Ancient Rome’s Wealthy Cities of Oplontis, Stabiae, and Boscoreale

While the Vesuvian eruption was devastating, and many lives were lost, it preserved a moment in Roman history. Introduction More than 2,000 years ago, extremely wealthy Romans lived on the sunny shores of the Bay of Naples at Pompeii and in opulent villas nearby, unconcerned about Mount Vesuvius in the distance. Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE), Augustus[…]

Visigoths: Establishing a European Identity in the Ancient World

The designation Visigothi seems to have appealed to the Visigoths themselves, and in time they came to apply it to themselves. Introduction The Visigoths were the western tribe of the Goths (a Germanic people) who settled west of the Black Sea sometime in the 3rd century CE. According to the scholar Herwig Wolfram, the Roman writer Cassiodorus (c. 485-585 CE)[…]

The Growth and Spread of Christianity in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds

The Edict of Milan made the Roman Empire officially neutral with regard to religious worship – and then it flipped into forced conversion. Introduction Persecution of Christians Members of the Early Christian movement often became political targets and scapegoats for the social ills and political tensions of specific rulers and turbulent periods during the first[…]

Destiny of the Republic: The Context of Cicero’s ‘de Officiis’ in Ancient Rome

While Antony was consul, it appeared that little could be accomplished. Cicero was concerned about his own safety and the threat of civil war. Cicero composed his final philosophical treatise in autumn 44 B.C. The detailed correspondence he maintained throughout the months of uncertainty after the assassination of Julius Caesar in March reveals Antony’s bid[…]

Defender of the Republic: The Political Career of Marcus Tullius Cicero

During the chaotic latter half of the first century BCE, Cicero championed a return to the traditional foundation of the republic. Introduction The political career of Marcus Tullius Cicero began in 76 BC with his election to the office of quaestor (he entered the Senate in 74 BC after finishing his quaestorship in Lilybaeum, 75[…]

The Ambush of Roman Legions that Changed History in Ancient Gaul

The field where wily Germanic warriors halted the spread of the Roman Empire. “This is the soil of 2,000 years ago, where we are standing now,” Susanne Wilbers-Rost was saying as a young volunteer pried a small, dark clod out of it. Wilbers-Rost, a specialist in early German archaeology, peered through wire-rimmed glasses, brushed away[…]

Ancient Roman Gaul: Cultural Annihilation and Replacement

The Gaulish language and cultural identity underwent a syncretism with the Roman culture of the new governing class. Introduction The Roman Republic’s influence began in southern Gaul. By the mid-2nd century BC, Rome was trading heavily with the Greek colony of Massilia (modern Marseille) and entered into an alliance with them, by which it agreed[…]

The Plague of Justinian in the Sixth-Century Roman Empire

The plague’s social and cultural impact has been compared to that of the Black Death that devastated Eurasia in the fourteenth century. Introduction The Plague of Justinian or Justinianic Plague (541–549 AD) was the beginning of the first plague pandemic, the first Old World pandemic of plague, the contagious disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia[…]

The Antonine Plague: Pandemic in the Second-Century Roman Empire

The disease killed as much as one third of the population in some areas and devastated the Roman army. Introduction The Antonine Plague of 165 to 180 AD, also known as the Plague of Galen (after Galen, the physician who described it), was an ancient pandemic brought to the Roman Empire by troops who were[…]

The Roman Empire in the First Century: Imperial Intrigue and Chaos

The Roman Empire repeatedly faced an uncertain future. Introduction Two thousand years ago, at the dawn of the first century, the world was ruled by Rome.  The Roman Empire struggled with problems which are surprisingly familiar: violent coups, assassination, overarching ambition, civil war, clashes between the classes as well as the sexes and questions of[…]

‘Beware the Ides of March’: When a Ruler Gets Drunk on Power

In 44 BC, at the celebration of the Lupercalia, Julius Caesar, seated in a gilded chair at the front of the Rostra, publicly refused the diadem of kingship presented to him by Antony. He already exercised the power of dictator, and many regarded the gesture as nothing more than pretense. Indeed, for Appian, “the difference[…]

Damnatio and Creatio Memoriae: Memory Sanctions as Creative Processes in the 4th Century

How ancient emperors used oratory, ceremony, and triumphal architecture to memorialize their fallen enemies. Introduction Damnatio memoriae, the ill-defined group of processes that we often now refer to by the term ‘memory sanctions’, is generally thought of in wholly negative terms. It is imagined as a process of destruction, of erasure, and of silence. Yet[…]

Damnatio Memoriae: Sanctions against Memory in Ancient Rome

Many emperors were raised to gods after death, but just as many received the opposite – officially erased from memory. Condemning Memory Damnatio memoriae is a term we use to describe a Roman phenomenon in which the government condemned the memory of a person who was seen as a tyrant, traitor, or other sort of[…]

The Life and Works of Ancient Roman Historian Tacitus

Publius Cornelius Tacitus (l. c. 56 – c. 118 CE) was a Roman historian, active throughout the reign of Trajan (r. 98-117 CE) and the early years of Hadrian (r. 117-138 CE). His best-known works are Histories and Annals, which cover the history of the empire from the time of the Julio-Claudians to the reign of Domitian (r. 81-96[…]

Daily Life in the Ancient Byzantine Empire

The family one was born into in Byzantium greatly determined one’s social status and profession in adult life. Introduction Daily life in the Byzantine Empire, like almost everywhere else before or since, largely depended on one’s birth and the social circumstances of one’s parents. There were some opportunities for advancement based on education, the accumulation[…]

Telling the Story of the Trojan War in Ancient Greece and Rome

Exploring how manuscripts reveal the evolution of the tale of Troy in ancient Greek and Latin traditions. For over 3000 years, people have told legends of a long and bloody war between the Greeks and the Trojans, sparked by the abduction of the beautiful Queen Helen of Sparta by Paris, the Trojan prince. In response,[…]

Civic Patronage of Art and Architecture in Ancient Rome

The complex patronage relationships changed with the social pressures during the late Republic. Introduction Patronage (clientela) was the distinctive relationship in ancient Roman society between the patronus (“patron”) and their cliens (“client”). The relationship was hierarchical, but obligations were mutual. The patron was the protector, sponsor, and benefactor of the client; the technical term for[…]

The Praetorian Guard in Ancient Rome: Protection and Imperial Intelligence

The Praetorian Guard became notable for its intrigue and interference in Roman politics. Introduction The Praetorian Guard (Latin: cohortes praetoriae) was an elite unit of the Imperial Roman army whose members served as personal bodyguards and intelligence for the Roman emperors. During the era of the Roman Republic, the Praetorians served as a small escort[…]

The Continuation of Ancient Roman Law in the Medieval Period

Roman law came to have an immense effect on law as actually practiced in the medieval world. Introduction Medieval Roman law is the continuation and development of ancient Roman law that developed in the European Late Middle Ages. Based on the ancient text of Roman law, the Corpus iuris civilis, it added many new concepts,[…]

Tyranny in Ancient Greece and Rome

The classics contain many references to tyranny and its causes, effects, methods, practitioners, alternatives. Introduction In the modern English-language’s usage of the word, a tyrant (derived from Ancient Greek τύραννος, tyrannos) is an absolute ruler who is unrestrained by law, or one who has usurped a legitimate ruler’s sovereignty. Often portrayed as cruel, tyrants may[…]

The Ancient Roman Republic’s Adoption of Rhetoric

In Cicero’s Rome, the government eventually came under the control of a well-trained ruling class. Introduction As Athens declined in power, a new force emerged, the Roman Republic. The Senate was the only permanent governing body and the only body where debate was possible. In order to debate, one had to know the persuasive art[…]

Political and Personal Themes of the Graffiti in Ancient Pompeii

One of the most common types of graffiti found lining the streets of Pompeii were political graffiti. These graffiti opened a window into how the city of Pompeii was operated. Equally popular were graffiti that were simply personal comments or remarks. Let’s learn more about the political and personal graffiti of Pompeii. Political Campaign Graffiti[…]

The Migration Period in Ancient Europe, 300-568 CE

The migrants comprised war bands or tribes of 10,000 to 20,000 people during and after the decline of the Western Roman Empire. Introduction The Migration Period was a period that lasted from AD 375 (possibly as early as 300) to 568, during which there were widespread invasions of peoples within or into Europe, during and after[…]

Publius Quinctilius Varus and Rome’s Germanic Halt at Teutoburg Forest

The loss caused a great shock in Rome and effectively stopped Roman expansion beyond the Rhine River. Introduction Publius Quinctilius Varus (c. 46 BCE – 9 CE) was a Roman politician and general under the rule of Emperor Augustus. He is most remembered for having lost three Roman legions when ambushed by Germanic tribes in[…]