Author Archives: maximus4720

Catacomb of St. Domitilla

Picture of the Catacomb of St. Domitilla. Picture courtesy of

The Catacombs of St. Domitilla are very unique and are the oldest underground burial sites in Rome.  Above here is a picture of St. Domitilla where inside you will find early Christian artwork and paintings including the second-century fresco of the Last Supper.  The catacomb of Domitilla has an extensive network of galleries and are named after one of the nieces of the Emperor Domitian.  This was orginally the private cemetery of Domitilla.  Domitilla’s husband Flavius Clemens was executed on the Emperor’s orders for being a Christian.  She was sent and exiled to the island of Ventotene (then Pandataria).

  Domitilla was so well preserved that it is the only catacomb that contains bones still today.  It’s not just the oldest but it is also the largest catacomb of Rome.  It contains more than ten miles of corridors and almost 150,000 burial spots.  It provides us with insight into all phases and phenomena of an early christian necropolis.  Here you will find the a sanctuary with the graves of the martyrs Nereus and Achilleus up to the middle ages.

Picture of the Good Shepard. Picture courtesy of

One of the oldest parts of the catacomb can be found just right of the basilica.  At this spot members of the Flavian family were all buried and there is a cubiculum with a fresco of Christ as the Good Shepherd.  The catacomb also has another part known as the area of the Virgin (della Madonna) and is adorned with various third and fourth century paintings.  The most famous of these shows the Magi approaching the Virgin and child.  Through catacombs we are able to see early Christian ways and how they expressed themselves and their religion through their artworks in their catacombs.


J Stevenson, The Catacombs: Rediscovered monuments of early Christianity, Thames and Hudson, 1978 pp.25-28 of Rome#Catacombs of Domitilla

J. P. Richter, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 6, No. 22 ( Jan. 1905). pp. 286-289

Pictures:  Catacomb of Domitilla-

Picture of the Good Shepherd –


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Mars: The God of War

Mars the God of War. This picture is courtesy of en.wikipedia.or

 Today there is war just like in the days of the Roman Empire and the Roman Republic.  The early religion of the Romans was originally a simple animism (a belief in spirits or powers).  These spirits were not personified and not imagined as humans in form.  There was no statues of gods and no temples.  This religion established was a for a simple agricultural people.  As the Romans came into contact with other people and religions their own religion changed.  Divinities of conquered communities were brought into the pantheon of Roman gods.  It is believed that Etruscan kings built the first temples in Italy and set up the first statues of gods.  Contact with the Greeks led to the introduction of the Greek gods and Greek ritual.  The Religion of Numa is said to have organized the first priestly colleges.  The important of these priests were Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus.  Priestly colleges were groups of priests organized to perpetuate certain rights.  Salii (dancing priests) made up a famous college that worshiped Mars, the god of war.

Mars the god of war and agriculture was one of the twelve Olympian Gods.  He was the son of Jupiter and Juno.  Jupiter was said to be the greatest of all the gods.  It is said that his symbol is a vulture, a wolf and he often carried a bloody spear.  The Romans and Greek intertwined their religions and gods.  Mars would be equivalent to the Greek god of war Ares.  March 23 a festival called Tubilustrium was held in honor of Mars.  The sacrifices that were preformed to Mars were in correspondence to the Roman way of sacrifices.  The sex of the victim had to correspond to the sex of the god to whom it was offered.  White animals were given to the gods of the upper world and black victims to the gods of the underworld.

I will give you a couple of examples of ancient prayers and religious chants that have been preserved.  The first one is a powerful chant of the Arval brothers handed down in an inscription of A.D. 218:

“Come hither, you Lares, help,

let no plague, disaster, Mars break in upon the throng.

Wild Mars, take your fill, jump on to the threshold and stay there.

All the Semunes shall he invoke in turn.

Let Mars come to our aid

Triumph, triumph, triumph, triumph, triumph”

As we can see the beliefs in the existence of gods and in the practical applications of their power are not only present in the religion but also their prayers.  Pray is predicated on the belief that gods can and will respond to requests with actions in the material world when called upon.  The next example considers one of several prayers that Cato recorded about Mars the god of war and agriculture.

“Father Mars, I beg and entreat you to be well disposed toward me and toward our house and household.  I have ordered an offering of pigs, sheep, and bulls to be led around my field, land, and farm on account of this request, so that you may prevent, ward off, and remove sickness, both seen and unseen, and barrenness and devastation, and damage to crops and bad weather, and so that you may permit my legumes, grain, vineyards, and shrubbery to grow and turn out well.  Preserve my shepherds and flocks unharmed and give good health and strength to me, my home, and our household.  For this purpose, to purify my farm and land and field and to make an expiatory offering, as I said, be increased by these offerings of suckling pigs, sheep, and bulls that are to be offered.  Father Mars, for this same reason, be increased by these offerings of suckling pigs, sheep, and bulls.”

Mars the God of War and his symbol. This picture courtesy of

As we see here prayer for the Romans was an important part of their lives that they inherited and formed from other people and their religions.  Mars played an important role in the Romans life not only for deliverance from their enemies during war but also for their farms and houses.


Mary Johnston, Roman Life: Successor to Private Life of the Romans (Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Company,1957), 340,349

Karl Christ, The Romans: An Introduction to their History and Civilisation (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), 158-159

Charles King, “The Organization of Roman Religious Beliefs,” Classical Antiquity, vol. 22 No. 2 (October 2003), pp. 275-312


Picture of Mars statue:

Picture of Mars with spear:


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Ancient Roman Legal Marriages

When people get married today it usually involves lots of planning and money and where the wedding is going to take place.  We never really think of is this wedding going to be legal or illegal.  This was definitely an issue during the late Republic and into the Imperial period in Rome.  Marriages required no formal ceremony to be valid.  Cohabitation between eligible partners basically created marriage.  Most historians today would agree that marriages within village or ethnic units, social classes and status groups were common in the communities that constituted Roman society   Slaves could not legally get married but all Roman citizens could whether they be freeborn or freed, could marry another Roman citizen of the opposite sex unless disqualified by not meeting certain conditions before a legal marriage could be contracted.

  • Girls must be at least twelve years old, boys must be fourteen, at the time of marriage.
  • Freeborn citizens could not marry persons associated with “unsavory occupations” for example: prostitution, acting, tavern keeping, and women who had been convicted of adultery.
  • Too close a degree of relationship could prohibit marriage.
  • Soldiers could not marry during their term.
  •  Governors could not marry women resident in their provinces during their governorship.
  • From the second century A.D. guardians could not marry their wards.
  • In addition to the above restrictions, members of senatorial families couldn’t marry persons of freed status.

Both parties involved in the marriage must be adults.  There could be no marriages between children.  Both man and woman had to be unmarried and polygamy was never practiced in Rome.  The two getting married couldn’t be closely related and in general marriage was absolutely forbidden between ascendants and descendants.  If all of these conditions were met between man and woman they might legally be married.  Certain distinctions might affect the civil status of their children.  If all requirements were fulfilled and both were Roman citizens the marriage was legal and the children by birth were legitimate with all civil rights.  If one of the parties in the marriage was a Roman citizen and the other member did not have full Roman citizenship, the marriage was still legal.  The children always took the civil standing of their father.

Roman citizens then had to live up to these requirements to be classified as a legal marriage.  The Christian church era of Rome changed a few of these rules as time went on.  At least now days we don’t have to worry about some of these things but the stress is still there.


Brent D. Shaw and Richard P. Saller, Close-Kin Marriage in Roman Society?, Man, New Series, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Sep., 1984), pp. 432-444

Beryl Rawson, Roman Consubinage and Other De Facto Marriages, Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974). Vol. 104 (1974), pp. 279-305

Mary Johnston, Roman Life: Successor to Private Life of the Romans, (Scott, Foresman and Company, Chicago, 1957) pp. 129-130



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Gladiators: A Day at the Games

Afternoon Gladiator Battles. Gladiator looking up at the audience for their approval to kill or let the wounded Gladiator live. Photo courtesy of
When we think of games today, we usually think of sporting events and the Olympic Games.  In Ancient Rome in the year of 264 B.C.E. the first know gladiatorial games took place.  It was part of the funeral (munera) of Decimus Brutus Pera.  The games would last about 100 days and used about 9,000 beasts and hundreds of gladiators.  A typical day at the games would consist of three parts.  A morning hunt, the lunchtime executions, and finally the afternoon gladiator battles.  At the break of dawn the Roman soldiers would wake up the gladiators and slaves and get them ready to fight for the day.  This involved stretching and practice fighting with wooden swords.  The audience would start to arrive and fill the amphitheatre by the thousands by walking up steep staircases through the walkways known as the ambulacra.  People would come from all over to watch the games.
The morning hunts began with the Romans capturing hundreds of animals and dragging them to the amphitheatre to die.  The crowd was always ready to see the capture of some new and exotic beasts fight to the death.  The morning hunt would start off with a bear going up against a bull.  The crowd would cheer and the gates would rise up and the two animals would fight until one animal was dead.  The first bloodshed of the day drew screams and applause from the crowd.  When one of the animals died the crowd would cheer and then fifty venatores would enter the arena. 

The Morning Hunt. Slaves fighting against various kinds of beasts til the death. Afternoon Gladiator Battles on the bottom. Photo courtesy of

 The next battle was slaves against various kinds of beasts.  The slaves would have a variety of weapons for their protection.  Animals that were used in this battle would cosist of elephants, rhinoceroses, lions, tigers, panthers,gazelles, deer, bulls, and bears.  The slaves would then be given dogs that would help them battle the other animals.  Even with all this going on the audience would place bets on which slaves and animals would make it through the fight.  When the last of the slaves survived other slaves would come out and carry the dead humans and animals away.
The lunchtime executions was the next event.  This event some stayed for but others they would leave the amphitheatre and eat lunch.  During this time criminals would be executed by means of animals or human executioners.  The criminals were usually charged with murder, arson, and armed robbery.  The audience was pleased to have this part of the games to get rid of the criminals in the cities.
The last event would be in the afternoon.  This would involve all the gladiators.  This was the high point of the day for the audience.  The gladiators would enter the arena through the great arch wearing their colored costumes.  The crowd would be going crazy and cheering for their own gladiator that they wanted to win.  When the gladiators made their way to the Emperor’s box the first thing they did before the battles started was the drawing of the lots.  This was done to see which gladiators would be fighting each other.  When this was completed the second important thing to do before the battles was the probatio armorum, or inspection of arms.  They would check every sword, trident, and every bow for sharpness and straightness.  When the battles began it was normally one gladiator against another, however the sponsor or audience could request other combinations like several gladiators against each other or the could be on two separate teams.  At the end of the fight the gladiator would acknowledge defeat by raising a finger to the audience in approval whether the wounded should live or die.  The sponsor or emperor and the audience would point their thumbs in a certain way either for the m to live or die.  It is not clear which way they would point their thumbs.  In some cases the audience would be so impressed on both gladiators they would request that both live to see another day.  A gladiator who would win several fights was allowed to retire.  A retired gladiator would often go to the gladiator school and train other gladiators.
Baker, Alan: The Gladiator. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001
Thomas Wiedemann: “Emperors and Gladiators” Routledge 1992
James: “Gladiators” part of the Encyclopaedia Romana
Violence and the Romans: The Arena Spectacles
The Revolt of Spartacus A narrative essay
Daniel P Mannix: “Those About To Die”  Ballantine Books New York 1958
Michael Grant: “Gladiators” Penguin Books London 1967 reprinted 2000 ISBN 0140299343


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