The Roman Artistic Revolution: 100-20 BCE.

Lecture 10, Thursday 22nd February 2018

Roman wall painting

A historical moment? 

Historical painting. Wall painting from a tomb on the Esquiline Hill, Rome. 3rd or 2nd c. BCE. Centrale Montemartini. H 34¼ in (87 cm). Figures are named with inscriptions “M. Fanio” and “Q. Fabio”. The fragment depicts: a walled city, two scenes of meeting, Roman dress (toga), a spear, spectators. Image: wikimedia.

Esquiline tomb painting annotated

[pdf] Roman wall painting from tomb on the Esquiline.

Ling 1991: 10: “The precise subject of the paintings is disputed, but M. Fanio (Fannius) and Q. Fabio (Fabius) have good Roman names, and the latter belongs to a distinguished family which produced several leading generals of the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE.”

Varro On the Latin Language 7.57: I’ve seen cavalrymen of this kind in a painting in the old Temple of Aesculapius [3rd c. BCE], with a label “ferentarii.”

Literary evidence for historical depiction in Roman painting 

Livy (24.16.15-19) [Tiberius Gracchus (cos. 215 BCE) on a defeat of Carthaginian army in 214 BCE]: The whole population of Beneventum poured out in crowds to meet them at the gates. They embraced and congratulated the soldiers and invited them to partake of their hospitality. Tables had been spread for them all in the forecourts of the houses. The citizens invited the men and begged Gracchus to allow his troops to enjoy a feast. Gracchus consented on condition that they all banqueted in public view, and each citizen brought out his provision and placed his tables in front of his door. The volunteers, now no longer slaves, wore white caps or fillets of white wool round their heads at the feast; some were reclining, others remained standing, waiting on the others and taking their food at the same time. Gracchus thought the scene worth commemorating, and on his return to Rome he ordered a representation of that celebrated day to be painted in the Temple of Liberty (Libertas), the temple which his father had built [238 BCE] and dedicated on the Aventine.

Pliny the Elder (NH 35.135): When Lucius Aemilius Paullus after conquering Perseus [=Battle of Pydna, 168 BCE] requested the Athenians to send him their most esteemed philosopher to educate his children, and also a painter to embellish his triumphal procession, the Athenians selected Metrodorus, stating that he was most distinguished in both of these requirements alike, as to which Paullus also held the same view.

Ancient painting pigments

Photographs of paint pots containing pigment from Pompeii. Images: Il Laboratorio Ricerche Applicate. Tweeted 30th Oct. 2017.

Chemical composition of Roman pigments

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 1.06.56 PM.png

The Royal Society of Chemistry () has prepared a document on the chemical composition of a variety of Roman pigments. Image: Royal Society of Chemisty. 

Roman painting techniques

Liversidge 1983: 97: “The preparation layer by layer of surfaces for painting and the methods used have been carefully described by Vitruvius (De Architectura VII.3), and the elder Pliny (NH, 35). After a rough rendering coat had been applied, Virtuvius recommended three coats of mortar made up of lime and sand or the volcanic pozzolana found in Campania. Then came three coats of lime mixed with powdered marble of increasing fineness. When dry, the surface was polished with pieces of marble, glass cylinders and cloths…The colours were applied when the wall was still damp (fresco), but tempera, paint applied to a dry surface and mixed with a binding agent, is sometimes used for details, and liquid wax might also be added.”

Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, 24th August 79 CE

Pliny the Younger describes his uncle’s death to the historian, Tacitus (Letter 6.16): You ask me to write you something about the death of my uncle so that the account you transmit to posterity is as reliable as possible. I am grateful to you, for I see that his death will be remembered forever if you treat it [sc. in your Histories]. He perished in a devastation of the loveliest of lands, in a memorable disaster shared by peoples and cities, but this will be a kind of eternal life for him. Although he wrote a great number of enduring works himself, the imperishable nature of your writings will add a great deal to his survival. Happy are they, in my opinion, to whom it is given either to do something worth writing about, or to write something worth reading; most happy, of course, those who do both. With his own books and yours, my uncle will be counted among the latter. It is therefore with great pleasure that I take up, or rather take upon myself the task you have set me.

He was at Misenum in his capacity as commander of the fleet on the 24th of August [79 CE], when between 2 and 3 in the afternoon my mother drew his attention to a cloud of unusual size and appearance. He had had a sunbath, then a cold bath, and was reclining after dinner with his books. He called for his shoes and climbed up to where he could get the best view of the phenomenon. The cloud was rising from a mountain-at such a distance we couldn’t tell which, but afterwards learned that it was Vesuvius. I can best describe its shape by likening it to a pine tree. It rose into the sky on a very long “trunk” from which spread some “branches.” I imagine it had been raised by a sudden blast, which then weakened, leaving the cloud unsupported so that its own weight caused it to spread sideways. Some of the cloud was white, in other parts there were dark patches of dirt and ash. The sight of it made the scientist in my uncle determined to see it from closer at hand.

He ordered a boat made ready. He offered me the opportunity of going along, but I preferred to study-he himself happened to have set me a writing exercise. As he was leaving the house he was brought a letter from Tascius’ wife Rectina, who was terrified by the looming danger. Her villa lay at the foot of Vesuvius, and there was no way out except by boat. She begged him to get her away. He changed his plans. The expedition that started out as a quest for knowledge now called for courage. He launched the quadriremes and embarked himself, a source of aid for more people than just Rectina, for that delightful shore was a populous one. He hurried to a place from which others were fleeing, and held his course directly into danger. Was he afraid? It seems not, as he kept up a continuous observation of the various movements and shapes of that evil cloud, dictating what he saw. Ash was falling onto the ships now, darker and denser the closer they went. Now it was bits of pumice, and rocks that were blackened and burned and shattered by the fire. Now the sea is shoal; debris from the mountain blocks the shore…They tied pillows on top of their heads as protection against the shower of rock. It was daylight now elsewhere in the world, but there the darkness was darker and thicker than any night. But they had torches and other lights. They decided to go down to the shore, to see from close up if anything was possible by sea. But it remained as rough and uncooperative as before. Resting in the shade of a sail he drank once or twice from the cold water he had asked for. Then came an smell of sulfur, announcing the flames, and the flames themselves, sending others into flight but reviving him. Supported by two small slaves he stood up, and immediately collapsed. As I understand it, his breathing was obstructed by the dust-laden air, and his innards, which were never strong and often blocked or upset, simply shut down. When daylight came again 2 days after he died, his body was found untouched, unharmed, in the clothing that he had had on. He looked more asleep than dead.

Pompeii and Vesuvius Qfl247 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https:::creativecommons.org:licenses:by-sa:3.0) or GFDL (http:::www.gnu.org:copyleft:fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.JPGThe Roman town of Pompeii as it appears today, with Mt. Vesuvius in the background. Image: Qfl247 [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

Mt_Vesuvius_79_AD_eruption.svg.pngEruption of Mt. Vesuvius, covering over Pompeii, Herculaneum and other Roman towns. Image: MapMaster (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

National Geographic Video on Preservation and Study at Pompeii



Preservation and Destruction

Ramage & Ramage (6th edition) 2015: 98: “Most paintings from the Roman era have been found in Pompeii and Herculaneum and other towns in the Bay of Naples, because those cities, and the surrounding settlements, were buried and preserved by the catastrophic volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79 CE. The ash, lapilli (stony particles), and mud that seeped into the houses and covered the streets acted as a preservative not only of wall paintings, but also of many household and decorative objects, as well as organic materials. When first uncovered, the wall paintings had brilliant colors, as if they had just been painted; over time, with oxidation, weathering, and pollution, some have lost their brilliance, but others have been well protected from the elements.”

Pompeian Wall painting Styles
Classification invented by August Mau in 1882
nota bene: these styles overlap! 

# of style name of style, characteristics of style approx. date of style examples location
First Style Masonry/Textural
“boring” style, stucco pretending to be marble
before 100 BCE House of Sallust (late 2nd c. or early 1st c. BCE) Pompeii VI 2, 4
Pompeian house (late 2nd c. or early 1st c. BCE) Pompeii IX 3, 2
Second Style Architectural
wall = “window”
cityscapes, perspective, 3D effect, shadows; luxury, theatricality, masks
80 BCE – c. 15 BCE House of Griffins (80 BCE) = early 2nd style Palatine, Rome
Villa of Poppaea at Oplontis
(c. 50 BCE)
near Pompeii
P. Fannius Synistor Villa (c. 50 BCE) Boscoreale
Rome Odyssey frieze (40 BCE) Esquiline, Rome
Garden fresco, Villa of Livia (20 BCE) Prima Porta
Farnesina House (c. 19 BCE) = transitional from 2nd to 3rd style Rome (substructure of Farnese palace)
Third Style Ornamental
rejected illusionism, “spindly” architecture, colour as compositional device; favours red, yellow, black; “sacro-idyllic”
end of 1st c. BCE – mid 1st c. CE Villa at Fondo Bottaro (before 62 CE)
Boston MFA
Villa of Agrippa Postumus (soon after 11 BCE) Boscotrecase
Fourth Style* Baroque
reaction against 3rd style, panoramic vistas, architectural details; eclectic, variety
c. 20 CE – end of 1st c. CE [many examples from 79 CE] Nero’s Golden House, Domus Aurea (between 64 and 68 CE) Rome
House of the Vetii (after 62 CE) Pompeii VI 15, 1
House of D. Octavius Quartio (later 1st c. CE) Pompeii II 2, 2-5

[pdf] Pompeian Wall Styles (Mau 1882)
*The Fourth Style will be discussed in a lecture later in the semester.

First Style: Masonry/Textural

First Style: House of Sallust

Pompeii VI 2,4 House of Sallust Mau 1882 U Heidleberg First Style decoration in atrium.png

Colour lithograph of the decoration of the atrium of the House of Sallust (late 2nd c. BCE or early 1st c. BCE), Pompeii. Mau 1882, pl. IIb.

First Style: Pompeii IX 3, 2

Pompeii IX 3, 2 Mau 1882 U Heidleberg.pngPompeii IX 3, 2. Colour lithograph. Late 2nd c. BCE or early 1st c. BCE. Mau 1882, pl. IIb.

Pompeii March 2009 Garden area South wall w stucco decoration in the 1st style.jpgPompeii IX 3, 2. Late 2nd c. BCE or early 1st c. BCE. First style wall decoration in the garden. March, 2009. Image: pompeiiinpictures.com

Second Style: Architectural

Second Style: House of the Griffins (early second style)

yale House of the GriffinsHouse of the Griffins, from the bedroom of a house on the Palatine Hill, Rome. 80 BCE. Image: Yale Roman Architecture. We still see faux-marble panels, but, significantly, the columns are made to seem to stand out from the wall behind them.

Second Style: Villa at Oplontis

Oplontis-3.jpgRoom 15 of the Villa of Poppaea (wife of Emperor Nero) at Oplontis (c. 50 BCE). Image: By Tony Wirthlin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Columns now open up to an imagined view, the columns in the background create a sense of depth and receding space. Note tragic masks, and the peacocks, which we encountered in lecture 9.

Second Style: Villa of P. Fannius Synistor

2nd style Fresco from the cubiculum of the Villa of P. Fannius Sinistor, Boscoreale. 1st century BCE. New York Met. .jpg

Detail of a wall painting from cubiculum of the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor, Boscoreale, c. 50 BCE. Image: By Alethe (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 3.08.50 PMScreen Shot 2018-02-21 at 3.09.02 PMScreenshots from the Metropolitan Museum’s video showing a 3D reconstruction of how the wallpaintings would have appeared in the Villa itself (8 mins).

Second Style: Rome Odyssey Frieze

Odyssey FriezeWall painting discovered in a house Esquiline Hill, Rome, depicting Homer’s Odyssey, Books 10 and 11 behind a colonnade “frame”. This part of the frieze shows Odyssey Book 10: meeting the daughter of the King of the Laestrygonians (left);the Laestrygonians attacking the ships of Odysseus (right). Characters’ names are inscribed in Greek. 40 BCE. Image: Vatican Museum.

Giesecke 2007: “This is the sole surviving exemplar of the ‘Odyssean wanderings through varied landscapes,’ that Vitruvius (7.5.2) recommended as subject matter suitable for painted decoration on walls of ambulationes ‘spaces of passage’.”

Second Style: Painted Garden, Villa of Livia 

Painted garden from Villa of Livia (wife of Emperor Augustus) at Prima Porta, c. 20 BCE. Rome, National Museum of the Terme. Partially subterranean chamber (12m x 6m) to create a cooler temperature for the hot summer months. Dispenses with the architectural “frame” traditional of the second style, and brings nature inside. Image: by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta (own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. See a video of the whole room here from Khan Academy.

Transition from Second Style to Third Style: Farnesina House 

“Sacro-idyllic” landscape from the Farnesina House, stucco relief. c. 20 BCE. Image: by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta (own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Ling 1991: 45: “From the Farnesina villa come the remains of several decorations executed in delicate, all-white stuccowork…Above all, the figured and ornamental reliefs (landscapes, Dionysiac scenes, Victories with candelabra, busts, grotesques and floral motifs) have become the dominant element of the composition.”

Liversidge 1983: 101: “The House of Livia and the Farnesina House foreshadow the appearance of Style III, the ‘ornamental’, when the substantial architecture of Style II is replaced by frameworks of fantastic invention which makes no serious pretence at solidity.”

Third Style: Ornamental 

Third Style: Villa at Fondo Bottaro 

The following images are both digital recreations and ancient wall painting. James Stanton-Abbott has digitally reconstructed the third style wall paintings of the Villa at Fondo Bottaro, whose frescoes are now in the Boston MFA and in the Rhode Island: Museum of Art.  The Boston frescoes are currently in the Gallery 213 at the MFA. See info about the black frescoes here; the yellow frescoes here.

Ramage & Ramage (6th edition) 2015: 107: “The Third Pompeian style began in the Augustan age, and grew out of the Second. It treats the wall as the flat surface that it is, rather than as a window upon a distant space. With rectilinear and organic patterns against a monochromatic background, it emphasizes the ornamental value of designs…There is no interest in showing substantial architectural structures, nor the illusion of three-dimensional space.”

James Stanton-Abbott Villa Fondo Bottaro near Pompeii peristyle .png

James Stanton-Abbott.pngJames Stanton-Abbott VILLA FONDO BOTTARO black.png

James Stanton-Abbott VILLA FONDO BOTTARO red

Third Style: Villa of Agrippa Postumus

Wall painting- Perseus and Andromeda in landscape, from the imperial villa at Boscotrecase.jpg
Wall painting: Perseus and Andromeda in landscape, from the imperial villa at Boscotrecase built by Agrippa, friend of Emperor Augustus and husband of his daughter, Julia. Agrippa died in 12 BCE, and the villa was inherited by his son born in 11 BCE, Agrippa Postumus. Image: Metropolitan Museum. Elements of third style: intricacy, dreamy brush-strokes, a sacro-idyllic scene (pastoral elements = goats, sheep, shepherds, trees, flowers, with religious shrines).

IMG_4560Close-up of the sea monster in the Perseus and Andromeda panel. Image: Čulík-Baird.

Further readings:


Roman intellectual life.

Lecture 9, Thursday 15th February 2018

Heroic lays?

Cicero, Tusculan Disputations (1.3): At a later date than in Greece were poets either known or welcomed by our countrymen. Although, it is stated in Cato the Elder’s Origins* that guests were in the habit of singing at banquets in honour of the virtues of famous men to the playing of a piper.

*Cato’s “Origins” (Origines) was the first history written in Latin. Cato began writing it in 168 BCE and worked on it till his death in 149 BCE.

Habinek 2001: 36: “…the ancient Romans believed, and there is little reason to doubt them, that they had a literary culture — or, more precisely, a musical culture from which literature could emerge — prior to the Second Punic War. As in other archaic city-states, so in Rome citizens sang songs of praise and blame, recounted the achievements of their ancestors, persuaded each other through political oratory, hymned their deities at civic festivals, and taught their children proper behaviour through anecdotes, examples, and precepts. They had a cultural system comparable to what the Greeks called mousikē, one linked, as in Greek cities, to the institution of the symposium [=ritualized male drinking] celebrated by clusters of aristocracts, known in Latin as sodalitates.”

Habinek 2001: 37: “It is important to recognize that we are not speaking here of a transition from oral to literate society; archaic Rome was literate centuries before it developed what we have come to call literature.”

Early Latin playwrights (3rd-early 1st century BCE)


origin + date


what do we know about them?

Livius Andronicus Tarentum
b. 290? BCE
— produced a play for Ludi Romani in 240 BCE
— “Hymn to Juno” sung by 27 women in 207 BCE (Liv. 27.37.7)
— translated Homer’s Odyssey into Latin saturnians


—  captured when Rome conquered Tarentum in 272 BCE
— he was owned and freed by Livius Salinator consul in 207 BCE (Jerome)
— worked as a teacher in Rome (Suet. gramm. 1.2)
— acted in his own plays (Liv. 7.2.8)
— his guild of actors + scribe = Temple of Minerva on the Aventine (Festus 492, 22)
Suetonius (ibid.) calls him a “half-Greek” (semigraecus)
Gnaeus Naevius Campania
d. 204 or 201 BCE
— “The song of the Punic War” (Bellum Poenicum): an account of the First Punic War in saturnians
praetextae: Latin plays about historical events; Naevius invented this genre:
“Romulus” or “Wolf” (Romulus or Lupus)
Clastidium (war of 222 BCE where Marcellus killed an enemy in single combat)

free citizen

— Gellius (1.24) refers to his “Campanian arrogance”
— he was a Roman citizen or had Latin rights (Boyle 2006: 36)
— Naevius making fun of the Metelli on stage led to his imprisonment (referred to in Plautus’ Braggart Soldier, 210-212)
— he fought in the First Punic War (Gell. 17.21.44)
Plautus Sarsina
254-218 BCE
— comedies

free citizen

see lecture 5
Quintus Ennius Rudiae, Calabria
239-169 BCE
— “Annals” (Annales): Rome’s first epic poem written in hexameters, covering Roman history from fall of Troy to 184 BCE.

  • “Ambracia” (Ambracia)
  • “Sabine Women” (Sabinae)

a number of other works of various genres

non-citizen of free birth, received citzenship 184 BCE

— Gellius (17.17.1) refers to Ennius speaking Oscan, Greek, Latin.
— in Second Punic War he was serving in Sardinia as an officer (Silius Italicus, 12.393-395) when he was picked up by Cato the Elder in 204 BCE (Skutsch 1985:1)
— he was closely associated with M. Fulvius Nobilior; Ennius accompanied Fulvius on campaign against Ambracia (189 BCE), celebrated this campaign in both the Annales and a play, Ambracia
— wrote poems for Scipio Aemilianus, + was a sculpture on their tomb (Cic. Arch. 22)
— worked as a teacher in Rome (Suet. gramm. 1.2)Suetonius (ibid.) calls him a “half-Greek” (semigraecus)
— seems to have received Roman citizenship in 184 BCE (Cic. Brut. 79)
Marcus Pacuvius Brundisium
c. 220-c.130 BCE
praetexta: “Paullus” (Paullus): dramatized historical events related to L. Aemilius Paullus

free citizen

— the name “Pacuvius” is Oscan (other forms = Pacuius, Pacuius, Paquius)
— nephew of Ennius (Pliny NH 35.19)
— painter: Pliny (NH 35.19) notes that the Temple of Hercules in the Forum Boarium had a painting of his
— Cicero implies that he was a friend of Scipio Aemilianus (On Old Age 24)
Terence Carthage
185/4-159 BCE
— comedies


see lecture 5
Lucius Accius Pisaurum
170-c. 86 BCE
praetextae: “Children of Aeneas” or “Decius” (Aeneadae siue Decius), “Brutus” (Brutus

son of freedmen parents (Jerome)

— Pacuvius + Accius staged a play in the same year (Cic. Brut. 229 = 140 BCE)
— Cicero met him (Brut. 107)
— c. 120 BCE he became prominent in the Guild of Poets (collegium poetarum, by this time Temple of Hercules of the Muses)
— associated with Iunius Brutus Callaicus, consul 137 BCE (Cicero, Arch. 27, Leg. 2.54, Brut. 107).

For titles of the plays, see Čulík-Baird 2016.

[pdf] printable table of early Latin poets

a la carte Roman poetsMap of the origins of the early Latin poets. Generated with the AMWC’s à-la-carte map. Text overlay of poets’ names by Čulík-Baird.

Quintus Ennius 

Boyle 2006: 59: “Ennius wrote an epic… It was the first Latin history of Rome… the poem was ‘completed’ perhaps a decade or so before the appearance of the first prose history of Rome in Latin. Annales’ cultural impact would be difficult to overstate. Written by a south Italian immigrant, Ennius’ epic yet played a constituitive part in defining for the Roman elite of the next 150 years what it was to be Roman.”

The Sacred Poet

Cicero, Pro Archia* (18-19): We have it on the highest and most learned authority that while other things are matters of science, formula, and technique, poetry depends solely upon an inborn faculty, is evoked by a purely mental activity, and is infused with a divine spirit. Rightly, then, did our Ennius call poets “sacred” (sancti), for they seem recommended to us by the benign bestowal of the gods. Sacred, then, judges, in your enlightened eyes let the name of poet be, which not even any barbarian race has violated. *The very rocks of the wilderness give back a sympathetic echo to the voice; savage beasts have sometimes been charmed into stillness by song. Will we, who are nurtured upon all that is highest, be deaf to the appeal of poetry? Colophon asserts that Homer is her citizen, Chios claims Homer for their own, Salamis appropriates Homer, while Smyrna is so confident that Homer belongs to her that she has even dedicated a shrine to him in her town. And many other cities besides engage in mutual strife to possess Homer. These peoples, then, are ambitious to claim, even after his death, one who was an alien, merely because he was a poet. Shall a living poet be repudiated by us, though he is ours both by our desire and by law?

*In 62 BCE, the Roman citizenship of Archias, a poet from Syria, was contested under the lex Plautia Papiria (89 BCE). Cicero successfully defended him in court. Archias had written poetry celebrating the military accomplishments of Gaius Marius (Pro Archia 5).

*Cicero refers here to the myths of Amphion, who used his lyre to build the walls of Thebes, and/or to Orpheus, legendary musician, poet, prophet-figure, who could use his music to charm all living creatures and rocks.

Roman Homer, or, the Immortal Poet 

Lucretius On the Nature of Things (1.112-122):
For what the soul may be they do not know,
Whether ’tis born, or enter in at birth,
And whether, snatched by death, it die with us,
Or visit the shadows and the vasty caves
Of *Orcus, or by some divine decree
Enter the brute herds, as our Ennius sang,      > ENNIUS
Who first from lovely *Helicon brought down
A laurel wreath of bright perennial leaves,     > PERENNIS
Renowned forever among the Italian clans.
Yet Ennius too in everlasting verse
Proclaims those vaults of *Acheron to exist,
Though, he said, neither souls nor bodies reach it,
But only phantom figures, strangely pale,
And tells how once from out those regions rose
Immortal Homer’s ghost to him and shed salt tears
And with his words unfolded nature’s source.

*Orcus, the Latin word for the underworld, or the god of the underworld, Pluto.
*Mount Helicon, in Boeotia, the home of the Muses, and where the Greek poet Hesiod was poetically inspired in the Theogony (22-35).
*Acheron, a river of the underworld, sometimes metaphorically the underworld itself.

Cicero, Academica (2.58): When Ennius dreamed, he said: “the poet, Homer, appeared to me…” [= uisus Homerus adesse poeta]

Cicero, Academica (2.88): Isn’t it the case that we think Ennius heard the whole speech, which begins, “Oh pietas of spirit?” [= o pietas animi]

Ennius Annals fr. 11: I remember becoming a peacock [= memini me fiere pauom]

Oplontis villa of PoppaeaWall painting from Villa of Poppaea at Oplontis, before 79 CE, depicting a peacock. Image: wikimedia.

+ go back and reread Ilia’s Dream, and the August Augury from lecture 2, both from Ennius’ Annales. 

Stoic philosopher falls into shit (c.169 BCE)

Suetonius, On Grammarians (2): In my opinion then, the first to introduce the study of grammar into our city was Crates of Mallos [Stoic philosopher, head of library of Pergamum in 2nd c. BCE], a contemporary of Aristarchus [head librarian at Alexandria in 2nd c. BCE]. He was sent to the senate by king Attalus between the Second and Third Punic wars, at about the time when Ennius died [=169 BCE]; and having fallen into the opening of a sewer in the Palatine quarter and broken his leg, he held numerous and frequent conferences during the whole time both of his embassy and of his convalescence, at which he  constantly gave instruction, and thus set an example for our countrymen to imitate. Their imitation, however, was confined to a careful criticism of poems which had as yet but little circulation, either those of deceased friends or others that met with their approval, and to making them known to the public by reading and commenting on them.

The Cloaca Maxima (Great Sewer) in Rome, said to have been built by Rome’s last kingLeft: line drawing of the Great Sewer. Image: Project Gutenberg. Right: modern photograph of a visible part of the Great Sewer. Image: William Thayer @ LacusCurtius.

The “magic” of philosophy (155 BCE)

PlutarchLife of Cato the Elder (22): When he [=Cato the Elder, 234-149 BCE] was now well on in years, there came as ambassadors from Athens to Rome, Carneades the Academic, and Diogenes the Stoic philosopher,* to beg the reversal of a certain decision against the Athenian people, which imposed upon them a fine of five hundred talents. The people of Oropus had brought the suit, the Athenians had let the case go by default, and the Sicyonians had pronounced judgment against them.  Upon the arrival of these philosophers, the most studious of the city’s youth hastened to wait upon them, and became their devoted and admiring listeners. The charm of Carneades especially, which had boundless power, and a fame not inferior to its power, won large and sympathetic audiences, and filled the city, like a rushing mighty wind, with the noise of his praises Report spread far and wide that a Greek of amazing talent, who disarmed all opposition by the magic of his eloquence, had infused a tremendous  passion (eros, ἔρως) into the youth of the city, in consequence of which they forsook their other pleasures and pursuits and were “possessed” (ἐνθουσιῶσι = enthusiasm) about philosophy. The other Romans were pleased at this, and glad to see their young men lay hold of Greek culture and consort with such admirable men.  But Cato [the Elder], at the very outset, when this zeal for discussion came pouring into the city, was distressed, fearing lest the young men, by giving this direction to their ambition, should come to love a reputation based on mere words more than one achieved by martial deeds. And when the fame of the visiting philosophers rose yet higher in the city, and their first speeches before the Senate were interpreted, at his own instance and request, by so conspicuous a man as Gaius Acilius, Cato determined, on some decent pretext or other, to rid and purge the city of them all.  So he rose in the Senate and censured the magistrates for keeping in such long suspense an embassy composed of men who could easily secure anything they wished, so persuasive were they. “We ought,” he said, “to make up our minds one way or another, and vote on what the embassy proposes, in order that these men may return to their schools and lecture to the sons of Greece, while the youth of Rome give ear to their laws and magistrates, as before.”

Aulus Gellius (Attic Nights 6.14.8-11): This threefold variety [of style] is also to be observed in the three philosophers whom the Athenians sent as envoys to the senate at Rome, to persuade the senators to remit the fine which they had imposed upon the Athenians because of the sack of Oropos; and the fine amounted to nearly five hundred talents. The philosophers in question were Carneades of the Academy, Diogenes the Stoic, and Critolaus the Peripatetic. When they were admitted to the House, they made use of Gaius Acilius, one of the senators, as interpreter; but beforehand each one of them separately, for the purpose of exhibiting his eloquence, lectured to a large company. Rutilius and Polybius declare that all three aroused admiration for their oratory, each in his own style. “Carneades,” they say, “spoke with a vehemence that carried you away, Critolaus with art and polish, Diogenes with restraint and sobriety.” Each of these styles, as I have said, is more brilliant when it is chastely and moderately adorned; when it is rouged and be powdered, it becomes mere jugglery.

Philosophy at Rome

Stoicism: founded by Zeno of Citium (4th/3rd c. BCE)
Epicureanism: founded by Epicurus (4th/3rd c. BCE)

Stoics vs Epicureans[pdf] Stoicism vs. Epicureanism 

The bad kind of Epicureanism…

Cicero, In Pisonem (68-69): You have of course heard it said that Epicurean philosophers assess the desirability of anything by its capacity to give pleasure—whether rightly or wrongly is no concern of ours, or at any rate not relevant to the present issue—it is, however, a dangerous argument to put before a young man of only moderate intelligence, and one that often leads to disaster. Accordingly as soon as the lewd Piso heard pleasure praised so highly by so great a philosopher, he did not pick and choose; he so stimulated all his pleasurable sensations, and raised such a whinnying to welcome his friend’s arguments, that he plainly thought he had found in the Greek not a professor of ethics but a master of the art of lust.

Cicero, In Pisonem (67): Though all excess is vicious and degrading, there is a form of it that is not all unworthy of gentleman and a free man. You will find in Piso no good taste, no refinement, no elegance; you will find in him—to give the devil his due—nothing exceptionally extravagant, save his licentiousness. Embossed ware—not a piece of it; enormous tankards—Placentine ones, too, that he might not be thought to despise his countrymen; the table piled not with shellfish or fish, but with huge joints of tainted meat; slatternly slaves do the waiting, some even old men; cook and hall-porter are one; neither breadmaker nor wine-cellar on the premises; the bread from abakehouse, the wine from a tavern; Greeks packed five or more to a couch, himself alone on one; toping until the wine is poured straight out of the jar.

The Epicurean poet:
Lucretius, On the Nature of Things (1st c. BCE)

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things (1.911-914):
the same elements a little changed in their relations create
fires and firs? Just as the words themselves too > IGNES + LIGNUM
consist of elements a little changed,
when we mark fires and firs with a distinct name.

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things (1.1-49):
Mother of the race of Aeneas, delight of gods and men, > AENEADUM GENETRIX
Dear Venus that beneath the gliding stars
Makest to teem the many-voyaged main
And fruitful lands-for all of living things
Through thee alone are evermore conceived,
Through thee are risen to visit the great sun-
Before thee, goddess, and thy coming on,
Flee stormy wind and massy cloud away,
For thee the daedal Earth bears scented flowers,
For thee waters of the unvexed deep
Smile, and the hollows of the serene sky
Glow with diffused radiance for thee!
For soon as comes the springtime face of day,
And procreant gales blow from the West unbarred,
First fowls of air, smit to the heart by thee,
Foretoken thy approach, O thou Divine,
And leap the wild herds round the happy fields
Or swim the bounding torrents. Thus amain,
Seized with the spell, all creatures follow thee
Whithersoever thou walkest forth to lead,
And thence through seas and mountains and swift streams,
Through leafy homes of birds and greening plains,
Kindling the lure of love in every breast,
Thou bringest the eternal generations forth,
Kind after kind. And since ’tis thou alone
Guidest the Cosmos, and without thee naught
Is risen to reach the shining shores of light,
Nor aught of joyful or of lovely born,
Thee do I crave co-partner in that verse
Which I presume on Nature to compose
For *Memmius mine, whom thou hast willed to be
Peerless in every grace at every hour-
Wherefore indeed, Divine one, give my words
Immortal charm. Lull to a timely rest
O’er sea and land the savage works of war,
For thou alone hast power with public peace
To aid mortality; since he who rules
The savage works of battle, powerful Mars,
How often to thy bosom flings his strength
O’ermastered by the eternal wound of love-
And there, with eyes and full throat backward thrown,
Gazing, my goddess, open-mouthed at thee,
Pastures on love his greedy sight, his breath
Hanging upon thy lips. Him thus reclined
Fill with thy holy body, round, above!
Pour from those lips soft syllables to win
Peace for the Romans, glorious Lady, peace!
For in a season troublous to the state
Neither may I attend this task of mine
With thought untroubled, nor mid such events
The illustrious scion of the *Memmian house
Neglect the civic cause.

* Gaius Memmius = governer in Bithynia in 57 BCE, with whom Catullus traveled (see poem 10).

Fantham 2013: 48-49: “There was a conflict in Lucretius between the inspired poet and committed Epicurean. Poetically Lucretius saw himself in the tradition of Ennius, “noster Ennius,” who first brought down a golden circlet of undying foliage from Helicon (1.118); he cites Ennius’ beleif in metempsychosis and his vision of Homer’s shade emerging from Elysium. However, Epicurus had rejected poetry as a vehicle for expounding his ideas. Epicurus had also declared that the gods did not concern themselves with human prayers or sins but lived a carefree life in the empyrean. Lucretius too makes this claim, but after he has opened his great poem with a splendid, almost ecstatic hymn to Venus as ‘ancestress of the children of Aeneas and delight of men and gods’ (1.1). The hymn first addresses her as a fertility spirit bringing vitality and desire to creatures wild and tame, of earth and sky and sea, then imagines her reclining in the arms of her lover, Mars, before ending with a prayer to bring peace — for in this time of strife, Lucretius cannot act freely and Memmius has to devote himself to Rome’s common welfare (1.1-43).”

Further reading:



Lecture 8, Tuesday 13th February 2018

Nota bene: You have the option to write a poem in the style of Catullus (or Vergil) for extra credit [up to +3%]. Due May 1st. For more information on this and the other extra credit opportunity (MFA visit [up to +4%]), see: exams, assessment, policy.

Verona 89 BCE Roman colony.pngPleiades: Verona.

Gaius Valerius Catullus

  • Roman poet of the 1st century BCE, who died young and famous 
  • all externally datable references in the poems date to 57-54 BCE
  • came from an equestrian family from Verona (calls himself Transpadanuspoem 39) 
  • Catullus’ father regularly hosted Julius Caesar (Suetonius, Iul. 73), who was on military campaign in Gaul from 58-51 BCE 
  • Caesar complained of Catullus’ attacks against him
    • poem 29: Catullus insults Caesar + Pompey, and Caesar’s associate Mamurra (who had got rich in Gaul)
    • poem 57: Catullus insults Caesar + Mamurra 
  • 57 BCE: Catullus went to Bithynia as a member of entourage of proconsul Gaius Memmius (poem 10), where he visited the tomb of his brother who had died and been buried in the Troad (poems 65, 68a, 68b, 101)
  • Catullus’ poems introduce us to a private world of drinking, contests of masculinity (competitive homosociality), private spaces; casual interaction with political world, but a general lack of interest in traditional careers
  • themes of the poems are sex, (love), promiscuity, courtship, jealousy, betrayal; Catullus’ romantic/intimate relationships with women and men; male sodality, commensality, companionship, competition
  • strong interest in his own poetic circle (neoteric / poetae novi): C. Licinius Calvus, Q. Cornificius, Veranius, Asinius Pollio, Cornelius Nepos, C. Helvius Cinna. 
    • literary “equals” rather than patrons
  • many of Catullus’ poems seem to come out of an affair between the poet and a woman whom he gives the name “Lesbia”, after the 7th/6th century BCE poet Sappho (famously of the island, Lesbos)
    • Catullus’ contemporaries and subsequent readers seem to have believed that this Lesbia referred to a real woman
      • Ovid (Tristia 2.427-8): “yet wanton Catullus sang often of her who was falsely called Lesbia.”
      • later source (Apuleius, Apology 10) suggests that the real woman behind the poetry was a Clodia Metelli, older sister of Publius Clodius Pulcher (Cicero’s nemesis) + wife of Q. Caecilius Metellus Celer (cos. 60 BCE)
      • Clodia Metelli appears as a major character in a court case of 56 BCE (=Pro Caelio, “In Defense of Caelius”); Cicero defended Marcus Caelius Rufus against the charge of attempting to poison her, as well as a charge of assassinating an Egyptian delegate
    • Lesbia is a married woman: 83.
    • Poems declaring love for Lesbia: 2, 3, 5, 7, 13, 51, 85, 87, 107, 109.
    • Poems comparing her to other women: 43, 86.
    • Poems about their fights: 36, 83, 92, 104.
    • Poems criticizing her for cheating on him: 8, 68, 70, 72, 75, 76.
    • Poems of strong abuse against her: 11, 37, 58, 79.
    • Poems about her other lovers: 37 (Egnatius), 91 (Gellius), 79 (her own brother??)
  • Catullus’ poems also describe a love affair with a man named Juventius: 15, 21, 24, 48, 81, 99.

Structure of Catullus’ “libellus (‘little book’):

    • almost 2 300 verses in 1 book, divided into 3 sections on the basis of meter:
      • 1-60: brief, light poems of various meters
      • 61-68: “carmina docta” (“erudite poems”), longer and greater stylistic effort, more monumental; various meters
        • poem 64: a “miniature epic” in hexameters (400 lines long): Peleus + Thetis, Theseus + Ariadne
      • 69-116: short poems in elegiac couplets, so-called epigrams
    • edition by Catullus or posthumous?
      • too big for one papyrus roll? could probably fit on a “single outsize scroll” (see Peter Green notes p213) 
      • non-chronological order, ordered by meter = philologists?
      • poems probably circulated individually?

All Latin poetry was designed to be read aloud: you can hear modern recordings of Catullus’ poetry in Latin here.

Poem 1: Who should I give my book to?
[see also Peter Green’s notes: pp212-213]

1.1: “new” (novus), “witty” (lepidusλεπτός, “subtle”, “thin”, “refined”)
1.2: “fresh-polished” with pumex = ‘pumice-stone’
1.3: “you, Cornelius” = Cornelius Nepos (c. 110-c.25 BCE) writer of biography and history in Latin
1.5: “the lone Italian!”: like Catullus, Cornelius Nepos was from Cisalpine Gaul
1.7: “scholarly stuff, my god, and so exhaustive!“: Cornelius Nepos’ history (Chronica) was in 3 volumes
1.8: “take this little booklet, this mere trifle“: contrast (?) between historical writing + poetic composition; yet, they are friends and can exchange works
1.10: “let it outlast at least one generation!“: desire for immortality (and it’s always interesting when ancient texts wish for survival, since they have survived till now…)

Quinn 1996: 88: “Poem 1 dramatizes the act of dedication: Cornelius gets the presentation copy, but there will be other copies, of course, which will circulate in the normal way — a repetition on a larger scale of the process though which many of the individual poems, if not all, have already passed.”

Culpepper Stroup: 2010: 33: “…Catullus asks a deceptively simple question: To whom do I give this charming new work?… On closer inspection this simplest of inquiries becomes only more complex, more difficult to decipher, and more demonstrative of the anxieties of textual exchange and the author’s desire to remain a subject even as he becomes, through his text, an object. Who will understand what the gift of a text means? Who will make sure that the right people read it? Who will be able to read it as intended to be read and who will, perhaps, make a gift in kind? What, at last, does it mean to entrust one’s text — one’s persona — to the care of another, and how does one write about this meaning?’ 

Papyrus scroll and pen. Roman wallpainting from Pompeii. 1st c. CE. Inv. 4676.Close-up of a Roman wall painting from Pompeii (1st c. CE, Inv. 4676) showing a papyrus book scroll and pen. Image: eurasianmss.lib.uiowa.edu.

Top left: papyrus plants growing in Sicily. Top middle: Kalzang Dorjee Bhutia selecting the papyrus stalks for a workshop on papyrus making. Top right: results of that workshop. Top three images from eurasianmss.lib.uiowa.edu. Bottom left: writing implements and money in a Roman wall painting from House of Julia Felix, Pompeii 1st c. CE (Inv. 8598); note the book scroll in the bottom left corner. Image: materiaconference.net. Bottom middle: writing implements in a Roman wall painting from Pompeii, 1st c. CE (Inv. 4676). Image: materiaconference.net. Bottom right: a surviving papyrus fragment of Terence’s Andria, 4th c. CE (P. Oxy. 2401). Image: papyrology.ox.ac.uk/POxy.


Poem 2a: my lover’s plaything…
[see also Peter Green’s notes: p213]

2.1: “Sparrow“: a pet bird, or…? the sparrow was associated with Aphrodite by Sappho (1.9-12)
2.1: “precious darling“: Catullus watches a woman (note that she is unnamed) playing with a pet bird and the sight conjures up scenes of intimacy and eroticism in his imagination. The scene is internal, voyeuristic, psychological, playful.

Nightingale: House of the Golden Bracelet, Pompeii. 1st c. BCE or CE.Roman wall painting from the House of the Golden Bracelet (close-up on a nightingale). Pompeii, 1st c. BCE or CE. Image: mtholyoke.edu.


Poem 3: …is dead
[see also Peter Green’s notes pp213-214]

3.3: “Sparrow lies dead” — the ‘bird’ has died
3.8-9: “nor from her warm lap’s safety would he | ever venture far…
3.18: “all her weeping“: if the sparrow is not a ‘bird’ but something else, what do we learn here about the woman’s reaction?

Left: a tintinnabulum from Pompeii, 1st c. CE (Inv. 27839). Image: Marie-Lan Nguyen (CC-BY 2.5) via wikimedia. Right: phallic amulets from Roman Gaul. Image: wikimedia. We have from ancient Roman art a number of depictions of winged penises — these are a type of object called the fascinus or fascinum, the image of a phallus acting as a charm against evil, often worn on the body, especially as a protection for children, or appearing in other trinket forms (amulets, wind chimes, etc.), or in cult contexts (e.g. Vestal Virgins, triumphs). Pliny the Elder called this the medicus inuidiae (NH 28.31) — the “antidote for evil feeling.” Depictions of penises seem to have appeared in all sorts of places in the Roman world. On March 17 every year, a phallus was carried as part of the procession of Liber. Penises also appear as markers of boundaries — at crossroads, or the thresholds of private houses in Pompeii and Ostia.


Poem 5: forget those old dudes, let’s have fun
[see also Peter Green’s notes p214]

5.1: “Lesbia mine” — the first occurrence of this pseudonym, Catullus derived it from the famous poet, Sappho (7th/6th c. BCE), a woman from Lesbos who wrote in Greek erotic and intimate poetry about other women; Catullus’ poem 51 is a translation of one of her poems
5.1-2: “and as for scandal…old men” — rumours and gossip about the pair are not to deter them from their love and fun. Catullus tells Lesbia not to worry about what the older generation thinks, suggesting a) a divide between the youthful Catullus and the seniores/patres but also b) that their gossip might actually be a cause for concern. Since Lesbia is married (we learn this from poem 83), the eyes of judgemental spectators could be a problem.
5.3: “value the lot no more than a farthing” — Catullus tells Lesbia not to place any value in the gossip of old men. The metaphor is an economic one (“don’t pay even a penny for that trash”).
5.7: “Give me a thousand kisses…” — Catullus playfully numbers their erotic fun, finally throwing up all the numbers, putting them in disarray. The counting game, and the “long night” of line 6, suggest an eternal bliss and calm (that will soon violently end).
5.12: “so no maleficent enemy can hex us” — someone else knowing the details of your life gave them the ability to work symbolically against you. Rome’s legal code (The Twelve Tables) contained a provision against hexes like this (either magical or verbal abuse*). The Latin here (5.12) is inuidere means to “look at”, in a negative way (along the lines of “evil eye”).

*see Habinek 2005: 76-77.

Cicero, Pro Caelio 33-34 (trans. Berry): But I should like to ask her first whether she would prefer me to deal with her in a stern, solemn, old-fashioned way or in a relaxed, easy-going, modern way. If she chooses the severe mode of address, then I must call up from the underworld one of those bearded ancients — not with the modern type of goatee beard that she takes such pleasure in, but the rough type such as we see on antique statues and masks — to castigate the woman and speak in my place (for otherwise she might become angry with me!). Let me therefore summon up a member of her own family — and who better than the famous Caecus [=Appius Claudius Caecus, censor 312 BCE]? He, at any rate, will be the least shocked at her, since he will not be able to see her! [34] If he appears, this is, I am sure, how he will treat her, this is what he will say: “Woman! What do you think you are doing with Caelius, a man much younger than yourself, with someone from outside your own family? Why have you been either such a friend to him that you lent him gold or such an enemy that you were afraid of poison? Did you not notice that your father, or hear that your uncle, your grandfather, your great-grandfather, your great-great-grandfather and your great-great-great-grandfather were all consuls? And were you not aware that you were recently the wife of Quintus Metellus, that illustrious and valiant lover of his country, who only had to step out of his front door to surpass virtually every one of his fellow citizens in excellence, fame, and standing? Coming from such a distinguished family yourself, and marrying into one so illustrious, what reason did you have for lining yourself so closely to Caelius? Was he a blood-relation, a relation by marriage, a friend of your husband? He was none of these. What, then, was the reason — unless it was some reckless infatuation? And if you were not influenced by the masks of the men in our family, did my own descendant, the famous Quinta Claudia [204 BCE], not inspire you to rival our family’s glory in the splendid achievements of its women? Or were you not inspired by the famous Vestal virgin, Claudia, who at her father’s triumph [143 BCE], held him in her arms and so prevented him from being pulled down from his chariot by the hostile tribune of the plebs? Why was it your brother’s vices that influenced you, rather than the virtues of your father and ancestors, virtues that have been repeated down the generations from my own time not only in the men but particularly in the women of our family? Did I destroy the peace treaty with Pyrrhus [280 BCE] so you could strike the most disgraceful sexual bargains on a daily basis? Did I bring water to the city [Aqua Appia, Rome’s first aqueduct] for you to foul with your incestuous practices? Did I build a road [Via Appia, road from Rome to Brundisium] so that you could parade up and down it in the company of other women’s husbands?


Poem 7: no amount of lovin’ is enough
[see also Peter Green’s notes p215]

7.1: “You’d like to know how many of your kisses…?” — picking up on the counting from poem 5. A verbal game of excess.
7.3: “Libyan sand“: Libya = north Africa, west of Egypt
7.4: “silphium-rich Cyrene“: Cyrene, a town in Cyrenaica in north Africa (west of Libya). Annexed by Rome in the 70s BCE. Famous for its silphium, a plant that is now extinct (the image below is of its relative, ferula). Silphium represents the city’s material wealth (and hence Rome’s imperialistic interest in it) but also refers to the plant’s medicinal qualities. Silphium was used as an abortifacient/contraceptive by the Romans (see Riddle below).
7.6: “sepulchre of old Battus” — Battus was the founder of Cyrene, and supposedly the ancestor of the Greek poet Callimachus, whose style Catullus invokes.

Riddle 1997: 44-45: “On the basis of ancient descriptions and pictures, modern botanists identify silphium as a species of giant fennel (genus ferula), because of the shape of its leaves. The pungent sap from its stems and roots was used as cough syrup, and it gave food a richer, distinctive taste. Its true value was not as a medicine or a condiment, however. When women took silphium by mouth, they supposed that they would not get pregnant….The famous poet Catullus asks how many kisses he and Lesbia may share. Why, he answers, as many times as there are grains of sand on Cyrene’s silphium shores. That is, Catullus told his lover that they could make love for as long as they had the plant.”

Quinn 1996: 111: “The mathematics of Poem 5 drew perhaps the response from Lesbia, ‘Just how many kisses do you want?’ Catullus’ answer is, ‘no limit.’ To express the concept ‘no limit’ he has recourse to two traditional images of infinity, one (the sands of the desert) hot and exotic, the other (the stars in the sky) serene and cool. Infinity is safer too.”

Cyrene silphium.jpgCyrene was so famous for silphium that the plant became its emblem, see the right hand image of the above coin of Magas of Cyrene (c. 300-282/275 BCE). Image: wikimedia.

Left: a modern plant (ferula) related to silphium, which is now extinct. Image: Ruben0568 (CC BY-SA 4.0) via wikimedia. Right: screenshot from Assassin’s Creed: Origins (Ubisoft), tweeted by me (@opietasanimi, 18 Nov. 2017) “standing” in a silphium field in 49-47 BCE Cyrenaica.


Poem 10: I actually didn’t make that much money
[Peter Green’s notes p216]

10.1: “lounging in the Forum” — a nice setting of the scene in Rome. A casual moment. The Latin word which Green translates into English as “lounging” is otiosusthis has a very specific meaning = the kind of leisure that aristocrats have.
10.2-4: “his girlfriend…not unsmart, though, not entirely witless” — an unnamed woman. Pay close attention to how Catullus characterizes her in what follows…
10.8-9: “how were things in Bithynia, what was happening | had my posting brought me in a windfall?” Catullus had served Memmius in Bithynia (recently annexed by Rome), where he was expected to make a lot of money (as many Romans governing provinces did). According to Catullus in this poem, his superior was ungenerous with his largesse and he came back not so rich after all. But he wants to boast.
10.27: “Whoa” — Catullus, having lied about his resources, tries to get out of it. The woman, wanting to use his litter, that he lied about having, asks to borrow them so she can visit the temple of the god, Serapis (Osiris + Apis). This was a cult brought from Egypt.
10.34: “slight exaggerations” — Catullus, caught in the lie, lashes out at the unnamed woman.


Poem 15: keep your penis away from my boyfriend
[see also Peter Green’s notes p218]

15.1: “Let me commend me and my boyfriend to you“: a convention of commendatio (“recommendation”) in Roman life sets the poem up as though a formal request.
15.2-9: “keep the boy safe for meyour great whanger” — Catullus sets up the convention: please keep this boy from danger, but the danger turns out to be the recipient of the poem’s penis.
15.17-19: “my dire retaliationradishes and mullets” — if the recipient of the poem touches Catullus’ boyfriend, Catullus will have his revenge with sexual violence — rhaphanidosis.

Left: radishes. Image, wikimediaRight: a mullet. Image, wikimedia.


 Poem 58: descendants of Remus
[see also Peter Green’s notes p231]

58.1: “Caelius” — the same man whom Cicero defended against the crime of poisoning Clodia in 56 BCE.
58.4: “on backstreet corners and down alleysjacks off Remus’ generous descendants” — sex outside is an index of prostitution. The Latin word which Green translates as “jacks off” is glubit, used by Cato the Elder of stripping bark off a tree (On Agriculture 33).

Poem 85: I hate and I love
[see also Peter Green’s notes p261]

I hate and I love. You wonder, perhaps, why I’d do that?
I have no idea. I just feel it. I am crucified.


Further reading:

— on Catullus: Culpepper Stroup, Catullus, Cicero, and a Society of Patrons (2010); Brian Krostenko, Cicero, Catullus, and the Language of Social Performance (2001).
— on the invention of “homosexuality” by the poet Ovid: Thomas Habinek, “The invention of sexuality in the world-city of Rome.” In The Roman Cultural Revolution (1997) pp 23-43.


The Roman Political and Social Revolution: 133-82 BCE.

Lecture 7, Thursday 8th February 2018

Roman theories of decline

Velleius Paterculus (2.1): Scipio Africanus [202 BCE] opened the road for Rome’s power, Scipio Aemilianus [146 BCE] for Rome’s luxury (LUXURIA).

Polybius (31.25): Some of them had abandoned themselves to sex with boys and others to the society of courtesans, and many to musical entertainments and banquets, and the extravagance they involve, having in the course of the war with Perseus [168 BCE] been speedily infected by the Greek laxity in these respects. Cato the Elder gave vent in public to his displeasure that many people were introducing foreign luxury into Rome: they bought a keg of salt fish from the Black Sea for 300 drachmae, and paid more for handsome slaves than for estates.

Livy (34.4): [Cato speaking in 195 BCE*] You have often heard me complaining of the extravagance of the women and often of the men, both private citizens and magistrates even, and lamenting that the state is suffering from those two opposing evils, avarice (AVARITIA) and luxury (LUXURIA), which have been the destruction of every great empire. The better and the happier becomes the fortune of our commonwealth day by day and the greater the empire grows —and already we have crossed into Greece and Asia, places filled with all the allurements of vice, and we are handling the treasures of kings —the more I fear that these things will capture us rather than we them. Tokens of danger, believe me, were those statues which were brought to this city from Syracuse [in 212 BCE]. Altogether too many people do I hear praising the ornaments of Corinth and Athens and laughing at the clay temples [lit: antefixes] of our Roman godsI prefer that these gods be propitious to us, and I trust that they will be if we allow them to remain in their own dwellings.

*in 215 BCE Rome had passed a law (lex Oppia) that limited women’s access to gold, wearing of purple garments, or riding an animal-drawn vehicle in the city. In 195 BCE, women flooded the Roman forum, staging the “first women’s demonstration” (Pomeroy 1975: 77) to demand the law’s repeal.

Livy (39.6): For the beginnings of foreign luxury (LUXURIA) were imported into Rome by the army of Asia. These soldiers were responsible for the first importation into Rome [in 187 BCE, triumph of Manlius Volso] of bronze couches, expensive bedspreads, tapestry, and other textiles, and — what was at that time considered gorgeous furniture — pedestal tables and sideboards (monopodia et abaci). Banquets were made more attractive by the presence of girls who played on the harp and sang and danced, and by other forms of amusement, and the banquets themselves began to be prepared with greater care and expense. It was then that the cook, who had been to the ancient Romans the least valuable of slaves, and had been priced and treated accordingly, began to be highly valued, and what had been a mere task of a slave came to be regarded as an art. And yet the things that were at that time viewed with wonder were hardly even the seeds of the luxury (LUXURIA) that was to come…

 C. Vestorius Priscus tomb Pompeii in pictures.jpgWallpainting from the Tomb of C. Vestorius Priscus, just outside of Pompeii (before 79 CE), depicting silver flasks, cups, bowls, dishes, ladles on a table. Image: pompeiiinpictures.com.

bronze banquet couch.jpgA Roman couch made of bronze; wood framework modern restoration. 1st c. BCE Image: The Walters Museum.

Met museum Roman couch.jpgA Roman couch reassembled from fragments, made of wood, bone, glass; plus footstool. 1st-2nd century CE. Image: Metropolitan Museum.

SallustThe War with Catiline (10-11): But when our country had grown great through toil and the practice of justice, when great kings had been vanquished in war, savage tribes and mighty peoples subdued by force of arms, when Carthage, the rival of Rome’s sway, had perished root and  branch, and all seas and lands were open, then Fortune began to grow cruel and to bring confusion into all our affairsThose who had found it easy to bear hardship and dangers, anxiety and adversity, found leisure and wealth, desirable under other circumstances, a burden and a curse. Hence the lust for money first, then for power, grew upon them; these were, I may say, the root of all evils.  For avarice (AVARITIA) destroyed honour, integrity, and all other noble qualities; taught in their place insolence, cruelty, to neglect the gods, to set a price on everything Ambition drove many men to become false; to have one thought locked in the breast, another ready on the tongue; to value friendships and enmities not on their merits but by the standard of self-interest, and to show a good front rather than a good heart.  At first these vices grew slowly, from time to time they were punished; finally, when the disease had spread like a deadly plague, the state was changed and a government second to none in equity and excellence became cruel and intolerable. But at first men’s souls were actuated less by avarice (AVARITIA) than by ambition (AMBITIO) — a fault, it is true, but not so far removed from virtue (VIRTUS);  for the noble and the base alike long for glory, honour, and power, but the former mount by the true path, whereas the latter, being destitute of noble qualities, rely upon craft and deception. [+ compare Sallust, The War with Jugurtha (41)]

AMBITIO = gives us “ambition” but literally meant “walking around”,
hence “the going about of candidates for office in Rome”,
then finally “a desire for power, popularity; display, vanity”
Latin amb- (from PIE root *ambhi-) = “around” + -itio from ire “to go”

AMBITUS = a court case where you are sued for bribing voters
law against bribery (de ambitu) introduced in 181 BCE (Lex Cornelia Baebia)


The seeds of revolution

Plutarch, Life of Tiberius Gracchus (8): Of the territory which the Romans won in war from their neighbours, a part they sold, and a part they made common land, and assigned it for occupation to the poor and indigent among the citizens, on payment of a small rent into the public treasury. And when the rich began to offer larger rents and drove out the poor, a law was enacted forbidding the holding by one person of more than 500 iugera [=125 ha.: 309 acres, defined by Lex Licinia 366 BCE]. For a short time this enactment gave a check to the rapacity of the rich, and was of assistance to the poor, who remained in their places on the land which they had rented and occupied the allotment which each had held from the outset. But later on the neighbouring rich men, by means of fictitious personages, transferred these rentals to themselves, and finally held most of the land openly in their own names. Then the poor, who had been ejected from their land, no longer showed themselves eager for military service, and neglected the bringing up of children, so that soon all Italy was conscious of a lack of free men, and was filled with gangs of foreign slaves,* by whose aid the rich cultivated their estates, from which they had driven away the free citizens.

*Slave Rebellions in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE

  • Bradley 1994: 109: “The likelihood that Roman slaves attempted from time to time to reduce the rigours of servitude or to extricate themselves permanently from their condition may be readily admitted in simple terms of human nature, especially in view of the already documented fact that prisoners-of-war in Roman antiquity often preferred to inflict death on themselves than to submit to the horrors of capture. The evidence of revolt is decisive.
  • First Slave War: c.135-132 BCE, Sicily, see Diodorus 34.2ff.
    • Joshel 2010: 59: “The Roman estimates of the total number of slaves involved in the rebellion range from 60, 000 to 200, 000.”
  • Second Slave War: c. 104-101 BCE, Sicily, see Diodorus 36.1-10
    • Joshel 2010: 62: “the number of slaves in revolt grew from about 1,000 to 10,000.”
  • Spartacus rebellion: 73-71 BCE, began in gladiatorial school in Capua, led by the Thracian gladiator, Spartacus
    • 70 slave gladiators used kitchen tools (cleavers + spits) to break out of the school (Plut. Crass. 8)
    • at first supported by Thracian, German, + Gallic gladiators, then from slaves + poor of the countryside in Southern Italy working the farms of the rich; rebellion eventually = 70,000 to 120,000.
    • 71 BCE: Crassus destroyed the army in Lucania, crucifying the 6,000 of the defeated slaves along the Via Appia from Capua to Rome (see Plutarch, Life of Crassus 8ff.Joshel 2010: 62-63)
    • Spartacus 1960 by Stanley Kubrick starring Kirk Douglas (see Page duBois 2010: 120-130< a chapter on how this film reflects ancient evidence)
  • Brunt 1971: 122: “slaves who worked on the land were seldom freed; probably they constituted in an essentially agricultural society the immense majority of all slaves. To estimate total slave numbers we are thrown back to conjectures.”

More on gladiators.

The rise of the tribune: Tiberius Gracchus (tr. pl. 133 BCE)

Plutarch, Life of Tiberius Gracchus (8): Tiberius Gracchus was passing through Etruria on his way to Numantia [as quaestor in 137 BCE], and observed that there were few inhabitants in the country, and that those who tilled its soil or tended its flocks there were barbarian slaves, he then first conceived the public policy which was the cause of countless ills to the two brothers. However, the energy and ambition of Tiberius were most of all kindled by the people themselves, who posted writings on porticoes, house-walls, and monuments, calling upon him to recover for the poor the public land.

AppianCivil Wars 1.7: …the rich, getting possession of the greater part of the undistributed lands, and being emboldened by the lapse of time to believe that they would never be dispossessed, absorbing any adjacent strips and their poor neighbours’ allotments, partly by purchase under persuasion and partly by force, came to cultivate vast tracts instead of single estates (=latifundia), using slaves as labourers and herdsmen, in case free labourers should be drawn from agriculture into the army. At the same time the ownership of slaves brought them great gain from the multitude of their progeny, who increased because they were exempt from military service. Thus certain powerful men became extremely rich and the race of slaves multiplied throughout the country, while the Italian people dwindled in numbers and strength, being oppressed by poverty, taxes, and military service.


mus-cent-rom-004.jpgLand distribution. Air photograph of Roman ‘centuriation‘ preservered in the modern field-patterns northeast of Padua. Image: Museo della Centuriazione Romana. 


Tiberius Gracchus’ land redistribution bill (tribune: 133 BCE):

  • limit possession of land to 500 iugera (+250 per child)
  • proposed compensation to rich for giving up land for redistribution
  • proposed use of Attalus III’s kingdom be used to solve agrarian problem (Plut. Ti. 14)
  • anticipated a hostile reaction from senate, took to plebeian council; there another tribune, Marcus Octavius, tried to block the proposal; Gracchus had him removed from office
  • the redistribution to be organized by a commission of 3 men: Tiberius Gracchus, his brother Gaius Gracchus, his father-in-law Appius Claudius Pulcher
  • sought reelection for 132 BCE: Tiberius Gracchus + 300 of his followers killed by Publius Scipio Nasica (pontifex maximus) + senators holding broken legs of furniture (Plut. Ti. 19) , who dumped his body into the River Tiber at night (Plut. Ti. 20)
  • senatorial perspectives:
    • Plutarch, Life of Tiberius 14: Eudemus of Pergamum had presented Tiberius with a royal diadem and a purple robe, believing that he was going to be king in Rome. 
    • Cicero, On behalf of Sestius 103: Tiberius Gracchus sought to carry an agrarian law. It appealed to the common people. It looked likely to safeguard the fortunes of the poor. The best people (= optimates) threw their weight against it because they saw it was a source of discord and believed that to remove the rich from their long-held possessions was to rob the state of its defenders.
  • archaeological evidence: several markers (termini, cippi) have been found from various parts of Italy, some with names of commissioners: CIL 12.639 , CIL 12.640 , CIL 12.643CIL 12.644CIL 12.645

Gaius Gracchus (tribune: 123-122 BCE)

Plutarch, Life of Gaius Gracchus (3): But after entering upon his office he was at once first of all the tribunes, since he had an incomparable power in oratory, and his affliction gave him great boldness of speech in bewailing the fate of his brother. For to this subject he would bring the people round on every pretext, reminding them of what had happened in the case of Tiberius… “But before your eyes,” he said, “these men beat Tiberius to death with clubs, and his dead body was dragged from the Capitol through the midst of the city to be thrown into the Tiber; moreover, those of his friends who were caught were put to death without trial.”

Plutarch, Life of Gaius Gracchus (5): he now set a new example by turning towards the other part of the forum as he harangued the people, and continued to do this from that time on, thus by a slight deviation and change of attitude stirring up a great question, and to a certain extent changing the constitution from an aristocratic to a democratic form; for his implication was that speakers ought to address themselves to the people, and not to the senate.

  • re-enacted Tiberius’ land reform law
  • put forward proposal to establish new colonies in Italy + one at Carthage to be called Junonia (Plut. Gaius 10-11)
  • sponsored law that state required to provide clothing to soldiers (Plut. Gaius 5)
  • law that state would purchase grain in bulk to distribute to population at price below market rate, establish public granaries (Plut. Gaius 6)
  • judicial reform: equestrians to be judges in extortion courts instead of senators (known from a fragmentary bronze tablet from 2nd century BCE in Urbino, known as Tabula Bembina — see Lintott 1992)
  • proposed law to give voting rights to Latins, Latin rights to allies (Plutarch Gaius 8-9); rejected by senate, equestrians, urban poor alike
  • killed by the senate, beheaded — bounty of equal gold on his head, body thrown in the river (Plut. Gaius 17)


Gaius Marius (consul 107; 104, 103, 102, 101, 100; 86 BCE)

  • novus homo — a new man — from Arpinum, which had only received full citizenship in 188 BCE (Pleiades: Arpinum)
  • reformed the army, abolishing the property qualification for service and enrolled a volunteer army.
  • elected consul 107 BCE, fought Jugurtha (king of Numidia) for 2 years; reelected consul in 104 BCE to fight the Germanic Cimbri + Teutones, was reelected consul every year till 100 BCE, in that time brought further military reform, improving equipment + organization

Sallust, The War with Jugurtha (86): He himself in the meantime enrolled soldiers, not according to the classes in the manner of our forefathers, but allowing anyone to volunteer, for the most part the proletariat [the capite censi]. Some say that he did this through lack of good men, others because of a desire to curry favour, since that class had given him honour and rank. As a matter of fact, to one who aspires to power the poorest man is the most helpful, since he has no regard for his property, having none, and considers anything honourable for which he receives pay.

  • defeated Jugurtha, king of Numidia, through the diplomacy of his quaestor, Sulla; Jugurtha was displayed in Marius’ triumph in 104 BCE (Plut. Marius 12)

Plutarch, Life of Marius (10): He put Jugurtha alive into the hands of Sulla. This was the first seed of that bitter and incurable hatred between Marius and Sulla, which nearly brought Rome to ruin. For many wished Sulla to have the glory of the affair because they hated Marius, and Sulla himself had a seal-ring made, which he used to wear, on which was engraved the surrender of Jugurtha to him by Bocchus.


Jugurtha surrenders to Sulla.jpg

Left:  Bust of Diana wearing a diadem, with text FAVSTVS.
Right: Sulla seated, Bocchus holds olive branch, Jugurtha kneels with hands tied behind back, with text: FELIX. Date 56 BCE. Image: wikimedia.
Post on this coin type by Hannah Mitchell on the
University of Warwick numismatics blog.

Plutarch, Life of Sulla (6): Sulla’s quarrel with Marius broke out afresh on being supplied with fresh material by the ambition of Bocchus, who, desiring to please the people at Rome, and at the same time to gratify Sulla, dedicated on the Capitol some images bearing trophies, and beside them gilded figures representing Jugurtha being surrendered by Bocchus to Sulla.  Thereupon Marius was very angry, and tried to have the figures taken down, but others were minded to aid Sulla in opposing this, and the city was all but in flames with their dispute, when the Social war, which had long been smouldering, blazed up against the city and put a stop for the time being to the quarrel.

The Social War (91-87 BCE; main fighting in 90-89 BCE)

Italian bull Roman wolf .jpg

Mary Beard 2016: 239 n40 on this coin type: “The most aggressively anti-Roman coin minted by the Italian allies in the Social War. [Right] The Roman wolf is entirely overpowered by the Italian bull, and beneath the design the name of the moneyer  responsible is written in the Italian language of Oscan. [Left] The other side of the silver coin blazons the head of the god Bacchus and the name, also in Oscan, of one of the leading Italian generals.” Image: British Museum.

LeGlay (2009: 130): “The reason for this war was Rome’s refusal to grant its Italian allies (socii) the Roman citizenship they desired. The question had been first raised as early as after the conquests in the 3rd century BCE. Since that time, Italy had been a confused tangle of territories. Rome conferred unevenly upon them privileges, rewards, rights, and duties, based loosely on their status compared to that of Roman citizens. Roman citizens, full members of the civic body, participated in all the state’s activities; they enjoyed the benefit of civil and legal rights; since 167 BCE (after Pydna) they had been free of direct taxation (tributum), and they were entitled to a share in booty, to agrarian allocations, and to distributions of grain. Next came “Latins,” who held a status half-way between that of citizens and that of the allies. Inhabitants of Latin cities and colonies, the Latins shared the civil and legal rights of citizens (rights of contract, commercial, matrimonial), and were liable for certain fiscal and military dues (serving in auxiliary units)…The allies belonged to a third, even less privileged, category. They were peoples connected with Rome by a treaty that outlined their relations with the capital which, in most cases, exerted close control over them….They continued to supply the Roman army with contingents that were indispensible to its wars of conquest.”

  • 122 BCE: tribune Gaius Gracchus had tried to grant citizenship to Latins + Latin rights to allies
  • 91 BCE: tribune Marcus Livius Drusus proposed a citizenship bill
    • 10, 000 Marsi approached Rome in support intending to attack, but were convinced to turn back
    • senate rejected Drusus’ bill (Liv. Epitome 71)
    • Drusus was assassinated in his own house (Liv. Epitome 71)
  • 90 BCE: lex Julia de Civitate Latinis Danda awarded Roman citizenship to all the Latins + allies who had not taken up arms
  • 89 BCE: lex Plautia Papiria added new tribes to the comitia as communities were granted citizenship
  • Cisalpine Gaul remained apart until the time of Caesar

Velleius Paterculus (2.15):  The long smouldering fires of an Italian war were now fanned into flame by the death of Drusus. All Italy took up arms against the Romans. The rebellion began with the people of Asculum, who had put to death the praetor Servilius and Fonteius, his deputy; it was then taken up by the Marsi, and from them it made its ways into all the districts of Italy. The fortune of the Italians was as cruel as their cause was just; for they were seeking citizenship in the state whose power they were defending by their arms; every year and in every war they were furnishing men, both of cavalry and of infantry, and yet were not admitted to the rights of citizens in the state which, through their efforts, had reached so high a position that it could look down upon men of the same race and blood as foreigners and aliens.

Massacres abroad and at home…

  • 88 BCE: Mithridates VI of Pontus brings an army to Asia and executes thousands of Romans; between 80, 000 and 150, 000 (Plutarch, Sulla 24) in the cities of Ephesus, Pergamum, Tralles and other Greek cities in Asia Minor
  • senate appoints Sulla (consul 88 BCE) > East
    • married to Caecilia Metella, connected to Metelli (senatorial)
  • plebeian council (via tribune Sulpicius) appoints Marius (private citizen, 72 years old…) > East
    • past his prime (overweight + embarassingly out of shape, Plut. Mar. 34) but still loved + connected to the people
  • Sulla intercepted the 6 legions stationed at Nola, in Campania, and turned them against Rome; forced senate to assign command to him, and to exile Marius (Plut. Sulla 8ff.)
  • 87 BCE: Marius captures Rome, has Sulla declared a national enemy, slaughtered his enemies in Rome (Plut. Marius 43); Marius elected consul for 86 BCE
  • Sulla fights Mithridates’ generals victoriously (86-85 BCE), makes peace (85 BCE)
  • Sulla returns from the East and marches on Rome a second time; recaptured Rome in November 82 BCE after prolonged fighting
  • 82 BCE: Sullan proscriptions (“death lists”proscribere, “to put on display”, “condemn”):
    • public display of the edict + the list of 80 names: senators who supported Marius; 2nd + 3rd lists with a further 440 names…(Plutarch Sulla 31)
      • disenfranchised the children of the proscribed
    • ban on shelter to the proscribed, death to those who harboured fugitives
    • reward of 40, 000 sesterces for a denouncer or killer of proscribed; freedom for slaves who denounced or killed
  • massacre at Praeneste, which had resisted Sulla in 83/82 BCE; Marius commits suicide there (Appian BC 1.94)
  • Sulla settled his veterans on confiscated land
  • 80BCE: Cicero’s defense of Sextus Roscius (Pro Roscio) references the chaos + darkness of Sullan period


Sulla inscription CIL 11, 07547 EDCS.pngAn inscription naming Sulla as dictator from Sutrium. Inscription: L(ucio) Cornelio L(uci) f(ilio) Sullae / Felici dictatori. “To Lucius Cornlius, son of Lucius, Sulla Felix, the Dictator.” Image: EDCS.

Sulla’s dictatorship 

  • 82 BCE: Sulla makes self dictator without time limit; previously 6 months, Rome had not had a dictator in 120 years, since Second Punic War (Plut. Sulla 33)
  • 81 BCE: Sullan legislation — senatorial consolidation
    • removes powers from the tribunes of the plebs
    • transfers the juries back from equestrians to senators
    • doubles the senate to 600
    • makes quaestors eligible for senate — raises quaestors to 20
    • re-estabilishes 10 year gap between same office, which Marius had flouted
    • magistrates had to wait for 2 years before being elected to next office
  • 79 BCE retired his dictatorship; Julius Caesar would mock him for relinquishing the power of the dictatorship (Suetonius, Divus Julius 77)


Sulla Felix 

Plutarch, Life of Sulla (34): His triumph, however, which was imposing from the costliness and rarity of the royal spoils, had a greater ornament in the noble spectacle of the exiles. For the most distinguished and influential of the citizens, crowned with garlands, followed in the procession, calling Sulla their saviour and father, since indeed it was through him that they were returning to their native city and bringing with them their wives and children. And when at last the whole spectacle was over, he gave an account of his achievements in a speech to the people, enumerating the instances of his good fortune with no less emphasis than his deeds of valour, and finally, in view of these, he ordered that he receive the surname of Fortunate (for this is what the word “Felix” most nearly means). But he himself, in writing to the Greeks on official business, styled himself Epaphroditus (ἐπαφρόδιτος), or Favourite of Venus, and on his trophies in our country his name is thus inscribed: Lucius Cornelius Sulla Epaphroditus. Besides this, when Metella bore him twin children, he named the male child Faustus, and the female Fausta; for the Romans call what is auspicious and joyful, “faustum.” And to such an extent did he put more confidence in his good fortunes than in his achievements, that, although he had slain great numbers of the citizens, and introduced great innovations and changes in the government of the city, he laid down his office of dictator, and put the consular elections in the hands of the people; and when they were held, he did not go near them himself, but walked up and down the forum like a private man, exposing his person freely to all who wished to call him to account.

Sulla infelix???

Plutarch, Life of Sulla (36): However, even though he had such a wife at home, he consorted with actresses, harpists, and theatrical people, drinking with them on couches all day long. For these were the men who had most influence with him now: Roscius the comedian, Sorex the mime, and Metrobius the impersonator of women, for whom, though past his prime, he continued up to the last to be passionately fond, and made no denial of it. By this mode of life he aggravated a disease which was insignificant in its beginnings, and for a long time he knew not that his bowels were ulcerated. This disease corrupted his whole flesh also, and converted it into worms, so that although many were employed day and night in removing them, what they took away was as nothing compared with the increase upon him, but all his clothing,  baths, hand-basins, and food, were infected with that flux of corruption, so violent was its discharge. Therefore he immersed himself many times a day in water to cleanse and scour his person. But it was of no use; for the change gained upon him rapidly, and the swarm of vermin defied all purification.


Further Reading:

Paper topics

Paper 1 topics

Answer one of the following questions:

— How does Plautus’ Braggart Soldier dramatize the differences of power between the free and the enslaved?

— How are women portrayed in Roman storytelling and literature? You may wish to consider the Roman representations of: Ilia and Mars; the seizure of the Sabine women; the rape of Lucretia; female characters in Plautus’ Braggart Soldier (Philocomasium, Acroteleutium, Milphidippa); female characters in Catullus’ poetry (“Lesbia” and others).

— How does reverence for ancestors manifest in Roman literature, art, and culture?

— What role does spectacle play in Roman culture?

— To what extent is Catullus’ poetry “counter-cultural”?

Some tips for writing: 

  • although you should feel free to draw on things you’ve learned from lecture and/or section, you should also feel free to be original: I want to know what your ideas about these issues are; this class is not about you parroting back to me things I’ve told you — be creative! be argumentative!
  • in the first paragraph, limit your discussion to a few specific themes or pieces of evidence, e.g.:
    • SAMPLE: ‘In this paper, I will discuss Roman views of women by examining Plautus’ Braggart Soldier and the women of Catullus’ poetry.’
    • SAMPLE: ‘In this paper, I will discuss the following themes of Catullus’ poetry that suggest “counter-culture”:…
  • the best papers are those which pay close attention to the primary sources
    • primary sources are ancient sources, i.e.:
      • any passage that appears on the blog preceded by an ancient name, e.g.
        • Polybius (6.53): “Whenever one of their illustrious men dies,…”;
        • Livy (1.16): “As the king was holding…”
      • any passage from Plautus, Catullus, Vergil, Seneca
      • any ancient object, e.g.:
        • sculpture, inscription, monument, painting
    • secondary sources are quotations from scholarship, e.g.:
      • Mary Beard 2016: 170: “The careers of these men…”;
      • Cornell 1995: 121: “…if one thing is certain about the regal period…”
  • every time you make an assertion you should back this up with primary evidence, e.g.:
    • SAMPLE: “In Ennius’ version of the Ilia story, he pays close attention to her feelings. For example, he shows her isolation: ‘So alone, my sister, afterwards I seemed to wander…’ He also pays special attention to her relationship with other women: when she wakes, the female attendant brings light (‘the old woman brought the lamp with trembling limbs’) and she tells her dream to her sister (‘my sister’).”
  • you may also use secondary sources in combination with primary sources to make your argument stronger, e.g.:
    • SAMPLE: “The tomb of Scipio Barbatus shows a concern with self-presentation. The inscription on the tomb shows that Scipio wants the reader to know who his father is (‘offspring of his father Gnaeus’) and that he is manly (‘virtus‘). Mary Beard (2016: 134) writes that this inscription and tomb is a good example of the spirit of Rome at this time: ‘It is eloquent on the ideology and world view of the Roman elite at this period.'”
  • if you end up enjoying the writing experience and hand in a paper which is 6 pages instead of 5, you will not be penalized

Further instructions:

  • Your first paper is due March 1st.
  • This paper must be 4-5 pages in length and will make up 15% of your grade.
  • Format all papers double-spaced with Times New Roman, 12-point font, 1” margins at top and bottom, 1.25” margins on sides.
  • Papers must be printed and handed in (not emailed) on the stated date to your Teaching Fellow at the beginning of the lecture.
  • All papers MUST include references to primary sources discussed in this course (in lecture and/or in section).

Rome in the 2nd century BCE.

Lecture 6, Tuesday 6th February 2018

The history of Roman dominance in Italy + the Mediterranean

Forsythe 2005: 369: “From the year 300 BCE onwards the Roman lists of consuls is secure, and Roman dates are absolute, but this is not the case for the period preceding 300 BCE.”

Wiseman 1994: ix: “History mattered to the Romans….And yet, for more than a third of its history Rome had no history.”*
*Čulík-Baird: what Wiseman means is that they did not have writers of history who were Roman until 3rd c. BCE

An eye-witness account: Polybius (c. 200-118 BCE)

  • from the Greek city Megapolis in Arcadia
  • wrote a history of Rome’s rise to power in Greek
    • scholars often consider it an example of a Greek trying to explain Rome to a Greek audience
  • Polybius was elected in 170/169 BCE to cavalry leader in the Achaean League (Polybius 28.6.9)
  • after Roman defeat of Perseus of Macedon at Battle of Pydna in 168 BCE, Polybius was sent to Italy as a political captive alongside 1000 others
  • while in Rome, Polybius became friends with the most prominent Roman of the era, Scipio Aemilianus (Polybius 31.23)
    • Polybius describes the affection between them as between father and son (Polybius 31.25)
  • Polybius traveled with Scipio to Spain (151 BCE), and to Africa; he witnessed the destruction of Carthage in 146 BCE with Scipio
  • Polybius (3.47-48) describes journeying over the Alps to retrace Hannibal’s footsteps, crticizing over-romanticized portrayals of the Carthaginian general

Polybius Histories 1.1 (translated by Scott-Kilvert): “If earlier chronicles of human affairs had failed to bear witness in praise of history, it might perhaps have been necessary for me to urge all readers to seek out and pay special attention to writings such as these; for certainly mankind possesses no better guide to conduct than the knowledge of the past. But in truth all historians without exception, one may say, have made this claim the be-all and end-all of their work: namely that the study of history is at once an education in the truest sense and a training for a political career, and that the most infallible, indeed the only method of learning how to bear with dignity the vicissitudes of fortune is to be reminded of the disasters suffered by others. We may agree, then, that nobody at this time need feel himself obliged to repeat what has been so often and so eloquently stated by other writers. Least of all does this apply to my own case, for here it is precisely the element of the unexpected in the events I have chosen to describe which will challenge and stimulate everyone alike, both young and old, to study my systematic history. There can surely 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 less than fifty-three years [220 — 167 BCE] in bringing under their rule almost the whole of the inhabited world, an achievement which is without parallel in human history.”

Maps of Roman expansion
Images: Ian Mladjov.

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Expansion of Roman power (509-133 BCE)

date: event: significance?
 temple of Jupiter Capitolinus 509 gutenberg
Line drawing of the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter (509 BCE)
509 BCE expulsion of kings beginning of Roman Republic
Capitoline Apollo close up wikimedia
6th c. BCE sculpture of Apollo from Veii
396 BCE capture of Etruscan Veii after a 10 year siege defeat of an important Etruscan city, extending Rome’s influence in Italy
Pleiades: Veii
– 10 year siege: Livy 5.22.8
Crawford 2001: 19: “The first century and a half of the Republic saw first the reassertion of Roman leadership of the other Latin communities and then a long sequence of wars against the Etruscan cities, principally Veii (captured and destroyed in 396 BCE) and against the Volscians to the south.”
 awmc Latium Campania
Image: AWMC.
338 BCE Roman conquest of Latium Roman influence over surrounding communities

Pleiades: Latium
Crawford 2001: 19: “The crucial moment in the history of the Roman conquest of Italy came in 338 BCE. Most of the Latin communities around Rome, viewing her growing preponderance with alarm, attempted to reassert their independence. They were rapidly defeated and all, except the largest and most distant, incorporated in the Roman citizen body.”

awmc Latium Samnium
Image: AWMC.
295 BCE Wars against Samnites
– 295 BCE Samnites defeated at Sentinum
Roman power in Italy reaffirmed, consolidated
Pleiades: Samnium
Pyrrhus in Italy Heraclea Ausculum Maleventum
Image: wikimedia.
280-272 BCE War against Tarentum + King Pyrrhus of Epirus
– 280 BCE: defeat of Rome by Pyrrhus at Heraclea
– 279 BCE: defeat of Rome by Pyrrhus at Ausculum
Roman extends its influence to southern, culturally Greek part of Italian peninsula, known as Magna Graecia
– Pleiades: Tarentum
Tarentum 272 BCE peripleomap = peripleo 272 BCE capture of Tarentum
Etruscan Volsinii peripleo capture 265 BCE
map = peripleo
265 BCE capture of Etruscan Volsinii Roman control of entire peninsula of Italy
: Volsinii
Roman Republic 264-241 First Punic War Mladjov.jpg
Image: Mladjov.
264-241 BCE First Punic War Rome fights with Carthage over control of Sicily; Roman expands into the mediterranean
Rome Sicily
Base image: Mladjov.
241 BCE Carthage surrenders Sicily to Rome Rome acquires its first foreign province
Sardinia + Corsica .jpeg
Base image: Mladjov.
238 BCE Roman annexation of Sardinia + Corsica Rome expands to gain further provinces in the mediterranean
Roman Republic 218-168 BCE 2nd punic war + after
Image: Mladjov.
218-201 BCE Second Punic War
– 218 BCE: Hannibal invades Italy
– 216 BCE: Battle of Cannae, severe defeat of Romans
– 203 BCE: Hannibal recalled from Italy to Africa
– 202 BCE: Scipio Africanus defeats Hannibal at Battle of Zama
struggle between Rome + Carthage over resources resolved in Rome’s favour; increased Roman power in mediterranean

Crawford 2001: 29: “Hannibal’s invasion of Italy in 218 BCE…was a deliberate attempt to reverse the verdict of the First Punic War.”
Briscoe 1989: 44: “Polybius rightly regarded [Rome’s seizure of Sardinia] as unjustified and the subsequent Carthaginian resentment as a major cause of the Second Punic War.” Polybius: 3.10.4.

Image: wikimedia
202-191 BCE Roman conquest of Cisalpine Gaul northern expansion of Roman interests
Spain 208-206 BCE.jpg
Image: Mladjov.
197 BCE Roman annexation of Spain consolidation of territory taken from Carthage
Image: wikimedia.
199-196 BCE Second Macedonian War
– war with Philip V of Macedon (= joined Hannibal against Rome in 215 BCE: First Macedonian War = 215-205 BCE)
– Romans defeat Macedonians at Cynoscephalae (“Dogs’ heads”)
– Greece declared “free” in 196 BCE by Titus Quinctius Flamininus at Corinth
with Carthage dealt with (for now), Rome turned its interest to Greece
Image: wikimedia.
192-188 BCE Syrian War between Rome + Antiochus III expansion of Roman interests
Hilary Lehmann Paullus relief
Sculptural relief of the L. Aemilius Paullus’ monument at Delphi. Image: Hilary Lehmann.
171-167 BCE Third Macedonian War
– 168 BCE: Battle of Pydna: L. Aemilius Paullus vs. Perseus of Macedon
end to the Macedonian kingdom
: Pydna
Coin of Andriskos. Image: wikimedia.
149-148 BCE Fourth Macedonian War short-lived attempt to reinstate Macedonian power by a pretender to the throne (Andriskos)
Roman Republic 148-121
Image: Mladjov.
149-146 BCE Third Punic War
– 146 BCE:
collapse of Corinth + Carthage as rival imperial powers in the mediterranean
– complete destruction of Carthage
considered by Romans the a profound moment of change in Roman history; origin of Roman excess?
: Corinth
Pleiades: Carthage
Attalus III 133.png
Image: Mladjov.
133 BCE Attalus III of Pergamum bequeaths kingdom to Rome, it becomes the province of Asia (129 BCE) increased territories + an influx of wealth at Rome that exacerbates political tensions
Pleiades: Pergamum

tl;dr Roman expansion 

– Rome conquers its nearest neighbours — Etruscans, Latins, Italians
– Rome extends its influence into the south, the culturally Greek area; fights its first “international” enemy
– 265 BCE: Rome controls entire Italian peninsula
– Rome begins a struggle with Carthage, another mediterranean empire, which it will continue to fight till mid 2nd c. BCE:
— First Punic War: 246-241 BCE
— Second Punic War: 218-201 BCE
— Third Punic War: 149-146 BCE
– Rome takes possession of large islands in the mediterranean, provoking Carthage
– Carthaginian general, Hannibal, brings war to Italy after crossing the Alps, and defeats Rome several times; is himself defeated in Africa by Scipio Africanus
– Rome continues to acquire more territory
– Rome’s increased power creates conflicts with powers in the east: in Greece and Asia
146 BCE: with the collapse of Corinth + Carthage, Rome has defeated its major rivals and has established itself as the dominant force

Enslaving the world

Joshel 2010: 54: “Mass enslavement in Rome’s foreign wars made possible the growth of a large-scale slave system. First, war increased the slave population in Italy and continually fed that population with new captives. Rome’s early wars in Italy had resulted in the enslavement of some of the conquered but the enslavement of large numbers of the conquered apparently began with Rome’s wars with the Samnites, a people in south central Italy…The Roman conquest of the mediterranean in the second century BCE escalted the number of slaves. Roman victories meant major dislocations of people, primarily importation to Italy.”

  • 177 BCE: Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus killed or enslaved 80, 000 of the inhabitants of Sardinia (Livy 41.28.9)
  • 167 BCE: Lucius Aemilius Paullus allowed by senate to sack 70 cities in Epirus, enslaving 150, 000 (Livy 45.34.5)
  • 57 BCE: Julius Caesar sold 53, 000 Germans (Aduatuci) into slavery (Appian, Gallic History 1.2)
  • by late 1st century BCE probably 20-30% population of Roman Italy slaves: 1 to 1.5 million out of 5 to 6 million (Joshel 2010: 56)

Arch of Titus 81 CERelief of the spoils from Jerusalem, Arch of Titus, Rome, after 81 CE. Image: Dnalor 01, CC BY-SA 3.0 via wikimedia. In the Jewish War (66-70 CE), the Romans enslaved 97,000 people (Joshel 2010: 67).

The Scipio family 

Scipio family tree simplified.jpg
[pdf] Scipio family tree, simplified

Mary Beard 2016: 170: “The careers of these men point to a new world of Roman politics and expansion over the third and second centuries BCE. These are some of the key players, famous or infamous, in the series of military campaigns that gave the Roman Republic control over the whole mediterranean and beyond. Their rather cumbersome names nicely sum up that new world. Barbatus presumably points to the bearer’s appearance, and Aemilianus is a reference to the man’s natural father, Lucius Aemilius Paullus, but AfricanusAsiaticus, and Hispallus (from his father’s service in Spain, Hispania) reflect the new horizons of Roman power. One reasonable way of translating ‘Scipio Africanus‘ would be ‘Scipio hammer of Africa.'”

The triumph of Lucius Aemilius Paullus

In 168 BCE, Lucius Aemilius Paullus defeated King Perseus of Macedon, bringing an end to that Hellenistic dynasty. In 167 BCE, Paullus celebrated a triumph in Rome: the ritual procession of a Roman general who had won a significant victory to the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol.  Involved in the triumphal procession were:

  • the triumphator dressed in the costume said to have been the kings’ and close to Jupiter’s on a four-horse chariot
  • eminent captives (normally destined for execution)
  • freed Roman prisoners of war dressed as the triumphator’s freedmen
  • the major spoils captured
  • his army
  • animals for sacrifice
  • whole senate and all the magistrates were supposed to escort it
  • from c. 200 BCE sumptuous decorations: banners, paintings of sieges and battles, musicians, and torch-bearers
  • a slave rode with the triumphator holding a laurel wreath over his head + reminding him that he was mortal
  • soldiers chanted insulting verses

Diodorus Siculus (31.8.10-11): L. Aemilius Paullus, after arranging splendid games and revelries for the assembled multitude, sent off to Rome whatever treasure had been discovered, and when he himself arrived, along with his fellow generals, he was ordered by the senate to enter the city in triumph… the very wise Aemilius celebrated his for three days. On the first day the procession opened with 1,200 waggons filled with embossed white shields, then another 1,200 filled with bronze shields, and 300 more laden with lances, pikes, bows, and javelins; as in war, trumpeters led the way. There were many other waggons as well, carrying arms of various sorts, and 800 panoplies mounted on poles. On the second day there were carried in procession 1,000 talents of coined money, 2,200 talents of silver, a great number of drinking-cups, 500 waggons loaded with divers statues of gods and men, and a large number of golden shields and dedicatory plaques. On the third day the procession was made up of 120 choice white oxen, talents of gold conveyed in 220 carriers, a 10-talent bowl of gold set with jewels, gold-work of all sorts to the value of 10 talents, 200 elephant tusks three cubits in length, an ivory chariot enriched with gold and precious stones, a horse in battle array with cheek-pieces set with jewels and the rest of its gear adorned with gold, a golden couch spread with flowered coverlets, and a golden litter with crimson curtains. Then came Perseus, the hapless king of the Macedonians, with his two sons, a daughter, and 250 of his officers, 400 garlands presented by the various cities and monarchs, and last of all, in a dazzling chariot of ivory, L. Aemilius Paullus himself.

Plutarch, Life of Aemilius (33-34): These were followed by the chariot of Perseus, which bore his arms, and his diadem lying upon his arms. Then, at a little interval, came the children of the king, led along as slaves, and with them a throng of foster-parents, teachers, and tutors, all in tears, stretching out their own hands to the spectators and teaching the children to beg and supplicate. There were two boys, and one girl, and they were not very conscious of the magnitude of their evils because of their tender age; because of which they evoked even more pity in view of the time when their unconsciousness would cease, so that Perseus walked along almost unheeded, while the Romans, moved by compassion, kept their eyes upon the children, and many of them shed tears, and for all of them the pleasure of the spectacle was mingled with pain, until the children had passed by. Behind the children and their train of attendants walked Perseus himself, clad in a dark robe and wearing the high boots of his country, but the magnitude of his evils made him resemble one who is utterly dumbfounded and bewildered. He, too, was followed by a company of friends and intimates, whose faces were heavy with grief, and whose tearful gaze continually fixed upon Perseus gave the spectators to understand that it was his misfortune which they bewailed, and that their own fate least of all concerned them. And yet Perseus had sent to Aemilius begging not to be led in the procession and asking to be left out of the triumph. But Aemilius, in mockery, as it would seem, of the king’s cowardice and love of life, had said: “But this at least was in his power before, and is so now, if he should wish it,” signifying death in preference to disgrace; for this, however, the coward had not the heart, but was made weak by no one knows what hopes, and became a part of his own spoils.

Livy (45.41.10-11): [Paullus himself speaking:] “…Even I began to regard my good fortune as something too great, and therefore distrusted it. I began to fear the perils of the sea, whilst carrying the royal treasury into Italy and transporting my victorious army. We had a favourable voyage, and after all had reached Italy safely, and there was nothing more for me to pray for, my one ardent desire was that in the usual turn of fortune’s wheel the change might affect my house rather than the commonwealth. I hope, therefore, that its continued prosperity has been secured by the signal calamity which has overtaken me. As though in mockery of mortal grief, my triumph intervened between the death of my two sons. Both Perseus and myself may now be regarded as noteworthy examples of the lot which awaits men. He, himself a captive, has seen his children led as captives before him, but still, he has them safe and sound; I, who have triumphed over him, went from the funeral of one of my sons in my chariot to the Capitol, and returned to find the other at the point of death. Out of all my sons, not one remains to bear the name of Lucius Aemilius Paulus. As though I had a large family, two have been adopted by the Cornelian and Fabian houses; there is not a Paullus left except myself. But your happiness and the good fortune of the republic are my consolation in this ruin of my house.” The self-restraint which this speech evinced made a far greater impression upon his audience than if he had indulged in tearful laments over his bereavement.

On this passage, Mary Beard 2009: 137: “the ancient cliché about this particular triumph rested on its threat to subvert the hierarchy of victor and victim. For Paullus, at the very height of his glory, was afflicted by a disaster that struck at the heart of his household: out of his four sons, two had already been adopted into other aristocratic families in Rome (a not uncommon practice); the two who remained to carry on his line died over the very period of the triumph, one five days before, the other three days later.”

The Monument of Lucius Aemilius Paullus at Delphi (sanctuary of Apollo)
Commemorating Battle of Pydna 
(168 BCE)

Images. Left: 19th century reimagining of the Paullus monument. Top: the inscription at the base of the statue. Image: Center for Epigraphical Studies, OSUBottom: fragmentary remains of the sculptural relief. Image courtesy of Hilary Lehmann.

Plutarch, Life of Aemilius (28.4): “At Delphi, he saw a tall square pillar composed of white marble stones, on which a golden statue of Perseus was intended to stand, and gave orders that his own statue should be set there, for it was appropriate that the conquered should make room for their conquerors.”

  • earliest surviving Roman historical sculptural relief — connected to tradition of commemorating military victories in painting? (Ling 1991: 11; Bonanno 1983: 72)
    • L. Aemilius Paullus had asked Athenians to send him a painter to commemorate victory over Macedonian king (Pliny NH 35.135)
  • long frieze running around top of tall rectangular pillar topped by equestrian statue of Aemilius Paullus, close to Temple of Apollo, Delphi
  • on its 4 sides it shows episodes from the Battle of Pydna (168 BCE)
  • Bonnano 1983: 72: “It has been suggested that one of the horsemen should be identified with Paullus himself. If so, this is the first extant Roman portrait in relief.”
  • one “scene” on relief: riderless horse — signifying story that the battle began over an escaped horse (Plutarch, Life of Aemilius 18.1, Livy 44.40)
  • inscription (CIL 12.622): “Lucius Aemilius, son of Lucius, commander-in-chief, took this as booty from King Perseus and the Macedonians.”

$CIL_01_00622.jpgClose-up of Latin on the Paullus monument. Image: EDCS (Epigraphik-Datenbank Clauss). Transcription from EDCS: L(ucius) A<e=i>milius L(uci) f(ilius) inperator de rege Perse / Macedonibusque cepet.</e=i>

Spoils of the mind…

Plutarch, Life of Aemilius (28): But more than anything else men praised his freedom of spirit and his greatness of soul; for he would not consent even to look upon the quantities of silver and the quantities of gold that were gathered together from the royal treasuries, but handed them over to the quaestors for the public chest. It was only the books of the king that he allowed his sons, who were devoted to learning, to choose out for themselves.

Isidore of Seville (Etym. 6.5.1): “Lucius Aemilius Paullus was the first to bring a copious supply of books back to Rome.”

Affleck 2013: 124: “Polybius [was] taken hostage after the Battle of Pydna and brought to Rome at the same time as the library of Macedon.”

Casson 2001: 68: “In the first half of the [1st century BCE] Rome’s library resources were further enriched through wars waged in Greece and Asia Minor. War meant loot, and the opportunity to loot offered in certain places a quick way of acquiring a library. It had enabled Aemilius Paullus to bring to Rome its first ‘library’* on record.”
*Čulík-Baird: not necessarily a “library” but a serious number of books.

  • 86 BCE: Sulla would bring the library of Aristotle from Athens to Rome
  • 66 BCE: Lucullus would collect books from his military campaigns in Asia Minor (Plut. Lucullus 42)

The “Scipionic Circle” 

A number of important Latin poets + intellectuals associated with Scipio Aemilianus in a kind of “patronage”.

  • Terence, the Latin comic playwright
    • Terence’s Adelphoe (about brothers + adoption…) + Hecyra performed at Paullus’ funeral ludi in 160 BCE
  • Lucilius the Satirist (d. 103/2 BCE)
  • the Greek Polybius (above)
  • the Greek Stoic philosopher Panaetius
  • Ennius (239-169 BCE) seems to have written a poem in his honour entitled Scipio + an epitaph
    • Ennius’ epitaph for Scipio (from Cicero, De Leg. 2.57):
      “Here lies the man to whom no one, fellow-countryman or foeman, will be able to render for his pains a recompense fitting his services.”
      hic est ille situs cui nemo ciuis neque hostis
      quibit pro factis reddere opis pretium.
    • a portrait of Ennius was also thought to have been part of the Scipionic tomb (Livy 38.56)

Further reading:



Plautus, Terence. The Roman Stage.

Lecture 5, Thursday 1st February 2018

Religious festivals & Roman drama 

Religious Festivals.png

[printable pdf] CL 102 Religious Festivals in Rome (sources: Manuwald 2011, Boyle 2006) 

Theatre at Rome

Villa of Cicero c. 100 BCE Menander Pompeii Carole Raddato

c. 100 BCE villa of cicero Menander Synaristosai inv. 9987Two mosaics c. 100 BCE from the ‘Villa of Cicero’, Pompeii. Both signed by in Greek by an artist from Samos: “Dioskourides of Samos made this.” Taken to be scenes by the Greek comic playwright, Menander. Characters in the mosaic are wearing theatrical masks. Top: musicians playing tibiae, mini-cymbals, drum, with an attendant; perhaps Menander’s Theophorumene, “The Possessed” (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli inv. 9985). Image: wikimediaBottom: three women sit around a table with a slave attending them; perhaps Menander’s Synaristosai, “Women at Breakfast” (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli inv. 9987). Image: wikimedia.

Actors and stagecraft

Roman stage conventions.jpg
Image: basic conventions for staging Roman plays, Čulík-Baird 2018 based on Manuwald 2011: 69ffNota bene: even though the above is usually said to be the convention, we have examples of reversal of direction. Not all three doors were used in every play.



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1: Image, Richard Beacham; 2-4: Images, didaskalia.net.

  • actors seem to have worn masks, although evidence is not clear about when exactly this practice began (Manuwald 2011: 79-80); we have evidence for both 3rd and 2nd c. BCE
    • theatrical masks appear in a number of Roman art forms, but they are not necessarily representative of specific dramatic practice
    • a late source (Diomedes, 4th c. CE?) writes: “the Romans previously used wigs, not masks, in order that age might be indicated by its appropriate colour, as they were either white or black or red. The first to use a mask was the great actor Roscius Gallus, because he had a squint; even when wearing a mask he was not handsome enough for the role, except when he played the part of the parasite.”
  • actors in comedies also wore specific footwear:
    • fancy sandals for a foreign-looking disguise (Plautus, Pers. 464)
    • in Roman comedy slaves and free men and women wear sandals or slippers (socci); “various types of footwear become synonyms for specific types of drama, the ‘slipper’ (soccus) representing comedy” (Manuwald 2011: 77)
  • actors werelike prostitutes and gladiators, infames = disenfranchised citizens (Edwards 1997)

Staging Roman Drama

  • no permanent stone theatre at Rome until Theatre of Pompey: completed 55 BCE after his triumph in 61 BCE
    • Temple of Venus Victrix (‘the Victorious’) on top of auditorium; steps up to the temple acted as the seats (Gellius Attic Nights 10.1.7)
    • perceived to be enormous by the Romans, and to have changed something profoundly in Roman custom (Tac. Ann. 14.20)
  • several attempts to erect permanent theatres in 2nd century: 179 BCE, 174BCE, 154 BCE, 107 BCE — all either blocked or demolished; “it was not the performances that they opposed, but the permanence of physical structures” (Manuwald 2011: 59) .
  • every performance erected temporary wooden theatre in the Circus Maximus, the Forum, or in front of the temple of the god of the festival
    • Manuwald 2011: 56: “However, ‘temporary’ in this context literally means ‘erected for a limited period of time’ and is not to be equated with ‘simple’: the structures evolved over the centuries, and in the late Republic theatre buildings were rather elaborate.”
    • additionally, there were stone theatres outside of Rome during this period, e.g. Syracuse, Sicily ; Pompeii had a stone theatre from 200 BCE
  • at Rome, stone steps of temples used as an auditorium to provide seats to spectators (Cic. Har. Resp. 24)



Left: Theatre of Pompey in Rome shown on a fragment of the Severan Marble Plan (forma urbis, early 3rd c. CE, cf. Sear 2006 fig. 30a). Image: wikimedia. Right: reconstruction of the Theatre of Pompey by A. Schill (1908). Image: wikimedia.

Excesses of spectacle

Pliny (NH 36.113-115): “During his aedileship (58 BCE), and only for the temporary purposes of a few days, M. Aemilius Scaurus executed the greatest work that has ever been made by the hands of man, a work that surpassed not only those erected for a limited time, but even those intended to last forever: his theatre. This building consisted of 3 storeys, supported upon 360 columns…the ground-storey was of marble, the second of glass, an extravagance unparalleled even in later times, and the highest of gilded wood. The lowermost columns were 38 feet high and placed between these columns were 3, 000 bronze statues. The area of this theatre afforded accommodation for 80, 000 people; and yet the Theatre of Pompey, after the city had so greatly increased, and the inhabitants had become so vastly more numerous, was considered abundantly large, with its 40, 000 seats.* The rest of the fittings of it, with dresses of cloth of gold, scene paintings, and the other stage-properties, were of such enormous value that, after Scaurus had had conveyed to his Tusculan villa the parts which were not required for the enjoyment of his daily luxuries, the loss was no less than 30,000,000 sesterces when the villa was burnt by his slaves in a spirit of revenge. The consideration of such wasteful behaviour as this quite distracts my attention, and compels me to digress from my original purpose.”

*modern scholarly estimates = closer to 11, 000 or 12, 000 — see Boyle 2006: 150

Cicero (Letter to Friends, 7.1 — to M. Marius, 55 BCE): “You know all about the rest of the games, which hadn’t even that amount of charm which games on a moderate scale generally have: for the spectacle was so elaborate as to leave no room for enjoyment, and I think you need feel no regret at having missed it. What’s the pleasure of a train of 600 hundred mules in Accius‘ tragedy, the Clytemnestra, or 3,000 bowls in Naevius‘ tragedy, Trojan Horse, or multi-coloured armour of infantry and cavalry in some battle? These things roused the admiration of the vulgar; to you they would have brought no delight… I don’t suppose you wanted to see Greek or Oscan plays,… Why, again, should I suppose you to care about missing the athletes, since you disdained the gladiators? There remain the two wild-beast hunts, lasting five days, magnificent—nobody denies it—and yet, what pleasure can it be to a man of refinement, when either a weak man is torn by an extremely powerful animal, or a splendid animal is transfixed by a hunting spear? Things which, after all, if worth seeing, you have often seen before; nor did I, who was present at the games, see anything the least new. The last day was that of the elephants, on which there was a great deal of astonishment on the part of the vulgar crowd, but no pleasure whatever. There was even a certain feeling of compassion aroused by it, and a kind of belief created that that animal has something in common with mankind…”

Rejection of Excess

Tertullian (De Spect. 10.3-9): “At first the theatre was properly a temple of Venus; and, to speak briefly, it was owing to this that stage performances were allowed to escape censure, and got a footing in the world. For often the censors, in the interests of morality, put down above all the rising theatres, foreseeing, as they did, that there was great danger of their leading to a general profligacy… Accordingly Pompey the Great, less only than his theatre, when he had erected that citadel of all impurities, fearing some time or other censorian condemnation of his memory, superposed on it a temple of Venus; and summoning by public proclamation the people to its consecration, he called it not a theatre, but a temple, “under which,” said he, “we have placed tiers of seats for viewing the shows.” So he threw a veil over a structure on which condemnation had been often passed, and which is ever to be held in reprobation, by pretending that it was a sacred place; and by means of superstition he blinded the eyes of a virtuous discipline. But Venus and Bacchus are close allies.”

Competition for Attention Spaces

Terence was a Latin comic playwright writing in the mid 2nd century BCE: we have 6 of his plays. He is believed to have been a Carthaginian slave educated and freed by his Roman master. Six of his plays have survived: Andria (166 BC), Hecyra (165 BC), Heauton Timoroumenos (163 BC), Eunuchus (161 BC), Phormio (161 BC), and Adelphoe (160 BC). Terence’s Hecyra (“Mother-in-Law”) was twice a failure (165 BCE, 160 BCE) because of rival events. Finally performed at Ludi Romani in 160 BCE.

Terence Hecyra (39-42): Now for my sake listen to my request with open minds. I am presenting “The Mother-in-Law” to you again, which I have never been allowed to play in silence; it has been so dogged by disaster. But your good sense, allied to my efforts, can mitigate the disaster. The first time I tried to perform the play, I was forced off the stage early; there was talk of boxers—and added to that a promise of a tightrope walkercrowds of supporters, general uproar, and women screaming. I decided to use my old practice on this new play and continue the experiment: I put it on a second time. The first act went well. But then a rumour arose that there was going to be a gladiatorial show: crowds rushed in, with much confusion, shouting, and fighting for places, and in these circumstances I couldn’t preserve my place.

Sarsina Plautus next to RomeSarsina, birthplace of the comic playwright, Plautus; with its position relative to Rome. Generated with the AMWC’s à-la-carte map.

Plautus (254-184 BCE)

  • comic playwright, author of fabulae palliatae (“play in a Greek dress” — fabula = “play”, “drama”; pallium = “Greek cloak”)
  • active as playwright between c. 205-184 BCE
    • Stichus staged for 1st time 200 BCE,
    • Pseudolus staged in 191 BC
    • Casina refers to suppression of Bacchanalia in 186 BCE
  • “The Braggart Soldier”= Miles Gloriosus probably dates c. 205 BCE, refers to 206 BCE
  • Plautus = earliest complete literary works of Latin to survive
  • his entire surviving output = 21 plays
    • corpus equal in size to Vergil’s Aeneid or Ovid’s Metamorphoses
  • developed from Greek New Comedy (Menander, Philemon, Diphilus) — but, adapted rather than “translated”
    • Miles Gloriosus lines 84-87 (Segal trans. p6):
      I’ll tell you why we’ve gathered in this festive spot,
      What comedy we will enact, its name and plot.
      This play is called the Alazon in Greek,
      A name translated ‘braggart’ in the tongue we speak.
    • Plautus’ Miles Gloriosus = based(?) on a (lost) Greek play called Alazon (ἀλαζών)
  • social status of Latin authors in 3rd-2nd c. BCE = Italians, former-slaves, lower class
    • Fantham 2013: 2: “Is is also important to understand the author’s background: his social class — senatorial, or from the wealthy and established equestrian order — and civil status. He might be an outsider, a noncitizen of free birth like the Calabrian Ennius or the Greek Archias, who were rewarded with citizenship by their Roman patrons, or an Italian with citizen rights like the comic dramatist Plautus from Sarsina in Roman Umbria. As a third possibility, the poet or author might be freeborn and enslaved through kidnapping or as a prisoner of war; such prisoners of war sometimes lived as privileged slaves…but most often earned their freedom. We can assume that the third-century BCE Livius Andronicus of Tarentum, the first poet to translate Greek drama into Latin plays, and Terence, the ‘African’ whose comedies were staged between 166 and 160 BCE, were freed by their aristocratic masters.”
  • Roman comedy was written by using a certain number of specific, well-defined roles — “stock characters” — in combination together;
  • Plautus was influenced by Atellan farce, a native Italian dramatic form, which had the following roles:
    • Bucco (‘the fool’),
    • Dossennus (‘the glutton’),
    • Maccus (‘the clown’),
    • Manducus (‘the chewer’, an ogre or bogeyman, thought by many to be an alternative name for Dossennus),
    • Pappus (‘the old gaffer’).
  • the Plautine stock characters:
    • senex iratus — old man
    • adulescens amator — young man in love who rebels against authority
    • seruus callidus — cunning slave
    • seruus stultus — stupid slave
    • parasitus — flatterer
    • meretrix — prostitute
    • leno — pimp
    • miles gloriosus — braggart soldier

A scene from Terence’s Eunuchus (“the Eunuch”, lines 739-816) performed in Latin at the 2012 NEH Summer Institute: Roman Comedy in Performance. A braggart soldier and his crew of sycophants attempt to besiege the house of a courtesan but fail when she handles them very coolly.


[word doc] NEH summer institute’s English translation of this scene
[pdf] NEH summer institute’s provided Latin for this scene

Further Reading:

  • For a detailed account of the Roman theatre, see: Gesine Manuwald, Roman Republican Theatre 2011 [Mugar: PA6067 .M36 2011]; also available somewhat cheaply as a kindle version. More to do with the history of the development of the Roman theatre and its specific technical aspects rather than the content of plays, or the value of play-making in Rome. 
  • A. J. Boyle, Roman Tragedy 2006. Detailed, sophisticated, and short overview of Roman tragedy with incidental remarks about drama in general (Atellan farce, mime, comedy).
  • W. Beare, The Roman Stage, 1968 (=3rd edition). [Mugar: PA6067 .B4 1977] Standard and classic treatment on the topic — somewhat outdated, but good overviews of primary evidence, with plot summaries of plays of Plautus.   
  • For a short account of Plautus, see Elaine Fantham Roman Literary Culture (2013) pp21-26 [Mugar: PA6003 .F36 2013]
  • For a longer account of Plautus, see Conte’s Latin LiteratureA History (1999) pp49-64. [Mugar: PA6008 .C6613 1994]
  • Read the Met Museum’s account of Roman theatres.