The Ancient Historian

Ancient history, mountaineering, cycling and other outside adventures

In the Crucible of Empire: Revolts and Resistance in the Ancient World

I am co-hosting today, with John Collins of the Yale Divinity School, and tomorrow here at Yale, on the new West Campus Conference facility, a small conference the idea for which emerged out of a co-taught graduate seminar a couple of years ago. We meant it to be small and casual, but we have a great line up of people and topics. Will be really fun and enlightening, and no doubt some lively debate will happen




My current book project–The Movie version

I’ve had fun with with Kindea Labs on making a brief video of my current book project on ancient Mediterranean economies. I will no doubt refine it, and do different versions as I complete it; but it was really fun to do.



Mountains, memories and motivations

It’s Summertime, and the living is eas(ier). Time to update many things. I had a big climb last month in Alaska. More on that very soon. Meanwhile my good friend Alan Arnette left yesterday for Pakistan; he should be just about in Islamabad as I write this note, getting ready to head up to the Karakoram range, and K2. This is a big deal, and I hope you all will follow him on his blog , on his Facebook page, and you can track him on the mountain via SPOT. K2 is the second highest mountain the the world, but significantly harder than Everest. It is very steep from the beginning and never lets up. He’ll be climbing the Abruzzi Ridge (by the way named after the guy who named Mt Bona where I was in Alaska) Route, the standard, and here is *some* idea, the Abruzzi is Route “F”:

Exhaustion is a major risk, and it has objective dangers out the wazoo, bad weather, and boulders flying at you at terminal velocity. It’s the mountaineers mountain, a huge challenge and as I said dangerous. 25% fatality rate of those who summit. So it is usually left to full-time professionals to climb. All of that is by way of admiration for what Alan has set out to do. He is well experienced, and as well trained as you can be. He’s a pro, and he is determined. Why climb? Well, the challenge is really there if you love big mountains. But Alan has another motivation0-the continued importance of his fund raising efforts for Alzheimer’s research. That’s a personal motivation for him, as you can read. But this is a nasty disease that will effect all of us one way of another. So please join me in supporting Alan. Follow his progress, think good thoughts, and above all, please make a donation. I’m asking all my friends to chip in $5 here. These are great charities doing fantastic work for the cause. And as Alan always says, Climb on!Alan Arnette

Just back from North Conway, NH

I made a quick trip up north, to my beloved White Mountains. It was gorgeous up there. A friend and I climbed a couple of classic ice climbs, Shoestring gully and Willie’s slide. Nothing major, but outstanding fun, and some good experience at multi-pitch climbing. Learned a bunch, had fun, and as a reward, when leaving the valley I got this fantastic view of the big daddy, Mt Washington. I dont think Ive ever seen it this clear.


Training for the new alpinism

Finally, my copy of Steve House and Scott Johnson’s Training for the New Alpinism. A Manual for the Climber as Athlete, Patagonia Books, 2014, has arrived. It treats the climber as an athlete, and differentiates types of climbing/specific training. I especially like the Alpine versus big mountain mountaineering distinctions in it. And fantastic photos throughout the book. More anon. But at first glance this looks like a book every climber will have, and continue to read.

New study on male stature/disease correlation

An interesting new study published in the advanced online version of Oxford Economic Papers by Timothy J. Hatton (Essex University) is fascinating. In a bit more than a century, from 1879-1980, average heights of males in Europe (15 western European countries) increased 11 cm! The author’s main conclusion is that the improvement in the disease environment ( examining infant mortality) is the single most important factor.

Next stop, Mt Shuksan

I am heading out on Sunday to Seattle for some much looked forward to climbs. First up, myself and a guide are spending some quality time on the glaciers of Mt Shuksan in the North Cascades. In cycling we call it “Time-in-the-Saddle,” I’ll call this “Time-in-Crampons.” As always, I am climbing with IMG-simply the best people around. Climbing the Sulphide Glacier route. Here are the basics for Shuksan from summitpost.


A view of the mountain, and sulphide glacier, upper mountain in shadow

Photo taken 5/28/05 by Kelsi Franzen

Material from the important harbor excavations at Heracleion to go on display

The Catholic news online consortium reports the following, which is excellent news. The French excavators have done some marvelous work here. The main reason the site was abandoned, of course, is the building of the Ptolemaic harbors at Alexandria.

Ancient Egyptian city of Heracleion to share its sunken secret at long last

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 6th, 2013
Catholic Online (
The ancient Egyptian city of Heracleion, engulfed by the Mediterranean Sea more than 1,200 years ago will soon be sharing its underwater treasures with the modern world. Relics, such as 16-foot sculptures, gold coins and giant tablets are among some of the items recovered from the ancient port city, 20 miles northeast of Alexandria in Egypt.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) – The city of Heracleion, which was also known as Thonis, was believed to only be legend for hundreds of years. The city was mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus, who told of Helen of Troy visiting Heracleion with her lover Paris before the Trojan War.

The city was discovered during a survey of the Egyptian shore at the beginning of the last decade. French researcher Franck Goddio discovered it in 2000 with a team from the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology.

An international team of marine archaeologists is now preparing to show some of the objects found in the underwater city.

Weights from Athens have also been discovered at the site, confirming beliefs the city was once an important trading port.

A University of Oxford archaeologist working at the site, Elsbeth van der Wilt told reporters the port was an important hub in the network for long-distance trade in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“Excavations in the harbor basins yielded an interesting group of lead weights, likely to have been used by both temple officials and merchants in the payment of taxes and the purchasing of goods,” she said.

“Amongst these are an important group of Athenian weights. They are a significant archaeological find because it is the first time that weights like these have been identified during excavations in Egypt.”

Scientists remain baffled as to why the city suddenly disappeared. One theory suggests a rise in sea level and unstable collapsing sediment combined to submerge the city.

Dr Damian Robinson, director of the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Oxford, who worked on the excavation, told The Telegraph: “It is a major city we are excavating.

“The site has amazing preservation. We are now starting to look at some of the more interesting areas within it to try to understand life there.”

© 2013, Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.

Final report on Mt Whitney via the Mountaineer’s route

Well, gentle reader, I am very late with this, since I climbed Whitney in March! So this is by way of keeping me honest. Mt Whitney is a gorgeous place, and it was a challenge to climb it in March. I was not in the best of shape as we started heading to the trail from Whitney Portal, although I was happy that my pack weighed in at only 54 pounds. Day one headed up to Upper Boy Scout Lake. We did not go up the ledges, but instead stayed low and followed a gulley up. Rough bushwacking, some large steep up, and postholing. Uggh. There was a good amount of snow, and by 10 AM is was sludge in places. We hit camp one and I was feeling pretty worked. Something like a 6 hour day. The guides, the other guys on the climb, and the food was great. Days 2 and 3 were the humps up snow fields, I guess averaging around 30% grade or so, although it felt much steeper to my sore legs. We saw very few other climbers  heading either up or down, which I thought was a great feature. In the Summer, this must be a mad house, although the permits are controlled thankfully. We hit the high camp, which was a nice quiet spot. We saw two guys who had summited the previous day chilling out, getting ready for more climbing elsewhere. I was definitely feeling tired, and was glad to get the tent set up. Went to bed early since we had a pre-dawn start. It was cold as we got the avalanche transponders clicked out and crampons on the boots. It was a fun day, but once again as we weer on the final climb up to the notch I was wishing I had been doing more cardio over the Winter! I decided not to go all the way up, we hit the notch, 14K, at about noon or so, cold and windy, and I was worried about 3 more hours of technical climbing yet just 500 feet more (!), before the long down climb. I decide the better part of valor was calling it a day, and heading down strong, which is what I did. I regret it a bit, and here is one of the things that I am still learning. That is, how far can you push beyond your limit and recover. On a bike, I know it perfectly, on the mountains, I still keep it throttled back so I know I can come down feeling strong, and not holding up teammates. The more mountains, the better I know how far to push into the red zone and feel confident. This is what I take with me Sunday as I climb Shuksan in the north cascade range ( lots of snow no doubt), come down and rest, and then onto Rainier and the Kautz glacier route. Onward, upward!

A few photos of the climb up Whitney:

Resting at high camp, waiting for tea


Heading up to high camp


Still heading up, now in snowshoes


Day 3, up to the notch, feeling this was steeper than it looks!


Downclimbing on the famous Ledges


The team, at high camp, feeling good


And here I am celebrating the town of Lone Pine, and Whitney in the backgound. A beautiful experience


The coevolution of farming and property rights

There is a fascinating study reported in this week’s PNAS by Bowles and Choi arguing that farming co-evolved with private property rights regimes in the early Holocene. I have not read it yet, but it is a theory that is deeply interesting and fundamentally important for economic history and especially for the history of property.

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