Category: Rome

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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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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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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Rome, Italy, 1964. Photographed by Bruno Barbey.

BATTLE OF CARRHAE, 53 BCE:

THE Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE was one of the greatest military catastrophes in all of Roman history when a hero of the Spartacus campaign, Marcus Licinius Crassus (115-53 BCE), initiated an unprovoked invasion of Parthian territory (modern Iran). Most of the information concerning the battle and its aftermath comes from two major sources: the 1st-century CE historian Plutarch’s biography of Crassus and Roman History by Cassius Dio (c. 155 – c. 235 CE).

Carrhae proved to be a complete disaster from its beginning. Not only were the Romans not used to fighting on the open terrain and in the unbearable heat of Syria but they also had never seen anything like the Parthian cavalry: the cataphracts or armored camels. Iain Dickie, in his article on the battle in Battles of the Ancient World states that Crassus attempted “to score one over his political rivals Pompey and Caesar. He hoped for glory and riches but got tragedy and death” (140). In the end, 20,000 Romans were killed, 10,000 were captured, and only about 5,000 escaped the carnage.

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Vatican City, Rome, 1967. Photographed by Eve Arnold.

Winter at the Vatican, Rome, Italy, 1958. Photographed by Leonard Freed.

Audrey Hepburn, Rome, 1961.

Lost in thought, Rome, Italy, 1962. Photographed by Bruno Barbey.