More Evidence of the Caracalla – Geta ‘Damnatio Memoriae’

Found this one lurking in the bottom of my mailbox because I had vain hopes it might get some coverage in the major English speaking press, what with it being about damnatio memoriae and all that … here’s the basic story from the Bucharest Herald:

An inscription carved in stone, proving the political conflict between Roman emperors Geta and Caracalla, and how the latter tried to erase the former’s name from history, was discovered in the town of Alba Iulia, Mediafax reports.

The stone was found by archeologists from the local museum, during digs in the ruins of the building that served as HQ to the officers of the 13th Legion Gemina, located in present-day park Custozza, the head of the National Unity Museum of Alba Iulia, Gabriel Rustoiu announced.

On the stone inscription, the name of co-emperor Geta, actually Publius Septimius Geta, was erased by Emperor Caracalla – “Marcus Aurelius Antoninus” – his brother.

The two sons of Emperor Septimius Severus jointly ruled the Roman Empire after their father’s death in 211 AD, but the same year Caracalla kills Geta and orders his name to be erased from all records.

“Political disputes in the Roman Empire often ended with the death of an opponent… An even tougher sentence, in Romans’ eyes, was the so-called «damnatio memoriae», erasing one’s name from history,” Gabriel Rustoiu explains.

The Alba Iulia fortress was built at the beginning of the 18th Century (between 1714 and 1738), on the ruins of a Roman fort and of a medieval citadel.

What was really difficult for this one was finding a photo of the stone … there seems to be plenty of coverage, but very little with the actual stone in the photo. comes through, however:

… here is the best one of the lot … there are three others at the original page … the line that has been erased can be clearly discerned:

… looking at the photos, just in case you’re wondering, the stone seems to be dated to March/April of 206 A.D. when Albinus and Aemilianus were consuls —  that’s the “PRILES ALBINO [E]T AEM” in the last capitalized line.

Around the Blogosphere:

A Late Antique Woodstock?

Nice coverage of the second ’round’ of the the Classics Renewed conference at Brown last week:

For a dead language, Latin showed an awful lot of life at last week’s “Classics Renewed” conference on the poetry and prose of late antiquity. The conference, which ran from Thursday to Saturday, brought 19 speakers from four continents to the Annmary Brown Memorial.

Brown played host to the second of two parts of the conference, which began at Rice University in March. At the close of the discussion, conference organizers Scott McGill of Rice University and Joseph Pucci, associate professor of classics, associate professor of comparative literature and lecturer in the Program in Medieval Studies, said they may turn the conference’s lectures into a book.

The majority of attendees were classicists, though graduate and undergraduate students also attended.

Robin McGill GS said the conference offered an exciting venue for sharing ideas with other scholars. Other attendees said the novelty of the topic made it particularly interesting.

The relevance of the topic to contemporary society and the expansion of the field came up frequently in discussion.

As speaker Mark Vessey of the University of British Columbia put it, “20 or 30 years ago, you had to be a bit odd to get into late antiquity.”

Recently, late antiquity’s role as a bridge between the classical period and the early middle ages — between classics and Christianity — has elevated its importance in academic scholarship. Because it represents a period of transition, late Latin poetry is more disjointed than the staid genres of classical poetry that precede it. At times, it is also both sexually and socio-politically explicit — in one lecture, James Uden of Boston University explored parallels between late Latin poetry and 20th century Beat poetry.

Several conference participants stressed a particular sexiness to the works discussed, jokingly commenting that the paintings of nude women gracing the walls of the Annmary Brown Memorial would make good cover images for the proposed book based on the conference. Because late Latin authors hailed from a combination of Christian, pagan and secular backgrounds, their works offer unique perspectives on the relationships between individuals and lovers, as well as individuals and God.

Scott McGill — whose book on the concept of plagiarism in ancient Rome and its implications for contemporary society will come out next year — referred to the conference as a “Late Antique Woodstock.”

He said late antiquity has traditionally been overlooked in this country.

Conference participants stressed that late Latin antiquity is a new field, which, as Vessey put it, “is only just beginning to be measured out.”

The conference proved that centuries later, ancient material can continue to deliver fresh insight. “Latin isn’t dead,” Pucci said, “It’s not spoken, but it isn’t dead. Any language that can allow you access to a culture isn’t dead.”

Why Study Ancient History?

Michael Helfeld puts an interesting spin  on things in a Southern New Hampshire University press release:

It was 7 p.m. on a quiet autumn evening, when I received a call from my alma mater asking me for a donation. When I told the young lady that I had graduated with a degree in Classics, she was perplexed: “Classical music?” she asked. “No”, I replied, “Greco-Roman history.” “Ah, ok, that must be interesting stuff!” she said, and of course, I concurred.

Nowadays, I try to use the expression “ancient history” as a way to refer to my field, but it too often meets with perplexed responses. My friends and family don’t see any practicality in what I study, and yet I see it day after day in the events that transpire around me.

As a history instructor, I relish the fact that in Renaissance Italy (ca. 1350-1550 CE) humanists were often employed in matters of state; their historical research was considered indispensable. And what were scholars like Francesco Petrarch and Lorenzo Valla studying but ancient Greece and Rome? Studying antiquity provides us with the ability to understand our fast-paced world. As Socrates once said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” That’s why I want to offer two examples of how knowledge of the ancient past helped me understand the present.

Sometimes a Statue Isn’t Just a Statue
It was the fall of 2009 in Montreal, when Dawson College announced that it was going to repair the famous Notre Dame De La Garde statue on their roof. The college used to belong to the Congregation of Notre Dame, and it had once formed an intricate part of Quebec’s Catholic landscape. Religion is a hot button issue in the province. When Dawson made this announcement, a debate ensued about the statue’s return. One Montrealer remarked that as “a non-Catholic, non-believer,” he “was not alone in feeling utterly repudiated and excluded by the government’s urgent reaffirmation of the link between church and state.” But why all the fuss about a statue?

The whole affair reminded me of a story found in the Mishnah, a Jewish legal text written around 200 CE. It tells us that a Rabbi was bathing in the (Roman) “bathhouse of Aphrodite,” when an observer asked him how it was that a Jew could be relaxing in front of pagan statuary. After all, the 10 Commandments state that only Yahweh could be worshipped. The Rabbi explained that the statues of Aphrodite were not consecrated images imbued with religious power, but mere decorations. How else could one explain bathers relieving themselves in front of them?

This example of cultural interaction in the Roman Empire allowed me to think constructively about a modern debate; I could see how people saw Dawson’s statue not as mere decoration, but as an active symbol of faith. I found myself better equipped to engage my fellow citizens over a thorny issue.

Rome, Byzantium, Immigration and Community
My second example comes from an experience I had while writing this article. I was listening to NPR on my way home from work. Gary Leitzell, the mayor of Dayton, OH, was being interviewed on the “Here and Now” program about his city’s immigration policy. In the context of a stalled economy and the passing of a controversial bill by the State of Arizona, illegal immigration has become a major issue. Dayton had just approved the “Welcome Dayton Immigrant-Friendly City Plan,” designed to promote citizenship and economic development.

To my surprise, there were two references to ancient history in the interview! Firstly, while defending his city’s decision, he referred to Rome’s legal distinctions between citizens and foreigners. Then, he mentioned that ancient Byzantium (Istanbul) had outlasted Rome because it “was more international in its acceptance of trade and people.” Leitzell was trying to show how Dayton could grow demographically and economically by welcoming foreign workers and businesses.

A grounding in ancient history would allow the listener to understand and even critique Leitzell’s use of the past and his city’s position. I found myself able to do just this, and to know I could engage in dialogue with the mayor of Dayton and anyone else interested in building good, just, and sustainable communities.

In Conclusion
Today, antiquity only seems to be popular when mystery is involved: the enigmatic Dead Sea Scrolls speak about the apocalypse, battling angels, and the war between darkness and light. The Scrolls were recently digitized, and they have received over a million hits in just one week! And yet, the value of history does not only reside in its ability to stir our imaginations. The experiences, travails, and wisdom of our ancestors can serve us in a more pragmatic way: they can help us understand a present laced with nuance and permeated with detail. And this means that ancient history is not merely “ancient history.”

Flooding in the Circus Maximus, Colosseum, Etc.

The Telegraph seems to be one of the only newspapers mentioning this … the salient excerpts:

Severe flooding led to tourists being shut out of the 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheatre as well as the nearby Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, and the ancient Roman port of Ostia, west of the capital.

The Colosseum was particularly badly affected, with water pouring into the underground tunnels and galleries where gladiators and wild animals once waited before being hoisted into the ancient arena on wooden lifts for staged fights.

At one point the tunnels, which were only recently opened to the public, were submerged to a depth of 15ft, officials said.

The severity of the flooding of the amphitheatre was “unheard of and extraordinary”, said Francesco Giro, a senior heritage official.

He said it evoked the ancient Roman practise of inundating the Colosseum with water in order to stage mock naval battles between gladiators and slaves.

“Following the exceptional weather that hit the capital, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Palatine, the Baths of Caracalla and the excavations at Ostia are closed to the public,” Rome’s archeological department said in a statement.

It was not clear when the sites, which attract millions of visitors a year, would be reopened. Engineers carried out checks to make sure none of the structures had been seriously weakened.

The torrential rain also brought down two large pine trees on the Appian Way, the ancient Roman road, lined with mausoleums and catacombs, which led from the imperial capital to the Adriatic coast.


The Circus Maximus, where Roman chariots once raced, was so extensively flooded that a man was photographed paddling a kayak across it.

UPDATE (a few minutes later): tip o’ the pileus to @scotartt on Twitter for pointing me to Martin Conde’s set of photos of the flooding: Rome, Flooded – Torrential Rainstorm – Roman and the Imperial Forums, Coloseum Valley and the Circus Maximus Underwater. Dott.ssa Astrid D’Eredita` / Fotos: Claudio Valletti / La