Roman Vindolanda is well worth your time. Just south of Hadrian’s Wall, it was a frontier fort and village, occupied for over 300 years. It’s constantly spurting archeological treasures, such as the famous Vindolanda Writing Tablets, which are the oldest surviving handwritten documents in the UK, and the oldest one written in Latin by a woman – anywhere. The museum is excellent, though doesn’t permit photographs unfortunately. I was so inspired, I very nearly bought a replica Roman helmet and sword. Very nearly.
The Battle of Alésia was waged by Julius Caesar in September 52BC against a united league of Gallic residents in a French settlement in Burgundy. A major hill fort – Alésia – was the site of the vicious encounter which was eventually won by the Romans, and it is this historic location which has been transformed by architectural theorist and celebrated designer Bernard Tschumi.
So they are building a museum. Part of me is staggered that, around two thousand years later, those ancient acts are being honoured in such a way. Of course, it’s one of those events that has profoundly shaped our own world; you can trace a powerful chain of events through history as a result of that battle. But then again, we’re not exactly short of profound ancient events.
From an artistic point of view, it’s certainly interesting to see a contemporary (i.e. not a classical or neo-classical) monument for the ancient world. Tschumi also created the Acropolis Museum, so he’s clearly no stranger to marrying together the modern and ancient worlds.
For more images of the Alésia Museum, go here.
“Four Hundred passages in the Bible that condemn the Globe Theory”, it says at the top. I don’t know whether or not that is the case and, even if it was, it might not be a literal meaning. But it certainly is amazing what people will believe – or what they refuse to believe.
I’m sure it won’t be long before climate change deniers start using this map as evidence to support their view. (Via the History Blog.)
A year or so ago I listened to a fascinating Costing the Earth podcast about the contribution and/or potential threats to the landscape from those who seek treasure.
I’ve no immediate desire to do that sort of thing myself (wouldn’t have the time anyway), but it was really interesting to listen to the rivalries between archeologists, those who go out metal detecting, and the farmers whose chemicals were alleged to be eroding away the nation’s archeological heritage. For those of you who are interested in such matters, recently the British Museum posted about a recent Viking treasure hoard, which looks stunning.
When the finder’s photographs were sent through to us, we knew this new hoard from Silverdale in Lancashire, was going to be one of the major enterprises of the year for us and our colleagues. Silver arm-rings, brooch fragments, ingots and coins had all (bar one coin) been found in, or underneath, a lead container.
Check out the rest. The picture of the Silverdale Hoard certainly looks impressive – I can’t even imagine what it’s like to dig up something like that. (However, if that inspires you to go out metal-detecting, we’ll go 80:20 on the spoils, right?)
Martin Limón’s G.I. Bones is an immensely enjoyable and smart novel. Set in 1970s Korea, it follows two military police investigators, Sergeants Sueño and Bascom; they’re on the trail of a deceased US soldier in order to locate his bones. This is to help a Korean fortune teller, so she will not be haunted by the dead man’s ghost any longer. It’s a pretty cool set-up to a novel, with the right amount of mumbo-jumbo versus logic. Soon enough our investigators – guided by the first person narrative of Latino soldier Sueño – are plunged into the dark and exotic world of 70s South Korea, from the local gangs to the red light district, to the US military camp and the tropical villages. The world and culture is brought to life with phenomenal eye for detail. I often think that the crime is rarely central to the success of a crime novel – it’s merely what binds the rest together. The rest comes down to location, character, narrative skill, prose and so on.
So I don’t want to linger too much on the plot – though it is indeed nicely sophisticated. But I do want to mention the what makes Sueño particularly interesting as a character: he is a lead who manages to be respectful to women, different races, local culture and so on, in a world and period (and, we’re led to believe, of a type of soldier), where this sort of thing just isn’t the norm. Sueño’s non-mysogenistic and tolerant presence is a really interesting contradiction to those detective novels for whom women are simply plot points or wet dreams for the author or detective in question. And that makes Limón a very interesting writer. For a really good review of this novel, go here. I thought this was an excellent novel, full of style, acute observations and possesses a wonderful understanding of people.
What can really be said about one of the defining books of the classical age that hasn’t been said already? For those of you who don’t know, Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars is a collection of biographies of some of the defining figures of Ancient Rome, and arguably one the most famous families in history. Beginning with the conquests of Julius Caesar and ending with Domitian, second son of Vespasian, it offers commentary on the qualities of these emperors (and dictator), their legacy, and their performance on the world stage – as well as in the bedroom.
It is, as you would expect, a lively old book, but surprisingly readable for something that was published in AD 121. It’s rather sensational at times, particularly when Suetonius discusses the antics of Caligula and Nero. It is, of course, hard to say what was real or what was gossip – and some of it does seem rather outrageous (but when you’re one of the most powerful men the world has ever known, pretty much anything goes…). Whether or not you believe much of what Suetonius writes about, it’s clear from reading other contemporary authors that his influence on our knowledge of the period is profound.
Over at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website, Wendy Stein, a researcher of Medieval manuscripts, reflects on writing and its history.
It’s very much worth a few moments of your time. I’m already missing that place.