Design (4) – Lines and Birds

Miko Flohr, 18/12/2018

This is an early seventh century BC vase from Etruria, now in the Lowe Art Museum in Miami. Classical archaeologists would typically look further eastwards in this period, towards Athens and Corinth, but Central Italy is alive and kicking, and has its own ways of doing stuff. There is more red, and less black, but basic ingredients are similar, combining repetitive decorative elements with simple geometric patterns – in this case, lines. Still, this vase stands out in its simplicity. 

Design (3) – This is not modern art

Miko Flohr, 17/12/2018

This is a tiny fragment of a Hellenistic bowl, probably dating to the second or first century BCE, and probably coming from somewhere in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean; it was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by J.P. Morgan Jr. in 1917; typically, its precise origins remain unknown. But what is it? Clearly, this is not pottery – nor is it metal. It is, in fact, glass. While glass-blowing was not invented until the first century BCE, there was a tradition of glass-working in the eastern mediterranean – and by using molds, you can cast the glass in the desired form. Often, elaborate color schemes would be applied, but they were unable to fully control the casting process, so the result always looks a bit messy. Still, it is one of those indications that the ancient world was much more colorful than we tended to assume until not so long ago. 

Design (2) – Griffins on bronze

Miko Flohr, 16/12/2018

This so-called kylix comes from somewhere in central Italy and dates back to the seventh century BCE, when Rome still was in its infancy, and Athenian democracy had yet to be invented; it belongs to the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is made of bronze, but it actually looks quite rough on the surface, and a bit irregular – part of this may be preservation, but certainly not all of it (e.g. look at the handle). What I find particularly interesting, though, is the way in which the frieze of griffins has been made – they have simply been engraved in the bronze, without any relief, as would become the norm later on. This makes the bowl look simple and basic compared to some of the more complex artefacts of later periods.

Design (1) – Etruscan Baroque

Miko Flohr, 15/12/2018

This stemmed chalice was made in Etruria around the middle of the sixth century BC. Perhaps, it comes from Vulci where such vases have been found in great numbers. It is, to put it mildly, rather elaborately decorated (and not necessarily technically very functional for drinking). It is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The black color of the vase is typical for the so-called ‘Bucchero’ style, to which this vase belongs, but you can see, if you look at the cup, that the black color is just a thin layer of slip. Underneath it, the color of the terra-cotta is yellowish. The decoration seems, at least partially, hand-shaped rather than mold-shaped.

A fantastic new inscription from Pompeii – but what does it mean?

Miko Flohr, 05/09/2018

Despite the spectacular new excavations that are currently unfolding in the northern part of the city, the most significant discovery at Pompeii in recent decades was made just over a year ago, outside the main southern city gate, where a  large and well-preserved funerary monument was dug up alongside the road that probably connected Pompeii to its harbour. It contained a uniquely long inscription, which, so we knew, was a detailed eulogy for an unnamed individual who had done incredible things for the Pompeian community (the name probably featured somewhere on the monument, but it has not been found back). As of this week, we finally have access to the full latin text, and, in my own rough translation (based on the text and Osanna’s Italian translation, it reads something like this:

When he got his toga virilis, he gave a banquet for the Pompeian people with 456 triclinia accommodating 15 man each. He gave a gladiatorial munus so lavish and splendid that it could be compared to any splendid colony beyond the city, as he had 416 gladiators in the arena – and as this munus coincided with a price hike in the annona, he fed them for a period of four years. The care for his citizens was dearer to him than his family matters: when a modius of triticum (grain) cost five denarii, he bought, and he offered it to the people for one and a half, and to make sure that his liberality would reach everyone, he personally distributed, through his friends, quantities of bread equivalent to one and a half denarius to the people. For a munus that he gave before the senatusconsultum, for all days of the games, he gave beasts of any kind, in a mixed composition. Moreover, when the Caesar had ordered to lead away all families to more than two hundred miles from the city, he permitted only him to bring the Pompeians back to their country. Also, when he married his wife, he gave the decuriones fifty nummi, and, for the people, twenty denarii to the augustales and twenty nummi to the pagani. Twice, he gave big games without any burden to the community. Yet when the people recommended, and the ordo unanimously agreed that he would be elected patron of the city, and the duovir brought the issue forward, he personally intervened, saying that he would not be able to bear being the patron of his citizens.

The translation needs quite a bit of finetuning, and some parts of the Latin text are only partially understandable – but the general message of the eulogy should be clear enough.  Yet, what does it mean, and what does it tell us about Pompeii? The inscription is very nicely written, in full sentences and with very few abbreviations – it is almost true prose, compared to the formulaic texts full of standardized abbreviations that dominate our epigraphic record – clearly, we are in the first century CE, when the epigraphic habit is in full development.

Some of the phrasing is strange.  I am fascinated by the use of the word ‘caesar’ as sole reference to the emperor, which as far as I know is not common – usually you get an entire range of names and titles – and therefore meaningful; it points to the reality of damnatio memoriae, but in a more subtle way than the excisings that we know from Geta in the third century. Here, the damned emperor has no name, and is not referred to as ‘Augustus’,  but simply as ‘the caesar’ – he had to be mentioned, for the narrative, but was mentioned as briefly and vaguely as possible – a reference to the institution rather than to the person. Intriguing, for the Julio-Claudian period, when empership is still institutionalizing itself. Still, it must have been clear to all who that caesar that should have no name was: it must be Nero, and the inscription is likely to have been written at some point after his death in 68 CE – otherwise, his name would have been mentioned in full glory.

Who is this text talking about? Some have suggested that the unnamed benefactor was Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius, a wealthy patron who dominated Pompeian political life in the decade preceding the eruption of 79 CE. I am looking forward to the arguments supporting this identification, but I remain sceptical: our anonymous hero seems to be operating on an entirely different socioeconomic scale (for instance, his gladiatorial shows are much bigger), and no mention is made of any of the offices that defined the career of Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius. Of course, there is no intrinsic reason why this person should already feature in our known Pompeian epigraphic record. Unless we find direct, additional evidence, there is a serious possibility that we have to do with a homo ignotus.

We do know, however, that this guy, whoever he was, had (a) a stupendous amount of wealth at his disposal that (b) partially is likely to have been inherited rather than earned (you get the toga virilis  at some point in your teens, so where would he got the money for this insane banquet unless from within the family) and (c) that, at a later age, he was incredibly well-connected to the imperial authorities at Rome, and possibly the emperor personally, to the extent that the emperor offered him a personal privilege. The combination of being well-connected and having a lot of money whilst not boasting about local political functions points to a clear direction: this may very well be someone from the equestrian or even senatorial elite – many senators and equestrians had lavish villas in the Bay of Naples region, and there was a large number of such villas in close proximity to Pompeii.  Indeed, if Pompeians are going to bother publicly offering someone the title ‘patron’ and advertise it on such a prominent location, he can only really come from this group: to some extent, we do not need to know his name to know who this guy was, though I’d rather prefer we just had the name.

Thus, the inscription shows, rather dramatically, how close the ties could be between a city like Pompeii, and the Roman elite, and how much the city could profit, culturally, and socially, from the physical proximity and personal involvement of people like our mr. X. There is an economic side to this, too, and one that strengthens a point that I came to realize made some time ago: if mr. X was the kind of guy I think he was, he was not just spending his personal family fortune on nice things for Pompeians – he also was spending money earned elsewhere in the southern bay of Naples region: families like the X-es had substantial property portfolios throughout Roman Italy, but they spent that money in or close to the place where they preferred to spend most of their time – and for this family, that place was, apparently, Pompeii. Hence, what you see in the Bay of Naples area is not just an export economy, or an import economy, or a complex economy that was well-integrated into the Roman imperial economic network – it also was an economy that was fed by income generated in a variety of other places – and this inscription shows what that could mean for a city like Pompeii.

Does it change our perception of Pompeii? Probably it does, but not too dramatically – it confirms several things we already suspected, and illustrates an euergetism and urban patronage on a scale that at Pompeii hitherto had been unknown. Given the figures mentioned, it will foster debate about the size of Pompeii’s population. It may point to a slightly bigger (maximum) population than I have suspected in the past, but the difference is marginal, and there are ways out. Still, however, it is a fascinating text that has a very promising scholarly future.

Wat er mis is met de tendentieuze ondergangsprofetie van Jan van de Beek

Miko Flohr, 15/06/2018

Vooruit. Laten we dat hele verdommese artikel van Duk er dan toch nog maar eens bij pakken. U wilde inhoudelijke argumenten, dan kunt u ze krijgen ook. Wat Van de Beek in dit stuk zegt is, om het voorzichtig uit te drukken, een beetje raar. Het gaat eigenlijk al mis in de eerste alinea, als we horen dat aan het eind van deze eeuw ‘miljoenen inwoners zich niet met Nederland identificeren’ en dat Nederland dan een ‘totaal ander land’ zal zijn geworden. Het hele idee dat je met een demografisch (en wiskundig) model kan uitrekenen hoe dit land er over 81 jaar sociaal-cultureel uitziet is volstrekt a-wetenschappelijke lariekoek. Het kan niet. Nu ja, je kan modelleren wat je wil, maar de voorspellende waarde van het model is nihil – de geschiedenis laat zich niet vangen door de wiskunde. If only. Het tweede punt is volstrekt gratuit: natuurlijk zal Nederland er in 2099 totaal anders uitzien dan in 2018. 81 jaar geleden was Nederland ook een totaal ander land dan het nu is, en de wereld van 1937 was onvergelijkbaar met die van 1856.

Variabelen en constanten

De absurditeit van wat Van de Beek probeert te doen wordt duidelijk als je het omdraait: had iemand in 1937 – met de kennis van destijds en de technologie van nu – een demografisch model kunnen maken dat ons sociaal-culturele landschap in 2018 zou kunnen voorspellen? Zelfs zonder oorlog, holocaust en postkoloniale migratie was dat de facto onbegonnen werk geweest. Voor 1856 en 1937 geldt hoegenaamd hetzelfde. In de tweede alinea doet Van de Beek er nog een schepje bovenop als hij uitlegt wat hij zoal aan variabelen in het model stopt:

“Daaruit blijkt dat van de jonge Turken en Marokkanen zo’n tien, elf procent – heel weinig dus – zich primair identificeert als Nederlander. Voor Surinamers en Antillianen liggen die cijfers veel hoger: de helft tot tweederde. Ik heb bovendien gekeken naar het aantal gemengde huwelijken.”

Gaan we voor het gemak even voorbij aan het punt dat ‘zich identificeren als Nederlander’ sociaal-cultureel gezien vaag omschreven en matig indicatief is: Van de Beek neemt deze gegevens dus als constanten mee in zijn model: culturele patronen die je nu kan meten, zijn indicatief voor de rest van deze eeuw. Wolla, Jimmy. Stel je voor dat iemand in 1937 had uitgerekend hoe de demografische verhouding tussen protestanten en katholieke zich zou ontwikkelen tot en met de vroege eenentwintigste eeuw, niet gehinderd door enige kennis van de massale ontkerkelijking die na de oorlog zou optreden! Voor gemengde huwelijken geldt hetzelfde: het is onmogelijk te voorspellen hoe de generatie die nu kleutert zal gaan huwen – en Van de Beek bakt een model dat aannames doet over huwelijkspatronen van de kinderen van onze kleuters. Mijn grootmoeder groeide op in een protestants gezin en trouwde in 1939 met een katholieke man—dat is destijds niet onopgemerkt voorbijgegaan, maar die dingen veranderen, en ze doen dat op een manier die niet te voorspellen is, en niet te vangen in wiskundige modellen.

In steen gebeitelde etnische identiteiten

Het is dan ook volslagen absurd dat Van de Beek – we zijn inmiddels in alinea 3 – veronderstelt dat waar ‘Indonesiërs’ (Indische Nederlanders, thank you very much), Surinamers en Antillianen ‘volledig op gaan in de samenleving’ dit voor Turken en Marokkanen fundamenteel anders zou zijn en ook de komende eeuw zo zal blijven. Van de Beek onderschat denk ik de etnische identiteit van de eerstgenoemde groepen, en overschat die van de tweede, maar het echte probleem zit in de aanname dat dit allemaal in steen gebeiteld zou zijn. Als ik als ‘universitair docent’ even de betweterige classicus uit mag hangen: πάντα ῥεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει. Van de Beek maakt aannames over de toekomst die op geen enkele manier, vanuit geen enkel verleden te verantwoorden zijn.

Het wordt nog erger. De vierde alinea brengt ons de bewering dat miljoenen (!) Nederlanders deel uit zullen gaan maken van ‘transnational communities’ en de claim dat in 2060 13-16% van de Nederlanders moslim zal zijn, van wie 70% ‘de sharia boven onze wetten stelt’. Het percentage moslims dat Van de Beek noemt is aanmerkelijk hoger dan de 10% die Joop de Beer van het   Nederlands Interdisciplinair Demografisch Instituut onlangs in NRC noemde, maar vooruit. Wat absurd is, is de aanname dat de religiositeit en de religiebeleving voor de Nederlandse moslims van 2060 te voorspellen is op grond van gegevens uit 2018 – alsof 2018 te voorspellen was op grond van gegevens uit 1976 (hallo, 2001).  Bovendien is religie niet alles – er is ook nog zoiets als taalbeheersing. Hoe zich dat gaat ontwikkelen, laat zich ook maar matig modelleren, maar het schijnt dat men bij de Marokkaanse WK-selectie momenteel onderling Engels spreekt – bij gebrek aan gemeenschappelijke taal. Wat nog absurder is, is dat Van de Beek dit soort selectief gegoochel gebruikt om zich – zonder intrinsieke aanleiding – af te vragen of onze ‘liberale democratie’ wel houdbaar is. Het een volgt totaal niet uit het ander, tenzij je dat graag om ideologische redenen zo voor je ziet.

Westerling worden

Ik kan zo nog doorgaan, alinea na alinea, en het probleem is steeds hetzelfde: Van de Beek kneedt zeer fluïde gegevens uit het heden tot een volledig gefixeerd toekomstbeeld en roept heel hard ‘zie je wel!’. Ironisch genoeg is precies het met veel nadruk genoemde onderzoek van het SCP dat laat zien dat (jonge) Turken en Marokkanen religieuzer worden de nagel aan de doodskist van het hele verhaal: het laat zien dat religiositeit niet stabiel is, maar aan verandering onderhevig. Het is totaal onvoorspelbaar hoe deze trend zich zal ontwikkelen over langere termijn, en over meerdere generaties.  ‘Veel asielzoekers willen helemaal geen westerling worden’, benadrukt Van de Beek omineus. Zelfs als dat nu zo is, dan nog is het onvoorspelbaar hoe dat doorwerkt in de tweede en derde generatie, in een wereld die zich zal blijven veranderen. Mijn opa wilde bij zijn noodgedwongen vertrek uit Indonesië in 1954 ook helemaal geen Nederlander worden, maar zo snel mogelijk naar de Verenigde Staten van Amerika. Het is er nooit van gekomen, en vervolgens nam het leven zijn loop.

We moeten af van dat simplistische, dommige discours waarbij ‘cultuur’ een onveranderlijke, in beton gegoten molensteen is die je fluks, met een halve zin en een rekensommetje voor eeuwig kan verankeren aan hele volksstammen. Dat geldt al helemaal voor zoiets als ‘Nederlanderschap’, en voor de betekenis die je hecht aan de beleving van dat Nederlanderschap voor het functioneren van dit land. Van de Beek maakt een heel punt over de mate waarin de niet-westerse allochtonen van over drie generaties zich zullen identificeren als ‘Nederlander’. Als man, Indo, Brabander, Nijmegenaar, Wassenaarder, Oxfordenees, ‘universitair docent’, progressieveling, classicus, oudhistoricus en archeoloog vind ik labeltjes best belangrijk. Maar nog belangrijker lijkt me dat we in 2060 gewoon een beetje normaal samenleven in Nederland, ons aan wetten houden, de buit een beetje eerlijk verdelen, nog niet door de zee verzwolgen zijn, en het verdomme gewoon een beetje gezellig hebben met elkaar. Of dat allemaal afhangt van identificatie met het Nederlanderschap, en of je dat ooit in een statistisch model kan vangen, waag ik sterk te betwijfelen.

 

A yellow wall, with Theseus and Ariadne

Miko Flohr, 23/04/2018

Pompeii, House of the Tragic Poet. This is the back wall of a luxury dining room in the garden area of this house; the paintings date to the last decades of Pompeii’s existence (AD 50-79). The central panel-picture features a scene identified as Theseus leaving Ariadne behind at Naxos.

A finely decorated road

Miko Flohr, 20/04/2018

At the small, Hellenistic hilltop town of Solunto, on Sicily, the road leading to the small agora of the city started off with a regular paving of rectangular blocks, but for the last 100 meters, it had been embellished by a pavement of bricks laid with all kinds of geometrical patterns. It is one of the very few places where such a pavement has actually stood the test of time – in many other places, such pavements were either replaced already in antiquity or removed afterwards.

A very urban road

Miko Flohr, 19/04/2018

This is Corinth, which was, of course, an ancient Greek city, but in its excavated form mostly goes back to the period after the Roman foundation of a colony: the Greek city was smashed to pieces by the Roman army in 146 BC. The excavations have mainly focused on the forum but they have included the first meters of the road connecting the city to its harbour at Lechaion. As you can see, this was a beautifully paved street, ending in a staircase. It does not have wheelruts, so perhaps, wheeled traffic was entirely kept away from it. The buildings around the street were as monumental as the street itself, and it shows how, in the Roman period, even cities in the provinces could become rather densely monumentalized.

Grumentum: traces of traffic

Miko Flohr, 18/04/2018

This is the central road of the Roman city of Grumentum,  close to the point where it enters the city’s forum (I was standing with my back to the plaza when I took this picture). Well-paved, it was probably about the most intensively used street-section in the city, and wheeled traffic clearly has left its mark on the surface. Yet, as you can see, it was not easy to get to this point – the city was situated on a hill-top which, though not very high, could only be reached over a number of rather steep slopes.