UFO Conjectures

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Snake in Rome -- nothing about UFOs however...

Some time ago I found this passage in a book about the Shroud of Turin by Ian Wilson.

The passage fascinated me, but I couldn't find anything more about the snake incident, searching everywhere for something more definitive.

I even had several journalists look for something thta might elucidate the episode.

Recently I submitted a query and the book excerpt to Chris Aubeck's Magonia Exchange, and got (only) this reply:

The reference from Magonia might be the incident, but the time-frame is wrong, unless Wilson's date of 846 A.D. (or CE if you prefer) is wrong.

So, I'm asking if any one of our intrepid readers knows more about the alleged panic in Rome by a snake -- any date, any place in the city?

N.B. Chris Aubeck has provided what appears to be the answer to my query above. I thank him profusely for that and offer the link HERE that clarifies.

However, a member of Chris Aubeck's Magonia Exchange provides this:

I don't think the passage above (Regulus and the snake) has any relation to the episode mentioned by the original poster, the date is way too early (3rd century BC) and I doubt such a confusion is possible.

However a quick check in all the relevant medieval chronicles I could think of, didn't bring anything either. Even though the date of 846 AD is quite eventful for Rome which suffered that year an attack by the Saracens, no chronicle mentions an incident with a snake. Should it have happened that same year, I doubt the chroniclers would have missed mentioning it, if only to put in perspective with the invasion.
Thus, unless the incident is mentioned in a single obscure source, I would tend to believe that the date mentioned by Wilson is wrong.

It might be worth mentioning though that Gregory of Tours mentions in his Historia Francorum (book X) a somewhat similar incident which happened in 589 A.D. (Source: Guadet, J. (ed.) Histoire ecclesiastique des Francs..., vol. 4, Paris, 1838, p.4):

Anno igitur quinto decimo Childeberthi regis diaconus noster ab urbe Roma sanctorum cum pigneribus veniens, sic retulit, quod anno superiore, mense nono, tanta inundatio Tiberis fluvius Romam urbem obtexerit, ut aedes antiquae deruerent, horrea etiam eclesiae subversa sint, in quibus nonnulla milia modiorum tritici periere. Multitudo etiam serpentium cum magno dracone in modo trabis validae per huius fluvii alveum in mare discendit; sed suffocatae bestiae inter salsos maris turbidi fluctus et litori eiectae sunt. Subsecuta est de vestigio cladis, quam inguinariam vocant.

In the fifteenth year of [the reign] of king Childebert [note: 590 A.D.], our deacon returning from the city Rome with relics of the saints reported that in the ninth month of the previous year the river Tiber so flooded the city of Rome that ancient buildings were destroyed and the storeĀ­houses of the church were overturned ; several thousand measures of wheat in them were lost. A multitude of snakes, and among them a great serpent [draco] like a big log, passed down into the sea carried away by the waters of the river, but these creatures, smothered among the stormy and salty waves of the sea, were rejected on the shore. Immediately after came the plague named inguinaria.

I don't know whether the two incidents are related but Gregory of Tours' story is the closest I could get to Wilson's mention. I'll keep looking though.





  • 846 was the year Muslims sacked Rome. Containers of poisonous snakes had been used, as catapult loads, at least since the time of Hannibal. Maybe something similar was used during the 846 sack. Wilson must have mentioned the sack, if he discussed Rome in 846.


    "Snake" might have been a Christian epithet for Muslims, sort of like "The Great Satan", thus the snakes would be those animated by Satan, the invading Muslims.



    By Blogger Sourcerer, at Saturday, August 13, 2011  

  • This is NOT from an RRRGroup member but came to us via e-mail from Magonia Exchange:

    Eliminating all racist concept on my part I quote from:

    Strangers to themselves:the Byzantine outsider : papers from the thirty-second Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, University f Sussex, Brighton, March 1998, p.241 "As the Byzantine and Slavic medieval works dedicated to the interpretation of dreams and visions show, the Viper (or Snake) signifies a Muslim and above all a Saracen."

    On 846 Saracens not only invaded Rome, but proceeded to destroy Christian churches and the tombs of the apostles. It is not strange to associate the concept of saracens to devil = snake.

    In an episode of the third crusade King Richard (1191) in Acre discovered a saracen ship which was carrying 700 fighting men, "there was a stock of Greek Fire grenades too, as well as 200 deadly snakes intended to wreak havoc amongst the christians"
    see Heath, Ian : A wargamers' guide to the Crusades, P. Stephens, 1980, p.106


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Saturday, August 13, 2011  

  • Sourcerer (Don) and Fabio raise the specter of "xenophobic racism" but, as usual, I choose to see the Wilson insert as it is: a snake, a real snake, caused the panic he cites -- not a Muslim or Saracen (read Arab) pirate.

    I can't imagine the person who originally chronicled the event was trying to be politically correct, as it were.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Saturday, August 13, 2011  

  • "xenophobic racism" is probably an anachronism applied to 846, and I'm not even sure Saracen = Arab is certain then, but to the point: I take it Ian Wilson didn't research the snake story, and I'm guessing he managed to use 846, Rome, and panic in the same sentence without reference to the sack. If so, you have something analogous to a bad UFO sighting report. Yes, he saw lights in the sky. No, he didn't notice the party next door with Chinese lanterns.

    Another Wilson -- Gahan Wilson, had a Far Side captioned History and the Snake. It shows a snake catapulted into a fortress by an army, and the inhabitants of the fort fleeing in panic.

    If anything turns up, snakewise, let us know.



    By Blogger Sourcerer, at Sunday, August 14, 2011  

  • Don:

    I think that Ian Wilson may have botched the date.

    And the account, which is an aside of sorts, needed a citation.

    I'm sure we'll get more input from Chris Aubeck's retinue. At least I hope so.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, August 14, 2011  

  • If not the sack, then there's not a better starting place than hagiography for this not well-documented era.

    "In the 1608 publication The Historie of Serpents, Edward Topsell [a quick search indicates it is online] relays an account of one found alive in a church vault in Rome the mid 9th century. According to the account, the creature had poisoned the air with its breath causing many deaths in the city, but was finally killed by the prayers of Pope Leo IV.

    Leo became Pope the year after the sack, and is reknowned for rebuilding the city.

    Also, note, some number of churches in Rome in this era retained aspects of pre-christian practices, so there might be a pagan remnant worked into some stories.



    By Blogger Sourcerer, at Sunday, August 14, 2011  

  • Thanks, Don...

    You are uncovering a whole new phenomenon, which could start a trend called "snakology."


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, August 14, 2011  

  • It was certainly a different context in those times.
    A major distinction is that the Romans worshiped their Gods out of fear, not benign trust.
    Augers or omens associated with the snake are often associated with Mercury, or Hermes, the messenger of the Gods as well as these omens or augers were closely tied to the behaviors of nature.

    Their religion of Gods was a more municipal affair closely tied to commerce and trade. It was very integrated into daily life whereas ours such that it is, is more off to the side.

    So to have an omen appear in such a closely held tie with fear inducing gods in a major omen would have an enormous effect, causing rumors conjectures, destabilization, perhaps the panic behaviors...It's an interesting episode.

    By Blogger Bruce Duensing, at Sunday, August 14, 2011  

  • Of the two scenarios, I think the Pope St Leo IV story is more likely the referent. Opening an old vault resulting in foul air being released and the appearance of a serpent might panic a team of Christian workmen in the 840s AD. It is likely, too, the story would spread...the many rumours regarding the serpent...

    "Snakeology", or really legends and myths about snakes -- or 'serpents', which includes basilisks, hydras etc -- has a proud history including Christian heretical sects in the era.

    Don't forget the Ubaid era serpent madonna and child found at Eridu.



    By Blogger Sourcerer, at Tuesday, August 16, 2011  

  • Don:

    You are a fount of intriguing arcanity.



    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Tuesday, August 16, 2011  

Post a Comment

<< Home