Triumvirate versus dictatorship: Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Assasination and the outlet factor

Sup peeps, How’s it hanging? Today I’m here to talk to you about why Julius Caesar was assasinated and Augustus Caesar was not, well we all know that the straw men audience in my head scoff in their hypothetical hubris: it’s because Augustus Caesar cloaked his power like a sneaky fox but Julius paraded it like a pompous fool, no wonder they knifed him!

Well while I have no doubts whatsoever that Augustan massaging of political realities for the benefit of the senatorial class helped his regime to endure what I wish to discuss is an aspect of the often overlooked factor of their particular circumstances. Simply put Julius is often criticised for not being his nephew with scant thought given to what at least should be a blindingly obvious fact: He couldn’t be, among other things he likely didn’t have the time. Nor was Augustus always the respectful soft touch from the shadows sought of guy: Before Princeps Augustus there was Triumvir Octavianus a man who ruled through naked imperium and military might only limited by his absentee colleagues. This Octavian dealt with opposition summarily and brutally and did not cloak his power. If Caesar doing the same inevitably lead to his violent death, why not the future Augustus? Especially when the triumviral part of his career lasted for about a decade?

Before the Rubicon Caesar was essentially just another late Roman Republican strongman, albeit one of the most powerful their had been. He ruled over multiple provinces with a formiddable army but had not been in Rome for more than a decade and held no authority there or in most of Italy. It is only after the onset of civil war, by which time Julius Caesar was middle aged that that changed and Caesar’s tenure as a Roman ruler with the powers of Dictator was not long, but it was by the time of his death near absolute. To put it plainly Caesar’s office held no time limit nor did he have any colleagues either de jure or de facto and protracted military opposition to him had repeatedly failed. His Imperium was absolute, he had no rivals nor did significant alterior powerbases remain within the Roman world. Simply put if by 44BC you as a Roman senator found being under the rule of Caesar intolerable (even more so if you weren’t SUPER keen on Pompey’s sons, eh Cassius?) it would seem that only two options presented themselves to you: suicide or assasination. Cato had already chosen the former and we know that Brutus and Cassius et al would choose the latter despite the extreme risk and drastic nature of such an action.

But what if Sextus Pompey were much more powerful, or Caesar had a colleague more to your liking with whom his relationship was one of mutual rivalry and mistrust who ruled the East independently of Caesar and was keen to host like minded members of Rome’s elite. Perhaps joining either man would be preferable to the risk of an assasination plot? perhaps your preffered candidate if you were but patient would ultimately triumph and Caesar would topple from power, afterall this uneasy peace cannot last forever.

Or perhaps you realise with despair that thier all insufferable tyrants and killing Caesar would just mean exchanging one for another and you further realise Caesar’s colleague to the East may not care for the man personally but they are officially at least allies and at times useful to each other, whatever his actual feelings he’s unlikely to reward his assasin, indeed you may end up like the Egyptian’s who presented Caesar with Pompey’s head: sacrificed for the reputation of the victor…..

No assasination does not seem like such a smart move anymore, not unless we can get all of them, and their almost never in the same place. best (and safer) to back the lesser of the evils available to us or wait it out, aftertall even should this despicable tyrant somehow prevail over better men, even should we have to wait for more than 10 years for the right time Rome will never get used to Autocracy, never forget the crimes of earlier years, the origins of this so-called Caesar. Welcome to Triumviral period Rome.

Cinderella, The secret History of the Mongols and other Ancient texts I have perused, True story;)

Juius Caesar, The Civil War:

“Two triremes had sighted the ship of Decimus Brutus, which could easily be recognized from its ensign, and bore down on it from different directions. Brutus, however had just enough forewarning to make an effort and propel his ship a little way ahead of them. The two triremes collided at speed so hard that both were severely damaged by the impact, and in fact one had its beak broken off”- Julius Caesar, Civil war, part 2, 6. Reminds me of cartoon slapstick comedy…..

“a good commander should be able to gain as much by policy as by the sword”- Julius Caesar, The Civil War.

Julius Caesar, The Spanish War:

To think, if not for the failure of Gnaeus Pompeuius’s (Pompey’s elder son) invasian of the kingdom of Bogus, king Bogus may not have been able to help Caesar defeat the Boni/Pompeian’s in Africa, which would be totally bogus.

“one man, Antistius Turpio; confidant in his strength, he began boasting that there was not his match among his opponents. Then, like the legendary encounter between Achilles and Memnon, Quintus Pompeius Niger, a Roman knight from Italica, came forward from our ranks to engage with him. Antistius’s ferocity had drawn everyone’s attention away from the construction work; both battle lines were arrayed; for in this contest between two outstanding warriors, the outcome was uncertain, and it almost appeared that the fight between these two would bring the wart to a conclusion. Everyone was alert and eager, gripped by the enthusiasm of the partisans and supporters on his own side. The champions, with ready courage, came on to the plain to fight, their shields with engraved work, emblems of their renown, flashing*…..” {Text defective}- Spanish war, 25. Dammit Spanish war! That was probably going to be the coolest fight ever too…….stupid buildiup…………

Just finished reading the Spanish war after reading the African war, Alexandrine war and civil war. Aside from being easily the most poorly written (The Spanish, Alexandrine and African wars were not written by Caesar, who was a fantastic writer) about the only thing it illustrates well (there are many lacunae making much of the conflict incomprehensible) is the savagery of this last desperate phase of “Caesar’s” civil war, many have noted that the early part of the war (up to and to an extent including Pharsalus) was notably unbloody considering the scale of the conflict, in part due to Caesar’s famed clementia, the disclipine of his troops and his capacity to convince enemies to surrender or desert, after Pharsalus however increasingly only the real hardliners are left many of whom had already abused Caesar’s initial “mercy” and Caesar’s own troops and himself become tireder and less forgiving. It is perhaps no wonder that Caesar’s account of the civil war stops shortly after Pharsalus, recollections of the African war, and especially the Spanish war could hardly do his reputation for clemency credit nor Roman attempts to heal, the Spanish war was a particularly ugly conflict.
I mean after the battle of Munda, the Caesareans constructed a rampart out of the bodies of the pompeins they killed, while sticking thier heads on thier discareded pikes while beseiging the remnants of the Pompeian army………..Sh*t got dark!


The secret history of the Mongols:

Piece of advice if ever you offend one of Genghis Khans kin and he suggests the two of you sort it out with a freindly wrestling match, run. Letting the other guy win will not save you (seriusly this seems to be murder code for him).

Another thing to note about the secret history of the mongols is the propensity of Genghis and his brothers in it after slaughtering an entire tribe to abduct a small child from it to give to thier mother to raise as a gift, it’s like she’s collecting them. “Hi mum were back and look what we brought you, a one of a kind Tartar kid!” “oh isn’t he just adorable, but one of a kind really?” “well……as of yesterday……….”

Finished reading a partial translation of the secret history of the Mongols, Mongolia before and during the childhood and early life of Genghis Khan comes across as highly reminiscent of Hobbes state of nature. “Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall………and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”



So just read the earliest datable version of the Cinderella (only she isn’t called cinderella) story (at least at the time the article was written which I think was in the fifties). This story purportedly has originates from the natives (non-Han Chinese) of Sichuan and was recorded by a Tang dynasty official and scholar in the 800’s. Instead of a ball we have a ‘cave-festival'(reading into it further it’s possible no caves were involved, tricks of etymology and so forth.), instead of a fairy godmother (and I suppose the industrious clothes mice) we have the bones of our heroine’s over 10 foot long fish friend, treacherously killed by her stepmother and the king (not prince) arrests and tortures people to get info on the golden (not glass) shoe! Also the stepmother and stepsister get killed by flying rocks for some reason and thier resting place becomes a place for cavemen to make offerings and pray to acquire women. But she of the gold shoe and her fish bones got to go live with the king and his other wives.


True Histories/True lies:

Finally reading True Histories by Lucian of Samosata, I can definitly see why this satire written in the 2nd century AD is sometimes dubbed the first work of Science fiction- even if I the “scifi” element seems to compose less than half the text, it’s got airships (technically), alien abduction, interstellar colonisation, multiple sentient and non sentient alien species, first contact (well depends whether you count mr. abducted but I suppose if you counted backstory…), organ doning or lending, paths through the sky, inter celestial body war and politics, “people” grown rather than born, pregnant men and (sort of) sentient appliances. Also lots of themes and allusians to events from the classical era, particularly in regards to celestial war and politics by way of satire- transposing them to a ridicoulous and overblown context, again Sci Fi has imitated him here, only more often then not we are now expected to take them seriusly;).

Lucian moon

Undergraduate Capstone Thesis: Roman politics, literary archetypes and perceptions of Publius Licinius Crassus son of Marcus Crassus the triumvir

Capstone thesis (very slightly revised….I added some full stops, I’m sure any of you who’ve read much of this blog will appreciate the importance of that….): Roman politics, literary archetypes and perceptions of Publius Licinius Crassus son of Marcus Crassus the triumvir

So Yeah, this was an essay I submitted for a compulsary unit of my major for my Bachelors degree where we had to pick a research topic and write a roughly 5,000 word essay on it. While the subject I picked was of interest to me (it having to do with late Republican politics of course) I admittedly largely picked it over a few other ideas that intrigued me more because it was safer and less ambitious and I was by that time kinda lazy and very much anxious and lacking in confidance. Still I think it turned out pretty well. Behold my academic writing! Quake in fear before it’s majesty!…….and footnotes…..MOSTLY THE FOOTNOTES!!!! *spooky ghost sounds*

Publius Licinius Crassus was the son of Marcus Licinius Crassus famous for his membership in the so-called First Triumvirate, there is some debate as to whether he was Crassus’s first or second son, his brother also being called Marcus Licinius Crassus[1], while most scholars consider him the younger pointing out Marcus’s significantly earlier marriage[2] and the fact that as was traditional for the eldest son he was named after his father[3] others consider him the elder arguing that due to the childless and premature death of Marcus  Crassus ‘the Triumvir’s older brother Publius Crassus, Crassus the Triumvir named his eldest son Publius as the eldest male Crassus of any generation was traditionally so named (this fits with our picture  of Crassus attempts to take over the family responsibilities of his older brother by his marriage to his widow[4]) and so both sides use naming conventions to make their case. The waters are further murkied on this issue by Publius serving as one of Caesar’s lieutenants 4 years before his brother[5]. In any event either through birth, charm or ability Publius was clearly the favoured son.

By the time Publius joined his father for his ill-fated invasion of Parthia perhaps no aristocrat of his generation in Rome looked likely to have a more promising political future, the favoured son of Marcus Crassus one of Rome’s richest and most powerful men (and from an aristocratic family of long standing). Whose position within the so-called first triumvirate (I use the term to refer to the informal, though still quite real alliance between Pompey, Crassus and Caesar, though certainly, especially in Crassus’s case such an alliance did not preclude other valuable political connections) had perhaps never been stronger[6]. He (Publius) had recently married Cornelia Metella[7], connecting him directly to the extremely important Metelli clan and in particular to Metellus Scipio her father, who was at the time the family’s senior member. Despite the deep seated personal dislike and frequent political antagonism between his father and Cicero Publius Crassus had succeeded in obtaining Cicero’s good feeling and friendship[8] and due to his service under him in Gaul he also quite clearly attained the favours of Caesar. Few could boast such a breadth of positive connections, perhaps none so young. However The almost uniformly positive portrayal of this promising young man is briefly broken during the Carrhae campaign before the veil of impetuous hubris is itself replaced at death by the veil of the Tragic hero. How the biases of our sources as well as literary archetype’s and conventions affect the portrayal of Publius Crassus constitutes the core theme of this paper which in doing so also seeks to (some extent to) explore Publius’s role in his father’s political career and his own capabilities. We begin our exploration into Publius’s life and its sources with Caesar’s commentaries on the Gallic War.


Caesar’s Gallic war is composed of seven books, the final conflicts of Caesar against Gallic tribe’s being recorded by Aulus Hirtius in a final book[9], there is some dispute over whether these books were published all at once as used to be the popular opinion or individually or at least In batches in between campaigning seasons[10]. For a variety of reasons this paper holds to the latter view for instance it seems unlikely that the legate Sabinus so defamed in book 5 would be portrayed relatively favourably in prior books if they were written after the events of book 5[11] nor is Caesar likely to have boasted of the virtual annihilation of the adult male Nervii population only for a supposed army of tens of thousands of them to appear a few years later[12] nor claim that all Gaul was pacified with such regularity were he aware of at the time of writing of all or most subsequent  conflict.

Publius Crassus served with Caesar during his first three years in Gaul and accordingly makes his appearances in the first three books, Caesar while seldom negative in his portrayal of his lieutenants (indeed portrayals were usually at least implicitly positive[13]) was clearly writing to enhance his own prestige and as such keeps the focus primarily on himself[14]. While keeping the interest of his audience by significant coverage of the nature of his adversary’s (both as individuals such as Vercingetorix and as tribe’s such as the Aedui[15]) and on the quality and accomplishments of his army, the legate’s take a distinct backseat[16]. Despite their largely positive portrayal it is unlikely that Caesar’s legates were all men of exceptional military ability- choosing one’s legate’s was at the time as much motivated by political networking and patronage as military-administrative competence. It would seldom have been in Caesar’s interest barring a true disaster to offend a political contact, and the one time that happened a scapegoat (Sabinus, previously portrayed competently) was found[17]. Besides as members of Rome’s upper class many senior officers serving with Caesar are likely to have recorded their own version of events (Cicero certainly kept in contact with his brother Quintus[18]) and particularly if said officer had important Roman contacts political pragmatism cautioned against contradicting them or reporting something which they felt compelled to contradict without strong motive[19]. However usually this favourable treatment was implicit through a description of the actions of said lieutenants not explicit by attaching positive appellations directly to them as was often done with the army as a whole, legions, lower ranking officers and valiant foes[20] there are however a number of at least partial exceptions to this low key  positive portrayal.

Of all Caesar’s legate’s (and officers of equivalent rank, Decimus Brutus and Publius Crassus due to their youth were not technically legates but were functionally so[21], in this paper for convenience unless otherwise specified all military officers given command of a force larger than a cohort will be referred to as such) the aforementioned Quintus Titurius Sabinus was the only one to receive truly extensive negative treatment in the commentaries in which he is blamed for the annihilation in ambush of the legion over which he held joint command[22]. Other exceptions to the rule are due more too unusually positive rather than negative portrayals. Titus Labienus for instance who served with Caesar for the entirety of the Gallic wars is mentioned more times than any Roman in the commentaries other than Caesar himself and holds that distinction by a wide margin, and was both formally and by dint of the responsibility entrusted to him the senior legate[23] and is given credit in part for Caesar’s first victory over the Nervii[24] and for multiple independent victories in the field[25]. However in two of Labienus said victories Caesar records him giving a speech before the battle encouraging the soldiers to fight as if Caesar himself were with them and to do him proud as it were. By this device Caesar draws some of the reader’s attention back to himself and makes his legend part of the reason for victory even in his absence[26], though without directly detracting from Labienus’s contribution.

Labienus is not however the only Caesarean legate who merits an unusual degree of attention, Publius Crassus receives fairly extensive coverage in the Gallic wars for a legate, especially in book 3[27]. As Labienus is given much tactical credit for the defeat of the Nervii, Publius initiative in the decisive battle against the Germanic king Ariovistus is deemed pivotal[28]. However in his independent victories commanding a force for Caesar in Aquitaine, in which he won a battle, successfully besieged a well-defended town, stormed a well-fortified and defended camp and pacified the region[29] , the psychological role of the absent Caesar is reversed. The high moral of Crassus men in the face of the enemy is attributed in a positive light to their eagerness to prove what they could accomplish in the absence of their general and under such a young commander[30]. In essence Caesar deliberately divorced himself in particular from these victories and (as was admittedly his wont) emphasized the difficulty of the opposition Crassus faced, aside from the usual high estimates of enemy numbers Caesar records that the Gallic tribe’s recruited significant numbers of veterans of the Sertorian war who had expertise at constructing fortified camps and were otherwise formidable[31] and perhaps most ominously lists two Roman commanders that met defeat and death in the region in question[32]. Crassus first victory over the Aquitanians according to the Gallic war consisted of repulsing an attack on the march by the Sotiates tribe’s cavalry and pursuing them into an ambush by their infantry. Despite the ambush Crassus’s forces prevailed and Caesar does not indicate that the retreat of the enemy cavalry was feigned, nor censure Crassus for falling into an ambush[33] even though the following ambush by the infantry would strongly imply that it was (why else would you place your infantry in ambush and attack separately with your cavalry if not to lure the enemy to that location unprepared). Nevertheless it was the army more than its commander that distinguished itself here. Crassus army’s subsequent siege of the Sotiate capital was also successful, despite several sally’s including one rather hard-fought one that took place during a parley which may be what Dio is referring too when he says “He lost a few men, to be sure, by treachery in the course of a parley, but punished the enemy severely for this”[34]. His most notable accomplishment during this campaign however was perhaps his storming of an enemy camp highly fortified in a Roman manner: in the engagement that followed Crassus’s cavalry noticed that part of the enemy camp was not as well defended as the rest and Crassus promptly and boldly ordered the cavalry and the cohorts tasked with guarding the camp to take a circuitous route to the position so as not to be seen and attack the enemy at this vulnerable location while the mainstay of his forces continued their frontal assault, outflanked the enemy was comprehensively defeated[35]. The plan was excellent and as it involved removing the very camps defenders very bold. In future this young officer’s boldness would be seen in quite a different light.

Crassus’s achievements during his Aquitanian campaign were impressive but it’s clear Caesar was giving him favourable press, Decimus Brutus, the only other legate of Caesars referred to as young, during the same year defeated the Veneti but as with Labienus’s independent victories he shared the credit with Caesar and his failures (like Crassus getting caught in an ambush) do not appear to have been brushed over. Caesar claims that Decimus and his tribune’s did not know how to defeat the larger Veneti vessels, the crucial innovation it is implied was generated by men further down the hierarchy, while this is probably all true and Decimus is by no means portrayed as inept or as a failure there is a key difference in portrayal here[36]. Publius’s uniquely favourable treatment is unlikely to come down purely to ability, Labienus if not quite yet would in time prove himself by far the most distinguished of Caesar’s Gallic legate’s nor were others such as Decimus and Gaius Trebonius clearly without martial ability. Personal affection is likely to have played a role in a letter to Caesar Cicero bemoans the fate of young Publius who he describes as a man dear to them both. however Decimus Brutus was also in all probability close to Caesar, he was approached by Caesar’s assassins specifically because Caesar was known to trust him and was supposedly the man who convinced him to attend the senate on the Ides of March despite his wife’s misgivings (Though such stories involving ill-omens are highly suspect the story is still illuminating for what it tells us of Roman perceptions of the relationship between Caesar and Decimus Brutus)  and unlike many of Caesar’s other lieutenants and partisans, including Marcus Antonius he was named in Caesar’s will[37]. Though these events took place many years later and due to his earlier death we cannot know whether Caesar would have named Publius in his will) it is likely considering Decimus’s youth at the time of this command and Caesar’s possible relationship with his mother Sempronia[38] that he already favoured this young man as well.

During his later career Caesar showed a marked penchant for patronising talented, ambitious and perhaps impetuous young aristocrats, such as Publius Crassus, Decimus Brutus, Marcus Antonius, Caelius Rufus, Curio and Dolabella[39] aside from other motivations Caesar had no son and thus no known heir and a hunt for a suitable candidate was quite possibly a motivating factor behind this penchant or a successor to lead his faction (contrary to Augustan propaganda these need not have been the same thing). However if either of these were the case (a big If among many if’s so far explored)  it is particularly unlikely to have been Publius. The favoured son of Crassus is unlikely to have required such patronage and Caesar’s legacy would be suitably diluted in this regard by being shared with Marcus Crassus a man of comparable standing.

Which brings us to one final consideration, the importance of the father to the portrayal of the son; Marcus Crassus and Caesar at the time of the opening of the Gallic wars had a long history of close political collaboration[40]. While it is true that Crassus the triumvir’s other son, Marcus Crassus would serve with Caesar as Quaestor in Caesar’s fifth year in Gaul and likely from then onwards to the end of the Gallic wars and is barely mentioned and certainly not singled out for praise, though Marcus Crassus seems to have been an innocuous figure who barely appears in the sources dealing with his time despite his august parentage[41] this is more evidence of the importance of the father than it is the opposite. When Publius was serving with Caesar Crassus was a living and powerful ally who became particularly important towards the end of Publius’s time with Caesar when the alliance between Pompey, Crassus and Caesar threatened to break down. Crassus clearly benefited the least from the initial alliance with Caesar and Pompey around the time of Caesar’s first consulship. Caesar got an agrarian bill (which would have granted him much patronage) and a five year command over three provinces, Pompey got his Eastern settlement ratified and land for his soldiers, Crassus merely managed to get a difficult contract for Publicani clients rescinded (and a place on Caesar’s land commission)[42]. Furthermore the two consuls chosen for the next year had closer ties with Caesar (his new father-in-law) and Pompeius respectively and the two strengthened their alliance by marriage, with Pompey marrying Caesar’s daughter[43].

Crassus responded to his marginalization by allying himself with the Claudii in particular the radical tribune Clodius and other elements of Rome’s aristocracy and used them to politically weaken Pompey[44]. Under pressure Pompey drew closer to more conservative, anti-Crassan and anti-Caesarean politicians, eventually using his influence to recall Cicero whom had a history of hostility towards Clodius, Crassus and to a lesser extent Caesar[45]. As the political competition between Crassus’s and Pompey intensified, Pompey came more and more to rely on politicians opposed to Caesar to support himself against Crassus’s own emerging faction and the triumvirate itself came under threat[46].  At the time Caesar would have wrote the third book of the Gallic war (going with the above assumption that they were generally published at the end of the campaigning season under discussion) This conflict was coming to a head and it was likely becoming increasingly clear that the five year command previously granted Caesar (already over half over) would prove insufficient for the pacification of Gaul and the senator Domitius Ahenobarbus (who had strong associations with Caesar’s enemies) was energetically campaigning to replace Caesar in his command[47].Soon afterwards Crassus and Caesar would meet in Ravenna before going on to meet with Pompey as well at Luca[48], though we don’t know the details of the negotiations the results are clear: Cicero was pressured by Caesar and Pompey to reconcile with and support Crassus and Clodius likewise reconciled with Pompey, Pompey and Crassus ran together for the consulship with the support of Caesar and benefitted from the intimidation of Caesar’s veterans (led by Publius Crassus himself) at the election[49]. Both men were granted provincial commands with large armies and Caesar’s command in Gaul was extended by five years[50].

Simply put at the time Caesar wrote the third Gallic war he needed Crassus support a great deal as Crassus enhanced standing in the coalition after Luca indicates and so it is not surprising that his son is portrayed so favourably in that book in particular, by contrast Marcus Crassus came to Gaul as Caesar’s quaestor two years later, the year after Crassus consulship. Due to the five year extension Caesar’s position was now more secure and soon afterwards, well before Caesar’s political position once again became perilous Crassus had died at Carrhae with Marcus’s promising brother removing the key political impetus to praise his son. This makes all the more sense considering Quintus Cicero, the famous Marcus Cicero’s brother also receives perhaps unduly good treatment in the sources[51]

Our sources of Publius Crassus’s life outside of the role of military officer are scanty we know that he was a monetalis and became an augur when a position in that religious college opened up upon the death of Lucius Licinius Luccullus[52]. Publius also cultivated Cicero who deemed him a promising young orator, helped him develop said ability and prevailed upon him to pursue a conventional political career and focus on his civic talents. However as the source of this information is a work on oratory called the Brutus written by Cicero after Publius death in which Cicero uses the example of Publius to make a point about the sageness of such advice by bemoaning how Publius’s youthful ambition and military glory seeking lead to his death[53] he may have chosen to exaggerate the degree to which he advocated said course to Publius at the time. As mentioned above Dio records Publius being sent to Rome by Caesar with many of his veterans to lead them in violent and successful intimidations of rival electoral candidates and Cicero further mentions his attachment to the young man in letters both to Caesar and to Crassus, in the latter the connection is highlighted clearly in part to aggrandize himself with the newly re-empowered Crassus with whom Caesar and Pompey had forced him to reconcile[54] but it is noteworthy that he claims to be like a second father to the young man[55]. The former written after Publius’s death bemoans the loss of a well-liked mutual protégé but perhaps contains some of Cicero the new man’s resentment of consul’s in their cradles[56]. What may have proved decisive for Publius’s future had he lived longer was his marriage to Cornelia Metella which occurred shortly before the Parthian expedition[57]. Many years previously Publius’s brother had himself married into another branch of the powerful Metelli family, a branch seemingly hostile to Pompey who at the time still had good relations with other members of the family[58], in both marriages the hand of Crassus the triumvir can be felt and represent a key tactic utilized in Pompey and Crassus’s rival attempts to ally the Metelli with themselves. The marriage of Publius to Cornelia Metella shows that following the reestablishment of his alliance with Pompey and Caesar Crassus successfully reached out to the Metelli and perhaps even the Boni in general, this may have resulted from his having to abandon his anti-Pompeian alliance with the Claudii and Pompey his increasing Boni ties[59].



Finally we come to the Carrhae campaign, though many other sources refer if briefly to Rome’s defeat at Carrhae and In particular the death of both Marcus and Publius Crassus[60] only two descriptions of the battle and prior campaign survive from antiquity: Cassius Dio’s Roman history and Plutarch’s life of Crassus[61]. Of these Plutarch’s account is far more detailed and on the whole likely to be more accurate[62] however it is important to note that unlike Caesar or Cicero neither of these are primary sources, being born much later neither man was there during the campaign or spoke to anyone that was. Both men wrote well over a century later and so represent interestingly the only sources on the life of Publius Crassus who would not have been influenced by their relationship either with him or perhaps more crucially his father. Clearly however they must have got there information somewhere. The most important Roman involved to survive the Carrhae campaign was Lucius Cassius Longinus the future assassin of Julius Caesar, he served as Marcus Crassus’s quaestor during the ill-fated campaign (well from the Roman perspective…..) and commanded one of the army’s wings during the battle[63]. After the battle he succeeded in escaping back to Syria with the men then under his command, with no more senior Roman present at this tumultuous time Cassius took command of the approximately 10,000 legionaries who made it back from the Parthian campaign and defended the province successfully against first Parthian raids and a Jewish revolt then a larger Parthian force[64] earning acclaim at Rome. In the sources for the Carrhae campaign Cassius plays the role of a Roman military Cassandra, always giving the right advice, always being ignored, in favour frequently of the advice of treacherous foreign allies (such as the chieftain and guide Ariammes)[65], what’s more he is frequently portrayed as obviously right, however both Marcus and Publius Crassus had distinguished military careers, Marcus having played a pivotal role in the battle of the Colline gate and suppressed the Spartacus revolt mistakes were clearly made but they are unlikely to have been as obvious at the time as the sources suggest.

As the leading Roman survivor of Carrhae who however his service in the East started ended it (before the coming civil wars at least) with glory Cassius was in an excellent position to spread his version of events. We do not know the details of how though we do know that Quintus Dellius who served under Cassius in the civil war of Phillipi wrote a history of Parthia that Plutarch made use of in his life of Antony, it is likely all things considered that it served as a source for Crassus’s Parthian campaign as well[66]. Even so Cassius self-interest is unlikely to serve as a complete explanation for his portrayal and that of Publius Crassus and others during this campaign. If Cassius was a martial Roman Cassandra he did not lack for company, the prudent (or in some cases like Cassius downright prescient) but ignored Roman officer or ally at some point seems to have become a literary staple in accounts of Roman defeats. At Cannae the consul Aemilius Paulus reputedly cautioned against engaging Hannibal, was overruled by his co-consul Varro and died heroically in the battle[67], the allied Germanic chieftain (again reputedly) Segestes futily warned Varus of Arminius’s treacherous intentions[68]. Finally in the aforementioned ambush and alliance of Titurius Sabinus’s legion in the Gallic wars by Ambiorix’s forces Sabinus’s co-commander Marcus Cotta see’s Ambiorix’s protestations of friendship and warnings for what they are. His failure to convince Sabinus leads to their deaths, unlike Sabinus however who through his desperation to live falls for treachery a second time by agreeing to Parley with his attackers Cotta dies heroically leading his men in a last stand[69]. Due to his positive press Cassius is assigned the nobler literary trope and Marcus Crassus that of the man who consistently listens to bad council, indeed in Dio’s more hostile account Crassus’s portrayal is extremely similar to that of Sabinus, first being misled by supposed foreign allies and then at his most desperate moment having his judgement impaired by his desperation to live to fall for the enemy’s offer to negotiate where he died in a fight that broke out, probably due to treachery[70].

There is however one key difference between Carrhae and the ambush of Sabinus and indeed between Carrhae and Cannae, our Cassandra is not also our tragic hero. As he lived Cassius would have to wait many years to play second fiddle to Brutus in this role at Phillipi. In Dio clearly the more pro-Cassian and anti-Crassan of our sources no-one fills this role satisfactorily, despite Dio’s claim that Crassus acquiesced to the desire of the army following Carrhae for Cassius to take command (a claim not repeated in the more detailed Plutarch). In Plutarch’s account the death of the elder Crassus is nobler and the role of Publius in the battle and the nature of his death emphasized and romanticized, Plutarch’s Carrhae has its tragic heroes, oddly the same commanders he blames for the defeat, the Crassi.

When the Roman scouts first came into contact with the Surena’s Parthian army Publius reputedly reinforced his father’s inclination to seek battle that same day in opposition to Cassius (implied) and most of the officers who suggested making camp reconnoitring the enemy’s position and seeking battle in the morning[71]. The decision to seek battle immediately is naturally regarded as a mistake by our sources and Publius next action in our sources relating to the battle did not end well either, in command of one of the flanks and a portion of the cavalry Publius is ordered by his father to lead a combined force of cavalry, archers and legionaries to chase off the Parthian horse archers on one of the army’s flanks, ending the encirclement, relieving pressure and allowing his father’s army to reform. Publius’s counterattack is initially successful, chasing off the horse archers and allowing such a reform, however supposedly sensing victory Publius pursued the fleeing horse archers further away from the army and was then attacked by a division of cataphracts (a form of heavy cavalry) at the same time the fleeing horse archers counterattacked, using the cataphracts as protection while they continued to harass Publius’s forces. Furthermore it seems in the pursuit that Publius infantry fell behind his cavalry. It seems that like in his first battle in Aquitaine Publius had once again fallen for a feigned retreat[72], despite this paper’s attempt to expose stereotype’s that of the gifted but hot-headed aristocratic young cavalry officer does look like it might fit. Forced to engage the Cataphracts unsupported with his lighter cavalry Publius lead the Romans in probably the fiercest fighting of the battle, defeated and wounded he and his remaining men retreated to the shelter of their infantry. The situation being untenable Publius and some of his officers and friends reputedly killed themselves rather than flee before their force was overwhelmed and annihilated[73]. The death of Publius and his men was probably the decisive moment of the battle, his defeat demoralized Crassus’s remaining forces and the loss of most of the army’s cavalry prevented the romans from striking back against Surena’s horse archers nevertheless Plutarch does not drag Publius over the coals and he is given the most heroic (to the Romans) death of the campaign. In his combat with the Cataphracts and subsequent death Plutarch emphasis his courage in the fight and in his refusal to abandon his men taking his own life (with assistance)[74].

Considering the virtual annihilation of Publius’s detachment and the Roman penchant for heroic dramatization of their dead the details here are highly suspect and there may have been no witnesses of the final moments. This account may also be influenced by Publius’s freedman Appollonius who may have written an account of Publius’s life and was later praised by Cicero for his loyalty to the memory of the Crassi[75], regardless clearly Cassius did not represent (either directly or through his partisans) the only sources available to our own sources on the campaign.

So ends our recount of the life and sources of Publius Licinius Crassus: Military prodigy, glory hound and hot-head, ambitious, modest, eloquent, charming and well-liked high aristocrat, networker, marriage pawn, thuggish election fixer and tragic hero.



The Sons of Crassus

Ronald Syme

Latomus , T. 39, Fasc. 2 (AVRIL-JUIN 1980), pp. 403-408

Published by: Societe d’Etudes Latines de Bruxelles

Article Stable URL:


Goldsworthy, A. “CAESAR”, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006.

Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri.

Gruen E. (1974). The Last Generation of the Roman Republic. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California.

Syme R. (1952). The Roman Revolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Crassorum Funera

Elizabeth Rawson

Latomus , T. 41, Fasc. 3 (JUILLET-SEPTEMBRE 1982), pp. 540-549

Published by: Societe d’Etudes Latines de Bruxelles

Article Stable URL:


The Departure of Crassus for Parthia

Adelaide D. Simpson

Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association , Vol. 69, (1938), pp. 532-541

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Article Stable URL:


Crassus’ New Friends and Pompey’s Return

Eve J. Parrish

Phoenix , Vol. 27, No. 4 (Winter, 1973), pp. 357-380

Published by: Classical Association of Canada

Article Stable URL:


Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire.

Marshall B. A. (1976). Crassus A Political Biography. Adolf M. Hakkert, Amsterdam.

Cassius Dio, Roman history, trans. Cary E (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1914).

Julius Caesar, The Gallic War, trans. Edwards H. J (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1917.

Plutarch, Life of Crassus, trans. Warner R & Seager R (Penguin Books, 80 Strand, London, England, 2005).

Cicero, The Letters To His Friends, trans. Williams W. G (Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1927).

Welch K, Powell A (Ed). (1998). Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments. The Classical Press Wales, 15 Rosehill Terrace, Swansea.

Cicero, Brutus, trans. Jones E.

Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, trans. C. Edwards (Oxford University Press, New York, 2000).

No Son for Caesar?

Ronald Syme

Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte , Bd. 29, H. 4 (4th Qtr., 1980), pp. 422-437

Published by: Franz Steiner Verlag

Article Stable URL:


Goldsworthy A. (2000). The Fall Of Carthage The Punic Wars 265-146BC. Orion books, Orion house Upper St Martin’s Lane, London.


Tacitus, The complete works of Tacitus, tans. A. J. Church, W. J. Brodribb (Random house, New York, 1942).


[1] Syme, R. The Sons of Crassus, Latomus , T. 39, Fasc. 2 (AVRIL-JUIN 1980), pp. 403.

[2] Syme, R. The Sons of Crassus, Latomus , T. 39, Fasc. 2 (AVRIL-JUIN 1980), pp. 403-408.

[3] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg. 55.

[4] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri., pg 48.

[5] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg. 55-56.

[6] Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire, pg. 78-80.

[7] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 284-285.

[8] Cic. Fam. VIII.

[9] Julius Caesar, The Gallic War, trans. Edwards H. J (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1917.

[10] Goldsworthy, A. “CAESAR”, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006, pg. 187-188.

[11] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg. 93-94.

[12] Caes. Gal. 2, 28, Caes. Gal.5, 49.

[13] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg. 89.

[14] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg. 86-87.

[15] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg. 89-90.

[16] Goldsworthy, A. “CAESAR”, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006, pg.188.

[17] Caes. Gal. 5, 26-37.

[18] Goldsworthy, A. “CAESAR”, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006, pg. 190.

[19]Goldsworthy, A. “CAESAR”, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006, pg. 189-190.

[20] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg 89-90.

[21] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg 92.

[22] Caes. Gal. 5, 26-37.

[23] Goldsworthy, A. “CAESAR”, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006, pg. 191.

[24] Caes. Gal. 2, 26-28.

[25] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg 98-100.

[26] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg 99.

[27] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg 91-92.

[28] Caes. Gal. 1, 52-53.

[29] Caes. Gal. 3, 20-27.

[30] Caes. Gal. 3, 21.

[31] . Caes. Gal. 3, 23.

[32] Caes. Gal. 3, 20.

[33] Caes. Gal. 3, 20-21.

[34] Dio Cassius, Roman history, 39, 46.

[35] Caes. Gal. 3, 24-26.

[36] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg. 92.

[37] Suetonius, the deified Julius Caesar, 81-83, Plutarch, Caesar, 63-64, Plutarch, Brutus, 12.

[38] Syme R, No Son for Caesar? Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte , Bd. 29, H. 4 (4th Qtr., 1980), pg. 429.

[39] Goldsworthy, A. “CAESAR”, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006, pg. 365-366.

[40] Goldsworthy, A. “CAESAR”, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006, pg. 165.

[41] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg 93.

[42] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 218-219.

[43] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 222.

[44] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 231-233.

[45]Marshall B. A. (1976). Crassus A Political Biography. Adolf M. Hakkert, Amsterdam, pg. 118-121.

[46] Marshall B. A. (1976). Crassus A Political Biography. Adolf M. Hakkert, Amsterdam, pg. 124-127.

[47] Marshall B. A. (1976). Crassus A Political Biography. Adolf M. Hakkert, Amsterdam, pg. 124.

[48] Marshall B. A. (1976). Crassus A Political Biography. Adolf M. Hakkert, Amsterdam, pg. 127-128.

[49] Dio Cassius, Roman history, 39, 31.

[50] Marshall B. A. (1976). Crassus A Political Biography. Adolf M. Hakkert, Amsterdam, pg. 128-129.

[51] Welck K, Caesar And his Officers In The Gallic War Commentaries, Julius Caesar As Artful Reporter: The War Commentaries as Political Instruments (1998) pg 97-98.

[52] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 284-285.

[53] Cicero, Brutus, 281-282.

[54] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 279, Cic. Fam. VIII.

[55] Cic. Fam. VIII.

[57] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 284-285.

[58] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 203-204.

[59] Ward A. (1977). MARCUS CRASSUS AND THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, pg 280.

[60] Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire, pg. 186-193.

[61] Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire, pg. 186-187.

[62] Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire, pg. 186-187.

[63] Plutarch, Crassus, 23.

[64] Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire, pg. 152-160.

[65] Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire, pg. 109.

[66] Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire, pg. 188-189.

[67] Goldsworthy A. (2000). The Fall Of Carthage The Punic Wars 265-146BC. Orion books, Orion house Upper St Martin’s Lane, London, pg. 199-213.

[68] Tacitus, Annals, 1, 55.

[69] Caes. Gal. 5, 26-37.

[70] Caes. Gal. 5, 26-37, Dio Cassius, 40, 20-27.

[71] Plutrach, Crassus, 23.

[72] Dio Cassius, Roman history,40, 21-22.

[73] Plutarch, Crassus, 25.

[74] Plutarch, Crassus, 25.

[75] Sampson G. C. (2008). The Defeat of Rome Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East. Pen & Sword Books,47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire, pg. 189.


I dub this rant/series of related musings my pro-lepidus, it’s my third best pro piece……the one everyone forgets…….
So……..Marcus Aemilius Lepidus the triumvir I’ve thought for quite a while now that he gets a bad rap as he’s usually portrayed as the guy who’s just thier to make up the numbers (I mean otherwise you get I diumvirate and that’s just silly). You know because it needed to be a triumvirate…..only why? why did it need to be a triumvirate? because of the so-called first triumvirate? but the first triumvirate wasn’t a formal power-sharing alliance at all and it certainly wasn’t what it’s members called themselves nor how thier allies refferred to them. Thiers no symbolic or institutional reason why their need be 3 members. Which brings us to common reason given number 2: That Lepidus was put in as a third-party to counterbalance Antony and Octavian to prevent the two from going to war and resolve disputes, sort of like the role many imagine Crassus and Julia played between Pompey and Caesar to prevent civil war only people who say this tend to make him more like Julia than Crassus by maintaining that he of course had no power. But unless I’m mistaken Lepidus was neither the daughter, sister or wife of either man (that would certainly raise it’s own questions). His role was not familial or emotive and I don’t think anyone has seriusly argued that it was. Crassus was believed to be a potential peace keeper because he was a third powerful man that the others had to watch so they couldn’t afford to tie thier resources military or political up fighting each other because he could take advantage or so goes the logic. If Lepidus is a Crassus however he would much like Crassus need serious power and standing of his own to fulfill this role, not as much as his fellow triumvirs necesarily but enough to be a threat to one if he attempted to marginalize him.

In the end I suppose what it comes down too as to why Lepidus was chosen as triumvir is people are ignoring the obvious answer: because he was probably the third most important Caesarean and certainly one of the inner circle of faction power brokers but this answer goes unconsidered because it contradicts the assumption underlying the question. People don’t wonder why Octavian or Antony were triumvirs but they wonder about Lepidus (breifly that is, before they forget about him again), people ask the question because they assume lepidus didn’t matter and so their confused and answers have been based on that same assumption instead of questioning it.
Yes Lepidus was left behind for Phillipi but he was left behind to take care of ITALY and ROME and by extension much or all of the western med, this is not a position you give to a nobody, certainly no-one seems to use Antony being left to run Italy in Caesar’s abscence as an argument of Antony’s lack of importance, after Phillipi he was given control of Spain and Africa, hardly inconsequential territories and he was also the pontifex maximus. So why the assumption? Well I think it starts with the Romans and Greeks themselves, people innately like to think in binary, of opposites and dualities which to a lesser extent affects Crassus as well. A third party muddies the narrative particularly if thier not distinctive (and lepidus doesn’t seem to have been that) and his sidelining during the latter years of the triumvirate becomes retrospective in people’s perceptions of him.

He wasn’t at Phillipi, Cicero didn’t write a series of famous speeches against him and he didn’t make it to the final act, and when he goes out it’s with a whimper not a bang (though Antony doesn’t exactly go out in a blaze of glory either at least their’s a battle and a doomed romance and he dies), his army defects to Octavian without a battle and he is put under house arrest for the rest of his life. Lepidus basically gets outmaneuvered with contemptous ease and basically goes into a forced retirement, kinda underwhelming isn’t it. His career is also very peaceful, he didn’t fight a single battle as far as I’m aware against either of his triumviral partners or anyone else for that matter be it Sextus Pompey (late to the party) or Brutus and Cassius (he and Brutus’s fathers had died the two principal leaders in a breif civil war and he was married to his sister and his brother had joined the rebels (he had agreed to his brothrers proscription but hey water under the bridge) he may have chosen/been chosen to stay behind due to sympathy for his opponents) and there’s also no Parthian campaign or Italian land redistribution that he’s responsible for, things are peaceful and all the exciting, dramatic and important stuff the other guys are doing but thats not necesarily a sign of political unimportance at all and can even be a sign of the opposite (guys at the top of the political ladder often don’t have to do the hard and/or dirty work themselves, a true mark of political success is to have prestige, power and wealth without actually having to do anything, a parasite, a politician).
At the end of the day though he’s just not Caesar’s son or Caesar’s right hand man, the great general and man of action the hard partying Mark Antony. But thats the thing at the time of Caesar’s death Mark Antony may have been his co-consul but Lepidus was his master of the horse, which actually outranks consul. Indeed there’s little to suggest Antony’s seniority over Lepidus or for that matter some of Caesar’s other lieutenants, yes he was Caesar’s co-consul when he died but Caesar had both granted the consulship to other men (including Lepidus) and had other co-consul’s. Antony’s initial slight (and it was slight) pre-eminence after his death had to do with him happening to be consul when Caesar died, which unless Caesar planned to be assasinated that year (people have actually argued for it….weird…..) doesn’t really make Antony special.

We are so used to the idea of Antony as Caesar’s right hand man and best freind that the symbolism of lieutenant and old retainer has become monopolised by Antony leaving only room for the upstart son Octavian. Caesar’s other lieutenants including but not limited to Lepidus are forgotten due to the fame of a man who Lepidus kinda outranked, barely served in the Gallic wars (isn’t mentioned by name in Caesar’s commentaries of said war) and doesn’t appear in his will (I don’t think Lepidus does either but you see my point). Antony would be very pleased by this, scholars I think are so busy looking for Augustus’s propaganda (which also would not be kind to the third man) that their blind to Antony’s, just because a man lost in the end doesn’t mean his branding didn’t have a serious impact, if you doubt me see Cato the younger and Brutus’s treatment in our sources or just take a look at  or

None of this is to imply that even after reading between the lines so to speak does Lepidus come across as an impressive and dynamic figure. I came to argue for Lepidus relevance (and to take potshots at Antony) not to praise him.

Regards, Samuel.

Damned by faint praise! I knew I should have hired Cicero instead!
Damned by faint praise! I knew I should have hired Cicero instead!

newsflash: states aren’t people

Read an article a while back that referred to states having “natural life cycles” yes all political institutions have a beginning, middle and end and I’m sure there’s an average length of time for a state to exist but then when dealing with any finite duration there is always a begining, middle and end but this talk of life cycles or natural cycles usually implies some kind of inevitable in-built use by date and average. many states don’t survive for a century, fewer still make 500 years, a select few like Rome, which is used in said article as an example of state’s having such a cycle manage to endure for more than a millenium. If states were people and the average life expectancy was say 80, Rome would probably shuffle off it’s mortal coil long after it’s 400th birthday, I shouldn’t have to tell you that thats not how people work. You may think I’m taking this too literally and quite likely for the reference that triggered this rant I am but many people seriously believe that there is some kind of consistent and anthropomorphic lifecycle for states and institutions, probably with a midlife crisis in there somewhere where they buy a motorcycle/invade Persia…..ok maybe that part happens……

FYI: They don’t work like F*cking seasons or days either.

Triumphal arch of Septimius Severus: "See I told you Rome's still got it. up yours Alexander!"
Triumphal arch of Septimius Severus. “See I told you Rome’s still got it. up yours Alexander!”

Sulla’s shadow: The proscriptions and the defining of a generation

Madame Guilotine

Hi all, I’ve kinda been thinking lately about how so many that mattered in the generation of senators who replaced the initial cabal of senior statesman dominant in Roman politics upon Sulla’s death (eg. Catulus, Hortensius, Lucullus etc) regardless of faction had a Sullan defiance story. Pompey, Cicero, Caesar and Cato all had such a story. Sort of like the Bolsheviks and the October revolution or the generation of Brits who fought in the first world war or (in some ways closer to the mark) Germans and the third Reich.  Roman politicians, in particular those old enough to have been viewed as adults at the time of Sulla’s dictatorship but not senior enough to have been considered politically significant (the glaring exception there is Pompey who achieved great political significance at a very young age) asked each other where were you and what did you do when Sulla came to town. Seemingly everyone had to have a story that in many cases would form an integral part of the construction of their public Persona, It was clearly important to be seen to have in some way stood up to the dictator, similarly implication in the perceived excesses of the Sullan regime became the starting point for Character assassinations (see Catilina and Crassus (both enemies of Cicero who thus get their reputations blackened) and to an extent also Pompey).

So now let’s (crudely, oh so very crudely) relate and compare these stories in regards to their likelihood and impressiveness, by which I mean how much bravery they would have taken. Of All these stories Cicero’s is in many ways the least direct as it consisted of his defending a client of his (Sextus Roscius) on a charge of murder in court in one of Cicero’s first great cases, he did this by turning the trial into an attack on the corruption of Chrysogonus, Sulla’s freedmen who was overseeing the administration of much of the proscriptions in doing so Cicero was at least implicitly criticizing Sulla’s regime publicly, before a large crowd in the Roman forum itself. However Cicero went to pains to make it plain that he was not criticizing Sulla himself, even praising the man, laying all the excesses in question at the foot of a few corrupt individuals. As such Sulla was able to scapegoat Chrysogonus as he may have already intended (or not, either way) and Cicero a nobody with no army was clearly little threat. In terms of reliability though the speech handed down to us of the trial by Cicero has likely been slightly revised by him after the fact, this was a well known public event and if Cicero had not in fact said something like what is recorded his enemies (in which he was seldom deficient) would have exposed it easily, the gist of this Sullan defiance story is thus in my view highly reliable, this one happened ladies and gentlemen. Oh and he won the case btw.

Now to Pompey whose defiance story is as brazen, direct and impudent as they come, but that’s Pompey for you (another reason these stories likely survived is that they were likely reflected the public perception of these historical personages as well as helping to create it in a sort of cyclical effect), Firstly according to Plutarch after Pompey had defeated the Marian/Cinnan/Carbo (rapid turnover of leadership among the faction, I don’t even think Carbo was the leader any more by the time of Pompey’s victory in Africa) faction in Africa Sulla commanded him to dismiss most of his legions and await replacement as governor, instead Pompey’s army mutinied and returned to Rome, Pompey claimed (and Plutarch believes him, more fool him) that he the mutiny was against his wishes and he tried to stop it, and if you believe this of Pompey I have a house I’d like to sell you…..nevertheless Sulla backed down and welcomed Pompey back, Pompey then demanded a triumph, Sulla refused to grant it to him in the words of Plutarch “intimating that he could not by any means yield to his request, but if he would persist in his ambition, that he was resolved to interpose his power to humble him” to which Pompey replied that “More people worship the rising than the setting sun” implying that while his own power was rising that Sulla’s was waning, or to point out the sheer impudence, gall and hubris of such a statement: “it’s my time old man, you’ve had yours, get out of my way”. Seemingly stunned by the sheer gall of this Sulla backed down immediately exclaiming “let him triumph”.

As to the reliability of the above, the mutiny and march on Rome could hardly be a made up anecedote (“Yo remember when Pompey’s army marched on Rome in defiance of Sulla”, “hang on when did that happen”, you get the point, this isn’t the kind of thing that turns out to be an after the fact myth) so the earlier parts definitely solid, except in regards to Pompey’s motivations and role in the ‘mutiny’ to which I feel as evidenced by Pompey’s record for egotisim and treachery I must say liar! liar! Toga on fire! As to the stuff about the triumph, well we know Pompey triumphed for his campaign in Africa and as to the famous exchange Plutarch makes it clear that others were present but he gives no detail as to who those others were, this part is more likely to be apocryphal but still unlikely to be, both Pompey and especially Sulla were important people at the time, at the heart of Public life as such if this were in some way a public exchange (even if just among Rome’s elite) there are important people who would have known about it. As to the impressiveness of the defiance we have already mentioned it’s brazenness and audacity but it should always be remembered that unlike any of the others I’m covering he had a personal army to back him up. People with their own armies tend to get a bit of leeway with the boss, keep that in mind while angling for your next promotion.

Next up is Caesar, Now Caesar was a bit younger than Cicero and Pompey and held (or was scheduled to hold) a priesthood -the Flamen Dialis, that was really restrictive in its rules as well (for instance the Flamen Dialis could not have contact with iron, ride a horse or go far from the city and thus obviously could not lead an army or have much of a chance at a significant political career, at some point Sulla removed his priesthood carving the way ironically considering what I am about to convey for Caesar’s brilliant future politico/military career) and thus had not really entered public life, his family was patrician but was not prominent among Rome’s senatorial families and until recently had been outright obscure and for someone of a senatorial family the young Caesar was outright poor. He was however Marius nephew by marriage and married to Cinna’s daughter. In Sullan Rome this was a problem, Sulla demanded that Caesar divorce his wife, Caesar refused, indeed according to my plutarch (Plutarch doesn’t connect this explicitly with Sulla’s demand for Caesar’s divorce but it is normally associated with it and as we have no other accounts of a disagreement between the two aside from a confused reference to a priesthood by Plutarch that is likely a mistake for something else….) Sulla threatened him with his power to which Caesar answered him with a smile, “You do well to call it your own, as you bought it.” referring to allegations that Sulla won election to the office of Praetor through bribery. As a consequence of his defiance Caesar’s property was seized and a price put on his head, he went into hiding, supposedly having to bribe a soldier who captured him after he caught Malaria. Fortunately for Caesar his family also had connections with Sulla and pressured him to pardon the boy, Caesar was no threat and his connections to Sulla’s enemies old and made as a child, with Cinna long dead Caesar’s marriage to his daughter did not mean that much in practical terms.

This is one impressive story a young political nobody with no private army defying the dictator to his face and seemingly even calmly insulting him when subsequently threatened, this is in my opinion the most impressive of all the stories and it is important to note that of the four men discussed here he was the only one who was actually proscribed (this time around Cicero turn would come……), even if it was later revoked, that has got to win you some serious street cred. What’s more is that just like the preceding 2 tales it’s even likely to be true. Proscriptions and appeals would have been matters of public record and knowledge, the social world that Sulla, Caesar and Caesar’s relatives lived in was such that if a young patrician (the son-in-law of the late Cinna no less) was proscribed then pardoned people would know about it, furthermore like Cicero Caesar had many enemies throughout his career and there is a significant anti-Caesarean strain in much literature including much of Cicero’s prolific writings, if this wasn’t true he was unlikely to get away with it. The one aspect of the story on shaky ground is Caesar’s retort to Sulla’s threat, it is not near as well represented in the sources as the actual refusal, threat and flight and smacks more of anecedote, besides unlike the essential facts of the matter who would remember the gritty details of Caesar’s exchange with Sulla well enough to be able to deny a zinger. It could still easily be true however.

Cato in HBO”s drama Rome
Cato the Younger.

Finally we come to Cato Uticenses or Cato the Younger (we are just going to call him Cato), with his reputation as a particularly stubborn arch-conservative Cato is often depicted in film and popular culture as older than he actually was. For example in the novel series “emperor” Cato is portrayed as much older than Caesar (as well as a fat hedonistic amoral Machiavellian senior Sullan who dies during the Spartacus rebellion………I don’t know where to start………) in HBO”s Rome he is played by an actor who looks older than the guy they got for Pompey, much less Caesar and the same is the case for the 2002 mini-series called Julius Caesar where Christopher Walken plays Cato as a senator of long standing at the time of Sulla’s takeover of Rome and decades older than Caesar and again significantly older than Pompey (Richard Harris, the first Dumbledore, played Sulla in one of his last performances….so there’s a contrast…….). In reality Cato was the youngest of the four and unfortunately for him seemingly on the very edge of this generation, old enough to be expected to have such a story perhaps but not old enough to have much of a chance at actually having one, Caesar had not yet begun his public career and Cato was roughly 5 years his junior.  His story is that his tutor was wont to take him to Sulla’s house to wait on him (this was possible due to Sulla’s relationship with Cato’s family) in order for him and the boy to attain favour, Cato seeing the excesses of The Sullan regime up close and sensing the terror of those around him enquired of his tutor “Why does nobody kill this man?” his tutor replied that it was because they feared him more than they hated him, “why then” inquired Cato “did you not give me a sword, that I might stab him, and free my country from this slavery?” and afterwards seeing that he meant it his tutor kept a closer eye on him.

Well doesn’t that sound bold?! None of the previous stories go as far as muting a likely suicidal assassination attempt! and all this from a teenage boy!…………it does indeed SOUND bold but I just highlighted the key word for you in that statement, sound. All the other stories mentioned include some ACTUAL defiance of Sulla (Pompey, Caesar) or at the very least open criticism of his regime (Cicero), the declaration is audacious but it is made in anger to his tutor, not to a crowd, not to other members of the Senatorial class and certainly not to Sulla and as to actions well let’s just say he obviously never got that sword (Cato must decided to put off the whole martyrdom thing till a more futile time after he’d achieved his professional goal of starting a Civil war). We’ve all said some pretty daring things (especially when very young) when no-one, only close friends or someone less important than us is around.

As to it’s reliability well for the reasons given in the previous paragraph this story is extremely unreliable too, there are no reliable witnesses, just Cato and his tutor, a socially inferior employee of his family. What’s more it’s case as something impressive is based entirely on Cato’s tutor (Sarpedon) believing according to Plutarch that he’d do it too, that’s a few too many degree’s of separation for my liking all other stories mentioned involved something notably more public or at least involved witnesses of equal or greater standing to the putative politician in question. Incidentally this isn’t even supposed to be Cato’s first defiance of a powerful figure, Plutarch (who else?) records that he stood up to the threats of Poppaedius Silo a leader of the Socii people the Marsi (Italian allies of Rome) who had playfully asked the children of Drusus’s household (where Cato grew up) to support him and Drusus in their bid to gain the Roman citizenship for the Italian allies. As this soon happened (after a war, thanks to people who shared Cato’s attitude) It seems even as a small child Cato was determined to stubbornly back history’s losing sides.

Murder of Cicero.

In conclusion I think I’ve shed a little light on Sulla’s effect on what Erich Gruen dubbed “the last generation of the Roman Republic” and shown how for

book on Cato, picture is artists rendition of his death by suicide in Utica.

politicians of this generation your perceived actions during the dictatorship and terror of Lucius Cornelius Sulla formed an integral part of your origin story, for better or worse. Indeed this seems to have been so Important that Cato or those who supported or sympathized with him felt the need to claim that a very young Cato would have killed the Dictator for being a tyrant………if his tutor hadn’t stopped him….., in other words it was inconceivable to those who saw Cato as the greatest defender of the Republic’s narrow conception of liberty of his generation that he had had not in some way stood up to Sulla and so he or those who sought to believe in him clutched at/constructed rumors. In light of the less dubious and arguably more impressive defiance of all the others mentioned for someone whose authority was heavily reliant on moral pre-eminence  by comparison to his rivals (Pompey the absurdly rich accomplished general and administrator, Cicero the extremely talented lawyer and orator and Caesar, Cato’s great enemy, who was not only a great orator, politician, administrator and general but also had the most impressive Sulla defiance story) this was especially important as Cato had no great conquests to his name, no brilliant reputation in the courts and never even reached the consulship too bad he or some supporter had to lie to give it to him. Finally it is interesting to note that despite continued political instability, violence and outright civil war it is only with the emergence of a new and younger generation who were outright children or (In Octavian’s case) not even born at the time of Sulla’s proscriptions that the ugly practice returns, it is in a strange and morbid way fitting that the last survivor of these four dictator defiers died as a result of these second proscriptions and that though they survived Sulla none died of natural causes make of that what you will.

By the way I don’t much care for Cato, thought you should know.

Regards,Samuel ‘I said someone should kill Robert Mugabe once, where’s my medal’ Runge.

The adventures of Invincitoe and other amusing Ancient source soundbites

Hello all, in the interests of laziness this is a longer list of funny ancient quotations with commentary composed of the stuff that wasn’t Alexander the Great related, to explain context efficiently (for me not for you, heavens forbid that) I just slightly edited the intro from my Alexander the Great amusing quotations list to serve as this one’s intro.

Hello All, I realize I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought I’d remedy that. As you’ve no doubt noticed this isn’t the fourth and hopefully final post on Terry Jones Barbarians. No I’m far too lazy to do that right now, what this is is a collection of amusing soundbites with pithy and generally silly commentary by me largely but exclusively from Plutarch that I put up on facebook quite some time ago (courtesy of my lack of a social life finding it was much easier than you might assume). The Plutarch stuff was from a thing I did called Plutarch week where I read through a Penguin Classics volume of Greek lives by Plutarch (theoretically one every day or so….) and posted amusing quotes on my wall with what I hoped passed for amusing commentary, the idea was that it would motivate me to keep reading by adding a social dimension etc. I got the idea from doing a bit of the same kind of thing while reading through Suetonius, only it turns out Suetonius is much better suited to that kind of thing (should have seen that one coming). Plutarch is chock full of the weird, the amusing and the absurd.

But his style is different and didn’t lend itself that well to the Facebook format (which may well be a form of praise…..), quotations often had to be longer to establish context and a lot of stuff that was funny to me  would be extremely difficult to explain, This fact and the lack of general responsiveness to my quotes made the task more of a chore than a motivator but I had committed myself and so Plutarch week ended up being more like Plutarch month. Basically this is not a list of the most interesting and certainly not close to the most profound or useful of Plutarch’s passages nor those of Suetonius as passage’s from him were selected along the same lines. Nor are they even necessarily the funniest just the humorous ones I happened to post that were deemed serviceable (ish) as wall posts.

Before we begin a note on Suetonius: Among the lost works of Suetonius are treatise on bodily defects, on correct terms for clothing, on famous courtesans and “on Greek terms of abuse”- So basically he wrote a book on Greek insults……why is it all the cool works are lost……

“The great toe of his right foot was also said to possess a divine power, so that when the rest of his body was burned after his death, this was found unharmed and untouched by the fire.”- Plutarch, life of Pyrrhus, 3. Just like his purported ancestor Achilles part of Pyrrhus body was apparently invincible- only rather than having an Achilles heel Pyrrhus had an Achilles absolutely everything except the right toe….and now I’m imagining the adventures of a super hero with one invulnerable toe……

“The enemy became all the more elated when Pyrrhus was struck on the head with a sword, and retired a little way from the fighting. One of the Mamertines, a man of giant stature clad in shining Armour ran out in front of the ranks and challenged Pyrrhus in a loud voice to come foreword if he were still alive. This infuriated Pyrrhus, and in spite of the efforts of his guards to protect him, he wheeled round and forced his way through them. His face was smeared with blood and his features contorted into a terrible expression of rage. Then before the barbarian could strike, he dealt him a tremendous blow on the head with his sword. So great was the strength of his arm and the keenness of the blade that it cleft the man from head to foot, and in an instant the two halves of his body fell apart.”- Plutarch, life of Pyrrhus, 24. So yeah incidentally invincitoe here was pretty badass- at least personally, that and he could supposedly cure diseases of the spleen with his right foot (coincidence that it was the right foot? I don’t think so!) and ladies, he’s polygamous!

“Demetrius went to war with the people of Rhodes because they were allies of Ptolemy and he moved up against thier walls the greatest of his so-called ‘city-takers’. This was a seige tower with a square base, each side of which measured seventy-two feet at the bottom. It was ninety-nine feet high with the upper part tapering off to narrower dimensions……The machine never tottered or leaned on its base, advancing with an even motion and with a noise and an impetus that inspired mingled feelings of alarm and delight in all who beheld it”.- Plutarch, life of Demetrius, 21. And so the Rhodians oooed and ahhh’d as they watch the oversized “firm and upright” phallic symbol approach to breach their walls………….

“On another occasion when Demetrius had been drinking for several days continuously, he excused his absence by saying that he had been laid up with a severe cold. ‘So I heard’, remarked Antigonus, ‘but did your cold come from Chios or from Thasos?’ Another time after hearing that his son was sick, Antigonus went to visit him and met one of his beautiful mistresses coming away from his room. Antigonus went inside, sat down by his side, and felt his pulse. ‘The fever has left me now’, Demetrius told him, ‘Yes, so I see’, his father replied, ‘I met it just now as it was going away’.”- Plutarch, life of Demetrius, 19. Ah, classic father-son banter, Antigonus and Demetrius should have a sitcom.

“Demosthenes, one of the orators who opposed his policies, said to him, ‘One of these days, Phocian, the Athenians will kill you, if they lose their heads,’ to which Phocian replied, ‘Yes, but they will kill you, if they get them back again”- Plutarch, life of Phocian, 9. Classic.

“So when they complimented Phillip as the most eloquent speaker, the handsomest man and the drinker with the biggest capacity in the company, Demosthenes could not from belittling these tributes and retorting sarcastically that the first of these qualities was excellent for a sophist, the second for a woman, and the third for a sponge, but none of them for a king”- Plutarch, life of Demosthenes, 16. Chauvinist? yes, hypocritical? very, but still pretty good.

“However he himself was one of the first to be brought to court [he had been bribed with stolen goods, at least according to Plutarch], and when the case was heard, he was found guilty, sentenced to a fine of fifty talents, and committed to prison in default of payment…….he escaped thanks to the negligence of some of his gaolers, and the active assistance of others.”- Plutarch, life of Demosthenes, 26. ladies and gentlemen I present to you Demosthenes, orator spectacular, champion of liberty (in this case his own) and Democracy.

“At any rate the people of Athens were so pleased with Demosthenes efforts that they voted for him to be recalled from exile. The degree was introduced by Demon of Paenia, who was a cousin of Demosthenes”- Plutarch, life of Demosthenes, 27. Considering the disaster that would befall Athens in Demosthenes latest and last attempt to throw off Macedonian Hegemony it is perhaps fitting that he was called forth by a Demon….

“When reports came in that Antipater and Craterus were marching upon Athens, Demosthenes and his supporters escaped secretly from the city, and the people condemned them to death…Antipater sent troops to scour the country and arrest them: these detachment were under the command of Archias, who was known as ‘the exile-hunter’. This man was a citizen of the colony of Thurii in Italy, and it was said that he had been a tragic actor, and that Polus of Aegina, the finest actor of his time, had been a pupil of his. According to Hermippus, however, Archias had been one of the pupils of Lacritus the rhetoritician, while Demetrius of Phalerum says that he was a pupil of Anaximenes the historian.”- Plutarch, life of Demosthenes, 28. Does anyone else think it’s a tragedy *wink* that Archias the dramatically, rhetorically and historically trained all singing, all dancing exile-hunter isn’t yet a TV show?

“Telecleides…the most distinguished and influential man in Corinth rose and appealed to Timoleon to show all his valor in the enterprise he was undertaking. ‘If you fight bravely’, he said, ‘we shall think of you as the man who destroyed a tyrant, but otherwise as the man who killed his brother'”- Plutarch, life of Timoleon, 7. ‘This is your moment of vindication Timoleon, hero or fratricide, no pressure.’ Mind in Ancient Greece their pretty much the same thing.

“For Sicily is sacred to Persephone: it is the scene of her mythical rape by Hades, and the island was presented to her as a wedding gift”- Plutarch, life of Timoleon, 8. Hades: ‘Yo Persephone dear, you know that Island where we first met?’ Persephone: ‘…..yes…..’ Hades: ‘Well I got it for you as a wedding gift, so you can revisit all the happy memories anytime you want!’ Persephone: ‘……………’

“He [Timoleon] had it proclaimed that any Syracusan who wished could come with a crowbar and help to cast down the bulwarks of tyranny. Thereupon the whole population went up to the fortress, and taking that day and its proclamation to mark a truly secure foundation to thier freedom, they overthrew and demolished not only the citadel but also the palaces and tombs of the tyrants.”- Plutarch, life of Timoleon, 22. So basically a Syracusan Bastille day, fitting, considering the “freedom won” on that day lasted about as long as the freedom of the French during the revolution……

“He [Plato] maintained that the life of the just is happy, while the life of the unjust is full of misery….Accordingly, as Plato was by then anxious to leave Sicily, they arranged passage for him on a tirireme which was taking Pollis the Spartan envoy back to Greece. But Dionysius secretly approached Pollis and asked him to have Plato killed on the voyage, or, if not, at least to sell him into slavery. This he argued, would not do Plato any harm, since according to his own doctrines he would, as a just man, be equally happy even if he became a slave. Pollis therefore took Plato to Aegina, so we are told, and sold him into slavery”- Plutarch, life of Dion, 5. Is it bad that part of me feels Plato deserved this? I don’t think he learned a lesson though….

“The story goes that the young man [Dionysius II] once kept a drinking party going for ninety days in succession, and that during the whole of this time no person of consequence was admitted or business discussed, while the court was given over to carousing, scurrilous humour, singing, dancing and every kind of buffoonery”- Plutarch, life of Dion, 7. Move over Dionysus, theirs a new god of partying in town, and the best part is: we barely have to alter the temple inscriptions!

“All of these urged him [Plato] to make the journey, establish his influence over this youthful soul [dionysius II, tyrant of Syracuse], which was now being tossed and buffeted about as it were on seas of great power and absolute rule, and steady it with his balanced reasonings. So Plato yielded to these requests”- Plutarch, life of Dion, 11. “Oh that poor youthful *weak willed and impressionable* soul, burdened with absolute power, how could he cope without my guidance, without me to share the load, take the burden from his shoulders…..what?! how dare you question my motives! for I am the great Plato/Seneca/Aristotle, what could possibly go wrong?

“Dion sprang up on this, addressed the citizens, and urged them to defend their liberty. Then the people in an excstacy of joy and gratitude appointed Dion and Megacles generals with absolute powers” – Plutarch, life of Dion, 29. Dionysius reign of terror is over! now begins my reign of terr…iffic management!

“Now that the moment of opportunity seemed to have arrived, the conspirators set out in two parties. One, led by Pelopidas and Damocleides, was to attack Leontides and Hypates who lived near one another: the other under Charon and Melon went to Archias and Phillip. The men had put on women’s gowns over their breast-plates and wore thick wreaths of pine and fir which shaded thier faces. For this reason when they first came through the door of the dining-room, the company shouted and clapped their hands, imagining that the long-awaited women had at last arrived. The conspirators looked carefully around the party, took note of each one of the guests as they reclined, and then drawing their swords they threw off their disguise and made a rush for Archias and Phillip. Phillidas prevailed upon a few of the guests to stay quiet: the rest who staggered to their feet and tried to defend themselves and help the polemarchs were so drunk that they were easily dispatched”- Plutarch, life of Pelopidas, 11. *Ahem* “Are their any women here?”

“This is very like the answer which a less well known Spartan gave to an Argive who had said, ‘Many of you Spartans lie buried on Argive soil’, to which the Spartan retorted ‘Yes, and not one of you lies buried in Laconia.’- Plutarch, life of Agesilaus, 31. gotta love a little laconic wit;).

“So one solitary error turned the scale and destroyed the city’s strength and prosperity….The Spartan constitution was admirably designed to promote peace and virtue and harmony within the bounds of the state. But the Spartans had added to it an empire and a sovereignty won by force, something which Lycurgus would have regarded as quite superfluous to the well-being of a city, and it was for this reason that they lost their supremacy.”- Plutarch, life of Agesilaus, 33. I’m not sure that Lycurgus can talk considering the constitution of Sparta attributed to him depended on a large class of serfs acquired and suppressed by force and terror and near constant war and resulted in such a limited franchise as to leave the state incapable of absorbing defeats, if you create a constitution which requires constant war, but hampers the ability of said state from fully exploiting its victories or absorbing its defeats this kind of thing is only a matter of time- in short I’m calling bullsh*t on this one Plutarch.

“At the beginning of his [Domitian’s] principate he would spend hours every day closeted on his own, occupied with nothing other than catching flies and impaling them with a very sharp writing implement”- Suetonius, life of Domitian, 3. and thus we encounter villain cliche 14, from this alone we can determine that Domitian was either evil or a previous incarnation of Mr. Miyagi.

“Finally, seized with a passion for handling money, he would often walk with bare feet on the huge heaps of gold pieces he had piled up in the most public places and sometimes he would even roll about in them with his whole body.”- Suetonius, life of Caligula. So Scrooge Mcduck was based on Caligula, who knew.

“As regards lawyers, he acted as if he was going to abolish the profession, often threatening that he would make sure, by Hercules, that none of them could give an opinion that went against his own.”- Suetonius, life of Caligula. So you see kids Caligula wasn’t all bad.

“meanwhile those who had been instructed to dig their way through underground emerged inside a house where a woman miller happened (even though it was still dead of night) to be grinding flower. As she was about to cry aloud she was killed by a blow from the man who had surfaced first, Superantius, a worthy from the cohort of the victores.”- Zosimus on the storming of a town by Julians army in Persia.

haven’t you always wanted to know who killed the female miller? I can think of few more important things to know, I mean isn’t that something you want to be in the history books for? and with a name like Superantius and a position as august as a “worthy from the cohort of the victores” you just know that anything he does is going to be both heroic and epic! I the great Superantius, worthy from the cohort of the victores! was the one who slew the female miller in her house at the dead of night! tremble before me, for truly I am a defender of the weak and a slayer of the mighty!

And now I present for your entertainment the sack of Nero: “A lock of hair was placed on the head of his (Nero’s) statue, with a greek inscription: ‘Now finally there is real competition and you must give in at last’. a sack was tied to the neck of another together with the tag ‘I did what I could but you deserve the sack’.”- Suetonius, life of Nero.

“Near the end of his (Nero’s) life, indeed, he publicly made a vow that, if his regime survived, he would perform at the victory games on the water-organ, the flute, and the bagpipes”- Suetonius, life of Nero. Now part of me wishes Nero weathered that storm just to know that a Roman emperor played the bagpipes publicly……..bagpipes………

“among other parts, he (Nero) sang those of Canace giving birth, Orestes the matricide, Oedipus blinded, and Hercules insane.”- Suetonius, life of Nero. Those last three songs seem particularly fitting…..

singing Canace’s giving birth….origins of screamo anyone? but seriously Orestes killed his mother, Oedipus slept with his mother, Hercules went insane and killed his wife, Nero supposedly killed his wife in a fit of rage by assaulting her when she was pregnant causing her death soon after the pregnancy..supposedly (also blamed for the death of his first wife), I hardly need to point out the parallels to Oedipus and Orestes though…’s just too perfect..

from the Wei-lio: “the sea-water being bitter and unfit for drinking is the cause that few travellers come to this country (Ta-tsin, roughly Roman Syria…ish)” ……………..Now I’m fairly sure (haven’t personally tested it mind you) that ALL sea water is unfit for drinking…….

Terry Jones is a barbarian part I: A new rant

Reg: But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, viticulture, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
PFJ Member: Brought peace?
Reg: Oh, peace? SHUT UP! – Monty Pythons life of Brian (as if you needed me to tell you that).

Terry Jones is not a historian, he’s a very naughty (and smug) propagandist.

Hello all and welcome to my first “review” of a TV series, Now growing up I watched a lot of documentaries, especially history documentaries (it helps that we had cable/have cable for most of my young life) and thus it is unsurprising that I’ve seen my share of absolutely terrible ones, in large part courtesy of the history channel but if you were to ask me which history documentary I despise above all others, I would not reply with one of the many conspiracy theory or American propaganda or macabre Nazi fetish world war II doco’s that are the virtually exclusive fair of the history channel….at least when their making a pretense of covering, you know…..history.

This is in part because these all quickly blur together and it quickly becomes difficult to identify one from another, also they are generally so cheap, poorly made and just so transparently ridiculous that they can become funny and are in any case not to be taken seriously- their audience is minimal and in the case of the crazy conspiracy theory ones (aliens, Nostradamus etc), one is tempted to think that those credulous enough to fall for them are somewhat beyond help (bad world war II doco’s are often more insidious but are alas a dime a dozen).

No my most detested doco is partly so because it hits closer to home by which I mean it bastardizes an era of history I’m deeply passionate about, the doco in question is a well funded, well produced  documentary series airing when I first saw it on BBC knowledge with a celebrity presenter and writer noted for his sense of humor and consulting some of the most prominent historians in their fields, notably for me Peter Heather (in two episode’s) a very influential scholar in the fields of late Antiquity, particularly on the so called barbarian tribes and their influence on the late Roman empire and vice versa. The 4 part series of documentaries in question is called Terry Jones’ Barbarians, and as you might have guessed from my continuous dropping of his name (you know aside from the fact that it’s in the doco’s damn title) is written and presented by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame (Jones also co-wrote a book to accompany the documentary, and while I’m normally against burning books if as seems probable it is much like the series a little page out of the nazis book (you know…one of those they didn’t burn…) might be in order, thanks history channel!) and came out in 2006.

Now let’s get this out of the way, Monty Python’s the Holy Grail and the life of Brian are two of the funniest films I have ever seen and are works of comic genius. Jones has every right to be proud of his work on those films and much of the rest of his career as a comedian (aside from those two films I find the Pythons very hit and miss, even as far as comedians go but there’s definitely lots of good stuff there).

There, we can move forward now, so what’s this series about? well on the surface it is and purports to be a work of revisionism that views (and very loosely tries to tell) Roman history from the perspective of the barbarian- the infamous other, as well as investigating several of these so-called barbarian cultures, peoples and/or states and attempting to overturn negative biases against them (no attempt is made to overturn any pr-existing positive bias’s) which are traced back to the Romans.

I say on the surface because what the series is really about is the politics of our own time, Rome was the greatest Western power of it’s time and has become the dominant symbol for the very concept of empire in Western culture, holding that distinction for over a thousand years. In Terry Jones elaborate and confused metaphor, as in so many others it is a stand in for the dominant power of the present day (especially in the West): the United States of America (with a little bit of the Catholic church throw in for good measure at the end). The barbarians naturally represent the more enlightened, cultured and peaceful (and socially equitable, of course) Europeans…..well we certainly haven’t seen this before, I wonder where this is going to go? Sarcasm may indeed be the lowest form of wit but at least that means it qualifies, whereas this theme and metaphor is so overdone that it requires no imagination whatsoever.

In terms of structure the series is divided into 4 roughly hour long episodes each focusing on different barbarian groups and their interactions with Rome, the first episode covers the Celts, the second the Goths and other so called Germanic peoples as well as the Dacians, the third covers people’s Terry Jones calls the “brainy barbarians” (though according to him by comparison to the Romans everyone seems to look sophisticated), namely the Greeks the Parthians and Persians (we’ll get to the problems with this), the 4th and final episode deals with the Huns, the Vandals and fall of the Western Roman empire.

Before we dive headfirst into this vomitorium you should know if you don’t already that I’m approaching this series from a Roman bias, Rome is my primary historical interest, it is the state I know the most about and I am a definite Romanophile,.I believe that for all their many faults Rome often comes out shining compared to its contemporaries and indeed many cultures that came afterwards, you don’t become the longest lasting state in history without doing something right, it would in short these days not be inaccurate to call me a Roman apologist and as such I have my work cut out for me because contrary to Terry’s portrayal of this series as a mind-blowing work of revisionism, whereby Terry for the first time shatters the dominant view of the Romans as enlightened bearers of civilization and the greatest state of Antiquity. Terry is hardly the first to try and knock the Romans down a few pegs or even the first to outright demonize them (that said he takes it incredibly far at times, if he has any claim to originality it is in this, at least in far as mainstream well-known products are concerned), especially at the time it came out.

In Western society as stated earlier Rome has come to represent the very symbol of empire and after the second world war and decolonization, we in the West by in large and particularly those of a scholarly bent decided we hate empire’s, the US, the great Western Empire of our tine’s invasion of Iraq (still relatively recent as of 2006) further intensified those anti-imperial sentiments and added an extra political dimension, the comparison with Rome was obvious and Rome’s very success came back posthumously to bite it. The ancient world was a violent place and the great majority of states then (and since) owed their existence and expansion to violence, Rome however was particularly successful and particularly influential in regards to Western society so it gets stuck with the odium. As such anti-Roman popular documentaries aimed at the impressionable and largely anti-American youth of Britain, Europe and the commonwealth were common around the time Terry’s effort came out, many (like Terry’s) presented by the BBC such as “Carthage: the Roman holocaust”, Britain BC, it’s sequel Britain AD (to an extent) and the docudrama “Ancient Rome- the rise and fall of an empire”.

There now you know where Terry’s coming from and where I’m coming from what and so in my next installment I can get down to ranting about the first two episodes.