Category Archives: Historical Sites

Mithraeum of the Circus Maximus: Paying Homage to an Ancient & Mysterious Cult

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Religion and politics are touchy subjects these days, but in Ancient Rome they were whole-heartedly part of daily life. One did not have to walk on eggshells about a particular topic, only speak with facts and conviction in an open debate.

Just like now, however, some things were kept secret. For those considered special enough there were secret societies and cults not open to the general citizenry of Rome.

Get your spelunking hats on because today we’re headed underground in Rome as we explore the Mithraeum of the Circus Maximus!

Before we begin our journey, let’s understand what exactly a Mithraeum was. A Mithraeum (Latin pl. Mithraea) is a Mithraic temple, erected in classical antiquity by the worshippers of Mithras, designed to hold up to 40 people at a time.

Mithraeum in the lowest floor in the Basilica of San Clemente.

The Mithraeum was either an adapted natural cave or cavern, or a building imitating a cave. When possible, the Mithraeum was constructed within or below an existing building, such as the Mithraeum found beneath Basilica of San Clemente in Rome.

While a majority of Mithraea are underground, some feature open holes in the ceiling to allow some light in, perhaps to relate to the connection of the universe and the passing of time. The site of a Mithraeum may also be identified by its singular entrance or vestibule, which stands opposite from an apse-shaped wall in which a pedestal altar at the back stood, often in a recess.

Also its “cave”, called the Spelaeum or Spelunca, with raised benches along the side walls for the ritual meal. Many Mithraea that follow this basic plan are scattered over much of the former territory of the Imperium Rōmānum (Roman Empire), particularly where the Legiones Romanae (Roman Legions) were stationed along the frontiers (such as Britannia).

Romans vs Sassanid Persians

Though scholars debated its origins, it seems the Mithraic cult came to Rome in the 1st Century BC from Persia, brought back by Roman soldiers who had been fighting in the east. Although the Mithras worshipped in Rome is not identical to the Mithra of Persia, there are enough similarities to imply that they are somehow related.

The Mithraeum primarily functioned as an area for initiation, in which the soul descends and exits. The Mithraeum itself was arranged as an “image of the universe”.

It is noticed by some researchers that this movement, especially in the context of mithraic iconography, seems to stem from the neoplatonic concept that the “running” of the sun from solstice to solstice is a parallel for the movement of the soul through the universe, from pre-existence, into the body, and then beyond the physical body into an afterlife.

The Tauroctony, Mithras slaying the Cosmic Bull (Museo Nazionale, Roma).

The cult and religious sanctuaries were open only to initiates, and their rituals secret. The central imagery is of the god Mithras slaying a bull, a motif known as Tauribolium, found in most if not all Mithraea.

Most Mithraea can be dated between 100 BC and AD 300. Although several Mithraea have been discovered throughout the ancient holding of the Roman Empire, including sites in Londinium, and several in Germania, Gallia, and Pannonia, little is known about the actual religious practices of the movement’s followers.

The Circus Maximus was Rome’s largest venue for Ludi (Public Games) connected to Roman religious festivals. Ludi were sponsored by leading Romans or the Roman state for the benefit of the Roman people (Populus Romanus) and gods.

Model of the Circus Maximus in all its glory.

Even at the height of its development as a chariot-racing circuit, the Circus remained the most suitable space in Rome for religious processions on a grand scale, and was the most popular venue for large-scale venationes. With the advent of Christianity as the official religion of the Empire, Ludi gradually fell out of favor.

Banquet scene on the Fiano Romano Mithraic relief. At bottom are Cautes (l) and Cautopates (r).

Dating back to the 2nd Century AD, one of the largest secret Mithraic temples is in Rome hidden next to the famous Circus Maximus. The site features 5 parallel but separate chambers with a central sanctuary paved in white marble, with 2 niches for statues of Caute and Cautopates, and a place of honor which would have held a statue of Mithras.

Beside the Circus Maximus, an ex-pasta factory and current Rome Opera scenery storage facility sits atop the ruins of a sanctuary dedicated to the god Mithras. Discovered in 1931 as part of Rome’s fascist-era building projects, the small subterranean space was once dedicated to the mystery cult.

Who knows what lies beneath the streets of Rome?

Buried 25 feet beneath the modern city, the 2nd Century AD place of worship was adapted from a preexisting public building of the 1st Century AD. The rooms of the original structure were converted into the sacrificial and ritual areas where followers of the god Mithras would venerate their god, make sacrifices, and participate in a ritual meal of bread and wine.

The Mithraeum of the Circus is one of the many places in Rome that reveal the complex urban stratification of the city. The building was built on top of, filled in with silt from the Tiber and debris, and forgotten about until its rediscovery in the 19th Century.

It’s here waiting for you to make an appointment.

Today, the Mithraeum under the Circus Maximus is accessible by appointment only.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and look forward to having you back again for more. Please make sure to check extra posts on Facebook and Twitter.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Beck, Roger. “Ritual, Myth, Doctrine, and Initiation in the Mysteries of Mithras: New Evidence from a Cult Vessel”, The Journal of Roman Studies, vol. 90. 2000.

Bowersock, G.; Green, P.; Grabar, O. Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World. Harvard University Press, 1999.

The Mithraeum at Circus Maximus”. Atlas Obscura.

Mithraeum of the Circus Maximus”. Katie Parla.

History Channel’s Documentary: History of The Byzantine Empire

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Every now and again, it’s nice to just kick up your heels and watch something special. Give yourself a break.

Today we help make that happen, and you’ll learn something, as we present the History Channel documentary History of the Byzantine Empire!

Territorial development of the Byzantine Empire, AD 330–1453 (click image to view expansion).

This history of the Byzantine Empire covers the history of the Eastern Roman Empire from late antiquity until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD. Several events from the 4th to 6th Centuries mark the transitional period during which the Roman Empire’s east and west divided.

In AD 285, the Emperor Diocletian (r. 284–305) partitioned the Roman Empire‘s administration into eastern and western halves. Between AD 324 and 330, Constantine I (r. 306–337) transferred the main capital from Rome to Byzantium, later known as Constantinople (City of Constantine) and Nova Roma (New Rome).

Under Theodosius I (r. 379–395), Christianity became the Empire’s official state religion and others such as Roman polytheism were proscribed. And finally, under the reign of Heraclius (r. 610–641), the Empire’s military and administration were restructured and adopted Greek for official use instead of Latin.

Thus, although it continued the Roman state and maintained Roman state traditions, modern historians distinguish Byzantium from Ancient Rome insofar as it was oriented towards Greek rather than Latin culture, and characterized by Orthodox Christianity rather than Roman polytheism.

We hope you enjoyed today’s travel and look forward to having you join us again soon. Please be sure to check us out on Facebook and Twitter since we always have new things going on.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Noviomagus Reginorum: Today’s British Chichester

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

The expanse of Roman influence was far and wide across Europe, and is still felt even today. Outside of Italy, a majority of well-preserved Roman ruins are found in Great Britain.

So today we head to back to Provincia Britannia as we explore Noviomagus Reginorum!

Map of modern Chichester with Noviomagus Reginorum outlined in blue.

Noviomagus Reginorum was the Roman town which is the modern cathedral city of Chichester, situated in the English county of West Sussex. It has a long history from Roman times and was important in Anglo-Saxon times.

Museum model of how Fishbourne Roman Palace may have appeared.

Noviomagus is a Latinization of a Brittonic placename meaning New Fields. It was given its epithet of Reginorum in order to distinguish it from other places with the same name, including the Noviomagus in Kent.

The settlement was first established as a winter castrum (fort) for the Legio II Augusta (2nd Augustan Legion) under Vespasian (the future Emperor) shortly after the Roman invasion in AD 43. The camp was located in the territory of the friendly Atrebates tribe.

Re-enactors of the Legio II Augusta

The castrum was only used for a few years before the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army) withdrew. The site was then developed as a Romano-British civilian settlement.

It served as the capital of the Civitas Reginorum, a client kingdom ruled by Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus. The Regnenses were either a sub-tribe of the Atrebates or simply the local people designated the ‘people of the Kingdom’ by the Roman administration.

Inscription discovered in 1723 from a temple dedicated to Neptune and Minerva, erected on the authority of Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus.

Cogidubnus almost certainly lived at the nearby Palace of Fishbourne. He is mentioned on the dedication stone of the temple to Neptune and Minerva found in Chichester.

The area around Chichester is believed to have played significant part during the Roman Invasion of AD 43, as confirmed by evidence of military storage structures in the area of the nearby Fishbourne Roman Palace. The Roman road of Stane Street, connecting the city with Londinium (modern London), started at the east gate, while the Chichester to Silchester road started from the north gate.

Roman city walls

The original Roman city wall was over 6.5 feet thick with a steep ditch (which was later used to divert the River Lavant). It survived for over 1,500 years but was then replaced by a thinner Georgian wall.

The plan of the modern city was inherited from the Romans. The North, South, East and West shopping streets radiate from the central market cross dating from medieval times.

An amphitheatre was built outside the city walls, close to the East Gate, in around 80 AD. The area is now a park, but the site of the amphitheatre is discernible as a gentle bank approximately oval in shape.

Cupid on a Dolphin mosaic in the Fishbourne Roman Palace.

The town became an important residential, market and industrial center, producing both fine tableware and enamelwork. In the 2nd Century the town was surrounded by a bank and timber palisade which was later rebuilt in stone.

Other public buildings were also present including the thermae (public baths), now found beneath West Street, and the basilica, thought to be beneath the cathedral.

Bastions on the Roman wall at Chichester.

Bastions were added in the early 4th Century and the town was generally improved with much rebuilding, road surfacing, and a new sewerage system. There were cemeteries outside the east, north and south gates.

By the 380s, Noviomagus appears to have been largely abandoned, perhaps because of Saxon raids along the south coast. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the town was eventually captured towards the close of the 5th Century by Aelle of the South Saxons.

The dedication stone of the temple of Neptune and Minerva is now set into the wall of the Assembly Rooms. Part of a fine Roman mosaic may be seen in situ beneath the floor of the cathedral, while another mosaic from Noviomagus may be seen at Fishbourne Roman Palace.

The Novium Museum as viewed from Tower Street.

Chichester’s museum, The Novium, houses many finds from across the city. Opened on 8 July 2012, The Novium preserves many of the bath structures from the Roman town.

In January 2017, archaeologists used underground radar and reported the discovery of the relatively untouched ground floor of a Roman townhouse and outbuilding. The exceptional preservation is due to the fact the site, Priory Park, belonged to a monastery and has never been built upon since Roman times.

Timber barrack blocks, supply stores, and military equipment have been excavated. The foundations of a luxurious private bath house once owned by some of the richest citizens of Roman Chichester have been found under a public park in the centre of the city.

Local volunteers joined professional archaeologists in the excavation of the bath house.

The remains have survived because in the densely built medieval city that grew up within the Roman walls, the site remained open land. The land was eventually given to the city as a WWI memorial by the Duke of Richmond.

We hope you enjoyed the journey into jolly old England to explore this Roman town. We look forward to having you back again soon.

Till next time, Don´t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Dargie, Richard. A History of Britain. 2007.

Down, Alec. Roman Chichester. Chichester, 1988. ISBN 0850334357.

Kennedy, Maev. ¨Luxury bath house from Roman Chichester unearthed by archaeologists¨. The Guardian, 31 May 2017.

Manley, John. AD43: The Roman Invasion of Britain. Tempus Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7524-1959-6.

Wacher, John The Towns of Roman Britain Routledge; 2nd Revised edition. 5 April 1995. ISBN 978-0-7134-7319-3.

“Chichester Roman houses found under Priory Park”. 26 January 2017.

Porolissum: A Military Camp in Roman Dacia

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Many of you may not know that I am trying to be a teacher for Grades 4-8. I really want History (obviously) but would enjoy Language Arts as well.

That being said, for the past month I have been studying for my certification exam. That leaves only 1 more test to take before I can become a certified teacher here in Texas.

Today we bring you brand new content as we head to Roman Dacia and uncover Porolissum!

Porolissum was an Ancient Roman city in Dacia. Established as a military camp in AD 106 during Trajan’s Dacian Wars, the city quickly grew through trade with the native Dacians and became the capital of the Provincia (Province) Dacia Porolissensis in AD 124.

The site is one of the largest and best-preserved archaeological sites in modern-day Romania. It is almost 5 miles away from the modern city of Zalău, in Jac village, Creaca Commune, Sălaj County.

On the Limes Daci (Dacian Frontier Boundary) in the north-west of Romania, in the center of Porolissum, an underground building was discovered in 1984. From the excavations thereafter we have come to discover a once healthy Roman castrum (fort).

Roman Legionaries at Porolissum Fest

In AD 106, at the beginning of his Second Dacian War, Emperor Trajan established a military stronghold at the site to defend the main passageway through the Carpathian Mountains. The castrum, initially built of wood on stone foundations, was garrisoned with 5,000 Auxilia (Auxiliary) troops transferred from HispaniaGallia and Britannia.

Set on the Pomet Hill and the adjacent Citera Hill, the earliest phase of occupation consisted of the administrative headquarters, military barracks, and storage facilities constructed in timber. A massive defensive system surrounding the city was fabricated in a series of concentric rings consisting of earthen mounds, ditches, and wooden palisades.

Reconstruction of Porolissum

The name Porolissum appears to be Dacian in origin, and was thought to be an already established village. However, archaeologists have not been able to uncover any evidence of a Dacian settlement preceding the Roman fort.

In the following decades, possibly under the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the castrum was enlarged and rebuilt in stone. A Canaba, a civilian settlement developed around the military center, was also added at this point.

Altar dedicating Porolissum

In AD 124 when Hadrian created the new province Dacia Porolissensis, named for the now sizable city, Porolissum became the administrative center of the province. Under Emperor Septimius Severus, the city was granted municipium status, allowing its leaders and merchants to act independently.

Although the Romans withdrew from Dacia around AD 271 under Aurelian, Porolissum may have been gradually abandoned in the course of the 260’s. Evidence from the excavations and research is still being conducted to prove this.

Even though the city was founded as a military center in the middle of a war, the garrison of Porolissum seems to have lived in peaceful coexistence with their Dacian neighbors. Several Dacian villages that were apparently founded after the city of Porolissum have been uncovered by archaeologists on the surrounding hills.

There are also some inscriptions mentioning city officials with Romano-Dacian names. This would indicate a close cooperation on a political level.

The temple of Nemesis

The sanctuary of Porolissum was built in the 2nd Century AD. Probably it was a place of worship of other deities, it seems that the primary deity would have been Nemesis (goddess of justice, fortune and destiny).

Said to influence the fate of those who frequently faced death and danger, Nemesis was especially worshiped by Legionarii (Legionaries) and gladiators. The goddess was also closely linked to world of amphitheaters, and due to this places of worship dedicated to Nemesis are near amphitheaters or even embedded in the building.

The amphitheater (157 AD)

The amphitheater of Porolissum was built as a wood structure during the reign of Hadrian. Later, in 157 AD, it had been rebuilt in stone.

The aim of the teaching excavation has been the careful clearing of the building and clarification of its function. All work has been integrated into an international university community of interest of teachers and students, composed of archaeologists, architects, archaeobotographers, restorers and surveyors.

ERASMUS supports the work within an intensive program, whereby it is possible to bring together students of different disciplines and to provide them with an in-depth, interdisciplinary education for archaeological field work.

The temple of Liber Pater

Limited archaeological work at Porolissum began in the 19th Century, but it was not until 1977 when Romanian archaeologists began larger-scale, systematic excavations. The excavations by a number of teams have uncovered remnants of both the military installations and the civilian city, including public baths, a customs house, a Templum (Temple) to Liber Pater, an amphitheatre, Insulae consisting of 4 buildings, and a number of houses.

The Porta Praetoria (Main Gate) of the stone fortress has been rebuilt. A joint American-Romanian team, the Porolissum Forum Project, excavated an area of the civilian settlement from 2004-2011 but the team confirmed that while this area served a public function, it was not necessarily a forum.

The rebuilt Praetorian Gate (Porta Praetoria)

In the 1980s, Nicolae Gudea carried out extensive investigations in the Roman fort, which had previously been known by excavations at the fortifications and the headquarters building. Gudea clarified the building structures, and came across an underground building west of the staff building.

The finds from the then discovered cellar were very unusual for a simple building: statuette fragments, inscription fragments and wall plastering were indicative of a construction with a special function. It seemed possible that it was a meeting room for followers of the Mithras cult.

In 2008, a new project was set up to examine in detail the building and to clarify the architecture, age and function. Before the excavation, the area was surveyed and used geophysics.

The temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Dolichenus

After the protective building was erected and a surveying network was installed, 4 sections were created, in which participants participated in international teams. Here, all the excavation steps, such as large-scale and fine earthworks, surveying, the graphic, photographic and written documentation of the findings and the expert collection of finds were learned.

Architecture students and study students measured the building’s own buildings, and the restoration of the restoration ensured fragile materials. All participants were encouraged to work in the other working groups in order to gain practical insights into the post-biodiversity.

Roman road leading to Porolissum

The excavations have shown that the floor of the building has been preserved approximately 13 feet below the present surface. It consists of carefully laid-out brick slabs.

The walls of the walls, which are up to 5.6 feet upright, are curved in the upper part and probably have supports for a wooden roof structure. Since there are no traces of a roofing tile, despite the good judgment, the question of roofing is still open.

With the southernmost section, the south end of the basement building could be reached, so that its total expansion of 18 x 72 feet (inside) is now fixed. In the interior, massive rubble layers were again found from the collapse of the stone walls of the building and its neighboring building.

It was confirmed that the floor was made of interlocked brick slabs. On the south side of the building a clay pipe was discovered, which had been laid across the southern wall.

As in the previous year, parallel to the excavation, a survey was made, in which ceramics were washed, sighted, registered, drawn and photographed, and small finds were restored and documented. In addition, soil samples from the interior of the building were used for palaeobotanical investigations, the samples were slurried and paleobotanic residues were sorted out.

Excavation of the fort’s Headquarters

In 2011, the final state of the investigations in the underground building located west of the Principia (Fort Headquarters) was recorded in a 3D laser scanner. The start of construction of the 24.6 x 82 feet plant is made possible by a building sacrifice, consisting of a play stone, an iron object (perhaps a trowel), a half bovine mandible and 3 coins that have a terminus post quem in the reign of Antoninus Pius.

The cistern with a well-connected well to the south was rebuilt several times, and may not have been used continuously as water storage. This is indicated by various, not water-resistant, plasterings of the room.

Dacian combatants at Porolissum Fest

In the filling, which fell into the building immediately after its task, there were plenty of ceramic vessels, above all drinking utensils, as well as numerous round-cut ceramic pieces, which were to be interpreted as playing stones in the context of glass and leg sketches as well as 2 dice. The found material, which is characteristic of Tabernae, probably comes from a space above the water storage.

From 2006 until 2011, another project, “Necropolis Porolissensis”, was running focused on the cemetery of the municipium Porolissum, on the spot known as “Ursoies”. From 2008 to 2011 a Romanian-German-Hungarian team was excavating an underground-building in the center of the castle, probably a water cistern.

In 2015, archaeologists from Zalău County Museum unearthed a stone sarcophagus containing skeletal remains of a young person. The sarcophagus is unusual because it was not found in the cemetery, rather it was discovered by chance during restoration of another part of the ruins.

Magura Moigrad as seen from Porolissum.

The limestone lid has carvings that were common in Roman times. A hole in the lid suggests that the grave was robbed in antiquity.

A contemporary use of “Polissum” is the primary setting of Gunpowder Empire, a science fiction novel by Harry Turtledove, set in Dacia Province. It is unclear whether the name change is a mistake or a deliberate obfuscation.

We hope you enjoyed today’s adventure and look forward to having you back again soon. Be sure to keep track of us on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Gudea, N. Dacia: A Roman province between the Carpathians and the Black Sea. Mainz, 2006).

Gudea, N.; Tamba, D. “Sanctuaries and Military in Porolissum”. Proceedings of the XIXth International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies held in Pécs, Hungary, September 2003.

Schütte, Gudmund. “Ptolemy’s maps of northern Europe, a reconstruction of the prototypes”. The Royal Danish Geographical Society, 1917.

Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites – Entry for Porolissum.

Romanian-German-Hungarian excavation inside the castle

Porolissum Forum Project

Pompeii – Life and Death in a Roman Town

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If this is your initial visit with us, we’re very excited to have you. If you’ve been here before, we’re thrilled that you think enough of us to return.

Most of our friends here know that I am presently studying to be a primary or secondary school teacher (whatever school that hires me will make the decision for me) here in the Texas Hill Country. During this time, I’m busy studying so putting out original articles must be put to the back burner for the moment.

Instead, however, we present you renowned author and Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, Mary Beard presents Pompeii – Life and Death in a Roman Town!

Just in case your are not familiar with Pompeii, it was an Ancient Roman town-city near modern Naples (in the Campania region of Italy). Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villae in the surrounding area, was mostly destroyed and buried under 13 to 20 ft of volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

We hope you enjoyed Professor Beard and her always tantalizing tales of days past. Maybe you’ve even been inspired to make a journey to the Roman ruins yourself.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Trajan’s Column: Building an Ancient, Mysterious Monument

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Two years ago yesterday we explored the details of one of the many treasures in Rome from the Imperial Era. In it we took a closer look at Trajan’s Column: A Historical Comic Book.

Today we will take all of that and share it in stop-motion animation as we present National Geographic Magazine‘s take on Trajan’s Column!

Trajan’s Column conveniently located within Trajan’s Forum.

Roman Emperor Marcus Ulpius Traianus, more commonly known as Trajan,  had a triumphal column  built in his honor commemorating his, and ultimately Rome’s, victory in the Dacian Wars.

The structure is about 98 ft in height, or 115 ft including its large pedestal. The shaft is made from a series of 20 colossal Carrara marble drums, each weighing about 32 tons, with a diameter of over 12 ft.

The 620-foot frieze winds around the shaft 23 times. Inside the shaft, a spiral staircase of 185 steps provides access to a viewing platform at the top.

Trajan’s Column around 1896, looking very much the same as it does today.

Ancient coins indicate preliminary plans to top the column with a statue of a bird, probably an eagle. After construction, though, a statue of Trajan was put in place.

This statue of Trajan, however, disappeared in the Middle Ages. On 4 December 1587, the top was crowned by Pope Sixtus V with a bronze figure of St. Peter, which remains to this day.

We hope you enjoyed the video and look forward to having you back again. Don’t forget to check us out on Facebook and Twitter.

Until next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Revisiting Calvary: Where the Crucifixion of Jesus Took Place

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

As we get closer to the end of the season of Lent, we here at RAE are going back to the past to bring something new today. This article about will have 3 different videos to watch, and will also be supplemented with some data to read.

So kick up your feet as we journey to Calvary!

The Way to Calvary
The Way to Calvary

Most people are at least familiar with the story of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. After he was found guilty by the Jews and condemned under Governor Pontius Pilate, Jesus was made to haul the cross on which he was to be crucified on through the streets of Jerusalem to a mount just outside the city walls.

 

Calvary, also called Golgotha, was a site immediately outside Jerusalem’s walls and just north of Mount Zion according to the Gospels. Calvary as an English name for the place is derived from the Latin word for skull (calvaria or Calvariæ Locus), which is used in the Vulgate translation of “place of a skull”.

This explanation is given in all 4 Gospels of the Aramaic word Gûlgaltâ which was the name of the place where Jesus was crucified.

Calvary
Panoramic view of Calvary as seen today.

The text does not indicate why it was named Calvary or Golgotha, but there are 3 prominent theories. First is that as a place of public execution, Calvary may have been strewn with the skulls of abandoned victims.

This would be contrary to Jewish burial traditions, but not the Romans.

Second is that Calvary is named after a nearby cemetery which matches modern sites. Third is that the name was derived from the physical contour of its location meaning the mount appears to look like a skull.

https://youtu.be/PL-hSwWjSZw

(Crucifixion begins at 30:54)

The Gospels describe it as a place near enough to the city that those coming in and out could read the inscription Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. The location itself is mentioned in all 4 Gospels:

Matthew: And when they came to a place called Gol’gotha (which means the place of a skull).

Mark: And they brought him to the place called Gol’gotha (which means the place of a skull).

Luke: And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left.

John: So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Gol’gotha.

https://youtu.be/uiZLQHyWWNo

The traditional location of Golgotha derives from its identification by Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, in 325 AD. A few yards nearby, Helena also identified the location of the Tomb of Jesus and claimed to have discovered the True Cross.

Constantine then built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre around the whole site. In 333 AD, the Pilgrim of Bordeaux wrote in the Itinerarium Burdigalense, entering from the east described the result:

On the left hand is the little hill of Golgotha where the Lord was crucified. About a stone’s throw from thence is a vault [crypta] wherein his body was laid, and rose again on the third day. There, at present, by the command of the Emperor Constantine, has been built a basilica; that is to say, a church of wondrous beauty.

Jerusalem is not in Europe so this may be passed our limits. There is a connection with the Roman Empire though, and Easter is almost upon us.

We hope you will join us again here at Rome Across Europe for more fun and exploration.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!Calvary Hill

References:

Ball, Warwick. Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire.

Chisholm, Hugh, ed. “Calvary”. Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press, 1911.

Clermont-Ganneau, Charles. Archaeological researches in Palestine during the years 1873-1874.

Hunt, Emily Jane. Christianity in the second century: the case of Tatian. Psychology Press, 2003.

Lande, George M. Building Your Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary Learning Words by Frequency and Cognate. Resources for Biblical Study 41. Society of Biblical Literature, 2001. ISBN 1-58983-003-2.

Lehmann, Clayton Miles. “Palestine: History”. The On-line Encyclopedia of the Roman Provinces. The University of South Dakota, 22 February 2007.

Wilson, Charles W. Golgotha and The Holy Sepulchre, The Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, 1906.

 

Rome’s Pyramid: Hidden in Plain Sight

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

As we are in the mix of many things happening around us, we found it necessary to take a break and revisit some previous posts. And when you think about it, who doesn’t need a break ever now an then?

With that in mind, we’re headed to Rome to uncover something that’s right in front of us all (if we just knew where to look). Let’s now explore the remaining pyramid of Rome!

When one thinks of Rome, typically the initial thought is not of pyramids. However, Rome was once housed a pair of pyramids: The Pyramid of Romulus and The Pyramid of Cestius.

pyramid_of_gaius_cestius_piramide_di_caio_cestio
The Pyramid of Gaius Cestius

The original pyramid in Rome was that of Romulus. Said to be larger than that of Cestius, The Pyramid of Romulus was located between the Vatican and the Mausoleum of Hadrian.

St Peter’s Basilica

Romulus’s pyramid was dismantled in the 16th Century by Pope Alexander VI. The reason was so the marble could be used for the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Pyramid of Cestius was built about 18-12 BC as a tomb for Gaius Cestius, a Magistrate and member of 1 of the 4 great religious corporations in Rome, the Septemviri Epulonum. It is of brick-faced concrete covered with slabs of white marble standing on a travertine foundation.

Pyramid_Caius_Cestius_room_inside
Inside room of the Cestius Pyramid

The pyramid measures 100 Roman feet (97 ft) square at the base and stands 125 Roman feet (121 ft) high. In the interior is the burial chamber, a simple barrel-vaulted rectangular cavity measuring 20 ft long, 13 ft wide and 16 ft high.

The Pyramid of Cestius has a sharply pointed shape and is strongly reminiscent of the pyramids of Nubia, which had been attacked by Rome in 23 BC. The similarity suggests that Cestius had possibly served in that campaign and perhaps intended the pyramid to serve as a commemoration.

In any case, the pyramid was built during a period when Rome was going through a fad for all things Egyptian. The Circus Maximus was adorned by Augustus with an Egyptian obelisk, and pyramids were built elsewhere in the Imperium Rōmānum (Roman Empire) around this time.

During the construction of the Aurelian Walls between 271 and 275 AD, the pyramid was incorporated into the walls to form a triangular stronghold. It was one of many structures in the city to be reused to form part of the new walls.

1383051298_Italy--Pyramid-of-Cestius
Pyramid of Cestius amongst the Aurelian Walls by the Porta San Paolo.

This helped to reduce the wall’s cost while enabling the structure to be built quicker. The Pyramid of Cestius still forms part of a well-preserved stretch of the walls, a short distance from the Porta San Paolo.

During the Middle Ages, the origins of the pyramid were forgotten. Rome’s inhabitants came to believe that the pyramid was the tomb of Remus and that its counterpart near the Vatican was the tomb of Romulus.

Portrait of Pope Alexander VII by Giovanni Battista Gaulli.

Pope Alexander VII‘s excavations in the 1660s, which cleared the vegetation that had overgrown the pyramid, uncovered the inscriptions on its faces, tunneled into the tomb’s burial chamber and found the bases of two bronze statues that had stood alongside the pyramid. There was no trace left of any other contents in the tomb, which had been plundered in antiquity.

The tomb had been sealed when it was built, with no exterior entrance. It is not possible for visitors to access the interior, except by special permission typically only granted to scholars.

A dedicatory inscription is carved into the east and west flanks of the pyramid, so as to be visible from both sides. It reads:

C · CESTIVS · L · F · POB · EPULO · PR · TR · PL

VII · VIR · EPOLONVM

Gaius Cestius, son of Lucius, of the gens Pobilia, member of the College of Epulones, praetor, tribune of the plebs, septemvir of the Epulones

Below the inscription on the east-facing side is a second inscription recording the circumstances of the tomb’s construction. This reads:

OPVS · APSOLVTVM · EX · TESTAMENTO · DIEBVS · CCCXXX

ARBITRATV

PONTI · P · F · CLA · MELAE · HEREDIS · ET · POTHI · L

The work was completed, in accordance with the will, in 330 days, by the decision of the heir [Lucius] Pontus Mela, son of Publius of the Claudia, and Pothus, freedman

Another inscription on the east face is of modern origins, having been carved on the orders of Pope Alexander VII in 1663. Reading INSTAVRATVM · AN · DOMINI · MDCLXIII, it commemorates the excavation and restoration work of the tomb between 1660-1662 AD.

Roman-Lettering-Pyramid-Cestius-521373
Latin inscription on the pyramid’s face.

The Pyramid of Cestius would have stood in open countryside when it was initially built since tombs were forbidden within the city walls. Rome grew enormously during the Imperial Period, so by the 3rd Century AD, the pyramid would have been surrounded by buildings.

It originally stood in a low-walled enclosure, flanked by statues, columns and other tombs. Two marble bases were found next to the pyramid during excavations in the 1660s, complete with fragments of the bronze statues that originally had stood on their tops.

The bases carried an inscription recorded by Bartoli in an engraving of 1697:

M · VALERIVS · MESSALLA · CORVINVS ·

P · RVTILIVS · LVPVS · L · IVNIVS · SILANVS ·

L · PONTIVS · MELA · D · MARIVS ·

NIGER · HEREDES · C · CESTI · ET ·

L · CESTIVS · QVAE · EX · PARTE · AD ·

EVM · FRATRIS · HEREDITAS ·

M · AGRIPPAE · MVNERE · PER ·

VENIT · EX · EA · PECVNIA · QVAM ·

PRO · SVIS · PARTIEVS · RECEPER ·

EX · VENDITIONE · ATTALICOR ·

QVAE · EIS · PER · EDICTVM ·

AEDILIS · IN · SEPVLCRVM ·

C · CESTI · EX · TESTAMENTO ·

EIVS · INFERRE · NON · LICVIT ·

imagesCAFXDVJYThis identifies Cestius’ heirs as Marcus Valerius Messala Corvinus, a famous General; Publius Rutilius Lupus, an orator whose father of the same name had been Consul in 90 BC; and Lucius Junius Silanus, a member of the distinguished gens Junia. The heirs had set up the statues and bases using money raised from the sale of valuable cloths.

Cestius had stated in his will that the cloths were to be deposited in the tomb, but this practice had been forbidden by a recent edict passed by the Aedīlēs.

IMG_7953-20130925
Restoration of the Pyramid of Cestius

In 2001, the pyramid’s entrance and interior underwent restoration. In 2011, further work was announced to clean and restore the badly damaged marble cladding, through which water seepage has endangered the frescoes within.

The restoration was sponsored by Japanese businessman Yuzo Yagi, who donated €1 million to the Department of Cultural Heritage of Rome. Restoration works started in March 2013.

The pyramid is the namesake of the Piramide station of the Rome Metro.

Hopefully you enjoyed today’s adventure. In the future, you may even be able to check out this pyramid in person.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Aldrete, Gregory S. Daily Life In The Roman City: Rome, Pompeii, And Ostia, Greenwood Press, 2004. ISBN 0-313-33174-X.

Claridge, Amanda. Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide. Oxford  University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-288003-9.

Curl, James Stevens. The Egyptian Revival: Ancient Egypt as the Inspiration for Design Motifs in the West. Routledge, 2005. ISBN 0-415-36118-4.

Gardiner, Eileen; Nichols, Francis Morgan. The Marvels of Rome. Italica Press Incorporated, 1986. ISBN 0-934977-02-X.

Hare, Augustus J.C. Walks in Rome. Adamant Media Corporation, 2001. ISBN 1-4021-7139-0.

Humbert, Jean-Marcel; Price, Clifford A. Imhotep Today: Egyptianizing Architecture. Routledge Cavendish, 2003. ISBN 1-84472-006-3.

Keppie, Lawrence J. F. Understanding Roman Inscriptions. Routledge, 1991. ISBN 0-415-15143-0.

Radford, Andrew. “Fallen Angels: Hardy’s Shelleyan Critique in the Final Wessex Novels”. Romantic echoes in the Victorian era. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7546-5788-0.

 

The Peristylium: Still Not Your Average Column

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Rome, and the later capitals in the Imperium Rōmānum, was a grand achievement based on many things. The Empire was a terrific blend of both art and culture.

From the North Atlantic to the Persian Gulf and from the Black Sea to the Red Sea, the greatness of Rome can still be felt. Something that can still be experienced, aside from the art, is the architecture.

That is why today we are re-imagining Roman architecture as we explore the Peristylium!

Peristyle
Typical design of a Peristylium.

Upon conquering a new region, the greatest of efforts was made to make this new place feel as much like Rome (aka home) as possible. First the Legionaries, and then the Praetor or Consulwould construct any new city according to a specific plan, while existing cities were altered as much as possible to fit said design.

Something common to all these places was the architecture, specifically the use of the Peristylium. So as someone who may not be a Rome-aholic or get all geeked up on the past, like us at Rome Across Europe, don’t worry if you don’t know what a Peristylium is.

“In the Peristyle” John William Waterhouse (1849-1917). Rochdale Art Gallery, Rochdale, England.

Once we get rolling, you’ll know exactly what’s going on. The peristyle originates from Hellenistic Greek architecture.

The easiest way to describe the peristyle would be as a columned porch, or open colonnade in a building, surrounding a court that may contain an internal garden. Tetrastoon (Four Arcades) is another name for this feature.

As with other cultural staples of Rome, Roman architecture took what the Ancient Greeks had developed and just made it better & bolder. In the Christian ecclesiastical architecture that developed from Roman Basilica, a courtyard peristyle and its garden came to be known as a cloister.

Liwan House
A Liwan House

Although Ancient Egyptian architecture predates Greek and Roman antiquity, historians frequently use the term peristyle to describe similar, earlier Egyptian structures. In Ancient Egyptian palace architecture and in Levantine houses, known as Liwan Houses, the peristyle was a common feature.

In rural settings, a wealthy Roman would usually surround his villa (sorry ladies) with terraced gardens. Within the city, Romans created their gardens inside the domus.

Reconstruction of a Roman Peristylum
Reconstruction of a Roman peristylum (peristyle) and peristylium (courtyard) of Pompeii.

The Peristylium was an open courtyard within the house with columns or square pillars surrounding the garden supported a shady roofed portico. The inner walls of the portico were often embellished with elaborate wall paintings of landscapes and Trompe-l’oeil architecture.

Sometimes the Lararium, a shrine for the Lares, the gods of the household, was located in this portico. If not it would be found in the atrium.

A Villa’s Outer Peristyle

The courtyard would typically contain flowers and shrubs, fountains, benches, sculptures and even fish ponds. Romans devoted as large a space to the Peristylium as site constraints permitted.

Even in the grandest development of the urban peristyle house, as it evolved in Roman North Africa, often a range of the portico was eliminated, for a larger open space.

The end of the Roman domus is a mark of the extinction of the Late Classical culture. After AD 550, no new peristyle houses were built.

Basilica of Constantine
Remains of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine (Rome). The building’s northern aisle is all that remains.

As houses and villas were increasingly abandoned in the 5th Century, a few palatial structures were expanded and enriched as classical culture and public life withdrew to the Basilica.

In the Eastern Roman Empire, Late Antiquity lingered longer. The latest known Peristyle house built from scratch as the “House of the Falconer” at Argos, dating from the style of its floor mosaics about 530-550 AD.

Existing houses were subdivided to accommodate a larger population in a labyrinth of small spaces. Columned porticoes were enclosed in small cubicles, as at the House of Hesychius at Cyrene.

Old St. Peter Basilica
Drawing of the Old St. Peter’s Basilica

In the Christian ecclesiastical architecture that developed from Roman precedents, a Basilica, such as Old St Peter’s in Rome, would stand behind a peristyle forecourt that sheltered it from the street. In time the cloister developed from the Peristylium.

The Grand Trianon was originally called the Marble Trianon in reference to the pilasters that give its façades their rhythm. A colonnaded portico piercing the palace through the middle linked the courtyard and gardens, opening it up to the outdoors.

Grand Trianon
Peristyle of the Grand Trianon (Versailles, France)

At least that was the new building’s main idea. Wrongly called a Peristyle since the period of Louis XIV, the portico provides the Grand Trianon with the transparency that makes it novel.

Visitors walk from the courtyard into the gardens even without noticing. This is exactly what the Romans wanted to accomplish.

In 1810, Napoleon had the peristyle glazed on both sides to facilitate communication between his apartment and that of the empress. This alteration formed the vestibule, where a military tribunal presided by the duc d’Aumale tried Marshal Bazaine from October to December 1873. The glazing was removed in 1910.

A great original example of a Roman Peristylium can be found in Split, Croatia. At the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Diocletian’s Palace you can visit Peristyle Square, in front of the bell tower and Cathedral of St. Domnius.

Peristyle Square
Peristyle Square (Split, Croatia)

Among the most popular Split attractions, Peristyle Square is the center of cultural life in Split. Here the extraordinary acoustics maintain traditional cultural and musical events, including the Split Summer Festival.

City Park NOLA Peristyle
City Park NOLA Peristyle

City Park in New Orleans is an example of using a Peristyle in the New World. In 1907, architect Paul Andry created this neoclassical open-air pavilion with a colonnade.

The Peristyle overlooks picturesque Bayou Metairie and has been lovingly maintained over the years through several renovation projects, in 1989 and 2012.

Prospect Park Peristyle
Prospect Park (New York) Peristyle

Another New World example is the Prospect Park Peristyle in New York City. To most it’s known as the Grecian Shelter, the Colonnade, or the Croquet Shelter, the building is regarded in architectural circles as the finest neoclassical Peristyle in New York City.

So the Peristylium is something that you’re already familiar with, right? We knew once we showed you a few examples it would jog your memory.

There are lots more examples here in the States. Go out and let us know if there’s one by you.

Thanks for stopping by. We hoped you enjoyed learning about the Peristyle and will come back again.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Barbara F. McManus. THE PERISTYLIUM.

J.A. Dickmann. “The peristyle and the transformation of domestic space in Hellenistic Pompeii”, Journal of Roman Archeology 1997.

E.B. MacDougall, W.M.F. Jashemski, eds., Ancient Roman Gardens: Dumbarton Oaks Colloqium on the History of Landscape Architecture, 1979.

Yvon Thébert, “Private life and domestic architecture in Roman Africa”, in Paul Veyne, ed. A History of Private Life, I: From Pagan Rome to Byzantium (1985, Arthur Goldhammer, tr., 1987) esp. “The peristyle”, pp 357-64.

Simon P. Ellis, “The End of the Roman House” American Journal of Archaeology 92.4 (October 1988:565-576) opened the article’s abstract with these words.

http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover-the-estate/le-grand-trianon/architectures-and-gardens/the-peristyle

http://neworleanscitypark.com/rentals-and-catering/venues/peristyle#sthash.9N8Q6Spc.dpuf

Dura-Europos: A Border City of the Euphrates River

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Recently we visited a part of the Roman Empire that we normally leave for others, that is the Middle East. Even though it was indeed part of Rome as a whole, our main focus here is typically Europe.

This last journey was to a UNESCO World Heritage Site at Palmyra. In case you missed that adventure you can find it here.

So today we journey back to the desert as we explore Dura-Europos!

Fresco of Moses and the Exodus, from the Dura-Europos synagogue.

Dura-Europos was a HellenisticParthian and Roman border city built on an escarpment 300 ft above the right bank of the Euphrates. It is located near the village of Salhiyé, in today’s Syria.

In 113 BC, Parthians conquered and held the city until 165 AD. The only interruption in the Parthian was a single, brief Roman intermission (114 AD).

Under Parthian rule, it became an important provincial administrative center. The Romans decisively captured Dura-Europos again in 165 AD and greatly enlarged it as their easternmost stronghold in Mesopotamia, until it was captured by Sassanians after a siege in 256-7 AD.

A view of the southern wadi and part of the walls of the city of Dura-Europos.

Its population was deported and it was abandoned. Like most things in the desert, Dura-Europos was covered by sand and mud and disappeared from sight.

Dura-Europos is extremely important for archaeological reasons. As it was abandoned after its conquest in 256-7 AD, nothing was built over it and no later building programs obscured the architectonic features of the ancient city.

Once a cosmopolitan society, controlled by a tolerant Macedonian aristocracy descended from the original settlers. In the course of its excavation, over a 100 parchment and papyrus fragments and many inscriptions have revealed texts in Greek and Latin, Palmyrene, HebrewHatrianSafaitic, and Pahlavi.

The excavations revealed temples to GreekRoman and Palmyrene gods. There was also a Mithraeum, as one would expect in a Roman military city.

Map of Dura-Europus, Syria.

Originally a fortress, it was founded in 303 BC with the name Dura by the Seleucids on the intersection of an east-west trade route and the trade route along the Euphrates. Dura controlled the river crossing on the route between his newly founded cities of Antioch and Seleucia on the Tigris.

Its rebuilding as a great city built after the Hippodamian model, with rectangular blocks defined by cross-streets ranged round a large central agora, was formally laid out in the 2nd Century BC. The traditional view of Dura-Europos as a great caravan city is becoming nuanced by the discoveries of locally made manufactures and traces of close ties with Palmyra.

Instead, Dura Europos owed its development to its role as a regional capital. The Parthian period was a phase of expansion at Dura-Europos favored by abandonment of the town’s military function.

All the space enclosed by the walls gradually became occupied, and the installation of new inhabitants with Semitic and Iranian names alongside descendants of the original Macedonian colonists contributed to an increase in the multicultural population.

Theriomorph found at Dura

The entirely original architecture of Dura-Europos was perfected during the Parthian period. This period was characterized by a progressive evolution of Greek concepts toward new formulas in which regional traditions, particularly Babylonian ones, played an increasing role.

Dura was taken by the Roman army of Lucius Verus during the Roman–Parthian War of 161–166. The townspeople however retained considerable freedom as a regional headquarters for the section of the river between the Khabur and modern Abu Kemal.

The population, originally based on the Greek settler element, were increasingly outnumbered by people of Semitic stock and by the 1st Century BC, the city was predominantly eastern in character. The Romans called the city with the name Dura-Europus, because the local aristocracy was made of Macedonians descendants (pinpointing so that the city was ruled by “Europeans” from Macedonia).

The Palmyrene Gate, the principal entrance to the city of Dura-Europos.

In 114 AD, Emperor Trajan occupied the city for a couple of years. The Legio III Cyrenaica (Third Cyrenaica Legion) erected a Triumphal Arch to the west of the Gate of Palmyra.

The Romans returned in 165 and 170 AD to besiege Dura-Europos held by the Parthes. Romans used the city as a starting point for the conquest of the territories of Osroene and as outpost for expeditions against the Parthian empire and their Tigris capital in 198 AD.

Roman re-enactors portraying Legio III Cyrenaica.

In AD 194, Emperor Septimius Severus divided the province of Syria to limit the power of its previously rebellious governors. As a result, Dura became part of the new province of Syria Coele.

In its later years, it also attained the status of a Roman Colonia. By the 3rd Century, this was an honorary title bestowed upon an important town.

The military importance of the site was confirmed after 209 AD. The northern part of the site was occupied by a Roman camp, isolated by a brick wall.

Soldiers were housed between the civilians, among others in the so-called “House of Scribes”. Romans built a palace on the edge of a cliff for the commander of the military region, .

Fresco of Rome’s Palmyrene soldiers.

In 216 AD a small amphitheater for soldiers was built in the military area, while the new synagogue, completed in 244 AD, and a house of Christians were embellished with frescoes of important characters wearing Roman tunics, caftans and Parthian trousers. These splendid paintings that cover the walls testify to the richness of the Jewish and Christian community.

The population of Dura-Europos, at the rate of 450-650 houses grouped to 8 per island, is estimated at about 5000 people per maximum. Around 256 AD, the city was taken by the Sassanids led by Shapur I, who deported the entire surviving population after killing all the Roman defenders.

The good state of preservation of these buildings and their frescoes was due to their location, close to the main city wall facing west, and the military necessity to strengthen the wall. The Sassanid Persians had become adept at tunneling under such walls in order to undermine them and create breaches.

Taken in the 1930s, this original excavation photo depicts an archway in Dura’s Mithraeum (Yale University Art Gallery).

As a countermeasure the Roman garrison decided to sacrifice the street and the buildings along the wall by filling them with rubble to bolster the wall in case of a Persian mining operation, so the Christian chapel, the synagogue, the Mithraeum and many other buildings were entombed. They also buttressed the walls from the outside with an earthen mound forming a glacis and sealed it with a casing of mud brick to prevent erosion.

There is no written record of the siege of Dura. However, the archaeologists uncovered quite striking evidence of the siege and how it progressed.

In January 2009, researchers claimed they had found evidence that the Persian Empire used poisonous gases at Dura against the Roman defenders during the siege. Excavations at Dura have discovered the remains of 19 Roman and 1 Persian soldiers at the base of the city walls.

Tunnel warfare in Dura-Europos

Archaeologists have suggested that bitumen and sulphur crystals were ignited to create poisonous gas, which was then funneled through the tunnel with the use of underground chimneys and bellows. The Roman soldiers had been constructing a counter-mine, and Sassanian forces are believed to have released the gas when their mine was breached by the Roman counter-mine.

The lone Persian soldier discovered among the bodies is believed to be the individual responsible for releasing the gas before the fumes overcame him as well.

The existence of Dura-Europos was long known through literary sources. It was rediscovered by the American “Wolfe Expedition” in 1885, when the Palmyrene Gate was photographed by John Henry Haynes.

British troops under Capt. Murphy in the aftermath of World War I and the Arab Revolt also explored the ruins. On 30 March 1920, a soldier digging a trench uncovered brilliantly fresh wall-paintings.

The American archaeologist James Henry Breasted was alerted. Major excavations were carried out in the 1920s and 1930s by French and American teams.

Temple of Zeus

The first archaeology on the site, undertaken by Franz Cumont and published in 1922-23, identified the site with Dura-Europos, and uncovered a temple, before renewed hostilities in the area closed it to archaeology. Later, renewed campaigns directed by Michael Rostovtzeff continued until 1937, when funds ran out with only part of the excavations published.

World War II intervened. Since 1986 excavations have resumed in a joint Franco-Syrian effort under the direction of Pierre Leriche.

Not the least of the finds were astonishingly well-preserved arms and armor belonging to the Roman garrison at the time of the final Sassanian siege of 256 AD. Finds included painted wooden shields and complete horse armor, preserved by the very finality of the destruction of the city that journalists have called “the Pompeii of the desert”.

The 1922 excavation site

Finds from Dura-Europos are on display in the Deir ez-Zor Museum and the Yale University Art Gallery.

There was also identified the Dura-Europos church, the earliest Christian house church, located by the 17th tower and preserved by the same defensive fill that saved the synagogue. They were an evidently open and tolerated presence in the middle of a major Roman garrison town revealing that the history of the early Church was not simply a story of pagan persecution.

Frescos of scenes from the Bible

The building consists of a house conjoined to a separate hall-like room, which served as the meeting room for the church. The surviving frescoes of the baptistry room are probably the most ancient Christian paintings.

We can see the “Good Shepherd” (this iconography had a very long history in the Classical world), the “Healing of the paralytic” and “Christ and Peter walking on the water”. These are the earliest depictions of Jesus Christ ever found and date back to 235 AD.

A much larger fresco depicts two women approaching a large sarcophagus, probably the three Marys visiting Christ’s tomb. There were also frescoes of Adam and Eve as well as David and Goliath.

Fragments of parchment scrolls with Hebrew texts have also been unearthed, which just happened to be Christian Eucharistic prayers. They were so closely connected with the prayers in Didache that they were able to fill lacunae in the light of the Didache text.

In 1933, among fragments of text recovered from the town dump outside the Palmyrene Gate, a fragmentary text was unearthed from an unknown Greek harmony of the gospel accounts — comparable to Tatian‘s Diatessaron, but independent of it.

Painting of Jeremiah from the Bible.

The location of Dura-Europos on the edge of empires made for a co-mingling of cultural traditions, much of which was preserved under the city’s ruins. Some remarkable finds have been brought to light, including numerous temples, wall decorations, inscriptions, military equipment, tombs, and even dramatic evidence of the Sassanian siege.

The Jury of the International Carlo Scarpa Prize for Gardens unanimously decided the 2010 annual award given to Dura-Europos.

In 1999 Dura Europos has been included in the possible “Tentative List” of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Successively in 2011 has been included again, in the possible nominated list, with the nearby ancient city of Mari.

After over 70% of Dura-Europos was looted and destroyed by the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Syrian Civil War, it was finally demolished by ISIS. National Geographic reports further looting on a massive scale by the terrorist group ISIS in order to fund their aggressive devastation on the region.

We are sad to have such treasures taken away from us by such menaces, but we keep hold of the time for which we were able to share them. Hopefully you were able to enjoy today’s adventure and will join us again.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Cumont, Franz; Francis, Eric David, ed. “The Dura Mithraeum”. Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies. Manchester UP, 1975.

Dirven, L.A. The Palmyrenes of Dura-Europos: A study of religious interaction in Roman Syria. Brill, 1999.

Francis, Eric David. “Mithraic graffiti from Dura-Europos”. Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies. Manchester UP, 1975.

James, Simon. “Stratagems, Combat, and “Chemical Warfare” in the Siege Mines of Dura-Europos”American Journal of Archaeology #115, 2011.

James, Simon. “Dura-Europos, the ‘Pompeii of the Desert'”.

Hopkins, C. The Discovery of Dura Europos. New Haven and London, 1979.

Rostovtzeff, M.I. Dura-Europos and Its Art. Oxford University Press, 1938.

Weitzmann, Kurt, ed. Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century. Catalogue of the Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 19, 1977, Through February 12, 1978. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979. ISBN 9780870991790.

Wilford, John Noble. “A Melting Pot at the Intersection of Empires for Five Centuries”. New York Times, 19 December 2011.

Young, Penny. Dura Europos: A City for Everyman. Twopenny Press, 2014.

Dura Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity, eds. Lisa R. Brody and Gail L. Hoffman. McMullen Museum of Art, with University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Edge of Empires: Pagans, Jews, and Christians at Roman Dura-Europos, eds. Jennifer Y. Chi and Sebastian Heath. New York University and Princeton University Press, 2011.

“Dura-Europos: Excavating Antiquity” at the Yale University Art Gallery

The Dura-Europos Gospel Harmony

“7 vs. 8: The Battle Over the Holy Day at Dura-Europos”