Thursday, July 31, 2003

Trajan's Rome: The Man, The City, The Empire

This Interdisciplinary Middle School Curriculum Unit developed by the Getty Museum includes:

Lesson I: Trajan: The Man and His Empire
Lesson II: The People of Trajan’s Rome
Lesson III: Building Trajan’s City
Lesson IV: Governing Trajan’s City and Empire
Lesson V: Provisioning Imperial Rome
Lesson VI: Entertainment in Imperial Rome

The materials provided include a bibliography, an image gallery, a glossary, and virtual tour of the Forum of Trajan.

The Early Roman calendar

"The Romans borrowed parts of their earliest known calendar from the Greeks. The calendar consisted of 10 months in a year of 304 days. The Romans seem to have ignored the remaining 61 days, which fell in the middle of winter. The 10 months were named Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Junius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December. The last six names were taken from the words for five, six, seven, eight, nine, and ten. Romulus, the legendary first ruler of Rome, is supposed to have introduced this calendar in the 700's B.C.E.

According to tradition, the Roman ruler Numa Pompilius added January and February to the calendar. This made the Roman year 355 days long. To make the calendar correspond approximately to the solar year, Numa also ordered the addition every other year of a month called Mercedinus. Mercedinus was inserted after February 23 or 24, and the last days of February were moved to the end of Mercedinus. In years when it was inserted, Mercedinus added 22 or 23 days to the year."

Glassmaking In Roman Times

In Natural History XXXVI.192, Pliny the Elder said the invention of glass occurred on the Palestinian coast. He claimed that as natron merchants were sailing from Egypt, they brought their ships to shore at the mouth of the Belus River near Ptolemais. Lacking stones, they used some of their cargo to hold up their cooking pots. The heat from the fire caused the mixture of soda-rich natron and sand to fuse into glass.

Creative as this story sounds, however, the heat from a cooking fire would never reach the desired temperature for full fusion of glass. We now believe the invention of glass occurred around 2200 B.C. in northwestern Iran. Chemistry for the coloration of glass was already in place during the reign of Tutankhamun in Egypt (circa 1330 B.C.), and colored glass was heavily exploited for furniture and architectural inlay for several centuries thereafter. Although the Romans had nothing to do with the invention of glass, during the first century A.D. they did play a primary role in the industrialization of the glassmaking process in the Mediterranean world.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Taboo, Magic, Sprits: A Study of Primitive Elements in Roman Religion


"So in the old Roman days Titus Manlius, having killed a gigantic Gaul in a hand-to-hand conflict, cut off the Gaul's head, 'wrenched off his necklace and placed it, reeking with blood, on his own neck.' From that time on he and his descendants bore the surname Torquatus (torques--a chain or necklace). 1 The family of Torquatus had the necklace as a device down to the time of the Emperor Caligula, who forbade its use. 2 Again, in a much later time, during one of the pagan persecutions, a Christian, Saturus, was thrown to the leopards. A single gnash of the wild beast bathed him in blood. Turning to a soldier who was also, but in secret, a Christian, he asked for the ring which he was wearing; and when the soldier gave it to him, he smeared it with his own lifeblood and handed it back. 3

These are not merely the actions of a bloodthirsty soldier, crazed with victory, and of a religious fanatic. It was the inability to think correctly that caused Torquatus to place the gory necklace of his slain opponent about his own neck, and that impelled Saturus to smear the ring of his fellow Christian with his own blood and hand it back to him.
The curious twist in thinking which produced these actions has been considered a characteristic of the so-called age of magic;"

Catullus and His Wedding Songs

by Jennifer Goodall Powers, SUNY Albany, NY

Yet if human survival means more than a ghostly reputation,
Tibullus must surely dwell in Elysium,
Welcomed by young Calvus, ivy-garlanded,
by Catullus poet and scholar ...

"Gaius Valerius Catullus fell in love with a married woman in the first century B.C. and then chronicled the affair in his poetry. Many of Catullus' poems are dedicated to the woman called Lesbia whom he loved with his whole life. Out of this relationship and influenced by Greek poets, a new Latin genre was created. Catullus and his fellow Roman poets, however, added a dimension of devoted love to their poems that was rare in Hellenistic poetry. Influenced by the changing morality in Rome and his subsequent love affair, Catullus' poems disclose not only his own emotions (as one of the first poets to write this in depth about his love affair), but also this new Roman attitudes towards marriage and women."

See also:

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Caesar and the Starving Gauls at Alesia

I was conducting research on the Mandubians, the tribe that originally inhabited Alesia, today and found an excerpt from Caesar’s commentaries that is missing from MIT’s Internet Classics Archives. I was particularly interested in it because it mentioned the starving Gallic women and children depicted in the recent miniseries.

"The Mandubii, who had taken the others into their oppidum [1], were forced to leave it with their wives and children. When they came up to our fortifications, they wept and begged the soldiers to take them as slaves and give them something to eat. But I had guards posted all along the rampart with orders not to allow any of them inside our lines. " – Gaius Julius Caesar, The Gallic Wars, Book 7 chapters 63 – 90, as translated by Anne and Peter Wiseman.

The Internet Classics Archives provides a copy translated by W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn. Its Book 7 stops at Chapter 59. However, the Archives server crashed a couple of years ago and after that I noticed several missing sections of other works. Maybe some of The Gallic Wars was affected as well.

I did notice, however, that Caesar's account does not mention that the outcasts were also rejected by Vercingetorix and starved before the gates. Maybe that was a little hollywood artistic license.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Faces of Egypt: From Ghiza to Fayum Displayed at the Megaron Mousikis

"In 332 BC, Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and for the next three centuries, the Macedonian dynasty of the Ptolemies ruled the country from its capital Alexandria. In 31 BC, the Romans defeated the last Ptolemaic ruler, Queen Cleopatra VII. Egypt fell to Octavian Caesar but Greek remained the official language. In the cross-cultural Roman Egypt that emerged. For some reason Libyans, Romans, Greeks and Jews all developed a taste for mummy portraits. "

These finds are not recent. Several such portraits were discovered in the 1880s but were then dispersed worldwide and ignored. Talented Greek painter, Euphrosyne Doxiadis explains, "Archaeologists declined to comment on their quality as works of art. Art historians have been shy of archaeology. To Egyptologists they are not Egyptian. To specialists in Greco-Roman art they are. They are strictly too early for Byzantinists who see them as predecessors of icons".

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Hannibal at Cannae - his deception fools to this day

By Douglas Moreman, Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisianna

The Battle of Cannae told in many books on military tactics and strategy violates fundamental principles of war and teaches bad lessons to young officers. Hannibal misled, mystified, and surprised his enemy. He created a sequence of real situations and illusions. Some of his deceptions were so good they have been repeated in histories to this day as if they were facts.
I will describe how the historians and books on strategy have erred in their description of the battle. Briefly, I will correct these flaws:

1) the failure to penetrate all of Hannibal's deceptions,
2) the suggestion that one army surrounded and beat to death an army twice its size, and better equipped,
3) the failure to clearly show all four of the major points where Hannibal achieved, by clever plan, overwhelming superiority of numbers,
4) the claim that 8,000 cavalry blocked the retreat of 70,000 infantry,
5) the failure to explain how Hannibal survived what seems to have been an obvious blunder in the disposition of his troops and of his own person,
6) Hannibal had no routes of escape,
7) A successful general sacrifices sizable contingents of his army,
8) There were not multiple paths to success,
9) Hannibal's plan risked his total destruction upon the rapid success of just one contingent of troops.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

The Roles of Patrician and Plebeian Women in Their Religion in the Republic of Rome

By Lesa A. Young

Political events during the Republic involving women began reforms that eventually changed women’s roles: a Vestal buried alive in 337 BCE, the poisoning trials of 331 BCE, the events surrounding Verginia in 307 BCE, the cults of patrician and plebeian chastity in 296 BCE, and the Stuprum trials of 295 BCE were some of the occurrences. These events were used by women to gain more control over their own lives, money, and property.

As with all Roman law, loopholes allowed the laws to be manipulated to suit the individual. The usus types of marriages were the most common and could be manipulated legally through loopholes by the wife staying away from home and her husband for three consecutive nights a year. Also, these loopholes allowed the women to
retain control over their dowries in trust for their daughters.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Edward Gibbon: Historian of the Roman Empire

By Eugene Y. C. Ho, Hong Kong (1960-1997)

"It was at Rome, on the 15th of October 1764," Gibbon later recalled, "as I sat musing amid the ruins of the capitol, while the bare-footed friars were singing vespers in the temple of Jupiter [presently the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli], that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind...."

The work envisioned eventually captivated thousands of historians and laymen alike. Ho explains why.

"First, the greatness and tragical character of the subject catches the attention and arouses the imagination and sympathy of its reader, who finds himself at once introduced to a time most fondly wished for by Man, when most civilised people were peacefully united in "the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous" (Decline and Fall, Ch. 3). Yet, Man somehow lost this grace and now continuously wonders why. In an attempt to ascertain the reason, people turn to Gibbon for enlightenment. Second, for the Western Man in particular, there is here a unique fascination: for out of the ashes of the Western Roman Empire were born the modern nations of Europe, while out of the belated fall of the Eastern Roman Empire came sparks which lit Europe's beacon of humanism and science. Seen in this light, although the Decline and Fall concerns Rome, it is really an ancient history of Europe and European civilisation, and any Western reader is therefore bound to find in this work illumination regarding his origin and roots.

"Originally published in Issue 30 (Apr - Jun 1994) of the Hong Kong intellectual journal Intellectus, Mr. Ho's essay was written to commemorate the bicentennial of the death of Edward Gibbon (1737-1794)."

Friday, July 18, 2003

Decius First Emperor to Die Fighting a Foreign Army

Decius served as consul in every year of his reign and took for himself traditional republican powers, another way to underscore his authority and conservatism. He even tried to revive the long defunct office of censor in 251, purportedly offering it to the future emperor, Valerian. Decius moreover portrayed himself as an activist general and soldier. In addition to leading military campaigns personally, he often directly bestowed honors upon his troops, high and low alike. He also holds the dubious distinction of being the first emperor to have died fighting a foreign army in battle.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Etruscans Considered Origin Of The Toga

The toga, the principal outer garment worn by the Romans, is derived by Varro from tegere, because it covered the whole body (v.144, ed. Müller).

Gellius (vii.12) states that at first it was worn alone, without the tunic. [TUNICA.] Whatever may have been the first origin of this dress, which some refer to the Lydians, it seems to have been received by the Romans from the Etruscans, for it is seen on Etruscan works of art as the only covering of the body, and the toga praetexta is expressly said to have been derived from the Etruscans (Liv. i.8; Plin. H.N. viii.48 s74; Müller, Etrusker, vol.1 p262).

Gradually, colours began to distinguish class and professions:

blue for philosophers

black for theologians

green for practitioners of the medical arts.

Soothsayers wore an unornamented white toga.

Peasants were allowed only one sober colour.

Officers were allowed garments of two colours

Clan commanders could wear three colours

Members of the Imperial household wore as as many as seven colours.

(Becker, Gallus, vol.ii pp78-88; Ferrarius, de Re Vestiaria; Rubenius, de Re Vest.)

Article by Philip Smith, B.A., of the University of London on pp1134-1137 of William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

Gaulish-Latin "rosetta" stones help scholars trace language origins

Although the Roman conquest led to the extinction of the Gaulish language 2,000 years ago, a half dozen rare, surviving Gaulish/Latin bilingual inscriptions have enabled scholars to trace the origins of the Celtic language and many other European languages.

Peter Forster, a molecular geneticist at the University of Cambridge, and Alfred Toth, a Zurich linguist, applied DNA sequencing and analysis methods to study the inscriptions and corresponding words and word fragments from the following languages: Classical Greek, Old Irish, and the modern versions of Irish, Scots Gaelic, Welsh, Breton, French, Occitan, Spanish and Basque.

Most words were remarkably similar across the board. For example, "mother" in Gaulish is "matir," while in Latin it is "mater." Such similarities in the study were likened to mutations of inherited genes.

"Both the single-wave result and the early dates of (around) 8,000 B.C. and 3-4,000 B.C. confirm Colin Renfrew's archaeologically-based hypothesis, published in 1987, that our languages were brought to Europe and to the British Isles by the first farmers at the beginning of the Neolithic," explained Forster. "These farmers would have come from the Near East via Anatolia (Turkey)."

Findings are published in the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.