Author Archives: lilith4isis

The Children of the Roman Empire

Featured image“Today, dear God, I am seven years old, and must play no more. Here is my top, my hoop, and my ball: keep them all, my Lord.” (Wiedemann, 1989)

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Roman children, from newborn to seven years old, were allowed to frolic and play with toys, games and each other. No matter their station, slave and freed children alike, played with toys in various forms, and organized games with groups of friends.

Thomas Wiedmann, in Adults and Children in the Roman Empire, describes little rattles that were given to young babies, made of metal or pottery with pebbles inside, and strings with objects tied to it that a child could hold and carry for manipulation and visual stimulation. There was also a kind of walker with wheels, that a child could lean on and push, to learn to walk with. (Wiedemann, 1989)Featured image

Older children would build sandcastles, roughhouse and wrestle, play house, and all sorts of games. The games often involved nuts, animals and even a bit of gambling. Bets could be placed on cock fights, a popular pastime for older boys, though it was condemned as a greedy pastime for the lazy. In Leisure and Ancient Rome, J.P. Toner describes a game table with the inscription “Reject wealth, insane greed flips minds.” (Toner, 1995) Uzzi, in Children in the Visual Arts of Imperial Rome, depicts a mosaic showing two boys engaged in a cock fight. The winner dances and the loser covers his face in shame. (Uzzi, 2005, pp. 186,187)

Many of the games included role playing, with one group taking on the role of bad-guy and one the victor. Children would reenact their favorite scenes from history or fables told to them by their parents. Parents might encourage a future career in the military by purchasing a little military uniform for their child to parade around in playing soldier. (Wiedemann, 1989)

They also enacted various societal roles, a judge and criminal, or even monks and demons. It was considered to be a great omen when Athanasius, who later became a great theologian, was elected as head bishop when he role played with his friends as a child.

All children loved to play at riding horses, starting with a broomstick and moving up to driving small chariots with goats and sheep, even mice. Toy chariots would be hitched to mice which were kept as pets.Featured image

Pets were popular among children, as animal herding was considered to be a useful skill for a child to know. A child might combine gambling with their pets, as rooter fighting was common. Birds were the most commonly owned pet, but there is also mention of children keeping cheetahs and other exotic creatures.

Featured imageThey also had toy animals made of terracotta, bone or even horn. A child might have a toy cow, pig, deer, goat or horse along with a tiny chariot for them each to pull. Girls were given dolls to play with, made of wood, rags, or ivory. Some were jointed so that they could move. Some were given jobs to do, for example pounding out bread.Featured image

Dolls were an important part of a girl’s life, and were often buried with them depicted on their sarcophagi and sometimes even buried with a little girl that had died before reaching adulthood. Roman girls would dedicate their dolls to Venus the night before their wedding, marking their passage from childhood into adulthood.

Fanny Dolansky, in “Playing with Gender; Girls, Dolls, and Adult Ideals in the Roman World,” stated that since dolls were presented in Roman society as specifically girl’s toys, they portray an accurate view of a girl’s role in society. The dolls had fashionable hair and mature sexual organs, and depict someone of marriageable age. Dolansky stated that because the dolls were representations of mature women, this indicates that the dolls were used to model a girl’s role as a wife and mother.

Dolansky used Plutarch’s description of his daughter playing with her dolls to prove her point. Plutarch’s daughter “would ask her nurse to feed not only other babies but the objects and toys that she liked playing with, and would generously invite them, as it were, to her table, offering the good things she had and sharing her greatest pleasures with those who delighted her. (Dolansky, 2012)

The role of children within the Roman Empire is unclear and subject to much interpretation. Simon P Ellis, in Roman Housing, proposes the argument that children were to behave like adults, citing funerary depictions of children engaged in adult activities as well as the lack of space dedicated solely to children within the home. He describes children shunted to the sides and shadows of a room, similar to servants. (Ellis, 2000, pp. 178,179)

However, Jeannine Uzzi, in Children in the Visual Arts of Imperial Rome, describes a funerary relief of a little girl with a book in her lap and a dog at her feet that “implores her to forget her learning and go out to play.” (Uzzi, 2005, p. 175)

Penelope Allison, in Pompeian Households, An Analysis of Material Culture, suggests that Pompeiian households may have been separated by gender and time of day, but not by age. The men seem to occupy the front hall of the house during the morning, the women would occupy that same space during the afternoon. (Allison, 2004)

Ellis makes a clearer argument using examination of adoption papers, wills and leases, through which is can be determined that Roman homes were occupied not by extended families, but the nuclear family. Parents slept nearby their children. Ellis describes the function of each room within a Pompeiian Villa, with a smaller child’s bed placed next to an adult sized bed, indicating that parents (or possibly a tutor) and children slept together in the same room. (Ellis, 2000)

Although the role of children within Roman society is subject to interpretation, it is clear, through funerary inscriptions, mosaics, furniture arrangements and toys, that children in the Roman Empire lived a similar life to modern day childhoods. There is something universal in a childhood full of toys, playing with dolls, riding stick horses and dressing up in military uniforms to play pretend.

Bibliography

Allison, P. M. (2004). Pompeian Households, An Analysis of Material Culture. Los Angeles: University of California.

bot, F. u. (n.d.). Little horse on wheels. Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Little_horse_on_wheels_(Ancient_greek_child%27s_Toy).jpg

Dolansky, F. (2012). Playing with Gender; Girls, Dolls and Adult Ideals in the Roman World. Classical Antuity, 31(2), 256-296. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/CA.2012.31.2.256 .

Ellis, S. P. (2000). Roman Housing. London: Gerald Duckworth.

Jastrow. (n.d.). Doll. Palazzo Massimo, Rome. Retrieved April 30, 2015, from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Doll_Massimo_Inv168191.jpg

Jastrow. (n.d.). Toy buffalo Louvre . Paris. Retrieved April 30, 2015, from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Toy_buffalo_Louvre_Cp4699.jpg

Montrealais. (n.d.). Roman-toys. Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Roman-toys.jpg

Mountain. (n.d.). Rattle in the shape of animal. Museum of Cycladic Art at Athens, Greece. Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rattle_in_the_shape_of_animal.jpg

Sailko. (n.d.). Arte romana, giocattolo in terracotta a forma di suino. Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arte_romana,_giocattolo_in_terracotta_a_forma_di_suino,_I_sec_dc..JPG

Toner, J. P. (1995). Leisure and Ancient Rome. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Uzzi, J. D. (2005). Children in the Visual Arts of Imperial Rome. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Wiedemann, T. (1989). Adults and Children in the Roman Empire. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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Fortune favors the bold! (fortes, inquit, fortuna iuvat).

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Pliny the Younger wrote this now famous quote as Pliny the Elder commanded his ships to sail closer to the flaming Pompeii. Fortune was one of the more popular Roman goddesses, and her favor was sought by many. Fortune is the Roman goddess of luck and chance, creating Rome’s abundance and fertility, as well as the downfall of Rome’s enemies.

According to “Personifications of Eudaimonia, Felicitas and Fortuna in Greek and Roman Art,” by Marina Prusac (2011), gaining the favor of the goddess of Fortune meant a good and happy life. Fortune was responsible for the many things that created a happy life; a fertile marriage brought a happy home and good health, prosperity of the State created wealth and a strong economy.Featured image

She is always depicted with a cornucopia, the horn of plenty, but she was very fickle with her bounty. Fortune’s favor could make or break an Empire; enemies fell before her curses and allies grew strong under her blessings. Emperors claimed her acceptance when they rose to power and lamented her disapproval just before their fall from grace.

According to “Reversed Epiphanies: Roman Emperors Deserted by Gods,” by Olivier Hekster (2009), the Roman Emperor Galba attributes Fortune to his ascension, not himself. Galba declared Fortune had come to him a dream, declaring “that she was tired of standing before his door—and that unless she were quickly admitted, she would fall prey to the first comer.”

Just as Galba had to invite Fortune in, he also had to make an error of sacrifices to lose her favor and therefore the prosperity of Rome. Fortune was a very jealous goddess. Galba mistakenly offered a necklace to the goddess Venus, an offering that was originally meant for Fortuna.

“The next night Fortuna appeared to him in a dream, complaining of being robbed of the gift intended for her and threatening in her turn to take away what she had bestowed” (Hekster, 2009).

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Roman Emperors often minted coins with Fortune’s image to show favor with the Goddess of Abundance and Prosperity.

Galba had fallen from grace, and would be killed shortly after. It was important for the Romans to show that the Goddess had not failed in protecting her favored one, but that, instead, Galba had fallen from her favor. Pliny the Elder shouted for Fortune’s favor on the waves towards Pompeii, but she did not oblige him. Instead, he died on those waves and, like Galba, fell in Fortune’s absence.

Bibliography

Burke, Thomas. The Younger Pliny Reproved.

Elagabalus. Elagabalus Denarius Fortuna.

Hekster. “Reversed Epiphanies: Roman Emperors Deserted by Gods.” Mnemosyne 63 (2009): 601-615.

Prusac, Marina. “Personifications of Eudaimonia, Felicitas and Fortuna in Greek and Roman Art.” Symbolae Osloenses, no. 85 (2011): 74-94.

Steffenheilfort. Deutsch: Fortuna 1855 – Halbrondell Neues Palais Sanssouci.

Younger, Pliney the. Pliney the Younger. Translated by P.G. Walsh. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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The Amazon Queen, Thalestris, and Alexander the Great

Johann_Georg_Platzer_-_Thalestris_im_Lager_Alexander_des_Großen (1)

Alexander’s campaigns in 330 BCE brought him around the Black Sea, where he received many emissaries from tribal leaders negotiating peace, surrender, or joint military campaigns. One of those emissaries is said to be representing Thalestris, a supposed Amazon warrior-queen with the intent to carry Alexander’s child in her belly. According to the legend, Thalestris strode boldly into Alexander’s camp with a company of 300 women dressed as warriors, and suggested the great Macedonian King mate with her in order to provide a strong child worthy of both well-accomplished leaders.

The reliability of this account was circumspect even to early authors of the tale. Plutarch, in Lives (46-119 C.E.) quotes Alexander’s General, Lysimachus, as saying “Where could I have been at that time?” when he was given an account of the supposed encounter, indicating that no one believed the fantastical tale of the Amazon warrior-queen and Alexander. Arrian, in The Campaigns of Alexander (146 C.E.), mentioned the story, but also discounts the tale, stating that the Amazons had all vanished long before the reign of Alexander the Great.

However, the tale has been passed down to us today as an account of Alexander’s prowess and magnificence. The identity of the Amazon Queen has intrigued both modern and ancient writers, as historians try to work out why this tale has been included within the ancient writings.

In a 2001 journal article “Alexander and the Amazons,” Elizabeth Baynham presented the argument that Thalestris is actually a daughter of a Scythian king who was presented to Alexander as a condition of treaty, and that her 300 female warriors were a gift to Alexander’s generals. Baynham argued that since Alexander sent the 300 females away with the intent to protect them from abuse by his own army, Alexander did not view this female escort to be a legitimate force. Baynham argued that true female warriors would be able to take care of themselves and would not have needed Alexander’s protection. She stated that these were most likely prostitutes sent by the Scythian king to please Alexander’s men, dressed up in play-armor and taught how to ride for Alexander’s amusement.

Another argument for a likely tale of the Amazon Queen was presented in 2015 by Adrienne Mayor. In “When Alexander met Thalestris” Adrienne stated that there were nomadic raiders near the Black Sea that sometimes banded together in same-gender groups. Mayor stated that often, the strongest female warriors would be sent out to find the strongest male warriors and mate with them, producing strong offspring to carry on their traditions. These groups often had similar custody arrangements that Thalestris arranged with Alexander, that the resulting female child would remain with the mother however, if the child was a male he would be sent back to be raised by the father. Adrienne pointed to recent archeological evidence to prove her point, consisting of graves of females adorned with weapons and grave goods that included drawings of armed women on horseback.

Whether the Amazon Queen was the daughter of a Scythian king or a nomadic raider in her own right, the enchanting tale of Thalestris and Alexander the Great delights the ear of all who hear this fantastic tale. The more cultural implications of these conflicting viewpoints have been lost to time, though it is clear from the skeptical tone of the contemporary writers that the story may have been nothing more than a propaganda tale showing Alexander’s greatness and glory.

Bibliography

Arrian. The Campaigns of Alexander. Translated by Aubrey De Selincourt. London: Penguin Classics, 1987.

Baynham, Elizabeth. “Alexander and the Amazons.” The Classical Quarterly 51, no. 01 (July 2001): 115-126.

Mayor, Adrienne. “When ALexander met Thalestris.” History Today 65, no. 1 (January 2015): 10-17.

Plazer, Johann Georg. “The Amazon Queen, Thalestris, in the camp of Alexander the Great.” Christie’s. sale 7609. London: Wikimedia Commons, 2008.

Plutarch. Plutarch’s Lives. Translated by Dryden. Vol. 2. New York: A. L. Burt Company, n.d.

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The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, or Ninevah?

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The fabled Hanging Gardens were quoted as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World by many different ancient writers. Irrigated with inventions attributed to Archimedes, the Hanging Gardens were a feat of engineering that created roof-top flora for the ancient inhabitants to enjoy for the first time. This fanciful garden would have put the elegance and beauty of the outdoors in reach of wealthy aristocrats without leaving the protection of their homes. Unfortunately, no archeological evidence of the Gardens have been found despite many attempts to trace where they were originally placed. There are several historical debates surrounding the Hanging Gardens concerning where they were located and how they were constructed.

The first mention of the Hanging Gardens is from a source that no longer survives. More recent writers have quoted earlier writers who, in turn, were quoting even older writers. Josephus (20 C.E.), quoted Berossus (220 B.C.E.), and attributed the creation of the Gardens to Nebuchadnezzar II. (605-562 B.C.E.).  According to Josephus, Nebuchadnezzar II wanted to placate his homesick wife and surround her with gardens more similar to her mountainous homeland. Strabo, writing a geographical history about the same time as Josephus, placed the Hanging Gardens in Babylon as well, describing many geographical features that coincide with that area.

Each ancient source had their own agendas for mentioning the Gardens and each relied on a different, even older original source that no longer exists. This makes it difficult to determine which source is the most accurate. No archeological evidence of the Hanging Gardens has yet surfaced, though it may be lying silently in wait for future excavation beneath the waters of the Euphrates.

The irrigation of the Gardens is described by multiple sources in detail, which indicates that ancient peoples had an advanced irrigation system using machines hidden within the walls to pull water to higher elevations. In 1993, while studying the vast irrigation systems of the Persian Empire, Dr. Stephanie Dalley presented an alternate theory as to where the fabled Hanging Gardens were located.

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Although Archimedes is given credit for the irrigation advances that make this extravagant garden possible, Archimedes predates the Gardens, leading some to believe that particular invention attributed to him was used earlier than previously thought.

Dr. Dalley argues that ancient writers, all with their own agendas for quoting each other, may have misunderstood the names of ancient cities. She argues that the earliest writer, Strabo, may have been stretching the truth a bit to flatter his Babylonian patron and place the Gardens in his homeland. After all, if the Hanging Gardens were such a marvelous wonder in Babylon, Herodotus, who was a contemporary of that time, would certainly have mentioned them in his writings.

Dr. Dalley stated that the city of Babylon was often interchangeable with the city of Nineveh, and suggested the Gardens may, in fact, be there. As further evidence, Dr. Dalley has used an image at the palace of Nineveh depicting Hanging Gardens that match the descriptions of those ancient authors, as well as writings from the King at Nineveh detailing how the gardens were irrigated from the main river.

Although current excavations have been placed on hold due to violence in the area, it seems clear that the city of Nineveh is a probable location for the Seventh Wonder of the World as yet unseen by modern eyes.

Bibliography

Hanging Gardens of Babylon. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanging_Gardens_of_Babylon

Hanging gardens were a living carpet. (2005). New Scientist, 185(2483), 15. Retrieved March 7, 2015

Heemskerck, M. v. (n.d.). Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hanging_Gardens_of_Babylon.jpg

Henzell, J. (2013, April 9). Academic unearths new lead to fabled Babylon gardens. pp. 1-2. Retrieved March 8, 2015, from http://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/academic-unearths-new-lead-to-fabled-babylon-gardens#full

Josephus. (1917-1932). Berossus: From Josephus, &c. (H. L. Jones, Trans.) Harvard University Press. Retrieved from http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/af/af05.htm (and) http://www.plinia.net/wonders/gardens/hg4berossus.html

Oleson, S. D. (2003, January). Sennacherib, Archimedes, and the Water Screw: The Context of Invention in the Ancient World. Technology and Culture, 44(1), 1-26. Retrieved March 8, 2015, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25148052

Omary, A. Y. (2014, March). Hanging Gardens of Babylon or Hanging Gardens of Ninewa A Comparative Study of Their Landscape Spatial Characteristics. Al-Rafadain Engineering Journal, 22(2), 1-15. Retrieved March 7, 2015

Polleket. (n.d.). Archimedean screw. Sculpture by Tony Cragg in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands. Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Schroef_van_Archimedes.jpg

Strabo. (1932). The Geography of Strabo. VII. (H. L. Jones, Trans.) Loeb Classical Library edition. Retrieved March 7, 2015, from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Strabo/16A*.html

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lilith4isis

Lilith is my current favorite creation myth. I stumbled across her while I was researching a paper on Gilgamesh and just fell in love with her back-story. According to Hebrew legend she was the first woman created at the same time as Adam. Since they were made from the same stuff at the same time, she believed she was equal to Adam not subservient. So she refused to serve Adam and got cast out of the Garden of Eden and replaced with Eve. Instead of the first feminist with girl power, Lilith is usually portrayed as this evil vengeful demon who seduces men, steals human babies and drinks their blood. Out of this version comes the current stories of her as the mother of all vampires.

My protection dog trainer renamed my puppy Isis so I tacked on her name to my username to make it more unique.

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