Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Strassler's The Landmark Herodotus released by Pantheon Press

Robert Strassler, the 70-year-old president of Riverside Capital Management Corp., a private investment firm, is a Harvard graduate who describes himself as a historian of the ancient Mediterranean. Back in 1996, he edited "The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to The Peloponnesian War," that was published by CBS Corp.'s Free Press. This book received excellent reviews and sold over 24,000 copies. It has taken 10 years for a sequel "The Landmark Herodotus" is now available from Pantheon with 20,000 copies in print.

When Wall Street Journal columnist, Jeffrey Trachtenberg asked Strassler why it took so long to write this sequel, Strassler says, "Thucydides is more narrowly focused. He was interested only in military and political history. Herodotus is interested in everything. He wants to know what people wear, what gods they worship, what crops they grow. I needed 11 appendices for Thucydides to provide context, but we have 21 for Herodotus, and we could have done another five to 10."

When asked about the reliability of Herodotus' chronicles, Strassler replies, "There are a lot of questions. He does tend to write about fables, things that aren't real. His job was to tell you what he heard. He's critical, but there are anecdotes where you don't know if he's pulling your leg, or his leg is being pulled. For example, he said he saw a sign on one of the Pyramids. He asked his Egyptian guide about it and says he was told that the sign listed the amount of garlic, leeks and onions consumed by the workmen over the 20 years it took to build the pyramid. Do you think he believed it? But he put it in his book. You can't always be sure. And he wasn't an eyewitness to everything. But this book has survived for 2,500 years, and it offers a huge panorama of his world."

If you wish to learn even more about Herodotus, I would highly recommend an audio course offered through the Teaching Company, Herodotus: Father of History presented by Professor Elizabeth Vandiver of Whitman College.

The Roman Triumph by Mary Beard

"... for almost every detail of this picture - familiar as it is from sword-and-sandal epics and Asterix books - is, according to Mary Beard, up for grabs. Yes, the triumph was a vivid and central part of Roman culture. In fact, she argues, it was in some ways more central than we have ever realised. Triumphal imagery and triumphal language bled into the Roman games and seeped into the ceremonies that marked the election of a consul or the arrival (or through deification, the departure) of a new emperor. Triumph was inscribed into the architecture of arches, theatres and temples, and also sarcophaguses and tombs. It penetrated epic and erotic poetry and comic drama too. But almost every detail of this great ceremony is maddeningly difficult to seize upon. Everything on which we were agreed turns out to be just that little bit more difficult to demonstrate than anyone ever imagined.

Beard has in her sights three processions. The first is that long historical sequence of actual celebrations. The second is a series of rich and extravagant accounts of triumphs, what she calls "rituals in ink" although they include a mass of images too, such as the Arch of Titus. Third, there is a long procession of classical scholars, who follow Beard's chariot with placards hung around their necks detailing their wild conjectures, hypotheses and claims about what the triumph "really meant".

It would be convenient if each could be examined separately, but the processions keep colliding in the winding, narrow streets of Roman cultural history. The actual triumphs are known to us only through the representations, and these are difficult to disentangle from the dense foliage of scholarly exegesis. Beard prunes ferociously. The evidence for the triumphal route is alarmingly inconsistent. The slave in the chariot whispering to the general is a modern composite, compiled of late testimony, no one piece of which tells exactly this story. The clothes borrowed from the god, the chariot itself are insecure. So is much more.

Once the factoids are swept away we are left with modern attempts to create some sort of general rule-book for triumphs. How many enemies did you need to kill? What sort of general could celebrate? Who decided? Ancient writers made many claims, but their generalisations stand up no better than those of the moderns. It does not help that when a Polybius or a Livy or a Josephus sets out to describe a particular triumph, he focused on what was remarkable, extraordinary, controversial and bizarre. And who was to say what was "normal" and what excessive?"

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Phoenix Circle by Boris Raymond

'The Phoenix Circle' by Dr. Boris Raymond is an engrossing and insightful novel that examines the changes occurring in western civilization as the Roman Empire succumbs to barbarian encroachment and the growing power of Christianity and dominance of spiritual philosophy in social experience.

Dr. Raymond, a professor of history, sociology, and library science at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, shares his in-depth knowledge of the period artfully, providing a tactile context for each event and insight into the thoughts and ideas that motivated the key players during this period. His characters are well developed and he changes scenes deftly without confusing the reader or disrupting the overall continuity of his tale.

I particularly found his examination of the various conflicts within the early Christian church interesting. He shows us how the princes of the church struggled for supremacy almost like rival Roman generals vying for the scepter and how the church was impacted by changes in secular power when rulers or their consorts supported or opposed various theological positions. We feel the tension of a society whose people, like Attila's hapless secretary, must have felt like they were tied spread-eagled to four horses precariously controlled by duplicitous power brokers from both church and state.

Dr. Raymond’s "The Phoenix Circle" reflects the growth of the author in his understanding of the genre of historical fiction since the release of his first book "The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus" and I recommend this work to Roman history enthusiasts and anyone with an interest in how events of late antiquity forged the society we have inherited.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Steven Saylor's "Roma" focuses on life within the Eternal City

My enthusiasm for Steven Saylor's work dates back to the 1990s when I found a used copy of an audiobook of his detective novel "Arms of Nemesis" at the campus used book store. I found his writing immersed me in the world of 1st century BCE Rome like no one else, with, perhaps, the exception of Colleen McCullough. I snapped up as many of Steven's books as I could and soon felt I was almost a confidante to his hero, Gordianus The Finder. I found his books not only entertaining but filled with fascinating glimpses of events that really happened and served as starting points for me to conduct further research about this empire that our own culture has, in many respects, so closely emulated.

When I heard Steven was shifting gears a little and focusing his efforts on an epic novel, I could hardly wait for it to be released. I was even more pleased to find that the unabridged audio version would be available for download since I have more time on my commute than I have time or energy to read after getting home from work.

I downloaded a copy from Audible.com and embarked on Steven's latest adventure. I was surprised to discover Steven went all the way back to "prehistoric" times to introduce the winged phallus amulet of gold that would become the thread tying each successive generation in the story together.

As the story progresses, I vicariously became a citizen of Roma and experienced its history from a resident's viewpoint. Most novels I have read about the Roman Republic and Empire focus on the military conquests as viewed from the perspective of a famous general or emperor since conquest created the building blocks of Roman civilization. However, the average resident of Roma heard about these great conquests from messengers and gossips in the forum. The cataclysmic events of Cannae or Pharsalus happened out in the distant provinces or on the frontier. They provided interesting fodder for discussion but events within the city itself were of far more immediate concern.

So, "Roma" is filled with vignettes of characters dealing with the political and social turmoil swirling about its citizens within the city from day to day and from one generation to the next. Beneath it all simmers the class struggle between the noble patricians and the common plebians that seems to escalate with each generation. By focusing on events that shaped the culture and belief systems of the Romans themselves, Steven gives us a window into their thoughts as they grappled with the social upheavals that beset their classical world.

My main regret was that, due to the huge span of time covered by the novel, I could not linger with any characters for any length of time. Steven does such a wonderful job of characterization that my brief encounters were populated with fascinating individuals that I regretted leaving so soon, as the story, like the relentless current of the Tiber River, swept me along. It's like being invited to a banquet but being rushed along so that you can only sample a handful of succulent hors d'oeuvres and never get a chance to sit down and relish the main course.

I hope Steven will consider casting some of his character groups into full fledged novels of their own. I particularly liked the slave and Vestal Virgin who became lovers during the first sack of Rome when they were among the few defenders atop the Capitoline Hill. Since I have concentrated most of my study on the late Republican Period, I was unaware of the extent of the first sack. I always assumed the sack was over in a few days like most sacks. I didn't realize it went on for seven long months.

I also did not realize that the Veii question was so disruptive. I knew the Romans had conquered Veii but I assumed they simply added its people to the expanding Republic. I didn't realize the people of Veii were sold away into slavery and the city was left abandoned. Perhaps its people were treated so harshly because of the legendary massacre of the 300 Fabii at Cremora. Anyway, the hotly debated question became whether to rebuild Rome or to transfer her entire population to the empty city of Veii only twelve miles away. These events not only revealed interesting details often overlooked in so-called "epic" novels but provided a rich context to help the reader understand the complexity of the Roman psyche and the politics resulting from it.

The poisoning trials of 331 BCE also served as a basis for another interesting vignette. I had never heard of them before and since I knew Steven based his work on meticulous research I knew that this incident must have a historical basis. So, I researched it further and found a reference to the prosecutions in Livy:

"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

This incident alone could provide sufficient suspense for a novel in its own right.

I was also intrigued by the interactions among the characters involved with Plautus' playwriting activities. I found the characterization of Publius Cornelius Scipio with his luxurious mane of chesnut hair much more fascinating than the man I imagined when I gazed upon the strained face and bald head of Scipio's extant bust. Steven’s Scipio was truly the personification of a "Roman Alexander".

The vivid portrayal of the riots surrounding the murder of Tiberius Gracchus also brought the turmoil of that period to life for me. As I read about one of the characters making a flailing descent from the Tarpeian Rock, grasping at other men clutching roots and outcroppings in an attempt to break their fall, I couldn't help but visualize their desperation and recall my own view from the promontory the modern Romans advertise as the Tarpeian Rock that overlooks the remains of the Forum Romanum. Then I shuddered at the thought of trying to make my way across a corpse-glutted Tiber to relative safety on the far bank. These images will definitely remain with me in my future studies of this fascinating period of history.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Popular Morality in the Early Roman Empire by Teresa Morgan

Morality is one of the fundamental structures of any society, enabling complex groups to form, negotiate their internal differences and persist through time. In the first book-length study of Roman popular morality, Dr Morgan argues that we can recover much of the moral thinking of people across the Empire. Her study draws on proverbs, fables, exemplary stories and gnomic quotations, to explore how morality worked as a system for Roman society as a whole and in individual lives. She examines the range of ideas and practices and their relative importance, as well as questions of authority and the relationship with high philosophy and the ethical vocabulary of documents and inscriptions. The Roman Empire incorporated numerous overlapping groups, whose ideas varied according to social status, geography, gender and many other factors. Nevertheless it could and did hold together as an ethical community, which was a significant factor in its socio-political success.

About the Author
Teresa Morgan is University Lecturer in Ancient History at Oxford and a Fellow of Oriel College. She is the author of Literate Education in the Hellenistic and Roman Worlds (1998).

Egypt in the Byzantine World by Roger S. Bagnall (Editor)

Egypt in the period from the reign of the emperor Constantine to the Arab conquest was both a vital part of the Late Roman and Byzantine world, participating fully in the culture of its wider Mediterranean society, and a distinctive milieu, launched on a path to developing the Coptic Christian culture that we see fully only after the end of Byzantine rule. This book is the first comprehensive survey of Egypt to treat this entire period including the first half-century of Arab rule. Twenty-one renowned specialists present the history, society, economy, culture, religious institutions, art and architecture of the period. Topics covered range from elite literature to mummification and from monks to Alexandrian scholars. A full range of Egypt's uniquely rich source materials - literature, papyrus documents, letters, and archaeological remains - gives exceptional depth and vividness to this portrait of a society, and recent archaeological discoveries are described and illustrated.

About the Author
Roger Bagnall is Professor of Classics and History at Colombia University.

Severan Culture by Simon Swain(Editor), Stephen Harrison (Editor), Jas' Elsner (Editor)

The Roman Empire during the reigns of Septimius Severus and his successors (AD 193–225) enjoyed a remarkably rich and dynamic cultural life. It saw the consolidation of the movement known as the second sophistic, which had flourished during the second century and promoted the investigation and reassessment of classical Greek culture. It also witnessed the emergence of Christianity on its own terms, in Greek and in Latin, as a major force extending its influence across literature, philosophy, theology, art and even architecture. This volume offers the first wide-ranging and authoritative survey of the culture of this fascinating period when the background of Rome's rulers was for the first time non-Italian. Leading scholars discuss general trends and specific instances, together producing a vibrant picture of an extraordinary period of cultural innovation rooted in ancient tradition.

About the Author
Simon Swain is Professor of Classics at the University of Warwick. His recent publications include editing Bilingualism in Ancient Society (2002) (with J. N. Adams and M. Jase), Approaching Late Antiquity (2004) and Seeing the Face, Seeing the Soul: Polemon's Physiognomy from Classical Antiquity to Medieval Islam (2007). Stephen Harrison is Professor of Classical Languages and Literature at the University of Oxford and Fellow and Tutor in Classics at Corpus Christi College. His numerous publications include A Commentary on Vergil, Aeneid 10 (1991), Apuleius: A Latin Sophist (2000), Generic Enrichment in Vergil and Horace (2007) and, as editor, The Cambridge Companion to Horace (2007). Jas’ Elsner is Humfry Payne Senior Research Fellow in Classical Archaeology at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He has edited and co-edited numerous volumes and is the author of Art and the Roman Viewer (1995), Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph: The Art of the Roman Empire (1998) and Roman Eyes: Visuality and Subjectivity in Art and Text (2007).

The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians

"The death of the Roman Empire is one of the perennial mysteries of world history. Now, in this groundbreaking book, Peter Heather proposes a stunning new solution: Centuries of imperialism turned the neighbors Rome called barbarians into an enemy capable of dismantling an Empire that had dominated their lives for so long. A leading authority on the late Roman Empire and on the barbarians, Heather relates the extraordinary story of how Europe's barbarians, transformed by centuries of contact with Rome on every possible level, eventually pulled the empire apart. He shows first how the Huns overturned the existing strategic balance of power on Rome's European frontiers, to force the Goths and others to seek refuge inside the Empire. This prompted two generations of struggle, during which new barbarian coalitions, formed in response to Roman hostility, brought the Roman west to its knees. The Goths first destroyed a Roman army at the battle of Hadrianople in 378, and went on to sack Rome in 410. The Vandals spread devastation in Gaul and Spain, before conquering North Africa, the breadbasket of the Western Empire, in 439. We then meet Attila the Hun, whose reign of terror swept from Constantinople to Paris, but whose death in 453 ironically precipitated a final desperate phase of Roman collapse, culminating in the Vandals' defeat of the massive Byzantine Armada: the west's last chance for survival. Peter Heather convincingly argues that the Roman Empire was not on the brink of social or moral collapse. What brought it to an end were the barbarians."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples

By Herwig Wolfram, University of Vienna

The names of early Germanic warrior tribes and leaders resound in songs and legends; the real story of the part they played in reshaping the ancient world is no less gripping. Herwig Wolfram's panoramic history spans the great migrations of the Germanic peoples and the rise and fall of their kingdoms between the third and eighth centuries, as they invaded, settled in, and ultimately transformed the Roman Empire.

"As Germanic military kings and their fighting bands created kingdoms, and won political and military recognition from imperial governments through alternating confrontation and accommodation, the "tribes" lost their shared culture and social structure, and became sharply differentiated. They acquired their own regions and their own histories, which blended with the history of the empire. In Wolfram's words, "the Germanic peoples neither destroyed the Roman world nor restored it; instead, they made a home for themselves within it."

This story is far from the "decline and fall" interpretation that held sway until recent decades. Wolfram's narrative, based on his sweeping grasp of documentary and archaeological evidence, brings new clarity to a poorly understood period of Western history."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Houses of Roman Italy, 100 B.C.-A.D. 250: Ritual, Space, and Decoration

Last week I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was thrilled to see wall frescoes from the Roman villas in Boscoreale. I will be visiting that archaeological site in October. In looking for reference material about the villas there, I came across this comprehensive book.

"In this richly illustrated book, art historian John R. Clarke helps us see the ancient Roman house "with Roman eyes." Clarke presents a range of houses, from tenements to villas, and shows us how enduring patterns of Roman wall decoration tellingly bear the cultural, religious, and social imprints of the people who lived with them.

In case studies of seventeen excavated houses, Clarke guides us through four centuries of Roman wall painting, mosaic, and stucco decoration, from the period of the "Four Styles" (100 B.C. to A.D. 79) to the mid- third century. The First Style Samnite House shows its debt to public architecture in its clear integration of public and private spaces. The Villa of Oplontis asserts the extravagant social and cultural climate of the Second Style. Gemlike Third-Style rooms from the House of Lucretius Fronto reflect the refinement and elegance of Augustan tastes. The Vettii brothers' social climbing helps explain the overburdened Fourth-Style decoration of their famous house. And evidence of remodelling leads Clarke to conclude that the House of Jupiter and Ganymede became a gay hotel in the second century.

In his emphasis on social and spiritual dimensions, Clarke offers a contribution to Roman art and architectural history that is both original and accessible to the general reader. The book's superb photographs not only support the author's findings but help to preserve an ancient legacy that is fast succumbing to modern deterioration resulting from pollution and vandalism."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Fall of Rome by Michael Curtis Ford

"In his riveting novel The Sword of Attila, Michael Curtis Ford thrilled readers with his recounting of a cataclysmic clash of ancient civilizations. Now, in The Fall of Rome, he takes on the bloody twilight of empire, as the legacy of Attila---once thought destroyed on the battlefield---emerges again to defy the power of the Western World.

In this powerful saga of Roman warfare, the sons of Attila’s great officers wage battle with one another as the dramatic confrontation between Rome’s last emperor and Rome’s barbarian conqueror leads to the thrilling dénouement that becomes the fall of a mighty empire.

Pulsing with intrigue, saturated with historical detail, The Fall of Rome brings readers to new places—pressed into the trenches as catapult bolts fly overhead, lurking within the palace where betrayal is plotted, imprisoned in a tower stronghold where an emperor turns mad.

Once again, Ford demonstrates his mastery as a chronicler of battle, honor, and ancient worlds in this masterfully plotted epic novel that will leave readers begging for more."

Saturnalia by Lindsey Davis

"The top ten bestseller. It is the Roman holiday of Saturnalia. The days are short, the nights are for wild parties. A general has captured a famous enemy of Rome, and brings her home to adorn his Triumph as a ritual sacrifice. The logistics go wrong; she acquires a mystery illness - then a young man is horrendously murdered and she escapes from house arrest. Marcus Didius Falco is pitted against his old rival, the Chief Spy Anacrites, in a race to find the fugitive before her presence angers the public and makes the government look stupid. Falco has other priorities, for Helena's brother Justinus has also vanished, perhaps fatefully involved once more with the great lost love of his youth. Against the riotous backdrop of the season of misrule, the search seems impossible and only Falco seems to notice that some dark agency is bringing death to the city streets..."

The Quest by Wilbur Smith

"Wilbur Smith returns with the eagerly awaited sequel to his thrilling Egyptian series. Following on from "River God", "The Seventh Scroll" and "Warlock, "The Quest" continues the story of the Warlock, Taita, wise in the lore of the ancient Gods and a master of magic and the supernatural. Egypt is struck by a series of terrible plagues that cripple the Kingdom, and then the ultimate disaster follows. The Nile fails. The waters that nourish and sustain the land dry up. Something catastrophic is taking place in the distant and totally unexplored depths of Africa from where the mighty river springs. In desperation Pharoah sends for Taita, the only man who might be able to win through to the source of the Nile and discover the cause of all their woes. None of them can have any idea of what a terrible enemy lies in ambush for "The Warlock" in those mysterious lands at the end of their world."

A Coin for the Ferry Man by Lindsey Davis

"Rowe's clever whodunits continue to delight fans of historical crime, with Libertus and Junio proving a formidable and popular detective team. In Roman Britain, AD 189, every slave knows his lot in life depends solely on the morals -- or "lack "of morals -- of his master. Fortunately for one young Glevum slave, Junio, his owner, former slave turned pavement-maker Libertus, believes heartily in rewarding years of loyalty and service. Junio is to be granted his freedom in an elaborate ceremony at the Basilica Law Court. And what better moment than the manumission to announce the lad's engagement? But the young couple's happiness is threatened by a terrible omen: the gruesome discovery of a corpse, hastily concealed in a shallow grave. Who is it? And, more importantly, who will go to any lengths to cover up their heinous crime? Determined to solve the mystery before the impending nuptials, Junio joins his mentor Libertus in trying to piece together a truly masterful mosaic of murder!"

Nefertiti: The Book of the Dead by Nick Drake

"Nefertiti is the most powerful, charismatic and beautiful Queen of the ancient world. With her husband, Akhenaten, she rules over an Empire at the peak of its glory and domination. Together, they have built a magnificent new city in the desert on the banks of the Nile. They are about to host kings, dignitaries and leaders from around the Empire for a vast festival to celebrate their triumph. But suddenly, Nefertiti vanishes. Rahotep is the youngest chief detective of the Thebes division; a 'Seeker of Mysteries' who knows about shadows and darkness, and who can see patterns where others cannot. His unusual talents earn him a summons to the royal court. Rahotep is given ten days to find the Queen and return her in time for the festival. Success will bring glory - but if he fails, he and his young family will die ...Closely based on historical research, "Nefertiti" tells the hidden story of the crimes, mysteries and secrets of the dark game of power played out against the vast panorama of a society in revolution."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Review: Rome's Gothic Wars by Michael Kulikowski

A history text review by  © 2007- 5 stars

I was recently asked by Cambridge University Press to review "Rome's Gothic Wars: From the Third Century to Alaric (Key Conflicts of Classical Antiquity) by Michael Kulikowski. I finally got a chance to begin reading it and find it clearly written and thankfully devoid of the stilted academic jargon that pervades many history texts. As most
of my studies have focused on the Roman Republic, I am learning all kinds of fascinating things about this later period.

For example, I did not realize that there were reports of cannibalism
inside the city of Rome during Alaric's siege. Kulikowski also postulates that one of the stimuli for the beginning of Gothic invasions of the Empire was in response to Caracalla's granting of citizenship to all free residents of the empire. He felt that this action opened up the possibilities for anyone - not just provincial
elites who had gained senatorial rank - to gain the throne.

Cavaceppi's 18th century portrait of 2nd
century CE Roman Emperor Caracalla

 photographed at the J. Paul Getty Museum
in Los Angeles, CA
© 2005
Evidently, Mr. Kulikowski has another problem with Caracalla. He says in his opinion, much of the civil unrest in Rome itself resulting from the long string of assassinated emperors was triggered unwittingly by Caracalla when he defeated the last Parthian king. This left a power vacuum in the east that was filled by the much more problematic (for the Romans)Sassanids who were not content to control the former Parthian Empire but launched numerous incursions into Roman territory. Less successful responses to these incursions would often result in deposition of the current emperor. Likewise, success would bring a new challenger to the imperial throne.

He also went on to describe the problems created by Roman interference in Barbarian tribal control with Roman subsidy of particular tribal leaders. Although this may have brought temporary loyalty, ultimately it garnered a larger core of support around these subsidized chieftains who would then be in a position to challenge the authority of Rome itself along the frontiers. He pointed out that Decablus was just such an example. The Romans initially subsidized his power base in Dacia.

I found an article that described how this came about:

"In 60 BC, King Burebista of Dacia began a series of expansionistic moves to relieve pressure from nomadic incursions, which eventually threatened Roman Danubian and Black Sea territories. Julius Caesar began to lay plans for a campaign in Dacia and Partha, which came to naught when both Caesear and Burebista were assassinated in 44 BC. Later, during the reign of Nero (54-68 AD), Dacian raids into Roman Moesia became so serious that the Romans engaged the Roxolani to help defend their frontier, thus placing Dacia's sometime Sarmatian allies on their enemies list.
Colossal statue of a Dacian Roman 2nd century CE
photographed at the Palazzo Altemps, Rome, Italy by
 © 2009
In 85 AD, King Decebalus assumed the Dacian throne, adopting a hostile Roman policy that posed a serious challenge to the Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD). A Dacian army raided across the Danube into the Roman province of Moesia, killing the Roman governor and looting the
countryside. This prompted an retaliatory expedition under command of  praetorian prefect Cornelius Fuscus that was wiped out in eastern Dacia (including the loss of Legio V Alaudae) . A second Roman expedition was severely defeated in 87 AD.
Finally, a Roman army under Tettius Julianus defeated the Dacians at Tapae in 88 or 89 A.D. King Decabalus of Dacia was forced to pay tribute and allow Roman armies passage through Dacian territory. Domitian, however, was distracted by Saturninus' Revolt on the Rhine Frontier and uprisings by the Sarmatian Iazyges, Marcomanni and Quaid tribes on Rome's Pannonian frontier. He sought the favor of Decabalus to avoid a Dacian-Sarmatian alliance, offering skilled artisans and hostages to ensure Dacian neutrality while he contended with his other headaches." - DBA Resource, Fanaticus.org 

I couldn't help but think that we certainly didn't learn much from these Roman experiences in political interference since we so recently repeated their mistakes!

Kulikowski, also pointed out something that is important to know if you are reading original historical sources from the period. He says that, even though the Goths contemporaries referred to them as Goths,
historical scholars of the day used the formal designation "Scythians" because the Goths had originated north of the Black Sea in the same region once occupied by the true Scythians recorded by Herodotus.

I also found little controversies pointed out by Michael Kulikowski quite interesting. He appears to be very skeptical of Jordanes narrative of the origin and migration of the Goths from Scandanavia to the Black Sea region ("Getica"). Supposedly, Jordanes sixth century account was based on the lost barbarian histories by Cassiodorus. But Kulikowski maintains that Jordanes work was prepared while attached to the court of
Theodoric so he feels it was meant to provide a glorious history of descent for that monarch and can't be solely relied upon when no other sources are available - much like the skepticism that always surrounds
the narratives by Suetonius.

He went on to say that the connection between the Goths and Scandanavia has been disproved archaeologically but did not elaborate on how. He feels the Goths arose as a result of barbarian
relationships with the Roman army along the frontiers in the third century and that they did not exist as a recognizable cultural group before that time.

Detail of a tapestry by Peter Paul Reubens depicting Constantine's victory over Maxentius at the battle of the Milvian
Bridge in 312 CE
photographed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, PA by © 2011

Kulikowski, also observed that Constantine apparently deliberately shifted from the former emperors' claims to be descended from Hercules to claim a descent from Claudius Gothicus. The author seemed to think this was a way to demonstrate a rejection of pagan philosophies. Richard D. Weigel of Western Kentucky University seems to support the observation that any connection with Claudius Gothicus was a fiction:

"M. Aurelius Claudius, known to history as Claudius Gothicus or Claudius II, was born in either Dalmatia or Illyria on May 10, probably in A.D. 213 or 214, " Wiegel says, "Although the most substantive source on Claudius is the biography in the Scriptores Historiae Augustae (SHA), this account is riddled with fabrications and slanted with fawning praise for this particular emperor, who in the fourth century was viewed as an ancestor of Constantine's father and thus of the ruling imperial family. This biography, attributed to one Trebellius Pollio, must be read with extreme caution and supplemented with information from other sources, including Aurelius Victor, the Epitome de Caesaribus, Eutropius, Orosius, Zonaras, and Zosimus, as well as coins and inscriptions." - De Imperatorabus Romanis
The first one of the two twin bronze busts of ...
The first one of the two twin bronze busts of Claudius II "the Gothic" (268/269 d.C.). The gilded bronze portraits, five of Roman emperors and one of an empress, were hidden beneath the Capitoline temple in Brescia, together with other bronze objects, to prevent the consequences of a possible sack of the town in the 4th or 5th century, and unearthed only in 1826. They are now exhibited in the archaeological Santa Giulia Museum, in Brescia, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although his reign was short, Claudius Gothicus did appear to be an emperor worth emulating:
"The Gothic challenge in 269 CE proved to be the greatest that Claudius II would face. The Goths assembled a large invading force, reportedly amounting to 320,000 men transported on a fleet of at least 2,000 ships, and first attacked coastal cities along the Black Sea in Moesia. After passing into the Aegean the Goths besieged Thessalonica. At this point, in 269, Claudius left Rome to stop the invasion. The Goths then sent the larger segment of their troops on land toward the Danube, while the fleet took the remaining group to continue the naval attack on Aegean coastal cities. Claudius sent Aurelian's cavalry to Macedonia to protect Illyria from attack, while he commanded the forces blocking the route to the Danube. In the area of Doberus and Pelagonia, the Goths lost 3,000 men to Aurelian's cavalry. At Naissus in Moesia, Claudius' force succeeded in killing some 50,000 Goths. There were follow-up operations on both land and sea, but the Gothic War had essentially been won. Staving off the attacks of the Goths was a major contribution to the survival of the Roman Empire. It was a significant step leading to the subsequent success of Aurelian and the resurrection of the Empire under Diocletian and Constantine. When the Goths eventually succeeded in taking parts of the western Empire in the fifth century, their disruption to the course of civilization was likely much less violent than it would have been had they succeeded in the third century.< 
Detail of the Ludovisi sarcophagus thought to depict a
battle between the Romans and the Goths 2nd - 3rd
century CE
photographed at the Palazzo Altemps in
Rome, Italy
by  © 2009
 In addition to bad weather, a lack of supplies, and hunger, plague was a major factor in the defeat of the Goths. Many of the Gothic prisoners were either impressed into Roman military service or settled on farms as coloni. Claudius received the title Gothicus in recognition of his triumph over the Goths. At some point he had also been given the title Parthicus, but the unlikelihood of any conflict with the Parthians in his short reign makes this difficult to explain. Perhaps Damerau was correct in his suggestion that a Parthian unit may have been involved in one of the battles with the Palmyrenes, although on this front there were few achievements to claim. In any case, Claudius' victory over the Goths was short-lived. The emperor himself caught the plague and died at Sirmium early in 270. He was 56 years old  Claudius' brother, Quintillus, became emperor briefly before losing out to Aurelian. Claudius also had another brother, Crispus, and the SHA traces the link to Constantius through Crispus' daughter Claudia. 
The Roman Senate showed its respect for Claudius Gothicus by setting up a gold portrait-shield in the Curia and by approving his deification. He was also honored with a golden statue in front of the great temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus and a silver statue set on a column on the Rostra." - Wikipedia
All of these issues prompted me to seek out other academic opinions and more information.

Judith Weingarten, who studied classical archaeology at Oxford and is a member of the British School of Athens, disagreed with Kulikowski's suggestion that Caracalla's granting of citizenship to all free residents was a crucial trigger to the Gothic migrations:

Bust of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus
photographed at the Capitoline Museum in
Rome, Italy
by  © 2009
"Caracalla's father, the Emperor Septimius Severus, had already started the rot," Weingarten exclaims,  "As the first of the Soldier Emperors, he came to power over the bodies of three emperors (all murdered in a single year!) and fought two bloody civil wars against rival generals to boot. He was, however, the last emperor, for a very long time, to die in bed. For the next 60 years, emperor after emperor - and there were many - fell to the assassin’s knife - and that is only to speak of the so-called legitimate emperors, who managed to fight off and kill their rivals - the losers then being called ‘usurpers’ or ‘pretenders’. [An old English jingle makes the point: Treason doth never prosper/ what’s the reason?/ For if it prosper/ none dare call it treason.] Caracalla’s murder, in turn,, did usher in a new age of instability. Legitimacy gave way to force and absolute despotism, in which the losers, their friends and supporters, were slaughtered and their property confiscated."
Hercules battling the centaur Nessus by
by Giovanni Bologna 1599 CE
at the Palazzo Vechio in Florence, Italy by
 © 2005

"In my opinion," she continues, "the true reason for Caracalla granting citizenship to all free men in the Empire, was his need to raise revenue: in return for citizenship, he taxed them. When even that was insufficient, he debased the currency...."

Another historian, Volker Carlton Bach of Denmark, took issue with the speculation that Constantine's rejection of the emperor's traditional descent from Hercules was a demonstration of rejection of pagan philosophy.

"I think this is based on a misunderstanding," Bach states, "The descent of the Herculian Emperors (not the Jovian ones) from Hercules was purely a notional, cultic (for want of a better word) concept. The closest we have today, I think, is the link between the popes and St Peter - not an arogation of genetic descent, but a claim of spiritual successorship and close association. The Romans knew that Maximian and his successors were not the great-great-great-repeat ad nauseam-grandsons of the heros Hercules. After all, they had real mothers and fathers, and in some cases even knew both with a degree of certainty. The descent claim from Claudius Gothicus, on the other hand, *is* a 'real' paternity claim, similar to the adoption of Antonine nomenclature by third-century emperors. So Constantine doesn't really replace one claim with another. The Herculian designation was unnecessary simply because with Constantine's victories, as it had been used to distinguish junior colleagues from senior (Jovian) ones. Constantine was *the* emperor, so that was that. Claudius Gothicus, on the other hand, was a very attractive ancestor to claim, a successful and legendary warrior and, unlike Aurelian or Diocletian, without anti-Christian baggage."

Any book that can generate this type of quality discussion is a worthy addition to any history enthusiast's collection. I notice it is one of a series of introductory-level texts exploring the key conflicts of classical antiquity. I look forward to reading others in this series.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Searching for the Silures by Raymond Howell

Abstract of Review by Sam Burson

"A HARDY band of Welshmen in red, who took on the might of the Italians 2,000 years ago, could prove inspirational for tomorrow's Welsh Six Nations warriors.

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.

"I'm sure it would be impossible to prove, but it could be that the reason Wales is associated with red now, and why Welsh players will be wearing red when they take to the field in Italy, is to do with the culture of the Silures.

"Certainly one of the things which has struck me is how much they used red in pretty much anything to do with battle."

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.

In his new book, Searching for the Silures, he shows how the tribe was able to rout the Romans for 25 years before the all-conquering legions were able to build their fortress at Isca, now Caerleon."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

New Ancient Warfare Magazine to publish in March

I was so excited to hear that a new magazine with articles exclusively about the ancient world is slated for publication in March. I immediately went to the website and requested their free brochure.

Until now I have had to be satisfied with the one or two ancient-themed articles in Military History or Military Heritage magazines. I couldn't understand why the Ancient World didn't rate it's own periodical since there is such a wealth of material to draw upon. I can hardly wait to receive the brochure and

Now if I could just get The History Channel to start an Ancient
History Channel. I wrote to them several years ago and suggested that
they consider a channel devoted to the ancient world. Not only is
there a lot of documentaries to draw upon but they could always
broadcast all those old sword and sandal films that don't get much air
time anymore!

"Ancient Warfare is the new full color magazine about the soldiers, generals and wars of the Ancient World (ca. 3000 BC - AD 650). Ancient Warfare is published 6 times per year and features articles written by expert authors and illustrations by renowned artists. Photos from our extensive collections complete the picture.

Half of every issue is dedicated to a single theme from Ancient History. This may be a famous or not so well-know campaign, a leader or a more general theme such as siege warfare or artillery.

the Warrior: highlights one particular soldier, detailing his arms, armor and equipment for a particular campaign, battle or era. Always illustrated especially for Ancient Warfare magazine and placed squarely in the heart of every issue.
- the Battle: discusses a particular battle (or siege) in detail using all available sources, both literary, epigraphic, papyrological and archaeological. Maps, photos of locations and artifacts and illustrations elucidate what happened.
- the Find: illustrates a particular find, be it helmet, sword or belt buckle. Photos detail this find and - if available - a reconstruction to show the find in its former glory.
- the Battlefield: many ancient battlefields can no longer be located, but there are exceptions. Ancient Warfare takes you to the places where it actually happened, showing and reconstructing the landscape and its influence on the outcome of battles that took place all those years ago.
- the Campaign: battle does not exist in a vacuum. Campaign will explain the events leading up to a battle and its aftermath. Necessarily the emphasis will lie more on strategy and logistics than the tactics of Battle articles.
- Daily life: the battles that made it into the history books are only a small part of the lives of only a few soldiers. Many generations spent their lives as citizens of their poleis, eating in the syssitia or standing guard at some outpost of the empire. Using primary sources, here one will read the story of the soldier purchasing a slave, a mercenary hunting for a new job and an officer's wife on Hadrian's wall.
- Be a general: the Ancients had very well developed ideas about what a general ought to know and do. He should have read his Homer, of course, but there was also specific literature to train his capabilities and teach him by example. When presented with a problem, do you know what you are supposed to do?
- Special feature: catch-all or box of surprises: this department contains those interesting articles that didn't fit anywhere else. Have an idea? Let us know!
- the Event: Ancient Warfare reports in word and image from reenactment events all over the world. See history come alive!"

Friday, January 19, 2007

Saturnalia by Lindsey Wagner

I see Lindsey Davis has a new book coming out the first of February:

"It is the Season of Misrule in Rome, sheer misery for Falco. Uppity slaves give orders to their cringing masters, masters try to hide in their studies, women are goosed, statues wobble, a prince has a broken heart, Helena’s brother will not decide if his heart is broken or not, children are sick and even the dog can’t stand it any more. As the festival meant for healing grudges riotously proceeds, a young man who has everything to live for dies a horrific death while the security of the Empire is compromised by the usual mixture of top brass incompetence, bureaucratic in-fighting and popular indifference. The barbarians are not just at the gates, they are right inside - and that’s just the bombasts in the Praetorian Guard, encouraged by the pernicious Chief Spy.

Doctors are making a killing. Alternative therapists are ecstatic. Members of the Didius family are about to receive some extremely unusual seasonal gifts. But for the non-persons on the fringes of society life is not so jolly, and dark spirits walk abroad (available for hire through the usual agents). Falco has a race against time to find a dangerous missing person, aided and hindered by faces from the past, while running the gauntlet of the best and worst Roman society can offer as Saturnalia entertainment. Unfortunately for him.

This is the one with the giant vegetables."