Roman Period Foot Prints in Ceramics

These two images portray footprints in ceramic from two different sites. Either by accident or design it is worth pondering who these people were, the lives they led and the circumstances that these prints occurred. Perhaps a parent wanting to preserve the print of their child or even a workman simply stepping on the brick to see if it is dry. Regardless it is a touching example humans reaching across the ages.

Roman Theater and archeological museum, Verona, Italy.

Roman Theater and Archeological museum, Verona, Italy.

Fishbourne Palace archeological museum, Chichester, England.

Fishbourne Palace Archeological Museum, Chichester, England.

I don’t know of very many examples of Roman period human footprints so please let me know in the comments if you know of others! This post will be updated as more sources are found.




Sean Doherty ©

While many bee enthusiasts avow that honeybees lead a strange and secretive life within their hives, beekeepers themselves have a tendency to be quite strange to say the least; but it’s an oddity that they’re all proud of. Beekeeping is both sought after by businessmen commercially, as well as by hobbyists, who are known as backyard beekeepers. Beekeeping isn’t particular to any ethnicity, gender, or age, but knows an immense variety of membership. From the perspective of an average beekeeper named Turlough, he responds to The Independent article on beekeeping,

For generations, beekeeping has been one of the most genteel of pastimes – a world of flower meadows, village fêtes and white-veiled enthusiasts pottering around, puffing smoke into hives.[1]

“What a load of twaddle. As my late uncle used to say: beekeeping is all about sex, violence and daylight robbery.”[2] Turlough’s uncle was a very sensible man. Each of the three descriptions of beekeeping is rooted in fact. Daylight robbery implies the stealing of honey and other goods, the violence deals with the time of year in northern climates that the female worker bees tear off the wings, bite, and drive off the males in the hive before winter, the sex, is just that, the female queen flies high into the air, and the males mate with her in the air, in doing so further violence is committed as the queen rips out the genitalia of the male bee, having it plummet to the ground to its death, absorbing the sperm into its body allowing it for the production of millions of bees.

Many cultures from across the span of time have indulged in keeping an apiary. According to Thaindian News[3], the earliest beekeeping operation to ever be archeologically uncovered was in Tel Rehov located in northern Israel which was revealed remnants of human-made beehives that supported as many as 200 hives; this find was nearly an astounding 3,000 years old. This finding dates back to the biblical accounts of King David and King Solomon. It also notes that “the earliest known depiction of beekeeping appears on a carving from an Egyptian temple[4] that dates to circa 4,500 years ago.’

Local beekeepers supply their area with fresh honey and become intimate with their customers knowing which types of honey to set aside for whom. Many apiarists like Norman Charpentier of Leominster, MA are backyard beekeepers. I had the unique opportunity to interview him for this paper. They usually have no more then three to five hives, which produce a surplus of anywhere between eighty to a hundred pounds of honey. This is only working on a very low scale production. Many individuals of this group have learned the trade of keeping bees from an older relative. Norman learned it from his great uncle at the age of thirteen, while his father learned along side him. Community based beekeepers have a wide variety of options that they can sell. Everything in a beehive is useable, from honey to wax.

The most famous byproduct of keeping bees is the honey. The things that usually aren’t obvious are the other products associated with having an apiary are beeswax, pollen, and propolis. The first product that bees produce in abundance is beeswax, which can be made into candles. The second item is pollen. Norman told me that some customers request the bees to be set up in their yard; the bees’ hive is then fitted with a pollen grain collector. As the thousands of bees enter the hive, they have to hyper extend and half the time their pollen baskets drop the pollen into the grate that collects it. The customers then eat the pollen and their allergies are no more. The third product is propolis. This is a mixture of tree saps. It has many uses in the hive, as well as many uses in the medical/dentistry field. Propolis, although is time consuming to collect the minimum pound of it, the pay off is eighty dollars a pound.

Going to see the bees is always an interesting experience.

“You always get stung several times, it just comes with the territory,” Norman said as we suited up. The netting draped around my face, and tucked into my collar. Norman said that the first place the bees will try and sting if agitated are the face and neck. Somehow I wasn’t sure about a simple net blocking the way to my face. His son watched from the back porch.

“Don’t worry!” he said with a grin, “the only thing you have to really watch out for is when the bee gets inside with you and can’t find her way out!” That sounds reassuring.

“Why are beekeepers outfits white?”

“They are white to distinguish us from the would be attackers of beehives, which are normally brown and furry,” Norman said, “although there aren’t many bears around here.”

As we neared the hives I began to become nervous. My only thoughts were on the stinging. Apparently this suit wasn’t full proof against bees, any part that was pulled taunt they could sting through.

“If you get stung, don’t pull it out, brush it away. The bee toxins only are fully released when you pinch at the poison sac that is attached with the stinger.”

The bees began to hum as we opened the hives. Norman sprayed a mixture of burlap and pinecones.

“The bees normally can communicate with the use of pheromones and can be alert to an attacker in seconds. The smoke calms them and blocks the pheromones from spreading through the hive, or if we slip and kill a few worker bees, that wont be noticed,” he said as he slowly lifted out a honey super.

This is what we put in to extract the honey. When this is filled up, we replace it with another. We keep a couple extras so we can rotate.

As I stood surrounded by bees, I realized that I too wanted to become part of the world that is beekeeping.

Norman, told me that beekeepers, as a group are generally a strange bunch; as he recounts when his bees stung his wife and she was rushed to the hospital. The police asked him if he had taken out a hefty insurance policy on her, as she is deathly allergic to the sting of honeybees! Of course he hadn’t but needless to say his wife is extremely cautious of his hobby. As for his children, they have been brought up to respect the bees, with the mantra, “if you leave them alone they will leave you alone”. They played with the drones, the males, who have no stinger, getting them to race back and forth across the carpet. His wife tells me how their son at age five sat and let bees that were swarming[5] completely cover his face and neck. Many people who do not understand bees or their nature would rather die then to have their face plastered by a couple thousand of the vivacious females. Swarming is something that happens when bees either lose their queen[6], or it becomes too crowded within the hive.

“Beekeeping was more fun when there wasn’t the added steps of taking chemical strips to fight various diseases such as varroa mites. Back when I first started, there was none of that and it was pretty laid back,” says Norman. This is the general consensus between beekeepers, that the added measures and checks to insure that their bees are healthy has been a proverbial ‘stinger’ in beekeepers’ side.

The benefits of beekeeping are not only fiscal, but nutritional as well. New beekeepers have set up in the White House. They have installed a new beehive into the garden. The current first lady, Michelle Obama wanted her children to eat healthier, and learn about the benefits of honey over sugar are far from infinitesimal. The new presidential apiary was not only installed for its benefits, but also for bee awareness. Beekeepers around the country are hoping that with the rising awarness of beekeeping, the government will stop spraying chemicals that have been suspect to CCD

CCD also known as Colony Collapse Disorder has decimated countless numbers of beehives. This frightening disease has left many beekeepers out of business. Those hit hardest are those who move their vast hives to California for almonds, Florida for melons, and Pennsylvania for apples and Maine for pollination. With the shifting of hives and the bees being exposed to chemicals that have tested hazardous towards pollinators, the safety of many of the worlds hives have been severely compromised. The strange disease causes bees to dissapear from their hives, so instead of having plenty of dead bees in the hives which is characteristic of other diseases, the bees are nowhere to be found.

Norman believed that many local beekeepers, himself included, have not had to deal with hit CCD first hand because of the nature of their production and source of pollen.

It’s amazing that many people wear the masks of an average everyday person, but come bee season they put on a different mask, one with fine netting of course. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United States alone produced roughly 70,000 metric tons of the golden treat, and consumed a whopping 159,000 metric tons of it. America has an insatiable appetite for honey, consuming over twice as much as it makes domestically. Beekeepers are a very important group and not many people realize their significance to their food stores. For example, if you were to sit down for breakfast and have mixed nuts and granola, toast with jam, cranberry juice, coffee with milk, eggs and a lovely fruit salad, you would be sorely disappointed to look at your plate without the help of bees’ pollination. The same breakfast with out the help of pollinators would consist of black coffee, toast with butter, eggs and granola. With a 3/4th of crops in your diet requiring pollination, beekeepers are an extraordinary group. They don’t only provide honey and the like, but provide you with fruits and veggies. It is by no mistake that in the Bible, the Jews were going the land of milk and honey. As you cannot have one with out the other, for you see, alfalfa the feed that cows that produce milk eat needs bees to pollinate it. To put it simply, life without beekeepers would be extremely dour.

Being a beekeeper is many things, a hobby, a business, even a way of life. But what it will always remain as a source of interest for humanity. It can be anywhere from a eight year old boy in a monastery, to the sixty-five year old grandmother in Albania, nothing will change no matter what the human element is added to the equation. The secret life of bees is one thing, but the odd life of the innumerable beekeepers is something that is to be found out by entering into their world; suited up and ready for the inevitable sting.



[3] ANI, “Oldest known archaeological example of beekeeping discovered in Israel.” Thaindian News. 01 SEP 2008. Thaindian News. 28 Apr 2009 <;.

[4] Egypt sites identifies not as a carving from an Egyptian Temple, but from the Tomb of Pabasa near Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el-Bahri.

[5] Bees swarm for a variety of reasons, generally, the drone supers are filled and the bees feel cramped, so the queen lays a couple eggs and the workers feed them royal jelly to make them into queens, the first queen out kills the others and takes over, the old queen takes half the hive to form a new hive elsewhere.

[6] Bees realize that their queen is gone in a matter of an hour when her pheromone scent disappears. They immediately find 10 developing bees that are no more then 3 weeks old and feed them ‘royal jelly’ which helps them develop their reproductive organs.


Ὄρθρου, ὅταν δυσόκνως ἐξεγείρῃ, πρόχειρον ἔστω ὅτι ἐπὶ ἀνθρώπου ἔργον ἐγείρομαι: τί οὖν δυσκολαίνω, εἰ πορεύομαι ἐπὶ τὸ ποιεῖν ὧν ἕνεκεν γέγονα καὶ ὧν χάριν προῆγμαι εἰς τὸν κόσμον; ἐπὶ τοῦτο κατεσκεύασμαι, ἵνα κατακείμενος ἐν στρωματίοις ἐμαυτὸν θάλπω;

                                                          -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.1


“Early in the morning, when you find it so hard to rouse yourself from your sleep, have these thoughts ready at hand: ‘I am rising to do the work of a human being. Why, then, am I so irritable if I am going out to do what I was born to do and what I was brought into this world for? Or was I created for this, to lie in bed and warm myself under the blankets?’”

This section of Meditations inspired me to write the following passage. I have not really used this site for creative writing, but since it is related to ancient history I think that it has a place here. :3


I wake up each morning with torpor, feeling pleasant warmth radiating around my body. The sun cuts through the slits of the windows and illuminates the dwelling. The place where one rests is sacred and should be dark and quiet like a sealed sarcophagus. The light causes me to stir inside my cocoon, angrily.

This cocoon is the temple of rejuvenation, it is a brilliant canvas for the imagination, and is sacred to many ancient deities.

And thus to be dragged out against your will and taken across the most holy pomerium, the lines that demarcate the boundary of this glorious place within and the world without, is the most vile deed known to mankind.

This cocoon is made entirely of blankets, shielding its singular oneironaut1 from the light and chilly air, and must be bravely set aside. The journey of the previous night is over and although its warmth beckons for surely what would be another amusing jaunt, one must get up and resist such strong opiate.

Every morning, now and hereafter I must metamorphose by bursting violently forth from my warm fibrous cocoon and face the day boldly. For  today I am still alive, this is what one is brought into this world for.  There still remains much knowledge to be gained, wonders to be seen and a life to live outside this cocoon of bedclothes. Mors aurem vellens: “vivite,” ait, “venio.”2


1 A person who travels in dreams.
2 “Death is plucking at your ear: ‘Go on and live,’ he says ‘I’m coming.'” – Copa, Appendix Virgiliana

Size Matters…Not


Figure 1. Priapus “Busy weighing himself.”
House of the Vettii, Pompeii. Note the Phrygian cap, Priapus is very much a foreign, Greek deity.

In antiquity size mattered, just not the way it matters today. Interestingly enough, ancient Romans found large phalli humorous and replusive and actually preferred those with much smaller and more manageable sizes. As in my previous post here on the term “adpragmalic”, you can see an ubiquitous mosaic motif found in bathhouses. In Roman mosaics, the cultural use of blackness was two-fold. The dangers of the baths according to John Clarke, were the intense heat and the Evil Eye. The mosaics of the black African was a perfect way to warn individuals of both simultaneously. When heat is concerned, Clarke writes,

The heat of the baths constituted a physical danger addressed by images of  sandals . . . or images of the Aethiopes, or black African. The Aethiopes communicated the idea of heat in two ways. He comes from a hot climate, and his Greek name, Aethiopes, means “burnt by the sun.” The Greeks attributed the Aethiopes black skin to having been burnt by the sun. [1]

The city of Pompeii, having been destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 CE left a plethora of material culture. Among these we can see the function of the phallus in every day life, from protecting crossroads (Fig. 2), to household objects such as macrophallic slaves (Fig. 3) and of course cult objects (Fig. 4). In Figure 3, the bronze is known as the placentarius, a tray bearer and would have likely held a small silver tray with orderves. The grotesque and unappealing body of this bronze statue would have also enhanced the laughter that it would provoke. These are just many examples of the stylistic representation of the phallus in Roman Culture.

Decorative brickwork phallic symbol designed to ward off the evil eye

Figure 2. Decorative brickwork phallic symbol designed to ward off the evil eye at crossings.

xv. Giant Phallus in Painted Tufa Sculpture in Nocera tufa; height 251/4  in. (64 cm) From Pompeii regio IX, insula V (August 30, 1880) RP, Inv. no. 113415.

Figure 4. Giant Phallus in Painted Tufa
Sculpture in Nocera tufa; height 64 cm. 
regio IX, insula V (August 30, 1880)
RP, Inv. no. 113415.

Figure 3. Placentarius
Sculpture gilded in bronze; height
from Pompeii regio I, insula VII, nos. 10-12. House of the Ephebe, RP, Inv. no. 143760

In the hit series Rome by HBO, although some may argue that the historical accuracy off on many things, it sure was spot on concerning the cultural construction of the phallus, and how they prayed. This took place in first episode of the first season. Titus Pullo is incarcerated,  (in carcer, Latin for in jail) and some may think it shows him being a juvenile delinquent by drawing a phallus on the bench, (Figure 5)  in actuality this is a Roman expression of good luck so he is able to get out of jail. The  shows his darling artwork, and later in the episode, after the legion’s eagle was stolen, he is shown praying to Foculus, the fire of Vesta. His prayer is very Roman, and is usually written as Do ut des, literally “I give, so that you give.” It was a reciprocal relationship where if he is released from prison, he would give a fine white lamb, or 6 pigeons. If he doesn’t get out, then no sacrifice. One of which seems to have paid off since he is released into the care of Lucius Vorenus.

Titus Pullo Phallus Drawing

Titus Pullo, Season 1, Episode 1 “The Stolen Eagle”

But why did Romans have this cultural construction? The most accepted reason by scholars is that it was used to ward off the Evil Eye.  According to M. W. Dickie and Katherine Dunbabin, the Evil Eye was thought to have been  one of the inherent dangers of attending the baths.[2] Although the danger of the Evil Eye could manifest anywhere, hence the phalli present at road crossings (Figure 2). These dangers were the dangers of jealousy or envy phthonos (Greek) or invidia (Latin). These words are “best defined as begrudging envy that directs ill will against another person who possesses beauty or good fortune.”[3] The baths therefore became an opportune place for the Evil Eye. Since people were nude in the baths and some were more attractive than others, envy and the manifestation of the Evil Eye was considered a serious risk. Romans believed that someone using the Evil Eye “was able to focus this malice through his or her eye which emanated particles that surrounded and entered the unfortunate victim.”[4] In order to prevent this from happening these mosaics and other images were created with the purpose to cause robust laughter in order to distract onlookers and thereby prevent accidental or malicious thoughts transmitted through the Evil Eye.

In conclusion, the phallus is one of the most common forms of preventable devices against the Evil Eye. It is used to incite laughter, especially when it is attached to what Roman’s would have considered otherness such as  dwarfs, pygmies, and the Black African. The disembodied phallus also was used to protect people from harm and provide good luck. So, the next time you are in the bathroom, and someone has drawn a phallus on the stall, smile or even laugh aloud, it will ward off that Evil Eye!

[1] John Clarke, Looking at Laughter: Humor, Power, and transgression in Roman Visual

 Culture, 100 B.C. – A.D 250. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007), 75.

[2] The other danger being the hot floors, which was another reason the black African was used as imagery, the word for them being Aethiopes or “burnt by the sun”. In this way, the image served as apotropaic and a cautionary sign. See Clarke, Looking at Laughter, 75.

[3] J. Hellegouarch, Le vocabulaire latin des relations et des partis politiques sous la rèpublique (Paris, 1972), 195-199. 

[4] M. W. Dickie and Katherine M. D. Dunbabin, “Invidia rumpantur pectora: The Iconography of Phthonos/Invidia in Graeco-Roman art,” Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 26 (1983): 10-11..

Ecce! Caecilius (fuscopterus) est in horto.

Bronze bust found in the home of Caecilius and is thought to be of him.

Bronze bust found in the home of Caecilius and is thought to be of him.

So, I have been re-reading through my Cambridge Latin Course books. Now that I’ve had quite a few years of Latin under my belt, I can go back and enjoy all the stories. If truth be told, the reason I took Latin in the first place, (now almost eight years ago), was because of my passionate love of entomology and my desire to become an entomologist. Today, I came across an insect with the name Caecilius fuscopterus and immediately smiled. Although as far as I know it is not named after the illustrious character from the first book in the series, nonetheless I was delighted. The title of today’s post is a nod at the first sentence of the first passage you encounter when taking the Cambridge Latin Course (CLC), Caecilius est in horto, means “Caecilius is in the garden.” For those of you who don’t know who  the Roman named Lucius Caecilius Iucundus was, I shall tell you. He lived in the doomed city of Pompeii. Although records indicate that the real Caecilius died in an earthquake on 5 February 62 CE, seventeen years prior to the 79 CE  eruption of Vesuvius. His altar to the lares, household gods, show scenes from the earthquake. In the text book however, (spoiler alert) “Caecilius in tablino moribundus iacebat. murus semirutus eum paene celebat…Caecilius, postquam Clementi anulum suum tradidit, statim expiravit.”(210)

According to the fourth North American edition of CLC book one, “his house was preserved along with his strong box which kept records of his business dealings, which were salves, cloth , timber, and property. He also ran a cleaning and dying business, graze sheep  and cattle on pastures outside of town, and sometimes won the contract for collecting the local taxes. He may have owned a few shops as well and probably lent money to local shipping companies wishing to trade overseas.”(10)

From Peristyl l - North wall of Caecilius' house. Now in the Museum of Naples

From Peristyl l – North wall of Caecilius’ house. Now in the Museum of Naples

Among the other things discovered were beautiful frescos, one shown on the left, such scenes were quite common place in wealthy Roman homes and even the Suburban baths exhibited similar frescos. Though by modern standards this one is quite tasteful compared to the others. I say this in italics because sexual tastes are a culturally constructed concept, so what may be scandalous for us, is not quite the same for the Romans. There was also two graffiti found, one which discussed the merits of love “quis amat valeat pereat qui nescit amare bis tanti pereat quisquis amare vetat” (C.I.L. IV 4091).

Whoever loves, let him flourish, let him perish who knows not love, let him perish twice over whoever forbids love.

In the stories he is referred to as an argentarius, a banker. Some of the main characters included his wife Metella, their son Quintus and their slaves. The slaves Grumio, Clemens and Melissa play the most active role in the plot. Oh and let us not forget the dog Cerberus! Grumio was always my favorite. Always getting away with all sorts of things such as eating and drinking his master’s food while Caecilius and his guest slept in a drunken stupor in the triclinium.

Caecilius fuscopterus
(Photo: Bob Saville)

But enough about Caecilius, back to his namesake. According to the website for Biological Records Center, the insect in question is a species of Psocoptera from Stenopsocidae family that can be found in Great Britain and Ireland. It also common in countries like Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg. The species are blackish-orange coloured and are similar to Elipsocus abdominalis. They are colloquially referred to as bark lice.

It feeds on trees such as hawthorns, oak, and sallow. It also frequents the rhododendron.

It was first described by the French entomologist, Pierre André Latreille in 1799, but I have learned that there seems to be a battle over the taxonomy between two branches of science. Similarity exists between the names of the family group based on the spelling of the genera, and thus the identity of the stems, for Caeciliidae in current use for the insect under discussion and the other  being an order (Gymnophiona) of similarly named amphibians that superficially resemble earthworms or snakes. The text is quite an interesting read, although I dare not chase that tangent in this post, but you can certainly read this here.

That being said, lets come back to the entomology and look at the etymology of our little friend. Caecilius is the roman family gens which is derived from the word caecus, which means blind. The word fusco is a Latin adjective meaning “dark, swarthy, dusky; husky; and hoarse.” The the noun combining form “-pterus” means “one having (such) wings or winglike structures,” and comes from the Greek word πτερος, πτερους. So, the translation of this name would be “blind, having dark wings.”

I see now after writing this that the path that I have gone has granted me insights that I never would have had if I had strictly becoming an entomologist. Although at times I wish that I had majored in this field, I am quite content with history and its requisite linguistics. Though I shall always know that entomology is placed highest among my many passions.

A Simple Word Can Open Many Doors

Plate from An Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus by R. P. Knight. 1786

Plate from An Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus by R. P. Knight. 1786

Today I was searching for references to the Latin word terriculum, for the sake of curiosity. The word  primarily means “means to create terror” but can also be taken to mean “scarecrow” and “bugbear.” Since the term bugbear was used as well, I think the term scarecrow in this instance means “an object of baseless fear.”  Romans did seem to have some sort of scarecrow in the sense that we understand the word. The speculation that keeps cropping up while research the word is that they copied the Greek herms statues which depict the god Priapus and used them to scare birds. Priapus was related to Venus, however, he was extremely ugly and always depicted ithyphallic. Now this brings us to the above picture. In my search for archeological images of a garden Priapus, I came across a book which is verbosely entitled  An Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus. Lately Existing at Isernia, in the Kingdom of Naples: in Two Letters; One From Sir William Hamilton to Sir Joseph Banks and the Other From a Person Residing at Isernia; to Which is Added, a Discourse on the Worship of Priapus, and its Connexion With the Mystic Theology of the Ancients, published in 1786 and authored by Richard Payne Knight. The image above has an entertaining bit of  squeamishness concerning things of a sexual nature where he writes:

A fpecimen of thefe was brought from the Ifland of ELEPHANTA, in the Cumberland man of war, and now belongs to the Mufeum of Mr. TOWNLEY. It contains general figures, in very high relief: the principal of which are a Man and Woman, in an attitude which I fhall not venture to defcribe, but only obferve, that the action, which I have fuppofed to be a fymbol of refrefhment and invigoration, is mutually applied by both to their refpective Organs of Generation, the emblems of the active and paffive powers of procreation, which mutually cherifh and invigorate each other. (81)

One has to wonder why he published such an image which obviously made him feel uncomfortable either culturally or personally. As you may have noticed, the use of the f or as it’s called, the medial s is used in place of the “s.” I always found this to be an interesting trend. The function of the medial s was that it was used in the middle of the word and the regular s we recognize today was placed at the end. Although this wasn’t as cut and dry as it would appear as some words seem to break this rule. This isn’t the only case of this mode of typography. We also see this in ancient Greek with the letter sigma Σ σ, the upper and lower case letters respectively, where the lower case σ is used in the middle of words and the letter ς is used to end words ending in s. The obvious similarities between the English letter s and Greek letter ς is quite evident.

To finish on a good note here is an image of our belovéd Priapus for your amusement, because you should know, the images of the phallus, which were ubiquitous in the Mediterranean, were depicted macrophallic or ithyphallic and were apotropaic by nature. The bottom line was that there were used to incite laughter!

Fresco showing Priapus weighing himself, House of the Vettii, Pompeii

Fresco showing Priapus weighing himself, House of the Vettii, Pompeii