Some High- and Lowlights of Roman History

There can be nobody so petty or so apathetic in his outlook that he has no desire to discover by what means and under what system of government the Romans succeeded in...bringing under their rule almost the whole of the inhabited world.

Polybius Histories 1.1.5
Ca. 2nd Millennium BC Bronze age -- Archeological Remains Archeology reveals human remains, elk bones, bronze artifacts (rings, axes, etc.) The relationship, if any, of these people to the Romans is unclear.
Ca. 1st Millennium BC Iron age

The Etruscans A sedentary people who inhabited the Italian Peninsula prior to the Romans. They are often described as a mysterious people, as our sources for them are scarce. Many questions remain to be answered regarding the Etruscan culture, its origins, and its relation to the beginnings of Rome.

753 BC Legendary Founding of Rome While most would have it that Rome was named for Romulus who outwitted his brother Remus for control of the new settlement, Plutarch is clear that: "from whom, and for what reason, the city of Rome, a name so great in glory, and famous in the mouths of all men, was so first called, authors do not agree..." The fact is that the origin for the name of the new settlement of Rome is as likely a woman as it is a man -- or so said Plutarch. Modern scholorship leans toward the ide that both Rome and Romulus derived their names from the Etruscan name for the Tiber River, which appears to have been "Ruma".

The early history of Rome is mythical and legendary, and our sources come centuries after the facts. ( .)

Ca. 7th Cen. BC The Vestal Virgins: From the time of our earliest records, women were highly involved in a direct and important way with systems of worship. During Pagan times, before the rise of a male dominated Christian bureaucracy, women played a leading role in spiritual activities. Superstition permeated the daily life of the ancient Roman. They believed, for instance, that present events could be observed and interpreted to reveal future events. This is called augury. Women were often involved with divination practices at temples. It is important to note the systematic, sacred, and ritualized form of the interpretive process. While now understood as fallacy, the disciplined observation of data nevertheless laid roots for future arts and sciences. Augury was a form of scholarship.

Another sacred role held by women was that of the Vestal Virgin. One of the Vestal's sacred duties was to keep alive the vesta "fire of Rome", for if it were to be extinguished, it would bring great evil to Rome and its people.

Plutarch tells us that: "At first they say that Gegania and Verenia were made priestesses by Numa, and next Canuleia and Tarpeia. Later Servius added two more... The king set the term of service for the holy virgins at thirty years; in the first decade they learn their duties, in the middle decade they do what they have learned, and in the third they teach others. .. After that a virgin is free to marry if she wishes to or to adopt another style of life..."

and further...

"...Numa gave them significant honors, one of which is the right to make a will during their father's lifetime and to conduct their other business affairs without a guardian, like the mothers of three children... if they accidentally happen to meet a criminal being led to execution, his life is spared. The virgin must swear that the meeting was involuntary and accidental and not planned. Anyone who goes underneath a Vestal's litter when she is being carried is put to death.

The Virgins' minor offences are punished by beating, which is administered by the Pontifex, with the offender naked, and in a dark place with a curtain set up between them. A Virgin who is seduced is buried alive near what is known as the Colline gate. ..."

On more than one occasion, Vestals were found to be sexually active, and priests are known to have been responsible. These Vestals were buried alive.

509 BC The Republican Revolution: The Etruscan monarchy is overthrown and the Republic is established The historical record of the early kings of Rome is hostile, the early monarchy was overthrown and banished. The history of this period is a mixture of myth and fact, passed on as oral tradition until recorded centuries later by historians such as Livy and Diodorus. Apparently, Rome was ruled by seven kings from 753 BC until 509 BC, when Tarquinius Superbus was defeated in a popular rebellion. The idea of the Republic became an icon, the honor of which all future leaders would have to publicly ascribe.

The Republican Revolution established principles of self government which Romans would nostalgically emulate even in the Augustan age. That the primary sources recording this important event are largely historical myth is frustrating to the modern scholar, they are more valuable for what they reveal towards the Roman idea of virtue, morality, and the Roman perception of the ideal woman, than actual events.

The cause of the revolution is said to be the rape of Lucretia.

509 BC The rape of Lucretia: according to numerous historians, as well as Roman notables such as Cicero, the spark which ignited the Republican Revolution was the indignation incited when Sextus Tarquin, the son of the reigning Etruscan monarch Tarquinius Superbus, raped the virtuous Lucretia, who Romans idolized as the perfect wife and ideal woman. Livy explains how Roman men came to prove Lucretia as the ideal woman: "The royal princes sometimes spent their leisure hours in feasting and entertainments, and at a wine party given by Sextus Tarquinius at which Collatinus, the son of Egerius, was present, the conversation happened to turn upon their wives, and each began to speak of his own in terms of extraordinarily high praise. As the dispute became warm Collatinu said that there was no need of words, it could in a few hours be ascertained how far his Lucretia was superior to all the rest. "Why do we not," he exclaimed, "if we have any youthful vigour about us mount our horses and pay your wives a visit and find out their characters on the spot?"

While other wives were found in various states of wantonness, Lucretia was: "very differently employed from the king's daughters-in-law, whom they had seen passing their time in feasting and luxury with their acquaintances. She was sitting at her wool work in the hall, late at night, with her, maids busy round her. The palm in this competition of wifely virtue was awarded to Lucretia."

Her virtue only served to make her the target of Sextus Tarquin. Livy goes on to say that: "Sextus Tarquin, inflamed by the beauty and exemplary purity of Lucretia, formed the vile project of effecting her dishonour."

Sextus Tarquin "went in the frenzy of his passion with a naked sword to the sleeping Lucretia, and placing his left hand on her breast, said, "Silence, Lucretia! I am Sextus Tarquin, and I have a sword in my hand; if you utter a word, you shall die." When the woman, terrified out of her sleep, saw that no help was near, and instant death threatening her, Tarquin began to confess his passion, pleaded, used threats as well as entreaties, and employed every argument likely to influence a female heart...he threatened to disgrace her, declaring that he would lay the naked corpse of the slave by her dead body, so that it might be said that she had been slain in foul adultery. By this awful threat, his lust triumphed over her inflexible chastity, and Tarquin went off exulting in having successfully attacked her honour. Lucretia, overwhelmed with grief at such a frightful outrage, sent a messenger to her father at Rome and to her husband at Ardea, asking them to come to her..."

Her husband and father at her side, they attempted to console her, philosophically explaining that: "it is the mind that sins not the body, and where there has been no consent there is no guilt."

Nevertheless, Lucretia could not bear to live with her honor forsaken. "She had a knife concealed in her dress which she plunged into her, heart, and fell dying on the floor. Her father and husband raised the death-cry."

Later "They carried the body of Lucretia from her home down to the Forum, where, owing to the unheard-of atrocity of the crime, they at once collected a crowd. Each had his own complaint to make of the wickedness and violence of the royal house..."

Incited by the sight of the dead Lucretia, and spurned on by speeches advocating revolution, the crowd successfully overthrew Tarquinius Superbus, and established a republican government headed by two consuls.

Cicero said that: "Lucretia having been ravished by force by the king's son, having invoked the citizens to revenge her, slew herself. And this indignation of hers was the cause of liberty to the state."

Diodorus recorded that Lucretia "who renounced life of her own will in order that later generations might emulate her deed we should judge to be fittingly worthy of immortal praise, in order that women who choose to maintain the purity of their persons altogether free from censure may compare themselves with an authentic example."

509 - 265 Territorial Expansion

494 BC The protest of the plebeians and the establishment of the plebeian tribunate: In what the Roman annalists cited as the first of three organised class protests by the plebeians, their demands of establishing a political council, called the plebeian tribunate, led by two plebeian tribunes, was realized.

Rome's class divisions were clearly identifiable and institutionalized, yet attempting to fit them to a modern parallel only provides unsatisfactory anachronisms. The plebeians, as a class, were, in the beginning at least, the less wealthy, and fought for political rights, many of which they gained over time. The patricians were the aristocratic class whose leading families supplied Rome with it's political and military leaders. Those families whose wealth allowed them to support and provide a horse in a military campaign, came to be called the equestrians, or equites. Beginning in 443 BC these distinctions were recorded by two censors, upon the taking of the census. One's status was an important factor in voting rights, as votes were not counted on an individual basis, but derived from from groups, usually called tribes. The censor determined the group to which one would belong.

The foundation of both the Republic and Empire was not based solely upon the forces of conquest, but also upon the forces of labour. Rome's slaves played an enormous role in daily activities, and ultimately Rome's success. Slaves themselves occupied a wide spectrum spanning class divisions from the Greek tutor who would initiate Patrician youth in the sophistications of Hellenism, to the gladiator whose life was at the mercy of the mob.

471 BC Lex Publilia Voleronis Recognizes Concilium of the Plebeians and Tribunes: This ancient law granted further political rights to the plebeians. In this year the number of Plebeian tribunes was raised from two to five.*/Lex_Publilia.html

Ca. 449 BC The Laws of the Twelve Tables: The laws of the Twelve Tables are one of the earliest extant law codes. Covering both civil and criminal matters, it is commonly believed that these laws served to codify existing custom. The actual codes do not survive, nor do we have them in their entirety. The extant codes have been compiled from fragments and references to them by authors such as Cicero. Roman historians tell us that the plebeians demanded written laws in order to protect them from the caprices of patrician magistrates, and again, as in 494, protested by seceding from Rome. Some modern scholars dispute this occurrence as an actual historical event. The tables provide not only a valuable insight into Roman law, but into Roman culture as well.

Here are some excerpts:

"Quickly kill ... a dreadfully deformed child.

If a father thrice surrender a son for sale, the son shall be free from the father.

A child born ten months after the father's death will not be admitted into a legal inheritance.

Females shall remain in guardianship even when they have attained their majority ... except Vestal Virgins.

A spendthrift is forbidden to exercise administration over his own goods.

Persons shall mend roadways. If they do not keep them laid with stone, a person shall drive his beasts where he wishes.

It is permitted to gather fruit falling down on another man's farm.

If any person has sung or composed against another person a song such as was causing slander or insult to another, he shall be clubbed to death.

If a person has maimed another's limb, let there be retaliation in kind unless he makes agreement for settlement with him.

Intermarriage shall not take place between plebeians and patricians..."

445 BC The Lex Canuleia: This law, a product of the continuing struggle between Patricians and Plebeians referred to as The Conflict of the Orders, allowed Patricians and Plebeians to intermarry.*/Matrimonium.html

437-426 BC The Roman Fidenaen war: A seminal event, Rome's success in its first major wars, first against the town of Fidenae, followed by its defeat of the Etruscan city of Veii in 406-396 BC, are seen by some historians as laying the foundation for the militaristic underpinnings of Roman society. Success in these wars allowed for its expansion of territory, and now, as a proven formidable opponent, Rome was seen as a potential danger by some, and a desired ally by others.*/3.html

300 BC The Ogulnian law: Named after the tribunes Gnaeus and Quintus Ogulnius, this law, illustrative of a continuing class struggle which manifested various legislative, political, and social reforms, ended the near patrician monopoly over constructing laws and legal procedure. The Ogulnian law increased the number of pontiffs from four to eight, and the number of augurs from four to nine. Most importantly, it required that the new positions were to be filled by plebeians.

287 BC The third secession of the plebeians: As the primary sources for this event are either lost or lacking, the actual events and their consequences are largely conjecture. What we do know is that for the first time, a plebeian, Quintus Hortensius, was made dictator. The rank of dictator in this instance is constitutional and was subject to legal restrictions, and is not to be confused with the later dictatorships of Sulla, Julius Caesar, or the contemporary use of the term.

264 BC-146 BC The Punic Wars: Essentially, the three Punic Wars served to enhance and secure Roman dominance in the larger Mediterranean region. Carthage, a major city-state in North Africa, was eventually destroyed by Rome, thus ending the Third Punic War. The ground of Carthage is said to have been laid with salt in order to prevent the redevelopment of griculture. 

200-118 BC Polybius writes about the Republican The Constitution of the Roman Republic: The eventual and on-going codification of the Roman constitution was mostly the product of conflict between organized segments of Roman society. Later, the brothers Tiberius and Caius Gracchus would again serve as example of this. Today they are by some seen as heroic martyrs who fought the noble battle of the common people. To the aristocrats, they were exploiters of civil unrest in a quest to foil the Republic.

Ca. 185 b. BC Cornelia Gracchus: It is unlikely that one will find a woman held in higher esteem by the Roman people than Cornelia Gracchus. Cornelia was the daughter of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major, the conqueror of Hannibal in the Second Punic War, and wife of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus the elder who, Plutarch tells us "had been once censor, twice consul, and twice had triumphed, yet was more renowned and esteemed for his virtue than his honors." Nevertheless, Cornelia remains famous in her own right.

Plutarch wrote that: "after the death of Scipio who overthrew Hannibal, (Tiberius Sempronius) was thought worthy to match with his daughter Cornelia, though there had been no friendship or familiarity between Scipio and him, but rather the contrary."

Cornelia bore 12 children, however only three lived to adulthood, the famous brothers Tiberius and Caius, who died championing the rights of the common people, and daughter Sempronia, wife of Scipio Aemilianus (Scipio the Younger) the destroyer of Carthage.

After the death of her husband Tiberius in 154 BC: "Cornelia, taking upon herself all the care of the household and the education of her children, approved herself so discreet a matron, so affectionate a mother, and so constant and noble-spirited a widow, that Tiberius seemed to all men to have done nothing unreasonable in choosing to die for such a woman; who, when King Ptolemy himself proffered her his crown, and would have married her, refused it, and chose rather to live a widow."  

Tiberius, Caius, and Sempronia "she brought up with such care, that though they were without dispute in natural endowments and dispositions the first among the Romans of their time, yet they seemed to owe their virtues even more to their education than to their birth."

Cornelia is credited with inspiring her children towards civic duty, and ensuring that they obtained the education necessary to accomplish great deeds. As the attitudes towards the agrarian democratic reforms proposed by her sons ranged from outrage to admiration, so too does opinion towards Cornelia, as to whether she motivated her sons action, or sought to temper their brashness.

As Plutarch says: "some have also charged Cornelia, the mother of Tiberius, with contributing towards it, because she frequently upbraided her sons, that the Romans as yet rather called her the daughter of Scipio, than the mother of the Gracchi."

Cornelia lived in a period of political turmoil, of which her family was often the center. Clearly Cornelia exercised political influence. Her son Caius "proposed two laws. The first was, that whoever was turned out of any public office by the people, should be thereby rendered incapable of bearing any office afterwards; the second, that if any magistrate condemn a Roman to be banished without a legal trial, the people be authorized to take cognizance thereof.

One of these laws was manifestly leveled at Marcus Octavius, who, at the instigation of Tiberius, had been deprived of his tribuneship. The other touched Popilius, who, in his praetorship, had banished all Tiberius's friends; whereupon Popilius, being unwilling to stand the hazard of a trial, fled out of Italy. As for the former law, it was withdrawn by Caius himself, who said he yielded in the case of Octavius, at the request of his mother Cornelia."

The Roman citizenry "had a great veneration for Cornelia, not more for the sake of her father than for that of her children; and they afterwards erected a statue of brass in honour of her, with this inscription, Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi."

Plutarch ends his Life of Caius Gracchus with an eloquent description of Cornelia: "It is reported that as Cornelia, their mother, bore the loss of her two sons with a noble and undaunted spirit, so, in reference to the holy places in which they were slain, she said, their dead bodies were well worthy of such sepulchres. She removed afterwards, and dwelt near the place called Misenum, not at all altering her former way of living. She had many friends, and hospitably received many strangers at her house; many Greeks and learned men were continually about her; nor was there any foreign prince but received gifts from her and presented her again. Those who were conversant with her, were much interested, when she pleased to entertain them with her recollections of her father Scipio Africanus, and of his habits and way of living. But it was most admirable to hear her make mention of her sons, without any tears or sign of grief, and give the full account of all their deeds and misfortunes, as if she had been relating the history of some ancient heroes. This made some imagine, that age, or the greatness of her afflictions, had made her senseless and devoid of natural feelings. But they who so thought were themselves more truly insensible not to see how much a noble nature and education avail to conquer any affliction; and though fortune may often be more successful, and may defeat the efforts of virtue to avert misfortunes, it cannot, when we incur them, prevent our hearing them reasonably."

163-133 BC Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus was elected tribune of the people in 133 BC, and fought for reforms of benefit to the plebeians. He was murdered by opponents. Appian, in the Civil Wars, describes the murder of Tiberius and his followers:

The senators wrenched clubs from the very hands of the followers of Gracchus, or with pieces of torn-up benches or other things that had been brought for the use of the comitia, began mauling them and in hot pursuit, drove them over the precipice. In the riot many followers of Gracchus were killed and Gracchus himself, being seized near the temple, was slain at the door near the statues of the kings. All the corpses were thrown into the Tiber at night.

Thus died on the Capitol and while still tribune, Tiberius Gracchus, the son of the Gracchus who was twice consul and of Cornelia, the daughter of the Scipio that conquered Carthage. He lost his life because he followed up an excellent plan in too lawless a way. This awful occurrence, the first of the kind that took place in the public assembly, was never long without a new parallel thereafter. On the matter of the killing of Gracchus, the city was divided between grief and joy. Some sorrowed for themselves and him and bewailed the existing state of affairs, believing that the republic no longer existed, but had been usurped by coercion and violence. Others congratulated themselves that everything had turned out just as they wanted it to.

Ca.157-86 BC Gaius Marius was a Roman general and statesman who led the popular party in the civil war of 88 to 86 BC. Strong individuals enjoyed a cult of personality which proved competitive to the constitutionally prescribed system of two consuls. An essential political theme in Roman political history is the near continuous conflict between republicans and those seeking dictatorship. Consul in 107, 104, 103, 102, 101, 100.

153-121 BC Caius Sempronius Gracchus was the brother of Tiberius and son of Cornelia. He was elected tribune of the people in 123 BC, and attempted the continuation of popular reforms. He, like his brother, was murdered.

Cicero explains: "Tiberius Gracchus brought forward an Agrarian law. It was very acceptable to the people; the fortunes of the poorer classes appeared likely to be established by it. The nobles strove against it, because they saw that discord was excited by it; and because, as the object of it was to deprive the wealthy men of their ancient possessions, they thought that by it the republic was being deprived of its defenders. Caius Gracchus brought forward a law respecting corn. It was a very pleasing proposal to the common people at Rome; for food was to be supplied to them in abundance without any trouble. The good resisted it because they thought that its effect would be to lead the common people away from industry to idleness, and because the treasury was likely to be drained by such a measure."

This struggle, primarily, was based upon class. Plutarch tells us that "having cleared himself of every suspicion, and proved his entire innocence, he now at once came forward to ask for the tribuneship; in which, though he was universally opposed by all persons of distinction, yet there came such infinite numbers of people from all parts of Italy to vote for Caius, that lodgings for them could not be supplied in the city; and the Field being not large enough to contain the assembly, there were numbers who climbed upon the roofs and the tilings of the houses to use their voices in his favour. However, the nobility so far forced the people to their pleasure and disappointed Caius's hope, that he was not returned the first, as was expected, but the fourth tribune. But when he came to the execution of his office, it was seen presently who was really first tribune, as he was a better orator than any of his contemporaries..."

138-78 BC Lucius Cornelius Sulla was a Roman general and statesman, led the aristocratic party during the civil war of 88 to 86 BC. Sulla overcame all opposition and eventually became dictator of Rome. Sulla began what is known as the proscriptions, whereby he published lists of so-called public enemies who were to be summarily executed and whose property was confiscated by the state. He resigned in 79 BC.   

133 BC The City of the Sun: The Slave Revolt of Aristonicus: Upon his death, Attalus III of Pergamum bequeathed his kingdom to Rome. This was resisted, and a rebellion ensued, led by Aristonicus, who enlisted slaves and the dispossessed into his rebel army. Along with the philosopher Blossius, who had tutored and supported Tiberius Gracchus, and had fled to Pergamum after Tiberius' death, Aristonicus sought to establish an idealistic utopian kingdom which he called the City of the Sun, with its inhabitants whom he called Heliopolitae, followers of the sun god Helios.

Strabo in his Geography, tells us that: After Smyrna one comes to Leucae, a small town, which after the death of Attalus Philometor was caused to revolt by Aristonicus, who was reputed to belong to the royal family and intended to usurp the kingdom. Now he was banished from Smyrna, after being defeated in a naval battle near the Cymaean territory by the Ephesians, but he went up into the interior and quickly assembled a large number of resourceless people, and also of slaves, invited with a promise of freedom, whom he called Heliopolitae. Now he first fell upon Thyateira unexpectedly, and then got possession of Apollonis, and then set his efforts against other fortresses. But he did not last long; the cities immediately sent a large number of troops against him, and they were assisted by Nicomedes the Bithynian and by the kings of the Cappadocians. Then came five Roman ambassadors, and after that an army under Publius Crassus the consul, and after that Marcus Perpernas, who brought the war to an end, having captured Aristonicus alive and sent him to Rome. Now Aristonicus ended his life in prison; Perpernas died of disease; and Crassus, attacked by certain people in the neighborhood of Leucae, fell in battle.

Blossius committed suicide, Pergamum became the Roman province of Asia.

136 BC-132 BC The first servile war: the slave revolt of Eunus: Juggler, diviner, leader, slave, and self-appointed king, Eunus led a slave revolt which successfully took over the city of Enna in Syracuse, defeated numerous Roman battalions, and took four years to be overthrown. Eventually, the consul Lucius Calpurnius Piso, and his successor, Publius Rupilius, defeated Eunus, who now called himself King Antioch. Eunus was captured and imprisoned, where he died. Cicero, no friend of Eunus, used these slaves as an example in Against Verres, and condemned Verres as being worse than the slaves: "For while Publius Popillius and Publius Rupilius were consuls, slaves, runaway slaves, and barbarians, and enemies, were in possession of that place (Enna); but yet the slaves ware not so much slaves to their own masters, as you are to your passions; nor did the runaways flee from their masters as far as you flee from all aws and from all right; nor were the barbarians as barbarous in language and in race as you were in your nature and your habits; nor were the enemies as much enemies to men as you are to the immortal gods. How, then, can a man beg for any mercy who has surpassed slaves in baseness, runaway slaves in rashness, barbarians in wickedness, and enemies in inhumanity?"

115 BC-53 AD Marcus Licinius Crassus: Roman politician, member of the First Triumvirate, defeated Spartacus, killed in battle at Carrhae
      106 BC Gnaeus Pompeius (Magnus): Pompey, or Pompey the Great, was an important Roman politician and military leader, a member of the First Triumvirate, and he helped to defeat Spartacus during the slave uprisings. Later opposed Julius Caesar's takeover of the City and defeated by Julius in the Peninsular War.

      106 BC-43 BC Marcus Tullius Cicero: A gifteded orator and political statesman, Cicero is reputed to have said that he wished posterity to remember him as a philosopher, yet it is for his political acumen that he is most famed. In Cicero's numerous writings, many of which consist of his eloquent defense or prosecution of notable Romans, he presents a conservative, incorruptible, defense of the Republic. However, close reading of his prosecutions and defenses indicate that he was a typical unprincpled lawyer of his day. His oratorical attacks upon Antony cost him his life. He was brutally murdered in 43 BC.

        Marcus Tullius TIro was a slave of Cicero, who manumitted him around 54 B.C.. He was a man of high intelligence, kept Cicero's speeches, letters and financial affairs in good order, and was apparently on the best levels of friendship with Cicero. Pliny suggested a homosexual relationship but that has been generally ignored because of Cicero's puritanical character and familiar devotion. Tiro wrote several books, a treatise on grammar and even some poetry according to this remark in Book 16 18,3 "Sedtu nullosne tecum libellos? an pangis aliquid Sophocleum? facopus appareat." Any books there? Writing Sophoclean? Let's seeit!

        Tiro's health was weak and Cicero was continually worried about it, as these letters show. This was partly a personal consideration but also shows how dependent Cicero was on his faithful secretary. Despite health problems, Tiro bought a farm after the master's death and lived on to the great old age of a hundred. We know so little about familiar terms of address among men in this period that we can't tell if Cicero was overdoing the cordiality of his feelings toward Tiro, which do seem to modern taste somewhat excessive to northern manners used to a firm handshake among male friends. But Italy now is different and for Italy then we cannot speak.

        Tiro was the father of "Tironian Annotation", a system he developed for recording Cicero's speeches real-time, in other words a workable shorthand. There are many manuscripts in this notation, which can be read with some difficulty, and may yet contain documents which have not survived in Roman letters. The art was lost after the tenth century but studied since l600's and does seem to deserve further attention. (History of shorthand, including a sample of Tironian notes.)

      98 BC b. Titus Lucretius Carus: Lucretius was a Roman poet and philosopher who wrote De Rerum Natura, "On the Nature of the Universe", in which he laid the foundation for Epicurian philosophy, and claimed that matter was composed of smaller particles called atoms. -- full translation of De Rerum Natura

      89 BC Lex Pompeia: Important law which granted "Latin right", the right of certain foreigners to marry and trade with Roman citizens together with the possibility, after transferal to Rome, of obtaining Roman citizenship.

      88 BC Sulla's first march on Rome

      82 BC Sulla's Dictatorship and*.html

      73-71 BC The Slave War of Spartacus: The famous slave and trained gladiator who led a class rebellion against Rome in an attempted flight to freedom. He defeated numerous Roman battalions, but was finally defeated by Crassus, with the aid of Pompey.

The Life of Crassus by Plutarch is one of few actual primary references to Spartacus. He writes: "The insurrection of the gladiators and the devastation of Italy, commonly called the war of Spartacus, began upon this occasion..."

"One Lentulus Batiates trained up a great many gladiators in Capua, most of them Gauls and Thracians, who, not for any fault by them committed, but simply through the cruelty of their master, were kept in confinement for this object of fighting one with another. Two hundred of these formed a plan to escape, but being discovered, those of them who became aware of it in time to anticipate their master, being seventy-eight, got out of a cook's shop chopping-knives and spits, and made their way through the city, and lighting by the way on several wagons that were carrying gladiators' arms to another city, they seized upon them and armed themselves..."

The reference to the wife of Spartacus is very short, but important. It addresses the participation of women in cult and religious activities: "who at this latter time also accompanied him in his flight, his countrywoman, a kind of prophetess and one of those possessed with the bacchanal frenzy" The wife of Spartacus is thus referred to as a woman with a similar role to that in this portrait. Her name is unknown.

The slaves quickly became a very organized and significant threat to Rome. So: "Clodius, the praetor, took the command against them with a body of three thousand men from Rome"

Spartacus won handily and then: "Publius Varinus, the praetor, was now sent against them, whose lieutenant, Furius, with two thousand men, they fought and routed. Then Cossinius was sent with considerable forces...

"But they, grown confident in their numbers, and puffed up with their success, would give no obedience to him, but went about and ravaged Italy; so that now the senate was not only moved at the indignity and baseness, both of the enemy and of the insurrection, but, looking upon it as a matter of alarm and of dangerous consequence, sent out both the consuls to it, as to a great and difficult enterprise..."

Organized pirates where a significant force and further complication. Later: "Spartacus retreated through Lucania toward the sea, and in the straits meeting with some Cilician pirate ships, he had thoughts of attempting Sicily, where, by landing two thousand men, he hoped to new kindle the war of the slaves, which was but lately extinguished, and seemed to need but little fuel to set it burning again"

Disagreement upon strategy and objectives between Spartacus and too many of his group invited division which was exploited by the ultimately more powerful Crassus. Then: "Crassus was afraid lest (Spartacus) should march directly to Rome, but was soon eased of that fear when he saw many of his men break out in a mutiny and quit him, and encamped by themselves upon the Lucanian lake"

It became clear that the defeater of Spartacus would have great honor in Rome; Pompey was a contender with Crassus for the triumph.

The ultimate fate of Spartacus: "making directly towards Crassus himself, through the midst of arms and wounds, he missed him, but slew two centurions that fell upon him together. At last being deserted by those that were about him, he himself stood his ground, and, surrounded by the enemy, bravely defending himself, was cut in pieces." and and (the Movie)

63 BC Birth of Octavian, later Augustus Caesar

60 BC First Triumvirate of Pompey, Crassus, and Julius Caesar

Ca. 59 BC-AD 17 Titus Livius (Livy): A major Roman historian and tutor to the future emperor Claudius, Livy's lifework was a recording of the history of Rome. The volume of his work is staggering. Livy, writing on rolls of papyrus, wrote 142 books (not all of which are extant), from the founding of Rome to the events following the Battle of Actium. Some of his recordings contemporary to his lifetime were not published until years later, due to their politically sensitive nature.

Titus Livius, in The History of Rome, wrote: "I invite the reader's attention to the much more serious consideration of the kind of lives our ancestors lived, of who were the men and what the means, both in politics and war, by which Rome's power was first acquired and subsequently expanded, I would then have him trace the process of our moral decline, to watch first the sinking of the foundations of morality as the old teaching was allowed to lapse, then the final collapse of the whole edifice, and the dark dawning of our modern day when we can neither endure our vices nor face the remedies needed to cure them.

"What chiefly makes the study of history wholesome and profitable is this, that in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see, and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings."

Livy's writing was didactic; it was meant to instruct humanity by providing exemplary models of greatness, demonstrate the consequences of particular actions, and give warning of the consequences of vice.

Ab Urbe Condita (full English translation in six volumes):

49-45 BCCivil Wars -- Caesar vs Pompey

44 BCJulius Caesar Assassinated


43-33 BC Second Triumvirate of Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian

27 BC - AD 68 The Julio-Claudians: Important Imperial family, ruled Rome for nearly a century, laid the foundation for the politics of the Empire, and furnished Rome with its first eight emperors, from Augustus to Vitellius. (Augustus)

Later Julio-Claudians (Caligula)

(Year of the Four Emperors:

19 BC Composition of Virgil's Aeneid: This mythological epic was commissioned to tell the story of Rome in the manner of Homer. (Aeneid in full English Translation

14 AD Gaius Julius Octavianus (Augustus), death of -- Ruled 27 BC-14 AD : The political reforms implemented by Octavian, later the Divine Augustus Caesar, laid the foundation for a new society and influenced the western world for over a millennium.

"Whatever the fact was, Tiberius as he was just entering Illyria was summoned home by an urgent letter from his mother [ -- Livia, wife of Augustus, had Tiberius in a previous marriage -- ], and it has not been thoroughly ascertained whether at the city of Nola he found Augustus still breathing or quite lifeless. For Livia had surrounded the house and its approaches with a strict watch, and favourable bulletins were published from time to time... (but) Augustus was dead and that Tiberius Nero was master of the State."

The transference of the seat of government from Augustus to Livia's son (Tiberius) Nero meant that his power had to be sealed at all quarters. The following quote is revealing of how power was shared among groups in Rome:

"Sextus Pompeius and Sextus Apuleius, the consuls, were the first to swear allegiance to Tiberius Caesar, and in their presence the oath was taken by Seius Strabo and Caius Turranius, respectively the commander of the praetorian cohorts and the superintendent of the corn supplies. Then the Senate, the soldiers and the people did the same"

23 BC - 33 AD Vipsania Agrippina (Agrippina the Elder): Agrippina was the granddaughter of Augustus, by way of his only daughter Julia, and her husband, Augustus' faithful friend and confidant Agrippa. Agrippina became married to the popular Roman general and consul, Germanicus.
Agrippina accompanied Germanicus on his military campaigns, (it is from his victories which Germanicus posthumously secured the name "Germanicus", similar to Scipio Africanus securing the name "Africanus") and she apparently was very much admired by the Roman soldiers. Tacitus wrote "that brave woman (Agrippina) took on the duties of a general throughout those days... it is said that... she stood at the front of the bridge and gave thanks and praise to the returning legions."

On the death of Agrippa, Julia married her stepbrother Tiberius. This was a marriage of political convenience, as had been her marriage to Agrippa. Agrippina's mother Julia was eventually banished to the island of Pandateria by her grandfather Augustus, due to her sexual infidelity. Agrippina never saw her mother again. By order of Tiberius, Julia was starved to death.

Germanicus died in the Eastern city of Antioch in 19 AD under mysterious circumstances. It was reported that his corpse showed signs of being poisoned. It is widely believed that if he had not died at this early age, that he would have become emperor, for Augustus had Tiberius adopt him as his son for this purpose. Tiberius was never as popular with the Roman people as was the successful general Germanicus, and Agrippina became convinced that he was murdered by his command. Agrippina brought her husband's ashes back to Rome, and they were placed in the Augustan Mausoleum.

The chief suspect in Germanicus' death was charged with treason, and committed suicide. Rumor spread that he did so to avoid having to reveal the fact that Tiberius was behind the murder plot. Graffiti stating "Rendite nos Germanicum", meaning "Give us back Germanicus," started to appear all over Rome. Agrippina, determined to appease the memory of her husband and bring down Tiberius, is reported to have lead riots against Tiberius.

The hostility between Agrippina and Tiberius increased, and Tiberius accused her of having an affair with Ascinius Gallus. She was captured and flogged so severely by a centurion as punishment that she lost an eye.

Finally she, along with her son Nero Caesar, were banished to the island of Pandateria, as her mother Julia had been. She died here of starvation ca. 31 CE.

While early in her career she demonstrated the ancient feminine virtues of fidelity, loyalty, and fertility, some historians argue that it was stepping outside of this traditional role and becoming overtly political which led to her downfall.

Her son, the notorious Caligula, became emperor upon Tiberius' death.

9 AD The Battle of Teutoburg Forest: An important defeat for the Roman military, as three legions were annihilated, almost to a man, by the German Cherusci tribe under the leadership of Arminius. Between 20,000 to 25,000 Roman soldiers are believed to have been massacred. The Roman commander, Publius Quintilius Varus, committed suicide in disgrace.

  1. 23 AD b. Pliny the Elder was an important writer and encyclopaedist, and authority on
science. He died in 79 while observing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Ca. 35 AD (ca.) -- 66 AD Petronius Arbiter: Petronius is the author of the Satyricon, the oldest extant novel. The value of the Satyricon, aside from being highly entertaining, and whatever literary merits it may possess, is that it provides insight, rarely provided by ancient authors, into the daily life of characters outside of the upper echelons of Roman society.

Petronius himself was quite a character, and in the end committed suicide, after having been accused, perhaps falsely, of taking part in a plot against the Emperor Nero, for whom he was the arbiter elegantiae, or put simply, in charge of designing the most entertaining parties possible for the pleasure of Nero and his guests. As a member of Nero's court and former governor of Bithynia and consul, Petronius was certainly not from the lower stratum of Roman society. But he was no stranger to the wilder side of Roman life either.

Tacitus says: He passed his days in sleep, and his nights in business, or in joy and revelry. Indolence was at once his passion and his road to fame. What others did by vigor and industry, he accomplished by his love of pleasure and luxurious ease. Unlike the men who profess to understand social enjoyment, and ruin their fortunes, he led a life of expense, without profusion; an epicure, yet not a prodigal; addicted to his appetites, but with taste and judgment; a refined and elegant voluptuary.

Just the man to design entertainments for the Emperor Nero, the self proclaimed artiste, and lover of lavish, decadent amusements. Tacitus says that "Without the sanction of Petronius nothing was exquisite, nothing rare or delicious."

Petronius' favour with Nero did not sit well with others: "Hence the jealousy of Tigellinus, who dreaded a rival in the good graces of the Emperor almost his equal; in the science of luxury his superior. Tigellinus determined to work his downfall; and accordingly addressed himself to the cruelty of the Prince -- that master passion, to which all other affections and every motive were sure to give way. He charged Petronius with having lived in close intimacy with Scaevinus, the conspirator; and to give color to that assertion, he bribed a slave to turn informer against his master."

Faced with this accusation, Petronius took his life: He opened his veins, and closed them again, at intervals losing a small quantity of blood, then binding up the orifice, as his own inclination prompted. He conversed during the whole time with his usual gayety, never changing his habitual manner, nor talking sentences to show his contempt of death.

But not without some revenge upon Nero, for, knowing the secrets of Nero's vices with intimate detail "...having written, under the fictitious names of profligate men and women, a narrative of Nero's debauchery and his new modes of vice, he had the spirit to send to the Emperor that satirical romance...Nero saw with surprise his clandestine passions and the secrets of his midnight revels laid open to the world."

Evidence suggests that this was not the Satyricon, and unfortunately, does not survive.

The Satyricon tells of the wicked adventures of the friends, rivals, and petty thieves Encolpius, Ascyltos, and the younger Giton, thus providing valuable insight into the morality and values of the day. While it is important to interpret the Satyricon as the satirical fiction that it is, it does provide us with a look at some female character types that the historians tended to leave out of their works.

Tryphaena, for instance, "a very handsome woman, who had come with Lichas, master of a ship and owner of estates near the seacoast" quickly becomes intimate with Encolpius and as he says "readily acceded to my wishes." She also "was desperately enamored of Giton."

Not surprisingly, Tryphaena and Encolpius quarrel: "I proclaimed her baseness to the crowds of people our altercation had attracted, and in token of the truth of my allegations, I showed them Giton pale and bloodless and myself brought to death's door by the strumpet's wantonness. The crowd burst into loud shouts of laughter, which so abashed our adversaries that they withdrew, crestfallen and vowing vengeance..."

Here they encounter a secret mystery cult, comprised of women: Towards nightfall we met in a remote spot two respectably robed and good-looking women, and followed them slowly and softly to a small temple, which they entered, and from which a strange humming was audible, like the sound of voices issuing from the recesses of a cavern. Curiosity impelled us likewise to enter the temple, and there we beheld a number of women, resembling Bacchantes, each brandishing an emblem of Priapus (the god of fertility) in her right hand. This was all we were permitted to see; for the instant they caught sight of us, they set up such a shouting the vault of the sacred building trembled, and tried to seize hold of us. But we fled as fast as our legs would carry us..."

Later, confronted by one of the participants: "...what wrings my heart and drives me almost to despair is the dread that in your youthful levity you may reveal what you saw in the shrine of Priapus, and betray the counsels of the gods to the common herd. This is why I stretch forth suppliant hands to your knees, and beg and pray you not to turn into ribaldry and jest our nocturnal rites, nor willingly divulge the secrets of so many years,-- secrets known to barely a thousand persons all told."
39 AD b. Lucan: Roman historian, wrote The Civil Wars

Ca. 55 - Ca. 117 AD Cornelius Tacitus, An essential Roman historian, wrote:

Ca. 109 AD The Histories: "the rare happiness of times, when we may think what we please, and express what we think" …. "when it became essential to peace, that all power should be centered in one man, these great intellects passed away. Then too the truthfulness of history was impaired in many ways; at first, through men's ignorance of public affairs, which were now wholly strange to them...", and

109 AD The Annals: "Augustus won over the soldiers with gifts, the populace with cheap corn, and all men with the sweets of repose, and so grew greater by degrees, while he concentrated in himself the functions of the Senate, the magistrates, and the laws"

60-61 AD The Rebellion of Boudicca: Boudicca was queen of the Iceni, who were a Celtic tribe living in Britain. Discontented with Roman subjugation, they revolted, and put up a strong resistance to the Roman military. A significant number of Iceni warriors were women. They were eventually defeated by Paulinus Suetonius.
The incident is described by Tacitus, Annals, Book XIV: "On the opposite shore stood the Britons, close embodied, and prepared for action. Women were seen running through the ranks in wild disorder; their apparel funereal; their hair loose to the wind, in their hands flaming torches, and their whole appearance resembling the frantic rage of the Furies. The Druids were ranged in order, with hands uplifted, invoking the gods, and pouring forth horrible imprecations. The novelty of the fight struck the Romans with awe and terror. They stood in stupid amazement, as if their limbs were benumbed, riveted to one spot, a mark for the enemy. The exhortations of the general diffused new vigor through the ranks, and the men, by mutual reproaches, inflamed each other to deeds of valor. They felt the disgrace of yielding to a troop of women, and a band of fanatic priests; they advanced their standards, and rushed on to the attack with impetuous fury.

"The Britons perished in the flames, which they themselves had kindled. The island fell, and a garrison was established to retain it in subjection. The religious groves, dedicated to superstition and barbarous rites, were leveled to the ground. In those recesses, the natives [stained] their altars with the blood of their prisoners, and in the entrails of men explored the will of the gods. While Suetonius was employed in making his arrangements to secure the island, he received intelligence that Britain had revolted, and that the whole province was up in arms.

"Boudicca, in a [chariot], with her two daughters before her, drove through the ranks. She harangued the different nations in their turn: "This," she said, "is not the first time that the Britons have been led to battle by a woman" ...She took the field, like the meanest among them, to assert the cause of public liberty, and to seek revenge for her body seamed with ignominious stripes, and her two daughters infamously ravished. From the pride and arrogance of the Romans nothing is sacred; all are subject to violation; the old endure the scourge, and the virgins are deflowered.…"

According to some writers, not less than eighty thousand Britons were put to the sword. The Romans lost about four hundred men, and the wounded did not exceed that number. Boudicca, by a dose of poison, [ended] her life.

62-113 AD Pliny the Younger: Nephew of Pliny the Elder and a Roman official, published nine books of letters including descriptions of the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius.

79 AD Eruption of Vesuvius: Pompeii was demolished by eruption in the first century, and the site was first excavated in 1748 by Johann Joachim Winckelmann. Modern studies of the eruption indicate that there was an initial period of light ash fall, which most of the inhabitants of Pompeii and other villages survived. Then the mouth of the volcano widened, and the huge plume collapsed in a pyroclastic flow which struck Pompeii as several hundred miles per hour. People caught in the flow died almost instantly from the super-heated blast. The collapse of the plume also melted the snow on the volcanic peak and a super-heated mud flow engulfed Herculanum,

Ca. 155-225 AD Tertullian: Tertullian was an early Christian moralist who converted from paganism Ca. 195. He was skeptical of Greek philosophy and wrote on topics such as the injustice of persecuting Christians. His writings are the basis for most of what we think we know about the morality of the Roman Empire, including the origins and character of gladiatorial games, spectacles, and theatrical events.

De Spectaculis is important for a number of reasons. It provides an account of the origins of gladiatorial contests, it describes the events which took place there, and further, it reveals the growing discordance between Christians and Romans.

As a very early Christian, Tertullian condemns gladiatorial events not so much for their barbarity as for their idolatry. He explains: " shall be proved true that the entire apparatus of the spectacles originates from idolatry...they belong to the Devil and his pomp and his angels because of the idolatry involved."

He then proceeds to cite in detail the many pagan influences and traditions to be found at the games and concludes: "Take note, O Christian, how many unclean deities have taken possession of the circus."

Tertullian also attempts to provide an account of the origin of gladiatorial contests:

"...the origins of the spectacles, ...are somewhat obscure and, therefore, unknown among most of our people... the real issue is idolatry. For, since the games also went under the general name of Liberalia, they clearly proclaimed the honor of Father Liber. They were first held in honor of Liber by the country folk because of the blessing which they say he bestowed upon them by making known to them the delicious taste of wine."

His attitude towards Romulus clearly reveals the schism between early Christians and traditional Romans: Romulus consecrated the Ecurria (games), derived from "equi" (horses), to Mars, though they claim the Consualia as well for Romulus on the ground that he consecrated them to Consus, the god, as they will have it, of counsel, to wit, of that very counsel by which he arrived at the scheme of carrying off the Sabine girls to be wives for his soldiers.

A noble counsel, indeed, even now considered just and lawful among the Romans themselves, not to say in the eyes of a god! For, also, this tends to stain their origin, lest you think something good that, had its origin in evil, in shamelessness, violence and hatred, in a founder who was a fratricide and the son of Mars.

Gladiatorial contests, in their beginnings, were customarily held at funerals: " time long past, in accordance with the belief that the souls of the dead are propitiated by human blood, they used to purchase captives or slaves of inferior ability and to sacrifice them at funerals... Thus they found consolation for death in murder."

Tertullian despises the theatre as much as he despises the games, saying: "the theater's greatest charm is above all produced by its filth."

He further provides some insight for us towards the manner in which prostitution took place: "Even the very prostitutes, the victims of public lust, are brought upon the stage, creatures feeling yet more wretched in the presence of women, the only members in the community who were unaware of their existence; now they are exhibited in public before the eyes of persons of every age and rank; their address, their price, their record are publicly announced, even to those who do not need the information, and (to say nothing of the rest) things which ought to remain hidden in the darkness of their dens so as not to contaminate the daylight."

Ca. 204 AD Elagabalus born, Ruled 218-222: "Who could tolerate an emperor who indulged in unnatural lusts of every kind, when not even a beast of this sort would be tolerated?" Aelius Lampridius
Elagabalus, who took this name from the deity of the cult of the Syrian sun god of the city of Emesa, was born Varius Avitus Bassianus. Elagabalus was a high-priest of this cult. He became emperor at the age of 14. During his reign, to promote a popular and positive image, he adopted the prestigious name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Elagabalus is considered one of the most eccentric Roman emperors, which by Roman standards, is quite remarkable.

Elagabalus became emperor in a coup, supported by rebel legionaries and likely instigated to a large extent by his powerful mother, Julia Soaemias. These soldiers overthrew the troops of Macrinus, the reigning emperor, and declared Elagabalus emperor in 218.

Elagabalus was heavily involved in the Syrian cult of the sun, and brought back to Rome a conical black stone which was revered by the cult. The stone was said to have fallen from the heavens. He built a temple on the Palatine Hill, named the Elagaballium, to house the sacred stone. He also ordered the sacred fire of Vesta to be moved here. Animal sacrifices would take place at this new temple, and important officials, including senators, were required to wear Phoenician clothes while in attendance. Many Romans were offended by the importance given to this Eastern, untraditional, and non-Roman cult. A testament to the fact that Elagabalus was both politically myopic and completely out of touch with Roman sensibilities is demonstrated by his devising of plans to make Rome monotheistic, which would mean that the sun god Elagabalus would be the supreme and only god.

He held the position of Pontifix Maximus as well as creating a new, higher ranking position which he also held, called the sacerdos amplissimus Dei Solis Elagabali. He reputedly tortured and sacrificed human victims, preferring young noble boys, an observed their entrails for signs of divination.

While Elagabalus' religious beliefs served to alienate him from both the masses and the aristocracy, it was his sexual antics which ultimately led to his characterization of one of the basest of emperors. Roman historians were not kind to those emperors whom they disliked, and one is cautioned that they did undertake propaganda campaigns against individuals such as Elagabalus. Nevertheless, Elagabalus' eccentric behavior is corroborated by Cassius Dio, Herodian, and the Historia Augusta. He is said to have been a transvestite, to have paraded around the palace in women's jewelry and clothes, and to have acted as a female prostitute. His servants apparently were assigned the task of procuring male clients for him.

Equally scandalous was his marriage to the Vestal Virgin Julia Aquillia Severa. They were eventually divorced, on account of the indignation which this union inspired amongst the people of Rome. He also married a statue of Urania, the moon goddess. According to Cassius Dio, Elagabalus, as a woman, also married "Hierocles, a Carian slave once the favorite of Gordius from whom he learned to drive a chariot". He offered a substantial sum of money to any palace physician who could physically change his body to that of a woman.

Not surprisingly Elagabalus had rivals, the foremost being his cousin Bassianus, who later became the emperor Alexander Severus. When he ordered a proscription against Bassianus, and his supporters, his soldiers refused. Instead, on March 11, 222, they had Elagabalus, along with his mother murdered and thrown in the Tiber. Alexander Severus was declared emperor in his place.

Ca. 240 AD b. Ruled 266-273 Zenobia: Zenobia was an ancient queen of the Eastern city of Palmyra who became a substantial threat to the Roman empire. The philosopher Longinus was her personal tutor. She was said to be quite beautiful, and was highly intelligent, speaking numerous languages, and competently ruling her domain. Some see her ambition as her downfall.
Her husband, king Odenathus, had successfully developed Palmyra, an oasis city on the trade route between China, Persia, and Rome, to the point of it being the economic and cultural centre of the east.

After his death by assassination, Zenobia began an expansion of Palmyrian territory, which came to include eastern Asia Minor, Syria, northern Mesopotamia, and even Egypt. While Odenathus had for years been an important ally to Rome, Zenobia sought to take advantage of the Roman empire's precariousness, largely as a result of the preoccupation with frontier tribal wars, to expand her own empire.

The fragility of the Roman empire during the time of Zenobia's rule is exemplified by the fact that the Roman emperor Valerian (ruled 253?60) had even been captured by Shapur I, the king of Persia. Shapur reputedly used Valerian as his personal footstool, and he died in custody.

Later, when Aurelian (ruled 270-275) became emperor, he undertook a campaign to destroy Zenobia's ambitions. According to the ancient historian Vopiscus, Aurelian, campaigning in the East, wrote to her and demanded her surrender. In Zenobia's response, she made reference to the fact that Cleopatra, whom she claimed as an ancestor, committed suicide rather than allowing herself to be captured by the Romans, and confidently asserted that she would be the one victorious, given her alliances. Vopiscus has Zenobia state that "the Persians do not abandon us, and we will wait their succors. The Saracens and the Armenians are on our side. The brigands of Syria have defeated your army, O Aurelian; what will it be when we have received the reinforcements which come to us from all sides?".

Aurelian was not intimidated. He surrounded Palmyra and cut Zenobia off from her allies. The Palmyrian cavalry was said to be more powerful than the Roman's, and the soldiers wore heavy armor. In an adroit piece of military strategy, Aurelian had his army pretend to flee, and the Palmyrian's readily gave chase. When they became exhausted, Aurelian turned, and routed his cavalry behind the enemy. They were soundly defeated.

Zenobia attempted to escape, but was captured. Aurelian did not want to put a woman to death, and took her back to Rome, were she was paraded in his triumph wearing chains of gold. She was given a pension and a palace outside of Rome, at a villa in Campania, where she spent her final years.

Ca. 250 AD Diocletian born. Ruled 284-305 : Rose from a lower standing in society to become his Emperor's bodyguard, waged successful military campaigns, became Emperor himself in 284.
Diocletian's writings include the Decree against the Manichaeans: "The immortal gods have so designed things that good and true principles have been established by the wisdom and deliberations of eminent, wise and upright men. It is wrong to oppose these principles, or desert the ancient religion for some new one, for it is the height of criminality to try and revise doctrines that were settled once and for all by the ancients, and whose position is fixed and acknowledged."

Diocletian instituted reforms in an attempt to preserve an empire which had experienced a century of tumult. His attempt to preserve, regardless of how positive one might choose to regard his genius, contributed not to preservation, but instead, cemented the Empire's transformation to Medievalism.

The organization of Roman society had changed, and would continue to change, in a radical way and in essential aspects. Its economy, political structure, ideology, and spirituality were concurrently transformed.

The complexity of this evolution is not limited solely to the factors cited here, but to begin, Diocletian realized that the administration of the Empire had become cumbersome due to its size, and he divided it in half. The western half was governed by Maximian in Rome, while the eastern half would be ruled by Diocletian himself, from Nicomedia. Gone then was the centre of Empire and its autocratic leadership. Its militaristic underpinnings could never exist as they had in the past.

A further essential aspect in this transformation, and illustrative of the ideological shift which it represents, is Diocletian's insistence in being titled Domus ("Lord"), rather than Emperor, which signifies the growing acceptance of Christian constructs upon society. The Empire was becoming a shadow of incipient Medievalism, just as in centuries past, the Republic had become a shadow of the Empire.

The transformation from Ancient to Medieval society was more complex than a simple decline and fall.

273-337 AD -- Constantine.   Ruled 306-337 (Constantine the Great): Constantine was the first Emperor to

      fully embrace Christianity, and his reforms, including moving the Capital to Constantinople, further transformed Roman society.
Constantine defeated Maxentius for control of the Western Empire (312 AD) and almost immediately left Rome, moving the Western capital to Milan in northern Italy (Edict of Milan -- 313). After to planning and building a new capital and reuniting the Empire, he officially inaugurate the "New Rome", later known as Constantinople, in 330 AD.

328-378 AD Ruled 364-378 Valens: Valens' early military career was successful, but he is most famous for one of the greatest defeats ever suffered by the Roman army, a defeat which some say, lead to the demise of the Roman Empire.
During his early reign he suppressed the revolt of Procopius. He attacked the Visigoths under Athanaric, and defeated them in 369. He agreed to allow the Visigoths under Fritigern into the empire. Mistreated by certain Roman officials however, they rebelled, and in 378, Valens was killed in the battle of Adrianople, in which two thirds of the Roman army was destroyed, leaving the Eastern Empire virtually defenseless.

We are fortunate to have a highly descriptive account of the battle by the historian Ammianus Marcellinus:

...when the barbarians, rushing on with their enormous host, beat down our horses and men, and left no spot to which our ranks could fall back to deploy, while they were so closely packed that it was impossible to escape by forcing a way through them, our men at last began to despise death, and again took to their swords and slew all they encountered, while with mutual blows of battle-axes, helmets and breastplates were dashed in pieces. Then you might see the barbarian towering in his fierceness, hissing or shouting, fall with his legs pierced through, or his right hand cut off, sword and all, or his side transfixed, and still, in the last gasp of life, casting round him defiant glances. The plain was covered with carcasses, strewing the mutual ruin of the combatants; while the groans of the dying, or of men fearfully wounded, were intense, and caused great dismay all around...

The ground, covered with streams of blood, made their feet slip, so that all they endeavored to do was to sell their lives as dearly as possible; and with such vehemence did they resist their enemies who pressed on them, that some were even killed by their own weapons. At last one black pool of blood disfigured everything, and wherever the eye turned, it could see nothing but piled up heaps of dead, and lifeless corpses trampled on without mercy...

At last a dark moonless night put an end to the irremediable disaster which cost the Roman state so dear.

Ca. 360 AD The Beginning of the Barbarian Invasions: In what some historians see as a major contribution to the collapse of Rome's empire, sometime during the middle of the fourth century, various tribes, such as the Goths, Franks, and Alamanni, began to better organize themselves politically and militarily. They posed an increasing threat to Rome's capability to defend itself successfully, and in 378, the Goths eventually defeated the army of Valens at Adrianople. Vandals, Suev, and Alans crossed the Rhine in 406. Barbarian settlement began to expand over much of the western Empire. Vandals, Visigoths, Alans, Suevi, Burgundians, Franks, Ostrogoths and Saxons became an erosive force upon the Empire.
In regards to the so-called "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", it is wise to remember that the social, political, and cultural evolution of Rome, from an Imperial to a Medieval empire, was complex. One is cautioned against simplistic explanations. It might be best to dismiss the term completely.

Rome had developed the infrastructure to manage an empire, but was forever in conflict with competing political and social forces, from both within and without. The conflict between these forces is more important to Rome's reputed "decline" than, as some would suggest, moral decay. Vice can be seen in each period of Roman history. Yet, while conflict is an important contribution towards Rome's continuing transformations, it too, alone, provides an unsatisfactory explanation.

410 AD Alaric Trashes Rome :
(Rome was sacked many time in its history, from 390 BC when Rome's famous geese saved only the Capitoline fortress from the general destruction by the Gauls
until German mercenaries under the command of a Parisian renegade (nominally part of the army of Charles V) did it the last time in 1527 AD (

415 AD d. Hypatia of Alexandria: Hypatia is the most renowned female philosopher from ancient times. A neoplatonist, her philosophies and status as a woman were threatening to the increasingly powerful Christian bureaucracy. Hypatia was brutally killed by a Christian mob. Her death is a powerful symbol for the transformation of ancient society from Paganism to Christianity. She is the author of A Commentary on the Arithmetica of Diophantus, and A Commentary on the Conics of Apollonious. She also edited the third book of her father's Commentary on the Almagest of Ptolemy.

Sources, such as The Life of Hypatia, From Damascius's Life of Isidore, (Translated by Jeremiah Reedy) reveal that Hypatia: "...used to put on her philosopher's cloak and walk through the middle of town and publicly interpret Plato, Aristotle, or the works of any other philosopher to those who wished to hear her. In addition to her expertise in teaching she rose to the pinnacle of civic virtue..."


"...she was prudent and civil in her deeds. The whole city rightly loved her and worshipped her in a remarkable way, but the rulers of the city from the first envied her, something that often happened at Athens too. For even if philosophy itself had perished, nevertheless, its name still seems magnificent and venerable to the men who exercise leadership in the state... "

John, Bishop of Nikiu, from his Chronicle 84.87-103 provides evidence of how previously accepted Pagan systems of worship, and their accompanying philosophies, came to be denounced as Satanism:

"...a female philosopher, a pagan named Hypatia, and she was devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes and instruments of music, and she beguiled many people through Satanic wiles. And the governor of the city honoured her exceedingly; for she had beguiled him through her magic..."

The persecution and murder of Hypatia was a transformative event. After Hypatia, the stature of women, which had been enhanced via involvement in Pagan systems of worship, was significantly diminished. In the end:

"They dragged her along till they brought her to the great church, named Caesarion. Now this was in the days of the fast. And they tore off her clothing and dragged her through the streets of the city till she died. And they carried her to a place named Cinaron, and they burned her body with fire..."

Attila -- ?- 453: The Huns were an aggressive, dangerous, conquering tribe who swept westward through Asia, terrifying other Germanic tribes and pressing them on to Rome. Their activities were significant to the dynamics of the Barbarians and the empire in the fourth century.
Known as "the Scourge of God," Attila inherited a huge conquered territory, along with his brother Bleda. Together they subdued Barbarian tribes and negotiated tribute from the Eastern Roman Empire. In 443 Attila murdered his brother and led the Huns to further conquests in Eastern Rome and Gaul. He was on the verge of yet another attack on the Byzantines when he died in his sleep on his wedding night.

466-84 AD Gothic King Euric: Gaul, which had been conquered by Julius Caesar early in his career, became connected with Rome by means of a treaty, in Latin foedus. The foederatae civitates were affiliated states which were not Roman colonies, and had not obtained the Roman civitas. King Euric's followers tended to be Arian Christians, who denied the divinity of Christ. While in many other parts of the empire this would have been an unacceptable heresy, in Gaul, the Romans simply did not have the power to forcibly intervene. About 474 King Euric broke the foedus and conquered the remaining imperial territories in Gaul. In 475 Emperor Julius Nepos (ruled 474 - 475) ceded the rest of Gaul to Euric in return for Provence (a former province of southeast France). Further, in 476, Tarraco, an important city in Spain, was destroyed by Euric, later to be rebuilt.
These events dramatically serve to demonstrate Rome's increasing difficulty in remaining an imperial power, and further, amply demonstrate that by this point Roman mentalité had been transformed to a Christian ethos. C. Sollius Apollinaris Sidonius, a Catholic bishop who wrote of the event in his Epistolae, saw the struggle as a religious war against Rome.

He wrote: "So repugnant is the mention of the word 'catholic' to his (Euric's) mouth and his heart that one doubts whether he is more the ruler of his nation or of his sect. He imagines that the success of his dealings and plans comes from the legitimacy of his religion, whereas it would be truer to say that he achieves it by earthly good fortune."

475-476 AD Romulus Augustulus, The last Emperor: Romulus Augustulus was declared emperor of the western Roman empire by his father, the Patrician Orestes, who led a successful coup against the ruling emperor, Nepos. Nepos fled from Orestes formidible army by sea to Dalmatia.
A number of sources tell the tale, including the Auctuarii Hauniensis ordo prior: "While Nepos was in the city, the Patrician Orestes was sent against him with the main force of the army. But because Nepos dared not undertake the business of resisting in such desperate conditions, he fled to Dalmatia in his ships. When Nepos had fled Italy and departed from the city, Orestes assumed the primacy and all the authority for himself and made his son Augustulus emperor at Ravenna"

Augustulus was perhaps 14 years old at the time. His name means "little Augustus". He was primarily a front for his father, Orestes, who maintained power behind the scenes. (Orestes, incidentally, had been Chief of Staff to Attila.) Orestes made a critical error in judgement however, in not providing land grants for his troops, at their request. They were a diverse lot, from various tribes and factions, and their loyalty to Orestes was never secure.

When Orestes failed them, they turned to the barbarian chieftain Odovacar, king of the Torcilingi, who promised to grant them their land if they made him king. They agreed, and, in 476, they advanced against Orestes. He was killed, and Augustulus, granted mercy for his young age, was banished, according to Count Marcellinus, to exile in the castle of Lucullus in Campania.

Augustus ruled for a mere ten months. He is often considered to be the last Roman emperor of the western Roman empire. The sixth Century chronicler Count Marcellinus stated that:

"The western Empire of the Roman people, which first began in the seven hundred and ninth year after the founding of the City with Octavian Augustus, the first of the emperors, perished with this Augustulus, in the five-hundred and twenty-second year of the reign of Augustus' successor emperors. From this point on Gothic kings held power in Rome"

482/3 AD b. Ruled 527-565 Justinian: Christian emperor, remembered especially for his legal reforms, including The Codex Justinianus, the Institutes and the Digest.
The time of Justinian's reign was marked by ideological and political rivalry between religious groups, which at times produced oppressive state reaction and armed conflict.The philosophical differences of Pagans, Christians, Samaritans, Jews, and others, created an era of intolerance, bloodshed, and oppression. Pagans, for instance, were barred from civil service, and baptised Christians who lapsed into Paganism were put to death, as were those caught making secret sacrifice to the now fallen Roman gods.

As for the Samaritans, a law of Justinian's ordered their synagogues destroyed, and when they revolted unsuccessfully in the summer of 529, their leader Julian was beheaded and the head sent to the emperor. 20,000 remaining Samaritans were sold into slavery.

The Christians were themselves divided, including two principal opposing groups of the Monophysites, (who believed that Christ had only one nature, the divine), and the more powerful Orthodox Ministry, which condemned Monophysitism. They proclaimed that Christ has two complete natures, the divine and the human. Monophysites were deemed heretical.

While Justinian was not a Monophysite, his wife Theodora was. She was to influence him in this and other matters, and at Theodora's bidding, Justinian sought to protect the Monophysites from persecution.

While the laws of Justinian were many, it is interesting to note that he condemned prostitution, and especially vilified the pimps who exploited women engaged in the trade. What makes these passages so especially fascinating is the fact that Justinian's wife, Theodora, had herself been a prostitute in her youth.

In Justinian, Novellae 14, Justinian provides a number of valuable insights into the manner and practice of prostitution: "They pursue this criminal activity so much that in almost all of this regal city, as well as in the countries beyond seas; and (what is worse) houses of this kind exist in close proximity to holy places and religious establishments..."

It appears that Justinian was somewhat sympathetic to the women involved, and that it was the pimps who oppressed and exploited them to whom he was most opposed:

"Some of these wretches are so unprincipled as to deliver over to corruption girls who have not yet reached their tenth year...Ten thousand means of effecting their ruin exist which are not susceptible of being described in words; and the resulting evil is so great, and the cruelty so widespread that, while it first was confined to the most remote parts of the capital, it now not only extends over the city itself but also over all its suburbs..."

Thus he proclaimed:

"We absolutely forbid any women to be led by artifice, fraud, or compulsion to such debauchery; it is permitted to no one to support a prostitute or to prostitute them publicly, and to use the profits for any other business; we forbid them to undertake agreements for this and to require sureties and to do any such thing which compel the wretched women unwillingly to destroy their chastity."

Could Theodora have influenced Justinian in this matter? We do know that she was very influential in many other matters of state. Justinian stated that:

"A certain person informed us in secret of this condition of affair some time ago."

We probably will never know if this certain person was Theodora.

Ca. 500-548 AD Theodora: Theodora was a very colorful figure. She rose from the lower ranks of Roman society to become an influential and capable Empress. Her social status was in fact so low that Justinian, her future husband and co-ruler, needed to persuade his Uncle Justin, who was then Emperor, to change the law forbidding the marriage of a Patrician to an actress in order to marry her.
Theodora's family were what we might call circus people. Her father worked at the Hippodrome at Constantinople, and was a bear keeper for the Green faction in the chariot races. Later however, it was the Blues who came to the aid of the family, destitute after the death of Theodora's father, Acacius. Thereafter, both Justinian and Theodora avidly supported the Blues at the games.

When still a child, Theodora's mother introduced her to the theatre. Theatre, to the conservative Christian bureaucracy, was both obscene and immoral, and they did in fact succeed in banning performance completely in the late seventh century. Actresses, and we know this to be true of Theodora, were often engaged in prostitution.

Procopius, in The Secret History, reveals the erotic behaviour of Theodora both on and off the stage: "She was the kind of comedienne who delights the audience by letting herself be cuffed and slapped on the cheeks, and makes them guffaw by raising her skirts to reveal to the spectators those feminine secrets here and there which custom veils from the eyes of the opposite sex."


"Often, even in the theater, in the sight of all the people, she removed her costume and stood nude in their midst, except for a girdle about the groin: not that she was abashed at revealing that, too, to the audience, but because there was a law against appearing altogether naked on the stage, without at least this much of a fig-leaf. Covered thus with a ribbon, she would sink down to the stage floor and recline on her back. Slaves to whom the duty was entrusted would then scatter grains of barley from above into the calyx of this passion flower, whence geese, trained for the purpose, would next pick the grains one by one with their bills and eat. When she rose, it was not with a blush, but she seemed rather to glory in the performance. For she was not only impudent herself, but endeavored to make everybody else as audacious. Often when she was alone with other actors she would undress in their midst and arch her back provocatively, advertising like a peacock both to those who had experience of her and to those who had not yet had that privilege her trained suppleness."

Yet in matters of state, Theodora appears competent, ruling jointly with Justinian. Procopius claims that: " ...neither did anything without the consent of the other. For some time it was generally supposed they were totally different in mind and action; but later it was revealed that their apparent disagreement had been arranged so that their subjects might not unanimously revolt against them, but instead be divided in opinion..."

      1. 500 b. Ca. 560 AD d. Procopius of Caesarea: The Secret History: Procopius is the most
      important historian of the early Byzantine era, as he provides the most extensive extant source material for the reign of Justinian and Theodora. Especially interesting is his commentary on The Secret History. This work was kept in hiding, and not published until after his death.
Procopius claims that: "You see, it was not possible, during the life of certain persons, to write the truth of what they did, as a historian should. If I had, their hordes of spies would have found out about it, and they would have put me to a most horrible death. I could not even trust my nearest relatives. That is why I was compelled to hide the real explanation of many matters glossed over in my previous books."

The vitriolic nature of this text towards Justinian and Theodora, quite unlike his other works, led some historians to doubt the authorship of Procopius. Study of the work's grammar and style, however, seems conclusively to indicate that Procopius is indeed the author. Its explicit nature has caused some historians to either omit or censor its passages from their work, including Edward Gibbon, who quoted the text in Latin, in order to protect his readers from citations such as:

"On the field of pleasure she (Theodora) was never defeated. Often she would go picnicking with ten young men or more, in the flower of their strength and virility, and dallied with them all, the whole night through. When they wearied of the sport, she would approach their servants, perhaps thirty in number, and fight a duel with each of these; and even thus found no allayment of her craving. Once, visiting the house of an illustrious gentleman, they say she mounted the projecting corner of her dining couch, pulled up the front of her dress, without a blush, and thus carelessly showed her wantonness. And though she flung wide three gates to the ambassadors of Cupid, she lamented that nature had not similarly unlocked the straits of her bosom, that she might there have contrived a further welcome to his emissaries."

Other works by Procopius: De Aedificis: Description of the Hagia Sophia, and History of the Wars: On Racing Factions

532 AD The 'Nika' Revolt: A week-long riot begun by factions of fans of the chariot races, which had larger social and political ramifications, including the proclamation of a new Emperor, which ultimately failed.

ca. 551 AD Jordanes: The Origins and Deeds of the Goths

For those interested in learning about the numerous tribes which lived on the outskirts of the Roman Empire, Jordanes is an invaluable resource. His work demonstrates the diversity of cultures outside of the Empire, for which we have but few references. Himself descended from Goths, Jordanes provides insight not only into the various Gothic tribes, but many others as well. Here is an example:

"In the northern part of the island the race of the Adogit live, who are said to have continual light in midsummer for forty days and nights, and who likewise have no clear light in the winter season for the same number of days and nights. By reason of this alternation of sorrow and joy they are like no other race in their sufferings and blessings. And why? Because during the longer days they see the sun returning to the east along the rim of the horizon, but on the shorter days it is not thus seen. The sun shows itself differently because it is passing through the southern signs, and whereas to us the sun seem to rise from below, it seems to go around them along the edge of the earth. There also are other peoples..."


An even more detailed timeline, but not annotated, is at