Category Archives: Rome

Hazards to Heritage 4 – Latter Day Ruin of Pompeii

170_feature_popham_map-300x225Ashes to ashes: the latter-day ruin of Pompeii

Pompeii, the best-preserved Roman town in the world, still attracts millions of visitors. But its appalling state is a disgrace to Italy, Unesco and European civilisation

by Peter Popham / April 29, 2010 /
Published in May 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine

At the ticket office at the entrance to Pompeii, the world’s greatest archaeological site, three women, two English and one Australian, are trying to make themselves understood. They have not come to look at the ruins. A few years ago, in a bid to tackle the “crisis” of Pompeii, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared the place a disaster zone and handed over control to a commissario straordinario as if, the archaeologists grumbled, Vesuvius had erupted last week and there was a humanitarian disaster under way. His choice for the job was Renato Profili, who (in the words of one insider) “did not recognise the real problems of the site.” Instead, he concentrated on issues such as the prostitutes and the illegal restaurants on the site’s periphery, and the packs of stray dogs. Profili died last year, but his legacy lives on in the Cave Canem project, which encourages visitors to adopt a dog.

pompeiiThe women at the ticket office have come to do just that. But they speak no Italian and the woman in the ticket office knows little English. There are forms to fill out in triplicate to adopt a dog, and taking the animals out of the country is another matter—no one has a clue what the procedure is.

The fate of Pompeii and its sister site Herculaneum puts Europe’s recent volcanic difficulty into proper perspective. The eruption of Vesuvius in AD79 had been preceded by weeks of earth tremors but the town, with a population of perhaps 20,000, was totally unprepared for the devastation. Pliny the Elder wrote that the eruption was “thrusting… bulging and uncoiling… as if the hot entrails of the earth were being drawn out and dragged towards the heavens.”

pompeii 2Over the following 1,500 years, the existence of the two towns was largely forgotten. Some local plundering seems to have occurred in the middle ages, and Pompeiian frescoes were unearthed in the 1590s, only to be covered over again. It was not until the late 18th century that systematic excavation got underway and people realised the degree to which the towns remained intact. “Many disasters have befallen the world,” Goethe said, “but few which have given posterity such delight… I have seldom seen anything so interesting.” Figures such as Charles, the first Bourbon king of Naples, Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister Caroline, and Mussolini were inspired by the sites, and devoted resources to excavating them. As Unesco’s inspectors said, when placing the sites on its world heritage list in 1997, the towns provide “a complete and vivid picture of society and daily life at a specific moment in the past that is without parallel anywhere in the world.”

pompeii 8But today they are so reduced that it is hard to guess what went on among the ruins. Profili’s dogs ramble around, crapping where they see fit. The great majority of the houses are in such decay that people aren’t allowed to enter them. Broken fences and signboards tell of torpor and indifference. Nearby Herculaneum, where many frescoes and mosaics have been irreparably damaged by rainwater, is an archaeological casualty ward; a team funded by the US billionaire David Packard is fighting to save what it can. Twice officially inaugurated, the site’s museum has never opened to the public.

pompeii 3Pompeii and Herculaneum are where archaeology as a science was born. They draw millions of visitors a year—but their state is a disgrace to Italy, Unesco and European civilisation. Not so long ago, the magic of these sites was still vivid. In 1924, Amedeo Maiuri, an archaeologist, was put in charge of them. He held that position until 1961, devoting superhuman energy to his work. The sites became a key element in Mussolini’s project for restoring national pride in ancient Rome, which in turn ensured a steady flow of funds and visitors.

pompeii 4Herculaneum, less well-known but in some ways more stunning than Pompeii, is Maiuri’s great memorial. The eruption of Vesuvius which buried Pompeii in about three metres of volcanic ash and rock entombed Herculaneum to a depth of more than 20 metres. As a result the plundering of Pompeii’s treasures happened early, while Herculaneum was largely forgotten. The rocky tuff that encased the town was a major challenge and it took heroic determination to remove it and expose its perfectly preserved villas, baths and shops.

Domenico Camardo, lead archaeologist on the Herculaneum Conservation Project, describes the work that went into the liberation of the buried town. While excavators drilled and hammered, masons worked alongside them, hurriedly propping up structures at risk of collapse; then carpenters and restorers dived in to carry out first aid on the decorative features. Once the buildings were safe, carpenters, marble-workers and gardeners took care of the restoration and furnishing of the houses with the aim of reopening them to the public. Maiuri wanted visitors to be able to experience the sites as they were immediately before disaster struck. “They even went so far as to replant the gardens,” Camardo says. “The most important objects found during the excavations were placed on view inside display cases that were built in situ. The houses were preserved in every detail, the furnishings and objects from daily life were put back in place.

pompeii 5“The city became an open-air museum in which the finds were contextualised—not just artistic objects, but also objects illustrating daily life: the walnuts found in a shop; plates with remains of fruit or food. To allow visitors a better view into interior spaces Maiuri chose in many cases not to reconstruct external walls, floor plates or balconies… In this way wall paintings and furnishings of the upper floors could be viewed from below.” Visiting the sites then was an experience as close to time travel as you could get. Today it’s rather different.

Leaving the would-be dog-adopters to wrestle with their problem, I set out for a walk. It is early spring and La Campania is already beginning to warm up: blue sky and a hazy sun. Vesuvius is an innocuous-looking mound to the north. Birds chirrup, a breeze tousles the greenery. The charm of Pompeii is that it is set apart from the modern town, so once you get away from the coaches and the cafés and are swallowed up in the enormous site there is no sense of the 21st century pressing around.

pompeii 9But there is precious little sense of the first century either. There are the cart tracks: the town’s ancient roads are paved with large, roughly flat stones which have clearly been in place from early in its history, because the wheels of carts have incised deep ruts in them. When Pompeii was buried it was already ancient: that’s what the cart tracks tell us more eloquently than anything else. But in other respects the site, about two thirds of which has been excavated, is mute.

pompeii 7Along the main roads leading into the town there is little to detain a visitor. Broken, irregular stone walls open on to cell-like enclosures which must once have been houses or shops, but are now unmarked, uncared-for and featureless. Wooden fences were erected in front of them to keep the curious out, but many have been smashed. The interiors are carpeted in weeds. Larger properties, villas of the town’s grandees, are fronted by steel gates, but most are padlocked. Signposts without signs; tin roofs poking from ancient masonry; locked gates enclosing rampant weeds: they all tell the same story.

The plan of the excavations, which is issued with the entrance ticket, lists 72 houses and temples of importance but warns “some buildings may be closed.” This is an understatement: in the centre of the town, where most of the tourism is concentrated, half the listed properties are shut up. There is no indication if any of them might open again.

pompeii 9=10The tour groups arrive—French, American, German and Japanese—the chirruping of their guides competing with the songs of the birds. Following them around I discover that the guides keep to a tight and repetitive itinerary. They visit the forum, which according to the Blue Guide, is “the most perfect example known of a Roman central square.” Then the House of the Faun with its eponymous statue (a copy), plus its fabulous mosaic of Alexander the Great challenging the Persians (likewise, a copy) and its garden. They tramp around the House of the Little Fountain and the House of Pansa, they admire the mosaic (another copy) of the famous cave canem sign in front of the House of the Tragic Poet, though the house itself is locked. And they hike up the Via Consolare to see the most famous house on the site, the Villa of the Mysteries, with its stunning frescoes of Bacchanalian rites.

And if the majority of what Pompeii theoretically has to offer is locked and off limits, the tourists’ route helps explain why. More than 2m visitors pass through Pompeii every year, and because so few of the important features are open, most only pass through the listed houses and a few others. The wear and tear is tremendous. The frescoes, the principal attraction of the houses that are open, are exposed to the weather and only protected from visitors by ropes. There are a few guards on the site, but none were on duty in those houses during my visit. There is nothing to deter tourists from chipping off a fragment of fresco as a souvenir.

So the same entropic process that has already led to the closure of the great majority of large homes will inevitably overtake the popular houses too. Pompeii will become less and less interesting, less and less extraordinary, year by year.

pompeii 6The scale of the town, and the fact that its ancient fabric has not been buried under later development, means that Pompeii remains magically evocative. But in the 50 years since Maiuri hung up his trowel, the authorities have done little to help visitors appreciate it. Pompeii gives an impression of yawning vacancy. Nearly all of its treasures, statues, frescoes and the bodies of its inhabitants, were long ago carted off to the National Archaeological Museum in Naples—where half the galleries are now closed because of a funding crisis.

Since 1997, both sites have been allowed to keep the profits from ticket sales, around €20m (£17.5m) a year, instead of being dependent on the ministry of culture. Some of the gate money has been ploughed into ambitious refurbishment works, including Pompeii’s House of the Chaste Lovers, which has just been unveiled. But any commanding sense of what must be done to save the sites, a vision to rank with Maiuri’s, is still strikingly missing. In tacit recognition of that fact, Italy’s minister of culture, Sandro Bondi, has just announced plans to set up a public-cum-private foundation to run them.

Why have the sites been allowed to deteriorate so badly? Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, superintendent of the sites since 1994, blames the government. “There was very little money available,” he said, “and that meant only emergency work could be carried out. Financial autonomy has granted a more suitable level of funding, but it is still much less than what is required.”

But impecuniousness is only part of the story. Both sites are located in areas notorious for organised crime, with rackets run by the Camorra, the Naples mafia, within spitting distance of the front gates. The port of Ercolano, the suburb of Naples in which Herculaneum sits, is said to be a focal point for the Camorra-run drugs trade. Up until the 19th century, Ercolano was a seaside resort for grandees, but today the old villas are hemmed in by squalor. Gang shootings are common on the streets.

More significant are the blunders of officialdom: a succession of mistakes and misfortunes, local and international, have conspired to turn Maiuri’s masterpiece into a disaster. Thanks to David Packard, we now know what went wrong.

pompeii 4Ten years ago Packard, a philanthropist with an interest in classics (and the eldest son of the co-founder of Hewlett-Packard), decided to try to save Herculaneum. He recruited a team of specialists led by Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, then professor of archaeology at Reading University. Wallace-Hadrill and his colleagues persuaded Guzzo that an infusion of private money and independent expertise could haul Herculaneum back from the brink. Nearly ten years and €15m later, work is still going on.

Jane Thompson, project manager for the Herculaneum Conservation Project, spelled out in a recent paper the mess the team found. “By the late 1990s,” she wrote, “the site was in a state of such serious neglect that it began to attract international attention. The absence of regular maintenance had brought about a serious and widespread state of disrepair and decay… compounded by the lack of much-needed remedial work on the ancient city’s infrastructure and the fact that previous restoration interventions were themselves aging… The very closure of houses… brought about an acceleration in the deterioration process; with no one visiting them their decay escalated unchecked, pigeons installed themselves and the houses became too unsafe to access.” The result was that the area open to the public “has gradually reduced down to roughly a third of the area that was open to the public 40 years ago. In parallel, the number of visitors has more or less tripled… with consequential wear and tear.”

Wallace-Hadrill, now master of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, is still in charge of Packard’s work on the site and visits twice a month. His English reserve melted long ago in the Campania sunshine and his passion for Herculaneum is infectious. He explained why the very richness of the Pompeii sites makes their conservation a mind-boggling challenge.

“There is an assumption that by digging stuff up you have saved it,” he says. “Except you haven’t. It’s stable when it’s underground. But the moment you excavate you start the clock again. It comes back to life which means it starts dying. I remember being struck at Pompeii by the fact that you’ve got almost as much human activity today on site with the tourists as there was in antiquity. Inevitably you have a problem, and it’s a generalised problem for all archaeology. The 19th and 20th centuries were the heroic ages for picking up loads of stuff and feeling that you’d rediscovered the past—and not thinking about the problems of keeping it going. But because Pompeii and Herculaneum are better preserved, thanks to the volcano, there is more to lose. And this is compounded by the acute problems of the local management.”

These were the problems that began after the departure of Amedeo Maiuri. Maiuri was a human hurricane, but when he retired in 1961 the wind dropped away. As so often in Italy, power resided not in the position or institution but the person. Once he was gone, the impetus went with him. The time was ripe for consolidation, but there is nothing glamorous about that as a career. And routine maintenance, as anyone who has lived in Italy knows, goes against the national grain.

Then there were the problems beyond the management’s control. Over the years, the local artisans who had kept the site ticking over were forced out when new European health and safety standards deemed their workshops substandard. Their work was outsourced to firms with no special loyalty to the sites, and the informal correcting of small problems reduced. When the problems on the sites became more daunting, what Jane Thompson calls “the cripplingly procedure-heavy administrative machine,” which requires three years of paperwork between three public organisations just to validate a period of sick leave, proved inadequate to the task.

The result was the shambles that Wallace-Hadrill and his team found in 2001. The condition of the many flat roofs that had been built over the ancient houses was one of the more startling examples. “Flat roofs are a neat solution for protecting houses that have lost their roofs,” he said, “but if you don’t maintain them the drain on the roof gets blocked, so gradually it turns into a tank of mulch. Plants grow in this wet mulch and their roots grow through the asphalt until the roof is completely destroyed. Then you get water running in down the frescoes… We’ve had dozens of examples of this.”

The dire state of the site forced Wallace-Hadrill and his team to change their strategy radically. “We initially came in and said we would do a big restoration project on one corner of the site and do it really well. But we became aware that if this took five years, it would take us 30 years to do the entire site. So we shifted from doing a definitive job in one place to addressing lots of basic problems right across the site.”

The result is ironic: while the state-employed managers use the box-office takings to embark on flashy makeovers—a new ticket office with fountains, a muscular-looking bridge—the American mogul’s millions have been spent on fixing the roofs, unplugging the drains and “trying to create a sort of worksheet,” as Wallace-Hadrill puts it, so the boring but vital everyday tasks get done when his team pulls out in the near future.

After spending all that money, it sounds like a pretty frail sort of legacy. On the other side of the scales, there are politicians whose idea of solving the problem is to send in officials obsessed with prostitutes and stray dogs.

No one I spoke to backed my personal theory that the gangsters have it in for Pompeii: the money, I was told, is small beer for them, and all those foreigners hanging around make them queasy. So that’s one problem we can cross off the list—until a tour bus gets caught in the crossfire.

Pompeii and Herculaneum have been listed as Unesco World Heritage Sites since 1997. So why isn’t the world’s culture policeman keeping the world’s most important Roman sites in order?

In fact, Unesco’s role in identifying and protecting world heritage is strictly advisory. Sites which have deteriorated gravely since being listed may be put on a danger list, and if deterioration continues, they may lose their listing altogether. But, as Pompeii was already in an appalling state when it obtained its listing, it is unlikely to lose its status.

Unesco depends largely on information provided by state authorities—so for Pompeii’s entry in the world heritage website, the “threat” box is blank. “World heritage site values have been maintained,” it asserts baldly. A description of work underway reads: “Superintendence is progressively replacing reinforced concrete… with proper stuff compatible with ancient structures and easily reversible. All these works have been improving the conditions of integrity of the archeological [sic] properties also raising the monuments’ level of authenticity.” Regarding management, it simply states, “The current management system is highly effective.”

Many countries eagerly seek world heritage status for their sites, seeing it as a way of creating interest in their cultural treasures and increasing tourism. But Italy is so well-endowed culturally—it has 44 sites, more than any other country—that a Unesco listing matters far less, which helps explain why Pompeii and Herculaneum applied so late. For the grandees of Italy’s culture ministry, which has more heritage than it knows what to do with, the listing was an afterthought.

If Unesco can’t help, a private donor is a potential answer. David Packard has spent €15m restoring Herculaneum; Pompeii is more than twice as big so perhaps €40m would bring it to the same point of repair. With good housekeeping, ongoing maintenance could be funded with the gate receipts.

Acta Classsica – Vol 57:2014, Now Available Online!

VOLUME 57 (2014)

CHAIRPERSON’S ADDRESS

Lambert, M. 2014. ‘On rainbows and butterflies: the Classics, the Humanities,

VOLUME 57 (2014)

CHAIRPERSON’S ADDRESS

Lambert, M. 2014. ‘On rainbows and butterflies: the Classics, the Humanities, and Africa’. Acta Classica 57: 1-15. [Download full text]

ARTICLES

Bosman, P. R. 2014. ‘Naphtha and narrative art in Plut. Alex. 35′. Acta Classica 57: 16-29.

Haskins, S. L. 2014. ‘Bestial or human lusts? The representation of the matron and her sexuality in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses (10.19.3-22.5)’. Acta Classica 57: 30-52.

Karkavelias, N. 2014. ‘The chronology of Pisander’s mission to Athens revisited: Thucydides 8.53-54’. Acta Classica 57: 53-75.

Kirby-Hirst, M. 2014. ‘Philostratus’ Heroikos: Protesilaos, Achilles, and

VOLUME 57 (2014)

CHAIRPERSON’S ADDRESS

Lambert, M. 2014. ‘On rainbows and butterflies: the Classics, the Humanities, and Africa’. Acta Classica 57: 1-15. [Download full text]

ARTICLES

Bosman, P. R. 2014. ‘Naphtha and narrative art in Plut. Alex. 35′. Acta Classica 57: 16-29.

Haskins, S. L. 2014. ‘Bestial or human lusts? The representation of the matron and her sexuality in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses (10.19.3-22.5)’. Acta Classica 57: 30-52.

Karkavelias, N. 2014. ‘The chronology of Pisander’s mission to Athens revisited: Thucydides 8.53-54’. Acta Classica 57: 53-75.

Kirby-Hirst, M. 2014. ‘Philostratus’ Heroikos: Protesilaos, Achilles, and Palamedes unite in defence of the Greek world’. Acta Classica 57: 76-104.

Murray, J. 2014. ‘”These are our jewels”: women and classical education at Huguenot College’. Acta Classica 57: 105-126.

Ross, A. 2014. ‘Constantius and the sieges of Amida and Nisibis: Ammianus’ relationship with Julian’s panegyrics’. Acta Classica 57: 127-154.

Russo, F. 2014. ‘Rhetorical strategy and juridical subterfuges in Cicero’s Pro Tullio‘. Acta Classica 57: 155-164.

Walsh, J. 2014. ‘The concept of dunasteia in Aristotle and the Macedonian monarchy’. Acta Classica 57: 165-183.

Zakowski, S. 2014. ‘The distribution of ἄν in John Chrysostom’s homilies Adversus Iudaeos. Acta Classica 57: 184-224.

MISCELLANEA

Evans, R.J. 2014. ‘The capture of Sybaris (510 BC) and the siege of Mantinea: History repeated?’. Acta Classica 57: 225-232.

Futter, D. 2014. ‘Socrates’ bull sacrifice (Phd. 117b5)’. Acta Classica 57: 233-240.

Hilton, J. L. 2014. ‘A new sixth-century reader of Heliodorus’ Aethiopica?’ Acta Classica 57: 241-245.

Whitaker, R. A. 2014. ‘Aimé Césaire and the cyclops of Theocritus Idyll 11′. Acta Classica 57: 246-248.

REVIEWS

Cameron, A. 2014. Byzantine Matters. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. Pp. xviii + 164. ISBN 978-0-691-15763-4. £15.95. (Bell, P.N. Acta Classica 57: 249-252). [Download full text]

Hardwick, L. and Harrison, S. J. edd. 2013. Classics in the Modern World. A Democratic Turn? Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-967392-6. US$160/£90 (Hobden, F. Acta Classica 57: 253-259). [Download full text]

Hutchinson, G. O. 2013. Greek to Latin: Frameworks and Contexts for Intertextuality. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-967070-3. £90.00. (Geue, T. Acta Classica 57: 260-262). [Download full text]

McConnell, J. 2013. Black Odysseys: The Homeric Odyssey in the African Diaspora since 1939. Classical Presences. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-960500-2. £65.00 (Whitaker, R. Acta Classica. 57: 263-266). [Download full text]

Richardson, E. 2013. Classical Victorians: Scholars, Scoundrels and Generals in Pursuit of Antiquity. Classics after Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-02677-3. £55.00. (Hilton, J.L. Acta Classica 57: 267-271). [Download full text]

Vasunia, P. 2013. Classics and Colonial India: Classical Presences. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-920323-9. £85.00. (Umachandran, M. Acta Classica 57: 272-275). [Download full text]

Whitmarsh, T. 2013. Beyond the Second Sophistic: Adventures in Greek Postclassicism. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-52027681-9. US$49.95. (Tagliabue, A. Acta Classica 57: 276-280). [Download full text].

Palamedes unite in defence of the Greek world’. Acta Classica 57: 76-104.

Murray, J. 2014. ‘”These are our jewels”: women and classical education at Huguenot College’. Acta Classica 57: 105-126.

Ross, A. 2014. ‘Constantius and the sieges of Amida and Nisibis: Ammianus’ relationship with Julian’s panegyrics’. Acta Classica 57: 127-154.

Russo, F. 2014. ‘Rhetorical strategy and juridical subterfuges in Cicero’s Pro Tullio‘. Acta Classica 57: 155-164.

Walsh, J. 2014. ‘The concept of dunasteia in Aristotle and the Macedonian monarchy’. Acta Classica 57: 165-183.

Zakowski, S. 2014. ‘The distribution of ἄν in John Chrysostom’s homilies Adversus Iudaeos. Acta Classica 57: 184-224.

MISCELLANEA

Evans, R.J. 2014. ‘The capture of Sybaris (510 BC) and the siege of Mantinea: History repeated?’. Acta Classica 57: 225-232.

Futter, D. 2014. ‘Socrates’ bull sacrifice (Phd. 117b5)’. Acta Classica 57: 233-240.

Hilton, J. L. 2014. ‘A new sixth-century reader of Heliodorus’ Aethiopica?’ Acta Classica 57: 241-245.

Whitaker, R. A. 2014. ‘Aimé Césaire and the cyclops of Theocritus Idyll 11′. Acta Classica 57: 246-248.

REVIEWS

Cameron, A. 2014. Byzantine Matters. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. Pp. xviii + 164. ISBN 978-0-691-15763-4. £15.95. (Bell, P.N. Acta Classica 57: 249-252). [Download full text]

Hardwick, L. and Harrison, S. J. edd. 2013. Classics in the Modern World. A Democratic Turn? Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-967392-6. US$160/£90 (Hobden, F. Acta Classica 57: 253-259). [Download full text]

Hutchinson, G. O. 2013. Greek to Latin: Frameworks and Contexts for Intertextuality. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-967070-3. £90.00. (Geue, T. Acta Classica 57: 260-262). [Download full text]

McConnell, J. 2013. Black Odysseys: The Homeric Odyssey in the African Diaspora since 1939. Classical Presences. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-960500-2. £65.00 (Whitaker, R. Acta Classica. 57: 263-266). [Download full text]

Richardson, E. 2013. Classical Victorians: Scholars, Scoundrels and Generals in Pursuit of Antiquity. Classics after Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-02677-3. £55.00. (Hilton, J.L. Acta Classica 57: 267-271). [Download full text]

Vasunia, P. 2013. Classics and Colonial India: Classical Presences. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-920323-9. £85.00. (Umachandran, M. Acta Classica 57: 272-275). [Download full text]

Whitmarsh, T. 2013. Beyond the Second Sophistic: Adventures in Greek Postclassicism. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-52027681-9. US$49.95. (Tagliabue, A. Acta Classica 57: 276-280). [Download full text].

http://www.casa-kvsa.org.za/2014.htm

and Africa’. Acta Classica 57: 1-15. [Download full text]

ARTICLES

Bosman, P. R. 2014. ‘Naphtha and narrative art in Plut. Alex. 35′. Acta Classica 57: 16-29.

Haskins, S. L. 2014. ‘Bestial or human lusts? The representation of the matron and her sexuality in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses (10.19.3-22.5)’. Acta Classica 57: 30-52.

Karkavelias, N. 2014. ‘The chronology of Pisander’s mission to Athens revisited: Thucydides 8.53-54’. Acta Classica 57: 53-75.

Kirby-Hirst, M. 2014. ‘Philostratus’ Heroikos: Protesilaos, Achilles, and

VOLUME 57 (2014)

CHAIRPERSON’S ADDRESS

Lambert, M. 2014. ‘On rainbows and butterflies: the Classics, the Humanities, and Africa’. Acta Classica 57: 1-15. [Download full text]

ARTICLES

Bosman, P. R. 2014. ‘Naphtha and narrative art in Plut. Alex. 35′. Acta Classica 57: 16-29.

Haskins, S. L. 2014. ‘Bestial or human lusts? The representation of the matron and her sexuality in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses (10.19.3-22.5)’. Acta Classica 57: 30-52.

Karkavelias, N. 2014. ‘The chronology of Pisander’s mission to Athens revisited: Thucydides 8.53-54’. Acta Classica 57: 53-75.

Kirby-Hirst, M. 2014. ‘Philostratus’ Heroikos: Protesilaos, Achilles, and Palamedes unite in defence of the Greek world’. Acta Classica 57: 76-104.

Murray, J. 2014. ‘”These are our jewels”: women and classical education at Huguenot College’. Acta Classica 57: 105-126.

Ross, A. 2014. ‘Constantius and the sieges of Amida and Nisibis: Ammianus’ relationship with Julian’s panegyrics’. Acta Classica 57: 127-154.

Russo, F. 2014. ‘Rhetorical strategy and juridical subterfuges in Cicero’s Pro Tullio‘. Acta Classica 57: 155-164.

Walsh, J. 2014. ‘The concept of dunasteia in Aristotle and the Macedonian monarchy’. Acta Classica 57: 165-183.

Zakowski, S. 2014. ‘The distribution of ἄν in John Chrysostom’s homilies Adversus Iudaeos. Acta Classica 57: 184-224.

MISCELLANEA

Evans, R.J. 2014. ‘The capture of Sybaris (510 BC) and the siege of Mantinea: History repeated?’. Acta Classica 57: 225-232.

Futter, D. 2014. ‘Socrates’ bull sacrifice (Phd. 117b5)’. Acta Classica 57: 233-240.

Hilton, J. L. 2014. ‘A new sixth-century reader of Heliodorus’ Aethiopica?’ Acta Classica 57: 241-245.

Whitaker, R. A. 2014. ‘Aimé Césaire and the cyclops of Theocritus Idyll 11′. Acta Classica 57: 246-248.

REVIEWS

Cameron, A. 2014. Byzantine Matters. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. Pp. xviii + 164. ISBN 978-0-691-15763-4. £15.95. (Bell, P.N. Acta Classica 57: 249-252). [Download full text]

Hardwick, L. and Harrison, S. J. edd. 2013. Classics in the Modern World. A Democratic Turn? Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-967392-6. US$160/£90 (Hobden, F. Acta Classica 57: 253-259). [Download full text]

Hutchinson, G. O. 2013. Greek to Latin: Frameworks and Contexts for Intertextuality. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-967070-3. £90.00. (Geue, T. Acta Classica 57: 260-262). [Download full text]

McConnell, J. 2013. Black Odysseys: The Homeric Odyssey in the African Diaspora since 1939. Classical Presences. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-960500-2. £65.00 (Whitaker, R. Acta Classica. 57: 263-266). [Download full text]

Richardson, E. 2013. Classical Victorians: Scholars, Scoundrels and Generals in Pursuit of Antiquity. Classics after Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-02677-3. £55.00. (Hilton, J.L. Acta Classica 57: 267-271). [Download full text]

Vasunia, P. 2013. Classics and Colonial India: Classical Presences. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-920323-9. £85.00. (Umachandran, M. Acta Classica 57: 272-275). [Download full text]

Whitmarsh, T. 2013. Beyond the Second Sophistic: Adventures in Greek Postclassicism. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-52027681-9. US$49.95. (Tagliabue, A. Acta Classica 57: 276-280). [Download full text].

Palamedes unite in defence of the Greek world’. Acta Classica 57: 76-104.

Murray, J. 2014. ‘”These are our jewels”: women and classical education at Huguenot College’. Acta Classica 57: 105-126.

Ross, A. 2014. ‘Constantius and the sieges of Amida and Nisibis: Ammianus’ relationship with Julian’s panegyrics’. Acta Classica 57: 127-154.

Russo, F. 2014. ‘Rhetorical strategy and juridical subterfuges in Cicero’s Pro Tullio‘. Acta Classica 57: 155-164.

Walsh, J. 2014. ‘The concept of dunasteia in Aristotle and the Macedonian monarchy’. Acta Classica 57: 165-183.

Zakowski, S. 2014. ‘The distribution of ἄν in John Chrysostom’s homilies Adversus Iudaeos. Acta Classica 57: 184-224.

MISCELLANEA

Evans, R.J. 2014. ‘The capture of Sybaris (510 BC) and the siege of Mantinea: History repeated?’. Acta Classica 57: 225-232.

Futter, D. 2014. ‘Socrates’ bull sacrifice (Phd. 117b5)’. Acta Classica 57: 233-240.

Hilton, J. L. 2014. ‘A new sixth-century reader of Heliodorus’ Aethiopica?’ Acta Classica 57: 241-245.

Whitaker, R. A. 2014. ‘Aimé Césaire and the cyclops of Theocritus Idyll 11′. Acta Classica 57: 246-248.

REVIEWS

Cameron, A. 2014. Byzantine Matters. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. Pp. xviii + 164. ISBN 978-0-691-15763-4. £15.95. (Bell, P.N. Acta Classica 57: 249-252). [Download full text]

Hardwick, L. and Harrison, S. J. edd. 2013. Classics in the Modern World. A Democratic Turn? Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-967392-6. US$160/£90 (Hobden, F. Acta Classica 57: 253-259). [Download full text]

Hutchinson, G. O. 2013. Greek to Latin: Frameworks and Contexts for Intertextuality. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-967070-3. £90.00. (Geue, T. Acta Classica 57: 260-262). [Download full text]

McConnell, J. 2013. Black Odysseys: The Homeric Odyssey in the African Diaspora since 1939. Classical Presences. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-960500-2. £65.00 (Whitaker, R. Acta Classica. 57: 263-266). [Download full text]

Richardson, E. 2013. Classical Victorians: Scholars, Scoundrels and Generals in Pursuit of Antiquity. Classics after Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-02677-3. £55.00. (Hilton, J.L. Acta Classica 57: 267-271). [Download full text]

Vasunia, P. 2013. Classics and Colonial India: Classical Presences. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-920323-9. £85.00. (Umachandran, M. Acta Classica 57: 272-275). [Download full text]

Whitmarsh, T. 2013. Beyond the Second Sophistic: Adventures in Greek Postclassicism. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-52027681-9. US$49.95. (Tagliabue, A. Acta Classica 57: 276-280). [Download full text].

http://www.casa-kvsa.org.za/2014.htm

Ancient Scrolls of Philodemus, Carbonized by Vesuvius, Now Readable

By Justin

Giant Ancient Roman Water Basin Uncovered

dnews-files-2014-12-largest-ancient-Roman-water-basin-141204-jpgItalian archaeologists have unearthed the largest Roman water basin ever found, right in the heart of modern Rome.

Found some 65 feet down near St. John in Lateran Basilica during the excavation of the new metro C line, the huge irrigation basin measures 115 feet by 230 feet.

“It’s so big that it goes beyond the perimeter of the metro work site. It has not been possible to uncover it completely,” Rossella Rea, the dig’s director, said at a news conference in Rome.

Photos: Ancient Water Basin Found in Rome

Rea, who led an all-woman team of archaeologists, noted the basin was lined with hydraulic plaster and most likely extends, still preserved, beyond the work site toward the ancient city walls.

“On the basis of the size that had been determined so far, it could hold more than four million liters (1 million gallons) of water,” Rea said.

The massive basin was part of a farm dating to the third century B.C. In the first century A.D., the basin was added to existing structures, such as water wheels, used to lift and distribute the water along canals.

“Most likely it served as a water reservoir for crops as well as an area that made it possible to cope with overflows from the nearby river,” Rea said.

‘Secret’ Labyrinth of Roman Tunnels Mapped

She believes the basin also extends towards the existing metro station of the A line, although most of the structure has been almost certainly destroyed.

The excavation, carried out by archaeologists Francesca Montella and Simona Morretta, also brought to light various agricultural related items, such as a three-pronged iron pitchfork, and remains of storage baskets made from braided willow branches.

Lined up jars with their ends cut open were recycled as water conduits. Used tiles were also recycled to make canals. They were inscribed with the encircled initials “TL” — evidence that the farm belonged to a single owner.

Peach pits revealed the agricultural plant featured the first cultivation of peach trees, imported from the Middle East.

Video: Can Math Equations Be A Form Of Art?

The farm was obliterated at the end of the first century A.D., its structures, including the water basin, demolished and buried.

Rea said some findings will eventually be put on display in the St. John’s subway station, while other artifacts will be moved to Rome museums.

Image: Part of the massive water basin unearthed in Rome: Credit: Soprintendenza speciale per i beni archeologici di Roma.

Viking Women Colonized New Lands, Too

viking-boatVikings may have been family men who travelled with their wives to new lands, according to a new study of ancient Viking DNA.

Maternal DNA from ancient Norsemen closely matches that of modern-day people in the North Atlantic isles, particularly from the Orkney and Shetland Islands.

The findings suggest that both Viking men and women sailed on the ships to colonize new lands. The new study also challenges the popular conception of Vikings as glorified hoodlums with impressive seafaring skills. [Fierce Fighters: 7 Secrets of Viking Men]

“It overthrows this 19th century idea that the Vikings were just raiders and pillagers,” said study co-author Erika Hagelberg, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oslo in Norway. “They established settlements and grew crops, and trade was very, very important.”

Vikings hold a special place in folklore as manly warriors who terrorized the coasts of France, England and Germany for three centuries. But the Vikings were much more than pirates and pillagers. They established far-flung trade routes, reached the shores of present-day America, settled in new lands and even founded the modern city of Dublin, which was called Dyfflin by the Vikings.

Some earlier genetic studies have suggested that Viking males traveled alone and then brought local women along when they settled in a new location. For instance, a 2001 study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics suggested that Norse men brought Gaelic women over when they colonized Iceland.

Modern roots

To learn more about Norse colonization patterns, Hagelberg and her colleagues extracted teeth and shaved off small wedges of long bones from 45 Norse skeletons that were dated to between A.D. 796 and A.D. 1066. The skeletons were first unearthed in various locations around Norway and are now housed in the Schreiner Collection at the University of Oslo.

The team looked at DNA carried in the mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of the cell. Because mitochondria are housed in the cytoplasm of a woman’s egg, they are passed on from a woman to her children and can therefore reveal maternal lineage. The team compared that material with mitochondrial DNA from 5,191 people from across Europe, as well as with previously analyzed samples from 68 ancient Icelanders.

The ancient Norse and Icelandic genetic material closely matched the maternal DNA in modern North Atlantic people, such as Swedes, Scots and the English. But the ancient Norse seemed most closely related to people from Orkney and Shetland Islands, Scottish isles that are quite close to Scandinavia.

Mixed group

It looks like women were a more significant part of the colonization process compared to what was believed earlier,” said Jan Bill, an archaeologist and the curator of the Viking burial ship collection at the Museum of Cultural History, a part of the University of Oslo.

That lines up with historical documents, which suggest that Norse men, women and children — but also Scottish, British and Irish families — colonized far-flung islands such as Iceland, Bill told Live Science. Bill was not involved with the new study.

“This picture that we have of Viking raiding — a band of long ships plundering — there obviously would not be families on that kind of ship,” Bill said. “But when these raiding activities started to become a more permanent thing, then at some point you may actually see families are traveling along and staying in the camps.”

As a follow-up, the team would like to compare ancient Norse DNA to ancient DNA from Britain, Scotland and the North Atlantic Isles, to get a better look at exactly how all these people are related, Hagelberg said.

The findings were published today (Dec. 7) in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

Originally published on Live Science

Book Review: ‘The Roman Guide to Slave Management’ Is Brilliant: Hoelterhoff ‘

by Manuela Hoelterhoff Oct 15, 2014

These days, PAs and nannies do what they can, but in the golden days of Rome, life required slaves. Lots of them.

How and where to buy the best gets “The Roman Guide to Slave Managements: A Treatise by Marcus Sidonius Falx” off to a captivating start. Chapter headings like “When Only Torture Will Do” keep our interest throughout.

Falx credits his father, a minor nobleman, for helping him understand the many ways slaves are beneficial to non-slaves. “Showing off” is top of the list. Slaves confer status and the more you have, the better you look.

An encounter with a visiting princeling from a German tribe motivated Falx to write this owner’s manual. He was about to break the legs of a slave for snickering as he tripped over a hoe when his guest suggested that was extreme. “Surely you would treat your slaves the same way?” asked Falx. The German said they did not have slaves. Questions raced through the flabbergasted Falx’s head. What did they do with captives acquired in wars of conquest? Who would perform the basest tasks? How would you display your wealth?

So he wrote this manual on servitude with the help of the historian Jerry Toner of Churchill College, Cambridge. In fact, Toner wrote it for him and then, exchanging his toga for the gown of a don, provides historical commentaries and context at the end of every chapter.

‘Tool That Talks’

Toner draws on Seneca, Pliny the Younger and various Roman chroniclers to create in Falx a credible portrait of the affluent slaveholder — smug, smart, sardonic.

“Wealthy Romans saw slaves as being necessary for a high standard of living, just as we view modern domestic appliances,” notes Toner. Slavery was simply a fact of life, part of the natural order.

“Think of a slave as a tool that talks,” says Falx.

By the standards of his era (the references to Christian losers suggest the first century A.D.), Falx has decent impulses and even acts on them. He is a stickler for rules and knows every decree any emperor ever passed regulating the proper owning of slaves. For instance, there were laws that forbade kidnapping people and forcing them into servitude. When a crying female slave begs him for help because she was wrongfully abducted from her native land, Falx sends her back from his estate with travel money.

Fair Treatment

Christians, he is happy to point out, despite their smug claims to moral superiority, have done little to affect the institution of slavery. Paul, the future saint, even returned a slave to his owner with a note attached to treat him kindly.

Still, he agrees that fair treatment is part of good management. Learn how to manage your slaves and you will be ready to pursue a leadership role in society, says Falx. “Breeding slaves is both expensive and time consuming. And the cost is considerable,” he adds. Let me help you. He’s well-informed about the best places to shop for whatever you need, a bailiff, a gardener, a nanny, or maybe just a playmate.

“If you wish to purchase yourself a boy as a pet, you would be well-advised to go to Saepta Julia and ask if they have any Egyptians in the back.” Judging by “The Roman Guide to Slave Management,” a lot of Romans were cheerfully bisexual. “Avoid slaves who appear melancholy,” he counsels, in what may be the manual’s funniest line.

Free at Last

Incidences of slaves turning on masters seem to have been rare enough for Falx to linger on the murder of a man so rich he owned 400 slaves. When one killed him, the others were executed because of a complicated law that gave Falx a headache (such a waste of capital) and provoked riots in the street. But what helped to keep the peace probably more than extreme punishment was that slavery was a temporary state for many.

A large percentage were freed within 10 years. Slaves who saved could buy their freedom, while others were set free for good behavior or when their owners died. “Somewhat surprisingly, Roman slavery was as much about social mobility as structural rigidity,” explains Toner. The Roman Empire lasted as long as it did because of the fluid ways it absorbed vast numbers of strangers and slaves and transformed them into citizens.

Toner of today’s Cambridge has the last words:

“No one now argues, like Falx, that slavery is acceptable or justifiable. But before we congratulate ourselves on how far we have come, we should remember that it is a tragic fact that even though slavery is illegal in every country in the world, it still exists widely. The NGO Free the Slaves estimates that there are 27 million individuals who are forced to work under threat of violence, without pay or hope of escape. There are more slaves in the world today than there were at any point in the life of the Roman empire.”

“The Roman Guide to Slave Management: A Treatise by Marcus Sidonius Falx” is published by Overlook.

Manuela Hoelterhoff is an executive editor at Bloomberg News. Any opinions are her own.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-10-15/-the-roman-guide-to-slave-management-is-brilliant-hoelterhoff.html

Hadrian’s Wall – Life on the Roman Frontier (Free Course)

Hardians wall

Hadrian’s Wall stretches over 73 miles (117 km), from coast to coast in what is now Northern England

The Wall, complemented by a sophisticated system of outposts and coastal watch stations, offers a remarkable glimpse of ancient society. In addition to housing one of the largest concentrations of Roman soldiers anywhere in the Empire’s provinces, Hadrian’s frontier system was home to an incredibly cosmopolitan array of civilians.

This six week course offers a comprehensive introduction to Hadrian’s Wall and its people and raises fascinating issues concerning colonisation, cultural transformation, immigration, integration and imperialism.

We will explore life in the region before the construction of the Wall, the arrival of the Roman army and its impact on the local population. Detailed case studies will consider the different features of the Wall and its surroundings, considering the way in which the frontier system evolved throughout the Roman period.

The changing face of both the Roman army and indigenous populations is richly illuminated through archaeological finds and reconstructions. To appreciate the range and character of native people, soldiers’ families, slaves, merchants and migrants, we will examine their homes, dress, diet, rituals and religious beliefs.

Drawing on the very latest research, we will investigate how archaeologists interpret evidence, considering:

  • the factors that determine the survival of evidence
  • the different methods of archaeological prospection used to detect settlement locations and better understand their organisation
  • the planning of archaeological projects
  • excavation techniques
  • and the detailed study of structures and artefacts.

As part of the course you can test your understanding of these methods with real case studies and participate in a series of archaeological experiments designed to help you appreciate the complexities of daily life on Rome’s most famous frontier.

This course will give you the opportunity to purchase a Statement of Participation.

More Information – www.futurelearn.com/courses/hadrians-wall

Agrippina Minor, the woman who would rule Rome

 

Agrippina youngerJulia Agrippina, better known as Agrippina the Younger,1and the sister of Caligula, soon showed signs of an even greater ambition than her mother, and being the emperor’s sister certainly favoured her initial attempts. As the granddaughter, sister, wife and mother of Roman emperors, she knew her worth. No other female member of the imperial family could claim so many ties to the throne.2 She was the great-granddaughter of Augustus and both the step-granddaughter and the adopted granddaughter of Tiberius. As Caligula’s sister she briefly experienced great wealth and unusual honours.3

These honours included the privilege of watching the games from the Imperial seats.4 The sestertius illustrated in Figure 6.1 depicts Caligula’s three sisters as goddesses, where Agrippina was depicted as Securitas, leaning on a column, a symbol of peace after past danger.5 Most importantly perhaps, he included his three sisters in the oath of allegiance to the emperor, in which Senators annually had to swear “I will not hold even myself or my children more dear than I hold Caligula and his sisters”. The phrase, “Favour and good fortune be with Gaius Caesar and his sisters” also had to preface all consular propositions.6 In addition to these unprecedented honours, Caligula also made his three sisters honorary Vestal Virgins which meant that a lictor attended them in public, they were exempted from having to take oaths, and they were granted to use of the carpentum when travelling in the city, illustrated on the coin in Figure 7.3.7 Balsdon speculated that the last honour was solely to get his hands on the Vestal Virgin dowries that his sisters would have received.8

Agrippina must have watched her brother’s increasingly erratic behaviour with some anxiety, knowing it could not lead to the stability she must have craved. Suetonius asserts that she herself believed in conservative behaviour for members of the Roman royal family and had great respect for Roman gravitas.9Relations between them soured after the death of their sister Drusilla, and in CE39, Agrippina was accused of treason and adultery with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (widower of her sister Drusilla), and together with her other sister Julia Livilla (accused of the same), was banished to the island of Ponza.10 Subsequently Caligula sold all their furniture, slaves and possessions, an act which lends credence to Balsdon’s theory mentioned in the preceding paragraph.11

In CE41, Caligula was murdered together with his wife and baby daughter, and while the senators debated whether to return the Roman empire to Republican rule, the Praetorian guard found Claudius in the palace and unceremoniously escorted him to the Senate, where they forced the senators to accept him as emperor.12

Agrippina’s influence over her paternal uncle Claudius was notorious in the writings of the ancient historians.13 It was said that she gained private access to him even before they were wed, and would sit on his lap and entice him sexually.14 Since Claudius was considered unequal to the task of ruling Rome as emperor, though later inscriptional evidence would exonerate him to some extent of the accusations made against him as recorded by Tacitus, it was assumed by the ancient historians that Agrippina most probably found it easy to entice and manipulate him.15

Claudius immediately recalled Agrippina and Julia Livilla from their exile and restored their estates and properties to them.16 However, danger loomed yet again in the form of Claudius’ wife, Messalina. Julia Livilla clashed with the empress and was executed for treason and adultery in CE42.17 Agrippina remained on her dead husband’s estates, distancing herself from the court. Perhaps she had learned from her mother’s mistakes and had decided to maintain a low profile, and thus avoided banishment or worse at the hands of Messalina.

Agrippina bore one child from her union with the rich but unambitious Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus.18 Nero was born in 37, nearly ten years after their marriage and the same year as Tiberius’ death and Caligula’s ascension. Agrippina then married the well-known wit and politician, Passienus Crispus, who divorced his wife, the mother of Messalina, to marry Agrippina.19 She accompanied him to the eastern provinces, where he died a few years later. She inherited vast wealth from him and was freed, to now turn her eyes to an even more advantageous marriage.

It has been suggested that Messalina’ disastrous affair with Gaius Silius, a consul-designate for CE47 and a relation of Agrippina’s, may have been the result of a deliberate plot to remove Messalina and ensure that Claudius would need a new wife and consort. Silius was executed and Messalina driven to suicide in CE48.20

Various counsellors voiced their preferred choices for consort and empress to Claudius, but it was the voice of Pallas (the very slave of Antonia Minor’s who took the letter of Sejanus’ plot to Tiberius) that Claudius heeded, he suggested Agrippina.21 Despite the religious objections to a marriage between uncle and niece, the case presented in Agrippina’s favour as the best choice for Claudius’ new consort was so strong that it swept away the competition and all religious qualms. Agrippina was a scion of both the Julii and the Claudii, a daughter of the beloved Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder, great-granddaughter to Augustus and even descendant of the exemplary Octavia and the flamboyant Marc Antony. There could be no better choice for Claudius to consolidate his rule and succession. Those councillors in favour of Agrippina also pointed out that she might very well present a path to power for an ambitious new husband should she remarry elsewhere. Claudius and the Senate agreed and the two were married in CE49, and as Tacitus remarked: “…from this point, the country was transformed. Complete obedience was accorded to a woman…22

Thus Agrippina took Claudius as her third husband. She was his fourth wife, following after the disreputable Messalina and Lollia Paullina, who, Tacitus reports, Agrippina caused to commit suicide.23 It was from this time on that she gained real influence and power.

Agrippina frequently accompanied Claudius in public and at times she even appeared in a chlamys aurata, a Greek military cloak made of cloth-of-gold, to display her rank as Augusta and display her power openly.24 Agrippina was also at the emperor’s side (sitting on her own dais) when he conducted business, received ambassadors and heard judicial cases.25 At least one incident was reported where a delegation gave her the same homage as they gave to Claudius the emperor.26 She also frequently entertained the highest ranking officials, both visiting and Roman, in her house much like the emperor himself.27As the wife of Claudius, she participated in affairs of state and enjoyed a position of exceptional importance. But later, as the mother of Nero, she controlled both the emperor and even the Roman empire itself, albeit for a brief period.

Tacitus saw Agrippina’s power as unfitting and he saw her as a woman unduly and inappropriately obsessed with power. He frequently used the concept of the dux femina to make his point that women such as Agrippina were usurping men’s power, to him the symptom of a failing state.28 He also portrayed the dux femina as more than just masculine, but as an aberration which would end in tragedy.29 He narrates how, in CE49, the Celtic ruler Caractacus, pardoned by Claudius, did homage also to Agrippina, ending with:

It was indeed a novelty, quite alien to ancient manners, for a woman to sit in front of Roman standards. In fact, Agrippina boasted that she was herself a partner in the empire which her ancestors had won.”30

Although Tacitus clearly feels that a woman is nothing without a man, he recognized that, with a man, a woman could wield great power and influence.31 This is defined by Fischler, “The activities of the imperial women became a standard category which authors used to evaluate the quality of emperors. Thus their consideration in historical literature was most often one of a number of factors which depicted the quality and nature of a ‘bad’ ruler. By definition, ‘good’ emperors had wives and mothers they could control, who never overstepped the boundaries set by convention.32

The women of Agrippina’s time defined their roles and goals through their relationships with the different men in their lives. Agrippina was no different. Her ambition to put her only son Nero on the throne and then keep him there, coupled with a fierce instinct for survival, were the two driving forces behind everything she did. Her main concern was for the advancement of her son Nero and she seldom interfered in governmental affairs unless they were somehow related to this goal. Though she did seek power for herself, for example managing to be named Augusta in the year 50CE while her husband was still living, her primary motive was to use her power promote Nero. After she was able to persuade Claudius to adopt Nero as his heir in CE50 and arranging his betrothal and subsequent marriage to Claudius’ daughter Octavia, Agrippina set out openly to advance her son.33 In CE51, Nero was named Princeps Iuventutis, the same title formerly borne by Gaius and Lucius, the long-dead grandsons of Augustus.34

Agrippina also made sure that Nero was pushed ahead of his stepbrother Britannicus.35 As Nero was three years older than Britannicus, it was easy to ensure that he took precedence in all public functions, as well as on coinage and inscriptions.36 Slowly but surely Agrippina undermined her stepson’s position. In CE51, at the age of 14, Nero was proclaimed an adult, was appointed proconsul and a member of Senate. He also appeared at official occasions at Claudius’ side, and was put on official coinage.37

Any supporters of Britannicus were removed or sidelined. In CE54 Agrippina had her former sister-in-law38 and Nero’s paternal aunt, Domitia Lepida,39allegedly a supporter of Britannicus, executed.40 Domitia was also said to have undermined Agrippina’s education of Nero, as she encouraged his frivolous pursuits, whereas Agrippina wanted her son to be serious and learned, with the gravitas she so respected.41 She arranged for the Stoic writer Seneca to be appointed as his tutor and the soldier Burrus Afranius appointed both as Praetorian Prefect and second advisor to Nero, but in the long term this would come to be a decision she would regret.

Claudius’ death in CE54 is usually regarded as an event that was directly caused by Agrippina, to forestall his naming Britannicus as his heir instead of Nero, as there were apparently signs of renewed affection between father and son.42 Most sources directly state that Agrippina had had her husband poisoned with a dish of mushrooms, apparently a favourite of the emperor’s.43 Only Josephus voiced some doubt about this and represented it as a rumour rather than fact.44 The facts cannot be known but given the real chance of a poisonous mushroom being served up alongside harmless varieties, accidental death must remain a possibility.

Agrippina younger 3Nero thus rose to the throne upon Claudius’ death in CE54. Initially it is very clear from both literary and documentary sources that Agrippina was in control of the seventeen year old emperor. The prominence of Agrippina in the coinage of the era has already been discussed in Chapter VI above. Agrippina was named priestess of the cult of the deified Claudius, and received privileges unheard of for a woman, such as being allowed to be present at Senate meetings, albeit behind a curtain. Agrippina’s control over Nero began to wane, our sources tells us, around the time that he had an affair with a freedwoman named Acte, despite Agrippina’s strong disapproval,45 and with the help of Seneca he resisted his mother’s influence.46

Agrippina’s turnabout in support of Britannicus allegedly led to that young man’s death under suspicious circumstances, and Nero ordered Agrippina to leave the imperial palace in CE55.47 All her powers and privileges were removed, from her bodyguards to her conveyances. She took up residence at Misenum, and spent little time with her son. Nevertheless, she remained popular and influential. Her son, on the other hand, was engaged in gaining as much freedom as possible, and eliminating any possible rivals for power. Seneca and Burrus, having helped to alienate Agrippina, now themselves fell from grace.48

The accounts of Agrippina’s death, as narrated by Tacitus and Suetonius, take on an almost farcical tone, but eventually, according to the sources, Nero successfully killed Agrippina. Before her death, Agrippina wrote an account of her life and career, becoming the first known woman author in Roman history, as she was the only woman on record to have published her memoirs.49 She was also the first imperial woman to bear the title Augusta during her husband’s lifetime. 50 Her portrait appeared on numerous Roman coins.

Agrippina’s triumph seemed complete; she was Augusta, she had been Claudius’ consort in government with unparalleled, openly proclaimed power, and she had personally stage-managed her son’s rise and succession, a kingmaker in truth. Unfortunately her triumphs, like those of her predecessors, would be short-lived.51 Agrippina’s power had not been absolute, nor equal to that of either Claudius or Nero.52

1 Referred to in the rest of this chapter only as “Agrippina”.

2 Not until the Severan dynasty (193-235) did other women match or surpass Agrippina’s connections to the throne and the power which such ties ensured.

3 Ginsburg, 2006:12-14

4 Dio, 59.3.4

5 Sutherland, 1974:153

6 Suetonius, Caligula, 15.3; Dio, 59.9.2

7 Tacitus, Annals, 4.16; Dio, 47.19.4

8 Balsdon, 1974:235

9 Suetonius, Nero, 34; Barrett, 1996:41

10 Tacitus, Annals, 14.2.4; Dio, 59.22.8

11 Suetonius, Caligula, 37

12 Suetonius, Claudius, 10

13 Tacitus, Annals, 12.3; Suetonius, Claudius, 26

14 Tacitus, Annals, 12.5

15 Suetonius, Claudius, 26 and 39. The Lyons Tablet records Claudius’ speech to the Senate to allow Gallic Chieftains.

16 Seneca, Apocolocyntosis; Dio, 60.4.1-2

17 Suetonius, Claudius, 29

18 He was her second cousin, son of Antonia Major who in turn was the eldest daughter of Octavia and Mark Antony.

19 Barrett, 2002:85

20 Suetonius, Claudius, 26; Tacitus, Annals, 11.37

21 Tacitus, Annals, 12.2

22 Tacitus Annals, 12.7, 5-6

23Tacitus, Annals, 12.22

24Pliny, Natural History, 33.63; Tacitus, Annals, 12.56; Dio, 61.33.3

25 Griffin, 1984:23-33

26 Tacitus, Annals, 12.37, 43, 13.2; Dio, 61.33.7, 33.12

27 Tactitus, Annals, 13.18

28 Santoro L’Hoir, 1994:5-25

29 Baldwin, 1972:88-101

30 Tacitus, Annals, 12.37

31Swindle, 2003:112-115

32 Fischler, 1994:127

33 Tacitus, Annals, 12.8; Suetonius, Nero, 7. Claudius had Octavia adopted into another family to obviate the appearance of incest in a marriage between brother and sister, even though theirs was an adopted relationship (Dio, 60.33.2).

34 Tacitus, Annals, 12.46; Dio, 61.32.1

35 Gibson, 2012:5, 41

36 For example; on Claudius’ triumphal arch in the Campus Martius in Rome, there are five columns which once held statues of his family. Those represented were Germanicus, Antonia, Agrippina, Nero and Octavia (Claudius’ daughter). Britannicus is conspicuously absent.

37 Tacitus, Annals, 12.41-42

38 Domitia Lepida was sister to Ahenobarbus, Agrippina’s first husband.

39 Tacitus, Annals, 12.64.5

40 Agrippina’s and Domitia Lepida’s enmity had started long before, when Lepida became the ex-wife of Crispus, Agrippina’s second husband who divorced her to marry Agrippina. Domitia was also Messalina’s mother and suspected Agrippina of orchestrating the scandal that ended Messalina’s life and with it, her marriage to Claudius.

41Barrett, 1996:106-107

42 Dio, 60.34

43 Tacitus, Annals, 12.66; Suetonius, Claudius, 44-6; Dio, 60.34; Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 22.92; Seneca, Apocolocyntosis

44 Josephus, Antiquities, 20

45 Tacitus, Annals, 12.12

46 Tacitus, Annals, 12.14

47Tacitus, Annals, 12.18-21

48Dio, 61.7-10

49 Hemelrijk, 2004:207

50Augusta’ can be equated roughly with Empress, though its meaning was primarily honorific. The Senate named Livia Augusta after Augustus’ death. See Tacitus, Annals, 1.8 and Dio, 46.1.

51Shotter, 2008:76-79

52Dio, 61.33.1

 

Agrippina Major, saviour at the Rhine

 

Agrippina elderAgrippina the Elder,1 granddaughter of Augustus, made no secret of her goal to have her husband Germanicus sit on the throne in Rome, taking an active hand in her husband’s career and public image, as already intimated in the incident with Gnaeus Piso described above.2

Agrippina saw her mother Julia exiled when she only ten and both her elder brothers died before she was eighteen. Both her other siblings, Julia and Agrippa Posthumus, were also exiled by the time she was twenty-two.3 What effect this may have had on Agrippina and her desire to see her own children in power, as perhaps a security measure for her family, one can never know. But her pride in her family as a direct descendant of Augustus is mentioned, and her contributions to the imperial throne much advertised, as in the coin issued by Caligula in Figure 6.1 indicates. Her arrogance is also mentioned more often after the death of Germanicus. Initially she is introduced in the Annals as being “determined” but Tacitus soon asserts that she “turned this to good account by her devoted faithfulness to her husband“. She was also lauded for her intelligence and wit, and was extensively educated.4 But this temperate approach in Tacitus soon changes – over the course of a number of references we are told that she is ‘ferocious’, ‘angry’, ‘violent’ and ‘emotional’.5

Agrippina bore her husband nine children, six of whom lived to adulthood.6 Augustus was so impressed with their brood of children that he would show them off in public as the ideal of a Roman family. Although pregnant at the time, she accompanied Germanicus to Gaul when he was posted there in CE14.7 When news of Augustus’ death and Tiberius’ succession reached the Rhine, the army’s mood was rebellious and Germanicus tried to assuage them by calling all troops and tribe leaders together, and swearing allegiance to Tiberius in their presence.8 But mutinies broke out, and it was decided that the wives and children of the officers, including Agrippina and the young Caligula, would be sent from the camps to safety. According to the account we have, this proved to be the turning point for the rebels, who were ashamed that the granddaughter of Augustus and her children were being driven to flight by the Roman army themselves. They refused to let the wagon leave and many averted their eyes from Agrippina’s fierce gaze.9

Germanicus solved the restlessness of the army by attacking the Germans, pushing deep into the forests. In exchange, the Germans conducted guerrilla warfare in the woods, helped by the spring floods in CE15 that destroyed many Roman fortifications and temporary bridges. A large contingent of the army was trapped in a swamp on their way back to the Rhine Bridge, when the Germans attacked them.10 A mob of soldiers hurried to the bridge at Castra Vetera, intent on crossing and then destroying it behind them to stave off the advancing Germans. Agrippina realised it would mean certain death for the rest of the retreating Roman soldiers, so she placed the bridge under her personal protection:

Meanwhile a rumour had spread that our army was cut off, and that a furious German host was marching on Gaul. And had not Agrippina prevented the bridge over the Rhine from being destroyed, some in their cowardice would have dared that base act. A woman of heroic spirit, she assumed during those days the duties of a general, and distributed clothes or medicine among the soldiers, as they were destitute or wounded. According to Pliny the Elder, the historian of the German wars, she stood at the extremity of the bridge, and bestowed praise and thanks on the returning legions. This made a deep impression on the mind of Tiberius. “Such zeal,” he thought, “could not be guileless; it was not against a foreign foe that she was thus courting the soldiers. Generals had nothing left them when a woman went among the companies, attended the standards, ventured on bribery, as though it showed but slight ambition to parade her son in a common soldier’s uniform, and wish him to be called Caesar Caligula. Agrippina had now more power with the armies than officers, than generals. A woman had quelled a mutiny which the sovereign’s name could not check.” All this was inflamed and aggravated by Sejanus, who, with his thorough comprehension of the character of Tiberius, sowed for a distant future hatreds which the emperor might treasure up and might exhibit when fully matured.”11

Tacitus’ describes how Agrippina took on “the duties of a commander” in this passage, which is usually the type of information that reflects badly not only on the woman, but also on her husband or other male figures. The passage is unusual, since for ancient historians there was nothing worse than the dux femina, a woman general who led the troops in the manner of Fulvia,12 engaged in this exclusively male activity. And for a Roman woman to take on this role was a signal of the breaking down of Roman civilisation.13 Yet Tacitus calls her “a woman of heroic spirit” and focuses mainly on her role as caregiver. Vidén points out that, while Agrippina’s involvement with the army may have been inappropriate, it was rendered acceptable only because she was devoted to her husband.14

Agrippina elder 3Tacitus follows this up by highlighting Tiberius’ suspicion of her generous act. It is certainly a clear indication that Tacitus uses and adapts his portrayal of female figures to bring praise or condemnation to the men associated with them. At this point in the narrative, it is her husband, Germanicus, who is playing the role of the hero, with Tiberius as the villain, so Agrippina is used by Tacitus to place Germanicus in a positive light at this point. While he generally characterises Agrippina as ambitious, here she comes out of the episode quite favourably, while Tiberius is made to seem rather mean-spirited in not acknowledging such a generous concern for the troops from a woman who was, after all, seven months pregnant at the time.15 This literary technique of Tacitus’ proves to be rather effective – he sows a seed of suspicion that will bear fruit only in Book 4 of the Annals, where Agrippina is portrayed in a much less sympathetic manner.

Tiberius recalled Germanicus in CE17 and sent him to Syria in the east. On his and his family’s journey there, they made a thorough sight-seeing and public relations tour of the area, since Germanicus had been given authority over all the governors of the eastern provinces.16 This was soon followed by the episode related above, the alleged poisoning and death of Germanicus at the hands of Piso and Plancina.17 On his deathbed Germanicus spoke also to Agrippina:

Turning to his wife, Germanicus begged her … to forget her pride, submit to cruel fortune, and, back in Rome, to avoid provoking those stronger than herself by competing for their power”.18

Clearly Germanicus was quite familiar with his wife’s “masculine” characteristics. The incident at the bridge allowed him to profit from these traits, but clearly now that he is dying, she is required to subdue them and to submit to Tiberius as emperor.

Agrippina elder 4Much is made in the sources of the public grief in Rome at the news that Germanicus had died, and the highlight was Agrippina’s return to Rome in early 20CE with her husband’s ashes. She disembarked at the Italian port of Brundisium and was met by many of her husband’s veterans.19 Agrippina was hailed the “true heir of Augustus”, which certainly would have angered Tiberius.20 In the passage quoted on the previous page, Annals 1.69, Tacitus also informs us indirectly, through the reference to Pliny the Elder, that Agrippina was publicly referring to her young son as “Caesar Caligula”. If true, it is a clear indication of Agrippina’s ambitions for her children.

With the death of Germanicus, Agrippina saw all her dreams of becoming an empress and having her sons follow their father to the purple, shattered. As Burns puts it so eloquently, “She had witnessed 30,000 Roman soldiers beg Germanicus to replace Tiberius as emperor. She had seen him ride in triumph through the streets of Rome and be welcomed as a god in the eastern provinces. She had seen the full measure of devotion the people felt for him and had herself been hailed as Augustus’ only true heir. And yet, suddenly, she was nothing more than the widow of a dead Caesar, completely out of the line of succession. It was as if her destiny had passed her by.” 21

Not long after however, Drusus, the son and heir of Tiberius, died, placing Agrippina’s children once again in the line of succession. Her oldest sons, Nero and Drusus, were the likeliest candidates and their father and grandfather’s reputations were well known.

Another turn of events however ruined the hopes that Agrippina now had. Lucius Aelius Sejanus, a man who became Tiberius’ most trusted advisor, saw his chance for advancement. According to the accounts of all the historians he fostered the resentments of the royal family members towards each other, whispering tales of treason in Tiberius’ ear and warning the ageing emperor that Agrippina planned to advance her sons to the throne.

Sejanus was responsible for instigating plots which Agrippina became unwittingly drawn into:

“Her insubordination, however, gave Sejanus a handle against her. He played on the Augusta’s longstanding animosity against herand on Livilla’s new complicity…...they were to notify Tiberius that Agrippina, proud of her large family and relying on her popularity, had designs on the throne.”22

Clearly the words of her dying husband, quoted above from Tacitus,23had not proved very effective, as Agrippina was doing exactly what he had warned her not to do, therefore providing Sejanus with a weapon against her. The manner in which Tacitus presents this does not particularly inspire sympathy for Agrippina, despite the fact that she was being victimised by Sejanus. Rather we are given the impression of someone who is arrogant, reckless and, “in contradiction to her husband’s wishes, vying for power”.24

One incident implicated a close friend of hers, Claudia Pulchra, who was accused of attempting to poison Tiberius. Agrippina went directly to Tiberius and protested that Claudia was only condemned because of her continued friendship with Agrippina. She also accused Tiberius of hypocrisy for sacrificing to the deified Augustus while persecuting his offspring, underlining to him her physical resemblance to her ancestors. Tiberius reportedly only replied with a single line from Greek drama, “And if you are not queen, my dear, have I then done you wrong?”25

According to Tacitus, Agrippina requested Tiberius to find her a new husband, but he refused, knowing that any husband of hers could be a potential rival.26 Interestingly, Agrippina now moves away from the ideal of the univira, further changing her from the ideal wife and mother she is portrayed as in the first three books of the Annals.27

Tacitus claims that he learnt of both of these episodes from the memoirs of her daughter, Agrippina Minor. By providing us with the source for this information Tacitus is actually strengthening the link between the two Agrippina’s, which he reinforces throughout the Annals by using similar words to describe them, such as inflexibility/stubbornness, pride/arrogance and that she was savage/fierce.28

Tiberius’ right to refuse Agrippina’s plea to be married again is a clear demonstration of the power that the holder of the patria potestas had over the women of his household (should he choose to exercise it) who were not freed from guardianship. Although she was Augustus’ granddaughter and a prominent member of the imperial household, Agrippina still could not marry against the wishes of Tiberius, and this impotence strongly curtailed her freedom and autonomy.

Agrippina was now caught between the suspicions of Tiberius and the machinations of Sejanus. To make matters worse, her second eldest son Drusus began conspiring with Sejanus against Agrippina and her eldest son Nero, in order to advance to the throne himself. 29

Then, in CE29, Livia died and it became clear to what extent she had been protecting Agrippina and her children. Almost immediately Nero was charged with perversity and Agrippina was accused by Tiberius in the Senate of insolence and disobedience.30 Despite popular protests, both mother and son were sent into exile to different islands, Agrippina to Pandateria (the same place her mother Julia and her sister Julia Livilla, had been banished to). Agrippina’s prison conditions were harsh and four years later in CE33 she is said to have died of starvation.31 Although there is a possibility that she starved herself, examining the circumstances (her having living children and the fact that Tiberius was ageing) suggests otherwise. Both her elder sons, Nero and Drusus, also died of starvation in prison, Drusus’ treachery not saving him.32

Four years after Agrippina’s death in CE37, Tiberius died and her son Caligula succeeded to the throne in Rome. His mother, however, was not alive to see her dreams fulfilled and her son succeed where her husband had failed. The coins illustrated in Figures 7.3 and 7.4 show that Caligula made much of his family connections and consequent right to rule, honouring his mother on numerous coins. Her son Caligula had his mother’s ashes brought back to Rome in CE37, and the inscription on the marble block which housed her ashes read: “The bones of Agrippina, (daughter) of Marcus Agrippa, wife of Germanicus Caesar, mother of Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, emperor”. Caligula was an unpopular emperor however, and was assassinated by his own praetorian guard.

Agrippina’s progeny also provided another Julio-Claudian emperor for Rome, the equally notorious Nero. In this sense the ambitions of Agrippina the Elder had been realised – and those of her daughter foreshadowed.

1 Hereafter referred to as only “Agrippina”

2Tacitus, Annals, 1.33; 4.52.6

3 Shotter, 2000:342-344.Germanicus was the son of Claudius Drusus (younger son of Livia) and Augustus’ niece Antonia Minor, (the daughter of Octavia and Mark Antony).

4 Suetonius, Augustus, 86; Tacitus, Annals, 4.52. Other than most of their contemporaries around the world, Roman women of the upper classes were encouraged to receive a full education which included reading, writing, arithmetic, philosophy, rhetoric, geometry, astronomy and musical theory. Augustus paid a private tutor, M Verrius Flaccus, a hundred thousand sesterces a year to tutor the children of his household (Suetonius, Augustus, 64.2). Hemelrijk, 1999:21-23

5 Tacitus, Annals, 1.33; 1.69; 4.12; 4.52 ; 4.51-2; 5.3; 6.25

6 Suetonius, Gaius, 7

7 Barrett, 1990:7

8 Tacitus, Annals, 1.34

9 The accounts of Tacitus, Annals, 1.41-44; Suetonius, Caligula, 48.1 and Dio, 57.5.6, differ slightly on the details of how Agrippina and young Gaius were released.

10 Tacitus, Annals, 1.64-68

11 Tacitus, Annals, 1.69. The incident is not mentioned by Suetonius, Tiberius 25, or Velleius Paterculus, 2.125-9. 

12 Velleius Paterculus’ description of Fulvia, who acted as commander, is a good example of how such women were viewed: “who had nothing of the woman about her except her sex” (2.74.2).

13 Female warriors or generals were considered fit only for barbarians. Tacitus for example mentions the uprising of Queen Boudicca in CE61, for the Romans the barbaric spectacle of women on the battlefield (Annals 14.36).

14 Vidén, 1993: 64

15 Barret, 2002:231

16 Tacitus, Annals, 2.55; Kokkinos, 1992:17, 43-48

17 Tacitus, Annals, 2.70

18 Tacitus, Annals, 2.72.1. Burns, 2007:277

19 Tacitus, Annals, 2.75

20 Tacitus, Annals¸3.4

21 Burns, 2007:51

22Tacitus, Annals, 4.12.2-5

23 Tacitus, Annals, 2.72.1

24 Saavedra, 1996:2

25 Suetonius, Tiberius, 53

26Tacitus, Annals, 4.52.3-53.2

27 Saavedra, 1996:2

28 The Latin words are contumacia, superbia and atrox.

29 Tacitus, Annals, 4.60, 5-6

30 Tacitus, Annals, 5.3

31 Suetonius, Tiberius, 53

32 Suetonius, Tiberius, 54

 

 

Antonia Minor, a true Roma Matrona

 

antonia2The younger daughter of Octavia Minor and Mark Antony, Antonia Minor was born on 31 January 36BCE in Rome in the house of Antony, which Octavia at that stage still occupied. Being only six years old in 30BCE when Antony committed suicide, Antonia never knew her famous father and grew up in the household of Augustus on the Palatine hill.

In 18BCE Antonia was married to the younger son of Livia, Drusus. He was nineteen and she was seventeen, already older than most young Roman brides who were considered of marriageable age from as young as fourteen,1 though Augustus probably had been grooming her for Drusus in his dynasty-building attempts.2 They had several children, though only three of them would reach maturity, Germanicus, Livilla and Claudius.3

Their marriage however was short-lived, as Drusus died young in 9BCE, while fighting German tribes along the Rhine.

After Drusus’ death Antonia refused to remarry despite pressure from her uncle (and step-grandfather-in-law) Augustus, and the new marriage laws,4 and despite her relatively young age of twenty-seven.5 She remained in the house of Livia, her mother-in-law, in the room she had shared with Drusus, and her situation was clearly considered unusual even in antiquity:

… in the same bed, on the part of the one (Drusus) the vigour of youth was extinguished, while on the other part of the other (Antonia) the experience of widowhood dragged on into old age. Let this bedchamber be taken as representing the extreme case of such experiences.6

Antonia was also in control of her own finances and affairs, as she had exemption from guardianship according to Augustus’ ius trium liberorum. Being tantoniahus able to inherit from her husband, she became a wealthy woman with properties in Italy, Greece and Egypt – there is for example confirmation that Alexander, the magistrate in Alexandria, attended to her estates in Egypt.7 While there is no evidence that she used her wealth and influence in diplomatic efforts directly involved in imperial affairs, we do know that she regularly received visitors from other provinces and kingdoms, such as the royal houses of Judaea, Thrace and Mauretania, and even the Parthian king sent his son to Antonia’s company.8 Her patronage and friendship were considered valuable in advancing the interests of both Roman and non-Roman.9

She devoted herself to the education of her children and we hear about her again only at the granting of maius imperium to her eldest son, Germanicus, and his subsequent activities in the eastern provinces.10 She joined her son on his journey east, where they stopped at several places which held significance for the descendants of Mark Antony. But Germanicus died in CE19, on his Near-Eastern journey. The huge outpouring of public grief at the death of her popular son must have been at once a source of comfort, but also deepened her grief.11 She did not attend the cremation in Antioch nor did she participate in the funeral in Rome.12

When Livia died in CE29, Antonia became the unofficial first lady of Rome. She now took over the supervision of her grandson, Caligula, in addition to her own son, Claudius.13 Antonia’s political influence behind the scenes increased and wealthy and prominent citizens and consuls, such as Lucius Vitellius and Valerius Asiaticus, were part of her circle.14

Her greatest recorded achievement in the intricacies of the Roman court, however, was her instrumental part in exposing Sejanus and his plot to assassinate Tiberius, which demonstrates her loyalty to the imperial family and the emperor, even at the expense of her own daughter. Josephus is very clear in his description that Antonia was the driving force behind the exposure of Sejanus’ plots:

Antonia on her own had done a very great service to Tiberius. For a great conspiracy had been formed against him by his friend Sejanus, who at that time held the greatest power because he was prefect of the praetorian cohorts. Most of the senators and freedmen joined him, the army was bribed, and so the conspiracy made great progress. Indeed, Sejanus would have succeeded if Antonia had not shown more craft in her bold move than Sejanus did in his villainy. For when she was informed of the plot against Tiberius, she wrote him a full account of it and, entrusting the letter to Pallas, the most trustworthy of her slaves, sent it to Tiberius at Capri. Tiberius, being informed, put Sejanus and his fellow-conspirators to death. As for Antonia, whom he had previously held in high regard, he now valued her even more and put full confidence in her.”15 Sejanus was executed on 31 October CE31.

When Tiberius died and Caligula ascended the throne in CE37, Antonia was now granted the honours previously given to Livia, such as the title “Augusta”, the privileges normally accorded to the Vestal Virgins and the priestesshood of the deified Augustus.16 There is some debate as to whether the title Augusta was used while she was alive, or only after her death,17 but whatever the case may be, Caligula’s action is certainly in contrast to his later reported treatment of his grandmother Antonia.18 In Suetonius the latter is described as part of a long list to demonstrate his growing unsuitability for the position of emperor:

When his grandmother Antonia asked for a private interview, he refused it except in the presence of the praefect Macro, and by such indignities and annoyances he caused her death; although some think that he also gave her poison. After she was dead, he paid her no honour, but viewed her burning pyre from his dining-room.”19 

Unfortunately it is difficult to assess the validity of this information, as Caligula’s reign is not well represented among the extant literary sources, and in Suetonius and Dio he is presented as more of a caricature than anything else. While the detail seems spurious, and unverifiable, it can probably be said that Antonia tried to curb her grandson’s alleged excess, but without success.20 Caligula is said to have informed her as follows Remember I have the right to do anything to anybody!“.21On 1 May CE37, Antonia committed suicide, probably rather than watch her family slide into indignity and tyranny.22

Although Antonia was celebrated for her grace and beauty, her wit and wisdom, her kindness and generosity, it seems that she also had a harsh side and was said to have been a strict mother with rigid moral standards – so rigid, in fact, that when her daughter Livilla was duped by Sejanus and joined his conspiracy, she herself starved her daughter to death.23 She could not tolerate that Livilla had defiled herself and her family with a common adulterer, bringing the family into disrepute in this way.

Antonia was a powerful woman, born to famous parents, married to the popular Drusus, and mother of the ever-popular Germanicus, and also mother, grandmother and great-grandmother to three of Rome’s Julio-Claudian emperors. Between her and Drusus they gave legitimacy to the reign of Claudius, who fell outside the Julian line and needed public family endorsement to become an acknowledged member of the imperial family.

She was one of the wealthiest people in the Roman empire, and made many business transactions in her own right, as well as politically supporting candidates for consulship, and raising and educating her children and grandchildren. Her influence was great, especially with Tiberius, and with Caligula, if only for short while. She is still seen today as one of the greatest and most powerful ladies ever to have lived in the Roman world

1 Shaw, 1987:30

2 Tacitus, Annals, 6.15; Plutarch, Antony, 87.3. Antonia was linked to all the successive Julio-Claudian emperors, as well as other family members: she was Tiberius’ sister-in-law, paternal grandmother of the Caligula of Agrippina Minor, and more directly the mother of the emperor Claudius, and both maternal great-grandmother and paternal great-aunt of Nero.

3 Suetonius, Claudius, 1.6

4 Josephus, Antiquities, 18.180

5 Suetonius, Augustus, 34.1; Josephus, Antiquities, 18.180

6 Valerius Maximus, 4.3.3

7 Josephus, Antiquities, 20.6

8 Josephus, Antiquities, 18.143; Suetonius, Caligula, 26.1; Tacitus, Annals, 6.40

9 Suetonius, Caligula, 10.1; Dio, 60.2.5; Josephus, Antiquities, 18.143, 156, 164-5

10 Tacitus, Annals, 1.3, 14, 2.43; Suetonius, Tiberius, 15.2 and Caligula, 1.1

11 Suetonius, Caligula, 6.1; Josephus, Antiquities, 18.209

12 Tacitus, Annals, 3.3

13 Dio,60.2.5

14 Tacitus, Annals, 11.3.1

15 Josephus, Antiquities, 18.181.2; Dio, 58.9-11; 65.14.1-2

16 Suetonius, Caligula, 15.2; Dio, 59.3.4

17 Kokkinos, 1992:27; Suetonius, Caligula, 15.2; Dio, 59.3.3-4. Both Caligula and Claudius awarded her the title of Augusta, since Claudius refused to honour the acts of his predecessor but could therefore claim that he had awarded her this honour.

18 Dio, 49.3-4

19 Suetonius, Caligula, 23.2; also Dio, 59.3.6

20 Josephus, Antiquities, 18.236; Suetonius, Caligula, 23.2-3

21 Suetonius, Caligula, 29.1

22 Dio, 59.3.6 informs that Caligula forced her to commit suicide after she rebuked him, but this is not attested anywhere else and probably not reliable.

23 Dio, 58.11.7

 

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