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1,500-year old plague victims discovered in Florence

A centuries-old burial pit packed with the bodies of probable plague victims has been discovered by chance near the Uffizi Galleries in Florence.

Workers who were digging the foundations for a new lift for an annex to the world-famous art galleries stumbled on the ancient cemetery, which contains at least 60 skeletons and dates to the fourth or fifth century AD.

The haphazard way in which the skeletons were found has led archaeologists to believe that they were probably buried in haste, possibly during a plague epidemic.

“They were all buried during the same period, so it was probably an epidemic that killed them,” said Andrea Pessina, the head of archaeology for the regional government of Tuscany.

Experts will conduct DNA and carbon-14 tests on the well-preserved skeletons to determine the cause and time of death, he said.

The skeletons showed no signs of physical injury or malnutrition.

“The remains bear no evidence of trauma,” said Mr Pessina, further supporting the theory that the people were killed by an epidemic.

The burial pit was found purely by chance. “We had to do some work to build the foundations of the new lifts for the museum and we came across this discovery,” said Alessandra Marino, an official in charge of the project.

Archaeologists believe there may well be more skeletons to discover, as they continue their excavations.

Epidemics such as the bubonic plague killed millions of people when they periodically swept across Europe, Asia and other parts of the world.

The best known epidemic, the Black Death of the 14th century, is estimated to have killed around 50 million people, or 60 per cent of Europe’s population.

Italy was badly hit by the disease, with one chronicler in Siena recalling bodies being buried in circumstances similar to those of the newly-discovered burial pit in Florence.

“In many places in Siena great pits were dug and piled deep with the multitude of dead. And there were also those who were so sparsely covered with earth that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the city,” wrote the chronicler, Agnolo di Tura, whose five children were killed by the epidemic.

From telegraph.

Filed under: Archaeology, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Machiavelli – busted!

From Medievalists:

The original copy of a proclamation – exactly 500-years old – calling for the arrest of Niccolò Machiavelli has been discovered by a British historian.

Professor Stephen Milne of the University of Manchester came across the 1513 proclamation which led to the downfall of Niccolò Machiavelli, the famous Renaissance political philosopher, buried in the state archives in Florence.

The ‘most wanted notice’ began a chain of events that led to the writing of The Prince later that same year and marked a change in the civil servant’s political fortunes, eventually resulting in his death 14 years later in abject poverty.

The Prince, infamous for advocating the sacrifice of virtue and morality to maintain power at all costs, has been updated to apply to areas as diverse as banking, finance, business and politics.

Its 500-year anniversary is being celebrated by the city of Florence – beginning with a reconstruction of the events surrounding his capture and imprisonment. A town crier mounted on a horse and armed with a silver trumpet to attract the attention of crowds will make the proclamation at sites across Florence.

By examining hundreds of proclamations between 1470 and 1530, Professor Milner has also mapped the sites within the city where the town crier would have actually read out the proclamation.

His further discoveries have shed light on the payments made to four horsemen who searched the streets for Machiavelli and the cash they received for his capture.

“When I saw it I knew exactly what it was and it was pretty exciting,” said Professor Milner. “When you realise this document marked the fall from grace of one the world’s most influential political writers, it’s quite a feeling.”

He added: “The Prince is a seminal work, with a lasting influence on political thought and culture. The term Machiavellian and the naming of the Devil as ‘Old Nick’ all derive from this single work.

“But the circumstances of its composition have often been overlooked. On the return of the Medici faction to power in 1512, Machiavelli was removed from his post in the city’s Chancery because of his close association with the previous leading citizen and head of the republican government, Piero Soderini.

“When his name was linked to conspiracy to overthrow the Medici, they wasted no time in seeking his capture using the proclamation I discovered. On the same day, he was imprisoned, tortured and later released and placed under house arrest outside the city.

“The Prince was written in the vain hope of gaining favour and employment with the Medici – but there’s no evidence to suggest they even read it.”

James Johnson, associate professor of history at Boston University, adds that it is something of a mystery why Machiavelli wrote The Prince: “Some say he wanted to empower tyrants; others say he listed their crimes the better to expose them. Readers across the ages have found support for all kinds of causes: monarchists, defenders of republics, cynics, idealists, religious zealots, religious skeptics. Whatever its intent, one thing is clear. The book follows its declared purpose fearlessly and without hesitation: to show rulers how to survive in the world as it is and not as it should be.”

Click here to read the full interview with James Johnson from Boston University

Filed under: Historia, , , , , , , , ,

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