Saturday, 13 June 2009

Memento mori

I try not to be materialistic but I love this thing. It's a silver denarius from the reign of the Emperor Hadrian. The design on the reverse (not shown - I couldn't get a decent photo) depicts the personification of Roma standing with a spear and a ceremonial dagger called a parazonium. This particular design dates the coin to between AD125 and 128. Every time I look at and hold this small coin it absolutely blows my mind. The gulf of time that exists between its creation and my possession of it. One day a living breathing Roman dropped it then something like 1800 years later another human being picked it out of the earth.

Whenever I think about Rome I think about the fall of Rome. And then I think about our own civilization. To me it seems inevitable that the West will fall, but only because that's what always happens. At the same time I see our society as so backed up and dug in I can't imagine (barring the total destruction of life on the planet) how it could all be washed away and left as mere fragments for future archaeologists to puzzle over.


  1. hey - I'm a historian by training, so I'm right with you on this one, brother. Just don't ever be fooled by an archaeologist telling you they know how it is.... all they know is that they will make sweeping statement on centuries of history based upon a single find. Us historians are far more discerning.
    Time will wash it all away. Just as the Romans are gone, so too will we be gone. It's the way the world works, innit?


  2. Time and tide wait for no man, but at least you can move your deckchair further up the shore' - Ringo Starr.

  3. ST - I must admit I found archaeology frustrating and dropped it at the end of my first year. I impressed myself a while back though by guessing that all those decapitated skeletons they found in York were victims of Caracalla's coup against his brother (probably). Still got it.

    Davy - I've gone right off Ringo Starr since that advert he did about not calling him Ringo, and that other business about how he's not going to sign anything anymore. I suppose it was nice of him to warn people, but it just came off a bit petulant.

  4. I thought about this a while ago (the fall of western civilization compared to the fall of Rome). You´re right I think, I can't imagine that it all could be washed away either. Perhaps the chinese could outmanower us, or perhaps the enviromental parties of the world will unite and make a wilderness of it all. :)

  5. Ande – environmental concerns probably will require our culture to change, I don’t think I’ll mind that though, I look at it as the planet telling us to calm down a bit.

    I loved your Uppsala bus journey post by the way.