The Origins of Halloween

roman-mosaic_skeletonHappy Halloween from Rome Across Europe! Today’s Halloween customs are thought to have been influenced by folk customs and beliefs from the Celtic-speaking countries, some of which are believed to have pagan roots.

Roman Funeral
Roman Funeral

Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes that while “some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, which comes from the Old Irish for “summer’s end”.

A traditional Irish Halloween turnip (rutabaga) lantern
A traditional Irish Halloween turnip (rutabaga) lantern

Samhain (pronounced sah-win or sow-in) was the primary and most important of the 4 quarter days in the medieval Gaelic calendar and was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. It was held on or about 31 October – 1 November and a kindred festival was held at the same time of year by the Brittonic Celts.

halloween_swedenSamhain and Calan Gaeaf are mentioned in some of the earliest Irish and Welsh literature. The names have been used by historians to refer to Celtic Halloween customs up until the 19th Century, and are still the Gaelic and Welsh names for Halloween.

Enjoy your celebration and Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

John VIII Palaiologos: His Reign Ended Today

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

For those of you who didn’t realize it, today is October 31st aka Halloween. If you need to leave now and scramble for a costume before heading to a party or Trick-or-Treating (with or without children, we don’t judge), we completely understand.

Since Halloween is the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day and dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed, we thought we should stick to this theme.

That is why today we remember the second to last reigning Byzantine Emperor, John VIII Palaiologos, who died on this day in 1448!VIII

Before we begin (for those that did not already know) the Byzantine Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire) was the continuation of the Roman Empire in the East during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul, originally founded as Byzantium). It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th Century AD and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

VIII 2Since we have made the connection to Ancient Rome, let’s get back to the Emperor.

Aside from his date of birth (18 December 1392), not much information exists about John VIII’s childhood or life before ruling. John was the eldest son of Manuel II Palaiologos and Helena Dragaš, the daughter of the Serbian Prince Constantine Dragaš.

John was crowned co-Emperor with his father in 1408, and took effective rule in 1421. The Empire that John VIII was to rule, however, was but a shadow of itself.Map

Two years before he came to the throne, Thessaloniki had been given to the Venetians in the hope of saving it from the Ottomans. Elsewhere John ruled a little of Thrace, a few islands, the city of Constantinople, and the Morea.

This southern province was had become a flourishing hub of Byzantine culture, centered around the court of the despots in the city of Mystras. John’s brother Constantine had even managed to expand his little realm by conquering the remainder of the Morea and Attica.

In June 1422, John VIII supervised the defense of Constantinople during a siege by Murad II, but had to accept the loss of Thessalonica, which his brother Andronikos had given to Venice in 1423.

John spent much of his reign attempting to gain aid against the Ottomans from the West. John traveled to Venice and Hungary in 1423–24 to ask for aid in person.

By Pisanello Antonio Pisano
By Pisanello Antonio Pisano

Upon his father’s death in 1425, John became sole Emperor. He ruled only the area immediately surrounding Constantinople, while his brothers governed remnants of the fragmented Empire in the Greek Peloponnese and in the districts on the Black Sea.

When the Turks took Thessalonica in March 1430, John turned to the West for help. In 1437 he went to Italy. In 1438 a Byzantine delegation, led by the Emperor, arrived in Venice, on their way to attend a Council of the Church in Ferrara.

The Council would later move to Florence. It was here, in 1439, at the Council of Florence that John signed an act of union formally placing the Byzantine church under the jurisdiction of the Pope.

Miracle of Saint Clare, by Giovanni di Paolo
Miracle of Saint Clare, by Giovanni di Paolo

It was John’s hope that by this act he would benefit from a Western Crusade against the Ottomans which would save his crumbling Empire. The resulting Crusade was crushed at Varna in 1444, and with it died the last real hope Byzantium had of attaining aid from Western Europe.

Western efforts against the Turks failed, however, and the union stirred dissension among the Byzantines, who refused to submit their church to Pope Eugene IV. Although his efforts at unification failed, John’s trip to Italy was not without some benefit and was an important event in the history of the Italian Renaissance.

John attended the ratification with 700 followers including Patriarch Joseph II of Constantinople and George Gemistos Plethon, a Neoplatonist philosopher influential among the academics of Italy. Italian artists, including Benozzo Gozzoli, captured the splendor of John and his entourage.JVIII

Of greater significance was the exchange of ideas between members of the entourage, which included scholars and Italian humanists. Italian scholars also benefited from access to Greek manuscripts, which were freely bought and sold at the Council’s meeting places.

Medal of John VIII during his visit to Florence, by Pisanello
Medal of John VIII during his visit to Florence, by Pisanello

The Union failed due to opposition in Constantinople, but through his prudent conduct towards the Ottoman Empire he succeeded in holding possession of the city. John’s spirit was broken, and intrigues over the succession, coupled with news of the Turkish victory over the Hungarians in the Second Battle of Kosovo in October 1448, hastened his death.

John VIII named his brother Constantine XI, who had served as regent in Constantinople in 1437–1439, as his successor. Despite the conspiracies of younger brother Demetrios Palaiologos, Constantine XI’s mother Helena was able to secure his succession in 1448.

John VIII Palaiologos died 31 October 1448 in Constantinople. His death preceded that of his Empire by just 5 years.

What does seem to be remembered about John VIII’s personal life was that he was married 3 times. His initial marriage was in 1414 to Anna of Moscow, daughter of Grand Prince Basil I of Moscow and Sophia of Lithuania.

After Anna died in August 1417 of plague, John’s next marriage was arranged by his father and Pope Martin V to Sophia of Montferrat in 1421. She was a daughter of Theodore II, Marquess of Montferrat, and his second wife Joanna of Bar.

Joanna was a daughter of Robert I, Duke of Bar, and Marie Valois. Her maternal grandparents were John II of France and Bonne of Bohemia.

John’s final marriage, arranged by the future Cardinal Bessarion, was to Maria of Trebizond in 1427. She was a daughter of Alexios IV of Trebizond and Theodora Kantakouzene.

Maria died in the winter of 1439, also from plague. Sadly, none of John’s marriages produced any children.

John VIII Palaiologos by Benozzo Gozzoli
John VIII Palaiologos by Benozzo Gozzoli

John VIII Palaiologos was famously depicted by several painters on the occasion of his visit to Italy. Perhaps the most famous of his portraits is the one by Benozzo Gozzoli, on the southern wall of the Magi Chapel, at the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, in Florence.

John VIII Palaiologos in Sinai
John VIII Palaiologos in Sinai

According to some interpretations, John VIII would be also portrayed in Piero della Francesca‘s Flagellation. A portrait of John appears in a manuscript at the Saint Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula.

John VIII was also the final Emperor represented in the seals collection at Dumbarton Oaks. This golden seal of John VIII displays Christ before a low throne on the obverse, and the Emperor wearing a crown and loros, holding a long cross and an akakia on the reverse.Imperial Seal

John was identified as autocratic. His was the only appearance of a title, other than Despots, on an Imperial Seal since the reign of Michael VII (1071–1078).

While today’s journey may not have been glamorous, it was scary. We had death and the fall of an empire, which is pretty scary.

We look forward to having you stop by and look forward to having you back again. Please check us out on Facebook and Twitter, and be sure to tell everyone you know.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Harris, Jonathan. The End of Byzantium. Yale University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-300-11786-8.

Kolditz, Sebastian. Johannes VIII. Palaiologos und das Konzil von Ferrara-Florenz (1438/39). Anton Hiersemann Verlag, 2013-2014. ISBN 978-3-7772-1319-4.

Lazaris, Stavros. “L’empereur Jean VIII Paléologue vu par Pisanello lors du concile de Ferrare – Florence”. Byzantinische Forschungen, 2007.

Nicol, Donald M. The Last Centuries of Byzantium. Cambridge University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-521-43991-4.

Runciman, Steven. The Fall of Constantinople. Cambridge University Press, 1965.

John VIII Palaeologus”. Encylopaedia Britannica.

John VIII Palaiologos (1425–1448)”. God’s Regents on Earth: A Thousand Years of Byzantine Imperial Seals.

Major Mining Sites of Wallonia

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

It’s time to take a look at another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today we’re heading to Western Europe as we explore the Major Mining Sites of Wallonia!

The Major Mining Sites of Wallonia comprises 4 sites in Wallonia in southern Belgium associated with the Belgian coal mining industry of the 19th and 20th centuries. The sites of the grouping, situated in the French-speaking provinces of Hainaut and Liège are Grand-Hornu, the Bois-du-Luc, the Bois du Cazier and Blegny-Mine.

It features examples of the utopian architecture from the early periods of the industrial era in Europe within a highly integrated, industrial and urban ensemble, notably the Grand-Hornu colliery and workers’ city designed by Bruno Renard in the first half of the 19th Century.

Bois-du-Luc includes numerous buildings erected from 1838 to 1909 and one of Europe’s oldest collieries dating back to the late 17th Century.

While Wallonia had hundreds of collieries, most have lost their infrastructure, while the 4 components of the listed site retain a high measure of integrity.

How This Relates To Ancient Rome:

The Major Mining Sites of Wallonia comprises 4 sites in Wallonia in southern Belgium associated with the Belgian coal mining industry of the 19th and 20th centuries. The sites of the grouping, situated in the French-speaking provinces of Hainaut and Liège are Grand-Hornu, the Bois-du-Luc, the Bois du Cazier and Blegny-Mine.

We hope you enjoyed today’s trip and look forward to having you back. Make sure to tell your friends and family about us on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Roman Roads: Official Responsibilities and Travel

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Over the past few weeks we’ve taken a closer look at Roman Roads. We’ve seen where they went in Roman Roads: They All Lead Home and how they were made in Roman Roads: Construction and Types.Chariot Ruts

Today we continue that journey as we explore who was responsible for and who traveled on the Roads of Rome!

Roman Law defined the right to use a road as a servitus (claim). The Ius Eundi (Right of Going) established a claim to use an iter (footpath) across private land, while the Ius Agenda (Right of Driving), gave claim for a carriage track.

Via combined both types of servitutes, provided it was of the proper width, which was determined by an Arbiter. The law and tradition also forbade the use of vehicles in urban areas, except in certain cases.

Lex Iulia Municipalis
Lex Iulia Municipalis

Married women and government officials on business, for example, could ride in these vehicles. The Lex Iulia Municipalis restricted commercial carts to night-time access to the city within the walls and within a mile outside the walls.

Censors were the primary official responsible for all things dealing with Roman Roads and they handled their business in the Capital City. Due to the rapid growth of the Roman regions and the diverse labors which had previously detained, transference of the Censorial jurisdictions soon became a necessity

Certain improvised official bodies successively acted as constructing and repairing authorities as well. In Italy, the Censorial responsibility passed to the Commanders of the Roman Armies, and later to special Commissioners and local Magistrates.

Print of Roman ChariotIn the Provinces, the Consul or Praetor and his Legati received authority to deal directly with the contractor. The Aediles, probably by virtue of their responsibility for the freedom of traffic and policing the streets, co-operated with the Censors and the bodies that succeeded them.

It would seem that in the reign of Claudius (AD 41-54) the Quaestores had become responsible for the paving of the streets of Rome, or at least shared that responsibility with the Quatuorviri Viarum. It has been suggested that the Quaestores were obliged to buy their right to an official career by personal outlay on the streets.

There was certainly no lack of precedents for this enforced liberality. The change made by Claudius may have been a mere change in the nature of the expenditure imposed on the Quaestores.

Walls of RomeThe official bodies which first succeeded the Censors in the care of the streets and roads were 2 in number. They were the Quattuorviri Viis in Urbe Purgandis (With Jurisdiction Inside the Walls of Rome) and the Duoviri Viis Extra Urbem Purgandis (With Jurisdiction Outside the Walls).

Both these bodies were probably of ancient origin, but the true year of their institution is unknown. Little reliance can be placed on Pomponius, who states that the Quatuorviri were instituted eodem tempore (at the same time) as the Praetor Peregrinus (i.e. about 242 BC) and the Decemviri Litibus Iudicandis.

The first mention of either body occurs in the Lex Iulia Municipalis of 45 BC. The Quatuorviri were afterwards called Quatuorviri Viarum Curandarum.


The extent of jurisdiction of the Duoviri is derived from their full title as Duoviri Viis Extra Propiusve Urbem Romam Passus Mille Purgandis. Their authority extended over all roads between their respective gates of issue in the city wall and the first milestone beyond.

In case of an emergency in the condition of a particular road, men of influence and liberality were appointed, or voluntarily acted, as Curatores (Temporary Commissioners) to superintend the work of repair. The dignity attached to such a curatorship is attested by a passage of Cicero.

JCAmong those who performed this duty in connection with particular roads was Julius Caesar, who became Curator (67 BC) of the Via Appia, and liberally spent his own money upon it. Certain persons appear also to have acted alone and taken responsibility for certain roads.

In the country districts the Magistri Pagorum had authority to maintain the Viae Vicinales (Roads at or in Villages, Districts, or Crossroads). In Rome itself, each householder was legally responsible for the repairs to that portion of the street which passed his own house.

It was the duty of the Aediles to enforce this responsibility. The portion of any street which passed a temple or public building was repaired by the Aediles at the public expense.

When a street passed between a public building or temple and a private house, the public treasury and the private owner shared the expense equally. To secure uniformity, the personal liability of householders to execute repairs of the streets was commuted for a paving rate payable to the public authorities who were responsible from time to time.

Special Curatores for a term seem to have been appointed on occasion, even after the institution of the permanent Magistrates bearing that title. The Emperors who succeeded Augustus exercised a vigilant control over the condition of the public highways.

Forum and Emerita Augusta
Forum and Emerita Augusta

Their names occur frequently in the inscriptions to restorers of roads and bridges. Thus Vespasian, Titus, DomitianTrajan and Septimius Severus were commemorated in this capacity at Emerita Augusta.

The Itinerary of Antoninus remains as the standing evidence of the minute care which was bestowed on the service of the public roads. The writing was probably a work of much earlier date, then republished in an improved and enlarged form under one of the Antonine Emperors, but it still provides the details about Roman Roads.The Itinerary of Antoninus

Combined topographical and road-maps existed as specialty items in some Roman libraries, but they were expensive, hard to copy, and were not in general use. Travelers wishing to plan a journey could consult an itinerarium, which in its most basic form was a simple list of cities and towns along a given road, and the distances between them.

It was only a short step from lists to a master list, or a schematic route-planner in which roads and their branches were represented more or less in parallel, as in the Tabula Peutingeriana. The most thorough used different symbols for cities, way stations, water courses, and so on. The Roman government from time to time would produce a master road-itinerary.

Roman MapThree Greek geographers (Zenodoxus, Theodotus and Polyclitus) were hired to survey the system and compile a master itinerary in 44 BC by Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. The task took over 25 years and the resulting stone-engraved master itinerary was set up near the Pantheon, from which travelers and itinerary sellers could make copies.

Outside the cities, Romans were avid riders and rode on or drove quite a number of vehicle types, most common were carts driven by oxen. Horse-drawn carts could travel up to 25 to 31 mi per day, while pedestrians could get 12 to 16 mi.

For purposes of description Roman vehicles can be divided into: the car, the coach, and the cart. Cars were used to transport 1 or 2 individuals, coaches were used to transport parties, and carts to transport cargo.

CarrusThe most popular was the carrus (car), a standard chariot descending to the Romans from a greater antiquity, and a carrus survives today in the Vatican Museums. The top was open, the front closed, and it carried a driver and a passenger.

A carrus of 2 horses was a biga; of 3 horses, a triga; and of 4 horses a quadriga. The wheels were of iron, and when not in use, were removed for easier storage.

The carpentum, a more luxurious version, transported women and officials. It had an arched overhead covering of cloth and was drawn by mules.

A lighter version, the cisium (equivalent to a gig), was open above and in front and had a seat. Drawn by 1 or 2 mules or horses, it was used for cab work, the Cab Drivers (Cisiani).Cisium

Of the coaches, the mainstay was the 4-wheeled raeda. The high sides formed a sort of box in which seats were placed, with a notch on each side for entry.

It carried several people with baggage up to the legal limit of 1000 Roman Libra (pounds), modern equivalent 721 lbs, and was drawn by teams of oxen, horses or mules. A cloth top could be put on for weather, in which case it resembled a covered wagon.

Roman CarriageThe raeda was probably the main vehicle for travel on the roads. Raedae meritoriae were hired coaches. The fiscalis raeda was a government coach, with the driver and the builder both referred to as a Raedarius.

Of the carts, the main one was the plaustrum or plostrum. This was simply a platform of boards attached to wheels and a cross-tree.

The wheels were solid and were several inches thick. The sides could be built up with boards or rails.

A large wicker basket was sometimes placed on it. A 2-wheel version existed along with the normal 4-wheel type called the plaustrum maius.

Cursus ClabularisThe military used a standard wagon, the cursus clabularis, after the standard wagon. It transported the impedimenta (baggage of a military column).

MansioNon-military officials, and people on official business, had no Legio (Roman Legion) at their service so the government maintained way stations or mansiones (staying places) for their use. Mansiones, located about 16 to 19 mi apart from each other, provided the official traveler a complete villa dedicated to his use.

Often a permanent military camp or a town grew up around the mansio. For non-official travelers in need of refreshment, a private system of inns (cauponae) were placed near the mansiones.

They performed the same functions but were somewhat disreputable, as they were frequented by thieves and prostitutes. Graffiti decorate the walls of the few whose ruins have been found.

CauponaeGenteel travelers needed something better than cauponae. In the early days of the Viae, when little unofficial provision existed, houses placed near the road were required by law to offer hospitality on demand.

Frequented houses no doubt became the initial tabernae, which were hostels, rather than the taverns we know today. As Rome grew, so did its tabernae, becoming more luxurious and acquiring good or bad reputations as the case may be.Tabernae

One of the best hotels was the Tabernae Caediciae at Sinuessa on the Via Appia, with its large storage room containing barrels of wine, cheese and ham. Many cities of today grew up around a tabernae complex, such as Rheinzabern in the Rhineland and Saverne in Alsace.

MutationesA third system of way stations serviced vehicles and animals. Known as the mutationes (changing stations), they were located every 12 to 19 mi.

In these complexes, the driver could purchase the services of wheelwrights, cartwrights, and Equarii Medici (Veterinarians). Using these stations in chariot relays, the Emperor Tiberius hastened 184 mi in 24 hours to join his brother, Drusus Germanicus, who was dying of gangrene as a result of a fall from a horse.

No matter who was traveling, passports were required for identification. This was both for taxation for traveling, as well as to show the owners of the various inns that their guests were who they claimed to be.

Two postal services were available under the Empire, a public and a private. The Cursus Publicus, founded by Augustus, carried the mail of officials by relay throughout the Roman road system.

Postal ServiceThe vehicle for carrying mail was a cisium with a box, but for special delivery, a horse and rider was faster. On average, a relay of horses could carry a letter 50 mi in a day.

The postal service was a somewhat dangerous occupation, as postmen were a target for bandits and enemies of Rome. Private mail of the well-to-do was carried by Tabellarii, an organization of slaves available for a price.

Ancient Rome boasted impressive technological feats, using many advances that would be lost in the Middle Ages and would not be rivaled until the Modern Age. Many practical Roman innovations were adopted from earlier designs, but were altered to be typically Roman.Road

We hope you enjoyed today’s travel and look forward to having you back again soon. Please let your friends know about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Codrington, Thomas. Roman Roads in Britain. London, 1905.

Cresy, Edward. An Encyclopædia of Civil Engineering, Historical, Theoretical, and Practical. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, Paternoster-Row, 1847.

Forbes, Urquhart A., and Arnold C. Burmester. Our Roman Highways. F.E. Robinson & Co, 1904.

Laurence, Ray. The roads of Roman Italy: mobility and cultural change. Routledge, 1999.

Roby, Henry John. Roman Private Law in the Times of Cicero and of the Antonines. Cambridge University Press, 1902.

Smith, William. A School Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities; Abridged from the Larger Dictionary by William Smith, 1858.

Smith, William, William Wayte, and G. E. Marindin. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. J. Murray, 1890.

Bosra (#17)

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Today we continue examining the list of 52 Ancient Roman Monuments which had been claimed as a “must see” by Touropia Travel Experts. The last location we had checked out was #18 – Maison Carrée.

Today we’re headed to the fringe of the Roman Empire as we head to southern Syria to bring to you #17 – Bosra!Theatre

Bosra is a town which administratively belongs to the Daraa District of the Daraa Governorate and geographically is part of the Hauran region. Today, it is a major archaeological site and has been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Bosra has an ancient history and during the Roman era it was a prosperous provincial capital and Metropolitan Archbishopric, which became a Latin Catholic titular see and the episcopal see of a Melkite Archeparchy. It continued to be administratively important during the Islamic era, but became gradually less prominent during the Ottoman era.

The settlement was first mentioned in the documents of Thutmose III and Akhenaten (14th Century BC). Bosra was the foremost Nabatean city in the 2nd Century BC.

Legio III CyrenaicaIn AD 106 the Nabatean Kingdom was conquered by Cornelius Palma, a General of Emperor Trajan. The Romans made Bosra the residence of the Legio III Cyrenaica and thusly renamed it Nova Trajana Bostra (New Trajan Bostrom), in honor of their Emperor.

It was made capital of the Roman Provincia of Arabia Petraea. The city flourished and became a major metropolis at the juncture of several trade routes, namely the Via Traiana Nova (connecting Damascus to the Red Sea).

Provincia Arabia Petraea (highlighted)
Provincia Arabia Petraea (highlighted)

Nova Trajana Bostra became an important center for corn production and during the reign of Emperor Phillip the Arab, Bosra began to mint its own coins. The 2 Councils of Arabia were held at Bosra in 246 and 247 AD.

Cathedral Ruins

By the Byzantine period which began in the 5th Century, Christianity became the dominant religion in Bosra. The city became a Metropolitan Archbishop‘s seat and a large cathedral was built in the 6th Century.

Today, Bosra is a major archaeological site, containing ruins from RomanByzantine, and Muslim times, the main feature being the well preserved Roman theatre. Every year there is a national music festival hosted in the main theater.Theatre 2

The Roman Theatre at Bosra is a large Ancient Roman theatre in Bosra. It was built in the 2nd Century AD, and is constructed of black basalt. The theatre is about 335 ft across and has seating for about 15,000 people, thus making it among the largest of the Ancient Roman civilization.

PorticoThe theater is the only monument of its kind. It has an upper gallery in the form of a covered portico, which has been integrally well-maintained.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was built outside the walls of the town, but was later completely enclosed by an Ayyūbid fortress between 481 and 1231. This actually helped the theatre to become one of the best preserved Roman theatres in the world

It was substantially restored between 1947 and 1970, before which it contained large quantities of sand. This accidentally helped to protect the interior of the theatre.

Ruins north of the citadelOf the city which once counted 80,000 inhabitants there remains today only a village settled among the ruins. Nabatean and Roman monuments, Christian churches, mosques and Madrasahs are present within the half ruined fortifications of the city.

Gemarrin Bridge
Gemarrin Bridge

The structure of this monument a central plan with eastern apses flanked by 2 sacristies exerted a decisive influence on the evolution of Christian architectural forms, and to a certain extent on Islamic style. Close by are the Kharaba Bridge and the Gemarrin Bridge, both Roman bridges.

We hope you enjoyed today’s trip and look forward to having you back. Make sure to tell your friends and family about us on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Batatu, HannaSyria’s Peasantry, the Descendants of Its Lesser Rural Notables, and Their Politics. Princeton University Press, 1999. ISBN 0691002541.

Berney, K.A.; Ring, Trudy. International Dictionary of Historic Places: Middle East and Africa. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1996. ISBN 9781884964039.

Hütteroth, Wolf-Dieter; Abdulfattah, Kamal. Historical Geography of Palestine, Transjordan and Southern Syria in the Late 16th Century. Vorstand der Fränkischen Geographischen Gesellschaft, 1977. ISBN 3-920405-41-2.

Meinecke, MichaelPatterns of Stylistic Changes in Islamic Architecture: Local Traditions Versus Migrating Artists. New York University Press, 1996. ISBN 9780814754924.

Porter, Josias Leslie“From Kunawat to Busrah”Five years in Damascus: Including an Account of the History, Topography, and Antiquities of That City; with Travels and Researches in Palmyra, Lebanon, and the Hauran. J. Murray, 1855. OCLC 399684.

Segal, Arthur. Theatres in Roman Palestine and Provincia Arabia. E.J. Brill, 1995. ISBN 9789004101456.

Strange, le, Guy. Palestine Under the Moslems: A Description of Syria and the Holy Land from A.D. 650 to 1500. Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, 1890.

“Bosra”. Palestine and Syria. Karl Baedeker, 1876 & 1898.

“Bozrah”Handbook for Travellers in Syria and Palestine. J. Murray, 1858. OCLC 2300777.

“Busrah”Cook’s Tourists’ Handbook for Palestine and Syria. T. Cook & Son, 1876.

Modding the Latin Alphabet: The Odd History of G, J, U, W, Y

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Language is a very important of any culture, and it was no different for the Romans. Although not everyone spoke Latin, those people coming in contact with Rome were able to communicate based on the common foundation of Latin (or even Greek).

The past 2 weeks we have shared a language series that we’ve found both fun and informative. Here are the previous webisodes in case you missed them: What Latin Sounded Like – And How We Know and CAPS Unlock – The History Behind Uppercase & Lowercase Letters.

Today we continue the series as we share Modding the Latin Alphabet: The Odd History of G, J, U, W, Y!

Not every letter in your alphabet comes straight from ancient Rome. Some letters were crafted by clever old-school modders. This is their history.

Learn how G comes from tailed C, J is an I with a tail, and the stories of U, V, W and Y intertwine. Meet soldiers, plebes, scribes and kings as the alphabet finds its way from the Romans to you.

Thanks for stopping by today. We hope that you enjoyed the video as much as we did.

You can admit that you had fun here. Learning and sharing history makes everyone better.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Notitia Dignitatum: Organizing an Empire

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

There is lots of information within the boundaries of what encompassed the Roman Empire. One thing that allowed Rome to last so long was its governmental organization.

Today we jump on Rome’s political policy train as we explore association of offices with the Notitia Dignitatum!ND

Latin for “The List of Offices” this document from the late Roman Empire details the administrative organization of the Eastern and Western Empires. What makes the Notitia Dignitatum unique is that it is one of very few surviving documents of Roman government and describes several thousand offices from the Imperial Court down to the Provincial level, diplomatic missions and Army units.

It is usually considered to be up to date for the Western Roman Empire in the AD 420s and for the Eastern or Byzantine Empire in the AD 390s. However, no absolute date is given in the text itself and omissions complicate deriving an absolute date from its content.

Palestine and the River JordanThere are several extant 15th and 16th Century copies, plus there is also a color-illuminated version from 1542. All the known and extant copies of this document are consequent, either directly or indirectly, from the Codex Spirensis.

This codex was known to have existed since 1542 in the library of the Domus Sanctae Mariae Spirae. It was lost before 1672, and cannot now be located.

As the dominant book form in the ancient world, this particular codex contained a collection of documents that brought together several previous documents and one from the 9th Century. The Notitia Dignitatum was the last and largest document in the Codex Spirensis, occupying 164 total pages.

The heraldry in illuminated manuscripts of Notitia is thought to copy or imitate no other examples than those from the lost Codex Spirensis. The 1542 copy, made for Otto Henry, Elector Palatine, was revised with “illustrations more faithful to the originals added at a later date,” and is held by the Bavarian State Library.

Medieval Copy (1436)
Medieval Copy (1436)

The most important copy of the Codex is that made for Pietro Donato and illuminated by Peronet Lamy.

For each half of the Empire, the Notitia enumerates all major offices in its gift, often with their location and even their exact Officium. These are organized by: Court Officials (including the most senior dignitaries such as Praetorian Prefects); Vicars and Provincial Governors, arranged by Praetorian Prefecture and Diocese; and Military commanders (Magistri MilitumComites Rei Militaris and Duces), showing the full titles and stations of their regiments.

The Notitia Dignitatum presents 4 main problems, as regards the study of the Empire’s military establishment:

Emperor. Principate. Augustus.
Emperor. Principate. Augustus.

The Notitia depicts the Roman Army at the end of the 4th Century. Therefore, its development from the structure of the Principate is largely conjectural, owing to the lack of other evidence.

It was compiled at 2 different times, with the Eastern section from c. AD 395 and the Western from c. AD 420. Each section is probably not a simultaneous picture, but relies on data stretching back as far as 20 years.

The Eastern section may contain data from as early as AD 379, the start of the rule of Theodosius I. The Western section contains data from as early as AD 400.

Britain Insignia of the Dux Britanniarum
Britain Insignia of the Dux Britanniarum

For example, it shows units deployed in Britannia, which must date from before AD 410, when Roman officialdom lost control in the island. In consequence, there is substantial duplication, with the same unit often listed under different commands.

It is impossible to establish whether these were detachments of the same unit in different places at the same time, or the same whole unit at different times. Also, it is likely that some units only existed on paper or contained just a skeleton personnel.

According to the former Professor of History at the University of LiverpoolRoger Collins, the Notitia Dignitatum was an archaizing text written around AD 425. Its unreliability is shown up by “the supposed existence of traditional (Roman military) units in Britain and Spain at a time when other evidence shows they were not there.”

The Notitia has many sections missing and lacunae (gaps) within sections. This is doubtless due to accumulated text losses and copying errors as it was repeatedly copied over the centuries.

The earliest manuscript possessed today dates from the 15th Century. The Notitia cannot therefore provide a comprehensive listing of all units in existence.

ND2The Notitia Dignitatum does not contain any personnel figures. Therefore, the size of individual units and of the various commands, cannot be ascertained since little other evidence of unit sizes at this time.

In turn, this makes it impossible to assess accurately the overall size of the Army. Depending on the strength of units, the late 4th Century Army may have equaled the size of the 2nd Century force (i.e. over 400,000 men).

For example, the forces deployed in Britain around AD 400 may have been just 18,000 against about 55,000 in the 2nd Century. The Notitia contains the earliest known depictions of the diagram which later came to be known as yin and yang symbol.

Shield Pattern of the Armigeri Defensores Seniores
Shield Pattern of the Armigeri Defensores Seniores

The Infantry units Armigeri Defensores Seniores (Shield-Bearers) and Mauri Osismiaci had a shield design which corresponds to the dynamic, clockwise version of the symbol. The emblem of the Thebaei, another Western Roman Infantry regiment, featured a pattern of concentric circles comparable to its static version.

The Roman patterns predate the earliest Taoist versions by almost 700 years. It is not known if there is a connection between them.

We appreciate you making it till the end and look forward to having you back real soon. We promise there will be an adventure to somewhere spectacular.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Collins, Roger. Early Medieval Europe: 300-1000. The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1991.

Goldsworthy, A. Roman Warfare. 2000.

Heather, P. Fall of the Roman Empire. 2005.

Ireland, Robert (ed). Notitia Dignitatum. British Archaeological Reports, International Series 63.2.

Jones, A.H.M. The Later Roman Empire, 284-602. A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-8018-3285-3.

Mattingly, D. An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire. 2006.

Monastra, Giovanni. The “Yin-Yang” among the Insignia of the Roman Empire? Sophia, 2000.

Nickel, Helmut. “The Dragon and the Pearl”. Metropolitan Museum Journal, 1991.

“Publication of Offices – Notitia Dignitatum (Sammelhandschrift)”World Digital Library, 1542.

The Palatine Towers: Standing Guard Over Turin Since Roman Times

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

The Roman Empire is chock-full of interesting people, places and events. Outside of The Eternal City, it would be hard to say a single place that we just cannot wait to visit.

A place we are fascinated with is TurinItaly. Last month we had a visual exploration of the city in From Augusta Taurinorum to Modern Torino (Turin): A Place Like No Other.

Today we’re showing some more love to Torino as we check out the famous Palatine Towers!1

The original settlement of Taurisia, founded by the Taurini, was partly destroyed by the Carthaginian invader Hannibal in 218 BC. It later became a Roman military colony, known as Julia Augusta Taurinorum.

The Palatine Gate is a Roman Age city gate that provided access through the city walls of Julia Augusta Taurinorum from the North side and, as a result, it constituted the Porta Principalis Dextra (Right-Side Main Gate) of the old town.

2Rebuilt by the Emperor Augustus, the gate formed an enclosed rectangle divided into 72 blocks (insulae). The remains of the walls and the Palatine Gate and Towers are still visible.

The Porta Principalis Dextra served as an access to the Cardo Maximus, currently identified in Via Porta Palatina and Via San Tommaso. Its impressive remains are currently visible at the center of an open area, today’s Piazza Cesare Augusto.

Built in the 1st Century during the Augustan or Flavian Age, the Porta Principalis Dextra may predate the construction of the city walls. It was possibly built on the location of an earlier Republican Age gate.

Palazzo di Città
Palazzo di Città

The name Porta Palatina literally refers to a Palazzo (Palace) placed near the gate, but it is not clear what palace is here referred to. The most trusted theory suggests that it might be either the former Casa del Senato (House of the Senate), a

Former House of the Senate
Former House of the Senate

medieval palace located inside the city walls, or perhaps the Palazzo di Città (City Palace) which is the city hall of Turin placed not far from the gate as well.

A second theory hints to the presence of an alleged adjacent amphitheatre built near present-day Borgo Dora, a historical neighborhood developing right outside the old city walls (north of the Porta Palatina). This facility might rapidly have fallen into disrepair and, as a result, it might simply have been dubbed palazzo by the ancients.

Over the centuries, the Palatine Gate was also known by some other names such as Porta Comitale (Count’s Gate, allegedly referring to a count’s residence); Porta Doranea or Porta Doranica (since it led to the Dora River); and later as Porta Palazzo (a clear synonym of Porta Palatina).

Porta Decumana
Porta Decumana

Quite similar to the ancient Porta Decumana, built into the medieval structure of the present-day Palazzo Madama, the Palatine Gate represents an example of a typical Roman gate facing a Cavaedium (quadrangular courtyard on the inside of the city walls). The remains of which are placed in front of the gate.

Erected on a square base, the pair of angular towers are more than 98 ft high and feature a 16-sided structure. The central body, namely the interturrio, is about 66 ft long and is characterized by 2 orders of windows, the lower composed of arch windows and the upper made up of jack arch windows.

The underlying portion features 4 entryways. The central entryways are larger, taller and are vehicle accessible, while the 2 side entryways are narrower, shorter and served as pedestrian passageways.3

The grooves along the entryways’ inner walls suggest the original presence of the so-called cateractae. This was an alleged system of gate gratings operated from the upper floor.

On the ground near the gate is still part of the guardhouse added in the Roman period. One can still see the furrows on the stones caused by the transit of wagons.


The pair of bronze statues depicting Augustus and Julius Caesar are not the original statues but copies from the last, radical restoration of 1934. However, they are object of discussion as they were incorrectly placed in the internal area occupied by the statio instead of outside the gate where they would possibly have more relevance.

Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar

This facility served as a city gate for a long time and was turned into a Castrum in the 11th Century, although it lost the internal structure of the Cavaedium over the centuries. In 1404, after centuries of incursions and partial decay, the western tower was rebuilt and both towers got completed with battlements for defensive purposes.

The Palatine Gate was supposed to be torn down in the early 18th Century, pursuant to the urban renewal process started by Vittorio Amedeo II. However, the dismantling was not implemented thanks to the intervention of the architect and engineer Antonio Bertola, who convinced the Duke to preserve the ancient architectural work.

In 2006 the City of Turin started a restoration of the archaeological area, with the intent to improve the park, make the towers accessible to the public and build an underground parking for the carts of the nearby Porta Palazzo open market. Together with the ancient theatre’s remains, located a short distance away, the Palatine Gate is part of the so-called Archaeological ParkPark

The Palatine Gate represents the primary archaeological evidence of the city’s Roman phase, and is one of the best preserved 1st Century BC Roman gateways in the world. It is certainly an impressive spectacle and something the locals certainly love.

Today’s trip, even though it felt short in nature, was quite enjoyable for us. We hope you had a good time and look forward to having you visit again soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Cardoza, A. e Symcox, G. Storia di TorinoEinaudi, 2006.

Papotti, Luisa. “La Porta Palatina”. The restoration of the nineties in Liliana Mercando, Archaeology in Turin. Umberto Allemandi & Co, 2003.

Gruppo Archeologico Torinese. Archaeological Guide of Turin.

Torricella, Giuseppe. Torino e le sue vie. Le Livre Précieux, 1971.

Turin, Italy”. Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Palace and Gardens of Schönbrunn

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

It’s time to take a look at another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today we’re staying in Central Europe as we explore the Palace and Gardens of Schönbrunn of ViennaAustria!

The site of the Palace and Gardens of Schönbrunn is outstanding as one of the most impressive and well preserved Baroque ensembles of its kind in Europe. Additionally, it is a potent material symbol of the power and influence of the House of Habsburg over a long period of European history, from the end of the 17th to the early 20th Century.

A small hunting lodge and later summer residence of the Habsburg family was rebuilt after total destruction during the last Turkish attack in 1683. During construction work the project was expanded into an Imperial summer residence of the court, and came to represent the ascent and the splendor of the Habsburg Empire.

The ample Baroque gardens with their buildings (Gloriette, Roman ruins etc.) and statuary testify to the palace’s imperial dimensions and functions. The original intention, when they were laid out in the 18th Century, was to combine the glorification of the House of Habsburg with a homage to nature.

How This Relates To Ancient Rome:

Vienna’s roots lie in early Celtic and Roman settlements that transformed into a Medieval and Baroque city, and then the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Evidence has been found of continuous habitation since 500 BC, when the site of Vienna on the Danube River was settled by the Celts. In 15 BC, the Romans fortified the frontier city they called Vindobona to guard the empire against Germanic tribes to the north.

The head of the Austrian branch of the House of Habsburg was often elected Holy Roman Emperor until the Empire’s dissolution in 1806.

We hope you enjoyed today’s trip and look forward to having you back. Make sure to tell your friends and family about us on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!