Thursday, April 27, 2017

Florence Nightingale's 'rubbish' amulets

A collection of ancient Egyptian amulets acquired by Florence Nightingale in the winter of 1849 when she went on an adventurous Egyptian holiday are going on display for the first time – and the curator at the World Museum in Liverpool is rather more impressed by them than the Lady of the Lamp herself was.
Five years before she sailed to Scutari, Istanbul, during the Crimean war, Nightingale travelled to Egypt at a time when mass tourism there was in its infancy. She wrote vivid letters home to her older sister, Parthenope, who later published them, but described her little amulets as “rubbish”.
“What she brought back is fascinating to us, but I think she expected to be offered ancient treasures and she was very disappointed with what was available,” he said. “Ironically we are displaying some of the objects which she did rate and was very pleased at getting hold of – which have turned out, alas, to be fakes.”
Read more here at The Guardian

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sumaria's "Mona Lisa"

Lady or Uruk c3700BC
Back in February 2008, I posted this:

An article published in Gulf News reports on the re-discovery of this ancient artifact:
"The 'Sayedat Al Warkaa', a Sumarian 20cm facial curving, known among archaeologists as the Sumarian Mona Lisa, and which is more than 5000 years old, was found in a garden after the police and occupation forces received a report." (note: link no longer working)

During the war in Iraq, the Baghdad Museum was looted of many of its priceless treasures (April 2003), including what was known as "The Lady of Warka" or "The Mask of Warka" or "The Lady of Uruk".

From IOL - 23rd September 2003:
The 5 000-year-old alabaster sculpture, which topped a list of 30 priceless antiques looted from the museum at the end of the invasion of Iraq, is believed to be one of the earliest representations of the human face, dating from around 3 500 BC. The Lady of Warka had been entombed for weeks in a Baghdad backyard before her rescue. Her saviours were a New York police officer and prosecutor who tracked the mask-like sculpture down to a shallow grave. 

From Irish Times - 19th September 2003
The alabaster sculpture is believed to be one of the earliest artistic representations of the human face, and dates from around 3500 BC. The work is originally from the ancient city of Warka. "During the past two days, we were able to recover the second most-valuable item of the Iraqi National Museum - the face of the Lady of Warka, which is known as the Sumerian Mona Lisa," Mr Mofeed al-Jazairi told a news conference. 

From Middle East Online - 24th September 2003:
Also known as the "Mona Lisa of Mesopotamia," the 20-centimetre (eight-inch) high limestone sculpture, dating from 3,100 BC, depicts the head of a woman and was returned to Iraq's National Museum in a formal handover.  It was fashioned in the southern city of Warka during the Sumerian period, and was among the five most precious pieces still missing since the museum was ransacked after the April 9 fall of Saddam.

From Ancient Pages -15th September 2016
The artifact – the first accurate depiction of the human face – is one of the earliest representations of the human face. Researchers believe that carved out of marble female face is a depiction of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, and warfare, and the most prominent female deity in Mesopotamia.

From SFGate - 24th September 2003
The Lady of Warka lay buried half a foot underground in a farmer's backyard, wrapped casually in a cotton cloth and stuffed into a plastic bag, before a joint force of American soldiers and Iraqi police discovered the priceless 5,200-year-old sculpture last week.

Since it was stolen in April, the artifact -- known familiarly as the Mona Lisa of Mesopotamia -- had changed hands half a dozen times in the maze of Baghdad's back alleys and clandestine antique shops, going from dealer to dealer, said Col. Walid Misil, a Baghdad police spokesman.

Read More:
Open Access - The Mask of Warka
The Bible & Interpretation - Mesopotamian Ruins and American Scholars
Archaeology Magazine (online) - National Museum, Baghdad: 10 Years Later
University of Chicago Chronicle - Archaeologists review loss of valuable artifacts one year after looting
The Iraq War & Archaeology - Article 12 - 2nd 1/2 of September 2003

Female Gladiators - Part Of The Lure Of The Roman Arena

Sarah Bond writes in Forbes on the lure of women fighting in the arena:

The use of the word 'gladiatrix' (pl. gladiatrices) is a pseudo-Latin term for these fighters not actually applied in antiquity. In reality, there was a great deal of ambiguity about how one should refer to them. The Roman satirists Martial and Juvenal employ the word 'ludia', which could also be used to refer to an actress or a theatrical dancer, but is most often used to refer to a gladiator's wife.
Relief from Halicarnassus of two female gladiators
The status of these fighters is an oft-discussed point in the literature on these women. Those that were a part of the arena were given a debilitating legal and social stigma called infamia. Yet this did not stop some Roman elites from fighting anyways. The historian Tacitus notes that during the reign of Nero, there were high-ranking women who entered into gladiatorial combat and fought: "
Many ladies of distinction, however, and senators, disgraced themselves by appearing in the amphitheater." Historian Barbara Levick has argued that the ban on elite women participating in the arena likely first came into effect under the emperor Augustus, in 22 BCE. We know that the emperor Septimius Severus re-banned elite women from fighting in the arena in 200 CE. Clearly there was a lure for both men and women. 
Read entire article here @ Forbes

Boudicca - the Celtic Queen of the Iceni

Boudicca, sometimes written Boadicea, was queen of the Iceni tribe, a Celtic clan which united a number of British tribes in revolt against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire in 60-61 AD. While she famously succeeded in defeating the Romans in three great battles, their victories would not last. The Romans rallied and eventually crushed the revolts, executing thousands of Iceni and taking the rest as slaves. Boudicca’s name has been remembered through history as the courageous warrior queen who fought for freedom from oppression, for herself, and all the Celtic tribes of Britain.

A freedom fighter, the woman who almost drove the Romans out of the country, Boudica is one of the most iconic queens of Britain. Despite being one of the first ‘British’ women mentioned in history, there is no direct evidence that she even existed. Instead, we have to rely on the accounts of two classical authors, Tacitus and Cassius Dio, both writing decades after the alleged battles between Boudica’s rebel army and their new Roman overlords. Their accounts were constructed with a specific political agenda, and a Roman audience, in mind but they are the only references we have. We don’t even know her real name: Boudica derives from bouda, the ancient British word for victory.

Further Reading:
Internet Classics - The Annals by Tacitus
Bill Thayer's website - Tacitus - The Annals & The Histories
Bill Thayer's website - Cassius Dio - Roman History
Women of History - Legion of the Damned

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Byzantine Lament for a Lost Wife

Dimiter Angelov posted this article in Medievalist dot net:
It is rare to find a work from the Middle Ages where a man writes about the loss of his wife – even more rare that these words are written by a Byzantine emperor. However, this is the case of Emperor Theodore II Laskaris and the heartfelt lament for his wife Elena.
Seal of Theodore II Lascaris
Theodore succeeded his father John III Vatatzes as Byzantine Emperor in 1254 - ruling for only 4 years. He was seen as a capable leader and general - his reign dominated by struggles against the Bulgarians for territory and his attempts at the reunification of the Latin and Greek Orthodox Churches. He was married (c.1235) to Elena, daughter of Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria, by whom he had several children, including his heir, son John IV.
The teenagers grew up together, and from all indications were very much in love. They would have six children, but in the year 1252 Elena passed away at the age of 28. Theodore, who was now ruling as co-emperor along with his father, was devastated at his wife’s death, and turned to writing to express his sadness.
read entire article here @ Medievalists

Further reading:
  • The Journal of Medieval Military History edited by Clifford J. Rogers, Kelly DeVries, John France
  • Warfare in Late Byzantium, 1204-1453 By Savvas Kyriakidis
  • The Fourth Crusade: Event and Context By Michael J Angold
  • Byzantium and the Turks in the Thirteenth Century By Dimitri Korobeinikov
  • History of the Byzantine State by Georgije Ostrogorski
  • Theodore II lascaris, Empereur de Nicee by Jean B. Pappadopoulos
  • A Byzantine Government in Exile: Government and Society Under the Laskarids of Nicaea, 1204-1261 by Michael Angold
  • Imperial Ideology and Political Thought in Byzantium, 1204-1330 By Dimiter Angelov

See also: 

65 Byzantine Tombs Discovered in Ancient City in Turkey

From an article in January 2017 by David DeMar:
In the remains of the ancient marble-clad city of Stratonikeia in southwestern Turkey, archaeologists have found a staggering 65 tombs dating to the Byzantine era, according to the Hurryiet Daily News.
The researcher, who referred to Stratonikeia as “a living archaeological city”, called the site unique for is various characteristics, which included a high number of ancient structures surviving to the present day. The city, which would have at one time been home to the Carians of central Anatolia before the arrival of the Greeks, also holds ties to the Leleges, a pre-Hellenistic people that were said to have been allies of Troy during the Trojan War, the archaeologist said.
One of the primary finds, according to Söğüt, was the nearly four-foot-long skeleton found within a Byzantine-era tomb that had been undergoing cleaning and preservation works. The remains are thought to have belonged to a young woman who lived nearly 1,300 years in the past.

read entire article here @ the New Historian and @ Daily Sabah History

Clues to an ancient death: bacteria

Gillian Mohney made this report for ABC News in January 2017:
This woman's post-mortem was 800 years in the making, with ancient bacteria providing the critical clue for her likely cause of death, and offering a tantalizing glimpse into the lives of our forebears in the Near East.
In the 800-year-old remains of a Byzantine woman found in Turkey, in what used to be Troy, an archaeologist discovered some nodules the size of strawberries — leading to initial speculation that the woman died of tuberculosis. But the story turned out to be much more complex.
“We speculate that human infections in the ancient world were acquired from a pool of bacteria that moved readily between humans, livestock and the environment,” she said.

Read entire article here @ ABC News

Read more about ancient diseases @ the Scientific American and @ the Science Museum

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Laura Battiferra – a Poetess for the Great Siege

Giovanni Bonello wrote a series of three articles for the Times of Malta (2012) on the poetess Laura Battiferra in relation to the Great Siege of Malta (1565).

Laura Battiferra by Agnolo Bronzino c.1560
"Laura Battiferra – Laura who? She had sunk into almost total oblivion, even though she was the wife of one of the most distinguished artists of the High Renaissance: Bartolomeo Ammannati. If one wanted to be generous, she had become an inconspicuous footnote in the history of Italian literature. The cultural explosion of feminism in more recent years has reversed the trend of gender neglect and again pushed Battiferra to the forefront."

Bonnello notes that: " Women do not generally celebrate war in poetry – only silly men do that – but then they do sometimes sing the praises and the virtues of male warriors and champions, the handsome supermen of their unacknowledged dreams, objects of unabashed hero worship or more."

Of her final days, Bonnello writes: "Battiferra spent most of the last stretch of her life in a chapel specially built for her by her husband in a rented villa in Camerata, close to the gates of Florence. Ammannati could afford that and much else besides, after a long and highly successful career as a sculptor and an architect. She passed away in November (probably the 1st), 1589, and was buried in the Ammannati chapel in the Florentine church of San Giovannino whose façade had been designed by her gifted husband."

Times of Malta: 
Laura Battiferra – a poetess for the Great Siege (July 29, 2012)
Laura Battiferra’s four poems on the Great Siege of Malta (August 5, 2012)
Poetess sings praises of Great Siege heroes August 12, 2012

About Laura Battiferra:

Books on / featuring Laura Battiferra:
  • Italian Women Writers: A Bio-bibliographical Sourcebook edited by Rinaldina Russell
  • Laura Battiferra and Her Literary Circle: An Anthology: A Bilingual Edition By Laura Battiferra degli Ammannati
  • Encyclopedia of Women in the Renaissance: Italy, France, and England edited by Diana Maury Robin, Anne R. Larsen, Carole Levin
  • Women Poets of the Italian Renaissance: Courtly Ladies and Courtesans by Laura Anna Stortoni, Mary Prentice Lillie

Egyptian Necklace Found in a Siberian Grave

An amazing archaeological discovery has been made in the Altai Mountains in Siberia - one that could change our perception of ancient peoples and trade:
Made of brightly coloured laminated glass, the priceless jewellery was found gracing the neck of a 25 year old woman in a remote burial mound in the Altai Mountains. Scientists say she died between 2,300 and 2,400 years ago and was a kinswoman of the famous tattooed 'Princess Ukok' (see more about her here), whose astonishing body artwork preserved in the permafrost has led to worldwide interest.
In fact, while it has been nicknamed 'Cleopatra's Necklace', the highly-coloured necklace pre-dates the exotic last Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt and originates around the time that Alexander the Great dominated the world from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas.
The professor is confident the age of the beads is around 2,300 to 2,400 years old because other artefacts in the burial mound, such as a mirror and a knife, which are far more common to Siberia, are known to belong to this era. Yet the presence of the necklace is totally unique compared with discoveries in all previous ancient Siberian graves.
'There have been similar looking finds in Scythian mounds in Crimea, but these were just single beads - never a complete necklace', he said.
Read more about this fascinating discovery here @ The Siberian Times