Collections: The Queen’s Latin or Who Were the Romans? Part III: Bigotry and Diversity at Rome

This is the third part (I, II, III, IV, V) of a series asking the question “Who were the Romans?’ How did they understand themselves as a people and the idea of ‘Roman’ as an identity? Was this a homogeneous, ethnically defined group, as some versions of pop folk history would have it, or was ‘Roman’ always a complex identity which encompassed a range of cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious groups?

Last time, we looked at the process by which Rome first came to dominate Italy and then subsequently how the Romans won a Mediterranean empire through the century of blood and iron from 264 to 168 BC. In particular, we noted how Rome’s strength came not from its homogeneity, but from skillful management of the high degree of cultural, linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity of pre-Roman Italy, with at least three different religious systems, a half-dozen major languages, dozens of different cultures and communities. Rather than eschewing different peoples, the Romans won precisely because they incorporated communities which were often quite different than they were; doing so gave Rome access to the broad base of resources they needed to out-compete other imperial powers. Far from Rome being a homogeneous power that was crippled by diversity, Rome was a diverse polity which benefited precisely because it was well-equipped to deal with lots of different sorts of people effectively. While Rome’s opponents – Carthaginian and Macedonian especially – attempted to maintain ethnically homogeneous ruling classes, Rome’s approach (adopted, to be clear, entirely in the self-serving pursuit of maximum military strength, not from altruism) gave it an insurmountable advantage. And when Roman stubbornness about opening up the citizenship prompted renewed war in Italy, the Romans solved the issue (and saved their empire) not by clamping down, but by opening up, in the process creating a ‘Roman’ Italy by extending citizenship to all of the Italian allies.

This week we are going to look at some of the consequences in the city of Rome itself of both the extension of citizenship as well as imperial expansion (the broader empire will come next time). We’re going to look at the Roman senate and chart the degree to which first Italian elites outside of Rome and then provincial elites outside of Italy were able to gain entrance into Rome’s most prestigious and selective political institution. Then we’re going to look at literary culture; to what degree were people from outside of Rome active in the flowering of Latin literature. Finally, we’re going to look at the attitude of the Roman elite to all of this, which as you may imagine was often less than friendly.

But first, as always, if you like what you are reading here, please share it; if you really like it, you can support me on Patreon. And if you want updates whenever a new post appears, you can click below for email updates or follow me on twitter (@BretDevereaux) for updates as to new posts as well as my occasional ancient history, foreign policy or military history musings.

(Three notes: first, this post is going up with basically no pictures because they’re all going to be in next week’s post which will be very image heavy. Second, I had a warning about this at the start of the series, but I should note there is going to be some translations here of both some very bigoted Roman literature and also some rather explicit Roman literature. Finally, since we have a lot of people showing up below, I use some standard notation for their dates: r. means reigned, cos. indicates the year they were consul, and suff. cos. indicates the year they were consul suffectus.)

The Changing Senate of the First Century

When we last left off, after several centuries of slowly expanding citizenship in Italy the Romans had, in the emergency of the Social War, decided on the spectacular measure of expanding Roman citizenship to effectively all of the communities of Italy, functionally quadrupling the number of Roman citizens in just a few years. But did those freshly minted Romans actually penetrate into the Roman leadership? Or were they just used as catapult-fodder- if you’ll pardon the expression – to stock the armies? Once again, to the degree that the popular imagination tends to think on the Roman senate, it is as an insular body, rather more like the Great Council of Venice after the Serrata del Maggior Consiglio formally closed it to new entrants. The senate is imagined to look much like it does in HBO’s Rome – one big homogenous group of men who collectively have been in power forever:

Also it imagines them are being really, really white but we’ll come back to that next week.

There is some truth to this; a handful of longstanding (but also quite large) Roman gentes (‘clans’) reappear again and again in high office and in the Senate. On the other hand, the Senate was open to anyone who won election to the quaestorship and technically any male citizen who was free-born could run for the office (though political connections and wealth were necessary to win it).

Consequently, while the average poor Roman family lacked the cash and friends to run for high office, the wealthy families of the many towns of Italy had been running for office in their home towns for generations. The most successful of them had both the money and the experience to make a go of it in Rome. And even before the Social War (91-87 BC), we do in fact see Italian elites from outside of Rome penetrating the Roman Senate, the very uppermost crust of Rome’s political and social ladder. Now the caveat must immediately be offered that, unsurprisingly, the sort of men that were the first to begin filtering into the senatorial elite from the rest of Italy tend to be individuals of uncommon wealth, skills and abilities. But again recall the starkly exclusionary citizenship regimes of other ancient polities from last time where entrance into even the lowest ranks of the citizenry was barred to outsiders. In that context any ‘foreign’ entrants into the Roman Senate would have been truly remarkable and we actually have a lot more than that.

Gaius Marius, (c. 157-86; cos. 107, 104, 103, 102, 101, 100, 86; he had a wild career) was born in Arpinum, modern day Arpino. Located in the Apennines foothills of central Italy about 60 miles south-east of Rome, it was a town of the Volsci on the border of Samnite territory and the population was probably a mix of the two groups. Strabo (5.3.4) is quite clear that the Volsci were distinct from the Latins; linguistics confirm this as the Volsci spoke an Osco-Umbrian language closer to the languages of the Samnites and the Sabines than Latin. Arpinum only received full citizenship in 188, within the lifetime of Marius’ grandparents, if not his own parents. Nor was Marius the only senator from Arpinum! Marcus Tullius Cicero (cos. 63) and his brother Quintus Tullius Cicero (praetor 62) were both also from Arpinum (as was Cicero’s son, M. Tullius Cicero Minor, suff. cos. 30); all three served in the Senate to varying degrees of distinction.

Meanwhile, Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo (135-87, cos. 89) was from Picenum, a region roughly situated in modern day Abruzzo on the North-East of Italy up against the Adriatic. The people here, the Piceni, were a mix of different groups and there were actually two languages, South Picene (an Umbrian language) and North Picene (language family unknown). The gens Pompeia may indicate Oscan origins; it certainly isn’t Latin. We know that members of the gens Pompeia were in the senate as early as 141 with Quintius Pompeius (cos. 141) whose obscure origins Cicero mentions (Cic. Pro Murena, 7.16). Pompey Strabo’s son, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (cos. 70, 55, 52) would also be in the Senate; his sister Pompeia was, among other things, the great-grandmother of one Gaius Octavius Thurinus, also known as Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus Augustus (r. 31BC-AD14), himself from Velletri, a Volscian town. Also from Picenum (from Asculum) and a humble background, our hero Publius Ventidius Bassus (suff. cos. 43); his community only got citizenship during the Social Wars, so Ventidius was a first generation Roman in the Senate and by all accounts an originally rather poor (by the standards of the Roman elite) fellow who came up through the army as a logistics officer for Julius Caesar.

Nor was this a new phenomenon just in the late republic. Our evidence for earlier integration of Italian elites is thinner because sources for the early centuries of the republic aren’t as forthcoming, but N. Terrenato (In The Early Roman Expansion into Italy: Elite Negotiation and Family Agendas (2019)) picks out the example of the Plautii (unrelated to the playwright mentioned later). They first hold the consulship in 358 and as Terrenato notes, “a very significant proportion of the consuls elected in this period were members of new families, often of non-Roman origin” (Terrenato, op. cit., 175), noting the Sabine Curii, Etruscan Licinii, Campanian Decii and Samnite (!!) Otacilii. In short, Italian elites had been filtering into the Senate for some time, though this filtration accelerated markedly during the first century.

Mihi Patria Est

Now you might expect that the next thing I would normally say is that the paucity of our sources means that while we can observe this extension of citizenship and the arrival first of Italian and later (see below) provincial elites into even the highest levels of Roman society, we don’t know what they thought about it. Except we do know what they thought about it, because quite a lot of these Italian and later provincial elites write to us and talk directly about questions of identity. It is rare, but sometimes the ancient source-base comes through for us (and actually, as we’re going to see, the question of diversity in Rome is one of those rare cases where the source-base really does, repeatedly come through for us, making this a point on which we can be rather more certain than usual. It is a sad irony that one of the topics that we can be most certain of, ‘was Rome a diverse society?’ is one of the topics so endlessly contested by folks determined not to find the fairly clear and unambiguous answer the sources deliver.).

One thing that is important to note from the outset here is that identities do not replace each other, rather they layer on top of one another. That’s both true of identities which touch on different parts of a person (e.g. someone can be American (country-identity) and Catholic (religious identity) and a dentist (professional identity)) but also with identities that touch on the same part of a person. Taking myself, for instance, I grew up in Virginia but have lived in North Carolina for more of my adult life than anywhere else; asked to give a demonym, I might well offer Virginian or North Carolinian or Southerner (in the US sense) or American. Even though those answers all speak to the same question (‘where are you from?’) I partake in all of those identities.

So again, identities are not exclusive; they layer and coexist, sometimes easily, sometimes in tension. This insight is essential to make any sense out of how historical people think of themselves and define themselves and others.

We can see that layering very clearly in the writings of a number of Italian elites who end up circulating in the upper-reaches of Rome’s literary class. P. Ovidius Naso (Ovid, 43BC-17AD) explores rival conceptions of home in his famous autobiographical poem, Tristia 4.10:

Sulmo is my fatherland, abounding in ice-cold streams,
Ninety miles distant from the city [Rome].
I was born here, should you want to know when,
[It was] when both consuls perished by the same fate [ed.: 43BC, both consuls died in battle that year]
If it matters, I was always the heir to an ancient line,
not made an eques by the gift of fate
[...]
Straight away we [Ovid and his brother], tender-aged, were educated and by the care of our father
we went to the men distinguished in the arts at the city [=Rome]
[...]
Meanwhile as the years silently sliding past,
My bother and I assumed the toga of free men ['toga liberior'=toga virilis]...

Ovid is asserting quite a few identities there. He identifies his home: sulmo mihi patria est, “Sulmo is my fatherland;” Sulmo was a city of the Paeligni (speakers of an Oscan language) in central Italy and probably granted citizenship only after the Social War. Patria is a strong word there; he might have used natus or origo if he just wanted to say “Sulmo is where I was born.” Patria implies a lingering, permanent connection. For comparison, Horace’s famous “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country” in Latin is dulce et decorum pro patria mori (Horace, Odes 3.2.14). Evidently Ovid’s family was locally prominent; Ovidius may itself be from an Oscan root word suggesting Paelignian ethnic origin. He then asserts his education in Rome and notes prominently his assumption of the toga virilis, the narrow purple stripe of which marked him as a Roman citizen (we’ll come back to that garment next time, but for now I want to note this was the marker of Roman citizenship). There’s a lot of other identity markers in the poem, I should note; his brother’s home (‘natus’ in the sense of home/origin) in the forum and political speech is contrasted with Ovid’s love of poetry. Ovid moved in the highest circles in Rome; though he left off a career in politics early, he was familiar with the poets who circled around Maecenas and himself was a client of M. Valerius Messalla Corvinus. But evidently Sulmo remained his patria.

Ovid isn’t alone here. Livy, we are told, was born in the 60s BC in Padua (ancient Patavium), a city of the Veneti outside of Italy as the Romans understood it (it was in Gallia Cisalpina); Padua was made a municipium and given Roman citizenship by Caesar in the 40s; Livy would likely have been in his teens or perhaps early 20s when this happened making him a ‘naturalized’ Roman. Livy evidently had a pronounced accent or marked Venetian manners; he was mocked for it by Gaius Asinius Pollio as noted by Quintilian (8.1.1). Yet Livy is fiercely proud both of his home town in particular (note, e.g. Livy 1.1 where Livy claims a Trojan antecedent not only for Rome but for his own people, the Veneti as well) but also of the tradition which would place the socii in the Roman narrative; as Paul Erdkamp has noted (see P. Erdkamp, “Polybius and Livy on the Allies in the Roman Army” in The Impact of the Roman Army, ed. E. Lo Cascio and L. De Blois (2007)), Livy goes out of his way to include feats of derring-do performed in Rome’s wars by Rome’s socii. Yet Livy is also a proud – if sometimes conflicted – Roman, openly proclaiming Rome as the “foremost nation in the world” at the opening of his work. He writes a history of Rome after all, rather than a history of Patavium. Livy never entered politics but was a friend to Augustus himself (Tac. Ann. 4.34; albeit if evidently Augustus occasionally complained, apparently, that Livy was too friendly to Pompey in his histories; alas those books are lost to us).

Quintius Horatius Flaccus (Horace, 65-8) was from Venusia, a point he tells us in Satires 2.1.35; he notes he is unsure if he is ethnically Lucanian or Apulian, “for the Venusian plows at the boundaries of both” but Horace is fiercely defensive of his family and origins. Remember last time we noted that freed slaves became Roman citizens? That was Horace’s family’s road. His father was a freedman and Horace writes movingly about his father’s sacrifices so that he could attend school in Rome rather than in his own village and proudly refuses to be ashamed of his humble birth or the social station of his father (Satires 1.6). Horace served as a military tribune under Brutus at Philippi (awkward!) before becoming a famous poet in Rome, introduced to Maecenas, Augustus’ informal minister of culture, by no less than Vergil himself (Vergil, by the by, was from Cisalpine Gaul, like Livy, though from a village outside of Mantua).

I could go on. W.J. Watts once noted (“The Birthplaces of Latin Writers,” Greece & Rome 18.1 (1971)) that “within the first century B.C. we find Italians from all parts of the peninsula, but none – excepting possibly Lucretius and probably Caesar – born at Rome.” The ‘Golden Age‘ of Latin was consequently defined by authors from Italy, many from communities only enfranchised during the Social War or by Caesar. Those authors frequently write of, or are proud of their Italian origins, but at the same time come to shape what it means to be Roman and often rejoice in the elements of their Roman identity.

Into the Empire

These trends did not abate with the closing of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire. Indeed, this process accelerates at the tail end of the Late Republic and even more so in the empire. We can start with the Senate. Now of course the imperial Senate lacked the power it had wielded during the republic, but this was by no means a dead institution for the first few centuries of the Roman Empire. The Senate was still the pinnacle of public life in Rome and its members reflected the very top of the Roman social hierarchy below only the emperor himself. Provincial governors and field commanders were still drawn from their ranks and they were generally the wealthiest Roman citizens and consequently most of the wealthiest men in the Roman world.

The extension of the ranks of the Senate beyond the Italian elite begins with Julius Caesar, who brought in a number of Roman citizens of Gallic ancestry into the senate during his dictatorship (Seut. Caes. 76.2, 80.2). To be clear, while Romans angry about the inclusion of what they saw as a truly foreign element complained about the new senators “taking off their breeches and putting on the broad-striped [toga],” these were mostly elites from Cisalpine Gaul (much longer exposed to Rome and Roman culture); nevertheless the outrage tells us fairly clearly that these were ethnic Gauls, not merely Roman colonists settled in Gaul. These are our first provincial senators (‘the provinces’ being in Roman thought every place that wasn’t Italy, although it is worth noting that Cisalpine Gaul would be annexed into Italy shortly).

(This is also, by the by, another example where the foreigners so often despised by snobbish Roman elites were very frequently European Gauls and Germans, rather than non-Europeans. Somehow whenever I see arguments that this or that culture was ‘incompatible’ with Roman civilization, it is always directed at people from the East or South, but for the Romans, it was often the Gaul, Briton or German who was the ultimate ‘other.’)

As R.J.A. Talbert notes in his study of the imperial Senate, “Augustus and Tiberius continued the trend [of introducing provincial elites] cautiously…Claudius continued along the same lines, so that from his time provincials became a notable group in the Senate” (Talbert, The Senate of Imperial Rome (1984), 31). Mason Hammond attempted to quantify this (M. Hammond, “Composition of the Senate, A.D. 68-235” JRS 47 (1957)) for the period from the emperor Vespasian to the third century. Under Vespasian (r. 69-79), of the senators whose origins are known (only 46% – so this is a huge caveat on our information), 83.2% remained Italian; we know of 3 from Africa, 5 from the eastern provinces, 21 from the western provinces and 1 senator for Dalmatia; while most of the Senate is still Italian, there is already a striking spread of senators from all over the empire with Gaul and Spain particularly well represented. By Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180), we know of 25 senators from Africa, 44 from the east, 8 from the west, and five from Dalmatia; Italians make up only 54.4% of known origins. That Italians remain a large portion of senators should be no surprise; admission to the Senate came with a high wealth qualification and Rome’s conquests had enriched the Italian elite massively at the expense of basically everyone else. Nevertheless, it is clear that the even the Senate, the most selective, snobbish institution in Rome, progressively embraced broader and broader slices of the Roman world. The only part of the whole Roman empire that doesn’t seem to have supplied at least one Roman senator by 238 AD was Britain, presumably because, as Strabo notes (2.5.8), there is nothing in Britain worth having, a fact that remains true to this day (though I should note that we have plenty of evidence of native Britons sharing in a Roman-citizen-identity once the Romans do decide to conquer about half of the island; one assumes the lack of senatorial Britons had to do with both wealth (it was a remarkably poor province) and distance).

The same is true of the Roman literary world. As the first century heads toward the second, the origins of our authors begin to spread beyond Italy. L. Annaeus Seneca – that is, Seneca (4BC – 65AD), the philosopher and rhetorician – was born in Spain; his father, M. Annaeus Seneca (c. 54BC – 39AD) was from Cordoba, probably from the Latin colony there (founded in 169) but his mother may have been local. His nephew, the poet Lucan, (M. Annaeus Lucanus, 39-65) was from there as well. Seneca made it into the Senate but his ‘provincial’ status stuck with him and Tacitus brings it up in the retirement speech he gives Seneca (Tac. Ann. 14.53) with a touch of false modesty remarking with amazement that “Is it me, but an equestrian* and arisen from a provincial origin who is to be counted among the leading men of Rome? Is my new name come to glitter among noble and long-decorated pedigrees?” Martial the satirist and Quintilian the rhetorician were also from Spain (the former’s provincial origins will seem more than a little ironic in a moment when we see how little tolerance he has for people he perceives as ‘non-Roman’).

Apuleius (c. 124-170), author of the world’s oldest surviving complete novel, the Metamorphoses (also known as The Golden Ass) as well as several other extant works of speeches and philosophy, was an African Roman citizen. And to be clear, not “oh, he was an Italian who settled in Africa and…” Nope. He openly notes in his Apology that he is “half-Numidian, half Gaetulian” (Apuleius, Apology, 24), two of the native peoples of North Africa. The Numidians were a North African people who lived in the coastal regions of what today would be Algeria; the Gaetuli lived a bit further inland, off of the coast. He wasn’t the only one; M. Cornelius Fronto (c. 100-160s, cos. 142), the grammarian, was from Cirta and described himself as a “Libyan of the Libyan Nomads,” (“ἐγὼ δὲ Λίβυς τῶν Λιβύων τῶν νομάδων” which is, if I may make an aside, the easiest to read actual Greek sentence I believe I have ever read; Fronto writes his correspondence in both Greek and Latin); Fonto was also the tutor for the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus and regarded in antiquity as the second best Latin orator, after only Cicero, along with being a senator.

And of course we must speak of authors writing in Greek too. The biographer Plutarch (46-119) was born in Greece in Chaeronea and received citizenship as an adult (as Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus). His biographies (the Parallel Lives, written in Greek) are set in matched pairs, with a Greek and a Roman compared, a very literal blending of Greek and Latin literary traditions (it is clear Plutarch had Latin sources; he must have been bilingual). The historian Cassius Dio was from Nicaea in what is today Turkey and maintained a strong attachment to his hometown. His father, Cassius Apronianus was probably Bithynian, but had become a Roman senator and Dio followed in his footsteps, attaining the consulship in 205 and serving as the proconsular governor of Africa (an office that generally marked the pinnacle of a senatorial career). Dio wrote his Roman History (Ῥωμαϊκὴ Ἱστορία) in Greek and writes not as Polybius does, as an outsider looking in, but as an insider detailing the history of his country. Again, recall that identities layer, so Dio is a proud Greek, and a proud Nicaean and a proud Roman all at once.

How are all of these fellows becoming Roman (to borrow a title from Greg Woolf)? We’ll talk about some of these mechanisms in more depth subsequently, but there were a few major routes. The tendency of Roman manumission to mint new Romans in communities which already had citizenship remained from the Republic. Added to this, elites in communities in Rome’s provinces began to seek the legal benefits of Roman citizenship; this status was in the power of the emperors to grant and so elites (or even whole communities) which were particularly helpful might be granted citizenship en bloc. At the same time, local elites absorbed Roman culture (including the literary culture we’ve discussed) and then as they themselves became producers of that culture or had political careers in Rome, also disseminated elements of their own provincial cultures.

Then there was the army. We’ll talk more about the army in our last section, but in brief it had three mechanisms of spreading both citizenship and blending Roman and local cultures. The first was the settlement of soldier’s colonies outside of Italy which began in the late second century and continued through the civil wars, creating little ink-blots of Roman citizenship which could then spread both the status and the culture by the same mechanisms (marriage, manumission, political connections). Second, after the legions are permanently relocated to the frontiers, retired soldiers tend to retire to communities where they served, rather than returning to Italy, creating pockets of Roman citizens in frontier provinces. Finally – and we’ll get into this in a lot more depth – half of the Roman army consisted of non-Romans who after a full term of service (20-25 years) received a grant of citizenship as a reward, meaning that the Roman army was minting a meaningful number of new citizens every year (new citizens who will have already had to learn Latin and spent two decades exposed to Roman culture via the other half of the army which consisted of the citizen-legions).

This is something I want to stress – the way this topic gets taught, under the rubric of ‘Romanization’ one might imagine the Romans minting out new identical Romans, but what one in fact sees is cultural blending (the most obvious example being how by the early fifth century, most Romans will be adherents to a strange, Levantine religion from the empire’s east). And it isn’t merely Roman and Greek culture merging this way; Apuleius is big on Isis-cult which while very Hellenized has its roots in Egyptian religion, the Iranian god Mithras is apparently quite attractive to Roman soldiers (as are breeches, much to the irritation of some old fashioned Romans) and then of course there is Christianity. At the same time, localities often retained their own peculiar local customs, because of course they did.

The slow march of Roman citizenship suddenly reached its conclusion in 212, with the issuance of the Constitutio Antoniniana by the emperor Caracalla (true fact: to teach Roman history, you have to prove you can repeat the phrase, “the issuance of the Constitutio Antoniniana by Caracalla” at speed without missing any syllables; it’s a requirement of the defense process), which made all free persons in the Roman empire citizens. Caracalla’s reasons are obscure (Dio, 78.9 suggests it was to raise more tax revenue, but there’s no convincing reason why it would have done so) but in practice, knowingly or not, the edict recognized a fact which had probably become inevitable: the Roman empire had stuck around long enough and minted enough new citizens that the distinction between the ‘core’ Romans and the people they ruled was largely meaningless. There were still elites and non-elites, of course – wealth mattered in this very stratified society – but by and large the whole empire had become….Roman.

Roman Bigotry

In all of this I don’t want to give the wrong impression about the Rome or the Romans. Rome was diverse, but that doesn’t mean it was particularly tolerant, much less accepting. There is a tendency to give empires in the past, especially the ancient past, laurels for ‘tolerance’ because they opt sometimes not to suppress local religious or ethnic customs, when for most tributary empires that kind of ‘tolerance’ is merely smart business, not high-mindedness. Suppression and ethnic cleansing interfere with tax collection. And it would be untrue to say that the Romans never engaged in religious suppression, ethnic cleansing or even genocide anyway. The Roman Senate ordered the mystery cult of Bacchus in Italy violently suppressed in 186 BC (Liv. 39.8ff). The Romans also reacted very negatively to religions involving human sacrifice. Druidic religions, seen by the Romans as “cruel and inhuman” were exterminated in both Gaul and Britain; Tiberius apparently ordered it done in Gaul (Plin. NH 30.13) and Claudius in Britain (Suet. Claudius 25.4). The Romans purportedly responded to child sacrifice in Punic religion by crucifying anyone who did so (Tertullian, Apol. 9.2; there has been some debate as to the degree to which the Carthaginians practiced child sacrifice, but frankly the testimony of the ancient sources is unanimous and backed up by archaeology which to my mind rather closes the matter, leaving only the question of ‘how prevalent was the practice.’). Of course under Diocletian, the Roman empire would embark on a sustained, systematic effort to stamp out Christianity. And we’ve actually already done a survey of Roman efforts at genocide or ethnic cleansing: the Senones, the Samnites, the Cimbri, the Teutones, the Helvetii, the Atautaci and so on.

The Romans were not ideologically committed to tolerance of any kind; tolerance was merely usually the pragmatic approach. Where tolerance suited Roman military and political aims, it was mostly used (with notable exceptions like the ham-fisted Roman approach in Judaea); when tolerance didn’t suit Rome’s aims, there was little hesitance to employ extreme violence.

(Hopefully this doesn’t need saying, but as we’re about to discuss Roman bigotry here, that means I am going to quote some Romans saying some very bigoted things. I obviously do not endorse these bigoted statements, but we need to discuss them because it is important to learn history as it really was, not as we might wish it to have been.)

Moreover, even once a people had come under Rome’s protection and even received Roman citizenship, that didn’t mean that other Roman elites immediately dropped their bigotry. Quite to the contrary, Romans complained bitterly about the presence of ethnic outsiders – even those with Roman citizenship – at Rome, often in extremely vile and bigoted terms. As noted already, Suetonius records the snobbish Roman reaction to the introduction of a handful of elites from Cisalpine Gaul into the Senate couched in ethnic terms (Seut. Caes. 80.1). But that was hardly the worst of it. Roman literature, particularly among the satirists (but hardly exclusive to them) drips with direct and blatent ethnic bigotry. Take Martial’s (c. 40 – c. 104 AD) indictment of a woman who dared to romance with foreigners (Martial, Epigrams 7.30):

You give it up for Parthians, for Germans, Caelia, for Dacians too.
Nor do you spurn the beds of Cilicians or Cappadocians
A fellow sailing from Memphis,
and Black Indians from the Red Sea fuck you;
Nor do you flee from the shaved cocks of Jews
Nor does the Alani pass you by on his Sarmatian Horse.
Why is it, when you are a Roman girl,
that no Roman cocks can please you?

The antisemitism of Juvenal, another Roman satirist, was even more marked. He lets loose with the now all too familiar canards, quipping that “the Jews sell dreams of anything you want for the smallest penny” (Juv. 6.547, trans. here and the two following from R.F. Kennedy, C.S. Roy and M.L. Goldman, Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World (2013)), accuses them of being “accustomed to despise Roman laws” (14.100) and offers an anecdote about “this grove with its sacred fountain and shrine is leased out to Jews with their basket and hay chest. Every tree, of course, is forced to pay its tax to these people, and the forest throws out its Italian muses and goes a-begging” (3.10-21). Juvenal is hardly unique in this prejudice; Tacitus writes of Jews that “everything which is sacred to us is profane to them, everything is allowed for them which is sinful to us (Tac. Hist 5.4; the word ‘sinful’ here is incesta, ‘impure, polluted, defiled, sinful’ – it is a very strong word). Tacitus goes on to declare the Jews the most lustful people (Hist. 5.5), a stereotype that recurs in Roman literature (something that always made the Jewish character of Timon in in HBO’s Rome and his willingness to accept sex over money as payment more than a little uncomfortable to me).

(A word about Jews in the Roman empire. It is often suggested – you may recall the comment from last time – that the Jews in particular were incapable of ‘assimilating’ into Roman culture and were thus a weakening element. It is certainly the case that a lack of Roman cultural understanding meant that the Roman authorities found the fractious politics of Judaea (modern Israel-Palestine) hard to manage; the Romans mostly didn’t understand Judaeaism, didn’t care to understand it and so frequently gave quite grievous offense. One can hardly fault the Jews of Judaea for being upset that their imperial overlords not only imposed taxes on them but then also came to their country to profanetheir sacred sites or trample their religious rituals. That said, there were plenty of Roman Jews who accomidated just fine to the Roman system. Josephus, first a rebel against Rome and then a defector too Rome, was granted Roman citizenship and worked as an advisor to Vespasian and Titus, writing in the imperial court. St. Paul (of Tarsus) was a second-generation Roman citizen; initially an important member of the Jewish religious establishment he went on to be one of the most important early Christian evangelists; he adroitly used his Roman citizenship and the legal rights it gave him. Paul’s easy command of Greek and Roman cultural norms – and his adroit use of them – comes out fairly clearly in Acts. And of course there is Tiberius Julius Alexander, an equestrian procurator of Judaea, prefect of Egypt and Roman military commander. The thing to remember is that there were Jewish communities in many cities in the Roman Empire, not merely in volatile Judaea and that by and large those communities got along just fine. Jewish religious practice and Jewish ethnic identity were not incompatible with Roman citizenship or engagement in the broader Roman world.)

The Greeks got this treatment from the Romans too – Plautus (254-184BC; the oldest Latin writer to have works survive complete) presents his Greeks as either untrustworthy deceivers (e.g. Plaut. Asin. 199) or else as “those cloak-wearing Greeks, who walk with their faces covered, their clothes stuffed with books and beggar’s baskets, loitering together and prattling on among themselves, blocking the way and vaunting their own opinion” (Plaut. Cur. 2.3.9-12). Plautus even uses pergraecari, ‘to play the Greek’ to mean to engage in drunkedness, laziness and debauchery (e.g. Plaut. Most. 22-4, 64-5), playing on Roman stereotypes of the Greeks as lazy, effete, and deceptive. Plautus is also, by the by, contemptuous of Southern Italy (particularly Apulia, e.g. Plaut. Miles 641ff, Casina 67ff) which at the time of his writing was the most recently added part of Rome’s Italian then-young empire. Plautus is, as noted, the earliest Roman writer to have works survive in their entirety and even from that earliest point we find the Romans dealing in crude and bigoted stereotypes about foreigners, especially those – like Greeks and Apulians – freshly entering Rome’s control. We have Romans angrily denouncing the latest ‘foreigners’ (citizen or otherwise) to arrive in the city of Rome from our earliest texts right up to the fall of the empire in the west.

Nor were more northern Europeans immune from Roman bigotry; indeed the Romans may have held the most contempt (and fear) for Gauls and Germans. Vellius Paterculus, attempting to write ‘serious’ history, calmly declares “But the Germans – one might scarcely believe if he hasn’t met them – are the most savage and most deceitful people, a race [genus] born for lying” (Vell. Pat. 2.118.1). The geographer Pomponius Mela declares the Gauls to be “arrogant, superstitious and at times so inhuman that they once believed the sacrificial victim best and most pleasing to the gods was man” (3.18, trans. Kennedy, Roy and Goldman, op. cit.). Pliny the Elder remarks that the Romans did the world a favor by wiping out the druids and suppressing Gallic religion; he derides the people of Britain as the most superstitious in the world (NH 30.13).

We’ve already discussed Tacitus’ reductive and mostly ignorant description of the Germans, but such ethnographic descriptions which boiled down complex peoples into simplistic national characters were very common. Vegetius in his de Re Militaris (1.2) bases his ideal recruiting practices on the notion that people from southern areas are clever, but weak and cowardly while people from northern areas were strong and brave, but stupid and intemperate; naturally Rome, situated in the temperate zone in the middle, had men who were the best of all worlds (e.g. Strabo 6.4.1; on this see G. Irby, “Climate and Courage” in The Routledge Handbook of Identity and the Environment in the classical and Medieval Worlds, eds. R.F. Kennedy and M. Jones Lewis (2016).). One is reminded of the racist British theory that in India that there were ‘martial races‘ more suitable for recruitment into the British army than others. Ancient geographic and ethnographic writers abound with crude national stereotypes (generally presenting foreign peoples as inferior, of course), often with equally crude environmental justifications; quite a few of these are gathered together and translated in the aformentioned R.F. Kennedy, C.S. Roy and M.L. Goldman, Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World: An anthology of Primary Sources in Translation (2013). In short then, the Romans had some kind of bigoted stereotype at hand for functionally every ethnic group in their empire.

(Now isn’t the time to get into the mostly hair-splitting argument of if these views constitute ‘racism’ – an argument which mostly turns on how one defines racism and the degree of connection to psuedo-scientific theories about race. Suffice to say the Romans mostly don’t think about ‘race’ in quite the same way as the concept is now used; for more on this see the introduction to Kennedy, Roy and Goldman op. cit. 1-83. To avoid that debate, I have stuck with the word ‘bigoted’ which I think we can all agree applies.)

Not all Romans were so close-minded, of course – had they been, they likely would have pushed to restrict the steady expansion of Roman citizenship and free movement which made this all possible. The emperor Claudius gave a speech to the Senate (recorded in an inscription which survives in part and summarized at Tac. Ann. 11.24) where after recounting a short history of expansions of Roman citizenship beginning with the legendary period notes that “my great-uncle Augustus and my paternal uncle Tiberius wished there to be in the Senate house the flower of the coloniae and municipiorum [towns with Roman citizenship regardless of origin; it is clear in context that Claudius is speaking of ethnically Gallic towns], that is all good men of substance” and that “but certainly I think that, if they [provincial senators] are able to be an ornament to the Senate, they should not be rejected.” Tacitus, in his summary of the speech is even more blunt, “Are we sorry that the Balbi came to us from Spain, and other men not less illustrious from Gallia Narbonensis? Their descendants are still among us, and do not yield to us in patriotism. What was the destruction of the Spartans and the Athenians but this that as strong as they were in arms, but shoved away as aliens those they had conquered?” (Tac. Ann. 24).

That argument to practicality seems to be what drove the Romans forward. Strikingly, with the exception of one debatable passage in Tacitus’ Agricola, at no point does any Roman writer suggest the Romans ought to spread Roman ‘civilization’ or culture to the rest of the world. The Romans never intended to ‘Romanize’ anyone and they certainly were not always welcoming to the peoples they conquered – even after the initial trauma of conquest had passed. But time and again, practical necessity forced the Romans to open their doors to new entrants (we’ll get into how doing so allowed the Romans to keep their empire at the end of this series). And while holding the empire together required the Romans, again and again, to cope with (and profit from) increasing diversity, the Romans themselves complained, in bitter and bigoted terms, every step of the way. Much like Roman complaints about ‘decadence’ (which start up as soon as we have a Roman literary tradition and continue unabated throughout Roman history) we have to be on our guard when Romans complain about the Roman people being ‘diluted’ by provincials; they were always complaining about this even in the best of times.

Rome Under the Five Good Emperors

To recap where we are so far: Rome began as a cultural-fusion society, a frontier town at the edge of different cultural, linguistic, religious and ethnic zones. It then expanded and rather than attempting to remain culturally homogenous in its expansion, the Romans repeatedly, driven by the practical demands of war and empire and despite their own considerable bigotry against foreigners, expanded their citizen body to include progressively more different peoples as Romans. By the first century BC, that expansion had included the whole of Italy, which as we’ve discussed, was hardly a uniform place; those Italians as Romans would come to dominate the flowering of literary culture and the political elite of the early empire. By the beginning fo the second century, that process was rapidly moving out of Italy into the provinces, with prominent Roman writers, senators, generals and leaders (and as we’ll see next time, emperors too!) coming from Spain, Greece, Anatolia, Africa, Gaul and beyond.

I want to pause our story there for a moment, in the second century. One problem with popular ‘folk history’ about Rome is that the Roman empire exists for a really long time and that, as noted, Romans spend all of that time complaining. For people who are often at best dimly remembering Roman history from a high school or college course, all of that time blends together: Rome for them has one rise and one fall and a neat apex, probably right around that Julius Caesar fellow, because he’s the one person whose name they remember. But the Roman Empire lasted a long time; Roman rule in parts of Spain, for instance, lasted form the late third century BC to the mid-fifth century AD. Rome expands, has crises, recovers, has more crises, recovers again; even where we are now (around the year 180) the ‘fall of Rome’ is still about three hundred years away! With such vast amounts of time, keeping the chronology straight is very important. We’ve actually set out one form of this chronology already:

  1. Roman Expansion in Italy (509-265 B.C.), during which the Roman Republic consolidated control of the Italian Peninsula.
  2. Rapid Roman Overseas Expansion (265 B.C. – 14 A.D.), during which the Roman Republic (along with Augustus, the first emperor) defeated the other major powers of the Mediterranean and also rapidly subjugated large numbers of minor states and pre-state peoples. This period also sees political stresses within the Roman Republic eventually tear it apart, leading to a new monarchy under Augustus.
  3. Consolidation, Stabilization and Frontier Defense (15 – 378 A.D.), during which expansion does not stop, but it does slow, and the greater military focus is on protecting what Rome has (which is, to be fair, nearly all of the territory worth having). This period is disrupted by a period of fragmentation and civil war called the Third Century Crisis (235-284), but Rome stabilizes and regains control of its older borders afterwards and holds them successfully for another century.
  4. The Long, Slow Collapse of the West (378-476), during which the Western Roman Empire slowly collapses, while the Eastern Roman Empire remains prosperous, militarily successful and almost entirely intact.

We’ve now in the second century AD, particularly in the reign of the ‘Five Good Emperors‘ (also known as the Nervan-Antonine Emperors, ironically there are six of them – Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius, plus the one bad one, Commodus) stretching from Nerva (r. 96-98) to Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180). It was the period of Rome’s maximum territorial extent (reached in reign of Trajan, 98-117 and held steady for decades) and greatest levels of wealth and security. And it is nearly a century long, a period of (for most of the empire) largely untroubled prosperity and success. Moreover, collapse and failure aren’t even particularly close; we’re still in the middle of the ‘Consolidation, Stabilization and Frontier Defense’ stage. The next truly dangerous crisis will come in 235 – more than fifty years in the future from Marcus Aurelius – and won’t be fatal. By 284, the empire will have mostly recovered (it’ll have almost all of its territory back, but the war will have damaged the economy substantially) and still have more than a century of unquestioned military and political dominance in front of it.

And I stop here to note that it is this period, this sustained peak of Roman power, wealth, literature and culture which is marked by the brilliant efflorescence of diversity in the Roman world. Far from bringing collapse, the steady incorporation of elites from beyond Italy causes Rome to gleam brighter and brighter; the philosophy of (Spanish) Seneca and the humor of (African) Apuleius, the moralizing anecdotes of (Greek) Plutarch and the voluminous history of (Anatolian-Greek) Cassius Dio – Roman citizens all! – all belong to this period (Dio lives through and beyond it). If we stretch a bit to capture the late first century, we may also include the spiritual writings of (Levantine Jew) Paul of Tarsus, which will spend the second century rapidly spreading through the Mediterranean world. Marcus Aurelius himself, tutored by (African) Fronto goes on to write – in Greek – his Meditations, meant as a journal but also a quite moving treatise in Stoic thought. He does this while commanding an army – as we’ll see not next week but the week after – which undoubtedly included soldiers from almost every corner of the empire.

Just as the great Roman conquests of the third and second centuries BC had been the result of the Roman willingness to accommodate and manage the diversity of Roman Italy, so the great floruit of the Roman Empire, running from Augustus in 31 BC to the death of Marcus in 180 (and one could argue perhaps further to the death of Alexander Severus in 235) was the product of the Roman embrace – begrudging and complaining embrace, but embrace nonetheless – of the diversity of the entire broader Mediterranean world.

Next week, we’re going to go ahead and tackle a question that always comes up when discussing ethnicity in the Roman world: what color were the Romans? Most of them, it turns out!

181 thoughts on “Collections: The Queen’s Latin or Who Were the Romans? Part III: Bigotry and Diversity at Rome

  1. Do you think the Romans would have conquered the Mediterranean as well as they did if they had kept to the old phalanx system? What influence did the Roman military model have on their success?

    1. Their military system evolved a lot over the centuries. They seem to have started conquering the Italian peninsula using standard phalanx. In their later history they readopted a thrusting spear and started relying more on cavalry.

      Their “classic” system of gladius, pila and scutum must have had some advantages. But the fact they were able to succeed with other systems implies that it was having huge reserves of manpower and deploying them in long wars of attrition that was their key advantage.

      (Supplying huge premodern armies is hard, armies generally have to live on whatever is available locally. So having huge manpower doesn’t necessarily mean you deploy huge armies. You just deploy standard sized armies and keep on deploying them until your enemy either loses, or runs out of money defeating them.)

        1. Hypothesis: the noted advantage of Rome in its pool of manpower and resources may have been the cause of superior training and doctrine in the long run. Contrary to the classic image of the “big dumb” military power against the “elite canny” military power, size and wealth can make it easier to accumulate useful lessons.

          To ensure that an army accumulates valuable military lessons over time, rather than just picking them up and losing them randomly, it is necessary to ensure that the army win most of its battles, or at least most of its wars. This enables it to maintain a stable officer corps over extended periods, and avoids the problem where no one really wants to emulate a commander who lost a war.

          Imagine if the first Roman general to insist that his men build a fortified camp every night had been utterly defeated for some reason having nothing to do with camp fortifications. And that in consequence Rome had spent generations as a tributary satellite of some other power. The odds are fairly good that by the end of that period, no one would even remember the One Neat Trick that general thought of, and if they did remember it they certainly wouldn’t be likely to emulate anything he did.

          But in practice, this generally didn’t happen- the Romans were able to stave off total defeat by raising another army and sending it back out, and another one after that, and so on.

          And it’s quite possible, I think, that the long winning streak enabled by superior numbers and resource base enabled them to gather and pass on a larger collection of neat “These Five Tricks Gauls Hate” lists to be used against those enemies in the future.

          1. Being a large wealthy state undoubtedly helped Rome survive initial failures and adapt, but it’s hard to argue from the historical record that size and wealth *cause* superior training and doctrine. They may very well *enable* such, but there has to be some innovator to kick things off. And innovators seem equally likely to arise in small and poor states.

            Before Rome, the larger and richer states of Greece were overthrown by the new pike phalanx equipment and doctrine developed by Philip of Macedonia.

            Rome fought against the various successor of Alexander empires, which could be called “big dumb” military powers. Macedonia, Egypt, Seleucia were all at least as large as Rome in resources and certainly wealthier in the case of Egypt, but all failed to adapt to the changing times. The Macedonians and Egyptians were conquered by Rome, the Seleucids lost the western bits of their empire to Rome and the rest to the Parthians. Even before Rome, the Galatian “barbarian” warbands inflicted some embarrassing defeats on pike phalanx armies.

            Rome had wealth and resources, *and* a willingness to innovate. That’s a rare combination.

    2. Probably not. And the Roman military model obviously did have a lot to do with their success, because they had to fight against states with roughly equivalent levels of organisation and revenue.

      It’s not my field, but from my ancient/medieval wargaming light reading at least two Hellenistic states, one of them the Seleucids but can’t remember the other, started equipping and training their own “legionaries” after a few defeats by Rome. It’s also been suggested, I don’t know with how much basis, that the Germanic tribes by the 4th/5th CE were using a lot of heavy throwing axes and throwing spears after their repeated encounters with Romans.

      In turn the Romans were enthusiastically adopting/appropriating equipment from their opponents whenever it worked for them. As noted by TheophileEscargot, there isn’t really a single “Roman military model” from beginning to end.

    3. Most certainly not. The phalanx with spear of pike was just a holding block, slowly pushing forward. Philip 2nd and Alexander used cavalry and assault / storm infantry (Thracians) to break the flanks of opposing armies, Antigonus, Seleucus, Pyrus added elefants to the mix. The Romans simply used the standard legionary infantry to maneuver against the flanks and get to the rear.
      Phalanx armies needed to be too large (phalanx + supporting light infantry + missile troops + cavalry) in order to be effective. Roman armies combined the phalanx and light support infantry into the standard legionary soldier.
      The phalanx required closely packed formations (shoulder to shoulder and 6 to 16 ranks deep) while all other armies (Celts, Romans, Parthians, etc) could make do with gaps in the line and 4 to 8 ranks.
      So a phalanx army needed to be very large to prevent outflanking (little bust for the same bucks) and this complicated everything from recruitment to logistics to tactical control.
      The historic record of phalanx formations is rather poor: Macedonia is continually threatened by Illyrian, Thracian and Celtic armies (almost overrun twice). Anatolian Greek cities never win a large battle against Persians, Italian Greek cities almost overrun by Samnites and Brutians, Sicilian Greek cities almost wiped out by Carthaginian armies which held only a small percent of phalanx like infantry. Greek cities in Gaul and Spain never dare to conquer large teritories as the Carthaginians and Romand will do.

  2. > there is nothing in Britain worth having, a fact that remains true to this day

    shots fired

    > then a defector too Rome => _to_ Rome

    1. There was the tin in Cornwall. Romans wanted that. But Britain was the rump end of nowhere in Roman terms. And of course the climate is singularly inimical. 😉

      1. There’s also the Roman baths in, well, Bath.

        But yes, can confirm that the weather is.. variable.

    2. My impression is that archaeology has shifted the view of Britain from a backwater to a prosperous province, albeit a distant one. It was worth a significant military presence, birthed a few emperors and would-be emperors and was worth recovering from usurpers. It was not given up until the last days – unlike, say, Dacia or the Rhine-Danube salient in Germania.

  3. For more human sacrifice stuff, I’d seen this recently, which might be interesting to people here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2N6-Gc7V2M (Talks about the attitude and history within Rome itself and how they thought about it.)

    Are the names of the people mentioned being latinized/Romanized in some way at the time they are used, or are they adjusted in later writing? (Since there are so many -ius, -us, -io, etc. which would be weird for original names.)

    1. Thank you (and Dr. Schultz, of course) for that. I’ve often wondered what sort of rules-lawyering a culture that held gladiatorial games used to sneer at human sacrifice.

      1. A lot of those gladiators survived the bouts; one recalls Livia Augusta’s ‘none of this fake stuff now’ speech from I, CLAUDIUS. Stephen Saylor has a interesting story about “A Gladiator Only Lives Once” (under that particular stage name), and let’s be real, gladiators cost money! Executing criminals in an amusing manner is something an awful lot of societies did.

        1. Gladiators survived well enough that retired-gladiator-is-now-bodyguard was a commonplace thing, and there were actually freemen who went into the job.

          1. Sounds like they would be very easy to distract: “May I have your autograph?”

          2. Going by surviving graffiti a surprising number of ordinary Romans could read and write.

          3. A number of historical fiction books I have read suggested that legionaries were taught basic literacy. That would give you a fair bit of (male) literacy by itself, especially in the late Republic

      2. Better yet. They killed children at the age that the Carthaginians sacrificed them, but by throwing them out in the trash.

        (Yes, it is disputed how many died, but it was universally agreed at the time that the children who survived were slave prostitutes.)

      3. I think there is a theory that the Romans forbade human sacrifices not out of humanity, nut out of fear: a human sacrifice was so potent a gift to the gods that its use was to be reserved to the Senate. After all, the Roman history did have its occasional human sacrifices, and the ceremonial execution of the chief victim at the culmination of the triumph was very much a human sacrifice.

  4. “Ancient geographic and ethnographic writers abound with crude national stereotypes (generally presenting foreign peoples as inferior, of course)…”

    People tend to forget this is something everyone, everywhere, did and show it as the great “white” sin (or virtue for those… particular… sort of people).

    Of course, I suppose looking back at it, it must have been embarrassing to their theories when a wave of Redcoats ran them over for trade and tuppence.

    Er, King and Country. Cough.

    1. It might not have been a uniquely white sin, but for many centuries (and today, in many parts of the world), whites are the only people who can really…do that particular sin. (No matter how much hate a black individual has for a white one, it can’t manifest that way in a society dominated by whites. And, you know, the black individual has much more justification for that hate than a white one ever could.)

      1. You might have heard of inter-ethnic violence in Africa and South-East Asia. Western-style anti-Black xenophobia is peculiar (though not unique) in that it focuses only on skin colour, but exactly the same thing happens between neighbouring ethnic groups some westerners would have trouble telling apart, not knowing the supposed physical marker to look for.

        Anti-Black prejudice is also common in Northern Africa or some Arabic countries, where you could hardly blame “whites” (by which I assume you mean white Europeans).

        The point is, western racism is bog-standard xenophobia with the dubious veneer of “racial” pseudo-science. Once we recognise that the concept of race itself is bogus, we see that it is just an artificial way of separating “us” from “the others”.

    2. You might be interested in this article: Flagellants of the Western World

      https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/arts-letters/articles/postcolonial-western-guilt-pascal-bruckner

      “Isn’t it surprising that the first nations to have abolished slavery (after having profited amply from it) are also the only ones facing accusations and demands for reparation?”

      “To put it yet another way, while the West hardly invented slavery, it did invent abolition.”

      “Our expansive consciences, so quick to honor the memory of those shipped off and tortured in centuries past, are strangely mute on the subject of the 40 million to 50 million people subjugated today in China, India, Pakistan, Africa, and the Middle East.”

      “Old Europe certainly has blood on its hands and has acted ignominiously on many occasions, but it is one of the few continents to have thought through its barbarism and distanced itself from it. Present-day Turkey, by contrast, still refuses to acknowledge the genocides of the Armenians in 1915 and of the Assyrians from 1914 to 1923. No one is holding their breath while waiting for Moscow to ask forgiveness from the nations of Eastern Europe, which the USSR colonized and pillaged under the guise of friendship between peoples. Communist China does not publicize the mass murders of Mao Zedong, which claimed tens of millions of victims. Not to mention Sunni and Shi’ite Islam, which, unlike the Catholics of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), are nowhere near conducting their own examination of conscience.”

      1. Disclaimer: This reply may have been submitted twice

        Misapplied criticisms of Orientalism are a thing, and even without looking for non-Western voices  speaking out about non-Western violence, we can be sure plenty of such voices exist.

        However, all that self-congratulatory whataboutism against anti-Orientalism strikes me as a double down on Orientalism, or as misapplied criticisms of anti-Orientalism. Ironically, it goes about this by treating the individuals of “the West” a monolithic whole.

        Such self-congratulatory whataboutism fails to heed the history of struggle within “the West” between the oppressors, apologists and bigots on one hand the people fighting back on the other. No heed is given for how reluctant and tepid past liberalisations were. And how often such liberalisations were incentivised by economic changes or realpolitik.

        “The West” has done relatively well against other regions not because every member, or the majority of its members are somehow more humanist than folks of other regions, but because the folks fighting injustice were more successful than folks in other regions.

        Please, by all means, people should speak out against whataboutery from anti-Orientalists and attempts to whitewash injustices in the non-Western world. But the smugness about progress in “the West” needs to be critiqued, especially considering the widespread illiberalism that persists or even grows in “the West” (whether among politicians or the populace).

        1. Apparently pointing out the failings of non-western societies is ‘Orientalist’. How very convenient. It’s orientalist to point out China’s long history of conquest and imperialism. It’s Orientalist to observe that women are oppressed under Islam, and slavery continues in the Islamic world to the present day. We must close our eyes to all that or be labeled Orientalist and racist!

          1. To repeat what I said above: “Please, by all means, people should speak out against whataboutery from anti-Orientalists and attempts to whitewash injustices in the non-Western world.”

          2. Personally I don’t get hot under the collar about old wrongs, even those done to my ancestors, but only when I’m expected to feel guilty about things done long ago by people with whom my only connection is a lack of melanin. I only accept guilt trips from my mother.

          3. 1) It is of course an easy and comfortable stance to deny all responsibility for an event that took place before one’s birth. It remains easy and comfortable to do this when one is the beneficiary of that event, even if one is consistently gaining advantages in life as a consequence of that event.

            No one is quite so eager to ring in the Jubilee and declare all debts null and void as the person who fears that their ancestors ran up a lot of debts that cannot be paid without losing status and prosperity in the present day… And who is aware that they are not owed many such debts in return.

            2) It is no more accurate to say that “any criticism of non-Western societies is ‘Orientalist’ or ‘racist’ ” than it would be to say that “any English-language criticism of Western societies is treason against the white race.” However, what is vital to recognize here is that there are certain patterns of ideas within Western culture about non-Western culture that are simply, objectively false. This is not a unique vice of ‘the West;’ it is functionally no different from the clouds of false beliefs that (for instance) the Romans gave themselves about (for instance) the Germanic tribes of their time.

            The catch is that a powerful culture which is under no practical obligation to learn or care about the cultures of its weaker rivals can accumulate such false beliefs to a depth of complexity that would not survive in a weaker and more vulnerable culture. There is a practical limit to how much condescending nonsense you can believe about a bunch of foreigners when they have got the Maxim gun and you do not; the reverse does not seem to be true.

            Unless one is willing to at least learn what Orientalism is and come to understand the territory charted by the ‘map’ of the term itself, one is permanently handicapped in attempts to make accurate (that is, non-whataboutist, factually supported) criticisms of ‘the Orient.’ Because ‘Orientalism’ represents a pair of light-distorting goggles affixed to the face of the notional ‘Western’ observer; we cannot take the goggles off and see with clear eyes unless we first admit that the goggles are [i]there[/i].

          4. This would be more impressive were it not so obviously cherry-picking, and frequently claims injury by comparisons that would get your case thrown out of court in a real civil suit.

          5. Simon, I’m a woman and a Jew. In addition to having POC ancestry from two continents. I see your oppression and raise you One Holocaust, One slavery and several counts of colonization!
            Do Not try to play the victim game with me.

          6. P. S. I like you, Simon, please ignore above and let’s not argue anymore. It’s off topic anyway.

        2. The whataboutism is more of a feature of my post than a feature of the article. My goal was to encourage people to read the article I’ve found thought-provoking. The quotes were intended as a sample. If there’s a clear pattern to them, it’s entirely my fault.

  5. Not even smart business. Simple reality. When months were needed to get there to put down revolt, systematic culture change was impossible.

      1. All the way to Romania! Though more by the way of unintended consequences than by militant cultural imperialism.

      2. It goes deeper than that. European law is based on Roman. The Roman Empire was a model for monarchical government and the Republic for future republics. The classical influence on art and architecture is enormous and highly visible. And I’m sure Bret can tell us all about roman influence on ways of making war.

      3. All sorts of things happen by accident. That one didn’t happen because the local children were forced into schools where they could only speak Latin.

      4. French is interesting, because it is a Gallo-Romance language. That means that there were enough Gaullic-speakers around to significantly influence Latin. This I´d argue actually disproves the image of a violent cultural conversion the way 19th century Europeans did in their colonies – as that should leave precisely zero Gaullic influences in the language.

        1. Or the way that 19th Century Europeans did to other Europeans. By that time the French language was being forced upon Basques, Occitans and Bretons…

  6. “But the Roman Empire lasted a long time; Roman rule in parts of Spain, for instance, lasted form the late third century BC to the mid-fifth century AD.”
    And beyond. Malaga, Corduba, Barcelona, and the Baleares were all part of Justinian’s conquests.

    Do you feel that the Eastern Romans continued this tradition of simultaneous inclusion and bigotry? The inner core of the Greek Romaioi and their conflicts with the Isaurians and later the Antae Slavs and the Turkic peoples seem to follow this pattern.

  7. Is The Golden Ass really a novel? I’ll start with the very important caveat that I have not read it, even in translation, but a quick wiki search of it seems to indicate that it fails to meet the Flaubetian standards of what makes a novel, what with all the inset tales that wander off in different directions and its lack of focus on the inner state of the protagonist, who seems (again, caveat, I’m working from a wiki summary, not actual knowledge) more a vehicle to include the audience as people tell him stories than a figure whose psychology the reader is invited to learn about and drives the plot forward.

    1. It’s a novel in the sense that it’s long-form prose fiction. It’s not an epic poem, or a play, or a history, all of which are much older formats. Ancients in general were slow to warm up to prose as an acceptable vehicle for aesthetic literature.

      1. There are three surviving Greek novels, and mention of enough more to suggest a thriving literature. They would all be shelved under ‘romance’ in a modern bookstore, and follow pretty much the standard romance format – boy meets girl, boy and girl are separated (pirates figure largely), much travail, re-union, wedding….

    2. I have read it (in translation) and I’d agree, ‘The Golden Ass’ is termed a “novel” mainly because it’s long and in prose. The central figure is rather passive but then he does spend most of the book as a donkey. The inset tale of Cupid and Psyche stands behind various well-known fairy-stories e.g. ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Snow-White’ and ‘Cinderella’. The Jungian psychiatrist Erich Neumann rather cleverly demonstrated that it embodies Jung’s ideas about archetypes, “individuation” and so forth. (Neumann, ‘Amor and Psyche: On the Psychological Development of the Feminine’, 1955).

      1. To say that a fairy tale “embodies” Jungian ideas would require not just that it can be interpreted that way, but that it must, or at least makes very much more sense when you do so.

        When trying to determine what a fairy tale’s inner meaning, always remember that in one era every single one was interpreted as a solar myth. (A view defeated by the man who proved that by the rules they were using, Napoleon was not a historical figure but a solar myth.)

        1. I was curious so I ran down the Wiki article about Jean-Baptiste Peres, a French writer who >>proved<>feminine psychology<< are pretty dated now, as are Jung's. For me 'Amor and Psyche' works as literary criticism even if one questions the underlying "science". It's only one interpretation but you have to start somewhere.

          Apuleius handles symbol in a very interesting way, especially the drop of burning lamp-oil with which Psyche inadvertently wounds Cupid. In this way he anticipates Perrault's equally brilliant use of symbol (the glass slipper, the spindle).

          1. Apologies, this dropped out between my first and second sentences (possibly because of the angle brackets)

            …”proved” Napoleon was a sun-myth in 1827.

            Neumann was well-regarded in his day but I’d guess his ideas about feminine psychology…

    3. For all of the insert stories, we do get to know Lucius (the main character) pretty well and he does have his development. The largest sweep of which is accepting his own powerlessness and so accepting the beneficial intervention of a god (Isis).

    4. A lot of major novels fail to meet those Flaubertian standards of what makes a novel, for instance and just off the top of my head: Don Quixote; The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy; The Betrothed; Dead Souls; The Pickwick Papers; Les Miserables; Moby Dick; War and Peace; Ulysses; The Trial; Master and Margarita. (Attempts have been made to try to treat ‘novel’ as ambiguous between the narrowly defined genre of psychological development and realistic action in society, and any prose genre, or to define other genres of prose narrative (most notably Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism); on the other hand, Russian formalist writers have argued that the tendency of the novel to escape from genre definitions is one of its main features.)

      1. Some of these novels seem like edge cases. (Especially Ulysses and Tristram Shandy). And then, Don Quixote is also sort of an edge case since it’s treated as the first novel.

        Seems like some of these are also famous partly for things that are going to make them very atypical and unrepresentative of novels in general ( For example, in the case of Ulysses, the use of stream of consciousness, the allusiveness, and the level of detail in general).

        1. Sorry, I thought this reply didn’t get sent; I clicked post but then accidentally refreshed the page so I thought it didn’t get sent (and then I didn’t see it on the refreshed page).

        2. When an edge case such as Tristram Shandy or Ulysses is highly influential on central cases is it really an edge case?
          Another problem raised by calling them edge cases is that of defining what edge they’re on. Gerusalemme Liberata is an edge case of an epic because one could just as well or better call it a chivalric romance, but there isn’t really anything else that one could call Tristram Shandy. Whatever Tristram Shandy is, it’s a successful example of whatever it is.

          1. Well, since this is in the context of your earlier comment, I assume we should take them as being on the edge of the field of novels.

            They’re edge cases in terms of most significantly large and widely consumed bodies of literature we take them to have influenced.

            You’re probably right in saying TS or Ulysses is a successful example of whatever it is; the problem is that the kind of books these are, are very very unrepresentative of what most people read (and the novels they read).

            Again, these books are regarded as significant for reasons that, by themselves, are going to make them very unrepresentative (of the kinds of books most people read, and possibly of the stories they tell or consume). For related reasons, they’re also probably going to be unrepresentative of most novels that are written (irrespective of how widely read they are).

            Of course, I need to note that this might be irrelevant if we understand “novel” in a fairly restrictive sense since then The Golden Ass might just be disqualified anyway. On the other hand, I suspect some of my points implicitly assume a fairly broad meaning for “novel” and I can see how they’d be less valid if we stick to the restricted definition. I might have just been raising somewhat confused objections in that case, and I’d grant you were probably correct.

      2. Some of these counterexamples seem really atypical and unrepresentative, especially Ulysses (eg; for its level of detail, use of stream of consciousness, and heavy use of allusions) and Tristram Shandy. To the extent that we regard it as the first novel, we should expect Don Quixote to not perfectly conform to whatever features end up characterizing most novels.

        1. True. When a line must be drawn somewhere, that some border cases are really close does not prevent some from falling over and some inside.

  8. For obvious reasons, we’ve been talking mostly about how elites viewed incoming elites. What do we know about how more common Romans viewed the influx?

    1. Having read the rest of the blog, I’d be willing to bet actual cash that the answer is “Frustratingly little”. Most people who could write in ancient times only wrote about “important” (elite) people/groups, and most people who preserved literature only preserved “important” literature (mostly about elite people, or important religious/cultural narratives).

      1. We do have some preserved writing from more ordinary people, such as the Vindolanda tablets, but it tends more to the practical.

        What you really want is the Roman equivalent of the Facebook meme, but I’m not aware of that sort of thing.

          1. I immediately thought of the graffiti too. 😄 But I don’t think any memes have been identified.

          2. We know from graffiti that at one point it was ‘common knowledge’ that Christians worshipped an Egyptian-style animal-headed god with a donkey’s head, but I don’t think we have any idea how that meme developed.

          3. Is the donkey’s head supposed to be an accurate depiction or an insult?

      2. A possibility would be to look at reports of riots. They do normally reflect existing tensions. I know of many religion based riots during Christianization, both Christians vs Pagans and Christians vs different flavor of Christians. There were also class based/political riots during the Republic. I haven’t heard of ethnic riots so far except maybe in the fifth century CE, towards the fall of the western part of the Empire.

    2. In my country we have a saying which translates roughly to “Example comes from above”. This means that in any hierarchy the top figures influence behavior of subordinates. Those at the top demonstrate what is desirable or even safe to do. People like others who are like them, so if you want to suck up to someone it can be a good strategy to copy his/her habits. It’s profitable to suck up to people in power.

  9. “Not all Romans were so close-minded, of course – had they been, they likely would have pushed to restrict the steady expansion of Roman citizenship and free movement which made this all possible.”

    Trending on tvitterus.la: #NotAllRomans

  10. Tacitus famously gave the Germans the ‘Noble Savage’ treatment using their primitive virtues to criticize Roman decadence, at the same time other writers were stereotypy them as big, dumb savages. This dual approach to ‘the Other’ both idealization and contempt, seems to be a permanent characteristic of western thought.
    It’s hard to miss the whining of those writers who consider themselves ‘Real Romans’ about freedmen and provincials, or to see it as anything but sour grapes. Older elites clearly felt threatened by New Men from the Republic to the end of the empire.

    1. This dual approach to ‘the Other’ both idealization and contempt, seems to be a permanent characteristic of western thought.

      Not just Western thought. I’ve been reading a book on Chinese descriptions (and illustrative depictions) of Taiwan in the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries, and there were versions of both approaches there as well. I.e., the indigenous people of Taiwan were either subhuman savages that represented that bad old days before civilization — or else they were exemplars of a happier time before the luxuries of civilization corrupted people (the latter, “noble savage” concept deriving from Daoist considerations, apparently).

      1. Now that is interesting! Here I thought the noble savage was a purely western concept! It must be some kind of Jungian archetype lurking in the racial subconscious.

        1. The primitive life as more morally pure is fairly widespread. Arab contrasts the simple Bedouin with the corrupt city-dweller and Turkish and Iranian stereotypes dwell on the noble shepherd (dynastic founders are always simple shepherds by birth). Easy to transfer this to another people.

    1. Yes. Consul was a big deal. Even after the emperors had sucked most of the power out of the office every Roman senator still wanted to be consul at least once.

        1. There was a note added up at the top: “Finally, since we have a lot of people showing up below, I use some standard notation for their dates: r. means reigned, cos. indicates the year they were consul, and suff. cos. indicates the year they were consul suffectus.)”

          Consul Suffectus seems to be basically a temporary fill-in if the consul died in office.

          1. I didn’t want to get too far into this, but yes, a suffect consul was a consul who replaced a consul who for whatever reason became incapable during their year of office. Roman law didn’t really allow for the consulship to be left vacant, so ‘fill-ins’ were required.

            One of the problems that Augustus notices is that the expansion of the Roman elite and the senatorial class created a log-jam of men seeking the honor of the consulship. By tradition, there were only ever two consuls, so while you could add more lower offices, the top two (the two consuls) were always two.

            Augustus’ solution was to have the two consuls of the year resign their post midway through the year, every year. He tend appointed two consuls suffecti to replace them, allowing four men to get the consulship in a given year.

            Status being status, there was naturally a distinction. Holding the consulship for the first part of the year (that is, not suffectus) was considered more prestigious than holding it for the second half (that is, suffect). Though in either case, holding the consulship at all marked an individual as very politically successful; with 600 senators and only 4 consuls a year, most senators never reached that high.

          2. A fiction writer I’m fond of once pointed out (a bit indirectly) that one advantage of deliberately making the terms of consuls short and rotating them out frequently for suffect consuls is that it made it all the more impractical for any one senator to gather any real political power during their tenure as consul. And such power might be used in a bid to threaten the supremacy of the emperor. So from his point of view, it’s probably.for the best if the consuls are rotating in and out every few months, if not weaker.

  11. > Somehow whenever I see arguments that this or that culture was ‘incompatible’ with Roman civilization, it is always directed at people from the East or South, but for the Romans, it was often the Gaul, Briton or German who was the ultimate ‘other.’

    Really? In the Roman context, 99% of claims like that I’ve ever seen have been about Germans, sometimes including the various other Eastern European invaders of the 400s. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it said about Middle Easterners, or most North Africans (save maybe the desert nomads). As far as I can tell, the only groups that come to mind as (pop-history) examples of people the Romans could never come to an accommodation with are desert nomads, Germans, and Scots.

    1. Then you have been listening to the right kinds of amateur/historians. YMMV on whether the racists making such arguments are more common than actual historians, but they’re certainly more…memorable.

      1. I’ve heard plenty of racist nonsense about the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and it sill always focuses on the allowance of more Germanic tribes into the empire weakening the Roman character. The Huns are only occasionally brought up, the Sassanids or nomad groups of North Africa and West Asia never.

          1. Of course, that was a large chunk of “they have weakened us by putting us in the wrong with the gods!”

  12. I find myself in the awkward position of broadly agreeing with Mr. Devereaux but also thinking that many of the arguments presented might be questionable.

    As an example, it is an agreed fact that a handful of men were able to advance into the (Republican) Roman power structure, and I acknowledge that he identified them as men of ability and wealth. However, they were also men with existing ties into that world, and often had to strain just to reach the bottom rungs of the ladder. Likewise, as in the case of Marius and Cicero, we see much of their advancement caused by a faction backing the newcomer partly to block rivals. This particular period appear to be have been remarkably closed to new entrants because most of the internal power dynamics were trying to shut the door.

    In terms of elite dynamics, I am not sure that Greek cities were as closed off as presented here, though again I agree that integration and assimilation on the ground level, so to speak, were much more favorable to Rome compared to Greek cities. That, however, may be more part of the era in which we have clearly recorded history because the Greek colonial expansion isn’t well-documented in those terms.

    As I said, *I don’t disagree with the total argument*, but I ended up thinking that some of the evidence presented here might not be as convincing as it could have been. I make no claim to be a scholar of any ancient period.

    1. I find myself in the awkward position of broadly agreeing with Mr. Devereaux but also thinking that many of the arguments presented might be questionable.

      I hate being in that position. Especially when there’s nobody around I disagree with so I can make my actual position more clear.

  13. As noted above, it’s fascinating how similar the rhetoric is regarding those considered “less civilized” in Roman times and now. There are certain…elements…on the Internet who become violently triggered when you point out that their ancestors were once the barbarians who were going to destroy all that was good and true and beautiful in the world and had never contributed anything to the development of civilization.

  14. This is really interesting! I’m really looking forward to the next article in the series.

    I’m curious though, are you going to talk about Anthony Kaldellis’s work at all? In his book Romanland: Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium, he talks about the Roman cultural and ethnic identity and how it continued and evolved into the middle ages.

      1. Aw, that’s unfortunate. Well, thanks for the reply. I’m still looking forward to rest of the series. Have a good weekend.

  15. (This is also, by the by, another example where the foreigners so often despised by snobbish Roman elites were very frequently European Gauls and Germans, rather than non-Europeans. Somehow whenever I see arguments that this or that culture was ‘incompatible’ with Roman civilization, it is always directed at people from the East or South, but for the Romans, it was often the Gaul, Briton or German who was the ultimate ‘other.’)

    The more I learn about the Classical-era and earlier world, the more the idea of “Europe” seems anachronistic to it. The Mediterranean had one cluster of cultures, common social structures, political entities, and so on that interacted extensively with one another, while the rest of what we consider Europe had other clusters that were considered separate from them because of those differences.
    As an amateur, it seems like the first time when it makes sense to consider “Europe” as one entity distinct from North Africa, Anatolia, etc, would be some time in the 8th or 9th century, once Islam had (mostly) separated those parts of the world (less what the Eastern Roman Empire still held, plus much of Hispania) from the influence of the Catholic Pope (and Orthodox Patriarchs). But I couldn’t say even that without caveats, and I’m not sure whether Europeans before the Crusades would see themselves as a group—a Christian Europe, contrasted by a Muslim Orient.

    (Now isn’t the time to get into the mostly hair-splitting argument of if these views constitute ‘racism’ – an argument which mostly turns on how one defines racism and the degree of connection to psuedo-scientific theories about race.)

    My 2¢: “Racism” is the best word in the English language for describing that type of bigotry, because “race” is the closest concept in modern Western culture to the category being targeted by it.

    Putting that aside, I find it interesting how many parallels there are between Roman and modern bigotry, from broad patterns (e.g. the strongest bigotry is usually directed against the newest people to enter public discourse…or the Jews) to specific stereotypes about ethnic groups. The more things change, the more bigots stay the same.

    (also known as the Nervan-Antonine Emperors, ironically there are six of them – Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius, plus the one bad one, Commodus)

    For imperial-accounting purposes, Lucius counts as part of Marcus. (I would not want to be the Imperial accountant.)

    1. I’m just reading Medieval Europe by Chris Wickham (Professor Medieval History at Oxford), who starts out by making that point about Europe and the Mediterranean before the coming of Islam, before going on to point out that even so Europe wasn’t any kind of cultural whole: even ignoring Muslim Spain and Byzantine territory in Anatolia, the distinction between Roman Catholic and Orthodox loomed almost as large, or sometimes larger, than that between Christian and Muslim, not to mention Jewish. Europe in the Middle Ages is apparently a term mostly used by Carolingian and Ottonian court writers to mean the territory (usefully vague) in which they claim the Holy Roman Emperor is preeminent.

      My thankfully slight experience with explicit racists is that they like to claim that racism is natural and universal; I think restricting the term ‘racism’ to the early modern to contemporary variety of xenophobia that chunks humanity by skin colour or facial features into groups based on original continent or subcontinent is helpful in emphasising that most varieties of xenophobia are culturally constructed rather than natural. It also helps to challenge the idea of history as a matter of pure progress, which has its own unfortunate implications.

    2. Religion was the most salient marker for most of the medieval people. You were Christian or heathen or pagan. So northern Europe was the other until the 11th century, Lithuania until the 14th, Orthodox areas after the 9th century schism doubtful (although there were continuing strong contacts between Kievan Rus, Poland and Hungary), Islam also other. Ethiopia was just inside the tent, as were Armenians and Nestorians and the Irish – whose Christianity was peculiar.

      1. Ethiopia was so far away and cut off from communications that its existence was in the same category as the existence of King John’s Realm (they were sometimes the same thing). If Ethipia had been better known, it would have been a country of heretics, as Ethiopians are not supporters if Nicea and Chalcedon.

        1. Just post medieval, but Portugal sent a contingent of matchlock-men to Ethiopia in 1541 to aid them against a Muslim invasion from Somalia (amazingly, the last 40 of them, wounded and having lost their leader, turned the tide by killing the Muslim emir at the climactic battle). This was part of a longish history of contact, so Ethiopia was not mythical.

          1. When does that longish history of contact trace back to? Was this part of a broader pattern of European contact with Ethiopia, or was it a case of the Portuguese benefiting from entry into Ethiopia “by the back door” of having established a naval presence in the Indian Ocean?

          2. Basically.
            Europeans had been vaguely aware that there was a Christian kingdom beyond the Islamic world, though they mixed up the Nestorians beyond Persia, Ethiopia and their fertile imaginations, so to some extent these were all fused into ‘the Kingdom of Prester John’ mentioned above. The link with Ethiopia and Prester John became stronger after some Ethiopian ambassadors reached Europe in the 14th Century. Near the end of the 15th century the Portuguese developed a more precise interest in Ethiopia and sent scouts and diplomats; Vasco da Gama’s mission which opened up India for Europeans included the idea following up on these attempts, I believe. His success made that more workable at any rate and a whole Portuguese expedition reached Ethiopia by 1521.
            But before that contact between Ethiopia and Christian Europe was extremely sporadic

        2. That is partly wrong. The Ethiopian church does accept Nicea, and the other councils before Chalcedon. So theologically they Are in the same groupies as the Coptic church, the Syrian church and the Armenien church.

          1. The Ethoipian church was an offshoot of the Coptic church, and in constant contact with it. European merchants in Alexandria and Cairo would have had a general awareness of Ethiopia as Christian. Prester John seems to have been born of hearing of a Christian state in the further east – possibly from the Nestorian presence among some Mongol groups (and maybe just that Mongols were not Muslim).

        3. The Byzantines were in close contact with the Etiopians and they convinced them to invade the Arab peninsula against Parthian sponsored states. The Etiopian is the term used by medieval europeans for black people or African people well into Renaissance. So there was a continuous knowledge of Etiopia both at elite and commoner level in Europe.

        4. The Ethiopian Church absolutely accepts Nicea. Chalcedon is…….. complicated. Technically, miaphysitism and Chalcedonianism do not view each other as heretical and this is now accepted today, but due to language and translation difficulties the Chalcedonians thought the miaphyisites were monophysites and the miaphyisties thought the Chalcedonians were Nestorians.

  16. One somewhat-related question that I’ve had for a while is why the Eastern Roman Empire ended up speaking Greek rather than Latin. These areas were under Hellenistic control for 2-3 centuries, then under Roman control for 3-4 centuries. Why did the Greeks leave a deeper cultural imprint than the Romans?

    1. Since Greek was already a lingua franca in the region when the Romans came, they preferred to communicate in that rather than teaching Latin to everyone. It was also expected for Roman elites to be fluent in Greek.

  17. I’ve seen it commented before that, for all the Romans were very vocal about how much they hated human sacrifice, they had a few practices themselves that weren’t exactly far off.

    The Vestal Virgins come to mind, and I think I’ve seen it mentioned that there were killings at some Triumphs? Can’t quite remember that one.

    1. Verxingetorix was executed at the conclusion of Caesar’s triumph. I don’t think he was unique, but he’s the only one I can name off the top of my head.

      Gladiator fights were also common elements of the games that traditionally accompanied some religious holidays, although AFAIK these games weren’t technically religious observances, but more like festivals that happened to coincide with them (a rough modern parallel would be a secular Christmas party).

      1. Ideally the enemy king or leader would feature prominently in any triumph. Execution was optional at the end, usually only implemented if the opponent had been an absolute bloody nuisance. Jugurtha of Numidia and Adiattorix of Galatia are two that come to mind, as well as Vercengetorix. I believe technically those enemy leaders who survived the triumph had to be pardoned (Caractacus, one of the British Kings was, for example).

    2. The key difference in the Roman mind is often summed up in the (modern) distinction between human sacrifice and ritual murder. The key difference is if the killed person is imagined as being ‘given over’ to the god in question. The Romans aren’t against murder, they’re appalled by the idea that you might give a dead human as a gift to a god. They’re perfectly fine with the idea that a god might demand a lawbreaker be killed.

      1. Do we know why this distinction is made by the Romans but not by some of their contemporaries?

      2. Doesn’t Livy mention some human sacrifices done after the Romans lose the battle of Cannae?

        1. There’s definitely hints of human sacrifice in Roman accounts of their early history. A related thing, it seems to me, is the devotio, where a general could devote himself and his life to the gods by means of ‘suicide by enemy army’ in exchange for victory, although in the one case I read about – Decius Mus – he did still wear armour etc… so not clear if he was devoting his life on a guaranteed basis or just a *risk* to his life. I’m not sure what the modern scholarly view is on the devotio…

          1. He also devoted anyone he killed. If the devotio was performed in front of the enemy (and they knew of the practice – as many Italiote peoples would have) there would be a certain reluctance to engage.

        2. Which also leads to the sacred spring (the last one documented also follows the defeat of Cannae but was limited to cattle) as another Italic custom possibly related to human sacrifice.

          That being said, I like that the Vestal Virgins were mentioned in this thread as sacrificing someone doesn’t necessarily have to mean killing them (think of the “sacer esto” in the Twelve Tables).

          1. If being a Vestal Virgin were a lifetime commitment, I would agree that they were being sacrificed, in a way. But they only served that role for a few years and were expected to live normal lives afterwards.

          2. Wait, I just looked this up, and they served for thirty years. That is a sacrifice. (Also, I can’t figure out how to edit or delete my previous comment.)

      1. If a Vestal Virgin broke her vows by having sex, she was executed for her crime by being entombed. The execution ceremony had religious stuff in it, because the point was to keep the gods from being pissed off because the purity of Rome was sullied. Or something along those lines. Dr. Schultz’s lecture linked by Dillon Saxe above talks a lot about this and other Roman “ritual murders” and occasional human sacrifice.

        1. Executing people who commit sacrilege is a very far thing from human sacrifice. Especially when you remember that they believed their religion and consequently regard these people as mass murderers.

  18. What was the destruction of the Spartans and the Athenians but this: that as strong as they were in arms, they shoved away as aliens those they had conquered?
    ✨✨✨

  19. ‘He then asserts his education in Rome and notes prominently his assumption of the toga virilis, the narrow purple stripe of which’

    You’re the historian, but are you sure? Every other source I see says the toga virilis was plain white. One mentions “Sometimes the property-owning equite class of Roman citizen wore a toga trabea with a narrow purple stripe”.

    Unrelatedly, I think some comments had mentioned the Masters of Rome series. I’m still reading the first book (it’s long!) but it’s been entertaining. Going by the appendix/glossary there’s a lot of research into it, though after looking up the snails incident there seems a fair bit of liberties taken too.

  20. British martial races… Racist and bad and all that..

    But explain Gurkhas

    Like after the British empire fell, everyone agreed that the British were bad and we hate colonialism. Jai Hind!

    But you know those badass Nepali farmers that the British identified?

    India, Brunei, Singapore, Nepal and the UK still use Gurkhas.

    1. The ‘martial race’ stuff in India only came after the Mutiny. Indian was won by Bengalis and Tamils and Jats, but when they proved politically unreliable they were phased out in favour of Sikhs and Rajputs, dressed up as ‘martial’.

    2. Because as foreigners in the places they fight they’re politically reliable, and because as denizens of extremely poor peripheral areas they’re more inclined to sing on as long-service professionals.

      1. One may note that “political reliability” can be farther-reaching than just “unlikely to revolt.”

        A bunch of Gurkhas, transplanted to fight in someone else’s army in colonial Afghanistan, are going to be wildly unpopular with the locals almost by default, and have very little if anything in common with them. They will probably have little choice but to fight to the death, because if the army as a whole is defeated they get mobbed and swallowed up by the locals.

        Which is how their employer gets, not only long-service professionals, but long-service professionals with a reputation for exceptional tenacity and ferocity.

    3. I believe all the present-day maintenance(s) of Gurkha regiments are essentially treaty obligations, artifacts of the transition from Empire to Commonwealth. But as for how that arrangement came about in the first place: poor young men have been leaving home for military service since time immemorial, and the poorer land is for agriculture, the richer that land is for recruiters. In Britain, this had a peculiar side-effect; English elites decided that martiality was directly tied to altitude. The Kentishman was less likely to go mercenary than the Borderer, and he than the Welshman, and he than the inland Irish, and he than the Highlander. Whenever there was evidence that it was some other factor that drove these men to desperation, that evidence was discarded; for you see, when a person (English or otherwise) has diced humanity up into minute little races, all with certain qualities, you cannot convince that person that they are wrong (not even with all the weight of an Empire). And so these Englishmen looked out to the Continent, and there they saw that the Swiss were very mercenary, and the Hessians somewhat mercenary, and the Prussians were obviously immigrants to Prussia from a variety of uplands, and also they saw the Iberian peoples but they didn’t think about it too hard.
      Everywhere the English took their empire they looked for Scotsmen, and in the Subcontinent they found the most perfectly Scottish nation in the whole world: Nepal! The Nepali kings were able to humor this delusion for almost two centuries, and consequently avoided being invaded and annexed like their neighbors.

        1. No, but there are Gurkha jokes:

          Two Gurkhas are drafted into the Airborne Division. They stoically get on the plane for their first training drop. As the plane climbs one asks the instructor: ‘So what height are we jumping from?’
          “Well, we’ll start at 10,000 feet”
          “10,000 feet?” replies the first Gurkha, doubtfully. “that seems a bit high? Maybe we should start at 150?”
          “Oh gosh, no,” replies the instructor. “at that height your parachute won’t have time to open”
          “What, we get parachutes?”

  21. > One can hardly fault the Jews of Judaea for being upset that their imperial overlords not only imposed taxes on them but then also came to their country to profanetheir sacred sites or trample their religious rituals.

    Does it mean the Jews of Judaea got unusually harsh treatment for no apparent reason? I remember from the last part that socii often didn’t have to pay any taxes at all. And Romans mostly didn’t interfere with customs and religious practice. On the other had, they were known to be very harsh against peoples who rebelled (such as Dacians).

    1. I feel like unfortunately the post on the Socii didn’t make it clear enough that they were limited to Italy. The provinces outside Italy, starting with Sicilia 241 BCE, did pay taxes but didn’t have to supply troops (as Rome moved towards a volunteer army troops were recruited in the provinces though). I was actually expecting this post to be about how the Romans governed in the provinces and managed diversity there because that would be the logical next step after the Socii, but maybe that topic will come later.

      As for religious practice, the problem was that the Jewish religion had some taboos different from other peoples of the Mediterranean. While the Romans normally didn’t stop existing religious practices (this post does mention exceptions to that like druids and human sacrifice), they did build temples to Roman gods in conquered regions and the locals would visit those temples and addition to their own. Often Roman gods were identified with local gods, creating merged religious practices. During that time Judaism already had a pretty strong prohibition on this, Jews were required to not only take part in the cult of their own god like other ethnicities, but also to abstain from participating in the cult to other gods. In the diaspora this worked reasonably well, even though it lead to negative opinions about Jews (not participating in religious festivals that the whole city attends is kind of a faux pas). But for the locals in Judea even building temples to other gods in cities like Jerusalem was too much. They were also more touchy about non-Jews entering the Jewish temple and IIRC the Jewish War started because Roman soldiers were ordered to seize the temple treasure in Jerusalem because Nero had financial troubles. I assume the same happened in many other locations, but if you have many temples which are open to everyone and work more or less as the city’s treasury, this amounts to an extra tax which you can stomach. Not so in Jerusalem.

      So all in all it was more a case that the normal Roman playbook for the religion of conquered people didn’t take Jewish cultural peculiarities into account than it being harsh for no apparent reason. The Roman occupation of Judea did become harsher after each failed revolt, up to banning Jews from Jerusalem and building a temple to Jupiter on the ruins of the Jewish temple.

      1. Okay, from my perspective it was monotheism that proved toxic to Rome. In my opinion as an atheist, monotheism is inherently intolerant of other religions. Although there’s a saying the biggest achievement of Christianity was the invention of atheism. Other religions find it particularly despicable.

        Did Romans have similar problems with other monotheistic religions? Was Judaism the first monotheistic religion they encountered? Did Judaism invent monotheism (the answer seems to be: pretty much)?

        1. Well there was Zoroastrianism, but that’s more dualistic with two coeval Gods. I think. But Zoroastrians lived under the Parthian, former Persian Empire. As I recall Zoroastrianism got along fairly well with Judaism, having few problems with our peculiar beliefs and practices. Though there was that issue with with the Amalekites.

          1. If by “that issue with the Amalekites” you’re referring to the Esther narrative, that’s almost certainly ahistorical.

        2. The Romans knew about atheism. Though they frequently accused the Christians of it, it was clearly pre-existing.

          1. Lucretius in “On the nature of things” basically says there are no gods but if there are gods they don’t care about anything because their perfect and therefore have no desire. So clearly Atheism was a thing in Rome.

          2. Some necessary correction: Lucretius does not seriously doubt the existence of gods in the DRN, merely their involvement in the world. And we might take even that denial with a least a grain of salt, given that the poem opens with an address to Venus as both the mother of the Romans and of nature itself. Lucretius, among other things, proclaims of Epicurus ‘deus ille fuit, deus’ (“A god he was, a god!” – that’s DRN 5.8; he then compared Epicurus to other gods, Ceres, Liber and divine Herculus in the following lines) – a formulation reused and echoed later by Vergil in Eclogue 1.6 of Augustus.

            Consequently, I don’t think I would call Lucretius an atheist. Certainly he isn’t enough to posit that atheism was common in Rome.

          3. Very common philosophical position: any divine being, being perfectly perfect perfection, could not possibly be in need of or aware of anything outside. (As opposed to the daemons that were worshipped, in some philosophies.)

        3. I think you have to distinguish between monotheism in belief and monotheism in practice. Monotheism in belief, so believing that there is only one god, isn’t really that special. Many philosophically inclined Roman pagans believed that ultimately only one god existed. This form of monotheism has appeared in many cultures, probably independently. For example, most Hindus are monotheists and see the different deities as different expression of one god.

          Monotheism in practice, so only allowing to worship of one god, is much rarer and it is quite possible that the Jews were the first to practice it. For a time we thought that Akhenaten tried to introduce monotheist practice to Egypt before Judaism existed, but this position has been revised now. As far as I know his reforms were limited to the royal cult. Btw it seem like even during Roman times not all Jews rejected the existence of other gods, even if they only worshiped one. And as I said, in the diaspora it normally worked out reasonably well. Romans largely gave Jews a pass for not participating in public cults because they were just respecting their ancestors by following their prohibitions. The Jewish intolerance towards other religions was tied to a particular place. Christianity was likely the first religion to be “inherently intolerant” in the sense that it insisted everyone should be Christian. Zoroastrianism is older than Christianity, but the first evidence we have for this attitude towards other religions is from the 3rd century CE.

          While there are a few atheists that existed before Christianity, I have also heard something along the lines of atheism, as a larger movement, coming from Christianity. The theory is that it became thinkable after the Reformation and the European Wars of Religion. If neither Protestantism nor Catholicism could be proven to be true and neither were favored by divine intervention, why believe in either?

          1. It’s difficult to deduce exactly what Akhenaten believed from the archaeological remains. But while there’s clear evidence of hostility towards the temple establishment, domestic cults seem to have been tolerated in Akhetaten, or maybe just ignored.

        4. 1. Not monotheism per se, but the development of a majority cult; had Constantine chosen Sol over Deus, equally toxic outcome. 2. Monotheism is perfectly capable of fully syncretizing and thereby preserving other religions; many Irish gods were baptized, etc. 3. Atheism appears in many ancient philosophical systems. 4. Most religions have and continue to treat atheism as a mental health crisis, something to be treated and defended against, even marginalized, but rarely opposed with force of arms. 5. Zoroastrian Parthia was the main geopolitical adversary of the Roman Empire, so you are correct that they did have problems with other monotheists. 6. Most ancient polytheists only personally worshiped one god, and crucially would have lacked the ability to understand how that was different from monotheism; it’s also not clear that individual ancient Jews would have understood how they were different from standard polytheist practice, but Rome probably conquered significant Jewish communities before it conquered significant Zoroastrian populations, yeah. 7. I think most people other than Zarathustra think Zarathustra invented monotheism.

          1. 6, isn’t quite correct. One might have a favorite deity you regarded as your special patron but you would certainly pay due respect to all the pantheon on the proper holy days, and appeal to the appropriate specialist god when necessary.
            The various prophets make it clear that a sense of Jewish religious difference had developed under the Kings and worship of any god but our jealous God was seen as apostasy. By Roman times we Jews were definitely monotheist and confusingly stubborn about it.
            Zoroastrians seem to have been religiously tolerant. Certainly they readily tolerated the restoration of the Temple and open practice of Judaism.

        5. I will reply more up top, but on this particular topic:

          The Romans generally thought monotheism was atheism – for them, there wasn’t a whole lot of distinction between believing in no gods, and believing in almost no gods.

  22. On layered identities, there’s a very good example in the British politician Charles Kennedy (not related to the American Kennedys), who described himself as “a proud Highlander, a proud Scotsman, a proud Brit and a proud European”.

    1. The practice in Poland has been the opposite for a very long time. The cultivated image is that Poland is populated exclusively by Polish speakers of Catholic faith and heterosexual orientation. There were famous Muslims (Józef Bem), Deists (Tadeusz Kościuszko), lowercase jews (Jan Kiepura, Stanisław Lem – became atheist, Stanisław Ulam – one of the people working on atom bomb, Henryk Wieniawski – composer, Jan Brzechwa). Maria Konopnicka was a lesbian. It is not talked about, and very rarely mentioned in history lessons. Conversely, you may randomly hear that such and such was a Muslim / Jew and thus not a Pole. No one wants to investigate last year news that Szopen (Chopin) might have been gay. If you have a German-, Jewish-, or Ukrainian-sounding last name, that’s suspicious. If you are any sort of Christian that’s not Catholic, that’s very suspicious.

  23. Very interesting discussion. I’m a little sad that you feel you have to discuss colour next week. It’s such a reductive lens that only really works in the Western Hemisphere. To say a Darfuri and an Igbo are the same because they are ‘black’, or a Dutchman and a Chechen are the same because they are ‘white’ makes my skin crawl. Far more interesting to learn that Apuleuius was a Gaetuli/Numidian with a thing for Isis! Those are meaningful identities. And I loved the extracts of Roman authors writing about their real identities.
    As for Timon in ‘Rome’, I didn’t know that Jews had a lustful reputation to the ancients and I’m an enthusiastic amateur classicist. I thought the character, as a lustful clever, brawling brute of a man was a real ‘take that!’ to more recent Jewish stereotypes. (After all if Timon had preferred money to sex with the gorgeous Atia, that would also be called an antisemitic trope….)

    1. Well color based racism as developed by early modern Europeans, and practiced to the present, is so pervasive in modern culture as to require a discussion and debunking.

      Side note: The racial hierarchy of the English speaking world, and more specifically the United States, may see a relationship between the Dutch and the Chechen (hence why we call White, Caucasian), the Muslim Chechen almost certainly doesn’t and the modern Dutch probably doesn’t either.

      The racial hierarchy is not a universally ingrained part of all cultures across the globe. And it is not the same in different European societies, i.e. how does French culture treat Black African Christians v. Muslim/Arabs differ from how Americans treat Black African Christians v. Muslims/Arabs? There is a history both of Muslims leaving Europe for the ‘more tolerant’ US and African Americans leaving N. America for ‘more tolerant’ France/Europe.

  24. I’d never noticed before that the Golden Age of Latin literature was dominated by provincials. Struck by the parallel with the Carolingian Renaissance. In the 800s, the Latin spoken by the locals was worn out from everyday use, so they had to bring in English monks. The English monks learned Latin as a second language, so everybody could understand them.

    1. I believe it was the Irish who formalised learning Latin – and they were very prominent at Carolingian courts. They also pioneered punctuation.

      1. Well the Irish monks had a big presence in Northumbria and taught people there and it was a lot of Northumbrian monks that ended up in the Carolingian court. The basic difference is that pronunciation of Latin had drifted pretty far from how it was spelled while the Irish (and later the Northumbrians) pronounced it according to how it was spelled which is how you ended up getting Church Latin as a different thing from the developing romance languages IIRC.

        1. It was a living language, and so kept drifting. There was church Latin, law Latin and scholarly Latin – all taking in new words and extending old ones.

    2. If you read Augustine’s Confessions, you can infer from the discussion that already in 300’s, the educated version of Latin was so far from the Latin spoken on the street that you really needed to brush up to speak properly. Augustine discusses the phonological and grammatical differences a lot, usually as things that everyone knows, to illustrate his actual point.

      1. Some of Augustine’s sermons survive, taken down verbatim by short-hand writers paid by the local elite. They were discovered in a German monastery collection in 2007.

  25. First comment for me! This is a very interesting blog series, about a topic I have often thought about. It surprised me you did not use Juvenal for his hating on Greeks and Syrians “The Orontes has long flown into the Tiber” etc.

    1. Ah that was Juvenal! I think some of the satirists’ hostility towards New Men was sour grapes because they were dependent on wealthy patrons for survival and perhaps a little social insecurity about their own status.

      1. Yes, very true! Dislike of rich freedmen seems to be another strain of this hostility, which is seen in a lot of Roman writing. Though Juvenal seems in some ways very similar to a modern bigot, hating on not only immigrants but also women (Satire 6) and gay marriage (Satire 2)

  26. Whew! That one was a bit tough to wade through, but I really appreciate this series!

    Here are proofreading comments for you to consider:
    as catapult-fodder- if you’ll -> [second hyphen should be em dash (or en dash with spaces to be consistent)]
    in their home towns -> hometowns
    a lot more than that -> [a lot more than what? How can you have a lot more than any?]
    south-east of Rome ->
    southeast
    on the North-East -> northeast
    stripe of which marked -> stripe that marked
    his home town in particular -> hometown
    clear that the even the Senate -> [delete first instance of the]
    Fonto was also the tutor -> Fronto was
    become….Roman. -> [delete extraneous dot following the dots of ellipsis]
    about the Rome or the Romans -> [delete first instance of the word the]
    comment from last time -> [Bret: it is distracting to try to read words that are broken by change in color]
    to profanetheir sacred sites -> profane their
    who accomidated just fine -> accommodated? acclimated?
    a defector too Rome -> to Rome
    Roman world.) -> [delete extraneous closing parenthesis]
    psuedo-scientific theories -> pseudo-
    Suffice to say the -> Suffice it to say
    lasted form the late third -> from

    1. Prof. Devereaux, much as I am reluctant to disagree with you head-on, here I have to. You write “technically any male citizen who was free-born could run for the office (though political connections and wealth were necessary to win it.” This just warn’t so. Wealth was not simply necessary in the pragmatic modern sense- elections are and were really expensive – but a matter of law. No man could stand for quaestor unless the censors verified that he was worth a minimum of one million sesterces (all invested in land; no merchants or bankers need apply). Moreover, a Senator could be expelled if his boodle dropped below that threshold.

      As so often with Roman law and tradition, the wealth-based class structure originated with military concerns: the richest citizens owned and could equip and support horses as well as armor and weapons, and so formed the cavalry, the Ordo Equester. Only these, in the earlier Republic, could be Senators and thus also magistrates and generals (not unlike the military elites who controlled so many other Classical city-states). By the late Republic, a super-elite Senatorial class had been split off, and the O.E thereafter comprised Rome’s wealthiest merchants and bankers, men who preferred the business of money to the business of politics. (Although, in practice, lots of Senators engaqed in commerce through shell companies and as hidden partners. See Crassus, M. L.)

      1. I think that becomes a matter of semantics.

        By law, any freeborn male Roman citizen may run for senator… IF they first amass a tremendous pile of wealth and invest it in land. For 99% or more of the population, the obvious follow-on is “yeah, good luck with that, hah…” And yet, if somehow a freeborn Roman male born to low social status manages to jump through all these hoops (typically by service in the legions), then they are in fact eligible to run for senator.

        Roman society was very wealth-stratified, to be clear- but stratification by wealth is at least somewhat more flexible than, say, stratification by “were both of your parents on the the regional Who’s Who listing of local aristocracy?”

        1. From what I have read, historians seem to believe the property requirement of 1 million sesterces was introduced in Augustus’ restructuring of the senatorial order. Before that, some believe that wealth of 400 000 sesterces was necessary, and others that there was no property requirement at all

  27. Typos:

    I think you’re missing an est in dulce et decorum… – but I may only know this quote through distorted hand-me-downs in Anglophone tradition.

    There’s an asterisk after “equestrian” in Seneca’s farewell address – either a typo, or an intended footnote never filled in?

    “three mechanisms of spreading both citizenship and blending Roman and local cultures.” – of both spreading citizenship and blending Roman and local cultures.

    s/blatent/blatant/

    s/accomidated/accommodated/

    “Josephus, first a rebel against Rome and then a defector too Rome”

    “Italian then-young empire” pushes all my adjective-order buttons – rather, “then-young Italian empire”.

  28. A note on Jewish Romans like Tiberius Julius Alexander, Paul, or (to a lesser degree) Josephus:

    The extent to which Jewish ethno-religious identity was, after the initial disasters of Roman policy in Judaea, compatible with their Roman identity is debatable (I say that without being decided on this debate).

    e.g. Tiberius Julius Alexander is written of by some contemporary Jewish sources as an apostate; but all of said sources are influenced by the fact that he’d been in the army that burned Jerusalem; Roman sources consider him to be absolutely Jewish (and consider that a Bad Thing), but these are the same sources that are notably unfriendly to the foreign-born. And so the debate goes, in circles and circles.

    This applies double to Paul, who is propagating a deeply uncharacteristic form of Jewish religion, doing so to non-Jewish audiences in Greek, and writes a lot about erasing the boundaries of Jewish identity.

    Josephus, meanwhile, is an interesting example in that he is considered a traitor in Jewish sources, but his evident pride in his Jewishness and his continued attempts to explain Jewish culture and history to Roman literate elites makes it impossible for Jewish sources to claim he’s abandoned his identity. (You see this in the Jewish literary tradition, where T. Julius Alexander and Paul are referred to by transliterations of their Latin names, while Josephus is referred to by Hebrew name and patronymic as Yosef Ben Matityahu.)

    But of course the “unassimilable” argument argues that this is an inevitability, whereas whatever the situation was, it was highly contingent on Roman actions, and on Judaean internecine strife during the Roman takeover.

  29. Not particularly harsh treatment, just clumsy.

    The Romans had a general playbook they’d used for integrating Greek and Levantine and Egyptian religions into their empire without touching their beliefs or practices too much – add a few Roman gods to the pantheon, add a bit of emperor-worship, show respect by having the local Roman eminences sacrifice at their shrines, &c

    When they took over one more local petty kingdom, they applied that same playbook, without checking that the religion and culture would actually consider it “non-invasive”. In this case, even some of the things the Romans intended to be conciliatory gestures were profoundly offensive, let alone the religious “concessions” which the Romans expected to be symbolic but were received as unforgivable profanity.

    It took a couple of lost legions for the Romans to wise up, dedicate some actual competent governors, and come up with a formula that worked (relatively well, given the bad blood that had built up by this point).

    Re: taxes – socii often didn’t have to pay taxes, but socii only existed inside Italy; the provinces (of which Judaea was a particularly distant one) never had such privileges.

    1. Poor Romans. They couldn’t understand why say putting a statue of the Emperor in the Temple or equating Yahweh with Jupiter made the locals go ape! ☹️

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