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The Vanishing Vulva: How the Ancient Greeks Wrote Women Out of Worship

by February 10, 2021

Written by Lydia Serrant, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Ancient female fertility symbols were scattered everywhere in the ancient world, from ancient goddesses such as Kali to the blue-skinned Hindu goddess of destruction to Izanami-no-Mikoto, the Japanese goddess of death and creation, to Tiamat, the Babylonian goddess of the ocean, chaos and creation.

Some of the earliest prehistoric figurines have been of women, with their vulvas on full display. Venus of Hohle Fels is the oldest known statue depicting a human. It dates to around 40,000 to 35,000 years ago and features exaggerated female breasts, hips, thighs and vulva. The statue was about sex and reproduction, but also hope for survival, nourishment, longevity and successful communities.

Female vulve statue known as Baubo, terracotta, from Priene, Asia Minor, 4th century BC.

Traditions of vulval veneration have been found in European and Australian Palaeolithic art. Carvings of vulvas were made in stone, ivory or bone, on walls or worn as jewelry.

In the ancient world, the Sumerian goddess Ishtar was often depicted with her vulva, which was worshipped as the source of her power. It was upon seeing her vulva that the sun god Ra recovered his brightness, and it was from union between her vulva and the phallus of Dumuzi that plants began to grow on earth.

La Ferrassie, images of an Aurignacian engraving of a vulva.
Image credit: Don Hitchcock, 2014. Source: Original, display at Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies

Yet at some point, the vulva became associated with the obscene and pornographic. As Greek culture changed, the vulva became increasingly censored or hidden entirely.

Fertility goddesses showing their vulvas were reserved for female-only spaces. For example, only married women were allowed to attend the feminine festival of Thesmorphoria, where pomegranates were eaten as a symbol of menstruation, and bread was moulded to the likeness of female genitalia.

Meanwhile, in the public domain, female statues and vulval symbols were covered up or removed entirely in favor of phallic symbols.

Left: Knidian Aphrodite by Praxiteles, Right: Doryphoros by Polykleitos

There is much scholarly debate about how and why the vulva became censored, but one theory worth considering is the increase of literacy and predominantly male playwrights and poets in ancient Greece. Leonard Schlian in his book The Alphabet and the Goddess argues that the disappearance of the vulva coincides with an increase in phallic symbology and a more literate society.

For example, in the trilogy The Oresteia written by Aeschylus (c525 – 455 BCE) the god Apollo, argues that men are the creators of life and women are merely a passive vessel.

During the trial of Orestes, who was accused of murdering his mother, Apollo makes the following plea to the goddess Athena who was acting as judge.

‘’The woman you call mother of the child is not the parent, just a nurse to the seedThe new-born-sown seed that grows and swells insides her. The man is the source of life – the one who mounts’’ Apollo, from The Eumenides by Aeschylus (525-455 BCE)

Athena agreed with Apollo and set Orestes free. Despite being a woman herself, she believed that motherhood was misplaced, since she had been born from Zeus’s skull, not from her mother.

However, the play conveniently ignores any reference to the fact that in the original myth Athena was in the uterus of her mother Metis before Zeus tricked her and swallowed her whole. Metis continued her pregnancy inside Zeus until Athena’s burst forth from an axe wound in his head.

With the increase of literature, poems and plays that depicted women as passive participants in reproduction, and excluded women from the process of creation, feminine roles were pushed to the perimeter of society.

Greek artists often depicted the phallus. Indeed, Greek statues flaunted their masculinity and were usually carved nude. Females and goddesses were mostly robed, or their genitals were replaced by perfectly smooth triangles with the vulva or labia missing entirely.

Marble statue of Aphrodite, Roman, 1st or 2nd century A.D. based off a Greek statue of the 3rd or 2nd century B.C. “Originally, her arms reached forward to shield her breasts and pubis in a gesture that both concealed and accentuated her sexuality.” Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The most popular surviving myth that involves the vulva is the story of Baubo. When Demeter, goddess of the earth lost her daughter to Hades, Baubo flashed her vulva to Demeter to make her laugh. Whilst this was an act to show feminine unity, at the same time it made the vulva a subject of humor and jest.

The vulva and female genitalia had lost its connection and respect as essential to life itself and had become the subject of fun and pleasure, which it still is to this day. Baubo herself is depicted as an old woman, who is beyond reproductive years, and was known to be bold, outspoken and sexually liberated.

Terracotta relief with the words Hic habitat Felicitas, which means, ‘Here dwells happiness,’ 1st century AD. Archeological Museum, Naples

So it was that the phallus, and the phallus alone, became the symbol of power, protection and the source of life. Instead of the equal partnership that the phallus and the vulva enjoyed in early civilized society, female genitalia was labeled a mere receiver of life, a convenient incubator secondary to the seed.

The rest, as they say, is history. A history that is marred by the suppression and almost complete destruction of feminine symbols, feminine power and feminine identity. However, as times change and we enter a new age of free expression and fast communication, old ways are being rediscovered and feminine and masculine roles are being redefined. Perhaps the old ways and the power of the goddess have not been as truly lost as once thought?



Flowers and Plants in Greek Mythology

by February 3, 2021

Written by Lydia Serrant, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

When Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, the god of the underworld, her mother Demeter was stricken with grief. Demeter was the goddess of the harvest and fertile soil. She was filled with such sorrow at her daughter’s abduction that she deprived the Earth of all of her energy.

At the First Touch of Winter, Summer Fades Away by Valentine Cameron Prinsep, 1897

Soil became barren, flowers withered, crops failed and mortals starved. Concerned by these events, Zeus, god of the gods, sent his messenger Hermes to Hades to bring Persephone home.

Fearing repercussions from the gods of Olympus, Hades negotiated Persephone’s release. Once someone consumes food of the dead, their essence can never truly leave the Underworld, so Hades convinced Persephone to eat six pomegranate seeds on her final day with him, to ensure that she would return to Hades for six months of the year.

Persephone returned to the surface the next day, and in such joy at the sight of her rescued daughter, Demeter brought forth the beginning of Spring and Summer. For six months of the year, crops and flowers flourished, only to wither again during Autumn and Winter when Persephone returned to the Underworld.

The Abduction of Persephone is the personification of natural seasonal cycles and vegetation. Every year crops flourish in the warmer months and sink beneath the soil after the autumn harvest. Persephone was worshipped and honored alongside her mother Demeter as goddess of the Underworld and goddess of Spring and Nature.

The following are some of the most iconic flowers and plants that appear in mythology. The Greeks have a rich tradition of associating the gods with plants or flowers. Such associations generally derived from some physical feature of the plant, whether it be the form, complexity, healing properties or the blossom.

Daffodils: Narcissus

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse, 1908

Narcissus, known for his beauty and self-obsession, met the beginning of his end when he rejected the goddess Echo. Heartbroken from the rejection, Echo roamed the forests and caves until there was nothing left of her but the sound of her voice (an echo).

To punish Narcissus, Nemesis, the Goddess of Revenge, lured him to a pond where he fell in love with his own reflection. Devastated by the unrequited love from his reflected form, Narcissus slipped into the pool and drowned. It is said that Daffodils follow Narcissus due to their tendency to grow along riverbanks and streams where Narcissus met his demise.

Hyacinths: The Story of Hyacinthus and Apollo

The Death of Hyacinthus by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1752-1753

Hyacinthus was a popular and handsome Prince of Sparta admired by both mortals and the gods, especially by Zephyrus, god of the North wind.

Hyacinthus also caught the attention of Apollo, god of the Sun. Hyacinthus chose Apollo as his lover. Zephyrus became jealous of their closeness, and seized an opportunity to take his revenge by hitting Hyacinth on the head with a discus, killing him instantly.

Apollo was so grief-stricken he tried to stop Hades from taking Hyacinthus to the Underworld. However, once he realized his protests were in vain, Apollo created the Hyacinth flower from the blood of his dead lover, vowing that by so doing he would remember him always.

According to some legends the flowers then hardened into stone, and the Hyacinth stone is known in spiritual circles for its protective properties, and power to drive away melancholy.

Oranges: Hera’s Golden Apples

The Garden of Hesperides by Ricciardo Meacci, 1894

To celebrate Hera’s betrothal to the god Zeus, Gaia, the Goddess of the Earth, gifted Hera a single apple tree, from which sprung Golden Apples.

Delighted with the gift, Hera requested that the Tree be planted in her orchard in The Garden of Hesperides near the Atlas Mountains.

The Hesperides (nymphs of the evening and golden sunsets) were given the task of tending the garden, but they stole some of the golden apples for themselves. Hera then placed an immortal hundred-headed dragon called Ladon to guard the orchard.

It is believed the ‘Golden Apples’ refer to oranges, which were unknown to Europeans until the Middle Ages. Even today “Hesperidoids” is the Greek botanical name for citrus fruits.

Mandrake: The Herb of Circe

Circe was an ancient Greek sorceress of myth with vast knowledge of potions and poisons. The daughter of Helios and the ocean nymph Perse, she resided on the island of Aeaea.

Circe is often associated with the Mandrake, a plant she commonly used to turn men into animals. She is best known in for her appearance in Homers Oddessey, where, on the way back from the Trojan War, Odysseus and his men took rest on Aeaea. Displeased with receiving uninvited visitors, Circe turned Odysseus’ men into pigs using the power of the Mandrake.

Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus, by John William Waterhouse, 1891

Protected by the herb Moly, Odysseus rescues the men and became her lover. He and his men stayed with her on the island for one year before the men convinced Odysseus to resume the journey.

Mandrake was also considered a powerful aphrodisiac if delivered in the right doses, and was used in rituals in the Cult of Aphrodite. In ancient daily life, Mandrake was often prescribed to combat insomnia, and  used as an anesthetic for surgery.

While nothing is as it seems in Greek mythology, ancient knowledge of the power of plants is evident.

The personification of nature in the form of gods reflects their reliance on the natural world for survival and longevity. Natural medicine was consulted for all matters of body and spirit — even the effects that some plants have on human consciousness were well-known and often used. By associating plants with gods and using plants as medicine, the ancients may have felt that they were accessing something of divine power.

Various myths and even the names of the gods have survived through the representation of plant life and their strong associations with healing (or harmful) properties. These stories also demonstrate a deep understanding of natural cycles, and a desire to preserve this knowledge for future generations.


The Artemision Bronze: Mysterious Greek Masterpiece

by February 2, 2021

Written by Ed Whalen, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

The Ancient Greeks produced many artistic masterpieces, especially in sculpture. Many have survived down to the modern age. Most of the world’s leading museums have some examples of Hellenic sculpture. The iconic Artemision Bronze is one of the most famous surviving pieces of Greco-Roman art—and it has a fascinating story.

The Discovery of the Artemision Bronze

Cape Artemisium, where the Artemision Bronze was discovered

The bronze was found in the waters of the Cape of Artemision on the island of Euboea, which is in the Aegean and just off the coast of mainland Greece. It was uncovered in a shipwreck and recovered from the sea in 1928. Also found in the general area was another famous bronze called the Jockey of Artemision. However, exploration was halted for many years after a diver died at the site.

It has been established that the figure came from a shipwreck that dates to the 2nd century BC. Scholars have speculated that the artwork was being transported back to Rome. Historic sources say that after the Romans conquered Greece, they sent many masterpieces to Italy. Many academics have attributed the piece to the 5th century BC.

The sculpture is in a style known as the Severe Style, which came out of the breakdown of the Archaic tradition and the emergence of the Classical style. Many believe that it was made by the great sculptor Kalamis (Calamis), thought to be an Athenian who worked principally in Asia Minor. Another possibility is that one of the students of Kalamis made the Bronze. Some scholars have argued that the piece was created by Miron, another famed sculptor, but no one knows for sure. It is not known who commissioned the piece or where was it displayed.

Description of the Artemision Bronze


The bronze work is about 6 feet and 6 inches (2.09 m) high, and the figure is depicted in motion. He appears to be throwing a projectile, his arms outspread to a span of about 6 feet (2 m). It is believed that the piece represents an Olympian god. This is because it is highly realistic but is also idealized, with perfect proportions and a highly muscular frame.

The figure stands with his weight on his right foot and the other is slightly lifted off the ground. The head of the piece is very detailed, and the hair and the beard are very intricate. The eyebrows are missing; it is believed they were made either of gold or silver. His mouth was possibly once covered in copper. The eyes of the sculpture are now empty, and they may have once been filled with precious stones or even jewels.

Close up of the Artemision Bronze. Photo credit: David Waldo

Zeus or Poseidon

The identity of the bronze deity has been a source of debate ever since it was discovered. The pose of the figure suggests that it is throwing a projectile, which was never found. Some believe that the projectile was a thunderbolt. This would indicate that the figure was intended to represent Zeus, the King of the Olympians. In Greek mythology, he is often shown hurling thunderbolts.

Another view is that the figure is throwing a trident and this would indicate that the bronze actually depicts the god of the sea, Poseidon. However, there are several similarities between the representation and iconography of Zeus on pottery and coins. As a result, most experts believe that the Artemision Bronze is a depiction of Zeus.

The Artemision Bronze, detail


The discovery of the Artemision Bronze in the waters of Euboea was remarkable. It encouraged the exploration of other shipwrecks in the Mediterranean and indirectly contributed to the development of marine archaeology. The masterpiece also allowed scholars to better understand the evolution of Greek art. If you want to see the Bronze in person, it is on permanent display in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece, where it is one of the most popular exhibits.


Moon, Warren G (1983). Ancient Greek Art and Iconography. Madison: Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.


The Tragedy of Trump

by January 29, 2021

By Van Bryan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Dear Reader,

Today, we come to bury Caesar, not to praise him…

We have witnessed the final act of a tragedy that would be the envy of Sophocles, Aeschylus, or Euripides.

As with any good tragedy, it begins with a man of middling character. A man who crossed the Potomac to do war upon his enemy.

Likening himself after Achilles, our Caesar is overcome with pride, his hamartia.

He is tortured by his enemies… by The New York Times… by the gods.

Image credit: Modern Diplomacy

Exhibiting a level of hubris that would make Ajax blush, Caesar rails against his fate. At his zenith, he experiences a dramatic reversal of fortune.

And now, the chorus has reappeared to sing its exode

Classical Wisdom for Modern Minds

You will recall our mandate. We believe classical wisdom can ring true for modern minds.

And my word… if ever there was a need for a classical perspective, its now.

Were living through unprecedented times,” squawk the well-dressed media personalities. Our response, as the kids would say, is: LOL!

Never before have so many people believed so many impossible things.

They believe that today’s scallywag politicians are somehow more scallywaggish. They believe that fake news” is a new phenomenon. And they believe that our sorrows are somehow unique to history.

Come now…

As were fond of saying, there has never been a disaster so disastrous, no calamity so calamitous, and no idea so idiotic that it didnt happen at least once over the millennia.

The ancients had their plagues. They had their riots. They had their Caesars.

Speaking of Caesar…

Much has been made of the fall of Caesar Trump. [H]is ever-lasting shame,” says Chuck Schumer. Unstable,” cries Nancy Pelosi.

The internet overflows with strongly-worded opinion pieces after the barbarians stormed the gates and laid waste to the Curia Julia.

And if you are looking for such a piece, dear reader, then you will surely be disappointed.

All the same, lets take up the topic… and examine the tragedy of Trump.

A History of Tragedy

Image credit: Working Title Films/Reuters/The Fiscal Times

Like philosophy or democracy, theatrical tragedy is a tradition passed on to us from the Classical Greeks.

The zenith of Greek tragedy came during the fifth century, when men like Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides put quill to parchment and gave the world tragedies like Oedipus Rex, The Oresteia, and Medea.

A full examination of the Greek tragic corpus is beyond the scope of this letter. But for interested readers, Classical Wisdom has spilled mountains of ink on these playwrights and their works.

Suffice to say, the Greek tragic tradition remains one of the most enduring legacies of the Classical age. You can still find these performances in well-funded theaters, in shabby off-Broadway productions, and in any bookstore worth its salt.

The definition of a tragedy was given by our good friend Aristotle, when he writes in Poetics:

A tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself; in appropriate and pleasurable language;… in a dramatic rather than narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish a catharsis of these emotions

Broadly speaking, a tragic character has the following characteristics:

  • They are a person that is neither wholly good or evil
  • They have a tragic flaw (hamartia), usually excessive pride (hubris)
  • They rail against the injustices done upon them
  • They experience a reversal of fortune
  • Very often, they die…

It is worth noting that these characteristics were not unique to the classical canon. Oedipus is a tragic figure. So is Antigone. But so is Jay Gatsby… and Darth Vader.

And so is Donald Trump…

The Tragedy of Trump

Image credit: The Day Explorer

We pause only briefly to acknowledge that we are not the first to make this observation.

It was perhaps best argued by professor emeritus and Senior Fellow at Stanford Universitys Hoover Institution, Victor Davis Hanson. Readers are encouraged to catch up on the conversation here.

But lets continue the thread…

Donald Trump is not a paragon of virtue, clearly. But neither were the tragic Greeks.

The rage of Achilles is a recurring theme in The Illiad. The opening lines of the epic even invoke the muses to sing of the wrath of Peleusson.

The hubris—excessive pride—of Ajax is well documented in SophoclesAjax when the titular character believes he does not need the help of the gods to win the honor of Achillesarmor.

The wrath of Trump is (or was) on full display by a casual perusal of the mans Twitter feed. Like Achilles, he is not content to slay his enemies honorably. He feels compelled to drag their corpses around the walls of Troy.

LyinTed”… “Crooked Hillary”… “Pocahontas.”

You get the idea…

Like Ajax, our Caesar rails against the gods for the injustice done upon him (I won that armor by a landslide!).

And then comes the reversal of fortune…

The barbarians climb the walls and storm the halls of Congress. Our elected rascals were sore afraid. They lay the blame squarely at Caesars feet.

His allies abandon him.

Count me out,” says Lindsey Graham.

[A] man without a country,” chides Mattis.

The vice president uploads a picture of Caesars enemy as his Twitter cover photo (et tu, Mike Pence?).

The tech oligarchs ban him. The media oligarchs chastise him. The political oligarchs try to oust him (even though he’s already gone). The PGA Tour ditches his golf course!

The gods have so thoroughly humbled Caesar.

Like Orestes tormented by the furies, he seems destined to wander Palm Beach County alone… outcast… and tortured.

Our National Catharsis

Image source: Galde

We can imagine even now the righteous indignation welling up inside our dear readers.

They are—perhaps even as we speak—summoning their outrage and preparing a strongly-worded letter to the editor (please address it to [email protected]!).

And at the risk of sparking more outrage, we make another observation…

A recurring characteristic of tragic characters is their recognition of some ignoble wrong. The tragic man (or woman!) then tries to rectify this injustice, which is followed by personally disastrous—and predictable—consequences.

Antigone—from Sophoclesplay of the same name—recognized the injustice of denying her brother Polynices’ funeral rites after he is killed in the Theban civil war.

In defiance of Creon, she buries her brother. The woman is sentenced to death before she ultimately takes her own life.

EuripidesOrestes recognized the injustice of his fathers murder at the hands of his mother, Clytemnestra. He kills her, and is pursued by the furies as punishment.

And in America?

Why is it that half of the population cannot afford an unexpected $500 expense without going into debt?

Why is it that opioid addiction, depression, and deaths of despair” have been rising since the 1990s?

What might be the consequences of the countless manufacturing jobs that were shipped overseas and never came back?

And why is it that villages up and down the Acela corridor… in the hills of Appalachia… and in the nooks and crannies of Middle America are now hollowed-out ghost towns?

Oh, dear reader. These are dark and troubling questions. A more philosophically-minded group of statesmen might have thought soberly about such things.

But the oligarchs (political, media, or otherwise) seemed uninterested. After all, there were advertisements to be aired. Horses to be traded. Lobbyist donations to be accepted.

And lo, it was in such squalor that the little people turned to their Big Man, their Achilles, their Ajax.

He promised—in rough and reckless ways—to bury Polynices, to avenge Agamemnon, to make the forgotten men and women of a lost America seen again.

And now, in the final act, fate has done its gruesome work on him.

The goal of tragedy—in the words of Aristotle—is to evoke a catharsis,” a cleansing of the soul through a purgation of fear or pity. Tragedy forces a mirror to our soul and screams: look!

Or—in the words of professor Simon Critchley—“Tragedy provokes what snags in our being, the snares and booby traps of the past that we blindly trip over in our relentless, stumbling forward movement.”

And as the curtain closes on the greatest performance of modern politics, we cant help but wonder if ever there was a story that was more pitiable…

… or more tragic.


Van Bryan

What Newly-Found 2,000-Year-Old Celtic Coins Tell Us About Boudica

by January 27, 2021

Written by Tom G. Hamilton, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
As of this writing, news of the largest hoard of early Roman-era Celtic gold coins ever found— unearthed by a bird-watcher in Britain—are making headlines. The coins are reported to be Boudica-era gold “stater” Iceni coins. There is an understandable excitement all across the land, the front-page news making a change from the pandemic. 
There is one symbol on the coins which pertains to Boudica’s story—and even points to her origin, which was not the British Isles.
That symbol—a horse—can help us discover who Boudica really was.
In ancient times, the Western Atlantic was well-established as home to the ancient Celtic peoples. This Atlantic cultural reality divided it from what is now “middle” Europe. The Celtic-from-the-West idea (John Koch/Barry Cunliffe) points us to the Iberian peninsula in the search for ancient Celtic roots. DNA study supports this. There was frequent movement and migration from Iberia to Britain, not just Celtic but also Phoenician. The Phoenicians, who had flourished in the Iberian peninsula since 1000BC, mined in Britain. They were a sea-faring people. They were cod-fishing in British waters before there was any Brexit to complicate fishing rights.
There were no nations, no frontiers, and no governments, just ancient Celtic tribal confederations who lived in lands bordered by rivers and mountain ranges, and within these confederations there were simple tribes or clans who lived for the most part in hillforts. It was one, homogenous, Western Atlantic homeland. Iberia was part of this reality.

Argemela – location of prominent ancient Celtic hillfort and one of the Boudica stones.

The Vettones were one such tribal confederation, living in the Iberian meseta between the Tagus (now Tejo) and Douro rivers.
The Vettones were known for being artistic and musical, but above all for being among the fiercest warrior tribes of Iberia. Also, the women fought alongside the men. West of their lands, spreading towards the Atlantic, lived the Lusitani. 
Valiant Lusitani warriors such as Viriathu led the resistance against Roman occupation thanks to an alliance with their neighbors, the Vettons. It took the Romans 200 years to subdue this westerly, mountainous and hostile terrain.
Finally, tired of endless losses and exhausted by the guerilla-type warfare of the Lusitanian-Vetton alliance (also the embarrassing sight of their captured banners flying on the hilltops), the Romans became more aggressive.
In the end, it was only by trickery and deceit—and atrocities—that they subdued the western Iberian tribes, producing euphoria in the Roman senate in 150 BC. It was believed that at long last, they had finally conquered the Vettones.
This was the pre-history to the Roman invasion of Britain, without which we cannot properly understand it. Iberia provided Rome with everything. There were fertile lands for grain, wine and, especially, olive oil. There were also metals. The Romans set-up mega mining operations in areas previously used by the Phoenicians (whom the Romans persecuted because of Hannibal), taking vast quantities of silver, gold, copper, tin, iron and lead.

Area showing the “conhals” – huge piles of stones left by the Romans during massive gold mining exploration along the Tagus river.

Part of the Roman strategy was the systematic dismantling of the Celtic hillforts. This forced the Celtic clans down into the valleys below, where their spirits could be tamed and their whole mode of existence could be conditioned by the Roman ideals. 
This inevitably meant re-organization, so Iberia was split up into regions. First they created Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior, then they created sub-regions, including their own Lusitania, which essentially amalgamated the Lusitani, Vettones and Celtici peoples. That was clever. Now the most valiant of peoples, the Vettones, would gradually forget their own customs and culture and become like the Roman role model, the Turdetani in the south. These, the Romans boasted, had embraced Roman ideals to the extent that they had even forgotten their own language. It was ethnic cleansing. The populations were decimated around the Tagus. Extensive gold mining used slave labour.
But the Vettones had something which was worth more than its weight in gold – horses. And the Vettones sure knew how to ride them. Even today in the small region of Beira Baixa, just north of the Tagus river, everyone can ride a horse. It’s just in the blood. Archaeologists marvel at the paleolithic horse drawings abundantly distributed in the river valleys of the Erges, Tejo, Ocreza, Coa and Zezere valleys.
The Lusitanian horse was bred (and still is) in the beautiful region just north of the Tagus. The Arabian horse is known for its speed, but the Lusitanian horse is famed for its courage and agility. The Vetton people had learned how to handle the horse over thousands of years, and they became expert and highly-feared warriors, carrying the severed heads of their enemies with them as trophies.

A Lusitanian horse. The horses are famed for their courage and agility. Note the long, curved neck and down-pointing head.

Previously headhunted by the great Hannibal Barca—key to famous victories like Cannae—the Romans weren’t the first to recognize the enormous potential of the Vetton horsemen. The Roman generals, including Julius Caesar, coveted their skills. So it was that the Alae Vettonum Hispanorum  was formed–the Vetton Winged Cavalry. By offering them money, these valiant horsemen were tempted to leave their homeland and ally themselves with Rome in a bid for fame, fortune and adventure.

Diploma showing part of the name of the Vetton cavalry regiment that served in Wales, UK.

The Alae were first stationed in Germania, then Britain. They were among the first regiments to serve Rome in Britain under the Emperor Claudius in 43AD. However, it is possible some had returned with Caesar’s earlier, limited preliminary expedition.
Lusitanian horses are quite distinct and stand apart from their Arab horse cousins. This is true of their character as well as their appearance. However, it is not the short neck of the Arab horse with its sky-pointing tail that we see on the Iceni coins of Boudica’s reign, nor the Dartmoor ponies, but the long, curved neck and downward-pointing, slightly-curved head of the Lusitanian horse. It is unmistakable.

Lusitanian horse

So, what is the Lusitanian horse doing on the Boudica-era coins?

Iceni coins from time of Boudica showing the Lusitanian horse. Photo credit: Appolo Numismatics

According to onomastic academic experts (who study the use of common names, history and etymology), Boudica’s name as written by the Latin writers was exclusive to the small region north of the Tagus river, known as Beira Baixa. This is precisely the place where the Alae Vettonum Hispanorum were formed. Three ancient stones dated to the first century era were found, each with Boudica’s name written on them, as transcribed by the Latin writers.

Map showing where the three first century stones with the name Boudica written on them in Latin text.

Can it be a coincidence, then, that her husband’s name is also linked to the region? For his name was not “Prasutagus”–this was a composite, a sort of nickname given by the Romans, which identified him as being their appointed governor over the Iceni people (Prasu–governor, Tagus–his Iberian name).
Boudica’s name, Tagus, the horses–all three indicate the small region in the interior of what is now Portugal for their origin. If they had been serving in the Roman cavalry, then that explains not only how they got to Britain, but also how they were promoted as governors of the Iceni and amassed wealth.
All was apparently going well until the despot Nero became Rome’s most powerful man. His excessive, riotous, extravagant lifestyle brought Rome to near bankruptcy. Nero introduced the 50% inheritance tax (which Tagus had adhered to, leaving half to Nero and half to his daughters), but then Nero upped it to 100%. 
Boudica was flogged and her daughters raped because—the coin hoard find suggests—the “tax money” had been  purposefully hidden. Humiliated but brought to her senses, Boudica revolted—the Vetton’s trust had been broken. She returned to her roots as a Celtic warrior, mounting her horse and leading a rebellion. At last, she’d seen through the thin facade of lies and deceit that were the promises offered by Rome.
As a special message to each emperor, first to Claudius, she took her army to Camulodunum (now Colchester) and destroyed the temple erected in his honor. Then she went to Londinium, the other main Roman colony, and graphically sent a message to Nero whom she derided as being effeminate and a bad musician.
To her, mother of two children, Nero and Rome had become mother-killers. Nero had killed his own mother in cold blood. So it was, in graphic detail, that Boudica took her famed Iberian sword, the Falcata, and had the breasts of the impaled noble women sewed to their mouths as a message to Nero. Motherhood was sacred to the Vettones, and Rome was bringing about its own downfall. 
Today, Boudica’s statue stands next to the palace of Westminster, the houses of the British parliament. Although she was an Iberian woman, she is a cultural symbol of Britain. Her statue forever reminds us of her inseparable bond with horses.
While she was in revolt, in 60/61AD, Roman commander Suetonius had taken the Roman army to Wales to destroy the Druid stronghold in a radical move to ethnically-cleanse the Celtic memory, as they had done with the Phoenicians. As they were committing this genocidal atrocity, Boudica was coming to her senses, seeing through the false facade and illusion of cultural superiority that was Rome. At the time, Rome was all but an inch from abandoning Britain. That is why she will always be with us.
Western Atlantic Celtic Origins: Celtic from the West Barry Cunliffe, John T. Koch 2010
Turdetani model Roman tribe: Strabo Geography book 3 . 2.140
Exclusivity of Boudica name to Beira Baixa: La onomástica personal prelatina en la antigua Lusitania, Salamanque , 1957 Palomar Lapesa, 1957, p. 63
Cassius Dio, Roman History 62:1–12

The Concept of Logos

by January 20, 2021

Written by Visnja Bojovic, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

When I was a child, I was very confused by the sentence: ”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word.” What did it all mean? Why word? I was always a word lover, in fact, and I knew that words were powerful, but this was just too confusing.

My next encounter with this word was when I entered a high school of philology and found out that the word philologist meant a lover of words  (φίλος+ λόγος). I was lucky enough to study ancient Greek as early as in high school, so I soon started learning that this concept of logos was much wider than simply meaning a word. In fact, I learned soon enough that Greek has a completely different word for it, derived from the same stem (λέξις).

Of course, words are meaningful per se and they are often omnipotent, but we have to do the justice to logos and try to shed some light on its insanely wide and complex nature.

As with nearly all ancient Greek words, logos has many meanings, the most important of them being word, statement, story, thought, principle, reason and speech. It can be used in a technical, specialized sense or as a common term.

When used in a technical manner, the meaning will depend on the context, but there are two main distinctions to be made. It can either refer to a human reason/speech or to some kind of universal intelligence/principle.

The first one to use logos in a specialized sense was one of the pioneers of philosophy whom we all know: Pythagoras.

Pythagoras, by J. Augustus Knapp, circa 1926

He believed that the world is based on three main principles. The first one he called Monad and it represented the unification of whole reality, the singularity of everything. The second one was called Dyad, a principle of diversification and differentiation. These principles may sound contradictory until you count in the third one, the one called Harmony. Harmony represents the relation of one thing to another, represented by the proportion between numbers, geometrical shapes or tones. This Harmony is based on logos, the role of which is uniting these two principles.

Heraclitus had a very peculiar doctrine that centered around logos in a specialized sense. Most  readers probably know about Heraclitus’ famous assertion that you can’t step into the same river twice since everything constantly changes.


However, what we perceive as unchangeable is the principle that underlies Heraclitus’ ideas on change. For Heraclitus, this principle is logos. Thus, for him, the world is a collection of unified things that are in a structure arranged by logos. Human wisdom is tasked with  understanding this principle as all our actions depend on the participation in this divine logos.

With Plato the story gets a bit more complex, since he had a variety of ways he used this term. Maybe the most straightforward one would be the understanding of logos as opposed to mythos (μῦθος), where logos is perceived as the true, analytical account.


Marble statue of the ancient Greek Philosopher Plato. Academy of Athens,Greece.

In Phaedo, Plato explained that the characteristic of the true knowledge is the ability to give account, logos, of what one knows. In Theatetus, Socrates described logos as the distinguishable characteristic of a thing.

With Aristotle, we approach the definition of logos that is close to Latin ratio, as well as the modern notion of logos. Aristotle understood logos as the reason and rationality, especially in the ethical sense. We can see this in some English words such as rational or rationalism.
Aristotle Fresco

Painting of Aristotle

He also used it in the meaning of a mathematical proportion, which we can see in the English word ratio, but this can probably be traced back to Pythagoras.

Last but not least, we will look at the Stoic interpretation of this term. For the Stoics, the perception of logos is very similar to that of Heraclitus. It is a creative force in the universe, also material as Heraclitus perceived it, identifiable with fire, as well as nature and Zeus. There was also a Stoic linguistic theory that distinguished between the interior and exterior logos.

Judging by all these accounts, we can conclude that this mysterious ”word” in the biblical sentence was more than just a word, and it wasn’t a Christian invention, either. We see that logos was beyond words, but at the same time marking the power of words and human expression.