Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘roman history’

 

gladiator mosaicIt’s a sunny day in Pompeii on April 8th in this first year of the reign of Imperator Titus Caesar Vespasianus Augustus (AD 79). The crowds surge toward the amphitheater for the games given by D. Lucretius Stater Valens, a lifelong priest to the cult of the deified Nero Caesar Augustus. The placards pasted on the walls in the forum promise, “ten pairs of gladiators owned by his son D. Lucretius Valens and wild animal hunts, as permitted by law. The seats will be shaded with awnings.” Pompeii’s is the oldest stone amphitheater in the empire. For one hundred-fifty years it has proudly hosted games and religious festivals, but it’s looking dated next to the modern Flavian Amphitheater which will open next year in Rome. The frescoes of gladiatorial combat and beast hunts decorating the walls surrounding the sand are fading, but the patrons come for the blood sports, not the art.

The spectators pass into the open spaces surrounding the arena where merchants and food vendors hawk their wares. The scent of fresh bread, roasted meats, and sour wine waft through the crowd to mingle with the odor of sweat and hair pomade. People look at their wooden tickets and enter the appropriate gate to spread throughout the amphitheater: the front rows reserved for the leading citizens; the middle for the lesser knights and merchants; and the top for the poor, slaves, and women. Some resent the class divisions at the arena. At the chariot races in the hippodrome, it’s open seating (except for the emperor, of course!) and women mix with the men. (more…)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Before I researched my newest novel, Sword of the Gladiatrix, I got most of my ideas and impressions of gladiators from the media: Russel Crowe in Gladiator and (for those of us of a certain age) Kirk Douglas in Spartacus. More recently Starz had a fantastic (in more ways than one) show that ran for three seasons titled Spartacus: War of the Damned. All of these shows perpetuate some myths that I hope to bust wide open in this post. They also got a couple of things right, which I’ll point out.

Myth #1: All gladiators were men.

female-gladiator-statue

Bronze statue of a gladiatrix

Most were, but not all. Here I’ll give Gladiator a weak thumbs up—they had women in chariots fighting against a group of men in a re-enactment of a classic battle in an arena scene, but other than that, women gladiators don’t show up in most visual media. It’s left to us lowly writers to correct the balance. If you look closely, women in the arena show up in art, literature, and law. Sword of the Gladiatrix was inspired by a particular stone carving of two female gladiators in the British Museum. More recently, archaeologists have uncovered a bronze statue of a gladiatrix holding a sica—a curved sword. Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio, Martial, and Juvenal all write about female gladiators—usually (except for Martial) with some element of dismay or sarcasm. An organizer in Ostia brags on his tombstone that he was the first person to put women in the arena as fighters. My favorite evidence is in the law: The first Roman Emperor Augustus forbade recruiting noble and free women as gladiators. Nearly two hundred years later, Emperor Septimus Severus banned single combat by women in the arena. If women weren’t being recruited and fighting, why have a ban? Human nature being what it is, these prohibitions probably made the fights all the more popular because they were illegal. I’m sure female gladiatorial contests continued for some time. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Boudica in stained glass.

Image of Boudica in stained glass in Colchester Town Hall.

It’s Women’s History Month and I’ve exhausted my favorite topic of Hypatia, Lady Philosopher of Alexandria. Time to move on to another fascinating woman who has been extensively mythologized: Boudica, Queen of the Iceni (a British Celtic tribe) in the first century AD. For those of you unfamiliar with her story, here is a brief summary.

Some Background

Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 BC and again in 56 where he had some military success against local tribes. He withdrew to Gaul and never returned to Britain. Roman influence in Britain grew over the next 80 years due to increased trade. The British tribes quarreled and Caratacus, the leader of the Catuvellauni expanded his tribe’s territory at the expense of the Atrebates. The Atrebates chief Verica appealed to Rome and gave the Emperor Claudius an excuse to invade Britain in AD 43. General Plautius led the assault and Claudius joined him with reinforcements. They took Caratacus’ stronghold Camulodunum (modern Colchester) and established the first Roman colonia—towns founded for Roman citizens—on British soil. Eleven tribal kings surrendered. Claudius declared Britain a Roman province.

Caractacus continued to fight, leading the western tribes in Wales in guerrilla actions against Plautius’ successor Scapula, known for his brutal pacification campaign in the south. Scapula finally defeated Caractacus in 51. Caractacus fled a to the Brigantes tribe (in modern-day Yorkshire) but was betrayed by their Queen Cartimandua and handed over to the Romans. In 59 and 60, the Roman governor Caius Suetonius Paulinus (during Nero’s reign) led the successful invasion and pacification of Wales and the Isle of Anglesey, the seat of the Druids. (more…)

Read Full Post »

weary herakles

A bust of Herakles returned to Turkey.

You can’t kick a stone in the Middle East without uncovering an artifact. It’s an archaeologist’s paradise and a diplomat’s nightmare. When it comes to biblical-related stories, there’s always a furor. Does this artifact “prove” Jesus lived or does this inscription substantiate the story of David and Goliath? The past couple of months provided several stories touching on biblical narratives. The trend in returning looted artifacts to their rightful home is continuing with a couple of good news stories. Finally, it’s been thirty years since Indiana Jones made archaeology sexy in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But Dr. Jones preferred a bull whip and pistol to scientific methods. We’ll see what scientific innovations have evolved since Indy’s time. First story in our lineup: the city of Shekhem; supposedly the final burial site of Joseph of the many-colored coat. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Leptis Magna, Libya

Arch of Roman Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus at UNESCO World Heritage Site: Leptis Magna, Libya

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is calling on all sides in the Libya conflict to protect North Africa’s wealth of ancient treasures. Five Libyan sites are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, including the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna and the ancient Phoenician trading post of Sabratha, close to the capital Tripoli. In the rebel-held eastern section, the ancient mountain city of Cyrene is vulnerable. (Map of threatened areas. Link to original story.)

Under the Qaddafi regime, the ancient Roman and Greek cities dotting the Mediterranean coast have suffered from neglect. Qaddafi preferred to develop the oil of his country (Libya has about 2% of the world’s reserves) and little money was spent on developing the tourist industry or protecting important archaeological sites. Sheep are penned in the Greek theater at Cyrene and goats roam the ruins. Locals are hoping that tourism will bring some prosperity to their area when hostilities cease.  (Link to original story.) (more…)

Read Full Post »

Death of CleopatraI’ll be doing a regular round up of archaeology and history stories that make it into the mainstream press every couple of weeks with links to the original stories. The focus will be on Roman history, but anything that catches my fancy will be fair game. This post features several finds in Britain including a hoard of coins, a controversial skeleton initially thought to be a female gladiator, and the graves of 97 infants; Roman frescoes, canals and looted artifacts; and renewed speculation over Cleopatra’s death. Snakebite or poison?

I don’t know if it’s because the stories are printed in English, Britain has an abundance of archaeologists and amateur treasure hunters, or some other fluke of randomness, but fully half the stories that caught my attention this round up are from Britain. We’ll start with the bones and end with the treasure.

In Caistor (from the Anglo-Saxon ceaster meaning Roman camp or town), archaeologists have discovered a large, well-organized late Roman cemetery. They’ve recovered 46 sets of human remains from the site of the derelict Talbot Inn which is being redeveloped into a Lincolnshire cooperative food store. The remains – including complete skeletons – will be studied and reburied. Colin Palmer-Brown, Director of the Pre-Construction Archaeological Services Ltd team overseeing the site believes there are “hundreds if not thousands of people buried in this part of Caistor.”

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Gladiator CD CoverThis is the first of a series of essays/reviews on “sword and sandals” epics from movies and TV shows during the past few years.  I love history and historical fiction.  I love to read it, write it and watch it.  When an epic hits the big screen, I eagerly plunk down my money, buy popcorn, cheer the good guys, and boo the bad guys.  It’s fun, but I have no illusions about the accuracy of the historical content.  Movie producers are first and foremost entertainers who want to earn a profit from their product.  Part of the entertainment for me is seeing what they get right and what they get wrong.

My first review is for Gladiator directed by Ridley Scott, which came out in 2000.  I watched it in the theater and recently reviewed the DVD.  So let’s check the facts: (more…)

Read Full Post »