Monday, 15 October 2012

Caligula: Cool, Calm, or Mad, Bad?

This month, the History Channel's web site carried an article entitled "7 Things You May Not Know About Caligula".
Clearly, they couldn't decide on their intended readership, with items veering from Number 1, "Caligula wasn't his real name", to Number 4, "He may not have built his famous floating bridge, but he did launch pleasure barges in Lake Nemi" -- if you don't know his name [it was Gaius], you're probably not likely to be familiar with his "famous floating bridge"!

Gaius the Glorious Leader?
However, as a grumpy old emperor with an interest in Britannia, it was Number 5 that caught my attention: "He set in motion the conquest of Britain". Really?
The items continues:
Caligula is often remembered as a selfish and capricious ruler whose ineptitude weakened the Roman empire during his four-year reign. But if his leadership skills were so abysmal, some scholars have argued, how did he wind up annexing new provinces, expanding westward and formulating a feasible plan to take over Britain? Although Caligula got no further than the English Channel and was murdered soon after, his preparations for the invasion would allow Claudius to begin Rome’s successful conquest of Britain in 43 A.D.
Annexing new provinces?! Expanding westward?! (Did he have secret designs on America?) And formulating a feasible plan to take over Britain?!

Annexing New Provinces?
I'm sorry, History Channel, but Caligula is not known to have annexed new provinces. The historian Cassius Dio records that "Gaius sent for Ptolemy [the King of Mauretania], son of Juba, and learning that he was rich, had him put to death and ..." (59.25.1). Sadly, the text breaks off there, but it's clear that the opportunistic Caligula bumped off the unsuspecting king in order to acquire his kingdom. Not really the best example of a rational emperor exercising his leadership skills by "annexing new provinces".
Okay, so the History Channel may be technically correct that mad, bad Caligula did extend the Roman empire (westwards?!), but it certainly doesn't upset our notion of a selfish and capricious ruler, better known for his ineptitude than for any supposed leadership skills.

Planning to Conquer Britain?
Worse still, ancient historians are pretty much agreed that Caligula's "abortive invasion of Britain" was an unmitigated disaster, which -- if it really aimed at conquest -- was badly planned in the extreme, but which -- most likely -- was actually an absurd attack on the god Neptune!
Ever since J.P.V.D. Balsdon's book on The Emperor Gaius (Caligula) (1934), scholarly opinion has swung between the two opposites: was Caligula simply misunderstood and maligned by his biographer -- as the History Channel web site would like us to think --, or was he simply mad, bad, and dangerous to know?
Again, I'm sorry, History Channel: I'm firmly in the second camp!

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Why History should not be written by the BBC

Sometimes the venerable BBC, usually considered the Queen of Journalism, gives a rather skewed -- not to say plain unbalanced -- view of archaeology. This week saw Caesar's celebrated siege of Alesia in the news again, 2,063 years after the event. The reason is surely the recent opening of the grand visitor centre, MuséoParc Alésia, at Alise-Sainte-Reine. However, like all the best journalism, there has to be a controversy to make the story interesting.
Dodgy dealings in Burgundy
The story told by veteran reporter Hugh Schofield, the BBC's Paris correspondent (who can be heard here), claims that the identification of Caesar's Alesia with the village of Alise-Sainte-Reine in Burgundy "was all too, well -- convenient". The implication is that it is not only a falsehood, but a fraud. The site's continued identification as the battle scene is, says Schofield, "one of the biggest acts of archaeological imposture ever committed in the name of political and financial expediency".
Strong words from the famously impartial BBC. So what are poor BBC listeners, perhaps unversed in the niceties of French archaeology and Roman military studies, to make of this sensational claim?
Schofield tells us that "no-one knows where the Battle of Alesia took place". He is being slightly disingenuous. Of course, in archaeology, one-hundred-percent certainty is rarely possible, but there are degrees of likelihood. Alise-Sainte-Reine is quite likely to have been Alesia.

A Ridiculous Decree
Schofield tells us that, "in 1864, Napoleon issued an imperial decree stating that Alesia had now been officially identified as Alise-Sainte-Reine". By inserting the word "officially" at just that point in the sentence, he mischievously creates the slightly comical impression of an emperor's ridiculous flash-in-the-pan brainwave: "Today, we shall officially identify the town of Fingringhoe as the scene of the Battle of Flodden. And fish will all now be christened Rodney."
Of course, the truth is far less ridiculous. And far less suspicious. Schofield's version -- "when archaeological evidence began to emerge that possibly linked Alise-Sainte-Reine to some kind of Romano-Celtic confrontation, Alise-Sainte-Reine in Burgundy became the officially designated site" -- implies that something underhand was afoot. "Excavations carried out in the 1860s brought to light a wealth of remains that seemed to lend further proof." Again, the word "seemed" has been inserted to maintain the atmosphere of suspicion.
In reality, the archaeology that Napoleon's workers unearthed bore a more than striking resemblance to Caesar's own description of his siege-works. Coincidence? Possibly. (Remember that archaeology can rarely be one-hundred-percent certain.) But it would be very odd if a town whose name is reminiscent of Alesia, and whose remains match Caesar's description of his siege-works at Alesia, turned out not to be Alesia!

An axe to grind
In 1962, archaeologist Andre Berthier proposed the site of Chaux-des-Crotenay in the Jura region as the true site of Alesia. It is Berthier's fifty-year-old theory, now championed by Sorbonne Classics professor Danielle Porte (author of the provocatively titled L'imposture d'Alésia), that is the basis of Schofield's disparaging of Napoleon III's identification of Alesia.
Surely alarm bells must have been ringing in any BBC-trained journalist's head at the prospect of a crackpot theory with a book to sell using the BBC as a platform for renewed publicity?
Thankfully, Schofield finally gives the Alesia museum people their chance to reply and to restore some balance to the report. However, Schofield chooses to end his report with more of Professor Porte's unorthodox views, leaving the unwary reader with entirely the wrong impression, and with the specific parting thought that Napoleon III might have planted the evidence for Alesia at Alise-Sainte-Reine.

Restore the balance
In response, I can do no better than to quote the words of the expert archaeologist Professor Colin Wells, now sadly deceased, written in the Journal of Roman Archaeology vol. 22 (2009), referring to the extensive modern excavations carried out in the 1990s (on which Schofield is oddly silent):
"The work carried out at Alise-Sainte-Reine in the 1990s should remove all doubt (it is no longer "un débat pertinent pour un archéologue") -- I should have said "all possible doubt", but for the evidence that a work entitled L'imposture Alésia can still be published in 2004(!), arguing for a new site called Syam/Chaux des Crotenay near Champagnole in the Jura, complaining about the official refusal of funds to test this new and wildly eccentric theory, and denouncing "les instances officielles" and "l'archéologie sous influence". Wonderful are the weirdities of local chauvinism ..."
And wonderful is the weirdity of the BBC touting a bizarrely eccentric version of reality.

Related posts: Why History should not be written by Film-makers | Why History should not be written by Journalists | Why History should only be written by Historians |

Monday, 2 July 2012

A Wolf in Medieval Clothing

A few weeks ago, Italy's Corriere Della Serra newspaper carried a report entitled "From Etruria to the Middle Ages". It claimed that radiocarbon dating now proves that the Lupa Capitolina (the famous Capitoline Wolf, pictured here) is "17 centuries younger" than previously thought. This seems to be an odd claim, for more than one reason. But first, a few words about the Capitoline Wolf.

Back in the Middle Ages

In the closing years of the thirteenth century, a certain Master Gregory travelled from Britain to Italy in order to view the wonders of the city of Rome. His report, discovered in the archives of St. Catharine's College Cambridge, became known as Magister Gregorius de Mirabilibus Urbis Romae.

An appendix to the manuscript describes a sculpture that Gregory saw at the entrance to the Lateran Palace, in porticu ante hiemale palatium domini pape ('in the portico in front of the Pope's winter palace'). It was a bronze she-wolf, paired with a bronze ram; the ram (now no longer extant) stood at the entrance to the palace, where water poured from its mouth; the wolf, posed as if stalking the ram, had once spouted water from its teats, but had been broken off at the feet and propped up in the nearby portico.

Nearly two centuries later, in 1490, when Giovanni da Tolentino recorded his own observations in Rome, the wolf -- now ensconced in the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Capitoline -- was apparently pueros geminos lactantem ('suckling twin boys'). In fact, it seems that the sculpture was moved nearly twenty years previously, on the orders of Pope Sixtus IV, and had perhaps acquired the twins at that stage (inspired by Livy 10.23.12).

Twins or No Twins?

Since the days of the German scholar Winckelmann (who studied in Rome in the 1750s), the Lupa Capitolina was assumed to be an Etruscan bronze, despite the occasional doubts that, stylistically, it looked rather Carolingian. In 1925, the French classicist Jérôme Carcopino published a book entitled La Louve du Capitole, in which he took it for granted that it was so. Equally, he recognized that the 'twins' had been added around 1474 in connection with the activities of Sixtus IV. However, some of his other assumptions were more problematic.

He assumed that the wolf was the totem of the Sabine people, so it had been set up on the Capitol to symbolize the fusion of Latins and Sabines. Furthermore, in his opinion, the wolf had originally been depicted suckling two small gilt bronze boys, representing these two nations. Having gone out onto a limb this far, he went even further, suggesting that the statue group had given rise to the legend of Romulus and Remus (rather than the reverse).

Others had assumed (and continued to assume) that an original statue group represented Romulus and Remus being suckled by the she-wolf, echoing a motif found on coins of the Roman Republic. This is certainly implied by Pliny the Elder (15.77), while the Livy passage (above) may imply that sculptures of twins had been added to a pre-existing she-wolf sculpture. Many assumed that this group had been struck by lightning in 65 BC (which Cicero records: Against Catiline 3.19; also On Divination 1.18). One medieval commentator attributed the damage to the legs (evidently where the she-wolf had been hacked from her podium when she was carried to the Lateran portico) to a lightning strike! However, although there obviously were wolf-and-twins sculptures in ancient Rome, the testimony of Master Gregory shows that this was not the origin of our wolf.

Modern Research

In 1997, the Italian banking group ICCRI funded a major project to study the Capitoline Wolf, headed by Anna Maria Carruba. Preliminary findings were reported over a decade ago (in an exhibition catalogue entitled La Lupa Capitolina), and Carruba's full report (La Lupa Capitolina: un bronzo medievale) followed in 2006, along with newspaper coverage in Italy's La Repubblica.

A study of the casting process concluded that it was medieval work, not ancient. Scientific thermoluminescence dating showed that the bronze had last been heated in around 1515, but researchers took this to be a sixteenth-century modification to an originally medieval sculpture.

However, organic samples extracted from the bronze have now been subjected to radiocarbon dating and found to date broadly from the eleventh or twelfth century. Case closed!

An Odd Claim?

That is why the recent Corriere piece seemed so odd, coming six years after the "final report". But the newly-reported radiocarbon dating is actually an exciting confirmation that the Capitoline Wolf is (probably) the water-spouting sculpture that Master Gregory saw over 700 years ago, and not a lightning-damaged wolf-and-twins sculpture.

Friday, 1 June 2012

The Emperors' Sticky End

In what version of reality can death by lightning-strike be judged so-so, pretty ordinary, 14 out of 84?! I recently came across a listing of Roman emperors' deaths, compiled by failed PhD candidate Josh Fruhlinger,* organized "in order of how hardcore they were".
(* I should point out that Josh Fruhlinger's self-confessed credentials for drawing up this list rest on the fact that he "quit five semesters into an ancient history Ph.D. program", which is why I used the rather brutal shorthand "failed PhD candidate".)
La Mort de Tibère ("Death of Tiberius") by Jean-Paul Laurens
Josh has gathered death data for 84 emperors (Wikipedia lists more than 85) and has arranged them according to how exciting a death they suffered. (At least, I presume that's Josh's intention. Merriem-Webster defines "hardcore" either as "a persistent wretched condition", or as "militant or fiercely loyal", or as "containing explicit descriptions of sex acts or scenes of actual sex acts", none of which helps to explain Josh's methodology.) His main criterion seems to be sensationalism. What was the most sensational emperor's death ever? Obviously, if any emperor had ever been humiliatingly captured in battle rather than fighting to the end, and had then compounded the humiliation by being flayed alive and stuffed like a manequin, that would be the winner. Step forward, Valerian. Certainly an entertaining cause of death. But hardcore enough for 1st place?
The also-rans
By contrast, your very own blogging emperor is listed as 65th equal (with nineteen others!) because death was by "natural causes". Fair enough. Not very sensational. (And not very persistently wretched, fiercely loyal, or sexually explicit, depending on the correct definition of "hardcore" here.) But there are natural causes ... and there are "natural causes". Titus, for example, died aged 41 after reigning a little over two years. With a younger brother desperate to try his hand at emperorship, isn't this a little suspicious? (And worth a "hardcore" rating better than joint-65th?) Vespasian only gets away with 64th place, because he gave a quotable death-bed quip, here rendered "Uh oh, I think I'm becoming a God". (Alternatively, he is supposed to have said that "an emperor ought to die standing up", before dying ... on his back.) But it's not clear why Diocletian's natural death snagged him position 63; maybe because he'd been tending to his vegetable garden beforehand? (Not very hardcore, in my opinion.) And Romulus Augustulus, "Last Emperor of the West", sneaks in at 62, for no clear reason; likewise Glycerius at number 61, a man whom I'd never heard of, and upon whose death Wikipedia is unable to shed any light. At least Augustus, the first ever Roman emperor, and Claudius claw their way up to joint 59th place, on the strength of their maybe having been poisoned ... at least in Robert Graves' opinion.
"The Death of Nero" by Konstantin Makovsky
Killed, not died?
Josh numbers the rest from 1 to 58, presumably by virtue of how hardcore their murder or killing was. Poor Lucius Verus is deemed the least hardcore, at number 58, for a death by food poisoning. But Verus was thought to have died of the plague. How cool is that? Worth better than number 58, I'd say. Next up is Jovian, whose excessive appetite was probably involved in his death at the age of 32, rather than Josh's explanation that he "suffocated in his rooms by carbon monoxide fumes from a charcoal grill" (though that's certainly more colorful than choking on mushrooms). Theodosius II gets his 56th position by virtue of having "fallen off a horse". I suppose that's mildly more interesting than over-eating or being very old. But it surely beats the routine stabbings that we shall soon arrive at. Position number 55 is secured by Claudius II for dying of plague. (Hard luck, Lucius Verus, whose plague obviously wasn't "hardcore" enough.) The death of Valentinian II at the age of 21 is certainly interesting, as he was allegedly found dangling at the end of a rope. Pretty sensational, for a Roman emperor. So why is Valentinian's hanging (no. 54) trumped by the pillow-smothering of Tiberius (no. 53)? Granted, the farcical attempted suicide of Nero, who was finally stabbed -- at his request -- by his private secretary, makes a better story and is probably worth position 52.
Murdered, not died!
With Domitian at number 51, we begin the tedious series of Roman emperors who were assassinated, usually by stabbing. Five (including Caligula) are judged to be joint 46th -- more "hardcore" than Domitian, but not quite as "hardcore" as Severus Alexander (no. 45). But why? Others presumably gain a higher score based on the exotic scene of their murder: especially Constans (44th), who sought sanctuary in a temple -- in vain --, and Caracalla (no. 42), who was famously stabbed while urinating (unattended, for privacy's sake) by the side of the road. I can see why Numerian (no. 41) might leap-frog these (although he was only "possibly assassinated"), because his corpse was only discovered when his guardsmen noticed the rancid smell emanating from his closed carriage. But why does Carinus merit 43rd, when the circumstances of his death are not even known; or Aurelian 40th, when he suffered an assassination very similar to Caligula's? And how on earth did Geta manage to place 10th for a similarly routine stabbing (allegedly in his mother's arms -- how's that for an exotic setting)?
Slain, not died!
Josh has obviously invested civil war with enhanced hardcore-ness. First, four emperors share 36th equal for dying in battle during civil war. These are presumably "heroic" deaths, ranking above the stabbings and over-eatings (and falling off a horse). Fair enough. Another four emperors share 32nd equal for having been executed after losing a civil war (although surely Gratian should be downgraded to the "assassinated" category). Another two are tied at 30 (for having been forced to become bishops after losing a civil war, and having been subsequently murdered, a well-deserved score for the sheer bizarreness of their circumstances -- although I'm not sure that this is an accurate account of Julius Nepos's end). Four share 26th equal for having committed suicide after losing a civil war; and seven share 19th equal for having been murdered by their troops during a civil war. This sequence may make some kind of sense, but why, then, is the shadowy Quintillus elevated to number 18, when he would fit better with the 26th equal crowd?
The next three (Gordian III, Decius, Julian) are simple battle deaths, no doubt scoring higher than the 36th-equals because it was not a selfish death during civil war, but a glorious death against Rome's enemies! How, then, does Valens manage 7th place for a battle-death like these others (although his corpse was never identified to confirm this)?
Anonymous, "Death of Commodus"
Spectacular deaths
And then we arrive at the ill-starred Carus, "possibly struck by lightning"! He is --quite justifiably, I think -- denied 13th spot by Valentinian I -- my long-time favorite death -- who died of an apoplectic rage while negotiating with German ambassadors. But both have surely been cheated by Valentinian III, a simple assassination by poison. However, it seems that poisoning scores high on Josh's hardcore-ness meter. Eastern emperor Leo II -- elbowed into position 11 by Geta -- is registered as "poisoned" (although he may have died of disease).
Much more spectacularly than either of these, Commodus (no, he wasn't stabbed by Russell Crowe) is ranked 9th for a failed poisoning, followed by strangulation at the hands of a professional wrestler. I don't know about "hardcore", but that's quite a colorful death. Strangulation is popular, too: it snags 8th place in Josh's list for Vitellius (although he may actually have been beheaded). Presumably the beheading of Majorian ranks higher -- he is placed at no. 5 -- because it was preceded by several days of torture; but how did Anthemius snag 4th place for a similar beheading? Surely the death of short-lived emperor Petronius Maximus, who was unexpectedly stoned to death by an angry mob, deserves higher than 6th place?
But beheading seems to be Josh's definition of "hardcore". Galba's bronze-medal-winning 3rd place seems to rest on the fact that his head, separated from his shoulders, was carried aloft to invite mockery ... just like 8th-placed Vitellius, in fact. However, the death of the usurper Joannes -- wait a minute: this list is supposed to exclude usurpers! -- has the added value of his beheading having been preceded by having his hand cut off and being paraded on a donkey (allegedly).
Correct order?
Looking down Josh's list, the order seems a little skewed. Perhaps some ground-rules should have been drawn up. Who says that falling off a horse is less "hardcore" than dying of plague? And you can't go by "method of death", then decide that treatment of the corpse counts, as well ... that being "taxidermied" trumps having your corpse tossed down the Gemonian Steps at Rome. Or having been struck by lightning!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Romans in Spain

May is wearing on, so it must be time for another blog post. And, just in time, my trusty news hound tracked down an interesting story from the Spanish press.

Last week's Diario de León newspaper announced (in Spanish, here and here) the "Discovery of a 'treasure' of Roman armour in the former headquarters of CCAN" (the Spanish Club Cultural y de Amigos de la Naturaleza).

The site lies on ground formerly occupied by the legionary fortress of the Roman Seventh Gemina Legion. Archaeologists unearthed a "true gold-mine" consisting of the fragmentary remains of twenty metal cuirasses, of a type nowadays called lorica segmentata, the classic armour of the Roman legionary.

Excavations in 1998 (reported in Spanish, somewhat belatedly, here) had already unearthed similar lorica segmentata cuirass fragments, including one of the iconic iron body 'hoops' with copper alloy trim, and fragments from the arm-guard known as a manica (shown here).

All of the finds have originated in large, square buildings with central courtyards, which may be some sort of workshop (fabrica) or arms store (armamentarium). The find of the manica in particular suggested to the Spanish researchers that the Roman Seventh Gemina Legion must have been involved in Trajan's Dacian Wars, where such arm defences are known to have been worn to counter the terrifying Dacian falx, a razor-sharp "hockey stick" weapon. Of course, it may be an equally valid hypothesis to suggest that native Spanish elements had their own nasty, razor-sharp, anti-Roman weapons!

Reconstructed cuirass from M.C. Bishop, Lorica Segmentata, Vol. 1 (2002).

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Maundy Wednesday?

Bassano's Last Supper

It is Easter again, and it has become a blogging tradition (observed here, and here, and here, and here) to select an Easter theme.

It has also become a blogging tradition (a) to expose charlatans, whenever they try to distort ancient history for their own ends (Mr Lindsay, your Roman Scotland web site is on a warning; Señor Carotta, you are beyond help), and (b) to correct misunderstandings (such as our favorite one: the lost Ninth Legion, mentioned most recently here).

Along the way, I have often been struck by how there really is nothing new under the sun. Particularly in the more "popular" literature, there is a tendency to present old wisdom as an exciting new discovery. I came across one such example last week.

What Day was the Last Supper?

The Roman Catholic Church calls Holy Thursday dies in qua Dominus Noster Jesus Christus tradidit discipulis suis corporis et sanguinis sui mysteria celebranda ("the day on which our Lord Jesus Christ taught his disciples to celebrate the mystery of his body and blood"). This is Maundy Thursday, named after Jesus' mandatum novum ("new commandment") to love one another (Gospel of Saint John 13:34), which he illustrated by humbly washing the disciples' feet. Three of the Gospel writers tell us that this event occurred during a Passover meal.

Jaubert's book

In the 1950s, the French biblical scholar Annie Jaubert proposed (in essays that culminated in a book, La date de la Cène, Paris 1957) that Jesus and his disciples followed a solar calendar (rather than the official Jewish lunar calendar), according to which Passover always fell on a Wednesday. By contrast, those who observed the Jewish calendar celebrated the Passover on the 15th day of the first month, no matter what day of the week it fell on.

Consequently, according to Jaubert's theory, Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Last Supper on the Tuesday evening of Holy Week. Amazingly, her theory found support in the Dead Sea scrolls, which demonstrated that the Qumran sect followed a solar calendar.

In 1963, the German scholar Eugen Ruckstuhl published a study of Jesus' movements during Holy Week, entitled Die Chronologie des Letzten Mahles und des Leidens Jesu, in which he argued that Jesus had followed this same Essene calendar. He agreed that the Last Supper was a Passover meal that had been taken not on Thursday, but on Tuesday.

Both books -- Jaubert's and Ruckstuhl's -- were translated (rather badly, it seems) into English in 1965. At any rate, we can see that, for over fifty years, theologians have been aware of a fundamental problem with the Last Supper. And of a possible -- even a plausible -- solution.

Humphreys' book

Old wine in a new skin?

Last week, I came across a new-ish book entitled The Mystery of The Last Supper by a retired physicist named Sir Colin Humphreys. He purports to solve four mysteries in a rather plodding narrative that suggests he expects his readers to be bored undergrads.

He sets himself the task of discovering what Jesus actually did on the Wednesday of Holy Week, because his Study Bible tells him that no events can be attributed to that day.

He also presents the "Passover puzzle", where he seeks to discover whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal or not. (John's Gospel seems to imply that it was not.) His third mystery concerns the timing of Jesus' trial, because there does not seem to be room to fit all the events into one day, Good Friday. And finally, for good measure, he throws in the legality of the meeting of the Sanhedrin -- could they really have convened at night, as the standard interpretation seems to require.

Maundy Tuesday?

The crux is clearly the timing of the Last Supper, an event for which any theologians who felt uncomfortable with the party line have (for the last fifty years) had a satisfactory explanation. Mademoiselle Jaubert and Herr Ruckstuhl were well aware that it needn't have occurred on Maundy Thursday. Placing it on Tuesday evening gives the various actors in Holy Week an extra two days to fit in their various movements.

Meier's book

Another recent book, the rather grandly titled Jesus and his Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory by Professor Scot McKnight, is also aware of the problem, but chooses to balance on the fence. McKnight at least has the good sense to appeal to John P. Meier's masterful book, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the historical Jesus, which identified the Last Supper as "a solemn farewell meal, just before Passover". Meier is well-known for having questioned whether Jesus's arrest, his appearance before the Sanhedrin, his trial and condemnation, his formal handing-over to the Romans, and his trial there could really have been fitted into the night and early morning of Passover Day.

Humphreys' Mystery: Worth a read?

The rather breathlessly flattering foreword to Humphreys' book would have us believe that it is simply marvellous. In fact, it is rather slow and plodding, mostly rehashing evidence that is well-known to anyone who is at all interested in the subject. In particular, Humphrey feels that it is important to locate the Last Supper on a Wednesday, whereas Jaubert's Tuesday neatly solved the main problem of trying to cram too much into one day.

I await the scholarly reviews with interest. Happy Easter!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

An Engrossing Read?!

It has been a while since we looked in on the Roman Scotland web site (last visited in 2010). I'm afraid that, in the intervening eighteen months, it hasn't gotten any better.

Web site logo


The web site owner, Euan Lindsay, modestly claims that "this is an engrossing read". He flatters himself.

He also claims that his unnamed collaborators "felt the need to share their knowledge of the Roman period in Scotland". Unfortunately, they are not very knowledgeable at all. (The Gods alone know how the web site got an award for "Classical Studies"!) But what they are is opinionated.

In fact -- let's call a dolabra a dolabra -- their web site is slipshod, tedious, peculiarly nationalistic, and anti-Roman. As a grumpy old emperor, that last one hurts.

Off to a poor start

The web site's first section ("Chronology") does not inspire our confidence in Mr Lindsay's self-professed "knowledge". Here are some of his claims:

  • In 325 BC, "the Greek navigator and astronomer Pytheas sails the coast of Britain and names the island Pretani". (I've heard of sailing the seas, but never sailing a coast.) In fact, Pytheas (whose work does not survive) probably called the island Prettania, a name which is found in the ancient Greek writers as a variation on Britannia.
  • Under 54 BC, we read that Julius Caesar broke off his campaign in southern England "to deal with Vercingoterix (sic) uprising in Gaul". The Gallic chieftain's name was actually Vercingetorix. (Here we first meet Mr Lindsay's dislike of the apostrophe. Surely, it was Vercingetorix's uprising? In fact, he's not very hot on punctuation at all, full stop!)
  • Under "43 AD" -- incidentally, if he doesn't know how to use the abbreviation "AD" correctly, perhaps he should use "in the Common Era"! -- we read that "Claudius arrives to receive the southern tribes (sic) formal submission". Mr Lindsay has missed a trick here, as Claudius allegedly received envoys from the Orkneys, too!
  • Under "71-73 AD", we read of Petillius Cerialis "smashing Venutius Brigantians (sic) most probably at Stanwick Hill Fort". (Stanwick isn't a hillfort.)
  • Under "77 AD", he tells us that "Pliny the Elder (a reliable source) publishes his Natural History", from which Mr Lindsay quotes a sentence. Unfortunately, his translation is not reliable! (The sentence concerns the Roman army reaching the vicinity of the Caledonian Forest, but Pliny doesn't say "nearly thirty years ago" -- which would mean AD 48! --, and we don't know where the Caledonian Forest was, in any case.)
  • Under "79 AD", we read that "the over-run (sic) territories are named Vespasiana in honour of the emperor around this time", bizarrely resurrecting a myth created in 1789 by John Pinkerton (who, like Mr Lindsay, claimed "great erudition" for himself)!
  • Under "82 AD", we read that "while operating in Strathmore the Caledonians by pass (sic) the main Roman column ...", but why were the Caledonians "operating in Strathmore"? (And what does "operating" mean, anyway? What were they up to?)
  • Under "83 AD", we read that the Battle of Mons Graupius was "located at Dunning in Strathearn" -- this is one of Mr Lindsay's hobby-horses and doesn't reflect current scholarship at all.
  • Under "84-86 AD", we read that "a new legionary fort is put under construction at Inchtuthill (sic) on the Tay" (the place is called Inchtuthil) and "the Gask ridge road leading ultimately to this post is supplemented with forts, fortlets and regular watchtowers providing defence in depth, Scotlands (sic) second Roman frontier". (I wonder what an irregular watchtower is? And how can a fortified roadway form a "defence in depth"? Where is the depth?)
  • Under "87 AD", we read that the new Roman governor was "possibly Metilius Nepos", but this is highly unlikely. Nepos is attested as a departing governor in AD 98, and it is unthinkable that he served in the post for twelve years! (Governors usually seem to serve for three or four years only.)
  • Under "88-100 AD", Mr Lindsay's "resurgent Caledonian tribes" are entirely in his imagination; they are certainly not mentioned in any of our sources. "Roman withdrawal from Scotland is from hereon (sic) undertaken in fairly rapid then consolidating stages further south". (Incidentally, Mr Lindsay's arbitrary "stages" are comical, taking no account of the archaeological evidence.)
  • Under "105 AD", we read that "Scottish posts are deserted or over-run (sic)" -- presumably Mr Lindsay means the Roman posts in Scotland, which had been abandoned by this date. (This is the first creeping sign of Mr Lindsay's nationalistic agenda, that the Roman forts were not evacuated in an orderly fashion, but were deserted -- a sign of insubordinate and fearful Romans -- or, even worse, overrun!) His statement that "The fort at Newstead is sacked around this time" is not the standard interpretation of the orderly abandonment of this site, but conforms to Mr Lindsay's slowly revealed agenda.
  • Under "108 AD", we read that the absence of records relating to the Ninth Legion (or, as Mr Lindsay calls it, "the ninth legion") is "a sure sign of destruction in battle, probably in action in southern Scotland". Readers of this blog know better than that!
  • Under "117-119 AD", we read that "Fashionable modern suggestions that the ninth (sic) were transferred elsewhere in the empire for a date with destiny can be discounted as entirely unrecorded and unproven". (How can a "modern suggestion" be "entirely unrecorded"? If it's unrecorded, how does Mr Lindsay know about it? And what makes a suggestion "fashionable"? It sounds as if Mr Lindsay is trying hard to discredit this theory before he even explains to his reader what it is.)
  • Under "119 AD", we read that "Roman coin issues records (sic) conclusion of war in Britannia", but the coin in question may not date from this year: we blogged about it here.
  • Under "138 AD", we read that "Trajanic expansionism was long gone however a move is made immediately back into southern Scotland and Pausianus (sic) refers to this being the only place in the empire where; (sic) military action had to be taken". (The Greek historian's name is Pausanias and he doesn't refer to Britain.) Mr Lindsay's reference to Trajanic expansionism is ironic, as it was Trajan who oversaw the withdrawal from Scotland! He goes on to criticise "fashionable modern interpretations" (that adjective again) of Antoninus Pius' motivation for his (my!) invasion of Scotland. He prefers to see it as "possible Roman retaliation for 117 which Hadrian evidently failed to do satisfactorily". To be honest, I'm not sure that this is any different from the "fashionable modern interpretations" that Mr Lindsay deplores.
  • Under "140 AD", we read that "Ptolemy's (!) Geography, first remaining map of Scotland". (An apostrophe, at last!) I've heard of a "last remaining" this or that, but never a "first remaining" thing. (Ptolemy's Geography is, indeed, dated to around AD 140-150, but -- ironically, for Mr Lindsay's purposes -- the British section is thought to derive from a Flavian map, some fifty years older than Ptolemy!
  • Under "140-148 AD", Mr Lindsay lists "Construction of the Antonine Wall between the Forth and Clyde". (I wonder where he got his end-date from? There is certainly no evidence for AD 148 as a significant date.) He writes that "Forts tend to be larger to the western side and may reflect flashpoints of trouble while that part of the wall lies awaiting completion". Ironically, -- and, to be honest, predictably, given the woeful standard of "knowledge" that Mr Lindsay displays -- while the fort sizes are fairly evenly distributed along the Wall, the smallest fort is found near its western end!
  • Under "154-158 AD", Mr Lindsay writes about "a spree of devastation at the wall being carried further south". He is, by now, in full nationalist swing, with any signs of refurbishment or repair indicating devastation. "Clearly havoc descends from the tribes in northern and southern Scotland". (I'm always suspicious of a sentence that begins with "Clearly".) Mr Lindsay reckons that a reoccupation of Hadrian's Wall at the end of this chronological stage "is highly doubtful". Predictably, he is out of step with current scholarship, which accepts AD 158 as a pivotal year.
  • Under "162 AD", he writes that "It is possible that between 162 and 165 Agrippa 'mothballs' the Antonine Wall in the face of yet more manpower crisis (sic) caused by war in Parthia and Germania". Well, at least it isn't Mr Lindsay's beloved Caledonian heroes descending from all parts again. But, as before, he is out of step with current wisdom. "The Roman emphasis is slowly but steadily sliding or pushed in a southern direction towards a reactivated Hadrians wall (sic) by the end of the decade". So, only ten years later than the current crop of Hadrian's Wall experts think!
  • Under "169 AD", Mr Lindsay introduces "the two developing tribal confederacies of the north, the Caledonians and a new name, the Maetae (sic)". (The correct tribal name is Maeatae.) He tells us that, although scholars believe that both tribes dwell in the north, "it is more plausible that the now abandoned tribes of Scotland below the Forth-Clyde isthmus coalesce into an identity in the face of large aggressive neighbouring political entities". (How can tribes be "abandoned"? Abandoned by whom? And who are their large, aggressive neighbours? Surely not the Romans? For Mr Lindsay's Romans are cowed and fearful, deserting their overrun posts in the face of the Caledonian horror!)
  • Also under "169 AD", we read that "A siege mentality appears in the Romans with the initiative apparently now lying with the tribes of Scotland". (We are surely minutes away from a tsunami of howling barbarians, breaking thunderously like a surf-flecked wave against the shuddering brickwork of Hadrian's Wall!)
  • Under "179 AD", we read that "Clearly" -- that word again! -- "the run down (sic) Antonine Wall proved an insufficient obstacle" to the ravening hordes. (This is the wall that was decommissioned twenty years earlier. Of course it was no obstacle!) "Endemic trouble on the northern frontier with Newstead succumbing to the sack (sic!) for the final time". (You're probably tired reading that the abandonment of a Roman fort doesn't necessarily mean that it had succumbed to anybody's sack!)
  • Under "Late 180s", we read that "The legions in Britannia embroil themselves in politics and several leading figures were approached with a view to becoming Emperor". (Who are these leading figures? Isn't it really annoying how cryptic Mr Lindsay can be?) This is presumably a reference to the fact that the soldiers in Britain allegedly "wanted to make anybody emperor", other than Commodus, the present incumbent. "The tribes in Scotland appear from records to be left in peace" -- is that the opposite of appearing from the bracken to overrun a fort? -- "while the Roman garrison ferments (sic) political agitation". (Please let's not lose that wonderful verb, to foment rebellion.)
  • Under "192 AD", we read that it is "Probable that Hadrians wall (sic) is denuded of troops during this episode" -- the invasion of Gaul by the Governor Clodius Albinus -- "and that the Caledonians and Maetae (sic), who can safely assume to have been in treaty agreement with Albinus, act in concert to take advantage of the situation following the death of Albinus". (There must be a word missing here. Is it the Maeatae who are doing the assuming, or is it someone else?)
  • Under "197 AD", Mr Lindsay's nationalism again shows itself: "The remnants of the British legions and auxiliary forces return but it is improbable the forces are in any state to counter the combined strength and actions of the tribes of modern Scotland which will have escalated with the lack of firm response". (And all without a comma. Breathe!) I'm not sure why "modern Scotland" appears in this sentence, unless it's simply to underline the all-pervasive nationalist agenda.
  • Under "197-208 AD", Mr Lindsay claims that "So complete is the reconstruction required [on Hadrian's Wall] that the crop of centurial stones recording this work cause many sources from antiquity to antiquarians to believe the wall is originally constructed by Severus". This is another of those occasions where Mr Lindsay is simply dead wrong. The Venerable Bede (8th century) thought that it was the turf vallum that Septimius Severus had built. The early antiquarians, misled by the written sources -- not by Mr Lindsay's "centurial stones" --, thought that the vallum was Hadrian's and the stone wall was Severus'. Predictably, any repairs to the Wall were not occasioned by neglect, but because it "had been thoroughly wrecked by hostile action from the north"!
  • Under "208 AD", I was confused by Mr Lindsay's (more than usually) obscure writing: "Work on various installations precedes Severus subsequent landing which is accompanied by substantial army formations aimed to bolster the British garrison. ... Cramond and Carriden forts are reinstated (if indeed as has been suggested they have ever been abandoned)". Some punctuation would go a long way towards making this intelligible (though only a complete rewrite would make it "engrossing"). Similarly obscure: "The suggestion that Severus demand (sic) that all living things should be killed in this campaign is not probably carried through as there is no archaeological record of the effects of this bedridden (sic!) genocidal command". (On occasion, the generally poor standard of writing does raise a smile, as when "Caracalla was attempting to bribe the doctors to hasten the death of the old man and probably loiters at and around the large Severan marching camp at Castlecraig".)
  • Under "211 AD", we read that "The Severan bases at Carpow, Cramond and Carriden may have soldiered on into the 220s but are eventually abandoned". (There is no Severan material from Carriden to "soldier on".)
  • Under "304 AD", we read that "Simmering trouble on the northern frontier seems to have come to a head with the Picts". How intriguing! So, what happened?!
  • Under "306 AD", we read that "A deeply unwell man, an anonymous biographer of [Constantius Chlorus'] son Constantine refers to Constantius: defeating the Picts" (How does Mr Lindsay know that the anonymous biographer was deeply unwell?)
  • Later entries from AD 306 to 410 are more laconic, reflecting the brevity of the original sources, so there is less scope for Mr Lindsay to misconstrue any of the evidence.

Wearisome stuff

There is an appended "Chronicle of the Emperors and Scotland", but it, too, is dull, wearisome stuff, ungrammatical and often inaccurate. And trite: "Few ancient figures are more famous than the best known Roman Emperors". Meaningless nonsense.

For further amusement value, there is, however, a "newsbite excert (sic)" where Euan Lindsay tells us that Julius Caesar "invaded Britain in 84 and 85 BC" (sic!) in order to "get his hands on Scottish freshwater pearls or, at the very least, at least (sic) hold a stranglehold on the trade routes and revenues that accrued from them"! (Evidence, please?)

So far, this certainly hasn't made for "an engrossing read". Indeed, sometimes it seems as if English is not Mr Lindsay's first language. Example: "Quixotic Flavian defences underlying or predating Agricolan structures are more commonly being attributed to Cerialis". I'm not sure what Mr Lindsay thinks he means here. (If there are archaeological deposits "underlying Agricolan structures" then they necessarily predate them, so why does he write "underlying or predating"? And "more commonly" than what?)

It's all very poor quality, written with the clear agenda of (a) relocating the Battle of Mons Graupius to a place favored by Mr Lindsay, (b) emphasizing the destruction of the Ninth Legion at the hands of the Scottish tribes, and (c) generally reinterpreting (mostly misinterpreting) Romano-British history along Scottish nationalistic lines.

And that's only the first item on the web site menu! I'm not sure if this old emperor has the stomach for much more ...

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Ninth Legion Redux

With only a day remaining to organize February's post, a gift from the Gods landed on my lap. The (usually excellent) History of the Ancient World web site decided to enter the "Lost Legion" fray. As regular readers will know, we have been blogging on this subject (on and off) for quite some time.

BBC History Magazine

A Mysterious Loss

Yesterday, under the title, "The Roman Ninth Legion's mysterious loss", the HotAW web site linked to a BBC News Magazine report (filed last March!) that we already commented on here. But it's not often that we get two bites at the same cherry!

The web site article is, in fact, a precis of a longer piece which appeared in the glossy BBC History magazine in May 2011. There, in a movie tie-in with The Eagle (which we blogged about here), Dr Miles Russell spun a fanciful tale, disingenuously labelled "A solid, historical truth".

The good people at the Daily Mail were sufficiently taken in to announce that "the 2,000 year riddle of Rome's lost Ninth Legion is solved at last"!

BBC bias?

Dr Russell's article is surprisingly unbalanced for the BBC. It seems that their editor was snoozing. There are signs that Wikipedia formed a major source of information (both cite Winston Churchill -- that well-known Roman scholar!). Nor is Dr Russell's tone as measured as we would expect from the BBC: critics who point out "that the Ninth Legion did not die in a remote Scottish valley" (Scottish valley?!) are branded as "somewhat sniffy". These critics use their certainty, he claims, "to ridicule those who don't know any better".

Dr Russell's solid evidence of the legion's demise in some remote Scottish valley is contrasted with the "rather flimsy" evidence of transfer out of Britannia. The solid evidence from Britain ("an immense stone inscription") is contrasted with the flimsy evidence from the Netherlands ("fragmentary tiles, pottery sherds"). I sense someone playing to the crowd.

The competing Netherlands theory, according to Dr Russell, "stretches the evidence beyond all credibility". The seeds of doubt are, by now, firmly planted in the BBC Magazine reader's mind. Meanwhile, Dr Russell bolsters his own Scottish valley theory by claiming that Britannia was "a troublesome cultural backwater", dangerous and volatile, "an ancient equivalent perhaps of modern Afghanistan". (The "perhaps" has been inserted too late to save Dr Russell's credibility -- he has already spun his unsuspecting audience around his finger, by this stage. So much for impartiality.)

Dr Russell helpfully informs any doubting readers that "by far the most plausible answer to the question "what happened to the Ninth?", is that they fought and died in Britain". Er, so, why is there a mystery to solve? Why is there a controversy at all, if it's so plausible, and the alternative is so lacking in credibility? And -- more to the point -- where is the famous BBC even-handedness?

It seems that a new myth has been born, courtesy of Miles Russell. (I think I preferred Rosemary Sutcliff's version.)

The Curious Coda

In fact, things got even more curious at the History of the Ancient World web site. Later that same day, a rival article appeared on their web site, entitled "The fate of the Ninth: The curious disappearance of Legio VIIII Hispana"; an article which we already noted (almost two years ago!) here, and which seems to be a rather more balanced discussion than the BBC-sponsored one. Eheu! Just when you think a topic has finally died ...

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Three strikes, and Carotta is out!

Readers may have noticed that I devoted January's postings to reviewing the eccentric theory (I use the adjective advisedly -- Merriam-Webster defines it as "deviating from conventional or accepted usage" -- I am not trying to match one of Signor Carotta's colorful terms of abuse) that "the entire Gospel is a mutated history of the Roman Civil War, from the Rubicon to the assassination and burial of Caesar, i.e. from the Jordan to the ‘capture’ and the ‘crucifixion’ of Jesus."


Three strikes!

Three times, I have tried to engage Signor Carotta in debate (here, here and here), and three times he has denied me. Three times, I have listed errors in his argument, gaps in his logic, and mistakes in his research. But each time, rather than answering my criticism, Signor Carotta has cunningly chosen to turn the tables.

He prefers to restrict his responses to slandering my blog and nit-picking my critique. He offers no defense of his eccentric theory, other than to assert that it is true. When forced to recant on one of his ill-considered arguments, far from taking the opportunity to reconsider how it might impact upon the rest of his eccentric theory, he merely counterblasts that "there are hundreds upon hundreds of links and parallels, and this is simply one of them".

With typical cunning, the great man has distanced himself from the mean-spirited and puerile name-calling on his web site. Instead, we are informed that "our rebuttals don’t come from Carotta, but from Divus Iulius". Well, whether it's Signor Carotta or his Divine Iulius mouthpiece doesn't make much difference. I'm sure that, if his web site minion has adopted this low level of playground debate, it cannot be without the great man's blessing. "If you throw enough mud", goes the saying ... mehercle, he has certainly slung shovelfuls in this direction!

Whose is the Lost Cause?

The latest blustering reply from Carotta, a.k.a. Divine Iulius (C.D.J.) will apparently be the last:

A.P. needn’t worry, though: all good things go by three, and it’s likely that there will not be another return coming from our side of the imperial court. But he may feel free to serve again ...

That is kind of Signor Carotta, inviting me to contribute to my own blog! (Perhaps this arrogance is part of his Divine Iulius persona? The same arrogance that expects to read "future blunders" in my blog. Eheu!)

Predictably, his final reply is no better than his previous efforts. I am, it appears, "a lost cause" and "essentially a clueless fraud"; my criticisms are "insignificant, biased, undocumented, etc."; and my study of Caesar's inscriptions "shows that A.P. doesn’t even rudimentarily know the art of textual criticism".

Rather than defending his use of the ugly term "diegetic transposition" as the key to his theory, perhaps by explaining its alleged importance, he prefers to criticize Merriam-Webster (one of our fundamental national reference works) for not listing the awful term! Is there no end to C.D.J.'s arrogance?

At least this time, I am not accused of smear tactics (one of C.D.J.'s most bizarre accusations), but I have, apparently, "made a fool" of myself. (I can't help noticing that all of these "observations" seem to apply quite accurately to Signor Carotta's theory!)

Carotta Trickery

Cunning, innuendo and trickery

While C.D.J. bickers about how many people Plutarch actually called chrêstós -- and there seem to be rather a lot, which makes a fool of anyone wishing to assign divine significance to the term ... while C.D.J. devises ever-more childish slanders (there must surely be some intellectual Italian innuendo behind the otherwise inexplicable slur, "our incurable parrot"!), readers are cunningly diverted from the real point of my review.

It's really quite simple:

  • Signor Carotta claims that there was no Jesus Christ.
  • Signor Carotta thinks that we have been duped by the Gospel accounts into believing in Jesus Christ.
  • Signor Carotta claims that the Gospels really tell the story of Julius Caesar "from the Rubicon to the assassination and burial of Caesar."
  • And Signor Carotta believes that he has proved this by twisting the names and the events of the Gospels until they supposedly resemble features from the latter part of Caesar's life.

As I have explained (three times), there is absolutely no factual foundation upon which to base this eccentric theory. None, whatsoever. Zero.

  • Signor Carotta thought that he could "spin" a disputed bust of Caesar into a pathetic pietà of the dictator, which in turn could be worshipped as a Christ image.
  • He is mistaken.
  • Signor Carotta thought that this was sufficient proof to establish that Julius Caesar was worshipped as Christ, with his official titles chanted in "perpetual formulaic repetition".
  • He is mistaken.
  • Signor Carotta thought that a lengthy list of supposedly significant parallels -- he claims "hundreds upon hundreds of links and parallels", but this is cunning exaggeration -- between the Gospels and some events from Caesar's life would clinch the deal.
  • He is mistaken.

It is surprising that an accomplished philosopher like Signor Carotta seems to be ignorant of the fundamental rules of historical enquiry. In fact, he is guilty of improper argumentation, on a large scale. When he claims to have cited "hundreds upon hundreds of links and parallels", he has fallen into the trap of the formal fallacy, for nowhere has he proved that these "links and parallels" are at all significant. All the parallels in the world mean nothing, unless he can come up with some reason to link them to his theory.

  • Why should we believe that Caesar's Gaul has become Christ's Galilee?
  • Why should we believe that Caesar crossing the Rubicon has become Christ crossing the Jordan to reach Capernaum? (Did Christ even cross the Jordan? Signor Carotta is a little vague on this one. And by no stretch of the imagination can the word Rubicon become corrupted into Jordan.)
  • Why should we believe that Pilate washing his hands is a corrupted description of Lepidus? (And why, if Lepidus was at Caesar's "Last Supper", wasn't Pilate at Christ's?)
  • Why should we believe that Pompey the Great has become a character called "John the Baptist"? (Oddly, in this case, Carotta's linguistic gymnastics can only show Gnaeus becoming Johannes. So how does Pompey become The Baptist?)
  • Why should we believe that Scribonius Curio and Mark Antony have become the brothers Andrew and Simon Peter? (Carotta's theory has a bizarre sequence whereby Curio first becomes vir, in order to facilitate translation into Greek andros, which mutates into Andreas. However, he cannot get Antonius to become Petros, so he tries to convince us to read Antonius backwards and transliterate into Greek -- Συινωτνα -- so that it looks like Simôna! Does it?)
  • And above all, why should we believe that the "character" called Jesus is a coded reference to Divus Iulius?

Of course, Signor Carotta's response can be anticipated. Everything is explained by "diegetical transposition", that ugly term that requires no justification! We have a different term for this low level of debate: pseudo-science.

Signor Carotta unscientifically believes that there is "such an overwhelming amount of similarities ... that coincidence can be ruled out". But, of course, the serious historian never rules out coincidence, in the absence of proof.

Sadly, Signor Carotta has consistently failed to supply proof of his eccentric theory. He has, quite simply, struck out!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Parrot Replies


Running arguments can be tedious. Back and forth they go, each observation met with a rebuttal, each argument with a counter-argument. But in this way, weaknesses in a theory can be exposed and corrected.

Italian philosopher Francesco Carotta has a different technique. Ridicule.

Our previous article on Antoninus Pius’s blunder was not written to “discredit his blog”, as he alleges, but only to debunk his feeble arguments

Notice that my criticism of Signor Carotta's theory has become a "blunder". He goes on to describe me (on his Divine Julius blog) as a parrot, "repetitive and incurably superficial". He attempts to undermine the credibility of my blog by describing my reasoning as "feeble", my arguments as "false", my criticism as "ludicrous", and my tone as "derogatory".

These are not the reasoned counter-arguments of a cool, confident expert, but the blustering of a dilettante historian who has been found out.

Debunking feeble arguments

Signor Carotta claims to debunk my feeble arguments. It is worthwhile looking again at his arguments. Readers can then decide which ones are truly feeble.

His theory may be summed up succinctly: the Gospel accounts of Jesus Christ are encoded biographies of Julius Caesar.

Signor Carotta prefers the obscure and slightly intimidating term "diegetic transposition", no doubt because it sounds suitably "scientific". Such a repulsive term, unintelligible to the general reader (Merriam-Webster doesn't even list it), is concocted to invest grandeur in a very humble concept: namely, that a story has been altered for some reason (διήγησις is simply Greek for "narrative"). But Signor Carotta's narrative has been altered beyond recognition! So much so, that it resembles a secret code. Signor Carotta denies this, explaining that

We do not attempt to read the texts of the Gospel as “coded statements”. A diegetic transposition is something different.

I am always suspicious of scholars who hide behind jargon -- if their theory is sound, then it can surely be expressed in plain language. Thankfully, Signor Carotta does, at one point, tell us what the "something different" is. He believes that

the entire Gospel is a mutated history of the Roman Civil War, from the Rubicon to the assassination and burial of Caesar, i.e. from the Jordan to the ‘capture’ and the ‘crucifixion’ of Jesus.

Exactly why it should have mutated is not explained. (And why only from the Rubicon? Two of the Gospel accounts go back to the manger.)

Julius Caesar looks like Christ

Signor Carotta's introductory remarks show that his theory is rooted not in fact, but in pure speculation:

The triggering factor for the book in hand was the sight of Caesar’s portrait in the Torlonia Museum and Erika Simon’s comment that it might be the head of the statue that Antonius had placed on the Rostra after the assassination of Caesar. It bore the inscription ‘Parenti optime merito—to the most meritorious parent’, in order to awaken feelings of both pity and revenge in the observer. In function and expression the Torlonia head resembled the sorrowful face of Christ in the Pietà and since Pietà representations are typical for Jesus Christ but not for Julius Caesar, the question arose as to whether the later Jesus borrowed other elements from the earlier Caesar.

Most scholars would have stopped there. Notice that (a) the bust in Torlonia Museum is not universally accepted as the face of Julius Caesar, (b) even if it is Caesar, there is no reason to suppose that it came from Mark Antony's statue of the dictator, (c) there is consequently no good reason to link the inscription quoted by Cicero (and no-one else) with this particular head, and (d) no scientific case can be made for depictions of Jesus Christ taking this particular head as their model. This passage, quoted directly from Signor Carotta, offers only a series of speculative proposals, none of which can be proved, and none of which has any particular merit.

House of cards

Unfortunately, Signor Carotta did not stop there. He likes the idea that someone who (in Latin) was optime meritus, "most well-deserving" (Cicero's report of Antony's inscription), might also be described (in Greek) as chrêstos. He likes this idea, because chrêstos (he claims) sounds like Christos when spoken aloud.

Hence, on the base of the first cult-statue of the new god Caesar, the Greek speaking people read that the divine founder of the empire was optime meritus which meant for them chrêstos, respectively christos.

So far, Signor Carotta has been discussing a statue and inscription which nobody has seen since the days of Cicero. Other scholars would be slightly cautious when attempting to build a case on such flimsy foundations. Not Signor Carotta. But here he must bend the truth in order to bolster his case. I quote again, in case I am accused of withholding critical information:

Moreover, as chance would have it, christos also looks like an abbreviation of archiereus megistos, the Greek form of pontifex maximus, the first earthly title of their God.

Here, as before, we have a sequence of speculative proposals rather than facts. Notice that (a) archiereus megistos is not the Greek form of pontifex maximus, and (b) christos does not look like an abbreviation of archiereus megistos, despite Signor Carotta's assurance that "it can definitely be contracted to christós". I already explained this in my original review. Signor Carotta does not even stop here, but presses on with further fantastic claims:

If the title was used in prayer—and that can be inferred from the fact that this appellation ranks first on all the base inscriptions of his votive statues—then this long title would inevitably have contracted by its perpetual formulaic repetition.

None of this can be defended. It is either a bungling error or a deliberate falsehood. Notice that, as I already explained, this "appellation" appears on only one out of many inscriptions (where it is probably a mistake, as it is a tautology), and far from ranking first actually comes near the end. But you do not need to take my word for it.

Caesar inscription

The above photograph shows the only existing inscription that lists archiereus megistos as one of Caesar's titles. Can you spot it? Try chanting the text and see if it sounds like Christos. Signor Carotta's conclusion is quite simply bizarre:

Caesar’s statue not only looked like a pietà, but the inscription on the base also evoked the Christ.

Remember, this is the statue that nobody has ever seen, and the inscription that doesn't mention anything remotely like Christos.

The testimony of Plutarch

Signor Carotta knows that he cannot demonstrate that Julius Caesar was ever called Christos, so he claims that he was known as chrêstos. He gets this from the ancient writer Plutarch. Earlier, I explained that Plutarch also calls Alexander the Great (amongst others) chrêstos, but Signor Carotta calls this "a false argument". He writes:

Surely Caesar was not the only person to be called chrêstós, and if there were no other accordances between Caesar and Christ, then yes, Plutarch’s chrêstós would not be as meaningful. ... So Caesar as chrêstós in Plutarch is an important source.
In my "naivety" (another of Signor Carotta's slurs), I have (apparently) failed to notice that the fact that several others could be called chrêstos "actually reinforces Carotta's argumentation instead of invalidating it". How so?

Signor Carotta explains that

the two other men, cited by Antoninus Pius as rewarded with the term chrêstós by Plutarch, both have something in common with Caesar, in that they were deified ... something that A.P. evidently ignores.

Let's summarize the situation: Signor Carotta has found a large number of parallels (all, in my opinion, of a trivial nature) between the Gospel accounts and Plutarch's Life of Caesar. These can all be dismissed as coincidental, except for one important fact: Caesar was actually known as Christos. This is the critical link.

Who's chrêstos anyway?

Well, we know that last part is false. But Signor Carotta tells us that, because Caesar was called chrêstos, it is only a tiny step to get to Christos. (So, it seems that maybe Alexander the Great could be Christos, because Plutarch calls him chrêstos? Worth thinking about.) However, Plutarch also says that Mark Antony's father was chrêstos (Ant. 1.1), and that it was only the love of Cleopatra that destroyed this same quality in Carotta's arch-villain Antony (Ant. 25.1). In fact, the historian Rutilius is said to be chrêstos (Mar. 28.5), and the entire Roman people apparently shared this same quality (Pyrrh. 21.2). So, by Signor Carotta's logic, they must all be divine. They must all be Christ. How foolish of me to have missed this.

(I think we can probably rule out the significance of this word, now.)

Repeating A False Argument Over And Over Doesn't Make It True.

The bulk of Signor Carotta's theory is, of course, the curious list of supposedly significant parallels, which I already examined. These are, in my opinion, contrived and, in some cases, absurd. (He has already changed one, without qualm, as a result of my criticism.) However, there is no point in debating these with Signor Carotta any further, as he believes that they are self-evidently true:

Since the life story of both of these god-men, Jesus and Divus Iulius, show such amazing parallels (listing them is the purpose of this book), we are forced to recognize them as one and the same story, one that has been mutated and delocalized in the process of tradition and translation.

Of course, even the best parallels are only coincidental, unless some concrete link can be established between the two parties. Signor Carotta thought that the Torlonia bust was his concrete link. We have seen that it isn't. Whether he admits it or not -- and he is very good at shifting blame (e.g. when he misquotes from the Gospel, it is the fault of the translators, not our Italian savant, who is fluent in seventeen languages!) --, his theory is in disarray.


Signor Carotta's continuing interest in my humble blog is an encouraging sign that my criticism matters to him. Clearly, he is worried in case more people realize that he is an emperor without clothes. A Divine Julius unworthy of worship.