Joyeux Noël!


Off for Holidays – see you all next year!!!

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sullaVigintisexviri: literally, twenty-six men – twenty-six minor civic magistrates appointed annually. They ranked below the official cursus honorum (career ladder) and held no imperium (power of command); the holders of these magistracies were usually young men in their mid to late twenties preparing for an official career. They were made up of six distinct colleges, each with a distinct sphere of competence. The decemviri stlitibus iudicandis were ten judges of minor civic lawsuits, particularly to do with determining free or slave status. The tresviri monetales were three men placed in charge of the Roman mint, including the important right to determine the design of that year’s coins. The tresviri capitales or nocturni were three men placed in charge of the carcer, the prison of Rome just below the Capitol hill, where they oversaw executions; they also had some responsibility for policing Rome at night. Four praefecti Capuam Cumas were sent each year to oversee those Campanian communities which had been deprived by the Romans of autonomous civic rights at the end of the Hannibalic War.

Finally quattuorviri viis in urbe purgandis and duoviri viis extra urbem purgandis were in charge of cleansing and upkeep of the city streets (four men) and the suburban streets (two men), respectively.

Quaestores: quaestors – twenty of these magistrates were elected annually. This magistracy was the lowest rung on the cursus honorum; the minimum age for eligibility was thirty. The quaestors were essentially official assistants, providing administrative and financial aid to higher magistrates – praetors, consuls and provincial governors – but election to the quaestorship did give automatic membership of the Senate.

Tribuni plebis: tribunes of the people – ten tribunes were elected each year, and the office was held after the quaestorship and before the praetorship. Patricians could not hold this magistracy. Although the tribunes were young men in their early to mid-thirties and still at an early stage in their official careers, the office was important and potentially powerful. Tribunes could summon assembly meetings and enact legislation, and they could summon and preside over Senate meetings. They had strong negative powers: a tribune could veto any and all state business, although he had to appear in person to intervene. Officially thought of as the defenders of the people and their rights, the persons of tribunes were sacrosanct and inviolate.

Aediles plebis: plebeian aediles – two were elected each year, no patricians being eligible. The office was held between the quaestorship and the praetorship, usually instead of rather than in addition to the tribunate. Besides certain administrative and policing functions, the plebeian aediles presided over – and helped pay for – certain important religious festivals at which entertainments were put on for the Roman people.

Aediles curules: curule aediles – two were elected each year, patricians were eligible, and the office was more prestigious than the plebeian aedileship because it was not limited to plebeians, the games over which curule aediles presided – including the ludi Romani – were more important and prestigious, and competition for these magistracies was thus fiercer. Attaining the curule aedileship was considered a strong indicator for eventual advancement to the consulship.

Praetores: praetors – eight praetors were elected each year. Men had to be thirty-nine years old to be eligible for election, and the office conferred imperium (power of command) second only to the consuls. The two most prestigious praetorships, given normally to those who came first and second in the poll, were the praetor urbanus and praetor peregrinus. They were, in essence, the chief judicial officials in the state, the urban praetor being in charge of lawsuits between Roman citizens, the peregrine praetor of lawsuits between Romans and foreigners (peregrini). The other six praetors presided over permanent quaestiones (public law courts concerned with special crimes) during their year of office. After serving at Rome for a year, a praetor was normally sent out to govern one of Rome’s provinces as proconsul, usually for a term of one or two years.

Consules: consuls – two were elected annually, to be the presiding officers of the Roman state. The minimum age at which men could hold the consulship was forty-two, unless they had a special exemption. To be elected to the consulship in his first year of eligibility (suo anno) gave a Roman politician special prestige. Consuls held the chief imperium in the state; they presided over most Senate meetings, and had a wide array of religious and administrative functions and powers. Chief limitations on their power were: the ability of consuls to veto each other’s actions, the right of the tribunes to veto, and the inherent right of Roman citizens to appeal against exercises of magisterial power. After his year in office, the ex-consul was normally granted a term as governor of an overseas province, normally one of the larger, wealthier and more important provinces, and normally for one or two years.

Censores: censors – two were elected, usually every five years although there was some variation, with intervals of three, four and six (in rare cases even more) years between appointments of censors being known. Censors were invariably ex-consuls, held office for an eighteen-month term, and were responsible for: conducting a census of the Roman citizen body, making a count and assigning citizens to appropriate census classes, centuries and tribes; conducting a review of the ordo equester (equestrians); conducting a review of the Senate, with the power to expel senators for inappropriate conduct; holding auctions for public contracts to carry out upkeep of public and religious amenities, to undertake major public building projects, and to take on the task of raising taxes in certainprovinces.

Dictator: dictator – this was an emergency office with essentially unlimited power, superseding all other magistrates and the normal operation of the laws and limitations. A dictator was supposed to be appointed by a consul in consultation with the Senate, when it had been agreed that an emergency existed which it was beyond the ability of regular magistrates with limited powers to cope with. The dictator was not supposed to remain in office longer than six months, and he normally appointed a Magister Equitum as second-in-command. In practice, the dictatorship had fallen into abeyance since 217, until the office was revived by Sulla and Caesar in a new and temporally unlimited form.


‘Oldest human brain’ discovered


Archaeologists have found the remains of what could be Britain’s oldest surviving human brain.

The team, excavating a York University site, discovered a skull containing a yellow substance which scans showed to be shrunken, but brain-shaped.

Brains consist of fatty tissue which microbes in the soil would absorb, so neurologists believe the find could be some kind of fossilised brain.

The skull was found in an area first farmed more than 2,000 years ago.  More tests will now be done to establish what it is actually made of.

The team from York Archaeological Trust had been commissioned by the university to carry out an exploratory dig at Heslington East, where campus extension work is under way.  The skull was discovered in an area of extensive prehistoric farming landscape of fields, trackways and buildings dating back to at least 300 BC.


The archaeologists believe the skull, which was found on its own in a muddy pit, may have been a ritual offering. It was taken to the University of York where CT scans were used to look at the skull’s contents.  Philip Duffey, the consultant neurologist who carried out the scans, said the find was “amazing”.

“It’s exciting that scanning has shown structures which appear to be unequivocally of brain origin. “I think that it will be very important to establish how these structures have survived, whether there are traces of biological material within them and, if not, what is their composition.”

He added: “This could be the equivalent of a fossil. The brain itself would generally not survive. Fatty tissues would be feasted on by microbes.

“This isn’t like the remains found in bogs; it doesn’t have any skin on the skull or any tissue remains elsewhere.

“There is something unusual in the way the brain has been treated, or something that it’s been exposed to that has preserved the shape of it.”

TB victim

Dr Sonia O’Connor, research fellow in archaeological sciences at the University of Bradford added: “The survival of brain remains where no other soft tissues are preserved is extremely rare.

“This brain is particularly exciting because it is very well preserved, even though it is the oldest recorded find of this type in the UK, and one of the earliest worldwide.”

The find is the second major discovery during investigations at the site.

Earlier this year, a team from the university’s department of archaeology unearthed a shallow grave containing the skeleton of a man believed to be one of Britain’s earliest victims of tuberculosis.  Radiocarbon dating suggests that the man died in the fourth century, the late-Roman period. The vice-chancellor of the University of York, Professor Brian Cantor, said: “The skull is another stunning discovery and its further study will provide us with incomparable insights into life in the Iron Age.”

Specialists now hope to carry out further tests on the skull to establish how it has survived for so long, and perhaps more about the person whose brain it was.


Thera volcano erruption

knossosTwo olive branches buried by a Minoan-era eruption of the volcano on the island of Thera (modern-day Santorini) have enabled precise radiocarbon dating of the catastrophe to 1613 BC, with an error margin of plus or minus 10 years, according to two researchers who presented conclusions of their previously published research during an event on Tuesday at the Danish Archaeological Institute of Athens.

Speaking at an event entitled “The Enigma of Dating the Minoan Eruption – Data from Santorini and Egypt”, the study’s authors, Dr. Walter Friedrich of the Danish University of Aarhus and Dr. Walter Kutschera of the Austrian University of Vienna, said data left by the branch of an olive tree with 72 annular growth rings was used for dating via the radiocarbon method, while a second olive branch — found just nine metres away from the first — was unearthed in July 2007 and has not yet been analysed.

The researchers said both olive tree branches were found near a Bronze Age man-made wall, giving the impression that they were part of an olive grove situated near a settlement very close to the edge of Santorini’s current world-famous Caldera. The two trees were found standing when unearthed, and apparently had been covered by the Theran pumice immediately after the volcano’s eruption.

minoan palaceAccording to the two scientists, other radiocarbon testing from archaeological locations on Santorini and the surrounding islands, as well as at Tel el-Dab’a in the Nile delta in Egypt, corroborate the dating based on the olive tree.

On the other hand, as the two researchers pointed out, archaeological evidence linked with the Historical Dating of Ancient Egypt indicate that the Thera eruption must have occurred after the start of the New Kingdom in Egypt in 1530 BC.

The two researchers said their find (olive tree) represents a serious contradiction between the results of the scientific method (radiocarbon dating) and scholarly work in the humanities (history-archaeology), with both sides holding strong arguments to support their conclusions.

The radiocarbon dating places the cataclysmic eruption, blamed for heralding the end to the Minoan civilisation, a century earlier than previous scientific finds.