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Everything posted by caldrail

  1. You'll see a lot of stuff written on the internet about individual skill, some claiming the Romans were martial artists or such. The truth is that the Romans were well aware that despite choosing the more robust members of their society as soldiers and rejecting anyone with either a weak physique or family background/profession, not everyone was going to be any good at fighting. What they did was boil things down to a set of standard moves they could instil in recruits by constant practice (actually many modern armed forces have long since come to the same conclusions). Although I haven't found any specific evidence, I do believe they taught swordplay 'by the numbers' - this was how fighting skills were taught to gladiators and we know that gladiators were occaisionally used in the training process. That sort of approach would suit a methodology geared toward strict and tight formations which we know the Romans favoured. The fly in the ointment is that whilst the late republican legionaries used close formation religiously (the tall rectangular shield was most common in that era) the imperial era legions were said to have swung their swords as much as thrusted, meaning they must have used looser formations - along with heavier armour such as the classic lorica segmentata and for a while, arm and leg pieces. This went hand in hand with sword lengths that were reducing in parallel with gladiatorial styles until the wars that saw Constantine come to power when generally the gladius was dropped in favour of the longer cavalry Spatha. In other words, the late empire demonstrates a loss of skills and the sources do tend to underline that. So the emphasis was on group effectiveness. Stand firm, show no fear, and thrust your sword into your opponents face from a few carefully thought out positions in formation. It worked. You didn't have kill the guy - one thrust in the face or stomach and he's in no state to continue. Attacks into the upper abdomen risked a sword sticking in the ribcage and therefore were discouraged. The legion practised this until every useless recruit got the idea and could do it at will, without thinking. However, legionaries loved their gladiator combats and they wanted to emulate their heroes. So some commanders used their slaves to teach soldiers fighting tricks to keep them amused. On the other hand, it's clear from the sources that sometimes the commander decided his men needed a little more panache and used their slaves deliberately to improve the skills of individual soldiers. Whether this was effective in the context of normal legionary practice isn't clear. But in both caes, improvements in the soldiers confidence and moral did no harm.
  2. Firstly have a read of this thread.... https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/8226/how-quickly-could-the-roman-legions-march-how-does-it-compare-to-the-mobile-cav Bear in mind that the terrain and weather could significantly restrict the ability of a legion to move. A forced march of men carrying their own gear along a road would cover substantial distances in a day. The idea that they found this easy is perhaps illusory since reconstructions and re-enactments show how physically demanding such marches would have been. Nonetheless they did undertake them. Or consider that usually legions on the march took animals to carry heavy gear - even weapons might by loaded onto a cart in some circumstances. The used of such a baggage train might reduce the range by anything up to 75%. Or consider the floodwater that troops encountered in Germanicus' revenge camaign against the German tribes. Some of them were trying to wade through floodwater up to their necks, quite literally, and many died, drowned because with marching gear and armour, they could not stand up when floundering after insecure footing.
  3. caldrail

    What Made Caligula Crazy?

    The office of Emperor is all illusion. We call them that, they didn't. Mary Beard will insist "of course they were emperors!" which she has written in her book SPQR, but I disagree intensely. They did the same job - but 'Emperor' wasn't a proper job anyway (As discussed by Greg Woolf in interview with Mary Beard on tv). The word 'emperor' descends from Imperator which meant 'Victorious General', a traditional honour given by soldiers to commanders who win wars, but later, used from Augustus onward to describe their status as de facto control over the legions - but then, legions were notoriously fickle and certainly not regiments in a state army organisation. All independent, and all prone to deciding loyalty for themselves. Please note that nearly half the major battles fought by Imperial Roman legions were against each other. The thing is the Romans didn't organise their political and military sphere as we do today. They compartmentalised everything. So that when Augustus hands power back to the Senate, it isn't actually a ruse as is often described but a traditional requirement he obliges the Roman state with and one that only parts company with a certain allocation of power. He still has his powerful CV, his authority and status in Roman society, his senatorial influence, his wealth, his catalogue of influential friends and contacts, and most telling of all, the adoration of the common folk. He could afford to lose a privilege or two. It made his career less contentious. Sorry, I'm getting distracted. Caligula. Well Claigula comes to power with the high hopes of Roman society but manages to alienate everyone except the remote common people within four years. He struggles to retain respect, and that black humour of his spoils everything. The elite tire of his antics and disrespect. But a few held grudges. Especially Cassius Chaerea, the Praetorian Prefect and war hero of the Germanic campaigns. Caligula ribbed him mercilessly for his soft voice, and for a man of action rewarded with the highest military post of the time, it was too much. Chaerea was among the leaders of the insurrection and helped murder Caligula in the passage leading from the theatre.
  4. caldrail

    Seutonius - Galba

    Not sure - Galba never attracted my attention. But you might try Tacitus Histories which deals with the year 69ad in quite some depth, or possibly Cassius Dio. Other sources might only be brief mentions.
  5. caldrail

    Seutonius - Galba

    Hardly whitewashed, and it might be worth pointing out that Galba took advantage of an existing breakdown in civil order that led to a senatorial decree that Nero was an enemy of the state, which meant anyone could legally kill him. Nero panicked, as he often did, and fled, eventually failing to commit suicide and commanding a slave to do it for him. Nero had abused elite Roman sensibilities with his artistic career and publicity stunts. Worse still, he had used the patricians as a cash cow, blackmailing to leave everything in their will to him and commit suicide rather than punish their families. His popularity with the masses was affected due to episodes such as the murder of his mother - yet he retained a very loyal following nonetheless as the rebellion of a slave who happened to resemble him would later show. Granted, Galba had already been given a death sentence by Nero and was effectively a rebel anyway, but Galba did not march on Rome until he had heard of Nero's death.
  6. caldrail

    The Biblical Galatians

    The problem is that so many people seem fixated on proving the Bible is correct when they should be investigating whether it's right. I've seen missionaries (who often pose as archeologists) who spotted a rock formation in Anatolia that resembles the shape of a sea going craft and proclaimed it immediately as Noah's Ark, despite the fact that rock doesn't float, the site is solid and composed of native material, and there is evidence of glacial melt in the area. The Old Testament is not a history book. It's a religious text and creates a mythology for the use of Judaean sects including what would become Christianity. The Book of Genesis has some interesting assertions and indeed, the idea of parallel with science & research is something I've heard since I was a child - I have yet to be convinced that in distant antiquity the processes of planetary development were understood or even known about (Please forgive me but filling in that assertion with claims of extra-terrestrial visitations just won't cut it). Human beings are good at pattern recognition. That's why we lay random accusations at other people or influences so often with passionate belief. Is the Book of Genesis a parallel? No. It isn't. The Bible is literal, not allegorical, and you cannot stretch the text to suit an alignment that was never there to begin with.
  7. caldrail

    The Biblical Galatians

    That's interesting because I've seen news reports of archaeology demonstrating a very early beginning for Jericho. Part of the problem here is that the Bible is a religious text adopted from Judaean sources, censored by Roman sources, and rewritten since. Whilst there might well be history in it, a history book it is not and the Bible should be considered very unreliable. The Ark of the Covenant has by mythology a vast store of power (and is reputedly kept locked away out of sight in modern Ethiopia). Personally I find the story a little hard to accept but then Christianity is a matter of faith, not substance. As for the revision of archaeology I can't say, and since Kathleen Kenyon appears to be the only one interpreting the data this way, it remains her personal conviction. I have no idea whether she's right, but I will bear in mind what has been said for both sides of the argument.
  8. caldrail

    Timeline of Boudica's revolt

  9. It has become clear to me that fame as a poet is in this aspect largely irrelevant. The stories of other common soldiers was every bit as telling albeit less resonant beyond an accepted art form. I will indulge myself here. As a young child I once asked my grandfather what he had done during the First World War. I wasn't expecting tales of heroism, simply tales of his own experience as a matter of curiosity - especially since my parents were grooming me for a career in the armed forces although at that young age I wasn't aware of it. I remember his face darkening. Quite shocking to me, given he was always a cheerful positive soul. He didn't tell me about derring do, comradery, or the acts of courage on the battlefield. He told me about the privations of life in the trenches, the ever present threats, the grim reality of being part of a such a conflict. He even made me promise never to join the Army. It was an agreement that would cast a shadow of my life ever since but he was a good man, and I will stand by that agreement even though the choice is now academic given my age. I learned later how he was sent ashore at Gallipoli, to assist the Australians, in attacks on Turkish trenches. He had made bayonet charges against them and that affected him for the rest of his life. He could never completely rationalise what he had done, knowing in his own words that he had killed some mother's son. In the event, in 1916 he was sent home as a skilled shipwright to the yards on the Tyne, because after the Battle of Jutland there was a huge demand for replacement vessels. That order probably saved his life on the Western Front. I don't resent the Armed Forces, nor the undesirable conspiracy that took place to persuade me to join the Army to follow my father (of whom I have rather less respect). I agree they are protectors of freedom and life despite their violent profession, for in the course of human activity, aggression is part of politics, even everyday life. My path was to be different. My awakening self determination as a young man, my increasing resentment of parental influence, and my own desires to forge a path unique to myself would dominate. But whilst I might not make big noises about the tragedies of the Guns of August, I do nonetheless respect the price they paid as what they considered their national duty and moral imperative, whatever our contemporary revision of history might say, for I remember the words of one veteran at least.
  10. It was more a question of time and resources. Rome could not summon a sizeable army instantly but then neither would a siege end abruptly (although given the panic in Rome at the time one wonders if a surrender would be rapidly forthcoming). Worse for Hannibal, his supply situation becomes increasingly difficult the longer he remains in one place, especially if interdicted later by arriving Roman forces. He may have lost an opportunity to win the war, he was also not stupid enough to losing by an uncertain siege operation. Where Hannibal did fail is that Rome was not intimidated into surrender by the poor performance of their armies against Hannibal. Florus refers to Cannae as "Rome's fourth and almost fatal wound".
  11. caldrail

    Infames: Social Acceptance?

    As with everything the Romans were ambivalent. If the infames had no redeeming features then it was a matter of disdain. Strictly speaking that person could still be a client although the treatment handed out by the patron would be less than respectful. However, some actors and athletes achieved popularity and it was their success as performers that gave them some respect despite their social order. A top gladiator or charioteer might have been a slave - he was also a virile, successful male, and the Romans connected success with favour of the gods or in some cases elements of divine nature, though I do note in the latter case it would be unlikely that they would go that far with infames. If the slave was such an individual, the patron would wish to show him off, to allow him access to social functions, to gain some kudos from his connection with success. Patrons of all status indulged in such behaviour when it benefitted their careers. In a more wordly view, it should be remembered that gladiators and charioteers kept some of the prize money for victories themselves, and one fellow, Diocles, won so many chariot races he became absurdly wealthy - in modern terms, an estimate of around $15 billion is quoted. You would want him in your social group, surely? :D
  12. Civic monuments are visible in some of the most primitive societies albeit probably less impressive than huge stone triumphal arches. Religion, commemoration, festivals, and so forth are part of our behaviour as social animals and manifest themselves at all levels, though clearly the scale of Roman monuments displays the power, wealth, and sometimes, ego of the persons involved. The Romans loved to see statues of themselves, especially in military guise. Theirs was a society that was acutely aware that life was short, and that courage in facing death was as important as anything done in life. I recall one funerary inscription - "I did not exist, I existed, I no longer exist". A man with little to say for himself clearly, yet the majority display an intention to be remembered for what they did in life , even if merely remembered as a beloved relative or colleague.
  13. The other day I strolled into a music store in my home town, thinking of upgrading some recording equipment. It’s been a while since I took music seriously and having been unemployed for the better part of a decade, I could hardly afford to. But, with money in my pocket, time to splash out and get ready to impose my music upon the unsuspecting world. “They don’t make those any more” Said GK, someone who has sold me all sorts of instruments and gizmo’s for the last thirty years. After a short converstation, it was clear that music was not the hobby it had once been. I looked blankly at him for a moment and in that moment of awakening I said “Heck, I’m getting old….” GK couldn’t stop laughing. But I’m beginning to realise what a fantastic period of history I lived through as a young man. The days when you could walk into a computer or music dealership and buy just about anything are gone. The world has changed, and not for the better. Changing the Country The hullabaloo over Brexit continues with continued calls for a second referendum. Really? Didn’t anyone realise it was going to be difficult? Fact is, we had a vote, we voted to leave, that’s it – it’s going to happen. As much as EU strategy is to have our legs wobble at the sheer scale of our endeavour and ask to come back with our tail between our legs, Britain is made of stronger stuff. Or at least, some of us are, given how much whinging the remainers are making. But what do I hear from Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party leader? Renationalise everything. His radical new plan to save Britain is more or less to recreate the seventies when left wing politics still had some clout in this country. I well remember the seventies, and it wasn’t a high point in British history. Terrorism, strikes, the Three Day Working Week with the family sat around of an evening by candlelight, rubbish bags piling up on the streets. If there was any solid reason for keeping Corbyn out of power, it’s the 1970’s. Change of the Week There I was, walking home after a late shift in the wee small hours, when I spotted a fox. No, two foxes. No, three foxes. That’s a little unusual. But what startled me was that one of those foxes actually growled at me. Foxes don’t do that. They just silently retreat or flee. Not this scruffy young fox, as it turned to face me once it through the gates of the local park. Bared teeth is alarming in a dog. But a fox? Disturbing.
  14. It's as well to remember that Roman military practice was very dependent on the availability of Greek medics and physicians. Also, despite some advanced practices for the age, there was a great deal of their methodology that was still mired in ignorance and religion. Prayers were just as important as medicines. Many medicines for that matter probably harmed the patient more than they helped, something that would hamper medical practises into recent times. The Romans were very able, via their Greek experts, of treating wounds. Not so good at anything else.
  15. Caligula dissolved pearls in vinegar as drink fit for person of his assumed status.
  16. I work with an Italian colleague and have worked alongside others from Italian families. They're all as white skinned as me.
  17. caldrail

    The Dogs of War

    It is interesting that the Romans so rarely refer to dogs used for military purposes. partly one imagines this was because they were animals thus a lesser breed than soldiers, but a useful animal is surely going to get attention sooner or later. After all, mules and horses are frequently mentioned, the latter especially so for obvious reasons. But dogs? Their part in warfare appears marginal and infrequent to say the least.
  18. caldrail


    The second one certainly isn't ancient in origin. How do I know? A spacially correct geographic map of the empire within the garland. A dead giveaway. You might try the Notitia Dignitatum, a late empire document, which I understand includes some legionary emblems.
  19. Italy wasn't that far behind at the war's beginning, and indeed, had produced examples of technology that were in some respects more sophisticated than it's competitors, such as the MC72 racer, or the ill fated Bugatti aeroplane. Britain had the advantage of some inspired designers, such as Barnes Wallis, Reginald Mitchell, Sidney Camm, Roy Chadwick, and others, and some superior engine development courtesy of Rolls-Royce, and America had some advanced thinking from Lockheed and a very inspired design team at North American who responded to British needs with an aeroplane destined to be considered the best all round fighter of WW2, the P51 Mustang (Once a Canadian built and British designed Merlin engine had been fitted of course). That said, Italy was not subject to the same threat levels prior to the war having aligned themselves with Germany, and suffered both from 'victory disease' and unenlightened leadership in technological paths. Nonetheless Italian designers were capable. Although their tanks were never competitive, later Italian aeroplanes were seriously good. The issue was that like the French, the Italians were not temperamentally geared for war or martial pursuits and thus in action suffered against the more committed Allies.
  20. caldrail

    The Gothic War 376-382 AD

    The Goths were not quite a single people. They were a group of tribes that shared common cultural links and origins (they were supposed to have migrated from a northern land, often thought of as Sweden). The fact is the Goths were never exclusive. They were quite happy to include foreigners among them especially those who liked a good fight. Jordanes wrote a history of the Goths, the Res Gaetica, which was itself a summary of an earlier lost work by Cassiodorus. Clearly Jordanes' work has to be taken with some caution but it reveals a number of tribes with leaders vying for control, and notably, Valens gave permission for certain tribes to settle in Roman territory whilst others simply took the opportunity to cross the Danube with them.
  21. Just discovered that a number of wells were found during demolition of old housing in Swindon near the Corn Exchange back in the 19th century. Some of these were reckoned to date from Roman times - that's unusual, because it means some Romano-Britons were living up on the hill instead of down in the lowland at the town of Dorucornovium.

  22. This 'hillbilly' thing doesn't work for me. Of course the Romans were not going to be especially impressed by Judaeans who did not adopt Romanesque ideals such as regular bathing, language, or so forth. It is also true that elite Romans often displayed a somewhat snotty view of common provincial folk. Nonetheless, the manner in which Judaeans were viewed does not carry the same scorn the Romans reserved for the Britons. It is fundamental to the success of the Roman Empire that individuals in provincial regions felt a connection with the greater whole, and one cannot avoid the cosmopolitan mix of cultures that Rome tolerated or even enjoyed - they did after all praise Palmyra in modern Syria for these very cultural influences in one place. Jesus is something of a non-entity to the Romans. Even if we accept the event of 'miracles' - regardless of interpretation or validity - one is struck by the lack of Roman interest, particularly since they were a superstitious people. Had Jesus actually cured disease, restored eyesight, fed thousands from meagre resources, and so forth - why was Jesus not given an express ticket to Capri for a personal investigation by Tiberius? Instead of being crucified, a fall from the cliffs of Capri would more likely have been his fate, and then again I cannot excuse the similarities between supposed miracles and stories of miracles then current in India. He does not 'die for our sins' - that's a later rationale for his death to avoid overt attention to a criminal execution and insert religious significance - but he dies because he's becoming an embarrassment, popular, and influential among the common folk, thus like the charismatic preachers before him who suffered a grim fate, a decision to remove him is made, and him alone - his disciples are not arrested or executed at that time. Indeed, even with the influence he had won for himself, Jesus merits barely a mention or two in the sources even if the ambiguous statements are actually about him. Of course Judaea was a province that had been under Roman control for something like forty or fifty years. Not an especially notable province either - the Romans do not praise Judaea for civic advances or loyalty to the empire, which would tend to agree with your concept. Nonetheless, our perceptions are different from the Romans. They accepted that a citizen anywhere should have free will and self determination, thus the tendency for Judaeans to hold on to their own cultural emphasis is neither unexpected or notable. As long as the Judaeans paid taxes, provided troops, and remained subject to Roman law - the Romans weren't worried. Hillbillies? Well, some Judaeans were of course important citizens, some linked in to the Roman system as per normal. The bottom line is that the Romans do not describe the Judaeans in any bucolic sense. Roman subjects, citizens some of them, others radicals and rebels. But hillbillies? The concept just doesn't work.
  23. caldrail

    Wootz Steel: The Mysterious Metal

    Iron was traded everywhere but steel? No, that was a material created at the forge - Hence Noricum was the best source for the Roman Empire because that was where the skills to make it were focused.
  24. caldrail

    Just Like Us

    A fine day with a deep blue sky and some fleecy high level cloud. Great when you have time on your hands but having to trudge four miles to work is a rather wearing prospect. Needless to say, I was sweating. As I strode along the old canal footpath I could see a bunch of workmen ahead. Like all British workmen you spot in the wild, they were not working. They sat idly in the shade, observing my approach and long experience told me I was going to receive a comment or two. It's the British way. "He should be just like us" Said one of them, clearly not impressed with my individualism or perceived character. One of his colleagues agreed. Really? Just like you lot? The thought occurred to me as to what the world would be like if everyone conformed to their working class normality. No music, no radio, no television, no pubs or clubs, no films to dazzle us with special effects, no computer games to waste our spare time, and no-one to make the booze they might well be waiting to consume on the weekend. Nothing to look forward to but the opportunity to pass comment on passers-by. What kind of world is that to be proud of? Nature always finds strength in diversity. With good reason. I like my individuality and why on earth would I want to be merely one of a crowd of layabouts, anonymous, ordinary, just another non-entity the world is full of. Ah, some might say, and some do, but I failed. Yes. Correct. My plans for super-duper-stardom in my youngers days quickly got dashed on the rocks of reality. But hey, I tried. That makes me an also-ran, not a spectator. Which would you rather be? Music I saw a review in my local paper for a Judas Priest album. I've never really been a fan of their music but I respect their ability and longevity. Thus when I read the gushing praise I thought it might be worth catching up with where they are now. So I purchased their latest offering and lo and behold, it was as you might expect. Well performed, excellent production, a work by a band who know what they're doing. Then having finished listening, it occurred to me that I hadn't remembered any of the songs. It was nothing but an album of heavy metal wallpaper, making all the right sounds, doing all the right moves, but a production line of riffs and beats that pretty much failed to engage with my love of tracks that stand out for indefinable reasons. Sadly I doubt I'll feel the need to play it again. Compare that to another performer, Florence and the Machine. I was unaware of their existence until they featured in a televised event on the Beeb. I was impressed by the female vocalist's energy, her willingness to reach out to her fans (quite literally, it caused a near panic among the security crew), and the songs were interesting, varied, and I imagine for some, about relevant subjects. Buy her latest album? Oh yes, and I wasn't disappointed. Three tracks stood out, Ship To Wreck, What Kind of Man, and Queen of Peace. I still hum those tracks to myself regularly. That's success in music as I see it. Sorry Mr Halford, I know you're delivering what your fans want, but it's just a day job for you, isn't it? Connected I stopped at a Subway earlier for a quick snack and sat as I often do facing the outside world so I can watch people going about their irrelevant business outside. It struck me that everyone, literally everyone, in my field of view of the busy Saturday morning high street was staring down at a device in the palm of their hand. I suppose it's a sort of security blanket, making them feel that they're part of a group, that they're in on what is going on around the world, even if it amounts to videos of people falling over or endless sequences of pets caught mimicking humanity against their will. A whole crowd of spectators, going around spectating, because it seems they have nothing else in their lives. "Your phone is rubbish" one work colleague once mentioned when I checked my device for the unrealistic prospect of having received contact from the outside world. Yeah? Really? So what?
  25. caldrail

    Rome’s Forgotten Battle: Harzhorn

    Can't remember where I posted these answers, but out of interest, some Q&A on the battle the expedition fought so far from camp... - If a roman legion, and auxillaries was involved, why do the excavators estimate the roman force at 1000 ? This was a punitive raid, not a campaign of conquest. The forces were not required to be any larger and given what had happened in AD9, perhaps the Romans could be forgiven for not risking their entire legion! - Why are most of the sandal nails, so far found concentrated at the base of the slope leading to the Germanic tribes position on the top of the hill ? Most likely that was where the Roman casualties fell. - How did the romans have enough time to get their 'artillery', that is ballista, up the hill and into position if this was an ambush ? They didn't. The bolts were fired onto the hill from the north. - Why are there no Germanic artifacts found ? Either looted from the Germans at the scene by Roman soldiers or revovered later by tribesmen - Why did the Romans not collect their used arrows and ballista projectiles after the battle ? They wanted to move on, plus there was no guarantee the spent projectiles were usable. - If it was a Roman victory why was it not more recorded ? The Romans might have mentioned the campaign in the Historia Augusta, telling us that in the summer of 238 Maximinus Thrax marched troops north from Moguntuacum (Mainz) for three or four hundred miles on a mission to revenge some damaging raids mounted by german tribesmen over the previous five years, though the plan had been prepared by his predecessor, Severus Alexander. That concurs with the approximate date of this battle. Unfortunately the Historia Augusta is widely regarded as inaccurate and thus the distances have always been in doubt. As for the scale of the battle, it's a minor engagement. The Germans occupied a hill blocking the route of march so the Romans dealt with it and moved on quickly to avoid further encounters - they were limited in numbers. Estimates reckon it was all over in thirty minutes - and that's quick work by ancient standards - thus I doubt the records of the time paid much attention to it. Also there were other larger campaigns during the period the Romans probably found more interesting to write about. In any case, not all records survive. - Which Legion(s) were involved ? "Summer 238...Maximinus led out his entire army and crossed the bridge (over the Rhine) fearlessly, eager to do battle with the Germans. Under his command was a vast number of men, virtually the entire Roman military force, together with many Moorish javelin men and Osrehenian and Armenian archers; some were subject peoples, others friends and allies, and included, too, were a number of Parthian mercenaries and slaves captured by the Romans. Entire Roman military force? I don't think so. That sounds like a mistake by the Roman authors rather than an exaggeration. What was meant was that Maxminus took almost the entire force raised to attack the Germans, not the empires forces as a whole. - Is the similarity to the opening battle in the film 'Gladiator' purely coincidental ? Yes. But the film does not portray the forces engaged at Harzhorn Hill, but legions in Marcus Aurelius's campaigns of fifty years earlier.