Ancient Rome as it Was is an odd duck in the genre of travel guides: it was written in 2008 for travelers in the year 300 A.D. For the past month, my copy has been hanging out in my bathroom, as is the sort of book you can pick up and put down at any point. As far as I can tell, its function is to make you go, “Huh.”
I’ve marked down the various ‘huh’ moments of the book; they cry out for a list. What follows is a Roman hodge podge of random facts and ephemera.
- “If you cannot find a product in Rome, chances are it doesn’t exist.” (34)
- Emperor Vespasian’s last words: “Oh dear, I think I am becoming a god.” (50)
- Many of the sections on places to see begin with: “Ask your litter bearer to drop you off…”
- “The priests of Cybele can arrange a rite of purification and rebirth, in which you stand in a pit with a grating over it. A bull is led to stand on the grating directly above your head. It is then slaughtered, drenching you in its blood.” (53, and no thanks)
- At the Baths of Caracalla: “If you ask for either Cucumius or Victoria and pay enough, they will arrange for you to see the worker’s view of the structure.” (65, and some impressive research)
- Papyrus used in Rome actually came from the Etruscans, who lived in another part of Italy; the papyrus was shipped down the Tiber directly to Rome – rather than being shipped in from Egypt, as I assumed. (83)
- They mention a place I have been to, Pozzuoli, under the name Puteoli. I have seen the temples they describe in the book – though I imagine they were in better shape than in 300 A.D. (90)
- There was a place called Narnia in Roman Italy. (92)
- “When Pompey dedicated his theater, he had a performance of Clytemnestra by the playwright Accius put on. In order to do justice to its grand surroundings, so great was the production that 600 mules were employed to carry the booty brought back from Troy by Agamemnon.” (111) How much treasure must that have been? And how big was the stage?
So that’s about it. Nothing to blow you out of the water, but an interesting view of history. “Huh.”
(I’ve written another blog about ancient Roman tourism that you can find here.)