Posts Tagged With: Emperors

Damnation

About a month ago I managed to escape from the library long enough to pop into a small temporary exhibit at the  British Museum – Defacing the past: damnation and desecration in imperial Rome. It focuses on the practice of damnatio memoriae, where (mostly) bad emperors were condemned by the Senate, and had their name and likeness removed. In some instances, this was done by one emperor in order to remove a rival. Caracalla’s destruction of his brother Geta’s memory is the most obvious example, and one that featured heavily in the exhibit. But it was also a practice engaged in by the people after to removal of a particularly hated ruler. Pliny the Younger, writing after the damnatio memoriae had been issued for Domitian, said ‘How delightful it was, to smash to pieces those arrogant faces, to raise our swords against them, to cut them ferociously with our axes, as if blood and pain would follow our blows.’ (Panegyric 52.4-5). As I expected, the collection on display included some re-modelled or damamged portrait busts, a lot of coins that had one face rubbed out, and a few monumental stone inscriptions with lines chiseled out. What surprised me was to see a graffito, imitating a monumental inscription, and bearing the same erasure that a lapidary text would suffer. (The original graffito is not on display, but there is a large reproduction).

 

20161014_150313

 

Found in a guardhouse of the nightwatch in Trastevere in Rome, the original text says:

CIL VI 3075
Imp(eratore) d(omino) n(ostro) Alexandro III / co(n)s(ule) |(centuria) Auli Terentius / Felix devotus numini / eorum feci(t) sebac{c}i/aria m(ense) Mai{i}o / salvis commanipu/los.
‘To the emperor our lord Alexander, consul for the third time, Terentius Felix member of the division of Aulus, devotee of the protective gods of the imperial family, performed the [night watch] rota of the month of May with all his companions safe.’

The graffito includes what looks like an altar, with the text inscribed on the base, and surmounted with a statue of Victory holding a palm, and busts of Alexander Severus and his mother, Julia Mamaea, on either side. When Alexander was assassinated in AD 235, this death marked the end of the Severan Dynasty and the start of nearly fifty years of civil wars and upheaval, in which twenty-six of the next twenty-eight emperors were also assassinated. After his death, his memory was condemned. The graffito was then defaced – the images of him and his mother were both crossed out, and his name was struck through in the first line of text. The damage done to the graffito is clearer in a line drawing:

 

20161014_150317

 

Although the Senate issued a damnatio memoriae at the time of his death, this was lifted in AD 238, when Alexander Severus was instead deified. What is particularly interesting about that is that it potentially allows the execution of the damnatio memoriae on the graffito to be dated to a three year period. Furthermore, I find the act of defacing a graffito in this manner unusual in and of itself, and would surmise that it has only happened because it isn’t just a random scribbling, but one that was specifically made to replicate a monumental inscription. I have written about this practice before, but never have I come across a text that was defaced after a Senatorial decree. This, I think, puts a whole new twist on the concept of a damnatio memoriae, and how it was viewed or enacted by ordinary Romans.

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Galba Hominum*

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Roughly halfway through her new book, Galba’s Men, there is a passage describing the new emperor’s reaction to attending games in Rome:

“Galba had no particular love for the games. He’d seen real action and considered gladiator bouts as mere play: overdone and false. Yet he attempted a tight smile and waved as required.
It appeared genial to the palace staff, who were used to their grim-faced master. But the people, accustomed to cheery, flamboyant Nero, were not so enamoured of their new emperor. Casting sly looks at him in-between the entertainment, they saw a hook-nosed, scrawny old man with thinning white hair who looked almost bored by the proceedings.”

This, in a nutshell, encapsulates a number of issues faced by Galba and many other emperors, especially those who assumed power during the Year of the Four Emperors. There was a fine line to be traversed, negotiating the balance between pleasing the Senate, the people, and the military. Here, by being less adept publicly than the previous, crowd-pleasing ruler Nero, Galba is already failing to win over the public. He soon also has issues with the military, thus quickly tipping the balance in favour of a new (or, to be historically accurate, two new) usurpers of the imperial throne.

In her second book chronicling the tumultuous year of AD 68-69, L.J. Trafford once again combines history and fiction to bring forth an accurate, yet hugely entertaining narrative of the lives, loves, and quite a few deaths, of those whose lives revolve around the heart of Roman rule. Picking up a few months after the deaths of Nero and Sabinus, the Praetorian Prefect who led the revolt to install Galba as told in Palatine, Rome eagerly awaits the arrival of her new emperor. Many of the slaves and freedmen who keep the imperial bureaucracy running are still reeling from the fallout of the events earlier in the year, but are eager to start over, and hope for a return to normalcy. A similar desire is echoed amongst the military men and citizens we encounter. Galba, unfortunately, is plagued from the outset not only by the normal intrigues and machinations of his underlings, but also by his stubborn belief in a return to the moral, economic, and traditional view of Rome that few of its citizens seem to share with him.This, in effect, is what ultimately leads to his downfall.

In a note concluding the book, Trafford, echoing the words of Tacitus, indicates that Galba was, on paper at least, capable of being an outstanding emperor. He is a serious, older man, with years of military and political experience, who had served under four emperors (he first took public office as a praetor in AD 20, during the reign of Tiberius). He wanted to eliminate bribery of the Praetorian Guard and the army, the flashy displays of gladiatorial games and athletic contests, and restore the treasury that Nero had decimated with wanton building programmes and gifts. In other words, Galba wanted to get down to the serious business of restoring Rome to the good old days before the debauchery and carelessness of Caligula and Nero, but found a citizenry that had little recall, and even less interest, in his plans. Enter Otho, a man (as Trafford portrays him), with all the charisma, good-will, and charm that Galba lacks and then some, who devotes most of his time to winning favour amongst the Senate, the people, and the Praetorian Guard. Though somewhat hapless in some of his dealings (Poor Philo! Poor Straton!), Otho seemingly gets the necessity of striking the right balance, and is eagerly anticipating being named Galba’s heir so that he will have a chance to help the people of Rome in the manner he sees fit. When Galba passes him over, Otho is understandably mortified, and the rest, as is said, is history.

Thus, the book plays out over the seven months from when Galba seized power to his death, when Otho, with the help of the Praetorian Guard, the army, and a mob of Roman citizens, took control of the city. Like the first in the series, the story is woven of real and fictional characters, largely focusing on the slaves and freedmen who comprise the day to day workforce of the government and the imperial palace. This allows a certain amount of freedom for creating characters and situations that are necessary for attracting an audience and keeping them engaged from book to book (Really, what will Sporous get up to next? And how has that flibbertigibbet Mina survived so long?), but I think also is quite clever for historical purposes. Despite the lack of visibility on the historiographies of the period, it is likely that the turmoil of this year was felt most keenly by those closest to the rotating seat of the emperor: the members of the imperial household and the guard. It is the Praetorian Guard particularly who, like with the downfall of Nero, play a major role in the end of Galba’s reign. Otho seemingly understands the importance of having these people on side, and looks to be in place to be the kind of emperor that Rome both wants and needs. Unfortunately, the book ends with a note that Vitellius is on the march from Germany….

Despite knowing the history, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

*Disclosure: The author, L.J. Trafford, asked if I would be willing to review this book as I had the first in the series, and thus sent me a copy so that I could do so.

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On Palatine*

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If you are going to have the great misfortune of spending the better part of a week in bed with a terrific cold (really, if anyone finds my voice, please return it), it helps to find yourself in possession of a good book. In this regard, I lucked out.

Palatine is the first of a series of four historical fiction novels set in the tumultuous period known as the year of the four emperors (AD 68-69) written by Linda Trafford. The series begins in the final months of the reign of Nero, the last of the Julio-Claudian line that began with Augustus, whose overthrow leads to a period of government instability in which the Senate, governors, generals, and the Praetorian Guard all play a part in figuring out (repeatedly) who should ultimately have control of Rome.

Historical fiction – of which I admit I’ve read more than my fair share over the years – toes a fine line between being an accurate portrayal of the period and figures at its heart and simply being a stonking good read as only fiction truly can. And as any ancient history undergraduate could tell you, the intrigues and behind the scenes machinations of the imperial court at Rome has always provided fodder for a tale of the most outlandish soap operatic heights. A story set in Nero’s court could easily and quickly become ridiculous, and with good reason.

What Trafford, however, provides her reader is a series of characters – real and created – who each have their own story, their own circumstances to deal with, surrounding and leading up to the death of Nero and the seizure of the throne by Galba. What we get is a novel driven largely by the guardsmen, freedmen, and slaves whose lives were integral to the running of the Imperial household as well as government itself. Sure, there’s a bit of toga-ripping, recollections of the more debauched activities Nero’s court was infamous for, and some of the over-wrought dramatics one would expect from Sporus, the eunuch pretending to be Nero’s dead wife Poppea, but at the heart of the novel, there’s history. As an historian, I recognise the re-tellings of anecdotes from Tacitus, Suetonius, and Plutarch. As an archaeologist, the descriptions of both the Palatine palace and Domus Aurea are as many reconstructions have imagined them. Trafford has a degree in ancient history, and her familiarity with first century Rome is apparent from these pages.

I often disregard historical fiction from ancient Rome, simply because I can see the holes too easily, and thus fail to enjoy it at all. This was not the case at all with Palatine. I enjoyed it simply for the fiction, for the story that is told, but more to the point, I appreciated it on the level of an historian who could recognise the (undoubtedly) painstaking research behind the story, the accuracy of the historical points, and that for those unfamiliar with this period in Rome, the fiction was done well enough to foster an interest in the history. In other words, read it. Terrible cold keeping you in bed to do so: completely optional.

*I should probably preface this by saying a actually won my copy of the book from Linda in a Twitter contest, but she in no way asked for (or is even aware as of this writing) of this endorsement of her work.

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Duos Annos

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It is now two years since I began my Leverhulme Trust funded project looking at social networks in Pompeii. Over the past year, my research has taken me off into a slightly different direction, particularly looking at some very specific aspects of political life in the ancient city, for which the way names are used is a fundamental component. Looking back at what I wrote to commemorate the first anniversary, I am pleasantly surprised by the increase in traffic, comments, and followers for this blog. To date, the site has been visited more than 18,000 times (more than twice the number of the first year), which is, frankly, astounding. I am sure this is in no small part due to the support of Blogging Pompeii and Napoli Unplugged, amongst others, who have frequently shared my posts, for which I am most grateful. I hope that the many people who come here continue to find my work interesting, as I certainly enjoy writing these posts.

And as such, as before, the five most popular posts published in the last year:

5. Losing my Religion (249)

4. Fools & Fakes (275)

3. Samnites in Pompeii (290)

2. Alma Tadema’s Imagined Connections (425)

1. Pompeii & Rome (441)

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Pompeii and Rome

Romulus.Remus.Wolf On this, the 2768th birthday of Rome, it occurs to me there could not be a better time to take a look at the inscriptions in Pompeii that provide evidence of the connection this relatively small Campanian town had with the one and only urbs, the capital of the world. Though there are a number of graffiti that mention Rome specifically, usually as a place one has been, I am interested in those that mention an emperor. As with a goodly amount of the epigraphic evidence of Pompeii, there is a collection both of official and unofficial texts.

There are a series of inscriptions, as would be expected in any city under Roman rule, found on the bases of statues dedicated to various emperors and members of their families. Typically found a public area such as the Forum or the Triangular Forum, these include dedications to Augustus and his wife Livia (as Julia Augusta, a name she was granted in AD 14), Marcellus, nephew and one time heir of Augustus, Agrippina the Younger, wife of Claudius and mother to Nero, and Nero himself.

CIL X 931
Imp(eratori) Caesari [divi fil(io)] Augusto / [imperatori] XIII trib(unicia) p[ot(estate) X]V patri [patriae co(n)s(uli) XI.
‘To Imperator Caesar Augustus [son of the deified, hailed as victorious general] thirteen times, in his fifteenth year of tribunician power, father of his country, [consul eleven times].

CIL X 799 = ILS 122
Augustae Iulia[e] / Drusi f(iliae) / divi Augusti / d(ecreto) d(ecurionum).
‘To Augusta Julia, daughter of Drusus, (wife) of the deified Augustus, by decree of the decurions.’

CIL X 832 = ILS 898
M(arco) Claudio C(ai) f(ilio) Marcello / patrono.
‘To Marcus Claudius Marcellus, son of Gaius, patron.’

CIL X 933
Iuliae] Agrippinae / [Germ]an[ici C]aesaris f(iliae) / [Ti(beri) Cla]udii Caesaris Augusti [- – -].
To [Julia] Agrippina, daughter of Germanicus Caesar, (wife) of [Tiberius] Claudius Caesar Augustus…’

CIL X 932 = ILS 224
Ti(berio) Claudio / Ti(beri) Claudi Caesaris / Augusti Germanici / p(atris) p(atriae) f(ilio) Neroni / Caesari / d(ecreto) d(ecurionum).
‘To Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar, son of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, father of his country, by decree of the decurions.’

There are three additional inscriptions that refer to Caligula in his role as named patron of the colony. Two are identical, except that the first contains the erasure of the damnatio memoriae whereas the second still retains the disgraced emperor’s name. The third (CIL X 904) is also missing the name of Gaius Caesar.

CIL X 901 = ILS 6396
[- – – ]simus Messi Fausti / [- – – ]rcidus Vei Frontonis / A(ulus) Arellius Graecus / min(istri) Aug(usti) ex d(ecreto) d(ecurionum) iussu / [C(ai) Caesaris] M(arci) Vesoni Marcell(i) / IIvir(orum) i(ure) d(icundo) / M(arci) Lucreti Epidi Flacci / praefecti / L(uci) Albuci D(ecimi) Lucreti IIvir(orum) v(iis) a(edibus) s(acris) p(ublicis) p(rocurandis) / Paullo Fabio L(ucio) Vitellio / co(n)s(ulibus).

CIL X 902
Phr[onimus Messi] / [Fausti] / Placi[dus Vei Frontonis] / A(ulus) Are[llius Graecus] / min[istri Aug(usti) ex d(ecreto) d(ecurionum) iussu] / [M(arci) Vesoni Marcelli IIvir(i) i(ure) d(icundo)] / [M(arci) L]ucre[ti] Epidi Flac[ci praef(ecti) i(ure) d(icundo)] / C(ai) Caesaris / L(uci) Albuci Celsi D(ecimi) Lucreti Valentis / IIvir(orum) v(iis) a(edibus) s(acris) p(ublicis) p(rocurandis) / Paullo Fabio L(ucio) Vitellio / co(n)s(ulibus).

‘Phr[onimus slave of Messius Faustus], Placi[dus slave of Veius Fronto], Aulus Are[llius Graecus], attendants [of Augustus, by decree of the decurions, by command of Marcus Vesonius Marcellus, duovir with judicial power and of [Marcus L]ucretius Epidius Flac[cus, prefect with judicial power] of Gaius Caesar, and of Lucius Albucius Celsus and Decimus Lucretius Valens, duovirs in charge of the streets, sacred and public buildings, in the consulship of Paullus Fabius and Lucius Vitellius.’

The only surviving epigraphic evidence that illustrates direct intervention by the emperor in Pompeii come from the time of the Flavians. Vespasian, as part of an empire wide initiative to generate revenue by reclaiming public lands, sent a tribune by the name of Titus Suedius Clemens to Pompeii. The cippi he erected at the boundary of public land at each of the city gates have been recovered, and contain the following text:

CIL X 1018 = ILS 5942
Ex auctoritate / Imp(eratoris) Caesaris / Vespasiani Aug(usti) / loca publica a privatis / possessa T(itus) Suedius Clemens / tribunus causis cognitis et / mensuris factis rei / publicae Pompeianorum / restituit.
‘By the authority of Imperator Caesar Vespasian Augustus, Titus Suedius Clemens, tribune, made an inquiry into public lands appropriated by private individuals, carried out a survey, and restored them to the Pompeian state.’

What is interesting about Clemens is that once he has completed his duty on behalf of Vespasian, he then appears to get involved in local politics. His endorsement is contained by six dipiniti supporting the candidacy of Marcus Epidius Sabinus, who is running for the office of duovir with judicial power. The most laudatory of these texts appears below:

CIL IV 768 = ILS 6438d
M(arcum) Epidium Sabinum d(uumvirum) i(ure) dic(undo) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) dig(nus) est / defensorem coloniae ex sententia Suedi Clementis sancti iudicis / consensu ordinis ob merita eius et probitatem dignum rei publicae faciat / Sabinus dissignator cum Plausu facit.
‘I beg you to elect Marcus Epidius Sabinus duovir with judicial powers, he is worthy. May you elect one who is a protector of the colony according to the opinion of Suedius Clemens, the worshipful judge, and by agreement of the council on account of his merits and his honesty, worthy of public office. Sabinus, the theatre official, elects him with applause.’

Whether or not Clemens was fully behind this man, or had his name usurped after he had left town, is impossible to determine. However, it does seem to indicate that the tribune was well thought of, or at the very least, that a (if somewhat tenuous) connection with the emperor was viewed as a leg-up in the local election.

If we turn to the non-official texts, the graffiti and dipinti that cover the walls of Pompeii, the honourifics, seemingly at least, continue. One survives from the reign of Augustus, but the majority (unexpectedly due to issues of preservation) date from the reign of Nero.

CIL IV 8277
Octavia Augusti [vale h]abias [pr]opit[- – – ] sa(lutem).
‘Octavia, of Augustus, good wishes and health to you.’

CIL IV 10049
F(eliciter) Pop(p)a[e(ae)] August(a)e feliciter.
Good fortune to Poppaea Augusta, good fortune.

There are a series of graffiti, found in numerous locations around the city, that proclaim support for the judgements of Nero and his wife Poppaea. As she is referred to as Augusta or Poppaea Augusta, these texts post date AD 63 when she was granted that title. With this date in mind, some scholars have taken these texts as demonstrations of a grateful population, pleased that Nero has lifted the ban on gladiatorial games instituted in AD 59 after the riot in the amphitheatre. This is viewed as an economic decision made in the aftermath of the AD 62 earthquake in order to help Pompeii recover from the damage.

CIL IV 1074
Iudiciis Augusti Augustae feliciter / nobis salvis felices sumus / perpetuo.
‘Good fortune to the judgements of Augustus and Augusta, whilst you are safe we are forever fortunate.’

CIL IV 3726 = ILS 234
Iudici(i)s Augusti p(atris) p(atriae) et Poppaeae Aug(ustae) feliciter.
Good fortune to the judgements of Augustus, father of his country, and of Poppaea Augusta.’

CIL IV 3525 = ILS 6444
Iudicis Aug(usti) felic(iter) Puteolos Antium Tegeano Pompeios hae sunt verae / coloniae.
Good fortune to the judgements of Augustus. Puteoli, Antium, Tegianum, Pompeii: these are true colonies.’

Dipinti advertising games given in honour of the emperor also survive. One from the Augustan reign, and another for Nero.

CIL IV 9969 = AE 1992: 270 = AE 2006: 289
Puteo[lani – – – ]V[- – – Id]us Dec(embres) / pugn(abunt) (etiam) Herculanei pro sal[ute Cae]sarum et Liviae Aug(ustae) vela erunt / Iole sal(ve).
‘At Puteoli on the eighth of December, boxers, also at Herculaneum for the prosperity of Caesar and Livia Augusta. There will be awnings. Iole greets you.’

CIL IV 7989a = 7989c
Pro salute / Neronis Claudi Caesaris Aug(usti) Germanici Pompeis Ti(beri) Claudi Veri venatio / athletae et sparsiones erint V IIII K(alendas) Mart(ias) CCCLXXIII // Claudio Vero felic(iter).
‘For the well-being of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, at Pompeii, there will be a hunt, athletics, and sprinklings by Tiberius Claudius Verus on 25–26 February. Good fortune to Claudius Verus.’

There are two additional graffiti concerning Nero and Poppaea that may show the imperial couple in a less favourable light. The texts suggest that offerings were made by both Poppaea and Nero to Venus. Lest we forget, Venus was not only an important deity in the Roman pantheon, but was also the patron goddess of Pompeii.

AE 1977: 217 = AE 1985: 283 = AE 2001: 801 = AE 2004: 404
Munera Poppaea misit Veneri sanctissimae berullum helencumque unio mixtus erat.
Poppaea sent as gifts to most holy Venus a beryl, an ear-drop pearl, and a large single pearl.’

AE 1977: 218 = AE 1985: 284 = AE 2001: 801 = AE 2004: 404
Caesar ut ad Venerem ven<e> sanctissimam ut tui te vexere pedes / caelestes Auguste millia milliorum(!) ponderis auri fuit.
‘When Caesar came to most holy Venus and when your heavenly feet brought you there, Augustus, there was a countless weight of gold.’

Whilst it is entirely possible that these inscriptions could be taken at face value, both their form and their location seem somewhat suspect. These are not lapidary texts on votives found in the precinct of the Temple of Venus or even the Forum, but words scratched into the wall of the House of Iulius Polybius (IX.xiii.1–3). This seems at odds with the manner in which such Imperial gifts would expect to be recorded, particularly if dedicated to the patron goddess of a city. I wonder, if instead, these texts should be viewed as a commentary on the excessive luxuria for which Nero’s court was renown, and not as praise for gifts to the goddess. Perhaps this could be taken as a reflection of a sense of neglect residents of Pompeii may have felt in the years after the earthquake, when the only assistance granted by Rome may have been the resumption of games, a somewhat paltry attempt at economic recovery considering the level of damage.

Regardless, what is apparent from the epigraphic evidence that remains is probably what should be expected of Rome and a subject city such as Pompeii: official honours to the Imperial households in the Forum and other public spaces, and anonymous scratchings that could show dissent from rule, if only in the most subtle of fashions.

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