Monday 27 June 2016

Braiding that hair!

This Monday's Moments are likely to be full of reading up on the latest potential political upheaval in my life but I'm not posting anything on the aftermath of the EU Referendum in the UK. 

Priestess of Vesta- British Museum (Wikimedia Commons)
Recently, I posted some information on the Ancient Roman Vestalia celebrations.  While I was writing my contributions to this blog I'd forgotten that I'd seen an article and a video about a recreation of a Roman Vestal Virgin's hairstyle. Today I found the link for the whole article  HERE 

It's a fascinating little display of how a Vestal hairstyle may have been created.



Saturday 25 June 2016

When the chips are down...

Happy Saturday wishes to you! 

Can you guess what was the hot topic I wrote about for my every-second-Saturday post at the Writing Wranglers and Warriors blog

It had to be about the current political situation that I find myself in- that of the post EU Referendum pondering. Here's a REBLOG of my Wranglers post.

"When the chips are down. My trusty Collins Dictionary gives the meaning: at a time of crisis. There are similar meanings to be found in other dictionaries… and there’s also this one: When you are in a very difficult or dangerous situation, especially one that makes you understand the true value of people or things…

In a very difficult situation…That’s how it was yesterday, and will be for the foreseeable future, for me and for millions of other people who live in the UK. The EU Referendum that took place across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on Thursday 23rd June 2016 was for the people to decide democratically if they wished to remain in the European Union (EU), or leave the EU.

What’s the European Union all about?
The initial European Coal and Steel Community, formed in 1950, had only 6 member states. Their aim was to unite their countries, economically and politically, after the bloodbath of WW2 and to create a peaceful time in which good trade would exist between them as neighbours. The ideal that wealth could be distributed better to those most needy across their community was an amazingly wonderful concept - not easy to effect, but not impossible either. The group was renamed as the European Economic Community in 1957 and was sometimes referred to as ‘The Common Market’  The number of member states grew to 9 when the UK joined with Denmark and Ireland in 1973. In the intervening years since 1973, the number of member states has grown – the present being 28, though there are a number of new applications to join. It has never been a simple matter to join the EU because each applying state is required to fulfil rigorous criteria before entering as a member.

The EU is like many organisations: you put money in and receive money back but it’s also about a lot more than that. Each EU member state contributes to the fund and each receives money back but not necessarily the same amount they put in.
That sounds simple, even trite, but the EU is an exceedingly complicated business machine. There are many different reasons for the amount each state contributes and for how the pot of gold is redistributed. The fair redistribution of wealth is still an ideal but with many more member states trying to access the money pot, there’s no doubt that it has become cumbersome and bureaucratic. Many reciprocal arrangements have had to be made to accommodate the differences between the states. Regular updates to situations take ages and that’s not ideal, yet, isn’t surprising either. Cross border co-operation is essential for many of the opportunities that arise within the EU.

The EU isn’t perfect but for some parts of the EU the money paid back is thankfully received and well spent. The money my country of Scotland has received from EU coffers is a necessary part of our economics. We are one of the geographical areas which get more back from the EU than we seem to pay in. Why does that happen?  We still have many deprived areas which need extra funding to improve the local situation and EU funding is designed to encourage a programme of sustainable economic growth across the whole of Scotland. Another reason we get the money from the EU is because Scotland (as a region) doesn’t get that level of support funding from the UK parliament in Westminster, London. Huge amounts of UK funds go to improve the infrastructure of parts of England - in particular the SE of England where the bulk of the UK population live. Travel on roads in Scotland and you’ll see how they differ from the motorways of London and the South East of England!

I’ve also benefitted personally from being a member of the EU. I’ve been extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to live in another EU country (Holland) for a few years between 1979 and 1982. While my husband was out beavering away at work every day in Holland, I was busy giving birth to my two daughters. My healthcare, and that of the whole family, was easily arranged since we had an agreement under EU regulations. (In the UK we receive FREE health care and it was the same for us in Holland) All other official requirements for us to live there (like ‘Visas’) were easy to arrange under reciprocal agreements within the EU.

My daughter studied at Heidelberg University (Germany) for a year, the funding for the fees coming from reciprocal programmes of education within the EU. If my Fiona hadn’t been in Heidelberg, I wouldn’t have written my contemporary mystery - Topaz Eyes - because Heidelberg is where it all starts. And co-incidentally, the main female character was also a student at Heidelberg University- fancy that! The above photo was taken during one of my school holiday trips to check up on Fiona – and to enjoy German Beer and Wurst! The shadows are of myself, Fiona and my other daughter as we look down the River Neckar.

It’s easy to travel anywhere in the EU with a British passport. That might change now. I really hate the idea that my children and grandchildren might be denied the opportunities that I’ve had if Scotland is pulled out of the EU against our wishes.   

So why am I in a difficult situation?
The Recent Referendum result across the whole of the UK was a fairly narrow margin in favour of leaving the EU (51.9% for leave and 48.1% for remain) However, that’s where my personal dilemma begins because Scotland wholeheartedly chose to remain in the EU (38% for leave and 62% for remain) As a Scot, I now face a lot of uncertainty during the coming months, and years, because the choices made about the EU Referendum highlight other deep-rooted problems between what is now a very divided and not a particularly united Kingdom.

It’s fairly clear from the map shown that Scotland has a very different view on what the EU does for us than what is felt in England and Wales. Scotland wishes to remain a member of the EU and to effect that it may mean we have to become an independent country. That situation would delight me though I’ve no desire for any of the nasty backbiting and fall-out which may be part of any future break-up from the UK. Scotland is an outward looking country- and we look to all directions in the same frame of mind.

In my #Celtic Fervour Series of historical novels, the tribes of northern Britannia are different from those of the southern areas. My northern tribes are more remote from those of the south. They don’t have the same obvious metal wealth (gold, silver, copper jewellery and coinage) and easily gained material resources that were prized by the invading Roman Armies. It would have been a much more difficult job to extract iron from the rocks of the Grampian Mountains than it was to mine lead, iron and copper from the mines of Wales or south-west England. One reason for the successful mining in Roman Britain was that the Romans had plenty of slave labour, and mining experts of their own to supervise the operations. I’m currently writing about how the invading Roman Army of Agricola, in AD 84, is comparing the deprived wilderness of the Caledon Mountains to the more populated areas around Londinium which are by then already Romanised!

Whatever you’re doing this weekend I hope you don’t have to face any really difficult choices. "


Thursday 23 June 2016

“An Emperor ought to die standing”

Today, 23rd June, is the anniversary of the death of the Emperor Vespasian and the above is said to be his Famous Last Words. (N.B. some references quote the 24th June as opposed to 23rd June)

However, there’s a little confusion over what actually were the Emperor Vespasian’s last words. He is also quoted as saying:  “Alas! I think I am becoming a god. - Vae, putō, deus fīō "

What we have to go on are the words of the poet Suetonius. Whether or not they are the true words of Vespasian is hard to tell but it’s recorded that Vespasian was noted for his witty comebacks. When it seemed to him that death was imminent the comment on him ‘becoming a god’ is a good one. The status of being deified could only happen with the approval of the Senate and it took someone, like a son or an uncontested named heir, to put enough pressure on the Senate to authorise it after the demise of the emperor. Vespasian had two sons, Titus and Domitian, so his confidence in being made a god may have been positive: one or other of his sons would ensure it happened. Alternatively, some might say that’s where the wit comes in- was Vespasian really sure of his sons?

Vespasian had ruled as emperor for almost ten years: officially confirmed as emperor on 21st December 69 AD, after the short bloody reigns of Galba, Otho and Vitellius, Vespasian brought relative peace to Rome and the legions till his death on the 23rd June 79 AD. However, that doesn’t mean that he was completely popular to all in Rome during that reign. In early 79 AD there was a failed plot on Vespasian’s life. The eminent Senators who were the perpetrators were caught and executed.

A short time later in 79 AD, while in Campania, Vespasian contracted what is now thought to have been undulant fever, generally caused by contaminated dairy products like unpasteurised milk (now named Brucellosis). The symptoms were debilitating but he was able to return to Rome, though he soon left again for Aqua Cutilia. The mineral springs of Aqua Cutilia near Rieti, Latinium was a regular summer residence of Vespasian and it was there that his illness worsened. He suffered from severe diarrhoea and it seems reasonable that this was the stage where he realised death was imminent. His comment about ‘becoming a god’ makes sense but having read about his military prowess it’s more reasonable, to me, that his true last words were “an emperor ought to die standing’. It’s written that his aides helped him to get to his feet after which he died – maybe supported but standing!

There is an alternative theory about what he joked about and you can see it HERE.

My #Celtic Fervour Series mostly takes place during the reign of Vespasian  and it's due to his expansion of the Roman Empire that my warriors of Garrigill find themselves as refugees who have no intention of bowing to the dictates of Vespasian and Rome. 


Tuesday 21 June 2016

Dawn of Grace: A Shalan Adventure by Joe Stephens

Tuesday Tales!

I've a friend visiting today to tell us all about his latest venture. I read and reviewed one of Joe's Shalan detective novels in January 2016. It was a gripping novel with an unexpected ending and he's here to give us an update on the next book his series. 

Welcome to my blog, Joe. I'm looking forward to hearing about the next exploits of Harry Shalan. Please feel free to tell us about the next book in your detective series...

Hi! My name is Joe Stephens and Nancy has graciously allowed me to borrow her audience for a bit. She and I are fellow contributors to a writers blog called Writing Wranglers and Warriors and she has allowed me to share with you so I can let you know about my newest book, Dawn of Grace: A Shalan Adventure.
Joe Stephens

It just came out earlier this month and I would like you to consider giving it a read. Here’s the blurb from the back of the book. After that I’ll tell you a bit more about the series of which it’s a part and end by sharing something about myself.

Why is private eye Harry Shalan standing on the Fifth Street Bridge contemplating how much he would mind if he fell in the river and didn't come back up? You see, Harry lives by a strict code of honor and is struggling not to hate himself because he broke his code--badly. He lost control and brutally attacked his foster daughter Jenn's biological father, Antonio Bezaleel. Bezaleel is more monster than human and everyone agrees that he deserves a punishment much worse than the one Harry dealt out to him. Nonetheless, Harry's act has sent him into a spiral of despair that has cut him off from the very people he needs the most. His wife and detective partner Dee, his foster daughter Jenn, and his best friend Otis are fighting to bring their hero back from the brink.

In the midst of this dark episode, Harry and Dee answer a cry for help from an old friend who is accused of savagely murdering and mutilating her ex-husband. She swears that she didn't kill him, but things don't look good. She was, after all, found by the police kneeling over the man covered in his blood and gripping the knife that had been used to kill and dismember him.

Dawn of Grace: A Shalan Adventure

Their investigation brings them in contact with a precocious six-year-old who swears the murder was committed by a ninja, and he just may be the key to the case. They also encounter an old classmate of Harry's who is a little more appreciative of Dee's anatomy than anyone's comfortable with, a guy who likes to snort coke and cut women's hair, and even a hooker with a heart of gold. They also meet a quiet young woman named Anita Rathbone who seems quite sweet on Otis, a man married to his job since the only woman he's ever wanted is married to his best friend. Does Otis finally find a woman to love? Does Harry learn to forgive himself and accept the forgiveness of those who care for him? Do the Shalans solve the crime and save their friend from a life behind bars? The answers are revealed in...Dawn of Grace: A Shalan Adventure

This is the fourth book in the Shalan Adventure series. I’d love it if you’d pick them all up, but each book stands on its own. The stories are narrated by Harry Shalan and feature his wife Dee, his best friend Otis, and, eventually, his foster daughter Jenn. They are detective fiction with some romance and whole lot of humor, so even if detective fiction isn’t your go-to genre, I think you may still enjoy it. One reader said she wasn’t sure if it was a detective book with romance or a romance book with detective stuff in it. I’m not sure if she meant that as a compliment or not, but I took it that way because that’s exactly what I’m going for.

And now a bit about me. When I’m not writing books, I’m a high school English teacher in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Specifically, I teach Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition. I’m also a contributing writer for a little local online and print magazine called ClutchMOV. It’s for and about people of my home, the Mid-Ohio Valley. If you want to learn more about me or my books, feel free to go to my website, or my own blog, My Train of Thought. You can also find me on Amazon, on Facebook, and on Twitter at @trainguy917.

Finally, if you have any questions, feel free to email me at If you’re interested, you can join my mailing list and get several freebies, including a PDF of my first book, Harsh Prey and a discount code for $1 off the $10 list price for Dawn of Grace. You can join up from my website or my blog. It’s right at the top. I promise, I don’t sell or give away your information.

Great update, Joe. Thank you for popping in today! That'll be more books on my TBR list since I've still to catch up with books 1 & 2 in your Shalan series.  Best wishes for great sales.


Monday 20 June 2016

Strawberries and the Solstice!

The Summer Solstice...

The veil is thin and spirits can walk between the living and the dead during Midsummer’s Eve - from the shortest night into the longest day. It was (is) thought to be a brief time when the spirits were (are) most powerful. (is/ are - some people still harbour similar beliefs) 

This is one reason why the Summer Solstice (and indeed the other winter one) was important to the ancient tribes of northern Britannia that I write about. They may not have named it solstice - from the Latin word solstitium meaning standing still -  but the ancient peoples of Britain certainly knew when it would occur and they looked forward to the turning of the sun. After the festival of the solstice they knew that the day’s length (time of daylight) would get shorter and though the crops were not yet ready to lift they would watch the ripening process with joy and awe because, as farmers, their crops were their livelihood and food stores for the coming winter.

Today as I write this, June 20th 2016, the sunrise for me at my location was at 04.12 though I wasn’t awake to see it. Sunset is due at 22.10 and I’m sure to be awake for that.

I’ve written before about the Summer Solstice but I’ve not had the occasion to couple that with the rarer happening this 2016. The full moon of this June is named as a Strawberry Moon… I’ve read that the moon will not appear a strawberry colour but that if the sky is clear enough it may glow an amber colour due to its position low in the sky and close to the horizon. I look forward to that.  The term Strawberry moon for the June Full Moon was, apparently, coined by the Algonquin tribes of North America as it was the point at which they expected their strawberry crops to be sufficiently ripened to pick them.

I’m afraid my strawberries aren’t quite there yet!

I read HERE that the Algonquin also had names for the Full Moons of the other months, as did many other Native American Indian tribes.

In Europe the name for the June Full Moon was the rose moon, the hot moon and sometimes the honey moon as it was thought to be the best time to collect honey.

The combination of the June Full Moon and the Solstice occurring on the same night has not happened since 1967. 

Back then it was a Tuesday and I was probably listening to a Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum since it was in the top 5 hits. The film The Dirty Dozen had recently been released and I’m sure my sister and her boyfriend, who later became my brother-in-law, would have been at the cinema watching that. Though I loved to watch movies on T.V., a cinema visit wasn’t high on my priority list at that time. 

Do you remember what you were doing back then? 

Whatever, enjoy the Summer Solstice and the Strawberry Moon. 


Wednesday 15 June 2016

The Vestalia closes...

A last look at the Vestals of Ancient Rome since today is the 15th June and the end of the festival of Vestalis.  

Who became a Vestal?

The Vestalis Maximus, chief vestal priestess, gathered together a number of female candidates between the ages of six and ten. The girls needed to be free of physical and mental defects, had to be a daughter of a free born resident of Rome and both parents were required to be alive to give permission for the commitment of their child to the Vestal priestesshood.

File:August Pio-Clementino Inv259.jpg

Marble statue of Augustus Caesar as the Pontifex Maximus- Vatican Museums 

The new recruit was then chosen by the Pontifex Maximus, the highest male priest in the college of priests of Ancient Rome. After picking one girl from the selection presented to him he solemnly invested the new recruit, after which the girl’s hair was shorn. During the earliest times in Rome, during the Republic till just pre-Empire, the Pontifex Maximus lived in the Domus Publica which was next to the House of the Vestals, and he was in post till he died (somewhat like the Pope of the Roman catholic Religion today). He had other officiating duties for the priests of Rome as well as those for the Temple of Vesta.

It was also the duty of the Pontifex Maximus, as a surrogate father, to give an ex-vestal to her new husband if she married. Augustus, as the first Emperor of Rome, took on the role of the Pontifex Maximus and it became one of the duties of the Emperor, though I doubt they ever stayed in the Domus Publica and probably delegated some of the other official duties.

The pre-pubescent vestal virgins were sworn to celibacy for a period of 30 years which followed a three-stage process. 1. The first 10 years were spent as students. 2) The middle 10 years were when they gave service to the Temple and the priestess-hood. 3) The last 10 years were spent as teachers of the newest recruits.  After the 30 year period, they were given a pension from the state and could marry but it was likely to be after their most fertile years. They would again, as an ordinary female of Rome, be required to be under the domination of a husband who might curtail the freedoms they had as Vestals. However, a marriage to a former Vestal was regarded as highly prestigious and favoured by higher echelons of Roman society- the pension might have been pretty important as well!

If a vestal died during office she was replaced by a most virtuous candidate who need not be a virgin. (Tacitus quotes the instance of Domitius Pollio’s daughter being chosen over that of Gaius Fonteius Agrippa)

As keepers of the sacred fire, the Vestals could dispense fire to anyone in Rome for household use. Since the temple fire was a collective fire for all of Rome, they were metaphorically dispensing the emperor's household fire. Vestals also maintained the safety of the wills and testaments of notable people during the republic and held safe important public documents, like treaties, since they were regarded as incorruptible. They were allowed to vote – unlike other Roman women- and could own property. Their word was taken without being under oath, their trust undeniable.

Another sacred object in their safekeeping was the Palladium, a revered cult image said to have been taken from Troy to Rome in antiquity, which was zealously guarded. Their word was sacrosanct and they could overturn the law in that if they touched a condemned prisoner, or a slave, the person was automatically pardoned. If a prisoner sentenced to death saw a Vestal on the way to execution then they were pardoned and freed. Though, if anyone harmed a Vestal, a death sentence would be their punishment.

Any breaking of the Vestal Rules was severely punished, a scourging administered if the sacred fire was allowed to die out. The loss of their chastity was a dire event. As daughters of the state, any loss of their virginity and any sexual relationships engaged in meant the health of the state was lost. Sexual congress with a vestal was considered incest and an act of treason. Death was the punishment for the vestal but she could not be killed, her blood could not be shed. She was therefore incarcerated underground in a vault near the outskirts of the city, at the Campus Scleratus, with food and water for a couple of days. In this way she could be put underground but not ‘buried’ in the city as burial of the dead within the city was forbidden under Roman law.  

It was rare that this loss of virginity happened to vestals over the many hundreds of years that the cult survived but the theory was that the vestal was stripped of her official vestal attire; she was scourged and dressed like a corpse; she was then placed on a covered litter and carried to the Campus Scleratus as though in a funeral procession, with weeping and wailing attendants.  

Vestals officiated at public ceremonies, They sat in a place of honour and were kept safe by their guards or protectors. When out and about in Rome they travelled in a covered two-wheeled carriage, a carpentum, and all other traffic gave way to them. This was made easier by the lictor, a special official attendant who walked in front of the carriage, and announced their arrival. He carried the fasces which was a bundle of rods with an axe at the centre- a threatening object indeed!

File:Chief Vestal.jpg

Vestals wore simple clothes of mainly white which symbolised their purity. As well as tight band around the chest (mamillare) they wore a simple undergarment (tunica) close to their skin. On top of that they wore a robe (stola)- a pleated dress which was a symbol of the respectability of marriage for the Roman woman. The stola was held in place with clasps (fibulae) at the shoulder and chords (stophium) were tied under the breasts and around the waist to tighten the dress and form multiple drapes.

When they ventured outside, a palla was worn. This was a simple mantle or cloak with a brooch (fibula) at the left shoulder to hold it in place. A simple band (vitta) kept the plaited hair of three or six braids (sex crines) in place on a daily basis but a special ceremonial band (infula) was worn around the head as a symbol of inviolability or religious consecration. During ceremonies this band might be both red and white or separate red and white ribbons hung under the short white veil (suffibulum) which possibly had a purple border and draped down to the shoulders.

Shoes worn by vestals were white and made from the skins of sacrificed animals. The styles could be of the simple Roman sandal (solea), a sandal with a loop into which the big toe was placed (mitten) or the Roman shoe (calceus).

This is my last post on the Vestal Virgins of Rome—unless I unearth more relevant information.


Tuesday 14 June 2016

The Vestalia and the Mola Salsa….

The Vestalia and the Mola Salsa…

I intended to post this nugget of information before now but since it’s still within the duration of Vestalia (June 7th -15th) I’ll post it today!

Looking down towards the House of the Vestals- Nancy Jardine
The 6 full-time Vestal priestesses, the only female 'priests' in Ancient Roman religion, had various duties but one of the important ones, apart from ensuring the eternal flame remained alight, was making the mola salsa. Mola salsa is a cake made from salt, spelt wheat and sacred water.

The concept of mola salsa for use in sacred worship is said to have been first introduced to Rome by the Sabine King Numa. The use of a sprinkled cake during ceremonies replaced the need for a genuine bloody sacrifice, the metaphorical form becoming a popular way to propitiate the gods when a real animal was not offered. Instead of killing the beast the cakes were sprinkled over the head of the ‘sacrifice’ instead.  We get the English word to "immolate" from the Latin word ‘immolare’mola coming from the same root.

Under direction from the chief Vestal, the Vestal priestesses collected water from a nearby sacred spring ensuring the vessel it was carried in was not laid down all the way back to the temple (it would become contaminated if set on the ground). After grinding the spelt it was roasted in an oven, and then mixed with specially prepared salt and the sacred water. The dough was formed into thin wafer-like cakes and baked.
The House of the Vestals- Wikimedia Commons

The mola salsa is said to resemble the flat wafers used by the Catholic Church during ceremonies of the Sacrament.

There is still evidence to be seen of the ritual grinding stone inside the House of the Vestals in the Forum area.  

House of the Vestals is to the right of their Temple at centre of photo- Nancy Jardine
At the end of the Vestalia the temple sanctuary was ritually swept out. There was a short period of time regarded as beign potentially of ill omens and bad luck till the debris was ritually disposed of in the River Tiber or at a nominated site of disposal within the city of Rome.  

The last known Vestalis Maxima, Chief Vestal virgin was Coelia Concordia. The Roman Emperor Theodisius I forced the closure of the Temple of Vesta in AD 391 and Coelia Concordia gave up her post in AD 394, the College of Vestals disbanding and the eternal flame well and truly extinguished…till a recent re-emergence, but that would be another story!


Monday 13 June 2016

Happy birthday, Gnaeus Julius Agricola!

Monday Moments with Gnaeus Julius Agricola.

Agricola was born on the 13th June AD 40 in Gallia Narbonensis. (southern France) to a high ranking Roman family. Both of his grandfathers had been Imperial Governors and his father became a member of the Roman Senate the year Agricola was born. Agricola was educated in Massalia (Marseilles) and at the age of 18 he first set foot in Britannia as a tribune with the Legio II Augusta.

By AD 84, as my Celtic warriors prepare themselves for battle with the Roman Empire, this would have been his birthday though I doubt that the Celtic warriors in my Celtic Fervour Series would have been celebrating his birthday in any way when he reached north-east Britannia. I’m not actually sure Agricola would have been celebrating himself while on campaign, except perhaps with regard to giving credit to and acknowledging the power of his ‘genius’ via prayer and worship. Or maybe his soldiers paid honour to his genius in the aedes (dedicated room of worship) if on the 13th June Agricola was in a fortress, or whatever served as the aedes in a marching camp.

The genius was equated to the soul of a person, or place, or thing and was believed to follow the person (/entity) from birth to death much like a guardian spirit.  

So, in the case of a man like Agricola what he had achieved as a conqueror of parts of Britannia, or military leader, was attributed to the qualities nurtured in him by his genius/soul. By the time Agricola was making war with the Celtic tribes of my part of north-east Scotland he had reached the age of about 43 or 44 so it might be said that his genius had been looking after him very well since birth!

The troops of the Roman Legions were inclined to celebrate the genius of individual regiments, and even units within. Evidence has been uncovered in Britain of dedications in stone to various geniuses. I don’t know of any who particularly celebrated on the 13th June but if the Legio XX, or the Legio IX , or the Legio II Adiutrix made particular obeisance on June 13th it would have served as a double celebration for Agricola!


Wednesday 8 June 2016

The Vestalia continues…7th -15th June

The Vestalia continues…

Yesterday, I mentioned being surprised by information I found about the Temple/ Shrine of Vesta at the Ancient Roman Forum. What is to be seen looks as ancient as the rest of the ruins but it was reconstructed like pieces of a jigsaw in the 1930s from blocks purloined in past centuries to build ecclesiastical buildings. The fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, wanted to create a new Rome harkening back to the glory of the Ancients and in his own way destroyed later baroque buildings to mark out his own architectural areas. It is due to his many building projects in the city of Rome that much of what is able to be seen now was uncovered. The area defining what had been the shrine of Vesta was revealed and the partial reconstruction we can see today was done to pinpoint the area.
Temple of Vesta- Nancy Jardine

Who was Vesta? And what was her shrine all about?

Vesta was originally a goddess of the home and hearth who was popular in other places, like Pompei, before her cult was adopted by Rome. She was revered as the goddess of the hearth, carer of domestic life and a guardian of the home and represented the vital force of earth - the flame, or fire, of vitality. After a time of being a more personal domestic goddess of the hearth her cult was adopted by the state of Ancient Rome and the function of Vesta developed to become the protector of Rome itself.

I’ve read about the vestal virgins in many different fictional works and about their importance to the Ancient Romans. Vesta was the guardian of the eternal flame of Rome and as such her shrine at the heart of Rome was the most revered site in what became the Forum area. Being the protector of the state of Rome was an incredibly responsible task and the earliest known aedes sacra (sacred building) is thought to have been built during the early Roman republic, possibly ( maybe mythically) by Numa Pompilius the religious founder of Rome. Built on a circular base, essentially similar to a Celtic roundhouse, the most original forms of the shrine of Vesta are thought to have had wicker walls and a thatched roof, probably with a hole at the centre for the smoke from the eternal fire to escape. The earliest forms of the building were subject to weathering and potential accidental fire and these were gradually replaced in stone.  The circular base remained a feature of the shrine with stone/ marble columns replacing the walls.

It was believed that if the scared eternal flame inside the shrine was extinguished great harm would befall Rome. The shrine was attended to by the priestesses of Vesta, the Vestals, whose solemn duty was to protect that flame at all costs and to ensure it continued from one day to the next. The Vestal priestesses were specially chosen from the elite of Roman Families and it was their sacred duty to give their life to the cult for a period of thirty years, during which time they remained a virgin. In this way they aped the purity and elemental nature of fire. If they lost their virginal status it could get pretty brutal for them - the Vestal was buried alive in the Campus Sceleris (field of wickedness) as it was believed she could not be killed in the normal way.  

June the 7th was the beginning of the festival of Vestalia and it was on this day (7th) that the penus Vestae, the normally ‘forbidden to the public’ sanctity of the shrine was opened to women of Rome. They could visit the shrine that day, barefoot to make offerings and pray to the goddess.

More tomorrow on the Vestalia…


Tuesday 7 June 2016

The Vestalia begins!

The Vestalia 7th - 15th June

Nancy Jardine

Wandering around the Forum in Rome, even when it rains, is an amazing experience. All around are the ruins of revered buildings, some more recognisable than others depending on which route is taken along the pathways. A map of the forum can be of great help as are the audio guides available if you’ve the time to enjoy the information given.

I had less than 3 whole days to see as much as I could of the whole of what Rome had to offer– no time for one of those handy audio guides that kick in when you reach a destination point. I’m sure I’d have been less flummoxed by some of the ruins had I used one of the audio guides but it’s great fun now to identify what I saw via my photographic record.

That brings me to the unexpected surprises at the Roman Forum of which there are a few. I had particular goals in mind and they were to locate the main building projects during the reigns of the Emperors Vespasian, Domitian and Severus.

The Temple of Vesta (more correctly I believe it should be named the shrine) is one of my surprises - The original source of the Vestalia festival which ran from the 7th - 15th June. 

 'Temple of Vesta'  Nancy Jardine
The average tourist reading a map would find themselves at the location of the Temple of Vesta and, if they’re like me, would have viewed the ruins as being as old as the others around. But when I do a little research I find that what I saw is a partial 1930s reconstruction set in place by Benito Mussolini, just enough to give the impression of what the circular building was like till 1549. 
Julia Domna - Wikimedia Commons

What was there till 1549 was a Temple to Vesta which had been reconstructed by Julia Domna, wife of the Emperor Severus, after the fire of AD 191. The shrine of Vesta rebuilt by Julia Domna was purposely destroyed in 1549 ravaged for its beautiful marble which was purloined to build other projects in Rome- churches and papal palaces.  

Check back for more of the temple/ shrine of Vesta coming soon… 


Eagles at War by Ben Kane

My blog's been silent of late but that doesn't mean I've not been writing and doing a lot of reading! 

Domestic duties have recently meant a lot of my time has been taken from reading and writing but, nonetheless, I've slowly made my way through some novels. that means I'm overdue in writing a few reviews so I'm making a start on those today...

Most of the fiction I've come across that's based on Ancient Roman warfare is by male authors. I've read a few in the past but till recently hadn't read anything by Ben Kane, a novelist whose exploits I've been following via one of my 'Roman' Facebook Groups. This is the first I've read but likely won't be the last. Here's what I thought of Eagles at War:

Eagles at War by Ben Kane

Ben Kane’s extensive research of the Roman campaign trail shines through in Eagles At War. I found that there were many aspects of the novel to get engrossed in and a few to ponder over, though these aspects didn’t prevent my enjoyment of the story.  

Before reading this novel I hadn't done any research on what's termed the Teutoburg Massacre of AD 9 when three legions of Rome were massacred by some allied tribes of north-west Germany. It was a turning 

Arminius seemed at first to be the prime protagonist but that proved not to be the outcome. I was expecting some sort of appearance from Arminius after the bloody mayhem was well underway, towards the end of the story, but that didn’t happen. For me, this meant that he wasn’t a completed character. Having faded into the background, behind the German lines as it were, meant there was nothing to show how his success actually affected him beyond the stage of the reader knowing that he’d realised an ambition harboured since childhood. I read of his doubts and fears when he was dealing with the other Germanic tribal leaders and during the first forays of attack between Germanic tribes and Roman troops… but then he was gone. The author initially portrays him as a charismatic character, especially with regard to his friendship with Varus. However, being best buddies and going hunting together didn’t somehow ring true for me, though I could see that the author needed Arminius to have something special that appealed to Varus in a way that was more than the many other officers that Varus would have been in regular contact with. History does, of course, indicate a certain bond that made Varus trust him.
Centurion Tullus is an admirable well drawn character, a man dedicated to his position and to the men under his command. Though a fictitious figure, he embodies what I imagine must have been the best qualities of all centurions of the forces of Ancient Rome. The author’s choice of him as the focus of the story means that the reader is plunged into where the actual action of the battle is – a totally different perspective from how Varus, or even the Senior Tribune Tubero, must have viewed the massacre in real life. The choice of a figure further down the command chain as a prime protagonist allows the author to write about the bloody grittiness and mayhem that befell the common soldier fighting alongside Tullus in his century, like the relatively untried young Piso who learns what war really is about.

The end of the novel seems a bit abrupt after very lengthy battle scenes though the conclusion is inevitable since history states the three legions were subject to the most formidable massacre.

From the Roman perspective it was a huge defeat.

From the point of view of the Germanic tribes it was a tremendous and life changing success. Never again did Rome attempt to extend its Empire into the far north-west of Germany thorough brute force.

This aspect of the story resonates with me since Europe would be a different place if Rome had conquered those tribes and had imposed Roman traditions. Two thousand years of Germanic architecture and traditions would, most likely, not have developed as they have done.   

Though the bloodiest aspects of the book aren't my favourite parts, I accept that learning about the Ancient Roman Empire is impossible without them. If blood, gore and mayhem aren't to your taste this book may not be for you but... if you want to learn more about the Ancient Roman Army on campaign trail then I've no hesitation in recommending it.

I gave this 5 stars on Amazon. *****

I’ll likely be reaching for more of Ben Kane’s work in the future.