Archaeologists Discovered a Hidden Chamber in Roman Emperor Nero’s Underground Palace
Nearly two thousand years ago, the massive palace designed by the Roman emperor had been hiding a secret.
A hidden underground room adorned with panthers and centaurs has been found by archeologists working on the restoration of the palace in Rome earlier this month.
According to a statement from Colosseum Archeological Park (Parco Archeologico del Colosse), the room, nicknamed “Sphinx Room,” is part of the remains of “Domus Aurea” (Golden House), the huge palace that Nero constructed during the fire of 64 AD, which devastated Rome.
The room was discovered accidentally, while researchers were setting up scaffolding for work on an adjacent room in the complex.
The room’s curved ceilings are 15 feet (4.5 meters) high, and much of the room is still filled in with dirt, the statement reads.
With the use of artificial lighting, crews uncovered a vault covered with colorful frescoes, featuring figures such as the god Pan, sea creatures, plant and water ornaments, a centaur, a panther attacking a man with a sword, and a “mute and solitary sphinx.”
“[The Sphinx Room] tells us about the atmosphere from the years of the principality of Nero,” said Alfonsina Russo, director of the Archaeological Park of the Colosseum.
Nero was the fifth Roman emperor and the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He is remembered as an ineffectual, neglectful and brutal leader, according to the BBC.
When much of Rome was destroyed in the fire of 64 AD, Nero set about the necessary rebuilding of the city, appropriating a large area for a new palace — the Domus Aurea or Golden House — for himself.
The Domus Aurea complex covered parts of the slopes of the Palatine, Esquiline, Oppian and Caelian hills, completed with a man-made lake in the marshy valley.
That lake was eventually covered up by the Flavian Amphitheater — better known as the Roman Colosseum — in 70 AD.
Scholars approximate the size of the Domus Aurea size to be over 300 acres, and it is believed to have included at least 300 rooms.
Experts said they will not excavate the newly discovered underground chamber further for fears for the stability of the complex. They dated the Sphinx Room between 65 and 68 AD.
Final Years of Life In Pompeii Revealed Through An Inscription
Pompeii was a city that was buried in ash in A.D. 79 as Mount Vesuvius erupted, and many people that lived there died. But before that catastrophic event, Pompeii was a wealthy city, and it was filled with parties and struggles
According to an inscription recently discovered on the wall of a tomb found in Pompeii in 2017.
The inscription describes a massive coming-of-age party for a wealthy young man. who reaches the age of an adult citizen.
According to the inscription, he threw a massive party that included a banquet serving 6,840 people and a show in which 416 gladiators fought over several days.
The inscription also tells of harder times, including a famine that lasted four years and another gladiator show that ended in a public riot, Massimo Osanna, the director-general of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, wrote in a paper published in the 2018 issue of the Journal of Roman Archaeology, which is published once a year.
Osanna deciphered the inscription and discussed some of the findings the inscription reveals, including new information that may allow researchers to determine how many people inhabited Pompeii.
The inscription says that, when the wealthy man was old enough to wear the “toga virilis” (a toga worn by an adult male citizen), he threw a massive banquet and gladiator shows.
The banquet was served “on 456 three-sided couches so that upon each couch 15 persons reclined,” the inscription reads, as translated by Osanna.
This information could help researchers determine how many people lived in Pompeii in the decades before it was destroyed, Osanna wrote.
The inscription claims that 6,840 people attended the banquet. Because a banquet like that would likely be served only to adult males with political rights, and those men probably made up about 27% to 30% of Pompeii’s population, Osanna estimates Pompeii’s total population to have been about 30,000 people.
The gladiator show held by the wealthy man was “of such grandiosity and magnificence as to be able to be compared with [that of] any of the most noble colonies founded by Rome, since 416 gladiators participated,” the inscription says.
A show of this size would have taken several days, if not a week, Osanna wrote, noting that if each gladiator fought one-on-one, there would have been 213 separate fights.
Famine and riots
The inscription also mentions a famine, during which the wealthy man helped his fellow Pompeii citizens by selling wheat at discounted prices and organizing the distribution of free loaves of bread.
A famous mosaic from Pompeii shows three people, including a child, at a stall waiting to get bread, Osanna said, and it’s possible that the mosaic shows the event mentioned in the inscription.
Just 20 years before the Vesuvius eruption, in A.D. 59, a riot broke out during a gladiator show, according to the inscription.
The ancient Roman historian Tacitus (AD 56-120) also mentioned this riot in his book “Annals.” The inscription says that, as a penalty for the riot, Emperor Nero “ordered that they [Roman authorities] deport from the City beyond the two-hundredth mile all the gladiatorial households [schools].”Nero also ordered several Pompeii citizens involved in the riot to leave the city, according to the inscription.
The inscription claims that the wealthy man talked to Nero and convinced the emperor to allow some of the deported citizens to return to Pompeii — an indication of the high regard Nero seems to have held for the man, Osanna wrote.
Who was the wealthy man?
Osanna believes the wealthy man’s name and position were carved into a part of the tomb, which is now destroyed; it was looted in the 19th century.
The identity of the wealthy man could be Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius, a man mentioned in other inscriptions from Pompeii, Osanna wrote. Maius is described as a man of great wealth and power who lived around A.D. 59, Osanna wrote. Previous archaeological work shows that a tomb belonging to Maius’ adoptive father, “Marcus Alleius Minius, is located near the tomb with the inscription.
The translation of the inscription is preliminary, and further studies may provide more information about it, Osanna wrote.
Archaeologists may have discovered the village where Jesus is said to have appeared after he was crucified.
In accordance with Luke’s Gospel. Following the crucifixion of Jesus, two of his disciples went to Emmaus, and a stranger walked by them on their way to the village, asked them what had just happened in Jerusalem.
The stranger disclosed that he was Jesus in this biblical story only when they reached Emmaus and stopped for supper.
Two archeologists suggest that an archeological site known as the Kiriath-jearim might be the Emmaus in a document released in the sequence “New Studies of Archeology of Jerusalem and its Region.”
The location of Emmaus has long been a topic of debate, with a few different sites proposed in the past.
While biblical scholars generally agree that Jesus was a real person, they’ve long debated which stories in the Bible actually occurred and which ones did not. The story of Jesus reappearing at Emmaus may have never happened.
Several clues point to Kiriath-jearim being Emmaus. For instance, the Gospel of Luke says Emmaus is “60 stadia” from Jerusalem, a distance about equal to the 8 miles (13 kilometers) that separates Kiriath-jearim from the Old City of Jerusalem, wrote Israel Finkelstein, professor emeritus at the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University in Israel, and Thomas Römer, a professor of biblical studies at Collège de France, in the forthcoming article.
Recent excavations at Kiriath-jearim have also uncovered a series of fortifications that were renovated during the first half of the second century B.C., and according to the Book of Maccabees, the Seleucid Empire (an empire ruled by the descendants of one of Alexander the Great’s generals) controlled much of the region, fortifying several sites, including Emmaus.
The researchers can’t be completely certain that Kiriath-jearim is Emmaus and not another site fortified by the Seleucids.
But the fact that the site is located 60 stadia from Jerusalem supports the proposal. Additionally, the other sites mentioned in the Book of Maccabees that the Seleucids fortified don’t appear to match up well with Kiriath-jearim.
Adding more evidence for the proposal, pottery found at Kiriath-jearim suggests that the site was inhabited around the time that Jesus is said to have lived. This means there would have been an active village at the site for Jesus’ disciples to visit and where Jesus could have appeared.
Problems with identification
There are, however, problems with the idea that Kiriath-jearim is Emmaus, the researchers wrote. For instance, there doesn’t seem to be any linguistic connection between the names Kiriath-jearim and Emmaus, the researchers noted. Also, other sites do have at least tenuous links to Emmaus: A fourth-century historian named Eusebius wrote in his book “Onomasticon” that Nicopolis is Emmaus.
Other sites also have potential. For instance, Josephus, a historian who lived during the first century, wrote that retired Roman soldiers settled at Emmaus, which he claimed was only 30 stadia from Jerusalem, at a site located near Qaluniya (a village that was not abandoned until 1948).
Finkelstein and Römer are co-directors of excavations at Kiriath-jearim. After their paper is published, scholars not affiliated with the research project will be able to evaluate the proposal’s evidence.
The remains of Ptolemy 4 Philopator’s temple were incidentally stumbled upon when an Egyptian archeological mission was digging in Kom Ishqaw City, Sohag Governorate.
It was a nome in Egypt under the Greek Empire rule, earlier known as the Per-Wadjet.
During an excavation in Kom Shaqao Sohag, a task from the Ministry of Antiquities, ruins of King Ptolemy IV’s temple were uncovered.
Parts of the ruins had been discovered by chance during the supplying of sewage lines in the city of Tama, Sohag early in September.
The Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Mostafa al-Waziry said in a statement on the ministry’s official Facebook page that the sewage work was immediately stopped by a task team from the Ministry of Antiquities, assigned to conduct archaeological excavations in the area.
According to the head of the Central Department for Antiquities of Egypt, Mohamed Abdel Badie, the mission then started work in the area south of the wall discovered during the drainage project.
The expedition unearthed the southwestern corner of the temple and the rest of the wall heading from north to south.
These ruins featured inscriptions of the ancient Egyptian god Habi accompanied by many different animals, and the remains of texts containing Ptolemy IV’s name, according to Badei.
Another limestone wall heading westward was also found, covered with limestone slabs.
Kom Shaqao was the capital of the tenth region of Upper Egypt, west of the city of Tama, which was once called Wagit. The oldest mention of Wagit was in the Fourth Dynasty.
1,700-Year-Old Bronze Document Found in Roman Fortress
For more than half a century, Warsaw archeologists have carried out excavations in Novae (near Svishtov).
Every year their research presents more information about the life of the members of two armies of historic significance: the Eighth Legion of Augustus and the First Italian Legion. In Novae the relics of the camps were maintained two thousand years ago.
In this summer, archeologists came across significant artifacts during excavations in the ruins of a luxurious centurion’s house (a Roman officer).
“It was a fragment part of a document certifying that the emperor granted Roman citizenship to a legionary after he completed his service”, says the head of research at Novae Prof.
Piotr Dyczek from the Antiquity of Southeastern Europe Research Centre of the University of Warsaw. The partially preserved certificate was engraved on a bronze plate. Archaeologists have not yet deciphered the entire text.
In total, approx. 1,000 similar documents are known from the entire area of the Roman Empire, but very few are from the Danube region. This one dates back to over 1,700 years ago when Emperor Gordian III ruled (238-244 AD).
The full document usually consisted of two “pages”. They had small holes at the long edges, through which the chain was threaded to connect attach the two parts.
“Interestingly, not everyone could look inside the document, not even its owner, because each time after checking its content, officials would seal the chains”, says Prof. Dyczek. The goal of this procedure was to prevent copying and forging these important certificates.
In the early years of the Roman Empire, only Roman citizens, people from the Apennine Peninsula, could serve in the Roman army. This changed in the 3rd century AD.
Rome needed more soldiers to defend its borders, which is why barbarians who were allies of the Empire, people from outside the original borders of the Empire, were also allowed to enlist.
Over time, the Empire expanded its borders and troops were recruited in the new lands, even though they were not Roman citizens.
“After a minimum of 25 years of service, legionaries who became veterans were rewarded in various ways. For example, those who were not Roman citizens could obtain citizenship”, says Prof. Dyczek. Why was this so highly valued?
The archaeologist explains that citizenship opened the way to social advancement: a veteran, whose document Polish researchers found, could successfully run for important public offices and, for example, be elected mayor.
Professor Dyczek suspects that the owner of the document was 40-45 years old at the time of receipt (because legionnaires enlisted about the age of 20). “This means that he still had some 20-30 years ahead of him and could get rich thanks to his citizenship”, he adds.
A copy of citizenship certificate was archived in Rome in the form of papyrus. But the key was the original document held by the owner. “Its loss could even be treated as a loss of identity”, Prof. Dyczek emphasizes.
The head of research hopes that in half a year when cleaning and conservation of the document are completed, we will learn the name of the awarded veteran and details of his life.
It is the oldest city in ancient Mesopotamia. It was located in the southern region of Sumeria (now Warka, Iraq) to the northeast of the Euphrates River. Uruk was an ancient city of Sumer and Babylon at one time.
The ruins of what once used to be the great city of Uruk show thousands of clay tablets that indeed it was a religious and scientific center. The oldest texts of the world were written here, according to Archeology Magazine.
A series of wedge-shaped symbols pressed into wet clay using reeds was developed around 3200 B.C. The writing system is known as cuniform. By Sumerian scribes in Uruk.
The combination of shapes represented different sounds, so the system could thus be adopted by scribes who spoke different languages. The script was used by multiple cultures for around 3,000 years.
Uruk is also well known as the city of Gilgamesh. The mythological Sumerian hero-king was made famous in the modern world with the discovery of a collection of stories — known as the “Epic of Gilgamesh” — in 1853. The 12 cuneiform tablets on which the stories were written were discovered by archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam at the site of the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal.
According to Professor John Maier of the State University of New York College at Brockport, “Ancient writings point to the existence of an actual, historical person we now call Gilgamesh. He lived, according to our best estimate, about 2600 B.C.”
It is also believed that Uruk is the biblical city of Erech, the second city of the kingdom of Nimrod in Shinar (Genesis 10:10). Archaeologists distinguish nine different periods in the rise of the city from a simple settlement to the first urban center of the world.
The foundations of the first settlements on the site date somewhere around 5000 B.C., the Eridu period. According to the Sumerian King List (an ancient stone tablet which lists all the kings of Sumer, in Sumerian language), Uruk was founded by King Enmerkar around 4500 B.C. This was during the Ubaid period (5000–4100 B.C.)
After 4000 B.C., Uruk rose from small, agricultural villages to a significantly larger and more complex center. This has been attributed partly to a period of climatic change; the area saw less rainfall and so people living in the hills migrated to the river valley of the ancient Euphrates. The course of the Euphrates has since shifted, an important factor in the decline of the city.
Nestled in the lush and fertile river valley, the population of Uruk continued to grow throughout the Early Uruk period (4000–3500 B.C.), Middle Uruk period (3800–3400 B.C.) and Late Uruk period (3500–3100 B.C.). Farming and irrigation techniques were refined, providing a surplus of food for the community.
By around 3200 B.C., the city of Uruk was the largest settlement in southern Mesopotamia, and probably in the world. It was an urban center with a full-time bureaucracy, stratified society, and a formal military. It was also a major hub of trade and administration.
The organization of Uruk in this period set the blueprint for cities ever since. There is evidence of social hierarchies and coercive political structures that would be familiar to most of us today. Clay tablets containing a “standard professions list” have been found, listing around 100 professions. As the city became more affluent, those at the top sought ways to display their wealth and power. Luxury goods were acquired by conquest or trade with lands as far as the Egyptian Nile Delta.
Uruk was a city of extraordinary architecture and works of art. The remains of monumental mud-brick buildings, the walls of which were decorated with mosaics of painted clay cones, pressed into the mud plaster — a technique known as clay cone mosaic — have been excavated. The most impressive creations discovered to date of this Sumerian craft are the two large temple complexes in the heart of Uruk.
One was dedicated to Anu, the god of the sky, and the other, known as the Mosaic Temple of Uruk, to Inanna (or Ishtar), the goddess of love, procreation, and war. There was a clear division of the city into the Anu and Eanna Districts.
Another famous piece of artwork, “The Lady of Uruk,” or the Mask of Warka, was discovered in 1939 by the German Archaeological Institute in Uruk. Dating from 3100 B.C., it is most likely that the mask was part of a much larger work from one of the temples and it is considered to represent of Inanna. The marble sculpture is one of the earliest representations of the human face.
To this day, the mask is the most significant artifact found on the site, and it is part of the collection of National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad. It is also called “The Sumerian Mona Lisa.” Uruk continued to expand and, as the center of luxurious materials and possessions, it demanded greater protection.
Although it was traditionally believed that the great wall of Uruk was built by King Gilgamesh himself, as it is written in the Epic of Gilgamesh, it was possibly created during the reign of King Eannutum who established the first empire in Uruk during the Jemdet Nasr Period (3100-2900 B.C.) By the time the wall was raised, it protected an area of 2.32 square miles and a population of almost 80,000.
During the Early Dynastic period (2900–2350 B.C.), Mesopotamia was governed by city-states whose rulers gradually grew in importance and power. Starting circa 2004 B.C. the struggles between the Sumerians in Babylonia and the Elamites from Elam, the Pre-Iranian civilization rose to serious national conflicts.
Uruk was still a prominent center during this time but suffered severely. There are recollections about the conflicts in the Gilgamesh epic. Sometime after 2000 B.C., Uruk lost importance, but it wasn’t abandoned.
The city remained inhabited throughout the Seleucid (312–63 B.C.) and Parthian (227 B.C.–224 A.D.) periods. The last people living there left Uruk after the Islamic contest of Persia in 633–638 A.D. The remains of probably the oldest city in the world laid buried until 1850 when archaeologist William Loftus led the first excavations on the site and identified the city as “Erech, the second city of Nimrod.”
Hobbyists of metal detectors feel lucky when they come across an old button or coin instead of just the usual old nails or scrap metal.
However, amateur hunters don’t even dream of finding the type of thing that set off Jegor Klimov’s metal detector in Saaremaa earlier this month.
Among the items found at a 1,700-year-old sacrificial site were luxurious local crossbow brooches, some made of silver, some gold-plated silver, as well as Scandinavian-looking belt plaques with silver plates, writes regional Saarte Hääl (link in Estonian).
The most unique item to be found at the site, however, is a massive gold bracelet or collar from the 3rd century.
“With this find, the signal was sort of indistinct, sort of heay,” Klimov described. “I doubted whether or not to dig. But here it is! It’s like winning the jackpot! Unearthing something like this is amazing.
And it is amazing for Estonian history too, because nothing like this has been found in Estonia before. Gold finds are rare in Estonia, to begin with; we know of just four or five finds. But this is the coolest of them all.”
Archaeologist Marika Mägi, Ph.D., who led the search team, told Saarte Hääl that gold is rare in Estonian archaeology, and such a massive gold piece, with such fine details and ideological significance, has never been found before, which is why this find is a likely candidate for being the most valuable find of all time in Estonia.
“One can say that this is likely the most valuable single find, in the material sense, to be unearthed in Estonia,” Mägi explained to ETV news broadcast “Aktuaalne kaamera.”
“It is believed that whoever wore these, they were a symbol of belonging to the highest echelons of society. So these are not regular bracelets.
How this particular bracelet ended up in Saaremaa is an exciting question in its own right and one we’ll likely never get a real answer for.
This is a type of jewelry which throughout Scandinavia is considered one of the most significant items of the Roman Iron Age, and it is associated with royal power and royal families.”
The find is also significant in archaeological terms as well, she noted, as it presents a rather different picture of the first few centuries C.E. in Estonia.
Estonia’s most valuable jewelry find has been handed over to the Saaremaa Museum where, according to the museum director, it will be given a worthy spot in the museum’s new exhibition, which is currently in the planning stages.
1,700-Year-Old Roman Bronze Vessel Discovered in Norway
Archaeologists do not every day have the opportunity to discover ancient objects in central Norway.
Sometime in the Gaula River valley, southern Trøndelag, scientists report that about 150-300 CE a person died in the place now called Gylland.
The remains were laid in a bronze vessel after the body was cremated. This was then covered or wrapped in birch bark before being buried under several hundred kilos of stone.
Now archaeologists from the NTNU University Museum lifted a stone slab and almost lost their breath from excitement when they saw what lay below it.
“We’d gone over the spot with the metal detector, and so we knew that there was something under one of the stone slabs in the burial cairn,” says archaeologist Ellen Grav Ellingsen, who filmed the discovery with her mobile phone when the rock was lifted away.
“When I saw what was lying there, my hands got so shaky that I could hardly film. This is a find an archaeologist is lucky to experience once in their career!” says Ellingsen.
“The cauldron from Gylland belongs to a type of bronze vessel that goes by the name østlandskjele. The name is related to the fact that many vessels of this type are found in graves in Eastern Norway.
This kind of vessel was manufactured in Italy or in the Roman provinces of the Rhine region and came to Scandinavia as a result of either trade or an exchange of gifts.
The vessels were mass-produced and possibly intended for export to the Scandinavian area. In Scandinavia, they often ended up as burial urns.
Although they were mass-produced, this bowl is a rare find,” Norwegian SciTech News reports.
“The last find of a bronze bowl in central Norway was in the 1960s. Nationally, we know of about 50 vessels of this particular type,” says Moe Henriksen, an archaeologist, and the project manager for the excavation in Gylland.
Imported goods like bronze vessels and glass jugs were reserved for society’s upper classes. The discovery in Gylland testifies to the power and prosperity in this region in Roman times.
The bowl was in bad shape and it’s likely that the pressure from the stones compressed it.
“The bowl is now being examined more closely in NTNU’s conservation laboratory. An x-ray of the vessel shows that it doesn’t contain any metal objects,” says Moe Henriksen.
“But the remains of organic material, like combs and bone needles, may still be hidden in the soil inside the bowl. In the next few weeks we should know whether other objects accompanied the deceased into the grave,” she adds.