Wednesday, June 18, 2014

New Blog by Sarah Bond

Monograms and Inscribed Power | SARAH E. BOND

Sarah, who has blogged here at PhDiva in the past, has her own blog now - so go over and subscribe straight away! And click on the link to read her fabulous post about monograms on Byzantine capitals.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Jobar Synagogue Destroyed

Just one of a set of photographs that the Daily Beast recently published, showing that the synagogue is no more:

Exclusive Pictures: Syria’s Oldest Synagogue, Destroyed by Assad - The Daily Beast:
Exclusive Photos: Syria’s Oldest Synagogue, Destroyed by Assad
The Jobar Synagogue was one of the holiest Jewish sites in Syria and contained priceless historical artifacts. Now it’s destroyed—and the opposition says Assad is to blame.
Eliyahu Hanabi Synagogue in Jobar has become the synagogue that cried wolf, with so many previous claims of it's destruction that many of us were once again skeptical. The photo set clearly shows a Jewish building, and the arcading in the photo above is without a boubt the same as in this photo provided to the Times of Israel six months ago (source):

Rumours first spread about a year ago that this Medieval synagogue had been destroyed, but it had turned out then to only have been badly damaged by shelling, as seen in this video fro 1.25 onwards:

Adam Blitz has been covering Jobar Synagogue for quite some time, and is equally skeptical that the Assad regime destroyed it. Whilst confirming the destruction, he points out that somethings might still be safeguarded:

Who will save the remains of Syria’s ancient synagogue? - Opinion Israel News | Haaretz:
Yet this is not the time for a eulogy. There remains the possibility that the Shrine of Elijah is safely buried metres below the debris. Equally, at some point the future, there exists an unprecedented opportunity to survey the exposed synagogue remains. For now, attention should focus on the synagogue’s artefacts and ensure that they do not leak out onto the illegal antiquities market. If we cannot ensure their safe return from rebel hands we can at least document the objects from photographic and videographic evidence and to alert Interpol, the auction and Judaica markets worldwide that these items may start circulating.
Blitz will give a talk on 'What's left of Syria's Jewish Legacy' in London next week.

I can't see any information about this on the Syrian Ministry of Culture's web site yet - - but I'm sure that in due course they will in turn blame the rebels. [Update - they have, here].

Adam Blitz and I tried to find photographs of the various Damascus synagogues last year but, given how everything seems to be available of the internet these days, we failed. If anyone has old photos of this or other Syrian synagogues, please do drop me a line at dorothy [@] and I will pass them on to him - the more photos we have, the easier it would be to 'virtually' reconstruct the synagogues and try to identify items from them when they come onto the art market.

There is a set of photographs, for example, taken by Robert Lyons in 1995 the World Monuments Fund Survey of Syrian Synagogues, but these are not currently available (exhibition blurb here - although the WMF is asking people to sign a petition to save Syria's cultural legacy, releasing the photos would be a far more useful step).

Lyons took the photo to the left and the two below. The Wayback Machine failed to archive the Jobar photos, but photographs he took of several other Syrian synagogues can be found here. (These are of the Jobar Synagogue in Damascus before it was restored - hence the white arcades).

Update to show the 'interior' now:

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dogdy Papyri - Again

At least one of the dodgy papyri smuggled out of Egypt and sold by that AntikMix Turk on eBay has ended up in the Green Collection exhibition currently in Rome.

As Roberta Mazza makes clear in her review of the exhibition Green and his Bible Museum are rather Evangelical in their promotion of a very orthodox form of Christianity ... So I guess that other, even dodgier papyrus supposedly about Jesus' Wife probably ain't something they bought.

On a personal note, I find it frustrating as hell that I and others have gathered so much evidence AntikMix is smuggling and no-one seems able to do anything about it. At least now we know this particular papyrus fragment went to the US, and given the seller's past form I very much doubt he filled the customs paperwork in truthfully, so I bloody well hope ICE confiscate it.


Sevso Silver Update

Interesting summary of the story of the Sevso Hoard, confirming the Hungarian press reports that two brothers - identified here as the sons of Peter Watson - sold the items recently, and not Lord Northampton.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sarah Bond: Displaying Status: The Roman Theater and the American Airliner

Image Credit: Barbara McManus, VRoma.
According to Josephus (AJ. 19.86), Caligula constructed a theater on the Palatine that had no boxes reserved for equestrians or senators. What resulted was rather a melange of seats that transgressed both status and gender boundaries in Roman society, mixing men and women, free and unfree (the horror!). This did not sit well with the Jewish historian, and it appears to have caused consternation and animosity among the elite as well. After all, why would elite Romans attend a public event where their status was not projected, reinforced, and (above all) celebrated?

The idea that Roman theater seating visualized social hierarchy is not a new thesis. I vividly remember reading Jonathan Edmondson's piece in the Togo Salmon papers as a graduate student, and then thinking about how public events today similarly serve to reinforce the social levels of society. I revisited this thought today, reading a piece on the way we board airplanes. Essentially, it shows that the current way that most American planes are boarded (i.e. first class, business class, then economy classes) is ridiculous.

Seat map of a Delta B-777.
Data has repeatedly shown that boarding front to back, moving from first class to economy, is the slowest way to board a plane. The fastest is apparently to let people board all at the same time or via the method proposed by astrophysicist Jason Steffen. The physicist has projected that more efficient boarding could ultimately save the airplane industry billions, but if the Romans have taught us anything, it is that this will likely never happen.

Livy notes that the first time the senate segregated itself from the common people was in the ludi Romani of 194 BCE. Some were alright with senators receiving such an honor, while others viewed it as haughty, but the practice persisted. Later, the princeps Augustus used theater seating as part of his restoration of the res publica, and late in his reign composed the lex Julia theatralis. It stipulated that the first 14 rows of the theater be set aside for those freeborn persons whose fathers or grandfathers "had a patrimony of at least 400,000 sesterces" (Berger [1953], 555). This meant they qualified for equestrian status. The law was apparently a revival of the Republican lex Roscia theatralis of 67 BCE. Suetonius reinforces Augustus' outrage at haphazard theatrical seating in his life of the emperor (Aug. 44). Honor could be conferred or revoked via public seating, and Augustus stood as the grand dissignator in this public spectacle.

Roman theater seats with inscriptions from Heraclea Lyncestis.
Humans continue to love to project their status during spectacles, and while we may hate flying, it is indeed a form of public ritual. The spectacle is really the boarding of the plane, when we all stand around, wait, and watch as others board first, second, third, fourth, fifth. First class passengers like to go first because the rest of us can only stand and gape as they go by. Then, when we board, we pass through first class on our way to the economy seats. It is a procession that advertises wealth (or lack thereof), even if the elite keep their heads buried in their iphones and walk quickly by. Monetizing this feeling of status and superiority is what is important to many airlines--not how quickly you can board. You simply cannot sell this high by letting the masses board is just too déclassé. 

Other Stuff (Just Because):

Check out Sebastian Heath's list of Roman amphitheaters.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

National Library Week - Oxford University Press Access

I know a lot of people outside academia feel that they miss out on so many of the online resources because ... well, the subscription costs are ridiculously high (I'm looking at you, JSTOR), and since so many libraries have put journals into storage assuming people have JSTOR access it's become a bit of a Catch-22 situation. So this is a bit of advance warning that OUP will be allowing everyone free access to their resources next week.

National Library Week - Oxford University Press:

All OUP Online resources are free April 13-19th

To celebrate National Library Week in the United States (April 13th-19th) and all the hard work librarians do to support their patrons, OUP is freeing up all of our online resources* for the week! Libraries are a vital part of many communities, whether it is a school, a town/city, the government, a corporation, or a hospital, and we have freed up this unprecedented amount of content to show our appreciation for these libraries.
Simply use the below login credentials!
No sign-ups are required!
Username: libraryweek
Password: libraryweek

Monday, April 7, 2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A New Direction For PhDiva

As some of you may be aware I've been a bit ill recently, and so have had time to do a lot of soul-searching. I've come to realise that archaeology may sound glamorous, but my heart yearns for true outer beauty and it's time to embrace my superficial side.

Therefore, I am re-branding PhDiva as purely a Lifestyle Blog. I'll be doing posts one the 10 best lipsticks to keep your smackers moist whilst excavating a pot hole, and giving out tips on how not to get dirt under one's nails whilst digging (soap).

I'd like to start by recommending a product sent to be by the lovely PR for Sachajuan* - their Leave in Conditioner. I've been spritzing it on my locks after towel-drying, and have never felt more like Princess Shiny Locks. Many products deliver miracles, few delivery them. It's my new go-to hero hair.

It's available in the UK from Selfridge's, Cult Beauty and, if you're so desperate you need same day delivery: - £ 21.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

More Research 101 ...

Translating scientific papers
Credit: Graham, CD. 1957. A glossary for research reports. Metal Progress 71: 75

via this brilliant Facebook Group about Science 

And yes, this is funny as it pretty much hits the mark ....

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ancient Crimean gold caught in legal limbo ...

Ancient Crimean gold caught in legal limbo - The Art Newspaper:

Dutch museum faces dilemma whether to return artefacts to Ukraine or Russia

Oops ...

Let's forget about that last post about the Hun grave ... whoops, apparently it was a fake site (just as I was realising David Meadows pointed that out) ....

Sevso Treasure: New Developments

All's been quiet on the Sevso front since it went on show at Bonhams a few years ago - the consensus guess was that the auction house were exhibiting the Hoard to see if the heat was off, and the items could be put up for sale ... or not. I know of no evidence for it's origins but like most scholars am dubious about it, assuming it was smuggled out of somewhere at some point.

Sevso Treasure - Bonhams Auction House - Report - New York Times (with a good slide-show of photos)

Several countries have claimed the Hoard over the years, and whilst I am dubious about their claims - I wonder if the "Hoard" was put together by a dealer to increase it's value - I am aware that people whose judgement I respect have supported some of those claims, particularly the one made by Hungary.

Then this news broke today:

Sevso Treasure, “Hungary's family silverware,” returned | The Budapest Business Journal on the web |

I am a little unclear about what exactly Hungary bought as the article says seven (7) items, and the Sevso Hoard is made up of 14 items:

It seems a bit odd if Hungary bought half the Hoard - let alone bought it if they felt they had a solid claim.

The Hungarian claim has two main points that I know of:

1) the name "Pelso" engraved on the Hunting Plate, which they say is the ancient name for Lake Balaton (photo source):

The other name inscribed, Sevso, may either be the owner or a deity: 
Hec Sevso tibi durent per saecula multa
Posteris ut prosint vascula digna tuis
2) the similarity to a 'tripod' - in fact a quadripod - excavated at Polgárdi in the 19th century:

I don't know enough about Late Antique silver to be certain, but the Hungarians feel that the 4th century stand is close to at least one item from the Hoard, and made by the same craftsman.

As an aside, the items that 'make up' the Sevso Hoard are mostly 4th and 5th century AD, and need not have all been made at the same time - in fact, such sets of silver were more likely to have been put together over the years, just as pre-Victorian silver tea services tended to be made up of items of differing designs and dates. And yes, there are rumours of spoons and other items from the Hoard around ... but again, these are rumours.


BUDAPES, Hungary: Hungary buys back 7 Roman-era silver trays, jugs | Entertainment News |
Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Tuesday that the artifacts were brought back to Hungary from London a few days ago after long negotiations with unidentified sellers.
So they presumably bought some of the pieces off Northampton or the Trust that owns them, not other newly surfaced items.

And this would be their unveiling in Hungary?

15 million Euros for the larger pieces of the Hoard sounds like a very good compromise - in theory they would be worth a lot more on the open market if anyone would buy them, but if Hungary couldn't substantiate their claim ... I assume the price is a reimbursement of the owner's cost?

For Hungarian speakers - or Google Translate users ;-) - this article gives more information -
Itthon: Magyarorsz�g visszaszerezte a Seuso-kincset - - including the fact that 15m Euros is a third of the asking price for the whole Hoard in 1990, that the items will be on display at the Parliament for three months, and the refusal to say whom they were bought off.

This Reuters photo shows the little box with a lid was amongst the 7 items:

A view of all the items now back in Hungary (the box is in the cabinet on the right? - photo source), which seem to be seven silver items (six seen in this photo plus the box) and the cauldron they were found in:

The silver items are shown one to a case, although there is also the cauldron and a (?) rhyton in the case with the vase on the left below (photo below):

BTW - this photo (source) to me clearly illustrates why I rather doubt that all the pieces could ever have fitted into the cauldron ....

re the Seller:
Lord Northampton did not own the Sevso Treasure, but rather a Trust did; the Trust in turn held no other assets, so presumably someone was paying it's legal fees ... One interesting detail is that after Lebanon abandoned it's claim, and the Croatian and Hungarian ones failed in New York too, according to the Hungarian Ministry of Culture (link dead, but copied here):
Although the trust now indisputably owned the treasure, it could not be sold even if a buyer came forward because Sotheby’s was demanding its costs, legal and otherwise, of GBP 7 million and placed a lien on it.

Presumably this issue was resolved as in 2006 it was at Bonhams, in whose vaults the items are said to have been since. And the Time Team special on the Sevso Treasure ...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Research 101: the Boolean Search

I go out of my way to answer any sensible questions colleagues or students email me but ... possibly because I've been getting a bit exasperated by some of them and I've answered a few recently by suggesting to the correspondent "just Google it" ...

Yes there's a lot of nonsense of Google, but there is also a lot of valuable information with just a few strokes of a keypad. The secret? Using a Boolean Search.

I feel that this is one of those very basic things that everyone should have picked up, but for those that did not, here is a simple Word guide from the University of Kent.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Band of Angels Bargain

I've been meaning to recommend Kate Cooper's brilliant and fascinating history of women in early Christianity, and then I noticed that Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women is currently down to £1.09 in the Mother's Day sale on Kindle UK ... so snap it up here
(Those in the US can find it for $1.80 here).