Rome

Julia. January 17, 38 BC.

  According to Suetonius, Scribonia was married three times; her first two husbands were consuls. In 40 BC Scribonia was forced to divorce her second husband and marry Octavian who in turn had divorced his wife Clodia Pulchra. Octavian’s motive in marrying Scribonia was to cement a political alliance with Sextus Pompey, husband to Scribonia’s niece (or sister). The marriage was brief and unhappy; he divorced her on the very same day as the birth of their daughter, Julia the Elder, his only natural child. He allegedly wrote that he was “unable to put up with her shrewish disposition.” Soon after divorcing Scribonia, Octavian took Julia from her. Octavian, in accordance with Roman custom, claimed complete parental control over her. She was sent to live with her s...

Sacrifice to the gods. January 3, 250 AD.

Decius became Roman emperor in 249 as a result of military victories. He made efforts to revive Rome’s “Golden Age“, adding the name of one of his most admired predecessors, Trajan, to his own, revived the ancient office of censor and restored the Colosseum. Restoration of traditional Roman piety was another of his aims, and after performing the annual sacrifice to Jupiter on January 3, 250, he issued an edict, the text of which is lost, ordering sacrifices to the gods to be made throughout the Empire. Jews were specifically exempted from this requirement. There is no evidence that this edict was intended to target Christians or that persecution of Christians was even thought of as one of the effects this decree would have; rather, it was seen as a way of unifying a vast ...

Vespasian, pecunia non-olet. December 21, 69 AD.

Throughout the early months of 69, Vespasian convened frequently with the Eastern generals. Gaius Licinius Mucianus was a notable ally. Governor of Syria and commander of three legions, Mucianus also held political connections to many of the most powerful Roman military commanders from Illyricum to Britannia by virtue of his service to the famous Neronian general Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo. In May 69, Mucianus formally implored Vespasian to challenge Vitellius. His appeal was followed by Vespasian’s official proclamation as Emperor in early July. Under instructions from the prefect Tiberius Alexander, the legions at Alexandria took an oath of loyalty to Vespasian on 1 July. They were swiftly followed by Vespasian’s Judaean legions on 3 July and thereafter by Mucianus’ Syrian...

The Walls of Constantinople collapse. November 6, 447.

Like Severus before him, Constantine began to punish the city for siding with his defeated rival, but soon he too realized the advantages of Byzantium‘s location. During 324–336 the city was thoroughly rebuilt and inaugurated on 11 May 330 under the name of “Second Rome“. The name that eventually prevailed in common usage however was Constantinople, the “City of Constantine” (Greek Κωνσταντινούπολις, Konstantinoupolis). The city of Constantine was protected by a new wall about 2.8 km (15 stadia) west of the Severan wall. Constantine’s fortification consisted of a single wall, reinforced with towers at regular distances, which began to be constructed in 324 and was completed under his son Constantius II (r. 337–361). Only the approximate course of the wal...

The Vision of Constantine. October 27, 312.

Constantine was the son of Constantius, who had served as a Caesar (a junior emperor) of the Western Roman Empire under Maximian before succeeding Maximian as Augustus (senior emperor) in 305. Constantius’ death in 306 sparked a conflict over who would succeed him. Though Constantine had the support of his father’s army, he allowed Severus, his father’s Caesar, to become Augustus. Maxentius, the son of Maximian, was angered that he was passed over and declared himself Augustus. He defeated the Severus and Galerius, the Augustus of the East, in 306 and 307. In 311, Maxentius declared war on Constantine, the greatest threat to his power. In the spring of 312, Constantine led his army toward Maxentius in in Rome. After routing Maxentius’ forces in northern Italy, Constantine approached Rome i...

The Battle of Teutoburg Forest. September 11, 9 AD.

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, described as the Varian Disaster by Roman historians, took place in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE, when an alliance of Germanic tribes ambushed and destroyed three Roman legions and their auxiliaries, led by Publius Quinctilius Varus. The alliance was led by Arminius, a Germanic officer of Varus’s auxilia. Arminius had acquired Roman citizenship and had received a Roman military education, which enabled him to deceive the Roman commander methodically and anticipate the Roman army’s tactical responses. Despite several successful campaigns and raids by the Romans in the years after the battle, they never again attempted to conquer the Germanic territories east of the Rhine river. The victory of the Germanic tribes against Rome’s legions in...

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 ...

Il Duomo. August 7, 1420.

By the beginning of the 15th century, after a hundred years of construction, the structure was still missing its dome. The basic features of the dome had been designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296. His brick model, 4.6 metres high, 9.2 metres long, was standing in a side aisle of the unfinished building, and had long been sacrosanct. It called for an octagonal dome higher and wider than any that had ever been built, with no external buttresses to keep it from spreading and falling under its own weight. The commitment to reject traditional Gothic buttresses had been made when Neri di Fioravanti‘s model was chosen over a competing one by Giovanni di Lapo Ghini. That architectural choice, in 1367, was one of the first events of the Italian Renaissance, marking a break with the Medieval ...

Octavian enters Alexandria. August 1, 30 BC.

The breach between Antony and Octavian prompted a large portion of the Senators, as well as both of that year’s consuls, to leave Rome and defect to Antony. However, Octavian received two key deserters from Antony in the autumn of 32 BC: Munatius Plancus and Marcus Titius. These defectors gave Octavian the information that he needed to confirm with the Senate all the accusations that he made against Antony. Octavian forcibly entered the temple of the Vestal Virgins and seized Antony’s secret will, which he promptly publicized. The will would have given away Roman-conquered territories as kingdoms for his sons to rule, and designated Alexandria as the site for a tomb for him and his queen. In late 32 BC, the Senate officially revoked Antony’s powers as consul and declared ...

The Emperor´s Mausoleum. July 10, 138 AD.

Hadrian died in the year 138 on the 10th of July, in his villa at Baiae at the age of 62. Dio Cassius and the Historia Augusta record details of his failing health. He had reigned for 21 years, the longest since Tiberius, and the fourth longest in the Principate, after Augustus, Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius, and Tiberius. He was buried first at Puteoli, near Baiae, on an estate that had once belonged to Cicero. Soon after, his remains were transferred to Rome and buried in the Gardens of Domitia, close by the almost-complete mausoleum. Upon completion of the Tomb of Hadrian in Rome in 139 by his successor Antoninus Pius, his body was cremated, and his ashes were placed there together with those of his wife Vibia Sabina and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, who also died in ...

Aqua Traiana. Fresh water to a new Rome. June 24, 109 AD.

On June 24, 109, Emperor Trajan opened the Aqua Traiana aqueduct, channelling fresh spring water from sources around Lake Bracciano to Rome, the bustling capital of his empire. The vast structure traversed the countryside to the Janiculum Hill, where it was used as bathing and drinking water for the locals, and also to power a series of water mills for industrial purposes like processing grain and sawing stone. The springs around Lake Bracciano, about 25 miles northwest of Rome, were an important water source for the Ancient Etruscans. Around the year 100, Trajan started the construction of a nymphaeum at the site—a monument consecrated to the nymphs, young water goddesses—as well as the Aqua Traiana, which has survived up to the present day. Trajan recorded many of his achievements in ima...

Attila the Hun. June 4, 452 AD.

  Attila, frequently called Attila the Hun, was the ruler of the Huns from 434 until his death in March 453. He was also the leader of a tribal empire consisting of Huns, Ostrogoths, and Alans among others, in Central and Eastern Europe. During his reign, he was one of the most feared enemies of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires. He crossed the Danube twice and plundered the Balkans, but was unable to take Constantinople. His unsuccessful campaign in Persia was followed in 441 by an invasion of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, the success of which emboldened Attila to invade the West. He also attempted to conquer Roman Gaul (modern France), crossing the Rhine in 451 and marching as far as Aurelianum (Orléans) before being defeated at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. He s...

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