There’s no particular reason to put online this drawing by Graham Sumner, except for the best reason of all: that I like it. What you see is the Roman naval base at Velsen, just west of Amsterdam, which was in use during the reign of the emperor Tiberius. It is almost certainly identical to the fort named Flevum mentioned by Tacitus. You can read more about it here, or in Edge of Empire.
You can order Edge of Empirehere.
Did you hear the one about the sailors who landed on an island, built a campfire and then got blown sky-high by a geyser? No? How about the sailors who landed on an island, built a campfire and then the whole island did a deep-dive, taking them with it?
These are just a couple of tales that made the rounds in the middle ages and both are based on the misconception that whales like to float at the surface of the water and so accumulate sand on their backs; sailors in turn mistake the whales for islands and when they make camp, may either find themselves unceremoniously caught up in the whale’s blow-hole eruption or, more commonly, they make a campfire and when it gets too hot, it startles the whale into diving into the depths, taking the sailors with it to their deaths.
Another commonly-told story about the whale…
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When archaeologists talk about the Celts, they are usually referring to the Hallstatt and La Tène civilizations: the Iron Age cultures of the people living in Central Europe between, say, 850 and 50 BCE. Right now, there are two exhibitions in Stuttgart about the Celts, together called “Die Welt der Kelten”.
The first exhibition, “Kostbarkeiten der Kunst”, is in the Altes Schloβ. I liked it, even though I profoundly hate it when objects are left in the half-dark, just being beautiful in poorly-illuminated rooms. The quality of the information – important questions like “is this art?” were not ignored – offered sufficient compensation. Moreover, this exhibition is important. The idea is still alive that the Celts were making primitive imitations of classical art. The fact that Paul Jacobsthal’s Early Celtic Art, which was published in 1944, is still a standard work, proves that the subject…
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On August 16, 1972, Stefano Mariottini, a Roman chemist on vacation in Calabria, was dive fishing in waters just 26 feet deep off the Ionian Sea coast of Riace, Italy (the toe of the boot) when he saw what appeared to be a human arm in the sand. It was so realistic he thought it belonged to a dead person at first. On closer inspection he saw it was attached to a statue on its side and that there was another statue on its back lying next to it. He alerted authorities and police divers returned with oxygen-filled balloons to carefully lift the statues out of the seabed.
The find caused a sensation. Very few ancient bronzes have survived because they were frequently melted down in later eras for their metal. Most of the Greek bronzes we know of no longer exist in their original…
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