Monday, November 22, 2010

Cleaning up after the Bar Kokhba revolt

Remains of a Roman bath complex in
Herculaneum.  Photo by Mharrsch.
Israeli archaeologists have uncovered an 1800-year-old bathing pool used by the Roman Tenth Legion and dating from the second and third centuries AD in the old Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem known by the Romans as Aelia Capitolina.

The excavations revealed several plastered bathtubs in the side of the pool, a pipe used to fill it with water, and a white industrial mosaic on the floor of the pool.

The bathhouse tiles, stamped with the symbols "LEG X FR" - Tenth Legion Fretensis - were found in place and the paw print of a dog which probably belonged to one of the soldiers was impressed on the symbol of the legion on one of the roof tiles. - More:
Miniature Jersusalem temple plaza1Image by mharrsch via Flickr
Model of the Temple in Jerusalem at the
Holy Land Experience in Orlando, FL.

The Legio X Fretensis ("Tenth legion of the sea strait"), had been stationed in Judea after the Great Jewish Revolt in 70 CE.  Jewish unrest, however, continued to plague the Roman provincial government.  Hostilities finally erupted again after Hadrian announced he would rebuild the Jews holiest city as a Roman metropolis, ploughing up the remains of Herod's temple (The Second Temple) and replacing it with a temple of Jupiter.  The leader of the revolt,  Simon bar Kokhba was thought to be a Jewish messiah and rebels announced the "era of redemption of Israel".    Over 580,000 Jews were killed during the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–136 CE) and 50 fortified towns and 985 villages razed.  Bar Kokhba as well as ten leading members of the Sanhedrin were executed and thereafter Hadrian prohibited Torah law and the Hebrew calendar.
Roman Emperor Hadrian 118-120 CE found in Hadr...Image by mharrsch via Flickr
Portrait sculpture of the Roman
Emperor Hadrian found at Tivoli

Modern historians have come to view the Bar-Kokhba Revolt as being of decisive historic importance. The massive destruction and loss of life occasioned by the revolt has led some scholars to date the beginning of the Jewish diaspora from this date. They note that, unlike the aftermath of the First Jewish-Roman War chronicled by Josephus, the majority of the Jewish population of Judea was either killed, exiled, or sold into slavery after the Bar-Kokhba Revolt, and Jewish religious and political authority was suppressed far more brutally. After the revolt the Jewish religious center shifted to the Babylonian Jewish community and its scholars.  - Bar Kokhba's Revolt, Wikipedia

The Civil History of the Jews, from Joshua to Hadrian  Galilee: From Alexander the Great to Hadrian 323 Bce to 135 Ce : A Study of Second Temple Judaism  Bathing in the Roman World    Hadrian: Empire and Conflict   Following Hadrian: A Second-Century Journey through the Roman Empire

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Ulysses-adorned amphitheater found near Fiumicino airport

Somehow with all the bustle that always accompanies the approaching holidays I somehow missed seeing this notice of a marvelous find of a "mini-Colosseum" near Rome's Fiumicino airport reported a few months ago.  When I visited Ostia in March 2009, I remember reading that much more of the ancient port remained unexcavated because it lay under the Fiumicino airport. 

[Image of Ulysses sculpture courtesy of the University of Southhampton]

This small amphitheater, however, is considered part of the ancient Roman port of Portus that actually succeeded Ostia as the Roman Empire's primary port at the mouth of the Tiber River in the second century CE. 

Apparently, the site was originally discovered in the 1860s but has remained largely undisturbed since then.  Now, researchers have been able to employ 3-D geophysics, computer visualization, environmental analysis and digital recording as well as excavation to reveal the details of what became one of  the largest maritime infrastructures of the ancient world.

"With the help of ground penetrating radar, the archaeologists have uncovered luxuriously decorated rooms, a colonnaded garden, a finely carved marble head, possibly depicting the Greek hero Ulysses, and a well-preserved toilet, designed to be used by three people at a time.

"The toilet belonged to the palace. It is located between the amphitheater and a porticoed garden. It is really an impressive building, with marbled floor and walls," said Simon Keay, project director and leading expert in Roman archaeology at the University of Southampton.

The researchers are now analyzing the dirt from the toilet -- basically ancient human waste -- to build a picture of the diet of the people who frequented the site." - More: Discovery News 

Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii, and Ostia   Mayfair Games Ostia The Harbor of Rome   Roman Amphitheaters (Watts Library)   Look Around a Roman Amphitheater (Virtual History Tours)   The Roman Games: Historical Sources in Translation (Blackwell Sourcebooks in Ancient History)   The Story of the Roman Amphitheatre

Palace of Tarquinius Superbus unearthed in Gabii

When I heard that Italian archaeologists think they have unearthed the palace of the notorious son of the last king of Rome, I felt a rush of excitement.  The Tarquin dynasty holds such a colorful place in early Roman history, especially considering all the lore surrounding the fateful rape of Lucretia, that the discovery of the actual palace that may have been near the site of the notorious desecration  is like the Roman equivalent of Schliemann's discovery of Troy.

[Image - Tarquinius and Lucretia by Titian, 1571.  Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

Archaeologists say the richly decorated monumental roof was dismantled and they hope to reconstruct it later this spring. Archaeologist Marco Fabbri of Rome's Tor Vergata University, directed the excavation.

"Fabbri and colleagues from Rome's Archaeological Superintendency believe that the residence was furiously demolished, probably during the Roman revolt in 510 B.C. that ultimately led to the foundation of the Roman Republic.  The ongoing excavation has so far unearthed three, disconnected rooms which most likely opened onto a porticoed area.  Under the building's exceptionally well-preserved floor slabs, eight round cells contained the remains of five stillborn babies.

'We hope to unearth the rest of the residence this spring. In particular, we are looking to piece together the richly decorated roof,' Fabbri said.

A terracotta fragment of the roof has already been found. It features the image of the Minotaur, an emblem of the Tarquins.

'It's a strong piece of evidence to support the hypothesis that the edifice was built for the Tarquin family,' Fabbri said." - Discovery News
 The Rapes of Lucretia: A Myth and Its Transformations   Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History   Etruscan Life and Afterlife: A Handbook of Etruscan Studies   Etruscan Myths (The Legendary Past)   Etruscan Roman Remains by Leland, Charles (BETRROM)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

East Asian Remains Found in 1st century CE Roman cemetery

A research team working in a 1st -2nd century CE Roman necropolis near the ancient town of Vagnari in southern Italy have unearthed a skeleton of a man with East Asian ancestry, according to DNA analysis.  When I was researching an article on the Han Dynasty for Heritage Key, I read that one of the important achievements of the period was the development of trade with the Roman Empire in the 2nd century CE. But the age of the remains and the possibility that there are more than one individual in the cemetery with East Asian descent makes it appear that there could have been a substantial group of East Asians in Vagnari before history tells us a formal delegation from the Han Dynasty had even made "First Contact". 

Vagnari was actually part of the emperor's estate during this time with its inhabitants engaged in tile production and iron working.

"So far the evidence suggests that Vagnari was a settlement of artisans and lower status individuals. The most likely location for the house of the imperial procurator who would have managed the estate is up the hill near the top of the plateau now called San Felice where a building provisionally interpreted as a villa is being excavated by a Canadian team directed by Hans vanderLeest (Mount Allison University) and Myles McCallum (St Mary’s University, Halifax)." - The Vagnari Project  

What seems puzzling is that if this man or even more than one of the 73 burials unearthed in Vagnari were slaves from China, how did the Roman emperor acquire them?  We don't know of any campaigns by the Romans that far east during that time.  Were they presented as a gift to him by a trade delegation? 

It will be interesting to see if any East Asian artifacts turn up as the excavation progresses.  Although the slaves could have been without significant possessions I can't imagine them living out their lives without fashioning some amulet or talisman to remind them of their former homeland, especially since the Romans did not discourage foreign religions.

The research team hope ongoing excavations will provide clues to globalization, human mobility, identity, and diversity in Roman Italy.

"This multi-faceted research demonstrates that human skeletal remains can provide another layer of evidence in conjunction with archaeological and historical information," says Tracey Prowse, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, initially of McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario) and, since 2006, of Southern  Illinois University Carbondale, the lead author on the study. . - DNA testing on 2,000-year-old bones in Italy reveal East Asian ancestry

  Comparison between Roman and Han Empires: Military of ancient Rome, Culture of ancient Rome, Huo Qubing, Wei Qing, Emperor Wu of Han, Roman mythology, ... Roman law, Government of the Han Dynasty   The Establishment of the Han Empire and Imperial China (Greenwood Guides to Historic Events of the Ancient World)   The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han (History of Imperial China)

Friday, January 08, 2010

Roman era tombs unearthed in southern Syria

Archaeologists have been busy in southern Syria.  Wafa al-Audi, head of Bosra's Antiquities Department reports that five tombs dating back to the Byzantine era have been found in Daraa.  One yielded copper bracelets as well as one made of iron.

[Image: Roman ruins north of the citadel in present-day Basra.  Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.]

Four more Byzantine-era tombs were found in Jedia.  They, too, contained bracelets, coins and bronze shards.  Skeletal remains of a 20-year-old man were found in yet another Roman tomb unearthed in Selmine.

In a continuing excavation of the Nabataean Cathedral in Bosra, a French team has unearthed remains of a private bath in Trajan's Palace.

I'm afraid the article in DNA did not include any images of the artifacts recovered.

Cosmos Global Documentaries IN THE LAND OF THE NABATEANS Arabia's Mystic Traders  Roman Syria and the Near East   Studies In The History Of The Roman Province Of Syria (1915)   Soldiers, Cities, and Civilians in Roman Syria  Archaeology of the Bronze Age, Hellenistic, and Roman Remains at an Ancient Town on the Euphrates River: Excavations at Tell Es-Sweyhat, Syria Volume 2 (Oriental Institute Publications)