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…


The serpent column in Constantinople in early printed books

More and more early printed books are becoming available online.  Fortunately the German libraries are scanning them at high resolution.  This includes the line-drawings, which have hitherto been difficult to access, and often only available under incredibly restrictive terms that meant only publishers could use them, and only a few.  But now, suddenly, a wealth of drawings is becoming available.

Among these are historically valuable records of now vanished classical monuments.  A couple of days ago there was an interesting series of tweets by @VeraCausa9, including old drawings of the serpent column in the Hippodrome in Constantinople.

This bronze column consists – for it still stands – of three serpent bodies twisted together.  Originally three serpent heads came out of the top, supporting a golden dish.  The column was made to celebrate the victory of the Greeks over the Persians at Plataea in 479 BC, and originally stood at Delphi.  It was moved to Constantinople by Constantine; and there it has been ever since.  It is quite incredible that it still survives.

Sadly it is damaged.  But the old drawings show it before the heads were snapped off!  Twitter is a little ephemeral, and I think this series deserves a little more permanence and prominence.

Here are the pictures posted. As ever, click on them to see the full size picture.  Thankfully the author posted references.  I’ve not had the chance to look these up, sadly.  Nor is it clear to what extent these are contemporary truth, or antiquarian imagination.

Here’s the first:

Thevet - 1556
Thevet – 1556

The first is this one, from André Thevet, Cosmographie de Levant par F. André Thevet d’Angoulême. Revue et augmentée de plusieurs figures, Lyon, 1556.  It shows from the left the obelisk of Theodosius, the serpent column, and the column of Arcadius.

Schweigger, 1608.
Schweigger, 1608.

Salomon Schweigger, Ein newe Reiss Beschreibung auss Teutschland nach Constantinopel und Jerusalem, Nuremberg 1608.  This shows: A. column of Constantine I; Β. Obelisk of Theodosius I; C. Serpent Column; D. Column of Arcadius.

Wheler, 1682.
Wheler, 1682.

George Wheler, A Journey into Greece… In Company of Dr Spon of Lyons. In 6 books. William Cademan,Robert Kettlewell /Awnsham Churchill,1682.  Evidently from book 2.

La Mottraye, 1727
La Mottraye, 1727

Aubry de la Mottraye, Voyages du Sr. A. de La Motraye, en Europe, Asie & Afrique…Recherches géographiques, historiques & politiques, 1727.  Also on Wikimedia Commons.

By 1810 the heads were definitely gone:

Mayer, 1810.
Mayer, 1810.

Luigi Mayer, Views in the Ottoman Dominions…from the Original Drawings taken for Sir Robert Ainslie, London, P. Bowyee, 1810.

There is an interesting Wikipedia article, which reveals that – unknown to me – the column is actually inscribed with the names of the Greek cities that fought at Plataea.  It also contains some other pictures.  It also gives the literary sources for the column.

I hope that we will get yet more pictures made available to us.


That old bull again! – the recent international conference on Mithras in Italy

vulci_csaba_1I must have missed the announcement, but Csaba Szabo kindly drew my attention to his report on an international conference on Mithraic studies in Italy.  About 50 people attended.  Sadly the long-exploded Cumont theory was in evidence in some papers.  But it sounds as if it was an interesting event.

The main impression that I gained from Dr S.’s report, was that the sub-discipline is in limbo.  The field is too small to support a regular journal, as the ill-fated Journal of Mithraic Studies discovered.  Likewise those studying Mithras are invariably drawn to look at related cults.  It is troubling that at such a conference there was limited discussion of recent archaeology; for it is from archaeology that progress in understanding will be made.

vulci_csaba_13Dr S. also put on his blog some nice photos of the Mithraeum of Vulci.  I am deeply envious – it is impossible to get hold of any printed material about this place – all in Italian – and even a google search on the booklet he mentions, Vulci e i misteri di Mitra: Culti orientali in Etruria, will quickly reveal … no hits!  Oh well.  It’s good to see some interesting pots, tho.  It also clarified that the tauroctony in place in the Mithraeum is clearly a restored copy.  Pity they got the head wrong – Mithras always looks back over his shoulder!

Plaster copy and restoration of the tauroctony. The head is wrong, tho.
Plaster copy and restoration of the tauroctony. The head is wrong, tho.

Qasr Bashir – A Roman fortlet in Jordan

Qasr_BashirI found this marvellous photograph of a Roman fortlet in the Jordanian desert on Twitter here.  The tweeter also added:

Great photos & interesting survey diagrams of Qasr Bashir done by Brunnow & Domaszewsky in 1897 here.

More useful to most of us is a nice blog post here, with many photographs and plans, to which I am indebted for the details that follow.

The walls stand up to 20 feet tall.  It was built at the start of the 4th century AD, as part of defensive works for a limes Arabicus, and held a cavalry unit of perhaps 120-150 men.  The building inscription survives:

Optimis maximisque principibus nostris Caio Aurelio
Valerio Diocletiano Pio Felici Invicto Augusto et
Marco Aurelio Valerio Maximiano Pio Felici Invicto Augusto et
Flavio Valerio Constantio et Galerio Valerio Maximiano
nobilissimis Caesaribus Castra Praetorii Mobeni fossamentis
Aurelius Asclepiades praeses provinciae Arabiae
perfici curavit .

Which tells us that the fort was called Mobene, and was constructed by the Praeses of the province of Arabia, a chap named Aurelius Asclepiades, in the reign of the tetrarchy, Diocletian and friends.

One question the blog leaves unclear is where exactly the fort is.  Funnily enough, Google Maps will tell us rather well!  Just search for Jordan, and the Qasr Bashir!


I’d never thought of Google as a tourist guide; but of course Jordan is a civilised country, and aerial photographs and much else are available.

I’d love to go and see it.


Scribes removing paganism from Galen’s “On my own opinions”?

In 2005 a bored PhD student, left hanging around the catalogue desk at the Vlatades Monastery in Thessalonika, looked through the catalogue and discovered a previously unknown Greek manuscript of the works of the 2nd century medical writer, Galen.  The Ms. Thessalonicensis Vlatadon 14 contained complete Greek texts of several works previously known only from fragments or translations into Arabic, as well as a new and important work, the Peri Alupias (On Grief), about which I have written elsewhere.

One of the works whose complete Greek text is now accessible is On my own opinions.  Immediately after the prologue, we find that Galen discusses his opinion of the gods, as I learn from an interesting article by A. Pietrobelli.[1]  The passages are also extant in Latin, translating an Arabic version now lost; and in Hebrew, also translating a different Arabic version, also now lost.

The Latin version, made from Arabic, is entitled De sententiis, made at Toledo in the school of Gerard of Cremona in the 12th century AD.  There are five manuscripts of this work, all mutilated at the end.  (Another Latin translation does exist, made from Greek; but it only covers the last two sections of the work, whereas our material is from the beginning.)

The Arabic version, from which the Latin was made, is lost.

Hunain Ibn Ishaq was a 9th century Nestorian Christian writer.  He was commissioned with others to translate Greek technical works into Arabic.  The method used was to translate the Greek texts into Syriac, as there were well-established procedures to do this.  Then the Syriac, a semitic language, could easily be translated on into Arabic.

Hunain tells us, in his work on the translations of Galen,[2] that two Syriac translations of Galen’s On my own opinions existed at that time.  The first was made by “Job”, presumably Job of Edessa[3], the second by Hunain himself for his son Ishaq.  Thabit ibn Qurra then translated the latter version into Arabic.[4]  In addition a 13th century Hebrew translation exists, again made from someArabic version.

But the text has undergone some revision in transmission.  Let’s have a look at the different versions, and see how.  Pietrobelli gives the text and a French translation – I have rendered the latter into English so that we can see what is said.

Here’s the first passage:

Original Greek:

Whether the universe is uncreated or created, whether there is something after it or outside it or indeed nothing, because I say that I am in ignorance faced with such questions, I also do not know of course what is the nature of the creator of all things in the universe, if he is incorporeal or corporeal, and more, in what place he resides.[5]


So I say that I do not know whether the world is created, if there is something outside of it or not. And because I say I do not know these things, so it is clear that I do not know about the creator of all things in this world, whether he is corporeal or incorporeal, nor where he is located, namely the divinity, or rather the power of the divinity. This power is of him whose works are revealed in this world through acts that can only come from a creator. Thus these themselves demonstrate God.[6]


He said: I do not know if the world is created or not, and if there is something else outside of it, or nothing. And as I say that I am ignorant about these things, it is also clear that I do not know about the creator of all things in the world, whether he is a body or incorporeal, nor what is the place of his residence. As for God and the divine powers, that is to say the powers whose activities are manifested in the world, they can only come from the Creator, so they reveal Him and they are attributed to Him.[7]

In this case, the text has been augmented, somewhere along the line.  Somebody has added some extra explanatory text on the end.  Where Galen is ambivalent about the Creator, etc, the editor has firmly asserted the existence of a creator.

Here’s the second:


Is it only about the gods I also affirm that I am in uncertainty, as Protagoras said, or in fact that I say about them that I am ignorant of their essence, while recognizing their existence from their works? For the constitution of living beings is the work of the gods, and also all the warnings that they send, by omens, signs and dreams.[8]


And I will not speak like Pictagoras who denied having any knowledge about them, but I say that I have no knowledge of their essence; but that such powers exist, I know through their works because the organization of living beings is their doing, and they are revealed by divination and dreams.[9]


I do not say of them like Protagoras: “I do not know anything about them,” but I say I do not know what is their essence. That they exist, on the other hand, I know from their activities, and from their activities appear the composition of animals and that which is manifested through divination, omens, and the interpretation of dreams.[10]

These three are more similar – although the name Protagoras has turned into Pictagoras! All the same, the change is subtle.  A question that Galen leaves open becomes a positive statement.

Here’s the third passage adduced by Pietrobelli:


The god who is honoured at home in Pergamum has shown his power and providence on many other occasions but especially on the day he nursed me.

At sea, I experienced not only the providence, but also the power of the Dioscuri.

In fact, I do not think it is wrong for men to be ignorant of the essence of the gods, although I decided to honour them by following the ancient custom, in the manner of Socrates who advised people to obey the precepts of Pythios.

That is my position regarding the gods.[11]


Concerning the works of God in us … † †[12] they appeared by his power, because he nursed me once through an illness I had and because he manifests himself at sea in delivering those who are about to be wrecked thanks to the signs that they see and those who firmly believe in their salvation. That clearly indicates an admirable power that I have myself experienced. And I do not see what is harmful for men if they ignore the essence of divinity, and I see that I must accept and follow the law on this point and accept what Socrates prescribed who expressed himself quite strongly on this subject.

That’s what I have to say about the deity.[13]


And among the actions of God, blessed and praised be He, which reveal his power and his providence for his creatures, there is the fact that He healed me from an illness I had, and what can be seen at sea after the rescue of those who embark on the ships; after believing they will be shipwrecked and drowned, <they are saved> by the signs that they see and that they believe and by which they are saved. This gives a clear indication of a great power, and I do not think that does harm to people if they do not know what is the essence of the divine powers. That’s why I think I need to exalt and praise them, as religion ordains.[14]

The differences here are considerable.  Galen’s own text acknowledges the favour of Asclepius, the  god of Pergamum, Galen’s home city; of the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, and the teachings of Apollo (Pythios).  All this pagan material has been removed, in favour of acknowledgement of the intervention of God.

Furthermore, the Hebrew reveals yet more intervention  – “God, praised and blessed be He” has a  distinctly Islamic flavour.

What are we to make of all this?

The changes may have been made at any point in the transmission.  Without a general knowledge of changes of this kind in the Arabic translation movement, we cannot say if any of this reflects the Greek text before Hunain and Job; or is conventional, in Syriac translations; or is their own work, in adapting a medical textbook for the needs of a capricious Muslim despot; or is the work of later Arabic editors, or indeed of the Latin and Hebrew translators in Europe.  But somewhere along the line, someone got creative.

The changes, in fairness, are mild.  They adjust paganism to monotheism, and remove an irrelevant irritant for the reader.  They are probably no worse than some modern editors are doing to old but politically incorrect childrens’ classics like Biggles.

All the same, it does highlight that the transmission of texts is sometimes less than faithful, on ideological grounds.  It would be most interesting to see if there is any general pattern available in the data.  I suspect that there might be.

  1. [1]The material for this article is found in A. Pietrobelli, “Galien agnostique: un texte caviardé par la tradition,” Revue des Études Greques 126 (2013), 103-135.  Academia.edu.
  2. [2]Details here.  John Lamoreaux has since made an English translation, Hunayn Ibn Ishaq on His Galen Translations, BYU (2015).
  3. [3]Pietrobelli suggests alternatively a “Job le tacheté” of whom I can discover absolutely nothing – in Lamoreaux’s translation, Job is Job of Edessa.
  4. [4]Pietrobelli states that both Syriac versions were translated into Arabic, the first by Thabit ibn Qurra, the second by Isa ibn Yahya, a disciple of Hunain; Lamoreaux gives the passage as: “What He Believes by Way of Opinion [B113]  This book consists of a single volume. In it he describes what is known and what is not known. Job has translated it into Syriac. <I translated it into Syriac> for my son Ishaq. Thabit translated it into Arabic for Abu Jafar Muhammad Ibn Musa.” and “A adds: Isa Ibn Yahya translated it into Arabic, which Ishaq collated with the original and corrected, for Abd Allah Ibn Ishaq. “
  5. [5]Que l’univers soit incréé ou créé, qu’il y ait quelque chose après lui au dehors ou bien rien, parce que j’affirme être dans l’ignorance face à de telles questions, j’ignore aussi évidemment quelle est la nature du créateur de toutes choses dans l’univers, s’il est incorporel ou corporel, et bien davantage, en quel lieu il réside.
  6. [6]J’affirme donc ne pas savoir si le monde est créé, s’il existe quelque chose à l’extérieur de lui ou pas. Et parce que je dis que je ne sais pas ces choses, il est donc clair que je ne sais pas, à propos du créateur de toutes les choses qui sont dans ce monde, s’il est corporel ou incorporel ni où il est situé, à savoir la divinité, ou plutôt le pouvoir de la divinité. Ce pouvoir est de ceux dont les oeuvres sont révélées dans ce monde par les actes qui ne peuvent provenir que d’un créateur. Ainsi ils indiquent eux-mêmes Dieu.
  7. [7]Il dit : j’ignore si le monde est créé ou pas, et s’il y a quelque chose d’autre en dehors de lui ou rien. Et puisque je dis être ignorant sur ces choses, il est aussi évident que j’ignore, à propos du créateur de toutes les choses qui sont dans le monde, s’il est un corps ou incorporel  ni quel est le lieu de son séjour.  Quant à Dieu et aux pouvoirs divins, c’est-à-dire les pouvoirs dont les activités se manifestent dans le monde, ils ne peuvent que provenir du Créateur, c’est pourquoi ils Le révèlent et ils Lui sont attribuées. 
  8. [8]Est-ce donc qu’au sujet des dieux j’affirme également que je suis dans l’incertitude, comme Protagoras le disait, ou bien qu’à leur sujet j’affirme être ignorant de leur essence, tout en reconnaissant leur existence d’après leurs oeuvres?  Car c’est l’oeuvre des dieux que la constitution des êtres vivants, ainsi que tous les avertissements qu’ils envoient par des présages, des signes ou des songes.
  9. [9]Et je ne parlerai pas comme Pictagoras qui niait avoir une connaissance à leur sujet, mais j’affirme que je n’ai aucune connaissance de leur essence; mais que ces pouvoirs existent, je le sais à travers leurs oeuvres parce que l’organisation des êtres vivants est leur fait et qu’ils sont révélés par la divination et les rêves.
  10. [10]Je ne dis pas d’eux comme Protagoras : « Je ne sais rien du tout à leur sujet », mais je dis que j’ignore quelle est leur essence. Qu’ils existent en revanche, je le sais d’après leurs activités et à leurs activités appartiennent la composition des animaux et ce qui se manifeste à travers la divination, les augures et l’interprétation des rêves.
  11. [11]Le dieu qui est honoré chez moi à Pergame a montré sa puissance et sa providence en bien d’autres occasions mais particulièrement le jour où il me soigna. En mer, j’ai fait l’expérience non seulement de la providence, mais aussi de la puissance des Dioscures. Non vraiment, je ne pense pas que cela fasse du tort aux hommes d’être ignorants de l’essence des dieux, bien que je sois décidé à les honorer en suivant la coutume ancestrale, à la façon de Socrate qui conseillait d’obéir aux préceptes de Pythios. Voilà ma position en ce qui concerne les dieux.
  12. [12]Note 25. V. Nutton proposes to restore the text thus : “Concerning the workings of God in us +having come+ into deep trouble, +how much clearer+ have they appeared in their power!”
  13. [13]En ce qui concerne les oeuvres de Dieu en nous †…† elles sont apparues par son pouvoir, parce qu’il me soigna une fois d’une maladie que j’avais et parce qu’il se manifeste en mer en délivrant ceux qui sont sur le point de faire naufrage grâce à des signes qu’ils aperçoivent et qui leur font croire fermement à leur salut. Voilà qui indique manifestement un pouvoir admirable don’t j’ai moi-même fait l’expérience.  Et je ne vois pas ce qu’il y a de nuisible pour les hommes s’ils ignorent l’essence de la divinité et je vois que je dois revendiquer et suivre la loi sur ce point et accepter ce qu’a prescrit Socrate qui s’est exprimé assez fermement sur ce sujet. Voilà ce que j’ai à dire sur la divinité.
  14. [14]Et parmi les actions de Dieu, béni et loué soit-Il, qui révèlent son pouvoir et sa providence pour les créatures, il y a le fait qu’Il m’a guéri d’une maladie que j’avais et ce qui peut être vu en mer d’après le sauvetage de ceux qui s’embarquent dans des navires; après avoir cru faire naufrage et couler, <ils sont sauvés> par le signe qu’ils voient et auquel ils croient et par lequel ils sont sauvés. Cela donne une indication claire d’un pouvoir merveilleux, et je ne pense pas que cela fasse du tort aux gens s’ils ne savent pas quelle est l’essence des pouvoirs divins. C’est pourquoi je pense que je dois les exalter et les louer, comme l’ordonne la religion.

WARNING!!! Fragments of Euripides “Palamedes” NOT rediscovered in Jerusalem

On June 21 2016 I wrote a post here to the effect that fragments of the lost play, “Palamedes”, by Euripides had been found in a manuscript in Jerusalem by Dr Felix Albrecht.  This I based on other internet reports, in German, which themselves seem to misunderstand the sitiuation.[1]

But after communicating with Dr Albrecht, I find that this is NOT the case.  No fragments of unknown plays have been found.  But the actual find is itself very exciting, and the technology used is a clear advance.

What are the facts? The manuscript is Cod. Hierosolymitanus Sancti Sepulcri 36, which was written in the 13th century, and contains 556 leaves, on which may be found the text of the Minor Prophets from the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint).  But the manuscript was written on reused parchment.  With the aid of a new multi-spectral imaging system, called “Revelator” (for which see below), some extraordinary results can be achieved!

Some of the parchment came from a now destroyed 11th century copy of The Phoenician Women by Euripides, made as a school copy with explanatory marginalia.  That makes it very old, compared to most of our Greek manuscripts, and it is the most important witness to the text.   This itself is an important discovery.  And there are others, as we shall see.

The manuscript has been known for a century, but it was rediscovered by Felix Albrecht, as part of his work to produce a critical edition of the Greek Old Testament.  He has set up “Project Palamedes” to support this work, and he has also published an article on the subject, which he has kindly sent to me.[2]

The manuscript is located in the library of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and comes from the library of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

I found an image of a page of the palimpsest here, from the Euripides section.  It shows clearly the marvellous results of this new multi-spectral imaging technique:


Among the under-texts are also portions of Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Luke, from a manuscript of the 8th century.  This is lost in the Greek original, and preserved only in Syriac.  (I remember scanning the English translation of this, years ago, and placing it online!)  This too is a valuable find.

Other finds are pages from: a 7th century copy of Basil of Caesarea’s Asceticon Magna, CPG 2875; 8th century copy of Maximus the Confessor, Capita de Caritate, CPG 7693; an unknown text in 8th century uncial; a 10th c. copy of Gregory Nazianzen’s Carmina Moralia, CPG 3035; a 10th century copy of Isaiah; and some pages in 7th century hand, of unknown content, reused  in the 11th century to contain a school copy of Euripides.

One quaternion of the manuscript managed to end up in St Petersburg.

Nor is this all.  The project is also working on another palimpsest, Codex Parisinus Graecus 1330 from the library of Colbert.  The upper text is a colourful nomocanon, but it reused pages from a majuscule manuscript ca. 500 AD containing a previously unknown ancient commentary on the works of Aristotle.  There are also ancient diagrams of the highest quality.  Any discovery gives us something, although this one will perhaps be more for the students of philosophy.

I also found a bibliography for Felix Albrecht, here, which suggested other finds of unknown material that ought to be better known.

UPDATE:  Dr Albrecht wrote to me as follows:

Concerning Euripides, we did not find any unknown Euripides texts, unfortunately.

However, the Jerusalem palimpsest contains four new discovered pages of known Euripides text with scholia, which seem to be very interesting, because:

  1. The Jerusalem palimpsest is the most important witness to Euripides.
  2. Many folios of the Jerusalem palimpsest, and so the new discovered pages, are re-written twice, i.e. bis rescriptus.

From a scientific point of view, the decipherment of these double palimpsested (bis rescriptus) folios, using a special multispectral imaging system is the most important result of our work.

The multispectral imaging system is called “Revelator” (cf. http://www.mwa-nova.com/revelator.html). The system, which is definitely amazing, allows the user to make images in the full spectrum of light from UV to IR;  it collects the data in a way that the results can be processed in 3D, cf. the following example.

A prototype of that system, invented by Jonathan Albrecht, has been used for the PALAMEDES project.

PALAMEDES volume 1 will be published in 2017: “Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Holy Sepulchre Ms 36. A Semi-diplomatic Edition of the Euripides Fragments by Felix Albrecht and Agamemnon Tselikas” (PALAMEDES 1), Athens 2017.

Since few will click through, I do want to say that the “example” included this quite amazing image of a page moving and showing both texts. It is very clear that a considerable technical advance has taken place!


  1. [1]E.g. this one here (translation mine): ‘The “Codex Hierosolymitanus Sancti Sepulcri 36” is located in the library of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The manuscript comprises 556 pages and dates from the 13th century; among other things, it contains new, completely unknown texts of Euripides, one of the three great Greek tragedians of antiquity. Of the original over ninety tragedies of Euripides one fifth only has surviveded. The Jerusalem manuscript is one of the main text witnesses of the tradition of Euripides. Although it has long been known, hitherto it has not been explored in its entirety. An analysis of the palimsest revealed that it contains more texts of Euripides by far than previously thought. In addition, the newly discovered passages provide not only material already known, but also unknown material from the pen of Euripides. Moreover, this manuscript contains six patristic or biblical texts, mainly in majuscule, and in the course of processing, it will be decided whether an edition seems sensible.’
  2. [2]Felix Albrecht, “Ein Novum Supplementum Euripideum? Die unbekannten Seiten des Euripides-Palimpsestes Codex Hierosolymitanus Sancti Sepulcri 36”, Aevum 86 (2012), p. 3-27. 

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 18c (part 3)

The reign of the Caliph Omar continues, with the seige of Damascus.  The Roman garrison defends the city against what is seen at the time as merely a large-scale raidBut in the end, after six months, the governor surrenders.

6. When the Muslims arrived at Damascus, Khalid ibn al-Walid camped near the “Bab ash-Sharqi”, Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah near the “Bāb al-Gābiyah”, Amr ibn al-As near the “Bāb Tuma”, and Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan near the the “Bāb as-Saghir (71)” and the “Bāb Kisan”.[1]  They besieged Damascus for six months less one day.  The Rum made raids against them every day, coming out now from one gate or another, keeping them engaged in combat.  Then the Muslims wrote to Omar ibn al-Khattab, informing him of the progress of affairs.  Omar ibn al-Khattab replied, sending a letter with which he removed the supreme command from Khalid ibn al-Walid and entrusted it to Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah.  The siege had now exhausted the inhabitants of Damascus, and Mansur, the prefect of Damascus, went up on the “Bāb ash-Sharqi” and spoke to Khalid ibn al-Walid, asking him to grant safety to him, to his family, to those who they were with him, and to the inhabitants of Damascus, with the exception of the Rum: in exchange for which he would open the gates of the city.  Khalid ibn al-Walid agreed to his request and wrote to him a covenant whose text read as follows:

“This is a statement by Khalid ibn al-Walid to the people of Damascus.  I will guarantee your lives, your homes, your property and your churches and I assure you that these will not be destroyed, nor your dwelling places and that you will be left alone.”

He handed over the parchment, and Mansur opened to Khalid ibn al-Walid the “Bāb ash-Sharqi”.  Khalid burst into the city shouting to his men: “Keep your swords in their sheaths.”  Once they entered the city, Khalid’s men shouted in chorus “Allahu Akbar” [=God is great].  Their shout came up to the Rum who were fighting at the [other] gates.  Realizing that Mansur had opened the door and had let the Arabs into the city, they gave up defending the gates and fled.  Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah came with a drawn sword from the “Bab al-Gabiyah”, and from “Bab as-Saghir” came Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan who was also with his sword drawn, and from the “Bab Tuma,” where there was still violent fighting, came in, always with a drawn sword, Amr ibn al-As.  Many men were killed at the “Bab Tuma” on both sides.  The Muslims were continuing to slaughter, and to take prisoners when Khalid ibn al-Walid, Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah, Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan and Amr ibn al-As met together in the place called “az-Zayyanin” where Mansur was with the [text] of the covenant in his hands.  Khalid ibn al-Walid made them aware of the guarantee which he had granted them.  Their opinions were divided.  Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan said: “We do not endorse the guarantee given to them,” while Abu Ubayda and Amr ibn al-As said: “We will recognize its validity” and cried out to their men, saying sheathe their swords.  Yazid instead shouted to his men not to put away their swords.  Then Amr ibn al-As said: “Come now, consider also that the city was taken based on our commitment of protection and there is peace between us.”  Thus they were all agreed.

Then Mansur said to them: “Promise me in the name of Allah”, and did write in the text “There swore in the name of Allah: Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah, Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan, Amr ibn al-As and Sarhabil ibn Hasana”.  Mansur took with him the text.  The Byzantine soldiers who had found safety reached King Heraclius at Antioch.

When King Heraclius understood that Damascus had been occupied he exclaimed:  “Peace to you, O Syria,” or “Peace to you, O Damascus of Syria”, and went on his journey till he came to Constantinople, in the third year of the caliphate of Omar ibn al-Khattab.  As for Mansur, prefect of Damascus, for his cowardly behaviour and for what he had done to the Rum, getting them killed, and for the help given to the Muslims against them, all the patriarchs and bishops of the whole earth cursed him.

Seven days later, a messenger announced to Omar ibn al-Khattab the fall of Damascus.

  1. [1]I.e. outside each of the gates (“bab”) of the city.

The owner of the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” papyrus unmasked!

Back in 2012 a Harvard “religious studies” academic named Karen King announced the discovery of a papyrus fragment containing a Coptic text which referred to Jesus having a wife.  It takes little knowledge of the methods of commercial forgers to see why someone would forge such a thing.  Nor is it hard to see why a US leftist academic with a background in “Womens’ studies” would promote it.  I was certainly sceptical.  More learned people pointed to the small problem that the text reproduced a typographical error from an online edition.  At that point pretty much everyone – aside from Dr King – felt the story was over.  It was never clear just where the thing had come from, or who owned it; Dr. K. professed that she was sworn to secrecy.

Via Alin Suciu, today, I learn that in this month’s issue of The Atlantic magazine contains a monster piece of investigative journalism that unmasks the owner, and probably the forger, of the papyrus.

The article is written by Ariel Sabar, who dedicated months of investigation to tracking down the background of this dubious item.  He discovered the owner was a silver-tongued salesman named Walter Fritz, and eventually got an admission out of him that he was indeed the owner of the papyrus.  Fritz had studied Coptic, had a grudge against scholars, and is, seemingly, a bullshitter extraordinaire.  He is also an admirer of – guess what – the Da Vinci Code, and all the stuff about Mary Magdalene being Jesus’ Wife.  He was also in financial trouble at the time when he produced the thing.

I will not attempt to summarise the article here.  It is, necessarily, a story of the process of discovery, and inevitably reads like what it is, a magazine article.  We need not agree with every opinion expressed in it, though, to see that a great deal of real hard information has emerged here.  Read it.

The conclusion seems convincing to me: the papyrus was forged by Fritz.  In fact Fritz has not admitted to composing it, but he has the skills, multiple motives, and the opportunity.  Few, I suspect, will now doubt that he did so.

Karen King does not come out very well from the article, and perhaps does not deserve to.  But let us be fair, and treat her as we would wish to be treated in such a case.  A bit of careful reading of Sabar’s narrative suggests that she was just a dupe – duped by Fritz.  In fact, Sabar suggests that she was chosen by him as a “mark”, precisely because he believed that she would be predisposed for ideological reasons to believe his nonsense.  He was probably right.  We can hardly blame Dr King for being persuaded by a man who, like all salesmen, was a professional persuader.  It could happen to most of us, I suspect.

It is a warning to all of us, always to be suspicious of what seems convenient to us.  “This is a benefit … it may be a bribe” is always a good thing to remember, in scholarship as in life.

This is one of the rare pieces of journalism that justifies all the claims that are made for the importance of a free press.  Few academics could have done this piece of investigation.  Well done, Mr Sabar.  You have done us all a favour.


Roman statue used for “alien relic” in album cover

We forget, sometimes, how extraordinary the remains of antiquity really are, when seen for the first time.

Look at this:


An album by progressive rock group Magellan, it depicts a fantasy scene.  But the head will be familiar to many of us, because it is a real monument… the head of the monster statue of Constantine the Great, preserved in the Capitoline museum in Rome (via here):


It’s good to be reminded, sometimes, how extraordinary are the things we have seen perhaps too many times.


Text and translation of three Coptic stelae – by Anthony Alcock

We don’t do a lot with inscriptions here.  But I wonder if people realise that there are inscriptions in Coptic?  I certainly never thought about this; but there are.

Anthony Alcock has made a text and English translation of three stone stelae, which have Coptic inscriptions.  These are from various locations around Egypt.


(I’ve asked Dr A. for the reference for the original publication – will add it later).

UPDATE: The source publication is Claudius Labib, Stèles Coptes Inédites, Cairo: Ain Shams Press, 1909. 32p.  This I found online! – labib-steles-copte-inedited-1909, PDF, from the Coptist blog.

The editor, Claudius Labib, was a Copt who sought to revive Coptic as a spoken language in his country, and with much success.  His publication is in Arabic and French.  The Coptist blog has a bibliography, with links to many of his works.