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Back at work for a week

….and already my holiday feels like a long time ago. It’s hard to believe that this time last week I was sitting at Rome airport waiting for my delayed flight home, and still drying out from the thorough soaking at Ostia that morning. Overall, it was a very good holiday, though it was rather bitter-sweet in places. It was hard scattering Christopher’s ashes in a city where we had had such a good time right at the beginning of our relationship, and I felt much better once I’d actually done the deed – my handbag was lighter both physically and metaphorically, and I treated myself to a large ice-cream in front of the Pantheon afterwards.

Here’s one last selection of holiday snaps, mostly to help me remember what I did, before the details get completely lost in the return to work.

The interior of the Colosseum

This is a shot of the inside of the Colosseum. The original floor level is where you can see the people standing on the far side. All the walls etc underneath that is the substructure, including lots of cages/cubicles where wild animals would have been kept before they were needed. Lifts were then used to raise them straight up through the floor into the arena Рmust have been almost magical in a world with very little technology or automation. Our guide talked quite a bit about how everyone knew their place in Rome, and how it was reinforced at every opportunity. So in the amphitheatre, you were seated according to rank. The most important had the best seats on the lowest level, some of which remain at the far end in the centre of the image, just to the left of the large arched entrance. Lower-class men would be allowed to sit in seats further up. Women (except for the most important members of the Imperial family and the Vestal Virgins) would only be allowed at the very top-most level, at the top left of the picture.  And if you were a retired gladiator, no matter how rich or famous you became, you were always tainted with the arena and were never allowed back inside as a spectator. Interesting!

The Colosseum was the largest amphitheatre in the Roman empire, and could seat around 50,000 people. It was built on the side of a river valley, with the foundations of one half of the building going down onto bed-rock, and the other half into river sediment. There was a huge earthquake in the 14th century which caused extensive damage to the half that was built on the alluvial deposits, which is why nowadays only half of the outermost wall and top-most level of seating remains – that’s the half with firm bedrock as the foundations.

Bust of the Emperor Hadrian

Quite a lot of the holiday seemed to focus around the Emperor Hadrian – we had an evening lecture about him, visited his villa at Tivoli, and saw many of the extant buildings in Rome which he built, including the Pantheon and several temples. I found a statue of him in the Vatican museum, so grabbed a quick snap. You can see that he has a beard. This was very unusual for emperors at that time, and the senators suspected it was due to his suspicious and excessive (by Roman standards) interest in Greece and all things Greek. Since he was also interested in pretty young boys, such as Antinous, which was also believed to be a particularly Greek trait, this just damned him further in their eyes. We had two teenage boys on the holiday, and it was interesting watching the guide lecturer trying to be very careful about references to Hadrian’s sexuality and relationship with Antinous¬† (basically we would call it paedophilia, though the Romans and particularly the Greeks saw it differently) when the boys were around, and how she was much more open and explicit when they were out of earshot!

The Serapeum at the Villa Adriana

Finally, here is a picture of the Serapeum at Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli. It was from around here that the popes found and appropriated several particularly good statues which are now in the Vatican museum. This was a temple to the Egyptian god Serapis, and was apparently built because of Hadrian’s grief at the drowning of his boyfriend Antinous in the Nile. The long thin pond in fact is a representation of the river Nile. There were all sorts of rumors floating around Rome in AD130 that it wasn’t necessarily an accidental drowning, but that Antinous had sacrificed himself (or possibly been sacrificed). Hadrian was suffering from a serious illness, possibly some form of stomach cancer, and the gossip was that he had bargained with the gods to stay alive if Antinous died in his place. Whatever the truth – accident, murder, suicide, sacrifice or self-sacrifice – Hadrian lived for another 8 years and never really got over the death of Antinous, who was the love of his life.