Lecture 15: Vergil Aeneid. 5-8.

Lecture 15,  Tuesday November 5th 2019

Look out for the following motifs/symbols: FLAME/FIRE, FURY, GOLD, WOUND, SNAKE. How do these motifs signal the dark side of empire?

Synopsis of Vergil’s Aeneid Books 5-9
from Williams (1996):

Book 5. The Trojans return to Sicily and celebrate funeral games for Aeneas’ father, Anchises, who had died there a year earlier [Aeneas mentions this in Book 3.710-715]. Juno causes Trojan women to set fire to the ships, but the fire is quenched by Jupiter. On the last stage of the journey the helmsman Palinurus is swept overboard by the god, Sleep.”

Book 6. The Trojans reach Italy at Cumae, and Aeneas descends with the Sibyl to the underworld in order to consult the ghost of his father Anchises. The future heroes of Roman history pass in a pageant before him, and he returns to the upper world in resolution.”

Book 7. The Trojans reach the Tiber, and are hospitably welcomed by King Latinus, who recognises that Aeneas is the stranger referred to in an oracle as the destined husband of his daughter Lavinia. She is already betrothed to Turnus the Rutulian, and Juno again intervenes to ensure that Turnus will fight the Trojans. War breaks out, and the book ends with a catalogue of the Italian forces assisting Turnus.”

Book 8. Aeneas visits Evander, an Arcadian living at Pallanteum on the site of Rome, to seek help. Evander sends his son Pallas at the head of the contingent of Arcadians. Venus has a new shield made for her son Aeneas, and the book ends with a description of the pictures from Roman history depicted on the shield — a reminder before the full-scale outbreak of hostilities of why Aeneas has to fight this war against Turnus, and what depends on it.”



Book 2, Creusa — wife

Book 3, Anchises — father

Book 4, Dido — lover (wife?)

Book 5, Palinurus — helmsman

Book 6, Misenus — friend

Book 7, Caieta — nurse

Book 5:

5.1: interea. “Meanwhile…”

5.45ff.: Funeral games for Anchises. Heroic world at play without fatal consequences. Aeneas = Achilles in Iliad 23, recovering sense of leadership.

5.72-103: Sacrifices at tomb of Anchises. Libations. Snake tastes offerings, disappears. Aeneas recognizes his father’s presence.

5.114-285: Ship race.

5.286-361: Foot race. Nisus trips Salius so that his friend Euryalus can win. (Nisus + Euryalus ~ real war of Book 9)

5.362-484: Boxing.

1) Terme Boxer. Bronze statue of a worn-out boxer, wearing the bronze statue of weary boxer wearing leather hand-wrap (caestus); rediscovered at Rome 1885. Image: Wikipedia. 2) Bronze hand with caestus from Verona Archaeological Museum. Image: Gareth Harney on twitter. 3) Two African boxers, 2nd or 1st c. BCE, terracotta. The advancing boxer leads with his left leg. The older, balding boxer staggers backwards from an upper cut. Image: British Museum.

5.485-544: Archery.

5.545-603: lusus Troiae. Troy Game. Labyrinth simile (5.589-591). Maze-like equestrian manoeuvres performed by youths. Known from the time of Sulla (Plut. Cato Minor 3). Revived by Julius Caesar (Suet. Iul. 39). Augustus made this a regular institution performed by noble boys (Suet. Aug. 43). Iulus introduces this intricate ceremony to Alba Longa (5.596-600).



Etruscan oinochoe from Tragliatella near Caere (7th c. BCE) “clearly features two horseback riders, the drawing of a maze, the word TRUIA, and two copulating couples” (Miller 2000: 235). The vase shows that the connection between rituals on horseback and labyrinths existed prior to Vergil. The word TRUIA here probably refers to movement or dancing rather than Troy (the old Latin words amptruare, redamptruare refer to specific, sacral dances, Williams 1996: 433-434). Images: archart.it.

5.571: Iulus rides the Sidonian horse, a gift from Dido.

5.604-63: Juno sends Iris.  Trojan women to burn the ships.

5.664-99: Fire quenched by rain from Jupiter. All but four ships are saved.

5.700-45: Aeneas doubts himself, considers staying in Sicily. Nautes’ advice. Anchises appears in a dream.

5.746-778: A new city is founded in Sicily with a temple to Venus at Eryx. Anchises’ tomb gets a priest.

5.779-826: Venus complains to Neptune. Neptune says one life must be lost.

5.827-871: Palinurus the helsman thrown into the sea by Sleep.

Aeneid Book 6:

6.1: sic fatur lacrimans…” He spoke in tears…”

6.9-39: Temple of Apollo. The doors of Daedalus. The Sibyl. NO TIME FOR GAWKING.

6.136-155: 1) Get the Golden Bough. 2) Bury your friend (Misenus).

6.146-148: “Pluck it. It should fall gladly in your hand, | If fate has summoned you. If not, your whole strength | Will fail — you will not tear it off with hard steel.”

6.211: cunctantem — it hesitates!

6.337-83: Underworld. Palinurus. =’Sorry you’re dead. Have some fame.’ cf. 6.776: “The famous names of places nameless now.”

6.456-472: Underworld. Dido.

6.494-545: Underworld. Deiphobus.

6.566-627: Underworld. Tartarus.


Jan Brueghel the Younger, “Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld” (1630s). Image: Met Museum.

6.679ff.: Underworld. Anchises.

6.756: “Come, hear your destiny, and the future glory”

6.777: Romulus

6.788-794: “– your Romans:
Caesar, and all of Iulus’ offspring, destined
To make their way to heaven’s splendid heights.
Here is the man so often promised you,
Augustus Caesar, a god’s son, and bringer
Of a new age of gold to Saturn’s old realm
Of Latium.”

6.851: Romane, memento — “Roman, remember”

6.853: parcere subiectis et debellare superbos — “spare the conquered, strike down the haughty”

6.861-886: Marcellus. Son of Octavia, Augustus’ sister, who married Augustus’ daughter Julia, was marked as Augustus’ heir, but died at age 19 in 23 BCE. Later sources tell a story of Octavia bursting into tears when Vergil read this passage to her and Augustus.

6.889: “lust for glory in the future.”

6.893: Gates of Sleep — Horn (true), Ivory (false). Ivory. 😮 — ideology of empire is a false dream, with false values?


At the end of Aeneid 6, Aeneas and the Sibyl leave through the ivory gate – the gate of false dreams. Illustrated by MS Vat. lat. 3225 (schedae Vaticanae), folio 57, recto (4th c CE). Image.

Aeneid Book 7:

7.1-4: Death of Caieta (now modern Gaeta).

“Caieta, you as well, Aeneas’ nurse,
Gave lasting fame, in dying, to our shores.
The great West keeps your resting place today
In glory — if there’s glory in the grave.(Aen. 7.1-4; trans. Ruden p144)

7.37-45: Second preface, indicates that Vergil considered the poem to fall into two halves. Invocation of Muse, Erato (Muse of lyric poetry). cf. Aen. 1.8: “Muse, tell me why.”

7.44-45: “This is a higher story starting, | a greater work for me.”

7.45-106: Portents. Lavinia is destined to marry a foreigner.

7.52-57: Lavinia’s mother wants her to marry Turnus, Italian prince. 7.55: “Handsomest was Turnus.” 7.56-57: “Latinus’ consort [Amata] | was ardent” = Amata’s susceptibility to furor. 

7.58-70: “holy signs, each with its terrors.” Laurel tree 🌳 (~ Laurentum) + the bees 🐝.

7.68-70: Augur’s interpretation. 7.70: “new lords in your tower.”

7.71-80: 🔥 Fire in Lavinia’s hair. 7.79-80: “Prophets foretold a glorious destiny | For her, but for the people a great war.”

7.81-101: Latinus consults the oracle of his father, Faunus. 7.96-99: “My child, don’t seek alliance with the Latins | For your daughter — though a wedding is at hand. | Foreigners will arrive, and intermarriage | Will raise our name to heaven.”

7. 116-118: The Trojans eat their tables. 7.116: “Iulus said, ‘Look at us, eating our tables!'” Fulfilling the oracle given to Aeneas by Calaeno the Harpy (3.250f. = Aeneas would not found his city until hunger made Trojans eat their tables)

7.155: Trojans approach King Latinus in peace.

7.245: Trojans give King Latinus gifts from Troy, including Priam’s scepter. The Latins become the Trojans, the Trojans become the Greeks.

7.286-322: Juno is still angry.

7.324-355: the Fury Allecto.

7.360-364: Amata compares Aeneas to Paris.

7.377-384: Amata’s fury. Spinning top simile.

7.413-474: Allecto and Turnus.

7.476-521: Ascanius shoots the tame Italian deer.

7.601-620: Juno opens the Temple of Janus. 7.606: “To claim our standards from the Parthians”

7.641-817: Invocation of muse. Catalogue of Italian warriors. Last comes Camilla (7.803-817) warrior woman.

Aeneid Book 8:

8.81-85: Aeneas sees the white sow with 30 piglets.

8.184-279: Evander of Pallanteum. Feast of Hercules. Story of Hercules and Cacus. Ara Maxima.

8.370-453: Venus asks Vulcan to make new armour for Aeneas.

8.454-607: Evander asks Aeneas to lead the war against Mezentius and Turnus.

8.608-731: Venus brings the armour to Aeneas. The shield is described.

8.615-616: “The Cytherean embraced her son, then set | the arms beneath an oak, in all their splendor.”

8.625-629: “the shield — work beyond telling of.
There the god of fire had etched Italian history
And Roman triumphs, from the prophecies
He knew: all of Ascanius’ line to come,
And every war the clan would fight, in sequence.”

8.630: she-wolf + twins

8.635: Sabine women

8.675-729: Battle of Actium.

8.730: miratur rerumque ignarus imagine gaudet | “Aeneas loved these scenes on Vulcan’s shield | His mother’s gift — but didn’t know the stories.”

Further Reading:


Lecture 14: Vergil Aeneid. 1-4.

Lecture 14,  Thursday October 31st 2019

A new translation

Vergil the poet 

Virgil_mosaic_in_the_Bardo_National_Museum_(Tunis)_(12241228546).jpgMosaic depicting the poet, Vergil, sitting in the centre, holding a scroll containing a line from Aeneid Book 1. On his left, Clio, muse of history; on his right, Melpomene, muse of tragedy (holding a tragic mask). 3rd century CE. Discovered at Hadrumentum in 1896. Currently in The National Bardo Museum, Tunisia. Image: public domain.


Rotated close-up of the mosaic, showing in detail its depiction of Aeneid 1.8-9: Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso | quidve… 

 Publius Vergilius Maro (70 BCE – 19 BCE)

  • Vergil was born on 15th October 70 BCE in Mantua and died on 21st September 19 BCE in Brundisium. He was buried near Naples.
  • At the time of his death, his fortune amounted to about 10 million sesterces (which suggests the social rank of an equestrian), he owned a house in Rome and had personal contacts to Augustus.

CL 102 Spring 2018-Vergil's Works and relationships[pdf w clickable links: CL 102 Spring 2018-Vergil’s Works and relationships]

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1) Inscription of Cornelius Gallus in Hieroglyphs, Latin, and Greek detailing his achievements in Egypt (ILS 8995), erected at Philae. 16th April 29 BCE. Image: via Epigraphic Database Heidelberg. 2) Inscription of Cornelius Gallus on the Egyptian Obelisk (now in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome). Augustus had moved the obelisk to Alexandria, Egypt; in 37 CE it was moved to Rome by Caligula. The inscription has been deciphered from underneath another (CIL 6.882) from traces left by nail-holes of the bronze letters. Image: EDCS. 3) The Vatican obelisk at Rome. Image: “Dabnu14” (CC-BY-SA-3.0) via wikimedia.

Aeneas: old myth, new purpose

Aeneas appears in Homeric epic (e.g. Iliad 2.819-8235.1806.77-7911.58) where he is already described as a son of Venus. In the Iliad, Poseidon says that Aeneas and his descendants are destined to rule over the Trojans (20.307-308):

“Aeneas will rule the men of Troy in power —

his sons’ sons and the sons born in future years.” (Fagles)

Storage Jar with Aeneas and Anchises

Attic 6th century BCE black-figure amphora depicting Aeneas, carrying his father, Anchises, with his son ahead of him. Escape from Troy. Aphrodite, Aeneas’ mother, stands behind him. Image: Getty villa. (We saw this in lecture 2).

Silver coin (denarius) of Julius Caesar from 47/46 BCE (RRC 458/1). Obverse (left): head of Venus, wearing a diadem. Reverse (right): Aeneas carrying the Palladium (sacred cult image of armed Athena/Minerva, referred to at Aeneid 1.167) in his right hand, Anchises on his left shoulder. Text: CAESAR. Image: American Numismatic Society. (See Zanker 1988 fig. 27b)

Wall paintings of Aeneas (left) and Romulus (right) from a house at Pompeii (IX 13.5 = so-called House of Fabius Ululitremulus) which are thought to reflect the statues erected in the Forum of Augustus (see Zanker 1988: 202). Aeneas carries his father (Anchises), and leads his son, Ascanius/Iulus, out of the destroyed city of Troy. Romulus carries the arms of an enemy defeated in single combat (spolia opima). Image: pompeiinpictures.com. Coloured replica of Aeneas (Vroma), of Romulus (Vroma).


Graffito in the wall of the same house at Pompeii (IX.13.5 = so-called House of Fabius Ululitremulus) with the paintings of Aeneas and Romulus. The inscription is a parody of the opening line of Vergil’s Aeneid 1.1. It reads: Fullones ululamque cano non arma virumq (CIL 4 9131), “I sing the fullers and the screech-owl, not arms and the man.” Some scholars have explained the owl here as a symbol of Minerva, their patron goddess. Ululitremulus’ name means “owl-fearer”. See Milnor 2014: 248-249.  


Wall painting parody of Aeneas/Anchises/Ascanius from Stabiae (1st c. CE). Paul Zanker (1988:209): “To the more perceptive observer, even then, it all became too much. He tried to find respite in irony and humor…The owner of a villa near Stabiae, for example, had painted on his wall a parody of the often copied Aeneas group in the Forum of Augustus, with the heroic ancestors of the princeps depicted as apes with dogs’ heads and huge phalloi.” Image: Vroma.

Look out for the following motifs/symbols: FLAME/FIRE, FURY, GOLD, WOUND, SNAKE. How do these motifs signal the dark side of empire?

Synopsis of Vergil’s Aeneid Books 1-4
from Williams (1996):

Book 1. The poem begins as the Trojans, after seven years of wanderings, are leaving Sicily for Italy, the place of their promised city. But Juno arouses a storm and they are driven off course to Carthage. Here they are hospitably welcomed by the queen Dido. Through the scheming of Venus Dido falls in love with Aeneas and at a banquet asks to hear the story of his wanderings.”

Books 2 and 3. These books are a flash-back in which Aeneas tells to Dido the story of his fortunes prior to the action of Book 1. The second book is intense and tragic, concerned with the events of one single night, the night of Troy’s destruction. The third book is slow-moving, conveying the weary endurance of years of voyaging to reach the ‘ever-receding shores’ of Italy.”

Book 4. The story of the love of Dido and Aeneas is continued. Jupiter sends Mercury to order Aeneas to leave Carthage in order to fulfil his divine mission to found Rome, and he immediately realises that he must sacrifice his personal love for Dido to his national and religious duty. He attempts to explain to Dido why he has to leave her, but she accepts no explanation and, as the Trojans depart, in frenzy and despair she kills herself.”


Aeneid Book 1:

1.1-33: Proem. ARMA VIRUMQUE CANO (1.1)

1.91-101: Aeneas’ first appearance.

1.197-109: Aeneas’ false hope.

1.229-295: Venus, Jupiter, and the Book of Fate.

1.370-410: Venus disguised. Aeneas’ recognition.

1.450-495: The Temple of Juno at Carthage. EkphrasisSUNT LACRIMAE RERUM (1.462)

1.657-756: Cupid disguised as Iulus. Dido poisoned.

Aeneid Book 2:

2.15-234: The Trojan Horse. Sinon the deceiver.

2.199-233: Laocoön and the snakes.

2.270-317: Ghost of Hector. Pastor simile. Beauty in death.

2.506-555: Death of Priam.

2.567-588: Aeneas wants to kill Helen.

2.589-623: Venus and Aeneas.

2.634-672: Anchises won’t leave. Aeneas still wants to fight.

2.673-679: Creusa reminds Aeneas of Iulus.

2.680-694: Iulus’ portent in flame. Thunder on the left, and a comet.

2.707: “Dear father, let them set you on my shoulders.”

2.738-794: Creusa is lost. Creusa’s ghost.

2.781: Creusa tells Aeneas exactly where to go. He will immediately forget.

Trojan_horse_MAN_Napoli_Inv120176Roman wall paintings from a house at Pompeii (IX.7.16). depicting the Trojans bringing the Horse into the city of Troy (as told by Vergil Aeneid Book 2). The Trojans dance happily and drag the wooden horse to the walls of Troy. They ignore the warnings of Cassandra who is seen withdrawing, carrying lighted torches. Image: Sailko (CC BY-SA 3.0) via wikimedia.

Laocoon_and_His_SonsStatue group of Laocoön and his sons being eaten by snakes (as told by Vergil Aeneid Book 2). Discovered in 1506 on the Esquiline Hill at Rome. Pliny the Elder (NH 36.37) describe a statue of a man and his sons eaten by snakes which he saw in the palace of Emperor Titus, identifying its sculptors as Athanadoros, Hagesandros, and Polydoros of Rhodes. He also describes it as made from one block of marble (which it isn’t…). Currently in the Vatican Museum. Debate about its date is vigorous and ongoing. Image: “LivioAndronico” (CC BY-SA 4.0) via wikimedia.

Aeneid Book 3:

3.13-68: Thrace. Polydorus speaks.

3.69-135: Delos. Apollo’s oracle. “Seek your ancient mother.”

3.136-171: Crete. Plague. Aeneas — Penates — Hesperia.

3.209- 257: Strophades (“Turning Islands”). Harpies. “Eat your tables.”

3.280: Actium. “Held Trojan ritual games on Actium’s shore.” — Actian games 29 BCE

3.300-505: Buthrotum. Replica Troy. Helenus and Andromache.

3.558f.: Scylla (in Odysseus’ footsteps).

3.569f.: Cyclops (in Odysseus’ footsteps).

3.707-715: Sicily. Death of Anchises at Drepanum.

Aeneid Book 4:

At regina,…“But the queen…” 3x in Book 4 as a structural feature = 4.1, 4.296, 4.504. Book 4 is constructed carefully like a tragedy. 

4.1-55: Dido and Anna.

4.68: Infelix Dido (cf. 4.68, 4.596, 6.456). Deer simile. Aeneas had shot 7 stags in Book 1 (1.193). At the end of Book 1 Dido had already been called infelix (1.660) — poisoned with passion by Cupid.

4.85: “The towers she started do not rise.” cf. 1.437: “What luck they have — their walls grow high already!” AMOR | MORA

4.91-128: Juno and Venus. 4.125-127: “I’ll be there and — with your sanction — | Join her to him and make her his in marriage | On firm ground.”

4.160-172: Hunt. Storm. THE CAVE. Marriage??? (Juno is goddess of marriage.)

4.173-218: RUMOR. King Jarbas’ jealousy. Jarbas prays to Jupiter (4.206-218).

4.222-237: Jupiter sends Mercury to Aeneas. “This wasn’t what his lovely mother promised…But to rule Italy, beget an empire” (4.227-229). “Does he begrude his son the Roman citadel?” (4.234)

4.259-275: Mercury finds Aeneas, dressed up like a Carthaginian prince, laying foundations. Mercury refers to Dido as Aeneas’ wife (4.265). “Think of your hopes as Iulus grows, your heir, | Owed an Italian realm and Roman soil.” (4.274-275)

4.296: At regina. “But who can fool a lover?”

4.304-330: Dido confronts Aeneas.

4.333-361: Aeneas’ response.

4.338-339: “and as for ‘husband,’ | I never made a pact of marriage with you.” 😮

4.365-387: Dido’s response.

4.394-395: “though he wished | To give some comfort for so great a grief, | Obeyed the gods, returning to his ships”

4.450ff: Dido wishes for death. Dido the Witch.

4.504: At regina.

4.645-671: Death of Dido.

4.671-687: Anna abandoned.

4.693-705: Juno’s pity. Iris takes a lock of hair (~ animal sacrifice). Dido is released.

dido_africaWall painting depicting Dido on a throne at Carthage. Behind Dido, another attendant holds a parasol over her head. On the left, a dark-skinned, black-haired woman holds a tusk; on the right, a woman wearing an elephant headdress. Together they symbolize Africa. In the background a ship — representing the departure of Aeneas. From the House of Meleager at Pompeii (VI.9.2). Image: Vroma. For an exploration of the depiction of race in antiquity, see The Image of the Black in Western Art. From the Pharaohs to the Fall of the Roman Empire. Vol 1. Edited by David Bindman, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. [Mugar: N8232 .I46 2010] 

Further Reading:

  • R. D. Williams’ commentary on Aeneid I-VI [Mugar: PA6802.A1 W5 1996].
  • Paul Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus (1988/1889) [Mugar: N5760 .Z36 1988]
  • On the graffiti of Vergil at Pompeii: Kristina Milnor, Graffiti & the Literary Landscape in Roman Pompeii (2014), available online thro’ BU library, esp. chapter 5: “A Culture of Quotation: Virgil, Education, and Literary Ownership.” (p233-272).
  • On Aeneas, see: Karl Galinksy, Aeneas, Sicily, and Rome (1969) [Mugar: BL 820 A34 F69b]
Study Guide

Midterm Study Guide

The Midterm exam — Tuesday 29th October – will include:

  • Course quiz: questions on Roman history, literature, culture (30 questions)
  • Commentary: identify and comment on literary passages and/or art object (answer 3 out of choice of 5)

Click here for the pdf of the study guide: https://cl102blog.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/midterm-study-guide-cl102-worldofrome-fall-2019.pdf 

The study guide includes all of the questions that can appear in the course quiz, and all of the objects that could appear in the commentary section. Additionally, I’ve given you two examples of what questions in the commentary section will look like (pp4-6), along with sample answers for you to study. If you have any questions about the midterm, or how to prepare for it, be in touch with your teaching fellows or myself.


Lecture 13. The Augustan Principate (27 BCE-14 CE): Politics and Art.

Lecture 13, Tuesday 22nd October 2019

31 BCE: Battle of Actium
Octavian defeats Antony and Cleopatra

After Actium: From Octavian to Augustus

Dio Cassius (51.1): Such was the naval battle [=Battle of Actium, 31 BCE] in which they engaged on the 2nd of September. I do not mention this date without a particular reason, nor am I, in fact, accustomed to do so; but Caesar now for the first time held all the power alone,  and consequently the years of his reign are properly reckoned from that day.

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The Meroë Augustus (27-25 BCE). Bronze head from an over-life-sized statue of Augustus, excavated from under the step of a shrine of Victory in the Kushite city of Meroë. It is thought to have been ritualistically placed there after the head was deliberately removed from the rest of the statue, as a symbol of Meroitic victory over Rome. This act of destruction ironically preserved the head, which was excavated in Sudan in 1910. Strabo (17.54) tells us that statues of Augustus were erected in Egyptian towns near the first cataract of the Nile at Aswan and that an invading Kushite army looted many of them when they raided Roman forts and settlements in Upper Egypt in 25 BCE. Most were later returned as a result of negotiations between the Meroitic Candace (Queen) Amanirenas and the Roman general Gaius Petronius. Images: 1) photograph of the bust from the British Museum, 2) second photograph from British Museum, 3) Pleiades location of Meroë (modern Sudan), an important ancient center of the Kingdom of Kush, a major power from 8th c. BCE to 4th c. CE, 4) UNESCO photograph of Meroë by Ron Van Oers (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO). Guardian article about the Meroë head featured in British Museum’s exhibit about dissent.

29 BCE: Triple Triumph

13-15th August 29 BCE: Octavian’s triple triumph at Rome, celebrating victories at Illyricum, Actium, Alexandria.

Augustus (Res Gestae4): Twice I triumphed with an ovation, and three times I enjoyed a curule triumph and twenty-one times I was named imperator.

Suetonius (Life of Augustus 22): He twice entered the city in an ovation, after the war of Philippi, again after that in Sicily,  and he celebrated three regular triumphs for his victories in Dalmatia, at Actium, and at Alexandria, all on three successive days.

Augustus’ Res Gestae

Left: what remains of the Temple of Augustus and Roma at Ancyra. Image: public domain. Right: the Latin text of the Res Gestae inscribed into the temple wall. Image: APAAME (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Flickr.

Augustus’ RES GESTAE (lit. “THINGS DONE”) = A text in which Augustus himself assessed his achievements, near the end of his life. The original text (which hasn’t survived) was inscribed on bronze tablets and set up outside his family tomb (the Mausoleum). Copies were set up all over the empire. One Latin inscription (with Greek translation) was found at Ancyra, Turkey (known as Monumentum Ancyranum), inscribed in the side wall of a temple dedicated to Augustus and Roma. Read the entire Res Gestae here.

Mausoleum_of_Augustus,_RomeAugustus’ Mausoleum, erected as a dynastic monument to Augustus’ family in the Campus Martius as early as 28 BCE (Suet. Aug. 100). Image: Ethan Doyle White (CC BY-SA 4.0) via wikimedia.

Closing the Temple of Janus


Line drawing (Dennison 1902: 208) of a Neronian coin type (RIC I (2) Nero 438) showing the Temple of Janus (also closed by Nero, Suetonius Nero 13).

Augustus (Res Gestae 13): Our ancestors wanted Janus Quirinus to be closed when throughout the whole rule of the Roman people, by land and sea, peace had been secured through victory. Although before my birth it had been closed twice* in all in recorded memory from the founding of the city, the senate voted three times in my principate that it be closed.

Suetonius (Life of Augustus 22): The Temple of Janus Quirinus, which had been closed but twice before his time since the founding of the city,* he closed three times [first time after Actium, 29 BCE; second time 25 BCE; date of third time debated],  in a far shorter period, having won peace on land and sea.

*Previous closures of Temple of Janus = by Numa, and in 235 BCE after First Punic War (Liv. 1.19). The Temple of Janus as index pacis bellique, “index of peace and war” — Liv. 1.19, Pliny NH 34.33, Varro LL 5.165.

Consolidating Power

27 BCE: The “First Constitutional Settlement”

Ronald Syme (1939: 323): “In his sixth and seventh consulates [28-27 BCE] C. Julius Caesar Octavianus went through a painless and superficial transformation.”

  • Ides (13th) January 27 BCE: Octavian “hands back” his provinces and claims to have restored the republic; with Antony + Lepidus, they had been triumuiri rei publicae constituendae (“three men in charge of establishing republic”)

Augustus (Res Gestae 34): In my sixth and seventh consulates [28-27 B.C.E.], after putting out the civil war, having obtained all things by universal consent, I handed over the state from my power to the dominion of the senate and Roman people.

LEGES ET IVRA P[OPVLO] RESTITVIT Aureus British Museum.jpg

Golden coin (aureus) from 28 BCE. Obverse (left): head of Octavian. Text: IMP CAESAR DIVI F COS VI (Imperator Caesar, son of god, consul for the 6th time). Reverse (right): Octavian, seated on a bench, holding a scroll in his right hand, at feet (left) a scroll-box. Text: LEGES ET IVRA P[OPVLO] RESTITVIT (He has restored to the people their laws and rights). Image: British Museum.

  • 3 days later, 16th January 27 BCE: Takes the name “Augustus”

Augustus (Res Gestae 34): And for this service of mine [the “restoration”], by a senate decree, I was called Augustus and the doors of my house were publicly clothed with young laurel trees and a corona civica (oak wreath) was fixed over my door and a gold shield (clipeus virtutis = “shield of virtue”) placed in the Julian senate-house, and the inscription of that shield testified to the virtue, mercy, justice, and piety (virtus, clementia, iustitia, pietas), for which the senate and Roman people gave it to me. After that time, I exceeded all in influence (auctoritas), but I had no greater power (potestas) than the others who were colleagues with me in each magistracy.

Suetonius (Life of Augustus 7): Later he took the name of Gaius Caesar [44 BCE] and then the surname Augustus [27 BCE], the former by the will of his great-uncle, the latter on the motion of Munatius Plancus. For when some expressed the opinion that he ought to be called Romulus as a second founder of the city, Plancus carried the proposal that he should rather be named Augustus, on the ground that this was not merely a new title but a more honourable one, inasmuch as sacred places too, and those in which anything is consecrated by augural rites are called “august” (augusta), from the increase (auctus) in dignity, or from movements or feeding of the birds (avium gestus gustuve), as Ennius also shows when he writes: “After by augury august illustrious Rome had been founded.”

Augustan iconography


Gold coin (aureus) of Caninius Gallus, Rome, 12 BCE. Obverse (left): head of Augustus. Reverse (right): young laurel trees beside the house of Augustus; the corona civica (oak wreath) above (RIC I(2) Aug.419). Image: British Museum.


Gold coin (aureus), 20/19 BCE (RIC I(2) Aug.50a). Obverse (left): head of Augustus; reverse (right): CAESAR AVGVSTVS above and below laurel branches. Image: British Museum via OCRE.


Gold coin (aureus), 20/19 BCE (RIC I(2) Aug.52a). Obverse (left): head of Augustus; reverse (right): the clipeus virtutis flanked by laurel trees, surrounded by SPQR  and text: CAESAR AUGUSTUS (Caesar Augustus), 20/19 BCE. Images: British Museum via OCRE.

Paul Zanker (1988: 92): “But a major difference in the new “Principate style” was that after 27 BC the impetus for honoring the ruler always came from others — the Senate, the cities, local societies, or private individuals…For those familiar with Roman tradition, such honors suggested many associations with the spirit of the old Republic, while their lack of specificity also admitted a very different interpretation…(p93) The simple honors granted Augustus in 27 BCE were thus turned into tokens of monarchical rule through their use in combination with other symbols, in particular in the decoration of temples for the ruler cult.”

  • laurel = associated with victors, associated with Apollo; laurel trees had traditionally flanked sacred buildings, the Regia and Temple of Vesta
  • corona civica (oak wreath) had traditionally been given to those who rescued comrades in battle, so Augustus now became the rescuer of the entire republic; oak tree was associated with Jupiter


Gold coin (aureus), 19/18 BCE (RIC I(2) Aug. 29a). Obverse (left): head of Augustus. Reverse (right): OB CIVIS SERVATOS (“For saving the citizens”) surrounded by oak wreath. Image: British Museum via OCRE.

Gold coin (aureus), 27 BCE (RIC I(2) Aug. 277). Obverse (left): head of Augustus, text: CAESAR COS VII CIVIBVS SERVATEIS (“Caesar consul 7th time, citizens saved”). Reverse (right): Eagle holding oak wreath, laurels in the background. Image: Münzkabinett via OCRE.


Two-layered onyx cameo depicting the eagle of Jupiter carrying the palm of victory and the corona civica (oak wreath). Possibly commemorating Octavian receiving the title “Augustus” in 27 BCE. Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum. Image: wikimedia.


Suetonius (Life of Augustus 28): He twice thought of restoring the republic… [i.e. he thought about it, he didn’t actually do it]

  • In January 27 BCE Augustus given imperium proconsulare for 10 years over provinces of Syria, Cilicia, Cyprus, Gaul, Spain = everywhere there was a military threat
    • gave up Gallia Narbonensis and Cyprus in 22 BCE, took Dalmatia (Dio Cassius 53.12)
  • He governed these through legates (legati), who held their positions for no time limit (vs. proconsuls or propraetors in senatorial provinces, who held it for 1 year)
    • division irrelevant? Dio Cassius (53.15.4): “The emperor gives instructions to the procurators, the proconsuls, and the propraetors, in order that they may be under definite orders when they go out to their provinces.”
  • Egypt was his personal province, which made him extremely wealthy

Ronald Syme (1939: 323): “Augustus was by far the wealthiest man in the Empire, ruling Egypt as a king and giving account of it to no man.”

Strabo (17.25): But the Provinces have been divided in different ways at different times, though at the present time they are as Augustus Caesar arranged them; for when his native land committed to him the foremost place of authority and he became established as lord for life of war and peace, he divided the whole of his empire into two parts, and assigned one portion to himself and the other to the Roman people; to himself, all parts that had need of a military guard (that is, the part that was barbarian and in the neighbourhood of tribes not yet subdued, or lands that were sterile and difficult to bring under cultivation, so that, being unprovided with everything else, but well provided with strongholds, they would try to throw off the bridle and refuse obedience), and to the Roman people all the rest, in so far as it was peaceable and easy to rule without arms; and he divided each of the two portions into several Provinces, of which some are called “Provinces of Caesar” and the others “Provinces of the People.” And to “Provinces of Caesar” Caesar sends legati and procurators, dividing the countries in different ways at different times and administering them as the occasion requires, whereas to the “Provinces of the People” the people send praetors or proconsuls, and these Provinces also are brought under different divisions whenever expediency requires.

Dio Cassius (53.12): But as he wished even so to be thought democratic, while he accepted all the care and oversight of the public business, on the ground that it required some attention on his part,  yet he declared he would not personally govern all the provinces, and that in the case of such provinces as he should govern he would not do so indefinitely; and he did, in fact, restore to the senate the weaker provinces, on the ground that they were peaceful and free from war, while he retained the more powerful, alleging that they were insecure and precarious and either had enemies on their borders or were able on their own account to begin a serious revoltHis professed motive in this was that the senate might fearlessly enjoy the finest portion of the empire, while he himself had the hardships and the dangers; but his real purpose was that by this arrangement the senators will be unarmed and unprepared for battle, while he alone had arms and maintained soldiers.

Ronald Syme (1939: 323): “In truth it may be regarded merely as the legislation, and therefore strengthening, of despotic power.”

Augustus and the consulship

Augustus consulships

  • suffect consuls became normal: by resigning after 3 (or 4) months, Augustus in effect allowed a man to realize his ambitions; however, did you really want to have a role that the sole ruler of the known world had had??
  • abdication of consulship in June 23 BCE marked transformation of principate: after this, refused to be considered consular candidate; there was trouble and even rioting in Rome, in connection with consulships of 21 and 19 BCE — the people kept insisting on keeping open for him one of the two places

Ronald Syme (1939: 333): “Frail and in despair of life, Augustus returned to Rome [from Spain] in the middle of 24 BCE. He had been away about three years: Rome was politically silent, with no voice or testimony, hoping and fearing in secret. On the first day of January he entered upon his eleventh consulate with [Varro] Murena, a prominent partisan, as his colleague. Three events [23 BCE] — a state trial, a conspiracy, and a serious illness of Augustus — revealed the precarious tenure on which the peace of the world reposed. Meagre and confused, the sources defy and all but preclude the attempt to reconstruct the true history of a year that might well have been the last, and was certainly the most critical, in all the long Principate of Augustus.”

  • Marcus Primus, proconsul of Macedonia (24 or 23 BCE) was brought to trial for high treason (maiestas) for illegally making war on a Thracian tribe (Dio Cassius 54.3). He claimed to have received instructions from Marcellus (d. 23 BCE), Augustus’ nephew. Varro Murena defended Marcus Primus. Augustus appeared as a witness in the trial and denied that he had given the command (Dio Cassius 54.3).
  • A conspiracy arose against Augustus: Fannius Caepio + Varro Murena (Dio Cassius 54.3.4). The conspirators were killed without trial (Dio Cassius 54.3.4).

23 BCE: The “Second Constitutional Settlement”

  • July 1st 23 BCE, Augustus gave up the consulship forever
  • instead took on the tribunicia potestas (“tribunician power”) = right to sumbit bills to the people, right to summon senate, put motions to senate, ius intercessionis (=veto), coercitio, ius auxilii 
    • in 36 BCE he had been given sacrosanctitas of tribune for life (Syme 1939: 336)
    • in 30 BCE he had been given certain powers of tribune (Syme 1939: 336)
    • granted tribunician power to mark successors: Agrippa (18 BCE, Dio Cassius 54.12.4), Tiberius (6 BCE, Dio Cassius 55.9)

New laws for a new age

Suetonius (Life of Augustus 34): He revised existing laws and enacted some new ones, for example, on extravagance, on adultery and chastity, on bribery, and on the encouragement of marriage among the various classes of citizens.

Women in the Classical World (p297): “The Augustan laws, designed to penalize those citizens who remained unmarried or childless (women between 20 and 50 and men after the age of 25) and those who committed adultery or married women or men of the “wrong” social rank or status, had as their goals the moral revitalization of the upper class, the raising of the birth rate among citizens, and the policing of sexual behaviour  in the attempt to reintroduce conservative social values and control the social conduct of an upper class seen as more interested in pleasure and autonomy than in duty and community…The laws, first issued probably in 18 BCE, and amended by supplementary legislation more than 25 years later in 9 CE as the Lex Papia Poppaea, are today known mainly in fragmentary and sometimes distorted from in the writings of later jurists and historians who cite them. Issues of marriage and reproduction that once had been mainly under the control of families now became, at least on paper, public and the purview of the community as a whole. The laws penalized people who did not marry or have children by attacking their eligibility to inherit wealth.”

Visual language of power

Suetonius (Life of Augustus 28): Since the city was not adorned as the dignity of the empire demanded, and was exposed to flood and fire, he so beautified it that he could justly boast that he had found it built of brick and left it in marble. He made it safe too for the future, so far as human foresight could provide for this.

Augustus (Res Gestae 19-21): I built the senate-house and the Chalcidicum which adjoins it and the temple of Apollo on the Palatine with porticoes, the temple of divine Julius, the Lupercal, the portico at the Flaminian circus, which I allowed to be called by the name Octavian, after him who had earlier built in the same place, the state box at the great circus, the temple on the Capitoline of Jupiter Subduer (Feretrius) and Jupiter Thunderer (Tonans), the temple of Quirinus, the temples of Minerva and Queen Juno and Jupiter Liberator on the Aventine, the temple of the Lares at the top of the holy street (Via Sacra), the temple of the gods of the Penates on the Velian, the temple of Youth, and the temple of the Great Mother on the Palatine. (20) I rebuilt the Capitol and the theater of Pompey, each work at enormous cost, without any inscription of my name. I rebuilt aqueducts in many places that had decayed with age, and I doubled the capacity of the Marcian aqueduct by sending a new spring into its channel. I completed the Forum of Julius and the basilica which he built between the temple of Castor and the temple of Saturn, works begun and almost finished by my father. When the same basilica was burned with fire I expanded its grounds and I began it under an inscription of the name of my sons, and, if I should not complete it alive, I ordered it to be completed by my heirs. Consul for the sixth time [28 B.C.E.], I rebuilt eighty-two temples of the gods in the city by the authority of the senate, omitting nothing which ought to have been rebuilt at that time. Consul for the seventh time [27 B.C.E.], I rebuilt the Flaminian road from the city to Ariminum and all the bridges except the Mulvian and Minucian. (21 ) I built the temple of Mars Ultor on private ground and the forum of Augustus from war-spoils. I build the theater at the temple of Apollo on ground largely bought from private owners, under the name of Marcus Marcellus my son-in-law. I consecrated gifts from war-spoils in the Capitol and in the temple of divine Julius, in the temple of Apollo, in the temple of Vesta, and in the temple of Mars Ultor, which cost me about HS 100,000,000.

Ramage & Ramage (6th edition) 2015: 112: “The biographer Suetonius records the boast of Augustus that he had found Rome a city of brick and left it one of marble. By that he meant sun-dried brick, since kiln-fired bricks were not yet in common use. During his rule, the quarries at Carrara in northwest Italy — then called the Luna quarries — were developed. This meant for the first time Roman builders could use a white marble from Italy itself, rather than marble imported from Greek quarries.”

The Forum of Augustus

Left: plan of the Forum of Augustus. Image: “Cassius Ahenobarbus” (CC BY-SA 3.0) via wikimediaRight: Line drawing of the Forum of Augustus. Image: Vroma.org (CC-BY-SA-3.0-MIGRATED) via wikimedia.

  • dedicated 1st August 2 BCE (Dio Cassius 55.10)
  • Augustus had completed the Julian Forum, placed his own forum next to his father’s
  • Luna marble
  • exedrae (semicircular apse) behind each of the two colonnades (the Forum of Trajan will later “quote” this feature)
  • in the porticoes and exedrae there were statues of historical figures (museum/history lesson): Aeneas, Romulus, kings of Alba Longa, members of the Julian Family
  • firewall — gave forum a sense of safety and enclosure
  • central focus = Temple of Mars Ultor (Mars the Avenger), vowed by Octavian at Philippi 42 BCE (Suet. Aug. 29.2; Ov. Fast. 5.569‑578)
    • the statues of gods inside this temple were Mars, Venus, and Divine Julius Caesar (Divus Julius)
  • many works of art were collected in the forum
  • quadriga (4 horse chariot) dedicated to Augustus by the senate (Res Gestae 35)
  • boys put on toga uirilis (toga of manhood) here, and governors set out for their province from here (Dio Cassius 55.10)
  • Ramage & Ramage (6th edition) 2015: 114: “This sculptural program was the visual counterpart to the literary statements regarding the divine and mythological ancestry written by the great Roman poet Virgil in his epic, The Aeneid, composed only a few years later.”

Rome vs. Parthia

  • 53 BCE: Marcus Crassus (triumvir) is defeated and killed at the Battle of Carrhae, losing Rome’s standards (Plutarch Crassus 23)
  • Julius Caesar had planned a military campaign against Parthia to recover lost standards (Suet. Julius 44), but was killed
  • Mark Antony spent much energy (40 BCE, 36 BCE) trying to subdue Parthia, but lost even more standards (Suet. Aug. 21)
  • 20 BCE: Augustus recovers the lost standards via diplomacy of Tiberius (Suet. Tib. 9)
    • kept in a small round temple of Mars Ultor on Capitol at Rome (Cassius Dio 54.8) until the forum Augustum was completed in 2 BCE
      • Augustus in the Res Gestae (29) writes: “I placed (reposui) those standards in the sanctuary of the temple of Mars Ultor.”
  • Augustus (Res Gestae 29): I compelled the Parthians to return to me the spoils and standards of three Roman armies, and as suppliants to seek the friendship of the Roman people.

Silver denarius (RIC I(2) Aug.72), 19 BCE, depicting Mars inside a round, domed temple, holding recovered standards. Text: MARTIS VLTORIS (of Mars Ultor). Image: Münzkabinett Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

Silver denarius, (RIC I(2) Aug. 287), 19-4 BCE. Obverse (left): head of Liber (=Dionysus). Text: TVRPILIANVS IIIVIR (name of the issuer, P. Petronius Turpilianus). Reverse (right): Parthian kneeling, extending standard with X-marked vexillum with right hand and holding out left hand. Text: CAESAR AVGVSTVS SIGN RECE (Augustus received the captured standards from the king). Image: Münzkabinett Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

The Prima Porta Augustus

Statue-AugustusCarrara marble statue of Augustus from Prima Porta. Discovered in Livia’s villa at Prima Porta, a few miles north of Rome. Image: public domain.

Copy of the Prima Porta Augustus with restored colour. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Images: Eunostos (CC BY-SA 4.0) via wikimedia.


Detail of reconstructed painted cuirass of Prima Porta Augustus. Image: saturatedspace.com.

  • early 1st c. CE marble copy of a bronze statue c. 20 BCE set up after the return of the Parthian standards
  • evokes the Greek statue: Doryphoros (Spearbearer) by Polykleitos (440s BCE)
  • bare feet = Augustus as hero, or even god
  • Cupid riding a dolphin (bottom left) = reference to Venus, Augustus’ ancestor, mother of Cupid; dolphin symbolizes victory at Actium
  • excessive frontality (back unfinished)
  • larger than life sized (7 feet tall)
  • military breastplate closely shaped and contoured to body (nudity without nudity)
  • military cloak (rouched)
  • central scene: Parthians handing back standards from Carrhae
    • Ramage & Ramage (6th edition) 2015: 123: “Above this scene, the sky god [Caelum] holds up a canopy signifying that the peace implied by the victory scene, and by the figure of Mother Earth holding a cornucopia full of fruit at the bottom of the breast-plate, is now spread throughout Augustus’ empire. Apollo and Diana at bottom left and right are paralleled by the sun god Sol and the moon goddess Luna near the emperor’s shoulders. Thus, the cosmic forces and passage of time are also included in this grand vision of Augustan peace.”

Lecture 12. Octavian to Augustus

Lecture 12, Thursday 16th October 2019

Syme 1939: 97: “Caesar lay dead, stricken by twenty-three wounds. The Senate broke up in fear and confusion, the assassins made their way to the Capitol to render thanks to the gods of the Roman State. They had no further plans — the tyrant was slain, therefore liberty was restored.”

Man as God — the Iulium sidus, ‘Julian star’

Augustus c. 19-18 sidus iulium

Silver denarius minted by Augustus, c. 19–18 BCE. Obverse (left): wreathed head of Augustus. Text: CAESAR AVGVSTVS (Caesar Augustus). Reverse (right): comet (star) of eight rays, tail upward. Text: DIVVS IVLIV[S] (Divine Julius). RIC I 37a. Image: Classical Numismatic Group (CC BY-SA 3.0) via wikimedia. Many other coins of this type:

Horace Odes 1.12.46-48:

[…] among them all shines
the Julian star like the moon
among the lesser lights.

In ancient sources, the star of Julius Caesar (Iulium sidus) is associated with either:

  • a) goddess Venus herself as a star
  • b) The sight of a comet at games of Venus Genetrix (=Ludi Victoriae Caesaris) given by Octavian (July 44 BCE).
  • c) 31 BCE: Battle of Actium (Octavian vs. Antony and Cleopatra)

Explanations of the Iulium Sidus?:

a) goddess Venus herself as a star

Silver denarius of Julius Caesar, minted in Spain (46-45 BCE). Obverse (left): bust of Venus, draped, wearing a diadem and with a star in her hair. Lituus. Reverse (right): trophy with an oval shield and the Gallic war horn (carnyx); bearded captive (left) kneels with hands tied behind back, seated woman (right) rests head on hands. Text: CAESAR (Caesar). RRC 468/2. Image: Mantis, Numismatic Technologies Integration Service (American Numismatic Society). See Gurval 1997: 48 on this iconography.

Gurval 1997: 48: “the star is surely the evening star of Venus, which the antiquarian Varro explained…had led Aeneas through the day (per diem) to Italy.”

b) sight of a comet at the games for Venus Genetrix in July 44 BCE

Pliny (NH 2.94): The only place in the whole world where a comet (cometes, κομήτης*) is worshiped is at a temple at Rome [=Temple of Divine Julius]. The late divine Augustus considered this comet a good omen (faustus) to himself, since it had appeared at the beginning of his rule (44 BCE), at some games which, not long after the death of his father Caesar, as a member of the college founded by him he was celebrating in honour of Mother Venus (Venus Genetrix). In fact he made public the joy that it gave him in these words: ‘On the very days of my games a comet was visible for seven days under the constellation Septentriones*. It was rising about an hour before sunset, and was a bright star, visible from all lands. The common people believed that this star signified the spirit (anima) of Caesar received among the spirits of the immortal gods, and because of this the symbol of a star was added to the statue of Caesar that we shortly afterwards dedicated in the forum.’ This was his public utterance, but privately he rejoiced because he interpreted the comet as having been born for his own sake and as containing his own birth within it; and, to confess the truth, it did have a healthgiving influence over the world.

*Septentriones = the seven (septem) stars closest to the current north star, Polaris; in different sources this word is used for either the Great Bear (Ursa Major) or the Little Bear (Ursa Minor). Generally used as word meaning ‘northern’.

Ursa_Major_-_Ursa_Minor_-_PolarisUrsa Major and Ursa Minor next to the north star, Polaris. In Roman texts, the term Septentriones — a set of seven stars (‘triones’ was thought by the Romans to refer to oxen, Varro LL 7.74-75, Gellius 2.21), were variously applied to either the larger (Vitr. 9.4.6) or the smaller constellation (Cic. ND 2.111). The Greeks called the same constellations ἅμαξαι, hamaxai, ‘wagons’ as well as the Bears (e.g. Homer, Iliad 18.487), and Helice (‘twisty’, Ursa Major) and Cynosure (‘dog-tail’, Ursa Minor). Image: Bonč (CC BY-SA 3.0) via wikimedia.

Suetonius (Life of Divine Julius 88): Caesar died in the fifty-sixth year of his age, and was numbered among the gods, not only by a formal decree, but also in the conviction of the common people. For at the first of the games which his heir Augustus gave in honour of his apotheosis, a comet (stella crinita*) shone for seven successive days, rising about the eleventh hour, [= about an hour before sunset] and was believed to be the spirit (anima) of Caesar, who had been taken to the sky; and this is why a star is set upon the crown of his head in his statue. It was voted that the hall in which he was slain be walled up, that the Ides of March be called the Day of Parricide, and that a meeting of the senate should never be called on that day.

*Both the Greek and Latin for ‘comet‘ = ‘hairy star’ (Greek: κομήτης = cometes, Latin: stella crinita).

Science and Humanities combine!:

Screenshots from Ramsey and Licht’s The Comet of 44 BCE and Caesar’s Funeral Games (1997). On which, Gurval 1997: 40n 3: “The study by Ramsey and Licht is an interdisciplinary, richly documented, and detailed investigation of the appearance of a comet in 44 as both an astronomical phenomenon and a historical event. The collaborative work of a classicist and physicist, it seeks to identify the comet’s sighting; with the assistance of ancient Chinese texts and modern calculations, charts, and graphs, the authors can trace its course, not always or easily visible to mortals below, across two continents

c) associated with the Battle of Actium (31 BCE)

Vergil, Aeneid 8.675-689, translated by Sarah Ruden.

The bronze-braced fleets at Actium, in the middle,
Were lined up there to see. All of Leucate
Was seething with them. Gold shone on the waves.
Caesar Augustus led the Roman forces —
Senate and people, hearth gods, mighty sky gods.
High on the stern he stood; from his glad forehead
poured two flames. From his head his father’s star rose.
Near him Agrippa — gods and winds both helped him —
Led the line from on high, his head ennobled
With the bright ship beaks of a naval crown.
Antony, victor of the East, the Red Sea,
Brought foreign wealth and jumbled troops against them.
He hauled in Egypt, Oriental powers,
And farthest Bactra. His Egyptian wife
Followed him — outrage! Now the navies clashed.

Site of Actium

Pleiades ActiumSite of Actium, off whose waters the Mark Antony and Cleopatra were defeated by Octavian in 31 BCE. Image: Pleiades.

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After Octavian’s defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra at Actium (September 2nd 31 BCE):

  • Octavian founded a new city near Actium called Nikopolis (‘Victory City’)
  • established games there
  • enlarged the temple of Apollo
  • monumentalized the site of his camp with the naval trophies,
  • consecrating it to Neptune and Mars (Suet. Aug. 18)
  • city became the political, economic, and social focus of northwestern Greece
  • very 4 years games held in celebration of Actium

Kostantinos Zachos 2003: 65: “on the spot where he had pitched his tent before the battle and where the leaders of Antony’s decimated army had come to declare their submission, he erected a magnificent trophy monument (tropaeum) with 36 bronze rostra [beaks of ships]* on its facade in an open-air sanctuary.”

*rostrum = the curved end of a ship’s prow, a ship’s beak (originally, ‘bird’s beak’, ‘mouth of an animal’). The speaker’s platforum at Rome was called the ROSTRA because it had been adorned with the prows of enemy ships captured from Antium in 338 BCE. A number of ship prows still survive:

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11 bronze rostra have been found in water near Egadi islands off NW Sicily since 2004. Scholars think that the ships were sunk as part of the final battle of First Punic War, Battle of Aegates Islands (March 10th 241 BCE). Some of the rostra have Latin inscriptions, others Punic (see Prag 2014). Images: 1) bronze rostrum (Egadi 3) on the seabed bronze (source: rpmnautical.org), 2) Egadi 3 being rasied from the seabed, September 2010 (source: historytoday.com), 2) Egadi 3 inspected (source: rpmnautical.org), 3) photograph of Egadi 3 (source: rpmnautical.org).

Significance of Iulium sidus:

Robert Gurval 1997: 41: “Whether fact or fiction, Caesar’s comet or, more importantly, claims of its appearances and interpretations of its meanings must be seen as a conspicuous manifestation of politics and Augustan ideology. What role the myth of the comet played in the political discourse of Caesar’s heir and later in the ideology of a Princeps engaged in the act of legitimizing his established position and securing a succession is the focal point of this.” p45: “Representations of a star as an allusion to the divinity of Caesar can be found on the issues of Octavian dating from the early 30s [BCE]. Representations of the comet, however, appear almost twenty years later, and they be long to the ideology of an emergent Augustan Principate.”

New Pauly (‘Ruler cult’): “After his death, Caesar was worshipped at an altar erected on the site of his cremation, then identified with the comet (sidus Iulium) that appeared at the ludi Victoriae Caesaris (July 44 BC) and finally consecrated (consecratio) as diuus Iulius on a Senate resolution. He was worshipped in the temple of Venus Genetrix until he was given his own temple in 29 BC.”

Rivals in inheritance — Octavian (63 BCE – 14 CE)

  • 15th March 44 BCE: murder of Julius Caesar. C. Octavius (grandson of Caesar’s sister) is adopted through Caesar’s will, becomes his heir. He is 18 years old.

Syme 1939: 112-113: “When C. Octavius passed by adoption into the Julian house he acquired the new legal designation of C. Julius Caesar Octavianus. It will be understood  that the aspirant to Caesar’s power preferred to drop the name that betrayed his origin, and be styled ‘C. Julius Caesar‘. Further, the official deification of his adoptive parent soon [42 BCE] provided the title of ‘Diui Julii filius‘ [= “son of the Divine Julius”]; and from 38 BCE onwards the military leader of the Caesarian faction took to calling himself ‘Imperator Caesar’*…As enemies bitterly observed, the name of Caesar was the young man’s fortune. Italy and the world accepted him as Caesar’s son and heir; that the relationship by blood was distant was a fact of little moment in the Roman conception of the family, barely known or soon forgotten by the inhabitants of the provinces.”

*imperator was a name given by the troops to generals after a victorious battle, sometimes the senate gave or confirmed the title: imperator (Oxf. Class. Dict.): “The first certainly attested imperator is L. Aemilius Paullus in 189 BCE… The increasing influence of the army in the late republic made imperator the symbol of military authority. Agrippa in 38 BCE refused a triumph for victories won under Octavian‘s superior command and established the rule that the princeps should assume the salutations and the triumphs of his legates. Henceforth, apparently, Octavian used imperator as praenomen (imperator Caesar, not Caesar imperator), perhaps intending to emphasize the personal and family value of the title. Thus the title came to denote the supreme power and was commonly used in this sense. But, officially, Otho (ruled 3 months in 69 CE) was the first to imitate Augustus, and only with Vespasian (ruled 69-79 CE) did Imperator (‘emperor’) become a title by which the ruler was known.

Rivals in inheritance — Mark Antony (c. 83-30 BCE)

  • served Caesar in Gaul till the end of 50 BCE (quaestor 51 BCE)
  • tribune of plebs 49 BCE, supported Caesar’s interests
  • 48 BCE: commanded Caesar’s left wing at the Battle of Pharsalus (against Pompey)
  • he served as magister equitum, Master of Horse to Caesar’s dictator (till late 47 BCE)
  • 44BCE: consul with Julius Caesar

Cicero (Philippics 13.24): You [Mark Antony], on the contrary, who cannot deny that you were favored by the same Caesar, what would you be today, if Caesar had not conferred so much on you? Would your worth or your lineage have got you anywhere at all? You would have spent your entire life in brothels, gorging, gaming, drinking, as you used to do when you were laying your mouth and mind in the lap of actresses.“—and you, boy,—”‘Boy,’ he calls him; but he has found him and will find him not only a man but a very brave man too. That name does indeed go with his age, but it comes very ill from one who makes this boy glorious through his own madness.“—who owe everything to your name—” Yes, he ‘owes,’ and splendidly he pays. If Caesar was ‘the father of the fatherland,’* (parens patriae) as you call him—never mind what I think—is not this young man more truly a father to whom we assuredly owe our lives which he snatched from your most villainous hands?

*parens patriae, or pater patriae = ‘father of the fatherland’, an honour granted by the senate. It was given to Cicero for his role against the Catilinarian conspirators (63 BCE), to Caesar after the Battle of Munda (45 BCE), and to Augustus in 2 BCE.

Suetonius (Life of Divine Julius 79): But from that time on [Caesar] could not rid himself of the odium of having aspired to the title of monarch, although he replied to the commons, when they hailed him as king, “I am Caesar and no king,” and at the Lupercalia, when the  consul Mark Antony several times attempted to place a crown upon his head as he spoke from the rostra, he put it aside and at last sent it to the Capitol, to be offered to Jupiter Optimus Maximus.

Smith 1875: LUPERCALIA — “The festival was held every year, on the 15th of February, in the Lupercal, where Romulus and Remus were said to have been nurtured by the she-wolf; the place contained an altar and a grove sacred to the god Lupercus. Here the Luperci assembled on the day of the Lupercalia, and sacrificed to the god goats and young dogs, which animals are remarkable for their strong sexual instinct, and thus were appropriate sacrifices to the god of fertility…Mark Antony, in his consulship, was one of the Luperci, and not only ran with them half-naked and covered with pieces of goat-skin through the city, but even addressed the people in the forum in this rude attire.”  (Compare Plutarch’s account in his Life of Caesar 61).

Fraternal Strife

Octavian vs. Antony

  • ENEMIES: 43 BCE: Battle of Mutina (Northern Italy). Mark Antony vs. Octavian and the senate (both consuls die); 19 August 43 BCE, Octavian consul for the first time. 
  • FRIENDS: 43 BCE: LEX TITIA. A law is passed which creates the Triumvirate, a legally sanctioned arrangement between Mark Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus (who had also been Caesar’s Master of Horse). [Mark Antony had abolished dictatorship in 44 BCE, Cic. Ph. 1.3.6]
  • FRIENDS: 42 BCE: Battles of Philippi (Greece). Mark Antony and Octavian fight Caesar’s assassins, Brutus and Cassius.

Pleiades Philippi

Site of Philippi, where Republican army of Brutus and Cassius was defeated by the forces of Mark Antony and Octavian in 42 BCE. Image: Pleiades.

Battles of Philippi (42 BCE):
Mark Antony and Octavian vs. Brutus and Cassius

Syme (1939): 204-204: “The [first] battle was indecisive. Brutus on the right flank swept over the Caesarian lines and captured the camp of Octavianus, who was not there. A certain mystery envelops his movements: on his own account he obeyed a warning dream which had visited his favourite doctor. The other wing of the Caesarians, led by Antonius, broke through the front of Cassius and pillaged his camp. Cassius despaired too soon. Unaware of the brilliant success of Brutus on the right wing, deceived perhaps, as one account runs, through a defect of his eyesight (Plut. Brut. 43), and believing all was lost, Cassius fell upon his sword. Such as the first Battle of Philippi (Oct. 23rd)…After a tenacious and bloody contest, the Caesarian army prevailed. Once again the Balkan lands witnessed a Roman disaster and entombed the armies of the Republic (Lucan, Pharsalia 7.862). This time the decision was final and irrevocable, the last struggle of the Free State. Henceforth, nothing but a contests of despots over the corpse of liberty. The men who fell at Philippi fought for a principle, a tradition and a class — narrow, imperfect and outworn, but for all that the soul and spirit of Rome.”

Suetonius (Life of Divine Augustus 13): Then, forming a league with Mark Antony and Lepidus, he finished the war of Philippi also in two battles, although weakened by illness, being driven from his camp in the first battle and barely making his escape by fleeing to Antony’s division. He did not use his victory with moderation, but after sending Brutus’s head to Rome, to be cast at the feet of Caesar’s statue, he vented his spleen upon the most distinguished of his captives, not even sparing them insulting language. For instance, to one man who begged humbly for burial, he is said to have replied: “The birds will soon settle that question.” When two others, father and son, begged for their lives, he is said to have bidden them cast lots to decide which should be spared, and then to have looked on while both died, since the father was executed because he offered to die for his son, and the latter thereupon took his own life. Because of this the rest, including Marcus Favonius, the well-known imitator of Cato, saluted Mark Antony respectfully as Imperator, when they were led out in chains, but lashed Augustus to his face with the foulest abuse.

  • FRIENDS: 41BCE: Antony goes to the East. Antony meets Cleopatra at Tarsus.

Antony in the East (41 BCE) — Becoming Dionysus

Plutarch (Life of Mark Antony 24): Antony crossed over to Asia and laid hands on the wealth that was there. Kings would often come to his doors, and wives of kings, vying with one another in their gifts and their beauty, would yield up their honour for his pleasure; and while at Rome Caesar was wearing himself out in civil strifes and wars, Antony himself was enjoying abundant peace and leisure, and was swept back by his passions into his accustomed mode of life. Cithara-players like Anaxenor, aulos-players like Xuthus, one Metrodorus, a dancer, and such other rabble of Asiatic performers, who surpassed in impudence and effrontery the pests from Italy, poured like a flood into his quarters and held sway there….When Antony made his entry into Ephesus, women arrayed like Bacchants, and men and boys like Satyrs and Pans, led the way before him, and the city was full of ivy and thyrsus-wands and harps and pipes and flutes, the people hailing him as Dionysus Giver of Joy and Beneficent. For he was such, undoubtedly, to some; but to the greater part he was Dionysus Carnivorous and Savage.

1) Seated cithara player from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor (50 BCE). Image: Met Museum. 2) Dionysiac scene on the interior of a drinking cup from Athens (c. 470 BCE). Bacchant (= follower of Dionysus) with a thyrsus is seized by a satyr. The pair are flanked by satyrs. In the field are phallic flowers. Image: Boston MFA. 3) Bacchant holding a thyrsuswall painting from Casa del Naviglio (Pompeii VI.10.11), 1st c. CE. Image: wikimedia. See pompeiiinpictures.com for line drawings of the Bacchant wall paintings from this house.

Antony and Cleopatra

Plutarch (Life of Mark Antony 25): Such, then, was the nature of Antony, where now as a crowning evil his love for Cleopatra supervened, roused and drove to frenzy many of the passions that were still hidden and quiescent in him, and dissipated and destroyed whatever good and saving qualities still offered resistance. And he was taken captive in this manner. As he was getting ready for the Parthian war, he sent to Cleopatra, ordering her to meet him in Cilicia in order to make answer to the charges made against her of raising and giving to Cassius much money for the war. But Dellius, Antony’s messenger, when he saw how Cleopatra looked, and noticed her subtlety and cleverness in conversation, at once perceived that Antony would not so much as think of doing such a woman any harm, but that she would have the greatest influence with him. He therefore resorted to flattery and tried to induce the Egyptian to go to Cilicia “decked out in fine array”* (as Homer would say), and not to be afraid of Antony, who was the most agreeable and humane of commanders.”

*“decked out in fine array” =  a quotation from Homer Iliad 14.162, where Hera prepares her body to be beautiful so that she can seduce and deceive Zeus. Hera enlists the help of Aphrodite (Iliad 14.190ff.).

Pleiades Tarsus

Tarsus in Cilicia, where Mark Antony and Cleopatra met in 41 BCE. Image: pleiades.

Plutarch (Life of Mark Antony 26): Though she received many letters of summons both from Antony himself and from his friends, she so despised and laughed the man to scorn as to sail up the river Cydnus in a barge with gilded poop, its sails spread purple, its rowers urging it on with silver oars to the sound of the flute blended with pipes and lutes. She herself reclined beneath a canopy spangled with gold, adorned like Venus in a painting, while boys like Cupids in paintings stood on either side and fanned her. Likewise also the   fairest of her serving-girls, attired like Nereïds and Graces, were stationed, some at the rudder-sweeps, and others at the reefing-ropes. Wondrous scents from countless incense-offerings diffused themselves along the river-banks.  Of the inhabitants, some accompanied her on either bank of the river from its very mouth, while others went down from the city to behold the sight. The throng in the market-place gradually streamed away, until at last Antony himself, seated on his tribunal, was left alone. And a rumour spread on every hand that Venus was come to revel with Bacchus for the good of Asia… (27) Cleopatra observed in the jests of Antony much of the soldier and the common man, and adopted this manner also towards him, without restraint now, and boldly. For her beauty, as we are  told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her; but conversation with her had an irresistible charm, and her presence, combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the character which was somehow diffused about her behaviour towards others, had something stimulating about itThere was sweetness also in the tones of her voice; and her tongue, like an instrument of many strings, she could readily turn to whatever language she pleased, so that in her interviews with barbarians she very seldom had need of an interpreter, but made her replies to most of them herself and unassisted, whether they were Ethiopians, Troglodytes, Hebrews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes or Parthians. It’s said that she knew the speech of many other peoples also, although the kings of Egypt before her had not even made an effort to learn the native language, and some actually gave up their Macedonian dialect.

Touched by the Hand of Cleopatra

P. 25239: Königlicher ErlaßP. 25239 (= P. Bingen 45) Royal Egyptian decree granting a tax exemption to a Roman [text uncertain: scholars have suggested Publius Canidius, who commanded Antony’s land forces during Battle of Actium (Van Minnen 2000: 29-34); or Quintus Cascellius (Zimmerman 2002: 133-139), see Sarri 2017: 168 n592]. Allegedly contains the signature of Cleopatra herself — γινέσθωι, “ginesthō” = “Make it happen.” Image: Berliner Papyrusdatenbank.

  • ENEMIES41-40 BCE. War of Perusia. Octavian fights Mark Antony’s brother, L. Antonius, and wife, Fulvia.

War of Perusia (41-40 BCE)

Beard 2016: 344-345: “In and around the modern town of Perugia, dozens of small sling bullets have been unearthed, deadly lead projectiles that were catapulted back and forth between the forces of Octavian when he was besieging the city and Lucius Antonius and Fulvia inside. Many were made in moulds that imprinted a short slogan on the bullet, as if to take a message to the enemy. This was not an uncommon idea in the ancient world: earlier Greek specimens appear with the equivalent of ‘Gotcha’ or ‘Ouch’, and some from the Social War declare ‘Get Pompeius’ (meaning Pompey the Great’s father) or ‘In your gut.’ But the bullets from Perugia are far more eloquent. Some are taunting: ‘You’re famished and pretending not to be,’ reads one message lobbed into the city, where starvation eventually led to surrender. Several others carry brutally obscene messages aimed at predictable pars of the anatomy of their different targets, male and female: ‘Lucius Antonius, you baldy, and you too, Fulvia, open your arsehole’; ‘I’m going for Madam Octavius’ arsehole’; or ‘I’m going for Fulvia’s clitoris.'”

lead sling-bullets Perusine War in 41

Inscribed lead bullets from the War of Perusia. Image: Companion to the Worlds of Roman Women.

Martial (11.20): Malignant one, you who read Latin words with a sour face, read six wanton verses of Caesar Augustus: “Because Antony fucks Glaphyra, Fulvia determined to punish me by making me fuck her in turn. I fuck Fulvia? What if Manius begged me to sodomize him, would I do it? I think not, if I were in my right mind. ‘Either fuck me or let us fight,’ says she. Ah, but my cock is dearer to me than life itself. Let the trumpets sound.” Augustus, you surely absolve my witty little books, knowing how to speak with Roman candor.

    • Mark Antony invades Armenia, captures king Artavasdes, celebrates a triumph at Alexandria (Plut. Ant. 50)
    • Donations of Alexandria.” Antonius grants royal titles to his  children with Cleopatra, and Caesar’s son (Plut. Ant. 54)

Antony at Alexandria (34 BCE)

Plutarch (Life of Antony 54): Mark Antony was hated, too, for the distribution which he made to his children in Alexandria; it was seen to be theatrical and arrogant, and to evince hatred of Rome. For after filling the gymnasium with a throng and placing on a tribunal of silver two thrones of gold, one for himself and the other for Cleopatra, and other lower thrones for his sons, in the first place he declared Cleopatra Queen of Egypt, Cyprus, Libya, and Coele Syria, and she was to share her throne with Caesarion. Caesarion was believed to be a son of the former Caesar, by whom Cleopatra was left  pregnant. In the second place, he proclaimed his own sons by Cleopatra Kings of Kings, and to Alexander he allotted Armenia, Media and Parthia (when he should have subdued it), to Ptolemy Phoenicia, Syria, and Cilicia. At the same time he also produced his sons, Alexander arrayed in Median garb, which included a tiara and upright head-dress, Ptolemy in boots, short cloak, and broad-brimmed hat surmounted by a diadem. For the latter was the dress of the kings who followed Alexander, the former that of Medes and Armenians.  And when the boys had embraced their parents, one was given a bodyguard of Armenians, the other of Macedonians. Cleopatra, indeed, both then and at other times when she appeared in public, assumed a robe sacred to Isis, and was addressed as the New Isis.

  • Alexander Helios (‘the Sun’) — Armenia, Media, Parthia
  • Cleopatra Selene (‘the Moon’) — Cyrenaica, Libya (Dio Cassius 49.41)
  • Ptolemy Philadelphus (‘Brotherly love’) — Phoenicia, Syria, Cilicia

Lecture 11. Julius Caesar.

Lecture 11, Thursday 10th October 2019

Gaius Julius Caesar (100 — 44 BCE)

Turin Caesar

Portrait of Julius Caesar from forum of Tusculum. 1st c. BCE. Turin, Museo di Antichità. Image: Gautier Poupeau [CC BY 2.0] via wikimedia. Fig. 39 in Paul Zanker’s Roman Art (the twitter prize book). The bust was excavated by Lucien Bonaparte (younger brother of Napoleon) in 1825 (see Ancient Portraits in the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1987: 24).

Zanker (2010: 65): “The competitive politicians at Rome…were interested in presenting themselves as unique individuals. We may also take it that such harsh realism was well suited to depicting Roman values such as severity and authority… This image of Caesar, from the forum of the town of Tusculum, was probably made during the dictator’s lifetime. The realistic depiction of an aging man with deep furrows and thinning hair agrees with the image on coins minted in 44 BCE and may well have corresponded to the actual appearance of the 56 year old. Unlike Pompey’s images, this one avoids all hints of emotional engagement, showing instead the haughty, aloof expression of an aristocrat. The suggestion of an ironic smile and slightly narrowed eyes seem to have been characteristic features of Caesar.”

Silver denarius with head of Julius Caesar, struck under M. Mettius. 44 BCE. Minted at Rome. Obverse (left): head of C. Julius Caesar, wreathed (like a triumphator), with lituus (augural staff) left of his head. Text: CAESAR DICT QVART (dictator for the fourth time). Reverse (right): goddess Juno Sospita, spear in hand, shield in left, standing in a biga (chariot drawn by a team of two horses) galloping to right. Text (below): MMETT[IVS] (M. Mettius). Image: MFA, Boston. See also MFA Boston Highlights: Classical Art p173. The image of Caesar on this coin is often compared to the Tusculan portrait (above). Julius Caesar was the first living person whose portrait appeared on a coin struck at Rome.

Caesar: the man, the myth, the legend:

Elizabeth Rawson (1994: 438): “It is impossible today to approach Caesar’s acts in his last years without some awareness of the different Caesars created by modern scholars. Perhaps it is unnecessary to go back to the idealized Caesar of Theodor Mommsen [1817 – 1903], that is, the man who saw in advance that a monarchy was the necessary cure for Rome’s ills, and became a democratic ruler by overthrowing a corrupt and arrogant oligarchy — which was identified by the great liberal scholar with the Prussian Junkers whom he hated. But the Caesar of Eduard Meyer [1855 – 1930], though perhaps no one now would accept him without reservation, lives on, if often as a model against which to react. Meyer’s Caesar fought selfishly for power, which he intended to legitimize by becoming another Alexander, ruling as god and king over a world empire; in fact, thought Meyer, this was a false path, and Augustus returned to the precedent of Pompey, who kept his power within Roman and Republican forms. Many scholars accepted this picture, some adding that Cleopatra had had an important role in converting Caesar to the idea of Hellenistic kingship (Gelzer 1921). Others, especially in Britain before the Second World War, denied that there was contemporary evidence to prove that he wished to be either a king or a god, and argued that the fact that he became a dictator for life, dictator perpetuo, was enough to explain his assassination; he was a brilliant opportunist, with no long-term plans (Adcock 1932, Syme 1939). More recently there have been attempts, sometimes on the basis of the coins, to show that Caesar did wish to be king, but conceived kingship in Roman terms, harking back to Romulus or even to the kings of Alba Longa, descended like Caesar himself from Aeneas; and that he did wish to be god, but in that too stood largely in the native tradition (Alföldi 1965, Weinstock 1971).”

Napoleon and Caesar

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, oil on canvas by Jacques-Louis David, 1812; in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Image: britannica.com.

Roberts (2015: 12): “The monks [of École de Brienne] subscribed to the Great Man view of history, presenting the heroes of the ancient and modern worlds for the boys’ emulation. Napoleon [1769-1821] borrowed many biographies and history books from the school library, devouring Plutarch’s tales of heroism patriotism, and republican virtue. He also read Caesar, Cicero, Voltaire, Diderot, and the Abbé Raynal, as well as Erasmus, Eutropius, Livy, Phaedrus, Sallust, Virgil, and the first century BCE Cornelius Nepos’ Lives of the Great Captains, which included chapters on Themistocles, Lysander, Alcibiades, and HannibalHe could recite in French whole passages from Virgil, and in class he naturally took the side of his hero Caesar against Pompey. The plays he enjoyed as an adult also tended to focus on the ancient heroes, such as Racine’s Alexandre le Grand, Andromaque, Mithridate, and Corneille’s CinnaHorace, and Attila.” (2015: 31) March 1790: “Napoleon spent his nights writing his history of Corsica and re-reading Caesar’s Gallic Wars, committing whole pages of it to memory.”

Čulík-Baird (2016): “It is precisely the image of Napoleon obsessing over Caesar that makes me uncomfortable about biography. Biography seems to me to generate a feeling of either veneration or voyeurism in its readers, and I find it hard to reconcile this with a scholarly mindset. In certain places and times, the lives of famous men were written precisely to be emulated. But I want to believe that we’ve made it past the need to study ‘great men’ precisely because of their ‘greatness’, which usually has more than something to do with imperialism, colonialism, or cultural chauvinism. But the fact is that these texts which we use were made by people with personalities and lives – and there’s something to be said for trying to find a satisfying way of discussing that fact without falling into fanaticism.”

Anthropologist Paul Connerton (1989: 62) on Thomas Mann (Freud and the Future): “We are to envisage the ego, less sharply defined and less exclusive than we commonly conceive of it, as being so to speak ‘open behind’: open to the resources of myth which are to be understood as existing for the individual not just as a grid of categories, but as a set of possibilities which can become subjective, which can be lived consciously. In this archaising attitude the life of the individual is consciously lived as a ‘sacred repetition’, as the explicit reanimation of prototypes.” (+ see Habinek 2005: 129)

In the shadow of Marius: 

Suetonius (Life of Divine Julius 6): When quaestor [69 BCE], he gave the customary orations from the rostra in praise of his aunt Julia and his wife Cornelia, who had both died. And in the eulogy of his aunt he spoke in the following terms of her paternal and maternal ancestry and that of his own father: “The family of my aunt Julia is descended by her mother from the kings, and on her father’s side is joined with the immortal gods; for the Marcii Reges (her mother’s family name) go back to Ancus Marcius [Rome’s fourth King], and the Julii, the family of which ours is a branch, to Venus. Our stock therefore has at once the sanctity of kings, whose power is supreme among mortal men, and the claim to reverence which attaches to the gods, who hold sway over kings themselves.”

Plutarch (Life of Julius Caesar 1): Now, the reason for Caesar’s hatred of Sulla was Caesar’s relationship to Marius. For Julia, a sister of Caesar’s father, was the wife of Marius the Elder, and the mother of Marius the Younger, who was therefore Caesar’s cousin…When Sulla was deliberating whether to put Caesar to death and some said there was no reason for killing a mere boy like him, Sulla declared that they had no sense if they did not see in this boy many Mariuses.

Suetonius (Life of Divine Julius 1): Everyone knows that when Sulla had long held out against the most devoted and eminent men of his party who interceded for Caesar, and they obstinately persisted, he at last gave way and cried, either by divine inspiration or a shrewd forecast: “Have your way and take him; only bear in mind that the man you are so eager to save will one day deal the death blow to the cause of the aristocracy, which you have joined with me in upholding; for in this Caesar there is more than one Marius.”

Caesar’s rise and fall
consulships — 5x (59, 48, 46, 45, 44 BCE)

  • 69 BCE: quaestor under governor of Spain; death of his aunt, Julia, + his wife, Cornelia
    • Cornelia + Caesar had married in 84 BCE; his daughter, Julia, came from this marriage to Cornelia
  • 67 BCE: speaks in favour of Lex Gabinia (Pompey’s pirate command); marries Pompeia (granddaughter of Sulla)
  • 65 BCE: curule aedile

The Catilinarian Conspiracy (63 BCE)

  • 63 BCE:Cicero’s consulship with C. Antonius. Catilinarian Conspiracy. On 5th December Caesar argues in senate against the execution of conspirators, showing his trademark clementia.
  • Caesar’s speech survives in a highly dramatized form in Sallust’s account of the Catilinarian conspiracy (Bellum Catilinae 51); Sallust bases the debate between Caesar (argues clemency) and Cato the Younger (argues execution) on the ‘Mytilenean Debate‘ in the Greek historian, Thucydides

Sallust, Bellum Catilinae 51: Caesar speaking: “Fathers of the Senate, all men who deliberate upon difficult questions ought to be free from hatred and friendship, anger and pity.  When these feelings stand in the way the mind cannot easily discern the truth, and no mortal man has ever served at the same time his passions and his best interests. When you apply your intellect, it prevails; if passion possesses you, it holds sway, and the mind is impotent. [read more]”

The Bona Dea Scandal (62 BCE)

  • 62 BCE: Caesar praetor; divorces his wife, Pompeia, because she is caught in adultery with Publius Clodius Pulcher

Plutarch, Life of Julius Caesar (10): “Accordingly, one of the tribunes of the people indicted Clodius for sacrilege, and the most influential senators leagued themselves together and bore witness against him that, among other shocking abominations, he had committed adultery with his sister, who was the wife of Lucullus.  But against the eager efforts of these men the people arrayed themselves in defence of Clodius, and were of great assistance to him with the jurors in the case, who were terror-stricken and afraid of the multitude.  Caesar divorced Pompeia at once, but when he was summoned to testify at the trial, he said he knew nothing about the matters with which Clodius was charged.  His statement appeared strange, and the prosecutor therefore asked, ‘Why, then, did you divorce thy wife?’ ‘Because,’ said Caesar, ‘I thought my wife ought not even to be under suspicion.'”

Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar (6): “In place of Cornelia he took to wife Pompeia, daughter of Quintus Pompeius and granddaughter of Lucius Sulla. But he afterward divorced her, suspecting her of adultery with Publius Clodius; and in fact the report that Clodius had gained access to her in woman’s garb during a public religious ceremony was so persistent, that the senate decreed that the pollution of the sacred rites be judicially investigated.”

The “First Triumvirate” (60 BCE)

  • 60 BCE: “First Triumvirate”
    • private agreement between Marcus Crassus, Pompey, Caesar
      • Crassus: support for publicani + Asian tax contract (61 BCE: Cic. Att. 1.17)
      • Pompey: needs eastern acta ratified, land for veterans
      • Caesar: needs support for consulship (in face of senatorial opposition)
  • 59 BCE: Julius Caesar elected consul with M. Calpurnius Bibulus;
    • 59 BCE: Pompey marries Julia (Caesar’s daughter); Caesar marries Calpurnia
    • during Caesar’s consulship, he passes legislation (against a great deal of opposition); agrarian bill
  • 58-50 BCE: Caesar’s command in Gaul

Signs of strain…

  • 55 BCE: Pompey + Crassus consuls together for the 2nd time. They pass a law prolonging Caesar’s Gallic command for 5 years.
  • 54 BCE: death of Julia – Caesar and Pompey’s connection is weakened.
  • 53 BCE: Crassus dies at Battle of Carrhae fighting the Parthians
  • 52 BCE: Violence in Rome. Pompey consul solus (until August)
  • 51 BCE: senators begin to try to recall Caesar prematurely.
    • Pompey won’t let Caesar be elected consul without surrendering army; Caesar won’t get rid of his army (Cic. Fam. 8.14)
  • 50 BCE: senators continue to try to recall Caesar, bring him to trial

The Civil War (49-46 BCE)
Caesar vs. Pompey

  • 49 BCE: 
    • Jan. 7: senate decrees Caesar must dismiss his army by an appointed day.
    • Jan. 10: Caesar crosses Rubicon. Alea iacta est (Suet. Iul. 32)
  • Caesar’s dictatorships: 49 BCE for 11 days, 48 BCE in absentia; 46 BCE for 10 years; 44 BCE perpetuo
  • 48 BCE: Battle of Pharsalus in Thessaly — death of Pompey in Egypt, beheaded by Ptolemy XIII.

Plutarch, Life of Julius Caesar (48): “Arriving at Alexandria just after Pompey’s death, he turned away in horror from Theodotus as he presented the head of Pompey, but he accepted Pompey’s seal-ring, and shed tears over it.”

Caesar and Cleopatra

48 BCE: Caesar occupies Alexandria (Egypt) and has a romantic relationship with Cleopatra

Plutarch, Life of Julius Caesar (49): “So Cleopatra, taking only Apollodorus the Sicilian from among her friends, embarked in a little skiff and landed at the palace when it was already getting dark;  and as it was impossible to escape notice otherwise, she stretched herself at full length inside a bed-sack, while Apollodorus tied the bed-sack up with a cord and carried it indoors to Caesar. It was by this device of Cleopatra’s, it is said, that Caesar was first captivated, for she showed herself to be a bold coquette, and succumbing to the charm of further intercourse with her, he reconciled her to her brother on the basis of a joint share with him in the royal power.”

Caesar Dictator

Caesar’s literary life

  • 7 books On the Gallic War
  • 3 books On the Civil War
  • verse epigram on Terence
  • fragmentary works: various speeches; a treatise on the Latin language (De Analogia) dedicated to Cicero, finished summer 54 BCE; poetry: Laudes Herculis, and a tragedy, Oedipus (suppressed by Augustus, Suet. Iul. 56), Iter (“Journey”) on the expedition to Spain in 45 BCE; pamphlet against Cato of Utica (Anticato), written as a reply to Cicero’s elogium to Cato (Laus Catonis).

Rivals of Venus 

Three different views of a Roman statue of a woman in the Venus Genetrix type. 1st c. CE. Image: MFA, Boston. See also MFA Boston Highlights: Classical Art p166.

Pompey and Venus

Temple of Venus Victrix (‘the Victorious’) built into Pompey’s monumental theatre complex of 55 BCE. See lecture 5. This temple complex also contained shrines or altars to three other deities: Honor, Virtus, and Felicitas (~ Sulla FELIX).

Caesar and Venus

Left: Plan of the Forum Iulium built by Julius Caesar (begun 54 BCE, dedicated 46 BCE), with its Temple of Venus Genetrix. Image: ‘Cassius Ahenobarbus’ [CC BY-SA 3.0] via wikimedia. Right: photograph of the remains of the forum via wikimedia. For a sense of the space, you can take a look at this video recreation in minecraft.

Temple of Venus Genetrix (‘the mother’, ‘the creator’) central focus of Julius Caesar’s forum in Rome (forum Iulium).

  • planned as early as 54 BCE (financed by spoils from Gaul), work began in 51 BCE
  • Temple of Venus made entirely of marble (Ovid, Art of Love 1.81)
  • Temple to Venus was vowed at the Battle of Pharsalus (48 BCE)
  • The temple and surrounding forum were dedicated on the last day of Caesar’s triumph in 46 BCE (Cassius Dio43.22.2), although the forum was not finished by him, but by Octavian (Res Gestae 20.3)
    • other building projects at Rome started by Caesar:
      • Saepta Iulia: marble enclosure for voting at Campus Martius;
      • Basilica Iulialaw courts, tabernae (shops), and space for government, banking
      • Rawson 1994: 454: “Caesar was also authorized by the Senate to erect a new state-house, the Curia Iulia…The new senate- house was to be at right angles to Caesar’s new Forum, while on the site of the old one a temple to Felicitas was planned to rise. Temples to Concordia and to Clementia Caesaris were also voted. The first two, like the last, commemorated qualities associated with Caesar. As was usual, the builder’s name would be prominent on all his buildings; in fact in 46 the Senate decreed that Caesar’s name should replace that of Catulus on the Capitoline temple. Thus Caesar imposed his presence on the very heart of Rome, and in every public act of his life the Roman citizen was to be reminded of him.” 
  • a statue of Julius Caesar on horseback stood in front of the temple (Suet. Iul. 61):
    • according to Suetonius (Iul. 61), this horse had “feet that were almost human, for its hooves were cloven so as to look like toes”
  • Rawson 1994: 454: “after his last triumph, he was able to dedicate the Forum Iulium and the all-marble temple of the ancestress of his family, Venus Genetrix, which dominated it;…the building contained valuable works of art, so like many temples it also functioned as a museum.”
    • inside the temple two paintings by Timomachus of Byzantium (Plin. NH 7.126)
    • one of Medea: famously killed her children to punish her faithless lover, Jason; tragedies by — Greek: Euripides; Latin: Ennius, Pacuvius, Accius, Ovid.
    • the other of Ajax: famously killed himself after an attempt to murder Odysseus; ancient tragedies by — Greek: Sophocles; Latin: Livius Andronicus, Ennius.

Appian (BC 2.102): He erected the temple to Venus, his ancestress,  as he had vowed to do when he was about to begin the Battle of Pharsalus (48 BCE), and he laid out ground around the temple which he intended to be a forum for the Roman people, not for buying and selling, but a meeting-place for the transaction of public business, like the public squares of the Persians, where the people assemble to seek justice or to learn the laws. He placed a beautiful image of Cleopatra by the side of the goddess, which stands there to this day.

Aspiring King

Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar (79): But from that time on he could not rid himself of the odium of having aspired to the title of monarch, although he replied to the commons, when they hailed him as king, “I am Caesar and no king,” and at the Lupercalia, when  the consul Antony several times attempted to place a crown upon his head as he spoke from the rostra, he put it aside and at last sent it to the Capitol, to be offered to Jupiter Optimus Maximus.  The report had spread in various quarters that he intended to move to Ilium or Alexandria, taking with him the resources of the state, draining Italy by levies, and leaving the charge of the city to his friends.

The Ides (= 15th) of March 44 BCE

Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar (82): As Caesar took his seat, the conspirators gathered about him as if to pay their respects, and straightway Tillius Cimber, who had assumed the lead, came nearer as though to ask something; and when Caesar with a gesture put him off to another time, Cimber caught his toga by both shoulders; then as Caesar cried, “Why, this is violence!” one of the Cascas stabbed him from one side just below the throat. Caesar caught Casca’s arm and ran it through with his stylus, but as he tried to leap to his feet, he was stopped by another wound. When he saw that he was beset on every side by drawn daggers, he muffled his head in his robe, and at the same time drew down its lap to his feet with his left hand, in order to fall more decently, with the lower part of his body also covered. And in this wise he was stabbed with three and twenty wounds, uttering not a word, but merely a groan at the first stroke, though some have written that when Marcus Brutus rushed at him, he said in Greek, “You too, my child?”  All the conspirators made off, and he lay there lifeless for some time, and finally three common slaves put him on a litter and carried him home, with one arm hanging down. And of so many wounds none turned out to be mortal, in the opinion of the  physician Antistius, except the second one in the breast. The conspirators had intended after slaying him to drag his body to the Tiber, confiscate his property, and revoke his decrees

Silver denarius with head of Marcus Junius Brutus, struck under L. Plaetorius Cestianus. 43-42 BCE. Minted in northern Greece, military mint. Obverse (left): bearded head of M. Junius Brutus. Text: BRVT IMP L · PLAET · CEST (Brutus Imperator, L. Plaetorius Cestianus). Reverse (right): Pileus (cap of liberty worn by ex-slaves) between two daggers (symbolizing Gaius Cassius Longinus + Brutus as the principal conspirators). Text: EID · MAR (Ides of March). Image: MFA, Boston.

MFA Boston Highlights: Classical Art p173: “On March 15, 44 BCE, a group of senators, convinced that Caesar intended to dismantle the Roman Republic, stabbed him to death. Brutus, the leader of the conspiracy, soon left Rome to prepare for war with Caesar’s supporters. To pay his troops, Brutus issued coins. One of these…presents Brutus’ role in the assassination as a strike in defense of freedom from tyranny. A pair of daggers flanks a pileus, a felt cap symbolizing liberty, above the legend “EID MAR,” referring to the date of Caesar’s death according to the Roman calendar.”

Further Reading:


Lecture 10. The Roman Political and Social Revolution: 82-62 BCE.

Lecture 10, Tuesday 8th October 2019

…picking up the political story from lecture 7.

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 Greek cities in Asia Minor
    • senate appoints Sulla (consul 88 BCE) > East
    • 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
  • 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; recaptured Rome in November 82 BCE after prolonged fighting

The death lists!

  • 82 BCE: Sullan proscriptions (“death lists”proscribere, “to put on display”, “condemn”):
    • public display of 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
    • cash reward 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

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 Cornelius, 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: Sulla’s triumph – ostesibly in celebration over Mithridates (85 BCE), but Sulla had just defeated Roman soldiers…
  • 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
  • 79 BCE retired his dictatorship; Julius Caesar would mock him for relinquishing the power of the dictatorship (Suetonius, Divus Julius 77)

Silver coin (82 BCE) issued by Sulla and L. Manlius Torquatus. Obverse (left): helmeted head of Roma; reverse (right): triumphator crowned by victory in quadriga, “Sulla Imperator” in exergue. RCC 367/2. Image: Numismatics.org.

Sulla Felix 

Plutarch, Life of Sulla (34): His triumph [81 BCE], 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.

Gold coin minuted by Sulla (84-83 BCE). Obverse (left): head of Venus, L. SVLLA. Reverse (right): two trophies between a jug and a lituus, IMPER ITERVM. RRC 359/1. Image: Münzkabinett: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

Appian, Civil War 1.97: Sulla did actually send a golden crown and axe to Venus with this inscription: ‘This Axe to Aphrodite Sulla brought, for in a dream he saw her as she fought, Queen of his host, full armed, and deeds of knighthood wrought.’

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.

Gnaeus Pompeius (= Pompey), 106 BCE – 48 BCE
took up the name Magnus (‘the Great’) after 81 BCE

Pompey's consulships.png

Left: Portrait of Pompey. Venice, Museo Archeologico. Image: Egisto Sani [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0] via FlickrRight: Portrait of Pompey. Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Image: Carole Raddato. These portraits appear as figs. 37 + 38 in Paul Zanker’s Roman Art (the twitter prize book).

Zanker 2010: 60-63: “This period of social change and cultural liberalization also saw the development of the ‘realistic’ portrait, which is rightly considered a characteristic genre of Roman art. But here too we have to reckon with a number of coexisting approaches to portraiture…[Romans] could choose, at one extreme, expressive images that were full of movement and powerful emotion, or, at the other extreme, realistic images that included every tiny blemish, or any of dozens of hybrid forms in between…The quieter, calmer portraits [p62] of Pompey, by contrast, attempt to combine the Hellenistic tradition of emotional engagement with the ideals of the Roman citizen. Above the plain face, the locks of hair rise as buoyantly as those of Alexander, to whom Pompey liked to compare himself. A special characteristic of the best images of this period is that they try to convey not only the patron’s physical features but also his character.”

Zanker 2010: 63: “One version of the earlier portrait is in the Museo Archaeologico in Venice [left]. It depicts Pompey in a purely Hellenistic style, using the usual formulae for energy and charisma, which to a modern viewer seem almost to give him an air of sadness. The later image, created between 60 and 50 BCE, the best copy of which is in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen [right], combines an allusion to Alexander the Great — in the form of the anastole*, the hair springing up over his forehead — with the realistic and traditional facial traits of a Roman citizen.”

*ANASTOLE (ἀναστολή): “an extreme ‘cow-lick,’ used to refer to the dramatic upswing of hair above the middle of the forehead on portraits of Alexander the Great and others” cf. Zanker 1988: 10.

Cn. Pompeius Strabo:

  • Pompey’s father, Cn. Pompeius Strabo (cos. 89 BCE) played a decisive role in the Social War (91-87 BCE), which erupted from Asculum in the region of Picenum. But Pompeius Strabo also cultivated ties of patronage with the Italians in this area which his son took advantage of
  • Cn. Pompeius Strabo’s estates were in Picenum, central Italy

Picenum Asculum Roma AWMC

Map of Picenum region and city of Asculum in relation to Rome. Generated with the AMWC’s à-la-carte map.

Roman patrons and clients:

A man of wealth and influence (patronus) receives support from poorer men of lesser status (cliens), and the patron supports the client with financial gifts, legal defense, etc. The relationship is usually hereditary, and is conceptualized as mutually beneficial, although it contributes greatly to a sense of societal stratification.

  • a client is obligated to greet his patron in the morning (salutatio)
  • a client is obligated to  support his patron in political + private life
  • a patron is obligated to give favours to his client in the form of food or money (known as sportula = ‘little basket’)
  • a patron is obligated to assist his client in the courts
  • freedmen (ex-slaves) were legally bound as clients to their former masters
  • Latin patronus ‘patron’ related to pater ‘father’
  • Latin cliens ‘client’ seems to mean ‘man who listens’ (from older form cluens)

Aulus Gellius (Attic Nights, 5.13.2-4): But it was readily agreed and accepted, that in accordance with the usage of the Roman people (MOS MAIORUM) the place next after parents should be held by wards entrusted to our honour and protection; that second to them came clients, who also had committed themselves to our honour and guardianship; that then in the third place were guests; and finally relations by blood and by marriage. Of this custom and practice there are numerous proofs and illustrations in the ancient records, of which, because it is now at hand, I will cite only this one at present, relating to clients and kindred. Cato [the Elder] in the speech which he delivered before the censors Against Lentulus wrote thus: “Our forefathers (MAIORES) regarded it as a more sacred obligation to defend their wards than not to deceive a client. One testifies in a client’s behalf against one’s relatives; testimony against a client is given by no one. A father held the first position of honour; next after him a patron.”

*mos maiorum = custom (mos) of the ancestors (maiores)

Cicero (On Duties, 2.69): “And so it’s an easy thing to say, and it’s commonly said, that in investing kindnesses we look not to people’s outward circumstances (FORTUNA), but to their character (MORES). An admirable saying! But who is there that does not in performing a service set the favour of a rich and influential man above the cause of a poor, though most worthy, person? As a rule, our will is more inclined to the one from whom we expect a prompter and speedier return. But we should look more carefully at the nature of this issue: the poor man can’t return a favour in kind, of course, but if he is a good man he can do it at least in thankfulness of heart. As someone has said: “A man has not repaid money if he still has it; if he has repaid it, he has ceased to have it. But a man still has the sense of favour, if he has returned the favour; and if he has the sense of the favour, he has repaid it.”

Sulla’s shadow:

Seager 1979: 26: “For the moment Pompeius was content to sit on his estates in Picenum and await developments. But once Sulla had landed in Italy [83 BCE] no sane man could have any doubts as to the eventual result of the civil war, and Pompeius, like many others, saw this as the opportune moment for spectacular commitment to Sulla’s cause.  He assembled a private army from his clients and hastened to put himself at Sulla’s disposal.”

Plutarch (Life of Pompey 8): But when Pompey learned that he was near, he ordered his officers to have the forces fully armed and in complete array, that they might present a very fine and brilliant appearance to the imperator; for he expected great honours from him, and he received even greater. For when Sulla saw him advancing with an admirable army of young and vigorous soldiers elated and in high spirits because of their successes, he alighted from off his horse, and after being saluted, as was his due, with the title of Imperator, he saluted Pompey in return as Imperator. And yet no one could have expected that a young man, and one who was not yet a senator, would receive from Sulla this title.

Appian (BC 1.80): Then came Gnaeus Pompeius, who not long afterward was surnamed the Great, son of the Pompeius who was killed by lightning and who was supposed to be unfriendly to Sulla. The son removed this suspicion by coming with a legion which he had collected from the territory of Picenum owing to the reputation of his father, who had been very influential there. A little later he recruited two more legions and became Sulla’s right-hand man in these affairs. So Sulla held him in honour, though still very young; and they say he never rose at the entrance of any other than this youth. When the war was nearly finished Sulla sent him to Africa [81 BCE] to drive out the party of Carbo and to restore Hiempsal (who had been expelled by the Numidians) to his kingdom. For this service Sulla allowed him a triumph over the Numidians [81 BCE], although he was under age, and was still in the equestrian order. From this beginning Pompeius achieved greatness, being sent against Sertorius in Spain [77-72 BCE] and later against Mithridates in Pontus [66-62 BCE].

Pompey’s killing of Cn. Papirius Carbo:

Plutarch (Life of Pompey, 10): He was thought to have treated Carbo* in his misfortunes with an unnatural insolence. For if it was necessary, as perhaps it was, to put the man to death, this ought to have been done as soon as he was seized, and the deed would have been his who  ordered it. But as it was, Pompey caused a Roman who had been consul three times to be brought in fetters and set before the tribunal where he himself was sitting, and examined him closely there, to the distress and vexation of the audience. Then he ordered him to be led away and put to death. They say, moreover, that after Carbo had been led away to execution, when he saw the sword already drawn, he begged that a short respite and a convenient place might be afforded him, since his bowels distressed him.

*Carbo had defended Pompey in court on the charge of embezzlement in 86 BCE.

Valerius Maximus (6.2.8): …all of them with one voice indignant that without judicial sentence they perished at your bidding, you, the teenage butcher (adulescentulus carnifex).

Pompey: taking credit…

Plutarch (Life of Pompey 21): Pompey then led his army back to Italy, where, as chance would have it, he found the servile war at its height [Spartacus, 73-71 BCE]. For this reason, too, Marcus Licinius Crassus, who had the command in that war, precipitated the battle at great hazard, and was successful, killing 12,300 of the enemy.  Even in this success, however, fortune somehow or other included Pompey, since 5,000 fugitives from the battle fell in his way, all of whom he slew, and then stole a march on Crassus by writing to the senate that Crassus had conquered the gladiators in a pitched battle, but that he himself had extinguished the war entirely. And it was agreeable to the Romans to hear this said and to repeat it, so kindly did they feel towards him.

Plutarch (Life of Crassus 11): But although Crassus had been fortunate, had shown most excellent generalship, and had exposed his person to danger, nevertheless, his success did not fail to enhance the reputation of Pompey. For the fugitives from the battle encountered that general and were cut to pieces, so he could write to the senate that in open battle, indeed, Crassus had conquered the slaves, but that he himself had extinguished the war. Pompey, accordingly, for his  victories over Sertorius and in Spain, celebrated a splendid triumph [in 71 BCE]; but Crassus, for all his self-approval, did not venture to ask for the major triumph, and it was thought ignoble and mean in him to celebrate even the minor triumph on foot, called the ovation, for a servile war.

70 BCE: Pompey + Crassus consuls together for the 1st time

Seager 1979: 36: “For both Pompeius and the senate and people of Rome the inevitable and urgent question was: what now? Once the answer had been found, it no doubt seemed both obvious and ineluctable. Pompeius and Crassus were elected consuls for 70 BCE. It is worth stressing the different in their respective situations. Crassus had fulfilled all the technical requirements: he had been praetor in 73 BCE, and his achievement against Spartacus as well as his family background made him an obvious candidate for office. Pompeius, on the other hand, was too young for the consulship and had held none of the requisite preliminary offices. But the senate passed a decree exempting him from the provisions of the lex annalis and allowing him to stand in absence.”

Syme 1939: 29: “Elected consuls, Pompeius and Crassus abolished the Sullan constitution (70 BCE). The knights received a share in the jury-courts, the tribunes recovered the powers of which Sulla had stripped them.

Plutarch (Life of Pompey 22): Notwithstanding, after they had been elected consuls, they differed on all points, and were constantly in collision. In the senate, Crassus had more weight; but among the people the power of Pompey was great. For he gave them back their tribunate, and suffered the courts of justice to be transferred again to the knights by law.

The pirate problem

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Image 1: Map of the mediterranean by Tom Elliott (@paregorios) for AWMC. Image 2: Pillars of Hercules from Mediterranean Sea: left the Jebel Musa, right the Rock of Gibraltar. By Gregor Rom [CC BY-SA 4.0] via wikimedia. Image 3: The European Pillar of Hercules: the Rock of Gibraltar (foreground), with the North African shore in the background, via wikimedia.

  • Roman attempts to deal with pirates by M. Antonius in 102 BCE, and his son, M. Antonius in 74 BCE. Seager 1979: 43: “Rome’s subjects found the younger Antonius a worse menace than the pirates.”

Cicero (On Pompey’s Command 31): But now, also every coast, all foreign nations and countries, all seas, both in their open waters and in every bay, and creek, and harbour, are my witnesses. For during these last years, what place in any part of the sea had so strong a garrison as to be safe from him? what place was so much hidden as to escape his notice? Whoever put to sea without being aware that he was committing himself to the hazard of death or slavery, either from storms or from the sea being crowded with pirates? Who would ever have supposed that a war of such extent, so mean, so old a war, a war so extensive in its theatre and so widely scattered, could have been terminated by all our generals put together in one year, or by one general in all the years of his life?

  • 67 BCE: Lex Gabinia — 3 year imperium to deal with pirates (took 3 months)

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Images: Ian Mladjov.

Dealing with Mithridates VI again 

  • 66 BCE: Lex Manilia — Mithridates VI of Pontus
    • law put forward by tribune of the plebs, Gaius Manilius.
    • Manilius proposed provinces of Cilicia, Bithynia, Pontus to be assigned to Pompey, together with the Mithridatic war (Plutarch, Life of Pompey 30)
    • Cicero, praetor in 66 BCE, spoke in support of the bill before the people
  • Pompey fought Mithridates from 66-62 BCE. Celebrated a triumph for Asia in 61 BCE.

Further Reading:


Lecture 9. The Roman Artistic Revolution: 100-20 BCE.

Lecture 9, Thursday 3rd October 2019

 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.”

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. 

20190215_111014-720x438Map of pigment distribution in the ancient Mediterranean (now displayed ). Image: Hyperallergic.

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, and the elder Pliny. After a rough rendering coat had been applied, Vitruvius 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, 79 CE

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

Dating the eruption

  • the traditional date of Vesuvius’ eruption has been 24th August 79 CE based on Pliny the Younger’s account (see below).
  • Pliny writes (25 years after the event) that it happened nonum kal. Septembres = 9 days prior to September 1, i.e. or August 24.
  • HOWEVER. In October 2018, a new charcoal graffito was discovered at Pompeii: XVI K NOV = 16th October. So the date has been moved to after this date, = 24th October.
  • Dr. Kristina Killgrove (@DrKillgrove) wrote about the discovery in Forbes, adding that biological and archaeological analysis of the human remains had already suggested an autumnal date: “The presence of fresh pomegranates and walnuts at Pompeii suggests an autumn date, as does wine made from grapes that likely would not have been harvested until September. Additionally, some experts say the warm clothing evident in the famous casts of the volcano’s human victims also more closely matches autumnal garb.”

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 [i.e. in Tacitus’ 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.”

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.”

Very recent discoveries!

  • new frescoes and other artworks are being uncovered at Pompeii all the time; see the embedded tweets below
  • Director general of the Pompeii archaeological Park, Massimo Osanna, uses instagram (insta: @massimo_osanna) to share recent discoveries. So recent that you won’t find them in any Roman art book!!

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. The appearance of framed pictures.

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 Vettii (after 62 CE) Pompeii VI 15, 1
House of D. Octavius Quartio (later 1st c. CE) Pompeii II 2, 2-5

*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.

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:


Lecture 8. Catullus.

Lecture 8, Tuesday 1st October 2019

Verona 89 BCE Roman colony.pngPleiades: Verona.

Gaius Valerius Catullus

  • Roman poet of the 1st century BCE, who died young and famous 
  • 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)

Themes of Catullus’ poetry

  • 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


Attic red-figure vase from Sicily (c. 470 BCE), attributed to Brygos Painter. Two lyric poets of Lesbos: left, Alcaeus (7th c. BCE); right, Sappho (7th c. BCE). Both names inscribed (ΑΛΚΑΙΟΣ; ΣΑΦΟ—sic). Out of Alcaeus’ mouth the letters: Ο Ο Ο Ο Ο, indicating song

Lesbia poems

    • 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 he had 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 on Clodia (i.e. an old dude’s perspective)

Cicero, Defense of Caelius 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 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 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:


Lecture 7. The Roman Political and Social Revolution: 133-82 BCE.

Lecture 7, Tuesday 24th September 2019

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)

Kirk Douglas as “Spartacus” in Stanley Kubrick’s (1960) Spartacus fights Woody Strode as “Draba.”


  • originally an Etruscan custom
  • first gladiatorial display in Rome in 264 BCE in the Forum Boarium, by Marcus and Decimus Brutus, at the funeral of their father
  • gladiatorial performances took place at the big dramatic festivals, and at funerals of famous men
  • gladiators (like actors and prostitutes) had infamia; they were often slaves or ex-slaves
  • there were many different types, with different weapons, armour and techniques: e.g. Murmillo, Retiarius, Thraex
  • women fought as gladiators, according to literary accounts (Suetonius, Life of Domitian 4.1; Cassius Dio 62[63].3.1; Tacitus’ Annales 15.32) and to ancient reliefs (1st or 2nd c. CE relief from Halicarnassus, British Museum)

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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)
  • 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)

Archaeological evidence: several markers (termini, cippi) have been found from various parts of Italy, some with names of commissioners for the land redistribution: CIL 12.639 , CIL 12.640 , CIL 12.643CIL 12.644CIL 12.645

Gaius Gracchus (tribune: 123-122 BCE)

  • 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.”

Marius vs. Sulla

  • Mariusdefeated 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.

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-89 BCElex Julia awarded Roman citizenship to all the Latins + allies who had not taken up arms; lex Plautia Papiria added new tribes

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.”

Further Reading: