Spy Photos Reveal Roman Wall in Romania

Another genuinely interesting one … this version from the Ayreshire Post:

Declassified spy photographs have helped archaeologists uncover the lost history of a Roman wall dating from the second century AD.

Archaeologists studying images gathered during covert intelligence operations in the last century have identified a wall that ran around 37 miles from the Danube to the Black Sea over what is now Romania.

Built in the mid-second century, the barrier once stood 28ft wide and around 11.5ft high and included at least 32 forts and 31 smaller buildings along its course.

It is thought to have served a similar purpose to other Roman frontiers such as Hadrian’s Wall, built to defend the Roman Empire from threats to the borders.

Known locally as Trajan’s Rampart, it consists of three separate walls which were wrongly dated to the Byzantine or early medieval period.

The research was carried out by archaeologists at the universities of Glasgow and Exeter who believe that studying declassified photographs taken during covert surveillance may help uncover and identify thousands of archaeological sites around the world.

It is estimated that around 50% of all archaeological sites in the UK have been discovered from the air, but other countries are less well studied.

Tens of millions of images of Europe and the Middle East were taken by Allied and German air forces during the First and Second World Wars and are now held in public archives.

The recently declassified covert US Corona satellite intelligence programme of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s includes around 900,000 photographs from around the world.

The images are particularly valuable to modern archaeologists as they show landscape as it was before the industrialisation, intensive farming practices and urban development of the 20th century.

Bill Hanson, professor of Roman archaeology at Glasgow University, said: “We believe we have enough evidence here to demonstrate the existence of a chronologically complex Roman frontier system, and the most easterly example of a man-made barrier in the Roman Empire, serving to block an important and strategically valuable route-way.

“It is an incredibly important discovery for the study of Roman history.”

Ioana Oltean, a senior lecturer in archaeology at Exeter University, said: “Photographs from military surveillance are revealing more than those who took them could have imagined because now, half a century or more later, they are proving to be of enormous benefit in showing us our lost archaeological heritage.

“Thanks to such images, the landscape of this frontier zone is now known to have been as busy in the past as it is today. We hope that this discovery will provide stimulus for further examination of many more neglected frontiers.”

Wow … just wow.

Elite Myth Mosaic Use

This seems to be more covert hype for a(n interesting) book than ‘news’ per se (maybe not), but … from a Carlos III University of Madrid press release:

This line of research, coordinated by Luz Neira, who is a professor in the Department of Humanities: History, Geography and Art, as well as a researcher in UC3M’s Institute for Culture and Technology (Instituto de Cultura y Tecnología), continues on the path established by previous studies that examined the images of women and certain legends in Roman mosaics. “We had previously shown the memory and conscious, self-interested reuse of myths, but this new volume also examines the possibility that there is a subliminal message regarding the elites’ fundamental concept of the civilization versus barbarism binomial,” explains the historian, who was in charge of the coordination and publication of ‘Civilización y barbarie: el mito como argumento en los mosaicos romanos’ (‘Civilization and Barbarism: Myths as plots in Roman Mosaics’) (CVG, 2012). A variety of specialists in Roman mosaics also collaborated on this book, which offers a new perspective in the approach to mythology and its reuse throughout history, which was a result of “a conscious and self-interested phenomenon of re-semantization.”

Specifically, there are premeditated and conscious recreations of certain mythological characters and episodes from different areas of the Empire, which were selected and even distorted in order to generate a spirit, deepen principles, or recall the foundations upon which their privileged position within the Roman state had been established, the researchers explain. “They re-used certain Greek myths as symbols that reinforced what Rome stood for,” states Luz Neira, “because they were of transcendental importance, due to the universal values they depicted, and they became champions of civilization”.

The scene of Achilles in Skyros, one of the most frequently depicted among the mosaics of the imperial epoch and which can be found, for example, in the villa of La Olmeda (Palencia), seems to be intended to highlight the archetype of the hero who is capable of giving his life for his country. The legends of divinities such as Dionysius and Aphrodite, the Labors of Hercules, the Journeys of Perseus and the battles between Amazons and centaurs are some of the other mythological episodes that originated in Greece that the Romans appropriated as their own and converted into models to be followed. “The memory of a legendary war and a mythological hero would become with the passing of time, and even up to the present day, the phenomenon with the greatest impact on people and individuals; this is what led us to analyze the myth as the story of the struggle between civilization and barbarism,” concludes the researcher.

Historiography in mosaics

Until now, the concept of the civilization in the Roman Empire had been analyzed using written sources and official images found in public spaces, in sculptures or relieves of certain monuments, such as arcs, steles or commemorative columns. However, very little in-depth research had been done on the representation of these concepts in private spaces, perhaps due to their domestic character, the researchers point out. “We were surprised by the absence of references of this type in the form of mosaics, where due to their unusual circumstances of conservation in situ the mosaic documentation offers an authentic repertoire of tile work, with geometric, plant and human figure decoration, connected to the private domestic contexts that pertained to the most privileged sectors of Roman society in any urban or rural location of the Empire,” comments Professor Neira.

In this respect, according to this historian, it seemed unthinkable, a priori, that members of the elite, who were involved in the government and matters of the Empire, would not have made use of the significant surface area of the mosaics that paved the living spaces of their domus and villae to commemorate their victories and their identification with Rome as a guarantor of civilization as opposed to “barbarism”. “They did it,” states Luz Neira, “by depicting re-used myths that evoked the values that, from an ideological point of view, Rome wished to represent.”

On Rome Disarming Her Subjects

In the wake of the evil deeds in Aurora, Colorado last week, I was trying to remember whether the Romans had an ancient equivalent of ‘gun control’ and I seem to recall some prof or another in my distant past suggesting that Rome did, in fact, disarm their subjects. I also recall reading from time to time on the web that the Romans did this sort of thing and I have also wondered if those folks have considered the logistics of it. Whatever the case, the source for this view is likelyRamsey MacMullen’s Roman Social Relations, where it is mentioned sort of in passing (p. 35, with a list of exempla in n. 26). Without coming down on one side or the other of the ‘gun control debate’, I do want to point out that MacMullen’s views need to be tempered with the extensive study by P. A . Brunt in Phoenix 29.3, 260-270, “Did Rome Disarm Her Subjects”, wherein Brunt examines MacMullen’s exempla and counters with several others.  Here’s the opening paragraph:

In his Roman Social Relations 50 B.C.-A.D. 284 New Haven and London 1974) Professor Ramsay Macmullen presents a sombre picture of the condition of the lower orders in the Roman empire, which in general appears to me to represent the truth only too well. But among the many suggestions he throws out which provoke reflection, at least one may challenge dissent. In his sketch of Roman taxation he urges that the resistance movements it caused “reveal in rough outline a common pattern of desperation: first, initial conquest by the Romans; next, the rapid confiscation of all hidden weapons;” and then assessments and “recurrent spasms of protest against the weight of tribute harshly calculated and still more harshly exacted.” His belief that even in the early empire taxation was heavier than is commonly assumed seems to me justifiable, but that is not my subject here. Is it right that disarmament, indeed rapid disarmament, was normally the first act of the conquerors as a prelude to taxation? Macmullen founds this claim on (a) a few texts relating to the disarmament of particular peoples and (b) an interpretation of the law or laws de vi, which in his judgement show that disarmament was universal.’ By implication, it was also permanent. There is perhaps some risk that this view will gain credit, unless rebutted. A fuller survey of the evidence suggests to me that disarmament was far from normal and, where attempted, without lasting effect.

… and the conclusion:

When Roman conquest deprived a people of “liberty,” the loss affected not so much the masses as the old ruling class; we must, however, remember that most of Rome’s subjects had been previously under the control of some other king or hegemon, and that relatively few of the provincial civitates had any real sovereignty to lose. Whatever political loss they did sustain was compensated from the first by the blessings of peace and by Rome’s readiness to uphold their local dominance, and in course of time by an increasing share in the imperial government. The notables were in the best position to discern the difficulty or impossibility of successful revolt, and to enjoy the benefits of order, civilization, and actual participation in Roman power. Without the leadership they alone could give, resistance to Rome could not be effectively organized and had even less chance of success. The rise of provincials in the imperial service and the endless panegyrics they pronounced on Rome’s beneficence alike attest the growth of active consent to Roman rule among the subjects who mattered most, if that rule was to endure. It was by winning over the magnates and not by disarming the masses that the Roman government secured submission and internal peace. Disarmament was neither practicable nor necessary as a systematic rule of policy; it was a mere expedient of no more than temporary utility, to be employed against some peoples at the moment of surrender or when there was some particular reason for apprehending disturbances. The “common pattern” is quite different; the local ruling class is left to control the masses and share in their exploitation, and Rome adapts the warlike proclivities of her subjects by giving them arms to protect and maintain her own empire.

… definitely worth a read if you’re asked “What would the Romans do in this situation? Didn’t they …”

Major Roman Canal from Portus!

The incipit of a very interesting item from the Telegraph:

Scholars discovered the 100-yard-wide (90-metre-wide) canal at Portus, the ancient maritime port through which goods from all over the Empire were shipped to Rome for more than 400 years.

The archaeologists, from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton and the British School at Rome, believe the canal connected Portus, on the coast at the mouth of the Tiber, with the nearby river port of Ostia, two miles away.

It would have enabled cargo to be transferred from big ocean-going ships to smaller river vessels and taken up the River Tiber to the docks and warehouses of the imperial capital.

Until now, it was thought that goods took a more circuitous overland route along a Roman road known as the Via Flavia.

“It’s absolutely massive,” said Simon Keay, the director of the three-year dig at Portus, the most comprehensive ever conducted at the site, which lies close to Rome’s Fiumicino airport, 20 miles west of the city.

“We know of other, contemporary canals which were 20-40 metres wide, and even that was big. But this was so big that there seems to have been an island in the middle of it, and there was a bridge that crossed it. It was unknown until now.”

The subterranean outline of the canal was found during a survey by Prof Martin Millett, of Cambridge University, using geophysical instruments which revealed magnetic anomalies underground.

The dig, which is being carried out in partnership with Italian archaeologists, is shedding light on the extraordinary trading network that the Romans developed throughout the Mediterranean basin, from Spain to Egypt and Asia Minor.

The archeologists have found evidence that trading links with North Africa in particular were far more extensive than previously believed. They have found hundreds of amphorae which were used to transport oil, wine and a pungent fermented fish sauce called garum, to which the Romans were particularly partial, from what is now modern Tunisia and Libya.

Huge quantities of wheat were also imported from what were then the Roman provinces of Africa and Egypt.

“What the recent work has shown is that there was a particular preference for large scale imports of wheat from North Africa from the late 2nd century AD right through to the 5th and maybe 6th centuries,” said Prof Keay.

[…]

via: ‘Biggest canal ever built by Romans’ discovered | Telegraph

90 metres wide! That’s huge! Where did the water come from to fill it?