History for the Rest of Us

Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra – Summary

Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra – Summary

May 7, 2014

Zenobia had a deep understanding of affairs of state, and her husband’s successes (recovery of the Roman East), were said to have been due to her counsel. She became Queen of Palmyra when her husband died in 267. Within two years she had conquered Egypt and expelled the Roman prefect, who was beheaded when he attempted to reclaim the territory. Zenobia claimed descent from Cleopatra and was said to profess the Jewish religion. She was beautiful and intelligent, with a dark complexion, pearly white teeth and bright black eyes. She was more beautiful than Cleopatra, and had a reputation for extreme chastity. Zenobia’s forces were dealt a crushing defeat by Aurelian’s forces near Antioch in 272. She and her son escaped initially, but were captured on the Euphrates by the Emperor’s horsemen. She appeared in golden chains in Aurelian’s military triumph parade in Rome. There are varied theories on her final...

Great Fire of Rome

Great Fire of Rome

Jul 13, 2013

On July 19, 64 AD the Great Fire of Rome began in the merchant area of the city and burned for six days. Three of Rome’s fourteen districts were ‘leveled to the ground’ and seven others were reduced ‘to a few scorched and mangled ruins’ according to Tacitus. There are contradictory accounts explaining the cause of the fire. Rumors were rampant that Nero had sent men into the city to set it on fire, while he sang songs of the destruction of Troy and played on his lyre. The following verse, orally conveyed or posted on a city wall at the time, expresses the sentiment of residents of the city: Though Nero may pluck the cords of a lyre, And the Parthian King the string of a bow, He who chants to the lyre with heavenly fire Is Apollo as much as his far-darting foe. Suetonius indicated that ‘Nero watched the conflagration from the Tower of Maecenas, enraptured by what he called the “beauty of the flames”; then put on his tragedian’s costume and sang The Sack of Ilium from beginning to end’. Some believed that the fire was an accident. Tacitus says that Nero wasn’t in Rome when the fire started but was in Antium, returning only when the fire threatened a mansion he had built. Many inhabitants of the city were further convinced that the fires should be attributed to Nero when he decided to build the ‘Domus Aurea’, his ‘Golden House’, a massive palace complex, on the site. Nero placed blame on the Christians as indicated by Tacitus. ‘…to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians’. Related Stories: Temple of Mars Ultor Nerva Forum of Nerva Forum of Trajan Belly Button of Rome Elsewhere on the Web: Yale Courses:Notorious Nero and his Amazing Architectural Legacy Items from the Creating History...

Mercuralia – Festival of Mercury

Mercuralia – Festival of Mercury

May 14, 2013

Mercuralia was a Roman celebration that was also known as the ‘Festival of Mercury’. Mercury, was a Roman messenger god whose attributes were mainly borrowed from the Greek god Hermes although there are myths regarding Mercury that are distinctly Roman. He was a god of trade, thieves, and travel. The name is closely related to merx, mercari, and merces which respectively mean merchandise, to trade, and wages. For good luck, on the Ides of May (May 15th) which was considered his birthday, the merchants of Rome would use laurel boughs to sprinkle their merchandise, their ships, and their heads with water from a fountain at Porta Capena known as aqua Mercurii. They also offered prayers to Mercury for forgiveness of past and future perjuries, for profit, and the continued ability to cheat customers! Related Stories: Neptunalia Ludi Apollinares Vestalia Matralia Portunalia Items from the Creating History...

History of Fruitcake

History of Fruitcake

Nov 29, 2012

According to culinary legend, ancient Egyptians created the first version of the fruitcake for placement on the tombs or in the coffins of friends and relatives, perhaps as a food that could survive their journey into the afterlife. If the Egyptians felt the same way I do about fruitcake, they must have thought those friends and relatives were going somewhere other than heaven. Fruitcake became common in Roman times due to traits that made it perfect for fueling the Roman army. Made from a combination of barley mash, raisins, pine nuts, and pomegranate seeds, this early version of fruitcake was a portable, long-lasting, relatively light combat ration. Requiring no preparation, and averse to spoilage, the cake could be shipped around the empire with ease, and became a staple in the legionnaire’s diet. As an energy source it was extremely efficient. Pomegranate seeds pack 234 calories per cup, while raisins provide 435 calories per cup. Both pale in comparison to pine nuts which weigh in at 916 calories per cup. Pretty significant when you consider that nearly two thousand years later, the average Meals Ready to Eat or MRE used in today’s military contains approximately 1,250 calories. Fruitcake continued to fuel the armies of Europe during the ensuing centuries. The Crusaders also brought the energizing treat along in their packs on their search for the Holy Grail. Their cakes incorporated additional ingredients such as fruits, honey, and spices. It was during this time when the name fruitcake was first used. The cakes became more flexible during this time period as well, with different ingredients being added based on availability and cost. They became heavier than the original versions, continuing to pack a substantial caloric punch. During the 1400s the British were able to successfully import dried fruits from the Mediterranean, beginning their love affair with the treat. Cheap sugar arriving in Europe from the colonies in the 16th century contributed to the success of the modern fruitcake. This along with the discovery that soaking fruit in successively greater concentrations of sugar intensified its color and flavor while working as a preservative, led to the proliferation of the fruit-laden cakes. Native fruits could now be conserved,...

Ludi Plebeii

Ludi Plebeii

Nov 12, 2012

The Ludi Plebeii or Plebeian Games, were mentioned as early as 216 B.C. They may have first commenced in conjunction with the completion of the Circus Flaminius which was finished in 220 B.C., but some scholars believe they began as early as the 5th century B.C. The Ludi Plebeii continued to be held until the fourth century A.D. They originally were held on November 15, but by 207 B.C. they had already been extended to be longer than a single day. The Fasti Maffeiani, an early Roman calendar identifies the Ludi Plebeii as lasting from November 4 until November 17. The games included athletic competitions and theatrical performances. Cicero understood these games to be the longest standing tradition of games in Rome. Some of the key events held during the Ludi Plebeii included the Feast of Jupiter on November 13, a parade of the cavalry on the 14th and chariot races November 15-17. The comedy Stichus by Plautus was first presented during the Ludi Plebeii of 200 B.C. Items from the Creating History...