Roman Coins

The Battle of Lake Trasimene. April 24, 217 BC.

The Battle of Lake Trasimene (24 April 217 BC, on the Julian calendar) was a major battle in the Second Punic War. The Carthaginians under Hannibal defeated the Romans under the consul Gaius Flaminius. Hannibal’s victory over the Roman army at Lake Trasimene remains, in terms of the number of men involved, the largest ambush in military history. In the prelude to the battle, Hannibal also achieved the earliest known example of a strategic turning movement. The Carthaginian cavalry and infantry swept down from their concealed positions in the surrounding hills, blocked the road and engaged the unsuspecting Romans from three sides. Surprised and outmanoeuvred, the Romans did not have time to draw up in battle array, and were forced to fight a desperate hand-to-hand battle in open order. The ...

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...

The End of the First Siege of Rome. 12 March 538 AD.

The First Siege of Rome during the Gothic War lasted for a year and nine days, from 2 March 537 to 12 March 538. The city was besieged by the Ostrogothic army under their king Vitiges; the defending East Romans were commanded by Belisarius, one of the most famous and successful Roman generals. The siege was the first major encounter between the forces of the two opponents, and played a decisive role in the subsequent development of the war. More than a year after the siege begun, the Goths, also suffering, like the besieged, from disease and famine, now resorted to diplomacy. An embassy of three was sent to Belisarius, and offered to surrender Sicily and southern Italy (which were already in Roman hands) in exchange for a Roman withdrawal. The dialogue, as preserved by Procopius, clearly i...

The First Battle of Bedriacum. 14 April 69 AD.

Marcus Salvius Otho, with the support and aid of the Praetorian Guard, had his predecessor Galba murdered in January and claimed the throne. Legate Aulus Vitellius, governor of the province of Germania Inferior, had also claimed the throne earlier in the month and marched on Rome with his troops. Vitellius’ forces were divided into two armies, one commanded by Aulus Caecina Alienus and the other by Fabius Valens. The Vitellian forces included legions XXI Rapax, V Alaudae and powerful vexillationes from all the other legions stationed on the Rhine, together with a strong force of Batavian auxiliaries, a force of around 70,000 men. The forces commanded by Caecina crossed the Alps by the Great St. Bernard Pass to reach northern Italy. They attacked Placentia but were repulsed by the Oth...

Caligula Emperor. March 28, 37 AD.

When Tiberius died on 16 March 37 AD, his estate and the titles of the principate were left to Caligula and Tiberius’s own grandson, Gemellus, who were to serve as joint heirs. Although Tiberius was 77 and on his death bed, some ancient historians still conjecture that he was murdered. Tacitus writes that the Praetorian Prefect, Macro, smothered Tiberius with a pillow to hasten Caligula’s accession, much to the joy of the Roman people. Seneca the Elder and Philo, who both wrote during Tiberius’s reign, record Tiberius as dying a natural death. Backed by Macro, Caligula had Tiberius’s will nullified with regard to Gemellus on grounds of insanity, but otherwise carried out Tiberius’s wishes. Caligula accepted the powers of the principate as conferred by the sena...

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...

Constantius III, co-emperor. 8 February 421.

Constantius was a very competent Roman general who made his first appearance in history during the early Fifth Century. Like many of the Roman Empire‘s most illustrious military men, he had been born in Illyria. It is most likely that he had attained the rank of Master of Soldiers and Cavalry in the service of the Roman emperor Honorius by the year A. D. 411. He swiftly ended the rebellion and usurpation of Constantine III by trapping him in the city of Arelate. Constantine III held out for three months, then surrendered the city after the besiegers promised to spare his life. Honorius refused to honor the promise of clemency and had the ex-emperor and his son executed thirty miles outside the city of Ravenna where Honorius maintained his residence. Constantius was appointed patriciu...

The death of Septimius Severus. February 4, 211.

By 210, Septimius Severus‘ campaigning had made significant gains in Britain, despite Caledonian guerrilla tactics and heavy Roman casualties. The Caledonians sued for peace, which Severus granted on condition they gave up control of the Central Lowlands. The Caledonians, short on supplies and feeling their position was becoming desperate, revolted later that year along with the Maeatae. Severus prepared for another protracted campaign within Caledonia. He was now intent on exterminating the Caledonians, telling his soldiers: “Let no-one escape sheer destruction, no-one our hands, not even the babe in the womb of the mother, if it be male; let it nevertheless not escape sheer destruction”. Severus’ campaign was cut short when he fell fatally ill. He withdrew to Eboracum a...

Otho, Emperor of Rome. January 15, 69 AD.

Galba was childless and far advanced in years, and Otho, encouraged by the predictions of astrologers, aspired to succeed him. He came to a secret agreement with Galba’s favourite, Titus Vinius, agreeing to marry Vinius’ daughter in exchange for his support. However, in January 69 AD, his hopes were dashed by Galba’s formal adoption of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus. Desperate as Otho was because of the state of his finances, he found the money needed to purchase the services of some twenty-three soldiers of the Praetorian Guard. On the morning of 15 January, Otho attended as usual to pay his respects to Galba, and then hastily excused himself and hurried from the Palatine Hill to meet his accomplices. He was then escorted to the Praetorian camp, where he was saluted a...

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 Julian Calendar. January 1, 45 BC.

  In the mid-1st century BCE Julius Caesar invited astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria to advise him about the reform of the calendar, and Sosigenes decided that the only practical step was to abandon the lunar calendar altogether. Months must be arranged on a seasonal basis, and a tropical (solar) year used, as in the Egyptian calendar, but with its length taken as 365 1/4 days. To remove the immense discrepancy between calendar date and equinox, it was decided that the year known in modern times as 46 BCE should have two intercalations. This insertion amounted to an addition of 67 days, making a year of no less than 445 days and causing the beginning of March 45 BCE in the Roman republican calendar to fall on what is still called January 1 of the Julian calendar. Previous errors havi...

Caracalla and Geta. December 19, 211 AD.

Caracalla’s father, Septimius Severus, died on 4 February 211 at Eboracum while on campaign in Caledonia, north of the Roman Britannia. Caracalla and his brother, Geta, jointly inherited the throne upon their father’s death. Caracalla and Geta ended the campaign in Caledonia after concluding a peace with the Caledonians that returned the border of Roman Britain to the line demarcated by Hadrian’s Wall. During the journey back to Rome with their father’s ashes, Caracalla and his brother continuously argued with one another, their relations growing increasingly hostile. Caracalla and Geta considered dividing the empire in half along the Bosphorus to make their co-rule less hostile. Caracalla was to rule in the west and Geta was to rule in the east. They were persuaded...

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