Top 15 Roman Commanders – #7: Flavius Aetius


We march along with another commander Rome Across Europe thought was among the best in ancient Rome. You can find the entire list here, along with biographies of #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, and #6. We now present to you…

7: Flavius Aetius (391 – 454 AD)

In around 391 AD Roman General Flavius Gaudentius, of ScythianAetius, Flavius or possibly Gothic origin, became a father. Born in Durostorum, Moesia Inferior, was Flavius Aetius. His mother, whose name is unknown, was a wealthy aristocratic woman of Italian ancestry.

As a boy Aetius was at the service of the Imperial Court. First enrolled in the military unit of the Protectores Domestici and then elevated to the position of tribuni praetoriani partis militaris, literally Tribunes of the Praetorian Military, Aetius was set up for future political eligibility.

Between the years 405 and 408 AD, Flavius Aetius was kept as hostage at the court of King Alaric I of the Visigoths. In 408 BC, Aetius was then sent to the court of Uldin, King of the Huns where he would stay through much of the reign of Uldin’s successor, Charaton.

These experiences around clans that were constantly thriving in war largely contributed to Flavius’ military success in later years. His upbringing amongst militaristic peoples gave him a martial vigor not common in Roman generals, or any other military leader, of the time.

In 423 AD the Western Emperor Honorius died leaving Joannes, a high-ranking officer that was not part of the Theodosian Dynasty, as his successor. The Eastern Emperor Theodosius II organized a military expedition westward to put the young Valentinian III on the western throne.


Aetius entered the service of Joannes as cura palatii and was sent to ask the Huns for assistance. Joannes was killed in the summer of 425 in his capital of Ravenna. Shortly afterwards, Aetius returned to Italy with a large force of Huns to find that power in the West was now in the hands of Valentinian III and his mother Galla Placidia.

After fighting against the Eastern Empire’s Army, Aetius managed to compromise with Galla Placidia. He sent back his Huns and in return obtained the rank of comes et magister militum per Gallias, the Commander in Chief of the Roman Army in Gaul.

In 426, Aetius arrived in southern Gaul and took command of the field army. At that time the important city of Arelate was under siege from the Visigoths, led by their King Theodoric I. In 427 AD Flavius defeated Theodoric, lifted the Siege of Arelate, and kept driving the Visigoths back to their holdings in Aquitania.

Then in 428 he fought the Salian Franks along the Rhine, defeating their King Chlodio and recovering some occupied territory. In 429 Aetius was elevated to the rank of magister militum.

Returning to Gaul in 431, Flavius received Hydatius, Bishop of Aquae Flaviae, who complained about the attacks of the Suebi. Aetius then defeated the Franks, recapturing Tournacum and Cambriacum, and adding more land to his territory. He then sent back Hydatius to the Suebi in Hispania.

In 432 Aetius held the Consul, but was stripped of his military command by Bonifacius. Believing his fall now imminent, Aetius marched against Bonifacius and fought him at the Battle of Rimini. Bonifacius won the battle but was mortally wounded, dying a few months later.

Aetius escaped to Pannonia and traveled to the court of his friend, King Rugila of the Huns. With the help of the Huns, Flavius returned to power, receiving the title of comes et magister utriusque militiae. Aetius then bought the properties of Bonifacius, and married his widow Pelagia.


From 433 to 450, Aetius was the dominant personality in the Western Empire, obtaining the rank of magnificus vir parens patriusque noster, and playing the role of protector of Galla Placidia and Valentinian III while the Emperor was still young.

In 436, the Burgundians of King Gundacar were defeated and obliged to accept peace by Aetius and Avitus; however, the following year the Huns were sent to destroy the Burgundians. At the Battle of Mons Colubrarius in 438 AD, King Anaolsus and the Visigoths again attacked Arelate but were again defeated by Aetius.

Battle against the Burgundians

In May of the same year Aetius then became the highest ranking amongst the magister militiae, even if he had not yet been granted the title of patricius or the Senior Command. On his return to Italy, Aetius was honored with a statue erected by the Senate and the People of Rome by order of the Emperor.

Before 449, Aetius had signed an agreement with the Huns allowing some of them to settle in Pannonia, along the Sava River. He then sent King Attila of the Huns, a man called Constantius as a secretary.

In 449, Attila was thirsty for a large conquest to fuel his ambitions, and was also angered by an alleged theft of a golden plate. Attila wanted to attack Gaul while Flavius was still stationed there.

Aetius sent Attila an embassy under Romulus to calm him. Attila, as a present, sent Flavius a dwarf, Zerco, whom Aetius gave back to his original owner.

The negations and gift giving seemed to smooth things over, but eventually Attila invaded Gaul. Flavius convinced his old Visigoth enemy Theodoric I to partner up with Rome to take out the common threat of Attila and his Huns.

The Roman Army was further strengthened by the Armoricans, the Salian Franks, some of the Saxons, and the Burgundians of Sapaudia.

Then the joint Roman and Visigothic army moved to relieve the besieged city of Aurelianum, forcing the Huns to abandon the siege and retreat to open country.

On 20 June 451, Aetius and Theodoric defeated Attila and his allies at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. This would become the battle in which Flavius was made most famous and which he is best remembered for today.


Over the course of the battle, both sides suffered heavy losses. Both Flavius and Theodoric I participated in the long battle, with Theodoric I being killed by falling of his horse and being trampled to death or by being hit by an arrow.

Regardless, Flavius emerged as the victor and Attila’s Hunnic army was forced to withdraw. Feats like these have earned Flavius the common title of “the last true Roman”. Edward Gibbon refers to him as “the man universally celebrated as the terror of Barbarians and the support of the Republic” for his victory at the Catalaunian Plains.

Attila returned in 452 but Aetius was unable to block Attila’s advance through the Julian Alps. Attila invaded and ravaged Italy, sacking numerous cities. Aquileia was destroyed completely with Attila leaving no trace of it behind.

Valentinian III fled from Ravenna to Rome while Aetius remained in the field. Lacking the strength to offer battle, it is said that Aetius showed his greatness by harassing Attila’s slow advance with only a shadow force.

Attila finally halted at the Po meeting a Roman Embassy including the prefect Trigetius, the ex-consul Gennadius Avienus, and Pope Leo I. After the meeting Attila turned his army back with no true accomplishment to show.


Ancient and medieval historians tended to give Pope Leo and supernatural forces credit for halting Attila, but a number of practical factors may have also induced Attila to retreat.

For instance, Attila’s army was unable to obtain sufficient food and was suffering from disease; Aetius’ army had been reinforced by troops sent from the Eastern Empire, and Eastern Emperor Marcian sent forces north of the Danube to attack the homelands of the Huns.

Things could not remain quiet for long. Valentinian felt intimidated by Aetius, who had once supported Joannes against him, and developed a plot to assassinate Aetius in 453.

The ancient historian Priscus of Panium reports that on 21 September 454, while Aetius was at court delivering a financial account, Valentinian leaped from his seat and declared that he would no longer be the victim of Aetius’s drunken depravities.

Valentinian held Aetius responsible for the entire Empire’s troubles and accused Aetius of trying to steal the Empire from him. Together with Heraclius, Valentinian drew their swords and struck Aetius on the head, thus killing him.

Flavius Aetius

Later, when Valentinian boasted that he had done well in disposing of Aetius, someone at court responded, “Whether well or not, I do not know. But know that you have cut off your right hand with your left.”

Aetius is generally viewed as a great military commander, indeed he was held in such high esteem by the Eastern Roman Empire, that he became known as the last true Roman of the West. Most historians also consider the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains as decisively important, crippling Attila by destroying his aura of invincibility.

It has been suggested that Flavius’ victory against the Huns at the Battle of Nedao, 3 years later, was of more significance than the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. The claim is because the victory at Nedao determined that there would be no long-term Hunnic Empire in Europe.

EtchingAetius effectively ruled the Western Empire from 433-450, and attempted to stabilize its European borders under a deluge of barbarians, including Attila and the Huns.

The Empire had witnessed the quick rise and fall of several military leaders over the course of the past decade. One can say that without Flavius Aetius Western Rome would have experienced its collapse much sooner.

Thank you for stopping by. Please come back next week as we find out more about Rome Across Europe‘s #8 Top Commander. Until then, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!


Book 8; Thought 7

Every nature is contented with itself when it goes on its way well; and a rational nature goes on its way well, when in its thoughts it assents to nothing false or uncertain, and when it directs its movements to social acts only, and when it confines its desires and aversions to the things which are in its power, and when it is satisfied with everything that is assigned to it by the common nature. For of this common nature every particular nature is a part, as the nature of the leaf is a part of the nature of the plant; except that in the plant the nature of the leaf is part of a nature which has not perception or reason, and is subject to be impeded; but the nature of man is part of a nature which is not subject to impediments, and is intelligent and just, since it gives to everything in equal portions and according to its worth, times, substance, cause (form), activity, and incident. But examine, not to discover that any one thing compared with any other single thing is equal in all respects, but by taking all the parts together of one thing and comparing them with all the parts together of another.Castel Sant 'Angelo

Roman Glyptic

Today Rome Across Europe takes a look at something less abrasive. We want to show that not everything we discuss is male-oriented. Keeping that in mind, today’s exploration is for Roman Glyptic.

Glyptic is the art or process of carving or engraving especially on gems. In Roman times glyptic reached its height during the reign of Emperor Augustus and continued till the collapse of the Empire.Augusts-in-Ancient-Roman-Cameo

Glyptic was started in Ancient Sumer and Egypt around the 7th Millennium BC, where many of these pieces were used as seals by priests and elite members. Other cultures such as Phoenicians, Etruscans and Greeks also produced worked gems.

Long before the first money appeared in 600 BC, beads were the only currency, traded for barter. The sensation of beads swept across the ancient world like wildfire. Bead-work spread across the western world by Phoenician traders, ending up on the finest Mycenaean and Roman jewelry.Beads

Throughout human history, beads came in all shapes, colors, sizes and materials. Beads were carved from bone, stone and wood, or man-made in the form of glass wound-bead flame work.

Ancient beads were made from agate, chalcedony, carnelian, chrysocolla, feldspar, jadejasper, lapis lazulionyx, obsidian or man-made glass, quartz, soapstone, terra cotta and turquoise.Hercules

Organic materials are also popular bead materials. These materials might include bone, coconut shell, copalfire coral, ivory, shells, and mother-of-pearl.

To create intricately carved cabochons, cameos, and intaglios out of sapphire, early Roman engravers may have used adamas (diamond) fragments as carving tools, given that they are the only material that is harder than corundum.chavdar chushev carving machine

Decorated gems with a wide range of motifs were how the Romans preferred them. The most popular engravings were of mythological scenes, deities, human figures carrying out different activities and animals.

Romans were very skillful in carving and engraving designs in small gems. These pieces would then form part of different pieces of jewelry such as rings, pendants and earrings.Aegean

In Sanisera Archaeology Institute’s project a red engraved gem was found in one of the rooms belonging to a city building. The oval shaped gem the upper-half of a human figure. Most likely this would have formed the central part of the ring.

In Ancient Greece and Rome engraved glyptic gems were used as personal signets or seal-stones which could be impressed into wax or clay to create a signature. So having a ring with a gem in Roman times was a symbol of high status.Signet Rings

Up until the 1400s, gem cutters were constrained to cabochon style cuts and odd asymmetrically faceted cuts due to the limited technology at hand. The resulting shape has a convex top with a flat or concave back. The term cabochon is used to describe any gemstone cut shape that is not faceted.

When a gemstone is cut en cabochon, a minuscule amount of light that is able to enter and exit through the stone. This is due primarily to its crystalline structure and optical properties, and has little to do with the gem-cutter’s expertise.

Today, cutting a stone en cabochon is usually applicable to opaque gems, although transparent semi-precious gemstones are also this way.


Romans loved to be as fancy as they could for any extravagance made you appear as though you were of a higher status citizen. This tradition of the want of luxuries seems to have carried on till the present time.Roman Eagle

We hope you enjoyed learning more about beads and glyptic. Maybe you even learned a new word today?

In any case, till next time Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Henig, Martin (ed), A Handbook of Roman Art, Phaidon, 1983, ISBN 0-7148-2214-0

Thoresen, Lisbet. “On Gemstones: Gemological and Analytical Studies of Ancient Intaglios and Cameos.” In Ancient Glyptic Art- Gem Engraving and Gem (February 2009)



Andorra – Europe’s Perfect Secret

Today we are taking a journey to into the Pyrenees to discover a hidden gem nestled snugly between France and Spain. Rome Across Europe is discovering the Principality of Andorra.Location_Andorra_Europe

Before diving right in, we want to talk about how Andorra came to be. During the Roman Empire, the Principality of the Valleys of Andorra would have been in that sweet spot dividing Roman Gaul and Hispania.

Gaul consisted of an area of provincial rule containing modern-day France, while Hispania contained modern-day Spain and Portugal. Roman control of the area lasted for more than approximately 500 years, Hispania feel in 400 AD and the last vestige of Roman rule in Gaul was effaced in 486 AD.caesar-in-gaul-alesia

The Roman Republic began its takeover of Celtic Gaul in 121 BC, when it conquered and annexed the southern reaches of the area. Roman armies invaded Hispania in 218 BC and used it as a training ground for officers and as a proving ground for tactics during campaigns against the Carthaginians, the Iberians, the Lusitanians, the Gallaecians and other Celts.

Although not mentioned in any source by name, Andorra was important to the Romans for it was a gateway keeping the northern Barbarians from Gaul from passing into the provinces of Iberia. When Rome fell and the gate was opened several tribes left traces of their passing through including the Alans, the Visigoths, and the Vandals.

The history of Andorra is rather sparse and not very well documented. In fact, no major historical work mentions Andorra but that of Charlemagne.

There story of Andorra properly begins with the Moors invasion of Spain at Gibraltar. After the defeat of the Spanish King Roderick at Jerez de la Frontera, the Moors spread like wildfire and Christian peasants near the Pyrenees found refuge in the many mountain valleys.

The Moors continued to raid into southern France. The inhabitants of Andorra appealed to Charlemagne for assistance.Charlemagne_at-head-of-army

Charlemagne swept the Moors out of Andorra and most of the adjacent Spanish areas, but when the French armies left the Moors returned. Charlemagne then sent his son, Louis the Pious, to deal with them, and he defeated them decisively at a battle on the plain where the Valira River forks.

After slaughtering the Moors, Louis formally settled the boundaries of the tiny buffer state, settled some of his soldiers in the villages, and established the original annual tribute. He placed Andorra into the care of the newly-created Count of Urgell, one of his knights who would undertake to protect France from incursion from the Spanish side of the mountains.

The most important document in Andorra is the Carta de Fundacio d’Andorra. Written by Charlemagne in 788 AD and given to Louis the Pious, this charter establishes the country of Andorra’s independence. There are many who suspect the document is a forgery dating from the 12th Century, made by the Andorrans themselves to support their claims to independence from both Spain and France.Arms_of_Andorra

After much back and forth upon who controlled Andorra, in 1278 the Acte de Pareage was created. This is the “Magna Carta” of Andorra, and established the co-rule of the Bishop of Urgel and the Count of Foix over the country.

This treaty, and another signed 11 years later, established that Andorra would become independent yet would still pay an annual tribute called questia. The tribute was alternated every year, first going to the Count of Foix and the next year to the Bishop of Urgell.

This agreement is still the basis of Andorra’s constitution and political independence. The questia is still paid to the Bishop of Urgell, and the President of France as the successor to the Counts of Foix. The twin heads of state are referred to as “co-princes” so therefore the country is referred to as the “Principality of Andorra”.

In 1793 the French monarchy was overthrown, and for the next fifteen years the Andorrans were without the protection of the French government due to the French Revolution. This was an issue for the Andorrans worried their Spanish co-prince would revoke their independence, and again make them a subordinate territory.

When the French Revolutionary Army was dispatched to take Urgel they requested rite of passage in Andorra. The request was firmly rejected and Andorra’s militia, about 500 strong, was mobilized for the first time in a millennium.

In 1933, France occupied Andorra as a result of social unrest before elections. On 12 July 1934, a Russian adventurer named Boris Skossyreff issued a proclamation in Urgel, declaring himself Boris I, sovereign prince of Andorra, while simultaneously declaring war on the Bishop of Urgell. He was arrested by Spanish authorities on July 20 and ultimately expelled from Spain.

During World War II, Andorra remained neutral and was an important smuggling route from Spain into France. The French Resistance used Andorra as part of their route to get downed airmen out of France.Flag_of_Andorra

In 1978 the parishes of Andorra were expanded from 6 to 7, with the establishment of the parish of Escaldes-Engordany.

In 1981 an organization called the Government of Andorra was created as the executive branch of government. It consists of the Head of Government, elected by the Council of the Land, and 4 to 6 Councillors who act as Ministers. Each of the Councillors looks after a particular area such as defense, education, finance, foreign affairs, etc.

Andorra formally became a parliamentary democracy in May 1993 following approval of a new constitution which retained the French and Spanish co-princes although with reduced and narrowly defined powers. Civil rights were greatly expanded including the legalization of political parties and trade unions, and provision was made for an independent judiciary.

Andorra entered into a customs union with the European Communities, now the EU, in 1991 and was admitted to the UN on 28 July 1993. The country has been seeking ways to improve its export potential and increase its economic ties with its European neighbors. The financial services sector of the economy is highly important, given Andorra’s status as a tax haven and banking secrecy laws.

Andorra has a total land surface of 181 square miles making it slightly less than five times the size of the city of Barcelona. Andorra la Vella is the nation’s capital and lies in the geographic center of the country, where the two tributaries of the Valira River merge.Andorra_topographic_map

According to current legislation, foreigners can acquire citizenship after 20 years of residence in the country. Their children, born in Andorra, acquire citizenship at age 18.

Catalan is the official language of Andorra. It is used throughout public administration, is taught in all schools, and is the language of all road signs. It is also the dominant language in communications media and is the language spoken by the national elites.

In commercial signage, Catalan alternates with Spanish and French, but Spanish dominants the streets of Andorra due to the Spanish population being the largest immigrant community. The use of French is limited to populations in the extreme southwest of the country.

Andorra after World War II achieved considerable prosperity through a developing tourist industry, now receiving an estimated 10.2 million visitors annually. This development, abetted by improvements in transport and communications, has tended to break down Andorra’s isolation and to bring Andorrans into the mainstream of European history.

Santuari_vell_de_MeritxellThe Sanctuary of Our Lady of Meritxell, patron of the nation, constitutes the most important religious symbol for Andorrans and is also an attractive spot for tourist visits in the summer. Its 30 Romanesque churches, old castles, medieval fortifications and other treasures of medieval art serve as historical referents as well as emblems of identity.

As a culture shaped by seasonally transient shepherds in the past and international merchants in the present, Andorrans are open in character and inter-ethnic relations are non-conflictive.

An urban rule also fixes the invented tradition of the “mountain style.” This demands that 30% of any facade be constructed of stone masonry. Hence large commercial buildings and the majority of urban public buildings show a blend of invented tradition and modernity, combining stone with iron and large surfaces of glass.Casa_de_la_Vall

The diet in Andorra is based on consumption of meat, garden vegetables, and some fish. The most common winter dish, in rural and urban zones, is Escudella i carn d’olla. Normally, the midday meal is eaten near the workplace in a restaurant.

Andorra’s industrial development is extremely limited. Apart from tobacco, the most important industry is construction along with its derivative industries, hospitality industries, and semi-artisanal activities such as jewelry.

Class differences in Andorra are quite clear and possess marked characteristics, such as residence. Practically all the original Andorran population belongs to the high or medium-high stratum of society as the first group to arrive in the nation.Andorra_Vall_dels_Cortals

The rest of the Spanish population is basically salaried, although there are executive groups and small entrepreneurs among them. Most Portuguese are found in less-skilled labor positions, especially in hostelry and construction. The French population comprises bureaucrats and small-scale entrepreneurs in hostelry or commerce.

The family remains the basic social unit, more important than the individual, despite the accelerated evolution of Andorran society. Most enterprises and business are organized through the family, distributing functions according to capacities and the level of study of each member. These family groups, following the institution of the familia troncal (stem family), incorporate a married pair and their children.

Even though Andorra lacks a formal religion, Roman Catholicism is dominant. One fundamental element of this presence rests on the role of the Bishop of Urgel as co-prince and, at the same time, head of the Andorran Church.Església_de_Sant_Joan_de_Caselles

All public ceremonies, including some sessions of the parliament, are accompanied by a Catholic mass. The Andorran festive calendar adapts to the Catholic liturgical calendar.

The nation, like every parroquia, has a patron saint and a collection of religious and lay celebrations. In addition to the national festival of the Virgin of Meritxell on September 8th, each parroquia has its own patronal festival.

Given the commercial orientation of the nation, which remains open for business especially when neighboring nations have holidays, the only formal holidays are Christmas and New Year’s Day.Andorra_la_Vella

Thanks for joining Rome Across Europe and we hope you enjoyed discovering this hidden gem of Europe. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!




Armengol, Lídia. Approach to the History of Andorra , 1989.

Bladé, Jean François. The Valley of Andorr , 1882.

Deverell, F. H. All Round Spain by Road and Train, with a Short Account of a Visit to Andorra , 1884.

Eyre, Mary. Over the Pyrenees into Spain , 1865.

Newman, B. Round about Andorra , 1928.

Riera, Manel. La llengua catalana a Andorra. Estudi dialectolo`gic dels seus parlars rurals , 1992.

Sáez, Xavier. “Informe sobre l’economia andorrana, 1995.” Andorra, anuari socio-economic, 1996 , 10–67, 1996.

Sermet, Jean. Problemas de la frontera hispano-francesa en los Pirineos , 1985.

Book 2; Thought 5

L'Image_et_le_PouvoirEvery moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to do what thou hast in hand with perfect and simple dignity, and feeling of affection, and freedom, and justice; and to give thyself relief from all other thoughts. And thou wilt give thyself relief, if thou doest every act of thy life as if it were the last, laying aside all carelessness and passionate aversion from the commands of reason, and all hypocrisy, and self-love, and discontent with the portion which has been given to thee. Thou seest how few the things are, the which if a man lays hold of, he is able to live a life which flows in quiet, and is like the existence of the gods; for the gods on their part will require nothing more from him who observes these things.

Early Christian Necropolis of Pécs (Sopianae)

The part of modern Hungary west of the Danube came into the Roman Empire in the 1st Century AD, as part of the Roman province of Pannonia. The town of Sopianae was founded on the southern slope of the Mecsek massif in the 2nd Century by colonists from western Pannonia and Italy, who intermarried with the indigenous IllyrianCeltic peoples.

In the Roman Province of Pannonia a remarkable series of decorated tombs were constructed during the 4th Century AD in the cemetery of the town of Sopianae. The ruins survived under the ground and are situated in the current city of Pécs, in South Hungary.

These are important both structurally and architecturally, since they were built as underground burial chambers with memorial chapels above the ground. The tombs are important also in artistic terms, since they are richly decorated with murals of outstanding quality depicting Christian themes.

The burial chambers, chapels and mausoleum excavated on the site of the Sopianae cemetery form a complex that bears witness to an ancient culture and civilization that had a lasting impact. It is the richest collection of structural types of sepulchral monuments in the northern and western Roman provinces reflecting a diversity of cultural sources.

Excavations have revealed that the early Christian complex of monuments provides exceptional evidence of a historical continuity that spanned the turbulent centuries from the decline of the Roman Empire in the 4th Century to the conquest of the Frankish Empire in the 8th Century.

The Roman cemetery was found by archaeological excavations, which began 200 years ago, in the area now immediately in front of the cathedral, which had been terraced in antiquity. The World Heritage site consists of 16 funerary monuments, of which the most outstanding are:

  • Burial chamber I (Peter-Paul): discovered in 1782, this late 4th-century chamber consists of an above-ground chapel, the subterranean burial chamber proper, with religious wall paintings, and a small vestibule leading to the burial chamber. It is cut into the slope of the Mecsek hills.
  • Burial chamber II (Wine Pitcher Chamber): a two-storey structure, with limestone walls and brick vaulting. On the wall of the niche carved above the sarcophagus there is a painting of a wine pitcher and glass, symbolizing the thirst of the soul journeying to the netherworld.
  • The Cella Trichora: this elaborate chapel has a rectangular central space with three apses and a southern vestibule (narthex); the eastern apse has a raised floor and was probably an altar.
  • The Cella Septichora, a sepulchral building with a unique floor plan with seven apses; it was not used for burial purposes. It dates from the end of the Roman period, in the 430s.
  • The Early Christian Mausoleum, a subterranean burial chamber entered from a vestibule or narthex surmounted by a single-nave church with an apse at its east end. The northern, eastern and southern walls are all decorated with mural paintings of biblical subjects.
  • The Early Christian Burial Chapel was used solely as a chapel. There is a cluster of more than 100 graves from the late 4th and early 5th Centuries around it.
  • The Painted Twin Grave: a gabled double grave contains wall paintings of Christian symbols in red, carmine and yellow on a white background.
  • Communal burial containing fourteen graves, separated from one another by stones and bricks. Stone and brick fragments bear names, presumed to be members of a single family.

Till we visit our next Worl Heritage Site, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

How Romans Relieved Themselves

After the celebration of Rome’s Birthday maybe some are feeling, well, crappy. Today explores a less glamorous side of living in Ancient Rome but what was still very much a part of everyday living. We are talking about public latrines.

In his Natural HistoryPliny remarked that of all the things Romans had accomplished, the sewers were “the most noteworthy things of all”. This was said in the 1st Century AD for the Roman sewage system was very efficient, but it had not always been that way.

Most towns throughout the Empire were smaller towns where there weren’t any sewers. That meant sewage collectors came through and got the waste from each house and carried it off to sell to farmers to use as fertilizer on their fields, just like in China at the same time. In small villages they didn’t even have outhouses, so people just walked out to the fields to handle their business there.

In larger Roman towns, people often got sick or died from drinking water that had been contaminated with sewage. Just as in Greek towns, early Roman sewage management equated to people just pouring their waste into the street however they wanted.

If you are curious as to why most Europeans and European-style toilets are made for sitting, instead of squatting like most toilets still in use in modern China, you have the Romans to thank. They introduced the sit down public toilets that had room for lots of people at the same time.

Public latrines date back to the 2nd Century BC and, whether intentionally or not, they became places to socialize. The act of actually relieving oneself is thought of as private, but the socializing is still done in modern times.Facing Each Other

An axiom from Martial (Book 11; Epigram 77) reveals just how public privies were among the most frequented places in the city for socializing:

“In omnibus Vacerra quod conclavibus
consumit horas et die toto sedet,
cenaturit Vacerra, non cacaturit.”

Roughly translated, the saying goes: “In privies Vacerra consumes the hours; the whole day does he sit; Vacerra wants to dine, he does not want to sh*t.”

Public toilets (foricae) can usually be found at many archaeological sites, varying in size and shape from large and semi-circular, so all could be seen while talking, to smaller and private ones.Ruins

In general, public latrines were long bench-like seats with keyhole-shaped openings cut in rows offered little privacy. Most latrines were free, for others small charges were made. Just like today privacy costs money.

According to Lord Amulree, the site where Julius Caesar was assassinated, the Hall of Curia in the Theatre of Pompey was turned into a public latrine because of the dishonor it had witnessed. The sewer system, like a little stream or river, ran beneath it, carrying the wastes away to the Cloaca Maxima.

Hygiene was still considered generally high for all in ancient Rome hence the famous public baths, latrines and toilets, exfoliating cleansers, and public facilities. There’s always an exception and Rome’s was the use of a communal toilet sponge.sponge-01

It is commonly believed the Romans used sea sponges on a stick & dipped in vinegar after defecation. Not so hygienic no matter how dutifully it was rinsed out after use.

To help with sewage, and the other dysentery-like illnesses or deaths caused by waste water, many Roman towns built aqueducts to bring in fresh water from the hills outside of the towns. This, combined with the elaborate systems of sewage pipes, allowed the raw sewage to be washed into the river instead of leaving it lying around in the streets.

Romans then recycled public bath waste water by using it as part of the flow that flushed the latrines. Terra cotta piping was used in the plumbing that carried waste water from homes.Sewer

The Romans were the first to seal pipes in concrete to resist the high water pressures developed in siphons and elsewhere. That speaks well of the ancient artisans for their construction and craftsmanship.

Running water, however, did not reach the poor’s tenements from the aqueducts. These lesser folks relieved themselves in pots or commodes which were emptied into vats located under staircases and these emptied into cesspools throughout the city.Flushing

A law was eventually passed to protect innocent bystanders from assault by wastes thrown into the street. The violator was forced to pay damages to whomever his waste hit, if that person sustained an injury. This law was enforced only in the daytime, presumably because one lacked the excuse of darkness for injuring another by careless waste disposal.

Beginning around the 5th Century BC, city officials called Aedilis supervised the sanitary systems. They were responsible for the efficiency of the drainage and sewage systems, the cleansing and paving of the streets, prevention of foul smells, and general oversight of brothels, taverns, baths, and other water supplies.Clean Streets

Roman water and sewage systems were the forerunners of the sanitation systems we have today that keep people’s water clean and safe. Today the city of Rome has been joined by newer cities like London and New York City in maintaining healthy water supplies, and new street cleaning services keep the streets and buildings much cleaner than they were in Ancient Rome.

Housesteads_latrines.reconstWhether it was the streets of Rome herself or at the Housesteads Fort along Hadrian’s Wall, Romans had some form of hygiene in mind for sewage removal. It’s been said cleanliness is next to godliness. That probably includes one’s bum as well.

Hopefully you were not put off by today’s article. Come back and see what Rome Across Europe has tomorrow.

Till then, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!




Michael Grant, Readings from The Visible Past.!

Top 15 Roman Commanders – #6: Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus


We keep soldiering on with another commander Rome Across Europe thought was among the best in ancient Rome. You can find the entire list here, along with biographies of #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5. Without further adieu we bring to you…

6: Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus (15 BC – 19 AD)6a

Rome 15 BC, a son was born to a General and his wife. The father was General Nero Claudius Drusus, son Empress Livia Drusilla who was the third wife of Emperor Augustus. The baby’s mother was Antonia Minor, the younger daughter of triumvir Mark Antony and Octavia Minor, the sister of Emperor Augustus. His parents decided to name him Tiberius Claudius Nero. Born into royalty of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, this infant would be destined for greatness.

In 9 BC the young Tiberius received the agnomen Germanicus, when it was posthumously awarded to his father in honor of his victories in Germania. As soon as he began campaigning Germanicus became immensely popular among the citizens of Rome as they passionately celebrated his military victories.

Emperor Augustus also cheered on his great-nephew, and it was thought that Germanicus would become his heir to the Empire. In 4 AD Augustus was persuaded by his wife to name his stepson Tiberius as his heir, but the Emperor compelled Tiberius to adopt Germanicus as his son and to name him as his heir.

An adoption of a grown man by a man of a similar, or even older age, was commonplace to ensure a family line endured. Upon this adoption, Germanicus’s name was then changed to Germanicus Julius Caesar.

Statue du LouvreGermanicus held several military commands, leading the army in the campaigns in Pannonia and Dalmatia. He is recorded to have been an excellent soldier, an inspired leader, and loved by the legions. In the year 12 AD he was appointed Consul after 5 commissions as Quaestor.

Like his father before him, Germanicus was appointed commander of the forces in Germania by the Senate. Upon the death of Augustus in 14 AD, the Legios rioted when informed their recruitment time would not be marked down and these rebel soldiers cried for Germanicus to be the new emperor. Germanicus put down this rebellion himself, preferring to continue on in his current position as General.

In a bid to secure the loyalty of his troops and his own popularity with them, Germanicus led them on a spectacularly brutal raid against the Marsi. During the massacre of this German tribe on the upper Ruhr River, 1 of the Legions’ 3 Aquila was recovered. Germanicus continued to gain stardom back in Rome for these exploits.


Back in 9 AD Roman rule had successfully been overthrown in a rebellion by a coalition of Germanic tribes led by Arminius. Twice in the next two years, Germanicus led his 8-Legio army into Germania against Arminius and the coalition of tribes. In 14 AD, Germanicus’s Legions routed and destroyed most of the Bructeri tribe, recovering the lost Aquila of Legio XIX.

In May 15 AD Germanicus captured Thusnelda, wife of Arminius. Germanicus treated his prisoner well and with respect saying, “They are women and they must be respected, for they will be citizens of Rome soon.”

Germanicus laid waste to large areas and eliminated any form of active resistance, even with a majority of the tribesmen fleeing into remote forests at the sight of the Legios. The raids were considered a success though since the major goal was to destroy any rebel alliance systems.

Varus's Legions Buried

Germanicus next moved on to the site of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest where 3 Legios (15,000 men) had been slaughtered in 9 AD. After burying the remains of his comrades, which increased his love from both soldiers and citizens, Germanicus launched a massive assault on the prize of Arminius’s tribes, the Cherusci.

Having initially lured Germanicus and his equites Romani into a trap, Arminius’s troops inflicted minor casualties upon the Romans. Successful fighting though by the Legionarii caused the Germans to again break and flee into the forest. With this victory, and the fact that winter was fast approaching, Germanicus lead his army back to its winter quarters on the Rhine River.

In 16 AD, in spite of doubts by Emperor Tiberius, Germanicus managed to raise another huge army and invaded Germania again at the start of campaign season. Germanicus forced a crossing of the Weser River and then met Arminius at Idistaviso, in an engagement often called the Battle of Idistavisus. This battle showcased the superior leadership, command qualities, tactics, and better trained and equipped Legios of Germanicus while inflicting huge casualties upon the Germanic tribes.

One final battle was fought at the Angivarian Wall, continuing the pattern of lots of Germanic fatalities and them fleeing. After a few more raids across the Rhine, which resulted in the recovery of the last 2 Aquilae lost by the Legios in 9 AD, Germanicus was finally recalled to Rome and honored with a triumphus.


In an attempt to separate Germanicus from his troops and weaken his influence, Tiberius sent him to command Rome’s Legios in Asia. This did not slow down Germanicus one bit as he defeated the kingdoms of Cappadocia and Commagene in 18 AD, turning both into Roman provinces.

The following year Germanicus found that the Governor of Syria, Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, had canceled the provincial arrangements that he had made. Germanicus then ordered Piso’s recall to Rome, even though this was probably beyond his own authority. It was during this time that Germanicus was stricken with a mysterious illness and died shortly thereafter in Antioch.

The death of Germanicus described as dubious and the unknown circumstances greatly affected Tiberius’ popularity in Rome. Many thought the Emperor was responsible, or at least assisted in, Germanicus passing away at the height of his military prowess, success, and fame. Tiberius looked even more like a suspect due to the jealousy and fear of his nephew’s popularity and increasing power.

Death of Germanicus

On 19 December 19 AD, the announcement of Germanicus passing reached Rome. The news brought much public grief in the city and throughout the Roman Empire. There was public mourning during the December Feriae, abundant eulogies and reminders of the General’s fine character. It should be noted that there were oddly no procession statues of Germanicus at his funeral (Tiberius at work?).

Several posthumous honors were bestowed upon Germanicus. Arcus triumphales were raised to him throughout the Roman Empire, especially where he recorded his deeds. In Antioch, where he was cremated, he had a sepulcher and funeral monument dedicated to him.

Arch of Germanicus

In 37 AD, when Germanicus’s son Caligula became Emperor, he renamed the month of September to Germanicus in honor of his father. Many Romans considered Germanicus as their equivalent to King Alexander the Great due to the nature of his death at his young age, his virtuous character, and his military renown. They also believed that Germanicus would have easily surpassed the achievements of Alexander had he become Emperor.

Bronze statue at AmeliaBeloved by the people, Germanicus was widely considered to be the perfect Roman long after his death. He was a success that inspired Rome’s citizens and, most importantly, its troops and caused fear to those in power. Similar to Julius Caesar, fellow Julio-Claudian Dynasty member, Germanicus was a popular General snuffed out before his story should have ended. What we know for certain is that Germanicus was one heck of a Top Roman Commander.

Come back next week to read more about the next of Rome Across Europe’s Top 15 Roman Commanders. Till then, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Legio Romanus – Special Duty Posts

Rome Across Europe began this series with the Backbone of Rome’s Power and then carried on to the leadership of the Senior Officers, discovered the toughness of Centuriones, and most recently explored the Legion’s Lower Ranks. Today we take a look at the Special Duty Posts.

Aquilifer: The Aquilifer was an enormously important and prestigious position. As the Legio‘s Senior Signifer, and bearer of the Aquila, there was only a single position within the Legion. To lose the Aquila was considered the greatest dishonor a Legio could endure. This post was filled by steady, veteran soldier with an excellent understanding of the tactics of his legion. The Aquilifer’s position was accordingly one of enormous prestige, and he was ranked immediately below the Centuriones and above the Optiones.


Signifer: Each Centuria had a Signifer and within each Cohors the 1st Century’s Signifer would be the senior. He was Standard Bearer for the Centurial Signum, a spear shaft decorated with Philarae and topped with an open hand to signify loyalty, which was also used as a rallying point for the soldiers. In addition to carrying the standard, the Signifer also functioned as the banker for the Legio.


Cornicen: A Junior Officer in the Roman Army, the Cornicen worked hand in hand with the Signifer drawing the attention of the men to the centurial Signum. By issuing the audible commands, the job of the Cornicen was to signal salutes to officers and sound orders to the Legiones. Cornicines always marched at the head of the Centuries.


Imaginifer: A special Signifer in a Legion who carried the imago, or Image of the Emperor. The Imaginifer was added to the ranks of the Legions when the Imperial Cult during the reign of Augustus. The imago was a portrait made from beaten metal. It was carried only in the leading cohort as a constant reminder to the troops of their loyalty to the Augustus.


Immunes: By definition, the Immunes were legionary soldiers who possessed specialized skills. Artillerymen, Carpenters, Drill and Weapons Instructors, Engineers, Hunters, Medical Staff, Military Police, Musicians, and Quartermasters were among the multiple specialized jobs Immunes provided for the Roman Army. Immune status within the army was achieved either through selection or through promotion. These men were still fully trained Legionaries and were called upon to serve in the battle lines when needed.


Evocatus: A soldier who had served out his time and obtained a military diploma, but had voluntarily enlisted again at the invitation of his commander. The number of Evocati who joined a General’s standard naturally increased when the general was a favorite among the men. The Evocati were officially released, like the Vexillarii, from the common regular military duties, and held a higher rank in the army than the common Legionary. Promotion to Centurion was common but not all Evocati could be since due to the number of Cohortes in the army. The name Evocati was also applied to a select body of young men of the equestrian order who were appointed by Emperor Domitian to guard his bedchamber. This body is supposed to have existed under succeeding rulers and known as Evocati Augusti, or Emperor’s Veterans.


There will be more to share about the Legions and the Roman Army. So stay tuned for there shall always be more. Thanks for stopping by and Don’t Stop Rome-ing!