Month: June 2012

From Pole to Pole: The History of Pole Dancing and Fitness

Posted on Updated on

This post is just a bit of fun after a very long week. Recently another PhD student and I decided to branch out a bit and do something a unconventional and fun, so at the start of the year we started taking a pole fitness class at a local dance studio. And before anyone asks, we wear gym clothes and it is nothing that you would see in a strip club. Pole can be a sport; a combination of dance, gymnastics and body-building and it is part of the International Body Building Association. But it got me thinking that there must be traditions behind the idea going back into my favourite subject: Ancient History. Lo and Behold I was correct.

So let me introduce you to the origins and traditions of pole fitness just because I can.

Mallakhamb

Mallakhamb is a traditional Indian sport which is made up of gymnastics and poses undertaken on a vertical wooden pole or rope. The word Mallakhamb comes from the terms ‘malla’ meaning a ‘gymnast’ or ‘man of strength’ and Khamb meaning ‘pole’. Essentially it translates as ‘pole gymnastics’. The earliest records of the sport come from the twelfth century when it was mentioned in the Indian classic Manasollasa written in 1135 AD by Somesvara Chalukya. In the Manasollasa it is called by an earlier form of the term ‘Mallastambha’.

Mallakhamb lost popularity over the centuries before being the subject of a revival in the early nineteenth century in India. It was revived and recorded by Balambhatta Dada Deodhar who was the fitness instructor of Peshwa bajirao during the reign of Peshwas. Nowadays, twenty-nine states in India participate nationally in competitions demonstrating three main types of Mallakhamb; hanging, rope and fixed Mallakhamb. Also forms of Mallakhamb are predominantly male and was originally introduced as a supporting exercise for wrestlers in order to develop and maintain concentration, speed and flexibility. Modern studies have even begun to appear showing the benefits of the sport to health and strength. P.Nande explains for instance that it causes a decrease in body fat percentage and an increase in lean body mass.

The video below shows just how much skill and strength is required in Mallakhamb. It also demonstrates the types of moves that are performed in pole fitness. This video is not sped up…which is a bit scary actually…

Chinese Pole

Chinese Pole is an amazing feat of strength and gymnastics which is today associated with the likes of Cirque du Soleil. It dates also to around the twelfth century in the literary evidence with it being performed by circus professionals using 3-9m tall poles laced with rubber material. The rubber material is not always used because it had the potential to cause painful friction burns. Yet again Chinese Pole is predominantly male activity and hence friction burns would be even more painful to certain areas. Full body costumes were and are worn often by performers requiring even more skill on the behalf of the performer.

Chinese pole is still a popular sport which is often performed with at least two participants or many more. They display climbing, sliding, stretching and holding positions with acute strength usually performed with two poles. Performers hop from pole to pole displaying gravity defying tricks.

Just watch the link below. If you thought Mallakhamb was amazing, this is just ridiculous!

European Pole Dancing

Image from A Little Pretty Pocket-book
Image from A Little Pretty Pocket-book

The western world had its own types of pole dancing with influences from Druid, Pagan and Roman traditions. The most famous of these is Maypole dancing which dates back in the record to the twelfth century as well. Maypole dancing was essentially a pagan celebration of fertility (hence the pole as a phallic symbol).

It was performed by young girls performing circle dances around a pole decorated with garlands of flowers and emblems. The younger girls involved danced in the inner circle while the older danced in the outer circle, all holding ribbons. The dancing itself involved circular steps which allowed the ribbons to intertwined and plait round the pole and then be unravelled while the girls retraced their steps. The festival, in which the maypole dance was performed, marked the beginning of the pastoral summer or Beltane. It is also connected to the Roman worship of Flora and the festival of Floralia which was celebrated at the same time.

The Ancient Greek’s also had their own form of maypole like dancing in the Daphnephoria. Eutychius Proclus discusses the pole in the Daphnephoria in his Chrestomathy written in the second century AD:

(74) This is the daphnephoria: They wreathe an olive-wood pole with laurel-branches and colourful flowers, and on top of it they fasten a bronze ball, and from this they hang smaller ones. And, onto the middle of the pole, they attach purple fillets of wool, and put them around a ball smaller than the one at the top. And they wrap around the [bottom] end-parts of the pole with saffron-dyed material.
(75) To the people the highest ball represents the sun (with which they also associate Apollo), and the one lying beneath [represents] the moon; the hanging balls [represent] the planets and stars; and, indeed, the purple fillets [represent] the yearly cycle – for they even make exactly 365 of them.
(76) A boy with two living parents starts/leads the daphnephoria; and his closest relative holds up the wreathed pole, which they call the kōpō.
(77) And the daphnephoros himself follows and holds onto the laurel, with his hair let down, wearing a golden crown, bedecked in bright clothing down to his feet, and shod in epikratides; a khoros of parthenoi accompany him, holding out sprigs in supplication [and] singing hymns.
(78) And they escort the daphnephoria to the temples of Apollo Ismenios and Khalazios.

(Translation provided by my dear friend A.Cox from Sydney University)

African Pole Dances

There is little information on the history of pole dancing in Africa but it certainly existed in some forms. Tribal rituals in certain areas involved betrothed women dancing around wooden poles as a type of fertility dance. Again the pole represented a phallic symbol with the connection to fertility.

Panjat Pinang (Pinang Climb)

Panjat Pinang is a traditional game played in Indonesian which was introduced in the era of Dutch colonialism as a form of entertainment. It is essentially a climbing game performed at events like weddings using traditional areca nut trees. Participants compete to climb the poles to reach a variety of interesting gifts. It is also performed as a way of celebrating Indonesia’s Independence Day when the pole is covered in oil or lubricants and young men are invited to climb and compete to reach the prizes at the top.

Influential Origins

Obviously western pole dancing is largely associated with exotic dancing which has its roots far bar in ancient history. The exotic dance dates back to at least ancient Sumerian times when dances like that of the seven veils was used in association with the goddess of love Inanna. The dances were used to tell stories as a form of interpretive dance. The dance of the seven veils for instance represents the seven gates which Inanna had to pass through to find her lover and partner Damouz.

Pole dancing also has influences in Belly-dancing and Latin inspired dancing such as the Rumba and the Tango. Nowadays it still relates to the ancient forms as a hybrid dance and fitness form.

Want to see what modern pole is like as a hybrid of all these historical and international influences? Just watch the video below of the amazing pole fitness and art champion Oona Kivela:

The Cave of Letters

Posted on Updated on

A cluster of papyrus containing Bar Kokhba's o...
A cluster of papyrus containing Bar Kokhba’s orders found in the Judean desert by modern Israeli archeologist Yigael Yadin.

Everyone is aware of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but few realise that these were just one find in a region which continues to yield hundreds of finds significant to our understanding of live in the first centuries, the Jewish revolts and the relationships between the peoples involved in the area. While at a conference earlier in the year on New Testament archaeology, I picked up a very interesting book by Richard Freund and was introduced to the Cave of Letters.

The Cave of Letters was discovered in Israel in the early 1960s and was excavated by the famed Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin from 1960-1961. Yadin devoted himself to research and archaeology upon leaving the military and received the Israel prize in Jewish studies for his doctoral thesis on the translation of the dead sea scrolls. Apart from the Cave of Letters, Yadin excavated numerous important sites in the region which included Tel Megiddo, Masada, the Qumran Caves and Hazor.Yadin discovered the cave when he launched an urgent search of the dead sea caves in order to rescue artefacts of historical significance before they were looted by increasing numbers of treasure hunters in the region. The cave may be one of the sixty-four locations which were inscribed on a copper scroll found in another cave near the dead sea village of Qumran. This is believed due to the similarities in location and shape of the cave entrances as two columns in addition to the placement of bronze artefacts and stone vessels in the cave which are also mentioned on the scroll. The Cave of Letters was found above a canyon called Nahal Hever.

The cave is located in the area of the dead sea in the Judean desert and can only be assessed via a 50ft climb up to the cave’s entrance. During the 1960-61 excavations, Yadin uncovered a number of human skulls and bones and common objects of daily life alongside what he believed to be bronze ritual items. Yadin’s team also uncovered clusters of papyrus letters which made up the largest cache of ancient personal correspondence and documents ever found in Israel! These letters are slowly being published but are yet to be completed. Among the letters include correspondence from Bar Kokhba, a messianic leader of the third Jewish revolt against the Romans in the second century AD. Judea was part of the Roman empire but the Jewish people lived uncomfortably with their Roman rulers as a subject nation.

Among the documents in the Cave of Letters were found military orders signed by Bar Kokhba as Shimon Bar Kokhba, Simon son of a star. Surprisingly to some scholars the letters have quite a harsh tone and include threatening letters to Yehonatan who was the leader of En Geddi.

In 2000-2001 the archaeologist and Professor of Jewish History, Richard Freund, from the University of Hartford, led a team under the John and Carol Merrill Expedition to find out more about the Cave of Letters. On returning to the cave with an international team of archaeologists and scholars, Freund uncovered new evidence about the use of the cave and located a large number of new artefacts. Freund explains that the Cave of Letters is a massive cave with two openings in the sheer cliff wall with three internal chambers connected by narrow passageways with the cavern complex cutting more than 300 yards deep into the cliff-side. Freund had the chance to explore new areas to excavate which Yadin didn’t get a chance to. Yadin was unable to explore beneath the thick layer of rubble on the cave floor caused by centuries of earthquakes. In some areas the rubble was as thick at 15ft. Freund also had access to ground-penetrating radar and electrical resistivity tomography which allowed him to excavate and survey beyond Yadin’s means. Freund and Yadin’s excavations turned up artefacts that are signficiant to the history of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity and the politics of the modern Middle East.

Coin of Bar Kokhba

One of the most significant corpuses of letters found in the cave are the personal documents of a Jewish woman who lived in the port town of Maoza. This woman was named Babatha. The documents give a vivid picture of the life of an upper-middle class Jewish woman during the second century AD. They date from around 96-134 AD and give examples of Roman bureaucracy and legal systems by including legal contracts concerning marriage, property transfers and guardianship. They show that Babatha was born around 104 AD and inherited her father’s date palm orchard. She married for the first time in 124 and was widowed with a son named Jesus. She remarried in 125 to a man named Judah who already had another wife and a teenage daughter. There are also loan documents showing that Judah borrowed money from Babatha who was clearly in control of her own money. She got this money back upon Judah’s death in the form of his estates. Other documents in the Babatha archive include those concerning the guardianship of her son and a dispute between her and Judah’s first wife Miriam over Judah’s estates.

The use of the Cave of Letters is still under some debate but the artefacts are revealing. The most common theory is that the cave was used as a hideaway by Jewish refugees who were escaping oppressive Roman rule. Babatha would have been in the area in 132 when Bar Kokhba was performing his revolt. It is possibly that she fled or was killed as the documents in the cave were never recovered and were found alongside twenty skeletons which suggest that she or others perished while taking refuge in the cave.

What is interesting about the skeletal remains is that complete lack of signs for violent trauma suggesting that they died of starvation. The cave being used as a refuge is also suggested by signs of animals and cooking preparations including a piece of a circular oven. Freund found a number of items indicative of everyday life including rope and papyrus fragments, fabrics, a wooden comb, signs of living areas and a child’s sandal. The sandal is particularly significant because evidence of women and children in the area is rare.

The Cave of Letters also provides direct evidence of Bar Kokhba’s early triumphs supposedly with a Bar Kokhba coin found in the A-B passage. This is one of eight coins found in the cave. The inscription on the coin reads ‘for the freedom of Jerusalem’. Clearly the Cave of Letters is a trove of information and significance.

Additional Reading

Secrets of the Cave of Letters: rediscovering a Dead Sea mystery – R.Freund

The Documents from the Bar Kokhba Period in the Cave ofLetters: … – Y.Yadin

The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls – J.Magness

Ancient letters and the New Testament: a guide to context and exegesis – D.Bailey

Note that this website can be followed by pressing the ‘Follow by Email’ option on the right hand side of the screen :)

Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 3!

Posted on Updated on

Well followers, with the success of parts one and two of my Important Rules Series I give you part three!

This post will look at the most important things to remember when learning about the Greek personal pronouns, the perfect and pluperfect tenses and a few significant verbs to remember when reading ancient and New Testament Greek. For Parts one and two of the series, click on the links below before reading this post. Enjoy 🙂

Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 1

Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 2

The Greek Personal Pronouns

  • The pronoun stands in the place of a person
  • Pronouns occur in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd person
  • Declension of the personal pronoun of the first person
    • No vocative in the first person pronouns (remember that the vocative case is used in a noun that identifies a person being addressed)
    • ἐμοῦ (genitive singular), ἐμοί (dative singular), and ἐμέ (accusative singular) are used to express emphasis
    • μοῦ, μοί, μέ are enclitics throwing the accent of the pronoun onto the preceding word
    • Enclitics used when there is no particular emphasis on the pronouns
  • Declension of the personal pronoun of the second person
    • Vocative the same as nominative
    • σου, σοι, σε are enclitic, except when used emphatically
    • Watch similarity of ἡμεῖς and ὑμεῖς
  • Declension of the personal pronoun of the third person
    • Declension the same as ἁγαθός
    • Except for the neuter nominative/accusative singular form αὐτό

Personal Pronouns (First and Second Person)

1st person 1st person unemphatic 2nd person 2nd person unemphatic
sing. nom. ἐγώ σύ
gen. ἐμοῦ μου σοῦ σου
dat. ἐμοί μοι σοί σοι
acc. ἐμέ με σέ σε
pl. nom. ἡμεῖς ὑμεῖς
gen. ἡμῶν ὑμῶν
dat. ἡμῖν ὑμῖν
acc. ἡμᾶς ὑμᾶς

αὐτός: Third Person Pronoun (oblique cases only) and Intensive Pronoun

masc. fem. neuter
sing. nom. αὐτός αὐτή αὐτό
gen. αὐτοῦ αὐτῆς αὐτοῦ
dat. αὐτῷ αὐτῇ αὐτῷ
acc. αὐτόν αὐτήν αὐτό
pl. nom. αὐτοί αὐταί αὐτά
gen. αὐτῶν αὐτῶν αὐτῶν
dat. αὐτοῖς αὐταῖς αὐτοῖς
acc. αὐτούς αὐτάς αὐτά

Characteristics of Personal Pronouns

  • Used in place of nouns and other substantives in order to avoid monotony
  • The noun for ehivh s pronoun is called an ANTECEDENT
    • Agrees with its antecedent in gender and number
    • Personal pronouns are used in the nominative case only when emphasis is intended
    • The genitive case is frequently used to express possession
    • The emphatic forms of the personal pronouns are normally used after prepositions

Special Uses of AUTOS (αὐτός)

  • Two special uses:
  • When used with an article in the attributive positive it means the SAME = ADJECTIVAL AUTOS
  • When used without an article in the predicate position = SELF = INTENSIVE AUTOS

Intensive AUTOS may also be used with other pronouns or with the unexpressed subject of the verb

The perfect active indicative of LUW (λύω = to loose)

  • The fourth principal part = PERFECT ACTIVE
  • From this are obtained the forms of the perfect, pluperfect, and future tenses of the verb
  • Obtained by:
    • Affixing the perfective aspect morpheme KA
    • Attaching the secondary active suffixes
    • Prefixing a reduplicated syllable to beginning = consonant of start plus epsilon E
    • Exceptions derive from the phonetic characteristics of the initial phoneme of the verb
      • If start with  PHI, THETA or CHI = TAU start
      • If start with PSI, ZETA or XI or Two Consonants except LAMBDA or RHO = EPSILON start
      • If start with with VOWEL = Temporal Augment EPSILON

Second perfects

  • Some verbs do not contain the KAPPA
  • Conjugated exactly like the first perfects except without the Kappa
  • Distinction is one of form only and not of function

The significance of the perfect tense

  • State resulting from a completed action
  • Temporal focus more on the present than on the past
  • Choice of use not necessarily determined by the objective facts
  • Choice by the writer’s point of view of the action
  • Significance must be determined by the context

The pluperfect active indicative of LUW

  • Represents the past tense of the perfect
  • Has an augment in addition to the reduplication
  • EI as connecting vowels
  • Augment often omitted
  • Pluperfect seldom seen in New Testament
  • Future perfect tense even rarer – expresses the perfective aspect in future time

The verb OIDA (οἶδα = to know)

  • Synonym of γινώσκω (to know or perceive)
  • Has only perfect and pluperfect forms
  • Used with present and past meanings also
  • Regarded as a present tense verb
  • ᾔδειν is an imperfect tense verb (pluperfect indicative active 1st person)

Resources that may help you further:

Perseus Vocabulary Tools

New Testament Greek Grammar Books

Learn to Read New Testament Greek, Third Edition, By: David Alan Black

Little Greek 101

Note that this website can be followed by pressing the ‘Follow by Email’ option on the right hand side of the screen :)

Piracy in the Ancient Mediterranean

Posted on Updated on

Late Roman ship wreck
Late Roman ship wreck

Cilicia in Anatolia has an ancient history involving pirates and plunder; though likely no pirates like Johnny Depp. Mores the pity. So let us continue research into the area by having a look at piracy in the Ancient Mediterranean.

The ancient origins of piracy are still seen clearly in the modern world. The term ‘pirate’ has its roots in the Greek word πειράομαι meaning ‘I attempt’ which developed into πειρατής meaning ‘Brigand’ (LSJ: brigandPlb.4.3.8LXX Jb. 16.10(9); esp. piratePlb.4.6.1, Supp.Epigr.3.378B11 (Delph., ii/i B.C.), Str. 14.3.2, Plu.Luc.2,13). πειρατής developed into the Latin term ‘pirata’ and then into the English term ‘pirate’. But while the modern view of pirates is quite romanticised the reality was quite different in the beginning.

Piracy in the ancient Mediterranean stemmed from a necessity based on conditions of the coastlines of Anatolia. The shorelines were unsuitable for agriculture and large populations and the people who did live there were of humble means. These peoples turned to fishing as a primary industry and when this wasn’t enough to support them, the men turned to piracy. As such, piracy was often ambiguously differentiated from trade industries; it was the industry of the ancient Mediterranean. The earliest documents detailing the turn to piracy are in reference to the notorious Sea Peoples who threatened the Aegean and the Mediterranean in around the fourteenth century BC.

Queen Teuta – Queen of the Illyrian Pirates

The most famous of these pirates were the Illyrians and the Tyrrhenians who were often generalised as races of pirates. These were accompanied by the Greek and Roman pirates who appear around Cilicia. The Illyrians raided the Adriatic Sea frequently and caused multiple conflicts in the time of the Roman Republic. The Phoenicians were also known to commit acts of piracy in connection to the Slave trade. With time, the pirates of the Mediterranean became more organised and formed companies derived from their ancient seafaring traditions. The Egyptians often had clashes with these Sea Peoples who they referred to as the ‘Nine Bows’. Some of these pirates were Egyptian subordinates such as escaped Hebrews who were known as the Habiru. The Egyptians also dealt with the Tjeker people from Crete and the earliest known pirate companies, the Lukka and the Sherden. The Lukka and Sherden are mentioned in the Amarna letters detailing the correspondence between the king of Babylon to Pharaoh Amenhotep.

The Hellenistic period saw a rise in piracy following the death of Alexander Great and the issues that followed concerning succession. This created what could be deemed as endemic in Cilicia and the rest of the Southern Anatolia of piracy. During this period there was a popular use of a boat called the Lembus among pirates which was a small and fast ship built to zip in and out of small inlets and attack bigger vessels before disappearing before they could be caught. In the third century BC there was a pirate attack on Olympos in Anatolia which caused much devastating.

The second century BC saw the Roman’s ending the threat of the Illyrians by finally conquering Illyria and making it a Roman province. But piracy continued along the Anatolian coastline into the first century BC. Plutarch tells the story in his Parallel Lives that in 75 BC Julius Caesar was kidnapped for thirty-eight days by Cilician pirates and held in the Dodecanese islet of Pharmacusa to the south west of Anatolia. The Cilician pirates originally are said to have demanded a ransom of twenty talents of gold but this was raised to fifty talents on the word of Caesar himself that he was worth at least Fifty. This ransom was payed and Caesar was released but then he turned on the pirates, pursued and crucified them.

The Roman period saw several changes in the history of Mediterranean piracy starting in 67 BC when Rome’s port of Ostia was attacked and set on fire by pirates and two of its most prominent senators were kidnapped. By the Roman period the general feeling towards pirates was of fear and distrust and this event was the final straw and Rome started to fight seriously against them. This led to piracy being completely outlawed so the pirates could no longer benefit from the slave trade and instead turned to heavy ransoming. An anti-piracy law was proposed by Aulus Gabinius and pirates were declared communes hostes gentium ‘enemies of all mankind’. And the Lex Gabinia granted Pompey the Great unprecedented authority which was a conflicting decision as it allowed Pompey full access to the Roman treasury.

Cilician Ancient Pirate Cove

Pompey the Great organised the raiding of the remaining pirate strongholds in the Mediterranean including in Cilicia, Crete, Illyria and Delos. The most interesting act that Pompey implemented was one of clemency. Though thousands of pirates died in the raids, those that surrendered were given pardon and reward. Reward involves the movement of the pirates from the sea to the land and the establishment of them in honest and innocent courses of life. This was the most successful method of fighting against piracy in the Roman period but piracy never completely died out. In fact, in the first century AD it morphed into an idea close to privateering in some areas.

There were a number of pirate threats in later centuries including the attacks of the Gothic-Herulic fleet which ravaged the coast of the Black sea and the Sea of Marmara around 258 AD. And there were attacks by the Goths around 264 AD also in Galatia and Cappadocia, Cyprus and Crete. The fall of the Roman Empire around the fifth century AD saw a renewal of pirate activity which continued through to the middle ages.

While piracy is generally viewed as malevolent, several ancient texts were in part sympathetic to it and describe it in a way that deemed it almost honourable. Homer for instance makes it a normal occurrence in his Iliad and Odyssey. And Plutarch tells us that piracy became not just an occupation of poor and desperate men but rather a glorious expedition for those of high status seeking further advancement and adventure. It seems in part that the ancients romanticised the concept of piracy as much as the modern mind does.

Note that this website can be followed by pressing the ‘Follow by Email’ option on the right hand side of the screen :)

Additional Reading

Gabbert, Janice J. “Piracy in the Early Hellenistic Period: A Career Open to Talents”, Greece & Rome 33.2) (October 1986)): 156-63.

DeSouza, Philip. Piracy in the Graeco-Roman World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Semple, Ellen Churchill. ‘”Pirate Coasts of the Mediterranean Sea”. Geographical Review 2.2 (August 1916): 134-51. 135.

Kitchen, Kenneth. “Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II, King of Egypt.” Aris & Phillips, 1982: 40-41.

MØller, BjØrn. “Piracy, Maritime Terrorism and Naval Strategy.” Copenhagen: Danish Institute for International Studies, November 16, 2008. 10.

Woudhuizen, Frederik Christiaan. “The Ethnicity of Sea Peoples.” dissertation; Rotterdam: Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, April 2006. 107.

Dell, Harry J. 1967. The Origin and Nature of Illyrian Piracy. Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte 16, (3) (Jul.): 344-58. 345.