Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Was Constantine's Miracle a Meteor?

In the fourth century AD, the fragmented Roman Empire was being further torn apart by civil war. Constantine and Maxentius were bitterly fighting to be the sole emperor.

Constantine was the son of the western emperor Constantius Chlorus. When he died in 306, his father's troops proclaimed Constantine emperor. But in Rome, the favourite was Maxentius, son of Constantius' predecessor, Maximian.

Constantine overran Italy and faced Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber a few kilometres from Rome. Both knew it would be a decisive battle with Constantine's forces outnumbered.

But something strange happened. Eusebius, an early Christian historian, reports, "...about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the Sun, and bearing the inscription 'conquer by this'. "

Jens Ormo, a Swedish geologist, and colleagues working in Italy believe Constantine witnessed a meteoroid impact. The research team believes it has identified what remains of the impactor's crater. Radiocarbon dating puts the crater's formation at about the right time to have been witnessed by Constantine

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Edinburgh engineer proves Colosseum could have been flooded

Academics have long argued that holding sea battles at the Colosseum was impossible . But, Cassius Dio, chronicler of ancient Rome, said: "Titus suddenly filled this same theatre with water and brought in horses and bulls and other domesticated animals that had been taught to behave in the liquid element just as on land. He also brought in people on ships, who engaged in a sea-fight there, impersonating the Corcyreans and Corinthians."

Now, Martin Crapper, lecturer in civil and environmental engineering at Edinburgh University was able to prove it was possible for sluice gates to be closed off and for water pressure to reach the correct level for the arena to be flooded by four million gallons of water to a depth of five feet within seven hours.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Roman barge raised from the bottom of the Rhine River

Although silted over centuries ago, a Roman barge that has stayed waterlogged for nearly 2,000 years, preserving the vessel and its contents, has been raised from the bottom of the Rhine River near the city of Utrecht. It is 25 metres long and 2.7 m wide, and is the first to be found with a cabin containing an entire inventory of items that have been fully preserved--from the captains kitchen, bed and chest, down to the contents of his cupboard.

"Weve found indications of military soldiers on board, from the spiked shoes that they normally used, to lance points and axes: standard equipment of the Roman soldier," said Andre Van Holk, the maritime archaeologist heading the research team. The archaeologists believe that this barge will provide insights into how the Romans organised their defence systems.

Cathedral of Roman Emperor Otto the Great Rediscovered in East Germany

A giant cathedral in eastern Germany known to have been built by Holy Roman Emperor Otto the Great in the 10th Century has been unearthed in Magdeburg. Laden with Italian marble, glass mosaic stones and glazed wall tiles--remains of which were all found at the site--the romanesque cathedral was as extraordinary in its beauty as in its size.

"It was the largest house of worship north of the Alps apart from the Cologne Cathedral," said Kuhn, adding that it was believed to have measured 80 metres long and 60 metres high. It was Otto the Greats final resting place, but was destroyed by fire in 1207.

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Sunday, June 08, 2003

Excavations at Grumentum yield 4th century C.E. statues and 7th century Lombard necropolis

Grumentum, near the present-day city of Viggiano and the subject of a 4-year multinational excavation, has yielded five statues from an imperial bath dated from 380 to 420 C.E. The city was founded shortly after 295 BC then destroyed during the Roman Social wars (90-83 BC). The city was then refounded in the Augustan era (20-10 B.C.) and endured economic fluctuations until a massive earthquake and widespread malaria ended its existence as an urban center in the 5th century. Although the site no longer served as an urban center after that time, it still attracted later inhabitants because of its commanding position along the Agri River valley and control of access to the Ionian coast. Archaeologists discovered evidence of post-Roman settlement including a necropolis containing burials genetically identified as Lombards, a Germanic tribe that entered Italy in the seventh century C.E.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

After 10 Years University of Pennsylvania Museum Reopens Classical Sections

"The Greeks, the Etruscans and the bane of them both, the Romans, are now part of an integrated exhibition called "Worlds Intertwined." Unlike the ancient glamour pieces one finds at museums such as the Metropolitan (the best statues and ceramics that money and pillage could assemble), the universitys museum is more terrestrial, yet, argues its director, Jeremy A. Sabloff, no less valuable for scholarly purposes." The Washington Post

To celebrate the opening, Etruscan scholars gathered for a conference at the new center. Nancy Thomson de Grummond traced the persistence of an Etruscan demon figure, Charun, through Roman times and beyond. Another scholar, L. Bouke van der Meer, shared his struggle to understand how the Etruscan version of liver examination differed from the Romans and the Mesopotamians divination practices.

"One of the most intriguing features of the reinstalled permanent exhibition, which opens Sunday and includes a treasure trove from 30 Etruscan tombs that the museum acquired in the 1890s, is a voice. Its on an audio tape of a reading in ancient Etruscan--a language dead for nearly 2,000 years."

"The voice belongs to Jean MacIntosh Turfa, who teaches Etruscan art and archaeology at Bryn Mawr College. Turfa, a consultant to the exhibition, said scholars have found clues on how the language might have sounded from the writings of the Romans, competitors who eventually edged out the older civilization."

"Along with comparisons of Roman and Etruscan words, Turfa said, Roman authors offered snide comments: "Theyd say, We send our kids to school in Etruria and they come back with an accent. " Philadelphia Inquirer