Tag Archives: Italy

Just Vending (03/30)

A friend of mine who works for an encyclopedia publisher shared this fact with me:

A device that dispensed holy water in a Greek temple in Alexandria, Egypt, in 215 B.C. is the earliest known vending machine.

To see how far vending machines have come, read about the one they call ‘Let’s Pizza’

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I Want to Bite Your Neck (03/13)

If someone mentions vampires I tend to think of Count Scary or Count Dracula, not of bloated corpses wrapped in shrouds. However, if I was living in Italy in the 16th century that would not be the case.
During epidemics, mass graves were often reopened to bury fresh corpses and diggers would chance upon older bodies that were bloated, with blood seeping out of their mouth and with an inexplicable hole in the shroud used to cover their face.

“These characteristics are all tied to the decomposition of bodies,” Borrini said. “But they saw a fat, dead person, full of blood and with a hole in the shroud, so they would say: ‘This guy is alive, he’s drinking blood and eating his shroud.'”

At the time however, what passed for scientific texts taught that “shroud-eaters” were vampires who fed on the cloth and cast a spell that would spread the plague in order to increase their ranks.

To kill the undead creatures, the stake-in-the-heart method popularized by later literature was not enough: A stone or brick had to be forced into the vampire’s mouth so that it would starve to death, Borrini said.

(from Yahoo News)

That is what is believed to have happened to the 60 year old woman’s remains found on Lazzaretto island, that you see below.
16th-century reamains of woman believed to be a vampire

16th-century remains of woman believed to be a vampire

If you happen to wrap yourself in a shroud and stick a brick in your mouth this Halloween , be sure to let me know the kind of reaction you get…

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There Will Be Awnings (01/31)

When I was in Rome and visited the Colosseum, I did learn a few things:

1. If you take a picture of a Roman soldier, they expect you to give them some money.

2. If you see a set of toys horses randomly set up on the grounds, don’t get too close (even if you just want to take a picture) because you will be bombarded by the entrepreneur who is selling these fine horse replicas.

3. Gelato is delicious.

But I didn’t know the following:

During the early days of the Colosseum, ancient writers recorded that the building was used for naumachiae (more properly known as navalia proelia) or simulated sea battles. Accounts of the inaugural games held by Titus in AD 80 describe it being filled with water for a display of specially trained swimming horses and bulls. There is also an account of a re-enactment of a famous sea battle between the Corcyrean (Corfiot) Greeks and the Corinthians. This has been the subject of some debate among historians; although providing the water would not have been a problem, it is unclear how the arena could have been waterproofed, nor would there have been enough space in the arena for the warships to move around. It has been suggested that the reports either have the location wrong, or that the Colosseum originally featured a wide floodable channel down its central axis (which would later have been replaced by the hypogeum)

Claridge, Amanda (1998). Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (First ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1998. pp. 276–282


The Colosseum actually had awnings.

Under the summer sun, the windless interior of the Colosseum could reach appalling temperatures. Awnings overhead were essential to provide shade, and here as elsewhere the notice ‘vela erunt’ (‘there will be awnings’) would encourage spectators.

To provide shade over such a vast area was, however, a major challenge. All we can see now are the projecting stone brackets for awnings in the top story, three in each of the eighty bays. These supported 240 wooden masts, from which were suspended the system of ropes and stays from which the canvas awnings were hung. A company of sailors executed this complex operation.

(quoted from BBC’s website)

Illustration of wooden masts and awning.

Illustration of wooden masts and awning.

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