Giordano Bruno and St. Nick by the Fire

Santa Claus (courtesy of Coca-Cola ®)
Since this is Christmas Eve, it might do well to try following a Christmas tradition. Or perhaps its intriguing antithesis in this brief speculation. Giordano Bruno said, “To think is to speculate with images.” Of course Bruno was burned at the stake for heresy in 1600 in Rome, and one might as well roast for something so speculative about ‘sacred’ images than for more trivial reasons. This briefest of musings is not meant to be Grinch-like or tread precariously into faith or belief but merely to think (à la Bruno?) about visual representation. The question here is where did Santa Claus acquire his visual persona? Big stout man, full white beard, red cap? Judging by Orthodox imagery (see below), this probably isn’t the way images started for Nicholas, the 4th century Bishop of Myra known for his anonymous charity and as a champion of Christianity.

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Achaemenid Persian Griffin Capital at Persepolis

Fig. 1 Persepolis stone griffin double protome column capital
Dr. Patrick Hunt, Stanford University
One of the most impressive yet enigmatic surviving capitals from Persepolis is an Achaemenid masterpiece: the double griffin protome capital. On the one hand, there ought to be more than one of these griffin capitals from before the 330 BCE destruction, although it seems that only this extant one is intact. On the other hand, it is possible that only one was sculpted, since no other griffin protome fragments exist from Persepolis. A few archaeological accounts suggest its emplaced context at Persepolis was from the Apadana, although this cannot be proven since only 13 of the 36 (arranged 6 x 6) columns have survived, given the “conflagration…and catastrophic end” recorded under Alexander. More than a few scholars, including Wiesehöfer, maintain that numerous structures at Persepolis were not destroyed in 330 but only parts thereof and that some use continued thereafter.
Persepolis was first begun by Darius around 518 BCE, the Apadana around 515 and structures like the Treasury may have been begun around 510; some structures like the Unfinished Gate and others may have been incomplete or possibly still underway in the fourth century. The original excavation reports have not connected this griffin protome capital with the Apadana of Darius and its correlation with any other structure is equally ambiguous because this capital seems to have been found only after the initial excavations between 1931-34 and up to 1939. (1) Furthermore, the majority of credible reconstructions suggest all the Apadana column capitals were double bull protomes. Contextualizing this griffin protome capital to other buildings is equally or even more difficult, although it is generally accepted that it must be from Persepolis.
The somewhat darkened visual appearance of this griffin protome might suggest its surface was burned like many of the other protomes – although limestone also often naturally weathers darker – and it was certainly chipped and broken in places, as can be easily seen from comparanda of nearly all photos. Furthermore, the edge of the saddle between the two griffin torsoes where it would have been expected to hold a massive cedar beam shows some expected wear, also easily seen from photos. Some credible accounts, including that of Porada, suggest this griffin capital was never actually used but merely experimental and abandoned before any emplacement. (2)

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Celtic Iron Age Sword Deposits and Arthur’s Lady of the Lake
Fig. 1 N. C. Wyeth, “Sword Excalibur Rises From the Lake” (c. early 20th c.)
Malory tells in his Morte d’Arthur epic (c. 1450) that just before the mortally-wounded Arthur passes from this world to Avalon, Arthur instructs Sir Bedivere (Bedwyr) to throw his sword Excalibur into the nearby water. Bedivere does not wish to lose such a precious sword, so he returns to Arthur twice having put the sword away out of sight. Each time Arthur asks what Bedivere saw when he threw the sword into the water. Bedivere lies twice and said the water merely moved. Nearly cursing him, the dying Arthur commands one last time. This time Bedivere obeys and throws the sword as far as he can over the water:
“and there came an arm and a hand above the water and met it and caught it, and so shook it thrice and brandished it, and then vanished away the hand with the sword in the water.” (1)
Arthur is then taken away to Avalon through the mist by the beautiful women in black on the barges. Their mourning belies Arthur’s last words that he will go to Avalon to be healed and return if possible.
Fig. 2 Aubrey Beardsley, Bedivere casts Excalibur into the Water, 1894.
One aspect of this story in the Arthurian saga is singled out here because it seems to preserve a fairly well known Celtic custom of metal deposits in lakes and marshes if such interpretation of these finds is accurate. In the Celtic world, springs, lakes and marshes are liminal sacred places that are intermediary loci between, among others, the living and the dead. When Arthur’s legendary and to some extent magical sword Excalibur is returned to the Lady of the Lake, this is most likely an excerpted old echo of a longstanding Celtic votive ritual.

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Reading Livers Through Reading Literature: HEPATOSCOPY and HARUSPICY in Iliad 20:469 ff & 24:212 ff, Aeneid 4:60 ff & 10.175 ff, Cicero and Pliny on Divination, among others

Co-authored research by Patrick Hunt, Stanford University, and Whitney de Luna, Stanford Hospital Liver Clinic
Fig. 1 Etruscan Bronze Mirror of Chalchas the Seer Reading a Liver (Vatican: Gregorian Museum, Rome, cat # 12240)
Figure 2 Sheep’s liver in clay. 14.6 cm across. Old Babylonian, circa 1900-1600 BC. 
Provenance: likely Sippar in modern southern Iraq. British Museum, London, Western Asia Collection # ME 92668
Divination by interpreting livers in the ancient world from Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean and from the Bronze Age to the Classical world is a fascinating topic for study of religion, magic and science. Complicated long-term traditions governed haruspicy or hepatoscopy, i.e., liver interpretation or examination. One primary question to be asked is why was a liver used for divination and why a sheep’s liver, as this appears to be the most common organ used across many cultures and periods?
Here are some tentative thoughts. 1) Although it is relative to how much wealth individuals might possess, sheep were more easily sacrificed as smaller animals than expensive cattle. 2) On sacrifice or autopsy, the sheep liver is very close to the abdominal surface, is centrally located (center right) and small enough to manipulate. 3) The natural smoothness of the liver makes any abnormality easy to identify (i.e. coarseness), a surface characteristic that makes the liver relatively easier to read than other organs. 4) The ancients viewed blood as the source of life. Given that the liver is composed of dense tissue full of blood, the ancients understood the liver as vital to life. Extrapolating from human life, a severe flesh-penetrating wound to that part of the abdomen was often quickly fatal, thus supporting their perception.

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Hannibal’s Engineers and Livy (XXI.36-7) on Burned Rock – Truth or Legend?

Many have commented on Livy’s famous passage (Hist. XXI.36-7) where he describes Hannibal’s engineers surmounting a large rock blockage on the Italian descent of the Alps, including the late great French archaeologist Serge Lancel (Lancel, 1998:78-9) and our History Channel team 2006 production (June-November, 2006). According to Livy, and repeated in Ammianus Marcellinus (de Sanctis, 1917:77 ff), the ancient engineers poured boiling vinegar on the rocks to facilitate their massive cracking along with burning the rocks by a fire underneath them, after which they were able to remove sufficient rock to pass by. One immediate problem with this story – as Lancel affirmed – is that it is not repeated in Polybius, the more credible source, who also describes Hannibal’s engineers removing blocked rock after an avalanche (Polybius, Hist. III.54.5-55.1) but without this colorful detail of vinegar and burning rock. Polybius is so trustworthy on topographic detail it is surprising his text has such a lacuna if the story is true.

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Alpine Archaeology and Paleopathology: Was Hannibal’s Army also decimated by epidemic while crossing the Alps?

Fig. 1 Alpine vista
Joint Research by Patrick Hunt, Stanford University, and Andreea Seicean, Case Western Reserve University
Epidemiology of ancient causes of death is difficult to reconstruct by descriptions of disease. Paleopathology is a growing field relative to ancient history, but as such usually depends either on material remains – generally bioarchaeological – or ancient texts. Is there a connection to be found in Hannibal’s march across the Alps in 218 BCE?
Was the huge reported loss of troops in Hannibal’s wintry montane crossing also partly caused by related sickness or disease exacerbated by the hardship of montane passage? The late Roman author Appian, circa 150 CE, states that Hannibal started with 90,000 infantry soldiers in his march. On the contrary, the more reliable Polybius states that 38,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry actually began the alpine passage from the Rhone crossing and that Hannibal lost about half of this force (Hist. III.60.5). While Appian’s number is unverifiable and even maybe hyperbole, several sources tell us that a large portion of the army did not survive the early winter mountain passage, with possibly as few as 25,000 soldiers actually descending into Italy. Polybius also relates that the hardship was greatly exacerbated by the lack of food, loss of pack animals carrying provisions and the cold, and that the men who survived the Alps were like beasts than men due to hardship, toil and near starvation (Hist. III.60.3-4, 6).
This question of disease and related conditions of troop reduction has come up repeatedly in the last few years on the Stanford Alpine Archaeology Project’s 2006 field expedition as well as in a recent public lecture at Stanford by one of the co-authors of this brief article.

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Hannibal Barca’s Theophoric Destiny and the Alps

Fig. 1 Ba’al stela from Ugarit-Ras Shamra, H. 142 cm, c. 18th-15th c. BCE, Musee du Louvre, AO 15775
That Hannibal was a great strategist, unpredictable himself yet often able to predict his enemies’ actions, has been long appreciated. This is usually all one needs to know as an answer to why Hannibal crossed the Alps. Because the Romans under Publius Cornelius Scipio at Massalia guarded the coastal route to Italy hemmed in by the Alpes Maritimes, Hannibal did the one thing for which the Romans were most unprepared, not being fond of mountains themselves as Hyde maintained, (1) and thinking themselves protected from such unlikely incursions such as Hannibal and his army made, entering Italy through the “fortress” Alps. Naturally, the Celts allied to Hannibal in and around the Alps would also be more useful if he avoided the narrow coastal corridor where Roman might and influence held sway.
But are these the only background reasons to consider when asking why Hannibal would cross the Alps? I would argue that Hannibal was predisposed to crossing the Alps for added possible philosophical reasons the practical Romans would have barely understood, hence their likely silence on this because their own names were not generally theophoric, and usually unrelated to their gods, unlike the Carthaginians and many other cultures in the Ancient Near East. Here it is important to consider Hannibal’s very name and personal history to be important as a more subtle but nonetheless substantial incentive or at least mitigating factor for crossing the Alps. There are also connections to Punic religious tradition that make more sense in reference to this possibility.

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Hannibal or Hasdrubal?: Some Numismatic and Chronometric Considerations for Alpine Archaeology

1hannibal.jpg 2hasdrubal.jpg
Figs 1 & 2 Carthaginian shekels (probably silver), said to represent Hannibal, c. 220 BC, and Hasdrubal, c. 209 BC, (both as Herakles-Melqart?) respectively
What kind of archaeological evidence could distinguish two very similar events only a little more than a decade apart? Of all the possible absolute or relative chronometers an archaeologist might use, sometimes coins are the most datable artifacts. This is the optimum evidence our Stanford Alpine Archaeology project hopes to ultimately find in our ongoing Hannibal research expeditions. As Metcalf says, “The relationship between numismatics and archaeology has always been close…coin finds help to date strata or levels…” (Metcalf, 1996:814). Possibly applicable here, the well known and intrepid Hannibal Barca’s crossing of the Alps was in 218 BC and his less well known brother Hasdrubal Barca followed him around 208-07 BC. Both traveled with an army and elephants, although Hasdrubal’s was apparently a much smaller army and the second crossing happened during spring as opposed to Hannibal’s passage in late fall moving into early winter.
As I have published elsewhere (Alpine Archaeology 2007), there are archaeological means to potentially distinguish Hannibal’s from Hasdrubal’s passage – or at least indicate that if mintings of Hasdrubal coins were found, it would prove that it was not Hannibal’s passage. However, if Hannibal coin issues were found but no Hasdrubal coin issues were found, it would still not prove that it was Hannibal’s passage, only that it could be either of the two.
Stanford University
copyright © 2006
Patrick Hunt

Alpine Archaeology: Hannibal Expedition – Stanford Alpine Archaeology Project 2006 Field Report

Fig. 1 Stanford Alpine Archaeology Project 2006 Team (Dr. Patrick Hunt, Director & photographer) Team: front row: Gina Farias-Eisner, Brian Head, Ed Boenig, Katie Goldhan, second row: Beatrice Hunt, Jessi Humphries, back row: Andreea Seicean, Jessica Bradley, Sarah Concklin, Scotti Shafer, Brian Knowles, Nancy El-Sakkhary, Rhianon Liu, Casey Carroll, Dave Beall
In August 2006 the Stanford Alpine Archaeology Project continued its focused search for Hannibal’s pass crossed in 218 BCE. Under the direction of Dr. Patrick Hunt, the Stanford group of 16 persons traveled at least 3500 kms through the Alps following the Isere-Arc river watersheds, the Durance-Queyras watersheds and the Dora Balthea and Rhone watersheds. We have had ongoing assistance from John Hoyte, co-leader of the Cambridge Alpine Elephant Expedition 1958-59 as well as collaboration with John Prevas, fellow explorer and military historian-author.
While some of our 2006 alpine routes were by vehicle over the Mont-Genevre, the Mont Cenis, the Little St. Bernard and others, our primary exploration over the passes was hiking on foot. Passes covered on foot included the Great St. Bernard (from below Bourg-St-Pierre to the summit, 5000 – 8300 – 7500 ft ) crossing from Switzerland into Italy (around 20 kms), the Fenetre de Ferret (7000 – 9000 – 7000 ft) crossing from Italy to Switzerland and back to Italy (around 10 kms), among others, but we especially concentrated on the Col du Clapier (4000 – 8600 – 3000 ft.) from Bramans and Le Planey in France to the Susa Valley in Italy (around 30 kms) and the Col de la Traversette (6000 – 9600 – 6000 ft.) from France to the border of Italy (around 10 kms).
In all, as I have published elsewhere (Alpine Archaeology 2007), our Hannibal searches in summer of 2006 covered at least around 20,000 vertical feet by hiking around 80 kms and in this new book further evidence is offered why the Col de Clapier – Savine Coche route is the most reasonable route to date, far more plausible than any other pass including the Traversette route, nonetheless acknowledging John Prevas’ excellent study. Until compelling archaeological evidence is found, however, the question remains unanswered.
Fig. 2 Selected possible Hannibal Alpine Routes followed in 2006: red is Clapier route; yellow is Traversette route; turquoise is Little St. Bernard route; blue is Mont-Cenis route; green is Mont-Genevre route; orange is Great St. Bernard and Fenetre de Ferret routes
Stanford University
copyright © 2006
Dr. Patrick Hunt

Alpine Roman Roads: Stanford Alpine Archaeology Project

Fig. 1 Grand-St-Bernard Pass: Roman rock-cut road (Survey crew: Brian Daniels, Mike Smith and E. Wang)
Fig. 1 & Fig 2 Grand St. Bernard Pass, Plan de Jupiter: Roman rock cut road, summit (Italy, 8200′, 2460 m)
In 1994 the Stanford Alpine Archaeology Project began research to examine Alpine Roman Roads in the Grand-St-Bernard pass between Aosta, Italy and Martigny, Switzerland. This research is directed by Dr. Patrick Hunt, Classics Dept. Stanford University and has been conducted under the auspices of Stanford and the Office du Recherche Archeologique, Valais, Switzerland, and the Soprintendenza for Archaeology of the Valle da Aosta, Italy. There is an international collaborative effort at present between Italian and Swiss archaeological authorities to bring together years of research in the Great St Bernard Pass. For over 30 years Francois Wiblé has undertaken magisterial archaeological research in Martigny and is the undisputed authority of Roman presence in Valais. Italian archaeologists have also conducted much archaeological research in the Plan de Jupiter – recently under Cinzia Joris – and this ongoing Italian-Swiss archaeological work will present the most complete picture to date when published. This brief article on Roman Alpine Roads does not cover the same research agenda as the above-mentioned international collaboration.
Because many of the prior studies on Roman roads in the Alps and this pass in the Pennine Alps in particular have already been published in Italian, French and German, the Stanford research noted here is much indebted to these foundational studies. The Stanford study of the Roman road in the Pennine Alps (Via per Alpis Poenina) is original in part, and while pioneering research findings are briefly summarized here, the Stanford project also seeks to make available the existing literature to an English-speaking audience. Some of the prior literature includes articles or monographs by Blondel (1962), Walser (1984), Wiblé (1975-2006), Planta (1979), Mollo Mazzena (1991) and many others, including the seminal work in English by W.W. Hyde, Roman Alpine Roads (1935), excellent but now outdated in many parts. The new and original research of the Stanford group is also summarized here, and published elsewhere in part, for example, in the Journal of Roman Archaeology XI (1998) by this author. This brief summary is also not offered as comprehensive about all Roman roads in the Alps, but mostly considers one region of the Pennine Alps.
As I have published elsewhere (Journal of Roman Archaeology XI 1998, Vallesia LXIV 1999, and most recently in a new book, Alpine Archaeology 2007, Roman roads in the Alps offer a special case for road construction where normal methods apply in general but also where added features distinguish these high montane routes from lowland routes over relatively flat ground. One of my new discoveries published in the 2007 book is the point that the angles of 105 degrees at the rock-cut road adjacent to the Plan de Jupiter in the Grand-St-Bernard Pass appears to necessitate a pivoting front axle, and if this rock cut road is from the early Flavian period, it antedates the previously-suggested date for pivoting front axles by at least 30 years.
Stanford University
copyright © 2006
Dr. Patrick Hunt