Sunday, February 19, 2012

Roman Empire ran on camel power

By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY

Updated 21h 34m ago

So much for chariots — Western Europe's Roman Empire appears to have partly run on camels, report archaeologists.

Camel toe bones found at a Northern European Roman Empire archeological site

Elsevier, JAS

In a forthcoming report in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Belgian archeologists Fabienne Pigière and Denis Henrotay, report on the discovery of the bones of a Roman-era dromedary camel in Arlon, Belgium. And they inventory 22 sites in Northern Europe that have turned up camel bones from the Roman era.

""Antique literature and iconographical sources inform us about the uses of camels in the Roman Empire. The animals were bred as beasts of burden, both for military and trade purposes," begins the report.

Overall, the camels turn up near both military camps and civilian towns throughout Northern Europe, far from their native desert homes, the study notes:

"The camels brought to the northern provinces may have been originally pack animals linked with the traffic on the Roman road. All camel finds represent adult animals, which fit with a function as beast of burden. Moreover, Roman written sources indicate that a great robustness is much sought after in camels used as beasts of burden. Therefore, the particularly robust morphology of the dromedary from Arlon is consistent with a possible use of the camel as a pack animal. A possible other explanation for the presence of camels on military settlements is that the animal was a mascot for the Roman soldiers."

Rome had provinces in Arabia, Egypt and North Africa, where camels would have proven their worth as pack animals. No dummies, the Romans apparently imported the doughty beasts of burden northward. One can only wonder what the barbarians of the day would have made of the famously truculent creatures.

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