Wednesday, September 30, 2015

History Trivia - Saint Jerome dead at age 80

September 30

 420 Saint Jerome, one of the great scholars of the early Christian church, died at age 80. He is the patron saint of librarians and translators. 

579 Pope Benedict I died. Famine raged in Italy on the heels of the Lombard invasion, and it is assumed that Benedict died in an attempt to cope with this problem. Benedict was succeeded by Pelagius II.  

1227 Pope Nicholas IV, the first Franciscan pontiff, was born.  Nicholas was pious and learned; he contributed to the artistic beauty of Rome, building particularly a palace beside Santa Maria Maggiore, the church in which he was buried and where Sixtus V erected an imposing monument to his memory.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

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Gladiators in Ancient Rome: how did they live and die?

History Extra

A retiarius (left) and secutor do battle in a mosaic. The former’s weapons consisted of a barbed trident and weighted net. (AKG Images)

In 1993 Austrian archaeologists working at the Roman city of Ephesus in Turkey made a spectacular discovery – a cemetery marked by the tombstones of gladiators. The stones gave the names of the men and showed their equipment – helmets, shields, the palm fronds of victory.
With the tombstones were the skeletal remains of the fighters themselves, many of which bore the marks of healed wounds as well as the injuries that caused their deaths. Perhaps the most spectacular find was a skull pierced with three neat, evenly spaced holes. This man had been slain with the barbed trident wielded by a type of gladiator called a retiarius, who also fought with a weighted net.
The gladiator has long been an iconic symbol of ancient Rome, and a popular element in any Roman epic movie, but what do we really know about the lives and deaths of these men?
Until the discovery of the cities of Vesuvius in the 18th century, virtually everything we knew about gladiators came from references in ancient texts, from random finds of stone sculptures and inscriptions, and the impressive structures of the amphitheatres dotted about all over the Roman empire.
It is difficult now to quite comprehend the impact that the discovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum (both in the 18th century) had on the classically educated of Europe, who suddenly saw the reality of Roman lives in a bewildering array of objects, graffiti and paintings.
The reality could be spectacular, and in some cases seemed to confirm the more lurid stories in the sources. In 1764 the temple of Isis at Pompeii confirmed the practise of mysterious and esoteric eastern religions. Two years later, in rooms around the courtyard of the theatre, a number of skeletons were found together with a large quantity of gladiatorial armour, identifying the rooms as a gladiator barracks. Among the dead was a woman adorned with bracelets, rings and an emerald necklace.
Ever since, this discovery has become part of the mythology not only of Pompeii, but of the arena. At the time, it seemed to confirm scandalous stories in ancient sources of wealthy and aristocratic women having sexual adventures with brawny gladiators – though we now see the 18 skeletons in this room as a group of frightened fugitives sheltering from the disaster of the volcanic eruption.

Reliefs showing gladiators in the arena. The most successful could earn fame, if not fortune, but few would survive more than a dozen fights. (Bridgeman Art Library)
From the point of view of reconstructing the gladiator, the most important discovery was the bronze gladiatorial armour and weaponry. This included 15 helmets richly ornamented with mythological scenes, and six of the curious shoulder guards known as galerus.
Gladiators were divided into categories – each armed and attired in a characteristic manner – and were then pitched against one another in pairings designed to show a variety of forms of combat. Each different type of equipment provided varying levels of protection to the body, deliberately giving the opponent the opportunity to aim for specific points of vulnerability.
All gladiator categories wore a basic subligaculm and balteus (a loincloth and broad belt). Among the most heavily armed gladiators were the thraex (Thracian) and the hoplomachus (inspired by Greek hoplite soldiers). Both wore padded leg-guards with bronze greaves (a form of armour) strapped over them on their legs (14 of such greaves were found in Pompeii).
Each carried a small shield: rectangular for the thraex, who was armed with a short, curved sword; round for the hoplomachus, who carried a spear and short sword. Both wore a padded arm-guard or manica, but only on the sword/spear arm. The shield arm was unprotected, as was the torso.
The thraex and hoplomachus wore heavy bronze helmets of the type found in Pompeii. These had broad brims, high crests and face guards. Visibility was limited to what he could see through a pair of bronze grilles.
As gladiatorial re-enactors have discovered, breathing in these helmets isn’t easy, as the wearer is forced to inhale the air trapped in the face guard. Factor in fear and exertion – which would inevitably shorten the breath anyway – and you’ve got the makings of a lung-busting experience.

A gladiator’s helmet found in Pompeii. Breathing in these helmets wouldn’t have been easy, as the wearer was forced to inhale the air trapped in the face guard. (AKG Images)
Another type of gladiator to wear a large helmet and carry a short sword was the murmillo. He was also armed with a large rectangular shield, which he used to defend his legs. He only wore armour on one leg – though the leg on the shield side was protected with padding and greave.
Two other gladiators – the provocator and secutor – also fought with one vulnerable leg, and only carried a manica on the weapon arm. While they also carried a short sword and large shield, they wore lighter helmets than the thraex, hoplomachus and murmillo.
The secutor’s helmet fitted close to his head. Visibility was restricted to two small eye-holes, and there was no decoration. The helmet was shaped like the head of a fish – for the simple reason that the secutor’s opponent, the retiarius, was equipped as a fisherman.

Gladiators in Britain

Compared with most other provinces of the Roman empire, Britain has surprisingly little evidence for gladiators. The differences between Britain’s amphitheatres may help to explain this. Those sited at the legionary fortresses of Chester and Caerleon were built in the AD 70s to serve legionaries – the citizen-soldiers of Rome. Drawn from all over the empire, they would have expected to be provided with an amphitheatre – both for entertainment and to enact games on festivals associated with the imperial cult.
The legionary amphitheatres were stone-built like many across the empire. However, at the British tribal capitals the Romans built earthwork amphitheatres. There is evidence to show that these were infrequently used, and it appears that the native population didn’t wholly embrace the Mediterranean concept of the Roman games.
Despite this, there is evidence for the presence of gladiators. In 1738, a stone relief was found near Chester amphitheatre showing a left-handed retiarius – the only such depiction from the empire. And at Caerleon, a graffito on a stone shows the trident and galerus of a retiarius flanked by victory palms. These are the only references to gladiators from any British amphitheatre, and both are from the legionary sites.
In Britain there is but a single gladiator wall painting. Of the three gladiator mosaics left to us, the best is a frieze of cupid-gladiators at the villa of Bignor in Sussex. This features a secutor, a retiarius, and the summa rudis (referee) in a comic strip of an arena event.
Knife handles in bone and bronze are also found in the form of gladiators. An evocative piece is a potsherd discovered in Leicester in 1851, on which was scratched the words “VERECVNDA LVDIA : LVCIVS GLADIATOR”, or “Verecunda the actress, Lucius the gladiator”. This love token may relate to a couple in Britain but there is ambiguity. The pottery is of a type imported from Italy, and the graffito may have been made there as well.
The retiarius is perhaps the most extraordinary of all the gladiator classes, and his equipment shows most clearly the carefully choreographed balance between strength and vulnerability that ensured a degree of fairness and balance in gladiatorial combat.
The retiarius was almost wholly unprotected. If he was right-handed, his left arm would be protected by a padded manica, and on his left shoulder would be strapped a high shoulder-guard, the galerus. An example of a galerus was found in the Pompeii barracks, decorated with a dolphin and a trident, a crab and the anchor and rudder of a ship.

Bronze greaves (leg protectors) discovered at Pompeii’s gladiator barracks. The discovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum transformed our knowledge of ancient Rome, and the lives of its arena-warriors. (AKG Images)
The retiarius wore no helmet, but he was armed with a long-handled trident, a short knife and a lead-weighted net or rete, after which he was named. The net could be used as a flail, but it is clear that the job of the retiarius was to throw the net over his opponent, catching the fish-like secutor, and then dispatching him with the trident.
Once he’d thrown the net the retiarius could use the trident as a pole arm. This is when the galerus comes into play: when using the trident two-handed, the left shoulder would be forward, and the galerus would prove an effective head-guard.
One tomb relief of a retiarius from Romania shows him holding what seems to be a four-bladed knife. The identity of this weapon remained a mystery until archaeologists discovered a femur at the Ephesus cemetery. This showed a healed wound just above the knee consisting of four punctures in the pattern of a four on dice. 
The effectiveness of the retiarius is gruesomely revealed by the punctured skull discovered in Ephesus, but he did not always get his own way. A mosaic from Rome, now in Madrid, shows two scenes from a fight between a secutor named Astanax and the retiarius Kalendio. Kalendio threw his net over Astanax, but when he caught his trident in the folds of the net, Astanax could cut his way out and defeat Kalendio, who was then killed.

The skull of one of the 68 gladiators’ skeletons found in Ephesus in 1993. The bones suggest that the fighters usually died from large, single wounds, rather than numerous smaller ones – the kind delivered in a coup de grâce. (Medical University of Vienna)
The same mosaic features another figure – an unarmed man in a tunic carrying a light wand. He is the summa rudis, the referee, reminding us that this was not a free-for-all, but a fight that must be carried out within a framework of rules and rituals. These rules would clearly be understood by the audience, who would have been at least as appreciative of the fighters’ skills as excited by pure blood-lust.
The audience would also have been fully aware who was putting on such entertainment for them. Gladiatorial shows were almost always staged by leading citizens – often to enhance their political careers by currying favour with the electorate. Thus the walls of Pompeii are daubed with painted election notices, alongside advertisements for gladiatorial spectacles.
One of many examples, found near the forum, reads: “The gladiatorial troupe of Aulus Suettius Certus will fight at Pompeii on 31 May. There will be a hunt and awnings. Good fortune to all Neronian games.”
There is little doubt about the popularity of the combats. Even tombs are covered with scratched graffiti showing the results of particular fights. A cartoon of two gladiators fighting in neighbouring Nola is captioned “Marcus Attius, novice, victor; Hilarius, Neronian, fought 14, 12 victories, reprieved.”

The tombstone of a murmillo gladiator, holding the palm of victory. His helmet lies beside him on the ground. (Alamy)
This says a lot. Attius unexpectedly beat a veteran, but, like most of the combats recorded at Pompeii, the loser was spared. Being a gladiator was not an automatic sentence of violent death. The person funding the games (the editor) would commission a troupe (familia) of gladiators run by a proprietor/trainer (lanista). One such lanista, recorded in Pompeian graffiti,was Marcus Mesonius. He would acquire gladiators from the slave market. Legally, gladiators were the lowest of the low in Roman society, but a trained gladiator was a valuable commodity to a lanista, representing a considerable investment of time and money, and it would be in his interest to keep his stable well and to minimise the death rate.

Survival rates

A graffito now in Naples Museum gives the results of a show put on by Mesonius. Of 18 gladiators who fought, we know of eight victors, five defeated and reprieved, and three killed. This kind of ratio may be typical given the records in graffiti and on tombstones. There were veterans; an unnamed retiarius on a tombstone in Rome boasted 14 victories, but few survived more than a dozen fights.
The painstaking forensic work on the Ephesus gladiator skeletons has provided startling and intimate insights into the way these men lived and died. Of the 68 bodies found, 66 were of adult males in their 20s. A rigorous training programme was attested by the enlarged muscle attachments of arms and legs. These were strong, athletic men, whose diet was dominated by grains and pulses, exactly as reported in classical texts. Yet as well as muscle and stamina, gladiators needed a good layer of fat to protect them from cuts.

The emperor who loved to fight

The relationship between the emperor and the arena was complex. Emperors could get a bad reputation for showing too much enthusiasm for spectacles of death. Claudius, for example, was reputed to have keenly watched the faces of gladiators as they died, favouring the killing of the helmetless retiarii. For a member of the elite to fight in the arena was shameful – which was why Caligula, Nero and Commodus forced well-born Romans to do so.
Special contempt was reserved for those emperors who chose to fight as gladiators in the arena. Caligula liked to appear as a thraex. Commodus, however, was the most notorious for his arena appearances. He fought as a secutor, and was a scaeva – a left hander. According to Cassius Dio he substituted the head of the Colossus by the Colosseum with his own, gave it a club and bronze lion to make it look like Hercules (with whom he identified himself). He inscribed his own titles upon it, ending “champion of secutores – the only left-handed gladiator to conquer 12 times one thousand men”.
Interestingly, Aurelius Victor relates a story of Commodus refusing to fight a gladiator in the arena. The gladiator’s name was Scaeva. Perhaps Commodus was afraid to lose his usual natural advantage in fighting a fellow southpaw.
In AD 192, intending to assume the consulship of Rome in gladiatorial guise, he was strangled by an athlete. Thus he died in shame without the opportunity to take the coup de grâce with dignity like a true gladiator.
The Ephesus skeletons also provided evidence for good medical treatment. Many well-healed wounds were found on the bodies, including 11 head wounds, a well-set broken arm and a professional leg amputation. On the other hand, 39 individuals exhibited single wounds sustained at or around the time of death. This suggests that these men did not die from multiple injuries but a lone wound. This provides further evidence for the enforcement of strict rules in the arena, and the delivery of a coup de grâce.

Though this mosaic from Terranova in Italy (left) shows gladiators dispatching their opponents, evidence suggests that defeated fighters were often given a reprieve. (Bridgeman Art Library)
At the end of a bout a defeated gladiator was required to wait for the life or death decision of the editor of the games. If the vote was for death, he was expected to accept it unflinchingly and calmly. It would be delivered as swiftly and effectively as possible. Cicero speaks of this: “What even mediocre gladiator ever groans, ever alters the expression on his face. And which of them, even when he does succumb, ever contracts his neck when ordered to receive the blow?”
As we have seen, gladiators were at the bottom of the heap in Roman society. This remained the case no matter how much they were feted by the people. Above most qualities, the Romans valued ‘virtus’, which meant, first and foremost, acting in a brave and soldierly fashion. In the manner of his fighting, and above all in his quiet and courageous acceptance of death, even a gladiator, a despised slave, could display this.
Tony Wilmott is a senior archaeologist and Roman specialist with English Heritage. He was joint director of the Chester Amphitheatre excavations, and is the author of The Roman Amphitheatre in Britain.

History Trivia - King Richard II of England abdicates

September 29

1399 King Richard II of England abdicated; he was succeeded by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV). Richard was initially imprisoned and later died from uncertain causes.

 1364 Battle of Auray: English forces defeated the French in Brittany; ending the Breton War of Succession between the Houses of Blois and Montfort. 

1547 Miguel de Cervantes, Creator of Don Quixote, was born. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Diane Turner - the Queen of Rock - this week's show on More Music Radio

Amazing Photos of the Supermoon Total Lunar Eclipse of 2015

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The bloody rise of Augustus

History Extra

The statue of Imperator Caesar Augustus © AKG Images

Before his death 2,000 years ago in August AD 14, the ageing Roman emperor Augustus composed a political statement that recorded his unprecedented bid for power, half a century earlier. “At the age of 19 on my own responsibility and at my own expense I raised an army, with which I successfully championed the liberty of the republic when it was oppressed by the tyranny of a faction.”
The events to which he was referring began on the Ides of March 44 BC when Roman dictator Julius Caesar was murdered by the self-proclaimed ‘liberators’. It was only at Caesar’s funeral that it was discovered that his great-nephew Augustus – then called Caius Octavius and from an obscure family – had been named as the murdered ruler’s principal heir.
The teenager chose to interpret this legacy as full adoption, and announced that he intended to succeed not simply to Caesar’s wealth and name, but also to his high office. That was not the way politics normally worked in Rome, but these were disturbed times, with the old Republican system of elected magistrates crumbling after decades of violent competition and spells of civil war.
The young Augustus used Caesar’s money and name to start raising an army from serving or former soldiers of his charismatic ‘father’. Mark Antony (one of Caesar’s leading subordinates) was already trying to rally the same people to him and did not take his young rival seriously, dubbing him “a boy who owes everything to a name”.
A Senate urged on by the famous orator Cicero saw Antony as the big threat and feared that he was aiming to seize supreme power by force. In a political system where a man had to be in his forties before he could seek the highest offices of the state, a 19-year-old with no political record seemed to present little danger. Cicero saw a teenager at the head of legions of veteran soldiers and decided that he could be useful. They should “praise the young man, reward him, and discard him”.
At first it went well, and Augustus’s veterans played the key role in defeating Antony and driving his army across the Alps. Discarding the young Augustus, however, proved difficult, for his soldiers served him and not the Senate. In the meantime Antony allied with another of Caesar’s old supporters, Lepidus, and so became stronger than ever. Augustus now decided to join them, so that all of the murdered dictator’s supporters and soldiers were on the same side – at least for the moment. They declared a triumvirate – a board of three supreme magistrates to restore the state, and effectively a joint dictatorship.
The first thing the triumvirs did was to order the murder of prominent opponents including Cicero. Marching unopposed into Rome, they posted up proscription lists with names of men who were set outside the protection of law. Anyone could kill a proscribed man, and if they brought his severed head to the authorities they would be rewarded with a share of the victim’s property, the rest going to the triumvirs to pay their army. Antony, Augustus and Lepidus traded names in a scene brought chillingly to life by Shakespeare: “These many, then, shall die, their names are pricked.”
Quite a few of the proscribed managed to escape abroad, but hundreds died. In later years there was a whole genre of stories of dramatic escapes and grim deaths, of rescue and betrayal. The senator Velleius Paterculus concluded that “…one thing, however, demands comment, that toward the proscribed their wives showed greatest loyalty, their freedmen not a little, their slaves some, their sons none”.
Opinion was less certain about which of the triumvirs was most brutal in their pursuit of the proscribed, as after the event each tried to shift the blame to his allies. Yet many were shocked that the young Augustus should have had so many enemies he wanted to kill. In the years that followed, a reputation for excessive cruelty clung to him, helped by the frequency with which impassioned pleas for mercy were met with a simple: “You must die.”
Antony and Augustus took an army to Greece and defeated two of Caesar’s murderers, Brutus and Cassius, at the battle of Philippi in 42 BC. Antony got most of the credit, both for winning the war and treating captured aristocrats and the remains of the dead with fitting respect.
The alliance between the three triumvirs was always based on self interest and came under increasing pressure in the years that followed. It narrowly survived a rebellion led by Antony’s brother Lucius against Augustus, and, after a long struggle, defeated Sextus Pompeius, the son of Julius Caesar’s former ally, son-in-law, and finally enemy, Pompey the Great. By 36 BC the triumvirate became an alliance between two when Lepidus was marginalised. Augustus kept him in comfortable captivity for the rest of his life, a gesture that mixed mercy with cruelty as it prolonged the humiliation of an ambitious man.

The dispossessed

Mark Antony was placed in charge of Rome’s provinces and allies in the eastern Mediterranean after the clash at Philippi. Augustus remained in Italy, where he carried out the task of providing the farms promised as rewards to the triumvirs’ loyal soldiers.
The estates of the proscribed were insufficient, and so more and more confiscations were arbitrarily imposed on the towns of Italy. The local gentry suffered the most, leading the poet Virgil to write of the plight of the dispossessed: “Ah, shall I ever, long years hence, look again on my country’s bounds, on my humble cottage with its turf-clad roof?… Is an impious soldier to hold these well-tilled fallows?… See where strife has brought our unhappy citizens!”
Augustus got most of the blame for the confiscations in an Italy exhausted by civil war and desperate for stability. As relations with Antony broke down, it was better to wage war against a foreign threat, and so Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, was demonised as a sinister eastern temptress who had corrupted a noble Roman, and turned him against his own people. (In 41 BC, Antony had taken the queen as a lover, renewing the affair three years later). Privately few were fooled, but publicly the ‘whole of Italy’ took an oath to follow Augustus and save Rome from this ‘threat’.
Relations between the remaining triumvirs deteriorated until, in 31 BC, the two clashed in battle at Actium in Greece. Antony was defeated and took his own life the next year.
With Antony dead, the 33-year-old Augustus faced no serious rivals and, since he took care to monopolise military force, there was no real danger of new challengers appearing. However, that did not mean that the man who had slaughtered his way to power was safe from assassins’ knives, or that it would be easy to create a stable regime.
There was little affection for Augustus, but Romans of all classes were desperate for peace, and hoped simply to be able to live without fear of proscription lists and confiscations. This security is what he gave them. His control was veiled, expressed in a way that appeared constitutional, even though the veil was thin since no one could take his powers from him or break his hold over the loyalty of the legions. What mattered was that years and then decades passed, and stability and the rule of law persisted as it had not done in living memory.
Peace and the simple virtues of an idealised and now restored past dominate the art and literature of these years. It is also no coincidence that one of the most striking monuments of the Augustan age is the Ara Pacis – the altar of peace (shown below).

The peace that Italy enjoyed (after generations of civil strife) did not mean Rome was no longer at war. For at the same time, Augustus boasted of victory after victory won over foreign rulers and peoples, often adding new territory to the empire.
Augustus presented himself as the greatest servant of the state, and defeating external enemies was a glorious means of service. He also laboured untiringly and publicly to restore good government throughout the empire, spending his days receiving petitions and resolving the problems long neglected by the inertia of the Senate under the Republic.
Rome itself – and, to a degree, communities across Italy and the provinces – was physically renewed, so that Augustus could boast that he had found the city “brick and left it marble”. There were monuments to his glory, but many of them were also practical amenities for the wider good, such as aqueducts, fountains and sewers, bath-houses for comfort, temples to restore a proper relationship with the gods who protected the Roman people, and theatres and circuses for entertainment.
Life was more stable under Augustus, and for most people it was also more comfortable. No one was left in any doubt that this happy condition relied upon his continued activity, for Augustus’s name and image was everywhere. Relief at the end of civil war slowly became more or less grudging gratitude and eventually turned into genuine affection.
Time played an important part. Augustus ruled for 40 years after the death of Antony, and everyone became used to his leadership and the system he had created, while the memories of his bloody rise to power gradually faded. There was no enthusiasm to swap the present peace and prosperity for a return to the violently unpredictable decades preceding it. Honour after honour was voted to him by the Senate and people, including the title of Father of his Country.
Thanks to this reincarnation as a man of peace, Augustus – the first emperor of Rome – would for centuries also be remembered as one of the best.


Augustus's life and times

23 September 63 BC

Augustus is born with the name Caius Octavius. His father is a member of the country gentry and the first in the family to enter the Senate at Rome. His mother is Julius Caesar’s niece. Despite this, there is no reason to expect him to have an exceptional career.

15 March 44 BC
On the day Julius Caesar is murdered, Augustus is in Greece, receiving military training ahead of the dictator’s planned invasion of Parthia. A few days later, it emerges that Caesar has nominated Augustus as his principal heir.

43 BC
Having raised a private army and helped the Senate defeat his great rival Antony, Augustus leads his army back to Rome and demands to be elected consul. Soon afterwards, he joins Antony and Lepidus in the triumvirate.

36 BC

Relying heavily on the skill of his friend Agrippa, Augustus defeats the fleet of Sextus Pompey. The war has pushed Augustus to breaking point . After one defeat, he was cast ashore with a few attendants and considered suicide.

2 September 31 BC

Augustus, once again relying on Agrippa to command his forces, defeats Antony at the battle of Actium fought off the coast of Greece. Antony flees, with no hope of recovering from this disaster. Within a year, he and Cleopatra will kill themselves

16 January 27 BC

Caesar’s heir is given the name Augustus to honour him for his service to the state. He is now Imperator (or ‘generalissimo’) Caesar Augustus, a personal name without any precedent.

23 BC
Augustus falls seriously ill and is not expected to survive. He publicly hands his signet ring to Agrippa, but doesn’t name a successor to his position. He eventually recovers.

2 BC

Augustus is named Father of his Country by the Senate. Later in the year scandal rocks his family when he exiles Julia (above), his only child, for serial adultery.  Augustus has already adopted her two older sons with Agrippa, but both will die young, leaving Tiberius to succeed.

AD 9

Three Roman legions led by Varus are wiped out by allies turned enemies among the Germanic tribes at Teutoburg Forest. It is the most serious defeat of Augustus’s career. For days he roams the palace calling out: “Quinctilius Varus, return my legions!”

19 August AD 14

Augustus dies in a family villa at Nola. It’s later rumoured that he was poisoned by his wife, Livia (right), who feared that he planned to change the succession.  Augustus’s body is carried in state to Rome, and after a public funeral he is declared a god.

Seven other great rulers of Rome

The first dictator: Lucius Cornelius Sulla (c138–79 BC)

In 88 BC Sulla was the first Roman commander to turn his legions against the city of Rome and seize power by force. After fighting a war in the east, he returned in 83 BC and stormed the city a second time. He made himself dictator – turning a temporary emergency measure into the basis for long-term power – and created the first proscriptions, posting up death lists in the Forum, that named hundreds of his opponents.

The iconic general: Caius Julius Caesar (100–44 BC)

Caesar was Augustus’s great-uncle and joined in an informal alliance with Pompey and Crassus, the two most important men in the state. In 49 BC Pompey and Caesar became rivals when the latter crossed the Rubicon and began a new civil war. Caesar won, and copied Sulla by using the dictatorship as the basis of his power. When this was made permanent, he was murdered by conspirators including Brutus and Cassius.

The unpopular heir: Tiberius (42 BC–AD 37, emperor from AD 14)

Augustus’s stepson Tiberius was not first choice as successor, but was adopted in AD 4 after the deaths of Augustus’s grandsons. By the time of Tiberius’s succession, few people were able to imagine a world without an emperor. Tiberius was unpopular and far less active than Augustus. Yet the imperial system became even more firmly established during his rule.

The bon vivant: Nero (AD 37–68, emperor from 54)

Nero was the last of the four members of Augustus’s extended family to rule. A teenager when he came to power, he was fonder of luxury and performance than government. Yet his ability to remain in power for 14 years testified to the affection for Augustus’s family and the acceptance of imperial rule as natural. In the end he lost the support of the army, followed by the Senate, and took his own life.

The outsider: Vespasian (AD 9–79, emperor from 69)

Vespasian was the fourth man to win power in a civil war that raged for over a year after Nero’s death. Neither related to Augustus nor from the old Roman aristocracy, he came from the local gentry of Italy. All of the powers accumulated by Augustus were awarded to Vespasian, and he was followed as emperor by his two sons in turn, giving the empire three decades of stability. He wasn’t loved, but he was widely respected.

The last conqueror: Trajan (AD 53–117, emperor from 98)

Trajan’s family were Roman citizens from Spain, making him the first non-Italian emperor. He was the last of the great conquerors, adding Dacia – modern-day Romania – to the empire in campaigns celebrated on Trajan’s Column still visible in Rome. In the last years of his life he invaded Parthia but most of his conquests there were abandoned by his successor, Emperor Hadrian.

The philosopher: Marcus Aurelius (AD 121–180, emperor from 161)

The last of Edward Gibbon’s ‘five good emperors’, Marcus Aurelius was an earnest man, who wrote a philosophical work, The Meditations, and tried to rule virtuously and in the style set by Augustus. His reign was beset by a series of catastrophes, with warfare and plague ravaging the empire. After Aurelius’s reign, civil war would bedevil the empire for over a century.

Dr Adrian Goldsworthy's book, Augustus: From Revolutionary to Emperor, is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

10 things you (probably) didn’t know about the Romans

History Extra

19th-century coloured engraving of gladiators in ancient Rome. © Lanmas / Alamy

1) Gladiatorial fighting was not the most popular entertainment

The seating capacity of the main venues formed a ‘rough and ready’ index of the popularity of the different public shows in Rome. The arena for gladiatorial combat, the Colosseum – known in antiquity as the Flavian Amphitheatre – was huge. Modern archaeologists estimate that it could accommodate 50,000 people. One ancient source put the number even higher, at 87,000.
Yet it was dwarfed by the Circus Maximus, where some 250,000 could watch chariot racing. Despite the popularity of pantomime (closer to our ballet than modern panto), theatrical shows came off a poor third. The largest theatre in Rome, that of Marcellus, could hold a mere 20,500.

2) Roman warships were not rowed by slaves

In almost all ‘swords and sandals’ movies and novels, when a galley [a large ship propelled primarily by rowing] appears, we hear the clank of slaves’ chains and the crack of the overseer’s whip. Both are completely anachronistic: the Romans, like the Greeks, had an ideology that we call ‘civic militarism’. It was believed that if you were a citizen you had a duty to fight for your state, and conversely if you fought you were entitled to political rights.
This excluded the use of slave rowers, or slave soldiers like those of medieval Islam. In the handful of exceptional times when slaves were admitted to the armed forces, they were either freed before enlistment, or promised manumission if they performed well in battle.

3) They did not all die young

The average life expectancy – although all such figures are uncertain – was only about 25. However, this did not mean that no one lived into their thirties or on into old age. The average was skewed by the number of women who died giving birth, and by high infant mortality. If a Roman made it to maturity, they were likely to live as long as people in the modern western world.

4) Very few Roman hours lasted an hour

Like us, the Romans divided the day into 24 hours. But unlike us, their hours varied in length. For the Romans there were always 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. Thus, for example, a daylight hour in high summer was considerably longer than one in midwinter.

5) Not all Romans spoke Latin

Stretching from the Atlantic to the Tigris, the Roman empire contained perhaps about 65 million inhabitants. While Latin was the language of the army and of Roman law, many peoples incorporated into the empire continued to speak their native tongue, either as well as, or, especially in the countryside, instead of Latin. Thus variants of Celtic and Syriac, and more obscure languages such as Cappadocian and Thracian, survived.
The Roman elite was bilingual. For them, knowledge of Greek was a badge of status – as such it was similar to French for aristocrats across Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. So internalised was the Roman usage, when the senators assassinated Julius Caesar, some shouted out not in Latin, but Greek.

6) Many Romans disliked philosophy

The empire produced eminent philosophers such as Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. Yet some Romans were hostile to philosophy for two main reasons: first, it was a Greek invention, and the Greeks were a conquered race – Roman attitudes to the Greeks were very mixed. Second, the study of philosophy, with its hair-splitting definitions and its concentration on the inner man, could be considered to unfit a man for an active life that would serve the state.
The latter view had long been held by some Greeks. Galen, the doctor to the imperial court, remarked that the Romans regarded philosophy as being of no more use than drilling holes in millet seeds.

19th-century wood engraving of Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius. © INTERFOTO / Alamy 

7) There were sexual ‘do’s’ and ‘don’t’s

The great French scholar Paul Veyne said that the Romans were paralysed by sexual inhibitions. While that might be going too far, there were strict limits to socially acceptable behaviour: after the wedding night, for example, a modest Roman wife should not let her husband see her naked again. Consequently, it might be no surprise that those philosophers who argued that a man should not have sex with anyone but his wife, not even with his slaves, won few converts.

8) Generals seldom fought in combat

Although in art they liked to be depicted in heroic and martial posture, Roman generals were ‘battle managers’, not warriors. Only in the most exceptional circumstances were they expected to fight hand-to-hand. If a battle was lost, the commander should draw his sword and either turn it on himself, or seek an honourable death at the hands of the enemy. Not until Maximinus Thrax (who reigned from AD235 to 238) was an emperor recorded as fighting in the line of battle.

9) Emperors poisoned themselves every day

From the end of the first century AD, Roman emperors had adopted the daily habit of taking a small amount of every known poison in an attempt to gain immunity. The mixture was known as the Mithridatium, after the originator of the practice, Mithridates the Great, king of Pontus (who reigned from c120 to 65BC).
A drinking vessel made from the horn of the one-horned horses or donkeys, believed by the Romans to have lived in India, was thought to be an antidote to fatal poisons.

10) Romans believed they had good reasons to persecute Christians

The Romans believed their empire rested on the Pax Deorum: if the Romans did right by the pagan gods, those deities would do right by them. Christians, on the other hand, either claimed the pagan gods were evil demons, or denied they existed at all. If the Romans allowed such atheists to propagate their beliefs, it was little wonder that the gods were angered and withheld their favour from Rome.
Usually, Roman persecutors gave Christians every chance to acknowledge the traditional gods, and thus avoid martyrdom. Of course, a committed Christian could not offer such false idols even a pinch of incense, or say the necessary ritual words.                 
Harry Sidebottom is a lecturer in ancient history at Lincoln College, Oxford, and author of the Warrior of Rome and Throne of the Caesars series of novels.

History Trivia - Pompey the Great murdered

September 28

48 BC Pompey the Great was murdered on the orders of King Ptolemy of Egypt. 

1066 William the Conqueror and his Norman army arrived in England, landing at Pevensey, beginning the Norman Conquest. 

1106 The Battle of Tinchebrai: Henry I of England defeated his brother, Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy. Henry's knights won a decisive victory, capturing Robert and imprisoning him in England and then Wales until Robert's death in Cardiff Castle. England and Normandy remained under a single ruler until 1204. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

History Trivia - William the Conqueror sets sail to England

September 2

 489  Odoacer (first Germanic king of Italy) attacked Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths at the Battle of Verona, and was defeated again. 

 1066 William the Conqueror, with a Norman army of 5,000 men, set sail from France for England, to claim the English throne. 

1540 Pope Paul III approved the first outline of the organization of the Jesuit Society, drafted by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the order's founder. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

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History Trivia - The Parthenon in Athens severely damaged by a gunpowder explosion

Sept 26

 46 BC Julius Caesar dedicated a temple to his mythical ancestor Venus Genetrix in accordance with a vow he made at the battle of Pharsalus. 

1181 St. Francis of Assisi, Italian Founder of the Franciscan Order, was born. 

1687 The Parthenon in Athens, unscathed since 432 BC, was severely damaged by a gunpowder explosion, caused by the bombing from Venetian forces led by Morosini (Doge of Venice) who besieged the Ottoman Turks stationed in Athens.

Friday, September 25, 2015

History Trivia - Harold Godwinson victorious at Stamford Bridge

Sept 25

 275 The Roman Senate proclaimed Marcus Claudius Tacitus Emperor after the assassination of Aurelian. During his short reign he campaigned against the Goths and the Heruli, for which he received the title Gothicus Maximus.

 396 Ottoman Emperor Bayezid I defeated a Christian army at the Battle of Nicopolis, often referred to as the Crusade of Nicopolis and was the last large-scale crusade of the Middle Ages. 

1066 Harold II (Harold Godwinson) of England defeated an invasion by Harald Hardrada of Norway, at Stamford Bridge near York, and marked the end of the Viking invasions of England. It also delayed Harold's arrival at Hastings, becoming a significant factor in the outcome of the Norman Conquest.