Riding the ‘Subway’, in Ancient Rome

Urban dwellers will recognize this map at first glance! But when you look a little closer you will see that you are not in Kansas anymore.

You are, in fact, in the Roman Empire in the year 125CE. And the “subway lines” you see are the Roman highway system as it existed in that year to the best of our knowledge (with some assumptions). Solid lines reflect existing routes, dotted lines reflect Roman aspirations or partially complete routes where the Romans might have been active but had not yet established the control required to extend their infrastructure.

The map is the brainchild of a graduate student at the University of Chicago, Sasha Trubetskoy and it is absolutely brilliant, rendering the stunning breadth and scope of the Roman footprint in such a tangible way. I have not stopped marveling at it and I’m sure that you will as well.

Hop on the highway in Londinium and ride it to Petra? No problem, it could be accomplished within the confines of the Empire. To provide a concrete example of this marvelous system, Mr. Trubetskoy estimates that a trip from Rome to Constantinople would take approximately 2 months on foot, a journey that could be reduced by half if the traveler “transferred” to sailboat for part of the trip…

In addition to Trubetskoy’s subway map, below you will find images depicting the design of the typical Roman highway as well as actual examples of such roads as they currently continue to exist across the Empire (including in war-torn Syria such as in this image to the right), where two thousand years later the accomplishment of Roman engineers is still remarkably evident.

 

For those interested in readying more please see the website of the map’s creator by clicking here.

 

Restoration of Justinian’s Basilica Cistern

Exciting news emerged this week from the world of Archaeology pertaining Mosaic_of_Iustinianus_I_-_Basilica_San_Vitale_(Ravenna)to the Emperor Justinian the Great and one of the greatest Roman feats of engineering and architecture still standing (albeit underground).
 
Anyone who has ever visited Istanbul has surely visited the Basilica Cistern, known in Turkish as the “Yerebatan Sarnıcı”. Located across the street and 645x400-basilica-cistern-set-for-comprehensive-restoration-1483481203740 underground from the Hagia Sophia in the heart of what once was Constantinople – capital of the Roman Empire for one thousand years and before that it was the Greek colony of Byzantium – the Cistern is an architectural marvel completed by the Emperor Justinian the Great (though it was likely begun during the reign of his uncle, the Emperor Justin).
 
The cistern was built to hold water that might keep the city’s thirst quenched in the event of siege or drought – though it was one of many that littered the city it was far and away the most important. But to call it a reservoir is to do it a grave injustice. It is a work of grace and beauty, built underneath the city streets in the heart of Constantinople. To enter it is to enter a magical space, in some ways (to me at least) it feels as ethereal and transcendent as the grand basilica above. The roof that towers above is supported by 336 columns rising 30 plus feet into the air, reflected in the water that still partially fills the room. A number of those columns contain recycled elements, including 0x0-basilica-cistern-set-for-comprehensive-restoration-1483481201380masonry that the Romans recovered from the more ancient Greek city of Byzantium like the absolutely breathtaking Medusa heads that form the base of two columns (see picture to the right).
 
To walk into the Cistern is to step 2,000 years back in time to the last era of the Romans when they still possessed the technological expertise, capital, and desire to build truly monumental works. Imagine that this place (pictures below) was never built to be seen, to entertain visitors, to awe tourists – it was simply built to hold water! Could we build something so regal today even if we tried? Its hard to contemplate. One cannot look at such a thing and wonder about, and to be awed by, the civilization that was capable of creating it.
 
So, the news this week is that Turkey will embark upon an ambitious restoration of the Cistern (along with the Milion that rests above it – the mile-marker from which all distances in the Empire were measured since Old Rome was lost to the Goths). One cannot help but wish them well and hope that the restoration is done with tact.
 
For more on the restoration see here
 

Belisarius and the Siege of Rome

belisarius-mosaicOn this day, December 9th in 536CE, Roman General Flavius Belisarius entered the city of Rome through the Asinarian Gate with his small cohort of Roman knights.

The city’s residents had not seen a Roman Legionnaire for almost exactly 60 years, when what remained of the Western armies deserted the Eternal City after the Goth warlord Odoacer toppled the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus (“little Augustus”).

Since that time, Rome (the city) had been under the control of a series of Goth rulers, including Odoacer, Theodoric (the “Great”), Amalasuntha (daughter of Theodoric), Theodad (cousin of Amalasuntha and her murderer) and at the time of Belisarius’ arrival, the Goth King Vitiges.250px-porta_asinaria_2948

Imagine that! For 60 years, the Roman Empire had gone about its business with an Emperor mounted on a throne in Constantinople, while Rome herself – the birthplace of Empire – was held by barbarians. Imagine a United States continuing to exist, and to thrive, with a Washington D.C. belonging to a foreign power. It sounds inconceivable and so it was to the Emperor Justinian who was determined to accomplish what none had dared, to return Rome to Rome.

By the time that Belisarius arrived in Rome his exploits (in Persia and Africa) were the stuff of legend. But he arrived woefully understaffed with barely

Vitiges (? - 540) Prince des Goths, roi des Ostrogoths de 536 à 540.
Vitiges (? – 540) Prince des Goths, roi des Ostrogoths de 536 à 540.

5,000 Roman knights, and soon faced a Goth army that exceeded 100,000 in number surrounding the city, determined to crush Belisarius and with it, Justinian’s aspirations of restoration.

Did Belisarius panic in the face of such impossible odds?  This quote from Procopius – an eyewitness to these events – makes the hairs on my neck stand on end every time I read it:

“On the eighteenth day from the beginning of the siege the Goths moved against the fortifications at about sunrise […] and all the Romans were struck with consternation at the sight of the advancing towers and rams, with which they were altogether unfamiliar.  But Belisarius, seeing the ranks of the enemy as they advanced with the engines, began to laugh, and commanded the soldiers to remain quiet and under no circumstances to begin fighting until he himself should give the signal.” – Procopius

300px-walls_of_rome_6th_century-1Belisarius stood atop the Aurelian Walls and drew his bow (a compound bow design that he borrowed from the Huns and improved upon) and in a blur fired three arrows that killed the three Goth field commanders that commanded the attack, causing chaos in the Goth ranks.  Then he began to fire one arrow after another at the oxen that drew the siege engines forth and order his knights to do the same, stopping the towers dead in their tracks.  The Siege of Rome that followed would last for one year and nine days and its outcome would make indelible history…

Absolutely fascinating stuff!

This Wikipedia link which does a decent job of summarizing the ensuing Siege of Rome.

Romans in Medieval Japan

On the eastern side of Okinawa Island in Japan the remains of Katsuren japan_location_map_with_side_map_of_the_ryukyu_islands-svgCastle stand on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean on both sides of the promontory. The castle experienced its golden age in the 15th century CE when it served as a hub of trade and cultural exchange between Japan, Korea, China, and the broader world. Just how broad was its reach? In a wonderful counterpoint to the recent discovery of Chinese skeletons in a 2nd century CE Roman cemetery in London, recent archaeological excavations at Katsuren unearthed a handful of 2nd century bronze Roman coins in recent weeks depicting the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great katsuren-castleon the castle grounds. It is the first time that Roman coins have been discovered in Japan. While researchers cannot know for certain how the 2nd century coins came to the 15th century castle (at a time when the vestigial Roman Empire was confined to the City of Constantinople itself which would ultimately disappear in May of 1453), but they speculate that the lords of Katsuren obtained the Roman coins in trade with China.
 
And as we learned in my prior post, ancient China was more familiar with their Roman counterparts than many might have believed.coin-in-japan
 
For more on the find of Constantine-era coins in Japan please see here:
 
 
And for more on the UNESCO protected world heritage site of Katsuren Castle see here:
 

A Ghost from Caesarea…

220px-CaesareaA pile of marble, concrete and sandstone sits off a highway between Haifa and Tel Aviv.

Once a city.

Once a Roman colony, its residents Roman citizens, one of the most important cities in the Roman orbit.

Colonia Prima Flavia Augusta Caesarea.

 

Named after the first Emperor, Caesar Augustus, the city sat on the turquoise Mediterranean coast in Rome’s Palestina province and dominated Mare Nostrum’s waters, a beacon in the Roman east for many centuries.

Caesarea's location on the Mediterranean

The city had many distinguishing features but none more remarkable than its massive, man-made harbor, the biggest in the world when it was built enclosing 100,000 square meters. It was known as Sebastos Harbor (“sebastos” from the Greek for Augustus), and its construction was made possible by the Caesarea_maritima_(DerHexer)_2011-08-02_098 220px-Caesarea_maritima_BW_4Roman’s brilliant invention of a new kind of concrete upon which they built their world-spanning Empire. A mix of lime and pozzolana (volcanic ash imported from Italy), this almost indestructible concrete has the unique quality of growing harder with time – even underwater – one of the reasons why there are so many well preserved Roman maritime ruins in the world.

Recently, somewhere in those waters off Caesarea, two divers discovered an ancient Roman wreck, a ship that sunk in the age of Constantine the Great – 1,600 years ago. IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority) archaeologists who explored the wreck speculate that the ship must have foundered when trying to make the harbor in a storm, depositing its cargo in the sand where it has been well preserved for nearly two millennium.

Among its contents were exceptional statues, including one of the Moon Goddess Luna (see below) that’s as beautiful as any I have seen, a grand collection of Roman coins, anchors, and other metal objects that were bound for recycling according to the IAA. Thanks to the storm they never made it to the foundry, giving us one of the most important maritime discoveries of Roman artifacts in Israel in the last three decades.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR4486.
DCIM100GOPROGOPR4486.
DCIM100GOPROGOPR4481.
DCIM100GOPROGOPR4481.

04-israel-shipreck 07-israel-shipreck coins 09-israel-shipreck statues

A special request, from the Author

A request from the Author to those of you (special souls and odd ducks all of you) who have read one of my books.MJS Museum

The most important way that indie authors like me can ‘promote’ our books is through the reviews that readers post online, especially on Amazon.com and at book-club sites like Goodreads.

On Amazon, the undeniable Goliath of the book world, the placement of my books is entirely determined by the number and quality of my reviews (good or bad, to an author an honest negative review is more important than a false glowing review!).

To the readers of my books, I ask you to please, pretty please, take two seconds and leave an online review as short or long as you would like online at Amazon – it makes an IMMENSE difference to the humble author plugging away without publicist, editor, ad agency, etc.

To post a review at Amazon please see me here:

amazon.com/author/matthewjstorm

And to post on Goodreads, please see me here:

https://www.goodreads.com/…/s…/6209063.Matthew_Jordan_Storm…

MANY THANKS TO YOU ALL!

Matthew Jordan Storm

A Reminder of Romans in Colchester

“Camulodunum.”

Once upon a time she was a Roman city, the first Roman city in Britannia.

Today Camulodunum goes by the name of Colchester, and it lies 66 miles northeast of London (Roman “Londinium”). It is known as the oldest town in England and was once the capital of Britannia, one of Rome’s prized possessions when it was part of the Roman Empire from 43CE to 410CE.

Camulodunum / Colchester was recently in the news when workers renovating a department store on High Street discovered the charred ruins of a Roman home beneath the shop’s basement.

The Dig in Colchester

 

Archaeologists are used to sifting through the charred remnants of Roman-era Colchester, because the first Camulodunum was sacked and burnt to the ground shortly after the city of London was founded. This destruction left a layer of burnt sediment upon which the Roman city was subsequently rebuilt. That sediment remains under Colchester and is frequently encountered.

Colchester was sacked during the revolt of Queen Boudica (see featured image of this post for representation), the Celtic warrior queen who led a brief but smashingly destructive uprising against Roman rule in 61CE, a revolt that left an estimated 70,000 Romans and Britons dead before the Romans reestablished control over the island. In the Battle for Camulodunum, the Roman IX Legion tried to relieve the residents of the city but arrived too late to provide succor. Gaius Suetonius Pauline’s, the Roman Governor of Britannia eventually prevailed over Boudica at the Battle of Watling Street. Though they were grossly outnumbered, Roman discipline and strategy prevailed over Boudica’s Celts and Roman rule was reestablished on the island for 400 years.

Roman Walls of Colchester

 

Found under the Department Store

Back to modern Colchester and the dig under the grand department store on High Street. Archaeologists were called to the site, and in those charred remains, they stumbled across one of the most notable hoards of Roman jewelry ever discovered in Britain (or a

Roman Jewelry found in Colchester

nywhere for that matter! Precious metals datingfrom the Roman era are rarely found – when fungible precious metals were discovered they were melted down to use as currency, not adornment). The dig is still ongoing but the principle items discovered include: three gold armlets, a silver chain necklace, two silver bracelets, a substantial silver armlet, a small bag of coins, and a small jewellery box containing two sets of gold earrings and four gold finger-
rings.
Archaeologists speculate that these remarkable items belonged to a very wealthy woman who buried them in the basement of her house as Boudica and her army marched on the town, hoping to retrieve them when the danger passed – that they were
never retrieved implies that their owner met a dark end, as did most Roman residents of the city.
For more on the dig, see here:
http://www.thecolchesterarchaeologist.co.uk/?p=14844