A Touch of Classical Wisdom VIII

Works and Days

That man is best who sees the truth himself;

Good too is he who listens to wise counsel.

But who is neither wise himself nor willing 

To ponder wisdom is not worth a straw. 

-Hesiod, Works & Days c. 700 BC [1]

Fact Check it, Yo!

[1] Hesiod, ‘Works & Days‘, 700 BC. Whittingham, C., Woodfall, G., Davison, T., Baldwin, R., Payne, T., & Robinson, G. (1810). English translations, from ancient and modern poems,. London

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History is Incessantly Incesty (Part Duo)

Nero

Emperor Nero watching longingly as his mother out crazy him.

Moving right along down historical family trees much like the dating preferences of the people I will be focusing on in this series, I’ll be looking at one case in particular in the Julio-Claudian line fraught with power-grabbing, incest, and the occasional murder or two. Not unlike the Lannisters, one famous mother in history was willing to bang whatever and murder whomever if it meant she’d be sitting pretty on the Marble Throne. [1]

2) Agrippina the Younger

Nero and Agrippina

Joffrey and Cersei Nero and Agrippina

There is no shortage of lunatic Roman Emperors and Nero is certainly one of the more famous iterations. Remembered for his dramatics and flair for theatre, or the flare that engulfed Rome in 64 AD which Nero was accused of having caused himself, he will forever go down in history as the man who played the fiddle as Rome burned. [2]

For a rumor had spread that, while the city was burning, Nero had gone on his private stage and, comparing modern calamities with ancient, had sung of the destruction of Troy. – Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome [3]

But where there’s a fire-happy Mad King (Cersei Lannister certainly must have been inspired in her frequent use of wildfire), there’s usually a mom standing behind him totally responsible for it. Enter Agrippina the Younger, stage left.

Agrippina joins among the ranks of some of the most powerful figures in Roman History, born into the Julio-Claudian line descendant from Julius & Augustus Caesar. Now, as you can imagine, the family tree is a bit sticky with important folk, so for the purposes of this post and the dirty that follows, I’ll point out the relevant relations now before your eyes glaze over. Agrippina the Younger’s parents are Agrippina the Elder and Germanicus. From her mother, she is directly descended from Augustus, counting him as her great grandfather. Her father Germanicus was a popular and famous general whose younger brother Claudius would eventually become Roman Emperor. [4] Still with me so far?

Now, being descendant from the most powerful family in Roman History should prove nothing short of bearing considerable skill in political ambitions and intrigue. And Agrippina the Younger was certainly no disappointment on this matter. When she was just 22, her brother Caligula (yes, that one) became Emperor of Rome after their great uncle Tiberius passed away (Or murdered, semantics). Being a doting and loving brother, Caligula granted Agrippina and her sisters all sorts of honors and special privileges, which led their enemies to speculate whether there were other benefits being shared between them. Oh, brother. [5]

He lived in habitual incest with all his sisters, and at a large banquet he placed each of them in turn below him, while his wife reclined above. Of these he is believed to have violated Drusilla when he was still a minor, and even to have been caught lying with her by his grandmother Antonia, at whose house they were brought up in company. – Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars; Life of Caligula [5]

All good things must come to an end, however, and eventually Caligula dovetailed into a tyrannical spiral of insanity after the death of his favorite sister that only a well-conceived assassination plot could fix. With clear love lost between them, Agrippina and her other sister Livilla plotted with their cousin Lepidus to dagger Caligula into the annals of history forever. It didn’t work out though, and Caligula condemned them all to trial producing public letters supposedly written in their own hand writing as evidence of…more incestual bonding between the plotters because THIS FAMILY. Caligula got his way and his cousin Lepidus was executed with his sisters being sent off in exile. [5]

Julia Drusilla

The favorite Drusilla in question… Painted by John Godward in 1906

Agrippina didn’t have long to wait in exile though, for Caligula was swiftly murdered a year later at the measly age of 28 in a display of stabbing rivaling the death of Julius Caesar. With Caligula gone, Agrippina’s uncle Claudius became the new Roman Emperor and he invited the sisters back to Rome where Agrippina could begin using her feminine wiles to solidify her place among those in power and attempt to leverage her young son, Nero, into the line of succession.

Whether or not Agrippina had a proliferation for incest [6] as her accusers claim or she knew that getting close to her uncle was obviously the best way to the Empire, only one obstacle stood in her way–Claudius’ wife Messalina. Her aunt-in-law (and also second cousin because lol) already proved disastrous to her sister Livilla, who was exiled after being accused of an affair with Seneca and promptly starved to death. Agrippina was playing the long game though, and after the death of her second husband (some say at her hand in a classic Black Widow scheme), she became considerably wealthy and used it to leverage her position of sympathy into that of renown and popularity.

And suddenly, Emperor Claudius found himself a bachelor as Messalina tried and failed to murder him too, clearly backstabbing being the preferred recreational sport of the Roman nobility. Despite the disdain and disgust of the general populous, Agrippina married Emperor Claudius and became the first wife to obtain the title of Augusta despite the scary uncle that came with it. Agrippina had succeeded in claiming her place as Roman Empress. [3.1]

But Agrippina’s intrigues were still driving Claudius to the most brutal behavior. – Tacitus, Annals [3]

As Empress, she was frequently noted as conniving and ruthless. [3.2] When she wanted a beautiful garden, she’d accuse someone into committing suicide in order to claim it. She also accused a controller of a joint project of illicit profits to which he exclaimed that the accusations were nothing more than a byproduct of her “dictatorial, feminine excess of ambition.” Can I get that written on my grave stone, please?

Her joint rule was fraught with so many plots against anyone accused of disloyalty against her or inheritance of her son Nero, Claudius was said to have “remarked in his cups that it was his destiny first to endure his wive’s misdeeds, and then to punish them.” But Agrippina wasn’t about to allow him the chance.

Rochegrosse_Georges_Antoine_The_Death_of_Messalina_1916

The Death of Messalina, painted by Rochegrosse Georges Antoine 1916

In a scene straight out of The Beguiled or Phantom Thread, Agrippina planned the murder of Claudius by sprinkling poisonous mushrooms into his food which would have probably done the job if not for the fit of diarrhea that accompanied, and saved him, from his fate. Agrippina was pissed. Enlisting the help of Claudius’ doctor, Xenophon, she made sure the job was done with less fecal fanfare, ensuring his death ruled of natural causes. [3]

The story is that, while pretending to help Claudius to vomit, he put a feather dipped in a quick poison down his throat. – Tactius, Annals [3]

With the death of Claudius, Agrippina was an heir away from making sure Nero was the next Emperor. Locking up Claudius’ son Britannicus and letting everyone know whom Claudius had chosen for succession, her baby boy Nero finally became Roman Emperor and this time she didn’t have to sleep with anyone to do it. Unfortunately, her authority over her now powerful son wasn’t what she had hoped, since with the return of her dead sister’s lover Seneca as Nero’s tutor/adviser and with the slave girl Acte finding a place in his heart, Agrippina had a lot to complain about. [3.3]

This was unbecoming to Nero who attempted to appease his mother by sending her a nice jeweled garment as a peace offering. To which Agrippina scoffed at and demanded her rightful place by his side instead, after all, she orchestrated the damn thing, didn’t she? Upping the petty, Nero banished his mother’s side-piece Pallas from the estate and Agrippina started to wonder if maybe throwing her lot behind Britannicus wouldn’t be such a bad idea, despite, you know, the whole conspiracy thing. Like mother like son, though, Nero poisoned him at the family table before an overthrow could take place.

Fuming, Agrippina flounced around the palace trying to make powerful allies where she could but Nero wasn’t having any of it and withdrew her retainer of guards and ended her lavish receptions on palace grounds by sending her to a different residence altogether, seeing to the end of her court in the process. It’s here that her tactics shift and the sources drudge up accusations familiar, at this point, to her usual games. [3]

Agrippina’s passion to retain power carried her so far that at midday, the time when food and drink were beginning to raise Nero’s temperature, she several times appeared before her inebriated son all decked out and ready for incest. -Tactius, Annals [3] Also, yikes.

Witnesses observed kisses and intimate caresses between the pair and though no one could settle on which one was the initiator in the first place, Tacitus offers a shrug of doubtless commentary on the matter claiming, “In her earliest years she had employed an illicit relationship with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (her cousin, remember?) as a means to power. Through the same ambition she had sunk to be Pallas’ mistress. Then, she married to her uncle, her training in abomination complete.” [3]

This obviously proved to be disadvantageous to Nero as the accusations spread. He’d also fallen in love with Poppea, who was herself as cunning as his mother, who sought to rid them both of Agrippina and solidify a marriage between the pair. So, naturally, as Romans are want to do, they decided to murder her out the way.

How was the question. Agrippina was no fool, and as her supposed method of poisoning did the job for her own plots, she had taken measures to ensure the same could not be done to her. As Tacitus writes, she had by this point strengthened herself in resistance by a preventative course of antidotes. There was always stabbing too, but that was getting pretty old. Instead, an insane idea came to mind to fashion a ship with a removable section that could be rigged to come loose and hurl Agrippina to a watery death because that somehow sounds not at all planned, who could possibly suspect a thing, right? [3]

Shipwreck of Agrippina

It did not work. The section designed to come off was halted by a well-placed couch that Agrippina had been lounging on and when this part of the plan fell apart, the crew tried attacking with paddles. Needless to say, Agrippina swam away mostly unscathed and super suspicious of her son. Nero knew it too, and despite her feigned ignorance of the ordeal, he immediately sent men to her villa to finish her off. There, they bludgeoned her with a truncheon and killed her, but not before she told them to strike her in the womb first, her last act of revenge against her son.

And if you thought that was the end of the incest in this post, I’ll leave you with this one last anecdote. For upon her death and subsequent deliverance of her remains, accounts add that “Nero inspected his mother’s corpse and praised her figure.” [3]

Oh, for the love of–

Fact Check it, yo!

Primary & Secondary Sources:

[1] This is a pretty solid joke, if you don’t mind my bragging. Octavian Augustus Caesar was said to have claimed, “I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.” Suetonius Tranquillus, Divus AugustusFirst paragraph, first line.

[2] Cassius Dio, Suetonius, and Tacitus all claim that Nero watched the fire rage while playing the lyre and singing of the destruction of Troy. (Dio, Epitome LXII; Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars; Tacitus, AnnalsRespectively)

[3] Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome. (The Madness of Nero, Penguin Epics pg. 87)

  1. “Agrippina’ s public image was also much promoted under Claudius’ reign : she was in fact the first wife of a living emperor to adopt the title Augusta, and before her no living woman had appeared on gold and silver coins.” Kajava, M. (1998). L’Antiquité Classique,67, 492-494. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41659921 
  2. “…those writing about Agrippina, especially Tacitus, conflated her actions with the stereotypes of scheming women, partly to denigrate overly-ambitious women and partly to criticize imperial rule.” & “Tacitus depicts Agrippina as a woman whose every action was attributable to political ambition. Actions that involve step-motherly intrigue, hypocrisy, female jealousy and a public display of dominance all expose “her own desire for power.” Williams, K. (2007). The Classical Journal,103(1), 116-119. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30038666
  3. “ first, it highlights much more clearly what Agrippina was expecting from her son’s principate: the continuation of the partnership, which evidently Seneca and Burrus, with their insistence upon the ‘Augustan model’ of government, were determined to deny her. Such an aspiration inevitably irritated a son more than it had the husband.” David Shotter. (1998). Agrippina. The Classical Review,48(1), 117-118. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/713730

[4] Gallivan, P. (1974). Confusion concerning the Age of Octavia. Latomus,33(1), 116-117. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41528935

[5] Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars; Life of Caligula

[6“she was a living critique of the principate and the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Claudius and the political system appear weak in allowing a power-hungry Dux Femina to flourish; the existence of a saeua nouerca (with all that stereotypes connotations of dysfunction) in the imperial family points to dysfunction in the state; and the incest theme critiques Julio-Claudian endogamy.” & “in this connection Dio’s uncertainty, absent in Tacitus, about the veracity of the incest theme, which he says might have been invented to fit the characters of Agrippina and Nero.”

Malloch, S. (2007). Agrippina the Younger. The Classical Review,57(2), 477-478. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4497627

King Slayers – That Nosebleed Attila the Hun

 

Mulan Huns

Legit still terrified of the Huns from Mulan. They didn’t call them the “scourge of God” for nothing!

I’ve been unintentionally focused on Roman history lately so we’re going to go in on one of the few successful outside threats to the stability of the Roman Empire and the colossally embarrassing reason that saw to the collective sigh of relief by the general populous that had nothing to do with Legionaries but everything to do with a ridiculous amount of bloodshed. So if anyone has a problem with more Roman things, ya’ll can just steppe off, okay? >crickets< Hunny, that was a joke.

If you’re like me, you’ve grown up knowing that the Huns were terrible menaces that could only be defeated by being sung into a man by Donny Osmond. Perhaps because there was a huge wall protecting China named Fa Mulan, the Huns decided the gettin’ was good somewhere else and started off a chain reaction of marauding nomadic assholery by descending upon the Roman Empire in its last legs of life in 4th & 5th century AD. The Romans didn’t know what was happening, or where these demonic barbarians came from–it probably didn’t help that other bands of groups joined in on the fun including the Goths, Alans, Scythians, and anyone else who could rock a ferocious blood-soaked beard. When the Huns and their warband associates began hammering away at Roman territory, the empire found itself stretched thin without a large enough force to defend against attacks along its borders. Rome capitulated some territory and even employed various groups of them as mercenaries to help defend against the Zerg Rush of barbarians. All in all, it seemed a confusing mess of splintered groups with different leaders fighting each other back and forth as long as everyone was well fed and paid while the Roman emperors nervously wringed their hands hoping nobody would depose them since they had been dropping like flies faster than a Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at this point. [1]

Leoattila-Raphael

Attila the Hun meeting Pope Leo I and also probably demanding the papacy too because why not.

It wasn’t until Attila that the Huns became a unified empire. Most historians assume he murdered the crap out of his brother Bleda before taking the reigns and charging all over the eastern half of the Roman empire in an assault that horse-whipped the once mighty Rome into paying off the Huns with an annual tribute of 2100 pounds of gold to let up a little bit, geez Louise. [2]

This wasn’t nearly enough for the insatiable Atilla, however, when Honoria, the sister of the Western Roman Emperor, sent him the Classical equivalent to a booty text in the form of a ring and offer of betrothal, and Atilla demanded half of the empire as his dowry proving he was pretty ballsy, if nothing else. He used the opportunity to justify an invasion, sacking and razing the roof all over the place. [3(Somebody remind me to do a write up of Honoria some day because she was pretty wild herself)

Attila

Swoon daddy OG

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out with Honoria, and Attila the Hun eventually took another wife culminating in a raging night of drunken revelry in celebration. And like George R.R. Martin himself wrote it, it was this night that Attila the Hun met his end.

He had given himself up to excessive joy at his wedding, and as he lay on his back, heavy with wine and sleep, a rush of superfluous blood, which would ordinarily have flowed from his nose, streamed in deadly course down his throat and killed him, since it was hindered in the usual passages. Thus did drunkenness put a disgraceful end to a king renowned in war.

Jordanes, the Gothic History [4]

A nosebleed?! I suppose, if you’re a subscriber to anime tropes being a thing that actually happens in real-life, perhaps Atilla was a bit too pleased to see his new wife. Most probably, something more akin to a hemorrhage caused by internal bleeding due to excessive drinking was the cause, but I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. 

Naturally, the Huns were super upset by this sudden death, and after they ripped out their hair and clawed at their faces, they went to work burying their great king in his riches and killing everyone who helped because why stop being dramatic now. This tactic seemed to work, however, because we still have no idea where he is today. [4]

It wasn’t long after Attila’s death that the Hunnic Empire collapsed. Turns out, it’s pretty tough to keep a bunch of bloodthirsty warriors in line. And Rome didn’t have that long to neener neener about it either. On September 4th, 476 AD, barely 25 years later, a different barbarian king, Odoacer, deposed the last Roman Emperor and declared himself king of Italy, effectively ending the western half of the empire.

Cole_Thomas_The_Course_of_Empire_Destruction_1836

Welp.

 

Cause of Death: giphy

 

Fact Check it, yo!

Secondary:

[1] Heather, P. (1995). The Huns and the End of the Roman Empire in Western Europe. The English Historical Review, 110(435), 4-41. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/573374

[3] Bury, J. (1919). Justa Grata Honoria. The Journal of Roman Studies, 9, 1-13. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/295986

Primary source:

[2] Priscus, Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum. Priscus at the Court of Attila. Retrieved from: http://faculty.georgetown.edu/jod/texts/priscus.html

 

[4] Jordanes, The Gothic History Retrieved from: https://archive.org/stream/gothichistoryofj00jorduoft/gothichistoryofj00jorduoft_djvu.txt

Those Saucy Romans

Garum sauce

If you thought putting anchovies on pizza was gross, brace yourself for this next post. The Roman Empire, being a wretched hive of scum and villainy for about the entirety of it’s hellion reign across most of Europe, wasn’t exactly shy about being off the wall crazy about some of its more questionable pleasures. From painting lavish dick pics everywhere to delighting in some healthy disembowelment in the gladiatorial arena, not much of these practices would be accepted in modern day society. Well, okay, except for maybe the first one.

One of the things the Romans were famously into, was soaking their food up in a sauce known as “Garum” or “Liquamen” which we’ve found archaeological evidence of in manufacturing, residue in pottery, and depicted in art and writing of the time. The sauce knew no societal bounds, common among people of all different classes and religions (evidence of a kosher option even exists) [1 & 3]. So, basically sounds like the Roman version of ketchup. How bad could it be?

Another liquid, too, of a very exquisite nature, is that known as “garuim:” it is prepared from the intestines of fish and various parts which would otherwise be thrown away, macerated in salt; so that it is, in fact, the result of their putrefaction. – Pliny the Elder, The Natural History [2]

Makes me want to hurl harder than a highlander tossing a log across long distances to impress his skirt wearing friends.

But was it really all that bad? Obviously, it was incredibly popular and how far removed would our taste buds really be from our Classical ancestors? Are we really any different, slathering our sushi rolls with eel sauce?

Evidently, garum was probably similar to popular fish sauces found in Vietnamese, Indochinese, and Turkish cuisine today. And based on our sources and the ancient recipe we’ve discovered concerning its production (A salt to fish ratio of 1:8), “the amount of salt used in the production process inhibited putrefaction and, hence, prevented any rancid smells. Bacterial fermentation, similar to that found in the production of cheeses, induced maturation of the product.” [3] Pliny claimed that the sauce itself smelled a bit funky, but what decent cheese doesn’t? And let’s not forget that even if it had a strong ode de parfum, he still called it exquisite. [2]

Garum party

What life was like for the Romans before the invention of Nutella

Probably seems strange that such a popular and maybe not all that gross sauce would just disappear then. But apparently, the sauce itself was fairly expensive, even some higher quality versions near the end of the Roman Empire’s life span would cost about $500 of today’s moolah. [3 & 4] It’s always baffling to me how unperturbed we are to have table salt readily available in a cupboard or at a restaurant, but it used to be a precious commodity that was heavily taxed and fought over. With a salt tax introduced among the empire, garum production became a bit too expensive since it was the necessary component that made it deliciously putridy. And with the collapse of power in the western half of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the ownership of the Mediterranean seas became an indisputable playground for some good old fashioned piracy. [4]

If you’re not turned off by the process and are still curious how it tasted, however, you’re in luck! It’s starting to make a comeback.

Do you not realize that garum sociorum, that expensive bloody mass of decayed fish, consumes the stomach with its salted putrefaction?

— Seneca, Epistle 95. [5]
Fact Check it, yo!
[1] LEARY, T. (1994). JEWS, FISH, FOOD LAWS AND THE ELDER PLINY. Acta Classica, 37, 111-114. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24594356
[2] Pliny the Elder, The Natural History. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855.
[3] Curtis, R. (1983). In Defense of Garum. The Classical Journal,78(3), 232-240. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3297180
[4] Prichep, D. (2013, October 26). Fish Sauce: An Ancient Roman Condiment Rises Again. Retrieved March 20, 2018, from https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/10/26/240237774/fish-sauce-an-ancient-roman-condiment-rises-again

Some Men Just Want to Watch the World Wonders Burn

Louise Belcher Evil Laugh GIF by Bob's Burgers

Eye-witness video of Herostratus circa 4th century BC.

People suck. I’m confident that this is a definitive statement I can make without stating any evidence or backing citations since we’re all constantly exposed to the same examples in our day to day lives that proves it, from mass murderers on the news to that dude in a pick-up truck who cut you off on the road earlier this week.

And while there might be some cases where our modern world may be to blame, I can assure you that since civilization has been a thing, people have been finding all kinds of ways to be various levels of bastards to one another. And perhaps the most disrespectful and shitty thing you could possibly do to everyone is destroying one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World just for the helluva it.

Enter Herostratus, whose name I’m annoyed to even know.

Therefore only an utterly senseless person can fail to know that our characters are the result of our conduct.Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics; Book III [1]

In 4th century BC, Ancient Greece was still very much a playground for heroic mythos celebrated as true accounts, from the rippling pectorals of Heracles to Achilles’ famous anger, despite how much Plato wanted to ruin the fun for everyone by telling them otherwise. So, it’s perhaps understandable that a desire to cement oneself in these cool new things called “History Books” was a real thing people worried about. I mean, an entire cult of worship amassing after your death and obsessively placing pottery in your name everywhere does sound kind of nice. The only trouble is, how does one accomplish such a magnificent feat without being either a King, really good at wearing a toga and going around harassing the youth with your incessant “why” questions, or immortalizing yourself in a war when everyone was too busy inventing things and getting ready for the arrival of the next big thing since fermented grapes?

And perhaps it was out of a subconscious resentment for this last one in particular, Herostratus decided that being remembered in infamy was good enough for him and that to accomplish this, he would set fire to The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus on the day of Alexander the Great’s birth on July 21st, 356 BC. [2]

A man was found to plan the burning of the temple of Ephesian Diana so that through the destruction of this most beautiful building his name might be spread through the whole world. –  Valerius Maximus (VIII.14.5) [2]

 

The people of Ephesus were not having any of this bullshit. Capturing Herostratus, torturing his ass until he admitted to his stupid reason for torching the only thing that put their city on the map, and executing the shit out of him, they also decreed it a capital offense to even mention his name, effectively inventing the phrase He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in an attempt to show everyone that pulling stuff like this would get you nowhere in history, god dammit.

Artemis Temple Illustration

Cry emoji

Unfortunately, his name still managed to survive and we know it today because those pesky ancient historians like Theopompus and Strabo [3] just couldn’t help themselves. Now we all get to hate ourselves for knowing it and, effectively, making sure that Herostratus came out of this whole ordeal as the winner.

You’re welcome.

Fact Check it, yo!

[1] Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics; Book III. Retrieved: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.3.iii.html

[2] Valerius Maximus, Factorum et Dictorum Memorabilium; (VIII.14.5) Retrieved (Also Google Translate): http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/L/Roman/Texts/Valerius_Maximus/8*.html#14.ext.5

[3] Smith, William, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. Retrieved: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0104%3Aalphabetic+letter%3DH%3Aentry+group%3D11%3Aentry%3Dherostratus-bio-2

The Nose Goes: When Octavian Meets Alexander the Great

AlexandertheMug

What a great nose, would be a shame to lose it…

It starts like any whimsical joke, so Octavian meets Alexander the Great. And, naturally, the end of it is marked with a well-placed punch. Not least of all, the humor in it accented by the fact that Alexander is, well, super dead.

To bring us back to this moment in time, Octavian who is soon to be remembered in history as Augustus Caesar, had just conquered Egypt. It was late summer of 30 BC, and with Mark Antony pooling in his deathbed from the fatal piercing of his own sword and Cleopatra having succumbed to an agonizing eternal slumber with the aid of poison (Whether it was administered by an asp remains a matter of debate [1]), there was no one left to stand in the way of Octavian and the spoils he was eager to enjoy of the once great Ptolemaic Kingdom that had ruled Egypt for the last 300 years. Perhaps the most cherished treasure of the city of Alexandria remained the tomb of its namesake and the most famous conqueror the world had ever witnessed, that of Alexander the Great. And, like his uncle before him who had strode in the presence of greatness at the behest of Cleopatra herself, Octavian too was avid to bear witness to the last man who, under the fierce gallop of his horse Bucephalus, had carved out and drastically changed the world. In hindsight, Octavian was perhaps also ignorant to the fact that he was about to be remembered for doing the same.

As the legend goes, after Alexander succumbed to illness (Because we have yet to find his body, all matter of possibilities have been suggested by scholars from poisoning, malaria, and even bowel perforation to being the cause of death) his body was encased in a golden sarcophagus filled with honey because why not also make him famously delicious and sent on its way to his homeland of Macedon despite his apparent wishes to be buried in the Egyptian oasis Siwah, thrown into a river as to attest to his godliness without evidence of a body, or be burned to ashes because then people couldn’t do exactly all of the things they eventually did to his corpse. [2] Unfortunately, one of Alexander’s generals and heirs, Ptolemy I, hijacked the procession and smuggled the body to Memphis in Egypt which he then began to rule after Alexander’s passing. From there, it remained in Ptolemaic possession, passing from Memphis to its famous resting place in Alexandria with a later Ptolemaic king swapping the golden sarcophagus with a glass one for a more economical viewing experience.

It was this resting place, now housed within the Soma Mausoleum, that Octavian wished to pay his respects.

Augustus-before-the-Tomb-of-Alexander

Sebastien Bourdon, Augustus before the Tomb of Alexander

According to Suetonius, Octavian wished to gaze upon the body of Alexander the Great and show his respect by placing a golden crown upon his head. [3] Whether it was in placing the diadem or in the act of kissing the forehead of his idol, Octavian somehow managed to take off the nose of the greatest man to have walked the Earth, accidentally crushing it in the process of fealty. Whoops! [4]

“My wish was to see a king, not corpses.” – Octavian in response to being asked if he would like to see the tomb of the now vanquished Ptolemies in the most brutal clap-back ever recorded. Suetonius, The Life of Augustus para. 149

A part of me hopes that the irony of this event was not lost on Octavian. For the act of breaking the legacy of Alexander the Great lay with the destruction of Cleopatra’s kingdom and now, symbolically, with his nose. And it was from this moment on, really, that Octavian emerges as the next most famous conqueror in history, becoming the first and most powerful Roman Emperor to ever live.

As for what remained of Alexander, his body continued to fall victim to the whims and folly of other Roman Emperors. His tomb was looted by Caligula (You’d think he’d show some respect for a fellow equestrian, right?) and was tampered with by Caracalla (who delights in a good piss off, amirite?) after Septimius Severus tried sealing the tomb. [5] From there, no one really knows what became of Alexander the Great, whether his body was removed by a pesky Roman Emperor when stealing relics wasn’t enough or perhaps, engulfed into the sea with the rest of ancient Alexandria after a series of fatal earthquakes. Either way, amidst natural disasters and frequent sacking by other conquerors, the location of his tomb was eventually lost, waiting for the day when archaeologists and historians are hopefully able to recover it.

But one thing is for certain, the nose went first.

 

Fact Check it, yo!

[1] Cleopatra’s Death. (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2018, from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/miscellanea/cleopatra/rixens.html

[2  Arrian. The Anabis of Alexander. Book VII Retrieved March 14, 2018, from https://archive.org/stream/cu31924026460752/cu31924026460752_djvu.txt

[3] Suetonius. The Life of Augustus. Retrieved March 14, 2018, from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/Augustus*.html

[4] , Anthony Everitt. (2006) The Life of Rome’s First Emperor. 

[5] Lindsay, I. (2014). The history of loot and stolen art: from antiquity until the present day. London: Unicorn Press Ltd.

King Slayers – Emperor Caracalla and the Case of the Full Bladder

Emperor Caracalla

Seriously, bruh? Couldn’t wait until I was finished?!

 

Emperor Caracalla falls among a long line of dickish Roman Emperors who, if anyone recalls his name at all, will be forever remembered in infamy for good ol’ fashioned tyranny and the pathetic way in which he met his end.

But this same emperor made many mistakes because of the obstinacy with which he clung to his own opinions; for he wished not only to know everything but to be the only one to know anything, and he desired not only to have all power but to be the only one to have power. Hench he asked no one’s advice and was jealous of those who had any useful knowledge. He never loved anyone, but he hated all who excelled in anything, most of all those whom he pretended to love most; and he destroyed many of them in one way or another. [1]

-Cassisus Dio. On Caracalla but without the context, could easily be confused for a different modern leader of today.

Following the reign of his father Septimius Severus, the dude who JK Rowling probably named Snape after, Caracalla began a joint rule with his brother Geta in 211 AD until he had him murdered because he just didn’t like to share or settle differences in a reasonable manner because what Roman Emperor needs to possess sound judgment? But even before this moment, Caracalla had already started his laundry list of assholery that began with the exile and murder of his wife, whom sources aren’t entirely sure why he hated so much (and keep in mind divorce in Rome at this time was quite common), and her father for being responsible for half of her gene pool. [2] To make matters worse, after Caracalla had his younger brother gutted in the arms of their own mother, he went on to order a damnatio memoriae which attempted to erase his name and memory from public record and history. Anyone who had a problem with the murder or even spoke Geta’s name out loud was rounded up and murdered. All in all, an estimated 20,000 people were killed over an affair that could have probably been solved with a nice family chat over wine. [3] So clearly, Caracalla was a fun guy to be around.

When the Egyptian population was touched by Caracalla’s heavy handed politics, they rebelled by their sense of humor of making Caracalla the object of their satire. Jokes and puns were devised on his account, to which Caracalla was not a ready audience… [3]

Robert Morgan, History of the Coptic Orthodox People and the Church of Egypt.

(In response, Caracalla tricked the City of Alexandria into a display of extended respect by promising to pick from the city’s youth to back fill the employ of his legions. When the candidates had eagerly gathered to await their choosing, Caracalla ordered his soldiers to slaughter the entire crowd.)

Baths of Caracalla

I wonder how many people peed in these.

Not everything he did was entirely shitty, however. He built baths in Rome which are essentially the ancient equivalent of a YMCA, paid his military handsomely, and issued the edict of Constitutio Antoniniana which gave all freed men living in the borders of the empire Roman citizenship. [4] There were some exceptions of course, but this was a big deal because at this time Rome was at the height of its expanse, with only a small percentage of the population enjoying all of the benefits of being a true Roman, which included protection from being crucified as capital punishment.

 

Roman Empire 117AD

This is only one hundred years before Caracalla. That’s a whole lot of taxes.

But like all things in Carcalla’s life, when he was spurned, his immediate response was to kill things. So when he offered a marriage alliance between himself and the daughter of a Parthian king in an attempt to gain more territory for Rome but was rejected, he responded by launching a military campaign to take it by force with bloodshed. [1]

It was on one of these campaigns when Caracalla couldn’t resist the urge to urinate. Stopping off the side of the road to relieve himself, a disgruntled soldier unhappy by his lack of promotion approached him unnoticed. Apparently not even giving the emperor a chance to finish, the soldier stabbed Caracalla in the back shoulder until he fell dead, but hopefully not on his newly relinquished stream. [5]

Cause of Death: Inopportune bathroom break

 

Fact Check it, yo!

 

[1] Cassius Dio, Roman History; Epitome of Book LXVIII. Via URL: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/78*.html

[2] Dorothy King’s PhDiva. (n.d.). Retrieved January 05, 2018, from http://phdiva.blogspot.com/2011/11/damnatio-memoriae-geta.html

[3] MORGAN, R. (2016). HISTORY OF THE COPTIC ORTHODOX PEOPLE AND THE CHURCH OF EGYPT. S.l.: FRIESENPRESS. URL: Google Books

[4] Benario, H. (1954). The Dediticii of the Constitutio Antoniniana. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 85, 188-196. URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/283475?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

[5] Herodian, History of the Roman Emperor Since the Death of Marcus Aurelius; Murder of Caracalla. Via URL: http://www.livius.org/sources/content/herodian-s-roman-history/herodian-4.13/?