Pluto! Roman God?

I apologize in advance for a gratuitous post on something that I find absolutely fascinating and that has nothing to do with Rome but for the fact that 3 billion miles from earth an object – formerly a planet – carries the name of the Roman god of the underworld.


This morning at around 7:30AM EST, the New Horizons spacecraft, launched by NASA on January 19, 2006 approached within 8,000 miles of the surface of Jupiter and has already begun to send back the first close-up pictures of the mysterious dwarf in the Kuiper belt in our history.  Tonight at 8:30pm when the first pictures of today’s flyby reach planet earth we will know much more.

This is a human triumph.

Following is a picture of Pluto’s “heart”, a fascinating anomaly on the planet surface.

Pluto's Heart

Click here for more from NASA.

And again, apologies for the diversion, I will revert to the standard fare hereafter 🙂

The Justinian Plague and Volcanoes?

“The sun gave forth its light without brightness, and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear.” – Procopius of Caesarea

This has been an unusually rich last couple weeks for the Age of Justinian in the news but of all the recent bits, this takes the cake.

Not many know that the Black Plague of the 14th century first appeared (in recorded history) during Justinian’s reign and was one of the primary reasons for the calamities that followed (including the loss of many of Belisarius’ territorial gains and the collapse of the Persian Empire).  For more on the Justinian Plague, during which over a 1/3 of Constantinople’s one million residents died within a matter of months in the summer of 541, see the brilliant book – “Justinian’s Flea” by William Rosen (on  The Justinian Plague was savage, ferocious, and more than any single factor can claim to have hastened the end of the ancient world (ushering in the Dark Ages).

This week we learned more about the origins of Justinian’s Plague.  A scientific study just published in the Journal of Nature, and summarized well for the lay-reader on, reveals that there were two epic volcanic eruptions that likely facilitated the terrifying Plague.  The first happened in 535/536 (possibly in El Salvador) and the second came later in 540 (somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere).  Together they spewed inconceivable quantities of sulfate and ash into Earth’s atmosphere and dimmed the sun around the Mediterranean Basin for years (as per the quote from Procopius above).   The dimmed sun cooled the planet, causing crops to fail and sparking widespread famine just at the very moment that y. pestis (the organism responsible for bubonic plague) began to spread northward and eastward from the Nile River Basin on the backs of rats.

The volcanic eruptions had opened the gates to Constantinople for the Plague, and Rome (and the civilized world) would never be the same.

For the article on see here:

The Enduring Legacy of Roman Roads

Perhaps one of the most obvious and most enduring signs of Rome’s legacy lies underfoot in its network of roads that stretch from Scotland to north of the Danube, east to the Crimea and south to the Red Sea.

This article in Atlas Obscura has some fine pictures (including that of the Pont du Gard in Nimes, France pictured above) and highlights some of the more remarkable, and obscure bits of the Romans highway system that still exists across Western Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.