Roman Activity: Dido's Challenge

You will need: A4 paper (scrap will do) and scissors.
You may also want a map of the world to see where Tyre, Carthage and Rome were.

The story
The Roman author Virgil wrote about Dido, a beautiful queen who fled from her cruel brother who was king of the city of Tyre in what was then called Phoenicia. Dido founded a great city in North Africa called Carthage but was then tricked by the gods to fall in love with a refugee from the Trojan War. He left her for more adventures including helping to found Rome.

Carthage went on to be a great enemy of Rome. They fought wars against each other until Rome eventually won. Carthage then became one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire.

When Dido first arrived in North Africa she found the ideal place for her new city, however the local Berber people would not sell the land. Dido finally offered a high price for all the land which could be enclosed by a bull's skin. Thinking they had a really good bargain, the Berbers agreed.

Dido got the biggest bull's skin she could and by cleverly cutting it she made a very long and very thin strip of leather. This was long enough to go around all of the land she needed for her city. So Dido's trick got her all the land she needed and the magnificent city of Carthage was built.

We do not know exactly how Dido cut the leather but you can have a go at a similar trick.

How can you get through a hole in an A4 piece of paper?

Try it:
For this challenge there must be a hole surrounded by paper, sticky tape or glue is not allowed. You should be able to do this without making a big mess or wasting a lot of paper.

Here's how to do it:


Fold the paper in half lengthways.


About 1.5cm from one end of the folded side cut across the paper to about 1.5cm from the other side. You will have cut two sheets, front and back.


About 1.5cm from this cut, make another from the opposite side, again making sure that you cut both sheets and stop 1.5cm from the folded edge.


Do this down the whole sheet, alternating from one edge to the other, never quite reaching the other side. Try to end on a cut from the folded edge.


Missing the top and bottom strip (this is very important!), cut along the rest of the folded edge.


Give your sheet a gentle shake and it will turn into a large hole which you should be able to carefully wriggle through... Well done!

You can now amaze your friends and family with this great trick

Try cutting the hole and joining it to those of your fellow pupils. How big a space can you enclose – your class? The school hall?

Imagine how carefully Dido must have cut the bull's skin

Extra facts:


The Greeks and Romans also called Dido “Elissa”.


Tyre is now in southern Lebanon, close to the border with Israel.


Carthage was replaced by nearby Tunis in Tunisia. It is to the east of Tunis close to the nearest point of land to Sicily.

© Ceolred Monger 2010