Stabiae exhibition in Michigan

Looks an interesting exhibition. Take no notice of the couple of slips in the Latin.

Exhibit shows how wealthy Romans lived

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

By Roger Green
Booth Arts Writer

TOLEDO, Ohio — People know about Pompeii, and to a lesser extent Herculaneum. Both Roman cities were destroyed when Mount Vesiuvius erupted in 79 A.D. — a calamity detailed in books, poems and lately epic films.

Less familiar is Stabiano, a nearby villa colony on the Bay of Naples, where ancient Rome's rich and powerful summered. Stabiano also was buried in pumice and ash when Vesiuvius exploded, and has since been excavated. Archaeological digs, begun in 1749 and still progressing, show that home life for Rome's super-privileged was privileged indeed.

Finds from digs demonstrate how visually splendid and technologically advanced Stabiano's seaside villas were. Relatively under-appreciated till now, the sumptuous villas are examined in a stunning traveling exhibit, “In Stabiano,” at the Toledo Museum of Art through Jan. 28.

Displayed at the museum are detailed scale models, floor plans, sculptures, artifacts and fragments of the complex frescoes that once adorned interior walls. Also featured are virtual tours of computer-re-created villas, in all their pristine, chromatic glory.

Four mega villas and one so-called villae rusticae — the luxurious dwelling place on a working farm — are explored. From text, we learn that these sumptuous residences covered enormous areas: the Villa Arianna, for example, encompassed more than 150,000 square feet, the Villa del Pastore more than 200,000. Constructed on terraced levels, the sprawling villas included tunnels, ramps and upper rooms arranged to frame views of gardens and Naples' bay.

The disposition of rooms and their uses followed strict conventions; because the villas were used both for living and conducting business — read power brokering — social status and public/private distinctions were issues. Galleries at the museum are arranged in imitation of the villas' major spaces.

These included the atrium or main hall, to which all visitors were admitted. Other spaces, progressively more private, were the tablinum (library), triclinium (dining room) and cubicula (bedrooms). Also included were the culina (kitchen) and balnae (baths).

The gallery re-creating the triclinium is the most elaborate and instructive for illustrating Roman standards of luxury. A so-called three-couch dining room, it was originally furnished with low couches on which diners reclined. Food was arrayed on a large central table (mensa) or on several smaller ones. The couches were positioned in thoughtful relation to garden views.

Decorating three walls are preserved frescoes portraying Bacchus, Neptune, Ceres and other mythological figures. The frescoes, from Stabiano's Villa Carmiano, evidenced the owner's prestige and wealth, and were intended to dazzle visiting politicos and business clients.

In all, the exhibit includes 26 fresco fragments portraying mythological figures. The remaining frescoes are smaller than those on the triclinium's walls, but no less important historically. Fortuitously preserved by ash, the Stabiano frescoes count among the very few examples of Roman painting extant today.

Most surprising is the ingeniousness of the villas' baths, with their sophisticated plumbing. The Villa Petraro, for example, included a thermal complex in the classic Roman style: Three, progressively cooler baths — calidarium, tepidarium and frigidarium — permitted users to therapeutically open and close their pores. Heat from furnaces came from hidden clay pipes.

Today's mega mansions have nothing on Stabiano's villas. Visitors to the exhibit may regret the comparative modesty of even luxury, contemporary housing. But they'll leave understanding the tradition to which such housing belongs.

YOU GO: The Toledo Museum of Art is at 2445 Monroe St. Hours are 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (to 10 p.m. Friday) and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call (419) 255-8000 or access

To contact Roger Green, call (734) 994-6955 or e-mail

Opportunity in the government's gifted and talented scheme

The number of children included in the Government's Gifted and Talented scheme is to be increased to 10% of all pupils. This version of the story, from This is London, suggests activities for the G&T: Mandarin, Summer School at a university, or a NASA course. I have nothing against Mandarin. I studied it for 2 years at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London University, and obtained a Civil Service Interpretership in it. But Latin must be there among the options offered. The Classical organisations like JACT and ARLT are good at Summer Schools. Let's start planning one NOW for the G&T students. It could be run by JACT, by ARLT, by the Cambridge Schools Classics Project, by Madingley Hall, by Friends of Classics, by Oxford Classics Outreach. Come on! Who will take up the challenge? Government money is there.

And, to rival a week doing maths at a NASA-run course, what about having an Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome week with travel and lectures/classes?

Mentioned on BBC Radio 4 news was on-line courses as well. Leap in, CSCP! The Centre for British Teachers who are running the show need to hear from us very, very soon.

Vouchers to be given to 'gifted and talented' students for extra classes


Bright pupils are to be given vouchers to buy extra classes as part of a national talent-spotting drive that begins next month.

All schools will be ordered in January to provide the names of the top 10 per cent of their pupils in an expansion of the Government's “gifted and talented” programme.

This elite will be given “credits” – the vouchers – which they will be able to exchange for extra courses, which could be a Saturday class in Mandarin, a summer school at a university or even a maths and science programme run by American space agency Nasa.

Ministers want schools to give special consideration to bright children from poor families whose “potential” has not been fulfilled, in a bid to stop middle-class parents monopolising the scheme.

The Government already requires secondary schools to identify children in the top five per cent of their intake, as measured by results achieved in national English and maths tests at the end of primary education, and put them forward for programmes run by the National Academy of Gifted and Talented Youth based at Warwick University.

But Lord Adonis, the architect of this scheme, has moved to double its size after becoming frustrated with the slow progress many comprehensives have made in identifying bright pupils.

He said: “The national register set up earlier this year will enable thousands more gifted and talented children to be identified, especially late developers and those underachieving because of social disadvantage.

“This register will ensure they are identified early and get the appropriate learning opportunities.”

Teachers who are ideologically opposed to spotlighting the brightest have succeeded in stifling the scheme to such an extent that about 30 per cent of secondary schools have failed to put forward any pupils.

The Government's scheme will be administered by the not-for-profit Centre for British Teachers. Start-up funding of £65 million will pay for the courses.

Children will initially get 151 credits. A place at a university summer school might cost 100 credits, an evening online course 50 or a Saturday morning class 80.

Tim Emmett, the teacher centre's development director, said middle class pupils would not be excluded.

But he added: “The Government is seeing this as part of school improvement rather than a lifeboat for a few bright children.

“If you can raise the meter for 10 per cent of children in a school you can do it for the other 90 per cent as well.”

Philippines=Horatius; USA=the Etruscans

The parallel drawn with Horatius keeping the bridge is the Classical reference in this piece. You may be interested also in the feeling expressed by the Philippines writer, that the USA is trying to use its economic and military might to force the Philippines into releasing an American rapist.


The Philippine Star

There is a story told about a legendary Roman captain of the bridge which spanned the Tiber River to Rome. At end of the sixth century B.C., when Rome was not yet the great empire it became later, it was engaged in a war with the Etruscans who inhabited the other side of the Tiber.

During the war, the Etruscans marched toward Rome with thousands of horsemen and foot soldiers. The Romans then did not have too many fighting men. They knew that if the Etruscan army captured that bridge, the way to Rome would be clear.

But Horatius, the captain of the bridge, decided to fight at the other side of the bridge and prevent the enemy from crossing. He ordered some of his men to tear the bridge down. While they did that, Horatius, with only two men at his side, would block the advancing foe, or die trying.

When the bridge began to sway, Horatius told his comrades to run to the other side. Alone, the legend goes, he continued to hold off the enemy. As the bridge began to fall, he ran toward the other side. Before it collapsed on him, he jumped, clad in heavy armor, into the river. The Etruscans were unable to cross. Rome was saved!

I am reminded of this legend by the reported cancellation of the US government of Balikatan 2007, the joint military training exercise of US and Filipino troops. The reason cited by the US Embassy was the “current custody issue that’s still working its way through the Philippine judicial system.”

That “custody issue” involves US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith who was recently convicted by the Makati regional trial court of the crime of rape. The US, citing the Visiting Forces Agreement, demanded custody of Smith at the US Embassy while his appeals wound their way through Philippine courts.

Judge Benjamin Pozon of the Makati RTC, reading the same VFA, had ordered the temporary custody of Smith at the Makati city jail, until the appropriate authorities of the Philippine and US governments reached an agreement on the facilities where detention or confinement by Philippine authorities would be carried out.

The US argues that the VFA grants custody of Smith to the US until all appeals are completed. Judge Pozon ruled that the particular provision on which the US relies applies only until completion of trial and rendition of judgment.

Our law also provides that a judge may order a person convicted of a capital crime held at the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa until his appeals are resolved. But in light of the VFA, Judge Pozon issued the order for temporary custody described above.

Certain “agreements” executed after promulgation of the Pozon decision, which purported to grant custody to the US Embassy, were unavailing, the Judge said. Those agreements were not signed on behalf of the Philippines by legally authorized officials. Further, the US Embassy was not the “facility” referred to in the VFA for “confinement or detention by the Philippines.”

The US insists that the Philippines should respect its treaty obligations. The assumption is that the VFA is absolutely clear on the obligations of the Philippines on the custody issue. However, the language of the VFA on the matter is ambiguous.

Both parties recognize that since the crime of rape is within Philippine jurisdiction under the VFA, the matter will be decided ultimately by the Supreme Court. Smith’s appeal of his conviction and place of custody is still before the Court of Appeals.

In the meantime, the US has begun to turn the screws and has cancelled Balikatan 2007. Some senators charge that the cancellation smacks of blackmail. Malacañang, on the other hand, considers it a “setback.”

The US has reportedly pulled back some soldiers engaged in relief work in typhoon-ravaged Bicol, a real class act. Its military explains it’s worried about the “legal rights” of American soldiers while in this country.

One Palace legal adviser has publicly declared that the Executive has the final say on custody. Anyway, he says, all our courts can do is to cite the Executive for contempt. Not a big deal, he seems to think. Nonetheless, he acknowledges that the government will let the appellate courts handle the matter.

Our government is evidently worried that a rift with the US will prejudice our military modernization program, which presumably is tied to the VFA. One question this raises, though, is the wisdom of showing weakness in the very first case on criminal jurisdiction coming under the VFA, particularly when the text of that agreement is ambiguous on the issue of custody after conviction by a trial court.

Another question is what is meant by “modernization,” in relation to military assistance we’re getting from the US. This “assistance” usually consists of discarded, reconditioned equipment which, to be sure, are quite serviceable, but whose reliability is largely dependent on US willingness to provide spare parts and maintenance training.

But it appears the country is now more financially capable to acquire military equipment, pursuant to approved national security plans. These plans reflect a realistic appraisal of our current security needs. We have eschewed “beauty contests” with neighboring countries which flaunt advanced fighter jets and high-tech armament.

This implies we can look to other suppliers and not depend on the US for equipment supplies and maintenance. The US will have to compete with other arms suppliers and would not be the only game in town.

The matter is clearly in our country’s court. Diplomatic pressure is a fact of international relations. It’s up to us to determine whether or not the pressure is irresistible. It won’t be the first time the President runs the risk of displeasing Washington. Remember her withdrawal of the AFP contingent from Iraq?

Oh yeah, about Horatius, Romans who saw him jump into the Tiber as the bridge collapsed feared he would drown in the raging current, under the weight of his own armor. But he surprised everyone by safely reaching the city side of the river. Although an Etruscan arrow put out one eye, Horatius lived out his days as a farmer on land awarded him for his heroism. Grateful Romans erected a fine brass statue in his honor.

I guess the simple lesson the legend of Horatius teaches us is that sometimes, despite seemingly insurmountable odds, political courage pays off.

Merry Christmas

ARLT Blog wishes a Merry Christmas to all readers.

Sallust and moralising historians

I particularly appreciate the phrase 'clueless in Gaza'. Milton fans will get the echo.

T.R. Fehrenbach: Society can learn much from ancient examples

Web Posted: 12/23/2006 01:00 PM CST

San Antonio Express-News

The Roman historian Sallust described the erosion of the old Roman values during the crisis of the Republic. These were the values and virtues that had carried Rome through the Punic wars — 70,000 legionaries slain at Cannae, 400 settlements destroyed, hundreds of thousands of Italians dead — and later sustained her conquest of the world.

“The very people,” Sallust wrote, “who easily endured hardship, dangers, and uncertain and difficult situations now found that leisure and wealth — desirable at any other time — became burdensome and destructive. The love of money grew first; the love of power followed. This was, so to speak, the root of all evil. Greed undermined loyalty, honesty, and the other virtues. In their place it taught arrogance, cruelty, disregard for the gods and the view that everything was for sale.”

Sallust, like other Roman writers of his era, believed that power, wealth and luxury destroyed virtuous Roman society. The result was the downfall of the Republic. These views strongly influenced the modern idea that Romans were ruined by luxury and corruption.

Modern historians dislike Sallust because of his moralizing. A moral view of history has long been unfashionable. Sallust makes us uncomfortable, because he could be describing an America reaching unprecedented wealth and power overnight, or, not to put too fine a point on it, moralizing Republicans loving both money and office.

However, Sallust may have known what he wrote about. He was a failed, and by all accounts, corrupt politician. He began his career as a partisan of the rabble-rouser Clodius and as tribune, attacked men such as Cicero. Expelled from the Roman Senate, he backed Julius Caesar and became praetor. But then he was prosecuted for extortion during a North African command. Caesar quashed the case, but Sallust was forced to retire from public life. He then took up writing history, inventing the monograph, with much greater success.

Actually the Romans believed all history was moral history. The Roman mind was not so subtle as the Greek. It judged historical personages as good or bad, true or false; character was everything; one did it or failed. There was little of the shoulda, coulda, woulda attitudes our legal minds have made infamous. And for what it's worth, some of our more eminent historians such as Niall Ferguson are reviving moral analysis of the past today.

I tend toward this myself. Writing in an age of philistine education and determined historical ignorance, it is often hard not to moralize or preach. For example, there are still people who lived in the 20th century who profess not to believe in human evil. If such willful ignorance remains invincible, history will repeat, and repeat again, while clueless in Gaza, our species tries to survive.

Just as alcoholics can't cure themselves until they admit their failing, I think we shall never subdue the dark forces that lie latent within us all until we recognize our nature. What can we learn from Roman history? Pretty much the same that we might have learned from 1901-2000, had anyone been looking.

First, that there have been and will be ethnic tensions so long as there are ethnicities. Romans had unpleasant experiences with Carthaginians, Greeks and Jews, plus a host of minor types. Second, that these wars increase when and if empires decay. The end of the British, French, Ottoman and Russian empires assured the bloody, messy world that we now view with alarm. Third, that profound economic change or deprivation unsettles governments and peoples and tends them toward belligerency. (We have no ethnic or imperialistic quarrel with China, but perceive the paranoia.)

As for moral questions, Romans revealed that seemingly intelligent actions lead peoples to the abyss, and that the more power women possess, the greater their licentiousness. But who among us would touch those themes?

Amo, amas, – ah! I've found it!

The post on Mount's book Amo amas amat has had two comments – which is a deluge for this blog!

Tom Cotton writes:

The final straw for me was the ad hominem attack on Will Griffiths (p. 260; I know almost nothing of Griffiths or his work). Whatever be the reason for this, Mount produces it more-or-less out of the blue. Perhaps we should be charitable and believe that he was carried away when re-reading the less polite verses of Catullus and Martial.

I believe I have found the reason. This final chapter is the re-jigging of a Spectator article that Mount refers to on the last page of acknowledgments. I noted it last year, when it was already a year old. If you are interested, the link is in the blog entry here.

I didn't take it seriously at the time – how many people read the Spectator? But now that it has been used as a filler in the book the misinformation in it needs to be stoutly contradicted.

Cambridge Latin Course users please write

Another email that I pass on to you:

Dear colleague,

As you may know, the Cambridge Latin Course Book I E-Learning Resource has been shortlisted for an award at next month's BETT Educational Technology Show – the world's largest and most successful technology in education show.

We are very proud even to have been shortlisted for such a prestigious award. Winning would help to generate positive publicity for Latin, as well as strengthening the argument for further DfES support for digital resources
in the subject.

The organisers of the event have established a blog where they would like those who have used the software to leave their comments. If you and your students have enjoyed using the DVD this year, we would be very grateful if you would spend a few minutes to add your comments to the blog:

All those who have enjoyed the Book I DVD will be pleased to know that we are almost there with the Book II DVD, and our team will be working throughout the Christmas period to bring it to you as soon as possible.

Merry Christmas,

Will Griffiths

Christmas cracker joke

Courtesy of BBC Radio 4:

What do you call Santa's little helper?
A Subordinate Claus(e)

Roman politics and the birth and death of Christ

Classics teachers may enjoy sorting out history, speculation and legend in the following, from Renew America.
Issues analysis
Roman politics and the birth and death of Christ
Special Christmas 2006 feature

December 21, 2006
Fred Hutchison
RenewAmerica analyst

Augustus Caesar's actions in Rome started a chain of events that governed the circumstances of Christ's birth in Bethlehem. Tiberius Caesar, who followed Augustus on the imperial throne, also set in motion a chain of events in Rome that led to the death of Christ in Jerusalem. We shall consider how these two events are linked.

Our journey to Bethlehem this year begins in Rome during a great festival.

Augustus Caesar and the year of jubilee

The year 2 B.C. was the 25th anniversary of the reign of Augustus Caesar and the 750th anniversary of the founding of Rome by the legendary Romulus. Romans throughout the empire celebrated for a year and called it The Jubilee Year of Augustus.

Augustus dedicated the new Roman Forum in his name. The Senate conferred on him the title Pater Patria, or “Father of His Country,” and Princeps Pacis, or “Prince of Peace.” The oracles said that the kingdom of Augustus would usher in a new era of peace on earth.

Augustus (originally named Octavion) had restored the empire after a long, devastating civil war and brought peace, stability, and prosperity to the Roman world. He was hailed as “Savior” and “Bringer of Glad Tidings” throughout the Empire.

The Romans in Italy worshiped the “genius” of the emperor. In some of the eastern provinces, a cult of emperor worship hailed Augustus as a god. They called him “God, the Son of God,” and “The Long Awaited Messiah.” Provincial councils used ceremonial rites performed by the “Augustinales,” the priesthood of the cult of emperor worship.

Augustus was the Pontifex Maximus or High Priest of the Ancient Roman College of Pontiffs (priests), a polytheistic sacerdotal Roman religious and civic cult. Since the Roman father was the priest of the household gods, it was fitting that Augustus, the Father of His Country, was the chief priest of Rome.

Piety, patriotism, and virtue

Augustus was worried about the general decline in the belief in the gods in Rome and the decline of the Roman family and Roman virtue. He hoped that the Jubilee year would help to revive the old Roman religion and Roman virtues throughout the empire.

As a conservative Roman of religious and stoic sentiments, Augustus promoted family values and Roman virtues. He was alarmed that many urban Romans were avoiding marriage and child bearing. He pushed through laws that punished adultery, promiscuity, singleness, contraception, abortion, and infanticide, and rewarded marriage and children. Wives who bore three or more children were elevated in legal status.

Romans combined religious piety, virtue, and patriotism. The cult of the family hearth, fatherhood, the ancestors, the country, the gods, and virtue were all wrapped up into one tight religious bundle. Rome was the holy city of the Romans as Jerusalem was the holy city to the Jews. For the celebrated Horatius, to defend Rome was to serve the gods and to venerate his forefathers.

“Then out spoke brave Horatius,/ The captain of the gate,/ 'To every man upon the earth/ Death cometh soon or late./ Then how can man die better/ Than facing fearful odds,/ For the ashes of his fathers,/ And the altars of his gods.'” (Horatius by Lord Macaulay)

Augustus, the “republican” emperor

The rise to power of the young Octavion (Augustus) during a civil war when powerful men were competing for the throne was a tour de force of calculated maneuver. He needed all the wits he used to gain the throne to stay on the throne.

Augustus remembered how a cabal of senators had murdered his great uncle, Julius Caesar, when he got too ambitious. Secret partisans of Brutus and Mark Anthony were still in Rome. Some senators feared Augustus' rise to power, mourned the loss of the republic, and resented the diminishment of their freedoms, privileges, and power.

Augustus carefully preserved the ostentatious rites, ceremonies, protocols, offices, and dignities of the republic, while steadily increasing the real power in his own hands. He tried to combine the central control of a dictatorship with the illusion of a republic accompanied by republican virtue, piety, and patriotism. He attempted to keep his power unobtrusive to the Senate and invisible to the people.

Augustus professionalized the army and used it to keep order. He encouraged commerce and established a sound currency to bring prosperity to Rome. He reformed government and made it honest. He built highways, aqueducts, bridges, public works, and public buildings. “I found Rome in brick and left it in marble,” was his boast. Only Hadrian in the second century was able to surpass Augustus as a builder.

Augustus was an accomplished writer. The only Roman rulers who surpassed him as an author were Julius Caesar and Marcus Aurelius. Augustus sponsored a revival of literature. Virgil, Horace, Livy, Ovid, and Strabo lived and thrived during his reign. Augustus encouraged Virgil to write the Aeneid, which became the national patriotic epic of the Roman Empire and is still regarded as a literary classic today.

Planning for the jubilee

Augustus hoped to use the jubilee year to renew the Roman belief in the gods, confirm the legitimacy of his throne, and memorialize his long reign. He put a lot of planning into the jubilee ceremonies.

Augustus sent out a decree that required all Romans and citizens of rank to register at a census. There were two kinds of Roman census: a census for taxing and a census for a loyalty oath to Rome. The new census was for a loyalty oath.

The citizens had to swear by the gods that neither they nor their offspring would usurp the Roman throne. The census registration in the eastern provinces was due by the 8–7 B.C. period. The loyalty oath was to be taken in the autumn of 3 B.C. The Roman people had to register their universal approval of Augustus before he could receive the title “Father of the Country” during the ceremonies of 2 B.C.

The title would be questionable if the eastern provinces of the empire failed to take the census. This brings the tiny province of Judea, in the distant Levant, into our story.

Varus botches the census

Publius Quinctilius Varus was the Roman governor of Syria, of which Judea was a province. Varus was an incompetent administrator. The census, due by the years 8–7 B.C., was late. Augustus sent Publius Sulpicius Quirinius to Syria in 4 B.C., ostensibly on a military campaign, but with a second purpose of getting the census done. Quirinius is associated with the census in Luke 2:2. Luke probably intended to call Quirinius the “Commander,” but in translation it came out “Governor.” Technically, Varus had the title of Governor. In time, Augustus promoted the competent Quirinius to Governor of Syria and demoted the incompetent Varus.

When Augustus sent Quirinius to Syria, it proved to be the political undoing of both Varus and Herod the Great.

Herod botches the census

Caesar ordered Herod to suppress robbers in Arabia, and Herod failed. There is reason to suppose that one of the tasks of Quirinius' military campaign was to suppress the raiders — something that neither Varus nor Herod was able to do. It is probable that Herod was supposed to assist with the census in Judea and botched that job as well.

If the census was for Romans, were not the Jews exempt? Jews of high rank were part of the social order and were not exempt. Jews who descended from King David, like Mary and Joseph in Nazareth, were considered politically important people by the Romans, even if they had fallen on hard times and had to earn their living with jobs such as carpentry.

Why did Herod botch the census? Perhaps he was reluctant because a census would reveal those Jews with a better claim to the throne than him. Herod was not of aristocratic descent, nor was he a Jew, but was an Idumean, born in Edom. Roman power kept Herod on the throne because he was universally hated by the Jews. Their hatred of him might have been expressed in resisting the census.

The Jews probably resented the census because it meant taking an oath on false gods to pledge eternal loyalty to Rome, thereby foreswearing having a true king of their own, instead of Herod, a Roman satrap. Such a census would require a very stern, efficient, and powerful man to push through. Quirinius was such a man, and Herod was not.

Augustus was angry with Herod for failing to stop the Arabian bandits and for botching the census. He removed Herod's title of “Friend of Caesar” and demoted him to the status of “subject.” Quirinius, no doubt, made a sharp point of Herod's lower status when he demanded cooperation with the census. Herod's throne was dangling by a thread.

Rich visitors from Persia

Herod was in a state of paranoia when a troupe of rich Persians came to town. They were Magian priests from the royal court of Persia, a great imperial power equal to Rome in wealth and power. Persia had great prestige in the Levant, due to events of recent military history.

The defeat of Mark Anthony's Roman legions by the “Parthians,” who ruled the Persian Empire, was still a sting to Roman pride. The Persian massacre of the army of Crassus, the political partner of Julius Caesar, was the most ignominious defeat of Roman arms since Rome faced the great Hannibal. Therefore, great men like the Magi, from the court of Persia, had great prestige in Judea.

The Persian visitors wore rich garments, carried expensive gifts, and spoke a fluent and elegant Greek and Latin. They were Persian aristocrats and priests, scholars, astrologers, prophets, courtiers, and diplomats. They claimed to have followed a star to Jerusalem. The Magi sent messengers throughout the town asking, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” They announced that the son of David, the true king of Israel, had been born. Herod must have wondered if they came to reestablish the royal house of David as kings of Israel. Let us listen in on Herod's thoughts:

“Are the Persians planning to throw the Romans out, and replace me, who they see as the puppet king of the Romans, their hated enemies? Did the Persians notice that Roman power in the Levant has waned so that they could not even get a census done?

“Historically, the Persians favored the Jews allowing those in captivity to return to Israel. Legend has it that the Persian prophet Zoroaster met the Jewish prophet Daniel in the court, and borrowed some of his ideas about the One True God. Do the Zoroastrian Persians still regard Judea as their natural protectorate, because we are their brothers under the One True God? Do the Persians prefer a king descended from King David, a prophet of The One True God, to sit on the throne in Jerusalem? The Magi seem to think that the baby king is a divinity to be worshiped and a great potentate to be appeased with costly gifts.

“I noticed that they had no gifts for me and offered me the all the courtesy due a minor official. They winced when I tried to speak Greek. Compared to the royal Son of David, I must cut a poor figure in Persian eyes as an Edomite of common blood, and an errand boy for Rome!”

Herod in a trap

Herod's throne faced dangers from four directions: a threat from Rome, a threat from Persians, a threat from the discontented Jews, and a threat that the house of David would rise again. Once again, let us listen to his thoughts:

“If the Jews find out that their true king is born, will they rise up and throw me off the throne? The people still hate me in spite of the city walls and the great temple that I built for them. Ezra the temple builder and Nehemiah the wall-builder are held in high esteem, but Herod who built city walls on the Roman scale and a great temple fit to impress a Persian monarch is despised! Miserable Jewish ingrates!

“Perhaps the Jewish priests will parley with Quirinius to give them a real king, now that Augustus has publicly shamed me by removing my title as 'Friend of Caesar.' Or , maybe the Jewish priests will make a deal with the Magian priests who are probably diplomats from Persia. After all, priests of Jehovah and priests of Zoroaster have much in common and can make deals. Surely their story of following a star was a ruse, and their true reason for coming to Jerusalem is political.”

These were by no means idle speculations by Herod, because the Parthian-Persians had invaded Judea in 40 B.C. and drove him out of the city. Herod fled to Rome, where the Senate declared him to be “The King of the Jews.” But that was 36 years before the Magi came, and the Senate had grown fickle and equivocal under Augustus.

The royal son of David must die!

The birth of the son of David and the visit of the Magi brought the old terrors of the Persian invasion back to Herod's memory: “If the Persians return with an army to put the Son of David on the throne, where will I flee for refuge this time? Back to the fickle Senate? To the stern Quirinius? Into the arms of the angry Augustus? Even the Edomites don't want me, because I pretended to be a Jew.

“What if the baby king's identity is enrolled in the Roman census and noticed by the Roman scribes during the Jubilee year? Then Augustus would find out about the infant son of David. The discovery of the true King of the Jews would give Augustus a pretext for going to the Senate to officially remove me from the throne.

“The new-born king is a threat to my throne and to the reign of my descendants. The royal son of David must die!

“However, I must pretend to be sympathetic to the Magi. I must not get on the wrong side of the mighty Persians who eat Roman armies for breakfast. If the Persians take over, I must be seen as sharing their commitment to the infant king. The Magian priests intend to worship the babe. They either are insane with mysticism or building a case that the young king is anointed by heaven! I must bite my tongue and go along with their folly, or their ruse.

“Hmmm. If the baby should happen to die or disappear, the Persian interest in Judea might fade. Men in the night have long knives. If the baby somehow survives in spite of all hazards, perhaps the grateful Persians will allow me to be a Persian satrap and the protector of the young king until he comes of age. I could defy Augustus, that pagan dog, with impunity! Hmmm. As protector of the young king, I might not be able to prevent the royal prince from having an accident.”

Herod understood all about such “accidents,” because his sister, two brothers-in-law, and a mother-in-law had “accidents.” His wife and sons avoided accidents, but were condemned to death.

Bethlehem 4 B.C.

Quirinius appeared on the scene in 4 B.C., and Herod died in 4 B.C., shortly after Christ was born. Therefore, I assume that Christ was born in 4 B.C.

Quirinius appeared in the Levant and immediately got the stalled census going. Joseph and Mary were forced to start traveling towards Bethlehem. Roman urgency would not tolerate delay, even for a women in late pregnancy. In rapid sequence, Christ was born in Bethlehem, the holy family fled to Egypt, Herod killed the babies of Bethlehem, and Herod died. All these events were compressed into a single year.

Jewish and Roman record-keeping

Quirinius was able to get the administrative machinery for the census moving in a short time because of serendipitous compatibilities between Roman administration and Jewish administration.

Joshua had established the Jewish record-keeping system to connect all the generations of a family to a specific geographical place. Every family in Israel was identified with a parcel of land for all time, in order to fulfill a promise of land made by Abraham. The system was effective for calling out the families, clans, and tribes to war or to parley. It ensured that men of an ancestral Israelite family were available to work each parcel of land. The system avoided rural landless destitution, encouraged the conservation of resources during famine, and brought relief to widows and orphans.

Quirinius noticed that Jewish customs curiously matched Roman administration for facilitating a census. Roman provinces had archive cities where people in each province could go for a census. Roman administrative machinery was well adapted to the requirement that Jews go to their ancestral home to register.

Hazards for the family from Nazareth

Going to Bethlehem posed great dangers to the little family from Nazareth. If they registered for the census they would be required to take Augustus' oath the following year. As devout Jews, Mary and Joseph could not swear by the Roman gods. If they refused to swear that they would not usurp Caesar's throne, they might be suspected of plotting to set up their royal son on David's throne. If Mary and Joseph crumbled under pressure and took the oath, they might nullify the right of Jesus to be the King of the Jews.

Going to Bethlehem put the baby in danger of the wrath of Herod. The Jewish scholars told Herod that the promised ruler foretold by the prophets would be born in Bethlehem. How were the parents to hide the babe from Herod's troops?

The holy family fled to Egypt, as an angel warned Joseph to do, and the baby was safe from Herod's wrath. They stayed in Egypt until after the time for taking the oath in the autumn of 3 B.C., and were off the hook with Rome.

Providential ironies

In the midst of all this commotion about the founding of new kingdoms, God's chosen king was born. However, Jesus Christ was not to sit on David's throne during his mortal life. He will sit on David's throne in Jerusalem when he returns again to claim his kingdom. Therefore, the enthusiastic dreams of the Magi who gave gifts to the holy king and the murderous fears of Herod were in vain.

The greatest irony of all was that the enrollment of the son of David in the Roman census was not noticed in Rome. Or, perhaps Rome took notice of the birth but assumed that the baby was dead, because Herod had slaughtered the Bethlehem babies. Ironically, the jealous Herod had unintentionally protected Christ from Augustus! Jesus could grow up in Nazareth without the Romans suspecting his royal genealogy.

Links between Bethlehem and Calvary

Although the Christmas story is the main subject of this essay, the glad tidings of the birth of Christ are incomplete without the good news of the salvation through the death of Christ. The highest purpose of the incarnation — God manifest in the flesh — was fulfilled when God's Son died on the cross, bearing the sins of the world. As St. Anselm explained with crystalline clarity, if the babe in Bethlehem had not been simultaneously God and man, fully divine and fully human, then Christ's death on the cross would not have had the divine power or human connection to atone for human sin committed against God. Apart from the divine incarnation of Christ, his resurrection from the dead would not have had the supernatural power to impart eternal life.

The remarkable story about how God providentially used Augustus Caesar to set the stage for the birth of Christ has a parallel in an equally remarkable story about how God manipulated the circumstances so that Jesus Christ was crucified under the authority of Tiberius Caesar, but contrary to the policy of Tiberius. The greatest event in history was a mistake caused by an upheaval in the centers of human power. The forces of evil found their way around Tiberius to strike Christ.

The Bethlehem story is about how God protected his Son as a tender human infant on earth. The story of Calvary is about how God removed strong protections that might have spared His Son from harm. In our story, Tiberius Caesar, the natural protector of Christ, was set aside for a season so that Christ could be crucified.

The world weary Tiberius Caesar

Tiberius Caesar, who succeeded Augustus, was one of Rome's greatest generals, the equal in military exploits to Julius Caesar. He was politically adroit when he had a mind to be. However, if the TV series I Claudius is to be believed, he was bored to the point of melancholy by life in the court and hated the vanities and endless intrigues of court. His weakness was the silky courtesans and alluring vamps that sapped Roman virtue. The aging and melancholy emperor retreated with his courtesans to Capri in 26 A.D. and left the administration of Rome in the hands of Sejanus, general of the praetorian guard.

Sejanus, the two faced

Sejanus was indeed a man of great ability and industry, but his true loyalty was to his own ambition. His service to Tiberius was the means by which he won a series of promotions. Sejanus was a clever man, able to deceive a world-weary emperor who was eager to delegate power. Interestingly, the name “Sejanus” means two-faced.

Tiberius, who spent many years in military campaigns, probably met Sejanus in the field and came to trust him in positions of command. He probably assumed that Sejanus was a loyal soldier of Rome like himself, who gloried in manly action in the field, and regarded politics and administration as heavy burdens a good Roman must reluctantly bear for the good of his country. Quite to the contrary, politics is what most interested the ambitious Sejanus. He immersed himself in the intrigues of the court with alacrity.

Tiberius appointed Sejanus as sole commander of the praetorian guard in 15 A.D. In 23 A.D., Drusus, the son of Tiberius, was poisoned and died. He was probably a victim of Sejanus, who feared him as a rival. After the death of Drusus, Sejanus concentrated his power in the Senate and united the praetorian guard into one camp.

Sejanus hoped Tiberius would accept him as a son after the death of Drusus. In 25 A.D., Sejanus attempted to marry Livilla, the daughter of Tiberius, which would make him the son-in-law of Tiberius . Tiberius rejected the match because Senjanus was born as an equestrian (second tier of the Roman elite), not as an aristocrat of the senatorial class. Marrying a step up in social class is accepted today, but was an impiety and no small scandal in patrician Rome. Strangely, Sejanus' unseemly attempt to marry above his social class did not alert Tiberius to the danger of his inordinate personal ambition.

Sejanus and Pilate, men of kindred spirit

Tiberius retired to Capri in 26 A.D. and left Sejanus as Regent of Rome until his heir came of age. Meanwhile, Pontius Pilate was appointed Procurator of Judea in 26 A.D. Since Sejanus always acted promptly when new power came his way, it is reasonable to assume that Sejanus appointed Pilate. Sejanus was 16 years older than Jesus of Nazareth. If Pilate and Sejanus were close in age, then Pilate was about 49 when he condemned Jesus.

Both Sejanus and Pilate were prominent men of the equestrian order, and they might well have been acquaintances in Rome in their youth. It seems likely that they both served as young military officers under Tiberias when he was leading the Roman legions to victory in four Roman provinces. If this is true, then Sejanus' confidence in Pilate was based upon military performance and military comradeship. Sejanus found in Pilate a capable, tough, and like-minded man for one of the toughest assignments in the empire — bringing Roman order to the unruly Jews.

According to legend, Pilate acquired the name Pontius as an honorific title after subduing barbarians at Pontus in Asia minor. While Sejanus was the general of the praetorian guards, Pilate was a general in the east, establishing his credentials to rule an eastern province.

Both Sejanus and Pilate, as tough military veterans, had a harsh approach to rule, and a bloody approach to opposition. Pilate mingled the blood of the Galileans with their sacrifices. (Luke 13:1) As we shall see, both Sejanus and Pilate were strongly anti-Semitic and hostile to Judea, a bias that Caesar did not share. Tiberius subsequently disapproved of Pilate's abusive treatment of the Jews.

The blood purge

In 29 A.D., Livia, wife of Augustus and mother of Tiberius, died. This powerful and crafty woman held Sejanus in check because she was his equal in palace intrigue. After her death, Sejanus was the sole source to Tiberius about news from Rome and was the sole conduit of Tiberius' messages to the world.

Sejanus moved quickly to remove rivals. His first move was to force Agrippina, the daughter-in-law of Tiberius, into exile with her two sons — where they did not live long. Germanicus, the late husband of Agrippina, was the son of Livia, and the adopted son of Tiberias. Germanicus got his name from military victories in Germania. He was heir to the throne, but died at the hands of an unknown poisoner.

However, one rival for the throne eluded Sejanus. Caligula had been under the protection of his powerful grandmother Livia and was hidden in obscurity with his other grandmother. In 31 A.D., Caligula was sent to Capri, where he was under the direct protection of Tiberius. Caligula learned moral depravity at Capri. Sejanus eliminated the competent heirs of Tiberius, leaving the throne open to the depraved Caligula.

Many senators opposed Sejanus, even in the absence of Tiberius and Livia. Sejanus engineered the bloody purge of his opponents, including senators and powerful equestrians. The removal of the restraints on Sejanus seemed to unleash the powers of evil throughout an empire that was increasingly run by men who Sejanus had appointed.

While the blood purge was going on at Rome, Jesus Christ was standing before Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem. If Jesus was born in 4 B.C., as I have assumed, he would have been 33 when he stood before Pilate in 29 A.D.

While blood was flowing from the side of Christ, blood was flowing on the floor of the Senate. The bloody purge of the aristocracy of Rome was accompanied by the bloody death of the Savior of the world.

The fall of the bloody Sejanus

The bloody Sejanus rose two more levels in power. In 30 A.D., he became co-consul with Tiberius. In 31 A.D., Tiberius approved the betrothal of his daughter to Sejanus. As co-consul of Rome, his social standing in Roman society was magnificent enough to marry Caesar's daughter. He was now the son-in-law and the political partner of Tiberius. The death of Tiberias would put Sejanus on the throne. Sejanus immediately started planning the death of Tiberius.

Tiberius found out about the plot just in time and flew into action. He snuck back to Rome by night, persuaded and bullied the praetorian guard to abandon their loyalty to Sejanus, rounded up the Senate, pushed through the condemnation of Sejanus, and had him killed. These maneuvers were carried out with astonishing speed. Tiberius, as one of history's great generals, was still a formidable old lion. He had no rival when speed, adroitness, audacity, decisive action, and intrepid assertion of authority was needed. According to I Claudius, Sejanus was at his ease, enjoying his good fortunes, when he was suddenly overtaken by the whirlwind of the formidable Tiberius.

Tiberius returned to the throne to depose and condemn the partisans of Sejanus and to bring sanity back to Roman rule. In his waning years, the tired, ill, and melancholy emperor relied heavily upon the administrative machinery set up by Augustus to keep the great engine of Roman rule cranking forward.

Tiberius was indignant over Pilate's treatment of the Jews and summoned him to Rome. As Pilate was sailing to Rome in the year 36 A.D., Tiberius died.

The self-contradictory Pontius Pilate

Pilate had a good side and a bad side. He liked to deal with rebellions by killing everyone. Philo of Alexandria wrote that Pilate was inflexible, obstinate, and merciless, and was inconsiderate to Jewish sensibilities. Josephus wrote that Pilate hated Jews and wanted to abolish the Jewish state. His master, Sejanus, invented slanders against the Jews. Philo wrote that Sejanus was “seeking to destroy our nation.”

However, when Jesus stood before Pilate, he saw good qualities in Jesus as a man. Pilate could not have been a successful general without being able to judge the character of a man and to value his virtues. He sought a way to free the virtuous Jesus of Nazareth without provoking the crowd to a riot.

However, when the mob screamed, “If you let this man go, you are not Caesar's friend!” (John 19: 12), Pilate sat on his judgment seat to begin the final phase of the condemnation of Jesus. Like Herod before him, Pilate had the honorific title “Friend of Caesar.” He certainly knew that when Augustus stripped this title from Herod, it was the end of his career.

Pilate's opinion of Christ

Interestingly, Pilate wrote at least two letters to Tiberius about Jesus Christ. Here is one of them.

“Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar the emperor, greeting.

“Upon Jesus Christ, whose case I had set forth to thee in my last (letter), at length by the will of the people a bitter punishment has been inflicted, myself being in a sort unwilling and afraid. A man, by Hercules, so pious and strict, no age has ever had nor will have (another like Christ).

“But wonderful were the efforts of the people themselves, and the unanimity of all the scribes and chief men and elders, to crucify this ambassador of truth, notwithstanding that their own prophets, and after our manner the sibyls, warned them against it: and supernatural signs appeared while he was hanging (on the cross), and, in the opinion of philosophers, (the signs) threatened the destruction of the whole world.

“His disciples are flourishing in their work and the regulation of their lives, not belying their master; yea, in his name (they were) most beneficent. Had I not been afraid of the rising of sedition among the people, who were just on the point of breaking out, perhaps this man would still be alive among us; although, urged more by my fidelity to thy dignity (i.e., my loyalty to Tiberius) than induced by my own wishes, I did not according to my own strength resist (them so) that innocent blood (of Christ be set) free from the whole charge brought against it, but unjustly, through the malignity of men, (I allowed that Christ) should be sold and suffer, yet, as the scriptures signify, to their own destruction. Farewell. 28th March.” (Year 32–35 A.D.?)

(Source of Pilate's letter: Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent edition.) (parenthetical additions & paragraph breaks mine.)

RenewAmerica analyst Fred Hutchison also writes a column for RenewAmerica.

© 2006 Fred Hutchison

More on Roman loan boxes for schools

From the Whitehaven News. The news item includes a picture of the box contents

Romance of Rome

Published on 21/12/2006
THERE’S LOTS TO EXPERIENCE: The contents of a Roman loan box

BOXES full of Roman artifacts are available from The Beacon, to be loaned to schools.

The aim is to bring stories of the Roman invasion of Cumbria, part of the curriculum, to the classroom.

The Romans Loan Box is stashed full of genuine and replica objects from Roman times, with hands-on illustration of the life and times of this remarkable nation.

Questions such as what did the Romans use for toilet paper are all answered!

The box, which is part of The Beacon education programme, is available for loan at £10 a week.

Roman armour activity sessions are also available. For more information telephone The Beacon on 01946 592302.