Italy, The Roman Empire

An Altar to Peace

When I returned to Rome from Gaul and from Spain, in the consulship of Tiberius Nero and Publius Quintilio, having brought to a satisfactory finish my works in these provinces, the Senate decreed that there should be consecrated in the Campus Martius an altar to the Augustan Peace and ordered that the officials, priests and vestal virgins should celebrate a sacrifice at it every year.”

In these words from Res Gestae, Augustus himself described the Senate’s decision to honour him with an altar to Peace, following the sucessful campaigns North of the Alps in 16-13 BCE, having subjected both the Reti, the Vindelici and effectively put the Alpine passes under Roman rule. Augustus also had recently visited Spain, finally at peace, where he founded several new colonies and had received new tributes for Rome.

The official ceremony and dedication of Ara Pacis took place on the 30th of January in 9 BCE. According to Cassius Dio the Senate initially planned to build the altar within the Curia, but instead the northernmost part of the Campo Martius was chosen, a recently urbanised vast field, previously mostly used for military exercise of infantry, cavalry and gymnastics of the Roman youth.

The Altar of Augustan Peace is a richly decorated altar, standing within a sculpted marble enclosure.  The reliefs on the upper part of the monument represented various subjects relating to the legendary founding of Rome, such as Romulus and Remus and a double procession unfolds along the monument’s length: Augustus, members of the imperial family, priests, magistrates, and senators. A fragment of this procession is currently in the Louvre, portraying a family with two children. Their identity has not been firmly established, although they may be members of the emperor’s own family.

The altar depicts the Augustan state religion, it’s lower frieze consisting of vegetal works signaling abundance and prosperity and a new peaceful age. The coninous frieze of the north and south panels is a confident display of the participants of a sacrificial ceremony; Romans in togas wearing laurel crowns, senators, priests, magistrates, lictors, the occasional slave or freedman, along with women and children, normally not portrayed in these circumstances. At least two of the little boys might be foreign princes, on account of their gallic and asiatic costumes. The base is adorned with acanthus scrolls intertwined with swans (birds sacred to Apollo who was a protector of Augustus). These luxuriant natural elements evoked the peace and prosperity that Augustus had brought to Rome.

On the southern panel the Emperor himself is in the process of performing the ritual accompanied by his closest family in tow, a symbol of the the stability and guaranteed succession of the regime. The shorter western and eastern panels, pierced by entryways to the altar are adorned by mythological motifs pertaining to the founding of Rome, it’s people and gods like mother earth, godess roma (or perhaps venus), the mythic forebearer Aeneas who also might be the first king after it’s founder Romulus who along with his brother Remus is seen suckling the she-wolf that legend has it once nurtured them.

Song in the film is Sungam Zorba by Hands Of Doom and animations made by

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016

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

Anatolia, The Roman Empire

Hagia Sophia: How Rome moving east changed architecture forever

All roads lead to Rome the saying goes: A great city who later fell and whose spectacular ruins let us contemplate today the former heart of an empire. This view is only partially historically accurate. Yes, the Roman influence expanded from Rome but always with a natural inclination towards the east. Tracing their own origins from there, that’s where all other great former empires besides Egypt also had come from. The greek influence – considered prevalent during the Roman empire – is often understood as having captured the conquering romans, resulting in greco-roman culture.

The greek influence was actually there all along from when greek colonists first stepped ashore on Sicily and southern Italy, a process having been underway since before the founding of Rome. The capital eventually consumed vast resources during the hight of empire, moving far beyond what could be produced locally. This caused problems for Rome whose supply lines ultimately became its Achilles’ heel. Goods in high demand came from as far away as China, making the silk road trade effectively come under Roman control though establishing trade stations and ports in present day Jordan and Pakistan.

Adding then also the volatile germanic tribes of northern Europe to the mix whose presence became increasingly problematic for Rome: First a conquest of these lands had been a high priority, present day France and Britain having both been successfully pacified, but after things went terribly wrong in Teutoburger Forest all plans to rule these lands were abandoned indefinitely in the first century CE. Threats of new germanic attacks coupled with a new religion firmly rooted in the east, Christianity, also eventually combined with Rome’s constant problems to sustain itself made an eventual move of the capital to the east, possible, plausible, perhaps even inevitable.

Constantine the Great supported the Edict of Milan in 313 that decreed tolerance for Christianity in the empire. He then called the First Council of Nicaea in 325, after which the Nicene Creed was professed by all Christians and he was finally the Roman emperor to build a new imperial residence at Byzantium and renaming the city Constantinople after himself, making it in fact become the new capital of the empire. It would remain so for over one thousand years.

Justinian I (East Roman emperor 527-565) sought to revive the empire’s greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the historical Roman Empire, thus he’s sometimes been called the “last Roman” in modern historiography. This ambition resulted in the partial recovery of territories of the fallen western empire. Belisarius, his general, restored parts of North Africa, Dalmatia, Southern Spain, Sicily, Italy, and Rome to the empire as well as parts of the Black Sea coast never before under Roman rule. Justinian reformed Roman law with Corpus Juris Civilis, which is still the basis of civil law in many countries today and his reign yielded a general blossoming in culture with such masterpieces as the Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia was built as a Christian basilica and later converted into an imperial mosque after the Ottoman conquest thousand years later and is today a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. From its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople (it was briefly a Catholic cathedral in 1204-1261) and was then converted into a mosque and remained so between 1453-1931 and has been a museum since 1935. Its massive dome is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and was the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was built in 1520. The current building was built in 532-537 by Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles on orders by Justinian  who wished to rival the Pantheon in Rome by combining it’s dome with a basilica.

The church was dedicated to the Wisdom of God, the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity and its full name in greek means “Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God”. The church contained a large collection of holy relics and was the focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly a millenium. The upper gallery is laid out in a horseshoe shape that encloses the nave until the apse. Several mosaics are preserved in the upper gallery, an area traditionally reserved for the empress and her court. The best-preserved mosaics are located in the southern part of the gallery.

The upper gallery of Hagia Sofia also contains runic graffiti presumed to be from the Varangian Guard, an elite unit of the Byzantine Army in the 10th-14th centuries, whose members served as personal bodyguards to the Emperors. They where primarily composed of Germanic peoples, specifically Scandinavians (it was formed about 200 years into the Viking age) and Anglo-Saxons (after the Norman Conquest of England created an Anglo-Saxon emigration, part of which found employment in Byzantium).

The film was made from personal footage of the Hagia Sophia with additional footage and animations from a NOVA/PBS documentary titled ’Hagia Sophia: Istanbul’s Mystery’. It’s a interesting look into how the Hagia Sophia has been able to withstand earthquakes for nearly 1500 years. The Song in the film is ’Soulburner’ 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

Italy, The Roman Empire

Hadrian’s Mausoleum

Castel Sant’Angelo was originally the tomb of Hadrian. He was Trajan’s adopted son and emperor of Rome 117-138 CE. Hadrian was a military man but also well versed in politics, art, music, philosophy and literature.

He built a large mausoleum for himself and his family comparable to that of Augustus. It was built in Ager Vaticanus amongst villas, tombs and gardens and linked to the centre of Rome by Pons Aelius, also built by Hadrian.

Only the base remains from roman times. The surrounding walls and top were added during late antiquity and medeival times. It was sacked by both Visigoths and Goths and then rebuilt and used as a castle by many subseqent popes.

Song used in the film: ‘Dark Heart’ of the Woods’ by Hands Of Doom

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016

Italy, The Roman Empire, Tunisia

Death and Destruction: What events led to the sacking of Carthage by Rome?

Rome had never wiped large bustling cities from the face of the earth before 146 BCE. This year both Carthage in North Africa and Corinth in Greece – two great cities in the ancient world – were completely destroyed by the romans. These were measures on a scale previously unheard of in the Mediterranean basin and arguably what started Rome on it’s path to empire, and perhaps in the long run it’s eventual decline.

Rome had begun as a largely greek city, and was then ruled by etruscan kings before claiming power for it’s own people. After that Rome slowly gained strength over the centuries through a series of military campaigns against it’s neighboring peoples. This would in time mean focusing on what soon became Rome’s greatest rival in the Mediterranean, the Carthaginian Empire. The Roman republic (res publica = rule of the people) was established immediately after the etruscan period, and would after a few centuries lead to the establishment of a monarchy whose string of powerful caesars would ultimately rule the largest empire the world had seen up that point. The republican period preceding all this glory was however a period marked by retrogression and decay.

The archaeological material from the middle of the 5th century BCE onwards speaks of a crisis that seems to have affected large parts of Italy. Evidence of this decline is apparent in both the greek colonies in the south (Magna Graecia) as well as Campania, Lazio and Etruria and all the way to Carthage. Imports of Attic pottery dried up almost completely, and local production stagnated while the artistic level and quality of exclusive items went down.

The bleak archaeological picture is consistent with literary sources mentioning Rome at this time. It was an era of military losses, poverty and discontent among the inhabitants of Rome. Sources describe several public buildings being built in the late 6th and early 5th century, such as the temples of Jupiter, Castor and Pollux, and the temple of Saturn. There are no mentions of any such constructions after the year 484 BCE.

This is consistent with the archaeological picture which shows extensive construction in the 6th century but nothing in the coming period, even into the early 4th century BCE. The written sources seem therefore to confirm what was previously imagined in the study of early Rome. Taken together the archaeological and written information form a comprehensive narrative of a city deprived of it’s glory, suffering severe problems and with only traces of a once great past.

According to this view rock bottom was probably reached in 390 BCE, when Rome was sacked by the Gauls. The fact that looting actually occurred can not be seriously disputed, given that the incident was described by a number of greek scholars from the 4th century, including Aristotle. But the former description of a complete disaster may not be completely accurate. Ancient writers may well have exaggerated the incident for propaganda reasons such as Livy’s account that the city was completely destroyed and then rebuilt from the ground up, which can now be dismissed as inaccurate. This must be false since the looting hasn’t left any archaeological traces whatsoever. There are for instance on the other hand traces of a fire in Rome that might have originated from an uprising, and in that case probably marking the end of the etruscan rule. Dating suggests that the scorched layers are from around the year 500 BCE.

The main reason for applying a more skeptical view on Rome’s alleged total destruction is that one should take a more general and historical view approaching the Gauls. From what we know about the Gauls we can assume that their interest in Rome itself was limited. They had probably ventured out on a minor raid without a well thought out political purpose, and after quickly leaving Rome behind they continued south, where they were recruited as mercenaries of the tyrant Dionysius of Sicily before finally passing through Rome again on the return home to northern Italy. They clearly didn’t have any intention to occupy Rome permanently, nor did they have any political reasons to systematically wipe out the town. The sources speaking of how the inhabitans of Rome instead managed to buy themselves free from looting by the Gauls using gold could thus very well be true.

It’s only later when Rome’s road to empire began in earnest and it’s well-disciplined war machine was spurred on by political propaganda in the Senate causing the percieved threat from the capital of an already defeated Carthaginian Empire to also be demonstratively razed to the ground. This sort of forceful demonstration would be quite unthinkable in terms of a much more disorganized, nomadic group of warriors such as the Gauls.

Livy (and other historians uncritically quoting him) has erroneously claimed that Rome had been rebuilt from scratch after the disaster in 390 BCE. The chaotic planning of the inner city center was not the result of a hasty and sloppy reconstruction however as Livy claimed, but rather the result of a gradual expansion over an extended period of time. Many of the archaic buildings were in fact left standing after the onslaught of the Gauls, which later archeological investigations has confirmed. Several important buildings and monuments have subsequently been unearthed from the oldest layers of the city that obviously survived the Gallic attack unharmed such as the Regia, the Comitium, the temple of Castor and Pollux and especially the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill.

It would be another century before the romans began rebuilding Carthage under Julius Caesar. It soon prospered again becoming yet again a powerful, wealthy gem of a city. In fact before long Carthage was once more second only to Rome in the whole empire.

Song in the film: “What It Is (new version)” 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