Tuesday, May 2, 2017

"Archaeology in Popular Comics and Graphic Novels" - My Contribution to the Public Archaeology Twitter Conference, 28 April 2017

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the international Public Archaeology Twitter Conference organized by Lorna Richardson. Dozens of papers were tweeted, in 12 or fewer tweets, by people working at the intersection of archaeology and public engagement. My paper fit into the "Archaeology and Media" (#archmedia) panel. 

I'm reproducing my abstract and paper here. I got some great feedback during the #PATC but would welcome other thoughts and conversations on the topic of archaeology in comics.
My Twitter handle is @am_christensen or leave a comment below.

The public face of archaeology in popular culture is commonly represented by the Indiana Jones-type archaeologist as portrayed by Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). The recent appearance of Doctor Aphra (first Darth Vader issue #3, (March 25, 2015) and in her own spin off series Doctor Aphra (December 7, 2016) in Marvel’s Star Wars comic universe demonstrates this, overtly playing with links between Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Indy and Han Solo in the original Star Wars films (1977-1983). The work of archaeologists and scholars like Johannes Loubser (Archaeology: the Comic, 2003), Cornelius Holtorf (Archaeology is a Brand, 2007), and John Swogger (Comics and Archaeology, 2011-ongoing) have made clear the advantages of visual narrative for archaeological scholarship and publication. Within the framework of these two diverse uses of comics that portray different ends of the archaeological spectrum, I would like to examine how the graphic novels by Richard McGuire (Here, Pantheon Graphic Novels 2014) and Peter Kuper (Ruins, SelfMadeHero, 2015) provide another face of archaeology in comics. These graphic novels present an alternative to the pop culture archaeologist represented by Doctor Aphra, but they are not scholarly works that aim to focus on archaeology per se. Instead both McGuire and Kuper address the relationship between sites and human activity over the course of time. As both authors unfold their visual narratives, McGuire’s in one corner of a living room in the northeastern United States and Kuper in the pre-Columbian ruins of Monte Albán, we as audience can see the interconnectedness of time and place. I propose that both authors present us with experiences of Tim Ingold’s concept of the “taskscape,” (“The Temporality of the Landscape,” World Archaeology, 1993), allowing their audiences to unpack the layers of local activity and visualize each within the longue durée.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Playing with Aeneid Book 8 in TimelineJS

This is a trial run for creating a visual tour of Rome, an assignment I'm creating for my Roman civ course this spring. I'm working with the text of Aeneid Book 8, especially the tour of Pallanteum (aka Future-Rome) Evander gives to Aeneas from Hercules' Ara Maxima to Evander's home on the Palatine hill.


Notes to self:
pasted from get link for preview

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Some thoughts on Caesar, gladiators, and crossing the Rubcon

As I was preparing my notes on the civil wars in the late Roman Republic, for which I use the crossing of the Rubicon as a focal point so my students can have an opportunity to look at some primary sources, I was particularly struck by the mention in both Plutarch and Suetonius of Caesar’s attention to gladiators on the day before he crosses the Rubicon, There is no question that this crossing is the symbol of  a watershed moment in Roman history, but it is interesting to look at how the moment is developed in ancient sources: Beginning with Caesar himself (presumably writing in 49 BCE as events were unfolding, and perhaps editing after the fact), who fails to even mention the crossing (I personally like how HBO’s Rome depicts this moment and I show the clip in class), to the poet Lucan (mid 1st century CE) who provides our earliest extant source after Caesar, to historical sources like Suetonius (early 2nd century CE) and Appian (mid 2nd century CE) who, influenced by Lucan and his sources, add much deliberating and even supernatural/divine elements, and finally Cassius Dio (early 3rd century CE) who again downplays the crossing.

In his Life of Caesar, Plutarch describes Caesar as spending the day at Ravenna watching gladiators practice before sneaking off and crossing the Rubicon under the cover of Darkness. In Suetonius’ version, (Life of Caesar 31.1), Caesar spends the day at public gladiatorial spectacle and reviewing plans for a gladiatorial school he was going to build in Ravenna. Suetonius attributes Caesar’s actions to a conscious plan to avoid suspicion about his plans to enter Italy with his army. In crossing the Rubicon, Caesar is illegally leaving his province and essentially betraying the Roman state. Caesar makes no mention of the time of Day, but Lucan emphasizes the darkness of the night (de Bello Civili 1.187)” obscuram..noctem”)  in his account. Caesar’s crossing is made all the more nefarious by doing it in the secrecy of night. Cicero makes it clear that night and conspiracies go hand in hand at the beginning of his first Catilinarian speech when he asks Catiline what he was up to on the preceding nights. Suetonius (Life of Nero 26) tells us that Nero would wander the streets at night in disguise, assaulting people under cover of darkness.
I’d apparently never paid much attention to these references to gladiators and Caesar’s activities just before entering Italy. While there is no reason not to believe that this is exactly what Caesar did on that day, it is an interesting and potentially loaded comment in light of its juxtaposition with Caesar’s illegal departure from his province.
We know Caesar had an interest in gladiators. As aedile, in 65 BCE, he staged an elaborate set of funeral games for his father, (who had died 20 years earlier) with 320 pairs of gladiators (Plutarch, Life of Caesar 5.5). This number was apparently smaller than Caesar wished to display, because Suetonius (Life of Caesar 10.2) tells us that a decree was issued by Caesar’s opponents limiting the number of gladiators that one could have in Rome.  Drawing from my notes on the origins of gladiatorial spectacles in Rome, I’ve recorded a number of the earliest munera. 120 pairs at the funeral of P. Licinius Crassus in 183 BCE, (Livy, ab urbe condita 39.46) is The largest number I have in the period from 264 BCE when the first gladiatorial combats were staged for the funeral of L. Junius Pera to 122 BCE, when G. Gracchus ordered the bleachers in the Forum dismantled to allow free access to the spectacles at some set of funeral games.
In addition to his plans to build a gladiatorial school at Ravenna, We also know that Caesar owned a ludus at Capua. Cicero, who with Pompey and the rest of the anti-Caesar faction left Rome once Caesar had crossed into Italy in 49 BCE, provides us with the information, in a letter to his friend Atticus (epistulae ad Atticum 7.14), that Caesar’s gladiators had been planning their escape and that there were 5000 shields in the ludus. Presumably, Cicero includes this number of shields to highlight the large number of gladiators owned by Caesar, although it seems highly unlikely that we should read this as a 1:1 ratio of shield:gladiator. Cicero also includes the information that Pompey has taken care of the potential threat of Caesar’s gladiators by distributing them in pairs to citizens, preventing them from conspiring in large numbers.
It is important to bring one more thread into this to explain my thoughts on what Plutarch and Suetonius might have been doing when they chose to include the detail about Caesar spending the day watching gladiators fight before crossing the Rubicon. For ca. three years  (73-71 BCE) the Romans in Italy were terrorized by the rebellion of the gladiator Spartacus, which started in Capua and grew in size as the army of gladiators, other slaves, and perhaps impoverished citizens, moved up and down the Italian peninsula. Surely, Caesar’s plans for staging a large number of gladiators (beyond the 640 he did use) in 65 BCE must have stirred the fears of the Romans, who had just a few years before feared an attack on Rome itself by Spartacus.  It is also worth noting that Pompey, Caesar’s opponent in the Civil War, helped wrap up the Spartacus rebellion, although it was M. Licinius Crassus who did the bulk of the work and received official credit.
 [I like this map as it shows Spartacus’general path, the Rubicon River, & Capua.
Image via VROMA]
Lucan has Pompey deliver a speech to his men in which he compares Caesar first to Catiline (2.541). Catiline previously had been called a gladiator by Cicero (In Catilinam 1.12) and identified as an associate as gladiators (In Catilinam 2.4-5 and 11-12). In addition, Sallust (ca. Late 40’s BCE; Bellum Catilinae 30) tells us that Catiline was planning to recruit slaves from Capua, but that the Roman senate dispatched men to make sure the gladiators were kept in lock down. Lucan’s Pompey then specifically compares Caesar to Spartacus (2.554), (and in a twist that matters a lot in thinking about Lucan), and has Pompey wishing that Crassus was still alive to deal with Caesar as he did Spartacus.

To wrap my thoughts up, I haven’t even begun to think about how Plutarch and Suetonius present Caesar in their biographies as a whole. My general recollection is that they are not particularly negative, and so that may leave all of my potential nefarious connections to Caesar and gladiators without much foundation for subversive readings of these authors’ inclusion of these details just before they describe Caesar crossing the Rubicon. Maybe some Caesar scholars have further thoughts to share.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Some Very Preliminary Thoughts about Footprints on Roman Roof Tiles

Just pulling together some thoughts after a Twitter conversation, (collected here on my Storify of footprints), with @rogueclassicist and @Caroline Lawrence. We've had a least one similar conversation before. The question of the function of footprints on tiles, if there was one, has been focus of the debate, and the possibility of an apotropaic function seems to be at the heart of it in my recollection.

[caveat - I checked my ancient citations and the Poggio Civitate reference because they were quick and easy, the rest comes from my imperfect memory]

A variety of footprints have been identified pressed into the top (always?) surface of roof tiles/tegulae. Many of these are the tracks of animals, but there are also human footprints ranging from the small prints of children to those of adults.
I suspect that the animal tracks are accidental, created by animals wandering across tiles as they are laid out in the open to dry before firing. The/some of the human footprints perhaps represent a different phenomenon. Human footprints could be accidental. For example, at the Etruscan site Poggio Civitate there are human prints preserved in roof tiles laid out in the workshop to dry. This structure was destroyed by an accidental fire and in a rush to flee the burning building, people ran across the still soft tiles. The form of the tracks indicates that these individuals were running. (E. Nielsen, 1991) But not all prints suggest an obvious and accidental reason for their presence.
Recent excavations conducted by the Sangro Valley Project have produced a tile fragment preserves traces, albeit faint, of boot print with hobnails. There is nothing about this impression that suggests rapid movement, or even an actual step being taken. Should we imagine that someone was loitering about and decided to push his foot into the tile just because he could?
In addition to the footprints of adults, there are a number (how many?) of tiles that preserve the footprints of children. Now, surely children are likely to push a foot or a hand into a drying tile just to do it. But this then begs the question of whether children were present in tile production areas. This could be an interesting area of research into the lives of children and the spaces they inhabited in the Roman world. One could also imagine that perhaps these are the footprints not of free born children but perhaps the children of slaves.
If, however, these prints are not accidental or minor incidents of vandalism, why are they on tiles? One possible reason for these impressions is apotropaic. Could these footprints represent religio-magic attempt to ensure either a successful firing process or to add a layer of protection to the roof constructed from the fired tiles, (or even a combination of both)?
In Roman culture there is an apotropaic/good luck function associated with human feet. In Petronius’ Satryicon (30.5), we see Ascyltos and Encolpius admonished by a slave to step into Trimalchio’s dining room with dextro pede. Roman brides were customarily carried over the threshold of their new husbands’ homes to ensure that they would not misstep and bring bad fortune to the marriage right at the start. Vitruvius (de Architectura 3.4) also comments that temple staircases are designed with an odd number of steps to ensure a fortuitous arrival on the podium.

By the time of the Roman Empire terra sigillata vases were being impressed with maker’s marks in the form of a footprint, planta pedis (literally the “sole of a foot), typically containing the name or initials of the manufacturer. Why do these manufacturers’ stamps take the form of a foot? Is it for good luck in the firing process?

Any other thoughts out there? Any references? Other examples of footprints on tiles?