Saturday, December 22, 2007

Analyzing Biases and Narrative Strategies New Approach to Historical Study

Professor Marc Domingo Gygax

This sounds like a much more fascinating way to study classical history than the memorizing dates etc. approach!

"As he scribbled the names and dates of several Roman historians on the blackboard, Professor Marc Domingo Gygax challenged students in his freshman seminar to dig deeper.

Instead of discussing facts and figures, the students analyzed the methods, biases and narrative strategies of those writers and many others to try to answer the question, "Is there any such thing as historical truth?"

"In high school, we just learned names and dates," said Clayton Schwarz, one of 13 students in the class. "Here, we're looking at how people write history — how they evaluate sources — instead of what they're writing. "

The freshman seminar, "Truth and Objectivity in Ancient and Modern Historiography," compares the writings of ancient Greek and Roman historians such as Polybius and Tacitus with the work of modern historians to explore the degree to which objectivity can be achieved in the study of history. The students also read the work of 20th-century historians who have written about the problem of truth and objectivity to think about how to evaluate a historical text.
"The line between fact and fiction often is not clear," said Gygax, who is an assistant professor of classics. "We can see that in ancient history, and then we can ask ourselves if the same thing happens in modern history."

The students had plenty of questions during a recent class as they discussed the influence of rationalism and the use of specifics versus generalities in the writings of Herodotus and Thucydides. They also debated the reasons why Fabius Pictor, a Roman historian born about 250 B.C., wrote in Greek.

"Maybe he thought the language was more descriptive?" suggested Nick O'Neill.

"Greek was the international language spoken all around the Mediterranean," noted Suzie Raga. "By writing in Greek, he's implying Rome needs to pay attention to other nations."

"It was the language spoken by educated people at the time," the professor remarked. "Pictor also does it as a way for Romans to introduce themselves to the Greeks." Gygax also noted that "Pictor was influenced by Greek historiographic models and may have felt that Greek was the most adequate language for writing history in prose."

Saturday, August 25, 2007


With the release of "The Last Legion", I thought people might be interested in a little of the real history behind the legend.

"Odoacer (or Odovacar), the first barbarian ruler of Italy on the downfall of the Western empire, was born in the district bordering on the middle Danube about the year 434. In this district the once rich and fertile provinces of Noricum and Pannonia were being torn piecemeal from the Roman empire by a crowd of German tribes, among whom we discern four, who seem to have hovered over the Danube from Passau to Pest, namely, the Rugii, Scyrri, Turcilingi and Heruli. With all of these Odoacer was connected by his subsequent career, and all seem, more or less, to have claimed him as belonging to them by birth; the evidence slightly preponderates in favor of his descent from the Scyrri.

His father was Aedico or Idico, a name which suggests Edeco the Hun, who was suborned by the Byzantine court to plot the assassination of his master Attila. There are, however, some strong arguments against this identification. A certain Edica, chief of the Scyrri, of whom Jordanes speaks as defeated by the Ostrogoths, may more probably have been the father of Odoacer, though even in this theory there are some difficulties, chiefly connected with the low estate in which he appears before us in the next scene of his life, when as a tall young recruit for the Roman armies, dressed in a sordid vesture of skins, on his way to Italy, he enters the cell of Severinus, a noted hermit-saint of Noricum, to ask his blessing. The saint had an inward premonition of his future greatness, and in blessing him said, "Fare onward into Italy. Thou who art now clothed in vile raiment wilt soon give precious gifts unto many."

Odoacer was probably about thirty years of age when he thus left his country and entered the imperial service. By the year 472 he had risen to some eminence, since it is expressly recorded that he sided with the patrician Ricimer in his quarrel with the emperor Anthemius. In the year 475, by one of the endless revolutions which marked the close of the Western empire, the emperor Nepos was driven into exile, and the successful rebel Orestes was enabled to array in the purple his son, a handsome boy of fourteen or fifteen, who was named Romulus after his grandfather, and nicknamed Augustulus, from his inability to play the part of the great Augustus. Before this puppet emperor had been a year on the throne the barbarian mercenaries, who were chiefly drawn from the Danubian tribes aforementioned, rose in mutiny, demanding to be made proprietors of one-third of the soil of Italy. To this request Orestes returned a peremptory negative. Odoacer now offered his fellow soldiers to obtain for them all that they desired if they would seat him on the throne. On the 23rd of August 476 he was proclaimed king; five days later Orestes was made prisoner at Placentia and beheaded; and on the 4th of September his brother Paulus was defeated and slain near Ravenna. Rome at once accepted the new ruler. Augustulus was compelled to descend from the throne, but his life was spared.

Odoacer was forty-two years of age when he thus became chief ruler of Italy, and he reigned thirteen years with undisputed sway. Our information as to this period is very slender, but we can perceive that the administration was conducted as much as possible on the lines of the old imperial government. The settlement of the barbarian soldiers on the lands of Italy probably affected the great landowners rather than the laboring class. To the herd of coloni and servi, by whom in their various degrees the land was actually cultivated, it probably made little difference, except as a matter of sentiment, whether the master whom they served called himself Roman or Rugian. We have one most interesting example, though in a small way, of such a transfer of land with its appurtenant slaves and cattle, in the donation made by Odoacer himself to his faithful follower Pierius. Few things bring more vividly before the reader the continuity of legal and social life in the midst of the tremendous ethnical changes of the 5th century than the perusal of such a record.

The same fact, from a slightly different point of view, is illustrated by the curious history (recorded by Malchus) of the embassies to Constantinople. The dethroned emperor Nepos sent ambassadors (in 477 or 478) to Zeno, emperor of the East, begging his aid in the reconquest of Italy. These ambassadors met a deputation from the Roman senate, sent nominally by the command of Augustulus, really no doubt by that of Odoacer, the purport of whose commission was that they did not need a separate emperor. One was sufficient to defend the borders of either realm. The senate had chosen Odoacer, whose knowledge of military affairs and whose statesmanship admirably fitted him for preserving order in that part of the world, and they therefore prayed Zeno to confer upon him the dignity of patrician, and entrust the "diocese" of Italy to his care. Zeno returned a harsh answer to the senate, requiring them to return to their allegiance to Nepos. In fact, however, he did nothing for the fallen emperor, but accepted the new order of things, and even addressed Odoacer as patrician. On the other hand, the latter sent the ornaments of empire, the diadem and purple robe, to Constantinople as an acknowledgment of the fact that he did not claim supreme power. Our information as to the actual title assumed by the new ruler is somewhat confused. He does not appear to have called himself king of Italy. His kingship seems to have marked only his relation to his Teutonic followers, among whom he was "king of the Turcilingi", "king of the Heruli", and so forth, according to the nationality with which he was dealing. By the Roman inhabitants of Italy he was addressed as "dominus noster", but his right to exercise power would in their eyes rest, in theory, on his recognition as patricius by the Byzantine Augustus. At the same time he marked his own high pretensions by assuming the prefix Flavius, a reminiscence of the early emperors, to which the barbarian rulers of realms formed out of the Roman state seem to have been peculiarly partial. His internal administration was probably, upon the whole, wise and moderate, though we hear some complaints of financial oppression, and he may be looked upon, as a not altogether unworthy predecessor of Theodoric.

In the history of the papacy Odoacer figures af the author of a decree promulgated at the election of Felix II in 483, forbidding the pope to alienate any of the lands or ornaments of the Roman Church, and threatening any pope who should infringe this edict with anathema. This decree was loudly condemned in a synod held by Pope Symmachus (502) as an unwarrantable interference of the civil power with the concerns of the church.

The chief events in the foreign policy of Odoacer were his Dalmatian and Rugian wars. In the year 480 the ex-emperor Nepos, who ruled Dalmatia, was traitorously assassinated in Diocletian's palace at Spalato by the counts Viator and Ovida. In the following year Odoacer invaded Dalmatia, slew the murderer Ovida, and reannexed Dalmatia to the Western state. In 487 he appeared as an invader in his own native Danubian lands. War broke out between him and Feletheus, king of the Rugians. Odoacer entered the Rugian territory, defeated Feletheus, and carried him and "his noxious wife" Gisa prisoners to Ravenna. In the following year Frederick, son of the captive king, endeavored to raise again the fallen fortunes of his house, but was defeated by Onulf, brother of Odoacer, and, being forced to flee, took refuge at the court of Theodoric the Ostrogoth, at Sistova on the lower Danube.

This Rugian war was probably an indirect cause of the fail of Odoacer. His increasing power rendered him too formidable to the Byzantine court, with whom his relations had for some time been growing less friendly. At the same time, Zeno was embarrassed by the formidable neighborhood of Theodoric and his Ostrogothic warriors, who were almost equally burdensome as enemies or as allies. In these circumstances arose the plan of Theodoric's invasion of Italy, a plan by whom originated it would be difficult to say. Whether the land when conquered was to be held by the Ostrogoth in full sovereignty, or administered by him as lieutenant of Zeno, is a point upon which our information is ambiguous, and which was perhaps intentionally left vague by the two contracting parties, whose chief anxiety was not to see one another's faces again. The details of the Ostrogothic invasion of Italy belong properly to the life of Theodoric. It is sufficient to state here that he entered Italy in August 489, defeated Odoacer at the Isontius (Isonzo) on the 28th of August, and at Verona on the 30th of September. Odoacer then shut himself up in Ravenna, and there maintained himself for four years, with one brief gleam of success, during which he emerged from his hiding place and fought the battle of the Addua (11th August 490), in which he was again defeated. A sally from Ravenna (10th July 491) was again the occasion of a murderous defeat. At length, the famine in Ravenna having become almost intolerable, and the Goths despairing of ever taking the city by assault, negotiations were opened for a compromise (25th February 493). John, archbishop of Ravena, acted as mediator. It was stipulated that Ravenna should be surrendered, that Odoacer's life should be spared, and that he and Thedoric should be recognized as joint rulers of the Roman state. The arrangement was evidently a precarious one, and was soon terminated by the treachery of Theodoric. He invited his rival to a banquet in the palace of the Lauretum on the 15th of March, and there slew him with his own hand. "Where is God?" cried Odoacer when he perceived the ambush into which he had fallen. "Thus didst thou deal with my kinsmen", shouted Theodoric, and clove his rival with the broadsword from shoulder to flank. Onulf, the brother of the murdered king, was shot down while attempting to escape through the palace garden, and Thelan, his son, was not long after put to death by order of the conqueror. Thus perished the whole race of Odoacer."

Political Propoganda in The Aeneid

by Gregory Elder, professor of history and humanities at Riverside Community College, Redlands, California

"Unlike Homeric literature or "Gilgamesh," which were produced orally over a long period of time, "The Aeneid" was a composition by one man. At the end of the Roman civil war, shortly before the time of Christ, the emperor Octavian Caesar Augustus hired Virgil to write a poem to rival the great epic sagas of Greece to glorify the Roman state, and in the process glorify Caesar as well.

Virgil's task was all the more difficult, because Augustus Caesar had ended five centuries of republican democracy and replaced it with a military monarchy, which is a hard feat to legitimize. Virgil accepted the commission for a million gold coins and spent the rest of his life writing poetry. He was almost done when he took ill and died, but before his death he ordered the manuscripts burned. Caesar intervened and the imperialist manuscript was saved for posterity. For the next four centuries of the Roman Empire it was the required study of all educated people, and it remained popular in the Middle Ages right down to the modern day.

To glorify the emperor, Virgil avoided tacky subjects such as Caesar's mass executions and proscriptions or Roman war fleets sending their fellow Romans down to the bottom of the sea. Instead, he wrote a poem of the founding of the Roman people in remote antiquity by the alleged ancestor of Augustus, Aeneas, the last surviving prince of Troy. To justify the emperor, Virgil praised the emperor's ancestor who had lived 12 centuries before.

The saga opens with a storm, wrought by the blind fury of the goddess Juno, the vengeful queen of heaven. Juno was still angry at the Trojans because their prince, Paris, had favored Venus in the famous beauty contest of the goddesses. Juno also knew that her favorite people, the Carthaginians, would one day be destroyed by the heirs of the Trojans, the Romans. And so the furious goddess summoned her brother Neptune to call forth a great ocean storm, which pulverized the fleet and washed the survivors onto the shores of Africa, far from Rome and far from home. Virgil's gods and goddesses are quite simple: angry women, idiotic bimbos and wise men. Its not a subtle stereotype to use.

Once he survived the storm, pious Aeneas rallies his fellow survivors of the shipwreck and discovers the city of Carthage and its widow queen, Dido. Matronly Dido assists the shipwrecked Trojans and welcomes them at a banquet, which turns out to be her undoing. Dido asks Aeneas to tell the story of his adventures and he replies with the story of the Trojan Horse and the sack of his city by the cunning Greeks. Romans who heard this story would have doubtless smiled, for it justified their own recent conquest of Greece as appropriate payback. In the tale, Aeneas would have preferred to go down with his kinsmen fighting to the end, as all Romans should, but the gods commanded him to flee the doomed city and to found a new city in the west. As the hero tells the tale, Cupid, that most dangerous sniper of the gods, fires one of his arrows of love into the queen's heart and she falls in love with the Trojan Aeneas. After a short courtship, they end up in a "committed relationship," as we would say these days.

But this love affair irritates Jupiter, the king of the heavens. The high god has ordained that from the Trojan bloodline a people will be raised up to dominate the world forever, and bring order and law to savage peoples from Arabia to Britain, from Germany to Africa. For the Romans, love was a kind of madness, a weakness, which prevented men from clear thinking. Were they right in this, I ask my students" To remind the hero of his duty, Jupiter sends Mercury, the messenger god, to order Aeneas back to active duty and to abandon his love. Aeneas attempts to do this secretly, but his lover discovers his plans to abandon her in the night. She pleads with him and reminds him of their love. Aeneas replies that he never really regarded the relationship as permanent and decides to go. Apparently, men have not changed significantly since this tale was written. But when Aeneas turns to go, Dido curses him and his descendants and prophesies the Punic wars as vengeance, which will bring vast suffering to Rome in the third century B.C.

After many trials, Aeneas and his men land in Italy. But Aeneas knows, as all Romans believed, that dad is always right. But the hero was unable to consult his father because the old man had died. But in order to obey the will of the gods, he still had to speak with the old man. The solution he found, after consulting a prophetess, was to find the path to the land of the dead and visit his father in the underworld. Crossing the river Styx, he meets the dead, including many of the fallen heroes of the Trojan war, and sadly also meets the soul of Dido, who has taken her own life. When he attempts to comfort her, she scorns him and flees into the gloom. At this point in the poem, my female students generally agree that he deserved the snub.

But entering the sunny, grassy fields of Elysium, where heroes are to be found, he meets his father, who shows him a long line of great souls waiting to be born. Aeneas" father points out all the great heroes of Roman history yet to come, except the ones Augustus disliked. Aeneas then sees Caesar Augustus himself, the divinely favored crown of all Roman history. Setting such political propaganda on one side, it's worth noting that the actual Caesar Augustus is the same chap who gets a cameo mention in the New Testament's Christmas story, when "in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled." This decree, the Scripture tells us, caused Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem, near Jerusalem, and there Christ was born. (Luke 2:1) There is an irony here that Virgil's prophecy of an abiding religious empire to be founded in the days of Caesar did indeed come true, but not in the way Virgil or Augustus could have possibly imagined.

After all of this grand prophesy, the hero's father reminds his son of Rome's unique destiny, which was greater than all other nations. He writes, "Others will cast more tenderly in bronze Their breathing figures, I can well believe, And bring more lifelike portraits out of marble Argue more eloquently, use the pointer To trace the paths of heaven accurately And accurately foretell the rising stars.

Roman, remember your strength to rule Earth's peoples " for your arts are to be these to pacify, to impose the rule of law, to spare the conquered, battle down the proud." ("The Aeneid" VI: ll.1145-1154, Fitzgerald translation) Six more chapters of war and conquest will follow this prophecy, but one note remains to be considered while Aeneas is in the underworld. When the time comes to leave the dead and return to the earth, Aeneas is confronted with two doors, one of ivory and one of horn. Through these doors dreams are sent out to the minds of sleeping men, prophetic and true dreams through the door of horn and false dreams through the door of ivory. Virgil tells us that Aeneas took the ivory door, the door of falsehood.

It is odd that Virgil makes the noble ancestor of great Augustus pass through the door of lies before returning to earth to found the Roman line. But it is just a stray verse and one hardly notices it. Indeed, the verse is just small enough to get past the emperor's censors. Perhaps Virgil was sending a quiet message to his more perceptive readers that the whole of his message extolling Augustus and his "divine mission" was actually a lie and a fantasy. Political propaganda, however magnificent and beautiful, and even from the pen of the greatest of authors, remains only that " propaganda. There is a lesson here for modern readers to heed."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I found it!! The Poisoning Trials of 331 BCE

"The first known instance of the crime of poisoning at Rome was in
331 B.c.,when a high mortality, the result, probably, of a pestilence,
was attributed to poisoning. Even Livy doubted the validity of the
charges, but he gives the whole account as found in his sources. After
many leading citizens had died from the same disease, a slave-girl gave
information to the curule aediles that the reason for this high mortality
was the poisons prepared and administered by the Roman matrons.

On investigation they found about twenty matrons, including patrician
ladies, in the act of brewing poisons, which they declared were
salutary. On being forced to drink their own concoctions to prove
the charges false, they perished by their own wickedness. Following
this, a hundred and seventy more were found guilty of the same
offense." - Poisons and Poisonings Among Romans by David P. Kaufman

Womanly Virtues and Courage in 1st century Rome

As I continue to search for references to the women involved in the widespread poisonings of their spouses and male relatives in ancient Rome, I stumbled across a excerpt from a fascinating paper about Roman women and their "Private Lives and Public Personae" by Dr. Susan Martin of the University of Tennessee. She explains the cultural and political context that surrounded the life of a courageous woman named Turia in 1st century BCE Rome that is eulogized by her husband on her funerary monument. The eulogy has become known as the 'Laudatio Turiae'.

"Let me tell you a bit about what we can reconstruct about her life from her epitaph. Turia left as her chief mourner her husband of 40 years. We know from other facts in the story that they were married between 49 and 42 B.C. - she died in the years 8-2. The couple's courtship and marriage took place during a period of extreme political instability that we - and the Romans - refer to as the civil wars. This young woman came of age in a time when civil strife in the Roman world was comparable to that in Bosnia or Palestine, except that instead of different religious groups fighting each other, we have factions of the Roman upper class engaged in armed conflict over who would control the Roman Republic. In brief, these struggles pitted the Optimates - the most noble families and members of the senatorial order led by Pompey the great (and Cicero) against the Populares - led by Julius Caesar. By the time of her death, Rome had been ruled for almost 30 years by the Emperor Augustus and had traded the tumultuous Republican form of government for imperial calm.

Both spouses clearly came from wealthy families - whether they belonged to the very highest rank in society, is unclear. The good news about this is that they had lots of money and property. The bad news is that they were enmeshed in the thick of the civil wars. Their connections at birth and as they grew would meant that they had powerful friends and powerful enemies as well. Unfortunately for them, both Turia's parents and her husband's family were on the losing side, the side of Pompey who fled Italy in advance of Julius Caesar's army after he crossed the Rubicon river in 49, and was finally killed at the end of this series of civil wars in 48 B.C.

It is realistic to suppose that Turia married at a young age. Studies of Roman evidence have shown that young women in the upper classes married young, even as early as 12. But variation was possible: Cicero's daughter Tullia was betrothed at 12, married at 16 and widow at 22. If Turia married this young, she died in her mid 50's, not a bad age for a Roman whether male or female. Life expectancy was abysmal in this era. From her behavior, we may wish to suppose that this woman married at a slightly older age, perhaps at 18 or so. It seems equally clear that she was educated, probably by tutors at home.

Bridegrooms were typically older, sometimes as old as thirty, which created a considerable age difference and has several interesting implications. First of all, women, if they survived childbirth, would frequently have been widows and therefore suitable for a second marriage. It also ensured that a considerable gap in life experience characterized these marriages. From the inscription we know that Turia was younger, but not by how much. Her husband bemoans her early passing - he should have been the first to go.

Their marriage was probably arranged by their parents. While consent was desirable, it was not necessary for the girl to give hers, and silence was interpreted as consent, a meaningless concept for 12-year-olds in any case. It is likely that the partners would have known each other; we know that in some cases, they may have even maneuvered to encourage the marriage. Usually, however, political alliance or financial interest dictated marriage partners.

The couple was childless - unusual in a society in which marriage functioned as a vehicle for preserving and further family name and fortune. They did not attempt to adopt a son into the family, a fairly common tactic to preserve families. The husband only mentions that Turia devoted herself and her money to raising and marrying off female relatives otherwise unspecified - and that this offered them advantages they would otherwise not have had.

III. Deeds

Much of the epitaph deals with a recitation of Turia's deeds. We expect language of praise, much of it extremely conventional. These conventions are observed here although you can tell that this isn't the part of the story he is interested in:

"Why should I mention your domestic virtues, your loyalty, obedience, affability, reasonableness, industry in working wool, religion without superstition, sobriety of attire, modesty of appearance?"

To these qualities he adds one other, of special importance: She is unparalleledin her devotion to and defense of the family. Few women, he remarks, have been as challenged in this regard as she. Here we come to the truly exceptional part of this epitaph.

He relates a series of episodes in which Turia was called upon to take extraordinary action to defend her own or family interests. These actions required her to cross the boundary of her threshold, so to speak, and to act in ways which may have been unprecedented for women before this age of uncertainty. As you will have gathered by now, this was not women's appropriate sphere of activity: they had no political rights. But the women of Turia's generation were challenged differently, and she, at least was prepared to meet the challenge.

The first situation happened when she was betrothed but not yet a bride. As he puts it, "You became an orphan suddenly before the day of our wedding, when both your parents were murdered together in the solitude of the countryside. It was mainly due to your efforts that the death of your parents was not left unavenged. For I had left for Macedonia and your sister's husband Cluvius had gone to the Province of Africa. So strenuously did you perform your filial duty by your insistent demands and your pursuit of justice that we could not have done more if we had been present. But these merits you have in common with that most virtuous lady your sister. While you were engaged in these things, having secured the punishment of the guilty, you immediately left you own house in order to guard your modesty and you came to my mother's house, where you awaited my return."

The murder of her parents, certainly the most shocking event of this woman's young life, may have been linked to the political climate. The fact that the murderers appear to have been easily identified enhances this interpretation as does the surrounding context of violence. The were probably killed by political enemies who hoped to profit in some way. This event must have directly coincided with the flight from Italy of those allied with Pompey after Caesar's invasion. Both the sister's husband Cluvius and the fiance take off for the east - as did many of Pompey's supporters. With the deaths of their parents, the two sisters are left on their own. Whatever fight they engaged in, it is vaguely worded - we hear only of the "punishment of the guilty." Notice that Turia immediately enters the house of her future inlaws, an act he commends as proper. Her behavior is characterized by pietas and devoted to the custodia pudicitiae.

An insight into the murder of her parents might also come from the next part of the text where he alludes to a legal fight which ensued in the aftermath of the death of both parents. This is a complicated business: On the death of her parents, Turia was named, along with her fiance, as heir to her father's will. This is not insignificant since wills were the primary means of transferring wealth in this society. She stood to become a very wealth woman and her fiance also would benefit, perhaps in an equal share. The sister was presumably mentioned in the will as a legatee. The reason for this may be that she had married with manus and became technically part of her husband's family.

The will was attacked on extremely technical legal grounds. The attackers claimed that the father's will had become invalid. Under the rules of intestate succession, only Turia would have been an heir. But she would have required a guardian. The attackers claimed to be distant family relations - gentiles - and as such, were petitioning to be named her guardians according to the rules on intestate succession. These people had one purpose: to claim guardianship of Turia and control her fortune.(2)

Once again, she fights and wins. Her husband describes her steadfastness and resolution in the face of this challenge and in asserting the truth of the situation: The will had not been broken and even if it had, the attackers had no standing as members of any clan or extended family of hers. Again, the details are left murky. Whatever means she took to achieve these ends are suppressed.

Let me pause for a moment to discuss important institutions revealed by this episode. First of all, this family is explicitly old-fashioned in its ways. Marriage with manus was falling out of favor as far as we know: it created a marriage in which the wife entered a legal state of dependence on her husband who had legal control of her property. The preferred form of marriage in Turia's day was the so-called "free marriage" in which the woman remained part of her own family and, on her father's death, achieved control over her property. (This type of marriage favored keeping family fortunes with the family. Gifts between husbands and wives were not valid.) (It is possible that Turia's family had intended for her to marry with manus, therefore the provision of her fiance as co-heir. He was being readied for the marriage that would give him control over her affairs. But this may not have been the case.)

Secondly, there is the institution of guardianship. A woman whose male ancestors (males in her father's line of his generation or before) had died was required to have a guardian throughout her life if her father wasn't living. The tutor was required to approve the woman's business dealings, women being regarded as not having the seriousness of mind necessary to conduct business. This institution had weakened substantially by this time, and became weaker so that women could name their own tutors or under certain circumstances be allowed not to have one. However, the sort of adverse guardianship that would have been created by Turia's opponents would surely have been neither tolerant nor beneficial to her interests.

Concerning her fiance's - or perhaps husband's - absence on this occasion, more should be said, as this circumstance sets the stage for her further extraordinary acts. As mentioned earlier, it seems likely that his alliance was with Pompey. After Pompey's death in 48, all of his followers were forbidden to return to Italy without special permission. Turia saves the situation: She talks him into hiding himself and he follows her superior judgement. She organized his finances during this exile, and managed to sneak money, servants and provisions to him. This saved his life. As if this weren't enough, during his absence, a gang attempted to break into their house - purchased from T. Annius Milo, a famous politico and peter-do-well, known to us principally because of a speech Cicero composed in defense of Milo on a charge of murder. Her husband describes her as warding them off and defending the house.

In his absence, his troubles increase. Caesar's successors, including his great-nephew, the future emperor Augustus, Marcus Antonius, and the much less accomplished Marcus Lepidus became the new force to reckon with, as partners in the 2nd Triumvirate. They immediately set about solidifying their control and getting rid of their enemies. It seems clear that her husband, as one of these, was "proscribed." This means that his name appeared on a list of enemies of the triumvirs - there were thousands of them, Cicero being the most famous. These individuals were marked for death and their property was Confi scated. Her last, and from his point of view, greatest act of heroism, occurred when he was proscribed. She worked assiduously to persuade the future emperor to recall her husband. He proved persuadable, but another of the triumvirs, Lepidus, disagreed, and he actually had the administration of Italy at this time. She implored him, an act her husband calls, "The bitterest thing that happened to me in my life."

"You lay prostrate at his feet, and you were not only not raised up, but were dragged away and carried off brutally like a slave. But although your body was full of bruises, your spirit was unbroken and you kept reminding him of Caesar's edict... you pronounced the words of the edict in a loud voice, so that it should be known who was the cause of my deadly perils. This matter was soon to prove harmful for him."

Of course, Lepidus was discarded by his two colleagues within a few years, although we can't attribute it to this episode.

In all of these episodes, we can see Turia's extraordinarily resolute and effective behavior in confronting violence, legal trickery, brigandage, political enmity. She must have repeatedly been called upon to act aggressively outside the home. Her main weapons are her courage, tenacity, and conviction; these traits, along with the confidence and education her status gave her, her apparent persuasiveness, and her family connections brought about her success in each case. The vague wording of the epitaph conceals the rest."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Women in the Roman Law Courts

I just finished listening to the unabridged version of Steven Saylor's new epic novel "Roma". I was particularly intrigued by a reference to a court case involving a significant number of Roman women who conspired to poison their husbands and male relatives. After an extensive investigation that reached into the villas of the wealthy, a number of the women were found guilty and executed. Knowing how carefully Steven researches his books, I felt certain that this incident must have been based on fact. So I began researching it. Although I haven't found this particular incident I did find an article about women who had the force of will to personally take on the Roman courts discussed as part of a larger work on The Parable of the Feisty Widow and the Threatened Judge (Luke 18.1–8) by Wendy Cotter of Loyola University that I found quite interesting:

"A. J. Marshall’s article ‘Ladies at Law: The Role of Women in the Roman Civil Courts’ 23 focuses attention on the evidence found in an essay of Valerius Maximus (c.14–30 ce). The title of the essay, ‘Women who Pleaded before Magistrates for Themselves or for Others’, is sufficient to indicate its oddity in that society, and his introduction explains why:

Nor should I be silent about those women whose natural condition and the modesty of the matron’s robe could not make them keep silent in the Forum and the courts of law.24

Women’s ‘natural condition’ belonged in the domestic, private sphere of the
home, not in the public male domain of the courts, and any woman who frequented
public male space would be seen to be inviting male attention and violating
‘the modesty of the matron’s robe’.25

There are three examples given of women who broke these codes of social
decency: a heroine, a charmer, and a scandalous busybody. First, Hortensia, the
daughter of a deceased senator-friend of Valerius, is said to have strode into court
interrupting the triumvirs to challenge their ruling that Roman women whose
husbands were at war should pay a war tax. The astonished judges sat dumbfounded
while she argued before them. Valerius shows himself benign towards
her as he recalls his friendship with her father,26 but Appian’s record of the same
event is devoid of that sentiment:

'While Hortensia thus spoke the triumvirs were angry that women should
dare to hold a public meeting when the men were silent; that they should
demand from magistrates the reasons for their acts, and themselves not so
much as furnish money while the men were serving in the army. They
ordered the lictors to drive them away from the tribunal.'27

The triumvirs are incensed that the women held a ‘public’ meeting, since women
belong in the private sphere and should be modestly unassuming in public.
Moreover, the anger of the triumvirs relates to a sort of sexual role reversal that
had taken place, for Hortensia was lecturing while the triumvirs, taken by surprise,
were silent and appeared passive. Their command that the lictors ‘drive
them away’ is an effort to reestablish the proper social and sexual roles, with men
inside the courts and women outside.

In the second story, Maesia of Sentinum seems to have possessed a charming
manner so that she impressed the judges with her well-formed arguments. They
sought to compliment her with the epithet of ‘Androgyne’ because, they reasoned,
‘she bore a man’s spirit under the form of a woman’.28 That is, to their
minds, the only reason that Maesia was able to argue rationally and fittingly was
because, in effect, she had a man’s spirit in spite of having a woman’s form.

Finally there is Carfania, the dreaded wife of a senator, who used her position
to attend court constantly and argue her own cases, ‘not because she could not
find advocates, but because she had impudence to spare’. Valerius Maximus calls
her ‘a notorious example of female litigiousness’, so that ‘women of shameless habit are taunted with the name Carfania by way of reproach’.29 In fact, Carfania’s
behaviour was never forgotten by Roman lawyers or magistrates, as seen in
the Ulpian Digest III.1.1.5, which forbids women to appear before a praetor,
specifically mentioning Carfania by name.30 Juvenal’s Satire 6 uses just such
a Carfania-like character called Manilia as an extreme example of social

There was never a case in court in which the quarrel was not started by a
woman. If Manilia is not a defendant, she’ll be the plaintiff; she will herself
frame and adjust the pleadings; she will be ready to instruct Celsus [a
fashionable lawyer] himself how to open his case and how to urge his

These examples demonstrate the intolerance in Roman culture of women’s
involvement with the courts... - The Parable of the Feisty Widow and the
Threatened Judge (Luke 18.1–8) WENDY COTTER C.S.J.Loyola University, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

23 A. J. Marshall, ‘Ladies at Law: The Role of Women in the Roman Civil Courts’, Studies in Latin
Literature and Roman History V (ed. Carl Deroux; Brussels: Latomus. Revue D’Études
Latines, 1989) 35–54.
24 Valerius Maximus, Memorable Doings and Sayings (trans. D. R. Shackleton Bailey; LCL;
Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard University, 2000) VIII.3.1–3.
25 See the examples offered by Valerius Maximus on ‘The Punishment of Wives in Early Rome’, among which he sites the decision of Gaius Sulpicius Gallus to divorce his wife ‘because he had caught her outdoors with her head uncovered: a stiff penalty but not without a certain logic. “The law,” he said, “prescribes for you my eyes alone to which you may prove your beauty. . . . If you with needless provocation invite the look of anyone else, you must be suspected of wrongdoing.”’ Another case involves Publius Sempronius Sophus, ‘who disgraced his wife with divorce merely because she dared attend the games without his knowledge’. Valerius Maximus concludes his review with the approving comment: ‘And so, long ago, when the misdeeds of women were thus forstalled, their minds stayed far from wrongdoing.’ - Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings, VI.3.9–12.
26 Valerius Maximus, Memorable Doings and Sayings, VIII.3.3. See also the praise of Quintilian:
‘In parents I should wish that there be as much learning as possible. Nor do I speak, indeed
merely of fathers; for we have heard of that Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi (whose very
learned writing in her letters has come down to posterity), contributed greatly to their eloquence;
. . . and the oration of the daughter of Quintus Hortensius, delivered before the
Triumviri, is read not merely as an honor to her sex.’
27 Appian, The Civil Wars (trans. Horace White; LCL; London: Heinemann/New York:
Macmillan, 1913) IV.5.34.
28 Valerius Maximus, Memorable Doings and Sayings, VIII.3.1.
29 Ibid., VIII.3.2, emphasis mine.
30 ‘origo uero introducta est a Carfania improbissima femina, quae inuerecunde postulans et
magistratum inquietans causam dedit edicto.’ For this reference I am indebted to Marshall,
‘Ladies at Law’, 44.
31 Juvenal, Satires (trans. G. G. Ramsay; London: Heinemann/New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons,
1928) 6.242–5.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The 'Gallic Menace' in Caesar's Propaganda by Jane Gardner

I mentioned in a post about Steven Saylor's new novel "Roma" that I was surprised at how long the Gauls "sacked " Rome - almost seven months. It's no wonder the threat of a Gaul invasion remained in the Roman consciousness for centuries. However, politicians of the late Roman Republic did not overlook the opportunity to exploit this common fear either to accomplish their goals. Both Cicero of the Optimates and Julius Caesar of the Populares manipulated this "organizational memory" to their advantage:

"Most of the migrating Gauls who invaded the Italian peninsula in
the early fourth century B.C. had settled down to farm the Po valley;
the sack of Rome in about 390 B.c., whose memory stayed vivid in
Roman national tradition, was the work of outlying stragglers, a roaming
band of Senones. Intermittent conflicts with the Po valley tribes
ended with the whole area coming under Roman control c.190 B.c.;
even Hannibal had raised only belated and partial support there. It
was not Celtic tribes but Germans coming from further afield, the
Cimbri and Teutoni, who in 109-101 B.C. invaded the Transalpine
province, defeated three Roman armies, and finally were defeated by
Marius, the Teutoni at Aix-en-Provence and the Cimbri in northern
Italy at Vercellae. Twenty years later, Romans apparently felt secure
enough to own and operate farms in the Province (Cicero, pro
Quinctio 12ff.; cf. Varro R.R. 3.12.1), though there are some signs of
restlessness. Pompey encountered some obstruction from tribesmen on
his way through Transalpine Gaul in 76 B.C. (Cicero, de imp. Cn.
Pomp. 30).

Thus, there had been little real danger since the early second
century; however, the lurking fear remained and was exploited by
Roman politicians. As is well known, Cicero made use of a group of
envoys from the Allobroges as double agents, and possibly to some
extent agents provocateurs, to secure evidence for the arrest of the
Catilinarian conspirators. These envoys were in Rome to make
representations about the exactions of the Roman governor and
Roman money-lenders (Sallust, Cat. 40). They evidently failed to
obtain satisfaction, because in the following two years there was an
uprising amongst them (Caesar B.G. 1.6, 44).' At the time in 63 B.c.,
however, they were willing to help the Roman consul, perhaps because
he had given them some sort of undertaking as the price of their help.
His own explanation of the reason for their cooperation is no explanation
at all. The cause, Cicero surmises, was divine intervention
(In Catil. 3.22). For the purposes of his indictment of the conspirators
the Gauls must not be allowed themselves to have any sentiments
towards Rome other than hostility and aggression. They are 'unknown
and barbarous' and Lentulus and his associates would never have
confided in them if the gods had not robbed them of their commonsense.
Gaul is a race imperfectly pacified, the only nation remaining
which appears to have the power - and not to lack the will - to make
war on Rome. In the fourth Catilinarian, Cicero speaks in terms that
recall, without actually mentioning, the sack by the Senones. The aim
of the conspirators' activity has been to set up the tribe of the
Allobroges amid the ruins of Rome and on the ashes of the government
overthrown (4.12 - compare the way in which in the third
Catilinarian 3.9, the Gauls' evidence that they had been told to supply
cavalry is sandwiched between references to the conspirators' alleged
intention to commit wholesale massacre and arson). In short, Cicero
trusted the Allobrogic envoys; but he represents them as untrustworthy.

Caesar represents the danger to Rome from the Gauls as arising in
part from the nature of the Gauls themselves and in part from the
pressure they were experiencing from Germanic peoples. Different
areas of Gaul varied in their degree of political development. Those
areas nearest the Province show most signs of having come under the
influence of Roman political institutions, those further away progressively
less so. The Celtic tribes in particular, of whom Caesar
singles out for mention three important sections - the Arverni, the
Aedui, and the Helvetii - had already abandoned hereditary kingship
and instead had magistrates, annually elected and answerable to
councils, and public codes of law (see, e.g., 1.3-4, 16, 19; 7.4, 32ff.).2
The tribes further away, the northern Celts, the Aremorican tribes,
and the Belgae, both those on the mainland and those in Britain, still
retained kingship. The Germanic tribes beyond the Rhine, according
to Caesar, were still pastoral, without settled agriculture, and accepted
a centralized authority only in time of war (6.22-23).

The first of these groups, i.e., primarily the Celtic peoples, were
evolving a type of government that was familiar to the Romans and with
which they could deal by familiar methods. Treaties and promises of
friendship already existed between some of them and the Romans.
However, these governments, according to Caesar, were still far from
stable. Of the Gauls in general he remarks (6.1 l), 'Not only every
tribe, canton, and subdivision of a canton, but almost every family,
is divided into rival factions'. This, he says, is an ancient custom,
providing the common people with patrons and protectors among the
more powerful. The same factions, however, could be and were used
to support attempts to seize monarchic power. Powerful men, says
Caesar, and those who could afford to hire mercenaries, commonly
usurped thrones (2.1). In the context, he appears to be referring to
the Belgae, but in his narrative elsewhere we find monarchic ambitions
imputed to the Helvetian Orgetorix (1.2), the Aeduan Dumnorix
(1.9ff.), and hinted at in Vercingetorix (7.4, 20), while the anxiety
shown in the treatment of suspected usurpers is reminiscent of Livy's
accounts of the hypersensitive reactions of citizens of the infant Roman

Orgetorix' kingly ambitions are said to have induced him to organize
a conspiracy and to persuade his people, by holding out prospects of
conquering the whole of Gaul, to emigrate en masse. He then persuaded
Dumnorix the Aeduan and a Sequanian named Casticus to
make similar attempts to seize royal power. Their ultimate aim, according
to Caesar, was to set up an empire, under their joint control,
over the whole of Gaul. Caesar, then, in moving against the Helvetii,
was warding off the imminent rise of a strong, united, and imperialistic
power in Gaul. The Helvetic invasion, on this view, had nothing
to do with the Aedui and their problems as a people, but originated
in the personal treasonable ambitions of the individuals named. Yet
the unmasking of Orgetorix apparently does not lead to Dumnorix'
fall from influence among the Aedui, and the Helvetii still persist
with their invasion - as they naturally would, had they in fact been
answering an appeal for help from the Aeduan nation.

The Aedui, to whom the Senate had accorded the title 'Brothers
and Kinsmen of the Roman People' (1.33) had in 61 B.C. approached
the Romans for help against the Sequani and Ariovistus, but without
success (6.12). Caesar as consul in 59 B.C. had secured for
Ariovistus the titles 'King' and 'Friend of the Roman People', possibly in the hope of delaying the eruption of trouble for Rome's clients
beyond the frontier of the Transalpine Province, while he pursued his
original intention, using the legions based at Aquileia (1.10), of an
Illyrian campaign. The campaigns against the Helvetii and Ariovistus,
being beyond the frontier of the Province, needed justification, and
this Caesar is at pains to provide. The Helvetii were a threat to the
Province (1 .lo, 30) -not very plausible geographically, had they really
been bound for the country of the Santoni; injuries to Rome's allies
(1.11, 14) and to the Romans themselves in the past (1.7, 12, 13, 30)
are also cited. The defence of loyal allies is also mentioned as a reason
for opposing Ariovistus (1.45), despite Caesar's previous fobbing-off
of those same allies. Since Ariovistus was a 'Friend' the case against
him is harder to establish. In the end, Caesar lays most stress on
Ariovistus' arrogance and truculence and on the 'German menace'.

'If the Germans gradually formed a habit of crossing the Rhine and
entering Gaul in large numbers, he saw how dangerous it would be for
the Romans. If these fierce Barbarians occupied the whole of Gaul, the
temptation would be too strong for them; they would cross the
frontier into the Province, as the Cimbri and Teutoni had done before
them and march on Italy' (1.33; cf. 1.40). Ariovistus is allowed in
1.44 to suggest that to be a Friend of the Roman People ought to
be the basis of advantages for both parties. Caesar does not pursue the
implications of this. The answer he provides for his Roman audience
(1.45) is that Rome had the prior claim to the area, should she choose
to exercise it." - Greece & Rome, 2nd Ser., Vol. 30, No. 2. (Oct., 1983)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Teaching Company Adds "Roman Emperors' to Classics Courses

I was thrilled to see that The Teaching Company has added a 36-lecture series on the Roman Emperors to their Classics offerings. I've already received mine and look forward to listening to it.

"They are said to be the most powerful rulers who ever lived—a checkered mix of the wise, the brutal, and the unhinged. For more than five centuries they presided over a multi-ethnic empire that was nearly always at war, if not with neighbors then with rebellious factions within the empire itself. The full scope of their powers was not systematized in constitutional law, a fact that tempted many of them to overreach disastrously; and the lack of clear rules of succession meant that most of them died violently.

Yet, on balance, the emperors of Rome served as a stabilizing influence in a realm that straddled three continents and covered more than 32 modern nation-states, with a population numbering about 60 million souls at the height of Roman prosperity.

Rulers Treated as Gods

How did this system of rule come about? What did it replace? And who were the colorful, cruel, and crafty men who filled this almost omnipotent post? Television series such as I, Claudius have explored the complex personalities of several of the better-known emperors, whom you will meet in depth in this course:

  • Augustus: Known as Octavian during the long civil wars that extinguished the Roman Republic, he titled himself "Augustus," the first emperor of Rome, after vanquishing all rivals and becoming the undisputed strong man of the sprawling empire.
  • Caligula: Supposedly the most deranged Roman emperor of all, Caligula executed people indiscriminately, sent his troops on nonsensical maneuvers, and famously invited his favorite horse to dinner and planned to make him consul. But were his crimes exaggerated by ancient sources?
  • Claudius: Reputedly a halfwit who was named Caligula's successor by the imperial guards on a whim, Claudius may actually have connived in Caligula's murder and arranged his own elevation. Whatever his route to power, his reign was surprisingly successful.
  • Nero: As emperor, Nero performed in chariot races, dramas, and poetry recitals. The "fiddle" he reportedly played while Rome burned was actually a lyre, but the mystery remains: Did he set the fire himself, was it an accident, or were the Christians really responsible, as he claimed?
  • Trajan: Moderate at home and warlike abroad, Trajan was the perfect mix of Roman virtues. His reign inaugurated the period of the empire's greatest strength and stability, when emperors adopted their successors from among able army commanders. But that sensible policy did not last.
  • Commodus: The son of the esteemed philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius, Commodus believed himself to be Hercules reincarnated—a role he enacted in the Colosseum in combats with wild beasts and gladiators. He renamed Rome and all the months of the year after himself.
  • Diocletian: The Roman Empire seemed doomed to disintegration until this general rose to the top job. He subdivided imperial authority, established a new system of succession, and institutionalized the despotic powers of his office, giving the empire a new lease on life.
  • Constantine: The first Christian emperor was apparently reluctant to forsake the old pagan gods; they continued to appear in official iconography. But Constantine's endorsement of Christianity and his founding of a new capital called Constantinople opened a new era of Western history.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Seismologist says earthquake triggered the Boudiccan revolt

"It was an awesome David and Goliath battle waged two thousand years ago that shook the Roman Empire.

And now, the riddle of Queen Boudicca's victory over her mighty foe on East Anglian soil has taken a new tumble and twist that could rewrite the history books.

A study by a leading archaeologist has revealed that a previously unknown earthquake shook the southeast of England at the time the Iceni tribe led their rebellion - bringing a sign of divine approval for Boudicca and a bad omen for her opponents.

Up until now, a series of bizarre events that allegedly took place at the time have been played down as exaggeration and allegory rather than taken at face value.

But British classicist Raphael Isserlin has re-examined the ancient texts and concluded that they are not simply classical literary devices, but descriptions of a serious earthquake that hit the heart of the religious and political capital of Roman Britain - Colchester.

BBC History magazine, which has published Mr Isserlin's findings, explains that the texts recall how the “statue of the goddess Victory in Colchester partly rotated and toppled over, how strange sounds were heard and how the sea turned blood red”.

Along with Dr Roger Musson, the British Geological Survey's most senior seismologist, Mr Isserlin believes these three events are likely to occur during a strong earthquake.

“The noise, a deep, dull sound could conceivably have been described as a strange moan or prolonged groan - often accompanies earthquakes,” Dr Musson told BBC History.

“The seawater change could result from seismic waves causing cliff collapses or destabilising sloping mud deposits which can muddy the water and transform the colouring of the sea.

The re-interpretation is significant because the Colchester area saw one of the country's most serious seismic disasters of recent centuries - a 4.7 magnitude earthquake which hit the town and surrounding villages in 1884.

Around 1,200 buildings were damaged and the event caused huge amounts of noise.

“The realisation that the phenomena, referred to in the classical sources as encouraging the British rebels, almost certainly refer to a real earthquake, means the events played a very real role in helping to trigger the Boudiccan revolt,” added Mr Isserlin."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Zeugma Mosaics cover 800 Sq. Meters in Turkish Museum

"Until 2005 most people viewed Gaziantep as a mere transit point en route to supposedly more interesting places in Southeastern Turkey -- such as the colossal statues atop Mt. Nemrut or Urfa’s pools of Abraham.

All that changed with the completion and opening in June of that year of the massive new wing of the city’s archaeological museum. Built to house the magnificent finds from the nearby Hellenistic/ Roman city of Zeugma, Gaziantep and its museum now boast one of the premier collections of Roman mosaics anywhere in the world.

Not only is the quality of workmanship of the mosaics superb, so is the way in which they are exhibited. Central to the museum is a partial recreation, using original materials, of a room from a Roman villa at Zeugma. The intricate mosaic floor is surrounded by its original colonnade, and sections of amazingly well-preserved fresco complete the scene. In total there are over 800 square meters of mosaic on display at the museum, all imaginatively lit and well explained with information boards in Turkish and English.

What makes the museum even more remarkable is the fact that everything you see could so easily have been lost forever. In 1995 two French archaeologists had been given a six-week permit to dig the site of Zeugma, some 20 kilometers east of Gaziantep, on the west bank of the mighty Euphrates. With only five days remaining and little to show for their efforts, they uncovered a mosaic floor. Permission was granted to extend the excavations, and a race against the clock began to salvage as much of possible of what was clearly a major archaeological site before it was submerged under the waters of the Birecik dam. A frenzied effort by a massive international team in 2000 ensured that many of the mosaics were, indeed, rescued.

When you look at some of the scenes depicted in the mosaics at the museum, it is hard to believe that they are made up of tiny stone tablets, so fine is the workmanship. Many different craftsmen worked on the large mosaic floors at Zeugma. The least skilled and inexperienced were given the job of doing the plain borders and geometric work. Better craftsmen worked on plant and animal scenes. Next up the skill ladder were architectural scenes. Human figures were the preserve of the most skilled and experienced, but even here the work was ranked by degree of difficulty. The less talented worked on hands and arms, leaving the master craftsmen to do the faces. Just take a look at the fragment of mosaic which has rapidly become the symbol, not only of the museum, but of Gaziantep itself -- the so-called “gypsy girl.” Her eyes are expressiveness incarnate and appear to follow you as you walk across the room in front of her.

Most of the mosaics feature beautifully wrought scenes from Greek mythology and legend. Ariadne (the beautiful daughter of King Minos of Crete, treacherously dumped on the island of Naxos by the arrogant Theseus, whom she had helped kill the man-eating Minotaur) is depicted at her wedding with her savior -- Dionysus, god of wine. Achilles, dressed as a woman by his protective mother, Thetis, to prevent him being sent to fight at Troy, is found out when he can’t resist reaching out for weapons proffered to him by the wily Odysseus. Given Zeugma’s riverside location, its wealthy inhabitants were particularly fond of scenes depicting water deities. Most impressive of these is a panel showing Poseidon, second only to Zeus in the Greek pantheon of gods, emerging from the water above Oceanus and Tethys, who were believed to have had 3,000 daughters and 3,000 sons."

Mosaics are among my favorite art forms and I hope to visit this wonderful museum one day. There was an excellent presentation about the Zeugma excavation on OPB entitled "Lost Roman Treasure". I highly recommend it.

Also, see the Official Zeugma Website.

Recommended books:

Thursday, June 14, 2007

After 10 Years Curtain Rises on Rome Reborn

There's been quite a bit of publicity about the newly announced website for the Rome Reborn project at the University of Virginia this week. Naturally, I had to go up and take a look. This project originated way back in 1996. The project director, Bernard Frischer, explained his vision to the board in a meeting in the winter of 1996.

"In 1446 a truly innovative book was published by the Renaissance humanist and papal secretary, Flavio Biondo. Its Latin title was Roma instaurata, which we loosely translate as Rome Reborn. The book presented the first systematic topography of ancient Rome, based on an extensive array of sources and an intimate familiarity with the ancient ruins.

The first attempt at a scientific treatment of the ancient city, the book was frequently
reprinted and went through a dozen editions by the mid-sixteenth century. For purposes of our project, it is important to note that, for Biondo, the study of the ancient city did not concern itself with bricks and mortar alone, but also with the cultural life of the people who inhabited the city. Biondo also recognized that visualization of the lost world of ancient Rome was crucial, if his reader was to grasp, as he put it, how “greatly ancient Rome surpassed modern Rome in grandeur, beauty, and civilization.” Thus, next to chapters on the walls, gates, streets, hills, and neighborhoods of ancient Rome, there are also chapters on religious and political institutions and on the public baths, games, and spectacles. Little surprise, then, that one distinguished scholar has recently called Biondo “the founder of modern topography.”

Biondo’s book was the fruit of tours and studies of the city he made with an important
patron, and indeed its purpose was to help visitors to the ruins understand what they were seeing. Biondo was the first to express what has since become a commonplace: that the very greatness of the ancient city has made it difficult to understand. As Biondo put it, “so many and wonderful are the monuments of Rome…that they could fill up an enormous book, even if the author was sparing in his descriptions.” As an aid to the reader, he may have planned to include a detailed map of the ancient city, which, had he done so, would have been the first ever attempted in the modern period. It took another century for such a map to be published.

The Development of Visualization from Biondo to the “Plastico di Roma antica”

The need for such visual aids has constantly been felt because even highly educated
visitors to Rome report being overwhelmed by the daunting task of understanding the city. Edward Gibbon, author of the massive Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1788), was a learned man, if ever there was one. Yet he tells us the following about how difficult he found Rome on his first visit:

"My temper is not very susceptible of enthusiasm …But at the distance of twenty-five years I can neither forget nor express the strong emotions which agitated my mind as I first approached and entered the eternal City. After a sleepless night, I trod with a lofty step the ruins of the Forum; each memorable spot where Romulus stood, or Cicero spoke, or Caesar fell, was at once present to my eye; and several days of intoxication were lost or enjoyed before I could descend to a cool and minute investigation. My guide was Mr. Byers, a Scotch antiquary of experience and taste; but in the long daily labour of eighteen weeks the powers of attention were sometimes fatigued, till I was myself at last qualified…to [understand] the major works of ancient and modern art there."

Not everyone could (or can) afford to hire a fulltime guide for 18 weeks and stay in
Rome that long to learn about the city. Gibbon was fortunate that he was able to do so. Johann Wolfgang Goethe, arriving a few years after Gibbon, resembles most of us, I suspect, in having to fend for himself and in having to rely on the kinds of books and visual aids that Biondo pioneered. Upon first arriving in Rome, Goethe wrote this in his diary:

"[Rome] is something that has suffered many drastic changes in the course of two thousand years, yet we find there still the same soil, the same hill, often even the same column or wall, and in its people one still finds traces of their ancient character. Contemplating this, the observer [finds]…it difficult…to follow the evolution of the city, to grasp not only how Modern Rome follows on Ancient, but also how, within both, one age follows upon another. I shall first of all try to grope my way along this half-hidden track by myself, for only after I have done that shall I be able to benefit from the excellent earlier studies to which, from the fifteen century until today, eminent scholars and artists have devoted their lives.

As the quotation from Goethe suggests, it didn’t take long until Biondo’s verbal
reconstruction of the city in the form of a book inspired some two and three dimensional models. Thus Raphael, as supervisor of antiquities of the city of Rome at the beginning of the 1500s, is reported to have worked on a map of ancient Rome, but no trace of this survives. What we do have are many reconstructions on paper and canvass in the form of drawings, engravings, and paintings. For example, the Parisian architect Etienne Du Pérac produced a new plan of ancient Rome in 1574 and along with it a book entitled Drawings of the Ruins of Rome and How They Appeared in Antiquity. This collection went through nine editions over the next two centuries, proving yet again—if more proof were needed—that tourists and students of Rome find such aids absolutely indispensable.

By the way, a descendent of Du Pérac’s book is still in print in Rome today and is sold in the thousands at $35 per copy for the large size and $20 for the small. It is simply entitled Ancient Rome: Monuments Past and Present, and it ingeniously puts transparencies showing the ancient buildings over photos of the way things look today.

The climax of this effort to date is without doubt the Plastico di Roma antica—a 250
square meter reconstruction of the ancient city at a scale of 1:250. It represents the city at a fixed moment in time—the age of the Emperor Constantine the Great in the fourth century AD, when we think that the population had reached a peak of something like one million inhabitants. The buildings in the model are made of plaster of Paris, reinforced by vegetal fibers and metal. The hills are made of clay. Color is used, and there is an attempt to show vegetation and trees. Begun in the mid 1930s, the Plastico di Roma antica was built over the next forty years as a collaborative effort between architect Italo Gismondi, the Superintendent of Excavations at Ostia Antica, and many leading Roman archaeologists at the University of Rome. The participation of such subject experts ensured that the model was as scientifically accurate as possible.

Wonderful as the Plastico is—and I can’t say enough how much I love it and how much I use it in my research and teaching—it does have some understandable shortcomings.
First, it is a relatively low-resolution model, meant to be seen from a balcony 15-20 feet above, not from close up. Thus, most of the models of structures lack any surface detail such as doors and windows. Second, the Plastico shows Rome at a fixed moment in time and thus is not suited to show the growth and development of the city over time. It gives a somewhat misleading view of our knowledge of the city, providing only one reconstruction of each site when there are sometimes hotly competing alternative versions of the way things looked. Moreover, it is not possible for the average viewer to move around on top of the model, let along to walk down its streets or to enter its buildings. In fact, for obvious reasons, there are no interior spaces to the thousands of buildings in the model. Finally, the Plastico is fixed to one physical location—a fairly remote museum in a suburb of Rome. You can’t readily take students or tourists there, unless they are already in Rome. That reduces its utility to just a small fraction of its potential uses.

Rome Reborn: Beyond the “Plastico di Roma antica to the Virtual World of the Twenty-First Century

This, at last, brings me to Rome Reborn. One quick way of understanding what we are doing is to say that we are trying to remedy the shortcomings of the Plastico. Another way is to say that we are trying to create a VR model of Rome that represents the highend state of the art in terms of our knowledge about the city and of today’s commercially available computer technology. We think that once completed, our model of ancient Rome will change the way students and tourists think about antiquity. Filled with reconstructions of historical events, offering tours by virtual guides—some of whom will even speak in Latin—the model should not only prepare one for a visit to the actual city; it should also capture the sense of awe and arouse the sense of curiosity that travelers from Goethe and Gibbon to today feel when they see the city." - Bernard Frischer, Speech to Rome Reborn Advisory Board, December 2, 1996

Almost eleven years have passed and, although I commend Dr. Frischer's vision and efforts, I must admit to being a bit disappointed upon viewing the VR models presented on the website. I have seen more realistic models built by game companies in a fraction of the time. I think a collaboration with professional graphic artists would yield much better results much more quickly. Unfortunately, collaboration between game companies and educators has been very slow in coming. The Rome Reborn project is a prime example of a worthy activity that could benefit greatly from such a cooperative effort.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Roman Empire provided planned healthful communities for retired veterans

Brief but interesting reference to the Roman Empire's planned retirement communities:

"he rulers and managers of the Roman Empire were among the first to consider what went into making a retirement village, community or home a successful endeavor. According to an article written for Aging Today magazine by Robert Chellis and Susan Correa Silva, they had very progressive ideas about what should be included in such a venture.

When legions of Roman warriors had been posted in a far-away land for 25 or so years and had completed their service, they were often encouraged by their officers to stay where they were instead of trying to return to live in the capital. The rulers of the empire hoped to cut down on the number of military returnees, both to extend colonial control and to relieve social pressure on Rome by reducing the number of returning, unemployed veterans.

One answer to the problem was a Roman retirement colony in what is now the Moroccan desert. Built some 2,000 years ago for retirees of the 16th Legion, which had been posted in North Africa for 25 years, it was one of many retirement colonies built in the far reaches of the Roman Empire.

These colonies were fully realized cities with paved streets, an amphitheater and a large civic forum, as well as considerable public art and baths. Although they didn’t contain what we might refer to as nursing homes, they did have well-developed and quite sophisticated hospitals available to all as a public health measure. Physicians were assigned staff positions at the lavish public baths to ensure general good health, and most retirement towns had people trained to prescribe reasonable regimes based on exercise and/or diet."

Monday, April 30, 2007

Textkit website offers free ancient Greek and Latin learning materials

This is just too cool! Now if there was just a learn Italian website that I could use for my upcoming trip!

"Textkit was created to help you learn Ancient Greek and Latin!

Textkit is the Internet's largest provider of free and fully downloadable Greek and Latin grammars and readers. With currently 146 free books to choose from, Greek and Latin learners have downloaded 687,131 grammars, readers and classical e-books.

There are also many other areas of Textkit which can help you learn Greek and Latin. Register in our Forum where you can meet and learn Greek and Latin with other learners. Join a Textkit Study Group where you can move through a textbook at a set schedule with others. Subscribe to our newsletter. With a subscription you'll be able to download our growing collection of Greek and Latin answer keys. Explore Textkit Tutorials - a growing collection of in-depth Greek and Latin grammar discussions. Finally, check out our newest area, Textkit Vocabulary, where you can create entirely free online vocabulary courses complete with quizzes.

You can get started by visiting our Learn Ancient Greek and Learn Latin areas to find more downloadable grammars, readers, lexicons and dictionaries."

Sunday, April 29, 2007

British playwright crafts play about the destruction of Carthage

STARVED into submission following a three-year siege, Carthage burned at the hands of Rome.

Seventeen days on, with the walled city nothing more than a smoking pyre, its once 250,000-strong population reduced to a mere 50,000 slaves, the third Punic war ended, bringing to a close more than a century of conflict between the age-old adversaries.

It is against the backdrop of the circumstances leading up to this war that Edinburgh playwright Alan Wilkins has set his second collaboration with the Traverse Theatre's associate director, Lorne Campbell.

Carthage Must Be Destroyed, the latest play in the Cambridge Street theatre's 2007 season, receives its world premiere on Sunday, after two previews, beginning tonight.

Wilkins' retelling of the war, which raged from 150BC and 146BC, promises to be a compelling story of political intrigue, double-dealing and the ruthless realities of taking a nation to war.

Fifty years after the ravages of Hannibal, the Roman Republic is doing well, although taxes have risen and there doesn't seem to be quite as much money around for wine, villas and boys with good complexions.

There have been mutterings about Cato's rule. He needs to find a scapegoat and the state of Carthage fits the bill. Carthage has too much money. Carthage is stockpiling weapons. Carthage is a threat to Rome. Delenda est Cathago - Carthage must be destroyed - and Cato knows just the man for the job, Senator Gregor.

Practiced in the art of having just enough power to guarantee privilege without ever having so much that it brings responsibility, Gregor is about to encounter the sharp end of politics.

Wilkins, who is also playwright-mentor for the Traverse Theatre's Young Writers' Group and represented Scotland as a tutor playwright at the 2006 Interplay festival in Lichtenstein, reveals that he was attracted to this specific period of Ancient Rome's history because of its parallels with today. He explains: "That period has just the right amount of parallels with the present, but also, because it's a period about which not a lot is really known, it allows the writer a certain freedom to play around a bit more.

"And of course it is Rome, so there is a lot of inherent drama, the use of rhetoric, the togas and the wrestling. It's quite fun for a writer.

"What I wanted to avoid was making this an overtly political play with a message. Most people who I know that go to the theatre have fairly clear views on the Iraq situation anyway, so although the piece might cause them to reflect on the situation, I'm not beating a drum.

"The idea that the past can help us inform the present is not a new one, but there has to be an emotional drama to back it up to make it worth while going to the theatre."

First performed as a staged reading during the Traverse Cubed season last year, Carthage Must Be Destroyed reunites the writer with Campbell for the first time in three years.

He says: "The piece is really Gregor's story. Cato is the one who wants to invade Carthage in order to distract minds from domestic troubles - obviously there are contemporary parallels there, 25 years after the Falklands. But I was more interested in the people that allow that to happen. The politicians who just say yes in order to protect what they have. So, more than Cato, this is Gregor's journey."

"Ruthless Roman" play teaches history in 3D

Now this is an example of the way history should be taught:

"AS YOU entered the Whitley Bay Playhouse you could feel the excitement as children of all ages took there seats. Everyone jumped as loud music rattled around the room, entrancing you to wonder what would happen next on the stage.

“They’re behind you!” the audience cried, as the Ruthless Romans sneaked behind the Barmy Britons. A backdrop of a state-of-the-art electronic screen gave you a virtual visit back into history. Jokes made laughter amongst the audience which showed everyone getting pulled right into the entertaining performance.

What a great way to have a history lesson; in a few hours you learned the Roman Empire’s history. Instead of text books and paper, you had 3D glasses making the battles seem as though you were there. Getting hit by flying skulls and arrows made the audience gasp.

Only four actors in the cast produced many characters by changing their hair or bringing on props. Starting out in modern day Rome as three tourists from Britain, they took an Italian guide who showed them back in time.

A hilarious game of weakest link, or should I say ‘the weakest king’ – it was the audience’s job to vote who was the worst king – really got the audience fired up with excitement.

Live on stage, the loud sound effects made all the difference and lighting really showed what Rome was like in those times, educating the children without them even realising. They were teaching and entertaining at the same time."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

David Parsons publishes fascinating blog for classicists

While I was researching the work of Dr. Ray Howell for a post in the Roman Scholars blog, I came across this wonderful, information-filled blog authored by David Parsons, a retired teacher and member of the Association for Latin Teaching. Well worth a visit and thorough browsing.

Silures revolt subject of new research

I found this article very interesting. I had not read about the Silures tribe and their quarter-century battle against the Romans. I'll have to look up Dr. Howell's book.

"A leading historian has documented the exploits of the ancient Silures tribe, who fought a long campaign against the Romans two millennia ago.

Dr Ray Howell from the University of Wales, Newport, even says our penchant for wearing red may spring from the tribe's favourite battle colour.

Dr Howell, a reader at the university's School of Education, has published an examination of the South-East Wales tribe, who came close to thwarting the Roman domination of southern Britain.

He said, "What emerges is not only a warrior society, but also a sophisticated people who traded widely and made good use of horses and horse-drawn vehicles...

They had war chariots with equestrian equipment decorated with red enamel. For the Silures the colour of war was emphatically red...

He believes the Silures tribe were more advanced than most people give them credit for, having waged a ferocious guerrilla campaign against the Romans which lasted far longer than even the famous Boudica-led revolt.

The Iron-Age tribe managed to defeat a whole Roman legion during their bloody campaign.

And even though their attacks from hill forts were eventually subdued after a quarter of a century, Dr Howell believes some of the culture of the tribe, which is likely to have spoken an extremely early form of Welsh, lived on after the Romans left Britain for good...

He believes there is still plenty more for archaeologists to discover about the civilisation, with just five of some 40 hill forts in Gwent having been explored."

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Louvre and the Ancient World to premiere in Atlanta

This sounds like a fascinating exhibit:

“The Louvre and the Ancient World,” features masterpieces from the founding cultures of Western civilization and will include more than 70 works from the Louvre’s unparalleled Egyptian, Near Eastern and Greco-Roman antiquities collections. Showcasing works dating from the third millennium BC through the third century AD, the exhibition will examine the rise of the museum and its collections of antiquities under Napoleon, the discoveries and decipherment of hieroglyphics and cuneiform and the Louvre’s leading role in excavating the cradle of civilization at the end of the nineteenth century and during the 20th century (most of the excavations for Near East).

The oldest works in the exhibition are drawn from the ancient cultures of Egypt, Susa (in modern Iran), the Neo-Sumerian city of Tello (in modern Iraq) and the Canaanite city of Ugarit (in modern Syria). Key works from these periods include the diorite “Statue of Wahibre, Governor of Upper Egypt” (Late period Egyptian); an Egyptian papyrus that belonged to the first Egyptian Museum whose curator, Jean-François Champollion, is credited with first deciphering hieroglyphics (Third Intermediate Period); an Attic black-figure amphora attributed to the potter Exekias (550–540 BC); and a dolerite “Statue of Gudea, Prince of Lagash” from Tello (Neo-Sumerian Period). A special installation will showcase the colossal, ten-foot-long “Tiber”—one of the largest sculptures in the Louvre’s collections. The statue personifies the Tiber River, Rome’s main trade artery. “The Louvre and the Ancient World” will be on view from October 16, 2007, through September 7, 2008."

Saturday, February 10, 2007

British Museum Expanding Space for Terracotta Warriors and Hadrian

I see the British Museum is planning to expand its exhibit space to accomodate a new tour of the Terracotta Warriors. I saw them years ago at an exhibit at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. This time, though, the exhibit will include some of the interesting figures of acrobats, scribes, and animals that have been recently excavated.

I was also thrilled to note that following the Chinese exhibit, the British Museum is planning to mount a major exhibition about the Roman Emperor Hadrian. I may need to plan a return visit to London for that one!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Conference on Roman Amphitheatres Slated

The conference, Roman Amphitheatres And Spectacula: A 21st Century Perspective is organised by English Heritage and Chester City Council and will be held at Chester’s Grosvenor Museum on February 17-18 2007.

Speakers from around the world have been lined up to showcase new research and stimulate debate about amphitheatre studies. Details of new amphitheatre sites found across the Roman world will be revealed and the organisation of the spectacles, like gladiatorial combat, will also be examined.

For more details on the conference see their website and visit the Chester Amphitheatre project site for more details

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Origins of the Huns debated

This week I started listening to a book about Attila the Hun and the impact of the Huns on the decline of the Roman Empire. As most of my study has focused on the Republican Period, I am still relatively uninformed about the late western Imperial Period except what I have gleaned from watching the TV miniseries "Attila" and reading a well-informed novel by a retired Canadian history professor, Boris Raymond, "The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus".

Therefore I was unfamiliar with theories about the origins of the Huns and found John Man's assertion that the Huns were remnants of the defeated XiongNu peoples of the area that would later be populated by the Mongols. Despite their "Chinese" sounding name, the XiongNu are

"...thought to have descended from various Turkic peoples known as Xianyun, Xunyu and Hongyu, yet all the knowledge we have come from Chinese sources written centuries later. However, as time passed, the name Xiongnu was applied to the Xiongnu’s subjects too, including Turkics, Mongolics, Tokharians, Iranics, etc.

The exact foundation of the Xiongnu Empire is unknown, but the earliest Chinese records about them date back to 4th-3rd centuries BC." - The XiongNu, All Empires

One of their greatest leaders was a king named Modu:
"Modu (Maodun in Modern Chinese), son of Touman, was his father's heir, but he was sent to exile to the Yuezhi, a nomadic Tokharian people in Gansu. Touman finally marched on the Yuezhi (this was a fake invasion, because Touman's new wife had wanted to kill Modu) but Modu was able to escape. Touman allowed Modu to return, and gave him a unit of 10,000 cavalries under his command. Modu trained his men very strictly, and during a hunt, he "accidently" shot his father with an arrow in 209 BC. "

Man related a much more interesting version of the above incident however. He said Modu trained his cavalry to shoot wherever he, himself, released an arrow, without hesitation. He began their training with innocent hunting expeditions but one day he shot at his favorite horse and the horse was impaled by a shower of arrows. Next day, he loosed an arrow towards his favorite wife. Again, she was pierced by a following volley of arrows. Finally, he went hunting with his father, the king, and loosed an arrow towards him. The king was pinioned
by so many arrows there wasn't room for another shaft in his body.

I also found it ironic that Roman mercernaries were hired by the last western Xiongnu king to try, unsuccessfully, to protect him from the conquering Han.

Decline and Collapse of the Xiongnu Empire:

"After Modu’s death, he was succeded by Jiyu (also known Laoshang Jiyu Chanyu), who ruled between 174 BC and 160 BC. During his reign, the Xiongnu kept their strentgh, Jiyu managed to penetrate deep into Central China near Chang'an (the Han capital) in 166 but he married with a Han princess and opened the Xiongnu territories to Han spies disguised as officers and diplomats. These spies provoked the subject peoples to revolt against their masters, which later resulted in the break up of the vast Xiongnu Empire. One of them, Zhang Qian, was famous from his expedition to the Yuezhi, although he was captured by the Xiongnu and was forced to stay as a captive for ten years. When he reached Chang'an in 126, he brought important information about the peoples and towns of the areas he had visited. These datas later helped the Chinese to expand into Central Asia easier.

After Jiyu's death, the successor rulers couldn't stop the decline of the Xiongnu Empire. The Xiongnu raids into China were stopped by the Han ruler Han Jingdi; Han Wudi reformed his army in Xiongnu style and between 127 and 117 BC, the Xiongnu lost Tarim to Han Wudi; during the reign of Judihou Chanyu, Tian Shan, Jungaria and Turfan were conquered by the Han and eventually, the Xiongnu lost the control of the Silk Road in 60 BC. In 85 BC, the Wuhuan and the Dingling rebelled, defeating the weakened Xiongnu. After this rebellion, the victorious Dingling split into Western and Northern Dingling. Huhanye, a half-Chinese Xiongnu prince, entered Han protectorate in 58 BC but his brother Luanti Hutuwusi revolted against him and he declared his independence in the same year wih the title Zhizhi Chanyu. This event caused the Xiongnu Empire to split into two separate empires in 55 BC; the Eastern and Western Xiongnu, each one ruled by a member of the Xiongnu Imperial family.

In 54 BC, the Eastern Xiongnu withdrew to Ordos while the Western Xiongnu migrated to Soghdiana in Transoxiana, where they set up a new empire near the River Talas. Under Zhizhi Chanyu's rule, starting from 51 BC, the Western Xiongnu conquered Wusun, Western Dingling, Jiankun (Qirghiz) and vassalised the Kingdom of Kangguo (Samarkand). In 41 BC, Zhizhi Chanyu built a fortified capital in the valley of Talas. However, the Han attacked Zhizhi Chanyu in 36 BC, destroyed his capital and killed him. Thus, the Western Xiongnu Empire came to an end. It's been claimed that there were Roman mercenaries in Zhizhi Chanyu's army during the siege of his capital." -
The XiongNu, All Empires