Category Archives: Items of Interest

History Channel’s Documentary: History of The Byzantine Empire

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Every now and again, it’s nice to just kick up your heels and watch something special. Give yourself a break.

Today we help make that happen, and you’ll learn something, as we present the History Channel documentary History of the Byzantine Empire!

Territorial development of the Byzantine Empire, AD 330–1453 (click image to view expansion).

This history of the Byzantine Empire covers the history of the Eastern Roman Empire from late antiquity until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD. Several events from the 4th to 6th Centuries mark the transitional period during which the Roman Empire’s east and west divided.

In AD 285, the Emperor Diocletian (r. 284–305) partitioned the Roman Empire‘s administration into eastern and western halves. Between AD 324 and 330, Constantine I (r. 306–337) transferred the main capital from Rome to Byzantium, later known as Constantinople (City of Constantine) and Nova Roma (New Rome).

Under Theodosius I (r. 379–395), Christianity became the Empire’s official state religion and others such as Roman polytheism were proscribed. And finally, under the reign of Heraclius (r. 610–641), the Empire’s military and administration were restructured and adopted Greek for official use instead of Latin.

Thus, although it continued the Roman state and maintained Roman state traditions, modern historians distinguish Byzantium from Ancient Rome insofar as it was oriented towards Greek rather than Latin culture, and characterized by Orthodox Christianity rather than Roman polytheism.

We hope you enjoyed today’s travel and look forward to having you join us again soon. Please be sure to check us out on Facebook and Twitter since we always have new things going on.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Res Gestae Divi Augusti (or The Deeds of the Divine Augustus)

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Whether this is your first visit, or you’re as seasoned as Caesar’s Legio IX Hispania, we’re glad you’re here now. Based on the site’s name, you can imagine we are fans of the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army) and the extent of the Imperium Rōmānum (Roman Empire).

Today we are going to explore the words of Rome’s 1st Emperor as we explore the Res Gestae Divi Augusti!

Modern display of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti (Mausoleum of Augustus, Rome).

The Deeds of the Divine Augustus is the funerary inscription of Emperor, Imperātor Caesar Dīvī Fīlius Augustus (or simply Augustus). This first-person record of his life and accomplishments is significant for it gives insight into the image Augustus portrayed to the Roman people.

According to the text it was written just before Augustus’ death in AD 14, but it was probably written years earlier and likely went through many revisions. Augustus left the text with his will, which instructed the Senate to set up the inscriptions.

By its very nature the Res Gestae is propaganda for the Principate that Augustus instituted. It tends to gloss over the events between the assassination of Augustus’ adoptive father Julius Caesar and the victory at Actium when his foothold on power was finally undisputed.

Actual piece of an ancient copy of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti.

Various inscriptions of the Res Gestae have been found scattered across the former Roman Empire. The inscription itself is a monument to the establishment of the Julio-Claudian dynasty that was to follow Augustus.

The original, which has not survived, was engraved upon a pair of bronze pillars and placed in front of Augustus’ mausoleum. Many copies of the text were made and carved in stone on monuments or temples throughout the Roman Empire, some of which have survived; most notably, almost a full copy, written in the original Latin and a Greek translation was preserved on a temple to Augustus in Ancyra (the Monumentum Ancyranum of Ankara, Turkey); others have been found at Apollonia and Antioch, both in Pisidia.

The text consists of a short introduction, 35 body paragraphs, and a posthumous addendum. These paragraphs are then grouped in 4 sections: political career, public benefactions, military accomplishments, and a political statement.

  • In my nineteenth year, on my own initiative and at my own expense, I raised an army with which I set free the state, which was oppressed by the domination of a faction. For that reason, the senate enrolled me in its order by laudatory resolutions, when Gaius Pansa and Aulus  Hirtius were Consuls (43 BC), assigning me the place of a Consul in the giving of opinions, and gave me the imperium. With me as Propraetor, it ordered me, together with the Consuls, to take care lest any detriment befall the state. But the people made me Consul in the same year, when the consuls each perished in battle, and they made me a Triumvir for the settling of the state.

The 1st section (paragraphs 2–14) is concerned with Augustus’ political career, and records the offices and political honors that he held. Augustus also lists the numerous offices and privileges he either refused to take or be awarded.

  • I drove the men who slaughtered my father into exile with a legal order, punishing their crime, and afterwards, when they waged war on the state, I conquered them in two battles.
  • I often waged war, civil and foreign, on the earth and sea, in the whole wide world, and as victor I spared all the citizens who sought pardon. As for foreign nations, those which I was able to safely forgive, I preferred to preserve than to destroy. About five hundred thousand Roman citizens were sworn to me. I led something more than three hundred thousand of them into colonies and I returned them to their cities, after their stipend had been earned, and I assigned all of them fields or gave them money for their military service. I captured six hundred ships in addition to those smaller than triremes.
  • Twice I triumphed with an ovation, and three times I enjoyed a curule triumph and twenty one times I was named Emperor. When the senate decreed more triumphs for me, I sat out from all of them. I placed the laurel from the fasces in the Capitol, when the vows which I pronounced in each war had been fulfilled. On account of the things successfully done by me and through my officers, under my auspices, on earth and sea, the Senate decreed fifty-five times that there be sacrifices to the immortal gods. Moreover there were 890 days on which the senate decreed there would be sacrifices. In my triumphs kings and nine children of kings were led before my chariot. I had been Consul thirteen times, when I wrote this, and I was in the thirty-seventh year of tribunician power (14 AD).
  • When the dictatorship was offered to me, both in my presence
    Rome’s original ruler supreme, Augustus Caesar.

    and my absence, by the people and Senate, when Marcus Marcellus and Lucius Arruntius were Consuls (22 BC), I did not accept it. I did not evade the curatorship of grain in the height of the food shortage, which I so arranged that within a few days I freed the entire city from the present fear and danger by my own expense and administration. When the annual and perpetual consulate was then again offered to me, I did not accept it.

  • When Marcus Vinicius and Quintus Lucretius were Consuls (19 BC), then again when Publius Lentulus and Gnaeus Lentulus were (18 BC), and third when Paullus Fabius Maximus and Quintus Tubero were (11 BC), although the Senate and Roman people consented that I alone be made curator of the laws and customs with the highest power, I received no magistracy offered contrary to the customs of the ancestors. What the senate then wanted to accomplish through me, I did through tribunician power, and five times on my own accord I both requested and received from the Senate a colleague in such power.
  • I was triumvir for the settling of the state for ten continuous years. I was first of the senate up to that day on which I wrote this, for forty years. I was high priest, augur, one of the Fifteen for the performance of rites, one of the Seven of the sacred feasts, brother of Arvis, fellow of Titus, and Fetial.
  • When I was Consul the fifth time (29 BC), I increased the number of patricians by order of the people and Senate. I read the roll of the Senate three times, and in my sixth consulate (28 BC) I made
    Marble bust of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa.

    a census of the people with Marcus Agrippa as my colleague. I conducted a lustrum, after a forty-one year gap, in which lustrum were counted 4,063,000 heads of Roman citizens. Then again, with consular imperium I conducted a lustrum alone when Gaius Censorinus and Gaius Asinius were Consuls (8 BC), in which lustrum were counted 4,233,000 heads of Roman citizens. And the third time, with consular imperium, I conducted a lustrum with my son Tiberius Caesar as colleague, when Sextus Pompeius and Sextus Appuleius were Consuls (14 AD), in which lustrum were counted 4,937,000 of the heads of Roman citizens. By new laws passed with my sponsorship, I restored many traditions of the ancestors, which were falling into disuse in our age, and myself I handed on precedents of many things to be imitated in later generations.

  • The Senate decreed that vows be undertaken for my health by the consuls and priests every fifth year. In fulfillment of these vows they often celebrated games for my life; several times the four highest colleges of priests, several times the Consuls. Also both privately and as a city all the citizens unanimously and continuously prayed at all the shrines for my health.
  • By a senate decree my name was included in the Saliar Hymn, and it was sanctified by a law, both that I would be sacrosanct for ever, and that, as long as I would live, the tribunician power would be mine. I was unwilling to be high priest in the place of my living colleague; when the people offered me that priesthood which my father had, I refused it. And I received that priesthood, after several years, with the death of him who had occupied it since the opportunity of the civil disturbance, with a multitude flocking together out of all Italy to my election, so many as had never before been in Rome, when Publius Sulpicius and Gaius Valgius were Consuls (12 BC).
  • The Senate consecrated the altar of Fortune the Bringer-back before the temples of Honor and Virtue at the Campanian gate
    The Blacas Cameo (early 1st Century AD), depicting Augustus wearing an aegis.

    for my return, on which it ordered the priests and Vestal virgins to offer yearly sacrifices on the day when I had returned to the city from Syria (when Quintus Lucretius and Marcus Vinicius were Consuls [19 BC]), and it named that day Augustalia after my cognomen.

  • By the authority of the Senate, a part of the praetors and Tribunes of the Plebs, with Consul Quintus Lucretius and the leading men, was sent to meet me in Campania, which honor had been decreed for no one but me until that time. When I returned to Rome from Spain and Gaul, having successfully accomplished matters in those provinces, when Tiberius Nero and Publius Quintilius were consuls (13 BC), the Senate voted to consecrate the Altar of Augustan Peace in the Field of Mars for my return, on which it ordered the magistrates and priests and Vestal virgins to offer annual sacrifices.
  • Our ancestors wanted Janus Quirinus to be closed when throughout the all the rule of the Roman people, by land and sea, peace had been secured through victory. Although before my birth it had been closed twice in all in recorded memory from the founding of the city, the senate voted three times in my principate that it be closed.
  • When my sons Gaius and Lucius Caesar, whom fortune stole from
    Gaius and Lucius Caesar standing with shields and spears between them.

    me as youths, were fourteen, the Senate and Roman people made them consuls-designate on behalf of my honor, so that they would enter that magistracy after five years, and the Senate decreed that on that day when they were led into the forum they would be included in public councils. Moreover the Roman knights together named each of them first of the youth and gave them shields and spears.

The 2nd section (paragraphs 15–24) lists Augustus’ donations of money, land and grain to the citizens of Italy and his soldiers, as well as the public works and gladiatorial spectacles that he commissioned. The text is careful to point out that all this was paid for out of Augustus’ own funds.

  • I paid to the Roman plebs, HS 300 per man from my father’s will and in my own name gave HS 400 from the spoils of war when I was consul for the fifth time (29 BC); furthermore I again paid out a public gift of HS 400 per man, in my tenth consulate (24 BC), from my own patrimony; and, when Consul for the eleventh time (23 BC), twelve doles of grain personally bought were measured out; and in my twelfth year of tribunician power (12-11 BC) I gave HS 400 per man for the third time. And these public gifts of mine never reached fewer than 250,000 men. In my eighteenth year of tribunician power, as Consul for the twelfth time (5 BC), I gave to 320,000 plebs of the city HS 240 per man. And, when Consul the fifth time (29 BC),I gave from my war-spoils to colonies of my
    Bread for the people

    soldiers each HS 1000 per man; about 120,000 men in the colonies received this triumphal public gift. Consul for the thirteenth time (2 BC), I gave HS 240 to the plebs who then received the public grain; they were a few more than 200,000.

  • I paid the towns money for the fields which I had assigned to soldiers in my fourth consulate (30 BC) and then when Marcus Crassus and Gnaeus Lentulus Augur were Consuls (14 BC); the sum was about HS 600,000,000 which I paid out for Italian estates, and about HS 260,000,000 which I paid for provincial fields. I was first and alone who did this among all who founded military colonies in Italy or the provinces according to the memory of my age. And afterwards, when Tiberius Nero and Gnaeus Piso were consuls (7 BC), and likewise when Gaius Antistius and Decius Laelius were Consuls (6 BC), and when Gaius Calvisius and Lucius Passienus were Consuls (4 BC), and when Lucius Lentulus and Marcus Messalla were Consuls (3 BC), and when Lucius Caninius and Quintus Fabricius were Consuls (2 BC), I paid out rewards in cash to the soldiers whom I had led into their towns when their service was completed, and in this venture I spent about HS 400,000,000.
  • Four times I helped the senatorial treasury with my money, so that I offered HS 150,000,000 to those who were in charge of the treasury. And when Marcus Lepidus and Lucius Arruntius were consuls (6 AD), I offered HS 170,000,000 from my patrimony to the military treasury, which was founded by my advice and from which rewards were given to soldiers who had served twenty or more times.
  • From that year when Gnaeus and Publius Lentulus were Consuls (18 BC), when the taxes fell short, I gave out contributions of grain and money from my granary and patrimony, sometimes to 100,000 men, sometimes to many more.
  • I built the Senate-house and the Chalcidicum which adjoins it and
    Computer generated image of the Temple of the Divine Julius.

    the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine with porticos, the Temple of the Divine Julius, the Lupercal, the portico at the Flaminian Circus, which I allowed to be called by the name Octavian, after he who had earlier built in the same place, the state box at the great circus, the temple on the Capitoline of Jupiter Subduer and Jupiter Thunderer, the Temple of Quirinus, the Temples of Minerva and Queen Juno and Jupiter Liberator on the Aventine, the Temple of the Lares at the top of the holy street, the temple of the gods of the Penates on the Velian, the temple of Youth, and the Temple of the Great Mother on the Palatine.

  • I rebuilt the Capitol and the Theater of Pompey, each work at enormous cost, without any inscription of my name. I rebuilt aqueducts in many places that had decayed with age, and I doubled the capacity of the Marcian aqueduct by sending a new spring into its channel. I completed the Forum of Julius and the basilic which he built between the Temple of Castor and the Temple of Saturn, works begun and almost finished by my father.
    Remains of the Temple of Saturn.

    When the same basilica was burned with fire I expanded its grounds and I began it under an inscription of the name of my sons, and, if I should not complete it alive, I ordered it to be completed by my heirs. Consul for the sixth time (28 BC), I rebuilt eighty-two temples of the gods in the city by the authority of the Senate, omitting nothing which ought to have been rebuilt at that time. Consul for the seventh time (27 BC), I rebuilt the Flaminian Way from the city to Ariminum and all the bridges except the Mulvian and Minucian.

  • I built the Temple of Mars Ultor on private ground and the Forum of Augustus from war-spoils. I built the theater at the Temple of Apollo on ground largely bought from private owners, under the
    Remains of Forum of Augustus with the Temple of Mars Ultor.

    name of Marcus Marcellus my son-in-law. I consecrated gifts from war-spoils in the Capitol and in the Temple of the Divine Julius, in the Temple of Apollo, in the Temple of Vesta, and in the Temple of Mars Ultor, which cost me about HS 100,000,000. I sent back gold crowns weighing 35,000 to the towns and colonies of Italy, which had been contributed for my triumphs, and later, however many times I was named Emperor, I refused gold crowns from the towns and colonies which they equally kindly decreed, and before they had decreed them.

  • Three times I gave shows of gladiators under my name and five times under the name of my sons and grandsons; in these shows about 10,000 men fought. Twice I furnished under my name spectacles of athletes gathered from everywhere, and three times under my grandson’s name. I celebrated games under my
    Harpastum, a form of ball game played in the Roman Empire.

    name four times, and furthermore in the place of other magistrates twenty-three times. As master of the college I celebrated the secular games for the college of the Fifteen, with my colleague Marcus Agrippa, when Gaius Furnius and Gaius Silanus were Consuls (17 BC). Consul for the thirteenth time (2 BC), I celebrated the first games of Mars, which after that time thereafter in following years, by a senate decree and a law, the consuls were to celebrate. Twenty-six times, under my name or that of my sons and grandsons, I gave the people hunts of African beasts in the circus, in the open, or in the amphitheater; in them about 3,500 beasts were killed.

  • I gave the people a spectacle of a naval battle, in the place across the Tiber where the grove of the Caesars is now, with the ground excavated in length 1,800 feet, in width 1,200, in which thirty beaked ships, biremes or triremes, but many smaller, fought among themselves; in these ships about 3,000 men fought in addition to the rowers.
  • In the temples of all the cities of the Province of Asia, as victor, I
    The province of Asia highlighted within the Roman Empire.

    replaced the ornaments which he with whom I fought the war had possessed privately after he despoiled the temples. Silver statues of me-on foot, on horseback, and standing in a chariot-were erected in about eighty cities, which I myself removed, and from the money I placed golden offerings in the Temple of Apollo under my name and of those who paid the honor of the statues to me.

The 3rd section (paragraphs 25–33) describes his military deeds and how he established alliances with other nations during his reign.

  • I restored peace to the sea from pirates. In that slave war I handed over to their masters for the infliction of punishments about 30,000 captured, who had fled their masters and taken up arms against the state. All Italy swore allegiance to me
    The Battle of Actium

    voluntarily, and demanded me as leader of the war which I won at Actium; the provinces of Gaul, Spain, Africa, Sicily, and Sardinia swore the same allegiance. And those who then fought under my standard were more than 700 Senators, among whom 83 were made Consuls either before or after, up to the day this was written, and about 170 were made priests.

  • I extended the borders of all the provinces of the Roman people which neighbored nations not subject to our rule. I restored peace to the provinces of Gaul and Spain, likewise Germany, which includes the ocean from Cadiz to the mouth of the River Elbe. I brought peace to the Alps from the region which is near the Adriatic Sea to the Tuscan Archipelago, with no unjust war waged against any nation. I sailed my ships on the ocean from the mouth of the Rhine to the east region up to the borders of the Cimbri, where no Roman had gone before that time by land or sea, and the Cimbri and the Charudes and the Semnones and the other Germans of the same territory sought by envoys the friendship of me and of the Roman people. By my order and auspices two armies were led at about the same time into Ethiopia and into that part of Arabia which is called Happy, and the troops of each nation of enemies were slaughtered in battle and many towns captured. They penetrated into Ethiopia all the way to the town Nabata, which is near to Meroeand into Arabia all the way to the border of the Sabaei, advancing to the town of Mariba.
  • I added Egypt to the rule of the Roman people. When Artaxes, king of Greater Armenia, was killed, though I could have made it a province, I preferred, by the example of our elders, to hand over that kingdom of Tigranes, son of king Artavasdes, and grandson of King Tigranes, throughzTiberius Nero, who was then my step-son. And the same nation, after revolting and rebelling, and subdued through my son Gaius, I handed over to be ruled by King Ariobarzanes son of Artabazus, king of the Medes, and after his death, to his son Artavasdes; and when he was killed, I sent Tigranes, who came from the royal clan of the Armenians, into that rule. I recovered all the provinces which lie across the Adriatic to the east and Cyrene, with kings now possessing them in large part, and Sicily and Sardinia, which had been occupied earlier in the slave war.
  • I founded colonies of soldiers in Africa, Sicily, Macedonia, each
    Map showcasing the colonies of Augustus (117 AD).

    Spain, Greece, Asia, Syria, Narbonian Gaul, and Pisidia, and furthermore had twenty-eight colonies founded in Italy under my authority, which were very populous and crowded while I lived.

  • I recovered from Spain, Gaul, and Dalmatia the many military standards lost through other leaders, after defeating the enemies. I compelled the Parthians to return to me the spoils and standards of three Roman armies, and as suppliants to seek the friendship of the Roman people. Furthermore I placed those standards in the sanctuary of the Temple of Mars Ultor.
  • As for the tribes of the Pannonians, before my principate no army of the Roman people had entered their land. When they were
    The campaigns of Tiberius, Ahenobarbus, and Saturninus in Germania between 6 BC and 1 BC.

    conquered through Tiberius Nero, who was then my step-son and emissary, I subjected them to the rule of the Roman people and extended the borders of Illyricum to the shores of the River Danube. On the near side of it the army of the Dacians was conquered and overcome under my auspices, and then my army, led across the Danube, forced the tribes of the Dacians to bear the rule of the Roman people.

  • Emissaries from the Indian kings were often sent to me, which had not been seen before that time by any Roman leader. The Bastarnae, the Scythians, and the Sarmatians, who are on this side of the River Don and the kings further away, and the kings of the Albanians, of the Iberians, and of the Medes, sought our friendship through emissaries.
  • To me were sent supplications by kings: of the Parthians, Tiridates and later Phrates son of king Phrates, of the Medes, Artavasdes, of the Adiabeni, Artaxares, of the Britons, Dumnobellaunus and Tincommius, of the Sugambri, Maelo, of the Marcomanian Suebi (…, -)rus. King Phrates of the Parthians, son of Orodes, sent all his sons and grandsons into Italy to me, though defeated in no war, but seeking our friendship through the pledges of his children. And in my principate many other peoples experienced the faith of the Roman people, of whom nothing had previously existed of embassies or interchange of friendship with the Roman people.
  • The nations of the Parthians and Medes received from me the first kings of those nations which they sought by emissaries: the Parthians, Vonones son of king Phrates, grandson of king Orodes, the Medes, Ariobarzanes, son of king Artavasdes, grandson of king Aiobarzanes.

The 4th section (paragraphs 34–35) consists of a statement of the Romans’ approval for the reign and deeds of Augustus.

  • In my sixth and seventh consulates (28-27 BC), after putting out
    Bust of Augustus in a laurel crown.

    the civil war, having obtained all things by universal consent, I handed over the state from my power to the dominion of the Senate and Roman people. And for this merit of mine, by a Senate decree, I was called Augustus and the doors of my temple were publicly clothed with laurel and a civic crown was fixed over my door and a gold shield placed in the Julian Senate-house, and the inscription of that shield testified to the virtue, mercy, justice, and piety, for which the senate and Roman people gave it to me. After that time, I exceeded all in influence, but I had no greater power than the others who were colleagues with me in each magistracy.

  • When I administered my thirteenth consulate (2 BC), the Senate and Equestrian order and Roman people all called me father of the country, and voted that the same be inscribed in the vestibule of my temple, in the Julian Senate-house, and in the Forum of Augustus under the chariot which had been placed there for me by a decision of the senate. When I wrote this I was seventy-six years old.

The appendix is written in the third-person, and likely not by Augustus himself. It summarizes the entire text, and lists various buildings he renovated or constructed; it states that Augustus spent 600 million silver denarii (i.e. 600,000 gold denarii) from his own funds during his reign on public projects.

Ancient currencies cannot be reliably converted into modern equivalents, but it is clearly more than anyone else in the Empire could afford. Augustus consolidated his hold on power by reversing the prior tax policy beginning with funding the aerarium militare with 170 million sesterces of his own money.

Caesar Augustus and his Legions

The Res Gestae was a unique public relations move for the original Emperor of the Roman Empire, whose political career was in many ways experimental. If their frequent use as “history” by later historians (both ancient and modern) who characterized Augustus’ rule according to categories he himself constructed in the Res Gestae is any indication, it is a rather successful piece of propaganda.

For better or worse, the Res Gestae Divi Augusti has been an instrumental piece of history. Whether solely propoganda or actual history, we’re happy to have this piece still available for us to see.

Thanks for joining us on today’s journey. Please make sure to also check us out on Facebook and Twitter.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Augustus. Res Gestae Divi Augusti. Cambridge University Press, 14 May 2009. ISBN 978-0-521-84152-8.

Barini, Concetta. Res Gestae Divi Augusti ex Monumentis Ancyrano, Antiocheno, Apolloniensi. Rome, 1937.

Cooley, Alison. Res Gestae divi Augusti: Text, Translation and Commentary. Cambridge University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-521-84152-8.

Gagé, Jean. Res gestae divi Augusti ex monumentis Ancyrano et Antiocheno latinis. Paris, 1935.

Mommsen, Theodor. Res gestae Divi Augusti ex monumentis Ancyrano et Apolloniensi. Berolini: Weidmannos, 1865.

Scheid. John. Res Gestae Divi Augusti: hauts faits du divin Auguste. Belles Lettres, 2007. ISBN 978-2-251-01446-3

Volkmann, Hans. Res gestae Divi Augusti Das Monumentum Ancyranum. Leipzig, 1942.

Running of the Bulls: A Spanish Event Like Nothing Else

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Back in November 2016, we shared a piece entitled Bullfighting: Having Roots in Ancient Rome. That was a bit more graphic than what we will be discussing, but there is still a clear and present danger involved.

Today we head to Hispania as we partake in Pamplona’s world famous Running of the Bulls!pamplona-spain-running-bulls

The Running of the Bulls is known in Spanish as Encierro, from the verb Encerrar (to corral, to enclose). It is a practice that involves running in front of a small group of cattle (typically 6) of the Toro Bravo breed that have been let loose on a course of a sectioned-off subset of a town’s streets.

Saint Fermin
Saint Fermin

The most famous Running of the Bulls is the 8-day festival of Sanfermines in honor of Saint Fermin in Pamplona, although they are also traditionally held in other places such as towns and villages across SpainPortugal, in some cities in Mexico, and southern France during the summer.

The origin of this event comes from the need to transport the bulls from the fields outside the city, where they were bred, to the bullring, where they would be killed in the evening. During this ‘run’, youngsters would jump among them to show off their bravado.

In Pamplona and other places, the six bulls in the event are still those that will feature in the afternoon bullfight of the same day.

Spanish tradition says the true origin of the run began in northeastern Spain during the early 14th Century. While transporting cattle in order to sell them at the market, men would try to speed the process by hurrying their cattle using tactics of fear and excitement.

After years of this practice, the transportation and hurrying began to turn into a competition, as young adults would attempt to race in front of the bulls and make it safely to their pens without being overtaken. When the popularity of this practice increased and was noticed more and more by the expanding population of Spanish cities, a tradition was created and stands to this day.

The Pamplona Encierro is the most popular in Spain and has been broadcast live by RTVE, the public Spanish national television channel, for over 30 years. Held every year from July 6–14, it is the highest profile event of the San Fermin festival.

The first bull running is on 7 July, followed by one on each of the following mornings of the festival, beginning every day at 8 am. Among the rules to take part in the event are that participants must be at least 18 years old, run in the same direction as the bulls, not incite the bulls, and not be under the influence of alcohol.

In Pamplona a set of wooden fences is erected to direct the bulls along the route and to block off side streets. A double wooden fence is used in those houses where there is enough space for it, while in other parts the buildings of the street act as barriers.

The gaps in the barricades are wide enough for a human to slip through, but narrow enough to block a bull. The fence is composed of around 3,000 separate pieces and while some parts are left for the duration of the fiesta others are mounted and dismounted every morning.

Spectators can only stand behind the subsequent fence. The space between the 2 fences is reserved for security and medical personnel and also to participants who need cover during the event.

The Encierro begins with runners singing a benediction. It is sung 3 times, each time being sung both in Spanish and Basque.

The benediction is a prayer given at a statue of Saint Fermin, patron of the festival and the city, to ask the Saint’s protection. Translated into English it is as follows: “We ask Saint Fermin, as our Patron, to guide us through the Encierro and give us his blessing”.

singingThe singers finish by shouting “Viva San Fermín!, Gora San Fermin!” (Long live Saint Fermin!). Most runners dress in the traditional clothing of the festival which consists of a white shirt and trousers with a red waistband (faja) and neckerchief (pañuelo). Also some of them hold the day’s newspaper rolled to draw the bulls’ attention from them if necessary.

Runners in typical attire plus standouts
Runners in typical attire plus standouts

Another common dress practice, seen as a risk by some but as a daring depiction of courage by others is dressing in a conspicuous manner. Many runners that want to be perceived as daring wear colors other than white.

The most daring color alternative is blue for it is thought by some to draw the bulls’ attention. Others include large logos on their shirt to capture the attention of the bulls, anything to make yourself stand out in a photo.

Revellers on the town hall balcony hold up red scarves during the start of the San Fermin Festival in PamplonaA first rocket is set off at 8 am to alert the runners that the corral gate is open. Another rocket signals that all 6 bulls have been released.

The 3rd and 4th rockets signal that all of the herd has entered the bullring and its corral, respectively, marking the end of the event. The average duration between the initial rocket and the end of the running is 2 minutes, 30 seconds.

The Encierro is usually composed of the 6 bulls to be fought in the afternoon, 6 steers that run in herd with the bulls, and 3 more steers that follow the herd to encourage any reluctant bulls to continue along the route. The function of the steers, who run the route daily, is to guide the bulls to the bullring at an average speed of 15 mph.

Entering the bull ring from the callejón
Entering the bull ring from the callejón

The length of the run is 957 yards. It goes through 4 streets of the old part of the city (Santo Domingo, Ayuntamiento, Mercaderes and Estafeta) via the Town Hall Square and the short section just before entering into the bullring through its callejón (tunnel). The fastest part of the route is up Santo Domingo and across the Town Hall Square, but the bulls often became separated at the entrance to Estafeta Street as they slowed down.

Runners are not permitted in the opening 55 yards of the Encierro, which is an uphill grade where the bulls are much faster.

On the Estafeta
On the Estafeta

One or more would slip going into the turn at Estafeta, resulting in the installation of anti-slip surfacing. Now most of the bulls negotiate the turn onto Estafeta ahead of the steers, thus making for a quicker run.

Every year, between 50-100 people are injured during the run, but not all of the injuries require taking the patients to the hospital. In 2013 50, people were taken by ambulance to Pamplona’s hospital, with this number nearly doubling that of 2012.

goredGoring is much less common but potentially life threatening. In 2013 for example, 6 participants were gored along the festival, in 2012 only 4 runners were injured by the horns of the bulls with exactly the same number of gored people in 2011, 9 in 2010 and 10 in 2009; with one of the later killed.

As most of the runners are male, only 5 women have been gored since 1974. Previously to that date running was prohibited for women.

Another major risk is runners falling and piling up at the entrance of the bullring, which acts as a funnel as it is much narrower than the previous street. In such cases injuries come both from asphyxia and contusions to those in the pile and from goring if the bulls crush into the pile.

pile-upThis kind of blocking of the entrance has occurred at least ten times in the history of the run, the last occurring in 2013 and the first dating back to 1878. A runner died of suffocation in one such pile up in 1977.

Overall, since record-keeping began in 1910, only 15 people of the several thousand runners have been killed in the bull running of Pamplona, most of them due to being gored. To minimize the impact of injuries every day 200 people collaborate in the medical attention making it possible to have a gored person stabilized and taken to a hospital in less than 10 minutes.

sun-also-risesThe Encierro of Pamplona has been depicted many times in literature, television or advertising, but became known worldwide partly because of the descriptions of Ernest Hemingway in books The Sun Also Rises and Death in the Afternoon. The cinema pioneer Louis Lumière filmed the run in 1899.

City Slickers

The event is the basis for a chapter in James Michener‘s 1971 novel The Drifters. The run is depicted in the 1991 Billy Crystal film City Slickers where the character “Mitch” (Crystal) is gored (non-fatally) from behind by a bull during a vacation with the other main characters.

Running with the Bulls, a 2012 documentary of the festival filmed by Construct Creatives and presented by Jason Farrel, depicts the pros and cons of the controversial tradition. Since 2014 the Esquire Channel has broadcast the running of the bulls as a show in the US, with both live commentary and then a recorded ’round up’ later in the day by NBCSN commentators the Men in Blazers, including interviews with noted participants.

In 2014, the eBook guide Fiesta: How To Survive The Bulls Of Pamplona caused headlines around the world when one of the contributors was gored by a bull soon after its publication. Maybe one should take the advice given here with a grain of salt.

Many opponents argue that bulls are mentally injured by the harassment and voicing of both participants and spectators. Despite all this, the festivities seem to have wide popular support in their villages.

Many animal rights activists oppose the event. PETA activists created the “running of the nudes”, a demonstration done 2 days before the beginning of San Fermín in Pamplona.pamplona

We hope you enjoyed today’s adventure, and maybe you’ve been inspired to participate in the future. No matter what we’d like to have any stories you may have on the event and to check us out again for a new journey.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Alonso, Gorka. “Los encierros se saldan con 50 heridos trasladados y 6 corneados” (in Spanish). Noticias de Navarra. 15 July 2013.

Coviello, Will. “Running of the Bulls 2012”. Gambit Weekly.

Editorial Staff. “Pamplona, bull running, bull gorings, Esquire TV and poetry from New York”. The Pamplona Post. 10 July 2015.

Fiske-Harrison, AlexanderFiesta: How To Survive The Bulls Of Pamplona. Mephisto Press, 2014.

Marszalek, Keith I. “Big Easy Rollergirls to reinact [sic] famed bull run”. 24 June 2007.

Vadillo, Jose Luis. “Así son los corredores de elite en San Fermín”. El Mundo. 6 July 2015.

“Bull gores man to death in Spain”. BBC. 10 July 2009.

“Encierro bullrun San Fermin festival Sanfermines tourist information on Navarre”. Government of Navarre.

“One dead in the running of the bull’s in Pamplona” 10 July 2009.

Running of the Bulls 2011 Live Stream (Event Information)

“Running of the Bulls”. Esquire TV.

“Running Of The Bulls 2015: A Democratic Sport”. Esquire TV.

“Running of the Nudes”PETA official site.

“San Fermín in Nueva Orleans, The Running of the Roller Girls”. 20 July 2008.

“San Fermín So Far – 2014”The Pamplona Post. 12 July 2014.

“The Bull Run”. Ayuntamiento de Pamplona (Council of Pamplona). Archived from the original on 29 May 2008.

“The last person killed at Pamplona”. BBC. 14 July 2005.

Plato’s Best (and Worst) Ideas

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Today we go back before the Founding of Rome to Ancient Greece as we see Wisecrack‘s take on Plato’s Best (and Worst) Ideas!

Roman copy of a portrait bust by Silanion for the Academia in Athens (c. 370 BC).

Few individuals have influenced the world and many of today’s thinkers like Plato. He created the original Western university and was teacher to Ancient Greece’s greatest minds, including Aristotle.

But even he wasn’t perfect. Along with his great ideas, Plato had a few that haven’t exactly stood the test of time. Wisecrack gives a brief rundown of a few of Plato’s best and worst ideas.

We hope you enjoyed today’s philosophical journey and look forward to having you back soon. Be sure to check us out on Facebook and Twitter.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Top 10 Reasons the Byzantine Empire Was Among the Most Successful in History

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

You’d see a lot of changes when looking at a map of present day Europe and comparing it to a 30 year old one. Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and the Baltic States were all part of the USSR, while Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia were still states.

The Empire at its greatest extent in AD 555 under Justinian the Great (its vassals in pink).

Go back even further and the map looks even stranger. Putting all those different people under the same banner and keeping them that way was and still is next to impossible. Many have tried and most have failed, but the first to even come close were the Romans.

Their inheritors, the Byzantines, managed to keep it together for over 1100 years. By so doing, they creating the longest-living Empire on the continent. Here’s how they did it.

We hope you enjoyed Top 10 Reasons the Byzantine Empire Was Among the Most Successful in History. We look forward to having you back for further adventures.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Mare Nostrum: Known to by all non-Romans as the Mediterranean Sea

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If you’ve ever heard of a thing called the Imperium Rōmānum (Roman Empire), then you’re probably at least familiar with the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army). However, we recently gave the Classis Romanus (Roman Navy) some love in the following articles: The Roman Navy: Unsung Champion of the Ancient Seas, The Roman Navy: From Rivers to Oceans, and Warfare of Classical Antiquity: Republican Fleet Tactics (Roman Navy).

As the Masters & Commanders of the Ancient World, the Romans were not shy about their dominance over the Mediterranean Sea. Today we explore the Roman way as we see why it was Mare Nostrum!

The Roman Empire at its farthest extent in AD 117. Note, however, that the Sea is called Mare Internum “Inner Sea” here.

Mare Nostrum was a Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea. In Latin, it literally translates to Our Sea.

The term Mare Nostrum originally was used by Romans to refer to the Tyrrhenian Sea, following their conquest of SicilySardinia and Corsica during the Punic Wars with Carthage. By 30 BC, Roman domination extended from the Iberian Peninsula to Egypt, and Mare Nostrum began to be used in the context of the whole Mediterranean Sea.

The Roman Navy at war

Other names were also employed, including Mare Internum (The Internal Sea). However, the Romans did not include Mediterraneum Mare (Mediterranean Sea), which was a Late Latin creation only attested to well after the Fall of Rome.

An Italian Empire view of the Mare Nostrum (by Hendrick Van Minderhout L’embarquement).

In the years following the unification of Italy in 1861 Italian nationalists, who saw Italy as the successor state to the Roman Empire, attempted to revive the term. The rise of Italian nationalism during the “Scramble for Africa” of the 1880s led to calls for the establishment of an Impero Italiano (Italian Empire).

The Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio was the first to revive the phrase. Italian writer Emilio Lupi said the following about the Mare Nostrum:

Even if the coast of Tripoli were a desert, even if it would not support one peasant or one Italian business firm, we still need to take it to avoid being suffocated in mare nostrum.

Starboard / Bow view of the Italian Battleship Roma in 1940.

The term was again taken up by Benito Mussolini for use in fascist propaganda, in a similar manner to Adolf Hitler‘s lebensraum. Mussolini wanted to re-establish the greatness of the Roman Empire and believed that Italy was the most powerful of the Mediterranean countries after World War I.

Axis Italy’s Invasion of Spain

Mussolini declared that “the twentieth century will be a century of

Italian power”. He then created one of the most powerful navies of the world in order to again control the Mediterranean Sea.

When World War II started Italy was already a major Mediterranean power that controlled the north and south shores of the central basin. After the fall of France removed the main threat from the west, the British Mediterranean Fleet (with UK-controlled bases in GibraltarMaltaCyprusEgypt, and Mandatory Palestine) remained the only threat to Italian naval power in the Mediterranean.

Patrol of the Axis navy

The invasions of AlbaniaGreece and Egypt, and the Siege of Malta sought to extend Axis control over the Sea. This policy was so great, it threatened neutral nations like Turkey, a threat that İsmet İnönü, the president of Turkey at the time of war, countered by only promising to enter the war if the Soviet Union joined the Allies.

Mussolini dreamed of creating an Imperial Italy in his Mare Nostrum and promoted the fascist project of an enlarged Italian Empire, stretching from the Mediterranean shores of Egypt to the Indian Ocean shores of Somalia and eastern Kenya. This was obviously to be realized in a future peace conference after the anticipated Axis victory

He referred to making the Mediterranean Sea “an Italian lake”. This aim, however, was challenged throughout the campaign by the Allied land & naval forces.

RN Vittorio Veneto in the Battle of Cape Spartivento.

For example, Greece had easily been incorporated into the Roman Empire, but the new Greek state proved to be too powerful for Italian conquest, and Greece remained independent until German forces arrived to assist the Italian invasion. Despite periods of Axis ascendancy during the Battle of the Mediterranean it was never realized, and ended altogether with the final Italian defeat of September 1943.

The term Mare Nostrum was chosen as the theme for the Inaugural Conference of the Society for Mediterranean Law and Culture, being held in June 2012 at the University of Cagliari Faculty of Law, Sardinia, Italy (La Conferenza Inaugurale della Società di Diritto e Cultura del Mediterraneo). In this contemporary usage, the term is intended to embrace the full diversity of Mediterranean cultures, with a particular focus on exchanges and cooperation among Mediterranean nations.

From November 2013 Fenice (F 557), a corvette of Minerva class, took part in the Operation Mare Nostrum rescuing the boats of illegal immigrants coming from North Africa.

Operation Mare Nostrum was a year-long naval and air operation commenced by the Italian government on 18 October 2013 to tackle the increased immigration to Europe during the latter half of 2013 and migratory ship wreckages off Lampedusa. During the operation at least 150,000 migrants, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, arrived safely to Europe. The operation ended on 31 October 2014 and was superseded by Frontex‘s Operation Triton.

In a completely different way, Mare Nostrum is an empire-building game in which 3-5 players [or 2-6 with the ‘Atlas’ expansion] lead their individual ancient empires to dominion of Mare Nostrum. Players grow their fame and glory of their empire by expanding influence into new Provinces, then extending their Trade Caravans, building Markets, and founding new Cities and Temples.

Mare Nostrum: Empires, a modern game set in ancient times.

You can recruit Heroes and create Wonders to help your cause. But beware of your “friends” because they may look upon your gains with envy and greed.

Mare Nostrum is a re-introduction by Academy Games and Asyncron of the original 2003 release with updated rules, counters, and map board. This edition includes many new components and multiple new ways to win.

In more detail, you choose an empire to lead, which begins with three Provinces. You can lead with Caesar of Rome and its powerful Legions, or with Pericles, the prominent Greek statesman and orator, with the great Babylonian lawgiver and healer King Hammurabi, or with Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, whose engineers led in the development of grain storage and irrigation, or with Hannibal, leader of the Carthaginians, whose merchants thrived on trade and commerce. Now you decide how you will grow your empire.

We hope you enjoyed our brief excursion to explore Mare Nostrum, and maybe you’ll even go out for your own voyage someday. Thanks again for stopping by and we look forward to having you back soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Fleming, Thomas. The New Dealers’ War. Perseus Books,2001.

Lowe, C.J. Italian Foreign Policy 1870–1940. Routledge, 2002. ISBN 0-415-27372-2.

Rhodes, Anthony. Propaganda: The Art of Persuasion: World War II. Chelsea House Publishers, 1976.

Talbert, R.; Downs, M. E.; McDaniel, M. Joann; Lund, B. Z.; Elliott, T.; Gillies, S. “Places: 1043 (Internum Mare)”. Pleiades.

Tellegen-Couperus, Olga. Short History of Roman Law. Routledge, 1993. ISBN 0-415-07251-4.

“Mare Nostrum Operation”Ministry of Defence of Italy.

“IOM Applauds Italy’s Life-Saving Mare Nostrum Operation: “Not a Migrant Pull Factor””International Organization for Migration. 31 October 2014.

“Mare Nostrum: Empires”.

Cloaca Maxima: Attempting to Keep Rome Clean

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If you’re here then, just like us, you have a passion for Ancient Rome. We’re glad you do for there is so much to share.

As one of the largest ancient cities, Rome probably felt like the center of the universe at the height of its power. With so much happening militarily, culturally, religiously, and constructurally above the ground we often overlook what was going on underneath it.

Well that ends today as we uncover a truly great feat (at least in its own right) as we explore the Cloaca Maxima!

Domitian-era section of the Cloaca under the Forum.

The Cloaca Maxima is one of the world’s earliest sewage systems. Constructed in Ancient Rome in order to drain local marshes and remove the waste of one of the world’s most populous cities, it carried effluent to the River Tiber, which ran beside the city.

The name literally means Greatest Sewer. According to tradition it may have been initially constructed around 600 BC under the orders of the Rex Romae (King of Rome)Tarquinius Priscus.

Capitoline Hill and Cloaca Maxima (c. 1890).

The Cloaca Maxima was originally built by the Etruscans as an open-air canal. Over time, the Romans covered over the canal and turned it into a sewer system for the city.

The system of Roman sewers was much imitated throughout the Imperium Rōmānum (Roman Empire), especially when combined with abundant supplies of water from Roman aqueducts. The sewer system in Eboracum (modern-day York) was especially impressive, and part of it still survives today.

Contained within the Cloaca Maxima there were many branches off of the main sewer, all of which seem to be official SPQR drains that would have served public toilets, thermae (bath-houses) and other public buildings. Private residences in Rome, even of the rich, would have relied on some sort of cess-pit arrangement for sewage.

Map of central Rome during the time of the Roman Empire, showing the Cloaca Maxima (in red).

The Cloaca Maxima was well maintained throughout the life of the Roman Empire and even today drains rainwater and debris from the center of town, below the ancient Forum Rōmānum (Roman Forum), Velabrum and Foro Boario (Forum Boarium). In 33 BC it was known to have received an inspection and overhaul from Agrippa, and was thought to be presided over by the goddess Cloacina.

Modern archaeology has revealed several building styles and material from various ages, suggesting that the systems received regular attention. In more recent times, the remaining passages have been connected to the modern-day sewage system, mainly to cope with problems of backwash from the river.

The Romans are recorded to have dragged the bodies of a number of people to the sewers rather than give them proper burial, the reliability of the accounts though depends upon the case.

Italian St Sebastian Thrown into the Cloaca Maxima by Lodovico Carracci.

Among those discarded in the Cloaca Maxima was the Emperor Elagabalus as well as Saint Sebastian. The latter scene was the subject of a well-known artwork by Lodovico Carracci.

The outfall of the Cloaca Maxima into the River Tiber is still visible today near the bridge Ponte Rotto (Broken Bridge), and near Ponte Palatino (English Bridge). There is a stairway going down to it visible next to the Basilica Julia at the Forum, or from the surface opposite the church of San Giorgio al Velabro.

The underground structure was much praised. Here are the words of Pliny the Elder:

Hills were tunneled into the course of the construction of the sewers, and Rome was a ‘city on stilts’ beneath which men sailed when Marcus Agrippa was Aedile. Seven rivers join together and rush headlong through Rome, and, like torrents, they necessarily sweep away everything in their path. With raging force, owing to the additional amount of rainwater, they shake the bottom and sides of the sewers. Sometimes water from the Tiber flows backwards and makes its way up the sewers. Then the powerful flood-waters clash head-on in the confined space, but the unyielding structure holds firm. Huge blocks of stone are dragged across the surface above the tunnels; buildings collapse of their own accord or come crashing down because of fire; earth tremors shake the ground – but still, for seven hundred years from the time of Tarquinius Priscus, the sewers have survived almost completely intact.

Outfall of the Cloaca Maxima as viewed today.

This public work was largely achieved through the use of Etruscan engineers and large amounts of semi-forced labor from the poorer classes of Roman Citizens. Underground work is said to have been carried out on the sewer by Tarquinius Superbus, Rome’s 7th and final King.

Although Livy describes it as being tunneled out beneath Rome, he was writing centuries after the event. From other writings and from the path that it takes, it seems more likely that it was originally an open drain, formed from streams from 3 of the neighboring hills, that were channeled through the main Forum and then on to the Tiber.

This open drain would then have been gradually built over, as building space within the city became more valuable. It is possible that both theories are correct, and certainly some of the main lower parts of the system suggest that they would have been below ground level even at the time of the supposed construction.

The Cloaca Maxima in the Roman Forum

The 11 aqueducts which supplied water to Rome by the 1st Century AD were finally channeled into the sewers after having supplied the many public baths such as the Baths of Diocletian and the Baths of Trajan, the public fountains, imperial palaces and private houses.

The continuous supply of running water helped to remove wastes and keep the sewers clear of obstructions. The best waters were reserved for potable drinking supplies, and the subsequent quality waters would be used by the baths, the outfalls of which connected to the sewer network under the streets of the city.

Door to the sewer (Basilicae Julia)

The aqueduct system was investigated by the General Frontinus at the end of the 1st Century AD. The General ended up publishing his report on its state directly to the Emperor Nerva.

We hope you found this journey at least somewhat enjoyable. We tried to keep it as clean as possible (considering the topic of discussion), and look forward to having you back again.

View of the Cloaca Maxima as it appeared in 1814 (Oil on canvas by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg).

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Aldrete, Gregory S. Daily life in the Roman city: Rome, Pompeii and Ostia. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004. ISBN 978-0-313-33174-9.

Herodian. Roman History.

Hopkins, John N. N. “The Cloaca Maxima and the Monumental Manipulation of water in Archaic Rome”. Institute of the Advanced Technology in the Humanities. Web. 4/8/12

Lançon, Bertrand. Rome in late antiquity: everyday life and urban change, AD 312-609. Routledge, 2000. ISBN 978-0-415-92975-2.

Livy. Ab urbe condita.

Quilici, Lorenzo. “Land Transport, Part 1: Roads and Bridges”. The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World. Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-19-518731-1.

Woods, Michael. Ancient medicine: from sorcery to surgery. Twenty-First Century Books, 2000. ISBN 978-0-8225-2992-7.

Darvill, Timothy; Stamper, Paul; Timby, Jane. England: an Oxford archaeological guide to sites from earliest times to AD 1600. Oxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-19-284101-8.

Rinne, Katherine W. Aquae Urbis Romae: The Waters of the City of Rome. 1998.

Rome, Cloaca Maxima”. Livius.

Roma Condita: Celebrating Rome’s Founding

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

From the world of Ancient Rome there are many things in which to be celebrated or actually were celebrated. The month of Aprilis (April) celebrates the birth of Emperors Septimius Severus (11 April 145 AD) and Marcus Aurelius (26 April 121 AD) along with the festivals of Veneralia (1) and Fordicidia (15).

If you haven’t yet got on the Roman party-train you need to jump aboard, for there’s plenty of stops to celebrate and there’s plenty of tickets available for everyone. But without a single event, no of this would happen nor would this website exist.

Today we are going to witness the impactful event that was the Roma Condita (Founding of Rome)!

Aeneas flees burning Troy by Federico Barocci, 1598 (Galleria Borghese, Rome).

One thing the Romans were certain of was the day Rome was founded, and that day is today – 4 April. What they were not so certain of was the year in which their city was established as several dates had been proposed by ancient authorities.

This is a reason they preferred to date their years by the presiding Consuls rather than using the formula Ab Urbe Condita (AUC). Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a Greek historian and teacher of rhetoric who flourished during the reign of Caesar Augustus, stated the following:

the Greek historian Timaeus, the first to write a history of the Romans, stated that Rome was founded in the 38th year prior to the first Olympiad, or 814 BC; Quintus Fabius Pictor, the first Roman to write the history of his people, stated Rome was founded in the first year of the eighth Olympiad, or 748/7 BC; Cincius Alimentus claimed Rome was founded in the fourth year of the twelfth Olympiad, or 719/8 BC; and Cato the Elder calculated that Rome was founded 432 years after the Trojan War, which Dionysius stated was the first year of the seventh Olympiad, or 752/3 BC.

Dionysius himself provided calculations showing that Rome was founded in 751 BC, starting with the Battle of the Allia, which he dated to the 1st year of the 9th Olympiad (390 BC), then added 119 years to reach the date of the primary Consuls, Junius Brutus and Tarquinius Collatinus, and then he added the combined total of the reigns of the Kings of Rome (244 years) to arrive at his own date, 751 BC. Even the official Fasti Capitolini offers its own date, 752 BC.

Building what would become The Eternal City, as Romulus plows the boundary (inset).

The most familiar date given for the foundation of Rome, 753 BC, was derived by the Roman antiquarian Titus Pomponius Atticus, and adopted by Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro.

Varro created a timeline of Roman History by using a combination of a list of Roman Consuls, together with a little bit of historical license to allow for periods of dictatorial rule.

Therefore Varro’s timeline is known to be slightly inaccurate, but nobody has ever provided sufficiently trustworthy evidence to propose a different calendar. Therefore his system is accepted as the standard chronology.

Despite the inaccuracies of Varro’s work, the recent discoveries by Andrea Carandini on Rome’s Palatine Hill have also yielded evidence of a series of fortification walls on the North Slope that can be dated to the middle of the 8th Century BC. According to the legend, Romulus plowed a sulcus (furrow) around the hill in order to mark the boundary of his new city.

The she-wolf feeding the twins Romulus and Remus, the most famous image associated with the founding of Rome.

You may already be familiar with the myth of Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers who were suckled by a she-wolf. The story goes that, as adults, they decided to establish a new city but disagreed on the location.

After a quarrel about the walls, Remus was killed by his brother and so Romulus named the city after himself. The foundation myth became quite commonly accepted by ancient historians, although modern scholars disagree.

We appreciate you taking this journey with us to discover the Founding of Rome. We look forward to having you join us on future adventures, for we never know where we’ll be heading.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Carandini, Andrea. Rome: Day One. Princeton University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-691-13922-7.

Forsythe, Gary. A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War. University of California Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-520-22651-7.

Livy. The Early History of Rome. Penguin Books Ltd, 26 May 2005. ISBN 978-0-14-196307-5.


Signaculum: The Dog Tag of Ancient Rome’s Fighting Forces

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Since the formation of humans into social groups there has been fighting. From the fighting, more often than not there have been deaths.

But if the fighting, and possibly dying, occurred far away from where one’s family lived how would they know what happened to you? That’s part of the reason the modern Dog Tag came into existence, to solve this problem.

How and when Dog Tags were created is what we shall explore today as we take a closer look at the Signaculum!

The Signaculum was a means of identification given to the Roman Legionnaire at the moment of enrolment. The Legionnaire Signaculum was a lead disk with the name of the recruit and the indication of the Legio (Legion) of which the recruit was part.

The disk was put in a leather pouch with a leather string around it so as to be worn around the neck of the Roman Soldiers. This procedure, together with enrolment in the list of recruits, was made at the beginning of a 4-month probatio (probationary period).

The recruit got the military status only after the Sacramentum (Oath of Allegiance). At the end of probatio, meaning that from a legal point of view the Signaculum was given to a subject who was no longer a civilian, but not yet fully in the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army).

Acting to identify a body the same way a modern dog tag does, the Signaculum was stamped with a seal  to authenticate it. Similar items for identifying civilian goods and equipment have been found as well.

Signacula of this variety were not discs that were carried on one’s person, as with the Roman Army equivalent, but were more like modern-day product labels. They gave information on an item’s manufacturer and affiliates.

Although the origins of exactly when or why the Exercitus Romanus decided to use the Signaculum for their men are not clear, regardless, there are references to its use in some historical documents. Said pages indicate its composition, as well as the fact that it was given after it is determined a man is fit to serve the Legio.

In a document from AD 295, Maximilianus, an early Christian martyr, is being recruited as an Officer in the Roman Army against his wishes:

When he was being got ready, Maximilianus replied: ‘I cannot serve as a soldier. I cannot do evil. I am a Christian.’ Dio the Proconsul replied, ‘Let him be measured.’ When he had been measured, his height was read out by an equerry. ‘He is five feet, ten inches.’ Dio said to the equerry, ‘Give him the Signaculum.’ Maximilianus resisted and replied, ‘I do not accept the Signaculum. I will break it, because it has no validity. I cannot carry a piece of lead around my neck after the sign of my Lord.’ Dio said, ‘Remove his name.’

In the film Gladiator, Maximus (Russell Crowe) cuts out his Signaculum from his upper arm.

There is some evidence suggesting that by the time of the late Roman Army, it became common practice to instead give soldiers that were found to be fit for service in the Legio, an indelible Soldier’s Mark (like a brand or tattoo). This was feasibly to discourage desertion by making any former or deserting Soldiers clearly identifiable in the public.

In De Re Militari (390 AD), one of the few writings of Roman Military writer Vegetius Renatus, it is stated that, after the initial selection process, a recruit is then placed through a 4-month testing period to ensure his physical capability.

De re militari edition bound in goatskin (Republic of Venice c. 1486–1501).

many, though promising enough in appearance, are found very unfit upon trial. These are to be rejected and replaced by better men; for it is not numbers, but bravery which carries the day. After their examination, the recruits should then receive the military mark, and be taught the use of their arms by constant and daily exercise.

Slaves were also known to wear tags on their person, typically in the form of an irremovable metal collar. Said collars would typically be inscribed with messages such as:

If you find this slave, he has run away. Please return him to his owner at the following address. You will be rewarded.

These, along with branding and tattooing, were common ways for Roman slaves to be separated from the rest of the Roman social system. Again, it made for an easy punishment should they make their escape.

In more recent times, Dog Tags were provided to Chinese soldiers as early as the mid-19th Century. During the Taiping revolt (1851–66), both the Imperialists (i.e., the Chinese Imperial Army regular servicemen) and those Taiping rebels wearing a uniform wore a wooden tag at the belt, bearing the soldier’s name, age, birthplace, unit, and date of enlistment.

During the American Civil War (1861–1865) some soldiers pinned paper notes with their name and home address to the backs of their coats. Other soldiers stenciled identification on their knapsacks or scratched it in the soft lead backing of their army belt buckle.

From a soldier in the 13th New Hampshire Regiment in the American Civil War.

Manufacturers of identification badges recognized a market and began advertising in periodicals. Their pins were usually shaped to suggest a branch of service, and engraved with the soldier’s name and unit.

Machine-stamped tags were also made of brass or lead with a hole and usually had (on one side) an eagle or shield, and such phrases as “War for the Union” or “Liberty, Union, and Equality”. The other side had the soldier’s name and unit, and sometimes a list of battles in which he had participated.

Some tags (along with similar items such as MedicAlert bracelets) are used also by civilians today to identify their wearers and specify them as having health problems that may
(a) suddenly incapacitate their wearers and render them incapable of providing treatment guidance (as in the cases of heart problems, epilepsydiabetic coma, accident or major trauma) and/or
(b) interact adversely with medical treatments, especially standard or “first-line” ones (as in the case of an allergy to common medications) and/or
(c) provide in case of emergency (ICE) contact information and/or
(d) state a religious, moral, or other objection to artificial resuscitation, if a first responder attempts to administer such treatment when the wearer is non-responsive and thus unable to warn against doing so.

Military personnel in some jurisdictions may wear a supplementary medical information tag.

A pair of blank Dog Tags on a ball chain ready to be customized.

Dog Tags have recently found their way into youth fashion by way of military chic. Originally worn as a part of a military uniform by youth wishing to present a tough or militaristic image, Dog Tags have since seeped out into wider fashion circles.

They may be inscribed with a person’s details, their beliefs or tastes, a favorite quote, or may bear the name or logo of a band or performer. Since the late 1990s, custom dog tags have been fashionable amongst musicians (particularly rappers), and as a marketing give-away item.

Rapper Nelly showcasing his fashion Dog Tags (2009).

Numerous companies offer customers the opportunity to create their own personalized Dog Tags with their own photos, logos, and text. Even high-end jewelers have featured gold and silver Dog Tags encrusted with diamonds and other jewels.

All of this started with a simple lead disk used to identify you as a Roman Soldier. My have things evolved since then.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and look forward to having you join us again soon. Maybe you’ll even have your own Signaculum to showcase.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Clarke, John. The Military Institutions of the Romans, 1767.

Macmanus, Barbara. “Bronze Stamp of Coelia Mascellina”.

Southern, Dixon. The Late Roman Army. Batsford, 1996.

Wooley, Captain Richard W. “A Short History of Identification Tags”Quartermaster Professional Bulletin, December, 1988.

“Il Giuramento romano”. Imperium Romanum.

“A Battlefield Souvenir?” – The Story of a Union Identity Disk in the Civil War´.

Decimatio: The Most Severe Punishment of the Roman Army

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Our stylish Chief of Technology

Awhile back I received a message from Matthew Rodriguez, Chief of Technology at RAE. Thus far he had been a bit shy to contribute articles, but apparently he just could not resist this one.

Just like myself, MattRod is a tad obsessed with proper grammar usage. The budding-teacher in me felt it was best we share it, and this is what we got.

Today we shall venture deeper into this previous discussion as we explore the punishment of Decimatio!

Etching of a Decimatio by William Hogarth in Beaver’s Roman Military Punishments (1725).

Decimatio comes from the Latin Decem (Ten). This form of military discipline was used by Senior Commanders in the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army) to punish units or large groups guilty of capital offences, such as mutiny or desertion.

The word decimation is Latin meaning Removal of a Tenth. The procedure was a matter-of-fact attempt to balance the need to punish serious offences with the realities of managing a large group of offenders.

Contrary to historical usage, the word decimation is often used to refer to an extreme reduction in the number of a population or force, much greater than the a tenth. It is frequently used as a synonym for the annihilation or for devastation (get a definition for either here).

Roman Legion in action

For those that are unfamiliar with the setup of the Roman Army, let us quickly explain. The Roman Army was divided into Legiōnēs (Legions) consisting of 10 Cohortes (Cohorts) (about 5,000 men), each of 4 Manipulī (Maniples) of 120 Legiōnāriī (Legionaries).

Casting lots

Decimatio was inflicted upon a selected Cohort (between 480-500 soldiers) that was then divided into groups of 10. Each group drew lots (Sortition), and the soldier on whom the lot fell was executed by his 9 comrades, often by stoning or clubbing.

The remaining soldiers were often given rations of barley instead of wheat (the latter being the standard soldier’s diet) for a few days, and required to camp outside the fortified security of the camp. Since the punishment fell by lot, all soldiers in a group sentenced to Decimatio were potentially liable for execution, regardless of individual degrees of fault, rank, or distinction.

Decimatio depicted on Trajan’s Column

The earliest documented Decimatio occurred in 471 BC during the Roman Republic‘s early wars against the Volsci, and was recorded by Livy. In an incident where his forces had been scattered, Consul Appius Claudius Sabinus Regillensis had the perpetrators punished for desertion.

Roman soldier with a flagellum or scourge.

Centuriōnēs (Centurions), Signiferī (Standard-Bearers) and Soldiers who had cast away their weapons were individually scourged and beheaded. The remainder were chosen by lot (1 in 10) and executed.

Polybius gives one of the earliest descriptions of the practice in the early 3rd Century BC:

If ever these same things happen to occur among a large group of men… the officers reject the idea of bludgeoning or slaughtering all the men involved [as is the case with a small group or an individual]. Instead they find a solution for the situation which chooses by a lottery system sometimes five, sometimes eight, sometimes twenty of these men, always calculating the number in this group with reference to the whole unit of offenders so that this group forms one-tenth of all those guilty of cowardice. And these men who are chosen by lot are bludgeoned mercilessly in the manner described above.

Decimatio during the Third Servile War against Spartacus.

The practice was revived by Marcus Licinius Crassus in 71 BC during the Third Servile War against Spartacus, and some historical sources attribute part of Crassus’ success to it. The number of men killed through Decimatio is not known, but it varies anywhere between 48-50 killed (from a Cohort of around 480-500 men) up to 1,000 killed (used on 10,000 men).

Banner of the Legio IX Hispana

Julius Caesar threatened Decimatio on the Legio IX Hispana (Spanish 9th Legion) during the Great Roman Civil War against Pompey, but never did. Maybe Caesar should have acted upon his threat for the Legion disappears from surviving Roman records after AD 120, and there is no extant account of what happened to it.

Plutarch describes the process in his work Life of Antony. After a defeat in Media:

Antony was furious and employed the punishment known as ‘decimation’ on those who had lost their nerve. What he did was divide the whole lot of them into groups of ten, and then he killed one from each group, who was chosen by lot; the rest, on his orders were given barley rations instead of wheat.

Decimatio was still being practiced during the time of the Roman Empire, although it was very uncommon. Suetonius records that it was used by Emperor Augustus in 17 BC and later by Galba, while Tacitus records that Lucius Apronius used Decimatio to punish a full Cohort of the Legio III Augusta (3rd Augustan Legion) after their defeat by Tacfarinas in AD 20.

The Martyrdom of St Maurice and the Theban Legion.

According to legend, led by Saint Maurice, the Theban Legion was decimated in the 3rd Century AD, thus becoming known to history as the Martyrs of Agaunum. The Legion had refused, to a man, to comply to an order of the Emperor, and the process was repeated until none were left.

In his Strategikon, the Byzantine Emperor Maurice forbade Decimatio and other brutal punishments. According to him, punishments where the rank and file see their comrades dying by the hands of their own brothers-in-arms could lead to a collapse of morale. Moreover, it could seriously deplete the manpower of the fighting unit.

Decimatio was not just a practice from Ancient Rome. Apparently, those from many centuries after looked to the past for inspiration and found this form of discipline appealing.

Medival illustration of Decimation

During the Battle of Breitenfeld (1642), near Leipzig, one of the many battles of the Thirty Years’ War, Colonel Madlon’s cavalry regiment was the first to flee the battleground without striking a blow. This was followed by the massive flight of other cavalry units, which was the final turning point in the battle.

The battle was a decisive victory for the Swedish army under the command of Field Marshal Lennart Torstenson over an Imperial Army of the Holy Roman Empire under the command of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria and his deputy, Prince-General Ottavio Piccolomini, Duke of Amalfi. Archduke Leopold Wilhelm assembled a court-martial in Prague which sentenced the Madlon regiment to exemplary punishment.

Battle of Breitenfeld

Six regiments, which had actually fought bravely in the battle, drew up arms and surrounded Madlon’s regiment. Having been severely rebuked for its cowardice and misconduct, Madlon’s regiment were ordered to lay down its arms as their ensigns were torn in pieces.

The general, having mentioned the causes of their degradation, erased the regiment from the register of the imperial troops. The agreed upon sentence from the council of war was thus: Colonel Madlon, his captains and lieutenants were to be beheaded; ensigns (junior officers) were to be hanged; the soldiers to be decimated; and the survivors to be driven in disgrace out of the army.

Ninety men (chosen by rolling dice) were executed at Rokycany, in western Bohemia, now in the Czech Republic, on 14 December 1642 by Jan Mydlář (junior), the son of Jan Mydlář, the famous executioner from Prague. Their mass grave is said to be on the Black Mound in Rokycany, which commemorates the decimation to this day.

On 3 September 1866, during the Battle of Curuzu of the Paraguayan War, the Paraguayan 10th Battalion fled without firing a shot. President Lopez ordered the decimation of the battalion, which was accordingly formed into line and every 10th man shot.

Tunisian Lieutenant and tirailleur from the 4th RTA during the First World War.

In 1914, in France, there was a case in which a company of Tunisian tirailleurs (colonial soldiers) refused an order to attack and was ordered decimated by the divisional commander. This involved the execution of 10 men.

Italian General Luigi Cadorna allegedly applied decimation to underperforming units during World War I. However, the military historian John Keegan records that his “judicial savagery” during the Battle of Caporetto took the form of the summary executions of individual stragglers rather than the formalized winnowing of entire detachments.

One specific instance of actual decimation did occur in the Italian Army during the war, on 26 May 1916. The 120 men strong company of the 141st Catanzaro Infantry Brigade, which had mutinied, saw the execution of 1 in 10 soldiers including its officers and carabinieri.

Execution of 2 Varkaus Reds.

Decimatio can be also used to punish the enemy. In 1918 during the Finnish Civil War, after conquering the Red city of Varkaus, the White troops summarily executed around 80 captured Reds in what became known as the Lottery of Huruslahti.

According to some accounts, the Whites ordered all the captured Reds to assemble in a single row on the ice of Lake Huruslahti, selected every 10th prisoner, and executed him on the spot. The selection was not entirely random though, as some prisoners (primarily Red leaders) were specifically selected for execution and some good workers were intentionally spared.

We realize that this was a bit intense in its content, but that’s history. The story was already written and we simply chose to share it.

Hopefully you learned something new today. Maybe you were even inspired to be a better person or leader because of it.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Fogarty, Richard. Race and War in France. Johns Hopkins Press, 2008.

Goldsworthy, Adrian. Caesar: Life of a Colossus. Yale University Press, 2006.

Keegan, John. The First World War. Vintage, 2000. ISBN 0 09 1801788.

Titus Livius. Ab Urbe Condita, Book 2, Chapter 59.

Polybius Histories, Book 6, Chapter 38.

Richardson, S.; etc. The Modern Part of a Universal History: From the Earliest Account of Time (VOL. XXX) Compiled from Original Writers. London, 1761.

Strachan, Hew. The First World War. Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2003.

Thompson, George. The War in Paraguay. Longmans Green and Co, 1869.

Watson, G. R. The Roman Soldier. Cornell University Press, 1969.

Plutarch’s Parallel Lives: “Antony”. Internet Classics Archive.

“Decimate”. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000.