Welcome to this month’s Ancient Rome News column, where we survey the latest unearthing of Roman bones — and boners — that get armchair archaeologists inappropriately excited 😜
Prepare yourself for a collection of old bones (sadly inanimate), large boners (hilariously decorated), and double entendres from this Roman enthusiast, who’s been known to weave all three indiscriminately into his stories.
The sample above, for example, was described by researchers as “unusually large”. Not a single person amongst the excavators, researchers, reporters, or readers could keep a straight face. It’s the age old dilemma of growing old vs growing up.
This girthy example is 18 inches / 46 cm long — larger even than the usual exaggerations found on dodgy internet sites. It is the largest of its kind unearthed to date. Readers of this blog and the novels know that phalli (especially Phalli Of Unusual Size, for Princess Bride fans) were considered lucky charms in ancient Rome, and held apotropaic properties, warding evil eyes. Personally, I believe at this size it would attract eyes, evil and otherwise.
The original article hold more information about the location of discovery in Spain. It was at a base of a Roman fort’s fortification tower, which interestingly sat atop an older Iberian settlement. The layers and formations of the site provide a window into the Roman occupation of the Iberian peninsula, which latest from 206 BCE, when the Romans ousted the Cartagenians at the end Second Punic War, for about 7 centuries.
Such carvings are common all throughout the Roman empire. In the UK alone about 92 were found, the latest of which accompanied by a graffiti exemplifying the age-old feelings of soldiers towards each other.
“Secundinus Cacor” is an abbreviation — or misspelling, because, let’s face it, it’s soldiers and graffiti — meaning “Secundinus the shitter”.
Though no further details are know about the parties, I think it’s safe to say that in this case the ‘artist’ wasn’t looking to protect Secundinus, but rather to direct the evil eye (or evil bowels) at him. It certainly took a fair amount of effort to carve this so deeply into the stone so it would survive two millennia, but judging by the silly grin on the face of the volunteer who found it the effort was well worth it.
Still in the UK, and back in 1992 before the internet, someone who led a very sheltered life classified this object as a “darning tool”.
This is the only wooden object of its kind that survived, and was found in Vindolanda. While it’s exact use remains unclear, its shape is rather self-evident and has likely little to do with darning socks.
The original article conjectures whether it was part of something else, like a statue to ward evil of a pestle, or a naughty “sex toy.” This last term should be taken with caution, because as the lead archaeologist says“Sometimes they [dildos] weren’t always used for pleasure … they can be implements of torture so I’m very conscious of using the term sex toy.”
We know from Roman and Greek poetry that they certainly used dildos and sex toys, their history is much longer. While this is the only wooden sample that was found from the Roman era, the archaeological record contains findings from over 28,000 years.
lastly, I promised not just boners but actual bones. That doesn’t mean my mind strays from the gutters 😜 A study of around 70 metres of drains and sewers under the Colosseum revealed bones of bears, lions, leopards, and dogs in the drainage system.
Other remains included seeds and nuts (including olives, figs, grapes, peaches, plums, walnuts, cherries, hazelnuts, and blackberries) and remains of the meats, vegetables, and fruits the visitors used to snack upon.
Readers of Murder In Absentia will undoubtedly be chagrined that no fancier animal remains were found, and would know that the line between the bones of the fantastic beasts that appeared in the sands and those that appeared on plates later is exceedingly thin.
On a lighter note, there are always the Instagram memes and random factoids. Many are not necessarily correct (ie rubbish), so you should always double check. Still, you can find good sources. The below scene is obviously gruesome, a mass burial of chained war prisoners, circa 632 BC from a site south of Athens. (The reddish tinge around the hands, and maybe leg bones, together with the pose indicate iron manacles that have rusted away). But since this post is all about inappropriate jokes, there’s something about their poses that’s reminiscent of danse macabre and all it’s missing is a bit of party hats and whistles 🥳. Now let’s hope their wandering spirits won’t come to school me in appropriate burial rituals.
That’s it for now, hope you found the insights into Roman culture as fascinating as I do — infantile jokes aside. If you’d like to know how I weave both bones and boners into my stories, why not read the short story Fifty Grey Shades? Or if you’d fancy a Felix-trademark trip down the sewers, Burnt is the one for you.
In any case, enjoy the free short stories and novels until next we meet. Vale!