Even more spectacular Rome in 3D

History in 3D‘s odyssey to create the most detailed and accurate virtual recreation of ancient Rome as it was in the 4th century proceeds apace. It’s been years and more years will pass before the finished model, but their 2021 was incredibly productive. Right now, about 40% of the city has been completed, and that’s ongoing concurrent with other, smaller projects capturing not just ancient Rome but Greece as well.

The past couple of months have seen a wonderful profusion of new videos on History in 3D’s YouTube channel showcasing the results of last year’s hard work. While the ultimate goal is the model of 4th century Rome, they’re building virtual models of some of Augustan Rome as well, “excursions,” as they put it, back in time.

He’s a fly-through of the Augustan-era Roman Forum complete with painted polychrome statuary, glowing bronzes and the richly textured marble cladding of the city that Augustus famously said he had transformed from brick to marble:

This is fascinating glimpse into the House of Augustus and Livia on the Palatine, a compound Suetonius dismissed as “a modest dwelling remarkable neither for size or elegance, having but a short colonnade with columns of local stone and rooms without any marble decorations or handsome pavements.”

The Augustan Campus Martius is another gem. It opens with a view of it as it was in the 4th century when it had been extensively built up, then contrasts it with the wide open spaces of the 1st century area. You get to see the Mausoleum of Augustus and Ara Pacis when they were new:

Moving forward a couple of centuries, here’s an excursion through the Baths of Caracalla, which even in their ruined state are some of the most spectacular remains of ancient Rome still standing. It is 13 minutes long and I wish it were longer:

This 8-minute fly-through of the main model of the city is a preview of what a masterpiece the finished work will be. The lighting, atmospheric effect, the meticulous detail of every tegula and bronze statue on the roofs and pediments of the Caput Mundi:

Theriac not a cure for plague after all

Theriac was a complex medical preparation made from dozens of ingredients that was first devised as an antidote to all poisons and venoms: the fabled Mithridatium allegedly developed by Mithridates VI, King of Pontus, in the 3rd century B.C. The recipe was significantly expanded in the 2nd century by Nero’s physician Andromachus. To distinguish the updated formula from its ancient antecedent, the old one was renamed after its inventor and the new one became Theriac.

Once the recipes were split, Theriac’s prescribed uses multiplied and it became an all-purpose panacea. People used it to prevent and treat infectious disease, primarily Bubonic Plague, and it was a popular remedy well into the 19th century. It was made in large quantities during epidemics and was deemed so import that cities granted pharmacists official Theriac-making rights. Official production had to be transparent to the public to the point of printing and distribution of the recipe used in a production event.

Its wide range of ingredients include known narcotics like poppy and known poisons like sea squill, a leafy plant that makes an excellent rat poison that was first recorded as a medicinal plant in a 16th century B.C. Egyptian papyrus, one of the earliest surviving medical treatises. Since modern medicine and understanding of disease eclipsed the humors theory and sounded the death knell for Theriac’s regular use, Theriac has never before been pharmacologically analyzed to study its effects, if any.

Researchers in Poland determined to recreate and analyze Theriac to see if any of the properties of its individual ingredients appear in the finished product. The research teams used one of only two known surviving copies of a Theriac recipe elaborated by Paul Guldenius, an apothecary in Toruń, central Poland, who was granted permission to produce the official Theriac of the city. Guldenius published his 61-ingredient recipe on a one-sided printed flyer in 1630.

The main difficulty during our work was the correct translation of the names of the plants used by the apothecary, which had to be identified with particular care and matched with contemporary botanical nomenclature.

Theriac was prepared in a complex process involving many raw materials that were difficult to access. Their cost was very high, making the medicine one of the most expensive of its time. Although it was used in very small doses, the price of a single dose weighing about 4 grams was equal to the value of a chicken or a half goose. The preparation contained some ingredients that could have certain pharmacological effects, and some are considered poisonous today. Nevertheless, their amount in a single serving of the medicine was very small, e.g. in the case of the rather poisonous sea onion it was 50 times less than the dose considered safe today. As a result, our research indicates that Theriac used according to the recommendations of the time could not have been poisonous.

Did it therefore have therapeutic properties? A full answer to this question still requires precise analyses of the reconstructed preparation. Still, preliminary findings indicate that the possible effectiveness of Theriac was based mainly on the placebo effect. Although there is no lack of substances showing therapeutic effects in this medicine with the recommended dosage, their amounts are far from sufficient to have a real impact on human health.

The study has been published in the journal Journal of Ethnopharmacology and can be read in its entirety here.

Happy 177th anniversary to The Raven!

Edgar Allen Poe’s immortal poem The Raven was first published 177 years ago today. When last the Nevermore was uttered on these pages it was eight years ago and the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, had launched a Kickstarter to preserve the most magnificently evocative illustrations submitted by artist James Carling in 1882 for a special edition of Poe’s masterpiece that would instead be illustrated by Gustav Doré. 

Carling created 43 watercolor and ink illustrations, defying what had become a very conventional, posed approach to illustrating the scenes and motifs of The Raven. He “reproduced mentality and phantasm” instead of depicting a stanza like a stage set and believed that Poe would have recognized what he was trying to accomplish. “I feel that Poe would have said that I have been faithful to his idea of ‘The Raven,’ for I have followed his meaning so close as to be merged into his individuality.”

Illustration by James Carling for Poe's "The Raven"The illustrations were exhibited to the public only once many years after his death by his brother. They were very well-received but remained unpublished and little known. When his brother passed away, the set was sold by his heirs to the Poe Museum in 1937, where they went on display as the jewel of the collection for decades before their deteriorating condition required that they be removed from view in 1975. In 2013, the museum launched a fundraising campaign to conserve the fragile watercolors. They came just over $8,000 short of their goal of $60,000, sadly.

Part of the goal of the conservation project was to have them photographed in high resolution and published in a book dedicated to his drawings. I didn’t know until today that despite the Kickstarter closing just shy of the goal, they must have gotten their full funding somehow, because the book exists! Not only that, but it has existed since 2015. That’s the best news you can get on The Day of The Raven.