" was followed immediately by the five-day festival of Flora. Then there was the Day of Apollo, the Tarentine Games, the Festival of Mars, and so on. "
Religious Procession Depicted on the Augustan Ara Pacis (altar of peace) - Credit: MM/Wikimedia Commons
The Roman calendar was full of festivals and public holidays such as these, honouring various major or minor gods. Read more about the many different Roman festivals here
" He was like some doubly armoured gladiator in the arena of the law, lunging with sword and trident, protected by net and shield. "
There were several different types of gladiator who would fight each other for the entertainment of the Romans. One type of gladiator called the retiarius would use a trident and a net. Others, such as the secutor, used a sword and shield. The retiarius had the advantage of agility and a tool with which to trip up or ensnare his opponent, but little protection from attacks. The secutor had the advantage of greater protection from his shield and a sharp edged sword with which to attack, but he was weighed down by his more cumbersome equipment. This simile suggests that Hortensius was so skilled as an orator that he combined the advantages of several different types of attack, while retaining the ability to defend himself from anything thrown his way.
" Not that it was a pure, Aristotelian democracy, by any means. "
Aristotle wrote a work of political philosophy in which he compared different forms of constitution and considered the various features of each. Rome, by limiting the power of the people and confining magistracies to the very rich, would certainly not have been considered a democracy. Strictly, under Aristotle’s definitions, a modern elected president or prime-minister could be considered a tyrant (albeit an elected one), and Rome an oligarchy – two constitutions that Aristotle did not hold in very high esteem!
" Still, it was freedom, as it had been practised for hundreds of years, and no man on the Field of Mars that day would have dreamed that he might live to see it taken away. "
This is one of several ominous references throughout Robert Harris’ book to the political turmoil of the last years of the Republic. These chaotic years saw the emergence of powerful military leaders with ‘special commands’ and too much influence, the breakdown of traditional Republican systems and values, civil war and bloodshed, a dictator setting himself up in charge of Rome, and finally the change from Republic to Empire.
" The wretched quacks immediately began arguing between themselves about whether it was best to purge or bleed. "
Ancient doctors had some strange ideas. Inducing vomiting and bleeding were two methods thought to purge sickness from the body - methods that were still used by doctors as late as the 20th
century, sometimes involving placing leeches on the patient’s body. The Greek doctor Hippocrates believed that losing blood served to purge the patient of bad humours. The ancient theory of humours
stated that a person was made up of four humours, black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood, and that a build up or lack of any one caused sickness. There were even theories that based different personality types on the different levels of humours within a person.
Despite these odd theories, the Romans knew that hygiene and fitness were important for good health of both body and mind; they enjoyed regular visits to the public baths, built advanced sewer systems, and constructed aqueducts to bring clean water to the city.
" for there was a census in progress, and tens of thousands had come to the city to register. "
The census was a record taking of the value of each citizen’s property and other assets. It was held on the Campus Martius. Any citizen who did not show up for the census was subject to severe punishment. The census was also sometimes held in the provinces. If, at the end of the census, a senator was found to no longer meet the property qualification for the senate, he would be required to give up his position.
" he, a scion of the oldest family in Rome "
The Julii family liked to claim that they could trace their lineage all the way back to the Trojan prince Aeneas, the man who sailed from Troy to found Rome. This would also mean that the Julii family is descended from the gods themselves, since Aeneas’ mother was the goddess Venus.