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Augustus' dinosaur bones



On June 22, 1996, Cheyenne Arrowsmith (macvinni@wchat.on.ca) claimed
that the first record of a dinosaur bone was between 123-72 B.C.E. by
Caius Suetonius Tranquillus, who mentions a collection of large
bones in a villa of the Emperor Augustus.

The Roman biographer Suetonius was born about A.D. 70 and died at
some unknown date after A.D. 122.  He is best known for his work
known as _The Lives of the Twelve Caesars_.  The evidence for these
bones is found in the second of these lives, that of Augustus
(Divus Augustus) at 72.3, which says (John C. Rolfe's translation):

"He disliked large and sumptuous country palaces...His own villas,
which were modest enough, he decorated not so much with handsome
statues and pictures as with terraces, groves, and objects noteworthy
for their antiquity and rarity; for example, at Capreae the monstrous
bones of huge sea monsters and wild beasts called 'the bones of
the giants,' and the weapons of the heroes."

Robert Graves' translation in the Penguin series reads:  "at Capri
he had collected the huge skeletons of extinct sea and land
monsters popularly known as 'Giants' Bones'; and the weapons
of ancient heroes."

The key words in Latin are "immanium beluarum ferarumque membra
praegrandia."  The last two words mean "the exceptionally large
limbs."  "Immanis" can mean "of enormous size" or "frightful in
appearance" (often with the notion of exceptional size); "belua"
can mean "a beast, wild animal (including sea-creatures)" or
(with emphasis on abnormal size, ferocity, or strangeness) "a
monster, beast"; "fera" can mean a wild animal (vs. a domesticated
animal) or any animal (vs. a human being), and is sometimes
applied to marine animals.  (According to the Oxford Latin Dict.)
Putting this together, Suetonius is certainly emphasizing the
immense size of the bones, which may or may not have included bones
of marine animals, but there is nothing in his description to show
that any of these bones need have been dinosaur bones.  They
may have included dinosaur bones, but they could also be from
extinct mammals...Suetonius' description is not precise enough
to tell.

                George Pesely   <peselyg@apsu01.apsu.edu>
                Department of History
                Austin Peay State University
                Clarksville, Tennessee 37044