Not until the 1800s did archaeologists begin digging up Rome. In 1462, Pope Pius II praised classical ruins for their “exemplary frailty” and issued an edict to protect them.” As part of his effort to link his regime to ancient Rome, Mussolini sponsored excavations in Rome and Ostia and drained an entire lake to get at a luxurious ship built by the Roman emperor Caligula that rested on the bottom of it.

A shocking number of paintings and painted signs in Pompeii have vanished after being exposed to air sort of the like the subway-excavation scene in “Fellini’s Roma” When a skeleton is found in the Naples area sometimes it takes a little sorting out to determine whether it belongs to an organized crime victim or the member of an ancient culture.

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.

There is lot more materials and sources for the study of the ancient Romans than there is for the study of the ancient Greeks. Most of the Roman sources are from the members of the ruling elite. There generally is not much information on the lower classes and how they lived. Archaeologists and historians warn that in the study of ancient Rome it is important to tread carefully and go only as far as the data takes you, understanding the limits and realizing the fragility of the constructs and presence of contradictions.

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Archaeology in Rome Itself

One of the last great undiscovered and little-explored archaeological sites in Italy is underneath Rome. In Roman-era brick sewers are 2000-year-old amphorae next to broken beer bottles in spaces that smell of urine, mud, oil and rotting rat carcasses. The surviving Maxima (“the Great Drain”), a sewer built below the Forum, is one of the oldest surviving structures in Rome yet parts of it have never been mapped or explored. [Source: Paul Bennett, National Geographic, July 2006]

Other areas that have not been thoroughly investigated include the Aqua Virgo, the only aqueduct in Rome still in use after 20 centuries; the La Chioccila (“the snail shell”), spiral staircase that leads to the Aqua Virgo; an A.D. 2nd century building beside the Circus Maximus, with an almost completely intact cave-like room with a bull statue used for bull sacrifices to honor the god Mithras; and a room full of exquisite mosaic walls with image sf half-naked men stamping grapes under Nero’s Golden House

Over the centuries buildings have been built on top of one another with important monuments often lying on top of other important monuments, For example the basilica of San Clemente today lies on top of an earlier church destroyed when the Normans sacked Rome in 1084. The church in turn was built on top of an A.D. 4th century house where Christians met which was built on top of a shrine to the Roman god Mithras.

Some places are 15 meters higher than they were when Rome was established. Much of Rome sits on a flood plain, at a bend in the Tiber River. Although the Romans built levees the city was periodically flooded. Layers of sediment deposited during the floods raised the level of the city as did the practice of building new roads and buildings on top of old ones.

If you dig a hole almost anywhere in Rome there is good chance you will uncover something of archaeological significance. Every year 13,000 requests for building permits are submitted, with each requiring archaeology evaluation. The Beni Culturali, the government ministry that oversees archaeology, is underfunded and understaffed and often under great pressure to do their work as quickly as possible so as not to cause too many delays and cost overruns for developers and construction companies. They are sometimes aided by volunteers, who sometimes run in front of backhoes to pluck out amphorae fragments and other artifacts before they are possible lost forever at the hands of construction crews.

Roma Sotterranea is an urban speleological group that is called in to inspect new finds and underground sites. One of the leading underground explorers is Luca Atoggnoli, an Italian surgeon who takes the potential risk of his hobby very seriously. Before he drops below the surface he makes sure every inch of his body is covered with gloves, boots, a hooded wind suit, and mask—all hermetically sealed with duct tape. These days robots are often deployed to check sites before people go in.

Romulus and Remus Story, Fact?

House of Romulus on Palatine Hill in Rome

According to legend Palatine Hill is where Romulus and Remus were suckled by their she wolf mother and where Rome was founded in the 8th century B.C., when Romulus killed Remus there. The most interesting piece in the Capitoline Museum in Rome is a famous Etruscan bronze of a crazy-eyed she-wolf being. Renaissance depictions of Romulus and Remus were added to the statue in the 15th century.

Tradition places the founding of Rome in the year 753 B.C., when Romulus erected the first walls of the so-called Roma Quadrata, or “square Rome.” Italian archeologist Andrea Carandin, who has been in charge of several important excavations in the most ancient parts of Rome, draws on his findings to offer a highly speculative reconstruction of its founding in “In “Rome: Day One” (Princeton). Adam Kirsch wrote in The New Yorker:“It has been a very long time since anyone took this account as an accurate historical description. But Carandini provocatively suggests that it might be more or less true. Romulus did not create Rome out of nothing, he grants, but it is possible that there was a single day, around the middle of the eighth century B.C., when sacred ceremonies were held to transform a collection of settlements into the city of Rome. Carandini believes that inscribed artifacts he discovered on the Palatine Hill bear out the ancient tradition that Romulus used a team of oxen to dig the outlines of a murus sanctus, a sacred wall, on the future site of Rome. And the culmination of these ceremonies, Carandini writes, was human sacrifice: “Once the walls were completed, a little girl was sacrificed and her attributes were buried under the threshold.” It was the discovery of this “foundational deposit,” in particular a cup, that enabled Carandini “to date the completion of the walls to the second quarter of the eighth century B.C.,” close to the traditional date of Rome’s founding. [Source: Adam Kirsch, The New Yorker, January 2, 2012]

John Noble Wilford wrote in the New York Times, “The story of Romulus and Remus is almost as old as Rome. The orphan twins were suckled by a she-wolf in a cave on the banks of the Tiber. Romulus grew up to found Rome in 753 B. C. Historians have long since dismissed the story as a charming legend. The 19th-century historian Theodor Mommsen said: “The founding of the city in the strict sense, such as the legend assumes, is of course to be reckoned out of the question: Rome was not built in a day." Yet the legend is as imperishable as Mommsen's skeptical verdict, and it has been invigorated by recent archaeological finds. [Source: John Noble Wilford, New York Times, June 12, 2007]

In 2007, Italian archaeologists reported discovering the long-lost cave under the Palatine Hill that ancient Romans held sacred as the place where the twins were nursed. The grown brothers fought over leadership of the new city, the story goes, and Romulus killed Remus and became the first king.

The cave was no surprise to Andrea Carandini, a historian and an archaeologist at the University of Rome, who has said, “The tale of the birth of Rome is part myth and part historical truth." He had already found remains of an ancient wall and ditch and also ruins of a palace that he said was built in the eighth century B.C. “When I excavated the Romulean-age wall on the Palatine, I realized that I was looking at the very origins of Rome as a city-state," Dr. Carandini told the magazine Archaeology.

Dr. Carandini said the wall, built on the slopes occupied by huts of the pre-Roman settlement, was dated through a number of foundation deposits to about 775-750 B.C. He said that the wall was possibly the sacred boundary in Rome's foundation legend and concluded that it was “archaeological evidence of the existence of Romulus and Remus." Based on these and other findings, Dr. Carandini said of Rome's founding, “everything was born” after 750 B.C. “There was no gradual expansion of an old core, but the sudden evolution of a city that was great and remains great."

The magazine noted that Dr. Carandini's support of the legend “has earned him the admiration of the Roman public but the disapproval of many of his colleagues." A lecture that Dr. Carandini gave last fall in Rome attracted 5,000 people, an Italian newspaper reported. But other archaeologists, while praising his excavations, were skeptical of his interpretations. Albert Ammerman, an archaeologist at Colgate University who has excavated Roman ruins, said in the magazine that the presence of certain physical remains did not necessarily validate the literary tradition of Rome's founding and the existence of someone known as Romulus.

Ancient Roman Statues Found British Ambassador's Garden in Rome

A collection of 350 ancient Roman statues and marble friezes were found after a three-year restoration of a garden belonging to the British ambassador's residence. Nick Squires wrote in The Telegraph: “For decades they were hidden beneath a jungle of overgrown vegetation, coated in lichen and moss, but now hundreds of delicate Roman statues and other marble artefacts have emerged from a painstaking restoration of the garden of the British ambassador's residence in Rome. Carved reliefs of wild boar, satyrs, griffons and goddesses were discovered mouldering beneath soil and leaf litter during the laborious landscaping of the garden of Villa Wolkonsky, which was once the home of a Russian princess. “As gardeners hacked through the tangled vegetation, they discovered more than 350 artefacts – far more than they had expected to find. [Source: Nick Squires, The Telegraph, 10 Dec 2014]

“The marble statues and funerary reliefs, once covered in slime and moss, were cleaned by experts and went on display on Wednesday for the first time in the gardens of the villa, a historic palazzo which has been the residence of the British ambassador to Italy since the end of the Second World War. They include stone reliefs from ancient Roman tombs that depict the faces of freed slaves, their wives and children, as well as carved friezes showing chariot races and the ritual sacrifice of bulls.

“The three-year restoration of the 10-acre garden was led by Nina Prentice, a keen horticulturalist and the wife of the ambassador, Christopher Prentice. "I was weeding from the age of two," she told The Telegraph in the grounds of the residence, which are shaded by holm oak trees and palms. Rather than delegate the project to embassy employees, she performed much of the back-breaking digging and clearing of overgrown shrubs herself.

“Working methodically through the garden, which is enclosed on one side by the well-preserved remains of a 1st century A.D. aqueduct built by the Emperor Claudius, she came across the marble carvings. Many of the artefacts came from a nearby Roman necropolis and were used to decorate the garden when it was owned in the early 19th century by Zenaida Wolkonsky, a Russian princess who entertained the likes of Gogol, Goethe, Stendhal and Sir Walter Scott.

“Mrs Prentice found ancient sarcophagi used as plant pots and Roman capitols wedged underneath slabs of marble to form benches. "Everything had slid into ruin and was covered in muck," Mrs Prentice said, walking past a grotto in which Nikolai Gogol is believed to have composed part of Dead Souls, a classic of Russian literature. "Every time we ventured into a different part of the garden, there would be another amazing statue. I just kept saying to myself, 'I can't believe it.' "There were bits scattered all over the place so we had to match hands with arms and heads with bodies."

“Many of the pieces that were rediscovered are important from an artistic and archaeological point of view, experts said. "There's a sarcophagus with a lion's head from the imperial period that is of very high quality," said Prof Christopher Smith, the director of the British School at Rome, an archaeological institute. Dr Dirk Booms, a curator from the British Museum, said: "The funerary relief showing five freed slaves and a child is very rare. They have Greek names, suggesting they were Greek slaves who were freed by their Roman owners. The collection is an important part of the story of Rome."

“After falling on hard times as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Wolkonsky family sold the villa and its gardens to the German government, who used it as their embassy in Rome. During the Nazi occupation of Rome in 1943 and 1944, its underground bomb shelter is thought to have been used to hold Italian civilians, some of whom were reportedly tortured by the Gestapo. Others were shot when they tried to escape from the villa's tennis court, where they had been temporarily held after a Gestapo sweep of the city. The palazzo was confiscated from the Germans after the war and soon taken over by the British, who moved in after the existing British embassy was blown up by Irgun, the Zionist terrorist group fighting for a Jewish homeland, in 1946. It later became the residence of the British ambassador, after the embassy was transferred to a modern, concrete building about a mile away in 1971.”

Archaeologist Make Important Finds Related to Punic Wars’ Sea Battle

Carthaginian naval ram

Andrew Curry wrote in Archaeology magazine: “The Battle of the Aegates Islands in 241 B.C. was a naval battle fought between the fleets of Carthage and the Roman Republic during the First Punic War. It was a victory for the Romans that would lead to their domination in the years to come. Rome lacked a fleet — the ships it had possessed had been destroyed in a previous battle. Yet their enemies, the Carthaginian forces, did little to capitalise on this, allowing Rome to restore its strength and build a new stronger fleet. When the Carthaganians heard about this, they prepared their fleet for battle, and sailed to the Aegates Islands,” also called the Egadi Island, west of Sicily. “The Romans sailed out to meet them - but not before stripping their vessels of sails and masts to give them an advantage in rough sea conditions, By ramming into their enemy's ships and destroying half of the fleet, the Romans won a decisive victory. It was the last battle in the First Punic War, which had raged for 20 years as the two powers fought for supremacy over the western Mediterranean Sea. [Source: Andrew Curry, Archaeology , Volume 65 Number 1, January/February 2012

“As Polybius tells it, the war came to a head in 242 B.C., with both powers exhausted and nearly broke after two decades of fighting. The Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca—the father of a later adversary of Rome, Hannibal—was pinned down on a mountaintop above the city of Drepana, now the Sicilian town of Trapani. As the Carthaginians assembled a relief force, the Romans scraped together the money for a fleet to cut them off. According to Polybius, in March 241 B.C., the two sides met in between the , a trio of rocky outcrops a few miles off the coast of Sicily. The clash brought hundreds of ships and thousands of men together in a battle that helped shape the course of history.

The battle lasted only a few hours.“While the Carthagnians were much more powerful on the water, the cunning Romans lay in wait trapping the Carthaginians and blocking off their sea route in a sudden victorious attack. Heather Ramsey of Listverse wrote: “With their 300 maneuverable ships, the Romans ambushed the enemy fleet and blocked their route. Only 250 of the 700 Carthaginian vessels were warships; the rest carried supplies. By the end of the swift battle, 70 Carthaginian ships were captured, 50 were sunk, and the remainder were able to escape.” Maybe 10,000 men were killed. [Source: Heather Ramsey, Listverse, March 4, 2015]

Battering Rams Maybe Key to Roman Victory at the Battle of the Aegates Islands

Roman battering rams are believed have played an important role in sinking the Carthaginian se ship. In waters around the islands where the battle took place archaeologist have found a dozen or so bronze battering rams, presumably used by ships to pummel each other. Some scholars had thought that ships were no longer ramming each other and that the rams were just for show. Jon Henderson, an underwater archaeologist at the University of Nottingham, told Archaeology magazine: 'But we have found bits of the enemy ships in some of the rams so it's very likely they were ramming each other.'

Heather Ramsey of Listverse wrote: “The underwater site is about 5 square kilometers and so far has yielded weapons, bronze helmets, tall Roman jars (called “amphorae”), and especially bronze battle rams. A ram is a part of a warship that extends from the bow to pierce the hull of an enemy ship. Until this site was discovered, only three rams had been found worldwide. Now, there are at least 14.

““Much of what we knew about ancient naval battles and ancient warships was based on historical text and iconography,” said archaeologist Jeffrey Royal. “We now have physical archaeological data which will significantly change our understanding. [These] rams were not just used as weapons, they were there to protect the ship. The discovery of these rams will help us learn more about the size of these ships, the way they were built, what materials were used as well as the economics of building a navy and the cost of losing a battle.” [Source: Heather Ramsey, Listverse, March 4, 2015]

“So far, we’ve learned that the warships were 30 percent smaller than originally believed. At only 28 meters (92 ft) long, it’s unlikely that they were triremes, warships propelled by three tiers of oarsmen on each side. The excessive height would have made the ships unstable. We’ve also discovered that a ram’s weight of 125 kilograms (275 lb) made it capable of slicing through a ship, not simply punching a small hole in its side. That means a damaged ship would shatter on the surface instead of sinking in one piece.”

Place Where Julius Caesar was Stabbed Found

place where Caesar was stabbed

2012, archaeologists with Spanish National Research Council announced that they had found the spot where it is believed that Julius Caesar was stabbed discovered: a concrete structure in the monumental complex of Torre Argentina in Rome. Stephanie Pappas wrote in Live Science: “Archaeologists have unearthed a concrete structure nearly 10 feet wide and 6.5 feet tall that may have been erected by Augustus, Julius Caesar's successor, to condemn the assassination. [Source: Stephanie Pappas, Live Science, October 11, 2012 +++]

“The structure is at the base of the Curia, or Theater, of Pompey, the spot where classical writers reported the stabbing took place. "We always knew that Julius Caesar was killed in the Curia of Pompey on March 15th 44 B.C. because the classical texts pass on so, but so far no material evidence of this fact, so often depicted in historicist painting and cinema, had been recovered," Antonio Monterroso, a researcher at the Spanish National Research Council, said in a statement. +++

“Classical texts also say that years after the assassination, the Curia was closed and turned into a memorial chapel for Caesar. The researchers are studying this building along with another monument in the same complex, the Portico of the Hundred Columns, or Hecatostylon; they are looking for links between the archaeology of the assassination and what has been portrayed in art. "It is very attractive, in a civic and citizen sense, that thousands of people today take the bus and the tram right next to the place where Julius Caesar was stabbed 2,056 years ago," Monterroso said.” +++

Did Nero Cause the Great Fire of Rome?

The historian William Stearns Davis wrote: In the old days many historians charged Nero with “having caused the great fire that nearly destroyed Rome in 64 CE. Modern criticism makes it very doubtful whether the Emperor really caused the fire; although his life was so iniquitous that people readily believed that he was guilty. The city of Rome was, for the most part, composed of very ill-built and inflammable insulae (tenement houses), and a blaze once under headway was almost impossible to check. In any case, the burning of Rome was one of the famous events of the age; and it is likely enough that thugs and bandits pretended they had the Emperor's orders, when they spread the flames in the hope of getting new chances for plunder. [Source: Dio Cassius (c.155-235 A.D.) from “Roman History, 62.16-18, William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 191-195]

Speaking up in Nero's defense, the Italian archaeologist Ida Sciortino told National Geographic, "Please remember, a lot of the stuff was written by his political opponents...Nero was not fiddling while Rome burned. He realized that nobody could save the old wooden tenements near the Tiber from such an intense blaze. So he spent that time writing a stronger fire code and designing a new city. He started reconstruction one day after the fires were out." [Source: Robert Draper, National Geographic, September 2014 ~]

“This rehabilitation—this process of a small group of historians trying to transform aristocrats into gentlemen—seems quite stupid to me,” famed Roman archaeologist Andrea Carandini to National Geographic. “For instance, there are serious scholars who now say that the fire was not Nero’s fault. But how could he build the Domus Aurea without the fire? Explain that to me. Whether or not he started the fire, he certainly profited from it.” ~

Marisa Ranieri Panetta, the author of books on ancient Rome and Pompeii, told National Geographic: “Even Tacitus, the great accuser of Nero, writes that no one knows whether Rome burned from arson or by chance. Rome in Nero’s time had very narrow streets” and was full of tall buildings with wooden upper stories. “Fire was essential for lighting, cooking, and heating. Consequently almost all the emperors had big fires during their reigns.”

Robert Draper wrote in National Geographic: “While it seems the case that Nero did enjoy playing a stringed instrument known as the kithara, the first account alleging that he did so while watching flames consume the city was written by Cassius Dio a century and a half after the fact. Tacitus, who lived during the time of Nero, wrote that the emperor ordered the homeless to be sheltered, offered cash incentives to those who could expeditiously rebuild the city, and instituted and enforced fire safety codes.” ~

Archaeological Work at the Colosseum


Tom Mueller wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “By the early 19th century, the hypogeum's floor lay buried under some 40 feet of earth, and all memory of its function — or even its existence — had been obliterated. In 1813 and 1874, archaeological excavations attempting to reach it were stymied by flooding groundwater. Finally, under Benito Mussolini's glorification of Classical Rome in the 1930s, workers cleared the hypogeum of earth for good. [Source: Tom Mueller, Smithsonian magazine, January 2011]

“Beste and his colleagues spent four years using measuring tapes, plumb lines, spirit levels and generous quantities of paper and pencils to produce technical drawings of the entire hypogeum. “Today we'd probably use a laser scanner for this work, but if we did, we'd miss the fuller understanding that old-fashioned draftsmanship with pencil and paper gives you," Beste says. “When you do this slow, stubborn drawing, you're so focused that what you see goes deep into the brain. Gradually, as you work, the image of how things were takes shape in your subconscious."

Unraveling the site's tangled history, Beste identified four major building phases and numerous modifications over nearly 400 years of continuous use. Colosseum architects made some changes to allow new methods of stagecraft. Other changes were accidental;a fire sparked by lightning in A.D. 217 gutted the stadium and sent huge blocks of travertine plunging into the hypogeum. Beste also began to decipher the odd marks and incisions in the masonry, having had a solid grounding in Roman mechanical engineering from excavations in southern Italy, where he learned about catapults and other Roman war machines. He also studied the cranes that the Romans used to move large objects, such as 18-foot-tall marble blocks.

Tom Mueller wrote in Smithsonian magazine, When Beste and a team of German and Italian archaeolgists first began exploring the hypogeum, in 1996, he was baffled by the intricacy and sheer size of its structures: “I understood why this site had never been properly analyzed before then. Its complexity was downright horrifying." [Source: Tom Mueller, Smithsonian magazine, January 2011]

The disarray reflected some 1,500 years of neglect and haphazard construction projects, layered one upon another. After the last gladiatorial spectacles were held in the sixth century, Romans quarried stones from the Colosseum, which slowly succumbed to earthquakes and gravity. Down through the centuries, people filled the hypogeum with dirt and rubble, planted vegetable gardens, stored hay and dumped animal dung. In the amphitheater above, the enormous vaulted passages sheltered cobblers, blacksmiths, priests, glue-makers and money-changers, not to mention a fortress of the Frangipane, 12th-century warlords. By then, local legends and pilgrim guidebooks described the crumbling ring of the amphitheater's walls as a former temple to the sun. Necromancers went there at night to summon demons.

By applying his knowledge to eyewitness accounts of the Colosseum's games, Beste was able to engage in some deductive reverse engineering. Paired vertical channels that he found in certain walls, for example, seemed likely to be tracks for guiding cages or other compartments between the hypogeum and the arena. He'd been working at the site for about a year before he realized that the distinctive semicircular slices in the walls near the vertical channels were likely made to leave space for the revolving bars of large capstans that powered the lifting and lowering of cages and platforms. Then other archaeological elements fell into place, such as the holes in the floor, some with smooth bronze collars, for the capstan shafts, and the diagonal indentations for ramps. There were also square mortises that had held horizontal beams, which supported both the capstans and the flooring between the upper and lower stories of the hypogeum.

To test his ideas, Beste built three scale models. “We made them with the same materials that children use in kindergarten — toothpicks, cardboard, paste, tracing paper," he says. “But our measurements were precise, and the models helped us to understand how these lifts actually worked." Sure enough, all the pieces meshed into a compact, powerful elevator system, capable of quickly delivering wild beasts, scenery and equipment into the arena.

Colosseum Painted with Bright Colors And Covered by Graffiti Phalluses

Tom Kington wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Archaeologists scraping away centuries of grime covering the walls of the Colosseum in Rome have discovered that the massive amphitheater was once painted with riotous colors. Experts working on the walls of one of the corridors that once led Romans to their seats to watch bloody gladiatorial shows have discovered traces of brilliant reds, light blue, green and black, proving the drab gray stonework of the Colosseum was once a Technicolor feast. [Source: Tom Kington, Los Angeles Times, January 18, 2013]

“Graffiti celebrating gladiatorial triumphs and scrawled phalluses also can be found on the plasterwork, which has been painstakingly revealed by scraping off dirt and dust. “We have long suspected this range of colors was used. I have wanted to do this for 20 years,” said Rossella Rea, director of the Colosseum. The discoveries were made in a corridor closed to the public, 60 feet above the level of the arena. Rea said that the newly revealed colors were painted in the corridors that circled the arena, while the seating area was bright white, apart from the emperor’s luxury box, which was decked out in richly colored marble.

“Rea’s team also found symbols representing palm fronds and crowns painted on walls in the corridor, daubed by spectators to mark the victory in battle of a favorite gladiator. Experts have previously found images of gladiators scratched into the stone seating by spectators. Graffiti now exposed from that period include scribbled names and phalluses — “lots of phalluses,” said Rea. More recent signatures are dated 1826 and 1892, as curious visitors returned to the Colosseum.”

Roman Shopping List Deciphered with Virtual Technology

In 2001, researchers at Oxford University announced that they had have deciphered a Roman soldier's shopping list,dated to A.D. 75-125, using virtual technology. Anna Salleh wrote on ABC Science Online: “The discovery is part of a project by Oxford University researchers to identify the markings on hundreds of Roman letters, contracts and other documents found in the 1970s by excavators at Hadrian's Wall. The documents were originally written in wax on wooden tablets but after 2000 years, the wax has degraded and all that remains of many of the scripts are faint scratches in the pieces of wood. [Source: Anna Salleh, ABC Science Online, March 5, 2001 +] “Oxford historian, Dr Roger Tomlin deciphered one of the documents and found it to be a shopping list for a Roman solider. It reveals that to buy a clothing outfit at auction, an average Roman soldier would have paid 8 percent of his yearly income (25 denarii). He would have had to fork out another 10 percent for a cloak to protect him from Britain's hostile climate. +\

“In order to read the stylus marks on each tablet, the researchers managed to exaggerate the faint scratchings. Using virtual technology they eliminated the wood grain from the tablets. By using low, focussed light, they identified the scratches by analysing their highlighted edges and the shadows they cast. Next, the researchers aim to develop a computer program that will help them to assess the probability that certain scratches in the wood are particular letters, speeding up the time taken to read more tablets.” +\

Christian Catacombs in Rome

Catacombs in Savinilla

Catacombs are underground burial chambers, especially associated with Rome. There are tens of thousands of ancient catacombs — where early Christians buried their dead and sustained hope for eternal life — deep below the streets of present-day Rome lie the . According to Associated Press: “Rome has dozens of such catacombs and they are a major tourist attraction, giving visitors a peek into the traditions of the early Church when Christians were often persecuted for their beliefs. Early Christians dug the catacombs outside Rome's walls as underground cemeteries, since burial was forbidden inside the city walls and pagan Romans were usually cremated. The art that decorated Rome's catacombs was often simplistic and symbolic in nature. The Santa Tecla catacombs, however, represent some of the earliest evidence of devotion to the apostles in early Christianity. "The Christian catacombs, while giving us value with a religious and cultural patrimony, represent an eloquent and significant testimony of Christianity at its origin," said Monsignor Giovanni Carru, the No. 2 in the Vatican's Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology, which maintains the catacombs. [Source: Associated Press, June 22, 2010]

Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “About the same time as the persecution of Decius, middle of the third century, is also when we begin to get the Roman catacombs developing. Now, according to tradition, you know, the catacombs are thought of as where all the martyrs are buried, but there's far too many catacomb burials for all of them to have been martyrs; there's over six and a half million burials, it's usually estimated, and they last from the mid third up to the sixth or seventh century. So, clearly all of those aren't martyrs. What are they? We have pagan catacombs, Jewish catacombs, and Christian catacombs. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“But one of the things we do see in the middle of the third century is there's a growing [number] of Christian burial societies run by the church. We even hear of whole groups of diggers, these are the people who literally dig out the catacomb burial places, and the Christians are one of the most important mortuary establishments in the city of Rome. They are responding to basic human needs in a variety of ways, and if you ever go down in the catacombs and look at what it's like, I mean, you have to imagine what this would have been. First of all, catacombs are a peculiar phenomenon in the area around Rome; they're always outside the city, as all burials had to be, but it's a peculiar geologic formation. This is in a very soft volcanic rock, and as long as this volcanic layer is covered by dirt or earth, it stays very soft. As soon as you dig into it and it hits air, it hardens and thus becomes very stable to dig into.

Christian Symbols in the Catacombs

A fresco on a ceiling vault in the catacomb of S. Peter and S. Marcellinus, probably dated to the early fourth century AD, around the time Constantine converted the Roman Empire to Christianity, shows the Good Shepherd with his sheep. It is generally interpreted as a Christian image, but can also be found in pagan iconography. According to the BBC: “Given past persecution, it is not surprising that much early Christian imagery is ambiguous and has to be interpreted in its context.”

Professor John Dominic Crossan told PBS: “The early Christians lived in a mainly pagan and hostile society. During Nero's persecution (64 A.D.) their religion was considered "a strange and illegal superstition". The Christians were mistrusted and kept aloof, they were suspected and accused of the worst crimes. They were persecuted, imprisoned, sentenced to exile or condemned to death. Unable to profess their faith openly, the Christians made use of symbols, which they depicted on the walls of the catacombs and, more often, carved them on the marble-slabs which sealed the tombs. [Source: John Dominic Crossan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies DePaul University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“Like the ancient, the Christians were very fond of symbolism. The symbols were a visible reminder of their faith. The term "symbol" refers to a concrete sign or figure, which, according to the author's intention, recalls an idea or a spiritual reality. The main symbols are: the Good Shepherd, the "Orante", the monogram of Christ and the fish.

“The Good Shepherd with a lamb around his shoulders represents Christ and the soul which He has saved. This symbol is often found in the frescoes, in the reliefs of the sarcophagi, in the statues and is often engraved on the tombs. The "orante", a praying figure with open arms, symbolizes the soul which lives in divine peace. The monogram of Christ is formed by interlacing two letters of the Greek alphabet: X (chi) and P (ro), which are the first two letters of the Greek word "Christòs" or Christ. When this monogram was placed on a tombstone, it meant a Christian was buried there.

“The fish. In Greek one says IXTHYS (ichtùs). Placed vertically, the letters of this word form an acrostic: Iesùs Christòs Theòu Uiòs Sotèr = Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour. Acrostic is Greek word which means the first letter of every line or paragraph. The fish is a widespread symbol of Christ, a motto and a compendium of the Christian faith.

“Some other symbols are the dove, the Alpha and the Omega, the anchor, the phoenix, etc. “The dove holding an olive branch symbolizes the soul that reached divine peace. The Alpha and the Omega are the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet. They signify that Christ is the beginning and the end of all things. The anchor is the symbol of salvation and of the soul which has peacefully reached the port of eternity. The phoenix, the mythical Arabian bird, which, according to the beliefs of the ancient, after a thousand years arises from its ashes, is the symbol of the resurrection of the bodies.

Catacomb Archaeology

Christian funerary inscription

On one Vatican-sponsored archaeological project in the catacombs, Associated Press reported: “The Vatican's Sacred Archaeology office oversaw and paid for the two-year, euro 60,000 restoration effort, which for the first time used lasers to restore frescoes in catacombs. The damp air of underground catacombs makes preservation of paintings particularly difficult and restoration problematic. [Source: Associated Press, June 22, 2010 +++]

“In this case, the small burial chamber at the end of the catacomb was completely encased in centimeters (inches) of white calcium carbonate. Restoring the paintings underneath using previous techniques would have meant scraping away the calcium buildup by hand. That technique, though would have left a filmy calcium layer on top so as to not damage the paintings underneath.

“Using the laser, restorers were able to sear off all the calcium that had been bound onto the painting because the laser beam was concentrated on a chromatic selection: the white of the calcium carbonate deposits. The laser's heat stopped when it reached a different color. That enabled researchers to easily chip off the seared white calcium carbonate, which then revealed the brilliant ochre, black, green and yellow underneath unscathed, she said. +++

“Similar technology has been used for over a decade on statues, particularly metallic ones damaged by years of outdoor pollution, she said. The Santa Tecla restoration, however, marked the first time the lasers had been adapted for use in the dank interiors of catacombs. The protocol used, she said, would now be used as a model for similar underground restorations where the damage was similar to that found at Santa Tecla, which she said was the most common type of damage found in Rome's catacombs. +++

Evidence of Crucifixion

Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “Crucifixion was something very, very real. There are too many ancient sources that talk about it. Josephus himself describes a number of crucifixions that took place in Judea at about this time. So we can be fairly confident [of the crucifixion] as a historical event because it was a very commonplace affair in those days and very gruesome. Now different medical historians and other archaeological kinds of research have given us several different ways of understanding the actual practice of crucifixion. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“In all probability the feet were nailed either directly through the ankles or through the heel bone to the lower post of the cross. The hands or the arms might be tied rather than nailed. It depends but it suggests really that crucifixion was a very slow and agonizing form of death. It's not from bleeding. It's not from the wounds themselves that the death occurs. It's rather a suffocation because one can't hold oneself up enough to breathe properly, and so over time really it's really the exposure to the elements and the gradual loss of breath that produces death. It's an agonizing death at that.

“... [E]vidence of crucifixion in archaeological form has been rare until the discovery that was made in recent times of an actual bone from a coffin which was found to have a nail still stuck in it. This is apparently someone who actually did experience crucifixion. .... Now what apparently happened was the nail that had been used to put him on the cross by being placed through his heel bone had stuck against a knot or bent in some way and so they couldn't pull it out without really causing massive tearing of the tissue and so they left it in, and as a result we have one of those few pieces of evidence that show us what the practice was really like.”

Skeleton Foot with a Nail: Proof of Crucifixion?

In 1968, archaeologists found the remains of a crucified man in a burial box outside Jerusalem whose wounds were remarkable similar to those described in the Bible as possessed by Jesus. Although it was known that the Romans crucified thousands of alleged criminals and traitors; this was the first crucifixion victim ever found.

Spartacus crucifixion

Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: In 1968, a team of builders was hard at work laying foundations for some new houses and roads in Giv'at Ha'mivtar, a suburb of north Jerusalem. At the time, the whole area was a wasteland, and the builders were digging it up in preparation for this new development. One morning they stumbled across something unusual. They suspected it might be important, so they called in experts to advise them. The experts confirmed that they had found an ancient tomb. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“But the most amazing discovery was yet to come. When they looked inside the tomb, archaeologists discovered an ossuary - a stone box - containing bones from the time of Jesus. It was the custom in Jesus' time for the bones of the dead to be removed from their tomb after six to twenty-four months, and placed in an ossuary to make the tomb available for other corpses. |In this particular ossuary, the archaeologists found one bone that particularly caught their attention. What made this bone distinctive was the rusty nail still lodged in it. After further investigation, they established that these were the remains of a crucified man called Jehohannan. For the archaeologists, it was a breakthrough moment. Jehohannan was the first victim of crucifixion ever found in Israel. Experts at the time believed he would be the first of many, because the records showed that the Romans had crucified thousands of Jewish rebels.

Reverend Dr. J. H. Charlesworth wrote: “At the beginning of the summer of 1968 a team of archaeologists under the direction of V. Tzaferis discovered four cave-tombs at Giv'at ha-Mivtar (Ras el-Masaref), which is just north of Jerusalem near Mount Scopus and immediately west of the road to Nablus. The date of the tombs, revealed by the pottery in situ, ranged from the late second century B.C. until A.D. 70. These family tombs with branching chambers, which had been hewn out of soft limestone, belong to the Jewish cemetery of Jesus' time that extends from Mount Scopus in the east to the Sanhedriya tombs in the north west. [Source:Reverend Dr. J. H. Charlesworth from Expository Times, February 1973 ]

“Within the caves were found fifteen limestone ossuaries which contained the bones of thirty-five individuals. These skeletons reveal under the examination of specialists a startling tale of the turbulence and agony that confronted the Jews during the century in which Jesus lived. Nine of the thirty-five individuals had met violent death. Three children, ranging in ages from eight months to eight years, died from starvation. A child of almost four expired after much suffering from an arrow wound that penetrated the left of his skull (the occipital bone). A young man of about seventeen years burned to death cruelly bound upon a rack, as inferred by the grey and white alternate lines on his left fibula. A slightly older female also died from conflagration. An old women of nearly sixty probably collapsed from the crushing blow of a weapon like a mace; her atlas, axis vertebrae and occipital bone were shattered. A woman in her early thirties died in childbirth, she still retained a fetus in her pelvis. Finally, and most importantly for this note, a man between twenty-four and twenty-eight years of age was crucified. “The name of the man was incised on his ossuary in letters 2 cm high:Jehohanan.

Archaeological Clues from the Real-Life Crucifixion

Jehohanan’s open arms had been nailed to a crossbar; his knees had been doubled and turned sideways; his legs were nailed on either side of the cross (not together as is often depicted in paintings) with a large iron spike driven horizontally through both heels. The anklebones had broken in a way that called to mind the passages in John.

Reverend Dr. J. H. Charlesworth wrote: Jehohanan “was crucified probably between A.D. 7, the time of the census revolt, and 66, the beginning of the war against Rome.... According to Dr. N. Haas of the Department of Anatomy, Hebrew University — Hadassah Medical School, Jehohanan experienced three traumatic episodes. The cleft palate on the right side and the associated asymmetries of his face likely resulted from the deterioration of his mother's diet during the first few weeks of pregnancy. The disproportion of his cerebral cranium (pladiocephaly) were caused by difficulties during birth. All the marks of violence on the skeleton resulted directly or indirectly from crucifixion. [Source:Reverend Dr. J. H. Charlesworth from Expository Times, February 1973 ] “A description of Jehohanan's death would be helpful toward imaging Jesus' suffering since both were crucified by the Romans in the same century and not far from the walls of Jerusalem. The lower third of his right radial bone contains a groove that was probably caused by the friction between a nail and the bone. Hence, his arms were nailed to the patibulum through the forearms and not through the wrists, the bones of which 'were found undamaged.' It is logical to infer, therefore, that, contrary to the customary portrayal in paintings and biographies,' Jesus had his arms pierced and not his hands. We should probably translate the only two passages in the Gospels that mention of the crucified Jesus (Lk 24, Jn 20) not as 'hands', but with Hesiod, Rufus Medicus, and others as 'arms'. Hence, according to Jn 20, Jesus said to Thomas, 'place your finger here and observe my arms...'

“The legs had been pressed together, bent, and twisted to that the calves were parallel to the patibulum. The feet were secured to the cross by one iron nail driven simultaneously through both heels (tuber calcanei). The iron nail contains after its round head the following: sediment, fragments of wood (Pistacia or Acacia), a limy crust, a portion of the right heel bone, a smaller piece of the left heel bone, and a fragment of olive wood. It is apparent that Jehohanan had been nailed to the olive wood cross with the right foot above the left. Dr. Haas is undoubtedly correct, furthermore, in concluding that the iron nail bent approximately 2 cm because it hit a knot necessitating the amputation of the feet to remove the corpse from the cross.

“While Jehohanan was on the cross, presumably after an interval of some time, his legs were fractured. Once forcible blow from a massive weapon delivered the coup de grace, shattering the right shins into slivers, and fracturing the left ones, that were contiguous with the cross (simplex), in a simple, oblique line. The above discoveries throw some light on the manner in which Jesus died, but the question with which we began has not been adequately answered. How could Jesus have died so soon?

“Christian art has continuously portrayed Jesus as attached to the cross with his extremities fully extended. Jehohanan's torso was forced into a twisted position with his calves and thighs bent and unnaturally twisted. Since the bent nail did not secure the legs to the cross, a plank (sedecula) was probably fastened to the simplex, providing sufficient support for the buttocks and prolonging torture. If Jesus had been crucified in a similar fashion, and we cannot be certain of this although it is probable, his contorted muscles probably would have generated spasmodic contractions (tetanizations) and rigid cramps would eventually permeate the diaphragm and lungs so as to prohibit inhalation and exhalation. Jesus could have died after six hours.

“The two crucified with Jesus, however, did not die so quickly — could this have been because they had not been previously tortured, or because they had been crucified in another manner? Perhaps it is logical to assume that because Jesus had been the centre of attention for at least the preceding week he might have received more of the executioners' attention prior to the final acts of crucifixion. Especially would this be the situation if the other two were crucified because they had been judged to be robbers or criminals (cf. Km 15, Mt 27, and Lk 23) but Jesus condemned for insurrection against Rome. These speculations are not wild but they do extend beyond all the available data: we can only wonder why Jehohanan was crucified, why his legs were broken, and if there were a particularly torturous crucifixion for one charged with insurrection. As we search for these answers we must remember Jesus' particular circumstance: the torture could not last more than seven hours because the approaching Sabbath must not be violated, especially near conservative Jerusalem.

“In conclusion, we now have empirical evidence of a crucifixion. Death on a cross could be prolonged or swift. The crucifixion of Josephus' acquaintance who survived should not be projected to the crucifixion of Jesus. The major extrabiblical paradigm for crucifixion is no longer Josephus; it is the archaeological data summarized above. The crucifixion of Jesus, who did not possess a gladiator's physique and stamina, did not commence but culminated when he was nailed to the cross. After the brutal, all night scourging by Roman soldiers, who would have relished an opportunity to vent their hatred of the Jews and disgust for Palestinian life, Jesus was practically dead. I see not reason why the Synoptic account does not contain one of the few bruta facta from his life when it reports that, as he began to stagger from Herod's palace to Golgotha, he was too weak to carry the cross; Simon of Cyrene carried it for him. Metaphors should not be confused with actualities nor faith with history. It is not a confession of faith to affirm that Jesus died on Golgotha that Friday afternoon; it is a probability obtained by the highest canons of scientific historical research. The humanists' and rationalists' facile answer to the question why Jesus died so quickly is no longer acceptable in critical circles; note, for example, the concluding remark in the most recent 'biography' of Jesus by a Jewish scholar: 'Others thought that he called out in despair: "My God, my God (Eli, Eli), why hast thou forsaken me?" And Jesus died."

Why So Little Physical Evidence of Crucifixion?

physical evidence of crucifixion

Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: After nearly four more decades of digging, no more victims of crucifixion have ever been found. Why not? In Tel Aviv, curators at the Israel Antiquities Authority museum had a unique opportunity to find out. They have access to an extensive collection of Jewish ossuaries from the time of Jesus. Surely among all these examples there must be a clue as to what became of all the crucifixion victims. But despite combing through every ossuary, the Tel Aviv experts did not find any bones that suggested the victim had been crucified. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“The implications of this lack of evidence were unsettling. One of the central tenets of Christian history was under threat, and the case for the resurrection of Jesus potentially undermined. The logic was clear. If the bones of crucified rebels were not ending up in ossuaries, then perhaps it was because the original victims were not being placed in tombs in the first place. And if that were true then was it possible that the body of Jesus was never placed in a tomb? Perhaps his tomb was found to be empty by his followers simply because it was never occupied at all? |::|

“If that is the case, then it raises a big question: where, if not in a tomb, did the bodies of Jewish rebels like Jesus finish up? To answer that one, archaeologists began to hunt in the unlikeliest locations. Just south of the city of Jerusalem is one such place. Today it is a park, but from the evidence of chiselling all over the rock face, it is clear to archaeologists that this was once a quarry. At the time of Jesus, quarries had a dual purpose. Not only were they used to cut stone for building, they were also used by the Romans for public executions. Historians now believe that Jesus would have been crucified in just such a quarry. But places like this served other purposes too. The remains of some tombs hewn from the rock suggest that people were not just killed here, they were buried too. Was this the fate of Jesus' body, to be placed in a simple quarry tomb close to the place where he died? |::|

“Well, perhaps not, because quarries like this fulfilled yet another purpose for the people of Jesus' time, and even today the local people use it in the same way. Scavenging stray dogs and birds of prey are drawn here not because it is a park, but because one corner is a rubbish dump. |::|

“Since the first century, quarries have doubled as city rubbish dumps, but two thousand years ago they were places of execution too. The people who nailed Jesus to the cross were Roman soldiers, and crucifixion was the lowest form of punishment they knew. To suffer the ignominy of dying on a cross marked you out as beneath contempt, an outcast. It is hard to see those soldiers bothering to treat the bodies of their crucified victims with honour and respect. Surely the easiest solution would be to take the bodies down and throw them on the garbage dump, to be dealt with by the dogs and birds. |::|

“Maybe that would explain why not a single bone of a crucified rebel was found in all those ossuaries? According to this theory - shocking though it may sound - the body of Jesus never made it to a tomb: it was thrown on a rubbish tip and eaten by dogs. This theory held some sway in the 1990s, but then came the evidence against it - evidence which suggests not only that Jesus' body may not have been thrown to the dogs, but that his body must have made it to the tomb, exactly as depicted in the gospel accounts. The case begins with the nails themselves. |::|

Nails Not Used in Crucifixions Perhaps Because They Were Valuable Talismans?

Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “The truth is that most rebels were not nailed to their crosses, but tied to them. Some would have been nailed to their crosses - it was a Roman practice - but historians believe there is little chance of finding any of their remains. The reason is simple: the nails of crucified victims were regarded as some of the most powerful charms, or amulets, in the ancient world. Ordinary people prized them very highly, believing that they had healing properties. And apart from their popularity as charms, the crucifixion nails were often reused by the Roman soldiers. So immediately after crucified victims were cut down from their crosses, the nails would be removed from their bodies and pocketed. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009. Roberts is author the book“The Miracles of Jesus”. |::|]

“No wonder the bones of only one clearly crucified victim have ever been found - not because animals ate the remains off a rubbish tip, but because there is no way for archaeologists to tell if the bones found in tombs were those of crucifixion victims or not. Those tell-tale signs, like nails stuck through bones, are always missing. |::|

“So why was the bone of Jehohannan discovered with a nail still through it? Why didn't looters make off with it, or Roman soldiers reuse it? Well, the answer lies in that particular nail. It has a bent tip. When they took his body down from the cross, they must have found they could not prize it out. When Jehohannan was nailed to his cross, this nail must have hit a knot in the wood and bent, fixing it to the bone for good. So the discovery of this bone does not mean that Jesus' body was thrown to the dogs. In fact, there are strong grounds for thinking that Jesus - like all Jews - would have been given a proper burial. |::|

“Under Jewish law everyone, even the most despised criminal, had to have a proper burial in order to save the land from being defiled. To that end, there were strict procedures for the disposal of bodies, which had to be laid in tombs by sunset on the day of death. All the evidence suggests that the Romans would have respected local religious customs. The strength of their empire was built on adaptability and tolerance of indigenous beliefs, as long as they didn't contradict the aims and beliefs of the Romans themselves. History records that, more than once, Pontius Pilate himself caved in to Jewish demands. |::|

“To expose the corpse of an executed Jew beyond the interval permitted by the Law, and then to allow it to be mutilated by scavengers just outside the city of Jerusalem, was a recipe for a riot. So, what would have happened to Jesus' body? The normal practice would have been to wash, perfume and bind the body so that it wouldn't smell in the heat at the funeral seven days later. This was a laborious procedure which could take up to twenty-four hours. It was governed by religious custom and by a powerful sense of respect for the body. |::|

“But if Jesus died in the afternoon, as the gospel accounts suggest, then there would not have been sufficient time to prepare the body that day. The women would be forced to leave the body unwashed in the sealed tomb, then come back another day to finish the job. However, the timing was very unfortunate. According to the gospel accounts, Jesus died on a Friday, in which case the women could not return the following day - Saturday - because that day was the Sabbath. The earliest opportunity for the women to attend to the body of Jesus was first light Sunday morning, precisely when the gospels say the women did return to the tomb.

Dubious Ancient Roman Archaeological Finds

Debra Kelly wrote for Listverse: “If it’s real, the Praeneste Fibula would be perhaps the earliest Latin inscription ever found. According to Wolfgang Helbig, the scholar who presented it to Rome’s German Institute in 1886, the gold dress pin had been discovered in 1871 at a site dating to the 6th century B.C. He didn’t tell them the whole story, though, leaving out the fact that he had acquired it from Francesco Martinetti: smuggler, forger, and seller of less-than-reputable antiquities. When that bit of information got out, the pin started to look a little suspicious. [Source: Debra Kelly, Listverse, May 9, 2016]

“For starters, it was supposedly found in the Bernardini Tomb, which was excavated in 1876, not 1871. Helbig wasn’t able to explain where in the tomb it was found or who discovered it. But he had a good reputation as an archeologist and suspicions about the pin were mostly ignored until 1980, when expert Margherita Guarducci undertook a detailed study of the piece. Guarducci found that the gold used in the pin had been treated with an acid, presumably to make it look old. Otherwise, it didn’t resemble any other ancient gold found in the area. And the inscription itself bore a striking resemblance to samples of Helbig’s own handwriting.

“Martinetti was definitely shady—his house was torn down after his death, revealing countless fakes hidden inside. But why would a respected scholar like Helbig help Martinetti deal in forgeries? Especially since he was married to a wealthy Russian princess and definitely didn’t need money. The writer William Calder speculated that he might have been subject to blackmail, thanks to his regular visits to the house of art collector Edward Perry Warren, where “women were not welcomed.”

“But that’s just speculation and experts are now beginning to think that Helbig might be vindicated after all. In 2011, the Prehistoric and Ethnographic National Museum held a round table of experts in the hopes of getting to the bottom of the matter of the pin once and for all. Their decision, made with the benefit of new technology not available to Guarducci, was that the pin was absolutely authentic, inscription and all.

“A Pevensey Brick is currently in the collection of the British Museum—with the addendum that it’s “probably a fake.” The artifact is one of at least two fired clay bricks or tiles stamped with the letters “HON AVG ANDRIA” found in Pevensey, Sussex. If the bricks are real, they would be evidence of the last major building project before the Romans abandoned Britain in the reign of Emperor Honorius. It is assumed that “HON AVG” stands for “Honorius Augustus,” with “ANDRIA” standing for a previously undated Roman shore fort known as Anderida.

“The problems start with the man who supposedly discovered the bricks: Charles Dawson. If that name sounds familiar, its because Dawson also “discovered” the Piltdown Man fossil, one of the most infamous hoaxes in archeological history. The lettered bricks were apparently discovered during an excavation he carried out in 1902. We’re not even sure how many of them Dawson claimed to have found. Records detail the existence of three, with suggestions of a fourth, but there are currently only two confirmed examples in the British Museum and the Lewes Museum. Tests now indicate that the bricks were probably made sometime in the last 350 years, although the Lewes brick at least seems to have been repaired, leading to suggestions that the tests could be inaccurate. However, the tests and anomalies in the style of the stamping on the bricks seem to indicate that they’re another of Dawson’s fakes.”

Corporate-Sponsored Restoration Raises Alarms About Disneyfication of Rome

“The Colosseum underwent a $33 million restoration project sponsored by and paid for by the luxury leather brand Tod's. Anthony Faiola wrote in the Washington Post: “They have clothed the world’s wealthy fashionistas and bejeweled Hollywood stars. Now, Italy’s kings of fashion are poised to give this nation’s crumbling monuments a makeover to restore them to their former glory, something the cash-strapped Italian government cannot do. [Source: Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, 7 September 2014]

“Fearing the Disneyfication of its landmarks, the Italian government has largely eschewed private donations and sponsorships for upkeep and renovations. But in the face of Italy’s multi-year economic malaise and the gravity of deterioration at some sites, the Italians have done an about-face. Portraying themselves now as merely caretakers of some of humanity’s most important artifacts, they are rallying billionaires, companies and even foreign governments to their cause. Something, everyone agrees, needs to be done. Caked with pollution and, in some cases, falling apart, a number of major sites have long been in jeopardy here. The original color of the Colosseum — an off-ivory in the glory days of Roman gladiators — has been darkened by the exhaust of Rome’s new chariots, cars.

“As the Italians peddle their monuments like so many troubled children in need of sponsors, the dandies of Italian fashion have come to the rescue. They are throwing millions of euros toward desperately needed restorations in exchange for various sponsorship rights, helping spur one of the single-largest periods of archaeological and artistic renewal in modern Italian history.

“Even as the scaffolding goes up around ancient structures and an army of skilled restorers gets set to work, not all Italians are pleased about the invading horde of private cash. They say Italy — in a quest for sponsorship — may be selling its soul. Some companies making donations, for instance, will receive discreet recognition near monuments, something purists say could nevertheless make the landmarks of Rome seem like so many fashion accessories. “I am very worried that the Italian government doesn’t have a line,” said Maria Luisa Catoni, associate professor of ancient art history and archeology at Italy’s IMT Lucca University. “This is a question of preservation and restoration, but also a question of taste.”

“The Italian state once viewed national patrimony in highly proprietary terms. But local and national politicians began a major shift two years ago, with massive new tax breaks for restoration donations taking effect this year. It happens as Italy’s own cultural budget has shrunk precipitously under a succession of fraught governments, even as disrepair at landmarks worsened. The fast-deteriorating condition of Pompeii — including a wall that fell down at the Temple of Venus after heavy rain last March — has, for instance, sparked a global outcry from alarmed archaeologists.

“Outside money, the Italians say, is the only answer. The city of Rome, for example, recently struck a preliminary agreement with Saudi Arabia to fund the restoration of the Mausoleum of Augustus. Ignazio Marino, a former transplant surgeon who worked for years in the United States and is the mayor of Rome, will hold a symposium in California this month in a bid to tap Silicon Valley’s tech millionaires for donations. He will argue that the Italians are taking drastic steps to ensure preservation — including his own highly controversial decision to ban cars near the Colosseum to reduce deterioration from vehicle exhaust. “But the world also needs to help,” Marino said. “We cannot do this alone.”

“The national government, meanwhile, is weighing a more substantial new push, including the possibility of allowing private companies to run small museums or archeology sites, and possibly even opening for-profit cafes or bookshops, on site. “In Italy, the list of beauty is infinite,” said Dario Franceschini, Italy’s minister of culture. “And even if this weren’t a time of cuts to public expenditures, Italy’s cultural heritage is too vast. So I don’t really see why we should ever say ‘no’ to opening up to private interests.”

“To date, the most controversial deal has also been the largest — the $33 million (£20 million) donated from the Italian luxury leather maker, Tod’s, to give the Colosseum its most complete restoration in modern history. On a recent afternoon, artisans were perched on the scaffolding that surrounds the ancient structure, using water sprays and lime in their painstaking work. Before and after segments of the Colosseum already show a dramatic change — from soot-stained rock, its color is being transformed to a pale oatmeal more closely resembling its appearance when ancient Romans gathered for bloodsport.

“But the contract struck with Tod’s president, billionaire Diego Della Valle, has provoked the ire of a local citizens group, which claims it was too generous. For a limited time, Tod’s will have the right to put its logo on hundreds of thousands of Colosseum tickets sold each year. It also won the right to associate its brand with the Colosseum’s restoration in promotional material for up to 15 years.

“Della Valle, however, insists that critics are seeing ulterior motives where there are none, saying he pushed forward with the donation because he simply relished the idea of seeing the famous structure renewed. “Donating in order to support any form of art should be considered unsurprising, and without rewards of any kind,” he said in an e-mail. “Companies lucky enough to be doing well should give some positivity back to the country.” The mayor of Rome also dismisses critics. “If someone wants to give you €25 million euros to restore the Colosseum, you know what? You take it,” he said.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; 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 and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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