Archive for December, 2009

Roman wine

December 12, 2009

The hiccuping legionnaire of Asterix books, swinging his amphora in time to some drinking song or other, would probably not be drinking the finest of wines.  It’s quite likely, in fact, that having fallen victim to those indomitable Gauls once more, the poor chap’s downing his sorrows in vinegar, or sour wine as acetum is often translated.

Judging from its mentions in Roman literature, one wine that he certainly wasn’t drinking was Falernian; it has been claimed that it qould cost a legionnaire a full 3 weeks’ pay for one glass of the stuff.  Catullus and Martial both wax lyrical about the drink, and it’s Falernian which the ostentatious Trimalchio boasts he is serving in Petronius’ Satyricon.  A famous graffito from Pompeii reads

habeas propiteos

deos tvos tresit

e et qvi leges

calos edone

valeat qvi legerit

Edone dicit

assibvs hic

bibitvr dipvndivm

si dederis meliora

bibes qvartvs

si dederis vina f

falerna bib

or: ‘You can get a drink here for only one coin. You can drink better wine for two coins. You can drink Falernian for four coins.’

Well now, lucky readers, you can (kinda) see what they’ve all been banging on about.  Falenghina is a wine from Campania (the region of Pompeii) which is supposed to use the same grape.  You won’t be getting quite the same experience (see http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/wine/wine.html for the factors which make Roman wine so different to our own), but you will be getting a really decent white wine flavoured with extra history.

Where Caesar met his maker

December 1, 2009

Surely one of the most famous scenes from Roman history is the murder of Julius Caesar during a meeting of the Senate.  Scratch that; one of the most famous scenes from world history.  As you enter the Curia (the Senate House) in the Forum, the starkness of the building seems a fitting backdrop for the assassination.

In actual fact though, the Curia was temporarily absolutely out of action at the time.  In the chaos of Roman politics at the tail end of the Republic, supporters of the recently murdered rabblerousing politician Clodius had turned the Curia into a funeral pyre for their figurehead.  The Senate, therefore, were meeting elsewhere; the theatre of Pompey to be exact, part of Caesar’s great rival’s giant Porticus complex.

These days, the theatre’s long gone, although I think some foundations remain under some other buildings, but if you go to Largo di Torre Argentina you can see the back of the Porticus and the public toilets which made up another part of it.  The assassination itself would have taken place in the location of the modern day Teatro Argentina, one of Rome’s most important contemporary theatres.

The interesting thing about all of this is the lack of publicity the city of Rome gives to the place.  Largo di Torre Argentina’s a bewildering find when you stumble upon it; it looks hugely significant (and indeed it is – it contains some of the only Republican Temples still in existence) but it’s just fenced off and surrounded by busy roads.  The only concession to its significance is a rather dull information sign plonked at the side.  That Caesar met his untimely end so close to the spot came as a complete surprise to me.