“Visigothic Belt Buckle”
A brightly decorated belt buckle inlaid with precious stones. Probably worn by a woman of high status.
Crafted out of copper with inlaid garnet, glass, and lapis lazuli.
Made in the late 6th century in Visigothic Spain. Currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum.
Map showing the various barbarian kingdoms established after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire
c 526 AD
No more glory for Rome
Between 400 and 500 AD, the population of Rome dropped from a half million residents to less than 50,000.
When the Visigoths besieged Rome in 410AD, they offered freedom to any slave who would leave the city. Those slaves, as it turned out, were a sizable portion of the city’s population. Later in that century, the Vandals impeded Rome’s grain shipments from Egypt, reducing the city’s food supply.
“Relief of the Liberation of a Besieged City”
A wooden relief (perhaps a wall decoration) of the driving-off of barbarian invaders from an abstracted fortified city by a Christian army. The enlarged figures at the top of the walls are probably protective saints, while the figures held against the bottom of the walls are probably executed enemies.
Carved out of dark wood.
Made in the fifth century at El Ashmunein in Byzantine Egypt. In the tradition of Roman battle reliefs. Currently held at the Bode Museum in Berlin.
A map of the Late Roman Empire. Buildings mark major cities and sites. Rome, Antioch, and Constantinople are marked by enthroned figures. Forests, mountains, and water are signified. Places that no longer existed by the 5th century, such as Pompeii, are still labelled. Due to the map’s geographical distortion, it may have been used as a way to quantify and glorify their Empire rather than for practical navigation.
Ink and pigment on a seven meter parchment scroll. Copied in the 1200s by a German monk.
Designed in the 400s; an isolated example of Late Roman cartography. After being discovered by Renaissance humanists, the map bounced around Europe then was purchased by the Hapsburg imperial court. It is currently held in the National Library of Austria.
“The Trier Procession Ivory”
A relief panel from a reliquary depicting the procession of a relic shrine through a city to a church. The relic shrine is held by two priests, and an Empress (possibly Helena) greets the procession in front of the church, which is still under construction. Crowds of onlookers line the street to view the spectacle. The cityscape is notable compact in scale.
Carved out of ivory.
Made in the fifth century at Constantinople. Possibly a representation of Trier, with the Porta Nigra in the background. Currently held at the Trier Cathedral Treasury.
Ancient Roman Nanotechnology —- The Lycurgus Cup
In the 1950’s the British Museum acquired one of the most amazing archaeological finds from Ancient Rome. The Lycurgus Cup is a beautiful 1,600 year old goblet crafted from glass by the Ancient Romans. The cup depicts the punishment of Lycurgus, a mythical king who was ensnared in vines for committing evil acts against the Greek god Dionysus. The craftsmanship and artwork of the cup are certainly amazing on their own. During the age of the Roman Empire the Romans were master glassmakers, producing some of the finest pieces of glassware in history. However the Lycurgus cup has one incredible property that is goes far beyond traditional glassmaking. When exposed to light, the cup turns from jade green into a bright, glowing red color. For decades historians, archaeologists, and scientists had no idea why this occurred or how the Romans made the cup with such light changing properties. Then in 1990 a small fragment of the cup was examined by scientists under a microscope. What they discovered is truly amazing.
The Lycurgus cup is not only made of glass, but is impregnated with thousands of small particles of gold and silver. Each of the gold and silver particles are less than 50 nano-meters in diameter, less than one-one thousandth the size of a grain of table salt. When the cup is hit with light, electrons belonging to the metal flecks vibrate in ways that alter the color depending on the observer’s position. What is even more amazing is that the addition of the particles to the glass was no accident or coincidence. The Romans would have had to have known the exact mixture and density of particles needed to give the cup light changing properties. This would have been done without the aid of a microscope, without the knowledge of atomic theory, and 1,300 years before Newton’s Theory of Colors.
Today the Lycurgus Cup has profound affects on modern nanotechnology. After studying the cup, researchers and engineers are looking to adapt the technology for modern purposes. A researcher from the University of Illinois named Gong Gang Liu is currently working on a device which uses the same technology to diagnose disease. Another application of the technology is a possible device which can detect dangerous materials being smuggled onto airplanes by terrorists.
The legacy of Ancient Rome continues. Arena’s, baths, arches, and nanotechnology.
Attila the Hun
Flagelum Dei = The Scourge of God
Views of the ancient Forum in Rome, Italy, from Detroit Publishing Company, circa 1905. (Library of Congress)
Rome - Ancient Supercity
Trajan Decius, AE Double Sestertius. 249-251 CE (Cohen 39)
Obverse: IMP C M Q TRAIANVS DECIVS AVG, radiate cuirassed bust right
Reverse: FELICITAS SAECVLI S-C, Felicitas standing left with long caduceus & cornucopiae.
The double sestertius was a denomination first introduced by Trajan Decius, who was emperor from 249-251 during the turbulent years of the 3rd century CE. The issue was an attempt to curb inflation following rapid debasement of Rome’s silver coins. The regular sestertius had lost buying power in the market, and had shrunk from its original size, thereby requiring an attempted return to a higher standard. In fact, the double sestertius was roughly the same size and weight as the original, single sestertius, and they did not last long.
The radiate crown on Trajan Decius’ head was used in later times as a mark of the semi-divinity of emperors but at this time was used to signify that this was a double issue, rather than a single, which would have shown the portrait without a crown. The figure of Felicitas (happiness or perhaps good fortune) no doubt is meant to symbolize prosperity and an optimism that Decius’ short reign was not to fulfill. Decius is primarily known for his persecution of the Christians, and if his actions had not been of interest to later Christian authors, it is likely that we would only have the coins and the record of his baths in Rome (once on the Aventine, but destroyed in the 16th century) to remember him by.
A remarkably preserved Roman coffin, and a child’s shoe found within it. Excavated by Wessex Archaeology at Boscombe Down, Wiltshire, England.
This burial is the earliest in its cemetery, and dates to around 220 AD. Later burials are clustered around it.
When the archaeologists lifted the lid of this stone coffin, they were surprised to find that it had not been filled with soil. Instead was the skeleton of a woman cradling in her arms a young child. Check out this video if you’re interested in seeing the part of the excavation.
Of the items in the coffin, the child’s leather shoe (pictured) survived. Laces that strapped the shoe can be clearly seen, as well as the holes for stitching the shoe together. The woman’s deer skin slippers also survived.
"The preservation of the shoes is remarkable. Because the processes of decay were quite slow we also have traces of cloth that have been preserved by a chemical reaction with the metal bangle. We even have traces of the puparia from which the coffin flies that infested the body hatched. Squeamish but fascinating!"
-Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick of Wessex Archaeology
Photos courtesy Wessex Archaeology.
The triumph of Shapur I over the Roman Emperor Valerian, Naqsh-e Rustam, Iran (©Bruno Barbey/Magnum Photos, 1976)
Shapur I (215-270 AD) was the second Shahnshah (King of Kings) of Iran (Persia) from the Sassanid Dynasty. The Persian army under his command defeated and captured the Roman Emperor Valerian and much of his army in the battle of Edessa.
Temple of Adonis, Faqra, Lebanon
It is believed that Romans used Faqra as a signal post to communicate via fire signals over the Lebanese mountains from the coast to Baalbeck or Heliopolis.
The Temple of Adonis dates from the 3rd century AD. Its facade has six Corinthian columns and the sanctuary is partially built into the rocks. It was destroyed during the civil war (1975-1990) and some of its stones were stolen. The ruins are not far from the modern ski resort of Mzaar Kfardebian, about an hour from Beirut.