Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pewter Calathus featuring scenes of Vespasian's Legio II Augusta unique holiday gift

A few days ago I received an email from Calix Imperium, a new giftware company in the UK, that is offering, just in time for the holidays,  a beautiful pewter beaker called a Calathus after a vase-shaped basket often found in Greek painting and sculpture that represented fruitfulness.  The company's first release depicts three members of Vespasian's Legio Augusta - a centurion, an aquilifer and a legionary dressed in an Imperial Gallic helmet and the famous lorica segmentata body armor.

"He [The centurion] is depicted wearing the Imperial Gallic helmet (Cassis) surmounted with the insignia of his rank, the transverse crest. His body armour is mail (Lorica Hamata) with strips of leather (pteruges) protecting his upper arms and groin."
"Over his mail he wears a harness, on which are attached his various medals (phalarae). The large shield (Scutum) with a central boss is adorned with the Legion emblems, the CAPRICORN and the edge of the PEGASUS. These shield emblems where found on the Arch of Orange in France and deemed to be associated with Legio II Augusta." 
"The Centurion is seen wielding his principal weapon, the short sword (Gladius); his secondary weapon, the dagger (Pugio) is shown on his right side. To complete his body armour he is wearing greaves (Ocrea), in this case with decorative embossed Lion heads." - Calix Imperium

More pictures and descriptions may be viewed on the Calix Imperium website.  These 5 1/2" beakers are exceptionally detailed and would be a great addition to any Roman history buff's collection!  I wonder if my husband is listening??!!
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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Review: "Gods of War" by Jack Ludlow

Note:  Contains historical references that may be considered spoilers if the reader is unfamiliar with this period of Roman history

In the third book of Jack Ludlow's "Republic" trilogy, the protagonist, Aquila Terentius, having gained battle experience in the Servile War on Sicily, returns to Italy and makes his way to Rome where he hopes his adoptive brother may help him in his quest to achieve the destiny foretold by his adopted mother and the ancient soothsayer, Drisia.

Background and story up to now

Aquila is the bastard son of a Druid chieftain named Brennos and the wife of Aulus Cornelius Macedonicus, the Roman proconsul charged with putting down a revolt of Celts in Iberia led by Brennos.  The Lady Claudia is captured by the Celts in an ambush and when she is rescued two years later, Claudia is found pregnant.  Her husband, Aulus, assuming the child to be a product of rape, exposes the child soon after it is born.  But Claudia has wrapped a golden amulet shaped like an eagle in flight around the child's foot in hopes that the child will be found and reared by some other loving Roman family.

That family turns out to be an old legionary named Clodius Terentius and his wife who name the boy Aquila after the gold charm they found wrapped around his foot.  Clodius, a poor excuse for a farmer, barely scrapes by  as an occasional day laborer  but loves the little tot with red gold hair and bright blue eyes.
One day Clodius is duped into another stint in the legions by a wealthy neighbor who promises to care for Clodius' family if Clodius would serve in the legions in his stead.  So little Aquila is left to wander the fields around the tiny Terentius hut alone until one day he meets a Celtic slave named Gadoric.   Gadoric pretends to be crippled so he will be left alone to watch over a wealthy neighbor's flock rather than sent off to hard labor on the Roman's large latifundia on Sicily.  Gadoric suspects Aquila may be at least part Celt because of his tall stature and coloring.  So, Gadoric teaches Aquila his language and how to use a spear.  He also teaches him all the secrets of hunting and reading the signs of life in the forest and hills which ultimately proves quite useful when Gadoric's deception is discovered and he is shipped off to Sicily and Aquila is left alone once more.  (End of Book 1: "Pillars of Rome" - see full review here)

After his adoptive mother dies, Aquila falls in with a motley cadre of ex-gladiators led by a former Centurion in his father's legion named Flaccus.  Flaccus has stopped by the wealthy neighbor's farm to bring the news of Clodius' death at the battle of Thralaxas in Illyria.  The group sails to Sicily where they are contracted to serve as overseers of a large farm there.  But Aquila becomes entangled in the Servile War when he finds Gadoric and helps him and a Greek slave named Hippolytas to escape.  But Hippolytas, a charismatic fellow who claims to have visions, is convinced all the slaves can unite and drive the Romans back to Italy and sets about organizing a slave army to pillage the surrounding countryside.  Aquila, given command of a number of the men, tries to limit the brutality of the slave army.  But, he becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the slaves' hatred for Romans since Aquila considers himself Roman.   So Aquila eventually retreats to the mountains to avoid any further conflict with them.

The treacherous Greek, Hippolytas, secretly sends an envoy to the Romans to negotiate a peace that includes betrayal of Gadoric and the slave army in exchange for wealth and a large villa on the Italian mainland.  When Gadoric is ambushed and meets a warrior's death, Aquila follows the Greek and the co-conspirators back to Italy where he wreaks his bloody revenge upon them for the death of his friend.  (End of Book 2: "Sword of Revenge" - see my full review here)

Now a seasoned warrior, Aquila heads towards Rome, wearing the eagle amulet proudly around his neck.  Aquila is unaware that the amulet is the original talisman worn by the rebel Celt Brennos with a mystical destiny attached to it.  The Celts in Iberia believe the man who wears the amulet will one day bring down Rome.

In Rome, Aquila is not given any encouragement by his step brother Demetrius but befriends his "nephew" Fabius.  After some dubious adventures, Aquila talks Fabius into joining the legions with him.  Unknown to Aquila, his legion is on its way to Iberia to fight the rebellious tribes being led by Brennos, Aquila's real father, who has taken over a hill fort named Numantia.

The events of what became known as the Numantine War are the focus of this third (and last) novel of the series.

Aquila's 18th legion first serves under Quintus Cornelius Macedonicus, the oldest son of Aquila's stepfather, Aulus Cornelius Macedonicus, although neither man knows of the relationship.

Historically there really was a Quintus Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus who fought in Spain.  But I think the character of Quintus Cornelius Macedonicus represents Quintus Fabius Maximus Aemilianus, the adopted son of Lucius Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus, the model for Aquila's step father, Aulus Cornelius Macedonicus (see my original analysis of character models in my review of the first book in the trilogy, "Pillars of Rome").

The Roman senate sent Quintus Maximus to quell an uprising of the Lusitani, a Celtic tribe inhabiting what is now modern day Portugal, led by a chieftain named Viriathus.  In the novel, paralleling actual history, Quintus brought two legions that had never engaged in warfare before, as well as inexperienced staff officers that were brought along for political reasons.  Despite repeated provocation of the surrounding Celtic tribes, Quintus just dig in and concentrates on exercising and training his men.

"But Maximus declined an engagement with the whole army and continued to exercise his men, frequently sending out skirmishing parties, making trial of the enemy's strength, and inspiring his own men with courage. When he sent out foragers he always placed a cordon of legionaries around the unarmed men and himself rode about the region with his cavalry. He had seen his father Paullus do this in the Macedonian war." - Appian, Roman History, The Spanish Wars

In the novel, one of the skirmishing parties, led by one of Quintus' inexperienced greedy and ambitious junior officers, marches into the territory of a tribe allied to the Romans.  He has been told by an informer from a non-allied tribe that the friendly Celts were planning to lure the Romans into a trap and kill them.  Why the officer would believe a non-friendly Celt over his allies is a mystery but he figures he can turn the tables and plunder the properous friendly village that sprawls out before him like a plum ready to be picked.

The village elders come out and greet the Romans warmly and offer hospitality.  The Roman officer appears to accept their welcome but under his breath issues orders to kill all the males as soon as they enter the village.

This incident sounds very much like an actual event recounted by Appian:

"... the elders of the city came out wearing crowns on their heads and bearing olive-branches, and asked Lucullus what they should do to establish friendly relations. He replied that they must give hostages and 100 talents of silver, and furnish a contingent of horse to the Roman army. When all these demands had been complied with, he asked that a Roman garrison should be admitted to the city. When the Caucaei assented to this he brought in 2,000 soldiers carefully chosen, to whom he gave orders that when they were admitted they should occupy the walls. When this was done, Lucullus introduced the rest of his army and ordered them at the sound of the trumpet to kill all the adult males of the Caucaei. The latter, invoking the gods who preside over promises and oaths, and upbraiding the perfidy of the Romans, were cruelly slain, only a few out of 20,000 escaping by leaping down the sheer walls at the gates. Lucullus sacked the city and brought infamy upon the Roman name. The rest of the barbarians collecting together from the fields took refuge among inaccessible rocks or in the most strongly fortified towns, carrying away what they could, and burning what they were obliged to leave, so that Lucullus should not find any plunder."  - Appian, Roman History, The Spanish Wars

Aquila attempts to dissuade the officer but the officer angrily dismisses him and orders Aquila and his men to return to base camp.  But as Aquila travels back through the narrow defile leading to the little valley where the friendly village is located, he notices large number of horse tracks that were not there when the skirmishing party passed through earlier.

He finds the non-friendly Celts preparing to ambush the Romans after they have plundered the friendly village.  It takes all of Aquila's skill to avert the ambush and rescue the foolish  officer and rest of the Roman force.  Aquila uses tactics that sounded similar to those described by Appian in another engagement.

"When he discovered the ambush he divided his horse into two bodies and ordered them to charge the enemy on either side alternately, hurling their javelins all together and then retiring, not to the same spot from which they had advanced, but a little further back each time. In this way the horsemen were brought in safety to the plain." - Appian, Roman History, The Spanish Wars

Quintus is furious when the skirmishing force finally returns to base camp but goes ahead and claims the body count so he may enjoy a triumph when he returns to Rome at the end of the year.  But Quintus does not return to Rome with his troops.  Aquila's 18th legion must remain behind to continue the struggle to pacify the Celts.  However, Aquila receives a silver Spear for his bravery and courage, the first of many honors, and a promotion to Centurion.

A reconstruction of an early Celt-Iberian House courtesy

As the years pass, Aquila becomes increasingly more frustrated as each year a new consul from Rome appears to plunder the territory and gain enough of a body count to claim a triumph in Rome.  Aquila finds their greediness and foolishness totally inexcusable but rescues them from certain defeat time after time, garnering even more honors and a promotion to Primus Pilus in the process.

Finally, a real commander with military experience and integrity arrives on the scene.  In the novel, he is named Titus Cornelius Macedonicus, the younger son of Aulus Cornelius Macedonicus.  Historically, the commander was Scipio Aemilianus, the actual son of Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus.

Titus decides to lay siege to Numantia, the most powerful hill fort in central Iberia, to finally bring an end to the Celt-Iberian Wars.  But first he must restore strict discipline to the troops that had been left in Spain and had grown demoralized and out of shape over the years .   With Aquila's help, Titus orders the expulsion of all of the legions' camp followers and sets about retraining the legions to bring them back into fighting condition.  This coincides exactly with the preparations of Scipio Aemilianus.

"When he arrived he expelled all traders and harlots; also the soothsayers and diviners, whom the soldiers were continually consulting because they were demoralized by defeat. For the future he forbade the bringing in of anything not necessary, or any victims for purposes of divination. He ordered all wagons and their superfluous contents to be sold, and all pack animals, except such as he designated, to remain. For cooking utensils it was permitted to have only a spit, a brass kettle, and one cup. Their food was limited to plain boiled and roasted meats. They were forbidden to have beds, and Scipio was the first one to sleep on straw. He forbade them to ride on mules when on the march; "for what can you expect in a war," said he, "from a man who is not able to walk?" Those who had servants to bathe and anoint them were ridiculed by Scipio, who said that only mules, having no hands, needed others to rub them." - Appian, Roman History, The Spanish Wars

Under Aquila's guiding hand, the Romans once more become a formidable force and Aquila is promoted to second in command.  Titus' legate, Marcellus Falerius, son of the ruthless politician that was the childhood friend of Titus' father, resents Aquila, claiming such a low born plebian has no social right to such an elevated position.  But Titus stands firm on his decision.

I found it ironic that Marcellus was so haughty to Aquila.  In the first book we discover that Marcellus is really the bastard child of a barbarian slave and the wife of Lucius Falerius Nerva, a ruthless politician who paid the slave to have relations with Falerius' wife because the politician was apparently sterile but wanted an heir.  Of course Marcellus does not know and never learns of the deception.

Titus does respect Marcellus, though, and finds him to be a promising officer.  So Titus grants Marcellus the command of an attack force against the Lusitani  to keep that formidable tribe busy so they cannot come to Numantia's aid.

Marcellus accomplishes this by building a fleet of ships and launching his attacks by sea. The sea battle passages in the novel are thrilling and extremely well written.  However, I could not find any historical references to indicate the Lusitani were defeated in this way.  But, after all, this is a novel, right?

I was really tense reading the sea battle passages, though, because I remembered that in the end of book 2, Marcellus visits the Sybil and receives what he thinks is a mundane prophecy saying he will inherit his father's fortune.  As the sole heir to Lucius Falerius Nerva, Marcellus does inherit his "father's" financial fortune but Sybilline prophecies are never what they seem.  Marcellus' real father was betrayed by Falerius who hired assassins to kill him.  The ex-gladiators succeed in wounding the slave but he escapes by leaping into the Tiber River.  However, the river's current is too swift and the barbarian is eventually pulled under and drowned.  So, every time Marcellus gets into a sea battle I was always afraid he would end up wounded and drowned.  I really liked the character of Marcellus so I didn't want him to suffer that fate.

Anyway, back to the story!

Titus lays siege to Numantia.  To prevent the inhabitants from escape or from bringing in provisions, Titus has the men build a boom of logs across the Durius River that courses through the hill fort.

This, too, parallels history quite closely.

"... the river Durius, which took its course through the fortifications, was very useful to the Numantines for bringing provisions and sending men back and forth, some diving and others concealing themselves in small boats, some making their way with sail-boats when a strong wind was blowing, or with oars aided by the current." 
"As he was not able to span it on account of its breadth and swiftness, Scipio built two towers in place of a bridge. To each of these towers he moored large timbers with ropes and set them floating across the river. The timbers were stuck full of knives and spear-heads, which were kept constantly in motion by the force of the stream dashing against them, so that the enemy were prevented from passing covertly, either by swimming, or diving, or sailing in boats." - Appian, Roman History, The Spanish Wars

To prevent the nearby Arevaci tribe from coming to the aid of the Numantines, Titus sends Aquila as his envoy to dissuade them.   During his years in Iberia, Aquila, who already knew some of the Celtic language from his years with Gadoric, taught himself to speak the local dialect so was the perfect candidate for an envoy.  When Aquila meets Masagori, the chieftain of the Arevaci, the leader spots the golden eagle amulet around the neck of this Roman with the red-gold hair who resembles a younger version of Brennos, the old Druid leading the Numantines.  Recognizing Aquila as the manifestation of the ancient prophecy, the Arevaci agree to withdraw.

But, as the Numantine plight becomes desperate, one night Brennos orders a group of his men to assault the Roman log boom as a distraction so he and a handful of horseman can ride to the Arevaci for help.

"...a man of the greatest valor, induced five of his friends to take an equal number of servants and horses, and cross the space between the two armies secretly, on a cloudy night, carrying a bridge made in sections. Arriving at the wall he and his friends sprang upon it, slew the guards on either side, sent back the servants, drew the horses up the bridge, and rode off to the towns of the Arevaci, bearing olive-branches and entreating them, as blood relations, to help the Numantines. - Appian, Roman History, The Spanish Wars

But Masagori refuses Brennos and tells him of the tall red-haired Roman with an eagle amulet.  He says Brennos has brought on his own destruction by planting his seed in the belly of his enemy.

However, some of the younger warriors of the Arevaci, hoping to gain personal glory in this monumental struggle, voice their support of Brennos even though their chieftain will not relent.

"The chiefs of the Arevaci, fearing the Romans, would not even listen to them, but sent them away immediately. There was a rich town named Lutia, distant 55 kilometers from Numantia, whose young men sympathized with the Numantines and urged their city to send them aid. The older citizens secretly communicated this fact to Scipio." 
"Receiving this intelligence about the eighth hour , he marched thither at once with a numerous and well-equipped force. Surrounding the place about daylight, he demanded that the leaders of the young men should be delivered up to him. When the citizens replied that they had fled from the place, he sent a herald to tell them that if these men were not surrendered to him he would sack the city. Being terrified by this threat, they delivered them up, to the number of about 400. Scipio cut off their hands, withdrew his force, rode away, and was back in his own camp the next morning." - Appian, Roman History, The Spanish Wars

Brennos then seeks help from the Lusitani but Marcellus has done his work well and the Lusitani fear they no longer have the favor of their gods.  So Brennos returns to Numantia where he meets a grisly fate and the mighty hill fort of Numantia falls.

The present day archaeological site of Numantia
courtesy of

"Many, directly after the surrender, killed themselves in whatever way they chose, some in one way and some in another." 
"The remainder congregated on the third day at the appointed place, a strange and shocking spectacle. Their bodies were foul, their hair and nails long, and they were smeared with dirt. They smelt most horribly, and the clothes they wore were likewise squalid and emitted an equally foul odor. For these reasons they appeared pitiable even to their enemies. At the same time there was something fearful to the beholders in the expression of their eyes - an expression of anger, grief, toil, and the consciousness of having eaten human flesh." 
"Having reserved fifty of them for his triumph, Scipio sold the rest and razed the city to the ground." - Appian, Roman History, The Spanish Wars

So, do the visions described by the old crone, Drisia those many years ago come to pass at last?  You'll have to read the book yourself to find out.  But, Ludlow leaves several loose ends at the end of the novel.  Will Aquila use his newly acquired status to enter the political arena and support reforms that will eventually lead to the destruction of the Roman Republic?  Will Marcellus oppose Aquila and lead the opposition into a civil war?   Will the prophecy of the amulet totally come true and Aquila or his descendants eventually bring down the Roman Empire? I'm afraid we'll never know since Ludlow has moved on to other historical time periods and settings.

I still found this final installment of Ludlow's Republic Series offers enough resolution along with excitement and vibrant characters to be a very gratifying read, though.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Rome II: Total War promises amazing graphics for future documentaries

Today I had a chance to view a trailer for the upcoming video game "Rome II: Total War" and was simply awestruck by the sense of reality the game delivers.  In fact, I thought at first I was watching a live action clip:

In addition to encouraging a new generation to become interested in Roman history, the first iteration of "Rome: Total War" was used to create some very informative graphics for such documentary series as the History Channel's Decisive Battles and the BBC's Time Commanders The game was so wildly popular that a large "mod" community grew up around it who developed everything from new textures to unit editing and the ability to play previously unplayable factions.  Battle reenactments available in the original game include:

Additional expansion packs like Rome: Total War: Alexander added the ability to assume the role of Alexander the Great and Rome: Total War: Barbarian Invasion provided maps of Europe during the decline of the western Roman Empire and interactions with

Now it looks like the new game will extend Roman reach farther east than the original version.   Furthermore, with the huge strides in computing capabilities that have occurred in the last nine years (game is scheduled for release in 2013),  a new graphics engine that will power the visuals of the game and new unit cameras will allow players to focus on individual soldiers in the battlefield.  Creative Assembly pointed out that they wish to bring out the more human side of the war this way, with soldiers reacting with horror as their comrades get killed around them, and officers inspiring their men with heroic speeches before siege towers hit the walls of the enemy city. This will be realized using facial animations for individual units, adding an unbelievable feel of horror and realism to the battles.  That aspect of the game is what I find most intriguing.

I've always thought it would be culturally insightful to be able to play through sequences in the "down time" of an ancient soldier and sit around a campfire to hear stories from your comrades' lives and emotionally bond with them.  I'd like to attend the pre-battle preparations, speeches and reading of the auspices as well as participate in post-battle mop up and a brilliant triumph.

Game designer Creative Assembly also plans to include a bigger role for ancient navies.  I wonder if the Roman galleys will be equipped with a corvus?  When I read John Stack's novel Master of Rome , I learned that the corvus was actually only used for a few years because it could throw a galley dangerously off balance in stormy conditions.  It would be an interesting addition that a player could choose to use or not based on the impending battle conditions.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Review: The Sword of Revenge by Jack Ludlow

The Sword of Revenge is the second book in Jack Ludlow's "Republic " trilogy.  One of the main protagonists in this novel is the young outcast, Aquila, the son of the wife of the famous Aulus Cornelius Macedonicus and a Celtic warlord named Brennos who captured her in a Celtic raid in Iberia (ancient Spain).  Aquila has grown up on the small farm of an old ex-legionary who discovered the infant abandoned in the woods with no indication of his parentage except a gold talisman depicting an eagle in flight wound around his foot.

Clodius raises the child as his own but Clodius is a better soldier than a farmer so the struggling family must rely on hunting and fishing just to put food on the table.  One day, Clodius, having drunk a little too much wine, is tricked into accepting the offer of a wealthy neighbor, Piscius Dabo, who says he will provide for Clodius' family if Clodius would serve in the legions as  the wealthy neighbor's surrogate.  In truth, Dabo has previously served in the legions but has found it much more profitable to stay home and buy up all the surrounding farms from other neighbors who have gone off to serve the Republic.

Roman Slave Medallion photographed at the
Terme di Dioclezione in Rome, Italy by
Mary Harrsch

With his adoptive father gone, Aquila spends his days in the surrounding hills hunting until one day he comes upon what appears to be an old shepherd.  However, Aquila discovers the man is really a one-eyed Celtic warrior named Gadoric who was captured by the Romans and masquerades as a feeble cripple to avoid being sent to Sicily to work on the large latifundias (farms owned by wealthy Roman senators) there.  The Celt is mystified by Aquila's tall, blonde appearance and feeling a kinship with the boy, teaches him to use a spear and a bow despite the fact that if the warrior, now a slave, should be found with weapons he could be crucified.

The Celt becomes a surrogate father to the youth and the two become inseparable.  But one day Aquila finds the Celt has been discovered and watches tearfully as his friend is led away in shackels towards Sicily.  More misfortune follows when his adoptive mother dies and he must go to live with the despised Piscius Dabo.

The other protagonist whose story runs parallel to Aquila's is Marcellus Falerius, son of Lucius Falerius, one of the two main characters from Book 1 who has, as yet, escaped the fate prophesied by the Sybil when Lucius and his boyhood friend Aulus clandestinely sought out the Sybil as children.

Cumaen Sybil by 
Andrea del Castagno 

One will tame a mighty foe, the other strike to save Rome's fame.
Neither will achieve their aim.
Look aloft if you dare, though what you fear cannot fly.
Both will see it before you die.

The old crone had scratched a drawing of an eagle in flight on a scrap of papyrus and tossed it to the two boys but as Lucius caught it, the image burst into flame, but not before searing the image into each boy's mind.

Before the climactic battle of Thralaxas at the conclusion of Book 1, Clodius, serving as a legionary under the great Macedonicus, had scratched his adopted son's eagle talisman in the dirt where Aulus stumbled across it before his bloody death at the Thermopylae-like defeat.  But Lucius is unaware that the first half of the prophecy has come to pass as he visits the tomb of his old friend at the beginning of Book 2.

Lucius Falerius grew up to become an ambitious politican and was the man who had ordered the murder of the tribune of the plebs (a character based on Tiberius Gracchus) because the man supported legislation to redistribute land to the poor.

A monument to the Gracchi by Eugene Guillame, French, 1853.
Photographed at the Musee d'Orsay by Mary Harrsch.

Falerius viewed this legislation as a move that would destroy the Rome he knew, directed by the wealthy elite known as the Optimates.  Although his ruthless act had caused quite a stir at the time, Falerius, claiming innocence, expertly manipulated the strings of power to overcome the opposition and become the first man in Rome.  Now aging, he works desperately to pass on his knowledge of the political machine to his son, Marcellus.  But Marcellus, actually the son of one of Falerius' barbarian slaves and Falerius' wife, unlike his "father", harbors an innate athletic ability that makes the martial arts come naturally to him.  Although he learns the political lessons his father drills into him, he, as yet, is not the ruthless singleminded individual his father has become.  And, he is beginning to chafe under his father's constant surveillance although he remains obedient to his father's commands.

This information is provided in the lengthy prologue as well as artfully woven throughout the fabric of the narrative as needed to make the novel stand on its own for readers who have not yet read Book 1, "The Pillars of Rome".

Then, "The Sword of Revenge" formally begins.

Flaccus, an old centurion who served with Aquila's adoptive father, shows up at the Nabo farm with a band of ex-gladiators on their way to take over the management of one of the large farms on Sicily.  Flaccus tells the boy of his adoptive father's death.  So, Aquila, without any further reason to stay, decides to throw in with Flaccus and his toughs and heads for Sicily hoping to find his old friend Gadoric.

Flaccus has made a bargain with the wealthy Cassius Barbinus, Aquila's vicious neighbor who owned Gadoric, to go to Barbinus' other farm on Sicily and "crack the whip" so to speak to improve the land's yield in return for a large percentage of the excess profit.

On the way to Sicily, some of Flaccus' ruffians sneak out at night to murder and pillage the surrounding countryside to enable them to buy wine and women.  I thought this was an excellent way Ludlow has chosen to introduce his readers to the dangerous environment of this period in Rome's history.  Such activities during this time were clearly described by Roman historian, Diodorus Siculus in his narrative about The First Servile War.

"With such licence given to men who had the physical strength to accomplish their every resolve, who had scope and leisure to seize the opportunity, and who for want of food were constrained to embark on perilous enterprises, there was soon an increase in lawlessness. They began by murdering men who were travelling singly or in pairs, in the most conspicuous areas. Then they took to assaulting in a body, by night, the homesteads of the less well protected, which they destroyed, seizing the property and killing all who resisted." - Diodorus Siculus

A bronze Roman coin bank depicting a beggar girl 25-50 CE.
Photographed at the Getty Villa by Mary Harrsch.

Once on Sicily, Flaccus,  implements a harsh regime, working not only the men but the women and children as he pushes hard to improve the farm's output.

"...they treated them with a heavy hand in their service, and granted them the most meagre care, the bare minimum for food and clothing. As a result most of them made their livelihood by brigandage, and there was bloodshed everywhere, since the brigands were like scattered bands of soldiers." - Diodorus Siculus

Soon a problem develops with runaway slaves who are banding together in the foothills and raiding the Roman estates.  This led to the revolt referred to as The First Servile War that lasted from 136 - 132 BCE.

A Roman villa rustica excavated at Boscoreale near Naples, Italy.  Photo by
Mary Harrsch
The governor of Sicily calls for a meeting of the farming overseers to try to come up with a plan to avert the looming slave revolt.  Now a trusted bodyguard for Flaccus, Aquila goes with Flaccus to the meeting.  But on the way there he discovers his old Celtic friend, Gadoric, bound to a stake along the roadside in preparation for his impending crucifixion.

Aquila slips away from the meeting and when night falls, he overpowers the guards near the crucifixion site and frees his friend and a Palmyran Greek slave staked nearby named Hippolytas.

The rest of the novel focuses on the slave revolt eventually led by Aquila's friend and the mysterious Hippolytas who convinces the slaves on the island that he has oracular powers and demonstrates his ability to commune with the gods by spewing flames from his mouth.  This character is obviously based on the slave leader Eunus who led the slave revolt on Sicily in 136 BCE.

"There was a certain Syrian slave, belonging to Antigenes of Enna; he was an Apamean by birth and had an aptitude for magic and the working of wonders. He claimed to foretell the future, by divine command, through dreams, and because of his talent along these lines deceived many. Going on from there he not only gave oracles by means of dreams, but even made a pretence of having waking visions of the gods and of hearing the future from their own lips. 
Of his many improvisations some by chance turned out true, and since those which failed to do so were left unchallenged, while those that were fulfilled attracted attention, his reputation advanced apace. Finally, through some device, while in a state of divine possession, he would produce fire and flame from his mouth, and thus rave oracularly about things to come. 
For he would place fire, and fuel to maintain it, in a nut -- or something similar -- that was pierced on both sides; then, placing it in his mouth and blowing on it, he kindled now sparks, and now a flame. Prior to the revolt he used to say that the Syrian goddess appeared to him, saying that he should be king, and he repeated this, not only to others, but even to his own master." - Diodorus Siculus

Ludlow even has one of his characters confront Hippolytas about the use of the fuel-containing nut in his mouth to produce the illusion he throws flames from his mouth during his mystical prophesies.

Like Eunus, Hippolytas grows increasingly pompous as his superstitious followers become more insistent he assume the role of king of the slave army.  But Aquila, appalled by the brutality of the rebels and Hippolytas' growing greed, withdraws to the hills.

Meanwhile, back in Rome, an attempt is made on the life of Lucius Falerius.  To recover from his wounds, the old fox decides to seek solace in the south of Italy where he can direct the activities of Titus Cornelius, son of his late friend Aulus and now a military legate, and his own son, Marcellus, who are preparing a Roman military response to the slave revolt on Sicily.

Historically, the slaves take over the south central town of Enna and are eventually defeated there through siege and betrayal.

"Cities were captured with all their inhabitants, and many armies were cut to pieces by the rebels, until Rupilius, the Roman commander, recovered Tauromenium for the Romans by placing it under strict siege and confining the rebels under conditions of unspeakable duress and famine: conditions such that, beginning by eating the children, they progressed to the women, and did not altogether abstain even from eating one another. It was on this occasion that Rupilius captured Comanus, the brother of Cleon, as he was attempting to escape from the beleaguered city. 
Finally, after Sarapion, a Syrian, had betrayed the citadel, the general laid hands on all the runaway slaves in the city, whom, after torture, he threw over a cliff. From there he advanced to Enna, which he put under siege in much the same manner, bringing the rebels into extreme straits and frustrating their hopes. Cleon came forth from the city with a few men, but after an heroic struggle, covered with wounds, he was displayed dead, and Rupilius captured this city also by betrayal, since its strength was impregnable to force of arms." - Diodorus Siculus
Eunus is captured alive and thrown into prison where he sucuumbs to disease and dies at Morgantina.

"Eunus, taking with him his bodyguards, a thousand strong, fled in unmanly fashion to a certain precipitous region. The men with him, however, aware that their dreaded fate was inevitable, inasmuch as the general, Rupilius, was already marching against them, killed one another with the sword, by beheading. Eunus, the wonder-worker and king, who through cowardice had sought refuge in certain caves, was dragged out with four others, a cook, a baker, the man who massaged him at his bath, and a fourth, whose duty it had been to amuse him at drinking parties. 
Remanded to prison, where his flesh disintegrated into a mass of lice, he met such an end as befitted his knavery, and died at Morgantina." - Diodorus Siculus

Ludow, however, moves the action to the southern coastal city of Agrigentum where he treats us to an exciting naval battle between a rebel-converted merchant galley and a Roman trireme.

The revolt also ends quite a bit differently than in the history books as Aquila takes his revenge upon the Greek charlatan leaving blood-spattered images of his eagle talisman in his wake.  The sketches are dutifully copied and transmitted to none other than Lucius Falerius, thereby fulfilling the fateful prophecy.

Meanwhile, Marcellus visits the nearby cave of the Sybil and receives a prophecy of his own that sounds relatively benign.  The prophetess tells the young man he will inherit his father's fortune.  But, although Marcellus is unconcerned, it sent a shiver down my spine remembering that his real barbarian father was betrayed by Lucius Falerius and set upon by assassins who wounded him so severely that when he sought escape by jumping into the Tiber he could not withstand the strong current and drowned.

So, I'm looking forward to Book 3 of Ludlow's Republic trilogy, "The Gods of War" to learn how Aquila fulfills his destiny and if Marcellus escapes his fate.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Getty to feature modern depictions of Pompeii catastrophe

Unlike many other 
exhibitions of archaeological material from Pompeii, The Getty Villa's new presentation,  The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection, scheduled to open September 12, 2012 and running until January 7, 2013, begins with modern representations of perceived Pompeian decadence.  

The prevailing idea that the cataclysmic eruption that destroyed the Vesuvian cities in A.D. 79 was a justly deserved punishment for sins has pervaded popular consciousness through art and literature up to the present day. This notion has inspired artists and provided a vehicle to present sensual scenes or subversive themes in an acceptable setting.  A highlight of this section is Francesco Netti’s most famous work, Gladiator Fight during a Meal at Pompeii (1880, Naples, Museo di Capodimonte), which depicts the aftermath of a mortal combat held at a Pompeian banquet for the entertainment of dissolute, drunken Romans, while ladies swoon after the victor.

Gladiator Fight at a Meal in Pompeii by Francesco Netti (1880)

But despite its seeming accuracy, achieved through the precise depiction of archaeological artifacts, this scene has little basis in ancient practice. Roman gladiators generally performed in public arenas and rarely fought to the death.  The painting, rather, can be viewed as a contemporary critique of mid-nineteenth-century Italian aristocrats. 
Also on display are photographs by Wilhelm von Gloeden and Gugliemo Plüschow, some from Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s personal archive, which record some of the best-known monuments at Pompeii populated by local youths staged in various states of undress. These photographs perpetuate a long-standing notion that Pompeii was a place of desire and erotic indulgence.

The second section examines the well-known apocalyptic event. Pompeii’s catastrophic demise has become the archetype for all subsequent disasters, whether natural or man-made. While eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artists often celebrated the terrifying yet beautiful power of nature, more recent artists have used the event to explore such issues as the aftermath of World War II and the angst of the Atomic Age.
 Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago
Flight From Pompeii by Giovanni
Maria Benzoni, Italian,  1873.
Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Sebastian William Thomas Pether’s Eruption of Vesuvius with Destruction of a Roman City (1824, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts) dramatically shows the volcano spewing lava onto the ancient city, but his depiction of Roman architecture and figures in early-nineteenth century dress cross temporal boundaries. Also, embedded in the gilt frame are pieces of what appears to be lava, but is actually trimmed wood burl. Thus, what was intended to add authenticity to the imaginary scene is itself false. Alternatively, Andy Warhol’s Mount Vesuvius (1985, Pittsburg, Warhol Museum), with its vibrant palette and cartoonish effects, demonstrates that serial reproductions and kitsch are not just hallmarks of Pop Art, but also relate to the proliferation of images of the famous volcano. 
The exhibition also explores the famous body casts of Vesuvius’s victims. Since the invention of the plaster casting technique in 1863, body casts of victims have captured the imagination of the public through photographs of such artists as Giorgio Sommer, whose image on view of the famous cast of a dog found in the House of Vesonius Primus at Pompeii has served as an iconic representation of the suffering of the victims.
Cast of an unfortunate animal victim of
the 79 CE Vesuvius eruption.  
Photographed at Boscoreale, Italy by
Mary Harrsch.

Widely reproduced, it has been featured in numerous modern and contemporary works of art including Robert Rauschenberg’s Small Rebus (1956, Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art) and Allan McCollum’s sculpture The Dog from Pompeii (1991, New York, Artist/Friedrich Petzel Gallery), which appear in the exhibition. The body casts on display in the exhibition are modern works, made from the now lost voids of disappeared bodies. Although we react to them emotionally, they are far removed from Vesuvius’s ancient victims. 
Another myth about Pompeii is its state of preservation. Few people realize that during World War II, the archaeological site was badly damaged by bombing carried out by American and British fighters seeking to disrupt German resupply routes nearby. After the war, many of the damaged structures were quickly rebuilt. Included in the exhibition are items from the Getty Research Institute’s special collections, which record the destruction caused by the bombing and detail the locations of the strikes. 
The exhibition concludes with an examination of archaeological fantasy and the attempts of artists to resurrect the ancient city. For over three hundred years, buildings and artifacts excavated at Vesuvian sites have advanced scientific reconstructions of daily life in the classical world. 
Reproduction of a bronze Faun found in the
House of the Faun in Pompeii.  Photographed
by Mary Harrsch at the Pompeii Archaeological
Park near Naples, Italy.

Simultaneously, they have underpinned more fanciful reincarnations, as artists have superimposed their contemporary values and ideas on antiquity with a variety of motivations, from the light-hearted to the serious. 
Inspired by a famous ancient figure of a dancing faun found in Pompeii, Hippolyte Alexandre Julien Moulin’s large bronze, A Lucky Find at Pompeii (1863, Paris, Musée d’Orsay), playfully depicts a nude Neapolitan youth rejoicing in the discovery of a fragmentary statuette of the hero Hercules, which he holds up in his right hand. The boy’s pleasure at his Pompeian find embodies the nineteenth-century European enthusiasm for both the artworks newly unearthed at Vesuvian sites and the process of their recovery, however idealized. The sculpture was much celebrated, winning a medal at the Paris Salon of 1864.
(Foreground) A Lucky Find in Pompeii by
Hippolyte Alexandre Julien Moulin, French
1863.  Photographed at the Mus
ée d'Orsay by Mary Harrsch.
 From the Vatican Museums comes an extraordinary loan of a cabinet containing objects excavated at Pompeii during the 1849 site visit by Pope Pius IX. There is much doubt about the extent to which these excavations were staged and whether artifacts were planted, since the objects found are strikingly diverse in type and material, including items of marble, glass, bronze, terracotta, local stone and lava, perhaps chosen in advance to emphasize the quality and variety of finds.
I sincerely hope I can make it down to the Getty Villa during this important exhibition.
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Review (sort of): Coriolanus (2012 DVD)

Well, after waiting for months to finally get my hands on a DVD of the new remake of "Coriolanus" starring Ralph Feinnes and Gerard Butler, I must confess that I was disappointed.  I had so hoped that, with the star power of two of my favorite actors, the film makers would give us a motion picture based on the general plot line of the Shakespearean play but give us more modern and natural dialogue.  (Sorry, Will, but your 15th century prose is so stilted and difficult to grasp at times it is REALLY distracting with the backdrop of a modern-day action movie).

As expected the acting was superb, especially with such acting veterans as Vanessa Redgrave playing Coriolanus' mother.  Gerard Butler was also back in fine form.  But the modern sets, costume and attitudes just served to emphasize the antiquated dialogue.  My husband and I usually watch any disks we get from Netflix together and despite the action, he revolted and demanded something else after only about 30 minutes.

I have actually seen a modernized version of "Coriolanus" before at the Oregon Shakespearean Festival down in Ashland a couple of years ago.  There, since I was prepared to hear Shakespeare, I enjoyed the performance despite the fact that I prefer my historical epics to be costumed for the period.  (As costumes are such an integral part of a live performance, I am always a bit disappointed when the producers opt for St. Vincent de Paul leftovers instead of burnished Roman cuirasses and dashing crested helmets.)

But I was taken off guard by the latest big screen version.  The trailer had succeeded in building up my expectation of an action packed thriller with a twist of political duplicity.  If you notice, there is no long rambling Shakespearean passages, just short phrases containing words that could have been spoken in modern dialogue.

 Instead I got “Know thou first, I loved the maid I married; never man sigh’d truer breath; but that I see thee here, thou noble thing more dances my rapt heart than when I first my wedded mistress saw bestride my threshold.”

Maybe "Coriolanus" will eventually make it to Netflix instant streaming and I can watch it alone without spousal distraction.  Maybe my appreciation for it will grow.  However, I do hope someday a filmmaker will actually take the legend of "Coriolanus" and produce a box office smash.  I'm afraid this wasn't it.

For a more thorough (and positive) review of Ralph Feinnes directing debut, I recommend the following:

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lion Attacking A Horse to be featured at Getty Villa

A Lion Attacking A Horse, a wonderful  monumental marble sculptural group dating to the early Hellenistic period (the late 4th century B.C.), will be the centerpiece of a new exhibit at the Getty Villa beginning August 10th (2012).  This work, part of the “The Dream of Rome,” a project initiated by the Mayor of Rome, Giovanni Alemanno, to exhibit timeless masterpieces from the city of Rome in the United States, was created during an artistic period when Greek sculptors began to produce naturalistic portrayals of intense emotion and physical exertion. 

Giambologna, the sculptor of Flemish origins who dominated Florentine
sculpture in the late 1500s, produced small bronzes based on the Hellenistic
work around 1580-1589.  This one is related to a version owned by the
Emperor Rudolf II (now in Vienna). However, here the horse's forelock is
lengthened and twisted into a small, spiral horn, evoking the unicorn of
medieval legend.  Image courtesy of the Walters Art Museum of Baltimore,
"Although the original location of the sculpture is unknown, its massive scale and dramatic carving suggest that it embellished a monument in northern Greece or Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). Created in the era of Alexander the Great’s conquest of Asia, the sculpture may have formed part of a larger composition with a melee of wild beasts and mounted hunters, which commemorated the young king’s famous lion-hunting exploits at Sidon (present-day Lebanon) in 332 B.C. and a royal game preserve in Basista (present-day Uzbekistan) in 328-327 B.C.  The sculpture was eventually brought to Rome, most likely as war booty seized by a victorious general for display in the imperial capital. It was ultimately discovered in the streambed near the Circus Maximus, a stadium used for chariot races, gladiatorial games, and animal combats." - Getty Villa

The work has been the focus of several restoration efforts.

"The work was first mentioned in an archival document in 1300. By 1347, the sculpture was prominently displayed on the Capitoline Hill in Rome, the seat of the city’s civic administration. During this time, Renaissance Rome was experiencing a great rebirth of interest in its glorious ancient past, which served as a model for the present..."

"...Throughout the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, the sculpture was a battered fragment consisted only of an equine torso and feline foreparts. In 1594, Michelangelo’s student Ruggero Bascapé (Italian, active by 1580, died about 1600) replaced the horse’s head and both animals’ missing limbs and tails. His restoration of the horse, with its head straining forward and its lower back leg folded awkwardly beneath its body, was not well received at the time.

"Much admired by Michelangelo, who praised the colossal fragment as “most marvelous,” the Lion Attacking a Horse was a compelling model for generations of artists who studied in Rome. It features in several 16th-century illustrations which show the work before and after restoration, and became the prototype for numerous small and large scale replicas. The installation at the Getty Villa will include a 1585 engraving by Giovanni Battista de’ Cavalieri from the Getty Research Institute, illustrating the sculpture prior to Bascapé’s additions. A 17th-century bronze statuette by Antonio Susini from the Department of Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Getty Museum renders the horse’s head turned back toward the lion, a dynamic solution that reflects the likely composition of the original Greek sculpture." Getty Villa

Mosaic depicting a lion attacking an Onager Roman about 150 CE stone 
and glass.  Photographed at the Getty Villa by Mary Harrsch.
One of my favorite pieces at the Getty Villa,  a Roman mosaic of a lion attacking an onager, will be displayed with the work to help viewers visualize the original appearance of the Capitoline sculpture along with a set of  Parthian silver horse-trappings, vase-painting, coins, and gems featuring scenes of lion attacks.

I have had the privilege of visiting the Villa three times so far and each time have found the experience to be a  remarkable foray into the lives and culture of the ancient world.  

I hope to see  Lion Attacking a Horse before the close of the exhibit on February 4, 2013.  If I go after September 12, 2012 but before January 7, 2013, I could also see another fascinating presentation, The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection, an exhibit co-organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art in association with the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.  I've been to Pompeii itself twice and attended three major exhibits about Pompeii but can never get enough!
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