Emperors of Rome. I wish I had known that this live session was on- it was in Melbourne on 4th October at ACMI. It’s a bit of a re-hash of their much earlier episode years ago when the podcast first started. Cleopatra and Antony (Live in Melbourne) starts off in 41 BCE as Cleopatra joins Mark Antony in Tarsus (Turkey) after a delay to emphasize that she was not at his beck and call. Dr Rhiannon Smith emphasizes the political advantages of their relationship, playing down the romantic element. She points out that Cleopatra was obviously in control of her fertility, as she was not constantly pregnant as many female rulers were, in order to ensure a line of succession.
My Marvellous Melbourne. I haven’t listened to this for a while, and unfortunately there hasn’t been a new episode since March 2021. Episode 8: Sixpenny Restaurants, the Buxtons and Isaac Selby has plenty of variety. It starts off with the murder of Sisto Malaspina, the owner of Pellegrini’s Restaurant in Bourke Street in 2018, then goes on to talk about the Sixpenny restaurants that were established in Melbourne from about 1874 to WWI. They were a fixed price menu, often of three courses, with quite a bit of choice between courses. At first they attracted ‘foreigners’ but from the 1880s onward they began catering for working men, and even working women with the ladies’ restaurant upstairs. Then Peter Yule talks about his book The Buxtons: 150 Years of Developing Melbourne. I hadn’t realized that the Buxtons had spawned so many different businesses over their six-generation history- Becton, MAB as well as the Buxton Real Estate company. They contracted and expanded according to the financial cycle, and managed to shift their huge loss on 333 Collins Street onto the South Australian government. MAB developed Docklands. Yule drew on the company archives, now at Melbourne University, but also historian Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s memoir as a Buxton granddaughter. Finally Isaac Selby was a lecturer in Melbourne and Melbourne historian with a colourful episode where he tried to shoot the judge in an American courtroom after his wife sued for divorce after becoming a Unitarian! The RHSV had an exhibition on Isaac Selby in 2019, when this podcast was recorded. There are sound clips of Geoffrey Blainey talking about his contact with Isaac Selby, who died in 1956.
History Hit. It’s the centenary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in November 1922. Did you know that Tutankhamun- or, at least, his death mask – is one of the reasons why I’m a historian? There was a colour picture of his death mask, with all that glorious gold and blue, in my Form I history textbook and I just fell in love with history classes just to look at the picture. History Hit have a four part series on Carter’s discovery of the tomb. Episode 1 Tutankhamun: The Valley of the Kings starts off by describing the valley, which was carved out of the desert by infrequent flooding, leading to deep ravines. Tutankhamun’s tomb was actually in the valley floor, which became covered with small rocks. He was one of the “new” kings around 3000 BCE, as distinct from the “old” Kings of 4500BCE who constructed the Sphinx and the pyramids. There were over sixty tombs in the Valley of the Kings, which was never “lost” as such because it was a tourist attraction even in Roman times. There was an increased interest in all things Egyptian after Napoleon’s invasion. There were other explorers before Carter- including Giovanni Belzoni, the 6ft 7 inch strongman who was responsible for sending the head of Ramsesses II back to the British Museum, and John Gardner Wilkinson, the so-called ‘Father of British Egyptology’ who numbered all the existing tombs at the time. And of course, Howard Carter, who arrived in Egypt at the age of 17.
Episode 2 Tutankhamun: The Discovery of a Lifetime focuses on Howard Carter, starting off in the house that he built in Egypt, in order to be close to the diggings. He became the Inspector of Antiquities, but was dismissed when he sided with his Egyptian workers in a dispute. In 1907 he met Lord Canarvon (of Highclere, the site for Downton Abbey), who went on to sponsor him for many years. Canarvon received the concession to work the Valley of the Kings in 1914, but after finding nothing for eight years, he finally threatened to pull the plug on Carter’s work. But Carter encouraged him to allow one year more. One day a water boy was moving some rocks to set up a water stand, when he noticed a square rock, different from the rest.
Episode 3 The Life of a Boy Pharaoh turns to Tutankhamun himself. On 4 November 1922 Carter wrote to Canarvon, telling him to come over. Tutankhamun died at 19. His reign followed that of his father Akhenaten, who had converted Egyptian polytheism into monotheism worshipping the God Amun. Tutankhamun reversed this, as well as his father’s centralization of power. He died of malaria and a broken leg.
Episode 4 Inside the Tomb is recorded inside the tomb, which was a poor choice because the acoustics are bad. It looks at the politics surrounding the announcement of the discovery, with it being framed as a ‘British’ discovery despite the 1922 Egyptian independence movements at the time. The presence of a photographer meant that people could actually see this intact tomb (although the photographs were staged afterwards). Egyptian regulations meant that an intact tomb had to stay in Egypt, which is why it is still there today) although poor old Tutankhamun himself was pulled apart to register the various artefacts, which numbered over 5,500. It took 10 years to register and clear the tomb. Tutankhamun captured the public imagination instantly, with his androgynous, if highly stylized, features on the death mask and in the wake of WWI, his image captured young, dead boys across time. Canarvon died soon after, as the result of an insect bite, feeding rumours of a ‘curse’. Carter ended up rather embittered by his lack of academic acclaim, and the British focus of the publicity despite the presence and contribution of his Egyptian co-workers.