Conjecture or Fact? The Two Faces of Alexander the Great

Two Faces of Alexander the Great

The recent headline, “Mosaic of Alexander the Great Meeting a Jewish priest,” recently caught my attention. I have been to Greece twice, once on an archaeological excavation, and I teach 9th grade World History. This is just the kind of headline to get my students excited about ancient Greece. It reminds me of the excitement surrounding the discovery of a second Mona Lisa back in 2012. Is this an open and shut case? Could this really be another image of Alexander? So far the circumstantial evidence indicates that this newly discovered mosaic is the famous general, king and warrior. The website describes a legend in which Alexander meets with a Jewish priest, and the new mosaic discovered in Israel could be the long-awaited confirmation of that myth.

An archaeological team led by Professor Jodi Magness from the University of Chapel Hill at North Carolina (UNC) discovered the mosaic and many others in an Israeli synagogue. The presence of elephants in battle dress, the absence of elephants in Jewish legend, the purple cape (worn by royalty) all indicate that this is a new depiction of Alexander the Great.  The mosaics have been removed and are being conserved and analyzed by experts.

Next summer’s excavations may uncover more of the mystery. I would love to be a part of that team! Who wouldn’t?

Sources/More Information

Image on the left: wikimediacommons

Image on the right: Jim Haberman

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Saturday at Salubria

Salubria Mansion (2)The name Salubria, comes from the Latin word for healthful, “salubrious.” When you step in the mansion and feel the cool spring breeze blowing through the slightly offset north and south entrances, you can feel why the mansion earned its name. Have you ever wondered why old doorways are so small? I had always assumed that people were much shorter in the past and thus the shorter door frames. Today at Salubria I learned that doorways were small to keep the heat in the rooms. I don’t know how such an obvious answer escaped me all of these years. Most rooms had their own fireplaces so why would you want all of that precious heat to escape? In the tradition of tiny doors in European estates, I ran across a doorway at Salubria that even my 5’7″ frame had to duck under.

Salubria View Facing North

This stately brick Georgian mansion, built in 1752 is the oldest brick mansion in Culpeper County Virginia. The mansion was built by The Reverend John Thompson, rector of St. Mark’s Parish. The Reverend married Anne Butler Brayne Spotswood, widow of Alexander Spotswood, Governor of Virginia. Before she was married to the Reverend, Lady Spotswood as she was known, had four children with Alexander Spotswood. One of their children married a niece of George Washington, another is the ancestor of Robert E. Lee and Hellen Keller, a third married a grandson of Patrick Henry and the youngest was killed while scouting near Fort Duquesne. With such an illustrious lineage, it is a shame that the grave of this matriarch and famous lady has never been found. One early tourist wrote that he visited the Lady Spotswood’s grave on the grounds of Salubria in the early 1900’s. Who knows if he made that up, or if he even knew where he was when he was visiting that grave. Her final resting place has never been located, but it is suspected to be somewhere on the grounds of Salubria.

The property was eventually sold to two families, including the Hansbroughs, who are credited with giving Salubria its name. In 1853 Robert O. Grayson acquired the property, which by this time was already over a hundred years old. The property eventually passed into the hands of the personal physician of President Woodrow Wilson, Admiral Cary T. Grayson. The families of Admiral Grayson’s sons lived at Salubria until it was given to the Germanna foundation in 2001. I was told that two sisters lived in the house in the 1930’s and they lived exclusively in the hallway due to no electricity or heat. Why would anyone want to live in the hallway? It’s only the beginning of May and already the Virginia humidity is becoming unbearable. That cool breeze flowing through the hall answered my question.

Salubria Cemetery

Salubria caught my attention a few months ago when I was browsing old history books at the Culpeper County Library. The grounds are currently closed to the public except for pre-arranged tours. Although  my previous attempts at arranging a tour had not been successful, I was excited to read in the local paper a few days ago that Salubria would be open one day only this year for an hour and a half for a presentation about Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day and Salubria are connected through President Woodrow Wilson. Woodrow Wilson is responsible for Mother’s Day becoming a holiday and his personal physician once owned Salubria. Salubria Basement (3)Although I am grateful for the hour and a half that I had on the grounds, it would take an entire day to uncover the secrets of Salubria. After listening to the Mother’s Day presentation, I headed straight for the basement. The first thing I noticed was the remnants of a mud-brick floor, not unlike that of a Roman fort that I once excavated in Aqaba, Jordan. No doubt the tiny feet of the widow of Virginia’s first Governor at one time patted across that mud-brick floor. In addition to the unusual floor, the basement had several intact rooms, each with its own unique set of surprises. The first room contained a pile of bricks and leather straps hanging from the ceiling that looked like they were straight from a horror film. The room at the South side of the house contained an ancient door frame from an unknown location. On the way out I ducked under the walk-in fireplace, which smelled of pure history. I wondered what was once cooked and served from that fireplace. No doubt Salubria had its share of illustrious guests since at one time it was once considered the “frontier” of Virginia.

Civil War Salubria Bullets

My Saturday visit probably left me with more questions than answers. Where is Lady Spotswood’s grave? Who else is buried on the grounds? Why was the hall staircase removed? Where did the Civil War bullets come from? Was there a battle at the mansion or were they dropped on the grounds by some weary soldier passing through? I plan to visit Salubria again and see if any of these questions can be answered.

Salubria SelfieThe CEO of the Germanna Foundation, which owns the property, was kind enough to take me to the family burial plot, and share the story of the missing Lady Spotswood’s grave.  I have been looking for a way to become more involved in the historical community around Culpeper. Perhaps leading tours and sharing the fascinating history of this manor home with the public may be in my near future. Even though  I have not had much free time to travel or write since I started teaching, I have learned that everywhere I go there is an interesting piece of history right around every corner.

Salubria Interior Windows

Salubria Historic Marker

Germanna Foundation Historic Salubria Manor House

More Photos of Salubria

* Historic information taken from the Germanna Foundation Phamplet  “Salubria Circa 1753-57”

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Sperryville & Sister Caroline

Sister Caroline's History

The neatest bits of history can turn up just around the corner. Most of my musings have focused on grand historic sites around the world, but as I explore my new surroundings I can see that I don’t need to travel 2,000 miles to see something cool.

I haven’t had much time to comment on history lately because I’ve been too busy teaching history. Last August I decided to give up my cushy analyst’s job and get my license to teach history. It was a tough 16 weeks but I finished the program thanks to Troops to Teachers. After a two week vacation to New England and Canada I began my job search in earnest. At first I thought I was going to accept a job at Virginia Beach, but instead decided to teach in a small town in Virginia.

Teaching World History to High School students is no easy task, but it is certainly rewarding. I think it helps that I have been to many of the places that I teach. With all of that going on, plus getting all of the new teacher illnesses, I haven’t had much time to travel. I thought I was going to go on a holiday tour to Turkey, but decided to save my money for summer vacation. Now that I have a semester of teaching under my belt, I’ve had time to go out and explore my new surroundings.

This weekend I had a chance to visit Sperryville, Virginia. I’ve been through this little town several times going to and from Shenandoah National Park, but I didn’t pay it much attention until last weekend. I discovered several hidden gems within a few blocks’ walking distance. I ended up having lunch at the Thornton River Grille and the food is insanely good! They have burgers, salads, delicious sweet tea and everything in between. The restaurant is of course in a historc building that also houses a pizza parlor and a country store. The history of this building alone makes Sperryville worth the visit.

Central Coffee Roasters SperryvilleWhat better way to top off lunch than a coffee? Not just any coffee but a coffee roasted right here in town. I passed what I thought was a coffee shop when trying to decide what to eat for lunch. We thought that it was just a short walk up the road. Little did I know that the journey to the coffee roaster would be a 1.5 mile walk along US 211, with no sidewalk in 30 degree weather. After 30 minutes of trekking we finally arrived at a place that smelled like coffee heaven. The name of the place is Central Coffee Roasters, and I can honestly say that I have never smelled anything as good. Sampling is free and a full cup is only $1.00. I had a hard time deciding but I finally selected the Peruvian Blend. I could use this coffee as an air freshener; it smells so good. As I was checking out I mentioned to the guy behind the counter (who was super nice and helpful) that I was going to use the beans for my Aero Press. He took the coffee to the back and ground it specifically for the press. You can’t ask for better service (or better coffee).

Even though lunch and coffee really made the day, the trip was about Sperryville’s history. The town is right on the Virginia Civil War Trails, and historic homes line the streets. One story from the Civil War that I doubt is told very often is the story of Caroline Terry, aka Sister Caroline. She was born into slavery in 1833, and died a respected member of the community in 1941. The historic marker describing her life is right next to Copper Fox Antiques, and the Headmaster’s Pub, both of which are located in an old schoolhouse. I almost didn’t walk down to view the marker, but once I did it led to another adventure (to find her grave).

Sister Caroline Young and Old

Sister Caroline wasn’t born in Sperryville, but she spent much of her life there. She seems to have been a collector of military relics, some of which remain in the possession of her descendants. Caroline acquired a Union soldier’s revolver and binoculars, which she reportedly hid under her maternity clothes while assisting in the soldier’s burial. Caroline was eventually freed, bought a small house and ended up helping establish Hopewell Baptist Church. She is buried about a mile down the road from her historic marker. Not content to just read about her life, I was moved to find her grave before leaving Sperryville. The cemetery where she is buried is on a steep hill on Oven Top Road. You’ll miss the family cemetery (as I did) if you don’t pay attention. The site is in the woods on the left hand side a short distance up Oven Top Road. My little Nissan Rouge actually made it up the hill in two inches of snow with no problems. Right up the hill (along with hundreds of animal tracks) lies the final resting place of this fascinating figure.

Caroline Terry as a Young Woman

I’m sure the little I know about Caroline Terry is just a fraction of the story of her life. Her great-grandson published a collection of her stories in Beyond the Rim: From Slavery to Redemption in Rappahannock County, Virginia, which I intend to read. I would like to know and share more about the life of this interesting woman in Sperryville’s history. Sister Caroline’s story, like the stories of so many others whose lives and histories are ignored in the shadow of great events, deserves to be heard.

Sperryville Burial Site Caroline Terry

If you’re driving through Rappahannock County on the way to Shenandoah National Park, be sure to stop in Sperryville for the food and coffee, stay for the history, and pay your respects to Sister Caroline’s burial site.

Listen to Caroline Terry Remembered on YouTube

African American Heritage in Sperryville

More about Caroline Terry

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7 Strange Artifacts from Malta

We know many things about history, but what we don’t know outweighs what we think we know. Throughout my travels, I have come not only to embrace, but to seek out history’s mysteries. If your eyes and your mind are open you can find mysteries whenever and wherever you travel. Malta is one of those places where the mysteries are too numerous to count, and the culture is too rich to understand in just a few days. Out of the hundreds of unique sites and artifacts found throughout Malta, seven are highlighted below that pose more questions than answers.

The Sleeping Lady of Malta1. The Sleeping Lady of Malta was discovered on the lower floor of the Hypogeum of Hal-Safleni . She is 5,000 years old. When you stop for a moment to pause and think about that span of time, that figure is remarkable. More questions remain about the Sleeping Lady than have been answered. Does she represent death? Meditation? Sleep? Why was she created? What was her purpose? Was she an offering to the Gods? The Hypogeum of Hal-Safleni is an underground chamber and a place of deep spiritual significance. Recent evidence indicates that the underground chambers in the Hypogeum were specifically carved to achieve acoustic frequencies that induce a meditative state.

Mnajdra Equinox Tracker in Malta2. The calendar of Mnajdra. How did a culture over 6,000 years ago track the equinoxes? We don’t know, but they left behind a snapshot of their work on a megalithic stone at the temple of Mnajdra at Qrendi. How were the equinoxes tracked and recorded? Why were they tracked? Who was in charge of tracking such events? Mnajdra is considered one of the oldest religious sites in the world. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the only archaeological sites in Malta that is protected by a tent. I was annoyed at first, that the views of such an amazing place were obscured by a white tent. Upon closer examination however, it is obvious that these intricate carvings would eventually disappear if left exposed to the elements of wind and water.

Phoenician Face from Malta

3. The Phoenician Face (1500 – 300 BCE) is an uncommon find in Malta. No one knows exactly what it was used for or what it represents. Is it a crude image of a long dead Phoenician? Is it a figurative representation of death? In the Phoenician world some images are meant to ward off death, could this be such an image? Or are the tightly slit eyes and mouth meant to prevent death from getting in?

Miniature limestone megalithic temple from Malta4. Miniature Temple from the Hagar Qim group. This limestone sculpture is the oldest representation of a temple in the world. It is from the Hagar Qim group in Malta and dates to about 3300 BCE. We know that this tiny temple is a true architectural rendering of the some of the larger megalithic structures in Malta. What we don’t know is why it was made. Is it a kind of draft for a life-size model? Is it an offering for the Gods? Is it a child’s toy?

Venus of Malta 5. The Venus of Malta was discovered in the Hagar Qim temples (3300 BCE) and is from the same time period as the miniature temple above. A common consensus is that these Venus figurines represent fertility. Thousands of these Venus figurines have been found all over the world. The most famous of which is the Venus of Willendorf, which dates to 25,000 BCE! We know the age of these figurines but we don’t know their purpose. Was this meant to represent the worship of a mother or fertility goddess? Was it something kept in the home? Was it used in a religious ritual?


Bronze Age Dagger from Ghar Mirdum Cave Malta

6. Bronze and Bone Dagger from the Borg in-Nadur phase (2000 BCE). This dagger was found in a nearly inaccessible cliff-cave below Dingli, Malta. We do know that there was a thriving Bronze-Age culture in the area, but we don’t know why they chose this cave to deposit their artifacts. When I first saw this dagger I imagined that it looked like something from the Trojan War. I later discovered that Mycenaean pottery shards were found in the Bronze Age village where this dagger was discovered. Did my subconscious pick up just the slightest Mycenaean-Greek influence in the artwork of this dagger? Perhaps. Why was this dagger deposited in this cave? What was its purpose? Finally, what does the circular pattern on the hilt mean? Did the Mycenaean Greeks actually influence this design, or is that wishful thinking on my part?

Hagar Qim Group Headless Figurine of Malta7. Maltese Temple Statuary from the Hagar Qim period (3300 BCE). These statues raise more questions than they answer. Are they male or female? Why do they all have one hand over the abdomen? They have holes in the neck; did they once have interchangeable heads? Hundreds of these figures have been found in Malta, all without heads. What happened to the heads? Maybe one day an archaeologist in Malta is going to discover a pit of disarticulated heads that fit all of these statues.

I hope that you have enjoyed this discussion of these unique artifacts from Malta. I can’t wait to go back for a second visit with keener eyes. I will be teaching 9th grade World History this year so my blog may not be as active as it once was, but it’s not going anywhere, and neither is my love of the mysteries of history!

Additional Information:

Megalithic Temples of Malta

National Museum of Archaeology Malta

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Meet the Grey Sisters of Montreal

Saint Maria Marguerite YouvilleIn 1737, Saint Marguerite d’ Youville and three of her companions made a secret consecration to the task of helping anyone in need. Thus the Grey Sisters (sometimes called nuns) of Montreal were born. Their mission is one of love, respect, and compassion. Why you may ask, are they called the “Grey Sisters?” The first thought is to the grey clothing, or habit, that they wore. Of course that seems logical, but they are not named for their clothing.

According to the Grey Sisters’ homepage, “it was very new for women to form communities and undertake charitable work in common for the wretched. She was accused, among other things, of continuing her late husband’s illegal trade in alcohol with the First Nations and of being a drunk herself. “You and your Sisters are tipsy”, people yelled at them as they walked down the street. In French, grise has two meanings: tipsy, and grey.” When the Grey Sisters finally adopted their habit, they chose grey, and turned an insult into a name that they wore with dignity.

In 1753 the Grey Sisters expanded their mission and took over the Hôpital Général Montreal.

Saint Marguerite's HospitalIn those days a “general hospital” meant something entirely different than what it means today. The “general hospital” that the Grey Nuns occupied (and still occupy today) was actually a house for the poor and sick that had fallen into disrepair. In 1753, King Louis XV officially signed the patent that named Saint Marguerite, called the Widow d’ Youville at the time, as the official administrator of the General Hospital of Montreal.

“Go to the Grey Nuns, they never refuse anything.” Those are the words that the people of Montreal spoke about Saint Marguerite and her companions. The Grey Nuns are officially classified as “religious sisters.” Since the sisters were not cloistered nuns, they were allowed to visit and care for those in need. The Sisters went out to care for those afflicted during a major smallpox epidemic, and also cared for the people of the First Nations.

The remnants of the 1691 chapel near the Montreal Historic Society caught my eye one evening during an after dinner stroll through Old Montreal. The sign on the door told us that the building is open for tours from 10:00am – 12:00pm on Tuesday and Thursday. I arrived promptly at 10 the next morning, without having any idea what I was going to see. I was buzzed in and invited to sit in furnished waiting area. Little did I know that I was about to go on a personal tour led by an actual Grey Sister!Grey Nuns ofMontreal Chapel RemnantsWhat I thought would be a quick walk around the building turned into a two and a half hour journey into the life and work of Saint Marguerite (canonized in 1990). I wish I could remember the name of the Sister who gave us the tour. She was a veritable encyclopedia into the life of the Grey Sisters, the history of Old Montreal, and the devotion of Saint Marguerite.

The first thing that I learned is that the old general hospital is still a working residence for the Grey Sisters. The second thing that I learned is that there is an entire museum hidden away from public view inside of the hospital. The well curated exhibit is spread out across multiple floors and includes many artifacts from Old Montreal and the life of Saint Marguerite. The corner of the room where Saint Marguerite took her final breath is preserved as a place of prayer and introspection.Residence of Marguerite and Original FireplaceI am eternally grateful that I discovered this hidden gem in Montreal and had a chance to interact with a Sister who has devoted her life to love, respect and compassion. The Sisters are few in number and do not actively recruit, however there is something inherently appealing to a simple life of love and devotion in a world of chaos.

The tour doesn’t  have to be two hours long if you don’t want it to be, but we were the only ones there and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to a Grey Sister talk about her life and the history of the Grey Sisters of Montreal. Admission is free and the address is 138 Rue Saint Pierre Street, Montreal (Quebec) Canada.

Memento Saint Marguerite d' Youville“My dear sisters, be constantly faithful to the duties of the state that you have embraced. Walk always in the path of regularity, obedience, and mortification; but above all let the most perfect union reign among you.”


Official Homepage of the Grey Nuns of Montreal

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Happy Summer Solstice


Although this photograph was taken in January, when I hear the words “summer solstice” it reminds me of Stonehenge. Although we are scientifically celebrating the tilt of the Earth’s semi-axis, the summer solstice is so much more than that. From the Latin sol sistere (the sun stands still), the summer solstice has been celebrated for thousands of years for countless reasons. For Eastern Orthodox Christians, the summer solstice marks the feast of St. John the Baptist. In many countries today, midsummer is a public holiday. In the United States, the significance of today is barely acknowledged, but midsummer around the world is a time of feasts, celebrations, and parades. Until I can return to Stonehenge to celebrate a summer or winter solstice, a symbolic acknowledgement and celebration of today will have to do. Today I will wear a bracelet carved from bluestone (dolerite), the same stone from the same place that ancient builders carved Stonehenge. How will you celebrate midsummer today?

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Ghosts in the Brick

I really dig historic architecture, and recently I’ve started to notice these old brick buildings that have been built over multiple times. The first of these buildings that I noticed is in Mainz, Germany. Just the other day I was wandering around Boston’s Chinatown looking for dinner and what did I find around the corner? Another building that used to be something else. Has anyone else seen any of these bricked-over buildings? It looks like someone just laid bricks right on top of the roof to enlarge the structure. However these could also be the outlines of buildings that have long been demolished. I really don’t know but I would certainly appreciate any input on the subject.

Mainz Historic Brick Building

If the buildings have not been built up then the outlines are the ghosts of buildings next door that have long since faded into obscurity. In the case of the building in Mainz, Germany, it looks like the structure was enlarged three or four times, or perhaps the building that is left preserves a record of three or four different phases of construction next door. There’s something really special about these old brick buildings. It looks like their ghosts are trying to leave us a message about the past. I would love to see your photos if you find any structures with this unique architectural feature.

Boston Chinatown Historic Brick

Boston Back Bay Brick

More Information: Boston’s Chinatown    Urban Ghosts

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Trier: The Rome of the North

After so many years of travel, it is difficult to choose one single place as a favorite, but there is one place stands out in my mind more than the others. Trier, Germany’s oldest city, and nicknamed, “the Rome of the North,” calls me back again and again. Every visit to Trier is like the first visit. If you wander around long enough you’ll find something new every time. Trier is situated along the Moselle Valley in Germany, near Luxembourg. Trier boasts not one or two, but eight UNESCO World Heritage sites. If you’re looking to check a few UNSECO sites off your travel bucket list, Trier is an excellent place to begin.

Trier Black Gate

Although the history of Trier spans more than two millennia, it’s the Roman history that keeps bringing me back. I’ve been to Rome once, Trier at least five times, and there is no question that Trier wins out for me. Rome has more, and the ruins are bigger, but in Trier you get a sense of being back in time that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s not crowded so you can wander this beautiful city as slowly or as quickly as you like. Everything is within walking distance so there is no metro, and there is no need to jostle and bustle for a spot in line to see the ruins.There are no crowds, no matter the time of year, and there is a sense of relaxation and history everywhere. Coffee shops are everywhere and many offer a spectacular view of Trier’s famous monuments. Everything in Trier, with the exception the badly deteriorated ruins of the Barbara Baths are within walking distance of the central square.

Trier Imperial Baths Walkway

The history of Trier dates all the way back to pre-historic times, and the famous medieval manuscript the Gesta Treverorum (Deeds of the Treveri) claim that Trier was founded by an Assyrian prince centuries before the founding of Rome. However, since Trier is full of Roman ruins, and Roman history is my special passion, we’ll stick to the Roman history of Trier. Trier was established between 16 B.C. and 30 B.C. and was called the Augusta Treverorum. Trier was also the residence of several usurpers as well as legitimate Roman emperors including Maximian, Constantius Chlorus, and finally Constantine the Great. Constantine the Great called Trier home until he left in 316 for somewhere better, Byzantium (Constantinople).


One of the most notable monuments in Trier is the structure called the Aula Palatina (Constantine’s Basilica). Constantine’s Basilica was built in 310, and used until Constantine left the city for good. Although three of the exterior walls were destroyed by air raids during WWII,the site is an impressive monument to Constantine, the Tetrarchy, and the Roman Empire. Today the structure is used as an Evangelical Church, but it is open to the public, and there is an impressive history of the basilica along the walls, as well as original brick still visible in the one surviving wall.

Trier Imperial Baths  Ruins

Constantine’s Basilica may be the most historically significant monument in Trier, but the most architecturally intact Roman monument in all of Trier is the Porta Nigra (Black Gate). Today the Black Gate is situated right at the end of the town square. You can have lunch or kaffee und kuchen (coffee and cake) and gaze at the Black Gate for as long as you like. The Black Gate was originally pale grey, almost white, and built sometime around 186-200 A.D. The Black Gate was one of four city gates that once existed in Trier.

Emperor Valens from the Trier Mint 364 -378 CE
The other three did not survive time, progress, and re-use for other building materials, but not only did the Black Gate survive, but it has nearly the same appearance today as it did 1,800 years ago, only the color has changed.The Black Gate is architecturally significant because it is held together only by a type of iron and lead “staple” and sheer weight. No mortar or concrete was used. Unfortunately, the Black Gate was a frequent target of medieval scrap metal thieves, and the holes they left after scavenging the metal rods out of the stones are still visible today. No one knows what the Black Gate was originally called, but it may have been called “The Gate to Mainz,” since Mainz was the next most important city in Germany north of the gate. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the gate was converted into the Church of Saint Simeon and used as such for nearly eight hundred years. The conversion of the gate to a church is probably what saved it from being picked apart for building material.

In 1804 Napoleon decided that he wanted the gate to revert back to its natural appearance and he ordered all buildings that had been attached to the gate to be torn down. This is my third or fourth post where Napoleon had a hand in the alteration of a historical monument. Napoleon stole Horses of St. Mark from Venice as well as a beautiful Byzantine mosaic from Ravenna now housed in Berlin. For better or worse, Napoleon had a hand in the preservation of many historic monuments. Thanks to those early preservation efforts, the gate looks today as it did in antiquity, and is open to the public. You can climb all the way to the top to take in the spectacular city views as the ancient Romans once did. If you look closely on your the way up the dimly lit staircase, you may see the mark of a Roman stonemason who had a hand in building the Black Gate, “M.C.”

It’s easy to spend a half a day exploring the Black Gate, but there are many more Roman ruins to explore. While some of the crowds were over at the Black Gate, the Imperial Baths were virtually deserted. It’s quite a different experience to walk those damp, moldy, dark tunnels alone, wondering who walked there before me. The Imperial Baths in Trier are exceptionally well-preserved. The name may not be what you think though. Imperial refers to Wilhelm II, and the baths were named for him when he visited the city. Because Constantine left the city before the baths were completed, they sat half-finished, until Valentinian II came and quartered his imperial guard there. Judging from the ruin that is left, the baths would have been a monument to the grandness of the Roman Empire if they had been completed.

Constantine's Basilica Tunnel

The Imperial Baths, Black Gate, and Constantine’s Basilica are all well-known monuments in Trier, However there are several more areas full of Roman history left to explore. Not far from the city center is Trier’s Roman amphitheater. Built at the end of the second century, it is estimated that it once held 18,000 spectators. A second set of baths, named the Barbara Baths are just outside the city center. These baths were heavily damaged during the seventeenth century when they were used for artillery practice, and nothing at all was visible of them until excavations revealed their foundations a few years ago. Also worth mentioning is the Trier Cathedral. Although it is not Roman, just to the left of the entrance is a curious black column, worn smooth by time. This stone, actually called the Domstein, is all that remains from Valentinian and Gratian’s massive church complex from the fourth century. What happened to the other three “Domsteins” has been lost to history.

Trier’s proximity to Luxembourg during the Roman period was strategically as well as commercially important. On the road to Luxembourg is a monument to the success of one particular cloth merchant. Called the Igel Column, it was built in the third century and stands 23 meters high! Obviously this family, named Secundiner, was quite important to erect such an impressive monument. This column looks so out of place along the highway in a tiny German village, but it is so rare and so important that it has become a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Igel Column Detail

Finally, as you continue the drive toward Luxembourg, the Otrang Roman Villa is not to be missed. Otrang Villa was a wealthy estate that was at its peak in the second century. Excavations began there in 1836 and revealed a manor house with at least 68 rooms, several outbuildings, baths, and even a temple. Today a reconstruction sits on top of the ruins, but many of the original mosaics and foundations are still visible. I also had the entire villa to myself one late spring afternoon.

Jaunting Jen and a Mosaic at Trier

Somehow time allowed the Romans to leave an imprint on Trier that will not be lost to history. Even after so many visits, I look forward to the next time I can explore Trier. There is hidden history around every corner. Trier has truly earned its nickname, “The Rome of the North.”


Trier UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Gestae Treverorum

Official Website of the City of Trier

Cuppers, Heinz. Otrang Roman Villa. Landesamt fur Denkmalpflege Rheinland-Pfalz Verwaltung der staatlichen Schlosser. Mainz: 1990.

Schoning’s Travel Guide: Trier, Germany’s Oldest City.

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Valetta, Malta: The Most Proud City

Valetta at night

Even though I’ve only been back from Malta for about three months, there’s no place that I miss more than this superbissima, or most proud city. My favorite place on this beautiful earth used to be Greece. Greece was bumped to the status of second place favorite after I landed in Valetta, Malta one day last January. This sunny city has more history and culture packed into in one place than I’ve seen anywhere else. Instead of going straight to my hotel room, I immediately went down in to the old part of Valetta. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the filigree silver hanging in stores overwhelmed my senses. I immediately knew that I wanted to see, taste, and buy it all!

Malta has some of the oldest megalithic temples in the world. The most amazing place in all of Malta is the Hal Safliei Hypogeum. Where else in the world can you wander a five-thousand year old chamber decorated with red ochre cave art and acoustically tuned so that the resonance of the right voice can induce a trance.

The city though, can provoke as much astonishment as that ancient chamber in the Hypogeum. Waiting around every corner of the old city is an ancient wall, a unique store, or an tiny family restaurant tucked away in the most unlikely place. Everything that I experienced in Malta is unique. Even after a day of sightseeing, excitement won out over fatigue and I went out to wander the city at night. I stumbled upon the view above quite by accident. I was actually looking for a cathedral but ended up at the waterfront after making a wrong turn. One look out across the bay and I never wanted to leave that most proud city in Malta.

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Nine Men’s Morris, Everywhere

Nine Mens Morris in Medieval Text (wikipedia)

Nine Men’s Morris really is everywhere. When I first noticed the scratches on the side of Charlemagne’s throne back in 2008, I had no idea what they were. I did a little bit of research, and I found out that the stone in Charlemagne’s throne probably came from the floor of a church in the Middle East. Apparently, nearly 2000 years ago bored Roman soldiers scratched a game into the floor called Nine Men’s Morris, or Mills. As it turns out, evidence of this game is all over the place, you just have to know where to look.

Nine Mens Morris on Charlemagnes Throne

It’s a simple game really. The board consists of a grid with 24 points or intersections. Each player has nine pieces which are called men, and the goal of the game is to get three of your pieces lined up in a row. I didn’t realize how prolific this game was until I went back to Germany last winter. My friend and I started talking about how we noticed the game in the cloisters (covered walkways) of many of the cathedrals that we visited. So we started looking to see how many places we could find the game. We also started chatting with the guides at historic sites to find out more. Most of the guides in England were very familiar with Nine Men’s Morris.

Nine Men's Morris  Canterbury

As it turns out, almost anywhere that there are well preserved cloisters there is a good chance that there is a game of Nine Men’s Morris scratched into the bench. The grid was usually absent, but the nine points or intersections were visible. In some places we saw as many as 10 or 15 games scratched into the stone. Of course our study is anything but scientific, but it’s safe to say that this game was ubiquitous in medieval life, especially in the cathedrals where they didn’t have much else to do. In addition to being scratched onto the side of Charlemagne’s throne in Aachen, Germany, we saw on Nine Men’s Morris at Canterbury Cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey in England. Unfortunately, no photographs are allowed inside Westminster Abbey. By the time we got to the entrance of the cloisters they were locking the door and we weren’t able to get any photographs. It’s a safe bet to say if we had a chance to visit any other cathedrals in England we would have seen the game there as well. I visited cathedrals all the time when I lived in Germany, but I wasn’t looking for evidence of Nine Men’s Morris so I really don’t know if it’s as common in Germany as it is in England.

Nines Mens Morris in Rameses Museum Egypt

The game dates back to the Roman era, and possibly dates all the way back to the Mycenaean era. A clay tile fragment from the Archaeological Museum in Mycenae, Greece has what looks like a game of Nine Men’s Morris scratched into the surface. The game reached its peak popularity in Medieval England. There are other variations of the game such as Three Men’s Morris, Six Men’s Morris, and Twelve Men’s Morris. At the archaeological museum in Mainz, Germany, you can buy a miniature Nine Men’s Morris game in the gift shop. The game board is on a small piece of leather, and that folds up into pouch to store the “men.” I don’t know why I didn’t buy this game when I had the chance, but there’s always next time.

Nine Mens Morris Chester Cathedral (wikipedia)

Although the origins of the game are uncertain, the word “morris” comes from the Latin merellus, which means game piece. The game is even depicted in the 1283 book from Toledo, Spain, the Libro de los Juegos, (Book of Games). I am curious if the game is scratched into any churches or historic sites in the U.S. I am certainly going to check for it at Jamestown the next time I go there. It may even be at some of the older universities such as the University of Virginia, College of William and Mary, or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the colonists brought the game with them from England in 1607. So the next time you’re visiting a church or cathedral be sure and look down at the floor, or on the stone seats, or in the covered walkway and check and see if ancient hands were playing a game to pass the time, because you never know, Nine Men’s Morris could be everywhere.

More Information:

Nine Men’s Morris in Derbyshire


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A Severed Hand, A Hidden Tunnel, and Salisbury’s Oldest Pub

Jaunting Jen in the Ladies Box at the Haunch of venison

The Oldest Pub in England? Probably not, but the Haunch of Venison is definitely the oldest in Salisbury, and the most unique pub that I have ever visited. From the ‘ladies box” up front with its own door; to the pewter bar and severed hand on display, this place certainly has character and history. When I visited, it was practically empty, and I had the bartender’s undivided attention. Fortunately he didn’t mind that I tried to pry all of the secrets of the pub out of him before they started to get busy. However, he wouldn’t let us go in any of the secret doors, see the hidden bar accessible only through and underground staircase, or look into the tunnel that leads to the church.  Those mysteries were going to stay firmly in the realm of imagination and folklore.

Haunch of Venison Ground Floor Pub

The Haunch of Venison is located in Salisbury, England, not too from Salisbury Cathedral. In fact there is trapdoor in the floor behind the bar that supposedly leads to an underground tunnel that goes all the way to the church. This pub wasn’t always a pub, and it has been through many incarnations over the past 800 years or so. Official records of the building to back to 1320, when it was used as a craftsman’s house. After that the house was supposedly turned into a brothel, hence that’s where the underground tunnel to the church comes into use. When the floor was changed in Salisbury Cathedral, the tiles were used in the floor of the pub and upstairs restaurant. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of the black and white checkered tiles lining the floor of the bar. They were dirty and worn with age, and rattled with every step. If only that floor could talk!

The pub also houses, or used to house, a mummified hand. The hand was found in the fireplace when the building was being remodeled and placed in a display case upstairs. Someone put a two century old deck of cards in the hand and it was on display for quite a while. The hand supposedly came from a cheating card player and his spirit still roams the pub. The bartender told us of more than one instance where he was closing up late and a weird noise spooked him, or stairs would mysteriously creak for no reason. He told me of his dislike for closing up the place late and being the only one there. Maybe he was making it up to entertain the tourists, but I saw sincerity in his face when he told the story. I know I wouldn’t want to be the only one in an eight-hundred year old building at 2am! the original mummified hand is no longer on display. It was stolen in 2010 and replaced with a replica.

Haunch of Venison Entrance

The “horsebox” in the front of the pub has walls to separate it from the rest of the bar, and it has its own door. This was a place where ladies could come to drink without being bothered. This tiny room is also called a “ladies box” and the “ladies snug” and dates to a time when pubs were for men only. Several sources state that Churchill and Eisenhower used to come to the Haunch of Venison and drink while planning the D-Day invasions, but I could find no proof of this meeting. Maybe it’s true, or maybe it’s just a part of local lore.

Haunch of Venison Detail

If you ever visit Stonehenge and want to spend the night in Salisbury, then the Haunch of Venison is a must-see. You can find some great photos and a more detailed history of the pub on the Campaign for Real Ale website. There is also an interesting article about the oldest pubs in England on CNN, but for some reason, they didn’t even mention the Haunch of Venison. It may not be the oldest, but it quite possibly holds title of “coolest.” This place has given me the idea of going on a pub tour the next time I travel, or even doing a pub tour here in the US. I could start with one of my favorites, The Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown Kentucky, which was visited by Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Allen Poe, and Jesse James just to name a few.

The Haunch of Venison History

The Haunch of Venison MenuThe Haunch if Venison is not just a tourist trap. Their food and drink is genuinely delicious. I ended up having several ciders, a mug of carrot soup, and a roll filled with brie and cranberry. Nothing could have been better after touring Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral on a windy freezing day. I could have stayed at the pub all night, but we had to get up early for a long drive to London the next morning. So even though I had to leave it was not goodbye, because one day I will return to the Haunch of Venison.

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Curse Scrolls, Mystery Cults, and the Secret Roman History of Mainz

I’ve neglected my blog for a little while to pursue my license to teach middle and high school history. When I first started Jaunting Jen, I thought I wanted to travel full time, but after two months in Europe and Malta, it’s clear to me that it’s better to maintain a base to travel from for a few months at a time. Even though I always talk about the benefits of traveling during the off season and traveling when it’s cold, I’m really looking forward to spending some summers traveling in Cambodia, Peru, and Croatia. So my plans have changed from full-time travel bum to part-time summer travel bum. In the meantime, there are about ten weeks left of the sixteen week program to obtain a teaching certification. During these next ten weeks my blog, although not forgotten, may not receive the usual attention.Mainz from the Citadel

For now I want to tell you about Mainz, Germany. Not just Mainz, but the secret Roman history of Mainz. Like most cities I’ve traveled to in Europe, Mainz has many well-hidden secrets.  Although Mainz has a lot to offer for a day-trip, I wouldn’t consider it a touristy area. Most people go to see the Cathedral or the first Gutenberg Bible at the Gutenberg Museum. I have seen those things in 2008, when I first visited Mainz for a few hours. This time I spent the entire day exploring the city and found a few things that I missed the last time. This trip I found lead curse scrolls in the underground Sanctuary of Isis and Mater Magna, a house with four roofs, a Roman theater bisected by the railway, and a monument to a long-dead Roman General.

Theodor Heuss Bridge Mainz

Mainz was a significant Roman fort-city, but little remains of its Roman past. It is there though, if you look for it. Back in the day Mainz was known as Roman Mogontiacum.  The city officially dates back to12 BCE (before the Common Era), but the Romans were in Mainz as early as 57 BCE. Eventually Mainz became the capital of the province Germania Superior. The name Mogontiacum means “the land of Mogon.”  This name has been identified with Apollo Grannus, a god of health. So today when you hear the name Mainz, think about the Greek/Roman deity Apollo and know that you are wandering in his city. According to the information found on, Mainz was already a significant settlement at the beginning of the Common Era. Archaeological evidence as well as written sources indicates that there was a fort, two villages, a smaller fort, a river port and a pontoon bridge, none of which remain today.Remains of the Roman Theater Mainz

The first stop in Roman Mainz is the Roman Theater, more than half of which is missing. It was destroyed when the railway was built in the early 1900’s. Unfortunately, that half of the theater was completely lost and no archaeological excavations were conducted. I’ve never seen anything like this before, a railway cutting a clean line through an archaeological site, one half completely destroyed, and one half preserved. It is clear that archaeology was not a priority in turn of the twentieth century Germany. This theater is, or was one of the largest Roman theaters north of the Alps. It once held over ten-thousand spectators! Imagine that, ten-thousand! It’s hard to imagine because so little is left, but it’s still possible to stand there and look through the fence and imagine what it was like to hear the roar of a crowd that large. The Roman Theater at Mainz is easy to see, and its free, just get off at the stop Mainz Römisches Theater, turn around it will be waiting for you. Right now it’s completely fenced in, but worth a look. I hope in the future it will become an archaeological park open to the public.Mainz Roman Theater

Before you go walk down into the city of Mainz, just walk up the hill from the Mainz Römisches Theater stop to the Citadel and you will see the Drususstein, an empty tomb dedicated to General Nero Claudius Drusus, the legal stepson of the Emperor Augustus, brother of the Emperor Tiberius, father of the Emperor Claudius, paternal grandfather of the Emperor Caligula, and maternal great-grandfather of the Emperor Nero. He married the famous Marc Antony’s daughter Antonia, who would one day be poisoned or forced to commit suicide by her grandson Caligula. To say the man was well connected to Imperial Rome would be an understatement. The monument, now only a third of its original size, was built around 9 BCE. and was once entirely encased in white marble. Drusus is said to have founded the city of Mogontiacum, and may have been destined to become emperor himself one day, but he died on a campaign in 9 BCE. In the HBO series “Rome,” during the scene where the young Augustus meets and decides to marry Livia Drusilla, she is already pregnant with Drusus at the time.  I haven’t been able to find out exactly how he died (some say he fell from his horse) but perhaps life mirrored fiction as in the movie “Gladiator”, perhaps Drusus was too great a man, and too great a general to be allowed to live. He commanded such a following that cult formed around him after his death, and the Drususstein was erected soon after.Drususstein Mainz

On a side note, on the way back down from the citadel into town,  be sure and look for the house with four roofs. It’s not Roman, and I don’t know how old this house is but you can see centuries of construction still visible in one roofline. I would certainly like to find more about this structure and if it is related to the time period of the oldest house in Mainz, which was built in 1450.Mainz House with four roofs

One of the coolest things I have seen in all of Germany, I stumbled upon by accident. Downtown Mainz has lots of shopping. One of those shopping areas is the Römerpassage. It looks like any other indoor mall found in Germany, but when you get to the end, there is a glass door that leads to a set of stairs that takes you underground. There is an entire world underground at the Römerpassage. The mall above was extremely busy, but the underground museum was completely empty. The name of this underground area is the Sanctuary of Isis and Mater Magna (great Mother).  Even though they don’t normally give tours, I was very fortunate to receive a special tour from the English speaking geologist who excavated the sanctuary.

Mainz Annubis on Pottery Shard

I could go on for pages about the significance and history of Mater Magna, but I will keep it brief. The sanctuary was built in the second half of the 1st century of the Common Era (known as AD or CE), and dedicated to the Egyptian Goddess of Isis and the Great Mother. The site was discovered in 1999 and excavated from 1999-2001. The exhibition opened just in 2003. When you descend down into the sanctuary you are greeted by a surreal landscape of ruins, walls, and artifacts, all purposefully dimly lit for ambience and effect. Isis is of course from Egypt, and Mater Magna was commonly worshipped in Phrygia in Asia Minor.  Very little of the original temple complex remains, but it is fortunate that anything was preserved at all. Little is known about these “mystery cults” throughout the Roman Empire, and even less is known about the location of these cults.  One question remains; since Mainz was such an important Roman city, where are the remains of the temples to the state Gods of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva? Have the sites been completely destroyed, or are they still waiting to be discovered?Mainz Mater Magna Inscription

The inscription above states:

For the welfare of the emperor and of the Roman senate and the people and the army Claudia Icmas, freedwoman of the emperor, and Vitulus, slave of the prince, under the priest Claudius Atticus, also a freedman, have had this inscription set down for Mater Magna.

Mainz Mater Magna Rare Lead Curse Scroll

Some of the coolest artifacts in the entire sanctuary are the lead curse scrolls. Roman curse scrolls are extremely rare. They don’t always have curses written upon them and are sometimes found wedged into the foundations of houses and other structures.The scroll pictured above states:

For Prima Aemilia, the lover of Narcissus, it should be so: everything that she will try, everything that she will do, everything should go down badly for her. her sense should be removed, she should pursue her affairs without sense. Everything that arises should turn out the opposite. For Prima, the lover of Narcissus, it should be so: as this letter shall never bloom, she should also never bloom.

Roman Lead Curse ScrollI think about the person that felt compelled to write this scroll. Was it a jealous man or woman? Who knows. However her letter did “bloom” (open) almost two-thousand years later. Whoever wrote it certainly couldn’t have imagined that we would be reading their secret curse almost two-thousand years later. More can be read about these scrolls on the Discovery News website.Sanctuary of Mater MagnaThere’s a lot more to Roman Mainz, the remains of an aquaduct on the grounds of the university, ruins of a city gate, and probably hundreds more undiscovered and unexcavated sites. If you only see one thing in Mainz, then see the Sanctuary of Isis and Mater Magna. These mystery cults were spread throughout the Roman Empire, but little remains of them today. The excavation and preservation of the complex under a shopping area in Mainz has preserved a part of the past for future generations that would have otherwise been lost to history forever.

Oldest House in Mainz 1450

More Information:

Trip Advisor Mainz Tourism

Roman Mainz

Mainz Attractions

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Charlemagne’s Bones and Aachen Cathedral

Aachen at Dusk

In light of the recently released news that “Charlemagne’s Bones are Probably Real” I thought this would be a good time to share my experience visiting Charlemagne’s Palace of Aachen, Germany. The first time I visited Aachen, it was the early spring of 2008, and there were few tourists in sight. When I returned, two days before Christmas in 2013, there was barely room to walk. I had two vastly different experiences at the Cathedral. However, the crowds were worth the trouble because I had only been to Aachen once before. Usually on the first visit to a place of such significance, it is hard to take it all in, and even harder to remember it all afterwards. During the second visit I was able to see a lot of things that didn’t catch my attention the first time.Charlemagne's Reliquary

In order to get the full experience of Charlemagne and his palace, it’s a good idea to visit the treasury next door, and go on the guided tour. In order to view Charlemagne’s throne and sarcophagus, it is necessary to go on the tour. When you go upstairs to view the throne you can also see beautiful marble panels and Corinthian columns, most likely taken from Ravenna and Rome. There is usually an an English tour in the afternoon, but even if you go on  the German tour, you will get to see things that are normally off-limits.

Charlemagne's Wrist Bone

What is it exactly that draws so many visitors to Aachen and Charlemagne’s Cathedral? The city alone is worthy of a trip in its own right with a beautiful mix of cultures, food, and people. Aachen is ideally situated right on the border of Germany, Luxemburg, and the Netherlands. It’s not the city that draws millions of tourists though, its the man, and by the man I mean Charlemagne. Also known as Charles the Great, Charlemagne truly was a great man is every aspect of the word. He was a great man in size (as recent studies of his bones have concluded), he was a great man in thought, and a great man in deed. His nickname, “Father of Europe” was not lightly given.

Aachen ceiling (2)

I can’t possibly convey the significance of Charlemagne in one post, or even touch on all of the history behind the man. However I can tell you that Aachen is one of my favorite places in all of Germany. I will tell you that next to Trier, Aachen is one of the most historically significant places in Germany, and the Aachen Cathedral is the oldest in northern Europe. Charlemagne’s Palantine Chapel, was once part of an entire palace complex. Today, only the chapel survives, and it is incorporated into the Aachen Cathedral. The Cathedral is unique in its own right. There is no uniformity in its later additions, and that is one of the most charming and interesting features of the cathedral. You can clearly see the evolution of more than a thousand years of architecture at one glance. Charles the Great began construction on his palace and what was then called the Palatine chapel in 796 CE, and modeled it after the basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. History records that Charlemagne visited Ravenna on several occasions, and formally requested building material from Ravenna from the Pope. Of notable interest in the cathedral are the two bronze doors at the entrance. The bronze doors were cast in 800 CE at the direction of Charlemagne himself, and still remain in place today. It’s said to be good luck to put your hand inside the mouth of the wolf that stands guard over the Cathedral at Aachen.

Aachen Bronze Door

By the time of Charlemagne’s birth in the late 740’s CE, the Roman Empire was a distant memory and the so called “Dark Ages” were in full swing. Imagine living there during that time and looking all around you at the remnants of a once great civilization. Roman monuments, Roman Aqueducts, and Roman roads still existed in the late eight century CE. Imagine living in such poverty and ignorance, seeing the greatness of a civilization long past all around you, but having now idea where it came from. Only legends and inscriptions, read by a few learned monks gave a hint at what had passed into legend long ago. The era before Charlemagne was characterized by constant warfare, illiteracy, and poverty. Charlemagne was by no means perfect, and calls for his canonization have gone unanswered, in no small part due to his personal life. Charlemagne is known to have had four legitimate wives, one common law wife, and at least five concubines, producing eighteen children that we know of. During Charlemagne’s era, especially for someone of his status, this was expected behavior. However, it did not sit will with the church in Rome, and thus he is not a saint.

Aachen Cathedral Marble from Ravenna

What Charlemagne did do after his coronation in the year 800 was embark upon a program of economic, military, religious, and educational reforms that changed Europe. Charlemagne’s era is often referred to as the “Carolingian Renaissance,” due to his extensive literary reforms, creation of schools, and insistence on bringing the brightest scholars from all over Europe to his court. His extensive reforms are why he is remembered as a great man today, a hero of Germany, and the man who brought Europe out of the Dark Ages.

Aachen Christmas Market

I have not kept track of how many UNESCO World Heritage Sites I have visited over the years, but Aachen makes one more. This is definitely a place I would visit again, and again, preferably when it’s not packed with the Christmas Market crowd, however sometimes you just have to deal with a crowd in order to see something of importance.

Charlemagne's Throne Front

There are two things at the Cathedral at Aachen that you cannot see on your own, you must sign up for the guided tour. Charlemagne’s marble throne, and Charlemagne’s sarcophagus. Charlemagne’s throne is definitely the highlight of the tour. Charlemagne’s throne was constructed in the 790’s CE from much older marble, and has been the site of the coronation of thirty-one kings of Europe. Charlemagne himself however, was not crowned at his throne. What will strike you most about this throne is its smallness, and its absolute simplicity. For a man who was reputed to be over six feet tall, this throne seems especially small. The marble from the throne was acquired in the East, maybe from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, or perhaps the palace of Pontius Pilate. Although the place of origin is disputed, what is not in dispute is the Roman antiquity of the marble. In addition to several spots of Roman graffiti on the throne, on the side of the throne you can still see the lines of a Roman game called Nine Men’s Morris. Although we don’t know exactly where this marble came from, we do know that bored Roman soldiers once scratched a game board into the marble. (a game which will be the subject of a future post).Charlemagne's Throne with Nine Man's Morris Game on the side

The second thing you will see up close on the tour is Charlemagne’s sarcophagus. Charlemagne was not actually buried in this sarcophagus. Charlemagne was supposedly buried in the beautiful and ornate Persephone Sarcophagus, constructed sometime in the third century CE. Even Charlemagne’s burial in this sarcophagus is disputed by historians, as they do not think such a great work of art would have been buried at the time.

Detail Persephone Sarcophagus

Charlemagne’s remains were exhumed in 1165 CE by Frederick Barbarossa. A later legend states that the Emperor Otto opened Charlemagne’s tomb and found, “the emperor, seated upon a throne, wearing a crown and holding a sceptre, his flesh almost entirely incorrupt.” Legends aside, when Charlemagne’s tomb was again opened in 1215 CE, Frederick II re-interred his remains in the gold and silver sarcophagus that still lies in the apse of the Aachen Cathedral today.

Charlemagne's Sarcophagus (2)

More Information:

Throne of Charlemagne

Charlemagne on the History Channel

“The Life of Charlemagne” by Einhard

Coming Soon on Jaunting Jen: The (secret) Roman history of Mainz

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Why Another Travel Blog?

Jauntinge Jen at Stonehenge

It’s almost February, and I’ve been away from home for almost two months. During that time I’ve been asking myself why did I start another travel bog when there are already a million great travel blogs out there. I wasn’t sure of a whole lot of things when I started writing eight months ago, but I am sure that I love history and travel, and I am sure that I want to continue to write and share my experiences.

A lot has happened since I started this blog last June; a serious illness, a seven week trip to Germany, England, and Malta, and the start of a new career in teaching. I’ve been an archaeologist and a soldier, and now its time share my love of history, travel, and the world with students….. and maybe create a few history buffs along the way.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted because I have been thinking about where I want to go with this blog, if I want to continue this blog, and if I want to try and turn it into something commercial. While I was traveling this time I realized that I do not want to be on the computer every single day posting and writing about my travels, I’d rather write after the fact. Writing after the fact allows me to present the background research behind a trip, often uncovering little-known historical details along the way. Writing after the fact allows me to thoughtfully share my insights and discoveries with my readers. I’ve come to the conclusion that I love history far more than I ever want to make any money off of my writing. Since I write about such a specialized set of interests, I know that I will reach a smaller audience, and that is ok with me. This will never be a travel blog about the cheapest hotel, best place to eat, or how to live off of travel blogging. However it will be a travel blog where you can learn about history, dream of a destination, and find out something about a place that you might not see anywhere else.

I won’t be going anywhere exciting for the next four months while I complete my certification to teach middle and high school social studies, but I have seven weeks worth of adventures to share. If any of my readers want even more history, I recently started contributing to the Ancient History Encyclopedia. It’s a nonprofit website, and a great history resource for all ages.

So even though I haven’t posted in three weeks, I am still committed to Jaunting Jen and I look forward to sharing my adventures in the future. The only question is, what should I write about next? Charlemagne’s Palace at Aachen? Megalithic Temples in Malta? England’s Cathedrals? I also have a surprise post coming soon about a game that was commonly played in the ancient world, evidence of which can be found all over the world today…… you just have to know where to look.

Bon Voyage,

Jaunting Jen

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Four Gold Hats: A Bronze Age Mystery

Berlin Gold Hat Detail Wikipedia Image

After viewing thousands of artifacts in multiple museums, sometimes it can be tempting to just keep walking. But then there are times when something just grabs you, stopping you in your tracks.That’s what happened to me when I was in the Speyer, Germany State Museum a few days after visiting Museum Island in Berlin. I saw something I had seen in Berlin: a gold hat. It’s not just any gold hat, but a near perfectly preserved hat with such intricate designs that they warranted advanced mathematical study. I was not looking for these gold hats, and I had never heard of them before. I didn’t find them as much as they found me.

Berlin Gold Hat Wikipedia Image

There are only four of these hats known to exist in the entire world, and now I have seen two of them. The first gold hat I saw was also the youngest (1,000-800 BCE). It is is called the Berlin Gold Hat, and it is housed at the Neues Museum in Berlin. The second gold hat I saw was the oldest (1,400-1,300 BCE). It is called the Golden Hat of Schifferstadt. It was found intact in a field just outside of Speyer, and it is housed in the  Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer. The similarities between the two hats I viewed were obvious.

Golden Hat of Schifferstadt (Speyer) Bronze Age Gold Hat Jaunting Jen

Two more hats are known to exist. The Avanton Gold Cone, missing its brim, was found near Poitiers, France in 1844, and the Golden Cone of Eseldorf-Buch, found crushed and badly damaged in a field in Southern Germany.

Avanton Gold Cone Wikipedia Image

The hat found near Speyer has the most interesting history. It was discovered during farm work in 1835 and was apparently buried on purpose. The hat was on a burnt slab of clay when found, and three bronze axes were leaning against the hat. If only the clay material had survived, perhaps we would know more today about the hat’s intended function. What was it used for? Why was something so valuable purposely buried?

Golden Cone of Eseldorf  Buch Wikipedia Image

Almost nothing is known about the hat in the museum in Berlin. No one knows where it was found, how it was found, or if there were any artifacts found with it. The hat was purchased from a private Swiss collection in 1996. It could have come from France, Southern Germany or Switzerland, but no one knows. It’s a shame too, because the Berlin Gold Hat is the most perfectly preserved, was almost certainly looted from an archaeological site. The information lost when this artifact was removed from its place of origin could have been the crucial piece of the puzzle in solving the mystery of the four gold hats.

Schifferstadt_Golden_Hat_schematic Wikipedia Image

They mystery does not end with the four gold hats In Germany and France. There is one more artifact that bears a striking resemblance to gold hats. The Mold Cape, found in Wales and the four gold hats look as if they belong together. The cape and hats were  all made from a single sheet of gold, and all share a similar pattern of decoration. The cape dates from about 1900-1600 BCE, and the hats date from 1400-800 BCE Despite the time difference between the hats and the cape, the similarities indicate a shared culture and knowledge.

Mold Cape from The British Museum Image from Wikipedia

A 2002 article from the London Telegraph describes the gold cones as “hats of ancient wizards.” At first this may sound ridiculous but when you examine the possible function of  the hats, the “wizard” label starts to make sense. At first the hats look like mere decoration, or maybe even ceremonial objects, and that is precisely what they were thought to be until recently. Now, researchers think that the gold hats, and especially the Berlin gold hat, served as lunar and solar calendars. It has been calculated that the Berlin Gold Hat displays a period of up to 57 months. So if this theory proves valid, then calling those wearing  or using the hats “wizards,” is appropriate. What else would one be called in the Bronze Age, but a wizard, who could demonstrate a knowledge of periods of time, seasons, and lunar, and solar cycles? Wikipedia Image Berlin Gold Hat Calendar

The question remains, where did the “wizards” of  the Bronze Age obtain this knowledge?

* All Images in this post, with the exception of the Golden Hat of Schifferstadt (Speyer) were uploaded from Wikipedia.

More Information:  Mysterious Gold Cones “Hats of Ancient Wizards”

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