The Ancient MenagerieWas it a floor of someone’s house? A map of a rich person’s menagerie? An elaborate prank by some bored, ancient Roman interior decorator?
Back in 1996, the Israeli government wished to construct a highway that bisected through a town. Instead they found a mosaic floor. In and on itself, archaeological mosaic floors are not odd things in the area now known as Israel, which was once part of the great Roman Empire. But as the highway planners left, and the Department of Antiquities swooped in, they found an endless carpet of mosaic, so well-preserved and expansive it could have been made yesterday. Only it was an old one, dating as far back to 300AD.
It’s well-preserved state is already something of a marvel, but the subject matter mystifies archaeologists most of all. Commonly-found animals of the time stand side by side with exotic animals from far-flung places which might as well be lightyears away at that period in time. Further still are the mythological creatures that weave themselves between the “real” ones. Unlike other mosaic floors, too, this one lacked any human figures. The closest they got to a depiction of man’s presence are the two sailing ships—one cramped behind a school of fish, another missing most of its mosaic tiles.
The Lod Mosaic, 50 by 27 feet at least, is named after the town where it was found, is currently on a travelling exhibition, while awaiting for a proper museum/center to be built in a place that could’ve been a highway. So, no need for a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy yet, but maybe… an Archaeologist’s Guide to the Ancient Menagerie.
A long, detailed writeup by MetMuseum curator, Christoper S. Lightfoot: The Roman Mosaic
Explore the mosaic in detail at the official website: http://www.lodmosaic.org/explore.html
Garum —- The official condiment of the ancient Roman Empire
In the ancient Roman world a salty, oily condiment made from fermented fish guts took the Roman Empire by storm. Called garum, it became an important commodity all over the empire, providing fats, protein, salts, vitamin, minerals, and most importantly flavor to places in the empire were little could be found. Originally a Greek creation, the Roman obsession with garum would propel the fish sauce to become the most popular condiment in the Roman Empire.
Our modern society is a very wasteful society, we take it for granted that we can just use something and throw it away. However, our ancestors had a completely different attitude. Nothing went to waste and everything was put to use. “Waste not, want not” was not simply a saying, but a mantra that meant life or death, prosperity or disaster for ancient people’s. So if an animal was slaughtered, it was guaranteed that every part was consumed or used in some way.
Garum was a result of this culture. When the fishmongers gutted the daily catch, the guts were not merely thrown away, rather they were gathered by the garum maker. The guts were coated with salt, layered in large urns, and left out to heat in the sun for one to three months. During this time the ingredients would liquefy and ferment, forming a thick paste. When ready, a clear amber colored fluid would separate for the thicker material. This clear fluid was pure garum, and was skimmed, bolted, and sold for a hefty price. The skimming of more fluid would lead to cloudier and less pure forms of garum, which were much cheaper. The remaining paste was called “allum”, and was sold as a budget “poor mans garum sauce”. All grades of garum were flavored with different herbs and spices, depending on local tastes.
Because the Roman Empire was centered in the Mediterranean, the Roman economy was also heavily dependent on fishing. Numerous fisheries and ports dotted all along the Mediterranean coast, and where there fisheries, there were garum makers. Usually, however, the garum makers were relegated to the outskirts of a city, as the process of garum making tended to create an enormous stench. Garum itself became one of the most important commodities of the Roman world, being shipped all over Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. It was issued regularly as rations for Roman soldiers and was even accepted as money. Garum was also valued for its medicinal value; used to treat dog bites, diarrhea, ulcers, dysentery, to remove unwanted hair, and to remove freckles.
Alas the fall of the Roman Empire would lead to the fall of garum, especially as Germanic peoples who turned their noses at fermented fish sauce settled Europe and carved out kingdoms from the former Roman Empire. Today garum still can be found, though only produced by small business who cater to specialty gourmet foods. At around the same time the Romans were making garum, peoples in Southeast Asia were making a remarkably similar fish sauce called nước mắm, which today is still widely popular in Vietnamese, Thai, and Cambodian cuisine.
An archaeological dig in London has uncovered Roman artifacts, streets, temples, and a “lost” river (Source). It’s things like this and the discovery of Richard III that sometimes make me wish I had pursued that degree in history/archaeology instead of politics (although that degree has allowed me to dig up bones of another kind).
A wise Roman man once said:”Futue te ipsum!”
It literally means “Fuck yourself!” in Latin
Paintings From the Republic of the Roman Empire
- First Style (top left): decorator’s aim was to imitate costly marble panels using painted stucco relief
- Second Style (top right): painters created a three-dimensional setting that also extends beyond the wall
- Third Style (bottom left): artists decorated walls with delicate linear fantasies sketched on predominantly monochromatic (one-color) backgrounds
- Fourth Style (bottom right): mixed; contains elements of the other styles