Pizza Origins Again

We often see pizza being ascribed to the Romans, or to the Romans via the Greeks, but the Daily Pilot adds a twist I haven’t seen before:

Ever had a pizza? I have. Do you know what “pizza” means in Italian? I do. Nothing.

It’s from the Latin word “picea”… what the Romans called a round of dough that was blackened in a clay oven to make a pie shell. Isn’t that interesting? OK, maybe not. But this is more interesting.

Picea is, of course, a Latin word meaning “pitch black”; assorted websites with this origin, however, seem to date the word (and pizza itself) from the Middle Ages. Certainly the ‘c’ wouldn’t have been on its way to a ‘zz’ type pronunciation until that time (in the period of our purview, it would have been a hard ‘c’). Anyhow, we seem to have another example of ‘if it’s Latin, it must be Roman’.


It’s been one of those days followed by one of those evenings (a power failure seems to have done something so my computer alone of all the wireless devices in our house won’t connect) so I’ll start with one that’s been also bugging me all day since I read it this a.m.. A piece in something called News Blaze is pondering “integrity”, inter alia comes the claim:

Integrity stands for soundness of moral principle and character. It is a synonym for honesty and uprightness. It is a martial word that comes to us from an ancient Roman army tradition.

In the ancient world of the Roman soldier the officers would inspect their men, much like inspections that occur every day in the modern Army. To acknowledge his senior, the soldier would strike the armor breastplate that covered his heart with his right fist and shout “Integritas”. In Latin, the language of yore, it meant wholeness and completeness.

The armor had to be strongest there in order to protect the heart from sword thrusts and arrow strikes. The inspecting officer would listen to hear the affirmation from the soldier, as well as for the right tone that well kept armor would give off. This would assure the inspecting officer that the armor was sound and protected the soldier beneath it.

There came a point in time where the Praetorians, the Imperial bodyguards began to ascend to power and influence. One could make the argument that the Praetorians were the politically correct soldiers of the legions. They no longer had to shout “Integritas” to signify that their armor was sound. As a substitute they simply pledged their allegiance to their leader, Caesar. They and their armor were no longer pledged to the institution or a Code of Ideals; they were pledged to a single man.

As time passed and the gulf between the common soldiers and the politically correct Praetorians widened, the common soldiers thought of a way to distinguish themselves from the Praetorians and, at the same time, continue the old ideal traditions of integrity. They no longer used the word “Integritas” but substituted the word “integer”.

The change was meant to signify not only that the armor was sound but, in addition, to inform those who heard that the soldier was of sound character and integrity. The change in phraseology marked a real distinction between the politically correct Praetorians and the common soldiers who thought of themselves as being morally whole.

I’d never heard of this story before, but as always, it does seem to be all over the web — ,in almost every case a military or paramilitary-type website, e.g. Public Information Office, Headquarters Philippine Air Force, Lajes Field (a U.S. Air Force base in the Azores), a speech to the Ottawa Police Force, etc.. The story also appears in a handful of Google Books, but, interestingly enough, not before the year 2000 (it even appears in an MCAT study guide).

I can’t help but feel this is something that is made out of ‘whole cloth’ (pun intended) … can anyone point to an ancient source for this practice?


An excerpt from a piece in the Guardian notes, inter alia:

“Blyth Spartans were named after the Greek army,” James Henry points out, before getting to the heart of the matter: “What is the weirdest explanation for a football team’s suffix?”

Blyth are named after the Spartan army, the legendary fighting force of the 6th to 4th centuries BC. This kind of classical allusion wasn’t uncommon in the era of the late Victorian amateur. Corinthian, now Corinthian Casuals, were formed in 1882, their name referencing the mythic Greek code of amateur sportsmanship. This was a common practice across Europe at the time. Ajax of Amsterdam are named after Ajax the Ancient Greek warrior hero from the Iliad (and latterly also inspiration for a popular brand of domestic scouring powder). And the Spartans themselves left an imprint beyond Blyth – Sparta Rotterdam (Holland) and Sparta Prague (Czech Republic), both founded within a few years of Spartans, took their name from the same bunch of Greek hard-cases.

Speaking of Ajax, last summer I was pondering doing a little series of posts on towns in Ontario which seemed to have Classical origins and the one I began with was Ajax (near Toronto). Imagine my chagrin when I thought I had a sure thing, only to find out that Ajax, Ontario was actually named after a battleship — the HMS Ajax — which, along with the HMS Achilles and HMS Exeter, defeated the Graf Spee in 1939. I assume the ships had Classical origins, but it ain’t quite the same …

UPDATE: a number of folks have written in (thanks to all!) to note that the Ajax was a light cruiser, not a battleship. Special mention to Albert Nofi who suggested ” … calling her a battleship would be like calling a liburnian a quiquereme.”