Herod the Great’s Tomb May Not Be His

Herod
Wikimedia Commons

Israel is a country filled with ancient sites. One of the more popular ones to visit is the Herodium, the palace of the infamous Herod the Great, now part of a national park just outside Jerusalem. Herod was a lavish builder and created quite the crib between 23-15 BC. The historian Josephus, writing half a century after Herod’s death, says that when the king died in 4 BC, he was laid out on a gold bed in a tomb at the site.

Back in 2007, an archaeological team uncovered a tomb at Herodium and proclaimed they had found Herod’s final resting place. Ever since it’s been a popular stop for tourists who wander about the ruins of the palace, baths, and synagogue of the Jewish king who pledged allegiance to the Roman Empire.

Now another group of archaeologists say that it’s not the tomb of Herod. They say the 32×32 ft. tomb is too small for a king, especially one famous for his grandiose building projects such as the desert fortress Masada and the rebuilding of the Second Temple. Most royal tombs were larger and included coffins of marble or gold rather than the local limestone found in this structure. Royal tombs also had large courtyards in front of them so people could come pay their respects, something lacking in the Herodium tomb.The researchers suggest it was the tomb of one of Herod’s family.

Archaeologists have been quick to discover the tombs of famous people in recent years. The discoveries of the tombs of Caligula and the Apostle Philip have both been disputed. Now it appears that Herod will return to the long list of famous people for whom their final resting place remains a mystery.

Ancient ‘Toilet Paper’ Discovered In Fishbourne Roman Palace

Roman
An examination of some strange ceramic disks found at the Fishbourne Roman Palace is changing how we look at some of the most private aspects of Roman life.

Excavations at the palace in the past 50 years have uncovered dozens of pieces of broken pottery that had been deliberately shaped into flat disks. Archaeologists tentatively called them gaming pieces but were never convinced that was correct. Now a new study published in the British Medical Journal suggests they were used to wipe Roman ass crack.

Palace curator Dr. Rob Symmons said in a press release, “Obviously, we will have to think about re-classifying these objects on our catalogue and then we will look into a scientific analysis to identify any tell-tale residues that prove that these objects were used for anal cleaning. Which should be fun.”

Perhaps dip them in water and sniff?

It was already known that the Romans used sponges soaked in vinegar on the end of a stick to wash their rear ends. Ceramic disks wouldn’t have been as hygienic (or comfortable) but could have worked.

Fishbourne in West Sussex is the largest Roman villa in Britain. Built in the first century A.D., its floors were decorated with elaborate mosaics that are in a remarkable state of preservation. It’s unclear who lived there. Archaeologists have suggested either a Roman governor or a local British chieftain who threw in his lot with the conquerors. The palace burnt down around the year 270.

[Photo courtesy Fishbourne Roman Palace]

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Giant Roman Mosaic Discovered In Turkey

Roman mosaic
A team from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has discovered an impressive Roman mosaic at a little-known site in Turkey.

The 1,600-square-foot work is part of the forecourt of a Roman bath at the ancient city of Antiochia ad Cragum on the southern Turkish coast. The mosaic dates to the third or fourth centuries A.D. and archaeologists think they’ve uncovered less than half of it.

“Its large size signals, in no small part, that the outward signs of the empire were very strong in this far-flung area,” said excavation director and UNL professor Michael Hoff in a press release. “We were surprised to have found a mosaic of such size and of such caliber in this region – it’s an area that had usually been off the radar screens of most ancient historians and archeologists, and suddenly this mosaic comes into view and causes us to change our focus about what we think (the region) was like in antiquity.”

The team has been excavating the city since 2005 and has worked on a third-century imperial temple and a street lined with shops. They hope to uncover the rest of the mosiac next summer.

“This region is not well understood in terms of history and archaeology … so everything we find adds more evidence to our understanding of this area of the Roman Empire,” Hoff said.

Hopefully the mosaic will be left in situ so visitors can see it in its original setting, like the mosaics in Ephesus and Pergamon, Turkey’s most famous Classical cities.

The best collection of Roman mosaics I’ve seen is at the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano in Mérida, Spain. The Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Madrid also has a grand collection, but the museum is currently closed for renovation. The British Museum in London also has a good collection. I’m sure Rome has some great collections too, but when I visited I was so entranced with the churches, catacombs and monuments that I never made it into any of the archaeological museums!

[Photo courtesy University of Nebraska-Lincoln]

Hiking A Roman Road In England

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At first glance this looks like a muddy field with an Australian contract lawyer walking away into the middle distance. Look again, though, and you’ll notice something strange. Why is there no substantial vegetation in a big straight swath through this field?

The answer is that it’s a Roman road. Only a few inches below the soil are the original stones laid down 2,000 years ago when this was the Roman province of Britannia. This is one of many Roman roads crisscrossing the land from its southern shore all the way up to Hadrian’s Wall on the border with Scotland.

This photo shows a portion of the Roman Way, a 174-mile walk along three Roman roads in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Hampshire, and Berkshire. We walked the 22.5-mile (36-kilometer) stretch between Dorchester and Alchester.

I had visited Dorchester and its medieval abbey three years ago while hiking along the Thames Path and was happy to revisit the rare medieval wall paintings and the historic High Street lined with 17th century coaching inns. This main road running through town is actually part of the Roman road.

We followed it north and were soon out into the countryside, passing through fields and between hedgerows that were bringing forth delicious blackberries. In many spots the Roman road is clearly visible as a bank raised slightly above the surrounding land. Like in Dorchester, at times it’s still used as a road and we had to detour to keep on trails.

%Gallery-164134%The landscape is dotted with little villages. One of the first we came to as we headed north towards Oxford was Toot Baldon, where a Norman church and its overgrown graveyard of mouldering stones provides a splendid view of the surrounding countryside. Shadows of clouds made dark blots on patchwork fields while a murder of crows circled above a distant hedgerow.

We came upon another church, built in the 12th century, a couple of villages further on at Horspath. The sun shone through the brilliant stained glass to illuminate the interior with a kaleidoscope of colors. Not far beyond, we walked up onto a wooded ridge called Shotover. This was a forest in Saxon times and later became a royal hunting ground.

At the crest of the ridge we followed a clearly visible road, but it wasn’t the Roman one. Instead it was the London-Oxford coaching road and was considered a dangerous stretch. The thickets on either side of the road were infested with highwaymen who would relieve travelers of their hard-earned shillings and guineas. The highwaymen were a polite bunch and generally bid their victims a pleasant good night before riding off with their money.

From Shotover we got another fine view, this time to the north and west, where we saw the fringes of southern Oxford and a pair of hills called Mother Dunch’s Buttocks, named after a lady of the local manor from the 17th century. Heading down the slope at the far end of Shotover, we entered the C.S. Lewis Nature reserve, a bit of wild land with a pond that are said to have inspired the famous author to invent Narnia. His house is nearby.

Within a few minutes we were at Oxford Park and Ride, mainly used for commuters but also a good starting-off point for both legs of this hike. Heading north from there ran the second part of our trail. For a time it skirted the eastern edge of town but soon we were walking through fields and past centuries-old thatched farmhouses. After a long stretch we came to Beckley, where we took shelter from a sudden downpour in the Abingdon Arms, a local pub. A pint later, we ventured out to visit the local church, yet another Norman structure. This one rebuilt in the 14th and 15th centuries and decorated inside with paintings of Biblical scenes.

Beyond Beckley lies Otmoor, a large fenland and nature reserve. A nearby Ministry of Defense shooting range keeps anyone from thinking of building on it! There was no shooting the day we went and ll wee heard was birdsong back by deep silence. There are several blinds scattered about for people interested in birdwatching. The rain made this part of the hike very squishy. Anyone hiking in the UK should definitely wear good water-resistant boots.

Not far from here some locals discovered the wooden pilings of a Roman bridge, and we saw more Roman remains stuck in the wall of the church at Merton, where the builders mixed local stone with Roman tiles scavenged from the nearby Roman fort of Alchester. The church is dedicated to St. Swithun, whose remains were moved here from the cathedral at Winchester in 971. His spirit disapproved of the move and caused it to rain for 40 days.

Some more plodding through mud and rain (thankfully not of the 40-day kind) brought us to Bicester, once a Roman town and now engulfed in a shopping center. This jarring intrusion of the modern world into a historical hike killed the atmosphere and we quickly caught a bus back to Oxford where we could enjoy a celebratory whiskey.

For a guidebook we used “The Roman Way” by Elaine Steane. The directions are clear and are aided by strips of Ordnance Survey maps for the areas the path passes through. There are also some notes on the history and nature of the region, although you’ll probably want to do some more background reading before heading out. To include everything of interest would have required a book that would be too heavy to carry!

Growing Number Of Tourists Stealing Artifacts In Rome, Italy

cobbelstone For those who love admiring ancient artifacts, you may want to visit Rome while they’re still there. According to police, there has been an outbreak of tourists stealing mosaic pieces, marble mile markers, cobblestones and other pieces of the city’s history.

Luckily, airport security has been vigilant and is on the lookout for the items. In fact, they’ve been able to return a large amount of artifacts stolen in the last six months. Moreover, they’re finding the majority of the thieves are travelers coming from Britain and northern Europe. These people are not arrested, but instead given a stern warning.

Says Police Chief Antonio Del Greco, “I can understand the legend and splendor that is Rome but that does not mean bits of it should be stolen … If they want a souvenir of their visit then they should buy something from a shop.”

[photo via agoodfella]