Posts from the ‘Romans’ Category
After doing a series of complex and quite, in Robs words “ethereal”, posts about the nature of history, Constantine and philosophy I thought I would do a light hearted look at Barbarians and Romans.
We have been looking at pictures of Trajans Column for a few weeks now and I feel the need to share with you a simple rule that might help you distinguish civilized Romans from everyone else.
So the first rule is that the Barbarians have not bothered to shave before the big battle whilst the Romans have got up nice and early, had a shower, shave and breakfast before making a decent effort on the battlefield.
So the important thing to note is that “B” is for Beards and “B” is for Barbarian. So this is a general rule that should help you if you need to work out if the person in front of you is a barbarian or a proper person.
Next have a look at this battle field.
In this picture are Barbarians fighting auxiliary Auxiliary are barbarians who are recruited into the army and will gained citizenship on successful completion of service. One of them has a Dacian head in his mouth. So here we can see that all the barbarians are wearing trousers so that gives us a hint of another rule to help us. Quickly compare this with the image below and you note that the Emperor is wearing a tunica. In the picture below you can see a group of Roman legionaries, bona fide Roman Citizens and they too are wearing tunicas. Now the latin word for trousers is braccae and here we see it again. “B” is for barbarian “B” is for braccae. Its a fundamental law.
ONE SOLDIER SWINGS A PICK-AXE (A DOLABRA), ANOTHER MOVES EARTH IN A WICKER BASKET. THE ROMANS DID NOT USE WHEELBARROWS!
THEY WORK IN THEIR ARMOUR, WITH HELMETS AND SHIELDS NEARBY IN CASE OF SURPRISE ATTACK.
TWO CHOPPED OFF HEADS HAVE BEEN SET UP AS A WARNING!
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….
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.
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?
I have been thinking about the hippo sandal for months now and we have come up with a number of interesting theories. What we need to explain is what it was used for… We know that it was a piece of horse tack worn on the hoofs the key problem is that we also know that modern horses can not get on with them. A reconstruction for time team shows a very unhappy horse wobbling about on a set of hippo sandals looking uncomfortable.
So I did some reading, and read something interesting on Wikopedia…
“When a horse has certain types of lameness, the farrier may use the frog for support, using specialized shoes that help keep correct pressure on the frog so that less force is transmitted to the wall and sole of the foot or to the navicular bone, coffin bone, and deep digital flexor tendon.”
Now one of the interesting things about the Hippo sandal is how rare it is given that the centrality of the horse in the ancient world, especially in war. It has always haunted me that an item that should be so ubiquitous should be such a rare find. We should see a lot more of them even if horse shoes are so hard to find after they have been thrown.
So any explanation should account for this. Now my new idea is that the hippo sandal was not a horse shoe, not a tactical tool but rather an ancient example of one of the above mentioned “specialist shoes” designed to correct the pressure on the frog.
So if any of you lovely readers is a farrier then please get in touch.
Right so this is a running theme of the blog… what in the name of Jupiters divine posterior was this thing for. So far we have theorized that it was a hobbling device a training device to get horses to highstep but not quite dismissed the idea that it was a temporary horse shoe… well not all of us. The most exciting thing was talking to Amanda (thus avoiding having to actively participate in a little girls birthday party) and discovering that a similar design is currently being marketed and sold to equestrians (that means horsey people).
So guess what I did today…I was in the museum looking at the artifacts. First I looked at the hippo sandal then the Caligae and then a caltrop. Then I looked back to the hippo sandal and then the caltrop then the sole of the Caligae.
The Caligae are an important piece of kit for the ancient Roman soldier. They have thick soles reinforced with hobnails. The Roman soldier had the best footware in the ancient world… maybe only rivaled by modern boots. These were boots that enabled him to march over difficult ground and protect his soles spikes, caltrops and sharp stones not to mention a terrible weapon that enable the legionary to stamp a downed enemy into jelly. But the caltrops held my attention.
Caltrops, known to the Romans as a tribulus, are a area denial weapon sown onto a battlefield to cripple men, horses and extreme cases elephants (and in the modern age tanks). The enemy would stand on them and express their discontent in a loud manner before trying to get the thing out of their foot. A charge of foot men is impossible, horses are rended lame and elephants go bonkers but the last thing the Romans would want is for their own horses to be denied the same area. In fact a charge of light horse would change a faltering charge into a rout ,without the heavy infantry from even having to draw their gladius, in no time but they would need to protect their own horses frogs (the soft bit of the foot) from the caltrops.
What caught my attention was the “sole” of the shoe which is completely covered. This iron base would be sufficient to squash any spike down allowing the horsemen to ride over caltrops with complete contempt… and of course anything else which was on the battlefield.