Robert Colton
Roman Heroes
Roman Villains

Gaius Maecenas

March 1st 2013

Roman Heroes, Roman Villains

Wealthy, influential, and the paramount of good taste, Maecenas was more than Octavian’s advisor. He, like Agrippa, offered his powerful friend skills that he lacked. Well connected and sly, Maecenas tended to Octavian’s personal and political interests.

   Ancient historians were blessed with Octavian’s choice of close friends. In Agrippa, they had a strong military man, honest and in touch with the common man’s concerns. Maecenas proved the contrast, claims of royal Etruscan ancestry, the implication of effeminacy and a taste for the decadent. We are left to rely on the records left to us, despite how familiar the theme might seem. Wasn’t Tiberius also credited with two companions playing the contrasting roles as well, Nerva and Sejanus? Perhaps to tell their stories, Seneca, Tacitus, Dio and their colleagues, flatter the better men, and tarnished the lesser?

   Octavian found himself heir to his great-uncle’s name, and with that he set out to become the dead man’s political heir. Allying with Marcus Antonius and Lepidus, the three men soon found themselves the rulers of the Roman Empire. But this was not a pleasant or stable union. Enter Maecenas. Both Antonius and Octavian wished to better their relationship with Pompey the Great’s son, who controlled the seas West of Italy. Maecenas gets the credit for arranging a marriage that united Octavian to Sextus Pompeius.

   After the Triumvirate had defeated Caesar’s assassins, the lack of a common enemy proved a disadvantage. Octavian and Antonius turned on each other, Maecenas was left to broker a deal. The Treaty of Brundisium was negotiated and the Empire was formally dived between the Triumvirates. Antonius married Octavian’s sister as part of the pact. Of course, this would come back to haunt him.

   After little more than a year of marriage, Octavian divorced his wife in favor of his mistress, Livia. Soon relations with Sextus soured. Once more Maecenas is depended upon to broker a deal with Antonius. An exchange of ships for legionnaires is agreed upon (however Octavian didn’t live up to the bargain) and Lepidus and Octavian defeat Sextus. Thinking he has the upper hand, Lepidus turns on Octavian. But, as we all know, Lepidus’ men deserted him. Octavian spared his comrade, and Lepidus essentially lived the life of a wealthy exile.

   In short, Octavian and Antonius could not both rule Rome. Antonius lost the Battle of Actium, and afterward killed himself. (While Octavian was pursing Antonius and Cleopatra, Maecenas was left in charge of Rome, where he preempted a conspiracy designed by Lepidus’ son.) Octavian, with the considerable help of his two friends, was left the sole power. In an elaborately staged event, Octavian attempted to retire, leaving the Senate Rome’s true leader. Maecenas is suspected of choreographing much of the show, and in the end Octavian became monarch in all but name.

   In peacetime, Maecenas emerged as a patron of the arts. On the Esquiline Hill, he established a Hellenistic style garden, complete with a library. Maecenas was also a generous patron to Virgil and a number of poets. His comfortable lifestyle, surrounded by artists, aided in the attack on his character. Tacitus insinuates that Maecenas was in love with a male actor named Bathyllus. Seneca attacks Maecenas due to the company he kept and his indulgent tendencies and both historians seem to look down at Augustus over his friendship with the man. The historian Paterculus put together the well-known quote: “of sleepless vigilance in critical emergencies, far-seeing and knowing how to act, but in his relaxation from business more luxurious and effeminate than a woman." 

   Maecenas’ wife, Terentia, appears in the collective history briefly on two occasions. Antonius accuses Octavian of having an affair with the woman, this taking place shortly after his marriage to Livia. And then Terentia is blamed for Maecenas’ fall from grace. As the story goes, Terentia’s adopted brother was to be charged with conspiracy. Maecenas shared this information with his wife, who then betrayed her husband’s trust and warned her brother. He fled, rightfully in fear of his life. After this point, Maecenas remained on friendly terms with Augustus, but the story goes that he was no longer on the inner circle.

   In 8 BC, Maecenas died, leaving Augustus his sole heir. Despite the wealth he left, his legacy of advisor was surely of greater value. His name is still a byword for good taste and luxury. The literary works composed by the men he supported remain relevant. Depending on which aspects of the man’s life the ancient historians chose to focus on, Maecenas was the both the quintessential Roman Hero, and Roman Villain.   


February 15th, 2013

Roman Heroes, Roman Villains


Scribonia; a political pawn, mother and exile, her brief marriage to Augustus would change the course of her life and etch her name into history


   Even before her marriage to the young Triumvirate, Scribonia played the typical part of the politician’s child. Lucius Scribonius Libo used his daughter to unite his family to Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus, Consul in 56 BC. Either widowed or divorced, she was next married to Publius Cornelius Scipio.


   The Republic was crumbling during  Scribonia’s marriages, after the death of Julius Caesar there was a struggle for power. The men at the center of the fight were Octavian, Marc Antony, Lepidus and Sextus Pompey. While the first three formed a tenuous partnership to rule the Roman Empire, Sextus (the son of Pompey the Great) played the part of pirate and disrupted the seas and shipping.


   Octavian, the youngest member of the Triumvirate, was given the management of Italy. Antony had taken the provinces in the East and Lepidus was left with Africa. The balance of power was perpetually at risk due to the mistrust between the men. To remedy this, pacts and agreements were made and marriages to unite the men were proposed. Octavian was first betrothed to Lepidus’ young daughter. As hostility increased between Antony and Octavian (and Lepidus’ role diminished) the betrothal was dissolved and Octavian married Antony’s step-daughter. This arrangement was short lived as Antony’s wife and brother harassed Octavian. The marriage was ended, and soon afterward Antony’s wife died. A new marital link was made between the men, Antony married Octavian’s sister.


   Sextus Pompey negotiated for control of Sardinia and Sicily, both Antony and Octavian had vied for Sextus’ favor. Octavian brought himself one step closer to Sextus by marring Scribonia, who was the sister of Sextus’ father-in-law. Seven years older, and the mother of two, Scribonia was perhaps less than ideal.


   Scribonia had a nephew who was adopted, most likely as an adult, by Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus, who did not have a son, but he did have a daughter –Livia. While Scribonia was pregnant with Octavian’s child, her husband fell in love with Livia. On the day that she gave birth to her daughter, Octavian discarded her after little more than a year of marriage.


   Eventually Sextus lost his hold on the sea, and four years after Octavian divorced Scribonia, Sextus was captured and killed. Lepidus attempted to turn on Octavian, but in the end lost all power. Antony’s life ended in suicide and Octavian was left the victor.


   While Scribonia disappears from recorded history, her daughter is raised by Octavian and his third wife, Livia. Octavian is given the title Augustus and essentially becomes Rome’s monarch. Of course, a monarch needs an heir. Augustus’ only child is Julia, the daughter he had with Scribonia. First she is married to her cousin, Marcellus. Marcellus is the son of Octavia (sister to Augustus) and her first husband…now keep in mind that her second husband was Marc Antony. Marcellus dies young, leaving Julia in need of a husband. Next, she married Augustus’ right hand man, Agrippa. (Agrippa deserves the credit for defeating Sextus Pompey’s fleet.) Agrippa had been married to the sister of Julia’s first husband, the two divorced so Agrippa could move up the ladder. Out of the deal, Marcella is married off to the surviving son of Antony, Iullus. (Yes, her step-brother.)  After eleven years of marriage, Agrippa died.


   Julia had three sons by her second husband, and her father adopted two of them as his heirs. Next, Julia was married to Livia’s eldest son, Tiberius. (Yes, her step-brother.) Tiberius was forced to divorce his wife, who was the daughter of Agrippa. The marriage between Tiberius and Julia was a disaster. Within five years, Tiberius “retired” to the island of Rhodes to escape his wife and the pressures of life.


   As the story goes, Julia was promiscuous in the absence of her husband. She created scandal with her adulteries and they became her undoing. Her father sent a letter to the Senate, accusing her of adultery with a number of influential men, chiefly Iullus…the son of Antony. (To make things more interesting, Iullus was the half -brother to Augustus’ first wife, yes, that step daughter of Antony’s) While his daughter’s affairs were certainly an embarrassment, the possible union of his daughter and his old enemy’s son could have been disastrous for him and his plans for the future of the monarchy. In accordance with his wishes, Julia was banished from Rome.


   Scribonia comes back to us, as Julia is exiled to a small island along the Italian coast. Augustus’ ex-wife, gains permission to follow her daughter and lives with her on the island. After five years the two are permitted to relocate to Rhegium, a city at the tip of Italy. Augustus never forgave his daughter, and she was confined to the grounds of her estate.


   Sixteen years after her affair with Iullus was exposed, Julia died. There are varying accounts of the cause of death, much blame is placed on Tiberius. Scribonia’s life receives little more written attention after this point. Sadly, the fate of many of Scribonia’s grandchildren was exile or death, Seneca does make mention of her while relaying the cause of her great-nephew’s death. Accused of treason, it is said that she urged the young man to face his execution rather than kill himself. He did not take the advice. Scribonia would have been well into her eighties by that time.


   Scribonia was referred to by Augustus as “a nag” and discarded by the man. Her marriage to him changed the fate of not only her life, but the lives of the children she’d had from her previous marriage. Scribonia’s youngest daughter’s life made for great story telling by the historians who relished the sordid details of her lewd behavior. In contrast, Scribonia’s life provided a tale of a noble woman, willing to follow her fallen child into bleak exile. Scribonia proves an interesting figure; caught up in the death throes of the Roman Republic and the birth of the Empire, surrounded by both Roman Heroes and Roman Villains.          

Lucius Vitellius the Elder

February 2nd, 2013

Roman Heroes, Roman Villains


Consul, sycophant and a survivor, Lucius Vitellius the Elder lived a successful life despite his close ties to the Imperial Family. He gained favor, if not respect, and was lavishly rewarded. This is all rather remarkable considering he lived through the reigns of Tiberius and Caligula.    

   According to Suetonius, Lucius was one of four brothers whose father was a Roman Knight and a steward of Augustus’ property. Lucius outlived his siblings, all of which held high office. One brother fell victim to Tiberius’ purges, another died while he was Consul, and the other was deposed from the Senate and died a natural death after being deterred from suicide.

   Lucius found himself appointed Consul and afterward became the Governor of Syria. He successfully brokered a deal with the King of the Parthians to retrieve the lost Eagles from a previous war. Shrewd at heart, his actions as a member of the Imperial court outshined his political career, in a manner of speaking. When Caligula recovered from his illness …or perhaps simply, once Caligula went mad; Lucius was the first to treat the young Emperor as a God. He veiled his head in the presence of Caligula and bowed to the tyrant.

   After Caligula’s assassination, Lucius became one of Claudius’ confidants. History paints a picture of poor old Claudius being completely under the thumb of his wives and freedmen. Either to add to Claudius’ shame, or perhaps catalogue the truth, it is said that Lucius played court to Messalina and the freedmen as well. Suetonius tells us that Lucius had gold statues of Claudius’ freedmen and that he honored them by placing the images with the idols of his own household gods. Suetonius also recorded that he begged Messalina to allow him the privilege of removing her slippers, and fawned over them as if they were a treasure. Picture a small banquet; with the guest arriving and servants taking to their knees to remove sandals and slippers, and then a Consul of Rome prostrates himself to the Emperor’s wife to remove her footwear. Well, the behavior was rewarded. When Claudius traveled to Britain, Lucius was left in charge of the Empire.   

   Tacitus reports that when Messalina set out to destroy a rival, Lucius aided her cause. Just as he had transitioned from Caligula to Claudius, he seemed to be keeping his options open in the event that Messalina continued to wield power after the death of her aged husband. Of course, Messalina miscalculated. When she divorced the Emperor and married the Consul-elect, Claudius’ freedmen took action. Narcissus feared that Lucius would attempt to aid Messalina, but instead Tacitus says that Lucius held his tongue and gave no advice on the subject of Messalina’s fate.

   Claudius’ next wife, Agrippina the Younger, gained a reputation for removing anyone who she felt was loyal to Messalina’s memory. Once more Lucius shows his savvy nature, not only did he survive her intrigues; he was given the office of Censor. What tales of undignified behavior are lost, that might give us a glimpse to how he treated Agrippina?  

   In 51 AD Lucius Vitellius died, one day after suffering from a stroke. He left behind a wife named Sextilia, two sons (one who would briefly become the Emperor of Rome, and both brothers would die because of the privilege.)  In addition to his family he also had a lover who was freedwoman. As the odd story related by Suetonius goes, he made a mixture of this woman’s saliva and honey and rubbed it on his throat as a medicine.

   Claudius erected a statue of his deceased friend on the Rostra; bearing the inscription: “Of unwavering loyalty to his Emperor.” Much can be said about Lucius Vitellius the Elder; he was shrewd, calculating and successful. He held the highest ranks and was trusted to watch over the Empire. Of course, this was in exchange for his honor and dignity. Was he truly loyal or was he an opportunistic sycophant, regardless- he was neither a Roman Hero nor a Roman Villain.

Vipsania Agrippina

Roman Heroes, Roman Villains

January 18th, 2013

The daughter of Agrippa, wife of Tiberius and a pawn of the Empire, Vipsania’s life was typical of a wellborn woman, even though her family connections were far from traditional.

   Vipsania’s father was Augustus’ right hand man, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. Without his help, it is hard to believe that Augustus would have triumphed over Marc Antony. Agrippa was also helpful with Augustus’ political manipulation. It was he who the people of Rome looked to, to keep Augustus in check.  Vipsania’s mother, sadly, proved to be one of her early role models.  Pomponia Caecilia Attica was the daughter of Titus Pomponius Atticus.  Atticus was the wealthy friend of Cicero’s, whose correspondence has given us such insight into the times.  Pomponia’s marriage was political arrangement that benefited both her husband and father, her disappearance from the history books makes it unclear if she died or was simply no longer of value.  By the time Vipsania was eight years old, her father had a new wife, and the historians had a new subject.

  Vipsania played the part of supporting cast, along with many of her generation, overshadowed by her powerful parent.  Let’s look at the main players; Augustus, Livia, Octavia, Marc Antonius and Agrippa. August had a daughter, Julia…who needed a husband. Augustus’ sister had a son, Marcellus…who needed a wife.  The cousins married. Livia had a son, Tiberius… who needed a wife. Agrippa had a daughter, Vipsania…who needed a husband. Marc Antonius left many children before his death…we will come back to one of them.

  By all accounts, Tiberius and Vipsania were the happy couple. Five years into their marriage, Vipsania had her first son, Nero Claudius Drusus.  Tiberius’ military and political career was advanced by his step-father, although not at the rate of Marcellus’.  However, when Augustus fell ill, and handed his signet ring to Agrippa rather than his son-in-law, Tiberius must have felt some sense of relief.  Had events followed a different path, Tiberius might have been Agrippa’s successor rather Augustus’.  Instead, Augustus recovered from his illness, while young Marcellus became sick and died.

 There had been a rivalry between Augustus’ nephew-turned son-in-law and Agrippa –who was Augustus’ nephew –in-law…Yes, let’s go back; Agrippa’s second wife was Claudia Marcella, the daughter of Octavia, and sister to Marcellus. With Marcellus across the River Styx, the family puzzle underwent some readjusting.  As a reward for his loyalty, Agrippa was allowed to divorce Augustus’ niece and marry Julia.

  With Agrippa swapping the cousins, this put Claudia Marcella on the market. Marc Antonius’ son proved the perfect match for here. Iullus Antonius had been raised in the same household as Claudia; while they didn’t share a parent; his father had been married to her mother. After Marc Antonius’ death, Octavia had raised many of his surviving children, alongside her children from her first marriage and the two daughters she bore him.

  Vipsania was witness to the ease of one stepmother’s removal; little did she know that her new stepmother would end up displacing her.  After Julia produced five children for Agrippa –seemingly enough heirs to the thrown- he died. As the story goes, Tiberius was forced to divorce his beloved wife, and marry Julia. Vipsania was pregnant at the time of the separation, and lost the child.

  With her ex-husband married to the mother of her half-siblings, Vipsania needed a husband. Gaius Asinius Gallus Saloninus, the son of Asinius Pollio was selected for the part.  His union to Tiberius’ former wife set his fate into motion.

  While Vipsania made a new life with her husband, giving birth to five, possibly six, more sons, Tiberius’ life went down a very different path.  His marriage to Julia was a disaster; he “retired” to Rhodes while Julia gained the reputation of a promiscuous woman. Her adulteries went unnoticed by her father until it became know that she was having an affair with Iullus Antonius – yes, the son of his enemy who had been raised by his sister and married to his niece.  Augustus realized the threat, if the son of Antony united with his daughter…well the word coup must have been bandied about.  Iullus did the smart thing and killed himself. Julia found herself exiled and in time, Tiberius returned to Rome.

  Vipsania would witness her ex-husband become the next Emperor, she would also be aware that her second husband taunted Tiberius and that the two dislike each other.  Did she feel safe, knowing that Tiberius hadn’t willingly divorced her, or did she live in fear?  Vipsania died at the age of fifty-six, just six years into Tiberius’ reign.  Fortunately she was survived by her sons, unable to predict that many of them would meet unfortunate ends.

  Vipsania was born to play the role of a marital link. Her connection to the Julio-Claudian family would dictate the lives and deaths of her children. Despite the wealth and privileges of her place, she lived her life at the will of both Roman Heroes and Roman Villains.  


Marcus Cocceius Nerva

Roman Heroes, Roman Villains

January 4th, 2013

Trusted by tyrants and the respectable, comfortable in the shadows of his rulers, and forced to choose an heir, Nerva’s reign fits neatly between a villain and a hero.  

   Nerva’s family graces the pages of history, alongside the notable names of Marc Antony, Augustus and Tiberius. His great-grandfather is credited with bringing about the reconciliation of Antony and Octavian in 40 BC. Nerva’s grandfather was the noble friend of Tiberius, who played companion to the Emperor at Capri. Names with less grandeur also drag Nerva’s family into record. His sister was married to Emperor Otho’s brother and his nephew was killed by Domitian.

   Nerva was a member Nero’s court. Rather than getting caught up in one of the plots against the Emperor, he is credited with helping to expose those involved in the Pisonian Conspiracy. Many who were close to the Emperor would not survive his paranoid reign as Nero turned on those closest to him, yet Nerva did so. He even kept his head during the “Year of the Four Emperors.”  

   While the Flavians ruled the Empire, Nerva would serve as Consul, twice. The man was obviously adept at court life. Content to be an advisor, he was successful and well rewarded. He served Vespasian, Titus and then the less popular, Domitian. After fifteen years of wearing the purple, Emperor Domitian was assassinated. Nerva no longer had a shadow to hide behind.

   In a rather savvy move, the Senate proclaimed Nerva as Rome’s new Emperor. He had been part of Nero’s court as well as Vespasian and his son’s, witness to both right and wrong decisions. It takes a rational man to advise and survive both tyrants and just rulers, proving Nerva’s ability to think clearly. Another factor to consider; Nerva was sixty-five years old and childless, the Senate wasn’t creating another dynasty, they were simply filling the position.  

   The succession of an Emperor is rarely an entertaining story with the hint of scandal. Much like Claudius’ assent, there were whispers that Nerva didn’t take part in the conspiracy, but that he was aware of the plot…and approved. His leniency toward the conspirators does invoke a hint of mystery.

   Nerva served his purpose to the Senate, at first. After Domitian’s despotic treatment, Nerva proved quite benign. To the people of Rome, who had grown indifferent to Domitian, he attempted to buy their good-will with tax-relief, land and similar gifts. The military was his weakness, and they knew it.

   Domitian had favored the military; Nerva’s attempt to strengthen the power of the Senate gave the Praetorian Guard reason for concern. These men, still loyal to Domitian, wanted their revenge. Luckily, a very easy solution was at hand. They invaded the Palace and took Nerva by force. Faced with the realization that he powerless to the Praetorian, he gave into their demands. Domitian’s assassins were put to death, and the aging Emperor even gave a speech to thank the men!

   The people of Rome never embraced Nerva and the Senate had learned he was a wise adviser to leaders…not a wise leader. Nerva seemed to step beside himself, and offered some of his old advice, he had no real base of power and no one to campaign his cause. An heir that would appease the military- minded just might save him.

   A successor was named. Nerva pleased the military when he adopted the forty-five year old Trajan. His heir had proven himself in battle, as well as diplomacy. Trajan was quickly named co-consul with the aging Emperor. Within months of the adoption, Nerva suffered from a stroke and died. The succession from one head of state to the next had virtually already taken place, making for an easy transition.

   Nerva’s reign was brief, few monuments bear his name. Perhaps, by force, his greatest accomplishment was to set in motion the succession of four of Rome’s most just rulers. Nerva brought balance to the Empire, replacing a tyrant and producing a true statesman…placing him between a Roman Hero and a Roman Villain.          

The Freedmen of Claudius…         

Roman Heroes, Roman Villains

December 21st 2012

Despite their social status, these men became wealthy, powerful…and perhaps, corrupt. Who would have guessed that poor Uncle Claudius would become Emperor? His rise to power wasn’t alone, besides his ambitious wife, Narcissus, Pallas, Felix and Polybius also found their lives significantly changed after the death of Caligula.

   Claudius’ mother, Antonia the younger, was a well-connected woman. She had, along with property, friends and clients throughout the Roman Empire. She didn’t manage this all on her own; she had a staff of qualified servants to aid her. At the time of her death, many of the slaves were given their freedom; some remained in the company of her son, Claudius.

  Antonia’s son had been shunned by his Imperial family, and it is easy to conjure up the picture of a handicapped young man, ignored by his peers, finding friendship among the slaves around him. Perhaps sympathetic to the outcast, this denizen looked on him with a bit of pity. Several relationships were certainly rewarded, when the unexpected happened.

   Caligula, Claudius’ nephew, was assassinated nearly four years into his reign. Claudius became Emperor and inherited one of his nephew’s freedmen, Callistus. Claudius allowed the freedman to keep his position, despite the fact that the freedman participated in the assassination of Caligula. Does this pardon promote the theory that Claudius knew of the plot as well? Regardless, Callistus continued to oversee the law courts, and to collect great wealth. One way or another, he seemed to have earned his due.

   Narcissus held more power than his colleagues, and was perhaps the most loyal of the lot. During the Roman festival to the God Saturn, it was common for slaves to be treated as freeborn, or even “trade roles with the master of the house.” On the occasion that Narcissus addressed a group of Roman soldiers who were on the verge of mutiny, a soldier cried out “Io Saturnalia.” – the invocation to the holiday. The revolt was over, the men were shamed and their loyalty returned to their Emperor.

  Claudius is accused of being easily manipulated by both his wives and his freedmen, Narcissus shows his upper hand when Claudius’ third wife betrays him. History would have us believe that Messalina was notorious for her infidelities; in fact it would seem that the only person in Rome who was oblivious to her behavior was her husband. In what seems the strangest attempt to overthrow the Emperor, Messalina publicly celebrates the rites of marriage to Appius Junius Silanus. Silanus was the Consul elect; perhaps the couple thought that her position and bloodline, and his political importance would empower them. Instead, Silanus killed himself and Messalina was executed after Narcissus exposed the incident to Claudius, who was away from Rome. Some accounts even credit Narcissus with giving the order to kill Claudius’ scheming wife.

   According to Josephus, Antonia sent a letter to her brother-in-law Tiberius, stating that his trusted Sejanus was a threat to him. The servant who delivered the fateful document was a man named Pallas. When Claudius came into power, he made the trusted family freedman the secretary of the treasury. Historians of the day painted him as a manipulative figure, deceiving Claudius and insidiously controlling the bureaucracy. True or not, this image of the devious former slave toying with the Emperor etched his name into history.

      Pallas’ brother, Felix, was a procurator in the East where he came in contact with Paul the Apostle. Recalled to Rome he was charged with extortion and misuse of power, giving some weight to the claims that Claudius’ freedmen were a conniving lot. Claudius’ attitude toward the men however can be sensed when Felix’s wives are examined. First, Felix was married to Claudius’ second cousin – a princess no less! His second wife was the daughter of Claudius’ friend Herod Agrippa –yes, another princess.  

   Taking up little space in the text books, is Polybius. He was Claudius’ secretary in the years before Claudius had anything to do other than write his histories. Polybius ran afoul with his patron early on. Messalina is given the credit for his demise, it is proposed the two were lovers and she had him eliminated. This colorful account pits Claudius’ scheming circle against each other, all to the point of discrediting the Emperor.

  After Messalina’s downfall, the Emperor needed a new wife. As the amusing story goes, his freedman each had a candidate. Callistus proposed that Claudius married Lollia Paulina, who had briefly been married to Caligula. Pliny the Elder reports that Lollia wore excessively expensive Indian pearls, imagine what would have happened to the treasury if she had become Claudius’ wife. Callistus had served Caligula, if this tale is invented; Lollia’s name was obviously chosen to remind us of the freedman’s link to the prior emperor.

   Narcissus is said to have suggested that Claudius remarry his second wife, the mother of his eldest daughter. Claudius had divorced Aelia Paetina when her relative, Sejanus fell from power. The reason given for Narcissus’ choice was that he feared the day that Messalina’s son would take his father’s place on the throne, after all it was he who gave the order to kill Messalina. If he championed Aelia, then perhaps her daughter’s husband would overshadow Messalina’s children. But this assumption is flawed; Claudius’ daughter with Aelia had married Faustus Cornelius Sulla Felix…Messalina’s half-brother.

  Pallas, it is said, had the perfect wife for Claudius – Agrippina. Yes, Claudius’ niece. The intriguing story is told that Pallas and Agrippina were lovers. The trusted Freedman turned his loyalty from the aging Emperor to the scheming niece. Fact or fiction, Agrippina was the prefect wife for poor Claudius. He was no one’s true choice to be Rome’s emperor. He’d been forced on the Senate by the Praetorian Guard, desperate for a figure head. His marriage to Messalina had been his best political match yet; they were both descendants of Marc Antony and Augustus’ sister. This relationship had helped his usurpation of the throne. The Senate and the People weren’t just getting one Imperial family member-they were getting two with the guarantee of Julio-Claudian descendants. After Messalina’s death, Claudius needed another wife with the right bloodline.

    In addition to her Julio-Claudian heritage, Agrippina brought another heir to the throne…Nero. Perhaps his ascension can be blamed on Claudius’ freedmen too? Faithfull Narcissus was away from the capitol when Claudius is said to have been murdered by Agrippina. His own end came soon after, it is said that Agrippina had her pay back for his suggestion of an alternate wife over her. Felix and Callistus’ deaths never made it on record, perhaps this means their final days were peaceful? Pallas, for all his power and wealth could not escape his destiny. Nero showed little appreciation for the freedman’s efforts on his mother’s behalf. Agrippina’s son killed Pallas nine years after Claudius’ death.

   Claudius’ life was depicted as a traditional farce, the scheming wives and the meddling servants…all out to deceive the master. Whether or not there is truth in the various tales, the freedman have become part of History’s tapestry of Roman Heroes, and Roman Villains.   


Io Saturnalia!

December 17th through the 23rd marks the days of Saturnalia, but don’t tell Augustus! What began as one day of celebration to the God Saturn eventually turned into Rome’s favorite holiday…complete with decorations and gifts. Saturn was the God of seed and sowing, with the end of autumn planting and the occurrence of the winter solstice, it was time to honor the deity. After a ritual of unbinding the statue of Saturn’s feet, liberating the God, was completed -the phrase “Io Saturnalia” was cheered and a public feast was held.  

   Saturnalia was a time of merriment, and the rigidity of normal day to day life was suspended. If the records of the day can be believed, in some households, masters waited on their slaves…or at least treated them as equals. Special feasts were shared, games of dice lost all taboo, gifts were exchanged and evergreens were decorated.

   Augustus, is credited for reducing the holiday period to three days, so that the courts wouldn’t be shut down for too long of a period. Of course, Augustus is also remembered for his attempt to legislate morality and perhaps the holiday and its relaxed spirit concerned him. Regardless, most celebrated the full seven days, and subsequent Emperors lengthened the official period.

   Evergreen trees were decorated with symbols of the sun and moon. Cuttings from the trees were taken inside the home and decorated as well. With fewer sunlit hours in the day, candles were both a traditional decoration and gift. In later years silver objects became the traditional gift, for those who could afford it.

   The Roman calendar was filled with festival days to honor the numerous gods and goddesses; Saturnalia was perhaps the favorite of the masses. Not only were slaves temporarily equal to their betters, but those who lived in the shadows of the wealthy might have enjoyed the thought of their patrons preparing a dining table for their servants. Literature of the times tells stories of the fun had by many, and reflections of resentment felt by the upper classes.

   A conical felt hat, the symbol of liberation, was worn in celebration…gambling and feasting to pass the time…a carefree spirit…yes, Io Saturnalia!         


Fulvia…                               December 14th 2012

Roman Heroes, Roman Villains

   Mother-in-law of Augustus, rival to Cleopatra, and the bane of Cicero, historians have delighted in retelling the story of Fulvia. Married to three different men who all etched their names into Roman history, Fulvia accomplished what few woman of her time were able to do, she became more than a footnote attached to a man’s name.

   As the daughter of Marcus Fulvius Bambalio and Sempronia, both from wealthy families, Fulvia was destined to marry well. Her first husband was the notorious Publius Claudius Pulcher. The Claudian family had long dominated the political world. Their name could be found on aqueducts, basilicas and a very long road stretching from Rome to Campania -known as the Appian Way.

   Claudius Pulcher’s life cannot be adequately summed up in a paragraph. He was a force to be dealt with in age filled with many notable figures. After the Social War, Rome was changing; the ambitious had witness that a single man could impose his will on both the Senate, and the people. All three of Fulvia’s husbands would find themselves caught up in the quest to rise above their contemporaries. The bullet points for Claudius Pulcher include: stirring up a revolt against his brother-in-law, being captured by pirates (and returned without ransom,) the Bona Dea scandal, where he snuck into the home of Caesar during a secretive religious rite performed by the leading women of Rome to seduce Caesar’s wife, and his hatred of Cicero.  

   Claudius Pulcher was certainly a grudge holder, and many of his actions seem motivated by revenge. Perhaps he would have lived a longer life if he’d had a level head, and fewer enemies. His end came when his entourage collided with his rival’s. A fellow instigator, named Milo, was unable to control his henchmen and when the fight was over, Claudius was dead. Ironically, the location of his demise was along the Appian Way. 

   Fulvia was left a widow with a son, a daughter, influence, ambition and a grudge. She went on to marry Gaius Scribonius Curio, a contemporary of Claudius’. Curio was connected to Julius Caesar, something all three of Fulvia’s husbands had in common. Fighting on Caesar’s behalf, he was killed by King Juba of Numidia.

   The next man in Fulvia’s life would prove to be her most famous husband. Marcus Antonius had also been married twice before he married Fulvia–if Cicero’s mention of a wife named Fadia is factual. Of course if all of Cicero’s assertions can be believed, Antony and Curio had once been lovers. Antony and Cicero were bitter enemies, and the new man turned Father of the Nation is well known for his exaggerated attacks. 

   Antony had proven himself a capable enough military man during his service to Caesar, but not the most adept statesman. After Caesar returned to Rome from pursing Pompey to Egypt;  he and Antony had a brief falling out, the result was that Antony didn’t take part in Caesar’s Triumphs. Instead, Octavian and King Juba’s young son were participants. Caesar was showing his pride in his grand-nephew, and his dominion of Numidia.  

   No more than a year before the fateful Ides of March, Cicero’s two enemies married. Fulvia brought to her new husband wealth and the allies of her former husbands…along with her undoing, ambition.

   After Julius Caesar’s assassination, Antony became one of the most powerful men in Rome. Caesar’s heir, Octavian, a respected noble named Lepidus and Antony surprised the Senate and Caesar’s assassins by eventually uniting forces. With the Formation of the Second Triumvirate   Lepidus, Octavian and Antony first divided the empire and then turned on themselves. Before the fallout, they put together a proscription list, both to drum up money and remove their enemies. Cicero’s name was among the doomed. Historians paint an ugly picture of Fulvia taking part in drawing up the proscription list. One story has it that the severed hands and head of Cicero were delivered to Fulvia, and that she took a hair pin and poked at the tongue that had spoken against her husbands.

   In an effort to strengthen the relationship between Octavian and Antony, Fulvia’s daughter was offered in marriage to Caesar’s heir. Lucius, Antony’s brother became Consul and it would seem that peace was on the horizon. Fulvia and Antony’s brother remained in Rome while Antony went to the East, his allotted third of the empire. With Octavian tasked at placing the retiring legionaries, dealing with the Senate, and attempting to avert a famine…Fulvia and her brother-in-law set out to discredit him.  

   Antony experienced both success and failure in the East. His fate was sealed when he allied with Cleopatra. Meanwhile in Italy, Fulvia manipulated a revolt against Octavian. ---Some colorful obscenities were etched on to the projectiles launched upon each other’s forces. Octavian also returned Fulvia’s daughter to her, breaking the family tie between them. As it turned out, Lucius didn’t have the authority of his brother and was unable to best his rival. Lucius surrendered to Octavian, averting any further disaster. With the revolt at an end, Octavian appointed Lucius as the governor of Spain. It was better to place blame on Fulvia than Antony’s brother. The question has been raised, was Fulvia working to the advantage of her husband, or had she created a situation that would pull him from Cleopatra’s grasp back to Rome? Whatever her motive was, she had failed. Fulvia fled to Greece, where Antony blamed her for the trouble that she had caused.  

   At this point History is done with Fulvia. An enigmatic ending awaited her in Greece. “Antony returned to Rome leaving Fulvia in the city of Sicyon, where she fell ill and died.” ---that sentence is the common epitaph for Antony’s infamous wife before the story of the Second Triumvirate moves on.   

   Fulvia’s daughter never makes it back to the history books after Octavian set her aside. Her eldest son, the younger Claudius Pulcher, seems to have survived into adulthood and made a stab at a political life. Little is recorded of him other than he surrounded himself with luxury and that some sort of scandal tainted his death. Some accounts, say that Octavian killed the son that she had with Curio, although other sources do not record his birth in the first place. Fulvia had two sons with Antony. For a time, both boys were the step-sons of Octavian’s sister (Antony’s next wife.) Octavian had the eldest boy killed at the age of seventeen, shortly after Antony killed himself. The youngest son was given back to his former step-mother and raised among the Julio-Claudian family. Of course Iullus Antonius wasn’t destined for a happy ending…after having an affair with Octavian’s daughter he copied his father’s exit route.  

   History is seldom kind to women who possessed ambition. Fulvia’s reputation may very well be “enhanced” as a way to remove blame from the men who quarreled with each other. Cicero attacked her, because she was easier prey than her husbands. Octavian practiced bad “PR” on Fulvia and perfected the trick with slamming Cleopatra to the point that Rome turned on Antony. Even her last husband was eager to place blame on the woman for her failed efforts to add his position. The times wouldn’t allow Fulvia to become, in her own right, a Roman Hero, she had no choice to but to become a Roman Villain.



Marcus Tullius Cicero…
                     December 7th 2012    

(Part 1 the early years)

Roman Heroes, Roman Villains

From obscurity to fame, an outsider who would be both loathed and lauded, few names in history are as recognizable as Cicero’s. Born in the town of Arpinum in 106 BC, Cicero was destined to play his part, among so many men bent on mastering Rome. He tried to keep the Republic from falling prey to the ruthless…in the end he wasn’t able to restore the preeminence of the Roman Senate, or save himself.

  Cicero would become a novus homo-a new man- and climb his way to the consulship. Born outside the city of Rome, from a wealthy equestrian family, he had connections among the elite who ruled Rome, but he wasn’t one of them, and this would influence his entire life…and perhaps Roman history. 

  Cicero’s father was able to place Marcus and his younger brother Quintus under the roof of Lucius Licinius Crassus, who was considered one of the finest orators in Roman history. Cicero would have found himself surrounded by the leading men of the day, and his insight into the lives these figures had to have shown him his own path.

   History records that Cicero was popular among his peers, and that his potential was recognized in his youth. Of course, Cicero was his own best publicist. While he studied law, Greek philosophy and wrote poetry, he came to know Titus Pomponius (Atticus) as well as Julius Caesar. Both of these young men would become meshed into his entire life. The three would each choose very different paths, while jointly witnessing the slow demise of the Republic.

  Crassus, Cicero’s mentor, died not long after giving a fiery speech to the senate, and soon afterward Rome was at war. When Rome’s neighboring allies revolted, Cicero found himself serving his country under the command of Cnaeus Pompeius Strabo- yes, Pompey the Great’s father. The Social War would be followed by the war between Sulla and Marius. By the time Sulla was the victor, and made Dictator, the authority of the Senate was greatly diminished. When the time came, Cicero was joining a weakened body fated to bow to, if not a dictator, a First Citizen. 

  Sulla brought order to the chaos, eliminating countless opponents along the way. In one day he proscribed eighty people who he considered enemies. The following day he upped the number to two hundred and twenty more. He didn’t stop there, months went by as he ordered the killing of anyone he considered a threat to The Republic.

  The story is famous to this day, Cicero’s career making case involving Sextus Roscius, the first murder trial since the end of the Proscriptions. Roscius was accused of having his father murdered. The elder man was visiting Rome and killed near a public bath, while his son tended to the family farm in the town of Ameria. The punishment for patricide was to be beaten, and then sewn into a sack with a dog, a cock, a snake and an ape, and then tossed into the river – colorful, ah?

  Roscius had not played a part in the murder of his father, instead the scheme was tied to Sulla’s proscriptions. A freedman of Sulla’s, Chrysogonus, connived with two men who had a long standing feud with the Roscius family. They arranged for the elder man’s death, and Chrysogonus added the dead man’s name to Sulla’s list. As an enemy of Sulla…or rather –the Republic, his property fell to public auction. Chrysogonus used his influence to lower the value, and bought up the holdings for a fraction of their worth, cutting his accomplices in for a share along the way. The unexpected happened, the elder Roscius’ neighbors rallied and called for his name to be removed from the proscription list, so that his son would inherit the family land. Chrysogonus intervened with the help of one of the conspirators, and met the party on behalf of Sulla. Promises were made to correct the matter. Well, if the elder Roscius wasn’t a criminal…let’s see to it that the younger Roscius is. The son was charged with his father’s death.

  Cicero’s isn’t always remembered as a brave man, but when he took on the defense of Sextus Roscius, he was actually challenging Sulla, and the corruption that the Dictator had spawned. He denied this at the time, but it is hard to believe that he risked his life for a stranger, it seems more true to his character that he was testing fortune to help bring redemption to the Republic. Roscius was acquitted, Sulla was shamed…and Cicero was on his way to becoming a Roman Hero.  


Rubellius Plautus                                                                                           November 30th 2012


Roman Heroes, Roman Villains 

Cursed with the blood of the Julio-Claudian’s, a political pawn and fated to an early death, Rubellius Plautus never had the chance to become either a Roman Hero or a Roman Villain.

   Rubellius was the great-grandson of Emperor Tiberius, the fact that Rubellius’ grandfather died before inheriting the thrown would make Rubellius a rival rather than candidate for the dubious position at the head of the Empire. Rubellius’ mother, Julia, had first been married to her cousin, the unfortunate Nero Caesar. According to Tacitus, Julia conspired against her husband and assisted Sejanus (Tiberius’ right hand) in destroying him. There are conflicting stories, working against each other in regards to how Julia would benefit by aligning with Sejanus. In one account, she was betrothed to him after her husband’s death. What makes this puzzling is the (other) story that her mother was having an affair with Sejanus, and had killed her own husband to advance her lover’s position. Regardless, Sejanus’ fall would change all of their schemes.

   Had Tiberius’s son, Drusus, not been killed by his wife, we would have become Emperor. In turn his own son might have then taken his place, leaving Julia the sister to the head of the Empire. Instead, Julia was left to marry Gaius Rubellius Blandus. He was of the equestrian rank, served as Consul Suffect and then Proconsul of Africa. Julia had fallen from being the wife of a Caesar, to the wife of man who was of little threat to her grandfather Tiberius. Had Sejanus married into his family, he would have been one step closer to potentially overthrowing the old man. Rubellius didn’t have the power or connections, making him a safe in-law.

  By the time Claudius became emperor, Julia and her husband had a son, Rubellius Plautus. Claudius’ wife, the ever colorfully document Messalina, saw the boy as threat to her son. Messalina, married to an aging man with a number of health issues, was driven to protect Britannicus’ path to power – and for good reason.  By Messalina’s design, Julia was accused of incest and immorality and perished by order of her uncle Claudius. Without his mother, it would seem that the ten year old Rubellius wasn’t as threating – to Messalina, at least.

   After all of her plotting, Claudius’ beloved third wife suffered the same fate she had inflicted on so many others and met her doom. Claudius had learned from her -and rather than eliminating a potential threat, he married it. His niece, Agrippina the Younger and her son Nero became his wife and adopted son.  

   As the story goes; once Nero was just old enough, Agrippina fed her husband a poisoned mushroom. Britannicus, was skipped over and Nero was given the thrown. Agrippina, a king maker, did her best to rule through him, but there was a bit of push back. One story goes that Agrippina toyed with turning on her own son and attempting to put Britannicus in his place. Claudius’ son died after a dinner party, leaving Nero with the upper hand.

   Intrigue continued between mother and son. Junia Silana, who was the sister to one of Caligula’s wives and the ex-wife of Messalina’s lover – Gaius Silius, involves herself in the family strife. She accuses Agrippina of plotting to assist the forgotten Rubellius to overthrow Nero. There is no evidence against Rubellius, but Agrippina’s ship has sailed. After Nero eliminates his mother, he becomes even more paranoid and the rumors take hold. Rubellius is first banished and then a few years later, killed.

  Rubellius Blandus could trace his bloodline back to Marc Antony and Octavia, and like so many other Julio-Claudians this prestigious link meant disaster and death. His sad life was directed by the whims of far more famous Roman Heroes and Roman Villains.                       

Tarquin the Proud...
                                                        November 23, 2012

Roman Heroes, Roman Villains

He usurped the thrown, he obtained the Sibylline Books, and was the last King of Rome, Tarquin the Proud. The Seven Kings of Rome are more Myth than Men and they were most certainly both Roman Heroes and Roman Villains.

   Kingship in ancient Rome was not a hereditary business; instead the kings were nominated by the Senate and voted upon –with exceptions, of course.  Tarquin’s predecessor was not nominated, and the story of his accession sounds familiar. Tarquin’s father, the fifth king of Rome, was stuck by assassins (by design of his predecessor’s sons) and either killed on the spot, or linger for some time, depending on the source. Tarquin’s mother kept up the pretenses that her husband was still alive and under her care, and pressed Servius Tullius to carry out the responsibilities of the King. Perhaps Trajan’s wife recalled this legend?

   Tullius’s origins are rather convoluted, he was the son of a woman named Ocrisia, who may well have been a slave to the Royal Family and closely linked to the King’s wife. History seems to remember him fondly, but historians can be kind to maximize their point, a martyr mixed with a villain makes for a better story.  Tullius married his daughter of to his benefactor’s son, and this would be his doom.

   So it is said, Tullius’s daughter, Tullia, encourage her husband to overthrow the King. Tarquin, who felt entitled to the thrown once held by his own father, did so. Tullius was killed by the mob, and in one colorful tale, Tullius’s body was driven over by his daughter in her chariot.

  Tarquin the Proud, eliminated rivals within the Senate and went on to instigate many battles with Rome’s neighbors. During his reign he would take part in one of Rome’s more curious stories, the acquisition of the Sibylline Books. As the story goes, The Sibyl of Cumae presented Tarquin with nine books of prophecies. The price was too high and he refused to buy them. She burned three of them, and offered the remaining for the same price…again the king refused, and once more she burned three of them. Tarquin purchased the remaining three for the original price of all nine. Perhaps if he’d obtained them all they might have foretold of his impending downfall?  The books are said to have been stored in the new Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, however construction was not yet completed, still they would find their way there.

  While Tarquin was busy with a little more warfare, his son raped a noble woman named Lucretia. There are several legends telling this story, but all lead to the same consequences, Tarquin the Proud’ s downfall. Lucretia tells what has happened to her and then kills herself.  Her husband, who was a relative of the Royal family and another disenchanted family member lead a revolt against the king…the other family member …Lucius Junius Brutus. Yes, another legend is born.

   Tarquin would attempt to regain his thrown without success and finish his days exiled, strangely enough to Cumae. Tarquin the Proud would be the last king of Rome, his legend would live on, how could it not, the story is filled with Roman Heroes and Roman Villains.        








Gaius Calpurnius Piso…                                                       November 16, 2012

Roman Heroes, Roman Villains

He may have proven himself a Hero to Rome, he certainly proved himself a Villain to Nero, and for that, Piso’s name will forever be linked to the word Conspiracy.  

Piso was a member of the illustrious Calpurnii family, whose ranks included Consuls, Generals and the occasional criminal. He made his way into the history books first by losing his new bride to Caligula. The insane Emperor tired of her quickly and Piso found himself banished, Caligula claimed his new wife had an affair with Piso to get rid of her…he already wanted someone else’s wife…and Piso was punished. 

   Piso was recalled from exile by Claudius and even made his co-consul. Tacitus gives us a pleasant description of a handsome, smooth noble who’s well liked…but also indulgent and very much a creature of the times. Piso pops back up once Nero’s mother retires to Baiae. He has a splendid seaside villa, which was a perfect place for Nero to visit and orchestrate his mother’s death.

   Nero isn’t fairing too well by 65 AD, The Great Fire of Rome, the murder of his first wife, the persecution of the Christians, preforming on stage…to name a few things, seemed to be tarnishing his image. What’s needed now are conspirators. There are too many to name, at least 40 or more people would be tied to the plot to kill Nero and replace him with Piso.

   Subrius Flavus, a tribune of the Praetorian Guard and Sulpicius Asper, a centurion, are accused of hatching the plot. Piso apparently appeared to be a logical successor to Nero. Varying accounts make it hard to say if Piso lead the conspiracy or if he simply allowed it to use him and his good name in exchange for Nero’s position. 

   The most dramatic rendition, true or not, is that after Nero’s assassination, Piso and Antonia (The eldest daughter of the late Emperor Claudius) would marry, bringing Piso into the family of the Caesars. Scandalous, but perhaps untrue, poor Antonia would survive the Piso Conspiracy …at least for a while.  

   Nero was alerted to the plot by a freedman named Milichus. This man served one of the conspirators, Flavus Scaevinus. Nero, eager to see subversions, sent for Sceavinus and another accused fellow by the name of Natalis.  Realizing that the plot was finished, both men began pointing their fingers and a swath of well-placed men found their lives in ruin…Piso among them.  


   As arrests were made, Piso was urged by his fellow conspirators to mount the Rostra and call the populous to his side.  Instead, he rewrote his will to the benefit of Nero and opened his veins.

   Piso lived the quintessential Roman life that both favored him, and destroyed him. Had Milichus held his tongue, had Nero been killed, what kind of emperor would Piso have made? Might he have been a Roman Hero or a Roman Villain?  

Roman Heroes, Roman Villains                                         -October 12th 2012

Marcus Antonius, Pompey the Great and Sulla all come to mind when thinking about Romans who history has remembered as both Heroes and Villains.  The word History implies the term fact, which isn’t truly the case. Roman history is a collection of facts, hearsay, scandalous slander and myth.  

   The numerous etchings on monument walls, statues and graves all tell the story that someone wished retold. What we know about ancient Romans today might have a strong amount of truth in the mix, but one can never believe that the words of Tacitus, Suetonius, and their brethren are all true.   

   Emperor Claudius is fine example of being both a Hero and a Villain. The historians paint a just emperor when it suits their story and then he becomes an idiot when need arises. In contrast to Caligula, he’s referred to as a capable leader. Claudius built a new harbor, he enlarged the empire, and so on…until it’s time to assault women who came into power, or just as bad, Freedman. Claudius was cuckolded, by his villainous wife, Messalina; deceived by his last wife, Agrippina. Worse, as the historians would have you believe, he left the day to day running of the empire to his Greek Freedman.

   That which is scandalous is far more engaging than the lost facts. The image of Claudius hiding behind a curtain after his nephew was killed, fearing for his life, makes a wonderful image for those willing to believe he was a simple half-wit. The stories that Claudius was in on the plot and ready to take over the Empire, serves the purpose for those historians threading together a story rich with dark schemes.

   Had only the truth been recorded, what would History have made of the Romans? Perhaps their epic stories that still entertain and even shock us might not have been so fantastic? What if Caligula hadn’t wanted to make a horse a Consul; Tiberius might not have had people pushed off the cliff of his island retreat…can you imagine if Livia had been a devoted and loving mother? Would we still pick up the ancient writings of Appian, Tacitus, or Cassius Dio as often? Enjoy the History, fact or fiction…Heroes and Villains.      

Scipio Africanus…                                                                        -October 19th 2012

Roman Heroes, Roman Villains

The bane of Hannibal, the hero of Rome and a self-exiled man…these are all descriptions of Scipio Africanus. 

   The Second Punic War is too vast of a topic to chisel down to a mere paragraph. In the end, Scipio received his due credit for bringing the disastrous war to a close.  He was celebrated for his numerous battles, his ingenuity and determination. Scipio was hailed a hero and offered many honors, such as Dictator and Consul for Life, and unlike so many more men- hungry for power- he refused.

    Less than ten years passed before Scipio was called upon by the Senate to solve another dispute.  Rome declared war on Syria. Scipio, along with his brother Lucius, defeated their enemy, Antiochus III.  

   Prestige, power, and success often proved to be a man’s downfall in Rome, just as quickly as failure. Upon their return to Rome from Syria, the political enemies of Scipio brought on a prosecution of his brother. Charged with misappropriation of funds, Lucius was quick to declare his innocence.  Scipio realized this was truly an attack on him and he seized the moment. He fought in his brother’s defense and the charges were dropped, only to be attached to his own name. But Cato the Elder and his circle of men, envious of Scipio’s success, miscalculated. The people of Rome rallied to Scipio’s cause.   

   The man who saved Rome from Hannibal retired to his villa in Liternum, along the Campanian coast. There are stories of a mysterious death, which of course surround men who accomplish so much and find themselves mired in scandal.  Despite his achievements, and the obvious love of the Roman people, Scipio’s enemies managed to tarnish the lasting memory of the man. Disliked for his admiration for all things Greek; accused of corruption and immorality, Scipio Africanus is a perfect example of how ancient historians created from the same men, both Roman Heroes and Roman Villains.  

Ovid...                                                                   -October 26th 2012

Roman Heroes, Roman Villains

Publius Ovidius Naso; scholar, poet and exile. Perhaps the terms hero and villain might be a bit strong for poor Ovid, yet his life is an example of extremes. Famous in his day for numerous works of poetry, Ovid would die in exile, far from Rome.

   Ovid was born just one year after the assassination Julius Caesar.  This meant that he grew up during the unique area as Empire took over The Republic. Trained in rhetoric, and holding several public posts, Ovid left the traditional path to higher office to pursue poetry.  

   Written two thousand years ago, his works still survive. His collections are a study in themselves, ranging from erotic to epic. These works brought him fame and patronage; of course they also caused his downfall.

   Nothing stands the test of time like a scandal, and a mysterious one is even more likely to endure. The artist who created “The Art of Love,” “The Metamorphoses” and “The Cure for Love” was destined to write “The Sorrows” and “Letters from the Black Sea.” Ovid was exiled to Tomis, a barbarian little place along the Black Sea, in 8 AD. A few theories depict Ovid’s downfall, but the true answer is a mystery.  At the time, Augustus, who despite much smoke and mirrors redirecting the truth, was the ruler of Rome. Without any consultation to the legal system, Augustus had two of his grandchildren exiled, Agrippa Postumus and Julia the Younger, this was around the same time as Ovid’s banishment. Julia’s husband wasn’t so fortunate; he was put to death for conspiracy.  So perhaps the children of Julia the Elder were conspiring behind the back of the man who exiled their mother, it is an intriguing thought. What part did Ovid play?

   Roman History isn’t always factual, but as it is recorded, Ovid’s patron was Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus. It is believed that he was the brother-in-law to Augustus’s cousin, Quintus Pedius.  This places Ovid closer to Augustus, and still closer, Ovid had associations with Augustus’s old friend Maecenas.  All three of these men have had mixed dealings with Augustus…poor Ovid, another theory to send you into exile.

   Ovid, born to wealth and privilege, pursued his gift and wrote many amazing collections of poetry. These works have helped to further the modern understanding of Roman culture. His influence will forever be invaluable. Like so many other noteworthy Roman’s, fate pulled a cruel trick on him, but as he once said, “Bear and endure: This sorrow will one day prove to be your good.” Despite his banishment, he did endure and two thousand years later, his words still bring him immortality.  


   Did the poet’s erotic and scandalous themes anger Augustus or was he in some way helping others to plot against the Father of the Nation? His fantastic works live on regardless of if he was a Roman Hero or a Roman Villain.    

Germanicus...                                                     -November 2nd 2012

Roman Heroes, Roman Villains

The nephew of Tiberius and victim of a mysterious death, Germanicus, has primarily been remembered in a positive light. Perhaps if he’d lived a little longer, or had his uncle not been implicated in his death, historians might have found a bit more fault in the man.

   Germanicus was the son of Drusus, also remembered as a Roman Hero, and Antonia, thus he had a few notable grandparents…Livia and Marc Antony, who both suffered the wrath of the historians. The young man seemed destine for greatness. He was married to Augustus’s granddaughter, uniting the Julian and Claudian lines. He was favored by Augustus, and if Tacitus is correct, the old Emperor compelled Tiberius to adopt Germanicus in order to place his niece’s son ahead of Tiberius’s own son on the route to succession. A Consul by the age of 27, a respected soldier, yes all the makings for greatness, or complete disaster.

   When Augustus died, Tiberius was conveniently at hand while Germanicus was in Germania. History states that Tiberius was already disliked by the Senate and that had his nephew been in closer proximity, and agreeable to the notion, Germanicus would have been offered Augustus’s titles, privileges and power.

   Germanicus’s troops rioted for numerous reasons after Augustus crossed the River Styx. It has been said that they even tried to persuade him to usurp his uncle’s wavering claim to power. Instead he took charge and did the one thing that took a soldier’s mind off low wages, unfair conditions and coups, he set them loose on the Germans.

   Germanicus directed many brutal battles against the Germans, and wagged war for three years with success, of sorts. He had gone against Augustus’s wishes to limit the boundary of the Roman Empire to the Rhine. He had also been resistant to returning to Rome, giving a suspicious Tiberius cause to question the young man’s motives.

   Now let’s move on to a questionable trip that Germanicus made with his family as he traveled to the east. Egypt was the breadbasket of Rome; Augustus had understood its importance and kept control over the country rather than letting it become a province. He chose who governed the territory and even who traveled there. Fearful that a powerful politician or general might usurp his position, Augustus’s approval was required to journey to the mystical land. 

   Germanicus, the grandson of …yes…Marc Antony, preceded to Egypt without Tiberius’s approval. Perhaps, he did not realize that the rule still applied? Yet it seems a strange miscalculation. His wife, Agrippina the Elder was already considered a haughty individual. She was not only the granddaughter of Augustus, but she was also the daughter of Tiberius’s former wife and enemy. Take a man who has had a difficult life, and made emperor at an advanced age, who has reason to fear you and dislike your wife and then defy rules that his predecessor set in place… you have to wonder what might happen? Enter Piso.

   Piso and his wife Plancina have been blamed for removing Germanicus, at the behest of Livia or Tiberius. While serving as governor of Syria, Piso is said to have clashed with Germanicus, who had been sent to oversee all of the Eastern Provinces. Here we have what makes Roman History so very tantalizing, a suspicious death creating dynastic intrigue. Did Augustus’s golden boy fall ill, or did a jealous Tiberius eliminate a rival? 

   Germanicus would not succeed Tiberius as Augustus had wished, nor would Tiberius’s son. Instead, by an interesting twist of fate, Germanicus’s son would become the next Emperor. Caligula, a name tainted with scandal was thought to be a perfect choice to rule Rome. The people rejoiced, hating Tiberius and still sympathetic to poor Germanicus.  Ironically, despite Marc Antony’s loss at Antium, his descendants found themselves called…Caesar. 

   Germanicus’s memory didn’t suffer the historian’s wraith as so many of his family members did. This might be attributed to an early death, the abundant sordid stories attached to his contemporaries, or perhaps genuine good character.


   The grandson of Marc Antony, and grandfather to Nero, Germanicus fell somewhere between the typical Roman Heroes and the Roman Villains.

A fantastic book with many interesting details on Germanicus is “Antonia Augusta: Portrait of a Great Lady” by Nikos Kokkinos. The in-depth study of Antonia sheds much light on her family and the era.  

Marcus Aemilius Lepidus…                                                 November 9th 2012

Roman Heroes, Roman Villains

A Roman success, a Roman failure, might better describe the Triumvir who lost his share of the Empire. Lepidus’s colleagues overshadowed him, Marc Antony and Octavian not only dominated the political scene, they left Lepidus as little more than a recognizable name mentioned along their footnotes.

   Lepidus’s father foreshadowed Julius Caesar, ambitious, dangerous and a threat to the Republic. Marching his army from Gaul towards Rome (sound familiar?) he sparked fears of civil war. Defeated, he spent his remaining days exiled to Sardinia.

   Despite his father’s disgrace, Lepidus did well for himself. A supported of Caesar, he was shown many favors and elected Consul in 46 BC. As Dictator, Caesar appointed him Master of Horses. Of course, the Ides of March would scrape the wax slate clean.

   Lepidus’s wife was the half-sister to Marcus Junius Brutus, and their other sister was married to Gaius Cassius Longinus, both men famous for their roles in Caesar’s assassination. Longinus favored killing both Lepidus and Antony alongside Caesar. Brutus saw things differently, believing that Caesar’s death alone would bring about the return of the Republic.

   Advancing past the assassination---Antony briefly came to terms with Brutus and Longinus, afterward, Antony’s eulogy to Caesar turned the populace against the assassins. The conspirators fled, and the Republic was far from restored. Antony’s rise to power also became tenuous; he arranged to take over the province of Cisalpine Gaul. This might have been a devious ploy on Antony’s part, because his intentions of governing the region meant the removal of the current administrator, a member of the conspiracy to kill Caesar. A siege broke out between the two armies upon Antony’s arrival.

   Cicero, who needs little introduction, lead the cry to declare Antony a threat to the Republic, and also mistakenly championed Caesar’s heir…Octavian. In the end, Octavian was granted an imperium to “command” the army sanctioned by the senate (including many of Caesar’s veterans, turned loyal to his heir.) Octavian defeated Antony, and as the fates would have it both Consuls were killed, leaving the Senate at Octavian’s mercy.

   Lepidus, who had been trusted by the Senate, aligned with Antony and –skipping quite a few details- to everyone’s surprised Octavian saw the benefit of joining them. In essences they all became Dictators, or better known as the Second Triumvirate. Leadership of Rome was divided so that Antony took the Eastern provinces; Octavian held Italy and the West, leaving Africa and Hispania to Lepidus.

   While Antony and Octavian quarreled, one might have thought Lepidus was waiting for his chance to eclipse his colleagues. After Caesar’s death, he had been named Pontifex Maximus and must have been the most moderate of the three. With the right throw of the dice, perhaps he could have a brokered a partnership, similar to Octavian’s future arrangement, with the Senate. 


   If Lepidus had been plotting, waiting for his chance, he decided to act after Pompey the Great’s son had been driven from Sicily by Octavian, Agrippa and himself. With fourteen legions at his command, he claimed the victory, and the island. This did not set will with Octavian. Of course he didn’t have to put up with this for long. Lepidus’s men ended up turning on him, and joining Octavian’s army.

   Lepidus, like his father, failed. He was spared and left to live the rest of his life in Circeii. For whatever reason it suited Octavian to let Lepidus retained his position as Pontifex Maximus. With Lepidus forgotten, Antony and Octavian were left to spar over the Empire.

   Typical of so many Romans leaders who held the most powerful offices, Lepidus lost all that he had fought for. Supreme power was just within his grasp, Octavian is proof of that…ah, but then Antony’s demise clearly shows that he could have done worse. Even here in this extremely abbreviated retelling of events, poor Lepidus seems overshadowed by the two men bent on destroying each other…and the Republic.


So which was Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, a Roman Hero or a Roman Villain?