News & Current Affairs

August 26, 2008

Huge statue of Roman ruler found

Huge statue of Roman ruler found


Marcus Aurelius ruled over the empire for 19 years

Parts of a giant, exquisitely carved marble sculpture depicting the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius have been found at an archaeological site in Turkey.

Fragments of the statue were unearthed at the ancient city of Sagalassos.

So far the statue’s head, right arm and lower legs have been discovered, high in the mountains of southern Turkey.

Marcus Aurelius was portrayed by Richard Harris in the Oscar-winning 2000 film Gladiator and was one of the so-called “Five Good Emperors”.

He reigned from 161AD until his death in 180AD.

In addition to his deeds as emperor, Marcus Aurelius is remembered for his writings, and is considered one of the foremost Stoic philosophers.

The partial statue was unearthed in the largest room at Sagalassos’s Roman baths.

The cross-shaped room measures 1,250 sq m (13,500 sq ft), is covered in mosaics and was probably used as a frigidarium – a room with a cold pool which Romans could sink into after a hot bath.

It was partially destroyed in an earthquake between 540AD and 620AD, filling the room with rubble. Archaeologists have been excavating the frigidarium for the past 12 years.

The dig is part of wider excavations at the ruined city, which was once an important regional center.

Imperial gallery

Last year, the team led by Prof Marc Waelkens, from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, uncovered fragments of a colossal marble statue of the emperor Hadrian in the rubble.

This month, the researchers found a huge head and arm belonging to Faustina the Elder – wife of the emperor Antoninus Pius.

Archaeologists now think the room hosted a gallery of sculptures depicting the “Antonine dynasty” – rulers of Spanish origin who presided over the Roman Empire during the second century AD.

Foot of Marcus Aurelius statue (Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project)

The emperor wore army boots decorated with lion skins

Early on 20 August, a huge pair of marble lower legs, broken just above the knee, turned up in the debris.

They also found a 1.5m-long (5ft-long) right arm and hand holding a globe which was probably once crowned by a gilded bronze “Victory” figure.

But it was the giant marble head which identified this statue as the young Marcus Aurelius. The colossal head, which is just under 1m (3ft) in height, is said to bear his characteristic bulging eyes and beard.

Prof Waelkens said the pupils were gazing upwards “as if in deep contemplation, perfectly fitting of an emperor who was more of a philosopher than a soldier”.

He added that this was one of the finest depictions of the Roman ruler.

The emperor wore exquisitely carved army boots decorated with a lion skin, tendrils and Amazon shields.

The torso was probably covered in bronze Armour filled inside with terracotta or wood. When the niche’s vault collapsed in the earthquake, the torso would have exploded.

Bath complex

The statue of Hadrian was found lying halfway down in the frigidarium‘s rubble.

This initially led archaeologists to think it had been hauled in there from another part of the huge bath complex, perhaps to remove its gilded bronze armour, or to burn the huge marble pieces to make cement in a nearby lime kiln.

However, they now think sculptures of Hadrian, his wife Vibia Sabina, another Roman emperor Antoninus Pius, his wife Faustina the Elder, and Marcus Aurelius all once adorned niches situated around the room.

There were three large niches on both the western and eastern sides. The fragments of Hadrian’s statue were found near the south-west niche.

The front parts of two female feet were discovered in the opposite niche, on the room’s south-eastern side.

Arm and hand of Marcus Aurelius (Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project)

The remains of a globe can still be seen, cupped in the right hand

The archaeologists now think these belonged to a colossal figure of Vibia Sabina, who was forced into marriage with the homosexual Hadrian at the age of 14.

Remains of the statue depicting Faustina the Elder were found further along, on the eastern side.

In the opposite niche, they found the front parts of a pair of male feet in sandals, which could belong to her husband, Antoninus Pius – who succeeded Hadrian as emperor.

The experts suggest Antonine emperors occupied niches on the western side of the room, while their spouses stood opposite, on the east side.

Five good emperors

After the discovery of Faustina and her male counterpart, the archaeologists guessed the north-western niche would contain a colossal statue of Marcus Aurelius – the longest-surviving successor of Antoninus Pius.

The discovery on Wednesday confirmed this prediction, and suggests the north-eastern niche may contain remains of a statue depicting Faustina the Younger, Marcus Aurelius’s wife.

Archaeologists will get the opportunity to excavate this part of the room next year.

Lower legs of Marcus Aurelius statue (Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project)

The statue of Marcus Aurelius stood in the north-western niche

Despite his philosophical leanings, Marcus Aurelius had to spend much of his reign fighting Germanic tribes along the Austrian Danube where, inĀ  180AD, he died in nearby Carnuntum.

The part of Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator was one of Richard Harri’s last roles (the actor died in 2002). Although much of the storyline is fictional, it is set against an historical backdrop of the imperial succession from Marcus Aurelius to his son Commodus.

While Marcus Aurelius is considered, along with Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, as one of Rome’s Five Good Emperors, Commodus’s reign was marked by internal strife, cruelty and conspiracies.

Commodus took part, naked, in gladiatorial battles – which he always won. Opponents, whose lives were apparently spared, would eventually submit to the emperor.

He was murdered in 192AD – not by a general called Maximus, but by an athlete named Narcissus, sent by conspirators to strangle the megalomaniac emperor in his bath.

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August 15, 2008

Sixth gold for unstoppable Phelps

Sixth gold for unstoppable Phelps

Swimming superstar Michael Phelps won his sixth gold medal of the Beijing Games, breaking his own world record in the 200m individual medley.

The American won in a time of 1min 54.23secs, shaving 0.57secs off his previous best set in July and setting his sixth world record of the Games.

Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh took silver and Ryan Lochte of the US won bronze.

Phelps, who is chasing an unprecedented eight gold medals in Beijing, now has 12 career Olympic golds to his name.

He led from the start of the race and finished strongly on his favoured freestyle leg, 2.29secs ahead of Cseh in second.

Lochte held on for third despite having raced just half an hour earlier, when he broke the world record to take the men’s 200m backstroke title.

Phelps, 23, the dominant story of the Beijing Olympics, has now won the 400m medley, 200m freestyle, 200m butterfly, 4x100m free relay, 4x200m free relay and now the 200m medley, all in world record time.

But he showed little reaction apart from a quick shake of his fist after his latest victory.

He is now closing in on Mark Spitz’s 1972 record of seven golds at a single Games.

Moments after receiving his medal for winning the 200m medley Phelps returned to the pool for the semi-final of the 100m fly, winning in a time of 50.97secs.

“I switched from my dress sweats to my parka, shoes, threw my cap and goggles on and then they pushed us on out. No time,” he said.

“The medal was in my warm-up jacket.”

He added: “There wasn’t much time but I think there’s going to be a lot of time for me to rest over the next 18 hours or so, and I’ll be able to be ready for tomorrow morning’s 100.”

His main rivals in that final will be Milorad Cavic of Croatia and US team-mate and world record holder, Ian Crocker.

“It’s definitely a tough race,” said Phelps.

“With (Cavic) and Ian having a great semi-final, it’s going to be a good race tomorrow.

“I’m going to do everything I can to be a little bit closer in the first 50 and hopefully if I’m there at the 50, I’ll be there at the finish.”

Assuming the US qualify, Phelps will then race in the 4x100m medley relay final on Sunday.

Two more athletes fail dope tests

Two more athletes fail dope tests

Kim Jong Su

Kim Jong Su was stripped of a silver and a bronze medal

A North Korean shooting medalist and a Vietnamese gymnast have been kicked out of the Olympic Games after testing positive for banned substances.

Shooter Kim Jong Su was stripped of his silver medal in the 50m pistol and bronze in the 10m air pistol, the International Olympic Committee said.

Gymnast Thi Ngan Thuong Do finished in 82nd in the women’s floor exercises.

The incidents follow the expulsion on Monday of Spanish cyclist Maria Isabel Moreno, who tested positive for EPO.

August 14, 2008

Federer hit by shock Olympic loss

Federer hit by shock Olympic loss

Roger Federer’s disappointing season continued as his hopes of winning Olympic gold in the men’s singles were ended by an inspired James Blake.

Blake had not beaten the top seed in eight previous attempts but won their quarter-final 6-4 7-6 and will play Fernando Gonzalez in the semi-finals.

Second seed Rafael Nadal will play Novak Djokovic in the other semi-final.

Spaniard Nadal beat Jurgen Melzer 6-0 6-4 and Djokovic, from Serbia, defeated Gael Monfils 4-6 6-1 6-4.

In the other quarter-final 12th seed Gonzalez, who is from Chile and claimed the bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics, cruised past Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-4 6-4.

I know I can beat the best in the world on my day and I proved it
Federer’s conqueror James Blake

Federer, who will lose his world number one ranking to Nadal on Monday, made a number of unforced errors and will need a dramatic reversal in fortunes if he is to successfully defend his US Open title later this month.

“It’s a big disappointment obviously. The Olympics was one of the goals of the season for me. So obviously the quarter-finals is not going to do it,” he said.

“But I’ve still got to look forward to the US Open. I still have that and then the Masters Cup in Shanghai to really do well now and try and save my season.

“I think James played well. I can only really say how well he played. I’ve played him on many occasions, but I think this was the best I’ve seen him.

“I’m happy for him. I hope he can go all the way now.”

Blake, the world number seven, had won only one set in his previous matches against Federer, but he unnerved the five-time Wimbledon champion with a near faultless service game and an aggressive forehand.

“I always believed in myself,” said Blake. “I’d lost to him eight, nine, 10, 50 times, I don’t know how many, but I had the feeling it could be my day.

“He didn’t play a good first game and that put me up straight away. I played loose and free and I always fancy my chances on the 5-4 game.

“I know I can beat the best in the world on my day and I proved it.”

The 28-year-old broke Federer when the Swiss was serving to stay in the first set and then broke again early in the second to take a 3-0 lead.

Federer, who was struggling with his serve and forehand, broke back in the fifth game to take the set to a tie-break only for Blake to win it after racing into a 4-1 lead.

Federer was due to play in the doubles quarter-finals with Stanislas Wawrinka later on Thursday against the Indian pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi but the match was postponed because of rain.

August 12, 2008

Third gold for unstoppable Phelps

Third gold for unstoppable Phelps

Michael Phelps stormed to victory in the men’s 200m freestyle swimming, claiming his third gold medal and third world record of the Beijing Olympics.

Phelps, 23, finished nearly two seconds ahead of South Korea’s Park Tae-hwan in a time of one minute 42.96 seconds.

The American owned the previous record of 1:43.86 and now has a joint-record nine Olympics career golds.

Phelps’s compatriot Peter Vanderkaay took bronze, while Britain’s Robbie Renwick finished eighth.

“I just wanted to be out on my own which I had done by the 100 metres mark, that was my goal,” said Phelps, who led from start to finish.

“I was out in open water and I was in the middle, which makes it difficult for the other guys to see me.

“I knew Park would have a strong last 50 metres, so I had to keep my focus and concentration.”

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Phelps has already triumphed in the 400m individual medley and 4x100m freestyle relay and looks to be improving with each race.

The 200m freestyle has a medal which eluded him in Athens when he was a bronze medalist behind Australian Ian Thorpe.

“Phelps swam so fast,” said silver medalist Park. “It is my honor to compete with him.”

Phelps’s ninth career Olympic gold draws him level with Mark Spitz Carl Lewis, Paavo Nurmi and Larysa Latynina and keeps him on course to beat Spitz’s 36-year-old record of seven golds in a single Games.

Racing out of lane six, Phelps quickly surged into the lead and led by a full body length halfway through the second of four lengths.

Phelps will race for his fourth medal on Wednesday in the 200m butterfly, yet another event in which he holds the world record.

He advanced to the final as the fastest qualifier just moments after receiving his 200m freestyle gold medal.

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