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Historical novels from the 2nd für das 21st century


Dienstag, 6. Mai 2014

Pilae Mattiacae

Many who first see Roman spheres of twelve faces feel reminded of magnified spores. No one can tell who made them or why or what the Romans called them: maybe Corpus Sacrum. Maybe something else. We refer to them as the Roman dodecahedra, but that is a modern term, and an uncouth one, too. We may only guess that the ancients will have thought of them as a kind of spheres or orbs or balls, for that was what any regular solid was in their eyes.
Almost all consist of brass, but one is made of silver. They all have twelve faces, they are, mathematically spoken, pentagon-dodecahedra. But one has twenty faces. A hole is drilled into each face, each of a different size. But always the two widest holes are opposite each other. The holes may be surrounded by grooves or be bare. A nodule on a stem is protruding from each corner. But sometimes there are three nodules. No two dodecahedra are twins, each is unique by size, by decoration or arrangement of the holes. Some are as large as a fingernail, others are twice as large.
A hundred are known, with more very likely to show up soon. Many have been found in France, in Belgium, in England, in Germany. Two in Hungary, one in Croatia. There is not a single one in Italy. Nor in Africa or Asia or Greece or Iberia. They seem highly concentrated in southern England - and at the middle course of the Rhine, where the authors of these books live. Mainz has two of them, Wiesbaden, one, the Saalburg, one. In Schwarzenacker at the river Moselle, two have been found on adjacent properties.
There are as many assumptions on their use as there are dodecahedra. None is conclusive. Were they candleholders? Measuring devices? Dice? Religious artifacts? None has come with instructions. But some were found in hoards of coins, so there owners had priced them. Alas, the classical authors have not mentioned or described them, either. Or have they?
There is a haunting quote by a man from the second century, Marcus Valerius Martialis. In one of his notorious satirical aphorisms, he referred to mysterious items he called the Pilae Mattiacae – the Mattiacian Spheres:

Si mutare paras longaevos cana capillos,
Accipe Mattiacas - quo tibi calva? - pilas.

If you want to change your highly aged hair,
use Pilae Mattiacae - why have a bald head?

No one has excavated a Pila Mattiaca or found its image. No one knows what it looked like, how it was made, where it was sold. The only clue we have is its name. The Mattiaci were the people who lived in the Roman age at the middle Rhine, right where so many spheres of twelve faces have been found. Did the Mattiaci invent the Pila? And the dodecahedra, too?
So what if – just if – the Pilae Mattiacae and the dodecahedra were one and the same thing? And once, they may have attracted the attention of a stargazer who understood how to use them. And he made them his tools of power.
The tale of the numinous spheres of twelve faces is told in the three volumes of the Corpus Sacrum series!

Dodecahedron exhibited in the Saalburg