Tag Archives: Charlotte Roueché

Carnivalesque

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and anyone who prefers not to align themselves with such categories, welcome! Welcome one and all to the August 2010 edition of Carnivalesque, every thinkin’ antiquarian’s choice of historical blog carnival, today with its ancient and medieval showin’. Yer host finds hisself somewhat in the Victorian mode as he sets about the confection of this display of learnin’, so fetch yerself some seats and prepare for stories of Discovery! strange Curiosities! lively Controversies! and Instances of Scholarly Resource and Sagacity! the like of which ye’ve never seen before, or at least, so I shall claim. And pride of place—wait a minute there, madam, please—pride of place goes to the two of you who submitted posts for the carnival, you can sit at the front in this pair of carven thrones I brought back from Niger on me grand tour, dontcherknow. And indeed, before I start, let me congratulate one of ’em doubly by sayin’, I’m never sure whether or not to include prehistoric matter in Carnivalesque, but on this occasion Judith Weingarten has saved me the bother by hostin’ the renowned Anthropology Carnival, Four Stone Hearth, over at Zenobia: Empress of the East, and by Jove, there’s a fair deal of medieval and ancient stuff there too, I declare, so if after the extravaganza below you find yerself unsated, get thee thither I tell you! So then!

Discovery!

George Scott in Burma

George Scott, explorer, administrator, photographer and introducer of football to Burma, who is completely unrelated to this blog but who will be the unofficial voice of this post all the same

Startin’, as a proper Victorian explorer should, in the bowels of a pyramid in the Nile Delta, what are these strange words inscribed at the end of an apparently dead-ended tunnel? Heather Pringle at the Last Word on Nothing quite literally has the inside information.

Back in old Albion, however, everything has been comin’ up Roman, be it literally thousands of silver coins in Frome as described here at Antiquarian’s Attic, or what may be the old home of the unfortunate fella who is best known to history as Emperor Pertinax (reigned 193 to, er, 193), described via Archaeology in Europe.1

Oddly, however, the medieval discovery of the month, in yer humble host’s still more humble imagination, comes not from Europe at all but from that lot over the water who gave us Benjamin Franklin and the Dukes of Hazzard, and who also, it would seem, preserve microfilms of otherwise-lost medieval Bibles, almost unbeknownst even to themselves. Whoever tells you there are no more medieval sources to be discovered, I tell you sir, that cad is a charlatan and a bounder, and furthermore wrong to boot. That somewhat controversial couple at Medievalists.net are still the only ones with the story, here.

Curiosities!

International exhibition watercolour by Joseph Nash

Watercolour of the International Exhibition, London 1862, by Joseph Nash

Now, let’s turn our minds to the divertin’ and unusual. Back to the Romans again. You may never have wondered how on earth those cunning fellows went about keeping the legions on the Rhine fed, but Gabriele Campbell has, and characteristically has pictures of the boats used to do it, over at the Lost Fort. Then, if you prefer your history to be about the ladies as much or more than the gentlemen, you may wish to give an eye to to a rather surprisin’ instance of a Sassanian royal lady trying to be both: Queen Bōrān, King of Kings, whose story is told by Judith Weingarten once again at Zenobia: Empress of the East! Next, no medieval carnival is complete without those dastardly yet colourful Vikings. After all, they were responsible for the end of Pictland dontcherknow, or at least so Tim Clarkson argues at Senchus. But what on earth were they up to with these strange stones in their graves? Melissa Snell, About.com Guide to Medieval History, has some answers.

Now, it is said that politics makes strange bedfellows, but sometimes it’s dangerous even to leave the bed: the lately-rebloggified Richard Scott Nokes at the Unlocked Wordhoard has some surprises from the great unwritten book of Muslim political strategies that may make us all look askance at our family members, as long as our family happens to be a powerful one in twelfth-century Syria anyway. Which is, of course, not to say that politics was exactly safe at the same sort of time in the West, as the Headsman at Executed Today illustrates with a post on the dangers of speaking your mind during the Hundred Years War. Then, more peaceful but far less effective, a poignant tale of failed diplomacy when the nearly-last Byzantine Emperor visited the England of Henry IV is told by Tom Sawford at Byzantine Blog. Finally in this section, possibly early modern really but far too curious for a Victorian explorer not to pick up and take home on dubious terms, had you ever wondered what Henry VIII’s religion was like before England went Protestant? A recent acquisition by the British Library makes his younger piety look look positively medieval, and is described by that controversial couple again, this time at Early Modern England.

Controversies!

Uncle Wattleberry bounding and plunging, from the Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay

Antipodean scholarly disagreement circa 1918

Now, it is the nature of scholarship for men and women of strong opinions to demur from one another. Sometimes this is the product of earnest and well-founded differences of view, and sometimes, we fear, it is a battle of those who know somethin’ about a subject versus those who care to know nothin’ about it but wish to speak out anyway. Without specifyin’ which is which, may I humbly draw your attention to the worthy writings of the followin’:

Halfpenny token of the Society for the Suppression of the Slave Trade, late eighteenth century; Fitzwilliam Museum CM.TR.1442-R, part of the Trinity College Collection

Halfpenny token of the Society for the Suppression of the Slave Trade, late eighteenth century; Fitzwilliam Museum CM.TR.1442-R, part of the Trinity College Collection

On some matters of controversy, however, it doesn’t behove an Englishman to comment, still less one posing temporarily as a Victorian imperialist: we refer of course to the decision, bitterly protested in certain quarters, by the Medieval Academy of America not to move their annual meeting from Arizona despite its recent anti-immigration bills. On this a great deal has been written and I would refer you especially to posts in the following places:

Enough to make a chap glad to be living in the past, were the past only any less troubled of course, which I think we can safely say, given much of the above, it wasn’t. However, the task of discerning its nature becomes ever easier, or do I mean more complex, thanks to endeavours like those we shall now unfold!

Instances of Resource and Sagacity!

The Mariner in How the Whale Got His Throat, by Rudyard Kipling, as the protagonists meet

A fellow of famously-infinite resource and sagacity, about to meet a spot of bother

We note, for example, the availability of a new database of Ancient Greek epigraphic epigrams, greeted sardonically by Roger Pearse at his eponymous weblog (with a tip of the solar topee to Muhlberger’s World History).

Likewise sardonic is the take of relative newcomer but prolific bloggist Dr Beachcombing on recent research into the causes of death at Pompeii. Obvious, a chap might think, what with that volcano next door, but it is surprising how few medicos have stood around volcanic eruptions checking on how people die and so the Pompeii finds are actually advancing pathology. Is this mere quackery? Read Dr B and discern!

Similarly ingenious efforts with the dead have allowed some scientist wallahs in Bristol to determine the identity of a body in a royal Englishwoman’s grave in Magdeburg Cathedral, and Michelle of Heavenfield reckons up the score.

All this scholarship does us little good if no-one is readin’, of course, and so we can all be grateful for the blog of the so-called Medieval History Geek, who often seems to do nothin’ but! Here he begins to digest the most recent issue of Early Medieval Europe and ponders the question of how many great ladies of Carolingian Europe might have been able to read and write.

Almost lastly, it always does us good to reflect on how we go about our scholarship, and I might therefore point the finger of note at m’colleague Magistra et Mater, who has been wondering whether the current vogue for crowd-sourcing is ever likely to help the strugglin’ medievalist, and at Bavardess, who has been thrown bodily into a field of which she knew little, the oral history of her countrymen, and found some peculiar parallels of methodology; both of these are reflective but worthwhile readin’.

And finally, though our work is largely private, the real success is to get the government behind your work of course. The question is, who puts the government behind you? One answer is the United Nations, and very recently they have announced this year’s additions to the list of World Heritage sites, as well as some deletions, sad to tell; Dis Manibus has the full run-down at Votum Solvit, including not a little ancient and medieval both, and a whole range of places to consider for the next grand tour, though this time I must take those dem’ marbles out of my baggage before I pass through Customs, what?3 So, I hope you’ve had a diverting read, and you can find out where the next edition, modern style, will be at the usual address. And with that it only remains to say, pip pip!


1. I realise that though Archaeology in Europe is immensely useful, it is only repeating others’ content, but this blog has an old affection for Emperor Pertinax and I couldn’t let it go unsatisfied.

2. And, as you may have seen, the proposed mosque is not the silliest or most redundant thing anyone’s been proposing to build in the area… (h/t to Edge of the American West).

3. Didn’t bring any chalk, either, so I couldn’t get a game in any case.

Seminary XXX: Ephesan epigraphy and Byzantinist jibes

Professor Charlotte Roueché

Professor Charlotte Roueché

The Earlier Middle Ages seminar at the Institute of Historical Research on 8th October was by Charlotte Roueché, under the title of “Late Antique Ephesus: Walking the Streets”. As you may be able to tell from the title, Professor Roueché has a lively sense of humour, which made this one of the most amusing papers I’d been to since Roger Collins last addressed the seminar, though the number of jokes at the expense of classicists and archaeologists and well, anyone who wasn’t a Byzantinist epigrapher rather did in the end pile up a bit like Frank Zappa’s works, snarking at so many people that there’s no way for the listener not to be attacked.

The restored Prytaneion at Ephesus

The restored Prytaneion at Ephesus

This is, admittedly, not to say that she doesn’t have a point. Even if one didn’t know full well that classicists are likely to want to dig up a fourth-century site to find what’s under it, and quite likely restore the early Roman stuff which was probably robbed to build the later stuff (of which she used the example above, the Prytaneion of Ephesus whose columns had been dismantled and reused in the sixth century), one could easily believe that Byzantine inscriptions, written of course in classical languages (both Latin and Greek at Ephesus at least—more on that in a minute), would not rate high in the publications of this material, done of course by classicists for the most part. She had one very sharp example, of a column at Ephesus on which had been inscribed an acclamation of the Empress Eudoxia, which was therefore published in the relevant corpus for the year 395 or thereabouts, because Emperor Theodosius I (379-395)’s wife was called Eudoxia and therefore, &c. Unfortunately, Emperor Heraclius (610-641) also had a wife of that name, and since the other thing on the pillar is an acclamation of him, it seems overall more likely that it’s the later not the earlier. But the corpus puts the one early and Heraclius’s late and there’s no indication in the edition that these things are associated in any way. This is a problem about which we heard a great deal. (The relevant pillar is one of many on what’s called Marble Street, shown below, though I am informed by Prof. Roueché herself that properly speaking Marble Street starts beyond that, and the below is really Kuretes Street, as confirmed here. The photographer didn’t know that, then, is all I can say…) Ephesus also has the additional problem that, being in Turkey even if at the very western end of it, the government is more interested in Ottoman archaeology than Christian archaeology, so funding tends to have to come from overseas and then be successfully got into place. (That this can be done is shown by the huge Inscriptions of Aphrodisias project, which has them all online now, a process in which Professor Roueché had no small part.)

Kuretes Street, Ephesus, crowded with tourists

Kuretes Street, Ephesus, crowded with tourists; Marble Street lies beyond

Because Professor Rouché was conscious that she was talking to an audience who primarily work on Latin, Western, parchment texts, she spent perhaps more time than she really needed emphasising the particular difficulties of an epigrapher: the fact that the evidence comes out of the earth without much ability to choose it, that it has to be cleaned, has often been reused, and so on. I think we got all of this quite easily but I’m no-one to criticise for making the most of the special nature of one’s field after all. What she was actually doing was coming to ask for comparanda, because what you can’t easily see on that image above is that the actual paving stones are also heavily inscribed, and what the inscriptions mean is rather unclear because they’re only symbolic, in the literal sense of being composed of symbols. They are traditionally dismissed, as Professor Roueché was inclined to see it, as gaming circles, which as she said belongs to a very Gibbonesque view of the late Empire where everyone’s so decadent that they’re playing dice in the middle of the street, perhaps because there’s nothing else to do till the barbarians arrive and so on. Of course, in Ephesus, which was a provincial capital till the seventh century (there’s a relatively neat and well-illustrated account of its history here, and Philip Harland has a page up about the site), that takes a bit longer, and the classicists and classical archaeologists have to deal with the fact that very little of the visible fabric is older than fourth-century and had even then seen centuries of use, modification and rearrangment. She wonders, anyway, if they may not be positions marked out for groups in ceremonies, for which there would be more readily intelligible parallels both from earlier Greek cities and later Rome, or even market-stall stances, which one wouldn’t want in text as market-stall holders would probably change faster than you wanted to replace your paving-stones…

The Great Theatre of Ephesus, where St Paul is supposed to have preached

The Great Theatre of Ephesus, where St Paul is supposed to have preached

Two other interesting things struck me as being worth remark about this paper. The first was that the extent of stone-carving in these cities, which is huge—Professor Roueché had a picture of a fair-sized wall at Aphrodisias covered in imperial edicts—was apparently dwarfed by the number of more temporary painted inscriptions. Such an amazingly lettered culture is implied by this that it does seem quite alien to Westerners, who too often acquire an idea that writing is the preserve of the Latin Church. At Aphrodisias, the theatre seats are covered in carved graffiti; as Professor Roueché said you begin to think that everyone was carrying a chisel and hammer in their back pocket in case they passed a blank surface… The other thing was language shift. A lot of the inscriptions are Latin, but most are in Greek, and at Aphrodisias almost overridingly so (because it’s not a capital, was in fact a free city which Romans have to have notional permission to enter, and so on). All the same, when dealing with the Emperors Latin creeps in. I’ve been noticing this myself with Roman Provincial coins lately that I’ve been cataloguing for the exhibition I mentioned, over time what was ‘SEBASTOS’ (transliterated) becomes the Latin word that translates, ‘AVGVSTVS’, but still in Greek (so usually AUGOUSTOS, again transliterated). She pointed us at an acclamation of Justinian I that ends, “TOU UINCAS” in Greek letters, that is the Latin ‘tu vincas’, thou shalt conquer, simply transliterated into Greek without translation. There are others like this, but by this Latin is on the retreat in the Eastern Empire: all the same, apparently when dealing with emperors of the Romans, as the Byzantine rulers consider themselves, one uses the language of the Romans, at least a bit. Both of these things involve mindsets very different from those I’m used to thinking of, but as Professor Roueché observed during the questions, it presupposes that the people making these inscriptions are trying, if rather diffidently, to identify with the West as a larger thing that includes them, and from which scholarship tends instead to divide them. Worth remembering.

Fragment of a letter of Emperors Valerian and Gallienus (260-68) preserved in stone at Aphrodisias

Fragment of a letter of Emperors Valerian and Gallienus (260-68) preserved in stone at Aphrodisias