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About Dickonbard

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  • Birthday 05/30/1953

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    History of transport. Particularly the role of transport in Rome in facilitating economic growth, social and geographical mobility, ease of frontier defence and avoidance of imperial over-reach.
  1. Dickonbard

    Children and their toys

    A lot of ancient Egyptian toys survive, including hoops, tops and balls. And there are some images of string-worked toys at: http://homepage.powerup.com.au/~ancient/museum7.htm I'd guess the main reason we have so little evidence of Roman toys is that they were generally made from wood, leather and other such perishable materials.
  2. Easter may have visited those of you in the Western Empire. Those of us in the Eastern Empire still have a few days to wait.
  3. Dickonbard

    Romans and Trees

    The most famous of them all was the rex Nemorensis, a priest of Diana of the Woods, who lived in a sacred grove near Lake Nemi in tha Alban Hills, just outside Rome. The priest was a runaway slave. To secure the job, he had to pluck a bough from the grove, and then fight and kill the incumbent priest. J G Frazer used this as the starting point for his pioneering anthropological work, 'The Golden Bough'. It is well attested in ancient sources, but it was a unique form of priesthood, about which Roman writers felt distinctly uneasy. It was a form of human sacrifice, which the Romans professed to detest (cf Caesar on the subject of druids), but it was such an ancient tradition that nobody felt comfortable about abolishing it. It survived, I think, until at least the 2nd century AD.
  4. Dickonbard

    Magister pecoris camelorum

    Many thanks, Melvadius. Two very helpful references. Don't know how you found the Hill book, but well done!
  5. Dickonbard

    Magister pecoris camelorum

    Thanks, the idea of a military logistics job (I/C Ox & Camel Corps) makes sense. But the poor chap must have had serious delusions of grandeur if he thought that he could make a jump from such a post to Emperor. I traced a reference to Calocaerus in Aurelius Victor (41.11): "Quorum cum natu grandior, incertum qua causa, patris iudicio occidisset, repente Calocerus magister pecoris camelorum Cyprum insulam specie regni demens capessiverat". There must be some other source, mentioning the suppression of his revolt and his trial and execution in Tarsus, but I can't track that down via the internet.
  6. Roman wills had to be signed in the presence of seven witnessed or declared publicly in a forum or before a court. The will would have been written in ink on parchment or papyrus. In either case, it was possible for a scribe to rub the surface off the writing material and correct an error, but impossible to do so in a way that would avoid detection if the document were examined. And Caesar's will would certainly have been scrutised closely - not so much because people were interested in who his 'political heir' was, but because he was a very wealthy man. Being caught doctoring a will would have struck Roman public opinion as an unpleasant offence. It was disrespectful to the desd, even if they did not happen to be the divus Julius. So, even if he had been tempted to try it, Antony would quickly have thought better of it. But it's a nice idea to toy with - particularly, if we imagine Antony substituting the name of Brutus or Caesarion. Either of those would really have set the cat amongst the pigeons!
  7. Fascinating. The apparently pig-ignorant producers of the game prove to be sages who know their onions.
  8. There are several references in this thread to the language(s) spoken by the 'natives' in Roman Britain. The general consensus seems to be that Brythonic survived all the way through to the 5th century and was the language in which the Britons talked amongst themselves, with enough people possessing a sufficient grasp of Latin to use it as a lingua franca in dealings with merchants, officials or soldiers from elsewhere in the empire. This sounds plausible. But is there any archaeological or literary evidence that bears specifically on this point? Or is it more a matter of taking a general view of the degree of Romanisation in Britain, and then inferring from that the language that is likely to have been spoken?
  9. Dickonbard

    Magister pecoris camelorum

    Here in the province of Cyprus, our generally quiet life under Roman rule was disturbed (earthquakes aside) by only two events. One was the Jewish massacre led by Artemio in 115-6. The other was in 333, when an official named Calocaerus, with the bizarre title of Magister pecoris camelorum proclaimed himself emperor. Constantine had no difficulty quashing this implausible sounding revolt, and Calocaerus was hauled off to Tarsus in 334, and tried and executed there. Two questions: (1) How should I translate Magister pecoris camelorum? Wiki has 'Lord of the sheep and camels'. Is that right? Or would 'Master of Cattle and Camels' be better? (2) Has anyone come across a job title like this in any other context or elsewhere in the empire? Does it sound like a job in charge of pasturage? Or transport? And how could a Magister pecoris camelorum realistically imagine he had even an outside chance of sustaining a bid for the purple?
  10. Dickonbard

    End of Pax Romana

    Sorry about the link in the above. I couldn't insert the graph into the post as an image.
  11. Dickonbard

    End of Pax Romana

    As a non-specialist, I find the Pax Romana a helpful concept. Actium to the death of Severus Alexander defines the period in which the empire was, with the exception of 69AD, free of internal civil wars and successfully defended its borders. There were local troubles, of course, in some provinces. Of my two home towns, one (Verulamium) was trashed by Boadicea and the other (Paphos) suffered the massacres inspired by Artemion in 115/6. But, if we focus on the big picture (which is helpful from time to time), 31BC-235AD marks a distinct 'period of peace'. Rome also delivered a 'period of prosperity' in which average per capita GDP rose more rapidly than was normal in the ancient world. We often talk of 'peace and prosperity' in one breath, partly because the phrase has a nice ring to it, but also because peace is generally more conducive to prosperity than war. However, the evidence for more rapid economic growth - shipwrecks, silver production, CO2 emissions, public works and private philanthropy - suggests that the 'period of prosperity' started well before the 'period of peace' and that it began to tail off earlier, too. It is legitimate to set start and end dates for a 'period of peace', just as it is for a war. A 'period of prosperity' is slightly different. If we had a run of average per capita GDP data for the empire for the period 150BC-150AD (which we never will, of course), it would probably be something like this. The Ancient World did deliver economic growth (shown by the red line), although it was much slower than Post-Industrial Revolution growth (shown by the blue line). The expansion of the empire allowed Rome's economy (purple line) to outperform the Ancient World average. But, of course, economic output fluctuates from year to year and decade to decade - as we all know from bitter experience at the moment. In Rome's case, war would disrupt it, as would bad harvests, bad weather disrupting the sailing season, mining disasters disrupting metal outputs, etc. So, if we limit Pax Romana to the 'period of peace', I'm happy to go with the death of Severus Alexander. If we extend it to mean 'peace and prosperity', there is no neat end date. I suspect that the Antonine Plague was probably a huge shock to an already slowing economy, but maybe that's a question to pursue in another post or thread ...
  12. Dickonbard

    Question about paved Roman roads

    Interesting. I'd come across the hoof-cracking problem, but not the blood blisters. Sounds horrible!
  13. Dickonbard

    Question about paved Roman roads

    Not at all, Melvadius. Wiki's an invaluable starting point. I'd already glanced at this page myself without spotting the problem. It was only when you pointed me back to it that I looked at it a tad harder!
  14. Dickonbard

    Question about paved Roman roads

    Looking at it a little harder, the section of the Wiki article on the speed of the Cursus Publicus must be wrong. It quotes Procopius, where he is disparaging Justinian by saying how much better things were run in the good old days: "The earlier Emperors, in order to obtain information as quickly as possible regarding the movements of the enemy in any quarter, sedition or unforeseen accidents in individual cities, and the actions of the governors or other persons in all parts of the Empire, and also in order that the annual tributes might be sent up without danger or delay, had established a rapid service of public couriers throughout their dominion according to the following system. As a day
  15. Dickonbard

    Question about paved Roman roads

    The Wikipedia article on the Cursus Publicus quotes Suetonius on the founding of the service by Augustus: "To enable what was going on in each of the provinces to be reported and known more speedily and promptly, he at first stationed young men at short intervals along the military roads, and afterwards post-chaises. The latter has seemed the more convenient arrangement, since the same men who bring the dispatches from any place can, if occasion demands, be questioned as well." The article goes on to suggest that "the relay system was displaced by a system in which the original messenger made the entire journey". I find this implausible. Like GhostOfClayton, I envisage most of the official correspondence carried by the Cursus Publicus travelling by bag. I can't imagine, for instance, that Pliny's slightly self-serving requests to Trajan for guidance needed to be carried by messenger. The same goes for requests for imperial rescripts, etc. However, we all know that there are cases where a mere written communication does not suffice. For my book, I'm using the example of the murder of Pertinax on 28th March 193 and the subsequent auction of the Empire won by Didius Julianus. Septimius Severus, who was 1,100km from Rome at the time (in Carnuntum), allowed the XIV Gemina to hail him as imperator on 9th April. I think two things happened in the 12 intervening days. One is that Severus had got the news of developments in Rome - a written message would suffice here, provided it was from a trusted source, although a messenger who could report on the mood in Rome would be better. The other is that Severus probably sounded out colleagues about their support if he made a 'bid for the purple'. If messengers could manage 300km a day, they could have brought him responses from Germania Superior, Raetia, Noricum, Pannonia Superior and Moesia Superior, telling him the positions of six of the nine governors and 10 of the 16 legions along the frontier. But, for this purpose, written messages would not suffice. Severus would want to send trusted messengers who could answer supplementary questions, and also read the body language of their interlocutors. As an aside (just because I think it's such a wonderful resource), the NASA website says that there was a full moon in 193 on 4th April, so messengers or couriers could have ridden by night!