Sep 232017
 

Today is the birthday (63 BCE) of Augustus, founder of the Roman Principate and first Roman emperor, who controlled the Roman Empire from 27 BCE until his death in 14 CE. He is a monumentally pivotal figure in ancient Roman history in the period known commonly as the Roman Revolution: the timespan seeing the tail end of the Roman Republic with the assassination of Julius Caesar, civil war with Augustus as a key player, and the emergence of the Roman Empire. Here are the bare bones.

Augustus was born Gaius Octavius into an old and wealthy equestrian branch of the plebeian gens Octavia. Julius Caesar was his maternal great-uncle, and, under the name Octavianus (Anglicized as Octavian). Octavian was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir. Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE, when Octavian was 20, upon which he, Mark Antony, and Marcus Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate to defeat Caesar’s assassins. These were unsettled times in Rome. Powerful generals such as Caesar and Pompey wanted to wield greater individual power than the Senate and ended up in a civil war with Caesar triumphant. Thereafter Caesar’s power grew until many people were afraid that he would seek to be king. So they assassinated him. Getting rid of one man with ambitions for individual power did not return the Roman Republic to its old ways, however.

The Second Triumvirate (Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus were the First) defeated the assassins in various stages culminating in their victory at the Battle of Philippi.  Afterwards the Triumvirate divided the Roman Republic among themselves and ruled as military dictators, but the alliance was eventually torn apart by the competing ambitions of its members. Lepidus was driven into exile and stripped of his position, and Antony committed suicide following his defeat at the Battle of Actium by Octavian in 31 BCE.

After the demise of the Second Triumvirate, Octavian (Augustus after 27 BCE) restored the outward façade of the free Republic, with governmental power vested in the Roman Senate, the executive magistrates, and the legislative assemblies. In reality, however, he retained his autocratic power over the Republic as a military dictator. By law, Augustus held a collection of powers granted to him for life by the Senate, including supreme military command, and those of tribune and censor. It took several years for Augustus to develop the framework within which a formally republican state could be led under his sole rule. He rejected monarchical titles, and instead called himself Princeps Civitatis (“First Citizen of the State”). The resulting constitutional framework became known as the Principate, the first phase of the Roman Empire. Historians routinely refer to Augustus as the first emperor, but Latin titles are a bit confusing. Octavian was styled Imperator (from which we get “Emperor”) as early as 38 BCE, but Imperator should really be translated “Commander” (or “Conquering Hero”) rather than “Emperor.” It was a title bestowed routinely on victorious generals as well as certain magistrates in the time of the Republic, and could still be used by certain generals in the early Empire. It was only later in the Empire that it was the exclusive title of the Empire’s rulers.  We shouldn’t let linguistic quibbles get in the way of historical facts, however. Augustus, de facto, was the first Roman Emperor.

I’ve studied this transition period quite extensively ever since I chose it as a special paper for my history A-levels and for my Oxford entrance exams. It all seemed tremendously momentous when I first came to the period as a teen. Now, as a (hopefully) mature historian, I am given to wonder whether the changes that Augustus wrought as emperor were as obvious to people living at the time as they are to us now.  History frequently looks back at dates and events as crucial turning points.  Did they seem like turning points at the time? I’m given to doubt it.  History has a funny way of looking at things – in hindsight.

The reign of Augustus initiated an era of relative peace known as the Pax Romana (The Roman Peace). The Roman world was largely free from major conflict for more than two centuries thereafter, despite continuous wars of imperial expansion on the Empire’s frontiers and the year-long civil war known as the “Year of the Four Emperors” (a war over the imperial succession). Augustus dramatically enlarged the Empire, annexing Egypt, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum, and Raetia; expanding possessions in Africa; expanding into Germania; and completing the conquest of Hispania. Beyond the frontiers, he secured the Empire with a buffer region of client states and made peace with the Parthian Empire through diplomacy. He reformed the Roman system of taxation, developed networks of roads with an official courier system, established a standing army, established the Praetorian Guard, created official police and fire-fighting services for Rome, and rebuilt much of the city during his reign.

It’s amazing what you can do when you have no serious rivals and when you have absolute power. Before Augustus the Republic was a mess, torn apart year after year by powerful men and factions seeking control and dominance.  The assassins finished off Caesar, then the Second Triumvirate finished off the assassins, then Octavian polished off the other triumvirs, and stood supremely alone at the top of the pile. Once that feat was accomplished and his hold on the reins of power was firmly established, it would have been mighty foolhardy to challenge him.  The times of challenging the emperor’s power lay in the future.

Augustus died in 14 CE at the age of 75. He probably died from natural causes, although there were unconfirmed rumors that his wife Livia poisoned him. Seems a bit far-fetched to me.

If you are paying attention you will note that Augustus was emperor when Jesus was born (around 3 BCE). Yup, Jesus was probably born in the year 3 Before Christ !!! He died around 30 CE at the age of 33. If we are to believe Luke’s gospel (which I don’t) the legendary census that sent a pregnant Mary and her espoused, Joseph, to Bethlehem from their native Galilee, where she gave birth, was commanded by Augustus. As I have commented here several times before, the idea of a census covering the entire Roman Empire requiring every man, woman, and child to up stakes and leave their homes to go back to their ancestral homelands is both laughable and physically impossible. If Augustus had actually had such a ludicrously deranged idea he would have been locked up.

Tiberius

He was succeeded as Emperor by his adopted son (also stepson and former son-in-law) Tiberius.

The common staple of rich and poor alike at the time of the Roman Revolution was puls, a porridge made from farro.  Farro is whole wheat grain produced from a specific kind of wheat.  You can find it pearled in health food stores in the US, but in Italy to this day they sell it unpearled in regular supermarkets. In ancient Rome puls was the normal breakfast food for the common people, but it could be eaten for any meal.  Vegetables or meat might be added to a main dish, or fruit and honey for a sweet one.

To make farro into a dish that almost certainly resembles ancient puls combine 1 part farro to 2 parts water (with salt to taste) in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer uncovered until the grains are al dente (!) – ignoring the irony of using modern Italian as an English cooking term – and the liquid is mostly absorbed.  For a soupier dish use more water. It can be eaten plain on its own (as the poorer Romans would have done) or as a side dish. Otherwise you can add what you will to dress it up – meat, fish, vegetables, fruit. Something similar is served in Tuscany these days as a breakfast dish with coffee as the liquid and candied fruit added for flavoring. Not my thing – at all.

 

 

Jan 142016
 

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Today is the birthday (83 BCE) of Marcus Antonius, commonly known in English as Mark or Marc Antony, Roman politician and general who played a critical role in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the autocratic Roman Empire – usually called the Roman Revolution. Mark Antony has shown up in posts here before, particularly as a critical player in the deaths of Cleopatra http://www.bookofdaystales.com/cleopatra-and-the-asp/ and Cicero http://www.bookofdaystales.com/cicero/ The waning moments of the Roman Republic were exceptionally turbulent times with powerful figures rising, then falling, left and right. Mark Antony, friend and ally of Julius Caesar, was the last of the shooting stars to ascend and burn out before Octavian/Augustus ultimately triumphed, making Rome a dictatorial, hereditary empire. This period is, without question, the most studied point in ancient Roman history.

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Antony was a supporter of Julius Caesar, and served as one of his generals during the conquest of Gaul and the Civil War with Pompey http://www.bookofdaystales.com/crossing-rubicon/ Antony was appointed administrator of Italy while Caesar eliminated political opponents in Greece, North Africa, and Spain. After Caesar’s murder by a faction – the Liberatores – led by Brutus and Cassius in 44 BCE, Antony joined forces with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, another of Caesar’s generals, and Octavian, Caesar’s nephew and adopted son, forming a three-man dictatorship known to historians as the Second Triumvirate. The Triumvirs defeated the Liberatores, at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BCE, and divided the government of the Republic between themselves. Antony was assigned Rome’s eastern provinces, including the client kingdom of Egypt, then ruled by Cleopatra VII Philopator, and was given the command in Rome’s war against Parthia.

Relations among the Triumvirs were strained as the various members sought greater political power. Civil war between Antony and Octavian was averted in 40 BCE, when Antony married Octavian’s sister, Octavia. Despite this marriage, Antony carried on a love affair with Cleopatra, who bore him three children, further straining Antony’s relations with Octavian. Lepidus was expelled from the triumvirate in 36 BCE, and in 33 BCE disagreements between Antony and Octavian caused a split between them. Their ongoing hostility erupted into civil war in 31 BCE, as the Roman Senate, at Octavian’s direction, declared war on Cleopatra and proclaimed Antony a traitor. Later that year, Antony was defeated by Octavian’s forces at the Battle of Actium. Defeated, Antony and Cleopatra fled to Egypt, where they committed suicide.

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With Antony dead, Octavian was the undisputed master of the Roman world. In 27 BCE, he was granted the title of Augustus, marking the final stage in the transformation of the Roman Republic into an empire, with himself as the first Roman emperor.

Antony features in two of Shakespeare’s plays – Julius Caesar, and Antony and Cleopatra. Julius Caesar, despite its title, focuses on Antony’s defeat of Brutus and the conspirators after Caesar’s murder, with Antony’s funeral oration being the most famous segment. In it Antony skillfully appears to condemn Caesar as a tyrant and praise Brutus as a man of the people, but in reality turns the crowd against Brutus and in favor of his own ambitions as successor to Caesar. Despite a certain degree of poetic license, Shakespeare stays fairly close to historical fact.

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Caesar’s funeral was held on 20th March (five days after his murder). Antony, as Caesar’s faithful lieutenant and reigning Consul, was chosen to preside over the ceremony and to recite the eulogy. During a demagogic speech, he enumerated the deeds of Caesar and, publicly read his will, which detailed the donations Caesar had left to the Roman people. Antony then seized the blood-stained toga from Caesar’s body and presented it to the crowd. Worked into a fury by the bloody spectacle, the assembly rioted. Several buildings in the Forum and some houses of the conspirators were burned to the ground. Panicked, many of the conspirators fled Italy. Under the pretext of not being able to guarantee their safety, Antony relieved Brutus and Cassius of their judicial duties in Rome and instead assigned them responsibility for procuring wheat for Rome from Sicily and Asia. Such an assignment, in addition to being unworthy of their rank, would have kept them far from Rome and shifted the balance towards Antony. Refusing such secondary duties, the two traveled to Greece instead.

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Despite the provisions of Caesar’s will, Antony proceeded to act as leader of the Caesarian faction, including appropriating for himself a portion of Caesar’s fortune rightfully belonging to Octavian. Antony enacted the Lex Antonia, which formally abolished the Dictatorship, in an attempt to consolidate his power by gaining the support of the Senatorial class. He also enacted a number of laws he claimed to have found in Caesar’s papers to ensure his popularity with Caesar’s veterans, particularly by providing land grants to them. Lepidus, with Antony’s support, was named Pontifex Maximus to succeed Caesar. To solidify the alliance between Antony and Lepidus, Antony’s daughter Antonia Prima was engaged to Lepidus’s son, also named Lepidus. Surrounding himself with a bodyguard of over six thousand of Caesar’s veterans, Antony presented himself as Caesar’s true successor, largely ignoring Octavian. So the stage was set for Antony and Octavian to defeat the conspirators, and for Octavian subsequently to turn on Antony.

Here’s a recipe from Apicius that could have graced Antony’s table at some point. Molded aspics are attested in Roman texts as fancy centerpieces. I used to make a chicken aspic as a party piece once in a while when I was much younger. They weren’t very popular, so I stopped making them. The principle is simple – lightly grease a fancy mould with a clear oil. Pour a thin layer of aspic in the mould and let it gel slightly. For my aspic I used a clarified stock plus the requisite amount of gelatin dissolved in the warmed stock. Then put a decorative component on the bottom. Fill up the mould with meat, vegetables, or whatever, so that you have pretty layers – leaving a small gap between the filling and sides of the mould. Then fill up the mould with aspic and let set in the refrigerator, preferably overnight. Unmould by immersing the mould in warm water for a few minutes, being careful not to let the water flow into the mould. Place a serving plate on top of the mould, say a prayer, and invert. With luck it will come out clean. Serve immediately.

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The following recipe is a translation which I have edited. It gives you some ideas for what you might use as a filling. If I were to use this recipe I would place the dressing in the base of the mould.

Salacattabia Apiciana (Apician Jelly)

Put in the mortar celery seed, dry pennyroyal, dry mint, ginger, fresh coriander, seedless raisins, honey, vinegar, oil and wine; crush it together in order to make a dressing of it. Place 3 pieces of Picentian bread in a mould, interlined with pieces of cooked chicken, cooked sweetbreads of calf or lamb, [ewe’s] cheese, pine nuts, pickled cucumbers, finely chopped dried onions, covering the whole with jellified broth. Bury the mould in snow up to the rim; unmould, sprinkle with the above dressing and serve.

Jan 102015
 

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On this date in 49 BCE Julius Caesar and his army crossed the river Rubicon thus initiating civil war with Pompey given that it was an illegal act of insurrection for a provincial general to lead an army into Italy.

The Great Roman Civil War (49–45 BCE), also known as Caesar’s Civil War, was one of the last politico-military conflicts in the Roman Republic before the establishment of the Roman Empire. It began as a series of political and military confrontations, between Julius Caesar (100–44 BCE), his political supporters (broadly known as Populares), and his legions, against the Optimates (or Boni), the politically conservative and socially traditionalist faction of the Roman Senate, who were supported by Pompey (106–48 BC) and his legions. The idiom “crossing the Rubicon” now means passing the point of no return, especially when undertaking a risky enterprise.

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The Rubicon (Latin: Rubico, Italian: Rubicone) is a shallow river in northeastern Italy just south of Ravenna, about 80 kilometers long, running from the Apennine Mountains to the Adriatic Sea through the southern Emilia-Romagna region, between the towns of Rimini and Cesena. The Latin word rubico comes from the adjective rubeus, meaning “red”. The river was so named because its waters are colored red by mud deposits.

Because the course of the river has changed much since then, it is impossible to confirm exactly where the Rubicon flowed when Caesar and his legions crossed it, even though most evidence links it to the river officially so named. The river is perhaps most known as the place where Julius Caesar uttered the famous phrase “alea iacta est” – the die is cast.

During the Roman republic, the river Rubicon marked the boundary between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul to the north-east and Italy proper (controlled directly by Rome and its allies) to the south. On the north-western side, the border was marked by the river Arno, a much wider and more important waterway, which flows westward from the Apennine Mountains (its source is not far from Rubicon’s source) into the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Governors of Roman provinces were appointed promagistrates with imperium (roughly, “right to command”) in their province(s). The governor would then serve as the general of the Roman army within the territory of his province(s). Roman law specified that only the elected magistrates (consuls and praetors) could hold imperium within Italy. Any promagistrate who entered Italy at the head of his troops forfeited his imperium and was therefore no longer legally allowed to command troops.

Exercising imperium when forbidden by the law was a capital offence. Furthermore, obeying the commands of a general who did not legally possess imperium was also a capital offence. If a general entered Italy whilst exercising command of an army, both the general and his soldiers became outlaws and were automatically condemned to death. Generals were thus obliged to disband their armies before entering Italy.

In 49 BCE, Julius Caesar led a single legion, Legio XIII Gemina, south over the Rubicon from Cisalpine Gaul to Italy to make his way to Rome. In doing so, he (deliberately) broke the law on imperium and made armed conflict inevitable. This the description given by the historian Suetonius:

Coming up with his troops on the banks of the Rubicon, which was the frontier of his province, he halted for a while, and revolving in his mind the importance of the step he meditated, he turned to those about him, saying: ‘Still we can retreat! But once let us pass this little bridge, – and nothing is left but to fight it out with arms!’

Even as he hesitated this incident occurred. A man of strikingly noble mien and graceful aspect appeared close at hand, and played upon a pipe. To hear him not merely some shepherds, but soldiers too came flocking from their posts, and amongst them some trumpeters. He snatched a trumpet from one of them and ran to the river with it; then sounding the “Advance!” with a piercing blast he crossed to the other side. At this Caesar cried out, ‘Let us go where the omens of the Gods and the crimes of our enemies summon us! THE DIE IS NOW CAST!’ [ALEA IACTA EST]

It was reported that Caesar dined with his military leaders after the crossing, but no report of what they ate, otherwise I would give recipes.

The phrase “crossing the Rubicon” has survived to refer to any individual or group committing itself irrevocably to a risky or revolutionary course of action, similar to the modern phrase “passing the point of no return.” Caesar’s decision for swift action forced Pompey, the lawful consuls (C. Claudius Marcellus and L. Cornelius Lentulus Crus), and a large part of the Roman Senate to flee Rome in fear. Caesar’s subsequent victory in Caesar’s civil war ensured that punishment for the infraction would never be rendered.

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After Caesar’s crossing, the Rubicon was a geographical feature of note until about 42 BCE, when Octavian merged the province of Gallia Cisalpina into Italia and the river ceased to be the extreme northern border of Italy. The decision robbed the Rubicon of its importance, and the name gradually disappeared from the local geography.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, and during the first centuries of the Middle Ages, the coastal plain between Ravenna and Rimini was flooded many times. The Rubicon, like other small rivers of the region, often changed its course during this period. For this reason, and to supply fields with water after the revival of agriculture in the late Middle Ages, during the 14th and 15th centuries, hydraulic works were built to prevent other floods and to regulate streams. As a result of this work, these rivers started to flow in straight courses, as they do today.

With the revival of interest in the topography of ancient Roman Italy during the 15th century, the matter of identifying the Rubicon in the contemporary landscape became a topic of debate among Renaissance humanists. To support the claim of the Pisciatello, a spurious inscription forbidding the passage of an army in the name of the Roman people and Senate, the so-called Sanctio, was placed by a bridge on that river. The Quattrocento humanist Flavio Biondo was deceived by it; the actual inscription is conserved in the Museo Archeologico, Cesena. As the centuries went by, several rivers of the Adriatic coast between Ravenna and Rimini have at times been said to correspond to the ancient Rubicon.

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The Via Aemilia (National Road № 9) still follows its original Roman course as it runs between hills and plain; it would have been the obvious course to follow as it was the only major Roman road east of the Apennine Mountains leading to and from the Po Valley. Attempts to deduce the original course of the Rubicon can be made only by studying written documents and other archaeological evidence such as Roman milestones, which indicate the distance between the ancient river and the nearest Roman towns.

The starting point of a Roman road (some kind of “mile zero”), from which distances were counted, was always the crossing between the Cardo and the Decumanus, the two principal streets in every Roman town, running north-south and east-west respectively. In a section of the Tabula Peutingeriana, an ancient document showing the network of Roman roads, a river in north-eastern Italy labeled “fl. Rubicū” is shown at a position 12 Roman miles (18 km) north of Rimini along the coastline; 18 km is the distance between Rimini and a place called “Ad Confluentes”, drawn west of the Rubicon, on the Via Aemilia. However, the riverbed shape which is observed today in Pisciatello and Rubicone river, well below Roman age soil layers, is likely to indicate that any possible course modification of rivers could have occurred only very close to the coastline, and therefore only slight. Furthermore, the features of today’s Rubicone river (North-South course, orthogonal to the Emilia road) and Emilia road itself (a straight reach before and after the crossing, and a turn just passing by San Giovanni in Compito, so marking a possible administrative boundary) are common to typical geographical oriented limits of Roman age, being this a clue of actual identification of today Rubicone with Fiumicino.

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In 1933, after various efforts spanning centuries, the Fiumicino, crossing the town of Savignano di Romagna (now Savignano sul Rubicone), was officially identified as the former Rubicon. The final proof confirming this theory came only in 1991, when three Italian scholars (Pignotti, Ravagli, and Donati), after a comparison between the Tabula Peutingeriana and other ancient sources (including Cicero), showed that the distance from Rome to the Rubicon river was 200 Roman miles. Key elements of their work are:

The locality of San Giovanni in Compito (now a western quarter of Savignano) has to be identified with the old Ad Confluentes (compito means “road junction” and it is synonymous with confluentes)

The distance between Ad Confluentes and Rome, according to the Tabula Peutingeriana, is 201 Roman miles

The distance from today’s San Giovanni in Compito and the Fiumicino river is 1 Roman mile (1.48 km)

Today there is very little evidence of Caesar’s historical passage. Savignano sul Rubicone is an industrial town and the river has become one of the most polluted in the Emilia-Romagna region. Exploitation of underground waters along the upper course of the Rubicon has reduced its flow—it was a minor river even during Roman times (“parvi Rubiconis ad undas” as Lucan said, roughly translated “to the waves of [the] tiny Rubicon”)—and has since lost its natural route, except in its upper course between low and woody hills.

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I will turn to Apicius once again for a fish sauce which you can use with river trout as a commemoration of the Rubicon where trout thrive. This is from De Re Coquinaria IX, x, 7. This is for grey mullet but it, like other fish sauces from Apicius, can be used for most fish.

Aliter ius in mugile salso: piper, origanum, erucam, mentam, rutam, calvam, caryotam, mel, oleum, acetum et sinape.

Another Sauce for Salted Grey Mullet: Pepper, oregano, colewort, mint, rue, filbert nuts, dates, honey, olive oil, vinegar and mustard.

There are no instructions on how to use the sauce, but a great deal of Apicius’ fish recipes involve baking the fish. So here’s my interpretation. If I had a kitchen I would experiment; this has to be hypothetical, but it should work. A few of the herbs are not easy to find. I had all of them in my herb garden in New York. Colewort is wild mustard, so just double up on the mustard powder if need be.

Roman Baked Trout

2 tsp black peppercorns

1 tsp dried oregano

½ tbsp mint leaves

1 or 2 leaves of rue

2 tbsp finely-chopped hazelnuts

2 tbsp dates, finely chopped

2 tsp runny honey

¼ tsp dried colewort

¼ tsp mustard powder

80ml extra-virgin olive oil

40ml white wine vinegar

Instructions:

Pulse together all the ingredients in a food processor until they are blended together well but so they retain their integrity. Or, you can pound the dry ingredients in a mortar and then whisk them together with wet ones.

This sauce can be used hot or cold.

For cold:

Bake trout fillets in a 450°F oven until they are cooked but not dry (about 20 minutes).

Let the fish cool, and then chill.

Arrange on a serving platter and pour the sauce over them.

For hot:

Place trout fillets in a baking tray and pour the sauce over them.

Bake in a 350°F oven until they are cooked. Do not overcook and be sure the sauce does not dry out.

Mar 152014
 

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The Ides of March (Latin: Idus Martii or Idus Martiae) is a day on the Roman calendar that corresponds to 15 March. It was marked by several religious observances, and became notorious as the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE. The death of Caesar made the Ides of March a turning point in Roman history, as one of the events that marked the transition from the historical period known as the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.

Although March (Martius) was the third month of the Julian calendar, in the oldest Roman calendar it was the first month of the year. The holidays observed by the Romans from the first through the Ides often reflect their origin as new year celebrations. The Romans did not number days of a month sequentially from the first through the last day. Instead, they counted back from three fixed points of the month: the Nones (5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month), the Ides (13th or 15th), and the Kalends (1st) of the following month. The Ides occurred near the midpoint, on the 13th for most months, but on the 15th for March, May, July, and October. Thus for example, the Romans would not say “11th of May” but, rather, “4 days before the Ides of May.”

Flamen Dialis

Flamen Dialis

The Ides of each month were sacred to Jupiter, the supreme deity of the Romans. The Flamen Dialis, Jupiter’s high priest, led the “Ides sheep” (ovis Idulius) in procession along the Via Sacra to the arx, where it was sacrificed. In addition to the monthly sacrifice, the Ides of March was also the occasion of the Feast of Anna Perenna, a goddess of the year whose festival originally concluded the ceremonies of the new year. The day was enthusiastically celebrated among the plebeians (common people) with picnics, drinking, and revelry.

Anna Perenna

Anna Perenna

One source from late antiquity also places the Mamuralia on the Ides of March. This observance, which has aspects of scapegoat or ancient Greek pharmakos ritual, involved beating an old man dressed in animal skins and perhaps driving him from the city. The ritual may have been a new year festival representing the expulsion of the old year.

In the later Imperial period, the Ides of March began a “holy week” of festivals for Cybele and Attis. The Ides was the day of Canna intrat (“The Reed enters”), when Attis was born and exposed as an infant among the reeds of a Phrygian river. He was discovered—depending on the version of the narrative—by either shepherds or the goddess Cybele, who was also known as the Magna Mater, “Great Mother.” A week later, on 22 March, the day of Arbor intrat (“The Tree enters”) commemorated the death of Attis under a pine tree. A college of priests called “tree bearers” cut down a tree, suspended from it an image of Attis, and carried it to the temple of the Magna Mater with lamentations. The day was formalized as part of the official Roman calendar under Claudius. A three-day period of mourning followed, culminating with the rebirth of Attis on 25 March, the date of the vernal equinox on the Julian calendar.

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Nowadays people remember the Ides of March as the day Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE.  Tensions had been mounting in the senate for some time because Caesar seemed to be intent on dismantling the democratic foundations of the Roman Republic which had been in place for hundreds of years. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy with a revolt against the last king Tarquin the Proud, traditionally dated around 509 BCE, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and advised by a senate. A complex constitution gradually developed, centered on the principles of a separation of powers and checks and balances. Except in times of dire national emergency, public offices were limited to one year, so that, in theory at least, no single individual wielded absolute power over his fellow citizens. When consuls left the senate after a year they were required to leave Rome and take up a governorship in one of the provinces.

During his early career, Caesar had seen how chaotic and dysfunctional the Roman Republic had become. The republican machinery had broken down under the weight of imperialism, the central government had become powerless, the provinces had been transformed into independent principalities under the absolute control of their governors, and the army had replaced the constitution as the means of accomplishing political goals. With a weak central government, political corruption had spiraled out of control, and the status quo had been maintained by a corrupt aristocracy, which saw no need to change a system that had made its members rich.

In the 50’s BCE Caesar had built up a strong army in the provinces and had vastly expanded Roman territories in the Western parts of Europe – notable Gaul. He had even invaded Britain although he could not sustain a Roman province there. By 49 BCE he was determined to return to Rome with his army and seize power.  The momentous occasion occurred in 49 BCE when he crossed the Rubicon river, the traditional boundary separating Rome from the provinces.  Once he was in Roman territory with an army it was clear that he was going to take power and could not turn back.  Hence “crossing the Rubicon” now means making a decisive and irreversible move. Between his crossing of the Rubicon  and his assassination in 44 BCE, Caesar established a new constitution, which was intended to accomplish three separate goals. First, he wanted to suppress all armed resistance out in the provinces so that what he did could not be repeated, and thus bring order back to the empire. Second, he wanted to create a strong central government in Rome. Finally, he wanted to knit together the entire empire into a single cohesive unit.

Biographers describe tension between Caesar and the Senate, and his possible claims to the title of king. These events were the principal motive for Caesar’s assassination. The Senate named Caesar dictator perpetuo (“dictator in perpetuity”). Roman mints produced a denarius coin with this title and his likeness on one side, and with an image of the goddess Ceres and Caesar’s title of Augur Pontifex Maximus on the reverse. While minting the title of dictator was not controversial, Caesar’s image was, as it was unusual to feature living consuls and other public officials on coins during the Republic.

According to Cassius Dio, a senatorial delegation went to inform Caesar of new honors they had bestowed upon him in 44 BC. Caesar received them while sitting in the Temple of Venus Genetrix, rather than rising to meet them (sitting being symbolic of kingship). Suetonius wrote (almost 150 years later) that Caesar failed to rise in the temple, either because he was restrained by Cornelius Balbus or that he balked at the suggestion he should rise. Suetonius also gave the account of a crowd assembled to greet Caesar upon his return to Rome. A member of the crowd placed a laurel wreath on the statue of Caesar on the Rostra. The tribunes Gaius Epidius Marcellus and Lucius Caesetius Flavus ordered that the wreath be removed as it was a symbol of Jupiter and royalty. Caesar had the tribunes removed from office through his official powers.According to Suetonius, he was unable to dissociate himself from the royal title from this point forward. Suetonius also gives the story that a crowd shouted to him rex (“king”), to which Caesar replied, “I am Caesar, not Rex”. Also, at the festival of the Lupercalia, while he gave a speech from the Rostra, Mark Antony, who had been elected co-consul with Caesar, attempted to place a crown on his head several times. Caesar put it aside to use as a sacrifice to Jupiter Optimus Maximus.

Plutarch and Suetonius are similar in their depiction of these events, but Dio combines the stories writing that the tribunes arrested the citizens who placed diadems or wreaths on statues of Caesar. He then places the crowd shouting “rex” on the Alban Hill with the tribunes arresting a member of this crowd as well. The plebeian protested that he was unable to speak his mind freely. Caesar then brought the tribunes before the senate and put the matter to a vote, thereafter removing them from office and erasing their names from the records.

Suetonius adds that Lucius Cotta proposed to the Senate that Caesar should be granted the title of “king” for it was prophesied that only a king would conquer Parthia. Caesar intended to invade Parthia, a task that later gave considerable trouble to Mark Antony during the second triumvirate.

His many titles and honors from the Senate were ultimately merely that, honorary. Caesar continually strove for more power to govern, with as little dependence as possible on honorary titles or Senate. The placating ennobling of Caesar did not allay ultimate confrontation, as the Senate was still the authority, granting to Caesar his titles. Formal power resided in them, in tension with Caesar.

Brutus

Brutus

Cassius

Cassius

Brutus began to conspire against Caesar with his friend and brother-in-law Gaius Cassius Longinus and other men, calling themselves the Liberatores (“Liberators”). Many plans were discussed by the group, as documented by Nicolaus of Damascus:

The conspirators never met exactly openly, but they assembled a few at a time in each other’s homes. There were many discussions and proposals, as might be expected, while they investigated how and where to execute their design. Some suggested that they should make the attempt along the Sacred Way, which was one of his favorite walks. Another idea was to do it at the elections, during which he had to cross a bridge to appoint the magistrates in the Campus Martius. Someone proposed that they draw lots for some to push him from the bridge and others to run up and kill him. A third plan was to wait for a coming gladiatorial show. The advantage of that was, because of the show, no suspicion would be aroused if arms were seen. The majority opinion, however, favored killing him while he sat in the Senate. He would be there by himself, since only Senators were admitted, and the conspirators could hide their daggers beneath their togas. This plan won the day.

Nicolaus writes that in the days leading up to the assassination, Caesar was told by doctors, friends, and even his wife, Calpurnia, not to attend the Senate on the Ides for various reasons, including medical concerns and troubling dreams Calpurnia had had:

…his friends were alarmed at certain rumors and tried to stop him going to the Senate-house, as did his doctors, for he was suffering from one of his occasional dizzy spells. His wife, Calpurnia, especially, who was frightened by some visions in her dreams, clung to him and said that she would not let him go out that day. But Brutus, one of the conspirators who was then thought of as a firm friend, came up and said, ‘What is this, Caesar? Are you a man to pay attention to a woman’s dreams and the idle gossip of stupid men, and to insult the Senate by not going out, although it has honored you and has been specially summoned by you? But listen to me, cast aside the forebodings of all these people, and come. The Senate has been in session waiting for you since early this morning.’ This swayed Caesar and he left.

Caesar had been preparing to invade the Parthian Empire (a campaign later taken up by his successor, Mark Antony) and planned to leave for the East in the latter half of March. This forced a timetable on to the conspirators. Two days before the actual assassination, Cassius met with the conspirators and told them that, should anyone discover the plan, they were to turn their knives on themselves. His successors did attempt the conquests of Parthia and Germania, but without lasting results.

On the Ides of March of 44 BCE, the conspirators staged a gladiatorial games at Pompey’s theatre. The gladiators were provided by Decimus Brutus in case their services were needed. They waited in the great hall of the theatre’s quadriportico. Mark Antony, having vaguely learned of the plot the night before from a terrified Liberator named Servilius Casca, and fearing the worst, went to head Caesar off at the steps of the forum. However, the group of senators intercepted Caesar just as he was passing the Theatre of Pompey, located in the Campus Martius (now adjacent to the Largo di Torre Argentina), and directed him to a room adjoining the east portico.

Casca

Casca

According to Plutarch, as Caesar arrived at the Senate, Lucius Tillius Cimber presented him with a petition to recall his exiled brother. The other conspirators crowded round to offer their support. Both Plutarch and Suetonius say that Caesar waved him away, but Cimber grabbed Caesar’s shoulders and pulled down Caesar’s tunic. Caesar then cried to Cimber, “This is violence!” (“Ista quidem vis est!”). At the same time, Casca produced his dagger and made a glancing thrust at the dictator’s neck. Caesar turned around quickly and caught Casca by the arm. According to Plutarch, he said in Latin, “Casca, you villain, what are you doing?” Casca, frightened, shouted “Help, brother!” in Greek (“adelphe, boethei”). Within moments, the entire group, including Brutus, was striking out at the dictator. Caesar attempted to get away, but, blinded by blood, he tripped and fell; the men continued stabbing him as he lay defenseless on the lower steps of the portico. According to Eutropius, around 60 or more men participated in the assassination. Caesar was stabbed 23 times. Suetonius relates that a physician who performed an autopsy on Caesar established that only one wound (the second one to his chest) had been fatal. This autopsy report (the earliest known post-mortem report in history) describes that Caesar’s death was mostly attributable to blood loss from the multiple stab wounds.

The dictator’s last words are a contested subject among scholars and historians and people alike. Suetonius reports that others have said Caesar’s last words were the Greek phrase “καὶ σύ, τέκνον” (transliterated as “Kai su, teknon?”: “You too, my son?” in English). However, Suetonius himself says Caesar said nothing. But Suetonius was writing in 122 AD about events on March 15, 44 BCE. Plutarch also reports that Caesar said nothing, pulling his toga over his head when he saw Brutus among the conspirators. The version best known in the English-speaking world is the Latin phrase “Et tu, Brute?” (“You too, Brutus?”); this derives from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1599), where it actually forms the first half of a macaronic line: “Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar.” It has no basis in historical fact, and Shakespeare’s use of Latin here is not from any assumption that Caesar would have been using the language, but because the phrase was already popular at the time the play was written.

According to Plutarch, after the assassination, Brutus stepped forward as if to say something to his fellow senators not involved in the plot; they, however, fled the building. Brutus and his companions then marched to the Capitol while crying out to the city: “People of Rome, we are once again free!” They were met with silence, as the citizens of Rome had locked themselves inside their houses as soon as the rumor of what had taken place had begun to spread. Caesar’s dead body lay where it fell on the Senate floor for nearly three hours before other officials arrived to remove it.

A wax statue of Caesar was erected in the Forum displaying the 23 stab wounds. A crowd who had amassed there started a fire, which badly damaged neighboring buildings. In the ensuing years a series of civil wars resulted with the end of the Republic and the rise of imperial Rome under Caesar’s adopted son Octavian, who took the imperial name, Augustus.  The supreme irony, therefore, is that the conspirators, while trying to maintain the republic, ended up causing its demise.

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This is a recipe for saffron chickpeas that is alluded to several times in ancient literature, and Apicius provides a recipe in De Re Coquinaria. (See here too)  It originated in ancient Greece but was apparently quite popular in Rome for several centuries.  This is my adaptation of Apicius.  I decided to mash the end product because I am currently in a phase of serving fried fish on something mashed.  This dish would be at home in ancient Rome because fried fish was very popular.

© Saffron Chickpeas

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Combine in a large saucepan 14 ozs/400g of dried chickpeas, ½ cup olive oil, ½ tbsp ground cumin, and ½ tbsp ground coriander. Cover with light stock and add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook the chickpeas until they are very tender (about 3 hours).  Top up the stock as necessary.

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Towards the end of the cooking process let the liquid reduce and add ¼ tsp of powdered saffron.

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Mash with a fork or use a food processor. I use a fork because I like the mash to retain some texture.

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Use as a base for meat or fish, or serve as a side dish.