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Archive for June, 2012

In the ancient Roman world (and indeed still to modern cultores Deorum Romanorum), the spirits of the dead were just as prevalent in everyday life as the gods themselves – if not more so.  There are the lares, the protector-deities of one’s home; the lemures, the formless, wandering spirits of the dead who have not received a proper burial; the larvae, commonly associated with the lemures but also with the aspect of tormentors of the dead; the dii parentes, the spirits of one’s ancestors; and the dii Manes, the spirits of the dead in general.

As a collective, the dii Manes are the spirits of the deceased; as such, they are what is known as “chthonic” deities, or, in Latin, dii Inferi: “those who dwell below.”  When a person died, they would often have a tombstone erected with the abbreviation D.M. upon it, which stood for diis Manibus.  Curiously enough, early Christian tombstones also bore this abbreviation.

Tombstone of Gaius Cassius Saecularis, from Vindolanda.

(In the convoluted grammatical system that is Latin, diis Manibus is in the dative case, which basically indicates that the deceased was now headed to or for the Manes, and would join their collective.)

There is speculation as to the origin of the word manes.  The most popular theory is that it comes from manus, which is an archaic Latin adjective meaning “good.”  If this is the case, then the dii Manes are to be seen as benevolent spirits.

St. Augustine of Hippo writes in his City of God (actually quoting an earlier author, Apuleius, the other of The Golden Ass [among other things]) that the lares are benevolent spirits of the deceased, the lemures and larvae are the malevolent spirits, and it is uncertain which group the Manes belong to.  This is a set of beliefs which I subscribe to as well.

Long before the Empire (and even the Republic), the Manes were offered blood sacrifices in the form of gladiatorial games.  At that time, the Manes were seen as rather bloodthirsty spirits, and so to appease them people would hold these “games” at funerals.

The Manes are honored in the Parentalia and Feralia festivals of February.  The former is a festival dedicated to the dii Parentes, one’s ancestral spirits, and lasts for a good 9 days; the latter marked the end of the Parentalia and is celebrated on February 21st.

The lemures and/or the larvae have their own festival as well, the Lemuria.  This is a really exciting festival, and one that is a household exorcism of sorts.  Basically, the head of the household (the paterfamilias to the Romans) would get up at midnight and walk barefoot through his house, throwing black beans over his shoulder and chanting “With these beans I redeem me and mine” nine times.  After this, the family would bang pots and pans together with a loud crash, reciting “Ghosts of my fathers and ancestors, be gone!” – also said nine times.  The spirits were said to take the beans for themselves and be frightened away by the loud clashing noises.

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Well…what a find!

At a press conference on June 1st, researchers declared that they have found the site of the siege of the Aduatuci, a tribe which lived in what would become modern-day eastern Belgium.  The last stand of the tribe was written by Caesar in his de Bello Gallico after he and his troops had utterly defeated them and sold 53,000 survivors into slavery.  I remember reading this passage last year for a Latin prose course, and finding out that they may have found the exact site is just incredible.

Up until now archaeologists and historians thought that the site of the fortified town was located in Huy, Belgium – but, as new finds indicate, this may the wrong location.  Rather, it was at Thuin (in Hainaut, Belgium), west of the town of Charleroi.

Among the artifacts that have helped bring about this new discovery are Roman lead sling bullets and golden treasures.  If you interested in reading more, I have a few links for you below:

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Today is the first day of June, and a PBP day for the letter “K”, so this post is about the Kalends.

Kalends is one of those words that you can stare at for a while and your mind will begin to wonder “Why is this a word?  It’s so funny looking!”

TheKalends (or Calends in English) always fall upon the first day of each month.  They are an entirely Roman feature, not appearing in any other calendar system, and this is the reason for the expression of postponing something “ad Kalendas Graecas”, or “to the Greek Kalends”: if you do this, then you will never get whatever it is that you are postponing done.  Because the Greek Kalends don’t exist.

In ancient Rome, the pontifices would announce the days on which business could and could not be conducted for the upcoming month, and debtors had to pay off their debts.  These priests would also announce the date on which the Nones would take place.

The first day of each month was sacred to Iuno and Ianus.  As the god of beginnings, Ianus was seen to help Iuno “give birth to” the new month.  Apparently, some scholars think that these two deities were originally paired, and so the whole Kalends thing certainly could lend credence to their idea.

The Nones (in Latin, the Nonae) are the next important day of the calendar, but the day on which they fall is different for different months.  They almost always fall on the 5th of the month, with the exception of the months of March, May, July, and October, in which they fall on the 7th.  This day was sacred to the Lares, and, as was done on the Kalends, the date of the Ides was announced by the pontifices.

The Ides (in Latin, the Idus) occur 8 days after the Nones (9 if you were an ancient Roman – they counted days inclusively, so if something was happening two days from now, it would be happening tomorrow).  So, they typically fall on the 13th of the month, except for, again, March, May, July, and October.  (those rascals!)

These days were sacred to Iuppiter, and one such day – the Ides of March – has become especially infamous.  “Beware the Ides of March!”

The days preceding each of these three major days were known as Pridie: literally the “day before.”  For example, if you were to see Prid. Id. Mart. (the Romans were gung-ho about their abbreviations), that would be March 14th.  All other days were marked in a peculiar fashion: they were counted backwards from the Kalends, the Ides, or the Nones (or, in some cases, major festival days) and marked with an a.d. for ante diem.  As an example of this, a.d. III Kal. Nov. was three days before the Kalends of November, or October 30th.  Another example shows why the Romans were so good at math: a.d. XVII Kal. Nov. (17 days before the Kalends of November!) is October 16th.

In the Roman Republic, before the Julian Reform (keep an eye out for a post on this!) to the calendar system, the Romans had something called nundinae.  These were market days, and they occurred every eighth day – making the original Roman week have 8 days instead of our 7.  The days of the week on the calendar were marked with the letters A through H, the A being the nundina.

The months of the Romans were as follows: Ianuarius, Februarius, Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Iunius, Quintilis (later renamed Iulius for Caesar), Sextilis (later named Augustus for, well, Augustus), September, October, November, and December.  Before the Julian Reform, there was an additional month of 27 days squashed in between Februarius and Martius called either Mercedonius or Intercalaris, but this was done away with as of 45 BCE.  Before the Julian Reform, months alternated between having 29 days and 30 days.  After the Reform, they alternated between 30 and 31 days.

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