Flaming torches light up Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall, a Roman-era fortification spanning the width of northern England, was lit up from end-to-end by volunteers carrying flaming torches on the 14th March 2010 (as previously announced here).

As night fell, 500 gas flames were lit at 250-metre intervals for 84 miles (135 kilometres) from Wallsend in northeast England to Bowness-on-Solway in the northwest.

This created a coast-to-coast line of light along the route of a path which runs next to the wall.

Hadrian’s Wall was built in 122 AD on the orders of the Roman emperor Hadrian to mark his empire’s northern frontier. It is the largest monument from the ancient era in northern Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The torch-lighting event marked British Tourism Week and the 1,600th anniversary of the Roman departure from Britain in 410 AD.

“When you see you the lights here, it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like to be stationed here up on the wall,” said Linda Tuttiett, chief executive of Hadrian’s Wall Heritage, which looks after the wall and organised the event.

The only thing that VSLM has to add is a personal digression – “The beacons of Minas Tirith! The beacons are lit!

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Hadrian’s Wall

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Setting Hadrian’s wall ablaze

Illuminating Hadrian’s Wall will create a spectacular line of light from coast to coast. This once in a lifetime event will take place on Saturday 13 March 2010 and will follow the route of the 84 mile long Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail.  Around 500 individual points of light placed at 250 metre intervals will be used to light up  the Wall. The first one will be illuminated at a public event at Segedunum Roman Fort at Wallsend in the North East, with the line of light then making its way along the Wall to Bowness-on-Solway in Cumbria over the following hour. As it reaches Carlisle there will be a second public event ‘Welcoming the Light’ to celebrate the light’s arrival and passing through.

Illuminating Hadrian’s Wall aims to capture the imagination and highlight the immense scale and beauty of Hadrian’s Wall and the countryside, villages, towns and cities that it passes through. 2010 is also the 1600th anniversary of the end of Roman Britain in AD 410 – one of the greatest turning points in our history. So as well as celebrating a truly iconic piece of world heritage the line of light will help to mark this hugely significant anniversary.

Illuminating Hadrian’s Wall is an ambitious project led by Hadrian’s Wall Heritage Ltd.

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A thousand people will set the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall ablaze this March in an attempt to reignite flagging interest – both at home and abroad – in England’s historical heritage.

The ancient wall will be illuminated by huge torches at 500 different points across its 84 miles, with each lit in succession in order to resemble a giant Mexican wave.

“Creating an 84-mile line of light from coast to coast is a massive logistical challenge,” organiser John Farquhar-Smith tells CNTraveller.com. “Fortunately we’ll have the help of more than a thousand volunteer ‘Illuminators’, who have signed up to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime event.  Together we’ll be creating a spectacle that will illuminate this iconic World Heritage Site and the wide variety of landscapes that it passes through, including the vibrant cities of Newcastle and Carlisle, and some of England’s most stunning countryside.”

The stunt allows rare access to the wall – which is protected by rules that prohibits people from walking on it – for the participating volunteers, while the general public is encouraged to stay back and view the spectacular from designated points along the way.

“Illuminating Hadrian’s Wall will bring to life Britain’s longest and greatest piece of heritage,” Tuttiet continues. “It will also be a celebration of the landscape of Hadrian’s Wall Country and mark the 1,600th anniversary of the end of Roman Britain in AD410 – ending centuries of Roman administration.”

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Lost Roman Codex Fragments Found in Book Binding

Fragments of a lost ancient Roman law text have been rediscovered in the scrap paper used to bind other books.

The Codex Gregorianus, or Gregorian Code, was compiled by an otherwise unknown man named Gregorius at the end of the third century A.D. It started a centuries-long tradition of collecting Roman emperors’ laws in a single manuscript.

The Codex Gregorianus covered the laws of Hadrian, who ruled from A.D. 117 to 138, to those of Diocletian, ruler from A.D. 284 to 305.

Later codices excerpted the laws that were still relevant and added new ones, so only parts of the first codex survived as passages in other editions. All copies of the original collection of laws were thought to have been lost.

Luckily, in the 16th century it was common to use scraps of paper to reinforce the bindings of new books.

Seventeen such fragments—each smaller than 2 square inches (13 square centimeters)—were recovered from a set of books decades ago. The scraps were eventually acquired by a private owner, who recently loaned them to Roman-law experts at University College London.

A preservation librarian who examined the scraps told the researchers that the shapes of the pieces and the patterns of wear suggest the ancient papers had been wrapped around cords that went over the books’ spines.

“We saw a couple key phrases and realized this was a kind of legal text,” said study leader Benet Salway. “We matched it against the database of legal pronouncements we had, and found it didn’t match anything.”

But a few of the phrases matched passages in the Justinian Code, compiled in the sixth century, leading the team to conclude that the unfamiliar sections were from a source text: the Codex Gregorianus.

The paper fragments themselves are not from the original codex, but they could be from a copy that dates back as far as A.D. 400, the researchers said.

Well-Used Codex

Only the fragments containing text that overlaps with known parts of the Justinian Code could be translated, and that text deals with appeals and the statute of limitations for an unknown matter.

But the fragments were annotated between the lines in Greek, a commonly spoken language by the end of the fifth century, implying that this particular copy of the Codex Gregorianus was used heavily, Salway said.

“The language of the law was Latin, but a lot of users of this text [would have been] Greek speakers, and they’d need to be able to understand it.”

Since the pieces were found inside an unrelated book, the find doesn’t increase the researchers’ chances of locating the rest of the Codex Gregorianus. But “what I would hope is that it raises awareness of the possibility of this still being out there,” Salway said.

“I’m not advocating that all [16th-century] books’ bindings be ripped off—though we might find all sorts of interesting things in there—but when these books are conserved, care should be taken to see what is inside.”

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Ancient auditorium in Rome unveiled

02_hadrianArchaeologists on Wednesday unveiled the remains of an ancient auditorium where scholars, politicians and poets held debates and lectures, a site discovered during excavations of a bustling downtown piazza in preparation for a new subway line.

The partially dug complex, dating back to the 2nd century A.D., is believed to have been funded by Emperor Hadrian as a school to promote liberal arts and culture. Known as the “Athenaeum” and named after the city of Athens, which was considered the center of culture at the time, the auditorium could accommodate up to 200 people, experts said.

“Hadrian, who was a cultured emperor, wanted to re-establish the tradition of public recitation, conferences and poetry contests, as it used to happen in classic Greece,” Roberto Egidi, an archaeologist overseeing the digs, said during a tour. Egidi said the identification of the auditorium as Hadrian’s is “a likely hypothesis” due to the building’s specific structure, as well as references in ancient texts. The digs have turned up two terraced staircases used for seating, a corridor and marbled floors, Egidi said.

Egidi also said the building’s upper floors are believed to have crumbled during an earthquake. The auditorium was discovered during excavations at Piazza Venezia, a busy intersection in the heart of Rome, just a few meters from the Roman Forum.

RomeArchaeologists have been probing the depths of the Eternal City for months to pave the way for some of the 30 stations of the city’s planned third subway line. Many of the digs are near famous monuments or on key thoroughfares and several archaeological remains — including Roman taverns and 16th-century palace foundations — have already turned up at Piazza Venezia.

Francesco Giro, a top official with Italy’s culture ministry, said the entrance to the subway would be close to the auditorium, but in an area where digs turned up only ancient sewers. The archaeological investigations are needed only for the subway’s stairwells and air ducts, because the 15 miles (25 kilometers) of subway stations and tunnels will be dug at a depth of 80 to 100 feet (25 to 30 meters) — below the level of any past human habitation.

However, most of the digs still have yet to reach levels that date back to Roman times, where plenty of surprises may be waiting. Rome’s 2.8 million inhabitants rely on just two subway lines, which only skirt the city center, leaving it clogged with traffic and tourists. Plans for a third line that would serve the history-rich heart of Rome have been put off for decades amid funding shortages and fears that a wealth of archaeological discoveries would halt work.

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Emperor Hadrian

Few political commentators ask what lies behind the thinking of those expressing boundless admiration for the Roman Empire in almost every quarter of present-day Western society.

This comes across in the most sophisticated inquiries into ancient history, as witness Thorsten Opper’s intelligent book “Hadrian: Empire and Conflict,” to which the British Museum show that he curated, running until Oct. 26, effectively serves as an illustration.

While striving to put forward a balanced view, the historian cannot help giving a lyrical ring to his most matter-of-fact statements: “For almost twenty-one years, from A.D. 117 to 138, Publius Aelius Hadrianus ruled one of the mightiest empires the world has ever seen” is the opening sentence to Opper’s introduction, which chirpily explains that “at the heart of the empire was Rome, the largest city of the ancient Mediterranean, if not the globe, a pulsating capital of one million inhabitants.”

Coming to Hadrian, the author goes on: “The empire needed to gain strength and cohesion in order to be able to face the many threats to its prosperity and peaceful existence. Hadrian’s achievements in these areas were outstanding, his legacy immense.” Exactly what was peaceful about this empire bent on constant expansion is not specified. The historian then proceeds to recount in some detail a story of genocide and ethnic cleansing on a grand scale.

When Hadrian came to power in 117, the ancient Middle Eastern lands of Armenia, Assyria and Mesopotamia (that is, Babylonia) in present-day northern and southern Iraq had just been occupied and declared new Roman provinces. Farther west, all hell had broken loose. In 116, the Jews of Cyrenaica (in modern Libya), driven by fury against the Romans, who had destroyed the temple in 71 and slain much of the population in the Jerusalem area, had risen against the Western occupiers.

They had destroyed public buildings and temples, causing 220,000 casualties in the process, according to the only available detailed source, the “Historia Augusta,” written in the fourth century by Cassius Dio. The insurgents invaded Egypt, where the Jewish communities took up arms and crushed an entire Roman legion. Their uprising spread to Cyprus, where, Dio writes,, 240,000 were killed. Trajan’s retaliation was extreme. Tens of thousands were slain in Egypt and Cyrenaica and repression extended to Mesopotamia.

The situation was untenable for the Romans. As soon as he was proclaimed emperor, Hadrian pulled back his armies from Mesopotamia, Assyria and Greater Armenia. This did not look too good for the new emperor, who had been belatedly adopted by Trajan. Born in Rome into an Iberian family (from present-day Spain), Hadrian badly needed to legitimize his rule and spent a lifetime burnishing his image as a military hero.

The populace loved it. Statues of the emperor were erected across the empire. A marble head from a figure that must have been 4.5 to 5 meters high, or about 16 feet, was discovered last year in ancient Pisidia, in what today is southwestern Turkey. Technically impeccable, it uncannily heralds the hollow art of 20th-century totalitarian states.

Permanent aspiration to domination over unwilling populations meant permanently perceived threats. In the westernmost “province” of the empire (roughly corresponding to modern England and Wales), which had been finally occupied in 43, the situation was shaky. Hadrian appears to have waged not just one war, but two. In 122, the construction of Hadrian’s Wall, running from east to west, was undertaken to keep out the “Barbarians” farther north. Recovered from the Thames, a larger-than-life-size bronze head of the emperor that was cast around that time has an expressiveness that probably reflects the sensitivity of native Celtic artists working in the Roman style. It forms a striking contrast with a bland marble statue of Hadrian as Mars, the god of war, carved in Rome.

In the Near East, trouble kept brewing. It erupted in 132 in the form of a furious uprising in Judea, led by Simon Bar Kokhba, whose nom de guerre means in Hebrew “The Son of the Star.” Well prepared, with arms caches and secret hideouts set aside, the resistance beat two Roman legions and a dozen auxiliary regiments.

Reinforcements sent from Syria and Egypt were wiped out. As Jews in the surrounding areas and the non-Jewish communities of Judea sided with the insurgents, Bar Kokhba proclaimed himself “The Prince of Israel.”

This was more than the “peaceful” Roman emperor could stomach. Hadrian took in hand the military operations, as is implied by inscriptions mentioning the “expeditio Judaica.” Around 134, the battle-hardened governor of Britain, Sextus Julius Severus, was called in and, to quote Opper, “turned the war into a slow extermination campaign.”

According to Dio’s account, the Romans razed 50 of the most important military strongholds and 985 of the best-known villages. Military casualties alone numbered 585,000. “As for the numbers who perished from starvation disease or fire, that was impossible to establish.”

Finds in a cave west of the Dead Sea provide a glimpse into the makeup of the anti-Roman groups. Luxury items suggest that members of the wealthy establishment took part. A magnificent glass plate from Alexandria and bronze vessels including a patera, or pan-shaped utensil, for offerings decorated with a non-Jewish pattern (the nymph Thetis riding a sea-monster), reveal the mixed backgrounds of those who sought refuge in the cave.

Roman propaganda celebrated the victory on a gigantic scale. Fragments of a monumental inscription unearthed in the Jordan Valley belong to a triumphal arch. Parts of an enormous bronze statue of Hadrian were excavated on the site of a camp built by the Sixth Legion. The top commanders, including Severus, received the highest military honors. To this day, the base of a colossal statue of Hadrian dedicated in the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, who had initiated the mass destruction of the Jews, survives in Rome.

While extreme for its thoroughness, the Roman repression was not unusual in its ferocity – Hadrian’s predecessors, like Titus or Nero, were hardly choirboys. There is no way of knowing how Hadrian felt about the extermination war that he conducted. Almost every aspect of his personality is subject to interpretation. The emperor’s much-vaunted admiration for Greek culture may owe something to political expediency. Opper speculates that it partly reflected the wish to win over the population of the Hellenic or Hellenized areas of the Empire.

The only evidence of Hadrian’s personal emotions is linked to his homosexual relationship with Antinous, who drowned in the Nile while the emperor and the Greek youth traveled upriver.

Distraught, Hadrian founded a new city to immortalize his memory, Antinopolis, but, as Opper remarks, this also fit in nicely with the emperor’s active policy of encouraging Greek settlements in Egypt. The Egyptians in his entourage were encouraged to venerate Antinous as the incarnation of the god Osiris, and a statue of the young man, with the attributes of Osiris, was even erected in the Antinous shrine at Hadrian’s villa. For kitsch vulgarity, you can’t do much better.

The obsessive Hadrian surrounded himself with Antinous images. Ten marble portraits were recovered from his villa at Tivoli alone, and about 100 such images in all have been recorded. They include the colossal head from a villa near Frascati, in the Rome area, and the life-size statue of Antinous as Aristaios, a Greek deity associated with the hunt.

But with the exception of Antinous, Hadrian did not waste much love on his human brethren. His relations with Sabina, the daughter of Trajan’s niece who became his wife at age 14, were difficult. The arranged marriage, which had opportunely strengthened Hadrian’s position within the imperial circle, did little for the young woman, even if the emperor commissioned grand portraits of her. A larger-than-life statue from the villa at Tivoli shows a woman of striking beauty and dignity, wistfully tugging at her drape.

There is no indication whatsoever that the massacres perpetrated under his command ever weighed upon Hadrian’s conscience. It was all done in the superior interest of the empire and of what Western historians like to call the “pax Romana,” without batting an eyelash.

The article retrieved from here.