Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Freemasonry: How Far Does It Go Back?

Pompeii mosaic altar top (circa A.D. 79)
I read a piece over the weekend on Bro. Steve Harris' blog The One Minute Mason I thought was interesting.  It was a little historical footnote that I didn't know, and as Steve's blog entries so often do, it lead me to look into it a bit further.

According to what I've read, archaeologist found an ancient lodge room when they were excavating Pompeii in 1896.  You have to remember that Pompeii was destroy when Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, so we're talking about a long time ago.

What archaeologist found was a large mosaic altar top in the center of a rectangular room, much the same way that Masonic altars have always been set up.  The mosaic was of a remarkable quality, and depicted a large square over a deaths head.  There was a plumb line from the angle of the square to the middle point of the crown of the head.  Robes were suspended from each of the arms of the square--one red, and one purple.  Those are distinctive colors associated with the Royal Arch Degrees. 

Masonic working tools found in Pompeii in 1896
Along with some other well-known Masonic symbology on the mosaic, some working tools were also found in the room.  These included a setting maul, trowel, a spade, a small chest (thought to represent the Ark of the Covenant), and a pot of manna.  As if all these objects weren't confirmation enough, the inscription over the door of the house read "DIOGENE SEN."  That translates to "Diogenes the Mason."

So how long has Freemasonry been around?  We may never know, but there is certainly evidence that it was alive and well in 79 A.D.


I know I've mentioned Bro. Steve Harris' blog The One Minute Mason before. It's become one of my favorite blogs. His posts are short, and more often than not, so interesting and entertaining that I wind up looking further into the subject--as I did today. We all need some of that--something that sparks our curiousity.


  1. Cool stuff! But how do we know that this means that freemasons existed at this time? Couldn't it just mean that mystical symbols from some mystery school made their way into freemasonry or that freemasonry was influenced by these beliefs? Much the way alchemical, Kabbalistic and hermetic symbols which found there way into masonry are now considered to be exclusively "masonic".

  2. It depends on how you define "Freemasonry." If you mean operative stonemasonry, then I would answer that it has been around for thousands of years. In the 3rd millennium BCE (about 2600 BCE), we see the first stone mastaba in Egypt. But, if by the word "Freemasonry," you mean the fraternity as we know it today, then I wouldn't estimate its beginning prior to the 1500s in Scotland. The fact that a stonemason in Italy had a depiction of a plumb over a skull in a mosaic in his home, does not indicate that the fraternity of Freemasonry as we know it existed in the first century CE.


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