Those Millet-Eating Romans

Nice to see fellow blogger Kristina Killgrove’s work getting some attention at LiveScience … some excerpts from Stephanie Pappas’ piece:

[…]

But ancient Roman writers have less to say about the poor, other than directions for landowners on the appropriate amount to feed slaves, who made up about 30 percent of the city’s population. Killgrove wanted to know more about lower-class individuals and what they ate.

To find out, she and her colleagues analyzed portions of bones from the femurs of 36 individuals from two Roman cemeteries. One cemetery, Casal Bertone, was located right outside the city walls. The other, Castellaccio Europarco, was farther out, in a more suburban area.

The skeletons date to the Imperial Period, which ran from the first to the third century A.D., during the height of the Roman Empire. At the time, Killgrove told LiveScience, between 1 million and 2 million people lived in Rome and its suburbs.

Roman locavores

To determine diets from the Roman skeletons, the researchers analyzed the bones for isotopes of carbon and nitrogen. Isotopes are atoms of an element with different numbers of neutrons, and are incorporated into the body from food. Such isotopes of carbon can tell researchers which types of plants people consumed. Grasses such as wheat and barley are called C3 plants; they photosynthesize differently than mostly fibrous C4 plants, such as millet and sorghum. The differences in photosynthesis create different ratios of carbon isotopes preserved in the bones of the people who ate the plants.

[…]

There were also differences among people living within Rome. Individuals buried in the mausoleum at Casa Bertone (a relatively high-class spot, at least for commoners), ate less millet than those buried in the simple cemetery surrounding Casa Bertone’s mausoleum. Meanwhile, those buried in the farther-flung Castellaccio Europarco cemetery ate more millet than anyone at Casa Bertone, suggesting they were less well-off than those living closer to or within the city walls.

Historical texts dismiss millet as animal feed or a famine food, Killgrove said, but the researcher’s findings suggest that plenty of ordinary Romans depended on the easy-to-grow grain. One man, whose isotope ratios showed him to be a major millet consumer, was likely an immigrant, later research revealed. He may have been a recent arrival to Rome when he died, carrying the signs of his country diet with him. Or perhaps he kept eating the food he was used to, even after arriving in the city. […]

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Alexanderland?

Brief item from Kathimerini:

The deputy governor of Central Macedonia, Giorgos Tsamaslis, who is responsible for Thessaloniki, on Tuesday unveiled an ambitious plan to create a 30-hectare theme park in the northern port city dedicated to Alexander the Great.

“Alexanderland,” as the project is being dubbed, is aimed at casting light on the history of the ancient Macedon king with interactive displays, simulated battles, audiovisual presentations and exhibitions.

Three state-owned plots are being considered for the project, while Tsamaslis’s office is already in talks with experts at Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University in regard to drafting a comprehensive proposal.

… not sure if any of these ‘classical theme parks’ ever get beyond the proposal stage …

Hadrian’s Wall Expulsions?

Interesting item from the Independent hyping something in Current Archaeology … here’s the end bit:

[…] For decades, archaeologists struggled to date the indigenous communities around the wall because the site yielded very few artefacts. The only way of dating these Roman and pre-Roman Iron Age settlements was to excavate what little there was. Since the 1970s, when serious excavation began, experts believed the local population living in the shadow of the wall had actually flourished under the Roman invaders. But the new evidence suggests the Roman legions actually cleared a 10-mile stretch in front of the wall by force.

By using carbon-dating techniques archaeologists have been able to pinpoint the chronology of the local settlements far more accurately than in the past. More than 60 radiocarbon dating tests were undertaken on Iron Age settlements between 2002 and 2008 around the Newcastle area, giving the most complete sample ever of Iron Age settlements north of the wall.

Data from the investigation, led by Nick Hodgson at TWM Archaeology, is to be published in Current Archaeology next week and is said to be one of the biggest discoveries about the way in which Hadrian’s Wall shaped the country.

Dr Matthew Symonds, an expert on the wall and editor of Current Archaeology, said: “These new excavations suggest these settled farming communities… survived the first Roman appearance in the area. But it’s only when Hadrian’s Wall is built that they suddenly seem to go out of use.”

I’m not sure there’s a problem here, if I understand “shadow of the wall” and “front of the wall” correctly. Wouldn’t we expect the folks on the “Roman side” to flourish and the other side to have to clear out? Or am I missing something? (which is quite possible)

Classics Confidential: Jo Brown and Helen King on Hippocrates Electric

The official description:

Hippocrates is traditionally seen as the ‘Father of Medicine’. But scholars now doubt whether any of the treatises in the so-called Hippocratic Corpus are in fact by this historical figure. This has not stopped his name – and, by implication, his authority – being attached to various ideas, from medical theories to therapeutic practices: including soup! Dr Jo Brown is working with Professor Helen King on her ‘Hippocrates Electric’ project, examining how ‘Hippocrates’ features in popular beliefs about medicine today.