The Ancient Mediterranean Was Diverse. Why Do Some People Get So Upset When We Talk About It?

At this point, anyone who reads about things classical on the internet knows of the dust up over the BBC video on Roman Britain and its inclusion of a Roman soldier of African origin. If you need a quick refresher, you can check out a short article at Indy 100 (from the Independent) and another at The Atlantic. Then you can appraise yourself of the subsequent internet abuse heaped on historian Mary Beard when she involved herself in the discussion. This brawl over diversity in the classical world is one of a series that have occurred in recent months and echoes those surrounding Sarah Bond's article on painted marble in antiquity and the white supremacist motives for removing the paint and Donna Zuckerberg's call for a consciously more inclusive approach to Classics--the comments in both articles are amazing demonstrations of ignorance and virulence on one side and exasperation and resignation on the other. 

Janiform of African from Syracuse, Sicily.
These controversies in Classics mirror a broader questioning of the value of diversity in the US and British populations that have manifested in recent political elections and policy proposals--from Brexit to the Trump administrations proposals to restrict travel, build a wall on the US-Mexico border, and change the way visas are granted to work in the US. The rhetoric of inclusion has even been changed in the way the US government discusses citizenship--no longer is their a grant to help with "Citizenship and Integration", but "Citizenship and Assimilation" and the Department of Justice is looking to investigate Affirmative Action in colleges as if they believe that too many non-whites are getting into US colleges. 

The dynamics at play in the broader political world and Classics seem, in some ways to be related as it is not professional classicists who are up in arms about discussions about the diversity of the ancient Mediterranean--we have all sorts of archaeological, literary, and, increasingly,  genetic evidence to show this was the case. Those who are upset by the "un-whitening" of the ancient world are casual, non-professional consumers of the ancient world and, in some cases, scholars in other fields who have no professional expertise and no more knowledge than the average college student or who want to privilege unreliable evidence (like genetics) over all other types of evidence. What these individuals have in common, however, is a shared world view in which the ancient Greek and Roman worlds are filled with white people and that they, therefore, belong to white people--and underlying this assumption is another assumption that the ancients knew what whiteness was and considered themselves a part of it.

 I have written elsewhere on how the field of Classics can be complicit in the construction of this narrative by playing up the "foundations of western civilization" angle and downplaying the racism and misogyny in some of our ancient sources--an approach that lends credence to white supremacy groups. People seem less bothered by the notion that the ancient Athenians were racist. In fact, that is one of the appeals. Some people get very upset, however, when scholars point out the variety of ways they weren't racist and were, instead, open to diversity. 

Clay figures of African characters from the theater in ancient Syracuse, Sicily. 

What these people often have in common is a flexible understanding of whiteness that sometimes includes people of Near/Middle Eastern descent and sometimes doesn't. If they want to prove that there were no black Africans, they emphasize that north Africa in antiquity was "white"--according to the US census, Near/Middle Eastern counts as white, not "of color". This makes it convenient to assume the cultural achievements of ancient Egypt, Persian, the Phoenicians and their colonies, etc for "whiteness". However, when one speaks of ancient and medieval Islam, all the sudden, those same people are no longer "white". Why? Arab peoples are considered white in the US census, but non-white when religion is mentioned. So, in modern terms, racially, they are white, but culturally "other"--if one assumes that the US is a "Christian nation", which is debatable; the Founding Fathers intentionally left religion out of the picture, but it is a majority Christian population. This makes one wonder how the ancient Greeks and Romans--definitively non-Christians--can get to be the foundation of a civilization that seems to hold Christianity as a key identifier and how they get to be "white" in this particular sense. It also makes one wonder why so many people are so invested in a white Greco-Roman antiquity.

A further commonality of many of the individuals who are unsettled or even angry at the notion of a multiethnic/multiracial Classical world is that they will typically try to argue that the un-whitening of antiquity is political correctness run amok or the imposition of modern ways of thinking on the ancient world--as if the ancients had no concepts of race/ethnicity. When you hear the argument that talking about the diversity of the ancient world is some sort of liberal political correctness, you can fairly easily gauge the ideological position of the person--that language is straight out of the Karl Rove and now Pres. Trump playbook for dismissing academic expertise and for undermining any study or discussion that might counter a narrative that white, western civilization is ancient in its foundations and superior to any others. 

And, this, at last, gets us to the question posed in the title of this post--why do some people get so upset when we talk about how diverse the ancient Greek and Roman societies were? Because if Classical antiquity is the foundation of western civilization and they were multiracial/multiethnic societies, then the idea that western civilization is a white accomplishment based on a history of white superiority is called into question. And if you truly believe that your own identity is bound to being white and to this historical narrative of whiteness, then finding diversity and inclusion at the roots of western culture means that maybe your whiteness fetish is problematic and the drive by those who embrace it to exclude other religions, traditions, skin tones, etc. from our society is most likely good old fashioned modern racism and not inherent in our destiny after all. 


I was involved recently in a Facebook blowout, one of those “Someone Was Wrong on the Internet” moments where I had to take a deep breath and walk away in the realization that nothing I said, no evidence I brought out, would convince the interlocutor (who was mansplaining one of my areas of expertise to me) that he was not correct. What was the issue? Commenting on an article in Teen Vogue (leaders of the modern resistance) about  how sex with slaves was always rape, he threw out the “x is a modern idea” trope, i.e. consent doesn’t really apply in the past because we modern PC types invented it. That isn’t true. Ancient laws for both rape and adultery dating back as far as the Gortyn law code (6th century BCE) clearly factor consent--either of the women, if free, or the owner, if a slave--into what sort of crime has been committed [EDIT TO ADD: a colleague pointed out that Hammurabi's law code also contains this type of law]. If no consent was given by the woman (or even the slave in some instanced), the crime was hubris, i.e. rape. In fact, the idea of rape itself can only exist in a world where it is assumed that sex needs to be agreed upon by the parties involved.

So, let's start with the obvious: there is a difference between rape and not rape. In ancient Greece, rape typically fell under laws associated with hubris--the outrage against or abuse of another person intended to cause shame. I know, I know. Everyone thinks the word means arrogance, but that is its least common usage in Greek texts! Anyway, point being, the Greeks placed having sex with someone against their will under the category of hubris. They didn't have a single specific word for "rape", as far as I can tell. Athenian texts just use hubris. The Gortyn law code uses κάρτει (for κρατέω), which means to "force", "conquer", "control", or "seize"  or δαμάζω, "to subdue"  or "tame".  Either way, implicit in both words is the idea that rape is done without the person's consent. That there are laws against it, therefore, mean that the Greeks had a concept of consent. Otherwise, sex is just sex, regardless of whether the object of one's affections agrees to have it or not. And I say "object of affection" because men and women alike could be raped according to the law.

The Romans aren't much different. In fact, both the words for "rape" and "consent" are Latin! Rapio means to seize or take something/someone through violence. If someone has been "rapio-ed", they have been "ravished" or "raped". The Romans also used other words--in the story of Lucretia's rape by Sextus Tarquinius, he is said to "capture her by force" (per vim capit, 1.57.10). Capio has both neutral and violent connotations, but means essentially the same thing as rapio and κρατέω in its violent uses. And the story of Lucretia really gets at the heart of the issue of whether or not consent was "a modern idea" only. I'll quote some of the story (in English translation; you can read it in full here):

A few days afterwards Sextus Tarquinius went, unknown to Collatinus, with one companion to Collatia. He was hospitably received by the household, who suspected nothing, and after supper was conducted to the bedroom set apart for guests. When all around seemed safe and everybody fast asleep, he went in the frenzy of his passion with a naked sword to the sleeping Lucretia, and placing his left hand on her breast, said, ‘Silence, Lucretia! I am Sextus Tarquinius, and I have a sword in my hand; if you utter a word, you shall die.’
When the woman, terrified out of her sleep, saw that no help was near, and instant death threatening her, Tarquin began to confess his passion, pleaded, used threats as well as entreaties, and employed every argument likely to influence a female heart. When he saw that she was inflexible and not moved even by the fear of death, he threatened to disgrace her, declaring that he would lay the naked corpse of the slave by her dead body, so that it might be said that she had been slain in foul adultery. By this awful threat, his lust triumphed over her inflexible chastity, and Tarquin went off exulting in having successfully attacked her honour.
While some might say that she "consented", because she finally agreed after being threatened with death and with shame to let him rape her, Livy is very clear (as is the rest of Roman tradition) that she was forced against her will, that she did not consent, and, therefore, it was not adultery, but rape. Lucretia committed suicide (1.58)--her body was "violated" (violatum), but her soul was innocent (animus insons), and death was her proof of innocence (mors testis erit). She was innocent of a crime (adultery), but was too chaste to allow anyone to slander her as if she had. History has proven Lucretia's fears that she would not be believed otherwise, but with her death, she began a revolution. How so? Because sex by force was not just sex to the Romans. It was rape.

On one last note, we can muddy the waters here even more for those who say that consent is a modern idea only--adultery. In the laws of most Greek city-states in antiquity, the woman was not held responsible for adultery. One of the most well-known cases attesting to this is that of Euphiletus again the adulterer Eratosthenes, preserved in Euphiletus' speech written by Lysias. In Attic law, essentially, a woman was not considered mentally competent enough to consent to non-marital sex (whether she consented to marital sex is not at issue). Athenian law allowed Euphiletus to kill Eratosthenes on the spot if he caught him with his wife (or daughter or mother or household member). The wife, on the other hand, couldn't be harmed other than she would be divorced and sent back to her father (or brother). She was considered incapable of consenting to seduction legally, but the divorce implied that she did consent. 

If the perpetrator is committing adultery (seduction), then he can be killed on the spot. If he is raping her, he is committing hubris and is NOT legally able to be killed on the spot. The woman's CONSENT matters--even if she is not legally considered adult enough to be responsible for giving it under the strain of seduction. And, although a colleague of mine once said that he was sure women divorced for adultery were stigmatized, we have evidence that shows they still were remarried (the law just stipulated that they had to wait about 10 months before doing so).

The Gortyn law code is similar--the adultery law stipulates that if "someone" (always a man) is caught in adultery with women of various statuses, the man is punished. No punishment at all is given for the women in the laws. What this implies is that adultery is a crime of consent--the consent of whoever the male legal representative (kurios) is of the woman--father, husband, brother, owner (for slaves). So, adultery, like rape, involves consent. The difference is that the women must consent to avoid it being rape, the kurios must consent to avoid adultery. And, just on an aside--the Gortyn law code also stipulates that in cases of "he said, she said" involving slaves, the female slave is believed over whoever rapes her. This is, of course, intended to protect her owner's property (her), but it is still a pretty amazing stipulation.

What can we say about the notion that "consent is a modern idea"? Well, I think it is pretty clear that if there are laws differentiating rape from sex and laws concerning adultery, there is inherently a concept of consent. The problem for my FaceBook interlocutor, it seems, is a confusion over the notion of "affirmative consent" and simple consent. Affirmative consent--the idea that a woman must say or indicate "yes" explicitly at every stage of a sexual interaction--is modern, consent is not. To use one of my students' favorite (inaccurate) trite phrases, "since the beginning of time", laws have distinguished rape from not rape by asking the question "did they consent?". So, in answer to the question "Is consent a modern idea?", the answer is clearly "no".

Roma--Palazzo Massimo and Baths of Diocletian

I am clearly very behind since we visited the theater during a walk through Rome over a week ago, but it has been busy! Anyhow, now I will finally post about the the Palazzo Massimo and the Baths of Diocletian. 

The tickets for these 2 museums are part of a 10 euro pass that also includes the Crypta Balbi and something else I can't remember. Best 10 euro I have spent in a long while. The layout of the museum is fabulous and the inscriptions in the baths are awesome. Of course, if you don't read Latin, they aren't all that exciting, but seeing as Max and I do read Latin... Anyhow, we spent over 6 hours in the two museums and did not finish at the Baths. Too. Much. Epigraphical.Awesome.

Let's begin at the Massimo: On the top floor, they have wall paintings from various villas that were discovered around Rome. In a number of the instances, they attempted to reconstruct the paintings on rooms or within structures of the size and shape of the original space. This first is from the villa of Livia where the Prima Porta was also found. The room in which the paintings were found (almost entirely intact) was subterranean. The colors and detail of the wild life is unbelievable. The opulence of the space is highlighted by the extensive use of blue paint (very pricey). The room shows a garden space, including a garden wall and plant and animal life that lived outside of the garden proper.

Note the work at the top that would have curved over the entire vaulted ceiling. Modest living in Rome, opulent living in the countryside.

The tree is obviously sideways, but I wanted to give a detail shot of the artistry of the painter.

Nothing says "Rest in Peace" more than some pygmies fighting crocodiles with pee on your tomb.

This and the next image come from a wonderful display of frescoes from the Villa Farnesina, an Augustan aged villa that was unearthed in Trastevere (in Rome) in the late 19th century. 

A bedroom scene from one of the bedrooms in the Villa Farnesina. Notice how the slaves are looking away as if they don't see. Arguments have been made that part of the thrill of sexual activity among the elite in Rome was the voyeuristic aspect. Slaves, in theory, were non-people and so weren't really there, but they actually were there and could (and probably did) watch. 

The Massimo abounds with pygmy scenes. This is one of a few--pygmies fighting evil hippopotami and crocodiles.

The crouching Aphrodite an I share a stomach. 

Anyone know who this is? 

Now guess again...

These are bronze fitting from the rudders from one of  the Nemi ships, a richly ornate "pleasure ship" that likely belonged to the emperor Caligula.   

This is a statue of Pan...

But on closer inspection, you see that it is really a statue of an actor playing Pan.

Extravagant sarcophagus of a Roman general defeating barbarians. Who is this famous Roman leader? And what war did he wage against the evil barbarians?

Who knows!? The sarcophagus seems to have been a stock piece that one could buy and have their face added to .

You can also add your wife, once you have one...

Dicing was popular in Rome...

But you should clearly always bring your own dice.

This is the tomb marker for a Hellenized Jew in Rome. The multi-cultural interchange on this simple piece is astounding. Tragic masks, Greek text, images of Jewish menorah, shofar, and lulav with "shalom" rendered in Hebrew as well. Just awesome.

A favorite early Christian image is the Jesus-in-a-Box! Also known as Christ Resurrected. One of the things I found interesting about the 3rd and 4th century images of Jesus found on tombs is the exclusive focus on either the fish or on the resurrection image. No crosses, only the Chi/Rho. The body shape of the resurrected Christ, however, is nearly identical to what one sees when he is later moved to the cross and becomes the Dying Christ that decorated Christian churches across the world today. The shift in focus from resurrection to death is an interesting moment to me and reflects, I think, a shift in theological and dogmatic concerns. But I am not an early Christian scholar, so take it as my hunch, not the truth.

There is so much more to post. I just picked some favorites. I also didn't even post up the Ostia pics, which are pretty great. It is a wonderful site. And then there is the trip to Crete (Knossos is disappointing, I must say). 

More Roma (though I am now in Hellas)

I am behind, I know. This always happens. But yesterday was a travel day to Athens followed by getting situated at the American School and attending a talk and reception in honor of Blegen (it was a full day symposium, but we were not here for most of it). Anyway, I wanted to recount a wonderful walking tour given me by my significant other through Rome from Monti back to the Centro (on the Gianicolo Hill). We began with lunch at a little restaurant called the Asino d'oro (Golden Ass) and then walked by Trajan's column and Marcellus' theater (in the Campus Martius) and through the Jewish Ghetto and meandered past the Pantheon where Bernini's little elephant is located. He is such a cute little elephant. I highly recommend the restaurant and the walk. And, of course, the little elephant.

My first picture of Trajan's column without scaffolding on it!

Detail of the column. 10th ring shoes a tortoise shell formation.

Forum of Trajan--I didn't take a pic of the market because I already have an older one from before they started reusing the building (and so minus the AC units).

Massimo at the Theater of Marcellus with the Temple of Apollo Sosianus to the right. 

I don't know what this is particularly, but it seems to be some sort of mark/symbol that uses the city walls with the imperial eagle in the middle. If anyone has the details on this, I would love to hear it.

The Portico of Octavia with a number of layers of repurposing and building evident.

Totally fake "ancient" art embedded in the walls of a shop in the Jewish ghetto.

Me at the turtle fountain. Note that I am not wearing the same clothed I was wearing in the previous posts. Because my luggage finally came that morning. I did still go with comfortable, though. I was not cheerful enough to bust out the dresses.


I desperately want one of these for my house/office/every room. Note that they also come in rhinoceros. 

These inscription are on a church by the pantheon (and next to the little elephant!) that mark the various flood levels of the Tiber prior to the building of the flood wall. I think (though can't be sure because the dating is weird, that the oldest inscription is in the bottom left).

Next up will be the journey to the Palazzo Massimo and the Baths of Diocletian. Epigraphical Fun Fest. So much so that my fully charged camera battery died. The Massimo is an exceptionally well laid out museum and the inscription at the bath's are phenomenal.  After that, we get to Greece, though there is little here I can post pics of since most of my photos are for "official" purposes. BUT! I am planning a trip to Eleusis and to Crete, so I'll log that. 

Rome--the Vatican Museum

There is so much to see and do in Rome and so little time. Today, I'll put up some of my favorite images from the Vatican Museum and then tomorrow, I'll post highlights from my walking tour of the city. Day after, I'll try to hit Ostia and then onto Athens! Needless to say, despite being in Rome, many of my favorite things to see have been Greek. The Vatican has some of the most well-known Attic vase images in their collection and that collection is not heavily trafficked--for shame!

Me and my girl--though forgive that I had been wearing that outfit for nearly 4 days straight--luggage did finally arrive Tuesday.

One of the most awesome statue groups ever--Roman copy of the Athena and Marsyas. Just think about how many ways this is awesome because of who Athena is and who Marsyas is and then look at Athena's body language.  It gets even more awesome then.

This is a construction scene from a famous freedman's tomb. It shows the construction of the actual tomb. Look at the little hamsters in the wheel!

Kalos/kale vase in which the amazon is kale. 

Just in case you couldn't see it, note the "kale" above her head. 

The argument for reading vase imagery ethically instead of as reflections of real life--flute girl holds man's head as he vomits.

This vase by Exekias is famous as a paradigm for dozens of knock-off images of Achilles and Ajax playing (sometimes with Athena on the background, but not until after the Cleisthenic reforms).

THe close-ip of Ajax's cloak, though, tells you why this is the paradigm and rightly famous. LOOK AT THAT DETAIL!


On Sunday (my first full day back in Rome), I went to a museum I have never seen, the Montemartini. It is one of the coolest museum spaces I have ever seen. It is an old power plant that now houses part of the Capitoline Museum collection. In addition to having some very beautiful pieces, the juxtaposition of the ancient and modern, mechanical and artistic, is very compelling. Here are a few images to show you what I mean:

As I said, very cool. And here are just a few more of my favorite pieces from the museum.

Me with a giant head of Fortuna (probably). I have needed a little fortuna this week.

Graver Stele for a young boy who had won a poetry competition just before dying. His parents had the winning poem inscribed on the tomb.

Sadly, my camera battery died and I was not able to take pictures at the Capitoline. Such is life.

The Summer Invasion

As with last year, I will here record my adventures abroad as I make my way through another summer slog researching my beloved Greeks. 

This year's barbarian invasion includes a week in Roma followed by time in Athens and Crete. The journey began a little bit questionably given that the Romans were trying their best to keep me out--flight delay, touch and go on being re-routed, a side-trip through Madrid, and an additional seven hours of travel time--and have spent the last couple of days trying to keep me unarmed (i.e. without my luggage). But, the luggage is due to be delivered within the hour and all will be well. 

This summer's work includes work on some tombstones at various museums (can't post those images here) and a visit to Eleusis and Knossos. I started, however, with trips to the Museo della Centrale Montemartini and Capitoline museums and Vatican museums in Roma. Once I finish up some work, I'll start with shots from the Montemartini and Capitoline. Sadly, my camera battery was not fully charged and died while in the Capitoline. I recharged it for the Vatican, though. Those shots will come later.