A Tale of Two Cities: Firenze and Roma

My trip to Italy and visiting Florence and Rome

Let’s take a different spin from my usual articles to a more relaxed, adventure state of mind…

I have always been fascinated by the history of ancient Rome which can be attributed I think, to two incredible epic movies which I saw as a young boy, Ben-Hur and Spartacus. There the viewer sees fast paced chariot races, gladiators, Roman sea battles, and legions of soldiers deploying for battle. To so many people today the Romans appear as distant, almost mythical individuals who lived so long ago, yet when I was young, I could imagine the roars of the mob in the Coliseum, hear the beat of marching feet, and gaze at their inspiring Temples and architecture. The Romans venerated both the human body and pleasure which is called Hedonism, and yet they were people who shaped the world as we know it, instituted a style of government most Western powers today are built upon, and still capture the imagination of everyone who ever reads about them or climbs the Palatine Hill. Even today legionaries from ancient history patrol the streets, threatening anyone they perceive to be a barbarian (as demonstrated in the picture.)

For a break from the hectic life of work, my wife Deanna and I fulfilled a long desire to see Italy, and we did so by visiting two of the most incredible cities in the country, Firenze and Roma. Besides being the hub of world fashion, and awesome cars, Italy is a beautiful country of rolling green hills, snow capped mountains, vineyards, and winding roads. It is both enchanting and ancient. It speaks of a long, rich history and at the same time reminds us of the dark corridors of barbaric cruelty that remain (i.e. the Coliseum and past civil wars).

Our visit to Firenze instantly immersed us into the world of art, Hellenism, beautiful cathedrals, and famous museums. For the first time in our lives we could cast our eyes upon original paintings and statues that we had only looked at in books. We could study the Baroque architecture, climb the high steps of the Sainta Novella Cathedral, and taste the wonders of Italian piazza, cheese, wine, ice cream and salami. We walked the halls of the Uffizi and Academia Museums, saw the illustrious David of Michelangelo, visited the Piazza dell Republicca (which had been the ancient Roman Forum) and sauntered through streets and courtyards that had existed since Medieval times. As a fashion guru, it was great to see all the designers, and frustrating to drool over the incredible suits, shirts, and shoes and not be able to purchase any of them as they were all so expensive. For example: I saw a beautiful silk scarf to match a suit attire and its price was a wapping 460euro…and then to my agony I saw a man about ten minutes later in a cafe wearing that exact scarf! Argh! Anyway, we spent three days in Firenze exploring much of the city and then caught a train to travel through Tuscany, south to Roma.We planned to spend four days in Roma, which still wasn’t enough. Roma is like one big museum with literally hundreds of sights to take in all at once. The other problem is everywhere you look is a “picture worthy” shot. From the piazza’s with their gorgeous statues (i.e. Trevi Fountain and Novona) to the incredible beauty of Ancient Rome and the Forum was spectacular. We were able to see Trajan’s Pillar, the Arch of Constantine and Titus, tour the Coliseum and Palatine Hill, walk through the Forum, see the Temple of Mithras, visit the ruins of Nero’s palace, the baths of Septimus Severus, or Hadrian’s Palace was like a dream for a historian as myself. It was also wonderful to tour the Capitoline Museum for over four hours, and see the Pantheon which houses the remains of the oldest Temple to Minerva. Also, I could not get enough of the wonderful Italian coffee, did I mention the pizza,:) the pasta, and all the other delights. It was not as romantic as Firenze, but the feel of Roma is one both bustling and modern but still clinging to its ancient heritage. This was clear in the “SPQR” emblazoned on everything from buses to police uniforms to sewer grates. Also the Capitoline She-Wolf was everywhere, which is the ancient myth of the beginning of Rome with the twins Romulous and Remus suckling at the wolf.

Now, I must say a few things about the Capitoline Museum before I conclude. This is a must see if you ever visit Roma and you enjoy history and art. It is housed in three incredible buildings from the 16th century, and is filled with thousands upon thousands of amazing statues. From the remains of the giant statue of Constantine, to the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, to the Dying Gaul, it was a treat and a labyrinth of constant “oos” and “ahhs”. When we left we were speechless and appreciative. We felt as if we had journeyed back in time and witnessed the art and ingenuity of the Roman age.

So…go to Firenze and Roma and see for yourself, and if you are not as much into history, enjoy the food and wine. ūüôā

By, Peter J. Fast

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The Four Stooges: The Year of the Four Emperors of Rome

From Nero to Vespasian

68 C.E. – 69 C.E.

The purpose of this article is not to be exhaustive in any way, but to embark on one of the wildest years throughout the ages of Roman history. It was a year that dragged the empire into civil war, assassination and betrayal which nearly destroyed the massive, widespread empire. Although typically historians do not count Emperor Nero as part of the four, since he was already emperor at the time, we shall begin this journey by starting with the tyrant, both loved and hated by the people of Rome.

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (54 C.E. – 68 C.E.)

Nero was known in the annals of history as a lot of things. The fifth emperor of the Roman Empire, tyrant, obsessed musician and poet, the man who crushed the Boudicca Revolt in Britain, started the fire of Rome (64C.E.) and blamed it on the Christians, and a man who did not possess the most favorable view of his mother as he had her executed, and most likely poisoned his stepbrother, Britannicus. Nero was a man driven by lust, grandeur, madness, paranoia, and in the end was betrayed by the very men dedicated to protect him, the Praetorian Guard of Rome, as documented by the Roman historian, Suetonius. Nero had extreme bouts of sadistic, morbid wanes, a great example being that he used captured Christians, as human torches by covering them in pitch and lighting them on fire to illuminate his gardens during feasts and parties.

Nero was of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and so was fifth in line, after Emperor Claudius, to rule the empire of Rome. He loved to travel and perform the arts, often times where he would force people to listen to his poetic rants, sometimes under pain of death if they were to fall asleep (which nearly happened to Vespasian). Nero also was a man of war. He conducted campaigns against Parthia from 55 C.E. until a peace deal was brokered in the year 63 C.E. Nero also crushed the Boudicca rebellion of Britain (60 C.E. – 61 C.E.), the Pisonian Conspiracy of 65 C.E., and was ruler during the majority of the First Jewish Revolt of 66 C.E. – 73 C.E. In the Jewish Revolt, we see Nero’s sense of paranoia come to fruit, (as if executing his mother, and poisoning his stepbrother was not enough evidence). At the failed attempt of Syrian Governor Cestius Gallus to crush the Jewish revolt and take Jerusalem, Nero elected a nobody in the political realm to lead the newly raised Judean Army, and that was Titus Flavius Vespasianus (known as Vespasian). Vespasian, a veteran and master in the art of warfare, lacked incredibly, at the time of his elected command in 67 C.E., in the political arena. Thus, for Nero, he saw Vespasian as a harmless puppet to conduct the affair in the east and crush the Jewish uprising. However, the vice grips would suddenly close on poor Nero’s life as betrayal and treason would occur in his own ranks.

In March of 68 C.E., Gaius Julius Vindex, who was the governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, rebelled against the taxation and policies that Nero had set up. Needless to say Nero was not pleased. Being the type of man who may jump at the sound of a door closing, Nero sought out to crush the rebellion. Thus, Nero made his first attempt to crush the rebellion in his own camp, and he dispatched Lucius Verginius Rufus, who was the governor of Germania Superior. Vindex tried to rally his own forces and build them up to face off against Nero’s general, Rufus, however, Vindex was¬†defeated at the Battle of Vesontio in May of 68 C.E. and seeing defeat, Vindex¬†committed suicide. Following in the wake of this victory, Rufus’ own troops saw him as a potential emperor¬†and decided to declare him as Imperator. Rufus declined but the die had been cast as the thought of Nero’s demise had no doubt been planted into the minds of other powerful men in the empire. With the discontent of the legions in Germany, and the rumblings in Spain, one such man quickly rose to the seat of treason which would not bode well for Nero, and that was the Governor of Spain, Servius Sulpicius Galba. Although Nero had Galba declared a public enemy, his support was unstoppable as he was proclaimed by his own troops as representative of the Senate and the people of Rome, SPQR. Once the prefect of the Praetorian Guard, Gaius Nymphidius Sabinus had abandoned Nero and declared allegiance to Galba, it was now clear¬†that Nero¬†was in grave¬†danger,¬†so the young emperor¬†fled Rome, perhaps intending to rally legions to his side to face Galba in battle.

But, unfortunately Nero did not get far. Nero had sent a general to northern Italy hoping to raise an army and watch Galba’s coalition collapse, but this was not to be. Thus, paranoid that he had lost control, Nero made plans to flee to Egypt. The Praetorian Guard used this as an excuse to¬†desert him, since in their minds, he had deserted Rome. So, like he had declared Galba a public enemy, the Praetorian Guard declared Nero a public enemy. In a coup d’etat they sent soldiers to arrest Nero. However, they would not get the¬†satisfaction. As the Praetorian located and approached the deposed emperor on the outskirts of Rome, Nero took¬†his own life following an argument with his servant to kill him. This would all be done in a grisly manner as Nero would end up ramming his own knife through his neck, thus bringing his tyrannical reign to a swift end.

Servius Sulpicius Galba Augustus (8th of June 68 C.E. – 15th of January 69 C.E.)


After throwing many drunken parties and minting his face upon coins decorated with¬†quotes such as, “Liberty of the Roman People”, Galba suddenly became the sixth emperor of Rome. However, like the following list of people to come after him, his rule was not long at all.¬†His mistake started at the beginning of his reign, for he did not react quick enough to flex his Roman muscle around the empire, as¬†it was¬†important him, once stealing¬†the empire through anarchy and treason, to prove to everyone else that he still had it. However, what came next was¬†undoubtedly¬†a bad move. The first thing Galba did¬†was on January 10th 69 C.E., he presented to the Senate a man named, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi Licinanus. Lucius had¬†no political achievements, an obscure family, and had just spent a couple of years in exile. Regardless, Galba¬†adopted Lucius¬†as¬†heir to the throne.¬† Having done this, Galba naturally¬†made political enemies out of the people who had just thrust him¬†into power. So,¬†Galba’s right hand man, Otho, who had been by Galba’s side since Spain, acted quickly. Out of shock and jealousy of not being made the heir, Otho rallied the disgruntled Praetorian Guard,¬†whom Galba had failed to pay, and made a mad dash for the throne of the empire. Otho bribed all the praetorian commanders¬†to help him take down Galba. Otho would deliver!

On January 15th 69 C.E. Otho went with Galba to sacrifice at the Temple of Apollo, only to slip away from the imperial entourage and be taken by 23 soldiers to the Praetorian Camp where he was welcomed and greeted warmly. Following this, Otho rallied the guard and killed Galba as he went through the Forum. Suetonius describes this well as they slaughtered Galba and Piso and any associates he had that were loyal to him, but miraculously there was no great slaughter. So was the end of Galba, lets continue. (Score for the Emperors 0/1)

Marcus Salvius Otho Caesar Augustus (15th of January 69 C.E. – 16th of April 69 C.E.)

Right from the beginning of his reign, Otho was a smooth-talking, double tongued man who sought, in an underhand way, to gain popularity and explain his succession to the throne as Romes seventh emperor. Obviously everyone knew he had¬†deposed¬†Galba¬†from his seat of power by having the man killed, but Otho made it his mandate to try to relate with the people, appealing to a strange¬†logic by stating that he had murdered Galba in order to avenge Nero. A little odd since Otho had been¬†Galba’s¬†right-hand man from the beginning.¬†However, in Rome a man’s career was of the utmost importance, and true power came at the helm of as many legions as one could muster. So looking closer, before his rise to power, Otho had been a man confined by Nero to Lusitania as governor from 58 C.E., thus he had no real military reputation, had never been a consul, and had no great following among other provincial commanders and armies.

Otho came from Germania of all places, where the illustrious Aulus Germanicus Vitellius Augustus (a generation of Otho’s senior and consul of more than 20 years previously) fixed his eye on Otho’s throne, and preferred himself, instead of Otho, to sit on it. Vitellius was a man of war and¬†the¬†commander of the legions stationed on the Rhine and allowed his troops, rather in a charmed way, to convince him that he should be emperor.¬†Like any legion, they wanted to profit from Vitellius smashing Otho in battle and removing him from the throne.¬†Otho was young, he was only 36 which was considered by Romans to be an age that consisted of a natural lack of experience in war and politics, especially aligned next to a war-dog like Vitellius. It was simple, Vitellius and his troops refused to declare loyalty to Otho¬†and then¬†crossed the Alps with incredible speed in order to march on Rome. This was done to stop Otho from being reinforced by troops from other provinces, most particularly in the Balkans. So, without haste Otho was¬†smashed at the Battle of Cremona in the Po Valley on April 14th 69 C.E. and committed suicide two days later. (Score of the Emperors 0/2)

Aulus Germanicus Vitellius Augustus (16th of April 69 C.E. – 22nd of December 69 C.E.)

After the¬†war-dog, Vitellius had refused to declare loyalty to Otho, and met him near Cremona, he summarily trounced his enemy in a single day, and threw a party two days later as Romes eighth emperor. Once the road had been opened and Rome stood before Vitellius, naturally the Senate¬†declared loyalty to Vitellius and deemed him emperor,¬†honouring him with the title, Augustus, which he graciously accepted.¬† However, this¬†was a recipe for disaster, as the man at the time who was engaged¬†in an attempt to crush the Jewish Revolt, was a political enemy of Vitellius and had a legions¬†of soldiers at his disposal. His name was Vespasian. It was obvious what would happen next and on the 5th day of the Ides of July, Vespasian was given the title of, Imperator, by his troops and numerous¬†governors, generals, and legions hailed their allegiance to the man whom Nero had believed to be of no political rivalry or threat…which was why he chose Vespasian in the first place to lead the war in Judea. Lines were drawn, names were hurled at one another, and plans were made as Vitellius¬†observed a host of legions, loyal to Vespasian, advance on Rome. Vitellius reacted swiftly, assembling a massive army to meet his enemies, and ironically, at the second Battle of Cremona on 24th of October 69 C.E. the forces loyal to Vespasian, killed 50,000 of Vitellius’ men. But, this was not the end¬†for Vitellius. The scared and petrified emperor, fled¬†back to Rome and barricaded himself in the city. It was not until the 21st of December that a general named, Primus forced his way into the city, sacked it.¬†In the sacking, Primus captured Vitellius, had¬†a rope placed around his neck, and then proceeded to drag him, half-naked to the Forum, all along the Sacred Way. Then at the Stairs of Wailing in the Forum, Vitellius, with a¬†sword at¬†his throat, was murdered. (Score for the Emperors 0/3)

Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus (1st of July 69 C.E. – 23rd of June 79 C.E.)

Vespasian’s tale is the easiest to tell. He had a lot of strong support, paid off the right people, pretty much kept his word, was a great liar, was known as a charmer, had a hilarious sense of humour, and had the biggest army. After the second Battle of Cremona, Vespasian renewed the war against the rebellious Jews from the comfort of Alexandria in Egypt, and sent his son Titus (who had the same name) to mop up the rest of the mess and destroy Jerusalem along with the three remaining Jewish strongholds, the most popular being Masada by the Dead Sea. Prior to Jerusalem’s fall, Vespasian¬†departed¬†for Rome. In Rome he eventually got word that his son was successful in¬†destroying Jerusalem in the summer¬†of 70 C.E., with the¬†Fretensis 10 Legion eventually conquering¬†Masada by 73 C.E. in a hollow victory. Vespasian had proven to the empire that he could deliver, and for many Romans, he had restored the glory of Rome which had been devastated by the last 12 months. Vespasian, therefore, was able to lived out his days in pomp and splendour with his two sons to follow in the rule of succession. The oldest son, Titus the conqueror¬†of Jerusalem and¬†womanizer, ruled until 81 C.E. and then died mysteriously, most historians believing that his younger brother, Domitian, poisoned him. Once Titus had died,¬†Domitian, the man who really did not like Christians, seized the throne…but that is another story. (Score for the Emperors 1/4)

By, Peter J Fast

PETER J. FAST

I invite you to explore the dark corridors of ancient history and see it come to life.

The study of ancient history has always fascinated me for as long as I can remember. Whether it be the image of Greek hoplites crammed together in a phalanx, or legions marching stoically across the battlefield I believe it has the power to ignite the imagination of the unknown. The ancient world, particularly around the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, which is what I focus on, was a world very different then what we know today and has stirred poets, politicians, researchers, archaeologists, geologists, and many others to document their findings, write about history seen through their eyes, and try to grasp an understanding of how the ancients thought, behaved, and interacted with one another. This is the beginning of what it means to look into history.

We, in the 21st century, can only look through a key hole back through thousands of years of history and unearth what we believe happened based on evidence, be it archaeological and primary written sources. I believe that the study of history is tantamount to understanding how we have ended up where we are. It involves the exploration into our political society, how we function in society, make war, live our lives, and much more which is mostly based on Greco-Roman ideals. To understand the past can open up that key hole further in how we should and should not live our lives and what choices we should or should not take. As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I seek not only to remember and study the past, but to bring it to life through my writing and hopefully, God willing, give people a glimpse into ancient history of how the people of those times may have worshiped, thought, loved, ruled, fought, suffered, succeeded, died, and lived. We even see the fascination in culture and history taking place in the ancient world with figures such as Alexander the Great or Roman Emperor Hadrian (to just name a few).

“It is the echoes of the past that turn our ear to what may have taken place, and this curiosity, intrenched in so many people, is something we cannot run from.”

Peter J. Fast

Documenting ancient history, why bother?

Battles, sieges, generals, suffering, and victory has always been the price tag of ancient civilizations as they struggled together in a changing world as empires and kingdoms marched on leaving many in the dust. Whether it was Spartans and Athenians, Macedonians and Persians, Carthaginians and Romans, or Seleucid’s and Ptolemies, all shook the earth, all changed history, and all were documented and recorded. To understand the ancients, we must turn to the witnesses and people living at the time and what they wrote. Often, we must understand that much of the ancient records of those days were intertwined with their mythological stances, such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, or The Epic of Gilgamesh, there is still much to learn outside of these boundaries however, once we explore the ancient writing or what is known as primary sources. I personally have focused my time and studies on ancient Greece, Rome, and Israel.

However, there is also a greater picture of the people’s and nations living before and after these times which also have piqued my interest over the years which has deepened a desire to broaden my knowledge and appreciation for the complex and diverse world in the B.C.E. years. The timeline is long and the list even longer but the ample amount of rich stories, history, battles, governments, and search for power has never escaped the essence of mankind. I have enjoyed studying such people as the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Carthaginians, Hittites, Canaanites, Phoenicians, Etruscan’s, and many more. The fascinating thing regarding the wealth of knowledge that has been compiled in libraries and universities throughout the world is that even if you had a dozen lifetimes it would not be enough to fully grasp and master the ancient world. Thus, the primary sources are priceless as they offer one of our best ways to glimpse back through time at what life was like and how it happened.

For me, over the years I have amassed a collection of such sources in which I have studied to better aid my own writing and research as I work towards publishing and establishing myself as an author. Sources that were indispensable for my study were: Polybius, Livy, Caesar, Appian, Cicero, Xenophon, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Plutarch, Homer, Virgil, Herodotus, Thucydides, Flavius Josephus, Plato, Socrates, Philo of Alexandria, and of course all other ancient texts (i.e. Dead Sea Scrolls, Book of the Dead), be they on papyrus, or chiseled into stone.

To grasp an understanding of Jewish history (whether it be pre-temple period or later) the Bible is by far my favorite source. Not only does the Bible shed light on the history of ancient Israel, it also builds an excellent picture for the nations surrounding it as this picture also corresponds with extra-biblical sources, archaeology, and geography. The Bible is vital in understanding the journey for the Jewish people, from Mount Sinai right up into the Second Temple period (with the Christian scriptures/New Testament). It shows their struggle against paganism, worldly pursuits, and how God called them to be a separate people and a light to the world. This is essential in understanding how the Jews would have thus perceived the Greeks and Romans (in later years) and why they reacted the way they did or rebelled, such as in the age of the Maccabees (167-160 B.C.E), or with the two Jewish revolts against the Romans in 66-73 C.E. and 132-135 C.E. The Babylonian Talmud and other Jewish texts such as the stories of the Midrash can also bring to light much of how the Jews thought, practiced their faith, and resisted the pressures from the outside world, mainly Hellenism, which is Greek lifestyle and hedonism in a nutshell. Also, 1st and 2nd Maccabees of the Apocryphal writings can assist in gathering together a picture of what transgressed and how things played out.

I hope I have been able to touch on a few interesting subjects, and I invite you to join me as I move towards publishing my first historical-fiction novel based on the events surrounding the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and the destruction of the Jewish Temple at the hands of Titus Flavius Vespasianus, the son of the Emperor and commander of the legions of Judea. For a synopsis of the novel, character list, and further information, just select the tab, “70 A.D.” and journey back in time. Also, join the group “70 A.D. A Novel about the Jewish War with Rome” on Facebook and stay connected as I move towards the completion and publication of the book.

Cheers,

Peter J. Fast