All posts by Giulia Cipriani

Piranesi-tiberina

Island of Healing: the Tiber Island

For those who don’t know, Rome has an island too. Yes, an island in the river Tiber, straight in the city center. Don’t be surprised…We have everything here! It is one of the most charming places in the city, always quiet except during raining season when it always risks to be flooded :-)
Of course, it’s story couldn’t be just normal, it’s Rome guys, it is indeed long and really interesting, starting from the very beginning, its origins … actually it’s an island made of a tuff core with alluvial ground on top….Boring, right? And that’s why we have a better story to tell about how this island was actually made…

isola tiberina

The Origins

According to the legend, everything started in 509 B.C. when the son of Tarquin the Proud, the last of the Seven Kings, raped the noblewoman Lucretia from Ardea, causing the revolt of the Roman people (well done guys!) and the overthrow and exile of his father, i.e. the end of the Roman monarchy. Destroying something that was own by the declined tyrant after the revolt it’s a must, hence Roman people gathered up the wheat from the king’s fields in Campus Martius (in a rural society harvest was the Wealth) and threw it into the river: spike after spike, this became the Tiber Island!

Aesculapius

Time goes by and we don’t know how this heap of grain was used  until the year 293 BC when Rome was struck by a terrible plague. The Senators, in charge to protect the citizen of Rome, used the most suited solution in case of serious crisis… Emergency safety rules? Quarantine for the sick people? No way. They needed a super consulence for this serious issue. So they consulted the Sibylline Books, a collection of Greek oracular utterances purchased by the Tarquin himself by a sibyl :) The response was clear and … effective: built a temple dedicated to Aesculapius,  the Greek god of medicine and healing!
Anyway building a temple for a new god was something that needed a procedure: Romans sent a ship to Epidaurus, seat of the most celebrated healing center in the ancient world, to ask for the statue of the god. What they got was a snake, symbol of the god (hence supposed personification of him), who jumped on the boat and curled itself around the mast.
Once in Rome the snake slithered off the ship and went on the island:  a superstitious Roman couldn’t have asked for a better response! Indeed this was for sure the best position for an hospital as it was provided with a natural spring, running water and an insulation that offered a secure belt in case of quarantine: the snake apparently knew what’s what  :-)

In 298 BC the temple was inaugurated: the whole island was modeled with travertine structures to resemble a ship (few remains are still visible on the south side) and a obelisk was the mast.

prua isola tiberina

Around the temple were porches used as an hospital. Well, the snake knew where to built an hospital actually, but not exactly as an hospital works …
At that time the idea of healing was the incubatio: people went to temple and spent the night under the porches … while they were sleeping the god went around healing the people or leaving them prescriptions or drugs. Of course only if they had left an appropriate offer for him.

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What Happened After the Romans?

Despite its efficiency in healing people (just kidding :-D) the temple landed up as all the pagan temples when the empire became Christian: closed and abandoned. We don’t know exactly what happened later. In the 10th century on the island, again due to the position,  a fortress was built by the Pierleoni family (a tower still exists). In the meantime the former temple of Aesculapius was turned in a church, that of St. Bartholomew. With the renovated sacralisation of the area the story of the healing water showed up again and a well was built to draw it. Unfortunately, due to the water pollution, instead of heal people it usually made them die, hence the well was closed with a grid that still exists!

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The New Hospital

Anyway the position was too yummy for an hospital and a new one  was founded here in 1548  (12 centuries later) by the followers of St. John of God. It still exists with the name of “Fatebenefratelli” that means “Do well, brothers”. It sounds funny but indeed wasn’t an exhortation for the doctors: it comes from the sing-song that priests repeated during the money collection :-) Even though is really tempting the idea of seeing a continuity during the centuries in the way this island was used, as healing center since the very ancient time until today, probably this isn’t true. It seems that during the 5th century it was used as a prison…another place that take advantage of the insulation…not exactly as efficient as Alcatraz but a kind of :)

Teeth and Records

Since the beginning this hospital was renowned for its dentists. The most famous was the Florentine friar Giovanni Battista Orsenico: he owes his fame to the fact that he was able to extract the teeth by hand, without pincers and, mostly, pain. He practiced between 1868 and 1904 and collected ALL the teeth extracted in three boxes: in 1903 they were opened and it turned out that he owned 2,000,744 teeth, that means an average of 185 teeth for day! This lead the friar straight in the Guinness World Records: he still hold the record for the “largest collection of human teeth“! :)

>> Tweet this part of the story <<

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The Infamous Column

And finally the last story: what happened to the mast-obelisk that decorated the island? It seems that it fell down in the 16th century and was replaced by a column with a cross on top. It was known later as the Infamous Column as on it was put up the list of the “bandits who didn’t take the holy communion on Easter day” (Oh yes, this really was considered a crime!). One of those was the Roman engraver Bartolomeo Pinelli, famous for his lascivious life, who ended up in the list in 1834. As soon as he saw his name on the list completely freaked out, not much for having been held up as an unbeliever, but for having been defined a miniaturist instead of engraver! :) This column doesn’t exist anymore: it was broken hit by a chariot (on purpose?) and substituted in 1869 with the monument still visible today.

If you liked the story browse for other Tales of Rome and don’t forget to follow my updates on Twitter and Facebook! And share this story!


Pictures Credits:

  • View of the Tiber Island – G.B. Piranesi, 18th cent.
  • Isola Tiberina  – CC BY 2.0 – Maurizio Sacco
  • Remains of the travertine prow – CC BY 2.0 – Anthony Majanlahti
  • The Temples and Cult of Asclepius – Robert Thom
  • Well in the Church of St. Bartholomew – CC BY SA 2.0 – Mararie
  • Ignazio Jacometti’s “Guglia di Pio IX” – CC BY SA 3.0 – Blackcat

 

Piranesi-2042

Kissed by Fortune: Freedmen in the Ancient Rome

Some weeks ago one of my followers asked me to make a post about liberti, the Roman freedmen … so here I am: I hope you will like it :-)

Slaves and Freedmen

There is so much to say about slavery in the ancient Rome that talking about it would bring us a bit out of topic. Anyway there were basically two reason why someone became a slave: being captured as a war prisoner or run up debts. Of course also being a slave’s son.

Roman_collared_slaves_-_Ashmolean_Museum

Whatever was the cause, slaves always had the hope to be freed by their master. This could happen usually when the slave was in his thirties and had nothing to do with Romans’ generosity. The reason was mostly financial: a slave was quite a valuable good, hence his death meant a loss of money for his master. To free up a slave was a way to get back part of this money, because the slave must pay his freedom.
The other reason is that the hope for freedom worked as a deterrent against revolts.

Slaves were freed through a legal ceremony called the Manumissio, during which the master gave the slave a special hat called the Phrygian cap, Pileus in Latin, that the freedman always had to wear in public occasions. This oriental hat was originally used by the priests of the God Sun and by the Eastern rulers. We don’t know exactly the reason why it became the freedmen  feature, anyway because of this use it also became a symbol of freedom and, with this meaning, it was still used in very modern times…

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It was used, for example, during the French Revolution: look this very famous painting: “Liberty Leading the People” by Eugene Delacroix … well Liberty is wearing a pileus! It is also used in the coat of arms of many nations (like Haiti, Cuba, Argentina, El Salvador, Nicaragua, etc.) as in that of many other institutions, including one that Americans know very well: that of the U.S. Senate!
And finally, as I told you already, this is also the typical Smurfs’ headgear … maybe there is a murky revolutionary past behind this little funny characters that we don’t know :D

Click to Tweet this: Did you know that #Smurfs could have a murky revolutionary past? http://wp.me/p4k861-9m #history #archaelogy #phrygiancap via @talesofrome

 

The Status

Once a slave was freed, he acquired some rights, even if couldn’t be never considered as a born free Roman citizen. Mostly, freedmen hadn’t political rights, that means they couldn’t perform high public offices. This happened because, for the Romans, the most important difference between a slave and a free man was that the first wasn’t supposed to have a soul, the animus. A slave was a man without a moral autonomy: he was totally and completely identified with his master’s will. And, of coursem, a man with no will can’t be a good magistrate … Oh, there is still so much to learn from the Romans!

The Fortuna’s Sons

Freedmen were also dubbed as Fortuna’s son because their sell as slaves determined their future life: they could be forced to work in quarries, with the likely destiny to die for the strain much before they reached their thirties, or become their master’s favourite, with the hope to have the freedom and even an inheritance. This was the case of Clesippus.

Clesippus the Laundryman

The Roman writer Pliny the Elder tells the story of Clesippus, a slave who lived in Rome in the first century BC. We don’t know much about him: where was he from? how did he became a slave? was he white or black? tall or short?… we only know that he was hunchbacked and also “repellent in the rest of his aspect”. What we can deduce is that he probably had some secret virtues … and we’ll soon see which :)

As a slave, he work in a laundrette. With no washing machines it was really a dirty job: hand-washing  was very tiring and this was not the worst part. In launderettes, clothes were also coloured and, without the help of chemical products, colours were fixed with urine! Something that you can really call a shitty job :) 

It happened that the laundrette went out of business hence Clesippus was sold at auction, as the other goods. Actually he was sold in the same batch of a very precious bronze candlestick – and this became the reason of his luck. The cost for both (probably mostly for the fine bronze work) was 50000 sesterces. The batch was acquired by the noble and rich widow Gegania. She was a little bit cruel, too: during a banquet, she was showing the stuff she bought to her friends and, to keep her guests amused, forced Clesippus to undress and show all his deformities. Once Clesippus was naked, Gegania probably saw much more than his hump: in fact … she fell in love with him and became his lover! :)
This sentiment was so strong, that, after her death, Gegania left him not only freedom but also all her assets making him a rich man! Clesippus was really aware of the fact that all his luck was originally linked to the beautiful candlestick, so aware that he started to worship it as a god.

clesippo

After his death Clesippus was buried in a magnificent mausoleum, worthy of his richness, on the Appian way, near the modern city of Latina. The funeral inscription tell us that he also performed some public offices (not the higher ones precluded to the freedmen, of course).

An Extra Tip

As I told you already, this post was done on request, therefore is a bit different from the others: it didn’t start with a geographical place or monument. Anyway also in this post I want to leave you with a suggestion about something to see when you’ll finally come to visit Rome: the Columbarium of Augustus’ Freedmen – a burial monument  on the Appian way, just outside the city center.
The Columbarium contains about 3000 niches, built to store the deaths’ ashes. The inscriptions found there tells us that this was the cemetery of the slaves freed by the emperor Augustus.

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Anyway if you are thinking about an hard walk through the Roman ruin, well, you are totally wrong and this visit maybe much more enjoyable than you can expect. In fact around the year 1730 this place was transformed in a hosteria, a typical Roman restaurant … and that’s what it still is!!! Where else, if not in Rome, can you dine in an ancient cemetery? A little grim maybe…but, well, just avoid dishes with bones :D

Click to Tweet this: Where else, if not in #Rome, can you dine in an ancient cemetery? Just avoid dishes with bones :D  http://wp.me/p4k861-9m via @talesofrome

If you liked the story browse for other Tales of Rome and don’t forget to follow my updates on Twitter and Facebook!

Click to share this story! >> Kissed by Fortune: discover the life of Freedmen in Ancient #Rome on @talesofrome http://wp.me/p4k861-9m #history #slavery #archaelogy 


Pictures Credits:

  • Roman slaves – CC BY 2.0 – Jun
  • “Liberty Leading the People” – Eugene Delacroix, 1830
  • View of the Mausoleum of Clesippus – XIX century
  • View of the Columbarium of Augustus’ Freedmen – Giovanni Battista Piranesi, 1756
Piranesi-17021

What An Arch Can Tell: a Story of Hate in the Ancient Rome

On today’s post I would like to talk about a monument that gives us the opportunity to dig into different aspects of the Roman Society.

The Arch Of Septimius Severus

Leaning down the slopes of the Capitoline hill, the massive marble profile of the Arch of Septimius Severus is one of the most characteristic images of the Roman Forum…. I’m quite sure that if you have been in Rome and visited the Forum, you have a picture of it.

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It was dedicated in 302 to celebrate the emperor’s victory over the Parthians, a population that ruled one of the biggest empire of the ancient world, spanned between Turkey and Iran.

There is too much to say about the triumphal arches and the Triumphus, that we would need another post for it…in the meanwhile take a look here :-)

Who Was Septimius Severus?

Septimius Severus was a Roman general who, while in 193 was leading the legions in Cornutum (Lower Austria), was acclaimed as an emperor by his own soldiers, after the death of the previous emperor Pertinax. In the meanwhile all over the Roman empire the soldiers acclaimed other three emperors…too many for just one city and so, after a bloody war, Septimius Severus smote all the rivals and became the only ruler in 197.

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Anyway there is still something that you should know about him: if you are imagining a genuine Roman, born and raised in the Urbs, well, you are totally wrong! He was indeed born in Leptis Magna, corresponding to the modern city of Lebda, Libya… yes, he was African! Longer before Barack Obama, Romans had their own black ruler and with such a less clamor than today!

Actually on Roman time no one cared about the color of someone’s skin. Racism, as we are used to think of it, didn’t exist in the ancient Rome. What really mattered was just being a Roman citizen, or not. This could make the difference in many crucial occasions. Of course citizens had more rights than the strangers. For example, when someone was sentenced to death there were different kinds of execution:  less cruel for the citizens, imaginatively cruel for the strangers.  Not such a great benefit you could think…but I’m quite sure that your thought would be different if you were going to be eaten slowly by a lion instead of being quickly beheaded!

When Saint Paul was imprisoned and was going to be judged in Jerusalem for his Christian preaching he asserted his citizenship saying “Civis Romanus sum”… translated “Eat my shorts! I’m a citizen and I have the right of a fair trial in Rome!”

Actually what that also mattered was the census, money as always. But at least no one was discriminated for his race or religion (“And what about the Christians?” you may ask. Well, this is another topic that needs another entire post. Anyway just let me say about this that God wasn’t the real problem. Politics was. Trust me :-) )

A Multicultural Society

Rome had a very multicultural society. People from all over the Roman empire (that at its apex spanned from Spain to Iran and from Britain to North Africa) lived in Rome and you could see people of any culture and religion and listen almost each spoken language.

Roman_Empire_Trajan_117AD

Indeed Septimius’ family was really multicultural too: he married Julia Domna a Syrian girl daughter of the supreme priest of El Gabal (there had been an horoscope predicting that she was destined to become a king’s wife. And that’s why Septiums married her….Ah the love!). Together they had two sons, Caracalla, born in 188 in Lugdunum (France) and Geta, born in 189 in Rome.

A Dysfunctional Family

Geta was the younger son and, as sometimes happen in every age,  he was often neglected by his father. Of course this generated conflicts and rivalries between the brothers, often moderated by Julia. If you are thinking to the typical skirmish between brothers, well, wait for the rest of the story…

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We started with the arch that – despite they were just teenagers – was indeed dedicated also to Caracalla and Geta and this is what we expect to find on the inscription but wait…look carefully at the fourth line from the top: it was clearly erased and rewritten. And, no worries, you don’t need to learn Latin, I can tell you: there is no mention of the poor Geta.

The Disappearance Of Geta

In 208 Septimius went to Britain to fight the local tribes: that war was a hard life. Four years later, when he was almost near to die, he decided to name his two sons as co-emperors: this meaning they were supposed to rule together after the death of their father.

It is said that Septimius’ last words to his sons were: “Love your brother, enrich the soldiers and scorn all the other men”…Well Caracalla got 2 of 3. Let’s see…

Enrich The Soldiers: Done

He made a currency reform to raise the money to increase soldiers’s wage.

051_Caracalla

Love Your Brother: Failed!

As I wrote before, there was a huge rivalry between the two brothers, but Caracalla solved it in the most drastic, and efficient actually, way: he murdered Geta in the arms of their mother! Hard co-ruling? Maybe. But  Geta was murdered soon after his father’s death! Probably the main reason was just Caracalla’s hate for the world…and here we are at the third point…

Scorn All The Other Men: Done, Well Done!

For this last warning we have plenty of examples…
Around 205 he had his father in law, Plautianus, assassinated. Soon after, he exiled his wife Fulvia Plautilla and her brother to Lipari island…and this was just a happy period: later they have been, of course, killed.

Is this not enough? Family doesn’t count? Well, after Geta’s death, in Alexandria of Egypt was performed a comedy in which Caracalla was twitted because he had said (true story) that he had killed Geta for his own legitimate defense. Come on guys! Are you kidding me? Did you trust in Caracalla’s sense of humor? Of course they were punished: 20.000 citizens of Alexandria were put to death!

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The Hate Pays Off

So much hate had consequences: in 217 Caracalla was murdered by Julius Martialis, the officer of his own bodyguard as a revenge for having killed Martialis’ brother.

So much hate deserve to be remembered too: the Renaissance politician and writer Machiavelli in his masterpiece “The Prince” mentioned Caracalla as an example of the cruel and ruthless prince (in chapter 19, “That one should avoid being despised and hated”). Anyway Machiavelli didn’t criticized him for his cruelty (that had made his father great) but for having kept with him a bodyguard whose brother he had killed before.

The Inscription

Finally: why the inscription was erased? Because, as if having been killed weren’t enough, Geta had also the damnatio memoriae, usually reserved to those who had sullied the Roman reputation.

Septimusseverustondo

Geta’s name was erased from each Roman monument, as his portraits (look that above!), as if he never existed!

Poor Geta!So finally this post is a small compensation for him: all cheer Geta! :-)

If you liked the story browse for other Tales of Rome and don’t forget to follow my updates on Twitter and Facebook! And share this story!


Pictures Credits:

  • View of the Arch of Septimius Severus – Giovanni Battista Piranesi, 1774
  • View of the Arch of Septimius Severus – CC BY 2.0 – Jean Christophe Benoist
  • Bust of Septimius Severus – II sec. AD – Glyptothek,  Munich
  • Map of the Roman empire at its greatest extent- CC BY-SA 3.0 – Tataryn77
  • Inscription of the Arch of Septimius Severus – CC BY-SA 2.0 – Arienne McCracken
  • Denarius of Caracalla – 217 AD
  • Geta and Caracalla – Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1907
  • Tondo showing the Severan dynasty, 199-200 AD – Berlin, Antikensammlung

 

 

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Portunus and Saint Mary of Egypt. Stories of Harbors and Prostitutes

As you may recall, my latest post was about Hercules and his temple in Piazza Bocca della Verità. Anyway in this place there is so much history than we need much more than just a post to discover all the marvelous stories! So today I want to tell you about another corner of this square, nearer to the banks of the river Tiber where, still nowadays, there is a Roman temple perfectly preserved, the Temple of Portunus.

The Temple of Portunus and the Ancient Harbour of Rome

 

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Portunus, as the name says was the Roman god of harbors and doors (portus and porta in Latin): this was indeed the place of the first river port of the city. To be honest the very reason for the existence of Rome itself has to be search in this place: here is the Tiber Island, the most suitable spot to cross the river and natural confluence point of all the most ancient and important roads connecting the mountain region of central Italy with the coast.

The temple was built for the first time at the end of the fourth century B.C. but during the centuries was rebuilt many times…as you can imagine flooding were quite frequent here :)

As all the pagan temple it was abandoned when the Roman empire became Christian.  Anyway in 872 pope John VIII transformed the temple in a church dedicated to Saint Mary of Egypt. Why a female Saint in a port? Well, you’ll see soon that the story of this woman is connected in many different ways to ports and sea…

Why Saint Mary of Egypt?

According to tradition she was born in Alexandria in 344 – that is a port city, by the way; when she was twelve years old, she ran away from her parents house and began  a completely dissolute life, earning by begging or whoring.

Icon_of_Mary_of_Egypt_(Mstera,_19th_c.)

After 17 years of this lively life she met a group of pilgrims who were going to ship for Jerusalem and thought: “Jerusalem, why not?…Oh no! I’ve no money to pay the trip… Oh yes, I’m a prostitute so …!”. Ok, maybe not exactly with this words and this thoughts but fonts much more religious than me say that she seduced the men.

Anyway when she arrived in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre she couldn’t enter, stopped by an unseen force. And here begins her conversion: she prayed and finally decided to abandon the dissolute life and live as penitent. Well you should have already understood at this point that she was a girl of extreme decisions: not a simple conversion, may be not a life of prayers, no, she started a walk of penitence in the desert, and not for a month, no, FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE, eating only grass. 47 years – and many kilos lost – later she met Zosimo, a monk of a Palestinian monastery, who described her as a thin (really?) woman and almost naked, covered only by her long white, woolly hair. What did she ask to Zosimo? Food? No way! She asked his cloak to cover her nudity so that she could tell him the whole story. A year later Zosimo came back to the desert and found her death and still cover with  his cloak. According to tradition, a lion dug her tomb with its claws.

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The Church of Saint Mary of Egypt

This is the story of Saint Mary and maybe now you are more aware about why the church, near the river and  in a place frequented mostly by sailors and foreign people (do you remember the presence of Greeks?) was dedicated to a former prostitute.

This was much more than just a symbolic dedication. Here was probably the most important brothel of Rome, whose origins seems to begin in the ancient Rome. There are no certain proofs about it, anyway the presence of the port is a significant indication. But there is more: nearby is also set the myth of Acca Larentia.

Acca Larentia

We already met Acca Larentia as the wife of the shepherd Faustulus who found and raised the twins Romulus and Remus. In another version of the myth, she was a prostitute in Rome who (was she tired of her old job? Who knows) went to temple of Hercules and spent there the night praying the god to help her. The next morning when she came out of the temple met the man who later became her husband, an Etruscan rich man named Tarrutius … much more better than The Dating Game!

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When the husband died she inherited all his properties that left to the people of Rome at the end of her life. To thank her, Ancus, the third king of Rome, allowed her to be buried in the Velabrum and instituted the annual feast of the Accalia or Larentaria in her honor. Well, the Velabrum was exactly here, the valley between the Palatine hill and the river.

Prostitutes all-over the centuries

If the tradition about Larentia as a prostitute is true, looks like this tradition dates back to the Roman time, up to the Middle Age and, as shown by the presence of the Church of Saint Mary of Egypt, until the modern era.

In fact since at least the 15th century, in the intent to restore the morality of the city of the Pope, the prostitutes of Rome were all relegated in a kind of ghetto, known as the “burdelletto“, the small brothel. Guess what? The chosen place was exactly this one, with the hope that the example of Saint Mary would help the lost women in their redemption!

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Once again we have seen as things don’t change so much during the centuries :)

If you liked the story browse for other Tales of Rome and don’t forget to follow my updates on Twitter and Facebook! And share this story!


Pictures Credits:

  • Temple of Portunus – CC BY 2.0 – Anthony Majanlahti
  • Icon of Saint Mary of Egypt – Russia, late 19th cent.
  • Detail of a miniature of Mary of Egypt – France, 15th cent.
  • Acca Larentia by Jacopo della Quercia (Santa Maria della Scala Hospital, Siena)- CC BY-SA 3.0 – Combusken
  • The Church of Saint Mary of Egypt – Giuseppe Vasi, 18th cent.

 

 

 

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Greeks in Rome. The Ara Maxima Herculis and Santa Maria in Cosmedin

Just few days ago we celebrated Rome’s 2767th birthday. During this long, long period many things happened and changed. The city of the pagan gods became the cornerstone of the Christian  religion, kings, consuls, emperors, other kings, princes and presidents passed. Monuments were built and destroyed and then rebuilt again. Incredibly enough, some aspects remained pretty much stable over the centuries and, with this post, I would like to tell you a cool story showing exactly one of these things.

Our story starts with a legendary giant named Cacus who, according to the Roman tradition, had his den on the slopes of the Aventine hill, near the river Tiber.

The Giant Cacus

Kakos in Greek means “bad” that’s what the giant was. Virgil described him as a monster that was human and beast at the same time; around his house, the cave, the ground was always a red lake because of the blood of the people that he used to eat. To add some more horror, he used to preserve the head of the eaten ones and nail them to the entrance of his cave. I don’t want to imagine the smell of his breath :) … horrific! But actually the smell was just a pinprick: he was god Vulcan’s son and the main heritage he had from his father was the ability to breath fire. I hope at least that he used it to cook the human flesh :)

Hercules_killing_Cacus_at_his_Cave

According to his name Cacus, the bad, used to terrified the people living in the village on the top of the Palatine hill. How and why this village was founded is another long story, enough material for another post, in the meanwhile take a look here. According to the legend, most of the people living in the Palatine village had Greek origins. Remember, we are still talking about a legend, but there are certain proofs that Greeks frequented this place at least since the 8th century B.C., if not before (that means before the foundation of Rome itself).

This was the frightful situation until Hercules, the Greek hero, landed  on the banks of the river Tiber. He was coming back to Greece after he had captured Geryon’s oxen (Geryon was another monster, living on an island in the Mediterranean Sea, and this was the tenth Labour of  Hercules) and decided to stop here in Rome.

After the long trip the hero was tired – yes, also heroes sleep – and decided to take a nap near the place where he landed. Now it happen that this nap place was close enough to the cave of Cacus who, while Hercules was sleeping, stole some of the oxen – sometime human flesh could be stodgy …hence it’s better to have an alternative!

Cacus brought them into his cave by tugging by the tails. Because of this, the tracks were confused and when Hercules woke up and understood what had happened, couldn’t find the oxen. Anyway when the remaining oxen, free to graze, passed by Cacus’ cave, those that were inside started to moo, letting Hercules discover the thing. No need to say: Hercules killed Cacus and freed the oxen.

Despite the fact that he did it only for selfish reasons, people living around hit the jackpot and finally could stop to be afraid to become the dinner of some bad giant folk.

The Ara Maxima Herculis

To thank the hero, they built a sanctuary dedicated to him, the Ara Maxima Herculis. Well, up to here we are still in the mythological story, anyway the sanctuary actually existed. Many inscriptions, dedicated to Hercules, have indeed been found behind the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, proving that the Ara Maxima was exactly here.

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The remains (or those believed to be the remains by the archaeologist) are still visible under the main altar, in the crypt of the church. They consist in a massive structure of tuff blocks dating at the 2nd century B.C. (the whole area around the Ara was completely rebuilt in that moment to prevent flooding, but for sure there was an older sanctuary). In the 15th century also the cult statue was found here and it’s now exhibited in the Capitoline Museums.

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Because the Ara was built by Greeks, the cult kept Greek features until the imperial era: on the 12th of August, foundation day, an heifer was sacrificed – and then eaten by the faithful – by a priest who used to celebrate with the undressed head, a typical Greek custom. There were also sacred slaves belonging to the sanctuary (another Greek custom).

From Hercules to the Virgin Mary

As it often happened in Rome, after the end of the Roman empire and the arrival of the Christian religion, on the sanctuary a church was built, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Probably already in the 3rd century there was a church here, but the first confirmed tracks date from the 6th century. Around the half of the 8th century  pope Hadrian gave custody of the church to a group of Greek monks seeking for refuge from the iconoclastic persecutions. The monks were already settled here because the Greek community in Rome was there already: this bank of the river was called the Greek bank and the church was known as the Schola Graeca.

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After the Greek monks, the church took the name of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, from kosmidion, ornament, referring the improvement carried out by pope Hadrian.

Why the Greeks, why here

There aren’t certain proofs that this place remains always the seat of the Greek community in Rome, anyway it’s likely for a very simple reason: here was the first river harbor of Rome and here was the place were the Greek merchants arrived a stayed. This was true for centuries, but also at the very beginning of our story: according to the historians the myth of Cacus recall the problems the first Greek merchants had on their arrival. The story of the oxen itself seems also to foreshadow the trade of cattle held here since prehistorical times and still in the imperial era: indeed this place was known as the Forum Boarium, the “cattle market“. This also due to the fact that here was the junction of all the main roads connecting mountains in the central  Italy with the coast, walked by shepherds since almost the 10th century B.C. In a marketplace the presence of a temple was not just a spiritual need: under the god’s protection and guarantee, merchants were free to make business…who could be so brave to cheat someone else under the eyes of Hercules?

Nowadays

So, the Greek presence in Rome, dates back to a long long time ago  and was still a fact in the early Christian era and in the Middle Age. And now?
Well, still today the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin follows the Melkite Greek Catholic rite: since the first construction of the Roman sanctuary this place is characterized by the Greek culture and still today, almost 3000 years later, it’s the same!

Last thing: the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin is pretty famous because within the porch is the well known Mouth of the Truth…but that’s stuff for another post :)

If you liked the story browse for other Tales of Rome and don’t forget to follow my updates on Twitter and Facebook! And share this story!


Pictures Credits:

  • Santa Maria in Cosmedin – by Giuseppe Vasi, 1761
  • Hercules killing the fire-breathing Cacus – by Sebald Beham, 1545
  • Blocks of the Ara Maxima – CC BY SA 3.0 – Lalupa
  • Statue of Hercules in gilded bronze – Capitoline Museums
  • Santa Maria in Cosmedin – CC BY 2.0 – Jeremy Thompson
Tempio di Vesta

Too bad Vestal Virgins weren’t trained as Ninjas

Time has come for another story about women in ancient Rome, this time it will be about a very special group of priestesses: the Vestal Virgins.

Vestal virgins were part of the only female priesthood in Rome and for this reason could be considered a privileged category of women…but you’ll see soon that the balance of duties and privileges was not so fair :)

Who were the Vestal Virgins?

Easy to say, they were the priestesses of the goddess Vesta, one of the most archaic and important divinities of the Roman pantheon. In few word we can say that she was the protector goddess of Rome, goddess of the hearth. Hence she was considered both protector of the Roman families and of the State (the State itself was considered as a great family).
Her temple was in the very heart of the Roman Forum, a small round temple (like the shape of an ancient hut) with a conical roof with a hole in the center: in fact the goddess’s presence inside the temple was symbolized not by a statue but by an always burning fire (and the hole was for the smoke!).

Temple of Vesta

The origin is quite easy to understand: at very beginning of the Roman history, when Rome was still no more than a small group of huts, people understood that was easier preserve a constant fire instead of re-light it each night (specially in the wet months) and, as time went by, this became the hearth of the State. No need to say that the extinction of the fire was considered by the Romans as the worst omen ever that could means the end of Rome itself. Hence to preserve the fire was the main duty of the Vestal Virgins.

The priestesses, in number of six, were drawn from their families between the age of six and ten years old. After this moment they must remain in the priesthood for thirty years: ten years learning, ten years performing and ten years teaching to the novices.

Duties…

A.Marchesini_Dedication_of_a_New_Vestal_Virgin

And here comes the hardest part: for those thirty years the main duty, with the preservation of the fire, was preserve the virginity. They were in fact considered so sacred that no one can neither touch them…are you starting to understand how hard was their life…and that’s nothing, you’ll see.

The rule not to be touched was really unyielding: it means DON’T TOUCH at all, with a lot of consequences. First, sex: hard to have with no touch, so, no sex. The punishment for those who broke the rule was pretty clear: death. And that’s not the worst part: because they were untouchable, they could neither be wounded and their blood could not to be spilled. So, how to kill someone without spilling her blood or even touch her? Easy: bury her alive! Yes, you got it.

The guilty vestal was dressed with funeral clothes, put on a closed litter, like a dead body, and brought in a subterranean room placed just inside the city walls (nearby the present central Termini train station) called the campus sceleratus, the Evil Field. Once there, they were buried alive in the room with just one oil lamp and a small supply of water, bread, milk and oil.

A kind of the famous scene of Kill Bill when Uma Thurman is buried alive…but unfortunately Vestal Virgins weren’t trained as ninjas!

Vestale_d'aprés_Peytavin_

And what happened to the man? (Because there must be a man) Well he had the same punishment of the slaves: he was simply flogged to death in the Roman Forum.
Ok, you could say, the rule is clear: no sex at all. This could be enough to avoid this horrible death, right? Not exactly.
Of course this was the punishment also in case of the extinction of the fire and that’s not enough. Because in life shit happens: if something bad happened to Rome the Vestal Virgins were often considered guilty and used as a scapegoat to please the gods. By reading ancient chronicles seems that, until the end of the Republic, the punishment of the Vestal Virgins was a kind of disguised human sacrifice to please the gods: a plague, a famine, a war defeat could be considered caused by the wrong behavior of a Vestal Virgin and in this case one girl was condemned. This happened to Oppia, Orbilia, Minucia, Tuccia…

…And rights

Anyway: big duty but also big privileges for these women. Vestal Virgins in some way could be considered the only independent women in Rome. They were not subjected to the patria potestas and, unlike the rest of Roman women, were allowed to make a will, testify in a lawsuit, own properties, be brought in a wagon within the city walls, have reserved seats for the games and, after their death, they could be buried in a special cemetery inside the city walls. And more, if a person sentenced to death had the good luck to see a Vestal Virgin on the day of the execution, he was automatically pardoned.

Leighton,_Frederic_-_Invocation

Among the duties of the Vestal Virgin was also the preparation of the mola salsa: this was a mixture of emmer flour and salt that was used in every official sacrifice. It was sprinkled on the head of the animals before they were sacrificed and on holy fires too. Mola salsa, sacrificed animals…does it remind something: the verb to immolate comes exactly from this!

Tweetable quote: “Too bad Vestal Virgins weren’t trained as Ninjas” – Tweet this!

If you liked the story of the Vestal Virgins browse for other Tales of Rome and don’t forget to follow my updates on Twitter and Facebook! And share this story!


Pictures Credits:

  • Reconstruction of the temple of Vesta – from “Trattato di archeologia” by I. Gentile, 1901
  • Ruins of the Temple of Vesta – CC BY 2.0 - HarshLight
  • “Dedication of a New Vestal Virgin”  – by A. Marchesini, 1710
  • “Vestale d’aprés Peytavin” – by C. Normand (1765-1840)
  • “Invocation” – by Frederic Leighton,  (1830–1896)
VasiPropagandaFide

Bernini and Borromini: the Feud of Piazza di Spagna

The whole history of art is full of stories of “sworn enemies”. This time I would like to tell about Bernini and Borromini, the two greatest Baroque artists.

The setting of this story is the beautiful and well-known Piazza di Spagna. Each corner of this amazing place is full of anecdotes: the Spanish Steps, the Fountain, the column of the Immaculate Conception … But this story is about the last hidden corner, on the South side of the square.  Here is the Palazzo (palace) of Propaganda Fide.

Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide

The Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith is the institution of the Roman Curia in charge for the missionary activities and related stuff. It was instituted in 1622 by pope Gregory XV and even now is a very powerful congregation, so powerful that its prefect is called the Red Pope: influential as the pope but red as cardinal! :)

propaganda fide stamp

In 1623, soon after the foundation of the congregation, Gregory XV died. His successor was Urban VIII, the Barberini pope. His papacy was really a grand moment for the history of art, mostly thanks to Bernini’s genius. Bernini was Urban’s official, favorite, ideal artist. The St. Peter’s Baldacchino, the  Ecstasy of Santa Teresa, the Triton Fountain, the Fountain of the Rivers and… I think you got it. The best. Well done Urban! Even though for making his new Rome, he destroyed the ancient one and her many inestimable artworks. Rome’s adage is “What Barbarians didn’t do, the Barberini did”!
The adage is usually related to the bronze used for the Baldacchino, stolen from the Pantheon, but could be adopted for much more :)

Obviously Urban the VIII gave Bernini the task of designing the Palace for the congregation.

Bernini’s work…

Gian_Lorenzo_Bernini,_self-portrait,_c1623

To understand Bernini’s design you should look the facade on Piazza di Spagna: the palace, as conceived by Bernini, is characterized by straight and clear lines: a bricks structure with squared windows. On the top, the coat of arms of Urban the VIII: an empty (blue) field with three bees (wherever in Rome you see the bees  – also here in Piazza di Spagna on the fountain of the Barcaccia – that it’s a Urban’s work. It’s a kind of scavenger hunt!).

propaganda fide bernini

Bernini’s style reflects his personality in some ways: he was a “businessman”, rich, extroverted and very religious. For this reason many of his works are rigorous, because all the works are based on the same proportions of the human body: man was in fact created in God’s likeness, hence his proportion are universal, harmonic and divine.

… and Borromini’s one

Borromini

In 1644 Urban VIII died and Innocent X became the new pope, who substituted Bernini with Borromini on the task of the Propaganda Fide Palace. Anyway the facade on Piazza di Spagna was already done, so he worked on the interiors and on the side. Turn on  via di Propaganda and look the facade: here you can easily seen the difference! Contrary to Bernini, Borromini was anxious, solitary and quick-tempered. His style really reflects his personality: moved, dominated by curves, concavities and convexities. The facade really seems to pop out! And actually many historians of art sustain that this facade seems too much imposing to be seen by this small street: it would need a wider space to be appreciated… That’s not a coincidence.

Palazzo_Propaganda_Fide_Borromini

Guess what there was on the opposite side of the narrow via della Propaganda? …. Bernini’s house, where the artist and his family lived! Well, Borromini’s plan, or better we’ll say his dream, was to demolish the palace to create a wide appropriate square for his facade :)
So deep was the hate between the two artists that Borromini, not satisfied enough to have stolen the job to his rival – who actually was also forced to see the progress of works every day from his own windows – sculpted on the lateral facade of Palazzo di Propaganda Fide a pair of donkey ears. The reply was swift: Bernini sculpted on the shelf of his balcony a penis… yes, you got it, a penis :)

Unfortunately there’s no track of this skirmish because both artifacts were then removed to protect the “public decency“.

What you can still see are the different styles of the two greatest artists of Baroque Rome… Did you already decide between Bernini or Borromini? Well, I didn’t, it’s too hard!

This was just one of the many anecdotes about the rivalry between Bernini and Borromini, so let’s say to be continued


Do you want to feel the sensation to have feet in two different nations? First come to Rome :) Once here go to the main entrance of the Palazzo of Propaganda Fide and enter just with one leg: it’s done! The Palace has indeed the privilege of extraterritoriality, that means that it is part of the Vatican State: that’s why on the facade there’s the Vatican flag.

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Pictures Credits:

  • Palace of the Propagation of the Faith – etching by Giuseppe Vasi
  • Circular ownership stamp “C V P F” from the Collegium Urbanum de Propaganda Fide  – CC BY 2.0 – Kladcat
  • Gian Lorenzo Bernini – self-portrait, 1623
  • View of Palazzo di Propaganda Fide from Piazza di Spagna – CC BY 3.0 – Georges Jansoone
  • Francesco Borromini – portrait, 1630
  • View of Palazzo di Propaganda Fide from via di Propaganda – CC BY 3.0 – Manfred Heyde

 

 

 

 

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Ancient Rome: No country for Women. The story of Cecilia Metella

Women’s day is coming and so, this time, I would like to tell you the story of a Roman woman, Cecilia Metella.

Who was Cecilia?

She likely lived and died around the half of the 1st century BC and soon after her death her family built for her the amazing mausoleum still preserved on the via Appia.
The via Appia was the first road projected and built by the Romans in 312 BC, connecting Rome with Brindisi, the main harbor in South Italy to Greece. Because of its antiquity and importance this was known by the Romans as the Regina Viarum, the queen of the streets.

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Cecilia’s mausoleum was built in the first highest and most prominent spot of the via Appia outside the ancient city walls: hence it was the most visible and majestic tomb of the first and most important Roman road.
Said this, a romantic soul could think that this could be considered a monument to Love, a kind of Roman Taj Mahal: a mausoleum built by an inconsolable husband for the loss of his only love. It would be nice, but, unfortunately, it’s not. Let’s see why.

Piranesi-cecilia metella

The tomb is decorated in the upper part with a low relief with wreaths and oxen skulls, both a reference to religious sacrifices (flowers and oxen were offered to the gods). But the most interesting part is the relief in the central part: here there is an helmet, shields and a prisoner…Quite strange for a woman’s tomb, isn’t it? But it’s not enough: on the front side there is a huge inscription:

Caeciliae Q. Cretici F(iliae) Maetellae Crassi
Cecilia Metella, Quintus Creticus’ daughter, Crassus’ wife”.

And that’s the point: we don’t know anything about her, nothing in the inscription, nothing in the Latin writers. She was two eminent men’s daughter and wife, and that’s all! Both men were famous Roman generals, but there’s not a word about the woman… neither a stupid and false adjective like loving, beloved … nothing at all! She was just men’s possession, and she is defined just by this.
And that’s not enough: the inscription give us also the opportunity to talk a little bit about the Roman naming system, that says a lot about women position in Roman society.

The Roman naming system

She was Cecilia Metella. Nowadays Cecilia is quite common female name in Italy, and we are tempted to think that this was her first name, while Metella was the surname. No way! Roman naming system was called system of the tria nomina, or three names. Cecilia’s father, for example, was Quintus Caecilius Metellus…are you starting to understand? His first name was Quintus, then Caecilius was the name of the gens, the clan, last name we could say, and finally Metellus was the cognomen, the name of the family line, a kind of second last name. And that’s the point: Cecilia Metella has no first name! No, not because she was a bad girl, unworthy of a personal name: this was the system for all Roman women. ALL the women of the family had the SAME name: in this case all were Cecilia Metella! Well, now imagine a mother who has to call all the daughters: quite easy :) Yes, convenient but confusing, hence usually they had a kind of nicknames, like First, Second, and so on, or Elder, Younger etc.
Are you starting to think that Romans were too lazy to name all the daughters? Sadly this was not only indolence, there was a clear idea behind this: for a Roman woman the glory consists in no one who pronounces her name! A Latin writer, Macrobius praises a woman saying that she was so prudish that no one knew her name. The message is clear: woman wasn’t and didn’t have to be a person, but only a passive and anonymous part of the family!

So, why this huge tomb?

Oswald_Achenbach_Via_Appia_mit_dem_Grabmal_der_Caecilia_Metella_detail1

Said all this, why build a so huge monument for a woman, if she wasn’t important? Because – sadly to say but that’s it! – her death was just a pretext to celebrate the greatness of the family, during an historical period when Rome was afflicted by the civil wars and there was need and will to show off the power of the most eminent families. Cecilia Metella’s tomb is simply a way to celebrate the glory of the family men, whose names are in the inscription.

Another woman’s story: Annia Regilla

This beautiful and pleasant place is connected also with another woman…sorry, not happier story, but I told you: no country for women!
In the 2nd century this place became part of Herodes Atticus‘s property.

Herodes_Atticus_Louvre

He was a rich senator and a philosopher from a glorious and ancient Roman family. When he was 40 years old married the 14 (yes, 14!) years old Annia Regilla, from another rich and glorious family. Thanks to her dowry they bought the propriety on the via Appia.
It happened that while she was pregnant of her sixth son, was killed, kicked to death to her abdomen, by an Herodes’ freedman. The husband was immediately accused to be responsible for the murder.
He had a process and was acquitted. Anyway people didn’t believe to his innocence – corrupt judges was frequent and easy for rich people. The public opinion was so important for a Roman that he had to do something to change people’s opinion. Hence he started to show off is sorrow: painted his house in black and began to built monuments and temples dedicated to Annia. The property on the via Appia became a huge sanctuary sacred to Demeter and its boundaries were marked by two columns bearing this inscription:
To the memory of Annia Regilla, wife of Herodes, the light and soul of the house, to whom these lands once belonged”.
Well, she was luckier than Cecilia and had at least some adjectives…anyway not so great reward for having been murdered by her own husband!

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Pictures Credits:

  • The Mausoleum of  Cecilia Metella- All rights reserved, with permissions – Andrea Moro
  • The Mausoleum of  Cecilia Metella – CC BY-SA 2.0 – Carole Raddato
  • The Mausoleum of  Cecilia Metella – Giovanni Battista Piranesi, 1756
  • Via Appia mit dem Grabmal der Caecilia Metella – Oswald Achenbach, 1886
  • Portrait of Herodes Atticus – CC BY 3.0 – Marie-Lan Nguyen

 

chiesa sant'agnese

Saints and Prostitutes. The church of S. Agnese in Agone

Today’s tale is about the church of S. Agnese in Agone, in Piazza Navona, a story that spans between the Ancient and the Baroque Rome.

Piazza Navona and the Stadium of Domitian

This is probably one of the most popular square of Rome, with its distinctive shape and the famous fountain made by Bernini. The stretched shape, as you may know, comes from that of the stadium of Domitian (you already heard about him when we talked about the Colosseum, built by his family). Around 86 AD he had this stadium built for athletic competitions; this kind of games were called “agones” from a Greek word, and after it was probably named the square: it became “in agonis“, then “innagone“, “navone” and finally “Navona“. The buildings surrounding nowadays the square  are literally built ON the walls of the Roman stadium: around the square, in the lower levels of the new buildings, you can still see the travertine blocks of Domitian’s stadium.

pianta_map

Our story begins in the ancient Rome, when the stadium was still there.

Saint Agnes

According to tradition, around the beginning of the 4th century AD there was in Rome this beautiful and virtuous woman named Agnes. Ok, she was probably only 13 years old, so it would be better to say a child, a girl, but on that time, 13 years old was the age for getting married and having children, so we’ll say a woman, even if she wasn’t already.

Santa_Agnese_-_mosaico_Santa_Agnese_fuori_le_mura

Well, it happened that she was so beautiful that the Roman Prefect’s son fell in love with her. And this could still become a nice love story… probably the Prefect’s son was rich and could be considered a great catch. If only Agnes wasn’t Christian. And she hadn’t made vow of chastity, too. Hence she refused the Prefect’s son who, probably, went back crying to his father: the latter punished Agnes forcing her to become a Vestal Virgin.

The Vestal Virgins were a group of pagan priestesses (actually this was the only female priesthood in Rome), very powerful. They also had to made vow of chastity and that’s why Agnes was forced to become one of them. Also the story of the Vestal Virgins is really interesting, but there’s so much to say that I need another post…good idea for the future :)

Anyway the Vestal Virgins were pagan and therefore Agnes refused to join them because she was Christian.

And here we come to the stadium of Domitian because the Prefect of Rome, when Agnes refused to join the Vestal Virgins, condemned her to become a prostitute and that’s why she was brought to the stadium.

Prostitutes in the Ancient Rome

In the ancient Rome there were a lot of prostitutes and obviously brothels, called lupanares. This name comes from lupa, “she-wolf“, the slang for prostitute… And if you’re thinking to the most famous Rome’s she-wolf, the symbol of the city itself… well, yes, you’re probably right! Many historians think that the legend of the she-wolf was invented to hide and recall the real story, that probably Romulus and Remus were raised by a prostitute, Acca Larentia (who in the legend became the shepherd’s wife, who found the twins).
Anyway the lupanares were not the only workplace for prostitutes and we know that many of them used to sell themselves near the circuses and stadiums, waiting below the arches.

mosaico

Now it happens that the Latin word for arch is fornix (fornices plural) and, because the prostitutes were used to work there, this is the origin of the English word “fornication“, that you still use, maybe. At least the Red Hot Chilly Peppers do :)

The “uniform” of Roman prostitutes was the toga, the short male dress, so as to show more legs and make clear that they weren’t respectable women (worthy to wear the typical female clothes: a long dress, the stola, and a mantle, the palla). Wearing a toga was a so distinctive sign of  licentiousness that if a woman was found guilty of adultery, one of the punishments was to wear the toga. In addition, prostitutes also worn a red wig.

How Agnes became Saint

Going back to Saint Agnes, she was brought to the stadium to become a prostitute. But because of her holiness, the first man who tried to touch her was soon blinded by God (but don’t worry for him… Saint Agnes was so saint that she later prayed God to save him, and he had back his sight).
Did the Prefect recognized Saint Agnes’s holiness? No way! On the contrary he accused her of  being a witch and condemned her to be burned at the stake. And that’s still not the end of our story, because soon after she was put, naked, on the fire, her hair suddenly grew up to cover her nudity and the fire split.

statua sant'agnese

Neither this time the Prefect quit with her: she was finally beheaded and, yes, this time she died.

The Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone

Hence, according to tradition, Saint Agnes was martyred in the arches of the stadium and here a small shrine was built already in the 8th century AD.

In the same spot, in the sixteen hundreds, was built the present church, projected by the famous baroque artist Francesco Borromini, for the pope Innocent X Pamphilj. Many are the legends about the construction of the church and the famous Fountain of the Rivers, built by Bernini just in front of it, mostly related to the rivalry between the two artists…but we need an entire other post for all this :)

Anyway, in the meanwhile, if you’ll visit Piazza Navona, enter the church and  go to the chapel on the right: it’s dedicated to Saint Agnes and here is preserved her most sacred relic: her head!

testa sant'agnese

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Pictures Credits

 

money

The Capitoline Hill, where “money” began

This story starts in the Archaic Roman Age when the Capitoline hill was Rome’s citadel , defended by walls, and her religious center: here was in fact the Temple of Jupiter, the king of gods. But here was also another temple dedicated to Juno.

Juno Regina, the first Desperate Housewife

She was the queen (regina) of Roman gods such as sister AND wife of Jupiter. In fact they both were Saturn‘s sons (Ju-piter, Ju-no…it’s not a coincidence :) )

Annibale Carracci, "Jupiter and Juno", 1597-1601

But Jupiter was a very bad guy and he had plenty of lovers: Roman mythology is teeming with stories about Jupiter’s loves and, of course, Juno’s jealousy …not so far from the modern soaps’ stories!
Anyway, Juno as queen was the female State protector and goddess of the female world, protecting all the most important events of a woman’s life such as marriage, childbirths and so on.

The Geese of the Capitoline Hill

The temple of Juno on the Capitoline hill was guarded by a gaggle, because geese were considered sacred to the goddess.
In 390 B.C., after a long siege, the Gauls tried  to conquer the hill but it was saved by the geese.
This is Plutarch’s tale about that event:

“About midnight a large band of them (the Gauls) scaled the cliff and made their way upward in silence (…) Neither man nor dog were aware of their approach. But there were some sacred geese near the temple of Juno, which were usually fed without stint, but at that time, since provisions barely sufficed for the garrison alone, they were neglected and in evil plight. The creature is naturally sharp of hearing and afraid of every noise, and these, being specially wakeful and restless by reason of their hunger, perceived the approach of the Gauls, dashed at them with loud cries, and so waked all the garrison (…) The defenders, snatching up in haste whatever weapon came to hand, made the best shift they could. (…) So the Romans escaped out of their peril. ”

Juno became Moneta

Obviously the Romans, very religious people, thought it was the goddess who awaking the soldiers saved Rome, and gave her the epithet “Moneta”, from the Latin verb “Monere”, “to warn”.

The Temple

Searching on the Internet you could read that according to tradition the temple of Juno Moneta was built in 344 BC after a war victory … How can it be possible if the episode of the Gauls happened in 390 BC? This appear to suggest the existence of an older temple, entirely rebuilt in 344 BC (and actually on the Capitoline Hill have been found some terracotta decorations of the temple dating at the 6-5th century BC and probably belonging to the older temple).
Anyway after the episode of the geese and the goddess’ new epithet this became known as the Temple of Juno Moneta.
And these are the few ruins still preserved belonging to the temple (believe me, they are!).

Tempio di Giunone Moneta

And finally the coins

In 296 BC Romans started to make coins and they needed a safe place to do it, hence they chose the temple of Juno Moneta (or a place immediately nearby), for two reasons: first it was in the citadel, so it was well protected by humans, second it was well protected by the goddess too, a kind of: “Don’t steal here or Juno’ll punish you!”.

denarius of juno moneta

Hence, because the mint was in the temple of Juno Moneta, the Romans began to call it the Moneta, and coins were named “moneta”after it … and this is the origin of the English words  “mint” and of course “money”!
In Italian we also have the same word, “moneta”, that means “coin”, but the bizarre thing is that for “mint” we use the word “zecca”, from an Arabic word: at least English, in this case, is closer than Italian to ancient Romans and their legends!

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Picture credits