Pantheon of Rome. The Egyptian challenge

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The Pantheon, Rome. At its front sixteen Corinthian columns ‘made in Egypt’ and transported hundreds of miles to Rome, ancient Rome …


The original Pantheon of Rome was built 27-25 BC by the consul Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. According to Roman mythology it stands on the spot, where Romulus was carried away by an eagle after he died. The original building was however destroyed by fire in 80 AD. It was the emperor Hadrian, who reconstructed the Pantheon in 118-125 AD giving it a new design. Historians say, he was so obsessed with the new interior design that he punished by death the principle architect after a dispute over some technicalities.

After the reconstruction, only the original portico with sixteen Corinthian columns was preserved. As a tribute to  the consul Agrippa an inscription was added at the top saying: M.AGRIPPA.L.F.COS.TERTIUM.FECIT, otherwise: “M[arcus] Agrippa L[ucii] f[ilius] co[n]s[ul] tertium fecit”. It means: “Marcus Agrippa son of Lucius consul for the 3rd time built this”.

The massive Corinthian columns supporting the portico are each 12 m tall and 1.5 m in diameter. The column shafts are of granite monoliths that were excavated from two Egyptian quarries. The eight original light grey columns of the front row came from the imperial quarry at Mons Claudianus. The pink column shafts (called pink Aswan) of the middle and back rows came from the Assuan region. They were first dragged many kilometers from the quarries to the Nile river on wooden sledges. Afterwards they were floated by barge down the river when the water level was high enough during the spring floods. Finally they were brought by ship from Egypt to the Roman port of Ostia and further pulled up the Tiber river to Rome on barges. Quite a challenge having in mind that each of the columns weights around sixty tonnes.

As you may however notice on the photo, not all columns in the front row are light grey. In the Middle Ages the left side of the portico was damaged. Three columns had to be replaced. Another challenge. Finally, one replacement came from Villa of Domitian at Castel Gandolfo (its remains belong today to the Papal estate) in 1626 AD. The other two came from the Baths of Nero (Rome, no longer existent) in 1666 AD.


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Beurse. The very roots of exchange trading

For many English speakers the word ‘beurse’ would not arise any thought. But many Europeans will quite quickly associate it with exchange trading (commodity or stock trading).

The first official exchange (with written down rules and official building) for commodities and bills of exchange was established in Antwerp in the mid XVI century. Quite quickly other European trading centers followed. Half century later in 1602 the Dutch East India Company issued the first equities that quite quickly were introduced into the Antwerp trading. For further two centuries commodity exchanges shared also securities trading, till around 1800 first pure stock exchanges had been established.

However, the first official exchanges did not emerge from nowhere. In the early middle ages commodity trading at seasonal fairs was practiced in may European countries from South to North. But only at few places the trade was truly international. Later on the so called entrepot cities emerged where trade was thriving all year long. One of the main harbours that serviced that time the trading routes in Norhern Europe was Brueges. (Due some natural sea movement Bruges lost however its position to Antwerp in XVI century). So, merchants from all around Europe met in the city of Bruges to perform their trades.

Quite naturally the local inns (taverns) were their meeting point. Innkeepers provided food and shelter to foreign merchants, but also warehousing space, commercial credit (even standing surety for their debts) and references. They connected foreigners with buyers or sellers and helped to negotiate deals. One of them was an inn called ‘The Three Purses’.


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The restored Van der Beurse family house, that replaced the original Three Purses tavern building. The building was sold to the Venetians and became their nation house. Although by far it was not the first and only trading place in the medieval Europe, its name is widely used in Europe to describe commodities and securities exchanges.


In front of it, at a little square local and foreign brokers met to perform their trades. If it was raining they moved inside. Or, they did so if they wanted to make their trade private. Trading in the opening was that time a condition by the local authorities, who wanted to oversee trade to later collect taxes. Trade was by far not free in the middle ages. With time the trade took place within preset hours and no non-traders were allowed to the place while the trading was taking place. The price quotations were displayed on the inn front wall. Soon foreign traders’ representations called ‘nation houses’ emerged in the vicinity of the square. The word ‘purse’ became the synonym for trading. With time the family owning ‘The Three Purses’ tavern changed their name to Van der Beuerse. (‘Beurse’ in Dutch means ‘purse’ in English).

With time, the word purse (beurse) as synonym for commodities and securities trading spread into many European languages: Börse (German), bolsa (Spanish), borsa (Italy) and bourse (French). Even the English used the word burse for almost two centuries till it was replaced with ‘exchange‘.


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Glamis castle

Glamis castle

Glamis? A thought? The first association by anybody, who coped with obligatory stuff in international literature while at school, will be with Shakespeare and his prominent work ‘Macbeth’. Although the plot is rather fictional, there was indeed a king of Scots with the name of Duncan (or in Gaelic: Donnchad mac Crinain) and a king of Scots with the name Macbeth (in Gaelic: Mac Bethad mac Findlaích), who succeeded Duncan at the Scottish throne. King Duncan died however on a battlefield (in August 1040) and not like in the Shakespeare’s drama plot murdered in his sleep by his successor in the Glamis castle.

But in fact, there is a castle in Glamis that in past times before it was rebuild in XVII and XVIII centuries was a fortress worthy of kings. The castle was build in the late XIV century as the seat of the 1st Thane of Glamis, John Lyon, a nobleman of the French or Norman origin, who married a daughter of a Scottish king.

The castle replaced a hunting lodge. As king Duncan died in 1040, it was even not possible for him to ever visit the Glamis castle. But who cares. According to Shakespeare king Duncan was murdered by Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, while staying the night in the Glamis castle. Period.

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The very view onto the Glamis castle as it looks like today. It is not allowed to make photos of the interiors but some of its chambers are indeed very impressive and simultaneously home like.

In present times, the place is mostly known as the birth place of the Queen Mother (who died 2002), the mother to Queen Elisabeth II, the current British and Commonwealth monarch. The Queen Mother was born Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, the forth daughter and altogether the ninth child to the Scottish Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, whose family seat has traditionally been the Glamis castle. The Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne are in the straight line descendants of John Lyon, who was given Glamis by a Scottish king. Elizabeth married the famous Bertie, the Duke of York (the second son of the British King), but as her husband’s elder brother abdicated for an ‘unroyal’ love, she became the Queen Consort (the King’s wife). Remember the film ‘The King’s speech’ (2010) with Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter?

While writing this entry I was wondering why a daughter of a Scottish Earl, whose title was given through ages unbroken from father to son, had a maiden name consisting of the parts Bowes and Lyon. Unlike in case of titles given to male heads of the family (here among others Strathmore and Kinghorne) that could have just been granted by a king, a sudden change of last name of a noble house seemed to be rather unusual. And it was indeed. One of the Earls married a certain Mary Eleanor Bowes, a very affluent businessman’s daughter. In his will her father, who made his money on mining, stipulated a condition for the bequest. If she was to marry and inherit the money, her future husband was supposed to accept her last name as his own. To meet the condition, the Earl had to ask the English Parliament for permission, which he was finally given. The family last name changed from Lyon to Lyon Bowes. Thank to this Lady and her bequest, the castle and its surroundings could have been generously reshaped.

The royal mementos displayed in the Glamis castle.

On our journey to Scotland we stopped only for a short visit in the castle. As it is forbidden to make shots of the interiors (the only exception is the room with the royal mementos), we quite quickly went through all chambers that are open to tourist. On our way we were told stories of ghosts that haunt in the castle. One of them was a child of the family, who was born mutilated, finally bricked up in one of the castle chambers. The other one was a family member (nicknamed Earl Beardie), who was supposed to sell his soul to a devil so that he can play cards till doomsday, with the devil himself. Both stories are not confirmed. But there is also a story of one of the family members, a certain Lady Janet, who was burned at stake for witchcraft. Lady Janet, wife to one of the Lords of the Lyon family is however a real and confirmed historical figure, who was indeed burned at stake, but rather for political reasons and revenge on her family. The ultimate order was given by James V of Scotland, father to Mary, Queen of Scots, otherwise known as Mary Stewart.

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