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The Ides of March

by March 15, 2022

by Ed Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
The 15th of March may just seem like just another day to the modern world. Yet in ancient Rome, the day was crucial. It was the date of the Ides of March, when several religious festivals were celebrated, and it went on to become infamous as the day that Julius Caesar was assassinated. Considering this, it’s perhaps natural that the day has become associated with ill-omens and bad luck in modern times.
The Ides of March
The Ides was a day that occurred every month in the Roman calendar, and fell either on the 13th or 15th day of our calendar. The date was determined by the full moon, and the Ides of March fell on the 15th. The Romans had a very unusual way of counting dates. The dates were calculated based on distance the from specific days: the Kalends, the Nones and the Ides. The Kalends were at the start of every month, and the Nones happened on day 5 or 7 of a month. An example of Roman dating is as follows: the 13th would have been known as two days before the Ides of March. 
Religious Festival
The Ides were held to be sacred to Jupiter, the supreme deity in the Roman pantheon. It was also associated with the festival of Anna Perenna. This deity was the embodiment of the cycle of the year. Many historians believe that the day was once the New Year in Rome. The Anna Perenna festival was marked by feasting, drinking, games, and gladiatorial games.
A reconstructed Roman wall-calendar
A reconstructed Roman wall-calendar
Like many Roman carnivals, the Anna Perenna festival was a time when celebrants could subvert traditional power relations between social classes and gender roles; people were allowed to speak freely about sex and politics. The Ides of March was also the first day of a week-long celebration of the Anatolian Mother Goddess Cybele and her consort Attis.
Other sources state that the Ides of March was the day on which the Mamuralia was held. This was a day that saw an old man dressed in animal skins beaten. It is possible that this was related to some ancient scapegoating ceremony, or some forgotten New Year ceremony. As you can see, Roman religion was very dynamic; it evolved, especially during the Imperial era, when foreign customs and gods became popular. Yet as the Empire was Christianized, the Ides lost their religious significance.
The Assassination of Julius Caesar
On the Ides of March one of the most infamous political assassinations of all time took place. Julius Caesar, one of history’s greatest generals and the dictator of Rome, was warned not to go to the Senate House, as his life was in danger. In many sources, he ignored the prophesy of a seer. As he took his seat in the Senate House, Caesar was attacked by up to 60 conspirators who wanted to restore the Republic. They stabbed him multiple times, and Caesar died before a statue of his great rival and enemy Pompey.  The conspirators led by Brutus and Cassius may have selected the Ides of March because it was an auspicious day, and they knew that many poor people, who were sympathetic to Caesar, were outside the city at gladiatorial games. The assassination of the dictator set the stage for a civil war and the collapse of the Roman Republic.
The soothsayer warning Julius Caesar to 'Beware the Ides of March'
The soothsayer warning Julius Caesar to ‘Beware the Ides of March’
Beware the Ides of March!
For many centuries the Ides of March has been seen as unlucky and even dangerous. In the ancient world, the day was not seen as inauspicious; people looked forward to it as a day of rituals and fun. Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar contains a memorable scene where a soothsayer tells the title character to ‘beware the Ides of March’. This line became very popular and is much quoted, and led to the belief that the Ides of March was unlucky. In modern popular culture, the Ides of March has become a by-word for ominous events and bad luck.  
The Ides of March was a very important festival in the Roman calendar. It was associated with a number of religious festivals in the Roman Republic and Empire.  The day was often marked by festivals and fun. It became notorious because it was the day when Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC.  The day has since become synonymous with misfortune in modern times, but was viewed as a day of celebration in the ancient world.
So, there is no reason to believe that the Ides of March are unluckier than any other day, after all!
Balsdon, John Percy Vyvian Dacre. “The Ides of March.” Historia: Zeitschrift fur Alte Geschichte (1958): 80-94.
Horsfall, N., 1974. The Ides of March: some new problems. Greece & Rome, 21(2), pp.191-199.

Salome Alexandra: Queen of the Jews

by March 8, 2022

by Kenneth C. Gutwein
Who was Salome Alexandra? Arguably, she was the most misunderstood queen in history. A warrior and successful administrator, much of her life is mysterious and unclear.
Josephus Flavius (37-c.100 CE), our main source for Salome, tells us nothing of her background. A Dead Sea Scroll fragment (4Q322) mentions her by her Hebrew name “Shlomzion” (Peace of Zion) without further details. Even the date of her birth is controversial. Kenneth Atkinson, a noted scholar who has written a great deal about Salome, places her birth at 141 BCE which would have made her 29 years old at the time of her marriage to Alexander Jannaeus. He would have been 14 or 16; even in an age of early marriages, this disparity would have been shocking.
Jannaeus’ father, John Hyrcanus (r.154-134 BCE) probably chose her for his son, as Atkinson says, “to groom him to be a functional member of the royal family”, as he was not expected to rule. Only after the unforeseen death of his older brothers, Aristobulus I (r.104-03 BCE) and Antigonus, did Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BCE) inherit the throne.
Alexandra and the Pharisees
Although some scholars maintain that Alexandra came from a pious Jewish family of Pharisees, this is unlikely, as her husband slaughtered 800 Pharisees during his reign. Despite this, there can be no doubt that she favored the Pharisee sect. The Pharisees were a socio-religious movement in Judea during the time of the Second Temple (146BCE-70CE). After the destruction of the Temple in 70CE, their beliefs became the basis for Rabbinic Judaism. Primary among these beliefs was the acceptance of the Oral Law, or oral interpretation of the Torah, as equally important as the Written or Mosaic Law. This was a view that the more elite Sadducees or priestly class disputed, only accepting the Written Law. Josephus tells us that the Pharisees “ascribe everything to Fate or to God,” and “only the souls of good men pass into other bodies, while the souls of bad men [are] subjected to eternal punishment”. The Sadducees on the other hand, “deny Fate altogether,” as they also deny the permanence of the soul. Salome apparently favored the Pharisees even early on in her marriage, although her father-in-law John Hyrcanus I and husband Alexander Jannaeus favored the Sadducees.
Alexander Jannaeus feasting while the Pharisees are crucified
Alexander Jannaeus feasting while the Pharisees are crucified
Our sources, particularly Rabbinic ones, bestow high praise upon Salome. Atkinson says, “there are some passages in the Talmud that say that during her husband’s reign, she protected Pharisees and hid Pharisees from his wrath.” One of the leading Pharisees, Rabbi Shimon Ben Shetach (120-40 BCE) made frequent visits to the palace after her husband’s death, and apparently they became quite close. So close, in fact, that the Talmud claims that he was her brother although this is disputed. Nevertheless, after Jannaeus’ death, they were closely associated, and once she came to power, she supported Shimon’s Pharasaic reforms. These included revising the marriage law to be more favorable to women with a “ketubah” (formal marriage contract), as well as the reorganization of the Sanhedrin, which became a supreme court for the administration of religious matters and justice. The Pharisees now became the ruling class for all religious matters, with the appointment of her older son Hyrcanus II as high priest who was totally supportive of the Pharisees.
Warrior Queen
Another aspect on her life is her role as a warrior queen. Having endured her husband’s penchant for incessant warfare for 27 years, she was summoned to the site of Alexander Jannaeus’ last campaign against the Nabateans at Ragaba in 76 BCE. While there, Jannaeus whom we are told was “afflicted with a quartan ague (fever) …He died…after reigning 27 years.” Josephus tells us that on his deathbed, Jannaeus:
“…left his throne to his wife Alexandra, confident that the Jews would most readily submit to her, since by her freedom from any trace of his brutality, and constant opposition to his excesses, she had gained the goodwill of the people.”
Salome Alexandra
Salome Alexandra
Although Josephus was correct in the last part of the statement, he was quite mistaken if he thought she would meekly ascend to the throne. Josephus’ account has been disputed by Atkinson, who claims that Jannaeus was actually in Jerusalem when he died. Nevertheless, both ancient sources agree that Alexandra was with the troops at Ragaba with her general Diagos, leading the troops to victory. She also doubled the size of the army, added a large mercenary force, and fortified towns in the hinterland with forts and castles. Alexandra dispatched an army to Damascus on the grounds that Ptolemy was meddling there. Although that campaign was unsuccessful, it put him on notice that she was not to be trifled with. In fact, she kept the peace by skillful negotiations with Judea’s enemies and construction of strategic strongholds. Three of those, Alexandrium, Hyrcania and Macherus kept the trade routes to Judea open to commerce. She also kept the powerful Armenian King Tigranes at bay and expelled him from the region, a feat the later occupation by the Romans could not accomplish. So, besides making Judea strong, she also inspired a healthy respect in foreign rulers.           
Dead Sea Scrolls
During her nine year reign (76-67 BCE), Salome Alexandra proved herself to be an outstanding administrator, bringing peace and prosperity to Judea. She completely reversed her late husband’s hostile policy towards the Pharisees and brought them into her government. Although Josephus displays his antipathy to female rulers by stating, “But while she ruled others, the Pharisees ruled her”.
She also promoted female education with Shimon Ben Shetach’s approval, and in another Dead Sea scroll (called Hosea Pesher A) the writer lauds an unprecedented period of prosperity that clearly took place during her reign. The Talmud preserves that acknowledgment by stating that during her rule, rain fell only on Sabbath nights, so that laborers would not lose pay if the rains came during the work week. In addition, the fertility of the soil was so great that grains of wheat grew as large as kidney beans, oats as large as olives, and lentils as large as gold coins.
A controversial fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls of the now-lost Book of Nahum casts aspersions on Salome Alexandra. It describes the wickedness of her husband Alexander Jannaeus’ reign as the “Lion of Wrath,” and then says that after his death a “harlot” ruled Jerusalem, which became a “bloody city”. Lawrence Schiffman, a noted Dead Sea Scrolls scholar believes that the “harlot” refers not to Salome but to the Pharisees, the hated enemies of the Qumran sect that penned the scroll. Perhaps the only blot that can be leveled against Salome Alexandra’s is her treatment of her sons. She seemed to be unable to quell the sibling rivalry between her sons Hyrcanus and Aristobulus for the succession. She appointed Hyrcanus High Priest and heir, which incited his younger brother Aristobulus to attack him in Jerusalem. They fought, and Hyrcanus abdicated after 3 months. Then 2 years later, he tried to retake the throne of his brother. To settle this dispute a third party was called in – the Romans. The Roman general and consul Pompey conquered Judea in 63 BC. This effectively ended the Hasmonean dynasty that had lasted for 100 years.
Salome Alexandra reigned for nine years. She died in 76 BCE. We do not know how she died, as Josephus only mentions that “the queen had fallen into a dangerous distemper” and was “sickened”. There can be no doubt, however, that she was an amazing woman for her time, or indeed any time. Having been placed into an arranged marriage with a husband many years her junior from a dysfunctional family, she overcame the stigma of his murderous reign to set her own course as a female ruler in a culture in which only males were considered competent to rule. Yet, her piety, shrewdness, and diplomacy earned Salome Alexandra the loyalty of her people, and that of the religious and secular classes alike. Little wonder she was styled “Shelomzion ha Malka” the Queen for the Peace of Zion: a title that she rightfully earned.

The Mystery of the Sea Peoples

by November 30, 2021

by Andrew Rattray
If you’re anything like me, you love a good mystery.
The provenance of the Sea Peoples is one enduring enigma that still hasn’t been answered. You see, accounts from the 12th Century BCE describe massive armies who terrorised the Eastern Mediterranean by sea. In fact, these armies have been argued to be one of the major causes of the Late Bronze Age Collapse, a period of destabilization during the early part of the 12th Century BCE, which saw the destruction of empires and civilisations all across the region. No primary accounts detail the origin of these people, and today contemporary scholars are still unsure of exactly where they came from. 
While the ultimate cause of the Bronze Age Collapse is highly contested, the devastation these people wrought is hard to overstate, and impossible to deny. One foreboding inscription from the second pylon of Medinet Habu, a Temple devoted to the life of Ramses III of Egypt reads:
“All at once the lands were removed and scattered in the fray. No land could resist their arms, from Hatti, Kode, Carchemish, Arzawa, and Alashiya on – being cut off at one time. A camp was set up in Amurru. They desolated its people and its land was like that which had never existed. They were coming forward toward Egypt, while the flame was prepared for them.”
This wasn’t simple hyperbole to exaggerate the threat faced to the Egyptian empire either. Historian Erdal Yavuz describes in his work ‘Anatolian Civilisations’ how the Sea Peoples proved to be the death-knell for the mighty Hittite empire, a major power in the region, stating:
A mass of attacks from [a people of unknown origin] known as ‘the Sea Peoples’ destroyed much of Asia Minor, including the Hittite State, about 1200 BCE and, after that, the Hittites were never able to restore their state again.”. 
These were people with enough power to topple well-established power structures, which would imply sophisticated organisation and military prowess, but who were they? The term ‘Sea Peoples’ was actually first coined by Emmanuel de Rouge in 1855 in his work ‘Note on Some Hieroglyphic Texts Recently Published by Mr. Greene’, wherein de Rouge interprets some of the imagery from the Second Pylon of Medinet Habu. The reliefs depict various battles between Egyptian forces and these unknown invaders. In fact, most of the historical records of the Sea Peoples come from Egyptian sources. 
Sea Peoples in Battle
Sea Peoples in Battle
These sources, primarily detailing the lives and achievements of some of the New Kingdom Pharaohs such as Ramses the Great, Merentaph, and Ramses III, all describe the Sea Peoples as a terrifying enemy, yet they are remarkably light on details regarding their origins. Like any good mystery, however, there are some clues in the historical record for modern historians to investigate. For example, inscriptions detailing the reign of Merenptah, son and successor of Ramses the Great, describe the Sea Peoples as coming from seas to the North. This has allowed historians to rule out much of Northern Africa as their homeland, for example. Clues such as these have given way to multiple theories on the ultimate origins of the Sea Peoples. 
So why are the origins of these tribes not mentioned in any records? Well the reliefs of Medinet Habu do name several tribes that fall under the general definition of ‘Sea Peoples’ including; the Denyen, the Ekwesh, the Lukka, the Peleset, the Shekelesh, the Sherden, the Teresh, the Tjeker, and the Weshesh.  The problem, though, is that although they are named, their origins are not explained. The origins of some of these groups have been considered by examining other tablets and reliefs where the Egyptians named the homeland of these peoples and adding all the evidence together. In this way, modern historians have argued that the Peleset, for example, are the Philistines, originating from what is modern day Palestine. 
Of course, it’s important to note that not all of the origins of all of these groups have been settled. Furthermore, while the above list, when read together, gives the impression of this being a confederation of multiple different peoples from different regions the truth is that the inscriptions do not list all nine of these peoples together in the same army at the same time. The different tribes making up the Sea Peoples ravaged the region, and Egypt in particular, multiple times over a span of decades during the reigns of Ramses the Great, Merenptah, and Ramses III. 
Depiction of the Sea Peoples
Depiction of the Sea Peoples
Interestingly, some modern historians, such as Raffaele D’Amato and Andrea Salimbeti, believe that the Egyptians did know the origins of the Sea Peoples. They argue that the lack of references in any of the Egyptian reliefs or inscriptions indicate that the knowledge was so obvious as to be unnecessary to remark on. They believe that had their origins been unknown to the Egyptians, this would have been alluded to. Whether the knowledge is simply lost, or never known to begin with, the outcome is the same for us today; we do not know where they came from. 
Not only are their origins uncertain, but even the nature of their arrival in the region is one that remains in debate today. De Rouge’s initial interpretations and considerations on the Sea Peoples were later expanded by Gaston Maspero in his work ‘The Struggle of the Nations’ in 1896 whereby he theorised the idea of a migratory wave of peoples that swept across the region, with various tribes joining the confederation, to ultimately form the massive armies as seen in the various Egyptian reliefs and inscriptions. This migratory theory is supported by some modern historians such as Eric Cline who has argued that factors such as climatic changes, famine, and others were what drove these migratory activities and forced the Sea Peoples to try and settle new land elsewhere.
The idea of migrations seems obvious when you look at some of the imagery that depict carts laden with women and children alongside invading forces. Indeed, this narrative of migrations became the predominant theory on the subject and has only recently faced more intense challenges from historians. For example, American historian Robert Drews in his book ‘The End of the Bronze Age’ disputes the idea of migration claiming that there are no references to such movements of people within any of the Egyptian sources and arguing that the migration theory is simply conjecture. 
Medinet Habu
Medinet Habu
In its place Drews puts forward the argument that rather than migrating forces the Sea Peoples were more likely to have been pirates and raiders, arising from various locations across the Mediterranean. Drews forwards the point that the massive amounts of trade across the region, even from as far afield as modern day Sicily and Italy, would have driven piracy, and that furthermore the opulence of Bronze Age cities would have made the ideal prize for more ambitious raiders. Drews believes then that the Sea Peoples were confederations of a sort, but rather than desperate people looking to settle a new homeland, they were instead bands of pirates looking to haul away the treasures of these Mediterranean cities and empires. 
Another idea is that the Sea Peoples did not come from strange, far away lands, but were actually mercenaries local to the region. Several reliefs (such as those in Luxor and Karnak) detailing the reign of Ramses the Great report that the vital regional trade center of Kadesh (in what is now modern day Syria) was captured by the Hittite empire and Ramses raised an army to drive them out. These records note that groups of Sea Peoples fought as mercenaries both for the Hittites and the Egyptians during the battle of Kadesh which ultimately ended in an Egyptian victory. This evidence also further undermines the idea that these were a single conglomerate of people with a unitary goal as suggested by those that champion the migratory theory. 
So it seems that even after 150 years we are no closer to settling on the truth of these enigmatic people. Where did they come from? What brought them to the region? Did they truly provide the catalyst for the Late Bronze Age Collapse, as some have argued, which snuffed out so many civilisations of the Eastern Mediterranean? Ultimately, we may never know for sure. 

A Visit to Miletus

by November 5, 2021

by Lydia Serrant, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Miletus, once one of the greatest cities the world had ever seen, now lies as a ruin on the East Coast of Turkey.
The scale of the remains of Miletus is impressive. and sits as a testament to the power and glory of the ancient Greeks who built this wondrous city.
The Amphitheater is the main attraction of the site, bringing in thousands of visitors per year. It houses around 5300 spectators at a time, and was once the home of legendary Greek plays and concerts.
Behind the Amphitheater is where the city lies. The foundations of the Baths of Faustina, the Mausoleum of Heron III, the storehouse, and the agora can all still be seen among other impressive buildings that are still being excavated.
Runied remains of the Baths of Faustina, Miletus
Runied remains of the Baths of Faustina, Miletus
Home to the famous mathematician Thales of Miletus, the city still shines as a jewel of Western Anatolia.
A Brief History of Miletus
The area which Miletus now stands has been inhabited by humans since the Neolithic period. The first settlements in the province are now inaccessible due to a rise in sea level, and the Meander River, next to which the city stands.
The Amphitheater at Miletus
The Amphitheater at Miletus
The region came under Minoan rule sometime before 1400 BC. These Cretan migrants pushed out the native population who were known only as the Leleges, a pre-literate people of which not much is known. All that is known about the mysterious Leleges people is handed to us via Greek sources that cannot be verified.
It is believed that the Minoans gave Miletus its name. The first written reference to Miletus is a Hittite source who referred to the city as Millawanda or Milawata. After the fall of the Hittite Empire, the Ionian Greeks resettled Miletus in 1000 BC, allegedly by a founder named Neleus of Peloponnesus.
By the Byzantine period, Miletus was raised to an archbishopric, and the Castle Palaton was built on a hillside close to the city.
During the reign of Justinian I (527-565 AD), Miletus was treated to a full-scale renovation. The baths were restored, drainage to the harbor was installed, and old Hellenistic buildings were used in the new construction, making Miletus a puzzle of a site with buildings built from stones across a variety of different periods.
When the Ottomans arrived in the 15th Century, they used Miletus’ harbor to trade with Venice. Venice was one of Turkey’s most important trade partners, and many Ottoman traders settled there permanently, leading to the construction of the Ilyas Bey complex in 1403. The Ilyas Bey Mosque, known as Europe Nostra still stands and has been officially recognized as an important cultural site with special protection.
The Europe Nostra
The Europe Nostra
Miletus was finally abandoned at the end of the 15th Century when the harbor began to silt up and trading overseas was no longer possible. Now, only the ghostly remains of a once-great city still stand, which sits silently with open arms to welcome visitors from all over the world.
The Importance of Miletus
In its prime, Miletus was one of the most important centers of the Greek-speaking world. At the time, Greece was divided into city-states rather than the nation of Greece as we know it today.
Although the Greeks that resided in Miletus were of Ionian descent, Homer refers to the Greeks of Miletus as Carians, described by Herodotus as a population that retained its original Minoan identity, and were akin to the ancient Lydians who had settled the area hundreds of years before.
The Storage Building and South Agora in Miletus
The Storage Building and South Agora in Miletus
In 499 BC, Miletus instigated the Ionian Revolt, and played a key defensive role in the Greco-Persian Wars. Despite being attacked by the Persians in 494 BC, the city survived the ransacking, and achieved a place and status within the Athenian Delian League for its contributions to the Greek victory over the Persians.
It was at this point where Miletus really became Greek, as we understand the ancient Greeks today. It retained a special status within the Greek-speaking world that continued into the Roman period.
Miletus had an impressive harbor that made it a commercial center of trade and a great maritime power, placing the city second only to Ephesus as the most important and influential city in Asia Minor.
Famous Milesians
The Milesian school attracted great thinkers from all over the world. Thales of Miletus is perhaps the most notable figure, considered as one of the legendary Seven Wise Men. Thales is responsible for the acknowledgment of water as a basic element for life, and the famous saying ‘Know Thyself’.
He was most known at the time for his deep knowledge of cosmology, and he advised Milesian seafarers how to navigate the sea using the stars – knowledge that is still used to this day.
He is also said to have been the first to measure the Pyramids at Giza, and predict eclipses – however, these last two references most likely illustrate Thales’ reputation as a wise man rather than historical fact.
As well as the aforementioned Thales of Miletus, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, the grandfathers of natural philosophy and science were said to have attended the School of Miletus.
Sacred Miletus
To contemporary citizens during the height of its power, Miletus was perhaps best known as a center of worship.
The starting point of the Sacred Way, Miletus was home to the Sacred Gate. Sacred Gates were common across ancient Greece, all named after the famous Sacred Gate that lead from Athens to Eleusis.
Miletus’ Sacred Gate opened the way to the Sacred Road that ran southwards to Panormos Harbor (Now modern-day Akkoy) and turned southeast towards the city of Didyma and the Didymaion, known also as the Temple of Apollo.
The starting point of The Sacred Way that connected Miletus to the nearby town of Didyma.
The starting point of The Sacred Way that connected Miletus to the nearby town of Didyma. The road once stood between the pillars of the now absent Sacred Gate.
The road was lined with statues of the Branchids (priests and priestesses associated with the temple). Lions and sphinxes that also once adorned the sacred way were excavated and on display at the Miletus Museum.
The road was approximately 16.6kn long, and 5 – 7 m wide. The Sacred Way was built for the worshippers of the cult of Artemis and Apollo, who would walk the Sacred Way in honor of the gods and goddesses, and partake in annual celebrations and festivals.
Remnants of the statues that once lined the Sacred Road from Miletus to Didyma.
Remnants of the statues that once lined the Sacred Road from Miletus to Didyma. They now sit in the Museum at Miletus
Host only to a smattering tourists and a handful of tea and trinket sellers, Miletus is among many of the lost gems of the Aegean. This underrated site has many stories to tell, and archaeologists continue to uncover its secrets.

The Early Influence of the Greeks on the Romans

by October 22, 2021

by Kevin Blood
The worlds of ancient Greece and Rome were, of course, deeply intertwined over the centuries. This history stretches back further than some may realise, though, to a series of city states in the south of Italy.
From the 8th century BCE, the Greeks established colonies along the coasts of Sicily and southern Italy (with the exception of the west of Sicily), from the Bay of Naples to the Bay of Tarentum, stretching to the southern coasts of Gaul. Further Greek expansion to the west and north was inhibited by the Etruscans and the Carthaginians.  The 6th and 5th centuries were the summit of flourishing for these Greek colonies. It was through their influence on the Etruscans, with whom they had extensive trade relationships, that these Greek colonies came to indirectly influence Roman culture. This is evidenced by the amount of Greek pottery in Etruscan tombs and the presence of Greek mythic and legendary themes found on Roman and Etruscan art works. Through the Etruscans the Romans received Greek architecture, social practices, religious cults and the art of writing.
The influence of Greek culture on the Romans strengthened with the Roman conquest of Magna Graeca in the third century. This is apparent in areas of science, philosophy, literature, education and legal and political institutions. Magna Graeca encompassed, amongst others, the city-states of Cyme (Cumae) and Posidonia. These were two centers of Greek culture that had a significant and enduring impact on Rome in the regal period as well as the early and middle republic.
The Sibyl and Cumae
Founded by Greeks from Chalcis before 750 on the northern Campanian plain, Cumae was a colony responsible for spreading Greek culture through the foundation of other settlements, such as Neapolis (Naples). In control of a significant portion of the Campanian coastline during the seventh and sixth centuries, the Greeks counted the settlements of Baiae and the port city if Puteoli among their possessions.
It was in the early religion of the Romans that Cumae would play an important role.  In the late fifth century it was home to the Cumaean Sibyl. At this time the Romans placed great stock in the oracular powers of the sibyl and she was regularly consulted on important matters of state.
In Book VI of The Aeneid by the Roman poet Virgil, the Trojan hero Aeneas visits the sybil. It must have been a daunting experience to travel through the 137 metres long, 5 metres high stone tunnels, hewn out of the living rock, to seek and audience with the priestess. Virgil sets the scene:
This rocky citadel had been colonized by Chalcidians from Euboea, and one side of it had been hollowed out to form a vast cavern into which led a hundred broad shafts, a hundred mouths, from which streamed as many voices giving responses to the Sibyl.’ 
Some scholars believe the priestess was under the influence of powerful intoxicants, perhaps coming from the thermal vents over which she sat. Her prophecies, written in Greek, were gathered by the Romans and compiled in the form of the Sibylline Books, or Books of Fate.  These books were given into the safekeeping of one of the colleges of Roman priests (a collection of ten men whose duty to was to carry out the sacred rights). In times of crisis it was they who would consult these scared tomes. Quite often when the books were consulted and interpreted by the priests, they suggested that some new Greek god or Greek ritual be brought in to the traditional framework of the Roman religion. Through this practice the Roman religion was changed over the centuries; this predisposed the religion to greater receptivity to the cults of the east.
Aeneas and the Cumaean Sibyl by François Perrier
Aeneas and the Cumaean Sibyl by François Perrier
Posidonia was another Greek cultural and commercial center in southern Italy that had a deep cultural impact on the early Romans. It was also friendly to the Romans: its residents were willing to contribute to Rome’s protection in the form of a naval alliance.
It was the Greek city of Sybaris on the eastern coast of the toe of Italy that set out to establish a trading settlement on the western side of the peninsula, in about the middle of the 7th century. The Sybarian’s founded the settlement so as to benefit from the cross-country trade from the Ionian to the Tyrrhenian Sea, while at the same time partaking in a rich trade with Latium and Etruria further north.  They named the settlement Posidonia. Archaeologists have dated its foundation from a wholly Greek necropolis found there.
The fertile soil, the secure anchorage in the river Sele and its ideal geographical location, as well as the decline of Etruscan power in the 6th century, and the destruction of Sybaris in 510, saw Posidonia becoming the major centre for commerce in the area.  Its prestige and wealth were boosted by the influx of refugees arriving from Sybaris, who brought with them a spirit of entrepreneurship and initiative. Scholars believe that this influx of Sybarian refugees were responsible for the dedication of the underground sanctuary at Posidonia to Is, the mythical founder of Sybaris.
Between 560 and 440 Posidionia was at its zenith, its power and prestige embodied in the building of three great temples: 550 the Temple of Ceres, the so-called Basilica in 500, and the temple of Poseidon or Neptune in 450. At its most powerful it is believed Posidionia had near 20,000 inhabitants. The material remains, beautifully preserved, of the Temple of Neptune, and the tomb frescoes and terracotta statues provide evidence for the richness and magnificence of the city. 
Temple of Neptune at Paestum
Temple of Neptune at Paestum
The Lucanians (from the southwest of Italy), around 410, took control of Posidonia, renaming it Paistom. Despite remaining under Lucanian control until 273, the city held on to its Greek culture and appearance –  Greek potters and artists were dominant there, and the coinage remained Greek. The richness of tomb evidence from this period suggests that Paistom did not suffer a decline under the Lacanians. It seems the Italic Lacanians adopted and imitated, as the Etruscans and Romans before them did, the Greek style of vases in both shape and decoration.
The name of the city was changed, it became the city of Paestum, after the Romans established a colony at Posidonia in 273, it remains Paestum to the present day. Rome and Paestum kept close ties.  The residents of the city became naval allies of Rome (socii navales). They showed great loyalty to Rome and never failed to support the Romans in times of conflict, supplying the Romans with ships and sailors. Rome was able to defeat the Carthaginians during the Hannibalic War in the third century due to the loyalty and service of cities like Paestum.
The Romans improved the amenities of the city, adding a forum, amphitheatre and gymnasium. The Romans, however, contributed to the eventual decline of the city when they built the Via Appia, a road that linked Rome with the Adriatic; Paestum was bypassed and cut off from the valuable trade from the east.
Although the Romans would eventually conquer the Greek city-states and subjugate them under Roman rule, Greek culture played an integral part in the culture, art, religion and politics of the Roman state; Greek influence was responsible for much of the later sophistication of Roman culture. Greek influences may have dismayed some advocates of traditional Roman values, but for many, if not more, they were a well-spring of valuable ideas to be tapped for the betterment of Rome.
Bradley, P. (2003) Ancient Rome; Using Evidence, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp.29-34.
Connolly, P. (1981 2006) Greece and Rome at War, New Edition, London, Green Hill Books, pp. 87-130.

The Decline of the Eastern Empire

by September 10, 2021

by Andrew Rattray
It’s hard to pin the ultimate ending of the Roman Empire to a single cause. Of course there is no single date we can point to but rather a gradual collapse over hundreds of years. In the 3rd century the Empire was split into East and West, and by the 6th century the Western portion of the Empire was reduced to a collection of ‘barbarian’ rump states leaving the Eastern Empire to endure alone, eventually coming to be known as the Byzantine Empire, though it’s inhabitants no doubt continued to consider themselves Romans for some time. The rising influence and power of Germanic tribes such as the Visigoths and Ostrogoths, the slave shortage that came after the expansion of the empire slowed in the second century CE (thus damaging the Roman economy), the excess and opulence of the Emperors and the corruption such behaviour encouraged at the highest levels of government, and many more factors all played their part in the decline of the Western Empire, but what of the East? 
Well, there are two factors that had an enormous impact upon the Eastern Empire that are often overlooked and which I believe we should be paying much closer attention to, after all, as George Santayana wrote, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’
You see, the Roman Empire rose to prominence during a period of warm, wet, temperate weather in Europe which was vital for the necessary agrarian production which allowed the empire to grow to encompass an immense, urbanized population, but so too did the climate play a factor in Rome’s ending. Investigations into the Earth’s ice sheets, known as ice-core research where scientists drill deep into the Earth’s ice caps to investigate climate in ages past, have revealed a large amount of volcanic activity in the 530s and 540s CE. This activity is thought to have triggered what is known as the ‘Late Antique Little Ice Age’ which brought cold temperatures that endured for well over one hundred years. The particulates fired into the atmosphere by these eruptions caused more reflection of the sun’s light and ultimately cooled the climate across the world. This in turn led to years of poor harvests which catalysed a famine across the Eastern Empire just at the time Rome’s enemies were growing bolder. 
Ultimately this sudden shift in climate may not impact us in the same way it did the Eastern Empire in the 6th and 7th centuries, and indeed under the guidance of Emperor Justinian I the Eastern Roman Empire, now Byzantine Empire in the historical record, did have success in reconquering some of the lost lands of the Western Empire, for a while. We have more secure food chains, more robust technology, but will that be enough to weather the changes that we face? Will we be able to overcome the challenges on our own horizon?
Another factor in the decline and ultimate fall of the Empire is the rising influence of pestilence and plague that coincided with the Late Antique Little Ice Age. The highly industrialised and urbanized society of the Empire allowed it to develop a powerful economy needed to fuel its war machine and diplomatic influence, however the high density also created perfect conditions for bacteria and disease to develop and spread. The interconnectedness of the empire too was both a boon and a curse as while it cultivated trade and mobility it also allowed infection to spread more quickly between cities and regions than they may have otherwise. 
In fact, the Empire was rocked by outbreaks of brutal disease and infection in the centuries immediately after the onset of the climatic changes brought on by the Late Antique Little Ice Age in the form of the Antonine Plague, the Plague of Cyprian, and finally an outbreak of Bubonic Plague under the emperor Justinian. While it recovered between each successive outbreak the body-blows took their toll and in the aftermath of each epidemic the Empire found itself a little more wounded, a little more beaten down, than it had been before. 
As Heraclitus of Ephesus was known for espousing, the only constant in life is change. The world today is vastly different to the 6th century, but we must not be complacent or over-enamoured with our own ideas of power in the face of Western hegemony. We are on the cusp of a new age of change, spurred by climate change and humanity’s growing technological developments. Can we learn from our past to take steps to ensure the security and prosperity of not just Western nations, but humanity all across the globe? Can we adapt to the new normal and still maintain the geopolitical status quo? Consider the balance of power of our modern world, how long do you think it will last? Forever?