A History of the Roman Empire in 21 women

Below, I give links to the Late November and early December Posts I have revised and republished. But, first, I would like to tell you about a great lecture I heard at the British Museum, this evening. It was given by Dr Emma Southon on her book about women in the Roman Empire. Her viewpoint was that a study of women in the Roman Empire gives a radically different insight into the Roman world than the traditional. One full of humanity rather than normal evidence which is, generally, about wars, and Empires and bravery and horrific cruelty and ambition and honour. She started with the story of Turia, whose extraordinary epitaph on her tombstone miraculous survived and gave her husband’s view of his extraordinary wife, and his utter sorrow at his loss on her death. Below, is a review of the book and a link to a podcast with the Author.

So, here are the December posts. December 1st and 2nd give an overview of December and the meaning of Winter. December 3rd is about Advent and the fact that you were not allowed to marry during Advent. December 4 gives a Shakespearean view of a cold winter’s day, and a composition by Vaughan Williams.

And late November posts, November 28th tells some interesting tales, both ancient and modern, about Eels, Pies, Rock ‘n’ Roll and my horror of Jellied Eels. November 29th, tells you how to make a ‘dish of snow’ and introduces Ice Houses. November 30th is about Scotland and St Andrews. Like them if you like them! And share them if you want to share them.

Winter December 2nd

lullingstone mosaic for winter
Mosaic from Lullingstone Villa, Kent representing winter

This is the second day of Winter.

Winter, meteorologically speaking is described in the Northern Hemisphere as being December, January, and February, which is, of course, a convention rather than a fact. Astronomically, winter starts with the Winter Solstice when the sun is at its lowest and so stretches from around December 21st to the Equinox around March 21st.

Logically, the solstice should be a midpoint of winter rather than the beginning of it, with 6 weeks of winter on either side of it. This is roughly what the Celtic year does, it starts at dusk on 31st October (Halloween/Samhain) and continues to the evening of 31st January (Candlemas/Imbolc). So a Celtic Winter is November, December and January.

As far as the Sun goes this is really correct, but, in fact, because of the presence of the oceans (and to a lesser extent) the earth, the coldest time is not the Solstice when the Sun is at its weakest, but a few weeks later in January. The oceans (and the landmass) retain heat, and so the coldest (and the warmest) periods are offset, so January 13th is probably the coldest day not December 21st.

December comes from the Latin for ten – meaning the tenth month. Of course it is the twelfth month because the Romans added a couple of extra months especially to confuse us. For a discussion on this look at an early blog post which explains the Roman Calendar.

In Anglo-Saxon it is ærra gēola which means the month before Yule. In Gaelic it is An Dùbhlachd – the Dark Days which is part of An Geamhrachd, meaning the winter, and the word comes from an early Celtic term for cold, from an ‘ancient linguistic source for ‘stiff and rigid’’, which describes the hard frosty earth. (see here for a description of the Gaelic Year).

Medieval Liturgical Calendar for December. Note the image at the top which suggests this is the month for hunting bears.

My personal calendar suggests that winter begins on November 5th, because this is the day I generally notice how cold it has suddenly got. This year, my smart meter tells me that winter began in the last week of November.

St Cecilia’s Day, Henry Wood and the BBC Proms, 17th November

St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, Musician’s Chapel, St Cecilia window. 17 August 2022, Andy Scott

Today, I’m publishing the stories of two Saints with London connections.

The first is for November 23rd, and I have extensively rewritten it. It is all about St Clements of Oranges and Lemons fame.

The second is from November 17th and is about St Cecilia and the London Proms, which you will find below:

St. Cecilia

St Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians.  She was martyred in Rome in the Second or Third Century AD. The story goes that she was married to a non-believer, and during her marriage ceremony she sang to God in her heart (hence her affiliation with musicians). She then told her husband, that she was a professed Virgin, and that if he violated her, he would be punished. She said she was being protected by an Angel of the Lord who was watching over her. Valerian, her husband, asked to see the Angel. So Cecilia told him to go to the Third Milestone along the Appian Way, where he would be baptised by Pope Urban 1 and would then see the Angel. He followed her advice, was converted and he and his wife were, later on, martyred.

The Church in Rome, Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, is said to be built on the site of her house, and has 5th Century origins. My friend, Derek Gadd, recently visited and let me use these photographs:

St Cecilia in London

There is a window dedicated to her in the Holy Sepulchre Church-without-Newgate, In London, opposite the site of the infamous Newgate Prison.  Henry Wood, one of our most famous conductors and the founder of the Promenade Concerts, played organ here when he was 14. In 1944, his ashes were placed beneath the window dedicated to St Cecilia and, later, the Church became the National Musician’s Church.

The memorial to Henry Wood at St Sepulchre is engraved:

This window is dedicated to the memory of
Sir Henry Wood, C.H.,
Founder and for fifty years Conductor of
He opened the door to a new world
Of sense and feeling to millions of
his fellows. He gave life to Music
and he brought Music to the People.
His ashes rest beneath.

The Concerts are now called the BBC Proms and continue an 18th and 19th Century tradition of, originally, outdoor concerts, and then indoor promenade concerts. At the end of the 19th Century, the inexpensive Promenade Concerts were put on to help broaden the interest in classical music. Henry Wood was the sole conductor.

Wikipedia reports :

Czech conductor Jiří Bělohlávek described the Proms as “the world’s largest and most democratic musical festival”.

The Eight-week Festival is held at the Royal Albert Hall. It moved here during World War 2 after the original venue, the Queen’s Hall, was destroyed in the Blitz in May 1941.

New Discovery about Elections in Ancient Pompeii

Recent discoveries from Pompeii are being reported in a timely fashion on an interesting website – one of the recent posts is about the discovery of a Roman Electoral Poster. Please enjoy the read! electoral-inscriptions-discovered-in-pompeii

Below, I enclose a short section of my book ‘In Their Own Words – A Literary Companion To The Origins Of London‘ on Roman Elections, which might be of interest. But first, I have updated and republished my Almanac of the Past Blog posts for November 4th and November 5th, which you can see my following these links:

Extract from ‘In Their Own Words – A Literary Companion To The Origins Of London‘ about Roman Local Politics.

The forum in a Roman town was the central meeting place, used for offices, shops, market, meetings and political elections. Inscriptions show that the Londinium forum was the home of the provincial assembly, and that local government in London continued down to the ward (vicus) level. Surviving political `posters’ and graffiti from Pompeii provides some idea of the concerns of the Roman citizens:

Neighbours! Vote L Status Receptus for duumvir. He is fine. Posted by Aemilius Celer Vicinus.

A Plague on any wretch who scrubs this out!

Vote for M Casellius Marcellus ,a good aedile. He will grant great Games!

Bruttius Balbus for duumvir. Genialis supports him. He will conserve the treasury.

Trebius for aedile! The barbers support him.

M.Cerrinius Vatia for aedile! All night drinkers back him. Vatia for aedile! The pick pockets back him!

Spend for the public welfare! Keep the rates down!

— John Morris,‘londinium’22

A duumvir was the chief magistrate of the town, the equivalent of the Consul in Rome, and he was helped by `junior’ magistrates including aediles. As magistrates, they were expected to fund public works and entertainments from their pocket, so they had to be independently wealthy or backed by wealthy interests.

In addition, a property qualification could be imposed. A surviving charter provides:

A councillor of Tarentum…shall possess a building within the borders of the territory of Tarentum that shall be roofed with no fewer than 1,500 tiles.

Voting was strictly controlled, with returning officers, supervision by independent witnesses, and ballot boxes.

In Their Own Words – A Literary Companion To The Origins Of London‘ D A Horizons, 2009.  Kevin Flude

To buy Kindle version click here.  To buy paperback click on the paypal link below or  email kpflude AT anddidthosefeet.org.uk

June & Juno Queen of Goddesses

Black and white engraving for June from Kalendar of Shepherds.
Kalendar of Shepherds. Title page for June

June is, probably, named after Juno, the leading lady of Olympus, sister and brother to the Great God Jupiter (Jove). In Welsh, it’s ‘Mehefin’ – Midsummer. In Gaelic, ‘An t’Og mhios’ – the Young Month. In Anglo-Saxon, ‘Litha’, the month of the Midsummer Moon.

The picture above is from the Kalendar of Shepherds, with its 15th Century French Illustration. It shows shearing as the main occupation for the month but set within a flowery summer scene. In the roundels are the Gemini twins and the Cancer Crab, the star signs of June.

It is possible that June comes from an Indo-European word for youth or vital energy. Ovid in Fasti, his poem about the Roman Year, lets June make her own case:

O poet, singer of the Roman year,
Who dares to tell great things in slender measures,
You’ve won the right to view a celestial power,
By choosing to celebrate the festivals in your verse.
But so you’re not ignorant or led astray by error.
June in fact takes its name from mine.
It’s something to have wed Jove, and to be Jove’s sister:
I’m not sure if I’m prouder of brother or husband.
If you consider lineage, I was first to call Saturn
Father, I was the first child fate granted to him.
Rome was once named Saturnia, after my father:
This was the first place he came to, exiled from heaven.
If the marriage bed counts at all, I’m called the
Thunderer’s Wife, and my shrine’s joined to that of Tarpeian Jove.
If his mistress could give her name to the month of May,
Shall a similar honour be begrudged to me?
Or why am I called queen and chief of goddesses?
Why did they place a golden sceptre in my hand?’

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved

In the previous Book (on May), Ovid told another story:

‘So I deduce that the elders gave their own title
To the month of May: and looked after their own interests.
Numitor too may have said: ‘Romulus, grant this month
To the old men’ and his grandson may have yielded.
The following month, June, named for young men’
Gives no slight proof of the honour intended.’

(‘Young men’ from Latin iuvenis, “youth”)

But let’s not go into Indo-European roots, and let’s simply accept the most wonderful month is named after Juno, the Queen of Goddesses, the deity of marriage and women. Probably most famous for hating the Trojans – she had a grudge against Paris, as he ruled against her in that famous divine beauty competition. And more seriously, what other reaction can the Deity of Marriage, have to the man who showed such disregard for the sanctity of marriage in running away with Helen.

The Judgment of Paris 1700 by Daniel Purcell. Houghton Museum (Paris, Venus, Juno, Minerva)

April 28th Floralia. Old Goats and an extraordinary Elephant

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

I have updated my May Day post following a very enjoyable May day walk yesterday. Follow this link to read about May Day.

I am doing a virtual May Day tour this evening (May 1st 7.30 to book follow this link.)

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’).

Digital Heritage – The Past Deciphered by AI

This is one of the most exciting advances I have read about for a long time! A pile of burnt scrolls survive from the Villa dei Papiri, Herculaneum. They are being examined by several teams from American Universities including the University of Michigan, and the University of Kentucky. They are just beginning to read fragments of the texts, using all the scientific techniques they can throw at it including AI. The AI has begun to learn to read fragments of the tightly rolled scroll.

Burnt Scroll
Burnt Scroll

The scroll they are working on appears to be a piece about Alexander the Great and his legacy. It is an unknown text or to put it another way, it is potentially a brand new source of information for this period of time. It has been suggested that it might possibly be a copy of the lost diary of Alexander’s secretary, Eumenos or may have been written by a friend of the general Antigonos.  Either way, potentially eye witness accounts. Or not, as perhaps, they may be asking too much from the first investigation. It may be more prosaic. Time will tell.

The implications, however, are so exciting! Just as the amazing excavations at Stonehenge (and indeed in London) have revolutionised our knowledge of these places, so AI could introduce completely new insights into the past. There are many rolls that were burnt in the collection, but now AI is beginning to read them. what insights we might get even from small fragments? One of the scholars involved is particularly excited to imagine the discoveries that could be forthcoming from the Middle East

‘While others would love to see some of the lost work of the ancients, what I’d like to see is evidence of the turmoil that was happening in the first century around the development of Christianity and the Judeo-Christian tradition as it was evolving.’

Brent Seales, University of Kentucky

Part of scroll unfolded
Part of scroll unfolded

But those ‘lost works of the ancients’. There are so many that would rock history: Tacitus’s ‘Annals’ missing missing the last two years of Nero’s reign. Pytheas ‘On the Ocean’ with its first references to Britain in writing. 6 Plays of Aeschylus, 9 Books of Sappho and the list goes on. Have a look at Charlotte Higgins piece in Prospect Magazine for a little more detail.

Another feature of the study is that the teams have released images to the cloud and are encouraging others to ‘have a go’ at reading them. This shows the strides that Citizen Science has made, and how, scientists acknowledge that, in the days of big data, cooperation pays huge dividends.

My source of information is the marvellous The Society of Antiquaries of London Online Newsletter (Salon) which ‘is a fortnightly digest of heritage news‘ and for more information look at Issue 509.

Another source is Interestingengineering.com.

April 2nd – Yew Sunday

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.


March 31st The Moon on the Aventine Hill

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

I wrote extensively about Selene, recently, in this post.

The Aventine Hill is one of the seven hills of Rome, named after a mythical King Aventinus. Hercules pastured his cattle on the hill, and according to Virgil in his Aeneid, the monstrous Cacus lived in a cave on a rocky slope near the River Tiber. Cacus is killed by Hercules for stealing the cattle. The worship of Minerva also took place here. 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. During this time they survived, 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 (as they were obviously very good 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 (or 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 declared himself the winner. 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 but Rome claimed to have been founded in 753BC so there is a lot of dispute about the creation myths of Rome.

But they 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!

March 25th Feast of the Annunciation

Duccio's painting of the Archangel Gabriel bringing the news to Mary that she is to be the Mother of the Son of God.
Duccio’s The Annunciation. Egg Tempera on Wood c 1307-11

Today, is the anniversary of the conception of Jesus Christ. 9 Months before Christmas.

The picture above is by Duccio, from Sienna in Italy. It shows the Archangel Gabriel bringing Mary the news that she is to give birth to the Son of God. It is in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery. I chose it to represent March 25th as it has a special meaning to me. When I suggested taking my groups to the National Gallery I was surprised to find myself agreeing to leading a tour of the Gallery. For an archaeologist to give an Art History Tour was a particular thrill. I decided the only way I could do it was to find a narrative thread to pull my tour together, and my choice was the development of perspective. I had been reading a book on the subject by David Hockney.

The painting shows that Duccio does not understand single-point perspective. But then, no one could do perspective at that time in Europe. This skill was lost following the Roman Period, but here at the beginning of the 14th Century, painters like Duccio from Sienna, and Giotto from Florence, were groping towards more realistic representation. You might say they wanted a more human depiction in which events are shown in spaces that are trying to look real, filled with more realistic looking people and beginning to show on their faces what can be interpreted as real emotions. Previously, the Byzantine style produced iconic, storytelling images, that were somewhat cartoon-like rather than realistic. Here, is an detail from one such, where there is little attempt to make the encounter seem real, in a real space between real people. But it does tell the story effectively.

The Annunciation, St Catherine's Monastery,   12th Century. showing the archangel gabriel telling Mary about the conception of jesus
The Annunciation, St Catherine’s Monastery, 12th Century.

Now, look at the Duccio, he uses the arcading at the top of the painting to give an impression of this being an encounter in a real space, and the Archangel Gabriel is moving through that space decisively. This is not just a picture with a story, this shows Duccio’s interest in capturing a fleeting but incredibly emotional moment. It happens to be the most important moment in the history of the world (from a Christian view point), the moment that the son of God is conceived as a human.

Gabriel is striding towards Mary, who has come out of her house to see him. He is just telling her ‘Hey, you are going to give birth to the Son of God.’ She looks overwhelmed, holding her arm protectively towards her. ‘What me?’ she might be saying but is also pointing at the Bible where this moment in time is predicted by Isaiah. Their faces are rounded, and realistic, Mary is clearly emotional. Also if you look at Gabriel’s feet he is quite well grounded unlike many other medieval paintings, where people often seem to be floating above the ground. Mary, too is firmly, anchored, although you cannot see her feet. It’s by no means ‘perfect’ because they don’t know the rules of perspective, not yet have discovered they could use lenses to develop the ability to do photorealistic portraits but they are searching for methods that can bring spaces and people towards realistic life. It mirrors a humanistic trend to see Mary not as sort of Goddess, but as a real mother.

Above the arcading can be seen a small sphere of blue sky from which emanates several ‘rays’ and a tiny Holy Dove. As I told the story, the rays are showing the moment of conception coming from Heaven to her womb which is hinted at by the red of her dress. The National Gallery commentary, which you can read here, suggests ‘The conception takes place at the moment she hears the words, which is why a tiny white dove, representing the Holy Ghost, flies towards her ear‘. This made me stop and think – the tiny dove is heading to her ear is it? Really? Why? Gabriel is the messenger saying the words, the words head to the ear. The Holy Dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, part of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Its role, in the painting, is to show that God is the Father. So why, would the Holy Spirit enter by the ear?

I have been using a ruler to try to see if the National Gallery are right! It’s difficult to be sure with a reproduction. but my ruler says the rays from Heaven are neither heading to the ear not directly to the womb but in the general direction of her body. If they are right that the rays from heaven are heading for her ear, then is this rather the moment she is being told she will conceive rather than the moment of conception?

But the National Gallery text accepts that it is the moment of conception that is shown. So, I’ve looked at Luke 1:26-38:

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.

On first reading he is telling her she will conceive, but reading it more carefully he is saying ‘now, you will conceive’. So Duccio is paying very careful attention to the Gospel and by the time Gabriel finishes his sentence she will have been impregnated by the Holy Dove.

Looking at other paintings of the Annunciation the rays from heaven/Holy Ghost head generally towards the virgin, sometimes to her head, nothing suggesting the ear. I’ve included a 19th Century Rossetti painting because it is so beautiful. It shows a lilly representing purity, instead of the rays, pointing to Mary’s womb.

By the way look at the feet in Rossetti’s painting. This is an early Rossetti painting, who was poe and he did not have the skills to ground feet, but he takes advantage of it in this case and disguises his ineptitude by giving Gabriel fiery feet. Subsequently, Rossetti concentrated on paintings of women from the waist up. More on the Annunciation tomorrow.

Veronese ‘The Annunciation’
The Annunciation by Rossetti originally known as Ecce Ancilla Domini! 1849 - 1850
The Annunciation by Rossetti originally known as Ecce Ancilla Domini! 1849 – 1850