Thursday, 2 May 2013

Rome castts its eyes towards Sicily 300bc

The awesome demands of the mighty city of Rome for food, both basic and luxury, were a driving force in the internal politics of the state. Private fortunes and political careers could be won or lost on the issue of food. The threat of famine could provoke maddened mobs literally to tear officials to pieces. It was hardly surprising that the need to keep the great city supplied with food was so often the deciding factor in Rome’s international relations.

As Rome increased her population and expanded her power across Italy in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, she found herself increasingly in need of a reliable supply of food. The farmlands of central Italy were not fertile enough to feed Rome’s growing population and increasingly large army. Nor was the climate ideal for large scale production of wheat, the staple food of the Romans. The shortfall was made up by buying in foods, particularly grain, from elsewhere. More and more often that meant from Sicily.

This astonishingly fertile island was producing far more food than its population needed and exported the surplus in large quantities. The chief export was the grain needed by hungry Rome. So much grain was grown on Sicily that the island took Ceres, goddess of harvested grain, as its patron. The worship of the goddess was surrounded by mystery and secrets. Her temples were usually built in remote rural areas, not in cities, and were staffed by priests sworn to total secrecy about the rites and duties they performed.

Roman writers portrayed the goddess as presiding over drunken orgies at her temples in Sicily. They may have been confusing her with the sex goddess Aphrodite. The temple of Aphrodite at Eryx, in northwestern Sicily, maintained a number of priestesses who worshipped the goddess by engaging in sex with her male devotees.

from "The Age of Gladiators" by Rupert Matthews

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