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can be nobody so petty or so apathetic in his outlook that he has no desire
to discover by what means and under what system of government the Romans
succeeded in...bringing under their rule almost the whole of the inhabited
world. Polybius Histories 1.1.5
54 CE - 68 CE: Roman Emperor ||Nero
Obverse: NERO CAESAR AUGUSTUS
Reverse: PONTIF MAX TRP VII COS IIII PP EX SC Roma standing right, stepping on helmet, holding shield
While it may not be true that Nero entertained on his lyre during a burning urban devastation of the city that his destiny was to rule, few would disagree that it would not be greatly out of character. In fact, it is valid to wonder just how the monarchy could survive when it was succeeded with what some historians consider as little more than the thug that was named Nero Claudius Drusus.
55 - c. 117 CE || Cornelius Tacitus
essential Roman historian, wrote:
109 CE || The Histories
rare happiness of times, when we may think what we please, and express what
it became essential to peace, that all power should be centered in one man,
these great intellects passed away. Then too the truthfulness of history was
impaired in many ways; at first, through men's ignorance of public affairs,
which were now wholly strange to them..."
CE || The Annals
won over the soldiers with gifts, the populace with cheap corn, and all men
with the sweets of repose, and so grew greater by degrees, while he concentrated
in himself the functions of the Senate, the magistrates, and the laws"
CE || The Rebellion of Boudicca
was queen of the Iceni, who were a Celtic tribe living in Britain. Discontented
with Roman subjugation, they revolted, and put up a strong resistance to the
Roman military. A significant number of Iceni warriors were women. They were
eventually defeated by Paulinus Suetonius.
incident is described by Tacitus, Annals, Book XIV :
the opposite shore stood the Britons, close embodied, and prepared for action.
Women were seen running through the ranks in wild disorder; their apparel
funeral; their hair loose to the wind,
in their hands flaming torches, and their whole appearance resembling the
frantic rage of the Furies. The Druids were ranged in order, with hands uplifted,
invoking the gods, and pouring forth horrible imprecations. The novelty of
the fight struck the Romans with awe and terror. They stood in stupid amazement,
as if their limbs were benumbed, riveted to one spot, a mark for the enemy.
The exhortations of the general diffused new vigor through the ranks, and
the men, by mutual reproaches, inflamed each other to deeds of valor. They
felt the disgrace of yielding to a troop of women, and a band of fanatic priests;
they advanced their standards, and rushed on to the attack with impetuous
Laocoon and the Serpents | Marble | Vatican Museum, Rome | 1st Cen. CE |
Britons perished in the flames, which they themselves had kindled. The island
fell, and a garrison was established to retain it in subjection. The religious
groves, dedicated to superstition and barbarous rites, were leveled to the
ground. In those recesses, the natives [stained] their altars with the blood
of their prisoners, and in the entrails of men explored the will of the gods.
While Suetonius was employed in making his arrangements to secure the island,
he received intelligence that Britain had revolted, and that the whole province
was up in arms.
Iceni Warrior | Silver Coin | Britain | 61 CE |
in a [chariot], with her two daughters before her, drove through the ranks.
She harangued the different nations in their turn: "This," she said,
"is not the first time that the Britons have been led to battle by a
woman" ...She took the field, like the meanest among them, to assert
the cause of public liberty, and to seek revenge for her body seamed with
ignominious stripes, and her two daughters infamously ravished. From the pride
and arrogance of the Romans nothing is sacred; all are subject to violation;
the old endure the scourge, and the virgins are deflowered...
to some writers, not less than eighty thousand Britons were put to the sword.
The Romans lost about four hundred men, and the wounded did not exceed that
number. Boudicca, by a dose of poison, [ended] her life.
CE || Pliny the Younger
official, published nine books of letters, nephew of Pliny the Elder.
Suetonius (c. 69 - after 122 A.D.)
Lives of the Caesars
69 CE: The Year of the Four Emperors
68 CE - 69 CE: Roman Emperor ||Galba
The Year of the Four Emperors began with Galba and ended with 10 years of stability under Vespasian.
Obverse: SER GALBA IMP CAESAR AUG TRP Laureate, draped bust right.
Reverse: AD LOCVTIO SC Galba standing right on platform, accompanied by lictor, addressing soldiers to lower right.
69 CE: Roman Emperor ||Vitellius
69 CE: Roman Emperor ||Otho
69 CE - 79 CE: Roman Emperor ||Vespasian
79 CE - 81 CE: Roman Emperor ||Titus
Pliny the Elder (d. 79 A.D.)
On the German Wars
CE || Eruption of Vesuvius
was demolished by eruption in the first century, and the site was first excavated
in 1748 by Johann Joachim Winckelmann. The dog which you see here was preserved
by archeologists who, upon excavating Pompeii, filled cavities left by the
eruption's victims with cement.
Artifact | Remains of a Dog | Cement | 79 CE |
81 - 96 CE: Roman Emperor ||Domitian
An edict of Domitian banishes the philosophers from Rome 94 CE
QUOTE: An extant poem (70 hexameters) also bears her name. It is in the form of a dialogue between Sulpicia and the muse Calliope, and is chiefly a protest against the banishment of the philosophers by the edict of Domitian (A.D. 94),
Appian of Alexandria (c. 95 - c.165)
Roman History in 24 books
Roman wars from the beginnings to Trajan
96 - 98 CE: Roman Emperor ||Nerva
98 - 117 CE: Roman Emperor ||Trajan
Died 123 CE: Roman Empress ||Plotina
117 - 138 CE: Roman Emperor ||Hadrian
Died 137 CE: Roman Empress ||Sabina
138- 161 CE: Roman Emperor ||Antoninus
Died 141 CE: Roman Empress ||Faustina I
Obverse DIVA FAUSTINA Draped bust facing right
Reverse: AUGUSTA Juno standing left, holding torch in each hand.
Dio Cassius (c. 150 -235 A.D.)
History of Rome in 80 books from Aeneas to 229 A.D.
155-225 CE|| Tertullian
was an early Christian moralist who converted from paganism c. 195. He was
skeptical of Greek philosophy and wrote on topics such as the injustice of
persecuting Christians. Especially valuable is the insight he provides towards
the origins and character of gladiatorial games, spectacles, and theatrical
Police Verso (Thumbs Down) | Oil on Canvas | Jean-Leon Gerome |
Phoenix Art Museum | 1872 CE |
Spectaculis (The Spectacles)
Spectaculis is important for a number of reasons. It provides an account
of the origins of gladiatorial contests, it describes the events which took
place there, and further, it reveals the growing discordance between Christians
a very early Christian, Tertullian condemns gladiatorial events not so much
for their barbarity as for their idolatry. He explains:
shall be proved true that the entire apparatus of the spectacles originates
from idolatry...they belong to the Devil and his pomp and his angels because
of the idolatry involved."
then proceeds to cite in detail the many pagan influences and traditions to
be found at the games and concludes:
note, O Christian, how many unclean deities have taken possession of the circus."
also attempts to provide an account of the origin of gladiatorial contests:
origins of the spectacles, ...are somewhat obscure and, therefore, unknown
among most of our people... the real issue is idolatry. For, since the games
also went under the general name of Liberalia, they clearly proclaimed the
honor of Father Liber. They were first held in honor of Liber by the country
folk because of the blessing which they say he bestowed upon them by making
known to them the delicious taste of wine."
attitude towards Romulus clearly reveals the schism between early Christians
and traditional Romans:
consecrated the Ecurria (games), derived from "equi" (horses), to
Mars, though they claim the Consualia as well for Romulus on the ground that
he consecrated them to Consus, the god, as they will have it, of counsel,
to wit, of that very counsel by which he arrived at the scheme of carrying
off the Sabine girls to be wives for his soldiers.
noble counsel, indeed, even now considered just and lawful among the Romans
themselves, not to say in the eyes of a god! For, also, this tends to stain
their origin, lest you think something good that, had its origin in evil,
in shamelessness, violence and hatred, in a founder who was a fratricide and
the son of Mars.
contests, in their beginnings, were customarily held at funerals:
time long past, in accordance with the belief that the souls of the dead are
propitiated by human blood, they used to purchase captives or slaves of inferior
ability and to sacrifice them at funerals... Thus they found consolation for
death in murder."
despises the theatre as much as he despises the games, saying:
theater's greatest charm is above all produced by its filth."
further provides some insight for us towards the manner in which prostitution
the very prostitutes, the victims of public lust, are brought upon the stage,
creatures feeling yet more wretched in the presence of women, the only members
in the community who were unaware of their existence; now they are exhibited
in public before the eyes of persons of every age and rank; their address,
their price, their record are publicly announced, even to those who do not
need the information, and (to say nothing of the rest) things which ought
to remain hidden in the darkness of their dens so as not to contaminate the
161 - 180 CE: Roman Emperor ||Marcus
One of the greatest and most revered of the emperors, Marcus Aurelius was also an intellectual, humanitarian, philosopher, and author.
Obverse: M ANTONINVS AVG TRP XXIX Laureate head right
One of the great classics of Stoic philosophy ||The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
Reverse: SC Minerva advancing right, aiming spear and holding shield.
c.130-176 CE: Roman Empress ||Faustina II
Faustina was apparently genuinely loved by her philosopher husband Marcus Aurelius. If her numerous reported affairs are in fact the case, we do not know. The most notorious of her rumored betrayals, recorded in the often entirely fictitious contemporary source, the Historia Augusta, is her illicit romance with a gladiator, whom some sources use to explain the birth of her so-called monster of a son, the notorious emperor Commodus.
Obverse: FAUSTINA AUGUSTA Draped bust right
Reverse: CONCORDIA Dove standing right
Reverse: SIDERIBVS RECEPTA SC Faustina II holding banner riding two horse chariot right
161 - 180 CE: Roman Emperor || Commodus Antoninus
Commodus, whose full name was Caesar Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus, was proclaimed Caesar at age 5 and joint emperor (co-Augustus) at the age of 17, in 177 CE, by his father, Marcus Aurelius. This is indeed the notorious emperor who inspired the Ridley Scott film Gladiator.
Historians from the time of Commodus have not been kind to him. As aristocratic intellectuals, they were not amused by his crude antics. Hence, our present day historiography still reflects, rightly or wrongly, this ancient bias. His father, possessing the virtues seen as noble by the literate aristocracy, was, and often still is, regarded as a great man, while his son was hated by the Senate and ridiculed by historians.
Obverse: COMM ANT AUG PP RII Laureate head right
Yet it is said that the army and the lower classes loved him. Cassius Dio, a senator and historian who lived during the reign of both Commodus and his father wrote, in regards to the accession of Commodus, that "our history now descends from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust, as affairs did for the Romans of that day."Indeed, some historians even question his sanity. Commodus, in his own time, was accused of being a megalomaniac. He renamed Rome Colonia Commodiana, the "Colony of Commodus", and renamed the months of the year after titles held in his honour, namely, Lucius, Aelius, Aurelius, Commodus, Augustus, Herculeus, Romanus, Exsuperatorius, Amazonius, Invictus, Felix, and Pius. The Senate was renamed the Commodian Fortunate Senate, and the Roman people were given the name Commodianus.
Reverse: PIETAS SC Minerva standing left, holding Victory and spear; shield to left, trophy to right.
Historian Aelius Lampridius tells us that "Commodus lived, rioting in the palace amid banquets and in baths along with 300 concubines, gathered together for their beauty and chosen from both matrons and harlots... By his orders concubines were debauched before his own eyes, and he was not free from the disgrace of intimacy with young men, defiling every part of his body in dealings with persons of either sex."
Commodus went so far as to declare himself the new founder of Rome, a "new Romulus". In attempting to boast a new "Golden Age" of Rome, he was clearly emulating his father. But the effect was to make him the laughing stock of the aristocratic class.
193-211 CE: Roman Emperor ||Septimius
Silver Denarii of Septimius Severus
Obverse: DIVO SEVERO Radiate head right
Reverse: CONSECRATIO Eagle standing on globe, body forward facing left
ca. 170 CE b. - 217 CE d. || Roman Empress Julia Domna
The acclaimed wife of one emperor and mother of two more, Julia Domna was made Mater Castrorum "Mother of the Camp" by her husband Septimius Severus, and reputedly she was revered by his soldiers, and an active participant in the daily administration of the state.
She was the mother of Emperors Geta and Caracalla, and committed suicide upon the later's assassination.
Silver Denarii of Julia Domna|
Reverse: PIETAS AVGG Pietas standing left, raising hand over altar
Obverse: IVLIA AUGUSTA Draped bust right
She is remembered and respected as the philosopher Empress, on account of her surrounding herself with notable intellectuals and philosophers of her day.
for an entertaining, albeit unreliable, account of the key players in this time period, for which we have but few sources.
198 - Murdered 212 CE: Roman Emperor ||Geta
Geta suffered the unfortunate fate of being murdered by his rival, and apparently vicious, brother Caracalla, reputedly in the arms of his mother Julia Domna, brought to her room in a ruse to make peace.
Silver Denarii of Geta |
Obverse: P SEPT GETA CAES PONT Bare-headed, draped bust right
Reverse: VICTAE w/ (illegible) Victory advancing left, holding opened wreath over shield
Read: || Historia Augusta The Life of Antoninus Geta
Ca. 180 Murdered 235 CE|| Roman Empress Julia Mamaea
A key personage in the drama that was the Severan Dynasty, few women have achieved the political power or notoriety of Julia Mamaea.
Silver Denarius types of Julia Mamaea|
Obverse: IVLIA MAMAEA AVG Draped bust right
Reverse: IVNO CONSERVATRIX Goddess Juno, diademed and veiled, standing left, patera in right hand, scepter in left, and peacock at her feet.
Legally she was in fact co-emperor with her son Severus Alexander.
Her conferred legal status was that of consors imperii. Historically this term appears to originate with the consortes tribuniciae potestatis, a legal decree to confer a sharing of power between parties, originally involving Tribunes. The use of consors imperii was also used when Marcus Aurelius made Lucius Verus his co-emperor, it is in fact what gave Verus the legal right to rule.
Contemporary sources indicate that she most certainly exerted as much political influence and decision making power, in domestic and foreign affairs, as did her son the Emperor Severus Alexander, and that of her radically eccentric nephew, the supreme Heliogabalic Priest Emperor, Elagabalus.
Her son Severus became emperor after the assassination of Elagabalus, a fate she would not escape herself. She was a strong influence on her son during his rule, notably accompanying him on his military campaigns. As such she was far too powerful for future emperor Maximinus to allow remaining alive after his bloody political coup of 235. He had both her and her son murdered on 21 March of that year.
c. 204 CE b. Ruled 218-222||Elagabalus
could tolerate an emperor who indulged in unnatural lusts of every kind, when
not even a beast of this sort would be tolerated?" Aelius
Elagabalus | Silver Denarius | Ca. 218-222 |
who took this name from the deity of the cult of the Syrian sun god of the
city of Emesa, was born Varius Avitus Bassianus. Elagabalus was
a high-priest of this cult. He became emperor at the age of 14. During
his reign, to promote a popular and positive image, he adopted the prestigious
name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Elagabalus is considered one of the most
eccentric Roman emperors, which by Roman standards, is quite remarkable.
Elagabalus became emperor in a coup, supported by rebel legionaries and likely instigated
to a large extent by his powerful mother, Julia Soaemias. These soldiers overthrew
the troops of Macrinus, the reigning emperor, and declared Elagabalus emperor in 218.
was heavily involved in the Syrian cult of the sun, and brought back to Rome
a conical black stone which was revered by the cult. The stone was said to
have fallen from the heavens. He built a temple on the Palatine Hill, named
the Elagaballium, to house the sacred stone. He also ordered the sacred fire
of Vesta to be moved here. Animal sacrifices would take place at this new
temple, and important officials, including senators, were required to wear
Phoenician clothes while in attendance. Many Romans were offended by the importance
given to this Eastern, untraditional, and non-Roman cult. A
testament to the fact that Elagabalus was both politically
myopic and completely out of touch with Roman sensibilities is demonstrated
by his devising of plans to make Rome monotheistic, which would mean
that the sun god Elagabalus would be the supreme and only god.
held the position of Pontifix Maximus as well as creating a new, higher ranking
position which he also held, called the sacerdos amplissimus Dei Solis Elagabali.
He reputedly tortured and sacrificed human victims, preferring young noble
boys, an observed their entrails for signs of divination.
While Elagabalus' religious beliefs served
to alienate him from both the masses and the aristocracy, it was his sexual
antics which ultimately led to his characterization of one of the basest of
emperors. Roman historians were not kind to those emperors whom they disliked,
and one is cautioned that they did undertake propaganda campaigns against
individuals such as Elagabalus.
Nevertheless, Elagabalus' eccentric behavior is corroborated
by Cassius Dio, Herodian, and the Historia Augusta. He is said to have
been a transvestite, to have paraded around the palace in women's jewelry
and clothes, and to have acted as a female prostitute. His servants apparently
were assigned the task of procuring male clients for him.
scandalous was his marriage to the Vestal Virgin Julia Aquillia Severa. They
were eventually divorced, on account of the indignation which this union inspired
amongst the people of Rome. He also married a statue of Urania, the moon goddess.
According to Cassius Dio, Elagabalus, as a woman, also
married "Hierocles, a Carian slave once the favorite of Gordius from
whom he learned to drive a chariot". He offered a substantial sum of money
to any palace physician who could physically change his body to that of a
surprisingly Elagabalus had rivals, the foremost being
his cousin Bassianus,
who later became the emperor Alexander Severus. When he ordered a proscription
against Bassianus, and his supporters, his soldiers refused. Instead, on March
11, 222, they had Elagabalus, along with his mother murdered
and thrown in the Tiber. Alexander Severus was declared emperor in his place.
Cassius Dio Cocceianus
Dio's Rome, Volume 5, Books 61-76 (54 CE - 211 CE)
Historia Augusta, The Life of Elagabalus Antoninus
c. 222 CE Empress Orbiana
Obverse: SALLBARBIA ORBIANA AUG
Reverse: CONCORDIA AUGG Concordia seated left, holding patera and two cornucopiae.
Empress with husband Severus Alexander, she was exiled to Africa after having wed Alexander reputedly on command of his mother, Julia Mamaea.
240 CE b. Ruled 266-273||Zenobia
was an ancient queen of the Eastern city of Palmyra who became a substantial
threat to the Roman empire. The philosopher Longinus was her personal tutor. She was said to be quite beautiful, and was highly intelligent, speaking numerous
languages, and competently ruling her domain. Some see her ambition as her
Zenobia | Silver Antoninianus | Ca. 270 |
husband, king Odenathus, had successfully developed Palmyra,
an oasis city on the trade route between China, Persia, and Rome, to the point of it being the economic and cultural centre of the east.
his death by assassination, Zenobia began an expansion of Palmyrian territory, which came to include eastern Asia Minor, Syria, northern Mesopotamia,
and even Egypt. While Odenathus had for years been an important ally to Rome, Zenobia sought to take advantage of the Roman empire's precariousness,
largely as a result of the preoccupation
with frontier tribal wars, to expand her own empire.
The fragility of the Roman empire during the time of Zenobia's rule is exemplified by the
fact that the Roman emperor Valerian (ruled 253Ð60) had even been captured
by Shapur I, the king of Persia. Shapur reputedly used Valerian as his personal footstool, and he died in custody.
when Aurelian (ruled 270-275) became emperor, he undertook
a campaign to destroy Zenobia's ambitions. According to the ancient historian
Vopiscus, Aurelian, campaigning in the East, wrote to her and demanded her
surrender. In Zenobia's response,
she made reference to the fact that Cleopatra, whom she claimed as an ancestor,
committed suicide rather than allowing herself to be captured by the Romans,
and confidently asserted that she would be the one victorious, given her alliances.
Vopiscus has Zenobia state that "the Persians do not abandon us, and
we will wait their succors. The Saracens and the Armenians are on our side.
The brigands of Syria have defeated your army, O Aurelian; what will it be
when we have received the reinforcements which come to us from all sides?".
was not intimidated. He surrounded Palmyra and cut Zenobia off from her allies.
The Palmyrian cavalry was said to be more powerful than the Roman's, and the
soldiers wore heavy armor. In an adroit piece of military strategy, Aurelian
had his army pretend to flee, and the Palmyrian's readily gave chase. When
they became exhausted, Aurelian turned, and routed his cavalry behind the
enemy. They were soundly defeated.
attempted to escape, but was captured. Aurelian did not want to put a woman
to death, and took her back to Rome, were she was paraded in his triumph wearing
chains of gold. She was given a pension and a palace outside of Rome, at a
villa in Campania, where she spent her final years.
Aurelian's Conquest of Palmyra
250 CE b. Ruled 284-305||
from a lower standing in society to become his Emperor's bodyguard, waged
successful military campaigns, became Emperor himself in 284.
writings include the Decree
against the Manichaeans:
immortal gods have so designed things that good and true principles have been
established by the wisdom and deliberations of eminent, wise and upright men.
It is wrong to oppose these principles, or desert the ancient religion for
some new one, for it is the height of criminality to try and revise doctrines
that were settled once and for all by the ancients, and whose position is
fixed and acknowledged."
instituted reforms in an attempt to preserve an empire which had experienced
a century of tumult. His attempt to preserve, regardless of how positive one
might choose to regard his genius, contributed not to preservation, but instead,
cemented the Empire's transformation to Medievalism.
organization of Roman society had changed, and would continue to change, in
a radical way and in essential aspects. Its economy, political structure,
ideology, and spirituality were concurrently transformed.
complexity of this evolution is not limited solely to the factors cited here,
but to begin, Diocletian realized that the administration of the Empire had
become cumbersome due to its size, and he divided it in half. The western
half was governed by Maximian in Rome, while the eastern half would be ruled
by Diocletian himself, from Nicomedia. Gone then was the centre of Empire
and its autocratic leadership. Its militaristic underpinnings could never
exist as they had in the past.
further essential aspect in this transformation, and illustrative of the ideological
shift which it represents, is Diocletian's insistence in being titled Domus
("Lord"), rather than Emperor, which signifies the growing acceptance
of Christian constructs upon society. The Empire was becoming a shadow of
incipient Medievalism, just as in centuries past, the Republic had become
a shadow of the Empire.
transformation from Ancient to Medieval society was more complex than a simple
decline and fall.