Emperor Nero was famously extravagent. Among other personal projects, he build a massive "Golden House" or Domus Aurea in Latin, which was to be the emperor's palace and personal artistic project. Nero was loved by the lower classes while alive, but hated by the conservative Roman elite that liked to pretend they still ran a republic. So his Domus Aurea was a huge problem for his successors: how could an emperor pretend he was merely the first man in a republic, when living in a palace? After Nero's death, the Domus Aurea was stripped of its rich interiors, filled with dirt, and built over. The cover-up job worked in the short term. But in the long term, it preserved the Domus Aurea for future Romans to find, and the palace was rediscovered in the 1400s. Since then, it has been the site of ongoing excavation and preservation efforts.
In 2019, as part of restoration work at Emperor Nero's Domus Aurea, a secret underground room was discovered! Its walls are covered with murals showing real and mythical creatures, the paint and gilding preserved because of the rubble and dirt used to fill much of the room.
Archaeologists have recently rediscovered remains of a trading and religious center of Aksum. Aksum, a kingdom principally located in today's Ethiopia, thrived from the 1st to 8th centuries CE, and was the state which saw the region converted to Christianity. It traded with the Roman Empire and India, minted its own coins, and took over the declining kingdom of Kush which had long rivaled ancient Egypt. The newly found city lay between the capital (also called Aksum) and the Red Sea.
The city has been renamed Beta Samati, which means "house of audience" in the local Tigrinya language. It was discovered in 2011, hiding more than 10 feet below the surface, in Ethiopia's Yeha region. The remains are already changing what we think we know about Aksum. It had previously been believed that societies in the region collapsed in the period before the rise of the Aksum Kingdom. But Beta Samati continued through the period of supposed abandonment just fine, functioning as a major connection on trade routes linking the Mediterranean and other cities which would end up under Aksum control.
Potential Roman Surveyors Tool Found In Mosaics For First Time
Images in a floor mosaic in a Pompeii home may be related to the practice of surveying. Roman survey technicians, known as gromatici, employed a cross-shaped instrument called a groma. A cord hanging from each of the perpendicular arms of the cross ended with a weight or plumb bob that could be used to create plumb lines. Thus, the tool allowed surveyors to establish true vertical and horizontal lines when planning towns and aqueducts. One groma has been uncovered at Pompeii, but their use has only been known from texts dating to the medieval period.
Now, a mosaic at Pompeii's House of Orion appears to match the descriptions from those medieval texts. There are two images in the mosaic which might be surveyor's tools. The first consists of a square inscribed in a circle, which is cut by two perpendicular lines. One of the lines aligns with the longitudinal axis of the structure’s atrium. A second image, made up of a circle inscribed with a cross, appears to depict a groma. Researchers speculate that the house belonged to a member of the surveyor's guild or was used as a gathering place for the guild.
Yemen has a famously isolated island, Socotra, whose separation from the mainland and varied climate features resulted in the development of many unique flora and fauna. A 1990 biodiversity study found that there are 700 species on Socotra that live nowhere else on earth. And an estimated one-third of its species are unique to the island. But did you know that Socotra has been occupied by humans for the past 2,000 years? The result is the degradation of its famous biodiversity: the island once featured wetlands and pastures that were home to crocodiles, giant lizards, and water buffaloes. Their homelands have been replaced by sand gullies and the animals who once called the wetlands home have disappeared. The remaining Socotra fauna are those which can survive in the drier climates, and they are greatly threatened by goats and other introduced species. Many native plants only survive where there is greater moisture or protection from livestock, meaning that continuous human effort is needed to preserve them.
In 3800 BCE, the Babylonian Empire took the world’s first known census -- of farmgoods. They counted livestock and quantities of butter, honey, milk, wool, and vegetables.
In 2 CE, China’s Han Dynasty took the oldest surviving census data, showing a population of 57.7 million people living in 12.4 million households. Chengdu, the largest city, had a population of 282,000.
The first modern census in Britain in 1801 didn’t ask people to list their ages.
The first census in the US in 1790 only cared about age if the person was a "free white male," which was sorted by “16 years and upward” and “under 16 years.” All other categories were ageless.
In 1853, Chile passed the first census law in South America.
Britain’s attempt to take a census in India in 1871 was difficult because there were rumors that the goal of the count is to identify girls to be sent to England to fan Queen Victoria during a heatwave.
The ancient Roman orator and politician Cicero once wrote poetry! And it was notoriously poor, too. Over a hundred years after Cicero’s death, the Roman historian Tacitus quipped that Julius Caesar and Brutus wrote poetry too, and "though they were no better poets than Cicero, they were more fortunate, because fewer people know about their poetic endeavors."
In the Roman Republic from 450 to 445 BCE, intermarriage of patricians and plebeians was banned. It was unpopular with the people and quickly lifted.
Over 400 years later, in 18 BCE, Emperor Augustus introduced a similar set of laws that were more widely accepted, and remained in place for centuries. The new laws limited some senatorial and equestrian individuals from marrying outside their rank. It also more generally limited marriages across class boundaries by limiting the marriage of Roman citizens with people who were registered as immoral -- actors, adulterers, prostitutes, and those living off prostitution like pimps.
A poorly preserved stone wall stretching southward 71 miles from the Bamu Mountains have been identified in western Iran. Yes, you read that right: a 71-mile-long wall. Similar structures have been found in northern and northeastern Iran. Pottery found along the structure, known to locals as the “Gawri Wall,” has been dated to between the 300s BCE and the 500s CE. The archaeological examination also found that there may have been turrets or buildings placed along the wall, which was made with local materials such as cobbles and boulders fixed with gypsum mortar. Archaeologists estimate the wall may have stood about 10 feet tall and 13 feet wide. But why was it built? Based on the location and the length, Gawri Wall may have been built as a border wall by the Parthians or the Sassanians. But because it is so poorly preserved, whether it actually functioned to keep things out, or was more symbolic, is unknown.
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By Lillian Audette
This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!