Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Brennus and the First Sack of Rome

I'm about two-thirds of the way through Steven Saylor's latest epic novel, "Roma", and am enjoying it very much. I just finished a section about the first sack of Rome by the Gauls under the command of Brennus. Most of my study has concentrated on the Late Republic so I didn't know much about this first sack other than when it occurred and it was the Gauls who did it.

However, Steven's characters are among the defenders that fortified themselves up on top of the Capitoline and held off the Gauls for seven months. I always assumed the sack was over in a few days like most sacks but it went on for quite a prolonged period. I also did not realize that the Veii question was so disruptive. I knew the Romans had conquered Veii but I assumed they simply added its people to the expanding Republic. I didn't realize the people were sold away into slavery and the city was left abandoned. Perhaps its people were treated so harshly because of the legendary massacre of the 300 Fabii at Cremora.

"Within a year of the victory at Cremora, the Etruscan navy, in conflict with Greece, was destroyed by Hieron of Syracuse, off of Cumae. The result was a military disaster for the Etruscans that they never really seemed to recover from. The various city states of the Etruscan league, including Veii, devolved more and more into separate unrelated entities, thereby losing the strength of mutual protection. Veii, despite its recent upper hand at Cremora, was forced to make a treaty with Rome.

Within this time frame a more consequential series of events were taking place, however. Celtic Gauls had been migrating into northern Italy from the 6th century BC and establishing themselves at or near Etruscan territory. Raids and warfare with these people would have a debilitating effect on the Etruscans and play directly into the growing strength of Rome. The Gauls so weakened the Etruscans that the Romans, between 406 and 396 BC, went on the offensive.

It's about this period in history that Livy tells us of the legendary Roman hero M. Furius Camillus. Under his command Fidemae was retaken from Veii, and then the city of Veii itself came under siege. According to the legend, the Siege of Veii lasted 10 years, but its description is so closely paralleled to the Homeric Siege of Troy, that we must take into account the propaganda used by ancient sources to inflate the glory of Rome. The actual siege probably lasted considerably less time, though the introduction of a paid professional legion during this course of events indicates that it was a protracted campaign. The siege was finally broken, in 396 BC, when the Romans supposedly drained Alban Lake. This not only would divert water supplies from the city but allowed access for Roman soldiers to sneak under the walls through empty stream beds. In the end, whatever the truth behind the legend may be, Camillus was credited with saving Rome and bestowed with the unending admiration of the Romans throughout its history.

Gaining Veii, the Romans, in stark contrast to their general conquest policies of incorporation, destroyed much of the city and drove out many of the Etruscan residents. The territory was allotted to Roman citizens, and four new tribes were created: the Stellatine, Tromentina, Sabatina and Aniensis." - Veii and the Etruscans,

Therefore, when the Gauls practically destroyed Rome, the hotly debated question became whether to rebuild Rome or to transfer her entire population to the empty city of Veii only twelve miles away. The hero Camillus was instrumental in persuading the people to rebuild Rome although those jealous of his success constantly complained that he was enriching himself through building contracts since he controlled most of the spoils and property from the Veii conquest.
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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Gallic-Romano mythology - Tarvos Trigaranus

I uploaded some more images from the Met today and among them are several images of a bronze three-horned bull (unfortunately the center horn is missing) that was recovered from Octodurus, a city founded by the Emperor Claudius, in Switzerland.

It's a wonderful sculpture and I'm so glad the piece was not melted down as it appears to be part of a statue that had been rendered apart in preparation for scrapping. It made me curious about the worship of a three-horned bull so I researched it further and learned that the three-horned bull, sometimes called Tarvos Trigaranus, was worshiped by the Celts in Gaul and Britain.

According to an article by Susan Read, Martin Henig, and Leslie Cram that appeared in the journal Brittania, art depicting three-horned bulls was common in northeastern Gaul. They said it seems to have been derived from statues of two-horned bulls from Campania that were constructed with a crescent between their horns. They mention four such statues found in Britain - one in Maiden Castle at Dorset, one from the Jewry Wall Site in Leicester, one from Southbroom near Devizes in Wiltshire, and the last a pipeclay figurine, "certainly an import from Gaul", found at Colcester.

I also read an interesting description of a divination to determine a new Celtic king using a bull.

"Bulls were used in divination in both Ireland and Scotland. At Tara a new king might be chosen in the tarbfheis, `bull-feast' or `bull-sleep', in which a bull was killed and a man ate his fill of its flesh, drank its broth, and then lay down to sleep. After an incantation had been chanted over him by four druids, the dreamer would know the new king in his dream. In Scotland a person might answer an important question about the future (no king was to be selected) by wrapping himself in the warm, smoking hide of a newly slain bull in a remote place, such as near a waterfall. Upon going into a trance the person would have the answer. This method was known as taghairm." - Celtic Mythology, Oxford University Press.

Apparently the three-horned bull even found its way to the standards of the Roman Legions:

"...standards of ala Longiniana (CIL XI11 8094) and cohors I Gallica (ILS 9127) appear to have been adorned with animals popular in Gallic religious
iconography - respectively, a three-horned bull (Green 1976, 13) and a small boar.6 Such animals almost certainly appeared on signa of the type referred to by Tacitus (Germ. 7; Hist. 4.22), borne by the pagi and tribal groupings of the Gauls (Royrnans 1990,19). They appear open to different symbolic interpretations: depending on the cultural perspective of the viewer, they could have been seen primarily as traditional Gallic tribal totems or as Roman military regimental standards." - The Roman Army As A Community .
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Thursday, June 14, 2007

After 10 Years Curtain Rises on Rome Reborn

There's been quite a bit of publicity about the newly announced website for the Rome Reborn project at the University of Virginia this week. Naturally, I had to go up and take a look. This project originated way back in 1996.

Almost eleven years have passed and, although I commend Dr. Frischer's vision and efforts, I must admit to being a bit disappointed upon viewing the VR models presented on the website. I have seen more realistic models built by game companies in a fraction of the time. I think a collaboration with professional graphic artists would yield much better results much more quickly. Unfortunately, collaboration between game companies and educators has been very slow in coming. The Rome Reborn project is a prime example of a worthy activity that could benefit greatly from such a cooperative effort. Check out my full post in the "Academic Presentations on the Roman Empire" section below.
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Monday, June 11, 2007

Boscoreale Wall Paintings Featured in Renovated Greco-Roman Galleries at the Met

I am heading home today from my first visit to New York City and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. To say I almost suffered an art meltdown is an understatement! I spent two full days at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (and still only saw a fraction of the art there!) and was thrilled to discover they have a number of wall frescoes from villas in Boscoreale. They're quite stunning and I notice the women in them were painted with the wide eyes seen in many Greco-Roman mummy portraits from Egypt. They made me even more excited about seeing Boscoreale in person in October!

"Boscoreale, an area about a mile north of Pompeii, was notable in antiquity for having numerous aristocratic country villas. This tradition endured into the time of the Bourbon kings, as is attested by the region's name, the "Royal Forest," which implies that Boscoreale was a hunting preserve. Some of the most important wall paintings surviving from antiquity come from a Roman villa at Boscoreale built shortly after the middle of the first century B.C. The villa, which was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D., is referred to as the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor, one of its owners during the first half part of the first century A.D. Excavated in the early 1900s, the villa's frescoes are among the most important to be found anywhere in the Roman world.

The villa at Boscoreale is a variant of the so-called villa rustica, a country house of which only a small part functioned as a farmhouse (pars rustica). The majority of the villa served as a residence for the owner, a member of that class of wealthy Roman citizens who owned more properties of this kind and used them as country houses. The painted decoration of the villa at Boscoreale, which was executed sometime around 40–30 B.C., attests to the original owner as a rich man with exquisite taste. The fact that the mid-first-century B.C. decoration was not replaced by another, more contemporary, decoration in the first century A.D. is a clear indication that there was already an awareness of the quality of the frescoes in antiquity.

The surviving paintings are extremely fine examples of the late Second Style, the most renowned style in Roman wall painting. Throughout the frescoes from the villa at Boscoreale there are visual ambiguities to tease the eye, including architectural details painted to resemble real ones, such as rusticated masonry, pillars, and columns that cast shadows into the viewer's space, and more conventional trompe l'oeil devices, such as three-dimensional meanders. Objects of daily life were depicted in such a way as to seem real, with metal and glass vases on shelves and tables appearing to project out from the wall. Cumulatively, these trompe l'oeil devices reveal the Republican owner's evident pleasure in impressing guests at his comfortable summer retreat." - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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