Friday, August 22, 2014

Amphipolis ...

I'll try to do a proper post or two about Amphipolis over the week-end, but just to be clear again I won't be 'revealing' any information that the fabulous archaeologists working there have not publicly released.

For updates, I refer people to the Ministry of Culture press releases:

Υπουργείο Πολιτισμού και Αθλητισμού - Δελτία Τύπου

If journalists wish to contact the excavators, the way to do so is through the Ministry of Culture - and to reiterate what they themselves have said: no, you can't turn up and tour the site, no matter how important you think you are.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Rethinking Achilles and PTSD - No, no, no.

Rethinking Achilles and PTSD | rogueclassicism:

In his book chapter Beyond the Universal Soldier: Combat Trauma in Classical Antiquity, Dr Jason Crowley argues against the commonly-held idea that sufferers of PTSD can be found as far back in history as Achilles and Odysseus.
Having looked at Crowley's bio (here), he's obviously a very young academic, and so  whilst one should encourage new researchers ... as someone who's been diagnosed and treated for PTSD, and has a decent knowledge of history, I think he is talking out of his arse.

PTSD may be a 'new' label, but shell shock is pretty well documented during the first World War and there are plenty of descriptions of the symptoms from Antiquity that are clearly PTSD, so no, it wasn't 'invented' after Vietnam.

I've blogged about ancient PTSD here and here and briefly here ... but if you don't want to take my word for it, take that of Dr Jonathan Shay, who has decades of experience working with people suffering from PTSD and can speak from experience. The BMCR review of his Achilles in Vietnam is here; Achilles in Vietnam at Amazon UK and Achilles in Vietnam at Amazon US.

I can respect people having different views on most issues - for example who's buried at Amphipolis - but it takes a prize twat to dismiss a well attested and well studied illness that so many of our veterans suffer from. When everyone else is campaigning for better treatment for veterans, one has to wonder what kind of narcissist insists on pushing this kind of crappy pseudo-scientific nonsense - and why

Sunday, August 17, 2014

European man found in Chinese tomb

European man's remains found in ancient Chinese tomb | World News # 92128:

A human skull found in a 1,400 years old tomb in China possibly belonged to a man of European origin, scientists revealed Sunday.

The skull was found in the M1401 tomb in Guyuan city in Ningxia Hui autonomous region, Xinhua reported.

There are a number of 'European' burials along the Silk Road and into the Taklamakan Desert of NW China, so the find is no huge surprise, but fascinating none the less.

In the West we tend to concentrate on sea trade with the East, due to the survival of The Periplous, a Roman maritime manual - but in the East they tend to emphasise the land route as that's where the archaeological evidence is.

Hold Your [& Alexander's] Horses ....

I'm very impressed by the level of enthusiasm people have shown about the excavation of the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis. Thank you all for your comments and emails, but ... it's an ongoing excavation, being undertaken by some of the best archaeologists in the world, who've been working on the site for quite a few years now, and you all have to wait for the Katerina Peristeri and her team to choose to publicly announce their finds once they have had time to work on them.

The archaeologists have been presenting their research each March at the conference in Thessaloniki, and so for those who are unhappy with the lack of info in the press ... tough luck! The people working hard on the site were pretty pissed off someone who had no right to do so leaked their finds before Prime Minister Samaras visited.

So to try to answer the questions I can ...

The photo above shows the Lion as is - it's an old reconstruction, so conspiracy theories around 13 Steps don't really hold up (sorry). The Lion was pieced, as you can see in the photo below, and some of the pieces were missing when it was 'reconstructed' ....

The amazing Michaelis Lefanzis found some of the missing pieces of the Lion a few years back, and that led to the site being excavated.

The site is very secure, with the police and the locals working hard to ensure that there is no looting.

No, you can't visit the excavation, sorry - that's partly for it's security (so you don't loot), and partly for your own (imagine a really unstable building site). But if you're in the area, there is a fabulous little museum and the rest of the archaeological site at Amphipolis is pretty impressive.

There are comparanda for the Sphinxes and for the lions. The most obvious is the seated lion at Chaeronea - probably set up by Philip II to commemorate his victory there - but there's also the Piraeus Lion (now outside the Arsenal in Venice; photo to left), and the reclining Cnidus Lion now in the central courtyard of the British Museum. (Apologies for the appalling photos but I'm currently library-less).

Yes, it seems to be a male lion. We noticed a few years ago that the Greeks depicted both male and female lions with manes - cue a lot of looking at their genitals in museums ... There are various ancient sources that mention a Lioness marking the tomb of some women, and so one theory, when Roxanne was being considered as the occupant, was that the Amphipolis Lion was in fact a she ... but that has now been discarded as a theory.

Yes, Alexander the Great had leonine locks and sometimes wore a lion skin ... but lions are so popular on ancient grave monuments that unless he's buried in dozens of locations like the Buddha, one bone per site, just having a giant lion does not suggest anything either way to do with Alexander III.

Bits and bobs of the base that probably supported the lion were excavated a long time ago, and include engaged Doric half-columns (see above) and the fragment of an intercolumniar relief shield. Since these elements were moved away from the mound when its superstructure was destroyed in the Roman period ... a) the excavator at the time did not associate them with the mound, and b) there might need to be some reassessment of whether the half columns were immediately below the lion, as in the old reconstructions below, or elsewhere on the monument.

Yes, there is very good evidence for the date, but you'll have to wait for the publication.

Amphipolis does not mean 'new city' - there are various theories in ancient authors well into the Byzantine period discussing the meaning of the name. The city was about a century old when Philip II captured it, and it seems to increase in importance from the  time of Alexander onwards, and had an important Imperial cult under the Romans. I meant 'new' as opposed to the 'old' Vergina where his father was buried.

Alexander didn't like his father, might have been involved in his murder, and ... liked to emphasise his more divine descent, so a new tomb in a new city to mark his conquest of the known world, far from reminders of his father ... well, it doesn't take Freud to work that one out, does it?

I'd rather keep out of the modern politics, but Alexander the Great's homeland was the Greek province of Macedonia.

I don't know who was buried in the tomb at Amphipolis but it was not Alexander - every single source in Antiquity says so. And no the theory that his body was taken to Venice instead of St Mark's is unlikely. And even if tonnes of gold is ever found in the tomb, I very much doubt it would be sold off to pay off the national debt - the items found will be housed in a museum for all to see and appreciate.

Now to get to the bottom of the matter ... the round wall which surrounded the tomb and supported the mound above it. We tend to take round buildings for granted these days, but when I was studying as an undergrad there were only a dozen round Greek buildings known (to date myself a bit, the last discovered of that dozen was the Ptolemaion at Limyra, which someone is now arguing is not in fact round ...).

Round buildings are very rare, and perfect circles really only begin with Deinocrates, hence his association with Amphipolis.

The perimeter of the Amphipolis round wall is some 500m, whilst the Mausoleum of Augustus, and the Mausoleum of Hadrian are roughly the same size as each other and significantly smaller (which off the top of my head I think is about 280m? ...).

We know that Augustus visited Alexander's tomb in 30 BC and the before him Julius Caesar did (Lucan, Pharsalia, X.1ff) ... and that a better translation of Lucan describes Alexander's Tomb as having a mound of earth ... but that was the tomb in Alexandria in which Alexander the Great was buried.

Strabo (Geography, V. 3) describes the tomb of Augustus in Rome, seen to the left in one of many possible reconstructions, in this way:

the Mausoleum, a great mound near the river on a lofty foundation of white marble, thickly covered with ever-green trees to the very summit. Now on top is a bronze image of Augustus Caesar; beneath the mound are the tombs of himself and his kinsmen and intimates; behind the mound is a large sacred precinct with wonderful promenades; and in the centre of the Campus is the wall (this too of white marble) round his crematorium; the wall is surrounded by a circular iron fence and the space within the wall is planted with black poplars.

We know that there were obelisks in front of it, moved in the Renaissance, and considering that the theme of so much of the Augustan building programme was the Pax Augusta, we can guess that there would have been figures of Nikai, winged victories, possibly offering him his laurels, which were depicted on his tomb as they were on his house. (The angels of the Mausoleum of Hadrian, which give it its modern name the Castel Sant'Angelo are modern).

So Augustus' Mausoleum may have been called 'mausoleum' after the heroon of Mausolus - but like so much Augustan art it was a mixture of styles, and in many ways seems to echo the tomb at Amphipolis in shape and form.

Who's buried at Amphipolis? Wait and see ;-)

Quick update.

Browsing through the coverage I thought no-one had any new details ... but of course the always on-the-ball Ta Nea did. (Incidentally, they and To Vima have by far the best archaeology coverage of any newspaper I know)).

Με μικροκάμερα �διείσδυσαν� οι αρχαιολόγοι στον τύμβο της Αμφίπολης - Πολιτισμός - Επικαιρότητα - Τα Νέα Οnline:

Αποκαλύφθηκαν 15 σκαλιά και δύο Σφίγγες, καθώς και μικρό ψηφιδωτό δάπεδο που οδηγεί στην είσοδο.
 Σύμφωνα με πληροφορίες, οι Σφίγγες, βάρους 1,5 τόνου η κάθε μία, εμποδίζουν την είσοδο στον τύμβο.
Εκεί υπάρχει μεγάλος όγκος χώματος και παρεμβάλλονται δύο τοίχοι με απόσταση 6-7 μέτρων μεταξύ τους.

 (my bold)

Last update.

I think this makes the point about art created by people who'd never seen lions ....

And just to make the point about how bloody huge the thing is ... that's a car in the top right of the photo, not a dinky toy:

Of Trolls and Frenemies ....

I've been meaning to write a nice sensible piece about Trolls on the internet, and to argue that whilst many are unpleasant, and the odd one is offensive, they also have the right to freedom of expression. As much as I dislike some of the things some people have said about me, for example, I respect their right to have their own opinions - I'll even admit some of the criticisms are true ... and I'd rather tolerate / ignore the lies than live in the sort of society where people cannot express themselves, such as Iran or under ISIS.

The odd troll can be dangerous and should be reported to the police, but most are not. Last year I chose to call the police over one man who had already been issued with an anti-harassment order, because his fantasies were escalating. But most 'trolls' - and a couple of them are women I "know" in real life - are just angry people who can easily be dealt with by clicking "block" or "mark as spam" or a dozen other ways ....

But frankly this photo that @deannamascle Tweeted says it all.

I don't worry about "trolls" or "frenemies" because they are not people who opinion matters to me, and I'm a grown woman not some little girlie. And I'm not going to waste my time saying anything more about them because I'd rather spend my time on friends.

An Unusual Synagogue

A Rabbi’s Departure Manifests a Challenge for Jews in America -

Rabbi Andy Bachman took the helm of Congregation Beth Elohim in the neighborhood eight years ago and began attracting a vibrant congregation of Jewish atheists and agnostics, as well as the more traditionally religious.

Drawn by big-name book talks, family-oriented religious classes and the rabbi’s teaching that to be Jewish is to do good in the world, membership in the Reform synagogue doubled to more than a thousand families. It drew young literati like Jonathan Safran Foer and catapulted to national attention as a model for what might bring some of the nation’s millions of Jews who are unaffiliated with synagogues back to the fold.
A fabulous article about an interesting man - I wish we had a synagogue like this in London!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Let's Talk About Amphipolis ...

... so a dig is a bit like Fight Club, and the first rule of Fight Club is that you don't talk about it. I've been following the dig for a few years now, and the archaeologists have been kind enough to show me some of their finds, but obviously I have not discussed them, and will not until they themselves announce them. So whilst I appreciate the sentiments of those who were kind enough to send me enthusiastic emails ... Sorry, the first Rule of Archaeology Club is not to blab about others' finds.

Having said that, over the last few days there has been some wild speculation on the internet about finds from the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis. Again, I will limit myself to discussing the sphinx sculptures flanking the entrance, photos of which were released today because Greek PM Samaras visited the site.

 The sphinxes and the entrance can be seen quite clearly in this news video:

The seated sphinxes - as opposed to the lying sphinxes in Egyptian art - are unusual. The closest parallel I can think of are those from the Hecatomnid Androns at Labraunda (photo below), about a quarter of a century earlier. The Hecatomnid figures are bearded and Archaising, and very much a reflection of Persian royal iconography; fragments of similar figures have been found at Sidon, where the sarcophagi in the royal tomb in turn copy the elements from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.

The Amphipolis sphinxes seem not to have beards, and since we have not been shown the pieced heads it is difficult to tell if they were similarly archaising. The Macedonian sculptures are also of higher quality, and are more Classicising. The wings also appear to have been pieced. The Amphipolis seated 'sphinxes' also are in the same pose as the colossal lion that crowned the tomb.

Phillip II arranged an engagement between his son Phillip (later IV) and the daughter of Pixodarus, the heiress of Caria. Alexander (later the Great) tried to step in and pinch her - and her kingdom - for himself. There were strong artistic as well as political links between Macedonia and Caria from the time of Phillip II onwards, for example the sculptor Leochares working first on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus' sculptures, and then creating the portraits of Phillip and his family for the Philippeion at Olympia.

The mound is huge, as is clear from this photo, indicating that someone extremely powerful was buried there, and this is supported by a perfectly circular retaining wall of fine masonry.

By now I hope people are noting "round wall, mound of earth ... hmmm, that's a bit like the Mausoleum of Augustus"

Who was buried in it? There's a board in the local cafe where they are laying odd on everyone from Alexander the Great to Roxanne to Lysimachus and a dozen others.

What I can tell you 100 % for sure is that Alexander the Great was not buried in the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis as every single ancient source says that Ptolemy hijacked the body on it's way back to Macedonia and that Alexander lay well into the Byzantine period in Alexandria.

But - and I must stress that this is very much my personal opinion and should not be taken as the opinion of the archaeologists working hard on the site - if Alexander was on his way to being buried in Macedonia when Ptolemy pinched his body ... to me that suggests that there was a tomb that had been or was being prepared for him in Macedonia. It need not have been at Vergina, and for a number of reasons would more likely to have been at a 'new' city.

This would be almost impossible to prove without an inscription, but after a big chunk of my career spent looking at fourth century tombs ... if I were to imagine what kind of a tomb Alexander the Great might have planned for himself and his family, then it would pretty much look like the Lion Tomb of Amphipolis.

Colour photos are all of Amphipolis from here.


Update - the dromos frescoes have now made it into the press.

Greece says vast, significant ancient tomb unearthed in north | Reuters:
Archaeologists have found two sphinxes, thought to have guarded its entrance, a 4.5-metre-(yard)-wide road leading into it, with walls on both sides covered by frescoes. It is circled by a 497-metre-long marble outer wall.

And again it is worth repeating that this is by far the largest tomb ever excavated in Greece, in case I didn't make that point clear.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Sarah E. Bond: Mapping the Winds: Roman Anemoscopes and Meteorology

I thought I knew a great deal about the various instruments used by Romans in their daily lives. I have been rather fascinated for the past decade with what many would consider the mundane details (or "realia") of the ancient Mediterranean. So, imagine my surprise when I came across pictures of two wind-roses, called anemoscopes, which Romans used to gauge the wind.

The first is dated to the 2nd-3rd century CE and is now at the Vatican (IG XIV, 1308). It has both Latin and Greek labels for the winds. Liba Taub's book on Ancient Meteorology notes that it was found in Rome between the Esquiline and the Colosseum (2003: 107) [Compare with this one from the Italian city of Gaeta. IG XIV, 906]

Museo Vaticani, Vatican City. 
Another anemoscope has a similar dating (c.200 CE), and is now in Pesaro. It was discovered on the Via Appia outside the Porta Capena in Rome (Goodchild 2007: 134). It is not very large, just 21.6 inches in diameter and 2.7 inches thick. Like the Vatican anemoscope, it has a hole in the middle for a flag to be placed in it. The way the flag flaps can then be lined up on the disc in order to tell you the wind. On the Pesaro example, the twelve winds are delineated and then marked with small pegs. Most but not all anemoscopes had 12 winds, though this system was favored by people like Seneca. 

Pesaro Anemoscope. 

Wind roses could also be much larger than the Vatican or Pesaro examples. The most famous is the Tower of the Winds in Athens (2nd c. BCE [see Rehak]), which had a large weathervane on the top and was octagonal in shape. 

Tower of the Winds (or Horologion), Roman Agora, Athens.
The eight winds are depicted in relief on the sides.
Of lesser renown but similar use is the "Square of the Winds" at Dougga. It has a wind rose with 24 points celebrating the 12 winds. Like our smaller anemoscopes, it too is likely from the late second century, probably under Commodus. 

Pavement from the 'Square of the Winds', Dougga, North Africa.
A good question to ask is: why might Romans wish to use these contraptions? Sailors would of course desire to use them to aid navigation, but what about those on land? In his Natural History, Pliny gives us some insight, noting that strong winds could damage wheat and barley crops, particularly at various stages of the crop flowering. Moreover, certain crops benefited from particular winds. Cato apparently suggested olives should be planted due West. Pliny instructs individuals on how to create an anemoscope on their land by casting their shadow at midday. Likewise, Vitruvius earlier gave a more detailed description that matches up almost exactly with the layout of the Tower of the Winds. 

The winds were an important thing to diagram and to understand particularly for planning buildings. Pliny the Younger even oriented the cryptoporticus of his Laurentine villa so that the west wind, perceived as the healthy and life giving, could sweep through (Ep. 2.17.16-20). To Romans, the winds had different potencies than they do today. In book 18 of the Natural History, Pliny the Elder even suggested that Africus, the SW wind, could cause animals to become pregnant after coupling if they turned to face it. Finally, I would stress that there was a prevalent belief that certain winds brought certain patterns of weather. As the Venerable Bede lays out (On the Nature of Things, 27): Septentrio [N] brings cold and clouds, Circius [NNW] brings snow and hail. In a world without the weather channel, at least there was an anemoscope. 

Ornithon of Varro (1560-1590)
Photo via the British Museum.
Stephen McCluskey sums up the import of these anemoscopes generally in his remarks on medieval winds. He comments that into the Middle Ages, the directional winds supplied "architects with a guide for orienting homes and estates, scholars with a framework for geographical and cosmic orientation, and artists with ornamented motifs for mosaic and other decorative art" (1998: 15). At Casinum, Varro installed a weathervane on his elaborate aviary, which told visitors the direction of the winds outside and depicted stars on its ceiling inside--a mini cosmos depicting time and space. 

The legacy of mapping the winds continued into Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. A manuscript of Isidore of Seville's work (d. 636) on winds from the 12th century, now at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, shows both the Latin and Greek names for the winds around a T-O map. It illustrates clearly that ordering the world also meant ordering the winds. 

Fol. 1v. Isidore of Seville, De Ventis. Rota map of the winds with T-O map.
(Photo from the Walters Art Museum Manuscripts).


Helen Goodchild, "Modelling Roman Agricultural Production in the Middle Tiber Valley, Central Italy" (PhD Thesis: U. Birmingham, 2007). 

Stephen McCluskey, Astronomies and Culture in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). 

Barbara Obrist, "Wind Diagrams and Medieval Cosmology," Speculum 72.1 (1997), 40-41 [Fig.1-2], 48. 

Liba Taub, Ancient Meteorology (London: Routledge, 2003).  

Read Because It Is Cool:

Evelyn Edson and Emilie Savage-Smith, "An Astrologer's Map: A Relic of Late Antiquity," Imago Mundi 52 (2000), 7-29.  

Dave Potts, "Simulating Roman Trade Patterns" on the Archaeology of Portus site. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

New Blog by Sarah Bond

Monograms and Inscribed Power | SARAH E. BOND

Sarah, who has blogged here at PhDiva in the past, has her own blog now - so go over and subscribe straight away! And click on the link to read her fabulous post about monograms on Byzantine capitals.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Jobar Synagogue Destroyed

Just one of a set of photographs that the Daily Beast recently published, showing that the synagogue is no more:

Exclusive Pictures: Syria’s Oldest Synagogue, Destroyed by Assad - The Daily Beast:
Exclusive Photos: Syria’s Oldest Synagogue, Destroyed by Assad
The Jobar Synagogue was one of the holiest Jewish sites in Syria and contained priceless historical artifacts. Now it’s destroyed—and the opposition says Assad is to blame.
Eliyahu Hanabi Synagogue in Jobar has become the synagogue that cried wolf, with so many previous claims of it's destruction that many of us were once again skeptical. The photo set clearly shows a Jewish building, and the arcading in the photo above is without a boubt the same as in this photo provided to the Times of Israel six months ago (source):

Rumours first spread about a year ago that this Medieval synagogue had been destroyed, but it had turned out then to only have been badly damaged by shelling, as seen in this video fro 1.25 onwards:

Adam Blitz has been covering Jobar Synagogue for quite some time, and is equally skeptical that the Assad regime destroyed it. Whilst confirming the destruction, he points out that somethings might still be safeguarded:

Who will save the remains of Syria’s ancient synagogue? - Opinion Israel News | Haaretz:
Yet this is not the time for a eulogy. There remains the possibility that the Shrine of Elijah is safely buried metres below the debris. Equally, at some point the future, there exists an unprecedented opportunity to survey the exposed synagogue remains. For now, attention should focus on the synagogue’s artefacts and ensure that they do not leak out onto the illegal antiquities market. If we cannot ensure their safe return from rebel hands we can at least document the objects from photographic and videographic evidence and to alert Interpol, the auction and Judaica markets worldwide that these items may start circulating.
Blitz will give a talk on 'What's left of Syria's Jewish Legacy' in London next week.

I can't see any information about this on the Syrian Ministry of Culture's web site yet - - but I'm sure that in due course they will in turn blame the rebels. [Update - they have, here].

Adam Blitz and I tried to find photographs of the various Damascus synagogues last year but, given how everything seems to be available of the internet these days, we failed. If anyone has old photos of this or other Syrian synagogues, please do drop me a line at dorothy [@] and I will pass them on to him - the more photos we have, the easier it would be to 'virtually' reconstruct the synagogues and try to identify items from them when they come onto the art market.

There is a set of photographs, for example, taken by Robert Lyons in 1995 the World Monuments Fund Survey of Syrian Synagogues, but these are not currently available (exhibition blurb here - although the WMF is asking people to sign a petition to save Syria's cultural legacy, releasing the photos would be a far more useful step).

Lyons took the photo to the left and the two below. The Wayback Machine failed to archive the Jobar photos, but photographs he took of several other Syrian synagogues can be found here. (These are of the Jobar Synagogue in Damascus before it was restored - hence the white arcades).

Update to show the 'interior' now:

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dogdy Papyri - Again

At least one of the dodgy papyri smuggled out of Egypt and sold by that AntikMix Turk on eBay has ended up in the Green Collection exhibition currently in Rome.

As Roberta Mazza makes clear in her review of the exhibition Green and his Bible Museum are rather Evangelical in their promotion of a very orthodox form of Christianity ... So I guess that other, even dodgier papyrus supposedly about Jesus' Wife probably ain't something they bought.

On a personal note, I find it frustrating as hell that I and others have gathered so much evidence AntikMix is smuggling and no-one seems able to do anything about it. At least now we know this particular papyrus fragment went to the US, and given the seller's past form I very much doubt he filled the customs paperwork in truthfully, so I bloody well hope ICE confiscate it.


Sevso Silver Update

Interesting summary of the story of the Sevso Hoard, confirming the Hungarian press reports that two brothers - identified here as the sons of Peter Watson - sold the items recently, and not Lord Northampton.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sarah Bond: Displaying Status: The Roman Theater and the American Airliner

Image Credit: Barbara McManus, VRoma.
According to Josephus (AJ. 19.86), Caligula constructed a theater on the Palatine that had no boxes reserved for equestrians or senators. What resulted was rather a melange of seats that transgressed both status and gender boundaries in Roman society, mixing men and women, free and unfree (the horror!). This did not sit well with the Jewish historian, and it appears to have caused consternation and animosity among the elite as well. After all, why would elite Romans attend a public event where their status was not projected, reinforced, and (above all) celebrated?

The idea that Roman theater seating visualized social hierarchy is not a new thesis. I vividly remember reading Jonathan Edmondson's piece in the Togo Salmon papers as a graduate student, and then thinking about how public events today similarly serve to reinforce the social levels of society. I revisited this thought today, reading a piece on the way we board airplanes. Essentially, it shows that the current way that most American planes are boarded (i.e. first class, business class, then economy classes) is ridiculous.

Seat map of a Delta B-777.
Data has repeatedly shown that boarding front to back, moving from first class to economy, is the slowest way to board a plane. The fastest is apparently to let people board all at the same time or via the method proposed by astrophysicist Jason Steffen. The physicist has projected that more efficient boarding could ultimately save the airplane industry billions, but if the Romans have taught us anything, it is that this will likely never happen.

Livy notes that the first time the senate segregated itself from the common people was in the ludi Romani of 194 BCE. Some were alright with senators receiving such an honor, while others viewed it as haughty, but the practice persisted. Later, the princeps Augustus used theater seating as part of his restoration of the res publica, and late in his reign composed the lex Julia theatralis. It stipulated that the first 14 rows of the theater be set aside for those freeborn persons whose fathers or grandfathers "had a patrimony of at least 400,000 sesterces" (Berger [1953], 555). This meant they qualified for equestrian status. The law was apparently a revival of the Republican lex Roscia theatralis of 67 BCE. Suetonius reinforces Augustus' outrage at haphazard theatrical seating in his life of the emperor (Aug. 44). Honor could be conferred or revoked via public seating, and Augustus stood as the grand dissignator in this public spectacle.

Roman theater seats with inscriptions from Heraclea Lyncestis.
Humans continue to love to project their status during spectacles, and while we may hate flying, it is indeed a form of public ritual. The spectacle is really the boarding of the plane, when we all stand around, wait, and watch as others board first, second, third, fourth, fifth. First class passengers like to go first because the rest of us can only stand and gape as they go by. Then, when we board, we pass through first class on our way to the economy seats. It is a procession that advertises wealth (or lack thereof), even if the elite keep their heads buried in their iphones and walk quickly by. Monetizing this feeling of status and superiority is what is important to many airlines--not how quickly you can board. You simply cannot sell this high by letting the masses board is just too déclassé. 

Other Stuff (Just Because):

Check out Sebastian Heath's list of Roman amphitheaters.