Why was Rome called Rome?

Jan Claus Di Blasio muses on The Roman Forum on the origin of the city name 'Roma'.

Etymology is the study of the origin and meaning of words. Derived from Greek words etumon (true) and logos (word), it literally means to rediscover the ‘true’ sense of a word. Generally it doesn’t go beyond the mere spark of interest lit when stumbling upon a term that does not yield its obscure sense immediately. Yet grasping the meaning of a word can help us interpret the reasons by which man contemplated its existence.

A Romulean Origin?

ROMA. How many times have we read: Romulus, the eponymous founder of Rome? Yet what way does the eponymy go? Virgil says: “Mavortia condet mœnia. Romanosque suo de nomine dicet” (Æneid, i. 276 – Romulus will receive a people and build Martial walls, and he will name the Romans after his own name).
Does the word ‘Roma’ stem from Romulus? The sober mind has to consider that it could have been the opposite

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A personal experience of walking on Hadrian's Wall

This is from a blog kept by a writer from Colorado.

Of the cathedrals, castles and other landmarks from each era, from the Neolithic stone circles (think Stonehenge) to the Millennium Wheel (erected along the Thames for the Bicentennial), the one that most captivates walkers is Hadrian’s Wall.

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Studying Roman technology

A press release through Media-Newswire

Thinking like the Romans

Rome, as they say, wasn't built in a day. But it was built with great imagination and engineering brio. From elegantly simple pulleys to arches, aqueducts, and catapults, the Romans harnessed and improved all kinds of technology, building in the process one of the most modern cities in the ancient world.

(Media-Newswire.com) – Rome, as they say, wasn’t built in a day. But it was built with great imagination and engineering brio. From elegantly simple pulleys to arches, aqueducts, and catapults, the Romans harnessed and improved all kinds of technology, building in the process one of the most modern cities in the ancient world.

Consider the Pantheon, built by Roman Emperor Hadrian in the second century CE as a temple to all the gods and a monument to his power. Its concrete dome was unprecedented in weight and size, spanning 142 feet in diameter. For almost 1,800 years the massive, coffered dome with its twenty-seven foot oculus stood unparalleled in the world. Just how did the Romans engineer such a structure?

Dan Perl ’08, a neuroscience, biology, and psychology major, could tell you how because he helped build a small-scale version of the Pantheon’s dome, albeit out of Styrofoam blocks. He is one of forty students enrolled this semester in “Roman Technology and Art,” a course in which the students explore Roman technologies by applying modern physics.

Perl and his classmates are learning first-hand how the ancient Romans engineered and built architectural monuments like the Pantheon and the Colosseum, Roman baths, aqueducts, mosaics, and catapults. At the same time, they are learning about Roman daily life, from art and architecture, to transportation and urban planning.

Under the expert team teaching of professors Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow, chair of the department of classical studies, and physicist Robert Meyer, the students are covering highlights of Roman technology from the 8th century BCE to the end of the Roman Empire in the 4th century CE, focusing particularly on the imperial period, from the 1st century BCE to the 3rd century CE.

The Romans were technologically savvy enough to astound even Meyer, whose current research interests include hyper-complex fluid systems, liquid crystals, and smart materials. He says he was amazed at how the Romans managed to import about 400,000 tons of wheat a year from Africa, mostly from Egypt, to feed one million people in the city during the first and second centuries CE.

“In our course, the students calculate how many ships this took, how many containers for the wheat were used, and other interesting facts to see the implications of a central fact like this one for other aspects of Roman culture and economics,” explains Meyer. “The Romans had ships that could carry well over 1,000 tons of wheat from Egypt to Rome, very big ships that were not surpassed in size for well over a thousand years!”

Koloski-Ostrow, a classicist who is also a leading expert on Roman water and sanitation systems, provides the “humanist” side of the lectures, while Meyer weighs in with class demonstrations and models. “His own clear teaching style explains the science behind the accomplishments of the Romans both to me and to many humanist students who would be afraid to confront it without his steady guidance,” says Koloski-Ostrow.

“I love the class; it’s a really nice blend of physics and culture,” says English major Justine Root ’10.

“I like the pulleys the most because it brought the math together with reality,” explains Perl, adding, “this is a good class to see why physics is important.” The students recently devised compound pulley systems to get an idea of how the Romans were able to hoist huge and enormously heavy stones into place.

In addition to lectures and discussions, a series of afternoon labs enable the students to learn by doing, creating small mosaics, Roman arches, catapults, and of course, domes inspired by the Pantheon’s dome. In the process they are asking questions about the causes of technological change, what role technology played in Roman life and culture, and how they fulfilled needs and desires by manipulating nature.

When studying Rome, do as the Romans did, you might say.

Laura Gardner

Antonine plague (smallpox) in Gloucester – they think

BBC News reports on analysis of bones from a mass grave in Gloucester. It's worth visiting the link and watching the video of the Points West report. What's the betting that the retirement flats built over the grave are McCarthy and Stone, who are in the process of taking over my home town. They have demolished one of our best Victorian houses and want to demolish another. [Sorry, my hobby-horse of the month!]

A study into a mass Roman grave excavated in Gloucester appears to show the dead had been killed by smallpox.

The remains of around 91 individuals uncovered in 2005 are in part of Wooton Cemetery, which was the burial ground for the fortress at nearby Kingsholm.

The bodies appear to have been thrown in the grave haphazardly during the second half of the 2nd Century.

Oxford Archaeology who analysed the remains say they are the victims of an epidemic, perhaps the Antonine Plague.

This outbreak of smallpox swept across the Roman Empire between AD 165 and 189.

“The skeletons of adult males, females, and children were lying in a very haphazard fashion, their bones completely entangled, reflecting the fact that they had been dumped, unceremoniously in a hurried manner,” said Louise Loe, Head of Burial Archaeology.

“When we studied the skeletons we were looking for evidence, such as trauma, that would explain why they had been buried in such a way.

“In fact, very little trauma was found on the skeletons…this led us to conclude that the individuals were the victims of an epidemic that did not discriminate against age or sex,” she said.

Such outbreaks of disease killed quickly and tended not to leave marks on bone, she said.

Future DNA tests will be carried out on the skeletons in the hope of confirming the theory.

Also unearthed on the site on London Road were two 1st Century sculptured and inscribed tombstones which helped the team make a direct connection between documentary evidence and the archaeological record of the site.

One tombstone was for a 14-year-old slave, the other for a soldier of the 20th legion, Lucius Octavius Martialis, son of Lucius, of the Pollian voting tribe from Eporedia.

The legion was stationed at Gloucester until the late 1st Century with soldiers from Sporedia, modern Ivrea north of Turin.

Iris 6 is out in May

The sixth issue of Iris magazine will be out in May. This edition focuses on the search for truth in the ancient world, and includes:

  • Eternal Questions: ancient philosophy on life, the universe and everything
  • chat with Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye
  • Blood and Sacrifice in the Desert: the lost cult of the Nabataeans
  • Speaking for the Gods: the perils of prophecy
  • The Big Myth: creation stories meet graphic design
  • Sun worshippers: solar power in the Roman empire

… as well as news, outreach features, reviews, games, real life stories, advice, what's on, fiction, translations and other articles.

Iris magazine is part of the Iris Project, an educational charity which promotes access to Classics in state schools in the UK, and half of all copies printed are sent free to state schools. This is funded by paid subscriptions and advertising. If you would like to order the magazine, you can do so through the website.

Thanks and best wishes,


Director, The Iris Project
Registered Charity No. 1121868

Latin in the Park – Oxford Mail report

The Oxford Mail reports on Lorna Robinson's initiative. Lorna points out that the project actually started last week – as reported on the BBC.

Latin lovers in Oxford will get the chance to learn the language – in a park.

Dr Lorna Robinson, who teaches ancient languages in several of Oxford's state schools, has set up special groups to teach adults following interest from pupil's parents.

Starting tomorrow, Dr Robinson will be holding lunchtime Latin sessions in South Park, on Thursdays and Sundays.

She said: “Several parents started coming up to me saying how they would like to learn Latin, but they were nervous they didn't have the education to do it and were a little scared about embarrassing themselves.

“I wanted to get rid of that myth that it was only something for people at public schools. It's great fun to learn and easy to pick up.”

Dr Robinson, 29, works with 15 schools in Oxford with her charity The Iris Project, which she set up to promote classics in state schools.

Dr Robinson said the drop-in sessions would be completely informal, with a £1 voluntary fee for materials so that money was not an obstacle.

She said: “There are already about 20 people signed up for the Thursday classes and almost half that number for the Sunday classes.”

Classes will start on Thursdays at 12pm, and 2pm on Sundays.

For details, email irismagazine.org

Schools Event at Yorkshire Museum

Lizzie Belcher has sent details of an epigraphy day at the YM on June 23rd. Wilf O'Neill has posted them at www.classicsnet.plus.com/LADCA/YM.doc.

Classics job going in Saffron Walden

See the advert here. I copy a small extract here.

…Latin at both GCSE and Advanced Level. Currently over 20 students are studying Latin GCSE. Classical Civilisation is offered at A Level. Candidates should also offer a second subject.

Deva Victrix

By appearing on Sky TV and then on YouTube, this group of Roman performers in Chester appeared on my radar. They've been going since 2003. As they engagingly put it:

(Last into battle first into the pub)

Established in 2003, this is a team of committed enthusiasts was brought together by Roman Tours Ltd to provide Chester with its very own Roman display team.

Our primary function was to parade through the streets of Chester during the summer as a tourist attraction. Reaching the Chester Cross, we present a visual and verbal portrayal of life at Chester nearly 2,000 years ago.

3-dvd edition of The Fall of the Roman Empire reviewed

Pop Matters has this review.

The Fall of the Roman Empire: The Miriam Collection (3 Disc Limited Collector’s Edition)

It was the final nail in his financial coffin, the epic that would eventually close his by now infamous Spanish studios. After the troubled production surrounding his last epic, 55 Days at Peking, many believed producer Samuel Bronstein would exercise some manner of restraint. But in true visionary form, he actually tore down his original Rome sets when actor Charleton Heston (who had appeared in El Cid) expressed interest in the Chinese spectacle. When the famous star eventually rejected a role in Fall, Bronstein hired Stephen Boyd, and then rebuilt the entire Forum and most of the ancient city across 55 sprawling acres. Budgeted at $20 million (in 1964 dollars), Fall flopped, and even with its high profile cast, it couldn’t save the producer’s professional reputation.

That’s the great thing about DVD. It can help reestablish an unfairly maligned career. It can also argue for filmmaking facets that contributed to an already predetermined downfall. Both elements are present in the The Weinstein Company’s gorgeous restoration of The Fall of the Roman Empire. Presented over three discs and supplemented with a wealth of explanatory material, we get a chance to see Bronstein’s vision the way he intended it (sans the 70mm Ultra Panavision Cinerama, that is). We also get an opportunity to witness the hubris that believed audiences would enjoy a scattered, three hour dramatization of the decline of the famed civilization. With the usual international casting conceit, and lots of expansive sets, director Anthony Mann was given a simple mandate – make it big. He frequently went further, making it boring as well.

While fighting Germanic forces north of his empire, Marcus Aurelius is poisoned by conspirators. Unable to name his beloved friend General Gaius Livius as his intended successor, the role of emperor falls on the ruler’s ineffectual son, Commodus. After marrying off his sister – and Livius’ lover – Lucilla to an Armenia king, he begins his reign. Believing that the road to peace is best paved with war and taxes, he causes rebellion amongst many of the outlying regions. In the meantime, Livius brokers a truce with the North, and uses his connection to Aurelius adviser Timonides to the get the Roman Senate to endorse it. Of course, Commodus disapproves. As the leader’s hubris grows, his control on the empire wanes. After an unsuccessful assassination attempt, Lucilla is sentenced to death. She is joined by Livius, who has been set up by his own men. A final gladiatorial battle for the fate of Rome awaits our two competing conquerors.

Over the years, some have argued that Gladiator glommed on and stole most of the meaning from this overstuffed production, yet what’s most clear about The Fall of the Roman Empire is that it is a movie at odds with itself. On the one had, director Anthony Mann and his fine group of actors – Boyd, Alec Guinness, James Mason, Christopher Plummer, Sophia Loren – do a wonderful job of bringing out the personal interplay and individual strife that would lead to the collapse of the mighty civilization from the inside out. We believe in the dynamic between the cast, and see how the fate of men (and one woman) could lead to the undermining and the misery of half the world. It’s not a new story – absolute power corrupts absolutely, in a nutshell – but Mann does indeed make it come alive.

On the opposite end is Bronstein’s desire for more: more sets; more battle sequences; more extras. What we witness onscreen does indeed look impressive. While many marveled at Ridley Scott’s CGI version of the famed Italian city, Rome and its fantastic Forum look so much more real here. Of course, the tactile effect of a real practical backdrop does help. But there are other elements that are just as successful – the Temple of Jupiter (with the head of Commodus), the winter camp of Marcus Aurelius, the sweeping battlefields. Yet they seem to exist outside of the more intimate material at hand. The Fall of the Roman Empire can frequently feel like a character study played out amongst the very planets themselves. Scope and scale frequently countermand narrative and nuance.

Of course, that was the point. Bronstein never thought that a non-spectacle would fill seats. The cinema was still battling TV for the all-important entertainment soul of the American public, and without something sensational to sell, the small screen’s convenience and novelty continued to win out. In many ways, such massive bombast was indeed revolutionary. It was mimicked as recently as the late ‘80s/early’90s, when the VCR and home video threatened to make movie-going obsolete. The studios responded with special effects laden efforts. To paraphrase the position – the viewer never starves when there’s eye candy around.

It was the same four decades ago. Of course, the sweets have soured a little since then. Much of Fall feels forced, pageantry played to the hilt simply because it can be. Plummer is wonderful as the egomaniacal brat, and Mason literally makes the movie. Of course, there are performers like Guinness who appear to be putting in the miles without delivering much of the necessary effort, and Loren was still in iconic beauty mode. She was much better back when she was battling Heston (off screen) during El Cid. Yet the optical wonder provided here, the sheer opulence of Mann’s moviemaking and Bronstein’s approach give The Fall of the Roman Empire just enough to keep us going. It may be a tough road to hoe sometime, but the overall effect is impressive.

Equally extraordinary is this new DVD edition. Named after the Weinstein’s mother Miriam, the sheer wealth of added content here should make even the most amateur film historian weep with delight. The movie itself contains a commentary by Bronstein’s son Bill and his biographer Mel Martin. While a tad too self-congratulatory (after all, they aren’t really going to criticize the man), it’s still a remarkable discussion. Disc Two trots out the Making-Ofs and the Behind the Scenes featurettes. One of the best highlights the “fact vs. fiction” way in which history is manipulated by Hollywood to fit its dramatic needs. Finally, a third DVD delivers a series of short films, commissioned by the Encyclopedia Brittanica, which offers a classroom like take on Roman History (this material is only available as part of the limited edition package).

Frankly, anyone coming to this film hoping for historical accuracy should really seek some cinematic guidance. The Fall of the Roman Empire is really meant to be nothing more than a sumptuous banquet of motion picture excesses served with a side dish of the slightest narrative accuracy. That Samuel Bronstein saw this as the ultimate form of entertainment speaks as much for his approach as a producer as his fate as a filmmaker. It’s not surprising that he ended up going bankruptcy when Fall tanked. Too much of what he was – and always would be – was wrapped up in this extremist ideal. And just like all outsized imaginations, a crash was inevitable. The Fall of the Roman Empire may not be the most notorious motion picture morass in the history of the medium, but for Samuel Bronstein, it was the ultimate expression of what he was – for better and for worse.