Sunday, November 21, 2010


I am unfortunately going to have to take a pause in my blogging. It's simply taking to much time and I a unfortunately haven't enough around anyway.

It is my hope that I will be able to continue posting in the future.

Thanks to everyone that has followed this blog.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Horse racing

A mosaic depicting the four teams. Beginning of the third century AD.

Tertullian, an churchfather, tells us about the legendary beginnings of chariot racing in Rome:

"Chariots, being by such inventors brought into use, with good reason caused the charioteers also to be clothed in the colours of idolatry. For at the first there were two horses only, white and red. The white was sacred to the winter because of the white snow, the red to the summer because of the redness of the Sun. But afterwards, when luxury as well as superstition had advanced in growth, some consecrated the red to Mars, others the white to the Zephyrs, and a green one moreover to the Mother Earth or to the Spring, an azure one to the Heaven and the Sea or to the Autumn."

Tertullian - De spectaculis IX
Translated by Dodgson 1842

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The origin of glass

A Greek kantharos, drinking vessel from the 1st century AD.

"The story is, that a ship, laden with nitre, being moored upon this spot [the river Belus], the merchants, while preparing their repast upon the sea-shore, finding no stones at hand for supporting their cauldrons, employed for the purpose some lumps of nitre which they had taken from the vessel. Upon its being subjected to the action of the fire, in combination with the sand of the sea-shore, they beheld transparent streams flowing forth of a liquid hitherto unknown: this, it is said, was the origin of glass."

Pliny the Elder - Naturalis Historia (the Natural History) XXXVI.65
Translated by J. Bostock and H.T. Riley

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Plinys garden

A garden painting from Pompeii, Ins. II Reg. 3.3 (Casa della Venere in Conchiglia).

"The garden is chiefly planted with fig and mulberry trees, to which this soil is as favourable as it is averse from all others. Here is a dining-room, which, though it stands away from the sea enjoys the garden view which is just as pleasant: two apartments run round the back part of it, the windows of which look out upon the entrance of the villa, and into a fine kitchen-garden. From here extends an enclosed portico which, from its great length, you might take for a public one."

Pliny the Younger - Letters II. 17
Notice that the alternative numbering would make this letter nr. XXIII
Translated by W. Melmoth

Monday, November 15, 2010

Triplex inmissarium

The inside of the Water reservoir (castellum) at Pompeii.

The passage below is a description of how a Castellum should work, according to the Roman architect Vitruvius. It doesn't fit very well with what has been found in the archaeological record, however, and it has been suggested that this is a theoretic suggestion rather than a practical solution.

"When they [The water channels] are brought home to the walls of the city a reservoir (castellum) is built, with a triple cistern attached to it to receive the water. In the reservoir are three pipes of equal sizes, and so connected that when the water overflows at the extremities, it is discharged into the middle one,

2. in which are placed pipes for the supply of the fountains, in the second those for the supply of the baths, thus affording a yearly revenue to the people; in the third, those for the supply of private houses. This is to be so managed that the water for public use may never be deficient, for that cannot be diverted if the mains from the heads are rightly constructed.º I have made this division in order that the rent which is collected from private individuals who are supplied with water, may be applied by collectors to the maintenance of the aqueduct."

Vitruvius - On Architecture VIII. 6.1-2
Translated by Gwilt 1826

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Paestum at war

A street at Paestum. It is impressive how relatively well preserved the place is.

This is one of the living blocks at Paestum, featuring Atrium houses from the 3rd century AD.

The event below took place at about 211 BC.

"[D. Quinctius at last,] by compelling the allied cities, Regium, Velliea and Paestum to furnish the ships which they were bound by treaty to supply, he made up the above-mentioned squadron of twenty vessels."

Livy - Ab Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City) XXVI. 39
Translated by Canon Roberts

A lar

This is the splendid lararium (altar to the lares) in Casa del Menandro, Pompeii.

This passage comes from an, even in Roman terms, quite old play. Here the lar tells us about himself and his role in the house.

"Lest any one should wonder who I am, I will tell you in a few words. I [the lar] am the household God of this family, from whose house you have seen me coming forth. It is now many years that I have been occupying this houses and I inhabited it for the father and the grandfather of this person who now dwells here. But beseeching me, his grandfather entrusted to me a treasure of gold, unknown to all. He deposited it in the midst of the hearth, praying me that I would watch it for him."

Plautus - Aulularia (Prologue)
Translated by H.T. Riley 1912

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Warrior of Nestor

A fresco from Pylos (the palace of Nestor). Is this a friendly soldier? Or perhaps an enemy? Late Bronze Age.

"The men of Pylos and Arene, and Thryum where is the ford of the river Alpheus; strong Aipy, Cyparisseis, and Amphigenea; Pteleum, Helos, and Dorium [...] These were commanded by Nestor, knight of Gerene, and with him there came ninety ships."

Homer - The Iliad II
Translated by S. Butler

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Hadrian coin and Domitians letter to Terentius Maximus

A Hadrianic Sestertius (I am not 100% sure thou, Roman coins are really difficult to deal with unless you know what you are doing), thus minted only some 50 years after the letter cited below.

"Flavius Archippus the philosopher has prevailed with me to give an order that [1]six hundred thousand sesterces be laid out in the purchase of an estate for the support of him and his family, in the neighbourhood of Prusias, his native country. Let this be accordingly done; and place that sum to the account of my benefactions."

1: I would use this letter only with caution. This translation fix the number of Sestertii to 600.000 which seems to correspond with J. Earls, 1751, translation (even thou his edition actually reads fix hundred thoufand fefterces (it seems as if the the letter F is commonly mixed up with the letter S throughout the edition). The translation I normally use at home, however, reads till ett värde av ca 100.000 sesterier (translated by A. Mattsson 1983). It's unfortunately getting even worse when you look at the original Latin at The Latin Library as that edition is either missing a large chunk of the letter or simply rendering alternative tradition - I do not know which it is (even thou I suspect that they have simply miss typed/scanned the passage).

Pliny the Younger - Letters X. 58
Translated by W. Melmoth

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Boar Tusk's helmet

Boar tusk's helmet

"Meriones found a bow and quiver for Ulysses, and on his head he set a leathern helmet that was lined with a strong plaiting of leathern thongs, while on the outside it was thickly studded with boar's teeth, well and skilfully set into it; next the head there was an inner lining of felt."

Homer - The Iliad X
Translated by S. Butler

Sunday, November 7, 2010


The plain of Stymphelus.

"And those that held Arcadia, under the high mountain of Cyllene, near the tomb of Aepytus, where the people fight hand to hand; the men of Pheneus also, and Orchomenus rich in flocks; of Rhipae, Stratie, and bleak Enispe; of Tegea and fair Mantinea; of Stymphelus and Parrhasia; of these King Agapenor son of Ancaeus was commander, and they had sixty ships. Many Arcadians, good soldiers, came in each one of them, but Agamemnon found them the ships in which to cross the sea, for they were not a people that occupied their business upon the waters. "

Homer - The Iliad II
Translated by S. Butler

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cyrpus in the classical sources

A plain on Cyprus, seen from the Bronze Age site of Hala Sultan Tekke.

"Cyprus, which lies opposite to the shores of Cilicia and Syria, running east and west; in former times it was the seat of nine kingdoms. Timosthenes states that the circumference of this island is 427 miles, Isidorus 375"

Pliny the Elder - Naturalis Historia (the Natural History) V.35
Translated by J. Bostock and H.T. Riley

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Roman Ring

A Roman ring from Marion on Cyprus, ca 350 AD.

"The worst crime against mankind was committed by him who was the first to put a ring upon his fingers: and yet we are not informed, by tradition, who it was that first did so. For as to all the stories told about Prometheus, I look upon them as utterly fabulous [...] It was the hand, and a sinister hand, too, in every sense, that first brought gold into such high repute: not a Roman hand, however, for upon that it was the practice to wear a ring of iron only, and solely as an indication of warlike prowess."

Pliny the Elder - Naturalis Historia (the Natural History) XXXIII.4
Translated by J. Bostock and H.T. Riley

Thursday, November 4, 2010

This is where you will found your city

This relief from the Ara Pacis depicts the passage below.

"And that this nightly vision may not seem
Th' effect of fancy, or an idle dream,
A sow beneath an oak shall lie along,
All white herself, and white her thirty young.
When thirty rolling years have run their race,
Thy son Ascanius, on this empty space,
Shall build a royal town, of lasting fame,
Which from this omen shall receive the name."

Virgilius - The Aeneid VIII
translated by J. Dryden

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ghosts on the streets of ancient Athens

An ancient Greek living quarter, next to what is now the Street of Dionysus. Could there be ghosts in these houses? The passage below is a ghost story as it was told by Pliny the Younger around 100 AD.

"I am extremely desirous therefore to know whether you [Sura] believe in the existence of ghosts, and that they have a real form, and are a sort of divinities, or only the visionary impressions of a terrified imagination.[...] There was at Athens a large and roomy house, which had a bad name, so that no one could live there. In the dead of the night a noise, resembling the clashing of iron, was frequently heard, which, if you listened more attentively, sounded like the rattling of chains, distant at first, but approaching nearer by degrees: immediately afterwards a spectre appeared in the form of an old man, of extremely emaciated and squalid appearance, with a long beard and dishevelled hair, rattling the chains on his feet and hands.[...]The noise increased and advanced nearer, till it seemed at the door, and at last in the chamber. He looked up, saw, and recognized the ghost exactly as it had been described to him: it stood before him, beckoning with the finger, like a person who calls another. Athenodorus in reply made a sign with his hand that it should wait a little, and threw his eyes again upon his papers; the ghost then rattled its chains over the head of the philosopher, who looked up upon this, and seeing it beckoning as before, immediately arose, and, light in hand, followed it. The ghost slowly stalked along, as if encumbered with its chains, and, turning into the area of the house, suddenly vanished. Athenodorus, being thus deserted, made a mark with some grass and leaves on the spot where the spirit left him. The next day he gave information to the magistrates, and advised them to order that spot to be dug up. This was accordingly done, and the skeleton of a man in chains was found there; for the body, having lain a considerable time in the ground"

Pliny the Younger - Letters VII.27
Translated by W. Melmoth

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Tree Climbing Octopus

Fresco from Rome, 125-150 AD.

"Palisades were placed before them [the fish pickling tubes], but these the polypus managed to get over by the aid of a tree, and it was only caught at last by calling in the assistance of trained dogs, which surrounded it at night, as it was returning to its prey; upon which, the keepers, awakened by the noise, were struck with alarm at the novelty of the sight presented. First of all, the size of the polypus was enormous beyond all conception; and then it was covered all over with dried brine, and exhaled a most dreadful stench."

Pliny the Elder - Naturalis Historia (the Natural History) IX.48
Translated by J. Bostock and H.T. Riley

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Sparrow, favorite of my girl"

A bird (sparrow?) from the villa at Oplontis, also known at Villa Poppaea (it is, however, far from certain that she owned the villa).

Sparrow, favorite of my girl,
with whom she is accustomed to play, whom she is accustomed to hold in her lap,
for whom, seeking greedily, she is accustomed to give her index finger
and to provoke sharp bites.
When it is pleasing for my shining desire
to make some kind of joke
and a relief of her grief.
I believe, so that her heavy passion may become quiet.
If only I were able to play with you yourself, and
to lighten the sad cares of your mind.

Catullus - Poem nr II
Translated by J. Fortaperus