Interesting Roman Trivia


A repository of information tidbits that--as yet--have no pages of their own


(click on the link that interests you)

Augury & Dream Symbolism (if you have any more of these, please send them along to me)

    • A crow´s caw was a good omen if it came from the left
    • A raven´s croaking was a good omen if it came from the right
    • For a journey at hand, to dream of:
      •  quail was a warning that you'd be tricked or run into bandits en route
      • owls foreshadowed storms or run-ins with bandits
      • wild boars meant stormy weather
      • a gazelle foretold an easy or hard trip, depending upon what its physical condition was
      • donkeys meant a safe, but slow trip
      • garlands of narcissi or marshes were bad omens
      • clear bright air was a good omen
      • certain gods, such as Dioscuri or Dionysus, augured a bad journey
      • certain gods, such as Hermes or Aphrodite, augured a good journey
      • statues of the gods that seemed to move was a good omen
    • For more details on Augury, check out the entry on "Augur, Augurium" in the online edition of William Smith's 1875 "Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities." via this link:*/Augurium.htmlnew

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The City, City Life, and City Services

    • Rome is located almost along 42 north latitude--or virtually due east of Chicago.
    • In 350 CE, there were 1790 private homes and 46,602 insulae (multi-story apartment buildings) in Rome
    • The fields of the Campus Martius weren't covered with buildings until the time of Augustus
    • Rome had no postal service, but Romans of any consequence had slaves designated as special messengers (tabellarii), who delivered important letters for them. Such slaves could  cover twenty-six or twenty-seven miles on foot . . . or forty to fifty if they went by cart.
    • Prostitutes were usually slaves. Greeks were common, and Syrians were appreciated for their dancing. The mark of a prostitute was often a brightly-colored outfit, which other women would not have worn.
    • Courtesans were a class above prostitutes; they lived with their mothers or with their lena (procurer). They could usually sing, play a musical instrument, and might even have some schooling so that they were able to make intelligent conversation.
    • Freedmen worked along side slaves with little, if any, friction.
    • Physicians and surgeons were sometimes slaves, but more often were foreigners (most often, Greeks) or freedmen.
    • Physicians and surgeons were exempt from paying taxes
    • In 46 BCE, Julius Caesar gave Roman Citizenship to all practicing doctors.
    • In Rome, the easiest way for a foreigner to become a Roman Citizen was by selling himself into slavery. It as possible for a slave to earn his citizenship after six years of meritorious service.
    • There was no postal service. Wealthy Romans instead had special slaves (tabellarii) who delivered letters for them. Sending letters by special messenger over long distances was so expensive that except for very important messages, letters were sent with traders and travelers going in the desired direction. People about to send a messenger or who were going on a journey usually made it a point to inform their friends so they could send along their letters.
    • Rome had professional booksellers by 100 BCE
    • By 33 BC, there were 170 public baths in Rome
    • From 300 BC on, there were barbers in Rome
    • In the Late Republic, lunch was always at mid-day (the sixth hour).
    • In the summer time, people took siestas after they ate lunch.
    • Normally, guests weren't invited to lunch.

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Government, The Law, and Lawyers

    • Praetors were entitled to a six lictor escort; consuls were entitled to twelve.
    • No official record of Roman senatorial proceedings was published until 59 BC when Caesar, as consul, arranged for its regular publication.
    • Lawyers existed in Rome. They weren't allowed to charge fees, but they were allowed to receive "gifts" when their job was done.
    • During the Late Republic, the Tullianum was Rome´s sole prison. Prisoners were kept here wihile awaiting execution. The Tullianum, located at the end of the Roman Forum at the foot of the Capitoline hill, had two floors--it was essentially a building over a pit. It´s thought to have been a cistern at one time; a spring still exists in the lower floor.
    • In the Roman Republic,  the ultimate punishment for committing a capital offense was crucifixion--but only for non-citizen Romans. Citizen Romans who committed such crimes might be sentenced to work in the mines, which tended to be just another death sentence.
    • A Roman could be banished from Rome--without a trial--by a Senate resolution or by a magistrate's order.
    • A Roman citizen in Italy during the Late Republic paid no direct taxes; only the provinces were directly taxed. The Roman citizen of Italy was, however, subject to customs, tolls, fees for pasture rights, duties on certain legal acts (e.g., freeing a slave), and so forth.
    • In the Late Republic there existed no governmental counterpart to our IRS. Instead the government auctioned off the right to collect taxes from the provinces to third-party finance "companies". Employees of such companies were called "Publicani".
    • The courts opened early in Rome, typically around the third hour or so and sometimes earlier
    • The Roman Senate did not meet before daybreak or continue its sessions after dark.

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Superstitions (if you have any more of these, please send them along to me)

    • People placed importance on the random word or phrase.
    • A place struck by lightning was considered sacred to Jupiter
    • One was advised to:
      • touch the earth when it thundered to prevent a lightning strike
      • smooth one's bed upon rising so that the impression of the body could not be used in a black magic spell
    • Romans in the Late Republic, thought Civil Wars mirrored the Romulus and Remus legend, and that Rome was forever cursed to repeat that struggle.
    • Garlic was believed to make soldiers courageous
    • Verbena (has a lemony smell) was sometimes hung over the doorway to keep away the evil eye.
    • Romans believed cabbage prevented drunkenness, cured paralysis, and protected against the plague
    • The days following the Kalendae, the Nonae, and the Idus were considered unlucky days
    • Anniversaries of certain military disasters were considered unlucky
      • Trasimene (21 or 23 Junius) [after 217 BC]
      • Arausio ( 6 October) [after 105 BC]
      • Disaster of the Alia [after 390 BC], and the extinction of the Gens Fabia at Cremara (18 Quintilis [after 477 BC])
    • 24 Sextilis, 5 October, 8 November--dates when the gate to the Underworld was supposed to be open
      • Roman armies did not engage on any of these days
    • It was unlucky to wed in Maius, the month of the Lemuria, or in the first half of Junius or on the Kalendae, Nonae, or Idus of any month
    • It was unlucky if the Kalendae of the first month of the year [after 78 BC]--or the Nonae of any month--fell on a Nundinae (market day)

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    • Only one permanent theatre existed in Rome during the Late Roman Republic, Pompey's theatre, built in 55 BCE. Until then, theatre performances were held on temporary wooden stages, which were dismantled afterward.
    • After about 85 BCE, tragedies were rarely performed; comedies were preferred
    • Pantomime was popular in the Late Republic.
    • Typically, flute players provided background music for performances (soundtrack music got its start early. <g>)
    • Theatre companies were small and depended upon slave and poor freemen for labor. Each performer had to play 2 or 3 parts, and might have to sing, dance, and perform stunts.
    • Masks were used to represent various characters

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    • Time was kept by sundial or water clock
    • The day was divided up into twelve "hours", and the night into another twelve "hours".
    • The length of the "hour" varied with the time of the season from about 45 minutes in mid-winter to about an hour and a quarter in mid-summer.
    • The only time the "hours" of the day were of equal length was at the equinox
    • Noon was always the sixth hour of the day
    • Midnight was always the sixth hour of the night
    • In public places and in private homes, Apparitores announced the time.

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    • Cicero means chickpea.
    • Quartan fever is malaria. It got its name from the violent paroxysms exhibited by its victims every fourth day.
    • In the Late Roman Republic, outside of Rome, the usual rate of interest for loans was about 12%, but often this rate was exceeded.
    • The Romans had apartment buildings called insulae (literal meaning: "islands"), which were often up to four stories high.
    • Almost 2000 years ago, the Romans used strongboxes and locks (barb-spring padlocks, tumbler locks, and rotary locks) to keep their homes and valuables safe.
    • Rope was made of various materials. For instance, some rope was made from the hair of certain goats; other rope was made from animal sinew. The latter--because of its tremendous strength--was used in catapults and other siege machinery
    • During the Late Republic, dancing was disdained. A few dancers were part of religious ceremonies, and slave dancers usually provided entertainment at banquets; but Roman men and women generally didn´t dance with one another.
    • The abacus and counting boards were used to do calculations; calculating with Roman numerals on tablets was impractical.
    • Generally, it cost less to transport trade goods by sea than by land.
    • Roman policy was to encourage replacement of the local language wherever possible by Latin in the West and Greek in the East.
    • It was customary for Romans to speak to Greeks only in Latin.
    • As a general rule, Greeks were perceived as silly, vain, irresponsible, unreliable, sloppy, and could never be trusted to tell the truth. And yet, most of the teachers in Rome were Greeks hired by aristocrats educate their children. By the end of the Roman Republic almost all education in Rome was handled by Greeks.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008