Friday, February 28, 2003

Screenplay in the works for new Manfredi novel "The Last Legion"

A screenplay is being polished up for the film version of the latest novel of archaeologist turned author Valerio Manfredi, "The Last Legion". The story is set at the end of the Roman Empire, in the fifth century AD, with a band of diehard Roman soldiers defying the barbarian hordes to rescue the young Romulus Augustus, the last emperor, from imprisonment at the Villa of Tiberius on Capri. They then take him to safety in Britain, where he takes on a new identity as Pendragon, the father of King Arthur. Thus the world of ancient Rome merges into the mystical world of Arthurian legend.

A bit far-fetched? "Well, it is true that as one empire dies it gives birth to another," Manfredi says. "It is also true that the story of the Knights of the Round Table had its origins in the fifth century AD, even though it was written up in the Middle Ages. And Excalibur was almost certainly a Roman sword."



Friday, February 21, 2003

The Significance of the Battle of Carrhae

In Dr. Fears lecture on Crassus, he expressed his opinion that the battle of Carrhae was one of the most important Roman defeats of all time because it essentially resulted in the demarcation point between what would become the Islamic east and the Christian west. I found this very good article about "Romes Persian Mirage":

I also found it very interesting that Dr. Fears said the 10,000 Roman prisoners taken by the Parthians were trained to create mosaics that survive to this day. It seems almost ironic that men who wrought death and destruction would leave a legacy of art and beauty.

Best of the Historical Artwork of Angus McBride featured in Ospreys "Warriors & Warlords"

The best of Angus McBrides beautiful historical illustrations of the worlds most fearsome warriors including Rome and her enemies are featured in this new title published by Osprey. "Battle dress and arms are shown in unrivalled detail and brought to life in vivid scenes of fighting, pillaging and carousing. A full text commentary accompanies each piece of artwork, providing the background to the image and helping readers to get more out of each illustration."

Monday, February 17, 2003

Genghis Kahn may be the ancestor of 16 million men in Central Asia

According to Nicholas Wade of the NY Times, a remarkable living legacy of the Mongol empire has been discovered by geneticists in a survey of human populations from the Caucasus to China. They find that as many as 8 percent of the men dwelling in the confines of the former Mongol empire bear Y chromosomes that seem characteristic of the Mongol ruling house. If so, some 16 million men, or half a percent of the world's male population, can probably claim descent from Genghis Khan. David Morgan, a historian of Mongol studies said "Its pretty clear what they were doing when they were not fighting."

I wish they would do a study like that of potential descendants of the Julii or some other famous Roman family group.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Footwear through the ages

I was working on another page of my website about the U.S. Cavalry Museum in Fort Riley, Kansas and was researching the barracks shoe when I came across this interesting website by Cameron Kippen, a member of the Department of Podiatry at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia. Cameron explains that the thong or toe strap became distinctive in sandal design. Subsequent civilisations preferred different toes, the Greeks for example made use of the great toe; the Romans, the second digit; and the Mesapotanians, the third toe.

Etruscan sandals were rather delicate footwear with thin straps and binding laces, attached to leather sole There was an open toed and backless variation which laced at the instep. The soles of the sandals were made from wood with thin bronze plates. Shoes were made with closed fronts and heel shields with gilded straps. They were low cut and had pointed toes similar to those worn by the Egyptians in the XIX and XX dynasties. Some had soles which were jointed or hinged and re-inforced with wood and bronze. Noted for their metal work they included nails on the sole of their shoes, which gave, better traction. Also to protect feet from mud the thick wooden sandals were hinged with a piece of flexible leather nailed with bronze nails to the two halves of the wooden sole. These manufacturing techniques were eventually adopted by the Romans who started to make robust military sandals.

With the introduction of Christianity, idea of dress to glorify and display the body was replaced by the new Christian belief to cover up. Sandals were replaced with shoes which had no distinction between left and right and made walking more difficult!

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Human sacrifice in ancient Rome

In our discussion of human sacrifice in ancient Rome, I found an excellent website about the Roman viewpoint of the propiety of using humans for sacrifice in religious rituals. It seems the Romans were particularly concerned about the violation of "boundaries". "Roman laws were considered to have been handed down by the gods, and those who broke the laws were therefore considered to have violated sacred prescriptions. Especially in matters of violating oaths, or moving boundary markers, violating the sacred bonds of the society which were safeguarded by the gods, the guilty were judged to be executed in order to restore the divine order, and in that sense might be considered as sacrificial victims."

An example: "When Servius expanded the city walls, a sacrifice was made of four individuals, buried beneath the old pomerium wall that encircled the Palatine Hill. Those bodies were only recently discovered after Carandini discovered the old Palatine pomerium wall. The four tombs included the usual ritual elements, dating to about 650 BCE. Tomb 1 was an adult male; age 30-40, with his head inclined and arms at his side. Along with him were buried two amphorae, a collana (necklace), one plate and two fibulae. Tomb 2 was a child laid in a sleeping position, along with one small amphora and two fibula. Tomb 3 was a young adult male aged 16-18, laid out like the older male. He was buried with one amphora; a large cup, two little cups, two plates, two pieces of bronze and one ring, all placed on the left side of the tomb. Tomb 4 was a female laid out in a fetal position, and oriented in a different direction from all the others. She was buried along with one amphora. These sacrifices were made because the old wall was being violated in the process of extending the pomerium with the new Servian Wall."

Lares - Roman spirits of the ancestors

On my Imperial Rome discussion group, several members were discussing lemmures also known as lares. Gaius Caecilius found a website that described them as "the spirits of the unquiet dead devoid of all human warmth and emotion pursuing the living to drive them mad. He said he found a rather odd web site that said they were particularly active during May (Is the is the source of the frenetic "May Day" celebration of the Middle Ages?) The website also mentioned a festival called the Lemuria that was held to drive them off utilising drums, as they were sensitive to noise. However, I found a reference that puts a little nicer face on the Lares: "Lares. The LARES [lar'ez] were household spirits, often linked with the PENATES [pe-na'tez] (see Vesta). They could bring prosperity to the householder (in early times a farmer), and they were honored at the winter festival of the Compitalia, at which dolls were hung up in shrines, one for each member of the household. Each house had its Lar Compitalis, and each city had its Lares praestites (guardian Lares). The Lares also protected travelers by land and sea. "

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Roman worship of Hercules

In his discussion of Roman religious beliefs, Dr. Fagan mentioned that in the later imperial period, Diocletian and Maximian promoted the worship of both Jupiter and Hercules as the recognized patron gods of the empire.

"The emperors of Rome had long associated themselves with the hero Hercules, known to the Greeks as Herakles. His exploits and 'labors' had been celebrated for many centuries, and demigod Hercules came to represent strength, virility and power - all personal features that were important to an emperor. There were countless minor emperor-associations with Hercules earlier in the empire, as well as several blatant ones: Commodus donned the lion's skin on coins and medals late in his reign, Caracalla was likened to Hercules (and his brother Geta to Bacchus), and Gallienus often promoted his Herculean efforts by striking coins and medals with just such an association. We certainly must include Postumus, the Romano-Gallic rebel who founded his own separatist empire, as chief among rulers who likened themselves to Hercules. The Tetrarchy created by Diocletian in 293 was a logical expansion of the Diarchy he founded in 285 by hailing Caesar his comrade-in-arms Maximian. The arrangement became more logically structured in 286, when Diocletian raised Maximian from Caesar to Junior Augustus. In this Diarchy there were two divine associations, which, in terms of describing the dynastic structure, came to be known as 'houses.' The Senior Augustus, Diocletian, chose as his patron the supreme deity Jupiter (Jove), whereas Maximian adopted the mythological hero Hercules: hence the common reference to the Jovian and Herculian houses of the Tetrarchy."

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Mythology in Roman games

Another interesting tidbit was included in Dr. Fagans lecture on the Roman games last week. He said that the recreation of mythology was strictly limited to games sponsored by the emperor. Apparently, such a presentation was intended as a statement of power - the emperor can make the "unreal" become real. I thought this was an interesting observation.

Friday, February 07, 2003

Chariot Racing and Slavery

In this morning's lecture on public entertainments in ancient Rome, Dr. Fagan said that chariot racing was so popular that the streets of Rome were utterly deserted on racing day. The Emperor Augustus began stationing clusters of troops around the city to prevent looting. He also said the racing fans could be quite fanatic. In Thessalonika, a chariot driver was imprisoned for making a homosexual advance to a Roman general. The driver's fans rioted, breaking the man out of prison, but continued their violence throughout the city until troops had to be called out and in the end 7,000 people were killed.

A couple of days ago in his lecture on Roman slavery, Dr. Fagan said that if a slave killed a master, all slaves of that master would be executed and this did, in fact, happen occasionally. I was unaware of that aspect of Roman slavery. He also said that if a slave was granted manumission that the law stated that within three generations, the descendants of the former slave would be allowed to run for office (if they met the wealth criteria for a knight or senator). The Romans were quite meticulous about their social orders!

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Romes Heart of Darkness: The Dacian Campaign

I attended Dr. Christina Calhoon's lecture on the Dacian Campaign on Friday and enjoyed it very much. The presenter compared the images of the conquest of Dacia on Trajan's column with the literary images of Belgium's brutal colonization of the Congo as described in Joseph Conrad's novel "Heart of Darkness".

Christina pointed out that the forest has always symbolized a foreboding uncivilized part of the world to the Romans so you frequently see images of the Romans cutting down trees as a symbol of their bringing civilization to the wild lands of the barbarians.

She displayed an image of a Dacian fortress with its row of heads on pikes as a symbol of their uncivilized status although she also pointed out an image of a Roman auxiliary fighting while holding a severed head by the hair in his teeth. She mentioned that "civilized" Romans would have recognized that the soldier was an auxiliary by his dress so such behavior from an auxiliary, that were frequently "barbarians", would not have been a reflection on normal Roman society.

She also mentioned something very interesting. She said the Dacians topped and delimbed trees then dressed them in armor in an attempt to deceive the Romans.

The Rise of the Panegyric in Roman Oratory

In my audio course on the history of Rome, Professor Fagan pointed out the rise of the panegyric in Roman oratory during the imperial period. I was interested to learn more about it and found the following reference in James D. Garrisons Dryden and the Tradition of Panegyric:
"A late addition to the Latin language, the word panegyricus occurs only rarely in the Republican period and still infrequently in the early years of the empire. Cicero, for example, does not use the word except to refer specifically to Isocrates oration, while Quintilian finds only three occasions to use it in the entire course of the Institutio Oratorio. By the fourth century, however, the word is commonly used to designate an oration, either in prose or verse, addressed to a public figure, usually the emperor. The most important and enduring examples of late Roman panegyric are by the poet Claudian. Between 395 and 404, Claudian attached the panegyricus label to five poems, each of which celebrates the beginning of a new year and the installation of a new consul. Three of these poems are addressed to the emperor Honorius, including the Panegyricus De Quarto Consulatu Honorii Augusti, which begins:"Once more the year opens under royal auspices and enjoys in fuller pride its famous prince . . .," The public occasion, here an inaugural ceremony, now calls for eulogy of the emperor.
Combining the Greek example of Isocrates with the Roman example of Claudian produces a composite definition of "panegyric" like Kerseys: "a Speech delivered before a solemn and general Assembly of People, especially in Praise of a great Prince." If Kersey had a specific author in mind, however, it was probably neither Isocrates nor Claudian, but rather Pliny the Younger. Elected consul for the year 100, Pliny acknowledged the honor in a speech delivered before the senate. Titled an actio gratiarum, this speech includes expressions of gratitude and promises of faithful service to the senators. But these remarks are only tiny appendages to the body of the speech, an elaborate idealization of Trajan, who was present to hear himself praised as the optimus princeps . Although Pliny did not call the speech a panegyricus, later orators viewed it as a model of the genre. In fact, when Pliny's oration was rediscovered for the Renaissance in the fifteenth century, it was not alone but rather at the head of a collection of panegyrics that came to be known as the panegyrici latini or panegyrici veteres . Modeled directly on Plinys actio gratiarum, these other orations (eleven in number) publicly celebrate the Roman emperors from Diocletian to Theodosius. All of the orations in this collection fit Kerseys definition of "panegyric." They all praise a "great Prince" before a "general Assembly of People."

The general assembly that gathered to hear the eulogies of the later Roman emperors was not, however, necessarily restricted to the senate. On the contrary, the surviving panegyrics indicate that one of the most common occasions for this kind of oratory was an imperial visit to a provincial town. When the emperor decided to visit Autun or Treves, for example, the town showed its appreciation by having its most distinguished orator (usually a professor at the local school) deliver an address. The speech was an essential part of the ceremony, like the decorations, the festive games, and the military salute."