Sestertius

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...

Maximinus Thrax and the Year of the Six Emperors. March 19, 325 AD.

  “The Romans could bear his barbarities no longer — the way in which he called up informers and incited accusers, invented false offences, killed innocent men, condemned all whoever came to trial, reduced the richest men to utter poverty and never sought money anywhere save in some other’s ruin, put many generals and many men of consular rank to death for no offence, carried others about in waggons without food and drink, and kept others in confinement, in short neglected nothing which he thought might prove effectual for cruelty — and, unable to suffer these things longer, they rose against him in revolt.” —    Historia Augusta. The emperor at the beginning of the year was Maximinus Thrax, who had ruled since March 20, 235. Later sources claim he was a cruel tyrant...

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...

The Battle of Lugdunum. February 19, 197.

After the murder of Emperor Pertinax (193), a struggle began for the succession to the throne, the so-called Year of the Five Emperors. The new self-proclaimed Emperor in Rome, Didius Julianus, had to face the commander of the Pannonian legions, Septimius Severus. Before moving on Rome, Severus made an alliance with the powerful commander of the legions in Britannia, Clodius Albinus, recognizing him as Caesar. After eliminating Didius that same year and then defeating the governor of Syria in 194, Severus launched a successful campaign in the East in 195. Severus then tried to legitimize his power, connecting himself with Marcus Aurelius, and raising his own son to the rank of Caesar. This last act broke Severus’ alliance with Albinus, who was declared a public enemy by the Senate. I...

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...

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...

Roman Denominations

The Roman Empire came to be from the ashes of the Roman Republic and Imperatorial periods, and once established by Augustus in 27BC, the foundation for the expanded monetary system began and would continue until its overhaul by Diocletian. The base unit of the empire was the copper as, and the system was designed mainly in fractions or multiples of four. The largest regular base-metal coin was the sestertius, valued at four asses, and was made of orichalcum or bronze. The denarius was the silver workhorse and valued at 16 asses. Higher up the chart we find the gold aureus, valued at 25 denarii. In-between and below these denominations we find the quinarius (12-1/2 denarii for gold version and eight asses for the silver module), double-sestertius (eight asses), dupondius (two asses), semis ...

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