Wednesday, 31 August 2005

Roman Women and their Hair

The very complicated hairstyles for women in ancient Rome, didn't really arrive until the era of the Flavian emperors, after AD 69. Until then the hairstyles were pretty simple, with the hair being parted in the middle, then pulled back and tied up into a bun. Small ornaments were sometimes placed in the hair, depending on the occasion.

As most Roman women had dark Mediterranean looks, fair hair was widely admired and coveted and therefore substances to lighten the hair were extremely popular. The most commonly used of these were Batavian foam and soap tablets from Wiesbaden or Mainz - made of goat fat and beechwood ash. They also used henna.

Tuesday, 30 August 2005

Chaucer and the Devils's Arse


Geoffrey Chaucer became one of the greatest figures in English medieval literature. He lived towards the end of the 14th Century and was Richard II's court poet. Satire was very much encouraged in Richard's court, so Chaucer was able to use his talent in order to talk of the corruption within the Church. He most famously wrote of a friar, who having been accompanied down to hell by an angel, commented with pleasure that he could not see any other friars there, assuming they were obviously all in heaven. The angel was very quick to correct him on that assumption and so he got hold of Satan and...

'Hold up thy tail thy Satanas' said he
'Show forth thine arse and let the friar see
Where is the nest of friars in this place!'
And ere that half a furlong way of space
Right so as bees come swarming from the hive,
Out of the devil's arse began to drive
Twenty thousand friars in a route.
And throughout hell they swarmed all about
And came again as fast as they may gone
And in his arse they crept in every John!

(From The Summoner's Prologue)

Not surprisingly, when Richard II was overthrown and Henry IV took the throne with the help of Thomas Arundel, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Chaucer dissapeared without a trace. To this day we do not know what happened to him.

For purists click on link for the real Old English version:

Monday, 29 August 2005

In Ancient Rome the Clothes Maketh the Man

Senatorial tunic

In ancient Rome, your clothes not only showed your status in society but also pinpointed exactly which layer of it you were positioned in.

An eques (knight) would be a man who was basicaly able to provide 400,000 sesterces to buy his way into this rank. To be an equastrian was to be next to the senatorial class, but not quite there, if you see what I mean. This man would wear a thick gold ring to indicate his status and his white tunic had a narrow garnet-coloured stripe on it, what the Romans called purple. This stripe was called the augustus clavus.
The top rank was of course the senatorial one. The senator's tunic, also white, had a broad Roman purple stripe on it, the latus clavus. His shoes had a crescent on them. The magistrate, although also a senator, even though he too wore a crescent, had slighlty higher soles in order to be distinguished from the others.

Another important indicator of status was the length of a man's tunic. The longer the tunic, the higher the status implied. A slave or soldier wore a short tunic, while a senator or knight wore his right down to his ankles and sometimes a little below them too.

See links below for more details.

Roman clothing

Men's clothing in ancient Rome

Sunday, 28 August 2005

Adulterated food in Victorian London

Copper cooking pans

Victorian food was notoriously adulterated. Probably the most widespread of these adulterations was the addition of chalk to bread, used to whiten it. As flour was expensive, many times the bread would have a fair amount of potato flour in it, as this was cheap. Alum would also be added. This enabled cheaper, inferior quality flour to be used in the process of breadmaking.
Of course bakers were known for kneading the bread with their bare feet and considering the fact that in Victorian times people were said to have washed their feet only every two or even three weeks, I would say this qualifies as adulteration of food.

In 1860 the Act for Preventing the Adulteration of Articles of Articles of Food and Drink was passed. However, this act was optional and it was up to the local authority to decide whether they wanted to comply with it or not. One can imagine this was not very effective. A contemporary account informs us that by 1869 nothing had come of it.

Cooking was done in copper pans, which in itself could be extremely dangerous, leading to severe cases of copper poisoning. Of course, to counteract this, the inside of the pan was lined with tin so the food would have no contact with the copper. The downside to this was the fact that the tin layer wore off quite easily with repeated use and cleaning. Of course, the well to do could afford to have the pans re-lined with tin when this happened, but the poor could not, a fact that presented dire consequences on their health.

Thursday, 25 August 2005

Seneca on Life


Seneca had a lot to say about life and in a letter to his friend Paulinus, he goes on to talk of those who are overcome by fear and therefore make their lives appear very short.

“But life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present and fear the future. When they come to the end of it, the poor wretches realize too late that for all this time they have been preoccupied in doing nothing. And the fact that they sometimes invoke death is no proof that their lives seem long. Their own folly afflicts them with restless emotions which hurl themselves upon the very things they fear…They lose the day waiting for the night and the night in fearing the dawn. Even their pleasures are uneasy and made anxious by various fears, and at the very height of their rejoicing the worrying thought steals over them: ‘How long will this last?’ This feeling has caused kings to bewail their power…”

Wednesday, 24 August 2005

What the Ancient Greeks Ate

The Parthenon, Athens, Greece

Here is a link to ancient Greek recipes, eating habits, etc:

Tuesday, 23 August 2005

Working Conditions - Past and Present

If you have ever thought you have the job from hell think again. Here's an interesting article on working conditions in late 18th and early 19th century Britain.

Working Conditions in Late 18th, and early 19th Century Britain.

And of course, althought not history (yet), I can totally relate to this one! :-)

Monday, 22 August 2005

Servilia Caepionis - Julius Caesar's Bold Mistress

Cato the Younger

Servilia Caepionis was the half sister of Marcus Porcius Cato the Younger. She married a fairly insignificant man and her son, Brutus grw up to become one of Julius Caeasar's assassins.
What she is most famous for however, is for being Julius Caesar's mistress. She was several years older than him but apparently he was very much taken with her and even bought her a priceless black pearl upon his return from the Gallic Wars.

Servilia was a very bold woman and did not behave like a typical Roman mistress. She did not wait around for him. If she wanted to see Caesar she would make this known to him. Actually, this led to their affair becoming public. One day when Caesar was at the Senate a messenger came up to him with an urgent letter. It ws of course a love letter from Servilia, but of course Cato the Younger (her hafl brother) did not know this. As Caesar attempted to read Servilia's letter discreetly, Cato saw him acting in a secretive manner and accused him of conspiracy. When Caesar explained that the letter was from his mistress, Cato refused to believe him and demanded to see proof. Amist the argument Cato snatched the letter from Caesar's hands and read it. We do not know what the letter actually said but a contemporary account tells us that Cato was taken aback with disgust and did not say anything more. Shortly afterwards Servilia was divorced...

Saturday, 20 August 2005

Marriage & Sex for the Victorian Middle Class Woman

Most middle class women during the Victorian era, married by the time they were 25, the ideal age to commit oneself to matrimony being 20. If they had not managed to attract a husband by the age of 30, they well and truly on the way to being left on the shelf, so to speak.

Marriage in the Victorian era, was usually very much a case of giving up the little independence a woman had in order to become her husband's servant. It was also a means of securing financial security. A writer The Magazine of Domestic Economy in 1843, writes: " sell one's independence for gold is repugnant to all correct feeling. It is too often done, notwithstanding that unhappiness is the secret or evident result. We are no advocates for improvident marriages. Love in a cottage is very delightful, but it must be a cottage ornee and if with a double coach house the love will be the more enduring."

However, the husband to be did not simply go into a marriage offering all material goods and getting nothing in return. "A gentleman will often give his daughter a dowry amounting to no more than his eldest son's future income for one year..."

The ideal marriage was one in which the woman stayed at home, taking care of it, and making everything nice for when her husband came back after a tiring day of earning the family's income. The perfect wife was not supposed to ever trouble her husband with talk of domestic troubles, or worries about the children; she was expected to deal with all that on her own and present an image of surrender, piety and sumbission to her husband / master. When and if he wanted to have sexual intercourse she would have been expected to make herself available at once, but of course she was never supposed to desire or even want sex. Oh no, the moddest Victorian lady was to be devoid of sexual needs - her own gratification was a completely allien and unheard of concept, even to her.

Until 1857 divorce could not be obtained without a private Act of Parliament, so marriage was pretty binding...

Wednesday, 17 August 2005

Marie Antoinette and Count Fersen

Menage a trois - Fersen on the top, Louis on the bottom and Marie Antoinette centre of attraction...

King Louis the XVI was not one of the most fascinating men in history. In fact he was rather boring, as the entries below from a section of his diary show.

Sunday, 13—­Left Versailles. Supper and slept at Compignee, at the house of M. de Saint-Florentin.
Monday, 14—­Interview with Mme. la Dauphine.
Tuesday, 15—­Supped at La Muette. Slept at Versailles.
Wednesday, 16—­My marriage. Apartment in the gallery. Royal banquet in the Salle d’Opera.
Thursday, 17—­Opera of “Perseus.”
Friday, 18—­Stag-hunt. Met at La Belle Image. Took one.
Saturday, 19—­Dress-ball in the Salle d’Opera. Fireworks.
Thursday, 31—­I had an indigestion.

Not only was Louis incredibly boring but he also had little or no interest in sex. It is not surprising therefore, that his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette soon saught to be fulfilled elsewhere. It is said that after four years of marriage the only intimacy between when Louis had given her a peck on the cheek. Hot stuff indeed...

So, when the young Swedish Count Axel von Fersen came to the French court, full of adoration for Marie Antoinette, it was not long before the two were lovers. The affair was intense. Wherever and whenever they could meet they did. Fersen was not yet 20 years old, his passion was ardent and he could scarcely hide it. They were crazy about each other...
When the Queen of France gave birth to a princess, tongues started wagging as the king's brother, the Comte de Provence, who hated her, made a vicious comment in church while the infant was about to be baptized.
The grand almoner, who presided, asked;
“What name shall be given to this child?”
The Comte de Provence answered in a sneering tone:
“Oh, we don’t begin with that. The first thing to find out is who the father and the mother are!”

In fact, a Swedish envoy had sent the following report to the King of Sweden:

"I must confide to your majesty that the young Count Fersen has been so well received by the queen that various persons have taken it amiss. I own that I am sure that she has a liking for him. I have seen proofs of it too certain to be doubted. During the last few days the queen has not taken her eyes off him, and as she gazed they were full of tears. I beg your majesty to keep their secret to yourself."

Fersen was horrified that his goddess should be subjected to such gossip and in order to protect her reputation he decided to leave and join the French army going to America to fight Lafayette. He went to great pains to protect his love's reputation, even spreading rumours that he was about to marry a young Swedish woman.

Marie Antoinette was devastated and unconsolable. Fersen was away for three years. Inevitably he was still to be by her side. In 1791 as things were looking tough for the Royal Family, he helped to smuggle the King, Queen and their children to Varennes. However this plan failed and the Royal Family were imprisoned. Fersen did all he could to help the love of his life but it was all in vain and in the end she was sent to the guillotine. Fersen lived on and returned to Sweden where he became a succesful statesman. His death was not pleasant; he was trampled and beaten to death by an angry crowd after untrue rumours were spread that he was implicated in the poisoning of the Crown Prince. It was June 1810 and he was 55 years old. Marie Antoinette was the only woman he ever loved, until the end.

Tuesday, 16 August 2005

Tiberius and Freedom of Speech


The Emperor Tiberius is not known for his support of democratic values. However, Suetonius has an interesting, if not amusing account of his attitude to people who said bad things about him or his family.

He was, moreover, quite unperturbed by abuse, slander, or lampoons on himself and his family and would often say that liberty to speak and think as one pleases is the test of a free country. When the Senate asked that those who had offended in this way should be brought to book, he replied: 'We cannot spare the time to undertake any such new enterprise. Open that window and you will let in such a rush of denunciations as to waste your whole working day; everyone will take this opportunity of airing some private feud.' A remarkably modest statement of his is recorded in the 'Proceedings of the Senate': 'If So-and-so challenges me, I shall lay before you a careful account of what I have said and done; if that does not satisfy him, I shall reciprocate his dislike of me.'

Monday, 15 August 2005

The secret meanings of Elizabethan salads

The Elizabethans liked to give secret meanings to their salads. Therefore, each vegetable / ingredient, was used to convey a specific message.
Here is a list of the most common meanings associated with some of the most widely used ingredients:

Asparagus: Renewing of love
Borage: You make me glad
Bugloss: I am pleased with you
Scallion: I love you not
Cabbage lettuce: Your love feedeth me
Bitter lettuce: I love you not
Olives: Your love annoyeth me
Rosemary flowers: I accept your love
Winter savory: I offer you my love
Radish: Pardon me
Strawberries: I am altogether yous
Raspberries: Come again

Sunday, 14 August 2005

More Thoughts from Marcus Aurelius

"Withdraw into yourself. Our master-reason asks no more than to act justly and thereby to achieve calm."

"Do away with all fancies. Cease to be passion's puppet. Limit time to the present. Learn to recognize every experienec for what it is, whether it be your own or another's. Divide and classify the objects of sense into cause and matter. Meditate upon your last hour. Leave your neighbour's wrong-doing to rest with him who initiated it."

"Fix your thought closely on what is being said and let your mind enter fully into what is being done and into what is doing it."

"Vex not thy spirit at the course of things; They heed not thy vexation."

Saturday, 13 August 2005

Dying Poor in Victorian London

Friedrich Engels

To live in Victorian London was very grim indeed, but to die there was a pretty nasty business too. Friedrich Engels, in his The Condition of the Working Class in England wrote about this in horrific detail, based on his experiences between November 1842 and August 1844.

"The corpses of the poor have no better fate than the carcases of animals. The pauper burial ground at St. Bride's is a piece of open marshland which has been used since Charles II's day and there are heaps of bones all over the place. Every Wednesday the remains of dead paupers are thrown into a hole which is 14 feet deep. A clergyman gabbles through the burial service and then the grave is filled with loose soil. On the following Wednesday the ground is opened again and this goes on until it is completely full. The whole neighbourhood is infected by the dreadful stench from this burial ground."

Friday, 12 August 2005

Marie Duplessis: The Ultimate Courtesan

Alexandre Dumas fils

On February 5th 1847 Marie Duplessis, the notorious Parisian courtesan, inspiration for Dumas’s Camille and Verdi’s La Traviata, died of tuberculosis. She was only 23 years old. Most of fashionable Paris showed up at her funeral. Charles Dickens was amongst the crowd who attended the funeral. He commented: “One could have believed that Marie was Jeanne d’Arc or some other national heroine, so profound was the general sadness.”

A year later, Alexandre Dumas the younger, wrote La Dame aux Camelias. Dumas had had an affair with Marie, between 1844 and 1845 and much of the story is based on this experience, so when the novel was published people read it as fact and not fiction. Their affair had been a subject of gossip amongst Parisian high society. The novel of course became extremely successful .

Of course the novel was rather far way from the truth. Marie Duplessis (borne Alphonsine Plessis) had a very unpleasant life. She did not die in the arms of her lover but alone and in agony. Born in rural Normandy, when she was around 13 years old her father sold her into prostitution. By the time she came to Paris she was 15 and started a career as a courtesan (a high class, well paid prostitute). Although she accumulated many of the trappings of status and wealth she died steeped in debts and all her belongings, even her pet parrot, were auctioned off in an effort to pay these off.

Thursday, 11 August 2005

The Invention of the Seven-Day Week & Related Trivia

As I have been asked about the invention of the seven-day week and when that was (the Assyrian's invented it by the way), please see link below, which provides lots of information on that and related issues.

Tuesday, 9 August 2005

Medieval Recipes

The followng links offer a rich variety of original, Medieval recipes. (these have been 'adapted for the modern cook'.)


Monday, 8 August 2005

Julius Caesar and his Calendar

In 45 BC Julius Caesar decreed a new calendar, based on the 365-da year as calculated by Sosigenes of Alexandria. However, Sosigenes's year had an extra quarter of a day to it so he cleverly added an extra day in the end of February for every fourth year, which was called bis-secto-kalendae. Caesar, via the Senate, also changed the name of the month of Quintilis to 'July' (in later years the month of Sextilis was renamed 'August' in order to honour Augustus).

In the 4th century AD Constantine the Great added the seven-day week to the calendar (he was inspired by the book of Genesis), while in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII adjusted the calendar, so it was from then on known as the Gregorian calendar.

Sunday, 7 August 2005

'Baby-farmers' in Victorian London

A Dickensian Life - Oliver Twist epitomizes the life of an abandoned child in Victorian London

A wealth of information on the lives of London's poor during the Victorian era, can be found in Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor. Contraception was not really understood or practiced in those days, so inevitably the poor would have children which many times they were not able to look after. Some were so poor they could not let their children out to play because they had no clothes for them. Thus we have the story of one mother, whose kids got out onto the street wearing nothing but some bits from an old sack. Parents were many times in prison, in the workhouse or dead.

The 'baby-farmer' was sort of like a baby-sitter but with a more sinister twist. While the parents or single mother worked, the children would be entrusted to the 'baby-farmer' to be looked after, for a fee of course. One tragic story tells of a mother who earning 6s and 3s a week making paper bags, put her baby in the care of one of these, paid her 4s and 6d , only to find out after a while that her baby had died because the carer was a drunk and did not look after the baby.

In the newspapers of the time there could often be found adverts such as this:

"Adoption: A person wishing a lasting and comfortable home for a young child of either sex will find this is a good opportunity. Advertisers having no children of their own are about to proceed to America. Premium £15"

Yes, for a fee of £12 to £15 these 'baby-farmers' would relieve the parents of all responsibility for the child. The newly 'adopted' children were usually disposed of as soon as was practically possible; they were either murdered or taken to some other part of London, where they were abandoned and left to fend for themselves.

Salaries & Wages in Victorian Times

The Victorian City of London

9s a week was a milk-woman's wage

10s 6d was what a dentist charged for 2 fillings

16s was the top wage of a woman operating a sewing machine

£1 per week was what the average coffee-stall keeper, general labourer or female copy clerk in the City earned

With £4 being the minimum cost of a funeral, life cannot have been easy for the above.

A live-in maid would earn £6 a year while a general servant would make £16 annually.
A full set of false teeth cost £21, which probably meant that all the above went about toothless...

A buttler would make £42 per annum while a clerk at the Post Office took home £90 a year.
Now, an Anglican parson could probably get his false teeth as he got £140 a year, whereas teh Governor of the Bank of England, with an annual income of £400 could afford a twelve coffin vault in Highgate Cemetary for £136 10s, if he saved enough.

A box in the The Royal Opera House was out of reach for most people as it cost £8,000, except for people like the Duke of Bedford, who saved £100,000 a year and Lord Derby, whose income was £150,000. However, the Duke of Westminster's annual income topped them all at a cool £250,000.

Saturday, 6 August 2005

Winston Churchill's Love Letter

Clementine and Winston after many years of marriage

Winston Churchill's letter to his wife Clementine below, really sums up the mature love which succeeds romantic love and passion in a long marriage.

January 23, 1935

My darling Clemmie,

In your letter from Madras you wrote some words very dear to me, about my having enriched your life. I cannot tell you what pleasure this gave me, because I always feel so overwhelmingly in your debt, if there can be accounts in love.... What it has been to me to live all these years in your heart and companionship no phrases can convey.Time passes swiftly, but is it not joyous to see how great and growing is the treasure we have gathered together, amid the storms and stresses of so many eventful and to millions tragic and terrible years?

Your loving husband (Winston Churchill)

Thursday, 4 August 2005

Tudor Love of Sweet Spiced Wine

In the last decade the English have developed a taste for wine and are now said to consume more wine than the French. In Tudor times however, wine was a favourite drink, especially a type of very sweet wine made in the Mediterranean, most notably in the Greek town of Monemvasia and certain parts of Cyprus. The secret was in the fact that the grapes, although ripe in the end of July, were not picked until September. They would then dry them out a bit for 3 days, after which they would squeeze the juice out of them, put it in jars, which were then buried. The contents would ferment and the end product would be an extremely sweet wine, which was very expensive.

The Tudors often liked their wine to be spiced, an example of which was Hippocras which had been drunk since the Middle Ages. The spices used were usually a mixture of ginger, cloves and to nutmeg, to which they would also add 4lb of sugar per gallon of wine.

Wednesday, 3 August 2005

More from Marcus Aurelius...

"When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it."

"To see the things of the present moment is to see all that is now, all that has been since time began and all that shall be unto the world's end; for all things are of one kind and one form."

"No one can stop you living according to the laws of your own personal nature, and nothing can happen to you against the laws of the World-Nature."

Tuesday, 2 August 2005

The Seductive Lady Hamilton

Lady Hamilton

Lady Hamilton was born Emma Lyon, in Cheshire, England on the 26th April 1765. As the daughter of a blacksmith she didn't have the necessary background to mix with polite society. However, she was determined to do so and so she polished up her act, changed her name to Emma Hart and went off to London. By 1782 she had already become notorious as the mistress to several influential men. A rumour even went round that she had had an illegitimate child with Sir Harry Featherstonehaugh. The girl was apparently named Emma Carew and sent off to live in Wales for the rest of her life.

She was living with Charles Francis Greville when he sent her to Italy to be the mistress of his uncle, Sir Wiliam Hamilton, in exchange for a cancellation of his debts. Hamilton was a diplomat. He fell for Emma and they were married in 1791.

After having become a close friend of Queen Marie Caroline of Naples, she met Nelson in 1793. Now Nelson was no handsome young guy. In fact he had lost his teeth, an arm, could hardly walk and was ravaged by bouts of coughing. It is said that when Lady Hamilton first saw Nelson she fainted. However, the two soon got on intimate terms with each other. Nelson was a war hero so Sir William Hamilton did not object to his wife lavishing her attentions on him.

In January 1801 Emma gave birth to Horatia Nelson Tompson and when her husband died in 1803 she lived openly with Nelson until his death in 1805. By 1813 she had spent all her inheritance and was deeply in debt. Nelson had left instructions to the government to look after Emma after his death, but these were ignored, so she died in Calais an alcoholic in 1815.

Monday, 1 August 2005