Archive for January, 2008

Censorship in Ancient Rome (ca. 443 – 22 BC)

By: The Scribe on January, 2008

Roman coin commissioned by Aulus Vitellius during his second censorship. The coin depicts his father, Lucius Vitellius.The government in ancient Rome was similar to governments found in many Western countries today – convoluted and with too many levels! But, the Romans liked it that way, as it allowed them to keep track of all the goings-on in the Empire. One of the offices of government was something called a ‘censorship’.

Censors in ancient Rome were responsible for an odd mixture of tasks. Their primary purpose was to take a census of citizens within the Roman Empire every five years: they would write down each citizen’s name, their age, and what amount of property they owned. This was done so that the information could be taken to the quaestors, who would estimate each person’s taxation levels, the Empire’s budget, and the amount of soldiers commanded by Rome.

Although the number of censors and their terms changed throughout the centuries, the tradition of the post held that two censors would serve together for 18 months – one was from the patrician class, while the other was a plebeian.

Once they gained their census information, censors had the charge of determining who among the population was allowed to be counted among certain class levels – for example, who was worthy of senatorial rank as opposed to equestrian, and so forth. This was called the ‘regimen morum’ (public morality), and was an extremely important duty. Other duties of the ‘regimen morum’ were also the verification and stamping with the Imperial Seal any weights or measures, and managing the books of financial institutions.

Apart from their census task, the censors were often responsible for funding and managing public projects. Conquered land was leased out and recorded by censors, while a more important task – or at least in the eyes of the Romans – was for them to choose a farmer who would feed the Capitol’s holy geese for a 5-year term.

Consuls were elected officials by an assembly of Roman citizens called the ‘Comitia centuriata’. They were required to wear a toga bordered with purple, in order to denote their important class, though unlike other elected officials they were not given bodyguards.

As the Roman Empire grew in size, the job of the consulship became rather overwhelming – there were simply too many people for only 2 men to account for, and so the office was eventually abolished. It was replaced with generic officials who would be sent out to count the people on the Emperor’s orders, and they would be counted according to province. For example, the Gospel of Luke discusses how in 8 AD, Caesar Augustus issued a census of the entire Roman Empire.

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Tomorrow: More Ancient Standard!

A Brief History of Tae Kwon Do (ca. 600 AD)

By: The Scribe on January, 2008

This ancient Korean wall painting shows men practicing Tae Kwon Do as spectators look on… perhaps students or people watching a competition?

The origins of Tae Kwon Do lie in the area of Asia known presently as Korea, during the Koguryo Dynasty which ruled between 37 BC and 668 AD. The martial art was developed out of an amalgamation of unarmed combat styles that were being practiced by three rival kingdoms at the time: Koguryo, Baekje, and Silla.

The earliest evidence for Tao Kwon Do is found in wall paintings on warriors’ tombs that date back to around 3 AD. These wall paintings show men engaged in battle with each other, in a type of fighting often referred to as ‘Subakki’. Although different from the kind of Tae Kwon Do practiced today, its origins were found in this ancient fighting style.

Since Koguryo was being threatened by rival kingdoms, a special corps of warriors was formed for its protection. These men were known as the ‘Sonbae’ – meaning “man who never recoils from a fight” – and are thought to have practiced another fighting style called ‘Taekkyon’ , which was a direct predecessor of Tae Kwon Do.

Eventually, the Sonbae’s Taekkyon fighting made its way to the Silla Kingdom, where its own version of the Sonbae – the Hwarang, or “Flower Knights” – took the new style and adapted it for their own use. It was around this time that the “five student commitments” were developed for students of Taekkyon, and which are still taken by Tae Kwon Do students today.

This fragment of a wall painting from the Koguryo Dynasty came from a warrior’s tomb, and shows two men in the midst of a ‘Subakki’-style fight.

Meanwhile, the third rival kingdom of Baekje – a tribe which had actually split from the Koguryo kingdom years before – was developing their own special warrior corps, called the ‘Soo Sa’. They were employed to defend the kingdom, and learned a fighting style called SooByeokTa, which also built upon Taekkyon fighting and would become a Tae Kwon Do predecessor.

Eventually, the kingdom of Koguryo was able to rise up and conquer its two rivals, which unified Korea under one dynasty. The Koryo Dynasty ruled the area between 918 and 1392 AD, and all men who were a part of the military received martial arts training as part of their regimen. Specific rules and standards of evaluation were thus developed as Taekkyon techniques became standardized, thereby developing what has become known as the first ‘official’ form of Tae Kwon Do.

Since that time, Tae Kwon Do has continued to mature and develop as a martial art, however this is an important part of the art itself – after all, its origins lie in the amalgamation of three fighting styles, centuries ago.

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Tomorrow: Caesar censors

The Netherlands’ Prehistoric Goddess (ca. 10,000 BC)

By: The Scribe on January, 2008

The ‘Venus van Mierlo’ was a prehistoric engraving of a dancing girl, found in the Netherlands. Little else is known about it.

Many pieces of ancient art have little information known about them, other than the context of where they were found and the approximate time period they were from. However, this should not discount their value as incredibly important testaments to human creativity in history. Whether appreciated for their historic value or their artistic merit alone, one would be doing a great disservice to their ancient creators if one was to ignore these tangible objects of the human past.

One of these ancient pieces of art that little is know about is the Venus van Mierlo. This little engraving was found on a piece of sandstone in the Netherlands, at a site called Geldrop-Mierlo in North Brabant province. The image engraved on the stone is of a girl who appears to be dancing – her legs and arms swing out in motion, and she is wearing a low, hip-hugging garment.

Called the ‘Venus of Mierlo’ as a bit of a joke – a testament to the ancient Greek goddess Venus, though the Greeks certainly established their gods thousands of years after this little engraving would have been made – the cultural and religious significance of the piece is completely unknown.

The site where it was found is believed to have been occupied by reindeer hunters, and it is entirely possible that the image of this dancing girl had something to do with their religious notions about the hunt… or, perhaps someone simply was bored and drew a picture on the stone.

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Tomorrow: A brief history of Tae Kwon Do

Made Your New Tonalpohualli’s Resolutions Yet? (13th C – 16th C AD)

By: The Scribe on January, 2008

These images from the Codex Magliabechiano show the first four day-symbols for the “year”, or ‘tonalpohualli’. They represent flint, the rain, a flower, and a crocodile.

In Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, a year of time wasn’t measured in the same way that a year is measured in the 21st century. Instead, the Aztecs used several calendars to measure time in the sense that marked periods were devoted to specific deities. The tonalpohualli was a calendar whose name meant “count of days”, and marked out a 260-day sacred period.

The tonalpohualli was not based on either a lunar or solar rotation, but instead was composed of twenty 13-day periods called ‘trecena’/ Each trecena was devoted to a particular deity, and was directly associated with a specific feast for that god or goddess.

Due to its rather ancient place in Mesoamerican history, the origins of the tonalpohualli calendar remain unknown – however, some historians have postulated theories about its meaning, such as: that it is representative of the human gestation period; that it reflects a time of year relative to the sun’s position in the tropics; or that it is a primitive Venusian cycle. Opponents to these theories suggest that perhaps its creation had nothing to do with natural phenomena at all, and instead may simply be related to the importance the Aztecs gave to the numbers 13 and 20.

Complementary to the tonalpohualli is the Aztec xiuhpohualli, a solar calendar that divides the year into 18 months consisting of 20 months each. Each xiuhpohualli year was named after the first tonalpohualli day that it fell on, since the two calendars only coincided with each other once every 52 years.

Other Mesoamerican cultures also kept similar calendars – for example, the Mayan equivalent of the tonalpohualli was called the Tzolk’in, while the Mayan version of the xiuhpohualli calendar is known as the Haab’.

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Tomorrow: Prehistoric Goddess

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