A rare fragment of a poem by Ancient Roman scholar Virgil has been discovered scratched on a shard of a broken olive oil jar dating back nearly 2,000 years.
The lines from his work Georgics – which means ‘Agricultural’ in ancient Greek – were discovered in 2016 and it has taken seven years for them to be verified.
Experts said the piece of a Roman amphora had been found by a villager in Cordoba, Spain but was at first ignored as one of billions before academics studying it more closely realised the significance of the find.
Now it is understood to be an extremely rare fragment of poet Virgil’s work.
A statement from the University of Cordoba obtained by the Newsflash Agency on 20th June said: “For the first time, a poem by Virgil appeared in the remains of a Roman oil amphora.”
The researchers’ findings regarding the shard have now been published in the Journal of Roman Archaeology, a peer-reviewed academic journal published by Cambridge University Press.
The statement went on: “It has taken an international team of archaeologists seven years to verify the exceptional nature of the piece found in the countryside of Cordoba.
“Measuring just 6 centimetres wide and 8 centimetres long, the greatness and exceptional nature of this discovery have amazed the European archaeological community.”
They said the fragment was from a Roman Betic oil amphora dating back approximately 1,800 years.
But it was first dismissed as one of “billions” of pottery fragments found scattered around the vast Roman empire.
The statement explained: “There are billions of pottery pieces from Ancient Rome.
“In fact, at first, the research team was not particularly surprised when Francisco Adame, a resident of the village of Ochavillo handed them the fragment.”
The experts said: “Finding printed words on amphorae is not particularly uncommon.”
They went on: “Thus, a fragment of an amphora with printed text seemed, at first, just another piece without particularly remarkable interest.”
But they said that everything changed after the text was deciphered, revealing the following word fragments:
The researchers overlayed these fragments and matched them with the seventh and eighth verses of the first book of the Georgics, a poem written by Virgil in 29 BC dedicated to agricultural life.
In English, this translates as: “[He] changed the Aonian acorn for the fertile spike [and mixed] water [with the uncovered grape].”
The experts explained: “Virgil was the most popular poet of his time and for many centuries thereafter.
“The Aeneid was taught in schools, and his verses were frequently written as an educational exercise for many generations.
“That is why it is common to find them on construction materials and why many authors have attributed educational functions to these tablets – Roman schoolchildren wrote to Virgil on their slates – and funerary functions (Virgil’s verses served as epitaphs on many occasions).
“But why on an amphora? And why the Georgics instead of the Aeneid?
“That’s where the project researchers realised that this tiny ceramic fragment could be a truly unique piece with extraordinary value since verses of Virgil have never been documented on an amphora intended for the olive oil trade.”
The discovery and the experts’ findings, led by Dr Ivan Gonzalez Tobar, PhD, have now been published in the Journal of Roman Archaeology.
He believes that the verses were inscribed on the bottom of the jar and were probably never intended to be displayed at the time.
It is currently unclear why the verses were inscribed on the amphora, with the experts offering a number of possibilities.
It could be that the inscription was made by a specialised worker at the olive oil production facility with some degree of literacy, or by personnel from nearby villas associated with an aristocratic family that owned the business.
They also said that it was possible that it could have been done by a child.