ROMAN EMPIRE ARCHAEOLOGY

ROMAN EMPIRE ARCHAEOLOGY


Trajan's column from the north

Roman archaeology excavations are being carried in all kinds of places—England, Germany, Turkey, Tunisia—giving one a sense of great size and lasting impact of the Roman Empire. Scholars sometimes use hairstyles to date objects.

Chief Roman Provinces (with dates of their acquisition or organization): Total, 32. Many of the main provinces were subdivided into smaller provinces, each under a separate governor—making the total number of provincial governors more than one hundred. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\]

EUROPEAN PROVINCES
1) Western.
Spain (205-19 B.C.).
Gaul (France, 120-17 B.C.).
Britain (A.D. 43-84).
2) Central.
Rhaetia et Vindelicia (roughly Switzerland, northern Italy15 B.C.).
Noricum (Austria, Slovenia, 15 B.C.).
Pannonia (western Hungary, eastern Austria, northern Croatia, north-western Serbia, northern Slovenia, western Slovakia and northern Bosnia and Herzegovina. A.D. 10).
3) Eastern.
Illyricum (northern Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and coastal Croatia, 167-59 B.C.).
Macedonia (northern Greece, modern Macedonia, 146 B.C.).
Achaia (western Greece, 146 B.C.).
Moesia (Central Serbia, Kosovo, northern modern Macedonia, northern Bulgaria and Romanian Dobrudja 20 B.C.).
Thrace (northeast Greece, A.D. 40).
Dacia (Romania, A.D. 107). \~\

AFRICAN PROVINCES
Africa proper (Libya, former Carthage, 146 B.C.).
Cyrenaica and Crete (74, 63 B.C.).
Numidia (Algeria, small parts of Tunisia, Libya, 46 B.C.).
Egypt (30 B.C.).
Mauretania (western Algeria, Morocco, A.D. 42). \~\

ASIATIC PROVINCES
1) In Asia Minor (Anatolia, modern Turkey)
Asia proper (western Turkey133 B.C.).
Bithynia et Pontus (northern Turkey, south of the Black Sea, 74, 65 B.C.).
Cilicia (southeast coast of Turkey, 67 B.C.).
Galatia (central Turkey, 25 B.C.).
Pamphylia et Lycia (southwest Turkey, 25, A.D. 43).
Cappadocia (eastern Turkey, A.D. 17).
2) In Southwestern Asia.
Syria (64 B.C.).
Judea (Israel, 63 - A.D. 70).
Arabia Petraea (A.D. 105).
Armenia (A.D. 114).
Mesopotamia (A.D. 115).
Assyria (A.D. 115). \~\

ISLAND PROVINCES
Sicily (241 B.C.).
Sardinia et Corsica (238 B.C.).
Cyprus (58 B.C.). \~\

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Caesar-Era Gallic Outpost in Germany

In 58 B.C., Julius Caesar became governor and military commander of the Roman province of Gaul, which included modern France, Belgium, and portions of Switzerland, Holland, and Germany west of the Rhine, as well as parts of northern Italy. In 2012, archaeologists announced that they had found the remains of a Caesar-era military camp in Germany. Andrew Curry wrote in Archaeology magazine: “The discovery of a collection of 75 sandal nails has led German archaeologists to the rare identification of a temporary Roman military camp near the town of Hermeskeil, near Trier, in southwestern Germany. Directed by Sabine Hornung, an archaeologist at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, the team uncovered the camp’s main gate, the flat stones that once paved its entrance, and grindstones used by the Romans to mill grain. Scattered among the paving stones were bits of metal that the team quickly identified as sandal nails. Some of the nails were quite large—as much as an inch across— and had distinct workshop marks of a type used by the army, “a sort of cross with little dots” or studs, says Hornung. “That told us it was definitely a military camp,” she adds. Ground-penetrating radar surveys showed that the camp, built to house soldiers on the move, sprawls over nearly 65 acres. [Source: Andrew Curry, Archaeology, December 6, 2012 <<>>]

“Excavated pottery sherds, both from local and imported Roman wares, date the camp to the 50s B.C., the period Julius Caesar wrote about in his memoir, The Gallic Wars. From 58 to 50 B.C., Caesar waged three campaigns against the Gallic tribes and their powerful leaders for control over the territory of Gaul, primarily modern-day France and Belgium. Taking account of the camp’s date and the distinctly Caesarean sandal nails, Hornung says, “It’s very probable it is a camp built by Julius Caesar’s legions.” <<>>

“The camp sits just a few miles away from the so-called “Hunnenring,” a major Celtic hill fort with 30-foot-high walls. Such centers of military and political power made Gaul an attractive target for the Romans. By focusing their efforts on these regional centers, the Romans could exert sustained and concentrated pressure on local leaders instead of having to chase down the scattered tribes living in the German forests further to the east. Eventually this pressure, and the military victories achieved by Caesar and his legions, resulted in the conquest of Gaul and cleared the way for the general to assume sole control of the Roman Republic. For Gunter Moosbauer, an archaeologist at Germany’s University of Osnabrück familiar with the discovery, the finds from Hermeskeil are an “archaeological thrill.” He says, “Roman field campaigns lasted just a few months, and to find one of their temporary camps is really rare." <<>>

Archaeology of Battle in the Teutoburg Forest


Kalkriese in the Teutoburg Forest

In A.D. 9, three Roman legions were slaughtered at Teutoburg Forest by Germanic tribes. 9. The finality of this battle was called into question when evidence of another battle between Romans and Germanic tribes was found in 2006 in a wooded region between Hanover and Kassel deep inside what is now Germany that took place 200 years after the Teutoburg Forest Battle. Some historians have speculated that battle might have occurred after a Roman raid deep inside German territory.

Archaeologists have found evidence of the Battle Of Teutoburg at the archaeological site of Kalkriese in Germany. Sarah Bond wrote in Forbes: “From the 18th century onwards, amateurs and professional archaeologists searched for the actual site of the massacre as the event became ever more mythologised and a touchstone for German nationalism. And in the late 1980s an amateur metal detector, a major in the British army stationed nearby, found what has been generally, but not universally considered to be the site of the battle ever since – at Kalkriese in the district of Osnabrück, Lower Saxony. [Source: Sarah Bond, Forbes, July 1, 2016. Bond is an Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Iowa]

“The most significant discovery by the archaeology team from Kalkriese and scientists from the University of Osnabrück in the museum park is eight gold coins, which more than doubles the number of gold coins found at the site. Called aurei, and featuring images of Augustus’ grandsons Gaius and Lucius, they were minted within a span of 2 B.C. to 5 A.D. – in other words, they all date to a time before the battle occurred. Because they were found scattered within just a few meters of each other, it is likely that the gold coins fell from the same bag which subsequently decayed in the damp soil. Site archaeologists have interpreted them as belonging to an officer, trying to flee the carnage.

“Other finds include pieces of Roman military equipment and low value bronze coins. Whether Kalkriese is the site of the climax of the battle itself, or merely the site of one episode of the three-day conflict is likely to remain a subject of debate. But as these discoveries confirm, few can now doubt that this is where many of Varus’ legionaries made their final stand.”

Book: "Rome's Greatest Defeat: Massacre in the Teutoburg Forest” by Adrian Murdoch, a historian and journalist.

Subway Construction Unearths Roman City under Sofia, Bulgaria

AFP reported from Sofia in 2011: “Cars zoom by on the boulevards overhead as work progresses on expanding the subway underneath – and in between a full-fledged Roman city has emerged right in the heart of the Bulgarian capital. Archaeologists have little by little unearthed well-preserved stretches of cobbled Roman streets, a public bath, the ruins of a dignitary’s house and the curved wall of an early Christian basilica, all dating back to the 4th century AD. If all goes well, the ruins will be fashioned into a vast underground museum. [Source: AFP, August 15, 2011]

“Roman ruins have dotted the capital for ages. Among these are a fully-preserved round Roman church and the sunken remains of an emperor’s palace in the courtyard of Sofia’s stern-looking presidency -- an incongruous sight and a prime tourist attraction for years now. The latest excavations are basically an extension of the earlier ones, and are exposing more and more of Ulpia Serdica, a Roman town -- and important crossing point between Europe and Asia for thousands of years -- that stretches right beneath the government quarter in downtown Sofia.


Roman Ruins at the Serdika II Metro Station in Sofia, Bulgaria

“The digs picked up in the last year as the city started work on a new subway line, which is to include a major station planned right under the historical site. Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova said drafts for the subway had to be adjusted four times as archaeologists -- unsure what to expect -- peeled away layers that exposed new treasures. But the adjustments should be worth it. “Sofia will have the most beautiful and state-of-the-art subway station in Europe with 1.9 hectares (204,500 square feet) of underground museum,” she said. The archaeological project was funded with 16 million leva (8 million euros, $11.6 million) from the European Union’s regional development programme.

“As work progressed, two boulevards covering the site were partly rebuilt on massive concrete crossbeams to allow archaeologists, working below, to expose a section of the stone-paved Decomanus Maximus, the main street in the Roman town. A stretch of the underground ruins will also be visible from street level through a huge glass dome. Bordering the Decomanus Maximus, archaeologists also uncovered the remains of what is believed to be the home of an important local dignitary, complete with inner courtyard and private bathhouse. “Due to its central positioning and two seals found in the house, we presume it was the home of Leontius, one of the bishops of Ulpia Serdica,” said archaeologist Ivanov. The building next door was a Roman bath, probably patronised by the wealthier classes, complete with an intricate heating system underfoot, pink plaster floors and some 30 square metres of well-preserved Roman rosette mosaics.

“Of more than just aesthetic value, these excavations also offer a glimpse into Bulgaria’s ancient history. Digging deeper at one spot, the archaeologists uncovered the ruins of a dried brick house from the mid-2nd century as well as well-preserved wooden parts of a Roman house from the 1st century. A furnace with traces of glass on its charred surface could also indicate early glass making in the town, which until now was thought to have imported its glassware until after the 4th century, according to Ivanov.

““Once finished, the complex will be very beautiful and become a major tourist attraction,” he predicted.

“Visitors should be allowed to touch the ruins and “immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the ancient town: it’s different from just looking at objects on display in a museum.” They might even do so on their way to catch the subway.

Dacians and Sarmizegetusa in Central Romania

Andrew Curry wrote in National Geographic: “The Dacians had no written language, so what we know about their culture is filtered through Roman sources. Ample evidence suggests that they were a regional power for centuries, raiding and exacting tribute from their neighbors. They were skilled metalworkers, mining and smelting iron and panning for gold to create magnificently ornamented jewelry and weaponry. Dacians fashioned precious metals into jewelry, coins, and art, such as the 17-centimeter-high gold-trimmed silver drinking vessels and 12-centimeter-in-diameter bracelets weighing up to a kilogram. [Source: Andrew Curry, National Geographic, April 2015 |*|]


Sarmizegetusa

“Sarmizegetusa was their political and spiritual capital. The ruined city lies high in the mountains of central Romania. In Trajan’s day the thousand-mile journey from Rome would have taken a month at least. To get to the site today, visitors have to negotiate a potholed dirt road through the same forbidding valley that Trajan faced. Back then the passes were guarded by elaborate ridgetop fortifications; now only a few peasant huts keep watch. |*|

Sarmizegetusa—a terrace carved out of the mountainside—was the religious heart of the Dacian world. Traces of buildings remain, a mix of original stones and concrete reproductions, the legacy of an aborted communist-era attempt to reconstruct the site. A triple ring of stone pillars outlines a once impressive temple that distantly echoes the round Dacian buildings on Trajan’s Column. Next to it is a low, circular stone altar carved with a sunburst pattern, the sacred center of the Dacian universe.

Gelu Florea, an archaeologist from Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, has spent summers excavating the site. The exposed ruins, along with artifacts recovered from looters, reveal a thriving hub of manufacturing and religious ritual. Florea and his team have found evidence of Roman military know-how and Greek architectural and artistic influences. Using aerial imaging, archaeologists have identified more than 260 man-made terraces, which stretch for nearly three miles along the valley. The entire settlement covered more than 700 acres. “It’s amazing to see how cosmopolitan they were up in the mountains,” says Florea. “It’s the biggest, most representative, most complex settlement in Dacia.”

“There is no sign that the Dacians grew food up here. There are no cultivated fields. Instead archaeologists have found the remains of dense clusters of workshops and houses, along with furnaces for refining iron ore, tons of iron hunks ready for working, and dozens of anvils. It seems the city was a center of metal production, supplying other Dacians with weapons and tools in exchange for gold and grain. |*|

“Not far from the altar rises a small spring that could have provided water for religious rituals. Flecks of natural mica make the dirt paths sparkle in the sun. It’s hard to imagine the ceremonies that took place here—and the terrible end. Florea conjures the smoke and screams, looting and slaughter, suicides and panic depicted on Trajan’s Column.” |*|

Trajan’s Column

Column of Trajan (at Fori Imperiali) is a 126-five-foot structure with a spiraling scene from Dacian Wars in the Balkans that if unwound would be 656 feet long. Built and inscribed between A.D. 106-113, the column was once topped by a statue of an Trajan, whose ashes and those of his wife are buried underneath its base. Originally it was supposed to be topped by an eagle. The bronze statue of Trajan was destroyed in the Middle Ages. It is now topped by a statue of St. Peter installed by a Renaissance pope. It towers over the ruins of Trajan’s Forum, which once included two libraries and a grand civic space paid for by war spoils from Dacia.

Dr Jon Coulston of the University of St. Andrews wrote for the BBC: “Two monuments bearing sculptures depicting aspects of Trajan's Dacian Wars across the Danube (101 - 102 A.D. and 105- 106 AD) survive: Trajan's Column in Rome (112 AD) and the Trophy of Trajan (Tropaeum Traiani) in south-eastern Romania (108 - 109 AD). The Column depicts a loose narrative of the wars on a 200m-long helical frieze. “The Tropaeum had a frieze of rectangular panels (metopes) each showing two or more figures of Romans and assorted barbarian enemies. Carved locally by legionary troops, these are a valuable foil for the metropolitan sculptures of the Column. [Source: Dr Jon Coulston, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Andrew Curry wrote in National Geographic: “ Spiraling around the column like a modern-day comic strip is a narrative of the Dacian campaigns: Thousands of intricately carved Romans and Dacians march, build, fight, sail, sneak, negotiate, plead, and perish in 155 scenes. Completed in 113, the column has stood for more than 1,900 years. [Source: Andrew Curry, National Geographic, April 2015 |*|]

“The column is one of the most distinctive monumental sculptures to have survived the fall of Rome. For centuries classicists have treated the carvings as a visual history of the wars, with Trajan as the hero and Decebalus, the Dacian king, as his worthy opponent. Archaeologists have scrutinized the scenes to learn about the uniforms, weapons, equipment, and tactics the Roman Army used. |And because Trajan left Dacia in ruins, the column and the remaining sculptures of defeated soldiers that once decorated the forum are treasured today by Romanians as clues to how their Dacian ancestors may have looked and dressed. |*|


reliefs on Trajan's Column


Meaning and Construction of Trajan’s Column

Andrew Curry wrote in National Geographic: “Debate still simmers over the column’s construction, meaning, and most of all, historical accuracy. It sometimes seems as if there are as many interpretations as there are carved figures, and there are 2,662 of those. Travel in time with this stop-motion animation and see how Trajan’s Column was built—according to one theory. How it was made and how accurate it is remain the subjects of spirited debate. [Source: Andrew Curry, National Geographic, April 2015 |*|]

“Filippo Coarelli, a courtly Italian archaeologist and art historian in his late 70s, literally wrote the book on the subject. In his sun-flooded living room in Rome, he pulls his illustrated history of the column off a crowded bookshelf. “The column is an amazing work,” he says, leafing through black-and-white photos of the carvings, pausing to admire dramatic scenes. “The Dacian women torturing Roman soldiers? The weeping Dacians poisoning themselves to avoid capture? It’s like a TV series.” |*|

“Or, Coarelli says, like Trajan’s memoirs. When it was built, the column stood between the two libraries, which perhaps held the soldier-emperor’s account of the wars. The way Coarelli sees it, the carving resembles a scroll, the likely form of Trajan’s war diary. “The artist—and artists at this time didn’t have the freedom to do what they wanted—must have acted according to Trajan’s will,” he says. Working under the supervision of a maestro, Coarelli says, sculptors followed a plan to create a skyscraping version of Trajan’s scroll on 17 drums of the finest Carrara marble. |*|

“The emperor is the story’s hero. He appears 58 times, depicted as a canny commander, accomplished statesman, and pious ruler. Here he is giving a speech to the troops; there he is thoughtfully conferring with his advisers; over there, presiding over a sacrifice to the gods. “It’s Trajan’s attempt to be not only a man of the army,” Coarelli says, “but also a man of culture.” Of course Coarelli’s speculating. Whatever form they took, Trajan’s memoirs are long gone. In fact clues gleaned from the column and excavations at Sarmizegetusa, the Dacian capital, suggest that the carvings say more about Roman preoccupations than about history. |*|

“Jon Coulston, an expert on Roman iconography, arms, and equipment at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, studied the column up close for months from the scaffolding that surrounded it during restoration work in the 1980s and ’90s. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the landmark and has remained obsessed—and pugnaciously contrarian—ever since. “People desperately want to compare it to news media and films,” he says. “They’re overinterpreting and always have. It’s all generic. You can’t believe a word of it.” |*|

“Coulston argues that no single mastermind was behind the carvings. Slight differences in style and obvious mistakes, such as windows that disrupt scenes and scenes of inconsistent heights, convinced him that sculptors created the column on the fly, relying on what they’d heard about the wars. “Instead of having what art historians love, which is a great master and creative mind,” he says, “the composition is being done by grunts at the stone face, not on a drawing board in the studio.” |*|

“The artwork, in his view, was more “inspired by” than “based on.” Take the column’s priorities. There’s not much fighting in its depiction of the two wars...The message seems intended for Romans, not the surviving Dacians, most of whom had been sold as slaves. “No Dacians were able to come and see the column,” Meneghini says. “It was for Roman citizens, to show the power of the imperial machinery, capable of conquering such a noble and fierce people.” In other words it can be interpreted as propaganda.

Reading Trajan’s Column


assault on a Roman fort on Trajan's Column

There are 2,662 figures, plus animals, architecture and scenery, in 155 scenes. Trajan appears in 58 of them. Viewers were meant to follow the story from bottom to top standing in one place rather than circling the column 23 times, as the frieze does. Key scenes could be seen from two main vantage points. One can also follow the narrative of the epic battle by walking around and around the column like a "circus horse" as one scholar put it. Even though the sculptures made at the top are bigger than those at the bottom, it is still hard to make them out. The figures were originally painted with bright colors and had metal weapons and the horse had metal harness.

The visual narrative that winds from the column’s base to its top depicts Trajan and his soldiers triumph over the Dacians. In one scene Trajan watches a battle, while two Roman auxiliaries present him with severed enemy heads. In another scene Roman soldiers load plunder onto pack animals after defeating Decebalus, the Dacian king.

Breakdown of Activity (by length of scene): 1) Marches (29 percent); 2) Battles (21 percent); 3) Other (12 percent); 4) Construction (12 percent); 5) Negotiations (9 percent); 6) Sacrifices (7 percent); 8) Trajan speeches (6 percent); 9) Events recorded by historians (4 percent). [Source: National Geographic, April 2015]

Trajan’s army included not only professional soldiers but also auxiliaries, conscripts, and mercenaries from across the empire. To reveal more of the warriors, sculptors scaled down some of the shields and cut away Roman helmets. Most of the Dacians are dressed in trousers, tunics, and cloaks, while the Sarmatians, allies of the Dacians, are shown in armor. Dacian helmets appear on the pedestal and column, but only as spoils of war, never on warriors. |*|

Scenes from Trajan’s Column

The most interesting scene perhaps is the one that shows the Roman army crossing the Danube on a famous bridge.. Other scenes show the army marching into Dacia, the construction of military installations, fighting local barbarians, besieging enemy fortresses, the interrogation of prisoners, the removal of booty, and finally the suicide of the Dacian king, Decebalus, while being pursued by the Roman cavalry, and the capture of his treasure. Dacian prisoners are treated decently after they have been captured, according to the images, while the Roman prisoners of war are tortured by Dacian women. More attention is focused on the logistics of the battle than the actual fighting. The treasure was used to pay for the massive complex with a forum, basilica and libraries that surrounds the column.


preparing for a blockade on Trajan's Column

Andrew Curry wrote in National Geographic: “The column emphasizes Rome’s vast empire. Trajan’s army includes African cavalrymen with dreadlocks, Iberians slinging stones, Levantine archers wearing pointy helmets, and bare-chested Germans in pants, which would have appeared exotic to toga-clad Romans. They’re all fighting the Dacians, suggesting that anyone, no matter how wild their hair or crazy their fashion sense, could become a Roman. [Source: Andrew Curry, National Geographic, April 2015 |*|]

“Some scenes remain ambiguous and their interpretations controversial. Are the besieged Dacians reaching for a cup to commit suicide by drinking poison rather than face humiliation at the hands of the conquering Romans? Or are they just thirsty? Are the Dacian nobles gathered around Trajan in scene after scene surrendering or negotiating? |*|

“And what about the shocking depiction of women torturing shirtless, bound captives with flaming torches? Italians see them as captive Romans suffering at the hands of barbarian women. Ernest Oberländer-Târnoveanu, the head of the National History Museum of Romania, begs to differ: “They’re definitely Dacian prisoners being tortured by the angry widows of slain Roman soldiers.” Like much about the column, what you see tends to depend on what you think of the Romans and the Dacians. |*|

“Less than a quarter of the frieze shows battles or sieges, and Trajan himself is never shown in combat...Legionaries—the highly trained backbone of Rome’s war machine—occupy themselves with building forts and bridges, clearing roads, even harvesting crops. The column portrays them as a force of order and civilization, not destruction and conquest. You’d think they were invincible too, since there’s not a single dead Roman soldier on the column.”

Whistling Sling Bullets: a Roman 'Terror Weapon'?

Tom Metcalfe wrote in Live Science: “Some 1,800 years ago, Roman troops used "whistling" sling bullets as a "terror weapon" against their barbarian foes, according to archaeologists who found the cast lead bullets at a site in Scotland. Weighing about 1 ounce (30 grams), each of the bullets had been drilled with a 0.2-inch (5 millimeters) hole that the researchers think was designed to give the soaring bullets a sharp buzzing or whistling noise in flight. [Source: Tom Metcalfe, Live Science, June 14, 2016]

“The bullets were found recently at Burnswark Hill in southwestern Scotland, where a massive Roman attack against native defenders in a hilltop fort took place in the second century A.D. “These holes converted the bullets into a "terror weapon," said archaeologist John Reid of the Trimontium Trust, a Scottish historical society directing the first major archaeological investigation in 50 years of the Burnswark Hill site. "You don't just have these silent but deadly bullets flying over; you've got a sound effect coming off them that would keep the defenders' heads down," Reid told Live Science. "Every army likes an edge over its opponents, so this was an ingenious edge on the permutation of sling bullets."


whistling sling bullets

“The whistling bullets were also smaller than typical sling bullets, and the researchers think the soldiers may have used several of them in their slings — made from two long cords held in the throwing hand, attached to a pouch that holds the ammunition — so they could hurl multiple bullets at a target with one throw. "You can easily shoot them in groups of three of four, so you get a scattergun effect," Reid said. "We think they're for close-quarter skirmishing, for getting quite close to the enemy."

“Sling bullets and stones are a common find at Roman army battle sites in Europe. The largest are typically shaped like lemons and weigh up to 2 ounces (60 grams), Reid said. Smaller bullets shaped like acorns — a symbol the Romans considered lucky — have also been found at Burnswark Hill and other sites in Scotland. “About 20 percent of the lead sling bullets found at Burnswark Hill had been drilled with holes, which represented a significant amount of effort to prepare enough ammunition for an assault, Reid said. "It's a tremendous amount of work to do, to just chuck them away," he said.

“Whistling sling bullets haven't been found at any other Roman sites, but ceramic sling bullets with holes punched out have been discovered at battle sites in Greece from the second and third centuries B.C, Reid said. “Many archaeologists had assumed that the holes in the Greek bullets were reservoirs for poison, he said. But in slinging experiments using about 100 replicas of the whistling bullets, Reid found that they would have been little use as poisoned weapons. "The holes are too small, and there's no guarantee that these are going to penetrate skin," Reid said. "And they are ballistically inferior: They don't fly as far, don't fly as fast and don't have the same momentum [as larger sling bullets] — so why put poison holes in only the little ones?"

“Reid's brother, a keen fisherman, offered some insight into their possible purpose when he suggested the bullets were designed to make noise in flight. "I said, 'Don't be stupid; you've no idea what you're talking about. You're not an archaeologist,'" Reid joked. "And he said, 'No, but I'm a fisherman, and when I cast my line with lead weights that have got holes in them like that, they whistle.'" "Suddenly, a light bulb came on in my head — that's what they're about. They're for making a noise," Reid said.

“At the time of the Roman attack on Burnswark Hill, slings were used mainly by specialized units of auxiliary troops ("auxilia") recruited to fight alongside the Roman legions. “Among the most feared were slingers from the Balearic Islands, an archipelago near Spain in the western Mediterranean, who fought for the Roman general Julius Caesar in his unsuccessful invasions of Britain in 55 B.C. and 54 B.C. "These guys were expert slingers; they'd been doing this the whole of their lives," Reid said. In the hands of an expert, a heavy sling bullet or stone could reach speeds of up to 100 mph (160 km/h): "The biggest sling stones are very powerful — they could literally take off the top of your head," Reid said.

Archaeological Evidence of Roman-Era Chemical Warfare

Stephanie Pappas of Live Science wrote: “Ancient warfare was a messy matter, but a group of 20 or so Roman soldiers may have met a particularly nasty death nearly 2,000 years ago. During a siege of the Roman-held Syrian city of Dura, Persian soldiers dug tunnels under the city walls in an attempt to undermine them. The Romans retaliated by digging their own tunnels in an attempt to intercept the Persians. But the Persians heard them coming, and some archaeologists think they prepared a grisly trap: A cloud of noxious petrochemical smoke that would have turned the Romans' lungs to acid. The tunnels were excavated in the 1920s and '30s, and have been reburied now. But some modern archaeologists think the placement of the skeletons and the presence of sulfur and bitumen crystals suggests chemical warfare. The choking gas would have been like "the fumes of hell," archaeologist Simon James of the University of Leicester told LiveScience. [Source: Stephanie Pappas, Live Science, April 8, 2011]


reconstruction of Byzantine-era Greek fire flamethrower

Heather Ramsey of Listverse wrote: “ With great power comes great enemies. The Romans were reminded of this in A.D. 256, when the cunning army of the Persian Sasanian Empire captured Dura, a Roman fortress-city in what is now eastern Syria. As a way to invade the fortress, the Persians dug a deep mine to cause a city wall and tower to buckle. The Romans tunneled from the other side to intercept them. When they met, the Roman countermine was above the Persian mine, creating a shaft like a chimney between the two. [Source: Heather Ramsey, Listverse, March 4, 2015 <=>]

“With no written records, what happened next is somewhat unclear. In the early 1900s, archaeologist Robert du Mesnil du Buisson discovered a pile of 19 Roman bodies in the mines. Only one Persian body was nearby. Du Mesnil believed the soldiers had engaged in a vicious battle, causing the Romans to fall back into their tunnel. Then the Persians set that tunnel on fire, which supposedly killed the Romans. <=>

“But Simon James, an archaeologist from the University of Leicester, offered a different theory in 2009. “This wasn’t a pile of people who had been crowded into a small space and collapsed where they stood,” he said. “This was a deliberate pile of bodies.” According to his view, the Persians heard the Romans digging and ignited a fire to meet them. Then, the Romans opened the shaft between the two mines. James doesn’t know if the Persians directed smoke with a bellows or let the smoke rise naturally through the shaft. But archaeologists did discover sulfur and bitumen in the mine, possibly making these bodies the first chemical warfare victims ever found. James believes the Persians deliberately threw these chemicals in the fire to create deadly fumes, which became sulfuric acid in the lungs of their enemies. The one dead Persian soldier probably set the fire and couldn’t get out in time. <=>

“James believes any Roman soldiers outside the countermine would have seen the smoke, realized their comrades were dying, and avoided entry. Meanwhile, once the smoke cleared, the Persians quickly piled the bodies like a shield in the countermine and destroyed it. Then they resumed trying to enter the city. Their mining efforts didn’t work to collapse the walls, but the Persians eventually got in anyway. They killed some residents and deported the rest to Persia. At that point, Dura was abandoned forever.” <=>

Roman Cemetery in a Provincial Outpost in Macedonia

At a necropolis just outside the town of Scupi in Macedonia, archaeologists have uncovered more than 5,000 graves dating from the Bronze Age through the Roman period. Matthew Brunwasser wrote in Archaeology magazine: “In the first century A.D. Roman army veterans arrived in what is now northern Macedonia and settled near the small village of Scupi. The veterans had been given the land by the emperor Domitian as a reward for their service, as was customary. They soon began to enlarge the site, and around A.D. 85, the town was granted the status of a Roman colony and named Colonia Flavia Scupinorum. ("Flavia" refers to the Flavian Dynasty of which Domitian was a member.) Over the next several centuries Scupi grew at a rapid pace. In the late third century and well into the fourth, Scupi experienced a period of great prosperity. The colony became the area's principal religious, cultural, economic, and administrative center and one of the locations from which, through military action and settlement, the Romans colonized the region. [Source: Matthew Brunwasser, Archaeology, Volume 65 Number 5, September/October 2012 ~]


Roman funeral stele

“Scupi, which gives its name to Skopje, the nearby capital of the Republic of Macedonia, has been excavated regularly since 1966. Since that time archaeologists have uncovered an impressive amount of evidence, including many of the buildings that characterize a Roman city— a theater, a basilica, public baths, a granary, and a sumptuous urban villa, as well as remains of the city walls and part of the gridded street plan. Recently, however, due to the threat from construction, they have focused their work on one of the city's necropolises, situated on both sides of a 20-foot-wide state-of-the art ancient road. In the Roman world, it was common practice to locate necropolises on a town's perimeter, along its main roads, entrances, and exits. Of Scupi's four necropolises, the southeastern one, which covers about 75 acres and contains at least 5,000 graves spanning more than 1,500 years, is the best researched. The oldest of its burials date from the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age (1200?900 B.C). These earlier graves were almost completely destroyed as Roman burials began to replace them in the first century. According to Lence Jovanova of the City Museum of Skopje, who is in charge of the necropolis excavations, the burials have provided much new information crucial to understanding the lives of ancient Scupi's residents, including the types of household items they used, their life spans, building techniques, and religious beliefs. In just the last two years alone, nearly 4,000 graves have been discovered and about 10,000 artifacts excavated, mostly objects used in daily life such as pots, lamps, and jewelry. ~

“Among the thousands of graves there is a great variety of size, shape, style, and inhumation practice. There are individual graves, family graves, elaborate stone tombs, and simple, unadorned graves. Some burials are organized in regular lines along a grid pattern parallel to the main road, as was common in the Roman world. Other individuals are buried in seemingly random locations within the necropolis area, more like a modern cemetery that has been in use for a long time. The oldest Roman layers, dating to the first through mid-third centuries A.D., contain predominantly cremation burials. The later Roman layers, however, containing graves from the third and fourth centuries A.D., are, with very few exceptions, burials of skeletons. According to Jovanova, this variety in burial practice is normal for this time and reflects a complex, long-term, and regionwide demographic change resulting not only from an increased number of settlers coming from the east, but also from internal economic, social, and religious changes.” ~

Carnuntum in Austria: Forth Largest City in the Roman Empire

The Roman city of Carnuntum, which spread out over an area of about 10 square kilometers and had a large legionary fort and an amphitheater that could accommodate 8,000 people, was built on the Danube about 40 kilometers from present-day Vienna. It was occupied from A.D. 14 to 433, when it was sacked by the Huns.

Carnuntum lies on the southern bank of the Danube in present-day Austria. At its height it was the fourth-largest city in the Roman Empire, and home to maybe 50,000 people, including, for a time in A.D. second century the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius. A few remains are visible todaysuch as the monumental Heathen’s Gate and the amphitheater. Most of Carnuntum’s sprawling remains are still buried underground beneath pastures. It recent decades, the site has been threatened by plowing, construction and looting by treasure hunters.

“To study the underground city without disturbing it, Wolfgang Neubauer, director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro), has been using noninvasive methods, such as aerial photography, ground-penetrating radar systems and magnetometers. In 2011, a team led by Neubauer, identified a gladiator school at Carnuntum, complete with training grounds, baths and cells where dozens of gladiators lived like prisoners.

Ephesus in Present-Day Western Turkey

Ephesus was arguably most important Roman city in Asia Minor before the rise of Constantinople. The Greeks founded the city but it was the Romans who made it the capital of their Asian province and turned it into one of the wealthiest cities of their empire. Described as the best-preserved classical city in the Mediterranean and called "the first and greatest metropolis in Asia" it was the home of as many as 250,000 people and is located today about 100 kilometers south of Izmir, Turkey. Even though it is situated about eight miles inland today, Ephesus was once a great port and in its time the commercial hub of the Mediterranean. It was also one of the first cities in the world to embrace Christianity and was the place where St. Paul sent his letter to the Ephesians.


Roman-era toilet in Ephesus

According to UNESCO: Located within what was once the estuary of the River Kaystros, Ephesus comprises successive Hellenistic and Roman settlements founded on new locations, which followed the coastline as it retreated westward. Excavations have revealed grand monuments of the Roman Imperial period including the Library of Celsus and the Great Theatre. Little remains of the famous Temple of Artemis, one of the “Seven Wonders of the World,” which drew pilgrims from all around the Mediterranean. Since the 5th century, the House of the Virgin Mary, a domed cruciform chapel seven kilometres from Ephesus, became a major place of Christian pilgrimage. The Ancient City of Ephesus is an outstanding example of a Roman port city, with sea channel and harbour basin. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website *=*]

“Within what was once the estuary of the river Kaystros, a continuous and complex settlement history can be traced in Ephesus beginning from the seventh millennium BCE at Cukurici Mound until the present at Selçuk. Favourably located geographically, it was subject to continuous shifting of the shore line from east to west due to sedimentation, which led to several relocations of the city site and its harbours. The Neolithic settlement of Cukurici Mound marking the southern edge of the former estuary is now well inland, and was abandoned prior to settlement on the Ayasuluk Hill from the Middle Bronze Age. Founded by the 2nd millennium BCE, the sanctuary of the Ephesian Artemis, originally an Anatolian mother goddess, became one of the largest and most powerful sanctuaries of the ancient world. The Ionian cities that grew up in the wake of the Ionian migrations joined in a confederacy under the leadership of Ephesus.

“In the fourth century BCE, Lysimachos, one of the twelve generals of Alexander the Great, founded the new city of Ephesus, while leaving the old city around the Artemision. When Asia Minor was incorporated into the Roman Empire in 133 BCE, Ephesus was designated as the capital of the new province Asia. Excavations and conservation over the past 150 years have revealed grand monuments of the Roman Imperial period lining the old processional way through the ancient city including the Library of Celsus and terrace houses. Little remains of the famous Temple of Artemis, one of the ‘seven wonders of the world’ which drew pilgrims from all around the Mediterranean until it was eclipsed by Christian pilgrimage to the Church of Mary and the Basilica of St. John in the 5th century CE. Pilgrimage to Ephesus outlasted the city and continues today. The Mosque of Isa Bey and the medieval settlement on Ayasuluk Hill mark the advent of the Selçuk and Ottoman Turks. *=*

Ephesus is an important cultural site because: 1) It is an exceptional testimony to the cultural traditions of the Hellenistic, Roman Imperial and early Christian periods as reflected in the monuments in the centre of the Ancient City and Ayasuluk. The cultural traditions of the Roman Imperial period are reflected in the outstanding representative buildings of the city centre including the Celsus Library, Hadrian’s Temple, the Serapeion and Terrace House 2, with its wall paintings, mosaics and marble panelling showing the style of living of the upper levels of society at that time. 2) Ephesus as a whole is an outstanding example of a settlement landscape determined by environmental factors over time. The ancient city stands out as a Roman harbour city, with sea channel and harbour basin along the Kaystros River. Earlier and subsequent harbours demonstrate the changing river landscape from the Classical Greek to Medieval periods. *=*

3) Historical accounts and archaeological remains of significant traditional and religious Anatolian cultures beginning with the cult of Cybele/Meter until the modern revival of Christianity are visible and traceable in Ephesus, which played a decisive role in the spread of Christian faith throughout the Roman Empire. The extensive remains of the Basilica of St. John on Ayasuluk Hill and those of the Church of Mary in Ephesus are testament of the city’s importance to Christianity. Two important Councils of the early Church were held at Ephesus in 431 and 449 CE, initiating the veneration of Mary in Christianity, which can be seen as a reflection of the earlier veneration of Artemis and the Anatolian Cybele. Ephesus was also the leading political and intellectual centre, with the second school of philosophy in the Aegean, and Ephesus as a cultural and intellectual centre had great influence on philosophy and medicine. *=*

Sights in Ephesus


Fuberary carved relief a gladiator found in Ephesus

Ephesus has been restored by an Austrian archeological team that began work at the turn of the 2-th century. The ruins cover over 2000 acres. Outside the entrance gate is a completely restored gymnasium, the Roman equivalent of a secondary school. The first place you come to inside the gate is a huge a 24,000 seat amphitheater where St. Paul spoke during the first century after Christ's death and Joan Baez sang old Bob Dylan songs in the 1980s. After one of St. Paul's sermon's a riot broke out because the citizens of Ephesus feared that Christ would dethrone their popular pagan goddess Diana. From the hill in back of the amphitheater there is a panoramic view of the entire city.

The Marble Way is road paved with flat stones. Heading up the Marble Way you pass the Library of Celsius, the most beautifully restored structure in Ephesus. The marble facade of the library is comprised of two tiers of Corinthian columns and niches with statues. If you are so inclined it is possible to crawl around in the ancient sewer system underneath the building.

Ascending from the library to the top of a hill is the Sacred Way, an ancient marble road lined with columns its entire length. Off to one side of the road is an ancient brothel, identified with a small inscribed foot and a woman with a mohawk haircut. As you climb up the hill you pass the sacred pump room which produced water that purportedly made sterile women fertile. Further up is the Fountain of the Trojans and the Temple of Hadrian. The later is adorned with friezes of elephants, warriors, kings and gods, and was used to worship the emperor.

The House of the Virgin (a few kilometers from Ephesus) is, according to legend, where the Apostle John and the Virgin Mary came here after Christ was crucified. Mary reportedly lived here until she died. She is not buried anywhere because, according to the Catholic scripture but not the Bible, when she died she rose into the sky “assumed body and soul into Heavenly glory.” The Vatican has sanctioned the site which is visited each year by thousands of pilgrims. Mary’s House is a tiny stone structure, dimly lit despite burning candles placed throughout it. Nuns who oversee the chapel sell rosary beads. Visitors can collect water from the chapel’s spring. The black handless statue of the virgin that once sat inside the house can now be seen in the museum in Selçuk.

Temple of Diana, One of the Seven Wonders of the World

The Temple of Diana in Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was ordered by King Croesus and completed around 550 B.C. after 120 years of labor. Described by Phion as the greatest of the seven wonders, the Temple of Diana was 225-feet-wide and 525-feet-long, with 127 sixty-foot-high marble columns. The largest and most complex temple in ancient times, it was made out of marble, wood and tile, and built on marshy soil so it would be immune to earthquakes. Even so the temple had to be rebuilt three times before Goths destroyed it in 262 A.D.


Model of the Temple of Diana

Temple of Diana built around 550 B.C. near the sea and destroyed by invading Goths around A.D. 262. Ertastratus ordered the Temple of Diana to be burned down he did so to ensure that it was remembered, English archeologist J. T. Wood rediscovered the temple in 1874 after 11 years of digging. Today the ruins are located a mile or so away from Ephesus, and unfortunately all that remains is a foundation.

Diana of Ephesus, also known as the virgin huntress of the moon, was worshipped throughout most of Europe and the Mediterranean during ancient times and she still has followers today. The Greeks knew her as Artemis, and her origins can be traced as far back as Babylon. She may even have evolved from Stone Age earth mothers goddesses that dominated primitive cultures before the Greeks popularized male gods.

Despite the fact she was a permanent virgin, she was the goddess of fertility, and the famous statue of her now in the Selçuk Museum has endowed her with 18 breasts. None of the breasts have nipples, however, which led one classical scholar to venture they were actually bull's testes or the ova on scared bees. Whatever they were Diana's image has fascinated artists for centuries. Other statues have placed bees on her knees and lions over her shoulders. A Raphael painting of her graces the Vatican. And recently a Brooklyn artist gave her four buttocks as well as a chestful of breasts.

What got St. Paul into trouble was his statement: "Diana should be despised and her magnificence should be destroyed" The Temple that honored her was a popular tourist attraction and silver souvenirs of Diana and her temple were sold on the streets of Ephesus like miniature Eiffel towers and Statues of Liberty are sold today. During the festival of Artemis images of Diana were placed on the steps of her temple for worshipers to kiss. [Source: Vicky Goldberg, New York Times, August 21, 1994].

Initiates to cult honoring Cybele in Asia Minor were baptized in bull blood, which some thought ensured eternal life. Once accepted into the cult devotees were supposed to castrate themselves as offering of their fertility in exchange for the fertility of the world.

Zeugma: A Border Town on the Eastern Roman Frontier

Zeugma is an ancient Roman border town being submerged by a dam and reservoir in southeast Turkey. On its history, Matthew Brunwasser wrote in Archaeology magazine: “In the third century B.C., Seleucus I Nicator (“the Victor”), one of Alexander the Great’s commanders, established a settlement he called Seleucia, probably a katoikia, or military colony, on the western side of the river. On its eastern bank, he founded another town he called Apamea after his Persian-born wife. The two cities were physically connected by a pontoon bridge, but it is not known whether they were administered by separate municipal governments, and nothing of ancient Apamea, nor the bridge, survives. In 64 B.C., the Romans conquered Seleucia, renaming the town Zeugma, which means “bridge” or “crossing” in ancient Greek. After the collapse of the Seleucid Empire, the Romans added Zeugma to the lands of Antiochus I Theos of Commagene as a reward for his support of General Pompey during the conquest. [Source: Matthew Brunwasser, Archaeology, October 14, 2012 <<<]


remains of the Temple of Diana

“Throughout the imperial period, two Roman legions were based at Zeugma, increasing its strategic value and adding to its cosmopolitan culture. Due to the high volume of road traffic and its geographic position, Zeugma became a collection point for road tolls. Political and trade routes converged here and the city was the last stop in the Greco-Roman world before crossing over to the Persian Empire. For hundreds of years Zeugma prospered as a major commercial city as well as a military and religious center, eventually reaching its peak population of about 20,000–30,000 inhabitants. During the imperial period, Zeugma became the empire’s largest, and most strategically and economically important, eastern border city. <<<

“However, the good times in Zeugma declined along with the fortunes of the Roman Empire. After the Sassanids from Persia attacked the city in A.D. 253, its luxurious villas were reduced to ruins and used as shelters for animals. The city’s new inhabitants were mainly rural people who employed only simple building materials that did not survive.” Kutalmis Gorkay of Ankara University, has directed work at Zeugma, since 2005, “is now looking for more evidence of how this multicultural city functioned as the transition between east and west, and the Persian and Greco-Roman worlds. He is also seeking to understand how the shift from the Hellenistic Greek world to the domination of the Roman Empire affected the city. “We don’t know of any other big cities in this area that changed from a Hellenistic city into a Roman garrison city in such an important geopolitical location, making it an ideal place to study the cultural changes between the two,” says Gorkay. <<<

Residents of a “once upscale neighborhood were likely high-ranking civil and military officials and merchants grown wealthy from trade. There is ample evidence of a sophisticated sewage and water supply system. Grooves cut into the stone streets once held pipes that delivered water from at least four reservoirs and cisterns on the Belkis Tepe, the city’s highest point, through spouts capped with bronze lion heads. Sunny courtyards in the center of the houses allowed fresh air to circulate inside. Some had shallow pools, called impluvia, to collect rainwater and cool the air before it entered the house. These courtyards also once contained some of Zeugma’s most famous mosaics, many of which have water themes: Eros riding a dolphin; Danae and Perseus being rescued by fishermen on the shores of Seriphos; Poseidon, the god of the sea; and other water deities and sea creatures. <<<

“There is also much yet to learn about the practice of religion in Zeugma. Through further excavation, Gorkay wants to examine the place of politics and nationality in the practice of religion during the transformative periods in Zeugma’s history. In 2008, atop the Belkis Tepe, archaeologists excavated a temple and sanctuary where three colossal cult statues of Zeus, Athena, and probably Hera, were found, marking it as one of the city’s most important religious sites. But there are still many questions left to answer about the ways in which the traditional Greco-Roman gods were worshipped alongside the Persian deities who were also honored in the city. Similarly, says Gorkay, “In the time of the Commagene rulers, Antiochus I consecrated many sanctuaries and depicted himself in all of them,” including stelae on which the king is shown shaking hands with gods. But during the Roman period, these temples were stripped of their political character and the gods were portrayed alone, signifying a change in the cult dedicated to the worship of the ruler.” <<<

Dura-Europos: the Roman Wall in Syria

Andrew Curry wrote in National Geographic: “Just as Hadrian’s Wall shows the Roman frontier at its strongest, an abandoned fortress on the Euphrates River vividly captures the moment the borders began to collapse. Dura-Europos was a fortified city on the frontier between Rome and Persia, its greatest rival. Today Dura sits about 25 miles from the Syrian border with Iraq, an eight-hour bus ride through the desert from Damascus. It first came to light in 1920, when British troops fighting Arab insurgents accidentally uncovered the painted wall of a Roman temple. A team from Yale University and the French Academy put hundreds of Bedouin tribesmen to work with shovels and picks, moving tens of thousands of tons of sand with the help of railcars and mine carts. “At times it was like the Well of Souls scene from Indiana Jones,” says University of Leicester archaeologist Simon James. [Source: Andrew Curry, National Geographic, September 2012 >|<]

“Ten years of frenzied digging uncovered a third-century Roman city frozen in time. Fragments of plaster still cling to mud-brick and stone walls, and the rooms of palaces and temples—including the world’s oldest known Christian church—are tall enough to walk through and imagine what they looked like when they had roofs. >|<

“Founded by Greeks around 300 B.C., Dura was conquered by the Romans nearly 500 years later. Its tall, thick walls and perch above the Euphrates made it a perfect frontier outpost. The northern end was walled off and turned into a Roman-era “green zone” with barracks, an imposing headquarters for the garrison commander, a redbrick bathhouse big enough to wash the dust off a thousand soldiers, the empire’s easternmost known amphitheater, and a 60-room palace suitable for dignitaries “roughing it” in the hinterlands. >|<

“Duty rosters show at least seven outposts reported to Dura. One of the outposts was staffed by just three soldiers; another lay nearly a hundred miles downstream. “This was not a city under constant threat,” James told me when I visited, before the political situation in Syria deteriorated and made excavation impossible. We sat amid the ruins and watched orange gas flares from Iraqi oil wells flicker on the horizon. “Soldiers here were probably busier policing the locals than defending against raids and attacks.” >|<

“The quiet didn’t last. Persia emerged as a major threat along the empire’s eastern border a half century after the Romans seized Dura. Beginning in 230, war between the rivals raged across Mesopotamia. It was soon clear the frontier strategy that had served Rome for more than a century was no match for a determined, sizable foe. >|<

“Dura’s turn came in 256. Working with a Franco-Syrian team of archaeologists interested in the site’s pre-Roman history, James has spent ten years unraveling the walled city’s final moments. He says the Romans must have known an attack was imminent. They had time to reinforce the massive western wall, burying part of the city—including the church and a magnificently decorated synagogue—to form a sloping rampart. >|<

“The Persian army set up camp in the city cemetery, a few hundred yards from Dura’s main gate. As catapults lobbed stones at the Romans, the Persians built an assault ramp and dug beneath the city, hoping to collapse its defenses. Dura’s garrison struck back with tunnels of their own. >|<

“As fighting raged on the surface, James says, a squad of 19 Romans broke through into a Persian tunnel. A cloud of poison gas, pumped into the underground chamber, suffocated them almost instantly. Their remains are some of the oldest archaeological evidence of chemical warfare. James believes the bodies, found 1,700 years later, stacked in a tight tunnel, were used to block the tunnel while the Persians set it on fire. >|<

“The Persians failed to topple Dura’s wall but eventually succeeded in taking the city, which was later abandoned to the desert. Surviving defenders were slain or enslaved. Persian armies pushed deep into what had been Rome’s eastern provinces, sacked dozens of cities, and overpowered two emperors before capturing a third, the hapless Valerian, in 260. The Persian king, Shapur, reportedly used Valerian as a footstool for a while, then had him flayed and nailed his skin to a wall. >|<

“The crisis was a turning point. Around the time Dura fell, the careful balance of offense, defense, and sheer intimidation along the frontier fell apart.For nearly 150 years the border had helped Rome ignore a painful reality: The world beyond the walls was catching up, in part thanks to the Romans themselves. Barbarians who served in the Roman army brought back Roman knowledge, weapons, and military strategy, says Michael Meyer, an archaeologist at Berlin’s Free University.” >|<

Decapitated Gladiators Show Genetic Impact of the Romans on Britain

DNA from seven decapitated skeletons thought to be gladiators is helping researchers unravel the genetic impact of the Roman Empire, with initial findings suggesting genetic impact of the Romans on Britain is considerably less than previously thought. Taylor Kubota wrote in Live Science: “The headless skeletons were excavated between 2004 and 2005 from a Roman burial site in Driffield Terrace in York, England, the archaeologists said. Around the time the bodies were buried, between the second and fourth centuries A.D., the area that's now York was the Roman Empire's capital of northern Britain, called Eboracum. The cemetery where the bodies were discovered was located in a prominent area, near a main road that led out of the city, according to the researchers. [Source: Taylor Kubota, Live Science, January 28, 2016]

“Most of the skeletons found at this site were of males younger than 45 who were taller than average and showed evidence of trauma, such as cuts to their arms and fingers, the archaeologists said. Famously, the majority of them had been decapitated. These standout traits led some experts to suggest that this was a burial site for gladiators. However, it is also possible that these men were in the military, which, in Roman times, had a minimum height requirement, the researchers said. [See Photos of the Decapitated Gladiator Skeletons]

“"It was a very curious assemblage of individuals with their heads cut off, who may or may not be gladiators," said Matthew Collins, a professor of archaeology at the University of York and one of the paper's authors. The distinctiveness of these remains were featured in two documentaries in the years following the excavation, "Timewatch: The mystery of the headless Romans" in 2006 and "Gladiators: Back From the Dead" in 2010.

“In the new study, Collins and his colleagues collected high-quality DNA samples from the dense petrous bone of the inner ears from the skeletons. In total, nine genomes were compared: seven from the York Romans (all male) and two from skeletons found in other cemeteries, including one from a more ancient Iron Age female and one from a more recent Anglo-Saxon male. The genomes from the decapitated Romans were found to be similar to the Iron Age genome but significantly different from the Anglo-Saxon genome. This suggests that the Roman Empire's genetic influence on Britain was not nearly as strong as its cultural influence, the researchers said. "We are used to the idea of the Romans coming in and changing things," Collins said. "Yes, they changed things, but the people fundamentally didn't change."

“The results also indicate that the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons during the Dark Ages had a greater effect on the genetic makeup of Britain than did the Roman Empire. Nonetheless, this period of history is still shrouded in mystery, the researchers said. “The new study also revealed that the York Romans were genetically similar to modern-day British Celtic populations, especially the Welsh. This makes sense, the researchers said, given the movement of people from central Britain to the margins of the country following Anglo-Saxon invasions. [Photos: Gladiators of the Roman Empire]

“In addition to their more violent injuries, the Roman skeletons appeared to have experienced infections and childhood stress, the archaeologists said. Their genomes, in combination with evidence from studying different forms of elements (isotopes) and how they changed over time, showed that six of the seven were British, but one was from the Middle East, possibly Lebanon or Syria. This unexpected finding is an example of how dynamic the Roman Empire was — and brings to mind the present-day diaspora occurring in the Middle East, Collins said. It's likely that most of these men had brown eyes and black or brown hair, but one may have been blue-eyed and blond — the same as the Anglo-Saxon man, the researchers said.

“These remains have been studied extensively, but the sequencing of their DNA is a major achievement, the researchers said. In their paper, they called this "the first snapshot of British genomes in the early centuries A.D." Collins said that the researchers couldn't have attempted such a feat when the skeletons were first discovered because the approximate cost would have been about $70 million. (With technological advances, the cost of such analyses has gone down, according to the Human Genome Project.)

“Collins noted that the work exemplifies a new stage in archaeology. "The excitement is, we are now technologically able to do this kind of work, which is mind-boggling when you consider the great achievement of sequencing the first human genome was less than 15 years ago, and now we can sequence the genomes of Romans from York and Anglo-Saxons in Cambridge," Collins said. "It's just absolutely extraordinary." “The research was detailed online in the January 19, 2016issue of the journal Nature Communications.”

Vindolanda and Roman Forts Near Hadrian’s Wall

Situated a few miles behind Hadrian’s Wall was a string of forts, evenly spaced a half a day’s march apart. Each fort could house between 500 and 1,000 men, capable of responding quickly to any attacks. Housesteads Roman Fort is one the best preserved forts in the country. Located on a high ridge. It covers an area of five acres. Within its walls are a number of buildings including the fort's headquarters and commander's house, granaries, barracks, a hospital, and latrines. |::|

Vindolanda was a Roman auxiliary fort just south of Hadrian's Wall in northern England. Archaeological excavations of the site show it was occupied by the Romans roughly from A.D. 85 to 370. Artifacts found b archaeologists have included Roman boots, shoes, armour, jewelry and coins. Perhaps the most interesting discovery has been the Vindolanda tablets, which contains letters and notes by soldiers stationed there, found in a waterlogged trash pile.

Vindolanda fort embraced a wall and gatehouse. Located south of Hadrian's Wall, it was surrounded by a settlement. As well as providing protect Roman forts near the wall attracted settlement and some local trade. According to to the BBC: “Sixteen forts were built on or near the Wall: each was different, with no standard interior plan. Archaeological evidence suggests that the forts were built after the Wall had been laid out and constructed. The forts were designed to house the soldiers that patrolled the Wall, although historians disagree about the numbers who were stationed there.” [Source: BBC |::|]

The Vindolanda Praetorium was the official residence of the Roman governors stationed at Vindolanda. Along the main street at Vindolanda there was a bath house with a raised floor. The fort and settlment also embraced temples, granaries, hospitals, and latrines. Among the 2000 or so ink tablets found at Vindolanda, one reads: 'I have sent you...pairs of socks, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants.' Another says: '...you ought to decide, my lord, what quantity of wagons you are going to send to carry stone...I ask you to write back what you want me to do. I pray that you are in good health.' |::|

Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “For a Roman military historian like me, Vindolanda is one of the most fascinating and exciting sites in the Roman world. It ranks alongside my old third-century hunting ground of Dura-Europos as a site of major importance, in which a snapshot of Roman life has been preserved for posterity. As such, it transcends the basic military significance of the find and, like so much else of the Roman army (around which the Roman system revolved), sheds light upon the everyday lives of those who lived and worked in and around the camp. The Vindolanda tablets provide a unique insight into what it must have been like to be a Roman representative in a foreign land.” [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, November 16, 2012 |::|]

One tablet reads: “The Britons are unprotected by armour. There are very many cavalry. The cavalry do not use swords, nor do the wretched Britons [Brittunculi] mount in order to throw javelins.” (Tab. Vindol. II.164) This memorandum “was probably written by one of the commanders at Vindolanda as informative notes to his successor. It graphically portrays the frustrations of the regular soldier when faced with a guerrilla army that will not stand and fight, rather like the experience of American soldiers in Vietnam.” |::|

History of Vindolanda

Vindolanda was built before Hadrian’s Wall. In approximately A.D. 92, it was rebuilt nearly doubling its size, perhaps in preparation for the start of the construction of Hadrian's Wall in A.D. 122. Towards the end of the second century and into the third century there was further expansion with a number of shops, workshops and domestic buildings added to the fort and settlement. [Source: BBC]

Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “Like most Roman forts, Vindolanda followed several phases of construction. Originally a turf rampart, probably erected in the time of Agricola, by the late 80s A.D. it was a permanent turf and timber fort in the classic Roman playing-card shape, aligned east-west, with a stone headquarters building, an officer's house, and a small bathhouse situated down the slope on the eastern side. [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, November 16, 2012 |::|]

“During the Hadrianic period (c.120 and after), this whole fort was demolished and a new structure was built facing north-south. Attached to the west of this Hadrianic fort was a small civilian settlement, called a vicus, within the remains of the old rampart and which incorporated a fine bathhouse and a mansio, a guesthouse with space for up to six residents travelling along the Stanegate on official business. All of this was enlarged and rebuilt in stone during the early third century AD, and it is this ground plan that we see today. The famous Vindolanda tablets date to the pre-Hadrianic fort, though they are typical of Roman military life in any period. “

“During the fourth century, the Wall's function as a barrier declined as Roman power waned. Bede writes about the Wall in the seventh century as being eight feet (2.4 m) wide and twelve feet (3.6 m) high. The Wall was undoubtedly a handy source of stone for a number of new buildings, including new monasteries at Jarrow, Monkwearmouth and Lindisfarne.” |::|

Vindolanda Tablets

Andrew Curry wrote in National Geographic: “In 1973 workers digging a drainage ditch at Vindolanda, a typical frontline fort, uncovered piles of Roman trash under a thick layer of clay. The wet layer held everything from 1,900-year-old building timbers to cloth, wooden combs, leather shoes, and dog droppings, all preserved by the oxygen-free conditions. Digging deeper, excavators came across hundreds of fragile, wafer-thin wooden tablets covered in writing. They provide day-to-day details of life along Hadrian’s Wall: work assignments, duty rosters, supply requests, personal letters. There is even a birthday party invitation from one officer’s wife to another, the earliest surviving example of women’s handwriting in Latin. [Source: Andrew Curry, National Geographic, September 2012 >|<]

Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “The Vindolanda tablets were found mainly in a waterlogged rubbish heap at the corner of the commander's house in the pre-Hadrianic fort. More have been recovered from other parts of the site since. In all, there are over 400 tablets, made from thinly cut slivers of wood between one and three mm thick, about the size of a modern postcard, on which the correspondent wrote in ink before folding the leaf in half and writing the address on the back. In some cases, longer documents have been created by punching holes in the corner and tying several of these tablets together. [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, November 16, 2012 |::|]

“Documents such as these were not uncommon in the Roman world, and were even described by Herodian, who talks of the emperor Commodus making a list of proscribed persons by: 'taking a writing-tablet of the kind that were made of lime wood and folded face-to-face by being bent.' It was the discovery of this list which prompted his assassination. The Vindolanda tablets are made of birch, alder and oak. Chance finds from other sites in Britain indicate that they were not unique, and the vast volume of them in the anaerobic conditions of Vindolanda suggest that such tablets were ubiquitous in the northern provinces as means of record-keeping and letter-writing where papyrus was scarce. |::|

“They can tell us a great deal about the nature of life on the Roman frontier, not just in a military context. The vast majority of them date from the period A.D. 97-103, when the fort was occupied by IX Batavorum and its sister unit III Batavorum, both 'quingenary' units approximately 500 strong, as well as a detachment of cavalry from the Spanish Ala Vardullorum. |::|

“It is almost impossible to separate the military activities of Vindolanda from its civilian activities, as you will see, since the two naturally blend into one. Yet the Vindolanda tablets can tell us some very interesting things about the way the Roman army was run on the northern frontier. What they show is just what a well-oiled and bureaucratic machine the Roman army was. Much of the Vindolanda material is made up of accounts, work rosters, and interim reports. Its value lies in its very nature as interim material, used to write up the more formulaic official reports which we find elsewhere, such as at Dura and in Egypt. These not only demonstrate how such a small number of men could be used to police and control such a wide frontier, but the extent to which the army was always engaged in non-military activities that interacted with the local area. |::|

Life of the Soldiers at Vindolanda

Andrew Curry wrote in National Geographic: ““The tablets suggest that watching over the “wretched little Britons,” as one Vindolanda writer describes the locals, was no picnic, but the fort wasn’t exactly a hardship post. Some soldiers lived with their families—dozens of children’s shoes, including baby booties, are among the footwear recovered. And the wall’s patrollers ate well: Bacon, ham, venison, chicken, oysters, apples, eggs, honey, Celtic beer, and wine were on the menu. There was even garum, a fermented fish concoction that was the Roman version of Worcestershire sauce. Homesick soldiers received care packages too. “I have sent you ... socks ... two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants,” writes one concerned correspondent.” [Source: Andrew Curry, National Geographic, September 2012]

Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “The diet of the inhabitants of Vindolanda was pretty varied. Within the Vindolanda tablets, 46 different types of foodstuff are mentioned. Whilst the more exotic of these, such as roe deer, venison, spices, olives, wine and honey, appear in the letters and accounts of the slaves attached to the commander's house; it is clear that the soldiers and ordinary people around the fort did not eat badly. We have already seen the grain accounts of the brothers Octavius and Candidus, demonstrating that a wide variety of people in and around the fort were supplied with wheat. Added to that are a couple of interesting accounts and letters which show that the ordinary soldiers could get hold of such luxuries as pepper and oysters, and that the local butcher was doing a roaring trade in bacon. [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, November 16, 2012 |::|]

“One list in particular is interesting, because it seems to illustrate the standard military practice of docking pay in return for some form of centralised supply. The tablet contains a list of men arranged by century, from the centuries of Ucenius and Tullio son of Carpentarius, who have been provided with various goods such as overcoats, towels, a flask, a cloak, thongs, tallow and in the case of Gambax son of Tappo, pepper. There are check marks to the left of several of these entries, as if they have been ticked off once they have paid, and we are able to ascertain from the fuller entries what the cost of certain commodities were. For instance, a towel cost 2 denarii, Gambax had 2 d worth of pepper, and Lucius the shieldmaker paid 5 d 3 asses for a cloak (Tab. Vindol. II.184). |::|

“Instead of paying for such items, the more fortunate soldiers in the unit could expect parcels from their families containing the basics of life, as in the case of this anonymous soldier (Tab. Vindol. II.346): ‘I have sent(?) you...pairs of socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants, two pairs of sandals...Greet...Elpis...Tetricus and all your messmates with whom I pray that you live in the greatest good fortune.’

A letter from the cavalry decurion Masculus to Flavius Cerialis, Verecundus' successor in the fort, illustrates just how involved the commander could be in determining these assignments: ‘Masculus to Cerialis his king, greetings. Please, my lord, give instructions on what you want us to do tomorrow. Are we all to return with the standard, or just half of us?...(missing lines)...most fortunate and be well-disposed towards me. My fellow soldiers have no beer. Please order some to be sent.’

Alan K. Bowman, author of “Life and Letters on the Roman Frontier,” wrote: “If he had lice, there were baths, soap and towels; for the cold, a medical service and a hospital; if looking at the sky gave him inflamed eyes, he could sign on the sick list. If he was lonely, he could take leave and find a friend in Corbridge, or perhaps even go home to Tungria. But it would be optimistic to suppose that even the Roman army could stop the rain pattering out of the sky in a climate notorious for its tempestates molestae.” |

Unusual Roman Irrigation Found in Britain

In 2014, Chris Evans of Cambridge University’s archaeological unit announced that planting beds and pit wells unearthed at the North West Cambridge site near Huntingdon Road. Were dated to the Roman era between A.D. 70 and 120. It was an “unparalleled discovery” and “effectively the first irrigation system we’ve seen”, he told the BBC. [Source: BBC, March 18, 2014 |::|]

The BBC reported: “Excavations have so far uncovered evidence of settlements and habitation on the site from as early as the later Neolithic period, about 2800 B.C. to 2200 B.C., to the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman period as well as more modern finds including World War II practice trenches. The team has been investigating how people through the ages adapted to living in an inland area away from main river valleys.|::|

Evans said: “Our findings have unearthed zebra-like stripes of Roman planting beds that are encircled on their higher northern side by more deep pit wells. The gully-defined planting beds were closely set and were probably grapevines or possibly asparagus.During dry spells water would have been poured from the wells into the ditches to irrigate crops. I’m not aware of an irrigation system of this kind before. There has been evidence of gardens and wells, but the extent to which there are planting beds arranged in parallel and along a slope, connecting directly to a water source, is new territory. It points to the sophisticated knowledge of hydrology and the introduction of horticulture the Romans had.” |::|

Settlement Built on Roman Military Fort

In 2015, archaeologists said the remnants of ancient water wells, pearls and hairpins found on top of a Roman fort was proof that villagers set up a settlement on top of the military fort after it was abandoned. Laura Geggel wrote in Live Science: “About 1,900 years ago, a group of Roman soldiers lived in a fort in what is now Gernsheim, a German town located on the Rhine River about 31 miles (50 kilometers) south of Frankfurt. Shortly after the soldiers left the fort in about A.D. 120, another group of people moved in and built a village literally on top of the settlement, researchers found. "We now know that from the first to the third century, an important villagelike settlement, or 'vicus,' must have existed here," dig leader Thomas Maurer, an archaeologist at the University of Frankfurt, said in a statement. [Source: Laura Geggel, Live Science, September 18, 2015]

“After excavating the fort last year, the researchers returned this summer to look for evidence of the Roman settlement. Their efforts paid off: They found relics of the village, part of it built on the foundations of the fort.. Researchers have found the well-preserved foundation of a stone building, fire pits, at least two wells and some cellar pits. They've also found ceramic shards, which they plan to date to get a better grasp of the village's active periods. "We've also found real treasures, such as rare garment clasps, several pearls, parts of a board game (dice, playing pieces) and a hairpin made from bone and crowned with a female bust," Maurer said in the statement.

“Though they built their settlement over part of the fort, the villagers likely knew the soldiers, the researchers said. In fact, the villagers were likely the soldiers' family members and tradespeople who made a business trading with the military. "A temporary downturn probably resulted when the troops left — this is something we know from sites which have been studied more thoroughly," Maurer said. But the little village managed to prosper after the soldiers left, as stone buildings were built in the second century A.D., during the Pax Romana, a 206-year period with relatively few conflicts in the Roman Empire.

“The inhabitants likely had Gallic-Germanic origins, but a few "true" Romans — people with Roman citizenship who had moved from distant provinces — lived there as well, the researchers said. They based this idea on several tidbits of evidence, including pieces of traditional dress and coins found there. One coin is from Bithynia, in northwest Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), which may have been a souvenir from someone's travels, they said.

“The Roman fort once housed about 500 soldiers, who lived there between about A.D. 70 and 120, the researchers said. When the soldiers left, they dismantled the fort and filled in the ditches with dirt and everyday bric-a-brac, much to the delight of the archaeologists excavating the site. Rome made the fort and settlement to expand its infrastructure and help it take possession of large areas east of the Rhine River in about A.D. 70, the researchers said. During that time, the fort and settlement were fairly accessible by roads. It may have even had a harbor.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except the whistling sling bullets, Live Science

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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