Gregorio Lazzarini (1655—1730). Oil on canvas. Early 1700s. Saint-Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum.
Romulus and Remus were born to the vestal virgin Rhea Silva after she’d been seduced, some say raped, by Mars.
At their birth they were immediately sentenced to death by their great-uncle Amulius, who had previously stolen the throne of Alba Longa from his brother, and Rhea Silva’s father, Numitor.
Fortunately, though, the sentence was never carried out.
A royal servant took pity on the twins and instead of killing them abandoned them in a basket on the banks of the River Tiber. In the floods that followed, the basket ended up under a fig tree on the northwestern summit of the Palatino.
Here the babies were found and suckled by a she-wolf (in some versions of the story the wolf was sent by Mars to save them) until discovered by a shepherd, Faustulus.
Faustulus took the brothers in and, with his wife Acca Larentia, brought them up.
Faustulus the Shepherd
The twins grew up to be a high-spirited, if somewhat unruly, pair and it wasn’t long before they were in trouble.
Remus was arrested for attacking some shepherds on the Aventino and carted off to face the king. Hearing the news, Faustulus told Romulus about the circumstances surrounding his birth and asked him to save Remus.
Romulus immediately set off for the Alban palace, where he not only freed his brother but also killed Amulius and reinstated his grandfather Numitor to the throne.
To celebrate, the twins decided to found a city on the site where they’d originally been saved. But as they didn’t know where this was they consulted the omens. Remus, on the Aventino, saw six vultures; his brother over on the Palatino saw 12.
The meaning was clear and Romulus began building his new city walls. In a fit of anger Remus is said to have jumped over the unfinished walls, shouting that if they couldn’t keep him out how were they going to keep invaders out.
Romulus, by now in a rage himself, killed his brother.
Romulus continued building and soon had a city, albeit one with no citizens.
To populate it he created a refuge on the Campidoglio, Aventino, Celio and Quirinale hills, to which a ragtag population of criminals, ex-slaves and outlaws soon decamped. However, Romulus still needed women.
His solution was as audacious as it was devious. In one of history’s first recorded sting operations, he invited everyone in the surrounding country to celebrate the Festival of Consus (21 August).
As the spectators watched the games he’d organised, he and his men pounced and abducted all the women.
Known as the Rape of the Sabine Women, the attack understandably angered the Sabine king Titus Tatius, who promptly marched on Rome. Fate, however, was against him, and after warnings from Juno and Jupiter,
Romulus repulsed the attack.
But Sabine feelings soon calmed – thanks, it’s said, to their women begging for an end to the fighting. Peace was made, and Romulus and Titus ruled jointly until Titus died shortly afterwards.
Romulus himself lived to 717 BC when he died aged 54.
Spartacus was a gladiator from Thrace who commanded a massive slave army during the Third Slaves War, the largest and most successful slave rebellion in Roman history.
The uprising began in 73 B.C. when Spartacus and a small band of slaves escaped from a gladiator school by using kitchen utensils as weapons.
Slaves from across the Roman countryside soon flocked to join the revolt, and the rebel army caused a panic in the Roman senate after it defeated a militia at Mt. Vesuvius and two legions near Mt. Garganus.
According to the ancient historian Appian, as more slaves joined the uprising their ranks swelled to include as many as 120,000 former bondsmen.
But despite their early victories, the slaves later fell prey to disunion and split into several unorganized factions.
The main rebellion was then defeated in 71 B.C. after eight Roman legions commanded by Marcus Lucinius Crassus cornered Spartacus and demolished what remained of his army.
Spartacus died in the battle, and 6,000 surviving slaves were later crucified along a Roman highway as a brutal warning against future revolts.
The cathedral at York, York Minster, was constructed first of wood in 627, and then in 637 in stone .
A period of instability followed with York vulnerable to attack from Penda of Mercia and the Britons of North Wales.
We know that the city was overrun at least twice and probably three times between the death of Oswald in 641-2 and the Battle of the Winwaed in 654-5.
In about 670 St. Wilfred took over the see of York and found the structure of Edwin’s church fairly lamentable .
‘The ridge of the roof owing to its age let the water through, the windows were unglazed and the birds flew in and out, building their nests, while the neglected walls were disgusting to behold, owing to all the filth caused by the rain and the birds.’
“Saint Wilfred set to work renewing the roof and covering it with lead, whitewashing the interior walls and installing glass windows.
Based on descriptions given of other churches built at a similar time it is possible to understand something of how Wilfred’s restored church at York would have looked to the 7th century worshippers who entered it.
The altar, within which relics were deposited, would have been decorated with purple silk hangings of intricate woven design.
Upon the altar, raised by a book rest and in a jewelled binding, would stand the illuminated gospel book. The walls and probably also the testudo (a wooden partition screening the altar) would be adorned with icons painted on wooden panels depicting the types and anti-types of the Old and New Testaments.
These church paintings were essential to the evangelization of England, being the only effective way of explaining the ‘the new worship’ to an illiterate population. Gregory the Great called them ‘the books of the unlearned’.”
Wall murals portraying Crusader knights and symbols of medieval military orders have been rediscovered in a Jerusalem hospital thanks to a burst water pipe and a storeroom reorganization.
These paintings were the works of a French count, Comte Marie Paul Amédée de Piellat, who believed himself to be a descendant of Crusaders.
The count was a frequent visitor to Jerusalem and had the Saint-Louis Hospice built between 1879 and 1896, naming it after St. Louis IX, a king of France and leader of the Seventh Crusade between A.D. 1248 and 1254.
During World War I, however, the hospital came under the control of Turkish forces, who painted over the designs with black paint.
The count returned to Jerusalem to restore his murals, but died in the hospital in 1925, his work undone.
A beautiful discovery
More recently, the nuns who run the hospital found some of the forgotten wall paintings while reorganizing storerooms in the building, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).
A burst water pipe also stripped away modern paint and plaster, revealing more sections of the paintings.
Ancient Agora, Athens. Image Credit: Photograph by Sarah Murray.
Lying right beneath the northern slope of the Acropolis is the ancient Athenian Agora.
Walking through the Agora takes the visitor back through the place where Athens’s mighty heart once beat.
Literally meaning “marketplace,” the Agora was the economic center, where the wealth, reach and influence of classical Athens was visible by the wide range of goods shipped in from the nearby port of Piraeus, which ranged from wheat produced on the shores of the Black Sea to precious dyes from the Levant.
But what marked the Agora with everlasting glory was the other commodity traded and peddled daily: ideas.
The Agora was the meeting grounds and hang out spot for ancient Athenians, where members of the elected democracy assembled to discuss affairs of state, noblemen came to conduct business, ordinary citizens got together to meet up with friends and watch performers, and where the famed philosophers doused their listeners with wisdom (or rubbish).
The Agora also played a serious a role in religious festivals. The architectural layout of the Agora was centered around the Panathenaic Way, a road that ran through the heart of Athens to the main gate of the city, the Dipylon.
Temple of Hephaestus. Imagw Credit< Photograph by ArgusFoto.
The road was sacred, serving as the travel route for the Panathenaic festival, held in honor of the city’s patron goddess Athena every four years. The Agora was also home to the Temple of Hephaestus, the Greek god of craftsmen and metalworking. It was thought for many years to be a temple dedicated to Theseus, the founding mythological hero of Athens, but this turned out to be wrong.
The temple is still visible in great condition, and is one of the best-preserved classical temples in all of Greece.