A prosperous Roman town, Herculaneum was lost in the eruption of Vesuvius in 70AD. Rediscovered in the 18th century, its excavation has been particularly challenging.

An Oscan town, founded around the site of a cult of Hercules, Herculaneum’s greatest prosperity came after it became a Roman municipum. Like Pompeii, it was lost in 79AD before it was rediscovered by treasure hunters in the 18th century. It’s excavation has been particularly challenging as it lies under the modern town that bears it name.

Brief History of Roman Herculaneum

Herculaneum was conquered by Sulla in 89BC. The town became a part of the Roman state, taking on the status of a municipum or provincial town. The conquest led to the most prosperous phase of town’s history. The Romans provided Herculaneum with paved streets, sewers, a theatre and basilica-all the trappings of a Roman town.

With its excellent fishing, noted vineyards and excellent sea views, the town became a tourist hot spot for wealthy Romans looking to escape Rome in the summer months. So important was the town that in 62AD when it sustained damage from an earthquake, its repairs were financed with subsides from the Roman government.

Roman Emperor: Nero

Nero was born at Antium (Anzio) on 15 December AD 37 and was first named Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. He was the son of Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, who was descended from a distinguished noble family of the Roman republic (a Domitius Ahenobarbus is known to have been consul in 192 BC, leading troops in the war against Antiochus alongside Scipio Africanus), and Agrippina the younger, who was the daughter of Germanicus.

When Nero was two, his mother was banished by Caligula to the Pontian Islands. His inheritance was then seized when his father died one year later.

With Caligula killed and a milder emperor on the throne, Agrippina (who was emperor Claudius’ niece) was recalled from exile and her son was given a good education. Once in AD 49 Agrippina married Claudius, the task of educating of the young Nero was handed to the eminent philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

Further to this Nero was betrothed to Claudius’ daughter Octavia.

In AD 50 Agrippina persuaded Claudius to adopt Nero as his own son. This meant that Nero now took precedence over Claudius’ own younger child Britannicus. It was at his adoption that he assumed the name Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus. These names were clearly largely in honour of his maternal grandfather Germanicus who had been an extremely popular commander with the army. Evidently it was felt that a future emperor was well advised to bear a name which reminded the troops of their loyalties. In AD 51 he was named heir-apparent by Claudius.

Alas in AD 54 Claudius died, most likely poisoned by his wife. Agrippina, supported by the prefect of the praetorians, Sextus Afranius Burrus, cleared the way for Nero to become emperor. Since Nero was not yet seventeen years old, Agrippina the younger first acted as regent. A unique woman in Roman history, she was the sister of Caligula, the wife of Claudius, and the mother of Nero.

But Agrippina’s dominant position did not last for long. Soon she was shunted aside by Nero, who sought not to share power with anyone. Agrippina was moved to a separate residence, away from the imperial palace and from the levers of power. When in 11 February AD 55 Britannicus died at a dinner party in the palace – most likely poisoned by Nero, Agrippina was said to have been alarmed. She had sought to keep Britannicus in reserve, in case she should lose control of Nero.

Nero was fair-haired, with weak blue eyes, a fat neck, a pot belly and a body which smelt and was covered with spots. He usually appeared in public in a sort of dressing gown without a belt, a scarf around his neck and no shoes.

In character he was a strange mix of paradoxes; artistic, sporting, brutal, weak, sensual, erratic, extravagant, sadistic, bisexual – and later in life almost certainly deranged.

But for a period the empire enjoyed sound government under the guidance of Burrus and Seneca.

Nero announced he sought to follow the example of Augustus’ reign. The senate was treated respectfully and granted greater freedom, the late Claudius was deified. Sensible legislation was introduced to improve public order, reforms were made to the treasury and provincial governors were prohibited from extorting large sums of money to pay for gladiatorial shows in Rome.
Nero himself followed in the steps of his predecessor Claudius in applying himself rigorously to his judicial duties.

He also considered liberal ideas, such as ending the killing of gladiators and condemned criminals in public spectacles.

In fact, Nero, most likely largely due to the influence of his tutor Seneca, came across as a very humane ruler at first. When the city prefect Lucius Pedanius Secundus was murdered by one of his slaves, Nero was intensely upset that he was forced by law to have all four hundred slaves of Pedanius’ household put to death.

It was no doubt such decisions which gradually lessened Nero’s resolve for administrative duties and caused him to withdraw more and more, devoting himself to such interests as horse-racing, singing, acting, dancing, poetry and sexual exploits.  Seneca and Burrus tried to guard him against too greater excesses and encouraged him to have an affair with freed woman named Acte, provided that Nero appreciated that marriage was impossible. Nero’s excesses were hushed up, and between the three of them they successfully managed to avert continued attempts by Agrippina to exert imperial influence.

Agrippina meanwhile was outraged at such behaviour. She was jealous of Acte and deplored her son’s ‘Greek’ tastes for the arts. But when news reached Nero of what angry gossip she was spreading about him, he became enraged and hostile toward his mother.

The turning point came largely through Nero’s inherent lust and lack of self-control, for he took, as his mistress the beautiful Poppaea Sabina. She was the wife of his partner in frequent exploits, Marcus Salvius Otho. In AD 58 Otho was dispatched to be governor of Lusitania, no doubt to move him out of the way.
Agrippina, presumably seeing the departure of Nero’s apparent friend as an opportunity to reassert herself, sided with Nero’s wife, Octavia, who naturally opposed her husband’s affair with Poppaea Sabina.

Nero angrily responded, according to the historian Suetonius, with various attempts on his mother’s life, three of which were by poison and one by rigging the ceiling over her bed to collapse while she would lay in bed. Thereafter even a collapsible boat was built, which was meant to sink in the Bay of Naples. But the plot only succeeded in sinking the boat, as Agrippina managed to swim ashore. Exasperated, Nero sent an assassin who clubbed and stabbed her to death (AD 59).

Nero reported to the senate that his mother had plotted to have him killed, forcing him to act first. The senate didn’t appear to regret her removal at all. There had never been much love lost by the senators for Agrippina.

Nero celebrated by staging yet wilder orgies and by creating two new festivals of chariot-racing and athletics. He also staged musical contests, which gave him further chance to demonstrate in public his talent for singing while accompanying himself on the lyre. In an age when actors and performers were seen as something unsavoury, it was a moral outrage to have an emperor performing on stage. Worse still, Nero being the emperor, no one was allowed to leave the auditorium while he was performing, for whatever reason. The historian Suetonius writes of women giving birth during a Nero recital, and of men who pretended to die and were carried out.

In AD 62 Nero’s reign should change completely. First Burrus died from illness. He was succeeded in his position as praetorian prefect by two men who held the office as colleagues. One was Faenius Rufus, and the other was the sinister Gaius Ofonius Tigellinus.

Tigellinus was a terrible influence on Nero, who only encouraged his excesses rather than trying to curb them. And one of Tigellinus first actions in office was to revive the hated treason courts. Seneca soon found Tigellinus – and an ever-more willful emperor – too much to bear and resigned. This left Nero totally subject to corrupt advisers. His life turned into little else but a series of excesses in sport, music, orgies and murder. In AD 62 he divorced Octavia and then had her executed on a trumped-up charge of adultery. All this to make way for Poppaea Sabina whom he married. (But then Poppaea too was later killed. – Suetonius says he kicked her to death when she complained at his coming home late from the races.)

Had his change of wife not created too much of a scandal, Nero’s next move did. Until then he had kept his stage appearances to private stages, but in AD 64 he gave his first public performance in Neapolis (Naples). – Romans saw it indeed as a bad omen that the very theatre Nero had performed in shortly after was destroyed by an earthquake.

Within a year the emperor made his second appearance, this time in Rome. The senate was outraged.  Yet still the empire enjoyed moderate and responsible government by the administration. Hence the senate was not yet alienated enough to overcome its fear and do something against the madman whom it knew on the throne.

Then, in July AD 64, the Great Fire ravaged Rome for six days. The historian Tacitus, who was about 9 years old at the time, reports that of the fourteen districts of the city, ‘four were undamaged, three were utterly destroyed and in the other seven there remained only a few mangled and half-burnt traces of houses.
This is when Nero was famously to have ‘fiddled while Rome burned’. This expression however appears to have its roots in the 17th century (alas, Romans didn’t know the fiddle).

The historian Suetonius describes him singing from the tower of Maecenas, watching as the fire consumed Rome. Dio Cassius tells us how he ‘climbed on to the palace roof, from which there was the best overall view of the greater part of the fire and, and sang ‘The capture of Troy’

Meanwhile Tacitus wrote; ‘At the very time that Rome burned, he mounted his private stage and, reflecting present disasters in ancient calamities, sang about the destruction of Troy‘. But Tacitus also takes care to point out that this story was a rumour, not the account of an eye witness.

If his singing on the roof tops was true or not, the rumour was enough to make people suspicious that his measures to put out the fire might not have been genuine. To Nero’s credit, it does indeed appear that he had done his best to control the fire. But after the fire he used a vast area between the Palatine and the Equiline hills, which had been utterly destroyed by the fire to build his ‘Golden Palace’ (‘Domus Aurea‘). This was a huge area, ranging from the Portico of Livia to the Circus Maximus (close to where the fire was said to have started), which now was turned into pleasure gardens for the emperor, even an artificial lake being created in its centre. The temple of the deified Claudius was not yet completed and – being in the way of Nero’s plans, it was demolished.

Judging by the sheer scale of this complex, it was obvious it could never have been built, were it not have been for the fire. And so quite naturally Romans had their suspicions about who had actually started it.

It would be unfair however to omit that Nero did rebuild large residential areas of Rome at his own expense. But people, dazzled by the immensity of the Golden Palace and its parks, nonetheless remained suspicious.

Nero, always a man desperate to be popular, therefore looked for scapegoats on whom the fire could be blamed. He found it in an obscure new religious sect, the Christians.

And so many Christians were arrested and thrown to the wild beasts in the circus, or they were crucified . Many of them were also burned to death at night, serving as ‘lighting’ in Nero’s gardens, while Nero mingled among the watching crowds. It is this brutal persecution which immortalized Nero as the first Antichrist in the eyes of the Christian church. (The second Antichrist being the reformist Luther by edict of the Catholic Church.)

Meanwhile Nero’s relations with the senate deteriorated sharply, largely due to the execution of suspects through Tigellinus and his revived treason laws.

Then in AD 65 there was a serious plot against Nero. Known as the ‘Pisonian Conspiracy’ it was led by Gaius Calpurnius Piso. The plot was uncovered and nineteen executions and suicides followed, and thirteen banishments. Piso and Seneca were among those who died.

There was never anything even resembling a trial: people whom Nero suspected or disliked or who merely aroused the jealousy of his advisers were sent a note ordering them to commit suicide.

Nero, leaving Rome in charge of the freedman Helius, went to Greece to display his artistic abilities in the theatres of Greece. He won contests in the Olympic Games, – winning the chariot race although he fell of his chariot (as obviously nobody dared to defeat him), collected works of art, and opened a canal, which was never finished.

Alas, the situation was becoming very serious in Rome. The executions continued. Gaius Petronius, man of letters and former ‘director of imperial pleasures’, died in this manner in AD 66. So did countless senators, noblemen, and generals, including in AD 67 Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, hero of the Armenian wars and supreme commander in the Euphrates region.

Further, a food shortage caused great hardship. Eventually Helius, fearing the worst, crossed over to Greece to summon back his master.

By January AD 68 Nero was back in Rome, but things were now too late. In March AD 68 the governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, Gaius Julius Vindex, himself Gallic-born, withdrew his oath of allegiance to the emperor and encouraged the governor of northern and eastern Spain, Galba, a hardened veteran of 71, to do the same. Vindex’ troops were defeated at Vesontio by the Rhine legions who marched in from Germany, and Vindex committed suicide. However, thereafter these German troops, too, refused to furthermore recognize Nero’s authority. So too Clodius Macer declared against Nero in north Africa.

Galba, having informed the senate that he was available, if required, to head a government, simply waited.

Meanwhile in Rome nothing was actually done to control the crisis.

Tigellinus was seriously ill at the time and Nero could only dream up fantastic tortures which he sought to inflict on the rebels once he had defeated them. The praetorian prefect of the day, Nymphidius Sabinus, persuaded his troops to abandon their allegiance to Nero. Alas, the senate condemned the emperor to be flogged to death.  As Nero heard of this he chose rather to commit suicide, which he did with the assistance of a secretary (9 June AD 68).

His last words were, “Qualis artifex pereo.” (“What an artist the world loses in me.”)


Martini Fisher

In his History, Livy reported that in a critical part of the battle against the Samnites in 296 BCE, the general Appius Claudius was seen in the front lines raising his hands as he uttered a prayer, “Bellona, if you grant us victory today, I promise to build you a temple.” This prayer was proven to be effective as the Romans proceeded to capture and plundered the Samnite camp, giving a massive amount of booty to their own sodiers. Bellona was considered as an equivalent of the Hellenistic Cappadocian goddess Ma. Ma has been interpreted as a “mother” goddess and compared to Anatolian mother goddess Cybele, also known as the Magna Mater (“Great Mother”) by the ancient Romans. Cybele’s college of priests (Galli), who were required to castrate themselves to worship her, were considered sacred. Bellona’s college of priests (Bellonarii) also instituted the prominent feature…

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Fame and Ancient Celebrity

Martini Fisher

An early third century CE Greek inscription recovered from the ancient town of Oinoanda in southwest Turkey reveals that the Roman army relied on the services of Lucius Septimius Flavianus Flavillianus, a champion in wrestling and Pankraiton, to recruit new soldiers to the army. Much like celebrity endorsements familiar to us today, Lucius’ celebrity was able to drum up support and large numbers of volunteers as he eventually became a Roman military recruiter who identified then transported new soldiers to the Syrian city of Heirapolis.

Knight Armor

Ancient Greek and Roman world gave us many individuals who were celebrities in their day and whose careers provide us with what we recognize today as different aspects of the modern celebrity culture such as endorsements, groupies and 15 minutes of fame – albeit without the terminology. The price of fame in the ancient world is also surprisingly, and in some cases chillingly, similar with…

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Roman History: St.George

George was born in Cappadocia, which today is part of Turkey, to Christian parents, during the 3rd century.

His mother was a native of Palestine, and upon George’s father’s death, they left Cappadocia, returning to her home of Palestine.

George became a soldier in the Roman army, and rose to the rank of Tribune.

Emperor Diocletian (245-313AD), began a campaign of persecution against the Christians. George tore up the Emperor’s orders and resigned his military post in 303AD out of protest of these actions.

George was imprisoned and tortured, for his actions, but never would he deny his faith. The Emperor had him dragged through the streets of Diospolis (now known as Lydda), in Palestine. The Emperor gave George a chance. His life would be spared, if he would offer sacrifice to the Roman gods. The people gathered and George prayed to his Christian God, so outraging the Emperor… He was beheaded for his contempt.

Emperor Diocletian wife became a Christian, after witnessing George’s resilience, and she too was executed for her faith.

Pope Gelasius stated in 494AD about George, he was to be numbered among those saints whose names are justly re-veered among men, but whose deeds are only known to God.

George became Saint George on 23rd April 1222.

Roman Gladiator

Laid out before me
a fallen gladiator lies,
he leans upon his hand
still grasping at his sword.

He consents to death
as the crowd calls for his blood,
the Emperor, acknowledges the crowd
and the signal is given.

I thrust my sword
into his open wound,
blood gushes from his wound
seeping into the ground.

The arena swirls around him
his life, taken from him,
brutally slain, on Emperor’s orders
for the amusement of the crowd.

Poem written, based on the film Gladiator (2000) featuring Russell Crowe

Roman Emperor: Augustus (27BC-AD14)

The future emperor Augustus was born into an equestrian family as Gaius Octavius at Rome on 23 September 63 BC. His father, Gaius Octavius, was the first in the family to become a senator, but died when Octavian was only four. It was his mother who had the more distinguished connection. She was the daughter of Julia, sister to Julius Caesar.

As for his character it is said that he was cruel when young, but became mild later on. This, however, might just be because, as his position became more secure, the need for brutality lessened. For he was still prepared to be ruthless when necessary. He was tolerant of criticism, possessed a good sense of humour, and had a particular fondness for playing dice, but often provided his guests with money to place bets.

Although unfaithful to his wife Livia Drusilla, he remained deeply devoted to her. His public moral attitudes were strict (he had been appointed pontifex (priest) at the age of fifteen or sixteen) and he exiled his daughter and his grand-daughter, both named Julia, for offending against these principles.

Octavian served under Julius Caesar in the Spanish expedition of 46 BC despite his delicate health. And he was to take a senior military command in Caesar’s planned Parthian expedition of 44 BC, although at the time being only 18 years old.

But Octavian was with his friends Marcus Agrippa and Marcus Salvidienus Rufus in Apollonia in Epirus completing his academic and military studies, when news reached him of Caesar’s assassination.

At once he returned to Rome, learning on the way that Caesar had adopted him in his will. No doubt this only increased his desire to avenge Caesar’s murder.

Though when he arrived Octavian found power in the hands of Mark Antony and Aemilius Lepidus. They were urging compromise and amnesty. But Octavian refused to accept this attitude. With his determined stand he soon succeeded in winning over many of Caesar’s supporters, including some of the legions.

Though he failed to persuade Marc Antony to hand over Caesar’s assets and documents. Therefore Octavian was forced to distribute Caesar’s legacies to the Roman public from whatever funds he was able to raise himself. Such efforts to see Caesar’s will done helped raise Octavian’s standing with the Roman people considerably.

Many of the senators, too, were opposed to Antony. Octavian, appreciated as Antony’s primary rival by then, was granted the status of senator, despite not yet being twenty.

During the summer of 44 BC the senate’s leader, Cicero, delivered a series of infamous speeches against Marc Antony which came to be known as the ‘Philippics’. Cicero saw in the young Octavian a useful ally. So, when in November 44 BC Antony left Rome to take command in northern Italy, Octavian was dispatched with the senate’s blessing to make war on Antony. Marc Antony was defeated at Mutina (43 BC) and forced to retreat into Gaul.

But now it showed that Cicero had definitely lost control of the young Octavian. Had the two reigning consuls both been killed in the battle, then in August 43 BC Octavian marched on Rome and forced the senate to accept him as consul. Three months thereafter he met with Antony and Lepidus at Bologna and the three came to an agreement, the Triumvirate. This agreement between Rome’s three most powerful men completely cut off the senate from power (27 November 43 BC).

Cicero was killed in the proscriptions that followed. Brutus and Cassius, Caesar’s chief assassins, were defeated at Philippi in northern Greece.
Octavian and Marc Antony, the winners at Philippi, reached a new agreement in October 40 BC in the Treaty of Brundisium. The Roman empire was to be divided between them, Antony taking the east, Octavian the west. The third man, Lepidus, was no longer an equal partner. He therefore had to make do with the province of Africa. To further strengthen their agreeement, Antony married Octavians’ sister Octavia. But it was not to be long, before Antony abandoned her to return to his lover Cleopatra.

Meanwhile Octavian’s own standing had been heightened by the deification of Julius Caesar in early 42 BC. He was no longer to be addressed as ‘Octavian’ but insisted on being called ‘Caesar’ and he now styled himself as ‘divi filius‘ – ‘son of the divine’.

He used the following years to strengthen his hold over the western provinces. Also in this time Marcus Agrippa, Octavian’s most loyal friend, delivered Italy from the menace of the fleet of Sextus Pompeius, a son of Pompey the Great.

As Lepidus fell by the wayside during the conflict with Sextus Pompeius, this left Antony and Octavian rulers of the Roman world. Antony lived openly with Cleopatra, queen of Egypt. Octavian’s apparent modesty and moral strictness contrasted strongly with Antony’s life as an oriental monarch at the lavish Egytian court. Rome’s sympathies therefore clearly lay with Octavian.

By 32 BC the agreement made at Tarentum (an extension of the Treaty of Brundisium by four years) strictly speaking had run its course and the Triumvirate ceased to be. Octavian tried to maintain the charade that he really wasn’t exercising any powers.

When Antony divorced Octavia, Octavian lashed out by reading out in public Antony’s will, which had quite illegally come into his possession. This will promised not only large inheritances to his children by Cleopatra, but it also demanded that, should he die in Italy, his body should be returned to Cleopatra in Egypt. Antony’s will was the final straw. For in all Rome’s eyes, this could never be the will of a true Roman. The senate declared war.

At Actium on the west coast of Greece on 2 September 31 BC the fateful battle took place. Once again it was Agrippa who commanded the forces on behalf of his friend Octavian and won victory.

Both Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide. The vast treasures of Egypt fell to Octavian, and Egypt itself became a new Roman province.

Octavian’s next, highly questionable act was to put to death Cleopatra’s son Caesarion. Caesarion in fact was the child of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. Octavian being the adoptive son of Caesar, he in essence ordered the death of his step-brother.

Victory of Actium had given Octavian the undivided mastery of the Roman world. But this position had once been held before by Julius Caesar. Octavian was not one to forget what fate had befallen Caesar. In order to prevent a similar demise, he needed to create a new constitution.

Hence on January 27 BC Octavian in the so-called ‘First Settlement’ went through a strangely orchestrated ceremony in which he ‘surrendered’ all his power to the senate – thus restoring the Republic. It was a purely symbolical sacrifice as he receiving most of the very same power right back again.

The entire effort were meticulously planned and overseen by his supporters and associates. Octavian received into his personal control, for ten years, the vitally important provinces of Egypt, Cyprus, Spain, Gaul and Syria. Also he was contually re-elected as consul from 31 to 23 BC.

Further he now received the name ‘Augustus’, a slightly archaic term, meaning ‘sacred’ or ‘revered’. Augustus apparently preferred the term ‘princeps‘ (first citizen) which he had been granted, though he also kept the title imperator to point out his position as military chief of staff.

Octavian’s great achievement was persuading the senate to accept him as head of the Roman state, while leaving the senators room for their political ambitions. Augustus left Rome for Gaul and Spain to put down truculent tribes in the summer of 27 BC and did not return until 24 BC. Then in 23 BC Augustus fell so seriously ill that he himself thought he was dying. This brush with death appeared to have been a further decisive moment in his life. For when he recovered, he set about once more to change the Roman constitution.
In the ‘Second Settlement’ Augustus gave up the consulship and instead was awarded tribunician powers (tribunicia potestas) for life by the senate.
Tribunician powers gave him the right to call the senate to meetings, to propose legislation in the popular assembly, and to veto any enactments. Also his command over ‘his’ provinces was renewed.

Then in 19 BC he also was granted not merely the consulship (which lasted for one year) but consular power for life. His power was thereafter unassailable. Augustus held equal power to the most powerful politicians in Rome and yet greater power still in the provinces of the empire.

On the death of Lepidus (12 BC), the failed third Triumvir, who had been shunted aside with the conciliatory position of pontifex maximus, Augustus assumed that highest of all religious positions for himself.
Perhaps the highest point came in 2 BC when the senate granted Augustus a new honour. He was henceforth pater patriae, the father of the country.

Augustus was undoubtedly one of the most talented, energetic and skillful administrators that the world has ever known. The enormously far-reaching work of reorganization and rehabilitation which he undertook in every branch of his vast empire created a new Roman peace with unprecedented prosperity.
Following in the footsteps of Julius Caesar, he won genuine popular support by hosting games, erecting new buildings, and by other measures to the general good. Augustus himself claimed to have restored 82 temples in one year alone. But further there were grand new buildings like the Theatre of Apollo, the Horologium (a giant sun dial) and the great Mausoleum of Augustus.

Augustus’ right hand man Agrippa, too, embarked on several major building projects. Among these were the Pantheon, later rebuilt by Hadrian. Agrippa also repaired the city’s water system and added two new aquaeducts, the Aqua Julia and the Aqua Virgo.

One building though is clearly lacking from Augustus’ reign – a palace. He lived in a spacious house on the Palatine Hill, evidently avoiding any symbols of monarchy. And although he did continue to style himself ‘divi filius‘, son of the deified Caesar, he clearly avoided any form of worship to his own person as was the case in the eastern world, where rulers were themselves frequently worshipped as gods.

Most of all, Augustus appeared to appreciate that his personal standing and security benefitted from governing in the public interest.

Augustus was no great military commander, but he possessed enough common sense to recognize that this was so. And so he relied on Agrippa to do his fighting for him. After Actium, Augustus only once took command of a campaign (the Cantabrian War of 26-25 BC) in Spain. But even there he eventually had to rely on one of his generals to bring the war to a successful conclusion.

Though despite his lack of military skill, Augustus achieved vast gains in imperial territory as well as in the standing of Rome.

Most important was no doubt the conquest of Egypt in 30 BC. Then in 20 BC he recovered the legionary standards captured by the Parthians at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC simply by threatening Parthia with war. Also he made the Danube the frontier in the east of Europe, after his forces fought hard campaigns conquering the Alpine tribes and occupying the Balkans.

But his attempts at making the river Elbe the empire’s northwestern frontier ended in the Varian disaster and it became clear to everyone that the Rhine was to be the future border.

Under Augustus the army was thoroughly reorganized strengthened and posted away from Italy into the provinces. He also remodelled the civil service and substantially rebuilt some parts of Rome, even appointing 3’500 firemen under a chief fire officer.

No-one could ever have foreseen the success of Augustus’ reign. His long life only went to further create him and his family as the natural rulers in the eyes of the Roman people. Although to create a dynasty proved very difficult to Augustus.

At first he clearly understood his loyal friend Agrippa to be his obvious successor. And, when he believed himself to lay dying in 23 BC, it was indeed Agrippa he handed his signet ring to. As his marriage to Livia, accept for a premature birth, produced no children, his plans of inheritence therefore envolved his daughter Julia from his previous marriage to Scribonia.
Had Julia been married to Marcellus in 25 BC (the son of Augustus’ sister Octavia), then Marcellus was also a potential heir. But Marcellus died soon after 23 BC.

So, with Agrippa his only possible successor, Augustus had his friend divorce his existing wife and marry the widowed Julia. Agrippa was 25 years older than his new wife, but their marriage brought forth three sons and two daughters. Augustus adopted the sons Gaius and Lucius as his own. Then in 12 BC Agrippa died. Augustus realized that should he himself die, the two young boys would be left without a guardian.

Therefore, Augustus turned to his wife Livia’s two adult sons from her previous marriage. He made the elder son, Tiberius, divorce his wife Vipsania and marry Julia, and become protector to the young princes.

Tiberius deeply loved his wife Vipsania and strongly resented Augustus’ demands, but the marriage went ahead on 12 February 11 BC.
As both Gaius and Lucius died early in their lives, Augustus was left with only one choice of successor – Tiberius, son of Livia. And so, on 26 June AD 4 he somewhat reluctantly adopted the equally reluctant 44 year old Tiberius, together with the 15 year old Agrippa Postumus, the youngest son of Agrippa and Julia.

Postumus though soon turned out to be a violent and thoroughly nasty individual and so was sent into exile only three years later.

During his final years Augustus withdrew more and more from public life. Intending to travel with Tiberius to Capri, and then on to Beneventum, he left Rome for the last time in AD 14.

He fell ill on the way to Capri and, after four days resting on Capri, when they crossed back to the mainland Augustus at last passed away. He died at Nola on 19 August AD 14, only one month away of his 76th birthday.

The body was taken to Rome and given a stately funeral and his ashes were then placed in his Mausoleum.

Roman History: Julius Caesar

Gaius Julius Caesar was born on the 12th July 100 BC in Rome, Italy to parents Gaius Julius Caesar and Aurelia Cotta.  Allegedly Julius Caesar was a descendant of Trojan Prince Aeneas, and his birth marked the beginning of a new chapter in Roman history.

His parents believed in the Populare ideology of Rome, favouring democratization of the government and more rights for the lower class.  Whilst the Optimate factions claimed superiority for the nobility and traditional Roman values, which favoured the upper classes.

With the death of his father in 85 BC, the young Julius Caesar became head of the family.  Belonging to the priesthood appealed to Caesar, bringing most benefit to the family, with this in mind he got himself nominated as the new High Priest of Jupiter.

The position of a priest carried conditions; one must be of patrician stock and married to a patrician.  In 84 BC, Julius Caesar married Cornelia, the daughter of nobleman Lucius Cinna, an influential member of the Populares.  Julius and Cornelia were blessed with a daughter; Julia Caesaris in 76 BC, and in 69 BC, Cornelia died.

When the Roman ruler Sulla declared himself dictator, he systematically purged his enemies and those who held Populare ideology.  Caesar was targeted and ordered to divorce Cornelia, but refused.

Sullar had Caesar’s name added to a list of those to be captured and executed.  Caesar had no choice, but to go into hiding.  The sentence was lifted by the intercession of his mother’s family, the Cotta’s.

Julius Caesar was stripped of his position as priest, his wife’s dowry confiscated.  With no financial means by which to support his family, he had no choice but to join the army.

Julius Caesar, a man of God, proved his worth as a military man, and in 79 BC was awarded the “Civic Crown with Oak Leaves” for saving a citizens life in battle.

Caesar was sent to Nicomedes, to negotiate with the King of Bithynia, to obtain a fleet of ships, in which he proved to be a successful negotiator.

In 78 BC, Sulla the Dictator dies, and Caesar returned to Rome, and became an Orator (Lawyer).  He relocated to Rhodes to study philosophy.

In 75 BC, whilst sailing to Greece, he was captured by Cilician pirates and held for ransom, for thirty-eight days.

When Caesar learned they were asking a mere twenty talents, he proclaimed he was worth far more, and the ransom was increased to fifty talents.

Upon his release, he informed his captors he would hunt them down, crucify them and take back the money, this he did, as a warning to other pirates.  First he cut their throats, to reduce their suffering, as he had been treated well by his captors.

In 74 BC, Caesar put together a private army to take on Mithradates VI Eupator, King of Pontus, who had declared war on Rome.

In 69 BC, Caesar was elected to the post of Military Tribune, and in 67 BC married Pompeia, a wealthy Optimate and grand-daughter of the Emperor Sulla.  Their marriage was short lived, and the couple divorced in 62 BC.

In 65 BC Caesar was elected to the post of “Curule Aedile.”  To improve his popularity, he acquired loans from Crassus, to create the Roman games.  Rumours ran rife, that Caesar had an affair with Pompey’s wife; Mucia and other prominent ladies.

In 62 BC he was elected to the post of Praetor, and in 61 BC served as Governor of the Roman Province of Spain.

In 62 BC, Pompey returned victorious from Asia.  He called upon the Senate to grant land, to his veteran soldiers, but this was being blocked by Crassus.

Caesar stepped in, displaying his abilities as a negotiator, earning the trust of both Crassus and Pompey, and convinced them they be better suited as allies instead of enemies.

Caesar went on to promise, if they support him getting elected, he would work in their best interests.

In 60 BC Caesar returned to Spain, and the first “Triumvirate” of Ancient was created.  An alliance between Julius Caesar, Gnaeus Pompey and Marcus Licinius Crassus.  These three men set aside their personal differences, joining forces for the good of Rome.  They dominated Rome’s government and controlled election for the good of the people.

In 59 BC, Caesar was elected Consul against Optimate opposition led by Marcus Porcius Cato, a shrewd politician.

Caesar married off his only daughter, Julia to Pompey to consolidate their alliance.  He himself married Calpurnia, whose father was of the Populare faction.  Their marriage would last until Caesar’s death.

Caesar pushed Pompey’s measures through the Senate; land for veteran soldiers, but every which way he turned he was being blocked.  He had no option but to take a controversial route, a means to an end.  Caesar attempted to buy off Pompey’s soldiers, with public land.  In a stage further, hired Pompey’s soldiers to stage a riot, and amidst all the chaos, Senate stepped down and Pompey’s veteran soldiers got their land.

In 58 BC, Caesar departed Rome for Gaul (Modern day Belgium & France) to take up his post as Governor of Gaul.  In the nine years as Governor of Gaul, he enlarged the army, undertook many campaigns, which would make him one of Rome’s all time leaders.  Caesar conquered the rest of Gaul up to the River Rhine, and proved to be a ruthless warrior.

As Caesar’s power grew, Pompey was envious of his political partner.  Crassus has never completely overcome his dislike for Pompey.  In 56 BC, Caesar, Pompey and Crassus met to renew their coalition in Luca, in light of Pompey’s move towards the Optimate faction.

In 54 BC, Caesar led a three month expedition to Britain, he was the first Roman to cross the English Channel.  He did not establish a Roman base on English soil, just checked out the area, for a future invasion.

Meanwhile Caesar’s coalition with Pompey was going through a rocky period, especially after his daughter Julia, Pompey’s wife had died in childbirth.

In 53 BC, Crassus received command of the Eastern armies, and was defeated and killed by the Parthians.

With the conquest of Gaul completed in 51 BC, Caesar set up a provincial administration to govern the territories.  The Optimate’s in Rome attempted to cut short Caesar’s term as Governor of Gaul.  They made it clear that he would be immediately prosecuted if he returned to Rome as a private citizen, and not a military leader with his army.

Pompey and Caesar were being manoeuvred into a public split; neither could yield to the other without loss of honour, dignity and power.

In 49 BC, Caesar tried to maintain his position legally, but when pushed to the limit, led his troops across the Rubicon River in the January.

Pompey aligned himself with nobility, who saw Caesar as a national threat, and civil war between the two leaders would be the final outcome.

Pompey’s legions were located in Spain, so he and Senate headed to Brundisium and sailed to the East.  Meanwhile Caesar advanced on Rome, setting up a rump Senate and declared himself Dictator.

By 48 BC, Pompey and the Optimate faction had established a strong position in Greece.  Caesar had a dilemma; he had insufficient ships to move all his legions from Brundisium in a single crossing.  He had no choice, but to cross with 20,000 men with minimal amount of baggage, leaving Mark Antony his chief legate and second-in-command to follow with the rest of his forces.

In the final battle between Pompey and Caesar on the Plains of Pharsalus, Pompey had a force of 46,000 men to Caesar’s 21,000.  Even though Pompey had the larger force, Caesar was victorious that day.  Caesar pardoned Roman citizens who had been captured, an act of clemency.

Pompey had escaped the battle, and fled to Egypt, expecting to find friends, from time spent there in the past.  New’s of Caesar’s great victory had reached Egypt before Pompey’s arrival.  The Egyptian’s believed the God’s favoured Caesar, and promptly murdered Pompey as he stepped ashore, and chopped off his head.

In the October of 48 BC, Caesar with a force of 4,000 legionaries landed in Alexandria, and was presented with the head of Pompey, much to his disgust.  Caesar seized the royal palace and declared martial law.

Caesar discovered that the throne was under the joint heirs of Ptolemy XII; Ptolemy XIII and his sister Cleopatra VII.

Pothinus the Eunuch and the Egyptian General; Achillas had driven Cleopatra from Alexandria, sending her into exile, on the orders of Ptolemy XIII.

Cleopatra saw her chance to regain her throne from her brother, seeking assistance from the like of Caesar.  Cleopatra was smuggled into the palace, rolled up in a carpet.

Caesar deposed the co-ruler Ptolemy XIII and aligned himself with Cleopatra; the Egyptian Queen, igniting a war between Caesar’s legions and the Egyptian army loyal to Ptolemy XIII.

Caesar’s forces held onto the palace and harbour, against an onslaught of 20,000 men led by Achillas, for six months until help arrived and the Egyptian forces were defeated in the March of 47 BC.

Caesar and Cleopatra became lovers and in the latter months of 47 BC, Cleopatra gave birth to a son; Caesarion son of Caesar.

In 47 BC, Caesar left Alexandria and Cleopatra, his mistress, to crush a rebellion by Pharnaces, son of Mithridates in the East.

Caesar’s forces defeated the armies of the Optimate faction under Cato who had allied themselves with King Juba of Numidia at the “Battle of Thapsus.”  Cato took his own life, rather than be pardoned by Caesar.

On the 25th July 46 BC, a victorious Julius Caesar arrived back in Rome, triumphant over the Gauls, Egyptians, Pharnaces and Juba.  He established his mistress Cleopatra and his son Caesarion, in a luxury villa across the River Tiber in Rome.  Cleopatra had hoped Caesar would recognize and legitimize Caesarion as his son and heir, but Caesar named his grand-nephew, Gaius Octavius Thurinus (Octavian) as his heir.

The Senate were incensed by his indiscretion of a mistress, as he already had a wife.

In April of 45 BC, the sons of Pompey: Gnaeus and Sextus, led a rebellion in Spain.  Caesar met them in battle at Munda, where Gnaeus was killed and Sextus escaped, to become leader of the Mediterranean pirates.

In 44 BC, Julius Caesar received the title: Dictator Perpetuus (Dictator for Life).  At the public festival, Mark Antony offered him a diadem (symbol of the Hellenistic monarchs), but Caesar refused, saying Jupiter alone is King of the Romans.

Caesar’s rule proved instrumental in reforming Rome for his countrymen, land redistribution among the poor and military veterans, relieving debt and reforming the Senate, by increasing its size and opening it up, to represent all Romans.  A benevolent Caesar, even invited some of his defeated rivals to join him in government.

On the 15th March 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated by Senators in the portico of the basilica of Pompey the Great.  His assassins were Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, along with sixty conspirators.  Caesar was stabbed twenty-three times, and died at the base of Pompey’s statue.

Following his death, Caesar became a martyr of the new Roman Empire.  Low and middle class Romans gathered at Caesar’s funeral, with angry crowds attacking the homes of Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, for murdering Julius Caesar.

A power struggle ensued in Rome, which led to the end of the Roman Republic.

Caesar’s great-grand nephew; Gaius Octavius Thurinus (Octavian), his chosen heir, put together an army, taking on military troops protecting Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, the leading assassins of Julius Caesar.  Octavian got his revenge over these murderer’s, took the name Augustus, and in 27 BC became the first Roman Emperor.

Roman History: Pompey

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey was born in 106 BC to Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo.

Pompey’s military career started during the Social Wars (91-89 BC), serving under his father’s army at Asculum in 89 BC.  In 83 BC aged just twenty-three, the young Pompey procured his own private army of three legions; his father’s veteran soldiers , giving him the way with all to fight for Sulla.  Shortly there after Pompey was sent to Sicily, and then Africa, to put down dissident forces.

On the 12th March 81 BC, Sulla gave Pompey the right of triumph, which was only afforded to Generals.

The Right of Triumph: 

In classical times, the procession would enter Rome through the “Triumphal Gate.”  It made its way to the capitol, comprising of a four-horse chariot, with out-riders, eminent captives, captured spoils and animals for sacrifice.  Escorted by senate and magistrates.  A slave would ride with him, holding a laurel wreath above his head, a reminder that he be mortal.  (An excerpt from Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth & Religion).

Following the death of his first wife Aemilia, Pompey married Sulla’s step daughter, Mucia Tertia in a political move.

In 78 BC, Pompey supported Lepidus for consulship, and in response Sulla removed Pompey from his will.  In 77 BC, Pompey supported Quintus Lutatius Catulus, and Sulla observed Pompey had learnt his lesson…

In 77 BC, Pompey was dispatched to Spain, to assist in the struggle against Sertorius.

Pompey returned to Rome in 71 BC, wiping out scattered bands of slaves, those loyal to Spartacus.  Pompey tried to take credit, for ending the slave war, when the true victor was Crassus.  Pompey’s victories saw him achieve victory and his second triumph on the 29th December 71BC.

Pompey an experienced warrior by 70 BC, was not eligible for consulship.  The rules were waived in Pompey’s favour, as he stepped into the limelight accepting the post alongside Crassus.  Following his consulship, Pompey opted not to take a province under his control.

According to Gabinian Law of 67 BC, it gave Pompey the power and authority to oppose and dispose of the increasing problem of piracy in the Mediterranean, which posed the greatest of threat’s to Rome’s corn supply line.

Gabinian Laws granted him a command for three years, and within two months he dealt with the pirate problem.  In 66 BC Pompey was given command of the Roman army, against the Mithradates VI of Pontus.  With their defeat under his belt, Pompey took Bithynia, Pontus and Syria, making them Roman provinces, becoming a stepping stone for the Roman conquest of the East. In 62 BC, Pompey returned to his homeland of Italy, disbanded his army, entering Rome on the 30th September 61 BC.

Pompey celebrated a procession of triumph through the streets of Rome, in honour of all his wars at once.  He was represented by Pontus, Armenia, Cappadocia, Cilicia, Syria, Albanians, Heniochi, Achaens of Syria and Eastern Iberians.

Some 1,000 strongholds captured, 900 cities, 800 pirate ships captured and 39 new cities founded.

Pompey had hoped the Senate would approve land grants for his army veterans, his request was denied.

With Caesar’s return from Spain in 60 BC, Pompey formed the “First Triumvirate,” with Caesar and Crassus, the three most powerful and influential men in Rome.

In 59 BC, Caesar was appointed consul, supported by Crassus and Pompey, which enabled Pompey to fulfil the land grants to his veteran soldiers.

In 59 BC, Pompey divorced his wife Marcia, and married Julia, the daughter of Julius Caesar.

In 55 BC Pompey and Crassus were appointed joint consulship.  After his term of office had come to an end, Pompey was named Governor of Spain, who chose to stay at home, and have his territories governed by legates.

Pompey dropped out of further political marriage links with Caesar, when his wife Julia died in childbirth in 54 BC. 

In 53 BC Crassus was slain at the “Battle of Carrhae.”  With Crassus dead, it spelled doom for the “Triumvirate,” for Caesar and Pompey no longer saw eye to eye.  The deep hatred that had laid dormant, had all the hallmarks of Civil War.  Pompey left Rome bound for Greece with Caesar on his tail.

On the 9th August 48 BC, Pompey and Caesar came face to face in a pitched battle at Pharsalus in Thessaly, where Caesar was victorious.  Pompey fled to Egypt, and on the 28th September 48 BC, was murdered as he disembarked at Alexandria.

Battle of Pharsalus: Caesar and Pompey

Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar, met on the battlefield in 48 BC at Pharsalus in eastern Greece.  Two of Rome’s greatest generals would go head to head for the coveted prize; Ruler of the Roman World.

Pompey the Great, was one third of the ruling Triumvirate with Julius Caesar and Marcus Licinius Crassus.  Pompey had his military successes in Siciliy and Africa, cleared pirates from the Mediterranean.  Pompey governed Rome’s Spanish provinces, whilst Caesar controlled Gaul.

With the death of Crassus in 53 BC, the Triumvirate looked doomed, with Pompey and Caesar preparing to do battle with each other.

Pompey left Italy in 49 BC, choosing to gather his legions in Greece for an inevitable confrontation.  Caesar was hot on his tail, but Pompey escaped the partial blockade at Brundisium.

Pompey faced another issue, he had seven legions loyal to him in Spain, but Caesar now controlled the treasury in Rome.  Caesar made a few appointments, as to who governed provinces, and within months, the Spanish legions loyal to Pompey were subdued, and headed back to Rome.

Pompey assembled nine Roman legions at Beroea in Thessaly, with a multi-national force of 3,000 archers, 1,200 slingers and 7,000 cavalry, with access to some 600 ships.  Pompey established winter camp on the west coast of Greece, believing the military campaign would not start until the New Year.

Despite threat of Pompey’s navy and risks of a winter crossing, Caesar mustered as much of his army he could, travelling light, without additional baggage.  He sailed to Greece on the 4th January, landing at Palaeste, under the nose of Pompey’s fleet, stationed on Coreyra.  Pompey was slow in reacting to Caesars surprise landing and attacks upon its cities.

Caesar’s second-in-command, Mark Antony arrived in the April with a second force of legions, making eleven in all.  Caesar and Pompey’s forces face off against each other at Asparagium.  Pompey set camp at Dyrrachium, and Caesar constructed a wall, boxing Pompey in, against the sea.  Pompey threw all he could, at Caesar, attacking weak points in his wall.

Pompey established a new camp, south of Caesar’s wall, and on the 9th July, Pompey’s forces were split in two; old and new camps.  Caesar went on the attack, forcing Pompey to send legions to extricate comrades from the old camp.  Caesar’s soldiers took a heavy battering, but Pompey had the upper hand, and did not press home his advantage, when he had the chance.

Caesar recognised that his blockade proved futile, and withdrew to the south.  Pompey’s cavalry went in pursuit.  Caesar escaped to the Plains of Thessaly in Greece, setting up camp on the north bank of the River Enipeus between Pharsalus and Palaepharsalus.  Pompey arrived on the scene, setting up camp to the west, on low lying hills… a good strategic position.

The stage was finally set, a decisive battle as to who would control the Roman Empire; Caesar or Pompey!

Julius Caesar was noted for his use of speed, and surprise attacks, gaining the upper hand in military conquests, using small numbers of troops.

Mark Antony, Caesar’s second-in-command would lead the left wing, Domitius Calvinus, one-time tribune and consul took the centre position and Publius Cornelius Sulla, led the right wing.

Pompey’s reputation as a military leader was legendary, following his string of successful campaigns; he was noted for his careful planning and attention to detail.  Some say he may have been over cautious.

Pompey’s command included Titus Labienus, Caesar’s past second-in-command who led the cavalry force.  Leading the centre would be Scipio Metellus, past consul with success in Syria, whilst Africanus commanded the right wing and Ahenobarbus to the left.

Caesar was keen, but Pompey proved unwilling to relinquish his high ground advantage.  Several days passed by, and Caesar observed a stalemate situation had come into effect.  Caesar opted to pack up camp and leave.  On the morning of the 9th August, Pompey came down and moved out of the hills, it was what Caesar had desired.  Caesar’s forces abandoned their baggage, and marched forth to meet their enemy.

Pompey had tired of this cat-and-mouse game, he wanted to capitalise on his mens good morale, after Dyrrachium.  Pompey had given away his high ground advantage, coming face to face with his enemy on the plains below.

Pompey fielded 47,000 men, 110 cohorts, with four cohorts in the first line, three each in the second and third lines.  The bulk of his cavalry, archers and slingers held the far left flank up against the low lying hills, while a smaller cavalry and light infantry force was located on the far right up against the River Enipeus.

His best troops took place on wings and centre, with veteran supporting troops new to battle conditions.  Pompey’s plan was to send cavalry around enemy flank, attacking from the rear, as infantry pressed forward and Caesar’s forces would be crushed.

Caesar lined up his troops, mirroring Pompey’s positions, but thinly spread.  His forces consisted of 22,000 men, divided into 80 80 cohorts.  Caesar positioned himself opposite Pompey, and behind his best legion.  His light infantry placed right of centre.  Caesar moved six cohorts, some 2,000 men from his rear line, acting as reserve on the right flank, against Pompey’s cavalry.

Pompey went on the attack first, with cavalry drawn out on a counter-charge, by Caesar, followed up with the front two infantry lines attacking and engaging all three lines of Pompey’s infantry who stood their ground.  This tactic tired Caesar’s infantry quickly, seeing Pompey’s lines were not advancing, his infantry stopped, regrouped to catch their breath, and then resumed their charge.  Caesar deliberately kept back in reserve his own third line of infantry.  First weapons hurled were javelins, a volley from either side.  Then the enemies met with a clash of shields, and thrusting of swords.

Through sheer weight of numbers, Pompey’s cavalry overwhelmed their enemy, by getting behind Caesar’s infantry.  As Pompey’s cavalry changed tactics by organising themselves into smaller squadrons, Caesar saw his opportunity and attacked.  Having withdrawn what was left of his own cavalry he ordered his Javelin’s to aim at enemy faces.  The attack threw the cavalry into panic, and Pompey’s forces bolted from the battlefield in confusion.  Pompey’s slingers and archers were open at the rear to attack.  Having engaged all three lines of infantry Pompey had no contingency forces left to deal with the surprise attack.

Pompey’s troops resisted the onslaught, not helped by the desertion of multi-national allied troops.  Legions retreated to the hills, as their leader fled the battlefield.  Caesar pressed home his advantage and wiped out Pompey’s camp, as remnants of his army fled into the Kaloyiros hills.  On the morning of the 10th, Pompey’s army threw down their weapons and surrendered… Caesar was victorious.

Pompey arrived in Egypt, by way of Cyprus and was murdered on the 28th September 48 BC.

A triumphant Caesar returned to Rome in 46 BC.  Julius Caesar stood alone, the last member of the Triumvirate, the most powerful man in the Roman World.  In February of 44 BC, the Senate voted him dictator for life.

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