Empire, Oil, and Disaster - blog about my new book

A religious sect getting more and more attention of the world. Jews in the Middle East already have problems with them. Coincidentally, a terrible terract happens in the largest city of the empire. The same religious sect is blamed for it. The year is 64 AD. The sect is Christians. The place is Rome of the emperor Nero.
Beware of September Ides!

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Location: United States

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

What other money were around?

In Eastern provinces many other kinds of money were used at the same time with Roman. Here are few:

Greek coins:
Didrahma a.k.a. tribute = 2 drahmas
Drahma a.k.a. piece of silver ~ 1 denarius
Lepton a.k.a. mite ~ 1/2 quadran

Jewish coins:
Gold shekel = 15 silver shekels
Silver shekel ~ 4 denarii
Beks, bekah = 1/2 silver shekel
Gerah = 1/20 silver shekel ~ 1/5 denarius

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Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Ch. 14: Meaning of Egyptian names

Just FYI, here are few Egyptian names mentioned in chapter XV:
  • Akenisis - the servant of Isis (compare e.g. with Akenaten - the servant of Aten)

  • Akeni - short form for Akenisis, not very respectful when used to address a seventy year old man

  • Simaat - the son of Maat, goddess of justice

  • Khenemetre Siptah (next chapter) - joined with Re, son of Ptah

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Who was the prefect of the Egypt in AD 64?

Here is a short list a the prefects between AD 56 and AD 71:
Claudius Palpilus56
Lucius Julius Vistinus59
Gaius Caissina Tuscus67
Tiberius Julius Alexander68
Tiberius Julius Lopos71

Clearly, in AD 64 it was Lucius Julius Vistinus, who was already on this post for five years.

[1] Encyclopedia of the Rulers of Egypt The Romans
[2] Egyptian Chronology

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Where three investigators could meet in the morning?

Really? The palace is too official. Besides, where exactly in the palace they could meet? It was an official building. Of course, Galen apparently had enough power to arrange that, but it is also simply inconvenient.

The inn, where Nil stayed, by itself is not a good choice either. That's more of a style of some Conan Barbarian and his friends to drop by somebody's room.

The temple is also a bad choice. Again, it's possible, but inconvenient.

Meeting on the street with a very rough ways to measure the time is even more questionable. It's not fun to work there and back again on some corner waiting for your visavi's to appear. Who had a date in this style, would udnerstand.

So the natural choice was a tavern. The name chosen arboitrary (among Greek male names of the time) resulted in the tavern of old Amphion.

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Sunday, June 27, 2004

What is "Idios Logos"?

Originally "Idios Logos" comes as a concept of community and the common space of common sense shared by the people of the same community.

However, in Roman (and seemingly Ptolemaic) Egypt the post called Idios Logos was responsible for the "private account" that kept the records of people and property liable for taxation. To put it simple, Idios Logos in Roman-Egyptian beaurocracy was an equivalent of IRS. In line of its responsibilitie it was also aware of a number of related events and facts, like sacred vessels in the temples, current religious practices, and the changes in status of ordinary citizens.

I found this excellent source on the topic (I referred a specific chapter), however keep in mind that it is in Russian.

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Few more links on Roman Egypt...

[1] Leuven Homepage of Papyrus Collections - in particular this one
[2]University of Toronto - CLAB06H3 The Mediterranean World: II Rome
- in particular
V. The Roman Empire: The Army and the Provinces in the 1st Cent AD

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Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Roman authorities of the Egypt

On the top was the prefect, a Roman of equestrian rank.

Following officials were reporting to him:
  • Iuridicus, the legal adviser, to put it simply lawyer;

  • Chief Priest, responsible for administration of temples;

  • Dioiketes, financial officer;

  • Idios Logos;

  • Procurators, who were responsible for financial administration; and, of course,

  • Military commander.


This was the central governing unit that supervised four regional administrators called in a Greek style Epistrategoi. Interesting to notice is that prefect of Egypt had a bunch of procurators to help him in contrast to Judea, where the procurator was the actual governor of the province.

All officials listed so far were either Romans of equestrian rank or Roman government appointees. As mentioned in the previous note, I expect that the Chief Priest was Egyptian or at least Greek, as Romans usually put real priests as the High or Chief priests in provinces.

Each epistrategoi supervised a region consisting of nomes. Each nome had a staff of Graeco-Egyptians headed by strategos or administrator of the nome with royal scribe, accountant, district and village scribes. Strategos supervised town concillors and magistrates as well as villages elders who were elected or co-opted.

[1] Ian Shaw The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt - Oxford Univercity Press, 2000, ISBN 0-19-280293-3

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Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Who ruled Egypt in AD 64?

In contrast to Judea, the governor of Egypt was called "prefect" (or more exactly "praefect"). Procurators were among his direct reports and were responsible for financial and other important matters, including such tasks as supervising loading grain to the ships going to Rome. Both prefect and procurators were of equestrian rank.

[1] Ian Shaw The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt - Oxford Univercity Press, 2000, ISBN 0-19-280293-3

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Tuesday, June 15, 2004

How Alexandria looked like?

Alexandria was built on a strip of land between the sea and the Lake Mareotis. The lake served as a harbor for the river ships coming down the Nile with inland shipments.

On the sea side Alexandria had to harbors. The Great Harbor (Eastern) was enclosed between the Cape Lochias, Island of Pharos (with lighthouse) and artificial damb ("Heptastadion") connecting the island and the mainland. This harbor was able to take the largest ship. Small island with a palace separate a Royal Harbor inside the Great Harbor. On the west side the Island of Pharos and the damb surrounded the second - Eunostos Harbor The island itself had a small prehistoric harbor, although probably suitable for smaller ships.

The city had four main quarters from (west to east): Necropolis - the Western cemetery and gardens, Rhakotis - the Egyptian quarter, Royal quarter, and Jewish quarter. Egyptian quarter took the most part of both sea harbors, with Royal quarter taking an eastern part of the Great Harbor. Jewish quarter started to the East of the Cape Lochias and was not connected to the harbors, although a small smuggler ship or a boat could probably get beached on the coast facing it.

The Island of Pharos had a lighthouse and two temples - the temple of Isis, and the temple of Poseidon. Another temple of Isis was on the Cape Lochias.

Clearly there should have been a lot more temples around in the city itself, we know for example about the temple of Serapis in the Egyptian quarter.

[1] Ian Shaw The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt - Oxford Univercity Press, 2000, ISBN 0-19-280293-3

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Monday, June 14, 2004

How lighthouse in Alexandria looked like?

Alexandria had a lighthouse on a small island of Pharos. Pharos lighthouse was a three storeys tower about 135 meters high with the bottom one square, middle one octagonal, and the top one circular, each smaller than previous.

Don't mix it up with the Colossus of Rhodes, the lighthouse on the island of Rhodes (don't mix it up with Rodes Island in US :-)) built as a gigantic statue that was constructed in 282 BC and destroyed by earthquake in arond 226 BC.

[1] Ian Shaw The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt - Oxford Univercity Press, 2000, ISBN 0-19-280293-3
[2] The Colossus of Rhodes

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Saturday, June 12, 2004

Valuable resources of Egypt in Roman times

Of course, #1 item was grain. As already mentioned, Egypt provided Rome with about 1/3 of al the grain it consumed.

However, it was not the only important part of Egypt export. Construction stone, especially red granit of Aswan was traditionally highly valued in Rome. Among other minerals, Egypt had noteworthy gold mining in the upper Egypt.

Also it's worth to mention that traditional Egyptian estate was mostly built around wine making, not grain. The wine was primarily produced for export.

The ships with grain delivering it from the estate to Alexandria normally were ecorted by a soldier assigned to control that nothing is stolen or replaced with a cheaper kind. In Alexandria the grain was reloaded into huge (for the time) ships that were taking the grain to Ostia (the main Rome port). Ship were leaving somewhere in May-June and the way (with prevailing opposite winds) required sometimes as long as a month or two.

[1] Ian Shaw The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt - Oxford Univercity Press, 2000, ISBN 0-19-280293-3

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Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The city of Joppa

The city of Joppa is the closest port to Jerusalem. Today it's called Jaffa/Yaffa and pretty much represents the Southern part of Tel-Aviv. The sandy shores are covered with stones here and there, so this place was not very hospitable to seamen. Combined with prevailing waves coming from the west directly into the coast dcking at the harbor is problematic, most ships anchor in about mile or so from the shore.
Anyway, the ships that are really just large boats not to mention fishing boats probably still were docking/beached there.

The city was in order Canaanite, Egyptian, Phoenician, Philistinian, and Jewish. At the time of Judah Maccabeaus about 200 Jews were drowned, and the retribution came swiftly in around 144 BC. After that a lot of Jews settled in the city.

In AD 67 Joppa was destroyed by Vespasian army as a strong supporter of revolted Jews. Hence we can conclude that in AD 64 it was mostly Jewish city, although as any port it should had some Greek/Philistine influence.

Among geographic details noteworthy is the central hill about 100 feet high called Andromeda hill. According to the legend this is the hill to which Andromeda was chained as a sacrifice. Modern tourists can still view the spot and the iron ring in the rock.

This is one of the oldest cities in Israel. Jewish legend derives its name from Yaphet/Japhet, the son of Noah. Greek legend consider it's origin to be Jopes, another name of Cassiopeia.

[1] Joppa

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Tuesday, June 01, 2004

On Ch.12,14: Gessimus Florus

Gessimus Florus is not so significant personage to be mentioned in many sources. All we know about him pretty much comes from works of Joseph Flavius [1]. Here is the quote from chapter 11 of book XX:

"1. NOW Gessius Florus, who was sent as successor to Albinus by Nero, filled Judea with abundance of miseries. He was by birth of the city of Clazomene, and brought along with him his wife Cleopatra, (by whose friendship with Poppea, Nero's wife, he obtained this government,) who was no way different from him in wickedness."

[1] Josephus Flavius Antiquities of the Jews Book XX From Fadus the Procurator to Florus.

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On ch.12: Nero's wives

Nero was married three times (not counting his politically correct marriages to a boy and a male ex-slave).

His first wife was Octavia, the daughter of the Emperor Claudius. He married her before Claudius died in 54 and divorced and executed her in AD 62.

His second wife was Poppaea Sabina. He married her in 62 and kicked to death in 65. In 63 she had a girl who died soon after the birth.

He married his third wife Stalina Messalina in 65 after executing her husband.

According to sources, Poppaea was his mistress for some time before he married her, and she was the reason why he decided to abandon and kill Octavia. Poppaea's husband was Otho, who became the Emperor after Nero and Galba.

[1] P. Corneli Taciti Annalum, XIV, XV
[2] Svetoni Tranqvilii Vita Neronis, 35 (XXXV)

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On Ch.9: Again, grain price in Rome

The previous post on the price of the grain [1] seems to be pretty acurate. I calculated that the price for grain was 3 sestercii per modius. Corneli Taciti wrote in his Annals XV.39 [2] "pretiumque frumenti minutum usque ad ternos nummos", "the grain price was lowered everywhere to 3 coins (sestercii)".

[1] On ch.9: How much olive oil and wheat cost in Ancient Rome?

[2] P. Corneli Taciti Annalum, XV

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