10 Things I Learned About Ancient Rome

I just got back from a vacation to Rome! I don’t have any pictures or souvenirs because this vacation was more imaginary than real. Thanks to my student loans, I was only able to explore the great city and the history of the Roman Empire through my most recent book SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard. I won’t bore you with the details of the Roman Empire because I think my last few posts have been a little dry. I do have a funny anecdote and a short list that may pique your interest in Roman history. First the anecdote. I was reading this book at 8:30 in the morning outside the Secretary of State. The doors were locked until 9:00 am but the gracious staff members had allowed people to queue just outside the main seating area. This small vestibule was packed full of people and the well-structured line that had originally formed soon morphed into a large blob. This DMV-amoeba was made up of young and old who were anxious for the doors to open – so they could get on with their day. I had my book and was trying to read when a large woman answered her phone. This phone conversation was not meant for the waiting vestibule of the Secretary of State – most people began to shuffle their feet when her voice began to rise.

ni8zpn-b88308342z-120150115181534000g5l7e07v-10

I tried to focus on my book but I thought of something right at that moment that really brought ancient Rome to life. I was reading a book about a city in which there was probably a similar scenario over 2000 years ago. It made me think about Romans and their own frustrating moments – allowing me to see the humanity of a long lost society. Eventually, the doors opened and we shuffled in as if entering the Colosseum itself. This is a simple antidote but it is important to remember that when we read about the past we forget that people lived fairly routine lives that are often times looked over. I guess my point is that we can’t look over the details of the Secretary of State waiting room – those details sometimes teach us more than a book. Below find nine interesting thoughts about Ancient Rome.

roman20empire20expansion20under20caesar2c20augustus20and20then20trajan

  1. The letters SPQR stand for “The Senate and the Roman people” – the war cry of the expanding empire.
  2. The founders of Rome were Romulus and Remus who were abandoned as infants and survived by sucking on the milk of a wolf – another name for a wolf in early Latin was a prostitute.
  3. Roman public baths were a regular source of infectious diseases and many Roman dignitaries died from infection after visiting them.
  4. Rome itself was ridden with malaria because of its location next to the water and the humid climate – disease killed more Romans than any invading barbarian horde.
  5. The Roman law laid out best practices for killing infants who were not desired.
  6. Rome was the first city in the world to reach a population of 1,000,000 people.
  7. Rome was founded in the 8th century BC – a simple town for many years before it began to control rival towns on the Italian Penisula.
  8. The city of Rome’s population in the first century BC was estimated to be 40% slaves – all different races and ethnicities.
  9. Emperor Caligula was supposed to have made his horse a consul and priest.
  10. Emperor Tiberius was supposed to have trained small boys to swim underneath him while in a pool and nibble on his genitals.

I hope these facts piqued your interest and help you appreciate a future vacation to the city of Rome or maybe just give you something to think about while waiting at the Secretary of State.

Cold Comfort Farm

“Well,’ said Mrs Smiling, ‘it sounds an appalling place, but in a different way from all the others. I mean, it does sound interesting and appalling, while the others just sound appalling.”

-Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm

I once went through this weird phase where I wanted to be a gentleman farmer. I spent countless hours researching heirloom crops to grow and obscure breeds of animals to raise. I romanticized the agrarian lifestyle; always picturing myself leaning on a fence looking out at a pasture of sheep or goats. I thought there was no better life of freedom or satisfaction – at the end of the day I could kiss Christina, eat apple pie, and read the Bible to my 10 children. In an attempt to test the waters of farming, I convinced my parents to put a garden in the backyard. To make the long story short, I dreaded watering and weeding the stupid thing and when something did finally grow, a wild beast ate it before I could gain any tangible satisfaction.

beautifulveggiegarden-1000

After that failed attempt at farming, I put my rural dreams to the side and took up a much more suitable occupation – reading books and writing obscure blog posts. Every now and again the dream resurfaces of eating pie while staring at my goats but Christina usually squashes them with an impersonation of myself during the aforementioned gardening days…”(in an old man voice) Oh, my backkkkk, I fricking hate bending over, I need a chair to sit down to get these things out.” This precarious relationship with agriculture framed my mindset while reading the 1932 classic Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons – a parody of the rural novels from 19th century England. Suffice it to say it motivated new Google searches for “how to garden in a wheelchair.”

giphy

The title of Cold Comfort Farm is named after the main farm in the book and paints the picture of natural beauty while simultaneously highlighting the backwardness of rural England. The main character, Flora, comes to the farm to essentially mooch off her relatives with free room and board. Her relatives, the Strakadders, are best described as Sussex hillbillies who are superstitious, uneducated, and set in their ways – even though their ways make zero sense. Flora spends the book, in a quite hilarious manner, fixing the Strakadders problems, and facilitating them to lead better lives. At first, it is slow going, but with finesse and humor, Flora helps each member to truly blossom to their full potential.

ifinditfunnyasthatthepeoplewho_64bf52c51330d2b4d16a3d500231923b

This novel is meant to show that no person is irredeemable and that the countryside not only has beautiful landscape but also beautiful people. England at the time was still quite pretentious when it came to class differences and Cold Comfort Farm is a direct attack on the negative attributes of the “stiff upper lip.”  It is not that Flora tries to change the Strakadders into pompous-city folk but rather helps them see their skills in a new light – leading them in the first steps towards their lifelong dreams. Many times we judge others who live differently and we try to change them to be reflections of ourselves; like a farmer trying to coerce me to weed when I am just more suited for Wikipedia.  In a world rife with division – Republican/Democrat, Rural/City, North/South, Black/White – we need to be reminded of this more than ever.