The Ancient Historian

Ancient history, mountaineering, cycling and other outside adventures

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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.



More opinions on the Coptic Jesus Marriage text

Opinions and analysis keep rolling in, ahead of the ink analysis. The syntactical analysis would square with the odd looking hand of the text, which is worse than my Coptic hand. The Manchester Guardian posted another story yesterday on the basis of the work of Andrew Bernhard at This site actually consolidates quite a lot of information about this, including many prominent people coming out in favor of the forgery hypothesis. I confess, I already grow bored, it’s not an especially important little text, and Karen King’s article will not even appear until January 2013. We live in odd academic times.

Back in Action

It has been a while since my last post. Chalk it up to the crazy academic life, which at times gets out of control. Such was the case last semester. I write from Boulder CO, where I am lucky enough to be teaching a short course at CUB. This allows me to get into the mountains, to get some good rides in at some altitude, and to generally prepare for a 6 days course and climb on Rainier next month. The highlight so far has been the nice climb up Gray’s, just to get at 14 K, with a decent size pack, and the new boots. Very fun day, and a privilege to climb with Alan Arnette. Here we are on a gorgeous, if quite windy summit.

summit Gray’s

summit Gray's

Gray’s Peak, with Alan Arnette, 17 June 2012

Le Tour 2012

ASO announced the 2012 route earlier in the week. It appears that there is a lot of climbing in it, but I’ll have a closer look later in the day.

Reflections of Kilimanjaro, Part 2

It has been said that travel literature is dead, made obsolete by the likes of Google Earth and the internet more generally and the plethora of travel books that do seemingly cover every square inch of the globe. But the great travel writer Paul Theroux, in a recent piece in the Financial Times (“The places in between” May 28/29 2011) reminds us that there are still plenty of places, and plenty of experiences, that are well worth description. It helps to have had a miserable experience, a close call with death, or some other disaster or mishap, or so he argues. Perhaps so. Just to prove the point, go to the National Geographic’s “Extreme Classics: the 100 greatest adventure books of all time.” Number one on the list? The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard (1922). But I am no Richard Burton traveling in disguise to Mecca, or Apsley Cherry-Garrard describing Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic.

And I am afraid that my experiences in the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater traced a well worn path, and were far too pleasant.  So I will not remotely come close to the standards that Theroux suggested should characterize good, literary travel narrative. On the other hand, I have more modest aims. What I hope, following Theroux’s broader view, is that my descriptions of Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater, evoke a sense of place. That’s what really counts.

Mountain climbing, and travel generally, changes you. The two are in some ways opposed, climbing, or trekking, focuses the mind, in my case, fairly fully, on the task at hand. Bad weather on Kili meant that the week was literally spent thinking about putting one foot in front of the other most of the time, whether your socks really stank as bad as you thought they did (in my case….they did), would you have to get out of the tent at 3 AM for a nature call (and where the hell was your headlamp!), and so on. The week’s safari, on the other hand, offered the possibility of a more expansive frame of mind, set on seeing vistas far and near, and simply experiencing a new, and vast, landscape. I have come back from Tanzania much the richer for the experiences and for the memories. I learned a lot about myself, and about Tanzania.

The safari drive for three days surprised me at just about every turn.  From the Serengeti, we headed eastward, and spent an hour visiting Olduvai Gorge and the small museum there along the way.

Next we drove up to and into the Ngorongoro Crater. Here was an even more surprising day than the Serengeti was and it turned out to be a real joy. I thought that it might simply be an interesting place geologically. We had a long drive up to the crater rim and then we drove down into the crater.  From  a hawk’s perspective,  we reached the crater’s floor from the animal’s perspective.

The Crater floor was teeming. The crater itself is something like 120 square miles. A big place.

Perhaps my favorite creature of the whole trip was the Topi Antelope. Handsome:

We spent an entire day cross-crossing the crater, encountering another wide assortment of animals, from the ubiquitous zebra and wildebeest to the rare black rhino.

At the end of the day we drove up out of the crater and arrived at a spectacular hotel on the crater rim at about 8,ooo feet. We hit the veranda just in time for a sunset.

I cannot think of a better way to end the two weeks of travel in northern Tanzania than our sitting quietly, almost in wonder, looking out over the crater. Watching the sunset below the crater rim, having a nice chat with Alan about Kili and future climbs, put a lot of things in perspective for me. It was nice to encounter, on the long drive back to Arusha, a cycling team climbing up the steep mountain road that we were descending to get back to the plateau. I have no idea what they were doing there but it was a perfect mix for me of mountains and cycling. I did not make it to Lake Victoria on this trip (and had no plans to do so). That was a bit of a shame since the sources of the Nile River were so close. So I am hoping to get back to Tanzania. More mountains are certainly on the horizon for me, first in New Hampshire, then Colorado and Mt Rainier next Summer. I do hope, I confess, to encounter not too much trouble, so I am afraid Paul Theorux will not be reading me. What I am hoping for instead is more challenges in the mountains, as always more cycling, and many more memories of wonderful places.

Stunning story on Alzheimer’s today

An article in today’s (August 5) Wall Street Journal discusses recent research that suggests that the chemical changes in the brain that are the precursors to the disease begin years, even decades, before they are detectable. By the time of many diagnoses, it appears that it may already be too late to do anything about it. Want to know why I support Alan Arnette’s 7 Summits quest to support research in Alzheimer’s? When I say about some experience, like climbing Mt Yale for example, “I am going to remember that my whole life,” I really want to!


Alan just left for Elbrus. Make a donation today, HERE



Alan Arnette in the Huff Post today

A nice piece appeared today in the Huff post about Alan’s quest for the Seven Summits this year to raise awareness, and badly needed funding, for Alzheimer’s research. Great piece; great quest. It’s been really enjoyable following along. Denali next. Climb on Alan!

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