Roman Counter Culture: same again, guv.

We’re back at the Museum of London again this week to finish the digitization of the Museum collection of Roman, and later, dice.

This is pretty much ‘more of the same’ except for one beauty at the end, so here they are.

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Again, these dice have all be taken off display in the Museum for us to work on. They’re probably back on display by now.

I had another one very similar to this (below) last week.

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And here’s a nice, but rather squat bone type 1 die.

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I also had this very nice type 2 die.  Unfortunately one of the plugs was missing from the 4 face, but otherwise, it was in very good condition.

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We also created a record for this lovely jet (-like) die.

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It’s in really good condition, the only damage being a chip out of one face. These black-material dice don’t scan well, as the edges tend to disappear into the background. This one will be photographed instead. We were all having a conversation about what the white substance in the pips might be; wax? clay? some wort of resin? Dunno, and we’re not going to scrape any out to get it tested, so it’ll just have to be a mystery for now.

Glynn was giving a paper at the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference (TRAC) utilizing some of the objects that we’ve been working on, specifically the jet and amber pieces. I was attending the conference and can report that his paper went down very well. This lovely amber die, which I’ve been hiding this picture of since November, was a particular hit.

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Roman Counter Culture: Museum pieces

This was the view from my window this week.

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The wall running along the bottom of the photo is the medieval city wall, built on the foundations of the Roman wall which formed part of the city wall and the fort. We’ve relocated for a little while, from the LAARC to The Museum of London to work on the pieces that are actually on display. Glynn had already swiped the necessary dice from the display cases, just for a little while, so we can create digital records of them for the Museum’s Collections Online.

As we only had access to one scanner, we worked on the basis of a division of labour. John scanned the dice and saved the images while Guy and I worked on the descriptions, weights and measures. Then we all started on cleaning up and assembling the images.

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I started with a nice Type 2 die…

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One of the plugs was missing, but otherwise it was in pretty good shape.

And then this one (below). The 6 face looks nice and square, albeit with slightly wobbly pips.

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The 3 face, somewhat less square.

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It’s a bit of a wonky one. Most of the faces are different sizes and there’s a discinct curve to the 1 face.

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This one is a bit (lot) more regular.

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We’ve see a great deal of variety between the dice we’ve been working on. That raises questions about manufacturing techniques and the rationales for production.

From the museum collection, we came across two that looked almost like a pair.

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They came from the same site, although not from the same contexts, and Guy and I did think that they looked like they might have been made by the same person. This was just because of the size and shape, and the way that the pips look. The sides are not very even, with the 6 and the 1 faces being nice and square, but the 2,3,4 and 5 faces being quite rectangular. They would have had a definite tendency to land with either the 6 or the 1 face uppermost. They looked like they were reasonably nicely made, but have suffered some damage.

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They were recovered from a cemetery context, which made me wonder – RANDOM SPECULATION ALERT!! – is it possible that these dice were being made specifically as funerary objects? I wondered this because their shape does make them a bit dodgy for use as gaming dice, but wouldn’t matter at all if they were made as symbolic objects to be buried with the dead. They could then be made from oddly-sized off-cuts of bone, and it wouldn’t matter.

I’m going to have a little think about this, and try to have a look at more dice found as part of burials to see if there really are any patterns, or if we just have a slightly tipsy dice-maker here.

More from the Museum next time.

Roman Counter Culture: Branching out

Well, we’ve actually come to the end of the LAARC’s collection of dice. Bit that doesn’t mean the end of our project. In the Museum of London’s collection pieces are held in a range of locations and as part of different individual collections. Today we started on a couple of dice that are part of the handling collection, used for outreach and educational purposes.

This die, from the handling collection, is a fairly small example.

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It has it’s site code and context mumber painted onto it, as do Several others, but two faces have also quite clearly been varnished. This is not really how we do things now. Perhaps that’s why it’s in the handling collection.

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We also made a start on material that has not yet been deposited at the LAARC, but are still held by MOLA. MOLA is actually based in the same building as the LAARC but is a seperate, commercial archaeology company. Their holdings include material that has been excavated in London as part of jobes that MOLA has worked on. Thia material will eventually be deposited at the LAARC one MOLA have finished studying it and preparing it for archiving.

My old VIP09/10 mate Carl is doing some archiving work for MOLA and has been working on the material recovered from the dig at the Guildhall, when the London amphitheatre was discovered. And this is one of the artefacts from that dig.

It’s a small bone die recovered during the wet sieving of a soil sample.

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And, from another excavation, there is this large, and surprisingly heavy, type 2 die. It’s made from a section of long-bone with plugs at the 3 and 4 faces. The 4-face plug is missing.

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And this is how it looks mid-digitization.

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Just to give you an idea of the differences in sizes…

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We’ll be working on some more of the MOLA collection, and on the museum collection too, over the next couple of weeks.

Roman Counter Culture: More more more

This week’s jolly at the LAARC  started off a rather quiet affair for me.  Guy was otherwise engaged, with the possibility that he might come in a bit later. John was being de-asbestosized* downstairs.

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This was fine because I am fully back into the swing of the digitization so I just cracked on with the last few remaining dice that were available this week.

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I had this lovely die, made from a section of long-bonewith plugged ends (Greep Type 2). This is one way of making  larger dice.

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And here are a couple more.

We are expecting to begin working on the museum collection (the pieces that are actually at London Wall) next week, and I understand that there are also a couple of dice in the handling collection which we should also catalogue and digitize while we’re at it.

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The intention once all of these are done is to start going through the records to have a look at the locations of the find spots and the contexts. We want to know more and bring more of that information together to try to see what it might say about gaming in Roman, and later, London.

 

* Obviously John’s de-asbestosization is made up. He was actually on an asbestos awareness training course.  He’ll be back next week.

Roman Counter Culture: Slight Return

…and we’re back in the room.

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Yes, we’re back at the LAARC, working on the remainder of the Museum of London’s collection of archaeological dice.

We have some exciting plans for the data that we’re collecting but for now I’ll just content myself with posting a few pictures of this week’s dice.

Here’s my first die of 2015.

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It’s a bit broken, but it’s nice.

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John had this stunner.

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It’s a lovely lozenge-shaped die, but it wasn’t the easiest piece for John to scan.

Now, the running title here is Roman counter culture, but one (at least) of our dice today wasn’t Roman at all. We’re playing fast and loose but just go with us.

Here it is.

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It’s listed as post-medieval and is very small, with the sides only measuring only about 4mm. The pips are also placed very very close to the corners and edges which has caused some breakage around them.

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The pips were actually a little difficult to see clearly by eye, but they’re much clearer in the photos and the scans.

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We’re going to be working on scanning the last few dice over the next few weeks and then we will start having a look at the find spots, contexts and distributions to see what that might tell us about dice production and use in Roman, and later, London.

Rome in Africa: Africa in Rome – The writing on the wall (and the floor and in the street…)

It has often been said that Romans had, and inspired, ‘the epigraphic habit‘. Put (very) simply, they liked to write stuff down. They wrote on scrolls and books, on buildings, in mosaics, on memorials and dedications, on personal objects and on public monuments.

It’s debatable how many people would have been able to read all of this writing but things like personal and place name, and simple phrases of the ‘this is mine’ and ‘I made this’ variety may have been recognizable to many people who may otherwise be considered illiterate*.

To be in a place and see its name inscribed is great. Spending time in North Africa with, often, Arabic overtones to everyday culture, it can be a bit too easy to forget that you are not, in fact, in the Middle East (I’ve heard North African countries referred to as ‘Middle Eastern’ on a surprising number of occasions). So, just to remind us all of where we are…

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This is Africa. OK?

And this one names one of the specific Roman provinces of Africa,

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‘PROVINCIAE NUMIDIAE’. Numidia.

Now that we’ve got the straight, let’s get a bit more specific. Many of the North African cities enjoyed high status. Some were veteran colonies or trade hubs which prospered because of the many trading opportunities available, and several were treated to visits from one Emperor or another.  Never known for their reticence when it came to blowing their own trumpets, the Roman citizens of these cities loved to commemorate any big occasion, visit, achievement or fancy new building with an inscription, and these inscriptions have provided us with the names and statuses of the towns and cities during the Roman period.

Timgad, in modern Algeria, was founded by the Emperor Trajan around 100CE as a veteran colony for Parthian veterans. Its full name, ‘COLONIA MARCIANA ULPIA TRAIANA THAMUGADI.

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And these inscriptions from modern Djemila, confirms its status, ‘COLONIA’, and the Roman name ‘CUICUL’.

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Here, this arched architectural element from a public fountain at Simitthus (Chemtou ) in Tunisia, with a dedication to the emperor Marcus Aurelius from the people of the city – ‘POPVLO SIMITTVENSI’.

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And there is this dedication set up on behalf of the people of the ‘COL[ONIA] SABRAT[A]’ (Sabratha) in Libya, to thank L. AEMILIUS QUINTUS, for his good works on behalf of the city.

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Spot the city name?

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It looks to me like this monument has been reused, as the inscribed panel looks like an earlier inscription has been chipped away. Perhaps L. Aemilius Quintus had outdone an earlier good citizen.

Other commemorations include this beautifully intact (hopefully still intact) and in-situ dedication to the Emperor Augustus from the theatre at Lepcis Magna, Libya.

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This reads, in full:

IMP(ERATORE) CAESARE DIVI F(ILIO) AUG(USTO) PONT(IFICE) MAX(IMO) TR(IBUNICIA) POT(ESTATE) XXIV
CO(N)S(ULE) XIII PATRE PATR(IAE)
ANNOBAL ORNATOR PATRIAE AMATOR CONCORDIAE 
FLAMEN SUFES PRAEF(ECTUS) SACR(ORUM) HIMILCHONIS TAPAPI F(ILIUS) RUFUS 
D(E)S(UA) P(ECUNIA) FAC(IENDUM) COER(AVIT) IDEMQ(UE) DEDICAVIT

Translation:

When Emperor Caesar Augustus, son of the deified (Caesar), chief priest, was ()holding tribunician power for the twenty-fourth time, consul for the thirteenth, father of the country, Annobal, adorner of his country, lover of concord, flamen, sufete, in charge of sacred things, son of Himilcho Tapapius Rufus, saw to the construction at his own expense and also dedicated it.

So the building has been, quite properly, dedicated to the Emperor, but Annobal, the man who stumped up the cash, also gets his big-up, “adorner of his country, lover of concord, flamen, sufete, in charge of sacred things, son of Himilcho Tapapius Rufus”. And just to emphasize that ‘lover of concord’ bit,

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As the Roman administration established new, and extended existing trade and communications networks across Africa, road signs and distance markers increasingly became a feature. Here are three examples, the first from near Simithus (Chemtou) in Tunisia, and the second found on the road from Oea (Tripoli) to Fezzan, but currently in the National Museum of Antiquities, Tripoli, Libya, and the third from Cuicul (Djemila) in Algeria.

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The other thing that Romans liked to commemorate was themselves. Grave markers are an important source of information about individuals living, especially, in the towns and cities. There are loads of these at various sites (I was going to say ‘hundreds’ but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s ‘thousands’). We have to be a little bit careful with these because, in the first place, the wording on grave markers can be quite formulaic. We still see “rest in peace”, “went to sleep” on many gravestones now and these kinds of standard phrases were also common in the past. Secondly, the wording on gravestones is not necessarily decided by the deceased person themselves (although it sometimes does seem to be). Gravestones are, for obvious reasons, set up by those people surviving the deceased; family members, friends, etc., and they can sometimes say as much about those people as about the deceased person.

With that in mind, here’s a “rest in peace” inscription from Hadrumentum (Sousse in Tunisia), dedicated to the Christians, ‘CHRISTIANI CIVES HADRUMENTINI FRATRIBUS‘ interred in one of the four large catacombs of the city. Can you pick out ‘DORMIUNT IN PACE’?

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Inside the catacombs each burial niche could have had its own personal dedication with some being more formal than others. This fragment of a scratched dedication survives in-situ.

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While this complete, and much smarter, inscription has been removed to the Sousse Museum.

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The presence of the group inscription seems to suggest a strong shared identity as Christians alongside their individual and familial identities.

My other favourite memorial is this carved and inscribed, in Greek, tombstone from Ptolemias, in eastern Libya.

The grave marker of Hermes the gladiator

This is the memorial to the gladiator, Hermes, ‘ЕΡМНϹ‘. He is shown in his ‘stage’ costume as a Retiarius; a lightly-armed gladiator who carried a trident and net. The ‘net-fighter’ made up for his lack of armour and heavy weaponry by being quick and agile, so our ЕΡМНϹ reflects some of the attributes of the divine Hermes – fast, lithe and cunning. Protector of athletes and as tricky as you like.  The inscription tells us that he won eight of his bouts but he seems to have died in the ninth. Still, he must have made a few bob otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to pay of this lovely tombstone.

Many military roles survive, but in the case of this one you can see that some references have been erased.

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These are references pertaining to the Third Legion Augusta, which was stationed at Lambaesis in modern Algeria. Its name has been erased because it backed the losing side in one of the many succession squabbles that went on during the Empire (the side they backed was, arguably, the ‘right’ side, but the winners get to write the histories, eh?).

With Roman culture came an increase in urban living. That’s not to say that North Africa didn’t already have its own cities before the Romans. It did. Many of the cities we may now think of as Roman had their origins much earlier, either as Pheonician or Numidian towns and cities. However, Roman culture did push an idea of urbanization which meant that more and more people lived in closer and closer proximity. This lifestyle necessitated a greater emphasis on personal security and one manifestation of this was the practice of people writing their names on their personal possessions. Here are two pot-sherds from the museum at Timgad, Algeria.

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We see examples of this on military sites in Britain, where large numbers of men (it is usually men) find themselves living in close proximity and want to prevent their stuff from getting nicked. The inscriptions are usually of the ‘ This bowl belongs to…’ type, but they do vary.

Most of these inscriptions we’ve seen so far have been in Latin, with a little bit of Greek thrown in, but here are a few bilingual inscriptions and inscriptions in scripts which I can even begin to decipher.

To start, I’ll go back to that dedication at the theatre at Lepcis. Here’s a closer look at some of the text. The bottom 2 lines are written in Neo-Punic and are a literal translation of the Latin above.

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Here’s some more Neo-Punic. This is a building dedication of the Forum at Lepcis Magna, Libya, to  the Emperor Claudius.

Building dedication of the Forum to Claudius

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Look down at the bottom of the stela.

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These few lines of Neo-Punic basically repeat what the Latin says (you can see the transcriptions and translations in the IRT site). This shows just how compact a script Neo-Punic is compared to Latin. It’s a semitic language and the inscribed form has no vowels.

This stone, now in the Archaeological Museum in Algiers, is written in a local script, Numidian? Berber Tifinagh?  Anyway, I have no idea what it says.

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There is also this stone from Chemtou in Tunisia, written in Libyco-Berber. The museum has a handy guide to the script which, to be honest, hasn’t made me any wiser.

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And so, to bring the epigraphic habit up to date…

(or almost up to date. Obviously this sort of thing is no longer de rigeur in Libya)

The Colonel. Pre-2011, Libyan towns, cities and highways were peppered with billboard posters like this one, commemorating the revolution of 1969, which brought Colonel Ghaddafi to power.

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Some more recent political sloganeering in Tunisia.

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And a final word from football-mad Algeria.

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* I must confess that I am one of those near-illiterates who can pick out names and the ‘this is mine’ and ‘I did this’ stuff, but I’ve had help for this post from the brilliant ‘The Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania‘ website created by King’s College, and also the scarily extensive Epigraphic Database Heidelberg.

NB. I’ve been a bit rubbish at putting all the references in for these inscriptions (with links to the appropriate website) as I’ve been going along, but I’m working on it so if you’re particularly interested in one of them, do check back, as I’ll add in as many of them as  I can find as quickly as I can.

Rome in Africa: Africa in Rome – Nom nom

North Africa is one of several regions known as the breadbasket of Rome. In the Roman world, regions that were able to produce the vast quantities of foodstuffs needed to keep the empire working became extremely wealthy, and the already high status families from these areas became increasingly powerful. Members of families from Spain and North Africa even got the top job!

One of the most important commodities produced in North Africa was olive oil, so we’ll start with some olive oily stuff.

Oil’s well that ends well

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This mosaic, from Tabarka but now in the Bardo Museum, shows a North Africa fortified farmstead and estate surrounded by olive trees, interspersed with grape vines. Parts of a mixed farming economy.

To harvest the olives, workers would bash the trees with long poles so that the ripe olives would fall to the ground, where they would then be gathered up by others. To be honest, I can’t confirm that this fellow is gathering olives, but he’s gathering something, that’s for sure.

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Olives are still grown extensively in these areas. This image of neat rows of olive trees was taken out of the window of the train from Tunis to El Djem. The field may look half empty, but in olive growing, tree spacing is key to a good crop yield.

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To extract the olive oil, they would have used a press like this one at Madauros, Algeria.

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If you’re not familiar with this kind of press (it’s a lever press), this may all look a bit random, so this diagram may help to explain how it works. It’s in Italian, but non-italian-speakers (like me) can look at the pictures.

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http://www.oliveoilmuseums.gr/ecportal.asp?id=92&nt=18&lang=2

The first stage involves crushing the olives using an olive mill like this one at Tipasa, Algeria, making it easier to squeeze out the oil.

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The pre-crushed olives are then loaded into circular baskets, which are stacked up on the pressing bed (this one is at Sufetula (Sbeitla), Tunisia) to be squeezed for their oil. The groove helps the oil to run into the collection tanks next to the pressing bed.

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These presses (below) are the best preserved Roman presses in North Africa found, together with the remains of the building in which they stood,  at Sufetula (Sbeitla) in Tunisia. You can get an idea of the scale by the man sitting on the wall next to the left hand orthostat (upright standing stone). They’re pretty big.

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I love this little mini press at Tipasa. It’s about 60cm (-ish) in diameter.

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I wonder if someone just had this at their home or village, maybe they had just a handful of trees and pressed their own oil for their local needs. The technology scales up or down pretty easily, so it’d work.

And this is where they put all that lovely olive oil once it’s ready.

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Amphorae were pretty standard storage and transport vessels for a range of commodities such as olive oil, garum, salted fish, preserved fruit, wheat and others.

There are sherds all over the place on the ground at the various sites. As I went round I was looking for any particularly interesting bits and bobs, and on the beach at Nabeul, Tunisia was this amphora base.

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(REMEMBER! Just because there are loads of sherds on the ground, that doesn’t mean that you can help yourself. Take only photographs, not artefacts).

The fruits of the earth

Agriculture was big business in North Africa and estates produced a whole range of commodities in addition to olives, with a major crop being wheat. These reliefs from Ghirza (now in the National Museum of Antiquities in Tripoli) record sowing and reaping of the crops on estates in the Tripolitanian pre-desert. The pre-desert is an arid environment so the people farming these areas used large-scale irrigation techniques to ‘green the desert’.

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And from the Bardo is this beautifully delicate relief.

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Wheat formed a major element of the economy, particularly in the areas of Tunisia and Algeria which were centuriated; divided up into large estates, including imperial estates. This was wheat production on an industrial scale.

There were also vegetables and fruits, these are in the National Museum of Antiquities, Tripoli (formerly the Jamahyria Museum).

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These grapes and pomegrantes are in the Museum at Lepcis Magna. From the style, they look like they might be from Ghirza.

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Trade in these commodities took place in the markets of the coastal emporia, many of which were originally established as Pheonician trading centres.

There is a particularly fine market, macellum, at Lepcis Magna, built in 9-8 BCE, which consisted of a large square  market-place surrounded by a portico, with two octagonal buildings known as tholoi. This is the surviving southern tholos.

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Within the macellum there are tables and benches from which goods were traded. Then, as now, prices, weights and measures were strictly regulated and many of the tables have these built-in measures for checking that the correct quantities were being sold for the correct prices.

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Here are some other examples from Timgad, Djemila and Tiddis in Algeria.

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In the Bardo, in Tunis, is another type of measure called a modius.

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To grind the wheat there are several  difference types of mill. This hand mill from Latrum, Libya.

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And a reconstructed version of the same type at Chemtou, Tunisia. The wheat goes in the top and drops down between the stones. Then the ground flour collects in the reservoir under the stones.

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And here, from Carthage, Tunisia, are several quern stones of difference sizes and materials. There would have been a top and bottom stone and the wheat was ground between them by rotating the upper stone over the lower. The central hole is for the spiggot linking the two stones and the smaller hole at the side is for a handle.

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Huntin’, shootin’ n fishin’

Hunting features on many mosaics and reliefs from North Africa, sometimes the hunting of animals destined for the arena, sometimes for the pot. The boars hunted in this mosaic from the Bardo (below) could have been destined for either.

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And here, in an in-situ mosaic from Bulla Regia, Tunisia, is a detail of another boar hunt.

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This small relief of a bird hunt, also from the Bardo, really shows the technique for driving the birds into nets.

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And here’s their catch

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Shooting.

No guns, of course, but this lovely late-fourth century mosaic from Carthage (now in the Bardo) shows contemporary shooting from horseback. These hunters must have been skilled horsemen, notice there’s no saddle or stirrups. The rider would have controlled the horse with his knees.

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Fishing

Having direct access to the Mediterranean coast, the North African provinces have produced lots of evidence for fishing and related activities during the Roman period. These views of net fishing are from the Bardo.

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And for fruits de mer

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And from Nabeul, these little nets look like lobster pots

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And, actually, I think that it would be safer for this man if he didn’t catch these giant fish.

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All ready for a fish supper in Ptolemais, Libya.

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And talking of fish, as well as consuming fish fresh from the sea, the other hugely important fish product was garum; Roman fish sauce.

A major garum production site in Tunisia was Neapolis, modern Nabeul.

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The tanks you can see in the centre of the image would have been used to produce the garum (see my earlier post about Nabeul for info about garum production and use).

These are the tanks at Tipasa on the Algerian coast. There are still traces of the plaster lining in the tanks.

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This is the end

Obviously once all of this lovely food has been produced everyone tucks in, but food has also always been culturally and socially important. A way of displaying wealth and status; a way of entertaining friends and guests; and a way of marking important life-events. Births, marriages and deaths all involved foods, then as now. As this is the end, I’ll leave you with death.

Several of the reliefs already posted above actually come from tombs on which individuals (or their heirs) display the sources of the deceased’s wealth. As it is often from agriculture, that is what is shown.

But food also featured in funerary and commemorative rituals themselves. This grave marker has a vertical stone with an inscription, but also a base with bowl-shaped indentations. Into these would be poured libations of (eg) olive oil, spring water, or offerings of grain would be left to the spirits of the departed.

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So there you are. A little look at the grub of Roman North Africa. If you wish to leave a libation, pop it in the ‘Leave a Reply’ box ;)

http://www.livius.org/le-lh/lepcis_magna/macellum.html