My post on 2010/11/26 started out simply enough.  Just something to share with the readers.  A post that was a mere gloss over something larger. 

I started the article out with: “Want to see some Roman Art?  Why wait for a museum to have a showing?  It’s all there on ebay.  Just put the following words into the search engine:   Roman Antiques. This on-line auction house  is truly the ‘peoples museum.’  Where else can such a collection be brought together at a touch of a key?  Roman marble head of bearded man  Starting bid $700. Roman Iron Knife with Bronzed handle  Starting bid $24.”

I admit I thought I was being clever.  Yes, a big mistake for someone with a  blog and podcast.  

Robert Greaves pointed out what the real story was.  

“Do you think ebay encourages the trade in illicit antiquities? Not so much stolen ones, but ones that have not been properly declared in the country they come from, which means people are not giving new sites a chance to be properly excavated by archaeologists.”

 I made a mistake.  I wrote him back with a simple:

“You could very well be right.”

Mr. Greaves had given me a teaching point and I had totally dismissed it.  No insight, no further exploration on the direction he gave me.  He had brought up a very important point.  There was something more here than the nature of museums and ‘junk drawers’.  

For instance, read the following article.

University of California – Los Angeles. “EBay Has Unexpected, Chilling Effect On Looting Of Antiquities, Archaelogist Finds.” ScienceDaily, 9 May 2009. Web. 19 Apr. 2011. — Having worked for 25 years at fragile archaeological sites in Peru, UCLA archaeologist Charles “Chip” Stanish held his breath when the online auction house eBay launched more than a decade ago.

“My greatest fear was that the Internet would democratize antiquities trafficking, which previously had been a wealthy person’s vice, and lead to widespread looting,” said the UCLA professor of anthropology, who directs the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.

Indeed, eBay has drastically altered the transporting and selling of illegal artifacts, Stanish writes in an article in the May/June issue of Archaeology, but not in the way he and other archaeologists had feared.

By improving access to a worldwide market, eBay has inadvertently created a vast market for copies of antiquities, diverting whole villages from looting to producing fake artifacts, Stanish writes. The proliferation of these copies also has added new risks to buying objects billed as artifacts, which in turn has worked to depress the market for these items, further reducing incentives to loot.

“For most of us, the Web has forever distorted the antiquities trafficking market in a positive way,” Stanish said.

Looting, which is illegal, is widely recognized as destructive to cultural heritage because it can remove from public ownership tangible links to a people’s past. In addition, looting is perceived as the enemy of scholarship because it typically is done without regard to any appropriate methods that allow scientists to date objects and to place them in a larger, more meaningful context.

One of the world’s premiere authorities on Andean archaeology and supervisor, at UCLA, of the one of the world’s largest collections of working archaeologists, Stanish has been tracking objects billed as antiquities on eBay for more than nine years. His conclusions also are informed by experiences with the U.S. customs service, which occasionally asks him to authenticate objects. In addition, Stanish has visited a number of workshops in Peru and Bolivia that specialize in reproductions of pottery and has interviewed these artisans. While his background is in South American archaeology, he has tracked eBay listings of antiquities from many cultures.

“Chinese, Bulgarian, Egyptian, Peruvian and Mexican workshops are now producing fakes at a frenetic pace,” he writes.

When he first started tracking eBay’s sales of antiquities, Stanish focused mainly on objects related to his field. At the time, the ratio of real artifacts to fakes was about 50-50, he estimates. About five years later, 95 percent were fakes. Now, he admits, he can’t always tell, because the quality of the fakes has improved so much.

He estimates that about 30 percent of “antiquities” currently for sale on eBay are obvious fakes, in so much as creators mix up iconography and choose colors and shapes for visual effect rather than authenticity. Another 5 percent or so are genuine treasures. The rest fall in the ambiguous “I would have to hold it in my hand to be able to make an informed decision” category, he writes. Stanish admits himself to occasionally being duped by fakes encountered in shops in areas where both looted items and fakes are sold.

The advent of eBay has had the biggest impact on the antiquities market by reducing the incentive to unearth precious treasures in the first place, Stanish has found.

“People who used to make a few dollars selling a looted artifact to a middleman in their village can now produce their own ‘almost-as-good-as-old’ objects and go directly to a person in a nearby town who has an eBay account,” he said. “They will receive the same amount or even more than they could have received for actual antiquities.”

As a result of the rise of a ready market, many of the primary purveyors have shifted from looting sites to faking antiquities.

In addition to linking craftsmen with a market for cheap fakes, eBay has tended to have a depressing effect on prices for real looted artifacts, further discouraging locals from pillaging precious sites.

“The value of … illicit digging decreases every time someone buys a ‘genuine’ Moche pot for $35, plus shipping and handling,” he writes. (An authentic antiquity would sell for upwards of $15,000.)

So far, authentication techniques have struggled to keep abreast of increasingly sophisticated fakes, Stanish said. Pottery can still be authenticated reliably, although the process is costly. In addition, forgers tend to only guarantee the authenticity of their pieces as long as no form of “destructive” analysis is used. While just a tiny flake of pottery is required for thermoluminescence dating — the gold standard for pottery — the process is technically considered destructive, Stanish points out, so the test invalidates such warrantees, no matter its conclusion.

Thanks to laser technology and chemical processes for forming antique-appearing patinas, stone and metal, reproductions are “almost impossible” to authenticate using today’s technology, Stanish writes. However, the prospect of authentication techniques eventually catching up with today’s fakes is also having a chilling effect on the market for antiquities, by dramatically adding to the risk of illicit, high-end trafficking.

“Who wants to spend $50,000 on an object ‘guaranteed’ to be ancient by today’s standards, when someone can come along in five years with a new technology that definitively proves it to be a fake,” he asks.

 -30- (End of story)

For actual pieces of antiquities never to catalogued, measured against other pieces, never to be studied by academia due to the business of digging it up and selling it on ebay for profit, puts a hole in the historical record.  Fake pieces are false made up facts, giving us a view of the past that never was.   Actual pieces dug up illegally and sold illegally empty the historical record of important evidence– giving nothing except building someone’s ego or filling space on a coffee table or taking up space in someone’s ‘junk drawer.’

Yes, I would like to own a bit of the past.  In a strange way it would make me feel ‘immortal’.

I admit its an odd emotional reaction, but if owning a bit of the past prevents the historical record from being whole, if it prevents knowledge from being studied and weighed, I’ll forgo the pleasure of making my bid on ebay.

Go to:  to read the original article.

Mr. Greaves has a great blog site:

What a face (and I earned it)!

Rob Cain

Rob Cain?

Rob Cain?

Rob Cain?

Which one is me?  The more I look in the mirror I see a Roman bust staring back at me.   What you don’t understand, the guy on the left, was proud of every wrinkle on his face.  It gave him dignatus.  It marked him as a serious minded force to be reckoned with.   This marks the difference between us.  I am bemoaning the white hair, the bags under the eyes.  The guy on the left revels in them.  The wrinkles are  badges of honor.  He survived horror, death, war, and disease.   I look at a picture of myself and shrink back in horror.  Where was the youth that was?  The Rob Cain (left) sees himself as a model of Roman virtue, the Rob Cain (right) is wondering about plastic surgery. 

That is the difference between us and them.  Why do you think he allowed himself to be carved that way?  A photo of me is one thing, it is taken in seconds, but to sit through the long process of a stone bust being carved of your likeness tells me that it was intentional.

I am old and still alive!  The gods favor me!

A Red Letter Day

The title of this blog entry is “A Red Letter Day.”  To my understanding there were red letters on the Roman calendar to denote festivals and special events.  Yesterday, in one viewing day I had 1017 page views.  This was unusual for me, and was the first time that I noticed this level of statistic.   

Today, I interviewed Dr. Carl RiCHARD (I put the last 5 letters in capitals to denote the accent on the last part of the name — he explained a CAJUN pronounciation).  He has written the book “Why We’re All Romans, The Roman Contribution to the Roman World.”     He inspired me, so I decided to change the direction of the next podcast for Season Seven.    Ancient Rome Refocused will concentrate on the influence of the Romans on early America and the U.S. today.  

Watch for it in the next couple of weeks.

I have been emailing back and forth on FaceBook one Mark Schauss.  He has a fascinating podcast called Russian Rulers History (on itunes by the way).  He has tantalized me with his observations on similarities between the Caesars and the Czars and has agreed to an interview.  I am going to call him tomorrow to interview him for a future show.

Stay tuned!

Need your opinion

Does anyone have an opinion on the book: Cleopatra, A Life by Stacy Shiff?  I have been listening to an audio book from itunes. 


Season 2, Episode Seven in the works

I’m behind schedule. 

Episode Seven will be about Cleopatra, and our perceptions of her.  This has been the hardest one to write due to the passionate interest in her.  I am going to take it a controversial angle on this one.  As always, if someone disagrees with my conclusions, they are free to write in.

Make your objections interesting enough and according to the ‘house rules’ (they are posted on the left), I will put you on the next podcast.  

In my readings I have read the book Becoming Cleopatra, The Shifting Image of an Icon by Francesca T. Royster.    The book is a great read, less history and more social commentary.   I had to wade through some sections that I thought had little to do with her main subject, but found her overall conclusions right on target. 

Time to get back to work on the script.

The New Library of Alexandria

The New Library of Alexandria

This thought did not occur to me until I bought myself a Kindle

How much of ancient history that we read by modern authors is new?

Don’t get me wrong, I think I realized it on some sort of sub atomic level, but the thought did not appear in my consciousness until I noticed something offered on   The company not only offers books you can download, but there seems to be no charge on some books that have been out of print for a long time.  The book I am reading right now is called Cleopatra by Jacob Abbot, 1803-1879.  Abraham Lincoln was a fan of his work which was a consistent work of anecdotal history termed ‘juvenile history’ with an age category of 18 to 25.  Go figure that one out.

I found the book enjoyable to read (especially when they are trying to explain the relationship between Caesar (50 years old) to Cleopatra (18).  An awful lot of verbiage was used to talk around of an older man and a younger woman ‘hooking up.’   What do you expect for the middle 1800s?

The interesting thing is I have a copy of Abbot’s books  ( There were two brothers by the way: Jacob and John) and the narrative is pretty good, written over a hundred and forty years ago.   What does a hundred and forty years smell like?  I found out when I opened the book that was sitting in my apartment’s party room simply as decoration.  The cover was pretty old, and the pages harbored that dusty, sweet smell when the earth begins to reclaim the pages.  It smelled like Egypt.     It took a Kindle to get me to crack it open.  

I think what is interesting, that much of what was written I had heard recently in a lecture given at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.  This brought up the thought of: “How much of what historians tell us is new?”

In my opinion — not much. 

After all, it’s not the information, but how it is told which is important.

I think interest in the classics is generational.  It is the telling, not he what, but the  how.  The story captures the imagination, at different times, and is retold in a fresh and interesting way, and in the words of the time.    A good comparison is the teachings of the astronomer Carl Sagan.   Much of the information told in his TV show COSMOS had been around for generations, and the science though current, was not fashionable or sexy.  What made Carl Sagan popular was HOW he told it.

Cleopatra, A life, by Stacy Schiff has struck the imagination of the public and will soon be made into a movie starring Angelina Jolie.  Every generation or so, we see books (fiction and non-fiction), and movies on this subject, telling and retelling the story with a unique perspective of the generation telling it.  One Cleopatra is a ‘vamp’, one Cleopatra looks like a ‘flapper’ of the twenties, one Cleopatra is a girl-child enthralled by the attentions of an older man (Shaw and his white whiskers should come to mind), one Cleopatra is hard to tell where the movie star stops and the real Cleopatra begins (shades of Elizabeth Taylor and being the first ‘million dollar’ actress).  Cleopatra morphs and changes, and becomes African American, and morphs back again into a sex siren or intellectual (as proposed by an Egyptian historian).  It all depends what generation or WHO is telling the story. 

Yet, what it REALLY is a retelling based on the same data.   Plutarch , Lucan, Dio Cassius, Straaabo (I like saying it with three ‘a’s) , is the foundation of other writers who today write under the names of  Brown, Schiff, and Goldsworthy. 

In between you got a guy called William Shakespeare who more than likely read Plutarch.

In between you got a guy called Emil Ludwig who wrote Cleopatra: Geschichte einer Konigin.  It was translated and published in 1939, and Ludwig gave credit to Plutarch, Appian and Dio Cassius.

In between you got a guy called Michael Grant, who wrote a book titled Cleopatra, a doctor of letters and Cambridge, who more than likely broke open his copy of Plutarch sometime during the writing.  

And in between there are a whole host of titles and authors telling and retelling the story in such books as: Cleopatra: Beyond the Myth by Michel Chauveau, Cleopatra: A Biography by Duane W. Roller, Cleopatra by Prudence Jones, and so on, and so on, and so on. 

And where did you think they got their sources?

Plutarch , Lucan, Dio Cassius, and Straaabo (with three ‘a’s). 

The Adjustment Bureau Mythology

“The fates lead who will – him that won’t…they drag.”


 adjustment-bureauI am asking you to look into your soul.  Do you believe that your fate is decided, or do you believe you are master of your own future?  While you ponder that, let me tell you about a movie called The Adjustment Bureau. 

It begins with a politician losing an election.  His name is David Norris, and is played by Matt Damon.   Just an hour before he is to face the press he is practicing his concession speech in the men’s bathroom at the hotel.  He quickly realizes he is not alone for in one of the stalls is an intriguing British woman named Elise played by Emily Blunt.   OK, slightly embarrassing, most women would excuse themselves and head for the exit, but this is Matt Damon…no sorry…a very recognizable politician.  Just imagine you met John Kennedy, maybe you would stick around and have a small chitchat.  Except in the space of one small conversation these two go right for a kiss.  There is an immediate, undeniable connection. 

She can ‘t stick around, it seems she has some hotel security people looking for her.  She crashed a wedding.  Can you really get jail time for crashing a wedding?  He has to give his speech.  The two separate, never to meet again.

Not likely.

Months later someone is hanging outside his apartment.  They are watching him.  Something is very important about David Norris spilling his coffee.  It seems there is a group of people running about town called The Adjustment Bureau; these guys though keeping time and the universe in line are just slightly out of synch with everyone else.  Their attire with 1960 brook brother suits and hats are right out of a men’s catalog of the era.  Well, that’s OK, name one government agency that isn’t just a little out of step with the people they serve.

The guy assigned to his case is Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) and has been a little overworked lately.  He is to meet up with Norris on the street, cause him to spill his coffee, and then cause a ripple of effects in the space / time continuum.  I don’t know if it’s really the space / time continuum but I just like saying it.

He falls asleep in a park outside his apartment, and somehow Norris gets by him.  Well, it really must important that Norris spills his coffee for Mitchell runs six blocks to try to catch the bus, and for his trouble gets hit by a car.

Norris meets Elise on the bus.  A coincidence, right?  They hit if off and she gives him her phone number. 

Mitchell who has survived his collision with a New York city cab, is made of sterner stuff, and rather than ask for an ambulance he asks for his book that he carries around with him everywhere he goes.  This is like a ‘steam-punk’ ipod, pages like any other book, but has maps that remind me of GPS tracking in real time.

You don't want to mess with these guys.

You don't want to mess with these guys. Mitchell is on the left. Notice the book in his hand. I called it a 'steam-punk ipod' but another name is the 'Book of Fate.' The guys in the suits call it the 'Master Plan.'

Norris goes to work, and seems to walk into a conference at the wrong time.  Strange men in dark coats have frozen in time those in the office, and his friend has a machine up against his head that looks like those futuristic Dyson vacuum cleaners with glowing lights attached.  He tries to run for it, he is caught, and thrown through a door into a warehouse where he is held captive and told the state of the universe.

“Your actions are not your own.”

“We control your decisions.”

“You were never supposed to meet that girl.”

What?  Who are you guys?

They burn the telephone number of the girl.  Everything you see has ripples, and talk to the wrong person, go down the wrong street, and it takes you off the master plan.  You see, everyone, at least the important people, have a master plan.  I have one, don’t you? 

After the Adjustment Bureau boys read him the riot act on what his place exactly is in the universe, this is the part where Seneca was absolutely right – he is dragged and literally thrown back into normal life.

“What are you doing on my floor?” his friend asks him having survived his brain manipulation. 

So for the next three years he rides the bus in hopes of seeing the girl again.  Who cares if some guys in anachronistic clothing kidnaps you and tells you to lay off.  True love is true love, right?

Half way through the film the impression of a Twilight Zone episode wore off, and I slowly realized that these guys were more on a mythological level, than some strange governmental agency that had weird office attire.

I caught on to them when Norris asked, “What are you?”

And the answer he got was kind of obscure.   In real life, obscure answers, under the circumstances, would not have cut it.   If I was in the warehouse, and being held against my will, and these guys wanted me to accept the biggest ‘fish story’ I  had ever heard,  I would be peppering them with the following questions.

“Are you aliens?”

“Are you a government agency?”

“Are you immortal?”

OK, the girl is important, but if someone opens up the universe for you I would be trying to find out more.  In fact, the only question he seems to ask was, “Are you angels?”

"What do you mean its not part of the master plan?"

"What do you mean its not part of the master plan?"

This is the spot where the movie jumps into Magic Realism, a sort of a genre where everything seems normal but accepts the bizarre as every day.  For instance, imagine you are in a world where there are no doctors, but only wizards.   In this reality we have guys who dress out of the TV show Madmen, and have yet graduated their record keeping to computers.  These guys can live a long time, survive getting hit by a car, and have powers to cause things to move (a useful power when you want someone to spill their coffee, or make someone trip just at the right time).  What’s more they can walk through doors and be transported like something out of Star Trek to a different location.  These guys aren’t agents for a government agency.  These guys aren’t aliens.  These guys are…wait for it…are the fates.

  The idea of man’s destiny being pre-ordained is as old as man himself.  I predict that many of you reading this article will not admit this to yourself, or actually belief openly that your future is pre-ordained.   This is the connection you have with the ancient Romans, even with the ancient Greeks.  We are not that different.  And I predict, if you sit yourself down tonight, and really think about it, there have been times in your life that you thought you were destined for something greater.  If there are times that you wondered what it would be like to be a Roman, well you actually share something with them on a basic gut level.  

Fate is another way to talk of destiny, the belief in a predetermined future.  How many lovers have said or even thought, “We were meant to be together” like it was laid out…already decided.  How many biographers have written, “He was destined for greatest.”  Even though his or her success may have been based on a series of chances based on a mathematical mountain of predetermined courses.  Words of fate and destiny are interwoven in our language, and even analogies are made with the fibers of

The Fates

The Fates

our own clothing.  Life is talked about as if it is spun from a loom, that life itself is a thread spun and maintained by three Greek goddesses:  Lashesis who decides the length of your life, Clotho who spins it out, and Atropos who will sever the thread at the appointed hour.    These were called the Moirae, the fates.  There were the white robed personifications of destiny.  Don’t tell me you never heard of ‘life as a tapestry’, and what tapestry is not composed of threads?  Your life is composed of many threads; these are the intersections of people’s life’s that intersect with yours.      

Yes, I admit it.  I did not catch on who these guys were until the middle of the movie.

It is then the movie began to make real sense.  What the Adjustment Bureau is really about is tempting the fates.  What would man be if he didn’t try to strike out on his own?  It is in our nature to go for something more, something different.  We tempt the fates by applying for that job we know we don’t have any chance to get; we tempt the fates by asking that pretty girl out for a date.  Norris wants happiness, and he wants ‘his thread’ to intersect with Elise.  Norris has a great destiny, so has Elise, but together those destinies may be rewritten. 

 “Men at some time are masters of their fates.  The fault, dear Brutis, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…”

– William Shakespeare   

‘The Eagle’

The-Eagle-Keep-Your-Form-17-1-11-kcAnyone seen it yet? I am looking for someone to post their review on Ancient Rome Refocused.

Tell us your take on the show.  

I will accept a guest editorial if you send it to:

Take the Survey

On the next season of Ancient Rome Refocused what would you like to see?  Take the following survey and tell us what you think.

The fall of the U.S. Empire

FaceBook-LogoI started pontificating on facebook and some of my fellow history buffs joined in.  Your invited to join in as well. 


Rob Cain:

The other day I was thinking of the end of the Roman Empire. A strange as it sounds…I get depressed when thinking of Rome falling. It then occurred to me, what about a podcast that talks about Rome Falling and a comparison of what it would be like for the U.S.? Don’t get me wrong…if you listen closely to my podcasts… I believe we are due for America’s GOLDEN AGE (like the Greeks), but what an interesting discussion it would make. Can we learn lessons of Rome’s fall for our own that may or may not come?

Joey Hill: 

 I think that like all things, whether we are heading for a Golden Age or not, America will reach its apex and fall, if not to rise again and again, much like the Western and Eastern Roman empire did before us. I too get depressed when think…ing of the fall of the Roman Empire and thinking of what it would be like for us as a country to go through that. I think we have a different mentality than the Romans under imperial rule at this time, but who knows what the future holds. Definiately a great podcast topic however. :) Love the most recent one, especially the speech given by the commander to his troops before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It was wise, well thought out and truly moving to listen to. A wise commander indeed.

Rob Cain

If you really thnk about it, I mean REALLY think about it…we were not always on top. For much of our history the British took the lead and the U.S. turned out to be a pretty good place to live in just the same. I think the so called ‘fall’…if it comes or as you say ‘when’…the payment we will pay as a people is what scares me most. The question that would make a good podcast is what KIND of payment.

Joey Hill

Maybe loss of pride, loss of identity, loss of work ethic, you name it. Unless the payment is made over time to the point when we won’t even notice that our “fall” has even happened. I don’t know yet but I’ll have to chew on it I suppose. It’s depressing! :)

Bradley Holland

The fall will be soft and you wont know its happening or you wont be in a position where you have time to care. energeticly, the Franks, Saxons, and Germans carved out great Empires using the framework established by the Romans.

The West fell because of plague, depopulation and economic reasons. There were people waiting to fill the vacuum and they did so…

More recently the British Empire faded away….

The British empire still exists in spirit and culture with US inheriting its position but owing its origins to Britain as the founders of the United States did not spring forth from the soil like myrmidons but haled from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland in the main.

The laws and institutions of the US were moulded by people of British descent and the energy and ingenuity the American people were sparked by people emigrating from the British Empire looking to better themselves.

The US is Imperial in every sense of the word it has invaded and annexed it has maintained hegemony and client states it has colonised and expressed a manifest destiny.

The U.S. is the current inheritor to Rome’s legacy but time changes everything, and the torch will move on and a new region will take up the mantle.

Then again maybe you will have your Aurelian, so don’t write your selves off so early into your existence.

Rob Cain

 Being the son of a English immigrant and a family that traces their family to the Isle of wight, with branches coming from Ireland, more than once growing up I felt the ‘touch’ of British Empire. My mother even came over when she was 15 (1930s) managed to retain a pro-empire attitude in her view of the world. You can translate this as pro-british if you want. I have visited Britian twice in my life, and my father was there in World War II. I still look to Britian with awe, admiration, sometimes guidance, and would in a ‘New York minute’ visit it again if given half the chance. I wonder upon that in some future time after the fall…there might be some post fall ‘yankee’ talking about the good old days under the ‘American Influence’ and visiting New York to walk the streets and remember when.

OK, a little dramatic.

 Bradley Holland

I think people in the US worrying about the fall of “their empire” are doing so prematurely. You have only been the pre-eminent world power for the last 60-70 years. The Roman republic and Empire had hundreds of years of ups and downs.

Pax …Britannia was roughly 200 years long 1700ish to 1918ish. Before that it was the Spanish and Portuguese.

I will start to worry about the decline of the US in 150 years time.

That is why I don’t think the Western Empire went away entirely. Enough of its culture and tradition was preserved to enhance or burden the nations of Europe and later Europe’s colonies as they have adopted and adapted the “idea of Rome” and succeeded spectacularly like the US has or failed with unfathomable cost like Germany’s twice contested imperial dreams.

I’m Australian and no matter how different we claim we are from the British – our traditions and laws are British, they have just been shaped by our location and our environment. That is probably why you will find us the Canadians an the New Zealanders always willing to stand beside the US and the UK in a scrap or just being able to cooperate and get along, because we have a common shared heritage and a similar out look on the world.

Antonio Rodriquez
Rob, don’t forget that the Roman Empire lasted until 1453. How about some words about the Eastern Roman Empire on your next show?
Rob Cain
Good thought.
Cj Johnson
A lot of good points brought up here. Personally I am more sad about the Roman Republic falling then I am about the Empire’s eventual whithering. The Republic prior to the strife brought on by the likes of Sulla and Marius (and perhaps the Gracchi) is a period I look to with admiration.
(Note*  Anyone want to continue this conversation?)