Wednesday, November 30, 2016

At home with the Romans

History Extra

A Pompeian wall painting from the first century AD shows ladies with their slave hairdresser. Excavations at the partially buried Roman city reveal that women played a prominent role in the home, and that they took personal grooming very seriously indeed. (AKG)
In AD 79 a catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius on the Bay of Naples destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Pompeii was smothered by 4 to 5 metres of volcanic debris while Herculaneum was entombed in 20 metres of volcanic ash that hardened into tufa rock.  
Pompeii was ransacked after the eruption, then the memory of the cities faded, only resurfacing in the 18th century. Herculaneum was first excavated in 1709, so deeply buried that the only way to proceed was by tunnelling. Over the next 40 years a warren of tunnels was driven through the site, yielding amazing discoveries, including wooden objects, foodstuffs, a papyrus library and many marble and bronze statues. 
In 1748 excavations began at Pompeii, much less deeply buried, and far easier to excavate. In contrast to Herculaneum’s gloomy tunnels, tourists walked along Pompeii’s streets, and explored houses and public buildings in the light and air.  
Pompeii was much larger, almost 66 hectares (163 acres); Herculaneum was a third of that size. Pompeii had around 12,000–15,000 people, with 4,000–5,000 at Herculaneum. Pompeii was busier, with administrative, financial and commercial interests of regional importance. There were slaves, merchants and soldiers from other parts of the Roman empire. The rich were easy to spot by their fine clothing and accompanying servants. Slaves and the free poor were readily recognisable by appearance, such as the simple short tunics that they wore, indicating menial or manual occupations. It was a young population, with most people in their 20s to 40s, and under-10s making up one in five of the population. 
Another feature of the human landscape was the visible presence of women. In streets, shops and public areas, women mingled freely with men, unthinkable in some other cultures – and they played a prominent role in the running of the home. Even more surprising was the huge number of ex-slaves – perhaps over half of the population. 
Although Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed in an extraordinary way, they were ordinary cities, representative of many others. It is this ordinariness that makes them so important, for they give us an unparalleled glimpse into life in the average Roman home… 

Bricks and mortar

Some Romans loved to flaunt their wealth and status through the grandeur of their homes
Roman homes varied from single-roomed apartments to multi-roomed mansions.
The classic house – the rectangular, two-storeyed domus – was made of bricks and mortar with a tiled roof. Typical spaces in larger homes included the entrance hall (atrium), anteroom/study (tablinum), bedrooms (cubicula), the dining room (triclinium) and the garden (hortus). 
Larger, older houses had a masonry frontage with architectural details, or moulded stucco-imitating masonry. Great doors decorated with bronze bosses spoke of wealth and status, but windows were small, with metal grilles covered with shutters or sliding wooden panels.  
The domus housed master and household but others lived over and around it. Shops often fronted the house. Above these and in other parts of the upper storey were apartments with balconies and extensions (maeniana) jutting over the street. These were made of opus craticium – a light but strong structure of timber frame and rubble. 

The extended family

A posse of slaves was an essential cog in the well-run Roman household
Each domus housed a familia. More than ‘family’, this Latin word meant a ‘household’ of people linked by blood and marriage. This included the dominus, his wife and their children, but also members of the extended family, as well as slaves and ex-slaves (freedmen). Larger households probably contained dozens of people, with a high proportion of slaves and freedmen.
Slaves were indispensable to daily life. Some were acquired through auctions, while others, vernae, were born to slaves in the home and were brought up there. 
Slaves benefited from belonging to the household and probably had more comfortable lives than many poorer, freeborn citizens. Some slaves had particular skills, such as cooking, hairdressing or gardening but many worked generally at whatever was required. They bustled in and about, tending to the household’s daily needs. 
Women were an integral part of all areas of the home – which was certainly not the case in every ancient culture. The writer Cornelius Nepos wrote “Matrona versatur in medio” (“The lady of the house is at the centre of things”). 
From the wet-nurse in the cubiculum and the maid weaving in the atrium, to the cook in the kitchen, the same was true for all women in the home.

This fresco painting in the house of Marcus Lucretius Fronto depicts a domestic scene in Pompeii. (Corbis)

Snails and stuffed dormice

While the kitchens of the poor served up mundane fare, the wealthy’s cuisine was far more exotic
Roman dining varied hugely – from fine meals in a grand house, to pies in a tavern or snacks in a small flat.
Romans ate breakfast (lentaculum) of bread, cheese and olives; lunch (prandium), at midday, possibly included meat, again with bread and vegetables. They sat down to dinner (cena), at around 6 or 7pm, a grand occasion in wealthy homes. The rich reclined on couches in the triclinium (in Greek, room ‘of the three couches’), while slaves served exotic food and wine with vessels of silver.
Slaves did all cooking in kitchens (culinae) that, even in wealthy houses, were small, dark, smoky and smelly. Many also housed the toilet. Food was cooked on a solid masonry structure in terracotta and bronze pans, cooking pots, jars and casseroles.   
Cena had three elements: appetisers (gustatio) included eggs, snails, fish and seafood, vegetables, cheese. There were also dormice, served stuffed with pork mince, dormouse meat, pepper, pine nuts and garum (fish sauce) and cooked under a clibanus, a two-part domed terracotta baking/roasting pot. Main course (mensae primae) was meat – kid and goat, pig meat of all types, prepared meats, game and poultry. Dessert (mensae secundae) comprised fruit, nuts and pastries.  
The less wealthy sat at tables and used vessels of pottery and glass. Graffiti from Pompeii shows monotonous diets of bread, oil, leeks, onions and cheese with fish and sausages as treats. But a drain in Herculaneum, serving both poor and rich houses, produced vegetables, including beans, olives and lentils, together with fruit and nuts such as fig, date, apple and grape and hazelnut. 
Seafood included scallops, mussels and sea urchins alongside fish such as sardine, eel and anchovy. Chicken, sheep and pig bones were also found, as were seeds of dill, coriander, mint and black peppercorns (imported from India) – an echo of rich sauces.

This fresco from a Pompeian kitchen shows fruit and a pot of water. (Corbis)

Cottage industries

Many Pompeians ran businesses from home – and some made a fortune in the process
Some homes hosted businesses. Many shops, workshops and bars were built into the fronts of even the wealthiest houses, and clearly no stigma was attached to commercial premises. They are instantly recognisable by their wide entrances, masonry counters with inset jars, and staircases leading up to living quarters. Businesses were a useful source of income to homeowners, through takings and rents, but were run by slaves and freedmen.
Shops sold local foodstuffs and goods, often made on the premises, as well as merchandise from all over the empire, including luxuries such as silk, perfumes and spices, lamps and glass vessels.
Businessmen could make massive fortunes. One man who did just that was the fish sauce magnate Aulus Umbricius Scaurus, owner of a mansion in western Pompeii, who put mosaics showing his fish sauce bottles into his floor.

Painted plaster from first-century AD Pompeii shows a baker distributing bread. (Alamy)

What went on in the bedroom…

It seems that the Romans’ idea of appropriate sexual imagery was very different to our own
Rich and poor homes alike provided opportunities to relax and unwind. Families sat and talked, read, played games, dined, drank and made music. For resting or sleeping, people retired to the bedroom, which was a small room sometimes with alcoves or floor patterning – indicating positions of beds – or recesses for a bed end or clothes chest.  
The bedroom (cubiculum) was regarded as an appropriate place for love and sex. The Romans were fairly comfortable with nudity and sexual images, and considered the phallus a lucky charm. Many frescoes show couples making love, and some were found on open display in gardens rather than in bedrooms or brothels. Slaves are frequently present in these scenes, reflecting the Romans’ very different ideas of privacy. More disturbingly, it reminds us that some slaves were unwilling participants rather than mere attendants.
In addition to these explicit depictions of human sex and love, there were representations of the gods and other supernatural beings, who influenced the love lives of mortals, such as Bacchus and his followers. Venus, goddess of love and beauty (and patroness of Pompeii), ruled the hearts of gods and men – but not always happily. “I want to break Venus’s ribs with sticks,” scribbled one unlucky-in-love Pompeian.
Cubicula were generally dark, so were lit by oil lamps of terracotta and bronze. The writer Martial gives a voice to such a lamp: “I’m the nice lamp who knows all about your bed – do what you fancy – I won’t say a word.”

Mars and the not universally popular Venus in a first-century AD Pompeian fresco. (Bridgeman)

Beauty and the beasts

Pompeians took their interior design very seriously, as the finest Roman frescoes ever discovered prove
Roman decorative styles changed through circumstance and fashion, and the chronological and stylistic diversity found in the cities is important.
Poor homes, smaller apartments and rooms such as kitchens and toilets had plain or simply painted walls and beaten earth or tile and concrete floors. In wealthy homes most rooms were finely decorated, in a unity of floor, walls and ceiling. Plasterers, painters and mosaicists collaborated in workshops (officinae). Recurring pictures and motifs indicate they worked from copybooks or catalogues. 
Floors were of crushed brick and tile in mortar (signinum), or of mosaic, patterned surfaces made of small cubes (tesserae) of stone and glass. A detailed mosaic panel (emblema) was an indicator of greater refinement. Ceilings of plaster or coffered wood were brightly painted.
Walls could be decorated with wall mosaics, marble veneering or decorative panels but wall paintings (frescoes) were the main feature, painted onto plaster that was wet or ‘fresh’ (‘fresco’ in Italian). The city’s frescoes, the finest and most numerous examples in the Roman world, are divided into four ‘Pompeian styles’. 
The first style, imported from the Greeks, used moulded, brightly painted plaster to imitate marble veneer. The second home-grown style had painted simulations of sculpture, and architecture in false perspective. The third style featured blocks of colour with central Greek mythological scenes. The fourth flanked these scenes with winged figures or roundels of still life and portraits. In vogue in AD 79, this style was the most common, partly due to demand from nouveau riche freedmen for fine domestic interiors. 
But the most striking frescoes ignored styles and filled walls with large-scale scenes of beast hunts or beautiful gardenscapes.


A lotion of lupin and broad beans

A lack of running water was no obstacle to looking good and smelling great
Most people only went to the public baths once or twice a week. What about other days? Rooms had no running water, even in wealthy houses, so people washed in the bedroom using a basin of water, heated, if necessary, in the kitchen.
In this period, most Roman men were clean-shaven and wore their hair short. This was done at home by a slave or outside by a barber (tonsor), using a distinctive folding razor called a novacula and one-piece shears.
Women washed and cleansed with sponges, cloth and abrasive cleansers such as pumice. Among skin lotions and softeners was a cream of broad beans, lupins and wine that made the skin ‘smoother than a mirror’. Unwanted hair was removed with tweezers (volsellae) or creams. Olive oil served as soap. Teeth were cleaned with soda or pumice using fingers or sticks, while breath was freshened with pastilles. 
Attention now turned to hair and make-up – for cheeks (white lead), eyes (crocus and azurite) and lips (red lead). Perfumes and oils made of violets, jasmine and roses scented body and hair. 
The hairstyles of wealthy women changed fairly frequently. Hair, sometimes dressed with the help of a hair slave (ornatrix) was dyed, curled, ringletted, waved, pinned and ribboned or arranged into a hairnet. Clothing and jewellery were donned and arranged. 
The members of the household were ready for the day.  
Paul Roberts is a senior curator in the Department of Greece and Rome at the British Museum, and is head of the Roman collections.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A handbook to shopping in ancient Rome

History Extra

A fruit seller displays his wares on a wooden table, in this bas-relief from the second century AD. (Bridgeman Art Library)

Ancient Rome was a cosmopolitan city, drawing in people and products from across the Mediterranean world and beyond. By the late first century BC, there were as many as one million inhabitants in Rome, an urban population figure not reached again in the western world until London in around 1800.
Like most urban residents, the people of Rome relied on retailers to provide them with food, clothing and other goods. Our ancient evidence points to a thriving retail trade in the city and, for any ancient visitor, the sheer number of retailers and shoppers must have been one of the most striking aspects of the Roman cityscape.
Retailers were found in the busiest areas of the city. Small shops and workshops lined the main thoroughfares, spilling out over their thresholds into the streets and colonnades. The poet Martial remarked that until the emperor Domitian issued an edict banning this practice, Rome looked like one big shop.
Market traders, street sellers and ambulant hawkers also tended to be found in central areas. They clustered around temples, bathhouses, forums, circuses, amphitheatres and theatres, attracted by the commercial opportunities offered by large gatherings of people. Sellers at temples offered votive offerings such as flower garlands, while those at the amphitheatre may have sold gladiatorial programmes of the type mentioned by Cicero in the mid-first century BC. Perishable items that could be eaten straight away were also a common sight on Rome’s streets. Prepared foods such as bread, hot sausages, pastries, and chickpeas were perfect for a busy Roman on the run.
Reliefs and paintings, drawn mainly from Pompeii and from Rome’s port city of Ostia, are our best evidence for the appearance of Roman stalls. Temporary stalls are visible in a painting (shown right) from Pompeii of a riot in its amphitheatre – a depiction of a historical event that the historian Tacitus tells us took place in AD 59, when the residents of the nearby city of Nuceria descended on the doomed town. In the foreground of the picture, we can see stalls set up under awnings strung between trees or on stakes in the ground. Painted messages on the outside of the amphitheatre also record the location of stalls.
Another Pompeian painting shows a tableau of everyday events in the forum. Scattered within scenes showing legal judgements, the corporal punishment of school pupils, and people chatting and reading public notices, we can make out traders hawking their wares.
Some have their goods lying on the floor around them – such as a man selling metal vessels, or a hot-food trader standing by a large cauldron suspended over a fire.
A painting showing a riot in Pompeii’s amphitheatre in AD 59. The stalls of traders who operated around the building are visible in the foreground. (Bridgeman Art Library)

Caged animals

Others have more elaborate sales areas. A shoe seller sets out wooden benches for his customers and marks out his place of sale with curtains hung between columns. Bread and vegetable vendors display their wares on wooden tables and in baskets on the ground.
A marble relief from Ostia shows a vegetable seller with a large basket and a stall made up of a wooden trestle table, while another relief (shown on page 30) depicts a woman stood behind cages containing her stock of chickens and hares. On the counter are two bowls of fruit, probably containing figs, and a barrel containing snails. There are even two monkeys on the stall to attract and entertain customers. Other sellers were more mobile, carrying their wares on trays or in baskets around their necks, as shown in a funerary relief from Narbonne. Some pictures show retailers holding one hand aloft as though addressing a crowd, while the other hand touches their produce, inviting customers to do the same.
Not only were Roman retailers highly visible, they were also very audible, disturbing the residents of the city with their distinctive sales cries. Seneca, for example, complains about the hawkers who frequent the bathhouse below his apartment in first-century Rome, describing the noise of the “pastry-cooks with their varied cries, the sausage dealer and the confectioner and all the vendors of food from the cookshops selling their wares”.
Other writers liken the poor poetry or speeches of their competitors or enemies to the shouts of retailers, the proverbial ‘fishwives’ of their day. Martial likens the wit of a friend to that of a “vendor of boiled chickpeas”, or the slaves of the fishmongers, or the “bawling cook who hawks smoking sausages round stuffy bistros”.
Our ancient literary sources are written by upper-class Romans who almost universally condemn retail as a deceitful practice and repeatedly call the quality of goods into question. Galen is particularly scathing, claiming that some unscrupulous retailers had been known to use human flesh in dishes in place of pork. He observes that human and pig flesh must taste and smell remarkably similar, since the unfortunate customers were unable to tell the difference!
A fifth-century AD author also alleges that some retailers displayed food items such as eggs and onions floating in glass bowls of water so that they looked larger than their actual size.

Rome’s December shopping spree

The Christmas markets now so popular in British towns and cities may be a German import, but December markets were a tradition in ancient Rome too. Towards the end of the month, Romans celebrated the festival of Saturnalia in honour of the god Saturn, a time of year that the poet Catullus called “the best of days”. The toga was discarded in favour of more comfortable clothes, time was spent eating and drinking, slaves were allowed their liberty, at least temporarily, and friends exchanged presents.
Traditionally, gifts took the form of sigilla, small clay figurines. These gave the market its name, the sigillaria. Traders sold gifts from temporary stalls or canvas booths in the Campus Martius, the ‘Field of Mars’, in the centre of what would later become the medieval city.
We know that in the early empire the market was held in the Porticus Argonautarum, built by the general Agrippa in 25 BC. The satirist Juvenal writes that women, always anxious to keep up with their neighbours, demanded crystal vases and diamond rings from the stalls in this market. 
Just as today, the December markets must have added to the holiday atmosphere in the city, with adults giving children money to spend on treats. This tradition allowed Emperor Tiberius to dismiss his nephew Claudius’s political ambitions by giving him money to spend at the sigillaria market rather than political office.

This detail from a third-century AD floor mosaic shows three slaves with a torch during the festival of 
Saturnalia. One poet called this time of year “the best of days”. (AKG Images)

Selling to survive

Men and women mixed freely in the Roman retail environment, working as both buyers and sellers. There was, however, some economic segregation. On the one hand, street traders sold everyday food at low prices and probably catered primarily for customers of relatively limited means. Many of these traders would probably have themselves been poor, retailing on a small scale in order to survive.
On the other hand, wealthy shoppers who wanted to buy food to impress their dinner guests could visit the macellum, a purpose-built luxury food market. Here large single fish were auctioned off to the highest bidder. Prized items, such as red mullet, could command incredibly high prices. Bankers would even have been on hand to lend money to those who could not cover the costs of their bids. The imperial biographer Suetonius records the disgust of Emperor Tiberius that three mullets went for 30,000 sesterces – more than 30 times the annual wage of a legionary soldier.
Alongside fish, shoppers could also find meat for sale, some of which was sourced from animal sacrifices (Christian shoppers had to try to avoid this). Other Roman delicacies available from luxury markets included songbirds, dormice and snails.
The wealthy were visited by retailers in their own homes, sometimes speculatively. Ovid regarded this as a nuisance for the lover, since, he complained, sellers always seem to come when your mistress is in a buying mood, beseeching you to shower her with gifts. And claiming to have no money wasn’t always a defence, as the seller would often take a credit note. Poets also joked about the sexual threat posed by retailers calling on elite women desperate to relieve the boredom of their domestic lives.
The retail trade was one of the most visible sectors of the urban economy in ancient Rome, with retailers locked in a fierce competition to relieve customers of their money. In this sense at least, Rome was a very modern metropolis.
Claire Holleran is lecturer in classics and ancient history at the University of Exeter.  

Monday, November 28, 2016

Prince Philip: a life of duty and devotion

History Extra

The 21-year-old princess Elizabeth and Lt Philip Mountbatten pictured shortly after their engagement became official in July 1947. (Getty Images)

Her husband, said Queen Elizabeth II in her golden wedding speech, “has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years” – and what a lot of years it has turned out to be. This is the longest royal marriage in recorded history. Her grandson, the Duke of Cambridge, says the support that Prince Philip has given the Queen is something of which she often speaks in private too.
This partnership has been one of the great achievements of the Queen’s reign. And it is all the more striking because the choice of consort for a female monarch has always been a vexed one – so vexed that, back in the days of the Tudor queens, the power a foreign husband might have over his spouse was often held to rule out a female monarch. Back in the 1940s, some courtiers expressed the same concerns about Philip.
At the wedding breakfast, on 20 November 1947, King George VI said: “Our daughter is marrying the man she loves.” Philip, newly naturalised as a British subject, said that he was proud, “proud of my country and my wife”. Princess Elizabeth, as then she was, said that: “I ask nothing more than that Philip and I should be as happy as my father and mother have been, and Queen Mary and King George before them.”
This summed it up: love, duty and tradition. It was a genuine romance, but from a girl who was already so well-adapted to her regal role as only to fall in love within a limited gene pool. Philip was the great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria, and had been partly raised in Britain despite his Greek and Danish titles and his Danish and German blood.
The family portrait to mark the couple’s engagement. George VI initially had doubts about Philip and distrusted his ambitious uncle, Lord Mountbatten. (Getty Images)
The two first met at family occasions when Elizabeth was a child. Then, in 1939, the 13-year-old princess accompanied her parents to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, where 18-year-old Philip was a cadet, helping to entertain the royal party.
The two exchanged letters and from that moment the idea of a match appears to have been in currency, not only with the protagonists, but with Philip’s uncle, Lord Mountbatten, who fostered the idea every step of the way. 
Elizabeth, recalls her cousin Margaret Rhodes, was obviously taken with this young man who seemed like “a Viking god”. Philip, even at this early stage, told his naval commander that he might marry the future queen – or so he’d been told by his “Uncle Dickie” (Mountbatten).
But it was after the war that things became serious. By the time Philip was invited to Balmoral in the summer of 1946, it was clear Elizabeth was in love. She accepted his proposal that August, though the king’s consent had still to be obtained. George VI had doubts about ‘Prince Philip of Greece’ – about the young man’s somewhat raffish reputation; about the fact Philip’s own father had been forcibly rejected by his country, leaving his family as penniless exiles; and about the role the ambitious Mountbatten hoped to play. The princess’s parents asked her to wait some months and took her away on a long South Africa tour. But in July 1947 it was posted from Buckingham Palace that, “with the greatest pleasure”, king and queen announced the betrothal  of their dearly beloved daughter to “Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, RN”, who had renounced his nationality, his name and his Greek Orthodox religion to make this a possibility.  
There were still some cavils – precisely equivalent, rather oddly, to those that had greeted Prince Albert’s engagement to Queen Victoria. Albert too had been the candidate of a favourite uncle, and there were concerns too over German Albert’s foreignness, about his title. (Victoria, who had wanted him to be king consort, rather than prince consort, “raged” in a perfectly “frantic” way.) The complaints of some MPs about the cost of Elizabeth and Philip’s wedding echoed those about the income Victoria and Albert would enjoy.
In fact the royal family themselves had qualms about whether, so soon after the Second World War, and with rationing growing ever more stringent, a large public ceremony was really appropriate. But the majority opinion proved to be that of Winston Churchill, that it would be “a flash of colour on the hard road we have to travel”. It was less than 30 years since the royals had begun holding their weddings in public, after centuries of private ceremonies, but it was already apparent that this was one of the best weapons in their armoury.
The wedding presents were put on display at St James’s Palace – though not presumably the Aga Khan’s thoroughbred filly, or the Siamese kitten from two district nurses in Wiltshire. Nor, indeed, the hunting lodge from the people of Kenya. But there was the sapphire and diamond set from the king, who also gave Purdey guns, the dinner service from President and Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the tea cloth Gandhi spun on his own wheel. (Queen Mary took it for one of his loincloths, and exclaimed at the indelicacy.)
The wedding dress from British designer Norman Hartnell was to be a triumph of patriotic production, with even the nationality of the worms turning out the silk proving to be a matter of debate. Hartnell’s inspiration came from Botticelli’s paintings, and the dress was to be a festival of flowers, with the blooms picked out in crystal and pearls – a promise of rebirth and growth after the long winter of war. At the dance in the palace two nights before the wedding, King George lead a conga through the state apartments, while the groom’s stag night took place at the Dorchester Hotel.

The prince had to renounce his nationality, his name and his Greek Orthodoxy in order to marry Elizabeth. (Getty Images)
The crowd on the day was 50 people thick, despite the November weather. But the archbishop of York, officiating alongside the archbishop of Canterbury, said that the wedding in Westminster Abbey was “in all essentials exactly the same as it would have been for any cottager who might be married this afternoon in some small country church”. The bride promised to obey, and the couple left the abbey to the strains of Mendelssohn’s ‘Wedding March’. The wedding breakfast was an ‘austerity’ event for a mere 150 guests, with the main course a casserole of unrationed partridges. As the couple set off to spend the first days of their honeymoon at Broadlands, Lord Mountbatten’s Hampshire home, they were accompanied by the princess’s favourite corgi.
This was the first time newsreel cameras had been allowed to follow a wedding party into the abbey itself – an omen, perhaps, of the modernising role Prince Philip would come to play within the royal family. Crowds around the world rushed to the cinemas to feel a part of what commentator after commentator described as a fairy story. Perhaps the only fly in the ointment was the tensions that meant that Philip’s three surviving sisters, married to German princes, were not invited to the ceremony.
The couple’s early years together were eased by the fact that Elizabeth (unlike Victoria) was still only a princess when she wed, hence the long spell in Malta the couple were able to enjoy, with Elizabeth living the comparatively private life of a naval wife. George VI’s failing health soon led to Philip’s giving up his naval career, but in 1952 news of the king’s early death, and Elizabeth’s precipitous accession, was arguably as great a shock for husband as for wife.

In their early years before her accession Elizabeth was able to live the relatively normal life of a naval wife in Malta. (Getty Images)
At Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, Prince Philip was the first to swear allegiance to her, that he would be her “liege man of life and limb”. But there had always been debate about his precise titles and place in the royal pecking order. Now, with the new queen already the mother of two, the question of a surname arose – of whether, as Philip’s uncle unwisely boasted, the House of Mountbatten now sat on the throne. The decision was taken that those directly in line for the throne should keep the name of Windsor, causing Philip to curse, reportedly that he was “just a bloody amoeba”, valued for his reproductive function and no more. There would be other issues, over what Prince Philip’s role was supposed to be. Before the Queen’s accession, Philip said, whatever they did was done together and “I suppose I naturally filled the principal position”.
No longer. Accounts vary as to whether it was the courtiers or the Queen herself who decreed he should not be privy to the red boxes of state papers or present at the weekly audiences with her prime ministers. (Just as Victoria had limited Albert’s role to “dealing with the blotting paper”. But Victoria’s pregnancies gave Albert his opportunity, so that he was able to fulfill his hope of becoming not only “the natural head of the family”, but Victoria’s “sole confidential advisor in politics… her private secretary and her permanent minister”.)
In 1972, the radical MP Willie Hamilton asked Prince Philip whether he saw his role as equivalent to Prince Albert’s as the power behind the throne. He got the answer that “times, circumstances and personalities are entirely different” today. In the late 1950s, when the first adjustments of the new reign were over and everyone was settling down for the long haul, there were indeed press reports of a ‘rift’ between the Queen and her husband. But these would soon die away.
Prince Philip found a way to accommodate himself to the situation and then stuck to it. As his grandson William says, he “totally put his personal career aside to support her, and he never takes the limelight, never oversteps the mark”. He has often been a force for change, insisting on the reform of some of the more arcane practices of the royal household (like the powdering of footmen’s wigs).
He cheered and encouraged the Queen into undertakings she did not at first find easy – the social, crowd-pleasing, aspect of her duties. He should perhaps take some share of the credit for the recent resurgence in the popularity of the monarchy. But the bottom line is that he is “always on her side, and he’s an unwavering companion”, as Prince William put it appreciatively.  
Of course, the Duke of Edinburgh has not always been viewed so warmly. His famous gaffes, his brusqueness with the press and his impatience may just be the natural expression of a man of his age and background; or they may be an essential escape valve – a letting off of steam – for a man not temperamentally attuned to life in his wife’s shadow.
More serious is the fact that the Queen and Prince Philip’s own happy marriage somehow failed to provide an example their children were able to follow. The marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer was also widely seen as a fairy story – hence the bafflement, from Queen as well as country, that it turned out so disastrously.
Here, perhaps, the Queen’s principle of allowing her husband to wear the trousers in their private life – sending Prince Charles to Gordonstoun, urging him into marriage before he was ready – has made for difficulty. But another generation on and the royals may be able to take Elizabeth and Philip as an example and a legacy. The Duchess of Cambridge has spoken of how “special” it must be for the Queen to have the support of a husband on public occasions “and behind closed doors”, that having to fulfill her role alone would be “a very, very lonely place to be”.

Britain’s oldest ever spouse of a serving monarch has been the Queen’s companion at thousands of events. 
At the Queen’s diamond jubilee, after gallantly standing by his wife, tapping his foot to music as the royal barge steered up the Thames through drenching rain, Prince Philip had to be hospitalised suddenly. The Queen had to face the crux of the celebrations without him, and to some if felt like a symbol of what may be ahead.
And it might be only after the duke is gone that we are likely to appreciate him properly – to realise that this partnership, almost 70 years long, has been genuinely extraordinary. 

Married to the queen

Philip is Britain’s longest-serving male consort. But how did some of his predecessors fare?

Mary I (1516–58) and Philip II of Spain
Mary Tudor was always determined to marry into her mother’s Spanish/Habsburg family, but the alliance proved deeply unpopular in England. The concern with the husband of any reigning queen was that he would have mastery not only of her, but of her country – fear that seemed justified when England followed Spain into a costly war with France. Mary’s example was a dreadful warning to her sister Elizabeth, the ‘Virgin Queen’, as was the example across the Scottish border…

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542–87) and her three husbands 
Mary’s first youthful marriage made her dauphine, and then briefly queen consort, of France and risked making Scotland a satellite of that country. Her second, to Lord Darnley was bedevilled by his conviction that his gender should give him precedence, and by his part in the murder of David Rizzio, her private secretary. When Mary made a third marriage with the Earl of Bothwell, widely suspected of Darnley’s own murder, the scandal cost the queen her country, and ultimately her life.


Mary II (1662–94) and William of Orange
William and Mary are unique in that his role was not merely that of consort. Indeed, he continued to rule England alone after her death. In 1688, 11 years after marrying Mary, William invaded England to seize the crown from her unpopular Catholic father, James. He had the support of many of the ruling classes who, however, wanted to crown Mary as sole monarch, a proposition William (and his wife) refused. In their joint monarchy, there was no doubt his was the mastery.

Queen Anne (1665–1714) and Prince George of Denmark  
Queen Anne’s husband is the forgotten man among royal consorts, despite having fathered some 17 children with her (none of whom lived to maturity). Younger brother to the Danish king, dull George was acceptable as a Protestant and because the Danish alliance represented a curb on Dutch power. By contrast to his brother-in-law William, George played only a minimal role in Anne’s reign. He was widely blamed for the mismanagement of the navy, but his death left her devastated.

Queen Victoria (1819–1901) and Prince Albert
The keynote of their relationship was set when Victoria, already a reigning queen, had to propose to Albert, rather than he to her. The early years of their marriage saw some flaming rows about his role and status, but Victoria’s frequent pregnancies ultimately gave him his opportunity to play a larger part in state affairs. He was a beneficial and a calming influence until his early death at 42 flung her into extreme mourning which led even to doubts of her sanity.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

9 places associated with the collapse of Roman Britain

History Extra

Robbie Khan © Portchester Castle in Hampshire was intended as a coastal defence

The Roman period in Britain is commonly said to conclude in AD 410 when the legions were called home, yet the story is a little more complicated than that. We visit nine places associated with the empire's collapse...
For Ken Dark, director of the University of Reading’s Research Centre for Late Antique and Byzantine Studies, what happened at the end of Roman Britain is probably the biggest unanswered question in British history during the first millennium AD. “The trouble, “he says, “is that the debate is to say the least very sophisticated and subtle”.
In AD 410, after almost four centuries of Roman rule in Britain, the embattled Roman emperor Honorius seems to have issued a declaration that the Britons needed to look to their own defence. What happened next is one of the greatest enigmas in British history and archaeology. Did Roman ways of life stop suddenly and completely, did they carry on, or did they morph into something new?
AD 410 itself may be a red herring. Though the letter from Honorius does exist, some historians dispute whether it actually refers to Britain (part of Italy is another option). Regardless of the validity of the declaration, the end of the Roman period cannot be confined to a single year. “There wasn’t one day on which ‘the Romans’ said ‘we’ll up and go’ and the legions marched out, not least because the Romans weren’t an ethnically defined group,” argues Dark. “Most of them would be descendants of the local Britons who’d inhabited Britain for centuries before the Roman conquest but they would have also included a substantial multicultural population drawn from all over the Roman empire. Before, say, 400, most of that population would probably have considered itself to be Roman, in the sense of being Roman citizens.”
Whatever actually happened in 410, there was a move in the fifth century from a Roman to a post-Roman society across Europe, as imperial influence waned. Britain was part of that trend, and it may have changed in line with developments that were happening in other former imperial provinces in western Europe. Two main trends were the increasing spread of Christianity and the incorporation of ‘barbarian’ – that is, non-Roman – cultural attributes. These changes were widespread in Roman society across the empire, but the fifth century also saw the movement of ‘barbarian’ peoples into Roman territory in far greater numbers – and frequently as rulers or raiders rather than refugees or Roman soldiers.
In Britain, we usually call these fifth-century (and later) Germanic migrants ‘the Anglo-Saxons’ though neither they nor anyone else referred to them by that name in the fifth century. Nor is it known whether the Anglo-Saxons initially came as invaders or settlers, in large numbers or small groups, or to live among or to lord over the Britons. Ken Dark’s view is that they did come in large numbers, but what they did when they arrived is complicated:
“I believe that there was mass migration across the North Sea by Germanic peoples and that they settled in substantial parts of eastern Britain, most notably East Anglia. In those places they brought their own cultures very substantially intact, but there were other areas, even in the east of Britain, where Germanic and British communities lived side-by-side or together and where their cultural practices and values co-existed or merged.” To the west and north of these ‘Anglo-Saxon’ areas, British kings ruled over large independent kingdoms in the fifth and sixth centuries, with populations wholly or largely descended from those of Roman Britain.
The latter point is crucial. One of the big advances in the study of the period in the last few decades has been the framing of the debate in terms of the existing occupants and away from the previous heavy focus on the incoming Anglo-Saxons. At least until the end of the sixth century the Britons controlled the majority of what had been Roman Britain, not the Anglo-Saxons, and so the need to study the Britons for themselves rather than as a footnote to the Anglo-Saxons has been widely recognised.
Indeed, many specialists now term these centuries of British history ‘Late Antiquity’ – a term widely used in relation to the fifth and sixth-century history of the rest of what had been the Roman empire – rather than the ‘Early Anglo-Saxon period’. This shift in focus, closely associated with Dark’s work on the period, has enabled historians and archaeologists to look more closely at what happened to the remaining Britons, and to identify that some elements of Roman culture did cross over to their post-Roman world.
Gradually, however, the Roman influence waned and in the seventh century we moved into a new world where Anglo-Saxon and British kingdoms jostled for power across a land starting to forget its Roman past.

1. Portchester Castle, Hampshire
Where late Roman Britain was to be defended
How were the people of late Roman Britain planning to defend themselves against the threat of barbarian raiders? Go to Portchester and you can see precisely what they had in mind as here is preserved a fine example of the coastal defences of Roman Britain. Though it’s often characterised as a fort of the Saxon Shore (a military command of the Late Roman empire), it may actually have been built in the third century, before that command was established.
It offers an interesting insight into the way in which Roman imperial thinking about defence had changed by the late empire. One of the symbols of that change is the massive, almost castle-like character of late Roman fortifications, which you see very well at Portchester. It’s the only Roman stronghold in Britain whose walls still stand almost complete to their 6m height. It’s had a long life since Roman days, being the site successively of a Norman keep, a 14th-century palace, an embarkation point for the Agincourt campaign and a home for Napoleonic prisoners of war. Despite that it remains a very visible signal of the defensive strategy of the late Roman Britons.
2. Lullingstone Villa, Kent
Where the arrival of Christianity is clear to see
This is a substantial late Roman villa site and the surviving fabric makes this a great place to go to consider the nature of villa life at the end of Roman Britain. The villa had been introduced as a settlement type into Britain at the start of the Roman period, and indeed Lullingstone was begun about AD 100. But most known Roman villas in Britain are actually late Roman in date. The great period of flourishing Roman villas in Britain was the fourth century, when large parts of the British landscape was divided up into estates that were centred around them.
Lullingstone is a good example of one of these late-Roman villas. They were often quite modest but they included some that were elaborately decorated and architecturally sophisticated. Lullingstone was towards the top of the range but was not a palatial example (for that, Chedworth in Gloucestershire is worth a visit).
Villas were in part built for showing off. But they also often had a religious element, firstly with links to pagan temples and then perhaps as centres of rural Christianity. The spread of Christianity in the late Roman and post-Roman period is a key part of the story of the end of Roman Britain. Lullingstone’s house-church (a room within an otherwise secular building devoted specifically to Christian observance) shows that Christianity had certainly reached this villa. House churches are hard to spot archaeologically but we know of Lullingstone because it had a splendid series of wall paintings with Christian symbols. The paintings are now in the British Museum but copies can be seen at Lullingstone, along with the layout of the villa.
3. Birdoswald Fort, Cumbria
Where frontier life carried on, in some form at least
We don’t know exactly what was happening on Hadrian’s Wall in the late Roman period. It was intensively used and still served as some sort of frontier, perhaps for taxation, symbolic and military purposes. To the north of the wall were Britons who were in many ways similar to the Britons south of it, but some of them at least were intent on disrupting life in Roman territory.
You can see a fort, turret and milecastle at Birdoswald, plus the longest unbroken stretch of wall nearby to the east. However, most interesting in terms of the end of Roman Britain is the fact that a large timber hall, now marked out with posts, has been found here, perhaps dating to the fifth century. Does this represent continuous use from Roman to post-Roman periods, or later re-use – and if so by whom? It could have been the case that the Roman period communities at the wall stayed on into the fifth century and that the forts had an ongoing military role, or they might have been abandoned for a while and then refortified by whatever new political powers stepped into the vacuum.
The site’s defensive possibilities were recognised long after the Romans left, with a medieval fortified tower and then an Elizabethan Bastle House being built.
4. West Stow, Suffolk
Where the Anglo-Saxons settled
This reconstructed Anglo-Saxon village is positioned on an original settlement site of the period and is an excellent place to go for an introduction to the life of these newcomers from the continent.
It’s a good venue to think about how different the world the Anglo-Saxons were living in was to Roman Britain, as these sort of farming settlements replaced the Roman administrative set-up in the fifth and sixth centuries in eastern Britain. There are numerous Anglo-Saxon type buildings here, constructed in different ways as experimental archaeology projects, based on the data from the excavations carried out here in the 1960s and 70s.
5. St Albans, Hertfordshire
Where Christianity lived on in post-Roman Britain
After the third-century martyrdom of Alban (who was condemned to death for sheltering a Christian), the Roman town of Verulamium became a centre for Christian activity, and there’s literary evidence to suggest that it retained that role through the fifth and sixth centuries. It’s mentioned in the fifth-century Life of St Germanus as a major Christian shrine visited by Germanus as he progressed around eastern Britain in AD 429 trying to fight off the advances of the Pelagian heresy (which essentially posited the belief that people can be good of their own account and thereby implied the denial of original sin). In the mid-sixth century, the British writer Gildas laments that he can’t get to the famous pilgrimage shrine of St Alban because the Anglo-Saxons are in the way. Move forward to the early eighth century and Bede writes about St Albans being a major Christian shrine that has remained in use since Roman times.
The archaeological evidence suggests that there was something going on here in the fifth and sixth centuries, but exactly what is hard to characterise. There’s nothing visibly fifth-century in the fabric of the current cathedral, but the Verulamium Museum gives an overview of life in the Roman city, and you can still see the Roman walls, hypocaust and theatre there.
6. Wroxeter Roman City, Shropshire
Where Roman urbanism carried on
This Roman city has been a tourist destination for over 150 years. But it was only as a result of the excavations in the 1960s and 1970s that archaeologists began to truly appreciate the grand scale on which Wroxeter was rebuilt in the fifth and possibly sixth centuries. It’s hard to say when the city finally went out of use but it certainly appears to have had a long life after the end of Roman Britain. This is evidenced by the fact that timber and wattle and daub buildings were built, and then rebuilt perhaps more than once, across a large part of the city centre.
What’s interesting is that these buildings share many affinities with classical Roman architecture, and so in design, layout and size, they are essentially Roman buildings but built of wood not stone. The material culture associated with them is identical to the later fourth century, so we have the latest Roman material culture associated with buildings occupied into the fifth century. It would seem at Wroxeter that there were people attempting to keep the Roman way of life going. If you pay a visit, the great wall that divided the second-century municipal baths from the exercise hall is a reminder of what Roman Britain looked like at its height.
7. Cadbury Castle, Somerset
Where the British elite made a show of their power
Not all Britons attempted to carry on urban life like the inhabitants of Wroxeter. Others opted to reoccupy and refortify Iron Age (pre-Roman) hill-forts. The Britons in the immediately post-Roman period replaced Roman local government with kings, and these re-used hill-forts may have been the kings’ royal centres, as they were often associated with the consumption of foreign luxury goods. Cadbury Castle is an excellent example of such a place, where there was clearly some high-status activity going on – as a considerable amount of pottery and glass, imported from the Mediterranean and Gaul, has been found within its huge earthen banks. The ramparts are all that remain for the visitor to see today at this fine hill-fort, which incidentally is happily set in a pleasant corner of rural Somerset.
8. Tintagel, Cornwall
Where the new kings continued old ways
There was something very significant happening on the north Cornish coast in the fifth and sixth centuries. Archaeologists have found evidence for over 150 buildings at Tintagel, bearing decidedly Roman characteristics such as rectangular layouts and multiple rooms. They were enclosed within a hefty bank and ditch cutting off the landward approach but with access to a natural harbour below. And that harbour was probably a very busy place because an enormous amount of imported Byzantine pottery, amphorae and glass has been discovered in excavations on this site. This all suggests that the settlement at Tintagel, which was established after the end of the Roman period in the fifth century, was in many respects more Roman in its architecture, plan and finds than any other site known in Cornwall.
The recent discovery of a Latin inscription at Tintagel adds weight to the evidence that Roman influence continued to spread in Britain after AD 410. It’s thought that Tintagel was probably a royal site of the British kingdom of Dumnonia, which seems to have encompassed most of England’s south-west peninsula at this time.
Despite their historical importance, the fifth and sixth century remains are rather overshadowed today by the ruins of the 13th-century castle and of course by the pervading Arthurian associations of the place. The coastline is worth a visit in any case.
9. National Museum, Cardiff
Where the Latin language lingered
Far from dying out after the end of the Roman period, the language that the Romans imported seems to have lived and indeed spread, at least within the confines of Latin memorial inscriptions. Such things have been found widely from Cornwall through Wales and western Britain right up to the Lake District and into the British kingdoms in southern Scotland. They are probably tombstones, and many have formulaic inscriptions that say “so and so, son of so and so lies here”. The National Museum Cardiff has a collection of these stones, which are easily accessible, so it’s worth a visit to see how Latin continued to be used even after the Romans themselves had gone.
10. Deganwy Castle, Conwy
Where British resistance lived on
This imposing two-pronged rocky knoll overlooking the river Conwy was probably the leading royal site of the British kingdom of Gwynedd, which was, roughly speaking, the north-west of Wales, including Anglesey.
Gwynedd was important from at least the sixth century and formed a focus of resistance against the eventual spread of Anglo-Saxon political control as they developed more centralised kingdoms. The last major British victory against the Anglo-Saxons in the 630s was won by one of the kings of Gwynedd. In fact, the Britons of Gwynedd were never conquered by the Anglo-Saxons as such. It was not until long after the formation of the kingdom of England that the English kings took control here. Thus when, in 1282, the area fell to English rule, it was the last part of the western Roman empire to be lost to the political control of people descended from those who had at one time lived within that empire. There isn’t anything of the sixth-century occupation to see at the site today, but evidence of later castles built on the site does survive.
Words by Dave Musgrove. Historical advisor: Ken Dark, University of Reading. This feature was first published in the February 2010 issue of BBC History Magazine.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

How to succeed in Ancient Rome

History Extra

Mosaic depicting the poet Virgil sitting between the muses Clio and Melpomene. (Getty Images)
I. Learn a trade
If you are poor you will have to work hard to improve your financial position. But it is vital for you to understand which trades are suitable for a gentleman and which ones are unacceptably vulgar. 
One highly undesirable job is that of tax gatherer. These people not only have to deal with the common herd but prey on them too. Another vulgar livelihood is hiring yourself out for paid employment, especially when it only involves mere manual labour. The wage these people receive is simply a symbol of their virtual slavery. We must also consider those involved in the retail trade as plebs. They buy from wholesalers then sell the goods immediately to members of the public for a profit, meaning the only way to make money is to misrepresent the true value of what’s on sale. Next come those engaged in skilled labour – there is nothing gentlemanly about a workshop. 
However, the least respectable trades of all are those that cater for the physical and sensual pleasures of others – fishermen, fishmongers, butchers, cooks and chicken sellers. You can add to these perfumers, dancers and all celebrities.

A second-century bas-relief depicting a fruit seller. (Getty Images)

II. Invest in property

Owning land is the best form of wealth. Buy ponds, hot springs and other areas that are heavily used by clothes washers, all of which generate large profits. Or invest in urban property. The best way to do this is to wait for one of the fires that frequently break out in Rome. You should then rush to the scene and make extremely low offers to the owners of houses in the vicinity, who will often accept out of fear that the fire will spread and leave them penniless. 
Sadly this works both ways – fire means that urban property is not always a safe investment. City properties generate a very good income but the risks are also great. Two of my own shops have recently fallen down and the rest may be about to do likewise. Even the mice have moved out. Obviously this doesn't bother a man of my great wealth, but there are many others who are constantly thrown into a panic about the state of their urban properties. 


III. Be a lender

Lending money is always profitable. The usual rate for loans secured against Italian land is six per cent and for unsecured loans is 12 per cent, or one per cent per month. However, lenders have a heavy burden of worry. If you lend money to a trader you will spend anxious nights worrying about every wind that gets up or distant clap of thunder, fearing that it signifies the loss of his ships at sea. 
If one of your debtors does default, you must handle him severely. As you are entitled to do by law, you should sell all of his possessions, even down to the very clothes he is wearing. If this still fails to raise the necessary capital to cover his debts, you should sell his children into slavery. Healthy infants and children fetch a decent price and the sale will also act as a warning to others who are in your debt not to consider defaulting on their obligations. 
Food shortages also offer considerable opportunities to make money. In such periods, the price of grain rises substantially and it is possible to make short-term unsecured loans for rates of up to 5 per cent per annum.

IV. Become a charioteer

If you are poor and want to make it big, consider becoming a charioteer. They can earn extraordinary amounts of money. The prize money for Rome’s best races ranges from 15 to 60 thousand sesterces [Roman currency]. One of my old lawyer friends complains that a charioteer can earn a hundred times what he can. 
The most successful driver I have come across was a man named Diocles, who came from Lusitania in Iberia. He raced for 24 years during the reigns of the divine emperors Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, before retiring at the age of 42. Diocles won 1,462 races out of a total of 4,257 runs. His career earnings came to an astonishing 35,863,120 sesterces, which made him one of the wealthiest men in Rome. 
But be under no illusions: charioteers earn their money. Controlling a four-horse chariot is not easy. The reins of two horses are bound round your body and you must use your weight to pull them into position. If you crash, you will be dragged down by these reins and trampled, unless you can manage to cut yourself free. 

Charioteers in starting position, depicted in a third century mosaic. (Leemage/Corbis via Getty Images)


V. Marry well

When it comes to selecting a woman, think hard about the possible candidates. Wealth, high birth and beauty play no part in a happy marriage. They do nothing to generate interest or sympathetic thought in a wife towards her husband – indeed, the very opposite could be said to be true. Nor do they help when it comes to producing children. You should check to see that her family has a good track record in producing healthy, male heirs. 
When it comes to a girl's physique, all that matters is that she is healthy, looks normal and has a capacity for hard work. If she has a strong body she will be better suited to physical labour and child-bearing. As for her character, you should look for a girl who exhibits self-control and virtue. Of course, these are also qualities that you should look to display yourself in your own conduct. 

VI. Host elegant dinner parties

Holding dinner parties is a fundamental part of being a successful Roman. There are, however, many pitfalls that await a social parvenu if he is not to appear crude and inelegant. 
Firstly, make sure the seating plan reflects the status of the diners. Those of the highest rank should be next to you, with those of the lowest status reclining the furthest away. If you are entertaining a large number of guests, you will want to have the finest dishes served to the top table. Yet be careful not to do this too obviously in case you should appear mean. Worse still is if you apportion the wine in decanters, with the finest Falernian wine [wine originating from a district of Campania, Italy] put in large quantities at the top table while only small quantities of wine vinegar are placed before everyone else. Too little wine is bound to breed resentment. Remember, manners make the Roman. 
During dinner be sure to entertain the others guests with examples of your wit and charm. Wealth makes a man feel very pleased with himself and you should be careful not to lecture. A restrained elegance should be your aim. I had one guest recently who stuffed himself during the entire meal. Then, the moment the dinner had ended, he swept up all the leftovers into his napkin: teats from a sow's udder, pork ribs, a pigeon dripping with sauce (and even a meadow bird carved for two and a whole pike!) were all crammed into a greasy napkin for his slave to carry home. It was most embarrassing, and the only thing the rest of the guests could do was recline at the table and pretend we hadn't noticed.

A Pompeii fresco portraying a feast scene. (Getty Images)

VII. Pay for gladiator shows

If you make it big, host some games. The people love nothing more, and you will win great popularity as a result. What shouts go up as each fighter thrusts and parries the other's blows. What cries and groans go with the inevitable wounds. Best of all is when a fallen gladiator raises his finger and asks for mercy – you can hear a pin drop. Then everyone erupts into a flurry of cheering or booing, shaking their togas and indicating whether your thumb should be turned up or down. 
You must milk the moment. All eyes are on you. You should wait to see what the crowd wants, then keep them in suspense a little longer. Finally, make your decision with a dramatic gesture, clearly visible to all. Mercy means the gladiator lives to fight another day. But if he has failed to win over the crowd then he must meet his fate like a man. Throwing his head back to expose his neck, he must receive the downward thrust of his opponent's sword with all his body. He is at your mercy.  

Gladiators depicted in a stone carving. (Getty Images)


VIII. Keep the gods on your side

Being successful in Rome takes moral courage, but ultimately this counts for nothing if you do not also have the support of the gods. And how do you win over the gods? What can you, a weak human being, do to make them deign to notice your call for help and bother to respond to it? Quite simply: if you give the gods something, they will give you something in return. 
This is a message that you must reinforce continually through your actions. Make sacrifices and offer the gods a variety of offerings – whether prayers, vows or animals – in the belief that this will please them and encourage them to intervene on your behalf. Yet, it does no good to offer sacrifices or consult the gods without using the correct ceremonies and the right words for the particular occasion. Some words are appropriate for seeking favourable omens, others for getting help or warding off misfortune. 
There are as many rituals as there are activities and more gods than you can imagine. Even the entrances to houses have three gods assigned to them: the doors belong to Forculus, the hinges to Cardea and the threshold to Limentinus. To be sure, the gods will not always listen to you or be influenced by your gifts. But if you maintain a consistent pattern of appropriate piety they will, in the long run, grant you their favour in return. This mutually beneficial relationship between the weak and the powerful is the driving force, not only of life on earth, but the very universe itself.
Release Your Inner Roman is written by Dr Jerry Toner, a fellow in classics at Churchill College, Cambridge, and published by Profile. Toner's previous books include How to Manage Your Slaves and The Ancient World. His next book, Emperors and Crooks, will be published by Profile in 2018.