Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Vestal Virgins: Rome’s Most Independent Women

Made from History

Who were the Vestal Virgins and why do we still use the term to define ‘pure’ women or those who are beyond reproach?

Priestesses of Vesta, Goddess of hearth, home and family, the College of Vestal Virgins were Rome’s only full-time priesthood. They numbered only 6 and were selected from noble Roman families at an early age, between 6 and 10 years old. They would tend the sacred fire in the Temple of Vesta and remain virgins for the duration of their tenure, which would stretch long into womanhood, lasting at least 30 years.

A statue at the House of the Vestal Virgins (Atrium Vestae), Upper Via Sacra, Rome. Credit: Carole Raddato (Wikimedia Commons)

The Vestals cared for the Temple and lived behind it in a 3-story house called the Atrium Vestiae, located at the foot of the Palatine Hill.

The Responsibilities and Risks of the College of Vestal Virgins
The Virgins occupied a special place in the official religion of Ancient Rome. Their principal task was to tend to the sacred fire of Vesta and keep it burning. It was believed that the fire protected Rome. They were also responsible for many rituals denied to male priests.

 If a Vestal allowed the fire to die out, she was scourged (behind a curtain for modesty). If she violated her vow of celibacy it would be considered incest, as she was a daughter of the state.

The price for violating the vow of celibacy was death. However, since it was forbidden to spill the blood of a Vestal Virgin or to bury anyone in Rome, the offending priestess would be buried alive in a chamber outside the city along with a few days of food and water. This gave the execution the semblance of a voluntary death.

The Sacrifice of the Vestal by Alessandro Marchesini, early 1700s.

The Most Powerful Women in Rome?
Women in Rome, even those of high social rank and significant wealth, enjoyed few rights. Though Roman society was home to some very powerful individual women, they exercised their power through creative ways generally not enshrined by law, for example by influencing powerful men, through seditious conduct or by using extreme wit, intelligence and social skills.

 The Vestal Virgins were the exception. They enjoyed a level of privilege, power and independence that was unique among Roman women — and arguably Roman men. These were all based on religious superstitions and the sacred position afforded them by the state.

Rights, Privileges and Powers Enjoyed by the Vestal Virgins:

Emancipatory Powers
If a condemned prisoner happened to see a Vestal Virgin en route to execution, they were immediately pardoned. A Vestal could furthermore free a slave just by touch.

A Vestal’s word was beyond reproach. Her testimony was accepted without the requirement of being under oath.

Vestals were given seats of honour at public events, such as games or performances, at which their sacred presence was often required. They were transported to these events in covered carriages accompanied by guards, always given the right of way.

The Roman state entrusted them with important documents, such as public treaties and the wills of powerful citizens.

The priesthood could own property and make wills, only possible among emancipated women, i.e. those not subject to the power of a man. They were also the only women who could vote.

The Vestal Virgins were protected by personal escorts and the law. Physically harming one was penalised by death.

Why Do We Still Use the Term ‘Vestal Virgin’?

Peter Paul Rubens’ Mars and Rhea Silvia, c. 1616–1617

The College of the Vestal Virgins existed in the time of both the Republic and Empire, lasting around 1,000 years in total.

The image of the chaste Vestal Virgin has survived long after the fall of Rome, often used as an allegory for chastity and virtue. Famous women have been depicted as Vestals in order to give tribute to or promote an idea of purity, for example, Elizabeth I, the ‘Virgin Queen’.

Later representations of Vestals adopted an erotic tone in the vein of the ‘forbidden fruit’. This theme may in fact go back to the founding myth of Rome, in which the god Mars impregnates a Vestal Virgin, Rhea Silvia. She then gives birth to Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of the city. Roman authors also found titillation in writing stories about the supposed sexual transgressions of Vestal Virgins.

This article uses material from the book Women in Ancient Rome by Paul Chrystal from Amberley Publishing.

Graham Land
 Graham is an editor and contributor at Made From History. A London-based writer originally from Washington, DC, he holds a master's degree in Cultural History from Malmö University in Sweden. Graham also contributes environmental news articles to and

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

5 Great Female Warriors of the Ancient World

Made from History

Throughout history, most cultures have considered warfare to be the domain of men. It is only quite recently that female soldiers have participated in modern combat on a large scale. The exception is the Soviet Union, which included female battalions and pilots during the First World War and saw hundreds of thousands of women soldiers fight in World War Two.

 In the major ancient civilisations, the lives of women were generally restricted to the most traditional roles, with a few notable exceptions. Yet there were some who broke with tradition and even achieved military greatness.

Here are 5 of history’s fiercest warriors who not only had to face their enemies, but also the strict gender roles of their day.

Fu Hao (d. c. 1200 BC)

The tomb of Fu Hao. Credit: Chris Gyford (Wikimedia Commons)

Lady Fu Hao was one of the 60 wives of Emperor Wu Ding of ancient China’s Shang Dynasty. She broke with tradition by serving as both a high priestess and military general. According to inscriptions on oracle bones from the time, Fu Hao led many military campaigns, commanded 13,000 soldiers and was considered the most powerful military leader of her time.

The many weapons found in her tomb support Fu Hao’s status as a great military power. She also controlled her own fiefdom on the outskirts of her husband’s empire. Her tomb was unearthed in 1976 and can be visited by the public.

Artemisia I of Caria (fl. 480 BC)

The Ancient Greek Queen of Halicarnassus, Artemisia ruled during the late 5th century BC. She was an ally to the King of Persia, Xerxes I, and fought for him during the second Persian invasion of Greece, personally commanding 5 ships at the Battle of Salamis.

Herodotus writes that she was a decisive and intelligent, albeit ruthless strategist. According to Polyaenus, Xereses praised Artemisia above all other officers in his fleet and rewarded her for her performance in battle.

Boudica (d. 60/61 AD)

 Queen of the British Celtic Icini tribe, Boudica led an uprising against the forces of the Roman Empire in Britain after the Romans ignored her husband Prasutagus’ will, which left rule of his kingdom to both Rome and his daughters. Upon Prasutagus’ death, the Romans seized control, flogged Boudica and had her daughters raped.

Boudica led an army of Icini and Trinovantes, and destroyed Camulodinum (Colchester), Verulamium (St. Albans) and Londinium (London) before finally being defeated by the Romans.

Triệu Thị Trinh (ca. 222 – 248 AD)

Triệu Thị Trinh

Commonly referred to as Lady Triệu, this warrior of 3rd century Vietnam temporarily freed her homeland from Chinese rule. That is according to traditional Vietnamese sources at least, which also state that she 9 feet tall with 3-foot breasts that she tied behind her back during battle. She usually fought while riding an elephant.

Chinese historical sources make no mention of Triệu Thị Trinh, yet for the Vietnamese, Lady Triệu is the most important historical figure of her time.

Zenobia (240 – c. 275 AD)
 The Queen of Syria’s Palmyrene Empire from 267 AD, Zenobia conquered Egypt from the Romans only 2 years into her reign. Her empire only lasted a short while longer, however, as the Roman Emperor Aurelian defeated her in 271, taking her back to Rome where she — depending on which account you believe — either died shortly thereafter or married a Roman governor and lived out a life of luxury as a well-known philosopher, socialite and matron.

Dubbed the ‘Warrior Queen’, Zenobia was well educated and multi-lingual. She was known to behave ‘like a man’, riding, drinking and hunting with her officers.

Queen Zenobia’s Last Look Upon Palmyra by Herbert Gustave Schmalz

Graham Land
 Graham is an editor and contributor at Made From History. A London-based writer originally from Washington, DC, he holds a master's degree in Cultural History from Malmö University in Sweden. Graham also contributes environmental news articles to and

Monday, October 16, 2017

Top 5 Dickensian recipes

History Extra

Oxtail stew. (© CICO Books 2017)

 The many scenes of eating in the novels of Charles Dickens (1812-1870) are useful ingredients of Victorian social history, particularly his scenes of the young, who are hungry for food and security and are let down by the well-fed adults and, crucially, the institutions who should be caring for them.

Dickens knew the agony of childhood hunger and loneliness. He loved convivial meals and we know his wife Catherine gave a lot of thought to them, because she published a little book of ‘bills of fare’ called What Shall We Have for Dinner? In their London home, she oversaw the cook sweltering over a coal-burning cast-iron range in a cramped basement kitchen, to produce an impressive variety of dishes for a dinner party. To help balance the books, family menus featured economic and filling puddings.

Dickens’ knowledge of domestic details is unusual in a Victorian man: in A Christmas Carol, he knows that Mrs Cratchit, too poor to have an oven, sends her goose to the baker’s and the washing copper doubles up as a pudding pan; in Martin Chuzzlewit he makes a joke about making a beefsteak pudding pastry with butter. This is all part of a picture he loved to paint – a rosy-cheeked young woman learning to cook for her brother or husband.

Victorian food may have a reputation for being either stodgy or unnecessarily fussy, but recreating the dishes that Dickens and his characters tuck into shows that it can be delicious, savoury and warming, light and elegant – and always best shared. Here, author Pen Vogler shares five top Dickensian recipes, updated for modern kitchens…

Charitable soup Catherine Dickens’ menu book is most indebted to the recipes of the celebrity chef Alexis Soyer. In 1847, in the midst of the Irish potato famine, he travelled to Dublin to set up a famine-relief kitchen and wrote Soyer’s Charitable Cookery, the proceeds of which he gave to charity. He later travelled to the Crimea to change the diet of soldiers, particularly those in hospital.

2 onions, sliced a little olive oil, for frying
2 leeks, sliced and washed free of grit
2 sticks of celery, chopped
 2 lb 3 oz/1kg shin of beef or neck of lamb, bone in, cut into pieces by your butcher, plus some stock bones
2 small turnips, chopped bouquet garni or 2 bay leaves and a few sprigs of thyme and curly parsley, tied together
8½ cups/2 litres water (or beef stock if you are using meat without bones)
6 tablespoons pearl barley
3 carrots, chopped salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven, if using, to 325°F/165°C/Gas 3.

Sauté the onions in a little olive oil in a skillet/frying pan until they begin to soften, then add the leeks and celery and continue to soften for 5 minutes.

Tip this into a saucepan. Add a little more oil to the pan and brown the meat lightly on all sides in two batches—don’t let it sweat in the pan—then add it to the onions. Add the turnips, herbs, and either stock or cold water plus the stock bones. Season with salt and pepper, bring to a simmer and simmer on a very low heat, or cover and put it in the preheated oven, for 1½ hours.

Add the pearl barley and carrots and continue to simmer for 45 minutes, or until the pearl barley is cooked. Toward the end of the cooking time, take the stock bones and herbs out of the pan and discard.

Take the meat out of the broth, pull it off the bones and shred it, then return the meat to the pan.

Oxtail stew
 In The Old Curiosity Shop, Nell, her grandfather, and their eccentric fellow travellers are revived at The Jolly Sandboys with an equally eccentric “stew of tripe… cow-heel… steak… peas, cauliflowers, new potatoes, and sparrow-grass [asparagus] all working up together in one delicious gravy.” Margaret Dods’ dish of oxtail rather than cow-heel, served with peas and root vegetables, is also good for a hungry crowd on a rainy night.

1 oxtail, about 3¼ lb/1.5kg, cut into short lengths (your butcher will do this for you)
4 slices of unsmoked streaky bacon, chopped olive oil, for frying
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
 3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped 1 small turnip, peeled and roughly chopped a sprig of thyme, a few stalks of parsley, and a bay leaf, tied in a bouquet or in a muslin
1 quart/1 litre organic beef stock salt and freshly ground black pepper sauce hachée  or horseradish sauce

 For the sauce hachée
2–3 gherkins, finely chopped
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, finely chopped salt and freshly ground black pepper Optional extra flavourings for sauce
 2 scallions/spring onions, very finely chopped or ½ teaspoon grated horseradish or a little lemon zest

Rinse the oxtail pieces and then leave to soak in salted cold water for an hour or two.

Drain the oxtail, place in a pan of fresh water and bring to a rolling boil for 10–15 minutes, skimming the scum from the surface (this removes the bitterness).

If you are cooking the stew in the oven, preheat it to 300°F/150°C/Gas 2. Fry the bacon in a very little olive oil in a large flameproof pot. Add the onions and garlic and sweat until they begin to soften, then add the rest of the vegetables.

 Add the drained oxtail pieces to the pot, fry them a little in the fat until they start to color, then add the herbs, the beef stock, and enough water to make sure the meat is completely covered. Bring to a simmer, check the seasoning, and add a little salt if necessary. Cover and either keep on a very low heat or put in the oven for 4 hours. Add a little water if the oxtail is becoming dry.

When the meat is falling off the bone, take the stew off the heat or remove from the oven. If the gravy is too thin, remove the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon and boil it fast to reduce it until it is the depth of intensity you like, then add salt and pepper to taste and return the meat and vegetables.

Serve with peas, mashed carrots, and parsnips. For the sauce hachée, simply mix the ingredients and any extra flavouring you select together and serve separately, along with a bowl of horseradish sauce. Or make horseradish mash by infusing warm milk with grated horseradish root while the potatoes are cooking.

Ruth Pinch's beefsteak pudding

Beefsteak pudding. (© CICO Books 2017)

 In Martin Chuzzlewit, Ruth Pinch - the sort of ingénue housekeeper that Dickens loved writing about - is worried that the beefsteak pudding she cooks for her brother Tom will “turn out a stew, or a soup, or something of that sort.” Tom enjoys watching her cook, but later teases her when they realize she should have used suet for the pastry. Eliza Acton gives Ruth the last word by devising “Ruth Pinch’s Beefsteak Pudding,” made with butter and eggs.


For the pastry
3½ cups/450g self-rising flour a pinch of salt
2/3 cup/150g cold butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing
3 eggs

For the filling
1 lb 2 oz/500g stewing steak, cubed 1 onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons freshly chopped thyme
2 teaspoons freshly chopped parsley
3 level tablespoons all-purpose/plain flour about
 2/3 cup/150ml beef stock (or water plus a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce or mushroom ketchup) salt and freshly ground black pepper

And any of Eliza Acton’s suggested additions:
a few whole oysters or 5½ oz/150g kidney, chopped (Eliza recommended “veal kidneys seasoned with fine herbs”) or
6 oz/170g “nicely prepared button mushrooms”
or a few shavings of fresh truffle
or 5–7 oz/150–200g sweetbreads, chopped

Start by making the pastry. Sieve the flour and salt into a basin; add the butter and rub it in. Beat the eggs together with a dash of cold water, then stir them into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon. Pull the mixture together with your hands, adding a little more water or flour as necessary. When you have an elastic dough, turn it onto a lightly floured board and roll out into a large disc. Cut a quarter out and put to one side.

Fold the two outer quarters over the middle quarter and put into a well-buttered 2-pint/1.2-litre basin, with the point in the bottom. Unfold the two outer quarters and push the pastry into the sides of the basin, wetting the edges so that they seal together and the whole basin is fully lined. Trim the top edge so there is ½–1 inch/1–2cm of pastry overhanging the edge of the basin.

Roll out the remaining quarter to make a circular lid.

Mix the meat with the remaining ingredients except the liquid, making sure the flour is well distributed. Turn it into the pastry-lined basin and pour the stock or liquid over. Brush the top edge of the pastry in the basin with water and put the pastry lid on top, pinching it around to seal.

Put a lid of buttered foil or a circle of parchment or greaseproof paper and a cloth on top, adding a pleat to give room for the pudding to puff up.

Place the basin in a saucepan so that the water comes halfway up the side of the pudding. Cover and steam for up to 4 hours, checking and topping up the water level every half hour or so.

Serve straight from the bowl or turn it out and cut it into segments. The butter crust makes this easier to do than the traditional suet one.

French plums

French plums. (© CICO Books 2017)

 The French Plums that Scrooge sees in the greengrocer’s are “blushed in modest tartness from their highly-decorated boxes” (which, if “exceedingly ornamental,” even Mrs. Beeton concedes might be put directly on the dining table). Port and cinnamon turn too-tart plums into a Christmas delight. Candied French plums were Christmas gifts, but should not be confused with “sugar plums,” which are, in fact, sugared nuts or seeds.

Put the water or orange juice, port, sugar, cinnamon stick, and lemon rind in a pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved and you have a syrup.

Add the plums, cover, and stew gently for 15 minutes.

Serve with cream, Italian Cream (see page 157), or custard. Alternatively, make into a plum pie by mixing the ingredients together in a pie dish, adding a pastry lid (see pastry recipe on page 129), and baking at 400°F/200°C/Gas 6 for 30–35 minutes.

3 tablespoons water or juice of
 1 orange
3 tablespoons port
1 tablespoon soft brown sugar a cinnamon stick a small piece of orange or lemon rind
approx. 1 lb 2 oz/500g French plums, halved and stones removed

Almond cake for Steerforth
The feast of currant wine, biscuits, fruit, and almond cakes that Steerforth persuades David Copperfield to provide feeds David’s infatuation with the charismatic older boy. A subsequent gift from Peggotty, of cake, oranges, and cowslip wine, he lays at the feet of Steerforth for him to dispense. William Kitchiner’s light almond cake pairs well with oranges, berries, or other fruit.

butter, for greasing
5 free-range eggs
1 cup minus
 1 tablespoon/180g golden superfine/caster sugar (or granulated sugar, if you cannot find golden superfine/caster sugar) finely grated zest of 1 lemon or orange
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
a pinch of salt
a pinch of cream of tartar
2 cups/200g ground almonds
¼ cup/35g all-purpose/plain flour

For the frosting
1 tablespoon orange or lemon juice
 ¾ cup/100g confectioners’/icing sugar, sifted
To serve fresh fruit, such as raspberries or cherries, or fruit compôte, such as orange, apricot, or plum

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas 4.
Grease a 9-inch/23-cm bundt pan/tin or ring mold, or a plain springform pan/tin. Separate the eggs and leave the whites to come to room temperature.

 Make sure there is no yolk or fat in the whites, which would prevent them from beating properly.

Beat the yolks with ½ cup/100g of the sugar until pale and fluffy, then beat in the lemon or orange zest and the almond extract, if using.

In a completely clean bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff (you should be able to turn the bowl upside down and they won’t fall out!). Add a quarter of the remaining sugar, the pinch of salt, and the cream of tartar, beat again, then fold in the rest of the sugar.

Fold the whites into the batter, a quarter at a time, followed by the almonds and flour. Scrape the mixture into the mold or pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 35–40 minutes until the cake is shrinking from the sides of the pan.

 Remove from the oven and leave the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out.

To make the frosting, stir the orange or lemon juice into the sifted confectioner's/icing sugar, then drizzle over the cake. Fill the centre of the cake with fresh fruit such as raspberries or cherries.

Alternatively, keep it plain and serve it with a compôte of fruit such as oranges, apricots, or plums.

Almond cake. (© CICO Books 2017)

Compotes of fruit

 Eliza Acton recommends a compôte of fruit as a more elegant dessert than the “common ‘stewed fruit’ of English cookery.” The fruit, being added to a syrup, better retains its structure and taste, and the syrup is beautifully translucent. She recommends serving the redcurrant compôtes with the substantial batter, custard, bread, or ground rice puddings Victorians loved.

 The preparation is simple. Gently boil white granulated sugar and water together for 10 minutes to make a syrup, skimming any scum from the surface. Add the fruit and simmer until the fruit is lightly cooked. If the syrup is too runny, remove the fruit with a slotted spoon and arrange it in a serving dish. Reduce the syrup over a medium heat, let it cool slightly, and then pour it over. It may also be served cold, and it keeps for a day or two in the fridge. Cinnamon, cloves, vanilla beans/pods, or a little orange or lemon peel can be used as flavourings when you make the syrup.

Eliza Acton recommends the following proportions and timings:

 Rhubarb, gooseberries, cherries, damsons - syrup made from ¾ cup/140g sugar with 1¼ cups/280ml water; add 1 lb/450g fruit and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Redcurrants and raspberries - syrup made from ¾ cup/140g sugar with 2/3 cup/140ml water; add 1 lb/450g fruit and simmer for 5–7 minutes.

Mrs. Beeton recommends the following proportions and timings:

 Oranges - syrup made from 1½ cups/300g sugar with 21/3 cups/570ml water; add 6 oranges, skin and pith removed, cut into segments. Simmer for 5 minutes. Apples—syrup made from 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons/225g sugar to scant 1¼ cups/280ml water; peel, halve, and core the apples and simmer in the syrup with the juice and rind of a lemon for 15–25 minutes.

Dinner with Dickens: Recipes Inspired by the Life and Work of Charles Dickens by Pen Vogler (CICO Books, £16.99) is on sale now. Pen Vogler is a food historian whose other books include Dinner with Mr Darcy and Tea with Jane Austen.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

New Release Zane Kindle Edition by K. Meador

Age Level: 4 - 8

Children sometimes need gentle guidance in obedience and lessons in patience. When they can read about families where these lessons are incorporated seamlessly into daily life, it reinforces what they see in their own homes.

 Zane aims to provide exactly that example, as Sheila remembers her own experience with disobedience when her son encounters a similar scenario.

Amazon Link

Author K-Trina Meador 

I'm just a simple girl who loves simple things: 
* Enjoying my children 
* Living in the country
 * Driving my tractor (farming - my idea of heaven on earth) 
* Having fun with family and friends 
* Reading, writing, photography, swimming, bbq and margaritas. 

I hope my stories will put a smile upon your face and joy into your hearts.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Revealed: how the Georgians taught us to diet 300 years ago

History Extra

It’s that time of year again, when we vow to ditch the sugar, take out a gym membership, and follow religiously the latest weight loss guides. But while you might assume dieting to be a modern phenomenon, new research suggests it originates in an earlier century.

As early as the 18th century, diet doctors began to recommend strict, low fat meals, and newspapers featured adverts for tonic and diet pills.

Research carried out by Dr Corinna Wagner from the University of Exeter reveals how the perceived decadence of the Georgian period gave way to a more moderate and austere approach adopted by the Victorians.

 In her new book, Pathological Bodies, Wagner demonstrates that by the mid-Victorian period, fighting fat had become a pastime for a large part of the population. Attitudes towards over-indulgence, obesity and body shape were hotly debated, and there developed a pressure to demonstrate self-restraint.

A greater emphasis was placed on the value of self-discipline – to be fat was to be immoral, irresponsible, and out of control.

Wagner told History Extra: “We associate the Georgians with being pleasure-seeking, and enjoying a lot of booze. Gout was almost a badge of honour – a sign you could eat and relax; that you had a ‘lust for life’.

“But a turning point came when a certain Scottish physician named George Cheyne decided to go on a diet. This was something people just did not do at the time.

“He cut out alcohol and even meat, and lost a huge amount of weight (from 32 stone to a ‘normal’ size). He published news of his weight loss success in a 1740 book called The Natural Method of Cureing [sic] the Diseases of the Body, and the Disorders of the Mind.

“He saw an opportunity to make money, so snapped up wealthy clients and showed them how to lose weight. He was, in effect, the first modern diet doctor.

“Due largely to his influence, there emerged a fashion for ‘diet doctors’ among the well-to-do.

“Newspapers started featuring adverts for tonic and even diet pills, and suddenly weight loss became fashionable.”

Wagner told History Extra that this change in attitude resulted from medical advances and political turmoil.

“An emphasis on health emerged at the same time as the radicalisation of the working class and the French Revolution across the channel.

 “Diet was linked with Britain’s role as a world force – people began to worry about whether Britain could maintain its empire and global power.

“It was a time of social anxiety, and in response, people pointed to individuals and said ‘you are part of the problem’.”

This attitude was also used to political ends, Wagner explained. For example, King George IV’s extravagant lifestyle led to vitriolic public condemnation. His obesity became the focus of press and public ridicule.

His weight was seen as a sign of his unfitness to rule, and politicians agitated for a transfer of power from the monarchy to government,” said Wagner.

“George IV was known to consume Persian and French delicacies, and his political enemies exploited that to incredible ends. It inspired an emphasis on British food such as roast beef and beer.

 “George IV was used as a cautionary tale to eat local food. There developed the idea that you should be supporting your local community, and that it was bad to be dependent on foreign countries such as China or India.

 “By the Victorian era, there were important medical advances in the area of obesity – and along with it, an emphasis in seeing into the body. Anatomy and dissection showed us the body’s physiology and functions.

“As a result, Victorian diet doctors like Thomas King Chambers, author of a book entitled Corpulence, prescribed strict regimens such as sea-biscuit for breakfast, and boiled macaroni and a piece of lean meat for dinner.

“There was also an interest in reading the body and face, and linking physical appearance to personal values. The Victorians were keenly interested in the idea that external features were linked to internal emotions, personality and intelligence.

 “As today, demonstrating bodily self management was central to demonstrating status and social position, as well as values like self-respect and responsibility.

 “Today, for example, being fat and on benefits is seen to indicate that you are selfish and irresponsible. Partially, we owe that perception to the Victorians.

“In Victorian society, individuals felt a pressure to demonstrate that they were not just consuming, but contributing. It’s amazing how that remains the same today.

“Then, as now, a fat body was a sign of a failing nation and community.”

Friday, October 13, 2017

Archaeologist Claims that King Arthur Was Not a Real Person But a Fictional “Celtic Superhero”

Ancient Origins

A British archaeologist has controversially claimed that King Arthur was not a real historical figure. Rather, the legendary warrior king was created as a “Celtic superhero” and in reality, was nothing more than an amalgamation of the lives of five real-life warlords.

 King Arthur a Creation of Several Real-life Kings?
Most people have heard tales of the legendary British monarch who rose to the throne by pulling his sword Excalibur out of a stone and ruled Britain with the help of the Knights of the Round Table and the wizard Merlin. As The Times report, however, archaeologist Miles Russell claims that he has solid evidence which proves that King Arthur never existed and was only created as a "Celtic Superhero.”

The taking of Excalibur by John Duncan ( Public Domain )

Traditionally, Arthur is believed to have led the British when they defeated an invading Saxon army at the legendary Battle of Badon sometime between 490 and 520AD. However, archaeologist and senior lecturer at Bournemouth University, Miles Russell, strongly believes that the greatest warrior king in British history, is basically a fictional creation of five real-life warlords. “When you start to look at King Arthur in detail you realize that he is an amalgam of at least five separate characters — he never existed as an independent person at all,” Dr. Russell tells The Times.

 Glastonbury Monks Create Legends?
This is not the first time a respected scholar has claimed that Arthur was a fictional character. As previously reported by Liz Leafloor for Ancient Origins, the epic legends of King Arthur and his Round Table, among other ancient myths, may have been nothing more than fictional stories made up and peddled by enterprising monks at Glastonbury Abbey to make some money. What’s more, these legends muddied modern research into the site by “clouding the judgement” of past experts.

These, at least, were the claims made by a team of archaeologists from the University of Reading in 2015, after a conducting a four-year study. The physical history of the site was reexamined during the study and the conclusions were the following:

“Those feet, immortalized in William Blake’s poem Jerusalem, never walked on the green and pleasant land of Glastonbury; the oldest church in England was not built there by Christ’s disciples; Joseph of Arimathea’s walking stick does not miraculously flower every Christmas after 2,000 years. And it turns out that the supposed link with King Arthur and his beautiful queen, Guinevere, is false too – invented by 12th-century monks faced with a financial crisis in the wake of a disastrous fire.”

Archaeologists went on claiming that the Glastonbury monks clouded the history of the site by deliberately designing renovations after a fire in 1184. The redesign was said to have employed a purposeful archaic architectural style to generate a mythical feel, supporting popular legends and thereby raising more money from eager pilgrims. In addition, Arthur’s supposed grave has been revealed as a cemetery pit containing material dating from between the 11th and 15th centuries, offering no evidential links to the era of the legendary 5th and 6th century leader.

Glastonbury Abbey where King Arthur’s body was said to have been interred (Neil Howard / flickr)

The Role of Monmouth’s Book “A History of the Kings of Britain” to Arthur’s Legend
Dr. Russell explains that he came to his conclusion after studying “A History of the Kings of Britain,” written by Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1136, and other medieval texts. “Geoffrey’s book itself derives from a series of myths, stories and bardic praise poems that go back to the first century BC, at a time just before Britain became part of the Roman Empire,” Russell stated in a press release.

Initially, Dr. Russell noticed the obvious similarities between Arthur and Ambrosius Aurelianus, a leader of the Roman-British population in the fifth century. In the most contemporary account of the period, when Arthur was thought to exist, a British monk Gildas writing around 540AD in a scathing attack on the native Britons, names Ambrosius as the leader who leads the fight against the Saxon. What’s even more suspicious is that Gildas does not mention Arthur at all.

Other than Ambrosius Aurelianus, Dr. Russell cites Roman general Magnus Maximus, Byzantine Emperor Constantine the Great, and prehistoric warlords Arvirargus and Cassivellaunus as clear sources of inspiration for the creation of Arthur’s fictional character, “Once you take all these elements of his story away, there’s actually nothing left for Arthur,” Russell said as Bournemouth University’s official website reports. And added, “He’s an echo of all these other individuals – what Geoffrey of Monmouth did was create a Celtic superhero for his times, a character for the Britons to celebrate, taken from all the best bits of those individuals who lived before."

Magnus Maximus, one of the historical figures that Miles Russell believes was used to shape the character of King Arthur (Wikimedia Commons)

Dr. Russell presented his findings at the BBC History Magazine Conference at the Great Hall in Winchester on Saturday 7 October, while his book Arthur and the Kings of Britain: the historical truth behind the myths is out now, published by Amberley.

Top image: King Arthur. Detail. Charles Ernest Butler, 1903. (Public Domain)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Metal Detectorist’s Roman Hoard Linked to a Temple that Likely Inspired The Lord of the Rings

Ancient Origins

Metal Detectorist’s Roman Hoard Linked to a Temple that Likely Inspired The Lord of the Rings

Two metal detecting enthusiasts made a “once in a lifetime” discovery when they unearthed a hoard of Roman bronze artifacts at an undisclosed location. The most exciting of the finds is an intact healing statue that has been linked to the Roman Lydney Temple. This is the same temple that inspired JRR Tolkien to add a key element to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

The Licking Dog Hoard
The Guardian reports that the 4th century bronze hoard was discovered by Pete Cresswell and Andrew Boughton in Gloucestershire. Archaeologist Kurt Adams, the Gloucestershire and Avon finds liaison officer, calls the finely detailed healing statue of a standing dog “a unique find for British archaeology.” It is the only known sculpture of a licking dog dating to Roman times to be found in Britain.

The Roman ‘licking dog’ healing statue. (Eve Andreski/Portable Antiquities Scheme/CC BY 2.0)

Speaking on the find, Mr. Cresswell said:
 “It’s not every day you come across a hoard of Roman bronze. We have been metal detecting for a combined 40 years, but this is a once in a lifetime discovery. As soon as I realized the items were of historical significance I contacted the local archaeology team, who were equally excited by the find. It’s a great privilege to be able to contribute to local and British history.”

Apart from the dog figurine with its tongue out, the other bronze pieces appear to have been deliberately broken and hidden. Archaeologists believe that the hoard was tucked away by a metal worker who probably wanted to melt and recast the bronze.

Romans in Gloucestershire
 The licking dog statue has been found in a region that was a strong and important part of Roman Britain. Gloucester (Roman Nervia Glevensium or, less formally, Glevum) was probably founded by the Romans around AD 90-98 and was of the highest order of Roman towns, denoted coloniae. These were either completely new settlements or based on a previously established fort. The latter is the case for Gloucester, which was built on the site of a fort which was used as a post for the expansion of the Empire into Wales. The area was then allotted to the veterans of Legio II Augusta, according to the Association for Roman Archaeology (ARA). The town would then have been predominantly, if not exclusively, populated by Romans. After the removal of the military in AD 407, the town began to decline and would eventually be lost to the Anglo-Saxons in the sub-Roman period around the 5th and 6th centuries AD.

Visualization of 2nd century Gloucester by Philip Moss (Gloucestershire Archaeology)

 The Romans were in this area (and Britain generally) for over half a millennium. The area surrounding Glevum became heavily Romanized, with Roman towns (eg. Glevum, Corinium), many villas (some of which have been excavated such as Chedworth and Woodchester), forts and temples. One such temple found in the area is at Lydney Park Roman Camp, 20 miles (32 km) along the River Severn estuary. It is here we reconnect with the bronze dog statue.

Lydney Camp and Lydney Temple
The site of Lydney Camp was originally an Iron Age hillfort which was for a time mined by the Romans for iron ore around the 3rd century. In the 4th century, they built a Romano-Celtic temple dedicated to the Celtic deity Nodens, which is known due to inscriptions of the name found at the site.

The Celtic god, Nodens, is associated with healing, the sea, hunting and dogs – mainly due to representations of all of these aspects being found at the temple complex. The temple is thought to have been primarily dedicated to healing and includes a bath house. Nine dog statues or effigies have been found there, the most famous being the “Lydney Dog” Bronze. This dog iconography is representative of healing, as dogs were once kept in order to lick wounds and aid healing.

The Lydney dog was one among many dog themed artifacts found at the Lydney Temple or Temple of Nodens (Credit: ARA)

The reason the new licking dog bronze has been tentatively linked with this temple, is that it is the only healing temple known in the area. However, the statue could be indicative that there is a hitherto unknown healing temple or shrine to be found in the vicinity.

 Tolkien at Lydney Temple
 A point of interest worth mentioning whilst on the subject of Lydney Temple is the believed influence it had on that world-renowned fantasy-fiction about a ring quest by JRR Tolkien. In 1928-9, the author was invited to Lydney Park by the eminent archaeologists Sir Mortimer Wheeler and his wife Tessa, who had been commissioned to investigate the site. At the time, Tolkien was invited in his capacity as Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford in order to explore the origins of the name ‘Nodens’, as there was little record of this god other than at the Temple complex. According to historian and author Matthew Lyons, Tolkien’s article “is an extraordinary testament to his skill and erudition.”

Ruins of the Temple of Nodens at Lydney Park (Jeff Collins CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tolkien visited this place several times, staying in the rather splendid house and one imagines enjoying the grounds of the country manor. Besides the old local name for the location of the temple at what is now Camp Hill being ‘Dwarfs Hill’, it being riddled with tunnels from the mining and whispers of small people and goblins and the like in the area, Lyons sites two specific items related to the Temple that are thought to have brought about the ring element to the story.

The first item is a curse tablet that is from the temple. It reads as follows:

“To the God Nodens. Silvanus has lost a ring. He has [vowed] half its value to Nodens. Amongst all who bear the name of Senicianus, refuse thou to grant health to exist, until he bring back the ring to the Temple of Nodens.”

The curse invokes the support of Nodens to help Silvanus regain a ring that has somehow been lost to Senicianus. And so the second item comes in the form of the actual ring referred to, which is believed found in a church/farmers field in Silchester half way across the country! It is denoted as most likely the ring of the curse, as Senicianus had a fresh inscription of, ‘‘Seniciane vivas in deo” (Senicianus, may you live in God).

The Roman ring with Senicianus inscription (Credit: The Vyne © National Trust / Helen Sanderson)

It is interesting that the curse demands the ring should be returned to the place from whence it came (the Temple of Nodens). Although there is a leap from a ring with a curse attached to a ring of power such as appears in Tolkien’s epic, and there are other rings found in legends, such as those found in the Arthurian legends, Lyons argues that the ring story at Lydney, “may have simply caught his imagination and been buried away somewhere in his unconscious.” If so, it wasn’t buried for long, as in 1932, just a few years after his visits to Lydney Temple, The Hobbit, with its mysterious ring theme was finished.

Some of the broken artifacts found in the Roman bronze hoard. (Eve Andreski/Portable Antiquities Scheme/CC BY 2.0)

The location of the recent Roman hoard find has not yet been publicized so the connection to Lydney Temple is currently sheer speculation. The hoard is currently being kept under controlled conditions at Bristol Museum whilst being photographed and recorded. Once analysis is completed, the findings will be presented at the British Museum. Experts expect to have a report ready by the end of this year.

Top Image: The recently unearthed ‘licking dog’ statue. (Gloucestershire County Council)

By Gary Manners