Homer and the Bagpus theory

NO, NOT Homer Simpson, but Homer the 8th century BC oral poet who composed the Iliad and the Odyssey. So what were those poems really all about? Well, about a war and a warrior’s belated return home – not much else really. Or was there? If you want to believe all that has been written about Homer and his ‘philosophy’ in the last few decades you might be surprised. However much scholars want to write about, analyse and interpret Homer and his Trojan War, at the end of the day he was a creative poet intending to entertain his audience. homer

Homer – see, not Homer Simpson

Trevor Bryce (The Trojans and their Neighbours, 2006) commented, “… he [Homer] himself may well have been amused, or bemused, at how much scholarly ink and breath have been expended on the search for the truth behind his tales.”

Sometimes writers make ideas up for controversial purposes or just for something to publish. Others genuinely believe their theories (and in many cases, justifiably so). With Homer we’ll never know the truth as he has been dead for nearly 3000 years – and, of course, some rely on that!


“What shall I concoct today?”

An interesting example of a writer’s philosophy is the anonymous researcher who considered the truth behind the children’s character, Bagpuss and his acquaintances (reference to this and Oliver Postgate’s end comment were from ITVs 100 Best Children’s Programmes). The researcher was of the learned opinion that Bagpuss is the existentialist hero and a dreamer; Professor Yaffle represents the intellectual (as a carved wood figure he shows that traditional forms of knowledge are stagnant); the mice and the organ mouse are the proletariat; Madeleine the rag doll is the maternal figure representing folk wisdom; Gabriel the toad sings songs containing messages, perhaps associated with Gabriel, the messenger from God (maybe telling us that religious teaching is far removed from the truly spiritual); and Emily is frequently associated ‘by critics’ with God or at least a ‘Godot’ type figure.


Bagpus – existentialist hero and a dreamer?

The intrepid researcher concludes: “So far we have only examined one possible deconstruction of Bagpuss. Bagpuss himself could be seen as inhabiting the earthly realm, while Emily moves on the divine plane, but this is a very traditionalist view. A modern, more psychoanalytical interpretation might be that the ‘real’ world as we know it is the outside world inhabited by Emily. Bagpuss and his friends occupy the inner world of consciousness, and represent not forces within society but within the mind of a human being. Not just one human, in fact. Bagpuss could be said to exist within the mind of each one of us, a creative force that lies dormant but full of potential. He only needs to be awakened. Or something.”

Yeah, or something. If you don’t believe me (or didn’t see the programme – it was a few years ago) it can be found on Google – click here


Professor Yaffle –  the intellectual, “as a carved wood figure he shows that traditional forms of knowledge are stagnant”

So what d’yer reckon? A possible analysis? Well, unlike Homer, the creator of Bagpuss, Oliver Postgate, was still alive at the time of this ‘research’ (sadly he died in 2008) and the producer of the programme asked him to comment on this interpretation and reveal the truth behind his tales of Bagpuss.  He said the tales were simply about a stuffed cat and his friends …. !!

 Oliver1Oliver Postgate (1925-2008) – remember ‘The Clangers’?

What say you, Homer?


Next week:  The Grand Tour – let’s go for a ride …

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

My very good friend, Professor Izzie Goldberg, was telling me of his worries about his son’s gambling and lack of attention to his religious commitments. He told me that he said to his son the other day, “Don’t forget Yom Kippur starts on Sunday.”  His son shouted back as he left the house, “Put £20 on it to win for me, Pops.”



Gladiator: Hollywood fact or fiction?


THIS WAS, indeed, a good yarn.  Well, actually, it’s practically just a remake of The Fall of the Roman Empire with Stephen Boyd (in Crowe’s role) as the hero Roman General-come-gladiator called Livius (who?), Christopher Plummer as Commodus (yes, Sound of Music’s Capt von Trapp as the baddie!), and Alec Guinness as the Emperor, Marcus Aurelius.


‘NEVER BEFORE …’ maybe – but certainly again

So, back to Ridley Scott’s 2000 epic and reality: both Marcus Aurelius and Commodus were father and son and real Emperors of Rome but that is really where facts stop – oh, other than Commodus was certainly a nasty oik, but that’s about it. As for Crowe’s Maximus Decimus Meridius, well,  there was a Maximus (of the Quintilian family) who, along with his brother, Condianus, were two of Marcus Aurelius’ favourite and most virtuous generals in the war against Germania. They were both consuls and Aurelius entrusted them with the civil administration of Greece.  Unfortunately, Commodus murdered both Maximus and Condianus, but that doesn’t make for such a good Hollywood yarn (and the film wouldn’t have lasted as long).

Marcus_Aurelius_Metropolitan_Museum       Marcus Aurelius AD 121-180

Alternatively, Crowe’s character could have been based on Marcus Nonius Macrinus who was also a general and favourite of Marcus Aurelius but he died in later years and a wealthy man. No other comparisons there then. Meridius tomb was found in 2008 on the banks of the Tiber near the via Flaminia, north of Rome.

tomb Tomb of   Marcus Nonius Macrinus

However, Marcus Aurelius never offered Maximus (or anybody) the protectorate of Rome, nor did he consider returning it to a republic (in fact, he gave Commodus joint imperial power at the age of 14/15!).  Aurelius died of an illness in Vindobona (Vienna) and there was never any suggestion that he was killed by Commodus.


Commodus AD 161-192 

Commodus often fought in the gladiatorial arena but was not despatched there by an heroic avenger (his opponents were never allowed to actually kill him!).  He was poisoned by his favourite concubine, Marcia (a woman scorned!), and thereafter strangled by a ‘robust youth’ (believed to be a chap called Narcissus, another of his favourites – he was obviously a serious bad judge of character).  His sister, Lucilla, as she did in the film, did not live to witness his death, she had already attempted to do away with him but failed and so he had her exiled, then killed.  That’s show business …. or not.


Thumbs up forJoaquin Phoenix as the beastly Commodus in the film

At the beginning of the battle scene , Quintus comments to Maximus of the Germanic ‘barbarians’: “People should know when they’re conquered.” Then in true Hollywood style they are conquered. In fact, the Germanic tribes were never conquered by the Romans. If you look at a map of the Roman Empire (below), Germania is conspicious by its absence from within its Empire boundaries – the boundary is the Rhine.


Map of the Roman Empire at its height circa 2nd century AD

Talking of the battle scene, it was a real forest fire and filmed in the UK at Bourne Wood near Farnham in Surrey. The Director, Ridley Scott, heard that the men from the Forestry Commission were planning to remove the forest and so he persuaded them to let him do it for them!


And there was the forest …. gone

P.S. If you want to understand the ending of the film better – the Elysium Fields – have a read of Virgil’s Aeneid (book 6).


 Maximus in Elysium Fields


Next week: Homer and the Bagpus theory

 Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

My good friend Sir Humphrey Bottleneck arrived at my rooms yesterday in a state of shock having nearly been killed in an automobile accident. He had caught a taxi cab from the station and leaned over to ask the driver a question and gently tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention.

The driver screamed, lost control of the cab, nearly hit a bus, drove up over the kerb and stopped just inches from a large plate window.

For a few moments everything was silent in the cab. Then the shaking driver said to Sir Humphrey, “Are you OK? I’m so sorry, but you scared the daylights out of me.”

Sir Humphrey apologised to the driver and said, “I didn’t realise that a mere tap on the shoulder would startle someone so badly.”

The driver replied, “No, no, I’m the one who is sorry, it’s entirely my fault. Today is my very first day driving a taxi cab. I’ve been driving a hearse for 10 years.”

Art Smth

Spartacus: Hollywood fact or fiction?

“I’M SPARTACUS.  No, I’m Spartacus …. and so is my wife”.  So who was Spartacus? First of all I’m not talking about the TV series – which, what little I have seen of it, is a load of hocus pocus – but that’s only to be expected. I’m talking about the 1960 Hollywood film. Did Spartacus actually exist or was he  just a character of Hollywood invention to boost Kirk Douglas’ macho image? (see film trivia at the end for this latter observation).

spartacus poster

Admittedly the film was based on a novel, Spartacus, by Howard Fast (in fact, there have been at least five novels about him – Spartacus, not Fast) but, yes, Spartacus existed but he wasn’t THE leader of the slaves – there were at least two others, Crixus and  Oenomaus, and possibly two more,  Gannicus and Castus, but none of them had such a good PR agent as Spartacus.


Howard Fast (1914-2003)

We have three main ancient sources of Spartacus: Plutarch (c. AD 46 – 120), see his Crassus; Lucius Annaeus Florus (c. AD 74 – 130), see his Epitome of Roman History; and Appian of Alexandria (c. AD 95 – 165), see his Civil Wars. According to these chaps, Spartacus was from Thrace (present day Bulgaria) and either an auxiliary in the Roman Legions or a captive from Romans wars around Thrace. Whichever, he was sold into slavery (for some misdemeanour if an auxiliary) and ended up training as a gladiator at a camp near Capua belonging to Lentulus Batiatus (wonderfully played by Peter Ustinov in the film).


Peter Ustinov (Batiatus) and Charles Laughton (fictional Gracchus) – what a great pairing!

We have no information about Spartacus prior to his escape, so the film was ‘making it all up’ – well, Howard Fast was – Hollywood just followed. In saying that, Hollywood, of course, had  a love interest in the film, Spartacus and Varina (played by Jean Simmons) and this is highly likely as gladiators were allowed female companions. What we do know for sure is that some 70 slaves escaped from the camp and, as previously mentioned, at least three leaders were appointed, Spartacus, Crixus (played by John Ireland in the film) and Oenomaus (sadly for him, ignored in the film – but he was probably killed early on in the revolt). The sources aren’t clear on the actual role of the latter two  but both were Gallic slaves and gladiators.


Nope, no documentary evidence of this fight.

Aside: Of the types of gladiators, it is believed Spartacus was a murmillo who carried 35-40 pounds of arms and armour, wearing a bronze helmet, various arm and leg guards, large oblong shield and a broad straight bladed sword (a gladius – see the sword in the film poster above). His opponent in the film (played by Woody Strode) was a retiarius who fought with a trident and a nest. In ‘real Roman life’ a murmillo usually fought a thraex who was also heavily armoured but had a short Thracian curved sword and a small round or square shield. A retiarius, usually fought a secutores who was very similar to a murmillo but with a special helmet to protect against the trident.


Zliten mosaic AD 200: left to right:  retiariuas (leg wound and broken trident on ground) fighting secutores;  thraex fighting mirmillo;  hopolmachus (with sword and spear) fighting mirmillo (latter surrendering to referee).


Yep, grubby gladiators thinking of escape ……. or looking to see what’s for supper 

The break-out from the Capua camp took place early in 73 BC. What followed was the Third Servile War (the other two were slave related, as the title may reveal, but nothing to do with this one). The gladiators began fighting for their freedom – just like the Texans at the Alamo, a few blogs back, remember? Actually, nothing like the Texans at the Alamo a few blogs back. This was really a fight for freedom.


Cause of the break-out: “I told you I don’t like soup”

 map 2

The Romans didn’t take the rebellion too seriously at first thinking it just an agitation that would soon be put down. They were wrong. Gaius Claudius Glaber was sent to crush the slaves and he besieged them at Mount Vesuvius (just south of Capua). Spartacus was a bit of a tactician (hence leading historians to believe he had had military experience) and he climbed down the mountain (not alone – with his army… ok) and took the Roman camp by surprise killing nearly all in it (I never said this was going to be pleasant). He then defeated another Roman force sent against him under Publius Varinius. By now his own army had swelled to around 70,000 (although we cannot be sure about any numbers). Rome was a bit embarrassed and in difficulties as most of its legions were away fighting in Hispania and the Third Mithridatic War (Asia Minor).

slaves 1

Spartacus winning the gladiatorial relay race

What happened next, in Spring of 72 BC, is disputed by the ancient sources. Appian suggests that Spartacus and Crixus split their forces and headed south to Thuri and Metapontum respectively (we assume Oenomaus is dead by now as he no longer gets a mention by the ancient historians). Then both armies turned and moved northward to march on Rome. If this is true, one can only assume the detour south was to gain more support. Crixus, with an army of 30,000 (or it may have been only 10,000) is defeated by a Roman force under Lucius Gellius Publicola near Mount Garganus (see map below). Spartacus arrived too late to save Crixus, who is killed (in the film he is killed in the final battle – John Ireland obviously had a good agent). Spartacus then defeated another Roman army under Gnaeus Cornelius Lentullus Clodianus (known as Gnat the Clod for short perhaps?) and executed some 300 Roman soldiers to avenge Crixus’ death – I know, Kirk Douglas would not have done that. After a change of mind about an attack on Rome, he headed back south to Thuri with, by now, around 120,000 men (maybe).

john-ireland-spartacus-2 (1)

“What am I doing here?” thinks Crixus played by John Ireland

According to Plutarch, after his victory over Lentullus Clodianus, Spartacus headed north to Mutina (present day Modena) with the intention of escaping into Cisalpine Gaul. This makes some sense. Here he meets, greets and defeats an army of 10,000  under the governor of Cisalpine Gaul, Gaius Cassius Longinius. He and his followers are now free to ‘head for the hills’ – well, the Alps. However, for no explained reason, Spartacus and his crew turned around and headed south again. It may be that crossing the Alps was a too daunting exercise – but why head there in the first place? Spartacus may have been aware that Pompey’s legions were in Hispania and would be heading towards him in due course if he held up in Gaul. But he must have  realised a confrontation with the Romans was inevitable.

AppienSpartacus                 Plutarch 2

The events of 72 BC according to Appian                    The events of 72 BC according to Plutarch

So, who do you believe – Appian or Plutarch? Or neither – perhaps they were both guessing. They were both writing several years after the war and relying on reports given to them and we don’t know how reliable such reports may have been. It really depends on what Spartacus’ motive was. Was he trying to escape or trying to cause as much trouble to the Romans as possible, or trying to end slavery (ambitious or what?!). We don’t know and never will, so not much point dwelling on it.


Kirk Douglas as a determined Spartacus – what was his motive?

71 BC, enter Marcus Licinius Crassus (Laurence Oliver). He is given eight Legions (approx. 40,000 men) and told to sort out Spartacus & Co. By now the slaves are moving south and after several successful on-route skirmishes by the Romans legions, Spartacus set up camp at Rhegium (see map below). Here it’s possible (as seen in the film) he did try and do a deal with Cillician pirates (led by Herbert Lom in the film) to transport his motley mob by ship to Sicily, but he was betrayed – the pirates took his money and ran.


Laurence Olivier as Crassus


           Bust of real Crassus

Spartacus broke out of the, then, besieged camp and headed to the mountains of Petelia (present day Strongoli) near Croton (see map below). The rebel force must have have split at some stage (possible dissension in the ranks) and a group under Gannicus and Castus was defeated at  Cantenna  (modern location unknown) by part of Crassus’ army. Crasssus then turned on Spartacus and the latter soon realised that a fight was inevitable.  We don’t know how many men there were in the rebel army but an estimate of around 30-40,000 may not be far off. It’s not entirely clear where the final battle took place – see map below, but there is another belief that it took place further northwest, at Senerchia/Caposele, in Luciana, evidenced by archaeological finds of armour and weapons. Take your pick!  However, the slaves were defeated and the ancient sources say the Spartacus was killed in the action but his body was never found. Some 6,000 surviving slaves were crucified on the Appina Way (the road from Rome to Capua) as an example to rebellious slaves, but there is no suggestion that Spartacus was one of them (and, sorry, Tony Curtis’ character was Hollywood fiction).



In the film, it is suggested that the main reason for the defeat of the slaves was because Crassus was reinforced  by Pompey and his legions coming from Hispania. It was true that Pompey was on route but he was not involved in the final battle (trivia: filmed in Madrid). Crassus knew he was coming and so had to defeat the slaves before he arrived otherwise the credit for victory would go to the reinforcing general. Pompey did arrive in time to wipe out some 5,000 fleeing slaves. He kindly gave Crassus the credit for winning the battle but he (Pompey) took the credit for ending the war by wiping out the remnants of the slave army. Generous or what?! Needless to say, Crassus was none too pleased and they weren’t to be best pals.


19th century depiction of the death of Spartacus – in battle

Film trivia: Kirk Douglas was intent on making the film because he had failed to get the lead part in Ben Hur (it went to some Heston chap). Douglas was executive producer and had to hurry to find finance for it because Yul Brynner was also planning to make a film about Spartacus. Universal Studios only gave Douglas the money once he had persuaded Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton and Peter Ustinov (no one knew who Tony Curtis was then) to appear in the film. Good reason as any in 1960.

spartacus_95 2012

Kirk Douglas in 2012 – not bad  at 95!


Next week: Tutankhamun – death can be fatal


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

My good friend Hamish McCondor had a goodly quantity of fine vintage port which he took esteem pleasure in consuming in not too delicate quantities. I am pleased to report that, occasionally, he would share a glass or two with my good self. Well, my poor colleague took ill and his doctor ordered him off the port. Weeks went by and Hamish’s health began to seriously fade and so his doctor suggested that he had better take up the port again.

“Aye, doctor”, Hamish responded, “but what about the arrears?”

Art Smth

Ill Met by Moonlight: Hollywood fact or fiction?

IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN IT, Ill met by moonlight was a film about the kidnapping of a German General from Crete in 1944. And, yes, yes, we established last week that this film wasn’t made by Hollywood – but it’s all part of the ‘series’!


Film fact

The idea was to kidnap the German General, Freidrich-Wilhelm Müller, who was a particularly nasty commander of the German forces in Crete. He was responsible for hundreds of Cretan civilian reprisal executions and the razing of villages to the ground. He was known as the ‘Butcher of Crete’. The leader of the kidnappers was a British major, Patrick Leigh Fermor, and his side-kick was Capt. William (Billy) Stanley Moss (who wrote the book of the film of the same name – and probably has the T-shirt [1]). However, by the time the plan had been organised, Muller had been replaced by General Heinrich Kreipe. It’s probably just as well because, due to Muller’s nastiness, he would most likely have been killed by the Cretans long before Fermor & Co got anywhere near to getting him off the island.


Müller, he was tried for war crimes after the war and executed by firing squad in Athens on 20th May 1947 – the anniversary of the German invasion of Crete – nice touch

It all began on the 26th April 1944. Kreipe was being driven from his headquarters in Archanes to Villa Ariadne (previously Sir Arthur Evans’ villa) at Knossos where he stayed. It was 9.30 at night. Fermor and Moss were dressed in German corporals’ uniforms and waved the car down. The driver was hauled out and hit on the head by Moss, whilst Femor pulled Kreipe from the front seat. By now the remainder of the kidnapping force of Cretans had appeared. Three of them jumped into the back seat with Kreipe wedged between and one of them had a knife to his throat to keep him quiet.


Kreipe – not so nasty general

In the film, whilst planning the kidnapping, one of the Cretan look-outs was adamant that the car carrying Kreipe was a Mercedes; in fact in 1944, it was an Opel, but I suppose the public hadn’t heard much of that make of car at that time – but everyone knew Mercedes!


Moss (left) and Fermor dressed as German corporals (film fiction: Leigh Fermor did not kill two Germans in the dentist’s surgery and take their uniforms)

Four of the Cretans set off on foot with the dazed driver, Alfred Fenske, and they were to meet up with the others at Anoyeia. The fate of the driver was not mentioned in the film but he never made it to the meeting place. He was killed because he was too much trouble – not the ‘done thing’ for a British film in the 1950s.


 Map of the kidnapping on the road from Archanes to Knossos

Fermor & Co, with Moss driving (Billy not Stirling …… sorry), set off in the car to Heraklion, passing some twenty-two check points. Each time Fermor just shouted out the window, “General’s car” (but in German of course, otherwise it would have been a bit of a give-away) and pointed to the General’s pennant on the wing of the car. On the coast road to Anoyeai, at Yeni Gave (now Drosia), they piled out of the car and headed into the hills on foot. All except Fermor and one Cretan, George. They took the car past Heliana and left it prominently in the middle of the road with a note in it saying that this kidnapping was carried out by a British commando unit and had nothing to do with the Cretans. The idea was to prevent reprisals, but it didn’t work [2]


Major Patrick Leigh Fermor

The party then went up to Mount Ida, mid-Crete. It was during this trip that Kreipe awoke one morning and looked at the sun shining on the mountain and muttered to himself in Latin, “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte …” [3]. Fermor recognised it as one of the few Odes of Horace that he knew and continued the quotation in Latin [4].  The two of them had a bonding.


Capt. William Stanley Moss

The plan was to come due south from Mount Ida and pick up the boat on the beach but it transpired that the beach in question was swarming with Germans. Fermor had asked the BBC to announce that the kidnappers had got Kreipe off the island and were on their way to Cairo. That way the Germans would think they had left Crete so no point in searching for them. Unfortunately, as in most plans, incompetence creeps in/communications fail and  the radio message announced that General Kreipe had been captured and “is being taken off the island”. This told the Germans that he was still there so searches continued in earnest!

The rendezvous was then changed to Peristeres beach near Rhodakino. In the film, at the end, Kreipe tries to bribe a young Cretan boy, Niko, to go to the Germans who are guarding the Peristeres beach: in the first place there were no Germans on that beach; in the second place, Kreipe only spoke German and French which none of the Cretans could understand. So that didn’t happen. What was true was that the signal to the boat was to be SB in morse code and neither Fermor nor Moss knew morse code (well both knew S for SOS but neither knew B!). How could you make such a blunder after all the plans!! The man who came to their rescue, in the film Sandy (Rendel), was, in real life, Dennis Ciclitiras (credit where credit is due). Kreipe was taken off the island on 14th May, 18 days after his capture, and sailed to Cairo.


Leigh Fermor saying goodbye to Kreipe in Cairo

Kreipe was rather overwhelmed by the help and support, with guides, food, blankets and anything else needed, given everywhere they went by the Cretan islanders. In his book, The Cretan Runner, George Psychoundakis says that Kreipe remarked, “I am beginning to wonder who is occupying the island – us or the English.”

Kreipe was sent as a POW to Canada (near Calgary) and later transferred to Wales (Island Farm near Bridgend), then finally, Shugborough Park in Staffordshire. He was repatriated to Germany in October 1947 and died in Hanover in 1976, aged 81. In 1972, he attended a televised reunion with Fermor and some of his Cretan kidnappers (sadly Moss had died in 1965) [5]. When asked if he had any hard feelings he said no, otherwise he wouldn’t be on the show. Good loser! Click here for the TV show.

kreipe-fermor-later 1976 reunion – Fermor centre right, Kreipe right of him


[1] See also Patrick Leigh Fermor’s own recent book on the action, Abducting a General, John Murray, 2014.

[2] At first there were no reprisals as the new Commander, General Brauer, disliked Kreipe and seemed to consider the kidnapping somewhat amusing. However, when Müller returned to take Brauer’s place, it was a different story. The German reprisals included the burning of Cretan villages in the Amari valley, killing over 450 people. This was half (if not wholly) expected (despite Fermor’s note left in the car) and some considered the venture not worth the deaths that resulted. Others have suggested that there were other reasons for these reprisals which is why the Germans took so long to carry them out (the kidnapping took place in May, reprisals were in August). It has to be said that it had neither tactical nor strategic value, just good propaganda. Hmmmm …. I still have my doubts that it was ever a good idea bearing in mind the reprisals that would obviously follow.  I was recently told by a colleague of mine that a friend of his who knew Fermor was told by Fermor (who was living in Greece) that he (Fermor) could never go back to Crete because the German reprisals for capturing the general there had sparked a traditional blood feud against him as the indirect author of villagers’ deaths.


[3]  Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte
Do you not see how [Mount] Soracte is shining …

[4]  nec jam sustineant onus
Silvae laborantes, geluque
Flumina constiterint acuto

beneath a heavy covering of snow, and how
The laboring trees can no longer hold up their burden,
And how the rivers are frozen by the sharp cold?

[5] Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor OBE, DSO, was knighted in 2004 and died in 2011 aged 96.


Next week:  Let’s go back to the previous war ….. ‘K’ for Klot class submarines – a look at the disastrous K class WWI subs.


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

I recently discovered the unrobbed tomb of the 3rd century BC Macedonian ruler, Philipidus Windsoros (sometimes known as Phil the Greek). He had around him the usual treasures to show off his power and wealth in life.  There was one interesting gold casket inscribed ‘due debtos’ (due debts) and containing four clay pots.  Clearly, dignitaries who had owed Philipidus money were happy to honour these debts on his death. In the first pot there were 30 gold coins and a note on papyrus I translated as stating that this was the sum owed to Philipidus and unpaid at his death – now settled, signed Leodinos of Sparta.  The second pot had 50 gold coins and a similar note signed Xernes of Persia.  The third pot, 70 gold coins and a similar note signed Konon of Thebes.  The fourth pot contained a similar note signed by Joseph of Israel, but no coins.  Instead another piece of papyrus was sown to it with the words ‘150 gold talents’ written on it, and signed by Joseph of Israel ……… It was a cheque.

Art Smth

Wild Bill [Hickok]: Hollywood fact or fiction?

IN THE FILM ‘Wild Bill’, Wild Bill Hickok is admirably portrayed by Jeff Bridges but it bombed at the box office (took $2 mill but cost $30 mill) so you probably haven’t even seen it. The majority of the film deals with the last days of Hickok’s life at Deadwood with the odd b&w flashbacks which do cover some reportedly true aspects of his life – well maybe – let’s just say what has been recorded (perhaps exaggerated) in the newspapers. However, the historical truth of his last weeks/days are rather vague in any event and so the film seems to make them up, particularly with regard to Calamity Jane, and even more particularly with regard to Hickok’s killer, Jack McCall. But, based on my previous observation that you probably haven’t seen the film, I won’t go on about its failings.


So, what was Hickok really all about? Well, firstly, his name wasn’t Bill – he was really James Butler Hickok. There are one or two stories revealing how/why he became ‘Wild Bill’ but none of them can be substantiated. Whilst in Nebraska, it has been suggested that he was derisively referred to as ‘Duck Bill’ by David McCanles – he later shot McCanles, but for  different reason (maybe). Hickok claimed that he had been nicknamed ‘Shanghai Bill’ whilst part of General Jim Lanes’ ‘Free State Army’ (the Jayhawkers) in 1855 because of his height (he was tall) and slim build. One source says Hickok simply changed this to ‘Wild Bill’ in 1861. It was as a Jayhawker that he meet a 12 year old U.S. Army scout called William Cody – later known as Buffalo Bill.

        hickok 1

‘Wild Bill’ Hickok (1837-76) 

He spent his early life as a ‘freight driver’ and then as a packer/wagon-master for the Union army when the Civil War broke out in 1861. The following year he was discharged for an undisclosed reason. He joined the Springfield Missouri detective police counting troops in uniform found drinking on duty (exciting, huh!). He was then hired by General John B. Sanborn as a scout, but by the end of the war, in 1865, he spent his time gambling in Springfield.  According to the History of Greene County, Missouri published in 1883, Hickok at this time was “by nature a ruffian… a drunken, swaggering fellow, who delighted when ‘on a spree’ to frighten nervous men and timid women.” ……. yawn.

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Hickok and hat

Lawman and gunfighter notoriety

Now down to business. Well, perhaps. Like most of the Wild West ‘heroes’ it is sometimes difficult to distinguish fact from fiction – especially when, as was Hickok, they became famous through the ‘dime novels’. He allegedly shot and killed 39 men (the dime novels suggest many more). But let’s have a look at what is believed, and most likely, to be true.

In Springfield, Missouri, Hickok had a long standing dispute with a Dave Tutt over Hickok’s girlfriend, Susannah Moore. Naturally, the dispute arose because Tutt thought she was his girlfriend. In July 1865, in a card game, Hickok gave Tutt his watch as collateral but told him not to wear it. Tutt wore it in the street and was called out by Hickok – it was a gunfight waiting to happen. Allegedly they were 75 yards apart (a long distance for a duel [1]). Tutt shot first and missed; Hickok shot second and didn’t. Tutt collapsed and died; Hickok got his watch back – but not the girl.

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Painting of Hickok shooting Tutt at 75 yards (allegedly)

Hickok was arrested for the killing and the charge reduced from murder to manslaughter (I don’t want to get technical about the law but manslaughter implies a non-intent to kill – perhaps at 75 yards he didn’t expect to hit Tutt!). The jury went for an acquittal on the grounds of a fair fight. This was not a popular verdict at the time – presumably because Hickok was not a popular character – or because there was never such a thing as a fair fight with Hickok unless he had no gun!

In July 1869, Hickok was elected sheriff of Hays City, Kansas. Within a month he was involved in a couple of altercations, one where he ended up shooting and killing a Bill Mulvey, and other doing similar to a Samuel Strawhun. Then, in July 1870, he had a bar fight with Jeremiah Lonergan and John Kyle, two soldiers from the 7th Cavalry (Custer’s famous unit ‘to be’). Lonergan had Hickok on the floor and fired his gun at Hickok’s head. The gun misfired allowing Hickok to gather his own guns. He killed Kyle with two shots and wounded Lonergan with a shot in the knee. Hickok had a reputation for trouble and failed to get  re-elected sheriff. Perhaps they expected their sheriffs to fight with pillows …….

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Painting of Hickok with his famous ivory handled Colts

In October 1871, Hickok was marshal of Abilene when he encountered Phil Coe, a saloon owner, following a fracas in the street outside Coe’s saloon. Coe had fired a couple of shots into the air and Hickok demanded his gun. Stupidly, Coe turned his gun on Hickok but Hickok was quicker, fired first and killed Coe. Then Hickok heard a shout behind him, turned and fired, killing the figure running towards him. The figure was his own deputy marshal, Mike Williams, coming to his aid. Hickok was relieved of his duties as marshal as a result. There are no further reports of Hickok gunfights.

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Newspaper picture of Hickok having shot Coe (far right) and turning his gun on the drunken crowd just before Williams appeared

In 1873, Hickok joined Ned Buntline’s Wild West show, Scouts of the Plains, with Buffalo Bill Cody and Texas Jack Omohundro. But Hickok was no actor and was always forgetting his lines. He was soon to give this up, as did Texas Jack.   Cody went on to form his Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1882, which had appearances by Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley.

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Hickok, Omohundro, Cody (1873)                                             ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody (1875)

In 1876, in Kansas City, Missouri, Hickok was diagnosed with glaucoma and likely to lose his sight and his health generally was in decline. In March of that year, in Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory, he married Agnes Thatcher Lake, a 50 year-old circus performer. But before very long, in the same year, he headed, alone, to Deadwood, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, to make his fortune (well, that’s what he supposedly told Agnes). He arrived in July and met up again with Martha  Jane Cannary (aka Calamity Jane). Jane alleged she had been married to Hickok but this was wishful thinking on her part – it is believed he had little time for her.

On 2nd August, 1876, Hickok was playing cards at Nuttal & Mann’s saloon in Deadwood. He had his back to the door – unusual for him as he liked to see who was coming in. Well, one Jack McCall was coming in and came up behind Hickok and shot him dead at point blank range. Hickok was playing five card stud and was holding a pair of aces and a pair of eights (the fifth card had been discarded and not replaced) – now known as ‘Deadman’s hand’ – not his lucky night.

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Deadwood, 2nd August 1876

It is not known why McCall killed Hickok, although, at his trial, he did say it was in revenge for Hickok killing his brother, Lew (who had been killed by a lawman in Abilene but it was not know who the lawman was). The jury in Deadwood accepted this and acquitted Jack. Is that retrospective defence of another?! McCall left town but had to brag about the deed and was arrested again in Yankton, Wyoming. His trial in Deadwood was not recognised as the town was still in Indian territory and not part of the USA. This time McCall was not so lucky – he was found guilty and hanged.


‘Not so second time lucky’ Jack McCall

Hickok was buried in the Ingelside Cemetery in Deadwood, but in 1879 he was moved by his friend, Charlie Utter, to the new Mount Moriah cemetery. His original wooden grave marker went with him but was eventually destroyed by souvenir hunters who whittled bits off it! It was replaced with a statue of Hickok which was also destroyed by relic hunters. Then came a life-size statute which was defaced. So the grave area was enclosed in a cage for protection. But in the 1950s this was broken into by more relic hunters and the statue stolen. Finally a cast-iron fence was erected along with a new bust of Hickok.

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Hickok’s grave at Mount Moriah cemetery

Hickok’s favourite guns were a pair of ivory handled cap-and-ball 1851 Colts .36 Navy Models pistols (if that means anything to anyone). They were sold to two separate people after his death to pay off his debts. They were supposedly reunited and appeared in the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming – but there are some sceptics who suspect they are not the genuine items. In fact, he had several guns. The gun he had when he was shot was a Smith & Wesson No.2. This gun went up for auction in November 2013, at Bonhams, San Francisco, California. The final bid was $220,000 – which failed to meet an undisclosed reserve (ca. $300,000). Wow, some expensive gun!

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Possibly Hickok’s Colts                                                       Hicock’s Smith & Wesson at his death


[1]  Hand gun accuracy was notoriously bad – at the OK Coral, Wyatt Earp & C0 were missing at 10 yards (well, some of them were) – so, although Hickok was a supposed to be a pretty good shot, 75 yards is a bit over-optimistic!

Next week: Okay, enough Wild West, let’s go back to some archaeological characters: John Pendlebury, Hollywood fact or……. no, Hollywood didn’t make a film of him, but it should do. Not just because he was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and non-fiction, but because ….. ah, find out next week.

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

Whilst in Italy, I was reviewing some oddments of Roman pottery when I met a most agreeable and charming Italian archaeologist. Unfortunately, the time I chose to seek his learned advisement, his sister had just produced twins, a boy and a girl, and I could gain little sense from him over his understandable excitement at being an uncle.  I enquired as to what they were called.

“Ah,” his grin filled the room, “leetle girl is Denise”

“That’s nice”, I said, “and the boy?”

“He is de nephew.”

Art Smth

The Alamo: Hollywood fact or fiction?

THERE WAS an Englishman, a Scotsman, an American and a Mexican on an aeroplane. The engines began spluttering and the pilot came back and said, “We have lost power. Unless three of you jump out of the plane we will crash and we’ll all die. The problem is there are no parachutes.” The Englishman jumped up and shouted, “Remember Trafalgar” and threw himself out of the plane. The Scotsman jumped up and shouted, “Remember Bannockburn” and threw himself out of the plane. The American jumped up and shouted, “Remember the Alamo” and threw the Mexican out of the plane.


So was Hollywood’s ‘The Alamo’ anything like the true facts? Well, first of all, which Hollywood Alamo? Since 1915 there have been about 12 movies on the Alamo, the latest being the rather rambling (but slightly more authentic) Billy Bob Thornton effort in 2004. But the only great version, which most people relate to, is the John Wayne version in 1960 (okay, that’s my opinion – and yes, I’m a John Wayne fan). Big John starred in it of course, but he also produced and directed it. In fact, initially, he only intended to play the small part of Sam Houston so he could concentrate on directing but the money-providers would have none of it. And rightly so – only John Wayne could have played Davy Crockett.


 The Alamo – ‘fighting for freedom’ …..?

So what really happened? Well, more to the point how did it come about? Hollywood will have it the ‘Texans Fighting for Freedom!’  Well, not exactly. It’s quite complex but let’s try and keep it simple. In the early 1800s there were these American ‘mercenaries’ called filibusters looking around for land and Florida and Texas, both owned by the Spanish, were targets. America bought Louisiana from the French in 1803 but the borders into Texas were ill-defined. In 1813, the filibusters wandered into Texas to try and redefine these borders in America’s favour but set up their own Green Flag Republic, independent of the US – and Spain. The USA was none too happy and so withdrew its support and the new GF Republic was crushed by the Spanish. In 1819 Spain negotiated with the USA wherein the latter was able to purchase Florida in return for giving up any claim on Texas.

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America before the Americans – Spain in green, France in brown, England in purple (or is it mauve)

So that is all fine until Mexico obtained Independence from Spain in 1821. And Texas became part of Mexico. There followed a flood of American settlers into Texas (Anglo-colonials) and Mexico decided to encourage this new immigration to allow the land to be developed which they were unable to do themselves (Mexican mistake no. 1).  An ’empresario system’ was set up with the Mexican government by Stephen F. Austin wherein 300 immigrant families would settle in Texas (Austin’s father, Moses, had made a similar deal with the Spanish but died and then Spain gave up Texas before it all came about). Empresarios (American immigrants in Texas) were appointed by the Mexican government to sell land to immigrants at $30 (on credit) for 4000 acres (the cost in the USA would have been $5000 cash – a pretty good deal if you ask me!). In return, immigrants would become Mexican citizens and Catholic.


Stephen Austin –  the ‘Father of Texas’ – one man and his dog

Then trouble began. First of all, one Haden Edwards decided that he would to go independent but he was put down by Austin who wanted to keep the peace with Mexico (makes sense bearing in mind the deal). Then, in 1829, Mexico abolished slavery. Unfortunately most of the immigrants were from the southern States of America (mainly Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri) and so had slaves themselves. But the Mexican allowed them to keep them. Enter William Barret Travis (played by Lawrence Harvey in the film), a lawyer who had fled his hometown of Claiborne in Alabama, and his wife and child, to avoid debt. He was pro-slavery (and had with him his slave, Joe – one of the few who survived the Alamo, but didn’t appear in the film) and openly challenged the Mexican officials on the topic and was arrested. On his release he emerged as a rebel against Mexico. But alone he had little impact.


Col. William B. Travis 

If you were paying attention above, the original deal was limited to settling 300 families – we are way passed that figure now. So, in 1830, Mexico decided to curb immigration into Texas as it was concerned it was losing control. This was ignored by the American immigrants (there’s a surprise). By this time Mexico was having its own internal squabbles between centralists and federalists. Antonio de Padua Maria Severino Lopez de Santa Anna y Perez de Lebron – known as Santa Anna – (his father must have been an ardent supporter of some Mexican football team) was leader of the federalist but when he took control as President in 1833 he became a centralist, then a dictator. Zacatecas objected so Santa Anna sent a force and destroyed the city and all the inhabitants. Texas (particularly Travis) supported the federalists and was now very concerned about Santa Anna’s intentions regarding Texas (bearing in mind what happened at Zacatecas – he thought it was next). Likewise, Santa Anna was concerned about the intentions of the immigrants in Texas (independence) and decided to begin to remove their arms. This began in October 1835 with a single canon at Gonzales, which had been given to the town by the Mexicans to defend against Indians. The Mexicans marched on Gonzales and demanded the return of the canon (Mexican mistake no 2). The Texans replied “Come and get it”. There was  a bit of a skirmish but the Texans held onto the canon and sent the Mexicans home. The Texas Revolution had begun.


Mexican march on Gonzazales

 Re-enter Stephen Austin. He now objected to Mexico adding neighbouring Coahuila to the Texan State and was imprisoned for 18 months (Mexican mistake no 3). This was to also to spur the Texans to rebellion.


Santa Anna ‘FC’

Then enter Jim Bowie (played by Richard Widmark in the film). Whatever impression you got/have of him, he was a large scale Kentucky criminal escaping his past of land-grabbing frauds in Louisiana. (By the way, he didn’t invent the Bowie knife – he just used it a lot and the name stuck). He headed to Texas in search of more opportunities (to perhaps defraud more people). Anyway, he claimed large areas of land through the empresario system which were subsequently taken away from him by Santa Anna. This caused Bowie to support Texas independence. In the film, whilst defending the Alamo, he hears of the sad news of the death of his wife (Maria Ursula) of the plague. She did die of cholera, but three years before the Alamo. Perhaps news just travelled very slowly in those days.


Col. Jim Bowie 

Finally, enter Davy Crockett (played by …. oh, you know). He had been elected for US Congress in 1827 and hoped for an opportunity at the presidency. Unfortunately he was not re-elected to Congress for a fourth time  in 1835 and so left for Texas in the hope of more opportunities. He had said, and forever repeated it, that if he wasn’t re-elected “you may all go to hell, and I’ll go to Texas.”  He wasn’t and he did. He was a true frontiersman and larger than life character. Perfect for John Wayne to play – in fact, if  I was making a film about John Wayne I would cast Davy Crockett to play him – although, admittedly, that would prove somewhat logistically difficult. Anyway, I digress, Crockett joined Travis and Bowie at the Alamo to hold up the Mexican army under Santa Anna until help arrived. It did not quite work out like that.


Col. Davy Crockett 

The battle

The rebels (that’s the Texans and Mexican allies, the Tejanos), led by Ben Milam, first took San Antonio Bexar (we’ll call it Bexar cos it’s easier – but it’s now just known as San Antonio – see map above). It was a five day battle and, as the rebels were on the verge of retreating, the Mexicans surrendered! But, on the 3rd day, Milam had been shot and killed by a sniper (Felix de la Garza – who was also shot and killed in return – fair’s fair).  Frank Johnson had taken command. 150 Mexican casualties against 5 rebel deaths. Then the Alamo was taken by the rebels without a fight. When Santa Anna heard the news he was greatly vexed. He said, “Ungrateful rebels had humiliated their mother country” and gathered his force and marched on Bexar.

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Ben Milam

End of December 1835, Johnson left Bexar and Lt Col James Neill took command. By January he had only 85 men.  Jim Bowie and 30 volunteers arrived, then Travis with his ‘regulars’. Davy Crockett and his men from Tennessee joined shortly afterwards. On hearing of Santa Anna’s approach the rebels vacated Bezar and headed over the river to the nearby fortified Alamo.


Davy Crockett in his more famous buckskin outfit

San Antonio de Valero was originally built as a mission to Christianised the Indians (sorry, native Americans) but it was closed, unfinished, in 1794. It was later garrisoned by a presdial company from Alamo de Parras, in Mexico, and renamed the Alamo.

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The church of the Alamo today

O’Neill had to leave as he had heard of illness in his family (he wasn’t stupid – get out of there asap!). Admittedly, he did expect to be back before Santa Anna’s arrival but no one realised how close Santa Anna was. Bowie was left in charge but was taken ill (possibly TB) and in no fit state to command (so, unlike in the film, he wasn’t much involved in the siege or the battle). Travis (aged only 26) took over and wrote many letters pleading for reinforcement – all ignored.


One of Travis’ many letters pleading, in vain, for reinforcements at the Alamo – he always signed them of ‘Victory or death’

The numbers at the Alamo vary from source to source – 160, 180, 200, 250. If we go with 200 we can’t be far out. Santa Anna had anything from 2000-6000 men (that figure varies as well – he may have had around 6000 in total, but used only 2000 on the attack on the Alamo). The Mexican weakness was its artillery – it only had two 8 pounders, two 6 pounders and two 4 pounders. These were not much use for breaking up the thick walls of the Alamo. The siege began on 23rd February and lasted just under two weeks. Santa Anna could have waited another four weeks or so and starved the rebels out but he feared rebel reinforcements at any time. So the attack began at 5.00 am Sunday 6th March and lasted just about an hour and a half before all the rebels were killed. Travis was shot and killed at the very beginning; Bowie was killed in his bed, unable to move due to his illness; and Crockett was killed towards the end (it’s not known exactly where, when or how – some say he was captured and executed, but I doubt that). What is certain, unlike in the film, he was not killed blowing up the powder magazine and taking a load of Mexicans with him. Robert Evans was given this task but he was shot and killed before he managed it.


Dawn at the Alamo – the man standing with hand gun on the right is William Travis – about to be treacherously stabbed in the back by a cowardly Mexican (18th century anti-Mexican propaganda) – Travis was actually shot in the forehead

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The mission of the Alamo before the battle (north to the left)

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What was left of the mission after the Mexicans had destroyed most of it 

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Today the Alamo church is right in the centre of San Antonio

The General Council (of Texas) decided it couldn’t (or shouldn’t) raise an army to send to the Alamo until it had declared Independence for Texas. This was eventually done on the 1st March but, due to numerous spelling mistakes, it was not signed until two days later! If that delay wasn’t enough, Sam Houston was involved and was to be given command of the Texan army and, after signing the Declaration, he and some of the other delegates went on a two day drinking spree to celebrate – never mind the Alamo.


Sam Houston (played by Richard Boone in the film)


Santa Anna then sent a force against the rebels at Goliad (see map way above). By the time the Mexicans got there the rebels had fled, but due to the incompetence of their commander, James W. Fannin, who dillied and dallied, the Mexicans caught up with them. They surrendered but Santa Anna sent a message to execute them all – some 400 (Mexican mistake no 4). In the film, this defeat happened before the fall of the Alamo and used, by Hollywood to excuse Fannin for not coming to the rescue. In truth, he just couldn’t make a decision (at one point, he did start off for the Alamo but changed his mind). Anyway, this atrocity of the execution of Fannin’s army woke the Americans up. It sparked an out-pour of sympathy for the rebels and thousands of volunteers began their way to Texas. In the meantime, Santa Anna was in pursuit of Houston and his newly formed army – which, due to the Alamo, had gained time to prepare itself (despite Houston’s drinking). Santa Anna came upon Houston with only half his (Santa Anna’s) army – he thought Houston and his rabble force would be easy pickings (mistake no 5 – final mistake). In fact, Houston made a surprise attack on the siesta sleeping Mexicans and defeated them at San Jacinto river (the attack itself lasted only eighteen minutes but carnage followed with 600 Mexican casualties against 11 rebel deaths). Santa Anna was captured and used as a hostage to gain a Texan Republic under the Treaties of Velasco.


James W. Fannin – his execution on the order of Santa Anna led to much support for the Texan cause

Santa Anna was eventually allowed to return to Mexico where, amazingly, he remained in power on and off for several years until, in 1855, the Mexicans finally got fed up with him and chucked him out. He died, a cripple (he had had a leg amputated in 1838), almost blind with cataracts, and in poverty, in 1876. Interestingly, he was a devoted fan of Napoleon and collected books, statues and images of the Frenchman. He was especially proud of his own nickname ‘Napoleon of the West’ after the Telegraph and Texas Register referred to him as such. Which part of the minor detail that Napoleon lost did he miss?

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Santa Anna in 1870

Texas became the 28th State of the USA in 1845 but Mexico had never accepted the Treaties of Velasco as valid. This led to the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 when Mexico was finally defeated.

So, was the Alamo about ‘Texans fighting for freedom’ as the film depicts? Well, ‘freedom’ can sometimes be muddle with self-advancement at the expense of someone else.  However you argue it, Texas belonged to Mexico and the  Mexicans did a noble thing in offering land to a limited number of immigrants (300) at a ‘next-to-nothing’ price in return for becoming Mexican citizens. That ‘limited number’ was ignored by the immigrants and eventually they demanded independence. Fair or what? Okay, Santa Anna was a despot and a tyrant so only had himself to blame.


American expansion

The rebels argued that “legitimate political authority rested on the consent of the governed, who had the right to withdraw that consent and change their government if it threatened those inalienable rights it was formed to protect.” As they saw it, that was exactly what Santa Anna (the government) was in the process of doing. Well, that’s okay if your country is run on a democratic process, which theirs (Mexico) was not. If such an argument is to succeed then the whole of Mexico should have rebelled against Santa Anna, not just a bit of it. Oh well, that’s politics ……. or is it just land-grabbing?

It must be an ‘American thing’ – a few years before the Alamo, around 1775-83, didn’t immigrants in America demand – and take by force – independence of a country that belonged to someone else? ….. but we won’t go there.


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Alamo trivia: One of the women survivors was Capt. Dickinson’s wife, Susanna Dickinson, and also their daughter, Angelina (named Lisa in the film and played by John Wayne’s daughter, Aissa). Other than Travis’ slave, Joe, who was also allowed to leave, Susanna was the only one able to say what happened at the Alamo – but, like Joe, she didn’t see very much. Nor did she grieve for her husband (who had died at the Alamo) very long, remarrying the following year. That didn’t last and the year after that she divorced him for cruelty and married again. That husband died of alcoholism, so she married a fourth time in 1847, but that ended in divorce due to her adultery. Then she married a fifth and final time in 1858, which lasted to her death in 1883, aged 68. Her daughter, Angelina, was certainly as active, but not as fortunate. She had two husbands and four children before becoming a prostitute and died of a uterine hemorrhage in Galveston, in 1869, aged 34. I wonder if John Wayne bothered to check what she became before he cast his young daughter in her role?!

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Lisa (actually Angelina) (played by Aissa Wayne) on mule with her mother, Susanna Dickinson, leaving the Alamo at the end of the film. 

Next week: Let’s stay with the Wild West (sorry girls) and have a look at ‘Wild Bill’: Hollywood fact or fiction? – that will be Wild Bill Hickok (although his real name wasn’t Bill)


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

One of my new colleagues came into my local hostelry and ordered three pints of bitter and sat next to me.

I commented, “You know, a pint goes flat after awhile. It would taste better if you bought one at a time.”

He replied, “Well, you see, I have two brothers. One is in America, the other in Australia, and I’m here in the UK. When we all left home, we promised that we’d drink this way to remember the days we all drank together.”

I admitted that this was a jolly nice custom, and left it there.

He became a regular in the bar and always drank the same way – ordering three pints and drinking from each of them in turn.

One day, he came in and ordered only two pints, sat down and began to drink from each of them.  This caused me concern and I said, “I don’t want to intrude, but has one of your brothers died?”

He looked at me and laughed. “Oh, no,” he said, “Everything is fine with them. It’s me ….. I’ve quit drinking.”

Art Smth

Lawrence of Arabia: Hollywood fact or fiction?

NICOLE KIDMAN (well, that’s got the chaps’ attention) is about to appear in the starring role of a new film about Gertrude Bell called ‘Queen of the Desert’ (not to be confused with ‘Priscilla …’).

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Coming to your cinemas soon

Gertrude (certainly not Priscilla) was an archaeologist and heavily into the first World War Arab Revolt and in restoring Iraq to self-rule. A task the archaeologist, T.E. Lawrence, attempted to do after the First World War. In fact, Lawrence wanted all of Arabia restored to the Arabs – it had been taken over by the Turks (Ottoman Empire) some 500 years before.  In 1915 the British Government promised Sherif Hussein of Mecca an independent Arabian State if he revolted against the Turks and help win the war. However, the following year the British Government then entered into the secret, and rather presumptuous, Sykes-Picot Agreement with France, wherein Syria and part of Arabia would be divided up between the two once the Turks had been defeated. Nobody bothered to tell the Arabs about this.


Sykes-Picot map 1916 – blue  for France; pink for Great Britain (Area A = French influence; Area B (above red dotted line) = British influence)

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Gertrude Bell                                                                           Bell and T.E. Lawrence (Egypt 1921)

What’s Gertrude Bell got to do with Lawrence of Arabia I hear you mutter. Not much, other than I’ve been reading Bell’s biography, Daughter of the Desert, by Georgina Howell , who said that “Lawrence agonized, faltered, and final abandoned the Arab issue and tried to escape from his own tortured personality, to reappear in the nondescript persona of one Aircraftsman [sic] Shaw”. Rather harsh, and untrue.

‘Harsh’ because of what Lawrence had been through for around two years in Arabia (1916-18) and the frustrations he went through  leading up to and during the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 when Syria was split between Great Britain and France – and the Arabs got nothing. Certainly Bell was involved behind the scenes in the Arab Revolt but she hadn’t been physically battling the Turks in the desert for two years. And it certainly wasn’t Lawrence’s fault that the French kicked Feisal out of Damascus in 1920 as a result of the Paris conference and the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Feisal, the son of Sherif Hussein, had led the Arab revolt with Lawrence on the understanding he would be given Damascus (and title King of Syria – which he took, very briefly, before the French intervention).


Feisal (forefront) (played by Alec Guinness in the film) and his  party at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 (Lawrence third from the right)

 ‘Untrue’ because Lawrence did, indeed, carry on after the 1919 failure. He worked (reluctantly after Paris) with Winston Churchill (then British Colonial Secretary) on the Middle East problem which culminated in the Cairo Conference in 1921 when it was agreed that Feisal should be made the first King of Iraq (Turkish Mesopotamia). Both Lawrence and Bell were part of that Conference and I came across one article that reads: “Thirty-nine British men and one British woman, Gertrude Bell, attended the conference in Cairo, but none – probably including Churchill – had more influence upon its outcome than T.E. Lawrence.”

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A rather innocuous Lt. Col. Lawrence in Cairo

Added to that, Michael Korda (Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, 2010) said, “If anything, [Lawrence] underplayed the importance of his role in the war and as Churchill’s adviser on Middle Eastern affairs after the peace.”


Cairo Conference 1921 (Bell  – the only woman –  1st row standing, second on the left; Churchill, sitting in the middle, hat on knee; Lawrence, in suit, 1st row standing, just behind Churchill to the right)


On camels in Cairo in 1921 – Churchill (2nd from left – obvious really!), Bell and Lawrence next two in line

So, to some extent Lawrence had achieved some of his purpose but he was still pretty disillusioned about the powers that be. By now he was  a Lieutenant Colonel but decided to leave the army and was given a Research Fellowship at All Souls, Oxford, to begin writing about the Arabian revolt. It was around this time that he probably had a bit of a breakdown desperately looking for obscurity. He told the writer and poet, Robert Graves, that he hoped being “ordinary in a mob of likes” would cure his mental exhaustion. He didn’t want any more responsibility (but he needed an income), so, in August 1922, to the ranks of the relatively newly formed (April 1918) RAF he went as Aircraftman John Hume Ross [1].  However, in February 1923, he was forced, after his true identity had been discovered by the press, to change his name again to T.E. Shaw and transfer to the Tank Corps. He was later, in August 1925, able to transfer back to the RAF and became a great influence in speed boat design (for rescuing aircrew ‘downed’ in the sea). He left the service at the end of his enlistment in March 1935, only to die following an accident on his motor bike in May 1935 (although, of course, there are some conspiracy theories about that).


Aircraftman T.E. Shaw (aka T.E. Lawrence) on his Brough Superior motorcycle (1927) – he was later killed on a similar bike

What’s this got to with the film, I hear you mutter. Okay, the film: I’ve also been reading Lawrence’s autobiography in Arabia, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom and it does bear some resemblance to the 1962 film. Although, T.E. Lawrence’s brother, Professor Arnold Lawrence (also an archaeologist), said he didn’t recognise his brother when he saw the film! To be fair that may have something to do with Pete O’Toole’s performance – outstanding as it was, I don’t think it much resembled Lawrence. Let’s see what Robert Pattinson (who?) does to the character in the new Gertrude Bell film. You might also want to check out Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of Lawrence (slightly less maniacal than O’Toole’s)  in ‘A Dangerous Man: Lawrence after Arabia’ made in 1990 on the Paris Peace Conference (and meet Gertrude Bell).


          next installment: Paris Peace Conference – intriguing film

Lawrence was clearly losing it towards the end of the campaign and he was, to say the least, eccentric. But he had to be – he was, as Bell observed, “exceedingly intelligent”.  He had achieved a First Class Honours degree  in History at Jesus College , Oxford; began a postgrad degree at Magdalen College, Oxford, but gave it up to go to the Middle East;  finally, as mentioned above, he took up as a Research Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. He translated Homer’s Odyssey from the Greek [2] and The Forest Giant from French – and, of course, he was an archaeologist (must be intelligent …. or eccentric). In fact, it was as an archaeologist that he went to the Middle East rather than finish at Magdalen – and worked with the likes of Flinders Petrie, David Hogarth and Leonard Woolley.


Lawrence (left) with Woolley excavating (well, not at that moment) at Carchemish, Syria, 1913

The reason Lawrence got the job at the Arab Bureau (part of Great Britain’s Foreign Office) in 1914 was because of his knowledge of both the Arabian language and the geography resulting from his archaeological work in the Middle East. In anticipation of the war, he had already been sent out, with Woolley, through the Palestine Exploration Fund, to survey the Negev Desert as it was a strategic point for any Ottoman/Turkish advance on Egypt. So he was also a spy!


Thomas Edward Lawrence – of Arabia … a spy!

Back to the film. It makes no mention of Gertrude Bell’s involvement in the plans of the Arab Revolt. Hollywood obviously decided to wait on that one …… for another fifty-two years! However, it got the idea across regarding Lawrence’s activities and made him famous again. I say ‘again’ because he had already been made famous because of the American journalist, Lowell Thomas, who travelled UK and USA telling of his (Lawrence’s not Thomas’) courageous antics in Arabia.  But that was between 1919-1924 – long before any of your time so you would have missed that bit. Hollywood represented Thomas as a chap called Jackson Bentley (don’t ask) who followed Lawrence throughout most of the film. In fact, Thomas only met Lawrence briefly in 1918 – but made the most of it afterwards.


Lawrence (left) with Lowell Thomas in 1918

The film did suggest that Lawrence was not initially aware of the Sykes-Picot Agreement when he persuaded the Arabs to revolt which was not true. Lawrence knew right from the very start and had a guilty conscience about it all the way through the revolt. It was one of the reasons he refused a knighthood in October 1918 – he was so disgusted with his government’s intended treatment of the Arabs with false promises (well, who isn’t disgusted with the government some of the time …. most of the time …. but no reason to be silly about it).


Lawrence posing for Thomas in his famous white robes and his golden dagger made for him in Mecca (only a matter of time, Hollywood)

The film shows a very dramatic charge on Aqaba (Akaba). In fact, the actual battle took place several miles inland at Abu al Lasan, which controlled entry into Aqaba, which, itself, was taken without any trouble. The initial charge on Abu al Lasan was led by the magnificent Auda ibu Tayi. According to his official biographer, Jeremy Wilson, Lawrence missed it all because, in the excitement, he accidentally shot his camel in the head and was thrown to the ground. Careless or what?! Strangely, he didn’t mention this incident in his Pillars of Wisdom book – must have forgotten due to the bump on his head.


Hand-coloured photo of the real Audi ibu Tayi (played by Anthony Quinn in the film)

One of my favourite scenes in the film is when, after Aqaba, Lawrence drags his companion, Daud, into the British HQ and to the bar and orders two large glasses of lemonade to the horror of the barman and all the officers present (click here). Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. In the first place, Lawrence was with eight Arabs on the journey to report on Aqaba (not just Daud) and at the Suez he sent all of them to Kubri. Alone, in a hotel at the Suez he did get a cold drink (six in fact).When he did, finally, meet General Allenby in Cairo, he was, indeed, still in his Arab attire – but only because his replacement British uniform hadn’t arrived in time for the meeting.


General Allenby (played by Jack Hawkins in the film) 

Also in the film, the guy, Gasim, Lawrence rescued in the desert was not the same guy he executed for shooting a fellow Arab – that was a chap called Hamed – but who cares, I’m just nit-picking. But let’s carry on anyway. His two young companions, Daud and Farras, did exist but were not killed in the way depicted in the film. Daud died of illness, not in quicksand (but mere illness was not dramatic enough for Hollywood), and Farras …. well, okay, he was shot by Lawrence to prevent him being captured and tortured by the Turks, but he had not been wounded by blowing himself up with a detonator, he had charged a group of Turks guarding a bridge and was shot off his horse. I suppose, either way, he was a bit dumb.


Peter O’Toole as  a maniacal Lawrence of Arabia

Film trivia: the actor who played Farras, Michel Ray, gave up acting to attend Harvard and became a billionaire businessman – oh, and he married, Charlene de Carvalho , the Heineken heiress. Who needs Hollywood?!  New boy, O’Toole, wasn’t the first choice to play Lawrence, it was Marlon Brando but he didn’t want to spend months up to his whatever in sand. There was another new boy on the set called Omar Sharif who I understand did quite well afterwards. More on the film’s trivia, click here

rolls royce

Lawrence in his Rolls Royce 40/50 Silver Cloud – sometimes he travelled in style – in Damascus, 1918

Back to archaeology (and Rolls Royces), John Winterburn, an archaeologist at Bristol University, recently noticed a photo of Lawrence and his Rolls Royce armoured car at a camp in Arabia (pic below) in the National Archives and went in search of the landscape pictured. He eventually found the site and various artefacts. Click here for more details.


Lawrence in camp with his armoured Rolls Royce – and rather conspicuous scenery noted by Winterburn


[1] When Lawrence changed his name to Ross and applied to the RAF, the recruiting officer did not believe him and was convinced he was lying and so sent him away. After awhile, Lawrence, or Ross, came back to the same recruiting officer with an order that he be enlisted with no questions asked (one assumes from someone high up at the Air Ministry)! The recruiting officer obviously realised that this wannabe aircraftman had important contacts, asked no more questions and enlisted him. (Well, he had to pass a medical which caused more complications but we won’t go there). Anyway, the recruiting officer was W.E. Johns, the writer of the ‘Biggles’ tales.


[2] It was as T.E. Shaw that he translated Homer’s Odyssey. Reprints after his death were in Lawrence’s name for obvious reasons – they’d sell better because hardly anyone knew who the heck T.E. Shaw was! Ironically, those editions in Shaw’s sole name are now worth more money.



If you are not too keen on the French, you’ll like them even less after this: they were indirectly to blame for all the horrendous casualties at Gallipoli. Lawrence, amongst others, suggested landing the allied troops at Alexandretta, in Syria, which would have been a much safer place. But, if you have been paying attention, you will remember that the very arrogant Sykes-Picon Agreement gave Syria to the French if we won the war. The French did not want  British troops in Syria as a result and vetoed the landings there. The Britsh had to look elsewhere and Churchill (then the First Sea Lord) fatally chose Gallipoli (see Scott Anderson interview on this).



One of Lawrence’s Arabian robes can be seen at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.


Circa 1916


The motorbike on which Lawrence was killed was the Brough Superior SS100s. One came up for auction in London the other day and sold for £315,100. It is the most expensive bike ever sold at auction.

brough21929 Brough Superior  sold at auction


A few of blogs ago (‘Tombs of Mycenae’ – July 12) I gave you two examples of snakes appearing in archaeology. Well, I have a ‘thing’ about snakes – I have a shuddering horror of them!  In Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom he refers to an incident at Sirhan:

“… the valley seemed creeping with horned vipers and puff-adders, cobras, and black snakes. By night movement was dangerous: and at last we found it necessary to walk with sticks, beating the bushes each side we stepped warily through on bare feet.  A strange thing was the snakes’ habit, at night, of lying beside us, probably for warmth, under or on the blanket. When we learned this our rising was with infinite care, and the first up would search round his fellows with a stick he could pronounce them unencumbered.”


wakey, wakey!

Agggggh  .. who would be ‘the first up’?? And what about turning in your sleep? I think I would lie motionless …… and awake ….. all night.

And talking of snakes: When visiting Troy a few years ago, I remember ascending Kesik Tepe, aka the ‘Tomb of Achilles’ [1], with Sarah and a colleague, funnily enough, named Laurance. I went ahead with a stick in case of snakes [2]. No problem on reaching the top. On our descent by a slightly different route, again I went ahead with the ‘snake’ stick. All of a sudden  Sarah, who was behind me, slipped and tumbled down all the way to the bottom – on her bottom – leaving a flatten path. I turned to Laurance and said, “well, we don’t need the stick anymore!”

achilles vtmb

The Tomb of Achilles – new game: ‘snakes and bottoms’

Postscript 4 Footnotes:

[1] It’s been dated to the Hellenistic period (post 323 BC) so cannot be the ‘Tomb of Achilles’! Although it has to be a little earlier than Hellenistic if, as alleged, the Persian king, Xerxes, visited it in 480 BC and Alexander the Great visited it (he died in 323 BC).

[2] In Bettany Hughes’ book, Helen of Troy (2006, p.176) she visits this mound and says, “Braving vipers and brambles I scrambled to the top …”.


Next week: Staying on the Hollywood fact of fiction theme, let’s go look at ‘The Alamo’


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

My esteemed colleague, Professor Bradley Wunderghast, had been terribly overweight but when I saw him after a leave of absence he had lost several stone. I asked him how he had achieved such success.

“Well,” he said, “my doctor told me he wanted me to eat regularly for 2 days, then skip a day, and repeat this procedure for two weeks and I would notice a marked difference. He was right but I nearly dropped dead in the first week.

“From hunger?” I asked

“No,” he replied, “from the skipping”

Art Smth