History for the Rest of Us

Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra – Summary

Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra – Summary

May 7, 2014

Zenobia had a deep understanding of affairs of state, and her husband’s successes (recovery of the Roman East), were said to have been due to her counsel. She became Queen of Palmyra when her husband died in 267. Within two years she had conquered Egypt and expelled the Roman prefect, who was beheaded when he attempted to reclaim the territory. Zenobia claimed descent from Cleopatra and was said to profess the Jewish religion. She was beautiful and intelligent, with a dark complexion, pearly white teeth and bright black eyes. She was more beautiful than Cleopatra, and had a reputation for extreme chastity. Zenobia’s forces were dealt a crushing defeat by Aurelian’s forces near Antioch in 272. She and her son escaped initially, but were captured on the Euphrates by the Emperor’s horsemen. She appeared in golden chains in Aurelian’s military triumph parade in Rome. There are varied theories on her final...

Cleopatra VII, Pharaoh – Summary

Cleopatra VII, Pharaoh – Summary

May 5, 2014

Cleopatra (at age 18) began to assert herself as sole ruler of Egypt at the expense of her co-ruling brother Ptolemy XIII (10), but within three years her enemies placed Ptolemy on the throne as the sole ruler. Thinking he would please Caesar, Ptolemy instead angered him by murdering the great Roman military and political leader Pompey. Cleopatra saw an opportunity and had herself smuggled into Ptolemy’s palace in a carpet to meet with Caesar. She became his mistress and with the defeat of Ptolemy’s army at the Battle of the Nile, Caesar backed her claim to the throne naming Ptolemy XIV as co-ruler. After allegedly poisoning her new co-ruler, Cleopatra made her son (by Caesar) Caesarion her co-regent and successor. After Caesar’s death, she would align herself with Mark Antony with whom she had three children. After Antony’s defeat at Actium and his subsequent suicide, Cleopatra would follow – committing suicide with an asp bite on the...

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...

Caesar Augustus

Caesar Augustus

Sep 21, 2012

63 B.C.-14 A.D. Caius Julius Cæsar Octavianus Augustus, son of Caius Octavius and Atia (Julius Cæsar’s niece), was born in 63 B.C. He was the first and greatest of the Roman emperors, in his way perhaps fully as great as his adoptive father, Julius Cæsar. The Octavian family came originally from Velitræ, in the country of the Volsci; and the branch to which Augustus belonged was rich and honorable. His father had risen to the rank of senator and prætor, but died in the prime of life, when Augustus was only four years old. Augustus was carefully educated in Rome under the guardianship of his mother and his step-father; and his talents recommended him to his great-uncle, Julius Cæsar, who adopted him as his son and heir. At the time of Cæsar’s assassination (44 B.C.), Augustus was a student under the celebrated orator Apollodorus, at Apollonia in Illyricum, whither, however, he had been sent chiefly to gain practical instruction in military affairs. He returned to Italy, and now first learning that he was his uncle’s heir, assumed the name of Julius Cæsar Octavianus. The soldiers at Brundusium saluted him as Cæsar, but he declined their offers, and entered Rome almost alone. The city was at this time divided between the republicans and the friends of Mark Antony, but the latter, by adroit manœuvres, had gained the ascendency, and enjoyed almost absolute power. At first, Augustus was haughtily treated by Antony, who refused to surrender Cæsar’s property; but after some fighting, in which Antony was worsted and forced to flee across the Alps, Augustus, who had made himself a favorite with the people and the army, obtained the consulship and carried out Cæsar’s will. He found an able advocate in Cicero, who at first had regarded him with contempt. To himself the great orator seemed to be laboring in behalf of the republic, whereas he really was only an instrument for raising Augustus to supreme power. When Antony returned from Gaul with Lepidus, Augustus threw off the republican mask, and joined them in establishing a triumvirate. He obtained Africa, Sardinia, and Sicily; Antony, Gaul; and Lepidus, Spain. Their power was soon made absolute by the...

Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra

Aug 23, 2012

Of all love stories that are known to human history, the love story of Antony and Cleopatra has been for nineteen centuries the most remarkable. It has tasked the resources of the plastic and the graphic arts. It has been made the theme of poets and of prose narrators. It has appeared and reappeared in a thousand forms, and it appeals as much to the imagination to-day as it did when Antony deserted his almost victorious troops and hastened in a swift galley from Actium in pursuit of Cleopatra. The wonder of the story is explained by its extraordinary nature. Many men in private life have lost fortune and fame for the love of woman. Kings have incurred the odium of their people, and have cared nothing for it in comparison with the joys of sense that come from the lingering caresses and clinging kisses. Cold-blooded statesmen, such as Parnell, have lost the leadership of their party and have gone down in history with a clouded name because of the fascination exercised upon them by some woman, often far from beautiful, and yet possessing the mysterious power which makes the triumphs of statesmanship seem slight in comparison with the swiftly flying hours of pleasure. But in the case of Antony and Cleopatra alone do we find a man flinging away not merely the triumphs of civic honors or the headship of a state, but much more than these—the mastery of what was practically the world—in answer to the promptings of a woman’s will. Hence the story of the Roman triumvir and the Egyptian queen is not like any other story that has yet been told. The sacrifice involved in it was so overwhelming, so instantaneous, and so complete as to set this narrative above all others. Shakespeare’s genius has touched it with the glory of a great imagination. Dryden, using it in the finest of his plays, expressed its nature in the title “All for Love.” The distinguished Italian historian, Signor Ferrero, the author of many books, has tried hard to eliminate nearly all the romantic elements from the tale, and to have us see in it not the triumph of love, but the...