Three fascinating cultural practices from ancient Rome

| | ,

  1. Home
  2. /
  3. Blog
  4. /
  5. Magazine
  6. /
  7. Italian History
  8. /
  9. Three fascinating cultural practices...

Italy is stuffed with culture like some kind of metaphysical, literally culture-stuffed calzone.

Obviously, all countries have something to show for themselves, but the fact is Italy is culturally rich in all those aspects that phrases like cultural richness connote.

Italian drama, paintings and desserts are known worldwide for their pedigree. Italian food is eaten with (sometimes literal) relish all over the world – served from street vans and in Michelin-star restaurants. There is a robustness to Italy’s cultural capital that is the mark of a true centre of refinement.

And the reason for all this, of course, is the legacy of the Roman Empire. Like the British or Ottoman Empire, the empire of Rome encompassed such a vast swath of the globe (over two million square miles, to be precise) that its seat of power could not help but become the treasure trove of its particular epoch. As new cultures were conquered and assimilated, all flowed back to the capital. Not just materially, either. Empires are renowned for being melting pots of art and culture. And Rome was no different.

In this article, we take a look at look at three fascinating aspects of Roman culture throughout history, and what they tell us about the empire.

The separate treatment of the head and body in Roman sculpture (stone)


The difference in attitude from head to body is fascinating. While the heads of many Roman sculptures are finely cast, with much attention paid to idiosyncratic liniments and the reality of age, the bodies tell a different story.

In the Greek tradition, the bodies of most Roman sculptures represent an ideal rather than an individual. They are quite literally carved from stone, to borrow a pun from the world of bodybuilding. The reasons for this duality are not abundantly clear but are thought to be traceable back to a few key facts.

For one, the heads of Roman statues were forever being removed and replaced by other heads. When you consider this, the need for a generic, one-size-fits-all body becomes apparent, as does the reasoning behind making the prolific body easy on the eye – why would you not?

As to why the lust for decapitation, the answer is actually quite pragmatic. Great Romans fell out of favour at a tabloid rate, but unlike today, their representation in media was permanent. Hence, rather than making a new statue, swapping out the head was a lot faster.

Lucky bronze

Since ancient times, coins have been associated with luck. But the practice originated in Rome. The emperor Vespasian would hand out ‘touch pieces’ to the sick on walks throughout the great city.

As was the case in many ancient societies, the ruler was supposed to have some sacred connection with the god or gods that presided over the society’s affairs. The Holy Roman Emperor was no different. In fact, some members of the imperial family actually were deified – transcending flesh and bone to become part of the indelible cosmos. It’s alright for some.

The coins then were imbued with a considerable spark of that divinity – or at least enough to give advanced leprosy a run for its money. The tradition of touching divine metals is preserved in Italy to this day in the form of the Il Porcellino. According to betway casino online list of lucky customs, here the luck is said to be had in touching the nose, which has caused it to be finely polished. This tradition has made its way all the way from 1766, so it’s having a good run. If the superstitious nature of people has not changed, at least we’re now more enamoured with magically contagious craftsmanship/graft than unearned privilege.

The vomitorium

Of course, no list about the oddities of ancient Rome would be complete without a mention of the vomitorium – so we’ll go one better and debunk this bilious falsehood. The term vomitorium was indeed used to describe certain facets of architecture in Roman times, but its use was metaphorical, according to The Conversation.

Vomitorium meant something close to “the place where people spew out” – meaning the place they gather to and dessert in large number, rapidly. Trans-located to modern parlance, the term might be aptly used to describe a football stadium or cinema. Unfortunately, our imaginations are far more taken with stories of excess and decadent rulers.

These artefacts of a lost time are sure to titillate the culture vultures among you, but for those less conventional there are many Italian destinations somewhat off the beaten track.

Last Updated on 2018/08/29


Crucified like Jesus two thousand years ago | The second case in the world discovered in Italy

Orban-Salvini, meeting in Milan: “Together to change the EU”

Get new posts by email:

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.