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.


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

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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Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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Why Did Noon Used to Mean 3 p.m.?

3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
Mckyartstudio/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re a late sleeper, you might find yourself thinking 12 p.m. seems way too early to be considered midday, and the word noon would much better describe, say, 3 p.m. It turns out that ancient Romans would have agreed with you, if only for etymological reasons.

As Reader’s Digest explains, the days in ancient Rome were split into four periods of three hours each. The first hour was at sunrise around 6 a.m.—called prime, for first—followed by 9 a.m. (terce, denoting the third hour), 12 p.m. (sext, for sixth), and 3 p.m. (none, for ninth).

According to Merriam-Webster, Middle and Old English borrowed the time-keeping tradition, along with the Latin word for ninth, which was changed to nōn and eventually noon. Though we’re not sure exactly when or why noon started referring to 12 p.m. instead of 3 p.m., it could have something to do with Christian prayer traditions. In the Bible, Jesus’s crucifixion is said to have taken place at the ninth hour, and that’s when worshippers partook in their second of three daily prayers; the others were in the morning and evening. It’s possible that hungry monks were behind noon’s gradual shift from 3 p.m. to 12 p.m.—since their daily fast didn’t end until after the midday prayer, they had a built-in motive for moving it earlier.

While we didn’t exactly stay true to the original Latin meaning of noon, there’s another important remnant of ancient Rome hiding in the way we tell time today. Romans referred to 12 p.m. as meridiem, for midday, and so do we. A.M. is an abbreviation for ante meridiem, or before midday, and P.M. means post meridiem, or after midday.

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