Posts tagged Nero

Pursuing the Dream of Roman History

David Long on the march. Describing himself as a “Roman Living Historian” he is wearing the uniform of a legionary of 43 CE, during the Claudian Invasion. When asked if the uniform was hot in such weather he responded, “Believe it or not, no, it is rather cool. In the summer, I usually wear a linen tunic ( as pictured), while in the Fall, Winter & Spring I wear a woolen tunic. Out of all the time periods, it is the most comfortable I have tried.”

by David Long

    I would first like to thank Rob Cain for giving me the opportunity to talk about my adventures as a graduate student in the field of Ancient & Classical history. I am happy to be pursuing this field of study, and while the challenge is great, the rewards are fantastic. I truly enjoy studying in this field.  

    The main focal point for my studies is guided in the direction of military history. I am currently studying, at American Military University, to become a specialist in Roman and medieval warfare.  I am currently in my last year of study in this graduate program. I will hopefully graduate with a Master of Arts in Ancient and Classical history in the winter of 2012. I currently work for Orgill, INC. as a conversion specialist in international Hardware Retail. I plan on using my degree to write professionally in my spare time.
    Studying the Roman Empire in a graduate level setting is certainly a challenge. With the scarce amount of primary source materials available for certain parts of the historical era, it is fairly difficult to produce an academically oriented paper on Roman history. Case in point, the study of the Teutoburg Forest has only four primary sources available (Dio, Florus, Paterculus and Tacitus). Among these sources, there is a certain level of speculation as to how accurate and truthful these sources are. Therefore, constructing a 20-page paper on a battle, that has less than five pages of written material (primary source) on the subject, makes things, well, tricky.  In order to be successful, a careful consolidation of archaeological and anthropological studies must be incorporated within the study of Roman history. The Teutoburg Forest, for example, has been largely documented with archaeological discoveries. This was all made possible by the findings of an amateur archaeologist, Tony Clunn, in the 1980’s.
    Understanding the physicality of the areas that these instances occurred, especially military actions (very few battle sites can be located today); and, therefore, I also recommend visiting historical sites, when possible, in person. Although terrain changes over time, by observing the actual location of a historical event, we might be able to formulate a credible hypothesis as to what happened. For example, I recently visited the United Kingdom in order to observe parts of Hadrian’s Wall, and the surrounding forts in the area. Part of my job was to observe the terrain, whereupon I might more accurately determine if the logistical nature of this area was a nightmare for Roman forces garrisoning the forts and sections of the wall.
    I have always been careful when comparing and contrasting any previous time period, with our current place inside the broader historical epoch. One of the things that you learn as a professional historian is to develop a careful methodological approach to interpreting history. One of the key elements to this approach is contextual observation. As mentioned before, with the scant amount of primary source information available, we must be able and willing to carefully disseminate what these sources were all about. Did they have an axe to grind, were they themselves present at the historical event in question?  Can we really compare the expansion of Rome to some of our more recent military endeavors? IN this instance, I say no.
    Rome was expanding for different reasons, but a primary concern was for Rome to further expound upon their conquests. For example, a conquered territory will bring in more revenue, as well as provide a supplemental addition to their military rosters, in the form of auxilia (auxiliary troops). The United States, while currently engaged in protracted warfare, does not appear to have this same intention in mind. One area of concern, however, is the state of our political systems. I would venture to say that Republican Rome, with the plethora of corrupt senators, is more akin to the nature of some of our politicians today. Will we need a Gaius Caesar to overthrow and restore some semblance of order to a corrupted system of government?  While Imperial Rome certainly had its fair share of corruption and outright tyranny, I truly believe that the rot began to permeate within the ranks of the Republican senatorial class. What about dependence upon foreign lands for food? The Roman dependence upon North Africa for grain supplies would prove disastrous when the Vandals overran that region in the fifth century. Do we, as Americans, depend on the productivity and industrial capacity of other nations too much?
    Our militaries are similar. The Romans had a centralized military force, not unlike we do. And, most important, Roman Law was an integral part of how we developed and implemented our own system of law. What about the Roman system of political operations? All this being said, I should hope to think that we are like Rome in some ways. I certainly hope that we are able to exist as a nation or power as long as Rome did. While I can live without the Caracalla’s, Domitian’s and Nero’s, I am sure that we can garner some positive attributes by learning from the Romans. The same can be said about things to avoid.
    At the end of the day, I admire the accomplishments of the Roman Empire. I hold no grudges or bad feelings, in general, for Ancient Rome. In fact, I am a fan of the Roman Empire. I believe that historiography has been both good and bad for Rome, but we must resist the temptation to see Rome only in the light of indulgence, greed and violence.
    My favorite time period to study in Roman history is 10 BCE-120CE. In regards to events, I am interested in Roman warfare on the Rhine frontier, and Roman activities in Britain.
(Mr. Long will be a regular contributor to the blog and lives in Asheville, NC.  He can be reached at

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.