Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Stagecoach Etiquette

These tips for people travelling by stagecoach come from a 1877 issue of the Omaha Herald newspaper. They give you a good idea of how uncomfortable it must have been to make long journeys by stagecoach in olden days, and they don't even mention the poor sods who had to sit on top!

an overcrowded stagecoach
The best seat inside a stage is the one next to the driver. Even if you have a tendency to sea-sickness when riding backwards - you'll get over it and will get less jolts and jostling. Don't let "sly elph" trade you his mid-seat.

In cold weather, don't ride with tight-fitting boots, shoes or gloves. When the driver asks you to get off and walk, do so without grumbling, he won't request it unless absolutely necessary. If the team runs away - sit still and take your chances. If you jump, nine out of ten times you will get hurt.

In very cold weather abstain entirely from liquor when on the road, because you will freeze twice as quickly when under its influence.

Don't growl at the food received at the station - stage companies generally provide the best they can get.

roads were hair-raising
Don't keep the stage waiting.

Don't smoke a strong pipe inside the coach.

Spit on the leeward side...

Don't lean or lop over neighbours when sleeping.

Take small change to pay expenses.

Never shoot on the road as the noise might frighten the horses. Don't discuss politics or religion.

Don't point out where murders have been committed, especially if there are women passengers.

Don't lag at the wash basin. Don't grease your hair, because travel is dusty. Don't imagine for a moment that you are going on a picnic. Expect annoyances, discomfort and some hardships.

[The Case of the Deadly Desperados features stagecoach action in the very first chapters. This Western Mystery for kids aged 9 - 90 is available in hardbackKindle and audio download. P.K. Pinkerton & the Deadly Desperados is also out in the USA.]

watch the mini-trailer on YouTube
Trailer for the first Western Mystery, The Case of the Deadly Desperados

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Colossus of Rhodes

FAIL! (no straddling)
by Caroline Lawrence (author of The Roman Mysteries)

OK. Let's get one thing straight.

The Colossus of Rhodes DID NOT STRADDLE THE HARBOUR.
Fun though that might have been: sailing underneath and looking up as you entered the harbour. He probably stood in a sanctuary on a hill behind Rhodes Town where he could have been seen for miles.

Before I tell you some TRUE facts, let me correct some common misconceptions about Rhodes and the Colossus. (BTW, Colossus just means a "colossal" or "massive" figure.)

FAIL! (no beard)
1. He did NOT straddle the harbour.
[They didn't have the technology]
2. He did NOT wear nappies/tunic.
[He would have been TOTALLY NUDE!]
3. He was NOT based on Statue of Liberty.
[It was based on HIM!]
4. He is NOT still standing today.
[He was toppled, & later chopped up for scrap & carried away]
5. He did NOT have a big old beard.
[unlike this early cover version (left) for The Colossus of Rhodes]

FAIL! (too small)
Here are some TRUE facts about the massive statue and the island of Rhodes.

(I get most of these facts from Pliny the Elder, who wrote about the Colossus in his Natural History, book 34, section 18. You can check these facts in the Loeb edition, which has Latin on the left hand page and English on the right.)

I. It represented the Sun god (fuit Solis colossus)
II. It was built c. 292 BC by the sculptor Chares of Lindus
III. It probably had spikes on its head, representing rays of the sun.
IV. It was 105 feet high (LXX cubitorum altitudinis)
[The Statue of Liberty from her heels to the top of her head is 111 feet high. ]
V. It only stood for 66 years...
VI. ...then was toppled by an earthquake.
VII. Even in chunks on the ground it was considered one of the 'Seven Sights'
VIII. Few people were tall enough to embrace the thumb with both arms.
[Did you know your arms outstretched roughly equals your height?]
IX. People could walk around inside the hollow parts on the ground.
X. There were hundreds of other colossi in Rhodes Town, the capital city of the island.
XI. There was a colossal statue in Rome based on this statue of the sun.
[It was originally a statue of Nero but after his death the head was changed!]
XII. The Flavian Amphitheatre was called the Colosseum after the Roman Colossus nearby.

YAY! Ben Lloyd-Hughes is "Floppy"
Here are some more surprising facts about Rhodes.
I. It was a base of slave trading in Roman times
2. It had a population of small deer...
3. ...imported upon the advice of an oracle...
4. ...to rid Rhodes of an infestation of snakes!
5. A Greek poet called Apollonius came from Rhodes
6. He wrote an epic poem about Jason called the Argonautica
7. The walking bronze giant Talus in this poem might be based on the colossus in the Argonautica
8. In the 1st century AD a young Roman began to write his own Argonautica in Latin verse
9. His name was Gaius Valerius Flaccus (Flaccus means "Floppy")
10. He appears in the Roman Mysteries TV series & books

You can enjoy an exciting mystery involving a trip to Rhodes, the slave-trade and a thrilling fight atop the Colossus if you read The Colossus of Rhodes or watch season 2 of the Roman Mysteries TV series.

Marco Polo Mansion in Old Rhodes Town, where I stayed during my 2003 research trip

[Roman Mystery 9 - The Colossus of Rhodes - & Roman Mystery 10 - The Fugitive from Corinth - are perfect for children aged 9+, especially those studying Greeks as a topic in Key Stage 2. The glossy BBC Roman Mysteries TV series did adaptations of both these books. They are available in the UK and Europe on DVD.]

Read a Classicist's review of The Colossus of Rhodes book/TV & The Fugitive from Corinth TV episode.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Slimming Roman Style

Just say NO to that extra honey-cake
The Ancient Roman Diet by Caroline Lawrence
(author of The Roman Mysteries)

How to lose weight as the Ancient Romans did.
Tips from Celsus and Pliny the Elder.

In ancient Roman times, most people were concerned with how to get more food, not how to lose weight. We currently live in one of the most affluent periods in the history of the world. But our brains are hardwired to think about food obsessively and hence we have become overweight. Diet books are best-sellers today but in ancient Roman times the person who wanted to lose weight would have been a rarity.

Nevertheless, I have found a few tips ancient Romans could have followed to look less like "il bacchino" above, (a 16th century sculpture in Florence), and more like "il placentarius" below, (a bronze statuette of a cake-seller from Pompeii).

Celsus I.3.16 gives 13 steps to slimming:

Put smaller portions on your plate
"The body is thinned," he says...
I. by a vomit*
II. by purgation* (enema or laxative)
III. by eating only one meal a day
IV. by heat
V. by a scorching sun
VI. by all kinds of worry
VII. by late nights
VIII. by a hard bed throughout the summer
IX. by sleep unduly short or overlong
X. by running, brisk walking, vigorous exercise
XI. by bathing on an empty stomach
XII. by bathing in hot water and especially if salt has been added
XIII. by eating sour and harsh things

Pliny the Elder says "To put on weight (corpus augere) drink wine during meals.
For those who are slimming (minuentibus), avoid drinking wine during meals."

He also remarks that "A civilised life is impossible without salt."

So there you go: Brisk walks, hard beds, sour food, hot baths and no wine with your meals...

onions, cheese, carrots, eggs, flat bread, olives, spices = the Roman diet
...and, of course, it doesn't hurt to eat as the Romans did. Lots of pulses and grains, some fruit and veg, protein via eggs and cheese, meat a few times a week. No sugar, just a little honey or date syrup now and then. The table above, a reconstruction of a Roman table from the Museum of London, shows a good representation of the Roman diet. To this you can add fish, nuts, dates, figs, seasonal fruit, game, etc. For a full list of Roman food go HERE. Notice that apart from the bread and grains, this diet is almost primal, with no processed foods.

Bona fortuna with your Ancient Roman Diet! Let me know how you get on, or if you have any other TIPS from Ancient Sources.

P.S. More Ancient Roman Beauty Tips.

*P.P.S. I do NOT recommend vomiting or purging!

[The 17+ books in the Roman Mysteries series are perfect for children aged 9+, especially those studying Romans as a topic in Key Stage 2. There are DVDs of some of the books as well as an interactive game.]

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Virginia City 1862


Virginia City, Nevada Territory - September 1862.

P.K. Pinkerton, Private Eye
When desperados kill the preacher and his wife in a small frontier town, their foster child P.K. is forced to go on the run. P.K. must get a valuable letter to the Recorder’s Office before anyone else can get their hands on it. It’s not easy: Virginia City is full of gamblers, hurdy girls, saloon-keepers and gunmen, all of them on the make. But there are possible allies: Sam Clemens, the new reporter for the paper, a gambler called ‘Poker Face Jace’, a derringer-packing Soiled Dove, and a Chinese photographer’s apprentice named Ping.

Map of the Washoe
Virginia City was a famous mining town in Nevada that sprang up on the slopes of Mt Davidson in 1859, ten years after the California Gold Rush. But it was silver, not gold, that was found in quantity in this barren part of Nevada, so some have dubbed it the Silver Rush. When Mark Twain arrived in September 1862 he described Virginia City in this way: ‘It claimed a population of fifteen thousand to eighteen thousand, and all day long half of this little army swarmed the streets like bees and the other half swarmed among the drifts and tunnels of the “Comstock”, hundreds of feet down in the earth directly under those same streets.’

In the 1860's Virginia City must have been one of the most colorful places on earth, with prospectors, miners, saloon-keepers, gamblers, dancing girls, deserters, actresses, desperados, lawyers, schoolmarms and newspapermen. In the last category are some well-known names (Dan De Quille, Alf Doten, Joe Goodman) and one stellar one: Mark Twain. Their dry-as-dust humor, tall tales and hoaxes produced a uniquely Western flavor of literature which some call "Sagebrush Humor."

Sam Clemens is Mark Twain
The Comstock in 1862 was an extreme example of what we might call "politically incorrect". People gambled, cursed, smoked, spat, drank, carried firearms, murdered one another, ate opium, sparked, and exhibited racism at its worst. It was an ethnic melting pot, boasting Irish, Germans, several tribes of Native Americans, African Americans, Chinese and Mexican residents. Many of the inhabitants had come west to avoid the horrors (or duty) of fighting in the War between the States. Almost everyone came to get rich, though there were a few who came to save souls of others or lose their own.

In short, Virginia City was a crucible; it made some great, and destroyed others. What will happen to 12 year old P.K. Pinkerton? Read the Western Mysteries to find out.

Western Mysteries author Caroline Lawrence will be talking about her new series at the Edinburgh Festival from 5.00-6.00pm on Friday 26 August 2011. For more info, and to book, go HERE.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Roman Mysteries on TV (& DVD)


The Roman Mysteries TV show is a BBC produced series based on the The Roman Mysteries, a set of 17 historical novels for children written by me, Caroline Lawrence.

Season One was filmed in Tunisia and Malta, and first aired on CBBC (UK) in 2007.

Season Two was filmed in Bulgaria and Malta, and first aired on CBBC (UK) in 2008.

Both seasons are repeated about twice a year on CBBC.

The Roman Mysteries TV series is now available as a Box Set of region 2 DVDs and as a HD download on iTunes in Great Britain and the rest of Europe. Rights have not yet been sold to Canada and the USA.

For information about the series, visit the official CBBC website, where you will find, among other things, an interactive Roman Mysteries Game.

[The 17+ books in the Roman Mysteries series are perfect for children aged 9+, especially those studying Romans as a topic in Key Stage 2. There are DVDs of some of the books as well as an interactive game. Teachers, check out the SCHOOLS page.]

Caroline Lawrence on the set of season 2 at Boyana Studios, Bulgaria

Saturday, August 06, 2011

A Romantic Ten Roman Artifacts

Flavia admires herself in a bronze mirror   
by Caroline Lawrence

(this is a special "Americanized" version of an article I wrote for the Classical Association Blog)

Last month I blogged about a dozen of my favourite Roman artifacts. I love Roman artifacts because they are the talismans for my "Hero's Journey" back in time to first century Rome. Also, I use them as clues in my Roman Mysteries series for children aged 8+.

Here are another ten of my favourite artifacts. They are all replicas, but so skilfully made that they could be the real thing. Most of them are made by three clever re-enactors: Romano-celtic medicus Nodge Nolanscribus peritus Zane Green and Steve Wade AKA Audax the gladiator. In addition to making high-quality replica Roman artifacts, these three talented guys all visit schools to talk about their Roman roles and participate in re-enactment events.

These ten artifacts are all linked to love, beauty or romance.

I. Bronze mirror
In Roman times there weren't many opportunities for seeing yourself very clearly. Maybe if you were mega rich you would have a polished silver mirror, but it wouldn't be as good as even the cheapest pocket mirror today. Considering all the skin diseases and sun damage it might have been a mercy in many people's cases. This wonderful bronze mirror is based on a real one from Pompeii. It partly inspired a scene from the BBC TV adaptation of The Pirates of Pompeii where Flavia wants to impress an older man and imperiously orders her slave girl Nubia to do her hair. In the picture above you can see her admiring the effect in a bronze mirror like this one.


II. Blown glass perfume bottle
Did you know that Romans sometimes added perfume to their wine to sweeten their breath? Ugh. But in that day before mouthwash and deodorant, scent was important. The Roman poet Martial has several epigrams about a perfume-maker called Cosmus. He was obviously the Calvin Klein of first century Rome. I had fun researching poison and perfume for my 11th Roman Mystery, The Sirens of Surrentum. I discovered the ingredients for the most expensive ancient perfumes. I found out which scents men would have worn. I scoured museums for perfume bottles and found one shaped like a little bird. I loved it so much that I worked it into my most romantic Roman Mystery, The Sirens of Surrentum. At a symposium, a woman named Annia Serena begins a story thus: One day when I was seven years old, my mother received a new perfume in the shape of a bird: a delicate blue glass bird that fit in the palm of her hand. You had to snap off the tip of the beak to release the perfume. Serena goes on to tell the shocking result of what happened when she crept into her mother's bedroom to have a sniff and accidentally broke the perfume bottle. (You'll never guess.)
This replica perfume bottle from the Roman site of Empúries in Spain is not shaped like a bird, but I love it anyway.

III. Club-of-Hercules earring
The delightfully-named Nodge Nolan made this earring for me when I was working on my sixth Roman Mystery, The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina. Again, it is based on a Roman or perhaps Scythian original. Why a club? Not very romantic, you say.

Oh, but it is. It's a love club. A club of lurve.

This is the female equivalent of the cave man clubbing his desired cave girl and then dragging her by the hair to his cave. There is even a myth that as punishment for a crime, Hercules had to wear women's clothes for a year and serve a nymph called Omphale and SHE got to wear his lion skin and wield his club.

Cartilia flushed slightly. 'Well,' she said. 'I do have to admit I find your father very attractive. Plus, he still has all his teeth.' Flavia giggled and reached up to touch one of Cartilia's silver earrings; it was a pendant shaped like a tiny club of Hercules. (from The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina)

IV. Beauty Set
I can't remember which re-enactor made me this beauty set, but he kindly engraved the name FLAVIA on the tweezers. Crude but useful, this would have been a poor person's kit for personal grooming. Designed to be worn around the wrist, it consists of (left to right) an ear-scoop, a fingernail cleaner and tweezers. Tweezers were used to pluck hair from underarms etc. Yowtch! The fingernail cleaner is self-explanatory. Ear-scoops were very popular in ancient Rome. Quite rightly, too. The alternative consists of something I saw when I was in Italy a few years ago: an old man who kept his pinky nail long for the express purpose of scooping out ear wax! Yuk.
The Roman poet Martial wrote a slightly naughty Saturnalia gift-tag epigram about an ear-scoop.
Auriscalpium - Si tibi morosa prurigine verminat auris, arma damus tantis apta libidinibus. 
Ear-scoop - If your ear-hole craves a good seeing-to, I've got a little tool that will satisfy such desires. (Martial XIV.23) Ew.

V. Broken oil flask
This broken (replica) oil flask is proof of why it would have been impractical to take a ceramic jar to the baths. Oily fingers are more liable likely to drop it on the mosaic or marble floor. For this reason some bath sets (see above) had little bronze flasks attached for scented oil. It wasn't just women who used scented oil, but men, too. Opobalsam, for example, was the ancient Roman version of Calvin Klein for men. Also known as 'balm of Gilead', its main ingrediant is juice from the exotic balsam tree. According to Pliny this tree is only found in Judaea, modern Israel. My pal Martial has a little epigram about this, of course:
Opobalsam. Balsama me capiunt, haec sunt unguenta virorum: delicias Cosmi vos redolete, nurus. 
Balsam captivates me! This is the oil for men! Gather round, girls and have a sniff of Cosmus's best.
(See? I told you Cosmus was the most famous perfume-maker in Rome...)
Hmm, I wonder if Flavia's groom wore opobalsam on their wedding day?

VI. Hair Pins
Roman women loved hair pins. You can get them in gold, silver, bronze, ivory, ebony or wood. They often have little objects carved or cast at the non-sharp end. Some represent feminine beauty and power: Venus or an empress. Some represent fertility: an apple or pomegranate. Some are apotropaic (they turn away evil) like a hand giving the mano fico, a gesture representing lady bits. (Don't ask) The hair pins shown here are from left to right, a brass hand holding an olive, a simple bone hairpin, a silver hairpin with decorative knob and a bronze stylus, which of course is not a pin but could stand in for one at a pinch.
Martial has a sweet epigram about a gold hairpin:
Acus aurea  - Splendida ne madidi violent bombycina crines, figat acus tortas sustineatque comas. 
Gold hairpin - Lest damp hair spoil brilliant silk, let this hairpin fix and hold up your twisted locks. (Martial 14.24)
I love that poem because I can see the girl fresh from the bath, doing up her hair in the Roman version of a chignon.

VII. Lead Curse Tablet
Steve Wade's beautiful replica curse tablet is made of lead, heavy and smooth and easy to bend. Defixiones, as they are called, have been found throughout the Roman world. You wrote a suitable curse on the lead (sometimes backwards or in code for extra power) and then you rolled it up and nailed it to a tree or door post near the person to be cursed, (hence the name defixio). However archaeologists have found curse tablets tossed in fountains or buried, especially as gods of the underworld were often evoked. Curses could be as mundane as cursing the person who stole your socks (like this one) or as vicious as wishing the death of a charioteer and all four of his horses. But the nastiest curse tablets must have been written by lovers against their rivals. Spirits of the underworld, I give you Ticene of Carisius. Whatever she does, may it turn out badly. I curse her limbs, her complexion, her figure, her head, her hair, her shadow, her brain, her forehead, her eyebrows, her mouth, her nose, her chin, her cheeks, her lips, her speech, her breath, her neck, her liver, her shoulders, her heart, her lungs, her intestines, her stomach, her arms, her fingers, her hands, her navel, her entrails, her thighs, her knees, her calves, her heels, her soles, her toes... (CIL 10.8249 edited)

Curse tablets make a guest appearance in my twelfth Roman Mystery, The Charioteer of Delphi.

VIII. Nubia's Flute
Music was an important part of Roman life, just as it is an important part of our lives. But we don't really know what it sounded like. Some clever scholars, like Susanna Rühling of Musica Romana, have done careful research to recreate the instruments and songs of ancient Rome. You can listen to samples on her website and see some of their beautiful reconstructions, like the double aulos, a twin flute. My replica flute is a monaulos (single pipe) from Egypt. It is just a cheap tourist version. In my books, Flavia's freed slave-girl Nubia is deeply musical and deeply romantic. Her flute is her most prized possession and she always wears it around her neck.  Nubia's handsome young Greek tutor Aristo plays the lyre and she realises she is in love with him when they are playing music together one day during the Saturnalia, in my sixth Roman Mystery, The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina. (I wanted them to cast Robert Pattinson for the role LONG before he appeared in Twilight, so when you read my books, imagine RPatz as Aristo!)
Martial has a naughty epigram about a flute.
Tibiae. Ebria nos madidis rumpit tibicina buccis: saepe duas pariter, saepe monaulon habet. 
Flutes. The tipsy flute girl blows us with her moist mouth, sometimes two together, sometimes just one. (Martial 14.63)
Of course Nubia is not a tipsy flute girl. She is a good girl!

IX. Blank papyrus (because I don't have ivory tablets!)

Non est munera quod putes pusilla, cum donat vacuas poeta chartas, writes the poet Martial.
Don't consider it a small thing when a poet gives you blank sheets. (Martial 14.10)
One of my re-enactor friends, Zane Green, is skilled at preparing papyrus and ruling it and writing on it. But sometimes people gave blank stationery, especially if they were hoping for a letter in return. Here is Zane pumicing some papyrus to make it smooth. He has already ruled lines, ready for someone to write a love poem (or letter) on it. Papyrus comes from the famous Egyptian reed pounded flat and laid in two layers, one lengthwise and one widthwise. When my husband and I visited Egypt to research The Scribes from Alexandria, (in which Flavia and her pals go on a quest up the Nile to find Nubia) we were lucky enough to visit a papyrus factory and see a demonstration of how real papyrus is made.
Martial writes about other writing material and what it signifies. For example, small ivory tablets called Vitellian tablets are for love poetry.
Nondum legerit hos licet puella, novit quid cupiant Vitelliani.
A girl does not have to read these Vitellian tablets to know what they want! (Martial 14.8)
Flavia, 15, gets married

In my final Roman Mystery, The Man from Pomegranate Street, 12-year-old Flavia Gemina (now of a marriageable age) gets one of these Vitellian tablets from an admirer.
‘Who gave you the love-tablet?’ asked Tranquillus.
‘What?’
‘That.’ He pointed at the ivory booklet in her lap.
‘Why do you call it a love-tablet?’ she asked, aware that all the others were watching her, too.
‘Because it’s a love-tablet!’ he said. 
‘How can you tell?’
‘He’s right, Flavia,’ said Aristo gently. ‘It’s a love-tablet.’
‘Stop calling it that–’ she spluttered. ‘How can you possibly know–’
‘He knows because it’s small and dainty and made of ivory,’ said Tranquillus. ‘Did it come wrapped with a ribbon?’
Flavia nodded.
‘It’s the latest fashion,’ said Aristo. ‘For a man to give a woman he loves an ivory tablet with a poetic declaration of his feelings inside.'


X. "Carpe Diem" Scroll
Flavia's favourite motto is Carpe diem! Seize the Day! (Even though her father says her motto should be "Look before you leap!") The famous phrase comes from a Latin love poem by the famous poet Horace. This scroll is on papyrus, beautifully written out by Zane Green.

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios temptaris numeros. ut melius, quidquid erit, pati. seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam, quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare Tyrrhenum: sapias, vina liques et spatio brevi spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida. carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.

Want to know the translation? Here's my slightly free version:

You should not ask, my love - for it is forbidden to know - what the gods have decreed for me or you. Don't even check your horoscope. Much better to embrace whatever happens, whether the gods have granted us many more winters or whether this is our last, which even now dashes the Tyrrhenian sea upon the rocks we gaze out upon. Relax, pour the wine, and put your dreams on hold for just a little. Even as we speak, jealous time speeds past. Seize the day, and do not put your hope in tomorrow. 

Test your knowledge of Romance in Ancient Rome with this easy QUIZ.

[If you want to learn more about Roman artifacts and Roman romance, read my booksThe 17 books - plus supplementary titles - in the Roman Mysteries series are perfect for children aged 9+, especially those studying Romans. Americans will only be able to view DVDs of the TV series on computers but there is an interactive game.]