Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s Church

St Martin’s Church, located outside the walls of Roman Durovernum, existed in 597 when the monk Augustine was sent from Rome by Pope Gregory the Great to bring Christianity to the Saxon kingdom of Kent. The church was built for the most part before the 8th century. It undoubtedly includes a Roman structure from the 4th century.

Inside the city walls, which St Augustine made his cathedral (probably at the very spot where Christ Church now stands) nothing has been conserved. However there is St Augustine’s Abbey.

Another great Christian pilgrim was Thomas Becket. He chose what is now Canterbury Cathedral, and the county of modern-day Kent, for his holy work. After being murdered by followers of King Henry II on 29 December 1170, Becket was canonized by Pope Alexander III.

The Siege and Battle of Alesia (or Julius Caesar Conquers Gaul)

I have made it no secret that I am a HUGE fan of Julius Caesar. And why shouldn’t I be? He was only one of history’s greatest soldiers, generals and politicians. However, it was in Gaul that Caesar truly made his mark. Here he was Consul in the First Triumvirate as well as Governor.

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Caesar was in debt for power he had acquired. In the ancient world power came at a price. In order to conquer as much as Caesar did, a leader needed to pay his soldiers well. This way the soldiers also remained loyal only to that leader, and in this case the leader was Caesar.

Where could somebody get enough money, and ager publicus, to pay off one’s debt PLUS keep all the soldiers happy? The answer was easy…Gaul (present day France, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Switzerland, the alpine region of Northern Italy, including parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the west bank of the Rhine). At the time Gaul was part of the Roman frontier. The land was comprised of various chieftains, princes, kings, etc. but it all still fell under the Roman umbrella.

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Gaul on the eve of Rome’s conquering

Caesar, and the legions under his command, had been in Gaul since 58 BC. The Roman force stormed about Gaul taking over the lands, and sending the conquered warriors east to become part of the legions around the eastern portion of the Mediterranean. This was a common practice to send those newly conscripted soldiers to the opposite ends of the Empire so they would never be stationed in their homeland, thus never fighting against their own people. Seeing as how this was already Caesar’s proclaimed turf from the Triumvirate, it was primed for his taking.

The only thing that stood in Caesar’s way of full control over Gaul Alise-Sainte-Reine_statue_Vercingetorix_par_Millet_2was Vercingetorix and those Gallic tribes in Getorix’s command. Obviously this did not make Caesar, nor his legions, happy. Battle upon battle occurred and Caesar’s Fourteenth Legion was actually destroyed in 53 BC. But, it did come with a price. Vercingetorix and his Gauls knew they could not keep this up and compete with any Roman army in a head-to-head battle, so they would attack and fall deeper into the country. This drew Caesar deeper into the Gallic countryside and extended the Roman supply lines for mile-upon-Roman-mile.

Realizing that this style of fighting would never do, Caesar forced Getorix to make a choice for one last stand off, one last battle. Due to the retreat of Getorix to the hilltop fortification of Alesia, Caesar knew he had to use the power and ingenuity of Rome to his advantage. Caesar marched his legions into camp at the base of the hill and set his troops to work.

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The year was 52 BC. The scene was set for a final standoff. Caesar and all that Rome stood for against the last of “lowly” people of the West. It was fame, glory, and money against a people that were trying not to be annihilated. How was this going to end? One of Caesar’s, and history’s, greatest military accomplishments was about to happen.

m.cdn.blog.hulelemilimageTitusAlesia~0At first glance it looks like any other siege of a stronghold. Defenders atop a mountain while the base is surrounded. This is true. There is nothing unique about a siege line, except Caesar never did anything basic. The Roman siege line was 18 kilometers (11.1847 miles) long by 4 meters (13.1234 feet) high of fortification . It also was designed and completed in only 3 weeks.

You may be thinking, “Wow, that’s impressive.” and you would be correct. But Caesar did not stop there. His men then made an angled slope down from the ramparts to make it harder for attackers to climb. The Roman engineers also added two four-and-a-half meter (14.7638 feet) wide ditches which were also four-and-a-half meter (14.7638 feet) deep. The ditch closest to the mountaintop fortification was filled with water. It turns out that horses, which the Gauls typically fought upon, do not like jumping into water.

pages.uoregon.edukliomapsrralesia_defenses2Julius Caesar puts it best in his Commentaries on the war in Gaul, Book 7, Chapters 63-90 on what else was added: “In front of these, pits were dug, arranged in diagonal rows to form quincunxes. They were one meter deep and tapered gradually towards the bottom. Smooth stakes as thick as a man’s thigh, with sharpened ends and hardened in the fire, were set into these pits in such a way that they projected no more than four inches above the ground. To keep them firmly in position, earth was thrown into the bottom of the pits and trodden down to a depth of one foot, the rest of the space being covered with twigs and brush wood to conceal the trap. The pits were constructed in groups; each group had eight rows, three feet apart. The soldiers called them ‘lilies’ because of their resemblance to that flower. In front of these we had another device. Wood blocks a foot long were sunk completely into the ground, with iron hooks fixed in them, and scattered thickly all over the area. These the soldiers called ‘goads’.”

If you are not impressed yet, just wait. About 2 weeks into the construction, a Gallic cavalry unit managed to break through a weak side of the siege line. Caesar was obviously not pleased with this. In order to keep the siege going the Romans needed their own rear to be protected. How did they do it? They just built another siege line facing the other direction. The second line was identical to the first in design and extended for 21 kilometers (13.0488 feet). Siege line 2.0 was even completed in less time than the first.

The trap was set. The Romans were completely surrounded by safety. The 80,000 Gauls upon the hill, both soldiers and general population, were now suffering mightily. There was nothing left for Vercingetorix and his people to do. Either die on the hill or fight and possibly die trying to break the siege line. An orchestrated attack of the Gauls on the inside was combined with about 60,000 soldiers from other Gallic tribes on the outer ring.

Mass confusion abounded from everyone. The Gauls started to break the Roman lines, but it was then that the Romans fought even harder to protect their mighty Caesar. When all was said and done, Vercingetorix saw the outcome from atop the hill. The Gauls were finished. Getorix then came down and surrendered himself for execution and his people for slavery as long as Caesar would let his people live. Caesar let both Vercingetorix and the Gauls live. Getorix accompanied Caesar back to Rome, in chains. The Gauls were either made slaves, soldiers or tax-paying subjects.

Vercingetorix surrenders to Julius Caesar at Alesia
Vercingetorix surrenders to Julius Caesar at Alesia

The siege was over and Gaul would become part of the Roman Empire for the next 500 years. Caesar would gain acclaim and popularity across the land. Even more importantly, Caesar gained a life-long loyalty from all his men. It would not be long before Caesar returned to Rome for his triumph, with the wild-haired Vercingetorix in chains as his prize, and things would then get interesting.

After this victory the Roman Empire would never be the same. If Caesar was not victorious at Alesia, or any of his other battles for that matter, the world we live in today would not be the same. If you enjoy Europe, the next time you are journeying around make sure to tip your cap to Julius Caesar for what he helped create.

Have a great trip and remember to Rome…If you want to!

The Falling Sickness

Me and Caesar Augustus in Roma
Me and Caesar Augustus in Roma

I have epilepsy. I was diagnosed when I was eighteen years old. The reason I mention this is because I was at my epileptologist last week getting an update on the state of my current condition, treatment, test results, etc.

It got me thinking about when my original doctor first told me about my condition. At first I was a bit down about it, well a lot down actually. I tried to hide it and not let anyone know I was “different”. People, know matter what I told them, treated me like I was fragile due to the illness I had.

Back then my passion for all things Roman had not yet developed into what it is today, but I recalled hearing that the great and powerful Gaius Julius Caesar had seizures. I thought to myself that if this man could conquer and rule such a large portion of the known world, while having seizures, why could I not do great things too?

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It was then that I decided having epilepsy did not mean my life was done. Big things could still await me. Veni, Vidi, Vici was to now be my motto. This led me to look deeper into Caesar’s life and find out how he lived with what the ancients called the “Falling Sickness”.

Epilepsy dates back to prehistoric times, roughly 2000 BC. It is also known as the “Sacred Disease” since it was believed seizures were “thought to be an illness sent by the gods”. [- 1] Because of this, animal sacrifices would be made before priest-doctors in or near temples.

Found in an ancient Mesopotamian text an “unknown author describes some symptoms of a patient mid-seizure: sporadic, jerky movements and muscle rigidity.” [-2] Which is basically how modern experts would describe it. Sticking with the illness being brought on by the gods, the Mesopotamians believed the vengeful god of the moon caused this to happen.

S28_1SeleneWhen ancient Greece rose to power a larger number of accounts of epilepsy and seizures were recorded. The majority of the Greek population believed that seizures were still brought about by gods, in particular the goddess Selene. These people believed that if the afflicted spent the night in Selene’s temple the goddess would come to you in a dream, thus removing the illness.

There was obviously something about the moon bringing on seizures in the eyes of ancient people. In all honesty, most of my seizures have come on in the later part of the evening.

Hippocrates, a well-respected Greek physician, looked at the illnesshippocrates differently however.  Hippocrates believed everything had a natural cause to it, hence why he is considered “The Father of Western Medicine”. Hippocrates believed that diet, lifestyle and medicine, many of which were herbal, was how to treat the sick.

When the Romans rose to power those having seizures were shunned and looked down upon. This is probably a solid reason for Julius Caesar not wanting to make his illness known to the public.

Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus, he is referred in history by both names, came to describe epilepsy accurately in his writings Medical Definitions. Galen was a Greek philosopher living in the Roman photoEmpire. He “was able to discern three forms of epilepsy: (1) idiopathic, attributed to primary brain disorder (an analogue to grand mal epilepsies), (2) Secondary forms, attributed to disturbance of cardiac function transmitted through the flow of liquids secondarily to the brain (epilepsy by sympathy), and (3) a third type attributed to disturbance of another part of human body which is secondarily transmitted to the brain”. [-3]

During the reign of Nero or Vespasian, Aretaeus of Cappadocia was Aretaeus of Cappadociathe first to describe premotionary symptoms of epilepsy (hallucinations which occasionally can precede the seizures). “He also noted the tendency of seizures to recur, once established, and the phenomenon of epileptic insanity. After the fall of the epileptic to the ground, Aretaeus, distinguished three main periods: manifestation, abatement, cessation.” [-3]

Ruta graveolens, a strongly scented herb, was then used by therue---20-l Romans upon its discovery within the empire. Rue is native to Southern Europe and used for many things. Thought to cure cancer, remove warts or repel insects, Rue was also used for treating epilepsy.

In a modern study done with Rue and its effects on the central nervous system (CNS) of mice, it was found that Rue “induces a depressant activity on the CNS” [-4] thus helping reduce seizures. This also supports the Romans use of the herb.

The Falling Sickness has been around for quite some time, and has afflicted many people across the planet. From then till now the cause has not truly ever been known but a variety of remedies has been used. It really just depends on how the culture at the time which one lives helps to determine the treatment.

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Courtesy of Matthew Rodriguez

Those that had epilepsy that came before me did not give up, and hopefully those that come after me will not even have to ever live with the illness. One thing is for certain, though, seizures should only serve as a hiccup in a person’s life, depending on their frequency that is. I wish others like me will use it as a challenge to live life to its fullest.

Thank you for allowing me to take the time and share a little about myself within the context of history. And remember to keep on Rome-ing!

 

Notes:

1) Epilepsie Museum

2) Blood and foam: the mythological history of epilepsy – Zach Hall

3) Hallmarks in the History of Epilepsy: From Antiquity Till the Twentieth Century – Emmanouil Magiorkinis, Kalliopi Sidiropoulou and Aristidis Diamantis

4) Old Remedies for Epilepsy: Avicenna’s Medicine

Patron Saint of Soldiers

On this day, November 11th, you might be wondering, “What does Roman Europe has to do with Veterans Day, Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day?”. The answer is really simple. Today is also the Feast of Saint Martin, celebrating the Patron Saint of Soldiers.

Veterans Day
Veterans Day

The year is 316 AD. The location is Savaria, or modern-day Hungary. A son was born to the Tribune, or senior officer, of the Imperial Horse Guard and his wife in a pagan home. The boy would be named Martinus and later become a saint of the Church.

The boy was ten when his father was stationed at Ticium, in nothern Italy. Martinus like most young kids did not follow the wishes of his parents and attended a Christian church. At fifteen years old Martinus would proceed, actually be required to, follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Auxilia.

 Monument to Saint Martin of Tours - Odolanów, Poland

Monument to Saint Martin of Tours – Odolanów, Poland

While in the Roman army, Martinus was deployed in Gaul (modern-day France). Here he experienced a vision, which would eventually come true. This vision would be known even after his life.

One day as [Martinus] was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens, he met a scantily clad beggar. He impulsively cut his military cloak in half to share with the man. That night, Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: “Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe.” – 1

“A Scene from the Life of Saint Martin” by Louis Galloche

The dream of Martinus confirmed his piety, and he was baptised at the age of 18. He then started living more like a monk than a soldier while still in service to Rome. Years passed and Martinus felt conflict between being a good soldier and being a good Christian. It was before a battle with the Gauls near the end of his service that Martinus encountered Caesar Julian.

As was custom the Emperor was giving bonuses to his veterans for re-upping, a custom that has carried on to modern militaries. It was here that Martinus was claimed to have told the Emperor, “I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.” – 2

Upon leaving the army, Martinus declared his new vocation and went to Caesarodunum. It is here that his religous life snowballs. Martinus became a disciple of Hilary (Hilarius) of Poitiers. Martinus traveled back-and-forth to Italy performing convertions along the way.

Martinus later returned to France and became its bishop. Martinus then became a different type of soldier and fought against things he felt unjust within the Church. This would lead to his demise as he became a matyr. He is now recognized as Sanctus Martinus Turonensis, or Saint Martin of Tours.

Statue of Saint Martin de Tours – Saint Martinville, Louisiana

For those celebrating either event, or both, today please take a moment to reflect on deeds done by those who came before us. Rember to be thankful, be safe and do not forget to keep on Rome-ing!

Notes:

1 – Sulpicius, Vita ch. xiii

2 – Lives, Lessons and Feast
By Leonard Foley, O.F.M.; revised by Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian

A town in modern Croatia that was built by, and for, soldier-turned-Emperor Diocletian.

Split was the location of Diocletian’s retirement. Yes, unlike most of his predecessors, Diocletian chose to abdicate the thrown before his death. He came to his palace to retire and grow vegetables in his garden.

It’s wonderful to see a town built between the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. still around for all to experience.