Last month we came across this brilliant animation of Rome – the eternal city in its architectural peak in 320 AD. But this time around things take a more ‘personal’ route, while still maintaining a historical perspective. We are talking about the ordinary Roman citizen, or more specifically a Roman teenager – and how he went on in his daily routine. Well TED-Ed has contrived such a fascinating animated short that aptly showcases the ‘adventures’ of Lucius Popidius Secundus, the fictional 17-year Roman teenager in the year 73 AD, when the mighty Roman Empire already held sway over a major chunk of the known world, ranging from Spain to Syria, and from North African coasts and Egypt to most of England (see this video for the changing territories of the Roman Empire every year).
Liberalia and the ‘first shave’ of manhood –
As we can see, the video starts off with Liberalia, an annual festival held on March 17th dedicated to Liber Pater (‘free father’ – the god of viticulture and wine) and his consort Libera. The celebration was held in much pomp and show with the Romans holding processions, making sacrifices and singing ribald songs in the street. As for the more intrinsic side of affairs the feast marked the coming-of-age of the Roman teenagers after crossing the threshold of 14 or 15 years. And in an interesting ritual, the teenager as a mark of his new-found manhood had to place a lock of hair from the first shave of his stubble inside a bulla (pendant) on an altar.
Forum of Augustus – the ‘propaganda structure’
The Temple to Mars Ultor.
In the next part of the video, we see Secundus paying a visit to the Forum of Augustus. This impressive structure was originally built by Octavian (who later took the title of Augustus), and its founding date (probably in 20 BC) marked the returning of Crassus’ Roman standards that were captured by the Parthians at the disastrous Battle of Carrhae. Interestingly, the Forum of Augustus was also used initially as a propaganda monument by Augustus, who proclaimed his intention of serving Julius Caesar’s wish by constructing a magnificent specimen of a temple dedicated to Mars Ultor – thus advocating his link to his divine adopted father. By 73 AD, the rather ‘asymmetrically’ planned Forum of Augustus housed the Temple of Mars where generals convened before battles, along with a separate space for conducting legal proceedings (as the actual Forum itself was rather congested). Additionally, it was also used as a ceremonious center for young men who assumed the toga virilis, like Secundus’ brother.
Baths of Agrippa – the incredible feat of architecture and engineering
In the latter part of the video, we see Secundus sealing off his hectic day with a bath and massage at the Baths of Agrippa (Thermae Agrippae). The original structure of this massive complex was completed in 25 BC, and in its greatest extent covered an area measuring about 100‑120 m north and south and 80‑100 m east and west (thus accounting for around 10,000 sq m or 106,000 sq ft) which is equal to almost two American football fields! But beyond just its sheer size, the building (which also had an open-air pool) boasted a bevy of smart architectural features, including temperature-controlled rooms with specific baths. These temperature regulation aspects were possibly achieved with the use of hypocaust systems that entailed an ancient variant of underfloor HVAC heating via a proximate furnace.
Lastly, the animation also mentions the application of window glasses for specific rooms. Now historically, the Romans did make use of glass blowing techniques for decorative vessels and objects, especially during the 1st century AD. And fueled by such rapid technical progresses in the glass-making field, the Augustan period also saw the development of window panes. These relatively rudimentary specimens (utilized for preventing cold drafts into the baths) were probably rough cast into a wooden frame on top of a layer of sand or stone. However by 3rd century AD (i.e., two hundred years after Secundus’ time), the glass making was more refined with the muff process which allowed the manufacturing of individual sheets from blown cylinders.
Video/ Featured Image Source: Youtube (TED-Ed) / Lesson by Ray Laurence, Animation by Cognitive Media