Floralia. Old Goats and an extraordinary Elephant April 28th

Flora on a gold aureus of 43–39 BC Wikipedia photot by АНО Международный нумизматический клуб

On the 28th of April until the Kalends (15th) of May the Romans, according to Ovid in the ‘Fasti’ Book IV, celebrated the Florialia dedicated to Flora, the Goddess of Spring, flowering, blossoming, budding, planting and fertility. She was one of the 15 Roman Deities offered a state-financed Priest. Her home in Rome, was on the lower slopes of the Aventine Hill near the Circus Maximus.

The Circus Maximus is the large long arena in the middle of Rome. Model Musee Arte et Histoire, Brussels, photo Kevin Flude

Celebrations began with theatrical performances, at the end of which the audience were pelted with beans and lupins. Then there were competitive games, and spectacles. The latter, in the reign of Galba, including a tight-rope walking – wait for it – elephant!

Incidently, Galba only survived for 7 months as Emperor – a little longer than Liz Truss’s 44 days but then she was not murdered by a rampaging mob at the end of her reign. It was the year known to history as the year of the 4 Emperors. (great description by Tacitus here:)

Juvenal records that prostitutes were included in the celebration of Flora by dancing naked, and fighting in mock gladiatorial battles. (there is a raging debate about the existence of female gladiators: a burial in Southwark has been said to be one such and Natalie Haynes has her say on the subject here🙂

Hares and goats were released as part of the ceremonies, presumably because they are very fertile and have a ‘salacious’ reputation! (Satyrs were, famously, obsessed with sex and were half man half goat. A man can still be referred to, normally behind his back, as an ‘old goat’).

Written in 2023 revised April 2024

The Moon on the Aventine Hill, Rome March 31st

Cycle of the Moon, sketched from photo.

The Moon rules the months: this month’s span ends
With the worship of the Moon on the Aventine Hill.

Fasti by Ovid

The Aventine Hill is one of the seven hills of Rome, named after a mythical King Aventinus. It is the hill upon which Hercules pastured his cattle. According to Virgil in his Aeneid, the monstrous Cacus lived in a cave on a rocky slope near the River Tiber, and stole Hercules cattle. So, Hercules killed him. The worship of Minerva also took place on the Hill. You can take a Google Earth fly past if you follow this link – also some nice photos, and a link to Wikipedia.

Aventine Hill, Rome Google Earth

The Hill is famous in the mythology of Rome because it is associated with Romulus. He and his twin Brother Remus, were born to the vestal virgin, Rhea Silvia, in the pre-Roman City of Alba Longa, not far away. Rhea was the daughter of former King Numitor, and in her sacred grove she was seduced by the God Mars, and gave birth to the twin boys. They had to be hidden from the wrath of their Granduncle, who had usurped the throne from their Grandfather. The boys were saved by the River God Tiberinus and then by being suckled by a Wolf in a cave called the Lupercal, which is/was at the foot of the Palatine Hill in Rome.

When they grew up, they helped their Grandfather reclaim the throne (being the children of the War God they were obviously excellent at the art of war). They decided to found their own City, but they could not decide upon which hill to build it or who to name it after (accounts vary!). Remus favoured the Palatine, Romulus the Aventine (some accounts say vice versa). They decided to let the Gods decide. Remus claimed to have won when he saw a flight of 6 auspicious birds but Romulus saw 12 and declared himself the winner. So, the City was named Rome in his honour, and it was founded on the Palatine Hill, with the Aventine originally outside the circuit.

The two fell out and Remus was killed. The story was first written down in the Third Century BC, and it was claimed that Rome was founded in 753BC. The stories continue to be told and celebrated in a way that we have forgotten in Britain as we ignore our creation myths of King Brutus, relative of Romulus and Remus, merely because they are unlikely to be true!

For more on Selene, see my post:

First written in 2023 and revised March 30th 2024

The Beginning of the Universe as We Know It; Birthdays of Adam, Lilith, & Eve; Conception of Jesus, Start of the Year March 25th

Lilith is shown coming her hair and looking in a mirror
Study for Lady Lilith, by Rossetti. 1866, in red chalk. Now in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (Wikipedia
Study for Lady Lilith, by Rossetti. 1866, in red chalk. Now in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (Wikipedia)

March 25th is the Annunciation—the day that the Archangel Gabriel tells Mary she is pregnant. (to see some very fine paintings of this meeting, look at my other March 25th post here)

March 25th is also the anniversary of the birth of Adam and Eve (and presumably Lilith); the death of Jesus Christ; the anniversary of the Immolation of Isaac; the Parting of the Red Sea; the Fall of Lucifer; and, (until 1752 in the UK) the beginning of the Year.

Of course, it isn’t or to put it another way, no one can, or ever could, prove any of these dates except the last one. So what they speak to is the way the Church saw the world as logically structured by God. Christian thinking about the year, the world, the universe, creation, developed over many years and took influences from many cultures. It is also very complicated to work out the sequence, so I’m going to summarise from what I know (or at least what I think I know).

Christians chose Christmas Day as the Birthdate of Jesus probably because it was a prominent birthday already shared with several Gods, but particularly Mithras and Saturn. It was approximately at Solstice, the beginning of the Solar Year, and close to one of the main festivals of the Roman World, the Saturnalia. December 25th might have been chosen by the pagan religions because it is the time when the Sun begins to rise, to the naked eye, further north each day, lengthening the day, increasing light and the promise of warmer weather.

So, Jesus was born on/or around the Solstice, so he must have been conceived approx. 9 months earlier, which would be around the Spring Equinox. I have always thought that the 4 or 5 days difference between the Solstice, the Equinox and the Christian festivals was down to the fact that the Calendars were not well coordinated with the actual movements of the Sun (because the Sun does not circle the earth in 365 days, or in 365 and a quarter days, but 365 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes which makes Calendars hard to align with the Sun). But I have just realised the importance of something I discovered yesterday when preparing my two posts on March 25th. And since writing that sentence I have had another revelation. But be patient.

So, God sends his Son to save the human race. God is a logical being, so she would send the Son at an appropriate time. If the Child is born at or near the Solstice, which is an appropriate time for the Son of the Creator, then 9 months earlier, March 25th, is near the Equinox, which is the beginning of Spring. For many people, Spring is a new beginning, for example, the Anglo-Saxons saw Winter as the death of the year, and Spring as the young Year.

So to the Creation. God, having a free choice, would have created the world at the beginning of Spring. In fact, if you think about it, God creates everything necessary for life at the creation in 6 days, and it is going to immediately spring into new life, and the first season must, therefore, be Spring? Right? So March 25th.

This gives a nice symmetry with Jesus’s Life. Conceived on March 25th, born December 25th, and died 30-40 years later, according to the Church, on March 25th. (the only other famous person I know born and died on the same day is William Shakespeare).

Easter, when Jesus is martyred, isn’t March 25th I hear you saying. But remember, Easter is a lunar festival, so its date varies each year. Births and deaths, on the other hand, are fixed to the Solar Calendar and the Church chooses March 25th as the most appropriate day to pin the death of Jesus, on the anniversary of his conception and the anniversary of the creation of the Earth, and I am guessing that this is also the preferred date for the Day of Judgement.

It is also the Birthday of Adam, and his first wife Lilith (or so some say), and Eve. More about Lilith below. I thought this date was just one of the parallels that the Church liked, Jesus and Adam born on the same day but, I have just worked out why Adam is born on March 25th, and why these dates are not the Equinox, March 20th but March 25th, which has been bugging me.

Let’s go back to the Beginning of Creation. According to the Anno Munda‘s arrangement of the Year, the world was created 5500 years plus 2023 years ago so 7523 Before the Present. And it was supposed to have ended in 600AD, 6000 years after the Creation. So, they got that wrong.

The Creation, as described in Genesis, has the following sequence of Seven Days. As the Creation began at the Equinox March 20th. I have added dates to the 6/7 day sequence of Creation:

  • Day 1: Light – March 20th
  • Day 2: Atmosphere / Firmament – March 21st
  • Day 3: Dry ground & plants – March 22nd
  • Day 4: Sun, moon & stars – March 23rd
  • Day 5: Birds & sea creatures – March 24th
  • Day 6: Land animals & humans – March 25th
  • Day 7: The Sabbath of rest – March 26th
  • For more information www.bibleinfo.com

So there you have it! Adam, Lilith, and Eve were created on Day 6 with the Land Animals – March 25th. Jesus conceived, also on this date, and so 9 months later is born on December 25th. It all makes sense, and aligns the Christian year fully with the Solar Year.

And that, dear Reader, is the very first time anyone has been able to explain to me why Christmas is not at the Solstice, and why the Annunciation was not at the Equinox. Maybe you all know this, but it is very exciting to work this out for myself. And believe me, I have done a lot of reading about calendars and not spotted an explanation.

So that was yesterday’s revelation. What about the revelation I had about 45 minutes ago? (now about 5 hours). When writing items like this, there are numerous things that are interconnected, and I begin writing them before realising I am interrupting the story I am trying to tell. This is often to the detriment of the story arc, or to understanding (although often, I think, adds to the joy of this blog – after all ChatGBT couldn’t write this stuff – could it?).

So I began to write about Dionysius Exiguus and his invention of the AD/BC system and about eras, cycles, and ages. (He replaced the Anno Mundo year with the AD/BC system in the 6th Century AD).

I was thinking about the beginning of the year. The Celts chose October 31st, Julius Caesar chose January 1st, other cultures have other dates, and the Spring Equinox is another choice sometimes made. The Church and Dionysius Exiguus choose March 25th, although secular society also recognised the claims of January 1st. Britain kept to March 25th until 1752 when we adopted the Gregorian Calendar. But people like Samuel Pepys celebrated New Year’s Eve on 31st December. So January 1st was the New Year, but the year number did not change until March 25th. So King Charles I thought his head was being cut off on January 30th 1648; while history books will tell you it was cut off on January 30th 1649. Same day, different reckonings.

December 31st/January 1st is essentially a Solstice New Year Festival. And I have, previously, used the difficulty of keeping calendars as to why these days has slipped out of alignment with the Solstice. But, today I realised that it is as likely that the reason is the Solar/Lunar nature of our time keeping. The year, and its festivals, is largely arranged around the Solar Cycle. But our weekly and monthly cycles are derived from the Moon. So, I think that January 1st (or the Kalends of January as the Romans would have called it) would originally have been the First New Moon after the Winter Solstice. Keeping the Moon months and the Sun years in sync is very, very difficult, and so Roman and Christian cultures gave up and fixed the moon months, completely abandoning any attempt to keep the months to the actual lunar cycle. This is our current system, in which only Easter remains a true to the moon festival, much to our perennial confusion.

Maybe you all know this, but I’ve learnt a lot in writing these two posts.

Lilith

The April 2023 Issue of ‘History Today’ has a short piece called ‘The Liberation of Lilith’ which suggests that the story of Lilith, a figure from Jewish Folklore, is first attested in a Medieval satirical text called ‘The Alphabet of Ben Sira’. The story goes that Lilith is created using the same clay as Adam. Adam then demands she lies below him during sex. She refuses, saying that they are both made from the same stuff and, therefore, equal. Adam refuses to accept this, and so Lilith leaves the Garden of Eden. So the story goes.

The story of Lilith, Sarah Clegg suggests, is one of a series of similar stories found around Europe and Asia. And Clegg assumes that it is gradually modified to make Lilith a demon who will kill babies unless the names of three angels are spoken out loud. So, the story survives as a charm to keep babies safe, and perhaps to remind people of equality among the sexes. But this causes problems for, OK, let’s call them out, the Patriarchy. Lilith cannot be equal to Adam so she becomes a monster, not made from the same clay as Adam but from the scum and waste left over from Adam’s creation. I imagine the story then went on to propose that God creates Eve from Adam’s rib, and so she is created from Adam, and is, therefore nor equal, but subservient to him. Lilith is now a significant figure in feminist folklore circles.

I wrote about more about eras and ages in my post which you can see her: Greater Cycles and the Six or Seven Ages

Attached to the watercolour of Lilith by Rossetti (at the top of the page), was a label with a verse from Goethe‘s Faust as translated by Shelley. (Wikipedia)

“Beware of her fair hair, for she excells
All women in the magic of her locks,
And when she twines them round a young man’s neck
she will not ever set him free again.”

The model is Fanny Cornforth, Rossetti’s mistress. He painted another version a few years later, but the model in that is Alexa Wilding. His models are arguably more interesting than the man himself and include: Elizabeth Siddall, Jane Morris and Fanny Cornforth. Christina Rossetti, his poet sister, modelled for Rossetti’s painting, Ecce Ancilla Domini which you can see here.

I think I might have enough material to begin my own Cult.

For more on the Annunciation, look at my other March 25th post here.

Yew Sunday Palm Sunday March 24

Giotto. Entry into Jerusalem from the Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padova (sent to me by Lucia Granatella)

Yew Sunday (Domhnach an Iúir in Irish) is the medieval name for Palm Sunday – this is the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph on a donkey, with palm leaves being laid in front of him. It has always been very curious to me this so-short-lived triumph preceding such heavy and heart breaking tragedy. It is the Sunday before the Betrayal, which leads to the Crucifixion on Good Friday and the Resurrection on Sunday. A busy week for the Church.

Palm Sunday can be celebrated by making crosses out of palms, or with processions bearing palm branches or eating special cakes (there is always room in any ritual for cakes). But in the North where do you get your Palms from? So, it was often substituted by Box, or Olive or Willow and particularly, in Britain and Ireland, by Yew. Yew is evergreen and is so long lived as to be a symbol of everlasting life (I wrote more about the Yew here).

Giotto Bondone was a Florentine painter of the 14th Century of whom Giorgio Vasari, in his essential guide to the artists of the Renaissance, ‘The Lives of the Artists‘ said of the 10 year old:

One day Cimabue, going on business from Florence to Vespignano, found Giotto, while his sheep were feeding, drawing a sheep from nature upon a smooth and solid rock with a pointed stone, having never learnt from any one but nature. Cimabue, marvelling at him, stopped and asked him if he would go and be with him. And the boy answered that if his father were content he would gladly go. Then Cimabue asked Bondone for him, and he gave him up to him, and was content that he should take him to Florence.

There in a little time, by the aid of nature and the teaching of Cimabue, the boy not only equalled his master, but freed himself from the rude manner of the Greeks, and brought back to life the true art of painting, introducing the drawing from nature of living persons, which had not been practised for two hundred years; or at least if some had tried it, they had not succeeded very happily.

Written in 1550.

If you look at the painting, you will see, even more than his contemporary Duccio, the faces of the people are rounded and, and at least somewhat, individual. The crowd scene, particularly, to the right, has some depth and the people further away seem to recede from the viewer, rather than, as they often do in Byzantine style paintings, either float or seem to stand on or support themselves on each other’s shoulders. The Gate into Jerusalem has been rendered by someone who has seen something that he believes has the key to realistic scenes. One day it will be rediscovered, and named single-point perspective. Yes, Giotto doesn’t know the secret but he is working to find out what the trick is. The people in the trees are also in the distance. These are the giant strides that Vasari is referring to in the quotation above. Realistic people, in spaces with depth. The donkey is quite sweet too! Cimabue was particularly good at painting Crucifix scenes.

The Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padova is a World Heritage Site and Giotto and his team covered all the walls and ceiling with frescos, depicting the Life of Jesus, the Life of Mary, and the Last Judgement.

Giotto, The Last Judgement. Cappella degli Scrovegni, In Padova. Wikipedia

Here is a real Digital Heritage treat – a 360 Degree tour of the Chapel! Follow the link below. If it seems to be taking a long time to load there is an information button which, once pressed will allow the panorama to load immediately.

https://www.haltadefinizione.com/en/image-bank/giotto-di-bondone-scrovegni-chapel-360-view/

Beware the Ides of March March 15th

shows an image of Brutus stabbing Caesar with 'funny'  bubbles:
Caesar says 'Brutus, whats that loud pelting noise on the roof' and Brutus replies,  about to stab Julius Caesar 'Hail, Caesar'
With Apologies. From Facebook

SOOTHSAYER: Caesar!
CAESAR: Ha! Who calls?
CASCA: Bid every noise be still; peace yet again!
CAESAR: Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry ‘ Caesar!’ Speak. Caesar is turned to hear.
SOOTHSAYER: Beware the ides of March.
CAESAR: What man is that?
BRUTUS: A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
CAESAR: Set him before me; let me see his face.
CASSIUS: Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.
CAESAR: What sayst thou to me now? Speak once again.
SOOTHSAYER: Beware the ides of March.
CAESAR: He is a dreamer. Let us leave him. Pass.

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

This year there are many vital elections around the world; often involving populists like Julius Caesar. I rank Caesar with Napoleon as one of the Dictators who was, personally, an intelligent, reasonable man, who, in some ways, ruled ‘wisely’ but who was nonetheless willing to sacrifice millions of people for his personal ambition. Today, the world is faced with the more run-of-the-mill populists who are geniuses only in their own, often, deranged minds. I know, we as humans, might think, if only X would drop dead, how much better it would be? Brutus, being an honourable man, took action upon his thought. But, as often is the case, what seemed the ‘right thing’ to do, turned out to be a disaster for the Roman Republic which the plotters were trying to save. So, perhaps, still those assassinary thoughts, read this article in ‘History Today’ about the impact of Julius Caesar’s murder and do everything you can do to use democratic means to defeat egotists to whom truth means nothing.

Now, what the heck are or indeed is the Ides of March?

A Roman month was divided into three, first the Kalends, then the Nones and finally the Ides. These three days were the important days of the year. The Kalends is the 1st of the Month, the Nones the 7th of the Month and the Ides the Fifteenth of the Month. It is said to go back to the early days of Rome and a lunar calendar, The Kalends being the first tiny sliver of a crescent moon a couple of days after the New Moon; the Nones the first quarter of the Moon and the Ides was the full moon. But of course, it doesn’t really make that much sense as the full moon is 28 days after the new Moon not 15, and the three divisions, divide up the first half of the month, and leave the second half undivided.

How did you use it? When talking about a day in the future month you might say I’ll meet you on the 5th day before the Kalends. Debts were supposed to be paid on the Kalends and that is where we get our word calendar from. These public calendars were called Fasti, and this is the name of Ovid’s great Almanac Poem, the Fasti, which I often quote from.

This is a very bad photograph of a drawing by Herbert E Duncan Jr of a 1st Century Calendar
This is a very bad photograph of a drawing by Herbert E Duncan Jr of a 1st Century Calendar

I’ve never really understood this system, despite a few attempts, until I saw this drawing of a Roman Calendar. The first column, on the left, with the letters from D downwards represent the letters A – H which is a recurring cycle of 8 market days, running in tandem with Kalends, Nones etc. The second column begins with the Letter K for Kalends, (reading across then MART for March, then NP which means the Kalends is a day for public festivals). Back to the second column, below the K for Kalends, the days are counted down to the upcoming Nones, so the next one after Kalends is VI, meaning the 6th day before the March Nones. Then V, IIII, III, and PR means the day before Nones. Below and to the right of the PR are the letters NON which is, as you might hope, short for Nones.

In the second column below this is the number VIII which means the next day is the 8th day before the Ides of March. The fragment of stone from which this drawing comes does not continue down to the Ides, unfortunately.

Complicated, huh? It gets worse. The third column has a series of letters in it: F C C C NP NON F C C. We already know that the NON is short for Nones, The F means it’s a fastus, a permissible day when legal action can be taken. The C means C comitialis which on fasti days the Roman people could hold assemblies. We have already seen that NP marks days for public festivals. An N would mean days when political and judicial actions were prohibited, although there is not one here. The small unreadable text to the right is information, I believe, about holidays and historic events to be marked in the calendar. This is, in fact, a Roman Stone Almanac.

This confusing system survived Caesar’s major calendrical reforms when he transformed the Roman system, which was rotten at the core, to align it with an almost accurate calculation of the time the Sun takes to circle the earth (or the other way around!) to create the almost correct Julian Calendar.

But the Kalends, Nones, and Ides did not survive because, in the Imperial period, this strange division of time was replaced by the familiar 4 fold division of the month into our 7 days of a week. So, for the first time, you could work 24/7.

I will deal with Julius Caesar’s reforms in great depth on another occasion.

St Gregory.  Punster Extraordinary March 12th

Gregorius I is known as Saint Gregory the Great. Pope from 3 September 590 to his death on 12th March 604. So 12th March is traditionally his feast day but this was changed to September 3rd, the date of his elevation to Pope, because 12th March was often in Lent.

He is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students, and teachers, because it is traditionally believed he instituted the form of plainsong known as Gregorian Chant. He was also a formidable organiser and reformer and made changes that helped the Catholic tradition survive Arian and Donatist challenges.

In the UK he is venerated with St Augustine for bringing Christianity to the largely pagan Anglo-Saxons. The caption to the illustration above tells the story of how he came to send a mission to the pagan Angles in Briton and tells the story of his two most famous puns, riffing on the similarity of the words Angles/Angels and Aella/Alleluia. But in between these two he also punned on the name of Aella’s kingdom – Deira in Northumberland, saying he would save them from the wroth of God which is ‘de ira’ in Latin.

After this incident he sent St Augustine to Canterbury to convert the Germanic peoples of the former Roman Province of Britannia. Canterbury was chosen because its King was the ‘Bretwalda’ of Britain – the most powerful King and he, Ethelbert, was married to Bertha, a French Princess already a Christian. This established a safe haven for St Augustine’s mission. And the King was baptised, shortly, after in Canterbury.

Stained glass window showing Baptism of King Ethelbert of Kent by St Augustine watched by Queen Bertha. In St Martins Church, Canterbury
Stained glass window showing the Baptism of King Ethelbert of Kent by St Augustine watched by Queen Bertha. In St Martins Church, Canterbury

The mission came with a plan to recreate the ecclesiastical arrangements set up in the Roman period, with archbishops in the two main capitals at London and York. After Kent was converted, St Ethelbert’s nephew, Sæberht, King of Essex, received a mission from St Mellitus who established St Pauls Cathedral in London. St Paulinus was sent to convert Northumbria and established a Cathedral in York. Unfortunately, for the plan, when Sæberht died his sons returned to paganism and Mellitus was kicked out, returned to Canterbury, and ever since we have had an Archbishop of Canterbury and York and never had an Archbishop of London.

Photo of St Martin's Church - where the Church of England began. showing Roman tiles in the wall.
St Martin’s Church, Canterbury – where the Church of England began. Note the Roman tiles in the wall.

It is possible to argue that Gregory’s encounter is why we are called English, because St Augustine was sent to set up the Church of the Angles, not the Church of the Saxons. Saxon was the normal name used by the Romans for Germanic barbarians. As the name of the Church, the term Anglish/English became a relatively neutral term that the various shades of Germanic peoples in Britain could unite under in the face of the later Viking threat.

The mission was sent in AD 597 and Pope Gregory died in AD 604.

I am just returning to the UK after a visit to Amsterdam.  I’ve spent the last two days largely in the Rijksmuseum where I came across this painting which features Pope Gregory the Great on the left hand part of the Triptych. It shows Utrecht in the background.

Triptych of the Crucifixion.  Showing the vision of the Crucifixion that St Gregory had while celebrating Mass (left). Crucifixion centre.  St Christopher (right)

St Gregory is in green kneeling down. What is fascinating is all the paraphernalia of the Crucification above Gregory’s head.  You’ll see 30 pieces of silver, dice to decide who gets Jesus’  robes, flails and torture devices, sponge and spear etc.

Detail

Mars, Vesta & the Sabine Women March 6th

a sketch of several books of Swan vesta matches
Sketch of Swan Vesta Matches

For March 6th, Ovid in his Almanac Poem called ‘Fasti’ (Book III: March 6) tells the story of Vesta, who in Greek, is Hestria, and is depicted on the Parthenon Marbles, standing near Zeus and Athene. She was the Goddess of the Hearth, of the fire that keeps families warm, and fed. She had 6 Virgins as her Priestesses, and they had to remain 30 years, from before puberty, as a virgin or they suffered burial alive. Any partners in sin were beaten to death. At the end of their term they could marry, retire, or renew their vows.

At the beginning of Book 3 Ovid tells us the story of Rome’s foundation, and how Mars took Silvia the Vestal while she slept. She later gave birth to Romulus and Remus

The Vestal Virgins tended Vesta’s hearth, and it was not supposed to go out, as it had, in theory come from Troy with Aeneas. Also, housed in Vesta’s Temple was the Palladium, which was a wooden status of Pallas Athene, that kept Troy, then Rome free from invasion. Odysseus and Diomedes had stolen it just before the Trojan Horse episode ending the 10-year-long Trojan War.

(I just asked that question of Google, and he/she/it said it lasted 1hr 55 minutes. On closer examination, Google highlighted a reference to a film about Troy! I have a strong feeling that Google search is getting worse as the AI engines take over the control of the search from database search engines. Once upon a time, Google used to fetch what you asked for. Now it acts like a modern quiz show – giving the answer that will please most people! Finding anything specific is much harder than it was. Or so I think.)

The Temple of Vesta was in Rome’s Forum, and it was a circular temple or a Tholos. Next to the Sacred Shrine at Bath was a circular Tholos, which may have been dedicated also to Vesta.

photo of the Reconstruction of the Temple of Vesta in Rome
Reconstruction of the Temple of Vesta in Rome

Here is what Ovid says in his March 6th entry:

When the sixth sun climbs Olympus’ slopes from ocean,
And takes his way through the sky behind winged horses,
All you who worship at the shrine of chaste Vesta,
Give thanks to her, and offer incense on the Trojan hearth.
To the countless titles Caesar chose to earn,
The honour of the High Priesthood was added.
Caesar’s eternal godhead protects the eternal fire,
You may see the pledges of empire conjoined.
Gods of ancient Troy, worthiest prize for that Aeneas
Who carried you, your burden saving him from the enemy,
A priest of Aeneas’ line touches your divine kindred:
Vesta in turn guard the life of your kin!
You fires, burn on, nursed by his sacred hand:
Live undying, our leader, and your flames, I pray.

Translated by A. S. Kline online here.

Caesar is Julius Caesar. Aeneas was the last Trojan and survived the end of Troy. He came to Italy, found a Kingdom (Latium) in which his descendent, Romulus, would found Rome. This is told in Virgil’s Aeneid. So the Romans considered themselves to be Trojans.

The new City chose Mars, the Roman God of War, father of their founder – as its patron God because it suited the Romans and their destiny to rule the world. So March was named after Mars, and, unlike other Calendars the Kalends of Mars (1st March) was the beginning of the Roman year. (At least in Rome’s early days as we discussed on March 1st). Ovid in the ‘Fasti’ tells makes the point, through Romulus’s voice and explains something about the various Calendars run by different tribes/Cities:

‘And the founder of the eternal City said:
‘Arbiter of War, from whose blood I am thought to spring,
(And to confirm that belief I shall give many proofs),
I name the first month of the Roman year after you:
The first month shall be called by my father’s name.’
The promise was kept: he called the month after his father.
This piety is said to have pleased the god.
And earlier, Mars was worshipped above all the gods:
A warlike people gave him their enthusiasm.
Athens worshipped Pallas: Minoan Crete, Diana:
Hypsipyleís island of Lemnos worshipped Vulcan:
Juno was worshipped by Sparta and Pelopsí Mycenae,
Pine-crowned Faunus by Maenalian Arcadia:
Mars, who directs the sword, was revered by Latium:
Arms gave a fierce people possessions and glory.
If you have time examine various calendars.
And you’ll find a month there named after Mars.
It was third in the Alban, fifth in the Faliscan calendar,
Sixth among your people, Hernican lands.
The position’s the same in the Arician and Alban,
And Tusculum’s whose walls Telegonus made.
It’s fifth among the Laurentes, tenth for the tough
Aequians,
First after the third the folk of Cures place it,
And the Pelignian soldiers agree with their Sabine
Ancestors: both make him the god of the fourth month.
In order to take precedence over all these, at least,
Romulus gave the first month to the father of his race.
Nor did the ancients have as many Kalends as us:
Their year was shorter than ours by two months.

This section mentions the Sabines, these were a neighbouring tribe. The Romans were short of women, so they kidnapped the Sabine Women, in what became known as the Rape of the Sabine Women. People argue as to whether they were raped or kidnapped, and there is some concentration on how Romulus worked hard to convince them that it was done out of necessity for Rome’s future. The Women, or some of them, certainly tried to escape. Many became pregnant, and the Sabine Army approached and entered Rome to free their women and enact revenge on their neighbours. Ovid tells the story of Hersilia, Romulus wife talking to the Women, then the poem returns to Mars’ viewpoint, and ends with a beautiful description of spring in March.

The battle prepares, but choose which side you will pray
for:
Your husbands on this side, your fathers are on that.
The question is whether you choose to be widows or
fatherless:
I will give you dutiful and bold advice.
She gave counsel: they obeyed and loosened their hair,
And clothed their bodies in gloomy funeral dress.
The ranks already stood to arms, preparing to die,
The trumpets were about to sound the battle signal,
When the ravished women stood between husband and
father,
Holding their infants, dear pledges of love, to their breasts.
When, with streaming hair, they reached the centre of the
field,
They knelt on the ground, their grandchildren, as if they
understood,
With sweet cries, stretching out their little arms to their
grandfathers:
Those who could, called to their grandfather, seen for the
first time,
And those who could barely speak yet, were encouraged
to try.
The arms and passions of the warriors fall: dropping their
swords
Fathers and sons-in-law grasp each other’s hands,
They embrace the women, praising them, and the
grandfather
Bears his grandchild on his shield: a sweeter use for it.

Hence the Sabine mothers acquired the duty, no light one,
To celebrate the first day, my Kalends.
Either because they ended that war, by their tears,
In boldly facing the naked blades,
Or because Ilia happily became a mother through me,
Mothers justly observe the rites on my day.
Then winter, coated in frost, at last withdraws,
And the snows vanish, melted by warm suns:
Leaves, once lost to the cold, appear on the trees,
And the moist bud swells in the tender shoot:
And fertile grasses, long concealed, find out
Hidden paths to lift themselves to the air.
Now the field’s fruitful, now ís the time for cattle breeding,
Now the bird on the bough prepares a nest and home:
It’s right that Roman mothers observe that fruitful season,
Since in childbirth they both struggle and pray.
Add that, where the Roman king kept watch,
On the hill that now has the name of Esquiline,
A temple was founded, as I recall, on this day,
By the Roman women in honour of Juno.
But why do I linger, and burden your thoughts with
reasons?
The answer you seek is plainly before your eyes.
My mother, Juno, loves brides: crowds of mothers
worship me:
Such a virtuous reason above all befits her and me.í
Bring the goddess flowers: the goddess loves flowering
plants:
Garland your heads with fresh flowers,

Ovid Fasti translated by A. S. Kline online here.

My children’s favourite film in childhood was Seven Brides for ‘Seven Brothers’, which was loosely based on the Rape of the Sabine Women.

sepia Sketch of scene from 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers'
Sketch of scene from ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’


Leap Day & and the Roman Calendar February 29th

Druids at All Hallows, by the Tower
Druids at All Hallows, by the Tower

I have just come back from my very first Leap Year Walk, which I gave tonight for London Walks. It was one of a series of my walks, which are about the year through London’s History. So far, I have done, a New Year Walk, an Imbolc Walk (1 February, St Brigid’s Day), a Spring Equinox Walk, a May Day Walk, a Summer Solstice Walk, an Autumn Equinox Walk, a Halloween Walk, and a Winter Solstice Walk. All, at their core, have the subject of the year, how it is arranged, and celebrated in different cultures and different times in London.

I hoped to get this post done, today, but on arrival at home my burglar alarm was ringing, so had to get an emergency electrician out to pacify my neighbours, and tracking down the fault meant turning my house upside down. I rushed it out, with many bad proof reading errors and ommissions, And have now, on the dawn of a new month, and a new Season, updated it. Probably, knowing me, it still has a far few errors! Now, I am rushing to look after my Grandson!

So, the reason there is a leap year, is that the Sun and the Moon have different cycles, which cannot be easily aligned. And secondly, the solar year is not a fixed number, it is not 365 days, but 365 days and a bit.

Originally though, probably, most cultures lived their lives with time keeping controlled by time markers from their everyday environment, days and nights, the waning and waxing of the moon, the seasons, and the changes in the rising and setting of the Sun. Budding nature would have provided other markers as to when to sow, to harvest, to prune, to slaughter, to worship and marry.

The months were given by the cycle of the Moon, which also gave us tides and menstrual cycles. The months were given names, which were often associated with the weather. The trouble was that the Solar year did not align with the Moon, soon the months would get out of kilter with the seasons. So over time, the society would find it was winter in June, or summer in December. (which is OK if you live in Australia).

Society dealt with this in a number of ways. It could be ignored, why shouldn’t it be cold in June, why should June always be in Summer? Another way was to add in extra days, or months, every so often to make sure June remained in the Summer. This is what Egypt, the early Romans and the Celts did. They kept their months aligned to the actual movements of the Moon, and aligned their Solar Year with it by the addition of extra days or a month or two. or a combination of both.

I reported on this in my post on the Terminalia for February 23rd. As I wrote:

Terminus was an old ancient God who was the God of the boundary, the border, the edge, the liminal God. February was the last month of the original Roman year, but the rulers of Rome added an intercalary month every so often, called Mercedonius in an attempt to keep the Solar year in tune with the seasons. And when the intercalary month was added, the last five days of February were given to Mercedonius and the resulting leap year was either 377 or 378 days long.. So, in those years, the 23rd of February was the Terminus of the year. (For more on Terminalia look at my post for February 23rd on Terminalia-god-of-the-boundary)

Now, as the Roman Republic became more sophisticated, the intercalary months were added at the direction of the Pontiffs, supposedly every two and sometimes every three years. But the Pontiffs were often swayed by political advantage, and by the time of Julius Caesar the seasons had got wildly out of sync with the calendar year. The Dictator, therefore, instituted ‘the Year of Confusion’ which was over 400 days long and brought in the Julian Calendar which realigned the calendar back in line with the seasons.

Caesar spent time with Egyptian Astronomers, trying to understand their solution to the problem. They identified that the year was not 365 days long but 356.25 days, so JC ‘fixed’the issue with a leap day every four years. Based on the almost correct calculation of a solar year being 365.25 days. The new calendar was inaugurated on the Kalends of Januarius 709 AUC, or as we would call it I January 45 BC. It became, in time, something the Romans were very proud of – rationalising, measuring, time itself. Romans counted their dates from the time their City was founded by Romulus in what we call 753 BC or 753 BCE. So, 45 BCE in our reckoning is 709 ab urbe condita (AUC ‘from the founding of the City) as the Romans saw it.

I prefer not to use BCE because it seems ‘dishonest’ to me. The idea of AD BC was made up based on a guess as to when Jesus was born. Changing BC to BCE may rid the date of an explicit Christian identification but masks the fact that there is no such thing as the ‘Common Era. What the Common Era is, is the idea made up in the Late Roman period guessing when Jesus was born/ So I think call a spade a spade, even if it’s a broken meaningless spade that is not fit for purpose, either replace it with something rational, or real or call it what it is.

The interesting thing is that Caesar put the leap year in on the 24th February. Why? Because February, being the month of death, was the end of the year. March 25th was originally the beginning of the Roman year (Caesar moved it to January 1st). Why March 25th? Because it was the Spring Equinox. If you look at my post for March 25th you will find out it is the date of the creation of Humanity, the Birthday of Adam, the conception of Jesus, and until 1752, the day the year number changed in Britain.

The other strange thing about the new leap day was that it was not called February 25th. It was not given a number. Rather, February 24th was two days long. This continued in Britain until the date February 29th started appearing in calendars in the 15th Century, although the legendary Lawyer, Edward Coke (1552 – 1634), refers to the two days of February 24th, but the two day 24th was completely replaced by February 29th in the 16th Century.

One slight complication to the story of February 29th was that February 29th did exist before the Julian reforms. When February was not interrupted by the intercalary month, as described above, it was 29 days long. Julius Caesar made the months alternate 30 and 31 except for February which was 29 days long. When the Senate gave Julius the honour of having the 7th Month named after him, things were OK, but then Augustus wanted the same thing. The Senate duly gave him the next month, which became known as August, but it only had 30 days. This could not be allowed! So they made it up to 31 and stole the 29th from February and made February only 28 days long. This change also meant that there were now three 31 days months in a row, so they reduced September from 31 to 30, boosted October to 31, reduced November to 30 and boosted December to 31,

Hence, we can no longer remember Caesar rational allotment of days in the month, and we need to hum to ourselves:

Thirty days have September
April, June, and November
February has twenty-eight alone.
All the rest have thirty-one.
Excepting leap year – that’s the time
When February’s days are twenty-nine.

But Caesar had not solved the problem of the shifting year, he had just minimised it. By the Council of Nicea in the early 4th Century (and not yet called AD!) the small error had changed the date of the Spring Equinox, from March 25th to March 21st. So, when Constantine convened the Council to bang the heads together of the Church leaders to unify their religion, particularly in regard to the date of Easter, and whether Jesus was equal to God. They fudged the complex issue of the date of Christ’s death, and used March 21st as the foundation of their calculation on the moon-based festival of Easter (more of which at Easter!)

It wasn’t until the 16th Century that Pope Gregory, solved the problem of the inaccuracy of Caesar’s solution. They resynced the days to the seasons by removing days from the Calendar. And they stopped the drift by fine-tuning the leap year system, by not having a leap year in those centurial years which were not divisible by 400. So 2000 was a leap year, but 2100 is not. This allowed the systems to align correctly to this day. (although there is of course a little more to it than this). But for that level of detail, you will love ‘The Calendar’ by David Ewing Duncan, or just look it up on Wikipedia or wait for me to compile various references to the Gregorian Calendar into a unified post on the subject.

Of course, Britain refused to join a Catholic innovation for nearly 200 years but, religious prejudice at last gave way to reason, when we adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1752. In the process we lost 11 days, much to the horror of the London mob, who rioted against their loss.

See the following posts for the Roman Year:

Romulus’s 10 month year here

Roman Months here and more on the Ides of March here

First Bank of England £1 Note 26th February 1797

 First £1 note,1797 Bank of England Museum source Joy_of_Museums Public Domain cc by sa 4.0
First £1 note of the Bank of England Museum 1797
Source Joy_of_Museums Public Domain (CC by sa 4.0)

On this day, the Bank of England issued its first ever one pound note (although some sources say March 1797). The Bank had been issuing paper notes since the late 17th Century, but this was the first £1 note. They still had to be signed by hand and allocated to a specific person. The hand signed white paper notes were withdrawn in 1820, and the pound note was, finally, withdrawn in 1988. The £1 in 1797 was worth the equivalent of £157.46 today, so quite a big note! (see here for the calculator.)

Interesting Archaeology discoveries.

The following discoveries were reported in Salon IFA the newsletter of the Society of Antiquaries of London in Salon: Issue 526  7 February 2024, which you can see here:

Pliny the Elder’s Villa found near Vesuvius?

The 1st Century seafront villa, with views of the Bay of Naples and of Mount Vesuvius, has been excavated at the town of Bacoli, which was the port of Misenum. Pliny commanded the fleet as ‘Praefectus classis Misenensis’. Pliny tried to rescue his friends and family, ignoring warnings saying ‘Fortune favours the brave’, ‘Audentes Fortuna luvat’. It didn’t and he died, at Stabiae, by toxic fumes. Read more about the villa here:

Face Reconstructed for a Victim of Roman Crucifixion

A male skeleton found, 4 years ago, in a Roman cemetery in Fenstaton in Cambridgeshire was found with a 2-inch nail through his heel bone. BBC 4 has made a documentary about the recent reconstruction of the man’s face by, as Salon reports it:

‘US forensic artist Joe Mullins, of George Mason University, Virginia. He usually works with law enforcement agencies, reconstructing the faces of modern-day crime victims. ‘

To follow the details, read more here, or watch the BBC documentary, ‘The Cambridgeshire Crucifixion’, which can be viewed on BBC iPlayer.

Sketch of a Roman skull of a man who was crucified.
The Image is a sketch of the ‘Facial Reconstruction, Impossible Factual/BBC’

Terminalia God of the Boundary February 23rd

Hans Holbein the Younger Design for a Stained Glass Window with Terminus. Pen and ink and brush, grey wash, watercolour, over preliminary chalk drawing, 31.5 × 25 cm, Kunstmuseum Basel.
‘Terminus is often pictured as a bust on a boundary stone,

Today is ‘Terminalia, the Roman day for setting land boundaries.

Terminus was an old ancient God who was the God of the boundary, the border, the edge, the liminal God. Ovid says that when King Tarquinus swept away the old Gods on the Capital Hill and Jupiter became the Great God, all the old temples were taken down except for that of Terminus. Jupiter’s Temple was built around it. It had a hole in the roof because Terminus had to be worshipped in the open air.

Terminus’s motto was “concedo nulli” which means “I yield to no one”. This was adopted by Erasmus as his personal motto in 1509.

The Terminalia was celebrated on the last day of the old Roman year. February was the last month of the year, but the rulers of Rome added an intercalary month called Mercedonius in an attempt to keep the Solar year in tune with the seasons. And when the intercalary month was added, the last five days of February were given to Mercedonius and the resulting leap year was either 377 or 378 days long.. So, in those years the 23rd of February was the Terminus of the year..

The intercalary months were added at the direction of the Pontiffs, supposedly every two and sometimes every three years. But the Pontiffs were often swayed by political advantage and by the time of Julius Caesar the seasons had got wildly out of sync with the calendar year. The Dictator, therefore, instituted ‘the Year of Confusion’ which was over 400 days long and brought in the Julian Calendar which realigned the calendar back in line with the seasons. It fixed the problem with a leap day every four years, based on the almost correct calculation of a solar year being 365.25 days. It was another 1500 years before that inaccuracy was corrected with the introduction of the Gregorian Year, by which time the year was another 11 days out of kilter.

The festival of Terminus was a pastoral outdoor festival marking the boundaries of towns and villages. It resembles the Beating of the Bounds tradition that we have in Britain, which is recorded from anglo-saxon times, and still continues in some parishes. I will talk about this on Ascension Day in May!

Here is what Ovid, in ‘Fasti’ says about Terminalis

Book II: February 23: The Terminalia
When night has passed, let the god be celebrated
With customary honour, who separates the fields with his
sign.
Terminus, whether a stone or a stump buried in the earth,
You have been a god since ancient times.
You are crowned from either side by two landowners,
Who bring two garlands and two cakes in offering.
An altar’s made: here the farmer’s wife herself
Brings coals from the warm hearth on a broken pot.
The old man cuts wood and piles the logs with skill,
And works at setting branches in the solid earth.
Then he nurses the first flames with dry bark,
While a boy stands by and holds the wide basket.
When he’s thrown grain three times into the fire
The little daughter offers the sliced honeycombs.
Others carry wine: part of each is offered to the flames:
The crowd, dressed in white, watch silently.
Terminus, at the boundary, is sprinkled with lamb’s blood,
And doesn’t grumble when a sucking pig is granted him.
Neighbours gather sincerely, and hold a feast,
And sing your praises, sacred Terminus:
You set bounds to peoples, cities, great kingdoms:
Without you every field would be disputed.
You curry no favour: you aren’t bribed with gold,
Guarding the land entrusted to you in good faith.
If you’d once marked the bounds of Thyrean lands,
Three hundred men would not have died,
Nor Othryadesí name be seen on the pile of weapons.
O how he made his fatherland bleed!
What happened when the new Capitol was built?
The whole throng of gods yielded to Jupiter and made
room:
But as the ancients tell, Terminus remained in the shrine
Where he was found, and shares the temple with great
Jupiter.
Even now there’s a small hole in the temple roof,
So he can see nothing above him but stars.
Since then, Terminus, you’ve not been free to wander:
Stay there, in the place where you’ve been put,
And yield not an inch to your neighbour’s prayers,
Lest you seem to set men above Jupiter:
And whether they beat you with rakes, or ploughshares,
Call out: This is your field, and that is his!
There’s a track that takes people to the Laurentine fields,
The kingdom once sought by Aeneas, the Trojan leader:
The sixth milestone from the City, there, bears witness
To the sacrifice of a sheep’s entrails to you, Terminus.
The lands of other races have fixed boundaries:
The extent of the City of Rome and the world is one

Translated by A. S. Kline copyright 2004