The Ancient Historian

Ancient history, mountaineering, cycling and other outside adventures

Archive for the month “March, 2009”

Lance breaks collar bone, buys Tour de France!

Well it had to happen, The Wall Street journal reports today that Lance is contemplating actually buying the TdF. I wonder what Bernard Hinault, or Greg Lemond thinks of the idea. There seems to be no end to Lance’s ego. Perhaps it’s those energy products he’s hawking 😉

Lance\’s Plan for France — Off the Bike


Russian Academy of Sciences plans Fall conference on the state of Egyptology

Plans for a conference “Achievements and problems of modern Egyptology” has just crossed my desk this morning. It will take place from 29 September- 4 October 2009, at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow and will coincide with an exhibition “The royal cache. Secrets of the Pharoahs”  that will highlight Russian work on Theban Tomb 320. The following subjects will be covered:

  • origins and development of Ancient Egyptian state
  • policy and trade relations between Ancient Egypt and Middle Eastern Mediterranean countries
  • landscape archaeology, natural and anthropogenic factors in the development of the Nile valley
  • urban archaeology and peculiarities of Egyptian settlement sites
  • dynamics of development and transformation of Egyptian culture
  • cross-cultural relations in Egypt during Graeco-Roman period
  • new methods and technologies in archaeological research
  • history and culture of Coptic Egypt

More infomation can be viewed here

The brutal and sad death of Federico Campanini on Aconcagua

This event in January has caused a real furor in Argentina, rightly so I think. For the video of the rescue attempt, and more information is given over on the Adventurist. aconcagua

Warning, it is really, really grim. It’s easy to arm chair quarterback the events from the comforts of my study in Connecticut. Having said that though, I have a gut reaction to it all, and some questions. What the hell were these guys doing videotaping the attempted rescue would be my first one. Was this for legal protection?? Anyway, I won’t myself post the video. And to be unprepared for a rescue (from the reports, the rescuers were not prepared to find him alive), with no medications (?), or equipment to carry him down, or at least keep him warm, seems appalling to me. Let alone the verbal abuse expressed by some of the rescuers. Maybe that was just to get him going? But the man was suffering from his fall no doubt, and HAPE. I donno. My heart goes out to his family. Donations on behalf of his family, and a guestbook to express thought sif you knew him, can be made HERE.

Re-thinking how we train Ancient History graduate students

There was a panel at the most recent APA meeting in Philadelphia, January 2008, that addressed some of the issues historians face in training the next generation.

The following people presented papers

Michele Renee Salzman. University of California at Riverside
Charles Hedrick, University of California at Santa Cruz
Richard Talbert, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Elizabeth Pollard, California State University, San Diego
David Potter, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
Jonathan Edmondson, York University
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Commentator, Kurt Raaflub, Brown University.

There was the usual naval gazing, but there were also some useful suggestions that came out of the session. Many important periods and regions, Hellenistic history, the ancient near east, Egypt, to name just a few, were ignored. The “crisis” that is sometimes felt in Ancient History (by that, it is usually meant to refer to Greek and Roman history; historians of the Ancient Near East and Egypt, for example, are usually trained with near eastern language departments, and there the problems of doing history are far different) usually derives from the feeling of being irrelevant within the academy or in today’s world generally. This, I believe, does require some serious thought, especially when it comes to attracting bright undergraduates to the discipline. Walter Scheidel was quite right to point out that there is a tremendous variety of topics and approaches to these topics that exist within “Ancient History.” That variety requires a variety of responses that no one program can fulfill. Kurt Raaflaab’s summary makes fur suggestions: (1) foundation building before graduate school; (2) training ancient historians to be classicists and historians; (3) pooling resources nation- and continent-wide to offer additional training through intensive summer-seminars; and (4) networking to increase resources, knowledge, and connections.

All four of these, of course, are already happening. Like mountaineering or cycling that I also write about in this space, it is the case that good Ancient Historians make themselves. No amount of formal training is, theoretically, enough. It is really up to students to find their own way through problems and solutions. And it is up to the professors to attract really bright students and offer them the support that is required.

The papers (most of them) can be found  here.

Ed Viesturs’ bio

I don’t intend my blog to be about nothing but Ed, but at the moment I can’t seem to help myself 🙂         edv011

I just finished his bio No shortcuts to the top. As I said before, it is an awesome read. Besides all of the technical mountaineering that you’d guess his accomplishments would be about, what comes through to me above all is (1) his humanity, and (2)that  mountaineering is more about brains than brawn. The intellectual capacity of world class mountaineering, the problems that you have to think through, the planning to make things go right, and so on, may be easily underestimated by a lot of people. This is where Ed really stands out, and for me it is one of the most appealing aspects of mountain climbing. His success is the result of a formula for all successful people; hard work, dedication, planning, more hard work, ploughing through self-doubt, and of course, some pretty serious talent. I also found the book quite a lot of fun because Ed and I are nearly identical in age to the day, and both grew up in Northern Illinois. So I could compare notes as it were. Our childhoods seem fairly similar; I liked his mention of baseball playing in Summer, and the flooded back yard hockey in the Winter months, and the dislike of scouts Man all of that sounds familiar. But then we diverged. I went east to Ohio State, Ed went West to the University of Washington. When He attempted Everest for the first time, I was in Cairo, working away on a thesis, and trying to figure out a career path. And so on. I am really grateful to Ed for writing his bio; besides the adventure, one can really learn a lot about oneself by reading the book. Better, of course, to get out there! And now, I read today, that Ed is coming out of “retirement” after his Quest for the 14 8000 ers. Yep, he is going for number 7 on Everest this Spring, something like Lance at the Tour de France in 2005. And here my world intersects. Cycling and mountaineering! You can follow Ed on his homepage or at First Ascent. I am certainly going to be glued to the internet. It will be something this Spring to watch with a good deal of awe. Sure wish I could be at base camp! Good luck Ed. and the rest of the Eddie Bauer-sponsored team! And by the way, a new book is forthcoming from Ed in the Fall  about K2. Can’t wait.


Beginning of a nice interview of Ed from, all of it is here. You feel like you are hanging out with Ed having a latte, post Annapurna, the last of the 8000ers. terrific stuff!

Traveling in Egypt

Traveling through Egypt is perhaps the very opposite of trekking or climbing in the Himalaya, but it is beautiful in its own right. The most memorable aspect for me is the contrast of the verdant cultivation of the valley and the starkness of the desert on either side of the river. And of course, the friendliness, the generosity and the curiosity (and the generosity indeed) of the people.

near-el-balyana2 edfunome5

Ed Viesturs

From ancient law, I move on briefly to an amazing American, a genuine hero. I have never met him (one of my dreams one day to) although we are nearly identical in age, and grew up in the same part of northern Illinois. Ed Viesturs. I am reading his autobiography now, No Shortcuts to the Top. Climbing the World’s Highest 14 Peaks. Broadway Books, 2006. What an amazing story, to climb all 14 “8000 ers” without supplemental oxygen. Old School stuff, man and mountain, as it should be. Even if you are not into mountaineering, this is a fantastic read. The class of this guy comes through, and it is quite an adventure story. Patience in an impatient world. Craft, in a world of short cuts.

Have a look at the book on Amazon, then get it, or go to the public library, and read it! (I make no money here, it is just a great read)


Photo from

A demotic marriage contract, 97 BC, (Gebelein) Upper Egypt

The following is a legal document written at the beginning of the first century BC, from a military community established in the southern Egyptian Nile valley in the Ptolemaic period. It is the kind of primary documentary material that I am looking at with some of my students this term. We are examining such material from several Mediterranean cultures formthe point of view of how such texts functioned within society as well as some of the technical points of ancient legal documents.   Notice the upper and lower margins here, to protect the preservation of the writing, the scribe would leave wide margins on all four sides typically, so when the text was rolled up and sealed, wear and tear would not effect the contents. Can you spot the beginning of the text? The text is now part of the Schoyen collection (the Adler papyri).ms161

The study of ancient law and ancient legal texts

I thought I would start off my blog over Yale’s Spring break (at some point I really will take a  “break”) by posting a little bit about a new course I am teaching here, and hope to develop over the next few years. It is an undergraduate course on ancient law, taken mainly, but not exclusively, by Junior History majors. It’s designed to be small and intimate, and intended to introduce History students to a body of academic literature in a particualr field. It is not an easy course to teach (or to take I dare say) but the students are doing really well with the material, and in fact the final project, the creation of a wiki on ancient law, and supported by a blog where they from time to time post what they are doing, how they are gathering material and so on, is a really fun approach to learning. I am also learning as we go.

Hello world!

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