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Constantine in Rome

By David Potter
July is a month of historic anniversaries. The Fourth of July and Bastille Day celebrate moments that have shaped the modern world. No less important is the 25th of July. This Thursday will mark the 1707th anniversary of Constantine’s accession to the throne of part of the Roman Empire.

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Constantine and Easter

By David Potter
Christians today owe a tremendous debt to the Roman emperor Constantine. He changed the place of the Church in the Roman World, moving it, through his own conversion, from the persecuted fringe of the empire’s religious landscape to the center of the empire’s system of belief. He also tackled huge problems with the way Christians understood their community.

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Olympic Greatness

By David Potter
In a year when Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals, and Usain Bolt became the first man to win the 200 meters twice, it’s worth asking: What does “great” mean in sports? We might gain perspective by considering how the Ancient Greeks determined greatness in athletes. Then and now, true greatness is as defined not by a single moment, but by the ability to build a record of extraordinary achievement.

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Funding and Favors at the Olympics

By David Potter
Public funding for sports events was a fact of life for the Greeks and Romans. So was private funding, and both the Greeks and the Romans knew what the benefits and what the pitfalls associated with either might be. Can we be certain that the organizers of the London Olympics are quite so clear about this? The widely advertised donation (amounting to thirty-one million dollars) by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) of testing facilities for 6,250 blood samples taken from athletes could raise that question.

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The Ties That Bind Ancient and Modern Sports

What do we share with the Ancient World? Thankfully, not too much. But we do share a love of sports and strangely enough we still approach sports in the same way. We complain about commercialization, but sponsors and marketing have existed since games began (although we’ve moved on from statues to cereal). And for the greatest games, the Olympics, we seek the best: the peak of human physical achievement and unique moments in time as records shatter. As the world awaits the London 2012 Summer Olympics, we spoke with David Potter, author of The Victor’s Crown: A History of Ancient Sport from Homer to Byzantium, about how sports unites us with our past.

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The Money Games

By David Potter
This past weekend Olympic superstar swimmer Janet Evans showed up in New York in the company of Olympic sponsor BMW. The London Olympics are unthinkable without their corporate sponsors, both for the site itself and for the teams that are going to compete. But what would a person connected with the ancient version of the Games think?

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Sports fanaticism: Present and past

By David Potter
The streets are packed. People are singing and shouting. They are wearing team colors; they are drinking, eating, fighting and betting. These fans are not in Green Bay, East Lansing, Philadelphia or Madison. They are in Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire in 500 AD.

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An Olympic roundup of blog posts

It’s been a long, hard road to London 2012 and while the closing ceremony brings an end to the sporting events and spectacle, we all know it’s not truly the end. The Paralympics begin in a few weeks. There will continue to be reports, analysis, and even a few more blog posts from us. Let’s take a look back on Olympic news, analysis, context, and history from the past few months. And we’ll see you in Rio de Janeiro in 2016!

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Native conquistadors: the role of Tlaxcala in the fall of the Aztec empire

The Spanish invasion of Mesoamerica, leading to the collapse of the Aztec empire, would have been impossible were it not for the assistance provided by various groups of Native allies who sensed the opportunity to upend the existing geopolitical order to something they thought would be to their advantage. No group was more critical to these alliances than the Tlaxcaltecs.

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Putting my mouth where my money is: the origin of “haggis”

Haggis, to quote the OED, is “a dish consisting of the heart, lungs, and liver of a sheep, calf, etc. (or sometimes of the tripe and chitterlings), minced with suet and oatmeal, seasoned with salt, pepper, onions, etc., and boiled like a large sausage in the maw of the animal.”

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Who is Dr. Doddipol? Or, idioms in your back yard

Would you like to be as learned as Dr. Doddipol? Those heroes of our intensifying similes! Cooter Brown (a drunk), Laurence’s dog (extremely lazy), Potter’s pig (bow-legged), Throp’s wife (a very busy person, but so was also Beck’s wife)—who were they? I have at least once written about them, though in passing (see the post for October 28, 2015). They show up in sayings like as drunk as…, as lazy as…, as busy as…, and so forth. Many people have tried to discover the identity of those mysterious characters.

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Seven psychology books that explore why we are who we are [reading list]

Social Psychology looks at the nature and causes of individual behavior in social situations. It asks how others’ actions and behaviors shape our actions and behaviors, how our identities are shaped by the beliefs and assumptions of our communities. Fundamentally it looks for scientific answers to the most philosophical questions of self. These seven books […]

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Polychromy in Greek and Roman sculpture [video]

Coined by archaeologist and architectural theorist Antoine-Chrysostome Quatremère de Quincy, the term “polychromy” has been in use since the early 19th century to denote the presence of any element of colour in Greek and Roman sculpture.

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Ten facts about children’s literature

Most of us have a favourite story, or selection of stories, from our childhood. Perhaps they were read to us as we drifted off to sleep, or they were read aloud to the family in front of an open fire, or maybe we read them ourselves by the light of a torch when we were supposed to be sleeping. No matter where you read them, or who read them to you, the characters (and their stories) often stick with you forever.

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