Tuesday, 31 May 2005
Boudicca on her chariot
Thirteen feet under the City of London lies a red layer of oxidized iron, mixed with ash and the charred remains of Roman Londinium. This is evidence of Boudicca's revenge on Rome.
Boudicca was the wife of King Prasutagus of the Celtic tribe known as the Iceni. Prasutagus, was on good terms with the Roman conquerors but despite that he was worried. He had two daughters and no male heir and felt that he must do his best to ensure the future was good for them. He thought he was being clever when he left half of his kingdom to his daughters and the other half to the Roman Emperor. This, he thought, would appease Rome and ensure his family was left in peace. He was so wrong.
In A.D. 60, King Prasutagus died and the Romans confiscated his land and the land of his tribesmen. Suddenly the Iceni were slaves. The Roman procurator Decianus Catus, (the province's CFO in today's terms) was overzealous in his efforts to ingratiate himself with the emperor. He ordered his soldiers to flogg Queen Boudicca, while her two daughters were raped. This humiliation was the last straw. Boudicca was enraged and together with her fellow tribesmen swore to get her revenge.
Acording to Dio she assembled 120,000 Britons and they stormed the Roman town of Camulodunum (Colchester today). This was a garrison town, inhabited chiefly by retired soldiers and their families. The town was practically defenseless and it fell easily. The inhabitants, men, women and children, were all slaughtered. Charred food and grain can still be found today during excavations.
Boudicca then headed for London (Londinium), a town of merchants, officials and generally well-off people. Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, the governor of Britain, attempted to protect the town but faced with the news of the large number of Britons realised he was outnumberd and gave the order to withdraw. London would not be defended either. However, residents were warned and it is thought many were evacuated, except for those who insisted on staying. Boudicca's men arrived and burnt London to the ground, any remaining inhabitants were butchered. For centuries numerous skulls have been found in the Wallbrook area. When Lloyds Bank was being built, burnt coins, burnt tiles and grain were found. All evidence points to a true holocaust. To this day, depsite the fact that hundreds of skulls have been excavated, there are no skeletons or bones to be found. Scientific tests have estimated the heat generated by the fire to have been in excess of 1000 degrees Celsius.
In this orgy of revenge, Verulanium was the last to be annihilated. Britons lived in this town, Britons who had profited from Roman rule and become Romanized. Tacitus describes the following:
"The inhabitants of Verulanium, a municipal town, were in like manner put to the sword..."
Dio is a bit more graphic: "The worst and most bestial attrocity committed by their captors was the following: They hung up naked the noblest and most distinguished women and then cut off their breasts and sewed them to their mouths, in order to make the victims appear to be eating them; they impaled the women on sharp skewers run lengthwise through the entire body."
Boudicca's triumph was short-lived. Gaius Suetonius gathered reinforcements of up to 10,000 men and defeated the Britons. Most of her men were killed, while survivors fled for their lives...
Monday, 30 May 2005
Bronze bust of Caligula (with a particularly menacing look)
Caligula, born in 12 A.D. and Roman emperor from 37 to 41 A.D., being one of the most twisted, weird and utterly psychotic figures in history, was not really known for his sense of humour, even though he might have thought he was the most humorous guy on earth. Suetonius gives as an example of this 'sense of humour':
"As an example of his sense of humour, he played a prank on Apelles, the tragic actor, by standing beside a staue of Jupiter and asking: 'Which of us two is greater?' When Apelles hesitated momentarily, [Caligula] had him flogged, commenting on the musical quality of his groans for mercy. He never kissed the neck of his wife or mistress without saying: 'And this beautiful throat will be cut whenever I please'."
Such was Caligula's humour. Watching others suffering was fun for him to such an extent that he would order that men were executed in front of him and very close to him, whereby he would observe their torment and death throws closely and even 'try to feel they were dying'. Having such proclivities it was not a suprise that he would enjoy the arena so very much and even have 'special' events staged just to satisfy his particular tastes and of course get rid of anyone who displeased him - and believe me, it was not difficult to displease him.
According to Suetonius he "practised many various arts as well, most enthusiastically too. he made appearances as a Thracian gladiator, as a singer, as a dancer, fought with real weapons and drove chariots in many circuses in a number of places."
Sunday, 29 May 2005
Seneca wrote several plays and philosophical essays and was also a prolific letter-writer. One of his most famous essays tackles the shortness of life and argues that "life is long if you know how to use it". This particular essay has been very influential over the centuries, as many consider it to be a source of timeless wisdom.
Some interesting excerpts are:
"Why do we complain about nature? She has acted kindly: life is long if you know how to use it. But one man is gripped by insatiable greed, another by a laborious dedication to useless tasks...Many are occupied by either pursuing other people's money or complaining about their own...Some have no aims at all for their life's course, but death takes them unawares as tehy yawn languidly - so much so that I cannot doubt the truth of that oracular remark of the greatest of poets: 'It is a small part of life we really live.'...You are living as if destined to live forever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don;t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply."
"...he says, 'When will vacation come?'. Everyone hustles hi life along and is troubled by a longing for the future and weariness of the present."
Seneca apparently provides a solution for the above state of mind. He says:
"...the man who organizes every day as though it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the next day."
And about white hair:
"You must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long. For suppose you should think that a man had had a long voyage who had been caught in a raging storm as he left the harbour, and carried hither and thither and driven round and round in a circle by the rage of opposing winds? He did not have a long voyage, just a long tossing about."
More information on Seneca and his work:
Saturday, 28 May 2005
Commodus in 'Gladiator' (played by Joaquin Phoenix)
Commodus was one of the most sadistic, cruel and self-indulgent Roman emperors. To add to all this, he was also extremely bad at governance, like Caligula and Nero before him. He was widely hated and was strangled by his bath attendant in A.D. 192, contrary to the popular film 'Gladiator', which shows him dying in the arena (in which he did however fight very often).
The story of his conception is perhaps equally as loathsome as his personality and traits. He was the son of the emperor Marcus Aurelius and his wife Faustina. Apparently, one day Faustina saw a gladiator in the arena, who aroused an immense passion in her. She became obsessed. Juvenal tells us:
"Faustina, daughter of Antoninus Pius and wife of Marcus Aurelius, having seen the gladiators pass one day, conceived the most violent love for one of them; and this passion having made her ill for a long time, she confessed it to her husband. Chaldeans whom Marcus Aurelius consulted, said that it was necessary that this gladiator should be killed and that Faustina should bathe in his blood and afterwards lie with her husband. When this advice had been followed, the empress's passion was in fact spent, but she brought into the world Commodus, who was more of a gladiator than a prince."
Commodus, dressed as Hercules, his hero
Friday, 27 May 2005
Apparently Owen worked as a seravnt in Catherine of France's household, wife to the late Henry V. He used to enjoy bathing skinny-dipping in the Thames and Catherine used to spy on him through the reeds. She was so impressed that she wanted to marry him. Of course all hell broke loose when she made this intention public. An official inquiry was held. However, Catherine stood by Owen through it all and finally in 1432 their marriage was official. His surname Theodore was changed to Tudor and history was made.
Thursday, 26 May 2005
We can't tell for certain if Robin Hood, the famous outlaw, really existed or not as all references to him are found in poetry and folk tales. His life, if indeed he lived at all, is shrouded in mystery. we are not sure if he lived in Nottinghamshire or Yorkshire either.
The fact is that in Medieval times pretty much everyone was an outlaw at some point in their lives. Contrary to popular belief, forests were not the havens of rebels and free-spirited people. The word 'forest' is a norman word which originaly meant a place which was designated to be the hunting ground for the king. People would have dreaded living near forests, let alone inside one, as there were terrible taxes levied on villages that were close to them. In fact, there is a true story of a village which was near a proposed new forest for the king. The villagers, having found out about this came up with a great plan to discourage the king from wanting to have his forest there. In those days, madness was thought to be contagious. The villlagers, knowing that the king would not want to go near mad people, pretended they had all gone round the twist. The rumours spread of the village whose inhabitants were all mad. Pretty soon the king knew about them too and he told his advisors he did not want his forest to be near that village under any circumstances. The people had won!
The Real Robin Hood http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/state/monarchs_leaders/robin_03.shtml
The New Forest story http://www.hants.gov.uk/newforest/history/history1.html
Wednesday, 25 May 2005
Images of Agrippina the Younger
In 54 A.D. Nero became emperor of Rome after the death of Claudius, who was thought to have been poisoned by his wife Agrippina, who also happened to be Nero's mother. Nero's real name was Lucius, but his mother decided that Nero Claudius Caesar was more suitable so she got him to change it. Agrippina was always plotting in the background. As a wife of a former emperor and mother to the current one, she saw herself as a new version of Livia.
Nero was only a teenager when he came to power, just seventeen years old. Having been under the influence of his mother all his life, he now saw an opportunity to do what he wanted instead. Within the first year of his reign he had made it obvious to her that she was not going to be sharing his power. When an Armenian ambassador visited Rome, Nero did not let Agrippina sit next to him to receive the guest.
During the following months, mother and son quarelled openly about his affair with an ex-slave-girl called Acte. He was already married to Octavia, daulghter of Claudius. Agrippina did not approve of this liaison and at this point started to get closer with Britannicus, Claudius's son with the unfortunate Messalina. When Nero saw this he realised this could be a threat to his reign, so he had Britannicus poisoned and forced Agrippina to move out of the palace, took her bodyguard away and slapped a lawsuit on her.
Despite her distance from Court, Agrippina did not stop trying to interfere with things. Being the daughter of Germanicus was a big deal and this ensured she was not ignored.
When Nero started an affair with Poppaea Sabina, trouble really started. Poppaea was an upper class woman who could marry Nero if he divorced Octavia. She realised that as long as Agrippina was alive, there was no way she could get Nero to marry her. At this time, it is also rumoured that mother and son entered into a sexual realtionship, the former's desperate attempt to distract him from Poppaea's influence.
However, despite Agrippina's efforts, Nero planned to get her drowned in a faulty boat, but this did not work as she swam very well and was able to get a passer by to help her out of the water. She now knew for sure that Nero was determined to have her murdered and rumours have it that it was then that she started to plan Nero's death. Nevertheless, he was one step ahead of her and finally sent some assassins to have her killed.
Tuesday, 24 May 2005
At the dinner table you would not have had a plate for youself but you would be sharing with up to 4 people from a large dinner plate. The head of the table of course, would only share with one other as he or she (in the case of Queen Elizabeth) were the privilidged ones.
As you were sharing with others you were expected to maintain a certain standard of behaviour. For example, you were not allowed to put your bones or discarded food back in the dinner plate (which makes a lot of sense, considering that you were sharing) but were given a separate dish called a "voider" in which you would place such items. You were also given a linen napkin on which to wipe your hands and mouth, because guess what, your cup was shared with the person seated next to you, so the last thing you would want was to grab hold of a greasy cup or drink out of it while traces of food were on the rim of the cup. (Personally I find this whole sharing of business disgusting...).
Monday, 23 May 2005
Apparently when Henry VIII was young he was a great athlete. He was involved in various sports, amongst which were football. This contrasts markedly with the image we have of him as a fat bloke riddled with gout, which of course describes his later years.
When he became king he was only 18 years old. His brother Arthur, who had been the heir to the throne had died several years earlier. He was thus made Prince of Wales and future king and also had to marry his brother's wife, Katharine of Aragon.
Henry's marriage to Katharine did not make him very happy as the desired male heir was not forthcoming. Over 10 years she suffered many miscarriages and when a boy was born he only died a few months later. This made Henry extremely depressed. He could not understand why Katharine could not come up with a male child and came to the conclusion that God must be angry with him. He could not think why though until he came across a passage in the Levitikon book of the Bible, which gave him an answer. He found the part which says "thou shalt not marry your brother's wife or though shalt remain childless". This gave him the answer he wanted and one suspects it gave him the justification to start proceedings which would lead to an anulment of a marriage he already had grown tired of. In 1533 he divorced Katharine and separated her from their daughter Mary. She ended her life three years later, in 1536, alone and uncared for.
Sunday, 22 May 2005
Indeed, being a prude was not valued in the Middle Ages. In one of her letters to Abelard, Heloise declares:
"The name of wife may seem more sacred or more worthy, but sweeter to me will always be the word lover or, if you permit me, that of concubine or whore."
Another suprising fact of the time was that if a woman's husband turned out to underperform in the marital bed, or even if he was impotent, she had every right to publicise this fact. In fact, a 12th century manual advises that "wise matrons" ought to examine the said man's genitalia and even be present during the 'test drives' in the conjugal bedroom. The manual explains:
"A man and a woman are to be placed together in one bed and wise women are to be summoned around the bed for many nights. And if the man's member is always found useless and as if dead, the couple are well able to be separated."
An obvious case of 'bedroom court' but probably a good excuse for voyeurism too, if you ask me...
Apparently, a man called Walter de Fonte was subjected to this examination procedure, after a request by his wife, on the grounds that he was impotent. Twelve wise women were duly summoned to the bedroom and after the required proceedings, came to the conclusion that "his virile member" was "useless".
Although the Church as expected, was entirely against the enjoyment of sex. The 11th century cardinal, Peter Damian, advocated that "Women are Satan's bait, poison for men's souls." People took little notice of him as he was a monk and monks were expected to talk like that. Monks were clearly not taken very seriously and it is not really suprising that they weren't. People who dedicate themselves to poverty, self-denial and oaths of silence are never really popular on a large scale..
Saturday, 21 May 2005
The first bar of chocolate was produced in 1847, even though cocoa had been known to the Europeans since 1502. The first chocolate bars were of dark chocolate and consisted mainly of cocoa solids, which made them rather dry and not very pleasant to eat.
All throughout the 1870s, European sales of chocolate were very high. In 1876, a Daniel Peter of Switzerland, invented milk chocolate. He had discovered that adding powdered milk to the chocolate mix made for a wonderfully tasting bar. Until then efforts to add milk in it's liquid form to chocolate, had resulted in the milk going rancid and the consistency of the chocolate not being solid enough. An Englishman called George Page, developed Daniel Peter's work on chocolate even more. However, milk chocolate didn't really become popular until the early 20th century, as people were used to the bitter, intense taste of dark chocolate.
By the 1890s chocolate had become a common purchase and the German, British and American soldiers were supplied with ample bars of it, while on their way to battle. The power of chocolate had arrived!
It is interesting to realise that the perecntage of cocoa solids in chocolate determines not only its taste but also its quality and has become a subject of much debate between chocolate lovers and chocolate snobs. Apparently, the higher the percentage of cocoa solids the more snobby the chocolate becomes (and incidently more bitter too...).
The darkest , most bitter and most coveted by connoiseurs chocolate is the one which contains 70% cocoa solids. I have tried this chocolate and find it disgustingly bitter and the aftertaste it leaves most offensive.
The French, Italian and German chocolate manufacturers claim that any chocolate with a cocoa solids contents of less than 25% is not chocolate. They nearly convinced the EU a few years back, that chocolate from the United Kingdom, which typicaly contains 20% cocoa solids should not be called chocolate by law. They didn't get their way entirely but nevertheless the EU declared that exported U.K. chocolate should be called 'family chocolate'...
White chocolate on the other hand, is characterized by the total absence of cocoa solids and is made with coca butter, milk solids, sugar and vanilla. In US in fact, it is illegal to call it chocolate and manufacturers have to resort to names such as "Chocolate Lover's White Chip" and "Vanilla Chips" in order to sell their product.
Friday, 20 May 2005
Laws targeting adulterers have been many and some are funny,like the above, but others are very unpleasant indeed. In Nottingham, if a married woman seduces the husband of another man and gets found out by the seduced's wife, that lady has the right to monetary compensation from the seducer's husband. This sounds to me to be really unfair, especially as the poor man probably will have had no idea that any of this was going on.
In late medieval times, if a woman was caught committing adultery, her nose and ears were cut off and she was paraded through town, whereas the man she was commiting the act with was merely sent out of town. Not fair at all really.
Later on, in the 1500s, an adulteress would be sent to gaol and then hanged; the penalty now had clearly graduated to punishment via death.
However, the ancient Britons were extremely relaxed about such matters and in fact practised a form of polyamory, as it was very common for groups of 10 to 12 men to share the same wife. If a child was conceived, the father was considered to be the man she had "cohabited with" first. Awful if the first guy was not very wealthy - he got stuck with all the kids.
For more info on adultery laws please see links below:
Muslims against stoning: http://www.free-minds.org/stoning.htm
Thursday, 19 May 2005
Ancient bust of Nefertiti
Computer reconstruction of Nefertiti's face from skull
Queen Nefertiti of Ancient Egypt, was said to be one of the most beautiful women of her time. Much of the details of her life are shrouded in mystery as are the circumstances of her death and where indeed her mummy was burried.
She was the wife of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, who later on called himself Akhenaten. Her name means "the beautiful one has come", which makes archaeologists wonder whether she had actually come to Egypt from elsewhere and was not Egytian at all. Others say she was the daughter of the nobleman Ay, who later became Pharaoh himself. No matter what her genealogy was, Nefertiti became a legend.
When her husband, after 4 years on the throne, decided to start worhiping the Aten a new god whose sympbol was the sun-disk, dismiss all other gods and moved the capital to the middle of the desert, building there a new city called Amarna, that really rubbed the priests of Amon up the wrong way. The royal couple made many enemies as they had brazenly changed the status quo in the most dramatic and unconformist way possible.
There is evidence to suggest that they reigned as co-rulers, something which really broke tradition as it was almsot unheard of at that point for a woman to be Pharaoh as well. In being Pharaoh, Nefertiti was also the most powerful as well as teh most beautiful woman of her time.
Shortly after the 14th year of their reign, Nefertiti's name dissapears from historical records and we can only assume that she died. However, there are those who believe that she reigned as Pharaoh under the name Smenkhare.
In June 2003 scientists led by Joann Fletcher from York University, claimed they had found the mummy of Nefertiti. However opinions on this matter remain divided. (See links below)
Wednesday, 18 May 2005
When we use the term gentleman nowadays what do we really mean?
Well, most people using the word are probably thinking of the 19th century concept of the Victorian gentleman. Seeing as not even the Victorians were really sure what constituted a gentleman and what didn't, we cannot really be blamed for not being certain ourselves.
There are various views on the definition of the gentleman. Below are the relevant links:
- The Victorian Gentleman http://www.victorianweb.org/history/Gentleman.html
- Newman's Gentleman http://www.his.com/~z/gentleman.html
- Uses of the word and etymology http://www.searchword.org/ge/gentleman.html
I leave you to decide...
Valeria Messalina was the third wife of the emperor Claudius. She was notorious for being an absolute nymphomaniac. She married Claudius in A.D. 38 and bore him two children; Britannicus and Octavia, who were rumoured to have actually been fathered by Caligula as she was a frequent attendee to his many banquets and orgies...
Claudius became emperor in A.D. 41, after Caligula was finally murdered and Messalina, although now empress, did not supress her urges. In fact she became all the more adventurous and behind Claudius's back she had many affairs, many of them at the same time and in the same room. At night she would even dress up as a prostitute and incognito she would trade as a prostitute - such was her insatiable appetite for men. She once challenged the famous Roman prostitute, Scylla, to an all-night sex-athon, whereby the winner was the one who copulated with the most men. Messalina won. She copulated all night and although Scylla gave up at dawn, exhausted, Messalina continued zealously, all throughout the morning...
In 48 A.D. she plotted with one of her lovers, Sillius, to have Claudius murdered and even had a secret marriage ceremony with him. However, one of Claudius's advisors Narcissus, exposed the plot to him. Claudius was heartbroken and could hardly believe his own ears, but was eventually persuaded to have her and Sillius promtly executed. It has to be said that Messalina was given the option of suicide but she could not bring herself to take her own life.
Tuesday, 17 May 2005
Many well known figures in history are said to have suffered from suphilis, most notably Guy de Maupassant, Charles VIII of France, Friedrich Nietzsche, Al Capone, Paul Gaugin and even Adolf Hitler. In its late stages the disease causes dementia, whereby the suffered became insane.
Nowadays syphilis is treated with antibiotics but before the Second World War people were very unfortunate indeed if they happened to contract it. It is very much a sexually transmitted disease and therefore when you got it you were instantly stigmatized as being debauched, even if you had acquired it through legitimate relations as in marriage. Unfortunately the effects of the treatment were almost as unpleasant as the symptoms of the disease itself. Doctors in the 18th century would prescribe a course of mercury, which had to be ingested by the patient. As you can imagine, mercury, like lead, is highly toxic. Ingesting mercury, especially at these high dosages, caused mercury poisoning. After a few days of this treatment, the patient would start to salivate uncontrollably and the saliva was black, which must have been very disturbing indeed. Curiously enough, doctors saw this as a good thing and aimed for more salivation, literally poisoning the person more and more. Of course, mercury treatment did relieve the symptoms of syphilis but did not cure it.
Mercury was used to treat syphilis up until the late 1940s, when antibiotics were introduced. Of course people were not made to ingest so much mercury so as to salivate, as in the 18th century, but small dosages of mercury combined with arsenic and bismuth were administered.
The world was radicaly changed by the discovery of antibiotics by Alexander Fleming.
For more info on syphilis, please see link below:
Monday, 16 May 2005
The journey started at Paddington, then stopped under a street near Selfridges, then further down Ofxord street, past High Holborn, Bloomsbury, stopping at the biggest Post Office depot in London, Mount Pleasant, under the remains of the Roman wall, past St. Pauls' Cathedral, Liverpool Street station, finally arriving at a post office in Whitechapel Road.. The underground mail tunnel was tiny, only 9 feet in diameter. Bagfuls of mail would be sent down shafts from sorting offices, leading to the Mail Rail platforms. Then the bags were loaded onto the trains, which did not have drivers as they were fully automatic. Like the tube trains, they ran on electricity and the stations were slightly higher so when trains approached they slowed down and when they started off again they sped up rapidly. Indeed, the trains were like toy trains as they were tiny, measuring no more than 28 feet. They could carry half a ton of letters at the speed of 40 miles per hour, thus trasporting letters from one side of London to another in only 30 minutes.
By 2003 Royal Mail were complaining that keeping up the mail rail cost four times more than transporting the letters with vans, therefore in May of the same year the miniature railway was shut down. They decided to put the mail rail up for sale at the price of £15 million. There were ideas of it being used to transport expensive wines or jewellery and other valuables...
I have searched the web but not found anything on who actually bought the mail rail, if indeed a buyer was found. If you know anything about this please do let me know...
Info about the mail rail can be found on the sites below:
In 18th century London you could order your false teeth via post. All you had to do was get a pice of soft wood, bite into it (thus leaving your teeth marks on it) and send this, together with a ribbon which measured your gums, to the person who made the teeth. After a short wait you would receive your new teeth, which cost around £3 and 4 shillings.
False teeth in those days were not as reliable as the ones you can get nowadays. The dentures were made of wood. If you were lucky enough to only need the bottom set of teeth then you could look forward to a firly firm set of teeth, with which you could eat with as well. On the other hand, if you required the top part, you could look forward to your teeth sliding out at the most inconvenient and embarassing moments. If you needed the whole lot, both top and bottom, there was a solution to this problem by way of a spring attached to the back, holding top and bottom set together and allowing you to open your mouth. However, once you did manage to open your mouth you would have founds it rather difficult to close it as the springs were rather tight. Imagine how awkward this would look in public, the person squeezing their muscles, in order to get their mouth closed...(what a tragedy if a fly was in the area...!).
The actual teeth could be made of a variety of materials. According to your means, they could be made of bone, animal teeth, elephant tusk, agate, or they could even be human teeth...
Saturday, 14 May 2005
Julius Caesar was a man of great intensity. He openly enjoyed the "company" of both men and women and there were many scandals to go with this. He never hesitated to "borrow" other noblemen's wives and also "lend" his own wife Pompeia. He was notorious for this and a typical ditty of the time, after his triumph in Gaul, says:
"Look to your wives, ye citizens, a lecher bald we bring,
In Gaul adultery cost thee gold, here 'tis but borrowing."
Yes, he was bald and although this did not deter him from his conquests, it was a source of constant bother to him as he was often ridiculed for his baldness, by his enemies. Actually, with all the "borrowing" he got up to no-wonder he made so many enemies. Amongst the ladies he "borrowed" were Postumia, the wife of Servius Sulipcius, Lollia, the wife of Aulus Gabinius, Tertulla, the wife of Marcus Crassus and Mucia, the wife of Pompey, to name but a few.
He married a woman he did not love for the sole purpose of furthering his career. The woman who was closest to him was a certain Servilia, the mother of Marcus Brutus. He spent lavishly on her; he once bought her a pearl which cost him six milion sesterces, which was a great deal of money. It is said that he even had a fling with Servilia's daughter Tertia.
Amongst his male lovers, the most well known was Nimomedes of Bithynia, who inspired the following ditty:
"Whatever Bithynia and her lord possesed
Her lord who Caesar in his lust caressed"
Necrosis of finger tips caused by septicemic plague
When people get to 40 or 50 year old nowadays, we consider them middle-aged. In Elizabethan times you were lucky if you got past the age of 30. The poor however, were not expected to live longer than 20, at the most 25. Thomas Paynel wrote in 1541: "nowadays, alas, if a man may approach to forty of sixty years men repute him happy and fortunate". Indeed, if you got to live past the age of 40, you were thought to be extremely old, as old as people over 100 seem to us today.
Life was short and riddled with suffering. Diseases ran wild and the plague was as much a part of everyday life as having a cold is today. In Elizabethan times a plague epidemic occured roughly every four years. It was something you knew would come but you didn't know exactly when and where it would strike. Laws in 1568 decreed that an affected person's house had to be shut up for a minimum of twenty days, all windows and doors boarded up and nobody allowed to get out. Of course there were people who were specialu appointed to go around these houses every so often and deliver food and provisions, but who knows if they really did as they were mostly unsupervised.
Face disfigured by smallpox
Smallpox was another dreadful disease endemic in London and in October 1562 even Queen Elizabeth I got it. Of course she survived with little scarring, (she was said to have the constitution of an ox), but her lady in waiting, Lady Sidney, who was taking care of her while she was sick, cought the smallpox as well. She got it so bad that the disease left her face and body hideously scarred with pockmarks, so she never appeared in public at Court again.
Then there was syphilis, which arrived in Europe from America, via Christopher Columbus's ships (Columbus's men in turn gave measles to the natives). Syphilis had not caused any problems to humans until it was moved to Europe and then it became virulent, aggressive and fatal. In addition to all the above, there was scurvy, a condition brought about by a diet lacking in Vitamin C, Malaria, which thrived in the marshes in the south bank of the Thames (a great breeding ground for mosquitoes), and of course a whole load of other diseases, most easily cured nowadays but fatal in those days.
I would not like to have been alive then...
Friday, 13 May 2005
Not much seems to have changed since then for secretaries. They are expected to work long hours, do work which is outside of theri job description, write letters for the boss and generally do any kind of shitty work without complaining. For if you complain you are not 'flexible' or you do not have the 'team spirit' and are therefore not fit to be employed. It seems that a secretary, especially in an investment bank, is viewed as a brainless, inannimate object, someone to do all the donkey-work while at the same time maintaining a smile on her face (I say 'her' because unfortunately secretaries are always female, which also points to teh fact that we still live in a patriarchal society...).
Slaves in Ancient Rome held positions such as pedagogue, water carrier, treasurer, goldsmith, chamberlain, reader, secretary, wetnurse, caterer, midwife, doorkeeper, baker, masseuse, doctor, cupbearer, musician and gardener. Slaves were expected to perform their duties efficiently and without complaint. If for some reason the slave did not meet expectations, then the master had to determine the cause of the poor performance. Seneca advises:
"If a prisoner of war suddenly thrown into slavery keeps some traces of freedom and does not jump at the idea of performing degrading and laborious tasks; if he is slow because he is unfit and does not keep up with his master’s carriage; if in the midst of his daily duty he falls asleep; if after being transferred from the city with its holidays to the farm with its hard work, he either refuses to work on the farm or does not tackle it energetically; in all these cases we should find out whether the slave cannot do the work or simply will not do it."
Suetonius was emperor Hadrian's private secretary and no wonder he wrote about the lives of the Caesars, exposing all their filth, exploitation and cruelty.
Procopius, who wrote the Secret History, (see post about Theodora), was also private secretary to the Byzantine general Belisarius and his writings are full of bile and caustic criticism.
Notice that in those days at least, mostly men were secretaries, which is certainly not the case today...
Wednesday, 11 May 2005
Seneca did not choose wisely when he decided to live above the public baths. By the time he had realised how annoying this could be it was too late, because he had moved in, and the best he could do to vent his frustations was to write about them. I find the following passage very amusing...
"I live over a bathing establishment. Picture to yourself now the assortment of voices, the sound of which is enough to sicken one...
When the stronger fellows are exercising and swinging heave leaden weights in their hands, when they are working hard or pretending to be working hard, I hear their hissing and jarring breathing. When I have to do with a lazy fellow who is content with a cheap rubdown, I hear the slap of the hand pummelling his shoulders, changing its sound according as teh hand is laid flat or curved. If now a professional ball player comes along and begins to keep score, I am done for. Add to this the arrest of a brawler or a thief, and the fellow who always likes to hear his own voice in the bath, and those who jump into the pool with a mighty splash as they strike the water. In addition to those whose voices are, if nothing else, natural, imagine the hair plaucker keeping up a constant chatter in this thin and strident voice, to attract more attention, and never silent except when he is plucking armpits and making the customer yell instead of yelling himself. It disgusts me to enumerate the varied cries of the sausage dealer and the confectioner and of all teh peddlers of the cook shops, hawking their wares, each with his own peculiar intonation."
Tuesday, 10 May 2005
Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (b. A.D. 12, d. A.D. 41) became emperor in A.D 37. His was one of the most notorius and yet poorly documented reigns. As a boy he was nicknamed Caligula, which means 'Little Boots', by the men in the army, as he went about dressed in a soldier's uniform with matching miniature boots. He was said to be extremely cruel and his characyer appears to be that of a true psychopath. He had people executed for practicaly next to nothing, confiscated people's wealth for himself, imposed outrageously silly laws, had incestuous relations with his sisters, etc. Whatever nasty thing you can imagine, Caligula probably did it.
Suetonius provides us with plenty of gossip about Caligula, and a very intriguing paragraph on his sex life:
"He had not the slightest regard for chastity, either his own or others', and was accused of homosexual relations, both active and passive, with Marcus Lepidus, also Mnester the comedian, and various foreign hostages; moreover, a young man of a consular family, Valerius Catullus, revealed publicly that he had buggered the Emperor, and quite worn himself out in the process. Besides incest with his sisters, and a notorious passion for the prostitute Pyrallis, he made advances to almost every woman of rank in Rome; after inviting a selection of them to dinner with their husbands he would slowly and carefully examine each in turn while they passed his couch, as a purchaser might assess the value of a slave, and even stretch out his hand and lift up the chin of any woman who kept her eyes modestly cast down. Then, whenever he felt so inclined, he would send for whoever pleased him best and leave the banquet in her company. A little later he would return, showing obvious signs of what he had been about, and openly discuss his bed-fellow in detail, dwelling on her good and bad physical points and commenting on her sexual performance. To some of these unfortunates he issued, and publicly registered, divorces in the names of their absent husbands."
Monday, 9 May 2005
Dover Castle, Kent, constructed in the 1180s
The lords and ladies living in the stone castles of the 13th century were a lot cleaner than their Elizabethan counterparts. For one thing, they washed themselves, all over. In fact they used soap, which was then made by boiling mutton fat with ash and caustic soda. They used a special twig to brush their teeth with.
As soon as they had attended to their cleanliness (well, they actually had servants to do the attending part for them), they would go about getting dressed. Men and women wore similar clothes; there were stockings of wool or silk to put on, a shirt with long detachable sleeves, which incidentally had to be stitched on every time the shirt was worn. Once this tedious task had finished, a gown had to be worn over all this and secured with a brooch. Unlike the men, the ladies wore a tight bodice over their gowns. If they were going out and it was cold they would wear a coat, which was very roomy and if the weather was really threatening to freeze their various bits and pieces off, a fur-lined mantle would be worn, also fastened at the shoulder by a brooch. As a matter of fact, in those days your station in society was judged by the length of your garments (poor people wore short clothes). Of course, there is always someone to upset fashion’s apple-cart and Henry II did just that when he decided he preferred wearing short items of clothing. Showing off his good legs perhaps?
Anyway, as there were no pockets, people had to tie draw-string purses on their belts or under their skirts. The leather shoes they wore were extremely fine. An elegant gentleman was the one whose shoes were such a tight fit that nobody could understand how he ever got into them, never-mind how he planned to get out of them at bedtime.
For some strange reason (or perhaps not so strange), only men wore underpants, called braies, while women went about bare bottomed, presumably dreading a windy day…
Before Indigo was imported from the East in the 16th Century, the only source of rich blue dye was Woad, Isatis Tinctoria, a plant which is a member of the cabbage family and which was brought to Britain by the Celts. They called it Glasto, hence Glastonbury, which means ‘a place where woad grows’.
The process by which the dye was extracted was lengthy and very smelly indeed, (think combination of raw sewage and rotten cabbage) and the people who did this work, woad dyers, were outcasts of society, since they smelt so much. As a result they were isolated and inbred. There was no way of hiding if you were a woad dyer as even if you washed yourself really well to remove the stench, the blue dye could be seen on your fingers and under your fingernails. Queen Elizabeth I, not being able to stand the stench from their workshops, decreed that woad dyers should be at least 5 miles away from wherever she was staying. As it took 50 kilos of woad in order to produce 5 kilos of pigment, the woad dyer’s job was pretty much a dawn to dusk stinking situation…
For more information on woad: http://www.colourhistory.cwc.net/woad.htm
Sunday, 8 May 2005
However, most Romans didn't feel it was necessary to leave the dining room in order to vomit. For this reason, they usually had bowls lying around, especially for this purpose, but other times they would just bend over and puke all over the floor. Who would think that there was a slave whose 'job description' was to crawl around on all fours under the dining couches and mop all this mess up. This unfortunate person was the 'Vomit Collector'. Seneca describes the delightful scene: When we recline at a banquet, one [slave] wipes up the spittle; another, situated beneath, collects the leavings [vomit] of the drunks." And it's not as if the poor slave could get out for a bit of fresh air for a few minutes. As we can read in "Trimalchio's Banquet", part of the Satyricon by Petronius, Trimalchio, an ex-slave who had become rich, had the following inscription put up on the premises: "NO SLAVE TO LEAVE THE PREMISES WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM THE MASTER. PENALTY ONE HUNDRED LASHES." One would think that an ex-slave would show some understanding, but sadly, like the worst of the nouveau riche of today, he was just as bad as those socially above him.
Saturday, 7 May 2005
So, at the door of the churh, the happy groom would give his wife to be something symbolic, such as a knife. At the end of this doorstep ceremony, the couple were pronounced man and wife and were free to proceed into the church, prostrate themselves at the altar, followed by the wedding party, and hear mass. While prostrated, the altar cloth would be held over the newlyweds. At the point when they received communion, the husband would give the priest a kiss, the kiss of peace, and only after that would he give his glowing bride a kiss. (Note the bride did not have to kiss the priest).
According to the Church in those days, what gave validity to a marriage was the free exchange of vows between a man and a woman, who were both over the age of twelve. Because of this, the wedding did not even have to take place at the church door, or in fact anywhere near it, as vows could be exchanged in the house, in the garden, or even in bed. (I know where I would have prefered to exchange them...)
Friday, 6 May 2005
The title of the film comes from a poem by Alexander Pope, entitled "Eloise to Abelard".
Eloise was an extremely clever young woman of 18 when she met Peter Abelard, who was 51. Abelard was a philosopher and priest and Eloise's uncle had arranged for him to be her tutor. From the moment the two met they fell madly in love. They secretly got married and managed to keep their secret very well until Eloise got pregnant and her uncle found out. Furious at this, Eloise's uncle had Abelard hunted down and castrated.
After this the two lovers were not allowed to meet again. Eloise was sent off to be a nun and Abelard, who had now lost his official position in the church, was forced to retire in a monastery. They exchanged letters for the rest of their lives, but never met again...
Their passion did not die out as a letter from Eloise to Abelard states, painfully: "Even during the celebration of the Mass, when our prayers should be purest, lewd visions of the pleasures we shared take such a hold upon my unhappy soul that my thoughts are on their wantonness instead of my prayers. Everything we did, and also the times and places, are stamped on my heart along with your image, so that I live through it all again with you."
Due to the thinking of the time, Abelard came to see his fate as a well deserved punishment from God for having succumbed to sexual pleasure. How different things would have been if they were alive today!
In Alexander Pope's poem, Eloise envies the women around her who became nuns by choice and not by force:
"How happy is the blameless vestal's lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd; Labour and rest, that equal periods keep; "Obedient slumbers that can wake and weep;" Desires compos'd, affections ever ev'n, Tears that delight, and sighs that waft to Heav'n. Grace shines around her with serenest beams, And whisp'ring angels prompt her golden dreams. For her th' unfading rose of Eden blooms, And wings of seraphs shed divine perfumes, For her the Spouse prepares the bridal ring, For her white virgins hymeneals sing, To sounds of heav'nly harps she dies away, And melts in visions of eternal day."
For the full Alexander Pope poem, click below.
Thursday, 5 May 2005
Vespasian was born Titus Flavius Vespasianus on 17th November of A.D. 9. He was a practical leader who gave Rome some much needed stability. His father was a banker and was often away froim home on business, taking Vespasian's mother with him as well. As a result of this he was pretty much brought up by his grandmother, Tertulla.
As soon as he was legally of age and had received the toga virilis Vespasian embarked on his career, occupying various positions in public office. Around this time he married Flavia Domitilla, an ex mistress of an African knight. The marriage went well and they had three children together, out of which two, Titus and Domitian were to be future Emperors. However, before he had got married, Vespasian had started a passionate affair with a young freedwoman (ex-slave) by the name of Antonia Caenis. She had been secretary to Antonia, the mother of the Emperor Claudius and that must have been how they met. Now, there is no evidence that he and Caenis carried on even while he was married, but not long after his wife died Vespasian got back together with Caenis and they even moved in together. As Suetonius tells us, "[Vespasian] then took up again with Caenis, his former mistress and one of Antonia's Freedwoman and secretaries, who remained his wife in all but name even when he became Emperor." Caenis was a clever woman and as Cassius Dio says, "[Vespasian] made money through Caenis herself as his intermediary. For she received vast sums from many sources, sometimes selling governorships, sometimes procuratorships, generalships and priesthoods, and in some instance even imperial decisions. For although Vespasian killed no one on account of his money, he did spare the lives of many who gave it; and while it was Caenis who received the money, people suspected that Vespasian willingly allowed her to do as she did."
As Emperor, Vespasian increased taxation of the wealthy provinces, granted state salaries to teachers for the first time ever, reduced the backlog of pending court-cases and had many old cities restored.
He died peacefully on 23d June A.D. 79.
Information on women working as secretaries in Ancient Rome and the status of women and women slaves, can be found on:
Wednesday, 4 May 2005
As with the Elizabethans, the anglo-Saxons didn't really believe in washing their bodies much. In fact, monks were said to have a maximum of five baths a year, and that was considered to be overdoing it. It appears that at least one commentator of the time may have cottoned on to something when he observed that the Danish habit of bathing and combing the hair every Saturday seemed to score the Danish men points with the women.
Of course, there was no concept of hygiene as we know it. A document of the time advises that if some food fell off your plate by accident, the best thing you could do was to pick it up, make the sign of the cross, season it well and pop it into your mouth. Clearly, the sign of the cross was the protection from anything you wished to be protected from...
A great book on how people lived then.
Tuesday, 3 May 2005
Deodorants seem to have been used though, as if that would solve the problem of a smelling body! The roote of fleur de lys, "taketh away the strong savour coming from the armholes".
Queen Elizabeth took around portable lavatories with her, called 'close stools', when she went for visits to the countryside. These would be conveniently placed in a carriage specially provided for her. In 1565 she ordered "four close stools covered with black velvet embroidered upon and garnished with ribbon and gilt nails, the seats and lathes covered with scarlet fringed with silk and gold and four pans of pewter with cases of leather lined with canvas to put them in".
It seems that the Elizabethans were more concerned about cleansing the interior than the exterior.
The Roman Emperor Vitellius (69 A.D.) was best known for his gluttony. His reign was incredibly short-lived as it lasted for little over a year.
He was born Aulus Vitellius, in 15 A.D, to Lucius Vitellius, one of the most succesful public figures of the time, and Sestilia. According to Suetonius, his horoscope was omminus and this terrified his parents, who said they would do their best to keep their son away from public office. However, they did not succeed in their intent.
Young Vitellius spent his early youth in Capri, in the company of Tiberius's homosexual prostitutes and it is said that he got his father a big promotion by being very "nice" to the Emperor. Through flattery, cunning and manipulation, Vitellius managed to work his way up the Imperial ladder and held a variety of positions in public office.
His first wife was a woman called Petroniana, and he had a son with her, who was allegedly born blind in one eye. It is said that Vitellius killed the boy shortly after he was emancipated. Not suprisingly his marriage ended in divorce, pretty quickly.
Vitellius was an extraordinary glutton. He would eat anything in sight and even at altars he would not be able to resist consuming the offerings to the Gods, to the utter amazement of those around him. He once had a banquet in which thousands of birds of various kinds were served. One wonders if this man's stomach was a bottomless pit or not.
In little more than a year, Vitellius was overthrown by the popular general Vespasian. He was practically hunted down like an animal. Having nowhere to go he disguised himself in dirty clothes and hid in the rooms of the Imperial door-keeper. He naively put a matress and couch against the door so nobody could get in. Of course he was found and was dragged half-naked to the Forum, where he was tortured, killed and thrown into the river Tiber.
Monday, 2 May 2005
In October 1660, Samuel Pepys records in his diary: "Going down to my cellar...I put my feet into a great heap of turds, by which I find that Mr. Turner's house of office is full and comes into my cellar". Unfortunately this sort of thing did happen often as cess-pits were not built very well and therefore leaked. Incidently, it took five days after Pepys's disgusting cellar experience until his neighbour sent the night-soil men to empty it and when they did come they added insult to injury by having the contents of the cess-pit carried through his house. However, as Lisa Picard puts it, Samuel got his own back three years later, when he had his cess-pit emptied via that same neighbour's house!
There were many houses however which did not have cess-pits and so their inhabitants resorted to the use of chamber-pots, the contents of which were regularly emptied out of windows, much to the chagrin of unsuspecting passers-by.
- "The Great Stink of London", by Stephen Halliday, published by Sutton Publishing
- "The Worst Jobs in History", by Tony Robinson & David Willcock, published by Boxtree
- "Restoration London: Everyday Life in London 1660-1670", by Liza Picard, published by Phoenix
Sunday, 1 May 2005
In 54 B.C Julius Caesar invaded Britain for a second time. He had invaded the year before but had been forced to withdraw. Problems in Gaul however forced him to retreat again. Britain was finally colonized by the Romans in A.D 43 under the reign of Claudius. Despite all these ups and downs though, Julius Caesar managed to make some interesting observations on how the locals lived. Here is what he had to say about their appearance, clothing and familly bliss:
"Most of the tribes in the interior do not grow corn but live on milk and meat and wear skins. All the Britons dye their bodies with woad, which produces a blue colour, and this gives them a more terrifying appearance in battle. They wear their hair long and shave the whole of their bodies, except the head and the upper lip. Wives are shared between groups of ten or twelve men, especially between brothers and between fathers and sons, but the offspring of these unions are counted as the children of the man with whom a particular woman cohabited first."
Theodora (mosaic from Ravenna, Italy)
Theodora was the daughter of a Byzantine bear-tamer at the Hippodrome (the Byzantine version of the Roman arena). Her father died when she was little, leaving behind a wife, Theodora and her two sisters Comito and Anastasia. The widow re-married but things did not improve for them financialy. As soon as the girls were old enough she put her daughters on the stage, which in those days was a profession which inevitably led to prostitution. The eldest, Comito was already an accomplished courtesan by the time Theodora started to assist her. It was not too long until she too became a prostitute. She was infimous. As she could not play any musical instruments or dance, according to Procopius, she "merely sold her attractions to anyone who came along, putting her whole body at his disposal". She would also perform outrageous acts on stage, which only added to her notoriety. She was said to be given to "unlimited self-indulgence. Often she would go to a dinner party with ten young men or more, all at the peak of their physical powers...and would lie with all her fellow diners in turn, the whole night long. When she had reduced them all to a state of exhaustion she would go to their servants, as many as thirty on occasions, and copulate with every one of them."
Theodora met Justinian, magister militum praesentalis in Constantinople and in 523 they got married. He became emperor in 527 A.D. She was a clever, cunning woman and quickly showed a talent for governance and got involved in many aspects of state business. She had laws passed that prohibited forced prostitution, gave women more rights in divorce cases, allowed women to inherit and own property and made rape a crime punishable by death.
Theodora died of cancer in A.D 548.
References: "The Secret History", by Procopius of Caesarea, The Loeb Classical Library, published by Harvard University Press