Monday, 19 October 2015

"Roma Victrix", an Afternoon into History

Following a link from Facebook I got to know about the first edition of this event dedicated to historical reenactment and divulgation!
The event was promoted by the association Ars in Urbe and 16 groups took part in it, bringing the good old times back and offering wonderful and detailed explanations and lessons to the visitors.

The set was the beautiful complex of the Villa di Massenzio, and it was just the icing on the top. A wonderful scenery that gave even more local colour to the event! For the occasion the access to the archaeological site was free, so it was a further pleasure!





Looking at the ruins is always awe-inspiring... One can really wonder about how the whole complex looked back then, and it's always shocking to remember that everything can be reduced to a matter of materials and technology!
Anyway, let's start with the report as I walked around the Roman camp-- There was something interesting at every spot, and the reenactors mixing with tourists and visitors was too much of a fun scene!




Of course the groups were not there just to show their costumes off.
The stands were dedicated to various aspects of the Roman culture, and it was really interesting to hear the various "lessons" from its "characters", enacted by the guys of the SPQR association.

The first "tent" that caught my interest was the one of the medicus, the doctor.
We got to understand the basic of Roman medicine, its technology, and we were shown curious reproductions of archaeological finds.


In the above pictures you can see a Roman version of the "hot water bottle" dedicated to the area of the feet, surrounded by various ex voto. A curious "metal bell", used to remove impurities from wounds and cuts, that become the "symbol" of the medical treatments in Rome (same as the "red cross" now!)-- Fun info: as back in the days paper ("papyrus") was considered an extremely expensive material, it wasn't much used, as Roman used pieces of earthenwar to take notes, bring messages and the like: the one that you can spot in the picture is a note in Greek to a doctor asking for a consultation with a colleague about the problems of a patient!

Let's go to the main attraction (for me, ahah!), the food!
Besides the explanations, we were given bits of foods created by original recipes to try out!




The libum was a sort of aromatic cheese made with ricotta and laurel, a delicacy eaten during wedding celebrations (it was the favourite food of Cato, and by following his writings it was possible to "revive" it!); we got to try a sweet made by following recipes found in Pompeii, made with ricotta and honey... The mulsum was an aromatic wine, made with wort and honey-- It's said that women were absolutely forbidden to drink it, and to be found drunk for a woman could mean death! The garum was an alternative to the insanely expensive salt, and it was made by fermented fish sauce-- There were various kind of jams enriched by honey: it was an extremely energetic food and the presence of honey made it long-lasting and "disinfected": it was a common food for soldiers, used to march for whole years--

Various kind of breads, according to the buyers and the markets!

Bread showed the eight portions, so to make the division among people easier to compute. Bread was far harder than the one that we eat now, and it was consumed in the span of various months, as it didn't mold!

Another stand was dedicated to make-up and we were taught how Roman women prettified themselves with use of oils, minerals and pigments!

I happened to hear the explanation of the containers for make-up and their materials--

Then it was the turn of the vigiles, the Roman firefighters!

Even during ancient times it was a badass line of work.
We were taught how they protected the city, their equipment, what caused so many fires in Rome and what they were expected to do-- In extreme cases they had to use artillery to tear down the burning buildings!
It was an extremely dangerous work: it's said that a slave to gain Roman citizenship could do three things: to marry a Roman, to serve 25 years on the battlefield or-- Just 3 years as vigiles!

Next was the stand dedicated to free time and daily life-- There were instruments dedicated to religion, games and houseworks.


Peculiarly interesting was a boardgame that resembles modern draughts but consisted in catching the aquilifer of the enemy team, as in something similar to chess, but it involved the use of dices to move the pieces... Unfortunately no rules remained in the documents, so it's impossible to know how it was played, but it looked quite intriguing!
There was also a working reconstruction of a loom, and from what we could tell, the most difficult thing was to get the ordito ready! Roman women sure had a great sights!

After this last stand I decided to take some pictures!









I resumed then the tour of the stands for further lessons!
I reached the stands of the guys of the Legio X that explained us everything about the Republican army.

The republican army was quite different from the one of the Imperial times or the one of later reforms that accepted the presence of slaves or poor people into its ranks-- Originally the soldiers were people from the higher classes as they were assumed to buy their own horses and weapons. Such differences become blatant with the studies of their equipment, expecially when it comes to coat of arms: the most protective where the most expensive, dating this period.




Interesting the description of the shoes: made by a single piece of leather, they were created for the sole purpose of marching; the soles were fixed with nails to make the marching over unfavourable terrains smoother.

Another interesting subject was the one about the war machines, the catapultas. A Greek invention, the Romans stole the ideas and perfected them, turning them into lethal artillery weapons able to tear down whole fortresses.

As you can see, there were two models available: one the foreground, the one that launched darts, in the background, the one that launched stones (balista). Some finds show gigantic balistas that could fire stones which weights was around 60 kilos..!

As if it wasn't enough to excite us, next we got to meet the gladiators of the Ludus Picenus group, the winners of a recent gladiators tournament!
Like everyone in the area, the guys are enthusiastic practitioners but informed scholars too!
We started with a short lessons about the different kind of armours during Republican and Imperial eras, and the depictions of the various "characters", their weapons and styles of fighting.


In the picture above you can see the helmets of Imperial era: as the need to make the fights last longer approached, protections for the face were adopted, so to make the direct blows less lethal. As I've seen these guys fight, I can assure you that a shield smashed on the face could easily kill someone.

The explanation of the various characters and their weapons was peculiarly interesting. Above you can see the protections (yeah, gladiators used to wear protections!) and the curiously scary weapon of a scissor, "the cutter". The weapon was used to deal with the nets (peculiarity of another gladiator, the retiarius, associated to Neptune), and it was both a defensive and offensive weapon.

The world of gladiators is one that was peculiarly RAPED by Hollywood movies (like everything concerning Rome, to be honest).
I was very glad for the lessons of these guys, who offered a wonderful rendition and explanation of the whole deal-- When good ol' Verres took this book out of nowhere and started to explain things using the ancient mosaics or the finds of Pompeii and Co. I was about to cry with joy.

One of the coolest things was the possibility to touch and try all the items.
As one of the gladiators explained us, this was one of the best ways to explain history, expecially to those who have no chance to see or try the actual pieces.
It's a way to bring history to life, and it is really moving to see the passion of these people!

Besides the divulgation, there was also the time for actual, practical demonstrations.
The morning showed some explanations of battle engagements and military formations. It's always a freaking spectacle.





After the skermishes, in the afternoon it was the time of the gladiators :D
Here I stole a picture of the guys of Ludus Magnus getting dressed--
The battles were commented and explained live!
Pay attention to the arbiter, that controlled the fight and the conformity of the weapons-- The two gladiators are two provocators, the most appreciated by the audience for their bold style of fight.


On the above picture you can see the winner of the match getting acclamed by the audience-- Kids were really enjoying the show!
Here you see a scissor against a retiarius:

And here is a murmillo against a thraex.
As the name implies, they symbolized the usual "Roman" vs "Barbarian" match.
The fighting style of the murmillo was quite scary-- It really looked like a human tank without openings!
The historical Spartacus used to cover the role of the murmillo, and this was intended as a sort of humiliation: as he was a Thracian noblesman he was forced to wear the character of the Roman soldier, the one who enslaved him.

On the way back to catch my elusive bus, I decided to take a detour to see the Tomb of Cecilia Metella, a monument that kept popping up in the background of my pictures and sure deserved a closer (even if quick) inspection!


A wonderful afternoon in a wonderful area... Definitely a place to visit again and more accurately and an event to repeat soon!

Ad Maiora!

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