Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Roman Garum , Tables and Terrorism

Read an interesting book:"Around the Roman Table" by P.Faas ISBN 0333904664
Some interesting points arose:

1. Garum : apparantly , decomposing fish is rich in mono-sodium glutamate . The ability to taste it (the receptor for umame) is
linked to a definite gene-set. This gene is common in the East (hence their love of soy-sauce , etc) , but gets swamped in the West . So where did the Romans get it ? The candidates seem to be Troy , Etruscans ,Sabines , the major sources of early
Roman genes . The Etruscans' origin is mysterious enough to be possibly from middle-asia (the asian aryans) .
Gene enrichment from Troy plus patrician intermarriage and fashion could explain the popularity of the sauce . At least until
the ruling classes no longer could taste umame , and warped the sauce into a salty,fatty,saucy thing by another name.

Johan , can you dig into this ? It seems strange that a bunch of farmers far from the sea should have their major
sauce based on fish .

2. Sabine women : Rose and Inge , take note .
One of the few instances where a single instance of woman-power had an effect reaching over the centuries.

The Romans abducted some Sabine woman , presumably young unmarried woman . After two years , the Sabine men decided to reclaim their woman . By this time , they had children and must have been treated better by their captors than they would
have been by their own lot . In any case , they interposed themselves between the two bunch of posturing
warriors and managed to negotiate one of the most significant treaties in Western history :

The Treaty:
"Roman women would not grind or cook grain" (from Pliny) .

This task was to be done by slaves ("Pitor" for grinding and "Coccus" for cooking.) . At this time and for the next 3 centuries ,
the staple grain was spent , which was very difficult to shell . It took a lot of work to prepare a meal , which is
why the women took the opportunity to duck out . And who can blame them ?

At one stroke , the labour force of of the embryo Romans was halved . Slaves were needed to fill the gap left by the women.
You can calculate the calory requirements yourself . It would need at least 4 - 5 slaves for a consumer household
just to feed itself . This launched the Romans on an expansionist phase looking for new slaves .
For instance , from 672 BC to 235 BC the doors of the temple of Janus was not closed : 337 years of continuous warfare .
The Romans were very aggressive , since they needed new slaves for their expanding population (see below)

The pampered Roman women had higher birth-rates than the surrounding tribes.
These other tribal woman had to do hard tasks done by slaves in the Roman households .
Hard here work means really hard work . There were no labour saving devices . This inevitably meant a high rate of stillbirths ,
low conception rate (little fat) , child mortality due to neglect or infanticide.

The relative advantage in birthrates generated the Roman powerbase.
This not only gave rise to new girls, but also to new boys : soldiers . As you can see , this is an exponential process :
hardly perceptable at the start , but then a sudden run-up where the Romans had armies of 200 000 men as in the Carthaginian
period.All healthy and strong individuals.

This was probably as close as humans have come to Draka .
Note that all females(even slaves) were used for breeding soldiers.
Which is how men ("Cocci") became cooks . The Roman matron was never expected to cook food (not in her job description)

The man had to provide slaves or hire professional firms of slave cooks . Or they ate out .

Initially , the pitor was a strong prisoner-of-war (because of the hard labour involved in using a pestle to husk spent wheat) .
So , the Romans never evolved the concept that cooking was woman's work . Many Patricians and Emperors
were enthusiastic cooks . (of course , they never did any washing-up , but neither did a Roman wife . )

A gentleman had his vegetable and herb garden (derived from the inner enclosed courtyard of the Roman house).
Allotments evolved from here : even lowly government employees could have vegetable ,herb or flower gardens
without been seen to be in "trade" . This spread all over Europe as discussed before.
This had a long lasting effect.
For instance , an English gentleman may grow pumpkins or roses , and nobody will think anything of it . But if
he grows wheat , he is a farmer .

An intriguing note here is from "L'Alimentation" by J . Andre . By AD 369 , 200 000 Romans on food-aid got 1360 grams
of oil,bread and meat a day , but no vegetables .

3. Game farms
Romans had game farms (Fulvius Lippinius:from Pliny)
Also oyster and fish farms.
The collapse must have wiped them out , a-la-Zimbabwe.

4. Collapse of pepper trade.
Alaric's ransom demand to Rome included gold,silver silk and pepper . Faas intimates that either this was the last of available pepper,or that Rome could not meet the pepper demand . Given global winter caused by a major meteor strike or
volcanic eruption circa 422-427 AD , what would have been the effect on Indian trade patterns and agriculture?
Why was pepper a thousand years later worth the same as gold by weight , while it was one
the most common Roman spices ?

5.King Arthur's Round Table.
The commonest Roman triclinium for dining was a like a half an inverted saucer with the center cut out .The round communal
table is in the cut-out part . The guests recline on the slopes of the saucer , usually eating with their right hand .
Slaves served from the open side of the saucer .
There is no equality as implied by our concept of a round table . The social position of every position had been determined
centuries before. Furthermore , it took about thirty or forty slaves just for the banquet .

Martial (admittedly a few centuries earlier ) described this sort of environment . During a banquet like this , a boy-slave
(used to carry wine beakers and slake the occasional pederast) stumbled over the sprawling legs of the host .
The host was mildly annoyed and ordered the boy to commit suicide . The boy burst into tears , and was forgiven .
But it shows the absolute power the owners had over the born-and-bred slaves .

Now you see why the Saxons extirpated the Roman remnants in Britain . We would call it an evil empire .
You can feel it inside yourself:the revulsion not just at the misuse of this power , but that this power
should exist at all .

Interestingly , systematic use of suicide mechanisms have always led to the extermination of the relevant
social system . It is not as strong a taboo as cannibalism , but "eating yourself" is only slightly less acceptable than
eating somebody else .

Japanese kamikazes:exterminated by Americans
Hashishen:exterminated by Mongols
American Indian Ghost warriors : exterminated by Americans
Jewish Zealots : exterminated by Romans

Suicide systems as presently practised by Muslim countries offends Western civilizations at a visceral level .
The willingness of the US to take casualties is a symptom . It seen as fighting Evil .

Terrorism has been done before.Remember the Nihilists and Anarchists at the beginning
of the Twentieth . They were symptoms of the deep underlying malaise of the pre-1914 society .
The result was terrible . But note that there were no terrorists after 1918 . They were either dead or the government.

After four years of thousands of tons of explosives , poison gas , millions on men trying to kill you , a few people
with a small bomb simply got sneered at.

The same in 1945.

As Rumsfeld said in Arabia : the only good Semite is a cement Semite.



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