Tag Archives: lecture

Assyria, and lectures

Went to another public lecture the other day, this one the eleventh Marion Adams Memorial Lecture, for the Arts Faculty at Melbourne Uni. It got me thinking that I would like to have a lecture named after me, or possibly a book-buying bequest… I might have to set aside some money right now for that to be possible.

Anyway, the lecture: was very interesting. I won’t describe the whole thing here, because if you are interested in hearing it you can – gasp! the technology! – actually download and listen to it. Actually, it wasn’t there when I checked today, but I am sure they’ll get it there. If the microphone was good enough you should be able to pick up Dr Andrew Jamieson* thumping the desk and getting very excited, which was quite worhtwhile. Of course, you won’t get the visuals – unless they upload those too, which I would have thought unlikely – they were really great. The gist of his talk, anyway, was that far from the Assyrian heartland being the sole arbitrator of taste and refinement in the Neo-Assyrian period, there definitely seems to have been toing and froing in cultural borrowings and acquisitions between the heartlands and the conquered periphery. Just makes sense to me, but I take it that this is a new idea in the field.

*Whom, if memory serves, I heard speaking at another lecture last year – this one in conjunction with his brother, who is a physics lecturer also at Melbourne Uni. The whole thing was very good, but Andrew was definitely outshone on that occasion by his brother. Maybe he was sick then, because this particular lecture was brilliant.

Octavian and his position: a lecture

This lecture was given last Thursday by Frederik Vervaet, who received his PhD from Ghent University, Belgium. His accent was a little hard to follow at the start, but once I got into the rhythm it was quite lovely to listen to.

The proper title for the lecture was “The Secret History: The Official Position of Caesar Octavianus at the time of the Restitutio Rei Publicae (31-27BC).” Before I get to that, a note on the guy who introduced the lecture, who pronounced it ‘Kaiser Octaweeanus’ – that is, correctly, as far as we know the pronunciation of Latin. What I can’t figure out is whether he was simply being pretentious and showing off, or whether (since he is actually a Classicist), he knows Latin well enough that it’s simply second nature. Got no idea; interesting to consider, anyway.

Vervaet started off by talking about what it actually meant for Antony, Lepidus and Octavian to be triumvirs, from 43 onwards, because only by understanding that, and their power, can you get the pre-Augustus few years. He also asked two preliminary questions: when did the second triumvirate period conclude? (probably 32, is his conclusion); and how did the triumvirate fit into the idea of extraordinary magistracies? (nicely; and can only be abdicated – doesn’t simply conclude with the end of the year).

The issue of abdication becomes important when looking at Dio Cassius, and what he records of Octavian in 27: a speech that sounds remarkably like an abdication. So, although he hadn’t seemed to be holding the triumviral position up to this stage (because he would have been a solo triumvir, Lepidus having been forced out before the first 5 years finished and poor old Antony suiciding in 30), he seems to have continued exercising it. So why did he not acknowledge it? Vervaet talked about Octavian’s own concealment, and ‘artful delusion’, particularly in the Res Gestae and other bits of propaganda. I also liked the phrase ‘Augustan ambiguity and deceitfulness’. The nomenclature had also started to disappear during the second triumvirate anyway – emphasising his consular position, for example, instead.

After establishing Octavian’s position, then, Vervaet proceeded to ask two other questions: why continue as triumvir (alone), and why did he conceal it – since he didn’t seem to have any trouble with big-noting himself in other ways? As to the first question, it could be argued that the purpose of the triumvirate – to restore order to Rome – had not been achieved until 31 (because of the war with Cleopatra and Antony), so he shouldn’t abdicate; and after that there was (apparently) universal demand that he hang around. The second question needs you to remember that this is still the Republic: keeping hold of power was Bad and Evil and Frowned Upon. As well, when Antony and Octavian were having their spat, there was propaganda on both sides about the other not being willing to give up the power, so you don’t want to prove enemy slanging to be correct, do you? Finally, there’s also the fact that keeping hold of power unconstitutionally doesn’t sit so well with positioning oneself as the champion of tradition and constitutional propriety.

So… Octavian. I’ve always been anti-Octavian. Antony is more my man. This was a really great lecture, thoroughly enjoyable.

Concrete in Rome

So I went to a public lecture at Melbourne Uni on Tuesday, called “From the Colosseum to the Baths of Diocletian: What Concrete can tell us about Social Change in Imperial Rome.” It was given by Lynne Lancaster of Ohio University. This was the first cool thing about the night: it was a woman, talking about concrete and stress points and vaulting ribs… very cool. The first funny thing was that it took two heads of departments (Classics, a bloke; Engineering, a woman [I think she was the head; I could have been wrong]) to turn some lights down so everyone in the audience – and there was a lot of people – could see the slides properly.

So, a number of things I found out are listed here. Lancaster has a book out at the moment, talking about some of these things; she made some joke about wantin a ‘sexier’ name, which I didn’t think was that sexier, but her publishers insisted that her title be searchable. So it’s really not sexy.

She started the lecture talking about factors affecting innovation, which I think she said she stole from someone else. Most of the rest of the lecture revolved around these issues, and how it affected concrete in Rome.
1. Accumulated knowledge
2. Evident need
3. Economic ability
4. Cultural/social/political acceptability

1. The accumulated knowledge required for buildings such as the Pantheon and other buildings of the early empire (her focus) was that of the arch (there’s evidence that there were arches from the 6th century BC – cool!), and use of pozzolana – volcanic ash used to reinforce the mortar.

2. Vaults got larger, which allowed for larger groups of people gathering together – which was convenient, since amphitheatres, theatres (numerous small vaults people sat on), and baths (fewer large vaults covering people) were becoming ever more popular.

3. Becoming an empire, rather than a good ol’ republic, brought different ways of collecting money for Rome – it also led to the wealth of one individual, or family, rivalling that of the state. And that wealth was often used on construction. The top builders, in her opinion, were Nero; Vaspasian; Trajan; Hadrian; Caracalla; Diocletian; and Constantine.

*Tangent-ish: the debasement of the coinage, which started under Nero. The denarius was about 97% silver under Augustis, but was only about 50% by the mid-third century. By this time, the coinage was so bad that the government wanted its taxes in kind, rather than money! This ended up having interesting repercussions for the building industry… see below…*

*Interesting tangent #2: When Trajan built his own little forum, he also modified Caesar’s – including a latrine. The cool thing about this is that the latrine was built on the second floor, meaning they had to use lots of arches to channel the weight. It also had nice windows….*

*And, just because: the Pantheon (I think Lancaster has a thing for the Pantheon…) has a 43m dome – the largest unsupported vault (I think I got that right), and two times larger than any previous dome: so interestingly, no incremental changes. It also has hollow, 6m wide walls, with extruded brick ribs…*

4. Brick industry development paralleled the increase in the use of vaults.
Under Trajan, politicians had to own land (I think I got that right – I might have missed something there). One way to profit from this was to sell clay, to make bricks. Brick use explodes from this time – it’s probably consequential. There’s evidence of bricks allowing for social advancement (slaves becoming freemen, etc). As well, there’s evidence that women owned and even produced bricks…. So in all of these ways there were incentives to Make Bricks.

**Break for a human demonstration of the necessity of ribs and vaults!**
Four women called up, to act as ribs – then Lancaster hung from their hands! and asked them where the tension was. And then, four men came up and put their hands on their shoulders – queue hanging again – and the women reported that there was less tension. Very, very cool.

Then there was scoria. It’s basically solidified volcanic foam, and was the only non-decorative stone imported into Rome, and it was used on imperial buildings. Most of the stuff that was used was from Pompey, but was brought after 79 – when the explosion from Vesuvius had covered the stuff – so it was hard to get to, but still they did it. Hello, lucre…

The Basilica Ulpia: why use columns, rather than a vaulted roof? Columns make the roof flat, and there was increasing interest in showing off colourful stone from captured territory. It also probably provided a very nice viewing platform for Trajan’s Column – so convenient!

Also at this time came the introduction of the use of window glass (from late in the first century). This led to huge changes in Roman perceptions of light and space, and raised expectations through the roof (tee hee). Buttresses become important for this development, and allows for baths to get bigger – good from a social and imperial point of view – and the light showed off the captured marble very, very nicely.

There were other bits and interesting pieces in the lecture – which I really enjoyed, if I haven’t mentioned that – but the last thing I wanted to mention related to that comment about taxes and debased coinage. Diocletian made a huge change by imposing a property tax on people living in Rome. The urban prefect, who was in charge of the area within a 100 mile radius of the city, used a form of barter to get building materials – and, on the other side, to reduce the taxpayer’s tax burden. Very, very clever.

Yay for public lectures! I love the Classics department at Melbourne!

Women in Origin Myths

This was a lecture given by Patrick Geary, from UCal, on Feb 7th. My notes, my misinterpretations….

*Random notes:
– Matthew and Luke genealogies don’t agree?
– Davidic lineage? [Not really sure what this was referring to, obviously something biblical..]
– Matilda of Tuscany [hmmm… some sort of mythology around her I guess…]

*Interest in memory currently:
– end of the Cold War: how to remember, especially in Warsaw Pact areas
– death of WWII survivors – Holocaust survivors and perpetrators, soldiers. Who has the right to tell about the past?
— This is really about the present and the future (what was – what is, and what should be [sounds like a Led Zeppelin song…]).

*Around the fifth century BC, and following, interest in genealogies increased – but generations of men. So where were the women?

– the first man involved no woman; sprung form the earth.
– first woman ismade, not generated
Problem: to be a citizen, have to have father and mother as citizens….

*Herodotus’ story of the Scyths
– mother is semi-divine, or semi-monster…
— Byzantium liked Herodotus, and used this story.
— Amazons –> Scythians –> Goths

*Sarah and Hagar: Hebrews and Arabs

*More important to look at audience than possible matriarchal origins (at least in some cases). [I’ve always thought matriarchal ideas were feminists grasping at straws, which I thought was sad both because they thought they had to and because I thought that it was unlikely that society has ever been much different in its shape over the last several thousand years].

*Medieval historians/genealogist (most of whom were clerical, so had no children, but put themselves in the family begun by a virgin mother…):
– women are in the mythic pre-history of people/nations; their disappearance is necessary for the beginning of ‘real’ history (only men)
– not incorporated satisfactorily into lineages
– writers are aware/ambivalent of current women leaders
– fail to reconcile rension between the ideal and actuality.

*Why didn’t the men just write the problematic women out? There must have been something in the tradition….

Fulbright Lecture

These are the notes I took at a Fulbright lecture a while ago now (last year sometime); it was part of a symposium of peace and human rights education, althought I only got to this lecture. As always – my notes, quite possibly my misunderstandings….

*Dr Diana Shelton (?sp) (American)
The world since Sept 11…
– Terrorism seen as act of war, not (as it actually is) a crime. Parallels with Pearl Harbour in WWII.
– People held, not given rights of POW or civilians, but as unprivileged combatants: on June 16, someone could be held in perpetuity without trial [I think I missed something here, like which year and country this was referring to… oops. Doesn’t really make much sense without that].
– USA PATRIOT Act (which I still cannot believe is an acronym; I thought only bad editors did that…) had no community consultation, was done in a panic after Sept 11, enhances executive branch powers, including protesting against the government, potentially [this being banned, I think, was the idea]; also surveillance rights, eg no search warrant needed.
–most sections have sunset clause – 31 Dec 2005 – but trying to get this extended.
–changes attitudes towards non-nationals in, and coming in.
– Other executive orders carried out… people being held for long periods with no bond… justice is being made a travesty of! Also issue about interrogation – when does it become torture?
– Losing liberty just to get a little secutiry is a bad deal.

*Prof George Williams (Australian)
– The gulf between actual knowledge of a threat v community fear of one [that’s all I wrote; I think the idea was that this is something that needs to be seriously considered. After al, lots of people think that crime is increasing when actualy it’s not, etc. The media has a lot to answer for).
– Aust laws did not get passed very quickly , and were frequently subject to parliamentary review and criticism, meaning that the laws that did, eventually, pass are better than they would have been without that.
— Still grave issues, however (you can be jailed for 5 years for reporting publicly that you were held by ASIO, or saying you were mistreated by them – as can any journalist saying this about you).
However, human rights doesn’t seem to have a place in dialogues about these issues…
— He is a strong advocate of a Bill of Rights for Australia.

Me: I can’t believe that Australia doesn’t have a Bill of Rights. That’s just a bit embarrassing… I guess the founders assumed we would be under Magna Carta or something. Stoopid. I really enjoyed this lecture. The American and the Australian were nicely complementary of one another. It frankly scared me, too, to hear about the changes to laws that both countries have made. I think it’s just dreadful that liberties are restricted to try and curb terrorism and other threats to our lifestyle. Surely that means that the people who apparently don’t like deomcracy and Western ways of living are winning?

The Invention of Money by the Greeks

Richard Seaford spoke at uni earlier this year – I’ve just re-discovered my notes, so I thought I would write them up, for my own memory and public delectation. He wrote a book called Money and the Greek Mind, and this lecture was called “The Invention of Money by the Greeks.” Of course, this is what I wrote as I listened – I may have misunderstood… my thoughts are in square brackets.

**In the sixth century BC came the invention of what makes society today what it is [Western, anyway; and these are just his ideas]: democracy, drama, philosophy, scientific medicine, money, and history writing.

**Money and its Invention
– money is different and separate from wealth
– started in Ionia, Thrace, Cyprus and the Greek colonies.
– coinage: revolutionary and convenient – could be used in everyday life, which led eventually to a thoroughly monetised society.
– Egypt and Mesopotamia did not have money; they used metals as a commodity, which Seaford claims is not the same as using money.
– it’s hard to give a definition for money, because it is both a ‘thing’ and a relationship, particularly a power relationship, especially over someone’s labour [Marxism…].
–So how do you decide what is acting as money?!
—Money functions: it must be a means of payment, and a means of exchange, and and a measure of value, and a means of storing value. If something does all four functions, it’s money.

Money=sophistication? For a culture, that is. [Really not convinced by this idea… I think it’s a very modern, Western, and fairly arrogant assumption….]

**Philosophy: the view that the universe is an intelligible system, subject to uniformity and impersonal forces.
* Seaford claims that sixth C BC Greece is the first time anywhere this view was held.
* He also says that the world is/was divided into those who think the world is personal vs those who see it as impersonal.
– Philosophy started in Miletos,
– Why?? Some say it is because of a political development – indeed, the polis, not subject to an autocrat, where citizens rule themselves. So there is no monarchy to be imprinted onto the cosmos. But, the polis was in existence before these guys, and there is nothing that special about Miletos. So it doesn’t really fit, although it is appealling. So why Miletos? Was the first to be thoroughly ‘monetised’, and one of the greatest economic powers of the time – trading, etc.

Short Interlude…
The supposed way money was invented: The King of Lydia at Sardis get lots of electrum from a river, and pays mercenaries with it, and stamps it all to make the pieces worth the same amount.

And Lydia is very close to Greek cities like Miletos….

Interesting point: in Homer, in animal sacrifices, everyone gets the same amount of meat – on a spit of the same size. The obol, the smallest coin, is a similar word to that for the name of th spit! One theory runs that the spits got traded [but I ask, why??], and then replaced by coins [eventually…somehow…].

…so Back to the Story…

**So the link between money and philosophy is?
– The philosophers all thought that the world was composed of one substance, in different forms (although of course they all thought that it was a different substance from what the last guy said).
– Without a monarch, money is the most powerful thing in society. It is exchangeable for anything, and anything is exchangeable for it… much like the one universal substance of the philosophers. [He did go into the various philosophers and what they thought that substance was, but I was tired by that stage and couldn’t keep up, so I’m not really doing him justice.] Additionally, of course, it is impersonal – another attribute of the philosophical view of the world [according to Seaford].
– Money is also abstract: it has two different values – the substance and the form. The abstract value is of more importance. So the most real and most important power in society is abstract… which influences the way the thinkers of the time view the world.

**Final thought: Parmenides dealt with the rift between the abstract and the sensual; he says that the sensual is an illusion, and that only the abstract actually exists. Like money.
*Parmenides influences Plato.

***My final thoughts: I most definitely don’t know enough about the development of money, nor of the various philosophers he mentioned, to decide based on this lecture whether I believe it or not. He was certainly a very entertaining and persuasive speaker, and during the lecture I was more than willing to be convinced. One of my favourite things about these sorts of lectures is playing Spot the Lecturer/Tutor (there’s the magnficent Chris Mackie, there the brilliant Ron Ridley, supervisor extraordinaire, the moderately boring Roger Scott, etc). In front of me this time was Elizabeth Pemberton (for whom I can’t find a link, as she has left my Melbourne Uni), who shook her head a fair bit and was obviously not convinced by a number of things he said. This served as quite a nice counterbalance to my possible gullibility!

Just call me Kit

Yes, last night we went for a ride, to and from Lygon St (so it was a night ride… Knight Rider… Kit… very sad I know). It was a lot more fun and less scary than I had worried – we’ve both got lights, after all, and it was actually warmer riding home at 10pm than it was riding there at 6pm.

The reason we did this was to attend a public lecture, on “Physics, TIme and Archaeology.” It was really interesting – with the amusing bonus that the physics dude and the archaeology dude are brothers, both working at MU. How cool. Anyway, the physics dude had a Geiger tube, so he was demonstrating how you can tell the rate of decay of unstable elements, and he also demonstrated thermoluminescence, using an old TV tube. He talked about how physics can help archaeologists by dating things, basically.

The archaeology guy – well, he wasn’t quite as good. For a start, he didn’t seem accustomed to using a microphone, because he was way too loud. I’m also not really sure what his brief was, because what he gave was an overview of the history of archaeology and attempts at dating (not mentioning Schliemann, interestingly). It didn’t really have relation to physics, as far as I could see, although I think a large proportion of the audience was physics types so maybe it was new and interesting to them.

It was fun, overall, and I’m glad we went.