Nov
20
2009
5

When was Jesus born?

Detail from a stained glass window in Fabrica Art Gallery, Brighton, East Sussex. Photo by Dominic. CC-BY.Although much of the world celebrates Christmas on Dec. 25 as the supposed birthday of Jesus of Nazareth, and our calendar is based on the assumption that year-counting began the year of his birth, the chances that he was born on Dec. 25, 1 BC (there was no year 0), are extremely remote. Christmas is [more…]

May
30
2009
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Why are there seven days in a week?

Nighttime sky.Nobody knows for certain, but chances are that our seven-day week is historically connected with the fact that the Babylonians and other early astronomers recognized seven celestial bodies that weren’t in fixed positions like the stars — the sun, the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. In fact, in English the names of three [more…]

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May
15
2009
2

Is it true there was once a female pope?

Basilica of St. John LateranIt’s an enticing tale: A precocious girl, Joan, growing up in the 9th century in Mainz, Germany, disguises herself as a boy so she can learn Greek and Latin at a monastery. She, still dressing as a male, eventually makes her way to Rome, where under the name of John she becomes the secretary to [more…]

Feb
02
2009
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What was the Port of Ancient Rome?

The beautifully preserved theatre at Ostia Antica - courtesy closelyobserved.com - CC-BYThe ancient Roman Port of Ostia was situated at the mouth of the Tiber River. According to legend, Ostia was founded by the fourth king of Rome, Ancus Marcius, who was thought to have ruled in the late seventh century BC. So far no archaeological remains have been found in Ostia dating from this period. [more…]

Jan
21
2009
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Where do the names of the months come from?

A modern interpretation of JanusAlthough there have been significant changes, the calendar as we know it dates to the Roman times. So it shouldn’t be surprising that many of the names of the months have names similar to what the Romans used. January is named after Janus. Appropriately for the first month of the year, Janus was Roman god [more…]

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Jan
14
2009
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Who were the Vestal Virgins?

Vestal Virgin sculpture (Rome) - courtesy ConspiracyofHappiness - CC-BYThe Vestal Virgins were the only female priests within the Roman religious system. The head of the college of Vesta was called the Virgo Vestalis Maxima, and she was under the direct authority of the Pontifex Maximus. Their main function was to keep the sacred fire of Vesta and never allow it to go out. [more…]

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