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Graffiti of Pompeii

There are thousands of graffiti recorded in the time capsule town on Pompeii, the town destroyed and buried by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD. They offer a glimpse into everyday ancient life in an unprecedented way. I hope you will find this list an amusing diversion or a useful resource for research.

Note – technically this list is a mixture of graffiti and dipinti. A dipinto is a drawn message or doodle, either made with paint, charcoal etc. A graffiti is incised into the surface, perhaps with a nail or tool. For the sake of simplicity, I’m using the word graffiti as a catch-all term, in keeping with the majority of guidebooks and websites.

I shall provide the location of each graffito wherever possible. Not only will this help tourists find them (if still visible,) but noting which types of graffiti appear where is a fascinating insight into the different neighbourhoods of the town. When I provide a building code, it breaks down into 3 sections. The first part notes the Regio, one of 9 zones of the town carved up by archaeologists. The second number notes the insula, or city block. The final number is the door number. So the House of the Surgeon is categorised as vi.1.10 – Regio 6, block 1, door 10. Some houses are known by a number of names, I’ll use whichever I think is the better known. A lot of buildings have multiple numbered entrances, I shall use the entrance closest to the graffito.

Where I can, I’ll also provide the catalogue number of each graffito in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum. Volume IV is dedicated to graffiti recorded in Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae. The online database I use is the Epigrafik-Datenbank Clauss-Slaby. This will be handy if you wish to read any of these in the original Oscan, Greek or Latin. If I can’t find a translation or attempt a clumsy one myself, I won’t include an example. This list is intended to be accessible for everyone (or at least those who don’t mind sexual themes or naughty language…) I’m not going to shy away from graffiti that use ‘naughty’ language as some books/sites do. The Pompeians weren’t prudes so I see no reason why I should be. However, perhaps you may wish to bookmark this page to read away from school/work…

If you spot any mistakes, can fill in some missing information or think I’ve missed a great example, just let me know.

POLITICS

If the graffiti is anything to go by, Pompeiians loved politics. The huge number of electoral slogans reminds me of my clogged Facebook timeline during our own modern elections. Official dipinti were written by professional scriptores, usually in red paint in an elegant script. Some of the others may be a teensy bit sarcastic…

  • I ask you to elect Numerius Barcha, a good man, as duovir. May Venus Pompeiana be favourable to your offerings. – CIL IV 00026, House of the Anchor vi.10.7
  • Numerius Veius, a good man. Colonists, I ask you to elect him duovir. – CIL IV 00045 Facade of a shop, viii.5.29
  • Numerius Veius Barcha, I hope you rot! – CIL IV 00075
  • Nymphodotus with Caprasia asks you to elect Marcus Cerrinius Vatia aedile. CIL IV 207
  • All the late drinkers ask you to elect Marcus Cerrinius Vatia aedile. Florus and Fructus wrote this! – CIL VI 581, Taberna Hedones, vii.2.44
  • I beg you to elect Marcus Epidius Sabinus duovir with judicial powers, he is worthy. May you elect one who is a protector of the colony according to the opinion of Suedius Clemens, the worshipful judge, and by agreement of the council on account of his merits and his honesty, worthy of public office. Sabinus, the theatre official, elects him with applause. CIL IV 768, Shop of Sabinus, i.4.18
  • Popidius Natalis, his client, with the worshipers of Isis, call for the election of Cuspius Pansa for aedile.  CIL IV 1011, Bakery of Felix, viii.4.27
  • The ball players ask that you elect Aulus Vettius Firmus aedile, worthy of public office. CIL IV 1147, Estate of Julia Felix, ii.4.4
  • Elect Gnaeus Helvius Sabinus aedile, worthy of public office. Masculus and all those who have a tail recommend him… CIL IV 7240 Caupona of Masculus, i.7.14
  • All the late sleepers ask for Marcus Cerrinius Vatia for aedile. CIL IV 575
  • Vatia for aedile: supported by the petty thieves… CIL IV 576
  • Vote for Isidorus for aedile, he licks cunts the best! CIL IV 1383, Brothel of Aphrodite, Secunda, Nymphe, Spendusa, Veneria, Restituta, Timele vi.11.15
  • Lucius Popidius Ampliatus, son of Lucius, for aedile: supported by his client Montanus in conjunction with the brigands.  CIL IV 7851
  • Valens, you’re sleeping; you’re asleep and dreaming; wake up from your slumber and make Helvius Sabinus aedile. 
  • The neighbours of Lucius Statius Receptus urge you to elect him duovir with judicial power. He is deserving of the office. Aemilius Celer, his neighbour, wrote this. If you deliberately deface this sign, may you fall gravely ill! CIL IV 3775 House of Primigenia ix.8.8
  • Statia and Petronia beg you to elect Marcus Casellius and Lucius Albucius as aediles. There are excellent citizens for the perpetuity of the colony.  CIL IV 3294
  • Bruttius Balbus for duumvir. His actions will be fiscally responsible. Genialis supports this. CIL IV 3792 Shop, ix.2.20

GLADIATORS

Pompeiians loved a good gladiatorial spectacle. Theirs is the oldest surviving permanent amphitheatre in the Roman world. Politicians hoped to win over the citizens by sponsoring lavish spectacles and certain gladiators became ancient celebrities. It seems that ancient Campanians were quite willing to travel to see a good show, following their favourite troupes in the same way that modern sports fans go to away matches. That explains why the amphitheatre at Pompeii is so large for such a small town. Keen fans scribbled the results of fights alongside doodles of their favourite fighters.

Note – the term ‘Neronian’ indicates the gladiator trained at the Imperial training school in Capua.

  • The gladiatorial troupe of Aulus Suettius Certus, aedile, will fight at Pompeii on 31st of May. There will be a hunt and awnings. CIL IV 1189 The Eumachia, vii.9.1
  • At the dedication of the Games of Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius… There will be a hunt, athletics, aprinklings, awnings. Good fortune to Maius, leader of the colony. CIL IV 1177 Forum Baths vii.5.2
  • 20 pairs of gladiators of Decimus Lucretius Satrius Valens, perpetual priest of Nero and 10 pairs of gladiators of his son Decimus Lucretius Valens, will fight at Pompeii on 8,9,10,11,12 April. There will be a regular hunt and awnings. Aemilius Celer wrote this on his own by the light of the moon.  CIL IV 3884 Shop facade, ix.8.1
  • Celadus, belonging to Octavus, fought 3 won 3. CIL IV 4297 House of the Gladiators, v.5.3
  • Rusticus Malius – 12 fights, 11 wins. Marcus Terentius – 3 fights, 3 wins. CIL IV 4302 House of the Gladiators v.5.3
  • Celadus the Thracian gladiator is the delight of all the girls! CIL IV 4289 House of the Gladiators, v.5.3
  • Mansuetas the provocator will dedicate his shield to Venus if victorious! CIL IV 283, Quadriporticus viii.7.16
  • Faustus, slave of Ithacus, Neronian, at the amphitheatre; Priscus, Neronian, fought 6, victor; Herrenius, fought 18, killed CIL IV 1421 House of the Labyrinth vi.11.10
  • Asteropaeus, Neronian, 107 victories, victor. Oceanus, freedman, 6 victories, reprieved CIL IV 1422 House of the Labyrinth vi.11.9
  • In honour of the Safety of the Emperor Vespasian Caesar Augustus and his House, on the occasion of the dedication of the altar, the gladiatorial troupe of Gnaeus Allius Nigidius Maius, Flamen of Caesar Augustus, will give games at Pompeii on July 4. Beast hunt. There will be awnings. CIL IV 1180 Large Theatre exterior
  • Oceanus, of free status, victorious 13 times, won. Aracintus, of free status, victorious 4 times, earned a reprieve. CIL IV 8055 House of the Ceii i.6.15
  • Severus, of free status, victorious 13 times, earned a reprieve. Albanus, left-hander, of free status, victorious 19 times, won CIL IV 8056 House of the Ceii i.6.15 Left handed gladiators were quite rare and would have drawn a large crowd.
  • Marcus Attilius. Marcus Attilius, fought 1, won 1, victor. Lucius Raecius Felix, fought 12, won 12, reprieved. CIL IV 10236A Tomb 14 Porta Nuceria necropolis
  • Marcus Attilius, novice, victor; Hilarus, Neronian, fought 14, 12 victories, reprieved CIL IV 10238A Tomb 14 Porta Nuceria necropolis
  • Games at Nola given by Marcus Cominius Heres over 4 days. ‘The Chief’, Neronian, fought 13, 10 victories, victor. Hilarus, Neronian, fought 14, 12 victories, victor. Creunus, fought 7, 5 victories, reprieved.  CIL IV 10237 Tomb 14 Porta Nuceria necropolis
  • Twenty pairs of Gladiators, belonging to Aulus Suettius Antenio and to his freedman Niger, will fight at Puteoli on the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th of March. There will also be a beast hunt and athletic contests. CIL IV 9970
  • Sold to the wife of Decimus Lucretius Valens: Onustus, horseman of prime quality, Sagatus, Thracian murmillo, prime quality! CIL IV 8590 It would be extremely odd for a wife to buy gladiators on her husband’s behalf. It seems likely that this matron was in fact buying/hiring these gladiators for her own entertainment…
  • 20 pairs of gladiators of Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius, quinquennial, and their substitutes will fight without any public expense at Pompeii. Greetings to Gavillius Tigellus and Clodius. Greetings to Telephus, head gladiator instructor. Good luck, Diadumenus and Pyladio CIL IV 7991 House of Trebius Valens iii.2.1
  • Good fortune to Gnaeus Alleius Maius, the prince of the games! CIL IV 7990 Palaestra ii.7.7
  • Marcus Casellius Marcellus, a good aedile and a great giver of games CIL IV 4999 House of M Casellius Marcellus ix.2.26
  • Felix, belonging to Cassius, 13 fights 13 wins. Florus, belonging to Octavius, 14 fights 14 wins CIL IV 4378 House of the Gladiators v.5.3
  • On the 28th of July, Florus won at Nuceria, on the 15th of August, he won at Herculaneum CIL IV 4299 House of the Gladiators v.5.3
  • On the … Of May, the gladiator troupe of Ampliatus will fight at Formia. There will be a beast hunt, sprinklings and awnings. As the whole world desires to see my troupe, I shall provide games everywhere. CIL IV 1184 Gladiator Barracks viii.7.16
  • You have been victorious in every single one of your bouts! It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World! CIL IV 1111 Amphitheatre ii.6
  • Chariot fighter Philippus from the school of Tettius. 8 fights, 8 wins! CIL IV 4280 House of the Gladiators v.5.3

 

WORDS OF WISDOM

  • A small problem gets bigger if you ignore it… CIL IV 1811, Basilica, viii.1.1
  • What’s happening? Oh, eyes, you forcibly dragged me into the fire;
    Now, unforced, you flood my cheeks.
    But never can the tears extinguish the flame, t
    hey inflame the face and melt the spirit. Tiburtinus composed this. IV 4966, Odeon, viii.7.19
  • Once you are dead, you are nothing CIL IV 5279 House of the Centennial, ix.8.3
  • Nothing can last for all time: When the Sun has shone brightly it returns to Ocean; the Moon wanes, which recently was full. Even the fierceness of Venus often becomes a mere puff of wind. CIL IV 9123 Shop of Successus ix.13.4
  • Avoid giving killer looks to the wives of others with desirous expressions, harbour modesty in your mouth. CIL IV 7968A House of the Moralist iii.4.2
  • Remove lustful expressions and a flirtatious gaze from another man’s wife; may there be modesty in your expression. CIL IV 7968B House of the Moralist iii.4.2
  • Postpone your tiresome squabbles if you can, or leave and take them home with you. CIL IV 7968C House of the Moralist iii.4.2
  • When an old man lies on his back, his bollocks cover his arsehole. CIL IV  4488
  • The one who buggers a man on fire burns his penis CIL IV 1882 Basilica viii.1.1
  • He who despises life easily spurns god CIL IV 5370 House of the Arches ix.7.20
  • Beware of wives! CIL IV 4238 Caupona V.2.3
  • The doorman should be awake for those who come bearing gifts. If, however, someone should knock on the door empty handed, the doorman should be deaf or sleeping with the latch firmly shut… CIL IV 1894 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Now, when anger is still fresh, it is time to leave. When grief has departed love shall return. Trust me! CIL IV 4491 House of Sextus Pompeius Axiochus vi.13.19

THE CALL OF NATURE

  • Stranger, my bones beg you not to pee at my tomb: if you want to do the deceased an even bigger favour: take a dump! You see the tomb of Urtica [= ‘Stinging Nettle’]: go away, shitter! It is not safe for you to open your buttocks here. CIL IV 8899 iii.5.4
  • Secundus took a shit here.  (This was written three times on the same wall…) CIL IV 5243 House of the Centenary ix.8.3
  • Lesbianus, you poop and you write, ‘Hi, everybody!’ CIL IV 10070 Shop of Nicanor ii.3.9
  • This is Martha’s dining room, as she shits in this dining room. CIL IV 5244 House of the Centenary ix.8.3 The graffito was found in what is thought to be the slave’s quarters.
  • One day you will understand how I feel. When I need to have a shit I’ll come and shit! CIL IV 5242 House of the Centenary ix.8.3
  • Shitter! Beware misfortune! CIL IV 3832 Caupona of Tertius ix.7.2
  • To the one defecating here.  Beware of the curse.  If you look down on this curse, may you have an angry Jupiter for an enemy! CIL IV 7716 House of Pascius Hermes iii.5.1
  • We have pissed the bed, I confess. We have erred innkeeper, though if you ask us why; there was no chamberpot! CIL IV 4952 Unnamed house viii.7.6

I WAS HERE

  • Gaius Pumidius Dipilus was here five days before the nones of October in the year that Marcus Lepidus and Quintus Catulus were consuls (2nd October 78 BC) CIL IV 1842 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Floronius, privileged soldier of the 7th legion, was here.  The women did not know of his presence.  Only six women came to know, too few for such a stallion.  CIL IV 8767 Large Palaestra ii.7
  • Glyco was here with Martialis while the sun was boiling, we were thirsty. CIL IV 89 Tomb 18 Porta Ercolano necropolis
  • We two dear men, friends forever, were here.  If you want to know our names, they are Gaius and Aulus. CIL IV 8162 Bar i.7.8

MATTERS OF THE HEART

  • Sabinus, my beauty, Hermeros loves you! CIL IV 1256 House of the Tragic Poet vi.8.5. This is just one of many graffiti about love/sex between two men.
  • No young buck is complete until he has fallen in love CIL IV 1787 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Let everyone one in love come and see.  I want to break Venus’ ribs with clubs and cripple the goddess’ loins.  If she can strike through my soft chest, then why can’t I smash her head with a club? CIL IV 1824 Basilica viii.1.1
  • If you are able, but not willing, why do you put off our joy and kindle hope and tell me always to come back tomorrow.  So, force me to die since you force me to live without you.  Your gift will be to stop torturing me.  Certainly, hope returns to the lover what it has once snatched away. CIL IV 1837 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Love dictates to me as I write and Cupid shows me the way, but may I die if the god should wish me to go on without you! CIL IV 1928 Basilica viii.1.1
  • I’m hurrying to you, my Sava. Try to love me! CIL IV 2414 Corridor into the Large Theatre viii.7.20
  • Methe of Atella, slave of Cominia, loves Chrestus. May Venus Pompeiana smile favourably on their hearts and let them always live in harmony. CIL IV 2457 Corridor into the Large Theatre viii.7.20
  • Whoever loves, let him flourish.  Let him die who knows not love.  Let him who forbids love die twice over.  CIL IV 4091 House of Caecilius Jucundus v.1.26
  • If you felt the fires of love, mule-driver, you would make far more haste to see Venus.  I love a charming boy; I ask you, goad the mules; let’s go!  Take me to Pompeii, where love is sweet.  You are mine… CIL IV 5092 House of Poppaeus Sabinus ix.5.11
  • Oh, if only I could grasp my gentle arms around you and and give kisses to your delicate little lips. Come now, my little darling, entrust your pleasures to the winds. Believe me, the nature of men is fickle. Often as I have lain awake in a wasted night, I think on these things: many whom Fortuna raised high, now suddenly rush headlong, and fall, overwhelmed by her. Thus, just as Venus joins the bodies of lovers in a moment, daylight divides them and you will separate their love. CIL IV 5296 ix.9.f
  • Marcellus loves Praenestina, but she doesn’t care for him CIL IV 7679 House of Pinarius Cerialis iii.4.b
  • (Written by Severus) – “Successus, a weaver, loves the innkeeper’s slave girl named Iris, She, however, does not love him. Still he begs her to have pity on him. His rival wrote this. Goodbye”(Answer by Successus) – “Envious one, why do you get in the way. Submit to a handsomer man and one who is being treated very wrongly and good looking”(Answer by Severus) – “I have spoken. I have written all there is to say. You love Iris, but she does not love you!” CIL IV 8258 Bar of Prima i.10.2
  • Secundus says hello to his Prima, wherever she is.  I ask, my mistress, that you love me. CIL IV 8364 House of the Cabinetmaker i.10.7
  • My Ceres, may he who loves prosper, who forbids love may he perish badly. I loved Leda, but in a manner in which it was acceptable. Greetings, Tiberius Claudius. I loved Leda – the girl from Samos. CIL IV 9202 House of Caecilius Jucundus v.1.23
  • A blonde girl taught me to scorn brunettes. I will scorn them if I can; if not… I will reluctantly love them CIL IV 9839 Vineyard wall i.11.10
  • Blondie has taught me to hate dark-haired girls.  I shall hate them, if I can, but I wouldn’t mind loving them.  Pompeian Venus Fisica wrote this CIL IC 1520 House of the Scientists vi.14.43
  • Lovers are like bees; they live a honeyed life! CIL IV 8408a Bar of Astylus and Pardalus ii.2.1
  • If only that were true… CIL IV 8408b Bar of Astylus and Pardalus ii.2.1
  • I don’t want to sell my husband, not for all the gold in the world! CIL IV 3061 House of Caprasius Primus vii.2.48
  • If anyone does not believe in Venus, they should take a look at my girl friend! CIL IV 6842 House of Pinarius iv.16.15
  • Greetings to Primigenia of Nuceria.  I would wish to become a signet ring for no more than an hour, so that I might give you kisses dispatched with your signature… CIL IV 10241 Tomb, Porta Nocera necropolis
  • Sarra, you are not being very nice, leaving me all alone like this! CIL IV 1951 Basilica viii.1.1
  • A woman has borne a son of her own; he isn’t mine and doesn’t look like me, but I wish he was mine and I was wanting him to be mine. CIL IV 1877 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Juvenillia was born on Saturday in the second hour of the evening, Aug 2nd. CIL 294 vii.3 Juvenilla was therefore 3 weeks old when Vesuvius erupted.
  • Let him constrain the winds, he who rebukes lovers! And let him him forbid the waters of a stream from continuing to flow! CIL IV 1649 Shop, vii.6.35

A DRINK AT THE BAR

  • Hedone says, “You can get a drink here for only one coin.  You can drink better wine for two coins.  You can drink Falernian for four coins.” CIL IV 1679 Bar of Hedone vii.2.44
  • Whoever wants to serve themselves can go on an drink from the sea! CIL IV 3494 Bar of Salvius vi.14.36
  • What a lot of tricks you use to deceive, innkeeper. You sell water but drink unmixed wine!  CIL IV 3498 Workshop of Potitus vi.14.37
  • I fucked the barmaid! cil iv 8442 Caupona of Sotericus i.12.3

SEX

Whilst the Romans did have an unwritten code of morality, it seems that their attitude to sex was open, not to be matched until, perhaps, the 20th century. Erotic images taken to the museum in Naples were kept in a secret, locked room that was only opened up to the public in 2005. Whilst the modern idea of constant orgies is inaccurate (and influenced by the early Christian church,) erotic images and graffiti were not limited to brothels and dive bars and were found in the grandest of houses. There is no Latin term for homosexuality as it was not seen as particularly remarkable (even Julius Caesar had an affair with the King of Bithynia,) although a Roman citizen should always seek to be the penetrator, not the penetratee. Fellatio, cunnilingus and heterosexual anal sex were common and frequently advertised by prostitutes. Hookers could be hired for the price of a loaf of bread or beaker of wine, although those with particular talents or services could charge a lot more. Prostitution was legal and regulated and by no means a career solely for women. Visiting prostitutes was not frowned upon and was vastly preferable to seducing another man’s wife/daughter. Some clients even left glowing (and not so complimentary) reviews!

  • Thrust slowly!  (found above a doodle of doggy style sex) CIL IV 794 House of the King of Prussia vii.9.33
  • Atimetus got me pregnant CIL IV 10231 Tomb, Porta Nuceria necropolis
  • I don’t care about your pregnancy, Salvilla; I despise it. CIL IV 8384 House of Minucius i.10.8
  • Fortunatus will fuck you really deep. Come and see, Anthusa! CIL IV 1230 House of the Surgeon vi.1.10
  • Here I’ve finally screwed a beautiful girl, praised by many, but inside there was a mudhole. CIL IV 1516 House of the Scientist vi.14.43
  • My life, my sweetheart, let’s play for a moment, let’s imagine that this bed is a field and that I am your horse… CIL IV 1781 Basilica viii.1.1
  • It is much better to fuck a hairy cunt than a smooth one: it both retains the warmth and stimulates the organ. CIL IV 1830 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Take hold of your servant girl whenever you want to; it’s your right. CIL IV 1863 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Order your cock, it’s time for love! CIL IV 1938 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Restitutus says: “Restituta, take off your tunic, please, and show us your hairy cunt!” CIL IV 3951 Tavern of Verecundus i.2.23
  • Fortunatus, you sweet soul, you mega-fucker. Written by one who knows. CIL IV 4239 House of the Silver Wedding v.2.e
  • My lusty son, with how many women have you banged? CIL IV 5213 House of the Centenary ix.8.3
  • Cock, you are enormous! CIL IV 7089 v.7.4
  • Matrenia with the hot ass CIL IV 8473 Caupona of Hermes ii.1.13
  • Palmyra, you horny beast! CIL IV 8475 Caupona of Hermes ii.1.1
  • Dionysios is allowed to fuck whenever he wants CIL IV 8897 Shop iii.5.3
  • Crescens declares his penis hard and huge! CIL IV 10085b Imperial House ii.1.10
  • Jucundus fucks badly. CIL IV 8715b Large Palaestra ii.7
  • Here I have penetrated my lady’s open buttocks; but it was vulgar of me to write these verses. CIL IV 9246b Villa of the Mysteries
  • Virgula to her friend Tertius: you are so dirtyminded! CIL IV 1881 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Fortuna licks arseholes. CIL IV 4954 House viii.6.5

PROSTITUTES and THEIR CLIENTELE

  • If anyone sits on this bench, let him read this first of all: if anyone wants a screw, he should look for Attice; she costs 4 sestertii. CIL IV 1751 Porta Marina
  • If anyone’s looking for tender embraces in this town, he should know that here all the girls are available. CIL IV 1796 Basilica viii.1.1
  • 15 June, Hermeros fucked here with Phileterus and Caphisus CIL IV 2185 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Phoebus the perfumer is the best fuck CIL IV 2184 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Garlicfarticus’ fucked well here whom he wished CIL IV 2188 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Here Harpocras had a good screw with Drauca for a denarius. CIL IV 2193 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • He butt fucks Aplonia, gives it good, Nonius, fucking… CIL IV 2197 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • When you hand over the money, Batacarus, then I’ll fuck you in the arse! CIL IV 2254 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Restituta with the pretty face CIL IV 2202  Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Mola the fucktress CIL IV 2204  Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Felicla, slave born of the household, costs 2 asses CIL IV 4023 unnamed house v.1.15
  • Menander, nice manners, costs 2 asses CIL IV 4024 unnamed house v.1.15
  • Successa, slave born of this household, costs 5 asses. She has pretty manners. CIL IV 4025 unnamed house v.1.15
  • Felix costs four asses. Florus ten. CIL IV 7339 unnamed house i.10.3
  • Afillia costs 2 and a half asses CIL IV 7764
  • Communis: 3 asses, Successus: 3 asses, Nicephorus: 2 asses, Amunus: 4 asses, Cresimus, house born slave: 4 asses CIL IV 3964 Bakery i.3.1
  • I’m yours for 2 asses CIL IV 5372 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Athenais costs 2 asses. Sabina costs 2 asses CIL IV 4150 House of Jupiter v.2.15

HOMOSEXUALITY

  • Amplicatus, I know that Icarus is buggering you.  Salvius wrote this. CIL IV 2375 House of the Citharist i.4.5
  • Let Damoetas surrender to me and he will be happier than Pasiphae.  Zosimus wrote this. CIL IV 3299 House of M Casellius Marcellus ix.2.26
  • Weep, you girls.  My penis has given you up.  Now it penetrates men’s behinds.  Goodbye, wondrous femininity! CIL IV 3932 Bar of Innulus and Papilio i.2.20
  • I have buggered men CIL IV 4523 House of Orpheus vi.14.20
  • Albanus takes it up the arse CIL IV 4917 House of L. Caecilius Phoebus  viii.2.36
  • Lucius Habonius injures Caesonius Felix when he makes him suck his cock CIL IV 10232a Tomb 12 Porta Nocera necropolis
  • Vesbinus is catamite, Vitalius fucked him CIL IV 2319b between vii.2.16 and vii.2.17
  • Cosmus, slave of Equitia, is a great catamite and cocksucker who keeps his legs apart! CIL IV 1825 Basilica viii.1.1
  • I want to bugger a boy CIL IV 2110 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18

CUNNILINGUS

There dozens of references to cunnum recorded in Pompeii. Here are just a few…

  • Satyrus, don’t lick cunt inside the opening but outside the opening. CIL IV 2400 House of M Epidius Sabinus ix.1.22
  • Saturninus, don’t lick cunts! CIL IV 3925 Caupona and brothel of Demetrius and Helpis Afra i.2.19
  • Isidorus, slave born in the household, from Puteoli, muff diver. CIL IV 4699 between vi.15.22 and vi.15.23
  • Theophilus, don’t lick cunts against the city wall like a dog! CIL IV 8898 Shop, iii.5.3
  • Asbestus licks cunt CIL IV 763 viii.4
  • Centius licks Dionusia’s cunt CIL IV 1425 House of the Labyrinth vi.11.10
  • Fronto openly licks pussy CIL IV 2257 Lupanar (brothel) vii.12.18
  • Glyco licks cunts for two asses. CIL IV 3999 Bakery i.3.27
  • Maritimus licks cunt for four asses. Virgins are free of charge CIL IV 8940 Shop, iii.7.1

FELLATIO

It’s not a shock to find scores of graffiti mentioning blow jobs, ranging from tips, reviews and prices.

  • Rufa, may life be as good as your cocksucking! CIL IV 2421 Corridor of Large Theatre viii.7.20
  • Sabina, you suck cock, but you do it so badly! CIL IV 4185 House of the Silver Wedding v.2.1
  • Secundus, a cocksucker of rare skill CIL IV 9027 House of the Peristyle vii.6.28
  • Lick, girl!the mouth is not despised by anyone who is ready to come with the hand! CIL IV 10197 House of the Ship Europa i.15.3
  • Romula sucks her man here and everywhere. House of Marcus Fabius Rufus vii.16.22
  • Veneria sucked the cock of Maximus through the whole grape harvest, leaving both of her holes empty and only her mouth full! CIL IV 1391 Lupanare of Aphrodite, Secunda, Nymphe, Spendusa, Veneria, Restituta, Timele VI.11.15
  • Go down with your mouth along the shaft, then still licking, withdraw it upwards. Ah, there, I’m coming! CIL IV 760 Stabian Baths
  • Euplia sucks cock for 5 asses CIL IV 3330
  • Narcissus is the greatest cocksucker CIL IV 1825a Basilica viii.1.1
  • Felix sucks cock for one as CIL IV 5408 Tomb, Porta Nocera necropolis
  • Lais sucks cock for 2 asses CIL IV 1969
  • The man who shits a dick, what would you think he dined on? CIL IV 1884 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Myrtis, you give great head CIL IV 2273  Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18

INSULTS

  • Epaphra, you are bald! CIL IV 1816 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Chie, I hope your hemorrhoids rub together so much that they hurt worse than when they every have before! CIL IV 1820 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Phileros is a eunuch!  CIL IV 1826 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Samius to Cornelius: go hang yourself! CIL IV 1864 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Epaphra is not good at ball games. CIL IV 1926 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Good fortune to the Puteolans; good luck to all Nucerians; the executioner’s hook to Pompeians and Pithecusans CIL IV 2183 Amphitheatre
  • Euplia is slack and has a huge clitoris CIL IV 10004 House of the Floral Cubicula i.9.5
  • Lucius Statius Philadelphus, freedman of a woman, is a thief! CIL IV 3990
  • Servilius is n love, he shouldn’t be allowed the chance. Go lick a cunt, Servilius. CIL IV 4304 House of the Gladiators v.5.3
  • Chloe says goodbye to Symphorus. Naeve should drop dead, he really should. CIL IV 4430 House vi.7.1
  • Erotaria, you jealous old bitch! CIL IV 9945 Tomb, Porta Nocera Necropolis

MUNDANITIES

  • A copper pot has gone missing from my shop.  Anyone who returns it to me will be given 65 sestertii.  20 more will be given for information leading to the capture of the thief. CIL IV 0064 Shop viii.5.33
  • On April 20th, I gave a cloak to be washed.  On May 7th, a headband.  On May 8th, two tunics CIL IV 1393 Unnamed house vi.11.13
  • It took 640 paces to walk back and forth between here and there ten times CIL IV 1714 vii.1.40
  • Epaphra, give the paintbrush back CIL IV 1787 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Health to whomever invites me to lunch! CIL IV 1937 Basilica viii.1.1
  • On April 19th, I made bread CIL IV 8792 Large Palaestra ii.7
  • If you wish to waste time, spill millet and pick it up again CIL IV 2069 House of Holconius Rufus viii.4.4
  • Since 14 days before the Kalends of April our wages have been overdue CIL IV 6733 Bakery 6733

 

AND FINALLY…

O walls, you have held up so much tedious graffiti that I am amazed that you have not already collapsed in ruin. CIL IV 1904 Basilica, viii.1.1

 

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Tourism at Christmas – A Plea From a Museum Worker

In Britain this year the media has started to report about the growing backlash over the commercial side of Christmas.

There is an online petition against opening shops on Boxing Day (Dec 26th,) when bargain hunters will ravenously scour the high street for discounts as early as 6am. the petition argues that the traditional January sales could start on Dec 27th (if not actually January) and that shoppers should have the patience to wait 24 hours so that retail workers (many of whom had to work Christmas Eve and face a deluge of unorganised gift buyers,) can have an actual break over Christmas. It doesn’t seem fair that retail workers have to work extended shifts on Christmas Eve and make do with a relatively sober early night on Christmas Day, facing a depressingly soulless and interminable day at work immediately after.

As far as I’m concerned, Christmas Eve is for watching The Muppet Christmas Carol with a large amaretto and cola and Boxing Day is for eating my way through a mountain of leftovers (let’s face it, sometimes better tham the orginal meal,) and playing Cluedo, all whilst watching my baby daughter ignore her new toys in favour of playing with the boxes they came in. None of which involves a commute, putting on a uniform and pointing people towards the toilets for eight hours; a prospect that will make me feel anything but festive.

So I can’t help but agree that shops (even the supermarkets) should stay closed on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.

Even if you hate the Muppets or Cluedo (how could you though…) you will no doubt have your own valued traditions that you share with family and friends. Every festive song, advert and movie tells us we should aspire to the idyllic Christmas break with our loved ones, preferably all wearing comedy knitted jumpers. In fact the supermarket Sainsbury’s are cashing in on this wish with their 2016 advert, despite expecting their staff to work every day but the 25th, a hypocrisy that thankfully hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Some people will have to work over Christmas, this is inevitable. Doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers et cetera all sacrifice their precious time with loved ones to keep us healthy/safe/alive. Is it right that people should sacrifice that same experience just because we can’t organise ourselves to buy gifts/food in advance and have lost the patience to wait for a bargain?

I’m pleased and not at all surprised to see the petition has already received enough signatures to ensure that the issue is debated in Parliament. 

I hope the petition succeeds because I sympathise with anyone in the retail sector who loses their quality family time. I also sympathise because museums stay open too.

We’re less numerous than our retail cousins but our plight is the same; we stay at the coalface so that others can have the family Christmas we are denied.

I’ve worked a lot of Christmas Eves and Boxing Days, and for what? So that people can show their families a castle/art gallery/stately home/exhibition as part of the ‘spending the festive season with loved ones’ tradition. I wonder how many visitors pause to think about the staff who are missing watching Christmas specials in their jammies, playing with the children/nieces/nephews, eating dangerous quantities of chocolate assortments and other cosy activities. 

Most museums are open every single day of the other 11 months, is it really necessary to visit on those two days? If your family are determined to leave the house, why not go for a walk in the forest, or on a beach, or around the park? See a landmark that doesn’t require staff to open, or simply walk around the pretty areas of your hometown in their oddly deserted state. 

The museum staff who decide to open on the 24th and 26th are not the employees who will actually need to be present on the 24th and 26th. I recall one Christmas Eve at a small-mid sized attraction where every single department manager booked themselves a holiday day whereas floor staff were told only two out of a team of twelve could have the day off. In the end the museum wedding planner was the only member of management staff on site all day, herself upset that after a full shift she would have to drive into the night to join her family in her hometown. In the end, about 15 staff in total had to work an eight hour shift on Christmas Eve for the sake of seven visitors who couldn’t think of anything better to do. 

Not that all museums see low figures on days such as this, I’ve also worked Christmas Eves where tickets have sold out and the galleries were full to bursting. At the end of those days I fell asleep in the car, exhausted as my husband (who was waiting patiently for me alone, at home,) drove us to see family. By the time we arrived we had missed dinner, dessert and most of the booze. Even our teeny nephews were already fast asleep and they’d tried their utmost to stay awake and peek at Father Christmas. 

I understand the desire to do something out of the ordinary to enhance the festivities and do something as a family, I’m not immune to that at all. I’m merely suggesting that this year and in the future people should consider what they do with a bit more care and thought.

Last Christmas was my first as a parent and as I was still on maternity leave I could enjoy a relaxed week without work.  I was desperate to do something lovely and visit somewhere picturesque as a family to make some memories. We chose to visit a castle on Christmas Eve, but we chose it because only the keep requires staff and the purchase of a ticket (shout out to my ticket desk/gift shop comrades…) We had a great time in a heritage setting without inconveniencing a soul, but I did feel a pang watching other families gleefully queue up for keep tickets, wondering how they could look the members of staff in the eye. Didn’t they realise that the warm welcome and customer-service bright smiles required so much extra effort that day? Couldn’t they hear that the “Merry Christmas!” from even the most professional of staff members sounded just a little melancholy, just a little hollow?

It is true that some people don’t mind working on the 24th or 26th, but these people in my experience are nearly as rare as unicorns. Neither should you assume that all visitor attractions offer staff double pay to soften the blow, or even time and a half. Some museum staff consider themselves lucky to be offered a day in lieu, nearly always compulsorily to be taken on a weekday in late January when their friends and families are back at their office jobs. 

Whether you’ve returned home and that Christmassy nostalgia makes you want to return to the places you went to as a child or you want to impress visiting friends and family by taking them to your local famous attraction, consider going on the 23rd, or even better in that awkward inbetweenie stage after Boxing Day and before New Year when even the most close knit families become sick of turkey sandwiches and get a bit of cabin fever. Museum workers are just as grateful as anyone to escape to work by the 29th! But keep the 24-26 sacrosanct. Let non essential workers spend their Christmas with their families, just like you are fortunate enough to. 

Museums, just like shops and restaurants, only started to shrink their Christmas break due to demand. So don’t demand it! Vote with your feet and stay at home by the tree with a plate of mince pies in one hand and a glass of something bubbly in the other. Eventually, museum directors will take the hint and close for more than a single day and their staff can celebrate properly.

Purchase your presents and booze in advance, buy enough food to last you a few days and leave your nearest tourist attraction alone.

We’ll see you in January!

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The Superstar Athletes of the Ancient World

In the modern world we are used to celebrity sportsmen. We buy their merchandise, see them in commercials and buy magazines with interviews about their personal lives. Famous athletes stare down from billboards and grace a millions memes and gifs. When a popular athlete retires nowadays they can look forward to a life of panel shows, reality TV stints and endorsement deals. It’s easy to think that this is due to our print media and social networks, but athletes have been achieving celebrity and notoriety for millennia.

A quick look at the ancient sources can make the exploits of even our most charismatic modern idols look a little tame…

Track and Field

Soccer fans lament when their club has a talented young player who gets lured away to a more prestigious club on the promise of a higher salary. The player is seen as a sell-out and the fans resent the richer club. It’s not a new phenomenon. Astylos of Croton won both the stadion (sprint) and diaulos (double length sprint) races at Olympia and perhaps he felt he deserved more adoration and gifts when he returned home. The next two times he ran at Olympia he won both races again as well as the hoplitodromos (race in armour,) this time running on behalf of Syracuse. Rumours swirled that he had been bribed by Syracusan tyrant Hieron I to defect with huge piles of cash. The city of Croton weren’t best pleased and tore down statues of him and turned his house into their state prison. Even his family disowned him and he died rich but lonely. Similarly when the city of Ephesus bribed Olympic dolichos winner Sotades of Crete to run for them at a subsequent Games the Cretans told Sotades never to return home.

Leonidas of Rhodes

Leonidas was the most versatile and most decorated runner in Greece. In 164 BC at Olympia he won the stadion sprint, the diaulos double-length sprint at the hoplitodromos race in armour, all in one day. Not only that, but he repeated his triple victory in 160 BC, 156 BC and 152 BC. He eclipsed all who came before him and was never bettered. His fellow islanders even worshipped him as a god, something that eludes even the most popular athletes of today.

Callippus of Athens

Callippus was a pentathlete who craved Olympic glory so badly that in 322 BC he bribed his opponents with cash to let him win. The judges found out and ordered Callippus and his opponents to pay major fines to the sanctuary. Athens appealed the decision but were turned down. The Athenians refused to pay the fine and boycotted the Olympics. Eventually Delphi declared that they would not grant Athens access to the Oracle unless the fine was paid. Athens had no choice but to pay the money, which was used to erect 6 bronze statues of Zeus at the sanctuary of Olympia, complete with inscriptions that weren’t too kind to the Athenians.

Boxing, Wrestling and Pankration 

Milo of Croton

Milo first won the wrestling at Olympia and Delphi in the youth category in the 60th Olympiad, winning again as an adult a further 5 times at Olympia and 6 at Delphi. He also won 9 titles at Nemea and 10 at Isthmia. That meant his professional career lasted for about 30 years from 540 BC, 24 of those years as unbeatable champion at every stephanitic Games. An athlete that won at all four Panhellenic Games was called a  Periodonikes. Milo achieved this five times. He finally lost in 512 BC to another wrestler from Croton called Timasitheus, who simply stayed at arm’s length and waited until Milo eventually tired himself out.

Milo apparently built up his strength by carrying a calf on his shoulders every day for four years until it was a fully grown bull. He also had an awe-inspiring diet, eating 20lbs of meat, 20lbs of bread and 18 pints of wine a day. In 520 BC he strutted around a festival to Zeus dressed as Heracles, casually carrying a bull which he later ate in one sitting. Ten years later when Croton attacked nearby Sybaris, Milo donned his Heracles costume again as well as his athletic crowns and led the charge into battle.

Milo was fond of party tricks and enjoyed tying a cord around his forehead, holding his breath and snapping the cord with only his bulging veins. He would also love to challenge opponents to steal a pomegranate from his hand. Not only could no man loosen his grip, Milo would not even have bruised the fruit. In fact, a favourite game was for Milo to ask somebody to bend his outstretched finger. No-one ever did.

A legendary wrestler required a legendary death. Milo apparently saw a tree with a spilt trunk, held open by wedges. Milo attempted to split the tree in apart by pushing the two halves away, but the wedges fell out and clamped his hands in the tree. Trapped, Milo was eaten alive by wolves.

Kleomedes of Astypalaia

Kleomedes could be a character from Greek tragedy. He was a boxer who competed against Ikkos of Epidaurus in 492 BC. Kleomedes dealt Ikkos a fatal blow, but the judges denied him the victory and said that the blow was a foul. Kleomedes was driven mad by the humiliation and disappointment, returning to Asypalaia in a rage. He pulled down the pillar of a school causing the building to collapse. 60 children were killed. His fellow citizens angrily pelted him with stones and Kleomedes was forced to hide in a temple of Athena, escaping later, unseen. Kleomedes had the Oracle of Delphi to thank for the mercy eventually shown to him when the Pythia declared him a hero.

Arrhichion of Phigaleia

Arrhichion won the pankration at Olympia in 572 and 568 BC. He attempted a third win in 564 BC but was put in a devastating choke hold. He may have been tempted to tap out, but his trainer Eryxias yelled

“What a wonderful funeral honour if one can say: he did not give up at Olympia!”

Arrhichion used all of his strength to thrust himself left whilst kicking his right foot out as hard as possible. This broke his opponent’s ankle and caused him to tap out, unfortunately he had not loosened his hold on Arrhichion’s neck,killing him. The judges crowned the corpse of Arrhichion the victor.

Damoxenos of Syracuse and Kreugas of Epidamnos

In Greek boxing the only legitimate target was the head. If opponents were too evenly matched and a bout seemed like it would never end, judges would order the boxers to strike a single blow to the head in turns until someone gave up or could not continue. This happened at the Nemean Games circa 400 BC. Kreugas dealt his blow with his fist, as per the rules. Damoxenos instead thrust his fingertips beneath Kreugas’ ribcage and tore out his intestines. Kreugas was declared posthumous victor, not because Damoxenos had not aimed for his head, but that his four fingertips counting as four separate blows. A statue was erected of Kreugas at Argos.

Kleitomachos of Thebes

Kleitomachos was a triple threat. At one Isthmian games he won the wrestling, boxing and pankration titles in one single day. He won three victories at the Pythian Games and was so formidable that the hellanodikai (judges,) at Olympia agreed to change the age-old programme and swap the order of the contact sports on his request (Kleitomachos didn’t want to compete in the pankration with boxing wounds.) He won the pankration at Olympia in 216 BC and the boxing there in 212 BC. One of his boxing matches at Olympia was against a newbie from a Greek colony in Egypt named Aristonikos. He’d apparently been trained on the orders of King Ptolemy who wanted to disprove that Kleitomachos was unbeatable. Ancient fans loved and underdog just as much as we do and they cheered Aristonikos loudly for daring to take on the titan of boxing. Aristonikos managed to hold his own and land some hard blows to even louder cheering. Kleitomachos was furious and berated the crowd for preferring an unknown Egyptian and King Ptolemy to a Theban champion who was trying to win for the glory of Greeks. The crowd immediately started to cheer for Kleitomachos again and he easily beat the humiliated Aristonikos.

Kleitomachos abstained from sex as a means to conserve his strength. He would leave the room if he heard an innuendo or raunchy joke and hated foul language. It was rumoured he even turned away if he saw dogs mating.

Diagoras and family

Diagoras of Rhodes had a glittering career, winning the pugmachia (boxing) twice at Olympia, at least once at Delphi, twice at Nemea and four time at Isthmia. He also won at prize Games all over Greece, including Athens. He was the subject of a victory ode by Pindar that was displayed on the wall of the Temple of Athens at Lindos in golden lettering – all 95 lines of it.

The patriarch of a sporting dynasty, his three sons were all also Olympic victors. Damagetos won the pankration, Akousilaos was a boxer like his father and  Dorieas was a champion in both pankration and boxing. His daughters were of course forbidden to compete but each gave birth to boys destined for Olympic victory, Peisirodos and Eukles followed in their grandfather’s footsteps to win the pugmachia.

Legend has it that when Diagoras watched Damagetos and Akousilaos win the pankration and boxing respectively in the same Olympic Games of 448BC his sons lifted him onto their shoulders and paraded him around the sanctuary. Sports fans showered him with flowers and a Spartan shouted that he may as well die now, his life will never be happier or greater than this moment. With that, Diagoras apparently died.

He now lends his name to an airport on Rhodes, remaining a household name for Greeks 2,500 years after his victories.

His Olympic legacy would also help two of his children when they found themselves in trouble.

Kallipateira was barred from watching the Games as a married woman but was desperate to see her son Peisirodos compete so disguised herself as his trainer. When he won, she was so excited that apparently leapt over the fences to go to him and accidentally revealed that she was, in fact, a woman. Women sneaking in to the Games was forbidden and the penalty was to be thrown from the cliffs of the nearby Typaion mountain. Kallipateira was only spared from this gruesome execution when it was pointed out that her father, three brothers, son and nephew were all Olympic champions. She was allowed to live but from then on, all coaches and trainers were required to attend naked to avoid any further deception.

Her brother Dorieas would overshadow their father’s victories with 8 wins at Isthmia, 7 at Nemea, 3 Olympics in a row and a win at the Pythian Games where his opponent was so overawed that he conceded before the match began. Dorieas fought in the Peloponnesian War as an ally of Sparta. His athletic fame spared him when the Athenians captured him as a prisoner of war. Athens let him go free out of respect for his achievements. No  victory wreath could spare Dorieas when Rhodes switched allegiances however, and the Spartans didn’t hesitate to execute him.

Theagenes of Thasos

Theagenes was a man of bravado. His father Timosthenes was a priest but some whispered his real father must have been Heracles. Theagenes became famous at the grand old age of 9 when he brazenly stole a large bronze statue of a God and carried it home. Some people in Thasos asked for the death penalty for this act of sacrilege, but in the end his punishment was to haul the massive statue back, which Theagenes easily managed.

In 480 BC Theagenes won the Olympic boxing title in a fight again Euthymos of Locri. Theagenes wanted to win the boxing and pankration in one day, which meant once again facing off against Euthymos. Theagenes lost, and was furthermore fined for entering the boxing for the sole reason of annoying Euthymos, as far as the judges could make out.

At the next Olympics, Theagenes won the pankration and didn’t enter the boxing, which Euthymos again won. Euthymos seems to have travelled to Tamesa at some point after this and beaten a murderous ghost in a wrestling match, saving the city and marrying a beautiful maiden who was to be sacrificed to the ghost…  

Theagenes won several wreaths in boxing and pankration; 10 wreaths at Isthmia, 9 and Nemea and 3 at Delphi. He apparently also won 1,400 victories at various other Games during his stellar career. At Phthia he even ran and won the dolichos race, just to prove how versatile he could be.

After Theagenes died his hometown erected a large statue of him. A longtime rival who had never managed to best Theagenes took out his humiliation and frustration by sneaking up to the statue after dark each night and whipping it. The statue toppled one night and killed the hapless man. The statue was accused of murder and thrown into the sea, as the punishment in Thasos for murder was exile. A drought then hit the island. The Oracle of Delphi told the people to recall their exiles to end the famine and it wasn’t until the people of Thasos retrieved the statue of Theagenes from the sea floor did the drought stop. From that point on, sacrifices were left at the statue which was reputed to have healing powers.

Polydamas of Skotoussa

Polydamas won the pankration at Olympia in 408 BC but is more famous for his exploits that had Greeks likening him to Heracles. Like Heracles, he apparently once killed a lion with his bare hands, not at Nemea but on the slopes of Mount Olympus.

He also halted a moving chariot with nothing but his own brute strength and also wrestled a bull with such ferocity that the animal escaped leaving Polydamas holding a severed hoof.

Darius II, King of Persia, invited Polydamas to Susa. He challenged Polydamas to fight three of his elite soldiers known as Immortals. Polydamas killed all of them.

He died in a brave or incredibly stupid manner, depending on which source you listen to. Polydamas was exploring a cave with his friends when the roof started to fall in. Polydamas held up the roof long enough to ensure that his friends could escape to safety, although Diodorus Siculus sniffs that it was actually to try to prove that he could hold up the mountain.

Melankomas of Caria

Melankomas was a boxer famed for his handsome features that were never marred by scars or bruises. Throughout his career he never threw a punch and never received one either, maintaining such a solid defensive stance that his opponents would tire out or lose their temper and grow careless. He won the boxing this was in 49 AD. A modern spectator may find this a little boring to watch, but the ancient Greeks admired Melankomas for his strategy and stamina. It was said he once held his fists up for two straight days without wearying, let alone eating or sleeping. Melankomas trained harder than his peers, and spent far longer at the gymnasium. He died at a relatively young age during a Games held in Naples; on his deathbed he asked his companion how many days were left to compete.

Kallias of Athens

Kallias of Athens should have been famous for being the first Athenian periodonikes (winner of all four Panhellenic festivals,) winning 4 Nemean titles, 5 Isthmian, 2 Pythian and 1 Olympic pankration victory in 472 BC. He also won in front of an ecstactic home crowd at the Great Panathenaia. Unfortunately he was better known for his disastrous political career which saw him ostracised from the city for a decade (banished by a popular vote of male citizens.)

Equestrian

Alcibiades of Athens

Chariots and thoroughbred horses were expensive commodities, making chariot racing a sport for the fabulously wealthy. Not only was Alcibiades loaded, he was also snobby about mixing with rough wrestlers. He entered seven chariots at Olympia in 416 BC, brazenly flaunting his wealth. He came in 1st, 2nd and 4th. He must have been confident of a win, he’d ‘borrowed’ golden plates and cups from the Athenian treasury and threw a massive banquet for all the spectators at the Games (convincing various city states to donate sacrificial animals, wine and even tents.)

Kyniska of Sparta

Kyniska was a Spartan princess who was the first woman to circumnavigate the Olympic males-only rule. Her four-horse chariot (complete with a male driver,) won in 396 BC and 392 BC. Some sniffed that this proved that chariot racing was a sport with no athletic skill required as long as one had a big pile of cash to burn. Sparta was markedly less misogynistic than the rest of Greece, and Kyniska ignored her detractors by placing a statue of bronze horses at Olympia, complete with a proud victory inscription.

Aula

Aula won the keles race at Olympia in 512 BC. Her rider didn’t, having fallen off at the beginning of the race. The horse was so well-trained that she finished the course alone. Aula’s owner, Pheidolas of Corinth won the crown.

Nero

Romans grew to love the Games of Greece, even if they were scandalously nude and could have benefitted from a bit more violence and a bit less misogyny.

They enthusiastically entered athletes (when and where they were permitted to,)  and wealthy Romans spent a lot of money to refurbish the sanctuaries and make them more comfortable according to Roman tastes and expectations.

Nero loved the Games so much he invented two of his own, the one-off Juvenalia (to commemorate his first shave,) and the Neronia (these Games would not continue past his death. Domitian would later create the Capitolian Games in Rome which proved to have far greater longevity and prestige.)

What Nero wanted most of all was to be a periodnikes, to win at each of the four Panhellenic Games. This would in theory take at least three years, but Nero wanted to achieve it in one and wasn’t shy of bribing Greeks to make his dream a reality, spending a rumoured one million sesterces on the Olympic helladonikai alone. In an unprecendented move the Olympics of 65 AD  were postponed and all four Games were scheduled for the same year of 67 AD.

Funnily enough, Nero won every event he took part in, some because of his bribes, some because his opponents didn’t care to find out what happened to the man who made Nero lose.

At Olympia, the festival that had staunchly refused to include musical and literary competitions since 776 BC, Nero insisted on competing in singing, playing the lyre and reciting tragic poetry. Spectators were forbidden from leaving, some chose to fake their own deaths to escape.

Nero also entered a chariot, with ten horses instead of the usual two or four. Scandalising the conservative Romans at home, Nero drove the chariots himself. He was thrown from the chariot and nearly died. He did not complete the race, but was declared victor anyway.

Nero returned to Rome with 1800 wreaths from various Greek Games and threw himself four triumphs to celebrate. Within two years, he was forced to commit suicide, his last words being  “Qualis artifex pereo!” “What and artist dies with me!”

After his death, Greek officials erased the Games of 67AD from the Olympic record and encouraged Greek sports fans to pretend they had never happened. Some Greek history websites still fail to mention their existence.

Our modern athletes may cause the occasional stir and some become more famous for their actions away from the stadium than for their athletic prowss, but even the most melodramatic have never been deified. The athletes of the ancient Greek world truly achieved everlasting fame.

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Ancient Athletics – The Events

The modern Olympics have a raft of events that would have had the ancient Greeks discombobulated. There were no aquatic events, ball games or team sports. Racewalking and beach volleyball would have been a mystery.

That said, the ancient Greeks had a few events and customs that would seem equally utterly bizarre in Rio 2016. For a start, all athletes competed naked unless stated otherwise. No brightly coloured team shell suits or lycra shorts, but some athletes did wear a kynodesme (“dog leash”) to compete in. This consisted of a leather cord that was tied around the protruding tip of the foreskin (the akroposthion) and pulled up to be tied to a waistband or the base of the penis. The idea was to prevent the foreskin riding up and exposing the glans of the penis. That was an absolute taboo, only slaves and barbarians didn’t worry about flashing their glans accidentally. Regular use of a kynodesme possibly permanently stretched the akroposthion which would have pleased the wearer as a large akropisthion was considered highly desirable. There may have been some practical aspects of wearing a kynodesme whilst competing but comfort seems to have been very much the secondary purpose. They were also worn by men of other professions whilst in public, such as actors. Even in private situations like drinking parties, respectable men would be wearing their kynodesme, so seeing athletes wearing them during their events would not only have been unremarkable but expected.

Track

Races were the oldest events at the Olympic Games. In fact, the first 13 Olympics consisted of a single foot race called the stadion. It simply involved sprinting from one end of the track to the other. The length was standard across all Greek games and was set at 600 feet (mythically determined by Heracles.) The length of a foot varied from region to region; the tracks at Olympia and Isthmia are 192 modern metres long. At Nemea the track is a more gentle 178 metres and competitors in the Pythian Games at Delphi had a mere 177 metres to run. The word stadion not only referred to the track but as a standard of measurement for 600 feet.

The stadium at Delphi. Stone seats were added by Herodes Atticus in the 2nd C AD

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At the Olympics the winner of the stadion gave his name to the entire Games and of that Olympiad period of four years. Everyone in the Greek world knew that Coroebus of Elis was the first Olympic victor (776 BC.) If you were to ask an ancient Greek when the Battle of Thermopylae took place, he would tell you it was the year when Astyalus of Croton won the stadion race for the third time in a row at the 75th Olympiad (480 BC.) Even late into antiquity a Greek would think that dating everything by the birth of an obscure eastern preacher would be a bizarre idea.

The diaulos was added at the 14th Olympic Games in 724 BC and simply doubled the length of the stadion requiring the athletes to turn at the far end and run back to the starting line.

At the 15th Olympics four years later the dolichos race was added to the programme. This race was not a sprint, lasting a whopping 20 stadia (10 full laps clocking in at 12,000 feet.)

The ancient stadium at Olympia is 192 metres in length, a distance said to be set by Heracles. #igersgreece

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So far, so recognisable. One race that is quite odd to modern spectators is the hoplitodromos race added in 520 BC at the 65th Olympic Games.

Each runner wore a helmet and greaves and carried a shield, elements of the full armour of a hoplite infantryman. The race made perfect sense to the ancient Greeks; armies were made up of citizen soldiers who needed to be able to display speed and agility in heavy armour. Shields weighed 7 kg alone (standard weight shields were kept at Olympia in the Temple of Hera to prevent cheating. The helmet and greaves would add another 3kg and the weight was not exactly conveniently distributed for running long distances in scorching summer heat. The race appealed to the war mongering Greeks who, when they weren’t fighting invaders like the Persians were constantly squabbling with rival city states. The race had what modern HR managers would call ‘transferable skills;’ with Greek hoplites fiercely charging at a Persian army at Marathon only three decades after the first hoplitodromos race.

Contact Sports

If the runners were lean and agile, the wrestlers and boxers were enormous. With shaven heads (to prevent hair pulling,) and flaunting scars from previous fights, these men were formidable. After qualifying rounds before the Games began, the cream of the crop would fight in out before the braying crowds. At Olympia, 16 athletes qualified for each event meaning that the victor would have to win four fights in a single hot, summer afternoon. There were three contact events and two classes, men and boys.

Pugmachia

OK, so the modern Games have boxing. What the boxing in our Games also has is a long list of rules. Not so much in Greece.

There were no boxing rings to fight in, the contenders used the entire stadium. Bouts ran until a boxer signalled defeat (by raising his middle finger of his right hand,) or until someone was knocked unconscious. Greek boxers only aimed for the head and were allowed to strike in any way, whether it be a fist, open palm or jabbing fingers. A good boxer would use a mixture of punches to keep his opponent on the back foot, only gouging is forbidden. If a boxer fell to the ground, his opponent was allowed to keep punching him. All holds were banned.

There were no weight classes and it was entirely possible to see a wiry, lean man take on a human mountain, although Greek boxers were generally thickly built with broad, muscled shoulders and huge arms. Opponents were drawn at random, so tactics played an important part of each bout. A smaller, faster man may try to tire out a larger foe and wait to land a knock out punch, a heavy man may attempt to get his opponent down onto the ground and simply punch him repeatedly until he surrenders.

Ancient boxers didn’t fight their bouts in rounds with a short break for a drink and a pep talk from their trainer. Fights were continuous and lasted as long as they needed to. Neither did they use large, padded gloves. Ancient boxers wound 4 metres of leather softened with oil called himantes around each hand and wrist, leaving the fingers free. This protects the hands of the wearer but certainly not the skin of the opponent. Himantes caused such stinging cuts that they were nicknamed ‘ants.’ Certain boxers boasted that their faces were still unmarred because of their great skill. One, named Meloncomas of Caria,  remained undefeated for his entire career without ever throwing or receiving a punch, relying on nimble footwork and the ability to keep his guard up for up to two days at a time. Otherwise, veteran boxers would have been instantly recognisable from their cauliflower ears, broken noses and numerous scars, perhaps with a few teeth knocked out for good measure. Eurydamas of Cyrene lost every single one of his teeth in a single fight. Apparently an aristocratic Roman entered the Olympic Games and when he got home was disowned by his family, losing his inheritance. He was so badly disfigured during his bout his family didn’t recognise him.

 

The fact that all blows were aimed at the head made boxing the most deadliest of all ancient contact sports. There is a memorial at Olympia from the 1st century AD to a boxer known as the Camel of Alexandria. It reads

He prayed to Zeus, “Give me victory or give me death!” And here in Olympia he died, boxing in the Stadium at the age of 35. Farewell!”

Pale

After oiling their hulking bodies and dusting themselves with coloured powders (to provide grip,) ancient wrestlers entered the stadium for their chance at glory. Wrestling was generally quite sedate in comparison with boxing and pankration, with far more rules to ensure a graceful(ish) match. Victory was earned by throwing an opponent three times so that either his shoulders, back or hip touched the ground. Punches were forbidden as were kicks, although tripping up opponents was allowed (unlike modern ‘Greco-Roman’ wrestling.) There were several throws and above-waist holds in the repertoire and skill was just as important as brute strength. Perhaps moreso, as conserving energy was essential if an athlete was to have the stamina to succeed in successive rounds.

Pankration

Pankration was a mixture of boxing and wrestling with more possibilities and fewer rules. To a modern eye, pankration is utterly savage. To the ancient audience it was a highlight of the Games and a masterful display of skill, strength and determination.

Pankration needed a special court as the stadium floor was too hard. Instead it was played out on freshly turned earth, muddied with water until it was sticky, nicknamed keroma – ‘beeswax.’. Pankratiasts fought naked and didn’t bother with the leather himantes. 

A bout didn’t end after three throws. The only way to win is for your opponent to concede, although sometimes even the death of a opponent did not secure a victory. Holds (including below waist,) arm and head locks, punches to the body as well as head and kicks were all allowed. Throws were used liberally and strangulation was seen as a perfectly logical way to ensure an opponent submitted. Genitals were a legitimate target not only for punches but for twists. The only forbidden moves are biting and eye-gouging.

With such freedom came a host of fighting styles within the event and the random lots must have made bouts between famous pankratiasts with differing techniques a must-see event. Determination and the endurance of pain were seen as honourable in the eyes of spectators and, as we often do now, crowds would sometimes cheer for underdogs if they showed fortitude.

To die fighting was often seen as preferable to admitting defeat and those who chose to die rather than give up were greatly admired. It was a brutal sport for men who lived in brutal times and pankratiasts were among the most revered of the celebrity athletes.

There have been several attempts to get a watered down version of pankration introduced as an event in the modern Olympics in recent years, hopefully with fewer broken bones and dislocated limbs…

Pentathlon

Little has changed from the ancient pentathlon to the modern. Athletes of diverse talents competed in the discus, long jump, javelin, stadion race and wrestling.

Discus

This is a mid 2ndC AD marble copy of the c. 450 BC bronze original #Discobolus ("Discus thrower") statue by #Myron. Many copies were made, this is the most complete. Adolf #Hitler loved this very statue so much that he bought it in 1938 and displayed it in the Munich Glyptothek as a symbol of Aryan perfection (it was returned to Italy a decade later.) It shows a #Greek #athlete drawing back his #discus just before he starts his throw. Myron was famous for his sculptures of athletes and his style was part of an art revolution in ancient Greece, moving away from stiff poses and simple bodies to show something more fluid and idealised. Now on display at the #MuseoNazionaleRomano at the #PalazzoMassimo #igersrome #igersroma #ig_rome #ig_roma #olympics

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The ancient discus event was not the same as our modern revival.

Firstly, ancient athletes had to be far more accurate with their aim. A modern stadium has a looped track that echoes an ancient hippodrome, the stadiums at Greek sanctuaries usually had straight tracks where sprinters simply turned around a post at the far end.

So in modern stadiums there is a large space in the middle of the track where it’s possible to hold other events and discus throwers have a 35° wedge of field to throw into. Ancient pentathletes had to throw far more accurately as they had only the straight track to aim for, otherwise they risked lobbing a huge piece of metal into the crowd (which wasn’t unheard of.)

There were no standard weights across Greece and athletes needed to adjust their technique for their location. Olympia apparently had the heaviest although none of the three official Olympic discuses have been discovered, so we can’t know exactly how heavy they were. Discuses found across Greece range from 3 to 9 pounds, making the modern discus look modest at 4.4lb.

You wouldn’t see an ancient pentathlete spin as he started his throw. He would stand with his right leg back and raise the discus to eye level in his right hand. He would then twist his body backwards to the right with his weight on the right leg. As he swung his right arm to throw the discus he would transfer his weight to his left leg for extra propulsion. The ancient method allows more control but a shorter distance, perhaps half that of an Olympic discus thrower today.

Competitors would have a few attempts (some Games allowed three, others 5) and their best distance would be marked. Distances don’t seem to have been measured and recorded for posterity, only being the best on the day mattered.

Javelin 

Most Greek men would have been somewhat proficient with a javelin. Javelins were used for hunting and also were a standard aspect of military training in a world where all male citizens were expected to fight for their polis. Athletic javelins were smaller, about 2 metres long and thinner.

Unlike the discus, ancient pentathletes threw their javelins far further than modern pentathletes. This is because they used an ankule, a thin leather thong that was wound around the javelin at the middle with a loop at one end. When the athlete held the javelin he hooked two fingers into the loop. As he threw the javelin the ankule, tethered to his hand, would cause the shaft to spin as it flew forward. This improved aim in the same way a gun with a rifled barrel will shoot straighter than one that is smooth.

The competitors each took a run up being careful not to cross the starting line of the track. Again, the best attempt was marked.

Long Jump

A skamma 15 metres long was created on the stadion floor close to where the judges were seated by raking up and moistening the hard ground. Historians are apparently at odds as to whether ancient long jumpers took a run up or jumped from a standing position. Two things make me plump for the latter:

  • Vase paintings depict long athletes mid-jump with their feet both together.
  • Ancient long jumpers held weights (called halteres,) which they swung backward and forward before they leapt to gain momentum.

Modern athletes have tested these weights and they only give an advantage when used from a standing jump, usually hindering a running one.

The weights weren’t apparently regulated and each athlete had his own personalised pair, carefully weighted to suit his strength and technique. Halteres have been found in stone, lead and bronze. Some are highly decorated, some smooth and basic. Most had finger grooves or were shaped a little like an old fashioned telephone to ensure a firm grip. The weight of halteres recovered by archaeologists vary wildy with some apparently as heavy as 10lbs, so either some athletes were enormous of halteres were also used as dumbbells.

One thing missing from the modern long jump is musical accompaniment provided by a flautist, presumably to help the athletes settle into a rhythm.

So how far was the average jump? As usual, the annals are mainly silent, but two boasting athletes may hold the answer. Chionis of Sparta managed a 52 foot jump. Phayllus claims to have jumped a whopping 55 feet. To put that into perspective, Greg Rutherford won a gold medal at the 2012 London Games with a 8.31 metre jump, just over 27 feet, using the modern run-up method.

Was the ancient long jump more like the modern triple jump? Modern records do surpass Chionis and Phayllus, but again it uses a run-up. Also, halteres have been shown to be actually detrimental when using a running start.

I’m inclined to believe that ancient athletes jumped from standing  3 or perhaps 5 times, either in succession or repeatedly from the edge of the skamma with their distances being totalled.

If one athlete came first in the discus, javelin and long jump, he was immediately declared the victor.

Otherwise, athletes without a win were eliminated, leaving either two or three athletes to run the stadion sprint.

If after 4 events an athlete triumphed in three of them, he was victorious. Only if two athletes were left with 2 wins each did they advance to the wrestling round.

The pentathlete was admired for being versatile as the Greeks loved an all-rounder, but they never achieved quite the celebrity of sprinters or wrestlers.

Equestrian

Forget show jumping and banish all thoughts of dressage, there were no prancing ponies in ancient Greece. Equestrian events were frequently the most lethal events of the Games. They took place in hippodromes, of which few traces survive. We do know that hippodromes were large, flat and had a turning post at each end.

Tethrippon

The four-horse chariot race consisted of 12 full laps of the hippodrome which is equivalent to 72 lengths of the stadium. There was fencing around the course to protect the spectators from loose horses or flying bodies. At most Games there were simple starting lines which gave chariots on the outer side a disadvantage, being farther from the turning post. At Olympia there were elaborate starting gates called the aphesis that allowed for staggered starts, ensuring that each chariot reached the turning post at roughly the same time. Deliberate crashing and other acts of sabotage were against the rules, but there were so many accidental crashes that the chance of every chariot finishing was incredibly slim.

There are arguments about how many chariots competed and ancient sources are rarely forthcoming. At the Pythian Games at Delphi in 462 BCthe tethrippon had 41 chariots compete and yet only one, owned by King Arcesilas of Cyrene, managed to finish the entire course.

The chariots were lightweight for speed and quite slim, constructed from wood with wicker panels and tied together with leather thongs. They were similar to ancient war-chariots, though the Greeks had long ceased to use them, considering them old-fashioned and by then, somewhat barbaric on a battlefield. Chariots were often brightly decorated with vivid paint and metal inlays, horses wore decorated reins. Charioteers wore an ankle length chiton.

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The inner pair of horses called zugoi were harnessed to the chariot yoke whereas the outer pair, known as seiraphoroi, were harnessed with leather straps. Each horse had a rein and the charioteer had to maintain control of all of them, using one hand to control the zugoi and one hand to control the seiraphoroi.  Some tied the ends of the reins to their belts so as not to drop them, however there was a risk that if a charioteer fell from the chariot he would be dragged along the ground.

Charioteers were sometimes slaves bought by wealthy chariot owners for the purpose. Whereas some were bought and trained by their owners, no doubt trained slave charioteers could fetch a high price. Other charioteers were free men who could be hired out for a single Games or longer. It rarely mattered which city the charioteer was from, it was the owner who won the victory and had their names recorded in victory odes. This is firstly because buying and maintaining a chariot and four thoroughbred horses was cripplingly expensive to all but the very aristocratic, but also because chariot racing had such a high mortality rate that few nobles wanted to risk their lives in pursuit of glory when someone else was willing to do it for them for a handful of drachma. Occasionally a thrill seeking aristocrat would insist on driving their own chariots but they were a rarity. Owning a slave or hiring a driver also allowed women their shot at Olympic glory. The first woman to compete was a Spartan princess named Kyniska and she won not once, but twice in 396 and 392 BC.

Most spectators wanted to be close to the turning posts where there was a greater chance of a multi-chariot pile up. It would have been a brutal, violent, noisy race that claimed several victims and whilst it was never given the same prestige as the stadion sprint, the tethrippon was hugely popular and highly anticipated.

There were also races with two-horse chariots (synoris,) that were 8 laps long and for a short time at Olympia, chariots drawn by mules (apene,) that were 3 laps long. There was a horseback race of 2 laps known as the keles (a name also given to an energetic sexual position offered by the better class of  prostitutes plying their trade at the Games!) In Olympia the equestrian events were important enough to be the first events of the Games, at Delphi they were the grand finale.

Other

Olympia only held the athletic events above, but Nemea, Isthmia and particularly Delphi had further events in music.

There were prizes for playing a pair of auloi, which was a reeded instrument not unlike a modern oboe, and the kithara which was a type of lyre. There was also a prize for playing the kithara with a vocal accompaniment.

Over time more disciplines were added for the writing and recitation of poetry and prose, acting, dancing and even painting.

Olympia held a competition among their own trumpeters and heralds (sent across Greece to announce each Games,) as to which would be the trumpeter and herald of the Games. The trumpeter would perform fanfares to get the attention of the crowds, the herald would announce events and introduce the athlete by stating his name, his father’s name and his hometown. The trumpeter and herald were also indispensable at prize giving ceremonies.

 

The Prizes

The Panhellenic Games offered a ceremonial crown called a stephanos, becoming known as stephanitic Games. Until the prize giving ceremonies athletes wore ribbons around their heads.

  • Olympia – an olive wreath from a sacred tree in the sanctuary of Zeus
  • Delphi – a wreath of bay-laurel from Thessaly which was a sacred tree of Apollo
  • Nemea – a wreath of wild celery
  • Isthmia – originally celery, later wreaths of pine leaves

Bragging rights were more than a worth prize, along with any gifts showered upon you by a grateful city and your admirers. There were no prizes for second or third.

‘Prize’ games across the Mediterranean offered the chance for financial gain, (Sybaris in Italy once tried to hold a prize Games at the same time as the Olympics in a fit of pique,) with prizes being rather extravagant. At the Panathenaic Games in Athens the victor of the chariot race were given 140 amphorae (about 5,000 litres) of expensive olive oil pressed from Athena’s sacred olive trees.

Another prize was fame that could endure for centuries (and in some cases, millenia,) if an athlete was endowed with (or could afford,) a victory statue in his home town or the sanctuary where he won his event.

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The Sicilian Expedition Travel Journal – Day 2

6th May 2015

I’m excited to wake up, despite my grotty surroundings. Today I will see ancient ruins, my raison d’être. I’m visiting the remote ruins of Soluntum, It’s a Phoenician settlement (like the nearby Palermo, known once as Panormus,) that fell under Carthaginian control, had a few tussles with the Greeks, until eventually the Romans asserted their dominance over the Carthaginians in the First Punic War and turned Soluntum into a small, unimportant town. It’s still neglected, smaller guidebooks don’t even mention it, but I was about to fall in love with it.

There is an hourly train from Palermo Centrale to Santa Flavia that takes a mere 20 minutes, so after dumping my backpack at the deposito bagagli office in Palermo, I’m soon speeding towards the ruined city. Once at Santa Flavia I relied on my guidebook to direct me to the site as signposts for touristic benefit are apparently few and far between. Whilst wandering a main street close to the turn off I needed, frantically checking that my instructions weren’t completely wrong, I decided to ask two local ladies for directions. My Italian is dreadful and they spoke no English, but as soon as they realised I wanted to visit the ancient site they offered to help.

Firstly, they pointed to a nearby mountain. Then they mimed walking to the top. Despite it being only May and 9.30 in the morning, I’m already boiling my brains out. The look on my face must have been quite comically distraught as they laughed and ushered me towards their car. I’m still not sure if they were site staff or teachers to a group of small Italian schoolchildren that I saw them with later, but those two angelic ladies saved me from an arduous, steep climb up a winding road. Turns out the ancient town in 600ft above sea level, affording me views like this!

View from the ancient town of Solunto

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The entire site is perched atop the rock, with the ancient streets branching off from the decumanus at punishingly steep angles. The views are incredible though, even if most visitors may have wanted the remains to be less fragmentary.

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The Bouleuterion (Assembly house) at Soluntum

The Bouleuterion (Assembly house) at Soluntum

I wonder how many ancient ancient ankles were twisted on their steep streets...

I wonder how many ancient ancient ankles were twisted on their steep streets…

'House of Harpocrates'

‘House of Harpocrates’

The 'gymnasium' which is actually not a gymnasium at all, but rather a large house

The ‘gymnasium’ which is actually not a gymnasium at all, but rather a large house

For the sake of my ankles I reluctantly head down towards the modern town to catch my return train (having made full use of the ridiculously cheap mineral water vending machine in the small museum first..) as the walk down any mountain is undoubtedly more pleasant and less arduous than the way up. I needn’t have hurried, as the scheduled return train never turned up. With no idea if it was delayed or cancelled, I had no choice but to sit at the station for an entire hour waiting for any train heading to Palermo.

The unexpected delay meant that I couldn’t squeeze the Norman Palace into my schedule once I’d returned to Palermo, so I substituted it for the smaller Museum of the Holy Inquisition in Sicily. It’s situated in the Palazzo Chiaramonte, home to the tribunal of the Holy Inquisition in Sicily from 1600 to 1782.

Within the old cells, graffiti by prisoners was whitewashed over when the building was converted into an 18thC court. The graffiti was rediscovered in the early 20thC but not restored until 2005. Painstakingly uncovered cared for, the graffiti is now a fascinating display of strength of belief. Jews, Muslims and Christians alike were incarcerated and tortured here during the Spanish Inquisition. It’s undoubtedly a regrettable blot on world history, religious intolerance destroying the cosmopolitan make up that Sicily had enjoyed for centuries.

A biblical monster swallows various Old Testament characters as they kneel before Jesus Christ

A biblical monster swallows various Old Testament characters as they kneel before Jesus Christ

The Battle of Lepanto, fought in 1571, a great victory for the Holy League against the the Ottoman Empire.

The Battle of Lepanto, fought in 1571, a great victory for the Holy League against the the Ottoman Empire.

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Jesus and Saint Rosalia

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I have time for a short wander around before picking up my backpack from the train station and catching the Segesta line bus to Trapani. Buses are the easiest way to travel across most of the island and are insanely affordable in comparison to what I pay for my daily commute in England.

It’s a beautiful two hour drive, and Trapani has not allowed herself to become nearly as decrepit as Palermo. Buoyed by tidy streets and clean air, I head to my base for the next three nights, the delightful (and very affordable!) Ciuri Home.

Tomorrow takes me further into Carthaginian territory…

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Exploring the Peloponnese (Athens Travel Journal – Day Two)

9th May 2014

Another day, another 8am pick up.

Dmitri from PK Travel is back, this time to drive me south from Athens to the Peloponnese.

Today is going to be even jam-packed than yesterday, mercifully Dmitri keeps dozens of bottles of mineral water in the car. I’ve asked if they can tweak their route ever so slightly for me, and we’re dropping Napflion so that I can do both Nemea and Epidauros. I’ve found PK to be incredibly accomdating to requests like this.

We drive past Megara as the E94 road hugs the coast. We stop briefly so that I can admire the Corinth Canal which I vaguely remember from my visit as a ten year old girl. The metal bridge has a footbridge on each side allowing for a good view, although the whole structure wobbles whenever a heavy vehicle crosses, terrifying the proverbial out of me.

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The canal was started in the 1880s and turned the Peloponnese from a peninsula into an island. Many ancient leaders including Julius Caesar, Caligula and Nero all attempted construction of a canal but all failed.

So how did the ancient Greeks solve the problem of getting ships from the Ionian sea to the Aegean without spending valuable time circumnavigating the Peloponnese?

The Diolkos was a 4 mile paved path that crossed the narrowest part of the Corinth Isthmus. Ships were pulled across from coast to coast. Remains of the Diolkos are still visible.

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Time to head to Corinth, one of the most famous and powerful ancient Greek cities. Modern Corinth is actually not on the site of the ancient city as so many others are, but was founded in 1858 after the original site suffered an earthquake. If you wish to visit the archaeological remains you should instead head for Ancient Corinth inland.

The acropolis is visible for miles and forms a gorgeous backdrop for the ancient city. If I was able to travel in a leisurely fashion I could easily spend a day in Corinth, but in order to stay on schedule Dmitri informs me that I have 45 minutes here. It may seem counterproductive to spend a short time at many sites instead of a couple of sites at length, but I have longed to view the places on this itinerary since I was a little girl and would rather see as many as possible now than go home and regret what I had to miss. Thankfully, having been a tour guide for so long I have been able to develop a swift approach to museums and sites that could be described as ruthlessly efficient. I will spend the next 45 minutes rushing around the site and museum like a woman possessed but I’ve trained myself to take everything in as if I had been at the site twice as long. Weeks of Trip Prep also mean I have the site mapped out in my mind and know where to make a bee-line for. One day I will return to all of these places with all the time in the world, for now I am satisfied I managed to get here at all. And it is worth it.

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The Temple of Apollo

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The Temple of Apollo, the acropolis in the background

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The bema (elevated platform designed for public oration) in the agora. When Saint Paul spoke during his time in Corinth, it was probably from here. A quote has been inscribed on a stone in memory of this.

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The Lechaion road which led from the agora to the port.

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Temple E

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Corinth was a formidable power that faced up to the Persian forces, yet spent most of the following years oscillating between supporting Sparta and Athens, benefitting from neither. Occupied by the Antigonid kings for over a century, Corinth finally reasserted independence and worked hard to reverse her decline, only to be brutally slapped down by the Romans. Lucius Mummius razed the city to the ground in 146 BC and carted countless Corinthian treasures and artworks back to Rome for various aristocrats to decorate their villas.

A century later, Julius Caesar ordered the rebuilding of the once great city, work that was continued by several emperors. Much of what survives is therefore Roman and not Greek.

The huge acropolis was once crowned by a temple dedicated to Aphrodite, the beautiful goddess of love. According to Strabo, the temple used to employ courtesan-priestesses. These women (and some men) were available for sex, as an act of worship to the goddess. Strabo reports that the money earned by the courtesans at the temple was one of the reasons the city was so prosperous. Over the centuries the acropolis has been fortified by successive occupying powers. We don’t have time to enter the fortress but we do drive up for a beautiful view.

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Onwards to Nemea.

Everyone has heard of the Olympic Games. Athletic events held by the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia in antiquity every four years, resurrected in the 1800s and becoming the international mega event that we know and love. I’ve visited ancient Olympia and it is a beautiful place.

In antiquity there was more than one set of sacred games however. There were actually four main centres for competitions. As well as Olympia, games were held at Delphi in honour of Apollo, Isthmia in honour of Poseidon and Nemea, also in honour of Zeus. All four sites have archaeological remains and I intend to knock another two off of my list on this trip.

Nemea is not well known to most tourists and as such, the athletic section of the archaeological site was delightfully empty. It was a surreal experience to walk up and down the track imaging the cheering of the spectators. The crowds would have been nearly entirely male, nearly all events were performed nude and married women were not permitted to watch the games.

I visit the stadium first, and visitors enter through the same path as the ancient athletes.First, we pass the dressing room.

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The Apodyterion – the locker rooms

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The tunnel beneath the spectator seating which the athletes would pass from the Apodyterion to the stadium

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First view of the stadium

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Athlete’s eye view

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Spectator’s eye view

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The Balbis – starting line

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Such a beautiful setting!

Not far from the stadium is the sanctuary and museum. The museum is excellent but I am drawn outside to the archaeological site itself, which is beautifully kept. The gardener should be justly proud of his beautiful lawns and roses!

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With a setting this lovely, it is a while before I remember what Nemea is most famous for.

The hero Heracles murdered his wife and children (a story that Disney skipped…) and the Oracle at Delphi ordered him to complete 12 labours set by King Eurystheus in order to atone for his sins.

The first was to slay the Nemean lion, a huge, unconquerable animal that used the maidens of Nemea as bait with which to lure in young men to a cave. Every man who had set out to kill the lion had died in the attempt.

Hercules attempted to kill the lion using arrows, which bounced uselessly off of the golden fur. Hercules then tried to club the lion, eventually throttling it with his massive hands. Athena advised Hercules to skin the dead animal (with one of the lion’s claws – the only thing sharp enough to penetrate the pelt) and Hercules took to wearing the fur as a cloak. If you see a Greek or Roman statue carrying a club and wearing a lion skin, it will always be Hercules.

No lions in sight, but a rather lovely temple dedicated to Zeus.

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This is the first time that I’ve been to temple where visitors can climb up on to the stylobate and stand where the naos would have been. It is admittedly a thrill to stand within a temple instead of merely in front of it.

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A collapsed column. Originally only 3 columns remained standing, six more have been re-erected since 2002 with plans to restore more.

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The temple dates from 330 BC, standing on top of the foundations of a much earlier temple

We’re going even further back in time with our next destination to the days of the Trojan War.

Mycenae was a settlement from the Neolithic period, growing to such prominence it lent its name to an entire era of Greek history. Mycenae was already ancient by the time of Pericles and Socrates, and it was a tourist attraction by the time of Imperial Rome.

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The blocks of stone used to build the fortification walls are so immense that Classical Greeks believed that they could only have been built by giants or cyclopes. The walls of Mycenae and nearby Tiryns are therefore known as Cyclopean.

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The iconic Lion Gate was built in the 13th century BC.

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Peering down into Grave Circle A, a royal burial place dating back to the 16th century BC. Heinrich Schliemann famously found a golden death mask here and excitedly proclaimed it to belong to Agamemnon, the famous Mycenean king who fought the Trojans. Archaeologists now believe the mask to pre-date the Trojan War.

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The Royal Palace certainly had a gorgeous view…

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The views are stunning but the paths are steep and uneven in places. There is no shade to be found on the entire acropolis and I saw a lot of people get sun burnt and desperate for a bottle of water. I also saw a teenage girl try to climb the acropolis in a pair of flip flops. She fell and hurt her ankle. I’m not joking when I saw you need sturdy walking shoes in Mycenae!

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The iconic Treasury of Atreus just outside the ancient city is actually a tholos tomb dating to 1250 BC. Being iconic, it is uncomfortably crowded. Try to time your visit in the short gaps between coach tours…

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No time to dawdle, the final stop of the day is Epidaurus. Famous now for the large theatre, Epidaurus was better known to the ancients as a Sanctuary of Asclepios, the god of medicine and healing.

20140509_155805IMG_6815 IMG_6832 IMG_6833The theatre has a seating capacity of 14,000 people and the acoustics are so perfect that the audience can hear every word spoken from the stage, even from the back row. I can attest to this, an american man is insisting on reciting Bible verses for a solid half an hour. I would have preferred some Aeschylus, if I’m honest. When he finally finishes, he invites someone else to the stage area to recite from the Bible. Dear tourists of any religion, please refrain from preaching in Greek theatres. It makes me wish I could murder you. If you can’t quote a Greek play, at least try some Shakespeare.

The sanctuary itself was almost entirely silent, I suspect that most coach tours include the theatre and perhaps, at a push, the small museum and ignore the less dramatic ruins of the Asclepion. The site would be clearer to imagine if the grass wasn’t so long, but I’ve gathered that gardeners descend on most archaeological sites the week after I’ve chosen to visit. I am, after all, visiting before peak season.

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Hellenistic baths

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The stadium at Epidaurus

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Dormitories

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The Tholos getting some TLC

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I had secretly hoped that we may have had time to make a small detour to Isthmia on the way home, having seen Nemea and with Delphi planned for later this week it would mean that I could complete my list of Panhellenic Games centres this week. It wasn’t to be, Isthmia is a small site with conservative opening hours and time had already, not surprisingly, flown by.

I have time to rest on the car ride back to Athens but my day is far from over. On fridays the Acropolis Museum is open until 10pm. Once again I ask Dmitri to drop me off in town rather than at my hotel. By visiting the museum this evening it frees up time in the following days to see other places. Luckily I arrive before seven, so I won’t have to rush as I am starting to get a little weary.

The museum is custom built for the collection and whilst I’m not overly enamoured with the external architecture of the building, I have to congratulate the designers and curators for their excellent use of space. The museum is relatively quiet, devoid of coach and cruise groups, making the spacious galleries incredibly relaxing and pleasant.

The museum was designed to also house the “Elgin” marbles, currently displayed at the British Museum, should they ever be returned to Greece. I was on the fence in this heated debate before my visit, the Acropolis museum and the conspicuous gaps in the Parthenon Gallery there haven’t managed to move me from it. Still, I enjoyed my visit and will return.

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Signor Dildo – a poem by Lord Rochester

John Wilmot, better known as The second Earl of Rochester, was born on the 1st of April 1647. He lived fast, died young and is now famous as a notoriously debauched libertine and writer in the court of Charles II.

To celebrate his birthday, here is one of his most famous poems:

You ladies of merry England
Who have been to kiss the Duchess’s hand,
Pray, did you not lately observe in the show
A noble Italian called Signior Dildo?

This signior was one of the Duchess’s train
And helped to conduct her over the main;
But now she cries out, ‘To the Duke I will go,
I have no more need for Signior Dildo.’

At the Sign of the Cross in St James’s Street,
When next you go thither to make yourselves sweet
By buying of powder, gloves, essence, or so,
You may chance to get a sight of Signior Dildo.

You would take him at first for no person of note,
Because he appears in a plain leather coat,
But when you his virtuous abilities know,
You’ll fall down and worship Signior Dildo.

My Lady Southesk, heaven prosper her for’t,
First clothed him in satin, then brought him to court;
But his head in the circle he scarcely durst show,
So modest a youth was Signior Dildo.

The good Lady Suffolk, thinking no harm,
Had got this poor stranger hid under her arm.
Lady Betty by chance came the secret to know
And from her own mother stole Signior Dildo.

The Countess of Falmouth, of whom people tell
Her footmen wear shirts of a guinea an ell,
Might save that expense, if she did but know
How lusty a swinger is Signior Dildo.

By the help of this gallant the Countess of Rafe
Against the fierce Harris preserved herself safe;
She stifled him almost beneath her pillow,
So closely she embraced Signior Dildo.

The pattern of virtue, Her Grace of Cleveland,
Has swallowed more pricks than the ocean has sand;
But by rubbing and scrubbing so wide does it grow,
It is fit for just nothing but Signior Dildo.

Our dainty fine duchesses have got a trick
To dote on a fool for the sake of his prick,
The fops were undone did their graces but know
The discretion and vigour of Signior Dildo.

The Duchess of Modena, though she looks so high,
With such a gallant is content to lie,
And for fear that the English her secrets should know,
For her gentleman usher took Signior Dildo.

The Countess o’ th’ Cockpit (who knows not her name?
She’s famous in story for a killing dame),
When all her old lovers forsake her, I trow,
She’ll then be contented with Signior Dildo.

Red Howard, Red Sheldon, and Temple so tall
Complain of his absence so long from Whitehall.
Signior Barnard has promised a journey to go
And bring back his countryman, Signior Dildo.

Doll Howard no longer with His Highness must range,
And therefore is proferred this civil exchange:
Her teeth being rotten, she smells best below,
And needs must be fitted for Signior Dildo.

St Albans with wrinkles and smiles in his face,
Whose kindness to strangers becomes his high place,
In his coach and six horses is gone to Bergo
To take the fresh air with Signior Dildo.

Were this signior but known to the citizen fops,
He’d keep their fine wives from the foremen o’their shops;
But the rascals deserve their horns should still grow
For burning the Pope and his nephew, Dildo.

Tom Killigrew’s wife, that Holland fine flower,
At the sight of this signior did fart and belch sour,
And her Dutch breeding the further to show,
Says, ‘Welcome to England, Mynheer Van Dildo.’

He civilly came to the Cockpit one night,
And proferred his service to fair Madam Knight.
Quoth she, ‘I intrigue with Captain Cazzo;
Your nose in mine arse, good Signior Dildo.’

This signior is sound, safe, ready, and dumb
As ever was candle, carrot, or thumb;
Then away with these nasty devices, and show
How you rate the just merit of Signior Dildo.

Count Cazzo, who carries his nose very high,
In passion he swore his rival should die;
Then shut himself up to let the world know
Flesh and blood could not bear it from Signior Dildo.

A rabble of pricks who were welcome before,
Now finding the porter denied them the door,
Maliciously waited his coming below
And inhumanly fell on Signior Dildo.

Nigh wearied out, the poor stranger did fly,
And along the Pall Mall they followed full cry;
The women concerned from every window
Cried, ‘For heaven’s sake, save Signior Dildo.’

The good Lady Sandys burst into a laughter
To see how the ballocks came wobbling after,
And had not their weight retarded the foe,
Indeed’t had gone hard with Signior Dildo.

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The Liebster Award

As a sporadic blogger, I was surprised to be nominated for a Liebster by the lovely Sarah. After a quick google, a Liebster is apparently an award given by other bloggers to give a shout out to blogs that don’t have massive amounts of followers. It also provides readers with a whole raft of new blogs to peruse that they may not have stumbled upon otherwise. It’s also a brilliant way to get to know the person behind the blog. I’m all for that, so here we go.

 

The rules, I gather, are

1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog and link back to the blogger who presented this award to you.
2. Answer the 11 questions from the nominator, list 11 random facts about yourself and create 11 questions for your nominees.
3. Present the Liebster Blog Award to 11 blogs of 200 followers or less who you feel deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen. (No tag backs)
4. Copy and Paste the blog award on your blog .

 

So first off, thank you Sarah! For those of you who don’t follow the blog, please do. It is always well written, thoughtful and extensively researched. It’s also regularly updated and well organised and puts my messy blog to shame.

Sarah has provided me with 11 questions to answer:

What is your favourite book, of all time?

Do I have to choose one? Books are a bit of an ongoing joke in my family. I currently own over 900, stashed in various crannies around my tiny house.

My current book of choice is the London Journals of James Boswell. I’m researching him for a new tour I’m launching in the summer about his London adventures and society in the mid 1700s. The more I read, the more I fall head-over-heels in love with the man.

Which five historical figures would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

Definitely Boswell to start with! Also Charles II, Messalina, Ramses II and Mozart. I can imagine the subsequent hangover as I type.

Do you have any bad habits?

Swearing. I swear all the time, my mother despairs.

Facebook or twitter?

Twitter. Facebook is full of people I have met, and they may be very nice, most are. But Twitter is where the people who really share my passions are. Even though I’ve never met some of them, I consider them to be good friends and kindred spirits. I’ve never met a Twitter friend I’ve been disappointed in when I’ve met them face to face.

Do you have a pet hate?

I’m finding it too hard to think of just one. Spiders, coffee and housework are pretty strong contenders.

Has there been a book, song or movie that changed your life? How?

Blame It On My Youth had a pretty profound effect on me when I was younger and thought I was madly in love with someone. The lyrics helped me through the horrors of teenage infatuation. My favourite recordings are by Jamie Cullum and Jane Monheit:

This kind of jazz is one of my favourite types of music and the type I perform most myself.

Are there any historical fiction ‘crimes’ that really get on your nerves?

WHY ALTER FACTS??? If the period/person/event is interesting enough to write about now, I’m willing to bet that it is not necessary to change anything to make it more dramatic? It’s ALREADY DRAMATIC.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

Surviving my latest bout of depression. It was bloody hard work but I’m nearly there.

Can you tell us about one of your goals for the future?

Well, most of you have seen that I’m launching a new company this summer called Tourbauchery. I’ll be leading walking tours around London telling the same kind of funny/shocking/bawdy historical stories that I share on Twitter. My goal is to make it a success, to continue writing original tours and share my love of London with as many people as possible!

What is your favourite thing about blogging?

Having more than 140 characters to play with!

And finally, have I annoyed you by nominating you for the Liebster?

Absolutely not, I’m flattered to be considered seeing I am so terrible at updating!

 

So here are the 11 facts about myself that may surprise you/confirm your suspicions:

  1. History was never supposed to be my profession. I was all set to be a professional musician.  I started playing piano aged 5 and soon added clarinet a saxophones of various sizes to the list. I also sing, mainly jazz. I spent 12 years as a member of the Royal Naval Volunteer Band Association being trained by the Bands of the Royal Marines and performing similar kinds of gigs, as well as joining various choirs, ensembles and amateur dramatics groups. I’ve been lucky enough to perform across the globe including the Falkland Islands and in front of audiences as large as 1.6 million. I was in a band that performed at the Queen’s 80th birthday and even performed at the last ever Royal Tournament. Eventually I decided that music would make me happier as a hobby and history won the day. I’ve worked in museums ever since.
  2. Once, on a day trip to Brighton, someone threw a dead shark at me. I was walking along the beach and the shark was either thrown from the promenade above or dropped by a pterodactyl sized bird. It fell at my feet, millimetres from smashing into my head. It was about 2 feet long.
  3. I’m a proud Army wife. My hubby serves in the Band of the Life Guards and has performed at the Diamond Jubilee river pageant, the 2012 London Olympics, the wedding of the Duke ad Duchess of Cambridge as well as countless other State visits and events.
  4. At the age of 16 I lost the use of my hands for a year.  I couldn’t pick up anything heavier than a fork. Someone had to cut all my food for me and I had to dictate every single one of my GCSE exams. My grades suffered as a result. Eventually the strength came back and I was able to function normally. No doctor was able to diagnose it and it remains a mystery.
  5. You can convince me to do just about anything, possibly even minor felonies, if you promise me a jar of Nutella and a teaspoon.
  6. Speaking of crime, I have an uncurable addiction to police procedural and forensics dramas. I can’t get enough of them and treasure my DVD box sets with a sad, nerdy devotion. CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, Bones etc etc. I’m pretty sure I could solve crimes and perform autopsies now, I’ve seen so many of these programmes. I’m a bit of a pathology nut and perhaps it was a missed vocation.
  7. My list of ideal holiday locations is determined by how many ancient sites there are. No temples or citadels? Then I’m not going.
  8. When I worked as a tour guide at Fort Nelson one of my favourite daily duties was demonstrating how artillery works. I got paid to load and fire huge guns, in other words. The regular gun was a gorgeous 25 pounder gun/howitzer used in WW2, but special occasions included being part of a team firing a restored naval cannon used at Trafalgar and being the member of staff chosen to fire the 18 pounder WW1 gun on Armistice Day. To this day I get ridiculously gleeful/wistful when looking at heavy artillery and I miss the smell of gunpowder that lingers in my hair and clothes after a firing.
  9. Even now I am disappointed that Stegosaurus was Jurassic and Triceratops was Cretaceous because they look like they would have been best friends.
  10. I take olive oils and nut oils as seriously as other people take wine varieties or tea blends. My favourite olive oil, since you are no doubt wondering, is a really sweet fruity one produced on Zakynthos. I could drink it from a glass.
  11. My ambition is to visit the site of every single ancient wonder before I die. Babylon is going to be tricky, admittedly. So far I have only managed Olympia and Bodrum (Halicarnassus.) Five to go! I have a plan to knock a further 3 off of the list in one trip but need some serious cash! Calling all millionaires with too much money to burn….

 

So now you know a bit more about me. Some of it you hopefully found interesting, some of it may have you backing away slowly.

Now I am supposed to think of 11 questions to ask MY favourite bloggers. So…

 

  1. If you could live in any period of history, what would it be?
  2. Who is your historical hero?
  3. What would you put on the school curriculum that you think is overlooked?
  4. Where is your favourite place in the world?
  5. What would you do with a £50m lottery win?
  6. Is there any fictional character from literature or film that you wish actually existed?
  7. If you could write one book, what would you write?
  8. What would your death row meal be?
  9. You get the chance to adapt a book into a movie. Which one do you choose, who do you cast and how would you portray it?
  10. Where do you dream of living?
  11. Is there a new skill you’d love to learn?

Now I’m supposed to nominate blogs I love that have 200 followers or less. I have no idea how many followers these have, but they all deserve more. I’m not even really sure how to calculate how many I have myself!  Some won’t want to do a post like this but I hope everyone is flattered by the mention. So here are some of my favourite blogs including ones I’ve read for years and some recent discoveries.

He Has A Wife You Know (ancient history)

Georgian Bawdyhouse (Long 18th social history)

Illustrate(her) (Wonderful illustrations)

Battlefront Exploration (Brilliant battlefield tour company)

Understanding Rome (a tour guide in Rome with an encyclopaedic knowledge and my ideal job)

Jack’s Adventures in Museumland (witty reviews of museums you never knew you were desperate to visit)

Medieval Bex (for all your medieval needs)

Mathew Lyons (London based historian and lovely tweeter)

Stand on the Right (Hidden gems of London)

Historical Trinkets (er…Trinkets of history!?)

Mark Simner’s Military History Blog (A must read for military history buffs)

 

There are many more blogs I could mention and no doubt I will. But for now do give these guys a read! If you like the questions I’ve been asked or asked my nominees, do give them a go yourself in the comments section, I love a good interview!

 

 

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Saving Newhaven Fort

I was planning to write a post about Newhaven Fort sometime in the near future, but then I saw this: http://www.sussexexpress.co.uk/news/local/plans-to-lease-newhaven-fort-are-approved-1-4051772 and I had to change my plans.

I had two reasons for my delay.

When I visited Newhaven recently it was with a fellow Twitterstorian Jack Shoulder (@jackshoulder – follow him!) and my dear friend Will (@wrmspeed) for our #epicfortday. Jack writes a wonderful blog about his museum visits and posted about it by the time I’d got home, or so it seemed! You can read it here: http://jacksadventuresinmuseumland.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/epicfortday-a-day-exploring-forts/ and so it seemed rather silly to do a standard review on my own blog when I could just point people towards Jack.

I decided to approach the subject in a way I feel more comfortable with, comparing it to a fort I worked in for a couple of years and had grown to love like a family member.

A bit of back story is perhaps required.

I began working as a warden guide at Fort Nelson in Hampshire a few years before I got married and moved to Berkshire. Fort Nelson is a branch of the Royal Armouries which has a main museum in Leeds and also a section of the Tower of London. Fort Nelson is the ‘heavy artillery’ site, housing things that go ‘bang’ and are too heavy to pick up.

The fort itself is Victorian, and part of a ring of fortifications that essentially make Portsmouth a giant concentric castle.

Over the space of two years I spent 5 days a week at that Fort. It started out as a fascinating building to work in and ended up being a dear friend. Only people who live and breathe one historical site will know what I’m talking about. The building has its own quirks and tales to tell. When you spend that amount of time with a site you don’t have a choice, it starts to take a hold of you emotionally until you love it passionately.

I knew how much it had rained the previous night from the scent of the grass that covered the chalk and flint ramparts. I knew what the red bricks felt like to the touch and knew the exact location of each one that had a chip or crack. I could probably navigate the subterranean tunnels blindfolded quite happily and knew the pickaxe patterns in the chalk walls by heart. I knew which of the floorboards in the redan creaked and which of the windows had wonky latches. I spoke to the cannons on display as I wandered past them and hummed the music that played in the artillery gallery long after I got home.

I winced at vandalism as if someone had hurt me physically and I spent my tours showing the fort off like a proud mum enthuses about her beloved toddlers ballet recital.

When I went home each night I’d frequently dream about the place. Large swathes of my life were played out with the Fort as a backdrop, I’ve laughed, cried, flirted, laughed and passionately debated there.  So it’s not really a surprise that I’ve grown so attached to the place and it’s also not a surprise that I care very much about what happens to it.

When the time came for me to marry and start a new life away from the coast, plans had been approved  to add an extension to the fort. It wouldn’t the first time in its history. Buildings had been added to the parade ground for the storage of anti aircraft ammunition during the second world war. That, I can stomach, but a pointless new ‘visitor centre’ was not my cup of tea.

Originally the ticket desk was housed in a small gift shop in what used to be the coal store and the cafe was situated in one of the barrack rooms. Original architecture, no faffing needed. When plans were first shunted around to build a separate structure, I was sceptical. Especially when I had witnessed an incompetent middle manager reduce to shop to a pile of cheap nick-nacks and slashed the long suffering chef’s menu down from carveries to limp sandwiches kept in cheap plastic containers. Having lost our cafe ‘regulars’ as soon as hot meals and the fabulously popular weekend carvery was abolished, the cafe was deserted. Why on earth build a larger, new structure to accomodate 0 visitors?

The design itself was modern and intrusive, blocking the beautiful view of the rear of the fort. It is covered by grass which apparently is supposed to echo the ramparts, but it instead looks as if someone has plonked the Teletubby house by the fort accidentally. Additionally, a new gallery was to be added to better house the exhibits, the design for which resembled a giant greenhouse bolted on to what had been a perfectly good wall. Even the beautiful two storey high doors at the gate have been replaced by glass. Glass! Lord Palmerston is rolling in his grave.

Thankfully I left before I saw my beloved fort mutilated by garish modern architecture executed by money grabbing w***ers who couldn’t give a toss about the integrity of the original building. I can’t go back because even thinking about what those c***s have done to my beautiful fort makes me uncontrollably angry and tears spring forth like a burst dam. If I meet the architect in the street I will end up doing time, and I’m not exaggerating. In my mind they have raped the building and left it irreparably scarred.

I had already decided that to compare the quaint, old fashioned museum style of Newhaven Fort to the barbarity of the fashionable modern tat that had been installed at Fort Nelson, I’d have to bite the bullet and go back and witness it first hand. I dreaded it, like the family members of murder victims dread having to identify their loved ones on a mortuary table.

Sadly, the news that Newhaven Fort is to be leased out to unnamed third parties came to me before I had to make the journey.

I had been planning to praise Newhaven to the skies. The grass was well manicured, which towards the end even Fort Nelson couldn’t claim. The exhibitions, whilst decidedly low-tech, have an old fashioned charm that was endlessly endearing. At Newhaven, there is no trace of posters and information boards designed and made by a soulless contractor company with no passion for the subject. The hand-made feel of the displays at Newhaven are the result of a love affair between man and building, a dedication to preservation and the sharing of its history, lovingly crafted with affection. It’s so heart warming to wander around the exhibitions at Newhaven. No futuristic special effects wizardry, no identikit modern museum fads. The love that the designer/s had for their fort shines through in their creation until you can’t help but catch the Newhaven bug.

I am terrified that a lease would mean that in a desperate attempt to attract visitors who have become used to high tech flashing buttons and bells, Newhaven will be forced to ‘modernise.’ It will be, to quote a colleague, ‘Disney-fied.’ All of the charm will be ripped out and Newhaven will be left a soulless shell, devoid of any character. Because modern developers are terrified of character. Nothing must be unique, or special, because that would be too dangerously challenging for the public, supposedly. You see, modern developers think that you, the visitor, are stupid and easily startled. Far better to spoon feed you like an infant chimp than to let you discover a place by yourself.

I’m not exaggerating, either. My love of Fort Nelson has caused me to obsessively visit and explore other forts, and I know all too well what happens when ‘leases’ and ‘contractors’ start showing up.

Fort Wallington was torn to shreds and is now an industrial park. Drive past it and you will see one of the saddest ends to a great building imaginable. Fort Fareham is slowly rotting to pieces in the ‘care’ of another industrial estate.
This is the undignified end of a building that should have been preserved and loved. Instead it languishes like a sickly animal, already being eaten by scavengers. This is what happens when historic buildings are handed over to people who couldn’t give a toss about them. I’m sure that the council responsible for Newhaven have good intentions, but seeing what I’ve seen and knowing what I know, you can forgive me for my pessimism.

Don’t let Newhaven be sacrificed simply because it is need of TLC. Fort Brockhurst is an excellent example of a fort that is cared for by people who love it.

Newhaven doesn’t need whistles and bells and flashy lights. It just needs a bit of help from people with passion and experience. There are so many way that the 200 grand it loses annually could be made up. It’ll be interesting to watch the events that unfold for the future of Newhaven Fort, but I have a familiar sinking feeling that I’ll end up nursig a broken heart and mourning a friend.

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The Parthenon Marbles – or, Stirring the Proverbial on Twitter

Every now and again, when the planets align and the elements are in total harmony, something magical happens.

A throwaway tweet that has been thrown into the swirling maelstrom that is Twitter and forgotten by it’s author moments later gets viewed and retweeted until it is a raging titan in 140 characters. It takes on a life of its own, dragging tweeters into its cyclone and refusing to let them go for hours. It is the stuff of myth and legend.

Well, not quite, but it does sound rather deliciously dramatic.

One morning last week I wrote a quick tweet as a kneejerk reaction to a mention of the Elgin/Parthenon marbles. I can’t even remember how it came up, perhaps the radio? Or an inch of newspaper column? I didn’t think much about it, but nevertheless chucked my tiny opinion into the whirlwind of chatter that is Twitter. What I basically said was that it would be nice to see the marbles in Athens but that I was hesitant to see them sent back in case it set a precedent for a major global game of Musical Museum Exhibits. I didn’t actually say that last bit hoe I’ve written it here, hindsight does tend to make me marginally wittier. (I said marginally, trolls!)

I thought no more of it, put my iPod Touch down, and sat myself down to watch whatever MGM musical was showing on TCM.

Now I’ve had a tweet go viral (or as viral as you can get in our rather small twitterstorian community) before. A quick tweet about Ancient Greek sex positions offered by prostitutes complete with a droll hashtag saw my follower number triple in two days and was retweeted so many times I thought my iPod had broken. Sex sells, and whilst shocked (and delighted) I at least understood why it had happened. With this, I wasn’t so sure.

Within minutes I was being bombarded with tweets from a host of people. I knew that I wasn’t going to get many people sitting on the Elgin fence as indifference doesn’t tend to inspire a lot of replies, but the strength of conviction among the people who did bother to type out a reply was amazing.

I had unwittingly unleashed one of my industry’s most fervent debates upon myself.

A bit of background for those of you that don’t sit for hours contemplating the fate of a few lumps of rock:

Under the Golden Age of Pericles in Athens during the 5th Century BC, two architects named Iktinos and Kallikrates and a sculptor names Phidias were put in charge of rejuvenating the Athenian Acropolis that had been sadly razed during a Persian scuffle. Money from the Delian League, a group of Greek states allied with Athens against Persia, was siphoned off to pay for the scheme.

Soon, grandiose buildings were being constructed on the Acropolis, a grand gateway called the Propylaea and a temple called the Erechtheion which has columns shaped like beautiful women (called caryatids) as well as statues liberally sprinkled around the complex. As we all know, the shining star of the site was and is the Parthenon, a massive temple dedicated to the patron Goddess of the city, Athena.

This temple housed one of Phidias’ masterpieces (now lost) which was a massive chryselephantine statue of Athena (which means made out of ivory and gold.) The gold of her statue was fully removable and served as the Athenian Treasury.

It’s interesting to note that the scheme, much like The Eiffel Tower and London Eye, had it’s detractors as it was being built. Before these buildings become iconic there is always someone who wants to kick the architect in the shin. One Athenian grumbled that the beautification of the Acropolis was nothing less than bedecking it as if it were a brazen whore. The Parthenon, it seems, has created debate since before it’s completion.

Fastforward to a time where the Greeks aren’t on such a strong footing. Under Roman rule, Emperor Nero couldn’t resist slapping his name upon the Parthenon in massive metal letters.

1,000 years after Phidias and Greece was now officially Christian with their own orthodox church – The Parthenon. The statue of Athena having being carted off to disappear into the ether at Constantinople, the Parthenon was adapted for a bit of Jesus worshipping. Then, in 1456, it’s all change again as a minaret is plonked unceremoniously onto the temple and,et voila, we have ourselves a mosque. So already, the Parthenon has seen a lot of changes to its function and appearance. Frankly, given the pagan nature of the sculpture, it’s a miracle any of it was allowed to survive.

Not that we’re out of the woods quite yet. In 1687 the Venetians are trying to oust the Turkish from Athens. The Turks decide to hide in their gunpowder store which is situated inside the, you guessed it, Parthenon. 700+ Venetian cannonballs later and KABOOM! The magazine explodes leaving hardly any of the temple standing. (Much of what you see today has been reconstructed.) Frencesco Morosini, a Venetian General, didn’t leave Athens before trying to shove a few large choice bits of sculpture into his luggage, smashing Poseidon, Athena’s chariot and a few of the stone horses in the process.

By 1801 you could be forgiven for thinking that the Parthenon might have fared better elsewhere. The Ottomans were selling chunks of sculpture off to tourists. Lord Elgin, British Ambassador to Constantinople was an antiquities fanatic and it bothered him to see the destruction of antiquities in Turkey and Greece. By the time he managed to take a tour of the Acropolis, sculptures were laying littered on the floor. Some had been ground down to dust to make cement, and quite a few pieces had mysteriously vanished. The Parthenon was no longer a beautiful wonder of architecture, she was a wreck.

Lord Elgin wasted no time in convincing the Ottoman Sultan that Elgin should cart them off to Blighty before they were lost forever. To be quite frank, had I a time machine I’d do exactly the same thing, although if we’re being pedantic I would have prevented the Christians moving in first and halted the whole sorry tale from there. Even so, once again at the time there were noisy critics who condemned Elgin as a looter.

It wasn’t easy or particularly well executed, but the fragments of sculpture that had survived being sawn off/shipwrecked had finally made it back to London. Where, on the verge of bankruptcy, Elgin sold them to the British Museum at a knock down price. It’s worth noting that Elgin hadn’t wanted to sell, he’d been planning to use the marbles to prettify his ancestral seat in Scotland. Had he not been so awful at managing his money the Parthenon marbles could be being used as a bench in a stately home’s garden right now.

Anyway, The Marbles ended up in the BM and Elgin’s name was to be permanently attached to them for ever after. Staff at the museum in the late 1800’s tried to get the marbles to gleam white by using various caustic acids and later in the pre-WWII years accusations were thrown about scrubbing the marbles with wire wool.

And so we arrive at the present day, where two sides are violently opposed as to whether the marbles should be returned to Athens or remain in London.

Throw in a tweet by someone decidedly on the fence and bitter arguments occur. Back to the tweet in question.

It was a mere thought, spoken in electronic form to no-one in particular. Within seconds, I was challenged by someone I had followed for a while but who as yet hadn’t heard of me.

I can therefore only assume that @Elginism searches for related keywords on an hourly basis to pounce on any unsuspecting tweeter who has an opinion that may slightly differ from theirs. (Don’t be fooled by the twitter handle, ‘Elginism’ doesn’t mean pro-Elgin, it’s slang for vandalism and desecration.)

I’d been following his tweets for a while as I like to keep a balanced view of things, not necessarily because I agree with what he says, and after his first volley he started following me back. To make it easier, I assume, to debate with me. Now, I like a good debate. But things soon escalated as twitter joined in en masse. I shall now paraphrase the conversation:

Me: Scared of setting a scary precedent yaddah yaddah

@Elginism: But lots of things have been returned eg Euphronios Krater, Morgantina Silver etc Each case must be judged on it’s own merits.

Elginism carries on to say that they’re not a fan of the inside-out display of the frieze in the BM.

A lady who tour guides in Rome replied to me also. @UnderstandRome countered that whilst she is a huge fan of the new Acropolis Museum, she’s seen where they’ve made a space to display the marbles and in her opinion, it’s easier to view them in the BM. (The Acropolis Museum wants to display them high up as they would have been viewed in situ. Not easy to get a good photo that way….)

In the meantime I’m replying to @Elginism that I’d worry that if one museum gave in to return demands, it’d start off a domino effect. The reply comes back that the prospect of a worldwide swapshop shouldn’t put people off doing ‘the right thing.’

So far so debated, but what IS the right thing? I have to admit to retweeting all of the replies I’m getting from both sides. I am refusing to take a side! I tweet that perhaps casts can be made as a compromise. It’s amusing to note that this was skimmed over.

After a few to and fros, @lobstersquad mentions that perhaps this shouldn’t BE a huge debate. It is only a tiny minority who actually give a flying toss about where the marbles are housed.

@Elginism isn’t letting the subject drop, my refusal to agree with them fully must be annoying them. All I’d said that was I could understand the BM’s reticence. Again, the reply comes that shouldn’t be an excuse to ‘live in the past.’

Hang on a second. Surely the idea of reuniting a couple of statues with their former building IS living in the past? Isn’t that PRECISELY what @Elginism wants? To restore how things were arranged IN THE PAST?

I counter that I consider it a mercy that Elgin got in there before more destruction was caused. One explosion shame on you, two explosions shame on me. That kind of thing. And then came the dreaded line:

“That’s not what Elgin thought at the time.” Here’s where we get on shaky ground. Trying to crowbar your belief system into the thoughts of someone long dead is, let’s face it, dodgy at best. I’m afraid I’m going to have to read correspondence or journals from Elgin before I join in on imagining what he thought about the whole thing. No matter, the discussion is carrying on without me. Seeing as I’m retweeting everything so that my followers can see the conversation, other people are joining in and going off on their own tangents whilst mentioning my handle so I can stay in the loop.

@rogueclassicist chimes in with the opinion that the marbles should not be considered as ‘belonging’ to Greece or Britain. They should belong to humanity. Therefore, keep them in the best place for society to view them.

Brilliant idea! Let’s look at some statistics. The Art Newspaper compiles an annual list of visitor figures for the 100 most visited museums of art in the world.

In 2011, the British Museum takes bronze with a staggering 5,848,534 visitors, beaten only by the Louvre and the Met. The Acropolis Museum, opened in summer 2009, limped into 38th place for the 2011 figures with a measly (by comparison) 1,244,702.

It can further be argued that the BM doesn’t charge an entrance fee like the Acropolis Museum does, and therefore is available to all. In these penny pinching times, that’s a huge consideration. When your budget is tight do you choose to pay rent or waltz around a museum?

London gets nearly twice the visitors that the whole of Greece receives annually. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Greece, I often joke that I must be a greek in a past life. But we have to admit that of the 19million odd visitors to Greece per year, most head straight for cheap 18-30 resorts for ouzo and sunbathing rather than a bit of culture. It’s something I tut about every time I’m there. Why go to Athens when you can stay in Faliraki for a quarter of the price and get hammered for a fortnight? At least with London we can genuinely say that culture is our main selling point, because the beaches are muddy river banks and we don’t serve cheap ouzo.

So by that argument, the marbles should stay here. More people are seeing them in London than they would in Greece.

@rogueclassicist then points out, quite reasonably, that until Greece can guarantee that his visit to see the marbles wouldn’t be prevented by strikes, then he won’t give his support.

As soon as I retweet it, feathers start rustling. I try asking if there are any compromises that either side would agree upon. @Elginism shows me a planned compromise that doesn’t see Athens compromising on much. Ho hum.

The touchy subject of finance is starting to rumble so loudly that I can’t ignore it.

@Elginism pointed out that The Acropolis Museum has deliberately not been state funded for this very reason. If Greece goes bankrupt, the museum will be independent. I hadn’t know that.

However, with various big name tourism companies in the UK and family run hotels and restaurants in Greece on the verge of collapse, it’s not going to be much use having an independently financed museum if nobody can get to it or have anywhere to sleep afterwards. @Eyeonwales is neatly covering my thoughts here so I can stay schtum and let them do the work for a bit.

My beloved @GeneralJules cheekily brings everyone back to my original point, precedence. He asks whether Italy have asked for all the paintings Napoleon nicked and took to France. I can see the Louvre emptying as I type. Napoleon did love a souvenir or seven.

@crazylegsno1 points out that it’s probably not a good idea to send priceless artifacts to a country on the brink of civil war.

@thefirstlexi seems to have been silently watching so far, but finally weighs in with the age old argument of the original legality of Elgin’s permission to take them in the first place. This to me admittedly sounds a bit redundant after so much time and that we should focus on other factors, but I may be in a minority. She also, quite astutely, delivers her Parthian shot. “As for strikes, it’s not like the UK has none.”

Ah yes, UK, we all remember the horrors of the London riots. Thank God the little pricks were more interested in breaking into branches of Curry’s than to head to our museums. It’s a mercy, but we can’t say it won’t happen in the future.

@HewlettElaine wondered whether part of the viewing experience is lost if you peruse the marbles in a UK gallery rather than on the Acropolis they were designed for, but again, the fact that the Acropolis Museum’s designated exhibition space for them is not ideal for easy viewing is a worry for some. Elaine is uncomfortable with the West deciding what is worth saving from the East. However, I maintain that it can’t be denied that Western archaeologists etc have more money and skills to salvage and reserve.

A few of my tweeting friends are DMing me messages of solidarity and congratulations at the magnitude of the debate I’ve caused in the background to this argument which has by now rolled on for nine hours. In that time I spent two hours in ASDA and one hour baking, and yet still different branches of debate rolled on, like branches of a tree stemming from my trunk of initial tweet. I check my tweets, at no time have I decisively stated that I am for one side and against the other. I have merely engaged both sides. The new angles from tweeters gave me much to think about, but it did sadden me at how voracious certain tweeters were. I will not agree with you if you slap me in the face with fifteen tweets telling me why I am wrong, when I haven’t actually expressed a definitive opinion.

And so we reach an impasse, for I cannot make up my mind.

My initial worry still niggles me. People have been looting for millenia. The romans did it to Greece centuries before us Brits did, and we were hardly alone in doing it in our own era of collecting anything that wasn’t, and sometimes was, nailed down. If the global museum community returned every artifact to it’s country of origin, would places like Greece and Rome have room for it all? Probably not. There would be more museums than tavernas and trattoria. The Louvre, British Museum, the Met, the Berlin Museums and countless others would be emptied overnight, as more and more governments cotton on that if they throw a big enough hissy fit, they will get their toys back.

My head loves it that I can browse the galleries of the British Museum and travel the ancient Mediterranean within the space of an afternoon. I see children who visit and start a life long love of history when they’re faced with such wonders first hand, and that can’t be a bad thing. Thanks to collections in museums around the world, children globally can come face to face with incredible ancient art.

For those souls who can’t afford to travel, they will still get the opportunity to see some of our global heritage. I live and breathe the ancient world and I am having to sacrifice a hell of a lot to be able to afford trips to see the places I read and dream about. For many, it simply isn’t an option.

My heart would like to see the Marbles where they were intended to go. I have a huge history crush on Phidias and I am completely in love with ancient Greece. But I am wary of Greece’s current state, tottering on the verge of meltdown. I’d be loathe to return artifacts to a country before it has a chance to resolve much larger issues. However, how marvellous would it be to stare at the art in the same place that Socrates and Plato did? My heart beats faster at the thought.

It will probably infuriate a few tweeters that after all that negotiation and all that debate, I steadfastly refuse to get down from my nice little fence.

I am inclined to simply say that the world is not a perfect place and that not everyone can get what they want. Some will dismiss that as wishywashy, some may accuse me of being indecisive. Some will no doubt unfollow me in a huff because I’ve refused to concede to them. I’ve never been one to define myself by campaigning for one cause above all else and it baffles me when people do.

I am a huge fan of compromise. And until both sides agree to one, I’m not siding either way. There has to be a way to satisfy both. An even compromise. As @elginsim points out, Athens has half of the marbles there already. Perhaps us having the other half is compromise enough.

In conclusion:

After a poll, it seems that twitter (or my followers at least) do firmly want to see the marbles in Athens. Let’s hope Thomas Cook doesn’t go bust.

Please add you two cents in the comments section, no doubt I’ve missed something out.

Further reading:

The kick-ass Mary Beard has written a wonderful history of the Parthenon, titled, funnily enough, The Parthenon. If you want a definitive history of the building and it’s art, this is it.

The wonderful funny and charming Greg Jenner (@greg_jenner) has written a blog on his thoughts on the matter, which is frankly, better than my attempt: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/greg-jenner/elgin-marbles-should-we-return-them-to-greece_b_1396208.html

And here is the website for @Elginism which has a raft of information: http://www.elginism.com/

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