Posts Tagged ‘Roman history’
“You don’t get explanations in real life. You just get moments that are absolutely, utterly, inexplicably odd”*…
There are over five million articles in the English Wikipedia… These articles are verifiable, valuable contributions to the encyclopedia, but are a bit odd, whimsical, or something you would not expect to find in Encyclopædia Britannica.
* Neil Gaiman
As we wonder at the weird, we might send dissolute birthday greetings to the poster boy for oddity and excess, Caligula; he was born on this date in 12 CE. The third Roman Emperor (from from 37 to 41 CE), Caligula (“Little Boots”) is generally agreed to have been a temperate ruler through the first six months of his reign. His excesses after that– cruelty, extravagance, sexual perversity– are “known” to us via sources increasingly called into question. Still, historians agree that Caligula did work hard to increase the unconstrained personal power of the emperor at the expense of the countervailing Principate; and he oversaw the construction of notoriously luxurious dwellings for himself.
In 41 CE, members of the Roman Senate and of Caligula’s household attempted a coup to restore the Republic. They enlisted the Praetorian Guard, who killed Caligula– the first Roman Emperor to be assassinated (Julius Caesar was assassinated, but was Dictator, not Emperor). In the event, the Praetorians thwarted the Republican dream by appointing (and supporting) Caligula’s uncle Claudius the next Emperor.
Terror attacks, Zika, Brexit, police shootings, Syria, Trump, record-hot temperatures, the losses of Prince and David Bowie—this has been one unrelenting turn around the calendar. Have terrifying events truly piled up on each other in 2016, in a way they didn’t in any other year in human history? Or is it impossible to judge the awfulness of a year while it’s still unfolding? Do we just notice negative happenings more these days because of our high levels of connectivity? And what does “worst year” even mean—“worst year” for Americans, for humanity, for the planet?…
In an effort to understand how to determine a “worst year” in history, Rebecca Onion asked ten historians to nominate their own “worst years” and to reflect on what constitutes a “really bad year.” Explore the bottom of the barrel at “Is 2016 the Worst Year in History?”
* Shakespeare, King Lear
As we hold our heads in our hands, we might spare a thought for Mark Antony; on this date in 30 BC– pretty surely his worst year ever– he won a minor victory over the forces of Octavian (Augustus) in the Battle of Alexandria. But most of Antony’s army, cowed by the Roman forces, subsequently deserted, leading to his suicide.
“The key of the success of Studio 54 is that it’s a dictatorship at the door and a democracy on the dance floor”*…
In 1977, at the height of the disco craze, a club opened at 254 West 54th Street in New York City. Studio 54 was—and, arguably, remains—the world’s most renowned and legendary disco. Regularly attended by celebrities such as Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger, Bianca Jagger, Jerry Hall, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones, Michael Jackson, Calvin Klein, Elton John, John Travolta, Brooke Shields and Tina Turner, the club fostered an atmosphere of unadulterated hedonism for New York’s art and fashion set. Hasse Persson [c.f., here] and his camera were frequent club guests from 1977–80. The images he photographed there have become legendary, capturing the club’s famed revelers, dancers in costume and general, drunken exhilaration—and yet, incredibly, Studio 54 (published by Max Ström) marks the first time in history that they have seen publication. Almost 35 years after the club’s unceremonious and sudden closure, this beautiful hardback volume superbly documents the zeitgeist…
* Andy Warhol (seen, holding his camera, at the bottom of the photo above)
As we look for the “Hot Stuff,” we might recall that it was on this date in 37 CE that the Roman Senate conferred the Principate on Caligula. His great-uncle Tiberius had left the office jointly to his grandson, Gemellus, and to Caligula; but Caligula had the will nullified on the grounds of Gemellus’ supposed insanity.
Caligula reigned until his assassination three-and-a-half years later by members of his own Praetorian Guard; the first two years of his tenure were marked by moderation– but accounts of his reign thereafter paint a portrait of extraordinary sybaritic excess and cruel, extravagant, and perverse tyranny… leading many historians to suspect that Caligula succumbed in his last months to neurosyphilis.
As this interactive graphic from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reveals, the number of nuclear weapons in the world peaked in the late 80s. But there are still roughly 10,000 nukes floating around the world, and in the hands of an increased number of countries…
Explore the Nuclear Notebook.
* J. Robert Oppenheimer, quoting the Bhagavad Gita as he recalled the Trinity Test (the first atomic bomb detonation)
As we duck and cover, we might recall that today is the Ides of March. An occasion in the Roman calendar for religious observances, it retains a certain notoriety as the date, in 44 BCE, of the assassination of Julius Caesar– becoming, thus, a turning point in Roman history… and the prompt for Shakespeare’s immortal warning (from a soothsayer to Caesar in Julius Caesar): “Beware the Ides of March.”
Seinfeld caps + Kanye West lyrics: SeinYeWest
* Hans Christian Andersen (in translation)
As we do the mash, we might recall that it was on this date in 410 that Rome was sacked by the Barbarian Visigoths, led by Alaric. Rome was no longer the capital of the Western Roman Empire (it had moved to Mediolanum and then to Ravenna); but it remained the Empire’s spiritual and cultural center. And it had not fallen to an enemy in almost 800 years (the Gauls sacked Rome in 387 BCE). As St. Jerome, living in Bethlehem at the time, wrote: “The City which had taken the whole world was itself taken.”
In chapter 2 of his Life of Julius Caesar, the Greek historian Plutarch of Chaeronea (46-c.120) describes what happened when Caesar encountered the Cilician pirates, who infested the Aegean Sea, in 75 BCE. To that point, the Cilician’s had regularly offered the Roman senators slaves, which the nobles needed for their plantations in Italy– and which the Senate accepted as tribute, refraining from sending the Roman navy against the pirates.
First, when the pirates demanded a ransom of twenty talents, Caesar burst out laughing. They did not know, he said, who it was that they had captured, and he volunteered to pay fifty. Then, when he had sent his followers to the various cities in order to raise the money and was left with one friend and two servants among these Cilicians, about the most bloodthirsty people in the world, he treated them so highhandedly that, whenever he wanted to sleep, he would send to them and tell them to stop talking.
For thirty-eight days, with the greatest unconcern, he joined in all their games and exercises, just as if he was their leader instead of their prisoner. He also wrote poems and speeches which he read aloud to them, and if they failed to admire his work, he would call them to their faces illiterate savages, and would often laughingly threaten to have them all hanged. They were much taken with this and attributed his freedom of speech to a kind of simplicity in his character or boyish playfulness.
However, the ransom arrived from Miletus and, as soon as he had paid it and been set free, he immediately manned some ships and set sail from the harbor of Miletus against the pirates. He found them still there, lying at anchor off the island, and he captured nearly all of them. He took their property as spoils of war and put the men themselves into the prison at Pergamon. He then went in person to [Marcus] Junius, the governor of Asia, thinking it proper that he, as praetor in charge of the province, should see to the punishment of the prisoners. Junius, however, cast longing eyes at the money, which came to a considerable sum, and kept saying that he needed time to look into the case.
Caesar paid no further attention to him. He went to Pergamon, took the pirates out of prison and crucified the lot of them, just as he had often told them he would do when he was on the island and they imagined that he was joking.
* (“I came, I saw, I conquered”) Julius Caesar, in a letter to the Roman Senate, 46 BCE (after his short war against Pharnaces II of Pontus)
As we exclaim “Great Caesar’s Ghost!”, we might recall that it was in this date in 1914 that Franz Ferdinand, 51 year old heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated in Sarajevo, then the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovnia, where he was visiting to inspect the Empire’s troops. A member of the Black Hand nationalist group, Gavrilo Princip, shot and killed both the Crown Prince and his wife as they were being driven through the city. The assassination– triggering, as it did, competing accusations and the “calling” of interlocking alliances– ignited World War I, which broke out one month later.