Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Roman Legions Not Just Cabbage Freaks

The Roman Military Diet By R.W. Davies

"We've been led to think that ancient Romans were mainly vegetarian and that when the legions came into contact with the European barbarians they had trouble stomaching the meat-rich food. "

"...there is evidence from the Republican period of Roman history for meat consumption by soldiers: "When Scipio reintroduced military discipline to the army at Numania in 134 B.C., he ordered that the only way the troops could eat their meat was by roasting or boiling it." Q. Caecilius Metellus Numidicus made a similar rule in 109 B.C."

In a related discussion, D.C. Reynolds points out, "The tradition about the legions being near vegetarian in camp is very believable for the early Republican era. Scurvy references are reliable, I believe. By the latter half of the 2nd century B.C., the whole Roman world had opened up and almost all aspects of Roman life, including diet, had changed from the 'old days.' My only real point is that Josephus and Tacitus could not accurately chronicle the early or middle Republican diet. Cato is the only source that comes close, and he is at the very end of the era (and a cabbage freak to boot)."

I didn't know Cato the Younger was so fond of cabbage. That may have accounted for his aversion to eating flesh during his "March of the 10,000" as recounted by Colleen McCullough in "The October Horse".

The Religion of Numa And Other Essays on the Religion of Ancient Rome

By Jesse Benedict Carter [1906]

"ROME forms no exception to the general rule that nations, like individuals, grow by contact with the outside world. In the middle of the five centuries of her republic came the Punic wars and the intimate association with Greece which made the last half of her history as a republic so different from the first half; and in the kingdom, which preceded the republic, there was a similar coming of foreign influence, which made the later kingdom with its semi-historical names of the Tarquins and Servius Tullius so different from the earlier kingdom with its altogether legendary Romulus, Numa, Tullus Hostilius and Ancus Martins. We have thus four distinct phases in the history of Roman society, and a corresponding phase of religion in each period;"

Late Roman Excavations prove challenging in North Africa

THE URBAN TRANSITION IN THE MAHGREB by Stephen Roskams, University of York

"Urban life was vital to Rome, so towns are a natural focus for those considering developments beyond the fourth century [in North Africa]. However, problems abound with the archaeological evidence for the p e r i o d . Practical obstacles are created by the diverse organisation of fieldwork in the different countries of North Africa, which limits comparability between regions.To this can be added the technical difficulty of defining tenuous stratigraphic distinctions in a dry climate. Additional methodological problems relate to the nature of post-Roman material culture. These include its complex sequences of buildings utilising diverse construction techniques; the later robbing of building stone dividing sequences into separate islands, with few diagnostic deposits to aid correlations between them; and the issue of finds residuality, since many artefacts were used for considerable lengths of time and then, at the end of their “normal” life, were either intentionally re-cycled as building material or simply redeposited when subsequent occupation churned up debris from earlier periods (for example, it is not uncommon for the vast majority of finds from provably post-Roman levels to be Roman in date). Finally, numismatic evidence rarely clarifies the dating of sequences as many coins are illegible and some areas produced no local coinage at particular points in time (for example the Carthage mint between AD420-80).

Monday, August 25, 2003

Lucan's Anti-Epic: Bellum Civile

"To the extent that circumstance allowed, the Aeneid was used as a negative compositional model for the Bellum Civile. Lucan skillfully adapts (often by inversion or negation) the traditional elements of the genre to his new, 'anti-epic' purpose. Throughout the poem, the challenge of stylistic innovation called for in the narration of the nefas (wickedness) of civil war is forcefully met."

"A fierce passion can be detected in almost any passage of the Bellum Civile, most often a relentless, seething anger directed at those held responsible for the collapse of the Roman Republic, or a deeply-felt horror at the perversity and cost of civil war. "

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Roman Wine: A Window on an Ancient Economy

"The story of Roman winemaking is by no means a simple one. It spans more than eight centuries of Old World history and a geographic range from southern Scotland to the middle reaches of the Nile. What makes the story so fascinating is how wine is such a clear window into Roman everyday life. The changing nature of wine's trade time-and-again was linked strongly to the tide of Roman politics, and various aspects of its consumption serve as an unsubtle measure of social division, rich versus poor."

Etruscan jewelry from the Vatican featured in exhibit

The Mabee-Gerrer Museum will be the only venue in the United States to feature the exhibit 'Unveiling Ancient Mystery: Etruscan Treasures.' It will be in Shawnee, Oklahoma from June 1 through Oct. 31, 2004, before heading back to the Vatican in Rome.
The exhibit will have more than 100 pieces of Etruscan gold jewelry and 30 pieces of Etruscan bronze and terracotta artifacts from the private collections of the director general of the Vatican Museums, Italian Prince Fabrizio Alliata and the Gregorian-Etruscan Museum of the Vatican Museums. This will be the first time for many of the Vatican Museums' pieces to be exhibited abroad and the first time the gold jewelry has ever been exhibited.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

The History of Chronology

By Henry C K Liu

"In chronology, an era is a period reckoned from an artificially fixed point in time, as before or after the birth of Christ: BC for Before Christ and AD for Anno Domini (year of the Lord). There are less known but also significant points in historical time beside the birth of Christ. The alleged creation of the world in Jewish mythical history is equivalent to 3761 BC, and in Byzantine history, the creation date was 5508 BC. The founding of the city of Rome took place in 753 BC, with subsequent years marked AUD for ad urbe condita (from the founding of the city). The hijira marks the migration of the Prophet Mohammed to Medina from Mecca in AD 622. Abbreviated AH, it is the starting timepost for all Muslims. "

"Periodization, a complex problem in history, is the attempt to categorize or divide historical time, mentality or events into discrete named blocks. History is in fact continuous, and so all systems of periodization are to some extent arbitrary. History does not end as long as the human species survives. Those who proclaim the end of history are predicting the death of civilization, not the victory of neo-liberalism as heaven on Earth."

"It is nevertheless useful to segment history so that the past can provide lessons to the present by being conceptually organized and significant changes over time articulated. Different peoples and cultures have different histories, and so will need different models of periodization. Periodizing labels constantly change and are subject to redefinition as contemporary perceptions change. A historian may claim that there is no such thing as modernity, or the Enlightenment or the Renaissance, or the Nuclear Age, while others will defend the concept."

Although Liu obviously nurses a particular political bias, I found this article interesting. Although it is not purely about the Roman Empire, there is an extensive discussion of this authori's viewpoint of what constituted the formation of the Holy Roman Empire and the political environment surrounding that formation.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Herbal Contraception in Ancient Times

By David W. Tschanz

"In the seventh century BC, Greek colonists established the city of Cyrene on the Libyan coast. Shortly after their arrival, wrote the Greek botanist Theophrastus (ca. 370-288 BC), they discovered silphium -- the plant that would make them rich and the city famous. A member of the genus Feula, (commonly known as giant fennel), a large group of plants with deeply divided leaves and yellow flowers, the pungent sap from silphium's stems and roots was used in cough syrups. It also gave food a rich distinctive taste when used as an additive. Of far greater importance was its value as a birth control agent. "

Monday, August 04, 2003

The Syrian War

I am still listening to Harold Lamb’s biography of Hannibal and was surprised that he considered the Roman “liberation” of Greece by Titus Quinctius Flamininus and the resulting power vacuum that was created when the legions withdrew after defeating Philip V of Macedon at the battle of Cynoscephalae, an intentional ploy by the Romans to lure Antiochus III into a confrontation. He indicated Hannibal recognized it as a trap and tried to warn Antiochus but the great king did not listen to him.

In an earlier lecture (I think by Professor Garrett Fagan) on Roman History, I understood Dr. Fagan to point to the Roman withdrawal from Greece as an indication that Rome at that point in time still did not have imperial aspirations in the east.

This lecture by Professor Christopher Mackay at the University of Alberta provides quite a bit of background which makes it sound like the Romans definitely had plans for the eastern Mediterranean.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Vindolanda Tablets Now Online

In "Letters From The Roman Front", a program on the Discovery Channel, the discovery of correspondence written on thin pieces of wood was considered the most important of all the items recovered at the site because these letters provided first hand accounts of daily life in that period of the Roman Empire. Now, scholars have translated the documents and provided their text in its entirety online for everyone to read and study. What a wonderful resource.

Even small fragments can raise interesting issues. For example, in one letter to Lucius the decurion, a friend writes "A friend sent me fifty oysters from Cordonovi." Since Vindolanda is not on the coast and seafood spoils quickly, it suggests transporation systems were apparently well developed and hostilities must have been marginal at that time to effect this type of delivery.