A Peek into the Roman World

I’m currently reading Steven Saylor’s Roma, and it’s an amazing book. It is a fictional story, but it mingles historical events with fictionalized characters to depict history in a memorable way. That’s why I love it. It is, in my opinion, the best introduction out there to Ancient Rome.

I’ve listened to podcasts like Duncan’s History of Rome before, but they have always slipped out of my memory to be forgotten, because they aren’t meaningful whatsoever. I hadn’t thought about what occurred in Rome and written about the events too. Furthermore, there was no connecting the dots between the factual events of the past and the impact it had back then along with today. What I’m trying to say is that history needs to be personal in order for it to be truly understood and also useful.

So below, I’m just going to do a little commentary on the first 142 pages (out of 622, according to my iPad) of the book.

The first part starts off with a group of bartering hunter-gatherers really. They fish and hunt in order to survive, and they trade salt alongside the river that goes from the sea to the mountain, crossing by Rome. People are very impulsive – a man is jealous that his crush likes a strong handsome man from another tribe, so after the two part ways, the man goes and kills the woman’s lover, along with his two companions so that they don’t go tell their village. Justice was simply vengeance. Salt traders would have had a really bad name had the man not killed the companions of the woman’s lover. There’s not really anything stopping anyone from just going out and killing other people, other than the risk of getting a bad name. So as long as you just kill all of them, you’ll be ‘fine’.

Sexuality did not seem to be very regulated. The night of her setting her eyes on the handsome man, and after him setting his eyes on her, they slept together. She got pregnant instantly. Her father liked the man, and suggested the daughter go sleep with him, and she agreed. After they slept together they exchanged parting gifts. The only thing that hurt this of course is that one other man got jealous. So I think we see why monogamous relationships arise in the first place: it’s to prevent violence from jealous men killing others for taking the women, even if the women doesn’t like the jealous man. To quote the book, “the gazes of the envious, as her father had taught her, could cause illness, misfortune, even death.”

Religion also doesn’t exist. What does seem to exist is the existence of spirits which inhabit the objects around them, and these spirits speak to man. Man asks them for permission to cross the river, whether it’s time to move on, etc, etc. Jung would probably say that these are projections of man’s unconscious onto the physical world, and I would agree. I also think that bargaining with these spirits in order to get something in return is  something that comes up evolutionarily by chance. So when a village’s crops burned and there was an accidental fire, everyone was starving. So the village elders decided to eject 10 children from the village as a sacrifice to the spirits. Lo and behold, the villagers didn’t starve the next year! And that’s because they had 10 fewer mouths to feed. But, the villagers saw it as the spirits doing it.

Trading posts come up because it saves time for people to cross all the way from one end of the country to the other. Instead, you could just come to a trading zone and go back, cutting your travel time in half. The book also says that bartering is how things were traded, and that people simply hunted and gathered for their livelihoods, but I think that this may be untrue – David Graeber has shown that elaborate systems based on credit are possible in villages, and are the usual, rather than bartering.


Rape is something which women react in disgust and shame, and they feel like they have been violated and putrified. That’s why Potitia scrubbed and scrubbed until her flesh was red and raw. That, and also because the monster’s stench clung to her.

Gods emerge from stories of people along with the travelling of ideas. That’s how the Ox-trader who saved the day was seen as Hercules, it’s because the Phonecians said that they had a god who did just that, who casually wore a lion’s skin. But I think what was actually happening was that if you wanted to be a real man, you could go out and fight a lion with your bare hands, and then you would have superhuman strength and the pelt of a lion to boot. So when you go around saving villages from monsters, your archetype becomes popular.

NEXT PART (The founding of Rome in 757 bc)

Giving thanks turned into becoming priests. And priests had power. Remus and Romulus were naughty naughty boys. Disreputable boys were drawn to them because of this, and because they had nothing to lose, so they followed the twins. And when they grew older, Remus and Romulus attracted more people like that because they were victors – so they attracted people who wanted to fight and win. But they didn’t attract greedy, violent men because they didn’t pile up their riches.

Also, there was NOTHING stopping the funny business and dishonesty of the priests and the kings who were not ruling well. Nothing. It’s batshit crazy how much you can get away with back then. Romulus and Remus also were very smart to have concocted that story (which may even be true) of being the lost grandsons of Amulius, the former king of a neighbouring wealthy town.

For the rape of the Sabine women, once they were raped/married, the women were “compromised” and thus “unfit for marriage.” But compromised in what sense? What does this mean?

And Romulus, the king who went on to live after he fought his brother to the death for the crown, sketched out much of the character of the Roman Republic, with the way he set up the city: treachery, power grabbing, killing your brother for the throne, stealing women in order to marry them, going around and killing neighbouring fighters and farmers for their gold, stealing it all, and then claiming glory; all of these things came from Romulus, and all of these things reverberated through the centuries that followed him because he set the rules, and his followers followed in his example. One of those rules was the paterfamilias thing, where the father has absolute ownership over his children, their children, and of course his wife and daughters. It was absolute power over them! Also, by founding the city on looting and power, Romulus attracted people who liked just that: looting and power. So the first guys who got there were used to this. They became the old guard, or the senators/patricians. But they got jealous of the new guard because the new guys got everything. He basically set up a system where the old guys were trying their best to pry away as much as they could from the new people who come in – the archetype of the great king devouring his son.

After Romulus, the people elected the people, and the Senate confirmed the guy. This reminds me a lot of the United States.

Writing began in Rome after they picked it up from the Etruscans, who picked it up from the Greeks, who were already very civilized by then. It allowed you to remember (laws, proclamations, records, lists, etc), track time (calendar edits), and send messages.

Something funny: “if the flea hangs around long enough, sooner or later he’ll see the dog’s balls.” Basically this means that if you’re annoying a mentor enough, he’ll eventually show you what he’s doing.

The Patricians (from patres, fathers) were the first senators of Rome, who Romulus appointed. They had ancient privileges which they guarded jealously. Plebs could gain great wealth, they could even become king, but they could never become Patricians.

Rome becomes a bloodthirsty city: “[fighting] is the highest duty that Roma demands of her citizens, that they train every spring and go forth every summer in search of fresh booty.”

The Etruscans were pederasts: boy lovers, and the Romans made fun of them for it. Does this mean that sexual crimes and the age of consentare a social construct? What are the therapeutical implications of this? Why then do people suffer after being molested? But this is a very dark, dark, alley to explore. Another day.

Oh, Romulus also forbade women from drinking because he claimed it made them cheat on their husbands. What exactly were the women like back then? The wife of Romulus bore him no children, and so maybe she slept around with other men because Romulus was impotent, and so he got jealous and upset, and ended up creating a Patriarchy for the next 1000 years. The ideal women then become someone who was modest, harmless, pure, and delicate, not someone who ever drank or ate too much.

Rome didn’t have great property rights in the 8th century BC.

The Rape of Lucretia: there was a very pretty woman. She was raped by an arrogant king’s son. She killed herself afterwards. Why? I don’t understand. As a result, her husband got rid of the monarchy.



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