Pompey’s Fight Against Piracy

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Did Pompey or Caesar do more of importance to fight piracy in the Roman Mediterranean? Consider piracy as an actual threat to shipping, as a source for propaganda, and as a basis for establishing and maintaining power in Rome and in the broader eastern Mediterranean coastal world.

During the final century of the Roman Republic, piracy was a serious threat in the waters known to the Romans as mare nostrum.[1] A young Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompey are two particular figures of the late Republic whose fight against piracy is focused on by the ancient sources early in their public careers. Caesar’s encounter with the pirates is often presented as theatrical anecdote, used to enhance the vital traits, being his speed and ruthlessness, presented of Caesar the general during his propaganda campaign later in his career. Subsequently, his confrontation with the pirates did not impact greatly on the fight against piracy. Comparably, Pompey’s campaign against the pirates was also aimed at gaining prestige in Rome, through his swift securing of the grain supply, in order to enable him to gain command in the war against Mithridates. However, his

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The Assassination of Julius Caesar

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Why was Caesar assassinated? To what degree was his murder his own fault?

Born in 100 BC, Gaius Julius Caesar[1] is one of history’s most prolific conquerors, playing a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire[2]. Born into an ancient patrician family, the gens Iulia, Caesar was successful in both the political and military spheres of Roman life, having achieved great victories in the Gallic Wars and Civil War, and having achieved the office of dictator perpetuo by his death on the Ides of March 44 BC, the result of a conspiracy by a group of Romans, led by Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus, known as ‘the Liberators’[3]. Whilst many ancient and contemporary writers assign the reason for Caesar’s assassination to his display of arrogance and tyrannical nature, it was the manner Continue reading

The Legacy of Titus: ‘amor ac deliciae generis humani’

Ancient literature is generally favourable to the emperor Titus, portraying him as a good ruler, and thus a man of good character. Does his reign deserve to be remembered as a positive one, or does this portrait of the emperor owe much to the fact that he died early in his reign?


Among ancient historians, Titus stands as one of the most exemplary of any emperor. All surviving accounts of this period present a highly favourable view of him, his character preferred in comparison with that of his brother Domitian. His economic and administrative handling of the empire, as well of his generosity are particularly emphasised throughout the works of Josephus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio. However, it is also suggested in the latter’s works that Titus’ reputation ‘may also have been due to the fact that he survived his accession but a very short time, for he was thus given no opportunity for wrongdoing’.[1] This article will argue that, while it is true that his reputation was enhanced by his early death, the sources undeniably show that his reign must be considered a positive one, with no Continue reading

Propaganda on the Legends of Roman Coins

Do the legends on Roman coins add to their propaganda value?

Throughout the late Republic and Empire, the authority and achievements of powerful individuals and the emperor, respectively, were conveyed to the population in a variety of ways. The most widespread of these, being Roman coinage, circulated throughout the provinces of the Empire, serving to familiarise the populaces with influential individuals and emperors of whom they would never see in person. Coinage also served to convey the message of changing policies, merits and achievements throughout the empire. Images upon these coins were of great importance since their development c.300 BC, however it was only in the second century BC that the importance of another feature emerged; the rising significance of the legend, the text that runs around the edge of the coin. Whilst images upon Roman coins were seen to be the source of propaganda[1], the ambiguity of the images became an issue as a greater number of individuals and Continue reading

The Establishment of Vespasian’s Regime

What strategies did Vespasian use to establish his new regime? How successful were his methods?

Ruling from AD69 until AD79, Titus Flavius Vespasianus[1] is best known for founding the Flavian dynasty after the civil wars that followed the emperor Nero’s death in AD68. Throughout the duration of his reign, Vespasian restored stability to an empire wracked by civil war and political instability, much like Augustus[2] before him.[3] Vespasian was able to successfully establish his new regime through employing the use of political and ideological reforms in order to solidify his office as emperor, stabilize the empire’s finances, and Continue reading

‘Vampires’ in Ancient Literature

Legends of supernatural beings walking the earth, consuming the flesh and blood of mortals can be found within numerous cultures dating back many centuries. Whilst today, these traits are associated with the entity of a vampire, in ancient times the idiom ‘vampire’ did not exist[1]; the consumption of blood and similar activities were associated with demons or spirits of who would consume the flesh and blood of the living. Ancient Greek and Roman literature contain several precursors to the modern vampires, though none were considered undead; such creatures included ghosts with a thirst for blood, the lamia, and the strix. Through the evaluation of ancient epic poems, plays and histories, it is evident that, whilst not taking on the guise of a traditional vampire Continue reading

Ethnic Tensions in Ptolemaic Egypt

Commencing with the conquest of Alexander the Great[1] in 332 BC, Egypt was ruled for three occasionally chaotic centuries by a foreign Greek dynasty, the Ptolemies[2]. The last of the Hellenistic kingdoms to be annexed by Rome[3], Ptolemaic Egypt was one of the two greatest powers of the Hellenistic East. However, it was from within Egypt itself that troubles first began to emerge, largely due to ethnic tensions between the Greeks and native Egyptians. Through the evaluation of literary texts, papyri, and royal decrees documented during the reign of the Ptolemaic kings, it can be seen that a fusion of Greek disdain for the natives and Egyptian resentment due to Continue reading

Battle of Actium according to Homer

This is fun little exercise undertaken in a course throughout Semester One 2012 in which we were asked to write about a conflict between any two individuals (historical or fictional) in the style of Homer. I chose to write about the conflict between two of my favourite individuals in late Roman Republican history; Octavian and Mark Antony. So here is my version, in Homeric script (300 words maximum) of the final moments of the Battle of Actium in 31 BC ~ Enjoy 🙂

After Actium, the Egyptians, having retreated like dogs
hid throughout the city of Alexandria, cowering behind its ancient walls,
tails between their legs, wiping their sweaty brow as they waited for orders.
Standing tall, yet fearful outside the walls was the foolish Antony, forced
by the Serpent of the Nile to move outside Alexandria,
to face the son of the divinity, in front of the Great Nile.

Antony, who was only prevented from running by the spell of the enchantress Cleopatra, was the first to glimpse the mighty Octavian Continue reading

Athenian Tetradrachm

Object: Athenian Tetradrachm Coin, catalogue number c002
Obverse: Athena, helmeted.
Reverse: Owl with pronged tail and closed wings, olive spray, lunar crescent.

The object identified as an Athenian Tetradrachm was an Ancient Greek silver coin with a weight equivalent to four drachmae, used as payment for soldiers or in international trade, and was in wide circulation from 510 BC until 38 BC. Minted in the Greek city-state of Athens, the coin depicts, upon the obverse, the helmeted head of the patron goddess Athena, her helmet decorated with a floral scroll known as a palmette, and upon the reverse, the image of an owl, as well as three olive leaves, a crescent moon, and the legend ‘ΑΘΕ’[1], the iconographic symbols of the Athenian polis.[2]

Manufactured in Athens, the Athenian tetradrachm was Continue reading