Archive for the ‘History’ Category


Bedtime Reading

According to Plutarch’s Life of Alexander 8, Alexander the Great slept with a copy of the Iliad (along with his dagger) beneath his pillow. In reading Charles Norris Cochrane’s Christianity and Classical Culture a few minutes ago, I came across the following: “[I]t is recorded that Charlemagne habitually slept with a copy of [Augustine's City of God] beneath his pillow” (377). This seems to be in imitation of the practice of Alexander, transposed into a Christian key. Does anyone know the source(s) of this claim about Charlemagne?


Gauls in Galatia

Count Claudian as a witness to Galatia in Asia Minor having been settled by Celtic Gauls (I don’t have time at the moment to gather other ancient sources on this):

Pars Phrygiae, Scythicis quaecumque Trionibus alget

proxima, Bithynos, solem quae condit, Ionas,

quae levat, attingit Galatas. utrimque propinqui

finibus obliquis Lydi Pisidaeque feroces

continuant australe latus. gens una fuere

tot quondam populi, priscum cognosmen et unum

appellata Phryges; sed (quid non longa valebit

permutaure dies?) dicti post Maeona regem

Maeones. Aegaeos insedit Graecia portus;

Thyni Thraces arant quae nunc Bithynia fertur;

nuper ab Oceano Gallorum exercitus ingens

illis ante vagus tandem regionibus haesit

gaesaque deposuit, Graio iam mitis amictu,

pro Rheno poturus Halyn. dat cuncta vetustas

principium Phrygibus; nec rex Aegyptius ultra

restitit, humani postquam puer uberis expers

in Phrygiam primum laxavit murumura vocem. (In Eutropium 2.238-54)


“Last Statues of Antiquity” Database

I just learned about this from a review in BMCR. Looks pretty nifty: “a searchable database of the published evidence for statuary and inscribed statue bases set up after AD 284, that were new, newly dedicated, or newly re-worked.”


Quotable Cochrane

Charles Norris Cochrane on the tradition emerging in the fourth century A.D. of elevating children to imperial status:

This dynasticism was presently to assume bizarre forms, as when, in the presence of the troops, Valentinian I solemnly conferred the purple upon his son Gratian, at that time a child of eight; thereby setting an example for the action of Theodosius in entrusting the welfare of the empire to the nominal charge of two adolescents, the one a sluggard, the other a half-wit. (Christianity and Classical Culture, p. 189)


GapVis: Visual Interface for Reading Ancient Texts

You may know that I teach Latin in a public high school, and that my school is in the midst of a major technology push involving $2.4 million invested in MacBooks for teachers and iPads for all. Of course there’s the usual resistance — or at least disconnect — from faculty who are uncomfortable with technology. But I’ve made it a priority to find things that students can do to enrich their experience, and in my searches for iPad compatible site I was very pleasantly surprised to find GapVis.

GapVis is a product of GAP, the Google Ancient Places project, and has its roots in the HESTIA project, which focused on plotting places in Herodotus. GapVis expands on that idea by pulling texts on ancient history from Google Books and offering the reader a visualization of the places mentioned via Google Maps.

GapVis reading view

The "reading view" of the Histories of Tacitus, from GapVis.

I was so happy to find a site like this because, as any one who has read ancient history knows, without careful attention to geography, it can quickly become very difficult to follow texts with any real precision or deep understanding. Visualization is key, and is one of the reasons the Robert B. Strassler’s ‘Landmark’ series has been both so popular and so helpful.

GapVis can not yet approach what the ‘Landmark’ editions of ancient historians offer, such as carefully edited maps, scholarly appendices, and contemporary translations, but that’s not really the point. I think that what makes GapVis such a treasure is its interactive nature and its potential, even in a beta offering.

The texts are often problematic, considering the state of OCR text from scanned books that haven’t been carefully reviewed. And often places are misidentified by similarities in personal names, etc. But this can lead to productive activities for students and ensure a close reading of texts. Students may be assigned particular passages and asked to perform certain tasks, including checking the place identification and reporting problems to the GapVis team.

I think this is a tool to watch and one that has pedagogical potential even today. I’m looking forward to see where it goes.


On This Day (October 31)

October 31, 451, is the date of Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon:

Following in all things the decisions of the holy Fathers, and acknowledging the canon, which has been just read, of the One Hundred and Fifty Bishops beloved-of-God (who assembled in the imperial city of Constantinople, which is New Rome, in the time of the Emperor Theodosius of happy memory), we also do enact and decree the same things concerning the privileges of the most holy Church of Constantinople, which is New Rome. For the Fathers rightly granted privileges to the throne of old Rome, because it was the royal city. And the One Hundred and Fifty most religious Bishops, actuated by the same consideration, gave equal privileges (ἴσα πρεσβεῖα) to the most holy throne of New Rome, justly judging that the city which is honoured with the Sovereignty and the Senate, and enjoys equal privileges with the old imperial Rome, should in ecclesiastical matters also be magnified as she is, and rank next after her; so that, in the Pontic, the Asian, and the Thracian dioceses, the metropolitans only and such bishops also of the Dioceses aforesaid as are among the barbarians, should be ordained by the aforesaid most holy throne of the most holy Church of Constantinople; every metropolitan of the aforesaid dioceses, together with the bishops of his province, ordaining his own provincial bishops, as has been declared by the divine canons; but that, as has been above said, the metropolitans of the aforesaid Dioceses should be ordained by the archbishop of Constantinople, after the proper elections have been held according to custom and have been reported to him.


On This Day (October 20)

On this day in 460, Aelia Eudocia, wife of the emperor Theodosius II, died in Jerusalem (see here and here).

In addition to being Augusta, Eudocia, the daughter of the Athenian sophist Leontius, was a poet who wrote about Roman military victories over Persia, a poem about the martyrdom of Cyprian, a paraphrase of part of the Old Testament, and centones composed of Homeric verses (which, along with the poem on Cyprian, survive).

Aelia Eudocia tremissis


On This Day (September 27)

September 27th is the anniversary of Theoderic’s defeat of Odovacer at the Battle of Verona in 489:

Odovacer must have known for some time of Theoderic’s advance, and his sending of a victory legation to Zeno after his defeat of the Rugians in 487 implies a desire to conciliate him, while the acceptance in the East of Odovacer’s nominee as consul in 490 may indicate that his star had not set as far as Constantinople was concerned. He is described as having called forth all the nations against Theoderic, so many kings coming to fight with him that their soldiers could scarcely be supported. The identity of these kings is unknown, but any help they may have given was not evident when Theoderic appeared at the river Isonzo to the east of Aquileia on 28 August, for Odovacer, perhaps alarmed at the size of Theoderic’s forces, retreated, possibly before battle had been joined. He made his way to Verona where, on 27 September, he prepared a fortified camp. Verona was probably a predictable site, for, located as it was at the junction of the viae Claudia Augusta, Gallica, and Posthumia, it was a key centre for the defence of Italy, and was subsequently to become important to Theoderic for this reason. But Odovacer was quickly followed, and Ennodius describes Theoderic on the night before the battle looking at the fires of his enemies, which shone like stars. But he knew no fear, and the next morning, when his mother and sister, tossed between hope and fear, came to see him, he supplied reassurance: it was a true man (vir) to whom his mother had given birth, and on that day he was going to show himself a man; the glories won by his ancestors would not perish through him! He asked the women to bring his best clothes, such as would make him more easily recognized, and on a field b y the River Adige battle was joined. Both sides sustained heavy losses, but Odovacer was finally obliged to quit the field, leaving victory to Theoderic. The field was covered with bodies; some 18 years later Ennodius complained that hungry cattle were destroying evidence of the victory provided by the bones that still lay there. Odovacer fled, almost certainly to Ravenna. (John Moorhead, Theoderic in Italy, pp. 21-2)


On This Day (September 23)

Today, September 23rd, is the anniversary of the birth of the Roman emperor Augustus in 63 BC during the consulship of Cicero. Suetonius includes the date of his birth in his Life:

[5] Natus est Augustus M. Tullio Cicerone C. Antonio conss. XIIII. Kal. Octob., paulo ante solis exortum, regione Palati, ad Capita bubulo, ubi nunc sacrarium habet, aliquanto post quam excessit constitutum. Nam ut senatus actis continetur, cum C. Laetorius, adulscens patricii generis, in deprecanda graviore adulterii poena praeter aetatem atque natales hoc quoque patribus conscriptis allegaret, esse possessorem ac velut aedituum soli, quod primum Divus Augustus nascens attigisset, peteretque donari quasi proprio suo ac peculiari deo, decretum est ut ea pars domus consecrareur.


On This Day (Maybe) (September 21)

September 21st or 22nd, 454, was the date on which the Roman general Flavius Aetius was assassinated, after the defeat of Attila and the Huns:

The most immediate effect of the collapse of the Huns was that the emperor Valentinian III, thirty-five years old in 454, felt no further need of Aetius. Aetius himself woul seem to have sensed this, since in that year he pressed the emperor into a marriage alliance. Aetius’ son Gaudentius was to marry Valentinian’s daughter Placidia. Since Valentinian had no son, this would have reinforced Aeitius’ political pre-eminence by making his son Valentinian’s likely successor. Valentinian, however, resented the move, and there were other western politicians wh ochafed under Aetius’ long-standing predominance, not least the senator Petronius Maximus who encouraged the emperor to act. Valentinian assassinated Aetius personally, we are told, on 21 or 22 September 454. Valentinian himself was murdered the next March by two of Aetius’ bodyguards. The disappearance from the scene of Aeitius, Valentinian and, above all, Attila marked the opening of a new (and final) era in the history of the Roman west. (Peter Heather in Cambridge Ancient History vol. 14 (2000), p. 18)

Next Page »