Episode 21 – Saturnalia and Christmas

— Some were drunk. Some were on their way to getting drunk. And some were not nearly drunk enough.

A brief overview of Saturnalia and Christmas. The rise of Saturnalia, and the things Romans did for that occasion. Finally, a brief list on how Saturnalia relates to our Christmas celebration.

Partial Transcript

Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Beijing, China. Welcome to my podcast.

The Tale of Rome, Episode 21 — Saturnalia and Christmas.

Since humans left the warm lands of Africa — somewhere between 200,000 and 50,000 years ago, one of their greatest foes has always been winter.

In winter, food disappears.

Cold brings sickness and death.

Days get shorter.

Animals perish, and the vast majority of trees lose their green.

Since before humans began to celebrate the midpoint of that season of distress and scarcity, which we know as the Winter Solstice, civilizations always tried to create celebrations around that day, and around that very night — the longest night of the year.

And so, today we are going to talk about two of the festivities that are set around this Winter Solstice.


The streets of Rome were generally dark and quite dangerous at night after sunset, because Rome never used a lighting system, financed by the city itself.

But during these festivities, huge candles and oil torches were put on all the major streets of Rome, at intervals of 20 meters each, and that was something that even the Romans who hated the celebration itself, were always going to enjoy for a night or two.

Everyone could walk at night in Rome, and the Romans did it with so much enthusiasm, that in Rome there were jokes and metaphors such as “happier than Saturn himself,” or “Why are so happy? Is it Saturnalia yet?”

Today there is a debate if that phrase was pronounced as “IO Saturnalia” or “YO Saturnalia”, but nonetheless, people used it so often, that some Romans were already sick and tired of hearing it, especially when every drunkard gave you the same greeting.


We also have to mention the dinner that followed.



Episode 20 – Lucius Quinctius Cinncinatus

— His symbols were the plow and the toga, instead of the sword and the fasces.

The life of the man who, when elected Dictator of Rome, decided to give that power back to the Senate, after just 16 days. Why? Simply because he finished the task he was given to do. And then, he went to plant lettuce in the outskirts of Rome.

Partial Transcript

Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Beijing, China. Welcome to my podcast.

The Tale of Rome, Episode 20 – Lucius Quinctius Cinncinatus.

— “Marcia! When father told you what happened to your mom, did he tell you what a certain Appius Claudius did? “

— “You mean, To Mom?”

— “No, not to mom. He didn’t do anything to mom, personally. I mean, what he did in general, in Rome. “

Marcia and Aunt Julia stayed up late that night, something very unusual in ancient Rome, where people — especially Plebeians, went to sleep right after sunset, and rose way before sunrise.

Aunt Julia told her the story of the wicked Decemvirs, those ten men elected by the Senate, and how they schemed together to stay in power, and not to return that power to the Senate of Rome. They didn’t care they swore an oath for one, and only one year.

Actually, truth be told, they DID need two years for the Twelve Tables to be written and polished, because every single bit of these laws was analyzed by the Patricians, especially the old Patricians, who used to gather in forums and discuss piece of law by piece of law.


Between the two dictatorships combined, he did not rule Rome for a single month.

His example inspired the name of the American city of Cincinnati, in the state of Ohio.

That name was given in honor of the Society of the “Cinncinatus,” which honored George Washington.

Washington was considered to be a true “Cinncinatus” by this society, back in the days of the American Revolution.

His symbols were the plow and the toga, instead of the sword and the fasces.

Even though he was incredibly good at using the sword, and incredibly righteous at the use of the fasces.


Episode 19 – The Battle of Mons Algidus

— Word of what Cinncinatus did to the Senate spread like wildfire through the streets of Rome.

This time Romans don’t fight the Latins. Instead, they have to face the dangerous Aequi tribe.

Partial Transcript

Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Beijing, China. Welcome to my podcast.

The Tale of Rome, Episode 19 – The Battle of Mons Algidus.

Last week we saw the arrival of the Twelve Tables.
Written laws so that all Romans could be tried and treated the same way.
And we also saw how all over Rome people learned those laws by heart. Among them, the oh-so-eager eight-year-old boy in our little family saga.

To give you a few more examples of what these Tables contained, lets check out  a few of these laws:

Killing an intruder in one’s own house, if it was nighttime, was OK. No punishment, not even a case. But if it was daytime, the homeowner had to get the intruder to a magistrate for trial.

If the court called a person to appear in front of a judge, and if that person was incapacitated in any way, the court would out send four soldiers, and four slaves to bring the man to the courthouse.
But if the person’s issue was an infectious disease, the date of the trial was postponed until above mentioned infection had passed, up to a period of six months.
During those six months, the other person, the accuser, had the right to go to the defendant’s house every three days, stand in front of the house of the accused, and yell in a loud voice, reminding the accuser that a trial awaited him. The purpose, of course was to embarrass the entire family by this way.

When a lawsuit began, the judge gave two options to the opposing parties:
ONE – To agree and resolve the problem without any involvement from the judge, and
TWO – To not to agree, and go the nearest forum of the court in question, on the next working day. A debate would start there. That debate usually began around sunrise, and by obligation, a judge had to resolve the case before sunset.


After a crippling march, the Roman army arrived at the height of the mountain.

They arrived at night.

Cinncinatus sent the people in Tusculum a secret message, so that the Romans who were trapped inside the beleaguered city knew, they would be free soon.


Episode 18 – The Twelve Tables

— No Plebeian citizen was allowed to marry a Patrician in Rome.

Finally, laws that can be seen, touched, and learnt by heart. And that’s exactly what illiterate people, as well as lawyers do all over Rome. They recite their brand-new laws, compiled in Twelve Tables by heart.

Partial Transcript

Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Beijing, China. Welcome to my podcast.

The Tale of Rome, Episode 18 – The Twelve Tables.

Last week we saw the installation of a new office in the Republic of Rome: the Plebeian Tribune.

I also mentioned of a Roman general, who — in my personal opinion, was a cowardly general, by the name of Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, and we will see what that man did in the year 491 BC.

But first we will see the general panorama of Rome, now that Rome defeated the Latins, and now that supposedly Rome wasn’t going to have problems, no more.

Well, if you think like that, you’re wrong. Rome’s troubles are about to begin!

As a very general picture, Rome was now surrounded by three enemies.

The Etruscans to the north, with the city of Veii as its main protagonist.

The terrible Volsci to the south, and the Aequi to the east, right where the hills begin.


In fact, everyone was learning those laws by heart.

Lawyers and magistrates, defendants and accusers, debtors and tax collectors, children and the elderly, all were busy memorizing pieces of Roman law.

The tables contained several laws, some very logical, and some somewhat strange to our day and age.

As an example, not appearing in front of a judge, or lying to a judge during a trial, deserved a death penalty.

Another law said that throwing a gun into a crowd, carried the conviction that the person who threw the gun had to pay a sheep to every injured person.

I’m going to list more laws in the next episode, but as for the historical account of these tables, here’s what Livy tells us:

Tables I, II, and III contained civil procedural law.

Tables IV, V were entitled to family and inheritance.

Tables VI, VII were entitled to obligations, in other words, legal businesses of the time, and real estate rights.

Tables VIII, IX dealt with the criminal law of the time.

Table X contained the Sacred Law, a series of rules referring to the order of the inner life of the city.

and finally, tables XI and XII, also called the Unfair Tables, dealt with several criminal and civil problems.


Episode 17 – The Conflict of the Orders

—”We can compare the social classes of Rome to a human body”

Seems like a whole new topic, but that’s nothing new to the Romans: internal struggles between their social classes appear every time, and as soon as there was no threat from the outside. But this time, they went overboard.

Partial Transcript

Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Beijing, China. Welcome to my podcast.

The Tale of Rome, Episode 17 – The Conflict of the Orders.

Last week we kicked the Latin League’s behind, in a battle that lasted far too long into the afternoon, and we all got hungry and ended up missing lunch.

Partly by superstition, Roman legionaries carried two types of food with them, at all times. Bread and olives. They also carried water, but during a battle, water would be both a waste and a discomfort, so olives just had to do, to make a soldier’s bread feel not too dry.

Did I mention that Romans were super superstitious? Well, in case I didn’t say it, here’s another one of their ideas:

Romans considered even numbers to be bad luck, and odd numbers to bring good luck.

Oh yeah. Just about half of the days in a month were no good to get married, offer sacrifices to the gods, provoke a battle, start a major business, a long journey, or even an affair, outside of one’s own home.

But, well, let’s get back to our reality, and the fact that Rome beat the Latins, together with that old Tarquin the Proud.

A year later, Tarquin will move from Clusium, where — after the death of gold ole’ King Lars Porsenna, people in Clusium kinda’ didn’t like him anymore.

Tarquin found lodging in another Etruscan town, where he lived for another year, before dying in exile. Without a throne, without a lot of money, and without that last son-in-law of his, who was killed during the battle at lake Regillus.

The name of the locality were Tarquin the Proud finally died was Cumae, and Cumae was ruled by another despot of the time, named Aristodemus.


The Roman Senate, thankful for the help of Latins, returned some 6000 prisoners of war to the Latins, and in exchange for that attitude, Latins sent a golden crown to be placed inside the temple of Jupiter in Rome.

The day the Crown was set in the temple, a large crowd joined the event, and that included those liberated Latin prisoners, who were—obviously grateful to Rome for their freedom.