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Posts posted by caldrail

  1. Bear in mind that Irish and Roman churches were not in accord. Once Irish Christianity started popping up in western Europe the Roman church went into complete rivalry and won. People like Pelagius disappeared as well. But regarding Roman culture - that was never foisted on people. There's this common theme that conquered peoples were 'romanised' shortly after. There never was any such assimilation. The Romans offered their culture to those under their sway and rewarded those that adopted it, but if you wanted native clothes and customs that was fine. All they demanded was tribute and loyalty. In fact, the empire was a cosmopolitan spread of diverse cultures and peoples within its territories, quite unlike the single flavour Roman world that's normally described.

    There's the difference between Empire and Faith. The Roman Empire was a cooperative whole. The Church demanded conformity - though admittedly that was because of Constantine the Great in the first instance who needed something to bind his shattered empire together and chose the various christian sects, who were brought together at the Council of Nicaea in 325 to unite the diverse beliefs that all the sects had promulgated beforehand. Something like fifty gospels were reduced to the four approved gospels we still have today.

    Hadrian was an exception I suppose. He had this idea about creating a Graeco-Roman bubble of civilisation that excluded the barbarian. His policies were not that successful and sparked a war in Judaea when he reneged on his promise to rebuild Jerusalem and instead ordered a Roman city built on the same spot, to be called Colonia Aelia Capitolina. Too much for the Judaeans to accept. 

  2. The Vatican as an independent state has only existed since recognition by Mussolini's fascist government in 1929. Before that it was the capital of the Papal States and then only under the sole control of the Pope from the 8th century.

    I did chuckle when you mentioned that church leaders claimed the Vatican succeeded where the Roman Empire failed. That's complete nonsense unless you mean persistence. Of course I'm aware of the influence the Pope has, but he does not rule an empire (I'm sure national leaders would have something to say about that if he tried). Further, Roman Catholicism has not prevailed entirely. Protestant and Orthodox churches still exist and are dominant in some countries around the world (including my own, where it is illegal for a Catholic to become monarch). Historically it was influence that the Catholic church sought to expand rather than actual power, and to be honest, they had reached the highest point in the late eleventh century. Pope Urban II was empire building outrageously, excommunicating monarchs when they didn't comply, but blew his project when he responded to a request from Emperor Alexius of the Byzantines for military assistance and ordered the First Crusade. So no, ROman Catholicism has failed to create an empire at all. Rome 1, Catholicism 0.

  3. Tavern life in ancient Rome could well have been a lively experience. Witness the images in Pompeii of situations the landlord does not want happening, rather like 'this is banned' posters. Despite the demand for orderly behaviour, there seems to be a certain sense of humour in portraying things this way. Expedient, obviously, because posters as such are less likely to be read than a scene is viewed, and because paint is more available than paper.

  4. Small point but female gladiators never fought male opponents - that was considered unfair. In fact, female contestants originated as a comedic act, sometimes paired with dwarfs (who were male, I might add). This sort of attraction began around the time of Nero and ended when Septimius Severus banned female warriors in the arena (though as with all things Roman, it's likely that small numbers still performed in wandering troupes out in the provinces for some time).

  5. Yes, Rome was a very family-centric society. Okay, maybe this was more important for families with some money in the belt, but I note from Pompeii and Herculaneum that pets were never far away. That said, I also notice that pets don't generally get mentioned in the sources except for perhaps the odd case of something unusual or something touted as evidence of divine favour. I suppose this is partly down to Rome's attitude toward animals. Love them or whip them, they were animals, unable to decide for themselves and bound to human direction (this was why slaves had the same status). Except for funerary items like this, which give a little insight that status was not entirely a fixed view, rather one that varied according to the emotional needs of the owner. After all, there were plenty of men who freed slaves in order to marry them.

  6. It does a ring a bell. But I confess, I'm in the same boat as you, creasing my brow in an effort to recall some fleeting memory of a mention in a source normally left in a dusty library or obscure website. Tell you what. You search your research material, I'll search mine. One of us is going to find him. Join in everybody. X marks the spot.

    Seriously though it does sound familiar. The trouble is so many Romans fell out of favour for transgressions great and small I'm struggling to think who it might be. For a moment I thought of Cicero's son, but no, that didn't fit the bill. I'll keep an eye out for this one.

  7. Roman writers love to 'quote' speeches. Of course they do. Rhetoric was a vital part of a schoolboy education since the youngster was being prepared for a life that might well have involved politics. The problem is that they're making it up more often than not. Possibly the quote from Calgacus is accurate but there's no corroboration. It's a sort of socially acceptable derivation to enliven an otherwise dry account of the past. That said, Tacitus was well aware of the shortcomings of the empire's soldiery, barely wasting any explanation for the mutiny in Pannonia of ad14 (and adds a speech from a soldier to describe the complaints of the legionaries that nobody could have recorded). 

    Britannia was a distant province though. A rebellion there during Hadrian's reign barely gets mentioned in the sources. How serious was it? Who rebelled? Who fought the rebels? Who won? One might suspect an easy victory for the Empire if the event is so casually passed over. had the rebellion been a disaster for Rome, or involved some great tragedy or drama involving the rich and famous, then more detail would have no doubt been dug up. It was, perhaps, thought of as a dull subject with nothing to thrill the reader.

  8. What we don't know is the objective of these presumed reprisals. Official retaliation? Local revenge? Suppression? Criminal activity (Roman soldiers sometimes indulged in a spot of banditry though this was more common in the late empire)?

    I would point out that the quote you gave above is highlighted concerning the actions of the 'barbarians', not the Romans. Or at least that was how I read it. The governor, Paulus Suetonius, is more concerned with preserving the province against the rebellion according to Tacitus.

  9. Shield walls are inherently defensive. The late empire made use of them, but the wider rounded shields of the day made that practicable. Principatal shield were less useful in that regard since they were optimised for personal protection and shaped to allow gaps for men to thrust swords between when in close order melee, and the compromise in spacing made advances just as easy as static defence. Okay, the celebrated testudo was an exception but that was not a hirsute tank. It was a means of advancing with added protection. When you got to the enemy, you had to do something else.

  10. Same thing has happened everywhere in Britain. We used to have an industrial landscape that just doesn't exist any more. Locally, I remember when the canal wharf warehouse was pulled down, or the redevelopment of Little London. That said, in the middle of Old Town, in amongst the tightly packed terraces you can still find country cottages from before the railways came, when Swindon was a small market village on top of the hill.

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  11. 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.

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  12. 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.

  13. 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. 

    1. Guilty of high treason (majestatis rei)
      1. For their worship Christians gathered in secret and at night, making unlawful assembly, and participation in such collegium illicitum or coetus nocturni was equated with a riot.
      2. For their refusal to honor images of the emperor by libations and incense
    2. Dissenters from the state gods (άθεοι, sacrilegi)
    3. Followers of magic prohibited by law (magi, malefici)
    4. Confessors of a religion unauthorized by the law (religio nova, peregrina et illicita), according to the Twelve Tables).

    Interesting but very specific. Feels like the @ of persecuting periods, though I do note the Twelve Tables connection. Odd when you consider the respect the Romans paid to tribal beliefs when they encountered them. The Roman habit of assimilating such beliefs into their own pantheon has less to do with authority than cceptance.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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).

  19. 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?