curated by Rossella Rea, director of the Colosseum.

Photos by Silvano Mattesini.

Lead Coffin Discovered in Gabii Contains Roman VIP

Archaeologists unearthed a lead coffin buried 11 miles east of Rome, an exceedingly rare find for this region in this time period. It could contain a gladiator or a bishop.Very unusual and very intriguing is how Nicola Terrenato from the University of Michigan describes a Roman-era lead coffin that has been uncovered in the ancient city of Gabii, 11 miles east of Rome. The professor of classical studies is the leader of an archaeological project to excavate the site. He added: It’s definitely the most unusual finding of the campaign so far.

Who’s in the Lead Coffin?

The lead sarcophagus, weighing about 450 kg, was found during last summer’s dig and is thought to date from the second to the fourth centuries AD. Researchers can’t be more exact about the date until a series of tests are carried out in the coming months.

The location of the ancient coffin, found in the central area of the city, suggests that by the second to fourth centuries AD, burials were taking place in an area that was previously inhabited. This suggests that Gabii was a shrinking city by this period.

At the moment very little is known about the occupant of the lead coffin. Any guesses as to the person’s status and occupation are pure conjecture. Suppositions that he (or she?) could have been a bishop or a gladiator could be quite wide of the mark, although that the individual was someone of some importance seems like a fair guess.

What remains clear is that the burial is highly unusual, not least because the use of such an unusually large piece of lead would have been a great expense for the deceased’s family. Terrenato said: It’s a sheet of lead folded onto itself an inch thick. A thousand pounds of metal is an enormous amount of wealth in this era. To waste so much of it in a burial is pretty unusual.”

Romans didn’t often use coffins for burial and those that they did use were usually wooden. Terrenato adds: There are only a handful of other examples from Italy of lead coffins from this age the second, third or fourth century AD. We know of virtually no others in this region.”

Troweling begins on the first day of excavations at Gabii, Italy in June 2009.Lead coffins tend to preserve bodies well, so there is every hope that the contents may provide interesting information about the individual. However, the researchers are keen to avoid opening the coffin if possible, as this could damage the occupant’s remains. Other techniques such as endoscopy, thermal testing and possibly an MRI scan will be tried first.

Terrenato hopes that some of these questions will be answered when the coffin and its occupant are transferred to the American Academy in Rome for testing, which will be carried out before the end of May. The team working on the project are currently putting in place the host of permits, safety procedures and insurance needed to get the coffin into the laboratory.

Two Child Burials Discovered

Several other interesting discoveries have emerged at the site, including the presence of two child burials dating from the eighth and seventh centuries BC.

According to Terrenato, these sites weren’t unexpected because it was common during this time, when infant mortality was very high, to bury a child near the house, a bit like a pet, rather than bury them in an official graveyard. However, there are expensive items, such as bronze objects and pots, buried in the graves, suggesting the children came from a rich family. The household associated with the two graves has also been located and this will be excavated in the coming season, which begins in mid June.

During the eighth and seventh centuries BC, Gabii was a Latin city, populated by the ethnic group that eventually gave its language to the Roman civilization and was finally absorbed into the growing Roman territory. The city of Gabii would have emerged at the same time that ancient Rome was growing into a powerful kingdom and eventually a republic. But it seems that, by Augustan times, the city had gone into decline. While there doesn’t seem to be any catastrophic or violent end for Gabii, Terrenato believes that it was slowly overshadowed by the thriving Roman metropolis. He said: It’s not easy to be a medium-sized city in the hinterland of a big city. Rome was attracting people away and this may have led to Gabii’s decline.

The lead coffin is hoisted by crane on to a waiting truck.

All Roads Lead to Rome

Evidence of a very early orthogonal road layout has also been observed at Gabii. Many Italian towns are laid out along orthogonal lines, but it’s believed that the Romans didn’t begin to plan cities like this until after their period of colonisation and expansion. This orthogonal layout pre-dates Rome’s colonisation period. Terrenato explains that, since Gabii wasn’t a colony, it would be expected to have grown organically and without a grid as did ancient Rome.

The site of Gabii lies on undeveloped land 11 miles east of Rome in modern-day Lazio. The land is state-owned and the Italian State Archaeological Service (Soprintendenza di Roma) is facilitating and authorizing the project. Terrenato believes it’s very lucky that there has been no post-Roman construction at Gabii because it gives archaeologists freedom to excavate without disturbing later buildings.

Heavy Rain in Rome Causes Major Damage to Domus Aurea and Trajan’s Baths

Sad news today for Italy: part of the complex archaeological structure surrounding Nero’s ‘Golden House’ in Rome his extravagant palace between 64-68 AD has collapsed following heavy rain.

The Domus Aurea, as it is known, is one of the treasures of the ancient Roman world. Although it has been mainly closed to the public in recent years due to efforts to fend off encroaching damp and decay, it is a unique archaeological site and an important part of Italy’s heritage.

The site is structurally complex and includes important buildings from the reigns of Nero and Trajan. When Nero committed suicide in 68 AD, his imperial residence was largely gutted and precious materials taken for use elsewhere in ancient Rome. Some of the building itself was filled with earth and buried. Today the Domus Aurea lies mainly underneath Colle Oppio, although it originally extended as far as the Palatine and Caelian hills on the other side of the Colosseum.

In 69 AD, Vespasian took power and built the Flavian amphitheatre (i.e., the Colosseum named after the bronze statue of Nero as Colossus Colossus Neronis which stood in the Domus Aurea) which is about 100 metres or so from the entrance to the Domus Aurea. The emperor Trajan came to power in 98 AD and it was during his rule that an elaborate bathing complex was built right on top of Nero’s buried golden palace.

Luciano Marchetti described the situation as one of extreme alarm

The area damaged is about 60 square metres of the ceiling of one of the halls of Trajan’s baths, known as the fifteenth room, according to La Repubblica. The roof fell through at about 10am on Tuesday morning. Pictures of the collapse as seen from the top of Colle Oppio were published on the paper’s website.

Further collapses are possible according to the special commissioner for the site Luciano Marchetti. He described the situation as one of extreme alarm. He said there is an immediate risk of further damage, and to mitigate this they need to begin conservation work straight away for which secure funding is needed. Work done on the site so far has cost EUR 2 million. According to Marchetti, a further EUR 10 million is needed to completely secure and preserve the site.

According to La Repubblica, archaeological excavations were underway at the site but officers at the scene don’t believe that anyone has been trapped or injured. Officials are now working to make the area safe and to prevent further rain from damaging the area that has been exposed.

Watch Restoration of Riace Bronzes Live and Online

The Riace Bronzes, a pair of fifth-century BC statues of bearded warriors from the ancient Greek world, are undergoing restoration that experts hope will help them to answer some of the questions that have puzzled them ever since the statues were found off the coast of Calabria almost 40 years ago.

To this day, archaeologists and historians are not sure of the identity of the two warriors. Some theories have speculated that they could represent two characters, Tydeus and Amphiaraus, from the ancient Greek play, Seven Against Thebes. A monument representing the play is known to have existed in Argos. Other theories suggest that the statues may come from Delphi or Olympia.

While it seems that the statues came from ancient Greece, they were found off the southern coast of Italy, which was part of Magna Grecia until it came under Roman rule in the third century BC following the Pyrrhic War. They were discovered in 1972 by archaeological expert and diving enthusiast, Stefano Mariottini.

The Riace Bronze Mysteries

It is not known how they got to the bottom of the sea – no evidence of a shipwreck has yet been found at the discovery site. And their final destination is not known either. They may have been on their way to Rome – or could they have been destined for Magna Grecia? The identity of the sculptor is also unknown.

As part of the conservation process, the bronzes will undergo a CAT scan, which will show the state of preservation of the statues from the inside – it will be the first time their interior has been examined. Pasquale Dapoto, archaeological director of the restoration laboratory at Reggio Calabrias National Archaeological Museum, said that the process will also use technology and materials usually used in the aeronautics industry or in extreme sports.

Follow the Restoration Online or in Person

Visitors will be able to see the restoration process first-hand, as the laboratory, at Palazzo Campanella, in Reggio Calabria, will be open to the public from March 2010 to March 2011, every day from 9am to 7.30pm. A small exhibition of other statues and objects found in or off the coast of Calabria will also be on display at Palazzo Campanella. The National Museum of Reggio Calabria that usually displays the bronzes will be closed during the restoration until 2011.

The process is also accessible to people from further afield through the website, which will be following each step of the process and will be updated with video clips and photos as the restoration progresses.

5 Interesting Facts to Impress Your Fellow St Patrick’s Day Drinkers

So you’ve bagged a seat in your nearest Irish boozer, scrummed your way to the bar and ordered a pint of the black stuff, and your furry shamrock hat is firmly ensconced on the head: congratulations, you are officially ready to start celebrating St Patrick’s Day. But who is St Patrick? We trace the history of the brewer’s favourite saint back to ancient Roman Britain.

Irish or not, Catholic or not, and whether you actually like Guinness or not these are small considerations now that the 17th of March is an international day of merry-making and general festivity.

It’s an excuse to wear as much green as you like, even if you’re blond. But before you go digging that pea-green jumper out of the back of the wardrobe, you might want to ask yourself what on earth you’re going to all this trouble for.

It will come as a surprise to many that St Patrick’s Day wasn’t invented by Dublin’s best-known brewery, even though Guinness sales double on that day.

The roots of the story of Ireland’s patron saint go back to the fourth century AD, when Britain was still occupied by Roman forces, and druids vied with the fledgling Christian church for power and influence over restless Celtic tribes.

So who was Patrick? Here are five historical nuggets that will give you a clue as to why we still celebrate this guy after more than 1,500 years.

1. From Roman Britain:The Real Saint Patrick is… Sanctus Patricius?

Patrick may be the patron saint of Ireland but he was by no means Irish. Possibly better known as Patricius during his lifetime, he was born in the latter half of the fourth century AD when Britain was under Roman rule. He lived between 387 and 493 AD, although there’s some debate about the exact dates, and was born in a place called Bannavem Taburniae.

Patrick dreamt that the people of Ireland were calling him to them upon which he decided to travel back to Ireland and began his work of organising the Christian church there and converting pagans

The exact location of Bannavem Taburniae is still a bit of a mystery, but it has been associated with Birdoswald near Hadrian’s Wall, and with Furness in the Lake District. There’s also been an argument for it being in South Wales.

In his Confession, Patrick writes that his father was a deacon called Calpurnius, and his grandfather a priest called Potitus. The Latin forms of his family’s names could suggest that Patrick could have been a Roman citizen himself, although he may have been a Romanized Celt.

2. He Did Not, Repeat, NOT, Accept Bribes

While evidence about the life of Saint Patrick is a bit sketchy, he wrote two important documents that have survived and give us some interesting details about his life. One is Saint Patrick’s Confession (online here), which gives a lot of detail about his life. Patrick seems to be defending himself against accusations of some financial wrong-doing in this confession he stresses that he never took bribes or improper payments.

The other document, a Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus, is addressed to the soldiers of a Celtic warrior-king called Coroticus (or Ceretic Guletic) who he describes: Dripping with blood, they welter in the blood of innocent Christians. He obbviously wasn’t a huge Coroticus fan.

3. Saint Patrick Was Kidnapped by Irish Pirates

At the age of 16, he was abducted by Irish brigands and was taken as a slave to Ireland, where he worked as a swineherd for several years and converted to Christianity. On returning to his home town, Patrick dreamt that the people of Ireland were calling him to them upon which he decided to travel back to Ireland and began his work of organising the Christian church there and converting pagans.

4. He Converted the Irish to Christianity

During his lifetime, he converted the people of Ireland to Christianity thousands of them, he claims in his Confession:

…in Ireland, where they never had any knowledge of God but, always, until now, cherished idols and unclean things, they are lately become a people of the Lord, and are called children of God; the sons of the Irish [Scotti] and the daughters of the chieftains are to be seen as monks and virgins of Christ.

Patrick studied at Rouen and became a bishop, with his diocese in Ireland. Even though he’s Ireland’s most venerated saint, he has never been canonised by a Pope, although his name is on the official Catholic list of saints.

5. The Shamrock Represents the Holy Trinity

And that furry shamrock hat that people like to wear on Saint Patrick’s Day, or have inscribed on the head of their pint? That, too, is connected to the life of Saint Patrick. It’s said to represent his teachings, during which he plucked a shamrock and used its three-tipped leaf to symbolise how the Holy Trinity was made up of three parts, which together formed one holy spirit. That’s something to think about as you sip your Guinness.

New Exhibition: How Greek Culture in the Age of Conquest Changed Roman Art

The Age of Conquest, an exhibition just opened in the Capitoline Museums, explores the question: how did Rome’s conquest of Greece (146 BC) influence Roman art?

The answer is of course that the influence was huge: Roman copies of canonic Greek masterpieces ensued, there were aesthetic influences in the decoration of sanctuaries and funerary monuments, while every-day domestic objects mimicked Greek styles too.

That’s not to say that Roman art was particularly inferior to its Greek counterpart in the second century BC. Roman art at that time owed much to the sophisticated and accomplished artworks of the Etruscans (such as the famous Sarcophagus of the Spouses), who had themselves been influenced by Greek artists during the Etruscan orientalizing period in the seventh century BC.

Greek and Roman artistic styles weren’t that far apart but one key difference was that portraits during the Roman republic became increasingly realistic and less stylized, while Greek art at that time was more focused on portraying the perfect human form.

The Ideals of Greek Art: Turning Roman Heads

Greek sculptors developed their ideal of male (and female) beauty, which they expressed in marble or bronze statues of the gods such as the second century BC Venus de Milo, possibly by the Greek artist Alexandros of Antioch.

The Romans readily absorbed this idea of the benchmark of beauty and made copies of many famous Greek statues. Ironically most of these Greek masterpieces, now lost, are only known to us through their Roman copies.

So from the mid-second century BC onwards, Roman sculpture developed to incorporate the ideal aesthetic of beauty into the realism that it had already adopted. This elevated Roman art to another level and produced some of the renowned works of the Augustan age, such as the detailed friezes on the Ara Pacis.

The Greek Revolution Driven by Consumer Demand?

But nevertheless, when Greek sculptures, paintings, mosaics and other treasures were displayed in Rome in the triumphal parades of conquering generals such as Flamininus, Mummius and Pompey, they would have been quite an awe-inspiring sight for the Roman people. It’s no wonder that all things Greek acquired a bit of kudos in Roman society and people started to decorate their houses in the Greek style.

The exhibition highlights a golden age in Roman artistic development. It’s a time when art began to move from the public space into the private spaces of individual houses and when Greek culture, with its strong associations with philosophy, artistic appreciation and learning, was embraced by elite Romans, who began to acquire Greek-inspired artworks or objects for their private houses (as shown by excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum) perhaps as status symbols.

Examples of everyday objects on display in the exhibition include a candle holder in the shape of a boy and the Rhyton of Pontius, a large Greek drinking fountain (rhytons were common in ancient Persia and were brought back to Athens following Greek conquests). Roman demand for Greek art created quite a market and Roman ships full of statues, vases and other objects from Greece were shipped back to Rome, where they would have been sold to private individuals.

The Age of Conquest: My Verdict

The exhibition is divided into four parts and is spread (confusingly, I thought) over three floors of the museum. The inaugural press conference was an amusing scene of disorder as members of the media (some swinging over-sized camera equipment on their shoulders) got lost on the second floor trying to find the start of the exhibition, while getting distracted along the way by the museum’s other famous attractions such as the equestrian bronze of Marcus Aurelius, or the gilded Hercules of the Forum Boarium. The latter is itself pretty pertinent to the Age of Conquest, having been inspired by the Greek sculptor Lysippos‘s ideal of male proportion.

In my opinion, the inclusion of some more iconic pieces would have raised the game of this exhibition.

Once arrived at the exhibition itself, a section on god and sanctuaries puts artworks from Greek artists side-by-side with the works of some of Rome’s great sculptors. The other sections on triumphal and funerary monuments and Greek styles seen in every-day Roman objects are set out along similar lines, with Roman pieces lined up next to Greek artworks.

Some of the star pieces of the exhibition include statues such as a bronze head of a young athlete (50 BC) found in Herculaneum, on loan for the exhibition from the Louvre, or the bust of Dionysis from the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum. These are examples of Roman art influenced by Greek style and craftsmanship, while the Spinario (Boy with Thorn) is another example of Hellenic-Roman bronze sculpture from the first century BC, which was based on previous Hellenic models.

Iconic Roman Art Inspired by Greece

While many of the pieces on display provide plenty of food for thought for someone who is seriously interested in the finer details of Roman art from the age of expansion, maybe it’s a shame that this exhibition doesn’t include some of the more well known Greek-derived Roman statues.

There isn’t a lack of impressive and well known sculptures that could conceivably have been part of the exhibition, such as the Apollo Belvedere, a marble statue derived from a fourth-century BC Greek bronze original. It has been considered to represent the perfect male body and is now housed in the Vatican Museums.

Other examples to mention are the Roman copies of the Doryphorus, a ground-breaking male figure possibly by the Greek sculptor Polykleitos (the original is now lost). The marble statue of Augustus of Prima Porta is based on the ideal athletic proportions of the Doryphorus, while a Roman marble copy of the Greek statue was found at Herculaneum (now in the National Archaeological Museum at Naples) and a basalt bust of the same statue is on display in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. The Doyphorus, like the Apollo Belvedere and also the famous Greek Discobulus and its Roman copies (some in the Vatican and Palazzo Massimo alle Terme in Rome), epitomised the aesthetic ideal of male beauty. In my opinion, the inclusion of some more iconic pieces would have raised the game of this exhibition.

Other Areas of Conquest

While the by-line of the exhibition is ‘the fascination for Greek art in Rome’ there is also an example from another part of the expanding republic/empire. A charming coloured mosaic on the third floor of the exhibition depicts a scene from the Nile showing a crocodile and exotic flora dating from between 50-10 BC (Egypt fell fully to Roman rule after the suicide of Cleopatra VII in 30 BC).

This gives a small tantalizing taste of the influence of Egypt on Roman art. It is one of the few exhibits to nod at cultures (other than Greece) that came under Roman rule during the second and first centuries BC. While the Egyptian artistic influence may not have been as profound as that of Greece, a small section on this would have been an interesting addition.

Nevertheless, the exhibition brings together some interesting pieces from the all over Europe. It’s the first leg of a five-part project called the Days of Rome (I Giorni di Roma), which will consist of five exhibitions over the next five years concentrating on the themes of powerful faces, construction of the empire, the age of stability and the age of anguish, as shown through Roman sculpture.

The Age of Conquest is at the Musei Capitolini, Saturday 13 March 2010 to Sunday 5 September 2010.