The ‘Black Book’ Of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Campaign. Harsher Criticism on Caesar(ism) (4)

19th-century statue of Vercingétorix (by Aimé Millet)

19th-century statue of Vercingétorix (by Aimé Millet) near the village of Alise-Sainte-Reine, Burgundy, France. Wikipedia. Click for source and larger view

Caesar‘s contemporaries were not overly happy about his Gallic campaign – Luciano Canfora observes.

[Luciano Canfora, Giulio Cesare, Mondadori 2010, XV, p. 132; English translation]

“This must be taken into account – he argues – when assessing the long-term effects of the conquest of Gaul, whose ‘inevitability’ is often teleologically overestimated. There is doubtless a risk of adopting a colonialist view.”

“A campaign unprovoked, with no real menace lurking, led to the destruction of the previous civilisation gradually supplanted by Romanisation, a genocide of monstrous proportions according to the convergent testimonies of Pliny the Elder and of Plutarch.”

Sources of a genocide

Let us then have a look at Pliny’s and Plutarch’s words.

Pliny the Elder: [Naturalis Historia; English: 7, 25; Latin: 7,92]

“For, outside (praeter) his victories in the Civil Wars [therefore in his Gallic wars only, MoR] Caesar slew in battle 1,192,000 of his enemies; but this, for my own part, I hold no special glory of his (non equidem in gloria posuerim), considering the great injury so inflicted on Humankind (coactam humani generis iniuriam): and this crime, indeed, he hath himself confessed, by avoiding to set down (non prodendo) the slaughter that occurred during the Civil Wars.”

Pliny’s moral indignation is unambiguous. His accusation, that Caesar hid his figures, harsh (Canfora.)

From the frontispiece of Plutarch's Lives by John Langhorne and William Langhorne. Baltimore: W. & J. Neal, 1836

From the frontispiece of Plutarch’s Lives by John Langhorne and William Langhorne. Baltimore: W. & J. Neal, 1836

Plutarch, Parallel Lives:

“Although it was not full ten years that he waged war in Gaul, Caesar took by storm more than 800 cities, subdued 300 nations, and fought pitched battles at different times with 3 million men, of whom he slew 1 million in hand to hand fighting and took as many more prisoners. (Life of Caesar 15, 5; English; Greek)

In the Life of Cato the younger (51, 1; English; Greek) Plutarch reveals the number of Germani slaughtered by Caesar by treachery and Cato’s proposal ‘to surrender Caesar to those whom he had wronged’:

“When it was believed that Caesar had attacked the Germans even during a truce (σπονδή) and slain 300,000 of them, there was a general demand at Rome that the people should offer sacrifices of good tidings (εὐαγγέλια θύειν; supplicatio, in Latin), but Cato urged them to surrender Caesar to those whom he had wronged (ἐκδιδόναι τὸν Καίσαρα τοῖς παρανομηθεῖσι), and not to turn upon themselves, or allow to fall upon their city (εἰς τὴν πόλιν), the pollution of his crime (τὸ ἄγος).”

Pliny the Elder: an imaginative 19th-century portrait

Pliny the Elder: an imaginative 19th-century portrait. Wikipedia

Pessimism of Aristocrats
defeated by Caesarism

Pliny the Elder was a member of those senatorial aristocrats nostalgic for the Republic and set aside by the new ‘monarchy‘ favoured by Caesar’s course.

Edward Gibbon (Decline and Fall…, vol. I, Chap 3, part 2) seems sympathetic to their ideals:

“The education of Helvidius and Thrasea, of Tacitus and Pliny, was the same as that of Cato and Cicero. From Grecian philosophy, they had imbibed the justest and most liberal notions of the dignity of human nature, and the origin of civil society. The history of their own country had taught them to revere a free, a virtuous, and a victorious commonwealth; to abhor the successful crimes of Caesar and Augustus; and inwardly to despise those tyrants whom they adored with the most abject flattery.”

Which were these ideals?

Ettore Paratore (1907 - 2000) in his studyroom. One of the major scholars of Latin literature

Ettore Paratore (1907 – 2000) in his study-room. He was one of the major scholars of Latin literature after World War II. Courtesy of RAI

According to Ettore Paratore such ideals had been well expressed centuries earlier by the Scipionic circle (Cornelia, Caius Laelius Sapiens, Scipio Aemilianus, Polybius, Panaetius, Lucilius, Terence etc.): a group of eminent people [whose 'structured circle' some scholars now call into question, MoR] open to Greek philosophy and Roman humanitas where power was transfigured as a message of civilization and fraternity, whose spiritual reasons had been sung by Virgil.

[E. Paratore, Profilo della Letteratura Latina, Sansoni, 1964, p. 351.]

According to Tacitus (who “internalized the senatorial ethic as only a newcomer can”: livius.org) the first Roman emperors had not lived up to these ideals because of Tyranny and its gloomy trail of crimes, blood, empty feelings (Paratore.)

[From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, from the American and French Revolutions to 19th-century romanticism –any 'yearning for liberty' will condemn Caesarism & the Roman Empire and will see in Tacitus - see image below - their historian; MoR]

Tacitus. A modern statue outside the Austrian Parliament Building. Wikipedia. Click for source

Tacitus. A modern statue outside the Austrian Parliament Building. Wikipedia. Click for source

Vercingetorix, national hero
of Gaul (and of France)

Mario: “You got carried away and forgot about Caesar’s conquest of Gaul”.
MoR: “Well, many French will also see in Vercingetorix their national hero, and in Camille Jullian (1859 – 1933) their bard.”

ψ

Camille Jullian is a great historian and a great writer. I very much enjoyed his Vercingétorix (1902), available in French as Gutenberg text.

A coin depicting an idealised Vercingetorix

A coin depicting an idealised Vercingetorix

Here is a patchwork from Jullian’s book (assembled and translated by MoR):

“The Celts had a sense of moral unity and this feeling survived their rivalries. Among them traditions had formed and legends, a spiritual heritage. There were poets, bards, who sang the deeds of the kings and the vast empire they once possessed. Their priests, the Druids, taught that all Gauls were descended from the same god.”

“The Arverni were the people designated to profit from these aspirations. Their land was the ‘navel’ of the Celtic world: the Puy de Dôme, where the powerful god Teutates lived, was at an equal distance from the main frontiers of Gaul. The Arverni were the bravest and the most numerous, they had the richest lands and they obeyed to the god who could speak from the highest peak.

Puy de Dôme, a volcanoe in the region of Massif Central in south-central France Auvergne)

Puy de Dôme, a volcano in the region of Massif Central in south-central France (Auvergne). It served for centuries as an assembly place for spiritual ceremonies. Click for source

We almost see these Arvernian kings thanks to Posidonius, a Greek philosopher who traveled about the country soon after their passing. He was dazzled by the spectacle offered by the person and by the procession of the most powerful king of the West, surprised to find in Gaul the pompous custom of the military monarchies of the East. Luern distributed down from his chariot gold and silver to the crowd. He held for many days banquets of stupendous luxury. The Arverni had a taste for the colossal, Puy de Dôme inspired them to greatness.”

“Even shinier was the vision of the Arvernian king at war, advancing in the halo of his necklace and golden bracelets, on a chariot plated in silver, followed by the bronze boars of the tribes. Not far, the formidable pack of his hunting dogs. Beside him, finally, the poet, a lyre in his hand, singing the glorious feats of arms of the king and his nation. And the men, their senses impregnated with the royal glory, the eyes affected by the gold, the ears by the clamour, the thinking by the verses, they imagined that perhaps they had just seen a god.”

“The Arvernian empire resembled no regular state, made as it was by a league of tribes. The Arverni of Bituit fairly correspond in the history of Gaul to the Romans of Servius Tullius and his Latin league in the history of Rome. But the advantage is all on the side of the Gauls: their gold, light and bright coins were infinitely more precious than this square bronze, dark and massive coin which is the Roman as of the early times, and I don’t think that at the court of Servius one was delighted by the long chansons de geste dear to our ancestors. Gaul debuted merrily into civilized life, and partly according to the Greek rite.”

Coins from Gaul

Coins from ancient Gaul. Coinage had started in Gaul a few centuries BC. Courtesy of ‘Le blog de Lutèce’ (www.e-stoire.net), a good site about the French celts (in French)

[The Arverni were defeated by the Romans in 121 BC and Roman Gallia Narbonensis was established. Called 'Provincia', it later evolved into Provence, MoR.]

A new Arvernian chieftain

“Nearly a century later, Caesar having appeared on the Rhone, it seemed natural that, after numerous bloody battles, a new Arvernian chieftain unified the scattered tribes into a single command. This man was Vercingetorix.”

“The Gallic fatherland, as Vercingetorix imagined it, I believe, was the practice of this community of blood, of this original identity that the Druids had taught.”

“Vercingetorix identified his life with that of the Gallic homeland and with the liberty of its people to the extent that, the day the gods condemned his dream, he thought only to disappear.”

“He had been defeated not only by a man but by the gods. Having begun the war with human sacrifices, he would end it much in the same way, resolved to offer himself as an expiatory victim.”

A Gallic human sacrifice

A Gallic human sacrifice. Courtesy of ‘Le blog de Lutèce’ (www.e-stoire.net)

Ceremony of surrender

“The Romans were admirable directors. They always staged the shows which struck the imagination of both the allied and the vanquished, which at times served as much as a victory to ensure their command. Julius Caesar, the day after his victory, presented to the gods of his country the same king and leader of those he had defeated.”

“Before the camp, within the lines of defense, the high platform of the proconsul had been erected, isolated and preceded by steps, like a sanctuary. On top, Caesar sat on the imperial seat, wearing his purple robe. Around him, the eagles of the legions and the cohorts’ emblems as symbols of the protective deities of the Roman army. In front of him, the mountain that crowned the ramparts of Alesia, its flanks covered with corpses. Spectators of the show, 40,000 legionaries, standing on the terraces and towers that surrounded Caesar as an armed crown. On the horizon, the immense frame of the hills.”

Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar by Henri Paul Motte

Vercingetorix before Caesar (by Henri Paul Motte, 1886)

“Alone, on horseback, Vercingetorix was the first to exit the gates of the city, no herald preceding his coming. He came down the mountain trails and appeared suddenly before Caesar.”

“He wore his finest weapons, his gold phalerae gleaming on his chest. Straightening his tall figure he got near the platform with the attitude of the proud winner going to triumph. Fierce expression, superb stature, his body sparkling with gold and silver, he must have looked bigger than a human being, and as august as a hero.”

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[The above patchwork in French]

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Previous installments:

Julius Caesar’s Conquest Of Gaul. When North-West Europe & The Mediterranean ‘Embraced’ (1)
Conquest Of Gaul. Debate On Julius Caesar’s Conduct, Motives, Achievements (2)
“Caesar was like the wind. Can we condemn the wind? And yet what scourge can it bring forth!” (3)

See also:

France, Italy and the Legacy of Rome
Stress and Joy. Conquest and Sorrow
Caesar, Great Man and Don Juan

“Caesar was like the wind. Can we condemn the wind? And yet what scourge can it bring forth!” (3)

The death of Julius Caesar (Vincenzo Camuccini 1771-1844)

The death of Julius Caesar (by Vincenzo Camuccini 1771-1844). Detail. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Roma. Click for a complete view

From positive evaluations on Caesar’s actions we now turn to perplexed criticism expressed by some ancient Romans. In the upcoming and last chapter we will deal with some harsher criticism on Caesar.

Livy cited by Seneca

Livy, in a lost book (106?) of his History of Rome, calls into question the entire action of Caesar.

We know since Livy’s judgment is cited by the philosopher Seneca years later (2 generations from Livy’s time and 4 from Cesar’s, roughly.)

So-called Seneca. Ancient Roman bronze now at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy. Photo by Massimo Finizio. Click for source

So-called Seneca. Ancient Roman bronze now at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy. Photo by Massimo Finizio. Click for source

Seneca – we like to imagine – is narrating to his pupil Lucilius (Naturales quaestiones, V, 18, 4) the science of his time, Nero‘s time.

After having explained the nature of meteors, rainbows, earthquakes and so forth, Seneca addresses ‘wind’.

Wind is useful – he argues – since it allows “communication among all the different nations … A great service is this that nature here renders, did not man’s madness turn it to his own injury!”

[Seneca here refers to winds that push ships, stir things etc.]

Blessing or curse?

Here comes the quote:

“The remark which was commonly made regarding Gaius Julius Caesar as recorded by Livy – that it was doubtful whether his birth was a blessing or a curse to the state – may be applied to the winds.”

Busto di Cesare. Museo nazionale di Napoli

Caesar’s Bust. Naples National Museum

So, through a poetic metaphor, Seneca lets us know both Livy’s perplexity and his own regarding Caesar’s deeds. We will try to better understand.

First of all, is it a hostile judgement? A very perplexed one, rather (Luciano Canfora’s comment). “Since – Canfora observes – nobody would ‘condemn’ winds without appeal and yet everybody knows what scourge they can produce”.

[Luciano Canfora, Giulio Cesare, Mondadori 2010, XLII, p. 380]

A windstorm. Brittonic pearls

Seneca’s further explanation of the winds sheds some light on his own view on Caesar [italic text is mine; Canfora will then help us to read between the lines]:

“[Winds] do not cease to be inherently good, even though, through fault of those who degrade their use, they are turned to instruments of harm. Surely Providence and God, the great Disposer of the world, had a beneficent aim in establishing the winds … that the atmosphere might be kept in motion by them, that no part of the world should become unsightly through inactivity. His object was not that we might man our fleet with armed soldiers to seize every quarter of the main, and that we might go in search of foes either in or beyond the sea.”

“In its profundity – Luciano Canfora observes – the comparison is sort of paralyzing: Seneca stops on the brink of a judgement he can not make. Through the metaphor of the wind he alludes to Julius Caesar, represented as a windstorm.”

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Cleopatra and Caesar

Was Cleopatra wearing Brittonic pearls? According to Pliny the Elder (Natural History : IX.116) Caesar dedicated a thorax decorated with British pearls to Venus Genetrix. Jean-Léon Gérome (1824-1904) painted how Cleopatra and Caesar first met according to Plutarch (Caes. 49). Click for source

Canfora then adds [paraphrased]:

The metaphor well fits Caesar’s warlike hyperactivity, when Seneca mentions a degraded use of winds pushing ships over the sea, not for exploration or communication, but for wars in the sea or beyond the sea. ‘Beyond’ the sea – Canfora argues – cannot but allude to the erratic expedition in Britannia, judged unreasonable by many: a useless carnage carried out – to some – for greed of Brittonic pearls (Suetonius, Caesar 47; Pliny, Natural History, IX.116, 169; Gibbon believed it, Ch I; read a great article by Bill Thayers.)

Roots of perplexity

So this whole post is about the perplexity a few ancient Romans felt before Caesar’s warlike restlessness.

[Only a few? Seneca had talked of a 'commonly made' remark: quod vulgo dictatum est]

This perplexity, it should be noted, hit even those who – like Livy, Seneca and others – had benefited from the new course introduced by Caesar (new conquests, the Empire with its better organization etc.)

Why then such perplexity, Canfora asks himself?
[Giulio Cesare, XLII p . 383]

For humanitarian reasons, basically: the horrible human cost of eight years of war in Gaul and 5 years of civil war.

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

Other installments:

Julius Caesar’s Conquest Of Gaul. When North-West Europe & The Mediterranean ‘Embraced’ (1)
Conquest Of Gaul. Debate On Julius Caesar’s Conduct, Motives, Achievements (2)
The ‘Black Book’ Of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Campaign. Harsher Criticism on Caesar(ism) (4)

See also:

France, Italy and the Legacy of Rome

Stress and Joy. Conquest and Sorrow
Caesar, Great Man and Don Juan

Conquest Of Gaul. Debate On Julius Caesar’s Conduct, Motives, Achievements (2)

Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar by Henri Paul Motte

Vercingetorix before Caesar (by Henri Paul Motte, 1886)

As regards Julius Caesars conquest of Gaul (and other actions of his) we will here just scratch the surface of a debate (among admirers mostly) on Caesar’s conduct, motives and achievements.

The debate among Caesar’s detractors will be the subject of the two upcoming posts (a list of all installments is at the foot of the page.)

Imperialism by ‘historical necessity’

We are dealing here with imperialism, it is clear, justified by some as ‘historical necessity’ (not the time now to get into philosophy of history.)

Luciano Canfora‘s judgement on Caesar is in truth multifaceted (Giulio Cesare, il dittatore democratico, Mondadori 2010, XV, pp. 137-8; English translation):

“Gaul was thus inserted by violence and genocide into the circuit of the Roman ‘civilization’ … Naturally, the romanization of Gaul is a phenomenon of such a historical amplitude as to impose the question of whether the accounting of the dead proposed with extreme clarity by Pliny the Elder (together with the harsh accusation that Caesar hid his figures) should not however give way, on the plane of historical assessment, to what can be considered the crucial event in the formation of medieval and later modern Europe.”

Gaul at the time of Caesar

Gaul at the time of Caesar. Click for attribution

Mere ambition
or conquest with a big vision?

As for “whether Caesar’s conquest was motivated by mere ambition” rather than by the design of opening a ‘new frontier’, Canfora observes:

“As if the two things could really be distinguished in the work of a great statesman.”

Theodor Mommsen too had argued (History of Rome, V,7. The Subjugation of the West):

“It is more than an error, it is an outrage upon the sacred spirit dominant in history, to regard Gaul solely as the parade ground on which Caesar exercised himself and his legions for the impending civil war.”

“Though the subjugation of the West was for Caesar so far a means to an end that he laid the foundations of his later height of power in the Transalpine wars, it is the especial privilege of a statesman of genius that his means themselves are ends in their turn. Caesar needed no doubt for his party aims a military power, but he did not conquer Gaul as a partisan.”

“There was a direct political necessity for Rome to meet the perpetually threatened invasion of the Germans thus early beyond the Alps, and to construct a rampart there which should secure the peace of the Roman world.”

Hermann Heights Monument erected in New Ulm, Minnesota

Hermann Monument erected in New Ulm (Minnesota), a town founded by German immigrants in 1854. Wikimedia

Were German migrations
Rome’s big problem?

According to 19th century Mommsen, one of Caesar’s main merits was that of understanding who the big enemy of Rome actually was:

“Inasmuch as [Caesar] with sure glance perceived in the German tribes the rival antagonists of the Romano-Greek world;
inasmuch as with firm hand he established the new system of aggressive defense down even to its details, and taught men to protect the frontiers of the empire by rivers or artificial ramparts, to colonize the nearest barbarian tribes along the frontier with the view of warding off the more remote, and to recruit the Roman army by enlistment from the enemy’s country;
he gained for the Hellenico-Italian culture the interval necessary to civilize the West …”

Hermann, Armin or Arminius, chieftain of the Germanic Cherusci

Hermann chieftain of the Germanic Cherusci. His victory over a Roman army in the Teutoburg forest (9 AD) made him a symbol of German patriotism

Today’s views by historians are more complex. A number of factors (not only German mass migrations, seen mostly as gradual integration) are seen as causes of Rome’s fall (see a list of theories about why Rome fell).

Furthermore, Germania at the time of Caesar (1rst cent. BC; or of Augustus and Hermann, 1rst cent. AD) was backward compared to Germania in the 4th-5th centuries AD.

As Peter Heather put it (The Fall of the Roman Empire. A new History. I,2. Pan Books 2005):

“It could hardily be clearer that 19th-century visions of an ancient German nation were way off target … the inhabitants of first century Germania [Germans, Celts and another unidentified group, according to Heather] had no capacity to formulate and put into practice a sustained and unifying political agenda (p.55.)”

It was therefore not German military prowess – Heather continues, p.58 – to scare the Romans off Germania, but its poverty [different was the case of richer Gaul, MoR.]

The issue of Parthia

The Parthian (Persian) empire soon after Caesar time

The Parthian (Persian) empire a few years after Caesar’s time. According to many historians Persia was Rome’s main antagonist. Wikipedia

Getting back to Caesar’s motives for conquering Gaul, he was surely aware of the German danger (L. Canfora). That he wrote this in the Commentarii as justification for his wars doesn’t though prove much.

Caesar’s literary work was political. Caesar’s bloody conquest had outraged many of his adversaries. The roman general needed to indicate his conquest as preemptive.

The Cimbri‘s and Teutones‘ dreadful raids in Gaul and Italy – occurred 50 years earlier – could have nonetheless brought serious problems to Rome had Gaius Marius, Caesar’s uncle, not stopped them.

Caesar was therefore aware of the danger even before facing Ariovistus. That Germani were considered by him Rome’s big problem is doubtful though. It is more likely that the Romans, in the various phases of their empire, feared more the much stronger and civilized power of the Parthians in the East [Heather, p.48 et. al.; see also Roman-Parthian wars.]

Parthian horseman. Palazzo Madama, Torino, Italy.

Parthian horseman. Palazzo Madama, Torino, Italy. Wikipedia

Some evidence shows this may have also been Caesar’s view.

Crassus, Caesar’s amicus, had been defeated in 55 BC at Carrhae by the Parthians of his time (Crassus had been killed and 7 legions annihilated). All this had happened during Caesar’s Gallic wars.

So Caesar, as Mommsen wrote, “taught men to protect the frontiers of the empire” toward Germania but did not plan any conquest of Germania beyond the Rhine. In the last period of his life he was instead preparing a military expedition against the Parthians which he could not carry out because he was murdered in 44 BC.

[the two paragraphs above reflect MoR's opinion]

“Reorganization of the State,
more than Gaul, was crucial”

The weakness of the declining Roman aristocracy, according to Mommsen, meant danger to Rome.

“It hardly admits of a doubt – he argued – that if the rule of the senate had prolonged its semblance of life … the Italian civilization would not have become naturalized either in Gaul, or on the Danube, or in Africa and Spain.”

Irish Ciarán Hinds as Julius Caesar in 'Rome',  an HBO BBC TV series

Irish Ciarán Hinds as Julius Caesar in ‘Rome’, a British-American-Italian historical drama TV series

The British historian Arnold Joseph Toynbee (1889 – 1975; Julius Caesar current Britannica’s entry) downplays the importance of the conquest of Gaul by Caesar. To him the reorganization of the state and the removal of an oligarchy no longer à la hauteur was more crucial. 

“Great though this achievement was, its relative importance in Caesar’s career and in Roman history has been overestimated … In Caesar’s mind his conquest of Gaul was probably carried out only as a means to his ultimate end. He was acquiring the military manpower, the plunder, and the prestige that he needed to secure a free hand for the prosecution of the task of reorganizing the Roman state and the rest of the Greco-Roman world. This final achievement of Caesar’s looms much larger than his conquest of Gaul, when it is viewed in the wider setting of world history.”

Caesar vs Shih Huang Ti

A.J. Toynbee here sings praises to Caesar’s overall achievements.

Caesar“This cool-headed man of genius with an erratic vein of sexual exuberance undoubtedly changed the course of history at the Western end of the Old World.”

“By liquidating the scandalous and bankrupt rule of the Roman nobility, he gave the Roman state —and with it the Greco-Roman civilization— a reprieve that lasted for more than 600 years in the East and for more than 400 years in the relatively backward West. [...] The prolongation of the life of the Greco-Roman civilization had important historical effects.”

Qinshihuang“Caesar’s political achievement was limited. Its effects were confined to the Western end of the Old World and were comparatively short-lived by Chinese or ancient Egyptian standards. The Chinese state founded by Shih Huang Ti in the 3rd century BC still stands, and its future may be still greater than its past.

Yet, even if Caesar were to prove to have been of lesser stature than this Chinese colossus, he would still remain a giant by comparison with the common run of human beings.”

ψ

Other installments:

Julius Caesar’s Conquest Of Gaul. When North-West Europe & The Mediterranean ‘Embraced’ (1)
“Caesar was like the wind. Can we condemn the wind? And yet what scourge can it bring forth!” (3)
The ‘Black Book’ Of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Campaign (4)

See also:

France, Italy and the Legacy of Rome
Stress and Joy. Conquest and Sorrow

Ides of March, Paul Costopoulos’ Birthday (and Paul’s Second Name is not Caesar)

Paul Costopoulos, the wise man of our little blogosphere slice. Courtesy of PC

Today it is the “Ides of March” or Idus Martii, a date famous for the assassination of Julius Caesar and an ancient festivity as well dedicated to the god Mars or Ares, the Greco-Roman deity of war.

Well, not only of war since (to the Romans only) such god was also an agricultural guardian.

March (Italian Marzo, Latin Martius) is the month named after Mars. Festivities in honour of Mars began in fact in such a year period in Ancient Rome and inaugurated the military (and agricultural) season.

They were then held again in October which ended the military campaigns and the farming activities – well, more or less since olive oil (called by Homer “liquid gold”) had still to be made because olives matured through the winter.

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This is not though a post about war, farming or about Caesar.

Except for war we care about the said things. But a lot more we care about Paul Costopoulos, our Canadian sage.

Of both Greek and French descent (a potent mix) everybody likes Paul. He is endowed with wisdom, concrete knowledge of life and that emotional intelligence – as Dafna put it – that has made discussions wherever he goes interesting, humorous (and warm.)

ψ

Paul is 80 today.

Happy birthday friend.

 

Even Italian Cynicism Has Its Limits. Berlusconi

Italy's PM Silvio Berlusconi. Click for credits (La Repubblica)

I am very depressed about what is happening here in this country.

Even Italian cynicism has its limits.

Over at the Hannibal’s. Can We Really ‘Know’ the Greco-Romans? (2)

The Ancient Roman ‘Temple of all gods’ (Pantheon,) Rome. Click to zoom in

[continued from part 1]

Opinion and Knowledge (of the Ancients)

MoR: “Douglas, you are a friend and you raise here a big philosophical question: whether man can reach truth. I’m not qualified, my wife is the epistemologist of the family (she has a degree on philosophy of science) and all I understood (from our quarrels) is that ‘scientific’ research is all about trying to go beyond doxa, ie biased opinion, so you hit the nail on the head I believe.

By ‘research is progressing’ I meant: ok, we will possibly never ‘know’ these folks (Saxons invading Britain, Macedonians at the times of Alexander etc.) but the various ‘pictures’ we have of them are enriched day by day, researchers communicating more (such ‘pictures’ are interrelated), and, our sources being not only ancient literary texts (which reflect the view of the writer) but of course also the (less biased?) ‘data’ from archaeology, biology, from studies on agricultural techniques, fossil seeds etc.

As an example (also of various doxas coexisting), the ‘picture(s)’ of Rome’s fall – the period 300-600 CE, ‘late antiquity’ ie between antiquity and middle ages – have changed dramatically in the minds of many specialists, I believe, although the public still thinks in terms of a Gibbon’s progressively decadent, imploding empire (Gibbons mentioned Rome’s ‘immoderate greatness’ so that “the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight” plus he blamed Christianity for Rome’s weakening) which received the last blow by totally ‘rough’ Germanic barbarians.

Who is right? I don’t know, these younger historians though surely profiting from a lot more of multi-disciplinary data I think.

The Barbarian Kingdoms, ca. 526 CE. By the 6th century the Western Roman Empire had been replaced by smaller kingdoms. Click for credits and to zoom in

Feeling Too Superior, Was Rome ‘Murdered’?

It seems the news is ‘electric’ (as Peter Heather put it in his The Fall of the Roman Empire) for both the descendants of the Romans and of the Germans – I belonging to both a bit, as I said in my mystical (and emphatic) *first post*.

Basically:

  1. the ‘late’ Roman empire was a total success story.
  2. Germanic, non Roman, Europe was a two-speed reality (no new thing lol,) one portion being much more civilised than we had thought, surely influenced by Rome but absolutely non Roman (so this doesn’t include Bavaria or Austria, that were romanized, and, not by chance, when ‘Nordic’ Luther arrived, they said: no thanks).

So what the hell happened? Why healthy Rome fell?

Possibly because, blinded by her sense of superiority, Rome made fatal mistakes, and was murdered by the German Goths. Within though a period of ‘collaboration’ with the Germans.

[No easy topic the fall of Rome. Here's a big list of theories on it.]

[I believe Christianity helped a bit (love your enemy blah blah, Gibbon in this was right imo), but I still have to figure out to which extent.]

Even the German Women were terrific fighters

J. Caesar Admired German Valour

MoR: PS. Excuse my logorrhea, such ‘collaboration’ between Germans and Romans was started by Julius Caesar the Myth. One reason he conquered Gaul [today's France, Luxembourg and Belgium] was that the Germans, much stronger than the Gauls or Celts, were crossing the Rhenus (Rhine) in flocks and invading Gaul (so Caesar by conquering Gaul postponed an invasion that occurred much later with the German Franks, thence the name of France.)

Therefore Caesar, after defeating the Germans of Ariovistus, said to the toughest prisoners: “I admire your valour, so I give you a choice: either to be sold in the slave markets or to become my personal guard”. I think the Germans preferred the latter also because it was in their culture to follow the leader that proved most valorous.

Julius Caesar

Caesar took a risk, but not that much I believe. He belonged to the impoverished nobility and was a son of the slums of Rome (Subura) where he probably had lived in contact with Germans and Gauls long enough to understand their mentality. And surely, in the conquest of Gaul that ensued, the Germans proved much more faithful to Caesar than the Celts allied to the Romans. From that day many Roman emperors had German gorillas protecting them – not to mention foot soldiers and Cavalry, also used by Caesar.

Douglas: MoR, thus began the Praetorian Guard (under Augustus, successor to Julius) which became the controllers of the fates of emperors for 300 years until Constantine disbanded them. Perhaps that had something to do with the fall of Rome? Hitler seemed to have read his history well and created his own guard but tried to control them utterly and was quite successful in maintaining their total loyalty. Did il Duce? Certainly, he had his personal guard but they failed to protect him in the end from the citizens.

I think (to get back to history and understanding the common citizen of any culture or state) that with the expansion of literacy came more understanding. One source of great insight into American history is the correspondence between its citizens. These are the thoughts of the average citizen, not merely the hopes and dreams of the elite. Ancient Rome (and Athens, Egypt, and so forth) are known by what its rulers (for the most part) decided was important (and, often, flattering). To learn about the average citizen, we must make guesses and extrapolations based on myths and legends and on relics found. Do we taint these guesses and extrapolations with our own biases? Probably so.

But my bias is that history was, for centuries, the tales of kings and it was told as they wanted it told.

Old Temple of Athena at the Acropolis of Athens. Click for credits and to enlarge

MoR:

my bias is that history was, for centuries, the tales of kings and it was told as they wanted it told.

It certainly was Douglas.

MoR: [talking to both Douglas and Phil] “That you mentally associate the emperors of Rome with Hitler & Mussolini, is interesting. There’s not much linking to be made imo, apart from the masquerade etc. I explain it with the great tradition of democracy in your country, which, we Latin people, do envy.

As for the Praetorian guard, I just now read in the Wikipedia that their role – according to who wrote the article – was of stability to the Empire on the whole. I don’t think though the Praetorian guard (a substantial army) were Germans (I only believe a few gorillas around many emperors were). And maybe some of the Praetorians were, I don’t know. I’m sure instead the legions who fought against the enemies of Rome had a progressively increasing number of Germans, which in the end became a problem possibly.

Rome is an Idea

Rome was more an idea, she was pretty international. The emperors themselves (Spanish, Arab etc.) could come from any land of the empire (like the Popes.)

It is little known that Caesar’s legions who conquered Gaul came mostly from Gallia Cisalpina, today’s northern Italy (80% sure). Big difference was there between these Italian Gauls and, so to say, the French ones. The former were Celts too (though with doses of Roman & Latin blood) but wore the toga (Gallia Togata is another name for it), eg were deeply romanized (Virgil, Pompey the Great etc. came from there), hence immensely more faithful to Rome than any other external people.

They only lacked regular Roman citizenship, which was given them as a prize by Caesar at the end of his Celtic wars. So Caesar – no Hitler or Mussolini indeed – had also the merit to create the unity of Italians, re-attained only 150 years ago!

The Roman legion was a perfect and disciplined war machine. Click to zoom in

Do We Know the ‘Average’ Roman?

One source of great insight into American history is the correspondence between its citizens. These are the thoughts of the average citizen, not merely the hopes and dreams of the elite.

True, but pls, allow me, we know something (I’d say a lot) about the average Roman too (who btw exchanged letters – the middle class – but we have lost most of them). Comedies were for the common people as well, or they would have been unsuccessful – there were no cinema or TV, thence theatre was terribly important – plus we have thousands of graffiti – whole sentences, poems etc. – written by the upper middle and lower classes: you probably under estimate the complexity of ancient society, no less structured than ours. Yes, the lower classes could be literate too, although, ok, the rate of illiteracy was higher, but, since religion touched the middle and the lower milieus especially, and we knowing A LOT about it (by Roman religion I mean ALL the cults present in Rome, Christianity included) I can infer that:

We know a lot about the poor people as well. The whole (monumentally documented) history of the progressive success of Christianity tells tons of things about the lower classes of the whole empire from the times of early Christians onwards. Just think of the letters by Paul of Tarsus: he had to persuade the non Pagan populace of the Empire – slaves included: see image below – but most of all he had to inspire & guide the faith of the already Christian elements – his message hence being directed to ALL social classes, it goes without saying.

Places visited by Paul. His letters tell about the life of the common people of the empire

I mean, we even know – due to the translations of the Bible – the Greek & Latin language actually spoken by the populace: for the reasons you mention the language of the poor and of the rich differed in sophistication.

As for simple-to-the-masses Latin the first translations of the Bible – Jerome’s not by chance is called ‘vulgata’, from vulgus, populace – appeared in the 4th century CE if I’m not wrong. They were written in non literary, ‘vulgar’ Latin, – eg that everyone could understand – to the extent that today’s Italians with a high-school diploma can more or less read them, vulgar Latin and Italian being closely related (whatever you Phil may think about it lol :-) ).

I have to stop this, Douglas. Thanks for obliging this lazy old man to work.

Douglas:

That you mentally associate the emperors of Rome with Hitler & Mussolini, is interesting. There’s not much linking to be made imo, apart from the masquerade etc. I explain it with the great tradition of democracy in your country, which, we Latin people on the whole, do envy.

Actually, it is both of those men who made the association. Not unusual for more modern despots to see themselves in the same light as men whom history has portrayed as great.
(Gen. Patton saw himself as a reincarnation of soldiers of the past and, I suspect, great generals and military leaders)

Julius took control of the political structure of Rome and turned it away from being a true republic of the times. He had himself declared dictator. He took total control of both the political and military structures. And was assassinated for it. But he laid the groundwork for Augustus to become Emperor. In some ways, he created the Roman Empire. First, by expanding the territory under its control and, second, by changing its political structure and laying the groundwork for dictatorial rule.

As I understand it, the literacy rate of Rome was ~15%. This would be the elite ruling class and the “middle class”. The “middle class” would be better described as the merchant class. This would be where the graffiti came from, as well as the letters.

When I spoke of the correspondence of American citizens, it began with the literate classes. But later it expanded into the general public as education expanded. We were fortunate that we began as a country after the invention of the printing press and at the beginning of the expansion of literacy. It is more the good fortune of our time period than anything else.

Try to understand, I am not denigrating Rome’s history. I am trying to explain my scepticism of history in general before the advent of the spread of literacy.

ψ

Read part 1 of this conversation

Silvestri, Berlusconi and the Emperor Tiberius

After the No-B(erlusconi)-day last saturday Dicember 5 in Rome (a great success I am witness of) the singer–songwriter Daniele Silvestri has posted on Youtube a rap called L’imperatore Tiberio.

[It reminds me just a bit of the traditional Tammurriate danced in the South of Italy and possibly related to the ancient rites of Dionysus Bacchus - watch this.]

The rap is captivating, the insertion of Totò (a great Italian actor) is exhilarating, and the song time is beat with the syllables of “Ber-lus-co-ni di-me-tti-ti”, i.e. ‘Berlusconi resign.’

L’imperatore Tiberio
aveva donne di lusso

a cui teneva un discorso
sul ginocchio sinistro.

Poi emanava un editto
che toglieva di mezzo

chi chiedeva giustizia,
chi ne dava notizia.

E si vantava Tiberio
coi suoi amici più illustri

con gli aneddoti sconci
divertiva i ministri.

Ma sfuggiva i giudizi
sui reati commessi

nascondendo pasticci
per motivi fittizzi.

Emperor Tiberius
Had women luxurious

Whom he used to lecture
They sitting on his knee.

He then issued an edict
With which he got rid

Of those who asked for justice,
Of those who gave the news.

And bragging was Tiberius
With friends the most illustrious

With anecdotes obscene
His ministers he entertained.

But he escaped verdicts
On crimes committed

By hiding his mess
With points fictitious.

Read how Mary Beard in the UK Times compares Berlusconi to the Roman emperor Tiberius.

And, thanks to zeusiswatching, here’s the life of Tiberius by the Roman historian Suetonius – not for minors ok?

Ψ

Related posts from our blog:

Caesar, Great Man (and Don Juan)
Is Berlusconi’s Power About to Decline?
October 3. Demonstration Held in Rome to Defend Media Freedom

UPDATE: Just a few hours ago Berlusconi was hit in the face with a model of Milan’s cathedral and knocked to the ground.

He had just finished a speech during a political rally in the centre of the Italian Northern city. According to ANSA the alleged attacker had received many years of treatment for mental disease. Berlusconi is now being taken care of in a Milan hospital and his condition doesn’t seem serious.

A signal of how harsh the political climate is getting in our country, and a horrible gesture to be firmly condemned whatever opinion we may have of Berlusconi and his policy.

The Roman Jews (1). Are They the Most Ancient Romans Surviving?

An image of the Roman Ghetto. Giggetto restaurant and Augustus' Porticus Octaviae behind

An image of the Roman Ghetto. The famous Giggetto restaurant on the left with Augustus’ Porticus Octaviae in the background

“Who’s more Roman than the Roman Jews? Some of us date back from the times of Emperor Titus [39-81 AD]” – Davide Limentani told me in the early 80s.

Limentani was (and perhaps still is) at the head of a big wholesale and retail glass and silver company in Rome. I had phoned him three days earlier for an interview that had to be published on the Roman daily La Repubblica.

Ditta LimentaniI remember a lovely spring day in the old alleys of the Roman Ghetto, with swallows crying over a glorious blue sky. He was sitting at his desk in the aisle of an impressively ramified, catacomb-like store in via Portico d’Ottavia 47 (look at its stripped-down sign above,) crammed with an immense variety of crystal, pottery, silver, china, pewter, anything one can think of – his swift and bright eyes looking in every direction.

The firm had / has among its clients popes, cardinals, celebrities and governments, including the White House. Davide is descendant of Leone, who in 1820 started the most ancient wholesale glassware store in Rome which still bears his name: Leone Limentani – 1820 Roma.

“Leone er cocciaro” [coccio = fragment]: that’s how they called him” Davide said smiling. “He had in fact started with glass junk and had accumulated a big credit with the S. Paolo Glass-works, whose effigy was on every glass – the old Roman bibitari [sellers of drinks] remember it well. The S. Paolo Glass-works were having difficulties because of some faulty articles, and, since a 1514 papal edict allowed the Jews to trade only in commodities “of secondary importance” Leone exclaimed: “The edict doesn’t forbid me!” so he bought out the second rate articles from the S. Paolo thus laying the foundation of his new activity.”

An image of the Ghetto. Courtesy of Hidesideofrome. Click for source

“The Roman Jews are almost 20,000″ Davide continued “and only at the Portico of Octavia they live in a community. A love-hate relationship with the ghetto, they have” he confessed handing some pictures of his family to me. When the Piedmontese [who unified Italy 150 years ago] opened the Ghetto’s doors in 1870 many Jews left with the desire of forgetting all they had suffered here. But they soon came back because the rione Sant’Angelo represents all their roots. In the summer evenings the elderly sit in the open air and speak a vernacular almost dantesco, dantesque, in its character: ‘Guarda che vituperio!’ [ = 'watch all this vituperation!'.]“

The Arch of Titus. Click for credits and larger picture

The Arch of Titus, with the panel depicting the spoils from the temple of Jerusalem. Click for credits and larger pict

They Never Passed Under the Arch of Titus

Titus Flavius Vespasianus, Emperor of Rome. Traditionally the Roman Jews never passed under the arch of Titus. There’s a reason. This ‘delight of the human kind’, as the historian Suetonius called him, didn’t turn such a delight to the Jews, who saw Jerusalem sacked and its temple destroyed by Titus’ armies in 70 AD. Domitian, Titus’ younger brother, built the arch to commemorate the victory and on one side panel of it [see the image above,] carved in Pentelic marble, we see the spoils of the temple during the triumphal procession in Rome.

The first Jewish-Roman war (66-73 AD), this is how historians call it, saw many Jews die (Josephus claims 1,100,000 during the siege) which greatly intensified the Jewish diaspora all over the Mediterranean.

From that war we know that a group of Jews ended their lives as gladiators in the circus at Caesarea, the Roman stronghold in Palestine. Others died in the Sardinian or Spanish mines. A large number though were brought to Rome.

Menorah

Now it turns the Romans needed labour to build the Colosseum. So the stones of the most famous Roman monument were wetted by the sweat of many slaves among which were the Jews captured by Titus. This group had been though greeted by an already flourishing Jewish community – merchants, freedmen and slaves – who had come to Rome 130 years earlier together with Pompey the Great at the end of his wars in the East.

Today’s Roman Jews seem to be the descendants of these two Jewish settlements in Rome – and of others arriving I don’t know when and where from.

Therefore what Davide Limentani said is probably true: the Roman Jews are the most ancient Romans surviving. The origin of their roman-ness appears to be prior to the Flavian era. Actually “Jews have lived in Rome for over 2,000 years, longer than any other European city” (!) [Jewish Encyclopedia.]

Triumph of Titus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1885). Click for larger picture

Triumph of Titus by Sir  Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1885), a Dutch painter active in Victorian Britain. Wikimedia. Click for a larger picture

Not the place here to discuss the reasons of the clash between the Romans and the Jews, which gave birth to many wars and ended up with the Jews leaving Palestine. As for the Roman Jews, we know that they had been treated benevolently by Julius Caesar who had also exonerated them from any tax during their sabbatical year. From Suetonius we know that at Caesar’s death the Jews in Rome flocked to his funeral with big lamentations, and it is even possible that some of them identified Caesar with the Messiah” (read livius.org on this, note 6.)

During the Middle Ages the life of the Roman Hebrews had its ups and downs but basically was not too bad. When though in 1517 Luther nailed the 95 theses that will split Western Christianity into Protestants and Catholics, a dark epoch of religious wars and fanaticism began.

On the 14th of July 1555 Pope Paul IV promulgated a Bull where all the rights of the Jewish community were cancelled and the Jewish Ghetto was walled and provided with gates.

ψ

See part 2:

The Roman Jews (2). ‘Segregated In The Ghetto Because Of Their Own Guilt’

Related posts:

A Discussion on Romanness Past and Present (1) The Roman Jews
A Discussion on Romanness Past and Present (2). Is a Roman ‘Race’ Surviving?

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