Birthdays are something we take for granted – but these days each year accumulate to create chronological age. The ages recorded in inscriptions of women and men said to have been even 161 years of age, when they died, can be seen as something of anomaly. However, of a sample of c. 26,000 epitaphs mentioning age more than 2% commemorate ages over 100 years. Of course, this is a demographic impossibility.  However, it is a phenomenon worthy of analysis and the paper will explore the cultural meaning of statements of considerable longevity, the use of counting systems, and mistakes in counting ages.  In doing so, the paper will have a focus on key texts, such as Pliny, Natural History 7.151 ff. or Valerius Maximus 8.13, and broaden the scope of vision beyond epigraphy to include the very old amongst the elite of the first century CE, including some of their drinking habits (‘he spent a night and two whole days feasting and drinking’).  An explanation of the centenarian phenomenon will be suggested as a means to relate time in the present to events of the past, as well as looking forward into the future. 

About Classics and Ancient History Seminars

Event details

  • The seminars take place at 4pm, in the Michie Building (09), Room 536
  • Seminars are also on Zoom. Send an email to Duncan Keenan-Jones ( for the link.
  • Upcoming seminars can be found here.
  • Please be aware that we are still operating under Covid-19 regulations during public events. Masks are no longer required at UQ locations - however, UQ strongly encourages mask wearing when physical distancing is not possible. UQ strongly encourages all campus attendees to be up to date with vaccinations. And finally, those who are feeling unwell, have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the previous 7 days or have been in close contact with a confirmed case in the last 7 days, are asked not to attend this seminar.
  • For those attending in person, if you would like to join us for drinks and/or dinner afterwards at UQ’s St. Lucy's from 5:15 pm, please RSVP by email to Duncan Keenan-Jones ( by 9am on the day of the seminar.
  • Please also contact Duncan Keenan-Jones should you have questions about the event.

The Friends of Antiquity, an alumni organisation of the University, runs its own series of public lectures, which take place on Sunday afternoons. The Friends’ program for can be found at