As I said last time, Romans liked colors. They painted the walls of their homes with different shades of red, white and green, often mixed with mosaics, patterns, or detailed murals. Often, the outsides of the houses were painted too. In the recreated houses in Xanthen, the color of choice was a dark-ish red. In these two photos you can see a restored restaurant, but the color was the same as on the private homes. I cannot tell you if the archeologists got that from research in Roman documents, from finds on other sites (like Pompeij) or from finds on this site, but it surely looked nice.
The restored restaurant even had a cellar, a feature many of the houses didn’t have. But the restaurant had to keep wine and vegetables cooled. Storing them underground was the best way to keep them because even in summer, the soil remained fresh and cold in a cellar. The thick walls and the buried amphorae ensured this. Food was fetched as needed.
I can’t tell how many houses shared this feature but would expect that at least the upper class had their own cellars if for wine only.
Not far from the restored restaurant were the remains of a smithy. You can see how sturdily the foundations were built. Some bricks were built in vertically to better spread out the weight of walls, floors, and furniture resting on top of them. This photo is quite interesting because by the size and form of the foundations one can determine where the walls used to be, and also where the furnace and the anvil must have stood.The open areas between the foundations were there to allow the hot air from the floor heating to circulate.
At home the Romans dressed casually but, since Germany was a comparatively cold country, with warm dresses. The Roman men adapted with time and often wore the long under-trousers that German men wore. The toys of the children were often similar to those still used today (waddling animals like ducks, spinning tops, marbles, etc.). Shoes were made of leather and protected the feet from the cold and the sharpest shards. Still, you felt every stone through the thin sole (I know because I bought a pair for myself. They’re very comfortable but much like walking barefoot).
As far as I could tell, Romans loved bright colors. The fabrics in the rooms we saw were mostly yellows, greens, reds, and the natural shades of wool. Strangely enough I didn’t see any floor coverings or wall hangings (like carpets or tapestries). I’m not sue if they didn’t exist or if the reconstructing people just didn’t think them important. To me, the rooms looked rather spartan (in the modern sense of the word since Romans most likely didn’t copy Spartan living styles 😀 )
When the Romans left the house, they had a strict dress code. The amount and quality of the fabric a person wore depended on the family’s financial situation. The more and the better, the higher your status. Togas were used for keeping warm during winter but also for showing respect. For example: women who didn’t cover their feet with the toga they were wearing weren’t respectable. In Roman times, only whores and the very poor would show their feet. A man could even divorce his wife if she was seen withe more than the tips of her toes showing beneath her toga. So the picture on the right is wrong in that regard (I’ll tell you in a later post how I learned these details).
As you can see in the picture on the left, security measures during work weren’t yet invented. Like this smith, the Romans wore comfortable clothes for even the most dangerous work. I bet there were a lot of work related accidents.
Germans wore far warmer clothing. Since they didn’t have amenities like heated floors, they wore long skirts and heavy trousers even inside their houses. Outside they usually had several layers to keep off the cold and the rain. I guess in summer they wore pretty much the same indoors as out. But our guide didn’t say anything about that, so that’s guesswork on my side.
I believe that most Romans in Xanthen bought their fabric from Germans except for the richest who surely imported theirs directly from Rome. But not everybody had the means to do that. Our guide confirmed active trading.
Not much to say but that I’m very tired and extremely busy. Some things leech more strength than I had anticipated, mostly due to stupid people. So I dug out this old writing exercise for you. I still quite like it despite its obvious flaws. Have fun, and don’t forget to visit the other participants.
Morning has broken
I kicked the pebbles and watched them fly into the gently breaking waves. In the distance, the sea sparkled but close to the beach, its sheen seemed dull. I should have known she wouldn’t come. Not only didn’t she talk to boys, ever, also this part of the beach smelled like rotting garbage, and the water carried brown sludge from Dad’s sewage factory. His slogan still rang in my ears.
‘Synbatec – Cleanliness everyone can afford ‘
Hah! I dug my bare feet into the sand, cooling grains mixed with water squeezed through my toes. I loved this feeling but hated the effort of rubbing them clean later. The sun burned my face and helped me suppress my tears. I had wanted her to come more than anything in the world. I needed her to see what Dad really did when he “cleaned” the waste water. She would have known what to do. After all, she and her father featured eminently in the news—him being a famous actor and an environmental activist. They surely could negotiate something that would keep Dad out of jail and end the pollution.
With my eyes still closed, I strained my ears for footsteps, but not even seagulls came to this godforsaken place. I sighed, opened my eyes, and gagged on a foul taste. A hairy hand pressed a wet, sweet smelling cloth to my mouth. My vision blurred, but I recognized the butterfly tattoo on the man’s forearm. Every Wastopaneer Environmentalist wore it. I relaxed and sucked in the sweet odor of the sleeping drug. If they had to kidnap me to stop Dad’s toxic waste, I wouldn’t put up a fight.
From the corner of my eyes, I saw her. She smiled at me, and her smile stayed with me when darkness claimed me.
In November when I normally participate in the writing marathon NaNoWriMo, it was decided that my eldest daughter could move out of the assisted living home into her first ever flat that she wanted to share with her BFF. We agreed that she should be trained in budgeting and cooking until the two girls found a suitable flat. Of course considering the current limited market for flats, we thought we’d have three to four months to get everything sorted.
Surprise, surprise, by the second week of November, they had secured a newly renovated flat that lay in the budget (money-wise and size-wise) with four rooms, a big kitchen, a bath room and a separate toilet room. The girls were excited … me too until I realized how much trouble that spelled for me: bureaucracy. I filled in application after application, canceled living quarters here, ordered energy there … One day I took twenty-two letters to the post office, mostly applications for one thing or the other.
It seemed to take forever, but in early December, we got the go ahead and were able to finally sign the rental agreement. So the kids began to pack their things. In the excitement, they cycled box after box of stuff from their old living quarters to the new flat. Expecting to get most boxes out of the way easily, I drove to my daughter’s best friend’s 6th floor flat with my car to empty it out except for the furniture that would need a van (to be rented).
We worked from morning till nightfall, and there was still more (It wasn’t as bad as in the picture, though). So the kids used their bikes again the next day. Then, the flat’s neighbor attacked my daughter’s BFF with a picture on a canvas so badly that the BFF had a severe concussion. The police got involved which meant we had to go to the Police station to give our statements. Then, the landlord’s property manager set a tight deadline. Due to the holidays, the flat had to be empty by 4pm on the 28th, and the bedroom, which had been painted green by the previous inhabitant, had to be painted white (that was last Tuesday).
I alerted my family and friends, and great guys that they are, they came. In a concerted effort we emptied the flat, painted the room, carted all the furniture to the new flat (4th floor), put all the bulky waste on a trailer, and cleaned everything. Trust me, I’ve never been this tired in my life.
Therefore I’m hoping for a peaceful and quiet Christmas time. I will not write between the years even though I urgently need to. I’ll read and relax so I’ll be fit again for next year.
And I wish you the same.
I’m sorry for not writing any Christmas cards this year or for sending out presents too late. But as you can see, there weren’t enough hours in the day and not enough energy in my aging body. Hugs to everyone who things (s)he needs a hug. Those I’ve got plenty.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
We’ll see/read each other again in 2019 (I promise more blog posts about the road trip I took with my husband, and about my diabetes controlling efforts).
In November, posting will be spotty at best. I urgently need to finish writing and translating “Crowned by Fire”, the last volume of my High School Dragon trilogy. I’ll be using NaNoWriMo for that.
For those who’ve never heard of that, the National Novel Writing Month (November) is dedicated to writing at least 50K words in a single month. Thousands of writers all over the world participate and also communicate with each other. It’s not only fun, but also productive.
If you’re a writer, feel free to join. If you’re a reader, you can follow my progress here (strangely enough you’ll need to sign up for seeing the participants. That used to be different. I contacted the organizers about that). I’ll see you all in December. 😀
And another one of those … But this time I’m better prepared. I’ve got all my NaNoWriMo-stuff lined up (more about that tomorrow). And I’ve got a good Halloween-ish story for this Bloghop (I hope you’ll agree it’s good; it’s surely not for everyone). I sent this in to the best writing related podcast I’ve ever listened to: “Alone in a Room With Invisible People“, AND IT GOT ACCEPTED. YAY! So you will hear it on the podcast some time soon.
Here’s my story. Happy Halloween for those who celebrate it:
Satisfied with the makeup that made her look like a deathly pale Victorian vampire, Anne closed her compact mirror and walked through the doors of the golf club. Tonight she would mesmerize her future husband, someone with money. No man in his right mind could resist her allure. Scanning the crowded room for unfamiliar faces, she hoped none of the regulars would notice she was wearing the same costume as last year. The hairdo had eaten up the last of her money.
She dismissed guys with expensive wedding rings, for she needed someone unbound. Two well rounded buttocks in an Armani suit swaying to the music caught her attention. The hands were unadorned. The face, when her potential husband turned, was nothing spectacular but would do. She wasn’t looking for Mr. Universe anyway.
It only took a few heartbeats to draw his attention. With a smile, he asked her to dance. Pressing her body close to his, Anne felt his erection through their clothes. Hook, line, sinker! They didn’t talk. When she looked up, her lips moist to invite a kiss, his eyes glowed a dull red.
“You’ve been tantalizingly close all this time.” His voice was husky. “Come with me. I’ll give you everything you’ve dreamed of.”
He limped, and she lost her synchronicity. Something seemed wrong with his leg, but her eyes were glued to his face. His smile hardened her nipples with arousal and fear. He had promised to fulfill her dreams, hadn’t he? Her gaze fell past him, and she frowned.
People around her had changed, wearing dull colored brocade clothing adorned with golden threads, and so did she. Where were they? Or was it when?
“You could be mistress to a pope.” Her partner pointed to a fat man with a hooknose in a red cloak. Countless jewels studded Hooknose’s fingers. When he smiled, his teeth were twisted black stumps. She shivered.
“Well, if Roderic de Borja is not to your taste…” Her partner whirled her around and the scene and their clothes morphed again. Now he wore a stiff necked suit, and her bosom fought a dress with a whale-bone crinoline. He nodded to a portly man she had once seen in a history book—a king of England or some such.
“Interested? He’ll make you his queen.” His eyes sparkled.
Wealth and power! All she’d ever wanted. That one was Mr. Right. But a question remained, “Why can’t I stay in my time?”
“Because death awaits you tonight.” The red glow in her partner’s eyes intensified. In them, she saw herself lying in a puddle of blood. She swallowed hard.
“What will it be, pope or king?”
She didn’t ponder for long. As queen, she’d be rich and powerful. No man would dare to object to her advances even when she grew old. Also, the king wasn’t as fat as the pope.
Before she could voice her answer, her dancing partner bowed, kissed her hand, and said, “Fair thee well, Anne Boleyn. We’ll meet again.” Bowing once more, he faded away.
One of the shops we visited was a smithy. I was surprised by the tiny size of the fireplace (that’s the little gridiron in the middle of the red painted wall). I think in winter, it must have been quite cold for those people who didn’t have floor heating. After all, Germany was colder, wetter, and all in all less comfortable that Italy. I’m sure many of the inhabitants wished they’d stayed in Rome.
The smithy worked with silver if I remember correctly. For an iron forge, the furnace is too small. Not too far from the recreated houses were the remains of a iron forge, and it had three furnaces and ground heating. However, it hadn’t been reconstructed, so one had to use one’s imagination.
Everyone who owned a little shop worked and sold their wares from home (on the other side of the bellows, outside the picture, is the room-wide wooden counter for selling wares; the whole front of the room could be opened to the street). There was no separation between small and medium sized businesses and the owner’s living quarters. They were mostly in the same house. Only big industries (like the dockyards, farming, or stone masonry) had their work-spaces outside the city.
Romans loved luxury, and those who could afford it, wanted to celebrate like in Rome. So there were restaurants with bed-sofas. Each of the little rooms (see picture) could hold nine men (no women allowed there unless they were whores). It surprised me to learn that Romans didn’t always lie down for eating. That was only done for feasting. At home, they had wooden tables with chairs or stools. The children often stood while eating.
Romans also insisted on cleanliness. Bath houses were spread throughout the city so every citizen had access. There was a really big one for the higher classes near the town center, but the park’s owners had built the museum on top of it. Still, there were enough foundations to understand the basic layout. Also, they had reconstructed on of the bath houses.
The genders bathed in different facilities. The first room a customer entered was a cold room for undressing. The next one was already quite warm and had basins with warm and cold water. It as often used for shaving and washing before one went on to the last room. Upon one’s return it also served for cooling down slowly. It was heated extremely well and the water was as warm as it is in one of today’s bathtubs. The main point of this room was relaxation (and surely talking business as well). The big bathhouse had some smaller rooms at the side for massages or whoring or simply for resting, but the reconstructed bathhouse didn’t have those.
I was most delighted by the colorful designs of the houses. The archeologists used historical finds from other areas to recreate the rooms, and they were much more colorful than what I’d anticipated.
Truly spectacular was the reconstructed housing complex. The new houses were built over the foundations of the original Roman houses but with a security layer so the originals wouldn’t get harmed in any way. The whole complex was surrounded by roof covered sidewalks. The ground of the sidewalks differed from one property to the next since every home owner had their preference. They were allowed to use different sorts of paving or stamped earth.
Visiting the houses brought to life the way humans have lived so long ago. Each house had a little garden with a shed or another small building on it. The outhouses usually contained the toilet and rooms for the slaves, equipment, and provisions. In the main house the family rooms were on the first floor. The ground floor consisted mostly in a shop that was open to the paved road outside. Only a wooden counter separated the shop from the sidewalk.
The houses were built of tamped loam and decorated prettily with bright colors. The roofs were mostly tiled, only a few of the sheds were shingled. An interesting fact is that none of the houses had chimneys, even though every room had a small fire place, and the houses of the richer people had floor heating. The view from a rear window or balcony resembles those of a serial house today: long, narrow garden, walls (today it’s fences) between the properties, and grass (often with a few bushes) on the ground.
The rooms of the family on the first floor were beautifully decorated but sparsely furnished. Romans were very fond of bright colors and regular patterns. The room in the picture would have been the bedroom of a whole biological family (there was a crib in the other corner but it didn’t fit into the picture and I didn’t dare move it), most likely the home owner’s. The parents would sleep in the double bed, the children in the spare bed, and the baby in the crib. Servants slept on the same floor in rooms with less decoration. Everyone owned a trunk for their belongings.
Only the slaves did not stay in the houses over night. They had a separate platform above important equipment and/or provisions. All slaves slept on the platform in bedrolls.
I found it surprising how much comfort the Romans already had. Their lifestyle wasn’t all that different from ours. When one thinks of the Iron Age, one doesn’t expect this kind of lifestyle. The recreated houses impressed on me how much the Germans missed out on when Arminius defeated the Romans. True, they weren’t exactly easy masters, and freedom is important. However, the kind of civilization they would have brought might have changed my home country in a way that would still matter today.
Eventually we came to the reconstructed houses and the part that interested my husband a lot: the toilets (after all, he’s head of a waste water disposal facility). As we already knew from books, the Romans used toilets with more than one seat and no separations between (see photo). They often met in toilets to talk business. Below the wooden (or sometimes stone) seats, there was running water that took the feces away. The Romans used sticks with a cloth wrapped end that they dipped into the water to clean their private parts.
No one was offended by using a toilet with other people. There were toilets for men and for women but also toilets where men and women went together. As our guide said, toilets were a favorite place for whores to hang around.
Interesting enough, the proverb ‘money does not stink’ (pecunia non olet) does not come from a tax on multi-people toilets as I’d thought. It is ascribed to the Roman emperor Vespasian who put a tax on the distribution of urine from public urinals (the Roman lower classes urinated into amphorae which were emptied into cesspools). The urine collected from public urinals was sold as an ingredient for tanning, for laundry, and for cleaning and whitening woolen togas.
The Romans also knew that waste water for more than a handful of people needed to be taken care of (after all there were ca. 5,000 people living in that town). Therefore, they build a deep, covered canal (the Cloaca Maxima, see photo) with sidearms to every block of houses. Smaller canals came from the individual houses to these sidearms. The water that ran constantly through the toilets flushed the Cloaca Maxima and the feces ended up in the Rhine that took them away.
In some places there were access hatches indicating that there were people who took care that the Cloaca Maxima didn’t get clogged. Imagine the stink in the tight place there (the height of the Cloaca Maxima in Xanthen was barely 1.5 m), and you know how miserable a person had to be (or how high the pay) to take that job. 😀
Clean drinking water did not come from the Rhine (and for very good reasons, imho) but from a spring in the nearby mountains. An aqueduct brought it directly into the city where it was distributed to the houses, to the bath houses, and especially to the toilets. However, for washing and other water-consuming tasks, Romans often used rainwater collected in cisterns. In other towns there were also water supply wells but not here.
After a chaotic week filled with appointments and tight deadlines, I’ve been to the best book fair in the world, a small festival dedicated to Fantasy and SciFi. It’s my favorite. The organizational team is incredible. If I can, I’ll return next year.
However, the day had 20 hours for me including 6 hours car drive. When I returned I was knackered and spend the Sunday resting. Therefore I ask your pardon for not getting the third part of my Roman travels up in time.