Archive Page 2

A visit to the ancient Roman house in the Villa Negroni – rooms A and B

Let’s return to 1777, and continue our visit to the ancient Roman house uncovered in the fields of the Villa Negroni.

We shall descend into the pit, ably drawn by our English friend Thomas Jones.  It’s rather damp down there!  Since we’ve not been here before, I attach at the end the floor plan.

We stand at the entrance to the house.  This consists of a porch supported by two columns.  Through the doorway is a plain painted room.  A doorway to the left shows a staircase.  We shall go through the door in the right-hand wall, into another room, painted, but with marvellous paintings.

The roof is vaulted, so the tops of the paintings are semi-circular.  It contains two paintings, in fact.  These are being recorded by an artist, a Mr Mengs, for printing.

The first is a picture of Adonis, preparing to go hunting.  Click on the picture to see the full size image.[1]

Villa Negroni: Adonis setting out on a hunt.

Plate 4: Villa Negroni: Adonis setting out on a hunt.

Also in the room is another picture of Adonis, this time dying in the arms of Venus.[2]

Villa Negroni: Adonis dying in the arms of Venus

Plate 2: Villa Negroni: Adonis dying in the arms of Venus

Sadly the ceiling is missing, but I am assured that the artist will try to represent the end of the barrel-vaulted room, and the curved panels on either side, accurately.

Another depiction may be found at Wikimedia Commons:[3]

Villa Negroni: Adonis dying in the arms of Venus.

Plate 2: Villa Negroni: Adonis dying in the arms of Venus.

Here is the 1836 map:

Floor plan of the ancient house discovered in 1777 at the Villa Negroni

Floor plan of the ancient house discovered in 1777 at the Villa Negroni

The printed volume of plates was uncoloured, with the intention that they should be hand-coloured.  The shades of the colours naturally vary in different copies, therefore.

  1. [1] This from the Wellcome Trust, via Wikimedia Commons.
  2. [2] Noemi Cinelli, “‘Restrained brightness and archaic purity”: Fascination from the antiquity in the age of enlightenment: Villa Negroni’s frescoes in Rome: models of good taste according to Mengs and Azara”, European Review of Artistic Studies 4 (2013), 42-61. Online here, printing a copy from Seville.  Note that the plate number, from the publication, is in the bottom left or bottom right.
  3. [3] Again from the Wellcome Trust.  There is another image here, from a commercial site.

The Bloodsucker Award, July 2016 – the Royal Institute of British Architects

In my last post, I quoted the Tate Gallery catalogue for Thomas Jones’ 1777 painting of the excavations of the Roman house in the Villa Negroni.  This referred to drawings and a plan by a certain Thomas Hardwick, in the “RIBA collection”.

Well!  Thanks to Google, I have discovered what the “RIBA” might be – it is the Royal Institute of British Architects.    I quickly found one of Thomas Hardwick’s drawings here. But to my surprise, this seems to be a commercial site, run by the RIBA.

Also online was a low-resolution drawing of the floor plan of the house, at the same site here.  The image online is too small to read the scale (in palma Romani).  There are also letters on the image – but no key, so I assume that the information must be elsewhere in the papers.

This is rather sad.  I thought that we were past the stage at which petty officials in national bodies tried to extort small but prohibitive sums of cash from members of the public who wanted to use them on ordinary blogs or websites.  Everybody knows that people like me have no revenue stream, so we aren’t going to buy these things.  And anyway, there is actually no copyright on items this old.  But it seems that the news has not reached the RIBA.

I did follow the prompts, to see what they would demand.  Note how this makes clear that I am just some guy.

How much do I think you are worth, boy?

How much do I think you are worth, boy?

From this I find that the RIBA – assuming it is them – want me to pay them $150 for a licence to use the image.  How kind.  Oh, and that “license” lasts only for five years.

No, thank you.  Instead I shall do something that I have not done for some years.  I shall award them the Bloodsucker Award.

For newer readers, this rare award has not been given in some years now.  It is given only to those organisations who adopt stupid, greedy, pointless dog-in-the-manger attitudes to the dissemination of knowledge.  The criterion is that they demand money to permit access to material that they exist to preserve for the nation; that the material is of no actual commercial value; and that the demand effectually serves to prevent knowledge, while raising no money.

Gentlemen … we have a winner.

Awarded: the July 2016 Bloodsucker Award goes to the Royal Institute of British Architects, for obstructing public access to, and knowledge of, the papers and drawings of the 18th century architect Thomas Hardwick.

A visit to the Roman house at the Villa Negroni

Imagine that the year is 1777.  Let’s go to the open fields to the east of the Baths of Diocletian.   I hear that a Roman house has been discovered in the fields of the Villa Negroni!

The house lies between the Viminal and Esquiline hills.  As we approach from the north-east side, we can see the diggings.  Beyond, in the distance, is the convent of St. Eusebio.  An English artist is painting the scene…

Thomas Jones, "An Excavation of an Antique Building in a Cava in the Villa Negroni, Rome", 1777 or 1779.

Thomas Jones, “An Excavation of an Antique Building in a Cava in the Villa Negroni, Rome”, 1777 or 1779.

The artist is, in fact, a certain Thomas Jones.[1]  Jones recorded in his ‘Memoirs’ under 5 July 1777, that he went to see the excavation with Henry Tresham, an art dealer who acted for Lord Bristol:

 Went with Tresham to see the Antique Rooms just discovered, by digging for antient Bricks, in the Villa Negroni – The painted Ornaments much in the Chinese taste – figures of Cupids bathing &c and painted in fresco on the Stucco of the Walls – The Reds, purples, Blues & Yellows very bright – but had a dark & heavy effect – NB Tresham made a purchase of these paintings for 50 Crowns, to be taken off the walls at his Own Expence-.

The Tate Gallery catalogue also notes that:

Thomas Hardwick, another friend of Jones, made a ground-plan of the ‘antique Rooms’ and recorded the wall-paintings in a cross-section drawing (both in the RIBA collection).

I wonder where these are; indeed what the “RIBA collection” might be.

The plan of the house given by Count Massimo in 1836 is worth repeating here:

Floor plan of the ancient house discovered in 1777 at the Villa Negroni

Floor plan of the ancient house discovered in 1777 at the Villa Negroni

Unfortunately this does not indicate North; and even with the picture and the plan, it is not clear what we are looking at.

I’ve zoomed in a bit, and we can see some more details:

Thomas_Jones_-_Fouilles_à_la_Villa_Montalto_Negroni - excpt

Note the pair of columns in the right of centre.  From the map, these must be the pair at the entrance; or perhaps the pair at the entrance to room F.

But note also how the rooms have vaulted ceilings, so that the tops of the paintings must be semi-circular.

Finally note that the room to centre left is plainly not the ground floor – there is a further vault below it.  There is no mention in any source of anything much remaining of the upper floor, so this is not consistent with those accounts.

It’s very easy to see why scholars, faced with a mess like this, went on to demand proper scientific recording of such excavations.

  1. [1] Thomas Jones, 1742–1803.  Tate Gallery has information here (without photo) and the catalogue here.  The image given is from Wikimedia Commons here.

An early account of the Roman villa at the Villa Negroni in Rome

Pre-scientific accounts of archaeology can be very vague.  The 1777 discovery of a magnificent Roman house, near what is now Termini station in Rome, is naturally not properly documented.  It does not help that the area of ground – a farm within the walls, essentially – goes under various names, such as the Villa Peretti, Villa Montalto, Villa Negroni, and Villa Massimo, after its successive owners.

The earliest account known to me, of the discovery of the house, was written by the Benedictine abbot, Angelo Uggeri (1754-1837).  The title is given by Lanciani as Iconografia degli Edifizi di Roma antica, vol. 3, plates 14-17, page 55; and in volume II, plate 24, which is supposedly a floor-plan.[1]  But I can find no such work listed. Probably the reference is in error somehow.

However I was able to find a notice by Camillo Massimo, in his account of his own property, Notizie istoriche della Villa Massimo alle Terme diocleziane, Rome, 1836.[2]  The account is on p.213-216, and includes a plan.  The author indicates his dependence on Uggeri.

I thought that it might be interesting to translate this account into English, as best I could, with the aid of Google Translate.  Those who wish to do so can of course consult the Italian online at the links below.

At points Count Massimo’s sentences just run on, so I have split some of his sentences accordingly.  Here it is.

    *    *    *    *    *

But the most fruitful of all the excavations made at the villa was that undertaken in the month of June of the year 1777 by the cavalier Azara in an area of land located between the Viminal and Equiline hills. There were found the remains of a house, which at that time prior before the discoveries at Pompeii was the first example of the manner in which the ancients made their own homes, and therefore was a famous discovery in antiquarian history. The following inscription stamped on the bricks that composed it, indicated that it was built in the times of Antoninus Pius:


i.e. in the third consulate of Servianus, which corresponds to 134 AD.

This little palace was made up of two floors, with permanent stairs, but the upper floor having been destroyed perhaps on the occasion of some earlier excavation, there remained only a few remains with incrustations of marble. The ground floor, emptied of earth, shows the arrangement that the ancients gave to their homes.  This was unknown up to that time, aside from the casino of Pius IV in the Pontifical Vatican garden, which is said to have been built by Pirro Ligorio based on an ancient model.  The following plan is copied from the drawing made on-site by the architect Camillo Buti Romano, and was made to raise awareness of these precious remains, which are now once again covered by the earth.

The walls of the rooms were all painted as dscribed in the list below, and they show representations of various deities, distributed one to each room, and executed with the greatest of care, perfection of colour, and elegance of design, both in the figures, and in the accompanying decoration (1).

(1) The Diary of Rome, which informed the public at the time of the discovery, tells us (Number 262 p. 16), that the first-found room, when, with the proper licenses, the house was opened towards the end of June 1771, was the one with the paintings of Venus, shown in the plan by the letter C; that after this, there was discovered in the room B, dedicated to Adonis, the paintings of which are described in Num. 272. p. 13; and that in the month of August (Diary num. 274. p, 9) were discovered the paintings of the third room, marked D, representing Hercules in a frame with cup in hand, supported by a Faun, and in the other a Baccante, playing two flutes at the same time, with another Bacchante upright nearby listening.

Floor plan of the ancient house discovered in 1777 at the Villa Negroni

Floor plan of the ancient house discovered in 1777 at the Villa Negroni

A. Vestibule painted without figures.

B. Room dedicated to Adonis, in which there were two pictures, one representing Adonis, going hunting, and the other the same Adonis, wounded, and dying. This room has a door leading into the next room, and a window on the opposite wall corresponding to the road, and placed at the top, just as is usual for the windows of the studios of painters. The side walls are of “opera a cortina” (?).

C. Room dedicated to Venus, likewise with two painted walls.

D. Room dedicated to Bacchus, in which were three pictures, one representing the drunken Hercules supported by a young Faun; the second Bacchus and Ariadne; and the third a Faun, which plays two tibias, with Silenus who listens.

E. Juno Room, with two diamonds, and a marina with Greek ships, and other compositions.

F.  Room decorated with niches, and arabesques.

G. Last room, where there was only one painting representing Pallas.

H. Staircase to the demolished upper floor.

I. Peristyle, or courtyard with piscina in the middle.

Total length of the house, 125 palms, width 70 palms.  [A palm was about 8″, so 84′ x 47′ or 25m x 14m, or thereabouts. – RP]

So interesting was the discovery that the famous painter, Raffaelle Mengs, who was in Rome, and was a great friend of Azara, rushed to see these beautifully preserved paintings.  He found that they were of such good style, that, so that they should not perish, from the effects of fresh air, he began to draw them attentively with the help of the cavalier Maron, his brother, despite the damp in the deep place where they were. The paintings, and their colour copies were found so attractive, that those interested in this excavation, also by the advice of Mengs, were determined to make them known with all possible diligence.(1)

To this end the talented engraver Campanelli was chosen, and, so that the lovers of the arts might have a perfect idea of those precious monuments, the praiseworthy Camillo Buti, who was born in one of the houses of the same Villa Montalto, where his family had long lived, was set to colour these prints with elegant miniatures, representing with inexpressible accuracy and perfection the same colours as the ancient original paintings, thus forming a fine collection of thirteen prints, which was the number of painted walls remaining in place.

The description given to the public, with a plan similar to this, is perhaps the most learned of this kind ever published, and was dictated by the same Antonio Raffaele Mengs, who knew exactly how to explain all the virtues of these paintings, which were much preferable to those of the Baths of Titus (2).

(2) An exact description of four of these rooms, the colors of all their decorations, and even the minutest details, is given in volume 3 of Icnografia degli Edifizj di Roma antica, p. 53.f., the work of Abb. Uggeri, who in Tables XIV, XV, XVI and XVII, also records the contours of the paintings of those four rooms; and in Volume II. Tab. XXIV. figure 1, reproduced in a small plan the whole house with its size, and with the index of paintings remaining in it. The description of this is also given in the manifesto printed on that occasion in a flying piece of paper which has become very rare, and in the second edition of the Roma antica of Ridolfino Venuti with additions by Stephen Piale, Par. I. cap. V, p. 125.

While in this way these paintings were conveyed to the mercy of eternity by beautiful engravings, and miniatures, the originals, (as we read in the Diary of Rome num. 266. For 19 July 1777. p.8.) were, with the proper licenses, sawed from their respective walls by an English merchant, who sold them to my Lord the Earl of Bristol, and they were brought to England, where they may be found in his Antiquarian Museum.

Meanwhile when at Rome the news of the discovery was known, as usual there began disputes among antiquaries to decide to whom that elegant little palace would have belonged.  The beautiful distribution of its plan, the finiteness of the paintings, and rarity of the marbles with which were encrusted the door jambs, bases, and floors, indicated that it belonged to an uncommon owner. From these clues together with the brick stamp imprinted on the bricks as we mentioned above, and the style of the paintings and ornaments, which became barbarous not long after that time, it was generally agreed that that the building was of the time of Antoninus, and that, secondly, most widely stated in the Antologia Romana vol. 6 (1780, pag.252), was a holiday home of Lucilla wife of Lucius Verus, and daughter of Marcus Aurelius, and of Faustina Minor. What made him believe this was one of the paintings of those rooms, where near an altar there is seen a woman wearing a stole, whose right hand shakes a tree, from which falls almost upside down a cupid, bearing an apple.  This painting, which was the first to be discovered in the excavation, according to the Diary of Rome of 5 July 1777, p. 16, is a most perfect copy of the reverse of a coin of the same Lucilla, which suggests that the palace belonged to the same princess, and that she had painted in it that emblem of her own.

There was also found among the ruins of the house a small statuette of Venus in rare sculpture of marble, but missing a leg (1); and the same excavation was continued, as stated in the Diario di Roma num. 304. p. 3. On the 29th November 1777, there were found three beautiful sculptured Fauns.

    *    *    *    *    *

This all gives us something.  The entrance to the villa is to the left, and you pass through the rooms into a atrium with a central water tank or piscina.  Sadly the plan does not indicate north.

Let’s see what else we can find out!

  1. [1] R. Lanciani, The ruins and excavations of ancient Rome, p.147, note. Online here.
  2. [2] Various copies at Google books.  A high resolution copy is online and downloadable at Arachne here.

I brought this back from Italy, my boy! – paintings from the Villa Negroni

Last weekend I visited Ickworth House in Suffolk, the family home of the Marquess of Bristol.  An earlier Lord Bristol travelled to Italy on the Grand Tour, and brought back with him a taste for Italian architecture: and the curious structure of the house reflects this.  There is a huge central rotunda, with the entrance, family rooms, servants quarters and bedrooms, with two much smaller wings.  One of the latter was never finished, indeed.

Ickworth House. A view of the rotunda from the garden.

Ickworth House. A view of the rotunda from the garden.

The property is now in the hands of the National Trust, and I can recommend the baked potatoes in their café.

But while touring the house, I discovered the “Pompeian room”. This has nothing to do with Pompeii, but rather with a curious discovery in Rome in 1777, in the area where Termini, the train station, now stands.

In 1777 that area was part of a large farm within the walls, running from the Baths of Diocletian for two miles, to the city walls.  The farm was then known as the Villa Negroni, as it was the property of Cardinal Negroni.  Originally the farm was known as the Villa Peretti, or Villa Montalto, after the family names of Pope Sixtus V, who had bought the land while still a cardinal.  Later still it was to be known as the Villa Massimo, after yet another owner, before the railway station was built in the 1860s.  There were two houses on the land, the main one facing the Baths of Diocletian.

In 1777 Lord Bristol was in Rome.  In the summer of that year, there was a remarkable discovery at the Villa Negroni.  The remains of an ancient house were uncovered, dating to the Antonine period, with rich painted wall decorations.  His Lordship went to view them, and was so impressed that he purchased the frescoes from the walls, ordering his agent to ship them to his house in Ireland.

The artwork excited great admiration.  A then famous artist was commissioned to make copies of the paintings, to ensure preservation, and a volume of 8 plates was produced.  Here are a couple of the plates:



Lord Bristol was unfortunate.  The frescoes never arrived.  In fact they were not seen again.  All that he got was a set of engravings, made a year later in 1778.  A century later, at Ickworth, a later Marquess ordered that a room should be created in which they could be displayed; and, in the absence of the originals, that copies should be painted from the printed versions.

It was these, then, that made up the Pompeian room at Ickworth; and a set of the prints, at about A2 size, was visible in a corner.

I had never heard of these paintings, and I doubt that I am alone.  So in the next couple of posts, let’s see what we can discover about this discovery, and the pictures that so impressed contempories.

Where do you go to, my hateful?

Where have all the atheist forums (sic) gone?

I was reading Twitter earlier this evening, and did a search on “atheism”. I found some stale jeering, a few self-important or foolish tweets; and a mass of muslim propaganda.  If ever I saw an area dying for lack of participants, it was this.

This made me think of the atheist discussion groups of yesteryear.  First before all others, there was usenet.  I remember alt.atheism, where you could get a good fight, if not much common sense.  There were other usenet groups where interesting discussion might be had.  Often the baby atheists would trot out some outlandish historical claims, culled from some ignorant or mendacious source, in the belief that few would know better.  It was a real pleasure to track these claims down.  It provided stimulus.

Then there was the Internet Infidels forum, which morphed into, whose BC&H forum had quite a bit of useful historical stuff.

Dirtier, and pretty irrational, was TalkRational.  A strange US atheist called Sam Harris had his forum, with some of the dimmest followers that I ever met.  Acharya S had her forum, although you never quite knew how many of the “posters” were actually her in disguise!  Richard Dawkins had a bunch of discussion groups on his website.

Yet today all of these are gone.  Usenet was first to go, as people stopped using usenet clients and relied on DejaNews website, which was replaced by Google Groups, and then discreetly rendered useless.  I suspect that some of the Google hierarchs prefer that the antics of their younger days are no longer accessible, in these intolerant days.

Internet Infidels spun off their forums, which were eventually taken over by some strange woman who picked fights with the regulars and then closed the whole thing down, for no apparent reason.  Acharya S is dead.  Dawkins closed down his forums.  TalkRational has gone.  And, as I found today, the atheists don’t really use Twitter that much any more.

I never found Theology Web that interesting, but I wandered over and it was still there.  But I could find nothing of interest.  In fact it has been so long since I visited that they have deleted my user account.

So where do they go to, the people, as Peter Sarstedt might have sung?  The cranks, the atheists, and so on?

Truly I do not know.   But something has passed from the web, that was interesting and useful, and a valuable stimulus for work.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 18c (part 4)

The discussion of the events of the Muslim conquest fills many a page of Eutychius.  I confess that it doesn’t excite me.  Much of the material seems written with an eye to the events, not of the 7th century, but of the 10th, and to safeguarding church property – always an important concern for senior clergy, whatever their creed – from Muslim encroachments. 

7.  Omar ibn al-Khattab then wrote to Amr ibn al-As to go with his army into Palestine, saying, among other things: “I have appointed Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan as governor of Damascus, Sarhabil ibn Hasana as governor of the territory of Jordan, and Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah as governor of Homs”.  Amr ibn al-As then left for Palestine, Sarhabil for the territories of Jordan and Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah went to Baalbek.  [The people of Baalbek] said: “We have no objection to making a covenant of friendship with you, in the same way as the inhabitants of Damascus did.”  He granted them a guarantee in writing and left for Homs.  Then he granted a written guarantee to the people of Aleppo and to every [other] town that asked him.  Then the news of the arrival of Omar ibn al-Khattab came to the muslims.  Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah left the command of his men to Iyas Ibn Ghanm; Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan left his to Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan, Amr ibn al-As to his son Abd Allah, and they met with Omar ibn al-Khattab.  Then they all set out for Jerusalem and besieged it.  Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, then went to Omar ibn al-Khattab.  Omar ibn al-Khattab granted him his protection, and wrote a letter to them which stated that: “In the name of God, gracious and merciful. From Omar ibn al-Khattab to the inhabitants of the city of Aelia.  A guarantee is granted on their persons, their children, their property and on their churches, and they will not be destroyed or be reduced to dwelling places” and he swore this in the name of Allah.  After the gate of the city was opened and he went in together with his men, Omar went to sit in the courtyard of the Church of the Resurrection.  When it was time for prayer, he said to the patriarch Sophronius: “I would like to pray.” The patriarch replied: “O prince of believers, you may pray as well just where you are.”  “I will not pray here,” said Omar.  Then the patriarch Constantine led him into the church and ordered mat to be laid in the middle of the church.  But Omar said: “No, I will not pray either.”  Omar then went out and walked to the step that was at the door of the Church of St. Constantine, on the east side.  He prayed alone on the steps, then he sat down and said to the patriarch Sophronius: “Do you know, O patriarch, why I have not prayed in the church?”  The patriarch replied: “I do not really know, O prince of the believers.”  “If I had prayed in the church,” said Omar, “it would have been taken away from you, and you would have lost possession because on my departure the Muslims would take it from you, saying in chorus: ‘Here Omar prayed'”.  Bring me a piece of paper so I can write you a ‘sigili'”.  Omar then wrote a ‘sigili’, prescribing that no Muslim should pray on the steps except one by one, and that ritual prayer could be held unless someone the muezzin ascended.  He wrote a ‘sigili’ and gave it to the Patriarch.  Then Omar said: “You owe me for your life and for the goods which I granted you.  Come, give me a place where I can build a mosque.” The Patriarch said: “Give to the prince of believers a place where he can build a temple that the king of Rum was not able to build.  This place is the Rock on which God spoke to Jacob and Jacob called “the gate of heaven”; the sons of Israel called it “Sancta Sanctorum” and it is at the center of the earth.  It was once the temple of the children of Israel, which they have always magnified and every time they prayed they turned their faces towards it, wherever they were.  This place will I give you, provided you write me a ‘sigili’ that no other mosque will be built in Jerusalem other than this”.

Omar ibn al-Khattab wrote him a ‘sigili’ and handed it to him.  When the Rum became Christians, and Helena, mother of Constantine, built churches in Jerusalem, the place of the Rock and its surroundings were lying in ruins and abandoned; on the Rock so much earth had been thrown and it was reduced to a huge garbage dump.  The Rum had totally neglected it, and not held it in high regard, as in fact had the children of Israel.  They had erected no church on it, because of what Christ, our Lord, had said in his holy gospel: “Behold, your house is left in ruins,” and again: “There will not remain one stone upon another that has not been demolished and destroyed”.  It was for this reason that the Christians left it in ruins and not built on there any church.  The patriarch Sophronius took Omar ibn al-Khattab by the hand and took him out to that place of refuse.  Omar lifted the hem of his robe, filled it with earth and poured it into the valley of Gehenna.  As soon as the Muslims saw Omar ibn al-Khattab take the earth in his lap, they all hastened to take the earth, each in his lap, or clothes, or shields, some in baskets of palm leaves and some in basins until they emptied the place, cleaned it up and the Rock became visible.  Then some of them said: “Let’s build the mosque so that the Rock is our qibla“.  But Omar said: “No, let’s build the mosque and leave the Rock out at the back”.  So Omar built the mosque, leaving the Rock at the rear of it.  Then Omar went on a visit to Bethlehem.  Now it was the time of prayer, and he prayed inside the church facing Mecca.  At this time it was all covered with mosaics.  Then Omar wrote a ‘sigili’ for the Patriarch which provided that Muslims would not pray in that place but in another.  He also forbade prayer in the church and the muezzin to call the faithful to prayer.  He also stipulated that no changes should be made to these provisions.  In these present days the Muslims have contravened the ‘sigili’ of Omar ibn al-Khattab.  They have removed the mosaics from the ceiling and have written what they wanted, they make communal prayer, and the muezzin is calling the faithful.  The same thing they have done at the step that was at the door of the Church of Constantine and on which Omar had prayed; they have appropriated the middle atrium of the church and have built inside it a mosque which they have called the mosque of “Omar”.  Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, died after having held the office four years.  After his death Jerusalem remained without a patriarch for twenty-nine years.

Archellites – a 10th century Coptic poem, translated by Anthony Alcock

Anthony Alcock has sent me another translation from Coptic.  There is a collection of 10th century Coptic poems, which were published in Oriens Christianus (the volumes are online at  One of these is about the martyr Archellites.  Here it is:

There is no historical content to this, but it is useful to have this material in English – thank you!

I remember long ago transcribing the English translation of the Legend of Hilaria, a story about a female monk, who supposedly lived in the late 5th century, in the time of the Emperor Zeno.  There is also a Legend of Archellites.  In fact a translation of these two prose narratives, and the Coptic version of the Legend of the Seven Sleepers, was made in 1947 by James Drescher.[1]  A rather clumsy site has the book here.

UPDATE: There is a useful short article on Coptic poetry online here.  It is only two pages long.  It comes from the Coptic Encyclopedia.

  1. [1] James Drescher, Three Coptic Legends: Hilaria, Archellites, the Seven Sleepers, Cairo: Imprimerie de l’Institut Francais d’Archeologie Orientale, 1947.  Series:  Supplément aux des Annales du Service des antiquités de l’Égypte, Cahier No. 4.

Some notes on the sermon of Nectarius of Constantinople on the martyr Theodore Tiro (CPG 4300 / BHG 1768)

On the first Saturday of Lent, the Greek church prescribes the reading of two sermons from the Fathers, both of them in praise of an obscure saint, Theodore Tiro, of Amasea.  The first sermon is by Gregory of Nyssa;[1] the second by the much more obscure Nectarius of Constantinople (d. 397 AD).  The latter work is listed in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum as #4300; and in the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca as #1768.

Nectarius is a very obscure figure.  A few of his letters appear among the correspondence of Gregory Nazianzen, itself largely untranslated.  Apparently the subject is arguments about Apollinarism.  The only other work known to me is this homily, which praises a miracle of St Theodore in the time of Julian the Apostate.  It appears in Migne in PG 39, 1821-1840, reprinted from the edition of Gallandius.

According to the story – that seems like the right word – the Christians were fasting for Easter in the town.  After a week, they were hungry.  Julian then gave orders that all the food in the market should be offered to idols or sprinkled with the blood of sacrificed animals.  In a dream, on 17th February, St Theodore revealed that the Christians should stay home and boil grain and season it with honey, creating a dish named koliva or kolyba, still part of Orthodox ritual today.

Is this story genuine?  Well nobody today would deny that spiteful people do try to think up ways to force Christians to violate their conscience.  One need only think of the bakers in the USA, targeted by gay activists, who demanded that the Christians bake a cake promoting unnatural vice.  When they refused, the activists dragged them into court and had them punished.  Such things are increasingly common in these unhappy times; and they must have been common in the Roman empire also.  Spite is spite.

But even one as unacquainted with hagiographical narratives as myself knows that they routinely tend to contain stuff like this.  I don’t really like the sound of the story.  It sounds apocryphal.  I have not seen the text of BHG 1768, but apparently this marks the sermon as spurious.

We may also ask: is the sermon of Nectarius genuine?  It’s always a question, with these liturgical or hagiographical sermons, copied endlessly as part of service books.  To this I do not know the answer.

The question was posed to me by Jack Lake, who did a fairly extensive literature search – more than I have been able to do -, without finding very much.  L. Petit, in “La grande controverse des Colybes”,[2] suggested that the narrative might have been invented as a way to move a pre-existing feast of St Theodore from 17th February to the first Saturday of Lent.  The reason for this, he argues, is that St Theodore and his kolliva was popular; but 17 February often fell within Lent.  Feast days that fall in Lent are not celebrated, unless they appear on Saturday and Sunday.  So Petit suggested that someone invented the whole thing, and back-projected it onto the obscure Nectarius.

I don’t think that I can resolve that one.  No critical edition exists, so we can’t even rely on statements in older authors that “all the manuscripts” attribute it to Nectarius.

Jack Lake has kindly translated the conclusion of the homily for us, from the Patrologia Graeca 39, cols. 1837-8 and 1839-40.  This is a reprint of the older edition of Gallandius.  Here it is:

We with these concordant praises follow the martyr [Theodore]. And, always carrying around the source of a recent miracle for us [i.e., his relic], let us always proclaim the extraordinary victory of the martyr: O splendor of the martyrs and beauty of the saints, O gift of God indeed, O guardian and invincible defender of the faithful! Do not forget our poverty and dejection; but always interceding for us, do not tire, O wonder-worker. O most glorious one, do not despise our souls, attacked every day with spiritual warfare by the spiritual Julian [viz., Satan, who is compared to Julian the Apostate], who both was once and is now the enemy and author of all evils. For we have believed also that you live after death, as the Lord says: ‘He that believers in Me, although he be dead, shall live’ [Jn. 11:25]. But you, not simply believing, but also submitting to death for Him, O martyr worthy of all praise, live that life in God, which does not know the feebleness of age or an end. Since, therefore, living in Christ, and specially assisting Him, deliver to His servants this favor by your prayers, that through you we may be snatched from these calamities and brought to a partaking of those goods, by the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and dominion now and forever, and unto ages of ages.

Thank you.

  1. [1] CPG 3183.
  2. [2] Échos d’Orient 2, 1899, 321-331; p.324. Online here.

Old photographs of the Nemi ships

Here are some photographs that I found online about the massive pleasure barges of Caligula, excavated from Lake Nemi during the 30s, on the orders of Mussolini, placed in a “Museum of Roman navigation” by him, and then destroyed in 1944 during the fighting.  Worth looking at… and feeling sad about.


There were two barges, each in its own museum.  I’m not sure which is which in these photographs.

The hull of this one seems deeper.


The same image, with some processing, I think.


Visitors queue to see the immense hulk.


In the museum.


End on.


A side shot of the bow.


Really very deep hull, this.


Mussolini comes with his Fascists to open the museum.  Little did he know…