Life In The Roman Empire : Books And Writing

Girl with a stylus and writing block. Wall painting from Pompeii, 1st century AD. This lovely image of a reflective young women is often called Sappho, after the famous Greek poet, althought she is equally likely to have been a bright young Pompeian with literary leanings.
Girl with a stylus and writing block. Wall painting from Pompeii, 1st century AD. This lovely image of a reflective young women is often called Sappho, after the famous Greek poet, althought she is equally likely to have been a bright young Pompeian with literary leanings.

Latin, the language of the Romans, was originally spoken only in the small region of Central Italy known as Latium. It might well have been displaced by geographically more widespread Italian tongues such as Oscan and Umbrian, but Roman conquests made it the received speech of the peninsula, and ultimately of most wealthy or educated people all over a vast empire.

Writing began in the 7th century BC, when the Latin alphabet was devised as an adaptation of the Greek letters used by the Romans Etruscan neighbours. The earliest known written Latin is on the Lapis Niger, an inscriped block of stone, found in the Forum Romanum, that probably dates from the early 6th century BC. There is no way of establishing how many Romans became literate, but written records, orders and transactions were vital to the efficient running of the Empire, while poems, plays, political and philosophical reflections, letters, prayers and graffiti provided outlets for vivid self-expression that often bring the Romans very close to us.

Commemorative inscriptions and some official decrees appeard on stone or bronze, but a variety of materials were available for other purposes. A wooden tablet with a coating of wax was particularly useful for temporary personal memoranda and school work; the metal or wooden stylus that scratched letters into the wax had a flat  top that could be employed for corrections or to erase all the written content so that the tablet could be used again. However, occasion this unstable medium also seems to have served for quite important documents.

Letters and other personal statement could be written with pen and ink on thin sheets of wood. Pens were made of metal, or sharpened reeds of feathers; Roman ink, variously mixing soot, resin and cuttlefish ink, was surprisingly black and durable, as surviving documents have shown. Those who could afford it bought a much less cumbersome, paper-like material made from the papyrus reed (an Egyptian invention from which the word paper is actually derived). This was also used for Roman books, which took the form of long papyrus scrolls. A book, or part-book, was called a volumen, or roll (the origin of the English word volume); the reader held it in both hands, simultaneously rolling and unrolling it so that the text was progressively revealed. Under the Empire, parchment and and vellum (made from hides) were also used as writing surfaces, and the book with pages, or codex, began to be made, but surprisingly it never replaced the much clumsier roll.

Roman interest in books only became intense under the influence of Greek culture in the 2nd century BC, when libraries were part of the booty brought back from the East by Sulla and other successful generals. An influx of well-educated Greek slaves facilitated the development of the book trade in Rome, where something resembling mass production was achieved by booksellers whose slaves wrote out copies of texts dictated by one of their number. The influence of ardent collectors such as Cicero helped to create a fashion for possessing a private library, and booksellers flourished in the capital and ultimately in most parts of the Empire, advertising the latest authors on the pillars outside their shops. The first public library in Rome was founded during the reign of Augustus by the retired politician-poet Gaius Asinius Pollio, and within a century there were over 20, some of which allowed members to take out books for private reading. Authors were paid an outright fee for their works, and even the most famous were unable to live on their literary income. Martial for example, complained that in spite of being read even on the Danube and in Britain, his work brought him little profit. The bookseller-publisher could not afford to be generous, since there was no copyright law and consequently he could never acquire exclusive rights to any publication. As soon as he put a work on sale, a rival bookseller could acquire a copy, put his own scribes to work on it, and publish his own edition. Impecunious authors were therefore dependent on the generosity of one or more patrons and as Martial lamented, there was not a Maecenas in every generation.

Writing materials used by Romas at various times. The hinged book was filled with wax (shown here as a separate item in ready to melt block form), which when hard could be written on with the elegant stylus; pen and inkpot are to hand for more durable writing, along with a lighted lamp, a spare wick and a seal.
Writing materials used by Romas at various times. The hinged book was filled with wax (shown here as a separate item in ready to melt block form), which when hard could be written on with the elegant stylus; pen and inkpot are to hand for more durable writing, along with a lighted lamp, a spare wick and a seal.

Source: Nathaniel Harris : History Of Ancient Rome

Faustulus – Paimen joka adoptoi Romuluksen ja Remuksen

Naarassusi imettämässä Romulusta ja Remusta.

Tarina Rooman synnystä on tosiasioiden ja mielikuvituksen kirjava vyyhti, josta oppineet ovat kiistelleet loputtomiin. Jo 2000 vuotta sitten Livius huomautti, että tarinat pohjautuvat enemmän runollisiin taruihin kuin varmoihin historiallisiin lähteisiin. Liviuksen tavoin mekään emme voi osoittaa tarinoita tosiksi tai vääriksi, mutta jos Faustulusta ei ollut olemassa, voimme ainakin olla varmoja siitä, että paljon hänen kaltaisiaan ihmisiä asui seitsemällä kukkulalla juuri ennen Rooman perustamista.

Tarinan mukaan Faustulus oli läheisen Alba Longan kaupungin kuninkaan paimen. Hän oli Arkadialainen, niiden alueelle asettuneiden kreikkalaisten jälkeläinen, jotka sekoittuivat alkuperäisiin latinalaisiin kansoihin. Rooman alkuajoista kertovista arkeologisista lähteistä tiedämme, että kukkuloilla oli majoissa asuvia yhteisöjä, todennäköisesti paimenia, jotka laskeutuivat päivisin laaksoihin hoitamaan laumojaan. Tuohon aikaan Forum Romanumin laakso oli suota, jonka Tiberin tulvat usein peittivät.

Faustulus tuomassa Romulusta ja Remusta vaimolleen Acca Larentialle. Nicolas Mignard Frenchin maalaus vuodelta 1654.

Erään tulvan jälkeen, 700-luvun eKr. alussa, Faustulusta kohtasi ihmeellinen näky. Laskeutuessaan Palatinus kukkulalta hän näki naarassuden imettämässä mudan tahrimia kaksospoikia. Nämä olivat kierähtäneet kauniisti koristellusta korista, joka oli juuttunut viikunapuun juuriin tulvan laskiessa. Susi oli saanut hiljattain poikaset ja se lievitti nisiensä painetta imettämällä lapsia. Joissain tarinan versioissa Faustulus oli yksin löytäessään kaksoset, toisissa taas hänen sanottiin olleen toisten paimenien seurassa. Häntä pidettiin hyvämaineisena kansalaisena, ja neuvonpidon jälkeen muut paimenet antoivat hänen viedä kaksoset vaimonsa hoidettavaksi, koska yksi hänen omista lapsistaan oli äskettäin kuollut. Legendan mukaan kaksoset olivat erään prinsessan ja sodanjumala Marsin (jolle pyhitetty eläin susi sattui olemaan) lapsia. Heidät oli heitetty Tiberiin ilkeän kuninkaan juonittelun takia. Tosiasia on, että erään historioitsijan “syntymän jälkeiseksi ehkäisyksi” kutsuma tapa oli yleinen antiikin ajan maailmassa. Ei-toivotut lapset jätettiin usein heitteille.

Faustuluksen vaimo oli Acca Larentia. Sanskriitissa, latinan muinaisessa sukukielessä, acca tarkoittaa äitiä. Aulus Gelliuksen mukaan hän oli nimensä veroinen, sillä hänellä oli 11 muuta poikaa. Toinen antiikin kirjailija, Dionysios Halikarnassolainen toteaa, että Acca Larentia saattoi olla legendan naarassusi. “Koska hän oli aiemmin myynyt kauneutensa rahasta, hän oli saanut lempinimen lupa, naarassusi”. Myöhempien sukupolvien roomalaiset kertoivat kumpaakin tarinan versiota ja esittelivät ylpeinä viikunapuuta, jonka luota kaksoset oli löydetty, samoin ikivanhaa majaa, joka oli samanlainen kuin lasten muinainen kasvatuskoti. Romuluksen ja Remuksen kanssa Larentian lapset muodostivat veljesjoukon, jota pidettiin myöhemmin arvaaliveljesten eliittipapiston alkuna.

Kun Faustulus kertoi Romulukselle ja Remukselle heidän kuninkaallisesta syntyperästään, he osoittautuivat asemansa arvoisiksi. Aikuistuttuaan he syöksivät pahan kuninkaan vallasta ja palauttivat totuuden ja oikeudenmukaisuuden synnyinkaupunkiinsa Alba Longaan. Sitten he palasivat Palatinukselle mukanaan joukko seuraajia ja aikeenaan perustaa kaupunki. Veljeksille tuli kuitenkin riitaa, kun toisen veljen kannattajat halusivat perustaa Remorian kaupungin Aventinus kukkulalle ja toiset Rooman Palatinukselle. Riitely muuttui yhä rajummaksi, ja kun taistelu syttyi, Faustulus heittäytyi sotivien osapuolten väliin kauhistuen ajatusta, että toinen hänen adoptiopojistaan saattaisi kuolla. Faustulus kuoli kahakassa, mutta hänen uhrautumisensa oli turha. Remus sai surmansa, joidenkin versioiden mukaan veljensä kädestä. Romulus perusti kaupunkinsa, mutta Faustulusta ei unohdettu. Myöhemmät sukupolvet uskoivat, että kivileijona Forumilla oli hänen hautapaikkansa merkki. Nimi Faustulus säilyi erään Pompeiusten klaanin sukuhaarassa, ja eräs heistä kunnioitti oletettua esi-isäänsä komealla hopearahalla, jossa Faustulus on kuvattuna kaksosten ja naarassuden kanssa.

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The Temple Of Saturn

The temple was pseudoperipteral with Ionic columns on high podium, situated southwest of the Rostra, on the slopes of the Capitole Hill. It was one of the oldest temples in Rome and was erected in 497 B.C. on the site, according to the sources (Festus, Servius) of an altar which had also been dedicated to Saturn and which was then maintained in an area of its own, as revealed by the Forma Urbis (monumental marble plan of the city from the time of Septimius Severus). Some authors say that the foundation of the temple was to be attributed to the last kings, even if the actual building did not take place till the beginning of the republican period with the dedication on the day of the celebration of the Saturnalia, December 17, the Roman end of the year. The building was completely rebuilt in 42 B.C. by the aedile L. Munazius Plancus. The large podium, still extant and entirely faced in travertine, 40 meters long, 22.50 meters wide and 9 meters high, dates to this phase.

As indicated by the inscription on the architrave, the temple was once more restored in 283 A.D. after a fire. The six columns in grey granite on the front, the two in red granite on the sides and the pediment, consisting mostly of reused blocks, belong to this period. A great deal of building material from the structure of 42 B.C. was in fact reemployed. Even the columns do not always pair up with the bases, which vary in style, and with the Ionic capitals. An avant-corps in front of the base consisted of two podia, separated by a flight of stairs which led to the temple. One of these must have contained the headquarters of the Roman State Treasury. The threshold is still to be seen on the side facing the Forum. On the same side a series of regularly arranged  holes reveals the presence of a rectangular panel on which the public documents regarding the treasury must have been posted. The cella of the temple contained the statue of the god which was carried in procession for triumphal rites.

When this temple was built, Rome was passing through a particularly critical period due to extensive famines, epidemics and a severe economic and commercial crisis which characterized the years subsequent to the fall of the monarchy. Evidence of the sense of distress which took hold of the Roman people is the erection in these years of a number of temples: to Saturn in 497 B.C., to Mercury, protector of commerce, in 495 B.C., to Ceres, goddess of the earth and fertility, in 493 B.C. The building of the temple of Saturn must also be seen in this light for the god, before being identified with the Greek Cronos, was venerated for a particular characteristic known as “Lua Saturni” (The verb luo means to loosen, to liberate, lustrum means purification), in other words the possibility of freeing the city from its afflictions.

The Column Of Phocas

This column was the last monument erected in the Forum. It stands on a stepped brick base and is set in front of the Rostra. The marble Corinthian column is 13.60 meters high and was undoubtedly taken from an older monument. The dedicatory inscription informs us that Smaragdo the esarch of Italy in A.D. 608 set a statue in gilded bronze of the Byzantine emperor Phocas on the top, and sings his praise. Actually Phocas was famous for his cruelty. To begin with he acquired the throne by assassinating his predecessor Mauricius and his children. However he gained particular merit in Rome because in A.D. 608 he presented Pope Boniface IV with the Pantheon which was transformed into a church the following year.

The Temple Of Castor And Pollux

Facing on the square of the Roman Forum to the west of the Arch of Augustus, the temple is separated from the Vicus Tuscus by the east side of the Basilica of Gaius and Lucius.

Tradition connects the founding of the temple to a popular legend in ancient Rome: during the battle of the lake of Regillus in 496 B.C. between Romans and Latins, two unknown young horsemen with a burst of energy led the Romans to victory and immediately thereafter the two were seen in the forum watering their horses at the fountain of Juturna and after announcing the route of the enemy they disappeared in thin air. They were identified as the Dioscuri and in thanks for their aid the dictator Aulus Postumius Albinus vowed to build them a temple. The building was dedicated by his son, duumvir in 484 B.C. and completely rebuilt in 117 B.C. by L. Cecilius Metellus Dalmaticus, after his victory over the dalmations, enlarging the podium.

The temple was once more restored by Verres (governor of Sicily, attacked by Cicero in the Verrine) in 73 B.C. The last definitive reconstruction was by Tiberias after the fire of 14 B.C. with a new dedication of A.D. 6.

What remains dates back to this time. The temple was peripteral with eight corinthian columns on its short sides and eleven on its long sides and with a cella on a concrete base (opus caementicium) (m. 50x30x7), originally faced with tufa blocks which were removed in modern times and reused. In the Forma Urbis (marble plan of Rome from the age of Septimius Severus) the building has a central staircase not found by the archaeologists who uncovered two lateral flights of stairs. It may have been eliminated in one of the restorations to make room for the tribune of the Rostra, which together with the one in front of the Temple of Divus Julius and the Rostras of the Comitia, comprised the “Rostra Tria” mentioned in the sources for the Forum.

The podium we now see dates to the restoration carried out by Metellius in 117 B.C. as do the stretches of black and white mosaic on the floor of the cella.

During the republican period senate meetings were held in the temple and after the middle of the 2nd century B.C. the podium also became a tribune for magistrates and orators in the legislative meetings that took place in this part of the forum square. It was from here that Caesar proposed his agrarian reforms. The building became the headquarters for the office of weights and measures as well and during the period of the Empire part of the treasury of the tax office was kept in rooms in the long sides. Some of these were also bankers offices.

The cult of the Dioscuri was originally Greek and it was imported into Rome via the cities in Magna Graecia. These twins, sons of Zeus and Leda, were skillful horsemen both in war and in competitions and therefore were the patrons of the Olympic Games, and in Rome, of the Circus games. This is why both in Magna Graecia and in Rome they were the tutelary gods of the equestrian aristocracy. In front of the temple in the Forum, the cavalry corps orrefed a sacrifice in their honor and passed in review before the censors.

The Roman Forum

Forum Romanum. Photo by Branislav L. Slantchev.

Situated in a valley between the Palantine, the Capitoline and the Esquiline hills, the area was originally a most inhospitable zone, swampy and unhealthy, until surprisingly modern reclamation work was carried out by the king Tarquinius Priscus, who provided the area with a highly developed drainage system (Cloaca Maxima). Once this reclamation work was finished, the Roman forum became a place for trade and barter. Numerous shops and a large square known as the market square were built and a zone was set apart for public ceremonies. It was here that the magistrates were elected, the traditional religious holidays were kept and those charged with various crimes were judged by a real court organization. After the Punic wars, thanks to the extraordinary development of the city, the urban fabric of the Forum took on a new look. As early as the 2nd century B.C., various basilicas, Porcia, Sempronia and Aemilia, were built, the temples of the Castors and of Concordia were rebuilt, and the network of roads connecting the Forum to the quarters of the city continued to grow. After various transformations under the emperor Augustus, the Roman Forum became so large as to be considered the secular, religious and commercial center of the city. After a period in which secular and political interests centered on other parts of the city, the Roman Forum reacquired its orginal prestige under Maxentius and Constantine who ordered the construction of the Temple of Romulus and the great Basilica of Constantine. With the decadence of the Roman Empire, the splendid venerable structures of the Forum were severely damaged by the Barbarian invasions, especially the Goths 410 A.D. and the vandals 455 A.D. The Roman Forum meanwhile became a place of worship for the early Christians who built the churches of SS. Sergio e Bacco (on the Via Sacra), of S. Adriano (on the curia), SS. Cosma e Damiano (Temple of Peace). As time passed, the Forum was completely abandoned. What was left of the antique monuments was used by the people or demolished. During the Middle Ages the Forum became a pasture for sheep and cattle (hence its name of Campo Vaccino). For many centuries the prestige of the Roman Forum was a thing of the past. Not until the early 20th century was there a systematic re-evaluation of the area with excavation campaigns which lasted for various decades and which brought back to light the splendid evidence of the Rome of the kings as well as that of the republic and the empire.