Top 10 Things That Could Actually Be The Holy Grail

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Top 10 Things That Could Actually Be The Holy Grail


From King Arthur to the Crusaders to the Nazis, everybody has been trying to find the Holy Grail for the past 2,000 years without success—or at least that’s what we think. After all, who decides whether something is actually the Holy Grail?

Furthermore, if we describe the Holy Grail simply as an ancient artifact associated closely with Jesus, then it doesn’t necessarily have to be a cup. Based on that logic, here is a list of 10 artifacts that could be regarded in some way as the Holy Grail.

Featured image credit: ribbonfarm

10The James Ossuary


Photo credit: Paradiso

Discovered in Israel, the controversial James Ossuary is an ancient limestone box for storing bones which is inscribed with the words, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” in Aramaic. Immediately, this seemed improbable, especially when it turned up in the hands of an antiques dealer rather than from an excavation site. The dealer was taken to court by the Israel Antiquities Authority but was found not guilty of forgery.

The James Ossuary is believed to have come from a further collection of ossuaries unearthed in Jerusalem, some of which contain inscriptions interpreted as the names of Jesus, Mary, and even Judah, the alleged son of Jesus. Clearly, the discovery of the bones of Jesus Christ and his family could easily be considered the Holy Grail, albeit not in chalice form.


9Lycurgus Cup


Photo credit: IBTimes

The Lycurgus Cup is not associated with Jesus in any obvious way. However, it does something quite amazing. This Roman glass chalice, which depicts a scene involving King Lycurgus of Thrace, appears to be green when lit from the front and red when lit from behind. Even more incredible, those who made it seem to have, either accidentally or intentionally, used nanotechnology to achieve this effect.

The problem with calling this cup the Holy Grail is that it is only 1,600 years old. However, archaeologists have been known to get things wrong. Therefore, this cup with magical properties years ahead of its time could in fact be the Holy Grail—or at least the source of its legend.

8Sea Of Galilee Boat


Photo credit: Travellers & Tinkers

Given the many allusions in the Bible to fishing, the Holy Grail could be afishing boat—something that was apparently very important to Jesus and his followers. This particular boat, found in the mud of the Sea of Galilee during a drought, has been dated to almost exactly 2,000 years old.

A full 2.5 x 8 meters (8 x 26 ft) and repaired numerous times by its owner, the boat’s specific location is reportedly the town of Dalmanutha where Jesus sailed after feeding the 4,000. With such a clear connection to a place where Jesus is supposed to have gone, this preserved fishing vessel easily fits within the realm of things that could be described as the Holy Grail.




Photo credit: Siren-Com

Joyeuse is the name of a sword that belonged to Charlemagne in the Dark Ages. A hugely important figure in European history, he united much of Western Europe into a Christian kingdom and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope. The age of the weapon is disputed, with different historians claiming that it was made anywhere from the 8th to the 13th century.

However, a legend elevates this sword to an item of Biblical interest. Allegedly, a part of the Lance of Longinus—the spear that was used to pierce Jesus’s side—is forged into the hilt of Joyeuse.

This is an unsubstantiated claim. Yet the uncertainty about the age of Joyeuse and the materials used to make it, as well as the fact that Charlemagne was the first Christian king of Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire, does suggest a possible link. Admittedly, Joyeuse might not be the Holy Grail, but it could be as close as we can get.

6Sudarium Of Oviedo


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The Sudarium of Oviedo, the Shroud of Turin’s lesser-known little brother, is a small piece of cloth less than 1 meter (3 ft) long which is stained with blood alleged to be that of Jesus. Whereas the Shroud of Turin is argued to be a medieval forgery, the Sudarium has a clearly recorded history that dates back to the right era.

Interestingly, new studies claim that the bloodstains on the Sudarium match almost perfectly the markings on the Shroud. Apparently, both pieces of fabric bear the same rare blood type, and this match is closer than those required in most judicial systems around the world.

If the Sudarium of Oviedo really is stained by the blood of Jesus, then it could certainly be regarded as the Holy Grail.



Photo credit: Spsmiler

A place better known for its world-famous music festival, Glastonbury in the UK is the site of several locations with close mythological ties to the Bible and the Holy Grail.

One legend says that Joseph of Arimathea—who collected Jesus’s blood in what was to become the Holy Grail—traveled to Britain after the Crucifixion and buried the Grail there. The legend also suggests that Joseph’s staff, which he placed in the ground on a nearby hill, grew into a holy thorn bush. Today, there still exists such a plant, known to originate from Palestine.

At Glastonbury, you can also find the Chalice Well, a spring said to originate where Joseph of Arimathea buried the Grail. Supposedly, the well’s water runs red because of the blood of Jesus and tastes of iron because of the nails used to crucify Him.

Though this phenomenon is attributed to iron oxide in the soil, the Chalice Well could actually be the Holy Grail, given its astonishing properties and links to the Bible.


4Sacro Catino


Photo credit: Sylvain Billet

Sometimes called the Genoa Chalice, this ancient artifact is not quite a cup and is instead referred to as the Holy Dish. Held in Genoa and over 35 centimeters (14 in) in diameter, this hexagonal relic is traditionally said to have been carved from a gigantic emerald, although more modern sources claim it is just green Egyptian glass. This was confirmed when the dish was dropped and partially broken by Napoleonic troops.

The origins of the Sacro Catino are not clear. All we know is that it is incredibly old and that it was captured in Caesarea during the First Crusade, as recorded by William of Tyre. Having become a popular contender for the Holy Grail in the 13th century, the Sacro Catino could be just that.

3Seamless Robe


Although many institutions have claimed to possess the “seamless robe” worn by Jesus during his Crucifixion, Trier Cathedral appears to have the best case. Supposedly brought to Trier by St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, after returning from Jerusalem, the seamless robe has attracted millions of pilgrims over the years.

Yet nobody actually knows the age of the robe because it was dipped in arubber preservative at some point, making carbon dating impossible. If this is indeed the true seamless robe worn by Jesus during the Crucifixion that bears his blood, it could surely be considered the Holy Grail.

2Nanteos Cup


The Nanteos Cup resides in Wales and is nothing more now than a fragment of wood. This former bowl is reported to have mystical powers of healing, with people drinking from it and even trying to eat the relic itself to absorb its magic.

Supposedly similar to drinking vessels used in Palestine at the time of Jesus, the Nanteos Cup has been stolen many times and had been missing for a whole year until mid-2015. While believed to originate from the 14th century, this tiny fragment of history, at only 10 centimeters (4 in) tall, seems like the sort of object which could have survived the past 2,000 years, remaining only as a battered piece of wood.

Given its highly regarded powers (so highly regarded that it was actually on loan to a sick lady in a hospital when it was stolen), the Nanteos Cup could quite possibly be the Holy Grail.

1Iron Crown Of Lombardy


Photo credit: James Steakley

Though rather small compared to some other headpieces around the world, the Iron Crown of Lombardy remained a hugely important symbol of Christianity throughout the Dark and Middle Ages. The iron in its name comes from a strip of iron which runs around the inside of the crown, supposedly forged from one of the nails used to crucify Jesus.

Like the seamless robe, the nail is alleged to have been retrieved by St. Helena, who then passed it on to Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor. An impressive number of names are said to have been coronated with this crown, including Charlemagne, Frederick Barbarossa, and Napoleon Bonaparte.

There are references to the crown as early as AD 781, although it is unclear when the iron strip was added to the gold. With such a central role in the history of European Christianity and a nail claimed to have been used on Jesus Himself, the Iron Crown of Lombardy could certainly be the Holy Grail.

10 Cruel And Unusual Facts About The Colosseum’s Animal Fights

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10 Cruel And Unusual Facts About The Colosseum’s Animal Fights


The bestiari were a group of men in Ancient Rome tasked with fighting exotic dangerous animals for the delight of crowds. Most history books tend to gloss over the more gruesome details of what such fights entailed. For example, history books rarely tell you about . . .

10The Suicides

Some people who fought against animals in the Colosseum were well-trained men and thought of it as a career. A great deal of them, however, were unarmed criminals or prisoners of war who were thrown to the animals with virtually nothing to defend themselves.

As you can imagine, such a fate was terrifying for even the most hardened of men. Many prisoners killed themselves with whatever they had on hand rather than risk being killed by whichever strange beasts lined up for the morning show.

For example, one German prisoner killed himself by forcing a sponge down his own throat. And not just any sponge—this was a lavatory sponge that inmates used to wipe their anuses. Other stories involve prisoners making murder suicide pacts with each other, like the 29 Saxon prisoners who all fatally strangled one other to avoid death in the arena. How the last one alive managed to kill himself isn’t recorded, but considering “choking on a sponge of human excrement” was an option, we’re guessing it wasn’t pretty.


9The Fighting Killed Off Whole Species


Photo credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen

The sheer quantity of slaughter in the Colosseum saw the number of lions, jaguars, and tigers plummet across the globe. According to some, Roman hunting absolutely “devastated the wildlife of North Africa and the entire Mediterranean region,” wiping some species of animal off the map entirely.

For example, after one particularly brutal set of games in which 9,000 animals were slaughtered, the hippo disappeared from the river Nile. Creatures like the North African elephant, which was also commonly used as a war elephant during the time, were wiped of the face of the Earth completely.

8Few Bestiari Ever Survived

Because the majority of bestiari were prisoners of war or other such undesirables, they were almost always ill-equipped for the task of slaughtering a rampaging wild animal. In the highly unlikely event a bestiari actually managed to kill the animal he was forced to fight, another would almost certainly be let loose before he’d even finished celebrating.

The ancient Greek philosopher Strabo once described the plight of a particularly unlucky bestiari who was first sentenced to be killed by a boar. When the boar accidentally fatally gored its handler, leaving the guards no choice but to kill it, a wild bear was brought in to the arena instead to kill the prisoner. In an unbelievable stroke of luck, the bear then refused to leave its cage, once again leaving the prisoner alive and the guards with the frustrating task of killing the bear. Not ones to be deterred, the Romans finally brought into the arena a caged leopard, which happily tore out the bestiari’s throat.

Some people just don’t have any luck, do they?


7Commodus And The Ostriches


Photo credit: Sailko/Wikimedia

Emperor Commodus (played by Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator) took great pleasure in slaughtering animals and people in the arena. He enjoyed it so much that in one day alone, he reportedly killed more than 100 bears. Though we don’t know exactly how Commodus managed such a feat, scholars agree he probably just stabbed them while they stood tethered and helpless.

Though such actions paint Commodus as a poor fighter, he was reportedly a crack shot with the bow, which he liked to prove by decapitating ostriches in full sprint with crescent-shaped arrows. Commodus would then brandish or even throw the decapitated heads at members of the crowd or his own senate, either as a warning or a sign of his madness.

6Elephants Crushed Deserters

Damnatio ad bestias (“condemnation by wild beasts”) was the act of condemning criminals to death by animal attack in the arena. Unlike the betiarii, who stood at least a small chance at defending themselves, those condemned via damnatio ad bestias were either defenseless, tied to the spot, or just naked and armed with a wooden weapon.

The very first case of damnatio ad bestias in Roman history occurred when Aemilius Paullus sentenced a group of army deserters to death in 167 BC. To make it interesting, he ordered them crushed to death by a horde of elephants. The spectacle proved so popular that death by animals became a part of everyday life for the Romans—literally. Every morning, a Roman citizen could go to the arena to watch such executions take place before an afternoon of actual gladiatorial combat.

5Public Hunts


Photo credit: Joris van Rooden

The killing of animals was usually left to trained professionals or unarmed prisoners. But on rare occasions, the general public got the chance to kill rare and exotic animals for their own enjoyment.

Emperor Probus turned one of the most famous chariot racetracks in Rome, the Circus Maximus, into an actual forest around 280 AD. Into this forest, he released hundreds, if not thousands, of ibexes, sheep, ostriches, and other beasts.

After the forest had been suitably filled with hapless herbivores, the public was then permitted to enter and hunt animals for fun. As a bonus, they could keep anything they killed. The following day, Probus had 400 lions and 300 bears stabbed to death, because the public apparently still wasn’t satisfied with all the free ostrich meat they’d received the day before.


4Orpheus Against The Bears


Photo credit: Sailko/Wikimedia

According to legend, the hero Orpheus was a musician of such skill that he could charm all living things with nothing more than a lyre. The Romans loved this legend and tried to recreate it many, many times. They’d dress a condemned criminal up like Orpheus, give him a lyre, and then throw him into an arena full of angry bears, normally ones that had been starved or beaten.

Sometimes, though, the Romans would put a further twist on the myth andcrucify the man playing Orpheus before exposing him to the bear. Mostly, however, the Romans were a little more sporting and the criminal was free todefend himself with the lyre he’d been given. This went about as well as you’d expect. Then again, it could have been worse . . .

3Carpophorus’s Rape Giraffes


Photo credit: Raymond Isidore

Besides the bestiari, arena competitors included better-trained, voluntary fighters called “venatores.” Carpophorus is likely the most famous of them all. He once killed 20 wild beasts in a single day, straight-up strangling some of them to death.

However, Carpophorus had another talent that we want to discuss today. Along with being an expert killer of animals, he was also a rather skilled trainer of them. Carpophorus trained multiple animals, including giraffes, to rape women. To accomplish this, Carpophorus would wait for female animals to be in heat so he could collect samples from them to arouse the male of the species. Carpophorus would then rub these samples against slaves or homeless women he’d tempted to the arena. According to one account, “Carpophorus used up several women before he got the animals properly trained.”

The reasoning behind such madness was, like with the sad case of prisoners forced to dress as Orpheus, to reenact Greek or Roman myths. In particular, these involved Zeus, who liked to take the form of various animals before having his way with women.

One story involves a woman accused of poisoning five being raped by a jackass, before Carpophorus ended the ordeal by releasing wild animals into the arena to ease her suffering.

2Prolific Killer Animals

If you hadn’t already guessed by now, the Romans didn’t exactly take good care of the animals they intended to fight or kill. Most animals, to save on the cost of housing and feeding them, would be killed outright after each games, since, well, replacements were easy to come by. However, exceptions existed.

According to the famed Roman philosopher Cicero, one lion in the arena killed an astounding 200 men before it was finally slain. Other notable animals include the group of 18 elephants who stormed the crowd in an escape attempt. The elephants were originally to be killed by a group of men armed with darts, but they smashed through the fence separating them from the crowd. To stop this from ever happening again, the Romans placed a large trench between the arena and the crowd for future events.

1No Animals Had To Die

Perhaps the most cruel aspect of all is that the animals brought to the arena never really needed to be killed. We don’t mean that killing animals for sport is wrong—the Romans had little patience for that argument. We mean that the animals proved perfectly capable of entertaining the crowds while staying alive.

For example, trained elephants who danced, bowed, and did other tricks delighted the crowds. In fact, elephants were noted as being one of the only creatures the crowds didn’t like to see being killed. Writers of the era note that spectators would boo upon seeing elephants killed, thinking them smart and gentle creatures.

Other stories tell of the crowd being in awe of just seeing crocodiles sit in a ditch full of water. That’s it—no one stabbed them, and they didn’t fight anything. People were happy just to look at them, as though in a zoo. Another time, a crowd of thousands once sat and laughed their heads off at the sight of a bunch of leopards running in a straight line.

The crowd was literally just as happy to see the animals run in a circle or sit and do nothing, but the Romana decided to kill them anyway to spice things up.

Karl loves him some history and has been writing an ongoing series about ass-kicking athletes, found here. He also has a Twitter account, because of course he does.

Top 10 Bizarre Ancient Roman Medical Treatments

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Top 10 Bizarre Ancient Roman Medical Treatments


The ancient Romans were responsible for a number of scientific advancements that greatly benefited humankind. However, some of their solutions didn’t work. Here are 10 diseases and the erroneous cures that the ancient Romans devised.

Warning: These Roman treatments don’t work, so don’t try them.



Acne was probably the scourge of nearly every Roman teenager, so the Romans tried to come up with a cure. Crocodile meat was effective at getting rid of spots, even freckles, when combined with cyprus oil.

If the pimples persisted, the Romans suggested taking a bath with oil and sour cheese to remove the pimples. Leek leaves could get rid of pimples when rubbed on the skin. Lastly, the juice of myrrh, when mixed with cassia and honey, was said to be effective at relieving what the Romans referred to as varus.

If all of that failed to rid one’s face of acne, the court physician of Theodosius, a Roman emperor in the fourth century, told his patients to wipe their faces with a cloth while watching a falling star. For unspecified reasons, this was said to cause the pimples to fall off the face.




Warts had a wide range of cures. Often, Romans would burn cow dung, mouse dung, or the fat of a swan to rid themselves of warts. Pliny suggested taking a freshly podded pea and touching it to each nodule. Then he instructed his readers to wrap the peas securely in a cloth and throw them backward.

Rubbing the wart with sea foam or white sea sand was also supposed to work. If the person could afford it, gold was considered to be an effective remedy for warts.

However, if a Roman couldn’t get any of these cures, he could wait until after the 20th day of the month, lie faceup on a path, look at the Moon, grab whatever was nearby, and rub it on the wart.



There were a number of cures for headaches, most of which involved animals in some way. For example, wine in which a chameleon had been soaked could be sprinkled on the sufferer’s head.

If that failed, an elephant’s trunk could be touched to the head. (It was considered much more effective if the elephant sneezed.) A Roman could also drink the water left behind by an ox or ass which had been drinking it.

A liniment made from burned cloth which had been stained with menstrual blood and mixed with the oil of roses was said to be an effective cure. As a last resort, the severed genitals of a fox could be fastened around the head to cure a stubborn headache.




Photo credit: Fubar Obfusco

When the ancient Romans had trouble going to the bathroom, there were a number of cures from which to choose. For example, eating raw quincespreserved in honey could help.

Placing wolf’s gall (bile) on the navel with different kinds of milk, salt, and honey could also be effective at loosening the bowels. For those who didn’t like the idea of a wolf’s gall resting on their navel, a bull’s gall could be smashed up with wormwood and applied as a suppository.

Fresh beets that were ground into juice were also beneficial for constipation sufferers. Oddly enough, this remedy was also supposed to work for those afflicted with diarrhea. Almost every kind of fruit was said to be good as well. Finally, men like Cato the Elder prescribed cabbage as a great treatment for constipation and a multitude of other ailments.



For those suffering from nausea—whether from natural causes or as a reaction to one of the Romans’ many “cures”—a three-finger pinch of cuminwas said to work wonders.

Pennyroyal, a common herb in Europe, was also said to help if it was cooked in vinegar. Rose juice could be effective, although the Roman might fall into a deep sleep because it was also a cure for insomnia.

Oddly enough, the ancient Romans believed that drinking lots of wine was a cure for nausea. (They had a cure for the next day’s nasty hangover, too.) However, a Roman woman who was pregnant and feeling nauseous was supposed to eat a pomegranate or drink its juice.

As a last resort, human breast milk could be used to cure nausea. It was supposed to be especially effective if the woman had already weaned her child—and doubly so if she had given birth to a boy.



Flatulence was a common side effect of many Roman “cures” and could be treated through a variety of methods. Chicken broth was said to be an excellent purgative for the bowels. If it was made from an old rooster and strongly salted, it was even more effective. A hen’s white droppings were also beneficial for those suffering from uncontrollable flatulence.

When mixed with cobbler’s blacking, basil supposedly eased ferocious flatulence. However, if this cure was used too frequently, it could result in madness or put the patient into a coma.

Pliny also said that mixing cumin and asparagus was helpful, although this cure often caused other unspecified problems. As a last resort, ground beaver meat with vinegar and rose oil could be used as long as it was in liquid form. If eaten, it was for epilepsy.




Dysentery is caused by any number of bacteria, viruses, or parasites. It inflames the colon and results in diarrhea with blood for the sufferer. However, in ancient Rome, they didn’t know the cause of this disease, so the cures were quite far-fetched.

Chicken soup was considered to be a cure. Bitumen, a native asphalt of Asia Minor, was also supposed to work. Bitumen could also hasten menstruation for women.

The flesh of a spotted lizard was also an effective cure. But it had to be imported from a foreign country and boiled before it was eaten. The actual type of lizard was not recorded.

Egg yolks without the whites could be mixed with poppy juice and wine. The flowers of pomegranates, a wonder drug in ancient Rome, could be picked and eaten to cure dysentery. Also, vomited blood was supposed to work if it was mixed with wine and a vulture’s lungs.



Incontinence could be cured by taking the bladder of a hyena, soaking it in wine, and eating it. Roasted boar’s bladder was supposed to be quite effective as well.

If you could catch them, roasted seahorses were a common cure for incontinence. A smaller fish that was found inside a larger fish’s belly was also a good cure. If the sufferer was a child, Pliny suggested that they eatboiled mice with their food.

Maybe the oddest cure was taking papyrus or linen and touching it to the tip of one’s genitals. If that failed, tying a string of linen or papyrus around the genitals and then around the leg might do the trick.

Stranger still, incontinence could be cured by burning a pig’s penis, mixing it with wine, and drinking the concoction. Then, while the Roman was drunk from “swine wine,” he had to pee in the bed of a dog while saying the following in Latin: “This I do that I may not wet my bed as a dog does.”



Gout, a recurrent attack of acute inflammatory arthritis, could be cured in a number of ways. The combination of mustard, saffron, the fat of a male goat, and the dung of a female goat was supposed to be effective at alleviating the symptoms.

Rubbing a sea hare along the affected parts and wearing shoes made of beaver’s skin was also prescribed. The skin of what Pliny described as the “Pontic beaver” was supposed to be the most effective.

Pliny also believed that the touch of a menstruating woman could relieve the symptoms. Calf dung boiled with lily bulbs was believed to be a useful cure as well. One of the sadder cures was the use of a live fox that was tied to a stake and boiled in oil. It was supposed to make an effective drink to cure gout.



Although epilepsy is still challenging to treat in modern times, the ancient Romans believed that they had a number of successful remedies. For example, an affected Roman could drink water that was taken from a spring during the night and then placed in the skull of a dead man.

The next step was to eat the flesh of a beast that had been killed with an iron weapon. The weapon must have killed a man previously. If all of that failed, putting an iron nail into the ground where someone had suffered a seizure was supposed to help.

The testes of a bear or wild boar dipped in mare’s milk or water was considered to be a highly effective treatment. The smell of the afterbirth of a female ass, especially if it had just borne a male, was beneficial to those who were about to have a seizure. However, this was neither a practical nor timely solution.

If nothing else worked, the affected Roman could take a dried camel’s brain, put it in vinegar, and eat it.

10 Fascinating Facts About The Ancient Roman Army

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10 Fascinating Facts About The Ancient Roman Army


Cristian is a freelance writer and editor of Ancient History Encyclopedia. He is currently studying archaeology (University of Leicester) and has a strong passion about the Human Past.

Rome’s all-conquering military machine holds a special place in our minds. Its efficiency and discipline made a small city on the Italian peninsula rule over most of the Western world, from the British Isles to the Near East and from the Rhine to North Africa. This list offers some interesting facts about the Roman army, some of which can explain part of its success and also its failures.

Featured image credit:

10Seasonality And War


During the Romans’ early history, the logistical challenges of conducting a war meant that the Romans only fought between sowing and harvest(during the summer). Rome was an agriculture-based economy, and the movement of troops during winter was highly demanding.

According to Livy (History of Rome, 5.6), if a war was not over by the end of summer, “our soldiers must wait through the winter.” He also mentioned a curious way that many soldiers chose to spend the time during the long waiting: “The pleasure of hunting carries men off through snow and frost to the mountains and the woods.”

The first recorded continuation of war into the winter by the Romans took place in 396 BC during the siege of the Etruscan city of Veii.




Photo credit: William Hogarth

Mutiny of the troops was always a potential issue for Roman generals, and there were many policies in place to discourage this type of behavior. Punishment by decimation (decimatio) was arguably the most feared and effective.

It involved the beating or stoning to death of every 10th man within the army unit where mutiny took place. The victims were chosen by lot by their own colleagues. Whenever a group within the army was planning a mutiny, the prospect of decimation made them think twice and they were likely to be reported by their own colleagues.

The Romans knew that decimation, although effective, was also unjust because many of the actual victims might not have had anything to do with the mutiny. From the standpoint of the Romans, the unfairness of decimation was a necessary evil. Tacitus (Annals 14.44) wrote, “Setting an example on a large scale always involves a degree of injustice when individuals suffer to ensure the public good.” (McKeown 2010: 40-41)

8Property Qualification


Photo credit: Alvaro Perez Vilarino

Military service was both a duty and a privilege of Roman citizens. In its early days, the Roman army was composed exclusively of citizens and organized on the basis of their social status (according to the weapons and equipment they could afford). The richest served in the cavalry, those not so rich served in the infantry, and men without property were excluded from the army.

After the Second Punic War (218–201 BC), this recruitment system became obsolete. Rome had become involved in longer and larger wars, and they needed a permanent military presence in the newly conquered territories. The property qualification was therefore reduced.

During the second century BC, property qualification was reduced even more. Then, in 107 BC, Gaius Marius began to accept volunteers who had no property and were equipped at the expense of the government. (Hornblower and Spawforth 2014: 79)


7Siege Warfare


Whenever a town or building was under siege, a special army unit was sent ahead to surround the settlement and prevent anyone from escaping. Afortified camp would then be established around the area, preferably on high ground and always out of missile range. An army unit would then be sent to breach the defensive walls, protected by covering fire from archers, bolt-firers, and catapults.

The catapult was one of the most intimidating siege weapons. Josephus (The Jewish Wars, 3.7.23) offers us a firsthand account of the catapult’s devastating power: “A soldier standing on the wall near Josephus was struck by it [a stone thrown by a catapult]. His head was torn off by the stone missile, and the upper part of his skull was hurled [550 meters (1,800 ft)].”



Photo credit: CBS News

Tunneling was key for siege warfare. The failure or success of many sieges was decided by how well the Romans were able to breach the defensive walls by digging tunnels underneath the town or building in question and breaking in.

Although this was an effective tactic, it became widely known to Rome’s enemies and eventually lost its surprise factor. During the war against Mithridates of Pontus in the early first century BC, the Romans were trying to dig a tunnel to breach the defenses of the city of Themiscyra. Its inhabitants drove a number of dangerous wild animals into the tunnel, including bears and even bees.

The oldest archaeological evidence of chemical warfare has been dated to the third century AD and comes from tunnels found at Dura Europus (Syria), where evidence of an underground battle between the Romans and the Sassanian Persians were found. The Persians were besieging a Roman garrison and using tunnels to break in.

The Romans responded by also digging tunnels to neutralize the attackers. Skeletons and weapons found in one of these galleries attest to the fact that the Roman soldiers were choked to death by an asphyxiating gas cloud coming from bitumen and sulfur crystals ignited by the Persians.

5Helmet Function


Photo via Wikimedia

According to some ancient writers, helmets in the Roman army had other benefits besides their obvious protective function. Polybius (Histories, 6.23) noted that the decorations on top of their helmets had a psychological impact on their enemies because it made the Roman soldiers look taller and more intimidating.

The use of helmet decoration to intimidate enemies was widely practiced by most cultures. But in this case, Polybius was referring specifically to the use of a “circle of feathers” to make the Romans look considerably taller than they actually were. This observation makes sense when we consider that many of their enemies, especially in central Europe (e.g., Gauls and Germans), were much taller and robust than the Romans.


4Decision-Making Process


Photo credit: Cesare Maccari

During the times of the Roman Republic, only the Senate, considered the governmental entity that embodied the will of Roman citizens, was entitled to declare war. As Rome expanded and the power of its generals grew larger, some wars were declared by the Roman generals without senatorial approval.

An example of this was the war against Mithridates of Pontus, which was declared in 89 BC by the consul and general Manius Aquillius without any involvement from the Senate. This was illegal in theory, but in practice, there was little the Senate could do. Some generals were just too powerful. When Rome became an empire, the decision of going to war became the emperor’s responsibility alone.

3The Fetials


Photo via Wikimedia

Rome had a specialized body of priests known as the fetials, whose sole obligation was to perform the rituals involved in going to war and making treaties. The final step in the ritual of declaring war was throwing a spear into the territory of the enemy.

By the early third century BC, Rome had expanded significantly, covering almost all the Italian peninsula from the Po Valley to the South. Throwing a spear into enemy territory was no longer a convenient procedure for declaring war; the borders of Rome were too far away for the fetials to complete the ritual.

Superstitions, however, don’t die easily, and the priests came up with a clever alternative. A portion of land not far from the temple of Bellona (the goddess of war) was declared to be non-Roman. At the time of the war against King Pyrrhus of Epirus (280–275 BC), an enemy soldier was captured by the Romans and forced to buy part of this land so that the spear could be thrown into it.

2Gladius Hispaniensis


Photo via Wikimedia

The standard short sword used by the Roman army was known as thegladius hispaniensis (“Spanish sword”), and it was developed in the Iberian Peninsula. Its lethal effectiveness and practicality were proverbial.

According to Livy (History of Rome, 31.34), when the Romans fought against Philip V during the Macedonian War (200–196 BC), the Macedonians were shocked by the effects of the Roman sword:

The Macedonians [ . . . ] had [so far] only seen wounds inflicted by spears and arrows. When they saw the bodies dismembered by the Romans’ Spanish swords, and arms sliced off at the shoulder, and heads separated from the trunk, neck and all, and entrails exposed, [ . . . ] they trembled as they realized what weapons and what soldiers they would have to face.



Photo credit: Lawrence Alma-Tadema

The Praetorian Guard was a specialized unit of the Roman army that acted as household troops to the emperor and his personal bodyguards. During the first century BC, the Praetorian Guard occasionally got involved in the process of appointing new emperors.

But as time went by, their involvement grew larger until they eventually got into a position where they were able to appoint, remove, and even murder Roman emperors. One incentive for murdering emperors and appointing new ones was a practice known as “the donative,” which was an economic reward that the Praetorian Guard received from the newly appointed emperor once the previous one was killed.

This practice was one of the reasons why emperor succession became truly chaotic during the late history of the Western Roman Empire. Once the loyal protectors of the the head of the Roman government, the Praetorian Guard gradually and ironically turned into a corrupt and dangerous army unit that held significant control over the life of the emperors.

NASA’s Juno orbiter has sent back Jupiter photos “like nothing we have seen or imagined before”

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NASA’s Juno orbiter has sent back Jupiter photos “like nothing we have seen or imagined before”

This is the first image of the gas giant’s north pole.

Juno was about 48,000 miles (78,000 kilometers) above Jupiter's polar cloud tops when it captured this view, showing storms and weather unlike anywhere else in the solar system.
Juno was about 48,000 miles above Jupiter’s north pole on August 27 when this image was captured.

That image is just one of the first of many to come from Juno, a NASA spacecraft that entered the gas giant’s orbit in July. It’s set to make at least 35 more revolutions around the planet from the north pole to the south, and in the process, hopefully unlock some of its mysteries.

It’s off to a good start. This first view of Jupiter’s north pole “looks like nothing we have seen or imagined before,” Scott Bolton, NASA’s principal investigator of Juno, said in a press statement.

He continued:

It’s bluer in color up there than other parts of the planet, and there are a lot of storms. There is no sign of the latitudinal bands or zone and belts that we are used to — this image is hardly recognizable as Jupiter. We’re seeing signs that the clouds have shadows, possibly indicating that the clouds are at a higher altitude than other features.

The clouds have an oil-and-water-on-asphalt quality to them. Here’s a closer look at the detail.

Desktop background worthy?

Juno also sent back this infrared image of the planet’s south pole, another first for science. This image reveals the contours of Jupiter’s aurora, which is the interaction of its magnetic field with its atmosphere.

“These first infrared views of Jupiter’s north and south poles are revealing warm and hot spots that have never been seen before,” Alberto Adriani, an Italian scientist studying data from Juno’s infrared camera, said in a press statement. “And while we knew that the first-ever infrared views of Jupiter’s south pole could reveal the planet’s southern aurora, we were amazed to see it for the first time.”

This infrared image gives an unprecedented view of the southern aurora of Jupiter, as captured by NASA's Juno spacecraft on August 27, 2016. This infrared image gives an unprecedented view of the southern aurora of Jupiter, as captured by NASA's Juno spa
This infrared image gives an unprecedented view of the southern aurora of Jupiter, as captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft on August 27, 2016.

Why did we send an orbiter to Jupiter?

Even though Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system, scientists know remarkably little about it.

Basic questions about the planet they’d like to answer include:

  • Does Jupiter have a solid core?
  • How does it generate such extreme levels of radiation?
  • How did Jupiter form and evolve?

Juno is equipped with nine scientific instruments, including sensors that can measure gravity, probe deep into Jupiter’s atmosphere, and test the planet’s magnetic fields, as well as various cameras to capture the planet across a range of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Jupiter is made up of the same basic ingredients as the sun — mainly hydrogen and helium. Scientists are hoping a close-up investigation of its surface can reveal some history of the origin of our solar system (with 67 moons, Jupiter is like a mini solar system). And what’s more, the galaxy may be littered with other gas giants like Jupiter we haven’t yet discovered.

Juno’s 1.7-billion-mile journey to Jupiter began in August 2011. The GIF below traces the path Juno took on its journey. You’ll see that about two years into its flight, the orbiter passed back around the Earth for a gravity assist. That propelled Juno to around 165,000 mph, making it the fastest man-made object ever built, and gave it the energy to reach Jupiter within three years.


When Juno approached Jupiter, it hit the brakes and slowed to around 130,000 mph, a record speed for a craft being inserted into orbit.

What’s remarkable about Juno is how it avoids one huge problem of studying Jupiter: The planet’s circuitry frying radiation.

Just like Earth has a protective bubble of radiation (a magnetosphere, which is what creates the aurora light shown around the poles), Jupiter has one too. But Jupiter’s is much, much more massive and more powerful. “Its magnetic field extends so far into space that, if it glowed in visible light, Jupiter would appear to be twice the size of the full moon in our night sky,” the New Yorker explains.

For Juno to get close to the surface of Jupiter, it had to sneak in where the magnetism is weakest: near the poles. Once inserted near the poles, Juno can orbit underneath the most intense areas of radiation and protect its sensitive electronics.

Here’s NASA’s visualization of the maneuver. It’s like threading a needle in the deep reaches of space.


Here’s an illustration of what that looks like from Juno’s perspective.

These pictures represent just the beginning of Juno’s exciting mission around Jupiter. There will be many more images, and many more scientific discoveries, to come.

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