A clay tablet, found near the ruined Temple of Zeus in the ancient city of Olympia, Greece, could be the oldest written record of The Odyssey. The tablet was uncovered by archaeologists and tentatively dated to the Roman-era 200s CE.
It is engraved with 13 verses from the Odyssey’s fourteenth book,
in which Odysseus speaks to his lifelong friend Eumaeus, the first person he sees on his return from his decade away from home.
An international team of archaeologists and geneticists have compared the genomes obtained from 28 grape pips, discovered at nine archaeological sites in France, the oldest pip dating to some 2,500 years ago. These genomes were then compared to a modern grape DNA database. One grape seed, unearthed at a medieval site in the center of France and dated to around 1100 CE, was found to have DNA identical to Savagnin Blanc. That’s the grape used to produce a wine known in France as Vin Jaune, and in Central Europe as Traminer. The lineage of this one grape has been maintained for 900 years!
The study also found that humagne blanche, a white grape grown in the Swiss Alps, is related to grapes grown by the Romans in southern France. It confirms stories of the Romans bringing grapes and wine into Switzerland.
Did you know that the Byzantine Empire sometimes had two emperors? This was an old tradition dating back to Roman Emperor Diocletian in the late 200s CE, who created a system of four emperors, two senior emperors and two junior emperors. Byzantine co-emperors go back to at least the 400s CE with Leo II crowning his father Zeno co-emperor and promptly dying, making Zeno sole ruler. Not exactly off to a good start. But the co-emperor tradition continued. By the 900s it was common enough that there were distinct terms for the junior co-emperor (basileus) and senior co-emperor (autokratōr or occasionally megas basileus).
One of the more interesting co-emperors had not one co-ruler but four! Romanos I Lekapenos, an Armenian who became a major Byzantine naval commander, seized the royal palace and the reins of government in 919. In March he married his daughter to the reigning emperor, fifteen-year-old Constantine VII. In September Romanos decided that was not enough and had himself crowned co-emperor with his own made-up term for equal emperors “Caesar,” before finally, in December, naming himself the senior co-emperor or autokratōr
Romanos eventually crowned his own sons co-emperors: Christopher in 921, Stephen and Constantine in 924. For the time being, Constantine VII was regarded as first in rank after Romanos himself, Augustus to his Caesar. For his kindness to the man he deposed, Romanos I Lekapenos was given the nickname “the gentle usurper.”
In 29 CE, the worst sports disaster in the history of the world took place. In Fidenae, a town 8 miles north of Rome, a cheap, wooden gladiator amphitheater collapsed killing about 20,000 people.
In response the Roman Senate banished the builder of the stadium, and passed building regulations for arenas to prevent future disasters, requiring that new stadiums had to be inspected and certified by the state as safe.
Just to make really sure no one would be building cheap, collapsible stadiums, they also banned anyone with a fortune of less than 400,000 sesterces from building amphitheaters. That translates to between 630,000 and 2,400,000 USD today. Yes, it is a really wide margin, I know. Converting ancient commodity currency to modern fiat currency is hard, guys.
An early first-century CE horse head, once part of a Roman statue of Emperor Augustus, was discovered near Frankfurt, Germany in 2009. The 28-pound gilded bronze horse head, plus artifacts found near it, provide more information about the relationship between the Roman Empire and its northern “barbarian” Germanic neighbors.
They indicate there was a Roman civilian village or town nearby. Before the finds, historians thought Rome intended to subdue the area with military force. The horsehead and related finds suggest, instead, that the Romans set up non-military settlements nearby, and were actively trading with the Germanic tribes for a number of years.
The Turkish national flag is mostly red, with a white star and a crescent in the center. Ottoman Sultan Selim III formalized the look in 1793, but the flag is actually much older.
The crescent-and-star combination has been used in Turkey since Hellenistic times (400s to 100 BCE). It likely came from ancient Mesopotamian iconocraphy. Ancient depictions of the symbol always show the crescent with horns pointing upward and with the star placed inside the crescent, for reasons that have been lost to time. When it came to Turkey, they gave it their own meanings. For Byzantium the moon symbolized Diana, also known as Artemis, the patron goddess of the city.
In 1453, when the city was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, the flag remained unchanged. With time, it became not just Istanbul’s flag but the Ottoman flag, with its design formalized in 1793 and its status as national flag formalized in 1844. Turks affectionately call the flag “ay yildiz” – the “moon star” flag.
Many nations that were once part of Ottoman Empire adopted the star-and-crescent when they gained independence, including Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. In the 1900s the symbol became associated with not just the Ottomans, but with Islam in general, and many states that were never part of the Ottoman Empire adopted it too, including Pakistan, Malaysia, and the Maldives. Pretty amazing that an ancient Mesopotamian symbol is flown around the world today.