Cemented Curses: Roman Remains

Back to our usual programming, here’s a selection of a few notable finds I came across pertaining to ancient Roman life. From the futuristic relevance of microscopic analysis of ancient cement, to virtual tours in the places where it was put to use, to — of course — the obligatory hilarious ending.

If you want to find out more about the enticing tablets on the left — read on!

The Past and Future of Cement

First, an analysis of Roman cement that helps explain its amazing durability across the millennia. Using high intensity X-rays, scientists have looked at the molecular structure of Roman cement. You’d think this was just historians and archaeologists playing with technology for the sake of the past — but you’d be wrong. Besides the secrets of its composition and amazing durability, Roman concrete seems to have a fraction of the environmental impact of modern day equivalents.

Production of modern concrete is a major emitter of greenhouse gasses — from the fire the kilns in which the cement is made and from carbon dioxide released when limestone is heated. Understanding how the Romans, with rudimentary chemistry, have managed to produce minerals that are currently only known to occur within volcanoes could have a tremendous impact on the building industry and on the future of our planet. Who says history and archaeology belong only in the past?

Side note: It’s not only the Romans, either. In South America, Researchers Uncover 2,000-Year-Old Maya Water Filtration System. Even if the ancients had the underlying reasons why some things work they were they do wrong, it doesn’t mean their technology and engineering skills haven’t put these effects to amazing use. While this particular technology is well-understood today (unlike the production of Roman cement), it is still something one can consider when looking at the future of the world.

Vindolanda 2.0?

Next, what you do with said cement: you build army barracks! Well, OK, not exactly, or rather not only. While concrete has been used all over the empire, we now move to the discovery of impressive Roman military fort in a Serbian cornfield.

The site is located close to Belgrade under about 1m of earth, which is a welcome change from where they are usually found — right under a bustling modern city. The site is well preserved, and with only 4% excavated it could be as important as Vindolanda. It’s certainly located in a more central and important location to the empire — on the road between the Italian peninsula, Macedonia, and Byzantium.

While I’m sure there will be many interesting discoveries in the coming years, some are already surfacing. Not just artifacts, but human stories — from a mostly intact principium (headquarters), to a spread of coins that looks like they were abandoned in haste, to almost 14,000 graves recorded in the area. Some of them contained, of course, curse tablets. (Graves being the equivalent of a post-office box when you wish to send a message to a dead relative). It also includes the first ever found golden curse tablet — ie inscribed on a golden sheet, not just the usual lead or clay. It also goes against the Roman tradition of never including any gold objects in a burial (except teeth, the one legal exception; I couldn’t make this stuff up!).

While the article doesn’t contain the text of the golden curse tablet, if you do start following the links from the the first article (about the newly discovered fort), you are guaranteed a very enjoyable rabbit hole of Roman trivia.

Yummy, yummy curses!

And while we are, as ever, on the subject of curse tablets, we come to the promised hilarity. What would you, as a frustrated archaeologist locked down during covid, say if you found a curse tablet? In your backyard garden bed?

“Yum” is probably not the answer you’re expecting, but that’s just why you absolutely have to read this hilarious article: Curse like a Roman.

Also good as an Xmas gift idea for your favourite Roman-esque historical-fantasy author. Just saying.

Look up!

Lastly, if you have some time to spare, here’s a bit of wondrous technology. The following link to YouTube is more than just a video — it’s a virtual tour of the Pompeii ruins, but while the cameraman walks around, you can pause the video at any time (hit the space-bar) and use the WASD keys to change your view-point and look around. It’s an amazing technology, that (especially if you have a large screen) really helps you get a sense of the place. See for yourself:

That’s it for now. I’m sure you’ll be happy to read between the lines and know that I haven’t forsaken my love of ancient Rome, and by extension my love of writing Felix’s adventures in its fantasy counterpart.

I know I haven’t put out new content lately, but, trust me, big changes are coming soon that will allow me to complete the work. (And until then, check out the free short stories!)

Watch this space!


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