Archive for February, 2011

Publius Afranius Potitus- The Man Who Gave His Life So Caligula Would Live

By: The Scribe on February, 2011

Many ancient rulers were revered as gods by their people and had those people pray for their safety or health during times of trouble or sickness. It was not uncommon for ancient peoples to vow to give their lives or sacrifice animals or other items to the gods in order to ensure that their rulers would recover from illness or injury. When the ruler recovered life would continue as normal. It was rare that any individual was taken up on their promise of self-sacrifice. A colored marble bust of Caligula

It pays to be careful who you are making the vows for and who you tell about your willingness to sacrifice yourself. Sometimes, just sometimes, the odd ruler will take you up on your promise. A Roman plebian by the name of Publius Afranius Potitus had made no secret of the fact that he would be willing to give his life if the Emperor Caligula were to recover from an illness. Caligula had been in power for a mere six months at that time and was still a popular ruler because of the extravagant shows that he put on for the entertainment of the Roman people. Caligula recovered from his illness and, instead of rewarding Afranius for his loyalty, gave the man what he wished. Afranius was executed. Some accounts state that Caligula had Afranius dressed as a sacrificial animal before he was sacrificed.

Afranius was what is known as a devotio. Becoming a devotio was a Roman tradition in which a person would dedicate themselves to the gods of the Underworld. In later days, the term was also used to describe someone who was willing to sacrifice themselves for the health and well-being of the emperor. As Caligula wanted to be worshipped as a living god, he likely felt that this vow was a most welcome one.

Perhaps it would have been better if Afranius had never made his vow. Caligula is widely regarded as one of the cruelest of the Roman Emperors. He was a big spender who rapidly emptied the Roman treasury of the money his predecessor Tiberius had saved. He used that money to throw lavish feasts and public spectacles.

Caligula was perhaps best known for his sexual excesses. Two sources, Philo of Alexandria and Seneca the Younger both painted Caligula as being insane. He was known for throwing lavish feasts at which he bedded his guests’ wives. He was rumored to have carried on incestuous relationships with his sisters Agrippina the Younger, Livilla and DrusillaA cryptoporticus built during the reign of Nero.

Caligula’s reign did not end well. He was particularly disliked by the Senate, the equestrian order and the Roman nobility. He was stabbed 30 times by a group of men led by Cassius Chaerea, an officer who was part of the Praetorian Guard. The attack took place in a cryptoporticus or underground corridor. The location made it difficult for the Germanic Guard, which was loyal to Caligula, to arrive until after the deed had been done.

Perhaps Caligula wished that he had let Afranius live after all.

Mayan Hieroglyphics- Translating The Writing of the Past

By: The Scribe on February, 2011

Archaeologists had been trying to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics without success until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 CE. The stone contained the same writing in three different scripts: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Egyptian demotic script and, finally, Ancient Greek. The fact that the same message appeared in all three languages allowed archaeologists to work at translating the hieroglyphs.

A map showing the extent of Mayan influenceThe Mayan civilization as a whole was extremely advanced. It was initially established in the time period that lasted from 2000BCE to 250CE and did not fully decline until the Spanish arrived in the area. Their cultural influence was felt throughout Central America and has been felt in areas such as Guatemala, Northern El Salvador and Honduras. Even Mexico, which is located at some distance from the center of the Mayan empire, has felt their influence to a certain extent.

Although there were other cultures in the area, the Mayans are the only ones to have a written language that was fully developed as well as advanced architectural, astrological and mathematical systems as well. The Mayan calendar is known throughout the world and many people have spent years trying to decipher its meanings. Their written language was extremely advanced and was closer to the modern Japanese written language than it was to the Egyptian system of hieroglyphs.

Mayan hieroglyphs have proved to be much more challenging than the Egyptian system of hieroglyphs. There is no Rosetta Stone and, while the two writing systems do appear somewhat similar, they are actually completely unrelated. Being able to translate the language has been an ongoing process that has taken several centuries to accomplish and there are still large portions of writing that are still not fully translated.

Part of what has made Mayan hieroglyphs so difficult to translate is the fact that there are nearly 800 basic signs that make up the language and which can be combined in many different ways. Each of the signs represents a syllable rather than an individual letter. The modern English language, for example, uses a written alphabet that is made up of only 26 individual sounds. In the Mayan written language, there was often more than one symbol that would represent a single sound and scribes could choose from any one of these when writing out a particular word. An example of Mayan glyphs

There was also a specific way of recording numbers as well. There were no fractions or partial numbers in the Mayan numerical system. They used a combination of bars and dots in order to represent various numbers and the entire system followed a positional base-twenty numerical system. In the Mayan numerical system, a dot would represent 1 and a bar would represent 5. The Mayans did have a way to represent the number 0 and used a shell symbol to do so. Numbers could be written either vertically or horizontally although more complex numbers tended to be written vertically.

Although the Spanish did have contact with the Mayans and had a number of codices that contained their language, they were destroyed by Bishop Diego de Landa in an attempt to eradicate what he termed “pagan rites”. We have been struggling to translate the language ever since.

Troy- Ancient City or Ancient Myth?

By: The Scribe on February, 2011

Many people have heard of the Trojan War or, at the very least, the Trojan horse. But the war and the horse are both myths and there are many people who think that the city was a myth as well. While there may have been no Helen, no jealous Greek gods or goddesses and no large wheeled wooden equine, the fact is that the city itself was very real indeed.

A depiction of the Trojan Horse being wheeled inside the cityHistorians certainly thought that the city was a myth. After all, there were no ruins, no digs that had unearthed proof of the city’s existence. Homer’s Troy seemed like nothing more than the fictional setting for a tale of betrayal, revenge and godly intervention. It seemed doomed to exist only in books and, later, in movies and television shows.

One archaeologist found what he thought may have been the site of this ancient city. In 1865, Frank Calvert purchased a field near Hisarlik in Turkey. The area was located near Mount Ida in an area southeast of the Dardanelles. Calvert began to excavate the area using a series of trenches. He was later joined by a German archaeologist by the name of Heinrich Schliemann. Their digging and excavation revealed not one city, but several which had been built in succession.

A total of nine different cities ranging from the third millennium BCE up until the first century BCE were discovered on the same site. The last city to have been built on the site was actually not called Troy. Instead the city, which was built during the time of the Emperor Augustus was named Ilium. It actually remained in existence until Constantinople was established and it began to decline during the Byzantine era.

The city began as a mercantile city. It was able to dominate trade in the area since it controlled access to the Dardanelles, a narrow strait that was once known as Hellespont. It connected the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Many ships travelled through this strait and so being able to control access to the area meant that Troy was very powerful indeed.

One incarnation of the city was destroyed by an earthquake around 1300BCE. When the area occupied by this city (named Troy VI) was excavated, only one artifact (an arrowhead) was unearthed and there were no bodies discovered. Another incarnation of the city actually was destroyed by war. It was dated to the mid to late 13th century BCE. Sections of Troy's legendary walls

Even as late as the founding of Ilium the city was known as an important trade city. This city was not destroyed. Instead, it declined gradually as Constantinople became established as the Roman Empire’s eastern capital. Ruins can still be viewed today although this area is not considered to be the Troy of Homeric legend.

Individuals who are interested in viewing the ancient and fabled ruins are able to do so by travelling to Truva, a Turkish city located near the Troia archaeological site. In 1998, the Troia site became a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Cannibalism in Iberian Spain- The Siege of Numantia

By: The Scribe on February, 2011

Scipio Aemilianus Africanus was well known for his destruction of Carthage in 146BCE but he was also involved in several other military campaigns, one of which was the Numantine War that lasted from 143BCE to 133BCE. The Numantine War was one of several Celtiberian Wars fought by the Romans in the area alongside the Ebro river in Spain. The area had been settled by Celtiberians, Lusitanians, Arevacis and five additional tribes, all of which were of Celtic origin.

A typical Celtiberian houseAlthough battles were fought and won by various Roman generals, it was Scipio that won the final war in the series with a brutal siege against the city of Numantia. Numantia was the main city of the Celtiberians. Previously, many Roman troops had been killed during skirmishes and ambushes and the Romans were finding the Celtiberians to be very difficult to defeat.

The situation in Iberia was a bad one for the Romans for other reasons. Wars had been going on for a decade and because of this, and the kind of warfare that was going on, morale among the troops had started to decrease. The area was a bad one for plunder, and because of this, many of the traditional methods used to get new recruits were not available. Scipio was able to raise troops and by the time the siege took place he had managed to amass an army that was approximately 60,000 strong. Of this, two thirds were allied and mercenary troops.

Scipio knew that it would be difficult to attack the city of Numantia directly. It was protected by three earthwork walls. Palisades and towers strengthened the walls and made them very difficult to breach. They made it entirely possible that the force of 3,500 soldiers inside could hold off the Roman army very effectively. Because of this, Scipio decided to use a different tactic. He would starve them out.The walls of Numantia

When you have 60,000 troops, it is easy to surround a city, even one as large as Numantia. Instead of trying to break through the walls, Scipio built additional walls and added ditches and booby traps as well. He also built a wooden palisade that was made from 16,000 wooden stakes.

Although the tribesmen inside tried to break through in a series of sorties, they were unable to. The leader of the Numantians, Retogenes, escaped from the city and tried to find help from the other tribes in the area. He was only able to raise 400 troops and the Romans retaliated by maiming the youth of the Vaccei troops that had sent additional warriors.

Conditions inside the city were brutal. The Numantians were reduced to cannibalism in an attempt to survive. Many individuals opted to kill themselves and large areas of the city were burned. The Numantians knew that if they surrendered that they would be sold into slavery. They were correct. When the city surrendered nine months after the siege began, the surviving residents were sold into slavery by the Romans.

The brutal siege was hailed as a victory and Scipio added the title “Numantius” to his name when he returned to Rome.

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