Monday, January 27, 2003

Cato and His Heirs: Roman Ideals of Suicide

In this mornings lecture Dr. Fagan described Catos graphic suicide. I had never heard the details before. He apparently fell on his sword. His servants heard his moans and found him and sewed him up and bandaged him. When they left him alone, he ripped off the bandages pulled out the stitches with his fingers then yanked out his own intestines. Now that was a determined man!

Suicide has been supported by a number of prominent Roman writers and philosophers:

Seneca, a passionate defender of suicide, writes that "the wise man will live as long as he ought, not as long as he can" and adds that "the best thing which eternal law ever ordained was that it allowed us one entrance into life, but many exits" (Epistulae 70.4; 70.14). Similarly, the elder Pliny writes, "the chief consolation for natures imperfection in the case of man is that not even for a god are all things possible - for he cannot, even if he wishes, kill himself, the supreme boon that nature has bestowed on man among all the penalties of life" (Natural History 2.27). Lucan extols "the glory of suicide" arguing that "no mans life is too short if it affords him time to contrive his own death" (Pharsalia 4.478-80). For Lucan, suicide is sweet and fitting, but "only those whose onrushing fate is already upon them are granted this revelation: those who will go on living--the gods keep them in the dark, that they may endure to live on: death is a blessing!" (Pharsalia 4.517-20). The Stoic philosopher Epictetus uses elaborate metaphors to endorse suicide: "Above all, remember that the door stands open. Do not be more fearful than children. But, just as when they are tired of the game they cry, "I will play no more," so too when you are in a similar situation, cry, "I will play no more" and depart. But if you stay, do not cry." Similarly, he later adds, "Is there smoke in the room? If it is slight, I remain. If it is grievous, I quit it" (Discourses 1.24-25).
Roman writers advocating suicide often praised it as a path to freedom. For Lucan this can mean a freedom from fear of death itself: "Make death your choice, and all fear vanishes" (Pharsalia 4.485). For Seneca, life is nothing but "bonds of slavery" subjugating men to the whims of Fortune. However, although "Fortune has all power over one who lives--she has no power over one who knows how to die" (Ep. 70.6). Lucan agrees: "It is no arduous feat to escape slavery by ones own hand--weapons were granted that none need live as slave" (Pharsalia 4.576-8). Plutarch has Cato express a similar sentiment when his sword is brought to him the evening before his suicide: "Now I am master of myself," he declares (Lives, Life of Cato the Younger, pg. 959). Seneca eloquently sums up this idea of suicide as an expression of freedom in De Ira:

In whatever direction you may turn your eyes, there lies the means to end your woes. Do you see that precipice? Down that is the way to liberty. Do you see that sea, that well? There sits liberty--at the bottom. Do you see that tree, stunted, blighted and barren? Yet from its branches hangs liberty. Do you see that throat of yours, your gullet, your heart? They are ways of escape from servitude. Are the ways of egress I show you too toilsome, do they require too much courage and strength? Do you ask what is the highway to liberty? Any vein in your body (3.15.4)."

However, suicide was not universally accepted by Roman society:

"To a defeated Roman general, all his options other than suicide were effectively fates worse than death. If he had been defeated by a non-Roman enemy, he faced capture and likely execution--both unbearable humiliations. If his enemy was another Roman faction, he faced either execution and its attendant humiliations (such as having his head paraded through Rome), or else, perhaps worst of all, clemency from his conqueror. Roman aristocrats, who prided themselves on being utterly equal to their peers, could not abide being beholden to anyone for anything, and what debt could be greater than owing another ones very life? Avoiding the dishonor of being pardoned was probably one of Catos primary motives for committing suicide, as Caesar prided himself on his clemency. Indeed, Caesar is supposed to have said, upon learning of Catos suicide, "Cato, I grudge you your death, as you have grudged me the preservation of your life" (Plutarch, Cato the Younger 959). "

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Friday, January 24, 2003

Caesars Gallic Wars by C. M. Gilliver. ISBN: 1841763055

Osprey has a new book entitled "Caesar's Gallic Wars" by C.M Gilliver. ISBN: 1841763055

"Gilliver studied Classics and Classical Archaeology at King's College London and took her PhD in Roman Military Theory at The Institute of Archaeology, University College London. She is lecturer in Ancient History at Cardiff University and is the author of The Roman Art of War (1999). She is currently preparing a book on Roman siege warfare and was the historical ccnsultant for a BBC Timewatch programme on Roman soldiers."
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Encaustic Painting and the Fayum Portraits

Last night I received a beautifully illustrated book "The Mysterious Fayum Portraits: Faces From Ancient Egypt" by EUPHROSYNE DOXIADIS. I've been fascinated by Fayum portraits ever since I saw one at the "Splendors of Ancient Egypt " exhibit ( several years ago. I particularly liked the portrait of Aline, daughter of Herodas, an example of the tempera technique. I also liked a male portrait with an oil-paint texture that the author suggests indicated the wax was applied cold as in the Punic wax technique.

"Pliny and Dioscorides, both men of Ancient history, give very similar recipes for Punic Wax. They told of a process where beeswax is boiled in salt sea water then strained through cheese cloth to remove impurities. This was done several times. They then decreed that the wax be left in sun or moonlight for several days to better bleach it. After this the wax needed to be saponified (made soap-like) by adding sodium hydrogen carbonate (Sodium Bicarbonate). This was mixed together and then later, drained again through cheesecloth, rinsed in lukewarm water and finally air dried. It would then probably have been tempered for painting by mixing with other naturally available ingredients:

oil to improve and help keep it fluid (perhaps linseed)
egg yolk to improve adhesion to the support and add resilience to the wax making it slightly harder.

These components when combined into a medium and mixed with pigment certainly produce a workable paint that enables results of very similar visual character to those found in Ancient Roman Egypt. "

One of the most beautiful portraits, an Antonine woman, was produced using the more typical encaustic hot wax technique.

"The wax would be heated and once molten the pigments might have been blended into a volume of wax and applied to the wood surface by brush. For finer colouring or smaller quantities it might have been more practical to dip a brush into some molten wax then blend this on a heated palette surface with small amounts of pigment, perhaps laid out in bowls so that the brush tip could just be dipped in to collect the right amount of the powder. For many portraits, the main body of colour was applied using the brushes and then afterwards tooled with special hot or cold instruments to form greater blending, texturing and variety of thickness:

Cautarium - probably a type of metal palette knife that could be used heated to blend the wax colours
Cestrum - a small needle like pointed item that may have been used to draw into the wax cold or perhaps it was heated. It may also have been used more directly in the molten wax.
Pencillium - brushes used to apply most of the wax colour and backgrounds in the portraits. "
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

In discussing the reasons for the rise of the Roman Empire, Dr. Fagan mentioned that there are three perspectives with a sizable following all based on much more modern contexts. He said Momsen explained the rise of the empire because of a perceived need to defend territory and new allies. This perspective, he pointed out, was quite popular with Momsen's contemporaries because of the extensive European empires developed from colonization thriving at that time. He said in 1979, a theory was promoted that viewed Rome as essentially the typical "evil" empire that expanded based on "might makes right". He pointed out that this theory was, of course, popular with the post-Vietnam, post-Nixon Watergate crowd. He said more recently a theory has been put forward based on a systems approach. It concludes that the empire evolved because Rome's confederation put so much manpower at it's disposal it had to do SOMETHING with them. (Although as a technologist and a practioner of the systems approach in many arenas, I find this explanation the least viable to me).

Dr. Fagan himself expressed his belief that the rise of Rome was a dynamic process and not particularly attributable to one specific reason. I agree with him more than the somewhat simplistic explanations above. For example, Rome clashed with Philip V over his support of Carthage and domination of Greece but withdrew their troops after a treaty was reached. It took three more conflicts with Philip, Perseus, etc. before Rome finally resorted to annexing Macedonia as a province. So it does not appear to me to be a straightforward methodical process of conquest merely for the sake of expansion. In fact, I was curious why the Greeks could be convinced to "rebel" against Rome when Rome had willingly withdrawn its troops. Philip was hardly an admirable character:

"When they had defeated Carthage, the Romans saved Athens after Philip's forces sacked the suburbs. The Romans then invaded Macedonia, and supported by the Aetolian league, defeated the Macedonian army in Thessaly in 197 BC. The poet Alcaeus, who satirized Philip for attacking everything except Mount Olympus and for poisoning Epicrates and Callias wrote the following epigram: Not wept for and not buried in this tomb we lie, traveler, thirty-thousand men, destroyed by the fighting Aetolians and Latins brought by Titus from broad Italy, a calamity to Emathia; while His Boldness, Philip, went off faster than any deer. Apparently Philip V had the critical poet crucified, for he left the following epigram: Traveler, on this ridge a leafless, barkless tree, one gaunt cross, is planted: Alcaeus's. "
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

I was pleased to see that now offers Gibbon's work on audio totally unabridged. I selected it for one of my two January titles but I am still busy with my audio courses from the Teaching Company so it resides in my "library".

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Audible ( ), it is an online service offering audiobooks that download onto your computer or into a Pocket PC or MP3 player. I am a "Lite Listener" member and get two audio books per month for $17.95 (the regular rate is $19.95 but I was a premier member of the service upon its introduction three years ago). I can select any books I wish regardless of their regular per book price. This month I selected the unabridged Gibbon's "Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire" (over 20 hrs.) and "Jews, God, and History" by Max I Dimont (almost 18 hrs.). Their regular retail price would have been something like $41. In addition to the classics, they also have such popular titles as the Brother Cadfael mysteries, historical mysteries by Elizabeth Peters, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Rice, Mary Renault, Michael Crichton, Caleb Carr, etc.
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!
One of the members of my ancient Rome discussion group commented today: "Caesar is a "grand" figure because he is so multi-faceted. It's hard not to admire a man his age swimmimg across the harbour of Alexandria, and his generosity in many occasions. He is also the commander who ordered the entire Gaulish garrison of Uxellodunum to have their hands cut off, something that he did not inflict on those who surrendered at Alesia!"

I read that even Caesar's officers wept at this command but viewing the decision in the historical context, Caesar had to order something fairly drastic since, if I remember right, this event occurred after the third such uprising, and Caesar had other matters he wished to pursue and didn't have the time or manpower to continue putting down such rebellions and accomplish his other objectives.

In my course on ancient Roman History, I was touched by another expression of remorse. Dr. Fagan mentioned that Polybius reported Scipio Aemelianus, the commander ordered to raze Carthage at the end of the Third Punic War, wept saying the same could very well happen to Rome in the future.

"At the sight of the city utterly perishing amidst the flames Scipio burst into tears, and stood long reflecting on the inevitable change which awaits cities, nations, and dynasties, one and all, as it does every one of us men. This, he thought, had befallen Ilium, once a powerful city, and the once mighty empires of the Assyrians, Medes, Persians, and that of Macedonia lately so splendid. And unintentionally or purposely he quoted---the words perhaps escaping him unconsciously---

"The day shall be when holy Troy shall fall
And Priam, lord of spears, and Priam's folk."

And on my asking him boldly (for I had been his tutor) what he meant by these words, he did not name Rome distinctly, but was evidently fearing for her, from this sight of the mutability of human affairs. . . . Another still more remarkable saying of his I may record. . . [When he had given the order for firing the town] he immediately turned round and grasped me by the hand and said: "O Polybius, it is a grand thing, but, I know not how, I feel a terror and dread, lest some one should one day give the same order about my own native city." . . . - Polybius, Book 39

Also, I came across an exciting article on the battle of the Metaurus River (Hasdrubal vs. Nero/Salinator - Second Punic War):
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Friday, January 17, 2003

Herakles and the King of Beasts

When I was researching Herakles labors and pages discussing the Nemean lion I came across this really nicely done website devoted to all aspects of the king of beasts:

I also followed some of the links and found Lieut.-Col. J. H. Pattersons complete account of his encounter with the "MAN-EATERS OF TSAVO" published in 1919.
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Thursday, January 16, 2003

In an interesting reference in last night's lecture, Dr. Fagan mentioned that the Romans adopted the design for their marching camp from Pyrrhus. But Plutarch states in his biography of Pyrrhus:

" When he saw the Roman camp (at the battle of Heraclea), Pyrrhus was amazed by its high level of organization and discipline. That changed his mind about waiting for the allies. But the Romans wanted to fight before the allies arrived, so Pyrrhus was compelled to do battle."

So, I wonder what the Romans saw of Pyrrhus' camp that they wanted to emulate?
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!
In my study of the Romans and the four Macendonian Wars, I was a bit surprised that the Macedonians didn't appear to modify their battle tactics after repeated defeat by the Roman Legions. Polybius, although himself a Greek, described the superiority of the maniple formation since he felt so many Greeks were incredulous about the shortcomings of the phalanx that had been used so successfully in centuries past:

I also found this extensive site explaining the legion formations:

Dr. Richard Gabriel, Professor of Political Science in the Department of National Security and Strategy at the U. S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in his treatise on tactical flexibility ( , points out that "Alexander's tactical contribution was to reduce the role of infantry as the primary striking and killing arm of the army. He used his heavy infantry formations to anchor the center of the line and to act as a platform for the maneuver of his primary striking arm, the heavy cavalry armed with the javelin."

If heavy cavalry had been deployed imaginatively, you would think this would have counteracted the effectiveness of the maniple. Did King Philip V of Macedon forget this important aspect in the use of the phalanx?

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

On my lunch hour today I noticed a DVD up on Ebay entitled "Gladiators and Amazons". The description says:

In Caesars era, power and reward often come at a mortal cost. Serena understands this first hand when, at age 12, Governor Crassius and his army attack her village killing her parents and separating her from her sister. At the time, she is unaware that her destiny is to become a hero and saviour to her people.
Ten years later, the beautiful Serena (now a slave), finds herself warding off the lascivious advances of a drunken Roman Senator and accidentally kills him. She escapes and ends up joining Queen Zenobia and her Amazon warriors. Serena discovers her mastery of the sword but also that her inner spirit demands discipline. Ultimately, Serena must confront her thirst for revenge and face Crassius in an ultimate battle for her life and for the freedom of her people.

Yeah, I know it sounds a bit cheesy but hey, it's been so long since Gladiator!
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!
I was very intrigued by a tidbit shared by Professor Fagan in his lectures on Roman history. He said that in 338 B.C., Rome actually won a naval battle at Antium with its meager fleet of primarily coastal defense vessels. It was common ancient practice to saw off the bronze ramming beaks of the enemy vessels and use them on new vessels of the conquering fleet. However, after the battle of Antium, Dullius transported six of them to Rome as trophies. There they were nailed to the speaker's platform in the Forum that was thereafter known as the rostrum since rostrum (the plural is rostra) was the Latin word for beak.

Augustus later mounted the rostra from the battle of Actium on the front of a temple he constructed to honor his adopted father, the "Divine Julius".

Here's a website with links to pictures of rostra:
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

In the lecture I listened to this morning Dr. Fagan pointed out that the Romans claimed they had seven kings during the regal period. But the number 7 has mythical connotations. Professor Fagan said that only 7 kings would mean that each king would have ruled for an average of 35 years which was not duplicated in any contemporary or preceding culture. He explained that some scholars think there were either more kings that were ignored or the regal period was much shorter than legends claim. He also pointed out that each king seemed to be a symbol for a particular cultural development and their name seemed to reflect this as well. For example, Numa Pompillius was credited with founding the religious structure of the pontificates and "pompa" was the latin name for religious rites (forgive any of my misspelling - I'm working from audio again! :-) Tullus Hostilius, the third king, was known for the first wars of expansion or "hostilities". However, he does acknowledge that there have been some pottery sherds and epigraphic evidence with the inscription "Rex" from the 6th century BC so there must have been kings at some point.
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

I have begun a new audio course, "The History of Ancient Rome" presented by Dr. Garrett Fagan. In my third lecture on ancient Rome, Dr. Fagan discusses the Etruscans and mentions that in recent years, Tim Cornell( , in his work "The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (C. 1000-264 Bc) (Routledge History of the Ancient World )" - 1995, observes that there is little epigraphic evidence of the Etruscan presence in Latium (only Etruria and Compania). So there is now a contingent of scholars who think the Etruscans exercised only a "sphere of influence" over the early Romans but were never monarchs over them. So does this mean the Tarquinian kings could not have been Etruscans?

From my web research, I notice that in a recent paper produced as part of The Roman Middle Republic: Politics, Religion, and Historiography c. 400-133 B.C. Rome: Institutum Romanum Finlandiae, 2000. Pp. 310. ISBN 952-5323-00-5, Dr. Cornell "takes the notice in Festus on the lex Ovinia to mean that the Senate in the early Republic might change composition every year and that it was precisely this law that shifted the balance of power away from the consuls or military tribunes and towards the Senate as a corporate body. Cornell also dates the law to c.340 rather than 312 and draws attention to the strengthening of the position of the Senate just as Rome achieved political domination in Italy. The Senate was thus freed from the control of the consuls and grew over time in both numbers and prestige into the dominant body with which we are all familiar. "

I see Dr. Cornell is also leading "a project to produce a new edition of the fragmentary Roman Historians; that is, of the historical works of Romans -- writing in Greek as well as Latin from the earliest times to the second century AD -- whose works are lost, but which survive in part through quotations and allusions in other authors. "

Currently the standard critical edition of these "fragments" is that by Hermann W.G. Peter: the Historicorum Romanorum Reliquiae 2 vols. (B.G. Teubner, Leipzig, 1870, 2nd ed. 1914-16), also available in a one-volume reduced edition, Historicorum Romanorum Fragmenta (1883) that, due to more recent studies, is now considered quite antiquated.

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Monday, January 06, 2003

Highland Warriors brings Scottish History to life

"Highland Warriors", a new game by Data Becker set for release on January 22 looks fascinating:

"Fight the battle at Stirling Bridge side-by-side with William Wallace, or share in the glorious victory at Bannockburn with Robert the Bruce. Of course, you can also fight on the English side and show the Scots at Falkirk just what the English Cavalry is able to do."

The close-in screen shots look terrific and reviewers say the AI is formidable (not like the original "Braveheart" game).

However, the system requirements are substantial - 800 Mhz PIII, 256 Mb Ram and 32 Mb of Video Ram - definitely for newer systems.
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Friday, January 03, 2003

Monday night I watched a History Channel special on "The Emperor Who Saved Rome" (Vespasianus). I wish I hadn't been so tired from driving for hours in a pouring rainstorm but I managed to stay awake through half of it and taped it so I can watch the other half this weekend. The part I did see mentioned that Vespasian was rather proud of being called a "Muleteer". He was referred to in that way because he was born in a town in Italy that was and is still known for raising quality mules. It said his mother bought him a place in the political arena even though his father was of peasant stock. He served in various roles through the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, and Vitellus - an astounding feat of survival. It mentioned that when he served as Aedile during Caligula's reign, he had a hard time keeping the streets clean (one of his responsibilities) because of Caligula's incessant lavish festivities. Caligula reprimanded him publicly and smeared him with dung.
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!
I found this collection of unique images of Cleopatra by Japanese artist Tomiko Miyao. They illustrated her book "Cleopatra". Unfortunately, I cannot find a listing for it on Amazon or at Bookfinders.

I also found this interesting Cleopatra fan site with numerous images:
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!
One of the members of my ancient Rome discussion group complained about the Discovery Channel's obsession with Hitler and King Tut. I agreed with him but I must admit I'd rather watch an Eygptian topic rerun than my husband's old "B" Rated Westerns! Last night I was watching ANOTHER "Pyramids, Mummies, and Tombs" piece on TLC ( and was not really paying close attention when I caught the tail end of a description of an early "opening of the mouth" ceremony where the priests cut off somebody's leg and held the quivering leg up to the mouth of the mummy. I had never heard of that practice before so I guess there's always more to learn about Egyptian burial practices. But I can't understand the educational value of such offerings as "Junkyard Wars" and "Monster Garage".

I got really frustrated when History Channel International was advertised as "History Before OUR Time". I thought at last we would get a channel with something other than rehashed WWII combat footage. Alas, they apparently must have decided costuming or something was too expensive to feature pre-20th century topics too often. However, at least we get the occasional quality piece. Last night's piece on the history of the war horse was quite good (although I've seen it before). The segment on Roman saddle design was particularly interesting and I appreciated the horsemanship quotes from Xenophon.
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!