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Everything posted by caldrail

  1. Do go there. You get a sense of the scale of a Roman fort and vicus and the closeness of the local community (though it was actually less compact than some settlements along the wall). As a site it feels a little odd because it's perched on a slope above a river valley and not what you would ordinarily expect. The reconstructions like the gate one has to take with some measure of salt, but there's nonetheless a real sense of something happening there.
  2. Compacted vertebrae I think you mean. If his backbone was crushed, it wasn't his job that killed him.
  3. That doesn't sound right. Pertinax was approached by members of the Senate to succeed the assassinated Commodus (He might have known that was going to happen - no-one really knows today) and ruled for a short period before outraged Praetorians cut him down in a heated row. The Praetorians then held an auction for the City of Rome. It was only subsequently, with the accession of Didius Julianus by means of offering a large enough bid, that rivals began to assert themselves in the absence of any clear authorised succession or indeed any sign of sufficient ruling power in Rome given Didius was scorned for buying the empire and couldn't get anyone to do anything.
  4. The problem exists less because of deliberate bias but because most of the pro-Nero accounts have been lost to us. There are clues that point to a somewhat different situation. Trajan for instance recorded that the first five years of Nero's reign were the best managed government of all. This was of course the time when his mother held him in check and advisors were still able to guide him. But we know that Nero threw off these restraints and to be honest, Trajan's appraisal doesn't exclude the tale we know from Suetonius. This post made me pull Nero by Richard Holland off the shelf again. I haven't read it in years. I'm reminded of how later Caesars identified with Nero, casting him as something admirable and emulatable. How his works were progressed after Nero's death. How Nero's legend made him alive when he was known to be gone (Shades of Elvis Presley and Adolf Hitler). I don't think we can ignore the worst of Nero. This is the problem. He was so larger than life, one of the few that emerge from history as A+ List celebs, that deep down, many of us feel a strange reluctance to blame him and instead indulge in a spot of adoration for someone for whom rules were of no hindrance.
  5. caldrail

    National Party Association

    Not sure I understand this. A science fiction milieu is evidence of voter fraud? Please forgive me, but you seem to be associating an administrative category with some kind of conspiracy. Well, perhaps, but I think the world might need convincing such a plot exists other than an obscure fictional idea.
  6. caldrail

    Quo Vadis - where are you marching?

    Important point - Rome had a cultural tolerance for other peoples religions. They didn't like early christianity because of some nasty rumours concerning practises misinterpreted by observers. Rome did not throw Christians to the lions. However, if you could prove a Christian was a criminal, that was another matter.
  7. caldrail

    Downfall of Rome

    Judging from the sermons of certain Roman bishops, the Romans themselves were well aware of how poorly their nation was coping and really didn't seem too motivated by it. Apathy and a lack of patriotic zeal one suspects. Corruption was of course endemic to Roman society and had been as long as wealth was bandied around, with individuals using friends and family like credit cards, or those sordid deals behind other peoples backs. I note that recruiters for the legions were often bribed to go away, and then these men hired barbarians at cheaper rates in order to make a profit from the funds available. The same idea as tax farming essentially.
  8. The Western Empire was subject to a takeover bid from the Goths, and their leader Odoacer soon obtained permission from the Pope to become King of Italy (and received support from the Roman Senate which persisted for a century or two after 476ad). The Eastern Empire always thought of itself as Roman. Those in the west did not, seeing a more Greek society and looking down their noses at it. It is worth noting that our current preconception of Roman Emperors stems from western experience of the Byzantines. An odd irony, that our ideas of Roman government are based on something Italians sneered at back in the day.
  9. caldrail

    Downfall of Rome

    I notice how easily people use the idea of oppression regarding the Roman Empire. Rome was, despite its occaisional clumsiness, greed, and internal division, a relatively benign entity that favoured individual freedoms. Perhaps this emerges from more recent experience of large empires, but then Gibbon discusses it too back in his day. Is the concept of imperialistic oppression rather more to do with the human psyche or our post-medieval societal structures? Oppression in Roman times did occur, but was not a consistent policy. Indeed, the Senate was often quick to withdraw governors who got too heavy-handed, and some of them got punished for their oppressions. That might explain Gibbon's view - that the individual cases of oppression are colouring a more congenial if rough form of occupation and administration.
  10. caldrail

    Downfall of Rome

    Well, one German academic has collected all the various theories about the downfall of Rome - all 238 of them. Personally I prefer to see the downfall as resulting from an analogy to age in a living organism, since a nation state can be said to be an extrapolation of living individuals. Rome had gotten old. Less and less able to fend for itself, requiring more and more outside assistance, and in the end, succumbing to a gothic infection (I don't mean actual disease of course).
  11. Fronto mentions significant losses in Britannia during a British rebellion. Hadrian arrives in the region shortly afterward and establishes the project to build a wall on the northern frontier, but there wasn't any mention of issues on that frontier at that time (how else was the large scale project able to be completed without pictish interdiction?). I suggest a possible if unlikely scenario. What if the IX Hispania had rebelled or mutinied in Britain?
  12. caldrail

    Seeing Is Believing

    A few nights ago I was walking home late at night along one of the main roads leading into the town centre. In the wee small hours you rarely see pedestrians, and the only movement is the odd hot hatch or police car. The amber street lights might be effective in lighting the dual carriageway but the grass verges are obscured in shadows and gloom. Okay, I do see urban foxes around there quite often, but on this night all was quiet. Hello, what's that in the grass? A plastic bag? The shredded remnants of a plastic crate? No... That's something else... Woah! A deer was lying among the uncut grass tufts. British deer are usually small, apart from those grand Scottish beasts, and usually very shy of us humans. This just lay there unconcerned. I stood watching it, little more than seven feet away, and it looked back at me. How odd! I shifted my weight and said hello, the deer moved a foreleg to enable a quick getaway, but it still didn't seem overly disturbed. A passing car gave a sudden stamp on the throttle - the deer reacted with something like the usual alertness, but it stayed put. I slowly walked around until I was squatting three feet away from this deer. Amazing. One of those strange unexpected meetings with nature. Look after yourself mate. Not far from there the week after I was again walking home on the same route, albeit not so near the town centre. Across the main road I saw an animal rush from one side to the other whilst traffic was non-existent. A cat? No, legs are too short. Oh heck - it's a black rat, and not exactly small either. What a beast! I've only seen two other black rats in Swindon, one dead, the other lurking around the back yard at home. Most rats we get in Swindon - a town somewhat notorious for its rat population - are the ordinary but unwanted brown variety. Can't say I was thrilled to see the rat however. So pleased I didn't encounter it up close. You heard It Here it's been great recently to see the planets in the night sky. Venus was especially bright.... heck that was close. An electric car swished by with barely a sound. It's getting really dangerous to be a pedestrian these days. Human eyesight isn't totally reliable to keep you from harm, and the days of noisy exhausts are numbered. Gazing up at the heavens isn't quite so safe anymore. All Corona'd Out The endless discussion in the evening news about the Coronavirus epidemic is getting wearisome. Funnily enough, a colleague at work had asked me how I felt about it. Restrictions on life are nothing new to me so I suppose I just take lockdowns, tiers, and self isolation as they come. But it saddens me that our lives are now so dominated that the daily news broadcasts have become the Coronavirus Show. Oh yes. I forgot that unnecessary war in the Caucasus. Or that Europe hasn't persuaded Britain to maintain the economic status quo. Or that Trump wants another term of office to prove how fantastic he is now that he has survived the disease he once scoffed at.
  13. caldrail

    Augustan History

    Actually that's wrong. The original frontier was littler more than a heavily patrolled road. Hadrian had the famous wall built as part of his Romanising polcy, and the Antonine wall was a later temporary advance into the north to qualify Antoninus Pius as Imperator. The frontier would revert to Hadrian's Wall. The Antonine Wall was hardly ignored - the archeology is pretty obvious, but the historic significance was less and lacked popular appeal compared to the much more manicured hadrianic effort.
  14. caldrail

    The Roman Empire reborn?

    The city of Rome might seem essential but history proves otherwise, as the Romans created or moved capitals whenever they felt the need. Latin would not be necessary either since the lingua franca of the historical empire was Greek. Since religion only became 'official' in the empire to support political unity in the 4th century, one can readily see why such a move might re-appear. A new government could entitle whoever they like as citizens. Slavery has never gone away. I don't like the current rend for demonising the past (witness Colston's statue getting a dip in the harbour courtesy of an angry mob) - it's moral cowardice attacking statues that never represented slavery anyway. Attacking slavers is a bit harder. You have to find them and when you do, they might well get aggressive and indeed might come well-armed.
  15. caldrail

    Persistance of Roman foot measurements

    The reason that french tvs are measured in inches diagonally is because that's an industry standard. The measure is irrelevant as such - merely it describes the size in relation to others. That said, I do note that Brussels appears not have noticed, and the French are notorious for their distaste of English terms creeping into their language.
  16. caldrail

    Hello World

    Hello World, my old friend, I've come to talk to you again. I write this not from the Library (who stubbornly refuse to open despite everybody else trying to restore some normailty to their lives) but a pokey little internet cafe which I might have to frequent more often. But it means I can say hello to the survivors of our post apocalyptic world, assuming I'm not being over optimistic. A Floating Map A visit some while ago to my local park was a peaceful scene. Nobody about at all, given Swindon was in lockdown back then. Out on the lake, I spotted a mass of algae on the water, shaped remarkably like England, Wales, and Scotland. The resemblance was uncanny. Right. That's it. Anecdote over. That didn't hurt did it? Bye For Now Haven't got time to do a proper blog entry but memoirs of my covid experience will follow eventually. Why not? The BBC have been broadcasting everybodies elses. And on the subject of the BBC, yes, the exam result fiasco is a mess. We got that. It isn't news any more. Move on. Please.
  17. caldrail

    Did Masters Ever Marry Slaves for Love?

    , Yes, but only after they had been manumitted. Other examples are masters buying back sold slaves because they just could not live without them. The Romans regard 'love' as something akin to emotional slavery but they were human and fell in love with each other just like anyone else. The problem for women was that social mores were more restricted. Whereas men had some freedom of action women were not so liberated and association with slaves, probably including freedmen, would have been the source of scandal (thougha minority in the early principate did it it anyway). However, it is true that women of status or elite family sometimes bribed a lanista to visit their favourite gladiator.Lust rather than love mostly, I guess, but it illustrates how women got around the barriers.
  18. Not with any formailty. The Romans often rewarded veterans with plots of land on retirement or disbandment - though please note the quality of land was often less than desirable and indeed was listed among the gripes of the mutinies after the death of Augustus. Late empire soldiers often worked the local farms to earn a living in the absence of military pay and some would have bought small farms for themselves and their families.
  19. A lot depends on certain aspects. Who was leading the barbarians? Did they prepare for battle? Which barbarians are involved? Men who live by the sword evolve a certain survival instinct hard won by experience. No guarantee they wouldn't be killed of course, but fighting is a skill that requires long practice to be any good at it (though most of us blokes don't like admitting it). Common sense tactics? Whether something is common sense often depends on perspective. Charging headlong at the enemy line might not be sensible but it could get results if you rattle the enemy or break his morale quickly enough. It's also favoured by the wilder warrior types for that very reason. Of course, there are examples of barbarians getting very clever against Rome - witness the Varian Disaster of ad9.
  20. caldrail

    Postcards From The Car Park

    Hi there. It’s been a while since I last posted on this blog so I thought I’d let the world know I’m not a statistic. Just an hour or two ago I noticed my everyday supplies of daily essentials was running a little low. Nothing for it but to risk a journey to the local supermarket. What could possibly go wrong? As soon as I approached I saw a car park full of vehicles manoevering for entrance, space, and exit. Shoppers playing dodgems with trolleys packed with everything they never needed before but might during our current Coronavirus emergency. Inside it was as bad, with crowds of agitated shoppers queuing for space in the queues or perhaps that last morsel still on the shelf. Stand aside old lady, that packet of barbeque pork make-your-own –casserole is mine! Or at least it will be in the event I actually get close to a till. An old gentleman waddled at a ridiculous pace, reaching between queues to grab whatever caught his eye. One gets the impression he hasn’t moved that fast since Hitler’s goons were shooting at him. Another mature gent turned to someone he knew and said “How did we ever cope in the war?” We had rationing books back then. Time On My Hands I’ve been sent home. My employer can’t give me anything to do because the company we supply has sent everyone home because everyone is quarantined at home in China and not producing stuff we need to supply our manufacturing customer. At least I’m still on full pay. I can afford the stuff that isn’t on the shelves because some old lady grabbed it first. And now I have the time to wrestle her for it too. Numpties of the Week This coveted award goes not to the shoppers of rainy old Swindon, but the media companies telling us about Coronavirus, especially the BBC, whose obsessional focus on single issues has turned a matter of concern into the fall of civilisation as we know it. Hang on… No. I’ve changed my mind. The award goes to American citizens who, faced with panic buying and shortages of goods in stores, have taken to queuing up outside gun stores instead. Trump, you have made America great.
  21. Part of this issue is the current trend in the media which has lasted for a couple of decades now to highlight similarities between our time and the Roman era. That's all well and good, but it ignores the more important differences. As much as Trump likes to praise his country and citizens for strength, success, and world respect (one has to recognise a certain degree of political spin in that), America is a - from our perspective at least - a deeply divided nation that is trying to on the one hand to promote devisive issues yet limit their division on society. One could say something similar about Britain I guess, but the issues are somewhat more polarised in America. Ethnic and cultural presence, historical identities, isolationism, and all the modern 'rights'. it is very notable that the American press still defines their civil war of the 19th century in terms of slavery which study reveals to be an issue that was not at the heart of many combatants, nor was Abraham Lincoln the freedom activist he's commonly portrayed as (which proves how successful political spin can be). The issue of parallels however is more interesting because what we recognise is not necessarily situational but actually behavioural. Instinctively we tend to empathise, rightly or wrongly, with the mtives and actions of Romans, seeing these parallels not because of what they actually did or the circumstances that drove them to act, but instead the emotions and reactions familiar to us in our daily lives. Their emphasis was different. Their cultural boundaries also. But they were human beings, thus we recognise them.
  22. caldrail

    Big money and fall

    it doesn't seem likely to me. Money was a major factor in Roman society from the beginning of the Republican period - it was how status was graded. Although patricians weren't supposed to muddy their hands in tawdry business deals they naturally used proxies, allies, freedmen, or slaves, to do that for them. The economy of Rome was faltering toward the end and corruption was, as ever, the bugbear of this money-mad system. However, the 'fall' of Rome was more complex. It had elements of weakening military power, diluted public patriotism/identity, and a considerable lack of determination. Sermons from the late empire describe Romans (in exaggeration of course) as lazy, hedonistic, corrupt, even cowardly. I prefer the argument made below.... In the end, though, all the countless pages of speculation about why the border collapsed, paticularly in the west, amount to one simple fact: the empire grew old. Adapt though it might, its mechanisms for dealing with with change gradually became set and atrophied, its military 'immune system' needed more and more help from outside, and finally - faced with new generations of vigorous neighbours, who had borrowed from the empire what they needed to give their political system and their cultures strength and coherence - it died of old age. The Empire Stops Here (Philipp Parker)
  23. Before we get carried away with the colour purple, there was no official ruling that 'Emperors' should have a purple toga, though purple was a privilege of the elite classes - an expensive one mind you. Senators had a broad purple stripe on their toga, and red dye was often used to simulate purple by excessive use. There was of course no actual job called 'Emperor'. When an individual asserted himself via politics, subterfuge, or simply marched in with an army, he was made the highest in social status - I cannot stress enough how important that was, because the Romans were intensely sensitive to their privileges and status. They would receive magisterial powers, possibly even posts in actuality, and normally recieve a military honour of Imperator, or 'Victorious General'. In fact, they liked the latter title so much they tended to use it to describe the collective authority they wielded, so much so that the word became synonymous with power and from it we derive the word Emperor in modern times - but Emperor and Imperator are actually two different things. Caligula for instance attended the games on one occaision and in the visitor VIP stand opposite, he saw a foreign king wearing a very impressive purple cloak. Deeply envious and offended, he had the hapless monarch executed for his indiscretion.
  24. One should not paint Roman legions with modern expectations. Whilst some of their behaviour was utterly predictable and quite similar to modern militaries, there were aspects that are quite different. Enslavement was a loss of humanity in one sense and marked one for life. The legions would not recruit former or runaway slaves and dire punishments awaited those found to have lied about their social status. When Augustus raised emergency forces from manumitted slaves in ad9, regular legionaries would not serve alongside these third class troops, and they were not armed with regular Roman equipment deliberately. The question of contract gladiators - this became a common practice for those seeking fame, fortune, or to avoid debt by desperate means. Nonetheless, gladiators were slaves, even the temporary ones. It is entirely possible that an ex-gladiator joined up here and there - I doubt he would have broadcast his past. You do raise an interesting point on this as there is bound to be something of a grey area. Roman slave law wasn't exactly simple either as the questions of status and rights got hugely complex from the Principate onward. Of course there would have been contests between soldiers being the aggressive competitive types that successful colonisers produce. But keep it in context. An arm wrestle between two soldiers out on the booze isn't going to offend anyone. Gymnastics? Isn't that getting a little Greek? Trust me, Roman military practice was sufficient to keep them fit. A weekly route march, twice daily at the palus with heavier practice swords and shields, and if we believe Josephus, staged brawls in formation to build character as much as physical condition. Add to that the possibility of hard physical labour all day if a local civil engineering project required lots of manual labourers the contractors could not afford. having said that, the typical Roman soldier was keen to avoid physical stuff as much as he could, usually by bribing his centurion (this was later frowned upon but never stopped. In fact, the practice of bribing a centurion for extra leave was later countered by a bonus paid to the centurion for any of his soldiers sent on leave officially) Don't be misled by Vegetius. His De Re Militaris is often described as a manual - it wasn't anything of the sort. he wrote a treatise about what the legions should be doing, after finding lots of good but unique examples of activity in the histories he had available (better than ours, for completeness if not accuracy). He says as much in the preface.