Category Archive 'Rome'
28 Apr 2020

Superb Roman Ring

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click on image for larger version.

Roman ring, with portrait of Cæsonia Milonia (died 24 January 41), the fourth and last wife of Roman emperor Caligula and a former priestess of the Egyptian goddess Isis. Caesonia had a bad reputation, as she was promiscuous, extravagant, deep in debt, and a divorcee, but Caligula decided to marry her so that she could produce him an heir. She was murdered along with Caligula and their three daughters in 41.

Cut sapphire (and intaglio representing the profile of the empress) and hollowed out and set in gold, early 1st century.

(Former collection of the Dukes of Marlborough, this exceptional ring was sold in October 2019 in London by London jeweler Wartski to an unknown buyer (estimated transaction £ 500,000 / € 570,000 — $ 622,145 / $ 709,245.30).

15 Mar 2020

Ides of March

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In my high school, the better students, in the two Academic class sections, received instruction in Latin in 9th and 10th grade. Our Latin teacher had a curious personal custom. He sacrificed annually, in honor of Great Caesar, on the Ides of March, the male student in each class who had offended him by doing the least work and/or being the most disruptive. He sacrificed additionally one female student from each class whose selection, I fear, was based only upon his own capricious whim and covert sexual attraction.

The sacrifice consisted of the victim being bent over a desk and receiving three strokes of a paddle, delivered by a six foot+, 250 lb.+ Latin teacher laying on the strokes with a will and putting his weight behind them. (I won’t name him.) Mr. X’s paddle was a four foot long piece of 1 1/2″ thick pine, produced in our high school’s wood shop by General Curriculum students, who did not take Latin, but admired Mr. X. The paddle was roughly in the form of a Roman gladius, and its surface was scored by a series of regular lines, because it was generally believed that a blow from an uneven surface was more painful.

Mr. X had a fixed policy of assigning the duty of construing the day’s Latin assignment on the blackboard in strict and completely predictable order, going up and down the aisles of desks. Two or three of the smart kids would always actually do the Latin, (I was one of them) and it was our recognized duty to supply the translations in advance to the person who would be going to the blackboard.

Readiness to translate correctly was really vital, because Mr. X would apply his dreaded paddle to anyone who failed to write out the day’s assignment correctly on the blackboard. It was rare, but every once in a while some truly feckless idiot would neglect to seek out Kenny Hollenbach, Jack Rigrotsky, or yours truly, and would arrive at the blackboard, chalk in hand, unprepared.

Mr. X typically broke the current paddle over the defaulter’s posterior, and the mental defectives in shop class would gleefully commence the fabrication of a new, yet more elaborate, edition of the famous paddle.

Every March 15th, two 9th and 10th grade Academic Curriculum sections would look on with the same sadistic interest of Roman spectators at the gladitorial games, as Mr. X conducted his sacrifices. I can recall that he struck the pretty strawberry blonde with the well-developed embonpoint so hard that he raised dust from her skirt. We were a bit puzzled that girls actually submitted to being beaten with a paddle for no reason, but all this went on undoubtedly because the legend of Mr. X the fierce disciplinarian had enormous appeal in our local community. The whole thing was fascinating, and it all made such a good story that everyone, student and adult, in his heart of hearts, enthusiastically approved.

Mr. X would never be allowed to get away with that kind of thing today. Alas! In Hades, poor Caesar must do without his sacrifice. And it is my impression that Latin instruction has rather overwhelmingly also become a thing of the past. Kids today learn Spanish. Modern languages are easier and are thought more relevant.

Teachers
My high school Latin teacher is the large chap wearing glasses. He also coached one of our sports teams.

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An annual post in memory of my Latin teacher.

19 Jan 2020

Roman Engineering

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Interior of the Pantheon in Rome.

In his excellent King Arthur’s Wars: The Anglo-Saxon Conquest of England (2016), retired British officer Jim Storr (now teaching at the Norwegian Military Academy in Oslo) puts the astonishing Roman technological achievements into perspective.

Roman engineers… were astonishingly skillful. In the years just before the birth of Christ they built an underground tunnel to bring water to Bologna in Italy. The tunnel was 20 kilometres long. Hundreds of years earlier they had drained the Pontine marshes south east of Rome. In the second century A.D. they brought water to a city in what is now Syria from a source over 130 kilometres away. It had an average gradient of just 3 centimetres’ fall in every kilometre. Many kilometers of it still exist today. In several cities in Europe, Roman aqueducts still provide water from several kilometres away. The world-famous Trevi fountain in Rome is supplied by the Virgo aqueduct, 22 kilometres long and built in 19 BC. The Pantheon in Rome was built in about 126 A.D. It is the world’s first large mass-concrete dome building. It is over 40 metres high and is visited by thousands of tourists, in complete safety, every day: almost 2000 years later.

Roman engineers were not just good builders. They were also world-class surveyors. If you walk south from London Bridge today, you soon reach Kennington Park Road (the A3). As you look along it you are looking in the precise direction of the east gate of Chichester, 59.84 Roman miles from the end of London Bridge. The surveyors who first laid out that road, probably in the first century A.D., knew precisely which direction Chichester lay in. There are two major rows of hills (the North and South Downs) in between.

In about 155 A.D. Roman surveyors re-aligned a section of 82 kilometres of frontier defenses in southern Germany. The southernmost 29 kilometres ran over several heavily wooded ridges, yet none of the forts (a Roman mile apart, with turrets in between) is off the direct line between start and finish by more than 1.9 metres. That is a deviation of less than five minutes of arc (five sixtieth of a degree). The accuracy which Roman surveyors achieved was phenomenal. It was only bettered with the invention of surveying instruments with magnifying optics (such as the theodolite) in the 17th century. Yet, as far as is known, Roman surveyors did not even have an instrument for observing and copying angles directly (such as a protractor). However, by about the year 500 or so, nobody could even build in stone, let alone lay out aqueducts or build in concrete. Concrete only came back into use in the late 18th century.

08 Apr 2019

The Abstract Textures of the Aurelian Walls: Photographs by Giampiero Sanguigni (2019)

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Fosca Lucarelli:

The Aurelian walls have marked the line of defense of Rome for 16 centuries, from their construction (270 to 275 AD), until September 20, 1870, when the kingdom of Italy conquered the city of Rome by breaching the sector of Porta Pia.

About one-sixth of the walls integrated existing structures, like the Cestius’s Pyramid, the Amphitheatrum Castrense, the Castra Praetoria, among the more notable ones, allowing a rapid construction during the critical period of Barbarian invasions.

Over time, the walls underwent radical structural interventions (such as the height doubling) or cosmetic modifications, and many restorations carried out by Kings and Popes modified their surfaces over time. However, the walls still appear well preserved today.

Giampiero Sanguigni, a friend of ours and co-founder of Milk Train, an awarded group of Rome-based practicing architects, historians, and urban planners, (designers, among others, of many pavilions in exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale) has recently taken a series of photographs from sections of the walls. “Each day, after lunch, I make a walk along the Aurelian walls. Each time I’m mesmerized by their crazy textures.”

Indeed, the photos show a huge variety of bricks and stone textures, – from areas of opus incertum to probable 19th-century recessed restorations sporting precise horizontal lines of red bricks, from fillings of tuff blocks to grid-like articulations of sparsed bricks and undefined blocks of stones.

The raw natures of the walls and the decontextualization given by the framing confer the pictures a surprisingly strong resemblance to 20th Century abstract art.

15 Mar 2019

Ides of March

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In my high school, the better students, in the two Academic class sections, received instruction in Latin in 9th and 10th grade. Our Latin teacher had a curious personal custom. He sacrificed annually, in honor of Great Caesar, on the Ides of March, the male student in each class who had offended him by doing the least work and/or being the most disruptive. He sacrificed additionally one female student from each class whose selection, I fear, was based only upon his own capricious whim and covert sexual attraction.

The sacrifice consisted of the victim being bent over a desk and receiving three strokes of a paddle, delivered by a six foot+, 250 lb.+ Latin teacher laying on the strokes with a will and putting his weight behind them. (I won’t name him.) Mr. X’s paddle was a four foot long piece of 1 1/2″ thick pine, produced in our high school’s wood shop by General Curriculum students, who did not take Latin, but admired Mr. X. The paddle was roughly in the form of a Roman gladius, and its surface was scored by a series of regular lines, because it was generally believed that a blow from an uneven surface was more painful.

Mr. X had a fixed policy of assigning the duty of construing the day’s Latin assignment on the blackboard in strict and completely predictable order, going up and down the aisles of desks. Two or three of the smart kids would always actually do the Latin, (I was one of them) and it was our recognized duty to supply the translations in advance to the person who would be going to the blackboard.

Readiness to translate correctly was really vital, because Mr. X would apply his dreaded paddle to anyone who failed to write out the day’s assignment correctly on the blackboard. It was rare, but every once in a while some truly feckless idiot would neglect to seek out Kenny Hollenbach, Jack Rigrotsky, or yours truly, and would arrive at the blackboard, chalk in hand, unprepared.

Mr. X typically broke the current paddle over the defaulter’s posterior, and the mental defectives in shop class would gleefully commence the fabrication of a new, yet more elaborate, edition of the famous paddle.

Every March 15th, two 9th and 10th grade Academic Curriculum sections would look on with the same sadistic interest of Roman spectators at the gladitorial games, as Mr. X conducted his sacrifices. I can recall that he struck the pretty strawberry blonde with the well-developed embonpoint so hard that he raised dust from her skirt. We were a bit puzzled that girls actually submitted to being beaten with a paddle for no reason, but all this went on undoubtedly because the legend of Mr. X the fierce disciplinarian had enormous appeal in our local community. The whole thing was fascinating, and it all made such a good story that everyone, student and adult, in his heart of hearts, enthusiastically approved.

Mr. X would never be allowed to get away with that kind of thing today. Alas! In Hades, poor Caesar must do without his sacrifice. And it is my impression that Latin instruction has rather overwhelmingly also become a thing of the past. Kids today learn Spanish. Modern languages are easier and are thought more relevant.

Teachers
My high school Latin teacher is the large chap wearing glasses. He also coached one of our sports teams.

————————–

An annual post in memory of my Latin teacher.

23 Oct 2018

Miltos: the Roman’s Red Dust

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Samples of miltos, including a sixteenth century Ottoman example (e), and a control sample of yellow oxide (b).

Andrew Masterson, in Cosmos magazine, reports that modern researchers are attempting to pin down the exact identity of an intriguing Roman mineral.

From ancient Greek and Roman source texts it is possible to conclude that in the classical world a mineral, a powder known as miltos, was something of a wonder substance.

Miltos – referred to in the works of writers such as Theophrastus, Dioscorides and Pliny – was red, fine-grained, and made up mostly of iron-oxide.

By the time Theophrastus, a Greek philosopher and proto-botanist, wrote about it in the third century BCE, it was already a mineral validated by antiquity. Its use is attested to in Mycenaean clay tablets, inscribed in the script known as Linear B and dating from the second millennium BCE.

The variety of applications for which it was used was broad indeed. According to a team of researchers writing in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, it was used “as a pigment, as a cosmetic, in ship maintenance, agriculture and medicine”. …

The ancient texts made it clear that miltos, unlike some other types of mineral, could be found, and mined, in only a few places in Graeco-Roman world – namely Kea, in the Cyclades, Lemnos in the northeast Aegean, and Cappadocia in Turkey. This specificity meant identifying the substance was simple: it was the red dusty stuff found at the mine sites, and easily matched, therefore, with older samples held in museums and galleries.

RTWT

02 Sep 2018

The Guttman Gladius

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A POMPEII-TYPE GLADIUS (SHORT SWORD), TINNED BRONZE SCABBARD AND IRON SPEAR HEAD

MID/LATE 1ST CENTURY A.D.

The gladius with parallel double-edged blade of piled construction, of flattened diamond section with raised rib at the point, and long tang, the forte with dot-punched inscription on both sides reading: “C. Valer(i) Pr[imi]/C.Valeri(i) Pri(mi)” and: “C. Valeri(i) P[rimi] C. Raniu(s)/C. Vale[ri] Primi”, mounted, 25 in. (63.6 cm.) long; the scabbard consisting of bronze mounts with remains of tinning, with cut-away and engraved motifs, comprising the locket with two pierced and engraved panels decorated with two helmeted figures, the upper with a warrior moving towards the right, his head turned back, holding spear and shield, and wearing muscled cuirass and crested helmet, two shields resting at his feet, the lower panel with figure of winged Victory writing on a shield hanging from palm tree, wearing drapery around her lower body, the chape with figure of winged Victory holding palm leaf, a separate palmette with scrolling pattern above, with modern collar attachment, mounted, 5¾ in. (14.5 cm.) long max.; and an iron spear blade decorated with circular and wavy line motif on both sides, with faint inscription on the shaft, 17¼ in. (44 cm.) long; and a modern replica of the gladius and scabbard, 26½ in. (67.3 cm.) long max. (4)

Provenance:

Found in Wiesbaden in 1971-1972 by Wolfgang Johe.

Read more: here

01 Sep 2018

The Cuirassiers Of The Frontier

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Goths, Vandals, Huns, Isaurian mountaineers,
Made Roman by our Roman sacrament,
We can know little (as we care little)
Of the Metropolis: her candled churches,
Her white-gowned pederastic senators,
The cut-throat factions of her Hippodrome,
The eunuchs of her draped saloons.

Here is the frontier, here our camp and place—
Beans for the pot, fodder for horses, And Roman arms.
Enough. He who among us
At full gallop, the bowstring to his ear,
Lets drive his heavy arrows, to sink
Stinging through Persian corslets damascened,
Then follows with the lance—he has our love.

The Christ bade Holy Peter sheathe his sword,
Being outnumbered by the Temple guard.
And this was prudence, the cause not yet lost
While Peter might persuade the crowd to rescue.
Peter reneged, breaking his sacrament.
With us the penalty is death by stoning,
Not to be made a bishop.

In Peter’s Church there is no faith nor truth,
Nor justice anywhere in palace or court.
That we continue watchful on the rampart
Concerns no priest. A gaping silken dragon,
Puffed by the wind, suffices us for God.
We, not the City, are the Empire’s soul:
A rotten tree lives only in its rind.

— Robert Graves,

15 Mar 2018

Ides of March

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In my high school, the better students, in the two Academic class sections, received instruction in Latin in 9th and 10th grade. Our Latin teacher had a curious personal custom. He sacrificed annually, in honor of Great Caesar, on the Ides of March, the male student in each class who had offended him by doing the least work and/or being the most disruptive. He sacrificed additionally one female student from each class whose selection, I fear, was based only upon his own capricious whim and covert sexual attraction.

The sacrifice consisted of the victim being bent over a desk and receiving three strokes of a paddle, delivered by a six foot+, 250 lb.+ Latin teacher laying on the strokes with a will and putting his weight behind them. (I won’t name him.) Mr. X’s paddle was a four foot long piece of 1 1/2″ thick pine, produced in our high school’s wood shop by General Curriculum students, who did not take Latin, but admired Mr. X. The paddle was roughly in the form of a Roman gladius, and its surface was scored by a series of regular lines, because it was generally believed that a blow from an uneven surface was more painful.

Mr. X had a fixed policy of assigning the duty of construing the day’s Latin assignment on the blackboard in strict and completely predictable order, going up and down the aisles of desks. Two or three of the smart kids would always actually do the Latin, (I was one of them) and it was our recognized duty to supply the translations in advance to the person who would be going to the blackboard.

Readiness to translate correctly was really vital, because Mr. X would apply his dreaded paddle to anyone who failed to write out the day’s assignment correctly on the blackboard. It was rare, but every once in a while some truly feckless idiot would neglect to seek out Kenny Hollenbach, Jack Rigrotsky, or yours truly, and would arrive at the blackboard, chalk in hand, unprepared.

Mr. X typically broke the current paddle over the defaulter’s posterior, and the mental defectives in shop class would gleefully commence the fabrication of a new, yet more elaborate, edition of the famous paddle.

Every March 15th, two 9th and 10th grade Academic Curriculum sections would look on with the same sadistic interest of Roman spectators at the gladitorial games, as Mr. X conducted his sacrifices. I can recall that he struck the pretty strawberry blonde with the well-developed embonpoint so hard that he raised dust from her skirt. We were a bit puzzled that girls actually submitted to being beaten with a paddle for no reason, but all this went on undoubtedly because the legend of Mr. X the fierce disciplinarian had enormous appeal in our local community. The whole thing was fascinating, and it all made such a good story that everyone, student and adult, in his heart of hearts, enthusiastically approved.

Mr. X would never be allowed to get away with that kind of thing today. Alas! In Hades, poor Caesar must do without his sacrifice. And it is my impression that Latin instruction has rather overwhelmingly also become a thing of the past. Kids today learn Spanish. Modern languages are easier and are thought more relevant.

Teachers
My high school Latin teacher is the large chap wearing glasses. He also coached one of our sports teams.

————————–

An annual post in memory of my Latin teacher.

07 Mar 2018

World’s Oldest Bottle of Wine

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Looks a trifle oxidized to me.

Atlas Obscura:

For the last hundred years, Germany’s Historical Museum of the Palatinate has housed the world’s oldest unopened bottle of wine. But a century is nothing to the Speyer wine bottle, also known as the Römerwein aus Speyer. Its murky contents have sat undisturbed inside clear glass for 1,693 years.

The 1.5 liter bottle has handles shaped like dolphins and was buried in the tomb of a Roman nobleman and noblewoman near today’s city of Speyer. Researchers estimate that it dates to around 325 C.E. When the tomb was excavated in 1867, other wine bottles were found, long since shattered or empty. In earlier eras, Romans cremated the dead. But by the time of the Speyer bottle, Romans laid corpses to rest in sarcophagi with grave goods, which included everyday items, including wine.

The wine inside the Speyer bottle was likely made from local grapes that were planted during Roman rule. Unknown herbs were added as well, perhaps as flavoring or as a preservative. The residue inside, however, is no longer truly wine. Instead, it consists of a solid, dark mass and a milky liquid. Even the survival of that residue is unprecedented. An unusually well-made bottle that stayed airtight over the millennia, a wax seal, and a thick layer of olive oil preserved its contents from totally evaporating. In fact, more oil than wine was poured into the bottle, creating the dense, solid layer visible through the glass.

RTWT

11 Jan 2018

Caesar Crosses the Rubicon

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Yesterday 2067 years ago.

13 Sep 2017

Silphium, the Lost Roman Herb

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Coin from Cyrene bearing the image of Silphium.

The BBC reported recently on the greatest botanical mystery of Antiquity: what was Silphium exactly, and what happened to it?

Long ago, in the ancient city of Cyrene, there was a herb called silphium. It didn’t look like much – with stout roots, stumpy leaves and bunches of small yellow flowers – but it oozed with an odiferous sap that was so delicious and useful, the plant was eventually worth its weight in gold.

To list its uses would be an endless task. Its crunchable stalks were roasted, sauteed or boiled and eaten as a vegetable. Its roots were eaten fresh, dipped in vinegar. It was an excellent preservative for lentils and when it was fed to sheep, their flesh became delectably tender.

Perfume was coaxed from its delicate blooms, while its sap was dried and grated liberally over dishes from brains to braised flamingo. Known as “laser”, the condiment was as fundamental to Roman haute cuisine as eating your food horizontally in a toga.

Then there were the medical applications. Silphium was a veritable wonder herb, a panacea for all manner of ailments, including growths of the anus (the Roman author Pliny the Elder recommends repeated fumigations with the root) and the bites of feral dogs (simply rub into the affected area, though Pliny warns his readers never, ever to try this with a tooth cavity, after a man who did so threw himself off a house).

Finally, silphium was required in the bedroom, where its juice was drunk as an aphrodisiac or applied “to purge the uterus”. It may have been the first genuinely effective birth control; its heart-shaped seeds are thought to be the reason we associate the symbol with romance to this day.

Indeed, the Romans loved it so much, they referenced their darling herb in poems and songs, and wrote it into great works of literature. For centuries, local kings held a monopoly on the plant, which made the city of Cyrene, at modern Shahhat, Libya, the richest in Africa. Before they gave it away to the Romans, the Greek inhabitants even put it on their money. Julius Caesar went so far as to store a cache (1,500lbs or 680kg) in the official treasury.

But today, silphium has vanished – possibly just from the region, possibly from our planet altogether. Pliny wrote that within his lifetime, only a single stalk was discovered. It was plucked and sent to the emperor Nero as a curiosity sometime around 54-68AD.

With just a handful of stylised images and the accounts of ancient naturalists to go on, the true identity of the Romans’ favourite herb is a mystery. Some think it was driven to extinction, others that it’s still hiding in plain sight as a Mediterranean weed. How did this happen? And could we bring it back?

RTWT

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