A while ago I wrote at length about Roman Footwear — which, I assure you, goes much beyond the traditional “sandal” ubiquitous in modern writing. While the post addressed how you’d wear street shoes on your way to a dinner party only to change into slippers once you got there, there were still a lot of places you might like to go to. This post is about some of these places.
As you might have known if you’ve read any of the gazillion posts I have on the subject, I am enamoured with ancient maps. There’s a wonderful site Digital Maps of the Ancient World dedicated to this subject. I’d like to draw your attention to one project I found there in particular: Google Map of Ostia An.
There’s also a similar one for Pompeii, but I particularly like Ostia as the main port of Rome. Since my own Egretia sits on the shores of a bay, there’s a lot in both the overall maritime culture and in the sea-front architecture in particular that is borrowed from such cities.
The image above is taken from there. It’s an overlay over the satellite images of Google maps with icons of what was found all around the city: where the monuments and temples were, which buildings were used as houses and which as shops, as well as theatres, workshops, restaurants, brothels, public fountains and latrines — everything!
When you click on each icon, it will reveal a few more details about the place such as findings, decorations, murals, graffiti. etc. For example, in one public baths dedicated to the Severn Sages, there was a graffito “VISSIRE TACITE CHILON DOCVIT SVBDOLVS” — “The cunning Chilon taught how to flatulate unnoticed”. Clearly an important life’s lesson.
It’s a wonderful way to kill time, travelling not only in space (from locked-down Sydney) but also in time. If you’re into history and how life was in different periods, “walking” the streets like that to get a feel of what you might encounters, things you could see, buy, read, or step in all around you is an absolute joy. If you’re an author of the period, it’s an invaluable tool to bring your setting to life.
Of course, it’s worth noting that you didn’t have to dirty your fancy footwear by walking like the plebs. While not an everyday conveyance, a recently unearthed ceremonial chariot from Pompeii is quite spectacular.
This is a 1-minute video about the discovery and excavation which contains a lot of the shiny pictures, but I do suggest reading through the full article above to better understand what you’re looking at.
That might have been a bit on the fancy side, reserved for special occasions (which the Romans loved). The most common way to travel without muddying one’s shoes was of course the litter — a chair or more commonly a couch, carried by slaves.
That started to appear in the Middle republic, mostly for women and the infirm. It was considered a sign of decadence, but by the late republic it was fairly common, and was certainly the preferred way of the rich during the empire years.
If your way carried you out of the city proper, and if you were walking on foot, you’d have come across the myriad memorials — graves, steles, mausoleums, and other monuments to the dead. These provide us with a unique understanding of the lives of Romans — or, in some cases, of their pets.
The Petrified Muse, another of my favourite blogs, concerns itself with all sorts of written artefacts that survived from ancient times, in particular funerary memorials. This 9-minute recorded collaboration is well worth the watch, both about Roman inscriptions and about their pets: Bringing the Roman world back to life, one lap-dog at a time!
Lastly, if you were like Felix just out and about and after a quick bite, you might consider one of the many food places. These ranged in size and quality (and name), and served many dishes. I mentioned before the discovery in Pompeii of a thermopolium — a small shop for hot foods. It was a fascinating find, so naturally people went about recreating some of the foods that might have been served there.
This article has a lot of eye-catching information about the discovery itself, the people that worked and bought food there, and finished with a recreation of mouth-watering Braised Duck. The pictures of the process are gorgeous, as I’m sure the finished product was. It’s based on a recipe from Apicius, with very detailed ingredients and steps for the modern cook.
If you’re after something more visual about one of the more “exotic” dishes, see this 15 minutes video from the great Tasting History channel:
I do remember having snails a handful times, and while nice I can’t say I understand the ancient Roman obsession with snails. Snails were farmed and eaten all over the empire (actually from Republican times). Then again, Romans had other ideas about food that modern palettes may not agree with.
Oh well. Next time I’m in France or Italy, I’ll just have to try them again. I might even imagine I’m sitting down with Felix in Egretia for wine and snacks 😁
Enjoying the posts, but wondering who the heck is that Felix fellow and where exactly is Egretia? Glad you asked! He’s the protagonist of the Togas, Daggers, and Magic series, an historical-fantasy blend of a paranormal detective on a background inspired by ancient Rome.