August 24, 79 CE: The Burial of Pompeii

View from the Forum looking towards the Temple of Jupiter with Vesuvius in the background. Photo (c) 2012 Kim Traynor

View from the Forum looking towards the Temple of Jupiter with Vesuvius in the background. Photo (c) 2012 Kim Traynor

Today, August 24, is the traditional date for the Eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, which buried Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae on the Italian peninsula south of Naples, in Campania. This date comes from one of the editions (Codex Laurentianus Mediceus) of the letters of an eyewitness, Pliny the Younger, which gives the date as nonum kal. Septembres, apparently an abbreviation for a standard Roman date, “nine days before the Kalends of September,” that is, August 24 in modern reckoning. The Kalends were the first day of each month, and one counted backwards from them after one had passed the Ides (13-15 of the month).

It seems a cumbersome system to us, however, we know the Romans liked counting down, as evidenced by their numbers duodeviginti and undeviginti (2 from 20 = 18, 1 from 20 = 19). Later practice of Roman Numerals also used this subtractive principle, viz. IV = 1 from 5 = 4.

Façade of S.Maria Maggiore in Como. Statue of Pliny the Younger by Tommaso and Jacobo Rodari. Photo (c) 2006 Wolfgang Sauber.

Façade of S.Maria Maggiore in Como. Statue of Pliny the Younger by Tommaso and Jacobo Rodari. Photo (c) 2006 Wolfgang Sauber.

Other dates come from two facts. First, not all of the manuscripts of Pliny the Younger have the August date. Second, the archaeological data point to a later time in the year, as Fall fruits and grains were found, people were wearing heavier clothing than one would in summer, and a coin that should have been minted at the end of September has been unearthed from a woman’s purse. Scholars now suggest that Pliny’s original date was something like a.d. IX kal dec (November 23) or a.d. ix kal nov (October 24)–(a.d. = ante diem), therefore it would mean, “on the 9th day before the Kalends of December (or November).”

Nevertheless, August 24th is the “traditional” date of the Eruption, so we will commemorate it today, approximately 1,933 years later. I say “approximately” because we must remember that in 79 CE, the Romans used the Julian Calendar, which today is 13 days behind both the Gregorian Calendar (used by the civil/secular world as well as Western Christians) and the Revised Julian Calendar (used by many Eastern Orthodox Christians).

A map showing the cities and towns affected by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. The general shape of the ash and cinder fall is shown by the dark area to the southeast of Mt Vesuvius. (c) 2007 MapMaster.

A map showing the cities and towns affected by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. The general shape of the ash and cinder fall is shown by the dark area to the southeast of Mt Vesuvius. (c) 2007 MapMaster.

On that fateful day (whenever it was!), two Roman notables were near the Gulf of Naples. It was a young administrator, lawyer and poet, Pliny the Younger (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus), and his Uncle who had helped raise and educate him, Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus), a naturalist and philosopher. The Elder Pliny had been appointed Prefect of the Navy by the Emperor Vespasian. He was stationed at Misenum, and was preparing to sail across the Bay to witness the eruption from a safe distance, when he received an urgent message by courier from his friend Rectina, asking for his help in evacuating the area. He launched the ships under his command, and they reached Stabiae, but were prevented by the prevailing winds from sailing away. He and most of his crew died under the falling pumice, but some escaped, and brought the news back to Pliny the Younger and his Mother.

Twenty-seven years later, Pliny the Younger recalled the events in two letters to his friend, the historian Tacitus. A translation of the letters (6.16 and 6.20) may be found here, and an edition of the Latin original here.

All of this would be, as the saying goes, “ancient history,” except for the extraordinary preservation caused by the falling ash (13-20 feet deep). Vesuvius didn’t just destroy, it preserved the cities it killed to provide a unique view of Roman daily life.

Pompeii, House VII, 2, 6: This may be the portrait of a couple who ran a Bakery. He had gained his citizenship through military service, and they are thought to have been Christians by some investigators. Exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples in Naples.

Pompeii, House VII, 2, 6: This may be the portrait of a couple who ran a Bakery. He had gained his citizenship through military service, and they are thought to have been Christians by some investigators. Exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples in Naples.

The location of Pompeii had been forgotten during the Western Middle Ages. In the Italian Renaissance, in 1599 a public works excavation project to divert the River Sarno encountered a buried wall with frescoes and an inscription concerning a decurio Pompeii  (town councillor of Pompeii). Partly because of the overt erotic content of the frescoes, and perhaps partly to preserve them for future, and more respectful, excavation, the architect Domenico Fontana reburied them at the time.  The incident was rapidly forgotten.

In 1738, workers excavating for a summer palace of the King of Naples discovered the remains of Herculaneum, and ten years later, the Spanish military engineer, Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre began to unearth Pompeii. Charles of Bourbon, King of Spain, took great interest in these ancient sites, as they reinforced the importance of Naples.

During the rest of the 18th century and following, scientific, archaeological digs have continued to discover more and more of these unique sites. Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and receives upwards of 2,500,000 visitors a year. In the 19th century, excavators developed a technique which allowed an even more thorough preservation. As they dug through layers of ash, they encountered voids in the ash, with human remains inside. The head of the dig, Giuseppe Fiorelli, realized that these cavities were the shapes of the victims, and began filling them with plaster to recreate their forms. Today, resin is used, but the technique is the same.

Later this weekend, we will explore the importance of what we have learned from Pompeii and Herculaneum, and are still learning!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

Happy 4th of July: Our Calendar

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Fireworks behind the Washington Monument

Fireworks behind the Washington Monument

I want to wish everyone in the U.S.A a very Happy Independence Day, and a belated Canada Day (July 1) to our Neighbors to the North! We have many blessings to be thankful for, as we discussed in an earlier post about the wave of Independence sparked by the American Revolution.

I am sorry I have been away for awhile. I have been in Miami MC’ing a trilingual Rosicrucian Convention in English, French, Spanish, and even a smattering of Dutch! That was a mental workout! Many thanks to all those who organized and participated!

There is little more to say on the subject of Independence that has not already been said in previous posts. I only want to congratulate the Rosicrucian Order and the Freemasons on their most significant gift to the world: the United States and Western Democracy! May we always renew it in every generation!

For our discussion this week, I thought we could look at the names of our months in English (and some other languages). It is a wonderful way to connect us with our ancient past.

The names for our months in English (and in French, Spanish and many Indo-European languages), come from Ancient Rome. In the beginning, the legendary Calendar of Romulus had these months:

Calendar of Romulus:

  • Martius (31 days) = Month of Mars (the month of the Spring Equinox)
  • Aprilis (30 days) = Month of Opening (Spring)
  • Maius (31 days) = Month of Maia/Bona Dea, the Goddess of Fertility, or of “the Elders” as Ovid states
  • Iunius (30 days): = Month of Juno, or of the young (Ovid)
  • Quintilis (31 days) = Fifth Month
  • Sextilis (30 days) = Sixth Month
  • September (30 days) = Seventh Month
  • October (31 days) = Eighth Month
  • November (30 days) = Ninth Month
  • December (30 days) = Tenth Month

This may have been based on an older Lunar Calendar. The problem is that these months (304 days) do not add up to a solar year of 365.25 (approx.) days. Therefore, the calendar would roll out of date on a regular basis (as the Jewish and Muslim calendars still do today).

To correct this, additional Winter days were added, of no month, to complete the cycle.

We will discuss the Roman calculation of days in another article. In summary, they counted down to three points in the calendar: the Kalends (1st Day), the Nones (9th Day) and the Ides (the 13th or 15th Day of the Month depending on the month. Therefore March 30 was “1 day before the Kalends of April.” This is reminiscent of the Roman numbers Duodeviginti (two down from Twenty = 18, and Undevigenti = one down from Twenty = 19). It also represents the subtractive principle used in later Roman numerals. Originally, 4 was IIII, later it became IV, which we use today. This is a great example of how spoken usage creates written forms.

There is conflicting evidence about what happened next. Numa, the legendary second King (Rex) of Rome is said to have redesigned the calendar, but the testimony varies:

Calendar of Numa (from Wikipedia)

Civil calendar Religious calendar
according toMacrobius[3]

and Plutarch[5]

according to Ovid[6](modern order due to

Decemviri, 450 BC)

according to Fowler[7]
Ianuarius (29) Ianuarius Martius
Februarius (28) Martius Aprilis
Martius (31) Aprilis Maius
Aprilis (29) Maius Iunius
Maius (31) Iunius Quintilis
Iunius (29) Quintilis Sextilis
Quintilis (31) Sextilis September
Sextilis (29) September October
September (29) October November
October (31) November December
November (29) December Ianuarius
December (29) Februarius Februarius

Ianuarius is dedicated to the God Janus, the God of entrances and exits, the God of future and past. Februarius is “purification,” a festival held on the full moon on the 15th.

Much later, as this calendar was not satisfactory, Julius Caesar reformed the calendar in 45 BCE:

Table of months (Wikipedia) 45 BCE:

Months (Roman) Lengths before 45 BCE Lengths as of 45 BCE Months (English)
Ianuarius[ 29 31 January
Februarius 28 (leap years: 23 or 24) 28 (leap years: 29) February
Mercedonius/Intercalaris 0 (leap years: 27) (abolished)
Martius 31 31 March
Aprilis 29 30 April
Maius 31 31 May
Iunius 29 30 June
Quintilis (Later: Iulius) 31 31 July
Sextilis (Later: Augustus) 29 31 August
September 29 30 September
October 31 31 October
November 29 30 November
December 29 31 December

To implement this reform, and to realign the calendar to properly match the seasons, Julius Caesar made 46 BCE 445 days long, the last of a series of irregular years. Naturally, the Romans did not call their year 46 BCE. This form of numbering did not come into effect until the calculations of the monk, (St.) Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis the Short) in the 6th Century CE. The Romans would have called the year 706 AUC (ab urbe condita: from the (legendary) founding of The City, i.e., Rome, in 753 BCE). Another popular way of dating was using the names of the sitting Consuls, and later, the regnal year of the Emperor.

In 44 BCE, the Senate renamed Quintilis in honor of Julius Caesar, as it was his birth month, and in 8 BCE renamed Sextilis for Augustus, since many of his victories, particularly against Marc Antony and Cleopatra, took place in August.

This Julian calendar with its leap years worked for the 365.25 day cycle, but the problem is that the path of Earth around the Sun is actually 365.256363 days. This results in an incremental difference of the Julian Calendar with the Solstices and Equinoxes. Ancient scholars knew of this problem, but apparently did nothing to correct it. By 1582, the Julian Calendar had moved 10 days out of alignment with the heavens.

To correct this, Pope Gregory XIII promulgated a revision that year, known as the Gregorian Calendar, that realigned the calendar with the solar cycle. This was adopted by most Roman Catholic countries immediately, and about 200 years later by most Protestant countries. In the American Colonies, September 2, 1752 was followed by September 14, 1752. Eastern Christian countries generally adopted the Gregorian Calendar between 1918-1924 for the civil calendar. Many Eastern Churches retained the Julian calendar for ecclesiastical use (and some still do so today). These are sometimes referred to as “Old Calendar Churches.” This explains why some Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7. January 7 (Gregorian) is December 25 on the Julian Calendar. The date of Pascha (Easter) and all of the feasts dependent on Pascha are still calculated on the Julian Calendar for Eastern Orthodox Christians, and some Byzantine Catholics.

The Eastern Orthodox Churches came up with a new compromise in 1923, a revision to the Julian Calendar (the Revised Julian Calendar) which puts it in alignment with the Gregorian until the year 2800, when it will begin diverging at times by a day or two.

Today, with the introduction of atomic clocks and the standard of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the successor to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), we insert a leap second when needed to keep the day properly aligned with the sun’s position in the sky. The latest such adjustment was just a few days ago, on June 30, 2012 at 23:59:60 UTC. Who noticed?

So enjoy the fireworks and the barbecue, and celebrate our freedoms!

— Steven Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

The Fall of the Roman Empire (5/29/1453)


My Friends,

Thank you to those who commented on my post of May 29! Let’s unravel the mystery.

What is “The Roman Empire”?

Augustus of Prima Porta

Augustus of Prima Porta

The Roman Republic slowly became the Roman Empire as Octavian (Julius Caesar’s adoptive nephew) took on more and more authority after his defeat of Cleopatra and Marc Antony at the battle of Actium in 31 BCE. By the end of his life, he was called Imperator (“Victorious One,” and also “Emperor”) and Augustus (“Outstanding One”). More importantly, he was designated Princeps (“First Head,” “Prince”) by the Senate. His power over Rome and the Provinces increased steadily.

The Romans had a great distaste for the title of Rex (“King”). The legendary founding of Rome by Romulus on April 21, 753 BCE (after he had killed his brother Remus), was followed by the reign of seven equally legendary Kings. They were not well liked by the Roman nobles and people, and were overthrown in 509 BCE, when Rome became a Republic. Res Publica, the origin of our word, means “Public Thing/Business.”

Because of this, they could not stomach calling Octavian Rex when he began consolidating his power in 27 BCE, so they used Princeps, Imperator, and Augustus instead, as well as Caesar, indicating his link to the now divine Julius Caesar. After Augustus’s death in 14 CE, Tiberius was chosen as his successor. This solidified the unique position of the Princeps in the Empire. Future Emperors would clearly be in charge, and the power of the Senate became more and more attenuated. The Empire rolled on, with good years and bad. One of the best sites for this history is Dr. Kelly Ross’s massive: Rome and Romania. It may be Web 1.0, but it is still my go-place for so much information. (I don’t always agree with his political philosophy, but his history is top notch!)

The Tetrarchy

The Line of Diocletian

The Line of Diocletian

In 285/6 the Emperor Diocletian ran a jurisdictional line through the middle of the Empire, and began a political experiment known as The Tetrarchy. A Co-Emperor assisted by a Co-Caesar would govern the eastern half of the Empire, and a second pair would govern the western half. Note that they were understood as each governing a half of The Roman Empire. Not two Empires…one.

Some things last a long time. If you extend the line far enough north, it splits Eastern Europe. It runs between Croatia to the West, and Serbia to the east. For the most part, eastern European countries on the west of the line are predominantly Roman Catholic (Croatia), while those on the east are Eastern Orthodox (Serbia). Serbs and Croats speak the same language, but the Croats write it in Latin letters, while the Serbs use the Cyrillic alphabet shared with Old Church Slavonic, Ukrainian, Russian, Bulgarian, etc. The world is still fighting across this line today.

In This Sign Shalt Thou Conquer

Vision at the Milvian Bridge

Vision at the Milvian Bridge

In the early 4th Century, (St.) Constantine was Emperor of the western half of the Empire. He combatted a number of rebellions, and on his way to oust one of his rivals, Maxentius, from Rome, he had an unusual experience. It is recounted that on the night of October 27, 312, Constantine had a vision, in which he saw a sign in the sky, with the words, “ἐν τούτῳ νίκα” En toutō níka, “Conquer in This!” which is rendered “In hoc signo vinces,” in Latin: “In this Sign Shalt Thou Conquer.”

What he saw is reported variously, however the Labarum, his Vexilla or battle standard, used the now familiar Chi-Rho:

Labarum with the Chi_Rho

Labarum with the Chi_Rho

Crossed Rho Labarum

Crossed Rho Labarum

Other forms include ✼  (I X) as well as a simple crossed capital Rho (see left). All of these play on the name and title Ἰησοῦς Χριστός Iēsous Christos–That is, Ieshouah the Messiah. The Chi-Rho and the crossed Rho is the first two Greek Letters of Christos: X P. The “asterisk” is I X, the Greek initials of the name and the title.

In any case Constantine (whose Mother was a Christian: [St.] Helen) defeated his rivals and became sole Emperor of both halves of the Empire. In 313 he tolerated Christianity (he was not baptized until his deathbed), and in 330 removed the seat of the Empire to a city on the Golden Horn, Byzantium, which he re-named New Rome. Common custom also referred to it as Constantinople–Greek: Κωνσταντινούπολις, Konstantinoúpolis; Latin: Constantinopolis, Constantine’s City.

The Hellenized, Christian, and still Roman, Empire 

Juian II

Julian II

Constantinople was “New Rome,” and although the old Senate remained behind in Old Rome, its power was steadily declining, and there were new Senatorial families in the new capital. Over the years, some Emperors, like Constanius II (317-361), Julian II (331-363–the last Emperor of the Old Religion), (St.) Theodosius I (347-395) and (St.) Justinian I (482-565) ruled as sole Emperor, while at other times, some form of the Tetrarchy was revived.

Culturally and linguistically, the Roman Empire had already been Hellenized. As we saw above, Constantine’s vision was in Greek, and language of the Imperial Court was Greek. Justinian was the last Emperor to speak Latin as his first language. The title of the Emperor could now be the Greek βασιλεύς, Basileus, King, since that term had no pejorative historical connotations for the Romans.

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA, USA

The old city of Rome was now very much the “Old Capital,” much as Philadelphia is today in the United States, an historical curiosity–I actually love Philly, but it isn’t still the capital.

First Milan, and then Ravenna became the western capital. When there was a sole Emperor, the Imperial Legate resided there. When the clergy and the people of Old Rome elected their Bishop, his name had to be taken to Milan–and later Ravenna–for Imperial approval before he could be ordained and installed.

David Roberts, Temple of Isis at Philae, closed by Theodosius I

David Roberts, Temple of Isis at Philae, closed by Theodosius I

While it is true that (St.) Theodosius I “divided” the Empire between his two (weak) sons, Honorius (384-423) and Arcadius (377-408), and closed the remaining Pagan Temples–much to the distress of scholars and esotericists–this division was in the spirit of the old Tetrarchy. They (and their successors) were co-Emperors of the two halves of one Empire.

Old Rome was taken by “barbarians” (the ancestors of many of us!) several times. Roman rule in the west first ended in 476 when the Heruli chief Odoacer invaded Ravenna, the western Imperial Seat, and dethroned Romulus Augustus (460-ca. 500) who was the last “western” Emperor. Note that Romulus was not recognized in the East. The last official western Roman Emperor was Julius Nepos, who was deposed in 475.

Kelly Roberts, Romania in 565

Kelly Roberts, Romania in 565

The final push of Roman civilization in the West (Romanitas) was during the reign of (St.) Justinian I, who by his death in 565, had reconquered all of North Africa, southern Spain, and Italy, which he ruled as sole Emperor. These borders were slowly eroded until finally Ravenna was taken by the Lombards in 751. Romanitas was lost to the West. During this period, it became common to refer to the Roman Empire as Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων, Basilea Rōmaiōn, the Roman Empire, or simply Ῥωμανία, Rōmania, Roman-land.

The Eastern Empire is the Roman Empire

Theophilos Hatzimihail (1870–1934), The Fall of Constantinople.

Theophilos Hatzimihail (1870–1934), The Fall of Constantinople.

The later Latin term Romanitas, describes the quality of being a Roman, also denoting the virtues and totality of Roman civilization. Its Greek equivalent, Ῥωμαιoσύνη, Rōmaiosunē, literally, “Romanness,” has come to mean the totality of the Christian Roman Empire with its seat at New Rome.

The inhabitants of Constantinople and the remaining territories of the Roman Empire in the East called themselves οἱ Ῥωμαῖοι, hoi Rōmaioi, The Romans. When the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Mehmed II and his troops breached the walls of The City on Tuesday May 29, 1453 (at about 2pm, I believe–not that we have long memories!), he is said to have proclaimed “I have conquered Rome!” The last Roman Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos may have fallen in the final defense of Constantinople, although reports vary.

Theotokos and Christ flanked by Justinian I and Constantine I, from Hagia Sophia

Theotokos and Christ flanked by Justinian I and Constantine I, from Hagia Sophia

According to legend, the priests serving Divine Liturgy in the Great Church of Ἁγία Σοφία, Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom during the siege, picked up the Chalice and Diskos with the Holy Gifts, and walked into the walls, to return only when The City is returned to Christendom.

The Sultan Mehmed II, called himself Kayser-i Rûm, Caesar of Rome, not only because of his conquest, but also because he claimed to be descended from John Tzelepes Komnenos, a nephew of Emperor John II Komnenos. Κομνηνός, Komnenos may be related to κόσμος, cosmos (world, universe, beautiful ornament), and means beautiful.

Rei Momo, Melkite Patriarch Gregory III Laham and Melkite Archbishop Jules Zerey

Rei Momo, Melkite Patriarch Gregory III Laham and Melkite Archbishop Jules Zerey

Based on the  Arabic الرُّومُ ar-Rūm, Rome, still today in the Middle East these terms are in use:

  • Rūm Ortodox = Greek Orthodox (the Church of the Empire)
  • Rūm Katolik = Greek Catholic (Melkites, in union with Rome)
  • Lateen = Roman Catholic.

The Legacy of The Roman Empire

Asguskov/Wikimedia Commons: Saint Basil Cathedral summer night closeup Moscow Russia Kremlin Red Square

Asguskov/Wikimedia Commons: Saint Basil Cathedral summer night closeup Moscow Russia Kremlin Red Square

Mehmed II was not the only one to claim the title of the Roman Caesar. Moscow is considered The Third Rome by Russians. The Russian monk Philoteus (Filofey) of Pskov in 1510 proclaimed in a Eulogy for Grand Duke Vasili III,

“Two Romes have fallen. The third stands. And there will be no fourth. No one shall replace your Christian Tsardom!”

The Russian Emperor was called царь, Tsar, from the Latin Caesar. This association was bolstered by the fact that  Moscow is built on seven hills, as was Old Rome and New Rome.

Fietsbel/Wikimedia Commons: Lombard Street as viewed from Telegraph Hill (Coit Tower).

Fietsbel/Wikimedia Commons: Lombard Street as viewed from Telegraph Hill (Coit Tower).

(Although San Francisco actually has many more hills–47+ by last count, by tradition it is said to be on seven hills: Telegraph Hill, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Rincon Hill, Mount Sutro, Twin Peaks and Mount Davidson. Together with the resemblance of the Golden Gate to Constinople’s Golden Horn, this clearly shows why The City will be the headquarters of Star Fleet in the 22nd Century!)

The symbol of the Roman Empire, especially of its military, was the Eagle. The standards carried by the Legions were named for eagles, aquilae, Latin for eagles. By the 10th Century, the Roman Eagle had two heads, one looking East and the other looking West, to demonstrate the Emperor’s right to rule both halves of the Empire. Moscow also adopted this, since it claims to be The Third Rome.

Roman double-headed eagle featuring the 'sympilema (the family cypher) of the Palaeologus dynasty. From a church mural, 14th century.

Roman double-headed eagle featuring the ‘sympilema (the family cypher) of the Palaeologus dynasty. From a church mural, 14th century.

Naturally western Europe wanted in on the act, too. As early as the 9th Century, Charlemagne and Roman Pope Leo III plotted to usurp the title Imperator Romanorum, Emperor of the Romans, when Leo crowned Charlemagne on Christmas Day, 800. The only problem was, there was an Emperor–or rather Empress–on the Imperial throne, the Empress Irene (752-803).

She was without doubt the Roman βασίλισσα, Basilissa, Empress. Both Leo III and Charlemagne rejected the idea that a woman could head the Empire, and used that as a pretext, after she turned down Charlemagne’s offer of marriage!

Empress St. Irene

Empress St. Irene

The Germans entered the picture, with their own version, Heiliges Römisches Reich, Imperium Romanum Sacrum, the Holy Roman Empire from 962-1806, with most of the territories of Central Europe. They used the double-headed eagle as well. The only problem was, as one of my professors put it, the Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy nor Roman!

Many of the European nations, and their American children, symbolically claim to be the heirs of Rome. This can be seen in the use of the Roman symbols of the eagle and the fasces in so many cases, as well as the ubiquitous Imperial architecture used in Government buildings.

Fasces in the 18th Military Police Brigade shoulder sleeve insignia (USA)

Fasces in the 18th Military Police Brigade shoulder sleeve insignia (USA)

There are actual heirs to the Imperial Throne. One was Mario Bernardo Angelo Comneno (1914-1988), an Italian descended from the Imperial family, the Komnenoi. His children now inherit this lineage. One branch of his family had escaped to Trebizond on the Black Sea after the tragic Fourth Crusade sacked and occupied New Rome from 1204-1261. Other Roman refugee outposts included the Empire of Nicaea and the Despotate of Epirus. Roman rule was re-established in 1261.

There are many descendants of the Palaiologoi, the last Roman dynasty, throughout Eastern and Western Europe. I actually know a fine young man who through his Russian Noble lineage, is a descendent.

So How did We get the “Byzantine Empire”?

The one term you have not heard me use in this essay is “Byzantine Empire.” There was no such thing…ever. The term is not ancient. Everyone in the ancient, mediaeval and Renaissance world knew perfectly well that the Roman Empire continued in New Rome and its territories. The Imperial succession, and the governmental continuity were clear. So where did the term come from?

To answer that, we must return to our old friend, Cui Bono…No, not a child of Sonny and Cher…it is the Latin phrase “Whom does it Benefit.” Here is my take on this.

Edward Gibbon, by Henry Walton (died 1813).

Edward Gibbon, by Henry Walton (died 1813).

One of the primary culprits is the 18th Century historian Edward Gibbon, famously the author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1789…interesting dates!).

Although generally a good historian, and in some ways the founder of modern historical methodology, he had a problem. He, like many of his contemporaries, was a fan of the Classical, Pagan world–I have no problem with that, but it does blur one’s objectivity.

A great example is William Wordsworth’s “The World is Too Much with Us” (1802):

Benjamin Robert, Haydon, Wordsworth on Helvellyn.

Benjamin Robert, Haydon, Wordsworth on Helvellyn.

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.”

(C.S. Lewis vigorously responded with “A Cliché comes out of Its Cage.” I’ll let you decide for yourselves.)

Here’s what Gibbon actually said about the Christianizing of the Roman Empire. Some of this may also have been the result of his conversion from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism, and then back again to Protestantism.  Any Animus noted?

Adam Carr, Photo of Christ in Hagia Sofia.Ο Χριστός, κεντρική μορφή της "Δέησης". Περιβάλλεται από τον Αγ. Ιωάννη τον Πρόδρομο και την Παναγία. Στο Ν. μέρος του υπερώου.

Adam Carr, Photo of Christ in Hagia Sofia.Ο Χριστός, κεντρική μορφή της “Δέησης”. Περιβάλλεται από τον Αγ. Ιωάννη τον Πρόδρομο και την Παναγία. Στο Ν. μέρος του υπερώου.

“As the happiness of a future life is the great object of religion, we may hear without surprise or scandal that the introduction, or at least the abuse of Christianity, had some influence on the decline and fall of the Roman empire. The clergy successfully preached the doctrines of patience and pusillanimity; the active virtues of society were discouraged; and the last remains of military spirit were buried in the cloister: a large portion of public and private wealth was consecrated to the specious demands of charity and devotion; and the soldiers’ pay was lavished on the useless multitudes of both sexes who could only plead the merits of abstinence and chastity. Faith, zeal, curiosity, and more earthly passions of malice and ambition, kindled the flame of theological discord; the church, and even the state, were distracted by religious factions, whose conflicts were sometimes bloody and always implacable; the attention of the emperors was diverted from camps to synods; the Roman world was oppressed by a new species of tyranny; and the persecuted sects became the secret enemies of their country. Yet party-spirit, however pernicious or absurd, is a principle of union as well as of dissension. The bishops, from eighteen hundred pulpits, inculcated the duty of passive obedience to a lawful and orthodox sovereign; their frequent assemblies and perpetual correspondence maintained the communion of distant churches; and the benevolent temper of the Gospel was strengthened, though confirmed, by the spiritual alliance of the Catholics. The sacred indolence of the monks was devoutly embraced by a servile and effeminate age; but if superstition had not afforded a decent retreat, the same vices would have tempted the unworthy Romans to desert, from baser motives, the standard of the republic. Religious precepts are easily obeyed which indulge and sanctify the natural inclinations of their votaries; but the pure and genuine influence of Christianity may be traced in its beneficial, though imperfect, effects on the barbarian proselytes of the North. If the decline of the Roman empire was hastened by the conversion of Constantine, his victorious religion broke the violence of the fall, and mollified the ferocious temper of the conquerors.” (Chapter. 39).

Gibbon wanted to prove that a major factor in the Fall of the Roman Empire was its adoption of Christianity. He could do this if it is was scarcely more than a century from the toleration of Christianity in 313 to the Empire’s Fall in 476. He most certainly could not prove this if he stuck with the facts: from the toleration of Christianity in 313 to the Fall of the Empire was 1,140 years! Interestingly enough, the legendary foundation of Rome was in in 753 BCE, with its Fall in 1453, a nice symmetry.

Thus began a tradition of bad history that has plagued us for generations. Many modern scholars reject Gibbon’s stance, while correctly admiring many other features of his work. One recent scholar, Georgije Ostrogorski, in his History of the Byzantine State (1986)  puts it this way:

“For Gibbon and Lebeau were genuine historians—and Gibbon a very great one—and their works, in spite of factual inadequacy, rank high for their presentation of their material.”

Dead White (Western) European Males

Osirion at Abydos, where initiations took place.

Steve F-E-Cameron: Osirion at Abydos, where initiations took place.

A contributing factor was also certainly the traditional bias of Western scholarship toward Western Europe. When I was in school, until relatively recently, “History” largely meant:

  • Studying Ancient Egypt and the Ancient Near East, and then losing interest in that part of the world
  • Ignoring the roots of western civilization and mysticism  in Ancient Egypt, and moving on to Classical Greece and Rome, and after the 5th Century, focusing almost exclusively on Western Europe, and later America. The primary occasions when other parts of the world were mentioned was when Western European (and later, American) power extended itself, as in the Crusades (11th – 13th Centuries), the period of Western European Conquest of the World (15th – 19th Centuries) and the New Imperialism (19th – 20th Centuries). Eastern  Europe was hardly thought of until we studied the 20th Century. One of the great Imperial colonizers, Russia, was usually ignored except for the purchase of Alaska, until the Communist Revolution. Only “Bible History” kept any focus on the Middle East. India and China: who are they, except European colonies?

In this academic climate, it is hardly a surprise that Europe’s most stable Christian Kingdom, and its capital, the largest and most prosperous Late Antique and Medieval city, were virtually ignored.

Fayum Portrait of Hypatia, Neoplatonist Philosopher martyred by a Christian mob in Alexandria (415)

Fayum Portrait of Hypatia, Neoplatonist Philosopher martyred by a Christian mob in Alexandria (415)

Thankfully, that Western European/American (“Dead White (Western) European Males”) bias is largely gone from academe, and scholars are thinking globally, inclusively, and multiculturally. But in the common discourse, not so much. The geographic ignorance of young Americans is well documented by National Geographic. In 2006, 60% of 18-24 year-olds surveyed could not find Iraq on a map. And let’s be fair, this is not confined to other countries. Even after Hurricane Katrina, 30% could not point to Louisiana on a blank US map, and 48% could not find Mississippi. Parents and Educators: we have a lot to do!

Case Closed

Case Closed. Res Ipsa Loquitur (The Thing Speaks for Itself). If it please* the court, I hope I have demonstrated why I say that the Roman Empire fell on May 29, 1453. I’ll be back soon with more Language and History!   Thank you!

* That’s our very rare English Subjunctive! A Rara Avis (“Rare Bird”) indeed!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

Cats and Dogs

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Cats and Dogs: Our Ancient Friends

In response to my last entry, one of my Yale ’76 classmates, Stephanie Wald, posed a very interesting question: what is the relationship, if any between Cat, Late Latin Gattulus, and the Hebrew Khatool (חתול). Thank you Stephanie for this great question.

Of course, although I like cats a lot, I have always been a dog person. Happily today, I am owned by a wonderful Skye Terrier, Angus (see photo below). In the past, I’ve been a human of a Cocker Spaniel and a Rhodesian Ridgeback. I say this because, when Angus and I go out for a walk, I carry little bags to pick up after him, not he for me. So who’s in charge? LOL. I think that when extra-terrestrials visit, they will call this the Canine-Human planet. Therefore I broadened my inquiry into Dogs as well as Cats.

To present my cat credentials, I must tell you about my experience of tutoring a 2011 USF grad who needed to learn Latin for a European Mediaeval graduate program she wanted to enter. Each time we met, one of their two cats came right up and sat right on the page of Wheelock that we were studying. The only way to dissuade her was for me to cuddle her and purr, while we were doing declensions, conjugations, and the like. Happily we did well and my student got into the prestigious program she wanted to. I miss that cat!

So here are the results of my research. I am far from a Hebrew scholar, and Stephanie is a life-long linguist, so this is just fun for me, learning new things.

Cats Across Language Groups


Cat Coffin from the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, San Jose, CA. Photo (c) 2012 Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

As many may know it is difficult to connect words across language groups, and one would need to find a “smoking gun” for borrowing or assimilation. His rebus dictis (these things having been said), Cattus (Gattus) / Catta (Gatta) is first attested in the 4th Century CE in Latin.The conflation of C and G in Latin is perfectly natural. In Archaic Latin, the letter “C” (the western version of the Greek gamma Γ, γ) represented the sound of both hard C (cat) and hard G (Caius = Gaius). By the 3rd Century BCE, a new letter “G,” clearly a C with a horizontal stroke on the lower lip replaces the Latin Z, which is not needed for native Latin words. The original alphabet was ABCDEFZH… Now it was ABCDEFGH… Later, Y and Z (the Greek Upsilon Υ,υ and Zeta Ζ, ζ would be added back in at the end of the alphabet to use with words imported from Greek. Still today, Y is i-griega in Spanish and i-grec in French = Greek i… humans have long memories!). Latin, especially in the people’s Latin, Vulgar Latin (no nastiness intended, vulgus = popular), C and G often interchanged. The Latin suffix -ulus is a diminutive, and so Cattulus would roughly be “kitty.”

Cattus vs Feles

But where does this Cattus come from? The cultured, upper-class Latin for cat is “feles.” Pretty different! At first glance it appears to be a borrow word from the Afro-Asiatic family of languages (including Late Egyptian čaute): Semitic languages are part of this language family. The Hebrew words are: a male cat = khatool (חתול); a female cat = khatoolah (חתולה). Seeחתול.

As for names of Cats in Ancient Egypt, they usually kept those to themselves (names have power), and were just called, Ta-Mieuw, or “The Meower.”

Since the Romans and the Jewish community had many points of contact, including Jerusalem, Alexandria and Rome, prosopograpy would tell us that there is certainly the opportunity for cross over, so that by the 4th Century, the classical Feles (cat) is supplemented by Cattus/Gattus.

Some assert that Martial used cattus in his epigrams, but I have not been able to find the passage yet. And I wonder if the Roman cognomen Catullus / Catulus is related to cattus? Whether or not this borrowing came through Hebrew, Egyptian or in some other way, I do not know. After all, Egypt is certainly the land of cats!

Now all this would be fine; however we have to also take account of the (Proto-)Indo-European roots for “cat.” It turns out there are two: *bʰel- (wildcat) and katta (cat). Feles (classical) is descended from the first, while cattus/gattus (Late Latin, and Vulgar Latin –> Medieval Latin: is arguably cognate with the second.

With such similar sounding roots for cat in the Indo-European family and the Afro-Asiatic family of languages, it is tempting to suggest that the root for cat is evidence for the theoretical Proto-Human language from our species’ origins in Africa, This is far deeper than I can go, however; nevertheless, it appears that cats have been with us for a very long time.

Our English words come from both roots. As we have seen, English (as well as several other IE languages) does not so much choose between one or the other…why not use both?

Cat is clearly from the ancestor of the PIE root katta and similar Afro-Asiatic root, possibly from African Proto-Human. Our more fancy word, feline, is from the PIE *bʰel via Latin. French has chat and félin, Spanish has gatto and felino.

So to answer Stephanie’s question, it certainly looks like all of these Cat terms are related, and arguably go back a VERY long time. After all, we are all “Out of Africa,” the Mother Continent of modern humanity (at least as far as we can tell now).



Angus, the One Who Must Be Obeyed!

The history of our words for dogs is a bit different, but exhibits some similarities. As they say in Southeast Asia: “Same, same, but Different!”

In English, not surprisingly, we have at least several Dog words: Dog, Canine, Hound. Let’s look at these.

Dog comes from our Germanic language heritage, as Wiktionary says:

Middle English dogge, from Old English docga (“hound, powerful breed of dog”), a pet-form diminutive of Old English -docce (“muscle”). More at dock. In the 16th century, it superseded Old English hund and was adopted by many continental European languages.”

My dog-master Angus would certainly like that…Muscular Breed of Hound!

Then there’s the English/French/Italian Canine, from the Latin Canis, ultimately from Proto-Indo-European ḱwṓ. Cognates include Ancient Greek κύων (kuōn), and Sanskrit श्वन् (śván).

We also have Hound, cognate with the German Hund. This is from the Old English hund. Hound has this suggested etymology:

Proto-Germanic *hundaz, from Proto-Indo-European *ḱʷn̥tós, derived from Proto-Indo-European *ḱʷōn (“dog”).  The K sound morphs into the H sound. In many languages, including English, K is sometimes aspirated (a voiceless plositive for those who are following along in their linguistics textbooks), especially when it starts the word, or the stressed syllable. For example, say the name of Barbie’s friend “Ken,” which we actually pronounce as Khen. To simplify it, there is an expulsion of air after the K sound here, and there is not when it is in an unstressed syllable, say for example, “chicken.” We don’t say chi-khen, just chi-ken. (Be patient, the IPA will be introduced in a few weeks. It makes everything much clearer!)

So Canine and Hound actually come from the same PIE root! As Mr. Burns would say, “Release the *ḱwónn̥s (PIE accusative plural of hound)!” I’m pretty sure he is old enough that he spoke PIE before matriculating at Yale. At least I suspect Bart and Homer think so…!

But where did the Spanish perro come from? It may surprise Spanish speakers, but the original Spanish word for dog is Can obviously from the Latin Canis. Nobody actually has figured out where perro comes from. One speculation is that it might be an originally pejorative word associated with how one calls dogs. We can compare this with the Galician apurrar (“set the dogs on”).

Now let’s turn to our neighboring language group, the Afro-Asiatic, with which our languages have had so much interaction over the millennia. Dog is a little different:

Proto-Afro-Asiatic: *kar-/*kayar-
Meaning: dog

Semitic: *wakar- ‘fox’

Western Chadic: *kyara-

Central Chadic: *kur-/*kir-

Saho-Afar: *kar- ‘dog’

Low East Cushitic: *kayir- ‘dog’

Warazi (Dullay): *kaHar- ‘dog’

South Cushitic: *ta-kur- ‘bat-eared fox’ 1, ‘wild dog’ 2

Dogs in Ancient Egypt were called  iwiw (probably from their bark, and had some wonderful names: Brave One, Reliable, Good Herdsman, North-Wind, Antelope, Useless (!), Blacky, the Fifth.

Some of the Afro-Asiatic roots seem to be at least a bit similar to the PIE *ḱʷōn, but I am not expert enough to compare them. Perhaps someone can comment on these roots.

In Egypt, there is evidence of domesticated dogs approximately 6,000 years ago, as too with cats. The evidence for worldwide domestication of dogs goes back a lot further. The latest evidence suggests that dogs and wolves split about 100,000 years ago, and the earliest evidence of domesticated dogs is about 30,000 years old. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that those dogs survived the Last Glacial Maximum, and our dogs today seem to be descended from the ones who domesticated us (LOL) about 15,000 years ago.

To speculate, I would not be at all surprised to learn (from the Extra-Terrestrials who have been watching our planet since it coalesced) that about 2.3-2.4 million years ago, when Homo Habilis first differentiated itself from the australopithecines, the proto-dogs took one look and said, “This is very promising. We’re gonna work with these new guys, and make sure they succeed. We’ll get them to feed us and clean up after us! What a deal!” Cats, on the other hand, waited to see how the Dog experiment worked out. The genetic evidence suggests that all our house cats come from five African Wildcats from 8000 BCE. They must have been the brave five who decided the Dogs had succeeded, and then they got worshipped in Egypt. What a deal!

(I know this is all so anthropomorphic, but when the  Alpha-Centaurans (or Stargate’s Asgard) tell us the real history of our planet, I suspect animal intelligence is going to play a huge part!)

So cats and dogs have been with us a long time. We are lucky!

For future work, think of all the words about them we haven’t explored: kittens, puppies, Arf, Bark, Meeow, etc.! There’s always more to discover.

Go hug your pet!


Steven ArmstrongTutor, Editor, Consultant