Category: ancient rome

Bust of the Roman Empress Tranquillina (reigned 241 – 244 CE). She was wife of Emperor Gordian III thanks to her father, the prefect of the Praetorian Guards, who were the emperor’s personal bodyguards and by this point controlled who ran the empire. Empress Tranquillina reigned with her husband for just three years before her father died and the emperor lost power – and his life.

SULLA’S REFORMS AS DICTATOR: 

LUCIUS Cornelius Sulla (l. 138 – 78 BCE) enacted his constitutional reforms (81 BCE) as dictator to strengthen the Roman Senate’s power. Sulla was born in a very turbulent era of Rome’s history, which has often been described as the beginning of the fall of the Roman Republic. The political climate was marked by civil discord and rampant political violence where voting in the Assembly was sometimes settled by armed gangs. There were two primary opposing factions in Roman politics: the Optimates who emphasized the leadership and prominent role of the Senate, and the Populares who generally advocated for the rights of the people.

During this era, senatorial power was curbed and significant progress was made for the rights of the common folk, particularly the magistracy of tribune of the plebs, which was specifically created to be a guardian of the people. Sulla was an Optimate and after his rise to power, he declared himself dictator and passed several reforms to the constitution to revitalize and restore senatorial power to what it once was. Although his reforms did not last very long, his legacy greatly influenced Roman politics in the final years of the Republic until it fell in 27 BCE.

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The ancient Roman orator and politician Cicero once wrote poetry! And it was notoriously poor, too.

Over a hundred years after Cicero’s death, the Roman historian Tacitus quipped that Julius Caesar and Brutus wrote poetry too, and “though they were no better poets than Cicero, they were more fortunate, because fewer people know about their poetic endeavors.”

SATURNALIA: 

Io Saturnalia! 

THE Saturnalia was an enduring Roman festival dedicated to the agricultural god Saturn which was held between the 17th and 23rd of December each year during the winter solstice. Originating from archaic agricultural rituals the Roman festivities came to include a general round of gift-giving, merrymaking, and role-reversals so that it became one of the most popular celebrations in the calendar and certainly the jolliest. The similarities of some of its features and the timing – pushed later into December over time – suggest a strong influence on the Christian celebration of Christmas.

The focus of the Saturnalia and the god who gave his name to the festival was Saturn (or Saturnus), who is something of a mysterious figure in Roman religion. Depictions of the god in surviving art have him wearing a veil and brandishing either a sickle or a pruning knife suggesting a close relation with agriculture and especially seed-growing or seed-corn. With links to indigenous Italian deities and perhaps, too, a version of the Greek god Kronos, he was regarded as a primordial deity who had taught humanity important agricultural skills. He was thought to have ruled when the world enjoyed a Golden Age of prosperity and happiness, hence the general frivolity of his festival.

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In about 250 BCE, a Celtic tribe known as the Parisii first settled Paris
on the Île de la Cité. In 52 BCE, the Parisii settlement was conquered
by the Romans and their general, Julius Caesar.

The Romans named the city
Lutetia, from an earlier Greek name
Lukotokía, whose origin is unknown. But the renaming did not stick. So the city of lights is known today as Paris, the name of its first founders, from over 2,200 years ago.

The coin is a Parisii gold coin, by the way. It dates to the 200s BCE.

Roman Republic & Empire – Government & Social Structure:

Our editor, Joshua J. Mark, has put together this mini podcast series on the government and social structure of ancient Rome. Enjoy! 

AUTHORITY IN ANCIENT ROME: AUCTORITAS, POTESTAS, IMPERIUM & THE PATERFAMILIAS: 

AUTHORITY in ancient Rome was complex, and as one can expect from Rome, full of tradition, myth, and awareness of their own storied history. Perhaps the ultimate authority was imperium, the power to command the Roman army. Potestas was legal power belonging to the various roles of political offices. There was also auctoritas, a kind of intangible social authority tied to reputation and status. 

In the everyday Roman household, the absolute authority was the father, known as the paterfamilias. In this article, we will examine these various types of authority which spanned across centuries and covered all facets of Roman life – from the household to public politics to the battlefield.  

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In this cross section of a Roman road, you can clearly see the layers that went into creating a road that lasts for millennia:

Well-done video showing where in the ancient world the Chinese historians were describing, and examples of what they were (probably) describing.

It’s rather amusing what the Chinese thought were important: being able to breath fire and juggle 10 balls, relay sheds for postal stations, and many, many types of cloth.