Black Panther Is Coming to the Smithsonian African American Museum

Earlier this year, the Smithsonian African American Museum of History and Culture screened the superhero movie Black Panther as part of their programming.

Smithsonian African American Museum Black Panther Hero Suit

Now the museum has plans to incorporate the movie into their collections in a larger way:

“The museum acquired several objects from Disney’s record-breaking film Black Panther, including the hero costume worn by actor Chadwick Boseman; a shooting script signed by Ryan Coogler (co-writer; director), Kevin Feige (producer, president of Marvel Studios), Nate Moore (executive producer) and Joe Robert Cole (co-writer; producer); two pages of spec script; and 24 high-resolution production photographs. Plans for display of the objects are under consideration by the museum.” […]

Black Panther is the first superhero of African descent to appear in mainstream American comics, and the film itself is the first major cinematic production based on the character. Black Panther illustrates the progression of blacks in film, an industry that in the past has overlooked blacks, or regulated them to flat, one-dimensional and marginalized figures. The film, like the museum, provides a fuller story of black culture and identity.”

Interesting! “Plans for display … are under consideration” definitely sounds like museum speak for planning a permanent exhibit. 🙂 In the meanwhile, the collection spotlight blog post, “Wakanda to Smithsonian”, includes a few images of the Black Panther hero costume (armor) on the premises.

Found via File 770.

Image by The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

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Ant-Man and the Wasp Trailers

Ant-Man and the Wasp opens July 06, 2018—in about ten days! I didn’t know anything about Ant-Man going into the first movie, and I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. Just on the basis of that, I have high hopes for AM&tW.

This French poster certainly rocks:

IMDB Ant-Man and the Wasp French Poster

Here’s the trailer from January:

Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man and the Wasp – Official Trailer #1 by Marvel Entertainment

And one from the beginning of May:

Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man and The Wasp – Official Trailer by Marvel Entertainment

Basically the new one is the same as the January trailer except with more info. Still looks like great fun, though.

As for favorite side characters, Michael Peña returns as Luis, Judy Greer as Maggie Lang, and Abby Ryder Fortson as Cassie Lang—it’ll be great to see them all. Laurence Fishburne makes a first-time appearance as Dr. Bill Foster / Goliath. I didn’t realize that Michelle Pfeiffer is in the movie, too—cool cool cool. Hannah John-Kamen I haven’t seen before even though she’s been in Ready Player One and Game of Thrones; at least I don’t remember spotting her as a First Order officer in The Force Awakens.

Also, I just want to officially say that the GINORMOUS HELLO KITTY PEZ DISPENSER IS SO AWESOME! 🙂 😀

Image: Ant-Man and the Wasp poster via IMDB

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

Equal Pay for Persian Women

A cache of administrative documents from the ancient Persian empire reveals an intriguing facet of Persian economic life: female workers were often paid the same amount as their male counterparts. Some women were even paid more than men.

Unlike most pre-modern societies, Persians did not practice slavery. Basic agricultural and craft labor was instead done by workers who were paid in rations of grain, wine, beer, and livestock, either for their own consumption or to barter for other goods. Ensuring that everyone got properly paid was the work of administrators who documented the distribution of these commodities from royal and aristocratic estates to the workers who supported the elite. The documents created by these administrators were not intended for posterity, but some survived by chance when Alexander the Great’s army destroyed the palace at Persepolis. The collapse of part of the building protected the archive it contained of about fifty years’ worth of documents. Excavations in the 1930s recovered documents like these two below.

An arashshara was a female supervisor managing a group of pashap, who were workers of some kind. The exact meaning of the term pashap is unclear, but it seems to have applied to agricultural and craft laborers who were supported with monthly distributions of food and supplies. The different levels of rations assigned to groups of workers in these texts probably reflect different ages and levels of responsibility.

1 arashshara of the pashap subsisting on rations at Umpuranush, whose apportionments are set by Irshena, received as rations 30 quarts of wine supplied by Irtuppoya. Month 2, year 22.

– Persepolis Foundation Text 876

(Translations from Maria Brosius, The Persian Empire from Cyrus II to Artaxerxes I. London Association of Classical Teachers Original Records 16, London: 2000. Slightly adapted for clarity)

30 quarts of wine for a month was typical for local supervisors like this one. It was a generous, if not luxurious, standard of pay.

Pashap at Liduma, assigned by Irshena, subsisting on rations, received as rations for one month: 2,615 quarts of grain supplied by Irtuppiya

  • 16 men (each receive) 30 quarts
  • 7 boys 20
  • 5 boys 15
  • 6 boys 10
  • 1 woman 50
  • 34 women 40
  • 1 woman 20
  • 2 girls 20
  • 2 girls 15
  • 9 girls 10

Total: 92 workers.

– Persepolis Foundation Text 847

 

It is worth noting how many women in the second text were paid as much or more than their male colleagues, and also that the highest paid worker on the list was a woman (probably the arashshara of the workers at Liduma). If we break down the numbers, there are a total of 34 male workers being paid an average of just over 22 quarts of grain a month, while 49 female workers were paid an average of more than 32 quarts.

Other tablets show that this distribution of pay was not universal, but neither was it atypical. Not every woman in Persia was paid as much as a man for her work, but many of them were, and those who were placed in positions of responsibility received pay to match.

If the ancient Persians could do it, what’s stopping us from doing the same today?

History for Writers is a weekly feature which looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.

Rating: Doctor Who, Season 8

We have carried on our rewatching and rating to season 8 of the modern Doctor Who. Here’s our take:

  1. “Deep Breath” – 5.5
  2. “Into the Dalek” – 5
  3. “Robot of Sherwood” – 2
  4. “Listen” – 1.5
  5. “Time Heist” – 5
  6. “The Caretaker” – 3
  7. “Kill the Moon” – 6
  8. “Mummy on the Orient Express” – 6.5
  9. “Flatline” – 5.5
  10. “In the Forest of the Night” – 5
  11. “Dark Water” – 1.5
  12. “Death in Heaven” – 1.5

The average rating this season comes out to exactly 4, which is weak but not terrible. This comes in as the second-lowest-rated season after season 5, at 3.7. This season’s episodes are all over the place, which for Doctor Who is not a bad thing. Not all of the episodes work, but we appreciate the willingness to try out strange ideas, unexpected settings, and dramatically different moods.

This season also introduces Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, and it’s a bit of a shaky start. Capaldi’s intensity is a nice change from Matt Smith’s quirky detachment, but too often it manifests as anger. As that anger often gets focused on Clara, we have the uncomfortable dynamic of a young woman saddled with the emotional labor of managing a cranky older man’s moods, and one begins to wonder if someone in the production team is having a bit of a temper tantrum about changing gender dynamics in the workplace. Still, straight out of the gate, Capaldi is more convincing as the Doctor than Smith ever was.

Three episodes are tied for our lowest rating of the season, at 1.5. The first is “Listen,” an ambitiously strange episode that tries to recapture the atmospheric spookiness of the classic “Blink,” but falls flat. The Doctor is looking for a creature so good at hiding that no one has ever seen it. This intriguing setup leads to a disjointed series of maybe / maybe-not monster hunts that for some reason revolve around Clara’s fellow teacher and potential boyfriend Danny Pink. Despite some well-written and tensely-directed individual scenes, the episode remains too unfocused and too committed to the is-it-or-isn’t-it schtick to develop any meaningful narrative drive or reach any satisfying conclusion. The pieces of the puzzle lie scattered on the floor, refusing to come together and make a picture.

The other two 1.5s are the obligatory concluding two-parter “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven,” in which the latest regeneration of the Doctor’s old nemesis, the Master—now female and going by Missy—reveals that she has been hijacking dead people to make liquid cybermen out of their bodies so that she can make the Doctor uncomfortable by… you know, nothing about the plot of these episodes makes any sense, or, really, matters. Michelle Gomez has a blast chewing the scenery as Missy (and provides a valuable canonical precedent for Time Folks gender-flipping during regeneration), but as usual in this series, the Master’s overly contrived plans just come off as a juvenile play for attention. As tends to happen on Doctor Who, putting the whole world in peril actually serves to lower the stakes, rather than raise them, and this season’s ender comes off as more petty than anything else.

At the other end of the scale, “Mummy on the Orient Express” is the best episode of the season, at 6.5. In this episode, a version of the Orient Express train flying through space is plagued by the appearance of a legendary monster only visible to its victims. On one hand, this episode would have benefited from some more development. Unlike on the replica Titanic of “The Voyage of the Damned,” we never get any kind of explanation as to why a space train in the future is a replica of the Orient Express with all the guests wearing period clothing. The guest cast, though excellent, is underused, and the ending leaves a huge plot thread conspicuously dangling. On the other hand, there are a lot of strong elements. The mystery is intriguing and its resolution neatly ties up the clues. The pacing runs along smoothly, and the device of an on-screen timer counting down the mummy’s attack is cleverly used to build tension. For mystery fans, there is also a subtle nod to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, as what seems like a train full of strangers turns out to have been assembled for a very particular purpose.

What’s your take on this season? Does Capaldi do it for you? Is “Listen” just your cup of tea? Not enthused by the mummy on the space train? Let us know!

Image: Doctor Who season 8 cover via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Happy, WoW-y Midsummer!

Juhannus is the Finnish celebration of midsummer. People usually go to a summer cottage, burn bonfires, sauna bathe, and enjoy fresh food.

Or… in our case, this year, stay in town and play! I’ve just started cleaning up my quest lists and churning out the last Legion achievements etc. in earnest before Battle for Azeroth launches in August.

3-Laptop Evening

I could even have a juhannus sauna in game. I’m pretty sure one of the Pinchwhistle Point huts in Spires of Arak is a sauna:

WoW Arak Pinchwhistle Point Sauna

Tile floor, wooden benches, a large wood pail, and a stove for heating and making steam—sounds like a sauna to me!

Happy Midsummer! Hyvää juhannusta!

Images: 3-laptop evening by Eppu Jensen. Screencap from the MMORPG World of Warcraft, Warlords of Draenor expansion.

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Stitches, Harrison Jones, and a Theory of World of Warcraft Nostalgia

One of the big recent developments in World of Warcraft is Blizzard’s announced plans to create Classic servers on which players can play “Vanilla” World of Warcraft, that is, the original game as released in 2004. It is something that a fair amount of people want, as demonstrated by the fact that people have been playing homemade versions on pirate servers for years. I first started playing WoW in 2006, shortly before the release of the first expansion. Although I’m not much interested in playing on a Classic server myself, I do feel some nostalgia for the original game as I first experienced it. I’ve been thinking lately about that nostalgia and what it is that makes me remember those early experiences with such fondness.

The Way We Were

Part of my nostalgia for early WoW is separate from the game. I started playing during my last few years of grad school, when I was writing my dissertation. WoW offered a break from the long daily slog of research and writing. I also have fond memories of the tv shows I watched then, the meals that Eppu and I shared, the podcasts I listened to on the commute to and from my adjunct teaching job in the next state over, and other things that distracted me from the work. Also, fairly soon after starting to play, I joined up with a guild (a collection of players who shared an in-game chat channel and played some of the game’s harder content together), and some of my good memories are not so much of the game as of the friends I made through it.

But there is also something about the game itself that stays in my mind. I am nostalgic not just for who I was when I first played WoW but for what WoW was when I first played it, and I’ve been trying to pin down just what it was about the game that made it feel so different from the other games I played then and have played since. The conclusion I’ve come to is: the ideas were good, but the execution was flawed.

2004 was a different time, in gaming terms. While massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) had existed before, in titles like Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot, the MMORPG genre was still relatively new and unfamiliar to most gamers. The Blizzard team that created WoW didn’t have much to go on in figuring out what an MMORPG should be like. Playing through that original game, you can tell that they weren’t working toward a polished vision but were doing their best to translate experiences drawn from single-player games, pen-and-paper role-playing, novels and comic books to a multi-player online format.

Into the Woods

The game world is divided into numerous regions, called zones, each of which has its own map, terrain, and set of quests for characters to complete. Most zones also have their own theme, aesthetic, and background story. One of the zones that my first character encountered early on was Duskwood.

The way is clear, the light is good, I have no fear, no, no one should…

Duskwood was a creepy, dark forest, halfway between fairy tale and Gothic novel. One lone human village, Darkshire, held out against a menacing forest full of werewolves and a decrepit graveyard that spawned undead monsters. The road to Darkshire was a long, lonely path through the woods. Now and then, on either side, your character might see a distant lantern winking in the darkness, but wolves and giant spiders prowling the forest edge encouraged you to stay on the path. Once you got to Darkshire and started doing quests, you began to discover the horrors of the place bit by bit. One long series of quests took you back and forth between the village and the graveyard, doing favors for a crazy old man who lived out there, but if you paid attention to what he was asking you to do it gradually became clear that he had sinister intentions. At the climax of the zone, the old man unleashed Stitches, a fleshy undead monstrosity that lumbered towards Darkshire to attack the town. In your culminating act of heroism before leaving for the next zone, you helped the townsfolk stop Stitches and defend Darkshire.

The aesthetics of the zone were amazing. Everything from the creepy music to the small points of warm light made by the Darkshire torches against the looming forest contributed to the overall feel of Gothic horror. I still remember the thrill of waiting for Stitches to shamble out of the darkness as the NPCs (non-player characters) in the zone called out warnings from the road. The idea of the zone as a sort of Frankenstein by way of “Little Red Riding Hood” was brilliantly conceived.

The locals are restless

The execution, though, was full of flaws, missteps, and poor choices. From the perspective of modern MMORPG design, it is clear to see what Duskwood did wrong. A large part of the zone is taken up with the road into Darkshire, where nothing happens and there are no quests to do or monsters to fight. Once you’ve taken that first trip to town, it’s just wasted space. Another large chunk of the zone is taken up with a mountainous area where higher-level players could sometimes fight a dragon, but which players at the level of the Duskwood quests had nothing to do with. Numerous quests, including the long Stitches chain, sent players repeatedly back and forth from one end of the zone to the other, so that a large part of players’ time in the zone was spent just traveling. Now, there are two ways in which WoW characters can travel faster: by riding a mount, which increases your movement speed, or by taking a flying “taxi” service from one designated flight point to another. In WoW‘s original design, characters at the Duskwood level did not have access to mounts, and there was only one flight point in each zone (Duskwood’s was in Darkshire). That meant that an awful lot of time wasted just running back and forth rather than fighting monsters, completing quests, exploring new areas, talking to NPCs, or anything else more interesting.

The execution of the Stitches quest chain, the core of the Duskwood experience, was also shaky. Getting the full effect of the slowly creeping horror required paying attention to subtle cues from NPCs, something that was easy to ignore when focusing on collecting the right parts from the right monsters to complete the latest quest. If you didn’t know Stitches was coming, you might not realize to stick around in Darkshire and wait for its onslaught. With multiple players in the zone, the Stitches attack would be triggered whenever any player got to the right stage of the quest chain, even if there were other players still on earlier phases. The result was a regular stream of attacks that could get annoying: Stitches was notorious for slaughtering lower-level players on the road to Darkshire (death in the game is not the end for your character, but getting yourself resurrected and ready to get back to questing costs time and in-game money), and, while waiting for Stitches to arrive, some of the NPCs in Darkshire would go on alert and stop responding to characters who were trying to do quests for them.

Many other zones in Vanilla WoW were similar: there were fascinating aesthetic and narrative ideas and you can see what the design team was trying to create, but they didn’t always know how to execute their vision or realize how their design would play out in practical terms.

Goblins, Why Did It Have to Be Goblins…

In the decade-plus since its release, WoW‘s design team has learned an enormous amount as the wider gaming community has developed more collective experience with what works and what doesn’t in an MMORPG. The functional design of more recent zones is much more polished, but that practical experience hasn’t always been put to use in the service of equally good aesthetic and narrative ideas. One place where the ideas failed to live up to the execution is Uldum.

Meow like an Egyptian

Uldum was one of five zones introduced in the Cataclysm expansion, which came out in 2010. Uldum is a desert zone, a fantasy version of ancient Egypt inhabited by cat people. Compared with old Duskwood, Uldum was polished and smooth: quests were laid out to lead your character in a logical progression around the zone, other players’ actions did not interfere with yours, and crucial story transitions were carefully planned so that the world could change as your character progressed through the story. Half of the zone’s quests revolve around helping the cat people prepare for a civil war. The other half of the zone, though… Well… It’s different.

There’s a character in WoW called Harrison Jones. He’s an Indiana Jones parody. Harrison Jones had existed before Cataclysm but he was only used sparingly, in one-off joke quests. In Cataclysm, Harrison Jones took over. Half of Uldum was devoted to an extended parody of The Raiders of the Lost Ark, complete with a Hitleresque goblin antagonist who spoke with an outrageous fake German accent. The questline made extensive use of new technology that allowed the game to render cutscenes—where the game pauses and shows you a short movie—that included your own character in with the NPCs. The execution of this quest chain was flawless, even innovative, but it was still at heart just an over-long Indiana Jones gag.

The Harrison Jones story also thoroughly undercut your character. Rather be the hero of your own story, you became Harrison Jones’s bumbling sidekick. All of the important story moments were up to him, while you were just there to do the grunt work. This storytelling choice did more than make for a boring, aggravating questing experience; it crushed the suspension of disbelief on which the game relies. We play in order to lose ourselves in a fantasy world, to imagine ourselves as heroes whose actions make a difference. Harrison Jones aggressively stomped on that illusion by turning our heroes into unimportant side characters and the game world into one long, tedious joke. The polish of the execution only served to make the hollowness of the idea more obvious. In Duskwood, even though we weren’t any more in control of the story than in Uldum, at least we got to explore it and experience it on our own terms. In Uldum, we’re just along for the ride.

I did Nazi that coming

In Duskwood, as elsewhere in the Vanilla world, the ideas were good, even if the execution was flawed. As the mechanical design of the game has gotten better, we’ve experienced a different kind of flaw. When WoW goes wrong today, it’s less because bad execution gets in the way of a good idea than because good execution exposes a bad idea.

Sunsets and Car Crashes

The difference between Duskwood and Uldum, I think, helps explain why I have such nostalgia for Vanilla WoW. In Vanilla, we had to struggle through a lot of poor mechanical design, but the reward for that struggle was a narrative and aesthetic experience that was bold, creative, and expansive. The experience was a bit like scrambling up a rocky cliff face and seeing a gorgeous sunset from the top. The climb itself wasn’t always fun and we might not want to do it again, but the effort it took was part of the experience that made the sunset worth seeing. Uldum, by contrast, was like driving a brand new car straight into a tree.

In the years since Vanilla, the mechanics of the game have been improved in numerous ways. The experience of playing is now smoother, more reliable, and cleaner than ever. I’m happy with that. I don’t miss the old design’s flaws and missteps. Despite some serious mistakes, like Uldum, the aesthetic vision of the game has not, on the whole, gotten worse. Most of current WoW‘s zones combine smooth mechanical design with a polished, well-developed narrative and artistic sense.

My nostalgia for the original game is not because there is anything wrong with the current game. I wouldn’t trade the current play experience for Vanilla. But the maturing of WoW‘s mechanical design means we have fewer experiences of laboring against bad mechanics to see good ideas shine through. There was something rewarding about old WoW that really can’t be recovered.

Will I ever play on a Classic server? Who knows? Maybe. I might make a new character and putter around a little bit, visiting old quests and NPCs who aren’t around any more, reminiscing about what it was like the first time I walked down a certain road or killed a tough monster. But that’s the problem with nostalgia: you can’t discover something a second time. My nostalgia for Vanilla WoW is tied up with overcoming problems that I’ve now gotten used to not having to deal with at all. If I go back and play original Duskwood again, my experience won’t be about uncovering the secrets at the heart of the dark forest, it’ll be about cursing the designer who made me walk all the way from one end of the zone to the other again, just to be squished by someone else’s Stitches halfway there. I could only consider seriously playing on a Classic server if the improved mechanics of the modern game were brought into it, but that would defeat the purpose of a Classic server.

Still, there are clearly plenty of people who feel differently, enough of them that Blizzard is making servers just for them. I wonder what it is that appeals to those players. What are they nostalgic for that’s worth going back to? What makes playing through the clunky mechanics of the old game worthwhile from their perspective? If you’re one of them, please share. I’d love to hear about what draws you back to Vanilla.

Images: Screenshots from World of Warcraft

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Quotes: Comic Books Should Be in Every Library

Stan Lee, the creator of several superheroes, opines on libraries:

“A library should be a way for a child—for anybody—to get the sort of reading that he or she wants, and hopefully that will benefit them. Not all stories in comic books are great; some may seem silly or ridiculous or a waste of time. But the youngster has to be able to read the book. And for that reason, comic books should be in every library.”

– Stan Lee

Did he just describe comic books as a gateway drug? 🙂

From an interview with Stan Lee for the American Library Association by Mariam Pera, found in American Libraries May 2014, p. 16.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Indie Scifi-Western Prospect

I saw this a couple of months ago and meant to write about it then, but apparently stored *cough cough* the link somewhere really effectively and only now rediscovered it. Anyway:

A feature-length indie scifi-western Prospect, written and directed by Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell, premiered at the SXSW festival in March 2018.

An official teaser trailer is available on YouTube:

Prospect 2018 SXSW Teaser Trailer OFFICIAL by Prospect on YouTube

“A teenage girl and her father travel to a remote alien moon, aiming to strike it rich. They’ve secured a contract to harvest a large deposit of the elusive gems hidden in the depths of the moon’s toxic forest. But there are others roving the wilderness and the job quickly devolves into a fight to survive. Forced to contend not only with the forest’s other ruthless inhabitants, but with her own father’s greed-addled judgment, the girl finds she must carve her own path to escape.”

The movie stars Sophie Thatcher, Pedro Pascal (whom I’ve seen in Game of Thrones and Kingsman: The Golden Circle; he is also slated to appear in Wonder Woman 2), Jay Duplass, Andre Royo (appearances in Agent Carter, Elementary, and Fringe), Sheila Vand, and Anwan Glover (also visited in Elementary). The runtime is about 1 h 40 min.

About a month ago, in early May, Variety announced that Gunpowder & Sky (who bought worldwide rights to Prospect) will release the film theatrically in the U.S. later this year. It looks also to be available for streaming on SingularDTV at some point. Until then, according to the movie’s Facebook page, it looks like Prospect will be playing at select film festivals and/or independent theaters.

An article in Ars Technica says that

Prospect thrives more as a character-study due to the strength of its performances. In particular, Thatcher as Cee makes you feel each step of her transition from book-reading, punk- listening teen to cunning, hardened survivor […]”

Sounds intriguing—has anyone seen this yet? Thoughts?

Found via File 770.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

My Silliest WoW Pet Battle Pet Names

As a word nerd, I love puns. Nevertheless, I usually keep my RPG characters’ names pun-free if the setting or play style demand it, because I don’t want to ruin anyone’s enjoyment.

Likewise, in World of Warcraft, my hunters usually have appropriate names for their tameable companion pets. Since pet battling is so much more meta than anything else, I do go all out naming my pet battle pets. Here are some I find most groan-worthy.

WoW Battle Pet Hello Legs

Legs came as a quest reward during Children’s Week. Mine is called Hello.

WoW Battle Pet Finley Chuck

Chuck is a pet crocolisk and a fishing quest reward. I’ve seen people joke about Chuck Norris, but I haven’t yet had anyone recognize my Burn Notice reference (Chuck Finley is an alias for one of the POV characters, played by the legendary Bruce Campbell).

WoW Battle Pet Bob Ghostly Skull

The floating ghostly skull named Bob is a reference to Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books.

WoW Battle Pet A Void Dance Lesser Voidcaller

The lesser voidcaller has a chance to drop from High Astromancer Solarian in The Eye. Mine is named for a muddled-up pun on the word avoidance and the fact that it’s a voidcaller. Not perhaps my best, but good enough of a name to keep.

WoW Battle Pet Iraknok Mirror Strider

Mirror striders can be found just hanging around in The Jade Forest in Pandaria. The name for mine is a bit esoteric: in the Finnish translation of The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn’s nickname Strider is translated Konkari; Konkari spelled backwards is, you guessed it, Iraknok.

WoW Battle Pet Wonka Willy

Willy is another Children’s Week quest reward. Appropriately, as a reference to another child-related work (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), I named mine Wonka.

WoW Battle Pet Never Lupus Worg Pup

I can’t remember how I got my worg pup. I named mine Never Lupus, because whenever House encounters a case that defies his diagnostic abilities in the eponymous series, he always says “It’s never lupus.” We must’ve been just watching it.

WoW Battle Pet Dammed Bound Stream

My bound stream is called Dammed. Because that’s how you describe one. This one reminds me of a crossword puzzle clue, but AFAIK isn’t.

Any good pet names—of any kind—you want to share? Please do!

Images: screencaps from the MMORPG World of Warcraft

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Race in Antiquity: Who Were the Romans?

“What race were the ancient Greeks and Romans?”

It sounds like a simple question that ought to have a straightforward answer, but both the question and its answer are far more complicated than they appear. In these posts, I dig into the topic to explore what we know, what we don’t know, and what we mean by race in the ancient Mediterranean world.

Part 6: Who Were the Romans?

In the last post in this series, I explored the question of who we mean by the ancient Greeks. It’s a more complicated question than it seems and doesn’t offer any easy answers. When we turn to the Romans, find that, if anything, Roman identity was even more complicated than Greek.

The history of Rome was one of expansion and contact with a larger world. The city of Rome itself was located at the crossing point of two important routes of travel: the Tiber river, which ran from the Apennine mountains to the sea, and an ancient trade route that ran along the western coast of the Italian peninsula. Early Rome flourished from the trade that ran along these routes, and a degree of openness to outsiders was part of Roman identity from its earliest days. Indeed, the city of Rome itself was formed out of several originally independent hilltop villages that merged into one city-state as they grew. The people of Rome were Latins and they shared an ethnic, linguistic, and cultural identity with the people of other nearby Latin cities. There was never a time in Roman history when Roman identity did not embrace people of multiple different origins.

The early Roman state was ruled by kings. Roman kingship was not hereditary; rather, on the death of a king the people of Rome elected a new one. Many of the kings recorded in Roman legends are likely entirely mythical, but the myths have important implications for how early Rome related to the outside world. Few kings were from Rome. Instead, the list includes Sabines (from the hills east of Rome), Etruscans (from the prosperous cities to the north), and Latins from other communities. Indeed, it appears that the early Romans may have favored outsiders for their kings in order to avoid conflicts between the aristocratic families of the city over the office. (Livy, History of Rome 1.10-49; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 2.36-58, 3.36-46, 4.1-28; Eutropius, Compendium of History 1.1-8)

Roman of later ages continued to assert their connections to other peoples. Roman priests adopted Etruscan methods of interpreting messages from the gods. Even long after Rome had conquered the Etruscan cities, Romans continued to practice what they called the “Etruscan method.” The Claudian family, one of the most powerful noble clans in Rome and part of the first dynasty of Roman emperors, proudly declared their Sabine origins. (Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, “Life of Tiberius,” 1; Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings 1.1)

Being open to the world was not just a Roman habit; it was key to the success of Rome as an expansionist state. Rather than subjugate or exterminate the peoples they conquered, the Romans incorporated them into their state, extending legal and political rights and creating incentives for the conquered and their descendants to think of themselves as Romans. The practical benefits for the empire were considerable. Provincials who felt like part of the empire were less likely to revolt. They provided a practically inexhaustible stream of new recruits for the Roman army. The best and brightest gravitated towards the city of Rome where they became the leading lights of Roman art, literature, scholarship, and law. Some of the great names of Roman history came form the provinces, including the comic poet Martial, who came from Spain, the biographer of the early emperors Suetonius, from North Africa, and the jurist Ulpian, from the old Phoenician city of Tyre. Even emperors could come from the provinces. By the end of the third century CE, Rome had been ruled by men from Thrace, Illyria, Arabia, North Africa, and Gaul. (Martial, Epigrams 10.65, 10.103, 10.104; Herodian, Roman History 7.1; Epitome de Caesaribus 31; Eutropius 13, 18; Zosimus, New History 1.13; L’anneé épigraphique 1953 73)

Many people who remained in the provinces also claimed Romanness as part of their identity. Being Roman did not necessarily exclude other identities, and it could mean different things to different people. Being Roman was part of the complex set of identities that people could assert, adapt, question, and repurpose as they saw fit, in much the same way that people today who identify as American, or British, or Hungarian can have very different ways of understanding and expressing those identities. A gravestone on the Danube frontier identifies the soldier it was set up for as both a Roman and a Frank. An orator who came from the Aeduan tribe of central Gaul declared: “What people in all the world is more in love with the Roman name than the Aedui?” Throughout the empire, people who spoke Latin but were not Roman citizens, or who had Roman citizenship but dressed in British style, or who wore Roman clothes but spoke Greek could all call themselves Romans with an equal claim to that identity. At the same time, not everyone who lived under Roman rule or participated in Roman culture wanted to be thought of as Roman. There were those who rejected Roman identity entirely, or embraced it only when circumstances demanded it, like Saint Paul, who asserted his Roman citizenship only when threatened with torture. (Acts of the Apostles 22; Panegyrici Latini 8.2; Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum III 3576)

Like Greekness, Romannes had never been conceived of as an ethnic or racial identity. There was never a moment in Roman history when those who called themselves Romans believed that they were a genetically distinct people, separated from the rest of the world by an uncrossable barrier. Although Rome’s empire was created and sustained by acts of violence against outsiders, some of them arguably rising to the level of genocide, Roman culture did not invent or impose racial categories on its victims in the same way the modern empires have done. The question of whether someone was Roman or not was never one that could be answered by the characteristics of a person’s body or an examination of their origins and ancestry. As with the ancient Greeks, any questions we pose about the race of the ancient Romans must contend with the ways in which those who identified themselves as Romans thought about themselves and the world around them.

Other posts on Race in Antiquity:

Image: Portrait of two brothers from Roman Egypt, via Wikimedia (currently Egyptian Museum, Cairo; 2nd c. CE; distemper on wood)

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