Incredible discovery as treasure trove of ‘priceless’ Roman letters found in ancient Egypt | World | News

Excavations in an ancient pet cemetery in Egypt have now uncovered handwritten letters by Roman centurions over 1,900 years ago.

The letters were found amongst the carefully constructed graves of over 200 cats, dogs and monkeys in Berenike – a Red Sea port built by Roman Emperor Tiberius – dating back to the first and second centuries.

The area is roughly 550 miles southeast of Cairo.

Few Roman sites exist in the region, despite the fact that Rome controlled Egypt from the year 30 to the mid-600s.

The team, led by Marta Osypińska, an archaeologist at Poland’s University of Wrocław’s Institute of Archaeology, first discovered the cemetery in 2011 and has been slowly excavating it ever since.

Researchers had previously found ceramics and Roman coins, before coming across several letters written on papyrus by military officers who commanded units of Roman legions.

According to the statement by the University of Wrocław, these “priceless sources of knowledge about the ancient inhabitants of Berenike” are from the era of Emperor Nero, one of the most infamous rulers from the mid-first century, notorious for his cruelty and debauchery.

During his reign, Berenike was a hub of cross-continental trade including Arabia, India and East Africa, as well as being home to regional merchants, Roman superiors in charge of trading and – as historians have long suspected but never before proven – a unit of the Roman military.

The letters contain the names of several presumed Roman centurions – the leader of 100 soldiers – including Haosus, Lucinius and Petronius. In one letter, Petronius asks Lucinius, stationed in Berenike, about the prices of some exclusive goods, Osypińska tells Science in Poland.

Petronius writes that he’s sending money via “dromedaries,” a unit of Roman soldiers travelling on camels, and tells Lucinius to provide the soldiers with veal and tentpoles.

Researchers believe that the papyri were likely kept in a nearby office, which was later destroyed, so the letters were accidentally spread across the pet cemetery, according to the Miami Herald.

Excavators found the papyrus in rolled fragments, which they showed to Rodney Asta, an expert of ancient inscriptions, who pieced together a page just over 45 centimetres long and 30 centimetres wide, Osypińska explains.

They have been described as the latest evidence of advanced Roman trade. The team’s findings “unequivocally show that the military elite surrounded themselves with elite pets and led an exclusive lifestyle,” said Osypińska, who noted that the monkeys – recently identified as macaques native to India show that Romans imported non-utilitarian animals across oceans to keep as “elite pets”.

Many were buried with toys, ceramics or other animal companions including kittens and piglets. No other types of animals have been found to have been buried as lavishly.

“For Egyptologists and other scientists dealing with antiquity, this is an extremely rare and high-calibre discovery. In this part of the world, there are very few sites from the Roman period. The Egyptians do not promote this time in history, among other things, because it is the moment when they were conquered. However, the rank of these discoveries is truly phenomenal,” said Osypińska.

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