LLR Books

15 Truly Bizarre Facts About Ancient Rome

Ancient Romans did everything from drinking gladiator blood to washing clothes in urine. posted on April 23,

Brian Galindo 
1. Gladiator blood was recommended by Roman physicians to aid various ailments, including epilepsy and infertility.

2. Purple clothing was a status symbol and reserved only for emperors or senators. To achieve the color, a dye was made from murex seashells. It was treason for anyone other than the emperor to dress completely in purple.

3. Emperor Claudius’ third wife, Valeria Messalina, was a nymphomaniac. According to ancient historians, she once competed with a prostitute to see who could have the most sexual partners in a night.

4. Phalluses were considered good luck charms. They were worn as charms on necklaces or hung in doorways as wind chimes as a way to ward off evil spirits.

5. Left-handed people were considered unlucky.
The word “sinister” was originally the Latin adjective “sinister”/”sinistra”/”sinistrum” that meant “left” but took on the meanings of “evil” or “unlucky” by the Classical Latin era.

6. Emperor Caligula often appeared in public dressed in women’s clothing.

7. Caligula’s favorite horse, Incitatus, lived in a marble stable, with an ivory manger. Caligula also tried to make him a consul — the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and the most important job in the government.

8. In the first century B.C., the poet Gaius Valerius Catullus addressed two of his critics, another poet Furius and a senator Aurelius, in a poem considered so vulgar and obscene that it was not translated outside of Latin until the 20th century.

English translation of the poem:
I will sodomize you and face-fuck you,
Cock-sucker Aurelius and catamite Furius,
You who think, because my verses
Are delicate, that I am modest
For it’s right for the devoted poet to be chaste
Himself, but it’s not necessary for his verses to be so.
Verses which then have taste and charm,
If they are delicate and sexy,
And can incite an itch,
And I don’t mean in boys, but in those hairy old men
Who can’t get their flaccid dicks up.
You, because you have read of my countless kisses,
You think I’m a sissy?
I will sodomize you and face-fuck you.

9. Romans thought the early Christians were practicing cannibalism when they heard about them eating bread and wine as symbolic representations of the body and blood of Christ.

10. People would socialize at communal toilets. Rome had over 140 public toilets.

11. Wealthy Romans would have extravagant and decadent banquets that lasted for hours; in order to continue eating, they would induce vomiting.

12. Hair dying was popular among women, with red and blonde being the most popular colors. Dye colors were achieved through different ingredients, like goat fat, beech wood ashes, henna, saffron, and bleach.

13. While Romans were extremely hygienic, they did not use soap. Instead, to get clean they would apply perfumed oils to their skin and then scrape it off with a tool known as a strigil.

14. Not everyone wore togas. Only free-born Roman men as a were allowed to wear togas (as a sign of Roman citizenship), while Roman women wore stolas.
Strangely, prostitutes were forbidden to wear the stola, so instead they wore togas.

15. Urine (because of the ammonia it contains) was used to clean clothes. The urine was collected by fullones (the Ancient Roman version of dry cleaners) from around the city.

Wrestling Was Fixed, Even in Ancient Rome

New analysis of an ancient document reveals classical roots of fake wrestling
By Elizabeth Quill
Smithsonian Magazine 

The smackdown was set for a day in the 14th year of the Roman emperor Gallienus in the city of Antinoopolis, on the Nile: A final bout in the sacred games honoring a deified youth named Antinous featured teenage wrestlers named Nicantinous and Demetrius. It promised to be a noble spectacle—except the fix was in. This papyrus, found in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, and dating to A.D. 267, is apparently the first known bribery contract in ancient sports. In the text, recently deciphered, translated and interpreted by Dominic Rathbone of King’s College London, Demetrius agrees to throw the match for 3,800 drachmas, about enough to buy one donkey. That “seems rather little,” says Rathbone. Winning athletes would typically be greeted home with a triumphant entry and would receive a sizable cash pension. 
Other written accounts suggest bribery was fairly common during ancient sporting events. Fines imposed on athletes who violated the integrity of their games helped fund the construction of bronze statues of Zeus at Olympia, for example. In his writings, the Greek sophist Philostratus complains of the degeneration of athletics, blaming trainers who “have no regard for the reputation of the athletes, but become their advisers on buying and selling with a view to their own profits.”

Found in the winter of 1903-04 during an excavation at Oxyrhynchus, among Egypt’s most important archaeological sites, the contract is nearly complete, except for the right side where the second half of several lines are missing. Currently owned by the Egypt Exploration Society, it is held at the Sackler Library at Oxford University. Though this particular papyrus is not available for viewing there, other holdings have been put online.




'Fantastic' Roman eagle sculpture found in London

Museum of London archaeologists have unearthed a Roman eagle, regarded as one of the finest Romano-British sculptures ever found, discovered in near pristine condition on a site in the City of London
An "exceptional" Roman sculpture of an eagle clasping a serpent in its beak has been discovered by archaeologists in the final hours of a dig at a London building site.
Experts have declared that the object, which was found in the City of London in September, before the site's redevelopment into a 16-storey hotel, is "the finest sculpture by a Romano-British artist ever found in London".
Archaeologists also unearthed foundations of a mausoleum on the east London site and believe that the statue, dating from the first or second century AD and made from oolitic limestone from the Cotswolds, once adorned it.
It is said to be in such good condition - details such as the forked tongue of the snake and the individual feathers of the eagle remain - that archaeologists could not believe it was 1900 years old and were initially hesitant to announce the find until it had been seen by several experts.
The sculpture features an eagle grasping a writhing serpent in its beak and is thought to symbolise the struggle of good (the eagle) against evil (the snake).

Remains of Roman army base found in Austria

Archaeologists have discovered one of the earliest Roman military camps in the Carnuntum on the Danube near Vienna
Archaeologists in Austria believe they have found the remains of the country's oldest Roman army camp at the historic site of Carnuntum, just east of Vienna
The team at the Ludwig-Boltzmann Institute for Virtual Archaeology discovered the remains, using non-invasive radar scanning technology.
The archaeologists believe the camp dates to about 6 AD, which, if confirmed, could make it the winter camp of Emperor Tiberius.
Carnuntum eventually became a city of 50-thousand people and a major military and trade outpost linking the far-flung Roman empire's Asian boundaries to its central and northern European lands.
It was one of the few Roman sites in Europe that was not built over during the Middle Ages, and has now become an archaeological park, which attracts some 160,000 visitors every year.

Roman Ruins in Downtown Miami Hoax Debunked

Sabrina Rodriguez

The story flooded Facebook feeds all over South Florida last week. Topped with a photo of a construction site filled with tall, dusty pillars, it boasted of a remarkable discovery: ancient Roman ruins discovered right in downtown Miami. "This find will change everything we know about modern history if it can be dated and identified to truly be Roman," the story breathlessly claimed.
The post quickly went viral, with hundreds of shares and comments. "Say what??? #ancienttemples in #Miami???" one person freaked out. "The Romans were in America... That's why Caesar is buried in I think it's Illinois... Huge cover-up. Cleopatra too," another quipped. Interest spiked so much that construction workers at the site had to put up opaque netting to keep gawkers at bay.
Hate to break it to you, Miami, but the story is about as reliable as Mario Chalmers' point guard skills. It's a classic case of a piece with just enough facts to pass off as the truth in the quick-sharing Facebook era — but it's totally bogus. "This is way off the beaten path," says Paul George, a historian at HistoryMiami. "It's utterly unbelievable that someone started this ridiculous myth on a whim."
Don't feel too bad if you fell for the hoax. After all, there really are ancient ruins under Miami's condos. Just a few years ago, the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy confirmed the discovery of South Florida's largest Tequesta Native American cemetery at a downtown construction site. The 2,000-year-old cemetery is located just 800 feet from the Miami Circle, another mysterious structure built by native inhabitants.
What's more, the photo topping the story is also totally legit. It comes from a construction site at 151 SE First Ave., right behind the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, where a new high-rise condo project is underway; there really are some odd-looking pillars at the site.
But that's where fact veers wildly from the fiction in the story. According to George, the "ancient Roman-like structures" are in fact left over from the site's previous tenant — the historic Urmey Hotel, which opened in 1916 and closed its doors decades ago. It was known for its Roman-esque columns, but they were anything but authentic.
The website that posted the story — ourcrave.com, a "lifestyle destination" site registered through godaddy.com in Arizona — claims that experts from the National Archaeological Museum of Perugia in Italy speculated that settlers fleeing the collapsing Western Roman Empire may have sailed all the way to the Americas.
A quick history lesson confirms that yes, Romans fled the Italian peninsula when the Roman Empire collapsed in the Fifth Century. Does that mean they traveled 5,000 miles across the Atlantic just to get to the sunny beaches of Miami? Not so much.
George says that although the Romans made it as far as Southeast Asia, Africa, and Western Europe, they definitely did not reach America, let alone Miami. "It just didn't happen," he says. "Whoever wrote that is thousands of miles out of the realm of possibility."
That fact hasn't stopped crowds from stopping by the site. A construction worker there tells Riptide that tarps were put up last week to thwart onlookers.
Sorry, Miami, you've been duped. We may have King James, but we don't have a stake in the Roman Empire.

‘Apocalyptic Plague’ Terrorized the Roman Empire and Left Pagans in Despair — but Its Purported Impact on Christianity Might Shock You

Billy Hallowell

Following a fascinating archaeological find earlier this month, a historian is claiming that an ancient apocalyptic plague that wiped out scores of citizens in the Roman empire actually helped the spread of Christianity.
 “Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed relics from an apocalyptic plague that some Christians believed heralded the end of the world – an idea that likely helped spread the faith centuries ago,” Dr. Candida Moss, a professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, wrote in a CNN op-ed published Monday.
The plague of Cyprian apparently hit the Roman empire hard, killing up to 5,000 citizens per day in the city of Rome, alone, and spreading fear throughout its lands.
But the deadly pandemic — a disease that modern scientists can only postulate was akin to smallpox — also had a big impact on the Christian faith.
“The plague of Cyprian coincided with the period of time (250-270) when Christians first began to fall afoul of Roman law for being [believers],” Moss told TheBlaze. “The Emperor Decius’s legislation to renew the imperial cult and the letters of Valerian targeting Christians about eight years later put Christians in a dangerous situation.”
In addition to these social and political constraints, the deadly plague added additional challenges for Christians, though she said they ended up acting fearlessly in dealing with both the spread of their faith and the threat of death.
“Christian authors tell us that both Christians and non-Christians were dying of the plague. So, Christianity did not guarantee immunity,” Moss added. “What we learn is that Christians were fearless in their approach to the plague — many ministered to the sick and themselves fell ill and died.”
Bishops at the time noted that Christians embraced the circumstances and were dedicated to performing acts of charity. Believers knew that they, like anyone else, could die from the disease, thus they also became more comfortable with martyrdom and more bold in their approach.
In an odd way, Moss said this helped Christianity thrive, writing that it offered “early publicity that Christianity is worth dying for.”
Still in its infancy, the faith had already spread quite a bit at the time, but the plague actually helped it further progress, especially considering that Christians were given a glimpse of the horrors of disease, making them more adamant about avoiding the pain and suffering that hell could bring in the afterlife.
“While pagans had no explanation for the plague Christians were able to see it as serving a positive role. They described it using the language of education and martyrdom,” Moss explained. “This kind of language is very problematic when used of illness today but at the time — when pagan priests were throwing up their hands in despair — it was clearly persuasive.”
Consider the bishop St. Cyprian who wrote about the plague’s effects on citizens and who seemingly believed that it signaled a possible end of days.
“The kingdom of God, beloved brethren, is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world…,” he wrote in “De Mortalitate” (“On the Mortality”).
Moss’ comments come after the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor recently discovered a funerary complex in Egypt, which included bodies covered in lime; lime was considered a form of disinfectant at the time.
Evidence of a large bonfire was also nearby — a tool possibly used to burn the remains of plague victim to help prevent its spread. Based on pottery found at the site, archaeologists found that the area likely dated back to the third century and the exact timing of the plague, Moss wrote.

Rome seeks funds to restore Nero's palace

The Domus Aurea was a symbol of wealth and power in ancient Rome.

By Ed Adamczyk

ROME , June 20 (UPI) --The city of Rome has begun an appeal to find $42.5 million to restore the former palace of Emperor Nero, which currently sits under an amusement park.
Requests to help rebuild ancient Roman sites have become common, with Saudi princes and business entrepreneurs donating funds to restore significant architecture to former glory. Archeologists of Italy's cultural heritage ministry announced Wednesday it intends to remove the amusement park and remove hundreds of tons of soil currently burying the Domus Aurea, the "Golden House" or palace of Nero (37-68 AD), who was Rome's emperor from 54 AD to 68 AD and left a reputation for lavish living.
"The state has very limited resources, unfortunately," said Dario Franceschini, the minister for cultural heritage. "This is an opportunity for a big company to sponsor an extraordinary project, which will capture the world's attention. It would be scandalous if no one comes forward."
A team of 70 specialists has already restored the interior of the palace, a three-year project, and removed calcium deposits covering frescoes depicting gods, goddesses and Roman nobles at banquets. Also discovered were holes in the ceiling in which people lowered themselves, years later, into the palace to survey it.
Renaissance painters, including Michelangelo, Raphael and Pinturicchio, were among those who left graffiti and their signatures.
The funding will be partly dedicated to constructing a specially-designed garden above the palace to stop water dripping downward.


•           Lennie Bennett, Times Art Critic

In the ancient world, he was in charge of the seas and natural disasters, especially earthquakes. Poseidon was also, like his fellow gods and goddesses, a lusty soul, racking up dozens of liaisons that ranged from romance to rape, leading to many progeny. We see his story told in "Poseidon and the Sea: Myth, Cult and Daily Life" at the Tampa Museum of Art in 125 objects dating from 800 B.C. to 400 A.D. and encompassing the Greek, Etruscan and Roman cultures.
The best antiquities exhibitions tell stories through things that were usually utilitarian in their time. In this case, the utility is often of a high decorative order though there are many humble objects, such as fish hooks, as well. The subtitle, "Myth, Cult and Daily Life," describes the organization of the show with objects illustrating the Poseidon myth, those used to honor and worship him and those reflecting his influence day to day in people's lives.
Today, the lives of the Olympic deities are just fascinating, fantastic old tales for most of us. To people who lived during those times, Poseidon was a real presence in their world, sending lashing storms when angry, calm waters when appeased, watching in his great home beneath the sea. So they acknowledged his authority with statues large and small for their homes and public places, especially temples. An example greets us at the entrance to the show, an almost life-size marble beauty with his signature curly mane and beard. A dolphin perches beside him on the crest of a wave. It's the largest and best-preserved statue of him in the United States, a prized part of the Tampa Museum of Art's collection and the inspiration for the exhibition. You can see where restoration efforts, probably in the 18th or 19th century, added holes that would affix his signature trident to his body. The object came to the museum as part of the Joseph Veach Noble Collection, which the museum purchased in 1986. Its 150 works form the core of what is today the finest assembly of antiquities in the Southeast.
Nearby, a 14-foot, 200-pound bronze trident, probably once part of an enormous Poseidon sculpture, reminds us of the power he wielded. Its presence in the show is serendipitous. Seth D. Pevnick, the museum's chief curator and the Richard E. Perry curator of Greek and Roman art, was formerly a curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum in California before coming to Tampa.
"I had seen many times this huge crate with 'Trident' stenciled on it. Only colleagues who had worked there a very long time knew anything about it. It hadn't been on view since the early 1980s. I got someone to open it up so I could look at it," he said.
That was when the idea of a themed show took hold. When he interviewed for the curatorial position at the Tampa museum in 2009, knowing about its superb statue, he laid out a plan for a Poseidon exhibition. He got the job and, eventually, the trident for the show, along with about 100 more choice objects on loan from major museums.
One of the earliest is a ceramic alabastron, a small carafe used to hold cosmetic oil, from around 580 B.C., adorned with an image of Poseidon (always with his trident) riding a hippocamp, a water creature that was part horse and part fish, a reference to his dominion over the sea and horses.
Poseidon was one of 12 Olympian gods who, according to legend, defeated the Giants, a race said to be of human proportions but with inordinate strength. Two amphorae (a decorated amphora was usually used to hold wine during meals) illustrate the moment in the epic battle, known as the Gigantomachy, when Poseidon broke off part of an island and crushed Polybotes, burying him beneath the earth. The rumbles of earthquakes were believed to be his moans.
Many more figured exploits scroll across the surfaces of the black and red vessels — the enormous kraters used for mixing wine and water, the drinking cups, the pitchers. Poseidon pursues women, wades into battles, socializes with fellow gods, mortals and his own offspring, including the immortal winged horse Pegasus (spelled using the alternate Pegasos in this show), born from a union with Medusa, a Gorgon with live snakes for hair and a gaze that turned people to stone.
During times of great import, live horses were said to be thrown into the sea as sacrificial offerings to Poseidon, but more often, votives were used. Among those in this show are dozens of tiny lead fish, arranged in a frame as if swarming in the water. A lovely mosaic, once inlaid in a Roman villa, is a scene made from small pieces of stone and glass. In the foreground fishermen are hauling in nets at water's edge while farther ashore, people offer obeisance to Poseidon at a small outdoor shrine. Small boats were placed in tombs and carved onto marble sarcophagi to connect the dead with the divine Poseidon.
Poseidon's presence in people's daily lives was more by association, though. In ancient Greece and Italy, the sea was an important form of transportation and source of food, and household items were constant reminders of its importance. Plates, flasks and other containers are decorated with specific fish indigenous to the Mediterranean. An askos, a small clay vessel used to pour oil, is fashioned in the shape of a lobster claw, and glass flasks are blown into fish shapes. One of the most charming objects in the exhibition is a fish-shaped askos that has, in addition to a spout, a small handle and lip for drinking. Pevnick speculates (and with antiquities, so much is speculation) that, given its proportions, it was the ancient version of a child's sippy cup.
Because water routes were usually faster than land ones, ports in Greece and Italy were important trade hubs and a lot of money changed hands in cities lining the coasts. Poseidon's visage was stamped into many coins not only because he was a famous figure but also as another form of tribute in hopes he would provide safe passage for ships. There are many examples here and they do have a sameness, but Pevnick presents some of them in a novel and creative way with a terrific map of the area represented in this show dotted with coins associated with particular cities and regions.
The exhibition catalog ($49.95, plus tax) is an important companion to "Poseidon and the Sea: Myth, Cult and Daily Life," with handsome photographs and illustrations as well as essays on the show's three subtitles, including one titled "Fish to Fish Sauce," a culinary chapter for artful foodies! And we learn that Neptune isn't simply the Roman version of Poseidon as we have come to believe.
The objects and what they represent are indeed very old and seemingly foreign to us. But look at them the way Pevnick does. We live in a coastal area where the Gulf of Mexico is both a recreational and commercial feature. We love seafood. We have a healthy respect for the power of storms. And many of us believe in and worship a higher being without ever having seen that being. We are not so far apart from the ancients.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at lbennett@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8293.
Poseidon and the Sea: Myth, Cult and Daily Life
The exhibition is at the Tampa Museum of Art, 120 Gasparilla Plaza (off Ashley Drive in downtown Tampa), through Nov. 30. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $10 adults, $7.50 seniors and military (with one guest), $5 students and free for kids younger than 6. Pay what you will from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday. Also on view at the museum is "My Generation: Young Chinese Artists."