Moving into Greek realms…

Salve readers! I say I am moving into Greek realms, for the moment anyway; it is by no means permanent. So I have begun my MA in Classical Civilisation at Birkbeck, UCL in London and my first term is focusing on Ancient Greek civilisation, an area entirely new to me. Therefore, as a result of my MA and a very busy work life, I realised I had been neglecting my blog and decided this was a perfect time to take it up properly, documenting my educational journey.

We began with the study of the relevance of classics int he 21st Century and historiography, looking into the work of Herodotus and Thucydides. Please do read up on both of these figures, you will find them fascinating, I promise. They are credited with being the first ‘real’ (whatever that means) historians and the first to begin documenting events for preservation. True, they had their own agendas, but it is thanks to them both that we have good accounts of both the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars, by Herodotus and Thucydides respectively. Herodotus was the predecessor of Thucydides and many scholars say that Herodotus had large influences on Thucydides’ writing, much to, I imagine, the distaste of Thucydides. I shall write about this more in a separate blog post so keep an eye out.

Then we moved onto the Presocratics, and have I fell in love, or have I fell in love! What a subject. Such a fascinating part of human history, or dare I say history as a whole, a time when suddenly, or perhaps not (which is the subject of much debate) humans began rationally thinking and questioning life and its beginnings, removing divine intervention from the solution for the beginning, and workings (rules) of, the universe and earth. This area of history has claimed a handful of arguably some of the greatest and most revolutionary thinkers ever to have existed and has been collectively named by historians as the Presocratics (before Socrates).  It is essentially the study of ‘mythos to logos’, or in other terms from myth to reasoned argument. We know much of what we do from this period thanks to doxographers (those who wrote about the work of the Presocratics, work of which we now often use as primary evidence, due to the lost of the real primary works) and fragments. We also owe large debts to Aristotle and Plato, of whom I shall also discuss in more depth in future blogs.

Which brings me on to my latest seminar subject: Socrates. I am due to go into this subject with my class on Tuesday and in my pre-reading can already begin to appreciate the transgression from one form of thought to the other. However, I am yet to understand the difference between the Presocratics and Socrates himself and how this line was defined – how was their thinking different and why was he chosen as a marker to describe the first rational thinkers as coming before him? Why was he so significant to mark such a turn in Western thought, or was it a turn at all? In other words, where did this term Presocratics come from and why was he used as a marker for his predecessors’ work; can they not stand alone or is he just the next step in movement towards a different stage in human history, thought and science as a whole?

I hope to answer these things in my study, so watch this space!



Pompeiian novel in progress!

Salve Rome lovers!

I thought I would dedicate this post to my first novel, of which I am currently in the process of writing (albeit fairly slowly). It’s really enjoyable but also really tough – sometimes, even though I’m a very creative person, getting ideas out of my brain on demand is like ‘putting lipstick on a pig’ (as Amy Farrah Fowler once said!) Therefore, I haven’t really got a precise deadline in mind although I would love to have it fully written by the end of September this year, even if that is a first draft.

I first wanted to write a novel based on this area thanks to the wonderful writer Conn Iggulden. When I first discovered my love of Ancient Rome, I was coincidently reading his novels at the same time. He is such a fantastic writer, bringing key characters in history to life, with artistic license of course. Some scenes are moving, others are violent; some are steamy while others are thoughtful. If you haven’t done so yet, take some time to give these novels a go – they are highly rewarding, although obviously don’t take them for historical fact – he says himself that was never the intention. They are named the Emperor series. Click here to go to the first book in the series.

So, my novel. Based in Pompeii (my favourite area at the moment), the novel follows the life of a slave girl who is thrust into the limelight unwillingly, changing her life forever. Here’s the blurb:

Declared the earthly embodiment of Venus at birth, Tullia Matidia is pushed into hiding by the forces of evil intent on destroying the faith of Venus. Taken in by her aunt, Tullia is renamed Latena (meaning hidden) and is brought up as a slave. When she finally discovers her true path and background, she begins her journey towards the destiny she was always meant to fulfill, winning the hearts of the Roman people along the way.

I have so far written 3 and a half chapters, in addition to an epilogue (which I might actually post later on), and have reached 12,000 words. I’ve heard the average is around 80,000 for a novel so I’m on track.

If you want to know more, let me know – I’d be really happy to share my journey with you all more.

Also, I must give credit to the wonderfully simple novel writing software, LitLift. You can sign up free and it provides everything you need to store your thoughts, book structure, chapters, scenes, locations, characters and even items. They even have an online library of books written on the site. If you’re hoping to write your own novel, I would highly recommend this free software!

Thanks for reading!

NB I own the right to any original material I post on my blog so I kindly ask that you please ask my permission before reproduction. Thanks!

If you want to get in touch with me, please do so here. It would be great to hear from you!


The Infamous Brothers Gracchi: Tiberius

Undoubtedly, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus were instrumental in changing the early course of Roman history. When the two brothers began their reforms, it was during a crucial decade in which tensions were running high in Rome.

Tiberius, the older of the two, came from a family of 12 children and was the grandson of Scipio Africanus, a general in the Second Punic War. Thus, born into political and military (although skewing more towards the former in Rome) background, he was bound to follow in the same footsteps. He did however stand out from the political crowd in that he wanted more rights for peasants, namely with regards to land. There were many reasons for well-off elitists to be on the side of the poor, one being basically to piss the senators off.

A bit of background

In the 2nd century, a pattern emerged whereby peasants began giving up their land for settlement in the Po valley (an area above Italy). The sons of these peasants then went on to become soldiers for the state in many cases. With the pacifying of the area, there became less land for ownership and more people without land. This was partly due to the fact that the state had claimed more of the land for itself, either renting it out or taking it into private ownership, whereby slaves would work the land for the rich owners.

How does Tiberius come into this?

In 133 BC, Tiberius passed a bill, by-passing the Senate, which limited public land to 320 acres. Anything in excess of this would be given to the poor and this could not be taken away from them (Campania was omitted from the bill, presumably because it was so fertile). Tiberius was clever as he knew the Senate would veto this. Octavius, a senator at the time, did indeed do this and Tiberius called for a more sympathetic representative. He worked with the People’s Assembly to get around the Senate, even though they refused to finance the bill, and they funded it using money from Attalus, King of Pergamum. He did all this will he was tribune.

Tiberius’s downfall

Naughtily, Tiberius decided to run for re-election in 132 BC which was actually illegal (to prevent any one person having too much power for prolonged periods of time). A riot broke out in the People’s Assembly when they tried to pass a bill allowing candidates to run for consecutive terms (it was something the Roman’s felt very strongly about). Anyway, Scipio Nasica led a group of senators into the Assembly and clubbed 300 Gracchans to death, including poor old Tiberius.

Many felt that Tiberius was ruling with a mob and, as said, was becoming to close to having too much power. Others said he was giving too much power to the People’s Assembly.

Tiberius’s legacy

Tiberius became a figure for later politicians in favour of the people to base themselves upon. They were called the populares. In opposition of the populares were the optimates. Although Scipio had killed an inviolate tribune, he wasn’t ever dealt with and the Senate continued to attempt to eradicate the rest of the Gracchans. Census figures rose, more people join the military, which showed the positive effect of the bill. Allies were displeased with having their land taken from them and the Senate refused to give the allies Roman citizenship. This caused further tension.

Please come back in the next couple of days for the second part of this post about Tiberius’s little brother Gaius and how he too was just as influential as his sibling.


Book Review: Confronting the Classics

If you get a moment any time soon, pop down to your closest Waterstones and grab yourself a copy of Confronting the Classics by Mary Beard. Apart from being biased as I love Mary, her work and general outlook on life, I think this is a truly great read. The front of the book describes is as ‘a provocative tour of what is happening now in Classics – learned, trenchant and witty’. As someone who is about to attempt to enter the academic world of Classics, I found it was a great introduction to the area and affirmed to me that this is definitely my destiny.

Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations

In Confronting the Classics, Mary smoothly takes the reader through the different areas of the subject, covering Greek and Roman history and critiquing in the most honest and refreshing way. In her usual manner, she attempts to debunk myths, find the truth in other’s writing and see the best, or the justified worst, in some others. Although some unfamiliar with the subject might find it hard going at times, it is worth persevering because Mary is very good at making one feel as though the subject she is discussing is indeed familiar, even if it isn’t in the slightest. She doesn’t go for all the fancy, academic sentences that some do – there’s no charade here.

For me this book not only highlighted how well read she is but also how boundless the subject is. At one point Mary herself mentions how there is far too much material for even the most well read classicist to make his way through, despite some people’s other impressions of the area.

The main reason I want to study Classics is to one day, I hope, change the appeal of the subject for the public and for future education. We all know how important Latin and Classical study was in previous years, even up to my own parent’s education, but I unfortunately am of the generation unfamiliar with the subject. I took only Spanish and French at school and had only heard of Homer. Therefore, on my ‘accidental’ discovery of this whole other world, I was delighted at the same time as miffed – why had it taken me this long, look at all the learning time I have wasted!

I’ve come to terms with the tragedy of it (just) and decided I wanted to change it for others one day. My mind has expanded so much since beginning my studies and I can honestly say that it is not only therapeutic when reading about it but also generally beneficial for my well-being. Therefore, when reading the introduction to Mary’s book, I delighted to hear that Classics was, in her opinion, not dead, just in need of re-purposing. This is why this book is so worth reading. For any Classics skeptics out there, prepare to realise the continuing relevance of Classics, even if it is just for personal development.


Confronting the Classics by Mary Beard (Profile Books) £9.99 (on offer at Waterstones)

Evidence found to suggest Rome is older than thought

This month there has been some very exciting news from the subject of Ancient Rome, with the latest being archaeological finds suggesting that Rome is indeed older than originally thought.

Although contested for a long time, the date of the founding of Rome has generally sat at 753BC. On the 21st of April, Romulus and Remus were meant to have founded the city (whatever that means, seeing as there was that whole disagreement between the brothers and whether that actually happened at all). Ab urbe condita literally means ‘from the founding of the City (of Rome)’.  This is what many Roman historians used to identify the date in which they were writing or referring to (and is also one of my favourite facts!). This explains how we know so much about dates before the age of Jesus and the dating becoming AD (how, I always used to wonder, did they know to date up to 1 and then go back up again?)

However, this month it was reported that evidence of infrastructure building has been found to suggest a founding of more than 100 years previous to the date of 753BC. This evidence itself was a wall which was constructed from blocks of volcanic tuff and unearthed recently. The wall appears to have been built to channel water from under the Capitoline hill from an aquifier. Around the wall, remnants of ceramic pottery and food were found, with the ceramic remains proving particularly useful in aiding the dating of the wall.

Archaeologists have now fixed the date of the wall between the 9th century and the beginning of the 8th century. As we know, the founding of Rome was a gradual process (which makes sense as settlements rarely pop up over night) – after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day! There is evidence for settlements on the Palatine hill as early as the 10th century.

This finding also shows something just as interesting – that stone was in use in construction earlier than previously thought. The wall was found near the Lapis Niger, meaning ‘Black Stone’ in Latin. This is the site associated with the earliest days of Rome and the stone is meant to be part of the early Comitium, the official assembly area for making big decisions (what was later replaced, in a way, with the Curia). You can find the Lapis Niger in the Roman Forum in Rome. It is said that an inscription, the earliest found in Rome (dated to the 5th century BC) places a curse on anyone who violates the site.

The little issue of lead in Ancient Rome…

Yesterday the Guardian covered a news piece about researchers discovering that the main water source in Ancient Rome was heavily contaminated with lead. In fact, the levels contained 100 x more lead than that of normal spring water!

According to Medline Plus, lead poisoning can cause:

  • Behavior or attention problems
  • Failure at school
  • Hearing problems
  • Kidney damage
  • Reduced IQ
  • Slowed body growth

Not good news for our Italian ancestors! But were they aware of its dangers?

In 1983, Jerome Nriagu revived a debate that had lain dormant for almost two decades in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine. He claimed that ‘lead poisoning contributed to the decline of the Roman empire’. However, another guy named Scarborough blew Nriagu’s claims out of the water, claiming that his book, published in the same year as his article, was ‘so full of false evidence, miscitations, typographical errors, and a blatant flippancy regarding primary sources that the reader cannot trust the basic arguments.’

Nriagu went as far as to say lead contributed to Rome’s demise

Scarborough tells us that the ancient authorities were indeed aware of lead poisoning but argued it was neither endemic or contributory to the fall of the Empire. Quite rightfully, I feel, Waldron backed up the feelings of Scarborough by stating: ‘The decline of the Roman Empire is a phenomenon of great complexity and it is simplistic to ascribe it to a single cause.’

We know much about the production of lead from Pliny, who told us how the Roman’s made it and used it. It was most useful to them due to its low melting point, low enough even to be melted on a camp fire, and was readily available, particularly in Brittania where its production had to be controlled (it was so close to the surface). Therefore, lead was perfect for creating water pipes which would be created by plumbarii, or plumbers, from fitted rolled sheets of various sizes and diameters. Plumbum in Latin means lead!

Sometimes clay pipes were preferred, as Vitruvius tell us. We can tell from his account that there was indeed an awareness of leads soluble nature and the danger of this to one’s health:

‘Water conducted through earthen pipes is more wholesome than that through lead; indeed that conveyed in lead must be injurious, because from it white lead [ceruse or lead carbonate, PbCO3] is obtained, and this is said to be injurious to the human system. Hence, if what is generated from it is pernicious, there can be no doubt that itself cannot be a wholesome body. This may be verified by observing the workers in lead, who are of a pallid colour; for in casting lead, the fumes from it fixing on the different members, and daily burning them, destroy the vigour of the blood; water should therefore on no account be conducted in leaden pipes if we are desirous that it should be wholesome. That the flavour of that conveyed in earthen pipes is better, is shewn at our daily meals, for all those whose tables are furnished with silver vessels, nevertheless use those made of earth, from the purity of the flavour being preserved in them’ (VIII.6.10-11).

Columella tells us of the advantage of terracotte pipes too: ‘Rain-water is after all most suitable to the body’s health, and is regarded as uncommonly good if it is conveyed through earthen pipes into a covered cistern’ (I.5.2). Celcus also concludes that rain water has the least contamination (On Medicine, II.18.12).

You can find the details of the manufacturer, owner and reigning Emperor on Roman lead pipes – this proves very handy for dating them

In the making of wine, when boiling the grapes for sweetening, only lead would do. This was called ‘Sugar of Lead’. Again we hear from Columella: ‘For, in the boiling, brazen vessels throw off copper rust which has a disagreeable flavor.’ They would therefore use lead for its preferred habit of making the wine sweeter than pots made of other materials. What was making their wine sweeter was lead acetate which would seep out of the lead and form poisonous crystals at the bottom.

The Romans noticed that the symptoms of lead poisoning were rather similar to that of Saturn, the gloomy God known to have eaten his own children. This is, therefore, where saturnine gout, a form of lead intoxication, gets its name from.

Lead was known to the Romans to cause behavioral issues

There are of course many rumours that naturally fly around with any part of history. Caesar, although a great lover of women (as much as wine, incidently) only reportedly fathered two children and Augustus was thought by some to be infertile. There are some issues with this. Both Augustus and his uncle/adoptive father before him were likely to have had many slaves that would have been at their sexual disposal. It is likely that any offspring produced as the result of such activity would have been insignificant, let alone adopted or reported to the world as borne of them. I could talk of the issues of this all day. However, the point is that the Romans recognised that lead caused varying issues, from sterility to borderline madness.


At last! Augustus’s Mausoleum is to be restored

Salve readers! So, although I regularly read up on the latest news in Roman archaeology and history, I seem to have missed a very important announcement. I have myself visited Rome twice, once in June 2012, once in October 2013. I am now already pining for the eternal city and would love to make a return visit as soon as possible (and when I have convinced my fiancee it is worth a third visit on his part!) Both times we dropped by Augustus’s mausoleum, a massive cylindrical structure in the middle of a ring road on three sides, next to the museum that holds the Ara Pacis, Augustus’s own peace altar (which is also definitely worth a visit!)

Here is a little snippet from Google Maps which shows the sheer size of the structure. The white building on the left is the museum.


Augustus’s Mausoleum is an imposing figure on the architecture of Rome. Source: Google Maps

Each time I have visited Rome I have peered through the metal railings between myself and the mausoleum, trying in vain to get a view of the building. Each time, although views were impaired by bushes, it wasn’t hard for me to notice that the building was in major disrepair, graffiti scrawled on the walls, abandoned and broken steps and bricks and rubble strewn all over the grassy floor. I thought it was such a sad way for the building to end up, and largely disrespectful to such a great figure, and hoped that they would soon do something about it and let visitors in one day (although whether this might make matters worse remains to be seen – it would probably help any funding issues for its upkeep).

Well, it seems my prayers have been answered. At last, £1.6m has been handed over to the site in funding for restoration and the city is set to spend £9.9m on building a piazza around the site for handling visitors.

Augustus's tomb, Rome

Augustus’s Mausoleum in Rome

Rome’s culture assessor Flavia Barca said:

“Augustus made Rome the world’s biggest and most beautiful city, the capital for business, culture and entertainment. Not every city can celebrate a 2,000-year anniversary.”

Too right! I am eternally envious that I don’t live in the city of Rome (perhaps a little ungrateful seeing as I do live in the (almost) equally impressive London, for its own reasons) and so they must continue to make the most of, and preserve, the edicts and evidence for their history that they are blessed to still have among them.

The mausoleum used to hold a 15ft statue of Augustus and was of course covered in marble, now long lost. I can’t wait to see how they recover this fantastic part of history.

Thanks to the Guardian for the source.

A Wedding in Ancient Rome

Many of you will not know this but I am getting married next year! Today we went out looking for our wedding rings and it got me thinking – what would the Roman’s have done?

Ancient Roman wedding


There are many similarities between our wedding traditions and the Romans

The engagement

The Romans can be credited with the tradition of the engagement ring. Used by them to signify the binding contract that the woman and man were entering into, the husband-to-be would give his destined bride an iron wedding band for her to wear on the third finger on her left hand (as it is worn today). They believed that a nerve in this finger ran up the left arm and into the heart, connecting the two. The ring was made of iron to symbolise the ‘iron’ strength of the marriage to come. They would sign a contract to seal the agreement of the engagement and then agree on a date for the wedding.

Ancient Roman iron ring

This Roman iron engagement ring is in the British Museum

The purpose of marriage in ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, marriage was purely for political purposes, unifying two different families for the mutual political benefit of both. It was much like an arranged marriage set-up we are familiar with today. When, in most cases, a man reached his mid-twenties and a woman reached her early teens, the family of both the man and woman would discuss arrangements for their marriage to improve their social class or their wealth.

The Romans saw the father as owning the daughter. Therefore, on her marriage, he gave her away to the groom and he became the new ‘owner’, so to speak. This is like the tradition we have today of the father ‘giving away’ his daughter.


Marriage in ancient Rome was strictly governed and had many rules. Proper Roman citizens could only marry one another until the introduction of the lex Julia (18 BC) by Augustus which allowed freed slaves to marry anyone, except senators. However, he did also establish other restictions such as the marriage to a prostitute or actor/actress being forbidden and soldiers only being allowed to be wed in certain circumstances. You were also not allowed to marry close relatives, even extending to third and fourth cousins. A very important part of Augustus’s new laws was the forbidding of unfaithful wives who had been divorced by their husbands from marrying again.

How did the marriage itself happen?

After obtaining a ‘conubium’, special permission granted to Roman citizens for marriage, and as long as they were within the law with good omens observed in the morning, the bride and groom would appear in the atrium of the bride’s father’s house and be wed there.  A formal ceremony would occur between the two families and a written agreement would be signed. Interestingly, the deal was sealed with a kiss, much as it is still done today!

The Kalends, Nones and Ides of the month were not good days for a wedding, and the months of June, May and February weren’t brilliant either. Festival days were often a no-go too, although choosing a day would always require the parties consultation of auspices first.

Marriage types

There were three types of marriage in ancient Rome: confarreatio, usus and coemptio. The first consisted of an offering to the gods of a salt and flour cake and a priest conducting a ceremony at which there were ten people present. Usus was when a woman, with the consent of her parents or guardians, would live with a man she was to marry for a year. Coemptio was an imaginary purchase of one another during the ceremony with the exchange of some pieces of money.

What did they all wear?

The woman wore a special dress on her wedding day, worn only once, which was fastened with a knot around the waist: the knot of Hercules. Only the husband was allowed to un-do this. The bride would also have had her hair in a unique and traditional style called a tutulus: six locks parted with a hasta recurva (bent iron spearhead) fastened with vittae, or fillets, pulled up into a cone on the top of her head.

She wore the Flammeum, a flame coloured transparent veil and had flowers wound into her hair, often wearing an amaracus wreath. Her shoes matched her veil. The veil was very symbolic and mentioned by many authors at the time. In fact, the bride was referred to as the nubo, related to nubes, or a cloud, literally meaning ‘I veil myself’. From this word came nupta, a married woman, nova nupta, a bride, and nuptiae, the wedding – hence nuptial. At the time, the wedding revolved around the veiling of the bride.

orange veil wedding

The bride wore an orange veil. Credit: Explore Italian Culture

The gown consisted of a tunica recta, made in an old-fashioned upright loom (clothes making being a virtuous past time of Roman women) and it was a white flannel or muslim tunic. She also wore a girdle, called a cingulum.

The order of service

  • Watching for omens, the bride’s family, at the house of the paterfamilias, would hand over the bride to the groom with a verbal exchange to symbolise the moment. This would go something like, “Where you are so-and-so, I am so-and-so”. This would happen even if the groom wasn’t around
  • The matron of honour, or the pronuba, would then join their hands and a pig, or similar, would be sacrificed
  • The tabulae nuptiales, the contract (written up beforehand) would then be shown to the auspex, also the best man and priest (lots of responsibility!) and the contract would be signed by the number of people required out of those present
  • The wedding breakfast, or cena, was eaten (which was paid for by the groom) and then presents were exchanged. Preparations for the procession were then made
  • The procession, or pompa, went from the bride’s home to the groom’s home
  • The next bit was a bit strange – the procession would act out the rape of the sabines, in which the bride would hide in her mother’s arms and be taken away by the groom. Three boys with both parents living would escort the bride while guests shouted jokes and good wishes on the procession
  • The guests, instead of the much safer sounding confetti, through walnuts over the bride to encourage fertility
  • The bride herself would often carry a spindle to signify her role as a weaver and the groom sung along with others in the Fescennine verses while lighting torches
  • The procession itself split to allow the groom to arrive at his house before the bride, ready to greet her there. On her arrival the torches were thrown away and the bride rubbed the doorway with fat and oil and wreathed it with wool (more symbols of her domestic role)
  • She was often carried over the threshold, or at least stepped carefully herself over it, as tripping or stepping on it was deemed bad luck
  • The bride would then touch water and fire, elements essential for domestic life, and they would find a mini-marital bed in the hallway decorated for the new couple’s spirits; the wife’s juno and the husband’s genius
  • As bearing children was an important part of marriage, the consummation of the marriage would naturally follow. There would be a marital bed, torus genialis, where the couple would normally sleep together and make love. At this point in the ceremony, the pronuba would guide the bride into the room with this bed after having guided her through her whole day. The pronuba would be a married woman, with her husband still alive, as a symbol of the perfect wife and an aspiration for the new bride. The pronuba would then help the bride undress, removing her clothes and jewellery and, after prayers for the marriage, get her into bed. She would sometimes offer up a sacrifice. Then the groom would enter, either escorted or alone
  • This was the first time the couple would be alone although apparently the party would continue outside the room
  • Again, the strange play-acting would occur. It went a little something like this: the bride would pretend to be shy and cry for a bit until the husband would ‘convince’ her otherwise and lure her back by calling her ‘wife’. She would then call him ‘husband’ and speak to him lovingly. Then the groom would have a go at undoing the tricky knot around her waist and on her girdle.
  • The consummation wasn’t essential for the marriage but it was deemed necessary due to the marriage being tied mainly to procreation. It was also considered a contract of fidelity
  • In the morning, the bride would emerge from the room as a matrona and was now a part of the family. She would take part in the religious ceremonies of the family during the day and at night they would of course have another party full of drinking and eating!

I bought a Roman coin!



Apologies for the delay in the next post – it’s been a busy old week! But I have an exciting one today (well, I think so). Recently, I made my third jump into becoming a numismatist and purchased my third Roman coin.  This one, however, means a lot to me.

For a long while now, I have had a slight obsession with Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome. He is beautiful and, coincidentally, a spitting image of my fiance, Daniel. He was a strong leader and fantastic at everything he did – I’m basically his modern day mega fan.

Anyway, the coin you see above this text is a coin of Augustus, minted in circa. 2 BC – 4 AD. It is a Lugdunum mint. This comes from a mint in Lugdunum, Gaul, which was opened by Augustus himself in around 15 BC. The mint in Rome was closed following the assassination of Julius Caesar and thereafter only began minting coins in around 23 BC, although only bronze and copper coins. After a while, the mint in Lugdunum was the only one producing silver and gold coins until the reign of Caligula, making my coin extra special to me.

I can just imagine in making its way around Italy, starting its journey in the hands of a Gaul and ending in the earth having been lost (or deliberately stored) by its last owner – before me!

The side you can see shows Augustus (isn’t he lovely!) On the reverse is Gaius and Lucius Caesar, his heirs who both died before Augustus.

I’m hoping to find or have a glass front locket made which I can fit the coin in safely and wear it around my neck, close to my heart, where it belongs! I would love to carry a piece of history with me everywhere I go.

Happy Mothers Day!

Today is the day for honouring the women who brought us into this world and cared for us day and night, with all of their hearts. Therefore, in the spirit of the day, I thought I would share some Roman insight with you all!

Meet Cybele, Roman Mother of the Gods.



Characterised and identifiable by the two lions and her throne she was also known as Kybele or Magna Mater. The worship of Cybele began in Phyrgia, a kingdom in Anatolia which we now know as Turkey. Cybele was seen as goddess of ‘the caverns, the earth and its primitive state’ (Smart, 2005) and was worshipped on the tops of mountains.

Ruling over wild beasts and bees (rather random although understandable in terms of helping life to continue), her festival was the Festival of Joy and the first in the Roman calendar, March 15th – March 27th. The festival was indeed a big event. The celebrations were wild, full of dancing, drink, food, sex, emotion, music and bloody sacrifice.

The Britannica encyclopedia says the following:

‘On March 24, the “Day of Blood,” her chief priest, the archigallus, drew blood from his arms and offered it to her to the music of cymbals, drums, and flutes, while the lower clergy whirled madly and slashed themselves to bespatter the altar and the sacred pine with their blood.’

Sounds very ‘out there’!

The Parabiago plate shows Cybele surrounded by her dancing Corybantes, sitting in a chariot drawn by lions. The plate is dated to 200-400 CE. The Corybantes were here half-demon mythical attendants.

Parabiago Plate

Parabiago plate in the Archaeological Museum of Milan.

There is evidence of her worship in Rome and Greece from the 5th century BC onwards. The religion sounds like a fairly extreme one. For example, the Galli, her priests, castrated themselves on entering their position to imitate the female form. Apparently this was justified by the myth of Cybele finding out about her lover Attis being unfaithful, consequently flying into a rage and ordering him to emasculate himself under a pine tree, thereafter bleeding to death (unsurprisingly). She regretted what she had done and so, in the Greek version, Zeus promised to keep the pine tree sacred forever (perhaps explaining why it is evergreen). Therefore, on the day of her festival, a pine tree would be brought to the centre of the worship area and decorated in violets, said to have sprung from the blood of Attis himself. I like to think this has something to do with the ritual for flowers to honour someone’s death.

Pine Tree

Pine trees were sacred to the faith

The worship of Cybele was forbidden in Rome due to its extreme nature until the time of the Empire. Its worship was allowed in its own temple on the Palatine Hill after a prophecy told that Rome would only be saved from Hannibal and the Carthaginians if the cult of Cybele was accepted and embraced. This caused many Romans to take up her worship. Following this, it was brought back into official state religion by Claudius in the first century AD. It is understandable that the cult was feared for a while due to its ‘barabaric’ nature, with the Romans naturally hating anything remotely ‘barbaric’.

While writing this, I thought of a theory. Have you ever heard of the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii? The villa contained one of the most stunning Roman frescoes ever to be found. Covering the whole of a single room, the painting told a story that no one has quite understood since, and a story that we may never understand.

Villa of the Mysteries

The fresco from the Villa of the Mysteries

Some of the rituals seen on this fresco can be related to many religious rituals of the time, due to there being so many different elements to it, but I have always thought there is a central maternal element to it. Also, it can be said that parts of it are a little ‘out there’ too. The woman on the left is, to me, obviously a mother, sitting down in the classic pose of one. Are the other women being taken into the religion through religious rites? Could that be Attis at the front? Probably not as he has a beard but the pot-belly fits! And there are animals around, fitting for the mother of beasts. Was this villa one of the centres of Cybele’s worship in Pompeii? We know that she was worshipped in Pompeii due to the evidence. For example, this image shows a procession for Cybele, found on the front wall of the Temple of Venus.


Cybele’s procession in Pompeii from the wall of the Temple of Venus

I can’t wait to see the two frescoes myself when I visit Pompeii this June!

What do you think about Cybele?

I also wanted to take up a small amount of space to thank my Mum, the most wonderful woman in the world. Thanks for supporting me through every idea I’ve had, always there to offer encouragement and a hug and always putting us first. I love you very much.