The duties of the Flamen Dialis

Readers of Lindsay Davis’ “Falco” detective novels, set in Vespasian’s Rome, will remember One Virgin too many.  This novel was the last good one in the series, after which they deteriorated.  It featured murders in the family of the Flamen Dialis, the priest of Jupiter in the state cults.  Much is made of the restrictions on the holder of the office.

While reading Aulus Gellius Attic Nights today — an easy book to dip in and out of, for an invalid of classical tastes — , in book 10, chapter 15, I stumbled across what is probably the source for all that information.  Here it is, from the Loeb translation.  Note that the chapter heading is ancient and authorial.  All of the sources referenced are lost today.

15. Of the ceremonies of the priest and priestess of Jupiter; and words quoted from the praetor’s edict, in which he declares that he will not compel either the Vestal virgins or the priest of Jupiter to take oath.

Ceremonies in great number are imposed upon the priest of Jupiter and also many abstentions, of which we read in the books written On the Public Priests; and they are also recorded in the first book of Fabius Pictor. Of these the following are in general what I remember: It is unlawful for the priest of Jupiter to ride upon a horse; it is also unlawful for him to see the “classes arrayed” outside the pomerium, that is, the army in battle array; hence the priest of Jupiter is rarely made consul, since wars were entrusted to the consuls; also it is always unlawful for the priest to take an oath; likewise to wear a ring, unless it be perforated and without a gem. It is against the law for fire to be taken from the flaminia, that is, from the home of the flamen Dialis, except for a sacred rite; if a person in fetters enter his house, he must be loosed, the bonds must be drawn up through the impluvium to the roof and from there let down into the street. He has no knot in his head-dress, girdle, or any other part of his dress; if anyone is being taken to be flogged and falls at his feet as a suppliant, it is unlawful for the man to be flogged on that day. Only a free man may cut the hair of the Dialis. It is not customary for the Dialis to touch, or even name, a she-goat, raw flesh, ivy, and beans.

The priest of Jupiter must not pass under an arbour of vines. The feet of the couch on which he sleeps must be smeared with a thin coating of clay, and he must not sleep away from this bed for three nights in succession, and no other person must sleep in that bed. At the foot of his bed there should be a box with sacrificial cakes. The cuttings of the nails and hair of the Dialis must be buried in the earth under a fruitful tree. Every day is a holy day for the Dialis. He must not be in the open air without his cap; that he might go without it in the house has only recently been decided by the pontiffs, so Masurius Sabinus wrote, and it is said that some other ceremonies have been remitted and he has been excused from observing them.

“The priest of Jupiter” must not touch any bread fermented with yeast. He does not lay off his inner tunic except under cover, in order that he may not be naked in the open air, as it were under the eye of Jupiter. No other has a place at table above the flamen Dialis, except the rex sacrificulus. If the Dialis has lost his wife he abdicates his office. The marriage of the priest cannot be dissolved except by death. He never enters a place of burial, he never touches a dead body; but he is not forbidden to attend a funeral.

The ceremonies of the priestess of Jupiter are about the same; they say that she observes other separate ones: for example, that she wears a dyed robe, that she has a twig from a fruitful tree in her head-dress, that it is forbidden for her to go up more than three rounds of a ladder, except the so called Greek ladders; also, when she goes to the Argei, that she neither combs her head nor dresses her hair.

I have added the words of the praetor in his standing edict concerning the flamen Dialis and the priestess of Vesta: “In the whole of my jurisdiction I will not compel the flamen of Jupiter or a priestess of Vesta to take an oath.” The words of Marcus Varro about the flamen Dialis, in the second book of his Divine Antiquities, are as follows: “He alone has a white cap, either because he is the greatest of priests, or because a white victim should be sacrificed to Jupiter.”

I find that the Loeb translation is at Perseus, here, in the uncomfortable form that make searching so difficult and reading so hard, but is probably most useful for other purposes.

The lighthouse at Leptis Magna

The harbour at Leptis Magna is a bay between two headlands, as this map from the web shows (click on the images for full-size). 

Map of Leptis Magna

It is silted up now, and a sandy beach runs between the two:

Lighthouse at Leptis Magna

On the far headland stands the lighthouse, or what now remains of it.  It is falling into the sea, and another century will see it gone.  The Italians would, of course, have done something about this, but the Libyans never have.

I climbed up the headland, and took this closer photograph, looking north-east, where it seems relatively complete:

The Lighthouse at Leptis Magna, looking North-East

I then walked round to the left and took another, which makes the sea’s closeness clearer. 

The lighthouse of Leptis Magna from the rear

The sea has demolished the left hand wall, as can be seen if you climb up close.  The interior is now a shell, with the sea tossing at the bottom.

I don’t think many people will be going to Libya this year, but we should remember how much there is there which is well worth our seeing.

Mithras in the Greek Magical Papyri

A chance query led me to Betz’ English translation of the Greek magical papyri.  This is a collection of magical texts in multiple volumes discovered at Thebes in the early 19th century.  The best known of these is the so-called Mithras liturgy, which is in reality just a spell like the rest.  The reason it is called the Mithras liturgy is that it contains a mention of “Helios Mithras”.

Anyway, I got the PDF of Betz’ translations and did a search on “Mithr”.  To my astonishment, I started getting results in some of the other magical texts in the collection.  Here are some excerpts from the spells:

From PGM III, 1-164; lines 71-85:

“I conjure you, the powerful and mighty angel of this animal in this place; rouse yourself for me, and perform the NN [deed] both on this very day and in every hour and day; rouse yourself for me against my enemies, NN, and perform NN deed” (add the usual), “for I conjure you by IAO SABAOTH ADONAI ABRASAX, and by the great god, IAEO” (formula), “AEEIOYW WYOIEEA CHABRAX PHNESKER PHIKO PHNYRO PHWCHW BWCH / ABLANATHANALBA ARRAMMACHAMARI SESENGENBARPHARANGES MITHRA NAMAZAR ANAMARIA DAMNAMENEU CHEU CHTHO[NIE] THORTOEI, holy king, the Sailor, [who steers] the tiller of the lord god, rouse [yourself] for me, great cat-faced one, steerer of the tiller [of God], perform the NN deed (add the usual), from this very day, immediately, immediately; quickly, quickly. …

The footnote indicates that the portion that I have placed in italics, which is repeated on line 100, may be garbled Greek for Damnameneu, Zeu cthonie, identifying Helios-Mithras with Hades.  Note the Jewish names of power somewhat earlier, and the invocation of the Greek vowels, first in one direction, then the other.

And lines 99-104 of the same:

“Halt, halt the sacred boat,” steersman of the sacred boat! Even you, Meliouchos, / I will bind to your moorings, until I hold converse with sacred Helios. Yea, greatest Mithra, NAMAZAR ANAMARIA DAMNAMENEU CHEU CHTHONIE THONTOEI, holy king, the sailor, he who controls the tiller of the lord god,”

In PGM III, 424-466, a spell for knowledge, on line 439 we find the following interesting remark, mentioning the historian Manetho who helped create the Serapis cult:

[For] the lord [god] speaks. A procedure greater than this one does not exist. It has been tested by Manetho, [who] received [it] as a gift from god Osiris the greatest. Perform it, perform it successfully and silently.

Followed by:

pray to him. But . . I . but a swallow of this comes . . . this your formula repeat seven times . . . formula, which you say: “Hail, Helios, Mithras. . . .”

Then there is the passage in PGM IV 475-829:

… for an only child I request immortality, O initiates of this our power (furthermore, it is necessary for you, O daughter, to take / the juices of herbs and spices, which will [be made known] to you at the end of my holy treatise), which the great god Helios Mithras ordered to be revealed to me by his archangel, so that I alone may ascend into heaven as an inquirer / and behold the universe.

Again, this is surely a spell, not a liturgy?

PGM V. 1-53 begins:

“Oracle of Sarapis, [by means of] a boy, by means of a lamp, saucer and bench: “I call upon you, Zeus, Helios, Mithra, Sarapis, / unconquered one, Meliouchos, Melikertes, Meligenetor, ABRAAL BACHAMBECHI BAIBEIZOTH (EBAI BEBOTH)…

Finally in the glossary on pp.336-7 I found this note:

Mithras: The Persian god is mentioned only a few times in PGM (note III. 100, 462; IV. 482) and each time as being identical with Helios or with Zeus-Helios-Sarapis (see PGM V. 4). See Nilsson, GGR II,668-72; Dieterich, Mithrasliturgie 67ff. Vermaseren,”Mithras in der Romerzeit,” in M. J. Vermaseren, ed., Die orientalischen Religionen in Romerreich, EPRO 93 (Leiden: Brill, 1981) 96-120, with bibliography.

It’s permissible to wonder why Mithras appears at all, except that plainly it was a “name of power”, just like the others with which the texts are studded.   This led me to a review of Betz, The Mithras Liturgy: Text, Translation and Commentary (2003), by John Gee in the RBL here.  Gee points out that the papyri are all often in the same hand, an Egyptian who writes both Greek and Demotic, and evidently is part of a temple.  He adds:


Egyptian deities, whether under Greek or Egyptian names, appear sixteen times more frequently in the text than deities from any other pantheon. It is probably significant that the only mention of Mithras is of Helios-Mithras, where Mithras is syncretized with the Egyptian deity Re under the Greek name Helios. Betz himself notes that usually Mithras was identified with Saturn rather than the sun (p. 137). If we consider that there is evidence of the Egyptian co-opting Iao as early as the Persian period, then we have the strange situation where all the deities mentioned in the so-called “Mithras Liturgy” are Egyptian.

Interesting indeed.  The references to Iao and Adonai and Sabaoth are also telling.

I suspect that the “Mithras liturgy” is about as much a Mithraic liturgy as it is a Psalm of David.

UPDATE: I also went through Preisendanz’ two volume collection of all the texts with German translation.  I didn’t find any more instances, except for an ostracon at the end of vol. 2, which had a series of names such as Baal, Mithreu, Mithra, etc.

A letter of James of Edessa on various issues

Here is a translation (from the French of Francois Nau in ROC) of a letter of James of Edessa, to John the Stylite.  The headings in italics are by Nau.


To our spiritual and beloved brother, to the religious and pious priest Mar John, (from) James the humble, peace in the Lord.

1. Exordium.  

I would like your pious Fraternity to judge the feelings of my Humility as you would judge a woman who has given birth and nourishes (her child) and as you would judge a merciful mother: although she complains a little against her son and prevents him  suckling, she does not, however, repulse him for long; similarly, if my Humility sometimes complains a little because of the insults and bitterness that have come upon me for my sins, I will not accept and will not support, however, repulsing your Fraternity, or another of the disciples of the Messiah, who submits his difficulties on a passage from the sacred books or on any other topic relevant to the soul. And I’m not doing this solely because of the order of the Master who commands me to do so, but also because I find it easy and enjoyable, as it has also been said that I should make seeds grow and increase, and that I should bring to the table, along with the talents that make up the principal, the interest commensurate with my abilities [1]. Do not be afraid to ask me the things that bother you, because, even though I may complain a little verbally at the time, thereafter at least I shall force myself, and give myself the trouble of sending and accomplishing what has been asked and requested of me by the charity of the brethren. 

2. The number of books attributed to Solomon

Your Fraternity has asked me one thing that bothers me as well as you. So what can I say, and how can I answer your fraternity who asks me about a variety of the words of this Holy, Apostolic and Learned Spirit, who is all-knowing and sees even the deep things of God, except that I hesitate just as you do, and I admire the hidden wisdom of the Spirit. It is indeed true that St. Clement, a disciple of the Apostle Peter, wrote in the Eighth Constitution (διάταξις) regarding the canons [2], as your Fraternity has written, that there are five books of Solomon, but he does not distinguish and name clearly which those books are; while there are only three according to the holy doctors that you have mentioned: Athanasius, Basil, Gregory, Amphilochius, and, before them, Eusebius of Caesarea, with many others who followed them. Your Fraternity has done well to hesitate, and to study this subject, which is extremely good and very commendable, however, we should not be surprised by variations by analogy in the words of the Spirit because the Spirit has spoken them in His wisdom through the mouths of men and for men, and as he saw fit. 

These words embarrassed and surprised you, so you now ask me — although I am as embarrassed and as surprised as you — why Clement said five, while the Doctors said three, a fact which is true and absolutely true, but which I do not understand and do not promise to explain. I only write what I think is correct, which at least has a semblance of truth.  So I hasten to say that Clement counted five books of Solomon because he assigned to him also the Wisdom, that admirable book, and because he divided the book of Proverbs into two books, because some also share the idea that these are two books that were collected and placed together, starting at the place [3] where are mentioned the Proverbs written by “friends” [4] of Hezekiah, until the end. That’s what I think that I can say about the text of Clement. As to the text of the doctors who mentions only three books (of Solomon), I say they do have three, because they speak only of the books defined canonically by the Church as proto-canonical books, and because they make only one book and not two of the whole book of Proverbs. All these ideas derive from my limited and humble opinion; as for the real truth, we leave that to be learned from the Spirit, the writer of the (holy) books; however, for your Fraternity’s tranquillity and comfort, I thought that I would send you with this a copy of a small treatise that I wrote about the Wisdom, this book so admirable that many attribute it to Solomon, from the time when I was applying myself with love of work to revise this book with the others [5]. That’s all for the first question in your Fraternity’s letter.

3. The deuterocanonical books

Let’s look at the second question: Why are these books not counted among the canonical books of the Church? I speak of the great Wisdom and of Jesus son of Sirach, and of many others which are rejected, like Tobit and those of the  women Esther and Judith, and the three (books) on the Maccabees [6]. I will answer again, that the truth is exactly known to the prophetic, apostolic and learned Spirit. I also would like to tell you the opinion of my feeble intelligence: it is that they are not entirely composed of words revealed by the (Holy) Spirit or of prophecies from God, but that they contain either words of human wisdom written by pious men, or stories about holy and pious men themselves, which is why  they were separated from the number of the canonical books of the Church, and were placed for special reading outside of the (books) for regular use in the correction and correcting of morals, actions and deeds, for those who are of a very teachable spirit, and want to hear some useful and loving advice for word and deed and for the knowledge of good conduct.

4. On the computus of the Alexandrians

 As for your third question, on the year, which the Alexandrians count higher than us, as I have told you already [7], it would require many words to resolve it so as to satisfy you. Listen at least to the few words I can give you from the strength and time (available) to me. Know that the year of the revolution of the sun on the circle of the sky is made up of three hundred sixty-five days, so we get fifty-two weeks plus one day left over. It is therefore obvious that every year, there will be one fixed and pre-determined day which will be the start and end day of the year. It follows that, if the first year begins and ends with a Sunday — and that day will be fixed and determined to mark the beginning and the end — the second year will begin and end on a Monday, the third on a Tuesday, the fourth will begin with a Wednesday, and — because of the extra day which is added during the year (the leap year; every four years — we find that it ends on a Thursday. So it is obvious, from what I have just said, that the fifth year will be a Friday, i.e. the fifth day, fixed, particular and pre-determined. 

What I have just told you about these five years will show you that all those who are engaging in these calculations are trying to find out which day of the week ends the year; i.e. that which neighbours (which follows) it in the next year, in this period of seven days, which is the crown of all the time in this world, and which you usually call the “foundation” of the following year [8]. This “foundation” of which you speak is worked out from what the current year used, not from that which the year which is going to start will use. It follows therefore that you should take the Alexandrian year, counting one more than you do, when you want to calculate the beginning of your year and learn which day of the week belonged to the current year and not to the coming year, which has not yet begun and therefore is not ‘neighbouring’. You won’t calculate it correctly using the years as they unroll.  Because, when you first put aside this year, and only count 5,180 instead of 5,181, you are accustomed to calculate, instead from this (foundation), that from the coming year which is not yet under way, because you do not know the reason for this term “foundation”.

Learn from this and work out in your mind as much as you can, until you have got what you are asking; knowing that the number 5180 that you give is not the truth, any more than that of the Alexandrians, because the number of years of the world is not known and cannot be known by anyone. These are some suggestions; let everyone begin by forming their ideas based on reason, to be used as (a starting point) to calculate then whatever he wants. 

That’s what I have found out to answer the questions and requests in the letter of your Fraternity.

5. Personal question.

As for the request that ends your letter, I will tell your Fraternity that it is not about the fault committed against me by this man and because of which he believes that I am avenging myself; but he has sinned against himself and against God’s law. He has sinned more gravely because he was warned and exhorted before his fault. Many have shouted at him, and I also have said to him: “Take care not to throw yourself into this pit and die there”. — He did not listen and did not obey. And now what should I do for him? He asked no less of me than to violate the divine law for him, to make me as guilty as he is, to make acceptance of no-one and to break the law of God. He believes that it is I who have cut him off from the Church, but he cut himself off, and it was not I (who did it). Tell him to weep over what he did, and to think that it is better for him to be removed from the church than to violate its rule. When he comes here, I’ll deal with him to the degree that he repents. 

Farewell in the Lord, and pray also for my Humility.

(1) See Mt. 25:26-30.
(2) This is the Octateuch of Clement whose eighth book consists of the Apostolic Canons. In the edition of Lagarde, Reliquiae juris ant. syr., Leipzig, 1836, p.60, line 2, we find indeed, “of Solomon, five books: while the Greek text of the last canon of the apostles only assigns three books to Solomon, cf. Mansi. Concilia, I. 17. 
(3) Prov. xxv.
(4) The Greek and Peschito have oi( fi/loi, the Hebrew and the Vulgate: viri.
(5) In 701-705 AD.
(6) Most of Esther is protocanonical: the third book of Maccabees, although referred to as canonical in the last of the apostolic canons, is apocryphal; the Catholic Church attributes to the deuterocanonical books the same authority as to the others. 
(7) Cf. ROC, 1900, p. 290 and p.10 of reprint. Lettres de Jacques d’Edessa, Paris, 1906.
(8) The “foundation of the year” is the last day of the Syrian year, i.e. the day of the week on which September 30 falls. Also 5180 and 5181 represent, according to the Alexandrian era from the creation, the year of the birth of Christ. James seems to mean that the author of a paschal computation, for example for 1910, seeks, not the day of the week which corresponds to September 30, 1910 (in which case he would use 5180), but for one which corresponds to September 30, 1909 which is the “foundation” for the following year, and so in this case, in order to calculate 1910, he would use the number 5181.


Mithras: list of literary testimonia

When I encounter twaddle about the ancient world online, I always find it  useful to gather all the relevant ancient sources.  Long ago I did this with Mithras.  I have just revised my collection and expanded it, and included also the references to Persian Mitra in Greek and Roman literature.  The result is here.

More on early French travellers to Libya

A year ago I posted a photo of the circus at Leptis Magna, and queried whether the circus — now reduced to foundations — really was standing to some height back when the first explorers arrived in the 17th century.

A commenter has directed me to an article with a figure from Durand’s article, from Le Mercure Galant of 1694.  I think it is worth seeing.  The top is his plan of the harbour; the bottom of the circus.

I’d still like to see the whole article, tho.

How much has changed in a year.  I doubt that I shall be going back to Leptis Magna soon.  How I wish that I had been able to go to Syria last year, as I had planned!  A travel company is using the following song for an advert at the moment.

You’re gonna take that ocean trip
No matter come what may.
You got your reservations
But you just can’t get away.
Next year, for sure, you’ll see the world,
You’ll really get around;
But how far can you travel
When you’re six feet underground?

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink.
The years go by, as quickly a as wink.
Enjoy yourself, Enjoy yourself
It’s later than you think.

True advice, I fear.

From my diary

Still busy with dull stuff, but I have been revising the Wikipedia article on Areimanios

“Who he?” I hear you cry?  Well Areimanios is the Greek name for Ahriman, the Persian evil spirit, used in descriptions of Zoroastrianism in Plutarch and the like.

Except … there’s more.  There are some odd traces of a non-evil Areimanios.  And there are five Latin inscriptions which seem to be all to a deity associated with Mithras, saying things like “To the god Arimanius in fulfilment of a vow”.

Some of the commentary I have read has said that it is fairly unlikely that anyone would set up altars to an evil god in their temples dedicated to good gods.  But I’m not so sure about this, because, in a dualist world view, you might well say that both need to exist.  We’ve all heard enough smelly hippies talking about “Yin and Yang, man”.  Won’t a true dualist see both as a part of the world, necessary in their own way?  Rather like having a toilet in the vestry, if you like?

I can see such a person making offerings and vows to the “dark side”, when in mortal danger — “let me off this time and I’ll give you a nice altar”?

We need to remember that we do not understand how ancient religion worked.  We can only guess at much of it.  I claim nothing for what I have just suggested — it is pure imagination — but we must avoid being too positive about what “must not” have happened.

On the other hand, maybe the critics are right.  Maybe the name of Ahriman was transferred (in its Latin form) to a different deity, the lion-headed god found in Mithraea and usually anonymous.  The name “Areimanios” appears (I am told) on the foot of one such statue, although that interpretation relies on expanding abbreviations and might be a personal name of a donor, not of the god. 

If so, then perhaps there is a pattern.  Roman Mithras, born from a rock and killing the bull, is not really at all like Persian Mithra, although they share the same name.  Rather someone took the name of the Persian god and applied it to their “export version” religion, rather like the Hari Krishna’s did for Krishna.  Did that same someone take the nice, authentic Persian “Areimanios” and apply it to their own made-up lion-headed god too? Is that how the cult was created?

A curious quote from one of the Greek magical papyri

I happened to see this claim in an online puff for the curious theories of Acharya S:

The salvific death and resurrection at Easter of the god, the initiation as remover of sin, and the notion of becoming “born again,” are all ages-old Pagan motifs or mysteries rehashed in the later Christianity. The all-important death-and-resurrection motif is exemplified in the “Parisian magical papyrus,” a Pagan text ostensibly unaffected by Christianity:

“Lord, being born again I perish in that I am being exalted, and having been exalted I die; from a life-giving birth being born into death I was thus freed and go the way which Thou has founded, as Thou hast ordained and hast made the mystery.”

This followed remarks about Easter being celebrated in pagan Mexico (!).

It is a golden rule, when dealing with supposed quotations in twaddle, always to verify those quotations.  A look in Google books shows that these two paragraphs are quoted verbatim  from Acharya S, Suns of god, 2004, p.503.  A reference ’18’ is given, but unfortunately the preview does not include the references.

A quick search in Betz, The Greek Magical papyri in translation, reveals no matches for “born again”.  Hmm.

Searching for the words reveals a possible source: the “Pagan Background of Early Christianity”, p.244 by W. R. Halliday (London, 1925: not a headbanger source) might be the source.  I’ve not been able to find this book online, tho.  But in a Google books preview it seems to refer to Dieterich’s publication of the so-called “Mithras liturgy”, so the words should be at the end of this.  But I can find nothing relevant in Meyer’s translation here.

UPDATE: It is indeed in Meyer:

O Lord, while being born again, I am passing away; while growing and having grown, I am dying; while being born from a life-generating birth, I am passing on, released to death– as you have founded, as you have decreed, and have established the mystery…

Some notes on the Great Paris spell-book

I’m looking at Preisendanz’ edition of the Greek magical papyri.  I thought some notes on one of them, PGM IV, also known as the great magical book, or the great spell-book, might be useful.  This is the codex that contains the so-called Mithras liturgy — in reality merely a spell-ritual.

The so-called “great Paris magical papyrus”, Bibl. nat. suppl. gr. 574.  A papyrus book of 36 leaves, written on both sides.  Foll. 1r, 3v, 16 and 36r are blank, described in the auction “Catalogue d’une collection d’antiquites egyptiennes par M. Francois Lenormant (Paris, Moulde et Renou 1857) Pap. IV” under No. 1073 as “manuscrit sur feuilles de papyrus pliees en livre, formant 33 feuillets ecrits de deux cotes.”  The auction catalogue number is still written on fol. 1r, together with the Anastasi number 1073.

The manufacturer of the book had 18 double sheets, which he folded in order to make the book.  The small Coptic item on page 1 may be a later addition.  [The sheets have become disarranged].  The leaves vary in size between 30.5cm and 27cm high, 13 and 9.5cm wide.  Margins have been left on all sides.

C. Wessely suggests that the copyist wrote during the fourth century AD, and more towards 300 than 400 AD, when the technology to make such papyrus codices was available.  See also Wiener Studien 8, 1886, p.189, which suggests the period of Tertullian, an origin of Upper Egypt, in Herakleopolis.  Dieterich felt the time of Diocletian was the terminus ante quem, and that the “liturgy” must belong to the period when Mithras was most in vogue.  Adolf Deissmann in Light from the ancient East 217-225 placed the composition of lines 2993-3086 before the fall of Jerusalem and the reference to the emperor in 2448 as referring to Hadrian.

E. Miller published some portions of the hymns: Melanges de Litterature grecque (1868),437-458.

It would be nice to know more up-to-date information on this subject.

Life on the edge of the forum

When I read the epigrams of Martial or the satires of Juvenal, what strikes me more than anything else is the sheer discomfort of living in ancient Rome.  Martial himself had no running water laid on at his home.  Juvenal describes the risk of a poor man on his way home being crushed in the mass of people, making their way through the streets, and how his slaves — everyone has slaves, it seems — await him in vain while he sits shivering on the banks of the Styx, without a copper to pay the ferryman.

The abuse of those enslaved is endless, as Martial makes plain, yet, as in a modern office, the human element breaks through.  Some “owners” are in fact under the thumb of their slaves; others again refuse to allow their slaves even to sleep at night. 

At the other extreme, we read the letters of the younger Pliny, of a life of retirement in one of a number of rural farms, interspersed with a public career.  Even Martial, who wears a bad cloak, acquires a farm of some kind from a benefactor.

None of us, I suppose, would truly choose to live in ancient Rome.  And yet … the fascination with it is endless.