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Ancient Rome & China: Five Examples of their Relationship

Posted on 26. Feb, 2015 by in Roman culture

In honor of Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year (February 19th), I wanted to write a post on the relations between Ancient Rome and China. I did not want to examine the minute details for the expert scholar, but rather provide a survey or summary of my research for anyone that was curious about the two empires and their communication.

CHINA AND ROME

In classical sources, the problem of identifying references to ancient China is tied to the interpretation of the Latin term “Seres,” whose meaning could refer to a number of Asian people in a wide arc from India over Central Asia to China. In Chinese records, the Roman Empire came to be known as “Da Qin”, Great Qin, apparently thought to be a sort of counter-China at the other end of the world. For ancient China, the Roman Empire would have been a great ally in trade and commerce, but at the same time would be a difficult acceptance due to Chinese mythological notions about the far west.

The trade relations between Rome and the East, including China, according to the 1st century BC navigation guide Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. Courtesy of George Tsiagalakis / CC-BY-SA-4 licence

The trade relations between Rome and the East, including China, according to the 1st century BC navigation guide Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. Courtesy of George Tsiagalakis / CC-BY-SA-4 licence

1. SILKS

Maenad in silk dress, Naples National Museum.. Courtesy of Wikicommons.

Maenad in silk dress, Naples National Museum.. Courtesy of Wikicommons.

Trade with the Roman Empire, confirmed by the Roman craze for silk, started in the 1st century BCE.

Pliny the Elder wrote about the large value of the trade between Rome and Eastern countries:

“By the lowest reckoning, India, Seres and the Arabian peninsula take from our Empire 100 millions of sesterces every year: that is how much our luxuries and women cost us.”

—Pliny the Elder, Natural History 12.84.
2. ASTRONOMY
    Caesar’s Comet also known as Comet Caesar and the Great Comet of 44 BC was perhaps the most famous comet of antiquity. The seven-day visitation in July was taken by Romans as a sign of the deification of the recently dead dictator, Julius Caesar (100–44 BC).
Coin minted by Augustus (c. 19–18 BC); Obverse: CAESAR AVGVSTVS, laureate head right/Reverse: DIVVS IVLIV[S], with comet (star) of eight rays, tail upward. Courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. and Wikicommons

Coin minted by Augustus (c. 19–18 BC); Obverse: CAESAR AVGVSTVS, laureate head right/Reverse: DIVVS IVLIV[S], with comet (star) of eight rays, tail upward. Courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. and Wikicommons

    In China, the comet was also seen but a few months before. Both civilizations took the comet as a sign or omen to mean something more (as were most astronomical events). However for historians and scientists alike, the comet’s recording was done more mathematical and was more heavily written on in China than in Rome. You can read more on this here.
3. DIPLOMATS & ENVOYS
The Roman historian Florus describes the visit of numerous envoys including the “Seres” to the Roman Emperor Augustus:

Even the rest of the nations of the world which were not subject to the imperial sway were sensible of its grandeur, and looked with reverence to the Roman people, the great conqueror of nations. Thus even Scythians and Sarmatians sent envoys to seek the friendship of Rome. Nay, the Seres came likewise, and the Indians who dwelt beneath the vertical sun, bringing presents of precious stones and pearls and elephants, but thinking all of less moment than the vastness of the journey which they had undertaken, and which they said had occupied four years. In truth it needed but to look at their complexion to see that they were people of another world than ours.

A later “Seres” envoy by the name of Gan Ying gave an account of what he thought of the small part of empire he saw:
The Chinese impression of the Daqin people, from the Ming Dynasty encyclopedia Sancai Tuhui. Courtesy of Wikicommons. [Daqin was the Chinese word for Roman Empire.]

The Chinese impression of the Daqin people, from the Ming Dynasty encyclopedia Sancai Tuhui. Courtesy of Wikicommons. [Daqin was the Chinese word for Roman Empire.]

Its territory extends for several thousands of li [a li during the Han equaled 415.8 metres],They have established postal relays at intervals, which are all plastered and whitewashed. There are pines and cypresses, as well as trees and plants of all kinds. It has more than four hundred walled towns. There are several tens of smaller dependent kingdoms. The walls of the towns are made of stone.4.
5. GLASS TRADE
Roman glass from the 2nd century CE. Courtesy of Wikicommons.

Roman glass from the 2nd century CE. Courtesy of Wikicommons.

High-quality glass from Roman manufactures in Alexandria and Syria was exported to many parts of Asia, including Han China. Further Roman luxury items which were greatly esteemed by the Chinese were gold-embroidered rugs and gold-coloured cloth
Lastly, although it does not relate to China- I found it rather interesting. “A glass dish unearthed from a burial mound here is the first of its kind confirmed to have come to Japan from the Roman Empire.” Can you even imagine the trade route and years it took for that glass dish to make from the Roman Empire to Japan?!? You can read the entire article here.

The Pope’s Latin Tweets Soar!

Posted on 18. Feb, 2015 by in Latin Language

Some people say that Latin is a “dead” language, and you can hear my not-so sarcastic thoughts on that subject (here) in a post titled “If Latin is a dead language, Do zombies speak it?”

A generated meme created at Philosoraptor

A generated meme created at Philosoraptor

However, the trends of social media would prove that it is anything BUT dead! Facebook even offers the option to allow you to change your language to Latin! You can check out how to take the Latin Facebook Challenge: here.

Use Latin on Facebook! Like a Boss!

Use Latin on Facebook! Like a Boss!

Furthermore, I must hand it to Pope Francis for not deterring away from Latin too much. Late last year, I was highly disappointed in his decision to have Latin replaced by Italian as the Vatican synod’s official language. You can read more about this shift in tradition: here.

Pope Francis in August 2014. Courtesy of WikiCommons and Stemoc.

Pope Francis in August 2014. Courtesy of WikiCommons and Stemoc.

However,  Pope Francis’ twitter account in Latin has been a huge success with over 326,000 followers (as of 2/18/2015), which is more than those following papal tweets in German or Arabic. A link to Pope’s Francis Twitter Page (here). His homepage originally read “Welcome to the official Twitter page of His Holiness Pope Francis.” However for this Latin language page, it reads “Tuus adventus in paginam Papae Francisci breviloquentis optatissimus est.” How awesome is that!

So, I had to ask myself-who exactly is reading this. It is Latinists, Latin enthusiasts, interested and curious people? Daniel Gallagher, an expert in the language and member of the team in charge of translating and posting the pope’s tweets, said “We have every reason to think that many are young students, from universities, schools or even younger and that some use the tweets as homework, setting out to translate them.” He followed with saying “Others are journalists, lawyers, or people nostalgic for the Latin lessons of their youth, who get a kick out of translating a Francis phrase a day. Some get so involved that they reply to the pope’s tweets in Latin.”

This made me think, what an amazing way to practice Latin everyday! I would highly encourage it for anyone wanting to explore their Latin in a real-time and present circumstance.

Although Gallagher offers me another solution to “who is following these Latin tweets;” I was unsure if I truly believed that ALL 326,000 followers were Latin students of one sort or another. I mean, 326,000 does not sound like a population of a dead language. Albeit, Gallagher addresses this saying “Some follow the pope in Latin because it’s a way to create a group. They enjoy belonging to an unusual community, with its own code. If you are able to translate it, you are accepted into the club.”

Ah!

So, Latin is now a elitism hipster movement? So does that mean it making a comeback?  I am not really sure. I hope so.

Well, if you are not following the Pope- I would recommend it for the daily practice!

Valentine’s Day Tip: Add a Latin Love Quote!

Posted on 11. Feb, 2015 by in Latin Language

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone!

I hope everyone is ready for the upcoming holiday even if it is for an “Anti-Valentine’s Day.” I hope your Valentine’s Day or Lupercalia is filled with happiness and joy or at least lots of sweets and good movies or books.If you want to know the Ancient Roman history and festivals behind Valentine’d Day, I would recommend this fun read ” Lupercalia: The Ancient Roman Love Holiday Before Valentine’s Day”(here).

For those of you who are writing love letters to your loved ones (family, friends, wife, betrothed,etc)- here are some awesome phrases to spice up your cards and letters!

QUOTES

Valentines Day Candy. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Valentines Day Candy. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Te amo “I love you”

Eis quos amo “For those that I love”

Una in perpetuum “Together forever”

Amor vincit omnia “Love conquers all”

Amor meus amplior quam verba est “My love is more than words”

Omnia vincit amor; et nos cedamus amori “Love conquers all things; let us too surrender to love” (Vergil)

A blindfolded, armed Cupid (1452/66) by Piero della Francesca

A blindfolded, armed Cupid (1452/66) by Piero della Francesca

Amor animi arbitrio sumitur, non ponitur “We choose to love, we do not choose to cease loving” (Syrus)

Illis quos amo deserviam “For those I love I will sacrifice”

In aeternum te amabo “I will love you for all eternity”

In perpetuum et unum diem “Forever and a Day”

Antique Valentine's card. Courtesy of Wikicommons.

Antique Valentine’s card. Courtesy of Wikicommons.

Quos amor verus tenuit, tenebit “True love will hold on to those whom it has held” (Seneca)

Si vis amari, ama “If you wish to be loved, love” (Seneca)

Amor caecus est “Love is blind”

Amor sempiternus “Eternal Love”

Tibi magno cum amor “For you with great love”

Te valde amo ac semper amabo “I love you very much, and always will forever”

Valentines Day Chocolate. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Valentines Day Chocolate. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Numquam periit amor “Love never dies”

Ab imo pectore “From the bottom of my heart”

Nunc scio quid sit amor “Now I know what love is”

Numquam te amare desistam “I’ll never stop loving you”

Etiam in morte, superest amor “In death, love survives”

Amor and Psyche by Antonio Canova, Louvre

Amor and Psyche by Antonio Canova, Louvre

Fide et amor“Faithfully and lovingly”

Tuus perdite sodalis amans “Your ever loving soul mate”

Sine amor, nihil est vita “Without love, life is pointless”

Nunc scio quid sit amor “Now I know what love is”

Semper fidelis “Always faithful”

If these quotes are not enough for your thirst of love,  you can also check out this post “How to Write a Love Letter in Latin” (here).