MARCUS Aurelius Antoninus (r. 161-180 CE), last of the “good emperors” of the Roman Empire, has been hailed as “the noblest of all the men who, by sheer intelligence and force of character, have prized and achieved goodness for its own sake and not for any reward” (Grant, 139). His reign was characterized by a devotion to his people and this, as well as his enduring philosophical work, Meditations, attests to the truth of Grant’s praise.
Scholar Michael Grant, however, is hardly the first to express such sentiments. Aurelius was highly respected in his lifetime and is referred to as “the philosopher” by later ancient sources such as Cassius Dio (c. 155-235 CE) and the author (or authors) of the Historia Augusta (4th century CE), a history of Roman emperors. It is clear from both these sources that Aurelius’ Meditations was known to them but the authors focus, not only on the written work – which Aurelius never intended for publication – but on how he lived his philosophy throughout his reign.
THE ancient Romans had a rich mythology and, while much of it was derived from their neighbors and predecessors, the Greeks, it still defined the rich history of the Roman people as they eventually grew into an empire. Roman writers such as Ovid and Virgil documented and extended the mythological heritage of the ancient Mediterranean to gives us such long-lasting and iconic figures as Aeneas, Vesta, Janus, and the twin founders of Rome itself, Romulus and Remus.
Before one can delve into a study of mythology, one must understand the concept behind a myth. In his book The Greek and Roman Myths: A Guide to the Classical Stories, Philip Matyszak describes a myth simply as “the ancient’s view of the world.” These myths – although often appearing as simple stories filled with valiant heroes, maidens in distress, and a host of all-powerful gods – are much more. The gods of the Greeks and Romans were anthropomorphic, exhibiting many human qualities such as love, hate, and jealousy, and because of this, the people of Rome and Greece were able to see themselves in these tales and understand their relationship to the rest of the world as well their connection to the gods. The lesson often to be learned was that one must meet one’s destiny with strength, determination, and nobility. These myths enabled an individual to stand against the ills and hardships of an unforgiving universe. Matyszak states that, in spite of their constant disagreements and battles, the gods and humankind had to stand together against the “monsters and giants” of the world, or more simply, the “forces of disorder and wanton destruction.”
AUGUSTUS Caesar (27 BCE – 14 CE) was the name of the first and, by most accounts, greatest Roman emperor. Augustus was born Gaius Octavius Thurinus on 23 September 63 BCE. Octavian was adopted by his great-uncle Julius Caesar in 44 BCE, and then took the name Gaius Julius Caesar. In 27 BCE the Senate awarded him the honorific Augustus (“the illustrious one”), and he was then known as Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus.
Owing to the many names the man went by in his life, it is common to call him Octavius when referring to events between 63 and 44 BCE, Octavian when referring to events between 44 and 27 BCE, and Augustus regarding events from 27 BCE to his death in 14 CE. It should be noted, however, that Octavian himself, between the years 44 and 27 BCE, never went by that name, choosing instead to align himself closely with his great uncle by carrying the same name; a decision which prompted Mark Antony’s famous accusation, as recorded by Cicero,“You, boy, owe everything to your name”.
A Romangladiator was an ancient professional fighter who specialised with particular weapons and armour. They fought before the public in organised games held in large purpose-built arenas throughout the Roman Empire from 105 BCE to 404 CE (official contests). As fights were usually to the death, gladiators had a short life expectancy and so, although it was in some respects a glamorous profession, the majority of fighters were slaves, former slaves or condemned prisoners. Without doubt, gladiator spectacles were one of the most watched forms of popular entertainment in the Roman world.
The Romans were influenced by their predecessors in Italy, the Etruscans, in many ways. For example, in the use of animal sacrifice for divining the future, the use of the symbolic fascesand organising gladiatorial games. The Etruscans associated these contests with the rites of death and so they had a certain religious significance. Although the first privately organised Roman gladiator contests in 264 BCE were to commemorate the death of a father, the later official contests discarded this element. Vestiges of the religious origins did, however, remain in the act of finishing off fallen gladiators. In this case an attendant would strike a blow to the forehead of the injured. The attendant would wear a costume representing Hermes the messenger god who escorted souls to the underworld or Charun (the Etruscan equivalent). The presence of the divine Emperor himself, accompanied by priests and the Vestal Virgins also lent a certain pseudo-religious air to the contest
The Turkish national flag is mostly red, with a white star and a crescent in the center. Ottoman Sultan Selim III formalized the look in 1793, but the flag is actually much older.
The crescent-and-star combination has been used in Turkey since Hellenistic times (400s to 100 BCE). It likely came from ancient Mesopotamian iconocraphy. Ancient depictions of the symbol always show the crescent with horns pointing upward and with the star placed inside the crescent, for reasons that have been lost to time. When it came to Turkey, they gave it their own meanings. For Byzantium the moon symbolized Diana, also known as Artemis, the patron goddess of the city.
In 1453, when the city was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, the flag remained unchanged. With time, it became not just Istanbul’s flag but the Ottoman flag, with its design formalized in 1793 and its status as national flag formalized in 1844. Turks affectionately call the flag “ay yildiz” – the “moon star” flag.
Many nations that were once part of Ottoman Empire adopted the star-and-crescent when they gained independence, including Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. In the 1900s the symbol became associated with not just the Ottomans, but with Islam in general, and many states that were never part of the Ottoman Empire adopted it too, including Pakistan, Malaysia, and the Maldives. Pretty amazing that an ancient Mesopotamian symbol is flown around the world today.
“Succession of the Plebians” was a common form of revolt in the early Roman Republic. Everyone except the hereditary aristocrats (called patricians) would leave the city. The patricians would be left to fend for themselves. No servants, no shopkeepers, no farmers.
It was a very effective way to make the patricians negotiate.
ROMAN emperors ruled over the Imperial Roman Empire starting with Augustus from 27 BCE and continuing in the Western Roman Empire until the late 5th century CE and in the Eastern Roman Empire up to the mid-15th century CE. The emperors would take different titles such as Caesarand Imperator but it was always their command of the army which allowed them to keep their seat on one of history’s most prestigious and long-lasting thrones.
Prior to the birth of the Roman Empire in the latter part of the first century BCE, there had existed many empires among these were the Assyrian, the Babylonian, the Persian, and the Macedonian. All of these had great leaders such as Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and, of course, Alexander the Great. Yet, history tells us these great men were all called kings; the term emperor was never used. In contrast, the Roman Empire was different, for it didn’t have a king; it had an emperor, and one must search both the Roman Republic and the Empire, almost one thousand years of history, to discover the reasons for the difference.
A man who beat his wife or child laid violent hands, Cato the Elder said, on what was most sacred. A good husband he believed to be more worthy of more praise than a great senator. He admired the ancient Socrates “for nothing so much as for having lived a temperate and contented life with a wife who was a scold, and children who were half-witted.”