'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

06 October 2010

Rome and the Emperors

The Founding of Rome
Who can ignore the history of Rome, a city to which I have travelled on three glorious occasions - the home of our civil law, the home of and I believe, downfall of Christianity and the beginnings of our society after the inspiration of the Athenians and the Egyptians. There is so much to see there and one could return again and again.
From 2000-1000 BCE Indo-European immigrants moved into Italy via the Alps and in the eighth century Greeks and the Etruscans occupied some regions.  From the Etruscans the Italians gained the arch and the vault, gladiatorial combat for entertainment and the study of animals (and entrails) to predict future events. From the Greeks came the basis for the alphabet, many religious concepts and artistic talent as well as mythology. The founders of Rome occupied the area south of the Tiber River and by the sixth century Rome dominated most of its surrounding area.
Whether legend or historically based, the official date for the founding of Rome is placed at 753 BCE by Romulus, the son of a god and a vestal virgin, and his brother Remus. Abandoned, they were suckled by a she-wolf. Romulus laid out the walls of the city and killed his brother for leaping over them. The following King Numa Pompilius began the installation of laws and religion in consultation with the nymph Egeria and the gods. Romulus is said to have created a ten month year by ignoring the worst months of winter but Numa added January (Janus) and February, but the year began with March (Mars). Kings followed until the year 509 when revolt led to the founding of the republic. Dictatorship was installed occasionally during this period but only temporarily and for specific reasons until in 45 BCE  Julius Caesar assumed the title dictator for life and thus ushered in the period of the Emperors which lasted until the split of the Empire in 360 AD. What began as a small town grew to house about one million people at its height. The population lived in multi story apartment blocks, bathed and socialised in public baths, attended free entertainment at the forum and in the great circus and colosseum and conquered the world.
The Ancient Remains
The Colosseum and the Roman Forum - the setting of so much intrigue, death and triumph and one of the truly wonder filled sites on earth. After a disappointing opera one evening I went to the Colosseum with an Australian girl I had met. We climbed the fence at midnight and entered through a dark shadowy and forbidden area. Through the archway we were confronted in the arena by the looming sight of large crucifix silhouetted dramatically in the moonlight. An astounding moment full of images and by far the most personal and inspiring way to see ancient Rome in the atmospheric quiet of the night when dreams and imagination live in our soul.
The Colosseum was originally called the Flavian Amphitheatre when it opened in 80 AD after a construction that lasted a mere 10 years. The name Colosseum was taken from a Colossus of Nero, which stood nearby. The building consisted of 4 levels of seating and an underground labyrinth with 32 elevators for raising animals, including elephants and sets into the arena in a matter of seconds. It was capable of even making a fiery volcano rise into the spectacle. Removal of the wooden floor also allowed the arena to be flooded for the recreation of sea battles. A masterpiece in crowd control with 80 entrances and holding up to 80,000 spectators, the crowd was covered with a retractable canvas roof (the velarium). Admission was free with numbered shards used to direct the populus to their ticketed seats. Many thousands of gladiators and exotic imported animals were killed for popular entertainment, but many survived, even attracting nobles to show their skill; it is said that Emperor Commodus fought over 700 times in the arena. The common American movie image of the thumbs down is wrong. A thumbs up meant take the fatal blow and thumbs down was the Emperors way of saying lay down your sword and spare the life of the defeated. 
 After a fire in 217AD and an expensive reconstruction which took 20 years and several earthquakes the expense of running games finished them off in 523 when the entertainment had dwindled to mere fights of domestic animals. The limestone was plundered and even used in the construction of St Peter's Basilica. It had a varied life as a fortress, a wood factory, a dump, a Christian shrine and there were even plans to construct another basilica on the spot. Archaeology began to save the remains in the eighteen hundreds and in the twentieth century it was used for Fascist rallies. Today a stage has been constructed so that it can once again be used for entertainment.
The Pantheon which still stands beautifully in the heart of Rome. Much modified and adapted to the new religion, but none the less stunning with the light streaming majestically from the hole in the magnificent dome. It is the oldest and most perfectly preserved building in Rome which is still in use today
The Roman Emperors
Judge not, lest ye be judged.
250 years of Kings followed by 500 years of the republic then saw the return of dictatorship. When Julius was murdered in 44 BCE for his ambition to become King, a period of upheaval arose with the uniting of Mark Antony and Cleopatra of Egypt. When the reign of the Ptolemies ended with the death of Cleopatra and the rebellious Antony, Octavian, who later became known as Augustus, ushered in the new period of Imperial Roman rule, which would last for almost 400 years.
    The image we have is of the apparently blood thirsty megalomaniacs who helped create the legends and foundations upon which much of western civilisations, customs, laws and politics has grown. Greatness touched with a perceived cruelty that we can scarce believe, but do we not see as many self absorbed and violent builders to this day. Sometimes history can be cruel and judgmental and perhaps if we lived in those times we would not perceive them in the same way. Nero, for instance, now appears to be less evil than political writers of the day had led us to believe. A true patron of the arts, he attempted to replace the violence of the arena with cultural events and the murders he is reported to have committed may not have happened. It is more likely his successors and enemies chose to paint him that way to validate their own control. Christian writers also vilified those who had persecuted them. Digging for the reality of these rulers is ongoing. We seem to prefer the more extreme stories, but are they all true? Perhaps we shall discover more as time and scholarship goes on.
Full stories can be found in any number of sources and I have included just a few snippets of the stories of those whom I have found interesting. As with any topic on my sites, if you are truly interested I suggest you read some of the sources I have mentioned, or certainly more expansive essays on the subject.
Julius ( Iulius ) Caesar 
Born 100 bc into a patrician family claiming descent from gods and kings. Through family influence and his many campaigns he rose through the ranks.  At age 20 Julius was sent to Bithynia  where he became the young lover of the King  Nicomedes
"He served his first campaign in Asia on the personal staff of Marcus Thermus, governor of the province. On being sent by Thermus to Bithynia, to fetch a fleet, he dawdled so long at the court of Nicomedes that he was suspected of improper relations with the king . . ."  Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius 
He is also said to have had relationships with many of his troops and his young ambitious nephew Octavius who later became Caesar Augustus. Caesar was an attractive man, tall (for a Roman) and slim with fair skin and brown eyes. He seems to have been a dandy -- his hair was neatly cut, his face neatly shaved and had other parts of his body tweezed as well. He liked to wear long, fringed sleeves and never fastened his belt tightly, which led his enemy Sulla to call him "that boy with the loose clothes." Later in life Caesar went bald, but he covered it by combing his hair forward and wearing his laurel crown everywhere. He became Dictator but not emperor.
Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus b. 63 BC - d. 14AD
Born Gaius Octavius just before sunrise on September 23 he was known as Thurinus when young and was the son of Gaius Octaviaus and Atia who was the daughter of Julius Caesar's sister Julia. He had two sisters Octavia the elder and Octavia the younger. Adopted at seventeen by Julius Caesar he was eighteen years old at the assassination of Julius  and had been named heir, but as Mark Antony had seized power he formed a triumvirate with Antony and Lepidus. At that time his closest intimates were the naval commander, tribune and architect Vispanius Agrippa( friend for life and buried in August's mausoleum), the consul Statilius Taurus and  the soft, insightful, indulgent and effeminate poet Gaius Maecenas who was at times ruthless in his support of noble ideals, but also sponsor and intimate of young poets including Virgil and Horace and possible grandfather of Cicero. Octavius was elected consul after the defeat of Antony in 31 BC and continued this until 23BC gaining the name Augustus. He had adopted the name Caesar at the will of Julius and although some Senators wished him to also adopt the name Romulus as the second founder of the city he was given the title Augustus as being a more original and honourable title, since sanctuaries and all places consecrated by the augers are known as 'august' - the word being either an enlarged form of auctus, implying the 'increase ' of dignity thus given such places, or a product of the phrase avium gestus gustusve 'the behaviour and feeding of birds' which the augers observed.(Suetonius)  He became Tribune for life and in 2BC he was given the title Father of his Country. He was the first of the Emperors.
His third marriage to Livia Drusilla when in his mid twenties lasted until his death just before his 76th birthday. Not a great Military leader, but his rule was surprisingly successful and became an inspiration to all who followed who attempted to emulate the Divine Augustus.
Tiberius Caesar Augustus b. 42 BC - d. 37 AD
Tiberius Nero was the son of Livia by a previous marriage to Nero, the commander of Julius Caesar's fleet and later an associate of Mark Antony. Augustus had wished to marry Livia so Nero had given her up and died soon after with Tiberius giving his father's eulogy at the age of nine.  He had married Vipsania, but was forced to divorce her and marry Augustus' daughter Julia. Tiberius was fifty four when he became Emperor.  At sixty seven and after initially trying to emulate Augustus he tired of the court and his lack of popularity and retired to his island home of Capri where he was surrounded by troops of young boys known as the 'spintriae'. His bedrooms were said to be decorated with erotic images and statues to arouse and inspire his sexual partners. 
He became increasingly unpopular and falling ill at a seaside villa at Misenum he died in his late seventies. Tacitus said that Caligula thinking him dead tore the imperial ring from his finger and emerged to be hailed as Emperor, but Tiberious awoke and called for food, but was immediately smothered with a pillow by the Praetorian commander Marco, hoping to gain favour, but he was later disposed of by Caligula.
Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus b. 12 - d. 41 AD
Emperor Gaius had a great self love and absorption, but apparently had a balding head and a thin, hairy and unshapely body. It was a capital crime to look down upon him from above.  Young Gaius was brought up as the darling of the Army. He was on the Rhine in 12-14 AD dressed in  miniature uniform and gained the nickname Caligula (Bootee orLittle Boots). He became Emperor at 24 after the death of rivals and being named heir by Tiberius while living with him at Capri. 'I am rearing a viper for the Roman people'. Nightmares, illness and insomnia led to a collapse six months into his reign. Changed by the experience Rome saw many murders, suicides and increasingly strange behaviour such as his love and hatred for his sisters, appointing his horse a senator and having his naked troops attack reeds and declaring it a great victory. Sexual excess and his elevation to a god, which saw him converse with them daily, eventually saw him murdered by his guard at the Palatine Games.       
Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus b. 37 - d. 68
Much is said about Nero's excesses; the murder of his mother and wife, the setting fire to Rome and playing the fiddle while it burned. Many now argue that much of this is exaggerated. For many hundreds of years it was said that he set fire to Rome to enable a grand rebuilding and then blamed the Christian sect and had them rounded up and executed. New research seem to indicate that under the guidance of ancient prophecies it was in fact the disaffected Jewish Christians who did set about burning to the ground the Whore of Babylon and conqueror of their homeland. More now also is being written about his love of the arts and desire to patronise what he saw as the great legacy of Greek civilisation. He competed in the major Greek festivals and carried off most of the prizes. His performances lasted so long, that members of the captive audience gave birth, fell ill and even feigned death to escape the drudgery of his poems which  Tacitus said 'run without energy or inspiration and lack unity of style'. 
(the young emperor in the film 'Gladiator')
Aurelius Commmodus Antoninus Augustus b. 161 - d.  192
Son of the Great Marcus Aurelius, Commodus was on the Battlefield on the Danube when his father died and he became Emperor at the age of 18. Unlike his father he had a reputation of being debauched. In his triumphal procession into Rome in October 180 he had in his chariot a favourite Saoterus, whom he was seen to kiss on several occasions and who became chamberlain and ran the empire until he was killed shortly after. The Emperor was said to have kept a harem of 300 concubines and 300 boys. His sister Lucilla arranged for her nephew to murder the Emperor, but the attempt failed and they were both executed.  Commodus delegated much of his power to others preferring to stay out of public and harms way. Madness grew, he wished to be deified immediately and he took to appearing in the Arena, killing animals and taking the scandalous role of a gladiator wearing a lion skin, which was looked down upon, but in secret as the people feared the erratic ruler. Eventually the head of the Praetorian guard, the imperial chamberlain and his favourite concubine Marcia plotted to poison Commodus while he was staying at a gladiators school Vectilian Villa, near the Colloseum. He vomited up the poison so a young athlete called Narcissus was sent to strangle him. His body was buried that night, but after an attempt to dig him up and drag his corpse through the city he was eventually laid to rest in the Mausoleum of Hadrian and deified four years later.
Imperator Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus Proconsul b. 203 - d. 222
A fourteen year old Syrian boy, hereditary high-priest of the Sun god Elagabal and nephew of Caracalla became emperor in 218. Practicing orgiastic blood sacrifices he tried to install the the Syrian god Elagabal from where he gained his nick name, as the sole god (deus Sol invictus) of Rome. He had between three and five wives including a Vestal Virgin and also married a male Carian slave Hierocles who was allowed to beat him like a wife. He not only dressed as a woman to seduce men in the streets and work in brothels, he also tried to induce his doctors to cut a false vagina into his body.   
' ....he sent agents to search for those with particularly large organs and bring them to the palace in order that he might enjoy their vigour.' 
  He had the hair of his body removed as it was his chief enjoyment to ' arouse lust in the greatest number'  and wore a tunic of cloth of gold and engraved jewels on his head, tunics and feet to add to his beauty. He is also known to have promoted dancers to military posts. After four years and having been forced to, he appointed his thirteen year old cousin Alexianus (Alexander) as his heir and then after subsequently trying to have him killed, Elagabalus was murdered by his soldiers.
Other Emperors
Like Greece, relations between men and boys was judged according to the role of dominance, but although in Rome it was permissible to have relations with a slave or an inferior it was forbidden for a man to take the son of an elite citizen as his beloved, as this would demean the youth's manly role in later life. However it is said that these Emperors had taken male lovers.

Ortho- had hair plucked from his body, wore a wig, shaved daily and smeared his face with moist bread so he would never have a beard. He is rumoured to have been Nero's lover.
Domitian - It is uncertain that the rumours that he had sex with boys and was paid for sex with Nerva amongst others was but a political smear.
Trajan - is said to have been enamoured of boys including a pantomime dancer Pylades and is said to have treated his lovers well.
Hadrian - More can be seen on the page of Antinous his lover.
Valentian III  425-455
Edward Gibbon who wrote 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' observed that all but one of the first 14 Roman emperors were either bisexual or exclusively homosexual.

Perhaps they were similar to leaders both good and bad that we see this and last century and how will current leaders and we be judged in centuries to come?  I have reinterpreted and re-considered power so often in my own lifetime and it is obviously so difficult to feel absolute about anything and perhaps this is the lesson. Often laws are brought into being because of current 'community standards' to be abandoned when moods change.  I, however, feel this is far too easy and there must be a more pervading truth to which laws should adhere. Passing whims are no reason for minority persecutions, but eventually all fads do pass; unfortunately to be often replaced by yet another obsession. The witch-hunts continue. How can what is accepted and popular one day be cursed another? Smugness leads many a commentator to suggest that we (or they themselves) have progressed beyond the primitive past, be it decades or centuries ago, but look at the news any day of the week. We are horrified by the behaviour of those of whom we know little and overlook the corruption of our own backyard. I see no fundamental change. I think there is the unfortunate secret - history is short and developments take many thousands of years and we are but young.
Senatus Populus Que Romanus      -     The Senate and People of Rome.

Interesting books to read  'The Twelve Caesars' by Suetonius
"Chronicle of the Roman Emperors: The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial Rome" Chris Scarre 

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