Smells Like Classical Latin

A collection of Ancient Roman curios — including the most exciting and hilarious bit EVAR!! All of the items for today are actually around how life in Ancient Rome still survives today. We shall start with a few of the more mundane finds, and finish with grand finale that you must absolutely watch to believe (and laugh hysterically, while you’re at it).


Item one: How Romans looked

We have a lot of surviving statues from Ancient Rome and Greece, and quite a few can be unequivocally attributed to a particular person. So we know how they looked, or rather how the artists at the time rendered them in marble. Roman sculptures from the Middle and Late Republic and the early Empire tend to be grimly realistic (unlike the idealised Greek statues), so it’s a fair call to assume they are a reasonable facsimile of those people. In addition, although, after two millennia, we are used to seeing just the marble, ancient Roman statues were often coloured to make them life-like. There have been experiments in detecting the minuscule traces of pigments and reconstructing how the statues appeared when new, but while they might give us an idea that’s still isn’t quite the same as watching a real person.

It is therefore unsurprising that artists have tried to recreate how those famous people might have looked. Here are THREE different approaches. All of them use the statues and original literary sources about the appearance (eg for eye colour and other soft features), but as they put their unique spin — as well as differing techniques — the results have some interesting variations. I’ve picked images of Augustus, as a recreation found with all three.

First is Haround Binous, who used hyper-realistic illustrations based on the statues. The results are stunningly life-like, as you can see:

You can find 30 odd emperors and notable here on BoredPanda.

Next is Salva Ruano, a Spanish artist who went the full-monty in recreating the busts, adding hair and make-up and make them into a person:

On his Césares de Roma project you can find Caesar, Augustus, Caligula, and Nero — including short videos about the creation process. Hat-tip to BoredPanda again, for that image above.

The third approach is different still. Daniel Voshart uses Artificial Intelligence and Photoshop to reconstruct the people from a combination of statues:

Where applicable, he used contemporary photos of celebrities to aid the AI — so it’s not surprising that his Augustus bears a resemblance to Daniel Craig. You can find him and 54 emperors on his website.

So who’s your favourite interpretation of Augusts? And what do you think of Nero, another emperor that appears on all three sites?

Item Two: Recreations

On the grander-but-virtual scale, UNESCO keeps a lists of world-heritage sites including those which are in constant danger of being destroyed. There have been many programs to scan, preserve and digitally recreate them. (eg. I’ve mentioned the Iconem Project before).

Budget (remember the days when there was travel? Even if theoretically, considering these sites?) have worked with architects and designers to research and recreate from the ruins what the sites might have looked like when new, and present them in stupefying GIFs:

Leptis Magna, Libya

You can find the six sites here. This is both amazing and disturbing, considering how much is both discovered and continually destroyed over the world.

On a more personal level, people all over the world have been recreating Tyrian Purple from murex shells. While it’s possibly one of the Worst Jobs in History, here’s an interesting article about a Tunisian man that has recreated it (though he’s not divulging the exact recipe). It’s an interesting read, about how a local discovery and experimentation can lead one to pursue both hobbies and history into new directions.

Lastly, because we must acknowledge the fish sauce in room, there’s the question of whether ancient Rome and Vietnam influenced each other, considering the similarities between Garum and Nuoc Mam. Spoiler: no evidence either way. On a personal level, I can guarantee you that keeping a bottle of Vietnamese fish sauce (or worcestershire sauce; also, sriracha) in your pantry will dramatically add flavour and richness to your cooking — though you might wish not tell your family about the new sauce recipe to avoid the raised eyebrows.

For those who want to wander a bit further down the culinary rabbit hole, I can heartily recommend the Tasting History YouTube channel. There’s everything from making garum (and why one shouldn’t make it in urban areas), to cooking Apicius’ recipes with said garum, to the greek Kykeon, which coincidentally appears in In Victrix. Yum!

Item three: the promised hilarity

In Victrix is a story of games and entertainers. Imagine Felix and his army buddy Crassitius on a day out at the Circus. They find their seat, snack on date-and-almond pastries and drinking wine out in the sun, and are getting impatient when the editor is taking his time announcing the start of the races.

Then a chant start rising across the stands, demanding entertainment. Oblectate, nunc his sumus!

OK, part of the funny is the original grunge lyrics, but still. An hilarious combination of musical talent and a passion for languages. If you go searching for “bardcore”, you’re guaranteed getting medieval on your ears. You can find quite a bit, albeit not the above masterpiece, on Spotify. Don’t know about you, but I’ve got it on repeat.


That’s it for now. I’d love to hear who your favourite (reconstruction or otherwise) emperor was, are there any heritage sites you’d like to visit, or a small recreation project you’d like to try at home? Or will you just join me and Felix in drunkenly singing barbarus, albinus, culex et, mea libido! incoherently?

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