Need assistance

I am looking for a map of what Ancient Rome looked like during the approx. date of 50 b.c.   So many years this way or that way is acceptable.  It should have the buildings and temples laid out, and the hills of Rome.  I have done an internet search and the most are imperial time frames.    If you could push me in the right direction, I would appreciate it.  Please help.

Atlantis and Down the Rabbit Hole

Reading about Atlantis is like going down the rabbit hole. What I mean it’s like a Lewis Carrol adventure, where you find yourself dropping away into an unfamiliar land. Reading about it makes me feel like Alice.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
Atlantis1Reading Meet Me in Atlantis by Mark Adams I feel that we walked long enough, but FAILED to get somewhere…ANYWHERE…on the subject. In fairness it is a hard subject.  In fairness I did enjoy the book.  It’s the subject that I have a hard time with, NOT his writing.  I learned a few things.  However, on Atlantis I feel that too much time has passed. There has been too much speculation on where Atlantis is supposed to be located or if it even existed at all.

We follow Adams around the world talking to people who made a study of it. Lowenstein Academic Building, Fordham University; Hartfort, Connecticut; Madrid; Gibralter; Santorini, Greece, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Cape Cod; Plato’s Academy, Athens (ca. 360 BC), and Athens, New York.

What started as a place beyond the Pillars of Hercules, this place seems to travel as easily as Adams who is reporting on this subject. His interview with experts hypothesizes the location of Atlantis as being in middle of the Atlantic; near Agadir, Morocco; Malta; or somehow that destruction of Thera (Santorini) is tied into the Atlantis myth and lore.

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

Atlantis was written about by Plato. In fact it was written about in a lot of detail. Theories are expounded that Atlantis was an example used as an antagonist naval power to show the power of “Ancient Athens” as the embodiment of Plato’s ideal state (see The Republic when you get a chance). Adams on page 9 of his book relates that Plato insisted that the story is true, which makes me ponder the following quote from Aristotle.

“He who invented it also destroyed it.”

Either way, it gives me a head ache. It is impossible to prove. It is impossible to nail down. Just out of reach, and sits on the edge of reality and fantasy.
I must confess…I do find the idea attractive. I want it to be real. It makes me hopeful. That if we press just a little harder THOUGH THE LOOKING GLASS we will find the true Atlantis spread out upon the ocean floor. It has a sort of a moral: Life ends, and it begins again.


The Explorers Club

The explorers club 2I came across mention of THE EXPLORERS’ CLUB while reading Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson.   Don’t be put off by the title. It’s a great book about the culture and psyche of archaeology, and its pun-o-zonian title (made that word up, by the way) is right on the mark for a great commentary on the lives of archeologists and what drives them.

I admit the whole idea of an explorers club draws up images of Phileas Fogg and the Reform Club as he is about to start his journey to circumvent the globe in 80 days (check out Jules Verne).

For others it may be Indiana Jones. Note. Ms. Johnson in her book comments on the Indiana Jones’s effect and a generation that went into the field fully understanding they wouldn’t be dodging NAZIs but “…crouching in a fetid hole and teasing out bits of ancient garbage had nowhere near the enchantment of snatching glittering artifacts…” She makes it abundantly clear that no one deluded themselves.

However, as much as I love the allure of fiction THE EXPLORERS’S CLUB is based on fact. This Upper East Side town house hosted generations of mountain climbers, divers, astronauts, and explorers.

It has just what you expect: archives, map rooms, and trophy rooms with photographs of such people as Thor Heyerdahl, Buss Aldrin, and Ernest Shackleton. Yes, there is a bar.

It is a snapshot in time…maybe a bit dated, and certainly not very politically correct with the stuffed animals on the wall, but considering it is a snapshot to the founders and particularly Teddy Roosevelt it should not be a surprise.

Wait…wait..of course…how could I forget the Narwhale tusk over the bar.

Not many cities in the U.S. have places like this (in Europe I imagine the numbers to be higher). In Chicago, I would volunteer THE ORIENTAL MUSEUM at the University of Chicago.  The stones are cut with Art Deco images of past civilizations, motifs and nods to the past that say: “There be ‘history’ here!” The marbled interior, cool in summer and echo ridden, is a snapshot as well. You could imagine a bespectacled Indiana Jones leading a group of undergrads from room to room. Oh, and by the way…the only thing ‘stuffed’ is the mummies.

Gladiators of Rome

I suppose there had to be an animated ‘Disney like’ film eventually.  Of course, the one to train our hero up to standard is a gladiatrix.   I wonder how they handle the killing part?


This commercial comes on and I  can’t help to chuckle.  My voice suddenly does an imitation of Liam Neesen in his role as Zeus.


Twain and Pompeii

Mark Twain went on vacation. He wrote about his wanderings in a wonderful book called Innocents Abroad. A man of the new world decided to go see the old one. The following quote is pure Twain. 



“In one of these long Pompeiian halls the skeleton of a man was found, with ten pieces of gold in one hand and a large key in the other. He had seized his money and started toward the door, but the fiery tempest caught him at the very threshold, and he sank down and died. One more minute of precious time would have saved him. I saw the skeletons of a man, a woman, and two young girls. The woman had her hands spread wide apart, as if in mortal terror, and I imagined I could still trace upon her shapeless face something of the expression of wild despair that distorted it when the heavens rained fire in these streets, so many ages ago. The girls and the man lay with their faces upon their arms, as if they had tried to shield them from the enveloping cinders. In one apartment eighteen skeletons were found, all in sitting postures, and blackened places on the walls still mark their shapes and show their attitudes, like shadows. One of them, a woman, still wore upon her skeleton throat a necklace, with her name engraved upon it—JULIE DI DIOMEDE.

But perhaps the most poetical thing Pompeii has yielded to modern research, was that grand figure of a Roman soldier, clad in complete armor; who, true to his duty, true to his proud name of a soldier of Rome, and full of the stern courage which had given to that name its glory, stood to his post by the city gate, erect and unflinching, till the hell that raged around him burned out the dauntless spirit it could not conquer.

We never read of Pompeii but we think of that soldier; we can not write of Pompeii without the natural impulse to grant to him the mention he so well deserves. Let us remember that he was a soldier—not a policeman—and so, praise him. Being a soldier, he staid,—because the warrior instinct forbade him to fly. Had he been a policeman he would have staid, also—because he would have been asleep.”

End Quote.

Whims of Fortune

A 10-minute epic. Brought to you by Nova Polaris ( A mystery if you will. Seen enough Ben Hur like epics with the actors ‘chewing’ the scenery? Not here.  I do like the film, the armor, the photography and the actors are believable. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you only got 10-minutes you have to deliver plot points fast.  It even has a little philosophy thrown in.  COOL!  The actors are believable as stoic shield carriers, there is no asides, no grand speeches, and that’s just fine.  The film builds suspense.  I want to see more films like this about the average soldier.

I would love to know your opinion on the sword fight.  It seemed to me it could have been a bit more Peckinpah (meaning a little more violence with a little more cinematography for effect) but the battle was conducted cleanly and quietly (realism?).

Please leave a comment on the blog or on facebook. 

Call me.

CALL 855-209-6230.

roman_sodier_cellphoneThe phone system to Ancient Rome Refocused was down due to the recent barbarian attack.

I have an answering machine.

Remember the rules of Ancient Rome Refocused.

1. Educate through ideas
2. Share with us what you know
3. No profanity
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5. Attack ideas not people

Leave a message and I’ll put you on the show.

Note* New episodes are in the works.

If your wondering what to talk about, I have some suggestions:

  1. What’s your favorite podcast on the Ancient World?  (It does not have to be mine.)
  2. What’s your favorite book?
  3. Is there a subject that you would like to see addressed on ARR?
  4. Gripes? Suggestions? Questions.
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Note* Keep it short, or call in several times.  Do it in segments.


Keep it interesting…AND YOUR ON THE SHOW!


Ancient Roman Pocket Knife

I was watching Antique Road Show.  The location was in England and one of the items was an ancient Roman pocket knife.

I found this fascinating.  For some reason it’s one of those items that I just thought would have been invented in the 17 or 18th Century.

A while back I found in my father’s junk drawer a Boy Scout pocket knife from the 1930s.  At the time I thought that to be deep archaeology.  (ha, ha).

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
– King James Bible


The Riddle of the Labyrinth

It’s all in the details.

Linear B

I read a book recently called The Riddle of the Labyrinth. It was written by Martha Fox. In 1900 tablets were unearthed with a language etched into the clay. This might as well have been an alien language. It resembled no alphabet that was ever seen – a list of swords, chariots and horse’s heads and assorted symbols composed an ancient language. If deciphered, if figured out, it would open up a society that flourished a 1000 years before the rise of Classical Greece.

This book is for the kid that lies below the surface. This is for the dreamer. Have you ever created your own code as a kid? Have you ever learned the Klingon language? Don’t laugh, there is a wonderful production of The Christmas Carol ( in the original Klingon) presented in Chicago every year. Have you ever wanted to jump through the Time Portal as in City on the Edge of Forever? If you’re a Star Trek fan you don’t have to ask. This book is for you.

You might think that deciphering an ancient language is the task for adventurers, but much more likely such things are solved by logical, precise and dogmatic individuals. Men and women with book jacket dust in their lungs, blackboard chalk on their fingers and probably more than a few cigarettes puffed late at night. In fact, I see no difference between those decoding an ancient language, and those that created the first computer language.   Which seems to me an amazing similar endeavor.

The heroes of this story are Arthur Evans, a charismatic Victorian Archaeologist, the bookish, college professor Alice Elizabeth Kober, and Michael Ventris, a young and dashing British architect. Ventris, considered an amateur, would be the one to break the code. Kober and Ventris each approached the task with almost systematic precision that has similarities to the mapping out of computer logic.

Take a look on page 35 and tell me that the “Man” tablet from Knossos does not bear an uncanny similarity to a print-out of Hexadecimal code. A language is a language, spoken or processed.

Just a thought.

This herculean task (forgive me…could not resist a classical reference) was completed in the age of pencil and paper, with no computer assistance available. I should point out that computers in the time of Kober and Ventris were just being developed and neither had the funds to build such a device to assist. The British government could afford it (the computer known as Colossus) but they weren’t lending it out to a part time code breaker named Ventris or a teacher of Latin in Brooklyn, New York. The only tools available were: chalk boards, memory, paper, and the ever popular spreadsheet.  Note – Alice Kober scissored 180,000 index cards from odd scraps of paper.

In addition what Ventris and Kober had were a strong familiarity of languages (ancient and modern) and what I consider the most important shared characteristic; they were human like the culture that created Linear B.

Linear B did not unearth some Pre-Homerian epic. However, to know something of these people can be surmised from 1,574 litres of barley, 14 ½ litres of cypreus, 115 litres of flour, 307 litres of olives, 19 litres of honey, 96 litres of fig, 1 ox, 26 rams 6 ewes. We can tell what they ate, who they were, what they harvesting and grew from the land. Gods were mentioned (not creations out of the imagination of Homer and Hesiod, but set down and documented generations before), and preparations for war (lists of armor, weapons and chariots).  The past opens up, we now know what they ate, who they worshipped, and what they stockpiled to do battle.

And sometimes there is a small spark, something to make you raise an eyebrow and think, “Wow, could it be?” Though it’s not mentioned in the Riddle of the Labyrinth (searched for it, couldn’t find it), it is mentioned in other texts.  It is said in the Pylos Linear-B tablets there was mentioned a very special commodity. La-Wi-ai-ai, ‘captives’. They are listed as ‘bath-pourers’, ‘ attendants’, and ‘textile workers’ raided and taken from islands south of Troy. Homer mentioned these islands as being raided by the Archeans: Lesbos, Kyros and Tenados (Illiad 9, 128-30, 270-72, 664-65, 11.625-270).

Could this be a confirmation of Troy itself? A confirmation by a royal scribe just having another day of copying lists? I’d like to think so. The kid in me likes to believe that a few strokes in the clay has confirmed that it all was true.

It’s all in the details.