Did the Romans Ever Conduct Archaeological Expeditions In Search of Ancient Artifacts?

iStock
iStock

Did the Romans ever conduct archaeological expeditions (in Egypt or Mesopotamia, for example) in search of ancient artifacts? Many of the civilizations in the Levant and the Middle East predated the Romans by as much as the Romans predated us. Did they ever try to dig up ancient ruins and catalogue them, the way we do?Steve Theodore:

Not in the modern sense; the idea of systematically looking around for the unknown wasn’t really on their radar.

They were certainly interested in the past in a general sort of way—the famous image of emperor Trajan, wandering alone through the ruins of Babylon, comes to mind—but they didn’t have the notion of a sustained, deliberate effort to reconstruct the past from its physical remains.

Like many ancient cultures, they did have a lively interest in their own history (and, as their empire expanded, they patronized the antiquarian interests of their clients and subjects as well). A public-spirited Roman—or, later on, an emperor looking for good press—could always sponsor the renovation of an ancient shrine or the revival of a forgotten religious observance as an act of both piety and heritage preservation. Augustus, for example, was particularly fond of these kinds of projects because they fit in neatly with the conservative, patriotic gloss he put on his reign—he revived old rites (like the Lupercalia), refurbished sacred sites (one of the proudest boasts of his autobiography was the renewal of 82 different temples), and sponsored antiquarian research focused on the preservation of old traditions (like the works of Varro).

One of the most famous examples of this kind of antiquarian reverence is the Lapis Niger, one of the oldest surviving Latin inscriptions. It was part of a ritual complex of some kind built in the earliest days of the Republic, but the site was destroyed—probably during the Gallic sack of Rome around 390 BCE. The site seems not to have been rebuilt, but at some point in the first century BCE, it was protected with a pavement cover and a wall which protected it from the elements and from trespass. Later people weren’t certain what the site was—the majority opinion was that it was the tomb of Romulus, but there were many conflicting stories—but they clearly took care that the site be preserved and memorialized.

The site of the Lapis Niger. The “roof” is a carefully constructed covering from the 1st century BCE; underneath is the original monument from 500 years earlier.L. Allen Brewer via Flickr

The same site with the roof peeled away, showing the very ancient site under the Augustan pavements.Indissoluble Indissoluble via Flickr

Plenty of other Romans undertook investigations of the mysteries of the past—from the emperor Claudius, who wrote a 20-volume history of the Etruscans, to obscure bureaucrat John Lydus, who wrote treatises on obscure Roman rituals in Christian Byzantium five centuries later. But the big difference between this interest in antiquities—what the Greeks called archaiologia—and the modern practice is that descriptive accuracy was a secondary concern at best. For example, no ancient source records or tries to make sense of the actual inscription on the Lapis Niger itself, even though it must have been visible when the site was rehabilitated. No modern archaeologist would document the existence of such an artifact without recopying the text.

The “revival” of an ancient rite or the rebuilding of an old site was a very public, political affair with an agenda that had little to do with anything we’d recognize as science. Debating the sources of an obscure custom or the meaning of a cryptic text was a fascinating hobby. But the people footing the bills for such enterprises always had the present, and not the past, foremost in their minds.

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Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Even though Black Friday is still a few days away, Amazon is offering early deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

Kitchen

Instant Pot/Amazon

- Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-115 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker; $90 (save $40) 

- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Sauteuse 3.5 Quarts; $180 (save $120)

- KitchenAid KSMSFTA Sifter with Scale Attachment; $95 (save $75) 

- Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker; $60 (save $20)

- Cuisinart Bread Maker; $88 (save $97)

- Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker; $139 (save $60)

- Aicook Juicer Machine; $35 (save $15)

- JoyJolt Double Wall Insulated Espresso Mugs - Set of Two; $14 (save $10) 

- Longzon Silicone Stretch Lids - Set of 14; $13 (save $14)

HadinEEon Milk Frother; $37 (save $33)

Home Appliances

Roomba/Amazon

- iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum with Wi-Fi Connectivity; $179 (save $101)

- Fairywill Electric Toothbrush with Four Brush Heads; $19 (save $9)

- ASAKUKI 500ml Premium Essential Oil Diffuser; $22 (save $4)

- Facebook Portal Smart Video Calling 10 inch Touch Screen Display with Alexa; $129 (save $50)

- Bissell air320 Smart Air Purifier with HEPA and Carbon Filters; $280 (save $50)

Oscillating Quiet Cooling Fan Tower; $59 (save $31) 

TaoTronics PTC 1500W Fast Quiet Heating Ceramic Tower; $55 (save $10)

Vitamix 068051 FoodCycler 2 Liter Capacity; $300 (save $100)

AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Home Office Shredder; $33 (save $7)

Ring Video Doorbell; $70 (save $30) 

Video games

Sony

- Marvel's Spider-Man: Game of The Year Edition for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $20)

- Marvel's Avengers; $27 (save $33)

- Minecraft Dungeons Hero Edition for Nintendo Switch; $20 (save $10)

- The Last of Us Part II for PlayStation 4; $30 (save $30)

- LEGO Harry Potter: Collection; $15 (save $15)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

BioShock: The Collection; $20 (save $30)

The Sims 4; $20 (save $20)

God of War for PlayStation 4; $10 (save $10)

Days Gone for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $6)

Luigi's Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

Computers and tablets

Microsoft/Amazon

- Apple MacBook Air 13 inches with 256 GB; $899 (save $100)

- New Apple MacBook Pro 16 inches with 512 GB; $2149 (save $250) 

- Samsung Chromebook 4 Chrome OS 11.6 inches with 32 GB; $210 (save $20) 

- Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 with 13.5 inch Touch-Screen; $1200 (save $400)

- Lenovo ThinkPad T490 Laptop; $889 (save $111)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet (64GB); $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Tablet (32 GB); $130 (save $70)

- Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8 inches with 32 GB; $100 (save $50)

Apple iPad Mini (64 GB); $379 (save $20)

- Apple iMac 27 inches with 256 GB; $1649 (save $150)

- Vankyo MatrixPad S2 Tablet; $120 (save $10)

Tech, gadgets, and TVs

Apple/Amazon

- Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS; $179 (save $20) 

- SAMSUNG 75-inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $998 (save $200)

- Apple AirPods Pro; $169 (save $50)

- Nixplay 2K Smart Digital Picture Frame 9.7 Inch Silver; $238 (save $92)

- All-New Amazon Echo Dot with Clock and Alexa (4th Gen); $39 (save $21)

- MACTREM LED Ring Light 6" with Tripod Stand; $16 (save $3)

- Anker Soundcore Upgraded Bluetooth Speaker; $22 (save $8)

- Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote; $28 (save $12)

Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera with EF-M 15-45mm Lens; $549 (save $100)

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector; $93 (save $37)

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How Much Is the Earth Worth?

The New York Public Library, Unsplash
The New York Public Library, Unsplash

Our home planet may be the most precious place we know, but it isn't priceless. The Earth's resources and the value it offers to humans add up to some unknown, tangible cost. The species may never have to worry about buying or selling the world, but thinking of it in terms of concrete numbers can help us better understand its value. Now, as Treehugger reports, one scientist has developed a special formula that allows us to do just that.

According to the calculations of Greg Laughlin, an assistant astronomy and astrophysics professor from the University of California, Santa Cruz, the Earth is worth roughly $5 quadrillion (or $5,000,000,000,000,000). He came up with that price after gauging the planet's mass, temperature, age, and other factors that directly correlate to its ability to sustain life.

To emphasize just how valuable the Earth is, Laughlin also estimated the worth of other planets in our solar system. Our nearest neighbor Mars costs about the same as a used car at $16,000. That's a fortune compared to Venus, which he appraised at the meager value of one cent.

Laughlin doesn't expect these numbers to have applications in the real world. Rather, he hopes they will inspire people to better appreciate the only home they know. He's not the first person to put a massive, hypothetical price tag on something just for fun. The cost of the Death Star from Star Wars has been calculated at $852 quadrillion—many times Laughlin's estimate for Earth.

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