Tomb of man who inspired Gladiator found

Marcus Nonius Macrinus was a highly regarded general and consul under Marcus Aurelius. He was (at least in part) the model for the Maximus character in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.

Archaeologists working on building site just north of Rome have found columns, parts of the roof, friezes, tumbled down walls, and most importantly, a Latin inscription which identifies the stone mausoleum as Macrinus’.

Although parts of the tomb have crumbled into the Tiber over the centuries, enough has been recovered during months of excavation that experts are discussing the possibility of rebuilding the tomb as the centrepiece of an archaeological theme park.

This would also include the house of Empress Livia, the wife of Emperor Augustus, at Prima Porta nearby. This villa occupied the high ground dominating the view down the Tiber valley to Rome and some of the walling that retained its terraces can still be seen.

Except for the terracing – the gardens are currently being excavated – all that can be seen today are three vaulted subterranean rooms, from the largest of which the fresco decor of an illusionistic garden view was removed to Rome, where it has recently been installed in the Palazzo Massimo, following cleaning and restoration.

Sounds good, as long as it doesn’t mutate from archaeological park to Gladiator theme park. :facepalm:

Bonhams caves and I was right (yet again)

When Bonhams’ sale of the Geddes Collection made the news this summer it was because there was a superstar among the antiquities, namely Roman Elvis.

At the time, I said:

There was no mention that I could find on the Bonhams site or in the press about the ownership trail of these fantastical pieces. Mr. Geddes is Australian and has been collecting since the 70’s. Beyond that, who’s to know?

Well, with the auction scheduled for today, former Italian culture minister Francesco Rutelli started making noise a week ago about some of the lots having been looted from Italy.

There are many Apuglian vases for sale, most of them with no history prior to 1970, most likely indicating they were part of the explosion of looted Apuglian antiquities on the black market over the past few decades.

One of those Apuglian vases used to be in Robin Symes’ collection, and Robin Symes is one of those antiquities dealers from the Arsène Lupin school of “collecting”.

He was caught up in the great Medici case which is currently prosecuting former Getty curator Marion True. Although the Italian government hasn’t prosecuted him, a civil case brought by his late partner’s family has basically ruined him.

Anyway, the auction is going on as scheduled today, but Bonhams has withdrawn a number of lots, including almost all the Apuglian pottery, even the one the original press release called the most important item in the collection.

Pagan/Christian tomb found inside Roman villa

Romans buried their dead outside the city walls, traditionally, or inside a church. A 6th c. tomb in the middle of someone’s house is pretty much unheard of.

That’s not all that’s unusual about this find.

Two skeletons were found. One was of a woman between the ages of 25 and 30, with teeth in excellent condition and no signs of arthritis. […]

The other skeleton was a child of indeterminate sex between the ages of five and seven. The position of their bones showed that the woman had been laid to rest first. The tomb was then re-opened to bury the child and the woman’s spinal column was pushed to one side. A hole in the stone slab covering the tomb allowed visitors to pour libations for the dead.

“This shows that the long-established, originally pagan, rite of offering libations to the dead clearly continued into early Byzantine times,” observes Wilson.

Yet, the presence of a Christian cross on a lamp found in the room and on the underside of a grave slab suggests that the deceased were Christian. As well, the skeletons were wrapped in plaster, a practice believed to be Christian for preserving the body for resurrection.

This is the earliest plaster burial found on Sicily.

The tomb was disturbed at least once more, possibly by thieves, although whoever tidied up before they left.

Excavators have found all kinds of food preparation areas, amphorae, stemware. It’s almost like a butler’s pantry. People were clearly stocked up for long-term libation which makes this tomb a glimpse into a fascinating transitional moment as well as an interesting anomaly on its own.

Toy hedgehog found in child grave at Stonehenge

Archaeologists digging west of Stonehenge have found a child buried with a chalk hedgehog figurine. The child was buried about 3000 years ago.

Archaeologists who discovered the grave, where the child was laying on his or her side, believe the toy – perhaps placed there by a doting father – is the earliest known depiction of a hedgehog in British history. […]

Dr Joshua Pollard, of the Stonehenge Riverside Project, said: ‘Representational art from this period is very rare and so far as I’m aware, if the identification is correct, it’s the only known prehistoric depiction of a hedgehog from Britain.’

Hmm… Not quite seeing the hedgehog there. It does remind me of a Zuni animal fetish, though.

Update: Paradise not to be paved after all

It looks like the Mayor of Rome has stopped construction on the Pincio parking lot.

Instead of a new 700 space lot, 500 new spaces will be added to the existing parking deck a few blocks away at Villa Borghese. Why didn’t they do that from the beginning, you ask, especially since the Borghese parking lot isn’t full most of the time as it is?

This editorial has a handy local croneyism explanation:

The original idea was to get cars off the street in the areas around Piazza di Spagna by selling the slots in the Pincio car park to residents in the historic centre, as well as to parliamentarians and their staff at the chamber of deputies and the senate. It was never made totally clear exactly who would be the beneficiaries of the 700 slots, but they were certainly going to be privileged people.

So. There weren’t going to be tourist rent-a-car and commuter carpools in that deck anyway. They were going to gut the Pincio so legislators and their clerks could park a block closer to work.

Breathing. Breathing. In with anger out with love. It’s over now.

Until the next time.

Breathing. Breathing.