Friday, April 15, 2011

At Least You Don’t Pay Urine Tax… (1st C AD)

The Urine Tax  of RomaAt Least You Don’t Pay Urine Tax… (1st C AD)

By: The Scribe on June, 2007

While the notion of pay-toilets may seem rather off-putting and a little unfair – after all, why should someone be charged money to conduct a necessary bodily function? – it seems that the ancient Romans were all too familiar with this concept…
In the first century AD, the Roman emperor Nero levied what was known as the vectigal urinae, or simply put, “urine tax”. The tax was placed on the collection of urine, since the lower classes of society had to urinate into small pots that were then emptied into cesspools. Liquid could then be collected from these cesspools, as well as from the public toilets of the upper classes, and recycled for a number of chemical processes: animal skins could be soaked in urine to remove the hair fibers before tanning, and Roman launderers could use urine as a source of ammonia to bleach and clean wool garments.
VespasianAlthough the tax was eventually removed, it was reenacted around 70 AD with the succession of emperor Vespasian. Known for his love of money and ruthless taxation – which, to his credit, eventually brought the Roman empire out of debt and left a surplus in the treasury for the next emperor – Vespasian re-applied the tax to urine collection, and extended it to the use of public toilets.
The Roman historians Dio Cassius and Suetonius wrote about Vespasian’s unpopular tax in their own history books, reporting that when Vespasian’s son Titus expressed his disgust over such a tax, the emperor simply showed his son several gold coins and asked: “See, my son, if these have any smell.” When Titus agreed that they had no odor, Vespasian replied: “…and yet, they come from urine!”
As undignified as Titus may have believed his father’s urine tax to be, in the long run Vespasian’s taxes actually benefited the Roman empire – perhaps the most evident example of this is in his most famous monument: the Roman Colosseum.

April 15th

On April 15th, was FordicaliaDuring this festival a pregnant cow was sacrificed to Tellus Mater, "Mother Earth", who was considered to be pregnant with seeds. The unborn calf was taken to the Grand Vesta in Rome, where the priestess of Vesta burned it in Vesta's sacred flame (considered to be the flame of the earth). The ashes of the burned fetus were kept safe for later use during the Parilia.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 12

On April 12, the Festival of Cerealia begins

Cerealia was a 7-day festival celebrated in ancient Rome in honor of the goddess Ceres
In Rome, this was the primary festival of Ceres and was accompanied by the Ludi Ceriales or "Games of Ceres" in the Circus Maximus.Ovid's description (Fasti iv.494) mentions that Ceres/Demeter's search for her lost daughter Proserpina was represented by women clothed in white, running about with lighted torches.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Friday, April 8, 2011

Fall of Roman Empire caused by 'contagion of homosexuality'

Well, here's one theory... From The Telegraph:

Fall of Roman Empire caused by 'contagion of homosexuality'

A prominent Italian historian has claimed that the Roman Empire collapsed because a "contagion of homosexuality and effeminacy" made it easy pickings for barbarian hordes, sparking a furious row.

Fall of Roman Empire caused by 'contagion of homosexuality'
Screen versions of the Romans have varied from the risque scene involving Tony Curtis and Laurence Olivier; to the rough, tough Maximus Decimus Meridius played by Russell Crowe, to the camp comic Frankie Howerd as Lurcio in Up Pompeii! Photo: REX/PA
Roberto De Mattei, 63, the deputy head of the country's National Research Council, claimed that the empire was fatally weakened after conquering Carthage, which he described as "a paradise for homosexuals".
The remarks prompted angry calls for his resignation, with critics saying his comments were homophobic, offensive and unbecoming of his position.
The fall of the Roman Empire was a result of "the effeminacy of a few in Carthage, a paradise for homosexuals, who infected the many.
"The abhorrent presence of a few gays infected a good part of the (Roman) people," Prof Mattei told Radio Maria, a Catholic radio station.
The Roman Republic achieved domination over Carthage, in present-day Tunisia, during the Punic Wars of the third and second centuries BC, during which Hannibal made his ultimately abortive crossing of the Alps with war elephants.
After the third and final Punic War, Carthage fell into Roman hands, followed by most of the other dependencies of the Carthaginian Empire.
Prof Mattei claimed that it was as the capital of Rome's North African provinces that Cartagena became a hotbed of sexual perversion, gradually influencing Rome itself, which eventually fell to barbarian tribes in 410AD.
The corruption and decadence of some Roman emperors has been a staple of the cinema for decades, from humorous pastiches such as Frankie Howerd's 1970s television series Up Pompeii! to the 1960 Hollywood film Spartacus.
A homoerotic scene in Spartacus in which Laurence Olivier's character, the Roman General Crassus, attempts to seduce a young slave played by Tony Curtis was cut from the original film but restored in the 1990s.
A more muscular portrayal of Roman manhood was offered by the 2000 film Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe as a betrayed general who comes to Rome to seek revenge as a professional fighter.
Prof Mattei, a conservative Catholic and a former adviser on international affairs to the government, drew a parallel between the supposed moral degeneracy of imperial Rome and that of contemporary Italy.
"Today we live in an era in which the worst vices are inscribed in law as human rights. "Every evil must have its punishment, either in our times or in the afterlife." Politicians and academics were left aghast by his remarks and more than 7,000 have signed a petition calling for his immediate resignation.
"His homophobic and extreme views are offensive to the organisation he leads," said Massimo Donadi, a senior member of an opposition party,Italy of Values, adding that he would refer the affair to parliament.
Anna Paola Concia, an MP from the main opposition Democratic Party, said: "A fanatic such as him cannot remain vice-president of the council in a country that has at its heart culture, human rights and respect for diversity. He is nothing other than a homophobic fundamentalist on a par with Iran's president, Ahmadinejad." Prof De Mattei, who was awarded an order of knighthood by the Vatican in recognition for his service to the Catholic Church, has previously caused controversy by speaking out about gay rights, the contraceptive pill and the alleged persecution of Christians by Muslims in Kosovo and Lebanon.
Last month he said that the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan were punishments from God and "a way of purifying human sin".

Planes, Trains, and Plantains- The story of Oedipus

I thought that this essay, which did NOT come from UTSA, is a perfect example of why we need the classics. WARNING: NSFW

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Nones of April

April 5th was the festival for Fortuna Publica.

The Romans believed that some important events were inevitable since predetermined by Fatum (fate). In human things Fortuna played instead an important role so that they prayed the goddess to bend Fors (hazard) in their favour. They also believed in man’s valour or virtue (virtus), capable of bending things in man’s favour as well – Fortune and Virtue are also two main factors in man’s life according to the Italian Renaissance thinkers.
Initially Fortuna was linked to fertility in agriculture and offspring. Later, also because of Greek influence, it became more like an abstract personification of chance and luck, not very far from the Greek Tyche (Τύχη). Many temples were dedicated to this goddess in Rome, where the Romans worshipped her under various cult-titles, like Fortuna Virginalis (fortune of the virgins), Fortuna Privata (fortune of the private individual), Fortuna Publica (fortune of the people), Fortuna Huiusce Diei (fortune of the present day or luck right now), Fortuna Bona (or good fortune), Fortuna Mala (bad luck), Fortuna Belli (fortune of war),Fortuna Muliebris (fortune of the married women), Fortuna Virilis (luck of women with men) etc.
When Augustus came back from the provinces in 19 BC he dedicated an altar to Fortuna Redux, (fortune of the survivor that comes back home from war).
A latin proverb “fortes fortuna adiuvat”, fortune favours the strong or the brave, had variants like Vergil’s “audentis fortuna iuvat “, fortune is helping the bold. So Fortuna was more willing to help those who took risks. When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and pronounced the famous words alea jacta est (the die is cast) he committed his fate to good Fortune.
While Caesar was a thorough and professional soldier, many of his greatest victories were achieved by taking bold risks which often exposed him and his troops to great danger, but often resulted in memorable victories. Obviously, his last gamble, attending the Senate on the Ides of March without his lictors (bodyguards) exposed him to successful assassination (excerpt from the Wikipedia.)
We also learn from the Wikipedia that this Roman proverb “underlies the meaning of the 5th episode of the 6th season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; Favour the Bold. Captain Sisko quotes it, stating that it is an old saying, before leading a fleet of ships into combat when they are outnumbered two to one.”

Monday, April 4, 2011

Teleconference Lecture Tomorrow : "War and Sports"

"War and Sports"
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
2:00 PM ET/ 11:00 AM PT (90 minute lecture and Q&A) 
Both sport and battle were "contests" for the Greeks, agones, in their terms.  We will here look at the fascinating and puzzling legend(s) of Pheidippides (or whatever his name was), ancient long-distance messenger runners ("day runners" hemerodromoi) as a class, ancient footraces in the stadium, perhaps a bit about the Olympic truce (on the theme of sport and war), the Marathon Race in the modern Olympics, and modern long-distance running.  The common thread is the Greek and our own contest culture.
Department Chair of Comparative Literature, and Director of Comparative Ancient Civilizations at the University of California, Riverside, Tom Scanlon's research is on Greek and Roman sport, and Greek and Roman historical writing; his  teaching interests encompass most areas of Greek and Roman literature, language, and culture, including courses on ancient sports, religion, gender, and mythology.
Location: Teleconference from anywhere in the world
Free registration: