Friday 10 July 2020


I was recently at the Moesgård Museum to see the exhibition on Vesuvius' eruption in October 79 AD. The exhibition is going round the world and is organised from the museums of Napoli, Herculaneum and Palermo. It is a bit of a stretch to get the Egadi ram into such an exhibition, maybe, but not one I would complain about! Especially as the exhibition also includes supplementary naval material to set the ram in context.

See intro vid HERE (Danish text)


The famous excavations and finds from the buried towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii need no introduction. The main thing for me was to see them in reality. The quality of the presentation was excellent in most respects and allows one to get close to the artefacts themselves.

After seeing the Pompeii it in books since I first became interested in archaeology and the classical world, it was great to see the most famous burnt toast in history....

The exhibition had some dioramas giving an idea of the towns as they were before the big bang. Very nice HO building projects. The work in these models illustrates the gulf that there should exist between gaming terrain and a museum diorama. I cannot see the point in using more time and money on the table rather than the models for gaming. 'Good enough' is the principle I follow...

There are some spectacular pieces illustrating the trading links of the towns, the layout of the town and the individual houses.

Reconstructed wall-painting

This cupboard makes one think about the vanished contents of ancient homes

An amazing bronze fountain in the form of a tree with serpents entwined on it which spouted water from their mouths.

A bunny ..and the famous statue of a peeing Hercules.....


Up to 16,000 people died in the few minutes it took for the town to be engulfed in a nuee ardente eruption. The people did not suffer - the details are available online if you care to look for them. Martinique suffered the same fate in modern times. (see HERE)

The exhibition includes some of the famous casts of hollows in the ash made in the nineteenth century which revealed the forms of some of the dead citizens. These are quite moving when one sees them in reality. Even more poignant are skeletons from the more recent discoveries made in a boathouse on the foreshore of Pompeii where many people died hiding from the ashfall. The skeletons of huddled townsfolk, a soldier in his military equipment and a mother with her children are pretty tough to see even though one knows they died 2000 years ago. I did not photograph any of these because it felt rather trivialising to do so.
A gravestone showing an earlier earthquake


Pliny the Elder was the uncle of the author of the famous correspondance. P the E wrote the famous encyclopedia of natural history - which included human achievements - as well as many other works now lost to us. The exhibition has a nice projected video presentation which shows how the eruptions happened and repeats the long-since debunked (150 years..), but romantic, story that P the E, who was prefect of the fleet at Misenum, led a valiant rescue mission across the bay of Naples to Pompeii but was overwhelmed by the eruption.

Pliny to the rescue! (with oars and sails together...)

All the exhibits are staged in areas made to look like the interiors of Pompei, the harbourside, in the streets of the town or even under the descending ash cloud. All very atmospheric.


There are two sets of nautical exhibits. One is the story of the towns' marine trade activity and the other is the Egadi ram and its supporting material.


There are many wall paintings in the better houses of the towns and these often include seaside or harbour scenes. Good use is made of these as projected backgrounds for the sea-trade exhibition.

Ships come and ago across the wall. It is just a pity some of them are a little strange. There is a series of panels illustrating different types of merchant and war- ship and these are ok if rather unspecific.

This never sailed anywhere..
The exhibits themselves are excellent. Amphorae,.Various scattered goods shown as they lay on the seabed for recovery by archaeologists. An anchor stock. Bronze vessels and other objects add up to a display of high quality without being overpowering.

How to cook at sea.. a ceramic charcoal burner.


Two things grate with me about the exhibition. Two things which are hard to get away from in today's museums.

Visitors today are not expected to want to know anything beyond all but the most basic information about exhibits. A memorial inscription for a naval officer is here.... but without a translation. Famous mural fragments are shown, again without much information or explanation. I think the supposed dumbing-down of the public is also a function of reduced expectations by museums.OK we should buy the expensive book of the exhibition but isn't the job of the museum to inform? Educate even ? - while we are in the museum, not reading a book at home.
At least, with a travelling exhibition one can excuse the modern trend for omission of aquisition numbers or precise find locations.

Second, is the disease of today's humanities. References to defunct modern concepts of multiculture and globalism do not belong in discussion of the Roman world. The Romans did not go into the world seeking to be absorbed and enchanted  by all the quaint local tribes and customs they encountered. THEY CONQUERED THEM ! They tolerated local and personal custom and religion but to get on in the Roman Empire you had to adopt the prevailing customes and mores. ASK THE JEWS! ASK THE EARLY CHRISTIANS ! The empire plastered baths complexes all the way from mountain tops in Cumbria to the deserts of Arabia. Roman military boots trod in the faces of Scots, Mauretanians and Armenians. They made no distinction if you went against the status quo. Tolerance was in short supply. Lucan died for quoting Nero whilst on the bog for goodeness sake! The confusion between globalism and imperialism would be laughable if it was not so disingenuously done. Well, in Roman times everyone got along from one end of the globe to the other, surely we can do so again ? Pilae!

Tiffin break !

The maritime Pars Secunda...

Monday 6 July 2020

Fast Falls the Eventide...

Coming soon. To a blog near you.

Monday 29 June 2020

Jeux avec des galères anciennes : del II

Seeing as how my hobby-horses, coins, cockle-shells, drums, trumpets, fiddles, pallets, maggots and butterflies have been parading across the blog, I thought it would be interesting to show some examples of old-time model ships. Not an exhaustive survey but some interesting snippets.


Often dismissed as toys or throw-away votive offerings, there are many surviving clay models of ships from antiquity. There are also many wooden models from ancient Egypt and northern europe of the Dark Ages.

Aya Napa clay galley : Cyprus 6th cen BC

Some have holes for masts and can float so they are likely to have been toys.

Others are definitely votives found in temples or grave chambers.

Sailing a soul to paradise?

The Erment ship could be a votive but it is crudely made. It is painted, so it was an object for viewing, whIlst it could never float!


Not the ones they were kepr in...

Prisoners kept in England were allowed to earn money by selling toys and models they made from wood and often from meat bones.Many of the ships that survive are far better than simple toys - they are expertly made.

Just a hull remains of this example : at Launceston Museum HERE

The detail is superb.. earning money and passing the time for the prisoner. Today they are eagerly collected and worth a bomb.

Ship in mirrored case : ship is 25cm long : Sold at auction HERE

Amazing detail.


An unsung hero of the Napoleonic war at sea is a Scotchman, John Clerk of Eldin. In 1782 he published a pamphlet on naval tactics. Clerk was  a man of many parts - including geologist, he even worked with James Hutton ! - but he was not a naval man, so the chances of his ideas getting noticed by such a conservative profession were slight. One problem hindering the promotion of his ideas was that he considered them so important that they should not get into French hands - therefore they were not widely circulated. Clerk's idea was that an attacking fleet could disrupt an enemy fleet and defeat it by focussing effort on one point in the line. The prevailing idea was that two lines produced a series of duels between matched ships. His pamphlet, 'An Inquiry into Naval Tactics' (Edinburgh, 1782) came into the hands of Captain, later admiral and lord, Rodney, and many other influential naval officers. Rodney even demonstrated Clerk's ideas using cherry stones at a dinner in the 1780's.

Better than cherry stones!  Clerk's models : from MM article

Study of late 18.century naval actions reveals Clerks influence in at least 6 actions. No less an officer than Nelson admired Clerk's idea and Hardy recorded that Nelson encouraged his captains to read them.
As is often the case, Clerk died before receiving recognition for his contribution to naval tactics and his work has been forgotten since. Jim Tildsley of the Scottish Maritime Museum has unearthed Clerk's story in a fascnating article in Mariners's Mirror (MM106:2 May2020, 162-4)

Amongst his discoveries, Tildesley found that model ships survive with Clerk's family, which he used to demonstrate his ideas. There were two sets of ships, made in light and dark wax with simple sticks pushed into them to show masts.

from Tildesleys MM article


This is a fantastic piece of logical anachronism from the film Cleopatra. As well as the large scale models beinfg used to stage the Battle of Actium, along with two or three full-size 'war-galleys', there are scenes on Cleopatra's flagship where the commanders are watching the action being plotted out on a beautiful 'marble' table.
'I was up all night painting these ..'

Ships models are moved as the fleets move, and then , as each galley is lost it is set on fire by a flunky so the course of the action can be followed.
Double 6 ! Octavian is finished !!
This is a great idea. Technically possible to have been done and it looks the part. What such a system probably lacked was some form of telescope or the view of the whole battle would have been difficult without a system of runners .. but that is not th epoint with such films. It looks fantastic and it makes the point of the doom of Antony's fleet brilliantly.

'How is the wind for Egypt?'...

Friday 26 June 2020


The last, and largest of my fleet are the Russian card dikrotic pentekonters from UMBUM.

I have a review of them HERE.

Two ships not passing in the night

Troops are card Greeks and Persians from PERMES

I added some inserts for deck surfaces

Coolio , Julio. Quick build for quick gaming.

Monday 22 June 2020


Following behind  Demetrios' fleet, here come his opponents - the Rhodians!

A trihemiolia - Rhodian speciality

Tetrereis coming up behind the trihemioliai

Another Rhodian favourite - the tetreres

NAUMACHIA : PART XI : And still they come...

Part of Demetrios' siege fleet ? A couple of octoreis, and some covered-in triereis, two of which tow a catamaran bearing an artillery tower.

An octores with fighting tower

Fully enclosed triereis

A slog for the triereis towing the tower catamaran

The artillery tower is packed with catapults I don't have to make !

An octores with fortified bow and massive ram

Sunday 21 June 2020


Blogger's comments system is atrocious - at least how it works for me.

It does not inform if a comment is made. There is no mechanism to find and reply to all comments.

Apologies for unanswered comments I will try to work through some..... frustrating...

Meanwhile, hope you like the fleet review..


The barbarians are here !

Persian triereis provided by the maritime cities of Arados, Sidon, Byblos and Tyre.

Equipped with spike rams rather than the later trident type or the Greek theromorphic versions.