A bizzare book of the late Roman Empire

Hello everyone! I’m trying to keep the pace of writing on my blog almost every day, in order to give you guys interesting facts about Romans.
Today I’m going to speak about a really ancient book written in the late Roman Empire, whose name is Notitia Dignitatum, otherwise “The list of offices”. From a general perspective, it represents the administrative organisation of the late Roman empire, considering the imperial court, the provincial government, diplomatic missions and army units. It is believed to be accurate, for what the Western Roman Empire is concerned, in 420 AC and for the Eastern Roman Empire in 395 AC.
Generally speaking, the book refers to a Roman Empire split in two by the emperor Theodosius, who divided it in 395 AC leaving the Western Roman empire to Honorius and the Eastern one to Arcadius. This was the situation in 395 AC.

The two sides were intended to be guided by the Vandal general Stilicho, who was appointed by Theodosius as a tutor for his sons after his death. The truth of the matter is that Stilicho, although was a brave and competent general, was considered a stranger for his barbaric origins and the Eastern Roman emperor Arcadius freed himself from his cumbersome presence. Moreover the Eastern Roman empire always diverted barbaric invasions at its borders to its Western neighbor, making him fall in 476 AC under the pressure of Germanic tribes.9b747d857458099c5fe068b2afee8996
But that is another story, let’s go back to our book! It was written by an anonimous author who perhaps was a high official in the Roman administration, because he gained access to information that were not so easy to trace. The striking point of the book is that it describes the military situation in the late Roman Empire. Let’s forget about Romans easily conquering cities and territories, because the Roman army at that time was struggling to defend the empire’s borders. According to the book, which does not record the number of soldiers, it can be supposed that they were less than 400,000 men. It seems to much, but they are few, comparing them with the 2,750 millions of km² to defend. In addition, some places had seen the Roman army’s presence decreased: for instance Britain had about 55,000 soldiers during the 2nd century AC, while in the 5th century AC they were less than 18,000.
395px-Notitia_Dignitatum_-_Magister_Peditum_4The last key fact that is worth – highlighting is that the book represents symbols and emblems of each unit in the army. Luckily, all the book was copied during the Middle Age and today it is perfectly preserved, making us enjoying the Amazing drawings depicted on Romans’ shields at that time.

Caesar’s Rhine bridges

Hello everyone! I’m sorry if I’m writing only now, but I had a lot of stuff to do: tutoring some students everyday, studying hard for my exams (I had criminal and civil law this week), attending university and playing basketball too! But I’m quite OK right now, so let’s go writing new stuff about the Ancient Roman time!
Today I’m going to speak about the Caesar’s Rhine bridges, but before let’s introduce the historical mainframe. Between 58 and 50 BC in fact Julius Caesar was in France (called Gaul at the time), trying (and definitely succeding) to conquer the region. Caesar_s_Campaigns_in_Gaul__1st_century_BCWhile he was defeating some Gallic tribes in 55 BC, Caesar had to fight against some Germanic groups, who crossed the river Rhine (yes, the one that makes up the border between France and Germany nowadays) to help their Gallic allies to defeat the Romans. Germanic raids were so frequent that Caesar decided to arrange a punitive expedition in Germany in order to show what the Romans could do when they were angry at someone. As a consequence, Caesar ordered his legions to build a wooden bridge to cross the river in order to punish the Germans. sacking and burning their villages and killing as many people as possible. After the expedition, Caesar came back to Gaul and destroyed the bridge, believing that Germans wouldn’t have had the brave to cross again the river Rhine. Foolishly the German tribes kept crossing the border, trying to help the Gauls in their war against the Romans.
ftg4497.jpgTwo years later (53 BC) Caesar decided to solve the issue and he came to a so-called final decision: he ordere his legions again to build a wooden bridge to cross the river Rhine. But this time his soldiers took only 10 days to finish the building, which was 500 meters long and 4 meters wide. He crossed the river slaughtering his enemies and taking with him a lot of Germanic riders as mercenaries. When he came back to Gaul, Caesar established not to destroy the bridge again, so that German tribes would have remembered the Roman power, which managed to build a bridge and cross the river Rhine.
Julius Caesar described directly this story in his book De Bello Gallico, which was a kind of diary that Caesar had while conquering Gaul.
Caesar’s strategy was effective, as he was able to secure the eastern border of Gaul. He demonstrated that Roman power could easily and at will cross the Rhine and henceforth for several centuries significant Germanic incursions across the Rhine were halted. Further, his feat served him in establishing his fame at home.
With Roman colonization of the Rhine valley more permanent bridges were built later at Castra Vetera (Xanten), Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (Cologne), Confluentes (Koblenz), and Moguntiacum (Mainz).

Rome and the USA (part 2)

Tyranny and war

So, the whole concept of the separation of powers, with its checks and balances, was lifted virtually wholesale from Rome and given a new, modern gloss. You only have to read the names of key institutions in United States’ government – the senate, the veto, the governor – to see just what a debt the American republic owes to the republic of Rome. And if you read the writings of the founding fathers, you will see just how consciously they pursued the creation of a new Rome. They even debated whether they should have two consuls, just like the Roman republic, instead of a single president.roman-senate-contemplates-bankrupting-the-empire

The problem with the myth of liberty for a republic founded upon freedom is that it is supposed to be fighting against tyranny.

Tyrants invade their defenceless neighbours and impose their will upon the defeated population. Tyrants annexe vast tracts of land that don’t belong to them. Tyrants go to war on a whim.

Republics only go to war in defence of their people. If this happens to expand their empire, then that’s not intentional, it’s just a natural consequence of a perfectly justified act of self-defence. After all, republics only annexe territory that is rightfully theirs. Don’t they?

Both America and Rome spread like a virus into the bodies of their home continents without ever admitting that they were empire-building. They did this by creating yet another fiction, what Rome called the casus belli – the ’cause of war’.

It was enshrined in Roman law that the republic could never go to war without a ‘just cause’. The law even defined what these just causes could be, and in all cases it ultimately boiled down to an act of aggression by another power.

This gave rise to the concept of the defensive war, espoused by all republics and democracies in history. The people will only go to war to defend their (and others’) liberty against oppression, and as far as Rome and America were concerned, that’s exactly what they did.

Just causes

 An appeal for help from certain Greek cities prompted Rome’s conquest of southern Italy. An appeal from San Francisco brought California into the United States.A response to Gallic aggression took Rome into northern Italy. A highly-suspect attack on the USS Maine gave America the excuse to invade Cuba. (The newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst is rumoured to have told his reporter to stay in Cuba at the time saying: ‘You provide the pictures, I’ll provide the war.’). Neither republic could admit that it was ruthlessly expanding at the expense of its neighbours. Mythmaking plays its part here, too. The Alamo still stands as a symbol of plucky American individualists defending their liberty against the tyranny of the Mexican military junta.’Remember the Alamo!’ became a rallying cry for America’s colonial take-over of Texas.MexicanW_BattleBuena_10C_13 Yet the Alamo is symbolic of something far more insidious that lay behind the concept of the defensive war. It sheds light on the dark rationale that drove both the American and Roman empires.So when is a just cause not a just cause? Let’s look at the Alamo in detail. It was the perfect pretext for the United States’ annexation of Texas. Never mind that the frontiersmen who defended it had no legitimate right to be there (it was, after all, Mexican territory). They were fellow Americans appealing to the United States for help in defence of their liberty, and that was reason enough for the United States to invade. It is possible, even likely, that the Alamo was a spontaneous act of self-expression on the part of American frontiersmen, but that really doesn’t matter. What matters is that Texas ended up in American hands because America went to war to ‘defend’ the rights of a bunch of adventurers who almost certainly had no right to be there in the first place.

Sudden superpowers


Such ‘absent-minded’ expansionism has its consequences.PF52257.33

In 264 BC, Rome intervened in Sicily on behalf of a group of Latin pirates called the Mamertines. These Mamertines were using the town of Messana in Sicily as a base from which to pillage the area. This naturally annoyed the local inhabitants, who tried to throw them out. When Rome stepped in, the Sicilians appealed to Carthage – the great North African trading power that dominated the Mediterranean. All of a sudden, Rome found herself thrust out of the local concerns of Italy and fighting a war on a world stage. Three wars and a hundred years later, Rome had lost more than a quarter of a million men and the African city was a pile of rubble. In 146 BC, the hawks in the senate pointed to evidence provided by Rome’s allies that Carthage was rearming and preparing to strike once more. Never mind the fact that these allies had most to gain if Carthage was ground into the dust. ‘Delenda Carthago est!’ they thundered: ‘Carthage must be destroyed!’ And destroyed it was.Rome’s victory changed everything. Suddenly Rome was a superpower – a force to be reckoned with. A power you could appeal to. Such power inevitably breeds arrogance. Even before the destruction of Carthage, when the Seleucid king Antiochus invaded Egypt in 168 BC, the Romans despatched an envoy called Popilius Laenas to deal with the situation. He did so by drawing a line in the sand, stepping back and telling Antiochus that if he took one step further onto Egyptian soil, Rome would declare war. magnesiaAntiochus decided not to cross the line. America now finds itself in a very similar position to the Roman republic of 146 BC. It is the dominant power on the world stage. Its armies are unstoppable and its culture permeates everywhere. It controls its foreign interests through what the Romans would have called ‘client’ kings – local rulers propped up by the superpower. If it doesn’t like what a ‘rogue’ state is doing, it flexes its military and economic muscle until that state backs down or succumbs to war. Yet the pressures of such dominance inevitably warped Rome until it was a republic no more. How the United States fares in the same position will depend on what it can learn from the histories written by Rome.

Rome and the USA (part 1)

An imperialist culture?

‘We seem, as it were, to have conquered and peopled half the world in a fit of absence of mind.’ This is the famous explanation given by Victorian classicist and historian JR Seeley for the British Empire.
However debatable, it could equally be applied to the Roman republic. By 146 BC, the Romans found themselves the undisputed masters of the Mediterranean world. But they had achieved this without ever really intending to, and consequently they were unprepared to take on that mantle.
University_of_Virginia_Rotunda_2006This is the position that the United States of America finds itself in today. Like the Roman republic, the US is now the policeman of the western world. Its armed forces are unstoppable, its influence is everywhere and just like the Romans, it got there by mistake.
Some commentators have said that the key difference between Rome and the US is that Rome was proud of her empire and America is not. The US, so the argument goes, will not forge an empire like Rome’s, because the US does not have an imperialist culture.
This argument is based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of what drove these two great superpowers. In fact, both Rome and America were founded upon the same myth, and that myth has shaped their respective destinies.

Creation myths

In 509 BC, so the story goes, the son of the Etruscan tyrant of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, fell in lust with a beautiful Roman bride called Lucretia. The young Superbus had no compunction in raping Lucretia and then casting her aside.th
In revenge, Lucretia’s family murdered the young Superbus and led the Romans in a rebellion against his father’s domination. They ousted the Etruscans and set up the Roman republic.
The defining moment of this rebellion came when a hero called Horatius single-handedly held the bridge across the River Tiber against an Etruscan army as his fellows cut it down behind him.
It doesn’t matter that the mythology is at best exaggerated and at worst untrue.
The rebel republic was saved and went on to defeat its old masters, conquering great tracts of Italy in defence of its new-found liberty.
Fast-forward 2,000 years to Boston, Massachusetts, where a small group of die-hards are tipping a cargo of tea into the harbour in an act of defiance against their colonial masters. In the war that follows, the defining act of the fledgling American republic is the daring midnight ride of Paul Revere to warn his compatriots of an approaching British army.
And so the republic is saved and goes on to defeat its colonial masters, ejecting them from American soil and conquering vast tracts of colonial land in defence of its hard-won freedom.
The details are different, but the sentiment is the same. Both Rome and America were founded on a myth of liberty – a tale of plucky underdogs fighting an evil empire in defence of their rightful freedom from the oppressor’s yoke.
It doesn’t matter that the mythology is at best exaggerated and at worst untrue. The crucial thing is that the myth persisted and influenced everything that the new republics did for centuries to come.

The ‘founding fathers’ of the American constitution would have had no problem with that comparison. In fact, they were the first to draw it. Steeped as they were in classical literature, it seemed only natural to hark back to the greatest republic of them all – that of ancient Rome – for inspiration.

Found where Caesar decimated the Dutch: Archaeologists pinpoint site of battle that left 150,000 dead

Archaeologists claim to have proved that Julius Caesar set foot on what is now Dutch soil, destroying two Germanic tribes in a battle that left 150,000 people dead.
The tribes were massacred in the fighting with the Roman general in 55BC, on a battle site now known to be in Kessel, in the southern province of Brabant.
Skeletons, spearheads, swords and a helmet have been unearthed at the site over the past three decades – but until now it has not been linked to Caesar’s battle.
Now, carbon dating as well as other historical and geochemical analysis have proved the items dated to the 1st century, the VU University in Amsterdam.
“This is the first time the presence of Caesar and his troops on Dutch soil has been explicitly shown”, said Nico Roymans, an archaeologist at the institution.
The two tribes, the Tencteri and the Usipetes, came from an area east of the Rhine and had asked Caesar for asylum.
But the Roman commander refused and ordered his eight legions and cavalry to destroy them, the university said.
“Today, we qualify such action as genocide,” the team said.vercingetorix_caesar
Remarkably, in the then Roman political culture no moral objections existed for mass murder on a defeated enemy, especially when it came to barbarian.
This explains why Caesar in his war reports, without any shame, gives detailed descriptions of the use of mass violence against Gallic and Germanic peoples who resisted the Roman conquest.
Caesar wrote about the battle in his account of the Gallic wars, Commentarii de Bello Gallico but the exact location had until now remained a mystery.
“From the basis of the combination of the various types of data it can be concluded that we have in Kessel the archaeological remains of the Caesar described as mass slaughter of the Tencteri and Usipetes of 55 BC,” the team wrote.
It seems that after expiration of the massacre the bodies of the dead and weaponry were collected and deposited in an old Maas Bedding.2F4A5FE800000578-3356684-These_are_iron_swords_spearheads_a_helmet_and_Germanic_belt_hook-m-8_1449871149234
Interestingly, some swords were deliberately folded or bent. This may indicate that the deposit of the battlefield remnants at the time was accompanied by rituals.
Of great importance is the presence of large numbers of Kessel human skeletal remains, especially men, but also women and children.
Some bones show clear traces of ancient injuries caused by spears and swords. Radiocarbon dating has determined that the skeletal material from Kessel indeed comes from the Late Iron Age.
“Also in the laboratory the tooth enamel of three individuals was studied geochemically at isotopes,” the team said.
On the basis of the values ​​of the strontium can be determined that in all three cases concerns persons who were not native in Dutch river area but came from elsewhere.

In Book IV of his De Bello Gallico Caesar describes his extremely violent crackdown against two Germanic tribes, the Tencteri and Usipetes, in the spring of 55 BC.
Caesar with his full force of eight legions and cavalry against the Germans went to war.
After the conquest of the Germanic camp the fleeing population was pursued by Caesar’s troops.
At the confluence of Meuse and Rhine  120 km off the coast, they were surrounded and slaughtered.2F4A50E300000578-0-image-a-1_1449868181183
Caesar mentions proudly that virtually the entire population including women and children was destroyed. In total would amount to 430 000 people, but this number is undoubtedly vastly exaggerated.
A number between 150,000 and 200,000 seems to be more realistic.

Happy birthday Rome!


Today is the birthday of the most famous city, which left to us a lot of historical landmarks. In fact, Rome was founded on April 21, 753 b.C. by Romulus, who killed his brother Remus and became the first Roman king.
I believe that all people have to reflect at least one minute upon the greatness of this city and its heritage, which shines on even now.
In order to celebrate this date, I would like to speak about the emperor who celebrated the one thousandth birthday of Rome (248 a.C) : Philip the Arab. He did not rule in a happy age, but nevertheless his celebration was absolutely great. In fact, according to the contemporary accounts, the festivities were magnificent. Not only theatrical representations were held througout the city, but also more than 1,000 gladiators were killed along with hundreds of exotic animals including hippos, leopards, lions, giraffes, and one rhinoceros. The event was so great that several works described the event, like Asinius Quadratus’s History of a Thousand Years, specially prepared for the anniversary.


Why do I publish all these posts about Romans? Roman culture is an idea, not only a boring thing that our teachers force to study. It is an idea of civilisation that we have to defend and to study, because it is related to our origin.

The Roman Kingdom (part 1)

The Roman Kingdom is the first period of the Roman history and includes the years from 753 AC (foundation of Rome) to 509 AC (overthrow of the last king). Very little is known about this period and the only sources, which belong to the Republic and the Empire, are largely based on legends.

Gold coin from Roman Dacia (mid-1st century BC) depicting a consul and two lictorsAccording to the myth, there were seven kings: Romulus, Numas Pompilius, Tullius Hostilius, Ancus Marcius, Tarquinius Priscus, Servius Tullius, Tarquinius Superbus. But what power did they own?
Ancient historians are almost unanimous putting down these powers:
– executive jurisdiction. Thanks to the Lex Curiata de Imperio, which was given from the Comitia Curiata (the first political assembly of the Ancient Rome) , the king owned the supreme command of the army and the ultimate executive power. He was also able to appoint the officials to their offices.
– religious authority. The king was appointed as the pontifex maximus. This expression comes from two latin words and means “bridge – builder”, stating a link between men and gods, thanks to the king. He was the supreme chief of the augurs and he controlled the calendar. As a consequence, he organised all religious cerimonies.
– legislative power. The king was the supreme legislator, as the Senate was only an advisory and honorary body. Nevertheless every law which the king submitted had to be approved by Comitia Curiata.
– judicial power. The king was the chief justice. Although he could point some officials for the minor cases, he possessed the supreme authority both in civil and criminal instances.
When a king died, Rome entered in a period called interregnum, in which the supreme power would be handed over to the Senate. It has in turn the responsibility to find a new kings, through a complex process in which every five days a senator would have been elected as interrex, in order to nominate a king. If the interrex did not succeed, the task passed to another interrex chose by his colleagues.

Once the king was selected, the Curiate Assembly had to approve or reject the nomination. If yes, the king had to go through a religious cerimony performed by an augur, with the purpose of understanding the divine consent to the appointment.Roman lictors
The king received also the imperium, which stated the supreme power in the Ancient Rome. The insignia of the kings of Rome were twelve lictors wielding the fasces bearing axes, the right to sit upon a Curule chair, the purple Toga Picta, red shoes, and a white diadem around the head. Lictors, fasces and axes were got back as the symbols of the consuls, who were the supreme offices of the Roman republica. Interestingly these insignia were used by the Italian dictator Mussolini in the XX century to declare the “New Empire”.