Wednesday, May 27, 2009

10th Century Hook Fastener

I came across this piece of jewelery at a website called Timelines. To view the item that is listed there for sale, click on this link:

This Saxon 'Animal Interlace' Hook Fastener is made of silver, weighs 3.25 grams, and is 35.69 mm in length. It is from the 10th A.D. This large hook fastener has three triangular panels each containing an intricate interlaced beast.

In the middle is a large applied globular boss rivet, and a dashed line border around the perimeter. In two corners are holes for stitching to clothing with a hook below for fastening. A very large and rare example of a silver hook fastener with a stunning zoomorphic interlace typical of the late Saxon period. Extremely Fine condition and Excessively Rare. From an old collection.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Vestal Virgins

In Ancient Rome, the vestal virgins were virgin female priestesses of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth.  They were tasked with maintaining the sacred fire of Vesta.

This duty was a great great honor and granted the women many privileges and honors.  They were the only female priests within the Roman religious system.

The discovery of a "House of the Vestals" in Pompeii made the vestal virgins a popular subject in the 18th century and the 19th century.

The objects of the cult were essentially the hearth fire and pure water drawn into a clay vase.

A Roman man by the name of Numa Pompilius introduced the vestal virgins and assigned them salaries from the public treasury.

He stole the first vestal virgin from her parents.  More vestal virgins were added later.  The women became a powerful and influential force in the Roman state.  

Numa Pompillius

The chief vestal oversaw the efforts of the vestals.  The last known chief vestal was Coelia Concordia in 380. The College of Vestal Virgins ended in 394, when the fire was extinguished and the vestal virgins disbanded by order of Theodosius I.

The vestal virgins were committed to the priesthood at a young age (before puberty) and were sworn to celibacy for a period of 30 years.  These 30 years were, in turn, divided into three periods of a decade each: ten as students, ten in service, and ten as teachers.  Afterwards, they could marry if they chose to do so.

However, few took the opportunity to leave their respected role cause they lived luxuriously and marriage would have required them to submit to the authority of a man, with all the restrictions placed on women by Roman law.  On the other hand, a marriage to a former vestal virgin was highly honoured.

A vestal was chosen by the high priest from young girl candidates between their sixth and tenth year.  To obtain entry into the order they were required to be free of physical and mental defects, have two living parents and to be a daughter of a free born resident in Italy.

To replace a vestal who had died, candidates would be presented in the quarters of the chief vestal for the selection of the most virtuous.   Once chosen they left the house of their father, were inducted by the pontifex maximus, and their hair was shorn.  The high priest pointed to his choice with the words, "I take you to be a vestal priestess, who will carry out sacred rites which it is the law for a vestal priestess to perform on behalf of the Roman people, on the same terms as her who was a vestal on the best terms".

Their tasks included the maintenance of the fire sacred to Vesta, the goddess of the hearth and home, collecting water from a sacred spring, preparation of food used in rituals and caring for sacred objects in the temple's sanctuary.  By maintaining Vesta's sacred fire, from which anyone could receive fire for household use, they functioned as "surrogate housekeepers", in a religious sense, for all of Rome. Their sacred fire was treated, in Imperial times, as the emperor's household fire.

The vestals were put in charge of keeping safe the wills and testaments of various people such as Caesar and Mark Antony.  In addition, the vestals also guarded some sacred objects, including the Palladium, and made a special kind of flour called mola salsa which was sprinkled on all public offerings to a god.

The dignities accorded to the vestals were significant.  In an era when religion was rich in pageantry, the presence of the Vestal Virgins was required in numerous public ceremonies. 

They travelled in a carpentum, a covered two-wheeled carriage, preceded by a lictor, and had the right-of-way.  At public games and performances they had a reserved place of honor.  Unlike most Roman women, they were free to own property, make a will, and vote.  They gave evidence without the customary oath.  They were, on account of their incorruptible character, entrusted with important wills and state documents, like public treaties.  Their person was sacrosanct.  Death was the penalty for injuring their person and their escorts protected anyone from assault.  They could free condemned prisoners and slaves by touching them - if a person who was sentenced to death saw a vestal virgin on his way to the execution, he was automatically pardoned.   They were allowed to throw ritual straw figurines called Argei, into the Tiber on May 15 celebrations.

Site of the House of Vestal Virgins in Rome

Allowing the sacred fire of Vesta to die out, suggesting that the goddess had withdrawn her protection from the city, was a serious offense and was punishable by scourging.

The chastity of the vestal virgins was considered to have a direct bearing on the health of the Roman state. When they became vestal virgins they left behind the authority of their fathers and became daughters of the state. Any sexual relationship with a citizen was therefore considered to be incest and an act of treason. The punishment for violating the oath of celibacy was to be buried alive in the Campus Sceleratus or "Evil Fields" (an underground chamber near the Colline gate) with a few days of food and water.

Ancient tradition required that a disobedient vestal virgin be buried within the city, that being the only way to kill her without spilling her blood, which was forbidden. However, this practice contradicted the Roman law, that no person may be buried within the city. To solve this problem, the Romans buried the offending priestess with a nominal quantity of food and other provisions, not to prolong her punishment, but so that the vestal would not technically die in the city, but instead descend into a "habitable room". Moreover, she would die willingly. Cases of unchastity and its punishment were rare. The vestal Tuccia was accused of fornication, but she carried water in a sieve to prove her chastity.

Vestal sentenced to die

Because a vestal's virginity was thought to be directly correlated to the sacred burning of the fire, if the fire were extinguished it might be assumed that either the vestal had acted wrongly or that the vestal had simply neglected her duties. The final decision was the responsibility of the pontifex maximus, or the head of the pontifical college, as opposed to a judicial body.

While the order of the vestal virgins was in existence for over one thousand years there are only ten recorded convictions for unchastity. The earliest vestals were said to have been whipped to death for having sex.

The paramour of a guilty vestal was whipped to death in the Forum Boarium or on the Comitium.

The chief festivals of Vesta were the Vestalia celebrated June 7 until June 15. On June 7 only, her sanctuary (which normally no one except her priestesses, the vestal virgins, entered) was accessible to mothers of families who brought plates of food. The simple ceremonies were officiated by the vestals and they gathered grain and fashioned salty cakes for the festival. This was the only time when they themselves made the mola salsa, for this was the holiest time for Vesta, and it had to be made perfectly and correctly, as it was used in all public sacrifices.

Vestals wore an infula, a suffibulum and a palla. The infula was a long headdress that draped over the shoulders. Usually found underneath were red and white woolen ribbons. The suffibulum was the brooch that clipped the palla together. The palla was a simple mantle, wrapped around the vestal virgin. The brooch and mantle were draped over the left shoulder.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Authentic Medieval Music

A big thank you to Enrico who commented on the earlier post about medieval music. He kindly let me know that the previous post wasn't true medieval music. He also provided me with the link to a YouTube video that is authentic. I stand corrected and very much appreciate your guiding me to this link. It is truly much more beautiful.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Author Interview - Margaret Tanner

Today, I'd like to welcome Margaret Tanner, author of "THE TROUBLE WITH PLAYBOYS" to our website.

1. Welcome, I’m so glad to have this opportunity to chat with you. Can you share with my readers the essence of the story you’ve penned?

The essence of the story is about love lost and found against a background of the 2nd World War, and how one man’s lust had the power to ruin the lives of the following generation.

2. You’ve chosen a very interesting title. What inspired the title? What inspired the book?

My Editor suggested the title actually. This is an updated version of a novel titled “Forbidden Love” which was with a publisher who unfortuantely had to close their doors. Although the original book received a 5 star review from The Romance Studio, I feel that with the help of my wonderful editor, Nan Swanson at The Wild Rose Press, it is an even better read now.

My late father served in the 2nd World War in Singapore and Malaya and as he was engaged to my mother at the time, he wrote many poignant letters to her, which I had access to. (Perhaps I inherited my writing talents from him??). I wanted the memory of their love and fortitude, and that of their generation, against such tremendous odds, to be remembered, but not in some dusty history book shoved in an out of the way library.

3. What makes this book special to you?

The location. It is partially set in Wangaratta, my birth place, and a country town that is still dear to my heart. Also parts of it are set in Malaya and Singapore during the 2nd World War, and as my late father served there. I was able to get first hand information on the terrible happenings and chaotic situation in the few weeks before Singapore capitulated to the Japanese.

4. What makes this a book that people MUST read and WHY?

I think I have answered that above, but I do believe we need to find out as much as we can about the terrors, triumphs and heartbreak of war, so we can get a better insight into what our parents and grandparents went through.

5. What sparks your creativity? Any tips to help others spark their own creativity?

Anything can spark my creatitivy, although I do find certin scents – lavender and rosemary for example, really affect me.

6. What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing? Can you share some tips to help others get past similar problems?

My biggest stumbling block is finding time to write. I find it helpful to look on it as you would a paid job. Make a roster/schedule and try to stick to it, although you do need to be flexible. Always carry a note book for jotting down ideas.

7. Tell me about the most unusual things you have done to promote your book?

I went to a “trash and treasure” market once and walked up and down wearing a huge bill-board promoting my books. The weight of it just about broke my back, and I didn’t get many sales either. I work at an X-ray clinic and I got my boss to let me put a sign on the reception desk promoting my books, but the patient’s though they were for free. Although, I did sell one book to a relieving Chinese Radiologist.

8. Each author is different in the way they create a work of fiction. Please describe for us how you plan or plot a story.

I never plot or plan. The story just jumps into my head and I write it down in long hand, not worrying about punctuation, sentences or paragraphs, and I transcribe it on to the computer at a later date.

9. Authors are very unique in the way they write, the tools they use, when they write, etc. Please describe a typical writing day for you? How do you organize your day?

I try to be well organized. Mostly I write in the evening when I get home from work. I seem to get inspiration at night time, although as I said before I always carry my trusty note book around with me. My husband says it is like my third arm.

10. What is your current work in progress?

I am working on a story set in the 1880’s in Australia. The heroine, who has amnesia, is mistaken for a courtesan. By the time the hero realises that she is a virgin it is too late. He sets about trying to turn her into the kind of woman every man dreams of, but complications that he never envisaged arise and change the course of both their lives.

11. Can you tell us where to find more information about you and your books and how readers can reach you?

My website is

My publisher for “The Trouble with Playboys” is the Wild Rose Press

Whiskey Creek Press is my other publisher

12. What would you like our readers to know about you and your writing?

I am an emotional person and I write from the heart. I also love history, so my research is thorough, so my books are historically accurate.

Many thanks Mirella for your insightful questions and for this opportunity to present myself. Margaret

When a wealthy Englishman, Paul Ashfield travels to Australia in search of the birth mother he thinks deserted him, he never expects to meet and fall in love with Daphne Clarke. Upon meeting her parents, Paul is horrified by the possibility that they have the same mother. He beats a hasty retreat, believing he has slept with his sister.

Amidst the turmoil of WW2 they meet again in singapore, where he discovers the truth, Daphne is not his sister. They marry as the Japanese pour into Malaya and Singapore teeters on the birnk of invasion. In the chaotic aftermath, each believe the other has died during the bombing. When they finally see each other again, it is in a church, where Paul is about to enter into an arranged marriage.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Medieval Music

I was writing a scene that takes place in the great hall of a medieval fortress. So as I was scouring the internet for to view some of the some musical instruments of the early middle ages and came across this video. The music is lovely and the images are interesting. I quite enjoyed it and thought I'd share it here.

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