September 21, 2015

1. Marx and the Power of Ideas

Karl Marx was a philosophical writer, not just an economist. His theories begin with atheism, and with contempt for religion (“the opium of the people”). Atheism is a philosophical position; the existence of God is the philosophical subject par excellence.

In Marx’s time, economics was close to philosophy. John Stuart Mill was both an economist and a philosopher. Likewise, Adam Smith was both an economist and a philosopher. Marx was influenced by the most prominent philosopher of the time, Hegel. As a young student, Marx wrote his thesis on a Greek philosophical school, the atomists, a school that was materialistic and scornful of religion.

The case of Marx shows the power of ideas, the power of philosophy to influence the world. “But doesn’t Marx show that philosophy’s influence is harmful, that the world would be better off without it?” I don’t deny that philosophy’s influence is sometimes harmful, but what better way to check a harmful philosophy than with a beneficial philosophy?

2. The Founding Fathers and the Melting Pot

It’s sometimes said that the U.S. was created by people of many nations, colors, creeds. In fact, the people who created the U.S. were, by modern standards, a very homogeneous group. Almost without exception, they were white male Protestants. Of course, many ethnic groups contributed to the U.S., many labored to make the U.S. politically and economically successful, but the design and establishment of the U.S. was the work of one ethnic group.

An analogous situation is Apple Computer: Apple was created by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, then later many people contributed to its success. The importance of the act of creation/design should not be underestimated.

Perhaps the three most important elements in the forming of the U.S. were England’s political-legal tradition, the Protestant ethic of work and trust, and the English-French philosophical tradition (Locke, Montesquieu, etc.). Of course, the U.S. enjoyed a favorable geographic situation, and an abundance of natural resources. But these blessings count for little by themselves. Russia had a large area and abundant resources yet, during Stalin’s reign, it created nothing but an extensive prison, because it lacked the political-legal tradition, the ethic of work and trust, and the philosophical tradition.

3. Bukowski’s Mentors

In a recent issue, I discussed the American poet and novelist Charles Bukowski. I’m beginning to learn something about Bukowski’s mentors — about the writers he admired and emulated. Apparently there were three California writers whom he admired: John Fante, William Saroyan, and Robinson Jeffers. All three were older than Bukowski.

A. John Fante

Fante was an Italian-American, the son of a bricklayer. He grew up in Colorado, dropped out of college in 1929, then moved to California, where he struggled to make his way as a writer. His breakthrough came with the publication of a story called “Altar Boy” in H. L. Mencken’s magazine, The American Mercury (later Fante’s correspondence with Mencken was published). Like Bukowski, Fante wrote autobiographical novels about living in Los Angeles. “Fante was my god,” Bukowski said. Fante’s most popular novel is Ask the Dust (1939), which was made into a movie in 2006. Fante’s work is classed as Dirty Realism, a label that’s also applied to Bukowski.

B. William Saroyan

Like Fante, Saroyan came from humble origins, immigrant origins. His parents were Armenian, and lived in Fresno, California. His father died when he was three, and he and his siblings were sent to an orphanage. When he was eight, his family was reunited, his mother working at a cannery. His father had been a preacher, and had done some writing; when his mother showed him his dead father’s writings, the young Saroyan decided that he would become a writer.

His breakthrough came in 1934, when he published “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze” in Story magazine. According to Wikipedia, Saroyan’s story-collection My Name is Aram (1940) was “an international bestseller... translated into many languages.” Saroyan won a Pulitzer Prize for his play The Time of Your Life (1939). His novel The Human Comedy is now being made into a film called Ithaca. The Human Comedy is about a “young telegraph messenger [who] bears witness to the sorrows and joys of life during World War II” (Saroyan himself worked in the telegraph industry). Saroyan has a Zennish streak, and he once advised a young writer, “Try to learn to breathe deeply; really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell.”

After World War II, Saroyan’s popularity declined; some of his late plays have never been performed. He spent his last twenty years in Paris, and died in 1981. Saroyan is one of Armenia’s national heroes, and there’s a statue of him in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan.

C. Robinson Jeffers

Bukowski’s favorite poet was Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962). Jeffers was from an upper-class family; one might say that his family was part of the WASP establishment. Jeffers studied Greek and Latin at an early age, travelled in Europe, and attended a Swiss school. He went to college in California (Occidental), and spent his adult life in California.

As a graduate student at USC, Jeffers had an affair with a married woman named Una, who was three years older than himself. She and Jeffers eventually married, had children, and lived together until Una’s death in 1950.

Jeffers was an avid outdoorsman, and often wrote of the outdoors. He built a stone house and tower, called Tor House and Hawk Tower, in Carmel, California, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. “He continued adding on to Tor House throughout his life, writing in the morning and working on the house in the afternoon.”1 The house and tower can be visited today. The tower was probably inspired by Yeats’ tower, Thoor Ballylee in County Galway, Ireland.

Some of Jeffers’ early works were published in a volume called Roan Stallion, Tamar, and Other Poems (1925). Critics compared these poems to Greek epics and Greek tragedies; perhaps Jeffers’ early study of Greek and Latin literature shaped his work.

One of Jeffers’ friends was D. H. Lawrence. Like Lawrence, Jeffers had some interest in philosophy. According to Wikipedia, “Jeffers’ longest and most ambitious narrative, The Women at Point Sur (1927) [is] heavily loaded... with Nietzschean philosophy.”

But the chief element in Jeffers’ worldview isn’t Nietzsche but rather a feeling for nature. He believed in “inhumanism,” and called on people to “uncenter” themselves, turn to the “astonishing beauty of things,” and admire the “trans-human magnificence.” He preached an ethic of detachment (as I’ve done in earlier issues). He said that his worldview “offers a reasonable detachment as rule of conduct, instead of love, hate and envy.” In the following poem, “Joy,” we find a blend of emotional detachment and love of nature:

Though joy is better than sorrow joy is not great;
Peace is great, strength is great.
Not for joy the stars burn, not for joy the vulture
Spreads her gray sails in the air
Over the mountain; not for joy the worn mountain
Stands, while years like water
Trench his long sides. “I am neither mountain nor bird
Nor star; and I seek joy.”
The weakness of your breed: yet at length quietness
Will cover those wistful eyes.

Not surprisingly, Jeffers is “an icon of the environmental movement.” One of Jeffers’ admirers is the Zennish poet Czeslaw Milosz; Milosz translated several Jeffers books. Jeffers was apparently impressed with Eastern culture; he met the Indian sage Jiddu Krishnamurti, and had a high opinion of him.

Like Saroyan, Jeffers was more popular early in his career than late in his career; perhaps one reason why Jeffers’ popularity declined is that he opposed U.S. involvement in World War II. In 1932, at the peak of his fame, Jeffers was on the cover of Time — unusual for a poet. Click here for a 5-minute video about Jeffers.

4. Ancient Rome

A. The Year of the Four Emperors

69 AD was The Year of the Four Emperors — Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian. Galba’s reign began in mid-68, when Nero committed suicide. Vespasian’s reign lasted until 79 AD, when he died of illness and was succeeded by his son, Titus. The reigns of Otho and Vitellius began and ended in 69. The turmoil of 69 was followed by the stability of the Flavian Dynasty (Vespasian and his sons, Titus and Domitian); the Flavian Dynasty lasted 26 years. Perhaps the best account of The Year of the Four Emperors is in Tacitus’ Histories.

One of the themes of this period is the power of the legions to elevate their commander to the position of emperor, then march on Rome, or march against any legions who recognized a different emperor. Many emperors were chosen by the legions, or by the Praetorian Guard (palace guard).

The legions gradually became estranged from the Julio-Claudian emperors. These emperors almost never visited the legions, and they made lavish gifts to the Praetorian Guard, arousing the jealousy of the legions. Furthermore, Nero allowed the pay and pensions of the legions to fall into arrears, and also put to death some commanders on suspicion of plotting against him. The remaining commanders wanted to strike at Nero before he struck at them.

The revolt against Nero began around March of 68 AD. The governor of a Gallic province, Vindex, renounced his allegiance to Nero, and urged the governor of a Spanish province, Galba, to join his cause. Galba had recently saved his own life by intercepting a letter from Nero to his own procurator, ordering the procurator to kill Galba. So Galba was disposed to join a rebellion against Nero, but he had only one legion, so he hesitated to take the field. Meanwhile, troops stationed along the Rhine heard about Vindex’s revolt. Viewing it as a rising of Gauls against Romans, they marched against Vindex’s forces, and crushed them. Vindex took his own life.

When news of Vindex’s revolt first reached Rome, Nero was unable to handle the situation, and the Praetorian Guard felt that Nero was a sinking ship. One of the Praetorian Prefects, Nymphidius, persuaded his soldiers to switch their allegiance from Nero to Galba. The Senate recognized Galba as emperor, and sentenced Nero to death.

Galba was still in Spain, and didn’t know what had transpired in Rome. When he heard that Vindex had been defeated, Galba assumed that the rebellion had been snuffed out, Nero was in control, and he himself would shortly be killed. Meanwhile, his freedman was racing to him from Rome, bearing the glad tidings that he was now emperor. His freedman reached him after seven days of “lightning travel.” Galba promptly set out for Rome, to assume his new office.

But several commanders didn’t accept Galba as emperor, and didn’t have their troops swear loyalty to Galba. One such commander was based in Africa; Galba had him assassinated. Another such commander was in Lower Germany; the commander’s own subordinate killed him.2 And finally, the Praetorian Prefect, Nymphidius, made a bid to become emperor, and claimed to be the natural son of Caligula; he was killed by his own troops. For the moment, Galba’s position was secure.

But Galba seemed unequal to the situation he was in, and made a series of mistakes. For example, he alienated the Roman people and the palace guard by frugality. At age 71, Galba was past his prime. He seemed like a capable man — until he became emperor. As Tacitus put it, “By general consent, Galba was capable of ruling — had he not ruled” (omnium consensu capax imperii nisi imperasset).

At the beginning of 69 AD, after Galba had ruled for about six months, the Rhine armies renounced their allegiance to him. Galba tried to mollify his foes by appointing a co-regent and successor, but the man he chose (Piso) had no influence with the legions or with the Praetorian Guard. One of Galba’s confidants, Otho, was angered that Piso had been chosen, not himself, and he offered the Praetorians a lavish bonus if they would switch their allegiance from Galba to him. The Praetorians were tired of the stingy Galba, and liked Otho’s offer, so they lynched Galba and acclaimed Otho emperor.

But Otho had few qualifications for his new position, other than being governor of Lusitania (Portugal), and a close friend of Nero. He was a free spender, and could buy the good will of the Praetorians, but the legions were another matter.

Believing that Galba was still emperor, the legions in Lower Germany proclaimed their own commander, Vitellius, emperor. The legions in Upper Germany promptly threw in their lot with Vitellius. The best Rhine troops began marching toward Italy. When they heard that Otho had replaced Galba, they remained intent on installing Vitellius as emperor.

Otho offered to pay Vitellius for his allegiance, but Vitellius declined. Vitellius offered to pay Otho for his allegiance, but Otho declined. Then Otho and Vitellius attempted to assassinate each other, but both attempts failed. Otho and Vitellius each had about 100,000 troops, but Otho had little military ability, and his troops weren’t as seasoned as Vitellius’.

In early 69 AD, the Rhine armies divided into two groups, crossed the Alps before the snow had melted, and re-united at Cremona, on the north bank of the Po River. Otho’s advisers urged him to pursue a Fabian strategy, and give his dispersed forces time to concentrate, instead of confronting the Vitellians. But Otho was so stressed that he wanted to settle the matter immediately; he “could not bear the suspense of a long-drawn-out conflict.”3

Otho’s forces met the Vitellians near Cremona, and were defeated in a hard-fought battle. Prevented from retreating southwards by the river, the Othonians surrendered. Otho committed suicide. The Vitellians continued their march to Rome, “plundering the Italian countryside as if it was enemy territory.” When news of Otho’s suicide reached Rome, the Senate proclaimed Vitellius emperor.

Vitellius soon proved to be even less competent than Galba and Otho. Cary and Scullard describe him as “a quite insignificant person.... inert and helpless.”4 He wasted money, he indulged in all sorts of revelry, and he allowed his troops to run wild in Rome.

The eastern provinces seemed unwilling to be ruled by Vitellius and the Rhine armies. In the summer of 69 AD, the governors of Egypt and Syria threw their support to Vespasian, who commanded an army in Palestine. Vespasian’s troops acclaimed him as emperor, and soon all the eastern provinces were supporting Vespasian. Like Galba and others, Vespasian was encouraged by prophecies, prophecies that made him think he was destined to be emperor (one thinks of how Macbeth was encouraged by the witches’ prophecies).

Vespasian didn’t immediately march on Rome. He tried to starve Rome by halting grain shipments from Egypt, while the Syrian governor (Mucianus) began marching through Asia Minor toward Europe. Meanwhile, the armies along the Danube decided to side with Vespasian. Thus, the Danube forces assumed, for the first time, “their historical part as the emperor-making armies par excellence.”5

Under an officer named Antonius Primus, the Danube troops raced into northern Italy, ignoring Mucianus’ instructions to wait for him. Though they were outnumbered by the Vitellian troops, they had an able commander in Primus. The Vitellians tried to reach Cremona first, but after a forced march of 30 miles, they stumbled into the Danube army, and the battle was on. When the Danube army prevailed, they slaughtered the defeated Vitellians, then looted and burned Cremona.

The Danube army then marched on Rome, and attacked the Praetorian Guard, which was still supporting the Vitellian cause. After defeating the Praetorians, the Danube troops ran riot in Rome, until Mucianus arrived, restored order, and sent the rioters back to their garrisons on the Danube. The Senate proclaimed Vespasian emperor, and the tumultuous Year of the Four Emperors drew to a close.

B. The Revolts of Civilis and Classicus

When the Rhine armies marched south into Italy, a vacuum was created on the Rhine frontier. The Batavians from the lower Rhine (modern Netherlands) filled this vacuum, and revolted against the Romans, led by a chief named Civilis. At first, they aligned themselves with Vespasian, and attacked forts loyal to Vitellius. It soon became clear, however, that they weren’t loyal to any Roman commander, they aimed at complete independence from Rome.

In late 69 AD, during the tumult of civil war, the temple of Jupiter in Rome burned to the ground. When the news reached Gaul, the Druids (Gallic priests) declared this a harbinger of Rome’s fall, and the triumph of the Nordic peoples.

Encouraged by these prophecies, a Gallic chief named Classicus joined the Batavian revolt, and announced the creation of an Empire of the Gauls. The Roman garrisons along the Rhine, perhaps confused by the civil war and unsure who was in charge at Rome, were persuaded to go along with Classicus and his new Gallic empire; some of these Roman garrisons probably included Gauls, hence they were easily taken in by Classicus’ propaganda.

As a result of this propaganda, the Roman headquarters at Vetera fell into the hands of Classicus. “The fall of Vetera was an outstanding disaster in the annals of Roman military history, and the security of Rome itself was threatened.”6 The entire Rhine, from the Netherlands to Switzerland, was in rebel hands.

But Classicus couldn’t persuade other Gallic tribes to join his cause, so the revolt was confined to the area along the Rhine. Furthermore, he couldn’t form a lasting alliance with the Batavians and Germans, led by Civilis. Apparently there were ancient animosities between Germans and Gauls, perhaps caused by German raids into Gaul. In 70 AD, Vespasian’s lieutenant, Cerialis, led an army into the Rhine regions, defeated both Civilis and Classicus, and re-established Roman control.

According to Cary and Scullard, the revolts of Civilis and Classicus show the danger of frontier troops abandoning their posts. When frontier troops tried to install their commander as emperor, they left that frontier undefended, and they invited the natives on that frontier to rebel.

But the revolts of Civilis and Classicus also show that, on the whole, Gaul was satisfied with Roman rule, so the revolts didn’t spread beyond the Rhine regions. To prevent further rebellion, Vespasian moved Gallic auxiliaries from the Rhine to other parts of the Empire, and brought legions from other parts of the Empire to the Rhine. He also tried to push the Rhine border further east, especially in the area of the upper Rhine (Switzerland and southwest Germany).

C. The Flavian Dynasty

Vespasian was from the bourgeoisie of the Italian towns, not the aristocracy of Rome; he was one of the “new men” whom the early emperors were bringing into the government. During the reign of Claudius, Vespasian had been a successful commander in Britain. Vespasian’s stock declined when he fell asleep during one of Nero’s singing recitals, but his stock rose again when he restored Roman control over most of Judaea. As emperor, Vespasian brought peace and stability after the turmoil of civil war, hence Cary and Scullard call him “a second Augustus.”7 Like Augustus, the Flavians carried out ambitious building projects; for example, they built the Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater.

Vespasian was emperor for ten years. In 79 AD, Vespasian was succeeded by his eldest son, Titus. Titus was the 10th Roman emperor, and the first to succeed his biological father.8 Like Germanicus, Titus had intelligence, good looks, and charm, but like Germanicus, he died young; Titus died at 41, after a reign of just two years. (Cary and Scullard quote the saying, “Whom the Roman people loved, died young,” but don’t tell us the source of that saying.) Titus is best known for his affair with the Jewish queen Berenice, and for the Arch of Titus, which is near the Forum (the Arch of Constantine is near the Colosseum). The Arch of Titus commemorates Titus’ capture of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and depicts the spoils of that campaign — a menorah, the trumpets of Jericho, and other holy objects.9

The Arch of Titus


Relief from the Arch of Titus,
depicting Titus’ triumph after his victory in the Jewish War


The Arch of Constantine (built 315 AD) and the Colosseum.
Note that the Arch of Constantine is a “triple arch”
Most later arches, such as the Arc de Triomphe, are “single arches”

In 81 AD, Titus was succeeded by his younger brother, Domitian. Domitian was “as taciturn as Titus was expansive,”10 and thus reminded people of Tiberius. In fact, Domitian seemed to admire Tiberius, and he studied Tiberius’ memoirs. But he didn’t share Tiberius’ diffidence, and while Tiberius delegated power to Sejanus, Domitian kept power in his own hands. Earlier emperors pretended that the Senate was the emperor’s partner, and under earlier emperors the Senate possessed certain responsibilities. But Domitian didn’t pretend that the Senate was anything more than the emperor’s servant, hence he was loathed by the Senate. Often criticized as a tyrant, Domitian receives good marks from Cary and Scullard, who say that he inherited Vespasian’s “industriousness and calm good judgment.”

When Vespasian became emperor, the state’s finances were in shambles, partly because of Nero’s wasteful ways, partly because of the turmoil of the Year of the Four Emperors. Vespasian increased tax rates, devised new forms of taxation, and brought the state back to prosperity. Hence he could afford ambitious building projects, and he could afford to subsidize higher education. Vespasian’s younger son, Domitian, could afford to improve the coinage, which had been debased under Nero. The Flavians assisted the victims of natural disasters; for example, they assisted the people of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae after those cities were buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD (most of the residents of those cities were evacuated before the cities were buried). Rome itself was hit by the plague in 79, followed by a serious fire.

In the last issue, I described how the Jews rose up, in 66 AD, against their Roman rulers, and how Vespasian managed to reconquer almost all of Palestine, except Jerusalem. When Vespasian became emperor, he put Titus in charge of capturing Jerusalem.

Jerusalem wasn’t ringed by one wall, it had “multiple lines of fortifications.” Furthermore, the defenders of Jerusalem had plenty of time to prepare defensive measures. But the city was weakened by discord between Zealots and moderates. Titus had a force of 70,000, while the defenders of Jerusalem numbered about 35,000.

When Titus besieged Jerusalem in 70 AD, it held out for six months.

The defenders, even when reduced to the last extremes of famine, contested every position inch by inch, and when Titus carried the last two strongholds, the plateau of the Temple and the citadel, he occupied little else but a field of ruins.11

Cary and Scullard compare the spirited defense of Jerusalem to the defense of Carthage, when it was besieged by Scipio Aemilianus in 146 BC.

After the fall of Jerusalem, some Jewish fortresses still held out, such as Masada. The siege of Masada lasted for six months, and ended with the defenders committing suicide.

This is called The First Jewish-Roman War (there were also Jewish-Roman wars in 115 AD and 132 AD). Most of the Jews who survived the war were sold into slavery. The Sanhedrin, the Jewish council, was abolished, a legion was stationed in Jerusalem, the Jews weren’t allowed to rebuild the Temple, and Jewish proselytizing was banned. The tax that Jews everywhere had paid to the Temple was sent instead to the temple of Jupiter in Rome, and this tax “was levied by Domitian with inquisitorial rigor.”12 On the other hand, Jews everywhere were still exempted from worshipping emperors.

In 71 AD, having suppressed the Jewish revolt, and the revolts of Civilis and Classicus, Vespasian closed the doors of the temple of Janus, which were kept open in wartime.

D. Britain

In 43 AD, Claudius invaded Britain, and conquered much of the south and east of the country. Around 70 AD, Vespasian decided to enlarge the Roman domain; he probably felt that the new borders would be more secure than the old borders.13 This was often the motive for Roman conquests: “Our borders aren’t secure, they’re being crossed by raiding parties, but if we extend our borders, we’ll enjoy greater security.” Cary and Scullard describe this as “protective advance.”14

So Vespasian sent troops north toward York, and west toward Wales. The Romans built forts and roads as they advanced. The Roman commanders were Cerialis (a relative of Vespasian who had suppressed the revolts of Civilis and Classicus) and Agricola (father-in-law of the historian Tacitus, and the subject of a short biography by Tacitus).

In 79 AD, Agricola pushed north to the line of Hadrian’s Wall (Hadrian’s Wall was built about fifty years later). This line, formed by the River Tyne in the east and the Solway Firth in the west, is slightly south of the current border of Scotland. In 81 AD, Agricola pushed further north, to the line of the Antonine Wall. The Antonine Wall, built about twenty years after Hadrian’s Wall, ran from the Firth of Forth in the east to the Firth of Clyde in the west; this line is north of the current border of Scotland.

Hadrian’s Wall (green), the current border of Scotland (red), Antonine Wall (brown)

In 83 AD, during the reign of Domitian, Agricola pushed yet further north, overrunning the lowlands north of the Firth of Forth, and defeating the Caledonian tribes at the Battle of Mons Graupius. During his Scottish campaigns, Agricola received support and supplies from his fleet. After the Battle of Mons Graupius, he sent his fleet on an exploring mission around the northern tip of Britain, and probably down Britain’s west coast. In addition to his military campaigns, Agricola tried to Romanize Britain by building cities, promoting education, etc.

Because of trouble on the Danube, Domitian moved a legion from Britain to the Danube region, and abandoned northern Scotland. This prompted Tacitus to write, “Britain was conquered, then immediately let go” (perdomita Britannia et statim omissa). Domitian gave Agricola no other commands, perhaps fearing that this able commander might threaten his own power.

E. The Rhine Frontier

Vespasian’s policy on the Upper Rhine (southern Rhine) was one of “protective advance,” similar to his policy in Britain; he advanced the Roman border east of the Rhine. To eliminate the angle of the Rhine at Basel, he overran the Black Forest, pushing forward to a line from Lake Constance to Strasbourg. Under Domitian, the Romans advanced still further, to the Neckar River. After a series of German raids across the Middle Rhine, Domitian pushed this “eastern line” still further north, beyond the Main River, to the Taunus Mountains.

The Romans marked the border with a frontier-road or limes. Watch-towers were built along the limes. Behind the limes were advance forts, built of earth, and manned by auxiliary troops. Further back, along the Rhine, were bigger forts, wooden forts, manned by legions. (In Britain, too, advance positions were manned by auxiliaries, with legionaries further back.) Cary and Scullard say that Domitian’s advance into Germany was “a great achievement.... Germany remained peaceful and Roman control of the left bank of the Rhine was not challenged until the third century.”15 Taking advantage of the “Rhine Peace,” Domitian transferred two of the eight Rhine legions to the Lower Danube (eastern Danube), which was now a “trouble spot.”

F. The Danube Frontier

In 85 AD, there was trouble on the Lower Danube: the tribes of Dacia (western Romania, Transylvania), united by a chief named Decebalus, invaded Roman territory, and inflicted multiple defeats on Roman armies. Finally, in 88 AD, a general named Tettius Iulianus, invaded Dacia and defeated Decebalus. After this victory, Domitian abruptly halted the campaign, and made a deal with Decebalus: Decebalus acknowledged Roman sovereignty, and became a vassal of Rome, and in return Domitian left Decebalus in control of Dacia, made payments to him, and loaned him Roman engineers to build defensive works.

Domitian wanted to bring the Dacian campaign to a swift conclusion because two problems had flared up: a Roman commander on the Rhine, Antonius Saturninus, had revolted, and German tribes were threatening the province of Pannonia. So Domitian hurried west (he was often personally involved in military campaigns) but before he reached the Rhine, the revolt was suppressed by Rhine legions that had remained loyal. As for the Pannonian problem, it was soon brought under control.

Domitian tried to strengthen the Danube border: he stationed nine legions along the Danube, from Vienna to the Black Sea, and he defended the Lower Danube with “a great earth vallum, with thirty-five forts about a mile apart.”16

The Danube River

G. Opposition to the Flavians

In general, Vespasian was popular, and “he was hailed as the restitutor orbis.”17 But some Stoic and Cynic philosophers were critical of Vespasian, and also of Domitian. Some Cynics had a libertarian bent, and “preached political anarchy.” Some Stoics, like Thrasea Paetus and Helvidius Priscus, had objected to Nero’s rule, and this dissent continued under Vespasian. Some philosophers objected to Vespasian’s plan to have his sons succeed him (we discussed this in an earlier issue).

Finally Vespasian lost patience with the philosophers, and expelled them from Italy; he executed Helvidius Priscus. Expulsion orders were never permanently effective, so Domitian repeated his father’s expulsion order twice. Two famous philosophers were among those expelled by Domitian: Epictetus and Dio Chrysostom. Domitian executed two senators who wrote laudatory biographies of Thrasea Paetus and Helvidius Priscus.

Domitian was gradually caught in the vicious circle that had caught earlier emperors: a real revolt made him suspect other revolts and conspiracies; his crackdown on imaginary conspiracies made him hated, and prompted real conspiracies; the more senators he executed, the more tried to overthrow him before being executed themselves. “Many eminent men were condemned in the terror.”18

Finally Domitian’s wife, who may have feared execution herself, had her servant kill Domitian. The Senate condemned Domitian’s memory, erased his name from monuments, etc. Historians added their voices to the chorus, and criticized Domitian as a despot. But in some respects, Domitian was a good ruler: “At the end of his reign the Roman world as a whole was no less contented and prosperous than at the death of Augustus.” Domitian’s Reign of Terror was scarcely felt outside Rome; for most of the empire, Domitian was a good ruler.

© L. James Hammond 2015
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1. Wikipedia back
2. Lower Germany was in northern Germany, north of “Upper Germany.” Since the Rhine flows north, we can think of northern Germany as “lower” than southern Germany (rivers flow from higher ground to lower ground). back
3. Ch. 35, #3 back
4. Ch. 35, #3-4 back
5. Ch. 35, #4 back
6. Ch. 36, #5. Vetera is now the German city of Xanten, “known for its Archaeological Park, one of the largest archaeological open air museums in the world.” back
7. Ch. 36, #1 back
8. The first nine emperors were Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian. back
9. The fall of Jerusalem is the setting of a novel by Rider Haggard called Pearl Maiden. back
10. Ch. 36, #1 back
11. Ch. 36, #4 back
12. Ch. 36, #4. The Temple that was destroyed was the Second Temple. The First Temple (sometimes called Solomon’s Temple) was destroyed in 587 BC by Nebuchadnezzar. back
13. “The Romans made the same discovery as the Norman and Plantagenet rulers of a later day, that the English lowlands might be held more securely by taking in part of the adjacent hill-country.”(Ch. 36, #6) back
14. Ch. 36, #7 back
15. Ch. 36, #7 back
16. Ch. 36, #7 back
17. Ch. 36, #10 back
18. Ch. 36, #10 back