From my diary

It’s been a busy 24 hours.  Another chunk of the translation of Eusebius’ Commentary on Luke has appeared – this work now nearly done, thankfully.

As previous posts have indicated, Severian’s De pace came in.  I have commissioned another Severian, and a second gentleman has expressed interest in doing Severian as well.  I’m willing.  In fact there are homilies of Severian extant only in Armenian, and I am willing to pay someone to translate these as well.  But we’ll get there.

I also spent time trying to untangle the account in Vermaseren’s Corpus Inscriptionum et Monumentum Religionis Mithriacae of the items from Chester; but to some purpose, for I realised that in fact there were four monuments, not three, and that this had confused Vermaseren himself.

Various items scanned during the week had to be processed, OCR’d and stored away.  The British copyright libraries wanted their free copies of Origen, Exegetical works on Ezekiel.  It all takes time…

I also had to finish that translation of Bosio on the grave of Maria; because I had done too much to drop it.  And I noted in the WordPress dashboard a half-written post on Palladas, so felt I’d better finish that off.  Another half-written post on Hippolytus can stay that way!  Another post that I started, on some daft decision-making in US journals, was, I decided, really politics and so I deleted it.  For some reason I seem to have done a lot of starting posts which I don’t finish lately.

Much else that isn’t deserving of mention was done.

But it all ended with a pleasing email from Lightning Source: the Origen book has already sold four paperback copies through Amazon.  And I only made it available about a week ago.  Thank you very much, whoever you are!


The epigrams of Palladas of Alexandria

On twitter a couple of days ago I came across this item by Bettany Hughes:

Palladas of Alexandria c.350AD ‘in the darkness of night Zeus stood beside me and said: “Even I, a god, have learned to live with the times”. @Bettany_Hughes

I confess that Palladas is not a name that I had ever heard of.  But he is a pagan epigrammist, whose work is preserved in the Greek Anthology, of the 5th century – or so the introduction to the Loeb edition states.

From a selection from this available online at Gutenberg[1] I learn the following:

Palladas of Alexandria is the author of one hundred and fifty-one epigrams (besides twenty-three more doubtful) in the Anthology. His somber and melancholy figure is one of the last of the purely pagan world in its losing battle against Christianity. One of the epigrams attributed to him on the authority of Planudes is an eulogy on the celebrated Hypatia, daughter of Theon of Alexandria, whose tragic death took place A.D. 415 in the reign of Theodosius the Second. Another was, according to a scholium in the Palatine MS., written in the reign of Valentinian and Valens, joint-emperors, 364-375 A.D.

Thankfully the Greek Anthology is accessible online in the Loeb edition in five volumes.[2]  Better yet, since it is on, it is possible to search through the OCR’d text for his name.

This I have done, and have found what seems to be the real version of the quotation, in volume 3, on p.247, no. 441:


On a Statue of Heracles.[1]

I marvelled, seeing at the cross-roads Jove’s brazen son, once constantly invoked, now cast aside, and in wrath I said : “Averter of woes, offspring of three nights, thou, who never didst suffer defeat, art to-day laid low.” But at night the god stood by my bed smiling, and said : “Even though I am a god I have learnt to serve the times.”

[1] The statue had doubtless been cast down by the Christians.

I must confess that my search through the Greek Anthology moves me, rather, to read it!  I hesitate, however, to add five volumes to my straightened shelves.

  1. [1]J.W. Mackail, Select Epigrams from the Greek Anthology, 1890.
  2. [2]Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, Vol 4, Vol 5.

What did the Romans bury with a 5th century empress?

The demolition of the Constantinian basilica of St Peter’s in Rome, in the 16th century, in order to build the present church, also required the demolition of the neighbouring circular chapel of St Petronilla.  This building stood next to the south door, and probably predated the basilica.  Like the chapel of St Andrew nearby, it was probably a Roman tomb of the 2-3rd century, half-buried by the earth platform on which St Peter’s was built.

Inside the chapel, the process of demolition revealed a Roman imperial burial of the 5th century AD.   The owner was the empress Maria, daughter of Stilicho and wife of the emperor Honorius.

The following report appears in Bosio’s Roma Sotteranea (16xx).[1]  It seemed interesting enough to translate it.  I can’t quite understand it all, but I’ll have a go![2]

After listing papal interments, and then mentioning emperors who appear in the literary record as interred here, he continues:

 Of the Augustas we know of one who was buried on the Vatican, Maria, daughter of Stilicho and of  the most noble Lady Serena, and wife of the aforementioned Emperor Honorius.  Her sepulchre was discovered in the year 1544, on the 4th of February, in the pontificate of Paul III; during the demolition of the old round chapel of St. Petronilla, situated on the right-hand side of the basilica.  In excavating the foundations of the new chapel, a great sarcophagus of marble was found, approximately six feet under the floor, covered by a slab also of marble, and surrounded in turn by a very thick wall.  When this was opened, a body was seen in it, dressed in gold clothing.  The head was covered by a veil with many wrappings, but separate; and many ornaments of gold which taken together weighed about 40 pounds.  Nearly all the bones were reduced to dust, and there only remained the shins, teeth and skull; which gave an indication that this was the body of a young girl, and it was easy to work out that it was the aforementioned Maria, wife of Honorius, from the items found inside the sarcophagus.  To one side was a chest of silver, filled with various vases of crystal, of agate, of other stones; and similarly with little animals of various kinds, with some ornaments of gold.  Below this was a box, covered with gilded silver, with some ornaments of heads of chiodetti (?) of silver, inside which were many gold rings, all with precious stones; some necklaces, and other items and toys.  All of them are minutely described by Lucio Fauno, and we found them listed one-by-one in a handwritten book of that time, and they are as follows:

Vases, and various pieces of crystal, large and small, 30 in number; between two ancient cups of medium size, one round and one ovate shape with very beautiful little figures in medium relief.

A piece of crystal shaped like a seashell, fashioned as a lamp with gold fittings; which covered up the mouth of the seashell, leaving only a small hole in the middle through which to put oil; beside which was a moveable fly of gold, which you could move with a nail to cover and uncover the hole. Likewise of gold was the tip con il pippioda porvi lo stopino, tirato in lungo, & acuto, con bellissima gratia (?); and so attached to the crystal that they seemed to have been born together.

Some pieces of agate with some small animals, and some vases in number eight, among which there were two beautiful vases, one looking like a big glass ampoule, of the sort used to keep oil or similar liquid; and so made, and so beautiful, that it was a marvel when first seen; and the other vase was made in the manner of a skimmer with its handle, used in Rome to separate water from vettine.

Four little vases of gold of various sorts, and another very small vessel of gold, of ovate form, with its lid adorned with jewels.

A small  heart of gold in the form of a pendant with six jewels inset.

Two earring pendants of emerald, or plasma (?), with two jacinths.

A pendent in the form of a group of vua(?), made of pavonazze (?) stone.

Eight other small gold pendents of various sorts, set with various stones.

Rings, and verghette, of gold, of various sorts, set with various jewels and precious stones, in total numbering fifty-eight; and among these one of red bone (osso rosso?) with various stones.

Three little animals of red bone.

A clasp or trinket or necklace of gold, with five jewels of various sorts, set inside; and twenty-four other clasps of various sorts with various jewels embedded in them.

A piece of a very small thin necklace, inset with green stones.

Another gold necklace, with twenty-two “pater nostri” of plasma (?).

Another small necklace, with nine “pater nostri” of sapphire set in an oval.

Another small necklace tirato raccolto, broken into four pieces.

Two gold buttons and fourteen golden shirts.

A tondo of gold, with an “Agnus Dei”, with letters around it, reading: MARIA OUR MOST FLOWER-LIKE LADY.  And on the other side LONG LIVE STILICHO.

Two gold handles of gold, with some green stones in them.

Two large hair-pins, or hair-rollers; one of gold, approximately a foot long, with letters, reading on one side: FOR OUR LORD HONORIUS.  And on the other side: FOR OUR LADY MARIA.  The other silver and without letters.

A plate of gold on which were carved in Greek letters Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel.

An emerald bound in gold, on which a head was carved, which was judged to be the aforementioned emperor Honorius, as a seal, estimated to be worth 500 scudi.

There were also fragments of other emeralds, and other stones, and some large pearls, destroyed by the humidity; that the other things had been preserved so well seemed to be by chance.

All the things found were taken to Pope Paul III, who at that time was pontiff; who (as Giulio Herculano and the aforementioned Lucio Fauno note) obtained forty pounds of gold from the sale of these ne cavo (?), and applied it to the construction of the new basilica.

He goes on to add that these were probably wedding gifts, and references Claudian.  Maria was married to Honorius when she was only 12 and he not much older, and she died aged between 18-21, between 404-7.

There are further accounts of the find, and Lanciani gives more here (at Lacus Curtius).  It would be good to have these manuscript accounts online.  It is perhaps not realised just how much there is, unpublished, in Italian archives which might be of tremendous value.  I suspect that the primary accounts might contain drawings of these finds!

  1. [1]Low-quality scan on Google books here; much better scans, but incredibly unusable viewer at Arachne here: look at  p.68-70 in the viewer, get the largest pic you can, and then download it.
  2. [2]I transcribed the Italian which is as follows:

    Delle Auguste sappiamo de certe, che nel Vaticano fu sepellita Maria, figliuola di Stilicone, e di Serena nobilissima Donna, sposa del sudetto Honorio Imperatore.  Il cui sepolcro su scoperto l’anno 1544 a di. 4. di Febraro del Pontificato di Paolo Terzo: poiche rovinandosi il vecchio Tempio rotondo di Santa Petronilla, situato nella destra parte della Basilica; e cavandosi i fondamenti della nuova Cappella, si ritrovo una grand’Arca di marmo, sei piedi incirca sotto il pavimento, coperta d’una pietra parimente di marmo, circondata intorno di grossissimo muro; la quale essendosi aperta, si vide in essa un corpo, vestito di vestimenti d’oro; il cui capo con molti inuolti era circondato di un velo, ma pero disteso; de’quali ornamenti d’oro (essendo stati fusi) se ne cavo di peso circa libre quaranta.  Erano quasi tutte le ossa ridotte in polvere; e vi rimanevano solo i stinchi, i denti, & i capelli; i quali davano inditio, che quello fosse il corpo d’una tenera fanciulla; e si conietturo facilmente esser di detta Maria sposa d’Honorio, dalle cose ritrovate dentro dett’Arca.  Percioche dal lato haveva una scattola d’argento piena di diversi vasi di christallo, di agate, e d’altre pietre; e similmente di diversi animaletti con alcuni ornamenti d’oro; & appresso a questa era una cassetta, coperta d’argento indorato con alcuni ornamenti di teste di chiodetti d’argento; nella quale erano molti anelli d’oro, tutti con pietre pretiose; alcune collane, catenette, & altri lavori con gioie; le quali cose tutte sono minutamente descritte da Lucio Fauno, e noi l’habbiamo ancora ritrovate notate in un libro manoscritto di quel tempo, e sono le seguenti.

    Vasi, e diversi pezzi di christalo, fra grandi, e piccoli, numero trenta; fra’ quali venerando due, come tazze non molto grandi, l’una rotonda, e l’altra di figura ovata con figurette di mezo-rilievo bellissime.

    Una lumaca di christallo in forma d’una conchiglia marina, acconcia in una lucerna con oro sino; del quale n’e prima coperta la bocca della lumaca, restandovi solo un buco in mezo da porvi l’olio; a lato al quale si vedeva con un chiodo consitta una mosca d’oro mobile, che copriva, e discopriva il buco. Era d’oro similmente la punta con il pippio da porvi lo stopino, tirato in lungo, & acuto, con bellissima gratia; & in modo attaccato con il christallo, che pareva esservi nato insieme.

    Alcuni pezzi d’agata con certi animaletti, & alcuni vasi fra tutti numero otto, fra’ quali vi erano due vasi bellissimi, l’uno sembrava una di quelle ampolle di vetro grandi, e piatte da tenervi olio, o altro simile liquore; in modo fatto, e cosi bello, e sottile, ch’era una mariviglia a mirarlo; e l’altro vaso era fatto a guisa d’una di quelle schiumarole con il suo manico, chusano in Roma per cavar l’acqua dalle vettine.

    Quattro vasetti d’oro di diverse sorti, & un’altro vaso picciolo d’oro, di forma ovata, con il suo coperchio con gioie attorno.

    Un cuore d’oro picciolo a guisa d’un pendente con sei gioie incassate.

    Due pendenti da orecchi di smeraldo, o plasma, con due giacinti.

    Un pendente in forma di un grappo d’vua, fatto di pietre pavonazze.

    Otto altri pendenti piccioli d’oro di diverse sorti, con varie pietre incastrate.

    Anelli, e verghette d’oro di diverse sorti, con diverse gioie, e pietre pretiose incastratevi, in tutto numero cinquant’otto; e fra quelli uno di osso rosso con diverse pietre.

    Tre animaletti di osso rosso.

    Un fermaglio o monile, o collana d’oro, con cinque gioie di diverse sorti, legativi dentro; e ventiquattro altri fermagli d’oro di diverse sorti, con varie gioie incastrate in essi.

    Un pezzo di una collana picciola sottile, con certe pietre verdi infilzate.

    Un’altra collanina d’oro, con ventidue pater nostri di plasma.

    Un’altra collanina, con nove pater nostri di Zaffiro intagliati a mandole.

    Un’altra collanina d’oro tirato raccolto, rotta in quatro pezzi.

    Doi bottoncini d’oro, e quattordici magliette d’oro.

    Un tondo d’oro, come una Agnus Dei, con lettere attorno, che dicevano: MARIA DOMINA NOSTRA FLORENTISSIMA. E dall’altra parte: STILICO VIVAT.

    Doi manichi d’oro, con certe pietre verdi.

    Due aggucchie grosse, o stillette per dirizzari crini; l’uno d’oro, lungo un palmo incirca, con lettere, che dicevano da una parte: DOMINO NOSTRO HONORIO.  E dall’altra pare: DOMINA NOSTRA MARIA.  E l’altro d’argento senza lettere.

    Una lamina d’oro, nella quale erano scolpiti con lettere greche Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel.

    Un smeraldo legato in oro, nel qual’era intagliata una testa, che fu giudicata esser de detto Imperatore Honorio, da sigillare, stimata di valore di scudi 500.

    E parechi altri frammenti di smeraldi, e d’altre pietre, e certe perle grosse, ma guaste per l’humidita; se bene l’altre cose sudette erano tanto ben conservate, che parevano fatte all’hora.

    Tutte le sudette cose furano portate a Papa Paulo Terzo, che all’hora era Pontefice; il quale (come ha notato Giulio Herculano, e detto Lucio Fauno) dalla vendita di esse ne cavo quaranta libre d’oro (come si e detto) e gli applico alla nuova fabrica della basilica.

English translations of Chrysostom “De Severiano Recipiendo” and Severian’s “De pace” now online

Long ago I became aware that there were two related sermons in the Patrologia Graeca.  The first was given by John Chrysostom, after the empress had interceded to patch up a dispute between him and another bishop, and entitled De Severiano Recipiendo (CPG 4395) – That Severian must be received.  The other was delivered the next day, by his enemy, Severian of Gabala, and entitled De pace (CPG 4214) – On peace.

The peace did not last, and Chrysostom was driven into an exile from which he did not return.

The two sermons are very short, in the PG, and in Latin.  They reach us as part of a collection of sermons, made in antiquity, perhaps by Ananias of Celeda.  They take Greek sermons, and produce abbreviated Latin versions of them.

The original text of Chrysostom’s sermon has not reached us; but Severian’s Greek was discovered in the monastery of Mar Saba, and published in 1891.

I first tried to get these translated longer ago than I can remember.  This failed.  I then had another go in 2010, which also failed after a short sample – 3 sentences – was produced.

After his work on the 3 sermons of Chrysostom on the Devil, Bryson Sewell has kindly rattled off a translation of both of these.  It is great to have them; and even better to have them so quickly.

Both are of the highest interest.  Chrysostom’s sermon is interrupted by the cheers of his supporters, even in the abbreviated version; while Severian, clearly preaching to a not-very-friendly crowd, strains every nerve and produces a marvellous display of rhetoric.

As ever, the results are now online, and in the public domain.  Copy freely and use as you will.

These files will also appear on once its new and wonky uploader allows it!

UPDATE: Now at here.

UPDATE: Files updated to correct an error in the introduction – the speeches were delivered before John’s first exile, not after it.

UPDATE (24/03/2022): A correspondent has asked me where he can find the Greek text of De Pace.  It is hard to find.  Here are the files from which both were translated:


Severian of Gabala – bibliography (updated)

I uploaded a list of the works of Severian of Gabala here.  I’ve worked on it a bit more since, and revised versions are now available:

  • Severian of Gabala – works (PDF)
  • Severian of Gabala – works (DOCX)

I don’t seem to have done anything on these for a week, so best to park them here!

UPDATE: Newer version here.


Academic hoaxes, academic feuding – an article in the Oldie

The Oldie magazine is probably read by few of us, being mainly for people who are, well, old.  A correspondent has sent me a copy of an article in this week’s issue, written by the editor, Richard Ingrams.

Harvey’s revenge

We love a spot of academic intrigue and so were delighted to receive an email from one Dr A D Harvey. Harvey, who describes himself as a ‘failed academic’, won notoriety after publishing academic articles under various pseudonyms and inventing a meeting between Dickens and Dostoevsky that fellow academics accepted as fact for years. American scholars finally uncovered the hoax and Harvey became the subject of a six page take-down in the Times Literary Supplement.

Not content to let sleeping feuds lie, Dr Harvey’s email to The Oldie is a copy of a letter he has sent to the TLS accusing it of running a hoax story in its own pages.  The piece in question, by Janetta Goldstein, is about an alternative ending to the Hans Christian Andersen Story, ‘The Invisible Robe’. But, Harvey writes, ‘The manuscript in Hackney Archives on which it is purportedly based seems to have no more physical existence than the new clothes the emperor was so proud of. I checked. Hackney Archives have a negative of a portrait of Mary Howitt but none of her papers, let alone a manuscript of a Hans Christian Andersen story with a previously unpublished variant ending.’ With some relish, Harvey adds, ‘It makes you wonder how many more bogus contributions have appeared in the TLS in recent months.’

Most would suspect that Harvey himself had a hand in the Hans Christian Andersen hoax, if indeed the alternative ending proves to be fake at all. But Harvey claims it bears none of his modus operandi — not that we can really take his word for that.

One thing we can be sure of: the TLS fact-checkers will be frantically searching for evidence of the Hackney manuscript and hoping that Dr Harvey has not been able to spectacularly settle his score with their scholarly journal.

The urge to twist the tail of the spectacularly aloof and patronisingly self-important is one that is probably common to most of us.  In this sense the activities of Dr Harvey are something that most of us will feel sympathy with.

Until we find that our own research has been compromised by such pranks, at any rate.

Verifying the raw data is never time wasted.


“You’re not the same religion as me” – Severian of Gabala and his editors and reviewers

Severian of Gabala (fl. 398 AD) was the enemy of John Chrysostom, patriarch of Constantinople, and assisted in driving the latter into exile and to his death.  The disagreement between them was not ideological, but arose from perceived snubs by John’s officials.  It seems that the patriarchal officialdom created enemies for Chrysostom faster than he could deal with them, since Severian was by no means the only one offended in this way.

St. John Chrysostom is perhaps the most important of the Greek fathers.  So it is not surprising that the Greek church does not remember Severian.  Our accounts of the affair are all written from a pro-Chrysostom perspective.   In that age, as today, personal smears are the main weapon used against an enemy, so it is important to note that nothing really damaging could be found to say about him.

All the same, his works have been neglected.  This is not surprising.  For everyone has their own special interests, which will dispose them to listen, or not, to a writer.  Severian manages to be outside the area of sympathy for almost everyone involved in patristics, in the past and now.

Firstly, scholars interested in Orthodoxy will see him the enemy of the greatest of their saints.

Roman Catholics will feel the same, to a lesser degree.  So he won’t really get a hearing for himself.

Secularists will – and do! – don’t believe in the bible, and so sneer at him for his literal-minded Antiochene exegesis.

So who, precisely, will read him with an open mind?

Fortunately there is today a constituency which might.  Modern bible-believing Christians with an interest in patristics are not invested in any of these biases.  Which means that, other things being equal, we may hope for a fairly unbiased evaluation of this ancient writer, untroubled by theological odium.

I have mentioned before that IVP Academic, from this background, has arranged to publish his six sermons on Genesis.  It is my intention to review this translation, and to review what Severian has to say.  On the face of it his interpretation is bonkers; but at least I won’t have any a priori reason not to listen.

This is why it is really useful to have a variety of religious and political outlooks in academia.  It means that obscure writers who appeal to no-one may find a partisan, and be edited, translated and commentated; in short, become accessible to us all.

I’m even grateful for all the ex-hippies working on the Nag Hammadi texts.  They may be a bit daft, and their “conclusions” best explicable as the product of chemical-induced brain damage; but the fact is that nothing on earth would have induced any sensible person – alright, very few – to spend the huge amounts of time on these daft gnostic texts that they have felt inclined to do.  In consequence, we are all the gainer.

Which is rather nice, really.

Severian, if you’re up there, you owe me a beer when we meet.


Plans and illustrations of the Vatican from 1694

We’ve been looking at old pictures of Old St Peter’s in Rome, and thinking about the Circus of Nero nearby, and other structures from ancient Rome.

Last week Brent Nongbri very kindly sent me an extract from one of those tourist books, which the Italians do so well, about the pagan tombs under the Vatican, which contains some interesting diagrams.[1]  In it, my eye was drawn to some splendid old pictures, which the author had reproduced from Carlo Fontana, Il Tempio Vaticano e la sua origine, Roma, 1694.[2]

The book is mainly about New St Peter’s.  It has details of how the Vatican obelisk was moved (with pictures!).  But it also contains plans and reconstructions of the older basilica, and the area around it.  I thought that these would be known to few, and deserved to be better known.

Here are some of them.  Click on the image to get the full-size picture.  (They’re all small)  I apologise for the cut-off to the right; the blog software doesn’t handle this very well.

Plan of the ancient Vatican area.
Plan of the ancient Vatican area.
Plan of Nero’s circus and its relation to the basilica.
Reconstruction of Circus of Nero with dome of “temple of Apollo”, later Mausoleum of Honorius, later still chapel of St. Petronilla.
Plan of old St Peter’s, with New St Peter’s and the Circus of Nero all on the same plan.
Section lengthways through Old St Peter’s.
St Peter’s halfway rebuilt, from the south; the new circular church, the Vatican rotunda, and behind it most of the old church.
Plan of the cellars under the Vatican.
Section through Old St Peters side-ways, with picture of the old frontage.
  1. [1]Pietro Zander, The Necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, Elio de Rosa editore, 2009.
  2. [2]Online at here, from the original, rather strange, Microsoft digitisation; a better version at Heidelberg here.

Boxes of papyri in Berlin “unopened” since they left Egypt a century ago

I’m reading William Brashear’s 1991 publication of P. Berol. 21196, identified as a Mithraic “catechism”.  It probably comes from excavations at Ashmunein (Hermopolis), undertaken by O. Rubensohn in 1906.  He asks, in the preface, if any more fragments of the papyrus are extant, and was unable to find any.  But then he states that there might still be some:

The Berlin collection still contains numerous boxes of papyri fromHermupolis, unopened since the day they arrived from Egypt almost a century ago.

Sometimes I despair of papyrologists.  How could this be allowed to happen?  Isn’t this shameful?

I can imagine someone about to whine about lack of funds.  Papyrology is chronically underfunded, it is true.  But then papyrologists so often seem to set out to annoy groups who might be tempted to fund their work.

An example of this, is the loud complaints that the Green Collection recruited amateur labour – “Christian apologists”, no less! the fiends! – to do manual work, cleaning and recovering papyri.  I’m afraid I shook my head at this, even as I read it.

Papyrology exists, as a discipline, because of Christians and the bible.  It exists because, among the very first finds of Grenfell and Hunt at Oxyrhynchus, were fragments of “sayings of Jesus”, which we now know to be part of the Gospel of Thomas.  Because of the mass interest in these finds, a major newspaper funded their next season and created the vast collection of papyri still being published, in a too leisurely way, even today.

This is the group in our society who have a real, persistent, determined reason to be interested, and who also have the money to fund more work than any of us can imagine.  This is the group who could fund dozens of chairs of papyrology, if they were treated with even ordinary courtesy.  They have motive, and they have tons of money.

But do we work with them?  On the contrary!  Every discovery of papyrus – like the “gospel of Jesus’ wife” – is given an anti-Christian spin.  The media networks do this, because they think annoying people will create a sensation, get ratings, and so advertising.  But the people who like those programs spend no money on papyrology.

May I invite my readers to imagine what sort of money even a single mega-church could spend, if it was convinced that among the sands of Egypt were texts that would illuminate, or confirm, or illustrate,  – whatever – the bible?

It’s easy enough to sneer at enthusiastic amateurs talking about washing papyri with palmolive. There’s been plenty of that.  It’s easy to jeer at famous apologist Josh McDowell and his promotion of the work.

And yet … it’s shameful too.  I welcome getting the public involved.  I welcome enthusiasm, the wide diffusion of involvement, in a guided way. Archaeologists have managed this with aplomb for decades.  They’ve even managed to get random metal-detectorists working with them, rather than against them.  The result is that archaeology has a large constituency among the public willing to lobby for them.  Times are hard, but they are well-placed.

So, are archaeologists, as a breed, simply more intelligent than papyrologists?  Really? For what kind of short-sighted idiot rushes to insult, to obstruct, to sneer, at the involvement of the public?

Most people reading this will not be Christian believers.  And I say to you: Do you put your love of antiquity first?  Your desire for learning, your wish to preserve and transmit these papyri first?  Or some religious dislike of Christians first?  Which is more important to you?

Papyrology is unable to do its job.  Papyrology is not doing its job, as Brashear makes clear.  Papyrology is paid to make this stuff available.

What we need is a plan to address the huge backlog of papyri, and to get it all published, and to find more.  That must involve using volunteers and amateur patrons.


Ancient sources on the Gaianum / Circus of Nero

It might be useful to gather all the ancient testimonies on the Circus of Nero / Circus of Gaius, on the Vatican, and see what they do, and do not, tell us.

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, NH book 36, chapter 14 / section 70 (Loeb, vol. 10, p.54-5):

Divus Claudius aliquot per annos adservatam, qua C. Caesar inportaverat…

The ship used by the emperor Gaius for bringing a third [obelisk] was carefully preserved by Claudius of Revered Memory, …

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, NH 36, chapter 15 / section 74(Loeb, vol. 10, p.58-9.)

Tertius [obeliscus] est Romae in Vaticano Gai et Neronis principum circo — ex omnibus unus omnino fractus est in molitione …

The third obelisk in Rome stands in the Vatican circus that was built by the emperors Gaius and Nero.  It was the only one of the three that was broken during removal.

This is rather loosely translated.  Literally: “In the Vatican circus of the emperors Gaius and Nero”.

Pliny the Elder, NH, book 16, ch. 76, 201-2 (Loeb, vol. 4, p.518-9.):

abies admirationis praecipuae visa est in nave quae ex Aegypto Gai principis iussu obeliscum in Vaticano circo statutum quattuorque truncos lapidis eiusdem ad sustinendum eum adduxit ;

An especially wonderful fir [tree] was seen in the ship which brought from Egypt at the order of the emperor Gaius the obelisk erected in the Vatican Circus and four shafts of the same stone to serve as its base.

Suetonius, Caligula, 54. 1-2 (Loeb, vol. 1, p.486-7).

LIV. Sed et aliorum generum artes studiosissime et diversissimas exercuit. Thraex et auriga, idem cantor atque saltator, battuebat pugnatoriis armis, aurigabat exstructo plurifariam circo ;

LIV. Moreover he devoted himself with much enthusiasm to arts of other kinds and of great variety, appearing as a Thracian gladiator, as a charioteer, and even as a singer and dancer, fighting with the weapons of actual warfare, and driving in circuses built in various places;

Here there is an error in the Loeb translation: it ought to read in a circus built in various fashions.

Suetonius, Claudius, 21. (Loeb, vol. 2, p.40-41):

Circenses frequenter etiam in Vaticano commisit, nonnumquam interiecta per quinos missus venatione.  Circo vera Maxima marmoreis carceribus auratisque metis, quae utraque et tofina ac lignea antea fuerant, exculto propria senatoribus constituit loca promiscue spectare solitis;

He often gave games in the Vatican Circus also, at times with a beast-baiting between every five races. But the Great Circus he adorned with barriers of marble and gilded goals, whereas before they had been of tufa and wood, and assigned special seats to the senators, who had been in the habit of viewing the games with the rest of the people.

Tacitus, Annals, book 14, 14 (Loeb, vol. 4, p.130-131):

XIV. Vetus illi cupido erat curriculo quadrigarum insistere, …. Concertare [e]quis regium et antiquis ducibus factitatum memora[ba]t, idque vatum laudibus celebre et deorum honori datum. … Nec iam sisti poterat, cum Senecae ac Burro visum, ne utraque pervinceret, alterum concedere, clausumque valle Vaticana spatium, in quo equos regeret, haud promisco spectaculo. Mox ultro vocari populus Romanus laudibusque extollere, ut est vulgus cupiens voluptatum et, se eodem princeps trahat, laetum.

14. It was an old desire of his [Nero’s] to drive a chariot and team of four, …. “Racing with horses,” he used to observe, “was a royal accomplishment, and had been practised by the commanders of antiquity: the sport had been celebrated in the praises of poets and devoted to the worship of Heaven. … He could no longer be checked, when Seneca and Burrus decided to concede one of his points rather than allow him to carry both; and an enclosure was made in the Vatican valley, where he could manoeuvre his horses without the spectacle being public. Before long, the Roman people received an invitation in form, and began to hymn his praises, as is the way of the crowd, hungry for amusements, and delighted if the sovereign draws in the same direction.

Cassius Dio, 59, 14:

[Caligula poisoned] … the horses and charioteers of the rival factions; for he was strongly attached to the party that wore the frog-green, which from this colour was called also the Party of the Leek. Hence even to‑day the place where he used to practise driving the chariots is called the Gaianum after him.

Chronography of 354, section XIV (CVRIOSVM VRBIS REGIONVM XIV CVM BREVIARIVS SVIS; and NOTITIA REGIONVM VRBIS XIV – both have same text here).

REGIO XIIII TRANSTIBERIM continet Gaianum et Frigianum

REGION 14, TRANS-TIBER  contains: The Gaianum and the Phrygianum

The Platner and Ashby entry is worth including, for inscription material which I am  unable to access:

Gaianum: an open space in Region XIV (Reg. Cat.; Hemerol. Filoc. ad V Kal. April., CIL I2 p314), south of the naumachia Vaticana and east of the via Triumphalis, where Caligula was fond of having horse races (Cass. Dio LIX.14). From inscriptions found in the vicinity (CIL VI.10052‑4, 10057‑8, 10067, 33937, 33953; BC 1902, 177‑185) it appears to have been surrounded by statues of successful charioteers (HJ 662; DAP 2.viii.355‑60; BC 1896, 248‑9).

What do we learn from this?  I think we may reasonably state the following:

  1. Gaius – Caligula – practised chariot-racing, in an area known as the Gaianum, after his name.
  2. He had a circus which was constructed “plurifariam” – out of odds and ends.
  3. He also erected an obelisk in it.
  4. Claudius used the “Vatican circus” for shows, but, unlike the Circus Maximus, nothing says that he rebuilt it in marble.
  5. Nero used a chariot-racing area on the Vatican, initially as a private location, but then invited spectators, as Claudius had done.
  6. The circus was known as the Vatican circus of the emperors Gaius and Nero.
  7. Since it was named after Nero as well, at least in the time of Pliny, presumably Nero did substantial construction work there.
  8. An area on the Vatican was known as the Gaianum in the late 2nd century, and the name was still in use for the area in the 4th century.

Since we know that there was a circus, of “Gaius and Nero”, all these events most naturally relate to a single place, on the Vatican.   The location of that place is defined into modern times by the position of the obelisk, which stood on the south side of Old St. Peter’s basilica and is now in the St Peter’s square of the new basilica.

The regionary catalogues also tell us that the circus was close to the Vatican temple of Cybele, the Vatican Phrygianum.