History for the Rest of Us

Vexillum

Vexillum

Jul 14, 2014

A portion of a Roman Legion on detached duty as a temporary task force, carried a standard called a Vexillum. These detached units became know as vexillatio derived from the name of the standard they bore. Vexillum comes from the Latin word velum, meaning sail, curtain, or awning. The vexilla (plural of vexillum) were ‘little sails’ or flag-like standards. In contrast to modern day flags, the vexilla were attached to a horizontal crossbar suspended from a staff. The flag usually contained the parent legion’s abbreviated title and often a sign of the zodiac. For example LEG. II AUG. along with the symbol for Capricorn for Legio II Augusta. The vexillum was carried by a vexillarius or vexilifer. Closely guarded in combat, the vexillum was the main standard of some unit types – particularly the...

Temple of Concord

Temple of Concord

Jun 6, 2014

Dedicated to the Roman goddess Concordia (goddess of concord and harmony), the Temple of Concord was vowed in 367 BC to commemorate reconciliation between patricians and plebians after the Aventine Secession. The Licinian laws, expanding the civil rights of the commoners or ‘plebians’, had been proposed and were eventually accepted despite great opposition by the patricians. M. Furius Camillus had promised to consecrate a temple to Concordia if peace was made. As part of the agreement between the two groups the first plebian consul was elected and going forward one of the two consuls was required to be a plebian. Centrally located between the Capitoline Hill and the Comitium, the Temple served as a reminder of the peace that had been established. In 211 B.C. a statue of Victory on its roof was struck down by lightning. In order to foster harmony after the murder of Gaius Gracchus, the Temple was rebuilt in 121 BC. The original dedication probably taking place on the 22nd of July. It was rededicated on January 16, 12 AD by the future emperor Tiberius during the reign of Augustus. This final restoration was noted for its opulent marble and rich architectural ornamentation. The cella, (central chamber or sanctuary of the temple) housed a row of Corinthian columns. These columns had pairs of leaping rams instead of the traditional corner volutes and were raised on a continuous plinth projecting from the wall that divided the cella into bays. Part of the function of the Temple appears to have been as a museum since it housed a wealth of Greek sculpture, paintings, and other works of art. The Temple was also used for meetings of the Senate – especially in times of civil disturbance (Cicero delivered his fourth Catilinarian oration here). The Temple of Concord backed up against the Tabularium at the base of the Capitoline Hill on the northwestern side of the Forum. Its design was unique since due to space limitations it’s facade was on the long side of the structure. The Temple was razed to the ground and turned into a lime-kiln to recover its marble during the 1400s so only the foundation remains today. [nform...

All Roads Lead to Rome – Milliarium Aureum

In 20 BC, Augustus, as curator viarum or inspector-in-chief of a road or roads, erected the Milliarium Aureum. This monument was most likely a marble column sheathed in gilded bronze and was adjacent to the Rostra on the opposite side from the Umbilicus Urbis. A huge marble cylinder matching this description was found in 1835 near this location. All roman roads were considered to begin from this point and distances in the Roman Empire were measured relative to that point. Hence, the saying ‘All roads lead to Rome’ was surely a reference to the Milliarium Aureum. There are three main hypotheses about what the inscription on the monument contained: 1. It contained only the name and title of the Emperor. 2. It contained the names of the most important cities of Italy and the Empire with the distances to them from Rome. 3. It contained the names of the roads out of Rome and the men who had been made curator viarum to oversee the upkeep of them. While there are marble fragments in the Forum Romanum labeled Milliarium Aureum, scholars tend to believe these fragments actually are from the Umbilicus Urbis. The derived diameter of these fragments match the diameter of the Umbilicus Urbis and would have probably been too large for a milestone monument. Items from the Creating History...

Great Fire of Rome

Great Fire of Rome

Jul 13, 2013

On July 19, 64 AD the Great Fire of Rome began in the merchant area of the city and burned for six days. Three of Rome’s fourteen districts were ‘leveled to the ground’ and seven others were reduced ‘to a few scorched and mangled ruins’ according to Tacitus. There are contradictory accounts explaining the cause of the fire. Rumors were rampant that Nero had sent men into the city to set it on fire, while he sang songs of the destruction of Troy and played on his lyre. The following verse, orally conveyed or posted on a city wall at the time, expresses the sentiment of residents of the city: Though Nero may pluck the cords of a lyre, And the Parthian King the string of a bow, He who chants to the lyre with heavenly fire Is Apollo as much as his far-darting foe. Suetonius indicated that ‘Nero watched the conflagration from the Tower of Maecenas, enraptured by what he called the “beauty of the flames”; then put on his tragedian’s costume and sang The Sack of Ilium from beginning to end’. Some believed that the fire was an accident. Tacitus says that Nero wasn’t in Rome when the fire started but was in Antium, returning only when the fire threatened a mansion he had built. Many inhabitants of the city were further convinced that the fires should be attributed to Nero when he decided to build the ‘Domus Aurea’, his ‘Golden House’, a massive palace complex, on the site. Nero placed blame on the Christians as indicated by Tacitus. ‘…to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians’. Related Stories: Temple of Mars Ultor Nerva Forum of Nerva Forum of Trajan Belly Button of Rome Elsewhere on the Web: Yale Courses:Notorious Nero and his Amazing Architectural Legacy Items from the Creating History...

Mercuralia – Festival of Mercury

Mercuralia – Festival of Mercury

May 14, 2013

Mercuralia was a Roman celebration that was also known as the ‘Festival of Mercury’. Mercury, was a Roman messenger god whose attributes were mainly borrowed from the Greek god Hermes although there are myths regarding Mercury that are distinctly Roman. He was a god of trade, thieves, and travel. The name is closely related to merx, mercari, and merces which respectively mean merchandise, to trade, and wages. For good luck, on the Ides of May (May 15th) which was considered his birthday, the merchants of Rome would use laurel boughs to sprinkle their merchandise, their ships, and their heads with water from a fountain at Porta Capena known as aqua Mercurii. They also offered prayers to Mercury for forgiveness of past and future perjuries, for profit, and the continued ability to cheat customers! Related Stories: Neptunalia Ludi Apollinares Vestalia Matralia Portunalia Items from the Creating History...

Marc Antony

Marc Antony

Mar 6, 2013

(83-30 B.C.) Marcus Antonius, or Marc Antony, grandson of Antonius the orator, and son of Antonius Creticus, seems to have been born about 83 B.C. While still a child he lost his father, whose example however, had he been spared, would have done little for the improvement of his character. Brought up under the influence of the disreputable Cornelius Lentulus Sura, whom his mother had married, Antony spent his youth in profligacy and extravagance. For a time he co-operated with the reprobate Clodius in his political plans, chiefly, it is supposed, through hostility to Cicero, who had caused Lentulus, his stepfather, to be put to death as one of the Catiline conspirators; but he soon withdrew from the connection, on account of a disagreement which, appropriately enough, arose in regard to his relations to his associate’s wife, Flavia. Not long after, in 58 B.C., he fled to Greece, to escape the importunity of his creditors; and at length, after a short time spent in attendance on the philosophers at Athens, found an occasion for displaying some of the better features of his character, in the wars that were being carried on by Gabinius against Aristobulus in Palestine, and in support of Ptolemy Auletes in Egypt. A new chapter in his life was opened by the visit which he made to Julius Cæsar in Gaul. Welcomed by the victorious general as a valuable assistant in his ambitious designs, and raised by his influence to the offices of quæstor, augur, and tribune of the plebes, he displayed admirable boldness and activity in the maintenance of his patron’s cause, in opposition to the violence and intrigues of the oligarchical party. At length his antagonists prevailed, and expelled him from the curia; and the political contest became a civil war. The Rubicon was crossed; Cæsar was victorious, and Antony shared in his triumph. Deputy-governor of Italy during Cæsar’s absence in Spain (49), second in command in the decisive battle of Pharsalia (48), and again deputy-governor of Italy while Cæsar was in Africa (47), Antony was now inferior in power only to the dictator himself, and eagerly seized the opportunity of indulging in the most extravagant excesses of luxurious...