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On the Luxury of the Romans.
The Roman writers who flourished during the Republic say little about Natural History. It is more treated of by the writers under the Empire. But the works they have left us on such subjects contain few original remarks, and are little else than compilations, a circumstance which must appear very strange, since no nation had ever greater opportunities of observing.
In the earliest ages of the republic, besides that the Roman institutions were in general adverse to every kind of study, the simplicity of manners that prevailed was especially unfavourable to the progress of natural history, a science of luxury, expensive, and not to be carried on without many previous arrangements.
Indeed the relations among the beings that form the subject of natural history, cannot be established without bringing together a great number. Much assistance is therefore derived from commerce, drawing, as it does, towards a central point, the productions of foreign countries. Now, the Romans, during a very long period were not commercial. By the first-treaty made with the Carthaginians, they bound themselves not to sail beyond the strait that separates Sicily from Africa. Still later, in the year of Rome 405, they gave up altogether their trade with Sardinia, and with the coast of Africa.
Commerce was checked, not through ignorance, but from the policy of their government, in order to withstand the introduction of luxury. Rome had no silver money till the 472d year from the foundation of the city, 268 years before Christ. At the date of the last Macedonian War, a senator was degraded from his rank for having ten pounds of silver plate. Gold plate was seen for the first time at the end of this war, in the triumph of Paulus Æmilius. But luxury was the speedy consequence of victory, and the luxury of individuals was carried to the utmost extravagance. We shall notice it in so far as regards natural history,
The luxury of the table, for example, caused to be imported into Rome from foreign countries a multitude of animals ; of OCTOBER-DECEMBER 1830.
cely dear dress achat of
which several had no other recommendation but rarity, and being excessively dear.
The luxury of dress also is interesting, with respect to precious stones and dyes. That of buildings, on account of the marbles brought from different parts of Italy, from Greece, and even from Gaul. And the luxury of furniture is interesting, from the valuable woods employed.
Of the Luxury of the Table. Quadrupeds.--During the second Punic War, Fulvius Hir. pinus devised the mode of retaining quadrupeds in parks. These parks were named Leporaria, because three sorts of hares were reared in them, the common hare, the original Spanish rabbit, and the variegated or alpine hare, a species now almost entirely destroyed. In like manner, nearly all the native animals of our forests were bred in these parks, besides the wild sheep and the mouflon. These animals were almost domesticated, and were taught to unite at a signal. One day, when Hortensius was entertaining his friends at dinner in one of his parks, at the sound of a trumpet, stags, goats, and wild boars were seen running up, and gathered round his tent, to the no small dismay of some of the guests. Servius Rullus was the first who had a whole boar served on his table. Anthony, during his triumvirate, displayed eight at one feast. The Romans considered as a great delicacy the grey dormouse, a little animal that dwells in the woods, and in the holes of oak trees. They reared them in enclosures, and lodged them in jars of earthen-ware, of a particular form, fattening them with worms and chesnuts.
Birds.-Lenius Strabo of Brundusium invented aviaries for confining such birds, destined for the table, as could not be kept within the walls of a poultry-yard. It is he, says Pliny, that taught us to imprison animals whose abode is the sky. Alexander had introduced peacocks into Greece, where they were regarded only as objects of curiosity. Hortensius was the first who had one served at a banquet, when he was appointed to the office of augur.
These birds soon multiplied, and Ptolemy Phocion was astonished at the great number of them he found in Rome. Aufi. dius Lucro made about L. 600 a-year by fattening peacocks, The peacock was a constant dish at all the great entertainments. It was the truffled turkey of those days.
Hirtius Pansa, who had the ill luck to give a feast where this indispensable article did not appear, was reckoned a niggard, a man without taste, and was ever after scorned by delicate feeder's. In those aviaries thrushes and pigeons were bred. It seems, too, there were then the same fancies as there are at present. Certain varieties were much sought after. Varro relates that a couple of pigeons brought 2000 sesterces, about £ 19 of our money. Sempronius Lucius first had served on his table young storks. Geese were crammed in the same manner as now to enlarge their livers ; but it was a dish too easily obtained, and soon those who wished to distinguish themselves invented new sorts of meat. They dressed the brains of ostriches, and the tongues of flamingos. Wild geese were sent for from Phry gia; cranes from Melos ; and pheasants from Colchis.
Fishes.As to fish, luxury went even farther than in birds and quadrupeds. At one period of the republic, a man eating a fish would have been thought shamefully dainty. But the severity of manners disappeared on the introduction of riches; and Cato complains, that in his time, a fish sold as dear as an ox. Yet, even then, Gallonius was publicly accused in the senate, and was nearly deprived of his rank, on account of the luxury of his table, having had sturgeons on it. The inventor of fishponds was Lucinius Muræna, and thence came the surname · which was afterwards borne by this family..
Hortensius followed his example, and even went beyond it. Very soon, it was not enough to have fresh-water fish, for salt, water ponds were formed, in which were bred sea-trouts, soles, John Dories, and shell-fish of different kinds. Lucullus, in order to let in sea-water to one of his preserves, had a mountain cut through, and from this extravagance was deservedly called Xerxes Togatus. At his death there were so many fish in his ponds, that Cato of Utica, who was trustee on the succession, having ordered them to be sold, received for them the sum of £ 32,000 Sterling. The sale of the fish-ponds of Irrius yielded the same price. Cæsar wishing on a particular occasion to give a feast to the Roman people, applied to this Irrius. for some lampreys. Irrius refused to sell any, but, according
to Pliny, agreed to lend him six thousand. Varro says only two thousand. The object then was, who should be most absurd about lampreys. Hortensius had some of which he was more careful than of his slaves, and not for the purpose of eating them. Those served on his table were bought in the market. He is said to have wept on the death of one of these fish. Crassus, the orator, in a like case, went farther,—he put on mourning. His. colleague Domitius chid him for it in the senate ; but all this was nothing compared to the deeds of Ve. dius Pollio. He more than once threw in living men to be devoured by his lampreys. . . .
Other fish were equally the objects of a prodigality of which we can hardly form a conception. The accipenser was generally sold for more than a thousand drachmæ. It was never set on the table without a flourish of trumpets. The accipenser was not, as it would seem, the ordinary sturgeon, but the sterlet, a small species with a pointed snout, caught in the rivers that fall into the Black Sea. The mullet, or roach of Pro. vence, called in Paris the sun-mullet, was also sold excessively dear. A mullet weighing 4 pounds fetched £37; another £62. Three together, in' the reign of Tiberius, were sold so high as £250. These fish used even to be brought alive to the dining-room, by canals filled with salt-water, which passed under the table. The fact is undoubted, and is attested by the invectives of Seneca. i
Snails and Oysters.--Singular attention was likewise paid to snails. The same Fulvius Hirpinus, who had thought of parks for quadrupeds, contrived parks for them too. As snails could not be retained by inclosures, the places in which they were kept were surrounded with water. Jars of earthen-ware were set for them, to retire into, and they were fattened with mulled wine and flour. Pliny says there were some of the weight of 25 lb. Those that grew to this size were certainly not Italian snails. But we know that snails were likewise brought from foreign countries, as Africa and Illyria.
The man who first shewed the way of making oyster-beds was Sergius Aurata. He, like Licinius, derived his surname from a fish, the John Dory. The preserver of the Lucrine
Lake had for a long time the character of producing the best oysters. Next to them were those of Brundusium. At last refinement was carried farther; and the oysters of Brundusium were taken to be parked in the Lucrine Lake.
Fruits.-It appears that fruits were less sought after then than they have been since. The only new fruit introduced at this time was the cherry, which Lucullus brought from Cerasus, a town in Asia Minor, sixty-nine years before Christ.
Perfumes and Dress.—The luxury in perfumes was beyond measure, and drew to Rome the most costly aromatics of the East. The luxury of dress was equally great, and made known purple, pearls, and precious stones. At one time there was quite a rage for opals; and one individual, rather let himself be prosecuted, than give up to Sylla a very fine one the dictator desired to have.
Furniture.—The dominion of fashion extended equally to furniture, and raised the value of certain kinds of wood to an enormous amount. For a while the citrus was preferred. The tree thus named was not the citrus of Theophrastus, the orangetree of our time; but seems to have been a species of Thuya, brought from Cyrenaica. They made use not only of the trunk, but of some knots that grew out near the root. When such pieces could be got of a large size, they were sold excessively dear. Cethegus paid for a table 1,400,000 sesterces, about £11,000. Even Seneca, with all his outcry against luxury, had some tables that cost a most exorbitant sum. These pieces were distinguished by their colour, and by the way they were veined. Each variety had a different name. Ebony also was employed, a kind of wood first introduced into Italy by Pompey, after his victories over the pirates.
Building. A great deal of marble was used in building. It was brought from the most distant countries, and there were even several of which the quarries are now lost. Thus the marbles denoted by the names of vert antique and rouge antique, are so termed because they are found only in ancient structures. It was in searching for such fragments among some ruins that Pompeii was discovered.
Luxury of the Empire.- If from the luxury of individuals we turn to the luxury displayed in public festivals, we find