Rome is on most people’s bucket list, and those who have been there will most certainly feel as privileged as I feel now to have visited this great city where empires were built by those who ruled over them. My imagination embarked upon a visual journey of what the great architects and artists created, which is still there to see today around every corner. Just when you think you have seen it all there will be something else to surprise you. Archaeologists are still finding things that they never knew existed. In fact in 2014 Rome became 200 years older. Whilst excavating the floor of the Forum they found remains dating back to times before Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers who, according to legend, founded Rome in 753 BC. No one knows what is yet to be found in one of the oldest settlements in the world.
“Examination of the recovered ceramic material has enabled us to chronologically date the wall structure to between the 9th century BC and the beginning of the 8th century BC,” said Dr Patrizia Fortuni, an archaeologist from Rome’s cultural superintendency, who heads the research team.
The full article can be found here:
However, I digress , for this is my story of Rome, my own thoughts and imagination, and not merely the Rome of history books.
I start my journey with the Forum. This was a total eye opener for me, as like most people I had never thought much beyond films such as Ben Hur and Gladiator where everything ends up happily. But no -real life was a far cry from the films. Rome was a far darker place. Here is where my mind opened up and I visualised the corruption, poverty, slavery and torture that went on as part of daily life, all playing a vital role in the development of Rome to become the greatest city the world has ever seen. No one was safe in this city, from the slaves to the Emperors. No one could be trusted. People had to be inventive in order to survive. The Forum was where all the business was taken care of, from daily buying and selling to talk of where the next invasion was going to take place. That sounds fine- nothing dark or sinister here, but what would slaves and
poverty stricken people be doing in such a place, a place where the Emperors, High Priests and Priestess worked and lived? They were all playing their part. After all it was the place of planning. You could plan to rid yourself of enemies, pay a slave or a beggar to lie in court about someone you didn’t like or get someone you needed out of the way. For just a few coins you
could move up the ranks.
Then my mind opened up to consider why would people whose education was the highest in the land believed that someone who had no education or no sense of what was right or wrong would indeed tell the truth at all times.That’s where torture comes in handy. They believed that no one could have lied if they were in pain. So just for a few pennies the slave or beggar would have to be subjected to interrogation,torture and dare I say almost certainly death after their usefulness had passed. After all ,you wouldn’t want any witness to how you got rid of your enemies would you? Walking around the ruins and the grounds where the ancient city of Rome is first thought to have stood, it easy to forget what life would have actually been like for the average Roman. The splendid marble buildings towering about your heads, the images of market stalls which would have been full of exotic herbs, spices, and fabrics- a sea of colour for the rich and privileged – paints a completely different story to what a romantic like me would rather remember. That isn’t what built Rome or its Empire. In my mind’s eye , the Forum is a mausoleum to all those who cruelly lost their lives doing whatever they needed to do trying to survive the darker side of Rome.
Onwards and upwards, to the Palatine Hill and The House of the Vestals, the home of the Vestal Virgins whose duty it was to ensure the wellbeing of Rome. To have this honour bestowed upon them the girls had to be the cream of the crop .They had to be completely free of both mental and physical ailments. Coming from a family of free born residents of Rome, both parents had to be alive for the girl to become a Vestal Virgin. The girls were selected as young as 6 and taken to the Vestals House to begin their training. They had to remain virgins for 30 years. This was a religious order, set up around 717–673 BC and full of what we would call Pagan rituals, centuries before the birth of Christ. These girl were from the higher echelons of society, allowed to vote, own a house, have money, make a will, and go to all the social events and games, with equal rights to that of a man. What would they have to do for these privileges? Easy! Keep order in the House, keep all the idols clean, with the offerings freshly put out and carry out the ceremonial rituals to whichever god or goddess was to be honoured. They had to collect water from the sacred spring and carry it back to the house for their own use as well as for use during rituals. A further important duty was to tend the Vestal’s sacred fire since it could never go out. This was where anyone from Rome could go and get a flame for their homes. Oh and don’t forget the no sex part! That was very important, as the punishment for loss of virginity was the worse you could ever imagine. Now you have the background of a Vestal Virgin, a modern socialite with benefits and a pension, not a bad job to do for 30 years, and perhaps a fair sacrifice in a world where survival was so uncertain. Surely these girls were looked up to as if they were goddesses. But then my mind started to question whether life was truly as good as our guide had mapped out for these girls? After all it was darkest times of Rome, a time where you could legally stab someone in the back just for looking at you, a place where no one was safe. So what if….what if the next priestess in line, wasn’t who the other Vestal Virgins wanted to be priestess. What if the one under her was prettier, smarter? Would she be killed, would someone make up lies about her just to denounce her? It’s hard to think that it wouldn’t be so, isn’t it? But hold on! One of the rules is that their blood can’t be spilt, so they are all safe from being killed surely? No not at all! If a Vestal Virgin is neglectful of her duties – for example, if she hasn’t swept the floor that day- she can merely be beaten. But if it has been found that a virgin had compromised her chastity then she was far from safe, as this was punishable by death. The penalty was being buried alive. I also vaguely remember back in history lessons at school something a teacher said about the Roman Emperors, who believed themselves to be equal to the gods. They believed that the gods told them what they should do, and therefore no one should question whatever they commanded. So with that in mind and surrounded by such beauty of the Vestal Virgins, what would stop them from doing whatever they desired with a Vestal Virgin, claiming that the gods had told them to? Would she argue with or question such powerful men? I don’t know and dare I say, no one will ever know for sure. These were just my thoughts as I listened to the guide and my mind wandered to the “what ifs” of Roman times.
Next stop, the Colosseum! How many men and slaves did it take to build such a vast structure? Nothing can prepare you for its size and splendour-the focal piece of Rome in its day and even now. The gathering place for the socialites of Rome to interact. The place for the sport of the day, with gladiators fighting to the death and truly the place where the atmosphere would have been electric, with the crowds roaring with delight at the spectacles which were put on for their pleasure. But I couldn’t help ask myself how cheap life was? It truly was a place where kill or be killed was a fact of life, in every sense of the word. For a gladiator, winning was everything, and if he didn’t win he wouldn’t have been able to live with the shame of failure. There was no shame in killing his opponent, only honour. I was lucky enough to be able to go down in the deepest darkest depths of the Colosseum, a dark and gloomy hell, where fires burnt day and night. Animals and slaves lived down here along with some of the gladiators in a framework of wooden walls and cages. Water flows in channels cut in the floor and it is hard to think that they had to drink from this supply, as could you imagine, the animals’ and the lowly Romans’ waste was also flowing into the same channels. I just can’t imagine it! The only thing I can think is that when the Colosseum was built, the Romans also built a Hell on Earth.
The Pantheon, last but not least. Yet another grand building now nestling in the back streets amid shops and restaurants, and by the way a great place for a lazy lunch in between the hectic rush to attempt pack in all that Rome has to offer. The Pantheon is a building dedicated to all the gods, with its dome created to resemble the opened heavens. The first thing that strikes you is that the ceiling is built with a hole in the centre. Come on be honest – how many of you, like me, thought it must be there to let out the smoke from the fires? No, wrong again! Although Rome had some of the best architects the world has ever seen in the years 10 BC and maybe even earlier, the problem they had was that they couldn’t work out how to close the lid, so to speak. To build a complete dome needed more skill than they could imagine so the answer was to leave the hole which is vital for the support of the structure, which also make a dramatic impression. The splendour of a great dome draws your eye upwards to where the light floods in bouncing off the marble that adorns the walls and floor, giving the impression that nothing can be seen but the Heavens above. Ingenious to say the least. This building truly brings the outside in, in order to make the gods feel closer.
But how did they create such a building? There again no one will ever know for sure. One such legend, according to the medieval writer Jacobo de Voragineis , author of The Golden Legend (which I have not yet read but which is on my reading list) is that The Pantheon was built on a great mound of earth filled with gold coins. The building was then constructed and the cement was poured on the dome and left to set. When they were ready to take out the earth they needed quite an army of people to do the job, so they told all the poor people of Rome that if they dug out the earth they would find the gold coins and be able to keep them. Now this is Rome, full of deceit and corruption. There might have been a few gold coins but do you think there would have been enough to pay all the poor people? I don’t think so-not what I have seen of dark Rome so far. Besides, it would have been quite dangerous since they would have been digging from the bottom of the dome and the earth above would have tumbled down upon them. But remember, life was cheap when it came to the working classes. Now Romans where known for their live sport and I can’t stop thinking that maybe the rich Romans were on a hill close by having the odd bet on how many people would find a coin or even make it out alive, and how long it would take the poor and needy to dig out hundreds of tons of earth. But that’s just my musings. There are no tales of sacrifice or sinister torture that I can see of what life would have been like outside in the Piazza Della Rotondo. There would have been a previous building just as grand as The Pantheon I would have thought, and most certainly the wealthy Romans would have gone to honour their gods and goddesses there, so I do suspect that life for the poor would have been much the same here as it was in The Forum doing whatever they would have to do to survive. There is a clue about what you might have of expected to find in the following inscription which is to be found on the wall above the former Macdonalds ‘in the Piazza. In the early 19th century, Pope Pius VII decided to clean up the area around the Pantheon and remove the food stalls and street vendors, both authorised and unauthorised, selling everything and anything alongside the thieves and pickpockets eying up the purses bulging with gold coins that hung from the belts of the rich.
The inscription reads as follows:
PIVS · VII · P · M · AN · PONTIFICATVS · SVI · XXIII ·
AREAM · ANTE · PANTHEON · M · AGRIPPAE IGNOBILIBVS · TABERNIS
DEMOLITIONE · PROVIDENTISSIMA
AB · INVISA · DEFORMITATE · VINDICAVIT
ET · IN · LIBERVM · LOCI · PROSPECTVM · PATERE · IVSSIT
Pius VII Supreme Pontiff, in the 23rd Year of His Pontificate the 23rd, freed the area of the Pantheon of Marcus Agrippa
of ignoble eateries and detestable deformity by undertaking a very thoughtful program of demolition to provide an unobstructed view of the site.
While I was sitting at the bar outside on a sunny evening after my visit to the Pantheon, sipping my spritzer, and imagining what life might have been like, I was abruptly brought back to earth by a street vendor trying to sell me a folding wood fruit bowl. After I told him that I didn’t want to buy anything I looked around the square, observing tourists from all over the world clicking their cameras and Roman citizens going about their daily business .Then it struck me- there in the crowds were the street vendors, selling anything they could for whatever price they could get, beggars sitting on the floor with paper cups asking for money, the pick pockets or bag snatchers waiting for the opportune moment to get some easy cash, (because yes Rome is full of opportunists). The only thing that was missing was the stench of poverty, and the rotting flesh of the dead that I imagine would have been left in the streets. So now my darkest Rome has just become a reflection of the Rome of today. The problems are still there despite the urban cleansing in the early 19th century. Unless the problems can be resolved you will always have unauthorised sellers, pickpockets, thieves, and beggars, and this is true of any city in all corners of the world.
This is my Rome not the Rome of the history books which we all read about, I loved every minute and every corner of Rome, and we should not forget that in those days Rome was a civilisation in the making. Everything that happened was cutting edge. They had the latest gadgets in torture, the latest techniques in building. So can we judge? No we can’t. In fact I believe that everything that the Romans gave us when building both a city and an empire is what gave us the foundations of what is right and wrong for living today. Imagination is a powerful thing. Next time you visit somewhere, open your mind and imagine what life may have been like for the people who lived there and not just study the facts in the glossy guide book you hold in your hand. Look deeper into the corners, for the clues are all around us, the way we interpret the clues might not be factual to the way historians view Rome, but for me thats why Rome is so special all the stories and the facts can be open to your own interpretation, thus creating your very own Rome.
Being an erotic writer of BDSM I would not like to have lived in my Ancient Rome. Trust is vital in my world and in my books and I could never live where people could not trust each other one hundred percent and where eyes in the back of your head would have been very useful. There were undoubtedly backstabbers everywhere, and for most Romans who met their end by a dagger, either verbally or literally, the backstabber was someone they believed to be their friend.
Beware the Ides of March