Seven Wonders of Ancient Rome

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

With 2017 just hours away, we are busy getting ready for some fun. However, we still thought we should end the year with something lively, educational and entertaining (of course).

That is why today we bring to you the Seven Wonders of Ancient Rome!

Able to inspire wonder and awe in all who gazed upon them, the Seven Wonders of Ancient Rome – the Pantheon, the Aqueducts of Rome, the Via Appia, the Baths of Caracalla, Trajan’s Markets, the Circus Maximus and  the Colosseum – were the works of great men who translated fantastic visions into the epitome of human achievement. These visionaries included ambitious Emperors like Hadrian and engineers with revolutionary ideas such as Apollodorus of Damascus.

By the 2nd Century AD, Rome had become the Caput Mundi (Head of the World). Architectural marvels with a clear civic purpose such as roads and aqueducts stood alongside constructions of great beauty and immense luxury.

They transformed Rome into one of the greatest cities of Classical Antiquity and the Roman Empire into a vast monument to the genius of its architects. We recreate Rome’s ancient streets, fly over its aqueducts and walk beneath the shadow of her impressive arches.

By investigating the minds of the Emperors, architects and engineers behind them, we reveal the mysteries of constructions that changed the world.

Thanks for stopping by today. Please celebrate New Year’s Eve safe and responsibly, so we can see you back in 2017.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!




Kingdom of Soissons: A Rump State of Roman Gaul

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

As of late we have been discovering Gallia (aka Roman Gaul). We’ve already explored most of the Provincia with articles like – Roman Gaul: Paving the Way for Modern Europe; Gallia Cisalpina: A Different Side of Roman Gaul; Provincia Gallia Narbonensis: Our Province; Gallia Aquitania: Home of the Long-haired Gauls; Gallia Belgica: Conquered by Caesar and Founded by Augustus; and Gallia Lugdunensis: Roman Europe’s Major City West of Italia.

Now it’s time to dig a little deeper to uncover a hidden layer within the boundaries of Gallia. Since there’s no time like the present, let’s take a look at the Kingdom of Soissons!

Western and Eastern Roman Empires 476 AD. Kingdom of Syagrius (North-West) within the Western Roman Empire (blue).
Western and Eastern Roman Empires 476 AD. Kingdom of Syagrius (North-West) within the Western Roman Empire (blue).

The Kingdom of Soissons was a rump state of the Western Roman Empire in northern Gaul (present day France) for some 25 years during Late Antiquity. Soissons had formerly been the tribal capital of the Celtic tribe of the Suessiones.

Soissons commanded a broad swathe of territory across the full width of northern Gaul, even though the region became more and more isolated from Italia, with Frankish states to the north and east and the Visigothic Kingdom to the south.

The emergence of the Kingdom of Soissons began when Western Emperor Majorian (AD 457–461) appointed Aegidius as Magister Militum of the Roman Gaul. By the 5th Century AD, the Suessiones had become completely Romanized with Roman government in the area that was centered on Soissons (or Noviodunum as the Romans called it).

Majorian (Flavius Iulius Valerius Maiorianus Augustus)
Majorian (Flavius Iulius Valerius Maiorianus Augustus)

During the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Emperor Majorian proved to be a little too popular. Majorian constantly took the field in person and lead the failing Roman Army to victories over the Visigoths and Burgundians, which restored Hispania.

Following a revolt in AD 417, the Armoricans were also almost completely independent of Rome. However, Auxerre on the Yonne remained under Roman control along with the new capital of Roman Gaul at Arles.

The northern region also managed to retain a Roman government based at Soissons, although more and more often Rome was being forced to use barbarian Foederati to solve its problems rather than increasingly rare Roman troops.

Divisions of Gaul (481 AD)
Divisions of Gaul (481 AD)

The remaining Roman territory in northwest Gallia was connected with the Roman possessions in the Auvergne, Provence and Languedoc which connected these to Italia. During Majorian’s reign, that corridor was annexed by the Germanic tribes then occupying Gaul, effectively cutting off Aegidius and his citizens from the Empire.

Majorian and Aegidius had recovered the Roman position in most of Gaul, but it would not last. With the death of Majorian at the hands of Ricimer in AD 461, Aegidius’s power and the Roman position in the center and southern provinces deteriorated.

Aegidius was now intent on avenging Majorian’s death, but was prevented from marching on Rome when Ricimer hired the previously defeated Visigoths and Burgundians to serve as a blockade. Aegidius’ troops remained loyal to him, however, and Rome again lost its authority in Soissons, which remained governed by Aegidius.

Allied to Aegidius was Childeric I, king of the Salian Franks of Tournai, and helped him defeat the Visigoths at Orléans in 463. According to Gregory of Tours, Aegidius even ruled the Franks during Childeric’s banishment, but Childeric later returned from exile.

Aegidius died on the Loire in AD 464, and may have been murdered at the orders of one of Childeric’s enemies. Paulus of Angers, the Comes of Aegidius, was killed shortly afterwards on the same campaign.

This left Syagrius, Aegidius’s son, to succeed his rule. The former province of Gallia Aquitania was then annexed by the Visigoths and Burgundians in the years AD 462-477, leaving the remaining Roman Kingdom of Syagrius isolated.

Syagrius during battle
Syagrius during battle

At the same time, in the north of Gaul the Franks were increasing their influence. It is possible that the Groans of the Britons, referring to a Romano-British request for military assistance after the Roman departure from Britain, may have been addressed to Aegidius.


Syagrius governed using the title of Dux (a provincial military commander), but the neighboring Germanic tribes referred to him as Romanorum Rex (King of the Romans). In 476, under the rule of Syagrius, the Kingdom of Soissons failed to accept the new rule of Odoacer who had dethroned the dethroned the last Western Emperor earlier that year.

While both Syagrius and Odoacer sent messengers to the Eastern Roman Empire, the Eastern Emperor Zeno chose to offer legitimacy to Odoacer instead of Syagrius. The Kingdom of Soissons cut all ties with Italy and had no further recorded contact with the Eastern Roman Empire.

Even after 476, Syagrius continued to maintain that he was merely governing a Roman province. The Kingdom of Soissons was in fact an independent region.

Clovis statue at the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis.
Clovis statue at the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis.

Childeric died about 481, and his son Clovis I became the Frankish king. Clovis made continual war against Syagrius, and in the end took over all his territory.

In 486 Syagrius lost the Battle of Soissons to the Frankish king Clovis I and the domain was thereafter under the control of the Franks. Many historians consider this Clovis’ greatest victory.

Syagrius fled to the Visigothic king Alaric II, but the Franks threatened war if Syagrius was not surrendered to them. Syagrius was sent back to Clovis, who had him executed in 487.

Clovis I ruled the Franks until his death in 511. When he died, the Frankish realm was divided into 4 kingdoms, 1 for each of his sons.

Clotaire I received the area formerly ruled by Syagrius. Clotaire himself had been born in Soissons a decade after Syagrius’ death.

The Kingdom of Soissons (486 AD)
The Kingdom of Soissons (486 AD)

By skillful diplomacy, warmongering, and murder of his relatives, Clotaire became the king of all Gaul by 555. When Clotaire died in 561, the Frankish realm further was divided into 3 kingdoms, 1 for each son.

The western kingdom of Neustria continued to be governed from Soissons until all Franks were once more unified under the Neustrian king Clotaire II in 613. Except for the period of 639-673, when a division between Neustria and Austrasia occurred, the Franks remained unified until the Treaty of Verdun in 843.

The Kingdom of Soissons (or the Kingdom of Syagrius) was, in reality, neither ruled by a legitimate king, nor was it considered by its citizens as anything other than a separated province of the Western Roman Empire. However it was a prized piece of land that was coveted by many and which still has us engaged today.

We hope you enjoyed today’s discovery and look forward to having you back again in the new year. Have a safe and happy New Year’s celebration.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Bély, Lucien and Moyon, Angela. The History of France. Google Books. ISBN 978-2-87747-563-1.

Bussey, George Muir; Gaspey, Thomas; and Burette, Théodose. A History of France and of the French People. Google Books.

Frassetto, Michael. Encyclopedia of barbarian Europe. Google Books. ISBN 978-1-57607-263-9.

MacGeorge, Penny. Late Roman Warlords. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-925244-0.

Domain of Soissons AD 461 – 486”. The History Files.

Plague of Cyprian: A Plague Blamed on Christianity

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

So Christmas has passed and we are preparing for New Year’s Eve. If you’ve eaten as much as we have this holiday season then you may be feeling a little sick.

Hopefully that’s not the case, and everyone is still in good health and spirits. If you have been sick, then we’ve got something to help bring perspective.

Recently we discussed a sickness that helped bring down the Roman Empire with the article Antonine Plague: An Indiscriminate Killer Throughout the Empire and the Plague of Justinian: Attacking the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.

We discovered both the cause (an unknown virus) and effect (30% of Empire’s population perished) of the Antonine Plague. We also learned that the Plague of Justinian has been considered one of the deadliest plagues in history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 25 million to 50 million people.

Today we continue our look into Roman Medicine as we explore the final plague of the Roman era, the Plague of Cyprian!

The modern name for the 3rd Century plague is derived from early Christian writer Saint Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, who vividly described the pandemic in a series of accounts. Cyprian believed that the pestilence signaled the end of the world as he wrote, “The kingdom of God, beloved brethren, is beginning to be at hand.”

The Plague of Cyprian afflicted the Roman Empire from AD 250 onwards during the larger Crisis of the Third Century. It took the life of Emperor Hostilian in AD 251 and was still raging in AD 270, when it claimed the life of Emperor Claudius II Gothicus.

Saint Cyprian, namesake of the plague.

The severe devastation to the European population from the plagues may indicate that the people had no previous exposure or immunity to the plague’s cause. The microbe responsible the Plague of Cyprian remains stubbornly unidentifiable despite various historians’ guesses ranging from smallpox to measles.

Historian William Hardy McNeill asserts that the Antonine Plague and the Plague of Cyprian were the original transfers from animal hosts to humanity of 2 different diseases, one of smallpox and one of measles, although not necessarily in that order.

Many Roman authorities blamed the plague itself on Christianity. Despite this, the threat of imminent death from the plague and the unwavering conviction among many of the Christian clergy in the face of it won more converts to the faith.

Burial site for victims of the Cyprian Plague in Thebes.

Archaeologists working in Thebes (modern Luxor) in Egypt have discovered evidence of the Cyprian Plague. During excavations of the Funerary Complex of Harwa and Akhimenru, the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor (MAIL), led by Francesco Tiradritti, uncovered charred human remains saturated in lime.

The lime, historically used as a disinfectant, was made in 3 kilns discovered in the complex which archaeologists were able to date the burial to the 3rd Century AD. A huge bonfire where the victims were burned was also found.

Publishing their findings in Egyptian Archaeology, the MAIL researchers believe they have uncovered the burial site of the Theban plague victims. “We found evidence of corpses either burned or buried inside the lime. They had to dispose of them without losing any time,” Tiradritti told LiveScience.

Cave in Thebes where plague victims where found.

The MAIL team found no evidence that the corpses at the Theban funerary complex had received any religious rites, indicating that those who buried them did so quickly in the hopes of curbing the plague’s spread. After its use during the plague, the burial monument appears to have been abandoned, and was never used again.

Grey fragment of decoration from within the monument found inside of the lime kilns.

Tissue taken from skeletons buried around the time of the epidemic in recently uncovered mass graves in Egypt and Rome will surely be analyzed thoroughly. Since we are relying on ancient descriptions of the disease, it is unlikely to say for certain what the sickness actually was.

To be sure, the frightening list of symptoms provided by Cyprian will sound familiar to anyone who followed the recent West African outbreak of the Ebola virus.

“As the strength of the body is dissolved, the bowels dissipate in a flow; a fire that begins in the inmost depths burns up into wounds in the throat… the intestines are shaken with continuous vomiting … the eyes are set on fire from the force of the blood … as weakness prevails through the failures and losses of the bodies, the gait is crippled or the hearing is blocked or the vision is blinded …”

Woodcut of Pontius witnessing the martydom of St. Cyprian (15th Century).

The Plague of Cyprian swept across the Roman Empire from AD 250 to 266, reportedly claiming more than 5,000 victims a day in Rome alone. Cyprian’s biographer, Pontius of Carthage, wrote of the plague at Carthage:

“Afterwards there broke out a dreadful plague, and excessive destruction of a hateful disease invaded every house in succession of the trembling populace, carrying off day by day with abrupt attack numberless people, everyone from his own house. All were shuddering, fleeing, shunning the contagion, impiously exposing their own friends, as if with the exclusion of the person who was sure to die of the plague, one could exclude death itself also. There lay about the meanwhile, over the whole city, no longer bodies, but the carcasses of many, and, by the contemplation of a lot which in their turn would be theirs, demanded the pity of the passers-by for themselves. No one regarded anything besides his cruel gains. No one trembled at the remembrance of a similar event. No one did to another what he himself wished to experience.”

The dead and dying litter the streets.

At the time of the outbreak, it was said people were quick to turn over their friends and even family to the authorities in the hope they could avoid the deadly plague themselves. The streets were strewn with carcasses, many of which were burned to try and destroy the disease.

In Carthage, the Decian Persecution unleashed at the onset of the plague, sought out Christian scapegoats. Fifty years later, when North Africa converted to Christianity, Arnobius defended his new religion from pagan allegations:

“that a plague was brought upon the earth after the Christian religion came into the world, and after it revealed the mysteries of hidden truth? But pestilences, say my opponents, and droughts, wars, famines, locusts, mice, and hailstones, and other hurtful things, by which the property of men is assailed, the gods bring upon us, incensed as they are by your wrong-doings and by your transgressions.”

The Plague of Rome (by Jules Elie Delaunay, 1869).

Cyprian drew moralizing analogies in his sermons to the Christian community and drew a word picture of the plague’s symptoms in his essay De Mortalitate (On the Plague):

“This trial, that now the bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge the bodily strength; that a fire originated in the marrow ferments into wounds of the fauces; that the intestines are shaken with a continual vomiting; that the eyes are on fire with the injected blood; that in some cases the feet or some parts of the limbs are taken off by the contagion of diseased putrefaction; that from the weakness arising by the maiming and loss of the body, either the gait is enfeebled, or the hearing is obstructed, or the sight darkened;—is profitable as a proof of faith. What a grandeur of spirit it is to struggle with all the powers of an unshaken mind against so many onsets of devastation and death! what sublimity, to stand erect amid the desolation of the human race, and not to lie prostrate with those who have no hope in God; but rather to rejoice, and to embrace the benefit of the occasion; that in thus bravely showing forth our faith, and by suffering endured, going forward to Christ by the narrow way that Christ trod, we may receive the reward of His life and faith according to His own judgment!”

Cyprian went on to add that those afflicted by the plague suffered from incessant vomiting, bleeding from the eyes and limbs taken off due to contagion. He also claimed that the plague signaled the end of the world, stating that “The kingdom of God, beloved brethren, is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world…”

Bronze bust of Claudius II “the Gothic” (AD 268/269).

The plague still raged in 270: in the account of the wars against Goths waged by Claudius II Gothicus given in the Historia Augusta, it is reported that “in the consulship of Antiochianus and Orfitus the favor of heaven furthered Claudius’ success. For a great multitude, the survivors of the barbarian tribes, who had gathered in Haemimontum were so stricken with famine and pestilence that Claudius now scorned to conquer them further…. during this same period the Scythians attempted to plunder in Crete and Cyprus as well, but everywhere their armies were likewise stricken with pestilence and so were defeated.”

Plagues in Classical Antiquity, as in many other periods of history, were frequently understood to be supernatural as well as physical disasters. Because the 3rd Century AD was a crucial time of growth and definition for the early Christian church, the Plague of Cyprian came to take on a deep spiritual meaning for pagan and Christian alike.

Cyprian the Bishop of Carthage.

For Bishop Cyprian, the plague that came to bear his name was hard proof of the superiority of Christianity over traditional Roman religion. Seeing the pestilence as an opportunity to put their most deeply-held beliefs into action, early Christians beatifically set about caring for the sick and giving proper burials to the dead.

On the other side of the religious divide, the pagan establishment was overwhelmed with fear. Traditionally, Roman priests interpreted epidemics as a sign of displeasure from the gods.

Evidence in the form of new iconography on coins and references to extraordinary state-organized sacrifices suggests that the Plague of Cyprian was no different. Sources agree that, “the epidemic undermined the social fabric of pagan society” while “the orderly response of the Christian community, especially in the burial of the dead, presented a stark contrast.”

Roman Empire (3rd Century AD)

The clearly biased language of both Christian and pagan sources has caused many scholars to discount them as religious propaganda—despite the fact that, if you strip away the pontification, the Christian and pagan accounts agree on all major points, most importantly how contagious, painful, and deadly the disease was.

The tendency of some witnesses to slip into stock phrases taken from classic literary descriptions of plagues in Thucydides and Virgil has similarly worked to discredit the textual evidence because quoting major cultural touchstones was an extremely common way of processing and even emphasizing the severity of shared trauma in antiquity. The disease was one of the nails in the Roman Empire’s coffin, and an important milestone in the growth of early Christianity.

Though the plague did not turn out to be a harbinger of the world’s end, many historians believed that it weakened the Roman Empire and hastened its fall.

Thanks for sticking it out with us and getting through the chaos. We hope you enjoyed the journey and look forward to having you back on our next adventure.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Arnobius (Translated by Hamilton Bryce and Hugh Campbell, c. 1885). Adversus Gentes 1.3Online at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Cyprian (Transl. Ernest Wallis, c. 1885). De MortalitateOnline at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Ngo, Robin. The Cyprian Plague. Bible History Daily. 7 December 2016.

Pontius of Carthage (Transl. Ernest Wallis, c. 1885). Life of CyprianOnline at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Pruitt, Sarah. “Ancient Plague Victims Found in Egypt”. 18 June 2014.

Sherman, Irwin W. The power of plagues. ASM Press, 2006.

Stathakopoulos, D. Ch. Famine and Pestilence in the late Roman and early Byzantine Empire. 2007.

Wazer, Caroline. “The Plagues That Might Have Brought Down the Roman Empire”. The Atlantic. 16 March 2016.

Zosimus (scanned and published online by Roger Pearse). The New History, Book 1. Green and Chaplin, 1814.

Saint Cyprian”. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Book 12; Thought 28

When thou art troubled about anything, thou hast forgotten this, that all things happen according to the universal nature; and forgotten this, that a man’s wrongful act is nothing to thee; and further thou hast forgotten this, that everything which happens, always happened so and will happen so, and now happens so everywhere; forgotten this too, how close is the kinship between a man and the whole human race, for it is a community, not of a little blood or seed, but of intelligence.

And thou hast forgotten this too, that every man’s intelligence is a god, and is an efflux of the deity; and forgotten this, that nothing is a man’s own, but that his child and his body and his very soul came from the deity; forgotten this, that everything is opinion; and lastly thou hast forgotten that every man lives the present time only, and loses only this.

The CRAZIEST Things Ancient Romans Did!

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Sometimes we find it nice to just kick up our feet and relax. If we can watch something both entertaining AND educational, then we truly are amongst the gods.

So we bring to you a top list of 20 historical facts you probably didn’t know about the Roman Empire.

From bloody gladiator fights at the Colosseum (aka the Flavian Amphitheatre) to insane Emperors drinking poison. From women sporting a unibrow to gluttony to the point of vomiting.

Find out what Julius Caesar and the Senate were really up to. Enjoy!

We hope you were entertained as we were, and maybe you even learned something new about Ancient Rome. Stop by again soon to see what we have in store for you.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

College of Pontiffs: An Old World Tradition in the Modern Era

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Last week we explored a primarily religious role in Ancient Rome that ended up bleeding over into the government when we uncovered the Pontifex Maximus. For further information on this role please check out both Pontifex Maximus: The Greatest Bridge-Builder and Pontifex Maximus: From the Republic’s End to the Present.

Exploring that supreme position leads us into today’s journey as we discover the College of Pontiffs!

College of Pontiffs

The College of Pontiffs (LatinCollegium Pontificum) was a body of the ancient Roman state whose members were the highest-ranking priests of the state religion. The college consisted of the Pontifex Maximus and the other Pontifices, the Rex Sacrorum, the 15 Flamines, and the Vestales.

Goddess (Vesta or Concordia), extending a patera, emblem of the Epulones.

The College of Pontiffs was 1 of the 4 major priestly colleges of Rome. The others were the Augurs (who read omens), the Quindecimviri Sacris Faciundis (15 men who carry out the rites), and the Epulones (who set up feasts at festivals).

The title Pontifex comes from the Latin for Bridge Builder, a possible allusion to a very early role in placating the gods and spirits associated with the Tiber River. Ancient Roman scholar and writer Varro cites this position as meaning “able to do”.

The Pontifex Maximus was the most important member of the college. Until 104 BC, the Pontifex Maximus held the sole power in appointing members to the other priesthoods in the college.

The Flamens were priests in charge of 15 official cults of Roman religion, each assigned to a particular god. The 3 Major Flamens (Flamines Maiores) were the Flamen Dialis (High Priest of Jupiter), the Flamen Martialis (High Priest of Mars), and the Flamen Quirinalis (High Priest of Quirinus).

Flamines, distinguished by their pointed headdress, as part of a procession on the Augustan Altar of Peace.

The deities cultivated by the 12 Flamines Minores were Carmenta, CeresFalacer, FloraFurrina, Palatua, Pomona, Portunes, Volcanus (Vulcan), Volturnus, and 2 whose names are lost.

One of their most important duties was their guardianship of the Libri Pontificales (Pontifical Books). Among these were the ActaAnnales (yearly records of magistrates and important events), Fasti,  Indigitamenta, Ritualia (rituals) and Commentarii. These items were under the sole possession of the College of Pontiffs and only they were allowed to consult these items when necessary.

The Lex Acilia de Intercalando bestowed power on the college to manage the calendar. Thus, they determined the days which religious and political meetings could be held, when sacrifices could be offered, votes cast, and senatorial decisions brought forth.

The most prominent feature of the ruins that were once the Temple of Vesta is the hearth (seen here in the foreground).

The Vestal Virgins were the only female members of the college. They were in charge of guarding Rome’s sacred hearth, keeping the flame burning inside the Temple of Vesta.

Young girls were chosen for this position between ages 6 to 10 years old. These girls were obligated to perform the rites and obligations, including remaining chaste, for 30 years.

Membership in the various colleges of priests, including the College of Pontiffs, was usually an honor offered to members of politically powerful or wealthy families. Membership for the male priests was for life, while the female Vestal Virgins had a time limit.

During the Rēgnum Rōmānum of Roman history, the Pontiffs were primarily Concilia (Advisers) of the kings. However, after the expulsion of the last Roman King in 510 BC, the College of Pontiffs became religious advisers to the Roman Senate.

Chief Pontiff Lepidus (seated), Antony and Octavian in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (c. 42 BC).

As the most important of the 4 priestly colleges, the College of Pontiffs’ duties involved advising the Senate on issues pertaining to the gods, the supervision of the calendar and thus the supervision of ceremonies with their specific rituals, and the appeasement of the gods upon the appearance of omens.

In the early Res Publica Romana, only Pātriciī (Patricians) could become priests. However, that changed in 300 BC when the Lex Ogulnia opened up college to Plebeians.

Until the 3rd Century BC, the Collegium elected the Pontifex Maximus from their own number. The right of the Collegium to elect their own Pontifex Maximus was returned, but the circumstances surrounding this are unclear.

This changed again after Sulla, when in response to his reforms, the election of the Pontifex Maximus was once again placed in the hands of an assembly of 17 of the 25 tribes. However, the College still controlled which candidates the assembly voted on.

The Regia

The College of Pontiffs occupied the Regia during the early Republican Period, replacing the religious authority that was once held by the king. A position, the Rex Sacrorum, was even created to replace the king for purposes of religious ceremonies.

Prior to the start of the Imperium Rōmānum, the office was publicly elected from the candidates of existing Pontiffs. This changed when Julius Caesar automatically assumed the title of Pontifex Maximus upon taking control of Rome, and the Emperors from Augustus on simply followed suit.

The Pontifex Maximus was also a powerful political position to hold, and the candidates for office were often very active political members of the College. Many, such as Julius Caesar, went on to hold Consulships during their time as Pontifex Maximus.


The Pontiffs were assisted by Pontifical Clerks or Scribes (Scribae). This position was known in the earlier Republican period as a Scriba Pontificius, but by the Augustan period as a Pontifex Minorum.

Pontifex Minorum assisted at the rite (Res Divina) for Juno performed each Kalends, the first day of the month. He took up a position in the Curia Calabra, a sacred precinct (templum) on the Capitoline Hill, to observe the new moon.

Around AD 440, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Pope Leo I began using the title Pontifex Maximus to emphasize the authority of the Pope. The term Chief Priests in the New Testament (e.g. Mark 15:11) is translated as Pontifices in the Latin Vulgate and High Priest as Pontifex in Hebrews 2:17.

A hip logo

We hope you enjoyed concluding our journey of the Pontifex Maximus and the College of Pontiffs. Thanks for stopping by and we look forward to having you back again soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Beard, Mary. “Roman Priesthoods” in Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean: Greece and Rome. 3 vols. Scribner’s, 1988.

Cameron, Alan. “The Imperial Pontifex”. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 2007.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Roman Antiquities II. Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press.

Forsythe, Gary. A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War. University of California Press, 1 January 2006. ISBN 978-0-520-24991-2.

Lanciani, Rodolfo. New Tales of Ancient Rome. Kessinger Publishing, 2005. ISBN 978-1-41790821-9.

North, John A. “The Constitution of the Roman Republic” in A Companion to Roman Religion. Blackwell, 2010.

Plutarch. “Numa: The Institutions of Roman Religion, 7th Cent. BCE”.

Richardson, Lawrence. A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Rüpke, Jörg. “Communicating with the Gods” in A Companion to Roman Religion. Blackwell, 2010.

Rüpke, Jörg. The Roman Calendar from Numa to Constantine: Time, History, and the Fasti. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Szemler, G.J. The Priests of the Republic: A Study of the Interactions between Priesthoods and Magistracies. Collection Latomus, 1972.

Christmas Traditions Across Central Europe

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Even if you aren’t Christian, we’re fairly certain you know what today is. Let us be one of the first to wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Since this is our 1st article posted on December 25th, we figured it only fitting if it was written about Christmas. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy this holiday, simply open-minded enough to enough having a good time with friends and family.

Because Christmas is now a global celebration we thought it might be cool to see how others celebrate. We then thought it’d be even better if those places and cultures in areas that were once part of the Roman Empire.

Beginning today, we are hopefully starting our own practice of showcasing Christmas traditions from various locations each Christmas day. With that we bring to you Christmas Traditions: Central Europe!

Christmas time in Slovakia

Christmas traditions vary from country to country. Christmas celebrations for many nations include the installing and lighting of Christmas trees, the hanging of Advent wreathsChristmas stockingscandy canes, and the creation of Nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ.

Christmas carols may be sung and stories told about such figures as the Baby JesusSt NicholasSanta ClausFather Christmas, Christkind or Grandfather Frost. The sending and exchange of Christmas card greetings, observance of fasting and special religious observances such as a Midnight Mass or Vespers on Christmas Eve (December 24), the burning of a Yule log, and the giving and receiving of presents.

In countries of Central Europe (roughly defined as the German-speaking countries Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary) the main celebration date for the general public is Christmas Eve. The day is usually a fasting day, and in some places children are told they’ll see a golden pig if they hold fast until after dinner.

When the evening comes preparation of Christmas Dinner starts. Traditions concerning dinner vary from region to region.

For example, in Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, the prevailing meal is fried carp with potato salad and fish or cabbage soup. However, in some places the tradition is porridge with mushrooms (a modest dish), and elsewhere the dinner is exceptionally rich, with up to 12 dishes.

This in fact reveals that when Christmas comes around all the kids get presents from neighbors and house guests. Even the house pet gets a little something.

Christmas Tree

After the dinner comes the time for gifts. Children usually find their gifts under the Christmas tree, with name stickers.

An interesting example of the complicated history of the region is the “fight” between Christmas beings. During communism, when countries of Central Europe were under Soviet influence, communist authorities strongly pushed Russian traditional Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) in the place of Little Jesus won.

Now Santa Claus is attacking, by means of advertising and Hollywood film production. Many people, Christians as well as people with just a Christian background, go to Roman Catholic midnight mass celebration.

In many areas of Central Europe, St. Nicholas or Santa Claus does not come for Christmas. He visits families earlier, on the dawn of St. Nicholas Day on December 6, and for the well-behaved children he has presents and candy-bags to put into their well-polished shoes that were set in the windows the previous evening.

A 1900s greeting card reading ‘Greetings from the Krampus!’

Although he neither parks his sleigh on rooftops nor climbs chimneys, his visits are usually accompanied by a diabolic-looking servant named Krampus who gives golden colored birch sticks for so called badly behaved children.

In some German-speaking communities of Europe (particularly in Catholic regions of western and southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria, South Tyrol and Liechtenstein) the Christkind (literally Christ child) brings the presents on the evening of December 24 (Holy Evening or Heiliger Abend). The Christkind is invisible so as never to be seen by anyone, but he rings a bell just before he leaves in order to let children know that the Christmas tree and the presents are ready.

It is a tradition to lavishly decorate a Christmas tree in the days directly before Christmas or on the morning of Christmas Eve. On late Christmas Eve, after the bell rings, the tree is shown to the children and presents are exchanged.

Old Bavarian crib found in St Mang Basilica, Füssen, Bavaria.

Many Catholic churches also have a first Mass of Christmas, called Christmette, on Holy Evening about 4 pm for the children and parents to attend before the families return home for their meal. The crib is a very important part of the celebrations in Catholic areas especially Bavaria.

In the largely Catholic Austria, Christmas markets are a long-standing tradition. In Vienna, for instance, the market is held in the large square in front of City Hall.

Innsbruck opens its romantic Christmas market in the narrow medieval square at the foot of the Golden Roof. In Salzburg, the Christmas market takes over the square in front of the Cathedral with its picturesque stalls, while the tree vendors occupy Residenzplatz on the side of the huge Cathedral.

Christmas market in front of the town hall in Vienna, Austria.

In Austria, Christmas trees play a very important part of Christmas celebrations. Every town sets up its own huge tree on the main square all decorated with candles, ornaments and candies and frequently there will be an extra one, adorned with bread crumbs, for the birds. In families the tree is decorated with gold and silver ornaments or stars made out of straw, sweets and candy wrapped in tinfoil, gilded nuts, etc.

The feast of St Nicholas marks the beginning of Christmas in Austria. On Christmas Eve the tree is lit for the first time and the whole family gathers to sing Christmas carols like “Silent Night”.

Austrian Advent bowl

Gifts that are placed under the tree are opened after dinner on Christmas Eve. Austrian Christmas tradition has it that it is the Christ Child himself who decorates the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and brings the children their Christmas presents.

The Christmas Eve dinner is the main event of the night often served with fried carp. The famous sachertorte and different kinds of chocolates are served as dessert, with Austrians also having special crescent shaped cookies.

St. Nicholas postcard from Germany.

In Germany, Christmas traditions vary by region. Till the reformation St. Nicholas’ Day, Saint Nicholas was the main provider of Christmas presents.

St. Nicholas still puts goodies in children’s shoes on that day. Sometimes he visits children in kindergarten, schools or at public events. They have to recite a short poem or sing a song in order to get sweets or a small gift.

Knecht Ruprecht (the servant Ruprecht), dressed in dark clothes with devil-like traits, sometimes accompanies St. Nicholas. His duty is to punish those children who haven’t behaved during the year.

Traditional Miner’s figures as Christmas light bearers.

The Sorbs, a minority in Saxony and parts of Brandenbuerg with a language similar to Polish, have some specific traditions. One tradition is related to the Wooden toymaking in the Ore Mountains, especially Seiffen provides Christmas related decorations like the Christmas pyramid and toys around the year.

Christmas letters may be addressed to Engelskirchen (Angel’s church) or Himmelpforten (Heaven’s gate) or some other in municipalities with matching names. After privatization, Deutsche Post kept the tradition of dedicated Christmas offices, one in each state, answering letters and requests from children.

Currently the actual Christmas gift-giving usually takes place on Christmas Eve. This tradition was introduced by Reformator, Martin Luther, as he as of the opinion that one should put the emphasis on Christ’s birth and not on a saint’s day and do away with the connotation that gifts have to be earned by good behavior.

The gifts should be seen as a symbol for the gift of God’s grace in Christ. This tradition quickly became common in predominantly Catholic regions as well.

Weihnachtsmann bringing presents.

Gifts may be brought by the Weihnachtsmann (Christmas man), who resembles either St. Nicholas or the American Santa Claus, or by Christkindl, a sprite-like child who may or may not represent the baby Jesus. Till 1930, there was sort of south-north divide between the realms of southern and Silesian Christkind and Nordic Weihnachtsmann.

The Christmas tree is first put up and decorated on the morning of the 24th. The gifts are then placed under the tree.

Christmas services in the church serve as well to exchange greetings with neighbors and friends. After an evening meal one of the parents usually goes into the room where the tree is standing, lights the candles and rings a little bell.

The children are then allowed to go into the candlelit room. In many families it is still a custom to sing Christmas songs around the tree before opening up the presents.

Christmas goose in Bavaria.

The culinary feast either takes place at supper on Christmas Eve or on the first day of Christmas. Traditions vary from region to region, but carp is eaten in many parts of the country.

Potato salad with frankfurter or wiener-sausages is popular in some families. Another simple meal which some families favor, especially in regions where Christmas Eve still has the character of a fast day, is vegetable or pea soup.

In some regions, especially in Schleswig-Holstein where Danish influence is noticeable, a roasted duck or goose filled with plums, apples and raisins is family tradition. In other regions, especially in Mecklenburg and Pomerania, many families prefer kale with boiled potatoes, special sausages and ham.

Many families have developed new traditions for themselves and eat such meals as meat fondue or raclette. In almost all families in all parts of Germany you find a wide variety of Christmas cookies baked according to recipes typical for the family and the region.

Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic – Christmastime.

Christmas Eve is celebrated as Štědrý den/Štedrý deň (Generous Day) when the gifts are given in the evening. December 25 and 26 are Public holidays in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia, but Christmas (Vánoce/Vianoce), is most commonly associated with the 24th.

According to tradition, gifts are brought by Ježíšek/Ježiško (baby Jesus). Fish soup and breaded roasted carp with special homemade potato salad are a traditional dish for the dinner.

Christmas Wafer in a basket.

In Slovakia, before eating, everyone exchanges Christmas greetings with each other by sharing a piece of Christmas wafer (Oblátky) with honey and walnuts. Traditional dinner depends on region, but common Christmas dinner is cabbage soup (Kapustnica) or lentil soup and breaded roasted carp with special homemade potato salad or handmade gnocchi with poppy (šúľanky s makom).

The gifts are surreptitiously placed under the Christmas tree (usually a spruce, pine or fir), usually just before or during dinner. After Christmas dinner, Children have to wait for the ringing of a Christmas bell on the tree to run for the presents.

Other Czech and Slovak Christmas traditions involve predictions for the future. Apples are cut crosswise and if a perfect star appears in the core, the next year will be successful, distorted star means a bad year or illness, while a cross may suggest death.

Girls throw shoes over their shoulders and if the toe points to the door, the girl will get married soon. Another tradition requires pouring some molten lead into water and guessing a message from its shapes.

In Catholic Slovakia, the tradition of Jasličkári involves young men dressed as shepherds or angels visiting their neighbors and presenting recitations and songs about the story of the birth of Jesus.

Although the role of gift-giver on Christmas Day itself is assigned to the Christ Child, on the night before St. Nicholas Day Hungarian children traditionally place a boot on their windowsill waiting for Mikulás (or Szent Miklós) to come by and fill it with treats.

Baumkuchen in Budapest

In Hungary, celebrations begin with Christmas tree decoration and gift packaging during daytime on December 24, then comes a family dinner with traditional Christmas meals. In some parts of Hungary, a traditional supper called fish soup (halászlé) is served for Christmas Eve meal, otherwise the day is a fast-day.

There is also a popular folk custom during December and especially on Christmas Eve, in which children or adults present the birth of Jesus. The custom is called playing Bethlehem, and it is an acting performance, where the actors are wearing costumes, and telling stories about the 3 kings, the shepherds, Mary, Joseph and of course the birth of the Holy Child.

A Christmas crib and a church are used as the scene. The actors go from house to house, and they receive gifts for their performance.

In the largely Roman Catholic Poland, Christmas Eve begins with a day of fasting and then a night of feasting. The traditional Christmas meal is known as Wigilia (The Vigil), and being invited to attend a Wigilia dinner with a family is considered a high honor.

Traditional Polish Wigilia meal.

A traditional Wigilia supper in Poland includes fried carp and barszcz (beetroot soup) with uszka (little ears, also known as meatless ravioli). Common dishes are fish soup, with potato salad, pierogi, gołąbki filled with kasza, pickled herring and fruit kompot.

The dinner contains 12 dishes symbolizing the Twelve Apostles. In many homes, an extra place setting is set and is symbolically left at the table for a lonely wanderer who may be in need of food, an angel, the Baby Jesus or the Holy Spirit should appear to share the feast.

Before eating, everyone exchanges Christmas greetings with each other. The supper begins with the breaking of the opłatek. By sharing a piece of Christmas wafer (Opłatki), when everyone at the table breaks off a piece and eats it as a symbol of their unity with Christ.

Carolers walk from house to house receiving treats along the way.

The meal is followed by the exchange of gifts. The remainder of the evening is given to stories and songs around the Christmas tree. In some areas of the country, children are taught that “The Little Star” brings the gifts. As presents are unwrapped, carolers may walk from house to house receiving treats along the way.

On the night of Christmas Eve, the appearance of the first star in the sky is watched for, in remembrance of the Star of Bethlehem. This star has been given an affectionate name of “the little star” or Gwiazdka (the female counterpart of St. Nicholas).

Christmas Star

On that evening, children watch the sky anxiously hoping to be the first to cry out, “The star has come!” After the first star appearance is declared, the family members sit down to a dinner table.

According to tradition, bits of hay are spread beneath the tablecloth as a reminder that Christ was born in a manger. Others partake in the practice of placing money under the table cloth for each guest, in order to wish for prosperity in the coming year.

Christmas Eve ends with Pasterka, the Midnight Mass at the local church. The tradition commemorates the arrival of the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem and their paying of respect and bearing witness to the new born Messiah.

The next day (December 25) begins with the early morning mass followed by daytime masses. According to scripture, the Christmas Day masses are interchangeable allowing for greater flexibility in choosing the religious services by individual parishioners.

Christmas market in Sibiu, Romania.

Christmas (Romanian: Crăciun) in Romania is on December 25 and is generally considered the second most important religious Romanian holiday holiday after Easter. In Moldova, although Christmas is celebrated on December 25 like in Romania, January 7 is also recognized as an official holiday.

Celebrations begin with the decoration of the Christmas tree during daytime on December 24, and in the evening Moş Crăciun (Father Christmas) delivers the presents.

The singing of carols is a very important part of Romanian Christmas festivities. On the first day of Christmas, many carolers walk through the streets of the towns and villages, holding a star made of cardboard and paper on which are depicted various scenes from the Bible.

Romanian children singing traditional Christmas carols, they are called “colindatori”.

Romanian tradition has the smallest children going from house to house, singing carols and reciting poems and legends during the whole Christmas season. The leader of the group carries with him a star made of wood, covered with metal foil and decorated with bells and colored ribbons with an image of the Nativity painted on the star’s center.

Romanian food served during the holidays is a hearty multi-coursed meal, most of which consists of pork (organs, muscle, and fat). This is mainly a symbolic gesture for St. Ignatius of Antioch.

We hope you enjoyed today’s Christmas tour around Central Europe. Be sure to join us again next year as we venture to another part of Europe.

Have a Merry Christmas and a safe holiday season. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Ball, Ann. Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices. 2003. ISBN 9780879739102.

Ernst, Eugen. Weihnachten im Wandel der Zeiten, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2. Aufl. Darmstadt 2000.

Forbes, Bruce David. Christmas: a candid history. University of California Press, 2007, ISBN 0-520-25104-0


“Christmas Season in Austria”.

“Christmas traditions in Poland”.

“Deutsche Botschaft Bern – Startseite”.

“Hungarian Heritage Museum”.

“St. Nicholas Around the World: Hungary”.

Gallia Lugdunensis: Roman Europe’s Major Capital West of Italia

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If you are just joining us, we have been discovering Gallia (aka Roman Gaul) for a few weeks now. We’ve already explored most of the Provincia with articles like – Roman Gaul: Paving the Way for Modern EuropeGallia Cisalpina: A Different Side of Roman GaulProvincia Gallia Narbonensis: Our ProvinceGallia Aquitania: Home of the Long-haired Gauls; and Gallia Belgica: Conquered by Caesar and Founded by Augustus. and Gallia Lugdunensis: Roman Europe’s Major City West of Italia.

Now it’s time to uncover the last layer within the true Roman province that was once Gallia. Without further ado, today we take a look at Gallia Lugdunensis!

Gallia Lugdunensis (shown in orange)
Gallia Lugdunensis (shown in orange)

Part of the Celtic territory of Gaul formerly known as Gallia Celtica, Gallia Lugdunensis was a Province of the Roman Empire in what is now the modern country of France.

As part of Tres Galliae (Three Gauls) called the Gallia Comata, it extended from the capital of Lugdunum (Lyon) northwest to all the land between the Seine and the Loire Rivers to Brittany and the Atlantic Ocean. Gallia Lugdunensis included a Gallo-Roman town called Lutetia Parisiorum, known today as Paris.

In Pliny‘s time, the Segusiani had the title of Liberi (Free). Greco-Egyptian writer, geographer, mathematician, astronomer and astrologer, Claudius Ptolemy, incorrectly placed Lugdunum among the cities of the Aedui calling it Lugdunum Metropolis.

Commentarii de Bello Gallico

In his firsthand account of the Gallic WarsCommentarii de Bello Gallico, Julius Caesar describes his conquest of Gaul (58–50 BC). Caesar distinguished between Provincia Nostra in the south of Gaul, which already was a Roman Province in his time, and the 3 other parts of Gaul (the territories of the Aquitani, of the Belgae, and of the Galli also known as the Celtae).

The territory of the Galli extended from the rivers Seine and Marne in the north-east, which formed the boundary with Gallia Belgica, to the river Garonne in the south-west, which formed the border with Gallia Aquitania.


Under Augustus, Gallia Lugdunensis was created by reducing in size the territory of the Galli. The portion between the river Loire and the Garonne was given to Gallia Aquitania, and central-eastern portions were given to the new province of Germania Superior.

The map shows the extent after these reductions. The date of the creation of Gallia Lugdunensis was either between 27 and 25 BC or between 16 and 13 BC, during Augustus’ visits to Gaul.

The area included most of the region that the Greeks, from their colonies on the Mediterranean coast, had called Celtica. As an Imperial Province, Gallia Lugdunensis was deemed important enough to be governed by an Imperial Legatus.

Gallia Lugdunensis (shown in dark red) amongst the Roman Empire.
Gallia Lugdunensis (shown in dark red) amongst the Roman Empire.

The area of Gallia Lugdunensis was too large and strong to lose its individuality. It was also too rural and too far from the Mediterranean to be Romanized as fully and quickly as neighboring Narbonensis.

Even the Celtic language lingered on in forest districts into the 4th Century AD. Said Celtic language even persisted in Brittany into modern times.

Town life, however, grew as was typical of Romanization. The villages of the tribes became practically, though not officially, municipalities, with many of these towns reached considerable size and contained magnificent public buildings.

Nummus of Diocletian

After Diocletian‘s Tetrarchy (AD 296), it was the major province of a diocese confusingly called Galliae (the Gaul provinces), to which further only the Helvetic, Belgian (both also Celtic) and German provinces belonged. With the dioceses of Viennensis (the southern provinces of Gaul), Britanniae (also Celtic) and Hispaniae (the whole Celt-Iberian peninsula) this formed the Praefectura Praetorio (Praetorian Prefecture) also called Galliae, subordinate to the Western Roman Emperor.

The province effectively ceased to exist in AD 486. This was when the Roman General Syagrius was defeated by the invading Franks.

Asterix and the banquet

The fictional unconquered village from the French comic book Asterix is located here. The comic focuses on Asterix and the Roman conquest of Gaul on the Armorican peninsula (modern Brittany).

Lugdunum was a Roman settlement at the junction of the Arar (Saône) and the Rhodanus (Rhône) for which Gallia Lugdunensis was named. It was in the territory of the Segusiani, who were the neighbors of the Aedui.

Aqueduct of the Gier providing water to Lugdunum.

Lugdunum was possibly Roman Europe’s major city west of Italy, and a major Imperial mint. Outside Lugdunum was the Condate Altar, where representatives of the Three Gauls met to celebrate the cult of Rome and Augustus.

In Strabo’s time Lugdunum was the most populous of the Gallic towns after Narbonne. It was a place of trade, and the Roman Governors had a mint there for coining gold and silver.

Its great commercial prosperity was due to its excellent position, and to the viae (ways) which the Romans constructed in several directions from Lugdunum as a center. The place was entitled Colonia Copia Claudia Augusta Lugdunum on some inscriptions, a name probably given to it in the time of the Emperor Claudius.

Pliny the Younger

In the time of Pliny the Younger there were booksellers at Lugdunum, and Pliny’s works might be got there. The city was destroyed by fire in Seneca‘s time.

Shortly thereafter it was restored through the liberality of the Emperor Nero, to whom the inhabitants of Lugdunum remained faithful when Galba revolted. Lugdunum was plundered and again burnt by the soldiers of Septimius Severus (AD 197), after the defeat of the usurper Clodius Albinus near the city.

It was an important position under the later Empire, but the name only occurs occasionally in the scanty historical notices of that time. When Julian was Governor of Gallia, Lugdunum was near being surprised by a body of Alemanni.

We hope you enjoyed our Gallia finale. We look forward to having you back again soon for our next adventure.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Bunson, Matthew. Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire.

Gaius Julius Caesar (Trans. S.A. Handford). The Conquest of Gaul. Penguin, 1982.

Rines, George Edwin, ed. “Cæsar’s Commentaries“. Encyclopedia Americana, 1920.

Wightman, Edith Mary. Gallia Belgica. University of California Press, 1985.

The Cambridge Ancient History, New Ed., Vol. 10. Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Lugdunensis”. Encyclopaedia Britannica.


Celebrating Sol Invictus

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

With the holidays upon us there’s been lots to do. Between work, family, shopping and celebrations we’re a bit worn out.

To give us a break, we’re taking a trip make in time (1 year to be exact). Today we’re revisiting 23 December 2015 in our article Happy Sol Invictus! as we celebrate Sol Invictus one more time!Constantine as Sol Invictus

Prior to Christianity becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire, due to Emperor Constantine the Great, the Romans were pagans. Technically even Constantine was a pagan for much of his life.

Romans believed in several deities, incorporated gods from conquered peoples throughout the empire, and held celebrations accordingly. All of this was to hold the Empire together through a conglomeration of religions and celebrations of all included gods.

One of said celebrations just happened to be held on December 25th. The god honored on this day was Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun.

DNSISolInvictus 4The festival held was Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun). Sol Invictus was the sun god of the Roman Empire and patron of soldiers.

The Roman cult to Sol Invictus begins with the early history of the city and continues through the institution of Christianity as the exclusive state religion. Inscribed on a Roman phalera was the following: Inventori Lucis Soli Invicto Augusto (To the Contriver of Light, Sol Invictus Augustus).

Circular Dacian phalera having the representation of a horseman with shield (c. 1st Century BC).

After victories in the East, the Emperor Aurelian made changes the Roman cult of Sol Invictus, from top to bottom. Thusly, it elevated the sun-god to one of the premier divinities of the Empire.

From this point forward, the Roman gens Aurelian is typically associated with the sun-god. This made priests previously associated with Sol Invictus raise up from the lower ranks of Roman status to the highly regarded priesthoods of the senatorial elite.

Sol Invictus was indeed a championed god for prior to his conversion to Christianity, Constantine was a follower of the sun-god.

The Emperor, as Emperors tended to do, portrayed himself as Sol Invictus on coins he issued. Constantine even went so far as to put SOLI INVICTO COMITI, which claimed the Unconquered Sun as a companion to the Emperor.

A gold multiple of “Unconquered Constantine” with Sol Invictus, struck in 313 AD.

On 7 March 321 AD, Constantine decreed dies Solis, day of the sun or “Sunday”, as the Roman day of rest:

“On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits because it often happens that another day is not suitable for grain-sowing or vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost.”

During the reign of Constantine, Christian writers likened this feast as the birthday of Jesus. In Malachi 4:2 this is mentioned as Sol Iustitiae, Sun of Righteousness.

Coin of Septimius Severus

Other Emperors, such as Septimius Severus, followed suit with the usage of the pagan Sol Invictus however. This was done on coins as being a primary Roman god beginning around 325 AD.

A very general observance required that on the 25th of December the birth of the “new Sun” should be celebrated, when after the winter solstice the days began to lengthen and the “invincible” star triumphed again over darkness. This was all based on the Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC.

The Julian calendar was a reform of the Roman calendar, and a Julian year was 365.25 days. Depending on what calendar was being used at the time would determine when festivals were celebrated. So until the 4th Century AD dates were constantly being changed.

There is no historical evidence that our Lord’s birthday was celebrated during the apostolic or early post apostolic times. Christianity did not begin celebrating the Birth of Jesus on December 25th, beginning first in Rome, until between 354 and 360 AD.

Jesus as The Light
Jesus as The Light

The point of this article is not to say Christianity simply took over a pagan celebration. It may be true, it may have been intentional, or it may have been coincidence.

The point is to provide insight that other gods and celebrations were held in the Empire. The celebration of Sol Invictus just happens to coincide with modern-day Christmas.

No matter what your opinion is on the celebration of a pagan god orJesus Christ’s birth is not to be debated. That can be done some other time, on some other website.

Thanks for joining us on this revisited journey. Be safe in all of your celebrations throughout the new year.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Browning, W. R. F. A Dictionary of the Bible. Oxford University Press, 8 October 2009. ISBN 978-0-19-954398-4.

Cumont, Franz. Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans. Dover Publications, Inc., 1960.

Guarducci, M. “Sol invictus augustus”. Rendiconti della Pont. Accademia Romana di archeologia, 3rd series. 1957/1959.

Richard, J. C. “Le culte de Sol et les Aurelii. A propos de Paul Fest.” Mélanges offerts à Jacques Heurgon. L’Italie préromaine et la Rome républicaine, Rome, 1976.

Toledo, Spain: From Roman Toletum to Modern City

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Because of the extent of the Roman Empire there are lots of towns and cities across modern-day Europe. The foundations laid by Rome still echo greatly today, fortunately for all of us.

With so much history and architecture abound there is no doubt how many places or things have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. If you haven’t done so already, check out the sites that we’ve already covered here.

That being said, today we’re exploring a World Heritage Site we’ve done previously as we head on back to Hispania as we uncover Toledo!toledo-spain

Toledo is a city and municipality located in central Spain, it is the capital of the province of Toledo and the autonomous community of Castile–La Mancha. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive cultural and monumental heritage and historical co-existence of Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures (earning it the nickname the City of the Three Cultures).

An elderly Karl V (also known as Don Carlos I of Spain), ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.
An elderly Karl V (also known as Don Carlos I of Spain), ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.

Known as the Imperial City, Toledo was the main venue of the court of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Toledo has a history in the production of bladed weapons, which are now popular souvenirs of the city.

It was also the place of important historic events such as the Visigothic Councils of Toledo. The town was granted arms in the 16th Century, which by special royal privilege was based on the royal of arms of Spain.

Roman historian Livy made mention of then Toletum as urbs parva, sed loco munita (a small city, but fortified by location). Roman General Marcus Fulvius Nobilior fought a battle near the city in 193 BC against a confederation of Celtic tribes including the Vaccaei, Vettones, and Celtiberi, defeating them and capturing a king called Hilermus.

At that time, Toletum was a city of the Carpetani tribe, and part of the region of Carpetania. It was incorporated into the Roman Empire as a Civitas Stipendaria (a Tributary City of non-citizens).

Later Toletum achieved the full status of Municipium under Flavian. With this status, city officials, even of Carpetani origin, obtained Roman citizenship for public service, and the forms of Roman law and politics were increasingly adopted.

At approximately this time were constructed in ToletumRoman Circus, city walls, public baths, and a municipal water supply and storage system.

Circo Romano
Circo Romano

The Circus of Toletum was one of the largest in Hispania, at 1,388 feet long and 330 feet wide, with a track dimension of 1,339 feet long and 282 feet wide. Capable of holding up to 15,000 spectators, games were held in the Circus into the late 4th and early 5th Centuries AD.

Chariot races were held on special holidays and were also commissioned by private citizens to celebrate career achievements. This is quite an indication of an active city life and ongoing patronage by wealthy elites.

inscriptionA fragmentary stone inscription records Circus games paid for by a citizen of unknown name to celebrate his achieving the Sevirate, a kind of priesthood conferring high status. Archaeologists have also identified portions of a special seat of the sort used by the city elites to attend games, called a Sella Curulis.

During Roman times, Toledo was never a provincial capital nor a Conventus Iuridicus. It started to gain importance in Late Antiquity.

There are indications that large private houses (domus) within the city walls were enlarged, while several large vīllae were built north of the city through the 3rd and 4th Centuries.

A Church Council was held in Toledo in the year 400 to discuss the conflict with Priscillianism. Another Council of Toledo was held in AD 527.

The Visigothic king Theudis was in Toledo in AD 546, where he spread a law. This is strong though not certain evidence that Toledo was the chief residence for Theudis.

King Athanagild died in Toledo around AD 568. Although Theudis and Athanagild based themselves in Toledo, it was not yet the capital city of the Iberian Peninsula, as Theudis and Athanagild’s power was limited in extent.

This changed with Liuvigild (Leovigild), who brought the peninsula under his control. The Visigoths ruled from Toledo until the Moors conquered the Iberian Peninsula in the early years of 8th Century (711–719).

Roman Baths underneath Toledo
Roman Baths underneath Toledo

Today the historic center is pierced of basements, passages, wells, baths and ancient water pipes that since Roman times have been used in the city.

Several Councils of Toledo were held in Toledo under the Visigoths. A synod of Arian bishops was held in 580 to discuss theological reconciliation with Nicene Christianity.

Liuvigild’s successor, Reccared, hosted the Third Council of Toledo, at which the Visigothic kings abandoned Arianism and reconciled with the existing Hispano-Roman Episcopate. A Synod held in AD 610 transferred the metropolitanate of the old province of Carthaginensis from Cartagena to Toledo.

At that time, Cartagena was ruled by the Byzantines, and this move ensured a closer relation between the Bishops of Spain and the Visigothic kings. King Sisebut forced Jews in the Visigothic kingdom to convert to Christianity.

Councils of Toledo
Councils of Toledo

This act was criticized and efforts were made to reverse it at the Fourth Council of Toledo in AD 633. The Fifth and Sixth Councils of Toledo placed church sanctions on anyone who would challenge the Visigothic kings.

The Seventh Council of Toledo instituted a requirement that all Bishops in the area of a royal city (aka Toledo) must reside for 1 month per year in Toledo. This was a stage in “the elevation of Toledo as the primatial see of the whole church of the Visgothic kingdom”.

In addition, the Seventh Council declared that any clergy fleeing the kingdom, assisting conspirators against the king, or aiding conspirators, would be excommunicated and no one should remove this sentence. The ban on lifting these sentences of excommunication was lifted at the Eighth Council of Toledo in AD 653, and, for the first time, decisions were signed by palace officials as well as Bishops.

The Eighth Council of Toledo took measures that enhanced Toledo’s significance as the center of royal power in the Iberian Peninsula, and declared that the election of a new king following the death of the old one should only take place in the royal city or wherever the old king died. The Ninth and Tenth Councils were held in rapid succession in AD 655 and 656.

The Election of Wamba as King, by Francisco de Paula Van Halen.
The Election of Wamba as King, by Francisco de Paula Van Halen.

When Reccesuinth died in 672 at his villa in Gerticos (Wamba), his successor Wamba was elected on the spot, then went to Toledo to be anointed king by the Bishop of Toledo, per Council procedure. Wamba carried out renovation works in Toledo in AD 674-675, marking these with inscriptions above the city gates that are no longer extant but were recorded in the 8th Century.

The Eleventh Council of Toledo was held in AD 675 under king Wamba. Wamba weakened the power of the Bishop of Toledo by creating a new bishopric outside Toledo at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul.

This was one of the main churches of Toledo and was the church where Wamba was anointed king, and the church from which Visigothic kings departed for war after special ceremonies in which they were presented with a relic of the True Cross. By creating a new bishopric there, Wamba removed power over royal succession from the Bishop of Toledo and granted it to the new bishop.

The Twelfth Council of Toledo was held in 681 after Wamba’s removal from office. Convinced that he was dying, Wamba had accepted a state of penitence that made him ineligible to remain king.

Saint Julian of Toledo
Saint Julian of Toledo

The Twelfth Council, led by newly installed Bishop Julian confirmed the validity of Wamba’s removal from office and his succession by Ervig. The Twelfth Council eliminated the new bishopric that Wamba had created and returned the powers over succession to the Bishop of Toledo.

The ThirteenthFourteenth, and Fifteenth Councils of Toledo were held in 683, 684, and 688. The Thirteenth Council restored property and legal rights to those who had rebelled against King Wamba in 673.

In 687, Ervig took the penitent state before dying, and the kingship passed to Egica, who was anointed king in Toledo on November 24. In 688, the Fifteenth Council lifted the ban on taking property from the families of former kings, whereupon Egica was able to plunder Ervig’s family properties.

In the late 7th Century, Toledo became a main center of literacy and writing in the Iberian Peninsula. Toledo’s development as a center of learning was influenced by Isidore of Seville, an author and advocate of literacy who attended several church councils in Toledo.

The Royal Library of Toledo
The Royal Library of Toledo

King Chindasuinth had a royal library in Toledo, and at least one Count called Laurentius had a private library. Sometime before 651, Chindasuinth sent the Bishop of Zaragoza, Taio, to Rome to obtain books that were not available in Toledo.

Taio obtained, at least, parts of Pope Gregory‘s Moralia. The library also contained a copy of a Hexameron by Dracontius, which Chindasuinth liked so much that he commissioned Eugenius II to revise it by adding a new part dealing with the 7th day of creation.

Chindasuinth issued laws that were gathered together in a book called Liber Iudiciorum by his successor Reccesuinth in 654. This book was revised twice, widely copied, and was an important influence on medieval Spanish law.

Three Bishops of Toledo wrote works that were widely copied and disseminated in western Europe and parts of which survive to this day: Eugenius IIIldefonsus, and Julian. “In intellectual terms the leading Spanish churchmen of the seventh century had no equals before the appearance of Bede.”

Sketch of Old Toledo
Sketch of Old Toledo

In 693, the Sixteenth Council of Toledo condemned Sisebert, Julian’s successor as Bishop of Toledo, for having rebelled against King Egica in alliance with Liuvigoto, the widow of king Ervig. A rebel king called Suniefred seized power in Toledo briefly at about this time.

Whether or not Sisebert’s and Suniefred’s rebellions were the same or separate is unknown. Suniefred is known only from having minted coins in Toledo during what should have been Egica’s reign.

The Seventeenth Council of Toledo was held in 694. The Eighteenth Council of Toledo, the last one, took place shortly after Egica’s death around 702 or 703.

By the end of the seventh century the bishop of Toledo was the leader of the Spanish bishops, a situation unusual in Europe. The metropolitan Bishops of Toledo had achieved by the last quarter of the 7th Century an authority and a primacy that was unique in Western Europe, which not even the Pope could count on such support from neighboring metropolitans.

Toledo had been matched by no other city in western Europe outside Italy as the governmental and symbolic center of a powerful monarchy. Rising from relative obscurity, Toledo became the permanent governmental center of the Visigothic monarchy and a true capital, whose only equivalent in western Europe was Lombard Pavia.

The Arab general Muza ibn Nusayr whipping his deputy Tarik for disobeying his orders during the conquest of Andalucia and Extremadura.
The Arab general Muza ibn Nusayr whipping his deputy Tarik for disobeying his orders during the conquest of Andalucia and Extremadura.

When Wittiza died around 710, Ruderic became Visigothic king in Toledo, but the kingdom was split, as a rival king Achila ruled Tarraconensis and Narbonensis. Meanwhile, Arabic and Berber troops under Musa ibn Nusayr had conquered Tangiers and Ceuta between AD 705 and 710, and commenced raids into the Visigothic kingdom in 711.

Ruderic led an army to confront the raiders, but was defeated and killed in battle. Apparently this happened due to a betrayal by Visigothic nobles who wished to replace him as king, and who did not consider the Arabs and Berbers a serious threat.

The commander of the invading forces was Tariq bin Ziyad, a Luwata Berber freedman in the service of governor Musa. Tariq, seizing the opportunity presented by the death of Ruderic and the internal divisions of the Visigothic nobles, captured Toledo, in 711 or 712.

The city of Toledo as depicted in the Codex Vigilanus in 976.
The city of Toledo as depicted in the Codex Vigilanus in 976.

Governor Musa disembarked in Cádiz and proceeded to Toledo, where he executed numerous Visigothic nobles, thus destroying much of the Visigothic power structure. Since the king was chosen in or around Toledo, by nobles based in Toledo, and had to be anointed king by the Bishop of Toledo in a church in Toledo, when Tariq captured Toledo and executed the Visigothic nobles, having already killed the king, there was no opposition for Tariq to take over.

Alfonso VI in Seville's Plaza de España despicting the conquest of Toledo in 1085.
Alfonso VI in Seville’s Plaza de España despicting the conquest of Toledo in 1085.

On 25 May 1085, Alfonso VI of León and Castile took Toledo and established direct personal control over the Moorish city from which he had been exacting tribute, ending the medieval Taifa‘s Kingdom of Toledo. This was the first concrete step taken by the combined Kingdom of LeónCastile in the Reconquista by Christian forces.

After Castilian conquest, Toledo continued to be a major cultural center. Its Arab libraries were not pillaged, and a tag-team translation center was established in which books in Arabic or Hebrew would be translated into Castilian by Muslim and Jewish scholars, and from Castilian into Latin by Castilian scholars, thus letting long-lost knowledge spread through Christian Europe again.

Toledo served as the capital city of Castile intermittently, since Castile did not have a permanent capital, from 1085 and the city flourished. Charles I of Spain’s court was set in Toledo, serving as the imperial capital.

Portrait of King Philip II of Spain, in Gold-Embroidered Costume with Order of the Golden Fleece, about 1554 by Titian.
Portrait of King Philip II of Spain, in Gold-Embroidered Costume with Order of the Golden Fleece, about 1554 by Titian.

However, in 1561, in the first years of his son Philip II of Spain reign, the Spanish court was moved to Madrid, thus letting the city’s importance dwindle until the late 20th Century, when it became the capital of the autonomous community of Castile–La Mancha.

Nevertheless, the economic decline of the city helped to preserve its cultural and architectural heritage. Today, because of this rich heritage, Toledo is one of Spain’s foremost cities, receiving thousands of visitors yearly.

During the persecution of the Jews in the late 15th and early 16th Centuries, members of the Jewish community of Toledo produced texts on their long history in Toledo. It was at this time that Don Isaac Abrabanel, a prominent Jewish figure in Spain in the 15th Century and one of the king’s trusted courtiers who witnessed the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, wrote that Toledo was named Ṭulayṭulah by its first Jewish inhabitants.

The Jewish community in 1300.
The Jewish community in 1300.

Abrabanel stated Jews had settled in Toledo during the 5th Century BC, and may have been related to its Hebrew cognate of wandering, on account of their wandering from Jerusalem. Furthermore, Abrabanel said that the original name of the city was Pirisvalle, so-called by its early pagan inhabitants.

However, there is no archaeological or historical evidence for a Jewish presence in this region prior to the time of the Roman Empire. When the Romans originally wrote about Toledo it was a Celtic city, with no mentions of Jews.

Toledo has been a traditional sword-making, steel-working center since about 500 BC, and came to the attention of Rome when used by Hannibal in the Punic Wars. Soon, it became a standard source of weaponry for Roman Legions.

Toledo steel was famed for its very high quality alloy, whereas Damascene steel, a competitor from the Middle Ages on, was famed for a specific metal-working technique.

Swords and Armor in Toledo
Swords and Armor in Toledo

Today there is a significant trade, and many shops offer all kinds of swords to their customers, whether historical or modern films swords, as well as medieval armors and from other times, which are also exported to other countries.

The Puente de Alcántara is a Roman arch bridge in Toledo spanning the Tagus River. The word Alcántara comes from Arabic (al-qanţarah) meaning bridge.

Elevated view of the Puente Alcantara
Elevated view of the Puente Alcantara

Located at the feet of the Castillo de San Servando, it was built by the Romans after they founded the city. In the Middle Ages it was one of the few entrances for pilgrims into the city, and was declared a national cultural monument in 1921.

Don Quixote de la Mancha and Sancho Panza, 1863, by Gustave Doré.
Don Quixote de la Mancha and Sancho Panza, 1863, by Gustave Doré.

To mark the 400th Anniversary of the publication of the first part of Don Quixote, the Council of Communities of Castile–La Mancha designed a series of routes through the region crossing the various points cited in the novel. Known as the Route of Don Quixote, 2 of the pathways designated (sections 1 and 8) are based in Toledo.

Those linking the city with La Mancha Castile and Montes de Toledo exploit the natural route which passes through the Cigarrales and heads to Cobisa, Nambroca Burguillos of Toledo, where it takes the Camino Real from Sevilla to suddenly turn towards Mascaraque Almonacid de Toledo, deep into their surroundings, near Mora, in La Mancha.

Camino de Santiago
Camino de Santiago

This stretch, Mascaraque-Toledo, of the Route of Don Quixote has recently been included in an official way on the Camino de Santiago in Levantine branch with origins in Cartagena, Alicante and Valencia, as both routes are declared a European Cultural Route on this stretch.

toledoWe realize this was more of a historical journey than one exploring the present city of Toledo, but we hope you enjoyed it nonetheless. Be sure to stop by again for you never know what’s next to uncover.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Collins, Roger. Visigothic Spain. Blackwell, 2004.

Kulikowski, Michael. Late Roman Spain and Its Cities. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

LivyHistory of Rome.

Richardson, John S. The Romans in Spain. Blackwell, 1996.