Saturday 27 August 2016

The Roman Army

Perhaps nowhere can the formidable organization and ruthlessness of the Roman world be better seen than in its army. The professional standing army of several hundred thousand men at the height of the empire, was a disciplined and well trained fighting machine.

The ancient Greek hoplites(infantry) fought in organized formations. The hoplite "phalanx" in which they stood closely together with their shields locked together, allowed them to form a united front against the enemy - something that the roman army used during the republic.

Greek Hoplite Soldiers

From birth to death, life in Sparta was tied to the army. Young boys were trained as soldiers and the aim of the state was to produce a perfect and invincible army. Some of these values are echoed in the self-sacrifice demanded of roman soldiers.

The Roman army was not a static organization but evolved over the centuries to meet diverse challenges and overcome new enemies. In the days of the early republic the army was staffed by volunteers from the aristocratic families. They provided their own weapons and uniform and trained for 5 or 6 years. By 1st century the army had become a well organized, mobile fighting force.

Every Roman legion had an eagle standard(aquila) and the person who carried it was called aquilifer and it was a coveted position. From this time, soldiers sworn their allegiance to the emperor and not the republic, which was key in ensuring their loyalty and in defending and protecting the empire's borders over the next two centuries.

Roman Army Standards

Roman army for many people was a way to escape from a life of poverty or to gain political power or influence. Young men were expected to do military service as a part of their education. Those from wealthier background saw the army as a step on the ladder to public office. 

New recruits to the Roman army had to be physically fit. They would be expected to march up to 30 km(20 miles) a day, carrying all their equipment, which may have weighed 30 kg or more wearing leather footwear with steel studs. at the end of the day spent on march they often had to set up a fortified military camp for the night, digging boundary ditches and setting up tents. 

Roman Sandals 

In battle, every soldier was expected to obey command and fight in formation. One of the most famous of these formations was the  "tortoise"(testudo) in which rectangular blocks of soldiers stood together with their shields facing outwards and upwards towards the enemy.    

Tortoise Formation

Housesteads Fort is the most complete auxiliary Roman fort in Britain and was built c.122 CE on Hadrian's wall on the northern border of the empire. Its name has been variously given as Vercovicium, Borcovicus, Borcovicium, and Velurtion. The name of the 18th century farmhouse Housesteads is the modern name.

Ruins of Housesteads Fort

Vindolanda tablets were scrapes of wood, found in a waterlogged rubbish heap near a Roman fort in northern England. They provide a detail snapshot of life on the frontier of the empire from 97-103 CE. Work rotas, accounts and reports give us an idea of everyday life as a Roman soldier. 

Vindolanda Tablets

Roman auxiliary infantry crossing a river, probably the Danube, on a pontoon bridge during the emperor Trajan's Dacian Wars (101–106 AD).

Saturday 20 August 2016

Classical Art

The art of ancient Greece and Rome - often known collectively as Classical Art - brought into being a wide range of different styles and approaches. The have had an enormous impact on Western Art for many centuries, right up to the present day.

The Laocoon sculpture
The Laocoon sculpture, is one of the most famous of ancient classical sculptures and probably dates from c.200 BC or later. The identity of it's creator is uncertain. It shows the Trojan priest, Laocoon , with his two sons being attacked by snakes. One of the stories related to him was that he and his sons were killed by serpents as a punishment from gods for having broken his vows of celibacy.

Examples of early Greek art include striking symmetrical pottery and stone statues of idealized human forms. Between the 10th and the 8th century BC, the Geometric style dominated Greek pottery. Its abstract, linear forms reveal the love of symmetry and proportion that was so important to the Greek art.

Geometry styled pot

The Archaic period(c.750 - 480 BC) is famous for its kouros sculptures showing an idealized human form. These forward facing nudes show the same symmetry as early Greek pottery. Bronze casting became popular in the 500's, which made side on poses easier to create. This led to much greater realism in the sculptures of later periods.

A kouros sculpture 

The art of classical world took the form of statuary, painted pottery, wall paintings and mosaics, and architecture. Art became more realistic over time, moving from the idealized form of the early period to the realism of the later Hellenistic period(c.323 - 146 BC). 

Workshops in the ancient world at this time produced statues of all styles, in clay, marble and bronze. These were sold all over the known world, to a rising number of private patrons. Before the Hellenistic era, statues were made to mark a grave, glorify a temple or to commemorate a war, vases often had practical uses. Now wealthy buyers wanted portrait of themselves to decorate their villa.

Black figure vase
Greek vases often had dark figures against a red clay background, as in this example, or red figures on black. The painters were highly skilled and the style evolved overtime. The art of floor mosaics, using tiny pieces of colored stones, was invented by the Greeks, but it is the Romans who were famous for their mosaic work. 

The Romans created monumental architecture and statues(Roman Architecture) that celebrated the glories and wealth of their rule. The Romans also used the Greek temple form, often placing it on a platform to make it more impressive and filing it's panels withe sculptures plundered from Greece. 

Zeuxis(5th century BC) was one of the ancient Greece's most famous painters. Ancient writers told a famous tale about him painting an image of grapes that was so realistic that birds tried to peck it. Sadly, none of his works survive today. 

Corinth Column

The Greeks created several different orders(styles) of columns for their buildings, which the Roman later adopted. This column is the Greek Corinth style, which was especially popular in Rome.

 The art of Greece and Rome has influenced many later cultures. Domed buildings perfected by Romans, became a distinctive feature of the Eastern Byzantine Empire. The 6th century church of Hagia Sophia, in the former Byzantine capital Constantinople(now Istanbul) is an example.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

15th century CE Europe rediscovered the art and architecture of Classical Greece and Rome. sculptures and painters such as Raphael in Italy, gained a classical understanding of human anatomy and architects created buildings inspired by ancient Greek temples.   


Saturday 13 August 2016

Roman Architecture

The immense load bearing capacity of concrete, along with further advances in the application of architectural elements like the arch, meant that Romans could produce massive structures such as the Colosseum, the enormous dome of the Pantheon, harbors such as Caesarea Maritima in Judea in Middle East.

The Colosseum, Rome
The Colosseum, Rome, is a massive amphitheater that was originally called the Flavian amphitheater as it was built by Flavian emperors. The site of countless gladiatorial combats, its formal opening in 80 CE was marked by 100 days of gladiatorial games.

The temples of Jupiter, Minerva and Juno 

The temples of Jupiter, Minerva and Juno near Sbeitla, Tunisia is one part of the impressive remains of the ancient Roman city of Sufetula which probably originated as a fort during campaigns against Numidian rebels.

The Pont du Gard
The Pont du Gard aqueduct(an artificial waterway) was built c.19 BC to carry water from Ucetia(Uzes) to Nemausus(Nimes) ,in France. With three tier of arches and a height of nearly 50 meters(165 Ft) it was the highest aqueduct built by the Romans.

The Library of Celsus

The Library of Celsus at Ephesus(Turkey) was built in 2nd century CE as a monument to a Roman senator and governor Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. It stored thousands of manuscripts in scrolls.The interior of the library was destroyed, supposedly by an earthquake in 262 CE. The front of the building has been faithfully restored.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon in Rome, created as a temple in 2nd century CE, is famed for it's dome, the largest until modern times. Over 21 meters(70 ft) high, with a diameter of over 43 meters(140 ft), cement mixed with pumice near the top of the dome helps to support the structure. 

Trajan's column

Trajan's column is triumphal column in Rome, Italy that commemorates Roman Emperor Trajan's victory in the Dacian Wars. It was probably constructed under the supervision of the architect Apollodorus of Damascus at the order of the Roman senate. It was completed in 113 CE, and it is famous for its spiral bas relief, which describes the Dacian wars.

Constantine's Arch

The arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch in Rome, situated between the Colosseum and the Palatine hill. It was erected by the Roman senate to commemorate Constantine I's victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 CE.

Maison Carrée

Maison Carrée, Nimes in southern France, is one of the best preserved Roman temples to be found in the territory of former Roman Empire. It was completed in c.2 CE.


Monday 8 August 2016

From Republic To Empire

As the structures of the Republican system gave away to the empire, Rome found itself in command of vast, worldwide territories. The empire encompassed a diverse mix of peoples, and it's politics, way of life, artistic achievements and spectacular feats of engineering, have had a lasting impact.

From 67-60 BC, the Great Roman general, Pompey, defeated pirates across the Mediterranean, gained lands for Rome in the middle East, and formed the First Triumvirate alliance with Marcus Licnius Crassus and Julius Caesar. In 49 BC, Caesar took Rome and war broke out between his and the Senate's forces now led by Pompey. Pompey was murdered by allies of Caesar.


In 44 BC, Caesar was murdered by a group of senators. His successors, the Roman general Mark Antony, and Octavian(Caesar's adopted son), became unable to work together, divided the Roman Empire into west(Octavian), and east(Antony). Octavian defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. A year later Octavian took over Egypt.

Mark Antony

By 27 BC, Octavian, was in effect the empire's first "emperor" taking the title Augustus. He claimed to have restored the republic and to have returned the power to the Senate and the people. The republic's system of rule, based on competition among aristocratic families was replaced by an imperial one in which a single aristocratic family dominated.

Statue of Emperor Augustus
By the late 1st century CE, at the time of emperor Trajan(ruled 98 - 117 CE), the empire stretched across a vast area that took in all of the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and a large chink of Northern and central Europe with 50 million people living on Roman land.  Major factor in retaining these lands was the Rome's legendary military might. Empire had an standing army and its soldiers were extremely skilled and loyal to the Emperor.

Statue of Emperor Trajan
Ancient Roman Civilization was highly urbanized with a vast network of prosperous cities, connected by a network of roads and bridges. The empire's extensive territories were divided into provinces ruled by governors called proconsuls, who ruled in the Emperors name. By 3rd century CE, separate leaders often attended to military matters.

Rome's huge empire meant a diverse web of trading connections. Its provinces traded all kinds of basic and luxury goods with each other, ranging from salt to mass-produced statues. The empire was connected by thousands of kilometers of expertly made roads, typically consisting of marble slabs laid on rubble. Many Roman roads survive today, some in good condition such as the Appian way in Rome which linked Rome to southeastern Italy.

Appian Way
In August 79 CE, a massive eruption from Mount Vesuvius buried the nearby Roman city of Campania(now called Pompeii) in southern Italy under 6m(20ft) of ash and debris. Excavation has revealed a perfectly preserved example of a sophisticated Greco-Roman city of around 20,000 people,with buildings such as forum, amphitheater and lavish villas. Many human bodies left their shape in the ash, from which the plaster casts have been made(below), showing Pompeii's people as they fell.

Workers with casts of bodies.

Gathering for business or pleasure was a central part of Roman life. Meeting places such as markets, public forum areas, bath houses were popular spots. Meetings were generally conducted in open places, to discourage the secret plotting that characterized Roman rule. Entertainment took form of athletic games, gladiatorial combat, animal hunts and chariot races.

Emperor Hadrian supervised the building of Hadrian's wall. Built on the Northern border of the empire, it stretches almost 120 km(75 miles), coast to coast across Northern England

Hadrian's Wall

Around 165 CE, a plague(possibly smallpox), broke out in the empire and lasted for around 15 years. The estimated death toll of this plague was about 5 million including two emperors. The years from 235 - 284 CE were a chaotic time with a rapid succession of Emperors murdered one after other. In 284 CE, the period of crisis ended when Roman general Diocletian made himself emperor. He created the first imperial college of four emperors(the Tetrarchy) to oversee four sections of empire. 

Diocletian Edict

In the early part of the 4th century CE, Roman Emperor Constantine(280-337 CE), established a second Rome at Byzantium(modern Istanbul) renaming it Constantinople.   

Emperor Constantine
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