On this special day, we take advantage of the festivities to celebrate Liberalia!
The Liberalia was the festival of Liber Pater (The Free Father) and his consort Libera. Held after the Ides of March, on 17 March, the Romans celebrated Liberalia with sacrifices, processions, ribaldry, ungraceful songs, and masks which were hung on trees.
The celebration on 17 March was meant to honor Liber Pater, an ancient god of fertility and wine (like Bacchus, the Roman version of the Greek god Dionysus). Liber Pater was also a vegetation god, responsible for protecting seed.
Priests and aged priestesses, adorned with garlands of ivy, carried through the city wine, honey, cakes (libia), and sweet-meats, together with an altar with a handle (ansata ara). In the middle of the ansata ara there was a small fire-pan (foculus), in which from time to time sacrifices were burnt.
Over time this feast evolved and included the goddess Libera, and the feast divided so that Liber governed the male seed and Libera the female. Ovid in his almanac entry for the festival identifies Libera as the celestial manifestation of Ariadne.
This feast celebrates the maturation of young boys to manhood. Roman boys, from age 14 to 16, would remove the bulla praetexta (a hollow charm of gold or leather) which parents placed about the necks of children to ward off evil spirits.
At the Liberalia ceremony the young men might place the bulla on an altar (with a lock of hair or the stubble of his first shave placed inside) and dedicate it to the Lares, who were gods of the household and family. Mothers often retrieved the discarded bulla praetexta and kept it out of superstition.
If the son ever achieved a Triumphus (Public Triumph), the mother could display the bulla to ward off any evil that might be wished upon the son by envious people. The young men discarded the toga praetexta, which was probably derived from Etruscan dress and was decorated with a broad purple border and worn with the bulla, by boys and girls.
The boys donned the clothing of adulthood, the pure white toga virilis (man’s gown). The garment identified him as a citizen of Rome, making him an eligible voter.
The fathers of the young men took them to the city’s Forumand presented them as adults and Citizens. This was in the days when male rites of passage were encouraged.
An infans (infant) was incapable of doing any legal act. An impubes (under-age), who had passed the limits of infantia (childhood), could do any legal act with the Auctoritas (Authority) of his tutor.
Without such Auctoritas the boy could only do those acts which were for his benefit. With the attainment of pubertas, a person obtained the full power of his property, and the Tutelaceased. The now Roman Citizen could also dispose of his property by will, and he could contract marriage.
This ancient ceremony was a country or rustic ceremony. The processional featured a large phallus which the devotees carried throughout the countryside to bring the blessing of fertility to the land and the people.
The procession and the phallus were meant also to protect the crops from evil. At the end of the procession, a virtuous and respected matron placed a wreath upon the phallus.
While Liberalia is a relatively unknown event in the modern time, references to Liberalia and the Roman goddess Libera are still found today online and in astrology.
Since you are seeing this post and able to thus far read it, we shall assume that you have mastered some modern language skill set. Language is the foundation in which any culture or society is built.
Try to imagine living in a society that lacks language in any form: written, verbal, or sign. It is basically impossible to communicate in any sort of way. Western European languages owe their shared alphabet to the Romans.
Today we are going to journey back and see how this shared alphabet and language of Latin helped same the modern world!
Originally spoken in Latium, Latin is a language that has been passed down through various forms. The Romans developed a script for representing the Latin language in order to create a distinctive writing system that drew heavily on the model of Etruscan and Greek alphabets.
The Roman (Latin) alphabet was employed in a wide range of situations, from literary and documentary purposes to graffiti. At the height of the Roman Empire its influence was felt in almost every aspect of life from technology to government.
Nations under the rule of Rome often were less developed and therefore adopted Latin phraseology in some specialized areas, such as science, technology, medicine, and law. For example, the Linnaean system of plant and animal classification was heavily influenced by HistoriaNaturalis, an encyclopedia of people, places, plants, animals, and things published by Pliny the Elder.
Medicine in Ancient Rome has been recorded in the works of such physicians as Galen. It has established that today’s medical terminology is primarily derived from Latin and Greek words, the Greek being filtered through the Latin.
The earliest known form of Latin is Vetus Latina was spoken from the Roman Kingdom to the middle of the Republic. This has been attested both in inscriptions and in some of the earliest extant Latin literary works, such as the comedies of Plautus and Terence.
During this period, the Latin alphabet was devised from the Etruscan alphabet. The writing style later changed from an initial right-to-left (boustrophedon) to left-to-right script which is still in use today.
Philological analysis of Vetus Latina works indicates that a spoken language (sermo vulgi) existed at the same time as the literate Latinitas. This informal language was rarely written, so philologists have been left with only individual words and phrases cited by Classical authors, as well as those found as graffiti.
As sermo vulgariswas free to develop on its own, there is no reason to suppose that the speech was uniform over time or location. Romanized European populations developed their own dialects of the language.
In areas that had formed part of the Roman Empire, the use of the Roman alphabet continued, as did the use of the Latin language. A great example is how the Germanic people adopted Latin as a language more suitable to legal and other more formal forms of expression.
This situation brought about Latinitas Serior. This language was more in line with the everyday speech due to a decline in education. Because of a desire to spread the word to the masses many Christian writings of the time were done in Late Latin.
It is interesting to note that areas outside the boundaries of the Empire did not really appear to use of the Roman alphabet until after the Empire’s collapse. So in areas like Britannia, the Roman alphabet was introduced, or reintroduced, by Christian missionaries over the course of the first millennium AD.
The Roman alphabet that was introduced into early Anglo-Saxon England, along with Christianity, appears to have included both majuscule (upper/capital) and minuscule (lower) letter cases. These had been used for different purposes in Roman writing, with majuscules appearing in inscriptions and minuscules in handwriting.
In the early Middle Ages, we begin to see the combination of minuscule and majuscule forms within handwritten documents, with majuscules being used to signal textual features such as the start of sections. This is the starting point for the use of majuscules to signal the beginnings of sentences that is the norm in Western European languages today.
Latina Mediaevalis is the written Latin used when no corresponding Latin vernacular existed. Without the institutions of the Roman Empire that had supported its uniformity, Medieval Latin lost its linguistic cohesion.
The spoken language had developed into the various developing Romance languages. This Latin spread into lands that had never spoken Latin, such as the Germanic and Slavic nations. It became useful for international communication between the member states of the Sacrum Romanum Imperiumand its allies.
The Renaissance briefly reinforced the position of Latin as a spoken language, through its adoption by the Renaissance Humanists. Often led by members of the clergy, they strove to preserve what they could of this dwindling language and attempted to restore Latin to what it had been.
They corrected Medieval Latin out of existence no later than the 15th Century and replaced it with more formally correct versions. Scholars of the rising universities assisted in attempting to discover what the classical language had been in various works of literature.
Over the succeeding centuries of the Middle Ages, much borrowing from Latin occurred directly through ecclesiastical usage in the 6th Century, or indirectly after the Norman Conquest of England through the Anglo-Norman language. From the 16th to the 18th Centuries, English writers created inkhorn terms from Latin and Greek words.
Many of the most common polysyllabic English words are of Latin origin, through the medium of Old French.
During the Early Modern Age, Latin still was the most important language of culture in Europe. Until the end of the 17th Century the majority of books and almost all diplomatic documents were written in Latin.
A number of historical phases of the language have been recognized, each distinguished by subtle differences in vocabulary, usage, spelling, morphology and syntax. Different scholars emphasize different features and as a result, the list has variants and alternative names.
Interlingua is sometimes considered a simplified, modern version of the language, with a sizable number of followers also. Latino sine Flexione, popular in the early 20th century, is Latin with its inflections and other grammatical changes stripped away.
The works of several hundred ancient authors who wrote in Latin have survived in whole or in part, as the subject matter of the field of Classics. Their works were published in manuscript form before the invention of printing and now exist in carefully annotated printed editions such as the Loeb Classical Library, published by Harvard University Press, or the Oxford Classical Texts.
Confoederatio Helveticais the full Latin name of Switzerland. The nation adopts the Latin short name Helvetia on coins and stamps, since there is no room to use all of the nation’s 4 official languages. For a similar reason Switzerland adopted the international vehicle and internet code CH.
There are many websites and forums maintained in Latin by enthusiasts such as Vicipaedia Latinawhich has more than 100,000 articles written in Latin, along with Google Translate adding Latin to the list of languages. Latin was a language that began in the central of the Mediterranean and ending up spreading throughout an empire.
It was the foundation for the language in which this article was written. We are glad that Latin originally started in our favorite place, and that it is making a comeback into modern society.
We will do our best to help make Latin popular once again. We hope you enjoyed today’s linguistic journey and look forward to having you join us again.
While we help spread the word, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Allen, William Sidney (2004). Vox Latina – a Guide to the Pronunciation of Classical Latin (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN0-521-22049-1.
Baldi, Philip (2002). The foundations of Latin. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Buck, Carl Darling (1904). A grammar of Oscan and Umbrian, with a collection of inscriptions and a glossary. Boston: Ginn & Company.
Clark, Victor Selden (1900). Studies in the Latin of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Lancaster: The New Era Printing Company.
No longer wander at hazard; for neither wilt thou read thy own memoirs, nor the acts of the ancient Romans and Hellenes, and the selections from books which thou wast reserving for thy old age. Hasten then to the end which thou hast before thee, and throwing away idle hopes, come to thy own aid, if thou carest at all for thyself, while it is in thy power.
The Amphitheatre of El Jem is the 3rd amphitheatre built on the same place. The belief is that it was constructed by the local Proconsul Gordian, who became the Emperor as Gordian III.
As with other amphitheatres in the Roman Empire, it was built for spectator events. The estimated capacity is 35,000, and the sizes of the big and the small axes are respectively 486 ft and 400 ft.
The amphitheatre is built of stone blocks, located on a flat ground, and is exceptionally well conserved. The closest marble to bring in for construction would have come from the Roman settlement of Simitthu, which is about 179 miles away using modern roads.
The structure remained in a good state until the 17th Century when stones from the arena were used for building the nearby village of El Djem and transported to the Great Mosque in Kairouan. It is believed that the amphiteatre was used as a salpetre manufacture in the end of the 18th and in the 19th Century.
Around 1850, the breach in the wall was enlarged by Ahmad I ibn Mustafa to approximately 98 ft. In the latter half of the 19th Century, the structure was used for shops, dwellings, and grain storage.
Amphitheatre of El Jem is an archeological site in the city of El Djem, Tunisia. In 1979, UNESCO listed the amphitheatre as a World Heritage Site. More recently, and less destructive, it was used for filming some of the scenes from the Oscar winning film Gladiator.
Unique in Africa, the Amphitheatre of El Jem remains one of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world. We hope you enjoyed today’s journey, and hopefully have inspired you to get out to see more of the world.
Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Bomgardner, David L. The Story of the Roman Amphitheatre. Routledge, 2013. ISBN 9781134707393.
Nossov, Konstantin. Gladiator: The Complete Guide to Ancient Rome’s Bloody Fighters. Rowman & Littlefield, 2011. ISBN 9780762777334.
The Abbey of Saint Gall is located in the town of St. Gallen in the north-eastern part of Switzerland, and largely owes its present appearance to the construction campaigns of the 18th Century. It is an impressive architectural ensemble comprising different buildings regrouped around the main square of the abbey: The west side includes the ancient abbatial church (the present cathedral), flanked by two towers and the ancient cloister, which today houses the abbatial Library; located on the east side is the “Neue Pfalz”, the present seat of the canton authorities.
The northern part of the square is composed of buildings of the 19th Century: the ancient arsenal, the Children’s and Guardian Angels’ Chapel and the former Catholic school.
The Abbey of St Gall is an outstanding example of a large Carolingian monastery and was, since the 8th Century until its secularization in 1805, one of the most important cultural centers in Europe. It represents 1200 years of history of monastic architecture and is a typical and outstanding ensemble of a large Benedictine convent.
Almost all the important architectural periods, from High Middle Ages to historicism, are represented in an exemplary fashion. Despite the diversity of styles, the conventional ensemble gives the impression of overall unity, bordered on the north and to the west by edifices of the town of St Gall that are, for the most part, intact.
The High Baroque library represents one of the most beautiful examples of its era, and the present cathedral is one of the last monumental constructions of Baroque abbatial churches in the West. In addition to the architectural substance, the inestimable cultural values conserved at the Abbey are of exceptional importance, notably: the Irish manuscripts of the 7th and 8th Centuries, the illuminated manuscripts of the St Gall School of the 9th and 11th Centuries, documents concerning the history of the origins of Alemannic Switzerland as well as the layout of the convent during the Carolingian Era (the only manuscript plan of that time remaining worldwide, conserved in its original state, representing a concept of monastic organisation of the Benedictine order).
Sometime around the start of the Common Era, the Romans maintained a large military camp called Vindonissa, now a ruin at the confluence of the Aare and Reuss rivers, near the town of Windisch, an outskirt of Brugg.
We hope you enjoyed today’s adventure. Thanks for stopping by and we hope you check us out again soon.
That is why today we are exploring the Roman Navy, the unsung champions of the ancient seas!
The Roman Navy (Classis) comprised the naval forces of the Ancient Roman state. The Navy was instrumental in the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean basin, but it never enjoyed the prestige of the Roman Legions.
Throughout their history, the Romans remained a primarily land-based people and relied partially on their more nautically inclined subjects, such as the Greeks and the Egyptians, to build and man their ships. Partly because of that, the Navy was never wholly embraced by the Roman state, and deemed somewhat “un-Roman”.
In Antiquity, navies and trading fleets did not have the logistical autonomy that modern ships and fleets possess. Unlike modern naval forces, the Roman Navy even at its height never existed as an autonomous service but operated as an addition to the Roman Army.
During the course of the First Punic War, the Roman Navy was massively expanded and played a vital role in the Roman victory and the Roman Republic‘s eventual ascension to supremacy in the Mediterranean Sea. In the course of the first half of the 2nd Century BC, Rome went on to destroy Carthage and subdue the Hellenistic kingdoms of the eastern Mediterranean, achieving complete mastery of the inland sea, which they called Mare Nostrum.
The Roman Fleets were again prominent in the 1st Century BC in the wars against the pirates, and in the Civil Wars that brought down the Republic, whose campaigns ranged across the Mediterranean. In 31 BC, the great naval Battle of Actium ended the Civil Wars culminating in the final victory of Augustus and the establishment of the Roman Empire.
During the Imperial period, the Mediterranean seemingly became a Rome’s peaceful lake. In the absence of a maritime enemy, the Navy was reduced mostly to patrol, anti-piracy and transport duties.
The Navy also manned and maintained craft on major frontier rivers such as the Rhine and the Danube for supplying the Army. On the fringes of the Empire, in new conquests or in defense against barbarian invasions, the Roman Fleets were still engaged in open warfare.
The decline of the Empire in the 3rd Century took a heavy toll on the Navy, which was reduced to a shadow of its former self, both in size and in combat ability. As successive waves of the Völkerwanderung crashed on the land frontiers of the battered Empire, the Navy could only play a secondary role.
In the early 5th Century, the Roman frontiers were breached, and barbarian kingdoms appeared on the shores of the western Mediterranean. The Vandal Kingdom even raised a navy of its own and raided the shores of the Mediterranean sacking Rome.
The generic Roman term for an oar-driven galley warship was navis longa (long ship), as opposed to the sail-driven navis oneraria (merchant vessel), or the navigia minora (minor craft) like the scapha. The Navy consisted of a wide variety of different classes of warships, from heavy polyremes to light raiding and scouting vessels.
Unlike the rich Hellenistic Successor kingdoms in the East however, the Romans did not rely on heavy warships, with quinqueremes, and to a lesser extent quadriremes and triremes providing the mainstay of the Roman Fleets from the Punic Wars to the end of the Civil Wars.
The heaviest vessel mentioned in Roman Fleets during this period was the hexareme, of which a few were used as flagships. Lighter vessels such as the liburnians and the hemiolia, both swift types invented by pirates, were also adopted as scouts and light transport vessels.
During the final confrontation between Octavius (before he became Augustus) and Mark Antony, the fleet of Octavius was composed of quinqueremes, together with some “sixes” and many triremes and liburnians, while Antony, who had the resources of Ptolemaic Egypt to draw upon, fielded a fleet also mostly composed of quinqueremes, but with a sizeable complement of heavier warships, ranging from “sixes” to “tens”.
Later historical tradition made much of the prevalence of lighter and swifter vessels in Octavius’s fleet. Fourth Century Roman writer Vegetius even explicitly ascribed Octavius’s victory to the liburnians.
This prominence of lighter craft in the historical narrative is perhaps best explained in light of subsequent developments. After Actium, the operational landscape had changed.
For the remainder of the Principate, no opponent existed to challenge Roman maritime control and no massed nautical confrontation was likely. The tasks at hand for the Roman Navy were now the policing of the Mediterranean waterways and the rivers along the Empire’s borders, suppression of piracy, and escort duties for the grain shipments to Rome and for Imperial Army expeditions.
Lighter ships were far better suited to these tasks, and after the reorganization of the Fleet following Actium, the largest ship kept in service was a hexareme, the flagship of the Classis Misenensis. The bulk of the Fleets was composed of the lighter triremes and liburnians.
In addition, there were smaller oared vessels, such as the navis actuaria, with 30 oars (15 on each bank), a ship primarily used for transport in coastal and fluvial operations, for which its shallow draught and flat keel were ideal. In late Antiquity, it was succeeded in this role by the navis lusoria (playful ship), which was extensively used for patrols and raids by the Legionary Flotillas in the Rhine and Danube frontiers.
They were initially distinguished by their figurehead (insigne or parasemum). During the Civil Wars at least, they were identified by the paint schemes on their turrets, which varied according to each fleet.
In Classical Antiquity, a ship’s main weapon was the ram (rostra), which was used to sink or immobilize an enemy ship by punching a hole in its hull. Use of a rostra, though, required a skilled and experienced crew and a fast and agile ship like a trireme or quinquereme.
In the Hellenistic period, the larger navies came instead to rely on greater vessels. This heavier and sturdier construction lessened the effects of ramming, but also allowed for the placement of deck-mounted ballistae and catapults.
Being initially inexperienced at sea combat, the Romans relied upon boarding actions through the use of the corvus. Its use was cut short, however, because it tended to unbalance the quinqueremes in high seas.
During the Civil Wars, a number of technical innovations attributed to Agrippa took place. The most significant were the harpax, a catapult-fired grappling hook used to reel in an enemy ship like a fish, and the use of collapsible fighting towers placed one apiece bow and stern, which were used to provide the boarders with supporting fire.
In the subsequent wars in the Eastern Mediterranean, Praetors would assume the command of the Fleet. However, since these men were political appointees, the actual handling of the fleets and of separate squadrons was entrusted to their more experienced Legati (Legates) and subordinates.
It was therefore during the Punic Wars that the separate position of Praefectus Classis (Fleet Prefect) originally appeared. At first subordinate to the Magistrate in command, after the Fleet’s reorganization by Augustus, the Praefectus Classis became a Procurator in charge of each of the permanent Fleets.
These posts were initially filled either from among the Equestrian class, or, especially under Claudius, from the Emperor‘s freedmen, thus securing Imperial control over the Fleets. From the period of the Flavian Emperors, the status of the Praefectura was raised, and only Equestrians with military experience who had gone through the Militia Equestri were appointed.
Nevertheless, the Prefects remained largely political appointees, and despite their military experience, usually in command of Auxilia (Auxiliary Units), their knowledge of naval matters was minimal, forcing them to rely on their professional subordinates. The difference in importance of the Fleets they commanded was also reflected by the rank and the corresponding pay of the commanders.
The Prefects of the 2 Praetorian Fleets were ranked Procuratores Ducenarii, meaning they earned 200,000 sesterces annually, the Prefects of the Classis Germanica, the Classis Britannica and later the Classis Pontica were centenarii (earning 100,000 sesterces), while the other Fleet Prefects were sexagenarii (earning 60,000 sesterces).
The bulk of a galley’s crew was formed by the Remiges (Rowers). Despite popular perceptions, the Roman Fleet, and ancient fleets in general, relied throughout their existence on Rowers of free status, and not on galley slaves.
Slaves were employed only in times of pressing manpower demands or extreme emergency, and even then, they were freed first. In Imperial times, non-citizen freeborn Provincials (Peregrini), chiefly from nations with a maritime background such as Greeks, Phoenicians, Syrians and Egyptians, formed the bulk of the Fleets’ crews.
During the early Principate a ship’s crew, regardless of its size, was organized as a Centuria. Crewmen could sign on as Marines (Marinus), Rowers/Seamen, Craftsmen and various other jobs, though all personnel serving in the Imperial Fleet were classed as Milites (Soldiers), regardless of their function.
Naval personnel were considered to hold a lower social status, considered inferior to the Auxilia and the Legionaries. Emperor Claudius originally gave legal privileges to the Navy’s Crewmen, enabling them to receive Roman citizenship after their period of service.
This period was initially set at a minimum of 26 years (1 year more than the Legions), and was later expanded to 28. Upon honorable discharge (honesta missio), the Sailors received a sizable cash payment as well.
As in the Army, the ship’s Centuria was headed by a Centurion with an Optio as his deputy, while a Beneficiarius supervised a small administrative staff. Among the crew were also a number of Principales (Junior Officers) and Immunes (specialists exempt from certain duties).
An inscription from the island of Cos, dated to the First Mithridatic War, provides us with a list of a ship’s officers (Nautae): the Gubernator (helmsman or pilot), the Celeusta (Rower Supervisor), a Proreta (Look-Out stationed at the bow), a Pentacontarchos (Junior Officer), and an Iatros (Ship’s Doctor).
Each ship was commanded by a Trierarchus, whose exact relationship with the ship’s Centurion remains unclear. Squadrons, most likely of 10 ships each, were put under a Nauarchus, who often appears to have risen from the ranks of the Trierarchi. The post of Nauarchus Archigubernes or Nauarchus Princeps appeared later in the Imperial period, and functioned either as Commander of several squadrons or as an Executive Officer under a Civilian Admiral, equivalent to the Legionary Primus Pilus.
Until the reign of Antoninus Pius, all careers of these Officers were restricted to the Fleet. Only in the 3rd Century were these Officers equated to the Legionary Centurions in status and pay, and from this time forth could be transferred to a similar position in the Legions.
After the end of the Civil Wars, Augustus (formerly Octavius) reduced and reorganized the Roman Military, including the Navy. A large part of the Fleet of Mark Antony was burned, and the rest was withdrawn to a new base at Forum Iulii (modern Fréjus), which remained operative until the reign of Claudius.
However, the bulk of the Fleet was soon subdivided into 2 Praetorian Fleets at Misenum and Ravenna, supplemented by a growing number of minor ones in the provinces, which were often created on an ad hoc basis for specific campaigns. This organizational structure was maintained almost unchanged until the 4th Century.
We hope you enjoyed today’s voyage and look forward to having you back again soon. There’s lots more about the Roman Navy to discuss, but who knows where or what we’ll experience next?
Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Casson, Lionel. The Ancient Mariners: Seafarers and Sea Fighters of the Mediterranean in Ancient Times. Princeton University Press, 1991. ISBN 978-0-691-01477-7.
Casson, Lionel. Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8018-5130-0.
If this is your premiere visit with us, we wish you the heartiest of thanks for deciding to join us. If we have been fortunate enough to have you journey with us previously, we cherish your loyalty to Rome.
While recently we have recently been fortunate enough to find some spare time to put out brand-new articles, this just happens to not be one of those days. Aside from working full-time, I am in the midst of taking my teaching certification courses which leaves me little time for writing.
So today we are heading back to 10 March 2015, as we revisit Assuming the Purple!
Purple was an original color used in prehistoric art shown in several drawings and paintings of animals and the outlines of their own hands on the walls of their caves. These Neolithic sites in France were done using sticks of manganese and hematite powder, and have been dated between 16,000 and 25,000 BC.
The deep, rich purple dye made from this snail became known as Tyrian purple. The process of making said dye was long, difficult and expensive, which is a reason only the rich & powerful wore it.
Thousands of the tiny medium-sized predatory sea snails had to be found, their shells cracked, and the snail removed. The most favorable season for harvesting the sea snails is after the rising of the Dog Star, or else before spring.
The dye can be collected either by “milking” the snails, which is more labor-intensive but is a renewable resource, or by collecting and crushing the snails completely, which is destructive. Once they have discharged their waxy secretion, their juices have no consistency. This fact was unknown in the dyers’ workshops.
In either event, the “milk” or the entire snails were left to soak, put in a basin, and then placed in sun. There, in the sunlit basins, a remarkable transformation took place.
The sunlight made the juice turn many colors in the following order: white, yellow-green, green, violet, and then a red which turned darker and darker. The process had to be stopped at exactly the right time to obtain the desired color for which to then dye the appropriate fabric.
The exact hue varied between crimson and violet, but it was always rich, bright and, most important, lasting.
The ancient Egyptian Papyrus of Anastasilaments: “The hands of the dyer reek like rotting fish…So awfully strong was this stench that the Talmud specifically granted women the right to divorce any husband who became a dyer after marrying”.
Mountains of empty shells have been found at the ancient sites of Sidon and Tyre. Here, archaeological data indicates that the snails were collected in large vats and left to decompose.
This produced a hideous stench that was actually mentioned by ancient authors. It took about 12,000 snails to yield 1.4 g of pure dye or less, or about enough dye to color the trim of a single garment.
The actual color of Tyrian purple seems to have varied from reddish to a bluish purple. According to 1st Century BC Roman writer Vitruvius, the Murexcoming from northern waters produced a more bluish color than those of the south.
The most valued shades were said to be those closer to the color of dried blood, as seen in the mosaics of the robes of the Emperor Justinian in Ravenna. The chemical composition of the dye from the Murex is close to that of the dye from indigo, and indigo was sometimes used to make a counterfeit Tyrian purple, a crime which was severely punished.
The color is not what mattered about Tyrian purple. It was all about its luster, richness, resistance to weather and light, and its high price.
The color-fast dye was an item of luxury trade, prized by Romans, who used it to color ceremonial robes. It is believed that the intensity of the purple hue improved rather than faded as the dyed cloth aged.
Jesus, in the hours leading up to his crucifixion, was dressed in purple by the Roman garrison to mock his claim to be ‘King of the Jews’.
The Roman custom of wearing purple togas may have come from an Etruscan tomb painting from the 4th Century BC showing a nobleman wearing a deep purple, embroidered toga. In Ancient Rome, the Toga Praetexta was an ordinary white toga with a broad purple stripe on its border.
It was worn by freeborn Roman boys who had not yet come of age, magistrates, certain categories of priests, and a few other categories of citizens.
During the Empire, the Toga Picta was worn by Magistrates giving public gladiatorial games, and by the Consuls. The Emperor was wore the Toga Picta on special occasions.
Roman Sumptuary Laws (Sumptuariae Leges) were imposed by the rulers of Ancient Rome to curb the expenditure of the people in relation to food, entertainment and clothing. The Sumptuary Laws of Ancient Rome dictated that only the Emperor could wear a purple toga.
An immediate way of distinguishing the elite of Ancient Rome, along with identifying rank and privilege, was through clothing. The best example would be only the Roman Emperor was permitted to wear a purple toga.
The penalties for violating Sumptuary Laws could be harsh: fines, the loss of property, title or even life. The Roman Sumptuary Laws ensured that their class structure was fully maintained regardless of the wealth of a person.
Purple also came to represent spirituality and holiness because the ancient emperors, kings and queens that wore the color were often thought of as gods or descendants of the gods.
However, during the Roman Empire, purple was more and more associated exclusively with the Emperors and their officers. The Emperor Caligula had the King of Mauritania murdered for wearing a purple mantle better than his own.
Nero made it punishable by death for anyone else to wear the color. Sometimes, however, the dye was too expensive even for royalty. Third-century Emperor Aurelian famously wouldn’t allow his wife to buy a shawl made from Tyrian purple silk because it literally cost its weight in gold!
In antiquity, as is still true today, different statuses are associated with specific colors. At a funeral in the West, mourners expect the widow to wear black or some other dark, somber hue.
In Republican Rome, freed slaves had red Phrygian caps. After a great military victory a general’s troops might proclaim the leader Imperator, and help him to receive a triumph from the Senate.
The title Imperator came to be used for the one-man ruler or Princeps, aka Emperor. The cloak that identified the Imperator was purple.
Through the early Christian era, the rulers of the Byzantine Empire continued the use of purple as the imperial color. Byzantines also used purple for diplomatic gifts, as well as for imperial documents and the pages of the Bible.
Gospel manuscripts were written in gold lettering on parchment that was colored Tyrian purple.
Empresses gave birth in the Purple Chamber, and the Emperors born there were known as “born to the purple”. This separated them from Emperors who won or seized the title through political intrigue or military force.
Bishops of the Byzantine church wore white robes with stripes of purple, while government officials wore squares of purple fabric to show their rank.
The production of murex purple for the Byzantine court came to an abrupt end with the sack of Constantinople in 1204 AD, the critical episode of the Fourth Crusade. Murex fishing and dyeing with genuine purple are attested for Egypt in the 10th to 13th centuries.
In Western Europe, the Emperor Charlemagne was crowned in 800 AD wearing a mantle of Tyrian purple. Charlemagne was buried in 814 AD wearing a shroud of the same color, which still exists today.
However, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD, the color lost its imperial status. The great dye works of Constantinople were destroyed, and gradually scarlet, made with dye from the cochineal insect, became the royal color in Europe.
In 1998, through a lengthy trial and error process, an English engineer named John Edmonds rediscovered a process for dyeing with Tyrian purple. He researched recipes and observations of dyers from the 15th to the 18th Century.
After studying an incomplete ancient recipe for Tyrian purple recorded by Pliny the Elder and then collaborating with a chemist, Edmonds hypothesized that an alkaline fermenting vat was necessary. By altering the percentage of sea salt in the dye vat and adding potash, he was able to successfully dye wool a deep purple color.
Tyrian purple was also recreated, at great expense, when the German chemist Paul Friedander tried to recreate it in 2008. Friedander needed 12,000 mollusks to create 1.4 ounces of dye.
It was enough to color a handkerchief. In the year 2000 a gram of Tyrian purple made from 10,000 mollusks, according to the original formula, cost 2,000 euro.
Throughout the years purple has been adopted by various groups or people. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance there was a decrease in usage among Church clergy and royalty, but professors of many of Europe’s new universities began to wear purple.
In the 18th and 19th Centuries, purple regained its status among British royalty and was used more among the leading painters of the time. In the 20th and 21st centuries purple was used in the Women’s Suffrage movement in America, worn by Nazi German prisoners, assimilated with the counterculture of America’s youth in the 60’s and 70’s, used by American musician Prince from the 80’s onward, and worldwide amongst business leaders in neckties from the 21st century forth.
Purple is a color of history. Purple is a color of stature.
Purple is a color of revolution. Purple is a color of fashion.
Throughout everything, though, purple has been a color to take notice of.
Here at Rome Across Europe, we hope that if purple is not your thing you at least Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Located in a bay on the south side of a short peninsula running out from the Dalmatian Coast stands Diocletian’s Palace. Built by the Roman EmperorDiocletian in preparation for his retirement, at the turn of the 4th Century AD.
Weakened by illness, Diocletian left the imperial office on 1 May 305 AD. He became the earliest Roman Emperor to voluntarily abdicate the position.
Diocletian lived out his retirement in his palace tending to his vegetable gardens. His palace went on to become the core of the modern day city of Split.
While it is referred to as a palace because of its intended use as the retirement residence of Diocletian, the term can be misleading. The structure is massive and more resembles a large fortress, with about half of it for Diocletian’s personal use and the rest housed the military garrison.
The Palace was built of white local limestone and marble of high quality, most of which was from Brač marble quarries on the island of Brač, of tuff taken from the nearby river beds, and of brick made in Salonitan and other factories. Some material for decoration was imported: Egyptiangranitecolumns, fine marble for revetments and some capitals produced in workshops in the Proconnesos.
The ground plan of the palace is an irregular rectangle (roughly 525 ft x 623 ft) with towers projecting from the western, northern, and eastern facades. It combines qualities of a luxurious villa with those of a military camp, with its huge gates and watchtowers.
The palace is enclosed by walls, and at times, it housed over 9000 people. Subterranean portions of the palace feature barrel vaulted stonework.
Only the southern facade, which rose directly from, or very near to, the sea, was unfortified. The elaborate architectural composition of the arcaded gallery on its upper floor differs from the more severe treatment of the 3-shore facades.
A monumental gate in the middle of each of these walls led to an enclosed courtyard. The southern sea gate (the Porta Aenea) was simpler in shape and dimensions than the other 3, and it is thought that it was originally intended either as the Emperor’s private access to the sea, or as a service entrance for supplies.
The design is derived from both villa and castrum types. This duality is also evident in the arrangement of the interior.
The transverse road (decumanus) linking the eastern gate (the Silver Gate or Porta Argentea) and western gate (the Iron Gate or Porta Ferrea) divided the complex into 2-halves. In the southern half were the more luxurious structures (the Emperor’s public and private apartments, along with religious buildings).
The Emperor’s apartments formed a block along the sea front and were situated above a substructure because the sloping terrain demanded significant differences in level. Although for many centuries almost completely filled with refuse, most of the substructure is well preserved, and indicates the original shape and disposition of the rooms above.
A monumental Peristylium formed the northern access to the imperial apartments. It also gave access to Diocletian’s mausoleum on the east (now Cathedral of St. Domnius), and to 3 temples on the west (2 of which are now lost, the remaining having become a baptistery, originally being the Temple of Jupiter).
There is a temple just to the west of the Peristylium called The Temple of the Aesculapius, which has a semi-cylindrical roof made out of hand carved stone blocks. The construction was so outstanding that it was not until the 1940s that the roof began to have any issues, but restoration has recently been done.
The northern half of the palace, divided in 2 parts by the main north-south street (cardo) leading from the Golden Gate (Porta Aurea) to the Peristylium, is less well preserved. It is usually supposed that each part was a residential complex, housing soldiers, servants, and possibly some other facilities.
Both parts were apparently surrounded by streets. Leading to perimeter walls there were rectangular buildings, possibly storage magazines.
The Palace was decorated with numerous 3500-year old granite sphinxes, originating from the site of Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III. Only 3 have survived the centuries: 1) still remains on the Peristylium, 2) sits headless in front of Jupiter’s temple, and 3) resides in the city museum.
After the Romans abandoned the site, the Palace remained empty for several centuries. In the 7th Century, nearby residents fled to the walled palace in an effort to escape invading Croats.
Since then the palace has been occupied, with residents making their homes and businesses within the palace basement and directly in its walls. Diocletian’s Palace far transcends local importance because of its degree of preservation.
After the Middle Ages the palace was virtually unknown in the rest of Europe until the Scottish neo-classical architectRobert Adam had the ruins surveyed. Then, with the aid of French artist and antiquary Charles-Louis Clérisseau and several draftsmen, Adam published Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia (London, 1764).
Diocletian’s palace was an inspiration for Adam’s new style of Neoclassical architecture and the publication of measured drawings brought it into the design vocabulary of European architecture for the first time. A few decades later, in 1782, the French painter Louis-François Cassas created drawings of the palace, published by Joseph Lavallée in 1802 in the chronicles of his voyages.
The Palace is of the most famous and complete architectural and cultural features on the Croatian Adriatic coast. As the world’s most complete remains of a Roman palace, it holds an outstanding place in Mediterranean, European and world heritage.
In November 1979 UNESCO, in line with the international convention on cultural and natural heritage, adopted a proposal that the historic city of Split built around the Palace should be included in the register of World Cultural Heritage.
In November 2006 the City Council decided to permit over 20 new buildings within the palace (including a shopping and garage complex), although the palace had been declared a World Heritage Monument. It is said that this decision was politically motivated and largely due to lobbying by local property developers.
Once the public in 2007 came aware of the project, they petitioned against the decision and won. No new buildings, shopping center or the underground garage was built. The World Monuments Fund has been working on a conservation project at the palace, including surveying structural integrity and cleaning and restoring the stone and plasterwork.
Today many restaurants and shops and some homes (all of which had previously been constructed before 1979) can still be found within the walls. The palace is depicted on the reverse of the Croatian 500 kuna banknote, issued in 1993.
Diocletian’s Palace was used as a location for filming Season 4 of the HBO series Game of Thrones. This palace is today, with all the most important historical buildings, in the center of the city of Split.
We hope you enjoyed today’s journey into a now sovereign nation that sits between Central and Southeast Europe. Please join us again soon for we never know where we’ll be or what we have to uncover.
Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Michael, Hogan, C. “Diocletian’s Palace”. The Megalithic Portal. 6 October 2007.
Weitzmann, Kurt. Age of spirituality: late antique and early Christian art, third to seventh century. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979. ISBN 9780870991790.
In the mind of one who is chastened and purified thou wilt find no corrupt matter, nor impurity, nor any sore skinned over. Nor is his life incomplete when fate overtakes him, as one may say of an actor who leaves the stage before ending and finishing the play. Besides, there is in him nothing servile, nor affected, nor too closely bound to other things, nor yet detached from other things, nothing worthy of blame, nothing which seeks a hiding-place.