Going on Hiatus

Hi guys,

 

I really appreciate all the support and have had a lot of fun bringing you a weekly dose of Roman madness, but unfortunately I am going to have to go on hiatus for a while. Things have amped up at work and I have a novel that needs finishing, and in the end, something had to give. I hated making this decision, but I hope to be back in a month or two. Until then– Veni Vidi Risi!

A Roman by any Other Name

So in 28 BC, Octavian has returned triumphant and decides it’s time he and Agrippa settled down and became consuls. The first thing he decided to do was take a census so he knew exactly how many people he could now lord it over. The second thing was to revise the Senate so they wouldn’t dare oppose him again. While the Senate had originally been composed of 600 members, under Caesar it had risen to 1000 members. Octavian decided to whittle it down to 800 in order to win the support of senatorial families. Mysteriously, those who did not support him did not seem to make the cut.

Unfortunately, when Octavian stepped back and looked at the results of his meddling, he decided it hadn’t been drastic enough. The problem wasn’t the Senators—it was the entire damn republic. Let’s face it, power was not meant to be in the hands of the people because the people just want to do what they’d been doing. It takes real leadership to do daft things with elephants. Noticeably because elephants are so much bigger (as are provinces, but the elephants are easier to handle). In order to become a true leader, Octavian decided he had to restore the republic to its glory days.

He began by reducing the number of just about everything. With fewer Senators, there were fewer people to oppose him. With fewer legions there were fewer men to attempt a coup. With fewer magistrates and officials there were fewer people to bribe, but longer queues (proving that every great plan has a downside).

Along with the restoration of the republic, Octavian decided it was time to refurbish his own image. He adopted the name Augustus, or “the revered one”—modesty had never been one of his strong suits.  Originally he had been considering taking on the name of Romulus (aka wolf-boy) but decided against it at the last minute as Romulus had gone on to become a king. Octavian/Augustus/whatever didn’t want people to think he would ever stoop so low. Incidentally, in less than ten years he would be named emperor. Just sayin’.

Highway to Hell

Fortunately for Quentus, all roads lead to Rome.

 

Maintaning an empire is a hell of a lot harder than most people think it is. Roman emperors quickly discovered that if you are in Spain when Egypt gets out of line, you need to make sure the guy you need is not currently building a stupid wall in Britain. And even if he is, he’s probably not checking his emails regularly. So to get communications, troops, goods, food, trade, and taxes around as quickly as possible, the Romans built large networks of roads.
 
Octavian and the early emperors were the first to start the road building tradition. (Personally I think Octavian was just tired of walking through the mud after all his campaigning–anything for dry feet!) People quickly realized what a great idea this was, and imitation soon spread even to lesser officials in the provinces. You knew you had it made in politics if you had a road or two under your belt. Of course, you didn’t want just any slacker finding a goat trail and calling it a road, so a simple definition was soon made: if it was wide enough for a wheeled vehicle it was a road (paving optional).
 
Eventually the network spanned over 400,000 km of roads, and around 80,000 km was paved. All this practice made the Romans quite good at road building–their later paved roads allowed for the drainage of water so the streets didn’t turn into rivers (and anyone who’s ever played Oregon Trail knows that doesn’t turn out well.)
 
The army found the roads incredibly useful for ease of transportation to and from headbashings. And near the end, the invading barbarians found the roads even more useful as an easy stroll straight into the heartland. Which just goes to show you, the destruction of Rome was paved with good intentions.

Does This Post Make My Asp Look Big?

Octavian may have won the battle, and the war, but he hadn’t completely ground Antony into the dust, so he didn’t consider his work quite finished yet. In 30 BC he launched the attack of Alexandria and pretty much pwnd everything. Knowing that all was lost, Antony and Cleopatra decided to make Romeo and Juliet look like a pair of tragic amateurs.

Upon hearing that Cleopatra was dead, Antony drew his sword and stabbed himself. Unfortunately, the message was one day too early. Failing to die promptly, Antony was carried in to Cleopatra who had taken refuge in her own mausoleum. Talk about being prepared. According to Shakespeare, Antony just has time to spiel out some longwinded remarks, and then bites it.

Cleopatra, meanwhile, was not relishing the idea of surrendering to Octavian. After negotiating for her children’s lives, she figured it was better to shuffle off this mortal coil than be taken to Rome and paraded around like an elephant. Ancient sources agree that she got an asp or two to bite her. One modern historian believes that due to the slow-acting nature of snake venom she would have drunk a mixture of poisons instead, but he’s probably just saying that to be a pain in the asp.

With both Antony and Cleopatra out of the way, Octavian was now free to annex Egypt and add it to the Roman Empire. Because he didn’t want anyone else to get their grubby little hands on it, Octavian handled it as his own private territory, and senators were neither allowed to govern or visit it. Egypt was huge politically, producing both grain and treasure. Octavian didn’t want any Egyptian fiasco to cause a famine or otherwise come back to bite him in the asp.*

So in 29 BC Octavian returned to Rome. He celebrated a three-fold triumph over the defeat of Cleopatra (represented in effigy on account of being dead), the battle of Actium, and the battle of Illyium (a flyspeck on the pages of history—he didn’t really deserve a triumph for this one). The doors of the Temple of Janus were closed, for the first time in just about forever, signaling an end to warfare (like that’s gonna last).

 

*It’s amazing how much use you can get out of this pun.

Octavian vs. Antony: Round 7

With the second triumvirate completely at an end, Octavian and Antony finally found themselves free to express their complete and utter loathing of each other. Unfortunately for Octavian, Antony was the Senate’s golden boy. Both consuls and a third of the senate were (for the moment) on his side. The consuls even made a blistering speech against Octavian in the senate. The courage of their convictions abandoned them, however, when Octavian marched his army through the doorway. Facing a lot of swords does that to people.

Seeing as how Octavian was making Rome too hot to handle, Antony gathered his forces in Greece. And being safely, hundreds of miles away, he finally divorced Octavian’s shrew of a sister. (Considering how he had been spending all his time at Cleo’s these days, she probably saw that one coming.) In retaliation, Octavian found Antony’s will and published the least flattering parts. He even began building a mausoleum for himself to prove he would be buried in Rome and not stinking foreign soil. (Antony wanted to be buried in Alexandria, probably so he could finally be away from the gods-be-damned Senate.)

In 32, Octavian formally declared that Antony no longer held imperium. Antony declared that the declaration was bullshit. Octavian said that it didn’t matter what Antony declared, and they both descended into a fit of name-calling that only ended when Octavian declared war on Cleopatra. He should have declared war on Antony, but they weren’t on speaking terms anymore. By 31 Octavian and his best bud/general Marcus Agrippa had crossed the Adriatic with their forces. Agrippa blockaded Antony’s ships and furnished Octavian with good advice.

Antony found himself in a world of trouble. His soldiers were sick with summer fevers, malaria, and dysentery, and people were deserting right and left. (This goes back to the trend of Romans failing to pick healthy locations to set up shop. It’s amazing their civilization didn’t die out sooner.) With no other choice at hand, Antony decided to do what all men must do: run away. The decisive naval battle at Actium was not an attempt to defeat Octavian but instead to get Cleopatra’s ships to safety with their precious cargo of treasure, Antony, and Cleopatra. If it hadn’t been for Agrippa, it might have been a smashing success. Unfortunately, for once in his life, Octavian did as he was told and followed Antony’s ships immediately. The result was a complete rout. Octavian became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire, and Antony had lost most of his army, becoming a wanted fugitive. Tough break.

There will be no new post this week because my internet is utter fail (read: more buggy than a cage full of crickets) but I should be fixed and back online for next week.

OMG: The Seaweed is Always Greener

Neptune (not the planet but the other one) was the Roman god of the sea, earthquakes, and horses. He is the son of Saturn and the brother of Jupiter and Pluto.  In Greece he’d been known as Poseidon, but it took the Romans a little longer than usual to catch on to him—about as much longer as it took them to come up with the idea of boats that is. Early Romans were like cats, they hated to get wet. Finally, during the imperial period (31 BC to 476 AD) Neptune had his heyday, when Rome finally learned to rule the seas.

Because the average Roman wanted to be a sailor about as much as Hannibal’s elephants had wanted to go over the Alps, Neptune had originally been associated with freshwater springs. The Neptunalia was a festival celebrated on July 23rd each year (any guesses as to what god it was named for?) that glorified the role of fresh water springs during the summer heat. It was a time of merrymaking where men and women were allowed to mingle, and there were more than a few wet toga contests. A bull was also sacrificed to Neptune since one of the Roman myths claimed he was the creator of the first bull. Somehow, Neptune was not insulted by the slaughter of one of his creations. Another myth says that after Jupiter granted Neptune rule over the islands and the sea, he was forced to kick him out of heaven because the greedy twit was conspiring against him. Neptune fled to Troy where he helped to build the city walls. But when he was denied what he believed to be an appropriate reward, he proved his nasty streak by sending a sea monster to demolish the city he had just built. Ancient Roman survival tip: do not double cross, betray, or otherwise piss off a god.

Historians and linguists have spent years arguing over the etymology of Neptune’s name. Definitions range from nuptiae, “marriage of heaven and earth,” to nuptu, “he who is moist.” Unfortunately, nobody knows what is accurate except for the Romans, and they’re dead.

Neptune is usually portrayed as a bearded, powerfully-built man in the prime of life. (Have you noticed that very few gods choose to appear old, knobble-kneed, and somewhat balding?) Or just picture King Trident from The Little Mermaid sans tail. You can tell him apart from his brother Jupiter (equally buff for an old man, but with a penchant for electrocuting those who piss him off) by the trident he usually carries. If the statue has both arms missing, your guess is as good as mine.