Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Future Presentations News to be published to Roman Times

In an effort to simplify my publishing life, I am consolidating this blog with my primary blog, Roman Times.  All future news about presentations featuring some aspect of the Roman Empire will henceforth be published on Roman Times.  For those of you that follow this blog, I urge you to subscribe to Roman Times instead.  Thanks for your interest! - Mary

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Bath & The Mirror: Religious Power Play?

This Paris exhibit, "The Bath and The Mirror" sounds fascinating! Interesting, though, that this exhibit seems to offer physical refutation to an article about the history of bathing published in The Smithsonian magazine as recently as 1991:

In response to the debauchery of Roman baths, the early Christian church frequently discouraged cleanliness. “To those that are well, and especially to the young,” Saint Benedict in the sixth century commanded, “bathing shall seldom be permitted.”

Living unwashed were saints, the masses, and monarchs alike. Saint Francis of Assisi considered an unwashed body a stinking badge of piety.

“The fathers of the early church equated bodily cleanliness with the luxuries, materialism, paganism and what’s been called ‘the monstrous sensualities’ of Rome,” explains Professor Greene [V. W. Greene, a professor of epidemiology at the Ben Gurion Medical School in Beersheva, Israel].

Within a few centuries, the public and private sanitation practices of Greece and Rome were forgotten; or, as Greene adds, were “deliberately repressed.”

Europe during the Middle Ages, it’s often been said, went a thousand years without a bath.

The article does go on to mention that monasteries, however, as guardians of knowledge, "preserved some of Rome’s hydrological technology and cleanliness habits pointing out that Christchurch Monastery at Canterbury had elaborate plumbing laid in 1150 CE. -
—“Cleanliness has only recently become a virtue” by Jay Stuller, February, 1991, issue of Smithsonian, pages 126-135. Abstracted in web post, "Ablutions and Bathing: Historical Perspectives" ,

As we see by the beautiful toilette articles displayed in this new exhibit, however, bathing, like other social "perks", continued to be enjoyed by the wealthy elite, despite its vilification for the masses.

I think the early church was simply trying to control the social gatherings of the general population by its prohibition on bathing. The morality issues were just an excuse. The bathing ritual as practiced in ancient Rome and elsewhere was considered more a social activity than personal hygiene. It was often said that more business was conducted in the baths than in the streets. In my opinion, the embrace of Christianity by Constantine and others was simply a political strategy to control the Roman mob in the first place and subsequent repression of activities whereby the common man could improve their circumstance like education and "networking" in the bath house were simply repressed to ensure the continuance of the existing power structure.

The despotic emperors of the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries had, for all practical purposes, already demasculated the Senate to the point that many magistracies were filled from the equestrian ranks or even lower. This meant that the emperors had to control an increasing number of subordinate administrators (and their kinsmen) rather than the select few of the earlier oligarchic senate. So, with the emperor as head of the church - the pontifex maximus - it is hardly surprising that he turned to the church to assist him in this regard.

The exhibit at the National Medieval Museum (Musée de Cluny) and the National Renaissance Museum at the Chateau d'Ecouen explores daily rituals around bathing and grooming from the Greco-Roman era through the Renaissance... an impeccably curated and fascinating glimpse into Roman Empire hairstyles and bathing rituals, formulas pre-modern Europeans used to make balms, unguents, rouges and other early beauty regimes, and artistic representations of beauty and grooming through the Renaissance period. It also debunks the myth that no one so much as approached a bath or wore makeup during the "dark ages", showing how social bathing and grooming rituals simply went underground in the medieval period, as the powerful Christian church regarded such rituals as potentially sinful.

Part of the exhibit at the Musée de Cluny is held at the newly reopened Gallo-Roman frigidarium, which once housed a public bath during the period when Paris was Lutetia, part of the Roman empire. - More:

The exhibit also includes information about 144 powders, unguents, and other cosmetic materials that have been excavated from various sites, many reconstituted and displayed in recovered glass or ceramic containers.

Although the grooming rituals were no longer public, I wouldn't exactly say the wealthy went out of their way to hide this activity, as evidenced by the rise in popularity of the nude portrait in the 16th century.

[Image - Lady at her toilette. Ecole de Fontainebleau. 1560 CE]

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New $50 million museum to feature exhibits on Rome and Hadrian's Wall

I see the new Great North Museum in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the UK will include a Roman Empire and Egyptian gallery as well as an extensive exhibit about Hadrian's Wall. This facility also includes the restored Arbeia Roman Fort.

Incorporating exhibits from the city’s Hancock Museum and Hatton Gallery, the new museum will house internationally important collections about the natural and ancient worlds and world cultures. Entry will be free, and the museum is expected to attract more than 300,000 visitors a year.

The museum’s galleries will include one about Hadrian’s Wall, another which explores the world’s fossils and ‘Living Planet’, which incorporates a ‘Bio-Wall’. The wall explores animal habitats around the world, and includes tanks and aquaria containing live fish, snakes and insects.

There will also be galleries devoted to the Roman Empire, Ancient Egypt and ‘Natural Northumbria’, which allows visitors to discover what makes the area special in terms of flora and fauna, and undertake computer-generated ‘virtual’ trips to local sites of interest.

Groups will also be able to visit the museum’s planetarium and make use of a special study garden where they can practice archaeological techniques.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


A program I saw on one of the educational channels challenged the long held belief that Cleopatra killed herself with an asp, claiming her mausoleum was too close to the palace where Octavian was staying for her to have died from a snake bite in the less than 20 minutes it took for Octavian to receive her message and rush to her death bier. Now that Dr. Zawi Hawass thinks he has discovered her mausoleum on the outskirts of modern Alexandria, much farther from her seaside palace as originally thought, perhaps the timing issue is now discredited. Anyway, I still find information about ancient poisons and the ancient drug trade fascinating. I thought this paper's mention that Nero started a School for Poisoners particularly interesting!

By L Cilliers & F P Retief

The history of poisons and poisoning goes back about 5 000 years to the earliest
written records of the human race. Menes, first of the Pharaohs, approximately 3 000
years BC studied and cultivated poisonous and medicinal plants – an interest retained
by the Egyptian court (Smith 1952:153), until the last Pharaoh, Cleopatra, probably
died of suicide by poisoning (Retief & Cilliers 1999:8-11). The cuneiform writings of
early Mesopotamia mention the use of poisons – a topic also dealt with in the written
records of ancient India and China. Early Greek myths tell of poisoners like Medea
and Hercules’ wife Deianira, and in the 5th century BC execution by poison was
accepted in Athenian law courts. In the Hippocratic oath, nevertheless, the students of
the great master are made to swear that they will not use poison (Lloyd 1983:67). The
Persian court was proficient in the art of poisoning (Smith 1952:155), while
Mithridates VI, king of Pontus at the turn of the first century BC and Attalus III, last
king of Pergamum in the second century, experimented with poisons on condemned
prisoners (Bloch 1987: 761-763).

In Rome the first record of poisoning dates back to 331 BC when a large
number of women were executed for suspected mass poisoning. Although we shall
never know its true incidence, there is good evidence that poisoning occurred more
and more frequently among all levels of society, reaching a peak in the 1st and 2nd
centuries AD. In 80 BC the dictator Sulla promulgated strict laws against poisoning.
At the end of the 1st century AD the satirist Juvenal and others denounced their
decadent society, claiming that poisoning had become a status symbol, an accepted
way for mothers to get rid of husbands and stepchildren, and for children to get rid of
rich fathers who lived too long (Juv. 1.73-76; 6.133 and 602-643; 7.169; 14.250-255).
Kaufman (1932:156) states that the word venenum (venom) is derived from
Venus and originally meant a love potion. In actual usage it later had three meanings:
remedy, poison and magic drug or abortive; in fact, venenum is such an ambiguous
word that jurists demanded that “the user of the word venenum must add whether it is
beneficial or harmful”.2 The Greek word pharmakon likewise referred to herb or drug
in general without distinguishing between its beneficial or harmful effects
(Horstmanshoff 1999:43). Veneficium meant poisoning or practicing sorcery, while
veneficus or venefica referred to a poisoner or preparer of drugs. The word scelus
(crime) is actually used by historians like Tacitus to indicate murder by poison (Ann.
1.5.2; 4.10.2; 6.33.1; 12.66.3). Poisons were also used for suicide – royalty in
particular kept a supply for emergencies (Kaufman 1932:160). Pliny considered it
quite proper for the infirm elderly to end his or her miserable life by taking poison,
and opium in particular (NH 2.197; 20.197-199).

Differentiation between producers of drugs (including poisonous substances), sellers
and prescribers of drugs in antiquity was much less clear cut than today. There were,
however, distinct intermediaries in this drug trade who played specific roles, as
summarised by Nutton (1985:138-145).

The Marsi or “travelling people” were at one end of the production chain.
Inhabiting the Abruzzi (central mountainous area of Italy), they had a reputation of
being wild and warlike with strange and archaic religious practices. They lived in
poverty, were excellent soldiers in the Roman army, but their only civilian attributes
lay in almost legendary magical powers as snake hunters and charmers, and druggists.

In many ways they were marginal people, who paid periodic visits to the cities,
selling their wares in the markets and performing daring acts as snake charmers. They
were reputed to have immunity against snake venom, and Galen admits to consulting
them on the value of drugs and antidotes. The Psylli, Nasamones and Palaeothebans
were similar peoples living elsewhere in the Mediterranean region, respected for their
skills with drugs, but frowned on by the early Christians who felt that they should not
be admitted to the flock without the greatest circumspection.

The so-called rootcutters (rhizotomoi) were much more acceptable to society
as true herbalists who knew and collected plant products, which were sold to
physicians and other interested parties. Some of them were recognized experts,
including the respected 1st century BC pharmacologist, Crataeus, assistant to
Mithridates. Most large cities had quarters frequented by the sellers of drugs
(including those inducing euphoric trances and poisons) and hawkers (called an
agurtês, “the man who attracts a crowd” or ochlagôgos, “seducer of the crowd”), as
well as physicians in search of remedies, and a motley crowd in search of pleasures
associated with the variety of ointments, perfumes and spices. Gradually the drug
trade became very lucrative and expanded by way of contact with the Far East, Egypt,
Arabia, North Africa and Spain. In Rome these imported products were stored in
apothecae (derived from a Greek word which literally means “storeroom”), where the
storeman (apothecarius) would list them.

Eventually the lucrativeness of the drug trade led to widespread fraud and
incompetence. Galen and others insisted that physicians should prepare their own
medicines, and not rely on herbalists to do so. As poisoning increased, there was a
growing trade in mithridatum, theriac and other so-called antidotes to poison.
However, Nutton (1985:144-145) points out that wide-spread and basic ignorance
about the action of medications led to the situation where the drug trade was
financially profitable, but from a medical point of view ineffective and even

As from the late 1st century BC certain persons (mostly women) became
infamous as dispensers of poison. The poet Horace (Sat. 2.1.56) tells of Canidia who
terrorized her opponents with her efficiency at poisoning.

Tacitus (Ann. 2.69-74; 3.7) relates that when the emperor Tiberius’ nephew Germanicus died under suspicious circumstances (AD 19), it was suspected that the notorious poisoner, Martina, a close friend of Plancina, the wife of governor Piso who had quarreled with Germanicus, was partially responsible. Martina was sent to Rome where the Senate planned an
investigation into Germanicus’ death. She suddenly died on the way. Her body bore no signs of suicide, but poison was found hidden in a knot of her hair.

[Image: Death of Germanicus by Nicholas Poussin. 1628 CE]

Apollodorus, a rhetorician of Pergamum, was convicted as poisoner, but he escaped to Massilia
where he opened a school (Kaufman 1932:165). Locusta was the most infamous of these poisoners (Suet. Nero 33.3; 34; Claudius 44). Convicted of many crimes during Claudius’ reign, she was not immediately executed, and subsequently approached by Agippina, second wife of Claudius, to prepare a poison for her husband. When Claudius died, he was immediately succeeded by Nero, Agrippina’s own son – who then engaged Locusta to prepare a poison for his younger half-brother, Britannicus.

After the latter’s murder, Nero suspended Locusta’s death penalty and kept her as the emperor’s adviser on poisons. He even organized a school of poisoning where she could train others in her art. Locusta was allowed to test her poisons on animals and convicted criminals. - More

Monday, June 16, 2008

Analyzing Ancient Polychromy on Greek and Roman Sculpture

I just returned from southern California where I was privileged to view the "Color of Life" exhibit at the Getty Villa about the use of polychromy to enhance ancient Greek and Roman sculptures. Although I must admit that I personally prefer the "classical" look of the unadorned stone, I find it interesting to view sculptures as they would have appeared to ancient residents of Rome and Athens. This head of the Emperor Caligula originally was thought to be painted with a dark red skin tone, almost the color of terracotta. But further research indicates the sculpture of "Little Boots" was more lifelike.

As a computer graphics enthusiast, I like to take an image of a colorless ancient sculpture and apply color and image maps to it to see what the real person the sculpture represents might have looked like. I used this technique on the sculpture of Alexander the Great on the right. I used Photoshop to apply color lightly with the transparency set to about 12% so the facial structure of the sculpture can "show through" and applied image map eyes. The best recreation using this computer technique I have ever seen was an image of Constantine complete with luminous blue eyes and a five o'clock shadow! I tried to find it again to link to it but alas it has been lost to internet history.

I was curious about the pigment analysis process that has been undertaken in the last few years to identify the colors and materials used by ancient artists and was pleased to find this brief article on such a project conducted in Denmark:

"A Greek marble sculpture (inv. No. 2830), dating from c. 425 BC (see archaeological comments) [1], from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek was examined to locate, analyze and document any remains of polychromy. Since only a few sculptures from this period with paint fragments have so far been examined there were no particular preconceptions about what might be found or identified [2]. Although it might be expected that some of the 15 to 20 pigments known and described in ancient sources, and which have been identified in previous studies, would be present, the nature of the binding medium used was less obvious. The methods of examination, analysis and documentation used are those commonly applied to polychrome sculptures from antiquity and medieval times.

A variety of methods was employed in this project, beginning with an examination of the stone surface by microscopy, followed by documentation using black and white, colour, infrared and ultraviolet fluorescence photography. On basis of these results, four areas on the sculpture were identified as promising areas for taking samples of paint.

One paint samples was taken from each of the four areas. Half of each sample was kept for further analysis while the other half was made into a paint cross-section. These were studied by dark field and ultraviolet microscopy, and photographed. This examination of the layer structure led to a further discussion of the possible composition and to the determination of the relevant analytical methods to be used in the next stage.

The cross-sections were studied in the scanning electron microscope and analysed using energy dispersive X-ray analysis (SEM-EDX). Backscatter images provided further information about the layer structure and EDX analysis provided information about the chemical elements present in the samples. The four cross-sections were further examined by Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy with attenuated total reflectance (ATR) microscopy, providing further information about the chemical composition and structure of the paint samples.

The visual examination of the surface, combined with photographic documentation, revealed that there were only very small fragments of paint left on the sculpture. Three types of paint were identified. First were minute flesh-coloured areas on the face, mainly on the left cheek just below the eye, on the right cheek next to the chin and beneath the left ear. Second, brown areas in recesses in the hair and, third, an area at the edge of the hair above the forehead with a dark brown colour on top of a grey-white layer — an area that is superimposed on a break in the surface.

Ultraviolet fluorescence revealed that the eyes had been painted. A prominent fluorescence in the white part of the eye bore witness to this, although no traces of colour, pigments or binding medium could be found. Furthermore, a yellowish ultraviolet fluorescence was seen on the marble surface where the flesh colours had been.

Three of the cross-sections, two flesh-coloured samples and one from a brown area of the hair, contained two layers, a calcium-containing ground (c. 20–40 μm thick) beneath a coloured top layer that mainly comprises a calcium-containing material with an iron compound and charcoal as the colourants. The main difference between the samples from the flesh and hair was in the proportion of charcoal and iron compound. The crosssection from the hair contained one large grain of charcoal.

Of note is the similarity between the paint structure for the sculpture’s flesh colours and that of analogous structures in mediaeval polychromy. The samples also show high homogeneity within the layer and relatively thin paint layers.

The fourth cross-section, from the hair above the forehead, contained a very thick, white calcium-containing layer. The colouring matter appears in lumps within, and on top of, the white layer, and contains iron, barium and sulphur. The presence of barium probably implies that this layer was applied to the sculpture within the last 200 to 300 years.

One of the questions that has yet to be answered is the nature of the binding medium used for the paints in this sculpture.

This 23 cm high fragment of a female head was acquired in Athens in c. 1910. The marble is Parian Lychnites and the statue is thought, on stylistic grounds, to be a Classical Greek original made in Athens around 425 BC, although an attribution to a later, Roman imperial, date cannot be ruled out.

Compared to the Greek Archaic and Early Classical periods, the sculptural polychromy of both the Classical Hellenistic Greek and Roman periods remains very poorly documented. The results related above have a particular bearing on one of the most contested issues, namely how the naked parts of marble sculptures were dealt with, either on Classical originals or Roman imitations. It should be pointed out that the traces of polychromy documented here may theoretically be later additions. Further comparative data must be accumulated in order to reach a firmer conclusion. In this regard, co-ordinated, systematic and, not least, interdisciplinary studies of museum collections are needed. Just as important is an increased awareness among archaeologists and conservators working in the field of possible, usually minute and very fragile, remains of polychromy on finds of sculpture and architectural elements. The need for an international forum dedicated to the subject of ancient sculptural polychromy is evident." - Mikkel Scharff, conservator and head of department at the School of Conservation of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen

See video "Tracing Colors of Ancient Sculpture"

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Greek/Latin Bilingualism in the Roman Empire

As I continue my parallel study of the Greeks and the Romans, I learned some interesting aspects about the use of Greek language by elite Romans during the Republic and in the early Imperial period.

Dr. Robert Garland, in his lecture series " Greece and Rome: An Integrated History of the Ancient Mediterranean ", related that one of the first efforts of Roman ambassadors attempting to speak Greek was met by derision by the Greeks of the Greek colony of Tarentum just prior to the war with Pyrrhus. Dr. Garland says the ancient sources point to this humiliation as one of the reasons for the war.

But as Roman exploits extended into mainland Greece and the Hellenistic Kingdoms where Greek was the lingua franca of business and law, and thousands of highly educated Greek slaves flooded Rome, including teachers, the elite of Rome began learning Greek in earnest.

By the late Republican period, most Roman senators spoke Greek and only a few "boorish" exceptions, as recounted by Cicero, required a translator. However, Cicero still claimed that Latin provided the ability to be more precise in formal rhetoric. Dr. Garland said there were no Greek or Roman dictionaries at the time but such dictionaries have since been compiled and the actual tally of words is about 90,000 for Latin and over 130,000 for Greek so he felt this disproved Cicero's assertion.

Bilingualism continued until the separation of the empire into East and West. Then Dr. Garland points out that bilingualism died out quite quickly in the West. I found this puzzling as interaction with the Greek East still continued. But, I have read in other sources that formal education was no longer emphasized as much among the elite in the west during the late imperial period leading up to the Dark Ages and perhaps this is the reason.

Dr. Garland pointed out one other interesting effect continuing Roman conquest had on the speaking arts. By Augustus' reign, there were so many different languages spoken by the common people in Rome that when mime and pantomime theater was introduced, it became far more popular than the traditional Greek theater presentations.

Friday, May 16, 2008

How to read Cicero's gobbets and the problem of context when studying the ancient sources

I found this extensive review of Andrew Lintott’s new book, Cicero As Evidence: A historian’s companion, very interesting from the perspective of someone who tries to understand the historical context of works written by ancient sources:

An abstract:

"Andrew Lintott’s new book, Cicero As Evidence: A historian’s companion, treats the multi-volume writings of Cicero, from the private letters to the philosophical treatises, as if they were one big gobbet..."

"...He wants, on the one hand, to warn the novice against a naive, gullible approach to this material. You must not imagine, as he explains very clearly, that what have come down to us as "Cicero’s speeches" were in most cases anything like what were actually delivered in courtroom, Senate House or Forum. This is not just a question of Cicero improving what he had said on the day, when it came to circulating the “published” version. Some were outright confections, never delivered at all. This is well known to be the case with, for example, the later speeches in the series "Against Verres"; for Verres had seen the writing on the wall and scarpered when the trial was only part way through. But the idea that his famous fourth speech against Catiline is almost as much a retrospective invention is not so widely acknowledged. More than this, however, Lintott hammers home the obvious, but often neglected, point that the speeches as we read them make no sense in terms of the courtroom procedure of Roman law. If they reflect anything of what was said at the trial, it is only because Cicero has stitched together elements of various separate phases of the proceedings (including witness interrogation) to make something that would be handed to posterity as a single, coherent "speech"..."

"...He is impressively at home with the whole body of Cicero’s writing and has a sharp eye for some interesting and evocative passages. He is particularly good at unravelling the niceties of senatorial debate, as they are hinted at by Cicero in his letters. And he has an elegant few pages on the strange work known as the Commentariolum Petitionis (Handbook on Electioneering) written by Cicero’s brother Quintus to advise him on how to get elected to the consulship. Many have suspected this to be a first-century ad forgery, one of those imaginary historical exercises that Roman rhetoricians so loved. Lintott is not, for once, on the suspicious side, and uses the Commentariolum to capture the atmosphere of a Roman election, the handshaking, the canvassing and the streetwise PR campaign. Cicero, as we know, was to prove extremely successful at this. Not so the effete aristocrat Scipio Nasica in his own attempt at a charm offensive in an earlier election campaign. Surprised to find that the peasant’s hand he was shaking was so horny, he asked the poor man if he used his hands to walk on. Scipio lost that election..."

"...But there is also a “wood and trees” problem with the idea of history as gobbet. The finely honed analysis of individual passages is all well and good. But ancient writers did not write in three-line chunks, nor (despite the modern vogue for “sourcebooks”) did they write to be “sources”; nor, of course, did they write to be “Evidence”. By keeping his nose so close to the micro-problems, Lintott can miss out the bigger picture of the world in which Cicero operated, of what he thought he was doing and why that has been of such interest ever after.

So, for example, a carefully crafted section of Lintott’s book dissects Cicero’s philosophical writing and its relationship to his political life more generally. But there is nothing on just how extraordinary it was for a Roman politician to be analysing the world in Greek philosophical terms in the first place, or on the revolution in Roman thought (of which Cicero was part driver, part beneficiary) that made this possible. Another few pages offer a sensible analysis of the politics behind one of Cicero’s, now little read, religious speeches. This is Cicero’s own response to an enigmatic priestly interpretation of a strange rumbling sound that had been heard outside Rome and was assumed to be a message from the gods. But Lintott offers little to help us understand what difference this made, or how important the gods were in a world that might otherwise seem to be governed by hard-headed realpolitik and philosophical scepticism."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Berkeley's Plato a genuine Roman copy of Greek original

I was contemplating a trip down to the Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California - Berkeley and came across this fascinating article about a herm of Plato that was acquired in 1902 and had been subsequently (and erroneously) termed a fake.

"A portrait herm of the Greek philosopher Plato is emerging from a century of obscurity and disrespect to assume its rightful place in ancient history, thanks to the sleuthing of a University of California, Berkeley, classics professor.

Stephen G. Miller today (Wednesday, April 9) publicly outlined his research and scientific test results that he said shows the sculpture purchased for UC Berkeley and brought to its anthropology museum in 1902 is not a contemporary fake.

Additionally, Berkeley's Plato turns out to be a rare depiction of Plato not as a famous philosopher, but as a just and virtuous citizen, said Miller, a specialist in Greek and Roman archaeology and art who leads a UC Berkeley excavation project in Ancient Nemea, Greece.

nitial museum catalogue records at UC Berkeley note that the herm's significance was in doubt. But the crowning blow came in 1966, when UC Berkeley graduate student R.J. Smutney, studying Latin inscriptions, inspected the writings on Plato's shaft - it had been separated from the head, which couldn't be found -and declared it a fake.

Miller said today that he can now prove the opposite.

The sculpture, brought by ship and then overland by rail to the museum in 1902, dates back to approximately 125 A.D., Miller said. While it is a copy, it is an elegant replica of a Greek original from about 360 B.C., he said.

What's more, he said, it provides a glimpse of what Plato really may have looked like.

Paul Zanker, Sather professor at UC Berkeley a decade ago, has suggested that previously identified portraits of Plato were unsatisfactory because they attempted to force a prototype into the later mould of "philosopher" types.

"The Berkeley Plato," said Miller, "not only proves that Zanker was on the right path, but it gives us a much sharper and more accurate image of Plato's appearance. It takes us closer to that non-philosopher prototype. What a thrill to think that our contacts with the historical Plato are much more direct now than a few months ago."

Miller said he bases his conclusions on his inquiries into several topics, including:

  • Ribbons that adorn the sculpture
  • Plato's writings and what's known of his life
  • Quotations inscribed on the UC Berkeley Plato
  • The source of the marble and the quarry's known time of use
  • Lettering on the shaft

The ribbons on the UC Berkeley Plato are significant for many reasons, Miller said. One is that modern artists typically have depicted Plato with long tresses, not ribbons.

The ribbons also underscore Plato's known love of athletic competition and visits to Olympic games, his training as a wrestler, his competition at the Isthmian Games, and the ribbons' association with gymnasions - the schools of ancient Greece, the dramatic setting for at least four of Plato's dialogues.

The UC Berkeley Plato also depicts the philosopher with a puffy, deformed lobe on the left ear, and Miller noted that in Plato's "Protagoras," he referred to admirers of Sparta, who bound their hands in order to box so that their consequently deformed ears would be like those of their heroes. The UC Berkeley Plato's bad left ear may indicate the impact of a ferocious swing by a right-handed opponent, Miller said.

Also supporting the case for the UC Berkeley Plato as an antiquity, Miller said, is that the ribbon reflects Plato's belief in a need for the state and the individual to train both the intellect and the body without over-emphasizing either one.

"But the ribbons of the (UC) Berkeley Plato have an even greater pertinence to the man and his work," said Miller. "The Republic," probably written between 380 and 370 B.C., when the philosopher was in his 50s, and largely regarded as Plato's masterpiece, presents Plato's notion of the immortality of the soul.

One quotation inscribed on the base of the UC Berkeley sculpture states, "Every soul is immortal." While Plato first advanced the idea in the "Georgias," he more fully developed the concept in "The Republic," Miller said.

Plato argued that every soul is immortal, and the total number of souls immutable, with lives spent in cycles of 100 years on earth and the next 1,000 years in heaven or hell, depending on the justice and virtue of that first century lived. The first quotation on the UC Berkeley sculpture advises caution in choosing that next soul: "Blame the one who makes the choice, God is blameless." This quotation from "The Republic" reinforces the idea that the UC Berkeley Plato is a copy of a portrait sculpted during or after "The Republic" was written.

"The Republic" ends with an admonition that, if people live their 100-year lives in a just and virtuous manner, they will come to the end like victorious athletes going on their victory lap to collect their ribbons.

"We are looking at Plato's own definition of the good citizen," said Miller.

He reported that tests of samples of the bust and pedestal by the Demokritos Laboratory of Archaeometry in Athens prove that both pieces are Parian marble, the stone of choice for ancient sculptors.

Even more significant, Miller said, is that the Parian quarry ceased production in the late Roman period, and there is not a single example of a Renaissance or early modern forgery or copy of an ancient statue made with marble from the island of Paros.

Heavily encrusted portions of the herm reflect its old age, as does the presence of miltos, a red pigment used in ancient inscriptions to make them more legible, he said. Miltos is found in every inscribed line on the herm, and encrustation has formed over the miltos.

Unique theta and square omicron letterforms on the UC Berkeley Plato also are found on other ancient portrait herms, Miller said."

Monday, April 07, 2008

Pompeii Timeline

Current Archaeology Magazine's website offered this great timeline of development for the city of Pompeii:

8th century BC Iron Age agricultural settlement
6th century BC City founded by Oscans, Greeks or Etruscans
City walls built. Street grid laid out
First masonry building on site of House of Amarantus
4th century BC Second phase of building on site of House of Amarantus
First settlement on site of House of the Vestals
Rome conquers the Bay of Naples
3rd century BC First masonry buildings on site of House of the Vestals
218-201 BC War against Hannibal
2nd century BC House of the Vestals doubles in size
146 BC Destruction of Carthage and Corinth
91 - 87 BC Social War; Pompeii besieged
80 BC Roman colony founded
Early 1st century BC House of the Vestals doubles in size and is substantially rebuilt
Late 1st century BC House 12 constructed on the site of House of Amarantus
30 BC - AD 14 Reign of first emperor, Octavian-Augustus
20s AD House of the Vestals substantially rebuilt with fountains
AD 62 Earthquake strikes Pompeii
70s AD House of the Vestals substantially rebuilt without piped water
House of Amarantus becomes a run-down bar
AD 79 Pompeii destroyed by Vesuvius

Go to the link for an extensive article on Pompeii. Their interactive map of the site is also very interesting. For additional images of Pompeii, check out my Flickr photo set

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Vitruvius - Roman Architect and Engineer

born around 84 B.C., died after 27 A.D., Roman architect, military and hydraulic engineer, art theorist

The name Vitruvius Pollio was reported by the epitomist Faventinus, but only the gentile name Vitruvius is assuredly correct. Vitruvius served as military engineer in the armies of Caesar and Augustus and worked with Marcus Aurelius, Publius Minidius and Gaius Cornelius to build projectile artillery and other war machines. It is highly probable that he belonged to the circle around Marcus Vipsanius Aggrippa from 33 B.C. and that he was involved in the construction of public plumbing in Rome. The only building that can be attributed to Vitruvius with certainty, which was designed by him and constructed under his direction, is no longer standing: the basilica of Fanum Fortuna in Umbria [should be Marche instead of Umbria], (presumably Vitruvius’ hometown, called Fano today). The very precise description of this building in De architectura libri X (V 1, 6 – 10) suggests that this basilica was similar to the basilicas in Pompeii and Ardea near Rom.
Vitruvius began writing his famous work De architectura libri X, which he dedicated to Augustus, even before 33 B.C. and apparently completed it before 22 B.C. Unfortunately this book is full of gaps and many of its passages are unclear and ambiguously formulated, but it is of outstanding importance for us today because it is the only Ancient textbook on architecture and technology that remains preserved today. In Book I Vitruvius deals with architectural training and elucidates general aesthetic concepts as well as the planning of cities and fortifications. In Book II he describes the construction materials used at the time and explains the technology of building walls. Books III and IV deal with the construction of temples and the orders and proportions of columns. Book V is dedicated to the erection of public buildings; Vitruvius deals in particular with the construction of markets, basilicas, theatres, halls and water installations. The different types of private buildings and the design of individual rooms in such buildings are discussed in Book VI. This book also deals with agricultural buildings and the influence of climate on the type of construction. The interior décor of buildings, such as stucco and plasterwork, colours and decorative murals, are the subject of Book VII. The installation of waterworks, for example, the construction of the aqueducts, is described in Book VIII. Because the main subject of Book VIII is the construction of sundials and water-clocks, the beginning of this book presents general astronomical observations about the measurement of time. An introduction to the mechanical engineering of that time, which was primarily concerned with the construction of lifting machines and guns, is given in the final Book IX. Vitruvius bases his purely technical data primarily on his own experience; on occasion he also refers to that of older Roman practitioners, otherwise he mostly refers to late Hellenistic authors such as Hermogenes, Pytheos and Varro, whereby, however, he does not always quote accurately and barely mentions buildings from the Augustan era. The compilatory character of his book also influences his linguistic style. In the introductions to the individual books, Vitruvius’ style is quite circumlocutory and rhetorical, whereas the language in the technical descriptions is extremely dry and concise. Vitruvius’ style is quite often criticized in Ancient philology, but what he writes does not actually amount to vulgar Latin. In Classical archaeology the concepts and schematic ground plans handed down by Vitruvius have often been used to reconstruct excavated buildings with great success. Vitruvius’ characterization of the Classic orders of columns (Ionic, Doric, Corinthian, Tuscan) remains part of architectural history even today. In his own day Vitruvius had no important influence. Not until the late Ancient period and the early Middle Ages did an intensive reception history of Vitruvius commence, whereby it is difficult to determine what influence Vitruvius actually had on the Middle Ages. By far the greatest influence was exerted by his book De architectura, in the period of the Renaissance, when his theory of proportion and his description of Ancient architectural orders became fundamental components of architectural theory. Whether his theory of proportion was actually used in practice can hardly be determined today. The ambiguity of Vitruvius’ text made many different interpretations possible, which was apparently quite advantageous for Renaissance architects and allowed them to integrate the architectural principles and aesthetic theory of the Ancients into their own architectural practice on the basis of Vitruvius’ writings. Many important artists of the Renaissance, including Leonardo da Vinci and L.B. Alberti, studied Vitruvius thoroughly and found diverse sources of stimulation in his work. Approximately 55 hand-written manuscripts of Vitruvius’ De architectura are known. Vitruvius is one of the first Ancient authors whose work was printed (Editio princeps around 1486) and was translated into many European languages. The numerous sixteenth-century editions are important not only because of their commentaries and translations, but primarily because of the illustrations they contain. These editions are of particular value for art historians: because the original Ancient illustrations for De architectura were not preserved, all illustrations for Vitruvius’ De architectura are always interpretations from the period of the given edition. The commentaries on the editions of Vitruvius from the sixteenth century codified the system of the ancient forms of buildings; this codification was soon elevated to dogma and continued to exert an influence well into the nineteenth century (Vitruvianism).
- From The Archimedes Project

Digital images of a 1567 edition of his work

(contains beautiful architectural illustrations)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dacian Achievements Far From "Barbaric"

I'm always glad to have readers update me with information they have discovered in their own research on topics I have mentioned. Some time ago I mentioned a lecture I attended on Trajan's column and the conquest of Dacia. Today I received a fascinating summary of facts about the Dacians from high school student Alex Popescu.

Alex writes: Hi, I am a high school student currently working on an end of term project on Dacia. While searching for information I stumbled upon your blog and I saw that you were told that Dacia, a civilization that preceded Rome and the first unified kingdom in Europe ( Greece had independent city states) , was barbaric.

The lecture you attended was unfortunately biased. Dacia is an old civilization that was not documented because of Communist rule over the countries that were once this great civilization.

Quick list:

These "Barbarians" ,as Dr. Christina Calthoon called [them], were:

The inventors of writing. Common knowledge was that the earliest form of writing comes from Mesopotamia. Google "Tartaria Tablets" if in doubt.

The colonizers of Europe. The Caucasian population of the world first migrated into Europe through what is modern day Eastern Russia, north of the Black Sea. They settled in the Carpathian Basin ( modern day Transylvania). Due to overpopulation, they migrated west. Italy was colonized by the ancestors of the Dacians.

They originally shared gods with the Thracians and Greeks. Later on they abondoned these gods and became some of the first Monotheistic people in the world believing in the god Zamolxis.

Dacians received tribute from the Roman Emperor Domitian in return for Dacia not raiding the Roman Province of Moesia. Domitian also gave the Dacian king Decebalus engineers to build them fortresses and infrastructure. You never mentioned, but if the Dacian fortress that you saw was barbarian in appearance, it is important to know that it was probably Roman made.

Dacia was never fully conquered. One third to half of the territory was taken. In fact, Dacia was the last province to be added to the Roman Empire and the first to be lost.
England was conquered with Dacian legions in the service of Rome after part of Dacia was taken.

The word "rock" originates from the Dacian word "rocka"."

Thanks, Alex!!!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Women's roles in Roman society and as objects of Plautus' wit

I noticed that Roman scholar Judith Hallett has released a new article assessing the writings of Plautus' Phoenicium on Roman love talk. Unfortunately, I was not able to find a copy online to include much of an abstract so here's the official news release:

"A University of Maryland Classics professor has suggested Roman ways of expressing your affection for that special someone.

Ancient Romans knew all about love, and weren't afraid to talk about it. So, professor Judith Hallett has offered a research on ancient Roman 'love talk'.

The study focuses on the writing of Plautus , a 2nd century BCE playwright.

In his work Phoenicium, Plautus looks at the different ways in which two men of very different social classes assess the erotically-charged words of one specific woman.

"Plautus, in his characteristically funny way, illustrates that social class, that of the critic and that of the writer, plays a major role in how Roman women's writings, and in this case erotic Latin writings, were judged by men," said Hallett.

But in my online research for more information about Hallett's work I did find a website by Associate Professor Ann R. Raia, The College of New Rochelle that included excellent supporting material about the roles and lives of women in ancient Rome. The first page I encountered listed all of the plays in which Plautus used women for comedic stereotypes:

Philaenium: Plautus, Asinaria
Bacchis, Plautus, Bacchides
Gymnasium: Plautus, Cistellaria
Acropolis: Plautus, Epidicus
Erotium: Plautus, Menaechmi
Philocomasium, Acroteleutium: Plautus, Miles Gloriosus
Pasicompsa: Plautus, Mercator
Philematium and Scapha: Plautus, Mostellaria
Lemniselenis: Plautus, Persa
Phoenicium: Plautus, Pseudolus
Phronesium: Plautus, Truculentus

Further exploration led me to a website that was a companion to her text "The Worlds of Roman Women. It included lists of both classic and modern references, images, and commentary. Well worth exploring! She is also a contributor to the excellent website Vroma and the Juvenal Project.

Was Apicius a Roman gourmet or glutton?

"The oldest collection of recipes to survive from antiquity, De Re Coquinaria ("The Art of Cooking") is attributed to Marcus Gavius Apicius, the famed epicure who flourished during the reign of Tiberius early in the first century AD. (Renaissance humanists mistakenly ascribed the book to a "Apicius Caelius" from an attempt to reconstruct the letters API and CAE that appear on the damaged title page of one of two ninth-century manuscripts that preserve the document.) The recipes themselves were not compiled until late in the fourth or early in the fifth century and derive from a variety of sources, although about three-fifths are Apicius' own, some of which are quite elaborate. Apicius was said to have discovered how to treat the liver of sows, just as those of geese, stuffing them with dried figs and, then just before the animal was killed, giving it honeyed wine (mulsum) (Pliny, VIII.209, cf. recipe 259).

The ten books are arranged, much like a modern cookbook, by the ingredient to be prepared and include recipes for meats, vegetables, legumes, fowl, meat, seafood, and fish. Almost five hundred are given, presumably to be used by an experienced cook, as there is little indication of the quantity of ingredients, their proportions, or how they should be used. Over four hundred of these recipes include a sauce, invariably made with fermented fish sauce (garum). The preparation of most sauces began with pulverized spices and herbs, usually pepper, which often was combined with cumin, although it sometimes is difficult to determine whether spices or herbs were to be fresh or dried, leaf or seed. After being ground in a mortar, fruits (plums, dates, raisins) and nuts (almonds, pine nuts, walnuts) were added (and often pounded as well) and then liquids, including garum, water, stock, milk, honey, oil, vinegar, and wine, both plain and reduced to increase its sweetness. Thickening usually was by wheat starch but also included the yolks and whites of eggs, pounded dates, and steeped rice or the water in which it had been boiled. Fish sauces tended to be particularly elaborate; boiled murena (likely eel), for example, called for pepper, lovage, dill, celery seed, coriander, dried mint, and rue, as well as pine nuts, honey, vinegar, wine, and oil (451)...."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Analyzing Biases and Narrative Strategies New Approach to Historical Study

Professor Marc Domingo Gygax

This sounds like a much more fascinating way to study classical history than the memorizing dates etc. approach!

"As he scribbled the names and dates of several Roman historians on the blackboard, Professor Marc Domingo Gygax challenged students in his freshman seminar to dig deeper.

Instead of discussing facts and figures, the students analyzed the methods, biases and narrative strategies of those writers and many others to try to answer the question, "Is there any such thing as historical truth?"

"In high school, we just learned names and dates," said Clayton Schwarz, one of 13 students in the class. "Here, we're looking at how people write history — how they evaluate sources — instead of what they're writing. "

The freshman seminar, "Truth and Objectivity in Ancient and Modern Historiography," compares the writings of ancient Greek and Roman historians such as Polybius and Tacitus with the work of modern historians to explore the degree to which objectivity can be achieved in the study of history. The students also read the work of 20th-century historians who have written about the problem of truth and objectivity to think about how to evaluate a historical text.
"The line between fact and fiction often is not clear," said Gygax, who is an assistant professor of classics. "We can see that in ancient history, and then we can ask ourselves if the same thing happens in modern history."

The students had plenty of questions during a recent class as they discussed the influence of rationalism and the use of specifics versus generalities in the writings of Herodotus and Thucydides. They also debated the reasons why Fabius Pictor, a Roman historian born about 250 B.C., wrote in Greek.

"Maybe he thought the language was more descriptive?" suggested Nick O'Neill.

"Greek was the international language spoken all around the Mediterranean," noted Suzie Raga. "By writing in Greek, he's implying Rome needs to pay attention to other nations."

"It was the language spoken by educated people at the time," the professor remarked. "Pictor also does it as a way for Romans to introduce themselves to the Greeks." Gygax also noted that "Pictor was influenced by Greek historiographic models and may have felt that Greek was the most adequate language for writing history in prose."

Saturday, August 25, 2007


With the release of "The Last Legion", I thought people might be interested in a little of the real history behind the legend.

"Odoacer (or Odovacar), the first barbarian ruler of Italy on the downfall of the Western empire, was born in the district bordering on the middle Danube about the year 434. In this district the once rich and fertile provinces of Noricum and Pannonia were being torn piecemeal from the Roman empire by a crowd of German tribes, among whom we discern four, who seem to have hovered over the Danube from Passau to Pest, namely, the Rugii, Scyrri, Turcilingi and Heruli. With all of these Odoacer was connected by his subsequent career, and all seem, more or less, to have claimed him as belonging to them by birth; the evidence slightly preponderates in favor of his descent from the Scyrri.

His father was Aedico or Idico, a name which suggests Edeco the Hun, who was suborned by the Byzantine court to plot the assassination of his master Attila. There are, however, some strong arguments against this identification. A certain Edica, chief of the Scyrri, of whom Jordanes speaks as defeated by the Ostrogoths, may more probably have been the father of Odoacer, though even in this theory there are some difficulties, chiefly connected with the low estate in which he appears before us in the next scene of his life, when as a tall young recruit for the Roman armies, dressed in a sordid vesture of skins, on his way to Italy, he enters the cell of Severinus, a noted hermit-saint of Noricum, to ask his blessing. The saint had an inward premonition of his future greatness, and in blessing him said, "Fare onward into Italy. Thou who art now clothed in vile raiment wilt soon give precious gifts unto many."

Odoacer was probably about thirty years of age when he thus left his country and entered the imperial service. By the year 472 he had risen to some eminence, since it is expressly recorded that he sided with the patrician Ricimer in his quarrel with the emperor Anthemius. In the year 475, by one of the endless revolutions which marked the close of the Western empire, the emperor Nepos was driven into exile, and the successful rebel Orestes was enabled to array in the purple his son, a handsome boy of fourteen or fifteen, who was named Romulus after his grandfather, and nicknamed Augustulus, from his inability to play the part of the great Augustus. Before this puppet emperor had been a year on the throne the barbarian mercenaries, who were chiefly drawn from the Danubian tribes aforementioned, rose in mutiny, demanding to be made proprietors of one-third of the soil of Italy. To this request Orestes returned a peremptory negative. Odoacer now offered his fellow soldiers to obtain for them all that they desired if they would seat him on the throne. On the 23rd of August 476 he was proclaimed king; five days later Orestes was made prisoner at Placentia and beheaded; and on the 4th of September his brother Paulus was defeated and slain near Ravenna. Rome at once accepted the new ruler. Augustulus was compelled to descend from the throne, but his life was spared.

Odoacer was forty-two years of age when he thus became chief ruler of Italy, and he reigned thirteen years with undisputed sway. Our information as to this period is very slender, but we can perceive that the administration was conducted as much as possible on the lines of the old imperial government. The settlement of the barbarian soldiers on the lands of Italy probably affected the great landowners rather than the laboring class. To the herd of coloni and servi, by whom in their various degrees the land was actually cultivated, it probably made little difference, except as a matter of sentiment, whether the master whom they served called himself Roman or Rugian. We have one most interesting example, though in a small way, of such a transfer of land with its appurtenant slaves and cattle, in the donation made by Odoacer himself to his faithful follower Pierius. Few things bring more vividly before the reader the continuity of legal and social life in the midst of the tremendous ethnical changes of the 5th century than the perusal of such a record.

The same fact, from a slightly different point of view, is illustrated by the curious history (recorded by Malchus) of the embassies to Constantinople. The dethroned emperor Nepos sent ambassadors (in 477 or 478) to Zeno, emperor of the East, begging his aid in the reconquest of Italy. These ambassadors met a deputation from the Roman senate, sent nominally by the command of Augustulus, really no doubt by that of Odoacer, the purport of whose commission was that they did not need a separate emperor. One was sufficient to defend the borders of either realm. The senate had chosen Odoacer, whose knowledge of military affairs and whose statesmanship admirably fitted him for preserving order in that part of the world, and they therefore prayed Zeno to confer upon him the dignity of patrician, and entrust the "diocese" of Italy to his care. Zeno returned a harsh answer to the senate, requiring them to return to their allegiance to Nepos. In fact, however, he did nothing for the fallen emperor, but accepted the new order of things, and even addressed Odoacer as patrician. On the other hand, the latter sent the ornaments of empire, the diadem and purple robe, to Constantinople as an acknowledgment of the fact that he did not claim supreme power. Our information as to the actual title assumed by the new ruler is somewhat confused. He does not appear to have called himself king of Italy. His kingship seems to have marked only his relation to his Teutonic followers, among whom he was "king of the Turcilingi", "king of the Heruli", and so forth, according to the nationality with which he was dealing. By the Roman inhabitants of Italy he was addressed as "dominus noster", but his right to exercise power would in their eyes rest, in theory, on his recognition as patricius by the Byzantine Augustus. At the same time he marked his own high pretensions by assuming the prefix Flavius, a reminiscence of the early emperors, to which the barbarian rulers of realms formed out of the Roman state seem to have been peculiarly partial. His internal administration was probably, upon the whole, wise and moderate, though we hear some complaints of financial oppression, and he may be looked upon, as a not altogether unworthy predecessor of Theodoric.

In the history of the papacy Odoacer figures af the author of a decree promulgated at the election of Felix II in 483, forbidding the pope to alienate any of the lands or ornaments of the Roman Church, and threatening any pope who should infringe this edict with anathema. This decree was loudly condemned in a synod held by Pope Symmachus (502) as an unwarrantable interference of the civil power with the concerns of the church.

The chief events in the foreign policy of Odoacer were his Dalmatian and Rugian wars. In the year 480 the ex-emperor Nepos, who ruled Dalmatia, was traitorously assassinated in Diocletian's palace at Spalato by the counts Viator and Ovida. In the following year Odoacer invaded Dalmatia, slew the murderer Ovida, and reannexed Dalmatia to the Western state. In 487 he appeared as an invader in his own native Danubian lands. War broke out between him and Feletheus, king of the Rugians. Odoacer entered the Rugian territory, defeated Feletheus, and carried him and "his noxious wife" Gisa prisoners to Ravenna. In the following year Frederick, son of the captive king, endeavored to raise again the fallen fortunes of his house, but was defeated by Onulf, brother of Odoacer, and, being forced to flee, took refuge at the court of Theodoric the Ostrogoth, at Sistova on the lower Danube.

This Rugian war was probably an indirect cause of the fail of Odoacer. His increasing power rendered him too formidable to the Byzantine court, with whom his relations had for some time been growing less friendly. At the same time, Zeno was embarrassed by the formidable neighborhood of Theodoric and his Ostrogothic warriors, who were almost equally burdensome as enemies or as allies. In these circumstances arose the plan of Theodoric's invasion of Italy, a plan by whom originated it would be difficult to say. Whether the land when conquered was to be held by the Ostrogoth in full sovereignty, or administered by him as lieutenant of Zeno, is a point upon which our information is ambiguous, and which was perhaps intentionally left vague by the two contracting parties, whose chief anxiety was not to see one another's faces again. The details of the Ostrogothic invasion of Italy belong properly to the life of Theodoric. It is sufficient to state here that he entered Italy in August 489, defeated Odoacer at the Isontius (Isonzo) on the 28th of August, and at Verona on the 30th of September. Odoacer then shut himself up in Ravenna, and there maintained himself for four years, with one brief gleam of success, during which he emerged from his hiding place and fought the battle of the Addua (11th August 490), in which he was again defeated. A sally from Ravenna (10th July 491) was again the occasion of a murderous defeat. At length, the famine in Ravenna having become almost intolerable, and the Goths despairing of ever taking the city by assault, negotiations were opened for a compromise (25th February 493). John, archbishop of Ravena, acted as mediator. It was stipulated that Ravenna should be surrendered, that Odoacer's life should be spared, and that he and Thedoric should be recognized as joint rulers of the Roman state. The arrangement was evidently a precarious one, and was soon terminated by the treachery of Theodoric. He invited his rival to a banquet in the palace of the Lauretum on the 15th of March, and there slew him with his own hand. "Where is God?" cried Odoacer when he perceived the ambush into which he had fallen. "Thus didst thou deal with my kinsmen", shouted Theodoric, and clove his rival with the broadsword from shoulder to flank. Onulf, the brother of the murdered king, was shot down while attempting to escape through the palace garden, and Thelan, his son, was not long after put to death by order of the conqueror. Thus perished the whole race of Odoacer."

Political Propoganda in The Aeneid

by Gregory Elder, professor of history and humanities at Riverside Community College, Redlands, California

"Unlike Homeric literature or "Gilgamesh," which were produced orally over a long period of time, "The Aeneid" was a composition by one man. At the end of the Roman civil war, shortly before the time of Christ, the emperor Octavian Caesar Augustus hired Virgil to write a poem to rival the great epic sagas of Greece to glorify the Roman state, and in the process glorify Caesar as well.

Virgil's task was all the more difficult, because Augustus Caesar had ended five centuries of republican democracy and replaced it with a military monarchy, which is a hard feat to legitimize. Virgil accepted the commission for a million gold coins and spent the rest of his life writing poetry. He was almost done when he took ill and died, but before his death he ordered the manuscripts burned. Caesar intervened and the imperialist manuscript was saved for posterity. For the next four centuries of the Roman Empire it was the required study of all educated people, and it remained popular in the Middle Ages right down to the modern day.

To glorify the emperor, Virgil avoided tacky subjects such as Caesar's mass executions and proscriptions or Roman war fleets sending their fellow Romans down to the bottom of the sea. Instead, he wrote a poem of the founding of the Roman people in remote antiquity by the alleged ancestor of Augustus, Aeneas, the last surviving prince of Troy. To justify the emperor, Virgil praised the emperor's ancestor who had lived 12 centuries before.

The saga opens with a storm, wrought by the blind fury of the goddess Juno, the vengeful queen of heaven. Juno was still angry at the Trojans because their prince, Paris, had favored Venus in the famous beauty contest of the goddesses. Juno also knew that her favorite people, the Carthaginians, would one day be destroyed by the heirs of the Trojans, the Romans. And so the furious goddess summoned her brother Neptune to call forth a great ocean storm, which pulverized the fleet and washed the survivors onto the shores of Africa, far from Rome and far from home. Virgil's gods and goddesses are quite simple: angry women, idiotic bimbos and wise men. Its not a subtle stereotype to use.

Once he survived the storm, pious Aeneas rallies his fellow survivors of the shipwreck and discovers the city of Carthage and its widow queen, Dido. Matronly Dido assists the shipwrecked Trojans and welcomes them at a banquet, which turns out to be her undoing. Dido asks Aeneas to tell the story of his adventures and he replies with the story of the Trojan Horse and the sack of his city by the cunning Greeks. Romans who heard this story would have doubtless smiled, for it justified their own recent conquest of Greece as appropriate payback. In the tale, Aeneas would have preferred to go down with his kinsmen fighting to the end, as all Romans should, but the gods commanded him to flee the doomed city and to found a new city in the west. As the hero tells the tale, Cupid, that most dangerous sniper of the gods, fires one of his arrows of love into the queen's heart and she falls in love with the Trojan Aeneas. After a short courtship, they end up in a "committed relationship," as we would say these days.

But this love affair irritates Jupiter, the king of the heavens. The high god has ordained that from the Trojan bloodline a people will be raised up to dominate the world forever, and bring order and law to savage peoples from Arabia to Britain, from Germany to Africa. For the Romans, love was a kind of madness, a weakness, which prevented men from clear thinking. Were they right in this, I ask my students" To remind the hero of his duty, Jupiter sends Mercury, the messenger god, to order Aeneas back to active duty and to abandon his love. Aeneas attempts to do this secretly, but his lover discovers his plans to abandon her in the night. She pleads with him and reminds him of their love. Aeneas replies that he never really regarded the relationship as permanent and decides to go. Apparently, men have not changed significantly since this tale was written. But when Aeneas turns to go, Dido curses him and his descendants and prophesies the Punic wars as vengeance, which will bring vast suffering to Rome in the third century B.C.

After many trials, Aeneas and his men land in Italy. But Aeneas knows, as all Romans believed, that dad is always right. But the hero was unable to consult his father because the old man had died. But in order to obey the will of the gods, he still had to speak with the old man. The solution he found, after consulting a prophetess, was to find the path to the land of the dead and visit his father in the underworld. Crossing the river Styx, he meets the dead, including many of the fallen heroes of the Trojan war, and sadly also meets the soul of Dido, who has taken her own life. When he attempts to comfort her, she scorns him and flees into the gloom. At this point in the poem, my female students generally agree that he deserved the snub.

But entering the sunny, grassy fields of Elysium, where heroes are to be found, he meets his father, who shows him a long line of great souls waiting to be born. Aeneas" father points out all the great heroes of Roman history yet to come, except the ones Augustus disliked. Aeneas then sees Caesar Augustus himself, the divinely favored crown of all Roman history. Setting such political propaganda on one side, it's worth noting that the actual Caesar Augustus is the same chap who gets a cameo mention in the New Testament's Christmas story, when "in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled." This decree, the Scripture tells us, caused Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem, near Jerusalem, and there Christ was born. (Luke 2:1) There is an irony here that Virgil's prophecy of an abiding religious empire to be founded in the days of Caesar did indeed come true, but not in the way Virgil or Augustus could have possibly imagined.

After all of this grand prophesy, the hero's father reminds his son of Rome's unique destiny, which was greater than all other nations. He writes, "Others will cast more tenderly in bronze Their breathing figures, I can well believe, And bring more lifelike portraits out of marble Argue more eloquently, use the pointer To trace the paths of heaven accurately And accurately foretell the rising stars.

Roman, remember your strength to rule Earth's peoples " for your arts are to be these to pacify, to impose the rule of law, to spare the conquered, battle down the proud." ("The Aeneid" VI: ll.1145-1154, Fitzgerald translation) Six more chapters of war and conquest will follow this prophecy, but one note remains to be considered while Aeneas is in the underworld. When the time comes to leave the dead and return to the earth, Aeneas is confronted with two doors, one of ivory and one of horn. Through these doors dreams are sent out to the minds of sleeping men, prophetic and true dreams through the door of horn and false dreams through the door of ivory. Virgil tells us that Aeneas took the ivory door, the door of falsehood.

It is odd that Virgil makes the noble ancestor of great Augustus pass through the door of lies before returning to earth to found the Roman line. But it is just a stray verse and one hardly notices it. Indeed, the verse is just small enough to get past the emperor's censors. Perhaps Virgil was sending a quiet message to his more perceptive readers that the whole of his message extolling Augustus and his "divine mission" was actually a lie and a fantasy. Political propaganda, however magnificent and beautiful, and even from the pen of the greatest of authors, remains only that " propaganda. There is a lesson here for modern readers to heed."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I found it!! The Poisoning Trials of 331 BCE

"The first known instance of the crime of poisoning at Rome was in
331 B.c.,when a high mortality, the result, probably, of a pestilence,
was attributed to poisoning. Even Livy doubted the validity of the
charges, but he gives the whole account as found in his sources. After
many leading citizens had died from the same disease, a slave-girl gave
information to the curule aediles that the reason for this high mortality
was the poisons prepared and administered by the Roman matrons.

On investigation they found about twenty matrons, including patrician
ladies, in the act of brewing poisons, which they declared were
salutary. On being forced to drink their own concoctions to prove
the charges false, they perished by their own wickedness. Following
this, a hundred and seventy more were found guilty of the same
offense." - Poisons and Poisonings Among Romans by David P. Kaufman

Womanly Virtues and Courage in 1st century Rome

As I continue to search for references to the women involved in the widespread poisonings of their spouses and male relatives in ancient Rome, I stumbled across a excerpt from a fascinating paper about Roman women and their "Private Lives and Public Personae" by Dr. Susan Martin of the University of Tennessee. She explains the cultural and political context that surrounded the life of a courageous woman named Turia in 1st century BCE Rome that is eulogized by her husband on her funerary monument. The eulogy has become known as the 'Laudatio Turiae'.

"Let me tell you a bit about what we can reconstruct about her life from her epitaph. Turia left as her chief mourner her husband of 40 years. We know from other facts in the story that they were married between 49 and 42 B.C. - she died in the years 8-2. The couple's courtship and marriage took place during a period of extreme political instability that we - and the Romans - refer to as the civil wars. This young woman came of age in a time when civil strife in the Roman world was comparable to that in Bosnia or Palestine, except that instead of different religious groups fighting each other, we have factions of the Roman upper class engaged in armed conflict over who would control the Roman Republic. In brief, these struggles pitted the Optimates - the most noble families and members of the senatorial order led by Pompey the great (and Cicero) against the Populares - led by Julius Caesar. By the time of her death, Rome had been ruled for almost 30 years by the Emperor Augustus and had traded the tumultuous Republican form of government for imperial calm.

Both spouses clearly came from wealthy families - whether they belonged to the very highest rank in society, is unclear. The good news about this is that they had lots of money and property. The bad news is that they were enmeshed in the thick of the civil wars. Their connections at birth and as they grew would meant that they had powerful friends and powerful enemies as well. Unfortunately for them, both Turia's parents and her husband's family were on the losing side, the side of Pompey who fled Italy in advance of Julius Caesar's army after he crossed the Rubicon river in 49, and was finally killed at the end of this series of civil wars in 48 B.C.

It is realistic to suppose that Turia married at a young age. Studies of Roman evidence have shown that young women in the upper classes married young, even as early as 12. But variation was possible: Cicero's daughter Tullia was betrothed at 12, married at 16 and widow at 22. If Turia married this young, she died in her mid 50's, not a bad age for a Roman whether male or female. Life expectancy was abysmal in this era. From her behavior, we may wish to suppose that this woman married at a slightly older age, perhaps at 18 or so. It seems equally clear that she was educated, probably by tutors at home.

Bridegrooms were typically older, sometimes as old as thirty, which created a considerable age difference and has several interesting implications. First of all, women, if they survived childbirth, would frequently have been widows and therefore suitable for a second marriage. It also ensured that a considerable gap in life experience characterized these marriages. From the inscription we know that Turia was younger, but not by how much. Her husband bemoans her early passing - he should have been the first to go.

Their marriage was probably arranged by their parents. While consent was desirable, it was not necessary for the girl to give hers, and silence was interpreted as consent, a meaningless concept for 12-year-olds in any case. It is likely that the partners would have known each other; we know that in some cases, they may have even maneuvered to encourage the marriage. Usually, however, political alliance or financial interest dictated marriage partners.

The couple was childless - unusual in a society in which marriage functioned as a vehicle for preserving and further family name and fortune. They did not attempt to adopt a son into the family, a fairly common tactic to preserve families. The husband only mentions that Turia devoted herself and her money to raising and marrying off female relatives otherwise unspecified - and that this offered them advantages they would otherwise not have had.

III. Deeds

Much of the epitaph deals with a recitation of Turia's deeds. We expect language of praise, much of it extremely conventional. These conventions are observed here although you can tell that this isn't the part of the story he is interested in:

"Why should I mention your domestic virtues, your loyalty, obedience, affability, reasonableness, industry in working wool, religion without superstition, sobriety of attire, modesty of appearance?"

To these qualities he adds one other, of special importance: She is unparalleledin her devotion to and defense of the family. Few women, he remarks, have been as challenged in this regard as she. Here we come to the truly exceptional part of this epitaph.

He relates a series of episodes in which Turia was called upon to take extraordinary action to defend her own or family interests. These actions required her to cross the boundary of her threshold, so to speak, and to act in ways which may have been unprecedented for women before this age of uncertainty. As you will have gathered by now, this was not women's appropriate sphere of activity: they had no political rights. But the women of Turia's generation were challenged differently, and she, at least was prepared to meet the challenge.

The first situation happened when she was betrothed but not yet a bride. As he puts it, "You became an orphan suddenly before the day of our wedding, when both your parents were murdered together in the solitude of the countryside. It was mainly due to your efforts that the death of your parents was not left unavenged. For I had left for Macedonia and your sister's husband Cluvius had gone to the Province of Africa. So strenuously did you perform your filial duty by your insistent demands and your pursuit of justice that we could not have done more if we had been present. But these merits you have in common with that most virtuous lady your sister. While you were engaged in these things, having secured the punishment of the guilty, you immediately left you own house in order to guard your modesty and you came to my mother's house, where you awaited my return."

The murder of her parents, certainly the most shocking event of this woman's young life, may have been linked to the political climate. The fact that the murderers appear to have been easily identified enhances this interpretation as does the surrounding context of violence. The were probably killed by political enemies who hoped to profit in some way. This event must have directly coincided with the flight from Italy of those allied with Pompey after Caesar's invasion. Both the sister's husband Cluvius and the fiance take off for the east - as did many of Pompey's supporters. With the deaths of their parents, the two sisters are left on their own. Whatever fight they engaged in, it is vaguely worded - we hear only of the "punishment of the guilty." Notice that Turia immediately enters the house of her future inlaws, an act he commends as proper. Her behavior is characterized by pietas and devoted to the custodia pudicitiae.

An insight into the murder of her parents might also come from the next part of the text where he alludes to a legal fight which ensued in the aftermath of the death of both parents. This is a complicated business: On the death of her parents, Turia was named, along with her fiance, as heir to her father's will. This is not insignificant since wills were the primary means of transferring wealth in this society. She stood to become a very wealth woman and her fiance also would benefit, perhaps in an equal share. The sister was presumably mentioned in the will as a legatee. The reason for this may be that she had married with manus and became technically part of her husband's family.

The will was attacked on extremely technical legal grounds. The attackers claimed that the father's will had become invalid. Under the rules of intestate succession, only Turia would have been an heir. But she would have required a guardian. The attackers claimed to be distant family relations - gentiles - and as such, were petitioning to be named her guardians according to the rules on intestate succession. These people had one purpose: to claim guardianship of Turia and control her fortune.(2)

Once again, she fights and wins. Her husband describes her steadfastness and resolution in the face of this challenge and in asserting the truth of the situation: The will had not been broken and even if it had, the attackers had no standing as members of any clan or extended family of hers. Again, the details are left murky. Whatever means she took to achieve these ends are suppressed.

Let me pause for a moment to discuss important institutions revealed by this episode. First of all, this family is explicitly old-fashioned in its ways. Marriage with manus was falling out of favor as far as we know: it created a marriage in which the wife entered a legal state of dependence on her husband who had legal control of her property. The preferred form of marriage in Turia's day was the so-called "free marriage" in which the woman remained part of her own family and, on her father's death, achieved control over her property. (This type of marriage favored keeping family fortunes with the family. Gifts between husbands and wives were not valid.) (It is possible that Turia's family had intended for her to marry with manus, therefore the provision of her fiance as co-heir. He was being readied for the marriage that would give him control over her affairs. But this may not have been the case.)

Secondly, there is the institution of guardianship. A woman whose male ancestors (males in her father's line of his generation or before) had died was required to have a guardian throughout her life if her father wasn't living. The tutor was required to approve the woman's business dealings, women being regarded as not having the seriousness of mind necessary to conduct business. This institution had weakened substantially by this time, and became weaker so that women could name their own tutors or under certain circumstances be allowed not to have one. However, the sort of adverse guardianship that would have been created by Turia's opponents would surely have been neither tolerant nor beneficial to her interests.

Concerning her fiance's - or perhaps husband's - absence on this occasion, more should be said, as this circumstance sets the stage for her further extraordinary acts. As mentioned earlier, it seems likely that his alliance was with Pompey. After Pompey's death in 48, all of his followers were forbidden to return to Italy without special permission. Turia saves the situation: She talks him into hiding himself and he follows her superior judgement. She organized his finances during this exile, and managed to sneak money, servants and provisions to him. This saved his life. As if this weren't enough, during his absence, a gang attempted to break into their house - purchased from T. Annius Milo, a famous politico and peter-do-well, known to us principally because of a speech Cicero composed in defense of Milo on a charge of murder. Her husband describes her as warding them off and defending the house.

In his absence, his troubles increase. Caesar's successors, including his great-nephew, the future emperor Augustus, Marcus Antonius, and the much less accomplished Marcus Lepidus became the new force to reckon with, as partners in the 2nd Triumvirate. They immediately set about solidifying their control and getting rid of their enemies. It seems clear that her husband, as one of these, was "proscribed." This means that his name appeared on a list of enemies of the triumvirs - there were thousands of them, Cicero being the most famous. These individuals were marked for death and their property was Confi scated. Her last, and from his point of view, greatest act of heroism, occurred when he was proscribed. She worked assiduously to persuade the future emperor to recall her husband. He proved persuadable, but another of the triumvirs, Lepidus, disagreed, and he actually had the administration of Italy at this time. She implored him, an act her husband calls, "The bitterest thing that happened to me in my life."

"You lay prostrate at his feet, and you were not only not raised up, but were dragged away and carried off brutally like a slave. But although your body was full of bruises, your spirit was unbroken and you kept reminding him of Caesar's edict... you pronounced the words of the edict in a loud voice, so that it should be known who was the cause of my deadly perils. This matter was soon to prove harmful for him."

Of course, Lepidus was discarded by his two colleagues within a few years, although we can't attribute it to this episode.

In all of these episodes, we can see Turia's extraordinarily resolute and effective behavior in confronting violence, legal trickery, brigandage, political enmity. She must have repeatedly been called upon to act aggressively outside the home. Her main weapons are her courage, tenacity, and conviction; these traits, along with the confidence and education her status gave her, her apparent persuasiveness, and her family connections brought about her success in each case. The vague wording of the epitaph conceals the rest."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Women in the Roman Law Courts

I just finished listening to the unabridged version of Steven Saylor's new epic novel "Roma". I was particularly intrigued by a reference to a court case involving a significant number of Roman women who conspired to poison their husbands and male relatives. After an extensive investigation that reached into the villas of the wealthy, a number of the women were found guilty and executed. Knowing how carefully Steven researches his books, I felt certain that this incident must have been based on fact. So I began researching it. Although I haven't found this particular incident I did find an article about women who had the force of will to personally take on the Roman courts discussed as part of a larger work on The Parable of the Feisty Widow and the Threatened Judge (Luke 18.1–8) by Wendy Cotter of Loyola University that I found quite interesting:

"A. J. Marshall’s article ‘Ladies at Law: The Role of Women in the Roman Civil Courts’ 23 focuses attention on the evidence found in an essay of Valerius Maximus (c.14–30 ce). The title of the essay, ‘Women who Pleaded before Magistrates for Themselves or for Others’, is sufficient to indicate its oddity in that society, and his introduction explains why:

Nor should I be silent about those women whose natural condition and the modesty of the matron’s robe could not make them keep silent in the Forum and the courts of law.24

Women’s ‘natural condition’ belonged in the domestic, private sphere of the
home, not in the public male domain of the courts, and any woman who frequented
public male space would be seen to be inviting male attention and violating
‘the modesty of the matron’s robe’.25

There are three examples given of women who broke these codes of social
decency: a heroine, a charmer, and a scandalous busybody. First, Hortensia, the
daughter of a deceased senator-friend of Valerius, is said to have strode into court
interrupting the triumvirs to challenge their ruling that Roman women whose
husbands were at war should pay a war tax. The astonished judges sat dumbfounded
while she argued before them. Valerius shows himself benign towards
her as he recalls his friendship with her father,26 but Appian’s record of the same
event is devoid of that sentiment:

'While Hortensia thus spoke the triumvirs were angry that women should
dare to hold a public meeting when the men were silent; that they should
demand from magistrates the reasons for their acts, and themselves not so
much as furnish money while the men were serving in the army. They
ordered the lictors to drive them away from the tribunal.'27

The triumvirs are incensed that the women held a ‘public’ meeting, since women
belong in the private sphere and should be modestly unassuming in public.
Moreover, the anger of the triumvirs relates to a sort of sexual role reversal that
had taken place, for Hortensia was lecturing while the triumvirs, taken by surprise,
were silent and appeared passive. Their command that the lictors ‘drive
them away’ is an effort to reestablish the proper social and sexual roles, with men
inside the courts and women outside.

In the second story, Maesia of Sentinum seems to have possessed a charming
manner so that she impressed the judges with her well-formed arguments. They
sought to compliment her with the epithet of ‘Androgyne’ because, they reasoned,
‘she bore a man’s spirit under the form of a woman’.28 That is, to their
minds, the only reason that Maesia was able to argue rationally and fittingly was
because, in effect, she had a man’s spirit in spite of having a woman’s form.

Finally there is Carfania, the dreaded wife of a senator, who used her position
to attend court constantly and argue her own cases, ‘not because she could not
find advocates, but because she had impudence to spare’. Valerius Maximus calls
her ‘a notorious example of female litigiousness’, so that ‘women of shameless habit are taunted with the name Carfania by way of reproach’.29 In fact, Carfania’s
behaviour was never forgotten by Roman lawyers or magistrates, as seen in
the Ulpian Digest III.1.1.5, which forbids women to appear before a praetor,
specifically mentioning Carfania by name.30 Juvenal’s Satire 6 uses just such
a Carfania-like character called Manilia as an extreme example of social

There was never a case in court in which the quarrel was not started by a
woman. If Manilia is not a defendant, she’ll be the plaintiff; she will herself
frame and adjust the pleadings; she will be ready to instruct Celsus [a
fashionable lawyer] himself how to open his case and how to urge his

These examples demonstrate the intolerance in Roman culture of women’s
involvement with the courts... - The Parable of the Feisty Widow and the
Threatened Judge (Luke 18.1–8) WENDY COTTER C.S.J.Loyola University, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

23 A. J. Marshall, ‘Ladies at Law: The Role of Women in the Roman Civil Courts’, Studies in Latin
Literature and Roman History V (ed. Carl Deroux; Brussels: Latomus. Revue D’Études
Latines, 1989) 35–54.
24 Valerius Maximus, Memorable Doings and Sayings (trans. D. R. Shackleton Bailey; LCL;
Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard University, 2000) VIII.3.1–3.
25 See the examples offered by Valerius Maximus on ‘The Punishment of Wives in Early Rome’, among which he sites the decision of Gaius Sulpicius Gallus to divorce his wife ‘because he had caught her outdoors with her head uncovered: a stiff penalty but not without a certain logic. “The law,” he said, “prescribes for you my eyes alone to which you may prove your beauty. . . . If you with needless provocation invite the look of anyone else, you must be suspected of wrongdoing.”’ Another case involves Publius Sempronius Sophus, ‘who disgraced his wife with divorce merely because she dared attend the games without his knowledge’. Valerius Maximus concludes his review with the approving comment: ‘And so, long ago, when the misdeeds of women were thus forstalled, their minds stayed far from wrongdoing.’ - Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings, VI.3.9–12.
26 Valerius Maximus, Memorable Doings and Sayings, VIII.3.3. See also the praise of Quintilian:
‘In parents I should wish that there be as much learning as possible. Nor do I speak, indeed
merely of fathers; for we have heard of that Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi (whose very
learned writing in her letters has come down to posterity), contributed greatly to their eloquence;
. . . and the oration of the daughter of Quintus Hortensius, delivered before the
Triumviri, is read not merely as an honor to her sex.’
27 Appian, The Civil Wars (trans. Horace White; LCL; London: Heinemann/New York:
Macmillan, 1913) IV.5.34.
28 Valerius Maximus, Memorable Doings and Sayings, VIII.3.1.
29 Ibid., VIII.3.2, emphasis mine.
30 ‘origo uero introducta est a Carfania improbissima femina, quae inuerecunde postulans et
magistratum inquietans causam dedit edicto.’ For this reference I am indebted to Marshall,
‘Ladies at Law’, 44.
31 Juvenal, Satires (trans. G. G. Ramsay; London: Heinemann/New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons,
1928) 6.242–5.