LLR Books

Paradise Lost

"The city [of Smyrna] was one in which fig-laden camels nudged their way past the latest Newton Bennett motor car; in which the strange new vogue of the cinema was embraced as early as 1908. There were seventeen companies dealing exclusively in imported Parisian luxuries. And if [a person] cared to read a daily newspaper, he had quite a choice: eleven Greek, seven Turkish, five Armenian, four French and five Hebrew, not to mention the ones shipped in from every capital city in Europe. ...

"Amidst the grandeur there was intense human activity. Hawkers and street traders peddled their wares along the mile-long quayside. Water sellers jangled their brass bowls; hodjas - Muslim holy men - mumbled prayers in the hope of earning a copper or two. And impecunious legal clerks. often Italian, would proffer language lessons at knock-down prices. 'You saw all sorts . . .' recalled the French journalist, Gaston Deschamps. 'Swiss hoteliers, German traders, Austrian tailors, English mill owners, Dutch fig merchants, Italian brokers, Hungarian bureaucrats, Armenian agents and Greek bankers.'

"The waterfront was lined with lively bars, brasseries and shaded cafe gardens, each of which tempted the palate with a series of enticing scents. The odour of roasted cinnamon would herald an Armenian patisserie; apple smoke spilled forth from hookahs in the Turkish cafes. Coffee and olives, crushed mint and armagnac: each smell was distinctive and revealed the presence of more than three dozen culinary traditions. Caucasian pastries, boeuf a la mode, Greek game pies and Yorkshire pudding could all be found in the quayside restaurants of Smyrna. ...

"What happened over the two weeks [following September 9, 1922] must surely rank as one of the most compelling human dramas of the twentieth century. Innocent civilians - men, women and children from scores of different nationalities - were caught in a humanitarian disaster on a scale that the world had never before seen. The entire population of the city became the victim of a reckless foreign policy that had gone hopelessly, disastrously wrong. ...

"The total death toll is hard to compute with any certainty. According to Edward Hale Bierstadt - executive of the United States Emergency Committee - approximately 100,000 people were killed and another 160,000 deported into the interior. 'It is a picture too large and too fearful to be painted,' he wrote in his 1924 study of the disaster, The Great Betrayal, although he did his best, interviewing numerous eyewitnesses and collecting their testimonies. Other estimates were more conservative, claiming that 190,000 souls were unaccounted for by the end of September. It is unclear how many of these had been killed and how many deported, although Greek sources suggest that at least 100,000 Christians were marched into the interior of the country. Most of these were never seen again. ...

"The exodus from Asia Minor was on a [massive] scale and it was to continue for many months. To [rescue worker] Esther Lovejoy's eyes, it was 'the greatest migration in the history of mankind.' The migration was eventually enshrined in law in 1923, when [Turkish leader] Mustafa Kemal put his signature to the Treaty of Lausanne. All of Turkey's remaining 1.2 million Orthodox Christians were to be uprooted from their ancestral homes and moved to Greece. And the 400,000 Muslims living in Greece were to be removed from their houses and transported to Turkey. It was ethnic cleansing without parallel."

Author: Giles Milton
Title: Paradise Lost
Publisher: Sceptre
Date: Copyright 2008 by Giles Milton
Pages: 6-8, 372, 382

Fairhope Elementary class celebrate year of studying Greek mythology

FAIRHOPE, Ala. - The yearlong third-grade reading program on “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” which resulted in PowerPoint presentations and other activities and ended with a festival where Fairhope Elementary Students played their favorite characters from Greek mythology, began with a few students who just loved the books.
“I wanted to see what the big deal was,” said third-grade teacher Lesley Davis, about the best-selling series that a few of her students were reading on their own. “I saw what the appeal was, and eventually the class not only read all five in the series, but also was inspired to carry on a yearlong unit on Greek mythology.”

The wildly popular series of books is about 12-year-old student Percy Jackson, diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia – like author Rick Riordan’s son – and his adventures. Jackson discovers he is the son of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, and that his legendary counterparts were out there as well.

The series has sold more than 20 million copies in 35 countries since the 2005 publication of the first book, “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief,” according to promotional materials, which was made into a popular movie in February 2010.

Last Wednesday, May 11, the class celebrated their reading of the series and study of mythology with a Greek festival.

The students took on the roles of their favorite characters from Greek myth as follows: Emily Adams, Athena; Meagan Blosser, Aphrodite/Venus; Morgan Blosser, Artemis; Elizabeth Coleman, Aphrodite; Tyler Gilbert, Persephone; Bethany Graham, Persephone; Kaleb Hill, Zeus; Hudson Holloway, Hades; Ben Kendall, Charon; Alex Mansmann, Zeus; Will Mclean, Poseidon; Olivia Penry, Aphrodite; Savannah Reid, Athena; Diamond Smith, Athena; Dylan Smith, Poseidon; Joe Smith, Zeus; Claire Wagner, Athena; and Mrs. Lesley Davis, Athena.

“We had activities to follow the chapters of each book in the series,” Davis said this week. “My goal was to give each student the skills needed to begin the books with me but finish the series themselves. As a result, I have seen a dramatic change in students’ reading confidence and a growth in their love of reading, which for me is the whole point.”

Sixteen of the students also achieved at least 100 points or higher for the Accelerated Reader program and were able to participate in the AR parade, Davis said.

“Students researched and completed PowerPoint’s on their favorite gods and goddesses, as well as a book unit covering the Percy Jackson series,” she said. “On the day of the festival, students celebrated by wearing Greek costumes, participating in authentic Greek dancing, and enjoying a Greek feast. Opa!”

Several possible explanations of how May got its name

2011-06-01 / Editorial

By John Arnott

“A goddess smiled on the month of May,

When mortals marked her sacred day.

Then blossoming boughs and emerald fields,

Gave promise of their fruitful yields.”

May is thought to have been named after the ancient Greek goddess, Maia, much associated with nurturing, She is the mother of Hermes (called Mercury by the Romans), the messenger god. The Romans also had a goddess called Maia, who is associated with growing things. It is not clear to historians if the Greek Maia and the Roman Maia were indeed the same goddess or two different entities as the Romans tended to associate this Greek goddess with their goddess of fertility, known affectionately as Bona Dea, meaning the good goddess who they honoured with a May festival.

“The wise old ones the May sun sought,

In forum squares and gardens fair.

They sat and mused on days now gone

When life was sweet and youth was theirs.”

However in his six-book poem Fasti, the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC - 17 AD), popularly called Ovid in the Englishspeaking world, proposed that the month was named for seniors or elders, in Latin, called maiores. The Latin fasti means calendar or chronological events or lists, and each book of the probably unfinished poem covers one month January through June.

“Today we honour

Queens in May,

And fill the night with coloured flares.

The sun is strong and frosts now rare.

It’s planting time we do declare.”

For centuries May Day or May 1 was a spring festival and a feature of the day was a beribboned may pole, around which two circles of folk dancers danced one clockwise and the other anticlockwise, each holding a brightly coloured ribbon one end of which was attached to the pole. As the dance progressed, the ribbons braided originally symbolizing, it’s thought, male-female union and the creating of new life, all harking back to the pre- Christian Maia-Bona Dea May festival. Today, May 1 in many countries is equivalent to our Labour Day.

By the by, the distress or “mayday” call has nothing to do with May. It is the anglicized spelling of the French “m'aidez,” meaning help or aid me.

Here, we honour Queen Victoria, born May 24, 1819, who was for 64 years so much a part of our history, and the first sovereign of a self governing Canada. We also hold the Canadian celebration of our present Queen’s birthday the Monday closest to the 24.

Of course, May 24 is the traditional date for safely planting annuals, as almost all danger of frost has past. But here in the Tottenham- Orangeville area, the “maiores” tell us to wait until the first week in June.

“Our garden tasks have now begun.

We work the soil with fork and trowel,

We plant the seed and watch it come,

Nurtured by the warm May sun.”

Oedipus to Helen of Troy: Ten of the greatest classical myths

By ROBIN LANE FOX, Historian, author and fellow of New College, Oxford

From Oedipus killing his father and making love to his mother, to why Narcissus fell in love with his own image to Helen's romantic triangle which sparked the Trojan War, here historian ROBIN LANE FOX chooses his favourite mythological tales

1. OEDIPUS Oedipus committed his family crimes in error. His father had abandoned him as a baby and so when he killed a stranger at a crossroads near Thebes, it was only later he realised that the stranger was his father

Oedipus committed his family crimes in error. His father had abandoned him as a baby and so when he killed a stranger at a crossroads near Thebes, it was only later he realised that the stranger was his father

Oedipus killed his father and made love to his mother. Freud applied this story to explain what he saw as basic urges in every boy’s unconscious. Hence the Oedipus complex. In fact, Oedipus committed his family crimes in error. His father had abandoned him as a baby, but he was brought up safely by a shepherd in the hills. He returned as a young man and killed a stranger at a crossroads near Thebes. Only later did he realise that the stranger was his father. He then entered Thebes and married Queen Jocasta without knowing she was his mother. So the ancient Oedipus was not driven by an Oedipus complex; he made dreadful mistakes in ignorance.

The poet Ovid says Narcissus was being punished for his rejection of pretty young Echo, who wasted away with a broken heart. So the gods made him 'love, but not attain what he loved'

2. NARCISSUS The poet Ovid says Narcissus was being punished for his rejection of pretty young Echo, who wasted away with a broken heart. So the gods made him 'love, but not attain what he loved'

He is the origin of narcissism, the mental disorder Freud named after him. He was the son of a nymph and a river god but he fell in love with his own image, reflected in a pool. The poet Ovid says he was being punished for his rejection of pretty young Echo, who wasted away with a broken heart. So the gods made Narcissus ‘love, but not attain what he loved’. He was then turned into a yellow flower with white petals – the first narcissus. Girls like Echo still ruin their lives for men who can only love themselves.

Tiresias is the one person who knows both sides of sex. 'Of ten parts,' he said, 'men enjoy one only, but a woman enjoys all ten'


Tiresias is the one person who knows both sides of sex. 'Of ten parts,' he said, 'men enjoy one only, but a woman enjoys all ten'

Tiresias lived to be a very old prophet, skilled in seeing the future. Once he battered two snakes when they were mating, so the gods turned him into a woman as a punishment. He later turned back into a man. He is therefore the one person who knows both sides of sex. ‘Of ten parts,’ he said, ‘men enjoy one only, but a woman enjoys all ten.’ No wonder women are still so reluctant to discuss the truth. TS Eliot names him in The Waste Land: ‘I, Tiresias, the old man, with wrinkled dugs’ who has known everything that couples ‘enact on this same divan or bed’. Tiresias was blinded by the gods for revealing his secret, and the Greeks believed that as a blind man he was able to see the future.

Hyacinthus's blood gave birth to a flower with the Greek letters for 'Alas!' inscribed on its petals. Nowadays another flower is known in his honour as a hyacinth

4. HYACINTHUS Hyacinthus's blood gave birth to a flower with the Greek letters for 'Alas!' inscribed on its petals. Nowadays another flower is known in his honour as a hyacinth

He was such a beautiful boy that the West Wind loved him and so did Apollo, the god of music, the arts and the sun. Apollo once threw a discus while exercising in Hyacinthus’s company. The jealous West Wind is said to have blown the discus off course and made it kill Hyacinthus, who was hardly more than a boy at the time – but the Greek gods had no scruples about that kind of thing. Hyacinthus’s blood gave birth to a flower with the Greek letters for ‘Alas!’ inscribed on its petals. Nowadays another flower is known in his honour as a hyacinth. This spring the Greek myths of Narcissus and Hyacinthus are still to be seen in full beauty in the flowers in our gardens.

When Helen, who was married to the hero Menelaus, ran off with the handsome young Trojan, Paris, her outraged husband cast around for Greek allies and with them declared the Trojan War

5. HELEN OF TROY When Helen, who was married to the hero Menelaus, ran off with the handsome young Trojan, Paris, her outraged husband cast around for Greek allies and with them declared the Trojan War

She had been married to the hero Menelaus but when the handsome young Trojan, Paris, came to call in Sparta, Helen ran off with him instead. The outraged Menelaus cast around for Greek allies and with them declared the Trojan War. Later, when her husband Menelaus broke into the city, he is said to have dropped his sword at the sight of her. Homer in his Odyssey describes her living a solid married life with Menelaus afterwards. She has, however, learned to use a special potion to stop her tears.

The predatory Eos, the Dawn, fell in love with Tithonus and carried him away to heaven

6. TITHONUS The predatory Eos, the Dawn, fell in love with Tithonus and carried him away to heaven. She begged Zeus to grant him the gift of immortality. He did, but she had forgotten to ask for the gift of eternal youth

Tithonus was a Trojan prince but the predatory Eos, the Dawn, fell in love with him and carried him away to heaven. She begged Zeus to grant Tithonus the gift of immortality. He did, but she had forgotten to ask for the gift of eternal youth. So Tithonus became ever older, shrivelling up like a grasshopper. Even now, when day breaks, Dawn is leaving Tithonus’s bed in heaven. The story is that she locked him in a bedroom cupboard and threw away the key in disgust.

Aphrodite, the goddess of sex and love, made Hippolytus's stepmother Phaedra fall in love with him. He refused her, so she denounced him falsely in a letter before killing herself

7. HIPPOLYTUS Aphrodite, the goddess of sex and love, made Hippolytus's stepmother Phaedra fall in love with him. He refused her, so she denounced him falsely in a letter before killing herself

Hippolytus was the son of king Theseus. As a young man he steered clear of sex and love and thus angered Aphrodite, the goddess of both. She made his stepmother Phaedra fall in love with him. Hippolytus refused her, so she denounced him falsely in a letter before killing herself. Unaware of the truth Theseus cursed his son and only learned of his innocence too late after Hippolytus had died in the ancient equivalent of a car-crash. Poseidon, the god of earthquakes and the sea, sent a wild bull to kill Hippolytus by overturning his chariot on the road.

Agave was the mother of young Pentheus, who denied Dionysus's parentage. So Dionysus took revenge by driving the women of Thebes out of their wits

8. AGAVE Agave was the mother of young Pentheus, who denied Dionysus's parentage. So Dionysus took revenge by driving the women of Thebes out of their wits

Agave was the mother of young Pentheus, who denied Dionysus's parentage. So Dionysus took revenge by driving the women of Thebes out of their wits. They retreated to the mountains where Pentheus, tricked by Dionysus into believing they had all gone o ff to have group sex, went to watch, but was torn to pieces by his mother and the maddened women. The dramatist Euripides brilliantly describes her being brought back to reality and realising the dreadful truth.

Odysseus, the hero destined to wander for years away from home, passed into the world of Neverland, outwitted the one-eyed Cyclops and avoided temptations such as the sweet-singing Sirens

9. ODYSSEUS Odysseus, the hero destined to wander for years away from home, passed into the world of Neverland, outwitted the one-eyed Cyclops and avoided temptations such as the sweet-singing Sirens

Odysseus was the hero destined to wander for years away from home after the fall of Troy. He passed into the world of Neverland, outwitted the one-eyed Cyclops and avoided temptations such as the sweet-singing Sirens. All the while his virtuous wife Penelope outwitted the many suitors who competed for her hand. Her reunion with Odysseus is a tribute to married love - but he was destined to leave home all over again and would wander to a land some people claim is modern Switzerland.

Typhon stole Zeus's sinews and hid them in a cave but was gradually battered to death across the world and finally buried by Zeus beneath a snowy mountain

10. TYPHON Typhon stole Zeus's sinews and hid them in a cave but was gradually battered to death across the world and finally buried by Zeus beneath a snowy mountain

A huge snaky monster with 50 heads hissing different sounds, Typhon stole Zeus’s sinews and hid them in a cave but was gradually battered to death across the world and finally buried by Zeus beneath a snowy mountain. I have spent many years travelling to find his tracks in the landscapes. In my recent book Travelling Heroes I track Typhon from a cave on the south coast of Turkey to volcanic Ischia and Mount Etna on Sicily. The BBC turned this book into a documentary film, shown last November. It enabled me to go once again to all Typhon’s sites, culminating with the crater of Etna itself. Seeing is believing. As the volcano roared, Typhon seemed no myth to me.


"In Sumeria begins the original urban revolution, and the civilizing influence of the city throughout history. The great cities of history were integrally linked to man's uses of water and were, without fail, situated on rivers, lakes, oases, and seashores. ... Sumerian vessels traded long-distance with Egypt via the Red Sea and plied the Gulf and the Indian Ocean at least to the ancient Indus River civilization. ...

"The vital economic activity of the earliest Sumerian city-states, however, was irrigation agriculture. Each had its own farm work gangs comprised of many hundreds of farmers who worked large tracts of land that was owned, rented, or bequeathed by the gods. As in Egypt, coerced labor was done under schedules and regulations set by temple priests, who alone possessed the skills for calculating the changes of season, designing canals, and coordinating mass, collective effort. Thereligious provenance of the priesthood legitimized their taking large shares of the annual harvest surpluses for storage in the temple granaries.

"Violent, unpredictable floods that destroyed waterworks and entire cities were an omnipresent, terrifying menace. Indeed, in Mesopotamian mythology the quasi-divine status of kings and the state's political legitimacy itself sprang from a purifying great flood sent by the gods to obliterate humanity and from whose watery chaos a new world order was born. The region's flood myth centered on a single, forewarned family that survived by building an ark - the progenitor of strikingly similar stories in Hindu mythology and the Noah story in Genesis. ...

"Crops were grown on miles-long earthen embankments set amid the watery plain between the rivers and controlled by a matrix of dams, dikes, weirs, sluices, and ditches. One benefit of this arduous, artificial irrigation was that it permitted year-round, multicrop farming that yielded larger stockpiles than Egypt's single-crop basin system. Yet artificial irrigation also came with a terrible side effect that afflicted civilizations throughout history - salinization of the soil. ...

"Over time, intensive irrigation farming had environmental side effects that undermined its sustainability. It tended to raise the level of groundwater to waterlog the soils, while water's capillary action drew deadly salt toward plant roots. Evaporation, which was especially rapid in hot, arid Mesopotamia, left the telltale crusted salt residue across the once-fertile surface-crop yields fell until finally little at all could grow. Mesopotamian tablets from 1800 BC duly record 'black fields becoming white.' To cope with salinization, the Sumerians shifted production from wheat to more-salt-resistant barley. In about 3500 BC, equal amounts of wheat and barley were being grown in Sumeria. A thousand years later, only 15 percent of the crop was wheat. By 1700 BC almost no wheat was being grown, and yields from both crops had declined by some 65 percent over seven centuries.

"World history is replete with societal declines and collapses caused by soil salinization. ... A second man-made environmental depletion also exacerbated Mesopotamia's agricultural crisis - deforestation. Wherever humans have settled on Earth, they have chopped down trees - for fuel, houses, boats, tools, and agricultural-land clearance - until their habitats were denuded. Many now-barren parts of Mesopotamia, as elsewhere in the neighboring Mediterranean rim, were once luxuriously verdant. Deforestation made landscapes drier and less fertile. It reduced rainfall as well as the capacity of the soil to retain what did fall. More of the fertile topsoil washed away in torrential downpours - a malevolent expression of water's power as history's greatest soil mover, surpassed only by modern industrial man himself."

Author: Steven Solomon
Title: Water
Publisher: Harper
Date: Copyright 2010 by Steven Solomon
Pages: 41-44


The Greek god Epimetheus was a titan and the brother of Prometheus. he is the titan responsible for letting the evils into the world by accepting the gift of the first woman, Pandora from Zeus


Dionysus is the son of Zeus and a mortal woman named Semele. He is the youngest of the Gods and the only main God to have a mortal parent. He and Hermes replaced the Gods Hades and Hestia as main Greek Gods. He was raised in Asia, and is said to be insane. He is also the God of wine and partying. He is a major God in everyday life for the Greeks, there is a large party once a year for him

The Fourth Part of the World

"[Matthias Ringmann and Martin Waldseemuller and their colleagues] decided to produce a geographical package consisting of three parts: a huge new map of the whole world, dedicated to Maximilian I (the Holy Roman Emperor and thus the symbolic head of the Germanic people), that would sum up ancient and modern geographical learning; a tiny version of that map, printed as a series of globe gores that could be pasted onto a small ball, creating the world's first mass-produced globe; and a sort of users' guide to those two maps, titled Introduction to Cosmography. ... It was a profound moment in the history of cartography - and in the larger history of ideas. ...

"The bulk of the work - the design of the map and the globe, and the writing of the Introduction to Cosmography - fell to Waldseemuller and Ringmann. Ringmann took the lead in writing the book. Libraries today credit Waldseemuller as the author, but the book actually names no author, and Ringmann's fingerprints appear all over it. ... Ringmann the writer, Waldseemuller the mapmaker. ...

"Why dwell on this question of authorship? Because whoever wrote the Introduction to Cosmography almost certainly coined the name America (which would have been pronounced 'Amer-eeka'). Here, too, the balance tilts in Ringmann's favor. Consider the famous passage in which the author steps forward to explain and justify the use of the name.

" 'These parts have in fact now been more widely explored, and a fourth part has been discovered by Amerigo Vespucci (as will be heard in what follows). Since both Asia and Africa received their names from women, I do not see why anyone should rightly prevent this [new part] from being called Amerigen - the land of Amerigo, as it were - or America, after its discoverer, Americus, a man of perceptive character.'

"This sounds a lot like Ringmann, who is known to have spent time mulling over the reasons that concepts and places so often had the names of women. 'Why are all the virtues, the intellectual qualities, and the sciences always symbolized as if they belonged to the feminine sex?' he would write in a 1511 essay on the Muses. 'Where does this custom spring from - a usage common not only to the pagan writers but also to the scholars of the church? It originated from the belief that knowledge is destined to be fertile of good works. ... Even the three parts of the old world received the name of women.'

"The naming-of-America passage reveals Ringmann's hand in other ways, too. In his poetry and prose Ringmann regularly amused himself by making up words, by punning in different languages, and by investing his writing with hidden meanings for his literary friends to find and savor. The passage is rich in just this sort of wordplay, much of which requires a familiarity with Greek, a language Waldseemuller didn't know.

"The key to the passage, almost always ignored or overlooked, is the curious name Amerigen - a coinage that involves just the kind of multifaceted, multilingual punning that Ringmann frequently indulged in. The word combines Amerigo with gen, a form of the Greek word for 'earth,' creating the meaning that the author goes on to propose - 'the land of Amerigo.' But the word yields other meanings, too. Gen can also mean 'born' in Greek, and the word ameros can mean "new," making it possible to read Amerigen as not only 'land of Amerigo' but also 'born new' - a double entendre that would have delighted Ringmann, and one that very nicely complements the idea of fertility that he associated with female names. The name may also contain a play on meros, a Greek word that can sometimes be translated as 'place.' Here Amerigen becomes A-meri-gen, or 'No-place-land': not a bad way to describe a previously unnamed continent whose geography is still uncertain."

Author: Toby Lester
Title: The Fourth Part of the World
Publisher: Free Press
Date: Copyright 2009 by Toby Lester
Pages: 355-357

Historian says gays caused downfall of Rome, sparks row

ANI, Apr 10, 2011, 05.22am IST

LONDON: A top Italian history professor has caused outrage after he claimed that the Roman Empire fell due to the rise of homosexuality.

Roberto De Mattei, 63, a devout Roman Catholic, had already raised eyebrows by saying the Japanese tsunami was "divine punishment", and now with his latest claim he faces calls to resign.

"The collapse of the Roman Empire and the arrival of the Barbarians was due to the spread of homosexuality," the Daily Mail quoted the vice-president of Italy's prestigious Centre for National Research as saying in a radio interview.

"The Roman colony of Carthage was a paradise for homosexuals and they infected many others. The invasion of the Barbarians was seen as punishment for this moral transgression." It is well-known that effeminate men and homosexuals have no place in the kingdom of God, he said. "Homosexuality was not rife among the Barbarians and this shows God's justice throughout history," De Mattei stated.

Fellow historians, gay rights groups and politicians expressed their outrage over the historian's claims. "I have tabled an urgent call for the education minister to intervene," Paola Concia, a lawmaker with the Democratic Left, said.

Italian homosexual groups said the professor's comments were "based on superstition" and described them as ridiculous and outrageous". The groups called on him to resign from his Rome-based post.

"It is highly improbable homosexuality led to the fall of the Roman Empire," historian Emilio Gabba, a leading light in Roman history, said. However research would seem to suggest homosexuality was rife in ancient Rome, and it is widely portrayed in ancient Roman art and was seen as acceptable 2,000 years ago.

"There is no proof Rome had a high number of homosexuals. I can safely say Rome did not fall because it was gay," Professor Lellia Cracco Ruggini, an expert on Roman history from Turin University, added.

The Ides of March

The Ides of March hold a special significance for few in modern times, but historically they mark one of the most significant moments in ancient history.

The day marks the date of the death of Julius Ceasar, which occurred in 44 B.C. Famously the Roman leader was stabbed 23 times in the Roman Senate in a conspiracy led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, along with 60 other conspirators.

The incident was most famously portrayed and dramatized in Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar. The play famously coined the phrase 'beware the Ides of March."

The term "ides" was used to refer to the 15th day of March, May, July, and October, and the 13th day of all other months.

Rare Roman altar stones uncovered in Musselburgh

Two rare, carved altar stones found in East Lothian could shed new light about the Roman period in Scotland, it has been claimed.

The Roman stones were found during the redevelopment of a cricket pavilion in Lewisvale Park, Musselburgh.

Experts said they may help re-write the history books on the Roman occupation of Inveresk.

Although they were found in March 2010, it has only now become safe to fully inspect them.

Archaeologists said the stones were of "exceptional quality".

The experts from East Lothian Council, Historic Scotland and AOC Archaeology Group have been carefully removing the stones for the past year.

Only the backs and sides were visible until this month, when it was finally safe to make a full inspection.

The first stone has side panels showing a lyre and griffon as well as pictures of a jug and bowl, objects which would be used for pouring offerings on the altar.

The front face bears a carved inscription dedicating the altar to the god Mithras - the furthest north that such dedications have been discovered.

Mithraism was a religion in the Roman Empire from the 1st to 4th Centuries and the worshippers had a complex system of initiation grades.

Mithras is often shown slaying a bull with Sol looking on and there is often an association between both deities.

Face of God

The front face of the second stone shows female heads which represent the four seasons.

All are wearing headdresses, spring flowers, summer foliage, autumn grapes and a shawl for winter.

The centre of the stone contains a carving of the face of a God, probably Sol, wearing a solar crown.

This is the first evidence for the god Mithras in Scotland, and changes our view of Roman religion on the northern frontier”

The eyes, mouth and solar rays are all pierced and the hollowed rear shaft would probably have held a lantern or candle letting the light shine through, similar to a Halloween pumpkin or turnip lantern.

An inscription on a panel beneath the four seasons is currently partially obscured, but experts said it was likely to bear the name of the dedicator - who is believed to be a Roman centurion - and the God to whom the altar is dedicated.

Traces of red and white paint are still visible beneath the inscription panel, which experts said suggested it was originally brightly painted.

Ruth Currie, East Lothian Council's cabinet member for community wellbeing, said: "This is enormously exciting and its significance could be huge.

"These beautiful artefacts could reveal a whole new strand of East Lothian's history and possibly even shed light on the way the Romans lived on an international scale."

Dr Fraser Hunter, Iron Age and Roman curator at National Museums Scotland, said: "The quality of these sculptures is remarkable, and they will tell us an enormous amount.

"This is the first evidence for the god Mithras in Scotland, and changes our view of Roman religion on the northern frontier."

Dr James Bruhn of Historic Scotland said: "The discovery of altar stones to the eastern God Mithras adds a fascinating new chapter to the story of Inveresk's Roman past

Dead Roman soldiers: History's first gas attack casualties?

Almost 2,000 years ago, 19 Roman soldiers rushed into a cramped underground tunnel, prepared to defend the Roman-held Syrian city of Dura-Europos from an army of Persians digging to undermine the city's mudbrick walls. But instead of Persian soldiers, the Romans met with a wall of noxious black smoke that turned to acid in their lungs. Their crystal-pommeled swords were no match for this weapon; the Romans choked and died in moments, many with their last pay of coins still slung in purses on their belts.

Nearby, a Persian soldier — perhaps the one who started the toxic underground fire — suffered his own death throes, grasping desperately at his chain mail shirt as he choked.

These 20 men, who died in A.D. 256, may be the first victims of chemical warfare to leave any archeological evidence of their passing, according to a new investigation. The case is a cold one, with little physical evidence left behind beyond drawings and archaeological excavation notes from the 1930s. But a new analysis of those materials published in January in the American Journal of Archaeology finds that the soldiers likely did not die by the sword as the original excavator believed. Instead, they were gassed.

Where there's smoke
In the 250s, the Persian Sasanian Empire set its sights on taking the Syrian city of Dura from Rome. The city, which backs up against the Euphrates River, was by this time a Roman military base, well-fortified with meters-thick walls.

The Persians set about tunneling underneath those walls in an effort to bring them down so troops could rush into the city. They likely started their excavations 130 feet (40 meters) away from the city, in a tomb in Dura's underground necropolis. Meanwhile, the Roman defenders dug their own countermines in hopes of intercepting the tunneling Persians.

The outlines of this underground cat-and-mouse game was first sketched out by French archaeologist Robert du Mesnil du Buisson, who first excavated these siege tunnels in the 1920s and 30s. Du Mesnil also found the piled bodies of at least 19 Roman soldiers and one lone Persian in the tunnels beneath the city walls. He envisioned fierce hand-to-hand combat underground, during which the Persians drove back the Romans and then set fire to the Roman tunnel. Crystals of sulfur and bitumen, a naturally occurring, tar-like petrochemical, were found in the tunnel, suggesting that the Persians made the fire fast and hot.

Something about that scenario didn't make sense to Simon James, an archaeologist and historian from the University of Leicester in England. For one thing, it would have been difficult to engage in hand-to-hand combat in the tunnels, which could barely accommodate a man standing upright. For another, the position of the bodies on du Mesnil's sketches didn't match a scenario in which the Romans were run through or burned to death.

"This wasn't a pile of people who had been crowded into a small space and collapsed where they stood," James told LiveScience. "This was a deliberate pile of bodies."

Using old reports and sketches, James reconstructed the events in the tunnel on that deadly day. At first, he said, he thought the Romans had trampled each other while trying to escape the tunnel. But when he suggested that idea to his colleagues, one suggested an alternative: What about smoke?

Fumes of hell
Chemical warfare was well established by the time the Persians besieged Dura, said Adrienne Mayor, a historian at Stanford University and author of "Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World" (Overlook Press, 2003).

"There was a lot of chemical warfare [in the ancient world]," Mayor, who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience. "Few people are aware of how much there is documented in the ancient historians about this."

One of the earliest examples, Mayor said, was a battle in 189 B.C., when Greeks burnt chicken feathers and used bellows to blow the smoke into Roman invaders' siege tunnels. Petrochemical fires were a common tool in the Middle East, where flammable naphtha and oily bitumen were easy to find. Ancient militaries were endlessly creative: When Alexander the Great attacked the Phoenician city of Tyre in the fourth century B.C., Phoenician defenders had a surprise waiting for him.

"They heated fine grains of sand in shields, heated it until it was red-hot, and then catapulted it down onto Alexander's army," Mayor said. "These tiny pieces of red-hot sand went right under their armor and a couple inches into their skin, burning them."

So the idea that the Persians had learned how to make toxic smoke is, "totally plausible," Mayor said.

"I think [James] really figured out what happened," she said.

In the new interpretation of the clash in the tunnels of Dura, the Romans heard the Persians working beneath the ground and steered their tunnel to intercept their enemies. The Roman tunnel was shallower than the Persian one, so the Romans planned to break in on the Persians from above. But there was no element of surprise for either side: The Persians could also hear the Romans coming.

So the Persians set a trap. Just as the Romans broke through, James said, they lit a fire in their own tunnel. Perhaps they had a bellows to direct the smoke, or perhaps they relied on the natural chimney effect of the shaft between the two tunnels. Either way, they threw sulfur and bitumen on the flames. One of the Persian soldiers was overcome and died, a victim of his own side's weapon. The Romans met with the choking gas, which turned to sulfuric acid in their lungs.

"It would have almost been literally the fumes of hell coming out of the Roman tunnel," James said.

Any Roman soldiers waiting to enter the tunnels would have hesitated, seeing the smoke and hearing their fellow soldiers dying, James said. Meanwhile, the Persians waited for the tunnel to clear, and then hurried to collapse the Roman tunnel. They dragged the bodies into the stacked position in which du Mesnil would later find them. With no time to ransack the corpses, they left coins, armor and weapons untouched.

Horrors of war
After du Mesnil finished excavations, he had the tunnels filled in. Presumably, the skeletons of the soldiers remain where he found them. That makes proving the chemical warfare theory difficult, if not impossible, James said.

"It's a circumstantial case," he said. "But what it does do is it doesn't invent anything. We've got the actual stuff [the sulfur and bitumen] on the ground. It's an established technique."

If the Persians were using chemical warfare at this time, it shows that their military operations were extremely sophisticated, James said.

"They were as smart and clever as the Romans and were doing the same things they were," he said.

The story also brings home the reality of ancient warfare, James said.

"It's easy to regard this very clinically and look at this as artifacts … Here at Dura you really have got this incredibly vivid evidence of the horrors of ancient warfare," he said. "It was horrendously dangerous, brutal, and one hardly has words for it, really."

Prometheus and Epimetheus (a Greek myth)

Once upon a time, long ago, the great god Zeus overcame the gigantic race, the Titans, to become the most powerful god. He ruled over Olympus and banished the Titans to Tartarus, but he spared two of those he conquered, Prometheus (or forethought) and his brother, Epimetheus (or afterthought). Instead of banishing them, he gave them the task of going to earth to make its creatures. Just before he sent them down from the heavens, he gave Epimetheus gifts to offer their creations.

The brothers traveled to earth and set to work. Using the abundant river clay, they began to mold their creations. Prometheus was wise and the more thoughtful and cautious of the two brothers. He took great care with his work, spending a good deal of time thinking over each decision he made in crafting human beings. He decided he would shape them like the gods, for he imagined great things they would one day accomplish.

His brother was not so thoughtful. He worked as fast as he could, shaping and molding all the animals. Each time he finished a creation, he handed out of one Zeus' gifts. He gave the animals strength and endurance. He gave out a keen sense of smell and sight. To some of his creatures he gave wings; to others he gave claws; to others he gave a protective coat; and others still received thick coats of fur.

When Epimetheus was finished with his creation, he realized he had given away all Zeus' gifts, and he had nothing left for his brother to give the human beings.

When Prometheus finished his work and saw his creatures shivering in the cold, dark night, terrified of the many powerful beasts his brother had created, his heart ached. He could not bear the sight of their suffering, and so he decided he must return to Olympus to ask Zeus for another gift. He wished to give his creations fire.

He stood before Zeus and humbly asked, "I wish you to give me one more gift. The people do not have coats of fur to keep them warm, and they do not have protective shells or wings or claws. Please, let me give them fire."

Zeus was furious at so bold a request. "The fire belongs to the gods and to the gods alone!" he roared. "How dare you return asking for more!" And he sent Prometheus away.

Prometheus knew he must help his creations, and although he understood Zeus could be a vengeful, angry god, he decided he must do something. He would steal fire.

He waited until he was certain Zeus was not watching, and he lifted his torch to the light of the sun, catching an ember of fire. This he hid inside a hollow stalk and hurried back to earth.

He gathered the people and said, "I give you fire," and he set the ember free.

It burst into flame, and all the people cheered at the warmth and the light of this gift.

"Never let the light of Olympus die," Prometheus warned. "If you keep the flames alive, you shall live good and happy lives."

The people were overjoyed. With fire, they no longer shivered in the cold night. With fire they were able to forge weapons to subdue the wild beasts. With fire they made tools to till the earth and build dwellings. With fire they warmed those dwellings. And the animals feared the sight of those flames and no longer attacked human beings.

As the humans watched the smoke spiraling up into the sky, their thoughts turned to the gods. They decided to build temples to honor those gods, and they decided to roast an animal as a sacrifice to those gods.

When Zeus looked down and saw the fires flickering, he was furious. He understood Prometheus had betrayed him. But when he breathed in the smells of those sacrifices, he calmed down. He liked this notion of a sacrifice to him, the all-powerful god.

Prometheus did not like watching his creations burning their meat as sacrifice. He worried that they had too little to waste on the gods, so he devised a plan.

He instructed the men to butcher an ox and to divide the meat into two equal portions. "Place chops and roasts in one half and bury these beneath sinews and bones. In the other half place scraps and entrails and fat."

When they had followed his instructions, Prometheus invited Zeus to earth to choose his offering, and naturally Zeus selected the half that looked better — the scraps and fat. When he realized Prometheus had tricked him and cheated the gods, he was overcome with rage.

"Now you and your creations will suffer!" he roared, and he sent for Hermes, the messenger god, to carry Prometheus to the top of the Caucasus Mountains and chain him there.

Every day an eagle swooped out of the sky and tore at Prometheus' liver, and every night his immortal liver once again grew. The next day the eagle returned, swooped down, and once again Prometheus suffered the anguish of his punishment. It was only the visits from his son, Deucalion, that gave Prometheus any joy.

Zeus had sworn to punish humans, too, and this he did — in a roundabout fashion — by creating a beautiful woman, Pandora. She was endowed with many god-given virtues, including curiosity, and Zeus sent her to Earth as a wife for Epimetheus. Epimetheus, despite warnings from his brother not to trust gifts from Zeus, accepted her, and in time, Pandora wreaked terrible havoc upon humans.

Prometheus, however, did not suffer eternally after many ages had passed. Zeus relented and allowed the great warrior, Hercules, to rescue him. Hercules killed the eagle and broke Prometheus' chains, thus freeing this great hero and friend of mankind.

Roman find on Cumbrian farm stuns visiting archaeologist

A freelance archaeologist and his wife came face to face with a chunk of unique Roman history as they walked across a Wigton farm.

Karl James Langford, 36, and his wife Lisa, 43, are over the moon with their chance discovery of a sandstone fragment which still bears part of a Roman inscription.

The couple had gone with their two children – a boy aged two and a five-month-old girl – to visit the remnant of the Maglona Roman fort near Wigton last week when Lisa spotted the stone on the ground. It had been exposed by a heavy rain storm.

Still clearly visible on the sandstone fragment – which is about the size of a tea saucer – are the Roman letters M, R and P.

Karl, 36, believes the artefact may once have spelled the name of the settlement, which was abandoned a few decades before the Romans pulled out of Britain in AD 410.

He said: “We were having a short holiday to see Hadrian’s Wall and wanted to see the Maglona Roman Ford, known locally as Old Carlisle. Lisa found the stone alongside a wall that overlooks the remains of the Roman fort.

“It would have been garrisoned by about 1,000 men who were mainly auxiliary soldiers and there to support the eastward side of Hadrian’s Wall. I feel this is quite a significant find.

“It’s impossible to know for sure but I suspect the M may have spelled out the name Maglona, and perhaps the P and the R were part of the word prefectus, [usually indicating a soldier who was the third most senior in a legion.]

“A find like this shows that important archaeological finds are not always made by people with a metal detector.

“The stone would have been inscribed at the site of the fort and it was interesting to find out that the farmer’s son there is a stonemason, doing the same kind of work today.”

Lisa, who shares Karl’s passion for history and archaeology, said: “It was pouring with rain and very, very muddy and I was walking ahead of Karl with our daughter in her carrier when I glanced down.

“I did a double take and then called Karl over, but he thought I was joking.”

Lisa said it was the second time she has made a chance archaeological find.

“When I was a teenager I dug up a vegetable patch and found a canon ball which dated from the English Civil War and the time of Cromwell. Finding the Roman stone was quite exciting.”

The couple, who were on the site with the farmer’s consent, hope to return to the Roman Fort to further explore it while Lisa would like the stone to possibly go to Tullie House Museum in Carlisle, which is due to open a new exhibition about the Roman Frontier in the summer.

The Statue of Constantine the Great in York

Constantine the Great was immortalized in bronze in 1998 in the Yorkshire city in which he was proclaimed Roman Emperor in 306 AD

A recent addition to the landscape of the city of York that testifies to the city’s ancient Roman history is a large, bronze statue of the great Roman Emperor, Constantine. It was unveiled in 1998 and stands outside the beautiful York Minster, the second largest Gothic cathedral north of the Alps. The statue was designed by Philip Jackson and represents Constantine after The Battle of the Milvian Bridge. He is sitting on his imperial throne, contemplating a broken sword in the shape of a cross: it symbolises that the battle is over, and Christianity has triumphed.

The Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD was when Constantine defeated his main rival in the West, the pagan Maxentius, and he was convinced his victory was due to Christ, as the night before the battle he had a vision of a cross against the sun with the words, 'By this sign thou shalt conquer.' Later that night in a dream he saw Christ telling him to use the sign as a safeguard in battle. In the battle the next day, his troops bore crosses and carried a Christian standard. Constantine was converted to Christianity, becoming the first Christian Roman emperor and his support for the new religion led to its becoming the main one in the Western world. Some, however, suggest that it was a political move to keep the support of the people, more and more of whom were becoming Christian.

Constantine's Legacy
Constantine, born in 272 AD near the Danube, was proclaimed Emperor in York in 306 AD following the death of his father Constantius Chlorus, who had been emperor of the Western Roman Empire, and Constantine himself became the ruler of the whole Roman world after defeating his rival Licinius in battle in AD 324. It is said that he was the son of an English mother, Helena, who was probably his father’s concubine.

Constantine introduced several new laws, including the abolition of crucifixion and Sunday trading, and declared Easter a celebratory event. He built the first St Peter's in Rome and probably a church in York, as the city had a bishop in 314 AD. He founded a new capital for the Roman empire – Constantinople, now Istanbul – and was buried there.

Roman York
The Roman name for York was Eboracum. It became one of the most important Roman cities in Britain and after 211 AD was the capital of Britannia Inferior. The city today is the county town of Yorkshire and has many Roman relics, for example in the Yorkshire museum, where there is a marble bust of Constantine

Greek Tablet May Shed Light on Early Bureaucratic Practices

Greek Tablet May Shed Light on Early Bureaucratic Practices of a distant past counts on the conqueror’s havoc, nature’s upheavals and plain human negligence to have left legacies of unintended value — like a fragment of a clay tablet bearing archaic writing from an early period of state formation in Greece, more than 3,400 years ago.

Had it not been for some inadvertence, the tablet would almost certainly have disintegrated in the rain in a year or two and scattered with the wind as so much illiterate dust. The tablet seems to be a “page” from a bookkeeper’s note pad. Not meant to be saved as a permanent record, it was not baked in a kiln , but ended up in a refuse dump, where a fire hardened the clay for posterity.

The discoverers and other specialists in Greek history said the tablet, one of the oldest known examples of writing in mainland Europe, should cast light on the political structure and bureaucratic practices near the beginning of the renowned Mycenaean period, 1600 to 1100 B.C. At its height, the culture supported the splendor of palaces at Mycenae and Pylos and inspired the heroic legend of the Trojan War, immortalized in Homer’s Iliad.

“This is a rare case where archaeology meets ancient texts and Greek myths,” Michael B. Cosmopoulos, director of the excavations, said last week in announcing the discovery.

Dr. Cosmopoulos, an archaeologist and professor of Greek studies at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, said the tablet, only 2 inches by 3 inches, was a surprise uncovered last summer in the middle of an olive grove in southwest Greece, near the modern village of Iklaina. Judging by pottery in the dump, the tablet dates to sometime from 1490 to 1390 B.C. Scholars said they had little evidence before that clay tablets were made and used to keep state records so early in Mycenaean history.

Elsewhere, the Minoans on the island of Crete were keeping records as early as 1800 B.C. in an enigmatic script that predates the Mycenaean Linear B. The earliest known writing, also presumably for bookkeeping, evolved around 3200 B.C. in the Sumerian city of Uruk, in Mesopotamia. The first Egyptian writing appeared more or less at the same time.

The Missouri team had investigated the Iklaina site for 11 years, and in the last couple of summers examined the extensive evidence of stone walls of what may have been a palace at a district capital. Some walls are decorated with frescoes showing ladies of the court and ships with dolphins cavorting in water. There are also remains of a drainage and sewer system far ahead of its time.

Previous excavations had yielded clay writing tablets from 1200 B.C., close to the approximate time of the supposed Trojan War, and some references to Iklaina as an administrative center associated with Pylos. Dr. Cosmopoulos said in an interview that the new findings appeared to show that some 200 years earlier this may have been the seat of an independent chiefdom that had already achieved a degree of literacy and political organization.

On one side, the tablet has one readable word, a verb meaning to prepare to manufacture. Along the broken edges are other characters, but not enough for scholars to make out the word or words. On the reverse side, the tablet gives a list of men’s names alongside numbers. Cynthia Shelmerdine at the University of Texas, Austin, was the first to read the writing and assess its importance.

“The fact that we have a tablet like this means that this government had scribes, and scribes are a product of bureaucracy,” Dr. Cosmopoulos said. “And this suggests some degree of political complexity and a growing need to keep track of commodities, property and taxes, all earlier than we once thought.”

Archaeologists are only beginning to consider the implications of the discovery. It suggests that political states in ancient Greece originated at least a century and a half earlier than had been documented. Iklaina may have started small and been conquered and annexed by one of the expanding powers, like Pylos, in the same region.

Dr. Cosmopoulos suggested the Iklaina palace may have been a district administrative center subject to one of the main capitals: “a two-tiered government, or a sort of quasi-federal system,” he called it.

Donald C. Haggis, an archaeologist and classics professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the tablet discovery was “really exciting and important because we don’t know much of the dynamics of these palace sites and the early phases of state formation in Greece.”

Dr. Haggis, who was familiar with the research but not a member of the team, said that nearly all that had been known of the dynamics of these government centers came from excavations in the final stages of the Mycenaean period. Now the tablet, he said, “tells us this place had an administrative function at an early stage” and the architecture of the palace “reflects authority” and “looks like a place for ritual, communal dining and production of crafts.”

What the Romans didn't do for us

The discovery that a Roman road may in fact have been made by Iron Age Britons offers a glimpse of a far more sophisticated society than previously thought

A reconstruction of the different levels of the road discovered at Bayston Hill quarry in Shropshire. Photograph: Caroline Malim/James Reed PR

It's not a question often asked, but perhaps it should be. What did the Druids do for us? The discovery of a road in Shropshire that was built by pre-Roman engineers suggests that indigenous Britons may have been much more accomplished than we – or the Romans – liked to imagine. The road itself tells the story well.

The route had long been known as a lost Roman road, named Margary No 64 after the man who first mapped what everyone assumed to be the country's earliest network. It was visible as a low earthwork and as marks in ploughed fields, and in 1995 archaeologists dug up a bit. Sure enough, it looked Roman.

But in 2009, quarrying by Tarmac was due to destroy 400m of it, giving archaeologists a rare opportunity to expose a long section of road, some of it, crucially, very well preserved. At first, it still looked Roman, from its cambered, cobbled surface on a metre of hardcore and a clay base, to the ditches at the sides with a thin scatter of Roman rubbish. However, dig director Tim Malim noticed that the road had twice been rebuilt, and knew its history could be dated using a technique that tells you when buried mineral grains were last exposed to sunlight.

The unexpected result was a more than 80% chance that the last surface had been laid before the Roman invasion in AD43. Wood in the foundation was radiocarbon-dated to the second century BC, sealing the road's pre-Roman origin. And Malim thinks a huge post that stood in 1500BC close to the crest of the hill was a trackway marker.

So, while the cobbles rattled to the sound of carts and chariots generations before the Romans invaded Britain, the route itself was older than Rome.

When the Roman army marched around its new conquest, it was not above using the road and discarding its litter. Indeed, there's every reason to believe that the Shropshire road continues north to meet Watling Street, suggesting that one of the Roman engineers' great achievements was at least in part no more than an act of resurfacing.

It is fashionable among archaeologists and ancient historians to debate how much Britain was really "Romanised". There is no consensus. But notwithstanding villas with central heating and public statues of Roman emperors, some academics portray the four centuries of Roman occupation as a mere ripple on the longer and stronger flow of native culture and politics.

But what of the reverse? Could Britain have been more "Roman" than was thought, before it was invaded? What do we find if we follow route 64 back into the past?

The road implies not just the ability to design and organise its construction, but also the justification for its cost – heavy traffic. Immediately we are outside a vision of ancient Britain where wheeled vehicles appear only in battle, as Roman writers would have it, in chaotic displays of chariotry.

Archaeological evidence is clear that long before the Roman invasion, the British landscape was well organised, with a dense network of fields and tracks. Larger settlements were towns in all but name, where homes were separated from industrial areas by streets, and functions such as mass storage and ritual had their separate places. Baths, medicines, skilled arts and crafts, perhaps even forms of currency – such things were commonplace, and can be seen evolving over millennia.

But archaeology is revealing a twist to this native sophistication, which suggests that before they were invaded, Britons were more aware of Rome than Rome was of Britain. This is seen no more clearly than in a cemetery near Colchester, Essex, excavated mostly in the 1990s at, as it happens, another Tarmac quarry.

Some very special people had been buried there. They weren't leaders, but members of the ruling class who had died between about AD40 and AD60: it's conceivable that some of them actually saw the invading Roman army, but they had grown up and learned their skills long before. There is nothing about their graves that looks in the least bit Roman. One of the men could have been a druid.

But when you look at the things the deceased took with them, you notice a striking thing: Rome. Or more specifically, precious Roman objects requiring Roman expertise. These include a beautiful blue glass jar of a type more typically found in the Mediterranean region around the time of the birth of Christ, that probably held a cosmetic. There is a pottery inkwell: did its owner write? One man took with him a large Italian wine jar and a copper jug and basin set, such as was common in Pompeii; an amber-coloured glass bowl may have been made in Italy.

And then there is "the doctor". This man had his wine jar, his imported pottery service and copper vessels. But he also had a set of surgical instruments – one of the oldest known in the ancient world. The tools are recognisably functional – scalpels, forceps, probes and more – and comparable to finds made around the Roman empire.

But they are not Roman. On current evidence, they were made in Britain to designs that merely borrowed from Greece and Italy. Buried with the surgeon's shiny tools were divining rods and a magical board game. Whether you call him a doctor or a druid, he was a local aristocrat with access to luxuries and ideas from Rome and beyond, and he had the ability to choose.

Archaeology traditionally deals in centuries; history in years. If you find something that looks Roman, you will probably call it Roman, though the dating may be too imprecise to pin down your discovery to a generation, still less a few years either side of a historical event such as a military invasion. Many things here once thought "Roman" could, in fact, be older. Shropshire's road, then, could be the start of a journey that changes the way we think about early Britain.


Somnus was the Roman god of sleep.Morpheus (his son) was the Roman god of dreams

Titus Livius

“Adversity makes men remember God,” declared Roman historian Titus Livius

Study shows 'God had a wife'

A new research claims that God had a wife.

Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou University of Exeter concludes that ancient Israelites worshipped a God and Goddess in the same temple, reports the Daily Mail.

Stavrakopoulou pursued her interest in Greek at Oxford, where she spent several years specialising in the cultural and social contexts of the Bible.

She discovered that Yahweh, the God we have come to know, had to see off a number of competitors to achieve his position as the one and only god of the ancient Israelites.

Despite Yahweh's assertion in the Ten Commandments that 'You shall have no other gods before me', it appears these gods were worshipped alongside Him, and the Bible acknowledges this.

The Bible also admits that the goddess Asherah was worshipped in Yahweh's temple in Jerusalem.

In the Book Of Kings, we're told that a statue of Asherah was housed in the temple and that female temple personnel wove ritual textiles for her. In fact, although the Bible condemns all of these practices, the biblical texts suggest that goddess worship was a thriving feature of high-status religion in Jerusalem.

According to Stavrakopoulou, the evidence within the Bible that she was worshipped in the temple in Jerusalem indicates that she might have played the role of a divine wife in ancient Israel too.

The evidence was a remarkable ceramic inscription in the Sinai desert.

The inscription was photographed and recorded by archaeologists and scholars of ancient Israelite religion, so we know what it looked like - and importantly - what it said.

The inscription is a petition for a blessing. Crucially, the inscription asks for a blessing from 'Yahweh and his Asherah' - evidence that presented Yahweh and Asherah as a divine pair.

Discovered in the Sinai in the Seventies, the real thing has since been mysteriously 'lost'. Neither the BBC team of researchers nor my academic colleagues and contacts could locate it.

Just as other deities worshipped in ancient Israel were relegated to become angels, or rejected as 'abhorrent', so too Asherah was done away with. (ANI

How the Filibuster Wrecked the Roman Senate—and Could Wreck Ours

By Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni

Have we just seen a simultaneous, mutual flip-flop on the filibuster? Democrats, many of whom spent the last two years railing against obstruction in the U.S. Senate, this winter cheered the "Wisconsin 14" for walking out on Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union bill, using quorum rules to stage a quasi-filibuster of their own. Republicans, who spent those same two years defending a passionate minority's right to obstruct, were suddenly up in arms over the Wisconsin "fleebaggers."

So are we all hypocrites now? As Matt Yglesias challenged filibuster fans : "What's so different about the US Congress that routine supermajorities are [a] good idea there but not for state legislatures?" From the other direction, Jonah Goldberg pointed out that "many of the same voices [that criticized the Senate filibuster] are celebrating the fugitive lawmakers as heroes." Nor is this the first time that the parties seem to have swapped positions: in 2005, Democrats were singing the sanctity of unlimited debate on judicial nominations, while Republicans were threatening to unleash the "nuclear option."

To be fair, each side can argue that it's been acting consistently the whole time. Liberals can fairly point out that the Wisconsin walk-out only delayed Gov. Walker's bill, but couldn't prevent a vote indefinitely; it's also true that one instance of obstruction in extraordinary circumstances is hardly the equivalent of the minority rule that has become a way of life in the U.S. Senate (with an unprecedented 275 filibuster threats in the last two Congresses). Conservatives, for their part, can claim that filibusters of judges are a more serious matter than filibusters of legislation.

Still, it's hard to shake the public impression that there's no such thing as a principled, "veil of ignorance"-style case against the filibuster -- a case that boils down to more than helping the majority enact its policy preferences. More importantly, the senators with the power to restrict the filibuster understand that today's majority is tomorrow's bystander. The most recent attempt at reform -- which would have forced would-be obstructionists to talk nonstop, rather than merely threaten to -- failed in January, in large part because Democrats could easily imagine the day (perhaps starting in 2013) when "they might soon need the filibuster themselves."

The most powerful case against the filibuster, then, wouldn't appeal to senators' self-interest as members of the majority or the minority -- it would appeal to their more lasting self-interest as legislators invested in keeping the Senate relevant. It would show how a Senate that tolerates obstruction for too long will ultimately see its influence leach away. When supermajority votes become business as usual, writes Ezra Klein , "it's bad for Congress and bad for democracy. It means power devolves from the legislature and towards unelected, unaccountable organizations."

The power-shift is already underway. After the Senate's failure to pass climate change legislation, the EPA moved to regulate greenhouse gasses on its own. With the supermajority requirement standing in the way of economic stimulus for most of 2010, the most significant attempt came from the Federal Reserve's "quantitative easing" program. Even when the Senate took last-minute action to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," it did so knowing that the courts were ready to step in with a repeal order of their own.

Whatever one thinks of the outcomes, removing decisions like those from the legislature threatens accountability in general, and threatens the institution of the Senate in particular. In fact, the struggles of our Senate are an example of a broader rule: legislatures that make obstruction a way of life tend to get bypassed.

Some of the best evidence for this comes not from the recent past but from ancient history -- history that was familiar to our classically-educated Founders. The Senate of the ancient Roman Republic was the first legislature to use the filibuster, the first to abuse it, and the first to suffer the consequences.

One Roman senator, in particular, had a special fondness for the host of obstructionist tools scattered across Rome's constitution: Cato the Younger, Rome's fiercest traditionalist and the leading voice of the optimates, the Republic's conservative elite.

His first recorded filibuster came against the state's private tax collectors. Rome, still struggling to govern an empire with tools designed for a city of a few thousand, had no permanent bureaucracy to collect taxes from its provinces. Instead, it sold the right to tax to the highest bidder. For the winning contractors, the publicani, the reward came in setting the rate as high as a province could bear, paying the treasury an agreed-upon amount, and pocketing the difference.

In 60 bce, however, Rome's eastern provinces were wrung dry by years of war and drought. The publicani found themselves in the unfamiliar position of losing money on their tax-farming contracts -- unless the contracts were renegotiated at a drastically lower rate.

So the tax collectors demanded new contracts. Because they were among Rome's most influential businessmen--and because they had the powerful backing of Crassus, Rome's richest man--most of the Senate was inclined to give in. Cato, however, refused. A contract, he insisted at great length, was a contract. If the publicani had bid too high, that was their misfortune; contracts were meant to be lived by and, if need be, suffered under.

So adamant was Cato that he declared that not only would the publicani get nothing, but he would shut down the entire Senate until they went away. In that spirit of moral purism, Cato began a months-long campaign of obstruction that would bring the Senate to the point of paralysis. Halfway through the deadlock, his fellow senator Cicero complained to a friend:

It is now three months that he has been worrying these wretched tax-collectors, who used to be great friends of his, and won't let the Senate give them an answer. So we are forced to suspend all decrees on other subjects until the tax-collectors have had an answer. For the same reason I suppose even the business of the foreign embassies will be postponed.

After six months, the publicani finally gave way. But they did not go quietly: they announced that if Cato was so set on holding them to an unjust bargain, they were no longer capable of holding up their end. They threatened to simply walk away from their contracts, and Rome's ability to raise any revenue from the provinces it had strained so hard to conquer was thrown into doubt.

From Cato's perspective, adamant obstruction had won out, and little time passed before he deployed the tactic again. His next targets were two generals Cato feared as would-be tyrants: Gnaeus Pompey and Julius Caesar. Pompey had promised his troops small farms of their own in the Italian countryside. It was their expected reward for shipping off to war; but anyone who had spent a day in Rome's teeming, stinking alleyways, straining under an influx of migrants from the country, also understood the case for land reform that could repopulate rural Italy.

The optimates, however, were suspicious of any policy that resembled redistribution--and of the popularity that would accrue to Pompey if he could deliver. Rather than risk empowering Pompey, Cato and his faction froze the Senate again, preventing a vote on the land bill. Pompey's veterans were left empty-handed.

Caesar's request of the Senate was more personal. Freshly returned from a successful campaign in Spain, Caesar wanted the right to celebrate a triumph -- the daylong spectacle in which he, as a conquering general, would be trailed through the streets in a parade of his warriors, his winnings, and his well-wishers. He also wanted to run for consul, Rome's highest elective office. But under a quirk of Roman law, a triumph could only be enjoyed by a commander officially under arms, a status Caesar would lose as soon as he entered the city for the election. Caesar asked the Senate for an exception allowing him to both triumph and run for office, and a majority seemed ready to accommodate him.

But Cato found Caesar's popularity even more threatening than Pompey's and was in no mood to make his path to power any smoother. For the third time in a year, Cato brought the Senate to a halt, seizing the floor to denounce Caesar from dawn to dusk. As it happened to be the last Senate meeting of the year, all Cato had to do was run down the hourglass for a single day -- and for a man famously able to speak at the top of his lungs for hours, it was no great difficulty.

Never before had a senator brought such a range of legislation to the same dead stop in just a matter of months. But while Cato had been implacable in the face of what he saw as corruption or budding tyranny, many of his colleagues, like Cicero, had been willing to cut deals. They understood that the Senate's authority was not a given, and they worried that the obstructive strategy personified by Cato would isolate the Senate from the Roman people and the state's most powerful men.

That, as it turns out, is precisely what happened. Caesar chose the power of a consulship over the glory of a triumph. In his first important act, he took a beefed-up version of Pompey's land reform bill before the Senate. And when the optimates promptly blocked it again, Caesar revealed his backup plan: an alliance between himself, Pompey, and the financier Crassus. Though the three had every reason to be rivals, Cato's dogged opposition helped them make common cause.

With the support of Pompey's veterans, Crassus's money, and his own political savvy, Caesar now had all the cover he needed to take the pivotal land bill directly before the Roman people. His strategy was constitutionally questionable, and it was fiercely opposed by Cato and his faction, but Caesar effectively made the case that the Senate's inaction had forced his hand. As one ancient historian observed, Caesar could now credibly claim "that he was driven forth into the popular assembly against his wishes, and was compelled to court its favor by the insolence and obstinacy of the Senate."

A turning point came when a member of Cato's faction angrily announced to the people's assembly, "You shall not have this law this year, not even if you all want it!" -- and had a bucket of manure dumped on his head for his troubles. With their opponents' intransigence exposed so starkly, Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus were able to pass bill after bill by popular vote: Pompey's veterans had their land, Crassus's tax-collecting friends had their new contracts, and Caesar was voted the command in Gaul that would cement his fame. Their alliance, the First Triumvirate, would sideline the Senate and dominate Roman politics for the better part of a decade.

Is there a lesson here for today's Senate? Cato's endless obstruction succeeded wildly for a time, but it finally empowered his rivals and fatally weakened the Senate he cherished so much. It wasn't any one filibuster that helped wreck the Senate's legitimacy. It was a pattern of obstruction that had begun to look permanent.

Our democratic norms are too strong for senators to ever fear a president governing like a Caesar. And our legislatures aren't hurt by the occasional obstruction that forces public debate on a divisive issue under extraordinary circumstances -- yet ultimately gives way, as in Wisconsin, to the majority and the next election.

But when the filibuster starts to become the rule, rather than the exception, the minority may find itself with more and more power in a Congress that matters less and less. Minority rule will ultimately mean more power for the presidency, the lawyers who draft executive orders, unelected judges, and the federal bureaucracy. Placing limits on the filibuster is the wisest course for any senator who cares about the institution's future.

There's a reason, after all, that there's no filibuster written into the Constitution. Our Founders were deeply read in classical history, and they had good reason to fear the consequences of a legislature addicted to minority rule. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist No. 22, "If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority...[the government's] situation must always savor of weakness, sometimes border upon anarchy." It was true in the time of Cato, and it's still true today.


March, originally from the Latin word Martius, named for Mars, the Roman
God of War

Dead language prompts lively debate: Senate approves ND Latin motto

BISMARCK, N.D. — Some say Latin is a dead language, but a Latin phrase prompted a lively debate in the North Dakota Senate on Friday.

Senators voted to approve a new Latin motto for the state. It is "Serit ut alteri saeclo prosit," (SARE'-it ut AL'-tur-ee CY'-cloh PRO'-sit).

In English it means, "One sows for the benefit of another age."

A group of Fargo high school Latin students lobbied for the motto. Fargo Sen. Tim Flakoll (FLAH'-kol) says it captures North Dakota's agricultural heritage.

But some senators say the Legislature has been wasting time with less important bills that offer civics lessons to students.

Hazen Sen. Randy Christmann says the job of the Legislature is to make policy.

Senators approved the Latin motto 34-10. The bill now goes to Gov. Jack Dalrymple.


daedal \DEE-duhl\, adjective:1. Complex or ingenious in form or function; intricate.2. Skillful; artistic; ingenious. 3. Rich; adorned with many things. Daedal comes from Latin daedalus, "cunningly wrought," from Greek daidalos, "skillful, cunningly created."

Third-century Roman sculptures discovered

ROME — Archaeologists have unearthed a set of six marble sculptures in Rome that likely belonged to a high-ranking official of the Roman Empire, Italy's culture ministry said Wednesday.

Led by Roberto Egidi, the group of archaeologists dug up five marble heads representing members of the Severan imperial dynasty as well as a statue of the Greek god Zeus while excavating a public site.
The figures were buried in an ancient fountain of a lavish Roman villa along the Via Anagnina street in southeast Rome.
The "extraordinary" discovery, one of the biggest and most important in recent memory in the Italian capital, sheds light on housing conditions in the suburbs during the imperial period, the ministry said in a statement.
The sculptures, which were unearthed Tuesday, will be handed over to the National Museum of Rome and will be preserved at the Diocletian Baths near Termini station where they will undergo preliminary restorations immediately.
"It may be that the last owner of the villa was a high-ranking official related to the dynasty" of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus, the statement said.
"The existence of a mausoleum dating back to the late imperial period reinforces such a hypothesis due to the ritual, common in the second and third centuries, of burying the owner next to his house," it added.
Severus ruled in 193-211 A.D, restoring stability, though not without bloodshed, to the empire after the turbulent reign of his predecessor Commodus. He founded the Severan dynasty that ended in 235 with the assassination of one of his heirs.
The digs were financed by a group of private entrepreneurs who took action after the discovery last June of other relics belonging to the sumptuous Roman country house.

Mythology sites

 iGreekMythology: There’s always something new to learn about Greek mythology, and you can do so by following this great blog.

Classical Thinking: This blog is about Greek literature and thinking at large, but the majority of posts deal with mythology.

 Classics in Contemporary Culture: Learn what role Greek myths and philosophies have in the modern world from this blog.

Tropaion: Here you’ll find discussions of Greek religion, past and present.

Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean: You’ll be able to learn about the different religions that came into play in the ancient Mediterranean through this blog.

JPHS Mrs. Zajler’s Mythology Blog: While designed for a high school class, this blog can still be a great educational resource for studying Greek mythology.

Goddess a Day: The goddesses featured on this blog aren’t always Greek, but it’s simple to find posts on those that are.