Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ancient "Fun" Fact of the Day: Ancient Romans Performed Human Sacrifice

Don't believe me? Read Polybius. He claims that on two different occasions during the Punic Wars, Romans buried alive humans as offerings to the gods. However, they didn't kill Romans (first it was two Greeks, then two Gauls--a man and woman each time). Each time, they buried the victims alive in a desperate plea to the gods to save Rome from destruction at the hands of Hannibal, their Carthaginian enemy.

The Romans also sacrificed young women during times of crisis (though they didn't think of them as "sacrifices."). These were the Vestal Virgins--young women whose states of virginity somehow protected Rome from all manner of evil and mayhem. Several Vestal Virgins were accused of being unchaste during the wars with Hannibal as well as during other crises and periods of unrest. Many were put to death for these "crimes" (buried alive in a special chamber just for that purpose). The aim was to appease the gods and restore balance and protection to Rome.

The Greeks also sacrificed people (think of poor Iphigenia). Plutarch tells us that Themistocles had three Persian young men sacrificed before battle against Xerxes because a prophet told him he should. And besides, "a man sneezed on the right, which was an intimation of a fortunate event."

I guess the lesson is, don't sneeze on someone's right!

1 comment:

Amalia Dillin said...

I was just thinking of Iphigenia the minute I started reading. ha! But I wonder if she really did die, or ended up rescued by Artemis at the last minute. That whole story reminds me a lot of Abraham and Isaac. I suppose no matter what, she was sacrificed -- whether it was her life's blood, or simply her life-as-she-knew-it, she never returned home.