Monetary Networks in Graeco-Roman Antiquity


Money Matters: The Development of Money through the Ancient World. A four-part series that traces the development of economic systems in the ancient world and explore how money as a financial instrument has evolved over the millennia.

Monetary Networks in Graeco-Roman Antiquity
November 5, 2014
Sitta von Reden
Department of Ancient History, University of Freiburg/Germany

Many countries nowadays share a common currency or use a combination of local and international currencies to satisfy their various monetary needs. The spread of the dollar, euro and yen is an expression of the globalisation of the international market economy, the internationalisation of politics, and the dissolution of national identities and boundaries. Ancient societies, too, tried to make their currencies compatible in order to facilitate market exchange, make taxation easier and create political identity among the users of money. This lecture introduces into forms of ancient monetary networks, their motivation and benefit.

Lectures are free and open to the public thanks to the generous support of Oriental Institute Members and Volunteers.

Monetary Networks in Graeco-Roman Antiquity - History

Fauconnier Bram. Graeco-Roman merchants in the Indian Ocean : Revealing a multicultural trade. In: Topoi. Orient-Occident. Supplément 11, 2012. Autour du Périple de la mer Érythrée.

Topoi Suppl. 11 (2012) p. 75-109 Graeco-Roman merchants in the Indian Ocean Revealing a multic ult ural trade


Between 29-26 bc 1, the geographer Strabo of Amasia visited the newly created Roman province of Egypt. He was a close friend of Aelius Gallus, at the time the prefect of the province. During a certain period of his stay, Strabo accompanied the prefect on an inspection tour to the south. They sailed up the Nile from Alexandria towards the borders of Ethiopia. In these southern regions Strabo gathered some information on the ports of the Red Sea, which were separated from the Nile by the Eastern Desert. He would later use this information to write his renowned Geographica, a monumental work on the history and geography of the different regions of the then-known world 2. In the second book of the

Geographica, Strabo made a very interesting remark on the port of Myos Hormos, from which western traders 3 left for India :

… ὅτε γοῦν Γάλλος ἐπῆρχε τῆς Aἰγύπτου, σύνοντες αὐτῷ καὶ συναναβάντες μέχρι Συήνης καὶ τῶν Aἰθιοπικῶν ὅρων ἱστοροῦμεν, ὅτι καὶ ἑκατὸν καὶ εἴκοσι νῆες πλέοιεν ἐκ Μυὸς ὅρμου πρὸς τὴν ʼ Ινδικήν…

… We were with Gallus when he was prefect of Egypt, and we travelled with him as far as Syene and the frontiers of Ethiopia, where we learned that as many as 120 ships were sailing from Myos Hormos to India… 4

1. Dueck 2000, p. 20 Jameson 1968, p. 80. 2. Dueck 2000, p. 20-21. 3. In this paper, I use ‘ westerners’ or ‘ western traders’ as synonyms for merchants from the Graeco-Roman world. 4. Strabo, 2.5.12 (Trans. H. L. Jones).

Table of Contents

Jursa, M. Introduction
Baker, H. D. House Size and Household Structure: Quantitative Data in the Study of Babylonian Urban Living Conditions
Charpin, D. The Historian and the Old Babylonian Archives
Dercksen, J. G. The Old Assyrian Trade and its Participants
Jursa, M. Economic Development in Babylonia from the Late 7th to the Late 4th Century BC: Economic Growth and Economic Crises in Imperial Contexts
Kehoe, D. Legal Institutions and Agrarian Change in the Roman Empire
Malouta, M. The Papyrological Evidence for Water-Lifting Technology
Pirngruber, R. Plagues and Prices: Locusts
Tost, S. On Payment Transactions and Monetisation in the Rural Areas of Late Antique Egypt: the Case Study of Small-Format Documents
Waerzeggers, C. Social Network Analysis of Cuneiform Archives&mdasha New Approach

Prices in the Ancient Mediterranean and Near East
Spek, R. J. van der The Volatility of Prices of Barley and Dates in Babylon in the Third and Second Centuries BC
von Reden, S. Wheat Prices in Ptolemaic Egypt
Rathbone, D. Mediterranean Grain Prices c. 300 to 31 BC: the Impact of Rome
Rathbone, D. Mediterranean and Near Eastern Grain Prices c. 300 to 31 BC: Some Preliminary Conclusions

Monetary Networks in Graeco-Roman Antiquity - History

I am an Associate Professor in Roman History at the University of Toronto/University of Toronto Scarborough. I have a PhD in Roman History from the Université Laval (Québec City, Canada) and the Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis (Nice, France), and a Postdoctoral Diploma in Greek Papyrology from the École Pratique des Hautes Études (Paris, France). My work centres on socio-economic and environmental history, with a focus on ancient, and particularly Roman, Egypt, as well as on the ethics and (de)colonial entailments of Antiquity-related fields.

I have written about the Judaeo-Alexandrian conflict, the environmental history of the Nile Delta, multiculturalism, cultural and religious identities, as well as Lands, (non)-Human beings, and periods that are commonly considered to be ‘marginal’. I have also worked on the cataloging, restoration, and digitization of the Greek papyrus collection in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and have edited Greek documents on papyri and leather from that collection, as well as from the Franco-Italian mission at Tebtunis.

My current work focuses on the ways in which imperialism and Orientalism have impacted (and are still impacting) the fields of Classics, Papyrology, and Egyptology, and how these entanglements manifest themselves in (settler) colonial contexts. I am a co-founder and editor of Everyday Orientalism, the editor of the volume The Northern Land: Histories of the Ancient to Modern Nile Delta (under review, CUP) and the co-editor (with Ben Akrigg) of the Routledge Handbook of Classics and Potscolonial Theory. Lastly, I am working on a book project entitled Inventing Alexandria, which explores the history, historiography, and reception of pre- to early Hellenistic Alexandria.

Beyond Frontiers: Ancient Rome and the Eurasian Trade Networks

This research focuses on four relevant points. From a historiographical perspective, the reconstruction of the trading routes represented a central theme in the history of the relationship between the Roman Empire and the Far East. Imagining a plurality of itineraries and combinations of overland and sea routes, it is possible to reconstruct a complex reality in which the Eurasian networks during the Early Roman Empire developed. As far as economics is concerned, new documentation demonstrates the wide range and the extraordinary impact of the Eastern products on Roman markets. A final focus on the process of Chinese silk unravelling and reweaving provides an important clue on how complex and absolutely not mono-directional were the interactions and the exchanges in the Eurasian networks during the first centuries of the Roman Empire.


At the very beginning of the scientific debate over the ‘Silk Roads’, during the second half of the 19th century, the Roman Empire was already considered one of the key players inside the Eurasian networks. 1 Over the 20th century, as new evidence has come to light, and new approaches have been applied, the various interpretations and evaluations of the ‘Roman Empire factor’ have changed considerably. It is not possible to provide a full picture of this incredibly multifaceted history of studies 2 however, I will try to offer an overview by focusing on four points which seem to be particularly relevant to explain the Eurasian inter-connectivity with the Rome during the first three centuries of the Empire:

  1. A historiographical premise
  2. Imperial Rome and the trans-Eurasian trade networks
  3. The impact of Far East trade on Roman economics: new evidence
  4. From China to Rome – from Rome to China: a short focus on Silk and Silk Roads

A Historiographical Premise

From a historiographical perspective, it must be stressed that ‘the invention of the Silk Roads’ was from the very beginning deeply associated with the History of the Roman Empire. In colonial discourse of the last three decades of the 19th century, the Roman Empire represented for the European nations the first experience of imperialistic hegemony in world history. 3 This was due to its extension, its duration and, last but not least, its supposed civilising impetus. For this reason, in the pioneering studies on the ‘Silk Roads’ by German geographer and geologist Ferdinand P.W. von Richtofen (1833–1905) and, later on, in the works of Albert Herrman (1886–1945), we can find in-depth analysis of the relationships between the Central Asia/Far East and the West on the backdrop of the Roman domination over the Mediterranean.

Both in the famous 1877 article About the Central Asia Silk Roads till the 2 nd century AD and in the dedicated chapter in the first volume China. Results of his own travels Richthofen approached the interactions between the Far East and the Roman Empire with a detailed analysis of the most important ancient sources (von Richthofen, 1877a: chapter 10, esp. 446–501). His philological approach is clearly expressed in the 1877 article: “While we shine a light there (scil. Central Asia) over the extended territories, it is crucial to simultaneously look back at the classical sources that already described the same places and the same communication routes, where the trade was taking place at that time” (von Richthofen, 1877b: 97 English transl. M. Galli).

Richthofen’s analysis is not simply focused on retracing the geographical and/or commercial aspects of the Silk Roads. The contacts and exchanges between the Roman Provinces and the political entities of Central and Eastern Asia are the unequivocal proof of the extraordinary activity of the trans-Eurasian networks (Hirth, 1885, Raschke, 1978, Seland, 2014). Moreover, these contacts prove the exceptional mobility and the great success in terms of economic profitability throughout the history of the Silk Roads.

The focus here is on the two opposite poles of this geographical and political system: the ancient Rome of the early centuries of the Empire (1st to 3rd century CE) and the Han dynasty in China (Scheidel, 2009). From the 2nd century CE, thanks to the expansion of the Han dynasty kingdom in Central Asia, it is the start of a flourishing period: “Where the greatest World Empires (Weltreiche) – the Chinese and the Roman one, for a short period almost brushed against each other” (von Richthofen, 1877b: 107 English transl. M. Galli).

According to the German scholar’s conclusions, from 114 BCE to 120 CE (with a 56-year break in between) the Chinese sent their precious silk goods with caravans to the West in order to reach the city of Samarcanda. From here some would split and head towards Indian ports, passing through the Oxus territories others would take the overland route through Parthia to get to the final destination, i.e. the Roman markets. Richthofen is conclusive: “Especially the markets of the Roman Empire became a great territory where to make great profits and gains” (von Richthofen, 1877b).

Fig. 1 . Map of the Silk Roads (Herrmann, 1922) – click image to enlarge

The study of the connections between Rome and Eurasia was further developed in a consistent way by the archaeologist and historical geographer Hermann, who was one of Richthofen’s students. 4 Herrmann’s cartographic reproduction (Fig. 1) fulfilled the need to visualise in a clear and detailed way the very complex networks where the overland routes and the maritime routes would intertwine in the most intricate combinations. This geographical and geological frame was significantly integrated with the latest archaeological discoveries of those years. All these new extraordinary finds introduced the wider archaeological perspective of the ‘material culture’ of the Silk Roads.

Almost a century after this pioneering phase of great scientific turmoil, the theme of ‘Roman Empire and the Eurasian networks’ is still of great relevance today. Adopting a post-colonial perspective, new approaches to the study of Roman society must be considered such as the discourse on globalisation and the approach of new economic theories (such as the New Institutional Economics) applied to the Roman Empire system. 5 Furthermore, we also need to consider the discovery of new documents and archaeological findings in recent years and assess how they contribute to the study of Rome and its Eurasian connections (Mairs, 2013, Tomber, 2008).

Imperial Rome and the Trans-Eurasian Trade Networks

The reconstruction of the trading routes represented a central theme in the history of the relationship between the Roman Empire and the Far East, but identifying the exact routes and trade itineraries was not an easy task.

A fundamental element for the historical reconstruction of the trans-Eurasian ‘Silk Roads’ has been the archaeological documentation coupled with the comparative analysis of the written sources, that is to say, those of the Roman and the Chinese authors. With regard to the neat distinction between overland and sea routes, we should imagine a plurality of itineraries and combinations of such routes. Chinese historians were fully aware of existing commercial sea routes linking Ta-Ch’in (the Roman Empire), An-hsi (Parthia) and T’ien-chu (India) (Leslie & Gardiner, 1996).

The most famous case of a trans-Eurasian expedition carried out on an overland route from the Mediterranean via the Tarim Basin to Chinese North-West Province is that of the well-known mission of Maes Titianos, according to the detailed account of geographer Marinus of Tyre (Bernard, 2005, P’iankov, 2015). This journey took two years and covered an itinerary of more than 10.000 km. 6

Maes Titianos was most probably a Roman merchant, but of Greek descent born in Asia Minor, who moved to the city of Hierapolis in Roman Syria. Around 100 CE, Maes Titianos sent a number of agents in a mission towards the East that passed through Central Asia. The final destination of the expedition was the city of Sera Metropolis, most probably to be identified with the ancient city of Wu-Wei. It was assumed that Maes Titianos’s main objective was to streamline the traffic in Chinese Silk, so the mission’s main motive was economic.

These types of documented initiatives from the Western side have their corresponding counterparts in the Eastern: from Chinese sources (almost contemporaries of Maes) we learned of a similar expedition that took place in 97 CE during the rule of Emperor Ho (89–104 CE). Several Chinese texts concur on the existence of a trade envoy guided by Kan Ying that was sent to the West lands. The main objective of this mission was to reach Ta-Ch’in (the Roman Empire) (see Appendix text 1). The Chinese mission of 97 CE travelled mostly overland from Gandhara to Parthia, but did not reach its destination. The expedition stopped at the Western frontier of Persia, in front of the Persian Gulf, where Kan Ying renounced crossing the Indian Ocean.

Regarding both the Eastern and Western historical documentation, it is safe to say that regardless of the difficulty and the length of the journey, there are important episodes that clearly prove that there were attempts to establish contacts between the opposite poles of the Silk Roads, during the 1st and 2nd century CE.

Today, thanks to the extended archaeological research of the last decades, we can grasp in fine detail what were the real infrastructures of the commercial contexts and of the commercial itineraries. With regard to the reconstruction of the sea routes, the best known system of trading and exchange routes is that of Egypt. We cannot but highlight the excavations in the important commercial ports of Berenike and Myos Hormos, on the Egyptian coast over the Red Sea (Poduké: Tomber, 2008 Berenike: Sidebotham, 1986, Sidebotham, 2011). Astonishing findings also happened on the Western and Eastern coasts of India: it is important to mention the new archaeological discoveries at Pattanam (probably the famous ancient port of Muziris) and at Arikamedu, probably the ancient site of Podukè. 7

To sum up, on the basis of the new archaeological data as well as the comparative interpretation of the historical documentation, we can reconstruct a much more tangible background of the historical as well as reliable archaeological and geographical landscape in which the Eurasian networks during the Early Roman Empire developed.

The Impact of Far East Trade on Roman Economics

Even if at the end of the 2nd century BCE the Ptolemaic dynasty gave a strong impulse to the commercial relationship with the East by intensifying the maritime trade through the Indian Ocean however, there is no doubt that the largest expansion (in terms of contacts) happened at the beginning of the Roman Empire (Thorley, 1969).

As a matter of fact, during Augustan principate many political and military decisions are strategically aimed at promoting and protecting trade itineraries between Rome and the East (Fitzpatrick, 2011, Wilson, 2015). Diplomatic relationships were established especially with peoples like Parthians, Nabateans, some African and Arabian kingdoms that could act as intermediaries for exchanges between the West and the East there are clear evidence of direct contacts with India and the Island of Taprobane (ancient Sri Lanka) (Young, 2001). Apart from Greek-Egyptians, Syrians and Microasiatic merchants, the trans-continental trade networks involved also rich businessmen from Campania and central Italy, as well as slaves or freedmen connected with the Imperial family.

The reception and consumption of Eastern goods as expression of luxuries in Roman society is widely reflected in the Latin Early Imperial literature. It is quite significant that the poets of the Augustan court mentioned many times India and the ‘Silk people’, that is, the Chinese.

In order to exemplify the wide range and the extraordinary impact of the Eastern products on Roman markets around mid-1st century CE, it is illuminating that 140 products are mentioned in the famous nautical handbook called Periplus Maris Erythraei (dated ca. 70 CE) (Belfiore, 2004, Casson, 1989). These products can be arranged in four main categories: spices high quantities of textiles and garments of different types (above all, Chinese silk, Indian cotton, and linen from Egypt) objects and precious materials (gold, silver, precious stones, etc.) food, cosmetics, colouring, etc.

With regard to the economic perspectives there are still some problems to be solved. Firstly, it seems that the selling and buying of these goods may have happened through barter or exchange with products from the West. Secondly, from a financial point of view, it is quite complex to assess the use of money in the East: the Roman currency was not apparently in use as such but more like in hoards. Proof of this could be the findings of great quantities of Roman coins near important commercial sites or routes.

When attempting an overall evaluation of the Rome’s trade with the East, the historians have always tried to diminish its quantitative dimension. For example, the considerations of Roman authors like Pliny the Elder have been frequently underestimated (Raschke, 1978). Pliny described a considerable financial deficit because of Rome’s trade with the East. The Empire had been running a trade deficit of 100 million sesterces per year for the import of luxury goods (half of that astonishing figure was destined to India alone!) (see Appendix text 2).

Recent studies draw attention on the depth and intensity of Rome’s trade with the East and the extent of its Eurasian networks (De Romanis, Maiuro, 2015, Fitzpatrick, 2011). The approaches of the New Institutional economics applied to the Roman society help to focus on market mechanisms within the Roman Empire and to detect key elements of the financial system like loans, banks and investors (Bang, 2008, Lo Cascio, 2006, Temin, 2001).

New discoveries naturally bring us to revising or modifying the existing theories. As is the case with the famous so-called Muziris Papyrus, published in 1985 and kept in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. This document, which dates about the mid-2nd century CE, became one of the most significant pieces of evidence related to the Indo-Roman trade (De Romanis & Maiuro, 2015).

The content is concerning a big-sized ship named Hermapollon, used for trade between an Egyptian port and the aforementioned famous port of Muziris on the Southwestern coast of India. The text on one side of the papyrus was identified as a contract for a maritime loan between a rich ship-owner and a merchant the other side contains weights and the monetary evaluation of the Indian cargo loaded at the port of Muziris.

The loan for the Hermapollon mentioned in the Muziris papyrus was calculated for a shipment worth 6,911,852 sesterces (before tax HS 9,215,803) 8 and it was intended for the acquisition of precious goods. For a more general quantitative evaluation, we must not forget what Strabo wrote about the famous port of Myos Hormos on the Red Sea, from there 120 ships – every year – used to sail heading towards the Indian coasts (Strabo 2.5.12: Parker, 2002: 75 Wilson, 2015).

In conclusion, the Muziris papyrus revealed the existence of cargoes of such an extraordinary value and the extension of credit on such a level that Pliny’s statement about the incredible trade deficit does not seem to be erroneous: against the backdrop of the estimate of Roman GDP of 10 billion sesterces (Temin, 2006), the Pliny’s deficit amount of 100 million HS represents only one percent of GDP: it was therefore a sustainable trade deficit (Fitzpatrick, 2011: 31).

From China to Rome – from Rome to China: A Short Focus on Silk and Silk Roads

We cannot conceive describing the trade relationship between Rome and the Far East without considering silk, one of the most legendary goods of the Eurasian networks (Hildebrand, 2016: non vidi). If it is true that the Romans tended to identify goods with their supposed places of origin (for example pepper is associated with India, etc.), this identification is particularly evident in the case of China: the Latin word Seres used to designate the Chinese people. The same word was used as an adjective to identify the silk: sericum ‘silk’, serica meant ‘silk garments’ or also ‘from the land of the Seres’. Finally the word sericum in the plural form serici was also a noun for ‘merchants of silk’.

It is only at the beginning of the Roman Empire that this material becomes a widespread luxury good (Thorley, 1971). Hardly a coincidence then to find silk mentioned in the poems of Martial –the poet of the Roman ‘daily life’– who, at the end of the 1st century CE, speaks of silk products in Rome, as such pillows or clothes, to convey an image of wealth and sophisticated lifestyle.

As far as the economic evaluation is concerned, it is worthwhile to mention the famous tax on the imported luxury goods from Alexandria (dated to the beginning of the 3rd century CE, see Appendix text 3) that concerned the precious textiles from the land of the Seres as an important source of revenue. On the list of the “articles subject to duty” it is possible to find the words “raw silk”, “garments made completely or partly from silk”, “silk yarn”, together with other luxury goods coming from the Eurasian trade networks (Parker, 2002).

The Silk roads to the Mediterranean combined maritime and overland itineraries. From the production centres in the territories of North-Western China, the caravans moved westward through the overland roads of the Tarim basin. From the Pamir Mountains, silk passed through Bactria, avoiding Parthia, and then down the Hindu Valley to the Northern India ports. The Periplus testifies the existence of silk and silk products in the Indian ports of the Western and Eastern coasts of India. From Muziris different routes could be taken: the most direct was crossing the Indian Ocean to reach the Egyptian ports on the Red Sea, then across the desert up to Alexandria. Another possible route was leading carriers to the port of Charax Spasinou on the Persian Gulf, and then across the desert to Palmyra. From this important city (a key hub for the caravan trade), the silk was then taken to the Syrian cities of Tyre, Sidon, Antiochia, famous centres for textile manufacturing.

With regard to the archaeological documentation of this precious textile, the most important site is certainly Palmyra. Extraordinary findings of ancient silk fragments have been made in the funerary contexts which include ancient silk fragments thanks to the detailed analyses carried out by the German archaeologists it was possible to identify not only the remains of Chine silk but also pieces of wild silk.

Another reason why the Palmyra silk fragments are incredibly important is the fact that, thanks to archeometric analysis, it is possible to reconstruct the different ways of processing silk material when arrived in the West. The textile products made of Chinese silk reached the West as finished goods with typical original decorations and embroidered Chinese letters. 9 But we know from ancient Classical sources and from the Chinese ones that once arrived in the Western cities, the Chinese silk finished products were completely unravelled and rewoven (Schmidt-Colinet & Stauffer, 2000).

The new textile was extremely thin, shiny and transparent: this new creation was something that much more suited the Roman taste. It is highly significant that the beauty of these new ‘Chinese’ textiles, (re)manufactured in the Roman cities (Appendix text 4 a), could generate great interest and attraction in the very places from which that silk was originally being made, i.e. China. According to the brilliant suggestion of Thorley: “It was this that the Romans knew as silk, not the brocade with which we usually associate Chinese silk. This is what the Chinese were buying, totally unaware that they were simply buying back their own silk” (Thorley, 1971: 77–78 Leslie & Gardiner, 1996: 227). 10

According to Chinese sources, the general idea was that the Romans knew and used not only wild silkworms (i.e. different species of Mediterranean silkworms), but also ‘silk-worm mulberry tree’ (i.e. the Himalayan-Chinese domesticated silkworm). Even if this last information is not true (this happened first only from the 6th century CE), the authors are aware of the unravelling and reweaving of Chinese Silk by the Romans (Appendix text 4 b). This last example gives us an important clue on how complex and evolving, absolutely not mono-directional were the interactions and the exchanges in the Eurasian networks during the first centuries of the Roman Empire.

In conclusion, we may ask questions about the city of Rome, the final destination of this incredible journey. It is very rare to find archaeological evidence of these precious but, at the same time, easily-perishable materials in the city. Nonetheless, recent discoveries made in recent years provide new information about imported luxury goods from Far East.

This is the case of the remains of a silk funerary veil found together with Sri Lanka sapphires. Approximately 26 km south-east far from modern Rome, at the town of Colonna, a monumental grave of the middle 3rd century CE was accurately excavated in 2005: the sarcophagus was found with remains of a rich Roman lady, dressed with a silk veil decorated with a gold-strip and wearing a beautiful gold necklace or diadem decorated with sapphires and probably originally in combination with pearls. 11 The style of the jewel and the presence of the very rare Ceylon sapphires (and probably of Indian pearls) recall examples attested in Palmyra and the Syrian jewellery of the 2nd–3rd century CE (Altamura, Angle, Cerino, De Angelis, & Tomei, 2013). We can consider this finding as one of the rare pieces of evidence of the trade and cultural Eurasian connections beyond the frontiers of Rome.

Appendix: Classical and Chinese Sources Quoted Above

  1. Hou-Han-Shu 88 (Lieh-Chuan 78). English transl. Leslie and Gardiner (1996): 43. 45–46: In the 9th century (97 C.E.), Pan Ch’ao despatched his adjutant Kan Ying all the way to the coast of the Western Sea and back. Former generations had never reached any of these places, nor has Shan-(hai)-ching given any details (of them). He made a report on the customs and topography of all these states, and transmitted an account of their precious objects and marvels. (…)
  2. Hou-Han-Shu 88 (Lieh-Chuan 78). English transl. Leslie and Gardiner (1996): (…) He arrived at T’iao-chih (Characene), overlooking the Great Sea. When about to take his passage across the sea, the sailors of the western frontier of Parthia told Ying: “The sea is vast. With favourable winds, it is still only possible for travellers to cross in three months. But if one meets with unfavourable winds, it may even take two years. It was when he heard this that Ying gave up.”
  3. Pliny the Elder, Natural Histories (about 70 CE). English transl. Parker (2002): 73, Book 12. 84: But the title ‘happy’ belongs still more to the Arabian Sea, for from it come the pearls which that country sends us. And by the lowest reckoning India, China and the Arabian peninsula take from our empire 100 million sesterces every year – that is the sum which our luxuries and our women cost us for what fraction of these imports, I ask you, now goes to the gods or to the powers of the lower world?
  4. Pliny the Elder, Natural Histories (about 70 CE). English transl. Parker (2002): 73, Book 6. 101: And it will not be amiss to set out the entire route from Egypt, now that reliable information of it is available for the first time. It is a topic of importance, given that in no year does India absorb less than fifty million sesterces of our empire’s wealth, sending back merchandise to be sold among us at a hundred times its original cost.
  5. Tax on luxuries-goods of Alexandria (beginning of the 3rd century CE = Digestus English transl. Parker (2002): 41: Cinnamon, long pepper, white pepper folium pentasphaerum (unidentified spice), barbary leaf, putchuk (costum and costamomum) spikenard, Tyrian cassia, cassia bark, myrrh amomum, ginger, cinnamon leaf, aroma Indicum (unspecified Indian spice), galbanum, asafoetida, aloe-wood, barberry, astragalus, Arabian onyx, cardamom, cinnamon bark, fine linen, Babylonian furs, Parthian furs, ivory, Indian iron, raw cotton, lapis universus (unspecified precious stone), pearls, sardonyx. Bloodstones, hyacinthus (precious stone, perhaps aquamarine), emeralds, diamonds, lapis lazuli, turquoise, beryls, tortoise-stone, Indian or Assyrian drugs, raw silk, garments made completely or partly from silk, painted hangings, fine linen fabrics, silk yarn, Indian eunuchs, lions and lionesses, leopards, panthers, purple cloth, cloth woven from sheep’s wool, orchil (rouge), Indian hair.
  6. Lucan, Pharsalia 10. 141–143. English transl. Leslie and Gardiner (1996): 228: (Cleopatra’s) white breasts were revealed by the fabric of Sidon, which, close-woven by the shuttle of the Seres, the Egyptian needle-worker pulls out, and loosens the thread by stretching the stuff.
  7. Wei-Lüeh. Chapter 330. Paragraphs 1.26.28. English transl. Hirth (1885): 80 commentary Hirth (1885). 251–260 Leslie and Gardiner (1996): 226–227: Ta-ts’in, also called Li-kan, has been first communicated with during the later Han dynasty. … (26) with regard to the his-pu (fine cloth) manufactured on their looms they say they use the wool of water-sheep in making it … (28) They always made profit by obtaining the thick plain silk stuffs of China, which they split in order to make foreign ling kan wen (foreign damask-ling-and purple dyed-kan-mustered goods-wen-?) and they entertained a lively trade with the foreign states of An-hsi (Parthia) by sea.


  1. On historiography of the Silk Roads: Waugh, 2010, Chin, 2013. On universal empires: Bang and Kolodziejczyk (2012).
  2. On Roman Empire and Eurasia: Christian, 2000, Parker, 2002, Fitzpatrick, 2011, Galli, 2011, Seland, 2013, Seland, 2014.
  3. On Colonialism and Classics: Goff (2005). On creation of ‘Silk Roads’: Chin (2013).
  4. The titles of his works are quite self-explanatory: The Ancient Roads between China and Syria published in 1910 The Silk Roads from Ancient China to the Roman Empire in 1915 The Trade Roads between China, India and Rome about 100 AD: Herrmann (1922).
  5. On post-colonial discourse and studies of the Roman Empire: Mattingly (2013) on Roman Empire and globalisation: Hingley (2005) on new approaches to Roman economics: Lo Cascio (2006).
  6. See The reconstructed route of Maes Titianos’ caravan journey about 100 CE (Bernard, 2005).
  7. Tomber, 2008 on archaeological investigations of the supposed ancient Muziris: Cherian (2014).
  8. De Romanis and Maiuro (2015): 23, “the valuation was made after deduction of the 25 per cent customs dues, implying a valuation before tax of HS 9,215,803, and customs dues equivalent to HS 2,303,951 on this one cargo alone”.
  9. Chinese Silk textile found in Palmyra of the Later Han Dynasty (Schmidt-Colinet & Stauffer, 2000).
  10. Hirth (1885, 251–260) pointed out that all the precious goods mentioned in the Chinese sources were not manufactured in China, but came from territories beyond the sea, either by sea or by land, among them are first Ta-Chin products to be mentioned, which were manufactured in Syrian and Microasiatic as well as Egyptian textile cities, probably “that Syrian (Antiochian, Tyrian, Alexandrian) merchants were in the habit of exporting it to China)”.
  11. Necklace of gold with sapphires and probably with pearls from a monumental Roman grave of a rich woman (middle 3rd century CE, ancient necropolis of Colonna – Rome) (Altamura et al., 2013).


Altamura et al, 2013F. Altamura, M. Angle, P. Cerino, A. De Angelis, N. Tomei“Latium pictae vestis considerat aurum”. Sepolcri a Colonna (Roma) G. Ghini, Z. Mari (Eds.), Lazio e sabina, Quasar, Rome (2013), pp. 255-260.

Bang, Kolodziejczyk, 2012 P.F. Bang, D. Kolodziejczyk “Elephant of India”: Universal empire through time and across cultures.

Belfiore, 2004S. BelfioreIl Periplo del mare eritreo di anomino del I sec. d.C. e altri testi sul commercio fra Roma e l’Oriente attraverso l’Oceano Indiano e la Via della Seta Società Geografica Italiana, Rome (2004).

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Marking Movement: Arrival and Departure Rituals

Travel by officeholders and the emperor himself helped to articulate the contours of Roman power, playing an important role in governing and maintaining a geographically, culturally, and ethnically diverse territory. Because movement by Roman state officials was only experienced by those on the road, profectio (departure) and adventus (arrival) rituals played a central role in making their travel manifest to a wider public. Taken together, these rites constitute a form of Roman spatial religion. Making entrance into and exit from a city at crucially marked moments, they made the populace of each city fellow participants in officials’ movements. Both adventus and profectio rituals were highly choreographed, transactional performances between the governing and the governed. Through ritual practice the conceptual geography of the Roman world was temporarily inverted: the center was invited to imagine travel to the periphery, and the periphery was made into a temporary center. Like many formal characteristics of Roman religious and civic life, rites of arrival and departure had their origins in the Roman republic and were continued in the Roman imperial period, but the use of rituals to demarcate official movement is in fact part of a much wider Mediterranean phenomenon. They were an important feature of Seleucid kingship (Kosmin 2014, 142–80) and of their Achaemenid predecessors (Briant 1988 Tuplin 1998).

Adventus rituals are best attested for the city of Rome itself, but they were equally significant outside of the capital (Lehnen 1997 see also Brilliant 1963, 173–77 Koeppel 1969 Alföldi 1970 Castritius 1971 MacCormack 1971, 17–61, 1972 Millar 1977, 28–30 Vitiello 2000 Roddy 2001). Like greeting (apantēsis) ceremonies for Hellenistic monarchs, Roman adventus rituals consisted of two distinct movements. Dignitaries were first met extramurally by crowds, speeches, and acclamations (Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 2.34.2 Cic. Mur. 68 [L. Murena], Sest. 68 [Cicero], ad Att. 4.1.5 = 73 SB [Cicero] Livy 5.23.4 [Camillus], 27.50–51 [L. Nero], 45.35.3 [Paulus] App. BC 1.33 [P. Furius] Dio 51.19.2 [Augustus] Suet. Cal. 4, 13 [Caligula] Tac. Ann.14.13.2–3 [Nero] Joseph. BJ 7.68–74 [Vespasian] see further Pearce 1970 Lehnen 1997, 105–56 Kuhn 2012, esp. 308 n58). Outside the walls an ordered citizenry presented itself to welcome and be viewed ancient accounts suggest that the crowds were arranged by age, gender, and social status (cf. Livy 5.23.2 Menander Rhetor fr. 381 [Russell and Wilson]). Cicero boasts, presumably not without hyperbole, that he received an extreme version of this treatment on his return from exile: “Almost all of Italy carried me back on its shoulders” (Cic. Red. sen. 39).

In the second movement, the city gate was opened once inside, dignitaries could expect to be greeted by a large crowd and a second set of acclamations and festivities (gate—Lehnen 1997, 167–69 Suet. Nero 25.1 crowds—Lehnen 1997, 156 Cass. Dio 63.4.1 Pan. Lat. 7[6].8.7 acclamations and festivities—RAC I 1950 s.v. “Akklamation” [Th. Klauser] Lehnen 1997, 169 Herod. Hist. 1.7.6, Amm. Marc. 16.10.9 Cass. Dio 63.20.5–6 Hist. Aug. SA 57.5). The city itself was decorated for the occasion: a procession carried branches, usually of laurel and palm torches incense and statues of local gods (laurel and palm—Lehnen 1997, 121–22 Plin. HN 15.137 Mart. 8.65 Cass. Dio 63.4.2 torches—Alföldi 1970, 113 Lehnen 1997, 122–23 Tert. Apol. 35.4 Amm. Marc. 21.10.1 Pan. Lat. 2[12].37.1–4 incense—Lehnen 1997, 120 Martial 8.15.3 Pan. Lat. 11[3].10.5, 10[2].6.4 Cass. Dio 63.4.3 statues of local gods—MacCormack 1972, 723 Josephus BJ 7.68–74). If the first movement of the adventus ritual presented a welcoming human presence, the second movement was significant for its spatial dynamics. The city was laid open and presented to its visitors. The arriviste also had a part to play coinage from the second century CE shows a stereotypical adventus gesture, a raised right hand in a “gesture of benevolent greeting and power” (Brilliant 1963, 173, esp. figs. 4.24 [AU of Elagabalus], 4.26 [AR of Gordian III], and 4.28 [AR of Septimius Serverus]). Failure to welcome with sufficient pomp and circumstance might be taken as an offense (Livy 42.1.7).

Implicit in the process of arrival is a complex social, cultural, and religious negotiation between host and visitor in exchange for his presence, the local community bestows on the visitor honors, and in some cases treats his arrival as the epiphany of a deity. The language of “visiting” (epidēmia) and “presence” (parousia), frequently used in Greek inscriptions to describe imperial visits, can refer as easily to divinities as monarchs (epidēmia—e.g., Xen. Eph. 1.2.1, Panamara 176 parousia—e.g., Diod. Sic. 3.66.2, IG IV 2 , 1 122, line 34 [Epidaurus fourth century BCE] see further Pelling 1988, 179 Koenen 1993, 65 Burkert 2004, 16 Platt 2011, 142–43). Mark Antony’s visit to Ephesus in 41 BCE provides a particularly baroque illustration of both the thin line between arrival and epiphany as well as the transactional nature of an adventus ritual. According to Plutarch, the Roman general was met by “women dressed as Bacchants, men and boys dressed like Satyrs and Pans,” who “led the way into the city, which was full of ivy, thyrsus wands, harps, pipes, and flutes” (Plut. Ant. 24.3). Such an adventus could only be for Antony the Ephesian ceremony, which greeted his arrival as if it were an epiphany of Dionysus, presciently responded to what would become an important feature of Antony’s Dionsyiac self-presentation just a few years later, when in 39/38 BCE he was celebrated in Athens as “The New Divine Dionysus” (Theos Neos Dionusos IG II 2 1043 lines 22–23 = SEG 130 [Athens 38/37 BCE] cf. Plut. Ant. 33.6–34.1, Cass. Dio 48.39.2, Socrates of Rhodes BNJ 192 F2).

Although literary sources generally present adventus ceremonies as spontaneous displays of affection, documentary sources reveal that extensive preparations were required (Lehnen 1997, 105–20). In addition to the cost of the ritual itself, dignitaries had to be fed and housed (Millar 1977, 32–35 cf. Philo Leg. 252–53 [Gaius], IGR III 1054 [Hadrian from Palmyra, 130–131 CE], Cass. Dio 77.9.5–7 [Caracalla]). Avoiding such spontaneous displays could become a badge of honor. In a letter written to Atticus in August of 51 BCE, Cicero boasts about how little he and his retinue cost the people of Cilicia: “I tell you that … except for four beds and a roof no one takes anything—in many places they don’t even take a roof they usually sleep in a tent” (Cic. ad Att. 5.16.3 = 109 SB trans. Shackleton Bailey). His care not to burden the locals appears to have taken its toll on his own finances in a letter written a few days earlier, he confesses that he is spending “a fortune” and that he is considering taking out a loan to cover his expenses (Cic. ad Att. 5.15.2 = 108 SB). Such parsimony was in good company—Suetonius reports that Augustus frequently made his arrivals and departures at night “in order that he not disturb anyone for the sake of their duty [to pay him respect]” (Suet. Aug. 53.2)—and it reflects how a Roman official could use or avoid ritual to shape his own public image.

The valences of adventus differed depending on where the ritual occurred. Outside of Rome, the emperor’s arrival temporarily transformed a city into a capital embassies from throughout the empire came to visit him (Millar 1977, 38–39 IGR IV 1693 [Aezani 4 CE] IGR IV 349 [Pergamon 117 CE]), and according to the Digest, a man barred from living in Rome could not live in any city in which the emperor was residing (Millar 1977, 39 Dig. 48.22.18 pr. 1). In addition to raising a city’s prestige, the visit of a Roman dignitary could also confer tangible benefits in the form of gifts. This eugertistic practice seems to have become so well-established by the fourth century that a panegyric for Constantine includes anticipated donations as part of an invitation to visit Autun (Pan. Lat. 7[6].22.3–4 cf. Millar 1977, 37).

Adventus at Rome worked differently. Understood in terms of Arnold van Gennep’s (1960) tripartite schema for rites of passage, it marked the reincorporation into the capital of the emperor or Roman official and his retinue, as well as the celebration of his return home and his military successes. The Roman triumph may be interpreted as representing a particularly elaborate version of this ritual. Both triumph and adventus helped to make travel and military success visible and comprehensible to an immobile population according to Livy’s narrative for 167 BCE, Paulus’s voyage up the Tiber to Rome in a ship loaded “with Macedonian spoils” (Livy 45.35.3) was witnessed by crowds lining the riverbanks. Despite such similarities, there are significant differences, not least in that triumphs were formally granted by the Senate and the triumphator was the primary bearer of the costs (see further Beard 2007, esp. 187–96 on the costs). While highly successful generals could use triumphs to display their largesse and their exotic conquests, Cicero’s unsuccessful campaign for a triumph during the early 40s BCE shows the perils of triumphing on the cheap. One of the obstacles that he faced was the need to divert resources away from his potential triumph to repay a loan he owed to Caesar (cf. ad Att. 7.8.5 = SB 131 December 25 or 26, 50 BCE).

When it came time to leave, departures (profectiones) were also marked by ritual. Rites of departure often receive only the barest of mentions in Roman sources, but they performed an important function in publicizing and displaying official travel and military campaigns (see Livy 42.49.1–6 [discussed below] and Herod. 6.4.2 the most comprehensive scholarly treatment is by Lehnen 2001 see also Koeppel 1969 Rüpke 1990, esp. 125–51). In one of the fullest extant descriptions of a profectio ritual, Livy describes the departure of the Roman expedition against the Macedonian king Perseus in 171 BCE:

During those days the consul Publius Licinius, after the pronouncement of vows on the Capitol, departed in military dress from the city. This ritual (res) was always conducted with great dignity and grandeur, but it especially attracted the citizens’ gaze and attention, when they followed a consul about to face an enemy great and noble in virtue or fortune. Not just concern for their duty, but also a desire for spectacle (spectaculum) drew them to see their leader, in whose authority and judgment they entrusted the preservation of the entire republic. They thought about the many contingencies of war, how uncertain the outcome of fortune was … would they soon see him with his victorious army ascending the Capitol to the same gods from whom he set out or would they soon offer this pleasure to their enemies? (Livy 42.49.1)

Livy’s narrative emphasizes the civic participation engendered by the people’s gaze as they look on the spectacle of the profectio ritual, they contemplate the realities of war and anticipate Licinius’s return (cf. Livy 44.22.17). Andrew Feldherr (1998, 11) has suggested that the profectio connects past and present, center and periphery, offering “the same vista that Livy’s monumentum provides to the audience who gaze upon it.” In Feldherr’s reading, this ceremonial departure helps Romans to visualize the events on the battlefield far from their city and connects the populace to the expedition as they watch.

While Romans hoped for and expected state officials to return, commemoration of imperial visits was even more important outside of Rome, where they were rarer. An anonymous panegyric for Constantine from 311 CE, for instance, imagines how the citizens of Augustodonum will react to his depature: “When you depart, the community will hold onto you” (Paneg. 5[8].14.4). Joachim Lehnen has plausibly suggested that the immediate context for this comment is Constantine’s restoration of the city (2001, 16), but the language expresses more broadly its aims to commemorate and extend the imperial presence. The process of monumentalizing an imperial visit took many forms. Several communities held festivals commemorating the day on which the emperor entered the city (P.Oxy. 31 2553 [late second or early third century CE], line 11 Didyma 1, 254, lines 9–13 [Didyma dated to 212 CE or ca. 230 CE] cf. FD III 4 [1970], no. 307, col. iii [undated]). Others commemorated the emperor’s absence through dating formulae, which expressed the time elapsed from the moment of the imperial “visit” (epidēmia) or “presence” (parousia), an apparent adaptation of the standard practice of dating by regnal year (cf. Woodhead 1981, 59–60 Ma 1999, 53–54 describes the practice of commemorating a Hellenistic monarch’s “absent authority and his having-been-there”). Such dating procedures were highly local—the date of an imperial visit holds most significance for the community in which it occurred—but they also expressed a city’s place and importance in the Roman world more broadly. In both cases, the emperor’s visit becomes a significant moment in the community, encoded into its religious and civic calendar.

“I Was Here”: Pilgrimage, Tourism, and Individual Travel

While rituals of arrival and departure make an immobile community fellow participants in official movements, members of those communities also experienced travel themselves. Travel looks rather different from the perspective of individuals, such as the pair of Roman citizens, in all likelihood soldiers (cf. Bernand 1969, 101–3), who left one of the few Latin inscriptions in Philae on the South Pylon of the Temple of Isis:

I, Lucius Trebonius Oricula, was here. I, Gaius Numonius Vala, was here in the thirteenth consulship of the emperor Caesar, eight days before the Calends of April. (I.Philae 147 = ILS 2.2 8758 = CIL III 74 2 BCE)

Lucius’s and Gaius’s rather superficial engagement with Philae stands in contrast to the deep religious significance that the site held for the numerous pilgrims who left dedications at the temple of Isis in Greek and demotic Egyptian. The contrast between these religious pilgrims and Lucius and Gaius, unlikely forbearers of the genre of narcissistic travel graffiti, raises important questions about the nature of two closely linked categories of travel, tourism and pilgrimage, which can be difficult to distinguish from one another in an ancient context (cf. Dillon 1997 Rutherford and Elsner 2005 Rutherford 2013, 12–14 Morris 1992 discusses pilgrimage more broadly). Both types of journey are undertaken by individuals, groups, and community representatives both focus on visiting and viewing specific sites, objects, and spectacles and finally, both sets of travelers search for memorable experiences, which are often commemorated in text, inscription, and votive offerings. They differ primarily in degrees of religiosity and intensity of experience: pilgrimage implies religious engagement with the site and an expectation that the journey there will facilitate contact with the divine (although some, such as Scullion 2005, downplay the difference in religiosity between the two categories). The term pilgrimage often carries with it a series of associations related to Christian tradition, but there are clear differences between pagan and Christian religious travel, even if there are also points of overlap (see Elsner and Rutherford 2005: esp. 3). For Christians, pilgrimage carried with it a distinct set of conventions and expectations, that need not apply to the pagan case: namely that the journey was “always performed by an individual, often as a penance, sometimes with a deeply spiritual significance” (Rutherford 2013: 12 on Christian pilgrimage, see Pilgrimage).

Further distinctions are made by both modern scholars and ancient sources between individual, personally motivated religious journeys and travel undertaken on behalf of a community. State-sponsored pilgrims were regularly referred to in Greek as theōroi, a term that ancient sources associated with the word for god (theos cf. Lysimachus in BNJ 336 F 9 Harpocration Θ 19 s.v. theōrika = 154–55 Dindorf, Pollux II 55 both are cited and discussed by Rutherford 2013, 145 n14–16), but may actually be related to the Greek verb for viewing (theaomai see Rutherford 2000, 136–38, and 2013, 4–6, 144–46, on the meanings and etymology of the term). In Greek and Roman contexts, state-sponsored travel to religious sites and spectacles is well-attested from the sixth century BCE through the third or fourth centuries CE, but there is evidence for forms of pilgrimage in the Mediterranean from at least the second millennium BCE (Elsner and Rutherford 2005, 10–11).

The evidence for pilgrimage and tourism is primarily textual, although some material evidence survives, especially from votive offerings (Rutherford 2013, 17–34, reviews the sources of evidence for theōria in the Greek and Roman worlds). Pilgrims worshipping Isis, for instance, traveled to shrines in Germany, Italy, Sicily, Greece, Asia Minor, and Egypt, recording their travel in inscriptions often adorned with representations of feet, which can be understood as votive offerings or commemorations, or even as expressing a wish for a safe homecoming (these inscriptions are collected and analyzed by Takács 2005). In addition, several other literary texts of the Roman period register sacred journeys (notably Aelius Aristides’s Sacred Tales and Lucian’s De Dea Syria see Galli 2005 Lightfoot 2005 Petsalis-Diomidis 2005). Pausanias’s Tour of Greece is often read as a series of pilgrimage narratives to each of the sacred sites that the author visits (e.g., Elsner 1992 Rutherford 2001). The yearly journey (theōria) to the tomb of Achilles on the west coast of the Troad described in Philostratus’s Heoricus is even more explicitly a pilgrimage (Rutherford 2009 Heroicus 53.4–23) likewise, the discourse of pilgrimage is central to Philostratus’s Life of Apollonius of Tyana, which describes the sage’s visits to temples, tombs, oracles, and healing sites (Elsner 1997).

Apart from intellectuals for whom sacred travel was part of their identity as sophists, sages, and wise men, pilgrimage was an integral part of the reign of the emperor Hadrian, who spent more than half of his rule on the road, making frequent sacred journeys to significant religious sites, especially in Greece (Millar 1977, 36 Holum 1990 Rutherford 2001, 49–50). Having been initiated into the Eleusian mysteries, either as a student or later as Archon of Athens in 112 CE, he made several visits to Eleusis, presumably during his travels to Athens as emperor, in 124, 128, and 131 CE (Halfmann 1986, 116–17 Clinton 1989, 1516–25) he retraced Trajan’s journey to Mount Casius (Jebel al-Akra) on the Syrian coast (Anthologia Graeca 6.332 Spartianus, Vita Hadriani 14.3) and, finally, he traveled to Troy twice, first in 124 CE (Philostr. Her. 8.1) and again in 132 CE, to visit Ajax’s tomb (Halfmann 1986, 199 Philostr. Her. 67–70 see Halfmann 1986, 188–210 for further examples of Hadrian’s travels during his reign). Troy was a long-standing site of pilgrimage in the ancient world, which had been visited by Xerxes (Hdt 7.43), Alexander the Great (Arr. Anab. 1.11.5–7, Plut. Vit. Alex. 15.7–8), L. Cornelius Scipio (Livy 37.37.1–3), Caesar, (Strabo 13.1.27), and Augustus (Cass. Dio 54.7), among others (see Minchin 2012). Through his many pilgrimages, Hadrian reanimated the sacred sites of the Greek past with his presence and codified Greece as a site of religious and cultural memory.

An important aspect of pilgrimage in the Greco-Roman world was the role it played in the performance and formation of the identity of individuals and communities (see esp. Kowalzig 2005 Hutton 2005a Lightfoot 2005 Rutherford 2013, 217–22). Whereas participation in international festivals, spectacles, and rituals expressed a community’s membership in a larger group (for the significance of athletic festivals for communities’ expressions of their own identities, see van Nijf 2001), pilgrims themselves had the opportunity to encounter other people, cities, and religious communities in the course of their travels. Inscriptions throughout the Roman world hint at the potential diversity of languages, cultures, and motivations that travelers might encounter the cultural interaction promoted by travel and individuals’ own strategies of self-representation. Many of these aspects of cultural interaction in modern travel are central to the anthropology of tourism (see further Bruner 2005 and Comaroff and Comaroff 2009, who emphasize the commodification of ethnicity in the tourist trade).

A prime site for studying such cultural interactions is Egypt, a popular destination for tourists and religious pilgrims during the Roman period, whose arid climate has helped to preserve a rich record of their visits (Hohlwein 1940 Foertmeyer 1989 Frankfurter 1998, esp. 166–67, 218–19 Tourism and Pilgrimage). Egypt’s pyramids were included in the canonical list of the seven wonders of the world, codified in the late Hellenistic period, and the Pharus lighthouse was frequently added to subsequent lists (Brodersen 1992 Höcker 2010). In addition, travelers visited and often left their marks in the form of graffiti at a range of Egyptian sites, such as the Memnonion at Abydos (originally the mortuary temple of Seti I and subsequently a temple of Osiris, which later housed an oracle of Bes see Perdrizet and Lefebvre 1919 Rutherford 2003), the Sphinx at Gaza, on which visitors inscribed poems (IMEGR 127–28 [first or second century CE], 130 [second or third century CE] cf. É. Bernand 1983), and, most famously, the two colossi of Memnon at Thebes (see Travel and Pilgrimage for a further list of sites). The pair of colossi—in fact two monumental statues of Amenhotep III—were identified by Greek and Roman travelers as depictions of Memnon, the mythological king of Ethiopia. Evocative Latin and Greek graffiti record visitors’ firsthand experience of the mysterious dawn “singing” for which the monument was famous (Strabo 17.1.46 Paus. 1.42.3 Letronne 1833 Bernand and Bernand 1960 Bowersock 1984 Théodoridès 1989 see Travel and Pilgrimage). Through their celebrity, the colossi became sites for literary and cultural interaction. In a cycle of four elegiac poems, which are closely modeled on Sappho, Julia Balbilla, an elite Roman woman of Syrian origin, commemorates Hadrian’s visit in November 130 CE (Memnon 28–31 Bowie 1990). Patricia Rosenmeyer shows how the poems balance encomium for the emperor with Balbilla’s own lyric voice and desire for poetic fame (Rosenmeyer 2008). Balbilla’s composition therefore both looks inward, toward recording and commemorating their experience, and also outward, toward subsequent visitors, readers, and poets.

Travel in the Roman Cultural Imaginary

Balbilla’s lyric voice, which inscribes official movements in an individual’s subjective experience, can be read as participating in a wider genre of literature that incorporates travel within its narrative and poetic imagination. Movement—of people, goods, and ideas—was deeply embedded in the lived experience of the Roman world in its infrastructure ritual practice and individuals’ journeys as tourists, pilgrims, and economic agents. This final section treats the place of travel in the Roman cultural imaginary, considering how literature represents and responds to the Roman impetus for exploration and how literary texts participate in shaping Roman conceptualizations of the travel, movement, and space of their world. It is impossible to separate the practice of travel from the representation of it, and in a sense this final section presents a false dichotomy between praxis and representation. And yet many Roman texts can give us insight into how people at different places and times conceived of travel and geography. My focus in this section reflects a growing emphasis on reading travel, space, and place in ancient literary texts through the lens of a nexus of critical approaches collectively termed the “spatial turn,” which represent the translation of the methodologies of cultural geography, anthropology, and urban studies to the analysis of literary, artistic, and cultural practice.

The study of narrative has taught readers to be alert to the relationship between a text’s fabula (the underlying sequence of events) and its sujet (the narrative arrangement and presentation of those events), to use two terms that originated in Russian formalism (e.g., Tomaševskij 1965) and have been widely applied in the field of narratology (see de Jong 2014, esp. 5–6). In narrative, the relationship between fabula and sujet is mediated by one or more “focalizers,” whose point of view is either implicitly or explicitly reflected in the way a story is told. When considering texts’ presentation of space and travel, there is a parallel set of distinctions at work: namely, the relationship between movement, real or imagined, and the narrative representation of it. Movement looks very different depending on where the observers stand the narratology of space provides a framework and vocabulary for describing the contribution of narrative to the presentation and depiction of movement in literature. Two such narrative modes were outlined by Pietro Janni (1984), who drew on the earlier work on spatial perception and presentation by the psychologist Kurt Lewin (1934): (1) hodological perspectives, which present movement from the perspective of the traveler, and (2) cartographic perspectives, in which travel is described top-down, from a bird’s-eye-view. Michel Rambaud (1966, 1974) posited a tripartite model of space in Caesar’s works that distinguished among “geographic,” “strategic,” and “tactical” space (see further Riggsby 2006, 21–45), which I discuss below. Rambaud’s geographic space corresponds roughly to Janni’s cartographic perspective his categories of strategic and tactical space, however, divide hodological perspectives into the linear progression of, say, columns of soldiers (strategic space) and the surveying gaze (tactical space). These perspectives—either in Janni’s bipartite or Rambaud’s tripartite division—need not be mutually exclusive, and narratives often switch seamlessly between them, but they represent very different narrative and descriptive logics, which cannot simply be scaled up or down to change spatial perspectives.

The Fall of the Knights Templar

In the late 12th century, Muslim armies retook Jerusalem and turned the tide of the Crusades, forcing the Knights Templar to relocate several times. The Fall of Acre in 1291 marked the destruction of the last remaining Crusader refuge in the Holy Land.

European support of the military campaigns in the Holy Land began to erode over the decades that followed. Additionally, many secular and religious leaders became increasingly critical of the Templars’ wealth and power.

By 1303, the Knights Templar lost its foothold in the Muslim world and established a base of operations in Paris. There, King Philip IV of France resolved to bring down the order, perhaps because the Templars had denied the indebted ruler additional loans.

Constantinopoli obryzum

According to a poorly cited Wikipedia article CON indicates the mint of Constantinople and OB is an abbreviation of obryzum, and quite literally translates to "1/72 of a pound of pure gold".

CONOB is a legend found in much of Byzantine gold coinage . Sometimes COMOB is found.

It was found, for example, in exergue in the solids produced by the mint of Constantinople.

CON indicates the mint of Constantinople.

the two letters in the Greek numbering system correspond to the numbers 72 and indicate that the monetary foot used for the solid is 1/72 of a pound they are also the beginning of the Latin word obryzum , 2 which indicates refined, pure gold. So OB in this case means 1/72 of a pound of pure gold.


For a non Wikipedia reference you can visit FORVM ANCIENT COINS. It says the same thing.

It appears your answer is here:

CONOB. Constantinopoli obryzum. The solidus weighed 1/72 of the Roman pound. "OB" was both an abbreviation for the word obryzum, which means refined or pure gold, and is the Greek numeral 72. Thus the exergue CONOB coin may be read "Constantinople, 1/72 pound pure gold." -- "Byzantine Coinage" by Philip Grierson

Just to partially confirm from other sources:

Here it says CONOB a mint mark indicating it was coined in Constantinople. Although, given the meaning given by the first reference, I am not sure if CONOB would also be used for other mints outside of Constantinople but inside the Empire and under the authority of the Emperor - it may only mean that it is an imperial coin. Also be aware that if crosses are defaced or eliminated, your coin may be an Arab imitation.

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Romans, Religion, And The Aid Of The Gods: An Exploration Of The Pontifex Maximus In Roman Society, Gregory Meade 2021 Portland State University

Romans, Religion, And The Aid Of The Gods: An Exploration Of The Pontifex Maximus In Roman Society, Gregory Meade

University Honors Theses

Ancient Roman history is heavily defined by an evolving relationship with Romans and their gods. Between the Monarchy (753 BCE – 509 BCE) and Republic (509 BCE – 27 BCE), religion developed into an interconnecting web of institutions that performed rituals to ensure appeasement of the gods in various Roman affairs. Fostering a productive relationship with the gods equated to what the Romans called maintaining pax deorum or peace with the gods. This thesis explores the moments in which the influence of religion played a key role in the developing periods of the Monarchy and Republic leading up to the close of .

Roman Law And Magic, Abigail Preston 2021 Portland State University

Roman Law And Magic, Abigail Preston

University Honors Theses

Ancient Roman court cases, like that of Apuleius and Libanius, indicate that “magic” was an offense punishable by law, and literary sources such as Pliny the Elder and Horace substantiate this with references to illicit magical rites. Curse tablets, particularly those of Roman Britain, show another side of magic in the Roman world wherein the use of curse tablets has restrictions and guidelines, and the use of such curses have been institutionalized into some communities as an observant practice. Many Roman religious rites appear similar to modern, Euro-centric depictions of 'magic' which provokes the central question when prosecuting cases of .

Language As The Medium: A Literature Review. Harnessing The Prolific Power Of Dramatic Language As A Therapeutic Tool In Drama Therapy, Edward Freeman 2021 Lesley University

Language As The Medium: A Literature Review. Harnessing The Prolific Power Of Dramatic Language As A Therapeutic Tool In Drama Therapy, Edward Freeman

Expressive Therapies Capstone Theses

Language in and of the theatre, with its palate of variegated writing styles and playwrights from throughout time, has the potential to be harnessed, focused, and systematized for use as a therapeutic tool within drama therapy – the field’s artistic medium. Drama therapy could benefit from having a specific medium germane to its artform which has the potential to provide practitioners with a common resource and means of communication, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment planning, as well as align the field with other creative arts therapies. Language encompasses all forms of human communication – speaking, writing, signing, gesturing, expressing facially – and voice .

The Veracity Of The Empty Tomb Tradition, Kevin Kroitor 2021 Liberty University

The Veracity Of The Empty Tomb Tradition, Kevin Kroitor


While several historical facts surrounding Jesus’ bodily resurrection find agreement among virtually all critical scholars, the fact of the empty tomb finds far less critical agreement. Despite this attempt to “leave the door open” for naturalistic explanations of the early Christian resurrection claim, the overwhelming evidence renders the empty tomb tradition historically reliable and Jesus’ bodily resurrection, the most plausible explanation of the historical facts. This paper will examine the evidence for the empty tomb, including the early eyewitness nature of the core tradition and the necessity of the empty tomb to explain the more widely accepted facts surrounding Jesus .

Crucifixion In The Ancient World: A Historical Analysis, Gary Habermas, Benjamin C. F. Shaw 2021 Liberty University

Crucifixion In The Ancient World: A Historical Analysis, Gary Habermas, Benjamin C. F. Shaw


Cook, John Granger. Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World. 2nd ed. Vol. 327. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2019. Pp 549 pp. 79,00 €.

Criminal Law And Parricide In A Reflection Of Social Parameters From The Roman Monarchy Into The Early Empire, Sierra Epke 2021 University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Criminal Law And Parricide In A Reflection Of Social Parameters From The Roman Monarchy Into The Early Empire, Sierra Epke

Honors Theses, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

This paper seeks to determine the role of Roman criminal law and its connection to the social responses and punishments relating to parricide. The research for this project was conducted through print materials pertaining to the subject and online resources including databases accessed through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Library system. As Roman society progressed, criminal law grew in range and scope providing different categories of homicide. One such category created was the crime of parricide in which a family member is killed by another member. Because of the power the heads of households, generally the father, possessed in Roman society .

Fine Roman Dining At Affordable Pompeian Prices: A New Evaluation Of The Non-Domestic Gardens Of Pompeii, Claire Campbell 2021 University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Fine Roman Dining At Affordable Pompeian Prices: A New Evaluation Of The Non-Domestic Gardens Of Pompeii, Claire Campbell

World Languages, Literatures and Cultures Undergraduate Honors Theses

Previous scholarship has designated Roman gardens into otium or negotium designations however, this research on Roman gardens suggests that these concepts often exist in the spaces simultaneously. To address this issue, I compiled catalogs of garden spaces identified at Regio I and Regio VI of Pompeii. This methodology cuts across traditional public and private or productive and aesthetic designations, which will allow me to draw connections between the gardens found in different types of settings. This new catalog methodology of Roman gardens presented in this thesis allows for an integrative analysis of garden spaces, which reveals that these commercial gardens .

Women In Livy And Tacitus, STEPHEN ALEXANDER PREVOZNIK 2021 Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH

Women In Livy And Tacitus, Stephen Alexander Prevoznik

Honors Bachelor of Arts

Although often neglected in Roman literature, women play important roles where they do appear. This is especially true in Livy's history called the Ab Urbe Condita or "From the Founding of the City" and Tacitus' work the Annals. For reasons I will clarify more in my presentation, Livy uses women as examples. Some are examples that the readers should follow. Lavinia, Lucretia, and the Sabine women all exemplify something good. Lavinia is noble in her aim, Lucretia is a model for chastity, and the Sabine women show the value of harmony. Livy also presents women who are bad examples .

Migrants, Citizens And Subjects: How People Moved And Became Citizens In The Roman World, David Rocha 2021 Ursinus College

Migrants, Citizens And Subjects: How People Moved And Became Citizens In The Roman World, David Rocha

History Presentations

In this presentation, I explain the basics of my research. I study migrations and citizenship in the Roman world. I explain some of the different migrating groups from throughout the Roman world. I also explain citizenship, and how people became citizens. I also mention a few of the benefits that citizenship brought.

Shifting Discourses Of Roman Otium In Cicero, Catullus, And Sallust, Keegan Bruce 2021 The University of Western Ontario

Shifting Discourses Of Roman Otium In Cicero, Catullus, And Sallust, Keegan Bruce

Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

This thesis examines the transitions that the Roman discourses of otium experience between the years 60–40 bce. I examine the instances of otium in Cicero, Catullus, and Sallust to reconstruct the discourses that influenced their usages of the term, and to shed light on how elite Roman men were adjusting to their shrinking access to the political sphere as a small number of men gained power. To perform this analysis, I rely on discourse theory and leisure studies. I have identified six main usages of otium in their writings: otium as free time otium as peace, or time without .

The Use Of Egyptian Blue In Funerary Paintings From Roman Egypt, Margaret Sather 2021 University of Nebraska-Lincoln

The Use Of Egyptian Blue In Funerary Paintings From Roman Egypt, Margaret Sather

Theses, Dissertations, and Student Creative Activity, School of Art, Art History and Design

This paper explores the use of the synthesized pigment Egyptian blue in the encaustic and tempera funerary portraits of Graeco-Roman ruled Egypt in the 1st-3rd centuries CE. Recent developments in non-destructive imaging analysis technology have aided research institutions and museums in detecting the presence of this pigment. New questions have arisen based on these findings of Egyptian blue in the depiction of flesh and hair of these subjects, particularly because blue is so rarely used as a standalone pigment in works of this category. These analyses have challenged assumptions that Egyptian blue was a rare and valuable pigment during the .

Tolkien And The Classical World (2021), Edited By Hamish Williams, John Houghton 2021 Valparaiso University

Tolkien And The Classical World (2021), Edited By Hamish Williams, John Houghton

Journal of Tolkien Research

Book review, by John Wm. Houghton, of Tolkien and the Classical World (2021), edited by Hamish Williams

We Are Lysistrata, Amy Rubio, Srinidhi Subramanian 2021 College of DuPage

We Are Lysistrata, Amy Rubio, Srinidhi Subramanian

2021 Honors Council of the Illinois Region

Our presentation is focused on the play Lysistrata by Aristophanes in 411 B.C. It focuses on the themes presented in the play and what that reveals about the playwright as well as the period in history. We speak about the supposed role of women in that society, and how that play can be related to today. We further study how this play can be adapted to showcases themes of female empowerment.

Social Stratification & Mummification In Ancient Egypt: The Inevitability Of Variability In The Post-New Kingdom Mummification Program, Andrew Arsenault 2021 The University of Western Ontario

Social Stratification & Mummification In Ancient Egypt: The Inevitability Of Variability In The Post-New Kingdom Mummification Program, Andrew Arsenault

Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

This study examined the connection between social status and mummification in post-New Kingdom Egypt using a sample of sixty-one (n=61) adult non-royal Egyptian human mummies archived in the IMPACT radiological database. The purpose of this research was two-fold. First, as they have been uncritically accepted by both the academic community and popular literature, the validity of Classical mummification accounts offered by Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus was assessed. Second, four features of mummification with status connotations (arm position, amulets, cranial resin, estimated stature) were tested using exploratory data analysis in search of any potential connections with each other or specific .

‘The Oracular Tale’ And The Oracles Of The Greeks: Storytelling, Conjecture, And Oracular Ambiguity In Herodotus’ Histories And Its Historical And Cultural Context, Daniel J. Crosby 2021 Bryn Mawr College

‘The Oracular Tale’ And The Oracles Of The Greeks: Storytelling, Conjecture, And Oracular Ambiguity In Herodotus’ Histories And Its Historical And Cultural Context, Daniel J. Crosby

Bryn Mawr College Dissertations and Theses

In this dissertation, I investigate the belief in the power of prophecy in ancient Greece. More specifically, I study how the ancient Greeks used oracles, like those of the famous oracle at Delphi, to make their past, present, and future knowable. I analyze the stories about oracles from Herodotus’ Histories as well as Thucydides and the corpus of Greek inscriptions using a theory of storytelling called narratology. With this theory, I show that all stories about oracles are expressions of the same basic plot whether a narrator employs all of its typical episodes or leaves some of them implied. Further .

Caratacus, The Remembered Warrior: The Legacies Of Caratcaus In Roman Histories And The British Victorian Era, Isabella Kearney 2021 Claremont Colleges

Caratacus, The Remembered Warrior: The Legacies Of Caratcaus In Roman Histories And The British Victorian Era, Isabella Kearney

Pomona Senior Theses

This study will explore the origins of the historical figure of Caratacus and analyze its reception in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. This work will begin by providing an overview of Caratacus’ context in the first century in Britannia. Then, looking at the reception of Caratacus, the study will chronologically analyze the portrayal of Caratacus in the ancient sources of Tacitus and Cassius Dio. As the first textual evidence of Caratacus, this will provide insights into Caratacus’ history and the origins of Caratacus’ transformation into an icon of Roman and British history. This work will then analyze the receptions of Caratacus .

Alexander The Great And The Rise Of Christianity, Stephen M. Girard 2021 Bowdoin College

Alexander The Great And The Rise Of Christianity, Stephen M. Girard

Honors Projects

Alexander the Great and the Rise of Christianity focuses on the political, mythical, and philosophical connection between Alexander the Great's life and the beginnings of early Christianity. The first chapter of the text focuses on an analysis of mythical conceptions of Alexander the Great as “Son of God” as well as cultural perceptions of him as “Philosopher King” and cosmopolitan, and how these portraits of Alexander were influential for Christianity. The second chapter analyzes Alexander’s relationship with the Jewish people, and his appearances in the Old Testament apocalyptic Book of Daniel. The last chapter discusses Alexander’s relationship .

Translation And Juvenal: A Study In Translation Analysis And The Implications For Classics Translation Through The Lens Of Modern-Language Translation, Daisy Catling-Allen 2021 Vassar College

Translation And Juvenal: A Study In Translation Analysis And The Implications For Classics Translation Through The Lens Of Modern-Language Translation, Daisy Catling-Allen

Senior Capstone Projects

Virgil’S Bumpkins: An Examination Of Rural Idealization And Denigration In Virgil’S Georgics And 21st-Century American Culture, Elizabeth A. Janitz 2021 Vassar College

Virgil’S Bumpkins: An Examination Of Rural Idealization And Denigration In Virgil’S Georgics And 21st-Century American Culture, Elizabeth A. Janitz

Senior Capstone Projects

Vergil’s Georgics has been known throughout history as a didactic, “how to” guide on farming. However, as scholarship has progressed, the Georgics is now seen less as a guide on farming and more as a “self-insert” farming fantasy for the elite (similar to the Gen-Z “Cottagecore” craze). Vergil was writing for an elite audience, many of whom did in fact own land. However, most were not out working the land themselves. Instead they used slave labor and tenant farmers to perform the day-to-day tasks. It is clear from writings of the Roman elite at the time that there was .

The Hidden Effects Of Trauma In Narrative: Uncovering Odysseus’ Story-Truth, Logan Ragsdale 2021 Vassar College

Trade and Commerce In Ancient Phoenicia

Partially constructed remains of a Phoenician ship, 3rd century BC, via The Archaeological Museum of Marsala

According to Pliny, the Roman historian, “Phoenicians invented trade.” The sophistication of the Near East came as a byproduct of ancient Phoenicia’s commercial presence in the west. They traded opulent jewels and masterful ceramics in exchange for raw materials from the mines of native populations.

Along with fine products, the Phoenicians brought with them more sophisticated means of transacting in business. By the 8th century, they’d introduced interest-bearing loans to the Western Mediterranean.

This practice of usury came to them from the ancient Sumerians by way of the Babylonians. And it was later popularized in the Roman Empire and spread across Europe that way.

The Phoenicians never established settlements too far into the hinterlands of their North African colonies. Cities like Carthage and Leptis Magna were critical for their positions along trade routes. But the Sahara Desert was an encumbrance to any further commercial trade networking on the continent.

In Iberia, however, they made significant inroads well beyond their coastal colonies. At Castelo Velho de Safara, an active dig site in southwestern Portugal that accepts volunteer applicants, traces of an ancient Phoenician trade network are evident in many of the material finds.

Volunteers, supervised by professional archaeologists, excavating a layer of the site at Castelo Velho de Safara, via South-West Archaeology Digs

In the site’s Iron Age context layers, dating back to the 4th century BC, sherds of Greek pottery, Campanian ware, and bits of amphorae are copious. The natives, either Celtiberians or Tartessiens, likely developed an appetite for fine eastern ceramics and wines, the likes of which were unavailable in Iberia.

It’s probable that the Phoenicians transported these products from Italy and Greece to Gades. And then from Gades to the settlement at Safara along a network of inland rivers.

The commercial dominance of the Phoenicians weaved together the tapestry of the ancient Mediterranean. The tiny Levantine kingdoms managed to serve as the conduit that united the known world by means of imports and exports.

And in the process, they garnered a long-lasting and well-deserved reputation for financial and economic acumen.

Watch the video: Breaking the paradigm: late antiquity and its boundaries (January 2022).