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Dutch Archaeologists Find the Site of a Massacre Julius Caesar Boasted About

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In Julius Caesar’s personal account of the Gallic Wars, De Bello Gallico, the Roman commander (and emperor-to-be) detailed the massacre of two Germanic tribes by Roman troops in 55 BCE. The tribes had asked Caesar for asylum. Instead, they were massacred. Caesar boasted that his troops killed 430,000 people, the majority of them women and children. Some died by sword or spear either in battle or while fleeing the Romans. Others attempting escape drowned in a nearby river.  

The location of this horrific episode has never been confirmed. But now, archaeologists with VU University Amsterdam say they've found the first physical evidence that the battle took place in what is now the Netherlands, near the city of Kessel. 

This is the first evidence of Roman intrusion into Dutch territory, and the earliest known battle on Dutch soil. While dredging an old riverbed near Kessel over the course of several decades—between 1975 and 1995—amateur archaeologists discovered iron swords, spearheads, a helmet, and German belt hooks, all indicating an early battle site. Most dated to the first century BCE.

They also found "large quantities" of human skeletal remains in Kessel that were radiocarbon dated to the Late Iron Age. Many bore clear traces of sword and spear injuries. It appears that the bodies of the victims of the slaughter were gathered up along with their weapons and deposited in the riverbed.

The Germanic tribes, the Tencteri and Usipetes, were not originally from the area, but had migrated across the Rhine River, an origin confirmed by geochemical analysis of dental enamel found in the remains. 

Caesar said his troops slaughtered the entire population. However, the new discovery allows archaeologists to more realistically estimate the true death toll. They believe that between 150,000 and 200,000 people were killed.

The new number may be less than half of what Caesar claimed, but it's still appallingly enormous. VU archaeologist Nico Roymans wonders whether Caesar's actions constitute genocide: 

Although Caesar does not explicitly express the intention to eradicate these German tribes, he must have realized that his actions would in fact result in, at the very least, the partial destruction of these ethnic groups. Interestingly, there were no moral objections in the Roman political culture of that time to the mass murder of a defeated enemy, certainly not when it involved barbarians. This explains why, in his accounts of the battle, Caesar provides detailed descriptions without any shame of the use of mass violence against Gallic and Germanic population groups who opposed the Roman conquest.

All images courtesy VU University Amsterdam

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For the First Time in 40 Years, Rome's Colosseum Will Open Its Top Floor to the Public
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The Colosseum’s nosebleed seats likely didn’t provide plebeians with great views of gladiatorial contests and other garish spectacles. But starting in November, they’ll give modern-day tourists a bird's-eye look at one of the world’s most famous ancient wonders, according to The Telegraph.

The tiered amphitheater’s fifth and final level will be opened up to visitors for the first time in several decades, following a multi-year effort to clean, strengthen, and restore the crumbling attraction. Tour guides will lead groups of up to 25 people to the stadium’s far-flung reaches, and through a connecting corridor that’s never been opened to the public. (It contains the vestiges of six Roman toilets, according to The Local.) At the summit, which hovers around 130 feet above the gladiator pit below, tourists will get a rare glimpse at the stadium’s sloping galleries, and of the nearby Forum and Palatine Hill.

In ancient Rome, the Colosseum’s best seats were marble benches that lined the amphitheater’s bottom level. These were reserved for senators, emperors, and other important parties. Imperial functionaries occupied the second level, followed by middle-class spectators, who sat behind them. Traders, merchants, and shopkeepers enjoyed the show from the fourth row, and the very top reaches were left to commoners, who had to clamber over steep stairs and through dark tunnels to reach their sky-high perches.

Beginning November 1, 2017, visitors will be able to book guided trips to the Colosseum’s top levels. Reservations are required, and the tour will cost around $11, on top of the normal $14 admission cost. (Gladiator fights, thankfully, are not included.)

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy of the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Discover Ancient Sunken City in the Mediterranean
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Courtesy of the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari

Early on July 21, 365 CE, an 8.5 magnitude earthquake shook the eastern Mediterranean, triggering a powerful tsunami. The Egyptian city of Alexandria was damaged, towns crumbled on the island of Crete, and the Roman port city of Neapolis, located on the coast of North Africa, was largely swallowed by the wave, according to historical records. Now, after being hidden under water for more than 16 centuries, the remains of Neapolis have been discovered by archaeologists off the coast of northeast Tunisia. This, according to the AFP, confirms accounts that the city was a casualty of the ancient natural disaster.

Following several years of exploration, researchers from the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari in Italy have discovered nearly 50 acres of watery ruins near the modern-day city of Nabeul. They include streets, monuments, homes, mosaics, and around 100 tanks used to make garum, a fish-based sauce that was so popular in ancient Rome and Greece that it's been likened to ketchup. 

These containers suggest that Neapolis was likely a major producer of garum, making the salty condiment an integral part of the city's economy. "Probably the notables of Neapolis owed their fortune to garum," expedition head Mounir Fantar told the AFP.

Neapolis ("new city" in Greek) was originally founded in the 5th century BCE. While it was an important Mediterranean hub, its name doesn't appear too often in ancient writings. According to The Independent, it may because the city sided with the ancient city-state of Carthage—founded in the 9th century BCE by a seafaring people known as the Phoenicians—in the last of a series of three wars, called the Punic Wars, against Rome.

The Third Punic War stretched from 149 to 146 BCE, and led to the burning of Carthage. (It was later rebuilt as a Roman city by Julius Caesar.) Neapolis may have been punished for its wayward allegiance, which may explain why it's rarely mentioned in historical accounts.

You can view a video of the city's ruins below.

[h/t AFP]

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