The Guiness Book of records in the ancient world

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The Guiness Book of records in the ancient world

As our civilization slides into decadence we see ahead of us the sort of things that entertained the Romans. I give it about 20 years till our society starts compiling some of these 'greats'.

Not long after the birth of Christ, when the most debauched phase of Roman history began, the wife of Emperor Claudius -- Messalina, 34 years his junior -- made a name for herself by challenging the city's best known whore to a sex marathon. Who can keep going for longer, the licentious wife wanted to know. She won by holding out for "25 rounds."

Details on the wanton competition can be found in the "Book of Ancient Records," compiled by Allan and Cecilia Klynne and published in Germany by the C.H. Beck publishing house.

How fat was the fattest snail? What was the price of the most expensive slave? Swedish archaeologists Cecilia and Allan Klynne provide the answers, free of "academic commentary and lengthy footnotes."

The scientists combed through hundreds of old texts in their search for superlatives.

Here are some of the results:

The tallest man in the ancient world measured 288 centimeters (9 foot 5 inches), while the shortest (60 centimeters -- 2 feet) was barely as tall as a bedside table.

The naturalist Pliny reports the case of some conserved beans that were forgotten in the cellar and retained their taste for 220 years.

The most resilient runner covered 238 kilometers (176 miles) in a day.

A soldier from Alexander's army drank 13.5 liters (3.6 gallons) of wine during a drinking competition -- and then fell over dead.

Ancient Greece may also have ranked virtues and vices. The greatest sycophants are said to have sat at the table of Dionysius I of Syracuse. To make the half-blind tyrant look good, they constantly reached clumsily across the table. When he drooled, they licked the saliva from his clothes.

Emperor Augustus purchased a bird that crowed "Ave Caesar!" ("Hail Caesar!") for the record sum of 20,000 sestertia (some €120,000).

Pliny put together a list of the most painful diseases. Kidney stones are given first place by him, followed by stomach ulcers and migraines.

The Romans didn't even stop short of the obscene.

The cleanest sodomist was a shepherd from southern Italy said to have made his favorite goat gargle rose water because of its halitosis.

Architects also inclined towards excess in those days. They built an aqueduct 48 meters (158 feet) tall near Nimes in what is today southern France. The largest race track for horses had room for an audience of 250,000.

Nero's gold-plated villa on the Palatine Hill was considered the most expensive palace of all times. A hall of pillars 1,500 meters (4,921 feet) wide stretched in front of the main building. Pipes running across the ceilings of the dining rooms sprayed flower blossoms or perfume down onto the guests.

But Rome's gossip-hungry nobility had nothing but derision for the inhabitants of the empire's fringe regions. The Germans were considered the most primitive people in the world, while geographer Strabon (63 BC-23 AD) attributed the most eccentric personal hygiene habit -- storing urine in cisterns and bathing in it -- to the natives of Spain.

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By netchicken: posted on 9-3-2007

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