The Canal of Corbulo (Fossa Corbulonis)

23 April 2008

The Canal of Corbulo, or Fossa Corbulonis, was an ancient canal that connected the rivers Rhine and Meuse. It was constructed by general Corbulo, who was governor of Germania Inferior in 47, although construction may have lasted longer. The advantage of the canal was that rivers ships from the Rhine could reach the estuary of the Meuse without sailing offshore on the dangerous North Sea. At the estuary, called Helinium, seaworthy ships were ready to transport cargos to Britain. The canal is still in use.


Gn. Domitius Corbulo

23 April 2008

Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo (7? – 67) was a Roman general, who is best known from Tacitus’ Annals. The historian greatly admires the man, who was indeed a capable commander – but not without faults. As general of the army of Germania Inferior, he defeated the Frisians, but was recalled by Claudius, who did not want to get involved in a full-scale war in Germania before the war in Britain was not over. After this, Corbulo reorganized the frontier zone: his men dug the Canal of Corbulo, which is still in use, and erected several castella and the first watchtowers along the limes.

During the reign of Claudius’ successor Nero, Corbulo was commander of armies in Cappadocia and Syria, and conducted several campaigns against the Parthian Empire, which were neither unsuccessful nor the big victories that Nero claimed they had been. In 67, Nero ordered Corbulo to commit suicide. (The bust is in the Louvre.)

F. Marion Crawford, The Rulers of the South

21 April 2008

The Rulers of the South by F. Marion Crawford, which is now online at LacusCurtius, was published for the first time in 1901. It covers the history of Sicily from prehistory to the nineteenth century. The author viewed his book as “romantic history” and wrote in a pleasant, light discursive style, but it is essentially a military history, and faithfully follows its ancient sources. The title of the book, though, is well chosen: the rulers of the South are the subject matter rather than economic and social history, or art and literature. Yet even in a military and political history it’s impossible to ignore these other aspects altogether: there’s a good deal of information in this book – all the more inevitably in that, the author lived “half a life” in southern Italy, which we would easily divine even had he not told us so. He obviously loves Sicily in particular, especially Palermo, and his book gives us a very good feel for that city and some of the other towns and landmarks of the island.

Battle of the Allia (387 BC)

10 April 2008

It is admittedly not the best of my photo collection, but the picture of the Allia battlefield (387 BCE) is dear to me because it took some effort to reach a point from which we had a good view of the site. The battle, in which the Romans were defeated by a band of Gauls, was not terribly important, although later generations of Roman historians told horror stories about the sack of the city, which was the main consequence of the battle. But the army and the people were able to save themselves, and Roman expansion in Central Italy was not seriously challenged: during the next decade or so, Rome became the unrivaled master of Latium.

A Fake Source on Justinian

4 April 2008

LacusCurtius’ Bill Thayer often puts online old articles, which are referred to in -for example- in Samuel Platner’s Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. You can find those old articles in Bill’s Antiquary’s Shoebox. This time, he has made available a really interesting piece of research by James Bryce, in which he proves that Theophilus, author of a Life of Justinian, is not reliable.

In a nice piece of detective work, Bryce shows that the text, which is quoted and accepted as genuine by well-known, professional historians like Edward Gibbon, was not -as was commonly accepted- a manuscript from the Vatican Library, but a document in the library of the Barberini family. He also shows that the manuscript was written in the first quarter of the seventeenth century, and contains Slavonic legends about Justinian. As such, it tells more about medieval ideas about the Byzantine emperor than about the man himself. (The photo that accompanies this blog article, is an ivory showing Justinian, also from the Barberini collection, but now in the Louvre, Paris.)