Monday, February 05, 2007

Roman Roundup - Gladiators, Gauls, and the Legendary Birth of Rome

A series of discoveries from Roman archaeology

In Rome, excavation has supposedly uncovered the Lupercale, the legendary origin cave of the Eternal City. It was turned into a shrine, and included by Rome's first Emperor Augustus in his private household. As a Mesoamericanist, I find the parallels to Teotihuacan to be extraordinary. That city was also the biggest in its region, an imperial capitol, and it was founded from a cave. In the case of Teotihuacan, which is a late contemporary of Classical Rome, a massive pyramid was built over the cave. The cave may be at least partially natural, but it was artificially modifed, and came to serve as the orientation for the grid network of streets and residential compounds.

Not far away from Lupercale, the treasure of the last Pre-Christian Roman Emperor has been found. Hidden before Constantine defeated Maxentius at Milvian Bridge, the insignias, weapons, and glasswork is a reminder of a major historical shift in Roman and European history.

A Roman-British Colosseum in Chester was much smaller than the famous ampitheatre in Rome, but it may have otherwise been a close copy. The exterior would have looked very similar to the Roman original. Inside, archaeologists have found bits of weapony and skeletal fragments, in accordance with historical accounts of Roman gladiatoral combat and sacrifice. This kind of brutality is on display in carvings recovered by Italian police during a raid on a looter's warehouse.

Roman entertainment of another sort is now on display, as a famous brothel in Pompeii has been restored and re-opened as a museum exhibit (not an operational brothel).

Back on the frontier, a French Roman-era cemetery is puzzling experts. The burial patterns do not appear to be Roman, but are reminiscent of pre-Roman religious practices. The problem? The remains are centuries younger than the Roman conquest of Gaul. Could these practices have continued literally underground or been resurrected (really, I'm not trying to pun here, it's just happening)? Or is there another answer?

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