Posts Tagged Roman History

3. Hypatia vs the Mob

Posted on Monday, October 1st, 2012 at 09:13

 

Part 3, following on from part 1 and part 2.

 

Chapter XV.—Of Hypatia the Female Philosopher.

There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher1 Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner, which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not unfrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in coming to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more. Yet even she fell a victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed. For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes, it was calumniously reported among the Christian populace, that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop. Some of them therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader named Peter, waylaid her returning home, and dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Cæsareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles2.After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them. This affair brought not the least opprobrium, not only upon Cyril,but also upon the whole Alexandrian church. And surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort. This happened in the month of March during Lent, in the fourth year of Cyril’s episcopate, under the tenth consulate of Honorius, and the sixth of Theodosius.3

 

 

 

1 and mathematician. He arranged Euclid’s Elements and Ptolemy’s Handy Tables.

 

2 Tile shards, presumably, i.e. flayed her alive with something like this.

 

3 Socrates and Sozomenus, Ecclesiastical Histories, ed. and trans. Philip Schaff, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Michigan, p. 160


2. The Monks vs the Prefect

Posted on Saturday, September 29th, 2012 at 10:59



Part 2 of series of events, which began here.

Theophilus Bishop of Alexandria with the Serapeum he destroyed

Some of the monks inhabiting the mountains of Nitria, of a very fiery disposition, whom Theophilus1 some time before had unjustly armed against Dioscorus and his brethren, being again transported with an ardent zeal, resolved to fight in behalf of Cyril. About five hundred of them therefore quitting their monasteries, came into the city; and meeting the prefect in his chariot, they called him a pagan idolater, and applied to him many other abusive epithets. He supposing this to be a snare laid for him by Cyril, exclaimed that he was a Christian, and had been baptized by Atticus the bishop at Constantinople. As they gave but little heed to his protestations, and a certain one of them named Ammonius threw a stone at Orestes which struck him on the head and covered him with the blood that flowed from the wound, all the guards with a few exceptions fled, plunging into the crowd, some in one direction and some in another, fearing to be stoned to death. Meanwhile the populace of Alexandria ran to the rescue of the governor, and put the rest of the monks to flight; but having secured Ammonius they delivered him up to the prefect. He immediately put him publicly to the torture, which was inflicted with such severity that he died under the effects of it: and not long after he gave an account to the emperors of what had taken place. Cyril also on the other hand forwarded his statement of the matter to the emperor: and causing the body of Ammonius to be deposited in a certain church, he gave him the new appellation of Thaumasius,ordering him to be enrolled among the martyrs, and eulogizing his magnanimity in church as that of one who had fallen in a conflict in defence of piety. But the more sober-minded, although Christians, did not accept Cyril’s prejudiced estimate of him; for they well knew that he had suffered the punishment due to his rashness, and that he had not lost his life under the torture because he would not deny Christ. And Cyril himself being conscious of this, suffered the recollection of the circumstance to be gradually obliterated by silence. But the animosity between Cyril and Orestes did not by any means subside at this point, but was kindledafresh by an occurrence similar to the preceding.2

 

1The previous Bishop of Alexandriawho caused the Serapeum, along with other pagan temples, to be destroyed. 

2Socrates and Sozomenus, Ecclesiastical Histories, ed. and trans. Philip Schaff, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Michigan, p. 160

1. The Prefect vs the Bishop

Posted on Friday, September 28th, 2012 at 09:38

 

Bishop Cyril of Alexandria

 

This is the first of three posts all of which deal with one series of events. The series of events leading to the murder of the pagan philosopher and scientist Hypatia by a Christian mob in Alexandria in 425 C.E. She was, however, but collateral damage in a much more important struggle; that of secular versus religious authority. Nevertheless, her death sealed the victory of religious authority, since after this the Prefect, Orestes, gives up his struggle against Bishop Cyril, he gradually fades from political life, and finally disappears from historical record altogether. Where he went, what he did in later life, where, when and how he died, we don’t know. 

The text is from the Christian historiographer Socrates Scholasticus’s Historia Ecclesiastica. He was born in Constantinople c. 380 C.E. and died some time after 439. The full text of Historia Ecclesiastica in English translation can be found here.

 

 

Chapter XIII.—Conflict between the Christians and Jews at Alexandria: and breach between the Bishop Cyril and the Prefect Orestes.

 

About this same time it happened that the Jewish inhabitants were driven out of Alexandria by Cyril the bishop on the following account. The Alexandrian public is more delighted with tumult than any other people: and if at any time it should find a pretext, breaks forth into the most intolerable excesses; for it never ceases from its turbulence without bloodshed. It happened on the present occasion that a disturbance arose among the populace, not from a cause of any serious importance, but out of an evil that has become very popular in almost all cities, viz. a fondness for dancing exhibitions.

In consequence of the Jews being disengaged from business on the Sabbath, and spending their time, not in hearing the Law, but in theatrical amusements, dancers usually collect great crowds on that day, and disorder is almost invariably produced. And although this was in some degree controlled by the governor of Alexandria, nevertheless the Jews continued opposing these measures. And although they are always hostile toward the Christians they were roused to still greater opposition against them on account of the dancers. When therefore Orestes the prefect was publishing an edict—for so they are accustomed to call public notices—in the theatre for the regulation of the shows, some of the bishop Cyril’s party were present to learn the nature of the orders about to be issued. There was among them a certain Hierax, a teacher of the rudimental branches of literature, and one who was a very enthusiastic listener of the bishop Cyril’s sermons, and made himself conspicuous by his forwardness in applauding.

When the Jews observed this person in the theatre, they immediately cried out that he had come there for no other purpose than to excite sedition among the people. Now Orestes had long regarded with jealousy the growing power of the bishops, because they encroached on the jurisdiction of the authorities appointed by the emperor, especially as Cyril wished to set spies over his proceedings; he therefore ordered Hierax to be seized, and publicly subjected him to the torture in the theatre.

Cyril, on being informed of this, sent for the principal Jews, and threatened them with the utmost severities unless they desisted from their molestation of the Christians. The Jewish populace on hearing these menaces, instead of suppressing their violence, only became more furious, and were led to form conspiracies for the destruction of the Christians; one of these was of so desperate a character as to cause their entire expulsion from Alexandria; this I shall now describe. Having agreed that each one of them should wear a ring on his finger made of the bark of a palm branch, for the sake of mutual recognition, they determined to make a nightly attack on the Christians.

They therefore sent persons into the streets to raise an outcry that the church named after Alexander was on fire. Thus many Christians on hearing this ran out, some from one direction and some from another, in great anxiety to save their church. The Jews immediately fell upon and slew them; readily distinguishing each other by their rings.

At daybreak the authors of this atrocity could not be concealed: and Cyril, accompanied by an immense crowd of people, going to their synagogues—for so they call their house of prayer—took them away from them, and drove the Jews out of the city, permitting the multitude to plunder their goods. Thus the Jews who had inhabited the city from the time of Alexander the Macedonian were expelled from it, stripped of all they possessed, and dispersed some in one direction and some in another. One of them, a physician named Adamantius, fled to Atticus bishop of Constantinople, and professing Christianity, some time afterwards returned to Alexandria and fixed his residence there.

But Orestes the governor of Alexandria was filled with great indignation at these transactions, and was excessively grieved that a city of such magnitude should have been suddenly bereft of so large a portion of its population; he therefore at once communicated the whole affair to the emperor. Cyril also wrote to him, describing the outrageous conduct of the Jews; and in the meanwhile sent persons to Orestes who should mediate concerning a reconciliation: for this the people had urged him to do. And when Orestes refused to listen to friendly advances, Cyril extended toward him the book of gospels,believing that respect for religion would induce him to lay aside his resentment. When, however, even this had no pacific effect on the prefect, but he persisted in implacable hostility against the bishop, the following event afterwards occurred.1

 

 

 

1Socrates and Sozomenus, Ecclesiastical Histories, ed. and trans. Philip Schaff, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Michigan, p. 159-160


Those black-robed people who eat more than elephants

Posted on Friday, August 17th, 2012 at 17:44

The head of a statue of Aphrodite with some Christian improvements

Libanius (ca. 314 – ca. 394 C.E.) was a Greek-speaking teacher of rhetoric of the Sophist school. Libanius was a friend of the emperor Julian II (later called The Apostate), with whom some correspondence survives, and in whose memory he wrote a series of orations; they were composed between 362 and 365. Libanius remained a pagan, though this did not stop him cultivating long-lasting friendships with Christians, both as private individuals and as imperial officials. In 386 he wrote an oration addressed to the Emperor Theodosius I, ‘complaining about gangs of monks who wandered the Syrian countryside demolishing pagan shrines and terrorizing peasants.’1 Addressing such an oration to Theodosius was a delicate, not to say dangerous thing to do, but poor Libanius, despite all evidence to the contrary, seemed to have still have harboured some hope for religious toleration if not actual freedom. In 391 Theodosius forbade on pain of prescription of property, torture and even death, the practising of any religion other than Christianity, or even visiting the temples, which he closed down, giving some of the buildings over to various bishoprics. In 386 however, he had not yet gone so far. Sacrificing was forbidden, but praying or worshipping with incense was not.

 

Saint Aemilianus holding the hammer he used on statues and temples

I shall, indeed, appear to many to undertake a matter full of danger in pleading with you for the temples, that they may suffer no injury, as they now do. But they who have such apprehensions seem to me to be very ignorant of your true character. For I esteem it the part of an angry and severe disposition, for any one to resent the proposal of counsel which he does not approve of: but the part of a mild and gentle and equitable disposition, such as yours2 is, barely to reject counsel not approved of. For when it is in the power of him to whom the address is made to embrace any counsel or not, it is not reasonable to refuse a hearing which can do no harm; nor yet to resent and punish the proposal of counsel, if it appear contrary to his own judgement; when the only thing that induced the adviser to mention it, was a persuasion of its usefulness.

 

After his death3 in Persia, the liberty of sacrificing remained for some time: but at the instigation of some innovators, sacrifices were forbidden by the two brothers4, but not incense;—-which state of things your law has ratified. So that we have not more reason to be uneasy for what is denied us, than to be thankful for what is allowed. You, therefore, have not ordered the temples to be shut up, nor forbidden any to frequent them: nor have you driven from the temples or the altars, fire or frankincense, or other honours of incense. But those black-garbed people5, who eat more than elephants, and demand a large quantity of liquor from the people who send them drink for their chantings, but who hide their luxury by their pale artificial countenances,—-these men, O Emperor, even whilst your law is in force, run to the temples, bringing with them wood, and stones, and iron, and when they have not these, hands and feet. Then follows a Mysian prey6, the roofs are uncovered, walls are pulled down, images are carried off, and altars are overturned: the priests all the while must be silent upon pain of death. When they have destroyed one temple they run to another, and a third, and trophies are erected upon trophies: which are all contrary to [your] law. This is the practice in cities, but especially in the countries. And there are many enemies every where. After innumerable mischiefs have been perpetrated, the scattered multitude unites and comes together, and they require of each other an account of what they have done; and he is ashamed who cannot tell of some great injury which he has been guilty of. They, therefore, spread themselves over the country like torrents, wasting the countries together with the temples: for wherever they demolish the temple of a country, at the same time the country itself is blinded, declines, and dies.

 

This is saint Nicholas. Yes, the same one that supposedly brings Christmas presents.

This being the state of things, the husbandman is impoverished, and the revenue suffers. For, be the will ever so good, impossibilities are not to be surmounted. Of such mischievous consequence are the arbitrary proceedings of those persons in the country, who say, ‘they fight with the temples.’ But that war is the gain of those who oppress the inhabitants: and robbing these miserable people of their goods, and what they had laid up of the fruits of the earth for their sustenance, they go off as with the spoils of those whom they have conquered. Nor are they satisfied with this, for they also seize the lands of some, saying it is sacred: and many are deprived of their paternal inheritance upon a false pretence. Thus these men riot upon other people’s misfortunes, who say they worship God with fasting. And if they who are abused come to the pastor in the city, (for so they call a man who is not one of the meekest,) complaining of the injustice that has been done |79 them, this pastor commends these, but rejects the others, as if they ought to think themselves happy that they have suffered no more. Although, O Emperor, these also are your subjects, and so much more profitable than those who injure them, as laborious men are than the idle: for they are like bees, these like drones. Moreover, if they hear of any land which has any thing that can be plundered, they cry presently, ‘Such an one sacrificeth, and does abominable things, and an army ought to be sent against him.’ And presently the reformers are there: for by this name they call their depredators, if I have not used too soft a word. Some of these strive to conceal themselves and deny their proceedings; and if you call them robbers, you affront them. Others glory and boast, and tell their exploits to those who are ignorant of them, and say they are more deserving than the husbandmen. Nevertheless, what is this but in time of peace to wage war with the husbandmen? For it by no means lessens these evils that they suffer from their countrymen. But it is really more grievous to suffer the things which I have mentioned in a time of quiet, from those who ought to assist them in a time of trouble. For you, O Emperor, in case of a war collect an army, give out orders, and do everything suitable to the emergency. And the new works which you now carry on are designed as a further |80 security against our enemies, that all may be safe in their habitations, both in the cities and in the country: and then if any enemies should attempt inroads, they may be sensible they roust suffer loss rather than gain any advantage. How is it, then, that some under your government disturb others equally under your government, and permit then not to enjoy the common benefits of it? How do they not defeat your own care and providence and labours, O Emperor? How do they not fight against your law by what they do?7

 

 

Good questions. Unfortunately for Libanius, and the rest of the world, (I’m with Gore Vidal on this one), Theodosius’s subsequent laws make the answers to them quite obvious.

 

1Gaddis, Michael, There is no crime for those who have Christ: Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire, University of California Press, 2005, p. 210.

2This is the emperor who, in 390, as retaliation for an uprising against the local Magister Militum, exploded in a fit of rage and ordered what is now known as the Massacre of Thessalonica, in which several thousand civilians, men, women and children were killed, indiscriminately. The lowest contemporary estimate is 7,000, the highest 15,000 dead.

3Julian II “the Apostate”.

4Emperors Valentinian and Valens.

5The monks.

6This proverbial expression took its rise from the Mysians, who, in the absence of their king Telepbus, being plundered by their neighbours, made no resistance. Hence it came to be applied to any persons who were passive under injuries.

7Libanius, Oration 30: For the Temples (pro Templis), in Dr Lardner’s, Heathen Testimonies, Thomas Rodd in London, 1830, pp. 72-96.

 

Pope Damasus I vs (anti)Pope Ursinus

Posted on Tuesday, August 14th, 2012 at 09:20



Pope Saint Damasus I was the bishop of Rome from 366 to 384 C.E. He succeeded to the papacy amidst intense factional violence. His rival, Ursinus, was elected simultaneously, which let to such violence and bloodshed that eventually the intervention of Emperor Valentinian I was required in order to quell it. Ursinus had the support of the plebeians, while Pope Damasus was exceedingly popular with the aristocracy, and in particular the great ladies, which led to his enemies calling him Auriscalpius Matronarum: the ladies’ ear-scratcher.

 

To put all this in context, emperor Constantine I issued his edict of toleration of Christianity in 313 C.E.

 

As his successor [as prefect] came Viventius, a former court-chancellor, a just and prudent man of Pannonia, whose administration was quiet and mild, rich in an abundance of everything. But he, too, was alarmed by sanguinary outbreaks of the factions of the people, which were caused by the following affair. Damasus and Ursinus, burning with a superhuman desire of seizing the bishopric, engaged in bitter strife because of their opposing interests; and the supporters of both parties went even so far as conflicts ending in bloodshed and death. Since Viventius was able neither to end nor to diminish this strife, he was compelled to yield to its great violence, and retired to the suburbs. And in the struggle Damasus was victorious through the efforts of the party which favoured him. It is a well-known fact that in the basilica of Sicininus,1 where the assembly of the Christian sect is held, in a single day a hundred and thirty-seven corpses of the slain were found, and that it was only with difficulty that the long-continued frenzy of the people was afterwards quieted.2

 

1Now Santa Maria Maggiore.

2Ammianus Marcellinus, The History, book XXVII, trans. J.C. Rolfe, Vol 3, Loeb Classical Library, 1939, p.21.

Government and Women of the ancient Germanic tribes

Posted on Wednesday, July 25th, 2012 at 12:48

…as seen by the Romans.

A post not about an event or a story, this time, but a fascinating description.


They choose their kings by birth, their generals for merit. These kings have not unlimited or arbitrary power, and the generals do more by example than by authority. If they are energetic, if they are conspicuous, if they fight in the front, they lead because they are admired. But to reprimand, to imprison, even to flog, is permitted to the priests alone, and that not as a punishment, or at the general’s bidding, but, as it were, by the mandate of the god whom they believe to inspire the warrior. They also carry with them into battle certain figures and images taken from their sacred groves. And what most stimulates their courage is, that their squadrons or battalions, instead of being formed by chance or by a fortuitous gathering, are composed of families and clans. Close by them, too, are those dearest to them, so that they hear the shrieks of women, the cries of infants. They are to every man the most sacred witnesses of his bravery-they are his most generous applauders. The soldier brings his wounds to mother and wife, who shrink not from counting or even demanding them and who administer food and encouragement to the combatants.

Tradition says that armies already wavering and giving way have been rallied by women who, with earnest entreaties and bosoms laid bare, have vividly represented the horrors of captivity, which the Germans fear with such extreme dread on behalf of their women, that the strongest tie by which a state can be bound is the being required to give, among the number of hostages, maidens of noble birth. They even believe that the sex has a certain sanctity and prescience, and they do not despise their counsels, or make light of their answers. In Vespasian’s days we saw Veleda, long regarded by many as a divinity. In former times, too, they venerated Aurinia, and many other women, but not with servile flatteries, or with sham deification.1

 

1Tacitus, The Agricola and Germania, A. J. Church and W. J. Brodribb, trans., (London: Macmillan, 1877), pp. 87ff

The Money-Lenders and the Praetor

Posted on Friday, July 20th, 2012 at 12:36

A rather topical, I feel, piece. Do not let the context and date fool you. Not much has changed, I feel.

 The time* Appian is talking about, is around the end of the Roman Social War in 91-88 B.C.E., also known as the Allied War, because it was fought between the Roman Republic and most of the rest of Italy, that is, cities which had been Rome’s allies for centuries. However, Rome had virtually complete control of the cities’ foreign policies, including their interactions with one another. Not to mention that, by the 2nd century B.C.E., between half and two-thirds of the soldiers in the Roman army came from Italian allied cities. And yet no one from these cities had Roman citizenship, which they would rather have liked to acquire, since that would also give them a greater say on the Roman Republic’s policies. The Social War was in part caused by the assassination of Marcus Livius Drusus in 91 B.C.E., since his proposed reforms would have granted Roman citizenship to the Roman Allies.

 

 

The temple of Vesta on the left, and Castor and Pollux on the right. To compare with still extant ruins click here.

About the same time* dissensions arose in the city between debtors and creditors, since the latter exacted the money due to them with interest, although an old law distinctly forbade lending on interest and imposed a penalty upon any one doing so. It seems that the ancient Romans, like the Greeks, abhorred the taking of interest on loans as something knavish, and hard on the poor, and leading to contention and enmity; and by the same kind of reasoning the Persians considered lending as having itself a tendency to deceit and lying. But, since time had sanctioned the practice of taking interest, the creditors demanded it according to custom. The debtors, on the other hand, put off their payments on the plea of war and civil commotion. Some indeed threatened to exact the legal penalty from the interest-takers.

The praetor Asellio, who had charge of these matters, as he was not able to compose their differences by persuasion, allowed them to proceed against each other in the courts, thus bringing the deadlock due to the conflict of law and custom before the judges. The lenders, exasperated that the now obsolete law was being revived, killed the praetor in the following manner. He was offering sacrifice to Castor and Pollux in the forum, with a crowd standing around as was usual at such a ceremony. In the first place somebody threw a stone at him, on which he dropped the libation-bowl and ran toward the temple of Vesta. They then got ahead of him and prevented him from reaching the temple, and after he had fled into a tavern they cut his throat. Many of his pursuers, thinking that he had taken refuge with the Vestal virgins, ran in there, where it was not lawful for men to go. Thus was Asellio, while serving as praetor, and pouring out libation, and wearing the sacred gilded vestments customary in such ceremonies, slain at the second hour of the day in the centre of the forum, in the midst of the sacrifice. The Senate offered a reward of money to any free citizen, freedom to any slave, impunity to any accomplice, who should give testimony leading to the conviction of the murders of Asellio, but nobody gave any information. The money-lenders covered up everything.1

 

1Appian, Histories, trans. Horace White, vol. III, Harvard University Press, 1913: Loeb Classical Library, p. 101

Freedom of conscience and free speech: an invention of the modern world. Right?

Posted on Tuesday, June 7th, 2011 at 11:38
Bust of Tiberius

Bust of Tiberius. (Photo by Chris Nyborg)

Tiberius (Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus), November 16, 42 BC – March 16, AD 37, was the 2nd Emperor of the Roman Empire, and reigned from 14 AD to 37 AD.


He was, moreover, quite unperturbed by abuse, slander, or lampoons on himself and his family, and would often say that liberty to speak and think as one pleases is the test of a free country. When the Senate asked that those who had offended in this way should be brought to book, he replied: ‘We cannot spare the time to undertake any such new enterprise. Open that window, and you will let in such a rush of denunciations as to waste your whole working day; everyone will take this opportunity of airing some private feud.’ A remarkably modest statement of his is recorded in the Proceedings of the Senate: ‘If So-and-so challenges me, I shall lay before you a careful account of what I have said and done; if that does not satisfy him, I shall reciprocate his dislike of me.’1


1 Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, trans. Robert Graves, London: The Folio Society, 1964, pp. 126.

Vespasian, the Emperor with a sense of humour

Posted on Wednesday, June 1st, 2011 at 17:30


Vespasian Aureus

Roman aureus depicting Vespasian as Emperor. The reverse shows the Goddess Fortuna.

Vespasian was square-shouldered, with strong, well-formed limbs, but always wore a strained expression on his face; so that once, when he asked a well-known wit who always used to make jokes about people: ‘Why not make one about me?’ the answer came:

‘I will, when you have at last finished relieving yourself.’


… Yet Vespasian was nearly always just as good-natured, cracking frequent jokes; and, though he had a low form of humour and often used obscene expressions, some of his sayings are still remembered. Taken to task by Mestrius Florus, an ex-consul, for vulgarly saying plostra instead of plaustra (waggons), he greeted him the following day as ‘Flaurus’. Once a woman complained that she was desperately in love with him, and would not leave him alone until he consented to seduce her.

‘How shall I enter that item in your expense ledger?’ asked his accountant later, on learning that she had got 4,000 gold pieces out of him.

‘Oh,’ said Vespasian, ‘just put it down to “love for Vespasian”.’

With his knack of apt quotation from the Greek Classics, he once described a very tall man whose genitals were grotesquely over-developed as:

Striding along with a lance which casts a preposterous shadow,



– a line out of the Iliad. And when, to avoid paying death duties into the Privy Purse, a very rich freedman changed his name and announced that he had been born free, Vespasian quoted Menander’s :

O, Laches, when you life is o’er,

Cerylus you will be once more.



Most of his humour, however, centred on the way he did business; he always tried to make his swindles sound less offensive by passing them off as jokes. One of his favourite servants applied for a stewardship on behalf of a man whose brother he claimed to be.

‘Wait,’ Vespasian told him, and had the candidate brought in for a private interview.

‘How much commission would you have paid my servant?’ he asked. The man mentioned a sum. ‘You may pay it directly to me,’ said Vespasian, giving him the stewardship. When the servant brought the matter up again, Vespasian’s advice was:

‘Go and find another brother. The one you mistook for your own turns out to be mine!’

Once, on a journey, his muleteer dismounted and began shoeing the mules; Vespasian suspected a ruse to hold him up, because a friend of the muleteer’s had appeared and was now busily discussing a law-suit. Vespasian made the muleteer tell him just what his shoeing fee would be; and insisted on being paid half [of it]. Titus [Vespasian’s son] complained about the tax which Vespasian had imposed on the contents of the City urinals (used by the fullers to clean woollens). Vespasian handed him a coin which had been part of the first day’s proceeds:

‘Does it smell bad, son?’ he asked.

‘No, father!’

‘That’s odd: it comes straight from the urinal!’

When a deputation from the Senate reported that a huge and expensive statue had been voted him at public expense, Vespasian held out his hand, with:

‘The pedestal is waiting.’

Nothing could stop this flow of humour, even the fear of imminent death. Among the many portents of his end was a yawning crevice in August’s Mausoleaum.

‘That will be for Junia Calvina,’ he said, ‘she is one of his descendants.’

And at the fatal sight of a comet he cried:

‘Look at that long hair! The King of Parthia must be going to die.’

His death-bed joke was:

‘Dear me! I must be turning into a god.’1


1 Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, trans. Robert Graves, London: The Folio Society, 1964, pp. 291-293.

Caligula on campaign in Germany

Posted on Tuesday, May 31st, 2011 at 14:57


Caligula

A marble bust of Caligula restored to its original colours. The colours were identified from particles trapped in the marble. (Photo by Marsyas)

Caligula had only a single taste of warfare, and even that was unpremeditated. At Bevagna, where he went to visit the river Clitumnus and its sacred grove, someone reminded him that he needed Batavian recruits for his bodyguard; which suggested the idea of a German expedition. He wasted no time in summoning regular legions and auxiliaries from all directions, levied troops with the utmost strictness, and collected military supplies on an unprecedented scale. Then he marched off with such rapidity that the Guards battalions could not keep up with him except by breaking tradition: they had to tie their standards on the pack-mules. Yet, later, he became so lazy and self-indulgent that he travelled in a litter borne by eight bearers; and, whenever he approached a town, made the inhabitants sweep the roads and lay the dust with sprinklers.

After reaching his headquarters, Caligula showed how keen and severe a commander-in-chief he intended to be by ignominiously dismissing any general who was late in bringing along the auxiliaries he required. Then, when he reviewed the legions, he discharged several veteran leading-centurions on grounds of age and incapacity, though some had only a few more days of their service to run; and, calling the remainder a pack of greedy fellows, scaled down their retirement bonus to sixty gold pieces each.

All that he accomplished in this expedition was to receive the surrender of Adminius, son of the British King Cymbeline, who had been banished by his father and come over to the Romans with a few followers. Caligula, nevertheless, wrote an extravagant despatch, which might have persuaded any reader that the whole island had surrendered to him, and ordered the couriers not to dismount from their post-chaise on reaching the outskirts of Rome – although wheeled traffic was forbidden in the streets during daylight hours – but make straight for the Forum and the Senate House, and take his letter to the Temple of Mars for personal delivery to the Consuls, in the presence of the entire Senate.

Since the chance of military action appeared very remote, he presently sent a few of his German bodyguard across the Rhine, with orders to hide among the trees. After luncheon scouts hurried in to tell him excitedly that the enemy were upon him. He at once galloped out, at the head of his staff and a few Guards cavalry, to halt in the nearest thicket, where they chopped branches from the trees and dressed them like trophies; then, riding back by torchlight, he taunted as cowards all who had failed to follow him, and awarded his fellow-heroes a novel fashion in crowns – he called it ‘The Ranger’s Crown’ — ornamented with sun, moon, and stars. On another day he took some German hostages from a military school, where they were being taught the rudiments of Latin, and secretly ordered them on ahead of him. Later, he left his dinner in a hurry and took his cavalry in pursuit of them, as though they had been fugitives. He was no less melodramatic about this foray: when he returned to the hall after catching the hostages and bringing them back in irons, and his officers reported that the army was marshalled, he made them recline at table, still in their corselets, and quoted Virgil’s famous advice: ‘Be steadfast, comrades, and preserve yourselves for happier occasions!’ He also severely reprimanded the absent Senate and People for enjoying banquets and festivities, and for hanging about the theatres or their luxurious country-houses while the Emperor was exposed to all the hazards of war.

In the end, he drew up his army in battle array facing the Channel and moved the siege-engines into position as though he intended to bring the campaign to a close. No one had the least notion what was in his mind when, suddenly, he gave the order: ‘Gather sea-shells!’

He referred to the shells as ‘plunder from the sea, due to the Capitol and to the Palace’, and made the troops fill their helmets and tunic-laps with them; commemorating this victory by the erection of a tall lighthouse, not unlike the one at Pharos, in which fires were to be kept going all night as a guide to ships. Then he promised every soldier a bounty of four gold pieces, and told them: ‘Go rich, go happy!’ as though he had been excessively generous.

He now concentrated his attention on the imminent triumph. To supplement the few prisoners taken in frontier skirmishes and the deserters who had come over from the barbarians, he picked the tallest Gauls of the province – ‘those worthy of a triumph’ – and some of their chiefs as well, for his supposed train of captives. These had not only to grow their hair and dye it red, but also to learn German and adopt German names. The triremes used in the Channel were carted overland most of the way; and he sent a letter ahead instructing his agents to prepare a triumph more lavish than any hitherto known, but at the least possible expense to the Privy Purse; and added that everyone’s property was at their disposal.

Before leaving Gaul he planned, in a sudden access of cruelty, to massacre the legionaries who, at news of Augustus’s death, had mutinously besieged his father Germanicus’s headquarters; he had been there himself as a little child. His friends barely restrained him from carrying this plan out, and he could not be dissuaded from ordering the execution of every tenth man; for which purpose they had to parade without swords or javelins, and surrounded by armed horsemen. But when he noticed that a number of legionaries, scenting trouble, were slipping away to fetch their weapons, he hurriedly absconded and headed straight for Rome.1


1 Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, trans. Robert Graves, London: The Folio Society, 1964, pp. 172-174.