Among the graves of cats, dogs and monkeys. Letters written by ancient Roman generals found in a pet cemetery in Egypt

Anna BoklajukNews
Archaeologists have been studying the pet cemetery since its discovery in 2011. Source: Poland's University of Wrocław

An ancient pet cemetery in Egypt has become a find for rare Roman history. Along with carefully constructed graves for more than 200 beloved cats, dogs, and monkeys, archaeologists have found letters handwritten 1900 years ago by Roman centurions standing nearby.

The burial ground, which dates back to the first and second centuries, is located in Berenice, a port on the Red Sea in southern Egypt built by the Roman emperor Tiberius. Osypinska's team first discovered the cemetery in 2011, and since then they have been slowly excavating it, Smithsonian writes.

Among the graves of cats, dogs and monkeys. Letters written by ancient Roman generals found in a pet cemetery in Egypt

Among the burials of cats, dogs, and exotic monkeys, researchers have found ceramics, Roman coins, and recently several letters written on papyrus by military officers who commanded units of the Roman legions. Among the animal graves, researchers have found countless ostracons-pieces of pottery with engraved inscriptions-but the papyri are the first paper texts found at the site.

These sources of knowledge about Berenice's ancient inhabitants date back to the era of Emperor Nero, a brutal Roman ruler in the mid-first century. During his reign, Berenice was a center of intercontinental trade, with goods flowing through from India, Arabia, and East Africa. The port was home to regional merchants, Roman officials in charge of trade, and, as historians have long suspected but never proved, a unit of the Roman army.

"The recently discovered correspondence contains several names of alleged Roman centurions: Chaosus, Lucinius, and Petronius. In one letter, Petronius asks Lucinius, who is in Berenice, about the prices of some exclusive goods. Petronius writes that he is sending money through the "dromedaries," a unit of Roman soldiers traveling on camels, and tells Lucinius to provide the soldiers with veal and staves," Science in Poland writes.

The researchers believe that the ancient Romans probably stored the papyri in a nearby office, which was later destroyed by accidentally distributing its contents to a pet cemetery.

Among the graves of cats, dogs and monkeys. Letters written by ancient Roman generals found in a pet cemetery in Egypt

The letters are the latest evidence of advanced Roman trade to be found at the cemetery, according to the statement: the skeletons of several buried apes, recently identified as macaques originating in India, show that the Romans imported non-utilitarian animals across the oceans. These primates, along with long-haired cats and miniature dogs, were "elite pets," and many were buried with toys, pottery, or other companion animals.

"It is difficult to reconcile the image of commanders of an ancient foreign legion with such animals that were 'treated like family members,' but our findings clearly show that the military elite surrounded themselves with elite pets and led an exclusive lifestyle," commented researcher Marta Osypińska from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Wroclaw.

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