France, The Roman Empire

Glanum: Celts, Greeks and Romans

Glanum was founded in the 6th century BCE by the Salyens, a Celto-Ligurian tribe, on the flanks of The Alpilles, a small mountain range about 20 km  (12 miles) south of Avignon, just outside present day Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. It was a  fortified town or oppidum, (a term still in use ever since Caesar’s conquest of Gaul) known for it’s healing springs. Glanum later became a Roman city in Provincia, modern day Provence, until its final abandonment in 260 CE.

It’s known for two particularly well-preserved Roman monuments, known as Les Antiques; a mausoleum and the oldest triumphal arch in France, both from the 1st century BCE. The Salyens, Provence’s largest Celto-Ligurian tribe, first built a rampart of stones on the peaks surrounding the valley of Notre-Dame-de-Laval in the 4th century BCE, then Glanum was constructed in the valley with a shrine to the Celtic god Glanis built around the spring. Glanum grew until the 2nd century BCE when another city wall was added.

The town kept a strong Celtic identity with statues and pottery telling us of residents named Vrittakos, Eporix, Litumaros, and local god Glanis and his companions the Glanicae, similar to the Roman Matres with goddesses Rosmerta and Epona. Celtic customs where upheld, such as the displaying severed heads of enemies at the city gate and cooking utensils found in the ruins shows the inhabitants favoured boiling pots over frying pans setting them apart from other Mediterranean tribes.

Glanum had early contacts with Massalia (present day Marseille), a Greek colony founded around 600 BCE, resulting in Hellenic influences in both art and architecture. 2nd century wars with Massalia however meant the Greeks soon called upon their Roman allies. In 125 BCE the Salyens were defeated by the Roman consul Flaccus, and again the following year by Sextus when much of Glanum was destroyed. The town prospered again, thanks to its popular springs, Glanum minted silver coins and new monuments were built until another rebellion against Rome in 90 BCE. This was crushed again, this time by the Roman consul Caecilius, and public buildings were yet again destroyed and replaced by more modest structures.

In 49 BCE Caesar captured Massalia, and after the civil wars a general romanization of Provence began. Emperor Augustus created the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis in 27 BCE and gave Glanum latin citizen status. This was when Les Antiques where both built, the triumphal arch built slightly after the mausoleum between 25-10 BCE. Thet are shown at the start of the film (on the top of the page).

During the late 1st century BCE, and the early first centruy CE, a forum, temples, and a curved stone arch dam was built, Glanum Dam, the oldest of its kind, along with an aqueduct, supplying the fountains and baths in the town. Glanum became less prosperous than other Roman colonies such as Arles, Avignon or Cavaillon but still had several impressive buildings clad in marble by the 2nd century CE.

Glanum was finally overrun and destroyed by the Alemanni in 260 CE and subsequently abandoned, its inhabitants moving just a short distance north into the plain to found what later became Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Glanum then became a source of stone and other building materials. Since the Roman sewers and drainage sytem was not maintained, the ruins were eventually flooded and became covered with mud and sediment. “Les Antiques,” remained famous however, and where eventually visited by Charles IX of France, who had the surroundings cleaned up and maintained in the 16th century.

Some excavations were made around the monuments by the marquis de Lagoy in the Vallons-de-Notre-Dame who found sculptures and coins. Further excavations began in the 19th century culminating in 1921, when the architect of historic monuments, Jules Foremigé began working on the site and remained there until 1941. Archeologist Pierre LeBrun discovered the baths, the basilica, and the residences of the northern town between 1928 – 1933. Henri Roland worked on the Iron Age sanctuary, to the south from 1942-69, excavating the area from the forum to the sanctuary. The objects he discovered are on display today at the hotel de Sade in the Saint-Remy-de-Provence. New excavation and exploration work began in 1982, devoted mainly to preservation of the site, and to exploring beneath sites already discovered for older works.

Sources: on site information signs and Private Tours Blog:

The songs in the film are *Volgaz’ and ’Soulburner’ both by Hands Of Doom.

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016

Italy, The Roman Empire

The Colosseum

The Flavian Amphitheatre is the greatest monument from the Roman Games. It has become a lasting symbol for western civilization, much like the Parthenon in Greece, a sentiment captured in these famous lines by Lord Byron:

”While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand; When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall; And when Rome falls – the World.”

Perhaps civilization will both stand and fall along with the eternal city and its Colosseum, but its massive scale and mythical status aside, it was simply the largest amphitheatre anywhere in the Roman world for spectacles and bloodsports. Some other venues actually came close to it in size however and every large Roman city had an amphitheater during the height of Empire. The average Roman Circus was even larger and some could fit several Colosseums worth of spectators. The elliptical shape of the arena floor probably offered the best way for experiencing gladiatorial combat. The lack of corners where gladiators could become trapped increased the tension making the fights more entertaining. The circus was instead used mostly for chariot racing. There are many known instances though where the Romans choose many different venues for the same popular games.

The rising importance of the Roman Games during the first two imperial dynasties help explain why the Colosseum was built. The Julio-Claudian dynasty (27 BCE – 68 CE) began with the first Roman Emperor Augustus who had 3,500 animals killed while also staging gladiatorial games described by Suetonius as unprecedented on all levels. As Caesar before him, Augustus then had an artificial lake made on the Tiber’s western shore staging a sea battle, reenacting the Battle of Salamis. It was even fitted with a small island in the middle just like at the Bay of Salamis and filled with ships and 3,000 soldiers. His successor Tiberius went in the opposite direction, making massive budget cuts and limiting state involvement in the games, largely transferring them to the private sector. This led to a badly designed wooden amphitheatre collapsing during a packed private game with supposedly gruesome death rates as a result.

Caligula, third Emperor of Rome, was an innovator in the games. During his short and notorious reign he decided to have a small pool constructed on Saepta Julia behind the Forum where he felt gladiatorial games would have more suitable surroundings. When the basin was complete only a single ship could actually fit making Caligula subject to ridicule from the masses. He had further plans for a larger venue in the same place behind the Forum, but his successor Claudius disliked the idea and cancelled the project. Claudius, the fourth Emperor, arranged many games, often attending them himself with reportedly great enthusiasm. He even enjoyed the midday executions where criminals where sentenced to damnatio ad bestias and thrown to wild animals between the more popular animal hunts and gladiatorial combats.

In 52 CE 19,000 rowers and soldiers fought against each other at Lake Fucine in the largest naval battle ever staged during the games. According to Tacitus, the doomed combatants had fought well making Claudius unsure weather to have them go on fighting to the last man, have them all killed, or perhaps spare the remaining men. Rising from the sidelines he then started running back and fourth along the riverbank. Claudius suffered a limp and the sight of the Emperor on the beach supposedly caused great amusement among the crowds of spectators. After enough men had either been killed or wounded Claudius decided to spare the survivors. This particular game was surrounded by a large Roman military force carefully monitoring the unfolding events.

Nero, fifth and final Emperor of the Julio-Claudians, did much to develop the games during his time in power. He introduced new elements in the program he thought would amuse the audience and felt as Caligula before him that a new, better venue was needed for the games. He built a large wooden arena in the Campus Martius and as many of his predecessors staged a sea battle, filling his new wooden arena with water. A variety of fish and marine animals where thrown in as Nero gave the starting signal for a battle between Athenians and Persians, a popular theme at this time. Nero’s wooden arena was destroyed in the great fire of Rome in 64 CE. After his death the Flavians had his palace demolished and it’s adjacent private artificial lake filled in where they instead built the Colosseum. A clear signal that this part of the inner city now belonged to the people of Rome and that the new Emperor had a different style. A colossal statue of Nero remained from the previous palace, and was incorporated into the new architectural layout, giving rise to the name the ”Colosseum”. The building was originally referred to as the Amphitheatrum Flavium or Amphitheatrum Caesareum.

The Flavian Dynasty began with Vespasian’s rule (69-79 CE) who’s rise to power had been far from obvious. He did’t belong to the traditional power elite of the Roman nobility but instead came from the Ordo Equestris, the knightly class. His career during Claudius’ reign culminated with a consular office in the year 51. During Nero his career took off again and he was appointed proconsul of Africa in 63-64. He accompanied Nero on his trip to Greece and in the year 67 he was given the task of restoring order in Judea and Galilee. When a power struggle erupted in connection with Nero’s suicide Vespasian initially stayed out, before managing to gather support from one Roman legion after another until he soon came into possession of most of them. He was bestowed imperial status and associated privileges on December 22 in the year 69 CE.

Vespasian would build much in Rome during his following nine years as Emperor. Beside the Colosseum he also built the Temple of Claudius commemorating the previous dynasty. To finance this he increased taxes, for among other things the public toilets. When the urinal slowly started to return to European cities during the 19th century, they were thus called Vespasiani in Italy and Vespasiennes in France. His son Titus criticized the urinal tax and as a reply he supposedly got a coin inserted under his nose by his father asking him if he thought it smelled? Titus replied in the negative and Vespasian replied in turn that the coin had come from the urinals. Pecunia non olet (money doesn’t smell) is a saying associated with his rule. Vespasian was mindful of his spending, but no expenses seems to have been spared for the games. Building the Flavian Amphitheatre in Rome represented a monumental undertaking, along with a second amphitheatre slightly smaller in size with the same name in Pozzuoli. When Vespasian had secured both his position of power, his succession, and had managed to collect enough tax revenue (as well as the spoils of war from Jerusalem) he immortalized his dynasty’s reputation with the Colosseum, as Martial obsequiously called a world wonder:

”Let barbarous Memphis speak no more of the wonder of her pyramids,nor Assyrian toil boast of Babylon; nor let the soft Ionians be extolled for Trivia’s temple; let the altar of many horns say naught of Delos; nor let the Carians exalt to the skies with extravagant praises the Mausoleum poised in empty air. All labor yields to Caesar’s Amphitheater. Fame shall tell of one work in lieu of all. “

Vespasian would die before the inauguration of the Colosseum however and his son and heir Titus was left to oversee one hundred days of unbroken games in the capital, which was probably on an unprecedented scale. Titus short reign (79-81 CE) was halted by a sudden illness soon followed by death. His fell ill already during the closing ceremonies for the inauguration. According to Cassius Dio Titus was quite generous during these games towards the spectators and had wooden balls thrown into the stands bearing the name of a particular item. It could be food, clothing, silver or gold items, horses, other livestock or slaves. Anyone who received a wooden ball could go to the responsible officer and collect their prize. This practice continued during his successor Domitian’s reign. Titus was reportedly along with Caligula, Hadrian, Lucius Verus and a few others one of the few Emperors to actually appear in the arena as gladiators.

Footage from the Colosseum taken in 2015. Additional footage and animations from a NOVA PBS documentary titled ’Roman Death Trap’ and its extended version ’Secrets of the Colosseum’ (Scenes from these documentaries were actually filmed during my visit).

The full documentary offers a possible reconstruction of the trap door elevators in the arena floor, probably used during animal hunts and the particularly hair-raising executions using wild animals. Song in the film is ’Carnival’ by Hands Of Doom.

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016

France, The Roman Empire

Roman bricks were made to last

Having been back just over a month from 10 weeks in Italy looking at everything greek, roman and etruscan, I’ve finally decided it’s time for another blog post. I have much to unbosom visavi my latest trip (84 new GB of films and photos!), but for now I’ll just rewind the clock to last summer and the warm, friendly atmosphere of southern France.

Little did I know then what would find me in these gentle surroundings, even though my first trip in 2008 to Marseille, Martigues, Aix-en-Provence and Arles had been quite promising indeed. I returned to Arles and Aix last summer also, but included quite a few other former roman colonies on my improvised route, in total an estimated 1150 km (or 714 miles) on french roads.

Right where the eastern part of Provence begins to merge into the riviera Julius Caesar once created a military harbour and founded a new market town, Forum Iulli in 49 BP. He simultaneously created a new road there connecting Italy with Spain along this part of the french coast.

After the Roman peace the Market of the Julians would suddenly lose it’s strategic importance and it gradually went into decline. Apart from the amphitheatre there is also a roman theatre and the remains of a large aqueduct that still traverse the cosy idyll of Fréjus. The reason for this is not as sentimental as some ruin enthusiast perhaps would have it.

The incredible durability of roman concrete and bricks simply make it more expensive to get rid of theses structures than to leave them standing around. Thanks to this lucky accident we can still today get a glimpse of what Rome once built on it’s then new frontiers, arguably succeeding with the apparent aim of making it indefinitely roman.

Germany, The Roman Empire

Battle of Teutoburg Forest

Kalkriese, Northern Germany.Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!” These are the famed supposed words of the first Roman Emperor Augustus, as he wondered around the palace after dark during the twilight of his years, still tormented by the loss of the 17th, 18th and 19th legions.

This was no ordinary defeat. It was a massive blow to the prestige and lifeswork of Augustus, perhaps one of the most ambitous men during all of antiquity. Since the assassination of his adoptive father Julius Caesar, Augustus’ reign had at first been plagued by conflict and unrest until a new stability was brought forth by his successful military campaigns, his ever increasing rise towards more power and how he managed at the same time to maintain a clever strategy of humility and honour.

His orignal name was Octavian. He later added Julius Caesar to his name, then divi filius or son of God as Caesar was proclaimed a God. After outmaneuvering and defeating all his rivals he was eventually proclaimed Augustus by the senate, meaning “great” or “venerable”, derived from Latin augere “to increase”.

Augustus most dangerous rival had been his former friend and ally Mark Antony, whom together with Octavians’ adoptive father’s old lover, Cleaopatra, posed a serious threath to his claim to power. Through a long and difficult struggle, not least through propaganda from both sides, Augustus was ultimately proclaimed victorious after a decisive naval battle against the Egyptian fleat at Actium, Western Greece in 31 BCE.

Augustus took much caution as he gradually and slowly put a definitive end to the Roman Republic, in effect becoming supreme ruler of a new Roman Empire. Monarchs were traditionally regarded with plenty of suspicion by the Romans. During their earliest history as a people they had once been ruled by Etruscan kings, until they rose against their oppressors and demanded freedom from tyranny. Augustus knew he had to play his part well, and according to most historians, played it almost to perfection, issuing a series of family-values type decrees, ambitous building programs and helped transform the Roman state into a World Empire.

The capital was decorated in marble instead of bricks, thought more worthy and in step with the new status as superpower the first Roman Emperor clearly envisioned. This Empire was also to be extended, perhaps indefinately, or at least so it seemed from the many ambitious plans clearly visibly in the both historical and archeological records. The Empire would reach it’s furthest extent during the reign of Emperor Trajan about a centruy later. A significant event took place during the reign of Augustus however that seriously hampered the confidence and momentum of the Roman expansion.

The Romans usually expanded into new territories following a simple yet effective strategy; First military campaigns, then followed a gradual process of romanization. Without going into all the details, it could be said that the Romans were ambitious and on the whole seemed rather confident that other neighbouring peoples would ultimately prefer Roman civilization, compared to what they had been used to. There were in other words no real alternative as the Romans saw it to their rule, and they did not hesitate to strike a brutal blow against those who dared oppose the power of Rome and it’s mighty war machine.

Many would however stand up against the Romans, one in particular has become a long lasting symbol for resistance against the most powerful state the world had yet seen. His name was Arminius. Through the above mentionend process of romanization, he had been lifted from his own Germanic tribe close to the Rhine in Germania and raised in Rome, later becoming a roman citizen and a trusted military ally who proved his allegiance to Rome in battle several times in other parts of the Empire.

His career seemed to be moving in the right direction but for some reason Arminius had other plans besides serving Rome. He was a close personal friend to the Roman commander Varus, responsible for governing Germanic territories by now thought to have been already passified by Rome. A territory stretching from the Eastern shores of the Rhine comprising several Germanic tribes was however determined to make a final stand against Rome. As Varus was to move his three Roman legions into winter quarter, he was convinced by Arminius, who also travelled with the army, to choose a dangerous but quicker path through the deep Teutoburg Forest.

Varus biggest mistake was trusting Arminius loyalty blindly and his then disregard of standard military procedures during similar circumstances. The roman army under foot during the fall of 9 CE was large, perhaps as many as 36 000. Moving through the dense forest stretched them out into a very long line, extremely vulnerable to surprise attack. That’s also exactly what happened next. From a carefullt pre-prepared series of ramparts, disguised as belonging to the forest, Germanic tribes suddenly fell over the romans, carefully having plotted in advance the most strategic benificial spots for the assault.

The Battle of Teutoburg Forest in fact dragged on for about three days until the Romans made a final stand and the military command decided to take their own lifes for fear of what the Germanic tribes would do once they were captured. The scene for this final struggle is perhaps the site at Kalkriese. After the battle the bones of the Roman soldiers were simply left out in the fields. Some officers were ritually sacrificed in forest lakes or on altars, and also left as grim reminders to anyone passing through that part of the forest. They were all later reburied by roman commander Germanius, father of Emperor Caligula, about 7 years later.

Emperor Augustus had then been dead for about two years, probably dying from old age as he was in his 70’s by then, but maybe also in part because of the heartbreak from the sudden loss of about 10-15% of his beloved Roman armies.


Song used in the film: ‘Thou Shalt Not Stone’ by Hands Of Doom

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2015

Italy, The Roman Empire

Caesar’s Murder Scene

Largo di Torre Argentina, Rome. Four republican temples were discovered here in 1926. The temples were right next to Pompey’s theatre. Caesar was stabbed on the steps of the Curia.

This took place on the Ides of March, corresponding to March 15th, 44 BC. It was significant in the turn of events ultimately resulting in a permanent shift from Republic to Empire.

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2014