Roman Empire

December 17, 217 B.C. Saturnalia.

Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honour of the god Saturn, held on 17 December of the Julian calendar and later expanded with festivities through to 23 December. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves. A common custom was the election of a “King of the Saturnalia“, who would give orders to people and preside over the merrymaking. This custom derived in the Middle Ages into the Lord of Misrule in England– known in Scotland as the Abbot of Unreason and in France as the Prince des Sots – that was an officer appo...

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...

The Battle of Naulochus. September 3, 36 BC.

On 38 BC, the Second Triunvirate was living a relatively peaceful period: in Rome, Octavian had just married Livia Drusilla, while Marc Antony lived in Athens his last happy days with Octavia, that calmed him and tried to ease relations between him and her beloved brother. However, the marriage of Octavian meant his divorce from Scribonia, Sextus Pompey´s aunt, and this fact accelerated the breach between them. Sextus, son of Pompey, had occupied Sicily for some years as well as Sardinia and the Peloponnese having been appointed as governor by the Treaty of Misenum in 39 BC. Sicily was the main grain supplier of Rome, and it was the last stronghold of the republican resistance. Sextus was a source of conflict for the Triunvirate, as he often stopped the supply of grain, causing hunger in t...

The Battle of Isonzo. August 28, 489 AD.

In 476, the barbarian warlord Odoacer foundered the Kingdom of Italy as the first King of Italy, initiating a new era over Roman lands. Unlike most of the last emperors, he acted decisively. At the beginning of his reign he “slew Count Bracila at Ravenna that he might inspire a fear of himself among the Romans.” He took many military actions to strengthen his control over Italy and its neighboring areas. He achieved a solid diplomatic coup by inducing the Vandal king Gaiseric to cede to him Sicily. Noting that “Odovacar seized power in August of 476, Gaiseric died in January 477, and the sea usually became closed to navigation around the beginning of November”, F.M. Clover dates this cession to September or October 476. When Julius Nepos was murdered by two of his r...

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 Arch of Constantine. July 25, 315.

The Arch of Constantine was erected to commemorate Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge that took place on 28 October 312. The Battle took its name from the Milvian Bridge, an important route over the Tiber. Constantine won the battle and started on the path that led him to end the Tetrarchy and become the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. Maxentius drowned in the Tiber during the battle; his body was later taken from the river and decapitated, his head paraded through the streets of Rome on the day following the battle. According to chroniclers such as Eusebius of Caesarea and Lactantius, the battle marked the beginning of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. Eusebius of Caesarea recounts that Constantine and his soldiers had a vision sent by the Chr...

Augustus adopts Tiberius. June 26, 4 AD.

With Tiberius‘s departure, succession rested solely on Augustus‘ two young grandsons, Lucius and Gaius Caesar. The situation became more precarious in AD 2 with the death of Lucius. Augustus, with perhaps some pressure from Livia, allowed Tiberius to return to Rome as a private citizen and nothing more. In AD 4, Gaius was killed in Armenia, and Augustus had no other choice but to turn to Tiberius. The death of Gaius in AD 4 initiated a flurry of activity in the household of Augustus. Tiberius was adopted as full son and heir and in turn, he was required to adopt his nephew, Germanicus, the son of his brother Drusus and Augustus’ niece Antonia Minor. Along with his adoption, Tiberius received tribunician power as well as a share of Augustus’s maius imperium, somethin...

The Nicene Creed. June 19, 325.

The First Council of Nicaea was the first ecumenical council of the Church. Most significantly, it resulted in the first uniform Christian doctrine, called the Nicene Creed. With the creation of the creed, a precedent was established for subsequent local and regional councils of Bishops (Synods) to create statements of belief and canons of doctrinal orthodoxy—the intent being to define unity of beliefs for the whole of Christendom. Derived from Greek (literally, ‘the inhabited one’), “ecumenical” means “worldwide” but generally is assumed to be limited to the known inhabited Earth, and at this time in history is synonymous with the Roman Empire; the earliest extant uses of the term for a council are Eusebius’ Life of Constantine which states “...

The Milan Edict. June 13, 313.

Ever since the fall of the Severan dynasty in 235 AD, rivals for the imperial throne had bid for support by either favouring or persecuting Christians. The previous Edict of Toleration by Galerius had been recently issued by the emperor Galerius from Serdica and was posted at Nicomedia on 30 April 311. By its provisions, the Christians, who had “followed such a caprice and had fallen into such a folly that they would not obey the institutes of antiquity”, were granted an indulgence. Wherefore, for this our indulgence, they ought to pray to their God for our safety, for that of the republic, and for their own, that the commonwealth may continue uninjured on every side, and that they may be able to live securely in their homes. Their confiscated property, however, was not restore...

The Dome Collapses. May 7, 558.

On 23 February 532, only a few weeks after the destruction of the second basilica, Emperor Justinian I decided to build a third and entirely different basilica, larger and more majestic than its predecessors, built by Constantius II and Theodosius II. Justinian chose physicist Isidore of Miletus and mathematician Anthemius of Tralles as architects; Anthemius, however, died within the first year of the endeavor. The construction is described in the Byzantine historian Procopius’ On Buildings (Peri ktismatōn, Latin: De aedificiis). Columns and other marbles were brought from all over the empire, throughout the Mediterranean. Even though they were made specifically for Hagia Sophia, the columns show variations in size. More than ten thousand people were employed. This new church was con...

Aelia Eudoxia marries Arcadius. 27 April 325.

On 17 January 395, Theodosius I succumbed to death. Arcadius succeeded him in the Eastern Roman Empire and Honorius in the Western Roman Empire. Arcadius was effectively placed under the control of Rufinus, Praetorian prefect of the East. Rufinus reportedly intended to marry his daughter to Arcadius and establish his own relation to the Theodosian dynasty. However, while Rufinus was distracted by a conflict with the  magister militum of the West, the wedding of Eudoxia to Arcadius was orchestrated by Eutropius, one of the eunuch officials serving in the Great Palace of Constantinople. The marriage took place on 27 April 395, without the knowledge or consent of Rufinus. For Eutropius it was an attempt to increase his own influence over the emperor and hopefully ensure the loyalty of the new...

The Pisonian Conspiracy. April 19, 65 AD.

Gaius Calpurnius Piso, a leading Roman statesman, benefactor of literature, and orator, intended to have Nero assassinated, and replace him as Emperor through acclamation by the Praetorian Guard. He enlisted the aid of several prominent senators, equestrians, and soldiers with a loosely conceived plan. Nero had been Emperor since 54 AD, and the ruling class had grown weary of his tyrannical reign. Although the conspiracy ended a failure, it sowed the seeds for the downfall of Nero, his suicide and the ensuing chaos of the Year of Four Emperors. The fact that senators, soldiers, and equestrians were willing to work together outlines the widespread hatred of Nero. It seems as if only Piso and perhaps Plautius Lateranus were driven to participate for the love of Rome. Others plotters, such as...

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