ROMANA SUM

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“ROMANA SUM” (the ancient Romans didn’t have lowercase letters) translates as “I am Roman,” where the single speaker is female. An alternative translation* – one I prefer aesthetically – is “I am a woman of Rome.”

I am doing my best, within the world of the SCA, to research and recreate the material culture and life of 50BC. My persona is Tullia Saturnina, a widowed midwife. Tullia’s sweetheart is Caius (my guy Robert). I am the Minister of Arts and Sciences for the Barony of Three Mountains, although I live in Dragon’s Mist (long story).

My goal is historical accuracy. If you ever catch me in a mistake (TANTUMMODO OVUM SUM) or think I’d be interested in hearing about something, PLEASE drop me a note! I’ll be posting my papers, etc to the Papers page so you can see what I’m up to. The Resources page has links to lots of info, shopping, etc. I’m not sure yet how else I will use this page. I like the idea of having time go forward at some point… Maybe post some letters from Tullia to her family members about her life, her reactions to public events as Julius Caesar’s story reaches its climax…? Who knows. Feel free to join in the conversation if there’s something you’d like to see.

*Unless you are nitpicky about Latin grammar, because it’s not in the genitive form. But “FEMINA ROMANAE SUM” doesn’t make for a snappy blog title, so bear with me.

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Slavery

At September Crown, one sweet gentle took offense to me referring to Drusa as my slave. “Maybe you could call her… your ladies’ maid?”

My reaction was “Um… but in my period that would have been a slave.” I chalked it up to my passion for Getting It Right (even in my non-SCA life I am all about accuracy) but something about it has been tickling the back of my brain. This morning I finally placed it.

Ignoring a truth because it makes you uncomfortable is not okay.

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Owning a human being is wrong. I am NOT trying to say slavery wasn’t that bad, or that slaves didn’t endure unspeakable hardship. I’m saying it existed.

My friend Kate playacting as Drusa is wonderful because 1) It’s consensual on her part, 2) It allows me to fully immerse and live how a Roman matron would.  When I am fully dressed in my palla, I need my hands free to hold it on as I walk. As with much of high-status clothing through the ages, the point of it is that I am not doing physical labor. I need a slave to carry my things. If our goal in the SCA is to actually understand lost cultures – not just to wear a Halloween costume – social context is important!

Slavery in ancient Rome was very different from the American form of slavery. Although I’m sure abuse existed, it was more rare. The vast numbers of slaves (up to 75% of the population, depending on the period) meant that slave owners policed themselves. There was considerable social pressure to be fair and humane to avoid uprisings. It wasn’t racially based. Some slaves owned slaves of their own! Slaves were captured spoils of war, or poor people who sold themselves or their children into captivity, or those who were unfortunate enough to be born into servitude. Being freed was common. It was often a reward for good service. Slaves could also be freed in a will, or save up money to buy their own freedom. Even after liberation was gained, many relationships were maintained. We can see that business and emotional ties remained strong in the multiple epitaphs put up by a freedman for his former master, and vice versa.

Still, the sexual and physical control of another human is abhorrent. The Romans, as well as many other cultures, built their empire on this horrible practice. Some still do. To sweep it under the rug and pretend otherwise is to whitewash history.

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ADDENDUM: This sparked a lively debate on Facebook with a dear, trusted friend. It occurred to me that this is a cultural difference. I’m 100% ethnically Jewish. At Passover every year, the Seder dinner is a retelling of the Jews’ escape from Egypt. Specifically, it’s designed to teach the “youngest child” – We want to be sure the next generation knows the history. I would love it if someone had an Egyptian persona and mentioned their Jewish slaves. It happened. Wishing it didn’t can’t change history.  So I’m coming at it from that perspective – loathing the whitewashing. But I totally respect others’ feelings to want to be isolated from a hated word. I’m very sorry I made anyone uncomfortable.

PPS: Drusa asked for this status. She was concerned about being uncomfortable not knowing anyone / not knowing what to do. It’s worked beautifully to bring her into the SCA. It helped that we didn’t have the racial issue to complicate things.

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Biffy History

SCA events are usually camping events… and that means biffies (aka Portajohns, Honey Buckets, etc). I decided a little distraction was in order at this year’s September Crown, so I posted a series of 4 pages on Roman toilets (Cloacina, goddess of the sewer, private and public bathrooms, and bathroom-related graffiti) inside the biffs, then encouraged readers to “catch ’em all!”  The 5th page lists the sources I used.

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Colorful art!

This is a great little documentary looking at the ruins of Herculaneum. I don’t usually dig (!) mass media aimed at the general public, but the reconstructions of the ceilings are amazing!

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Posca – Roman Gatorade

Posca is a wonderfully refreshing drink that was used by Romans to deal with a hot Mediterranean climate and hard physical work. If you were poor or a soldier, it’s just vinegar and water. If you were lucky enough to afford it, honey was added.

A sugar, an acid, and water: This formula has been used as an electrolyte replacer for millennia. It’s MUCH better than water for keeping you happy and functional on a hot working day. The Persians did a mint/sugar thing called Sekanjibin. In the medieval period it was called shrub. In the American south it was switchel… until it was replaced with lemonade.

It’s super easy to make:

1 part vinegar (I use Bragg’s apple cider vinegar for its digestive benefits. The Romans would have used wine vinegar)

1 part honey

You don’t even need to heat it – just stir it a little. That gives you a syrup that is shelf stable and great for transporting to events. Dilute it about 10-1 with water in a cup or pitcher. If it burns, add more water. If it tastes bad, add more syrup. I know that sounds odd, but just trust me.

NOTE: Some people like to add in spices (coriander, ginger, etc) or mint for variety!

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Daily Life in Ancient Rome

I taught my new class for the first time last weekend at Grand Thing. It was really fun! I love bringing the little details alive… it’s what makes history sing! The handout is available here: DAILY LIFE in ANCIENT ROME. It’s mostly a list of topics, but includes references in case you want to investigate further.

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Byzantine babe attire

This is totally not my thing (personally I don’t think it’s really the Roman empire by this point) but it’s in the books on my shelves and someone asked, so…

Women’s clothing in Italy in the 5th century:

From Sebesta & Bonfante “The World of Roman Costume” come these images:

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These last two are during Justinian’s reign, so they are a little later but the styles are similar.

From Alexandria Croom’s “Roman Clothing and Fashion” there are these:

IMG_20160406_205821898.jpgMaterials choice (ahem, giant glued fake gems on a plastic belt) is just one of the reasons I am suspicious of this book, and particularly the “recreation” section. Take with a pinch of salt.

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The caption on the last one reads “Serena and her son Eucharius, late 4th century ivory diptych.”

 

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The History of Christmas

 

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My Saturnalia-flavored Christmas decor, with pomegranates.

I just posted a brief paper written for Three Mountain’s 2015 Yule. The class is meant to address the secular celebratory rituals of December 25th before the 5th century, not any religious or sacred issues.

Many of the Yuletime traditions we observe actually date back to before Christmas. It’s fascinating to me how many of our current traditions have persisted for two thousand years. Look for a future paper on the Roman origin of wedding rituals… The Empire may have fallen, but we are still enacting a surprising number of Roman memes.

Read the History of Christmas!

Bonus video (not by me): The VII Days of Saturnalia! (Dec 17-23)

 

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