Tag Archives: Roman History

5 Animals used in Ancient Warfare

Posted on 29. Apr, 2015 by in Roman culture

DISCLAIMER: Since this is a Latin blog, I have chosen only to focus on animals used in Roman battles or wars. Thus, I understand that some of these animals have older warfare uses, but the focus here is on Roman period uses.

1. WAR ELEPHANT

Roman mosaic at Ostia Antica, Italy. Courtesy of WikiCommons &Marie-Lan Nguyen

Roman mosaic at Ostia Antica, Italy. Courtesy of WikiCommons &Marie-Lan Nguyen

Animal: North African Forest Elephant, Carthaginian Elephant, Atlas Elephants, “Hannibal’s Elephants”

Alive or Extinct: Extinct from over-exploitation

Year: 218 B.C.E

Hannibals route to Italy. Courtesy of WikiCommons & Albalg.

Hannibals route to Italy. Courtesy of WikiCommons & Albalg.

Battle or War: Second Punic War at the Battle of Trebia.

How was it used: A war elephant was an elephant trained and guided by humans for combat. Their main use was to charge the enemy, breaking their ranks and instilling terror. Elephantry are military units with elephant-mounted troops.

Sources: Polybius & Livy (here)

Fun Facts:  The favorite, and perhaps last surviving elephant of Hannibal’s 218 B.C. crossing of the Alps was an impressive animal named Surus (“the Syrian” or “One-Tusker”), and may have been of Syrian stock, though the evidence remains ambiguous.

Before crossing the Alps, Hannibal had to cross the Rhone River. Credit: War elephants depicted in Hannibal Barca crossing the Rhône, by Henri Motte, 1878. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Before crossing the Alps, Hannibal had to cross the Rhone River. Credit: War elephants depicted in Hannibal Barca crossing the Rhône, by Henri Motte, 1878. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Advantage or Disadvantage: The elephants had such a difficult time crossing the Alps due to the terrain, cold winter weather, and the fact that roads had to be built for them to cross. This wasted a lot of time and resulted in the surviving elephants being quite famished. However, the surviving elephants were successfully used in the battle of Trebia, where they panicked the Roman cavalry and Gallic allies.

 

The Elephant Battery in Peshawar in 1880's. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

The Elephant Battery in Peshawar in 1880’s. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Last Used: Although, the elephant that is being discussed is the North African Forest Elephant, I believe it is important to know in general how elephants were used within war or battle.

In south-east Asia the use of elephants on the battlefield continued up until the end of the 19th century. One of the major difficulties in the region was terrain, and elephants could cross difficult terrain in many cases more easily than horse cavalry.

During World War I, elephants pulled heavy equipment. This one worked in a munitions yard in Sheffield. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

During World War I, elephants pulled heavy equipment. This one worked in a munitions yard in Sheffield. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Into the 20th century, non-battle-trained elephants were used for other military purposes as late as World War II,particularly because the animals could perform tasks in regions that were problematic for modern vehicles.

2. War Pigs

Courtesy of Mental Floss.

Courtesy of Mental Floss.

Animal:  The pig or boar

Alive or Extinct: There is no certainty as to the species of pig or boar, so in general pigs/boars are still in existence.

Year: 275 B.C.E

Pyrrhus and his elephants. Courtesy of WikiCommons and Helene Guerber.

Pyrrhus and his elephants. Courtesy of WikiCommons and Helene Guerber.

Battle or War:  Pyrrhic War

How was it used: War pigs are pigs reported to have been used in ancient warfare, mostly as a countermeasure against war elephants. Ancient historians confirm that elephants were frightened by squealing pigs (and rams with horns), and reported that the Romans exploited squealing pigs (and rams) to repel the war elephants at Pyrrhus.

Sources: Pliny the Elder (“Natural History” 8.9.27), Aelian, (“On Animals” 1.38),   Lucretius( De Rerum Natura 5.1298-134)

Fun Facts: Historical accounts of incendiary pigs or flaming pigs were recorded by the military writer Polyaenus and by Aelian. (Note: The following video shows Rome Total War custom battle between War Elephants and War Pigs. While, it is not historically accurate. It is a bit a fun.)

YouTube Preview Image

Advantage or Disadvantage: The elephants bolted in terror from the flaming and/or squealing pigs, often killing great numbers of their own soldiers by trampling them to death. However, there is some uncertainty as the war elephants could flee in either direction stomping and killing soldiers.

Last Used: There is no evidence that the war pig survived beyond antiquity. This, of course, is a logically deduction as its primary purpose was to defeat the war elephant. However, another reason why it may have not succeeded as a new and productive tactic is due to its uncertainty.

3. War Dogs

Cave canem mosaics ('Beware of the dog') were a popular motif for the thresholds of Roman villas. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Cave canem mosaics (‘Beware of the dog’) were a popular motif for the thresholds of Roman villas. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Animal: The Dog

Alive or Extinct: Alive

Year: 231 B.C.E

Battle or War:  A war against the Sardinians.

Mosaic at Pompeii.Courtesy of Wikicommons & Marie-Lan Nguyen

Mosaic at Pompeii.Courtesy of Wikicommons & Marie-Lan Nguyen

How was it used: Romans, dogs served most often as sentries or patrols, though they were sometimes taken into battle. Written accounts by the Roman writers and historians Plutarch and Pliny exist, and Strabo, a Greek historian, described the dogs being “protected with coats of mail.”

Sources: Livy (Book 22)

Fun Facts: War dogs were used by the Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Sarmatians, Baganda, Alans, Slavs, Britons, and the Romans.

Advantage or Disadvantage: The Roman consul Marcus Pomponius Matho, leading the Roman legions through the inland of Sardinia, where the inhabitants led guerrilla warfare against the invaders, used “dogs from Italy” to hunt out the natives who tried to hide in the caves

Last Used: Contemporary dogs in military roles are also often referred to as police dogs, or in the United States as a Military Working Dog (MWD), or K-9. Their roles are nearly as varied as their ancient cousins, though they tend to be more rarely used in front-line formations. As of 2011, 600 U.S. Military dogs were actively participating in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan

4. War Horses

Re-enactor as Roman cavalryman. Courtesy of WikiCommons  & David Friel & FLickr.

Re-enactor as Roman cavalryman.
Courtesy of WikiCommons & David Friel & FLickr.

Animal: Horses

Alive or Extinct: While it is unclear which species of horse was used by the Ancient Romans. It is clear that horses are in general not extinct.

Year: 9 August 48 BC

Battle or War: Battle of Pharsalus (For the logistics of the battle, the video below goes into a greater detail than I could.)

How was it used: In antiquity, horses have been used to simply riding, transportation, cavalry, chariots, and as beast of burden. Cavalry was not used extensively by the Romans during the Roman Republic period, but by the time of theRoman Empire, they made use of heavy cavalry.

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Sources: Plutarch Pompey 65.5

Fun Facts: The saddle with a solid framework, or “tree”, provided a bearing surface to protect the horse from the weight of the rider. The Romans are credited with the invention of the solid-treed saddle.

Advantage or Disadvantage:When Pompey determined that his cavalry had been routed by an inferior force (Caesar: 22,000 Infantry & 1,000 Cavalry; Pompey: 45,000 Infantry & 7,000 Cavalry), he fled and retreated. Thus, it proves the importance of cavalry forces but not necessarily the size.

Afghani and United military forces on horseback in Afghanistan, 2001. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Afghani and United military forces on horseback in Afghanistan, 2001. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Last Used: Today, many of the historical military uses of the horse have evolved into peacetime applications, including exhibitions, historical reenactments, work of peace officers, and competitive events. Formal combat units of mounted cavalry are mostly a thing of the past, with horseback units within the modern military used for reconnaissance, ceremonial, or crowd control purposes.

5. Pigeons

Pigeons with messages attached. Courtesy WikiCommons.

Pigeons with messages attached. Courtesy WikiCommons.

Animal: Pigeon

Alive or Extinct: Alive and Well.

Year: 58–50 BC

Battle or War: Gallic Wars

How was it used:  Pigeons have long played an important role in war. Due to their homing ability, speed, and altitude, they were often used as military messengers. The Romans used pigeon messengers for over 2000 years ago. In Ancient Rome, within many texts, there are references to pigeons being used to send messages by Julius Caesar.

Roman Mosaic from House of Faun. Courtesy of WikiCommons, Marie-Lan Nguyen, Jastrow.

Roman Mosaic from House of Faun. Detail of middle bird possibly being a pigeon. Courtesy of WikiCommons, Marie-Lan Nguyen, Jastrow.

Sources: Frontius (Stratagems Second book, XIII, 8)

Fun Facts: Pigeons have been used to great effect in military situations, with 32 birds awarded the Dickin Medal.

Advantage or Disadvantage:  This one is a bit tricky, because while it would be advantageous to have information reach allies quickly and secretly. Pigeons are noticeable and could be intercepted.

Last Used: During World War II, the UK used about 250,000 homing pigeons, They ceased being used as of 1957.

 

 

 

 

HONORABLE MENTION:

THE TORTOISE

Tortoise or Testudo Formation. Rendered on Trajan's Column. Courtesy of WikiCommons & CristianChirita.

Tortoise or Testudo Formation. Rendered on Trajan’s Column. Courtesy of WikiCommons & CristianChirita.

While the tortoise was not used as the animal, it inspired a famous formation known as the testudo or tortoise formation.

A demonstration of a reenactment event can be seen here:

YouTube Preview Image

 

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.