A Tale of Two Coins

I love when history is fascinating. Let me revise that- history is almost always fascinating but I love it when the people who take the sometimes less popular parts and break it down into truly interesting, digestible pieces. So it is with this short article on inflation and the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage (aka. Hannibal). It very nicely explains how the massive devaluing of Rome’s currency during the war didn’t affect Rome nearly in the same way, or with nearly the same consequences, as the failing currency of Carthage.  Well worth the read and the 2 minutes it takes to read it.

http://www.karwansaraypublishers.com/pw/ancient-warfare/blog/inflation-and-the-second-punic-war/

And if you love ancient history and have never read Ancient Warfare, it is a must!

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Little Man, Big Men

In the early years the relationship between ancient Rome and ancient Judaea wasn’t so bad. There was curiosity exchanged, amusement, even scandal concerning the culture of the other, but there wasn’t any overt animosity or any overly outlandish feelings of discord which could be considered out of the ordinary as far as one country being annexed by another was concerned. This early stage relationship, as we know, didn’t last- something went wrong, something went terribly wrong, and like the fall of Rome itself some centuries later, it wasn’t just one thing which went wrong. Was it a clash of religions and value systems, or cultural disrespect, suppression gone too far?

The answer is all of the above and more, and it is one of the “more” subjects which I want to highlight here for the reason that it’s a quick study on the human condition- which fundamentally never changes no matter the century. While this issue is not as obvious as the forced emperor worship, excessive taxes, and heavy handed dealings of rebellions- not unique for a Roman occupation, this issue is more subvert, that is, the lose-lose situation Judaea’s governors found themselves in. Unlike being granted a prized governorship in Hispania (Spain), or Asia Minor, Judaea was a back water country full of curious monotheists, and then after a few years, full of troublemaking monotheists. Judaea didn’t attract the best leaders from Rome and the men who did get there were mostly committed to getting out and moving up the political ladder as soon as possible. To make the situation even more inconvenient, the ruling royal household, the Hasmoneans/Herodians, a family who recognized early on where the future lay, were pretty buddy-buddy with the emperors themselves, particularly the Herodian family.

“In any case, governors will have been uneasily aware that the political clout in Rome of some members of the Herodian family was considerably greater than theirs. In the first year of his reign, in 54, Nero placed the government of Armenia Minor into the hands of Aristobulus, son of the deceased Herod of Chalcis, for no known reason apart from his royal ancestry. By contrast, all governors of Judaea were of comparatively lowly Roman status- none was a senator, and Felix, governor from c. [AD] 52 to 60, was an ex-slave.”[1]

The passage goes on to tell of how close Judaea’s Agrippa I and Agrippa II were to the emperors of their lifetime, close friends having grown up together in Rome. Eventually the Agrippas went home to Judaea to rule and the future emperors became emperors. Whenever one was in town they went out for some drinks together, caught up with how each other’s families were doing, shared stories of years gone by, and traded ideas about the role each of their respective countries was going to play on the world stage (obviously, this latter topic was a little one sided and imperialistic in its outlook, but hey, we all have a friend like that).

This incomplete triangle dynamic is fascinating because it is not often a rather low level politician gets sent to govern a low level country which was ruled by a royal family of greater clout and sway than the low-level man coming in to implement the will of Rome. Instead of being present with the full glory and might of one of the most outstanding empires in history, these appointed governors were coming in often times as somewhat of a third wheel, just with really fancy armour. Judaea was not yet a province and they were still ruled by their king who was often on better terms and in less trouble with the emperor than the governor himself because of his inability to keep Judaea quiet. Nothing strikes me more as a ripe environment of excessive muscle flexing than the little man trying to be a big man in a monstrous man’s world. Maybe this is one of the overlooked reasons why Judaean governors had such a hard hand in dealing with rebellious Jews and perpetuated a key factor in the coming war: they were hard handed not necessarily because they were exclusively getting annoyed with the Jews, but because they felt like they had to prove their worth in order to stay relevant. In one way this third wheel mentality worked, because Judaea eventually felt the full wrath of Rome and the governors gained a province to rule rather than just to occupy.

It’s something to think consider.

 

[1] Goodman, Martin. “Rome & Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations.” 2007. P.382

Caput Mundi – Beheading and Barbarism on Trajan’s Column

A very interesting, easy to read address of the notion of beheading within the Roman Empire- was it barbaric or an accepted part of Roman warfare? Things you probably never considered….

ROMA INVICTA

Silent enim leges inter arma.”  – “In times of war, the law falls silent.”

Cicero, Pro Milone

When we think of the Roman Army at war, the image we have is likely one of order and discipline; tight battle lines of endlessly drilled soldiers, obedient to every command, calculating and composed in their delivery of death.  All in direct contrast to their enemy, of course: a frenzied mass of berserk (and bearded) barbarians – ungodly, unlawful and unrestrained in their brutality.

The outbreak of war is, by definition, a breakdown in humanity and history has shown us that atrocities follow quickly on its heels. This was no truer than in the Ancient World where evidence clearly shows us that the civilised Romans were every bit as capable of barbarism as their hairy enemies.

One such startling piece of evidence can be seen on the scroll of Trajan’s Column

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The Who of March?

This is the day past the Ides of March and what does that mean to you?

a) One day closer to St. Patty’s

b) Another mispronunciation of Idina Menzel

c) Vae! Vae! Vae! The first night has passed since great tragedy! (Or, if you’re Shakespeare, then the first night has passed FOR a great tragedy)

d) It’s almost Spring. Except in Canada where it’s still snowing.

While answer A is acceptable, the most correct answer is of coarse C, and also D but that’s beside the point, this is the first full day after one of the most monumental in history. The tale of Gauis Julius Caesar’s assassination has been passed down to us from the pen of the victor which automatically makes us predisposed to believing that Caesar’s early exit from life is one of the greatest  thieveries to have happened to humanity.  In 44 B.C. when Caesar was assassinated he had been in the seat of sole power for about 4 years meaning that he pretty much WAS the law. Having  non-expiring powers to override the Senate and the Roman citizens, both having been theoretical safety nets to protect the Roman people from tyrant-kings, though their ability to protect from tyrannical behaviour decreased wildly in the latter part of the Republic, Julius Caesar put himself on a mission to craft a stable and glorious Rome fixing the problems which had threatened to destroy the great empire from the inside out for over a century.

The effectiveness of Caesar’s measures can be divisive to those who study them as we’ll never know if they would have actually worked as Caesar envisioned them. The biggest question about Caesar’s reforms is once the problem of instability was fixed, would Caesar have relinquished his power back to a restabilized Senate so that the glory of the Republic could continue on again? History tells us that the odds are oppressively stacked against the belief that he would have relinquished his hard fought authority, and if he did, as his predecessor Sulla miraculously did when he seized the dictatorship to “fix” Rome , then someone else would have invariably stepped into the vacancy; at this point in history Rome was too broken to ever go back to a the ways of the Republic. Some people side with Brutus, Cassius and the other conspirators who believe Rome would have been no better off under Caesar’s reforms and it was best that he was assassinated. Others believe that Caesar was onto something great and he was one of Rome’s greatest losses. So let us take a quick look through some of Julius Caesar’s great reforms that were left incomplete by his untimely demise.

1) He wanted to rebirth a strong governing body, one not so weakened by infighting and vanity that it was held nearly useless and even detrimental. The head of the Roman senate, the consuls, changed every year by election and the rapid turnover made consistent law making and enforcement difficult at best. The Man with a Plan, Julius Caesar, made himself the constant governmental force so that the vision didn’t get lost.

2) By increasing and decreasing the powers of certain offices, Caesar restructured how political power was wielded, both by increasing the powers associated with his office as dictator, and also by minimizing the more pesky or overbloated offices.

3) The size of the senate was dramatically increased.  Decimated by civil wars and proscriptions, Caesar repopulated it at its new cap of 900 people (up from 300). These 600 new senators were loyal to Caesar and they also represented much of northern Italy and other pockets of citizens which had been in Rome’s fold for quite some time but had no representation in the Senate. Six hundred new senators also meant severely diluting the power held by the 300 traditional families beforehand.

4) Provincial governors were limited in how long they could hold office in their province having to leave office after either one or two years depending on the category of province.  While this would help curb the severe mismanagement that tended to happen, it also prevented any governor from forming a position of power with which to challenge Caesar. Which, incidentally, is exactly the path to power Ceasar had taken to get to where he was in 44 B.C.

5) Caesar took great strides to making Italy a province and tightening the bond between the different Italian tribes addressing some of the greatest grievances the Italians had against the Romans. He also tightened the bond with the other provinces creating greater equality with them. Ultimately bringing the provinces closer to Rome and increasing the relationship with them was a measure brought to deeper completion under Augustus.

6) Large land owners were forced to have at least 1/3 of their labour force to be employed freed citizens to help alleviate the jobless mob. He also founded numerous colonies to help settle many others into productive lives.

Interested in learning a bit more? While you could go to Wikipedia, I would first suggest this page here: Caesar the Dictator guaranteed to be written by someone who knows what they’re talking about, in easy language and short in length.

Happy Ides of March everyone!!

I, Caligula- Review of “Caligula”

Originally published on UNRV.com a few years ago, the recommendation still stands. Excellent little book that really plays the devil’s advocate on one of Rome’s most infamous rulers.

 

Crazy. Insane. Out of control. Egotistical. Blood-thirsty. Psychotic. This is just a sample of adjectives stereotypically ascribed to many of the Roman emperors, but were the emperors really as mad as common, popular belief teaches us they were? Were they honestly as looney, messed up and deranged as befitting a perfectly wild addition to a morbid rendition of “Alice in Wonderland”? Sam Wilkinson, professor of Classics at the University of London, in his 128 page pamphlet “Caligula”, does his best to weed out fact from such superficial assumptions on everyone’s favourite nefarious megalomaniac, Gaius Caligula. This study is a fascinating counterbalance to the general biographies on Caligula that tend to simply present the ancient sources and not spend sufficient energies on testing the sources for accuracy over bias.

Wilkinson sets about his myth-busting, for that is really what this book is about, by assuming that all the sources are wrong and that they must be debunked, or proven, by looking at the results of the events that were said to transpire during Caligula’s reign. He does this mostly by judging the reactions of the populace to Caligula’s measures and by checking for the continuation of the ordinances on into Claudius’ reign. In a conclusion that would have been better set as a forward to this study that challenges everything typically taught about Caligula, Wilkinson lays out his thesis that Caligula was “competent” and “intelligent” and his only real crime was not having the wisdom to properly deal with the Senate. Caligula was, in essence, an emperor before his time. As such, the insulted and rebuffed senatorial historians did their best to vilify Caligula as the mentally unstable and tyrannical despot that today we know and mostly love. This is not a revolutionary conclusion on its own, but it is the lengths to which the conclusion is mapped out which defines this pamphlet.

As a foundation to his study, Wilkinson gives a brief history of Caligula’s upbringing. The years spent with Tiberius on Caprae do not factor into his argument as much as previous studies have incorporated it as a likely birthing place for Caligula’s depravity. Wilkinson then divides Caligula’s reign into four chapter-categories which are then individually studied for either madness or rationality. These areas are Caligula’s domestic policy, foreign policy, the maiestas trials and his own assignation, and finally, his dealings with the Senate. Each section is further divided into study areas such as “Public Administration” and “Entertainment” under his domestic policy and various geographical regions such as Africa, Judaea and Britain for his foreign policy. For each section Wilkinson first looks at what the various ancient sources say about the event and then looks at the results of it from a less biased angle, such as looking backwards from Claudius’ reign.

For example, one of the theme complaints against Caligula was his spendthrift habits driving the Empire into debt and forever causing Caligula to go to new lows to try and replenish the coffers. Yet excessive spending was a stock accusation often employed by historians against authorities ill-liked. The line between private wealth and income earned as an emperor is problematic to discern, and should Caligula’s condemned personal extravagances have been taken from his private wealth, then vilification for stealing from the State is unfair. When Claudius came to power he had the funds available to heavily pay out to the praetorians- 15,000 sesterces to each praetorian, in addition to giving rich gifts to the city, a sure sign that the State was not run dry. So with points such as these Wilkinson concludes that by Caligula’s heavy spending, bankruptcy may have been a grave contemporary concern, but it did not necessarily occur.

Then there is Caligula’s bizarre trip to the Gallic beaches and his very strange attempt at an invasion of Britain. In a story that makes Caligula out to be madder than Xerxes whipping the Hellespont waters for its defiance, Wilkinson breaks Caligula’s British “war” down as thoroughly as he can giving the impression that this is the crowning moment of his study, that to bring logical rationality to Caligula’s action here would surely prove that it is possible to unwind Caligula’s entire reign into revealing a shrewd, yet very sane, man. Wilkinson does a good job trying to make sense of something that is very difficult to work around, in contrast to, say, naming his horse to the Senate being easily dismissed as ill tasted humour. Though, for me, it is here that I became a bit drowned in all the rationalizing attempts and so the concluding statement that, “Instead of a farce, we find a sensible and simple foreign policy in Gaius’ actions with….the Britons” came as something of a sideswipe and I was too overwhelmed to bother trying a second time to follow Wilkinson’s argument.

And thus, the strength of this book in forcing the ancient sources to prove themselves is also this book’s greatest weakness. Wilkinson is so intent on bringing out Caligula’s sanity that he sometimes seems to ignore the time proven test that the simple is usually more truthful than having to jump through five hoops first before it fits the theory. There are moments when you simply are not able to allow yourself to lose yourself in Wilkinson’s version of Caligula and then there are times you really let yourself believe that Caligula was not so much the problem as it was the ruling elite. Maybe it is possible that Caligula was just a despot before his time, a time when the ruling class had not given up enough of the Republic ideal to let him rest in peace for posterity; maybe? Overall this book is something of a fascinating read and truly does provide the other side of the coin. I would not suggest it as an introductory text to the emperor but would recommend it to anyone interested in investigating a more realistic Caligula.

Liebster Award

A big thank you to TheLeatherLibrary for nominating me for the Liebster Award, an award given to those with fewer than 200 followers; its the blogging world’s version of the comforting pat on the back, and I gladly accept this comfort food on behalf of my little blog (but let’s make this a short lived award and get all your friends to follow me too :D). TheLeatherLibrary has been a great joy following and I certainly suggest you go and follow him.

Awards aren’t free so here’s the rules I must follow to complete the nomination:

  • Each nominee must link back the person who nominated them.
  • Answer the 10 questions which are given to you by the nominator.
  • Nominate 10 other bloggers for this award who have less than 200 followers.
  • Create 10 questions for your nominees to answer.
  • Let the nominees know that they have been nominated by going to their blog and notifying them

Here are my answers to the questions posed to me:

1. Favourite film based on literature- The Middle-Earth epic saga. There’s just no contest here. The love and respect put into the films comes out with singing, and for all the die hard purists out there, be glad we didn’t have a director of lesser conviction get behind the camera!

2. Favourite Literature (any kind)- Suspense. I get super picky about the fantasy I read because some of it is too weird and too “fantasy-ish” for my liking, so for anyone who knows me and think that I answered wrongly, the suspense genre is more likely to have more successes in this umbrella than fantasty.

3. Favourite author- J.R.R. Tolkien. His brilliance at fiction is unparalleled. However, that being said, my two favourite suspense authors are Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti and I often refer back to them while writing my own novel.  Tom Holland and Adrian Goldsworthy are my favourite non-fiction authors.

4. Favourite subject to study on your spare time– Roman history, the 2nd century BC through the 1st century AD, specifically its politics and politicians and how that affected their wars, their internal struggles and interactions with other cultures.

5. Your favourite philosophy and philosopher– I really don’t have a favourite philosophy or philosopher. I took one class on Sophocles/Plato and walked back out through that door of interest once I passed in my final paper. There’s some interesting stuff to be said in philosophy but I’ll just get the Wikipedia version of it should the need ever move me.

6. Favourite ancient civilization, and why– Obviously Ancient Rome. If you ask a man why he loves his woman you will get everything from the simple to the long winded, but all the answer you really need is that secret smile of love and the statement that I just couldn’t live without her.

7. Favourite book Saga (if not than favourite film saga)Lord of the Rings for the win again. I do, however, have to give a nod to Game of Thrones for its very detailed world of people and its ability to use most of those people to weave a web of story that has so many legs to propel itself forward that you wonder if ever again you will believe the theory that you are ever powerless in this world.

8. Favourite tv series, why– I am Sher-locked. I hold Sherlock up at a different level of television, the kind that the world was barely ready for. It has employed story telling techniques and editing rarely, if ever seen before, wit, intelligence, crafty suspense, above par acting and script writing and cleverness that inspires people to use their brain. When the Chinese write asking British PM David Cameron to ask the BBC to hurry up production, and when the same man asks the producers to put more episodes into each season, I think there is something to be said for the show.

9. Favourite historical movie (doesnt have to be historically accurate)Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven (Extended Edition for the later otherwise it can be hard to fully follow the first time around).

10. why do you blog? What/Who inspired you to begin you blog– I began this blog to allow my friends and family to keep up with the adventures I had while studying in Rome. I kept this blog because I wanted to challenge myself to focus on my writing and sharing it with the world. The world doesn’t need *another* writer, but maybe someone somewhere could find a different perspective refreshing and adventurous.

Ten other bloggers in nomination for the Liebster Award: (please excuse me if you do actually have more than 200 followers, I mean no insult, you don’t have to accept. I may have just missed your follower count 🙂 )

  1. BuildingTheClockroom Before you freak out saying “AH! This is a tumblr account, not a *blog* site and not even a WordPress, this is a progress blog of a good friend of mine for an epic story he has begun.
  2. BooknVolumne
  3. ATolkienist’sPerspective
  4. FaithandFantasyAlliance
  5. MusingsFromAWardrobe
  6. Kuppajodotcom
  7. TimeMaps
  8. InteractiveAncients
  9. SleepingWithTheCat
  10. ALocalWanderer’sMusings

 

My ten questions for the nominees to answer:

  1.  The most unforgettable fictional character and what makes them so unforgettable
  2.  The most unforgettable historical figure and why
  3.  If you could create your perfect country made up of pieces of other lands (fictional or real) what would it look like?
  4.  The one country you have no real desire to visit
  5.  Are you a baker or a cooker?
  6.  How DO they get the caramilk into the Caramilk bar????
  7.  What does the fox say?
  8.  The one sport you will stay up (or get up for) to watch at the Sochi Olympics
  9.  What is your guilty pleasure go-to music?
  10.  The one question you were kinda hoping I’d ask you….then the answer to it!