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A Roman Miscellany

Anthony Everitt

If there's one Roman even the dimmest student has heard of, it's Julius Caesar. When he retired as Consul, he embarked on a 10 year campaign to pacify Gaul (today's France + Belgium) basically because he needed money and he wanted glory. Downside was that about a million Gauls lost their lives, and another million, men women and children, were sold into slavery. He then published a set of elegant volumes giving his account of the campaigns, and his part in them. Two thousand years later Winston Churchill took a leaf out of his book when he said that history would treat him kindly because he intended to write it.

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Mussolini persecuted homosexuals, and exiled them to a Mediterranean island ("In Italy we only have real men"). So island only place in Italy where obligatory to be gay, which must have been a liberating experience.

Romans were deeply religious about their superstitions. Nothing to do with theology - just a matter of figuring out what the gods wanted and then making the appropriate sacrifice.

The priestess Vestal Virgins had a privileged and luxurious life - the only women who could own property and vote. But if the sacred fire went out on their watch, they were stripped naked and whipped by the high priest. To preserve proprieties, this was done in the dark and with a screen between them. Punishment for a VV who had sex was to be buried alive.

For Romans, sexual desire was an appetite to be satisfied, like hunger or thirst. Didn't necessarily have anything to do with love or relationships. Homosexuality widespread and accepted - there was nothing wrong with sodomy, but you shouldn't specialise in it.

Every upper-class Roman household had highly realistic masks of their forebears, and when a funeral happened, the current family members would wear the masks, and the mask of the dead man was guest of honour.

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In Roman times, no spinach, potatoes, pasta, tomatoes or oranges.

Romans were like Edwardian English gentlemen - they loved animals so much that they couldn't stop killing them.

According to Pliny, a man who has been stung by a snake can gain relief by having sex. Unfortunately the pain then passes to the woman.

A traveller consulted a fortune teller who told him his family were all well, especially his father. "But he's been dead for 10 years!" "It's obvious you don't know who's your real father..."

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