Posts from the ‘roman festivals’ Category






Soldiers building a road

Surely a mistake in the colour coding here. The severed heads, by their context, have to be  Dacian – and should have RED hair.  Should we associate these images with a head-hunting cult as suggested in previous posts?  I doubt it in this case. The troops here are legionaries,  which means they are all bona fide Roman citizens – and there is a purpose to this grisly display. It says “Men at Work.. Do Not Disturb”.  But if they are disturbed they are ready for you. Note the close proximity of helmets and shields.

Here we see construction work in an active warzone being undertaken while wearing body armour. I have done jobs in the construction industry involving hard manual labour. I also wear Roman body armour on a regular basis as part of my job at the Lunt. I would hate to have to combine the two!

Simply moving about and projecting the voice for two  hours , while wearing this stuff, is an exhausting  experience.  Of course, I am a modern softie – not of the hardy peasant stock these men were.  Yet even for them, this work, especially in high temperatures, must have been punishing. As we  learned  recently at the Fort, their stamina and endurance are held in awe by the toughest soldiers in the British Army of today….

Reflecting on Constantine

In his last epistle Rob made some acute observations about Constantine.  I agree that Constantine the Great stands out as one of histories most fascinating, complex and confusing characters.   I remember learning about Roman history at primary school which was summed up in one sentence.

“…the emperors persecuted the Christians and then Constantine made Christianity legal and they stopped.”

Now before Robs head explodes this is an extremely simple summing up, to the point of childishness which of course is appropriate since I was a eight year old child at the time, and does not even approach the torment inflicted on Pagans by the Christian emperors but this is a well believed myth of history.  One get the feeling off oppression growing in intensity until it can no longer can be coped with until in the nick of time Constantine sweeps in and everyone can breath a sigh of relief.

In political histories vices and virtues can be exaggerated and diminished to fit a intellectual need, read a selection of Cecil Rhodes biographies to see this rule illustrated in neon lights,  it is only recently that Constantines faults have become apparent to me, let alone executing his sons and wife.  It is as if a person stops being a person when he becomes the property of history as completely as a person dies, is buried, dug up and exhibited in a museum.

Property is a powerful word intended to illustrate the movement of power from  a man to a historical character, a monster or saint reduced to a paper tiger to be pawed over by historians.  Constantine might have been Emperor, Hitler might have been a dictator and Rhodes an empire builder but for all their efforts they are now dependent on the most ghastly persons in society.

Historians do not work in a vacuum, since the 1960s the myth of scientific history has been exploded.  We do not see the past independantly but rather as a narative.  As a Christian myself I have a natural affection for Constantine, despite his faults.  Besides the fact who am I to judge another human creatures let alone imagine that I would do much better if I lived his life with the pressures and problems that he faced.

History is a construct making sense of the past according to the present metanaratives, the dreams and desires the present princes of mankind.  Yet this is the fate of the current princes, the tyrants of the present become pawns of the zeitgeist in the constructs of future historians.

Reflecting on Robs comments and Roman Citizenship: Warning Might not make much sense

Manumission from barbarian into citizen was the social innovation of Rome. The Greeks moved the other way from being tolerant of barbarians to mistrust of the otherness. Carthage similarly produced a two tier society of elite and plebs with no possible movement between the two. During Hannibal’s rampage around Italy states allied to Rome remained largely loyal because they were bound to Rome by the privilage of citizenship, in contrast the Carthaginian states were vulnerable to defection and treason because they did not share in the good fortunes of their imperial masters. I agree with Rob that it was probably out of reach for anyone outside of Italy but in Italy it was of incredible value to the Roman state. The Romans were quite right to be wary of extending citizenship, particularly to the Gauls and their kindred, citizenship was a line demarcation in the sand , which in the eyes of the ancients, divided the animal from the human. In law you could do awful things to barbarians and nobody would bat an eyelid, they could be taxed, their legal position was uncertain and the punishments were abominable. In contrast the citizen could join the army, was exempt from certain taxes and enjoyed a privileged position in law. St Paul is the prime example of citizen enforcing his rights. We often wonder how the Romans could put people to death in the arena in hideous ways, we forget that these people were not citizens and so we not, in Roman eyes, people. It is in our Human Rights era an absolute paradigm shift, now a foreign terrorist has the same rights as a British citizen an impossible situation in ancient Rome where a barbarian might be seen as on the same legal level as a pedestrian in Grand Theft Auto.
I suspect that Caesars actions in Gaul were criticized because he citizenised unreconstructed Gauls as a political move rather than a true manumission. By doing so he might have been perceived to devalue the system and devalue the status of the citizen. Something that he certainly did as Dictator when he ushered in the age of Empire.

With regards to the sausage clearly it is a ubiquitous foodstuff but the point is that it was associated with the Germans and in an unstable age the Emperor wanted the reset the empire to a Roman pattern and expel non-classical influences. Which begs the question why did he allow Christianity?

Happy Ludi Plebeii Citizens Look Forwards to the games

Citizens Pomona has come and gone but in ancient Rome festival follows festival, it better had if the emperor wants to remain in power.  Not that I am disloyal at all it is just the game of Rome.   Men who can manage the mob gain power, wealth and authority – those who can’t end up in the Tiber.

The emperor manages the people of Rome using the famous bread and circus’.  The modern version would be dole payments and X factor, or football or couch potatoism.   The plebs of Rome needed circus’ because on the whole they did not have any work, one in three people in Italy were slaves whose unpaid labour made the rich even more money.  If they were allowed to just wander about by themselves they might start thinking about “reform” so the circus kept them entertained, distracted and obsessed.

Which left their appetite which was filled by a dole of bread for them to eat whilst they watched the entertainment.  Some would be patronised by the rich, expected to turn out rent a mob style to protest for his patrons interests.

The emperors task was to keep this system working.  The key problem being that Rome was no longer exporting goods, merely consuming.  The imperial system was based on this need.  The provinces were being taxed, grain and goods exported to Rome to feed the beast that the Caesers had created.

But we will think about that another day, until then citizen, watch the games, enjoy your bread stranger and ask no questions…

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