Two Battles of Caesar

27 May 2008

I am moving some pages through my website (more…), and today did two battle sites where Julius Caesar defeated the Belgians: at the river Sabis, the modern Selle in French Flanders, he overcame the Nervians, and at Huy (map to the right) he besieged the Atuatuci. (Related: Alesia, Rubico, Dyrrhachium, Pharsalus, Zela.)

I also moved Segovia (the famous aqueduct) and two unimportant pages: the Pyrenees, and the limes castle at Böbingen.

Military Dust

27 May 2008

LacusCurtius’ Bill Thayer has put online a brief article by Edward Echols titled “Military Dust“, originally published in the Classical Journal of 1952. And indeed, it deals with dust on the battlefield, and sort of sums up twenty instances of that substance playing a role on the battlefield. The photo to the right is a dustdevil I encountered on the road to Harran/Carrhae. Crassus must have seen something similar.


25 May 2008

The Egyptian bird benu, or purple heron, has had a remarkable history. Originally, it was mentioned in myths about the Creation, but later authors converted this animal in the firebird that lived almost eternally. Among the authors who refer to the phoenix (a rendering of benu, but in Greek meaning “the brilliant one”) are Hesiod, who claims that the bird could be 100,000 years old; Herodotus, who tells how the bird buries his father; the playwright Ezekiel, who describes its colors; and, in c.100 CE, suddenly three Latin authors – Tacitus, Martial, and bishop Clement of Rome. The little picture shows a Coptic phoenix, which symbolizes the resurrection. You can read more about the bird here, although the news here is probably more interesting.

Augustus’ Trophee at La Turbie

25 May 2008

Just north of Monaco, high up the mountains, are the ruins of the Tropaium Augusti, a monument dedicated to the emperor Augustus, “because under his guidance and auspices, all Alpine nations … were submitted to the Empire of the Roman people”. The generals in charge were Augustus’ stepsons Drusus and Tiberius. The event was also commemorated by the poet Horace, who devoted Ode 4.4 to these victories.

The monument itself almost fifty meters high. It consisted of a square podium, twelve meters high, on which the inscription was written, flanked by two Victories. The second tier, accessible by stairs, consisted of a roofed circular colonnade. Between the twenty-four columns, one could see statues of various commanders. On top of a stepped cone, the visitor could see the statue of Augustus. I imagine that the gilded parts must have been visible from a great distance and may have served as a beacon for ships.

A visit to the monument can easily be combined with the Villa Kerylos in nearby Nice (or a visit to the casino of Monte Carlo).

The Siege of Alesia

25 May 2008

The statue of Vercingetorix, with the moustache of Napoleon III.

The Siege of Alesia in 52 BCE is one of the most decisive battles in world history. Julius Caesar overcame the Gallic leader Vercingetorix, and broke Gallic resistance against the Roman conquest. Until then, the Roman Empire was essentially the Mediterranean world, but now, it expanded far beyond the well-known sea, all the way to the Rhine.

Caesar’s own account is very artful: everything depends on one single siege, Alesia; during this siege, all is decided on one single day; during that day, one single fight really matters, the one in the northwest; and the fight over there is decided by one man, Julius Caesar. Things must have been more complicated; in the end, the Gauls had to prostrate for Roman organizing skills and discipline, but Caesar could rightfully claim that it was his generalship that had won the battle.

The photo shows the statue of Vercingetorix at Alise St Reine.

Morituri te salutant

23 May 2008

The line “morituri te salutant” is often quoted as the gladiator’s salute. I have seen modern reenactors opening their shows with it. In an article from the Transactions of the American Philological Association, H.J. Leon proved not only that the remark was not common at all, but also that it was used by naumachiarii, men condemned to die in a staged naval battle; besides, the two sources quoting the line refer to the same incident, which suggests that it was only used on that occasion. The article is now online at LacusCurtius; go here.

An Early Dedication to Elagabal

22 May 2008

Elagabal was a Syrian sun god, who was worshipped with rituals that are strongly reminiscent of the Babylonian Akitu festival. He is probably best known because an attempt to introduce his cult in Rome was made by the emperor Heliogabalus – whose real name was Varius Avitus Bassianus, but who was always called after his god.

His reign was from 218 to 222, and it is often assumed that he was responsible for the spread of the cult to other parts of the world. However, there is an interesting inscription in the City Museum of Woerden (Netherlands), that proves that the cult of the Syrian sun god was already known on the other side of the empire more than half a century before the reign of Heliogabalus.

It was erected by a soldier who may have been born somewhere along the Danube, but who may as well have been a native from the Low Countries. Here is the text:

Pro Salute Imperatoris Caesaris Titi Aelii HAdriani
Antonini Avgusti Pii
BASSVS Signifer COHortis
For the good health of the emperor caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus
Antoninus Augustus Pius,
to the sun Elaga-
bal and Minerva has

Lucius Terentius
Bassus, standard bearer of the third
unit of Breuci [erected this altar].


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