Wednesday, March 22, 2017

You Never Know What You’ll Find Down the Rabbit Hole! Were the Spooky Caynton Caves a Secret Templar Sanctuary?

Ancient Origins

There is a fascinating and creepy underground sanctuary located in Shropshire, England known as the Caynton Caves. Allegedly linked to the famous Knights Templars and black magic rituals, legends say the caves date back 700 years. But finding the spooky caves isn’t the easiest of tasks. It all begins with going down the right rabbit hole…

 Although the caves are less than a meter below surface, you may not have the easiest of times if you decide to go looking for them. Michael Scott, from Birmingham, recently decided to search them out and photograph them. He told BBC News "I traipsed over a field to find it, but if you didn't know it was there you would just walk right past it.”

Entrance to the Caynton Caves/Grotto. (Richard Law/CC BY SA 2.0)

Perhaps this secret spot was chosen for a reason. One of the most popular local legends says that the sandstone caves were carved by Knights Templars looking for a place to worship without persecution.

The Templars was one of the most renowned military orders during the Middle Ages. The source of their fame came not only from their prowess on the battlefield, but also from the wealth they amassed during the Crusades. The Knights Templars were founded around 1118-1119 in Jerusalem by the French knight Hugh des Payens. Often regarded as a “secret society” the Templars have been linked to many mysteries, treasures, and important religious relics lost throughout the ages, such as the Holy Grail, Ark of the Covenant, and the Shroud of Turin.

Composite image of members of the Knights Templar (Public Domain) and a treasure pile. (CC BY SA 2.0)

But the Templars weren’t the only ones to allegedly use the Caynton Caves, Dominic Wass, an urban artist who has a workshop nearby, told UK Urban Exploration some other stories about others using (or perhaps creating) the site. These range from a landowner illegally keeping 60 slaves at the site, to an eccentric wealthy family from the 1850s thinking it would just be great fun to have such a spooky place.

 When you find the cave entrance, BBC News says that you enter a tunnel which leads you to “a network of walkways and arches carved out of sandstone, as well as a font.” Some of the areas of the cave are so cramped that you’d have to crawl on your hands and knees to pass through. The cave walls depict mystic sigils (seals), mixed with more modern graffiti.

Photos inside the Caynton Caves. (UK Urban Exploration)

 Mr. Scott described his experience inside the Caynton Caves for BBC News, saying “I had to crouch down and once I was in it was completely silent. There were a few spiders in there but that was it. It was raining so the slope down was quite sludgy but inside the cave was bone dry.”

Recent tales suggest that local cults have chosen the out-of-the-way location for black magic and other rituals. Modern (and possibly ancient?) Druids have also been connected to the Caynton Caves. UK Urban Exploration suggests that the landowners had been mostly accommodating to the sects, good or evil, if they asked permission to use the site - and took good care of it.

But some of the more sinister ceremonies, and a lack of respect for the Caynton Caves, led local residents to close up the site a few years ago. Nonetheless, wrought iron gates, barbed wire, brambles, a large mastiff, and CCTV haven’t been enough to keep some people away.

Candles and litter scattered about a passageway in the Caynton Caves. (Richard Law/CC BY SA 2.0)

 Now, the Shropshire Star say there are rumors going around that the creepy Caynton caves have been re-opened, however, this has not yet been confirmed by the landowners.

Photo inside the Caynton Caves. (UK Urban Exploration)

Top Image: Recent photos of the candle-lit Caynton Caves. Source: Shropshire Star

By Alicia McDermott

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Could This Be the Most Expensive Flowerpot in England? $364,000 Roman Sarcophagus Was a Garden Ornament

Ancient Origins

An ancient Roman sarcophagus worth up to 345,000 Euros ($364,000) has been found in England. The precious marble coffin was discovered on the grounds of Blenheim Palace, a monumental country house situated in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, where it was used as a flowerpot for almost a century.

 The Roman Sarcophagus was Discovered Coincidentally
 What could be described as an unfortunate case of mistaken identity, the newly acknowledged Roman artifact of immense archaeological and historical significance, served as a humble flowerpot for the past 100 years in the rock garden of Sir Winston Churchill's birthplace in Oxfordshire.

Blenheim Palace, where the Roman sarcophagus was found. (CC BY 2.0)

Before that, the valuable sarcophagus was obtained and used during the 19th century as a garden ornament (a type of fountain) by the fifth Duke of Marlborough, who was famous for his impressive collection of antiquities. Palace officials decided to better examine the almost two meters (6’6ft) long artifact at the suggestion of an antiques expert, who was impressed by the object’s ornate carvings. Ironically, his visit was unrelated to the Roman marble coffin, which he noticed coincidentally.

 Kate Ballenger, house manager at the palace, told Daily Mail:

“We were alerted to the sarcophagus' importance by an antiques expert who was visiting the estate. We always thought it was a beautiful sculpture but we were not aware of the fact is was a Roman sarcophagus dating back to 300 AD. First an elaborate water feature and then a planter for flowers, it has now been conserved and relocated inside the palace. We are delighted to have it back and the restoration work is very impressive. Now it is in a consistent indoor climate away from the natural elements we are hoping it will remain in good condition and survive for many more centuries to come.”

A person visiting Blenheim Palace in 2010 noted that the flowerbed looked like a Roman sarcophagus. Courtesy of TripAdvisor.

The Sarcophagus’ Impressive Carvings Depict a Dionysian Party
After conservators removed the front marble section, which is the genuine part, and carried out a detailed examination they were shocked to identify the basin as a white marble sarcophagus portraying lively and noisy Dionysian festivities, dating back to 300 AD. To be more specific, the impressive carvings depict a dissipated Dionysus, leaning on an equally intoxicated woodland satyr. 

The pair are surrounded by other partygoers including Heracles and Ariadne, as well as two large lion heads. Fortunately, the sarcophagus appears to be in great shape, despite being exposed to natural elements for nearly two hundred years. Nicholas Banfield, of Cliveden Conservation of Taplow, Berks, who has supervised the restoration, told Daily Mail: “The piece is actually in remarkable condition considering it has withstood seemingly aggressive environments, particularly that of a fountain receptacle.”

Example of a marble Roman sarcophagus depicting the ‘Triumph of Dionysos and the Seasons.’ (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Not the First Time a Sarcophagus was Used as a Flowerpot This is not the first time such a valuable and historic artifact was used as a flowerpot. In 2013, auctioneer Guy Schwinge sold a similar sarcophagus for 115,000 Euros ($121k) after finding it being used as a plant trough. He claims that this sarcophagus could be worth three times that price and apparently, Mr. Schwinge, of Duke's Auctioneers of Dorchester, Dorset, seems to agree with Schwinge’s predictions. He tells Daily Mail,

“The quality of this sarcophagus panel suggests it was made in Rome for a high status member of the patrician elite. The overall form and Dionysian carving suggest a date late in the late 2nd century and the lion's masks are a clear expression of Roman Imperial power. At auction a panel of this sophistication could easily realize £300,000 or more with the Blenheim Palace provenance.”

The sarcophagus has now been positioned on public display in an underground room in Blenheim Palace.

After restoration work, the Roman sarcophagus is very impressive. (Blenheim Palace)

Top Image: A Roman sarcophagus that was once used as a garden ornament is now restored and displayed in Blenheim Palace. Source: Blenheim Palace

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Monday, March 20, 2017

When beans were the food of lust

History Extra

Illustration by Clair Rossiter

The London Cuckold, a ballad printed between c1685 and 1688, describes a man who takes leave of his “witty Wife” to “behold the glory” of the army on campaign at nearby Hounslow Heath. On his return, unaware that his wife has been unfaithful, he is lavished with attention:

 “When he came home she gave him Kisses, and Sack-Posset very good, Caudles too, she never misses, for they warm and heat the Blood Such things wilt create desire, And new kindle Cupid’s Fire; These things made him kiss his Wife, And to call her Love and Life.”

 It’s an amusing image: the guilty wife feeding her cuckolded husband with treats intended to “kindle Cupid’s fire” – stoke amorous affection and increase arousal – to make him enamoured anew and even, perhaps, more sexually appealing. But it’s her choice of foods that is most interesting: a taste of the diverse range of putative aphrodisiacs in early modern England.

 Caudle, a warm drink of thin gruel mixed with wine or ale and sweetened or spiced, was believed to be arousing, as was sweet-posset, another mildly alcoholic confection. But the array of aphrodisiacs also included some surprises. Along with produce from kitchen garden and hedgerow (such as parsnips, carrots and nettles), warming spices including cinnamon, anise seed and coriander were high on the list. So were birds like pheasants and sparrows, as well as animal genitalia – the pizzle (penis) and testicles of bulls, boars, goats and stags. Yet, perhaps most surprising was the belief that flatulent foods such as beans and pulses increased libido.

 For early modern men and women, though, these foods were more than just sexual curiosities. They were inherently understood to be treatments for infertility, not just stimulants for increasing arousal.

 This understanding drew upon the medical idea that sexual desire and pleasure were fundamental to fertility – without them, conception was unlikely to occur, not least because men and women would be less likely to engage in intercourse. As the early 18th-century surgeon and medical writer John Marten argued: “God Almighty has…endured each [sex] with natural Instincts, prompting them to the use thereof with desire, in order to perpetuate the Species, by producing new Creatures to supply the room of those who are gone; without which desire, what rational Creature would have taken delight in so filthy, so contemptible and base thing as Venery [sexual intercourse] is?”

 Windy meats
Aphrodisiacs were believed to act in several different ways. They could heat the body; they could provide nutrition for the production of seed (sperm); and they could provide salt, to make the seed more titillating. Pulses, beans and other flatulent foods were thought to mainly affect men, and to function by creating wind and inflating the body.

 Angus McLaren, a historian of reproduction, noted that in the early modern period men were frequently recommended flatulent foods such as apples to stimulate lust. Audrey Eccles, in her work on Tudor and Stuart obstetrics and gynaecology, identified these as a category of stimulants widely known as ‘windy meats’.

 Medical authors of this era explained that erection of the male genitalia was caused by a combination of factors: blood, imagination, muscles, pressure, seed and wind. Helkiah Crooke’s 1616 book, Mikrokosmographia: A Description of the Body of Man, vividly invoked the roles of blood, spirits and wind in this process: “When as in venerious appetites, the bloud & the spirits do in great quantity assemble themselves out of the veines and arteries, that member is as it were a gutte filled with winde, presently swelling and growing hard.”

 Though Crooke used wind as a metaphor for the biological processes occurring during arousal, he also noted later in his treatise that “the efficient cause [of an erection] is heate, spirites and winde, which fill and distend” the hollow parts of the penis. Medical writers agreed that foods releasing wind into the body enabled men to get and sustain an erection.

 This was important not just for the act itself, but also for ensuring that impregnation resulted. Medical doctrine explained that male seed was potent and fertile because it was hot, as well as being spirituous and salty. The heat of the seed was maintained during intercourse because it remained insulated inside the man’s body until it was placed directly into the womb or neck of the womb.

 As Alessandro Massaria’s medical book for women from the turn of the 17th century explained: “Another cause of barrenness, by the defect of the yard [penis], is too much weakness and tenderness thereof, so that it is not strongly enough erected, to inject the seed into the womb; for the strength and stiffness of the yard, very much conduces to conception, by reason of the forcible injection of the humane seed into the womb.”

 In other words, more wind meant a stiffer erection, more direct placement of seed and a better chance of conception.

 Wind also made seed more stimulating and more potent. Medical writers asserted that seed titillated and irritated the sensitive skin of the reproductive organs as it passed through them, causing arousal.

 And in his Secret Miracles of Nature (1559), Lævinus Lemnius explained that seed was made from the “windy superfluity of blood” and that foods that “will make men lusty” should create “plenty of seed, and a force of a flatulent spirit, whereby the seed may be driven forth into the Matrix [womb].” So wind enhanced both the amount and potency of the seed and the function of the male reproductive organs.

 Unlike categories of aphrodisiacs recommended for consumption by both men and women, these ‘windy meats’ were promoted only for men. In fact, wind and flatulence were thought to be particularly damaging to women.

 Philip Barrough’s 16th-century medical treatise warned that “windinesse ingendered in the wombe, doth let the fertilitie or conception, & causeth barennesse”. Jane Sharp, 17th-century author of the first female-authored midwifery manual, suggested that women should take juniper berries every morning to prevent wind from collecting in the womb and damaging fertility.

 Beans and pulses, particularly chickpeas, were among a host of foods identified by early modern medical authors as ‘windy meats’. Barrough, for example, argued that when a man could not fulfil his marital duties (sexually satisfy his wife and make her a mother) “windie meates are good for him, as be chiche peason, beanes, scallions [onions], leekes, the roote and seed of persneppes, pine nuttus, sweet almonds… and other such like”.

 The English translation of Jacques Ferrand’s 1623 treatise Erotomania similarly listed various foods he believed would, through their heat and flatulence, provoke lust, including soft eggs, pine nuts, pistachios, carrots, parsnips, onions, oysters, chestnuts and chickpeas.

 Herbals produced by botanical writers offered similar ideas. John Parkinson’s Theatrum Botanicum of 1640 stated that: “Cicers [chickpeas], as Galen saith, are no lesse windy meate than Beanes, but yet nourish more, they provoke venery, and is thought to increase sperme.”

 Another flatulent food described by botanical treatises as an aphrodisiac was the aubergine, or ‘mad apple’. “They breed much windinesse, and thereby peradventure bodily lust,” commented Parkinson. Likewise, William Salmon wrote in the early 18th century that “they yield but little Nourishment, and breed much Wind, whereby ’tis possible they may provoke Bodily Lust”.

 Thunder but no rain
However, not all medical writers agreed that ‘windy meats’ boosted fertility. Even Lemnius stated that: “Some of our lascivious women will say, that such men that trouble their wives to no purpose, do thunder, but there follows no rain, they do not water the inward ground of the matrix. They have their veins puffed up with wind, but there wants seed.”

 This insinuated that wind, though allowing men to engage in sexual activity, did not enhance the quality of a man’s seed and, thus, did not improve fertility.

 Similarly, a late 17th‑century medical tract by Swiss physician Théophile Bonet confidently dismissed windy meats, stating: “It is commonly reported of Aphrodisiacks, that Flatus or wind is necessary to Venery: but though in Boys erection or distension of the Penis may seem from Flatus, and these may concur by accident, yet they cannot nor ought not to be reckoned among Aphrodisiacks; those things indeed that excite the Spirits stir up Venery, and so make the Seed turgid, but so do not those things that breed or excite wind.”

 Bonet, again, did not discount the idea that wind could cause the penis to swell, but observed that ‘windy meats’ did not improve the quality of a man’s seed, so did not deserve to be classified as sexual stimulants.

 These criticisms became more common as the period progressed and, by the 18th century, windy meats had lost their prestige. New understandings of the anatomy of the penis revealed that wind did not inflate the penis or enhance male potency and attention shifted to the role muscles and blood flow played in sexual abilities.

 Jennifer Evans is a historian at the University of Hertfordshire, with a special interest in medicine and sexual health in early modern Britain.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Violent Water and Filth? People Fought Dirty in the Medieval Streets of Aberdeen, Scotland

Ancient Origins

City of Aberdeen, Scotland Medieval records show people took fighting dirty to a whole new level as they may have been throwing urine and feces at one another during arguments. Newly discovered documents say the city’s residents threw “watter and filtht” and “violent water or filth” at each other. 

The burgh documents were lost for more than 200 years, until Jack Armstrong of the University of Aberdeen found them. Water was a synonym for urine back then.

Another professor at the university, Edda Frankot, told The Evening Express: “History in the past has often been of kings and nobles. These urban sources are special as they show us the fights of normal people – anybody can get into a fight.”

 And they certainly did fight. For example, Canny Leis was convicted on October 31, 1491 of throwing filth at David Theman, the Evening Express says. She got a warning that if she repeated such behavior she would be required to pay a fine that would be given to St. Nicholas Kirk (Church)

The former Kirk (Church) of St. Nicholas in Aberdeen was a site of much sad history during the Great Witch Hunt of 1596-1597. (AberdeenBill/CC BY SA 3.0)

The disgusting fights didn’t just happen in the streets either. Also in 1491, the wife of John Chalmers was charged with throwing filth about the house.

And in October 1494 Robert Kintor was found guilty of “distrubling” an officer of the court named Philip Dubrek. The authorities warned him he’d be fined if he threw “such violent water or filth” from his home again.

Researchers believe the altercations happened in pubs or between neighbors. As researcher Claire Hawes told the Evening Express: “The buckets would have been used as toilets, that’s what we think.”

But the fighting wasn’t just about feces flinging, there is also a recorded dispute between Scotland’s King James I and Highland clan chiefs.

"MacNab". A plate illustrated by R. R. McIan, from James Logan's The Clans of the Scottish Highlands, published in 1845. (Public Domain) The Aberdeen documents record a dispute between Scotland’s King James I and Highland clan chiefs.

 On a completely different topic, there is mention of Aberdeen’s fine salmon fishing in the Mediterranean area too.

Even with these bizarre tales from the past, the archives of Aberdeen’s early council documents have been called a national treasure. They are complete from 1398 to 1511, except for the period of 1414 to 1434.

The documents about Aberdeen are nearly complete from the era of 1398 to 1511. (Evening Express photo) Dr. Armstrong came upon this discovery when he saw a reference to passages from the city’s records from 1398 to 1658 in a catalog of medieval documents from ancient universities and colleges. That catalog was made in 1932. Dr. Armstrong then tracked the manuscript and found several pages that were copied from the missing volume in the 1700s. The researchers intend to do more work to decipher other sections of the documents and make more revelations on life in the past in Aberdeen. A few details about Aberdeen during the Medieval era and shortly after have made the news in recent years. Ancient Origins reported on a mass grave with 25 bodies from the Medieval era excavated “just a couple of feet below” on the grounds of a private college in Aberdeen. The bodies, some from the 13th century, were discovered when workers were digging in the yard, where students and faculty walked daily for many decades since the college was founded in the 18th century.

Robert Gordon's College, Aberdeen, Scotland. (AbedeenBill /CC BY SA 3.0) Ancient Origins previously reported that 25 bodies from the Medieval era were discovered at this site.

We also reported on architectural features in a church in Aberdeen, Scotland, where accused witches may have been held during the Great Witch Hunt of 1596-‘97 and later strangled as an act of “mercy” and burned at the stake. One of the features is a ring attached to a stone pillar in St. Mary’s Chapel of the Kirk (Church) of St. Nicholas. The pillar is in one of two features where the accused were imprisoned: the chapel of St. Mary’s and the steeple of the kirk.

An 1868 drawing of St. Mary’s Chapel, where accused witches were imprisoned in the 16th century as they awaited trial in Aberdeen. Credit: Open Space Trust/Mither Kirk Project

This is the same St. Nicholas mentioned earlier in this article. St. Nicholas underwent archaeological excavations in 2006 and 2007 to prepare for redevelopment. Remains of witches were not found because they would have been buried on ground that was not hallowed (holy). However, archaeologists did disinter 2,000 bodies, including 1,000 complete skeletons, of people buried under church buildings on the site in Aberdeen from the 11th to the 16th centuries.

Top image: Peasants Fighting (Public Domain)

 By Mark Miller

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Was It Just a Boss Spying on His Workers? First Viking Age Tower Found in Denmark

Ancient Origins

Archaeologists have recently excavated a very tall structure that can only be elucidated as a tower, in Jutland, Denmark. The “tower” was placed next to larger hall-type buildings, and a possible ritual building. Experts consider it an extremely unique discovery from the Viking Age, as the high building is unknown to Danish archaeology and architecture.

 A Viking Age Tower That Could Be Seen from a Distance
The newly excavated site of Toftum Næs, Jutland and the special features – such as the unique and unfamiliar architecture – that have been registered there, have managed to impress local and international archaeologists. Kamilla Fiedler Terkildsen – an archaeologist and curator at Viborg Museum – and her colleagues from Viborg Museum were the first to unearth the tower in 2014, during excavations of a settlement from the Viking Age.

A drone image of the Viking Age tower (with pit-houses on top of the north wall) and north-south facing house. North is on the left-hand side. (Photo: Andree Gothe )

Impressed and excited with the rare discovery, Terkildsen told Science Nordic ,

“It could be seen from some distance away. It must’ve been an impressive landmark for the place and for the nobleman who lived there. It’s unique in its construction and would have required a great deal to build. I really wonder where they got the idea from.”

She also added that the tower is about ten meters (32.8 ft.) high and is based on large, heavy posts

The tower area with a fenced ceremonial house and a north-south facing house dating to the Iron Age and Viking Age. The tower is indicated by the red arrows. ( Illustration: Tom Lock )

 The Tower is Architecturally Unique for the Viking Age and Danish Archaeology
Terkildsen and her team realized quickly that they had unearthed a Viking Age tower, an extremely rare, possibly the first of its kind in Denmark; and they weren’t wrong. The tower was first noticed as cropmarks on aerial images of the landscape, before the excavation began. What made them curious about the high structure, however, was its distinctive construction and design, which they had never spotted or seen before in Danish archaeology. So, in order to find out more about the peculiar structure, they asked for advice from the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, “They called and asked if I have ever seen something similar. I hadn’t,” co-author Mads Dengsø Jessen, an archaeologist at the Danish National Museum, who helped Terkildsen excavate the tower told Science Nordic .

A ‘Viking Village.’ ( Lukasz Wiktorzak/ArtStation ) Experts believe it would be extremely rare to find a tower in a Viking Age village.

Examining the Viking Age Tower
The tower is estimated to be around 1300 years old, dating back somewhere to the 700s, in the Iron Age. However, the entire site was active up until the end of the Viking Age, around 1000 AD. The archaeologists suggest that the tower was part of the entrance to a larger settlement with several spectacular halls, like others of the kind that have been found in just a few places in Jutland.

The discovery of foreign coins and jewelry imply that the site had contacts with Western Europe, while archaeologists also discovered a fenced house of worship, a type of ceremonial structure used for performing rituals. However, according to Terkildsen, the tower stands out the most, “The site itself is very interesting and one of the few examples of the presence of a chieftain in Jutland, but we emphasise the tower, because there’s nothing like it anywhere else,” she tells Science Nordic .

Coins ( Pernille Rohde Sloth ) and Viking jewelry ( Kamilla Fiedler Terkildsen ) discovered at the site of the Viking Age tower in Jutland, Denmark.

 Usage and Importance of the Tower in the Viking Age The materials discovered at the site indicate that the settlement belonged to a very wealthy nobleman, who possibly had many workers. As Jessen says :

 “You couldn’t see very far (from the tower), but you could monitor the river valley, which you can’t do from the ground. So the question is whether the pit houses were workshops or residential, or both. One could imagine that the owner wanted to keep an eye on the workers on site.”

Furthermore, the structural fluctuation of the site at Toftum Næs, in particular the changes that seem to have taken place during the main use-phase both at the site in question and with regard to the overall development of aristocratic sites with production areas and at the Viking Age towns, are now open for debate amongst Viking Age archaeologists and historians.

Top Image: Stampe 515 ( Public Domain ) and 516 ( Public Domain ) from a series called ‘Everyday Life in the Viking Age’ and the high-ground, southern part of the settlement at Toftum Naes, Denmark. The arrow indicates where the tower once stood. (Illustration: Kamilla Fiedler Terkildsen )

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Friday, March 17, 2017


St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17, the saint’s religious feast day and the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. The Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. On St. Patrick’s Day, which falls during the Christian season of Lent, Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink and feast–on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.

Saint Patrick, who lived during the fifth century, is the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland. Born in Roman Britain, he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of 16. He later escaped, but returned to Ireland and was credited with bringing Christianity to its people. In the centuries following Patrick’s death (believed to have been on March 17, 461), the mythology surrounding his life became ever more ingrained in the Irish culture: Perhaps the most well known legend is that he explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) using the three leaves of a native Irish clover, the shamrock.

 Since around the ninth or 10th century, people in Ireland have been observing the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Patrick on March 17. Interestingly, however, the first parade held to honor St. Patrick’s Day took place not in Ireland but in the United States. On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City. Along with their music, the parade helped the soldiers reconnect with their Irish roots, as well as with fellow Irishmen serving in the English army.

Over the next 35 years, Irish patriotism among American immigrants flourished, prompting the rise of so-called “Irish Aid” societies like the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and the Hibernian Society. Each group would hold annual parades featuring bagpipes (which actually first became popular in the Scottish and British armies) and drums.

 In 1848, several New York Irish Aid societies decided to unite their parades to form one official New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Today, that parade is the world ‘s oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States, with over 150,000 participants. Each year, nearly 3 million people line the 1.5-mile parade route to watch the procession, which takes more than five hours. Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Savannah also celebrate the day with parades involving between 10,000 and 20,000 participants each.

 ST. PATRICK’S DAY, NO IRISH NEED APPLY AND THE “GREEN MACHINE” Up until the mid-19th century, most Irish immigrants in America were members of the Protestant middle class. When the Great Potato Famine hit Ireland in 1845, close to 1 million poor and uneducated Irish Catholics began pouring into America to escape starvation. Despised for their alien religious beliefs and unfamiliar accents by the American Protestant majority, the immigrants had trouble finding even menial jobs. When Irish Americans in the country’s cities took to the streets on St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate their heritage, newspapers portrayed them in cartoons as drunk, violent monkeys.

 The American Irish soon began to realize, however, that their large and growing numbers endowed them with a political power that had yet to be exploited. They started to organize, and their voting block, known as the “green machine,” became an important swing vote for political hopefuls. Suddenly, annual St. Patrick’s Day parades became a show of strength for Irish Americans, as well as a must-attend event for a slew of political candidates. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman attended New York City ‘s St. Patrick’s Day parade, a proud moment for the many Irish Americans whose ancestors had to fight stereotypes and racial prejudice to find acceptance in the New World.

 THE CHICAGO RIVER ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY As Irish immigrants spread out over the United States, other cities developed their own traditions. One of these is Chicago’s annual dyeing of the Chicago River green. The practice started in 1962, when city pollution-control workers used dyes to trace illegal sewage discharges and realized that the green dye might provide a unique way to celebrate the holiday. That year, they released 100 pounds of green vegetable dye into the river–enough to keep it green for a week! Today, in order to minimize environmental damage, only 40 pounds of dye are used, and the river turns green for only several hours.

 Although Chicago historians claim their city’s idea for a river of green was original, some natives of Savannah, Georgia (whose St. Patrick’s Day parade, the oldest in the nation, dates back to 1813) believe the idea originated in their town. They point out that, in 1961, a hotel restaurant manager named Tom Woolley convinced city officials to dye Savannah’s river green. The experiment didn’t exactly work as planned, and the water only took on a slight greenish hue. Savannah never attempted to dye its river again, but Woolley maintains (though others refute the claim) that he personally suggested the idea to Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley.

 ST. PATRICK’S DAY AROUND THE WORLD Today, people of all backgrounds celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, especially throughout the United States, Canada and Australia. Although North America is home to the largest productions, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in many other locations far from Ireland, including Japan, Singapore and Russia.

 In modern-day Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day was traditionally been a religious occasion. In fact, up until the 1970s, Irish laws mandated that pubs be closed on March 17. Beginning in 1995, however, the Irish government began a national campaign to use interest in St. Patrick’s Day to drive tourism and showcase Ireland and Irish culture to the rest of the world. Today, approximately 1 million people annually take part in Ireland ‘s St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin, a multi-day celebration featuring parades, concerts, outdoor theater productions and fireworks shows.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

3 curious medieval ghost stories

History Extra

The 'ghost' of Jane Seymour carrying a candle in the Haunted Gallery at Hampton Court Palace. Ghosts haven't always been represented as they are now, George Hobbs explains. (Photo by Pat English/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images).

In fact, the medieval conventions of what constituted a ghost story can seem quite odd to a modern reader, as can the apparitions that haunt them. Here are some examples of creepy tales that enthralled readers in England more than 600 years ago...

 The Haunting of Frodriver First recorded in the 13th century as part of the Eyrbyggja Saga, and translated by Sir Walter Scott in 1814 in Illustrations of Northern Antiquities

 The story begins as a Hebridian woman named Thorgunna arrives in Iceland one winter. A local woman named Thuirda notices the rich treasures that Thorgunna possesses, and presses her to come and stay with her at her home in Froda.

 Thorgunna refuses to part with any of her precious things, but agrees to stay and work as a servant. Soon Thorgunna falls ill and dies, but leaves behind a warning: her bedding is to be burnt, and most of her effects given to local monks. This, she says, is not out of spite, but as a way to protect the settlement from an evil that is coming.

 Inevitably, Thurida can't resist taking the rich bedding of Thorgunna for herself, and sure enough the residents of Froda begin to fall victim to a series of grisly accidents, ghostly attacks, and mysterious plagues. After a funeral feast is held, they are beset by a crowd of walking ghouls that refuse to leave, and which gather around the central fire of the main hall each night.

 But deliverance soon arrives when Kiartan, the son of Thurida, engages a local priest to stage a trial. The ghouls are charged with staying unlawfully in the hall, and eventually their leader declares, somewhat petulantly: “We have here no longer a peaceful dwelling, therefore will we remove.”

 The Bathkeeper

From The Dialogi of Gregory the Great, published in the mid-10th century. Translated by EG Gardner in 1911, and published in Medieval Ghost Stories, by Andrew Joynes

 A priest is visiting a hot spring when he comes across a man he hasn't seen before. The man promptly begins to attend to him, helping him to take off his clothes and shoes, and the priest naturally assumes that he is one of the servants there.

 The priest then visits the baths several more times, and each time the man appears to him and offers to help him, but doesn't extract any form of payment. Eventually the priest decides that he should give the man a reward. He returns the next time with two Eucharist loaves, and offers them to the man with his gratitude.

 When the man sees the loaves, he becomes distressed. He explains that he cannot eat holy bread, for he isn't a living man at all, but an apparition of the former overseer of the baths. He entreats the priest to intercede on his behalf so that he might find peace in the afterlife, and when he finishes speaking he vanishes, so that the priest knows for certain he has seen a ghost.

 The priest offers up prayers, and sure enough the ghostly attendant never returns to him.

 Byland Abbey
 Ghost Stories From fragments in a late 14th-century manuscript, transcribed by MR James in 1920 in Twelve Medieval Ghost Stories

 There are many ghost stories recorded by the Monk of Byland. One such tale features a man trying to make his way home with a load of beans after his horse meets with an accident. He sees a terrifying apparition of a horse, and after he tries to scare it away it begins to stalk him. The spirit then appears as a glowing ball of light in a cloud of hay.

 Finally the man confronts the spirit in the name of the lord, and a ghostly figure appears in front of him. The spirit claims that it means the man no harm, and asks to carry his load of beans for him. The man agrees, and the load is carried across a river, before reappearing on his back. After this, the spirit vanishes.

 In another local story, a spirit accosts two farm labourers, attacking one of them. The man calls on the lord, and the ghost confesses that it was the canon of Newburgh, excommunicated for theft. The labourer digs up a set of spoons stolen by the ghost, and afterwards its spirit rests in peace.

 Medieval ghost stories, then, often fall into the category of exempla – cautionary tales intended to reinforce Christian values. But they can also show the exchange of cultures happening over a large expanse of time.

The events at Frodriver read like a mixture of a Christian exempla with more traditional Nordic notions of the undead, while the events described at Byland in Yorkshire feature the kind of aggressive, physical apparitions that Vikings were fond of describing.

 MR James – perhaps the most influential modern writer of ghost stories – was also an important medieval scholar who rediscovered many of these stories. He revived features of medieval folklore in his tales, including ghosts that transform into objects, and dangers that lurk in everyday settings. So perhaps our own ghosts are closer to the medieval than we might think…

 George Dobbs is a freelance writer who specialises in literature and history, and H Somerset is the author of Rat Abbey: Three Ghost Stories.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Beware the Ides of March! Julius Caesar's Fateful Day


by N.S. Gill Updated November 18, 2016

The Ides of March (Eidus Martiae in Latin) is a day on the traditional Roman calendar that corresponds to the date of March 15th on our current calendar. It is most commonly associated with the assassination of Julius Caesar, on the Ides of March in the year 44 BC.

The Ides of March became well-known and notorious as the official date of Julius Caesar’s assassination in the year 44 BC. Caesar’s assassination was the result of a conspiracy by a coalition of Roman senators.
 CAESAR to SOOTHSAYER: The Ides of March are come.
 SOOTHSAYER (softly): Ay, Caesar, but not gone.
 —Shakespeare's Julius Caesar 

According to Catullus, the haruspex Spurinna warned Caesar in mid-February 44, telling him that the next 30 days were to be fraught with peril, but the danger would end on the Ides of March. When they met on the Ides of March Caesar said "you are aware, surely, that the Ides of March have passed" and Spurinna responded, "surely you realize that they have not yet passed?"

There were said to be several plots to kill Caesar and for a multitude of reasons. According to Suetonius, the Sybelline oracle had declared that Parthia could only be conquered by a Roman king, and Cotta was planning to call for Caesar to be named king in mid-March. Brutus and Cassius, the main conspirators in the plot to kill Caesar, were magistrates of the Senate, and as they would not be allowed to either oppose the crowning of Caesar nor remain silent, they had to kill him.

 Caesar was a demagogue, a ruler who set his own rules bypassing the Senate to do what he liked, finding supporters in the Roman proletariat and his soldiers. The senate made Caesar dictator for life in February, but in truth, he had been the military dictator governing Rome from the field since 49. When he returned to Rome, he kept his stringent rules.

 The senators feared his power, and that he might overthrow the senate in favor of general tyranny. He was murdered near the Theatre of Pompey where the Senate was meeting on the Ides of March.

The Roman calendar did not number days of an individual month sequentially from first to last as is done today. Rather than sequential numbering, the Romans counted backwards from three specific points in the lunar month, depending on the length of the month.

 Those points were the Nones (which fell on the fifth in months with 30 days and the seventh day in 31 day months), the Ides (the thirteenth or the fifteenth), and the Kalends (the first of the following month). The Ides typically occurred near a month’s midpoint; specifically on the fifteenth in March. The length of the month was determined by the number of days in the moon's cycle: March's Ides date was determined by the full moon.

Before Caesar went to the theater of Pompey to attend the Senate meeting, he had been given advice not to go, but he did not listen. Doctors had advised him not to go for medical reasons, and his wife, Calpurnia, also did not want him to go based off of troubling dreams that she had.

 Caesar’s assassination transformed Roman history, as it was a central event in marking the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. His assassination resulted directly in the Liberator’s Civil War, which was waged to avenge his death.

 With Caesar gone, the Roman Republic did not last long and was eventually replaced by the Roman Empire, which lasted approximately 500 years. The initial two centuries of the Roman Empire’s existence were known to be a time of supreme and unprecedented stability and prosperity. The time period came to be known as “Roman Peace.”

Before it became notorious as the day of Caesar's death, the Ides of March was a day of religious observations on the Roman calendar, and it is possible that the conspirators chose the date because of that.

 In ancient Rome, a festival for Anna Perenna (Annae festum geniale Pennae) was held on the Ides of March. Perenna was a Roman deity of the circle of the year. Her festival originally concluded the ceremonies of the new year, as March was the first month of the year on the original Roman calendar. Thus, Perenna’s festival was celebrated enthusiastically by the common people with picnics, eating, drinking, games, and general revelry.

 The Anna Perenna festival was, like many Roman carnivals, a time when celebrants could subvert traditional power relations between social classes and gender roles when people were allowed to speak freely about sex and politics. Most importantly the conspirators could count on the absence of at least a part of the proletariat from the center of the city, while others would be watching the gladiator's games.

Edited and updated by K. Kris Hirst
 Balsdon JPVD. 1958. The Ides of March. Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte 7(1):80-94. Horsfall N. 1974. The Ides of March: Some New Problems. Greece & Rome 21(2):191-199. Newlands C. 1996. Transgressive Acts: Ovid's Treatment of the Ides of March. Classical Philology 91(4):320-338.
Ramsey JT. 2000. 'Beware the Ides of March!': An Astrological Prediction? The Classical Quarterly 50(2):440-454.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

8 things you (probably) didn’t know about King Arthur

History Extra

Illustration of King Arthur's coronation from the 13th-century Flores Historiarum. From The Island Race, a 20th-century book covering the history of the British Isles from the pre-Roman times to the Victorian era. Written by Sir Winston Churchill and abridged by Timothy Baker. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

 1) The once and future king
 Arthur, sometimes known as ‘the king that was and the king that shall be’, is recognised all over the world as one of the most famous characters of myth and legend. Yet, if he existed at all (which few scholars agree upon), he would not have been a king, but the commander of an elite force of fighting men. Furthermore, he would have lived more than 500 years before medieval legends suggest.

 All that is known, with even the least degree of certainty, is that a man named Arthur, or Arturus, led a band of heroic warriors who spearheaded the resistance of Britons against the invading Saxons, Jutes, and others from the north of Europe, sometime in the fifth and sixth centuries AD.

 Another theory claims that Arthur was a Roman centurion named Lucius Artorius Castus, who fought against the Picts [northern tribes that constituted the largest kingdom in Dark Age Scotland] on Hadrian’s Wall in the second century AD, some 300 years earlier than the time at which Arthur’s dates are normally set.

 Even Arthur’s birthplace and base of operations are questionable. Camelot – the castled city associated with King Arthur – was invented by the 12th-century French poet Chrétien de Troyes. Arthur’s association with Cornwall and parts of Wales is an idea fostered by 18th-century antiquarians such as William Stukeley, who carried out one of the first archaeological investigations at Cadbury Castle in Somerset, long believed in local folklore to be the original site of Camelot. 

Whatever the truth – and we may never know for sure – the adventures of the legendary King Arthur, with his Round Table Fellowship of Knights based in the mythical city of Camelot, were told and retold between the 11th and 15th centuries in hundreds of manuscripts in at least a dozen languages. “What place is there within the bounds of the Empire of Christendom to which the winged praise of Arthur the Briton has not extended?” wrote the 12th-century chronicler Alanus ab Insulis (or Alain de Lille). Today Arthurian stories are told in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Icelandic, Dutch, Russian, and even Hebrew.

 2) The Round Table
The Round Table is the centerpiece of the Arthurian world. According to the 13th-century poet Layamon, Arthur ordered the table to be built for him by a famous Cornish carpenter, who somehow made the table capable of seating 1,600 men (clearly an exaggeration), yet easily portable to wherever Arthur set up his mobile base of operations.

 Other stories suggest it was Merlin, the king’s magician, who made the table – “round” he said, “in the likeness of the world” – and who sent out a call to the bravest and truest knights to join a great fellowship whose task was to care for the disenfranchised (especially women), and who would do no harm to anyone who did not deserve it.

 Some 150 knights were said to have sat at the Round Table. Their adventures lead us into a magical realm of wonder: where ‘faery women’ test the nobility of the knights by offering them seemingly impossible tasks, and strange creatures lurk in the shadows of a vast forest, in whose depth are clearings where castles, chapels, hermitages, and ruins are found – some empty, others containing dangerous foes.

 When they had largely rid the land of monsters, dragons, and evil customs, the knights undertook their greatest task of all – the quest for the Holy Grail. Many did not return.

King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, after a 14th-century miniature. From Les Artes Au Moyen Age, Published Paris (1873). (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

 3) Merlin
Merlin, Arthur’s advisor, appears in different legends as a magician, a prophet, a wildman, or a visionary poet. He is said to have helped bring about the birth of the future king by magically giving Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon, the likeness of his rival, Gorlois of Tintagel, Duke of Cornwall, so that Uther could engender a child with Gorlois’ wife, Igraine. Once Arthur was born, Merlin is said to have carried him away to a secret location in the forest, and watched over him until he came of age. 

At this point, Merlin supposedly arranged the test of the Sword in the Stone, which only the true king could draw. This sword is often confused with Arthur’s most famous weapon, Excalibur, the legendary sword said to have magical powers. In fact that blade was given to Arthur later by the Lady of the Lake (a ‘faery woman’ who appears in the stories), after the sword from the stone breaks during battle.

 It is another such faery being, Nimue, the handmaid of the Lady of the Lake, who becomes Merlin’s nemesis: Merlin falls passionately in love with the beautiful damsel, who tricks him into giving her the secrets of his magic and then uses them against him, locking him forever in a cave from which, years after, ‘the cry of Merlin’ could still be heard.

 Merlin’s own origins are almost as difficult to establish as Arthur’s. A collection of poems, magical and mystical in nature, is attributed to a princely bard named Myrddin, whose British name was changed because of its unfortunate similarity to merde (excrement) in French. The 12th-century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth, who included Arthur in his History of the Kings of Britain (1138), also wrote a Life of Merlin (c1150), in which a sixth-century prince goes mad after seeing his nephews killed in battle and who hides in the forest, telling stories to a pet pig. Geoffrey clearly considered this was the same Merlin as the character included in his later History of the Kings of Britain.

 4) Faery women
Many faery women thread together the stories of Arthur and his knights. This is probably because a good number of the stories originated not in Britain, but in Brittany – or, as it was known then, Armorica or Aermorica, where belief in ancient deities and the faery race lived on. These faery tales became interwoven with stories of chivalry beloved by the courtly circle. Within the courtly circle these stories were told by roving troubadours – poets who learned dozens of Arthurian tales by heart. 

In c1150 Geoffrey of Monmouth named nine sisters in his Vita Merlini as the rulers of the enchanted island of Avalon. Among them was Morgen (more familiar to us as Morgan le Fay), who in later stories is described as Arthur’s half-sister and becomes his most implacable foe. Sir Thomas Malory, in his great 15th-century novel, Le Mort D’Arthur, tells us Morgan was “put to school on a nunnery, where she learned magic and necromancy”.

 Though this may sound odd to us today, many of the women in enclosed orders were learned, and since learning was frequently equated with magic, thus Morgan came to be considered a sorceress.

Geoffrey of Monmouth. Found in the collection of Mary's Priory Church, Monmouth. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

 5) The grail
 The greatest task undertaken by Arthur’s knights was the quest for the grail, a mysterious vessel linked to the Passion of Christ [the story of Jesus Christ's arrest, trial, suffering, and eventual execution by crucifixion]. According to the 12th-century poet Robert De Boron, the grail was used to celebrate the Last Supper, and afterwards by Christ’s ‘uncle’, Joseph of Arimathea, to catch some of the blood that flowed from the Saviour as his body was taken down from the cross.

 Earlier stories, from the mythology of the Celts, can be seen as precursors of the grail: they spoke of “cauldrons of plenty” that provided food for heroes and could even bring the dead to life. But once the links with Christian belief were established in the 12th century, the grail became a holy relic sought by mystics and heroes – and, most famously, by Arthur’s fellowship.

 All 150 knights of the Round Table are said to have gone forth in search of the sacred vessel after it appeared at Camelot during Pentecost [a feast celebrated each year on the 50th day after the Great and Holy Feast of Pascha (Easter) and 10 days after the Feast of the Ascension of Christ]. Of those who went forth only three succeeded in their quest to find the grail: the saintly knight Sir Galahad, the simple Sir Percival, and the honest, plain-spoken Sir Bors.

 Many other knights perished, and this undoubtedly weakened both the Round Table and Arthur’s court, preparing the way for the dark days to come when Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred rose up against him and ended the dream of Camelot.

 6) Lancelot and Guinevere
Love stories feature a great deal in the Arthurian world. Tristan and Isolde, for example, best known these days from Wagner’s 1859 opera that retold their story, were famous doomed lovers. But another story, originating in France, became one of the best known of the Arthurian tales: the love story of Lancelot and Guinevere.

 The 12th-century poet Chrétien de Troyes gave us an account of their romance in his Lancelot, or the Knight of the Cart (c1177). No stories before this feature Lancelot, so we must assume that Chrétien invented him. Lancelot became known as the greatest knight of the Round Table and Arthur’s most trusted ally, but it was his illicit love for Queen Guinevere that made him famous.

 Chrétien’s story tells a dramatic tale of Guinevere’s abduction by a lord named Melwas, who had fallen in love with the queen, and of Lancelot’s efforts to rescue her. In order to reach Melwas’ castle, where she is held, Lancelot is forced to ride in a cart – a vehicle reserved for criminals on their way to the gallows. But Lancelot hesitates for a moment, and when Guinevere learns of this this later on she spurns him as not worthy of her affections.

 Later stories extended Lancelot and Guinevere’s love into a full-blown affair, which in the end brought down the Round Table and ushered in the end of Arthur’s reign when Lancelot rescued the queen, who had been condemned to burn at the stake, and in the process killed several of Arthur’s knights. With the king reluctantly forced to attack Lancelot, the way was left open for Mordred to attack Camelot.

Scene from 'Mort d'Arthur', 14th century. Sir Lancelot of the Lake and Queen Guinevere seen embracing by King Arthur. (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)

 7) The death of Arthur
Weakened by the losses incurred during the quest for the grail, and then by the scandal of Lancelot and Guinevere, Arthur’s kingdom began to break apart.

 War broke out after Lancelot staged an armed rescue of Guinevere, condemned to death for her treasonous love for the great knight. In the heat of battle Lancelot killed two of Arthur’s best men, Gareth and Gaheris, who had defended the queen. Their brother, the famous knight Sir Gawain, thus became Lancelot’s most bitter foe, and as Arthur was forced to respond to Lancelot’s rescue of the queen, he reluctantly led an army to France to attack him.

 While Arthur and Gawain were away attacking Lancelot, King Arthur’s son, Mordred, raised an army and declared himself king. With the hasty return of the true king to Britain, a final battle took place at Camlann. Arthur killed Mordred, but suffered a wound that seemed likely to kill him – though in the end he was taken to Avalon to be healed.

 There follows one of the most famous scenes in the entire series of Arthurian stories: Arthur’s faithful follower, Sir Bedivere, throws the king’s mighty sword back into the lake from which it had come at the beginning of his reign (given him by the Lady of the Lake). A mysterious hand rises from the water and seizes the sword, drawing it under.

 A ship then appears, carrying three queens, who take the wounded Arthur away, across the sea to the fabled Isle of Avalon, where it is said he would be healed of his wounds and live on, awaiting recall by his country in time of need – the ‘once and future king’ indeed.

 8) Arthur’s bones
Belief in Arthur’s expected return to his country was kept alive in stories for many years by the people of Britain. Arthur’s bones were supposedly found at Glastonbury Abbey in 1191, though this was nothing more than a fabrication designed to quell the belief that Arthur would return to expel the invading Normans. Nevertheless, some bones were indeed interred in a black marble tomb in 1278 at the expense of Edward I.

 To this day, countless new books, films, television shows and plays continue to be created about King Arthur, adding to the popularity of the legends, which remain among the most familiar and best-loved stories of all time.

 John Matthews is a historian who has produced more than 100 books on myth, the Arthurian legends, and the history of the Grail. His latest book, King Arthur: Many Faces, One Hero, co-written with Caitlín Matthews, will be published by Inner Traditions in 2016.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Valuable Enough to Kill For: 4,000-Year-Old Mine Which Was Hijacked by Foreign Forces Uncovered in Spain

Ancient Origins

Archaeologists in Spain have uncovered sophisticated mining operations in Munigua, which were in operation as long ago as 4,000 years, but first Carthage and then Romans hijacked them for the vitally important metals iron and copper.

Iron and copper were important in those days for weaponry and tools and in international trade. An article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz says the substances were “valuable enough to kill for.”

The Romans had a habit of taking over mines that were already in operation in Spain, Israel and elsewhere in their far-flung empire.

Some of the Roman ruins at Munigua go back to around the 2 nd century BC. ( Wikimedia Commons /Photo by Cybergelo)

 Researchers believe the mine in the ancient city of Muniqua in southern Spain was developed by the Turdetani people more than 4,000 years ago. The archaeologists have found ventilated underground rooms, shafts and tunnels dug into the earth that they believe were later developed by the Romans, who hijacked the operation from Carthaginians, who had stolen it in the 3 rd century BC from the locals.

Living spaces in the ruins of the city of Munigua, where mines produced iron and copper as long ago as 4,000 years by locals and which were later commandeered by first Carthaginians and then the Romans. ( Wikimedia Commons /Aegon2001)

The article says miners extracted huge amounts of iron and copper for the Romans at Munigua but that the operation shut down in the 2 nd century AD along with other mines on the Iberian Peninsula, which Rome referred to as Hispania.

Haartez says the mines were in operation before people settled the area of Munigua. Evidence for a community there is seen in Greek ceramics dating to the 4 th century BC. The town was a big, important hub when the Romans arrived and conquered it.

People were mining iron and copper for more than 4,000 years in southern Spain. Around the 3 rd century BC the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca made landfall on the southeast coast and set up New Carthage. The Punic general also hijacked the Munigua mines, which refilled Carthage’s treasury within a few years.

Not long after, in 218 BC, the Romans arrived by ship in Hispania and took the mines at Castulo and New Carthage. The Romans severed Carthage’s supply of the vital metals and attempted to destroy its economy.

In one bold attack, 500 Roman troops came ashore at New Carthage, which marked the beginning of the end for Carthage in Spain. But it wasn’t until more than 100 years later that the Romans were mining there. Ancient authors wrote that there was a big migration from Italy to Hispania around that time.

The researchers concluded that mining really took off in the 2 nd century BC because of huge amounts of slag—a mining byproduct—around Munigua.

“Slag is a first-class archaeological source material, as it can be analyzed and can give precise information about the metal melted, the process by which melting was achieved and the chemical characteristics of the metal,” Professor Thomas G. Schattner of the German Archaeological Institute in Madrid and head of the excavations.

A temple to Mercury at Munigua ( Wikimedia Commons /Photo by Aegon2001)

The mines are not the only thing being excavated at Munigua. Digs have been underway since 1956, and archaeologists have found city walls, a big necropolis or cemetery, temples, small sanctuaries, a two-story hall, thermal baths and a forum.

 A large terrace sanctuary is there and is referred to as the Castle of Mulva, but experts don’t know which deity or deities were worshiped there.

The city declined after an earthquake in the 3 rd century AD. By the 6 th century, people had abandoned Munigua for the most part. The only evidence of occupation was a few broken pieces of Arab pottery, Haaretz says.

Top image: Roman gold mine, representational image ( CC by SA 3.0 )

By Mark Miller

Sunday, March 12, 2017

More Orichalcum, the Atlantis Alloy, Turns Up with Helmets at a Sicilian Shipwreck, What Was its Use?

Ancient Origins

Researchers have recovered yet more ingots, possibly of the fabled metal orichalcum, from a ship that sank off the coast of Sicily around 2,600 years ago. The find has led some to ponder whether the mythical island of Atlantis, where the legendary alloy was supposed to have been created, was real. The shipwreck, however, dates to about seven millennia later than the legend of Atlantis.

 In 2015, researchers diving near the shipwreck found 39 ingots of a copper, zinc, and charcoal alloy that resembles brass. They believe it may be the ancient metal orichalcum. The new cache of the same metal consists of 47 ingots.

Some of the orichalcum ingots found near a 2,600-year-old shipwreck off the coast of Sicily. (Superintendency of the Sea, Sicily)

While the metal is rare, it is not as precious as researchers expected from reading ancient Greek philosopher Plato’s description of it in the Critias dialogue. Plato said only gold was a more precious substance than orichalcum.

Plato said only gold was a more precious substance than orichalcum. Here are two of the recently discovered ingots. (Sebastiano Tusa/ Superintendency of the Sea, Sicily)

Several ancient thinkers mention the alloy in writings - as far back as Hesiod in the 8th century BC. Until 2015, the metal had never been found in any appreciable quantities, says an article about the find on Scholars have debated the origin and composition of orichalcum for a long time.

The shipwreck was found near two others about 1,000 feet (305 meters) off the coast of the Sicilian city of Gela. The wrecks were submerged in about 10 feet (3 meters) of water. Researchers think the ship went down in a storm, while close to the port.

Underwater archaeologists and some of the other artifacts found at the site. (Superintendency of the Sea, Sicily)

"The waters there are a priceless mine of archaeological finds," Adriana Fresina told She works with archaeologist Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily’s superintendent of the seas.

Greek myth says Cadmus, a Phoenician and the first king of Thebes, invented orichalcum.

Cadmus, the Greek mythological figure who is said to have created orichalcum. (Public Domain)

Christos Djonis wrote an article for Ancient Origins in 2015 about the find of the 39 ingots and said of a news reports at that time:

 “… unfortunately, none of the stories exposed anything new on Atlantis, or on the ‘mystical’ ore, as one reporter called it. Essentially, every editorial capitalized on repeating the same familiar story, raising the usual questions, and sadly arriving at the same past conclusions. Nothing new! As for the particular freight, most reporters connected it to Atlantis, as if Atlantis was around during the Bronze Age (thus, misleading everyone not so familiar with the story) and ignoring the fact that according to Plato, the story of Atlantis took place around 9,600 BC.

Artist’s representation of Atlantis. (Source: BigStockPhoto)

Djonis writes that the orichalcum cargo likely originated on Cyprus, another island in the Mediterranean. Every known alloy containing copper has been produced, including orichalcum, on Cyprus since the 4th millennium BC.

Plato wrote that orichalcum covered the walls, columns and floors of Poseidon’s temple. He wrote the only metal that surpassed it in value was gold. "The outermost wall was coated with brass, the second with tin, and the third, which was the wall of the citadel, flashed with the red light of orichalcum," Plato wrote. Poseidon’s laws were also inscribed onto a pillar of orichalcum, according to Plato.

The city of Gela on Sicily was rich and had many workshops that produced fine objects. Researchers believe the orichalcum pieces were en route to those workshops for use in decorations and fashion objects.

Altogether, the researchers have discovered 47 new ingots of varying sizes and shapes. (Sebastiano Tusa, Soprintendenza del Mare-Regione Sicilia)

Apart from this metal, the shipwreck also yielded two bronze Corinthian helmets.

“The presence of helmets and weapons aboard ships is rather common. They were used against pirate incursions,” Tusa told “Another hypothesis is that they were meant to be an offer to the gods.”

The Corinthian helmets. (Salvo Emma, Soprintendenza del Mare-Regione Sicilia)

Tusa and his colleagues are still at work on the shipwreck and expect to recover more cargo.

Top Image: Some of the orichalcum ingots and the two Corinthian helmets found near a 2,600-year-old shipwreck off the coast of Sicily. Source: Superintendency of the Sea, Sicily

By Mark Miller

Saturday, March 11, 2017

'Oldest' Iron Age gold work in Britain found in Staffordshire


Two friends have unearthed jewellery which could be the oldest Iron Age gold discovered in Britain.

Mark Hambleton, who went back to metal detecting after advice from his late father, made the find with Joe Kania, on Staffordshire Moorlands farmland.

The three necklaces and bracelet are believed to be about 2,500 years old.

 Their find was declared treasure at an inquest led by coroner Ian Smith, who joked it was likely to be "worth a bob or two".

Julia Farley, of the British Museum, described the discovery, called the Leekfrith Iron Age Torcs, as a "unique find of international importance".

Dr Farley, the museum's curator of British and European Iron Age collections, said: "It dates to around 400-250 BC and is probably the earliest Iron Age gold work ever discovered in Britain.

"The torcs were probably worn by wealthy and powerful women, perhaps people from the Continent who had married into the local community.

 "Piecing together how these objects came to be carefully buried in a Staffordshire field will give us an invaluable insight into life in Iron Age Britain."

 The four torcs were found separately, about 1m apart, buried near the surface in Leekfrith last December.

The location is almost 50 miles away from where the £3m Anglo Saxon Staffordshire Hoard was discovered by a metal detector enthusiast in 2009.

The inquest heard the torcs' gold content was at least 80%, with each piece weighing between 230g (8oz) and 31g (1oz), prompting Mr Smith to say: "Even as scrap, that's still worth a bob or two."

A formal valuation will now take place at the British Museum.

To be declared treasure, an item must be more than 300 years old, or have a precious metal content greater than 10%.

"This must rank as one of the most exciting treasure finds I have ever dealt with - not quite in the same league as the Staffordshire Hoard, but nevertheless exciting," Mr Smith said.

 Mr Hambleton said he was just about to give up for the day when his friend said he thought he had found something.

"He pulled this big torc out of his pocket, and dangled it in front of me," he said.

"When I'd got some air back into my lungs, my head had cleared and my legs had stopped wobbling, I said 'do you realise what you've found there?"'

He said the pair were "speechless".

He said he kept the gold next to his bed that night "to make sure it was safe" before handing it to experts the following day.

The jewellery was handed to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is administered by Birmingham Museums, but will be displayed at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke for the next three weeks.

The friends said they would share any proceeds with landowner Stuart Heath.

Now confirmed as treasure, the haul is the property of the Crown. The Treasure Valuation Committee will offer a value to the finders, landowner and any museum wanting to acquire it.

Once all parties agree, the museum has to raise the money to pay them.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Richard III's prayer book goes online … and is that a personal note?

Fox News

The personal prayer book of King Richard III — in which the English king likely scrawled a reminder of his birthday in his own hand — is now available to peruse online.

 Leicester Cathedral digitized Richard III's "Book of Hours" and published it on the church's website alongside an interactive interpretive text. The original manuscript is in Lambeth Palace Library and is too fragile for public display, according to the dean of Leicester Cathedral, the Very Rev. David Monteith.

 Richard III , who died in battle in 1485, was interred in Leicester Cathedral in 2015 after his body was discovered beneath a city council parking lot in Leicester. Born in 1452, Richard ruled England for only about two years. He ascended the throne in 1483 amid a cloud of suspicion: He had been declared regent for his nephew, the son of King Edward IV (Richard's brother). But in the aftermath of Edward IV's death, the old king's marriage was declared invalid and his children illegitimate, which meant the crown became Richard's. His two nephews were never seen publically again, leading to rumors that Richard III had them murdered. The fate of the so-called "Princes in the Tower" remains a mystery to this day.

 The mystery of Richard III's nephews, along with Shakespeare's rather unflattering tragedy "Richard III," gave the king something of an unsavory reputation. But he was beloved in his adopted hometown of York during his life, and many modern admirers argue that Shakespeare's portrayal was slander. (The playwright was operating in the era of the Tudors, political enemies of Richard III and his dynasty, and would have had an incentive to paint the defeated king as evil.)

 The prayer book shows a softer, devoted side of Richard. Medieval laypeople kept personal books of hours with devotions that they were supposed to perform at certain times of day. Richard's "Book of Hours" was not originally made for him, according to a scholarly text by Anne Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs accompanying the Leicester digitization. There were, however, additions likely added at the king's request, as well as one notation that Richard III probably made himself.

 The first addition was a prayer called the Collect of St. Ninian, a missionary who converted England's Southern Picts to Christianity. Richard apparently had a special devotion to this saint, as he declared St. Ninian's feast day to be a principal one for his college at Middleham, Sutton and Visser-Fuchs wrote.

 Another addition, in the same script, was "The prayer of Richard III," a long devotional that is often mistakenly believed to be written for the king; in fact, Sutton and Visser-Fuchs wrote, it was a common prayer of the time, slightly edited to include Richard's name. After the prayer was a litany, which does appear unique to the king, Sutton and Visser-Fuchs wrote. The litany has not been found elsewhere, they wrote, and features a supplicant asking for God's mercy and protection. Unfortunately, Sutton and Visser-Fuchs wrote, much of the original litany is missing, making it difficult to glean much about Richard III's personal preoccupations from the text. There are references to protection from heathens, they wrote, suggesting Richard III's interest in the Crusades. 

King's handwriting

Perhaps the most fascinating page of the Book of Hours for those wanting to know the man behind the monarch is the calendar page for October. Most of the calendar is standard, with lists of saints' days and notations about the length of day and night. There are a few edits, like a note that someone named Thomas Howard died unexpectedly on March 28, and that someone else died on Aug. 25.

 On Oct. 2, though, there is a note in handwriting found nowhere else in the book. In a heavy, sprawling hand, the inscription reads, "hac die natus erat Ricardus Rex Anglie tertius Apud Foderingay Anno domini mlccccliio."

 Translation? "On this day was born Richard III King of England A.D. 1452." The note must have been written after the king's coronation on July 6, 1483, "and probably by the King himself," Sutton and Visser-Fuchs wrote.

The page with the king's probable handwriting is on sheet 7v of the manuscript and can also be found in Figure 28 of Sutton and Visser-Fuchs' text.

 Original article on Live Science .