Monday, December 9, 2013

Octavian Builds an Empire

In the last post we discussed the careful effort employed by Octavian to rid himself of rivals and take control of the Roman Republic. Now we move on to the building of the Principate, which was significantly more difficult. Many revolutionaries, throughout history, have attested to the difficulty of ruling once the battle is over. Indeed, the skillset is much different between tearing down and ruling. In Octavian’s case, he had to maintain the veneer of the Republic while building an authoritarian state. The fact that he was successful puts him near the top of the list of great politicians of all time.

Octavian had the savvy to build a political system that could operate successfully, the temperament to rule fairly, and strength of will to fight off threats which could have weakened or destroyed Rome. Sadly, as so often happens in human society, the attributes of a great ruler don’t often get carried forward to his successors. But that’s another story for later.

Remembering the intolerance of the ruling class for the flaunting of naked power, Octavian sought to disguise his rule under accepted Republican traditions. For the first eight years after Actium (31-23 B.C.), he served as consul using that office as a constitutional basis for power, but half way through that period, he returned control of the state to the Senate and people of Rome --  a brilliant political move which gave the appearance of restoring the ancestral system. At the same time, he was given authority to rule certain provinces, through governors, and the rest of the Roman territory was put under the authority of proconsuls nominated by the Senate. In both cases, the provincial authorities were professional administrators under tight control of Rome rather than greedy political climbers looking to line their pockets.

Still, Octavian made sure to influence the appointment of those governors and see that “new men” were mixed in with the patricians so that the ancient families would not be able to gain too much influence. He reduced the size of the Senate to 600 and enlarged its powers to include some judicial responsibility. Moreover he transformed the Senate from a political body to an administrative body to assist with the management of the new government.

Once these changes were put in place, Octavian renamed himself “Augustus” to strengthen his myth and avoid any name or title that would imply a quest for authoritarian power. The association of his new name with the word augurium went to the heart of Roman tradition.

During these years the Roman Empire continued to expand both in the east and west. Galatia was developed in Asia Minor and western north Africa became a client kingdom. In 23 B.C, Augustus visited Gaul and was helping to direct a campaign in Spain when his weak constitution failed him, he fell ill, and nearly died. Now believing he had to reorganize the governmental structure further, Augustus resigned from his consular posts. But he retained authority over his provinces and had himself granted imperium maius, which placed him above all provincial governors. Augustus was also designated as tribune of the people that same year.

Both of these titles carried authority without office – novel in the history of Roman governance. During the teens B.C, we see Augustus establishing a civil service for the first time in Roman history. The beneficiaries of this expansion of government were the knights who occupied the position of a middle class – professionals who were willing to do work patricians saw as beneath them but more educated and capable than the plebs. As Max Weber has told us, bureaucracy is a dangerous thing; too structured to be efficient and fundamentally wasteful. Still, bureaucracies are stabilizing forces in society that operate separately from the politics around them. Augustus’ bureaucracy would manage the business of Rome for hundreds of years.

Augustus’ careful building of the principate had taken about fifteen years to accomplish and the end result was stability in Rome. Still, the difficult problem of succession remained. Augustus had created such a unique title and span of authority that there was no other single person who could fill his position. No one had the qualifications. And on a practical level, he had extreme difficulty lining up an heir. The first candidate, Marcellus, husband of Augustus’ daughter Julia, died in 23 B.C. Nero Drusus, son of Livia, who was probably preferred over his brother Tiberius, died in Germania in 9 B.C. Then after Julia married Agrippa and they had two sons Gaius and Lucius, those boys were seen as successors. But by extraordinary chance, Gaius died in 4 B.C. and Lucius two years later. Now there was no question that Tiberius remained the sole successor so Augustus threw up his hands, adopted him, and made him heir.

Tiberius would succeed Augustus upon the latter’s death in 14 A.D. and fail to carry out his legacy. He was a sullen personality who would not get on with the Senate and so his years were marked by regression of the Roman political system and a steady march to tyranny. Tiberius indifference to governing coupled with the ruthless methods of his associate Sejanus undid much of what Augustus had accomplished. Should we be surprised?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Ascendancy of Octavian

The great sociologist Max Weber asserted that political leadership can only achieve legitimacy through one of three forms: traditional, charismatic, and rational-legal. In this post we will discuss how Octavian, through guile and political skill, leveraged himself forward using these forms to his advantage. The history of Octavian anticipates Weber and demonstrates a classic example of political calculation.

For Weber, tradition refers to the hereditary transfer of authority from one generation to the next, as in the royal houses of Europe. These leaders are not given legitimacy for any personal characteristics they may have, but only through rights held by their family. The opposite form is the charismatic leader who obtains legitimacy based on personal characteristics he possesses that appeal to people and make them want him as a leader. One would certainly consider Alexander the Great a charismatic leader, but in his case and all others charismatic legitimacy is delicate and fleeting because it ends with the death of the individual. The third form, called rational-legal refers to legitimacy obtained through a procedure that is legally sanctioned. Elections are the most obvious example of this form because they require the public to obey leaders who have been chosen in a legally sanctified way.

Prior to the assassination of Caesar, Octavian had little going for him other than ambition. He was a member of the famous Julii family, making him a patrician by birth and almost guaranteeing a successful career in politics, but what else would he accomplish?

The day Octavian landed at Brundisium and learned about the inheritance of Caesar’s fortune, his life changed forever. Ambition was put into action so quickly one suspects a master plan behind it. Octavian immediately changed his name to C. Iulius Caesar Octavianus, creating a family connection to the deceased charismatic leader. His new name, with Caesar contained in it, forged a legal connection which could not be disputed.

At this point, we introduce a chronology documenting the moves Octavian made in his effort to take control of the Roman world. I believe that seeing these in a list helps to frame the stratagem and the extent of his efforts.

April, 44 B.C. Octavian was rebuffed in his attempts to obtain Caesar’s legacy from Antony, so he used family assets to pay off Caesar’s legacies. These efforts marked him as a decisive and honest leader who could be trusted.

Late spring, 44 B.C. Octavian launched a PR campaign to Caesar’s veterans without any legal authority to do so, raised a considerable army, and even won over two of Antony’s legions. Octavian knew that military power was needed to create political power and of course, his rivals had armies he had to offset with his own. He must have exhibited an impressive force of will to win over the army because the link with Caesar could only have carried him so far.

Summer- Fall, 44 B.C. Octavian allowed to Senate to view him as preferable to Antony who they disliked. Cicero, in particular, lauded Octavian as a champion of the Republic.

April, 43 B.C. Octavian accompanied the consuls Pansa and Hirtius in their pursuit of Antony, who they defeated at Mutina and Bolonia, but both consuls were killed in battle and Octavian was left as the sole commander of the consular army. He was denied a nomination as consul and threatened to march on Rome if not given the title. The Senate relented and elected him consul suffectus along with Quintus Pedius, a relative who had given his Caesarian inheritance to Octavian.

October, 43 B.C. Octavian agreed to a Second Triumvirate in order to define the contractual obligations between himself and his rivals and to legitimize his position as one of the three most powerful men in Rome.

October-December, 43 B.C. During the time Octavian was meeting with his fellow triumvirs, Pedius pushed two new laws through the assembly. The first confirmed the adoption of Octavian by Caesar and the use of his name. The second law made outlaws of Caesar’s murderers. Octavian’s strategy was addition and subtraction: raise himself and lower the enemy. Antony was already disliked by the Senate and now the assassins were placed on the enemies list.

November- December, 43 B.C. Octavian participated in the proscription put together by the triumvirs that gained additional wealth for each and disposed of many enemies. Whatever one thinks of Octavian’s moral character, he cannot be excused for the excesses perpetrated there.

January 1, 42 B.C. Julius Caesar was declared a god by the Senate, making Octavian, his adopted son, the son of a god. This precedent created a political-religious link from Octavian to all of Roman history. No traditional legitimacy could have been stronger.

Summer-Fall, 42 B.C. Octavian accompanied Antony in the pursuit of Cassius and Brutus to further legitimize his reputation as a military leader and avenger of the murderers of Caesar. Lepidus, who was left to manage Rome, was now seen as inferior.

Spring, 41 B.C. Following the victory at Philippi, a contract was signed between the triumvirs which re-divided the provinces. Lepidus was denied any territory.

40 B.C, Octavian had his sister, Octavia, marry Antony, whose wife had just died. That marital link would serve as a temporary insurance policy to prevent any actions by Antony against him.

Winter, 39-38 B.C, Octavian attacked the rebellious Sextus Pompeius at sea and lost half his ships. Now realizing his shortcomings as a military commander, Octavian Named Agrippa as his senior commander.

36 B.C. After the Sicilian campaign and Lepidus’ defiance, Octavian forced his former partner into retirement, removing an obstacle on the path to control of Rome. Now only Antony stood in the way.

33 B.C. Antony took up with Cleopatra and became dependent on her fortune, Octavian started a campaign to discredit his former colleague. He painted Antony as a demoralized man under the thumb of the Egyptian queen. Then in 32 B.C, when the consuls tried to censure Octavian, the young man unleashed a vicious attack on Antony causing both consuls and three hundred senators to leave Rome and join Antony.

32 B.C. Octavian had Antony’s will retrieved from the Vestal Virgins and read aloud in public. It proclaimed that Caesarian, Caesar’s son with Cleopatra as legitimate, provided for Antony’s sons with Cleopatra, and called for Antony to be buried with her. This news was offensive to most Romans who now viewed Antony as weak.

31 B.C. Octavian declared war on Antony and defeated him at the battle of Actium.

The steps outlined above were methodically carried out over a thirteen year period. When it began, Octavian was nineteen years old. When it ended, he was thirty-two.

How did this behavior anticipate Weber?

First and foremost, Octavian built a bridge to tradition by adopting Caesar’s name and certifying himself as Caesar’s adopted son. When Caesar became deified, Octavian became the son of a god.

He used charisma where appropriate, most notably his approach to the army of Caesar immediately after their hero was murdered. He used their emotions, his standing as the son of Caesar, and personal charisma to win them over to his side. Octavian also knew the public would respond to strength and he strove to exhibit his personal strength in ways that would influence public opinion throughout this period.

Octavian consistently utilized rational-legal forms by adhering to the traditional structure of the Republic – utilizing the Senate to introduce bills and nominate magistrates and the assembly to pass the bills and elect government officials.

Octavian must be considered as one of the greatest political leaders of all time and it’s not surprising that he was able to rule the imperial state for some forty years. How he skillfully transitioned Rome from the Republic to the Principate is another story – one we will take up in the next article.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dissecting Rome’s Second Triumvirate

Rome’s first triumvirate was a power grab by Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey who sought to take the power of the Senate and share it among themselves. Crassus, the weakest of the three in political instincts, played an important role by siphoning off enough power to prevent a calamity between Caesar and Pompey. But, after his sudden death in 53 B.C, the six year old agreement became unstable as only Caesar and Pompey were left to fight each other for control of the Republic.

The second triumvirate, on the other hand, was sanctioned by the Senate as a legitimate source of consular power, because the elders had become too weak to resist anyone who would use military power to threaten them. The end point this time was the triumph of Octavian and the foundation of the imperial state.

In a certain sense, one would consider Octavian an unlikely candidate for title first emperor of imperial Rome. He grew up in modest circumstances and lost his father at a young age. Moreover, his constitution was weak and he did not have soldiering ability in him. What Octavian lacked in physical ability, he more than made up for in political skill -- and his instincts were uncanny.

Raised by his mother Atia, a niece of Caesar, Octavian drew the attention of his great uncle for unknown reasons and was made his heir without the boy’s knowledge. When Caesar was assassinated, Octavian returned from Illyricum and learned that Caesar’s bequest had made him immensely rich at age nineteen. He courted Anthony but was rebuffed out of jealousy over the boy gaining Caesar’s estate, so Octavian spent the remainder of 44 B.C. paying off Caesar’s legacies out of his inheritance and winning over Caesar’s former troops by leveraging the family connection.

The Senate eventually outlawed Anthony in favor of the republicans Cassius and Brutus, and when the consular army, accompanied by Octavian, was sent against Anthony in Gaul the latter was defeated. Rebuffed in his request for a consulship, Octavian marched on Rome and the Senate capitulated. Now Cassius and Brutus became the outlaws when their amnesty for killing Caesar was revoked and Antony and Lepidus returned to favor when their sins were forgiven.

Mark Antony, born in 83 B.C, was a patrician by birth who lived a dissipate lifestyle until a military career presented itself during his 26th year and he found himself proficient at it. His rise was rapid and by 54, Antony had become Caesar’s right hand man and close friend as they served together in Gaul. Following Caesar’s occupation of Rome, Antony served as administrator in Caesar’s absence and was lucky to escape death when Caesar returned and was assassinated. Antony gave the funeral oration for his friend and used the occasion to turn public opinion against the assassins.

Marcus Aemilianus Lepidus was born to a well-known patrician family in 89 B.C. Praetor in 49 B.C. and consul in 46, Lepidus was named “Master of the Horse” by Caesar in February of 44 B.C. After the assassination of Caesar, Lepidus sided with Antony and was declared to be an enemy of Rome by the Senate.

So now we have the set up for the second triumvirate: Antony and Lepidus, military men of great skill allied with each other and commanding a large army; Octavian, standing as a formidable opponent with an army, a famous name, and political skills beyond those of his rivals.

Octavian met Antony and Lepidus on an island in the Remo River near Bononia (Bologna) during October of 43 B.C. Each had legions with him. They agreed to form a triumvirate for five years giving them the authority to make laws and nominate magistrates and governors. The agreement became official when the Tribune P. Titius pushed it through the tribal assembly on November 27th. The territories were divided up: Antony taking Transalpine and Cisalpine Gaul, Lepidus taking the rest of Gaul and Spain, and Octavian taking Africa, Sicily and Sardinia. The triumvirs agreed that Lepidus would serve as consul in 42 while the others pursued Brutus and Cassius in the east. To provide security and money, they carried out a ruthless proscription which claimed the lives of 300 Senators and 2000 knights, including Cicero. The wealth obtained was partially used to pay off the legionnaires and settle them on confiscated lands.

As we know from the history, Brutus and Cassius were defeated at Philippi, avenging the murder of Caesar and ending the Republic once and for all. The triumvirs now signed a contract specifying the division of provinces: Antony took all Gaul except Cisalpine; Octavian received Spain, Sardinia, and Africa; and Lepidus received nothing because he was suspected of conspiring with Sextus Pompeius. For the short term, Antony would head east to raise money and Octavian would deal with Sextus Pompeius.

Between 40 and 37 B.C, there were at least three occasions when the agreement between Octavian and Antony looked like it would fall part, but at the last minute these disputes were resolved and, in 37 B.C, the triumvirate was renewed for another five years. The next year, Octavian was finally able to corner Pompeius in Sicily and defeat him, but, oddly, Lepidus took command of some Pompeian troops and ordered Octavian off the island. As a result, Lepidus was stripped of his powers as a triumvir and retired from public life. Now, as in the case of the first triumvirate, the balancing power was removed. When the triumvirs contract expired at the end of 33, the agreement was not renewed. Antony continued to use the title, but Octavian moved on as consul and son of a god (Caesar had been deified).

Octavian used Antony’s relationship with Cleopatra to paint him as more loyal to Egypt than Rome and a traitor to the Republic. This public relations campaign served as a prelude to the sea battle of Actium in 31 B.C, which spelled defeat for Antony and his death along with Cleopatra.

Octavian had triumphed by guile and calculation. He would utilize those same tools to build an Imperial system that pretended to be Republican.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Note to those trying to sneak advertising into this Blog

The number of occurrences of stealth advertising to this blog has markedly increased in the last few months, reaching an annoying level. The individuals creating this traffic attempt to gain visibility by creating pseudo-comments and then adding an advertising pitch at the end.

I get approached all the time about advertising, because everyone with something to sell is looking for a way to leverage eyeballs, but I reject all of these inquires because I want this blog to be a place where my readers can enjoy ad-free content. There is nothing influencing what I write except the discovery of new information about the ancient world.

This stealth advertising serves no purpose and accomplishes nothing because 100% of these comments are flagged as spam and never make it to the posts they are attached to. I'm happy Google built such an intuitive spam filter capable of blocking these spurious comments.

The comments section of this blog should have two purposes: allow readers to offer their opinions on content and create a forum where they can ask questions. I receive many good questions and have responded to almost 100% of them over the past five years. Please keep the good comments coming.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Axial Age – Man Becomes a Philosopher

The Axial Age or Axial Period, as its sometimes called, was the period of antiquity circa 800 B.C. to 200 B.C. characterized by human thought directed toward understanding man’s place in the world. That inquiry sought a moral structure which would explain how man should live his life to achieve happiness and be in balance with the wishes of the gods. The Axial Age was not confined only to the West, but spanned the globe from the Middle East, though India, and included China. It featured individuals such as Plato, Confucius, Buddha, and Jeremiah, whose ideas had a profound influence on the future of religion and philosophy. The fact that these thinkers lived across the globe and emerged at nearly the same period in history suggests that human moral evolution had reached the same point simultaneously, perhaps under the influence of common factors.

Take a look at the graphic below which shows the timeline of the advent of philosophy/religion across the great cultures.

We’ve discussed the stages of Greek history many times. Greek philosophy began when its founders sought to explain the universe. Once the universe was placed in a philosophical framework, the Greeks began to think about his place in it. He wondered about the purpose of life, how the universe came into being, and how he could live in harmony with the wishes of the gods. Greek philosophy was built upon the foundation of Plato and Aristotle who represented the idealistic and practical approaches to an understanding of the world.

Nearly simultaneous with Greek philosophical development was the advent of philosophical systems under Buddha, Confucius, and the Hindu priests who had adapted the ancient Vedic religion to their time. In the middle east, the Jewish religion developed out of the monotheism of Zoroastrianism. In each case, religion was fused with philosophy. The gods were assumed to exist and what remained was for man to decipher their wishes.

The label Axial Age was first described by the philosopher Karl Jaspers who wrote about the evolution of human thought during the first millennium B.C. Jaspers introduced the concept in a book called The Origin and Goal of History, published in 1968. He considered the Axial Age as unique and one which ushered in the age of human thought. The term Axial is a translation of the German word for pivot, referring to a change in human direction.

Like any new idea the Axial Age has its proponents and detractors. Let’s delve into that a little further.

In the previous post, I discussed the book Why the West Rules, by Ian Morris. Morris is supporter of the Axial Period as a change in the direction of human history, although with reservations. I quote from his book: “Karl Jaspers, a German philosopher struggling to make sense of the moral crisis of his day, called the centuries around 500 B.C. the Axial Age…Jaspers portentously declared, ‘Man as we know him today, came into being’”

Morris has some interesting thoughts on the Greeks and Romans.

He states:

“Greece’s real contribution to Axial thought came not from Democrats, but from the critics of Democracy, led by Socrates. Greece, he argued, didn’t need democracies, which merely pooled the ignorance of men who judged everything by appearances; what it needed was men like himself, who knew when it came to the one thing that mattered – the nature of the good – they knew nothing. Only such men could hope to understand the good… through reason, honed in philosophical debate.”

Of course the beliefs of Socrates were carried forward by his pupil Plato in The Republic and Laws, and Plato’s successor Aristotle in Ethics and Politics.

Morris doubts whether the philosophical geniuses of the first millennium B.C. guided societies through some type of intellectual barrier. He gives three reasons for this opinion: 1) the Axial Period covered many centuries and is not a sudden event, 2) the most important Axial thinkers came from small communities and were not well known, and 3) since Axial thinking was a reaction against kings and their bureaucrats, its real contribution was in the area of social development, not societal behavior.

Morris believes that the real engine for the advancement of man was the character of man himself: lazy, greedy, and frightened. Morris believes these are the true characteristics that propel the human race forward and uses the Romans to prove his point.

“It was a spectacular example of the advantages of backwardness, combining organizational methods pioneered in an older core with military methods honed on a violent frontier. It slaughtered, enslaved, and dispossessed millions; and drove social development forward at an accelerated pace.”

Another, more adamant, critic of the Axial Period was Antony Black, writing in the Review of Politics, 2008.

Black disputes any notion of an Axial “Period” because the change was not rapid enough and did not involve a greater number of cultures. He agrees that this period saw an advancement in complex human but wonders if it were merely due to the state of societies of that time - that turmoil was causing a rejection of the status quo and the desire to “invent” a new path forward. A rational view would dictate that power be based on merit instead of birth and that the rich should care for the poor and this intellectualizing of human behavior eventually led to a deepening relationship among members of a society who shared a common belief.

I find Jaspers' theory quite interesting. The fact that the tendency to complex human thought sprang up at approximately the same time in human history indicated a common human desire to create philosophical systems which would light the way for man to achieve wisdom. Whether it was a driving force or an incidental attribute of forces already at work, is a matter for future debate. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Antiquity and Teaching us about the Future

Long time readers have heard me mention that studying history helps us understand the future and under my blog title it says “The future has already happened”. I believe that human behavior repeats itself generation after generation, as we can easily see if we go back and look.

The philosopher Santayana put it differently when he said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I disagree. History repeats itself because of the character of man, not his neglect of history, and no matter how diligent we might be at studying the past, we still can’t escape from ourselves.

The study of antiquity becomes more interesting when we realize that people have always acted the same. We see these behaviors repeat in cycles and can compare them to what’s happening in the world today. Even though we have developed a brain capable of taking us beyond what mere “animalness” can accomplish, we’re still animals. Yes, we developed civilization quickly –  the pottery wheel, agriculture, trade, cities, metallurgy, armies, political systems – all between 4000 B.C. and 500 B.C, but we remain jealous, hateful, militant, distrustful, power hungry, and greedy.

I recently came across a paper by Ian Morris, professor of Antiquity at Stanford. The paper, “The Collapse and Regeneration of Complex Society in Greece, 1500-500 B.C”, was written in 2005. I plan to discuss this paper in a future post but for now I would like to discuss Professor Morris himself. Not being familiar with his work, I looked him up and discovered his recent book, “Why the West Rules for Now.” I read a review where it was mentioned that Morris was summoned to CIA headquarters to talk about his book.

Spooks into antiquity? Go figure! Reminds me of the FBI interrogation of Indiana Jones when they were trying to understand Hitler’s interest in the occult.

So what is it this time?

Why the West Rules tells the history of the world and then reduces the accomplishments of societies to an equation. Morris believes that history moves forward as a giant amorphous mass and is only minimally influenced by individuals or ideas. To him, there are three main forces acting on society: geography, climate, and the paradox of development. The latter refers to the fact that societal development is accompanied by forces which tend to undermine its progress.

And people are the problem. “Change is caused by lazy, greedy, frightened people looking for easier, more profitable, and safer ways to do things. And they rarely know what they’re doing.”

Morris has developed a theorem which claims that by mathematics one can determine which is the dominant culture on earth at any one time, and further, the formula can be used to predict the future. An index derived from the theorem is calculated using four characteristics of a society: energy capture per capita, social organization, the capacity to wage war, and the level of information technology. Each of these factors is assigned a value up to 250 so when we add them together we get a maximum index value of 1000.

The book compares the score of the Eastern world against the Western world throughout history and concludes that the East will regain superiority in 2103.

By the way, what did the spooks want? They wanted to understand Morris’ theories so they could incorporate them into a National Intelligence Council report documenting global trends, to be used to guide the next administration. I wonder how they validated his theory? Did they just accept it as the truth coming out of research by an expert in history? Who knows.

I have two large problems with Morris’ book and the reception to it. Let’s start with the latter. To quote one of the reviews of the book,

Morris's success at finding an audience for that big story comes at a time of anxiety about the waning influence of historians, whose work is often hyper-specialized. Kenneth Pomeranz, president of the American Historical Association, recently lamented that "our space in the public sphere has been diminished to the benefit of fields like economics."

The reviewer plays this game – “Look history is relevant again. It’s useful”, as if he had a clue about the subject. And then we have the following:

“Why the West Rules won praise in publications like The Economist and the Financial Times, which called it "the first history of the world that really makes use of what modern technology can offer to the interpretation of the historical process."

Which brings me to my second problem. I don’t buy the notion that history has to create some way to be relevant in order to impart value. It doesn’t need a technological methodology at all, because it’s one of the subjects of the Humanities, not the computer science department.

Morris reminds me of what’s wrong with the progressive movement. Its adherents have substituted science for God, and worse, they believe their science. Remember that FDR intended to appoint a board of economists who were going to dictate policy to all American corporations as part of an industrial plan. Funny to think anyone thought something as complicated as our economy could be reduced to a set of equations.

But here we have Morris trying to do the same with history. Who said there are four factors that influence the accomplishments of a society? Who says they should be equally weighted? Why go through the exercise when the assumptions are faulty? Now I’m not ready to condemn the factors and trends Morris cites. He is a well-respected historian. But when you quantify something, people assume the numbers are useful for comparison purposes, and they parse them up way beyond their relevance.

And I have do have a complaint about the foundation ideas of the theorem and index. Morris is materialistic – a little bit Marxian. His theorem gives no credit to ideas as contributors to the success of societies, like no one ever thought of something that really mattered. Huh?

I guess if it sells books and gets the spooks interested it has value. We trust the spooks, don’t we?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Announcement of a New Program in Cultural Heritage Management

MA International Cultural Heritage Management Department of Archaeology, Durham University, England

Durham University is launching a new MA in International Cultural Heritage Management, designed for people interested in exploring how cultural heritage shapes and reflects people’s lives, hopes and memories around the world and interested in contributing to the complex challenges of developing cultural heritage in a changing world. This programme aims to introduce students to the issues involved in global cultural heritage management as a foundation for both professional and academic future paths. It builds on Durham University’s unique situation, living and studying within a World Heritage Site, to examine tangible and intangible heritage with an international, national and local focus. Students will explore the concepts underlying the idea of cultural heritage and investigate the social, political and economic impact of a variety of heritage organisations using international case studies, normally undertake a placement and choose either a detailed management plan or a dissertation to complete their degree.
A few places are still available for the October 2013 entry, together with some bursary funding to support international (non-EU) students’ fees.

To learn more about the MA, please contact Dr Mary M Brooks, Director, MA International Cultural Heritage Management at to arrange for an informal discussion by telephone or skype.

For information on Durham’s World Heritage Site, see

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Interested in Archaeology? Go on a Dig!

I found an interesting website which is produced by Archaeology Magazine.

The URL is, a website which describes the dig at Zominthos, Crete, a Minoan city.
The website gives a chronology of the dig, starting in 2005 and continuing through this year. In addition, the dig team is introduced and the dig site described. Take a look.

Zominthos is interesting as a Minoan settlement for several reasons. It is on the path between Knossos and Idaion Andron, the great sanctuary cave on the peak of Mount Ida and there is evidence of a permanent settlement there dating from 1800 B.C. The current excavation involves a building at 1200 meters elevation, which is higher than any other Minoan or Cretan structure. Was it a stopover for those pilgrims heading for the sanctuary? Unlikely, because the structure has certain palatial elements implying its use by the wealthy.

The building contains at least forty rooms and covers some 1350 square meters on the main floor. Adjacent, is a pottery workshop unique in Minoan Crete.

The building was abandoned around 1600 B.C. after the volcanic eruption at the Greek island of Santorini. For more details on the latter, see my post from May 13th, 2011.

Thoughts on The Association of Ancient Historians Annual Meeting

Although I’m academically trained, my degree is not in ancient history, so exposure to new research in the subject is a necessary activity for me. I always want to use current academic thinking as a compass for my own work and try to rub elbows with academics whenever possible. The lens through which academics look at ancient history gets adjusted over time as points of view change so like other disciplines it’s an evolving subject. Ancient writers have been analyzed ad nauseam, so it remains for archaeology to help us gain new knowledge through their uncovering of new artifacts. And it’s a slow process.

This blog is designed to walk the line between purely academic treatment of my subject and a more general discussion. My goals have always been twofold: show how history is interesting, unlike the way it is taught in school, and give dedicated readers some meat to chew on. I want to get into the details of the story in a way that enlightens and challenges the minds of my readers.

Below are two examples of papers presented at the annual meeting, which I outline to give the reader a sense of the proceedings.

One paper was called “Ex Usuris: interest, Investment, and Economic Growth in North Africa”. Ex Usuris means “of interest” and in this context the author described how Roman officials took money from the people either through taxation or other means but then often used that money to invest back into the local economic system. Using this technique, they could take economic control away from the natives and determine which projects received funding and were allowed to move forward. Along the way, they made sure that the money they spent contributed, and even glorified, their reputation in the community.

Another paper was titled “The Professionalism of Advocacy in the Late Roman Empire”. It discussed how qualifications to practice law evolved in the late Empire under the influence of the church. In the beginning, men could not me appointed as lawyers unless they had training in the law. Later the credentialing became much more sophisticated, specifying no conflict with imperial duties, sound birth status, and personal eloquence.  Lastly the requirement was added that the advocate support the Christian religious orthodoxy. In this small example, we see the structure of the church becoming a disciplinary substitute for the decaying structure of the Roman political system.

Esoteric stuff, no doubt, but each piece contributes to our knowledge of the ancient world. The body of work on any subject is like clay that gets re-molded by each generation of academics. I suspect much of the change is fashion but the truth gets sorted out over time. Ancient history has its unique limitations, as I have mentioned, most notably the impact of time on the preservation of the facts. We were pretty deep into the history before we had any historians to write things down, and of course it was Herodotus who helped get things going.

Thank goodness there are so many good stories to tell. The Romans and Greeks are the fathers of us all through their creation of the theoretical (Greek) and practical (Roman) foundations of western civilization. They give us a glimpse of modern society in its embryonic form and if we take the time to go on the journey, we can watch man invent political systems as he gave up being a nomad and settled into urban life.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Please consider contributing to this worthy research project

My name is Kasia Szremski, I'm a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and now on site in rural Peru for an excavation related to a project to study how and why some ancient Andean societies shared limited resources peacefully whereas other groups resorted to violence. I'm turning to crowdfunding to support the final phase of the project. The outcome of this research could one day be applied to conflict regions in today's world. 

This project, which is the basis for my dissertation, began in 2008. I started out doing archaeological surveys in the Huanangue Valley in order to gain a broader perspective on regional geopolitics in my study area, and also to select sites for excavation. I then assembled a team of scientists and students and proceeded to dig for artifacts, which include seeds, ancient structures, pottery and even human remains. Throughout this research, I have endured mudslides, quicksand, flash floods, and even run-ins with vipers and tarantulas!

I expect to finish my dissertation by May 2014. However, lack of funding may derail my plans. As sequestration hits, crowdfunding is being used increasingly by young scientists who have a hard time competing against their more established colleagues for traditional grants.

You can learn more about the project on the science crowdfunding site Microryza

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Dissecting Rome’s First Triumvirate – Part II

The rule for election of Consuls of Rome required that a man be 43 years of age unless he was of the patrician class and then he would get two years credit and be eligible at 41. Election during the first year of eligibility was on Caesar’s mind as he waited for the end of 60 B.C. and the voting. During his term as provincial governor of Spain, Caesar had acquired enough capital to pay off many of his debts. Moreover, his experience leading men in battle had energized him for more efforts in the arena of war. But first it had to be Rome and the Consulship.

Caesar’s competitors in the election were Bibulus and Lucceius. Bibulus had served with Caesar as Aedile, but disliked him immensely. Nonetheless he offered bribes to Caesar for his support. Caesar refused and short on cash himself,  borrowed money from Lucceius. He did not approach Crassus, as he was accustomed to because he didn’t want to offend Pompey who was still at odds with the wealthiest man in Rome. When the votes were tallied, Caesar was elected along with Bibulus who had benefitted from a campaign of bribery undertaken by Cato.

The force bringing the triumvirs together was now set in motion. Caesar was snubbed by the Senate when it assigned the “forests and cattle runs” of southeastern Italy as the province to be administered by the new Consuls.

Pompey was snubbed when the land bill he proposed to accommodate his veterans was defeated. The Senate looked down on Pompey as beneath their class – a plebian by heritage and only now elevated because of his father. They distrusted him fearing he would try to use his army to overthrow the government.

Finally, Crassus was snubbed when he supported the re-write of a tax collection contract favored by the knights. He got Cicero over to his position, but Cato killed the bill.

The Senate of this period was made up of three factions, each amounting to one third of the voting power: conservatives who supported the Republic as it had always been, moderates including Cicero and Cato who allowed some adaptation of the political system, and the liberals who supported Pompey and Caesar. The conservatives were so strict in their point of view, they tried to block all efforts of the triumvirs, unable to perceive the harm they would eventually bring to themselves.

Pompey and Crassus decided to bury the hatchet and go in with Caesar. The latter was still the least influential of the triumvirs but he had two important assets: he was by far the best negotiator and he had previously been a supporter of Marius, the man of the people, whereas the other two were seen as allies of dictator Sulla.

The allies decided to add a fourth man to the group – make a quatumvirate, no less. The man they chose was Cicero, because of his oratorical skills. The invitation to join was delivered to him by Balbus, a confidant of Caesar. Cicero was certainly angry at the conservatives who were in the process of wrecking the Republic, but he could not abide the triumvirs either. He felt Pompey and Crassus were not supportive enough of his handling of the conspiracy of Cataline, while his antipathy toward Caesar was visceral. In the end, he refused to join the others and would suffer later because of it.

Michael Grant, in his biography of Caesar described what followed:

“During the next ten years the triumvirate remained the controlling factor in Roman politics. This is not, as it is sometimes called, a defeat for democracy. The dispute was not between senatorial government and democracy, which never existed in Rome and never would, but between a haughty, reactionary, corrupt oligarchy and an equally ruthless tyranny conducted by three individuals.”

Let me provide more detail for year one – 59 B.C.

When the newly elected Caesar introduced the land bill to the Senate, they filibustered until he withdrew the measure and took it to the assembly. It was vetoed by three tribunes but Pompey and Crassus spoke in favor, making it plain they were allied with Caesar. When Bibulus, the other Consul, tried to block the bill, Caesar had Pompey’s troops burst into the assembly and intimidate the opposition into surrender.

Frustrated, Bibulus and his allies tried the alternative tactic of using auspices to block all assembly meetings. Whenever an Assembly meeting was scheduled, he would take auspices and declare that the date was unsuitable. Caesar ignored this blocking attempt and used the Assembly to pass legislation beneficial to the Triumvirs.

In April, Pompey, who was 43, married Caesar’s daughter Julia, 17. It has been suggested that Pompey needed the link to be able to count on Caesar’s political skills. Caesar also married for political advantage -- Calpurnia, daughter of Lucius Piso, who Caesar sought as a puppet Consul for the next year. These matrimonial maneuverings prompted Cato to remark that the Roman political system had become a marriage bureau.

Now Caesar decided it was time to improve his financial position and sought to use Egypt as the golden nugget. The king of Egypt had died and left a dubious will declaring his country would be bequeathed to Rome. Caesar then bribed the Senate and the Assembly with borrowed money to recognize Ptolemy XII as the rightful king so that he could gain a fortune through his relationship with the new monarch.

Even more important were Caesar’s efforts to secure a province for himself after his term of Consulship ended. Working through a trusted Tribune, Vatinius, he moved a bill through the assembly to allocate to himself Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum for a period of five years instead of the normal two. The Senate was not even consulted. Bibulus declared the law invalid because the omens were not favorable, but, once again, he was ignored. During a subsequent shouting match in the Senate, Caesar declared that he had gotten what he wanted despite the moanings of the Senate and that from now on he would “mount on top of the heads of the Senators”.

Caesar was allocated three legions for his new dominion and as he prepared for the new  assignment, fortune smiled down on him and changed history. Narbonese Gaul (also referred to as Transalpine Gaul) had previously been assigned with Cisalpine Gaul to a single Consul. This time the provinces were split with Metellus Celer receiving the former and Caesar receiving the latter. Before taken his post, however, Celer died, and Caesar used his father-in-law Piso and his son-in-law Pompey to argue that Narbonese Gaul should be added to his domain. The Senate gave in, possibly thinking that the more Caesar had on his plate away from Rome, the less he would meddle in its affairs.

But Caesar’s power remained a threat to the Senate. In July, an informer named Vettius accused Caesar or a plot to kill Pompey, but before the matter could be prosecuted, Vettius died mysteriously. An assassination attempt by a slave followed, but Caesar would survive to let history take its course.

He would spend eight years in Gaul conquering the tribes and write the Commentaries along the way. Julia, wife of Pompey and daughter or Caesar, would die in childbirth (54 B.C.) breaking the marital bond between husband and father. Crassus would be ambushed and killed in Pythia in 53 B.C. leaving no offset to any conflict Caesar and Pompey. Caesar would use Gaul to fortify his resume as a military leader while Pompey languished in Rome, a general out of place as a politician. By the time Caesar crossed the Rubicon in January 49 B.C, he knew he was the man who would change the Republic forever.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Dissecting Rome’s First Triumvirate – Part I

The first triumvirate of the Roman Republic was a classic study in power and politics. Three men, each with their own unique personality, battled for control of Rome, but it took a titan of titans to defeat the other two, and that man removed the final brick from the Republic and used it to establish the foundation for an empire.

Gaius Julius Caesar was born in 100 B.C. A member of the famed Julian clan, he was the son of another Gaius Julius Caesar whose sister Julia married Gaius Marius, the famous general. Caesar matured during the civil war between Marius and Sulla (88-82 B.C), although his allegiance to Marius almost cost him his life. During the time Marius was in control of Rome, Caesar was named priest and married the daughter of Marius’ ally Cinna. But then Sulla took control of the city causing Caesar to lose his wife’s dowry, title, and was forced into hiding. Ironically, the loss of priestly office freed Caesar to join the army and serve in the east. Hearing of Sulla’s death in 78, he returned to Rome to work as an attorney in order to hone his skills in rhetoric and oratory. Then, by 70 B.C, Caesar was ready to begin his political career.

After serving as military tribune, Caesar was elected Questor in 69 B.C, Aedile in 66, and then Pontifex Maximus and Praetor Urbanus in 63. After his Praetorship, Caesar was appointed governor of Spain, but could not take that position until he satisfied his creditors. He appealed to Marcus Crassus for help and the richest man in Rome paid or guaranteed many of Caesar’s debts. Caesar stood for Consul in 59 B.C. and was elected in one of the most corrupt campaigns on record.

Marcus Licinius Crassus was born in 115 B.C, son of P. Licinius Crassus, who was Consul in 97 B.C and Censor in 89. During the civil war, Crassus’ father and brother committed suicide rather than being captured by the troops of Marius. Later, after Marius’ death, his ally Cinna began proscriptions on all those who had supported Sulla, forcing the younger Crassus into exile. Then, after Cinna’s death in 84 B.C, Crassus joined Sulla in Africa and eventually became one of the leaders of the attack force that retook Rome in 82 B.C. Crassus spent the next few years amassing the greatest fortune in Roman history through land speculation, proscriptions against the followers of Marius, and slave trade. Now wealthy, he began his political career through the curule path. Political advancement was interrupted by the slave war with Spartacus, which Crassus helped put down in 71 B.C, but he was elected consul in 70 B.C, serving with Pompey and then Censor in 65 B.C. In 60, he was returned to consul, again serving with Pompey.

Gnaeus Pompey Magnus was born in 106 B.C. His father, Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo served as Praetor in 92 B.C. and Consul in 89 B.C. He died during Marius’ siege on Rome in 87 B.C. The son served in the army under his father and found soldering to his liking. Prior to Sulla’s assault on Rome, Pompey raised three legions to support him and forever earned the trust of the new dictator. After victories over the remaining Marians in Sicily and Africa, Sulla dubbed his young general “Magnus” supposedly in derision because Pompey had no political experience worthy of a title. After putting down a revolt following the death of Sulla, Pompey demanded that the Senate name him proconsul of Hispania. Fearing his rising military power, the Senate said no, but Pompey got his way when he threatened the Senate by refusing to disband his legions. He remained in Hispania until 71 B.C. when the Senate requested that he help Crassus with the war against Spartacus.

Pompey was elected consul with Crassus in 70 B.C. without having first served in the Senate, a very unusual accomplishment. At 35 years of age, he was already Rome’s greatest general and, as head of the army, a power to be reckoned with. Following his consulship, Pompey continued his military exploits, fighting in the east against Mithridates, and then on to Syria and Palestine. He returned to Rome for his third triumph in 61 B.C. and again joined Crassus as consul in 60.

So we had three men, three personalities, who had accumulated great power on their own, each harboring a defect preventing further glory. Caesar, the youngest, had little military experience and substantial debts which limited his influence. Crassus lacked leadership skills and was forced to use coin in its place. Pompey had no political resume and lacked a skill for politics. They all experienced Sulla’s attempts to reform the Republic, but Pandora’s box had been opened and Sulla could not put the Republic back to the way it used to be. The new world would be fashioned by the triumvirate and that which would follow it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Early Kings of Rome

Those who are familiar with the history of Rome know that the Republic was preceded by a monarchy – seven kings, the last three Etruscan. These kings had no hereditary authority and were elected by the assembly to act as military and religious leaders of the Roman people. The purpose of this post is to try and separate fact from fiction in the story of those early monarchs.

The early-mid Iron Age period circa 700 B.C saw radical changes in the structure of political systems around the Mediterranean. In Greece, for example, the collapse of the Mycenaean dynasty ushered in the Dark Age period which lasted until about 700 B.C. New monarchies sprung up but the kings were weak and had no hereditary authority so their weakness ultimately allowed the Polis to take hold. Monarchies on the Italian peninsula were subject to the same pressures as we see in the behavior of the Etruscans during the time they controlled Rome.

Where do we get our information about this period in Roman history? Livy, writing six centuries later is our most detailed source, but his story is a retelling of folklore and myth that was given to him. Let’s take a few moments and review what has been written about those early kings.

Romulus was the first of the named kings -- invented to create an origin for the Roman culture. After 38 years as king, he ascended into heaven during a thunderstorm creating the the link to the gods necessary for the myth to be complete.

The second king, named Numa Pompilius, was said to be of Sabine origin. He built the king’s palace in the Forum (Regia) and organized the religion of Rome including the Temple of Vesta and its servants, the Vestal Virgins. Numa also expanded the Roman calendar to twelve months. He reigned for forty three years and then passed from this life.

Next was Tullus Hostilus, a strong military leader whose most notable achievement was the defeat of the Albans which led to their annexation to Rome. Tullus also built the first Senate house and called it the Curia Hostilia. He died in 642 B.C. after a reign of thirty one years.

The fourth king was Ancus Marcius. He is credited with building the first bridge across the Tiber and with extending Roman influence to Ostia. He lost a popular election in 616 B.C. to L. Tarquinius Priscus.

Tarquinius was an Etruscan and owed his election to the influence of his Etruscan friends who had followed him to Rome. He reigned until 579 B.C. when he was murdered by the sons of Ancus Marcius who were unhappy with their exclusion from the affairs of state. In the melee that followed, his son, Servius Tullus, became king when his wife (Tarquinius’ daughter) convinced a crowd that Tarquinius was alive but injured and Rome needed Severus to temporarily serve in his place. Severus continued with the ruse until he had consolidated his power and was elected king.

Severus was the most noteworthy and remarkable of the Roman kings. He reorganized the assembly by creating the Comitia Centuriata as an assembly of economic classes which mapped to each class’s role in the army. For example, the Equites, or cavalry, were the most wealthy of the groups because they had to be wealthy enough to buy their own horses. Severus is credited with the creation of the Roman Timocracy – property ownership requirement for the privilege of voting in the assembly. He also advanced the cause of the middle class as a brake against the power of the patricians. After forty-three years on the throne, he was murdered by the grandson of Tarquinius, also named Tarquinius. After new monarch evolved into a tyrant, the Romans began calling him “Superbus”, a derogatory reference to his arrogance. After a reign of twenty-five years, the tyrant was exiled and the reign of Roman kings came to an end.

Historians have been skeptical of much of the history we have outlined here. It appears that the date of Rome’s origin and the number of kings were selected before dates were fitted to them. It seems unlikely that all these kings could have reigned for twenty four years or longer. In addition, the accomplishments of the kings appear to be equally alloted between them to appear as if each helped in the formation of the Republic. Still, the history of the Etruscan kings appears solid for two reasons: we know that the Etruscans were expanding south during this time so it makes sense that they would gain power in Rome. More importantly, the Romans would not have acknowledged their subservience to the Etruscans unless it was actually true.

Livy admitted his history lacked authenticity:

“My task, moreover, is an immensely laborious one. I shall have to go back more than seven hundred years, and trace my story from its small beginnings until these recent times…Events before Rome was born or thought of have come to us in old tales with more of the charm of poetry than of a sound historical record, and such traditions I propose neither to affirm or refute. There is no reason, I feel, to object when antiquity draws no hard line between the human and the supernatural: it adds dignity to the past, and, if any nation deserves the privilege of claiming a divine ancestry, that nation is our own…”

And then, interestingly, Livy turns philosopher:

“I invite the reader’s attention to the much more serious consideration of the kind of lives our ancestors lived, of who were the men, and what the means in both politics and war by which Rome’s power was first acquired and subsequently expanded; I would then have him trace the process of our moral decline, to watch first, the sinking of the foundations of morality as the old teaching was allowed to lapse, then the rapidly increasing disintegration, then the final collapse of the whole edifice, and the dark dawning of our modern day when we can neither endure our vices nor face the remedies needed to cure them.”

These words from two thousand years past anticipate the postmodern world we live in today.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Who were the Etruscans?

The story of the Etruscans is an interesting one -- interesting and obscure.

Their history is remarkable when measured by their accomplishments as merchants, craftsmen, traders, and influencers of Rome, but we only know pieces of their story. The emperor Claudius tried to help us by chronicling their history in twenty volumes, but his work did not survive. Meanwhile, the Etruscan language has defied our understanding and, other than some decoding of artifacts, we can’t read it. Still, three of the Roman kings were Etruscans who helped launch the Republic.

Ultimately, the Etruscan culture would die and fulfill an ironic prophesy.

The area of Italy we know today as Tuscany was originally settled by the Villanovans, an iron age culture that had migrated from Northern Europe. The Tuscan branch is referred to as the Northern Villanovans but there was also a southern faction extending beyond Rome into Campania. The term Villanovan comes from their discovery in an ancient cemetery near Villanova Italy, eight miles from Bologna. The Villanovans were not a uniform culture or society, but more of a group of tribes with common interests. They were expert metal smiths and potters who cremated their dead and buried them in cone-shaped graves. The earliest Villanovan evidence dates from the beginning of the Iron Age and continues to 500 B.C. Through artifacts, we can document their social evolution showing the tribes transitioning into a socio-economic hierarchy.

Around 750 B.C. another race arrived and displaced the Villanovans. According to Herodotus, the newcomers, eventually labeled Etruscans, came from Asia Minor. He writes in book 1 chapter 94:

“The customs of the Lydians (Asia Minor east of Ionia) are like those of the Greeks... They were the first men whom we know who coined and used gold and silver currency; and they were the first to sell by retail. …In the reign of Atys son of Manes there was great scarcity of food in all Lydia. For a while the Lydians bore this with what patience they could; presently, when the famine did not abate, they looked for remedies, and different plans were devised by different men… But the famine did not cease to trouble them, and instead afflicted them even more. At last their king divided the people into two groups, and made them draw lots, so that the one group should remain and the other leave the country; he himself was to be the head of those who drew the lot to remain there, and his son, whose name was Tyrrhenus, of those who departed. Then the one group, having drawn the lot, left the country and came down to Smyrna and built ships, in which they loaded all their goods that could be transported aboard ship, and sailed away to seek a livelihood and a country; until at last, after sojourning with one people after another, they came to the Ombrici (Umbria Italy) where they founded cities and have lived ever since. They no longer called themselves Lydians, but Tyrrhenians, after the name of the king's son who had led them there.”

What we see in the archaeology is the appearance of Etruscan settlements where Villanovan settlements once stood. Why? Perhaps they co-existed and eventually merged into one culture. The Romans called these people Tusci or Etrusci, creating the link to the region later called Tuscany.

The map shown above shows the territory of Etruria with its major cities.

The Etruscans were farmers first – taming the wild land of Tuscany to grow emmer (a type of wheat) which was husked and unsuitable for bread making until they were able to create new cultivars. Olive oil was unknown in Etruria as late as 581 B.C, but must have been imported from Greece. Home grown wine grapes, like olive trees came later. The Etruscans were skilled at irrigation, and the excavated tunnels suggest an organized approach and central authority behind the engineering.

Although Italy is not blessed with significant metal resources, what is there was concentrated in Etruria and, as metalworkers, the Etruscans excelled. They mined and worked precious metals, tin to make bronze, and iron. The photograph below shows an example of Etruscan craftsmanship.

Jewelry and metalwork became items of trade for the Etruscans and they developed a substantial merchant fleet. Allies of the Carthaginians, they traded throughout the Mediterranean including Southern France and Spain.

Tarchna (Tarquinnii) was perhaps the richest and most famous of the Etruscan cities. At its peak from 650-500 B.C, Tarchna was the center of bronze production in Etruria. Everywhere in the archaeology of the city we see a culture with evolving sophistication. The dead were cremated and buried in painted amphoras, temples were built, and life was represented in art – banquets, dancing, athletics, chariot racing, and hunting. We also see an early political system made up of clans, anticipating the Republic.

Ancient Rome was also Villanovan, but there was no Etruscan Villanovan marriage there. One suspects the independent nature of  the native Latins was responsible for blocking Etruscan assimilation. Ultimately the Etruscans would occupy Rome, but it was not by a gradual mixing of cultures.  Prior to their arrival, the Latins were mostly a pastoral people. The Etruscans influenced them to become more commercial (and maybe the Greeks in Campania had an influence also). The end result was the light went on for the Latins and their culture began to advance. In Rome, the Etruscan influence was everywhere – from the new temples that were constructed to the evolving political system.

Historically, Etruria was made up of an alliance of free independent city-states. Although they had common interests, the cities openly competed with each other and went to war when necessary. The ruler was an all-powerful king who acted as both a political and religious leader. Unfortunately, we know little of the Etruscan political system outside the period when they gained influence over Rome and the history was recorded. The last three kings of Rome were Etruscan (616-510 B.C.), so we can see Etruscan influence over the formation of the Roman government, which was different from the historical Etruscan model. During that period, across the Mediterranean and into Asia, aristocratic factions had begun to peck away at the authority of the kings.

The first Etruscan king of Rome, L. Tarquinius Priscus, created one hundred new Senators to win popular support, so even at this early point of Roman history the king was not powerful enough to function as an autocrat. Priscus also build the first wall around Rome and added sewers to drain the Forum. His successor, Servius Tullius, divided Rome into tribes and instituted the census for the first time. He created the Centuriate assembly which classified the army by wealth and gave the wealthy the most powerful voting blocks. In 509 B.C, the last Roman king, L. Tarquinius Superbus, was expelled and Rome became a Republic.

The ascendancy of the Republic hastened the decline of the Etruscans. The nearest Etruscan city, Veii, fell to the Romans in 396 B.C. At the same time, the Northern Etruscan cities were attacked and ravaged by a Gallic invasion. By 273 B.C. Etruria was firmly under Roman control as part of an Italian confederation. As time went on. the Etruscans provided troops to the Republican army and, during the Second Punic War, they were able to avoid Hannibal all together. Later, they took sides in the civil wars supporting Caesar and suffered devastation as a result. The Etruscan culture ultimately faded into history.

In the beginning of the article I mentioned an ironic prophesy, which was the prediction of the end of their civilization. The Etruscans were ultra-religious and I think it was Cicero who said they were the most religious people in the world. They believed their race (or any race) is given a fixed span of time by the gods – in their case 10 saecula of 70 years. The Etruscan civilization was established in about 750 B.C and after the 700 years had passed, they were no more.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Alexander the Great – What if he had lived?

One of the most fascinating stories from antiquity is the life of Alexander the Great, the man who conquered the world by age thirty. Alexander has to be considered one of greatest military commanders of all time and one of the most important personalities of the ancient world.

Unfortunately, the story of his life ends abruptly. He became ill in early June of 323 B.C. and died on either the tenth or eleventh of that month at age thirty-two. The cause of Alexander’s death has been debated throughout the centuries, even up to the present day. Was he poisoned, or was it an infection that killed him? The truth eludes us but the fact that Alexander was ill for ten days suggests that disease rather than poison was the culprit.

What would Alexander have accomplished if he had not died so young? We can only guess, but it makes an interesting topic for discussion nonetheless.

To try and imagine Alexander’s world after 323 B.C, I’m going to employ Arnold Toynbee, a well-known scholar of antiquity, to help us. Toynbee, known mostly for his Study of History, wrote many fine books about the ancient world including a favorite of mine called Some Problems in Greek History.

There is a chapter in the latter entitled “If Alexander the Great had lived on”, where Toynbee speculates about Alexander’s efforts and successes during the period after 323 B.C. It’s a long chapter, spanning some forty-five pages, and I will not attempt to re-tell his whole story, but I found the section on Alexander’s relationship with Rome particularly interesting.

At the time of Alexander’s death in 323 B.C, Rome was in the middle of the Second War with the Samnites, which would end in 304 B.C. Rome, in those early days, did not have control of central and southern Italy, much less the whole peninsula. There were strong neighbors allied against her and her future depended on guile and perseverance.

So we begin Toynbee’s narrative…

In the winter of 318/317 B.C. Samnium was threatening the whole Italian peninsula and since their failure at Caudine Forks in 320 B.C, the Romans sought a different strategy to use against their principle adversary. They reasoned that a move across the Apennines to the Adriatic and then south would allow them to seek allies along the way and outflank the Samnites. Rome succeeded in making allies of Frentani, Teanum Apulum, and Canusium by 318 and was gaining strength when Ptolemy, representing Alexander, landed in Tarentum. The Tarentine government was anxious to avenge the death of the king of Epirus and looked to Alexander as the agent of that purpose. Ptolemy toured the states of Peucetia and Apulia and offered their leaders an alliance with Alexander against Samnium as a preview to Alexander’s arrival the next season when he would crush the Samnites. Ptolemy also visited Teanum Apulum and Canusium urging them to think twice about an alliance with Rome, a minor power, when they could be allied with Macedon. Both cities abandoned their treaties with Rome in favor of the Greeks.

With his diplomatic mission completed in southeastern Italy, Ptolemy moved on to Rome with two advantages over the Romans: he was representing the conqueror of the world and Rome was still weak from her loss at the Caudine Forks. Ptolemy planned to offer an alliance that would offer Rome protection, but would the Romans see it as disguised servitude? Ptolemy offered a treaty similar to that of Porus, Alexander’s Indian ally -- an equal partnership – and the terms allowed Rome to retain all of its current territories. Alexander would not challenge the new Roman alliance with Frentani or another recent alliance with Neapolis, although he frowned on the latter as Roman hegemony against a Greek city. Once Samnium was overthrown, Rome could claim some of the resulting spoils including the Caudine Canton. Rome could also seek alliances with central Italian cantons, but in no case was she allowed to compel them to accept alliances with her. Alexander would also give Rome access to the Po valley with her rich agricultural potential.

Ptolemy now moved on to the more delicate part of the negotiations, namely what Rome must agree to in return for the benefits Alexander would provide them. Alexander wished to set limits to Rome’s territorial expansion. The Italian land east of the Apennines, including the major portion of Samnium, and all of Magna Graecia would be off limits. These territories would be organized into a territory of Tarentum. To mark the bounds of the new territory, Alexander would be planting Greek colonies at Maluentium, Luceria, and near Mount Vultur.

As to the Etruscan territories, Alexander would make treaties with them identical to those that had been negotiated with Rome.

And regarding Umbria and the northern territories of Italy, Alexander sought agreement with Rome on four points: first that the parties should agree as to the independence of the northern territories, second either party could sign treaties with any of the states in the north, third that any alliance made by either would count as one with both parties, and fourth the northern territories would not be asked to go to war with Samnium. That way they could protect the north from the Gauls should they choose to come down.

Ptolemy told the Romans they must except his proposal as is with no negotiation. If they refused or allied themselves with the Samnites, they would not be able to stop Alexander from continuing with his plans. Rome accepted Alexander’s offer without hesitation.

The next year Alexander landed at Tarentum, assembled his army and crushed the Samnites. He now controlled one half of the Italian Peninsula and could use it as a stepping stone to conquer Sicily and then Carthage.

This story did not happen, of course, but it could have. Toynbee teases us with a historical phantasy. One can imagine that Rome would eventually rise to the power she became once Alexander was out of the picture, after all the Italians were native to the peninsula and the Greeks were outsiders. The cultural bond between Italians would have eventually won the day.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hadrian's Wall - Guest Post

This article is a guest post by my friend Geoff Carter, an archaeologist who lives in England. Geoff does research in ancient wood structures and has written about the original wooden fortifications at Hadrian's Wall. I have a link to Geoff's blog on this page under My Blog List - Theoretical Structural Archaeology. Tap on the link below to see a BBC documentary where Geoff is featured.

Hadrian and the North South Divide

Britain is naturally divided by geography; the south is generally warmer, more fertile, and closer to the continent than the North.  Southern England had tin, and could control much of the trade in copper from the Irish Sea, so it was an important component in Prehistoric Northern Europe. The North itself is divided -- Scotland split between a highlands and lowlands.

The realpolitik in ancient times was how to stop those in the north from taking materials from their more prosperous southern neighbours.  These North-South dynamics were a recurrent theme of English history and both the North–South divide and Scottish independence are live political issues even today.

In the ancient world, politics was often conducted through warfare, and power was expressed through military engineering. Engineers changed geography and the shape of the landscape; heaped things up and dug things away, build roads, water courses, bridges, towns, and forts.  While what remains is stone, but most of the past was formed from earth, straw, and the key engineering component of the ancient world, wood.

Political Engineering

It was in wooden ships, built by Celtic shipwrights in Gaul that the Romans, led by Julius Caesar, first arrived in Southern England in 55-54 BC.  We know this because in Caesar’s account of his wars in Gaul we get an unprecedented insight into both military engineering and the mechanics of the imperial machine.  

I will use the word Celt here even though Caesar made clear he was dealing with the local aristocracy. In this context warfare was interaction between two ruling classes vying for ultimate control of land, its resources, and the people who worked it. ‘Romanization’ was a top down process.

Certainly, there was warfare, but this was driven by diplomacy and a political narrative. The Celtic peoples had long interacted with the Mediterranean world, and in many ways the Roman army was shaped by early unsuccessful encounters with them. For all concerned, warfare was a career and a business opportunity, so everybody knew the rules and what to expect. 

While Caesar did not stay, he established the political relationships that got Rome a foothold using the actuality or threat of a Roman intervention to destabilize existing regional politics.  Once an area came within range of Rome’s political and military interests, it’s leaders had two choices; cut a deal or fight. All of this on top of the traditional political and military pressures from other rivals beyond Roman control.  Invariably, this put the ruling elite between a rock a hard place. For perfectly honorable reasons they might resist and then end up with a worse deal, although not as bad if you make a deal and then broke it.  Punitive sanctions went as far as genocide, or you might have gotten away with enslavement. 

Once you were a client of the Rome, her army will ensure your security, in return for your assurance that it receive the necessary supplies, principally wheat, but also other material assistance and access to resources.  This sort of ‘taxation’ did not need micromanagement -- a treaty was made with the local political authority, so the Romans knew who to blame if obligations were not met. Beyond this, engineering made the Roman army self-sufficient in managing its security.

Rome in the North

When the Romans returned in 43 AD they had controlled the Atlantic Seaboard for ninety years, so Claudius was more properly prepared for a long campaign; not just an army, but a navy also, since control of the sea was key to taking and holding an Island. 

When Agricola made the first significant push into the north in the early 80s he had a naval presence on both coasts and even thought about an expedition to Ireland.  Then, after the near disaster of the Boudicca revolt, the south was secured, and Rome was on the offensive, initially in the west and then in the North. In a typically aggressive series of campaigns Agricola punched his way north culminating in a battle of Mons Graupius, where his auxiliary troops reportedly killed about a third of a thirty thousand man highlander force.The year was 84 A.D. and  it was a high water mark when the highlanders retreated back into their glens in the mountains or the Islands in the West, and reverted to an over the horizon threat.  Rather than pursuing them, the Romans chose to construct rough perimeter of timber forts and watch towers blocking off enemy territory. An opportunity and the strategic initiative had been lost due to external decisions and changes in military priorities of the Empire.  

At some point towards the end of the first century, the Romans withdrew the majority of their forces from Scotland to the territory of the Brigantes, who controlled Northern England. Their main base was set up at York and occupied by the twentieth legion. The Brigantes had long been loyal to Rome and provided a key buffer state for the Lands to the south.  We also presume that some political relations continued with former allies in Scotland, although everything between the campaigns of Agricola and the building of the wall 40 years later is very sketchy.

At this point Hadrian arrives, possibly in response to a revolt in the north involving the Brigantes, who may have been triggered by the death of Trajan.  Hadrian brought fresh troops, and re-established a ‘frontier’ in the North of Brigantes territory. After 80 years, the Romans understood that most of what they valued was in the South, so the north was no more than a security zone. 

What I have written so far is traditional scholarship, but I wish to change the story that emerges after looking at the ancient engineering.

Hadrian’s North-South Divide

The Wall was a  live frontier; so clearly nobody within striking range of the Roman Army was going to be openly hostile, but beyond them were still the people who were isolated.  Whatever the political and military circumstances that established the peace, splitting the country in two with a physical barrier probably came as a surprise to those beyond it.

The Roman Army was unlikely to face infantry in mass formation in open battle, and so the main threat probably came from concentrations fast moving mounted troops.  A physical barrier forced them to dismount and fight on the Roman terms, against gateways that allowed the Romans to counter attack and outflank their opponents.

Hadrian’s wall is a military engineering solution to the North-South Divide.  The line of forts and observation points had proved ineffective, but the Wall changes the geography.

How were the Romans able to spread themselves out across an eighty mile construction project without protection?

In the first season the bulk of the troops were engaged in creating a timber and earth wall with a ditch in front it which protected the work parties behind it.  Each of the forts being built was staged with a temporary camp to house the garrison and builders while work was on-going. Similarly, those guarding and building the Wall required accommodations. As part of the process, a construction trench was dug behind the wall for a road -- the spoil neatly piled to allow two wide verges on either side of the planned metalled carriageway. The skilled workers were concentrated in specialist groups working on the Wall starting in the East, while others started work on milecastles and forts.  Those digging the trench and laying the foundation were not as skilled as the crews working on the stone wall so their work was completed well ahead of time.

All appears to have gone well at first, but at some point, work appears to have virtually stopped. It is likely that warfare disrupted the construction process. Once the work was restarted again, the quality and quantity of the building was scaled back, the plan to build the road was abandoned, and extra forts were added.
So the wall was built in a war zone, as an army installation and a fortified frontier to contain the threat that had not been eliminated forty years earlier. Whatever the technical and in particular logistic achievements, the Wall did not work, and Hadrian’s successor moved the frontier North to Forth Isthmus, where forces could be concentrated on a shorter frontier.

Little remains of the wall to study, after centuries of robbing, and its systematic demolition by engineers in 1740’s in what turned out to be the final action on the frontier. On 16 April 1746, the Battle of Culloden, probably not that far from Mons Graupius, finally brought the highlands under central control.

There has been very little investigation of the scant traces of that remain of the extensive temporary works or of the builders and forces that guarded them. In the archaeology of these timber and earth structures lies the real key to understanding how the Wall was constructed.