The Men of the 10th Legion

Caesar’s 10th….

Without question, Julius Caesar was one of the bloodiest, yet most prolific military leaders this world has ever known. You don’t get that title without good, loyal men around you and the charisma and intelligence to keep them that way. We can marvel at Caesar’s accomplishments – his Gallic campaigns are studied until this day and abhor the reality of those campaigns – a million people enslaved and more than that plain slaughtered so that Rome could grow rich and fat.

While Caesar was cementing his legacy as Rome’s finest leader, the men closest to him were the heroes of his 10th legion. These were men he trusted above all others and one of the few legions he personally organized. These men followed him into war fearlessly to the point where he shamed his other legions by threatening to go into battle with just the 10th and leave the rest behind as cowards.

His 10th men were loyal to the end – beyond Caesar’s death. The best of them stayed with Mark Antony during his war to avenge Caesar and even later were still present to suffer defeat with Mark Antony and Cleopatra during the Battle of Actium. The 10th never faltered in their devotion. When the survivors of Actium where absorbed into Octavian’s army, their loyalty stayed with Mark Antony and they later rebelled against Octavian, who by that time was calling himself Augustus and proclaiming himself the son of god. For this insult the legion was disbanded, and stripped of the Equestrian titles Caesar had given them.

Still, history remembers these hard men as the foundation of Caesar’s great success. With a handful of good men you can rule the world in peace or turn it bloody – Caesar chose to turn it bloody; Augustus managed to keep it peaceful and history judges both. However, without men like Caesar’s 10th, none of it would be possible.

Scandals In Rome

Caesar’s Girlfriend Got him Killed…

Rome Cat Sanctuary under Threat

It’s rather ironic that the place where Julius Caesar met his end is now a cat sanctuary tucked away into a nondescript corner of the city. All around the ruins of temples and overgrown weeds, trams and cars whizz past oblivious to the fact that steps away the fate of the western world was decided on the floor of a theater. Talk about high drama! Now, only cats bear witness to the significance of the location. When Caesar was alive, he was plagued by one of them in human form – the temptress Cleopatra of Egypt. It’s always the pussy…cat that brings a man to his end. It’s no better than he could expect given his crimes of the heart. If Julius Caesar had not met one particularly spiteful woman, he might not have met his end and history would be forever changed. The thing most people don’t know is that Caesar was not done in by plotting senators but by a woman he scorned…at least that’s what obvious to me. And the history backs me up. The question is who was the woman and why did she do it?

For those history buffs familiar with Caesar, the facts speak for themselves. For those who don’t know the details, it makes for an interesting tale. The nitty gritty is that Caesar connived, warred and bribed himself into position to become King, though he pretended otherwise.  Nobody bought what he was selling – his rivals claimed him ambitious – ruthless even, and they weren’t wrong about him.  Caesar WAS ambitious and he didn’t care about killing and enslaving an entire population if it gained him a crown.  The Roman Senate came to fear him worse than death. The rich have never taken kindly to having their wealth snatched away them, so naturally they plotted to kill the bastard who dared to raise that kind of ruckus in the city. What they lacked was a man with a name esteemed enough for the others to hide behind. Caesar was too popular a man to simply attack and throw into the Tiber as the Gracchi brothers, Tiberius and Gaius were dispatched to the afterlife.

The senators could not have selected a better turncoat than Marcus Junius Brutus. His mother was Caesar’s undoing and he was the chief weapon Caesar’s enemies used against him. His mother Servila Caepionis was the love of Caesar’s life by all accounts. Their affair lasted twenty years, through his marriages to two other woman and his extended military campaigns. Think of Prince Charles and Camilla on steroids and you have Caesar and Servila.  Her love affair with Caesar was pretty accurately described in HBO’s Rome series, some historians have even entertained claims that Caesar was the father of her son Brutus. Considering Brutus was one of the murderers who butchered Caesar on the floor of Pompey the Great’s theater that is highly suspect. It makes the story juicier, but it’s probably not true because that would have made Brutus guilty of a parricide – murder of his father – the most deadly sin of the Roman world. Nothing was worse than that – it was an act that guaranteed you a most gruesome death. Violators of this sacred taboo would be lashed bloody, tied into a sack with a viper, a chicken, a monkey and a dog and thrown into the River Tiber. Committing an act so heinous as to warrant that punishment would be far beneath the dignity of a noble man like Brutus and unlikely given his family connections which reached back to the founding of the republic.

The meat of the story comes in with the temptress Cleopatra. Caesar visited Egypt and fell in love with the young queen who was fighting her brother for power at the time. Their meeting was the stuff of legends. Cleopatra had herself smuggled in to see him rolled in a rug that was unfurled to reveal the eighteen-year-old queen. Caesar was mesmerized and they began an affair that put Egypt in her hands and Caesar’s child in her belly. The child, a boy, should have been Caesar’s heir and master of Rome and Egypt but fate again intervened.

All of this was well and good until 46 BC when Caesar had the nerve to bring his foreign queen to Rome and install her in a villa as his mistress. Caesar was quite public about their affair, visiting her openly.  The insult, of being usurped as mistress to the great man, was evidently too much for Servila to bear.  Embittered, no doubt she suddenly recalled her firm republican principles and involved her and her son in the plot against Caesar. She was one of the few women privy to the plot and present with the conspirators immediately after the deed; in fact they met at her house.

There are facts to back up the premise here. There are many scholars who put Cleopatra in Rome at that time with her son. After Caesar had been murdered, she left immediately to return to Egypt. It is highly likely given the nature of Roman women that Servila would be enraged to be so publically supplanted without even the title of wife to assuage her humiliation. It is one thing to be a wife that is enduring a mistress, people think well of you and frown on the philandering husband. However, to be a mistress, replaced by yet another mistress and a queen no less is pushing it. Add to this Servila was an older woman, the queen young (if not beautiful) and you have a recipe for betrayal and murder

Just a little ancient smut and innuendo to get your day started. A spurned woman brought down the most powerful man in the world without lifting a finger herself.  Servila set the price for her heartbreak high, nothing short of his death would settle the bill…that’s what really happened if you ask me; and the history doesn’t dispute the possibility that’s indeed what occurred that March morning over 2000 years ago.Rome Cat Sanctuary under Threat

Vestal Virgins

Chastity carried a high price….

First – a quick history lesson to set the scene. Vesta was the Goddess of the hearth and home. By design she was also a virgin and her priestesses had to be virgins as well. The genius or spirit of the goddess was symbolized by the eternal fire kept in her temple. The fire of Vesta was sacred from the very first days of the Roman republic and even before then when the city was still ruled by a series of increasing despotic kings.

As part of their sacred duties the Vestals had to remain virgins. Any Vestal found to have broken her vow of chastity suffered a fate worse than death. It was forbidden to kill her directly so she would be shut up under the earth with a small supply of food and water and left to die.  This terrible punishment was carried out in a location near the Colline Gate called the Campus Sceleratus or “evil field”.

Vesta’s temple was located in the heart of the forum and her female priestesses lived just behind it in the house of the Vestals. A diminutive structure, the temple was a round building with the sacred fire located in the cella of the temple. This fire was so important to the Roman state that it was never to be allowed to die. The purity of its flames symbolized the genius of the entire Roman state and the roots of its power.

The attendants to the sacred fire were chosen from only the best families in the city and it was considered a great honor to serve as a Vestal. Vestal Virgins served for 30 year periods, after which time they were free to leave the service and resume life within the city including giving up their precious virginity to marry. Their service years were divided into three – they spent 10 years learning the rituals, 10 years completing them, and finally 10 years teaching the ropes to the new recruits.

In addition to belonging to an exclusive and highly honored college of priestesses, Vestal Virgins were also endowed with certain powers and honors.

-their word was accepted without taking any type of oath when they gave evidence at trial

-the order of the Vestals was entrusted with wills, deeds and other important documents.  Ex. Julius Caesar’s will was entrusted to their care

-any condemned prisoner or slave who touched or even saw a Vestal Virgin on the way to their execution was immediately pardoned.

-Unlike other women in Rome, they were free to own property, have a will and even vote

-They held seats of honor at any public event and were always treated with extra courtesy respect. They arrived and left any event in carpentum, which were fancy carriages and were guarded by official lictors or armed protectors.

Vestal Virgins were active in the city until the late 4th century, AD when Emperor Theodosius abolished their order as a remnant of Rome’s pagan past.

Sex in the City – Roman Style

Pompeii – A City Swimming in Sex Sex is an all-consuming subject for some, so let’s not pretend all anyone wants to know about Rome is that it had cool art, and cooler architecture. The reality is people are curious about sex in the times before AIDS and birth control pills, long before restrictive cultures made sex less fun and even illegal. Never fear, if you have lived your whole life not knowing what a Roman pimp is called and that he plied his trade with impunity, you’re about to find out.

First, ideas about sex and sexuality were similar in many ways. It’s not rocket science Tab A still goes into Slot B, but there were some key differences.  The world’s oldest profession was entirely legal, but prostitutes had to register with the state each year. There was no real shame to this act and sometimes even noble women had their names added to the rolls to avoid being forced to marry. A Roman pimp was a leno and the female version was called a lena. Prostitutes were divided into classes with the lowest sort being unregistered women or slaves. The unregistered prostitutes were subject to all manner of abuse, including arrest by the magistrate.  Most lenos were legitimate businessmen, if they can be called such, who operated brothels stocked with slaves, registered prostitutes and upper classed party girls exempt from the registration rules.  For female slaves, being forced into prostitution was a terrible fate; there were clauses in the sale contracts of many slaves granting their freedom if they should be forced into prostitution.

As for sexuality itself, it was broken down into a giver and a receiver, to put it as delicately as possible. The receivers could be male or female and there was no shame in homosexuality as long as you were not the receiver. For a male to assume the submissive role during sex was seen as supreme weakness, the worst thing to be in a culture that thrives on strength. People frowned on it and it was a source of amusement and ridicule in politics. Many a senator or consul was plagued by rumors of passive acceptance of male advances. Caesar himself was called the Queen of Bithynia because of whispers of an affair with King Nicomedes in his youth.  Whether they were true or not, Caesar fought the gossip all his life and even went so far as to deny it under oath at least once.

While prostitution was legal, adultery was illegal unless the sex was with a slave you owned. A husband, as the Paterfamilias or male head of the family, could divorce or murder an unfaithful wife as well as their children without penalty. In a society so dominated by class, status, and gender it’s no wonder sex was handled as an everyday course of business with only its so-called abuses subjected to close inspection. As long as a man was not a complete degenerate prone to public displays of debauchery, the state left him alone to sort out his own affairs.

As for other forms of sexuality, they were less taboo as well.  Bacchanalia rituals were the original orgies and that’s exactly how it went down inside hidden rooms in the grand homes of the city. The rituals were to honor Dionysus, the Greek god of wine but had their basis in an even older, more primitive Thracian cult. The rituals were frowned upon in polite Roman society, but more than a few senators and senator’s wives were known to indulge. Officially Romans were pious and beyond reproach despite their penchant for murder, and enslavement. These parts of society were relegated to hidden clubs which operated with impunity so long as they remained in the shadows. Sex in the city of Rome was as clandestine and yet openly hypocritical as any modern society without modern medicine and with consequences that reached far beyond anything a shot of penicillin could fix.