Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ghosts of the past.

I'm busy reading Peter Heather's Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe, and in it he describes an interesting archaeological dig.

The Romans patrolled their river frontiers with vessels called lusoriae. A lusoria was like a brown-water patrol boat; a miniature version of the seagoing warships of the period, down to the ram on the prow. In an archaeological dig along the Rhine near what was the Roman town of Civitas Nemetum (modern-day Speyer in Germany) archaeologists came across the wreckage of some Germanic rafts that had apparently been caught by a squadron of lusoriae in the late Third Century while bringing some wagonloads of booty back across the Rhine.

Now, bear in mind that the Rhine river during the first half of the First Millenium was a microcosm of modern globalization: On one side of the river was a wealthy and sophisticated civilization, complete with plumbing, coinage, literature, the rule of law, and what-have-you. On the other side of the river were the have-nots: clans and tribes run by strongmen, whose primary industries were amber, raw materials, slaves, and plots for how to get across the river and get a slice of la dolce vita waiting on the other side.

The booty the archaeologists uncovered contained the contents of a wealthy Roman villa of the late Third Century. And by "the contents", I mean the entire contents: silverware, cooking pots, gardening equipment, the works. Everything but the hinges from the doors.

For some reason, the image that sprang to mind was that of scientists in the year 3700 AD digging up a sand bar on the Rio Grande and uncovering some john boats with the entire contents of a ranch house: Not just the 52" flatscreen TV and the good silverware, but the coffee maker, vacuum cleaner, and the weed-whacker, too...

12 comments:

Joanna said...

Well, if you're going to go in you might as well go all in.

Wolfwood said...

Lusoria? Isn't that how Eddie Izzard says the Brits pronounce "leisure"?

Nathan said...

I guess this would be a case of "Go big AND go home"...

...if they'd made it, anyway :)

wv: catic. "Huck was just being catic."

Anonymous said...

If you'd been watching the "news" you'd know that 38th c. dig will more likely be a trove of the remains of machine guns and straw.

AT

TBeck said...

I bet the barbarians even took the toys in the nusery. I can picture a Roman emperor waving his fist and screaming, "Give me back my Legos!"

Jenny said...

Hunh... well, I guess it makes sense.

Next question... how much of a cash economy *was* there on the north side of the Rhine - as in - what's the return on bringing back gold instead of the stuff you'd be *buying* with said gold in a civilized country?

Justthisguy said...

I saw what you did there, TBeck. Thirty licks with the fasces for you.

Moriarty said...

Reminds me of a story told by some distant relatives who were in Berlin at the time of the Soviet occupation.

Some of the Red Army troops were Mongols and had never heard of such things as indoor plumbing. (This caused a certain amount of consternation when, on washing spuds in the WC, one of them pulled the chain to see what would happen.) On withdrawing, they took with them literally everything they could, including faucets.

Apparently they thought they could be mounted anywhere and water would flow when the tap was turned.

Jim said...

Justthisguy - I feel bad for missing that the first time.

Jim

TBeck said...

Thirty lashes? Let's start with XVII, XVIII, and XIX!

Desertrat said...

Not john boats; Miwok rafts. Mary Jane comes north, miscellaneous goodies go south...

SFlorman said...

Two sites you should visit if this sort of thing interests you: The Steamboat Arabia museum in Kansas City (www.1856.com) and the Steamboat Bertrand Visitor's Center in Missouri Valley, IA (http://www.fws.gov/midwest/desoto/bertrand.htm). Both are Missouri River steamers that sunk in the mid-19th century on the way to Montana, and were excavated from the old riverbed in the late 20th. Think of them as the semi that supplies your local walMart. buried for more than 100 years, containing everything needed to supply a fair-sized town - all of it nearly completely preserved (Arabia still had drinkable champagne and smellable perfume aboard). Really interesting places to visit, although the Bertrand is a little out of the way, about 30 miles north of Omaha.