Alexandrian Corn Ship
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Alexandrian Corn Ship
(Revelation 6.5-6)
Page 125

"When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, 'Come!' I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, 'Two pounds of wheat for a day's wages, and six pounds of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!'" (Revelation 6.5-6)✞

Day's Wages

Alexandrian Corn ShipAlthough John of Patmos was describing the black horse of famine which preceded the end, he was nevertheless also painting scenes of coming shortages of food in terms of actual historical situations which his readers would have easily recognized. Two pounds of wheat were about a kilogram and equaled a day's wages. The equivalent in courser barley was six pounds. The Greek word in the text for "a day's wages" was "a denarius." Wheat therefore was a very important commodity for the working people in Roman society. A scarcity meant famine and death to many and lives hung in the balance. The black horse and the scales were omens of disaster for the ordinary families. The first famine in Ancient Rome was recorded in 441 BC by Livy, in the "Founding of the City 4.12."✞

Nero Famines

Wheat FieldIn the time of the Emperor Nero, (37-68 AD) there were severe famines among the poor but the luxury of the rich and "the oil and the wine" were left untouched. The oil and wine were protected from inflation and readily available to the wealthy elite.

Sand from Alexandria

CrowdA good illustration of the people's desperation for food occurred when an Alexandrian corn ship arrived from Puteoli North of Naples. This was the great center for shipping for all kinds of goods from Egypt and other exotic places bound for Rome. The ships came to the port of Ostia, which is now inland and silted up but its merchants streets and decorated mosaic tile floors still remain outside the great city of Rome. Puteoli (now "Pozzuoli") was the main hub of the fleet, some 170 miles away in Alexandria. The starving populace in Rome thought the ship contained food, for corn ships normally came from ancient Alexandria.

Corn Shortage

Gladiatorial gamesWhen the people discovered that the ship's cargo was not corn but sand for spreading on the ground at the Games in the Colosseum they rioted. The special sand in the ship came from the Nile Delta and was to be spread in the arena for the gladiatorial games to amuse the people. This sand had the great benefit of soaking up blood spilt by the competitors in the games!✞

"Alexandrian Corn Ship"
by Ron Meacock © 2018

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