From the Guardian (although it is anachronistic to say “Turkey”; the term “Anatolia,” being more purely geographical, would be a better one to use):

The enigma of Italy’s ancient Etruscans is finally unravelled

DNA tests on their Italian descendants show the ‘tuscii’ came from Turkey

They gave us the word “person” and invented a symbol of iron rule later adopted by the fascists. Some even argue it was they who really moulded Roman civilisation.

Yet the Etruscans, whose descendants today live in central Italy, have long been among the great enigmas of antiquity. Their language, which has never properly been deciphered, was unlike any other in classical Italy. Their origins have been hotly debated by scholars for centuries.

Genetic research made public at the weekend appears to put the matter beyond doubt, however. It shows the Etruscans came from the area which is now Turkey – and that the nearest genetic relatives of many of today’s Tuscans and Umbrians are to be found, not in Italy, but around Izmir.

The European Human Genetic Conference in Nice was told on Saturday the results of a study carried out in three parts of Tuscany: the Casentino valley, and two towns, Volterra and Murlo, where important finds have been made of Etruscan remains. In each area, researchers took DNA samples from men with surnames unique to the district and whose families had lived there for at least three generations.

They then compared their Y chromosomes, which are passed from father to son, with those of other groups in Italy, the Balkans, modern-day Turkey and the Greek island of Lemnos, which linguistic evidence suggests could have links to the Etruscans.

“The DNA samples from Murlo and Volterra are much more highly correlated to those of the eastern peoples than to those of the other inhabitants of [Italy],” said Alberto Piazza of the University of Turin, who presented the research. “One particular genetic variant, found in the samples from Murlo, was shared only with people from Turkey.”

This year, a similar but less conclusive study that tracked the DNA passed down from mothers to daughters, pointed to a direct genetic input from western Asia. In 2004, a team of researchers from Italy and Spain used samples taken from Etruscan burial chambers to establish that the Etruscans were more genetically akin to each other than to contemporary Italians.

More at the link.



I have just discovered that the sports teams of the University of Idaho (Moscow, Idaho) are known as the Vandals. I like it! Everyone knows about the Michigan State Spartans and the USC Trojans. Around here we have the Berry College Vikings. In the world of rugby there exist the Barbarians, the Saracens, and the Huns (from Austin, Tex.). Queen’s University of Kingston, Ont. are the Golden Gaels. I think there should be more ancient and medieval European warrior people resurrected as team names, now that Indian tribes are off-limits. How about the:

Saxons (actually the name of England’s second-string rugby team)
Stormin’ Normans

Roman Names

Roman male names are usually composed of three elements, as in “Gaius Julius Caesar.” In this case, Gaius (the praenomen) was his personal name, Julius (the nomen) the name of his gens (clan, or extended family), and Caesar (the cognomen) was a nickname, to distinguish him from all the other Gaii of the Julian clan. Originally cognomina were unique to the individual, but they quickly became hereditary, designating a particular family within the gens. I tell my students that a rough equivalent would be someone named “John MacTavish of Kintyre” – a John, member of clan MacTavish, residing in Kintyre (as opposed to any MacTavishes living in Arran, Islay, or Mull). The hereditary nature of the cognomen perhaps gave rise to a fourth element, the agnomen, a name that also designated a particular individual, as in Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (although agnomina could also become hereditary, or be reused, particularly when they designated victory titles like Africanus, Germanicus, or Britannicus).

Some people never took cognomina, such as Titus Livius (Livy) or Gaius Marius (Marius).

It seems that most Romans are known in English by English versions of their nomina:

Publius Virgilius Maro – Virgil
Publius Ovidius Naso – Ovid
Gauis Suetonius Tranquillus – Suetonius
Tiberius Claudius Caesar – Claudius
Quintus Horatius Flaccus – Horace

However, some names are derived from cognomina, e.g. (and see below):

Publius Cornelius Tacitus – Tacitus
Marcus Porcuis Cato – Cato (the Elder)
Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix – Sulla
Marcus Junius Brutus – Brutus
Gaius Julius Caesar – Caesar

At least one is derived from a praenomen:

Tiberius Julius Caesar – Tiberius

And another from an agnomen:

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus – Augustus

What got me thinking about this whole issue was the number of Romans known in English by -ian names, such as:

Octavian, Vespasian, Domitian, Hadrian, Gordian, Valerian, Julian, Diocletian, Jovian, or Justinian

These of course are shortened from -ianus; Octavian was known as Octavianus in Latin. All of these, apparently, were cognomina. From an article on “Roman Naming Conventions”:

Some males had a cognomen that ends in –anus, which was adapted from and commemorated a nomen, sometimes their maternal family or—if they were adopted—their original paternal family. For instance, Vespasian’s nomen (Flavius) came from his father’s nomen. His cognomen (Vespasianus), on the other hand, was derived from his mother’s nomen, Vespasia. Others had cognomina that were derived not from the nomen, but the cognomen of their mothers’ families. For instance, Caracalla’s maternal grandfather was Julius Bassianus, but Caracalla’s cognomen was not Julianus, but rather Bassianus as well.

And Octavian only became Octavian when he was adopted posthumously by Julius Caesar. Born Gaius Octavius Thurinus, he became Gaius Julius Caesar in 44 BC, but known as Octavianus in honor of his birth nomen, and to distinguish him from his adoptive father.

Book Review

The Atlantic arrived yesterday; included within was a book review of Mary Beard’s latest, S.P.Q.R.: A History of Ancient Rome, which looks quite good. Excerpts:

The Secret of Rome’s Success

Mary Beard’s sweeping history is a new read of citizenship in the ancient empire.

Justin Renteria

A British college student named Megan Beech recently published a poetry collection called When I Grow Up I Want to Be Mary Beard. Beech is not alone in her admiration for Beard, who was for a time the only female classics lecturer at Cambridge University and has since become the most prominent representative of a field once associated with dusty male privilege. In 2013, Beard was appointed to the Order of the British Empire for “services to Classical Scholarship.” A prolific authority on Roman culture, she construes those services broadly. Her academic work ranges from studies of Roman religion and Roman victory practices to reflections on Roman laughter, and she has written lively books about Pompeii and the Colosseum. As the erudite docent on a BBC series three years ago titled Meet the Romans, Beard introduced a bigger audience to a bigger Rome: a citizenry far beyond the handful of Latin-speaking men who populated the Senate, served as emperors, or wrote (often dictating to their slaves) the books that we call “Roman literature.” Whatever the context (she also writes a blog, “A Don’s Life,” for the Times Literary Supplement), Beard does precisely what few popularizers dare to try and plenty of dons can’t pull off: She conveys the thrill of puzzling over texts and events that are bound to be ambiguous, and she complicates received wisdom in the process.

Her magisterial new history of Rome, SPQR (which stands for Senatus Populusque Romanus, “The Senate and People of Rome”), is no exception. Every history of Rome has to tackle the question of how the Romans—a people who once lived in a ramshackle collection of wooden huts on a muddy river in the middle of Italy, surrounded by other groups that were at least as prosperous and cultured—created one of the largest empires in the ancient world, and among the most enduring empires in all of world history. Many accounts, including some by the Romans themselves, have emphasized the internal divisions that doomed the empire to “decline and fall,” as the 18th-century British historian Edward Gibbon put it. Beard is much more interested in what made Rome succeed. Her fresh undertaking—aimed primarily at a general readership but sure to engage and provoke professional classicists, too—covers the whole story.

Romans could be people who might well not even speak Latin.
Her sweep is impressively large, starting with the (mythical) tales of the city’s foundation in the eighth century B.C., and taking in the conquest of most of the Italian peninsula in the fourth and third centuries B.C. as well as the defeat of Rome’s main Mediterranean rivals, Carthage and Greece, by the middle of the second century B.C. More than a century of civil wars followed, along with yet more foreign conquests (in Gaul, Spain, North Africa, and the East). In the wake of the political turmoil surrounding Julius Caesar’s rise to power and eventual assassination in 44 B.C., the Romans submitted to an imperial mode of government under Octavian, who defeated Antony and Cleopatra in 31 B.C. and renamed himself Augustus, the first Roman emperor. The empire held sway for about 500 years in the West, and 1,400 in the East, under the Byzantine emperors. How did the Romans do it?

One answer, which many Romans themselves favored, gives all the credit to their virtus, a word connoting both strength of character and masculinity. A related interpretation, popular among scholars a generation ago, portrays Rome as an exceptionally belligerent and imperialistic society that rose to power by bullying and massacring its neighbors. More recently, historians have proposed that the Roman empire’s growth was fueled by an evolving combination of hard and soft imperialism, and Beard builds on this current work. To be sure, the Romans slaughtered and enslaved huge numbers of people. The prosperity of Rome depended on loot, tribute, and taxes from conquered tribes and cities, as well as the manual and domestic labor provided by non-Roman slaves. (In the second century B.C., more than 8,000 new slaves a year—the bounty of overseas conquest—were transported to the peninsula.) But we have scant evidence that the Romans were any more warmongering than the various other cultures of the ancient Mediterranean.


More at the link.

Found in the Ground

From the Guardian:

4,000 coins found in Roman treasure trove in Swiss orchard

A trove of more than 4,000 bronze and silver coins dating back to ancient Rome, uncovered this summer in the orchard of a fruit and vegetable farmer, has been described as one of the biggest treasures of this kind found in Switzerland.

The huge hoard of coins, buried about 1,700 years ago and weighing 15kg (33lb), was discovered in Ueken, in Switzerland’s northern canton of Aargau, after the farmer spotted some shimmering green coins on a molehill in his cherry orchard.

He guessed the coins were Roman, following an archaeological discovery a few months earlier, of remains of an early Roman settlement in the nearby town of Frick. He contacted the regional archaeological service , which later labelled it one of the largest such finds for Switzerland.

On Thursday the archaeological service announced that after months of digs, 4,166 coins had been found at the site, most in excellent condition.

The coins’ imprints remained legible, and an expert dated the money to the period stretching from the reign of Emperor Aurelian (270-275) to the rule of Maximian (286-305), the most recent coins made in 294.

From the Telegraph:

Secret pagan basilica in Rome emerges from the shadows after 2,000 years

A mysterious Roman basilica built for the worship of an esoteric pagan cult and now lying hidden more than 40ft below street level has opened to the public for the first time.

The basilica, the only one of its kind in the world, was excavated from solid tufa volcanic rock on the outskirts of the imperial capital in the first century AD.

Lavishly decorated with stucco reliefs of gods, goddesses, panthers, winged cherubs and pygmies, it was discovered by accident in 1917 during the construction of a railway line from Rome to Cassino, a town to the south. An underground passageway caved in, revealing the entrance to the hidden chamber.

A painstaking restoration that has been going on for years has now reached the point where the 40ft-long basilica can be opened to visitors.

The subterranean basilica, which predates Christianity, was built by a rich Roman family who were devotees of a little-known cult called Neopythagoreanism.

Originating in the first century BC, it was a school of mystical Hellenistic philosophy that preached asceticism and was based on the writings of Pythagoras and Plato.



A reference this week to the war against Spartacus reminded me that a lot of English words have descended from Latin ones, but their meanings are not the same. Consider virtus, from which we get “virtue,” but which in Latin means something like valor, manliness, or courage (a meaning closer to our “virile”). And yet, sometimes words in English are used close to their Latin meanings, and you have to stop and think which meaning the author intends. We generally find this within the Roman Catholic church, or among Classical historians. Off the top of my head:

Servile War (from servus = slave): a war against the slaves

Social War (from socii = allies): a war against Rome’s allies

translation of a saint’s relics (from trans = across and fero, ferre, tuli, latum = bear, carry): the moving of a saint’s relics from one place to a more honorable place.

doctor of the church (from doctus = learned): a learned theologian

perfidious Jews (from per = through and fides = faith): faithless Jews (not evil Jews, although it might still not be a good idea to say that)

feast of St. George (from festum = celebration): a day to celebrate St. George, not necessarily by consuming large amounts of food. This usage is preserved in the French fête, and in the German Fest.

invention of the Holy Cross (from in + venio = to come upon): the finding of the Holy Cross.

Christian apologists (from apologia, a defense of one’s opinions or position): defenders of Christianity.

Also, I can’t help but think that if you’ve got a Latin motto, it should make grammatical sense on its own, and not be a quote from something longer, such that the words displayed don’t make grammatical sense. For instance, the motto of the Université de Sherbrooke is Veritatem in charitate, which is given as “truth in charity.”

But this leaves you thinking, why is the first noun in the accusative? Why not Veritas in charitate, which would indeed be “the truth in charity,” or Veritatem in charitate loqui which is “To speak the truth in charity”? I see that Vertitatem in charitate colamus (“we cultivate the truth in charity”) is an actual quotation from Francis Bacon, and would make an excellent motto.

Some students of mine gave a presentation on the medieval university, including the University of Pisa, whose motto is In supremae dignitatis. They said this meant “in supreme dignity” but in does not take the genitive, the case of both supremae and dignitatis.

Why not In suprema dignitate, then? Turns out it’s the title of the papal bull establishing the university. As you may know papal bulls are known by their first words (e.g., Humanae vitae, Incarnationis mysterium, or Laudabiliter), and again an essential word has been lopped off. Apparently the full title is In supremae dignitatis specula, or “In the mirrors of supreme dignity.” The pope reused the words in the fifteenth century as In supremae dignitatis culmine (“in the height of supreme dignity”). Either of these would work better than merely the first three words, IMHO.

Plato or Aristotle

The center point of Raphael’s School of Athens (1509-11) features the two greatest Greek philosophers of all, Plato and Aristotle. Raphael emphasizes the age difference between the two, but more importantly the essence of each one’s philosophy: Plato seeks the Truth in the immaterial world of the Forms, whereas Aristotle is more concerned with categorizing the things he sees around him on Earth.

Via Wikipedia. Plato holds a copy of the Timaeus, while Aristotle holds his (Nicomachean) Ethics.

An interesting presentation this week in HIS 111 used some School of Life videos to further illustrate Platonic and Aristotelean philosophy.

It occurs to me that Jacques-Louis David may have modeled his Socrates on Raphael’s Plato:

Via Wikipedia. Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates (1787), detail.

Marathon claims that you need to stop believing the myth that marathons are 26 miles long “because of the ancient Greeks”:

One common myth is that marathon is 26 miles because that is the length that the Greek messenger ran from Marathon to Athens to announce a Greek victory.

In actuality, today’s race length dates back to the 1908 London Olympics.

Runners were set to race about 26 miles, but an extra 385 yards was tacked on so that the royal family could good view of the race, according to the NY Times.

Google Maps claims that the shortest route on drivable roads between Marathonas and Athens is 42.7 km, which translates to 26.5 miles, so it doesn’t sound like too much of a myth. Wikipedia says that:

The International Olympic Committee agreed in 1907 that the distance for the 1908 London Olympic marathon would be about 25 miles or 40 kilometres. The organisers decided on a course of 26 miles from the start at Windsor Castle to the royal entrance to the White City Stadium, followed by a lap (586 yards, 2 feet; 536 m) of the track, finishing in front of the Royal Box. The course was later altered to use a different entrance to the stadium, followed by a partial lap of 385 yards to the same finish.

The modern 42.195 km standard distance for the marathon was set by theInternational Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) in May 1921 directly from the length used at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London.

In other words, prior to the 1920s, there was no standard length for a marathon (just as there is no standard size and shape for a baseball field even today). They then settled on one based on the 1908 Olympics, which only tangentially had to do with the royal family.

A better myth that you need to stop believing would be that Pheidippides ever made the run in the first place, following the Athenian victory over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. Herodotus, our main source for the Persian wars, mentions a runner named Pheidippides who ran to Sparta to ask for help, but the first mention that Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to announce “Victory!” right before falling down dead was Lucian of Samosta, who lived and wrote in the second century AD. In other words, like Archimedes shouting “Eureka” and running down the street naked, or like Newton getting hit on the head by an apple, it’s one of those delightful stories that add spice to a lecture, but which must then be disavowed. (Stephanie Trigg would call it “mythic capital.”)


Driving around yesterday afternoon, I happened to see this decal on the back of a truck, although I couldn’t get a picture of it. This is what came up on an image search:

As chance would have it, I had mentioned this “Laconic phrase” that very morning in Western Civ.! The Persians say, “Give up your weapons!” and the Spartans reply: “Come and take them” (“Molōn Labe”). This has resonance in American gun culture for obvious reasons. The Michigan State Spartans use it on their helmets too.

Although I think my personal favorite is “If we win this war, you will be slaves forever!” to which the Spartans gave the monumentally Laconic reply: “If”.