Posts tagged "discovery times square"

Gladiators of Pompeii


Since my last post, several readers have written in to ask where the dice can be seen in Pompeii: The Exhibit. It seems that it may be so easy to get caught up in admiring the amazing gladiatorial armor on display that the dice—right next to the gladiator helmet (shown above)—go unnoticed.

Gladiatorial fights were a popular form of entertainment in Pompeii. The city featured a gladiator training center and barracks as well as an amphitheater where the fights were staged. 

Most gladiators were slaves or prisoners of war, and their trainers would treat them like fine racehorses with plenty of healthy food and exercise. Several bits of graffiti in Pompeii suggest that they were also popular with the ladies. For instance, on a column in the gladiator barracks, someone scratched “Celadus the Thracian gladiator is the delight of all the girls.”

The gladiator helmet on display in Pompeii: The Exhibit was discovered about 200 years ago in the storeroom in the barracks. It would have belonged to a murmillo or “fish man,” whose helmet resembled the fin of a fish. A murmillo was armed with a sword and shield and commonly battled a thraex or Thracian, who also fought with a sword, but used a smaller shield and wore more armor. There were also several other types of gladiators that battled in various combinations.

Gladiatorial fans in Pompeii could be a rowdy bunch: in AD 59, a riot broke out in the amphitheater between the residents of Pompeii and their rival neighbors, the Nucerians. The historian Tacitus sniffily described the event:

"During an exchange of taunts—characteristic of these disorderly country towns—abuse led to stone throwing, and then swords were drawn." 

The Pompeians ended up running the Nucerians out of town, but were then banned by the Roman senate from holding gladiatorial contents for the next ten years. A fresco from the House of Actius Anicetus, now on display at the Naples Archaeological Museum, depicts the riots.


Fresco depicting the gladiatorial riot in Pompeii

While visitors to Pompeii can still visit the amphitheater where the gladiators fought, the gladiatorial barracks unfortunately collapsed last November

You can help preserve what remains of Pompeii with your ticket purchase for Pompeii: The Exhibit. A portion of your admission price goes towards conservation of the ancient city. 

For more fascinating facts on gladiators, click here

Vesuvius- What Really Happened

Every Wednesday we feature an interactive chat or contest on the Discovery Times Square Facebook fan page. This week there was a fun discussion about the remarkable eyewitness account we have of the fateful day when Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. Pliny the Younger was a teenager at the time, and he describes how his uncle Pliny the Elder, a renowned naturalist and author, headed out to save some friends during the eruption:


"My uncle was stationed at Misenum, in active command of the fleet. On 24 August, in the early afternoon, my mother drew his attention to a cloud of unusual size and appearance. He had been out in the sun, had taken a cold bath, and lunched while lying down, and was then working at his books. He called for his shoes and climbed up to a place which would give him the best view of the phenomenon. It was not clear at that distance from which mountain the cloud was rising (it was afterwards known to be Vesuvius); its general appearance can best be expressed as being like an umbrella pine, for it rose to a great height on a sort of trunk and then split off into branches…

As he was leaving the house he was handed a message from Rectina, wife of Tascus whose house was at the foot of the mountain, so that escape was impossible except by boat. She was terrified by the danger threatening her and implored him to rescue her from her fate. He changed his plans, and what he had begun in a spirit of inquiry he completed as a hero. He gave orders for the warships to be launched and went on board himself with the intention of bringing help to many more people besides Rectina, for this lovely stretch of coast was thickly populated…

Meanwhile on Mount Vesuvius broad sheets of fire and leaping flames blazed at several points, their bright glare emphasized by the darkness of night. My uncle tried to allay the fears of his companions by repeatedly declaring that these were nothing but bonfires left by the peasants in their terror, or else empty houses on fire in the districts they had abandoned…

The eruption of Vesuvius took about 24 hours, and in the morning of the second day of the eruption Pliny the Younger describes how he and his mother fled for safety:

Ashes were already falling, not as yet very thickly. I looked round: a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood.’Let us leave the road while we can still see,’I said,’or we shall be knocked down and trampled underfoot in the dark by the crowd behind.’We had scarcely sat down to rest when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room.

You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.

There were people, too, who added to the real perils by inventing fictitious dangers: some reported that part of Misenum had collapsed or another part was on fire, and though their tales were false they found others to believe them. A gleam of light returned, but we took this to be a warning of the approaching flames rather than daylight. However, the flames remained some distance off; then darkness came on once more and ashes began to fall again, this time in heavy showers. We rose from time to time and shook them off, otherwise we should have been buried and crushed beneath their weight. I could boast that not a groan or cry of fear escaped me in these perils, but I admit that I derived some poor consolation in my mortal lot from the belief that the whole world was dying with me and I with it.”

Pliny the Younger’s account of the eruption of Vesuvius is a fascinating read- check out the complete version here.

And check out our Facebook fan page next Wednesday and win two free tickets to the show!

Vesuvius: Europe’s “Ticking Time Bomb”


Image courtesy of Nature

With the current eruption of Mt. Etna in Sicily, experts are turning their attention again to Vesuvius: when it will erupt again, and how deadly the event will be.  A recent article in Nature discusses the potential for another eruption of Vesuvius, which Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo of the Vesuvius Volcano Observatory in Naples says is “the most dangerous volcano in the world.” Read it here.

Tour The House Of The Golden Bracelet


When you enter Pompeii: The Exhibit, the first thing that strikes you is the beautiful fresco from the House of the Golden Bracelet, alive with colorful plants and birds. The next striking item? An incredible fountain from the same house, painstakingly decorated with sea shells, glass tiles and semi-precious stones. And in the body cast room, the cast of a toddler found in the House of the Golden Bracelet is startling in its detail: after almost 2000 years, the face appears peaceful, with even the eyebrows and long eyelashes still visible. 

So what exactly was the House of the Golden Bracelet? It got its name from an enormous (more than 1 pound!) solid gold bracelet found on the arm of a woman who perished there. It’s also known as the House of the Wedding of Alexander, from a fresco depicting the scene (which is also on display at Discovery Times Square). For a tour of the grand, three-level house, which still stands in Pompeii, click here

The Wealthy Pompeii “Suburbs”


Fresco detail from Stabiae

When we talk about Pompeii, we’re usually referring not only to the city itself, but also smaller, wealthier neighboring sites such as Herculaneum, Oplontis, Boscoreale, and Stabiae. Pliny the Elder, who died at Stabiae during the eruption of Vesuvius, describes it as a posh Roman resort with large villas overlooking the sea. Archaeologists have been excavating some of these exquisite villas, including the Villa San Marco, which was first discovered in the second half of the 18th century. This amazing house, which features frescoes very similar to those discovered in Pompeii, was almost 120,000 square feet in size and had its own private baths (including the requisite hot, warm, and cold pools). Another villa in Stabiae, the Villa of the Shepherd (Villa del Pastore), tops out at a colossal 200,000+ square feet, but archaeologists believe this may have been a health spa instead of a private residence. Find out more about the digs at Stabiae here

It’s Friday! Celebrate Pompeiian Style


Cupids pouring wine, from a fresco at the House of the Vettii at Pompeii. via

One of the great ironies of Vesuvius is that the rich soil generated by thousands of years of eruptions made the area surrounding the active volcano a great place to grow crops. The citizens of Pompeii certainly took advantage of that fact, and were especially known for the great wine they made from the grapes they grew on Vesuvius’ slopes. Archaeologists have found containers for Pompeiian wine as far away as France and Spain!

Pliny the Elder , who died in the AD79 eruption of Vesuvius, had a lot to say about wine. Like modern wine aficionados, he put a lot of stock into the role that terroir—the local geography and climate—plays in the characteristics of wine, and describes the 91 varieties of grapes that wine can be made from, as well as how it could be used to treat all sorts of medical and physical ailments, including sprains.

He’s also famous for coining the term “In vino veritas" ("In wine, there’s truth"), and notes with embarrassment some questionable habits the Romans had for drinking massive amounts of wine, including quaffing a bit of poison beforehand to encourage the consumption of of wine as an antidote, as well as sitting in a super-hot bath, then quickly drinking “large vessels of wine,” only to vomit them up and repeat the process in order to get drunk as quickly as possible.

Want to taste the stuff for yourself? Villa dei Misteri (or Villa of the Mysteries, named after one of the most famous houses in Pompeii) has been made since 2001. It’s pressed from varieties of grapes that scholars believe are similar to those grown some 2,000 years ago in the region, which are now grown in a vineyard near Pompeii’s Forum Boarium.  Just behave yourself, per Pliny’s instructions!

For more on Roman vintages, click here.

Did A Bronze Age Venice Give Way To Pompeii?


Remains of stilts from Poggiomarino, via

One question that frequently gets asked is: “Who were the original Pompeiians?”

While the origins of the city are murky, archaeologists do know that in the seventh century BC the site quickly went from what was probably a sleepy fishing village to a full-fledged town. What happened? Many scholars suspect that the original settlers of Pompeii were actually refugees from a flooded “Bronze Age Venice” known today as Poggiomarino.

Poggiomarino was discovered in 2000 during the construction of a sewage plant near Naples on the Sarno River. Archaeologists were surprised to learn that the Oscan settlement consisted of small artificial islands surrounded by man-made canals, and the site was quickly dubbed the “Prehistoric Venice.” Excavations revealed houses on stilts, dugout canoes, and evidence of metalworking.

This “Bronze Age Venice” was established in the second millennium BC and abandoned by the seventh century BC, most likely due to flooding in the area. Many scholars suspect that the inhabitants of doomed Poggiomarino moved down the Sarno River to the coast—and became the founders of Pompeii!

For more information on Poggiomarino click here.

Bigger Than Vesuvius: A super volcano that threatens all life in Europe?



It begins with a swarm of 1,000 small earthquakes that ripple under the pavements of Naples. Air-conditioning units fall from the sides of buildings and tiles slip from the walls. Inside the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology’s control centre, a bank of screens indicates that the quakes aren’t being generated by the giant Mount Vesuvius, which looms over the city.

These quakes are coming from something far bigger, from one of the largest and most dangerous volcanoes in the world: the Campi Flegrei caldera. Vesuvius, which destroyed the Roman city of Pompeii, incinerating and suffocating thousands, is nothing more than a pimple on the back of the sleeping dragon of Campi Flegrei, an active four-mile-wide sunken volcano. A call is quickly put through to Civil Defence and the Italian Ministry of the Interior: the city must be evacuated immediately.

Read more here

The Ten Commandments Come To Times Square!


Ever thought you’d have the chance to see the world’s oldest and best preserved parchment of the Ten Commandments, on display right in the center of the Crossroads of the World? Here at Discovery Times Square, we’re incredibly excited to be able to bring the millennia-old Ten Commandments Scroll to New York City for the first time ever, and starting tomorrow you can see it our exhibit, Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times.  

The Ten Commandments Scroll features the passage in Deuteronomy 5, and was written in Hebrew on a piece of parchment that measures only 18 inches by 3 inches. Scholars estimate that the scroll was written sometime between 50 CE and 1 CE, which makes it the oldest known parchment (animal skin) document featuring the Ten Commandments. There is only one document featuring the Ten Commandments that’s older: the Nash Papyrus, which was written on a plant-based paper in Egypt some 50 to 100 years before the scroll was composed. The next-oldest text of the Ten Commandments is from about 1000 CE- more than a thousand years later.

And the oldest copy of the Ten Commandments? That would be on the stone tablets that, according to the Bible, are stored in the Ark of the Covenant!

Because the scroll is so ancient and delicate (and important!), we can only display it for two weeks (until January 2), when it will be returned to its light-free, climate controlled storage site in Israel. You can buy your tickets here, and if you’re unable to make it to the exhibit before then Ten Commandments Scroll returns in January, you’ll still be able to marvel at the additional 10 Dead Sea Scrolls we’ll have on display at Discovery Times Square until April 15!

Scroll Expert Shares His Personal Experiences

This week, we thought we’d share with you some questions we asked Dr. Lawrence Schiffman, a curatorial advisor to the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit at Discovery Times Square. Dr. Schiffman, a noted Dead Sea Scroll scholar, was a longtime professor of Hebraic and Judaic studies at New York University and is now vice provost of Yeshiva University. Here, Dr. Schiffman talks about how he first got interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the most surprising thing he’s learned about them. And stay tuned for next week, when Dr. Schiffman shares his favorite scroll with us, as well as the scroll creator he’d most like to travel back in time and talk to!

When did you first become interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls?

I began working on the Dead Sea Scrolls when I wrote my senior honors paper at Brandeis University in 1970. Then, when I was looking for a topic for my doctoral dissertation that would combine my fields of interest in Bible and rabbinic literature, I realized that the Dead Sea Scrolls were a perfect area of research for me. Of course, at that time only about one-quarter of the material was available, but there was still a lot of work to do.

Over your decades of study, what’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the Dead Sea Scrolls?

For me the most surprising thing was to realize that there was an entire library of texts that somehow didn’t enter the mainstream of Jewish literature and thought throughout the ages but that had been part of Jewish culture in Second Temple times, and which did in fact have important influences on Judaism and Christianity. It was amazing to learn how much could be learned from these texts about the history of Judaism and background of Christianity.  

What do you think is the most important question that today’s Dead Sea Scrolls scholars need to answer?

I think we face the challenge of synthesizing what we are learning from the Dead Sea Scrolls with the related fields of study of Hebrew Bible, New Testament and the history of Judaism. The problem that we really face is that we have a small cadre of scrolls experts who have finally brought the material to the light of day and have achieved an amazing amount in creating the necessary research tools for wide dissemination of this new knowledge. We just have to make sure that this knowledge gets to the audience that needs it and can contribute most to its wider understanding. That’s why it’s so gratifying to see so many people coming to the exhibit and learning about the Dead Sea Scrolls.