4406 entries. 94 themes. Last updated December 26, 2016.

300 BCE to 30 CE Timeline


The Royal Library of Alexandria: The Largest Collection of Recorded Information in the Ancient World Circa 300 BCE

The Royal Library of Alexandria, associated with the Museum or Mouseion at Alexandria (Μουσεῖον τῆς Ἀλεξανδρείας), was probably founded around 300 BCE under the reign of Ptolemy I Soter or Ptolemy II. Though it was the largest library in the ancient world, and the repository of so much Greek literature that was eventually passed down to us, and also so much that was eventually lost, the number of papyrus rolls preserved at Alexandria at its peak, or any other time, is unknown. At its peak, the number of rolls that it might have held has been estimated by numerous scholars, without any reliable evidence, from as many as 400,000 to 700,000 to as few as 40,000, or even less. A typical papyrus roll probably contained a text about the length of one book of Homer.

Writing in 2002, American classical scholar Roger Bagnall argued that very high numbers of rolls traditionally estimated by scholars to have been held by the Royal Library of Alexandria, such as 400,000 to 700,000 rolls, may reflect modern expectations rather than the extent of written literature that may have been produced by ancient Greek writers: 

"The computer databank of ancient Greek literature, the Thesurus Linguae Graecae, contains about 450 authors of whom at least a few words survive in quotation and whose lives are thought to have begun by the late fourth century. No doubt there were authors extant in the early Hellenistic period of whom not a line survives today, but we cannot estimate their numbers. Of most of these 450, we have literally a few sentences. There are another 175 known whose lives are placed, or whose births are placed in the third century B. C. Most of these authors probably wrote what by modern standards was a modest amount—a few book-rolls full, perhaps. Even the most voluminous authors of the group, like the Athenian dramatists, probably filled nor more than a hundred rolls or so. If the average writer filled 50 rolls, our known authors to the end of the third century would have produced 31,250 rolls. . . .

"To look at matters another way, just, 2,871,000 words of Greek are preserved for all authors known to have lived at least in part in the fourth century or earlier. Adding the third and second centuries brings the total to 3,773,000 words (or about 12,600 pages of 300 words each). At an average of 15,000 words per roll, this corpus would require a mere 251 rolls. Even at an average of 10,000 words per roll the figure would be only 377 rolls. It was estimated by one eminent ancient historian that the original bulk of historical writings in ancient Greece amounted to something like forty times what has survived. If so, our estimate would run to an original body of 10,000 to 15,000 rolls. This may be too low, but is it likely that it is too low by a factor of thirty or forty, and that only one word in 1,500 or 2,000 has survived? . . . (Roger S. Bagnall, "Alexandria: Library of Dreams," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 146 (2002) 348-62, quoting from 352-53).

Traditionally the Alexandrian Library is thought to have been based upon the library of Aristotle. By tradition it is also believed, without concrete evidence, that the much of the collection of rolls was acquired by order of Ptolemy III, who supposedly required all visitors to Alexandria to surrender rolls in their possession. These writings were then copied by official scribes, the originals were put into the Library, and the copies were delivered to the previous owners.

The Alexandrian Library was associated with a school and a museum. Scholars at Alexandria were responsible for the editing and standardization for many earlier Greek texts. One of the best-known of these editors was Aristophanes of Byzantium, a director of the library, whose work on the text of the Iliad may be preserved in the Venetus A manuscript, but who was also known for editing authors such as Pindar and Hesiod.

Though it is known that portions of the Alexandrian Library survived for several centuries, the various accounts of the library's eventual destruction are contradictory. The Wikipedia article on the Library of Alexandria outlined four possible scenarios for its destruction:

  1. Julius Caesar's fire in The Alexandrian War, in 48 BCE
  2. The attack of Aurelian in the Third century CE
  3. The decree of Theophilus in 391 CE. (Destruction of pagan literature by early Christians.)
  4. The Muslim conquest in 642 CE, or thereafter.

♦ Other factors in the eventual destruction of the contents of the Alexandrian Library might have included the decay of the papyrus rolls as a result of the climate. Most of the papyrus rolls and fragments that survived after the Alexandrian Library did so in the dry sands of the Egyptian desert. Papyrus rolls do not keep well either in dampness or in salty sea air, to which they were likely exposed in the library located in the port of Alexandria. Thus, independently of the selected library destruction scenario, because of decay of the storage medium, or as a result of fires, rodent damage, natural catastrophes, or neglect, it is probable that significant portions of the information in the Alexandrian library were lost before the library was physically destroyed.

Whatever the circumstances and timing of the physical destruction of the Library, it is evident that by the eighth century the Alexandrian Library was no longer a significant institution. 

(This entry was last revised on March 22, 2014.)

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The Dead Sea Scrolls 300 BCE – 68 CE

A column of the Copper Scroll found in Cave Three.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves near Khirbet Qumran, on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea have been dated between 300 BCE and 68 CE, on the basis of historical, paleographic, and linguistic evidence, as well as carbon-14 dating. Because they date from the late Second Temple Period, when Jesus of Nazareth lived, the Dead Sea Scrolls are older than any other surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures, except for the Nash Papyrus, by almost one thousand years. They are preserved in The Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

“Most of the scrolls were written in Hebrew, with a smaller number in Aramaic or Greek. Most of them were written on parchment, with the exception of a few written on papyrus. The vast majority of the scrolls survived as fragments—only a handful were found intact. Nevertheless, scholars have managed to reconstruct from these fragments approximately 850 different manuscripts of various lengths.

"The manuscripts fall into three major categories: biblical, apocryphal, and sectarian. The biblical manuscripts comprise some two hundred copies of books of the Hebrew Bible, representing the earliest evidence for the biblical text in the world. Among the apocryphal manuscripts (works that were not included in the Jewish biblical canon) are works that had previously been known only in translation, or that had not been known at all. The sectarian manuscripts reflect a wide variety of literary genres: biblical commentary, religious-legal writings, liturgical texts, and apocalyptic compositions. Most scholars believe that the scrolls formed the library of the sect (the Essenes?) that lived at Qumran. However it appears that the members of this sect wrote only part of the scrolls themselves, the remainder having been composed or copied elsewhere” (Shrine of the Book. Introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls, accessed 12-24-2009).

In September 2011 The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls website, a partnership between the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and Google, made five of the scrolls searchable online as part of a project to provide searchable online facsimiles of all the scrolls.

In December 2012 the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library was launched by the Israel Antiquities Authority in partnership with Google Israel, making high resolution images of the scrolls freely available. The site was launched 11 years after the completion of the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls, initiated and sponsored by the IAA, and 65 years after the first scrolls were unearthed in the Caves of Qumran.

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The Earliest Surviving Counting Board Circa 300 BCE

The Salamis Tablet. (View Larger)

Excluding counting on the fingers, counting boards are the earliest known counting device, and a precursor of the abacus. They were made from stone or wood and the counting was done on the board with beads or pebbles or or sand or dust.  These devices have also been called the "sandboard abacus." The earliest surviving example of a counting board or a gaming board may be a tablet found about 1850 CE on the Greek island of Salamis which dates back to about 300 BCE. It is preserved in the National Archaelogical Museum, Athens. 

"It is a slab of white marble 149 cm long, 75 cm wide, and 4.5 cm thick, on which are 5 groups of markings. In the center of the tablet is a set of 5 parallel lines equally divided by a vertical line, capped with a semi-circle at the intersection of the bottom-most horizontal line and the single vertical line. Below these lines is a wide space with a horizontal crack dividing it. Below this crack is another group of eleven parallel lines, again divided into two sections by a line perpendicular to them, but with the semi-circle at the top of the intersection; the third, sixth and ninth of these lines are marked with a cross where they intersect with the vertical line."  Three sets of Greek symbols (numbers from the acrophonic system) are arranged along the left, right and bottom edges of the tablet.

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The Beginnings of Latin Literature Circa 300 BCE

"Athough written records may have existed from very early times, Latin literature did not begin until the third century B.C. Inspired by Greek example, it was probably committed from its first beginnings to the form of the book which had long been standard in the Greek world, the papyrus scroll" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 3rd. ed. [1991] 8-19).

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The Guodian Chu Slips: "Like the Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls" Circa 300 BCE

Several of the Guodian Chu Slips. (View Larger)

The Guodian Chu Slips (Chinese: 郭店楚簡; pinyin: Guōdiàn Chǔjiǎn), comprising about 804 bamboos slips, or strips, containing "12072" Chinese characters, were discovered in 1993 in Tomb no. 1 of the Guodian tombs in Jingmen, Hubei, China. The tomb was dated to the latter half of the Warring States period, and it is thought that the texts were written on the bamboo strips before or close to the time of burial.

"The tomb is located in the Jishan District's tomb complex, near the Jingmen City in the village of Guodian, and only 9 kilometers north of Ying, which was the ancient Chu capital from about 676 BC until 278 BC, before the State of Chu was over-run by the Qin. The tomb and its contents were studied to determine the identity of the occupant; an elderly noble scholar, and teacher to a royal prince. The prince had been identified as Crown Prince Heng, who later became King Qingxiang of Chu. Since King Qingxiang was the Chu king when Qin sacked their old capital Ying in 278 BC, the Chu slips are dated to around 300 BC.

There are in total about 804 bamboo slips in this cache, including 702 strips and 27 broken strips with 12072 characters. The bamboo slip texts consist of three major categories, which include the earliest manuscripts of the received text of the Tao Te Ching, one chapter from the Classic of Rites, and anonymous writings. After restoration, these texts were divided into eighteen sections, and have been transcribed into standard Chinese and published under the title Chu Bamboo Slips from Guodian on May 1998. The slip-texts include both Daoist and Confucian works, many previously unknown, and the discovery of these texts in the same tomb has contributed fresh information for scholars studying the history of philosophical thought in ancient China. According to Gao Zheng from the Institute of Philosophy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the main part could be teaching material used by the Confucianist Si Meng scholars in Jixia Academy. Qu Yuan, who was sent as an envoy in State of Qi, might have taken them back to Chu (Wikipedia article on Guodian Chu Slips, accessed 01-31-2010).

" 'This is like the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls,' says Tu Weiming, director of the Harvard Yenching Institute (HYI), who has played a key role in the preservation of, accessibility to, and research on the Guodian materials since 1996.  

"The 800 bamboo strips bear roughly 10,000 Chinese characters; approximately one-tenth of those characters comprise part of the oldest extant version of the Tao Te Ching (also known as Daodejing), a foundational text by the Taoist philosopher Laozi, who lived in the sixth century B.C. and is generally considered the teacher of Confucius. The remaining nine-tenths of the writings appear to be written by Confucian disciples, including Confucius' grandson Zisi, in the first generation after Confucius' death. (Confucius lived from 551 to 479 B.C.) These texts amplify scholars' understanding of how the Confucian philosophical tradition evolved between Confucius' time and that of Mencius, a key Confucian thinker who lived in the third century B.C.  

" 'With the discovery of these texts, I think you can say that the history of Confucianism itself will have to be rewritten,' says Tu. 'And by implication, the history of ancient Chinese philosophy in general will have to be reconfigured.' " (http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2001/02.22/07-ancientscript.html, accessed 01-31-2010).

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The Earliest Known Examples of Maya Script Circa 300 BCE

A vertical, columnar stone inscription roughly six inches long. Image: Boris Beltrán/Science. (View Larger)

The earliest stone inscription which is identifiably in Maya script, (or Maya glyphs or Maya hieroglyphs) was found in in 2005 the pre-Columbian Maya archaeological site in San Bartolo in the Department of Petén in northern Guatemala, northeast of Tikal and roughly fifty miles from the nearest settlement. This vertical column of ten glyphic words roughly six inches long, dating from circa 300 BCE, "may be related to a nearby painted image of the maize god" (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/10/science/10maya.html?_r=1, accessed 03-23-2010). In 2010 this inscription had not been deciphered.

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Postal and Communication Infrastructure in Ancient India Circa 300 BCE

About 300 BCE the economic growth and political stability under the Maurya Empire in ancient India saw the development of civil infrastructure, including an early mail service. Common chariots called Dagana were sometimes used as mail chariots in ancient India.

"In ancient times the kings, emperors, rulers, zamindars or the feudal lords protected their land through the intelligence services of specially trained police or military agencies and courier services to convey and obtain information through runners, messengers and even through pigeons. The chief of the secret service, known as the postmaster, maintained the lines of communication ... The people used to send letters to [their] distant relatives through their friends or neighbors." (Wikipedia article on Postal System, accessed 12-17-2011)

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Filed under: Communication

The Musawwarat Graffiti Archive Circa 300 BCE – 350 CE

Thousands of graffiti— informal pictorial and inscriptional incisions— adorn the extensive sandstone walls of the Great Enclosure at Musawwarat es-Sufra (المصورات الصفراء al-Musawwarāt as-sufrāMeroitic: Aborepi, Old Egyptian: jbrp, jpbr-ˁnḫ), also known as Al-Musawarat Al-Sufra. This large Meroitic temple complex in modern Sudan, dates back to the 3rd century BCE. The site is located 190 kilometers northeast of Khartoum. Many of the graffiti stem from the Meroitic period (c. 300 BCE to c. 400 CE), but also from the more recent post-Meroitic, Christian and Islamic periods. The graffiti, which name and depict gods, humans, animals — sometimes arranged in scenes, and showing symbols, objects and others — may offer a method for the interpretation of the use of this site over the many centuries of its operation. For example, the graffiti allow a rare view into the interplay between state and folk religion and practices.

In 2011 the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and Humboldt University Berlin began development of the Musawwarat Graffiti Archive. In the "Graffiti in Place Database" a solution was developed for the integration of systematic graffiti-focussed information, and of data on the exact spatial contexts in which the pictorial and inscriptional graffiti were created and used. Such space-related data sets were difficult to publish in traditional paper format, and for this reason were often neglected in research and publication. In March 2014 database entries described 1542 graffiti on 1598 blocks of Temple 300 at the center of Complex 300, one of the most densely marked buildings at the site. The archive also contained more than 2,500 photographs, as well as 900 drawings of the graffiti of Temple 300. 

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The Earliest Surviving Example of a Greek Chronological Table Circa 298 BCE – 264 BCE

The Oxford fragment of the Parian Marble. (View Larger)

The earliest surviving example of a Greek chronological table, the Parian Marble (Marmor Parium) or Parian Chronicle, covers the years from 1581 BCE to 299/8 BCE, inscribed on a marble stele, of which two fragments are known. The first fragment was found on the island of Páros in two sections, and sold in Smyrna in the early 17th century to an agent for Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel. This inscription (ll. 1-45) was deciphered by the antiquarian John Selden and published among the Arundel Marbles, in Marmora Arundelliana (London, 1628-9) nos. 1-21, 59-119. The upper part of the first fragment (A) was later lost and is known only from the transcription published by Selden. The surviving portion of A (ll. 46-93) is preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. A third fragment of Marmor Parium (B)comprising the base of the stele and containing the end of the text (ll. 101-133) with entries from 356-299/98 BCE, was found on Páros in 1897, and is preserved in a museum on that island.

The compiler of the chronology is unknown, but the date of composition can be fixed at 264/3 BCE because of the mention of the name of the Athenian archon Diognetus (l.3) who served during those years. The chronology  includes a list of events from the reign of the mythical king Cecrops to the archonship of Euctemon, with its main focus on Athenian history. Events are arranged in paragraphs which include a short description of the event, the name of the Athenian king or archon, and the number of years elapsing from 264/3 BC expressed in Attic or acrophonic numerals

"It combines dates for events we would consider mythic, such as the Flood of Deucalion (equivalent to 1528/27 BC) with dates we would categorize as historic. For the Greeks, the events of their distant past, such as the Trojan War (dated to 1218 in the Parian inscription) and the Voyage of the Argonauts were historic: their myths were understood as legends to the Greeks. In fact the Parian inscriptions spend more detail on the Heroic Age than on certifiably historic events closer to the date the stele was inscribed and erected, apparently in 264/263 BC. 'The Parian Marble uses chronological specificity as a guarantee of truth,' Peter Green observed in the introduction to his annotated translation of the Argonautica of Apollonios Rhodios: 'the mythic past was rooted in historical time, its legends treated as fact, its heroic protagonists seen as links between the 'age of origins' and the mortal, everyday world that succeeded it' "(Wikipedia article on Parian Chronicle, accessed 11-22-2010).

In December 2014 the Department of Digital Humanities at the University of Leipzig was in the process of producing a Digital Marmor Parium at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 12-21-2014.)

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Philology Probably Begins at the Royal Library of Alexandria Circa 280 BCE

Fragments of the Odyssey, most likely copied in Alexandria.

Commentaries on the Iliad and the Odyssey written during the Hellenistic period at Alexandria began exploring the textual inconsistencies of the poems which occurred as the result of different scribes writing down differing versions of poems passed down through the oral tradition. Examples of these variant readings have survived in Bodleian Library papyrus (MS. Gr. class. b.3 [P]). The process of comparing different manuscript texts— such as would have been preserved at the Alexandrian Library— to arrive at what might be the “canonical” text, was the beginning of philology

The first critical edition of Homer was made by Zenodotus of Ephesus, first superintendant of the Library of Alexandria, who lived during the reigns of the first two Ptolemies, and was at the height of his reputation about 280 BCE. His colleagues in librarianship were Alexander of Aetolia and Lycophron of Chalcis, to whom were allotted the tragic and comic writers respectively, Homer and other epic poets being assigned to Zenodotus.

"Having collated the different manuscripts in the library, he expunged or obelized doubtful verses, transposed or altered lines, and introduced new readings. It is probable that he was responsible for the division of the Homeric poems into twenty-four books each (using capital Greek letters for the Iliad, and lower-case for the Odyssey), and possibly was the author of the calculation of the days of the Iliad in the Tabula Iliaca" (Wikipedia article on Zenodotus, accessed 11-26-2008).

The most famous Greek manuscript of the IliadVenetus A (Marcianus Graecus Z. 454 [=822]), a tenth century codex preserved at the Biblioteca Marciana, Venice, contains several layers of annotations, glosses, and commentaries known as the "A scholia." These are thought to preserve editorial comments made by scholars at the Royal Library of Alexandria, as well as scholia accumulated by late antique annotators and philologists until the manuscript was written at Constantinople during the Macedonian Renaissance.

(This entry was last revised on 12-20-2014.)

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A "Wild" or "Eccentric" Papyrus of the Iliad Circa 275 BCE

Fragments of the Iliad, Books XXI-XXIII, dating from circa 275 BCE, and preserved at the Bodleian Library (MS. Gr. class. b.3 [P]) were recovered from cartonnage, the material made of waste papyrus used to make mummy cases in Egypt. Cartonnage of this type has proven to be a rich source of fragments of literary texts on papyrus.

"Literary papyri of this early date are by no means common, and this one has the added interest of being one of the best examples of what are sometimes called 'wild' or 'eccentric' papyri of Homer. The text deviates substantially, e.g. by the omission or addition of whole lines, from the standard version later established by the Alexandrian scholars." 

"Bibl.: P. Grenf. II. 4 (bought from B. P. Grenfell in 1896) + P. Hibeh 22 (given by the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1909). Other fragments are in Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek (P. Heidelberg 1262-6) Pack 2 no. 979. For a full discussion see S. R. West, The Ptolemaic papyri of Homer (Papyriologica coloniensia, 3), Cologne 1967, 136-191" (Hunt, R.W., The Survival of Ancient Literature, Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1975, No. 1.)

(This entry was last revised on 04-29-2014.)

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Writing on Bamboo and Silk Circa 250 BCE

An example of Lishu, or Clerkly Script, developed by Chinese Bureaucrats to be written with a brush.

In China until the end of the Zhou (Chou) Dynasty (256 BCE), through China’s classical period, writing was done with a bamboo pen, with ink of soot, or lampblack upon slips of bamboo or wood, with wood being used mainly for short messages and bamboo for longer messages and for books.

“Bamboo is cut into strips about 9 inches long and wide enough for a single column of characters. The wood was sometimes in the same form, sometimes wider. The bamboo strips, being stronger, could be perforated at one end and strung together, either with silken cords or with leather thongs, to form books. . .   

“The invention of the writing brush of hair, attributed to the general Meng T’ien [Meng Tian] in the third century B.C., worked a transformation in writing materials. This transformation is indicated by two changes in the language. The word for chapter used after this time means ’roll’; the word for writing materials becomes ’bamboo and silk’ instead of ’bamboo and wood.’ There is evidence that the silk used for writing during the early part of the Han dynasty consisted of actual silk fabric. Letters on silk, dating possibly from Han times, have been found together with paper in a watchtower of a spur of the Great Wall.

“But as the dynastic records of the time state, ’silk was too expensive and bamboo too heavy.’. . .The emperor Chin’in Shih Huang [Qui Shi Huang]  set himself the task of going over daily a hundred and twenty pounds of state documents. Clearly a new writing material was needed.

“The first step was probably a sort of paper or near-paper made of raw silk. This is indicated by the character for paper, which has the silk radical showing material, and by the defintion of that character in the Shuo wen, [Shuowen Jiezi] a dictionary that was finished about the year A.D. 100” (Carter, The Invention of Printing in China and its Spread Westward, 2nd ed.  [1955] 3-4).

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The Septuagint Circa 250 BCE – 50 CE

The Septuagint (LXX), the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Koine Greek, may have been produced at Alexandria, Egypt in stages, starting about 250 BCE. The Alexandrian community then included the largest community of Jews, including a group of scholars who prepared the translation.   

“The Septuagint derives its name (derived from Latin septuaginta, 70, hence the abbreviation LXX) from a legendary account in the Letter of Aristeas of how seventy-two Jewish scholars (six scribes from each of the twelve tribes) were asked by the Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus in the 3rd century BC to translate the Torah for inclusion in the Library of Alexandria. In a later version of that legend narrated by Philo of Alexandria, although the translators were kept in separate chambers, they all produced identical versions of the text in seventy-two days. Although this story is widely viewed as implausible today, it underlines the fact that some ancient Jews wished to present the translation as authoritative. A version of this legend is found in the Talmud, which identifies 15 specific unusual translations made by the scholars. Only 2 of these translations are found in the extant LXX.”

“The oldest witnesses to the LXX include 2nd century BC fragments of Leviticus and Deuteronomy (Rahlfs nos. 801, 819, and 957), and 1st century BC fragments of Genesis, Exodus,Levitcus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and the Minor Prophets (Rahlfs nos. 802, 803, 805, 848, 942, and 943). Relatively complete manuscripts of the LXX include the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus of the 4th century AD/CE and the Codex Alexandrinus of the 5th century. These are indeed the oldest surviving nearly-complete manuscripts of the Old Testament in any language; the oldest extant complete Hebrew texts date from around 1000” (Wikipedia article on Septuagint, accessed 11-29-2008).

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The First Truly Automatic Self-Regulatory Device Circa 250 BCE

A diagram of Ctesibius's water clock.

Greek inventor and mathematician Ctesibius (Ktesibios,Tesibius; Κτησίβιος), probably the first head of the Museum at Alexandria, invented the first artificial automatic self-regulatory system by designing an improved water clock or clepsydra (water thief) that required no outside intervention between the feedback and the controls of the mechanism. Ctesbius's clepsydra kept more accurate time than any clock invented until the Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens invented the pendulum clock, and studied the use of a pendulum to regulate a clock in the 17th century.

"During the first Alexandrian period, it [Ctesibius's clock] was adapted as a way for physicians to count the pulse. It was also used in law courts to time speeches. A long tube was plunged into the water and when it was full, the opening at the top was closed. When it was reopened, the water dripped through a small opening at the lower end. A person was free to speak until the tube was empty. Theoretically, the interval between drips marked a specified time; however, the rate of flow increased when there was more water in the trube. As it emptied, the decrease in pressure slowed the dripping. Ctesbius' objective was to regulate the clock so that the water level did not have to be continually tended. He used a three-tier system in which a large body of water emptied into the clepsydra to insure it remained full. A float and pointer set in a third container indicated the time elapsed. Ctesibus' clepsydra remained the most accurate clock until the fourteenth century when mechanical clocks using a system of leaded weights and levers replaced hydraulic ones.  The float in the clepsydra represents an early example of a feedback mechanism" (Nocks, The Robot. The Life Story of a Technology [2008] 12-13).

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The Earliest Surviving Monolingual Dictionary Circa 250 BCE

An edition of the Erya.(View Larger)

The earliest surviving monolingual dictionary is the Chinese dictionary called the Eyra, produced about 250 BCE.

"The Erya has been described as a dictionary, glossary, synonymicon, thesaurus, and encyclopaedia. Karlgren (1931: 46) explains that the book "is not a dictionary in abstracto, it is a collection of direct glosses to concrete passages in ancient texts." The received text contains 2094 entries, covering about 4300 words, and a total of 13,113 characters. It is divided into nineteen sections, the first of which is subdivided into two parts. The title of each chapter combines shi ("explain; elucidate") with a term describing the words under definition. Seven chapters (4, 8, 9, 10, 12, 18, and 19) are organized into taxonomies. For instance, chapter 4 defines terms for: paternal clan (宗族), maternal relatives (母黨), wife's relatives (妻黨), and marriage (婚姻). The text is divided between the first three heterogeneous chapters defining abstract words and the last sixteen semantically-arranged chapters defining concrete words. The last seven – concerning grasses, trees, insects and reptiles, fish, birds, wild animals, and domestic animals – describe more than 590 kinds of flora and fauna. It is a valuable document of natural history and historical biogeography" (Wikipedia article on Eyra, accessed 05-08-2008).

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The Beginning of Latin Literature Circa 250 BCE

Roman dramatist and epic poet Livius Andronicus translated Homer's Odyssey into Latin, and translated and staged Greek comedies and tragedies in Rome.

This is considered the beginning of Latin literature.

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The Foundation of Paris Circa 250 BCE

About 250 BCE a Celtic iron age tribe called the Parisii established a fishing village near the river Seine (present day France)  

Traditionally the original settlement known as Lutetia was thought to have been located on the Île de la Cité; however it is now believed that the largest pre-Roman settlement in what is now Paris may have been in the present-day suberb of Nanterre.

An interactive English language website on the early history of Paris is http://www.paris.culture.fr/en/, accessed 06-17-2011.

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The First Keyboard Musical Instrument 250 BCE

The Greek inventor and mathematician of Ctesibius (Ktesibios, Tesibius,  Κτησίβιος) of Alexandria, supposedly originally a barber, and also possibly the first head of the Museum of Alexandria, made several contributions to hydraulic engineering. He invented the hydraulis, a water organ that is considered the precursor of the modern pipe organ. This instrument was not an automaton since it required a human player.

Ctesibius described one of the first force pumps for producing a jet of water, or for lifting water from wells, examples of which have been found at various Roman sites, such as at Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester) in Britain. The principle of the siphon has also been attributed to him. In his De architectura Vitruvius described the water organ and credited the force pump to Ctesbius.

"The hydraulis was the world's first keyboard instrument and was, in fact, the predecessor of the modern church organ. Unlike the instrument of the Renaissance period, which is the main subject of the article on the pipe organ, the ancient hydraulis was played by hand, not automatically by the water-flow; the keys were balanced and could be played with a light touch, as is clear from the reference in a Latin poem by Claudian (late 4th century), who uses this very phrase (magna levi detrudens murmura tactu . . . intonet, “let him thunder forth as he presses out mighty roarings with a light touch”) (Paneg. Manlio Theodoro, 320–22)" (Wikipedia article on Hydraulis [Water organ], accessed 12-25-2011).

An original hydraulis from the first century BCE was excavated at Dion, Pieria, Greece, and is preserved in the Museum of Dion.

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The Earliest Escapement Mechanism Circa 250 BCE

The earliest liquid-driven escapement was described by the Greek engineer and writer on mechanics Philo of Byzantium (Φίλων ὁ Βυζάντιος) in his technical treatise Pneumatica (πνευματικά; Pneumatics) chapter 31 as part of a washstand. Philo's Pneumatica was part of a larger work, Mechanike syntaxis (Compendium of Mechanics).

Philo's device worked as follows: a counterweighted spoon, supplied by a water tank, tipped over in a basin when full, releasing a spherical piece of pumice in the process. Once the spoon emptied, it was pulled up again by the counterweight, closing the door on the pumice by the tightening string. Philo's comment that "its construction is similar to that of clocks" indicates that such escapement mechanisms were already integrated in ancient water clocks.

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The Earliest Evidence of a Water-Driven Wheel Circa 250 BCE

The Greeks invented the two main components of watermills, the waterwheel and toothed gearing, and were, along with the Romans, the first to operate undershot, overshot and breastshot waterwheel mills.

The earliest evidence of a water-driven wheel is probably the Perachora wheel  excavated from Perachora, an inland settlement in the Loutraki-Perachoras municipality of the Corinthia prefecture in the periphery of Peloponnese in Greece. The earliest written reference to a water-driven wheel is in the technical treatises Pneumatica and Parasceuastica of the Greek engineer Philo of Byzantium (Φίλων ὁ Βυζάντιος).  

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The Only Extant Ancient Linen Book and the Longest Etruscan Text Circa 250 BCE

Preserved when it was used for mummy wrappings in Ptolemaic Egypt, the Liber Lenteus Zagrabensis (Linen Book of Zagreb), remains the longest extant Etruscan text and the only extant early book written on linen. Though the complete text remains untranslated because of lack of understanding of the Etruscan language, it is thought to be a ritual calendar. Certain local gods mentioned within the text allow its place of production to be narrowed to a small area in southeast Tuscany near Lake Trasimeno where four major Etruscan cities were located: modern day ArezzoPerugiaChiusi and Cortona.

The manuscript was purchased in Alexandria, Egypt in 1848, and preserved in Zagreb, Croatia since 1867; however it was not recognized as an Etruscan text until 1891.

"The book is laid out in twelve columns from right to left, each one representing a "page". Much of the first three columns are missing, and it is not known where the book begins. Closer to the end of the book the text is almost complete (there is a strip missing that runs the entire length of the book). By the end of the last page the cloth is blank and the selvage is intact, showing the definite end of the book.

"There are 230 lines of text, with 1200 legible words. Black ink has been used for the main text, and red ink for lines and diacritics.

"In use it would have been folded so that one page sat atop another like a codex, rather than being wound along like a scroll. Julius Caesar is said to have folded scrolls in similar accordion fashion while on campaigns" (Wikipedia article on Liber Linteus, accessed 10-17-2014).

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The Archive or Library in the Temple of Edfu 237 BCE – 57 BCE

The Temple of Edfu dedicated to the falcon god Horus, located on the west bank of the Nile in the city of Edfu, which was known in Greco-Roman times as Apollonopolis Magna after the chief god Horus-Apollo, was built in the Ptolemaic period between 237 and 57 BCE. Inscriptions on its walls provide information on language, myth and religion during the Greco-Roman period in ancient Egypt. 

In this temple "there is a small room near the court which was used as an archive. The walls show inscriptions concerning 'many chests of books and large leather rolls.' They included all the literature appertaining to a temple; liturgy for daily rites and feast days; manuscripts containing the building plans and instructions for the decorations on the walls of the temple; incantations and priestly lore but also documents relevant to the administration" (Hussein 21).

"Because of the great quantity of extant papyrus rolls, which nevertheless form only a fraction of these existing in ancient times, the question arises as to how and where the Egyptians collected and arranged their books. The texts indicate that papyri were kept because we read that copying was necessary when the original had become worm-eaten. Two institutions could have served as depositories: the 'mansion of books' and the 'mansion of life'. 'Mansion of books' was the designation both for the archives where books were kept and an adminstrative office. . . .The 'mansion of life' was more than a library—it was a kind of university. Here books of all kinds were not only collected and classified, they were also written and handed down to the younger generation. It was the place where all branches of knowledge were cultivated and taught. The term 'mansion of life' also indicated that its prupose was primarily the custodianship of religious texts and the celebration of rites connected with the preservation of the king's life and that of Osiris.

"We are not able to say according to which principles libraries in the 'mansion of books' and in the 'mansion of life' were arranged. But we know. nevertheless, that the collected rolls were listed in catalogues, according to their content, and kept in chests (or other receptacles) on which a tablet with the titles of the books could be fastened or whose covers bore paintings indicating the content of the rolls" (Hussein, Origins of the Book. Egypt's contribution to the development of the book from papyrus to codex [1970] 21-22).

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The Conics of Apollonius of Perga Circa 225 BCE

Like the works of Archimedes, the writings of the Greek geometer and astronomer Apollonius of Perga were not widely studied in the ancient world, and almost nothing is known of his life. Apollonius is believed to have lived in the second half of the third century BCE. From references to Archimedes in Apollonius' writings it is believed that the two men might have known one another. Apollonius is also thought to have spent time in Alexandria.

Apollonius' Conics was originally written in eight books, probably on
eight separate papyrus rolls. The Conics are famous for recognizing
and naming the ellipse, parabola and hyberbola, among other things.
Only books I-IV survived in the original Greek, from copies made on
parchment at the Royal Library of Constantinople. They were organized
early in the sixth century, probably at Alexandria, by the mathematician Eutochius of Ascalon who also edited, and thus probably preserved, the writings of Archimedes. Books V-VII of the Conics survived separately in Arabic translation, and Book VIII was lost, though some idea of its contents can be inferred from lemmas to it in the writings of the Greek mathematician Pappus of Alexandria, whose works survived in more complete form.

Books I-IV of the Conics were first published in print in the Latin
translation by Giovanni Battista Memo, a professor of mathematics at
Venice. The edition was published in Venice by Bernardino Bindoni in
1537, one year after Memo's death. The Greek manuscript that Memo used is unknown; his edition is very rare on the market.

In the first half of the 17th century the Medici family acquired an Arabic manuscript containing Books V-VII of the Conics, which had been lost up to that time. In 1658, with the help of the Maronite scholar Abraham Ecchellensis (Ibrahim ibn Daud al-Haqili), Giovanni Borelli prepared an edited Latin translation of the manuscript, which was published in print in Rome in 1661.

Traditionally, Books I-IV of the Conics were collected in the Latin
translation of the mathematician and humanist Federico Commandino
published in 1566. It was Commandino who also translated from Greek
into Latin the writings of Archimedes (after the editio princeps),
Pappus, the Pneumatics of Heron of Alexandria, and Euclid. 

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science & Medicine (1991) Nos 57 & 58.

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The Terra Cotta Army, An Early Example of Assembly Line Production 215 BCE – 210 BCE

One of three excavation pits of the Terracotta Army. (View Larger)

About 215 BCE Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇; pinyin: Qín Shǐhuáng; Wade-Giles: Ch'in Shih-huang) (Ying Zheng) the first Emperor of China, who ruled a unified China from 221 BCE to his death in 210 BCE at the age of 50, ordered construction of the Terracotta Warriers and Horses, otherwise known as the Terracotta Army, near Xi'an, Shaanxi province, ostensibly to help him rule in the afterlife from his vast mausoleum. Varying in height from 183 to 195 cm (6ft–6ft 5in), according to their role, with generals being tallest, the terracotta figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. It has been estimated that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits.

Creation of this vast collection of painted statuary involved one of the earliest implementations of assembly line production:

"The terracotta figures were manufactured both in workshops by government laborers and also by local craftsmen. The head, arms, legs and torsos were created separately and then assembled. Studies show that eight face moulds were most likely used, and then clay was added to provide individual facial features. Once assembled, intricate features such as facial expressions were added. It is believed that their legs were made in much the same way that terracotta drainage pipes were manufactured at the time. This would make it an assembly line production, with specific parts manufactured and assembled after being fired, as opposed to crafting one solid piece of terracotta and subsequently firing it. In those days, each workshop was required to inscribe its name on items produced to ensure quality control. This has aided modern historians in verifying that workshops that once made tiles and other mundane items were commandeered to work on the terracotta army. Upon completion, the terracotta figures were placed in the pits in precise military formation according to rank and duty" (Wikipedia article on Terracotta Army, accessed 06-01-2009).

"Qin Shi Huang remains a controversial figure in Chinese history. After unifying China, he and his chief adviser Li Si passed a series of major economic and political reforms. He undertook gigantic projects, including the first version of the Great Wall of China, the now famous city-sized mausoleum guarded by a life-sized Terracotta Army, and a massive national road system, all at the expense of numerous lives. To ensure stability, Qin Shi Huang outlawed and burned many books. Despite the tyranny of his autocratic rule, Qin Shi Huang is regarded as a pivotal figure" (Wikipedia article on Qin Shi Huang, accessed 12-30-2009).

The Emperor and the Assassin, a Chinese film directed by Chen Kaige based on a screenplay by Wang Peigong and Chen Kaige, depicted the life of Ying Zheng. 

(This entry was last revised on 11-11-2014.)

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Destroying Most Records of the Past Along with 460, or More, Scholars 213 BCE – 206 BCE

Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang.

Following the advice of his chief adviser Li Si, Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a unified China, ordered most previously existing books to be burned in order to avoid scholars' comparison of his reign with the past. Records which were allowed to escape destruction were:

"books on astrology, agriculture, medicine, divination, and the history of the Qin state. Owning the Book of Songs or the Classic of History was to be punished especially severely. According to the later Records of the Grand Historian, the following year Qin Shi Huang had some 460 scholars buried alive for owning the forbidden books. The emperor's oldest son Fusu criticised him for this act. The emperor's own library still had copies of the forbidden books, but most of these were destroyed later when Xiang Yu burned the palaces of Xianyang in 206 BCE (Wikipedia article on Qin Shi Huang, accessed 01-30-2010).

The Wikipedia article, Burning of books and burying of scholars, presents a different account, quoting the Records of the Grand Historian in footnotes, both in Chinese and English translation:

"According to the Records of the Grand Historian, after Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, unified China in 221 BCE, his chancellor Li Si suggested suppressing the freedom of speech, unifying all thoughts and political opinions. This was justified by accusations that the intelligentsia sang false praise and raised dissent through libel.

"Beginning in 213 BCE, all classic works of the Hundred Schools of Thought — except those from Li Ssu's own school of philosophy known as legalism — were subject to book burning.

"Qin Shi Huang burned the other histories out of fear that they undermined his legitimacy, and wrote his own history books. Afterwards, Li Ssu took his place in this area.

"Li Ssu proposed that all histories in the imperial archives except those written by the Qin historians be burned; that the Classic of Poetry, the Classic of History, and works by scholars of different schools be handed in to the local authorities for burning; that anyone discussing these two particular books be executed; that those using ancient examples to satirize contemporary politics be put to death, along with their families; that authorities who failed to report cases that came to their attention were equally guilty; and that those who had not burned the listed books within 30 days of the decree were to be banished to the north as convicts working on building the Great Wall. The only books to be spared in the destruction were books on medicine, agriculture and prophecy.   

"After being deceived by two alchemists while seeking prolonged life, Qin Shi Huang ordered more than 460 alchemists in the capital to be buried alive in the second year of the proscription, though an account given by Wei Hong in the 2nd century added another 700 to the figure. As some of them were also Confucius scholars Fusu counselled that, with the country newly unified, and enemies still not pacified, such a harsh measure imposed on those who respect Confucius would cause instability. However, he was unable to change his father's mind, and instead was sent to guard the frontier in a de facto exile.

"The quick fall of the Qin Dynasty was attributed to this proscription. Confucianism was revived in the Han Dynasty that followed, and became the official ideology of the Chinese imperial state. Many of the other schools had disappeared" (Wikipedia article on Burning of books and burying of scholars, accessed 01-30-2010).

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The Origins of Bibliography Circa 200 BCE

A digital recreation of the Library of Alexandria.

Around 200 BCE Kallimachos (Callimachus), a renowned poet and head of the Alexandrian Library, compiled a catalogue of its holdings which he called Pinakes (Tables or Lists). Supposedly extending to 120 papyrus rolls, this catalogue amounted to a systematic survey of Greek literature up to its time. It also represented the origins of bibliography. Only a few fragments survived the eventual destruction of the library, together with a scattering of references to it in other ancient works.

Callimachus’s bibliographical methods would not be out of place in a modern library; an analysis of the eight remaining fragments of the Pinakes shows that Callimachus

"1. divided the authors into classes and within these classes if necessary into subdivisions;

"2. arranged the authors in the classes or subdivisions alphabetically;

"3. added to the name of each author (if possible) biographical data;

"4. listed under an author’s name the titles of his works, combining works of the same kind to groups (no more than that can be deduced from the eight citations); and

"5. cited the opening words of each work as well as

"6. its extent, i.e., the number of lines" (Blum, p. 152).

"The Pinakes were neither an inventory nor an exhaustive catalog of the works in the library: they did not list all the copies of a work that the library owned and did not give an indication of how to locate a book in the library—actual access would have required consulting the librarian. The Pinakes built on preexisting practices of list making (including Aristotle's pinakes of poets), sorting (such as Theophrastus' doxographies sorted topically and chronologically), and alphabetizing, the principles of which were likely already understood although they had never been put to such extensive use before" (Blair, Too Much to Know. Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age [201] 17).

The surviving fragments of Kallimachos's Pinakes were first published in print in Hymni, epigrammata et fragmenta, edited by Theodor (Theodorus) J. G. F. Graevius et al. (2 vols, Utrecht, 1697). That edition included the first edition of the monumental 758-page commentary by Ezechiel Spanheim, and also incorporated the 420 fragments collected and elucidated by the English theologian, classical scholar and critic Richard Bentley, whose reading of these fragments represents “the earliest example of a really critical method applied to such a work" (Dictionary of National Biography). ". . . many even of his boldest conjectures have been completely confirmed by the papyri" (Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship 1300-1850, 154.) Among the other commentaries and notes assembled in Graevius's edition are those by Henri Estienne, Nichodemus Frischlin, Bonaventura Vulcanius, and Anne Dacier.

♦ Apart from his contributions to bibliography, Kallimachos is known in the history of books for his quip in Fragments (ed. Pfeiffer) 465 that a "big book is a big evil" (μεγα βιβλιον μεγα κακων), a statement that he made in defense of the short lyric and elegiac poems he wrote and favored over longer epic poems. This has also been translated as "A great book is a great evil."

Breslauer & Folter, Bibliography. Its History and Development (1984) no. 1.  Blum, Kallimachos. The Alexandrian Library and the Origins of Bibliography. Translated by Hans H. Wellisch (1991).

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The Very Long Process of Canonization of the Hebrew Bible Circa 200 BCE – 200 CE

Evidence suggests that the process of canonization of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) occurred over several centuries, probably between 200 BCE and 200 CE.

"Rabbinic Judaism recognizes the twenty-four books of the Masoretic Text, commonly called the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible. Evidence suggests that the process of canonization occurred between 200 BC and AD 200. A popular position is that the Torah was canonized circa 400 BC, the Prophets circa 200 BC, and the Writings circa AD 100  perhaps at a hypothetical Council of Jamnia—this position, however, is increasingly criticised by modern scholars. The book of Deuteronomy includes a prohibition against adding or subtracting (4:2, 12:32) which might apply to the book itself (i.e. a "closed book," a prohibition against future scribal editing) or to the instruction received by Moses on Mt. Sinai. The book of 2 Maccabees, itself not a part of the Jewish canon, describes Nehemiah (around 400 BC) as having "founded a library and collected books about the kings and prophets, and the writings of David, and letters of kings about votive offerings" (2:13-15). The Book of Nehemiah suggests that the priest-scribe Ezra brought the Torah back from Babylon to Jerusalem and the Second Temple (8-9) around the same time period. Both I and II Maccabees suggest that Judas Maccabeus (around 167 BC) likewise collected sacred books (3:42-50, 2:13-15, 15:6-9), indeed some scholars argue that the Jewish canon was fixed by the Hasmonean dynasty. However, these primary sources do not suggest that the canon was at that time closed; moreover, it is not clear that these particular books were identical in content to those that later became part of the Masoretic text. Today, there is no scholarly consensus as to when the Jewish canon was set" (Wikipedia article on Development of the Jewish Bible Canon, accessed 12-24-2009).

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The Library of Pergamum (Pergamon) is Founded 197 BCE – 159 BCE

The ruins of the Library.

Around 197-159 BCE rulers of Pergamum (Pergamon; now Bergama in Turkey) founded a major library. Whether this was in competition with the Alexandrian Library, or just a worthy independent effort, remains the subject of speculation. This project, and the vast buildings constructed for the purpose, is associated with the rule of king Eumenes II. The Library of Pergamum supposedly contained 200,000 papyrus rolls— the second largest library in the ancient world; however, we have no factual basis for calculating the number of rolls either at Alexandria or at Pergamum.

"Legend has it that Mark Antony later gave Cleopatra all of the 200,000 volumes at Pergamum for the Library at Alexandria as a wedding present, emptying the shelves and ending the dominance of the Library at Pergamum. No index or catalog of the holdings at Pergamum exists today, making it impossible to know the true size or scope of this collection.

"Historical accounts claim that the library possessed a large main reading room, lined with many shelves. An empty space was left between the outer walls and the shelves to allow for air circulation. This was intended to prevent the library from becoming overly humid in the warm climate of Anatolia and can be seen as an early attempt at library preservation. Manuscripts were written on parchment, rolled, and then stored on these shelves. A statue of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, stood in the main reading room" (Wikipedia article on Library of Pergamum, accessed 12-24-2009).

♦ Pergamum is sometimes associated with the invention of parchment (charta pergamena). However, writing on prepared animal skins had a long history. Some Egyptian Fourth Dynasty texts were written on parchment. Though the Assyrians and the Babylonians inscribed their cuneiform on clay tablets, they also wrote on parchment from the 6th century BCE onward, and Jews wrote on parchment rolls. It has been argued that the Pergamene authorities were forced to fall back on parchment when supplies of papyrus from Egypt were interrupted during the invasions of Egypt by Antiochus IV Epihanes. During this period scholars from Pergamum may have introduced parchment to Rome where the shortage of papyrus would have had an even greater impact. It has also been conjectured that the Pergamenes may have discovered that "by simplifying the composition of the pelt preparation bath, allied with a special mode of drying wet unhaired pelts (by stretching them as much as possible) smooth taut sheets of uniform opacity could easily be obtained" (Roberts & Skeat, The Birth of the Codex [1983] 9).

Clark, The Care of Books (1901) 9 reproduces a plan of the "temple and precinct of Athena, Pergamon; with that of the Library and adjacent buildings."

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The Rosetta Stone: Key to the Decipherment of Egyptian Hieroglyphs 196 BCE – 1822

Only July 15, 1799 French Capitaine Pierre-François Bouchard, with Napoleon in Egypt, discovered a dark stone 112.3 cm tall, 75.7 wide and 28.4 thick in the ruins of Fort St. Julien near the coastal city of Rosetta (Arabic: رشيد‎ Rašīd, French: Rosette), 65 kilometers east of Alexandria. This stone, which had been used in the construction of a fortress by the fifteenth century Mamluk ruler of Egypt, Al-Ashraf Sayf ad-Din Qa'it Bay (Sultan Qaitbay), was later understood to be a fragment of an ancient stela (stele)— a stone on which one of a series of Ptolemaic decrees issued over the reign of the Hellenistic Ptolemaic dynasty, which ruled Egypt from 305 BCE to 30 BCE, were inscribed and put up in major temple complexes in Egypt. The decree, known as the third Memphis decree, passed by a council of priests from the Ptolemaic period in 196 BCE, affirmed the royal cult of the 13-year-old Ptolemy V as a living god on the first anniversary of his coronation. The decree was written in Egyptian hieroglyphs (the language of the priests, suitable for a priestly decree), in Egyptian Demotic script (the native script used for daily purposes), and in classical Greek (the language of the Hellenistic administration).

The stele found at Rosetta could not have originally been placed there because the land on which it was found did not exist at the time of its carving, but was the result of later sedimentation. Another decree, also written in the same languages, known as the Canopus Decree, was later discovered at Tanis in 1866 by Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius. A second Canopus Decree was found in 1881. A third decree in the same languages, known as the Decree of Memphis (Ptolemy IV) is known in two versions: the Raphia Decree, found 1902 at the site of ancient Memphis, and the Pithom Stele, No. II, found 1923, which has hieroglyphs on the front, 42 lines in Demotic on the back, providing an almos complete translation, and Greek on the side.   

Following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt had been established by the first Ptolemy, known as Ptolemy I Soter, one of Alexander's generals. Ignorant of the Egyptian language, the Ptolemies required their officials to speak Greek and made Greek the language of their administration, a requirement that remained in effect throughout their dynasty, which lasted for a thousand years. During their rule the Ptolemies made their capital city Alexandria the most advanced cultural center in the Greek-speaking world, for centuries second only to Rome. Among their most famous projects were the Royal Library of Alexandria and the Pharos Lighthouse, or Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

Because of the Ptolemaic dynasty's replacement of hieroglyphics by Greek among the educated non-priestly class educated Egyptians outside of the priesthood lost the ability to read their ancient pictographic language. Later, on February 27, 380, emperors Theodosius IGratian, and Valentinian II made Nicene Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire by the Edict of Thessalonica, also known as Cunctos populos, stating that all their subjects should profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria. In 392 CE Theodosius issued a decisive edict closing Egyptian temples. As a result, the latest known inscription written in Egyptian hieroglyphs is dated August 23, 394 CE.

During the centuries of Muslim rule one scholar in Egypt during the ninth to tenth centuries, Ahmad bin Abu Bakr ibn Washshiyah, wrote a treatise on scripts in which he not only interpreted hieroglyphs as pictorial images, but, by relating them to the Coptic language used by Coptic priests during his time, also provided an alphabet in which hieroglyphs represented single letters, though only occasionally correctly. This text, which was read in manuscript by seventeenth-century polymath Athanasius Kircher, was later translated into English by Joseph Hammer, Secretary of the Imperial Legation at Constantinople, and published in print in 1806 as Ancient Alphabets and Hieroglyphic Characters Explained, with an Account of the Egyptian Priests. Following Kircher's early but incorrect attempts to understand hieroglyphs, by the mid-18th century deciphering the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic language became one of the most challenging problems for European archeologists and linguists. Probably in 1761 Abbé Jean-Jacques Barthélemy was the first to suggest that the cartouches or oval-shaped framed sections of hieroglyphic inscriptions contained the names of gods and kings.

The Rosetta Stone was forfeited to the English in 1801 under the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria. Following its arrival in England in 1801, the Rosetta stone was placed in The Society of Antiquaries, where casts were made and sent to the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Dublin and to scholars in France for incorporation in the Description de l'Égypt that was eventually published between 1809 and 1828. In June, 1802 the stone was placed in the British Museum, where it remains. The Society of Antiquaries issued full-size reproductions of the stone between 1802 and 1803. Once the texts were available to scholars the three approximately parallel texts on the Rosetta Stone became key pieces of evidence in the research on hieroglyphics by Antoine Isaac Silvestre de Sacy, Johan David Åkerblad and Thomas Young, culminating in Jean-François Champollion's translation of the hieroglyphic text on the stone in 1822.

The first scholarly publication on the Rosetta Stone was de Sacy's, pamphlet: Lettre au Citoyen Chaptal . . . au sujet de l'inscription Égyptienne du monument trouvé à Rosette (Paris, 1802). In this brief work illustrated with one transcription of a portion of the stone, the orientalist and linguist Sacy, a teacher of Champollion, made some progress in identifying proper names in the demotic inscription. Within the same year another student of Sacy, the Swedish diplomat and orientalist Johan David Åkerblad published another "lettre" which described how he had managed to identify all proper names in the demotic text in just two months.  

"He could also read words like "Greek", "temple" and "Egyptian" and found out the correct sound value from 14 of the 29 signs, but he wrongly believed the demotic hieroglyphs to be entirely alphabetic. One of his strategies of comparing the demotic to Coptic later became a key in Champollion's eventual decipherment of the hieroglyphic script and the Ancient Egyptian language" (Wikipedia article on Johan David Akerblad, accessed 12-27-2012).

"At some period after its arrival in London, the inscriptions on the stone were coloured in white chalk to make them more legible, and the remaining surface was covered with a layer of carnauba wax designed to protect the Rosetta Stone from visitors' fingers. This gave a dark colour to the stone that led to its mistaken identification as black basalt. These additions were removed when the stone was cleaned in 1999, revealing the original dark grey tint of the rock, the sparkle of its crystalline structure, and a pink vein running across the top left corner. Comparisons with the Klemm collection of Egyptian rock samples showed a close resemblance to rock from a small granodiorite quarry at Gebel Tingar on the west bank of the Nile, west of Elephantine in the region of Aswan; the pink vein is typical of granodiorite from this region. . . . (Wikipedia article on Rosetta Stone, accessed 06-10-2011).

♦ When I revised this database entry in October 2012 the Rosetta Stone was the most widely viewed object in the British Museum. Reflective of this intense interest, the British Museum shop then offered a remarkably wide range of products with the Rosetta Stone motif, ranging from facsimiles of the stone in various sizes to umbrellas, coffee mugs, mousepads, neckties, and iPhone cases. In their British Museum Objects in Focus series of booklets they also issued a very useful 64-page compact reference: The Rosetta Stone by Richard Parkinson (2005). Parkinson was the author of the more definitive work entitled Cracking Codes. The Rosetta Stone and Decipherment, with Contributions by W[hitfield] Diffie, M. Fischer, and R.S. Simpson also published by the British Museum in 1999.

(This entry was last revised on August 12, 2014.)

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The Mawangui Silk Texts Circa 175 BCE

A Taoist text preserved on silk and discovered in Mawangui in 1973.

The Mawangdui Silk Texts (Chinese: 馬王堆帛書; pinyin: Mǎwángduī Bóshū), texts of Chinese philosophical and medical works written on silk, were found buried in Tomb no. 3 at Mawangdui, in the city of Changsha, Hunan, China in 1973. 

"They include the earliest attested manuscripts of existing texts such as the I Ching, two copies of the Tao Te Ching, one similar copy of Strategies of the Warring States and a similar school of works of Gan De and Shi Shen. Scholars arranged them into silk books of 28 kinds. Together they count to about 120,000 words covering military strategy, mathematics, cartography and the six classical arts of ritual, music, archery, horsemanship, writing and arithmetic" (Wikipedia article on Mawangdui Silk Texts, accessed 01-31-2010).

Most of the Mawangdui Silk Texts are preserved in the Hunan Provincial Museum.

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Invention of the Astrolabe Circa 150 BCE – 100 BCE

A portrait of Hipparchus from the title page of William Cunningham's Cosmographicall Glasse (1559). (View Larger)

The rudimentary astrolabe was invented in the Hellenistic world, and is often attributed to Hipparchus, who was probably born in Nicaea (now Iznik, Turkey) and probably died on the island of Rhodes. A combination of the planisphere and dioptra, the astrolabe was effectively an analog calculator capable of working out several different kinds of problems in spherical astronomy.

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The Earliest Surviving Analog Computer: the Antikythera Mechanism Circa 150 BCE – 100 BCE

The Antikythera Mechanism discovered off the island of Antikythera, Greece in 1900 or 1901, includes the only specimen preserved from antiquity of a scientifically graduated instrument. It may also be considered the earliest extant mechanical calculator. The device is displayed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, accompanied by a reconstruction made and donated to the museum by physicist and historian of science Derek de Solla Price.

"The Antikythera mechanism must therefore be an arithmetical counterpart of the much more familiar geometrical models of the solar system which were known to Plato and Archimedes and evolved into the orrery and the planetarium. The mechanism is like a great astronomical clock without an escapement, or like a modern analogue computer which uses mechanical parts to save tedious calculation . . . . It is certainly very similar to the great astronomical cathedral clocks that were built. . . ." in Europe beginning in the fourteenth century.

Applying high-resolution imaging systems and three-dimensional X-ray tomography, in 2008 experts deciphered inscriptions and reconstructed functions of the bronze gears on the mechanism. The results of this research, revealed details of dials on the instrument’s back side, including the names of all 12 months of an ancient calendar. Scientists found that the device not only predicted solar eclipses but also organized the calendar in the four-year cycles of the Olympiad, forerunner of the modern Olympic Games.

The new findings also suggested that the mechanism’s concept originated in the colonies of Corinth, possibly Syracuse, in Sicily. The scientists said this implied a likely connection with Archimedes, who lived in Syracuse and died in 212 BCE. It is known that Archimedes invented a planetarium which calculated motions of the moon and the known planets. It is also believed that Archimedes wrote a manuscript, which did not survive, on astronomical mechanisms. Some evidence had previously linked the complex device of gears and dials to the island of Rhodes and the astronomer Hipparchos, who had made a study of irregularities in the Moon’s orbital course.

In June 2106 an international team of archaeologists, astronomers and historians published the results of 10 years of researches on the mechanism in the first 2016 issue of the journal Almagest. Most significantly they were able to read texts preserved in the remains of the mechanisms by innovative imaging techniques.

"This special edition of the Almagest journal investigates the surviving text inscriptions on the Antikythera Mechanism. The structure of the mechanism and the history of the reading of the inscriptions are briefly reviewed. The methods used by the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project to image the inscriptions - computed tomography and polynomial textual mapping - are outlined. The layout of the inscriptions is described, and the dimensions of the mechanism deduced to allow the space available for inscriptions to be estimated. General conventions and notations are provided for the presentation of the inscriptions.

" Table of Contents

The Inscriptions of the Antikythera Mechanism

 1. General Preface to the Publication of the InscriptionsAuthors: : M. Allen , W. Ambrisco , M. Anastasiouc, D. Bate , Y. Bitsakis, A. Crawleyf, M.G.Edmunds, , D. Gelb, R. Hadland, , P. Hockley, A. Jones, T. Malzbender, X. Moussas, A. Ramsey, J.H. Seiradakis, J. M. Steele, A.Tselikas, and M. Zafeiropoulou.

 2. Historical Background and General Observations

Author: A. Jones

 3. The Front Dial and Parapegma Inscriptions

Authors: Y. Bitsakis and A. Jones

 4. The Back Dial and Back Plate Inscriptions

Authors: M. Anastasiou, Y. Bitsakis, A. Jones, J. M. Steele, and M. Zafeiropoulou

 5. The Back Cover Inscription

Authors: Y. Bitsakis and A. Jones

6. The Front Cover Inscription

Authors: M. Anastasiou, Y. Bitsakis, A. Jones, X. Moussas, A.Tselikas, and M. Zafeiropoulou."



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Probably the First Trigonometric Table Circa 150 BCE


Abut 150 BCE Hellenistic astronomer, geographer, and mathematician, Hipparchos of Rhodes, produced a table of chords— an early example of a trigonometric table. 

". . . some historians go so far as to say that trigonometry was invented by him. The purpose of this table of chords was to give a method for solving triangles which avoided solving each triangle from first principles. He also introduced the division of a circle into 360 degrees into Greece" (Mactutor biography of Hipparchus, accessed 11-27-2008).

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The Nash Fragment of the Ten Commandments: The Oldest Hebrew Manuscript Fragment before the Dead Sea Scrolls Circa 150 BCE – 100 BCE

The Nash Papyrus. (View Larger)

The Nash Papyrus, a collection of four papyrus fragments on a single sheet acquired in Egypt in 1898 by Walter Llewellyn Nash and subsequently presented to Cambridge University Library, was the oldest Hebrew manuscript fragment known before the discovery in 1947 of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The provenance of the papyrus is unknown; allegedly it is from Faiyum (Fayyum), Egypt.

The text was first described by Stanley A. Cook in "A Pre-Masoretic Biblical Papyrus,"  Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 25 (1903): 34-56. Though Cook estimated the date of the papyrus as 2nd century CE, subsequent reappraisals have pushed the date of the fragments back to about 150-100 BCE.

"Twenty four lines long, with a few letters missing at each edge, the papyrus contains the Ten Commandments in Hebrew, followed by the start of the Shema Yisrael prayer. The text of the Ten Commandments combines parts of the version from Exodus 20:2-17 with parts from Deuteronomy 5:6-21. A curiosity is its omission of the phrase "house of bondage", used in both versions, about Egypt - perhaps a reflection of where the papyrus was composed.

"Some (but not all) of the papyrus' substitutions from Deuteronomy are also found in the version of Exodus in the ancient Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible. The Septuagint also interpolates before Deuteronomy 6:4 the preamble to the Shema found in the papyrus, and additionally agrees with a couple of the other variant readings where the papyrus departs from the standard Hebrew Masoretic text. The ordering of the later commandments in the papyrus (Adultery-Murder-Steal, rather than Murder-Adultery-Steal) is also that found in most texts of the Septuagint, as well as in the New Testament (Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20, Romans 13:9, and James 2:11, but not Matthew 19:18).

"According to the Talmud it was once customary to read the Ten Commandments before saying the Shema. As Burkitt put it, 'it is therefore reasonable to conjecture that this Papyrus contains the daily worship of a pious Egyptian Jew, who lived before the custom came to an end'.

"It is thus believed that the papyrus was probably drawn from a liturgical document, which may have purposely synthesised the two versions of the Commandments, rather than directly from Scripture. However, the similarities with the Septuagint text give strong evidence for the likely closeness of the Septuagint as a translation of a Hebrew text of the Pentateuch extant in Egypt in the second century BC that differed significantly from the texts later collated and preserved by the Masoretes (Wikipedia article on Nash Papyrus, accessed 12-24-2009).

Burkitt, F.C., "The Hebrew Papyrus of the Ten Commandments," The Jewish Quarterly Review, 15 (1903) 392-408.

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Acta Diurna: the First Daily Gazette Circa 130 BCE

Ruins of the Roman Forum, where the Acta Diurna was posted.

Copies of Acta Diurna ("Daily Events", or the "Daily Public Record"), were carved on stone or metal and presented in message boards in public places like the Roman Forum beginning about 130 BCE. They were also called simply Acta or Diurna or sometimes Acta Popidi or Acta Publica. These are thought to be the first daily gazettes.

"Their original content included results of legal proceedings and outcomes of trials. Later the content was expanded to public notices and announcements and other noteworthy information such as prominent births, marriages and deaths. After a couple of days the notices were taken down and archived, (though no intact copy has survived to the present day).

"Sometimes scribes made copies of the Acta and sent them to provincial governors for information. Later emperors used them to announce royal or senatorial decrees and events of the court.

"Other forms of Acta were legal, municipal and military notices. Acta Senatus were originally kept secret, until then-consul Julius Caesar made them public in 59 BCE. Later rulers, however, often censored them" (Wikipedia article on Acta Diurna, accessed 07-31-2009).

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The Great Isaiah Scroll, the Only Nearly Complete Biblical Book Surviving Among the Dead Sea Scrolls Circa 100 BCE

The Isaiah Scroll. (View Larger)

The Great Isaiah Scroll is the best-preserved and the only nearly complete biblical book in the cache of 220 biblical scrolls discovered in Qumran on the northwestern coast of the Dead Sea. It is one of the original seven scrolls discovered in Cave One at Qumran in 1947. Isaiah was the most popular prophet of the Second Temple period: 21 copies of the scroll were found in Qumran. The text includes the familiar unfulfilled prophecy:

“and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

In September 2011 the entire Great Isaiah Scroll was published online as part of the The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls project sponsored by the Israel Museum's Shrine of the Book and Google.

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The Earliest Bookbindings Circa 100 BCE

The craft of bookbinding originated in India. Religious sutra, meaning "a rope or thread that holds things together," were copied onto palm leaves cut in two, lengthwise, with a metal stylus. The leaf was then dried and rubbed with ink, which formed a stain in the stylus tracings in the leaf. The finished leaves were numbered, and two long twines were threaded through each end through wooden boards. When closed, the excess twine was wrapped around the boards to protect the leaves of the book. Buddhist monks took the idea of bookbinding through what we call Persia, Afghanistan, and Iran, to China in the first century BCE.

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The Earliest Treatise on Mnemonics Circa 90 BCE

Rhetorica ad Herennium, a treatise on rhetoric, persuasion, and mnemonics, was composed about 90 BCE. This treatise, of which over 100 medieval manuscripts survive, was formerly attributed to the Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, orator Cicero. Its authorship is now considered unknown.

During the Middle Ages Rhetorica ad Herennium was the most influential treatise on mnemonics. The techniques it expounded, known as the method of loci, or memory palace, were attributed to the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos (Kea). The Rhetorica is the only comprehensive discussion of Simonides' techniques that survived from the ancient world through the Middle Ages.  

"The techniques described in this book were widely practiced in the ancient and medieval worlds. Memory training was considered a centerpiece of classical education in the language arts, on par with grammar, logic and rhetoric. Students were taught not just what to remember but how to remember it. In a world with few books, memory was sacrosanct" (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/20/magazine/mind-secrets.html, accessed 02-20-2011).

The section on mnemonics appears in Book III, pp. 205-213 of the Loeb Library edition.

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The Tabularium, Archives of Republican Rome, is Founded Circa 78 BCE

The Roman Tabularium. (View Larger)

In 87 BCE the archives of Republican Rome, the Tabularium, was constructed within the Forum Romanum.

"Except for a few isolated cases, the general archives is a product of the last two hundred years. Although the Tabularium, the archives of Republican Rome, showed a tendency to absorb records of various administrative orgiins, the idea of concentrating in one place the archives of different creators was alien to ancient and medieval times. The ancient world did not even have the concept of an archivio di deposito, for nowhere are there to be found arrangements revealing an intention to differentiate adminstratively between current records and those no longer regularly needed for the dispatch of business. It was only in the Middle Ages that a discriminating attitude toward the value of records developed. This was expressed in the practice of copying important records in cartularies so as to have them available for frequent use, while the originals were carefully protected in an inner sanctum, as for instance, the Byzantine skeuophylakion. By and large, however, it was the emerging recognition of the research value of records that led to the distinction between records of daily usefulness and others to be preserved because of their long-range importance.

An interior corridor of the Tabularium. (View Larger)

"In the ancient period, this distinction was not made; and this means that by archives we must understand all kinds of records. In fact, the term archives itself may be slightly inappropriate, for even in its broadest meaning the word suggests an intention to keep records in usable order and in premises suitable to that purpose. In the Near East, where great quantities of records have been found on excavation sites, only rarely could any part of the site be identified as an archives room. Most of the time we cannot tell whether we are dealing with an archival aggregate or with a collection of trash, the equivalent of a modern waste-paper basket. And yet we cannot exclude such disjecta membra from our consideration, because they may still reveal a pattern worth discovering. When Bernard P. Grenfell, Arthur S. Hunt, and J. Gilbart Smyly discovered the mummies of the "papyrus enriched" holy crocodiles in Eqyptian Tebtunis, they sensibly decided to include in the first volume of their publication a "classification of papyri according to crocodiles," for papyri in the belly of the same animal might reveal relationships reflecting their administrative provenance and an original arrangement" (Posner, Archives in the Ancient World [1972] 4-5).

♦ In February 2014 a slide show about the Tabularium was available at this link.

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The Book Trade in Cicero's Rome Circa 70 BCE

Marcus Tullius Cicero. (View Larger)

"We hear nothing of a book trade at Rome before the time of Cicero. Then the booksellers and copyists (both initially called librarii) carried on an active trade, but do not seem to have met the high standards of a discriminating author, for Cicero complains of the poor quality of their work (Q.f. 3-.4.5, 5.6). Most readers depended upon borrowing books from friends and having their own copies made from them, but this too demanded skilled copyists. It was perhaps for such reasons that Atticus, who had lived for a long time in Greece and there had some experience of a well-established book trade, put his staff of trained librarii at the service of his friends. It is not easy to see whether Atticus is at any given moment obliging Cicero as a friend or in a more professional capacity, but  it is clear that Cicero could depend on him to provide all the services of a high-class publisher. Atticus would carefully revise a work for him, criticize points of style or content, discuss the advisability of publication or the suitability of a title, hold private readings of the new book, send out complimentary copies, organize its distribution. His standards of excecution were of the highest and his name a guarantee of quality" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 3rd. ed. [1991] 23-24).

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Details of the Roman Book Trade Circa 70 BCE – 100 CE

"Bookdealers, like many businessmen in Rome, tended to be freedmen, men of low social status. We come across a few names: the Sosii, for instance, who worked with Horace; Dorus, who Seneca says handled Livy; and Pollio Valerianus, the freedman Secundus, and Trypho, who deal with the books of Martial. They were, in simple terms the owners of small shops that dealt in luxury items. Perhaps as significant, they apparently only handled current literature and did not sell older works.

"Their business was conducted at the retail level: each bookdealer made the copies he sold. There was little or no distribution system to support the individual shop-owner and therefore, virtually no broad-based geographical distribution except on the individual level. If a bookshop owner in a provincial city sold a copy of a book, it implies that he had made that copy, not that he had bought a large number of copies from a Rome-based distributor.

"Most of the copies bookdealers sold were probably made at the specific request of a customer. The shop-owner merely needed to have on hand or to acquire exemplars of various texts from which he could make copies as necessary. A stock might be maintained of some texts . . . .

"We have no idea at all how many copies of a work might be made. A famous letter of Pliny mentions that Regulus had one thousand copies made of his eulogy for his son, but that is an unusual kind of text and Pliny thinks the number excessive and in bad taste. The question is actually close to meaningless in a world of individually made copies, since the number of copies would increase directly in proportion to the number of readers who wanted one and was not related to the number made at any particular time.

"Nor do we know how the individual copies were made. The most common method was undoubtedly having slaves make one copy after another from a master copy, as probably happened with Regulus' one thousand copies of his eulogy of his son. Various other methods have also been suggested. To extrapolate the pecia system back in time, a text might be divided into sections which would then be passed out to a number of different copyists. Alternatively, one person mght dictate a text to several others, who would write it out, thus producing an economy of time. Our modern insistence on economies of speed and scale, however, makes it difficult for us to keep in mind that such economies did not necessarily motivate the Romans.

"Book prices in bookstores also elude conclusive discussion, since they appear only very occasionally in the surviving sources. For example, as we have seen, Martial mentions that a deluxe copy of one of his books costs five denarii. The basic points, however, reduce the importance of the question. First, book prices would not have concerned the large majority of the population of the Roman world for the simple reason that they could not read. Second, the economic structure of that population – with a very small number of very wealthy people, a very large number of very poor people, and no significant middle class in the modern sense – put books at any price out of most people's reach. Third, as we have seen, the booktrade was merely an ancillary system of circulation beside the private channels that probably supplied the vast majority of literary texts. In short, not many people owned books in the first place, and, of those who did, not many bought them at bookshops.

"More tantatlizing questions are who patronized bookdealers and why. The answer may lie in the fact that Roman bookdealers were not in competition with the private channels of circulation in which so much of roman literature moved. If a Roman could acquire a text through those private channels, there was no reason for him to buy from a bookdealer. Neither Cicero nor Pliny, for instance, two of our major sources for the circulation of literary texts, ever mentions going to a bookshop. This, of course, does not prove that they never visited such a shop, but it may suggest that they obtained any texts they wanted through their friends. if a reader's circle of friends included neither the author of the text nor someone who owned a copy, then a bookstore might provide a helpful service. Catullus, for example, says that he will torment a friend by buying books of bad poetry and giving them to him (14.1-20). The joke may be based not only on the low quality of the poetry but also on the implication that the poets he mentions were so terrible that no one in his circle would know them or own a copy of their poetry.

"Since even the elite used bookstores as gathering-places and since booksellers put up advertisements on their doorposts, the shop would expose the work of unknowns to the literary upper crust. That exposure might conceivably and eventually produce social contact, which at least theoretically, might provide a way to break into the concentric circules of circulation and friendship and might even result in the discovery of a patron. Monetary gain directly from the sale of copies was not a factor.

"Other advantages have been suggested by modern scholars but are overstated. First, a bookstore was a place to send people who wanted a copy, as Martial sends his obnoxious Quintus, to whom he does not want to give a gift copy and with whom he does not want to acknowledge the degree of friendship that would imply. This, however, would only be done in awkward situations, not as a common practice. Second, bookshops have been thought to provide some safeguard for the accuracy of the text, at least early in its circulation, although the relatively unregulated circulation of texts would substantially limit this advantage.

"The Booktrade appears to become more important during the first century A.D., so that by Pliny's time it appears to have become an accepted method for the circulation of literature, although by no means the only method. Martial, as we have seen, often mentions the dealers who handle his books. . . . By Pliny's time, at least some authors thought it appropriate to give a copy of a work to a bookseller, who could then make and sell copies if anyone wanted them. Even if bookshops did become more important, however, private channels did not lose their importance. Such channels wold have continued to serve the literary needs of the established literary and social élite and would also have continued to provide non-literary works such as commentaries and lexica.

"The increasing importance of bookshops may be due to several factors. First, authors in Pliny's time may have wanted to reach further beyond the narrow circles of their own friends and their friends' friends. It would be misleading to think of this as an increase in author's ambitions, since this might seem to imply that earlier writers were men of modest ambitions. Rather, the change may have represented a somewhat broader conception of the potential audience for a literary work. Even so, wider distribution does not imply an enormous increase in the number and diversity of the reading public, since the potential audience remains the intellectual aristocracy. The change would still be profound, nonetheless, since it implies the partial freeing of literature from the bonds of friendship.

Second, a larger role for bookshops may reflect the emergence of a relatively new type of Roman writer. For old Roman writers, literature was always seen as merely one facet of the life of an aristocrat, albeit a very important one. Althought writing and reading undoubtedly affected their social relationships, those relationships were also based on other ties such as politics, marriage alliances and family traditions. For the newer writers such as Martial, however, arriving in Rome from abroad, lacking the ties of politics and the other elements of aristocratic friendship, literature provided a point of access to the aristocracy, a way of making contact with the elite. From them ltierature played a functional role in addition to its earlier one. Any financial advantage, however, came from the well-established system of patronage.

"Third, since, as has been argued above, bookshops enjoyed no special status above that of any luxury shop, that very commonality of commercial status may hint that literature was becoming something that could be bought and sold like perfume or expensive fabric. Since literature had been and remained a symbol of social status, its reduction to a marketable commodity may indicate a weakening of the hold of the traditional aristocracy on the control of access to social status. In earlier Roman society, one had to be a member of an aristocratic group to acquire access to works that circulated primarily with that group. In this later period, bookstores made it at least theoretically possible for access to literature to precede and perhaps even to facilitate access to certain refined circles.

"Yet, for all these suggestions, Roman literature remained the preserve of the aristocracy except in oratorical events and public performances. If bookshops helped literature move out of the strict control of aristocratic groups of friends, they actually did so only to help outsiders gain access to those élite circles" (Raymond J. Starr,"The Circulation of Literary Texts in the Roman World," The Classical Quarterly 37, No. 1 [1987] 213-223, quoting from 219-23.) Note that I could not include the approximately 30 footnotes associated with this quotation.

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Possibly the Earliest System of Shorthand 63 BCE

Vindolanda Tablet 122 with Latin shorthand, possibly notae Tironianae, c.90-130 CE. (View Larger)

Plutarch records that in 63 BCE the system of shorthand known as Tironian notes was used to record Cato the Younger's denunciation against Catiline:

"This only of all Cato's speeches, it is said, was preserved; for Cicero, the consul, had disposed in various parts of the senate-house, several of the most expert and rapid writers, whom he had taught to make figures comprising numerous words in a few short strokes; as up to that time they had not used those we call shorthand writers, who then, as it is said, established the first example of the art."

"Tironian notes (notae Tironianae) is a system of shorthand said to have been invented by Cicero's scribe Marcus Tullius Tiro. Tiro's system consisted of about 4,000 signs, somewhat extended in classical times to 5,000 signs. In the Medieval period, Tironian notes were taught in monasteries and the system was extended to about 13,000 signs. The use of Tironian notes declined after A.D. 1100 but some use can still be seen through the 17th century" (Wikipedia article on Tironian notes, accessed 04-20-2009).

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Caesar's Gallic Wars 58 BCE – 51 BCE

Roman proconsul Julius Caesar waged a series of military campaigns called the Gallic Wars against several Gallic tribes. The Gallic Wars culminated in the decisive Battle of Alesia in 52 BCE, in which a complete Roman victory resulted in the expansion of the Roman Republic over the whole of Gaul. The battle of Alesia also marked marked the definitive conquest of the Continental Celtic people by the Roman Republic, and the end of Celtic dominance in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Northern Italy.

"In 52 BC another, larger revolt erupted in Gaul, led by Vercingetorix. Vercingetorix managed to unite the Gallic tribes and proved an astute commander, defeating Caesar in several engagements, but Caesar's elaborate siege-works at the Battle of Alesia finally forced his surrender. Despite scattered outbreaks of warfare the following year, Gaul was effectively conquered. Plutarch claimed that the army had fought against three million men during the Gallic Wars, of whom 1 million died, and another million were enslaved. The Romans subjugated 300 tribes and destroyed 800 cities.  However, in view of the difficulty in finding accurate counts in the first place, Caesar's propagandistic purposes, and the common exaggeration of numbers in ancient texts, the totals of enemy combatants are likely to be too high" (Wikipedia article on Julius Caesar, accessed 06-17-2011).

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The Earliest Bibliographical Classification System Circa 53 BCE – 23 CE

The Seven Epitomes is thought to have been compiled by the Chinese astronomer, historian and editor Liu Xin (Liu Hsin) during the Xin Dynasty, circa 53 BCE to 23 CE. A by-product of a collation project commissioned by the Emperor Ch'eng Ti of the Han Dynasty, it was the catalogue of all collated books housed in the libraries of the Inner Court at the time, initiated under the supervision of Liu Xiang (Liu Hsiang). These had been recovered after the burning of the books under the rule of the First Emperor Qin Shi Huang in 213-206 BCE.

Although the original classification system no longer survives, Chinese bibliographers believe that the majority of its entries, in a much abridged form, and its original classification structure, have been preserved in the “Bibliographic Treatise” of the History of the [Former] Han Dynasty (Han shu “yi wen zhi”, compiled about a hundred years later. Scholars estimate that there were more than six hundred annotated entries in the Seven Epitomes arranged according to a carefully designed classification system. The title of the catalogue seems to suggest that the system consisted of seven epitomes (classes). However, the “Treatise” included only six classes (without “Ji lüe” or the Collective Epitome). Since the Seven Epitomes is no longer extant, scholars have not been able to reach a consensus regarding the nature and content of Ji lüe. One speculation that has been widely accepted is that Ji lüe was the collection of brief summaries now seen at the end of each of the six main classes and their divisions. Nevertheless, no one disputes that the classification in the Seven Epitomes was a six-fold scheme.

"There are six classes and divisions in the Seven Epitomes:

"1. Liu yi lüe (Epitome of the Six Arts) consisted of nine divisions, including one for each of the Six Classics (Odes, Documents, Rites, Music, Changes, and Spring and Autumn Annals), Analects of Confucius, Book of Filial Piety, and philology.

"2. Zhu zi lüe (Epitome of the Masters) consisted of ten divisions, including nine major affi liations of thought commonly known during the Warring States and an added affi liation of Novelists. "

3. Shi fu lüe (Epitome of Lyrics and Rhapsodies) consisted of fi ve divisions, including three styles of poetry and two other genres. "

4. Bing shu lüe (Epitome of Military Texts) consisted of four divisions (tactics, terrain, yin/yang, and military skills).

"5. Shu shu lüe (Epitome of Numbers and Divination) consisted of six divisions, including astronomy, chronology, fi ve phases correlative elements, divination, miscellaneous fortune-telling, and geomancy).

"6. Fang ji lüe (Epitome of Formulae and Techniques) consisted of four divisions, including medical classics, pharmacology, sexology, and longevity"  (Hurl-Li Lee, "Origins of the Main Classes in the First Chinese Bibliographic Classification" https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/hurli/www/Chinese/Lee_ISKO2008.pdf, accessed 01-11-2011).

Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien, "A History of Bibliographic Classification in China," The Library Quarterly XXII (1952)  307-324.

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The Oldest Surviving Manuscript of Latin Poetry Circa 50 BCE – 25 CE

The Roman poet, orator and politician Gaius Cornellus Gallus, prefect of Egypt from 30 to 26 BCE, enjoyed a high reputation among his contemporaries as a man of intellect, and was considered by the poet Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) to be the first of the elegiac poets of Rome. He is known to have written four books of elegies chiefly on his mistress Lycoris (a poetic name for Cytheris), a notorious actress, and he is thought to have been an inspiration for the Latin elegiac poet Sextus Propertius, and the Latin poet Albius Tibullus as well as Ovid. Yet his literary reputation is entirely based on heresay since until the late 20th century only one pentameter of his had survived.

In 1978 excavations at Qasr Ibrim yielded a papyrus fragment containing nine lines by Gallus. Qasr Ibrim was originally a major city perched on a cliff above the Nile, but the flooding of Lake Nasser after the construction of the Aswan High Dam transformed it into an island, which remains a major site for archaeological investigations. The Gallus papyrus is designated PQasrIbrîm inv. 78-3-11/ (L1/2). It consists of five fragments of papyrus which join to make a single piece 19.4 cm wide by 16.3 cm high. The papyrus was published with very extensive analysis by R. D. Anderson, P. J. Parsons and R.G.M. Nisbet in "Elegiacs by Gallus from Qasr Ibrîm," Journal of Roman Studies 69 (1979) 125-55, including color reproductions of portions of the papyrus.

Among some of their observations:

"At all events, we have here the remains of a Roman book, very probably of the reign of Augustus, quite possibly of the lifetime of Gallus himself. It is, with PHerc 817 (Carmen de bello Aegypticaco), by far our oldest MS of Latin poetry." (p. 128) [PHerc 817 is not later than 79 CE.]

"The text is written in a small formal upright bilinear bookhand. This is among the earliest examples (very possibly is the earliest example) of the style, which in many features anticipates the 'canonized' (that is, ossified) Rustic Capital of iv A. D. and after.

"The book can be dated from its archaeological context, more precisely (c.50-20 B.C.) or less precisely (c.50 B.C.- A.D. 25). It therefore provides one of the few fixed points in the early history of Latin literary scripts." (P. 135)

"Given the rarity of early Latin books, it is not easy to assess this one. The script is small and neat and deftly executed, less gawky than PHerc 817, less ostentatiously stylish than in PHer 1475; despite wide inconsistences of ornament, letter-shape and even ductus (which indeed may have been the norm before canonization set in), an elegant calligraphic performance. This, with wide margins, certainly suggests a good professional copy. On the other hand, the apex is not written, in contrast to some other early MSS, and a clear mistake is not corrected, although the employment of a corrector was—for scholars at least—an essential part of proper book production. This mixture of features may be a matter of date, of quality or of both. We cannot even tell whether the book was imported from Italy, or copied (under Gallus' prefecture) in Egypt." (p. 138).

"Scholars used to believe, in the absence of any surviving poetry by Gallus and on the basis of his high reputation among his contemporaries, that his poetical gifts were little short of those of Virgil. A nineteenth-century British classicist famously asked, 'What would we not barter of all the epics of empire for ten lines of Gallus?' The discoveries at Qasr Ibrim have now given us nine lines of Gallus. Coincidentally, one of them mentions Lycoris, ('saddened, Lycoris, by your wanton behaviour'), confirming their authorship. Possibly atypical, these surviving lines are of disappointing quality. They are written in a Latin more Lucretian and Catullan than Virgilian, and a certain roughness in the composition recalls Quintilian's judgment that Gallus's style was durior (rather harsh). Their sentiments are conventional, and show little trace of originality" (Wikipedia article on Cornelius Gallus, accessed 03-01-2014). 

According to Anderson, Parsons and Nisbet, PQasrIbrîm in. 78-3-11/1 (L1/2) (case 7, item 84) is preserved in the Cairo Museum.

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Julius Caesar Introduces a Calendar and Plans a Great Library 46 BCE


In 46 BCE Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar. The Julian Calendar has a regular year of 365 days divided into 12 months, and a leap day is added every four years, so the average Julian year is 365.25 days. This calendar remained in use into the 20th century in some countries and is still used by many national Orthodox churches. "However with this scheme too many leap days are added with respect to the astronomical seasons, which on average occur earlier in the calendar by about 11 minutes per year, causing it to gain a day about every 128 years. It is said that Caesar was aware of the discrepancy, but felt it was of little importance."

Caesar planned to establish a public library to equal or surpass the one at Alexandria. He appointed Marcus Terentius Varro, a noted scholar and book collector, to gather copies of the best-known literature for a Roman public library. However these plans were, of course, shelved when Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE.

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Foundation of Lugdunum (Lyon) 43 BCE

In 43 BCE Roman senator and consul Lucius Munatius Plancus founded Colonia Copia Claudia Augusta Lugdunum (now: Lyon, France). Lugdunum served as the capital of the Roman province Gallia Lugdunensis.  It was possibly the most important city in the Roman Empire west of Italy.

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Filed under: Social / Political

Virgil Composes the Ecologues, the Georgics and the Aeneid 42 BCE – 19 BCE


Between 42 and 19 BCE Publius Vergilius Maro composed the Ecologues, the Georgics,  dying before the Aeneid was complete. Virgil's (Vergil's) writings were widely copied in the Middle Ages. Manuscripts of his poems are among the earliest surviving literary codices in Latin.

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Humorous Inscriptions on Lead Sling-Bolts (Sling Bullets; Slingshot) Reflect a Roman War of Words 41 BCE

Sling-bolts, or bullets, engraved with a winged lightning-bolt on one side, and the words 'take that' on another. Circa fourth century BCE Athens. (View Larger)

Evidence of wide-ranging military literacy in the Roman Empire can be of a very ephemeral kind:

"In 41 BC during the civil war that followed the death of Julius Caesar, Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus) trapped Lucius Antonius and Fulvia (the brother and the wife of Mark Antony) within the walls of the central Italian town of Perugia. A number of lead sling-bolts (roughly the size of hazelnuts), manufactured during the seige that followed, have been recovered in Perugia; they bear short inscriptions, which both sides carved into their moulds, so that the bolts [also called sling bullets or slingshot] could be used in a war of words, as well as to inflict death or injury. Some of these inscriptions are fairly tame, wishing victory to one or other side, or commenting on Lucius Antonius' receding hairline (which is also known from his coinage). Others are rather richer in flavour, like the one, fired from Octavian's side, which bluntly asks: Lucius Antonius the bald, and Fulvia, show us your arse [L. [uci] A[antoni] calve, Fulvia, culum pan[dite] ]. Whoever composed this refined piece of propaganda and had it cast into a sling-bolt certainly expected some of the soldery on the other side to be able to read" (Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization [2005] 157-58).

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The First-Known Public Library in Rome Circa 37 BCE

A coin depicting the profile and birth of Gaius Asinius Pollio. (View Larger)

About 37 BCE Gaius Asinius Pollio, general, lawyer, orator, poet, friend of Virgil and Horace, and Consul in 40 BCE, having amassed a fortune in his conquest of Dalmatia and/or campaigns in Parthia, consolidated several book collections already in Rome, possibly including those of Varro and Sulla, to form a library in the Temple of Liberty (Atrium Libertatis) on the Aventine Hill.

As was standard, the library had Greek and Latin wings. "Public archives had already been housed there, but Pollio reorganized the collection, added the libraries he had acquired, and opened the whole to the public about 37 B.C., making it the first-known public library in Rome” (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed. [1999] 57.)

Clark, The Care of Books (1902) p. 12 quotes Pliny's remark about Asinius Pollio: "he was the first to make men's talents public property (ingenia hominium rem publicam fecit)."

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Filed under: Libraries

Book Trade and Libraries in the Roman Empire Circa 30 BCE

"By the end of the Roman Republic the institutions and processes that govern and guard the transmission of the written word were already in existence, and under Augustus and his successors they were refined and consolidated. The book trade became more important, and we soon hear of the names of established booksellers: Horace speaks of the Sosii, later Quintilian and Martial tell of the Tryphon, Atrectus, and others. By the time of the Younger Seneca book collecting was derided as a form of extravagant ostentation. Augustus founded two public libraries, one in 28 B.C. in the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine, the other, not long afterwards, in the Porticus Octaviae. Thereafter libraries were a common form of both private and imperial munificence, in Rome and the provinces. Pliny founded a library in his native Comum and provided money for its upkeep; the best-preserved (and restored) ancient library is that built at Ephesus in memory of Titus Julius Celsus, proconsul of Asia A.D. 106-7; one of the most famous was the Bibliotheca Ulpia founded by Trajan, which long survived the disasters of fire and strife and was still standing in the fifth century" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 3rd. ed. [1991] 24-25).

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The Portland Vase: Classical Connoisseurship, Influence, Destruction & Conservation 30 BCE – 25 CE

The Portland Vase. Shown is the first of two scenes. (View Larger)

A Roman cameo glass vase, the Portland Vase, created between 30 BCE and 25 CE, and known since the Renaissance, served as an inspiration to many glass and porcelain makers from about the beginning of the 18th century onwards. It is about 25 centimeters high and 56 in circumference, made of violet-blue glass, and surrounded with a single continuous white glass cameo depicting seven figures of humans and gods. "On the bottom was a cameo glass disc, also in blue and white, showing a head, presumed to be of Paris or Priam on the basis of the Phrygian cap it wears. This roundel clearly does not belong to the vase, and has been displayed separately since 1845. It may have been added to mend a break in antiquity or after, or the result of a conversion from an original amphora form (paralleled by a similar blue-glass cameo vessel from Pompeii) - it was definitely attached to the bottom from at least 1826."

"The meaning of the images on the vase is unclear and controversial. Interpretations of the portrayals have included that of a marine setting (due to the presence of a ketos or sea-snake), and of a marriage theme/context (i.e. as a wedding gift). Many scholars (even Charles Towneley) have concluded that the figures do not fit into a single iconographic set."

"Cameo-glass vessels were probably all made within about two generations as experiments when the blowing technique (discovered in about 50 BC) was still in its infancy. Recent research has shown that the Portland vase, like the majority of cameo-glass vessels, was made by the dip-overlay method, whereby an elongated bubble of glass was partially dipped into a crucible (fire-resistant container) of white glass, before the two were blown together. After cooling the white layer was cut away to form the design."

"The work towards making a 19th century copy proved to be incredibly painstaking, and based on this it is believed that the Portland Vase must have taken its original artisan no less than two years to produce. The cutting was probably performed by a skilled gem-cutter. It is believed that the cutter may have been Dioskourides, as gems cut by him of a similar period and signed by him."

Traditionally the vase was believed to have been discovered by Fabrizio Lazzaro in the sepulchre of the Emperor Alexander Severus, at Monte del Grano near Rome, and excavated some time around 1582.

The first documented reference to the vase is a 1601 letter from the French scholar Nicolas Claude Fabri de Peiresc to the painter Peter Paul Rubens, where it is recorded as in the collection of Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte in Italy. It then passed to the Barberini family collection (which also included sculptures such as the Barberini Faun and Barberini Apollo) where it remained for some two hundred years, being one of the treasures of Maffeo Barberini, later Pope Urban VIII.

In 1778 Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador in Naples, purchased it from James Byres. "Byres, a Scottish art dealer, had acquired it after it was sold by Donna Cornelia Barberini-Colonna, Princess of Palestrina. She had inherited the vase from the Barberini family. Hamilton brought it to England on his next leave, after the death of his first wife, Catherine. In 1784, with the assistance of his niece, Mary, he arranged a private sale to Margaret Cavendish-Harley, widow of William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland and so dowager Duchess of Portland. She passed it to her son William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland in 1786.

"The 3rd Duke loaned the original vase to Josiah Wedgwood (see below) and then to the British Museum for safe-keeping, at which point it was dubbed the "Portland Vase". It was deposited there permanently by the fourth Duke in 1810, after a friend of his broke its base. The original Roman vase has remained in the British Museum ever since 1810, apart from three years (1929-32) when William Cavendish-Bentinck, 6th Duke of Portland put it up for sale at Christie's. It failed to reach its reserve. It was purchased by the Museum from William Cavendish-Bentinck, 7th Duke of Portland in 1945 with the aid of a bequest from James Rose Vallentin. . . .

"The 3rd Duke lent the vase to Josiah Wedgwood, who had already had it described to him as 'the finest production of Art that has been brought to England and seems to be the very apex of perfection to which you are endeavouring' by the sculptor John Flaxman. Wedgwood devoted four years of painstaking trials at duplicating the vase - not in glass but in jasperware. He had problems with his copies ranging from cracking and blistering (clearly visible on the example at the Victoria and Albert Museum) to the reliefs 'lifting' during the firing, and in 1786 he feared that he could never apply the Jasper relief thinly enough to match the glass original's subtlety and delicacy. He finally managed to perfect it in 1790, with the issue of the "first-edition" of copies (with some of this edition, including the V&A one, copying the cameo's delicacy by a combination of undercutting and shading the reliefs in grey), and it marks his last major achievement.

"Wedgwood put the first edition on private show between April and May 1790, with that exhibition proving so popular that visitor numbers had to be restricted by only printing 1900 tickets, before going on show in his public London showrooms. (One ticket to the private exhibition, illustrated by Samuel Alkin and printed with 'Admission to see Mr Wedgwood's copy of The Portland Vase, Greek Street, Soho, between 12 o'clock and 5', was bound into the Wedgwood catalogue on view in the Victoria and Albert Museum's British Galleries.) As well as the V&A copy (said to have come from the collection of Wedgwood's grandson, the naturalist Charles Darwin), others are held at the Fitzwilliam Museum (this is the copy sent by Wedgwood to Erasmus Darwin which his descendants loaned to the Museum in 1963 and later sold to them) and the Department of Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum.

"The Vase also inspired a 19th century competition to duplicate its cameo-work in glass, with Benjamin Richardson offering a £1000 prize to anyone who could achieve that feat. Taking three years, glass maker Philip Pargeter made a copy and John Northwood engraved it, to win the prize. This copy is in the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York.

Vandalism and Reconstruction

"On February 7, 1845, the vase was shattered by William Lloyd, who drunkenly threw a nearby sculpture on top of the case smashing both it and the vase. The vase was pieced together with fair success, though the restorer was unable to replace all of the pieces and thirty-seven small fragments were lost. It appears they had been put into a box and forgotten. In 1948, the keeper Bernard Ashmole received thirty-seven fragments in a box from Mr. Croker of Putney, who did not know what they were. In 1845 Mr. Doubleday, the first restorer, did not know where these fragments went. A colleague had taken these to Mr. Gabb, a box maker, who was asked to make a box with thirty seven compartments, one for each fragment. The colleague died, the box was never collected, Gabb died and his executrix Miss Revees asked Croker to ask the museum if they could identify them. The Duke's descendants finally sold the vase to the museum in 1945.

"By 1948, the restoration appeared aged and it was decided to restore the vase again, but the restorer was only successful in replacing three fragments. The adhesive from this weakened, by 1986 the joints rattled when the vase was gently tapped. The third and current reconstruction took place in 1987, when a new generation of conservators assessed the vase's condition during its appearance as the focal piece of an international exhibition of Roman glass and, at the conclusion of the exhibition, it was decided to go ahead with reconstruction and stabilisation. The treatment had scholarly attention and press coverage. The vase was photographed and drawn to record the position of fragments before dismantling; the BBC filmed the conservation process. All previous adhesives had failed, so to find one that would last, conservation scientists at the museum tested many adhesives for long term stability. Finally, an epoxy resin with excellent ageing properties was chosen. Reassembly of the vase was made more difficult as the edges of some fragments were found to have been filed down during the restorations. Nevertheless, all of the fragments were replaced except for a few small splinters. Areas that were still missing were gap-filled with a blue or white resin.

"The newly conserved Portland Vase was returned to display. Little sign of the original damage is visible and except for light cleaning, the vase should not require major conservation work for many years." (Wikipedia article on Portland Vase, accessed 11-10-2009)

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The Emperor Augustus Builds Two Public Libraries 28 BCE


“Beginning with Augustus, the Roman emperors took over the task of building libraries in Rome. Actually, Augustus was responsible for two public libraries. The first, in the Temple of Apollo, was begun in 36 B.C. and dedicated in 28. B.C. It was divided into two separate collections, one Greek and one Latin. Pompeius Macer was the first librarian, and Julius Hyginus, a noted grammarian, also served in that capacity. Later enlarged by the Emperors Tiberius and Caligula, this library on the Palatine Hill was one of the two major libraries in Rome for several hundred years. It was damaged at least twice by fires but survived well into the 4th century. The second Augustan library was in the Porticus Octaviae, a magnificent structure built in honor of Octavia, the Emperor’s sister. . . . Caius Melissus was the first librarian for this collection, housed in chambers over a promenade. Although damaged by fire in the reign of Titus about 80 A.D., the Octavian Library probably survived into the 2nd century“ (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed. [1999] 57.)

Clark, The Care of Books (1901) reproduces a plan of the Porticus Octaviae on p. 13. 

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The Cursus publicus: The Courier Service of the Roman Empire Circa 20 BCE

Augustus. (View larger)

About 20 BCE the emperor Augustus created the Cursus publicus, the courier service of the Roman empire, to transport messages, officials, and tax revenues from one province to another. Though Augustus based the Roman system on the Persian model of relay riders passing a message from one courier to the next, he switched to a system in which one man made the entire journey carrying the message. This had the advantage of enabling the messenger to be questioned regarding additional information, and it may have provided additional security. However, it also slowed down the speed of communication.

Various authorities have estimated that the average speed of a messenger over the Roman road system was about 50 miles per day—a substantial reduction in speed from the relay methods used by the Persian Empire. The riders may have used light carriages called rhedæ with fast horses. Additionally, there was another slower service equipped with two-wheeled carts (birolæ) pulled by oxen. This slower service was reserved for government correspondence.

It has also been estimated from surviving accounts of Roman voyages that the fastest Roman ships sailed at five knots or 120 miles per day in good weather, and two knots or 50 miles per day in unfavorable weather.

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The First Census of Which Records are Preserved 2 CE

A map of Eastern China, the territories of the Han Dynasty highlighted in dark brown.

The first census of which records are preserved was taken in China during the Han Dynasty. At that time there were 57.5 million people living in Han China— the world’s largest population.

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The First Income Tax 10 CE

Emperor Wang Mang.

In 10 CE Chinese Emperor Wang Mang instituted an unprecedented tax— the income tax —at the rate of 10 percent of profits, for professionals and skilled labor. Previously, all Chinese taxes were either head taxes (poll taxes) or property taxes.

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Res gestae divi Augusti: The First Person Record of the Life and Accomplishments of the First Roman Emperor Circa 15 CE

After the death of Augustus in 14 CE copies of the Res gestae divi Augusti (The Deeds of the Divine Augustus), the first-person record of his life and accomplishments written by the first Roman emperor, were carved on stone on monuments or temples throughout the Roman Empire. According to the text it was written just before Augustus' death, but it was probably written years earlier and likely went through many revisions. Augustus left the text with his will, which instructed the Senate to set up the inscriptions. The original, which has not survived, was engraved upon a pair of bronze pillars and placed in front of Augustus' mausoleum in the Campus Martius in Rome. The most complete surviving copy, written in Latin with a Greek translation, was preserved on a temple to Augustus in Ancyra  (now AnkaraTurkey). Others were been found at Apollonia and Antioch, both in Pisidia.

"The text consists of a short introduction, 35 body paragraphs, and a posthumous addendum. These paragraphs are conventionally grouped in four sections, political career, public benefactions, military accomplishments and a political statement. . . .

"By its very nature the Res Gestae is propaganda for the principate that Augustus instituted. It tends to gloss over the events between the assassination of Augustus' adoptive father Julius Caesar and the victory at Actium when his foothold on power was finally undisputed. Augustus' enemies are never mentioned by name. Caesar's murderers Brutus and Cassius are not referred to by name, they are simply "those who killed my father." The Battle of Philippi is mentioned only in passing and not by name. Mark Antony and Sextus Pompeius, Augustus' opponents in the East, remain equally anonymous; the former is "he with whom I fought the war," while the latter is merely a "pirate." Likewise, the text fails to mention his imperium maius and his exceptional tribunicial powers. Often quoted is Augustus' official position on his government: "From that time (27 BC, the end of the civil war) I surpassed all others in influence, yet my official powers were no greater than those of my colleague in office." This is in keeping with a reign that promoted itself from the beginning as a "restoration" of the old republic, with a leader who was nothing more than "first among equals," but was virtually akin to absolute monarchy by divine right, backed by the swords of the legions.

"The Res Gestae was a unique public relations move for the first emperor of the Roman Empire, whose political career was in many ways experimental. If their frequent use as "history" by later historians (both ancient and modern) who characterized Augustus' rule according to categories he himself constructed in the Res Gestae is any indication, it is a rather successful piece of propaganda. On the other hand, it would be absurd to overlook the usefulness to historians of what is essentially a first-person account of his rule" (Wikipedia article on Res Gestae Divi Augusti, accessed 09-23-2014.)

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The Oldest Sculptural Group Found in France Circa 25 CE

The Pillar of the Boatmen (Pilier des nautes), a square-section stone bas-relief with depictions of several deities, both Gaulish and Roman. and dated by imperial inscription, is the oldest sculptural group ever found in France. It dates to about 25 CE.

The pillar, which originally stood in a temple in the Gallo-Roman civitas of Lutetia (Paris, France), is one of the earliest pieces of representational Gaulish art to carry a written inscription.

"It is composed of four blocks that were discovered in 1710, reused in a Late Roman wall found beneath Notre Dame. Their origin remains a mystery-however, all other Early Roman stone blocks discovered on the Île de la Cité came from monuments originally on the city's left bank.

"There have been a number of attempts to reassemble the blocks; the bas-reliefs and inscriptions on all four sides make it certain that they were arranged vertically. Not all of the pieces of the pillar have been found, but we may imagine that it stood on a base, and it is possible that the pillar was topped by some sort of statue.  

"This group is particularly noteworthy because it mixes images from the Greco-Roman pantheon, Celtic divinities and inscriptions highlighted in red ocher. The Boatmen's Pillar is one of the rare testaments to Gallic mythology that has come down to us" (http://www.paris.culture.fr/en/ow_pilier.htm, accessed 06-17-2011).

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