Ancient coins

The Battle of Actium. September 2, 31 BC.

The Battle of Actium was the decisive confrontation of the Final War of the Roman Republic, a naval engagement between Octavian and the combined forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra on 2 September 31 BC, on the Ionian Sea near the promontory of Actium, in the Roman province of Epirus Vetus in Greece. Octavian’s fleet was commanded by Agrippa, while Antony‘s fleet was supported by the power of Queen Cleopatra of Ptolemaic Egypt. Octavian’s victory enabled him to consolidate his power over Rome and its dominions. He adopted the title of Princeps (“first citizen”) and some years later was awarded the title of Augustus (“revered”) by the Roman Senate. This became the name by which he was known in later times. As Augustus, he retained the trappings of a ...

The Temple of Venus Genetrix. September 26, 46 BC.

The night before the battle of Pharsalus (48 B.C.), Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.) vowed a temple to Venus Genetrix (“Mother Venus”), mother of Aeneas, and the mythical ancestress of the Julian family. The Temple was dedicated on 26 September 46 BC, the last day of Caesar’s triumph. “…and vowed, if he was successful, to make a thank-offering by building a temple to her in Rome as bringer of victory.” Appian, The Civil Wars (II.68) The Forum of Julius Caesar, in which the temple stands, was finished by Augustus (63 B.C.-A.D. 14) in 29 B.C. The cult statue was sculpted for Caesar by Arcesilas, and there were other statues and precious objects on display here. Trajan (A.D. 53-117) rebuilt the temple, which also had to be restored after the fire of A.D. 283. On...

Octavian´s victory over the Dalmatian tribes. August 13, 29 BC.

Born Gaius Octavius Thurinus into an old and wealthy equestrian branch of the plebeian gens Octavia, his maternal great-uncle Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, and Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir. Then known simply as Octavianus, he along with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate to defeat the assassins of Caesar. Following their victory at the Battle of Philippi, the Triumvirate divided the Roman Republic among themselves and ruled as military dictators. The Triumvirate was eventually torn apart by the competing ambitions of its members. Lepidus was driven into exile and stripped of his position, and Antony committed suicide following his defeat at the Battle of Actium by Octavian in 31 BC. After the demise of the Second...

The Siege of Athens. March 1, 86 BC.

The Siege of Athens and Piraeus was a siege of the First Mithridatic War that took place from Autumn of 87 BC to the Spring and Summer of 86 BC. The battle was fought between the forces of the Roman Republic, commanded by Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix on the one hand, and the forces of the Kingdom of Pontus and the Athenian City-State on the other. The Greek Pontian forces were commanded by Aristion and Archelaus. In the spring of 87 BC Sulla landed at Illyria. Asia was occupied by the forces of Mithridates VI of Pontus, under the command of Archelaus. Sulla’s first target was Athens, ruled by the tyrant Aristion. Sulla moved southeast, picking up supplies and reinforcements as he went. Sulla’s chief of staff was Lucullus, who went ahead of him to scout the way and negotiate with Bruttius S...

King Charles II of England dissolves the Cavalier Parliament. January 24, 1679.

Although previously favourable to the Crown, the Cavalier Parliament was alienated by the king’s wars and religious policies during the 1670s. In 1672, Charles II issued the Royal Declaration of Indulgence, in which he purported to suspend all penal laws against Catholics and other religious dissenters. In the same year, he openly supported Catholic France and started the Third Anglo-Dutch War. The Cavalier Parliament opposed the Declaration of Indulgence by claiming that the king had no right to arbitrarily suspend laws passed by Parliament. Charles withdrew the Declaration, and also agreed to the Test Act, which forced the public officials to receive sacrament under the forms of the Church of England as well as denounce teachings of the Catholic Church as “superstitious and idolatr...

Constantine, co-emperor of the Byzantine Empire. January 22, 613.

  Constantine was crowned co-emperor by his father on 22 January 613 and shortly after was betrothed to his cousin, Gregoria, a daughter of his father’s first cousin, Nicetas. As they were second cousins, the marriage was technically incestuous, but this consideration must have been outweighed by the advantages of the match to the family as a whole. Furthermore, its illegality paled into insignificance beside Heraclius‘ marriage to his niece Martina the same year. In comparison, Constantine’s marriage was far less scandalous than that of his father’s. Constantine and Gregoria married in 629 or perhaps early 630 and in that year their first child, Constans II was born. Their second child was another son, Theodosius. They also had a daughter named Manyanh who lat...

Crossing the Rubicon. January 10, 49 BC.

During the Roman Republic, the river Rubicon marked the boundary between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul to the north-west and Italy proper (controlled directly by Rome and its allies) to the south. Exercising imperium when forbidden by the law was a capital offence. Furthermore, obeying the commands of a general who did not legally possess imperium was a capital offence. If a general entered Italy whilst exercising command of an army, both the general and his soldiers became outlaws and were automatically condemned to death. Generals were thus obliged to disband their armies before entering Italy. In 49 BC, perhaps on January 10, Julius Caesar led a single legion, south over the Rubicon from Cisalpine Gaul to Italy to make his way to Rome. In doing so, he deliberately broke the law o...

The Battle of Nineveh. December 12, 627.

The Battle of Nineveh was the climactic battle of the Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602–628. The Byzantine victory later resulted in civil war in Persia, and for a period of time, restored the Roman Empire to its ancient boundaries in the Middle East. This resurgence of power and prestige was not to last, as after a few years, an Arab Caliphate emerged from Arabia and once again brought the empire to the brink of destruction. The victory at Nineveh was not total: the Byzantines were unable to capture the Persian camp. However, this victory was significant enough to shatter the resistance of the Persians. With no Persian army left to oppose him, Heraclius’ victorious army plundered Dastagird, Khosrau’s palace, and gained tremendous riches. Khosrau had already fled to the mountains o...

This Week In History – Commodus Imperator. 27 November 177 AD.

On November 27, 177, Emperor Marcus Aurelius granted his son Commodus the rank of “Imperator” and makes him Supreme Commander of the Roman legions. This marked the start of Commodus´ rule, first as co-emperor with his father, and solely after his father´s death in 180. His accession was the first time a son had succeeded his biological father since Titus succeeded Vespasian in 79. He was also the first emperor to have both a father and grandfather (who had adopted his father) as the two preceding emperors. During his solo reign, the Empire enjoyed a period of peace and reduced military conflict compared to his father´s reign but intrigues and conspiracies abounded, leading Commodus to an increasingly dictatorial style of leadership that culminated in a God-like personality cult...

Trajan, Nerva´s successor. October 28,97 AD.

In September 96, Emperor Domitian was succeeded by Marcus Cocceius Nerva. After a brief and turbulent year in power, culminating in a revolt by members of the Praetorian Guard, Nerva was compelled to adopt the more popular Trajan as his heir and successor. Since Nerva was really unpopular with the army and had recently been forced to execute Domitian´s killers by his Praetorian Prefect, he felt the need to gain support of the military in order to avoid being deposed. He accomplished this on October 28 of 97 by naming Trajan as his adoptive son and successor, pleading only Trajan´s outstanding military merits. There are hints that Trajan´s adoption was imposed on Nerva, as Pliny wrote, and if this is what happened, then Trajan would be an usurper, and the notion of natural continuity betwee...

End of the Siege and Battle of Alesia. 5 October, 52 BC.

The Siege and Battle of Alesia meant the end of the Gallic Wars, and took place from September to October 52 BC. It befell around the Gallic fortified settlement of Alesia, “capital” of the Mandubii tribe. It confronted the Roman army of Julius Caesar against an alliance of Gallic tribes, united under the leadership of Vercingetorix of the Averni. In history, it is considered one of Caesar´s most important military victories, as well as a classic example of siege warfare. This battle marked the end of the Gallic independence of France and Belgium. The day after the battle, Caesar ordered the Gauls to surrender their weapons and deliver their chieftains. The chieftains were brought before him and Vercingetorix was surrendered. For Caesar, Alesia was an enormous personal success, both milita...

Heraclius, emperor. October 4, 610.

In 608, Heraclius the Elder, Heraclius´ father, renounced his loyalty to the Emperor Phocas. The rebels even issued coins showing both Heraclii dressed as consuls, though neither of them had claimed the imperial title. Phocas responded with executions, among them of the ex-Empress Constantina and her three daughters. Heraclius’ younger cousin Nicetas launched a successful overland invasion of Egypt, where he defeated Phocas´ army. While this invasion was taking place, the younger Heraclius sailed eastward through Sicily and Cyprus, planning to enter Constantinople. Some prominent Byzantine aristocrats came to meet Heraclius, and he arranged to be crowned and acclaimed as Emperor before even entering Constantinople. As he approached the city, and planned the attack, the Excubitors, th...

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