Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pompey by Robin Seager

I see Oxbow books is also offering this revised edition of Seager's biography of Pompey for only half price. I've read quite a bit about Caesar but my knowledge of Pompey has been limited to a view of him from the Caesarian camp. His sensitive portrayal by British actor Kenneth Cranham on HBO's new miniseries "Rome" has peaked my interest even further. So I ordered this book as well.

"First published in 1979, this is a revised edition of Seager's comprehensive biography and analysis of Caesar's son-in-law and rival, Pompeius. A general introduction to Roman politics has been added, along with a glossary, chronology, maps and an afterword which outlines recent research developments, has rendered this study more accessible to a wider readership. Much of the original text remains unchanged and it still provides a useful and interesting survey of one of Rome's more extraordinary characters who is often overlooked in favour of his contemporaries Caesar and Cicero. 269p, maps (Blackwell 2002)"

The Brothers of Romulus by Cynthia J. Bannon

David Brown Book Company: "The Brothers of Romulus
by Cynthia J. Bannon

A study of fraternal pietas in Roman law, literature and society. Bannon examines the relationship between brothers in both the public and private spheres, arguing that the notion of fraternity, with the concept of pietas at its heart, was very important in Roman society and that it became a model for Romns of relationships between friends, lovers and soldiers. She illustrates her arguments with some famous Roman siblings: Cicero and Quintus, Scipio Africanus and Scipio Asiagenus, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus and the most infamous of all: Romulus and Remus. 234p (Princeton UP 1997)"

I noticed this interesting-sounding book that retails for a hefty $49.95 is now on sale for only $14.98. Roman relationships are particularly fascinating to me so I ordered this book.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization

Review by John Sledge (abstract)

"...revisionists have emerged to suggest that the fall [of the Roman Empire] was less a scenario of invasion than one of peaceful transition to Germanic rule, which had its own distinctive culture and traditions worthy of study and respect.

Bryan Ward-Perkins, a British archaeologist, believes this is going too far, and in his new book, "The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization" (Oxford, $28), he demolishes the revisionists' assertions in detail. "Some of the recent literature on the Germanic settlements reads like an account of a tea party at the Roman vicarage," he huffs. "A shy newcomer to the village ... is invited in. There is a brief moment of awkwardness, while the host finds an empty chair and pours a fresh cup of tea; but the conversation, and village life, soon flow on." The reality, he counters, was that "the process of mutual accommodation was painful for the natives, was to take a very long time, and ... left the vicarage in very poor shape." According to Ward-Perkins, Rome's fall was a catastrophe and in its wake economies were wrecked, standards of living plummeted, and theretofore sophisticated institutions destroyed. Furthermore and not least, individuals suffered unspeakable horrors.

He begins with a liberal sprinkling of eyewitness narratives that leave little doubt to the disruption and difficulty the empire's citizens endured. One observer wrote, "There was Death, Misery, Destruction, Burning, and Mourning. The whole of Gaul smoked on a single funeral pyre." While Ward-Perkins admits that some of these accounts were likely exaggerated, the totality of descriptions, he insists, suggest "the experience of invasion was terrible."

He examines the archaeological record for evidence that the fall led to poorer living conditions, and he finds it in everything from pottery to roofing tiles. Before the fall, complicated trade networks delivered well-made goods to the farthest reaches of the empire. Even the ordinary inhabitants of distant Britain enjoyed nicely fashioned dinnerware and amphorae, and their barns were roofed with quality clay tile. Conversely, after the fall, crude, locally made pots replaced the fine imports, and barns were roofed with thatch.

There is other evidence as well. Declining crop yields and agricultural capacity are reflected in the diminished sizes of cow bones, and the near-disappearance of literacy is demonstrated by the absence of graffiti and business signs, once common in even small Roman towns of the late empire.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Review: The Iron Hand of Mars by Lindsey Davis

A historical fiction review by  © 2015

I first listened to an unabridged version of Lindsey Davis' "Iron Hand of Mars" back in 2005 and wrote an article about the historical context then. But, I've incorporated and rewritten much of that information in this review following my current review format.

Of all of the Falco novels, this one turned out to be one of my favorites, probably because it included more military adventures than other Falco books and swordplay.

This tale of intrigue is set in Germania where Falco, Vespasian's agent, is tasked with attempting to derail a rebellion led by the Batavian leader Civilis and win over a mysterious prophetess. Since most of my study of Rome has concentrated on the late Republican period, I was not familiar with this major insurgency that arose during the reign of Vespasian. So, I did a little research.

Gaius Julius Civilis was the leader of the Batavian rebellion against the Romans in 69 AD. Although his name indicates he was Romanized by Augustus or one of the other Julian emperors, Civilis was twice imprisoned on a charge of rebellion, and narrowly escaped execution. During the tumult that followed the death of the emperor, Nero, Civilis took up arms under the pretense of siding with the Flavian emperor, Vespasian, and induced the inhabitants of his native country to rebel.

The Batavians, who had rendered valuable aid under the early emperors, had been well treated by subsequent emperors. They were exempt from tribute, but were obliged to supply a large number of men for the army. This conscription and the oppression of provincial governors, however, ultimately led to revolt. The Batavians were immediately joined by several neighboring German tribes, the most important of whom were the Frisii.

The Roman garrisons near the Rhine were driven out, and twenty-four ships captured. Two legions under Mummius Lupercus were defeated at Castra Vetera (near modern Xanten) and surrounded. Eight cohorts of Batavian veterans joined their countrymen, and the troops sent by Vespasian to the relief of Vetera threw in their lot with them as well.

The result of these accessions to the forces of Civilis was another uprising in Gaul. There, the Roman commander, Hordeonius Flaccus, was murdered by his troops and the remaining Roman forces were induced by two commanders of the Gallic auxiliaries--Julius Classicus and Julius Tutor--to revolt from Rome and join Civilis in a new independent kingdom of Gaul.

The conspiracy of the Batavians under Civilis by Rembrandt 1661-1662 CE.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The prophetess Veleda predicted the complete success of Civilis and the fall of the Roman Empire.   Veleda was a virginal holy woman of the Germanic tribe of the Bructeri.

"The ancient Germanic peoples discerned a divinity of prophecy in women and regarded prophetesses as true and living goddesses. In the latter half of the 1st century CE Veleda was regarded as a deity by most of the tribes in central Germany and enjoyed wide influence. She lived in a tower near the Lippe River, a tributary of the Rhine. The inhabitants of the Roman settlement of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (now Cologne) accepted her arbitration in a conflict with the Tencteri, an unfederated tribe of Germany." - Wikipedia

Veleda by Laurent-HonorĂ© Marqueste.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Like the pythia of ancient Greece, envoys were not admitted to her presence; an interpreter conveyed their messages to her and reported her pronouncements. So, it is not known whether Veleda just prophesied the victory or actively incited the rebellion.

But, ultimately, tribal disputes ended any chance for success and Vespasian was able to put down the rebellion with the arrival of Quintus Potillius Cerealis and a strong force. Civilis, himself, was defeated at Augusta Treverorum (modern Trier) and Vetera, and forced to withdraw to the island of Batavia. It is thought Civilis negotiated an agreement with Cerialis whereby his countrymen obtained certain advantages, and resumed amicable relations with Rome, although Civilis disappears from the historical record at this point, an ominous sign.  However, Cerialis, like Julius Caesar, was known for his clementia so the outcome may not have been dire after all.

As for Veleda, she was either captured by Rutillius Gallicus or "offered asylum" in 77 CE.  She is thought to have negotiated the acceptance of a pro-Roman king by her tribe, the Bructeri, in 83 or 84 CE.

Note: The chief authority for the history of the insurrection is Tacitus, Histories, iv and v, and Josephus, Bellum Judaicum, vii. 4.

So, there is quite an opportunity for Falco to strut his stuff on a scale far greater than his usual activities in  back alleys.  I think that is why I was drawn into this story more than some of his other adventures.  Although I knew Falco had once served in the legions, he was far more physical in this tale than the others and his sardonic personality was kept relatively in check because of the heightened danger of his circumstances.  I highly recommend it!