Roman Life

Republican Rome: Part Two

The First Triumvirate and Civil War

The alliance that formed between three individually powerful men of Rome was tenuous at best and borderline illegal at worst. In part one we talked about increasingly powerful generals, leading armies that were loyal to the commander they had served with for years. In this part, we will see perhaps the two greatest generals at odds with each other.

If you’re a fan of the Hunger Games series, you might have some idea of what this alliance will turn out like. The three tributes may work together as long as they see personal benefit, but only one will be crowned victor. Once the balance of power shifts, alliances are broken. In this arena of eastern and western provinces, Rome is the cornucopia each man strives for.

Siege-alesia-vercingetorix-jules-cesarThe First Triumvirate was made up of Julius Caesar, Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gnaeus Pompey Magnus. After this we’ll shorten the names to Crassus and Pompey. Within the alliance Crassus and Pompey were the more senior members. Crassus was enormously wealthy, perhaps the wealthiest man in Roman history, and Pompey was a celebrated military leader of several victorious campaigns. Julius Caesar, though younger, was a popular up-and-coming politician with charm and promise. Together, the Triumvirate was able to politically out-manuever the opposing political party, the Optimates, led by Cicero and Cato the Younger.

While the situation was detrimental to the Republic’s integrity, the members of the Triumvirate had successfully taken power. With the support of Crassus and Pompey, Julius Caesar was elected consul, then proconsul in 58 BCE, making him governor of provinces. Caesar’s land reforms were pushed through with the help of his allies and he left Rome to pursue a successful campaign known as the Gallic Wars. But in 53 BCE, Crassus sought his own military victory against the Parthians, was defeated and murdered. His death tipped the scales of power and set Caesar and Pompey at odds against each other. The death of Pompey’s wife Julia, who was also Caesar’s daughter, severed the last link between the two men. Distrust, suspicion and ambition drove the two men apart.

With Caesar pursuing victory after victory in Gaul, his loot was able to fund his generosity and win him loyal allies. He doubled the pay of his troops and called in more legions to reinforce him from Gaul. But in 51 BCE, a motion was put before the Senate to order Julius Caesar to give up his command at the end of his term and return to Rome. Caesar counter-offered, and declared he would give up his command if Pompey was ordered to do the same. The Senate threw their support behind Pompey and granted him funds and troops should Caesar become a greater threat. In January of 49 BCE, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River, the border of the province of Cisalpine Gaul and Roman territory, with his 13th Legion. To enter Rome with an army was considered a strike against the Republic and it is said Caesar uttered the phrase “Alea iacta est” meaning “The die is cast” as he did so.

In the absence and growing mistrust of Caesar, the Senate had appointed Pompey as sole consul, effectively kicking Caesar out of the club. When Caesar marched toward Rome, Pompey declared Rome indefensible and fled to Brundisium, then across to Greece. Once Caesar had secured his position in Rome he pursued Pompey across Greece where the final battle took place at Pharsalus in 48 BCE. Julius Caesar defeated the army of Pompey, who escaped and sought asylum in Egypt, but was murdered as soon as he stepped off of his ship. The last supporters of Pompey were finally defeated in Spain, at the Battle of Munda in 45 BCE.

After the battle of Pharsalus, Caesar set out for Pompey anticipating that he would seek funds and support from Ptolemy XIII, the young king of Egypt. He arrived too late as we know, but resolved a dispute over who would rule Egypt, a very young Ptolemy XIII or his elder sister Cleopatra VII. After a siege, reinforcements arriving, and consequently being locked in the palace while this all happened, Caesar’s forces captured the port and Cleopatra emerged as ruler as well as pregnant with a child who would be called Caesarion.

When Julius Caesar returned to Rome, he did so as an emperor in all but title. His military victories had made him the master of the Roman world. He was generous in forgiving old grievances and instead of a widespread massacre of old enemies, he sought amnesty instead. He initiated many reforms both on economic policy as well as political. He expanded the senate, took a census, planned the Forum of Caesar, and created the Julian calendar. But just because Caesar was the first to forgive, doesn’t mean his contemporaries would extend the same courtesy. In the wake of Caesar’s many changes opposition remained wary of Caesar’s concentration of power. In an end made famous by William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar ignored the advice of the soothsayer and went to the Senate on the ides of March 44 BCE, where he was assassinated by a mob led by Marcus Junius Brutus. The conspirators meant to save the Republic perhaps they only proved that city needed a single manager over the factions that vied for Rome.

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Republican Rome: Part One

The Republican period of Rome lasted from roughly 509 BCE until 44 BCE with the death of Julius Caesar. It began with the oath of Brutus  after the death of Lucretia and ended with a similar oath from Brutus’s relation by the same name.

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Rome and foreign territory in 500 BCE

Rome was never a republic in the true sense of the word. Society was still harshly divided into economic, patriarchal classes of patrician and plebian, slave and free. Once the last King was expelled from the City, power was quickly consolidated by the patrician founding families who were able to hold the highest elected offices of the state. The powers of the King were transferred to two elected consuls, each serving a one-year term. To hold this position bestowed nobilitas on patrician families and the first person from a family to hold the position of consul was condescendingly referred to as a novus homo, or new man.

Further executive and judicial positions were added as the new constitution matured. A censor was in charge of financial matters, taxes, and public works. Praetors served as law officers and judges, overseen by the consuls. Aedile’s were more of a plebian rank that supervised markets and temples. And although the patricians had considerable power in the political arena, the plebians were able to bargain and irritate the patricians into a few concessionary positions of their own during the Republican period. The position of Tribune of the People was created to be a direct link between the Plebians and the Senate. This was an especially large win for the plebians because a Tribune carried a great deal of political power.

Militarily, the Republican era would see Rome grow into the military power we associate with red capes, standards and discipline. We left the Romans defending the city walls against the Etruscans in 509, but by 265 BCE, Romans had conquered the entire Italian peninsula south of the Arno River. They had scored a literal “Pyrrhic victory” against the Greeks and were about to embark on the first of the Punic Wars, after which Rome would emerge as a Mediterranean power.

The defeat of Carthage left Rome with new territories and provinces to maintain in Spain, Africa and the East. The Eastern Provinces were often kept as client kingdoms, but the provinces of Europe were eagerly sought after by would-be governors. Serving in the military, beginning a political career in Rome, then returning to lead an army became a typical career path for many famous Roman’s including Gaius Marius. Fame and fortune could be won in the provinces, for the generals as well as the soldiers, and increasingly, Roman soldiers were loyal not to Rome but to the commanders who awarded them for success and loyalty. Men like Lucius Cornelius Sulla were able to use their loyal veteran forces to enforce their own political agenda.

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Roman Expansion during the Republican Period

But as we get to the 2nd century BCE, things in the military begin to quiet down. Rome takes a depth breath and rests for a moment, pausing in its great expansion. As a result many of its soldiers were no longer required. They returned home and exacerbated the unemployment within the city. The bored soldiers combined with a sudden influx of newly minted Roman citizens from the provinces called for a bit of gerrymandering. The system that had served the agrarian society of the early Republic so well needed to be revised to suit a more international level.

The canary in the coalmine came in the form of the Gracchi brothers. Political reformers, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchi were sons of a prominent politician and military commander and Cornelia Gracchus, daughter of Scipio Africanus, hero of the Second Punic War. Patrician to the core they were each elected Tribune of the People and proposed a wide sweeping redistribution of land, and fixed grain prices to resolve the growing number of landless, urban poor. They both met violent ends for their reforms, but they proved the people were capable of challenging the Senate.

With powerful generals now eyeing Rome herself like a city for the taking, it was left to them to sort out who would enter the city in triumph. As the last century of the Republic closes in,  we see Generals begin to vie for political power with their loyal legions close at hand. In 59 BCE, a forty-one year old Julius Caesar was made governor of Cisalpine Gaul, Transalpine Gaul, and Illyria. Within a decade, he had conquered Gaul, explored Britain and joined an alliance known as the First Triumvirate, the results of which we will see next.

Republican Rome: Part Two >>

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Horatius Cocles: Hero of Republican Rome

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Another one of Rome’s memorable heroes from the early Republican period is the character of Horatio Cocles, a sixth century Roman soldier who defended Rome against many in a story known as “Horatio at the Bridge.”

Having banished Tarquinius Superbus and his family from the city, the new republic of Rome found itself the target of many surrounding powers, hoping to catch the city at a moment of weakness. Ally to Tarquinius, Lars Porsena led an army against the city of Rome, conquering the outpost on the Janiculum Hill located on the far side for the Tiber.

Seeing the advancing army, Horatio tried to rally the retreating Roman troops to no avail. To buy time, Horatio rushed to the one place the army could cross the Tiber river, the Pons Sublicius. Standing at the far end of the bridge he ordered two friends to destroy the bridge by any means while he held the advancing army off.

While they hacked away Horatio defended the bridge until it collapsed into the rushing water. Then he jumped into the Tiber and swam to the other side to safety. This stalled Lars Porsena and bought the Romans enough time to prepare for a siege, saving the city from a quick capture. He was honored in the city and given as much land as he could plow in a single day. A statue of him was erected near the Forum.

The story of Horatio’s bravery was told to Roman youths as an example of bravery and honor, especially as a soldier. Horatio’s heroic example would later become the subject of a narrative poem by Lord Macaulay (1800-1859).

And, as they passed, beneath their feet

They felt the timbers crack.

But when they turned their faces,

And on the further shore

Saw brave Horatius stand alone.

This is an excerpt from Lord Macaulay’s “Horatius at the Bridge” part of a larger work entitled The Lays of Ancient Rome. You can find the complete poem here.

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The Etruscans

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As a powerful culture that predates the Romans and would eventually influence their younger neighbors in many ways, the Etruscans are an interesting introduction into the culture and foundation of Rome.

The historical record surrounding the Etruscans begins in 1200 BCE, when a Bronze Age people known as the Villanovans occupied the northwest region of Italy. The Etruscans would become the predominate group and by the 7th century BCE would control the region known as Etruria (Tuscany), located to the north of Rome on the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Etruria was rich in metals such as copper, iron and tin, creating a culture of smiths suited to working with bronze. Combined with fertile soil and forests, Etruscans were able to expand their network across the Mediterranean

493px-Etruscan_civilization_mapEvidence exists of the Etruscans trading with the people of Greece, Egypt and Phoenicia. Their skill with bronze fueled a market for reliefs, statues, vessels and jewelry. No literary documents have survived, but records from trading partners like Greece and Egypt have enabled historians to piece together some knowledge of Etruscan history. Further information has been assembled by archaeologists excavating tombs and urban remains. Despite the lack of written documents the archaeological evidence paints a picture of a surprising advanced society, wealthy, with a lavish lifestyle, and a capable naval presence.

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Sarcophagus of the Spouses, National Etruscan Museum, Rome. Late 6th century BCE

The Etruscan’s existed in a loose confederation of tribes, similar to the Greek polis, led perhaps by kings or chiefs in the major cities of Veii, Tarquinia and Cerveteri. Society was divided along class lines into the aristocracy and lower classes. Etruscan women enjoyed a rare amount of status, even for Roman women and especially for Greek women. They were educated, and even participated in public life as demonstrated in this sarcophagus. Here, a husband and wife recline on a couch, the man supposedly holding a drink as if at a party.

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Apollo of Veii, 510-500 BCE

The Etruscan’s influence on Roman culture materialized in many ways including religion, architecture and government. Ancient sources have specifically credited the Etruscans with passing on the skill of divination to the Romans. Divination would include interpreting the will of the gods from the flight of birds, entrails of a sacrificed animal, or events in the sky.

Architecturally, the Etruscan style temple employed the post and lintel system to support mud-brick walls and a wooden roof. Vitruvius uses the term Tuscan order to define the variation of column that Etruscan’s preferred. Similar to the well known doric order, the Etruscan version used an unfluted shaft and simplified bases and capitals. The layout of an Etruscan temple was almost equally divided between a covered porch and the interior cella or room. The temple was built high on a podium  and was reached by a single staircase to signify the humility of the worshiper. The roof line of Etruscan temples appear to have been decorated with large terra-cotta statues of the gods like this example of Apollo. Romans would later take elements from both Greek and Etruscan temples to create their own hybrid.

The Etruscan’s political power arguably peaked during the Period of Kings, when three Etruscans ruled Rome in succession. They brought with them advances in engineering and urban planning, allies and trading opportunities. Roman society was also divided into classes along economic lines. For a short time Rome was a possession of Etruscan rulers. But by the 6th century BCE, the last king Tarquinius Superbus would be chased from Rome and a republic formed in his place. Rome did not defeat the Etruscans militarily overnight, as Rome was only a small part of their territory. But after two centuries of conflicts Etruria was assimilated into Roman culture.

Today, visitors can see these and many other Etruscan artifacts in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco, located at the northwest corner of Borghese Park. It’s a wonderful museum and one of the least visited in Rome. Housed in the Villa Giulia, the villa was originally built by Pope Julius III to showcase his collection of antiquities. The museum’s website appears to be only offered in Italian but follow this link for “Informazioni” where tickets appear to be eight euro and operating hours are from 8:30-7:30.

To read about the founding of Rome, click here.

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Evolution of an Arch

As we’ve seen the Roman Arch moved things along quite a bit architecturally. But with a little innovation they increased the utility of the masonry ten fold. The arch as a single entity is good for a doorway, window or portico. But if you wanted a larger covered space you need additional support.

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The solution came in the form of barrel vaults and groin vaults. Barrel vaults are essentially a long extension of a single arch. They form a long tunneling effect. Barrel vaults were utilized to build the large warehouses through out the city in ancient time, in order to store the vast shipments of goods coming into the city. Some of the most visible examples of barrel vaults are the ruins of the Basilica of Maxentius. To see them in person, you realize what a large open space they really are. Seen from both the Forum and Via dei Fori Imperiali, it’s an imposing structure.

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Groin vaults are when two barrel vaults intersect at ninety degree angles. With the combined strength of four posts or piers, groin vaults require less buttressing and there for are an even sturdier structure. The groin vault heralded many of Rome’s greatest building projects. Today, one of the most important places you can see groin vaults is at the Colosseum. Forming a continuous corridor around the arena, the groin vaults allowed the high ceilings and monumental stadium.

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The Rape of Lucretia

The Oath of Brutus

The Oath of Brutus

Rome has her fair share of heroes and heroines, all chosen and remembered for displaying the attributes of a true and honorable Roman. Part history, part legend, thses stories have worked their way into the Roman ideology as moralistic folklore.

The story of Lucretia is a bit different, not only the tone of the story, but the outcome. Here, Lucretia becomes a catlyst for political action, one of the few times a woman is placed in that role.

As the story goes, Sextus Tarquinius, son of King Tarquinius Superbus, was on military furlough with a group of men, all claiming their wife was more virtuous than the other. Collantinus claims that his wife Lucretia is by far the most virtuous. They ride out to see what each wife is doing while their husbands are away, only to find each is feasting and enjoying herself. Only Lucretia is diligently at her loom weaving.

Over come by her chastity, Sextus return to Collantinus’s home several days later and forces himself on her. He blackmails her, threatening to kill her than kill a slave, implicating Lucretia in commiting adultery with a slave, dishonoring her husband. Lucretia submits to Sextus, then sends word to her husband and father, both authority figures for a roman woman.

When they arrive, she tells them what Sextus did, and confesses her adultery. She begs Collatinus to pursue Sextus and make him pay for his deeds, which Colantinus promises. Then, rather than live in dishonor as an example to other women, Lucretia stabs herself with a knife.

One of the witnesses, Lucius Junius Brutus, immediately takes up the promise Lucretia asked of them. Here is Brutus’s speech according to Livy, posted by Fordham University. Follow the link for full text.

“By this blood, which was so pure before the crime of the prince, I swear before you, O gods, to chase the King Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, with his criminal wife and all their offspring, by fire, iron, and all the methods I have at my disposal, and never to tolerate Kings in Rome evermore, whether of that family of any other.”

Tarquinius Superbus and his family were chased out of Rome. He sought support from the Etruscans to no avail. By the time the dust from his horse’s hooves settled, Rome was on its way to becoming a Republic.

We’ll be seeing another famous relation of Brutus, once again at the heart of political unrest, in 44 BC.

(Fordham University has a ton of great sources like this one and I’d recommend reading a few if you have an interest!)

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Early Rome and Romulus

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Estimation of what the Capitoline Hill looked like.

Rome was a veritable late-comer onto the scene of founding civilizations. To bring some perspective, Herodotus estimated that Homer lived sometime around 750 BCE, so Greek Literature was well underway and the Trojan War longer than that. The Zhou Dynasty was settled into China, and busy introducing the Mandate of Heaven and don’t even bother running the numbers on the Egyptian Pharaohs.

This is a map of Italic languages in the 8th century BC

This is a map of Italic languages in the 8th century BC

So when Romulus settled on a hill overlooking a bend in the Tiber, Romans had considerable catching up to do. Thankfully, the Italian peninsula was a favorable place to start a civilization. The area was rich in metals and agricultural products like olives and wine. The Apennine Mountains created a sense of regionalism and the ocean provided trade opportunities. Early peoples included Celts in the north and Po River valley, Greeks colonizing the South and Sicily, Venetians in Venice, Oscans, Umbrians, and perhaps most importantly, Etruscans just to the North. Very Early Rome had closer neighbors we’re aware of, the Sabines and Alba Longa for starters, but the Etruscans put their stamp on Rome most effectively.

Etruria was a loose confederation with established political and religious systems. They already traded with Egypt, Phoenicia and Greece. When the Romans set up shop in a region known as Latium, now Lazio, they knew a good thing when they saw it. Romans have a talent for adopting and adapting qualities of other cultures and they began with Etruria. The Etruscan influenced the Roman ideals of architecture, religion, divination, and politics, providing Rome with the last three Kings.

To populate his city, Romulus took in…outcasts. Slaves, refugees, exiles, criminals. Apparently a group of bachelors, because Romulus soon had to concoct the “Rape of the Sabines” to correct to shortage of women within the city. As a result war broke out with the Sabines, but the two tribes reconciled as the Sabine women became integrated into the Roman village.

Many of the small tribes amongst the neighboring hills were integrated in Romulus’s thirty seven year rule. This quick consolidation wouldn’t have been accomplished without order and governance. Romulus set up a group of lictors, who carried fasces around to enforce the King’s authority. He elected one hundred elders to the position of senator to form an advisory committee.

Where you can see it today:

As you can imagine, Romulus’s city has changed quite a bit in three thousand years. But, on the Palatine Hill near the Tiber, close to the house of Augustus, archaeologists have uncovered Romulus’s village. It doesn’t look like much, but here are the original postholes where the huts of the village stood. Detritus from the postholes and carbon dating revealed a surprisingly accurate 8th century BCE date.

If you stand in the Roman Forum and look up to the Capitoline Hill and over to the remnants of the palaces on the Palatine, imagine the Rome of Romulus. The ground you are now standing on would have been a wet, marshy bog that flooded periodically. And wouldn’t be drained successfully for centuries. Each rise you see in the city would have meant a neighboring tribe. On the other side of the Palatine would have been the small port and market on the Tiber.

006Here’s some idea of what the huts might have looked like. These so called Hut-Urns are from the 8th century BCE. They were meant to replicate the huts that people resided in.

These humble origins played a very prominent role in the mentality and morals of the Roman people. They had come from a village of farmers and they (for the most part) retained a close connection to that ideology. And although most of what we know about this time comes from legends, the character of the Roman culture and many of its attributes can be credited to this early stage.

To read more about the Period of Kings click here.

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The Fasces

The fasces are essentially a bundle of wooden rods with an axe in the center. The term fasces itself means bundle, and this bundle appears on many sculptures and reliefs around Rome. Convoluted for us to imagine today, the fasces were a symbol of power and a well respected one at that.

An Etruscan custom passed down to the Romans, the faces were carried by lictors (royal bodyguards) before consuls, praetors, and dictators to indicate their authority. Although there are many possible interpretations for the fasces, strength through unity being one, the importance of the fasces carried through the many centuries of Roman rule and into others. The United States and France used Roman symbolism in their republican movements. And Mussolini corrupted the word fasces into fascists. Blah! Anyway, the fasces appear in Roman reliefs and paintings, so be on the look out.

Here are a few examples of fasces to get you started.

First: a Roman lictor carrying a fasces. The ancient Roman version of the Secret Service.

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Illustration of a Roman Lictor, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

 

Here you can see a lictor on the Cancelleria Relief. Located on Frieze B the fasces is carried on his shoulder

Close up of a Roman Lictor from the Cancelleria Reliefs now located in the Vatican Museums. Image from rome101.com

Close up of a Roman Lictor from the Cancelleria Reliefs now located in the Vatican Museums. Image from rome101.com

 

 

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Romulus, Remus, and the Beginning of Rome

Romulus and Remus, by Peter Paul Rubens, wikipedia commons. Found in the Capitoline Museum.

Romulus and Remus, by Peter Paul Rubens, wikipedia commons. Found in the Capitoline Museum.

The founding brothers of Rome, their life is largely recalled in part myth, part legend. The story was originally told to me as a children’s story and began something like this:

A long time ago, there lived a good king Numitor. King of Alba Longa, Numitor had a jealous brother named Amulius who one day took the throne from his good and just brother. To make sure no one would over throw him, Amulius locked Numitor’s daughter Rhea Silvia in a convent, to make sure she would never have children. But Rhea Silvia was visited by Mars, the God of War. She gave birth to not just one son but two, Romulus and Remus. The evil king took the children and sent them down the Tiber River in a basket. But the calm river washed the basket ashore at the bottom of a hill. There, a she-wolf found them and cared for them. The twins were found by a shepherd who raised them.

When Romulus and Remus were grown up they took the throne of Alba Longa back and restored their grandfather King Numitor. But then the young men wanted to found a city of their own. Romulus liked the Palatine Hill but Remus liked the Aventine Hill. They considered the auspices and the signs favored Romulus. He killed his brother and founded the city of Rome.

There a great deal of historical muddiness surrounding the fate of Remus. Since no city wants to be founded on an act of fratricide, it is also told that friends of Romulus killed Remus. Whatever did happen, Romulus began a small village on the Palatine Hill, who’s founding is generally celebrated on April 21st, 753 BCE.

Qualities of very early Rome and the reign of Romulus

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Travelers Map of Rome

I’ve been working on this map for a while, as a way to help my family get the most out of our trip to Rome. Visual works best for me and Google Maps allows you to gain a perspective of the city as you take a tour from your lap top. Included in each of the sites I’ve been adding a little history for some context, as well as some tips for traveling and planning a trip.

On the map are some helpful walking paths. They might appear random, but often times they are simply the path of least resistance to many of these sites. However, if one city would be the place to literally go off the beaten path, Rome would be the one. For the most part Rome is surrounded by the Tiber River, wander at will and let the River be your bumper.

Enjoy! I hope it’s helpful!

Categories: Art and Architecture, Google Map of Rome, History, People, Roma!, Roman Life, Vatican City | Leave a comment

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