roman-history

6

DELPHI

Delphi was an important ancient Greek religious sanctuary sacred to the god Apollo. Located on Mt. Parnassus near the Gulf of Corinth, the sanctuary was home to the famous oracle of Apollo which gave cryptic predictions and guidance to both city-states and individuals. In addition, Delphi was also home to the panhellenic Pythian Games.

The site was first settled in Mycenaean times in the late Bronze Age (1500-1100 BCE) but took on its religious significance from around 800 BCE. The original name of the sanctuary was Pytho after the snake which Apollo was believed to have killed there. Votive offerings at the site from this period include small clay statues (the earliest), bronze figurines, and richly decorated bronze tripods. 

Delphi was also considered the centre of the world, for in Greek mythology Zeus released two eagles, one to the east and another to the west, and Delphi was the point at which they met after encircling the world. This fact was represented by the omphalos (or navel), a dome-shaped stone which stood outside Apollo’s temple and which also marked the spot where Apollo killed the Python.

On a personal note, One of my favorite sites ever that I’m super excited to share with you guys. Also first time taking a site start to finish.

Posts to come, by physical order going up the Sacred way:

1. Silver bull

2. Spartan Stoa, Kings of Argos, Exedra of the Epigoni

3.  Siphnian Treasury

4. Athenian Treasury

5. All of the other Treasuries

6. Sphinx of Naxos

7. Stoa of the Athenians

8. Altar of the Chians

9. Temple of Apollo

10. Monument of Prusias II

11. Charioteer of Delphi

12. Monument of Aemilius Paullus

13. Omphalos / Column of the Dacers

14. Theater

15. Daochos

16. Monument of Craterus

17. Lesche of the Knidians

18. Stadium

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January 24th 41 AD: Caligula killed

On this day in 41 AD, the Roman Emperor Caligula was assassinated by his guard in Rome. Born in Italy in 12 AD as Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, he is today known by his nickname Caligula, or ‘Little Boot’. The name was given to him by Roman soldiers on the German frontier when he was a young boy, owing to his footwear. After his parents were killed by imperial forces, Caligula was adopted by his great uncle, Emperor Tiberius; he became the third Roman emperor upon Tiberius’s death in 37 AD. With the support of the army he quickly moved to eradicate any challenges to his reign, having Tiberius’s grandson and rival heir executed. As emperor, Caligula lavished Rome with grand games and building projects. However, he soon became despised for his increasing megalomania and apparent insanity, which stemmed from an illness early in his reign. He supposedly tried to humiliate the Senate by making his favourite horse, Incitatus, a senator. Caligula also reversed previous imperial trend by actively encouraging worship of himself as a god. His reign was also brutal in its vicious treason trials and frequent executions of dissenters; he even made it a capital offence to mention a goat in the presence of the very hairy Caligula. Caligula had imperial aspirations, and undertook military campaigns in Germany and planned one to Britain. In 41 AD, after a four year reign, the increasingly unpopular Caligula was assassinated aged 29 by his own bodyguards. He was succeeded by his uncle Claudius, who proved a much more even-tempered and moderate leader.

Today’s fun fact:

The term “Byzantine Empire” was coined in the 18th century so that historians could draw a clearer distinction between Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The Byzantines themselves kept calling their state the Eastern Roman Empire right up to 1453, and the people of mainland Greece were still calling themselves Romans during the First Balkan War in the 20th century.

So one of the theories that’s been making the rounds is that Attila the Hun’s name wasn’t actually his name, but a title bestowed on him by his Ostrogoth vassals; “Atta” is Gothic for “father,” and the suffix “-la” indicates a familiar or a diminutive, so “Attila” would be a familiar/diminutive form of “Father,” and y'know, this is just great, this means I’m gonna have to kinkshame an entire Germanic supertribalist confederation.

Tarquin the Elder Consulting Attius Navius
Sebastiano Ricci (Italian; 1659–1734)
ca. 1690
Oil on canvas
J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, Los Angeles, California

Tarquin was also making preparations for surrounding the City with a stone wall when his designs were interrupted by a war with the Sabines. So sudden was the outbreak that the enemy were crossing the Anio before a Roman army could meet and stop them. There was great alarm in Rome. The first battle was indecisive, and there was great slaughter on both sides. The enemies’ return to their camp allowed time for the Romans to make preparations for a fresh campaign. Tarquin thought his army was weakest in cavalry and decided to double the centuries, which Romulus had formed, of the Ramnes, Titienses, and Luceres, and to distinguish them by his own name. Now as Romulus had acted under the sanction of the auspices, Attus Navius, a celebrated augur at that time, insisted that no change could be made, nothing new introduced, unless the birds gave a favourable omen. The king’s anger was roused, and in mockery of the augur’s skill he is reported to have said, “Come, you diviner, find out by your augury whether what I am now contemplating can be done.” Attus, after consulting the omens, declared that it could. “Well,” the king replied, “I had it in my mind that you should cut a whetstone with a razor. Take these, and perform the feat which your birds portend can be done.” It is said that without the slightest hesitation he cut it through.

(Livy, History of Rome, Book 1, Chapter 36. Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts. New York, 1912)

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The Sacred Chickens of Ancient Rome,

In Ancient Rome the Sacred Chickens were a roost of…sacred chickens that were used for divination by Roman priests. Revered for their ability to give portents of the future, the chickens were attentively raised and kept by the priests, hence why depictions of Roman priests often show them with chickens.

To use the Sacred Chickens for fortunetelling, feed would be spread around the ground and the chickens set loose. If the chickens ate voraciously then a favorable outcome could be expected. If not, then an unfavorable outcome was expected. If a favorable outcome was needed, then the chickens would be kept in cages for a period of time without food before being set loose, which seems to me no different than shaking a magic eight ball repeatedly until you get the right answer. Regardless, the portents of the Sacred Chickens were taken very seriously, and matters of state or military were not conducted until first consulting with the chickens. If this sounds ridiculous and you are forming a superior attitude toward our modern society, know that as someone born and raised close to Punxstuwaney, Pennsylvania, I don’t believe that we are much more enlightened than the Ancient Romans.

In 249 BC during the First Punic War, the Roman Consul Publius Claudius Pulcher was leading a fleet of 120 Roman warships on a surprise attack on the Carthaginian port of Drepana. When feed was spread out on the deck of the ship, the chickens refused to eat, signaling that the attack was doomed to failure. Pulcher, believing the Sacred Chickens to be superstitious nonsense, ordered the chickens cast overboard exclaiming “Bibant, quoniam esse nolunt” (Let them drink if they will not eat) .  The morale of the Roman fleet spiraled downward. After all how could one conduct a successful military campaign without good portents from the Sacred Chickens? When the fleet attacked the port, it made a clumsy and slow advance against the harbor, thus losing the element of surprise. The Carthaginian fleet quickly mobilized and attacked the Romans, sinking or capturing 93 Roman ships. Ignore the Sacred Chickens at your own peril!

telegraph.co.uk
Giant mausoleum in Rome that held the remains of the emperor Augustus to be restored after decades of neglect
After decades of shameful neglect, the biggest mausoleum ever to be built by the ancient Romans is to be brought alive with a spectacular multimedia experience projected onto its 2,000-year-old walls.

After decades of shameful neglect, the biggest mausoleum ever to be built by the ancient Romans is to be brought alive with a spectacular multimedia experience projected onto its 2,000-year-old walls.

The Mausoleum of Augustus, located in the centre of Rome just a stone’s throw from the Tiber, was constructed in 28BC and became the last resting place of the eponymous emperor, as well as his successors Nero and Tiberius.

An Italian telecommunications company has contributed six million euros for its restoration, with its director promising an elaborate multimedia show that will tell the story of Augustus and ancient Rome…

I can think of no more fitting a gift to commemorate the 2055th anniversary of Augustus and Livia than to restore the resting place of the dynasty that their marriage created.

3

An Empire for Sale

The Roman Emperor Commodus was not a good emperor, being known for a legacy of megalomania, lunacy, and tyranny. Commodus’ reign came to an end in 192 AD when he was strangled to death as part of a conspiracy by his maid and the Praetorian Guard, the personal bodyguard of the Emperor. As part of the conspiracy, the Praetorian’s installed a Roman Senator named Pertinax as Emperor under an agreement that he would pay the Praetorians a large sum of money. Under Roman law, the Emperor had to the confirmed by the Senate, so the Praetorians merely forced the Senate to confirm Pertinax with the threat of violence.

The Praetorians thought that being the power behind the throne would be just ace. Soon the Praetorian Guards fell into sloth and drunkeness, it’s members wanting to not only wield the power of an emperor but live like emperors as well. The only problem was that Pertinax reneged on his deal, only paying a portion of the agreed upon sum. In addition Pertinax tried to enforce military discipline upon the Praetorians, trying to reign them in and transform them from being overprivileged pampered slobs back into elite soldiers. The Praetorians didn’t take too kindly to this and thus murdered him on March 28th, 193 AD, a mere three months after installing him as emperor.

After the murder of Pertinax, the Praetorians announced that they would host an auction for the throne. Learning from the mistakes of the past, the Praetorians hoped to milk the empire for all it was worth and demand cash up front. Rome’s wealthiest and most powerful citizens gathered to participate in the auction in hopes of buying the empire.  After several rounds a bidding war developed between Titus Flavius Claudius Sulpicianus, the Prefect of Rome, and Didius Julianus, the Proconsul of Africa.  Sulpicianus bid 20,000 sesterces (silver coins) to every Praetorian Guard. Julianus however won the bid by offering 25,000 sesterces, an enormous sum that Sulpicianus could not match.  The guards saluted him and declared him emperor. They then forced the Roman Senate to confirm him as emperor at sword point.

Unfortunately for Didius Julianus, his time as emperor would be very short.  The people of Rome were resentful of having an emperor ascend to power through pure greed.  Whenever he made a public appearance people would greet him with insults, jeers, and obscenities while pelting him with stones and rotten vegetables. Worse yet, his provincial governors refused to recognize him as a legitimate Emperor of Rome and refused to carry out his orders. This was especially bad because the Roman governors not only controlled the legions and auxiliaries, an army which numbered in the hundreds of thousands, but controlled the infrastructure and day to day governing aparatus of the empire. Julianus, at best, commanded the Praetorians, numbering around 5,000 men at most, by then a force of drunken and unruly men, and the city cohorts or Rome, a police force numbering around 5,000. The people of Rome didn’t take him seriously, the governors didn’t take him seriously, the Senate was resentful of his rule, and his power didn’t stretch far beyond his palace. Poor Didius Julianus was emperor of not much of anything.

Immediately Roman Governors began to march on Rome to oust Julianus. The closest and also the most powerful was the Governor Pannonia Septimus Severus. Julianus sent an envoy to Severus in hopes of negotiating a power sharing deal, but Severus refused and the senators sent to negotiate defected to his side. Julianus then sent a small force of Praetorians to slow down or halt the advance, but Severus’ army easily swept away the small force. Upon reaching Rome, Severus called for the heads of the Praetorian leaders responsible for the murder of Pertinax, and promised to spare everyone else, recognizing that they were mere innocent bystanders or pawns of the Praetorians who acted under the threat of harm.  The Praetorians quickly produced the responsible men, who were immediately executed, and Rome was surrendered to Severus without a fight.

Didius Julianus was declared an enemy of the state by the Senate. He was executed by one of his palace guards, his reign lasting 66 days. Septimus Severus was recognized as Emperor of Rome by the Senate. A civil war would erupt between Severus and some provincial governors for control of the empire. Severus would remain on top, thus founding the Severan Dynasty.

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February 17th 1600: Giordano Bruno executed

On this day in 1600, the Italian friar, astronomer and philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for heresy. Bruno’s ideas were controversial for his day, but are now hailed as precursory to modern scientific understanding. Bruno proposed the concept of an infinite universe populated by other intelligent life and rejected traditional geocentric astronomy. He agreed with Copernicus that the planets revolve around the Sun, but expanded on this by suggesting that the Sun is just another star. For these unorthodox views, which challenged traditional Christian ideas about the universe, Bruno was found guilty of heresy by the Roman Inquisition and burned at the stake. For his refusal to renounce his beliefs, Giordano Bruno is often remembered as a martyr for free thought.

“Perhaps your fear in passing judgment on me is greater than mine in receiving it”
- Giordano Bruno to the judges upon hearing his death sentence

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Roman Bathroom Habits

The Romans were not shy when it came to doing their “business”. Something that we today regard as an act that demands a certain level of privacy, in ancient Rome, bathroom habits were much more open and, to a great extent, totally lacking in privacy. In a city of over one-million people, ninety-five percent of them did not have access to a private bathroom. Only wealthy Romans could afford the luxury of having a private bathroom by tapping directly into the public aqueducts, which brought running water into their homes. However, for the majority of Romans lacking their own bathroom, there were two options available.

The first option was to go in any ordinary pot that you kept in your home or place of business; moreover, in the city of Rome itself, large urinal pots stood at several street corners. These “piss pots” actually had a very significant role in everyday life. The pots were collected by fullers because the urine functioned as an ancient form of bleach. Stale urine, known as wash, was a source of ammonium salts and assisted in cleansing and whitening cloth; urine made your whites white! In addition, tanners soaked animal skins in urine in order to remove hair fibers before tanning. Oddly enough these pots were eventually taxed by the emperor Vespasian which resulted in the piss pots being nicknamed after him. Flying waste was also a very common problem in Ancient Rome. Ancient writers mention anecdotes involving citizens emptying their pots from third or fourth-story windows on to whoever was walking in the street. There were laws enacted solely for the purpose of protecting those who had been hit by flying waste, “Damages to be paid by throwers of waste into the street if the person hit was injured, no damages paid for clothing or if hit outside of daylight hours.” Nevertheless, the simplest way of disposing of your waste was to throw it into the street, because the streets of Rome were naturally angled towards the center allowing waste to roll into the gutters. Some Insulae,(multi-story apartment buildings), however, could be linked by gravity-fed pipes that led to a main cesspit. Farmers would collect “night-soil” from these cesspits in order to fertilize their fields.

The second option available to the inhabitants of Rome was to head to a public bathroom. Ancient Roman public bathrooms were made out of long rows of massive stone with a hole cut into the stone every few feet. Located in front of the seating area is a channel or elongated basin where your sponge sticks are located. Sponge sticks you say, what the devil for? The Romans obviously did not use toilet paper, but used sponges soaked in water. You would grab a sponge attached to a stick and clean yourself, if you need more cleaning you could plunge the sponge stick back into the little stream and clean some more. Once you are finished with the sponge stick, you scrape the sponge against the side of the stone hole you are seated on and let it fall into the flowing water; quite a logical system reminiscent of modern day bidets. Underneath those Roman derrières flowed a system of plumbing that rivaled modern day cities like New York City. Constant running water flushes away the waste into an enormous sewage systems that runs under the streets of Rome, the Cloaca Maxima (Great Drain). This system is made possible by several aqueducts that flow into the city keeping it supplied with fresh flowing water. The Roman’s effective sewage system was not in place in order to combat the possibility of disease, but more so to combat smell; the role of impure water in causing disease seemed to be little understood by the Romans.

In some ancient bathrooms there is space for one-hundred people at a time. The bathrooms are open to all genders and all ages, so imagine men, women, and children all standing or sitting, doing their business next to one another in an open space. People are discussing business or gossiping to one another while going to the bathroom. Since for most Romans privacy is a unheard of aspect of life, why would it be different in this situation? However, the public bathrooms are not only visited by the common citizen, the wealthy also frequent them. Every location in ancient Rome where large crowds gather is an opportunity for wealthy Romans to pander to their constituents. Most upper-class Romans were running for some sort of political office, so the public bathrooms were a great location for mingling with the Roman people. Therefore, if you wished to hear the local gossip, chat with a friend or stranger, or simply do your business, the public bathrooms are always a good choice. Roman bathroom habits were communal, lacking in privacy, and surprisingly efficient, and they also allowed one to say, “I had a lovely conversation with a few people while sitting on the toilet the other day.”