What’s News in The Classics

Ancient Egypt

The BBC has this story covering a Royal Society paper: New timeline for origin of ancient Egypt.

Radiocarbon dating suggests that Egyption civilisation came into
being much later than previously thought.

Previous records suggested the pre-Dynastic period, a time when early
groups began to settle along the Nile and farm the land, began in
4000BC. But the new analysis revealed this process started later,
between 3700 or 3600BC.

The Palermo Stone is inscribed with the names of early Egyptian kings
The team found that just a few hundred years later, by about 3100BC,
society had transformed to one ruled by a king.

So the pre-Dynastic period where people began to settle along the Nile and become agricultural transformed into a society with a state and single king in the short space of a few hundred years, much more rapid than historians thought. Very interesting stuff.


Mary Beard reminds us that smear campaigns can lest well into posterity. On Caligula:

But even the more extravagant later accounts – for example the
gossipy biography of Caligula by Suetonius, written about 80 years
after his death – are not quite as extravagant as they seem.

If you read them carefully, time and again, you discover that they
aren’t reporting what Caligula actually did, but what people said he
did, or said he planned to do.

It was only hearsay that the emperor’s granny had once found him in
bed with his favourite sister. And no Roman writer, so far as we
know, ever said that he made his horse a consul. All they said was
that people said that he planned to make his horse a consul.

The most likely explanation is that the whole horse/consul story goes
back to one of those bantering jokes. My own best guess would be that
the exasperated emperor one day taunted the aristocracy by saying
something along the lines of: “You guys are all so hopeless that I
might as well make my horse a consul!”

And from some such quip, that particular story of the emperor’s
madness was born.

It’s a short piece and worth reading (sorry, it’s a month old.. but hey, this is ancient history).

Classics in East London

This week’s Economist has a piece “Latin, innit” (it’s behind a paywall) about BSIX, a sixth form college in Hackney, a poor part of East London. Unusually, they have a classics programme with 17 enthusiastic students.

Several students say they plan to apply to Oxford. And on August
23rd, the East End Classics Centre ws given some money from London’s
Schools Excellence Fund to expand and link with other similiar
projects. In time, it may seem odd that the sex and violence of the
ancient world were ever absent from the classrooms of London’s East

I really hope there is more of this. It is a scandel that the subject is viewed as an irrelevant past time of the upper classes, a stupid misconception popularised by Labour politicians that only holds back the very people they claim to represent.