Eastern Mediterranean in the Age of Ramesses II

December 8, 2009

This is a great overview of a fascinating period with chapters on, among other things, the economy, war & diplomacy, and food & drink:

In Egypt the drink [beer] was made from thick loaves of partly-baked barley flour that were mixed with water and fermented. The result was a thick soup that needed to be sieved. In Babylonia the brewers worked with loaves of malted grain that was crushed and, together with hulled grains, heated in ovens. The mush was mixed with water and a sweetener, such as date syrup or honey, to ferment. The liquid obtained was strained before drinking but still contained a lot of sediment, which made it necessary to drink beer through tubes

– Marc Van De Mieroop The Eastern Mediterranean in the Age of Ramesses II (2007) 139.

Quote of the Day

November 13, 2009

The state paid its civilian employees rather better. In Urso, a colony founded by Caesar in Spain in the 40s BC, the town charter set the annual salary for clerks (scribae) of the senior magistrates at HS 1,200 p.a. and for flunkies (lictors) at HS 600.

-Dominic Rathbone, “Earnings and Costs: Living Standards and the Roman Economy (First to Third Centuries AD)” in A. Bowman and A. Wilson (eds.) Quantifying the Roman Economy: Methods and Problems (2009) 312.

Quote of the Day

September 9, 2009

In many cases the components of epitaphs will have been taken by the letter-cutter from ‘manuals’ or collections of formulae or books of poetry. This is the only explanation for the inscription from Annaba in Algeria that reads: Hic iacet corpus pueri nominandi (Here lies the body of a boy, name to be given/inserted). The letter-cutter followed the manual quite literally ‘to the letter’, without noticing that he was to insert a specific name in the space provided.

– Maureen Carroll Spirits of the Dead: Roman Funerary Commemoration in Western Europe (2006) page 106.

Review of Patterns

September 1, 2009

My review of Patterns in the Economy of Roman Asia Minor is now available here.

Quotes of the Day

July 11, 2009

Even the continuity in the most elevated ranks of the senate was probably no exception: any system where chances of survival vary as much around the mean as they did is bound to have a small number of lucky winners. We are wrong to assume that in a game of dice those who keep throwing sixes are any different from those who don’t. They do win, however.

– Willem Jongman “A Golden Age. Death, Money Supply and Social Succession in the Roman Empire.” In Elio Lo Cascio (ed.) Credito e Moneta nel Mondo Romano (2003) 194.

Among past scholars, there have only been two who can be regarded as having known the Republican coinage through and through, and Sydenham is not one of them. Nor did he know anything of Republican history or institutions; his book is a blindfold journey back into darkness.

– M. H. Crawford “Mint and Moneyer in the Roman Republic.” Journal of Roman Studies 65 (1975) 178.

Contested Triumphs

June 16, 2009

MPP book I just finished reading my friend Miriam Pelikan Pittenger’s Contested Triumphs: Politics, Pageantry, and Performance in Livy’s Republican Rome. Concentrating on the late third and early second centuries BCE, she looks at senate debates concerning whether returning commanders deserved triumphs. Part one considers the general standards governing triumphs. Did you have imperium? Had you killed a sufficient number of enemy soldiers? Things like that… Though there were some ‘guidelines,’ “the Romans of the Republic never settled upon a foolproof set of positive criteria for the awarding of triumphs” [26]. Given the rivalries within the Roman upper-class, this ambiguity occasionally led to bitter political struggles. Part two looks at some of these struggles. Particularly interesting are chapters 13 and 14 which discuss, respectively, the case of M. Popilius Laenas, who went a little too far after the Statellates surrendered to him unconditionally, and that of L. Aemilius Paullus whose triumph seemed like a sure thing until he angered his own soldiers (over their share of the spoils, of course). This is a fascinating and well-written book which shows that the early second century can be just as interesting as the Second Punic War or the fall of the Republic.


December 5, 2008

My friend Nick’s excellent new book about Eratosthenes is now available:


Eratosthenes was head of the Library at Alexandria about 2200 years ago.

Among his achievements was a surprisingly accurate estimate of the earth’s circumference.

Go here for a description, reviews and the first chapter.