Archive for March, 2011

Roman Houses were full of Spirits Not All of Which came from Grapes

By: The Scribe on March, 2011

Romans often had a very busy religious life. There were many different religious festivals and rites that needed to be observed for well known Roman gods including Vesta, Jupiter and Juno but other than the religious ceremonies, these deities didn’t have much control over the daily lives of regular citizens. That was the responsibility of a collection of different spirits that were believed to reside in and around the home of Roman citizens. It was believed that these invisible spirits had a huge role to play in how harmonious, prosperous and peaceful a Roman home was and that if the spirits were not appeased, things could go very badly indeed.An illustration from a 4th century manuscript

If a Roman wanted to ensure that they would have enough food in the house, they didn’t go to Juno or Vesta. Instead, a Roman would pray to Panes or Penates. These were earth spirits who also held sway over the pantry and kitchen of a Roman home. They were represented by statuettes that were prayed to daily and which were set out on a table during a meal.

There were several different names for the spirits of dead ancestors. Ancestor worship was a huge part of Roman religious life. When someone’s mother or father died, it was believed that they became one of the Parentes, which were spirits of immediate family members. Parentes could also be the spirits of close relatives who were still living. They were represented by statuettes and it was not unusual for a Roman to take the statuettes of living relatives with them. The statuettes of living relatives were accompanied by fire from a Roman’s own hearth.

A statuette believed to hold a Lar or guardian spiritThe spirits of dead ancestors were believed to live in statuettes as well but these were known as Lares. A Roman family was expected to pray to them daily and make offerings to them at different times during the year. Significant dates such as anniversaries, weddings and birthdays were celebrated by more elaborate rituals.

Moving permanently from one household to another meant that the statuettes which represented the Lares and Panes would also be moved by the family. It was very important to Romans that the spirits were prayed to and worshipped properly. It was believed that if a spirit was not shown the proper respect or if a family forgot to pray to it, it could become wrathful or mischievous. Spirits who became unhappy were known as Lemures. Since the Romans believed that the world around them was full of spirits it was not unusual that they would think some were wrathful or out to do harm to the living.

Romans referred to the spirits of the deceased as Manes. The Manes were worshipped during a festival known as Parentalia. During the festival, sacrifices were made to the Manes. The sacrifices (which usually took the form of flower garlands, wine-soaked bread, wheat and salt) were placed at family tombs and the celebration was considered to be a positive one. However, the evil spirits were also addressed during Feralia, a celebration that marked the end of Parentalia. It was believed that unless Feralia took place, the spirits of the dead would rise from their graves and roam the streets.

The Imperial Pyramids of- China?

By: The Scribe on March, 2011

Visitors to the Helan Mountains in Yinchuan, China may have noticed strange, pyramid-shaped structures rising from the earth. These are some of the only remnants of the Tangut Empire that was exterminated by the Mongols in 1227 CE.

One of the Tangut tombs found in ChinaAlthough there are over 200 tombs of varying sizes, only nine of them belonged to members of the Imperial family. The tomb complexes were originally covered with glazed green tiles but in many cases, the tiles were pulled off and the tombs were cracked open. This was part of the campaign to exterminate the Tangut Empire that was carried out by Genghis Khan’s descendents.

The Tanguts were a fairly advanced people. The empire was founded in 982 CE, under the rulership of Li Deming. In 1038, Li Yuanhao (also known as Emperor Jingzong) commanded that a Tangut system of writing needed to be created and, after this was accomplished, then ordered that Chinese classics should be translated into that writing system. It took fifty years for the Chinese Buddhist canon to be translated into Tangut. Over time, the Empire developed an organized and efficient military and also became quite advanced in art, literature, architecture and music.

The Tanguts also had a strict legal system especially where religion was concerned. It was believed that the Tanguts were Buddhist, although there may have been some people who followed Confucianism as well. A person who wanted to teach was required to be screened by state officials and receive approval from local authorities before he was able to teach in the Tangut Empire. Charlatans and fortune-tellers in particular were persecuted by the authorities.

Women in the Tangut Empire were also allowed a role in the state’s religious practices. This was unusual in China at the time. They were permitted to be Buddhist nuns, but only if they were a virgin or had been widowed.

The Tangut people had been attacked by the Mongols six times between 1202 CE and 1226 CE. They were able to hold them back, but it wasn’t easy. This happened in spite of the fact that the Tanguts submitted to Genghis Khan in 1207 and that the leader, Xiangzong, gave his daughter to Genghis in marriage.

The Tanguts and the Mongols were allies for a time. Then, in 1216 CE, the Mongols approached the Tanguts and asked for their aid in a campaign that they were mounting against some Islamic countries. They refused. This was a disastrous decision that ultimately led to the downfall of the Tangut Empire as a whole.Genghis Khan, destroyer of the Tangut Empire

Genghis died in 1227 CE. According to some historical records, one of his last commands was that the Mongols destroy the Tanguts and wipe their empire from the face of the earth. The Mongols overran the capital of the Tangut Empire, slaughtered the residents and destroyed not only the tombs of the rulers but their literature, art and other records of their achievements. Tens of thousands of Tangut civilians were killed by the Mongols and the military was absorbed into the Mongol army.

Although the Tanguts were destroyed as a civilization, some did escape and form small communities in the Anhui and Henan provinces of China. However, as a whole, their empire had been totally destroyed and, over time the Tanguts faded into history.

Sex, Lies and Poisonings in the Vatican- The Borgia Family

By: The Scribe on March, 2011

If you lived in Rome in the fourteen and fifteen hundreds, there was one family that really ruled the city- the Borgia family. Three of the most infamous members would have to be Lucrezia Borgia (1480 CE to 1519 CE), her father Rodrigo (, who was elected Pope Alexander VI and her brother, Cesare who was appointed a Cardinal of the church in 1493, and acted as captain-general of its forces in the early sixteenth century. Although these are perhaps the three best known of the Borgia family, many family members held important positions in Renaissance Rome and helped shape not only the city but much of Europe as well.

The Borgias were patrons of the arts and, in many ways helped to promote Renaissance music and art, allowing it to flourish much more than it would have been able to otherwise. It was not uncommon to see many great artists, thinkers and philosophers such as Leonardo da Vinci visiting the court of the Borgias.

A portrait of Rodrigo Borgia after he became PopeRodrigo, in particular, also supported the university and improved the city of Rome while he was in power. Rodrigo also divided the New World up between Spain and Portugal through the use of a Papal Bull or proclamation. This helped to bring peace between the two nations, something which had been difficult before Rodrigo had become involved. Rodrigo was known for being an excellent statesman and diplomat, which was interesting because in other ways, he tended to be very short tempered and quick to avenge any perceived slight or political challenge to his position or his family.

There are many controversies that surround the Borgia family. Rodrigo was known for a lifestyle that included many different excesses including women. In fact, not only did he have several mistresses, he brought them with him to the Papal court and openly acknowledged the children that they bore him. He was known for attending public orgies such as the Banquet of Chestnuts along with his daughter LucreziaA portrait of Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Rodrigo and his son Cesare. There were many rumors that stated he was involved in an incestuous relationship with his daughter Lucrezia. It was also rumored that he had paid the cardinals to elect him as Pope.

Lucrezia was married three times. All three marriages were arranged by her family as a way of strengthening their political position. She became known as much for her habit of poisoning people as she was for her political skills. Many people now believe that she was manipulated by her family rather than being cruel in her own right.

Portrait of Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VIHer brother Cesare was known for being truly reprehensible. He had originally been appointed a cardinal in the church but after his older brother Giovanni’s murder in 1497 CE, he took over as commander-general of the church. While in command of the church’s army, he waged war in order to carve out a state in northern Italy that he could rule in his own right. During this time he committed many different atrocities including murder, theft and other crimes.


Imhotep- The Common Man Who Became A God

By: The Scribe on March, 2011

People who have watched the movie The Mummy have heard of Imhotep. In the movie, he was an ancient, undead monster who was condemned to a living death for loving the wife of the Pharaoh. Many people may not realize that there was a real Imhotep who lived between 2655 and 2600 BCE. They also may not be aware that he is responsible for some of the pyramids that we know and love. While he was not the architect behind the Great Pyramid, Imhotep was the first one to take the mastaba structure that was the common shape for tombs and turn it into a soaring structure that endures to this day.A papyrus on anatomy and medicine believed to be written by Imhotep

But building pyramids is not Imhotep’s only claim to fame. He was also credited for inventing many things, including an improved form of the papyrus scrolls that were used for all types of writing. He was also believed to have been one of the earliest and best known Egyptian physicians as well. Although two other physicians, Hesy-Ra and Merit-Ptah also lived at the time, it is Imhotep’s writings on medicine that have attracted the most attention. The Edwin Smith Papyrus, believed to have been written by Imhotep, is full of his observations on anatomy as well as descriptions of various ailments and cures. The cures depicted on the papyrus are lacking in many of the incantations and strange ingredients that were common to Egyptian medicine at the time. The papyrus is notably lacking in the magical thinking that was so common at the time.

Although Imhotep seemed to have been able to separate out magical thinking from scientific observation, much of his life was steeped in religion and superstition. He became the patron saint of Egyptian scribes who were known to pour him a libation before they began any work. He was also depicted on a portion of a pharaoh’s statue. This had never been done before.

This statue of Imhotep can be found at the Louvre in ParisAlthough much of his work was done in the name of the Pharaoh Djoser, it was believed that Imhotep lived on after Djoser’s death. It was believed that he then went on to work for the Pharaoh Sekhemkhet. Unfortunately, Sekhemkhet’s reign was so short (only six or seven years) that he did not survive to see the completion of his pyramid. Although Imhotep was responsible for building some of the largest and most visible tombs in Ancient Egypt, his own resting place has never been found. It is believed to be located somewhere near Saqqara, an area that served as a necropolis for Memphis.

After his death, his reputation continued to grow. He was awarded divine status after his death and was worshipped by a cult that was based in Memphis. He was linked to several gods and goddesses including Nut (the sky deity), Hathor (who eventually became the wife of Ra), and Ma’at, who stood for truth, cosmic order and justice. He eventually became the god of medicine and healing although this did not happen until about two thousand years after his death.

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