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No, don’t worry.  I’m fine.

It’s just that this morning I finally, finally was able to eat a blackberry off the bushes behind the back fence of the port-swiller residence.   And I was only finally able to do so because this was the first time all season I’ve actually seen one.  The bushes are almost completely devoid of them this year.

I can only think it’s because they were razed to the ground by the heavy snows we had last winter and will take some time to get themselves back to a more productive state.  Do blackberries flower on old growth or new growth? Who knows.

On the other hand, the winter seemingly had no effect whatever on the raspberries, which are churning out fruit faster than we can pick and eat it.  Unfortunately, I rayther prefer blackberries to raspberries.

This is really neat: The discovery of the “biggest” canal ever built by the Romans.

Scholars discovered the 100-yard-wide (90-metre-wide) canal at Portus, the ancient maritime port through which goods from all over the Empire were shipped to Rome for more than 400 years.

The archaeologists, from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton and the British School at Rome, believe the canal connected Portus, on the coast at the mouth of the Tiber, with the nearby river port of Ostia, two miles away.

 It would have enabled cargo to be transferred from big ocean-going ships to smaller river vessels and taken up the River Tiber to the docks and warehouses of the imperial capital.

Until now, it was thought that goods took a more circuitous overland route along a Roman road known as the Via Flavia.

“It’s absolutely massive,” said Simon Keay, the director of the three-year dig at Portus, the most comprehensive ever conducted at the site, which lies close to Rome’s Fiumicino airport, 20 miles west of the city.

“We know of other, contemporary canals which were 20-40 metres wide, and even that was big. But this was so big that there seems to have been an island in the middle of it, and there was a bridge that crossed it. It was unknown until now.”

The subterranean outline of the canal was found during a survey by Prof Martin Millett, of Cambridge University, using geophysical instruments which revealed magnetic anomalies underground.

The dig, which is being carried out in partnership with Italian archaeologists, is shedding light on the extraordinary trading network that the Romans developed throughout the Mediterranean basin, from Spain to Egypt and Asia Minor.

The archeologists have found evidence that trading links with North Africa in particular were far more extensive than previously believed. They have found hundreds of amphorae which were used to transport oil, wine and a pungent fermented fish sauce called garum, to which the Romans were particularly partial, from what is now modern Tunisia and Libya.

Huge quantities of wheat were also imported from what were then the Roman provinces of Africa and Egypt.

“What the recent work has shown is that there was a particular preference for large scale imports of wheat from North Africa from the late 2nd century AD right through to the 5th and maybe 6th centuries,” said Prof Keay.

The British team believe that Portus and Ostia would have been home to a large expatriate population of North African trading families and commercial agents, some of whom had their names inscribed on tomb stones.

Portus was the main port of ancient Rome for more than 500 years and provided a conduit for everything from glass, ceramics, marble and slaves to wild animals caught in Africa and shipped to Rome for spectacles in the Colosseum.

Work on the massive infrastructure project began under the emperor Claudius.

It was inaugurated by Nero and later greatly enlarged by Trajan.

I believe that Claudius also was responsible for a massive renovation of the harbor at Ostia.  If Robert Graves is to be believed, he used a plan originally developed under Julius Caesar but never implemented.  


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August 2010