Monday, July 29, 2013

When in Rome....

I know, I know: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

Having spent much of my lunch hour reading about the history of Rome, I'd bet that the saying doesn't apply to the early years A.D.

I'd lose that bet, of course, as the saying has been attributed to written letters between two Bishops of the Catholic church somewhere around 390 A.D.  The two Bishops later became Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine, two of the four great doctors of the Latin church.  Must've been true, then, right?

Only problem: based on what I can tell, Rome during those days was a downright crazy place to be.  If I'd been in Rome, I can't imagine myself doing that crazy stuff.

See, it all started (this blog post, not the Roman thing) when I went to find out what, if anything, happened of interest ever before on July 29th.  After all, a similar search yesterday turned up the goody goodness of National Milk Chocolate Day!!!!  Yummmm!  That was so much fun it shouldn't have been legal, I tell you what.

So what did I find?  Well, July 29th is International Tiger Day, for one thing.  And hey, that's kinda cool, if you're a tiger.  Especially so, I think, if you're an international tiger.  For me?  Meh.  I like tigers well enough, I suppose, as long as they're not trying to eat me.  I don't like tigers as much as I like chocolate, though, and that's a fact.  Sorry, tigers.

July 29th is also National Thai Language Day, but only if you're in Thailand, because hey, a National Thai Language Day wouldn't make sense anywhere else.  My knowledge of Thai Language ends just after the term "pad thai," though, so I can't do much with that.  Sorry, I really got nothin'.

Today is also the birthday of Wil Wheaton, which is a treat to all of the Trekkies out there who care to follow the actors' birthdays.  I'm a Trekkie, but--well, not that much.  Happy Birthday, Wil Wheaton, and here's hoping you have many more years of conflict with Dr. Cooper.

But the first Event listed for July 29th was intriguing.  Like I said, the later years of ancient Rome were cray-cray.  I always sort of knew that, but we didn't really talk about that, just like we never really talked about Aunt--oh, um, never mind.  No, seriously, at least as far as Rome is concerned.  In World History class, there was a Persian Empire, and a Roman Empire, and then along came Jesus who founded the Catholic Church and had an Inquisition and then the empire sort of imploded to become a city surrounded by the Eurozone.  And sometime back then the city burned while an emperor played the fiddle (I thought they only had violins back then?) but it must've been rebuilt because sure as crap, it's still standing.

At West Point they taught us more about Rome, at least as far as the military history went.  We learned about the Roman legions that pretty much kicked everybody else's tuckas.  Except, of course, for the Persians, and sometimes the Germanic tribes, but at least they were good at kicking the English island inhabitants' buttocks.  We also learned of a few key battles, but by the time the fall of Rome came about the military professors were getting tired of all that marching in squares stuff and introduced us to the knights on horseback and then the longbow.  And then there was Napoleon.  It--well, it all went by kinda fast.

The sad thing is that there's this whole rich history right there.  I mean, like, right there in a single year's time in one town.  Specifically, the Year of the Five Emperors.  Really must've sucked to be in Rome, doing as Romans do, that year.

So the Events list for the year 238 A.D. (not the same Year I mentioned earlier--we'll get there) said that on July 29th, "The Praetorian Guard storm the palace and capture Pupienus and Balbinus.  They are dragged through the streets of Rome and executed.  On the same day, Gordian III, age 13, is proclaimed emperor."

Whoa.  There's gotta be a story somewhere there.  First of all, the first guy captured was named Pupienus.  Say it out loud, I dare ya.  Keep a straight face when you do it, I dare ya.  Balbinus, the other guy, has a name that's nearly as funny to do that with, juvenile as it might be.  Still, today I needed a chuckle, and I got one at the expense of some long-dead Roman emperors.

Hehe.  Hehe.  Poopy in us.  Hehe.

So anyway, yes, the story.  The story pretty much began with the assassination of Alexander Severus, the Roman Emperor named after the Harry Potter character.

Okay, fine, so it's more likely that the HP character was named after the Roman Emperor.  Still, it's fun to think about it the other way.

Anyway, Severus's thirteen year reign over the Roman Empire was apparently the last peaceful time they had.  By 235 a group of Roman soldiers were tired of peace and angry that Severus was securing that peace in part by paying enemies not to attack, so they took care of it in their own special way by turning on the emperor and killing him.  Their leader, a guy who'd been promoted by the emperor himself, was a guy named Maximinus Thrax.  Max was a darn good military commander, but he was also a mere barbarian in the eyes of the Roman Senate.  He named himself Emperor, as so often happens in the annals of history, and went off to Africa to kill the guys, Gordian I and Gordian II, that the Senators wanted in the wreathed slot.  When he succeeded at that, poof, he was Emperor.

No, that's not as funny of a story as one might expect of something that starts with poopy, but it gets better. Ole' Max realized he'd never actually been to Rome, though that was supposed to be his capitol, and so he turned his armies around from Africa and started that'a'way.  The Senators really didn't want to see him, though, for the obvious reason, and so they elected Pupienus and Balbinus to save them from the nasty Maximinus.

Now we're starting to sound like an episode from the Transformers, aren't we?

So they beat him.  Pupienus and Balbinus did, that is.  And yay! everybody rejoiced, except of course for the guys who'd been following Maximinus.  Well, them, and the Senators, who really didn't like the pair much better than they'd liked Max, and, well, pretty much the entire population of Rome, who apparently were pretty well fed up with the Better-than-Thou stock the poopy-twins came from.  Oh, and there was a massive fire in Rome, too, which though nobody fiddled during it--at least according to recorded history--was still a serious downer to the people.  Thus it was that the Praetorian Guard, generally the group that was charged with protecting the Emperor(s) back in those days, waltzed into the castle and killed them.

(well, they didn't actually waltz, since that dance wouldn't be invented for another 1300 years or so, but--well, you get my drift, right?)

Thus started the reign of Gordian III, the thirteen year old son of Gordian II, who if you'll recall was one of the two guys killed in Africa.  He was popular, in part because he hadn't yet been old enough to piss anybody off, and thus he managed to keep his head (literally) for a whopping six years before dying in an undocumented manner, either in battle or, um, not, at the ripe old age of nineteen.  That cleared his successor to be Emperor for five years before he, too, lost his head to someone who wanted the crown.  And--well, the remaining verses are the same, just shorter.

Anyway, the two co-emperors, Pupienus and Balbinus, held the cherished seat for a whopping three months, which was, believe it or not, longer than some of their predecessors had.

Yes, there.  Now I'm coming back to the Year of the Five Emperors.

It wasn't that I was curious who had the shortest reign, believe it or not, that drew me to that event.  It was that the barbarian general who became Emperor, Maximinus, entered the service the first time under the reign of Alexander Severus, whose reign actually rode out the end of 193 A.D., the Year of the Five Emperors, and lasted for a whopping thirteen years after.  But what about those who came before?

Pertinax started it.

Well, not really.  The guy who actually got the fiasco going was--and I kid you not--named Commodus.

Now how's that Poopy-In-Us sounding, eh?

Anyway, Commodus--no, really!  I can't make this good of a story up--had a twelve year reign as Emperor.  In those, he became famous for devaluing the currency as well as for leaving the empire to be run by others while he did what Roman Emperors have since become famous for doing--you know, lewdness, debauchery, that kind of thing.  People didn't like that mode of emperor-ship, so then he started taking a heavy-handed interest in how things were going, and people didn't like that any better.

No kidding: he had all the statues made over to look like him, and he even renamed all of their months after his twelve--count 'em!--names.

Finally, on the thirty-first day of December, 192, ole' Commodus got flushed.  (sorry, couldn't resist another poopy joke).  His lover poisoned his food (bummer, man) but when he threw that up--and he should've seen something else coming, you'd think--they sent his wrestling sparring partner in to strangle him in his bath.

Happy New Year!  The New Years Resolutions, though, really sucked for Romans.

Now, after twelve years of somebody's megalomanic rule, who would you pick to succeed him?  Of course, you'd want somebody who is respected and disciplined, right?  And that's who they picked, in the form of Pertinax.  (yeah, I could make another name joke here, but you're probably tired of 'em)  Only problem is that when said disciplinarian turned his interest into enforcing discipline on you, you might not like him as much.  And they didn't.  In fact, when he tried to whip the ole' Praetorian Guard into shape, they up and killed him.

Bummer, again, right?

Bigger bummer, in fact: they decided, since they had the biggest swords in town, that the next Emperor would be of their choosing, and dang the Senate.  They'd choose one, in fact, in a manner that would help them all--an auction.  Not having eBay, they turned to a public auction in the arena.

And the guy who won it was outside, having been too late to the party to get a seat.  Go figure--that's a heckuvan omen.

He won it by promising a huge amount of money for each member of the guard.  Thus did Didius Julianus take the wreath of Roman Emperor, a post he held onto for all of nine weeks.

His first act?  Devaluing the currency even further, something that really ticked off most of the Romans, and this launched a civil war.  The Praetorian Guard had, by that point, become militarily competent at nothing except Emperor assassination, so they weren't much use against the people when the Senate said "hey, we didn't want Didius in the firstius place."  When the Senate promised that most of the Guard would keep their heads, though, they dutifully did Didius in.  And thus began the reign of Septimius Severus.

But...but...but...I'm sure you're wondering: who're the other two Emperors in the Year of the Five of 'em?  I was.  Turns out that one was Clodius Albinus, who was in Britain when Pertinax was killed.  Clodius's men proclaimed him Emperor because they loved him.  Then, once Didius was gone and Septimius was Senate-appointed Emperor, Clodius joined up with the new guy to fend off the claim of Dude #5, Pescinnius Niger.  Niger fought a long and generally losing battle against Septimius and Clodius all the way out to the east as far as Antioch.  He finally got caught and lost his head, leaving two Roman Emperors, Septemius and Clodius, face to face in a grudge match.

Of course, there can be only one.  Granted, that hadn't always been the answer; in his early years Commodus had gone Number Two, after all.  (you didn't think I could seriously go without the obvious potty humor, did you?)  But Septimius didn't want to hear that, and so he turned around and attacked his new Caesar-rival.  

Our story comes to a close with the Battle of Lugdunum, in what is now France.  That battle, destined to determine which guy got to be the real emperor, apparently was huge, hosting nearly 150,000 troops on each side.  As history shows, Septimius won, and Clodius Albinus lost his head, thus creating a trophy that was delivered to Rome to tell 'em who was now in charge.

And that's the Year of the Five Emperors.


No comments:

Post a Comment