January 16, 27BC Republic

“Many Romans themselves put the key turning point in 133 BC. This was the year when a young aristocrat, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, held the office of ‘tribune’ (a junior magistracy which had originally been founded to protect the interests of the common people). As one ancient writer put it, this was when ‘daggers first entered the forum”. – BBC

According to legend, Romulus and Remus were the sons of Rhea Silvia, the daughter of King Numitor of Alba Longa, a mythical city located in the Alban Hills southeast of what would become Rome.  Numitor was deposed by his younger brother Amulius, who forced Rhea to become a vestal virgin so that she would not give birth to rival claimants to his throne. She however, was already pregnant by the war god Mars, destined to give birth, to twins.

Romulus and Remus, by Rubens

Learning of the birth, Amulius ordered the infants Romulus and Remus drowned in the Tiber river. The twins survived, washing ashore at the foot of the Palatine hill, where the two were suckled by a she-wolf.

Later discovered by the shepherd Faustulus, the boys were reared by he and his wife. Much later, the brothers became leaders of a band of young shepherd warriors. On learning their true identity, the twins attacked Alba Longa, killed King Amulius, and restored their grandfather to the throne.

Romulus and Remus founded a town on the site of their salvation, the traditional date being April 21, 753BC. Romulus later murdered his brother after some petty quarrel, making himself sole ruler of the settlement which he modestly called “Rome”, in his own honor.

Except, the whole story, is nonsense. Much like a centurion with a cell phone.

It’s more likely that first three hundred years were a scrap for survival. If anyone had time to write down a serious history, it’s been lost.

Sparse factual material was embellished by later generations with some facts exaggerated or invented outright, while the more embarrassing episodes, were “disappeared”. This early or Regal period is said to be a time of six Kings, benevolent rulers all except for the seventh, a cruel tyrant known as Lucius Tarquinius Superbus.

According to legend, Tarquin was overthrown by public uprising, around 509/510BC. Etruscan civilization, dominant over the Italian peninsula since 900BC, had begun to lose hold. A series of wars would see the ascension of the Latin League (albeit temporarily), at the expense of the Etruscan league. The siege of Veii in 396BC brought the ancient Etruscan city into the Roman orbit.

The last remnants were absorbed in 27BC as Republic morphed into Empire, but now I’m getting ahead of the story.

Rather than restoring the monarchy, the Romans replaced the kingship with two annually elected magistrates, or Consuls. The Republic, was born.

The historian Livy tells us, the first 200 years of Republic was a never ending struggle between two social orders: Patricians and Plebeians. The privileged classes, and the common citizen.

The republic built a governing system of three branches with checks and balances and a strong aversion to the concentration of power.

The executive branch or Consuls (usually two) were primarily Generals, whose job was to lead the republican military in war. In times of national emergency, Rome would appoint a dictator in place of Consuls, a military leader entrusted with supreme command for no more than six months.

The Senate consisted of 300 who served, for life. Primarily an advisory body, the Senate focused mostly on foreign policy but exercised considerable jurisdiction over civil affairs, as the Senate controlled the treasury. At first exclusive to ex-consuls and other members of the Patrician class, the Senate would later open to members of the Plebian class.

Last came the Assemblies, the most democratic branch of Republican government, of which there were four.

Within fifteen years, the crushing debt of endless wars and the excesses of the publicani, the ruthless, usurious contractors hired by the state to collect taxes, brought the Plebeians to open revolt. There was talk of assassinating a Consul. The Plebs seceded in 493BC in much the same way, as a modern labor strike. With the economy ground to a halt, the popular ex-consul Agrippa Menenius was sent to negotiate, resulting in a direct representative of the common man, in the Assembly. This was the Tribune of the Plebs of which there were two, and later ten.

With their physical person sacrosanct, anyone who laid a hand on them was subject to death, the Tribune of the Plebs was uniquely able to propose and veto legislation and to rescue commoners, from the hands of Patrician magistrates. Several important offices opened to the Plebs by the 4th century BC, up to and including that of Consul, and Dictator

The working classes left the city en masse, leaving the wealthy elite, to fend for themselves.

In theory, the Tribune of the Plebs brought representation for the common citizen. In practice, such powers in the hands of demagogues, would bring about the death of the Republic.

By the 5th century, the people of Gaul (modern-day France, parts of Belgium, western Germany and northern Italy) migrated south to the Mediterranean coast. Disaster struck in 390BC as war bands of the Gallic Chieftain Brennus swept out of the north, easily defeating Roman defenses at the river Allia and capturing and sacking much of Rome, itself.

The sack of Rome doesn’t seem to have been the disaster, described in Roman legend. Little archeological evidence exists to support the idea of a sustained sack and burning of the city. Very possibly, Brennus and his band were headed south to sign on as mercenaries, in service to Dionysius of Syracuse.

Maybe all they wanted was the sort of plunder easily carried away. Like the gold they were paid to get out of town which they happily did, following a 7-month siege.

There followed forty years of hard fighting in Latium and Etruria to restore the power of Rome. Be that as it may, the Gallic bogey man would live on in the Roman psyche.

The Latin war of 340-338BC ended in victory for the Republic, placing Rome in control of central Italy. The next three decades saw the conquest and colonization of the Samnites to the north and the Greek principalities, to the south. By 275BC, Rome was master of all Italy.

Meanwhile, a child was born in Carthage some 1,500 miles to the south, who would rock the Roman world. His name was Hamilcar Barca.

The 3rd century BC was a time of endless military campaign for the Roman Republic, no fewer than 68 of them.

Outward expansion inevitably brought the Republic into conflict with the other major Mediterranean power of the age, the ancient Phoenician seafaring civilization long since settled in north Africa, called Carthage.

Hamilcar Barca was a great general in the first of three wars between Rome and Carthage, the longest continuous conflict and the greatest naval war, of antiquity. The 1st Punic War went badly for Carthage and ended on harsh terms, including the loss of that famous navy. Hamilcar died in 228BC most likely drowning in the Jucar River but he lived on in a way, in the form of the Roman’s worst nightmare – Hamilcar’s sons sworn to eternal hate for Rome, Hasdrubal, Mago and possibly the greatest field commander in history, the general Hannibal.

In 218BC, Hannibal crossed into hostile Gaul at the head of 38,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry, and 37 war elephants. His crossing of the Alps that winter is one of the great feats of military history, costing almost half of his force before entering Italy that December.

The first of several major battles took place on December 18, 218BC, on the banks of the Trebia River. The army of Hannibal was near invincible, defeating Roman legions in one major engagement after another. Trebia, Lake Trasimene, Cannae: where Hannibal annihilated nearly down to the man, the largest Roman army, ever assembled. For sixteen years, Hannibal’s Carthaginians were virtually unbeatable, devastating the Italian countryside as Rome drafted one army after another only to see them crushed, yet again. Meanwhile, Carthage itself was politically divided. Hannibal never did receive any significant support from home. In the end, he had to leave Italy to defend his homeland in North Africa.

Hannibal was soundly defeated by his own tactics on October 19, 202BC at the Battle of Zama, ending the second Punic war under humiliating terms for Carthage.

By the 1st century BC, Roman power all but encircled the Mediterranean, from modern-day Spain to Syria, from Normandy to North Africa.

Such diverse, conquered peoples proved ever more difficult to govern as troops were stationed literally everywhere, ready to use force, if necessary. In Rome itself, citizens suffered under a government that always seemed to be looking, elsewhere. Roman made goods and produce became ever more expensive as locals found themselves unable to compete, with the provinces. Many migrated to the city where, increasingly, those in public service sought to placate the masses with handouts, and lavish entertainments.

In the late first and early second centuries (AD), the Roman poet Juvenal spoke of the period in his Satires, of a population no longer dedicated to the sacred birthright of public service, of civic engagement, preferring instead panem et circenses. Bread and circuses.

In the end, the Republic died by its own hand, a victim of internal politics.

In the middle years of the Republic, legionaries were required to serve out entire campaigns, regardless of length. Larger homesteads could always count on the labor of slaves while smaller farms were left in the hands of wives and children. These often went bankrupt, properties bought cheaply by an increasingly wealthy and avaricious, upper class.

According to Plutarch, “[W]hen Tiberius on his way to Numantia passed through Etruria and found the country almost depopulated and its husbandmen and shepherds imported barbarian slaves, he first conceived the policy which was to be the source of countless ills to himself and to his brother.”

Tiberius and his brother were the Gracchus brothers, important populist politicians of the late Republic. Tiberius, a hero of the 3rd Punic war, instituted reforms redistributing lands, back to the poor. Tiberius became a hero to the poorer classes and hated by the wealthy, so much so that he and 300 supporters were beaten to death with stones and clubs, in 132BC.

The Senate attempted to placate the Plebs by enforcing Gracchus’ land reforms but, ten years later, Tiberius’ younger brother and heir to his populist politics Gaius, would share the fate of his brother.

The Gracchi were gone but the animus between Populares and Optimates, had never been greater.

The first of several civil wars began in 88BC with a struggle for power between two men.

Elected Consul an unprecedented seven times, Gaius Marius implemented military reforms, transforming the loyalty of the soldiery from the republic, to their commander. Lucius Cornelius Sulla was the ambitious son of a Patrician family.

Outmaneuvered by Marius for supreme command of the 1st war against King Mithradates of Pontus (eastern Turkey), Sulla gathered his allies and marched under arms, against Rome. It was an unprecedented act of hostility duplicated by Marius himself and his allies, on Sulla’s return to Pontus. The murderous “reforms” of Marius and his Populares paled in comparison to the second return of Sulla and his Optimates.

Imagine finding your name on a list published by your government, knowing that meant you were “proscribed”. Whosoever of your fellow citizens who found and killed you, was entitled to your worldly possessions. The names of as many 4,700 “enemies of the state” were nailed to the wall of the Roman Forum during the “proscriptions” of the Dictator Sulla.

Forty years later, a General’s marching on Rome at the head of an army was still an act of war, though hardly “unprecedented”. With the words “the die is cast”, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon river on January 10, 49BC, igniting another civil war. Caesar emerged victorious in early 44BC to be appointed, “Dictator for Life”. The very idea was an affront to traditional Roman sensibilities. Caesar was murdered by a cabal of Senators on March 15. The “Ides of March“.

Caesar’s killers believed they were saving the Republic but their actions, had the opposite effect. The assassination sparked a period of civil war and political instability from which Octavian, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, emerged victorious over Marc Antony and his Greek princess ally turned Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra.

Octavian was crowned the first emperor of Rome on January 16, 27BC and given the honorific title, “Augustus”. The Republic was dead. The era of Empire, had begun.

December 5, 63BC The Catiline Conspiracy

Lucius Sergius Catilina was a Roman Senator, best remembered for his attempt to overthrow the Republic. In particular the power of the aristocratic Senate. He seems to have been an unsavory character, having murdered first his brother in law and later his own wife, before being tried for adultery with a vestal virgin.

Following the overthrow of the  Monarchy in 509BC, the Rome of antiquity governed itself, as a Republic. The government was headed by two consuls, annually elected by the citizens and advised by a Senate. The Republic operated on a separation of powers principle, with checks and balances and a strong aversion to the concentration of power. Except in times of national emergency, no single individual was allowed to wield absolute power over his fellow citizens.

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A series of civil wars and other events took place during the first century BC, ending the republican period and leaving in its wake an Imperium, best remembered for its conga line of dictators.

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Lucius Sergius Catilina

Lucius Sergius Catilina was a Roman Senator during this period, best remembered for his attempt to overthrow the Republic. In particular the power of the aristocratic Senate. He seems to have been an unsavory character, having murdered first his brother in law and later his own wife, before being tried for adultery with a vestal virgin.

Catilina’s second wife, the formidable Aurelia Orestilla, reputedly murdered the Senator’s grown son, for objecting to the match.  The American political commentator and Rutgers professor Leonard A. Cole once said “You are not responsible for what your friends do, but you will be judged by the company you keep“. Seems about right, to me.

The first of two conspiracies bearing his name began in 65BC. Catilina was supposed to have conspired to murder a number of Senators on their entering office, and making himself, Consul. He may or may not have been involved at this stage, but he certainly would be for the second.

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H/T zbrushcentral.com for this astonishing representation, of the second wife of Catilina

In 63BC, Catilina and a group of heavily indebted aristocrats concocted a plan with a number of disaffected veterans, to overthrow the Republic. On the night of October 18, Crassus brought letters to Consul Marcus Tullius Cicero warning of the plot. Cicero read the letters in the Senate the following day, later giving a series of four speeches: the Catiline Orations, considered by many to be his best political oratory.

In his last speech, delivered in the Temple of Concordia on December 5, 63BC, Cicero established a basis for other speakers to take up the cause. As Consul, Cicero was not allowed to voice an opinion on the execution of conspirators, but this speech laid the groundwork for others to do so, primarily Cato the Younger.

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The actual Senate debates are lost to history, leaving only Cicero’s four orations, but there was considerable resistance in the Senate to executing the conspirators. They were, after all, fellow aristocrats.

Armed forces of the conspirators were ambushed at the Milvian Bridge, where the Via Flaminia crosses the Tiber River. The rest were executed by the end of December. Cicero’s actions had saved the Republic. For now.

history-catalineAt one point during this period, then-Senator Julius Caesar stepped to the rostrum to have his say. He was handed a paper and, reading it, stuck the note in his toga and resumed his speech. Cato, Caesar’s implacable foe, stood in the senate and demanded that Caesar read the note. It’s nothing, replied the future emperor, but Cato thought he had caught the hated Caesar red handed. “I demand you read that note”, he said, or words to that effect. He wouldn’t let it go.

Finally, Caesar relented. With an actor’s timing, he pulled out the note and read it to a hushed senate.  It turned out to be a love letter, a graphic one, wherein Servilia Caepionis described in detail what she wanted to do with Caesar when she got him alone. As if the scene wasn’t bad enough, Servilia just happened to be Cato’s half-sister.

Here’s where the story becomes very interesting. Caesar was a well-known lady’s man. By the time of his assassination, the Emperor had carried on with Servilia Caepionis, for years. Servilia had a son, called Marcus Brutus. He was 41 on the 15th of March, 44BC. The “Ides of March”. Caesar was 56. The Emperor’s dying words are supposed to have been “Et tu, Brute?”, as Brutus plunged the dagger in. “And you, Brutus?” But that’s not what he said. Those words were put in his mouth 1,643 years later, by William Shakespeare.

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Ciaran Hinds plays Julius Caesar in the series Rome

Eyewitness accounts to Caesar’s last words are lost to history, but more contemporary sources recorded his dying words to be “Kai su, Teknon?” In Greek, it means “And you, my child?”

It seems unlikely that Brutus murdered his own father on the Ides of March.  The dates don’t seem to work out. Still, it makes you wonder…

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

October 18, 63 B.C. The Catiline Conspiracy

The outcome of the battle was never in doubt yet, when the bodies were sorted out, the traitor and his last loyal few had received their mortal wounds, in the front. 

Ever since the overthrow of the Roman Monarchy in 509BC, Rome governed itself as a Republic.  The government was headed by two consuls, elected by the citizens to one-year terms and advised by a Senate.  The Republic operated on the principle of a separation of powers with checks and balances, and a strong aversion to the concentration of power.  Except in times of national emergency, no single individual was allowed to wield absolute power over his fellow citizens.

(pic - Story) Forum - From Arch of SeptimusA series of civil wars and other events took place during the first century B.C., ending the Republican period and leaving in its wake an Imperium, best remembered for its long line of dictators.

Lucius Sergius Catilina was a Roman Senator during the final period of the Republic, best remembered for his attempt to overthrow the government, particularly the power of the aristocratic Senate.  Catilina seems to have been an unsavory character, having first murdered his wife and son in order to marry the wealthy and beautiful Aurelia Orestilla, daughter of the consul of 71 B.C., Gnaeus Aufidius Orestes.  He was later tried for adultery, with a vestal virgin.

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Aurelia Orestilla, wife of Catiline.  H/T James Scott 3-D Art

The first of two conspiracies bearing Catilina’s name began in 65 B.C., when he was supposed to have conspired to murder a number of Senators on their entering office, and making himself, Consul.  Catilina himself may or may not have been involved at this stage.  He would certainly be involved, in the second.

Catilina and a group of heavily indebted aristocrats concocted a plan to overthrow the Republic in 63 B.C., along with a number of disaffected veterans.  The plot was revealed on the night of October 18 in letters delivered to Consul Marcus Tullius Cicero, by General Marcus Licinius Crassus.  Cicero read these letters in the Senate the following day and later gave a series of four speeches,  the Catiline Orations.  2,000 years later, we remember Cicero as one of the most powerful public speakers, of the Roman Republic.   These Catiline Orations are held among his finest moments, as a speaker.

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Cicero in the Senate denouncing Catiline, by Cesare Maccari

In his last speech, delivered in the Temple of Concordia on December 5, 63 B.C., Cicero established a basis for other speakers to take up the cause.  As Consul, Cicero was not himself permitted to voice an opinion regarding the execution of conspirators.  This speech laid the groundwork for others to do so, foremost, Cato the Younger.

The actual Senate debates are lost to history, leaving only Cicero’s four orations, but there was considerable resistance in the Senate to executing the conspirators.  They were, after all, fellow aristocrats.

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Milvian Bridge

The plotters went to the Allobroges seeking military assistance, but the Gallic tribe wanted no part it and reported the proposal to their Roman patron.  Armed forces of the conspirators were ambushed at the Milvian Bridge, where the Via Flaminia crosses the Tiber River.  The rest were executed by the end of December.

Catilina himself was killed in battle the following January, near the Tuscan city of Pistoria.  By this time, Catilina’s army had dwindled from 10,000 strong, to less than a third of that.  The outcome of the battle was never in doubt yet, when the bodies were sorted out, the traitor and his last loyal few had received their mortal wounds, in the front.

The Republic was saved.  For now.

At one point during this period, then-Senator Julius Caesar stepped to the rostrum to have his say. He was handed a paper and, reading it, stuck the note in his toga and resumed his speech. Cato, Caesar’s implacable foe, stood in the senate and demanded that Caesar read the note. It’s nothing replied the future emperor, but Cato thought he had caught the hated Caesar red handed, and went in for the kill. “I demand you read that note”, he said, or words to that effect.  He wouldn’t let it go.  At last, Caesar relented. With an actor’s timing, he pulled out the note and read it to a hushed senate.

It turned out to be a love letter, a graphic one, wherein Servilia Caepionis described in detail what she wanted to do with Caesar, once she got him alone. As if the scene wasn’t bad enough, Servilia just happened to be Cato’s half-sister.

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Assassination of Julius Caesar

Here’s where the story becomes Very interesting. Caesar was a well-known lady’s man.  By the time of his assassination, he had carried on with Servilia for years.  Servilia Caepionis had a son, one Marcus Junius Brutus.

87d43c51c42b9204b4c26b08df2239f0Brutus was 41 on the 15th of March, 44 B.C.  The “Ides of March”.  Caesar was 56.  The Emperor’s dying words are supposed to have been “Et tu, Brute?”, as Brutus plunged the dagger in.  “And you, Brutus?”  But that’s not what he said.  Those words were put into his mouth 1,643 years later, by William Shakespeare.

Eyewitness accounts to Caesar’s last words are lost to history, but more contemporary sources recorded the Emperor’s dying words as “Kai su, Teknon?”, in Greek.  “And you, my child?”

It seems unlikely that Brutus murdered his father on the Ides of March, but not impossible.  It’s hard to make the dates work.  Still, it makes you wonder…

Feature image, top of page:  “The picture shows the politician and most famous orator of Rome, Cicero (106-43 BC).In the year 63 BC, the senator Lucius Sergius Catilina (aprox. 108-62 BC) tried to seize power. You can see Cicero in the temple of Jupiter delivering his first of four orations against Catiline. Cicero thwarted Catiline’s conspiracy and, for the moment, saved the Republic”.  H/T Historywallcharts.eu

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

September 28, 48BC Mad Honey

Tales come down from the Civil War, of Union troops getting into hives of mountain honey and becoming sick and disoriented, much like Roman troops some two thousand years earlier.

From sniffing glue to licking toads and huffing gasoline, people have thought of crazy and often dangerously stupid ways, of catching a buzz. Three years ago, CNN reported on a child ingesting a few squirts of hand sanitizer, resulting in slurred speech and an inability to walk straight. What do a dozen broke college kids do on a Saturday night? Buy a bottle of gin, and snort it. In some parts of the world, bees pollinate great fields of rhododendron flowers, resulting in a neurotoxic delicacy known as “Mad Honey”.

The Rhododendron genus contains some 1,024 distinct species ranging from Europe to North America, Japan, Nepal and Turkey and grown at altitudes from sea level to nearly three miles. Many Rhododendron species contain grayanotoxins though, in most regions, concentrations are diluted to trace levels. Some species contain significant levels.

rhododendron ferrugineum

Occasionally, a cold snap in the Appalachian Mountains of the Eastern United States will kill off other flowers while leaving Rhododendrons unaffected, resulting in mad honey. Such circumstances are rare. Mad honey is the most expensive in the world, normally selling for around $166 per pound.

When ingested in small doses, grayanotoxins produce feelings of euphoria and mild hallucinations.   Larger doses have toxic effects,  ranging from nausea and vomiting to dizziness, severe muscular weakness and slow or irregular heartbeat and plummeting blood pressure. Symptoms generally last for three hours or so, but may persist for 24 hours or longer. Ingesting large amounts of the stuff, may result in death.

Today, the toxic effects of over ingesting mad honey are primarily found among middle-age males in Turkey and Nepal, where the stuff is thought to have restorative qualities for a number of sexual dysfunctions.

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Tales come down from the Civil War, of Union troops getting into hives of mountain honey and becoming sick and disoriented, much like Roman troops some two thousand years earlier.

The Greek historian, soldier and mercenary Xenophon of Athens wrote in 401BC of a Greek army passing through Trebizond in northeastern Turkey, on the way back home. While returning along the shores of the Black Sea, this crew had themselves a feast of honey, stolen from local beehives. For hours afterward, troops suffered from diarrhea and disorientation, no longer able to march or even to stand.

Fortunately, the effects had passed by the following day, before their defeated Persian adversary could learn of their sorry state.  Nearly four hundred years later, Roman troops would not be so lucky.

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus lived from September 29, 106BC through September 28, 48BC, and usually remembered in English as Pompey the Great.

Following the death of Alexander the Great in 323BC, Alexander’s generals and advisers fell to squabbling over an empire, too big to hold. The period marked the beginning of Hellenistic colonization throughout the Mediterranean and Near East to the Indus River Valley.

Within two hundred years, the Mithradatic Kingdom of Pontus encompassing modern-day Armenia and Turkey, was becoming a threat to Roman hegemony in the east. King Mithradates VI is remembered as one of the most formidable adversaries faced by the Roman Republic, engaging three of the most successful generals of the late Republic in the Mithradatic Wars of the first century.

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In 67BC, a Roman army led by Pompey the Great was chasing King Mithridates and his Persian army through that same region along the Black Sea. The retreating Persians laid a trap, gathering honey and putting the stuff out in pots, by the side of the road.

Had any on the Roman side brushed up on their Xenophon, the outcome may have become different.  As it was, Roman troops pigged out and could scarcely defend themselves, against the returning Persians.  A thousand or more Romans were slaughtered, with few losses to the other side.  And all of it, for a little taste of honey.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

March 15, 44BC  The Ides of March

The Roman calendar tracked the phases of the moon (or tried to), and didn’t count the days from first to last. Instead, Romans counted backward from three fixed points: the Nones (5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month), the Ides (13th or 15th), and the Kalends (1st of the following month).

The history of Rome may be drawn into two parts, the Republic and the Imperium. Since the overthrow of the Monarchy in 509BC, the Republic operated based on a separation of powers, checks and balances, and a strong aversion to the concentration of power. Except in times of national emergency, no single individual could wield absolute power over his fellow citizens.

A series of civil wars and other events changed that in the 1st century, BC.  The Republic was dead by the 30s BC, leaving Imperial Rome in its wake, a period best remembered for its long line of Emperors.

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Proscriptions of Sulla

Gaius Julius Caesar was born into this chaos, a son of the prestigious Julian Clan. In 82BC, the 18-year-old Caesar survived the “proscriptions” of the Dictator Sulla, in which the names of as many as 4,700 “enemies of the state” were nailed to the wall of the Roman Forum. Any proscribed man was immediately stripped of citizenship and all its protections. Anyone killing a proscribed man was entitled to keep part of his estate, the rest going to the government.  Rewards were paid for information leading to the death of anyone thus proscribed.

At the age of 25, Caesar was kidnapped and held for ransom by Cilician pirates, a group which may be described as the Isis of its time. Caesar laughed on learning that his ransom was set at only 20 talents of silver, and demanded his kidnappers hold out for 50.  He would yell at this band of killers for talking too loud while he was trying to sleep. He’d write poetry and read it to them, calling them “savages” if they were insufficiently appreciative of his work.

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For 38 days, Caesar joined in their games and exercises.  As if he were their leader, instead of their prisoner.  Caesar promised these pirates that he would come back and crucify them all, and he said it with a smile.

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The pirates thought it uproariously funny, but Caesar was as good as his word. The fifty talents were raised, and the captive was released.  He made good on his promise, raising a force sufficient to enforce his will and bringing his former captors to Rome.  There he had them all crucified, but not without a moment of kindness.  Caesar style.  He slit their throats, ending the ordeal of crucifixion by hours, if not days.

Caesar lost his hair at an early age, about which he seems to have been self-conscious. It’s probably why we see him depicted with the wreath on his head, but baldness didn’t seem to bother the women in his life.

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Caesar seems to have been quite the ladies’ man, having a son with none other than Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. One story has him being handed a note while speaking at the Senate. Caesar’s arch rival Cato (the younger) demanded to know the contents of the letter, loudly accusing him of complicity in the “Catiline Conspiracy” to overthrow the government. At last Caesar relented, reading out loud what turned out to be a love letter – a graphic one – written to him by Cato’s own half-sister Servilia Caepionis.

agrippinaCaesar rose through the ranks, organizing a coalition of three to rule the Republic. It was the first such “Triumvirate”, combining the popular general Pompey “The Great”, Crassus, the wealthiest man in all of Rome, and the rising young general and politician, Julius Caesar himself.

The partnership was doomed to fail, given the egos and animosities of the three. Crassus was killed on campaign in 52BC as Pompey became increasingly hostile to his co-ruler, then on campaign in Gaul.  A string of military successes against Celtic and native Germanic tribes caused Caesar’s popularity to soar, posing a threat to the power of the Senate and to Pompey himself.

The Senate ordered Caesar to resign his command and disband the army, or become an enemy of the state.  Everyone knew what it meant when Caesar crossed the Rubicon River at the head of that army, in 49BC. It meant Civil War. To this day, to “Cross the Rubicon” means to take a step which cannot be reversed.

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Shortly before his assassination in BC 44, Caesar was named dictator perpetuo rei publicae constituendae, the first time such a title had ever been made permanent. Nothing was more repugnant to traditional Roman sensibilities, than the idea of a dictator for life.   Caesar’s days were numbered.

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“Lupercalia Incident”, February, BC 44.

In BC 44, Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) was elected co-consul with Caesar, the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic.  During the festival of Lupercalia, Antony twice attempted to place the laurel wreath on Caesar’s head, twice to be rejected.  “The people give this to you though me” Antony said, as the stunned crowd stood silent.  Twice, Caesar removed the crown, saying “Jupiter alone of the Romans is King.”

Many believed the episode to have been a “trial balloon”, engineered to assess the public’s reaction.

A month earlier, the soothsayer Spurinna had “predicted the future by examining the internal organs of sacrificial animals.” Spurinna said that Caesar’s life “might come to a bad end,” warning that “his life would be in danger for the next 30 days.”

Roman-calendar
The Roman calendar tracked the phases of the moon (or tried to), and didn’t count the days from first to last. Instead, Romans counted backward from three fixed points: the Nones (5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month), the Ides (13th or 15th), and the Kalends (1st of the following month).

According to Plutarch, Julius Caesar arrived at the Senate on March 15, 44BC. Tillius Cimber presented him with a petition, as Senators crowded around. Cimber grabbed the Emperor’s shoulders and pulled down his tunic. “Ista quidem vis est!” said the Dictator for Life, “Why, this is violence!” Casca pulled a dagger and stabbed at Caesar’s neck. Caesar turned and caught him by the arm. “Casca, you villain, what are you doing?” Frightened, the Senator shouted “Help, brother!” in Greek “adelphe, boethei!” In seconds the entire group was striking at the dictator. Caesar attempted to get away but, blinded by his own blood, he tripped and fell. The men continued stabbing at him as he lay defenseless on the steps of the portico. According to Eutropius, 60 men participated in the assassination. Caesar was stabbed 23 times, though only one wound would prove fatal.

1024px-Vincenzo_Camuccini_-_La_morte_di_Cesare

Here’s where the story becomes Really interesting. Like the warning to “Beware the Ides of March”, Caesar’s last words, “Et tu Brute” were first introduced by William Shakespeare, 1,643 years after the fact. No eyewitness account of the assassination survives today, though a more contemporary source recorded the Greek words “Kai su, teknon?” as Brutus plunged the dagger in. “And you, my child?”

Marcus Junius Brutus (the younger) was the son of the same Servilia Caepionis, above. Brutus was 41 at the time of the assassination, Caesar 56. It is unlikely though not impossible, that Brutus killed his father that day. The affair between Brutus’ mother and Caesar, had carried on for years.

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Military campaigns of the General Caesar

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