Archive for June, 2007

King Tut Loved Red Wine! Wait, Wasn’t He Underage? (18th Dynasty)

By: The Scribe on June, 2007

The boy King TutAccording to some finds from the tomb of King Tutankhamun, the boy king greatly enjoyed a wee nip of red wine now and again…

Wine was actually a luxury item in ancient Egypt, with beer and mead being much more popular alcoholic beverages among the masses. And naturally, if the King enjoyed wine while he was alive, he was going to need something to drink in the afterlife! Although the containers for wine were readily identified from the tomb, the color and makeup of the wine was not known until scientists were able to carry out chemical analysis on the compounds left behind inside the containers.

It turns out that these wine pitchers had an acid residue inside, which Spanish scientists were able to identify as a substance typically left behind by red wine after it has dried up. In the extremely dry and sealed environment of King Tut’s tomb, the acid did not disintegrate or break down as it otherwise may have in a humid environment. Scientists took scrapings from the inside of the pitchers, and used techniques known as ‘liquid chromatography’ and ‘mass spectrometry’ to reveal the syringic acid left behind when a compound found in red wine called malvidin breaks down.

Egyptian Wine

Tomb paintings have caused speculation for decades over whether ancient Egyptians drank red wine, since many of the wine-making images showed red or purple grapes being pressed, though until now there was no definitive proof for its production.

Much like today’s wine-bottles, the pitchers found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb also contained labels on the front, identifying the name of the wine, its year of production and harvest, the source of the wine, and even who grew the grapevines! For example, one jar held the label: “Year 5, Wine of the House-of-Tutankhamun Ruler-of-the-Southern-on, l.p.h. in the Western River. By the chief Vinter Khaa”.

In addition, these same techniques were used on some other containers from the tomb, allowing scientists to discover that the ancient drink Shedeh, once considered the most precious and sacred drink in Egypt, was made from grapes and not pomegranates, as it had previously been thought!

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: Welcome to the cave man art show!

The Assassin King – Part 2/2 (ca. 165-218 AD)

By: The Scribe on June, 2007

Julia Domna, Caracalla’s motherMacrinus was proclaimed emperor on 11 April 217 AD, only three days after the assassination of Caracalla, having managed to distance himself from the deed. Notably, Caracalla had died without a son, and since there was no obvious heir, Macrinus was able to take over the position with relative ease.

Although Macrinus was the first emperor to never have served in the senate, he needn’t have worried about gaining their support – the senate was happy to see Caracalla go and have his reign of terror ended! By reversing some of Caracalla’s harsh taxes and allowing political exiles to return to Rome, Macrinus’ acceptance as emperor was secure – or so he thought.

His first snag came when Julia Domna, mother of Caracalla, seemed to have gained some inkling of Macrinus’ role in her son’s death. She began to conspire with the military against Macrinus, however he soon caught wind of her dealings and ordered her to leave the city of Antioch, where the Severans had been ruling. In protest, she refused – and instead starved herself to death. It didn’t take long – she was already at an advanced stage of breast cancer.

Meanwhile, Macrinus was discovering that being emperor wasn’t as easy as he had originally thought. He was very reluctant to engage in military conflict, instead choosing conciliation and treaties with enemies. While this was very good for the area, since it promoted peace and a significantly lower loss of life, it also meant that the soldiers were getting restless – and when they finally did engage in battle against the Parthians, a historically inferior enemy, the Roman army suffered humiliating defeat.

Elagabalus, Julia Maesa’s grandsonEven worse, Macrinus had failed to pay a visit to Rome after becoming emperor, thereby neglecting to gain the support of the empire’s main city. The failure of his own prefect to restore the city after several summer floods and fires also put a harsh damper on Rome’s appreciation of their new leader.

To make matters worse, after Julia Domna’s death, her sister Julia Maesa decided she’d had enough of her family being deposed. Though all the Severan women were evicted from the imperial palace, they returned to their original home in Syria and began to plot against Macrinus. Using their influence, they proclaimed Julia Maesa’s grandson Elagabalus the “true successor” of Caracalla.

Woman are good at spreading rumors, and in this case, it helped their cause – they managed to spread word across the Roman empire that Elagabalus was the illegitimate son of Caracalla, born of a union between first cousins. That was good enough for the malcontented army, and they proclaimed him the true emperor at a military camp on 16 May 218 AD. Less than a month later, although he had desperately attempted to regain support by increasing military pay and handing out a bonus, the Roman legions deserted him to follow Elagabalus, and the army marched against him on 8 June 218 AD. Macrinus was soundly defeated, and although he attempted to flee, he was soon captured and executed – with his own 9-year-old son’s execution soon to follow.

The moral of the story? Looking at both Caracalla and Macrinus’ reigns, it would seem that if you’re the Emperor of Rome, keep the army happy above all else – they hold the power to make or break your reign, even if you’re a sadistic terror to the rest of the Roman masses.

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: King Tut and his love of red wine

The Assassin King – Part 1/2 (ca. 165-218 AD)

By: The Scribe on June, 2007

Macrinus , the assassin kingAs prefect of the Praetorian Guard – the personal bodyguards of the emperor – Marcus Opellius Macrinus was privy to many of the goings on in the palace, whether he should have been or not. Having grown up in a middle-class family in Caesarea, Macrinus had somehow managed to gain the opportunity to study law and finance, and would later move to Rome to make a name for himself as a lawyer.

With his high reputation, the Roman emperor Caracalla appointed Macrinus prefect of the Praetorian Guard in 212 AD, a position that made Macrinus second in command to the emperor, and head of the only military body allowed inside Rome’s boundaries. Unfortunately for Rome, Caracalla didn’t seem to care for petty things like ruling the Empire, and instead spent a great deal of time in the field with the army, leaving Macrinus to deal with all of what should have been the emperor’s correspondence.

This, of course, is not the most intelligent way to rule an empire, especially when you’ve sent off a request by mail to have the head of the Praetorian Guard – the same man who you’ve personally assigned to read and reply to all your mail – arrested and executed. Naturally, Macrinus intercepted this little piece of correspondence, and decided he had better do something to save his own skin.

Why Caracalla had decided to kill off his most trusted ally in Rome is still a bit of a mystery, though the traditional explanation is that Macrinus received a prophesy that he would depose and succeed the emperor. Although he tried to keep it quiet for the sake of self-preservation – Caracalla was widely known for his merciless executions of rivals – it would have been relatively difficult to quash all the rumors that undoubtedly circulated in the palace. Well aware of Carcalla’s murderous streak, Macrinus decided that the only way to save himself was… to kill the emperor first.


In the spring of 217 AD, Caracalla went east with the Roman army, his Praetorian Guard alongside him. Macrinus had formulated his plan, making select choices of other guards to include in the plot. It was April 8th when the emperor and his guards made their way to visit a Temple of Luna in the area – and while in the temple, one of the Praetorian Guards named Martialis stabbed the emperor with a dagger, grateful for the opportunity, since he held a personal grudge against Caracalla: he’d been passed over for a promotion he had thought he deserved.

Of course, the only way to ensure the plot fully succeeded was to kill Martialis, and it was only a matter of days before Macrinus had proclaimed himself emperor. In order to distance himself from the assassination – since the Roman army had rather liked Caracalla, probably because of the amount of time he’d spent with them – Macrinus immediately proclaimed Caracalla a god, which earned himself the army’s support.

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: Part 2, the Emperor Assassin

A Brief History of Dowsing (8000 BC – today)

By: The Scribe on June, 2007

18th century sketch from a French book about superstitionsDowsing, a practice wherein an individual divines the location of water and other objects, has been a part of human culture since early prehistory. Cave drawings and Egyptian hieroglyphs attest to this ancient practice; however there is still some significant skepticism over whether or not dowsing is a legitimate scientific practice. Generally purported to be a practice of superstitious spiritualists, some researchers do believe there is evidence to support the claims of some dowsers.

What was its original purpose? It is likely that dowsing was originally used to divine the will of the gods, most particularly in the areas of telling the future and determining guilt in legal trials. Apart from the ancient images of people holding ‘divining rods’, 15th century Germany is the most probable candidate for the more ‘modern’ aspects of dowsing.

Dowsing in 15th century Germany was mainly used to find underground sources of metal, and the technique was spread through Europe when German miners traveled to England to work in the country’s coal mines. As readily as the practice may have been accepted at first, it didn’t take long before the church caught wind of this ‘fortune-telling’, and in 1659, the Jesuits declared dowsing a satanic practice.

During the 16th century, practicing dowsers were labeled as ‘water witches’, and even being suspected of dowsing could be cause for arrest and trial as a heretic or for practicing witchcraft. In 1701, the Inquisition ceased using a dowsing rod during their guilt trials, though the practice never completely stopped among the general public. Practiced in secret, dowsers continued to keep their ‘abilities’ alive until the Victorian era, when dowsing became a popular practice among the high-born of society.

dowsing in the Victorian era with “L” rods

Victorian society had a fascination with spirituality and mysticism, and dowsing again grew more widespread – popping up everywhere from parlor games to mining companies.

In more recent years, several scientific studies have been carried out in an attempt to determine whether dowsing is simply the result of chance, or whether those claiming dowsing abilities can actually sense the changes in Earth’s magnetic field – thereby leading them to natural underground sources such as water and metal. Dowsers have used everything from wooden Y-shaped rods, to brass L rods, to bent coat hangers, to crystal pendulums for their practice. Often, dowsers will pose questions of their divining device, and depending on the sway of the pendulum or shift in magnetic fields, the dowser will interpret the answer.

Although most scientists still remain unconvinced at the authenticity of dowsing claims, the practice continues into modern day, mainly as a water-locating trend. Notably, this is a phenomenon that has survived in human culture for almost 10,000 years – and whether or not any dowsing claims are true, it is certainly worth consideration as an ancient practice that has been passed down with some level of sincerity throughout the millennia

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: The Assassin King!

Previous page | Next page