Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Charon's obol

Charon's obol is a term for the coin placed in the mouth of the dead before burial. Literary sources specify the coin as an obol, and explain it as a payment for Charon, the ferryman who conveyed souls across the river that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. Examples of these coins have been called "the most famous grave goods from antiquity."

Charon and Psyche (1883) An obol was originally a small silver coin, valued at one-sixth of a drachma. After the Greek-speaking cities of the eastern Mediterranean were absorbed into the Roman empire, “obol” was used to describe any low-value bronze coin.

The custom is primarily associated with the ancient Greeks and Romans, though it is also found in the ancient Near East. In Western Europe, a similar usage of coins in burials occurs in regions inhabited by Celts of the Gallo-Roman, Hispano-Roman and Romano-British cultures, and among the Germanic peoples. In Latin, Charon’s obol is sometimes called a viaticum, which in everyday usage means "provision for a journey"

Greek and Roman literary sources from the 5th century BC through the 2nd century AD are consistent in attributing four characteristics to Charon’s obol: it is a single, low-denomination coin; it is placed in the mouth; the placement occurs at the time of death; it represents a boat fare.

Roman skull with an obol in the mouth.
In Greek mythology, Charon is the ferryman of Hades who carries souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. Those who could not pay the fee, or those whose bodies were unburied, wandered the shores for one hundred years. Charon is depicted in the art of ancient Greece, usually holding his ferryman's pole in his right hand and using his left hand to receive the dead.

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Augustus head found

Archaeologists have found a marble head of the Roman emperor Augustus in the Italian town of Isernia. The town was conquered by the Romans in 295 B.C.E. In 90 B.C.E., it was taken over by the Samnites, and then fell back into Roman control.

Monday, 3 May 2021

Legatus legionis

A legatus was a high-ranking Roman military officer in the Roman Army, equivalent to a modern general. The term was formalized under Augustus as the officer in command of a legion. From the Roman Republic, legates received a large share of the military's spoils at the end of a successful campaign. This made the position extremely lucrative, able to attract consuls or senators.
There were two main positions; the legatus legionis was an ex-praetor given command of one of Rome's elite legions. The legatus pro praetore was an ex-consul given the governorship of a Roman province. He held powers of a praetor, which in some cases included command of four or more legions. The legatus in the field would be recognized by his elaborate helmet and body armour, as well as a scarlet paludamentum (cloak) and cincticulus (a waist-band tied around the waist in a bow). A legatus legionis could order executions.

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Pregnant mummy found

A pregnant mummy has been found. "Scribe, priest of Horus-Thoth worshiped as a visiting deity in the Mount of Djeme, royal governor of the town of Petmiten, Hor-Djehuty, justified by voice, son of Padiamonemipet and lady of a house Tanetmin," the translation read.
She died just over 2,000 years ago, in the first century BCE, between the ages of 20 and 30.

Saturday, 1 May 2021


Botticelli's Birth of Venus
In Roman mythology, Venus was the goddess of love, sex, beauty, and fertility. She was the Roman counterpart to the Greek Aphrodite. The Roman Venus had many abilities beyond the Greek Aphrodite; she was a goddess of victory and even prostitution. According to Hesiod, Aphrodite was born of the foam from the sea after Saturn castrated his father Uranus and threw his genitals into the sea.

Her beauty became a source of tension among the gods, all of whom wanted to take her as wife. To calm matters, Zeus decided that Aphrodite would marry Hephaestus, the crippled smith god.
Hephaestus fashioned a magic girdle to ensure her fidelity. However, she proved unfaithful and had multiple affairs with both mortals and gods. Some of her offspring were the Cupids (Erotes) who were a collection of winged love deities who represented the different aspects of love. Images of Venus can be found in countless forms from sculptures to mosaics to shrines and even domestic murals and frescos. Venus, due to her beauty and sexual nature, was often depicted nude. Venus continued to be a popular subject matter for artists into modern times.

Friday, 30 April 2021


An abraxas is an invented word or symbol. An ancient charm word engraved on gemstones composed of seven Greek letters, which when converted to numerals, totaled 365 (the number of heavens by Gnostic sect). Abraxas is considered the Supreme Unknown in gnostic theogony and the source of 365 emanations in Persian mythology. His name is found on gems and amulets, and is associated with the word “abracadabra.”
Abrasax stones are ancient gemstones engraved with the word Abrasax, or the images of the god, or both the image and inscriptions.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Roman Solidus of Julian

This very rare solidus of Julian, in G to VF condition, was struck in Constantinople and is estimated around $2,500. Introduced in the fourth century, the solidus replaced the aureus. Roman emperor Julian, reigning from 361 to 363, is notable for being the last pagan ruler of the Roman Empire. Christian writers referred to him as “Julian the Apostate.” Toleration for Christianity turned to suppression and persecution. Pagans were openly preferred for official appointments, and Christians were expelled from the army. Motivated by a desire for military glory Julian assembled the largest Roman army (65,000 strong and backed by a fleet) ever to head a campaign against Persia. The incompent Romans were routed. During a disastrous retreat from the walls of Ctesiphon, (below modern Baghdad), Julian was wounded by a spear thrown “no one knew whence” which pierced his liver. He died the next night at age 31, having been emperor for 20 months.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Gold Aureus of Domitian

The aureus was the standard gold coin of the Romans for over three hundred years. The Julio-Claudian dynasty that Augustus founded in 27 BCE lasted until 68 CE when Nero was overthrown. After a civil war (68-69), a new dynasty took the imperial throne. It was founded by general Vespasian, the conqueror of Judaea. He would rule from 69 to 79, after which he was succeeded by his sons Titus (79-81) and Domitian (81-96).
This aureus was struck at the mint in Rome in 79 CE under Vespasian but features Domitian on the obverse as his “Caesar”. It is graded VF+/EF. It weighs 7.44 grams. Catawiki estimates that the coin will sell for between $16,442 and $18,237 USD.

Monday, 26 April 2021

The aureus

The aureus was a gold coin of ancient Rome originally valued at 25 pure silver denarii. The aureus was regularly issued from the 1st century BC to the beginning of the 4th century AD, when it was replaced by the solidus.

The aureus was about the same size as the denarius, but heavier due to the higher density of gold. Caesar began striking the coin more often, and standardized the weight at 1/40th of a Roman pound (about 8 grams).
This unique gold aureus of Augustus Caesar realized $781,675 U.S. Augustus (29 BC – 14 AD) decreed the value of the sestertius as 1/100th of an aureus. The aureus was decreased to 1/45th of a pound (7.3 g) during the reign of Nero (54–68). After the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161–180) the weight fell to 1/50th of a pound (6.5 g).
The solidus was introduced by Diocletian (284–305) around 301 AD, struck at 60 to the Roman pound (5.5 g) and with an initial value equal to 1,000 denarii. The solidus was reintroduced by Constantine I (306–337) in 312 AD, permanently replacing the aureus as the gold coin of the Roman Empire. The solidus was struck at a rate of 72 to a Roman pound of pure gold, 4.5 grams of gold. Inflation was affected by the debasement of the silver denarius, which by the mid-3rd century had practically no silver left in it.
In 301, one gold aureus was worth 833 denarii; by 324, the same aureus was worth 4,350 denarii. In 337, after Constantine converted to the solidus, one solidus was worth 275,000 denarii and finally, by 356, one solidus was worth 4,600,000 denarii.
See ----->Decline of Roman Silver Coinage

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Roman Concrete

Roman concrete, also called opus caementicium, was a material used in construction until the fading of the Roman Empire. Roman concrete was based on a hydraulic-setting cement. Two thousand years ago, Roman builders constructed vast seawalls and harbour piers. The concrete they used outlasted the empire. Half-sunken structures off the Italian coast might not sound impressive but the marvel is in the material. The harbour concrete, a mixture of volcanic ash and quicklime, has withstood the sea for two millennia and counting. It is even stronger than when it was first mixed.
Scientists subjected the concrete samples to a battery of advanced imaging techniques and spectroscopic tests. The tests revealed a rare chemical reaction, with aluminous tobermorite crystals growing out of another mineral called phillipsite.

The key ingredient proved to be seawater. As seawater percolated within the tiny cracks in the Roman concrete it reacted with the phillipsite naturally found in the volcanic rock and created the tobermorite crystals.

Microscopic image shows the lumpy calcium-aluminum-silicate-hydrate (C-A-S-H) binder material that forms when volcanic ash, lime, and seawater mix.

Caesarea Concrete Bath
The Romans mined a specific type of volcanic ash from a quarry in Italy. Modern seawalls require steel reinforcement. The Romans didn’t use steel. Their reactive concrete was more than strong enough on its own.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

Caligula Coins

The Roman Empire produced many bad emperors, but Caligula is ranked among the very worst. Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; (31 August 12 – 24 January 41 AD) was the third Roman emperor, ruling from 37 to 41 AD. The son of Germanicus and Agrippina Sr. was nicknamed Caligula, meaning "little boots," by the legions because as a child his mother dressed him in military uniforms, including little boots. Caligula’s early coinage celebrates his descent. The great-grandson of Augustus inherited none of his ancestor’s virtues and all of his vices. He murdered the reclusive Tiberius Gemellus, his co-heir, he murdered his pregnant wife, he heaped public honors upon his horse, and bankrupted Rome's treasury.
Ancient accounts of Caligula’s reign focus on his cruelty, his excesses, and his clinical insanity – an unpredictable mixture of fits, anxiety, insomnia and hallucinations. During his reign it was a crime punishable by death to look down on him as he passed by, or to mention a goat in his presence.
For a few months he was popular, succeeding the paranoid Tiberius in 37 A.D. when he was 24 years old. His reign quickly degenerated into debauchery. Caligula was sadistic, cruel and indulged in sexual aberrations that offended Rome and were considered insane. Caligula's power soon led him to believe himself a God. This drove him to kill anyone that he thought surpassed him in something.

Sestertius features the three sisters of Caligula. Appearing on the coin wasn't a good omen.
Caligula was tall, with spindly legs and a thin neck. His eyes and temples were sunken and his forehead broad and glowering. His hair was thin and he was bald on top, though he had a hairy body. He was very pale. He often claimed to hold conversations with Jupiter and to sleep with the moon goddess. He was famous for his sadism. Declaring himself a deity caused a major backlash in Judea, because Jewish law said that they could only worship their God. His refusal to revoke the decree that the nations worship him caused the revolution in Judea.
Caligula's hubris eventually destroyed him. He insulted his Roman military commanders, particularly Cassius Chaerea, who plotted against and murdered him on January 24, 41 at the Palatine Games.
In 2014 a Caligula coin appeared on 'Pawn Stars'. The coin was a silver denarius that was struck in the last 24 days of Caligula's life.

Caligula coins are rare. The hatred for Caligula ran deep. His name was erased from many public inscriptions, his statues pulled down and destroyed and his coinage recalled and melted.

Friday, 23 April 2021

The Highest Paid Athlete in History - Gaius Appuleius Diocles

Gaius Appuleius Diocles was born in 104 A.D in Lamecum, Portugal the capital city of Lusitania, province of Emerita Augusta (modern-day Mérida, Spain). His father owned a transport business and the family was well off. Diocles is believed to have started racing at the age of 18 in Ilerda.
Roman obsession with panem et circenses (bread and games) showed what the people valued most, the grain dole and chariot races in the Circus. Life expectancy of a charioteer was short. One such celebrity driver was Scorpus, who won 2,048 races before being killed when he was about 26.
Diocles survived until his retirement at age 42.
Diocles earned 35,863,120 Roman sesterces in his lifetime - a figure that would amount to about $15 billion in today's money. The number is inscribed on a monument in Rome, erected for Diocles by his fans at the end of a 24-year career. The most famous races took place at Circus Maximus, a sports arena in Rome.
Races began when the emperor dropped his napkin and ended seven laps later. Those who didn't get maimed or killed and finished in the top three won prizes.

Diocles most commonly raced four-horse chariots, and in most of his races he came from behind to win. Diocles is also notable for owning an extremely rare ducenarius, a horse that had won at least 200 races. Records show that he won 1,462 out of the 4,257 four-horse races he competed in.