Tag Archives: Roman History

5 Amazing Libraries of the Ancient World

Posted on 14. Apr, 2015 by in Roman culture

In Honor of National Library Week ( in the U.S), I would like to take a moment and honor some of ancient libraries. Some of these libraries are well known and others are rarely discussed. I do hope you like the list! Make sure to comment which libraries should have made the list and why!

1.)Library at Timgad

Trajans Arch within the ruins of Timgad. Courtesy of WikiCommons and PhR61.

Trajans Arch within the ruins of Timgad. Courtesy of WikiCommons and PhR61.

Where: Timgad (Modern Algeria in the Aures Mountains), Africa

When: 250 A.D

History: The Library at Timgad was a gift to the Roman people by Julius Quintianus Flavius Rogatianus at a cost of 400,000 sesterces (approximately $800,000 U.S dollars) .

Collection Size: While there is no evidence as to the size of the collection the library harbored, it is estimated that it could have accommodated up to 3,000 scrolls.

Map of the Archeological site of Timgad. Public Library is Purple #46 in the middle of the city.Courtesy of WikiCommons and Dzlinker

Map of the Archeological site of Timgad. Public Library is Purple #46 in the middle of the city.Courtesy of WikiCommons and Dzlinker

Suggested Dimensions: The library occupied a rectangle eighty-one feet long by seventy-seven feet wide. It consisted of a large semi-circular room flanked by two secondary rectangular rooms, and preceded by a U-shaped colonnaded portico surrounding three sides on an open court.Oblong alcoves held wooden shelves along walls that would likely have been complete with sides, backs, and doors. It is possible that free-standing bookcases in the center of the room, as well as a reading desk, might also have been present.

Distinguishing Features: While the architecture of the Library at Timgad is not especially remarkable, the discovery of the library is historically important as it shows the presence of a fully developed library system in this Roman city, indicating a high standard of learning and culture.

Fate: In the 5th century, the city of Timgad was sacked by the Vandals before falling into decline. It is assumed the library was destroyed at this time.

 2.) Villa of the Papyri

Villa of the Papyri.Courtesy of WikiCommons & Eirk Anderson

Villa of the Papyri.Courtesy of WikiCommons & Eirk Anderson

Where: Herculaneum, Italy

When: Circa 1st century A.D (obviously before 79 A.D.)

History: This villa’s large private collection may have once belonged to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus in the 1st century BC.

Papyrus discovered at the Villa of the Papyri. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Papyrus discovered at the Villa of the Papyri.  Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Collection Size:  Around 1800 carbonized scrolls were found in the villa’s top story. Using modern techniques, previously illegible or invisible sections on scrolls have been unrolled are now being deciphered. It is possible that more scrolls remain to be found in the lower, unexcavated levels of the villa.

Suggested Dimensions: Although, this library was not a large public one. It provides insight into a Roman private or semi-public library. The Villa of Papyri is situated north-west of the town and sits halfway up the slope of the volcano Vesuvius without other buildings to obstruct the view.

Distinguishing Features: The only library known to have survived from classical antiquity- although everything was covered in ash.

Fate:  It was buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed the town in 79 AD, it was rediscovered in 1752.

3.) Library at Elba

Palace G at Elba where the palace archive/ library was found. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Palace G at Elba where the palace archive/ library was found. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Where: Ebla was one of the earliest kingdoms in Syria. Its remains constitute a tell located about 55 km (34 mi) southwest of Aleppo near the village of Mardikh.

When: 2500 B.C. – 2250 B.C.

History: Elba started as a small settlement in the early Bronze Age (c. 3500 BC), but it developed into a trading empire. Later, it became  an expansionist power that imposed its hegemony over much of northern and eastern Syria. However, Ebla was destroyed during the 23rd century BC; it was then rebuilt. Then again, it was destroyed at the end of the third millennium BC, which paved the way for the Amorite tribes to settle in the city and form the third Ebla. The third kingdom flourished again as a trade center; however, it was finally destroyed by the Hittite king Mursili I in c. 1600 BC.

A clay tablet found in Ebla, Syria. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

A clay tablet found in Ebla, Syria. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Collection Size: About 1800 complete clay tablets, 4700 fragments and many thousand minor chips were found. The tablets provide many important insights into the cultural, economic, and political life in northern Mesopotamia around the middle of the third millennium BC. They also provide insight into the everyday life of the inhabitants, as well as containing information about state revenues, Sumerian-Eblaite dictionaries, school texts, an archive of provisions and tribute, law cases, diplomatic and trade contacts, Ebla’s hymns, legends, scientific observations, and magic.

Suggested Dimensions: The actual size of the library is uncertain since a majority of the text were found and infrastructure of Palace G was/is still being determined. While this library may have not been a “public library” in the strictest sense, it holds true to be a Palace Archive that may have been open to the public like public records.

Distinguishing Features: The tablets constitute one of the oldest archives and library ever found and there is also tangible evidence of their arrangement and even classification. Furthermore, there was such a sophisticated techniques of arrangement of the texts, coupled with their composition, point to the great antiquity of archival and library practices, which may indeed be far older than was assumed to be the case before their discovery. The Ebla Tablets have thus provided scholars with new insights into the origin of library practices that were in use 4,500 years ago.

Fate: The library is thought to have perished in a fire, but it was in fact a great way to be destroyed!  Many of the tablets had not previously been baked, but when all were preserved by the fire that destroyed the palace, their storage method served to fire them almost as thoroughly as if in a kiln.

4.) Library of Alexandria

The Great Library of Alexandria, O. Von Corven, 1st century. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

The Great Library of Alexandria, O. Von Corven, 1st century. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Where: Alexandria, Egypt

When: It flourished as a major center of scholarship from its construction in the 3rd century B.C until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 B.C.

History: The library was created by Ptolemy I Soter, who was a Macedonian general and the successor of Alexander the Great.With collections of works, lecture halls, meeting rooms, and gardens, the library was part of a larger research institution called the Museum of Alexandria, where many of the most famous thinkers of the ancient world studied.

 

Collection Size:  At its height, the library was said to possess nearly half a million scrolls, and, although historians debate the precise number, the highest estimates claim 400,000 scrolls while the most conservative estimates are as low as 40,000, which is still an enormous collection that required vast storage space. This library, with the largest holdings of the age, acquired its collection by laborious copying of originals.

Courtesy of Makeameme.com

Courtesy of Makeameme.com

Suggested Dimensions: The exact layout is not known. Classical sources describe the Library of Alexandria as comprising a collection of scrolls, a peripatos walk, a room for shared dining, a reading room, meeting rooms, gardens, and lecture halls. It sounds amazing!The library also is known to have had an acquisitions department and a cataloguing department.

Distinguishing Features: It was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. It was dedicated to the Muses, who were the nine goddesses of the arts ( epic poetry, history, song, lyric poetry, tragedy, hymns, dance, comedy and astronomy). Fun fact: Mark Antony supposedly gave Cleopatra over 200,000 scrolls for the library as a wedding gift, taken from the great Library of Pergamum.

Fate: The library is famous for having been burned, resulting in the loss of many scrolls and books, and has become a symbol of the destruction of cultural knowledge. A few sources differ on who is responsible for the destruction and when it occurred. Although there is a mythology of the burning of the Library at Alexandria, the library may have suffered several fires or acts of destruction over many years. One of these fires is even credited to Julius Caesar.

5.) Library of Pergamum or Pergamon

The reconstructed Temple of Trajan at Pergamon. Courtesy of WIkiCommons.

The reconstructed Temple of Trajan at Pergamon. Courtesy of WIkiCommons.

Where: Pergamum, Turkey (Modern Bergama, Turkey)

When: Built 197 B.C- 159 B.C

History: The Attalid kings formed the second best Hellenistic library after Alexandria, founded in emulation of the Ptolemies.

Collection Size: According to Plutarch, Pergamum’s library was said to  have housed approximately 200,000 volumes.  No index or catalog of the holdings at Pergamum exists today, making it impossible to know the true size or scope of this collection.

Model of the Acropolis in the Pergamon museum in Berlin.Courtesy of WikiCommons &  Wladyslaw Sojka.

Model of the Acropolis in the Pergamon museum in Berlin.Courtesy of WikiCommons & Wladyslaw Sojka.

Suggested Dimensions: The library was situated on the upper acropolis within Pergamum. Ancient accounts claim that the library possessed a large main reading room, lined with many shelves. Manuscripts were written on parchment, rolled, and then stored on these shelves. An empty space was left between the outer walls and the shelves to allow for air circulation. This was was done in order to prevent the library from becoming overly humid in the warm climate of Anatolia. A statue of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, stood in the main reading room.

Distinguishing Features: Pergamum is credited with being the home and namesake of parchment (charta pergamena). The introduction of parchment also greatly expanded the holdings of the Library of Pergamum.

Fate:  Pergamum’s ties to Christianity and the Bible may be one reason for its demise (religious and political reasons not divine). Pergamum is mentioned in the Book of Revelation as the dewelling place of Satan and his throne. The city was damaged badly due to an earthquake in 262 A.D, and sacked by the Goths shortly afterwards. Furthermore, it was invaded by the Persians in the 7th century, but later rebuilt on a smaller scale by Emperor Constans II. Lastly, Pergamon was sacked by the armies of Maslama ibn Abd al-Malik on their way to the siege of Constantinople in 717 A.D

Measurements of Time in Latin

Posted on 12. Mar, 2015 by in Latin Language, Roman culture

Salvette Omnes,

In honor of daylight savings- and springing the clocks an hour ahead, I thought a post about Roman timekeeping was in order!

Tempus Fugit in Latin means Time flies. Courtesy of Crazygallery.

Tempus Fugit in Latin means Time flies. Courtesy of Crazygallery.

A Quarter Pass Twelve?

The Romans time of day was divided into 12 hours (Latin: horae) of light and 12 hours of darkness.

The Romans also divided the day into other periods, such as media noctis inclinatio “midnight,” gallicinium “cock-crow”, conticinium (with variants such asconticuum) “hush of the night,” and diluculum, “decline of the day. While some of theses phrases our self-explanatory, others like conticinium or asconticuum  meaning “hush of the night” are a bit difficult to translate.

Although the division of hours into minutes and seconds did not occur until the middle ages, ancient astrologers had their own system for telling minutes and seconds. A minuta equal to a 60th of a day (24 modern minutes), and a secunda equal to one 3600th of a day (24 modern seconds). So, although the measurement were off- it is still pretty awesome!

What year is it?

Fasti Antiates Maiores — Miniature black and white image of a 1 m high by 2.5 m wide fragmentary fresco of a pre-Julian Roman calendar (black and red letters on a white background) found in the ruins of Nero's villa at Antium (Anzio). Courtesy of Wikicommons.

Fasti Antiates Maiores — Miniature black and white image of a 1 m high by 2.5 m wide fragmentary fresco of a pre-Julian Roman calendar (black and red letters on a white background) found in the ruins of Nero’s villa at Antium (Anzio). Courtesy of Wikicommons.

The complicated Roman calendar (as seen above) was replaced by the Julian calendar in 45 BC by Julius Caesar. In the Julian calendar, there is an ordinary year is 365 days long and a leap year is 366 days long. So, you could say that Julius Caesar introduced the leap year!

Between 45 BC and 1 AD, leap years occurred at irregular intervals. Starting in the year 4 AD, leap years occurred regularly every four years. Year numbers were rarely used; rather, the year was specified by naming the Roman consuls for that year.

Full months were considered powerful and therefore auspicious; hollow months were unlucky. Unlike currently used dates, which are numbered sequentially from the beginning of the month, the Romans counted backwards from three fixed points: the Nones (eight days before the Ides, and fell on the fifth or seventh day of the month, ), the Ides (13th day of the months with 29 days, but the 15th day of months with 31 days)and the Kalends (first day of the month) of the following month.

How did we get our days of the week?

The Romans grouped days into an eight-day cycle called a nundina, with every eighth day being a market day.

Independent of the nundinae, astrologers kept a seven-day cycle called a hebdomada where each day corresponded to one of the seven classical planets, with the first day of the week being Saturn-day (dies Saturni), followed by Sun-day (dies Solis), Moon-day (dies Lunae), Mars-day (dies Martis), Mercury-day (dies Mercurii), Jove-day (dies Iovis), and lastly Venus-day (dies Veneris).

Although, most people can see how Saturday, Sunday, and Monday got their names-it is difficult to see how Tuesday-Friday came about. These days of the week in English actually came from Old English and Old Norse mythology. Hence, Friday is in honor of Frigg, Thursday is for Thor, Wednesday for Woden or Odin, and Tuesday is for Tyr.

The Days of the Week and how they got their names from gods/goddesses.

The Days of the Week and how they got their names from gods/goddesses.

However, the Romance Languages (French, Italian, Spanish) actually use the days of the week that closer resemble the Latin origins (for Tuesday-Friday)

French: Tuesday: mardi ,Wednesday: mercredi ,Thursday: jeudi,Friday: vendredi

Spanish: Tuesday: martes, Wednesday:miércoles, Thursday:jueves, Friday:viernes

Italian: Tuesday: martedì, Wednesday: mercoledi, Thursday: giovedì (Italian does not have a J in its alphabet), Friday: venerdì

Now, don’t these days of the week look closer to the Latin versions for Tuesday:Mars, Wednesday: Mercury, Thursday: Jove, and Friday: Venus?

Do you have the time?

A Roman era sundial on display at a museum in Side, Turkey. Courtesy of Wikicommons

A Roman era sundial on display at a museum in Side, Turkey. Courtesy of Wikicommons

The Romans used various timekeeping devices including the clepsydra, or water clock, and the Greek sundial.

A display of two outflow water clocks from the Ancient Agora Museum in Athens. The top is an original from the late 5th century BC. The bottom is a reconstruction of a clay original.Courtesy of Wikicommons.

A display of two outflow water clocks from the Ancient Agora Museum in Athens. The top is an original from the late 5th century BC. The bottom is a reconstruction of a clay original.Courtesy of Wikicommons.

A water clock or clepsydra (Greek κλέπτειν kleptein, ‘to steal'; ὕδωρ hydor, ‘water’) is any timepiece in which time is measured by the regulated flow of liquid into (inflow type) or out from (outflow type) a vessel where the amount is then measured.

The earliest sundials known from the archaeological finds are the shadow clocks (1500 BC) in ancient Egyptian astronomy and Babylonian astronomy. The ancient Greeks developed many of the principles and forms of the sundial. Sundials are believed to have been introduced into Greece by Anaximander of Miletus, c. 560 BC. According to Herodotus, the Greeks sundials were initially derived from the Babylonian counterparts. Eventually, this Greek technology found its way into the Roman Empire.

World's oldest sundial, from Egypt's Valley of the Kings (c. 1500 BC), used to measure work hours.Courtesy of Wikicommons.

World’s oldest sundial, from Egypt’s Valley of the Kings (c. 1500 BC), used to measure work hours.Courtesy of Wikicommons.

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.