Tag Archives: Roman History

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.

10 Facts about Ancient Rome that You Didn’t Know

Posted on 18. Sep, 2014 by in Roman culture

Saluete Omnes,

I hope everyone’s week is going well. My week is going okay other than the horrible heat wave in California. So for your viewing and intellectual pleasure. I will present to you 10 Facts about Ancient Rome that will make you think, giggle, and ponder the world of antiquity.

 

1.The early Romans thought Christians were literally practicing cannibalism when they heard that they consumed bread and wine as symbolic representations of the body and blood of Christ.

Courtesy of Wikicommons, Lamre, and Shizhoa.

Courtesy of Wikicommons, Lamre, and Shizhoa.

2. The abbreviation SPQR can be found on many Roman statues, buildings, and military sta.ndards. It stands for “senatus populusque romanus.” meaning “The senate and people of Rome.”

3. The Romans had gods for doors (Forculus), hinges (Cardea), and thresholds (Limentinus).

4. In response to a 73 B.C. revolt against Rome by Spartacus the gladiator, 6,000 slaves were crucified.

Crassus crucified 6,000 of Spartacus's followers on the road between Rome and Capua. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Crassus crucified 6,000 of Spartacus’s followers on the road between Rome and Capua. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

5. Sometimes gladiator blood was recommended by Roman physicians as an aid to fertility

6. Some men were advised to use hippopotamus skin to make hair grow. Men and women would remove hair with bat’s blood or hedgehog ashes, or keep hair from turning gray by coloring their hair with oil mixed with earthworm ashes

7. The Romans sometimes trained some female slaves to fight as gladiators.

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8. In battle, Romans sometimes grouped together and held their shields all around them in a formation called “the tortoise.

9. The Romans divided their days into 12 hours, measured by a sundial.

10. The Vestal Virgins were female priests who tended the sacred fire of Vesta, goddess of the hearth fire. If they lost their virginity, even as a result of rape, they were buried alive in an unmarked grave. In the 1,000-year history of the temple, only about 18 Vestals received this punishment (recorded).