Cities

post at a blog called A Fine Theorem contains an interesting nugget:

The Romans famously conquered Gaul – today’s France – under Caesar, and Britain in stages up through Hadrian. Roman cities popped up across these regions, until the 5th century invasions wiped out Roman control. In Britain, for all practical purposes the entire economic network faded away: cities hollowed out, trade came to a stop, and imports from outside Britain and Roman coin are near nonexistent in the archaeological record for the next century and a half. In France, the network was not so cleanly broken, with Christian bishoprics rising in many of the old Roman towns.

Here is the amazing fact: today, 16 of France’s 20 largest cities are located on or near a Roman town, while only 2 of Britain’s 20 largest are. This difference existed even back in the Middle Ages. So who cares? Well, Britain’s cities in the Middle Ages are two and a half times more likely to have coastal access than France’s cities, so that in 1700, when sea trade was hugely important, 56% of urban French lived in towns with sea access while 87% of urban Brits did. This is even though, in both countries, cities with sea access grew faster and huge sums of money were put into building artificial canals. Even at a very local level, the France/Britain distinction holds: when Roman cities were within 25km of the ocean or a navigable river, they tended not to move in France, while in Britain they tended to reappear nearer to the water. The fundamental factor for the shift in both places was that developments in shipbuilding in the early middle ages made the sea much more suitable for trade and military transport than the famous Roman Roads which previously played that role.

This prompted an interesting comparison from Steve Sailer:

Maybe this is analogous to the recent shift from landline telephone networks to wireless telephone networks. Landline networks, like Roman roads, required a lot of social organizational capital to build and maintain, as Americans had in the AT&T era, but many other countries did not. Lots of cultures, such as the 20th Century Italians, had a hard time maintaining a landline system.

In contrast, cell phone networks don’t require a society to be good at cooperating, so even anarchic Somalia can have decent cell phone service. You just have to have a few people who knew what they are doing.

Similarly, medieval shipping networks required concentrations of technically advanced shipwrights here and there, but didn’t require a giant Roman-like state to keep the roads repaired. The ocean repairs itself.

It is striking how land-oriented Roman culture was despite emerging on the Italian peninsula where no place is very far from the sea, the land is mountainous, and the sea is relatively calm and warm. In contrast, England has fairly mild terrain and the Atlantic ocean is more tumultuous than the Mediterranean sea.

Maybe the explanation is that British rivers were better for transport than Italian rivers south of the Po due to more rain and less severe slopes, so it was easier to get started with inland shipping and then continue out into the ocean as your technique improved. But Italian rivers tended to be short and steep and go dry now and then, so they weren’t as good launching pads for eventual saltwater navigation.

Maybe, but Venice and Genoa did dominate maritime trade on the Mediterranean in the high and late Middle Ages…

For my part I am interested in how little influence the Roman Empire ultimately had on Britannia, certainly when compared to Gaul. I assume this is one reason why French is a Romance language while English is a Germanic one.

All Roads Lead to Rome

From Kottke.org:

A subway-style map of Roman Empire roads circa 125 A.D.

After much research, Sasha Trubetskoy has completed a subway-style map of the road system of the Roman Empire. From about 300 BC, the Romans built or improved over 250,000 miles of roads (50,000 miles were stone paved) that extended into the farthest reaches of the Empire: from Spain to modern-day Iraq to Britain to northern Africa.

I’ve reprinted it here, but click on the link above to see it in greater detail.

Some Links

• From TheProvince.com: Evidence that Greeks settled in China in the 200s BC and may have helped to construct the Terra Cotta Army.

• From Curbed.com: “Definitive proof that no one did costume parties like the Bauhaus”

• From the Telegraph: “The Norman Conquest was a disaster for England. We should celebrate Naseby, not Hastings”

Roman Scotland

From the Scotsman, something I’ve always wondered:

Why couldn’t the Romans hold and conquer Scotland?

ALISON CAMPSIE

There is no doubt that the Imperial Roman Army flexed their might on Scottish soil after Agricola first sent a survey fleet in 79 AD.

His leadership peaked around 83 AD at the Battle of Mons Graupius- now known as the Grampian Mountains – when 10,000 Caledonians are thought to have died at the hands of a well-organised Roman legion of around half the size of the tribal force raised from 30,000 men.

Agricola returned triumphant to Rome and was highly decorated for his efforts but the victory did not seal Roman influence in Caledonia. Indeed, it coincided with the withdrawal of large numbers of troops.

Shortly after the victory at Mons Graupius, the Romans suffered crushing defeats on The Danube in 85 and 86 in the Dacian Kingdom, now modern-day Transylvania.

The Romans withdrew to a line just north of the Cheviots – the rolling hills that straddle the modern border between Scotland and England – to a position reached some 12 years earlier and men filtered east.

Several key forts – from Stracathro in Angus in the north to Broomholm and Drumlanrig in the south – remained occupied but further forces filtered away from Caledonia with the start of the Dacian War in 103.

The decision to pull resources from Scotland may well have been made on a “last in, first out” basis but other reasons have been long debated.

According to David Breeze in his book Roman Scotland, Frontier Country, the Caledonians appeared to be “doughty fighters” with Roman statesman Dio crediting the “fearsome and dangerous” men with standing their ground over the two-year battle.

Others have suggested that the “guerilla tactics” of the Caledonians were the perfect assault on disciplined Roman fighters.

The mountainous terrain of northern Caledonia has also been considered as a barrier to conquest but, as Breeze points out, the ranges are no greater than those found in other parts of the Empire, such as Spain or the Alps.

Scotland perhaps became simply not worth the bother for the Romans, who were forced to fight and defend deep elsewhere.

“It is difficult to believe that the conquest of Scotland would have brought any economic gain to Rome. It was not rich in mineral or agricultural produce, “ Breeze said.

It is not clear how much this would have dampen the resolve to rule, given “Rome considered she had the right to rule the world,” Breeze added.

Caledonia’s tribal lands and society may have been just too unruly for the Romans who may have struggled to impose their own government and currency. Manufacturing, such as pottery and metal work, were not well developed.

Caledonians were, however, able enough to rise to the huge test of the advancing Roman army and raise battle groups of their own. The tribes at this point probably had their own Kings with society organised well enough to feed itself.

However, the situation was not help by Britain being “on the very edge of the known world,” Breeze said.

He added: “Perhaps if the tribes had not been so warlike, the mountains so high, the lack of economic benefit so obvious, geographical and social difficulties so great, Rome might have triumphed.”

The Antonine Wall – stretched from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde and the most northerly frontier barrier of the Roman Army – was abandoned around 165 AD with the troops returning to Hadrian’s Wall, around 100 miles south.

 

The Ultimate Latin Dictionary

From NPR:

The Ultimate Latin Dictionary: After 122 Years, Still At Work On The Letter ‘N’

Stefano Rocchi, a researcher on the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, the comprehensive Latin dictionary that has been in the works since 1894 in Germany. Researchers are currently working on the letters N and R. They don’t expect to finish until around 2050.

On the second floor of an old Bavarian palace in Munich, Germany, there’s a library with high ceilings, a distinctly bookish smell and one of the world’s most extensive collections of Latin texts. About 20 researchers from all over the world work in small offices around the room.

They’re laboring on a comprehensive Latin dictionary that’s been in progress since 1894. The most recently published volume contained all the words beginning with the letter P. That was back in 2010.

And they’re not as far along as that may lead you to believe. They skipped over N years ago because it has so many long words, and now they’ve had to go back to that one. They’re also working on R at the same time. That should take care of the rest of this decade.

The Thesaurus Linguae Latinae was one of many big, scholarly projects taken on by the German government in the late 19th century.

Through two World Wars and German reunification, generations of Latin scholars have been chipping away at the same goal: documenting every use of every Latin word from the earliest Latin inscriptions in the 6th century BC up until around 200 AD, when it was in decline as a spoken language. Befitting the comprehensive nature of the project, the scholars will also include some words up to the 6th century AD.

That means poetry and history and speeches. But it also means every gravestone and street sign. It means architectural works, medical and legal texts, books about animals or cooking.

“If a word is just on a toilet in Pompeii in graffiti, you’ll find it with us,” says Marijke Ottink, who is Dutch. She’s been working on the Thesaurus for 19 years as a researcher and an editor, ever since she came to Munich.

More at the link.

Color

The white marble temples and statues of ancient Greece, and the grey limestone cathedrals of medieval Europe, did not look like that to contemporaries. In fact, they were painted in a riot of color, which is not exactly to our taste. Perhaps as a consequence, the paint has been allowed to fade and has not been restored. At Amiens Cathedral, however, cleaning efforts in the 1990s revealed what the original colors were; they then figured out a way to project colored light onto the statuary on the façade to indicate how it may have appeared in the thirteenth century (hat tip: Michelle Armstrong-Partida). In a similar fashion, Vinzenz Brinkmann and Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann have spent two decades using “several high-tech methods to uncover the true intended appearances of ancient artwork,” including X-ray fluorescence, infrared spectroscopy, and ultraviolet analysis. This allows them to make digital images of the statues as they may have originally appeared.

Both links will take you to some very interesting illustrations.

More Videos

From my friend Alex Blomerus, a link to Altair4, a company that digitally recreates historic sites, like the Ara Pacis and the Forum of Augustus or Ostia Antica and Trajan’s Harbor.

A company that has used their services has been Hermis, whose Ancient Acropolis video is interesting (although, as Alex notes, there’s “lots missing. No stairs to the north of the Erechtheion, no Old Temple, no altar.” So viewer discretion is advised!)

Pompeii and Vesuvius

From Kelly DeVries, an interesting link, which features computer animated video of the destruction of the Roman town of Pompeii by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

A good disaster story never fails to fascinate — and, given that it actually happened, the story of Pompeii especially so. Buried and thus frozen in time by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, the ancient Roman town of 11,000 has provided an object of great historical interest ever since its rediscovery in 1599. Baths, houses, tools and other possessions (including plenty of wine bottles), frescoes, graffiti, an amphitheater, an aqueduct, the “Villa of the Mysteries“: Pompeii has it all, as far as the stuff of first-century Roman life goes.

The ash-preserved ruins of Pompeii, more than any other source, have provided historians with a window into just what life in that time and place was like. A Day in Pompeii, an exhibition held at the Melbourne Museum in 2009, gave its more than 330,000 visitors a chance to experience Pompeii’s life even more vividly. The exhibition included a 3D theater installation that featured the animation above. Watch it, and you can see Pompeii brought back to life with computer-generated imagery — and then, in snapshots over the course of 48 hours, entombed by Vesuvius again.

I wish they had used “the third hour” or “the sixth hour” instead of “9:00 a.m.” or “12:00 p.m.” They do use A.D., however!