This Week In History

Io Saturnalia – December 17-23

Although initially, the feast of Saturnalia began on December 17 in ancient Roman times, it was later expanded run to December 23. The Roman god, Saturn, presided over several aspects of life, including agriculture, wealth, liberation and time. As such, his festival period was a time to exchange gifts and engage in social activities otherwise not acceptable. Slaves were allowed to reverse roles with their masters during feasting and were allowed free speech. The traditional Roman toga was replaced with brightly-colored Greek synthesis, or cenatoria (dinner wear). Citizens and slaves alike were allowed to wear the pileus, as opposed to the bare-headed norm. During the festivities, gambling and playing dice was permitted by everyone. It was a time of over-eating and over-drinking. Horace wro...

The Year of Four Emperors – 69 AD

When January 1, 69 arrived, Servius Sulpicius Galba was on the throne of the Roman Empire, following the suicide of Nero in June the previous year. It was a tumultuous time in the empire, with civil war breaking out in several regions. Galba himself rose to the purple through the machinations of the Praetorian Guard prefect, Nymphidius Sabinus, after the failed attempt of Vindex to promote Galba, while he was governor of Hispania Tarraconensis, to replace Nero. Galba marched into Rome with the Legion VII Galbiana, which would later be renamed VII Genima. Support was tenuous for Galba in the beginning as it was, even though he was confirmed by the Senate. Two of the legions in Gaul refused to support him and instead wanted the governor of their region, Aulus Vitellius Germanicus, proclaimed...

Cicero: Orator, Lawyer, Politician – December 7, 43 BC

Marcus Tullius Cicero came from a wealthy family of the equestrian order in the ancient Roman Republic. His prose influenced European languages through his Latin for thousands of years and is considered one of the greatest orators of Roman times. His letters, rediscovered in the 14th century, are often cited as the spark for the renaissance of public affairs and Roman culture. Coupled with all of his linguistic abilities, Cicero was also an accomplished politician and successful lawyer. This is a catgory of  roman republic coins. His political career began in 75 BC as quaestor in western Sicily. He was honest and trustworthy in this position accounting for the public treasuries, and as such was pleaded by the public to take up a case against Gaius Verres, a local corrupt governor (some thi...

Marcus Aurelius Promoted – December 1, 147 AD

Marcus Aurelius was born to Marcus Annius Verus and Domitia Lucilla in 121 AD. Although his parents were wealthy, they were not descendants of the current emperor, Hadrian, or his lineage. However, these were different times in the Roman Empire from when Augustus began it the century previous – these were the times of adoptive lineage. Aurelius spent his childhood in his family’s estate, with private tutors, and later credited his family for all of his upbringing and good personality traits. Although his father died when he was only three, he credits him with instilling “modesty and manliness” through his teachings and his posthumous reputation. He credits his mother for his “piety, simplicity of diet and avoiding the ways of the rich”. Aurelius also credited his tutors for shaping h...

The Second Emperor – November 16, 42 BC

The ascension to the throne, and the reign of Tiberius Claudius Nero, were both typical and predictably self-serving. He was born in Fondi, Italy, on November 16, 42 BC to Livia Drusilla and Tiberius Claudius Nero, head of the Claudii family. His father was a strong supporter of the old Roman Republic, and opposed the Triumvirate. At first, Tiberius sided with Marc Antony and went to join Antony’s brother in Perusia, taking Livia and the younger Tiberius with him. By the time they arrived, Octavian’s forces had already taken the city and they were forced to flee. In 40 BC, the elder Tiberius took up arms against the Triumvirate, having joined with Sextus Pompey, and lost a battle against Octavian, forcing him to flee to Achaea to join Marc Antony, until the following year. Tiberius and fam...

The Second Triumvirate – November 11, 43 BC

Octavian had been involved in conflicts with Marc Antony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, but in October of 43 BC, they decided to meet to unify their power. Officially ending the Roman Republican period, they met near modern-day Bologna on November 11, 43 BC, to draft the Lex Titia, creating the legally established Second Triumvirate when signed into law two weeks later. The term was for five years, at which time it would be reviewed and renewed. The Triumvirate, which held supreme authority, was officially titled Triumviri Rei Publicae Constituendae Consulari Potestate, translating to “Three Men for Confirming the Republic with Consular Power”. The titles are shown on coins as III VIR R P C and the name of the triumvir. Before the new alliance began, their parts of the Roman World were split...

Nerva Born – November 8, 30 AD

Marcus Cocceius Nerva was born in Italy-Narni on November 8, 30 AD (or 35 AD – there are conflicting sources) to a lineage of very well-connected politicians. His grandfather and father were both consuls and the Cocceii family was connected to the Julio-Claudian dynasty through marriage. Most of Nerva’s life was spent in the background of Roman politics, but was apparently very productive. He was appointed praetor-elect in 65 and was one of Nero’s advisors. He helped expose the Pisonian Conspiracy in 65, plotting the assassination of Nero. Whatever his involvement in exposing the plot, it must have been considerable as Nero gave him triumphal honors and the right to have his statues placed around the palace. Nero was also very fond of Nerva’s literary skills. Also in Nero’s circle at the t...

Maxentius, “the Rebel” – October 28, 306 AD

Born c.278 AD, Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius was the son of Maximianus and Eutropia. When his father was promoted to co-emperor of the Roman Empire by Diocletian in 285, it was assumed he would follow in his father’s footsteps and eventually be declared emperor as well. However, when Diocletian and Maximianus retired and abdicated, Maxentius and Constantine I were passed over and the previous Caesars, Constantius Chlorus and Galerius became co-Augustii and promoted Severus II and Maximinus II Daia to co-Caesarii. Constantius Chlorus was the father of Constantine I and Galerius was the father-in-law of Maxentius, through the marriage of his daughter, Valeria Maximilla. After Constantius died in 306, Constantine I was promoted to Caesar. In later 306, the Tetrarchy was planning to disba...

“In This Sign Ye Shall Conquer” – October 28, 312 AD

After the death of Galerius in 311 AD, the Roman Empire was split between four Augustii – Constantine I in the western provinces allied with Licinius I in the Balkans, Pannoniae and Illyria and Maxentius controlling Italy and Africa, allied with Maximinus II Daia in Asia and Egypt. Each of the four viewed the others as hostile, so the alliances that did exist were out of convenience to choose sides for the inevitable civil war. Constantine invaded Italy to confront Maxentius, even though he was vastly outnumbered militarily. What he had on his side was discipline and tactics. The armies of Maxentius had many veterans who were enjoying the finer things in Rome after having served their emperor. The younger recruits were not yet fully trained. Constantine, however, had well-seasoned troops a...

Jovian Elevated – October 22, 363 AD

Upon the death of Julian II, in battle near Phrygia against the Persians around June 26, 363, the position of ruling the Roman Empire suddenly became available. The armies offered to elevate Saturninus Secundus Salutius, a praetorian prefect, but he declined because of his age. Next in line was Flavius Jovianus, the militarily accomplished son of General Varronianus. Jovian accepted and shortly thereafter signed an unfavorable treaty of peace with the Sassanian King, Shapur II, to get the beleaguered and starving Roman army back into friendly territory. This retreat cost the Romans all of their territory east of the Tigris River, part of Armenia, and the cities of Nisibis and Singara in Mesopotamia – all territories won under Septimius Severus and Galerius. Julian II is often referred to a...

Claudius Poisioned – October 13, 54 AD

Upon the murder of Caligula by the praetorian guards on January 24, 41 AD, there were only three surviving males in the Julio-Claudian dynasty that had been ruling the Roman Empire – Claudius (50, son of Nero Claudius Drusus and Antonia); Nero (4, son of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Agrippina Junior); and Brittanicus (1, son of Claudius and Valeria Messalina). While Caligula was being relieved of his mortal coil, Claudius hid behind some curtains in the palace. The praetorians found him and led him to their camp. To his great surprise, he was there elevated to emperor for two likely reasons – the Senate was debating possibly turning from the Empire model and back to the old Republican one; and the praetorians likely expected they could easily control Claudius because of his impaired con...

Constantine vs. Licinius – October 8, 316 AD

After Licinius defeated Maximinus Daia in 313, and added Asia and Egypt to all of his Balkan territories, he and Constantine the Great were the two remaining rulers of the Roman Empire. At first, they tried to cooperate and rule the empire with Licinius in the East and Constantine in the West, but the agreement they had was merely out of convenience and not because they truly wanted to co-rule. This is a category of  Constantine coin. Tensions began immediately and both decided to create essentially a buffer zone in Rhaetia and Pannonia, managed by Bassianus, who was married to the sister of the wife of Licinius, and was also the half-brother-in-law to Constantine. Both saw this as fair, since his loyalty should be split evenly between the two emperors. However, Licinius managed to convinc...

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