Category Archives: Ancient

A checkup of Late Antiquity

In late 2015, the Journal of Late Antiquity published a special issue on the intersections of religion, medicine, health, healing and disability in Late Antiquity. Guest edited by Kristi Upson-Saia and Heidi Marx-Wolf, the issue featured 10 essays on this growing area of research. Upson-Saia and Marx-Wolf joined us for a Q&A about the special issue.

JHUP: How did the issue come about?

Eds: This special issue is an outgrowth of ReMeDHe, the working group for Religion, Medicine, Disability, and Health in Late Antiquity, that we co-founded in 2013 and have co-directed since.  Both of us were starting new projects in these research areas. And we were also both looking to work collaboratively in order to figure out how to address gaps in the scholarship and  to overcome some of the more isolating aspects of academic life. We wanted to work in a more dialogic way right from the start of these new projects and we soon encountered a number of other scholars who felt the same way. We began by proposing a series of four panels at the 2014 meeting of the North American Patristics Society, as well as a pre-conference workshop. Some of the papers in this special issue were originally presented in those inaugural sessions. Since then, we meet regularly at NAPS. We have also created a listserv, website, and Facebook page to communicate with each other, and we have created a Zotero group to share our primary and secondary source bibliographies. We now have over 130 members, and we believe this signals how important and vibrant these research areas are right now, as well as a desire for cooperative modes of research.

JHUP: What drew you to this area of research?

Marx-Wolf: I was drawn to this area by way of my work on late Roman philosophy. In antiquity, the lines between religion, philosophy, and medicine are difficult to draw. So it wasn’t surprising that I kept encountering doctors when studying late ancient philosophers. I thought the connections warranted a closer look. I’ve also taught pre-modern cosmology and history of science for a number of years, and I so enjoy teaching the history of ancient medicine. So I knew that this was a direction I wanted to head in my research.

Upson-Saia: I began reading Greco-Roman medical sources in graduate school and was hooked right away. I was particularly fascinated with discussions of wounds and scars, which seemed to me to have been understudied. In addition to my research, I have enjoyed teaching courses like “Magic, Miracle, and Medicine in Antiquity” and “Health and Humanity,” a course I’ve team-taught with a health care economist and bioethicist.

We were both surprised to find that, despite robust interest in earlier and later epochs in the history of medicine and the history of disability, few scholars were focused on these topics in Late Antiquity. And yet, it is one of the most interesting and dynamic historical periods when it comes to social, cultural, and religious change. This dynamism is also apparent when one looks at topics related to health, illness, healing, and so forth. However, as we hypothesize in our co-authored essay on the “State of the Question,” this period has often been viewed using an outdated lens of decline and devolution when it comes to medicine. The aim of the ReMeDHe working group is to look at this period with a different lens, one that focuses on the aforementioned dynamism. Hopefully, readers will catch more than just a glimpse of that when they explore the essays in the volume.

JHUP: What does it mean to take these discussions from smaller groups to a larger stage in this journal?

Eds: We are very excited to continue the kinds of conversations and collaborations characteristic of the working group with an even larger group of scholars whose interests intersect with our own, even if but peripherally. We’re also hoping to entice more people to consider working in these areas and strongly encourage them to join the ReMeDHe working group (

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Filed under Ancient, Health and Medicine, History, History of Medicine, Journals, Uncategorized

Our 2016 Ancient Studies catalog is here!

Ancient-Studies 2016 catalog cover

Our 2016 Ancient Studies catalog has arrived
and we cordially invite you to browse the online edition here.

Use code “HZPA” to receive a 30% discount when you order!

Visit the JHUP exhibit at the Society for Classical Studies
annual meeting in San Francisco from January 6–9, 2016.

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Filed under Ancient, Ancient, Classics, Cultural Studies, History, Journals, Literature

Fall books preview: literature, language, & classics

Fall 2015 very largeWe’re excited about the books we’ll be publishing this fall—and pleased to share this series of “Fall Books Preview” blog posts! Be sure to check out the online edition of JHUP’s entire Fall 2015 catalog, and remember that promo code “HDPD” gets you a 30% discount on pre-pub orders. Here are some of our forthcoming books in literature and classics:

bricuthPure Products of America, Inc.
A Narrative Poem
John Bricuth

This propulsive narrative poem tells the extended story of the popular born-again televangelist Ray Bob Elray—better known to all his fans as Big Bubba—his twin sons, Nick and Jesse, and his niece and adopted daughter, Donna.

“The outrageous John Bricuth has surpassed himself in this sublimely mad narrative poem about our ongoing America. There is no one quite like Bricuth. He tries to play all the notes at once and frequently succeeds. Wickedness, supernal wit, eloquence always just off the beat, and a fierce verve animate this unsettling leap into our deepening abyss. To read this poem is to imbibe a tonic for these darkening times.”—Harold Bloom

“In his hugely enjoyable new verse novel, John Bricuth recounts the rise and fall of Big Bubba, preacher, faith healer, and entrepreneur, ‘the Donald Trump of holy rollers,’ whose long-kept secret has torn his family apart. It’s a captivating story, a real page-turner, poignant yet often hilarious, told in high-energy language by a master poet.”—X. J. Kennedy

Available in November

loudenPennsylvania Dutch: The Story of an American Language
Mark L. Louden

In this probing study, Mark L. Louden, himself a fluent speaker of Pennsylvania Dutch, provides readers with a close look at the place of the language in the life and culture of two major subgroups of speakers: the “Fancy Dutch,” whose ancestors were affiliated mainly with Lutheran and German Reformed churches, and conservative Anabaptist sectarians known as the “Plain people”—the Old Order Amish and Mennonites.

“Mark L. Louden is the foremost scholar of Pennsylvania Dutch. A significant contribution to linguistic, sociolinguistic, historical, and anthropological scholarship, his book is extensively researched, accessible, and filled with a wealth of language examples that will appeal to a wide audience.”—Karen Johnson-Weiner, SUNY Potsdam, coauthor of The Amish

Available in January 2106

duvallNarrating 9/11: Fantasies of State, Security, and Terrorism
edited by John N. Duvall and Robert P. Marzec

Narrating 9/11 challenges the notion that Americans have overcome the national trauma of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The volume responds to issues of war, surveillance, and the expanding security state, including the Bush Administration’s policies on preemptive war, extraordinary rendition, torture abroad, and the suspension of privacy rights and civil liberties at home.

Touching on some of the mainstays of 9/11 fiction, including Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and John Updike’s Terrorist, the book expands this particular canon by considering the work of such writers as Jess Walter, William Gibson, Lauren Groff, Ken Kalfus, Ian McEwan, Philip Roth, John le Carré, Laila Halaby, Michael Chabon, and Jarett Kobek. Narrating 9/11 pushes beyond a critical focus on domestic realism, offering chapters that examine speculative and genre fiction, postmodernism, climate change, and the evolving security state, as well as the television series Lost and the film Paradise Now.

Available in September

fabreWomen and War in Antiquity
edited by Jacqueline Fabre-Serris and Alison Keith

The martial virtues—courage, loyalty, cunning, and strength—were central to male identity in the ancient world, and antique literature is replete with depictions of men cultivating and exercising these virtues on the battlefield. In Women and War in Antiquity, sixteen scholars reexamine classical sources to uncover the complex but hitherto unexplored relationship between women and war in ancient Greece and Rome. They reveal that women played a much more active role in battle than previously assumed, embodying martial virtues in both real and mythological combat.

“A fascinating, intellectually stimulating, and useful volume, Women and War in Antiquity sheds important new light on a complex issue while offering penetrating interpretations at the intersection of history and literature. This excellent book should interest scholars far beyond those specializing in Greco-Roman culture.”—Kurt Raaflaub, Brown University, coeditor of Raymond Westbrook’s Ex Oriente Lex: Near Eastern Influences on Ancient Greek and Roman Law

Available in November

michaelBritish Romanticism and the Critique of Political Reason
Timothy Michael

What role should reason play in the creation of a free and just society? Can we claim to know anything in a field as complex as politics? And how can the cause of political rationalism be advanced when it is seen as having blood on its hands? These are the questions that occupied a group of British poets, philosophers, and polemicists in the years following the French Revolution. Timothy Michael argues that much literature of the period is a trial, or a critique, of reason in its political capacities and a test of the kinds of knowledge available to it. This book bridges for the first time two traditional pillars of Romantic studies: the period’s politics and its theories of the mind and knowledge. Combining literary and intellectual history, it provides an account of British Romanticism in which high rhetoric, political prose, poetry, and poetics converge in a discourse of enlightenment and emancipation.

“Ambitious, well executed, and timely, this book provides valuable insight into some of the most abiding questions of Romantic studies.”—Charles W. Mahoney, University of Connecticut, editor of A Companion to Romantic Poetry

Available in December


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Filed under Ancient, Classics, Literature, Poetry, Poetry, Publishing News

For Mother’s Day, the story of ancient Rome’s Galla Placidia

Guest post by Joyce E. Salisbury

salisburyMother’s Day can often bring many mixed emotions—at least for me. As a daughter, when my mother was alive, I used Mother’s Day to reflect on how I measured up to my mother’s model of integrity (not so much) and made resolutions (usually broken) to call more often. As a mother, I worry about what kind of role model I have been and continue to be, and really, whose turn is it to call? As everyone knows, family relationships are complicated, and celebrations like Mother’s Day remind us of that.

As I was writing Rome’s Christian Empress, I had to think a lot about the relationship between Mothers and children—particularly daughters. The eponymous empress, Galla Placidia, grew up amidst turbulent family politics (typical for Roman ruling families), but she had an image of herself as an empress—not as a princess. What gave her this vision of herself? In part, it was the coins she held. Her family— the Theodosian—struck coins showing some of their women as fully empress. The image below shows the gold solidus of Placidia’s sister-in-law, Eudoxia. The empress is shown with the imperial robes and military cloak worn by the male emperors. The hand of God above her head claims that she rules because God had chosen the House of Theodosius to rule the empire and bring Christianity to power.

Salisbury 1Placidia, too, had the blood of Theodosius in her veins, so she too could rule by the grace of God. And she wanted to be fully empress—military cloak, power, and all. So she spent her life accomplishing this goal. If she had to participate in the killing of her own stepmother to do so, so be it! The lesson of the power of monetary images is not lost on modern advocates of putting a woman on the twenty-dollar bill! Placidia would have approved (and so do I).

Placidia was also a model for her daughter, and here is where we learn that the examples we give are not always the lessons our daughters learn. Placidia’s first attempt at displacing her brother as emperor came when she married a Gothic barbarian, Athaulf. When her daughter Honoria wanted to carve an empire for herself to challenge her own brother Valentinian, she too looked for a powerful barbarian. She sent her ring and proposed marriage to the empire’s greatest enemy, Attila the Hun. Of course, her mother was horrified—a polygamous pagan invader was not the same as a bright Goth in the prime of his life. But, as all mothers know, we don’t get to choose the lessons our daughters learn!

On this Mother’s Day, I offer the tale of this fifth-century ruling Roman family. The cover of my book shows a rare portrait of an ancient family commissioned by Placidia. It shows the Empress herself (in pearls) with her rebellious daughter, Honoria, and her son, the Emperor Valentinian, whose recklessness contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire in the West. Luckily, Placidia died a contented mother, as she wrote, “forever empress,” leaving her son secure on the throne. It was only after her death that things fell apart, so on this Mother’s Day I shall drink a toast to this successful ancient mother/empress.

Joyce E. Salisbury is professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay. She is the author of Rome’s Christian Empress: Galla Placidia Rules at the Twilight of the Empire, Perpetua’s Passion: Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman, and The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages.

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Filed under Ancient, Classics, Mothers Day, Women's History

Meet us in New Orleans: Society for Classical Studies

If you are heading to the Classics meeting in New Orleans from January 8 to 11, be sure to visit booth #201 to browse JHU Press books and journals. Press authors will be stopping by, and we’ll offer a 30% discount throughout the meeting. We’ll also be celebrating the publication of the first books in our new series, Witness to Ancient History, edited by Greg Aldrete. Read more about the conference on the Society for Classical Studies annual meeting website, and check out these new and forthcoming books from JHUP:

New and forthcoming in our series
Edited by Gregory S. Aldrete

tonerThe Day Commodus Killed a Rhino: Understanding the Roman Games
by Jerry Toner

“Jerry Toner is an ideal author to present this fascinating subject to a broad readership. He masterfully combines allure and accessibility as he incorporates up-to-date scholarship with cultural and sociopolitical sophistication. Drawing on his earlier works on leisure and Rome, Toner demolishes traditional one-dimensional assumptions about stereotypically mad, tyrannical emperors, bloodthirsty, sadistic mobs, doomed gladiators, and politically impotent masses.”—Donald G. Kyle, University of Texas–Arlington, author of Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World


hamelThe Battle of Arginusae: Victory at Sea and Its Tragic Aftermath in the Final Years of the Peloponnesian War
by Debra Hamel

“A captivating account of the battle of Arginusae and its fateful consequences for the Athenians in their great struggle with Sparta. Hamel is well-versed in Greek (and Athenian) history of the classical era and is an authority on the Athenian strategia, the board of generals who commanded armies and fleets. The Battle of Arginusae is a gripping read.”—Lawrence A. Tritle, Loyola Marymount University, author of A New History of the Peloponnesian War


Approaches to Greek Myth, second edition, edited by Lowell Edmunds
Voices at Work: Women, Performance, and Labor in Ancient Greece, by Andromache Karanika
Homeric Speech and the Origins of Rhetoric, by Rachel Ahern Knudsen
Environmental Problems of the Greeks and Romans: Ecology in the Ancient Mediterranean, second edition, by Donald Hughes

Ex Oriente Lex: Near Eastern Influences on Ancient Greek and Roman Law, by Raymond Westbrook, edited by Deborah Lyons and Kurt Raaflaub
Children and Childhood in Classical Athens, second edition, by Mark Golden
Patients and Healers in the High Roman Empire, by Ido Israelowich
Rome’s Christian Empress: Galla Placidia Rules at the Twilight of the Empire, by Joyce E. Salisbury

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Filed under Ancient, Ancient, Classics, Conferences

Treat yourself this holiday season: subscribe to a JHUP JOURNAL!

 By Janet Gilbert, JHUP Journals Staff

After two hours at the mall, my feet are burning in my pointy work shoes. I hoist my packages up the first set of ten and the second set of five steps to my front door, and toss the bags of gifts in the foyer. I’ll wrap them tomorrow. Because now it’s time for a cup of hot cocoa by my garish tree replete with homemade egg-carton and coffee-scoop ornaments—and the latest issue of The Hopkins Review.

ITHR_7.2_rgb like to treat myself. And to me, this particular journal from our catalog of more than 80 provides slow-down-and-reflect moments in a hurry-up-and-do-something world. It’s a gift I enjoy all year, but appreciate most at this time when I have so many extra-festive elfish tasks.

Why not treat yourself to a subscription to an academic journal this year? It may be the smartest gift you give yourself: time to consider a different perspective, time to think. As a graduate student in the Hopkins Writing program, my natural inclination would be to pick up the Sewanee Review, one of the most storied literary quarterlies in the United States. But wait, Studies in American Fiction offers a tasty smorgasbord of writers from a range of historical periods, and Callaloo serves up the very best original work by writers and visual artists of African descent worldwide. Callaloo Art, the new fifth issue devoted to visual art and culture of the African Diaspora, is simply an inspirational and lush read.

CAL_37.2_rgbEnough about me. If you are a historian, don’t you deserve Reviews in American History? It’s one journal that throws a window wide open on all areas of American history: culture, gender, law, politics, the military, and more.

If you are a health professional, you might have to sit down to make your pick: Bulletin of the History of Medicine will inform your work by providing a social, cultural, and scientific context for all kinds of medical practices and procedures. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved will spark your advocacy, and Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics will provide you with first-person patient and practitioner narratives that will do more than inform you—they will move you.

DPH_3.1_rgbLest you think we’ve forgotten you, person-keenly-interested-in-all-things-French-and-medieval, we have the perfect gift: Digital Philology. With an electronic subscription, you can sit in your living room with your laptop and transport yourself effortlessly and immediately to the library of the Universidade de Coimbra in Portugal to study a little-known manuscript from the thirteenth century.

My point is, take a vigorous, year-long intellectual adventure from the seat of your most comfortable armchair. From African American Review (African American literature, theatre, film, poetry and culture) to Feminist Formations (feminist, gender, and sexuality studies) to Victorian Periodicals Review (editorial and publishing history of Victorian periodicals), we’ve got an academic journal for you.

Why not feed your intellect and restore your soul this season by giving yourself a subscription?

Best of all, you don’t have to trek to the mall. Just click on the titles below or browse our entire collection.

African American Review
Bulletin of the History of Medicine
Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures

Feminist Formations
Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved

Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics: A Journal of Qualitative Research
Reviews in American History


Studies in American Fiction
The Sewanee Review

The Hopkins Review
Victorian Periodicals Review

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Filed under African American Studies, American History, American Studies, Ancient, Bioethics, Caribbean Studies, Classics, Cultural Studies, Ethics, Gender Studies, Health and Medicine, History, History of Medicine, Journals, Journals, Literature, Women's History

How to write an epitaph

Guest post by Michael Wolfe

wolfeWe were honored this spring when Michael Wolfe’s wonderful book, Cut These Words into My Stone: Ancient Greek Epitaphs, made the long list of nominees for the 2014 PEN Literary Award for Poetry in Translation. We were thrilled in June when the book landed on the short list of five nominees.  To celebrate this good news (and pass the time while we await the announcement of the award recipient on July 30), Michael and the JHU Press are hosting an  “Epitaph Writing Contest” on Goodreads.  For the next several weeks, intrepid memorializers may submit their epitaphs on Michaels Goodreads page. Michael will select his favorite epitaph of the week, and the JHU Press will be pleased to send the weeks winner a copy of Cut These Words into My Stone. Later in August, the JHU Press Blog will publish the winning epitaphs with appreciative comments from Michael. Below are his indispensable tips for writing a timeless (and award-winning) epitaph. So, get writing (and remembering)!


Four Tips for Writing an Epitaph:

Epitaphs are among the oldest examples of writing in the world, and the form remains popular today. As long as we honor our dead, epitaphs will always be an important way to celebrate their lives. When writing your epitaph, keep in mind that:

1)    Epitaphs are short and concise.

2)    They convey a strong feeling.

3)    Often, someone is speaking in the first person (a relative, a friend; the deceased.)

4)    The writer should think about who is being addressed (for example, a passerby.)

Some Thoughts about These Tips:

Short, concise, and pithy” – Many epitaphs are just one or two lines long. Even those with four or six lines are still short. This limitation can be beneficial. It gives you a chance to sum up a person’s life in just a few words, to give it shape and express real emotion. An epitaph often contains the name of the deceased. Sometimes it includes their hometown and perhaps a reference to their age (old or young):

                          After many good times with friends his age,

                          Riding horses and playing ball,

                         Here he is, back in the earth he sprang from,

                         Twenty years old, his parents’ pride, Wayne Henry.

Some epitaphs also mention a person the deceased has left behind . . . a relative or friend:

                        Jean’s friends will mourn her, her husband too

                        And three small children, but no one knew

                        Her from start to sudden stop, the way her father

                        Knew her and her mother.

The feeling” An epitaph may be celebratory or tragic. It is usually heartfelt:              

                           Billy fought three tours in Iraq.

                           When he signed up for more, we begged him not to.

                           Now he and his new friends are underground.

An epitaph may also be humorous:

                        Dr. Marcus was a terrible physician.

                        His final patient was a marble statue.

                        He wrapped its broken arm in gauze

                        And prescribed two aspirin just before he died.

                        This morning they couldn’t find a pulse.

                        Now we are carting the statue to the graveyard.

Or it may be ironic:

                        Phillip was an actor all his life.

                        He won awards in comedy and drama.

                        On stage he died a thousand times,

                        But never quite like this.

The best epitaphs are not overly sentimental or unbearably sad. An epitaph is a chance to sum up a life and express deep feelings. An epitaph is a genuine expression.

Who is speaking the epitaph?  Most good epitaphs have a voice. The epitaph may be spoken by a loved one or a friend, a parent, an employer, a neighbor, a fellow soldier, maybe the owner of a horse or dog or other pet, etc.:

                        Maria’s parents put up this stone,

                        Weeping with every letter as we wrote it.

Or it may be the voice of the deceased:

                        After drinking a lot, eating a lot,

                        And speaking badly of everyone,

                        Here I lie where I was born,

                        Alfred Stearn, in a Mississippi bayou.

Who does the epitaph address?”  Some epitaphs make a general statement to the world:

                        Here lies Thales of Miletus. He invented astronomy.

                        His name will be written in the stars.


                        Here lies the poet Robert Frost.

                        He had a lover’s quarrel with the world.

Some epitaphs address a passerby:

                        Stranger, if you pass this grave don’t smirk

                        Because it only holds a dog . . .

Some epitaphs speak directly to a loved one:

                        You were my wife. If now and then,

                        You find yourself with time to kill

                        From raising our children and entertaining friends,

                        Come visit me some afternoon, and stay an hour

                        So we can talk. And if you want, bring flowers.

Good luck in the Epitaph Writing Contest!


wolfe comp.inddMichael Wolfe is a poet, author, documentary film producer, and president of Unity Productions Foundation, a nonprofit media organization. Wolfe is the author of many books of verse and prose, including Cut These Words into My Stone: Ancient Greek Epitaphs, now available from JHU Press.



Filed under Ancient, Ancient, Awards, Poetry

Our AHA 2014 virtual exhibit is open

Attention historians: We’re pleased to throw open the doors to our virtual exhibit running in conjunction with the American Historical Association’s 128th annual meeting. Simply click the banner below to enter and browse our latest publications. All books are 30% off using code HEJY.


Questions? E-mail Brendan Coyne or tweet him at @JHUPSales.

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Filed under American History, American Studies, Amish, Anabaptist & Pietist Studies, Ancient, Baltimore, Biography, Business History, Civil War, Civil War, Cultural Studies, Education, Evolution, Higher Education, History, History of Medicine, History of science, History of technology, Journals, The War of 1812, Women's History

Tweeting Herodotus, or recasting The History for the digital age

Guest post by Debra Hamel

Herodotus’s History of the Persian Wars tells the story of the expansion of Persia under four kings: Cyrus, Cambyses, Darius, and Xerxes. The Empire’s armies began rolling west in the mid-sixth century B.C., absorbing numerous civilizations as they did so, headed toward a seemingly inevitable collision with the tiny city-states of Greece. The Persians invaded the Greek peninsula twice in the first decades of the fifth century, and twice—to the astonishment, surely, of both sides—they were defeated.

Although Persia’s military advances form the framework of his History, Herodotus by no means confines himself to a dry recitation of battles waged and won. He writes about the nations the Persians encountered as their Empire expanded—the customs and countryside, myths and marvels of the Lydians and Egyptians and Assyrians and Scythians, for example. His magnum opus is a mixture of folktales, geography, ethnography, propaganda, and what we would call legitimate history. It’s a great read. It’s also a long read—five or six or seven hundred pages, depending on the translation you grab—and for that reason, I suspect, the casual reader is unlikely to pick up a copy on a whim.

Enter Twitter.

In case you’ve somehow missed the social media bandwagon, Twitter is a platform that allows users to post, or “tweet,” brief messages that can be viewed immediately by anyone in the world with a cell phone or access to the internet. The uses to which Twitter can be put are infinite, from broadcasting breaking news to live tweeting academic conferences to publicly chronicling the misanthropy of one’s cat. Twitter democratizes the dissemination of information, and as such it’s an undeniably powerful tool. But what makes Twitter really interesting is the constraints it imposes. Each tweet can be no longer than 140 characters. While it’s possible to spread a message across multiple posts, so that in effect it can be as long as you’d like it to be, it is more challenging, and more elegant, to confine yourself to the space of a single tweet.

A few years ago, while I was busy working on a book on Herodotus, I decided to tweet the History. I thought it would be a good way to introduce the historian to a new audience. The ground rules I established were simple: one tweet per day, one section of the History per tweet. There are 1,535 sections in Herodotus’ tome. (These chunks of text are usually paragraph-sized but can be much longer.) At one section a day, the project would take me more than four years to complete. “Herodotus” (@iHerodotus on Twitter) began tweeting his History on October 29, 2010. The project will be completed in January of 2015.

The most obvious difficulty in tweeting the History lies in fitting a section’s worth of information into a 140-character tweet. Clearly, a lot of material has to be ruthlessly jettisoned in the process. But the Herodotean tweeter also needs to know at all times where the author is headed. Herodotus can throw a lot of disparate information into a single section, but only some of the things he mentions will prove to be important later in his story. In tweeting Herodotus, then, you have to be brief while at the same time being sure to mention those nuggets of information that will advance the author’s storyline. You also have to be willing to use imaginative spelling and punctuation on occasion.

Below is a taste of Herodotus in tweet form. Near the beginning of his History, Herodotus tells the story of Croesus, the king of Lydia (in modern Turkey), who would ultimately lose his kingdom to Persia. Croesus’ family had won the Lydian throne four generations earlier, when his ancestor Gyges usurped the kingship from the then king Candaules. The story of Gyges and Candaules takes up about three pages in English translation (book one, sections 7-12). The Twitter version of the story, needless to say, is considerably shorter:

1.7 The Lydian kingship passed from the Heraclidae to the Mermnadae, Croesus’ family, as I’ll explain. The last Heraclid king was Candaules.

1.8 Candaules fell in love w/his own wife & praised her beauty to his bodyguard Gyges, whom he bid view the queen naked. Gyges begged off.

1.9 But Candaules insisted and told his plan: Gyges would hide behind the door and watch her undress before bed, then he’d slip out unseen.

1.10 Gyges reluctantly obeyed. He hid, watched & left, but she saw him. At once she knew what Candaules had done & she contemplated revenge.

1.11 The next day she gave Gyges an ultimatum: kill the king and take his place or be killed himself. Unwilling again, he chose the former.

1.12 That night he hid behind the same door, then killed Candaules in his sleep. Thus Gyges gained both the queen and the kingship of Lydia.

As I write, about 70% of the History has been tweeted. The Persians have already been defeated by the Athenians in the Marathon plain, but the great battles of the Second Persian War—Thermopylae, Salamis, Plataea, Mycale—await @iHerodotus’s treatment. I would invite anyone who’s interested in ancient history to follow Herodotus’ Twitter stream. It’s a painless way to learn a little something about a seminal work of western literature. If you don’t want to jump into the story midstream, you can catch up on any tweets you’ve missed at The Twitter Herodotus.

HamelDebra Hamel is the author of Reading Herodotus: A Guided Tour through the Wild Boars, Dancing Suitors, and Crazy Tyrants of The History. She is tweeting Herodotus’s History at


Filed under Ancient, Classics, For Everyone, History, Social media

Unraveling the linothorax mystery, or how linen armor came to dominate our lives

Guest post by Alicia Aldrete

As the wife, research assistant, and sometimes coauthor of an ancient historian who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, I had expected to spend many hours in libraries, wandering through foreign museums, and climbing around ancient sites. However, I had not foreseen large groups of weapon-wielding students in our yard, or my husband, Gregory Aldrete, shooting arrows at them.

When one of Greg’s students—our coauthor, Scott Bartell—decided to make himself a replica of the armor that Alexander the Great is shown wearing on the famous “Alexander Mosaic” from Pompeii, none of us realized that the next six years of our lives would be dominated by the quest to understand and evaluate that armor. Known as the linothorax, it was a popular form of armor from at least the time of Homer through the Hellenistic period. Apparently made primarily out of linen, the armor had been afforded little attention by scholars because no extant specimens have survived. In order to appreciate how the linothorax might have been constructed and its effectiveness on the battlefield, we worked on reverse engineering it after extensive study of ancient images of linothorax-wearing warriors depicted in vase paintings, reliefs, sculptures, and tomb paintings. I spent countless hours in libraries examining every page of the hundreds of oversized volumes of the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, which catalogs the Greek vases in museums around the world; I’m sure that the students assigned to reshelving duties during those weeks dreaded my arrival every morning. Every time we visited a museum, we kept our eyes peeled for possible linothorakes; and while one expects to find plenty represented in the museums of Greece and Italy, we were pleased to find them in Kansas City and Odessa (in the Ukraine) as well.  Suddenly, as so often happens during research, the linothorax was everywhere.

We encountered some special challenges when constructing our linothorakes. At first, like fashion designers, we made numerous patterns out of paper and then cardboard, until we achieved our optimal design. Then came the tricky part. Because we wanted to employ only materials that would have been available in the ancient Mediterranean, we had to get a hold of handspun, handwoven linen. Since most linen these days is machine-made, we couldn’t just go to the local fabric store. However, we soon discovered that even linen purporting to be handwoven was still typically machine-harvested and processed using modern methods, such as treatment with chemicals. To achieve as much historical authenticity as possible, we needed linen made from flax that had been grown, harvested, and processed by hand as well, using only traditional methods. As we discovered, not many people have the dedication to do this. After much searching, we managed to find a woman who actually grew and harvested her own flax and then spun and wove it into linen, practically in our own back yard—in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Rabbit glue, which sounds more challenging, was actually easier to acquire, since artists who paint using traditional methods still prime canvases with it; we ordered it from an art supplies catalog, and merely needed to rehydrate and heat the rabbit powder in a double boiler.

Three versions of reconstructed linothorakes. The one on the left is modeled after the linothorax worn by Alexander the Great in the "Alexander Mosaic" from Pompeii.

Three versions of reconstructed linothorakes. The one on the left is modeled after the linothorax worn by Alexander the Great in the “Alexander Mosaic” from Pompeii.

Another challenge was perfecting the construction process. By trial and error, we discovered the ideal tools: a turkey baster to squirt the rabbit glue onto a piece of linen and a putty knife to spread it evenly. We also figured out—the hard way—that the ancients probably cut each layer of linen to the proper shape before gluing them together. For our first linothorax, we glued together 15 layers of linen to form a one centimeter-thick slab, and then tried to cut out the required shape. Large shears were defeated; bolt cutters failed. The only way we were ultimately able to cut the laminated linen slab was with an electric saw equipped with a blade for cutting metal. At least this confirmed our suspicion that linen armor would have been extremely tough. We also found out that linen stiffened with rabbit glue strikes dogs as in irresistibly tasty rabbit-flavored chew toy, and that our Labrador retriever should not be left alone with our research project.

While we subjected our laminated linen patches to hundreds of carefully measured arrow tests, we also engaged in some less scientific testing of their durability. Greg’s students enthusiastically stabbed, hacked, slashed, and pounded them with various maces, axes, spears, and swords, helping us to demonstrate what kind of protection laminated linen armor would have provided. While all of this mayhem (both scientifically controlled and free-form) convinced us that our linothorax was ancient-battlefield-ready, we still felt compelled to try a real-life scenario, so Scott donned the armor and Greg shot him. And while we had confidence in our armor, our relief was still considerable when the arrowhead stuck and lodged in the armor’s outer layers, a safe distance away from flesh.

The aim of our research had been to go back in time, reconstruct something over a millennium old, and experience what it would have been like to use it. The process of doing so certainly led to some memorable and unexpected experiences for all of us.

aldreteAlicia Aldrete is coauthor, with Gregory S. Aldrete and Scott Bartell, of Reconstructing Ancient Linen Body Armor: Unraveling the Linothorax Mystery. The website of the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay’s Linothorax Project contains more behind-the-scenes information on this unparalleled effort, including an eight-minute mini-documentary and additional images.


Filed under Ancient, Behind the Scenes, History, Writing