Happy belated Sigillaria!

This is going to be a shamelessly short entry due to the yearly flurry of present and nog-related activities. Thankfully, the University of Reading has done all the work for me. Classics professor Dr. Matthew Nicholls, developer of Virtual Rome, a digital model of the ancient city, has compiled a neat rundown of the ancient sources on the Roman festival of Sigillaria. Held on December 23rd, Sigillaria was the culmination of a week of Saturnalia celebrations, a day of gift-giving and quaffing the questionable wine combinations that Romans were so fond of.

Quality of presents varied enormously. The traditional present for the Saturnalia was some nuts – not unlike old fashioned handful of walnuts in a Christmas stocking. Martial mentions ‘gifts given and received’ some of which sound rather familiar.

“Fish-sauce, jars of honey, bottles of wine, toothpicks, a pencil case, perfume, a flask encased in wicker-work and clothing – even an item that sounds like an ugly but warm Christmas sweater…a ‘shaggy nursling of a weaver on the Seine, a barbarian garment … a thing uncouth but not to be despised in cold December … that searching cold may not pass into your limbs … you will laugh at rain and winds, clothed in this gift’.

Uncouth compared to a toga, perhaps, but surely no worse than a tunic, albeit a fuzzy one. Besides, if it comes from the a weaver on the banks of the Seine, that makes it couture by default. Anyway it’s the thought that counts, right? Right!

“It’s warming to hear that the festive spirit was alive 2000 years ago. Martial tells us that the quality of a friendship can’t be measured by the value of the gifts, and even tells recipients of his cheap presents that he’s been ‘mean’ to save them the expense of buying something expensive in return (Ep. 5.59: ‘people who give much, want to receive much in return’). Simple presents were a token of friendship.

In Epigrams Book 13 and Book 14, Martial makes long lists of what presents to give during the winter festival. The range is vast, from knives to hatchets to nuts to toothpicks to letter-writing parchment to a golden hair pin to pomatum, a hair pomade (spot the etymology) the Germans used to redden their barbarous locks. That’s not the only hair dye on the list either. There are plenty of items Martial would have given his friends that we give today.

Then there’s all the food. Did you put barley water and large-headed leeks under your tree for the kiddies this year? If you did, I hope you survive to tell the tale.

Happy belated Sigillaria, all!

Share

RSS feed

5 Comments »

Comment by BillBC
2013-12-25 12:11:27

Many thanks for this wonderful blog. Hope you will keep it up for a long time…merry Christmas…

Comment by livius drusus
2013-12-25 22:43:47

Thank you! I will. :)

 
 
Comment by Annie Delyth
2013-12-26 15:19:17

Fascinating description of Sigillaria, especially in these times when a modern interpretation of Solstice is replacing Christmas for many people. Got rather a kick of looking out his window at the rather industurial looking buildings on campus after seeing the computer models of ancient Roman libraries! Though I imagine the Roman equivalents of the campus buildings have long since disappeared without a trace, as these (one hopes) will.

 
Comment by Urspo
2013-12-27 23:14:49

thank you for all you do !!

 
Comment by Karen
2014-01-08 11:38:59

Bottles of wine were exchanged at my family festivities over the holidays, one of which still resides in my refrigerator. I am pleased to be continuing such an ancient tradition and will toast the Romans when we pop it open!

 
Name
E-mail
URI

;) :yes: :thanks: :skull: :shifty: :p :ohnoes: :notworthy: :no: :love: :lol: :hattip: :giggle: :facepalm: :evil: :eek: :cry: :cool: :confused: :chicken: :boogie: :blush: :blankstare: :angry: :D :) :(

Your Comment (smaller size | larger size)

You may use <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> in your comment.