A study has recently revealed that the rapid expansion of the Roman Empire in the 1st century CE assisted the spread of tuberculosis around the world. The disease is first evidence in humans in Africa around 3000 BCE. But the spread out of Africa, of four of seven investigated genetic strains of TB, occurred during the 1st century CE. Just at the time that the Roman Empire conquered the Mediterranean basin.
The out-of-Africa spread of TB is thought to have been aided by the expanding Roman’s new transportation links – those wonderful Roman roads – as well as increased movement and exploration around the Mediterranean.
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.