PRAEFATIO - The Glory that was Rome

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016

Cumaean Sibyl

The last age, sung of by the Cumaean Sibyl, is coming; - the great cycle of ages is beginning again - and  from the beginning…” 
Vergil - 'Eclogue'

The rise and fall of a great empire cannot fail to fascinate us, for we can all see in such a story something of our own times - but of all the empires that have come and gone, none has a more immediate appeal that the Empire of Rome.
It pervades our lives today: its legacy is everywhere to be seen.

It is generally agreed that the Roman Empire was one of the most successful and enduring empires in world history.
Its reputation was successively foretold, celebrated and mourned in classical antiquity.
The Empire has had a long 'after-life', creating a linear link between Western society today, and the Roman state, reflected in religion, law, political structures, philosophy, art, and architecture.
Because of this, the Roman Empire has become the focus of many 'fantasies', and much that is imagined and unreal.
Lauded in much modern literature, and even in the mass media as an exemplary and beneficent power, it was also a bloody and dangerous autocracy.


Rome began as a small town on the Tiber river, and grew into a powerful force for civilization, law, and order in the ancient world.
The Roman Republic, and its successor the Empire, was a federation of teeming cities linked by arrow-straight roads.
Its much lauded, but only apparent, peace and prosperity - the legendary 'Pax Romana' - were safeguarded by the powerful legions, that held back the barbarian hordes.
But Rome also had a much darker side: the cruelty of mass slavery, and the violence of bloody arena, - the greed and opulence of the upper class, and the unruly mobs, pacified only by bread and circuses, - and the apparent tyranny of many of the emperors, such as Caligula and Nero.
The Empire eventually fell into darkness, but its ghost haunted the Middle Ages, and inspired the Renaissance - and it still haunts us today.


The Principate is the name given to  the first period of the Roman Empire, startingthe reign of Augustus Caesar, and refers particularly to the Emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
The principate is characterized by a concerted effort on the part of the emperors to preserve the illusion of the formal continuance of the Roman Republic.
The word principate is etymologically derived from the Latin word 'princeps', meaning 'chief 'or 'first', and is used to describe the political regime dominated by such a political leader, whether or not he is formally head of state and/or head of government.

This reflects the principate emperors' assertion that they were merely "first among equals" among the citizens of Rome.
In practice, the principate was a period of  'enlightened absolutism', with occasional forays into quasi-constitutional monarchy; Emperors tended not to flaunt their power, and usually respected the rights of citizens.
The title, in full, princeps senatus / princeps civitatis ("first amongst the senators" / "first amongst the citizens"), was first adopted by Octavian Caesar Augustus (27 BC–AD 14), the first Roman 'emperor', who chose - like the assassinated dictator Julius Caesar - not to reintroduce a legal monarchy.
The purpose was to establish the political stability desperately needed after the exhausting civil wars by a de facto dictatorial regime within the constitutional framework of the Roman Republic as an alternative to the hated early Roman Kingdom.
The title itself derived from the position of the 'princeps senatus', traditionally the oldest member of the Senate, who had the right to be heard first on any debate.
Although dynastic pretenses crept in from the start, formalizing this in a monarchic style remained politically unthinkable.
Under this 'Principate stricto sensu', the political reality of autocratic rule by the Emperor was still scrupulously masked by forms and conventions of oligarchic self-rule, inherited from the political period of the 'uncrowned' Roman Republic (509 BC–27 BC) under the motto 'Senatus Populusque Romanus' ("The Senate and people of Rome"), often abreviated to SPQR.

Initially, the theory implied the 'first citizen' had to earn his extraordinary position (de facto evolving to nearly absolute monarchy) by merit, in the style that Augustus himself had gained the position of 'auctoritas'.
Imperial propaganda developed a 'paternalistic' ideology, presenting the princeps as the very incarnation of all virtues attributed to the ideal ruler (much like a Greek tyrannos earlier), such as clemency and justice, and in turn placing the impetus upon the princeps to play this designated role within Roman society, as his political insurance as well as a moral duty.
What specifically was expected of the princeps seems to have varied according to the times; Tiberius, who amassed a huge surplus for the city of Rome, was criticized as a miser, while Caligula was criticized for his lavish spending on games and spectacles.
Generally speaking it was expected of the Emperor to be generous, but not frivolous, not just as a good ruler, but also with his personal fortune (as in the proverbial "bread and circuses" – 'panem et circenses' ), providing occasional public games, gladiators, horse races and artistic shows.

Large distributions of food for the public and charitable institutions were also means that served as popularity boosters while the construction of public works provided paid employment for the poor.

After the collapse of the Republic, the Empire, under the leadership of Gaius Octavian Augustus (left) - the Princeps (emperor), - had enjoyed a sustained period of peace, prosperity and growth, (the 'Pax Romana'), and this continued under his adopted heir Tiberius.
There then followed the brief, but in some ways chaotic reign of Caligula, followed by the relative peace and stability of the Principate of Claudius. More disruption, however, followed with the reign of philhellene, Nero.
This period - from Augustus to the death of Nero - is usually referred to as the 'Principate of the early Empire', to distinguish it from the Republic, and the even earlier Kingdom of Rome.
It should be borne in mind, therefore, that the culture of Rome, while superficially familiar to us, was in fact radically different in many aspects to European and American culture as they stand today.


Part of the blame for the superficial familiarity that our awareness engenders when we think of Rome is the result of plays (from Shakespeare to Shaw, and beyond), books (Lloyd C Douglas, 'The Robe' and Wallace's 'Ben Hur'), and of course the plethora of films, from Cecil B. DeMille right up to the appalling 'Gladiator'.
The nearest that any works, either in drama, film or literature has ever approached to the 'real Rome' has been the film by Fellini of Pertonius' 'Satyricon', and television series, aptly named 'Rome' - created by John Milius, William J. MacDonald and Bruno Heller.
With the image of Rome such a powerful recurring theme in Western culture, and it is not surprising that it has played such a major role in the cinema, however, it is the filmmakers of just three countries who have mainly turned to ancient Rome for inspiration: Italy, the United States, and Britain.

The film industries of France and Germany have rarely drawn upon their countries' distant histories as province or adversary, respectively, of the Roman Empire for filmic themes.
Neither have Spanish filmmakers even though the Iberian peninsula settled down to be a loyal province after fiercely resisting Roman conquest for 200 years, even contributing two emperors, Hadrian and Trajan, and the philosopher Seneca.
Of course, the major factor is economics, because historical spectaculars that require the recreation of ancient buildings and cities, and the clothing of thousands of extras in period costumes, have always been extremely expensive.
But other factors are also operative such as culture and differing historical perspectives.
The Roman Empire at its peak of power and territorial extent also coincided with the pivotal event of the formation of European culture - the establishment and expansion of Christianity
The epic story of the birth of Christianity in the eastern extremity of the Roman Empire, and the subsequent spread of Christian teachings to the very heart of the great city of Rome would be an irresistible topic for generations of film-makers in various countries.

The 'Satyricon' (left), however, avoids any mention of Christianity, doubtless because it is based on a 'fantasy novel' actually written by a 'pagan' Roman.
It is a depiction of Roman society at the time of Nero, and is vastly more accurate than, say, 'Quo Vadis' or 'Barabas', which are basically 'plugs' for protestant Christianity, and the 'American Way'.
'Fellini Satyricon', or simply 'Satyricon', is a 1969 Italian fantasy drama film written and directed by Federico Fellini and somewhat loosely based on Petronius's work 'Satyricon', written during the reign of the emperor Nero and set in imperial Rome. The 'Satyricon liber' ("The Book of Satyrlike Adventures), is a Latin work of fiction believed to have been written by Gaius Petronius, though the manuscript tradition identifies the author as a certain Titus Petronius. The Satyricon is an example of Menippean satire, which is very different from the formal verse satire of Juvenal or Horace. The work contains a mixture of prose and verse (commonly known as prosimetrum); serious and comic elements; and erotic and homo-erotic passages. As with the 'Metamorphoses' (also called 'The Golden Ass') of Apuleius, classical scholars often describe it as a "Roman novel", without necessarily implying continuity with the modern literary form.

More recently, the television series 'Rome' 1 and 2, (right) has depicted the Empire in a slightly earlier period, at the time of Jukius Caesar and his nephew, Gaius Octavian.
Although its chronology was not quite right, and some of the events were, on occasions, invented, its general depiction of ancient Roman culture and society, particularly the aspects of Roman politics, sexuality and violence, was far more accurate than any previous depiction of Ancient Rome.
The Roman Empire, of course, was a pre-Christian society, and was the last great flowering of Classical Civilization.


During the time dealt with in this story (The Story of Gracchus) there were, of course, Christians in the empire.
These were mainly of two kinds - the Jewish Christians, whom most people today would not recognize as Christians.
These Jewish Christians worshiped in the Synagogues, and in the Jerusalem Temple, and it was only their conviction that the Messiah (Joshua) had finally come that distinguished them from their co-religionists.
The other Christians, that could be found in small numbers in Rome, some towns in Italy, and some of the cities of Asia Minor would be equally unrecognizable to today's Christians.
These 'Followers of the Way' were part of the religious phenomena referred to a 'mystery religions', which were a prominent feature of Roman and Hellenistic society.
Their religious writings (those surviving are among the writings of the Hellenized Jew, Paul of Tarsus) made no reference to Nazareth, Bethlehem, 'wise men' from the East, Shepherds, or the long and involved 'passion narrative'.
Their 'Jesus' (a Latin name), was a young god who died and then rose again, like Osiris, Dionysus, and Attis (right).
When they painted his likeness, they did not depict a Jewish rabbi, with long hair and a beard, but a young, cleanly shaved, short-haired god, looking suspiciously like 'Sol Invictus' (left), or the Hellenistic Helios (below), or they represented him as an equally young, Hellenistic looking god tending his sheep, like the Phrygian god, Attis - and they did not use the symbol of the cross.

Art is silent for the first 150 years of Christianity, with no Christian images being made - but no one knows why there is this lack of imagery. Christian images first start to appear in the 3rd century, in Rome, (long after 'The Story of Gracchus') in the form of funerary art – sarcophagi, wall and ceiling paintings in the catacombs. However, this art concerns itself with the afterlife, not with possible events from the life of Jesus. From its onset, and for its first 200 years, Christian art deliberately avoids the subject of crucifixion. The very first work of art portraying the crucifixion dates to the 5th century CE. 
The numbers of Christians in the Empire however, for a number of centuries, was so small that, contrary to popular imagination, they had very little impact on the social mores of the people in general.
So the Roman Empire is a pre-Christian, 'pagan' society and, as such, is very different from our own society.
Paganism is a term that developed among the Christians of southern Europe during late antiquity to describe religions other than their own. Throughout Christendom, it continued to be used, typically in a derogatory sense.
The original word is Latin slang, originally devoid of religious meaning.
Itself the word derives from the classical Latin 'pagus' which originally meant 'region delimited by markers', 'paganus' had also come to mean 'of or relating to the countryside', 'country dweller', 'villager'; by extension, 'rustic'.
The later use referred to people who followed the religion of the traditional classical gods of Greece and Rome, along with the mores and morals associated with such beliefs.

Reconstructing and understanding Roman society is a task fraught with difficulty.
It was the elite of the Empire, - the emperors, senators, equestrians, and the local elites, - (the magistrates, town and city councilors and priests), who produced almost all the literature and the material culture which we think of as being, essentially, 'Roman'.
  • The Roman Senate was, initially the council of the republic, and at first consisted only of one hundred Senators chosen from the Patricians. They were called 'Patres', either on account of their age or the paternal care they had of the state. The word senate derives from the Latin word 'senex', which means "old man". Therefore, senate literally means "board of old men."
  • The Equites (Latin: eques nom. singular) constituted the lower of the two aristocratic classes of ancient Rome, ranking below the patricians (patricii), a hereditary caste that monopolized political power during the regal era (753 to 509 BC) and during the early Republic (to 338 BC). A member of the equestrian order was known as an 'eques' (plural: equites). 
  • Roman magistrates were elected officials in Ancient Rome. Each vicus (city or town neighborhood) elected four local magistrates (vicomagistri) who commanded a sort of local police force chosen from among the people of the vicus by lot. Occasionally the officers of the vicomagistri would feature in certain celebrations (primarily the Compitalia) in which they were accompanied by two lictors
It was the 'Imperial Elite' who stood at the summit of the Roman socioeconomic pyramid.
To qualify as part of this elite a person had to be worth more than 400,000 sesterces.
The Sestertius, or Sesterce, (pl. sestertii) was an ancient Roman coin. During the Roman Republic it was a small, silver coin issued only on rare occasions. During the Roman Empire it was a large brass coin. The name Sestertius (originally semis-tertius) means "2 ½", the coin's original value in Asses, and is a combination of semis "half" and tertius "third", that is, "the third half" (0 ½ being the first half and 1 ½ the second half) or "half the third" (two units plus half the third unit, or halfway between the second unit and the third). The Sestertius was also used as a standard unit of account, represented on inscriptions with the monogram HS. Large values were recorded in terms of 'sestertium milia', thousands of Sestertii, with the 'milia' often omitted and implied. The hyper-wealthy general and politician of the late Roman Republic, Crassus (who fought in the war to defeat Spartacus), was said to have had 'estates worth 200 million sesterces'.
Among the possible 50-60 million people in the Roman Empire, at the time of our story, there were probably 5,000 adult men (women were not counted), possessing in excess of 4000,000 sesterces.
An average of 100 adult males in each of the 300 or so cities or major towns in the empire would provide another 30,000 odd very wealthy individuals.
Because of the steep socioeconomic gradient in the Roman world, thee elite probably held in excess of 80 percent of the total wealth of the empire.
As has been said, it was these individuals who wrote Roman history, either as literature, or in the form of architecture and art - and it is from them that we gain our (possibly distorted) image of ancient Roman civilization.


Rome was originally a small village on the banks of the River Tiber.
As the years passed, the sheer aggression and drive of the original settlers forged a vast Empire (which in the end they were completely unable to control or direct).
The reason for Rome's aggressive and thrusting rise to power lay in the Roman attitude to morality, which they had inherited from the 'heroic age' of the Hellenic world.
In this 'heroic' morality, (perfectly described in the wrings of the German philosopher Frederich Nietzsche - left) ‘good’ picks out exalted and proud states of mind, and it therefore refers to people, not actions, in the first instance.
‘Bad’ means ‘lowly’, ‘despicable’, and refers to people who are petty, cowardly, or concerned with what is useful, rather than what is grand or great.
Good-bad identifies a hierarchy of people, the noble masters or aristocracy, and the common people. - in Rome the patricians and the plebeians.
The noble person only recognizes moral duties towards their equals; how they treat people below them is not a matter of morality at all - and this, of course lies at the basis of slavery - a key theme in the 'Story of Gracchus'.
The good, noble person has a sense of ‘fullness’ – of power, wealth, and ability.
From the ‘overflowing’ of these qualities, not from pity, they will help other people, including people below them.
Noble people experience themselves as the origin of value, deciding what is good or not.
‘Good’ originates in self-affirmation, a celebration of one’s own greatness and power.
They revere themselves, and have a devotion for whatever is great.
But this is not self-indulgence: any signs of weakness are despised, and harshness and severity are respected.
A noble morality is a morality of gratitude and vengeance.
Friendship involves mutual respect, and a rejection of over-familiarity, while enemies are necessary, in order to vent feelings of envy, aggression and arrogance.
All these qualities mean that the good person rightly evokes fear in those who are not their equal and a respectful distance in those who are.
This struggle between masters and slaves recurs historically.
According to Nietzsche, ancient Greek and Roman societies were grounded in master morality.
The Homeric hero is the strong-willed man, and the classical roots of the Iliad and Odyssey exemplified Nietzsche's master morality.
Historically, master morality was defeated as the vicious 'slave morality' of Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire.


In attempting to reconstruct Roman society, it is essential to take into account the immense significance that religion had on Roman attitudes to all aspects of life, from marriage, to sexuality, the family and the home, and most significantly the political decisions taken by the state.
Roman religion was basically 'syncretic', deriving many features from the cults of Latium, Eturia and Alba Longa - the precursor of Rome.
In addition there was the influence of Greek colonies in the south of the Italian peninsular.
From a range of deities adopted from the Greeks, the Romans altered the gods' identities, but left their characters unchanged.
The Greek king of the gods, Zeus, was in Rome the god Jupiter.
The Romans believed that Jupiter granted them supremacy because they had honored him more than any other people had. Jupiter was "the fount of the auspices upon which the relationship of the city with the gods rested." He personified the divine authority of Rome's highest offices, internal organization, and external relations. The cult of Iuppiter Latiaris was the most ancient known cult of the god: it was practised since very remote times near the top of the Mons Albanus on which the god was venerated as the high protector of the Latin League under the hegemony of Alba Longa.
Hera was called Juno, Aphrodite was called Venus.
Most of the Greek gods could be found in Rome: going through the same drama, the same complications and conflicts.
Both cultures, Greek and Roman, incorporated the idea that the gods were susceptible to making mistakes, much like humans.
Gods and goddesses were just as likely to fall into temptation as mortals, in fact, Roman gods were even prone to sexual liaisons, both heterosexual and homosexual, as their Greek counterparts.
Beginning in the culture of the Greeks, and then moving onward through that of the ancient Romans, there was also a tangled parallelism of human and  divine action.
In the absence of rational explanations for what the people of these cultures witnessed around them, it seemed as if everything that happened, good or bad, was due to the intervention of the gods.
Military triumphs were seen as a sign of the celestial rewards, regardless of the comparative strength of the armies involved.
Defeats were seen as an example of divine retribution, and an indication that certain gods demanded to be appeased.
During the intense battle sequences depicted in the last book of 'The Aeneid', Aeneas is badly injured. For a moment, it looks as if he would not survive.
However, instead of leaving it to happen naturally, Aeneas' mother, the goddess Venus, intervenes.
There were all types of religious and mythological examples found sprinkled throughout Virgil's epic, all leading to the adoption of the mythology and beliefs of the Greeks by Roman society.
Even the fables, actions, and faults have a direct correlation to those that had been believed in Hellas (Greece).
To the Romans, religion was less a spiritual experience than a contractual relationship between mankind and the forces which were believed to control people's existence and well-being.
The result of such religious attitudes were two things: a state cult, which was a significant influence on political and military events of which outlasted the republic, continuing on into the Empire and Principate, and a private concern, in which the head of the family oversaw the domestic rituals and prayers in the same way as the representatives of the people performed the public ceremonials.
As has been stated, to the Roman mind, there was a sacred contract between the gods and the mortals. As part of this agreement each side would provide, as well as receive, services.
The role of the mortal in this partnership with the gods was to worship the gods.


Essential to the Roman concept of worship was prayer and sacrifice, and for both of these activities there were firmly defined rituals.
To perform these ritual correctly was of paramount importance.
One mistake and one would have to begin all over again.
The very nature of Roman religion itself, with its numerous gods, many of which had multiple roles, was cause for problems.
Particularly as in some cases not even the sex of a deity was clear.
Hence the phrase 'whether you be god or goddess' was a widespread in the worship of certain deities.
Many Roman gods also had entire collection of additional names, according to what aspect of life they were a patron to.
So, for example Juno was 'Juno Lucina', in her role of goddess of childbirth, but as goddess of the mint she was known as 'Juno Moneta', (this curious role came about because for a long time the Roman state mint was housed in her temple on the Capitoline hill).
For the official rituals of the state gods it was animals which most of the time were sacrificed, and for each god there would be different animals.
For Janus one sacrificed a ram - for Jupiter it was a heifer (a heifer is a young cow which has not yet had more than one calf).
Mars demanded a ox, a pig and or sheep, except for 15 October when it had to be the winning race horse of the day (the near side horse of a chariot team).
Such animal sacrifices were by their mere nature very elaborate and bloody affairs.
The animal's head had wine and sacred bread sprinkled over it.
The animal was killed by having its throat cut.
It was also disemboweled, for inspection of its internal organs for omens.
The most important organs of the dead beast would then be burnt on the altar.
The rest of the animal was then either moved away, or later eaten as part of a feast.
A priest would then say prayers, or better he would whisper them.
This too was a closely guarded ritual, by which the priest himself would be wearing some form of mask or blindfold to protect his eyes from seeing any evil, and a flute would be played to drown out any evil sounds.
Should anything about the sacrifice go wrong, then it had to be repeated, but only after another, additional, sacrifice had been made to allay any anger of the god about the failure of the first one.
For this purpose one would usually sacrifice a pig. Thereafter the real sacrifice would be repeated.
Roman religion did not as such really practice human sacrifice.
Although it was not totally unknown. in the third and the second century BC it was the case that slaves were walled up underground by demand of the 'Sibylline Books'.
Also the gladiatorial Munera were a form of sacrifice to the dead.


Of particular significance in Roman religion was the concept of augury.
According to ancient sources the use of auspices as a means to decipher the will of the gods was more ancient than Rome itself.
The use of the word is usually associated with Latins, though the act of observing Auspices is also attributed to the Etruscans.
Cicero describes in 'De Divinatione' several differences between the auspicial of the Romans and the Etruscan system of interpreting the will of the gods.
Though auspices were prevalent before the Romans, Romans are often linked with auspices because of both their connection to Rome’s foundation and because Romans were the first to take the system and lay out such fixed and fundamental rules for the reading of auspices that it remained an essential part of Roman culture.
Stoics, for instance, maintained that if there are gods, they care for men, and that if they care for men they must send them signs of their will.
Associated with augurs are the oracles of the gods.
These were numerous, and in some cases renowned in Greece, and included the famous oracle of Apollo at Delphi.
The Romans had their own oracle of Apollo, in this case situated at Cumae, in the person of the Cumaen Sibyl.


Central to Roman society is the concept of slavery.
The general Latin word for slave was 'servus'.
Slavery in ancient Rome played an essential role in society, and the economy.


Besides manual labor, slaves performed many domestic services, and might be employed at highly skilled jobs and professions.
Teachers, accountants, and physicians were often slaves.
Greek slaves in particular might be highly educated.
Unskilled slaves, or those sentenced to slavery as punishment, worked on farms, in mines, and at mills, or were used in the arena.
Their living conditions were brutal, and their lives short.


© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016
It is important to understand that slaves were considered simply as property under Roman law, and had no legal 'person-hood'.
Unlike Roman citizens, slaves could be subjected to corporal punishment (whipping and beating), sexual exploitation (both female and male prostitutes were often slaves), torture, and summary execution.
Roman slaves could, however, hold property which, despite the fact that it belonged to their masters, they were allowed to use as if it were their own.
Therefor, highly skilled, or educated slaves were allowed to earn their own money, and might hope to save enough, eventually, to buy their freedom.
Such slaves were often freed by the terms of their master's will, or for services rendered.
Rome differed from Greek city-states, and other ancient societies, in allowing freed slaves to become citizens.
After 'manumission', a male slave, who had belonged to a Roman citizen, enjoyed not only passive freedom from ownership, but active political freedom (libertas), including the right to vote.
A slave who had acquired libertas was thus a 'libertus' ("freed person," feminine liberta) in relation to his former master, who then became his patron (patronus).
If, however, a master freed a slave in his will on death, and left no heirs, but rather allowed the freed slave to inherit the master's wealth and property, then the newly freed citizen (the 'ex-slave') could choose a patron, if he so wished - and would be truly free.


A major source of slaves had been Roman military expansion during the Republic.
The use of former soldiers as slaves led perhaps inevitably to a series of en masse armed rebellions, the 'Servile Wars', the last of which was led by Spartacus.
During the 'Pax Romana' (see above) of the early Roman Empire (1st–2nd century CE), emphasis was placed on maintaining stability, and the lack of new territorial conquests dried up this supply line of human trafficking.
To maintain an enslaved work force, increased legal restrictions on freeing slaves were put into place. Escaped slaves would be hunted down and returned (often for a reward).
One of the problems regarding the re-capture of slaves was the fact that slaves were not immediately identifiable in the general population.
Normally they wore no special clothing (except some slaves of high status masters, who might wear the master's livery).
Some masters required slaves to wear a distinctive 'slave collar', (usually thin and made of iron).
© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016
© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016
Wealthy owners might use heavy slave collars made of silver.
It is also worth noting that the majority of household slaves were allowed to mix with the general population in the towns and cities of the empire, and were not confined the the master's domus or villa.
New slaves were primarily acquired by wholesale dealers who followed the Roman armies.
Many people who bought slaves wanted strong slaves, mostly men.
Julius Caesar once sold the entire population of a conquered region in Gaul, no fewer than 53,000 people, to slave dealers on the spot. 
Within the empire, slaves were sold at public auction or sometimes in shops, or by private sale in the case of more valuable slaves.
Slave dealing was overseen by the Roman fiscal officials called quaestors..
© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016
Of course the boys should be naked
but Google makes such a fuss about nudity
that we've put them in loincloths !
to see the original go to: 

The Story of Gracchus
Usually, around the neck of each slave for sale hung a small plaque or scroll, describing his or her origin, health, character, intelligence, education, and other information pertinent to purchasers.
Prices varied with age and quality, with the most valuable slaves fetching prices equivalent to thousands of today's dollars.
Adult slaves were expensive, but the highest prices were paid for teenage slaves of both sexes, and in particular, well-educated, handsome young boys.
Because the Romans wanted to know exactly what they were buying, regardless of age or sex, slaves were presented naked. 
The dealer was required to take a slave back within six months if the slave had defects that were not manifest at the sale, or make good the buyer's loss.


Sexuality was a "core feature" of ancient Roman slavery.
Because slaves were regarded as 'property' under Roman law, an owner could use them for sex or hire them out to sexually 'service' other people.
The letters of Cicero have suggested that he had a long-term sexual relationship with his male slave Tiro.
Master and Slave-Boy
The Roman 'paterfamilias' (father of the house) was an absolute master, and he exercised a power outside any control of society and the state.
In this situation there was no reason why he should he refrain having sexual relations his houseboys.
But this form of sexual release held little erotic cachet.
In describing the ideal partner in 'pederasty' (sex with boys), Martial prefers a slave-boy who "acts more like a free man than his master," that is, one who can frame the affair as a stimulating game of courtship.
One particular class of male slave was the the 'puer delicatus' - a handsome slave-boy, chosen by his master for his boyish beauty.
Unlike the freeborn Greek eromenos ("beloved"), who was protected by social custom, the Roman 'delicatus' was in a physically and morally vulnerable position.
The "coercive and exploitative" relationship between the Roman master and the 'delicatus', who might be prepubescent, can be characterized in some cases as pedophilic, in contrast to Greek paiderasteia.
The boy was sometimes castrated in an effort to preserve his youthful qualities; the emperor Nero had a puer named Sporus, whom he castrated and 'married'.
A somewhat more mature version of the 'puer delicatus' was the emperor Hadrian's 'Antinous', who mysteriously died before he reached maturity.
Pueri (boys) might be idealized in poetry.
The beauty of the Pueri was measured by Apollonian standards, - not too muscular, with smooth, pale skin, and absolutely no body-hair, with relatively small (obviously 
uncircumcised) genitalia, but with beautiful wavy hair, if possible fair in color.
The mythological type of the 'delicatus' was represented by Ganymede, the Trojan youth abducted by Jove (Greek Zeus) to be his divine companion and cup-bearer.
In the Satyricon, by Petronius, the tastelessly wealthy freedman Trimalchio says that as a slave-boy he had been a 'puer delicatus', servicing both the master and the mistress of the household.
A slave's sexuality was closely controlled, and normally slaves were no permitted to engage in sexual activity without their master's permission or knowledge.
Slaves had no right to legal marriage (conubium), though they could, with permission, live together as husband and wife (contubernales).
An owner usually restricted the heterosexual activities of his male slaves to females he also owned; any children born from these unions added to his wealth.
Cato, at a time when Rome's large-scale slave economy was still in early development, thought it good practice to monitor his slaves' sex lives, and required male slaves to pay a fee for access to their fellow slaves.
Despite the external controls and restrictions placed on a slave's sexuality, Roman art and literature perversely often portray slaves as lascivious, voyeuristic, and even sexually knowing.


© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016

Interestingly, at the root of this virile 'master morality' was the Greco-Roman concept of sexuality.
It is essential to note that Roman society was 'patriarchal' and 'phallocentric', and 'masculinity' was premised on a capacity for governing oneself, and others of lower status, not only in war and politics, but also in sexual relations.
'Virtus', "virtue", was an active masculine ideal of self-discipline, related to the Latin word for "man", 'vir'.
It should also be noted that sexual attitudes and behaviors in ancient Roman culture differ markedly from those in later Western societies.
Roman ideals of masculinity were thus premised on taking an 'active role' that was the prime directive of masculine sexual behavior, as well as political, economic and cultural behaviors for the Roman male citizen.
The impetus toward action might express itself most intensely in an ideal of 'dominance', that reflects the hierarchy of Roman patriarchal society, and the aggression that was ultimately responsible for the creation of the Roman Empire.

adapted - in part - from the Preface to
'The Story of Gracchus'
by Vittorio Carvelli - (with permission)

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016

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© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016