Sins and the Roman City; the Historical Adviser of Next Week's New Bloodthirsty TV Drama Offers an A-Z of the Sex, Sacrifice and Torture of Everyday Life in Ancient Rome

The Evening Standard (London, England), October 28, 2005 | Go to article overview

Sins and the Roman City; the Historical Adviser of Next Week's New Bloodthirsty TV Drama Offers an A-Z of the Sex, Sacrifice and Torture of Everyday Life in Ancient Rome


Byline: JONATHAN STAMP

A for AQUEDUCT "Greater than the Pyramids" was how the Roman writer Frontinus described the water system of ancient Rome, and it was all based on aqueducts that brought water into the city from as far as 100km away. None of Rome's extraordinary achievements would have been possible without them.

B for BELLONA As well as Mars, the Romans also had a goddess of war. Bellona represented the bloodlust that overcame Roman soldiers in battle, and helped them to their great victories. Priests of Bellona gashed their arms open with special knives during sacrifices to her.

C for CZAR Which like "shah" and "kaiser" is a term meaning "absolute ruler", derived from the word "Caesar".

D for DOG The punishment for patricide (killing your father) was to be tied up in a sack with a wild dog, a live monkey, a snake and a cockerel, and be thrown into the river Tiber.

E for ESQUILINE Rome was famously built on seven hills. As well as the Esquiline, there were the Palatine, the Aventine, the Caelian, the Capitoline, the Quirinal and the Viminal. Handy for the final round of Who wants to be a Millionaire?

F for FASCES The fasces were a bunch of bound wooden sticks carried by men called lictors who escorted important politicians in public. They symbolised the politician's authority. The word "fascism" is derived from them.

G for the GRACCHI BROTHERS A pair of brothers, Gaius and Tiberius, who campaigned for the rights of ordinary Romans, upset the status quo, frightened the establishment and got assassinated for their pains. For good measure one of them was decapitated and had his skull filled with lead. Jack and Bobby Kennedy might have done well to study them more closely.

H is for HUMAN SACRIFICE Practised by the Romans in times of acute stress, such as war, it involved the burial alive of slaves beneath the Forum.

I is for INSULA The Latin word for an island, but also for an apartment block, and the kind of accommodation in which the vast majority of Romans lived. Insulas ranged from the swankiest condominium on the Palatine Hill to the poorest, seven-storey tenements in the notorious Roman slum called the Subura.

J is for JUPITER The king of all the Roman gods, and someone to have on your side. His temple on the Capitoline Hill was the most important in Rome. So important that he was known by his initials alone, JOM, standing for Jupiter Optimus Maximus (Jupiter, Biggest and Best).

K is for KALENDS The Romans had three set days in every month: the Kalends, which fell on the first day of the month, the Nones, which normally fell on the seventh day, and the Ides, usually on the 15th. Other dates were counted backwards from these days. So what we would call the 12th of the month the Romans would call "three days before the Ides".

L is for LIQUAMEN One of the most popular ingredients in Roman cooking was an-purpose fish sauce called liquamen, boiled down from the salted entrails of anchovies or small fish. Worcestershire sauce is a direct descendant.

M is for MILLION Which was the estimated population of Rome at the time of the birth of Christ. This made Rome the most populous city of the ancient world. No city in the West would again reach such a size for nearly 1,800 years.

N is for NICOMEDES It was a diplomatic mission to an Asian king called Nicomedes that was the making of an ambitious teenaged politician called Julius Caesar. …

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