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caldrail last won the day on July 11

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About caldrail

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  1. caldrail

    Assertion of Power

    The Roman 'institutions' as you class them begin to atrophy toward more localised forms of society in the last hundred years or so of the western empire. Partly due to the corrupt and inefficient nature of increasing bureaucracy I might add. The point I tried to make originally was that asserting power wasn't always necessary for the Romans. Their culture was not set up for heavy handed top level directives anyway (since the empire was governed via provinces in the Republic and Principate despite increasing oversight and direct interference by the imperial household) so if you care to notice, the sources discuss mostly how the Emperors affected the immediate Roman world around them with the exception of the legions, which they were usually made commanders of (since we get the word 'emperor' from 'Imperator'/ 'Victorious General'). Occaisionally a situation develops and the emperor intervenes, as he has made himself entitled to do via his imperium / 'right to command', or perhaps the emperor needs a military victory to justify his title, so we get episodes like Claudius in Britannia or Antoninus Pius building a new wall in Caledonia. Since overt power carries inherent risks in the Roman world, such as going too far, making a pigs ear of it, or simply failing to impress anyone, Romans typically prefer to influence. This is one reason why emperors, even the most inept and ridiculous of them, quickly develop supporting factions beyond those that helped them to power, because it's much much safer to make initiatives if it's the emperor that orders them rather than you, since if it all goes wrong you can either blame him or some unfortunate minion in the command chain. The base form of influence is the client/patron relationship. Sure, I'll pay for your daughters wedding, so long as you keep me informed about what Gaius Felix is up to. Or yes, I'll take care of those pesky bandits, because you supply me with decent grapes. And so on. Again, this is very much a localised form of influence.
  2. caldrail

    Assertion of Power

    I nearly said no. But I can think of one. Romulus Augustulus, who was told to go, and clearly Odoacer wasn't expecting him to complain too loudly.
  3. caldrail

    Assertion of Power

    It is fundamental to the Roman Empire that the use of the word 'monarchy' should be understood. We're not talking about a medieval succession system (and that got brutal sometimes) but in the case of the Romans, a system where it became possible to assume an overriding assemblage of power - with the proviso it wasn't yours by right, but by support. This was why the canny Augustus reformed the Roman government as he did. By holding onto at least 50% of power, he avoided accusations of tyranny but retained enough support to deter anyone from challenging his grip on power. A long time ago I was asked whether an emperor could be removed from power peaceably. The answer (which I found difficult at the time) is yes - just very unlikely. It meant refusing to confirm the various powers at the renewal dates, which normally wasn't a problem, since most politicians saw that supporting the guy in charge was safer. Therefore if you want a change of ruler, you either challenge directly with military rebellion (and this did happen quite often albeit not always successfully) or you conspire, either assassinating him or arranging for some terrible and swift demise. Such conspiracies were rarely serious but rarely able to remain undetected.
  4. caldrail

    Domina: New series

    I am going to find it hard to avoid thinking of Sian Philipps portrayal in I, Claudius!
  5. caldrail

    Assertion of Power

    The other day I was browsing a back issue of a BBC history magazine when I stumbled upon an article supporting the release of Guy De La Bedoyere's recent book on life in the Roman legions. In it was a statement that the Roman Empire relied almost entirely upon the legions for the assertion of imperial power. Now, as a younger man, I would have accepted that without a hint of doubt - it's a common theme when discussing the Romans, and they said of themselves that they loved the portrayal of military culture rather more than having to endure it. But was that statement correct? Granted, Guy De La Bedoyere is a successful writer and television expert, but the idea that the empire had only the legions to extend power doesn't work so well if one is critical. Firstly, the legions weren't everywhere. They were stationed in areas requiring a higher security presence. Secondly, despite a reputation for efficiency and effectiveness that would make elite armies envious, the legions were neither. They were corrupt, rarely close to anything like full strength, senior officers politically motivated, and their soldiers relentlessly bolshie. For all their supposed invincibility, they left an impressive list of defeats. The sources contain many instances of intervention by the legions, sometimes ordered, sometimes just rebellious or motivated troops throwing their weight about. It's that very drama that made the Romans record such anecdotes, and therefore we might well suspect our understanding is being distorted accordingly. Of course the Romans had other means of establishing power, but isn't that entire concept misleading? We're used to the rather more coherent empires of the last 150 years, the colonial powers, the communist bloc, or the fascist supremacists. Little wonder we see parallels with such constructs. I'll say this up front. The Roman Empire was not a totalitarian state. Nothing like it. In fact, as a political entity it was suprisingly benign, but then Roman culture was based on ideas of free will and self determination. Rome did not as a rule control peoples lives in the manner of more recent empires, and indeed, it would have been extremely difficult for them to have done that. It demanded loyalty and tribute, but free people were free to pursue their lives as they saw fit, with the proviso that if you got dangerous to ordinary peaceful existence, the result would be heavy handed. Note the rebellion of Spartacus. The first response to his escape to Vesuvius and ensuing banditry was not the military might of Rome, but local people getting their act together and trying to arrest him, albeit unsuccessfully. Note the occupation of Germania during the administration of Quintus Publius Varus, who considered (wrongly as it turned out) that the natives were beginning to see Roman law as superior and accepting Roman oversight as a result. Note the factional nature of Roman society, with chariot racing teams presenting a political influence all of their own. Note the use of commerce to influence regions. Note the existence of the client/patron relationship, the very beating heart of ordinary everyday Roman life. So we can see a large number of means by which the empire manipulated rather than controlled. It ought to be realised also that the empire was not a single unified state under the Caesars as is normally portrayed. It was Rome, a city state, that held influence over provinces of varying status that had local government derived from their native peoples and remodelled to Roman style. But of course, as Roman monarchy re-asserted itself after Augustus, so these rulers obtained personal control of provincial areas formerly administered by the Senate. So the situation was a long process of change instead of a stable and conformal ideal. So, the empire didn't need the sort of central control we normally think of nor was that practicable, as indeed the decay of the empire would prove as emperors became dominant lords of all they surveyed. Law, commerce, and the unseen machinations of patricians in their own atriums are not often found in Roman sources as such, being somewhat invisible or dull, thus they didn't write about them. Does that mean these methods of influence didn't exist? I think the Roman Empire needs a different image than the one the Romans bequeathed to us at their own cognizance.
  6. caldrail

    King Tut’s mask Intended for woman

    There's been an idea that some of Tut's items were repurposed from those made originally for his mother, not least the tomb where he was found (apparently the tomb built for him was hijacked by an architect for his own use after Tut died and looted. Using a former tomb has apparently preserved the burial goods). Tombs were built with a left hand turn for a male. Tut's tomb has a right hand turn and there's been considerable debate about the possibility of an added wall to block off parts of the original layout.
  7. The strigil was a common cleaning tool used by anyone with an interest in personal hygiene. Claiming it's a gladiatorial item is misleading.
  8. caldrail

    Justinians Reconquest

    The impression I get is that Justinian saw reconquest as a duty, both as a 'Roman' and as a Christian. He was a reformer, a man who made sweeping cuts to the administration of the empire removing many elite men, clearly unafraid of the reactions others would exhibit in response to his directives. Indeed, his reign saw the old senatorial order replaced by a three tier system of status that required service to progress. None of this was luck - just hard headed decisiveness. Such a man would not rely on luck to re-establish the old Roman world surely?
  9. The site of Stonehenge is world famous, but much less known is the connection to a wooden circle at nearby Durrington Walls. Now a similar site has been found in Germany. Archaeology breakthrough: Researchers unearthed ancient homes at German 'Stonehenge' (msn.com)
  10. I get a little baffled at why people think the Republic was 'falling'. There had been instances of individuals seeking to rule over it for a long time before in one manner or another, so a transition to one-person rule might well be regarded as inevitable - but the essential truth is that the Republic was a more hazy concept than we generally assume anyway. Okay, with a nod to high minded principles, the Romans threw off monarchial tyranny and set up a form of Republic but don't let that word fool you. It was not a modern democracy at all. Rome was administered by elected magistrates who were given bundles of power according to the title they held temporarily from an elite group. In other words, tyranny was not eradicated in favour of proletarian empowerment but instead managed among selected individuals. The entire raison d'etre, the civic duty of the elite taking care of the general public, was for some a guiding principle but for many something to pay lip service to in favour of self interest, so really the emergence of warlords and eventual takeover by one of them isn't that suprising after a period of inflated wealth from conquest. Antony and Cleopatra were intent on dividing the Romano-Egyptian world between them and their children. They had already attended public ceremonies dressed as gods. Clearly Marc Antony was buying into monarchy in a big way, something that Octavian was able to use against him as propaganda. Yet the important fact remains that even after the dust had settled the institutions of the Republic remained. The Romans continued to call their empire 'The Republic' pretty much toward the end, even though we have Marcus Aurelius describing himself as an absolute ruler and Diocletian declaring himself as one. Those who repeat the mantra of Augustus becoming Rome's first emperor fail to grasp that he reformed the Republic, not swept it away as a dictator. Yes, he reformed it in a way that gave him at least 50% of the political support, but one can rationalise that not just as a convenient 'ruse to power', but instead a very necessary policy of survival in a political bear pit.
  11. Interesting but not consistent across the empire, because the staple diet - bread - was milled with stone that left a fine grit in the flour, causing excessive wear on teeth. This would have affected the poorer sections of society primarily.
  12. @ Crispina - The museum is small but you're right, it's a fascinating visit. Make sure you visit other sites along the Wall too because there are variations in settlement pattern. @ Guy - A naked horseman? Not sure I'd want to try that, but notice the helmet. Hardly a traditional legionary item but very reminiscent of a gladiatorial type, suggesting an eques or mounted skirmisher consistent with the spear. But naked? That was something Greek or barbarian, and typically an eques had a modicum of armour. A local variation? Of course this might simply be a funerary memorial to a gladiator so the nakedness would have symbolic meaning rather than a simple rendition of actual; appearance.
  13. This gay thing? It's overstated. A common aspect of warrior culture anywhere in the world is a tendency for male bonding. That doesn't mean sex, nor does the Theban relief imply that. What happens is a range of relationships from full on lovers to the mildly friendly, and indeed, to ancient peoples the relief might suggest no more than the 'band of brothers' so beloved of recent WW2 drama. I do know the Greeks were more physical about relationships between men but that did not mean they were actual lovers, just that it might be acceptable to touch, stroke, or caress for reasons such as admiration and closeness. Please note also that between warriors women have a tendency to be seen as interfering or untrustworthy. A man fighting at your side can be relied on - your wife might not be so dependable. However I must concede that human relationships are viewed with different emphasis in ancient times. The Romans for instance saw the active partner as male, the passive partner as female, regardless of actual gender.
  14. caldrail

    Real pirates: Queen Teuta

    No, all I see is a lot of drama. I still see nothing that says she was a pirate. Teuta may well have profitted from her piratical citizens and ruled over them after her husband died - but where are the sources telling us about her involvement in such 'lawful trading'? She certainly continued her husbands aggression and authorised piracy to support such activity - but I see no evidence of 'Pirate Queen'. Queen of a Piratical People maybe. Let's not get carried away.
  15. I would be more careful in these subjective divisions. It is true the Romans generally thought their culture was superior (but check out the sermons from late empire christians - they thought the Romans were decadent, lazy, weak - or at least told their congregations that to inspire more positive attitudes) but ROme was definitely not the one-culture empire most people assume it was. The Roman Empire was cosmopolitan. It was inclusive, not exclusive. True, adopting Roman fashions and language would likely allow you to do better in life, but note that the Romans praised Palmyra for its mix of cultural influences. So when we view these images and figures, clearly we see 'barbarian' styles being depicted. But there is no actual way of determining whether the subject is a Roman citizen or foreigner simply by style. Okay, explicit text or context might dictate that, but visually, no. This idea that all Romans wore the same clothes from one end of the empire to the other is just nonsense. So while the senators of Rome laughed at a young Trajan for his first speech in a rural Iberian accent, ordinary people still spoke other languages than Latin, particularly Greek. I do concede that there was a 'fashion police' attitude in elite circles, so for instance the western Emperor Gratian was criticised for his adoption of Germanic clothing. However, normal human social dynamics suggests that was because he was not as influential as say Hadrian was, whose fashion choices became desirable for everyone else. That said, normal trending behaviour exhibited itself such that Augustus felt compelled to reinforce the idea that Senators should wear formal togas and not go to work in casual attire. Categorisation is a common trend in people (I'm just as guilty) but it is important to realise that the reality is another bell curve instance. A few will dress with precise traditional attire, some rejecting formality or conformity altogether, most adopting a comfortable mix. So a figure in barbarian attire might be a foreigner. Probably a foreigner? But never must be a foreigner. That's why you need to observe clues from the context of the piece.