Want to be Emperor?

Senator: “A legion has been destroyed. The people are hungry. Pirates have stopped the grain shipments from Egypt. What do you do?” Applicant: “Hmmm. That’s a tough one. Let…me…see…”

What was it like to be Emperor?  I mean every day was a struggle to stay alive.  Who do you keep happy?  Who do you get rid of?  Who is your friend?  Who is  your enemy?

On Episode 6 of Ancient Rome Refocused you get to take a job interview with the Senate and you better have the right answers.

Wanted Emperor! Apply within.


WRONG ANSWER! "Get him!"


The next episode of Ancient Rome Refocused is on the Emperors.    The title of Episode Six is: “I’m the Emperor and You’re Not.”

We are going to pretend that one day you get invited to a job interview to be emperor of the Roman World.  You are going to be asked a series of questions, and the Empire and your life may depend on the answer.

Do you have what it takes to rule the world?

Attend the Roman Emperor job interview, here on Ancient Rome Refocused.

Halle Berry in the movie "Perfect Stanger"

Halle Berry in the movie "Perfect Stanger"

I would like to say in my fake headline: “Halle Berry my first choice for Zenobia,” says Spielburg…but frankly I don’t have the power to make him do anything and so far he has done a pretty good job on his own.  If he did take suggestions, I would strongly suggest to make Queen Zenobia the project of his next film.  If anyone looks like a queen, especially of a strong empire, this is the lady.  I got an email from Judith Weingarten who wrote the book: Zenobia: Empress of the East who expressed the same frustration at Hollywood’s blind eye when it comes to this subject.  I am currently checking out her web site and blog at: http://judithweingarten.blogspot.com/

I suggest that you head on over there and tell me what you think.

“Halle Berry Perfect Zenobia”

The Actress Hallie Berry (2002)

The Actress Hallie Berry (2002)

Halley Berry would be great as Queen Zenobia

Western media repeatedly makes movies about Cleopatra, and holds her up as the ideal of sexual allure, and in the meantime sells hair products and assorted beauty creams in her name.  Yet, the Ptolmey Queen had to re lie on both Caesar and Antony to retain her power.   At the first sign of trouble at Actium didn’t she sail away on her ship leaving Antony to face Octavian alone?  What makes Cleopatra so interesting to the public? 

Now as for Zenobia, now we are talking about a queen that really kicked ass.  She was the third century Syrian queen of the Palmyrene Empire who led a revolt against the Roman Empire.   Why aren’t there movies from Hollywood about her?  She was the second wife of King Septimus Odaenathus and following his death decided to rule in her son’s name. 

Roman Name: Iulia Aurelia Zenobia.

Sir Edward Poynter's Neo-classical painting: "Zenobia Captive."

Sir Edward Poynter'sNeo-classical painting: "Zenobia Captive."

Arabic Name: al-Zabba’ bint ‘Amr ibn al-Zarib ibn Hassan ibn Adhinat ibn al-Samida.   (This is the best I could do with the font that I am using). 

According to Wikipedia she appears to be of Arab ancestry, but her lineage may have included Aramaean and ancient Egyptian.  She claimed to be an ancestor of Cleopatra and the Carthaginian Queen Dido.     She had knowledge of Egyptian Culture and it is thought her mother was of Egyptian ancestry.    Classical and Arabic scholars described her as having a dark complexion, and she was considered  beautiful and intelligent.

She bestowed on herself and her son the following titles: Augusta and Augustus.  But her most famous title should be: WARRIOR QUEEN.

Hey, I like Cleopatra as much as the next history ‘time-traveler’, but shouldn’t Zenobia get her shot at an Oscar?  I think we should start a letter writing campaign?   

Address your letters to:  Amy Pascal, Sony Pictures, 10202 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232-3195

Dear Ms. Pascal,

Please cast Ms. Berry as Queen Zenobia…


Halle Berry to play Queen Zenobia


Title: Queen Zenobia's Last Look Upon Palmyra (Artist: Herbert Schmalz)

No.  I’m afraid not.  But Halle Berry starring in a Hollywood film about Queen Zenobia is one heck of an idea. 

What is coming out soon is another film on Cleopatra.

I do a lot of thinking on what would make a good podcast, and I find myself staring off into space at Starbuck’s dreaming of far away places and histories unwritten. 

Lately I have been wondering about the mania that Cleopatra has over people, and I am wondering if its more Hollywood than anything else.   I know it began with the major discoveries by Napolean scientists during his military campaign in Egypt, and the finds of buried Egyptian treasure in the 1920s that have captured peoples imaginations.  But there was something else that started this Cleomania — the something else was called: film.   Now Cleo was not just for those who could afford paintings, or attendance at the opera, or for those who spent their school years studying the classics, Cleo went national and then global.  For a few pennies (yes…at one time the price of admission at a movie was a few pennies) you too could experience the QUEEN OF THE NILE.  


Except…except…why Cleopatra?  Why is it always Cleopatra?

I mean why not Queen Zenobia  with Halle Berry in the starring role?   

Think about it.   If you really think about it…you too will be staring off into space next time you’re at Starbucks.


p0001550“To Romans I set no boundary

In space or time.  I have

Granted them dominion,

And it has no end.”

                       Virgil, The Aeneid


So what if it never ended?

I don’t know about you but I think about these things.  

If you think about this type of stuff as well you may want to read the book Roma Eterna by Robert Silverberg.

He writes of an empire that does not die but changes, adapts, and clings to the pagan gods.

You know how I judge a good book?  Well, for one thing its my second reading of it, and it was just as exciting as the first time I read it.  What’s more I stayed up rather late to read the whole thing.  If you can’t put it down…you know it’s good.

The only issues I have with the book is that it slightly opposes my view of what might actually happen if such a thing was possible.

Silverburg’s book in order to show the progression of Roman power and influence we have a continuous references to the emperor, to the consulship, to references to Roma, to names no matter what the century that reflects the Roman influence such as Apollinaris, Marcus Anatasius, Torgquatus, Laurelolus, and Rufus. 

As the centuries passed, as time moved on, the names would be less and less Roman sounding. 

I believe that names would begin to move away from latin roots over time, and Apollinaris would be most likely referred to as Pollo, or Laurelolus and Laurel.  And even the emperor himself would be more executive sounding as possible turning from emperor to the ‘Imperial Chief Executive’ or something like that. 

That’s just me.    

And why not an alternate world where the Senate turned into a version of the United Nations? 

It’s my believe that over time, the roman influence would be no more strange sounding to our ears as the fact of our own Senate, and Washington architecture that reflects the times of republican Rome.  

In my version of events what if the Imperial Power was shared in almost the same way as the current power of the Pontiff in Rome?  What if every twenty or 40 years a new emperor is chosen in a different part of the world?  A truly power sharing organization, where the seat of government shifts, and one person become the ‘Imperial Chief Executive’ and commands unlimited power.  Is this so much different that the Catholic Church and the College of Cardinals recent habit of choosing non-Italians to take the seat of pope? 

What if the pressure of the barbarian press on its borders subsided?  What if Atilla never pressed and the Goth’s did not seek asylum, and the chain reaction of people (the Alans, the Vandals, and the Bergundians) on the move did not take place?  What if decisions to allow certain people settle within the borders of Rome were reversed? 

I know this is in the area of fantasy…why even talk about it?  

We’ll for one reason its fun.

What if Rome survived?   I know…impossible.  Every civilization that rises to flex itself and make itself felt in the world ebbs and eventually wanes. 

Greece rose to power while looking in the face of the Persians. 

Rome rose to dominate the Mediterranean world. 

And various Assyrian, and Babylonians had their time to dominate the world, only to recede. 

Look at China.  At one time a huge ancient Empire – one of the oldest civilizations – a dominant ancient kingdom that fell from power, to be dominated by western powers (google boxer rebellion), attacked by Japanese Imperial Forces only to step recently onto the world stage and continues to grow and make its presence felt.   

And what about us – the AMEERICANs (sic)?

 I happen to have a more upbeat look to the future –  believing firmly the American Golden Age is still on its way.   We Americans have survived meeting Goliaths in the world before, and have always managed to guide that rock to the forehead when someone got in our way.    

 Anyway, we move faster! 

 Democracies have too!

 Roma Eterna is for anyone that is a ‘What If” fan of science fiction and the fantasy genre. 

 What if Rome tried to conquer the New World?

 What if a Roman armada that circumvents the globe bringing destruction on native island people? 

 And what if a world tired of an endless stream of emperors rises up to install a republic that takes over and ends the imperial line, only to have Roman power to remain?

 What if a strange old man is found living in a German forest lodge, who strangely looks like the child of the final emperor? 

 And finally what if a Jewish sect decides another Exodus is needed and the only place left to follow the new Profit is the stars?

 Give it a read.

 Is it on the Ancient Rome Refocused bookshelf?  Not yet, still looking for a copy to permanently place there, and the book that I took out of the library is way overdue.

Empire by Steven Saylor

by Rob Cain

Empire_SaylorNow on the Ancient Rome Refocused Bookshelf

I rate a book by whether I simply read it or I devour it.  This I devoured.  

Empire is the story of a family who are eyewitnesses to the glory and the decadence of the Emperors spanning 4 generations from 14 A.D. to 141 B.C.  Over time the Pinarius family see murder, mayhem, and even the burning of Rome itself in the great fire.  They are not untouched by it.  One generation is molested by Caligula, one dies by his own hand at the final days of Nero. 

It is a wild ride. Saylor is known for his Roma Sub Rosa series starring Gordianus the finder.  Normally his ‘detective’ works in a small microcosm of alleyway and lamp lit rooms investigating thieves, thugs and the famous (Cicero, Caesar, etc) only moving as far and wide as he can walk, ride or sail from his beloved Rome.  But in the book Empire we sweep across the generations, seeing a city, its empire and its emperors change through the eyes of a single family.

Early in the book the Pinarius brothers (twins) go their separate ways.  In the time of Nero one brother is the emperor’s favorite and the other a Christian in the shadows.   Many authors (especially Lloyd C. Douglas – The Robe, and Lew Wallace – Ben-Hur) held no secrets that their novels were settings of tales for the coming of Christianity.  Saylor’s book has an entirely deciding different track.  Saylor brings us Rome unvarnished and clean of 20th or 21st Century sensibilities.  We are seeing ancient Rome through pagan eyes, through the pagan temperament, and through the Roman Psyche.  

fire of romeA scene in the book is the great fire of Rome (remember Nero fiddling as Rome burned?).  Titus the proper patrician seeks out his Christian brother living in the Christian quarter.  It is hard thing to watch a city that you love destroyed, a fire that threatens your home and the memory of your ancestors, and witness your brother shout: “…the end of all things.  Praise God!”  

What would your reaction be?  I mean as a Roman. 

“Watching the gruesome punishments of the arsonist gave Titus no pleasure, but it was his somber duty as a citizen, and as friend of the emperor to witness the event.”

Emperor Nero

Emperor Nero

For a moment I thought I had picked up a horror story instead of an historical novel.  Nero rounds up the Christians to take the fall, and makes a speech quite legal, quite logical, quite sensible before dogs rip people apart in retribution, or as the Roman’s might say “proper punishment.”   Saylor describes humiliations dressed up in ancient myth ending in death for the condemned.  He describes Christians used as human torches for the ‘convenience’ of the crowd so that the games can continue into the night.   It is then Saylor masterly changes the perspective, and for a moment I too was in the arena.   I literally felt a chill down my spine, a reaction frankly I did not expect.   I only felt this once before and that was while reading Stephen King’s novel: IT.

This epic switches to Lucius, another son of the Pinarius line.  We now stand next to him as he viewed the opening of the Flavius Amphitheater (known today as the coliseum) and are provided a seat to see an unapologetic presentation of slaughter for the amusement of the crowd.   The slaughter is presented proudly, and how else ancient Romans describe such a spectacle?   It represents power, the unquestionable demonstration that the Roman people are favored in the eyes of the gods. 

Saylor would be the first to say: “It’s all about the emperors.” If you’re a fan of the Augustus, Vespasian, Trajan and Hadrian pull up a chair.  If you’re a fan of the more colorful emperors such as Claudius and Caligula, there is plenty to read.   Empire is well researched and certainly entertaining. 

Saylor opens the book with an interesting quote from Gustave Le Bon who studied the psychology of crowds:

“History is scarcely capable of preserving the memory of anything except the myths.”

Why would Saylor pick this quote to open his book? 

I suppose it has to do with context.  Le Bon lived during a period where the word ‘Emperor’ was still fresh in peoples’ minds.  He saw a tendency for historians to mythologize Napoleon Bonaparte – a man that brought great destruction upon the continent of Europe and had power equal to any Roman emperor.    

However, Saylor presents raw and undiluted narratives of the emperors, and he supports it with research from the works of Seutonius, Plutarch and Tacitius.    He avoids mythologizing them, but lays them out warts and all. 

I highly recommend this book to the listeners of Ancient Rome Refocused.  It’s hard to put down and keeps your attention like listening to a good storyteller at the Esquiline Gate.

Title: "The 24th Shitkickers Were Never The Same After The Peloponnese"

If you talk about the Romans you have to talk about the Greeks. This episode explores the ancient Greek play AJAX written by Sophocles. Included in this episode are interviews with Bryan Doerries, director and translator for the New York based THEATER OF WAR acting troupe.

MP3 File

Steven Saylor’s new book: Empire

I just received in the mail Steven Saylor’s new book: EMPIRE.  I got 4 days off coming up and I’m going to spend the time reading the book.  Look for a review here on Ancient Rome Refocused in the coming weeks.

Robert W. M. Greaves made a correction on a statement that I made in Episode 2 of “Time Travel is Easy, History is Hard” thus proving that HISTORY IS HARD.  I made the statement that “Carthage razed Corinth.”  Mr. Greaves was kind enough to point out my mistake.  I have spent the last few days trying to find where I could have picked this up.  After an extensive internet search, and flipping through the pages of my books contained in my extensive library, I have come to the conclusion that I must have misinterpreted something I read.   Misinterpreted?  Heck.  I made a mistake.

I apologize to my listeners and readers.

146 BC | Corinth was destroyed by Rome. 

Thanks Robert for the assistance.  At Ancient Rome Refocused I will attempt to educate, interpret and entertain, but like a coloring book everything must be kept strictly kept inside the facts.    

Check out Mr. Greaves blog site at:  http://www.matters-arising.blogspot.com