A large ancient wall, clearly Roman, was first unearthed in the German city of Cologne in 2017. It is not that surprising to find Roman buildings there. Cologne is one of Germany’s oldest cities, founded by the Romans in 50 AD under the name Colonia, or “colony.” What made the find interesting was its size, and the strange small niches built into the wall.
After comparisons with Roman ruins elsewhere, archaeologists think they have figured out the mystery. The building was a Roman library. The niches were to hold scrolls. Rather a lot of scrolls; it is estimated the library could have held up to 20,000 scrolls. The building would have been slightly smaller than the famed library at Ephesus, which was built in 117 CE. Cologne’s library was also likely built later, in the mid-100s CE. Located in the middle of the city, near the forum, Cologne’s library was intended for public use. And it was popular enough that eventually an extension was added!
What Did Roman Trade with India and China Look Like?
This map, based on geographical data recorded by a Greek writer in the early years of the Roman Empire, shows the trade route from Rome to India. Elites in India and China prized Roman-made glass and rugs. Elites in Rome enjoyed wearing silks made in the Far East -- so much that the Senate got worried about how much gold was leaving the empire, and tried to ban silk clothing. It did not work.
You will notice that most of the goods traded were for elites -- silk, glass, ivory, carnelian. Given the long distances to travel between the Mediterranean, the Ganges, and the Yangtze, only expensive items to wealthy aristocrats made the journey. Basics like grain or iron were traded in more localized networks.
Chinese Nobility Used Witchcraft To Handle Their Enemies
The punishment for "confusing" the people with witchcraft was death, in early China. Accusations of witchcraft were often wrapped up in aristocratic and dynastic struggles, particularly why the imperial succession was at stake. In 102 CE, the childless consort of the emperor died in prison, after being denounced as a witch. In 165 CE, the consort of the Emperor Huan was ordered to commit suicide, for a litany of offenses which included witchcraft.
What crimes had these noble women actually committed? We will likely never know for sure. But a witch hunt in Chang'an (Xi'an) in 91 CE offers some clues. On the instructions of the aging Emperor Wudi, who feared his long illness was caused by witchcraft, foreign shamans were brought in to search the imperial household for dolls used in harmful magics. Suspects were arrested for summoning evil spirits and saying malicious prayers at night. Those arrested were likely indicted for both magical and political reasons. Crown Prince Liu Ju was found to have wooden carvings of his "victims" in his room -- although the carvings could very well have been planted. He was duly removed from power and committed suicide in the aftermath.
The ancient Roman god, also known as Dionysus, does not have a good image today. His name is linked to drunkeness, excess, madness. But the ancients did not see him as one-sided. He was the god of losing one's inhibitions. But he was also the god of getting together. Ancient nicknames included Bacchus the Liberator, Bacchus the Saviour, and Bacchus the God Who Gives Men's Minds Wings. Those do not sound all bad, right?
Bacchic cults were banned in Roman times, because their members held allegiance to "a parallel state," but at the same time, Roman leaders have quotes on how fantastic it is that conquered populations enjoy Roman wine so much -- it makes them easier for Rome to control. To the ancients Bacchus was an ambiguous god, both beneficial and harmful.
These five lead mirror frames, dating to the turn of the 200s CE, have been found while excavating a Roman villa in northern Bulgaria. Three of the frames are decorated with the image of a large wine vessel and bear an inscription that means a “good soul.” A nice thought to have when looking at oneself, no?
The villa belonged to a Roman military veteran. The specific building where the mirrors were found was initially thought to be a house for workers, but the mirrors suggest perhaps it was a temple.
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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!