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About Gromit

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  1. Gromit

    Roman equivalent of tons?

    I suspect that even if there was some large measure of weight, it wasn't something people used in common conversation or we'd find it more easily. I was leaning toward "... they were gone, all of them, the whole city entombed forever under a mountain of ash by the hand of Vulcan" or something like that instead. That thought is actually interesting because it fits nicely with Roman superstition, and the Pompeiians did have regular sacrifices to the god Vulcan. And yes, I've read Robert Harris's Pompeii, and there are no overlaps between it and what I'm writing other than the historical facts they have in common. My story only uses the destruction of Pompeii as background, where the events began that lead into what follows. But honestly, you could write a thousand stories, all of them set in Pompeii, without overlapping with Harris's work.
  2. I have been writing a story set in first century AD Rome, and I had one of my characters talking about her escape from Pompeii: "...they were gone, all of them, buried with the city under tons of ash." After I wrote that, I realized that a Roman would not have said "tons," but I can't seem to find any other commonly-used name from that period for a large unit of weight. I can simply reword the line to express the idea differently, but I wonder if anyone knows of any such term? The largest I can think of is a talent, but that doesn't convey the idea of massive weight.
  3. Gromit

    Working IX to V

    I agree with your assessment. The writing style does wear pretty thin by the end of the book. In addition, the Kindle electronic version that I read had a lot of misspellings, which were distracting.
  4. Gromit

    What's the last book you read?

    Reading Working IX to V: Orgy Planners, Funeral Clowns, and Other Prized Professions of the Ancient World by Vicki Leon on my Kindle reader right now. I'm interested in writing something of my own in a first-century AD Roman setting, and I'm looking for details of everyday life for background. As its title implies, this book covers a whole range of professions, many of which would seem very odd from today's perspective. I like it so far; it presents enough information to at least acquaint you with these various professions, although the tone is very casual. I also have Pagan Holidays: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists by Tony Perrottet on Kindle for when I can get to it, and a whole host of other printed books I recently bought online and had sent to my home in the US - I work overseas and won't be back until next January to see those.
  5. Gromit

    Spectacle in the Roman World

    Count me in.
  6. Gromit

    How did they clean themselves?

    I've always read that the Romans simply rubbed olive oil all over themselves and then scraped it off with a bronze scraper called a strigil. There are quite a lot of hits on Google if you search for this. This is a photo from the Legio XX site showing a strigil and oil bottle, along with other implements such as tweezers, medicine vials, pick, marbles, etc.: The strigil is the sort of sicle-shaped instrument lying between the right and left corners of the basket. My understanding is that in the thermae they would have done the oiling and scraping out of the water, and only afterward, when they only had a light coating of oil on them, would they have entered the water. If the water was circulating through the baths continuously and running off from a drain somewhere along a top edge of the pool, then the floating oil residue would mostly have been carried off too and emptied into whatever drainage was available at the site. My recollection of the layout at Bath in England is that there was a continuous flow of water from the hot springs through the baths and into underground drainage there. This is a picture of the brick-lined Roman sewer from which the water exits those baths into an open stream nearby: I have never tried cleaning my skin with olive oil, but I did not find that idea particularly surprising since I have seen mechanics back in the 60s use clean motor oil to dissolve the dirt and grease from their hands. Afterwards, they would wipe off most of the dirty oil, then use soap and water to clean off the rest. Oil pretty much dissolves oil and grease, in my experience. Of course, you couldn't afford to do that at 2010 oil prices!
  7. Gromit

    Swords and Shields

    Are you saying that cast iron has more carbon than carbon steel? If the Gladius was made of this relatively soft iron, what made it superior to other swords of its age? Cast iron typically contains around 2.1% carbon, while most steels have a carbon content of around 0.35%. You can read more details about this at Carbon Content of Steels. I doubt that the Romans had any idea about carbon contents of iron and steel, but they probably learned that if you got iron so hot that it melted, it became unworkable and brittle, while if you smelted it in a bloomery at lower temperatures it could be worked by a blacksmith. The difference is that molten iron, particularly in a high-carbon atmosphere, will take up a lot of carbon in an uncontrolled way, while it does not do this at the lower temperatures required for smelting. I don't know that the gladius was an intrinsically better weapon than other swords of the period. It was the organization, discipline and fighting techniques of the Roman army that made them a force to be reckoned with. For their fighting style, using the large scutum shield in close combat, the short gladius was the optimum weapon. However, I doubt that anyone else the Romans met in combat had weapons of better material, i.e. steel vs. iron, either.
  8. Gromit

    Swords and Shields

    I've had a lot of discussions about Roman "steel", and it all tends to stem from the idea that steel is just iron plus carbon, so what's the big deal? But even up into the 19th century a lot of wrought iron was used for constructing bridges, buildings, etc. Today, typical carpenter's nails, known as "common" nails, are soft iron as are railroad spikes, for example. It appears that the Chinese and Indians developed processes for steel making long before the West, but the technology was considered a military secret, not something that was freely shared with the rest of the world. There are pretty strong opinions I've read that "Damascus steel" was actually "Wootz steel" from India that was imported and sold through Damascus. So if you use the word "steel" in writing about Roman armor, I'm among those who will detect that as most likely incorrect. Now a Roman pilum was designed so that once it was thrown by a Roman legionary, it wouldn't be thrown back by the other side. There's some pretty good description of its design, along with pictures at this link: Roman Pilum. They were, in fact, designed to bend to render them useless as a weapon once thrown. In addition, they could penetrate an enemy's shield and then bend over, rendering his shield useless as well. One feature that is not mentioned in this article is the way the iron shaft was joined to the wooden portion - at least in some designs - using one metal pin and one wooden dowel to hold it in place. When the pilum struck, or perhaps when an enemy was fumbling around trying to disengage himself from it, the wooden dowel would break, leaving the iron shaft to swivel freely on the remaining metal pin. This design was instituted by Gaius Marius as part of his reforms when he created the professional Roman army around 107 BC.
  9. Gromit

    Swords and Shields

    I have to disagree with the statement that iron is brittle. CAST iron is hard, brittle and unworkable by blacksmith techniques. Even when it is white-hot, pounding on it will cause it to shatter. This is because cast iron is very high in carbon content; as iron is heated towards its melting point, it combines with carbon from the air and especially with available carbon from the fuels used to heat it. Making steel required not just mixing carbon with iron, but limiting and controlling the carbon content, and that was technology the Romans did not possess. The Romans produced their iron through a "bloomery" smelting process that involved mixing iron ore in the form of hematite or bog iron nodules with charcoal. They introduced enough air into the burning charcoal to keep its temperature up, but part of its combustion air came from the oxygen driven off from the iron oxide, which left behind metalic iron. This process takes advantage of the fact that the impurities lower the melting point of the iron they are mixed with to a "eutectic point" that is less than the melting point of pure iron, and it thereby reduces its tendency to take up free carbon and become unworkable. The product from this was iron "blooms" consisting of a spongelike mass of metalic iron with bits of charcoal and other impurities embedded in it. This picture shows an iron bloom that has been sectioned to show these voids: Roman - and later - blacksmiths had to re-heat and work these blooms in a process called "fettling", hammering the blooms and gradually working out the large impurities and voids to produce a wrought-iron billet. This was the basis for all of their iron implements, from swords to nails. This iron still contained impurities, mainly silicon, and this led to worked pieces having a characteristic grain-like internal structure. This picture illustrates this, showing a bent and broken piece of wrought iron with its grain structure: Roman-era swords would likely have bent this same way rather than breaking as steel would. We have some examples of Roman-era wrought-iron from the first century AD in the cache of over 800,000 Roman nails that were recovered at Inchtuthil, in Scotland. You can read more about that at this link: Inchtuthil Roman nails. Wrought iron is not brittle, but like other soft irons it is not flexible, either. It bends and stays bent. An example of this that everyone is familiar with are common nails, which are generally made of soft iron. They are easily bent and do not spring back - you have to straighten them, and I expect that Roman armorers had to straighten gladii frequently. We know that pilum shafts were intended to bend and stay bent; flexibility would have defeated their purpose. It also meant that an iron sword would require frequent sharpening and was more susceptible to rusting than a steel one would have been. The Romans may have used a method known as carburizing to case-harden iron blades. This involved heating the piece to a high temperature in the presence of carbon, so that the surface layer would take up carbon and become similar to cast iron, very hard and wear-resistant. But the internal structure of the piece would remain ordinary wrought iron. Bottom line is that making steel is not as simple as one might believe, and I do not believe that the Romans made it other than accidentally. They were very adept at producing wrought-iron and working it into blades, armor, and many other kinds of implements. Gromit