Episode 31 – The Grass Crown

— Dessert – Sliced Campanian honeydew melon, served with sweet cabbages from the Suessula region, and accompanied by assorted goat cheese from the Apennines.

Mount Gaurus. Saticula. Suessula. And the awesome story of Publius Decius Mus, who singlehandedly saved a bunch of soldiers from certain death.

Partial Transcript

Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Beijing, China. Welcome to my podcast.

The Tale of Rome, Episode 31 — The Grass Crown.

We are in the year 343 BC.

Or — if you prefer, the year 411 since the creation of Rome.

It was also known as the year 166, if you would rather count from the founding of the Republic.

But if we want to count years the way Romans did, then we are in the year of the Consulships of Aulus Cornelius Cossus and Marcus Valerius Corvus — that is, the year 343 BC.

And here, we just made a roundabout with years, and numbers, and dates, and we’re still in the year 343 BC.

Saticula, Campania.

High summer – an hour before dawn.

When young Lucius finally saw the troops running towards the camp, and when he saw that – in fact, the Tribune was at their head, his heart went into overdrive.

He ran up the staircase of the tower, trying to see if his brother was among them, but it was still too dark.

Only silhouettes in the dark.

At that moment Marcus joined in.

— “Did you see Publius?”

— “Not yet! But they are running. Maybe the Samnites are behind them. Sound the alarm,” Lucius replied.

— “Open the gates!”

When Decius and the boys ran through the gate, and when the gates safely closed behind them, the entire legion burst into screams of joy.

After they did a recount, everyone realized that Publius Decius Mus, the Military Tribune of Aulus Cornelius Cossus, had not lost one single man, and even the Centurion of the legion came down to meet Decius, still trying to understand how everyone made it alive, from there.

[…]

When Corvus ordered his soldiers to march to Suessula, Cornelius Cossus was still two days away, so Valerius Corvus had only one option left.

The Romans were going to march so lightly that everything – and I mean, everything that was not absolutely essential, was to be left behind.

And, it turns out, that this decision of his, had consequences that not even Corvus himself imagined, because, when the Romans arrived in the vicinity of Suessula, and once they set up their military camp, the building materials were so scarce that the camp ended up being physically much smaller, than a typical Roman camp.

Samnites spies, seeing the size of the Roman camp, informed their chiefs that the Roman unit was not a whole legion — perhaps a third of a Legion, and all decisions the Samnites made from that point on, were based on that mistaken idea.

[…]

Episode 30 – The Samnite Mountains

— While Rome did everything using their own fists and nails, Carthage outsourced the work to others, as to not to get their fists and nails dirty.

Rome will face the Samnites when these decide to attack the southern city of Capua. We also introduce Marcus Valerius Corvus, and Publius Decius Mus.

Partial Transcript

Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Beijing, China. Welcome to my podcast.

The Tale of Rome, Episode 30 — The Samnite Mountains.

The famous Roman poet Virgil would sometimes write three sentences in a whole day, and then he would delete them, not happy with his work.

This is what one day, he wrote in his famous work, known as “The Aeneid.”

Remember, Roman,

it is for you to govern the nations.

This will be your task,

impose the ways of peace,

forgive the vanquished,

and tame the proud.

I’m pretty sure the day he wrote this, he didn’t feel bad about himself.

During the next one hundred years we are going to see how Rome will go from a small — let’s call it, regional power — to becoming the undisputed powerhouse of Italy.

Less than 40 years ago, everyone within striking distance joined in on the fun of kicking Rome, thinking Brennus left the city dying.

But soon, no tribe in Italy will be causing headaches for Rome, and when they will do it again — some 150 years down the road, it will not be to defy the power of Rome, but to beg to be included — as citizens of Rome.

But, of course, we’re not there yet, so let’s take is easy.

[…]

The envoys from Capua, smart old men, already knowing that that’s exactly what they were going to get for an answer, then said something like this:

— “Well, given that Rome cannot help us, since Rome is obliged to respect her peace treaty with the tribes that are threatening us with death and with slavery, a Treaty we totally understand and respect, we are left with no other choice but to submit Campania, Capua and all our surrounding cities and fields, entirely under the command of Rome. “

— “What?”

The Roman senators must have wondered, if what they were hearing was possible.

— “That’s right. Sadly — for the people of Capua, and all of Campania, we have come to the conclusion that it is better to die under the protective wings of the power of Rome, than to live under the yoke and abuse of the Samnites. “

— “Hold on, hold on!“ Another senator interrupted. “Let me get that straight. Are you guys saying that everything that Campania has, and produces, would be under the command, and at the full — I mean, full disposal of Rome?”

— “These were my words, o Senator!”

Immediately, Roman senators asked for a brief recess, to discuss this issue, this totally new offer, totally out of the blue — opportunity of a lifetime.

Episode 29 – The First Plebeian Consul

— When Lucius Sextus Lateranus walked up those stairs, he was conscious that all Rome was staring at him.

Finally, Plebeians have a Consul of their own. And just about in the right moment, because the Samnites are knocking on Rome’s doors. We also see the passing of Marcus Furius Camillus.

Partial Transcript

Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Beijing, China. Welcome to my podcast.

The Tale of Rome, Episode 29 — The First Plebeian Consul.

We are in the year 368 BC.

A young man of high stature, named Lucius Sextus Lateranus, dismounted from his horse in front of the Senate building. Three big parchments of paper were rolled under his shoulder.

Lucius Sextus Lateranus was a Tribune of the Plebes.

In other words, he was automatically an enemy of 100% of Rome’s Patricians, and nothing that was in his possession was welcome in the Senate.

Much less, three parchments, containing laws that would change Rome.

When Lucius Sextus Lateranus walked up those stairs, he was conscious that all Rome was staring at him.

Three of his projects were about to become laws, and this time, not even Camillus himself would get in the way.

The first law ruled all that all moneys paid in the form of interest, became the capital of a debt, and thus the payment of debts would no longer be like a treadmill, or a mule tied to a post, endlessly turning and grinding grain.

The second law forbade any person, Patrician or Plebeian, to possess more than 300 acres of unused land, within the confines of Rome.

It also forbade having more than 100 cows, or goats, using public lands surrounding Rome.

The third law — the most important one, said that one of the Consuls elected every year in Rome, was to be of Plebeian origin.

Patricians knew they were going to lose, and they sent for Marcus Furius Camillus to save them, once more.

So, while the deliberations of all that began, secret messengers went at full speed toward Camillus’ residence.

[…]

If you look at any chronological map of the history of Rome from the 4th Century BC, the first two things you will notice is — ONE — the year 390 — the year of the looting, and — TWO — a gap that goes from 375 to 370 BC.

Yep. A gap of five years.

There were no Consuls, or Tribunes in Rome during those years, according to Livy.

It’s like Rome skipped those years. A total vacuum.

And to explain this — as always, there are two versions.

On one hand, Livy used those years to reconcile his own dates, that is, the stuff that he has been writing in his first five books, with the reality of what was happening, because now the chronicles were true, and impossible to hide, deny, or invent. So, he found that his tale was some five years — off record.

So, a gap.

The other version is that, here there was a space where certain Plebeian Tribunes blocked votes in the Roman Senate, to the point where they gave a veto to each and every one of the decisions taken by Senators.

[…]

Episode 28 – The Tarpeian Rock

— No one wanted a king — not even Plebes, full of debts.

The second start of Rome, after the ashes. Marcus Furius Camillus and Marcus Manlius Capitolinus are the two undisputed heroes of Rome, but one of them will end up a villain. We will also see a miracle at Aeliana’s home.

Partial Transcript

Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Beijing, China. Welcome to my podcast.

The Tale of Rome, Episode 28 — The Tarpeian Rock.

Last week we saw the end of our trilogy of Rome’s darkest hour, so far.

The attack, the siege, and the plunder of Rome.

We saw how the Gauls finally left Rome, and how Camillus became the person who truly led the city’s destiny.

And here, I think it’s a good time to tell you guys, what Livy wrote on the front page of his sixth book, that gigantic work he did, called Ab Urbe Condita, or “From the Founding of the City” in English.

I am reading this from the first page, Book 6:

The transactions of the Romans, from the creation of the city of Rome to the capture of it, first under Kings, then under Consuls and Dictators, Decenvirs and Tribunes with consular powers, their wars abroad, their dissensions at home, all of this, I have exposed in five books.

Themes and events were obscured, both because of their great antiquity, as if they were objects that from their great distance I can hardly perceive, as well as because in those times the use of the letters, the only faithful guardian of the memory of events, was inconsiderate and rare.

Moreover, what was contained in the remarks of the Pontifex, and other public and private records, was all lost during the fires that our city had to endure.

Henceforth, from this second origin of the city, which was born from its own ashes, this time healthier and more vigorous, the achievements of Rome — within Rome and abroad, will be narrated with more clarity and authenticity.

OMG.

I believe that even Livy himself must have smiled the day he wrote that.

[…]

And this is where Manlius saw an opportunity.

Although Manlius came from a family of Patricians himself, he began to help Plebeians.

He first began by telling them that the treatment that Plebeians were getting for not being able to repay their loans on time, was not fair, and then he began to create agitations along the streets of Rome.

On one occasion, in the year 387 BC, a Centurion was being arrested for this same cause, and as people started to gather protesting, Manlius showed up at the scene, and paid the debt of the Centurion, out of his own pocket.

The government of Rome decided that Manlius was creating too much mess in the city, and they arrested him the day after that.

But then the people of Rome made an even bigger protest, and the Senators of Rome had no other choice, than to let Manlius go free.

Manlius even sold some of his properties, with the purpose of helping people in situations like that.

But the Patricians saw this whole thing with twisted eyes, because during the agitations that Manlius created among the Plebes, he began to mention that Rome didn’t really need a Senate.

Well — that was a crime!

[…]

Episode 27 – Iron and Gold

— When they finished with that, the Gauls walked out the same door they had come in, some seven months earlier.

The end of our trilogy of the sack of Rome. Brennus is history, and Rome is saved. We also get the best of news from Aeliana and Lucius.

Partial Transcript

Last week we saw Brennus and Quintus Sulpicius holding meetings to decide the fate of Rome.

Both sides were exhausted, both sides had dead piling up on a daily basis, and both sides had an ego larger than the Seven Hills of Rome, combined…

But here, one of the two sides had a slight advantage, and that advantage was the hope that Camillus would arrive with his troops, any time now.

In the meantime, I want you to imagine the city of Rome.

The Circus Maximus, which still only possessed some disposable wooden grades, had become a temporary morgue, and the stench coming from the place, let everyone know where the Gauls decided to pile up and and burn their dead warriors.

To make matters worse, that year had an extremely temperate winter — as if goddess Cloacina, goddess of Rome’s sewers, had decided to clog the drains of the city.

And it was as if Poena, goddess of punishment, and Tempesta, goddess of the storms, had decided to work hand in hand, and between the two of them, they decided to not to unleash a single winter storm during that year.

A storm would at least help get rid of some of the deadly particles, flying in the air.

Yes, the Gauls got the shorter end of the straw, that year.

From the cattle market, just south of the city bridge, all the way to the Porta Capena, in the southeastern corner of Rome, everything was burning, melting, and otherwise getting spoiled.

This was the Rome, that Marcus Furius Camillus was about to save, according to the version the Romans described.

[…]

But Rome…

Rome had no cure.

That’s right, after the citizen grabbed and seized bricks and rocks, and after they built their new homes, Rome was beyond any fixing.

Streets went in zig-zag, they crossed each other in angles that defied any logic, and even sidewalks were of different width as you would walk along one same street, depending on the whim of the homeowner that just built that sidewalk.

[…]

Episode 26 – State of the Union – 390 BC

— Not for nothing there’s a saying that goes something like “your best friend is sometimes the enemy of your enemy.”

The Gauls entered Rome. But where’s Lucius? Also, we list the lands that lay around Rome, and see how they’re doing. Finally, a sprint through the men who ruled Rome since the kings are gone. Consuls and Tribunes.

Partial Transcript

Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Beijing, China. Welcome to my podcast.

The Tale of Rome, Episode 26 — State of the Union – 390 BC.

Last week we saw how the Gauls of Brennus arrived at the gates of Rome — gates that no one bothered to even close…

This week we’re on our episode 26, which means two things:

ONE – We are going through our second STATE OF THE UNION episode, which this time finds us in the year 390 BC,

AND TWO – We’re at 26 episodes, which is roughly half a year of accrued value. One year – 52 weeks; Half a year – 26. Right?

Alright.

This episode, since it’s going to be a little longer, is going to be split in three main parts.

First, we’ll see what was going on in Rome itself.

From there we’ll go to see the world around Rome, taking out usual eagle’s flight, just like last time.

And just like last time, we’ll do that in a clockwise fashion.

Northern Italy first, then Dalmatia, Macedonia, Greece, Asia minor, Syria and the future Palestine, Egypt, Carthage and North Africa. From there to the Iberian Peninsula, the Gauls, and then back to Rome, seeing if there is anything worth mentioning in the Mediterranean islands: Sicily, Corsica, and Sardinia.

If any region did not go through any real major changes, then that region will not be mentioned in our eagle’s flight, and a good example of this would be Germania and the Netherlands, where there hasn’t been any big changes, this time around.

Last, we’ll see a brief list of the rulers of Rome — from our last State of the Union, to this State of the Union.

That means, we’ll see a list of Consuls, Decemvirs, and Military Tribunes who managed the destinies of Rome during these last 119 years.

Not all of them, but the ones that really mattered.

Alright. Shall we?

[…]

495 BC.

Appius Claudius Sabinus, along with Publius Servilius Priscus. That was when Plebeians withdrew from Rome, and walked to the Mount Sacro, protesting for the differences between Patrician and Plebes.

494 BC.

Valerius Maximus was erected Dictator. Reason: The conflict of the Orders.

488 BC.

Gaius Julius Julus. All right — let me say that again… Gaius Julius Julus — not Julius!

He was consul when the Volsci attacked Rome under the command of Coriolanus, the guy whose mom convinced him to stop the attack.

[…]

 

Episode 25 – Here come the Gauls

— And the worst of all, not a single one of Rome’s eight gates was manned, locked, or otherwise taken care of.

The Senons attack and sack the city, all the while Marcus Furius Camillus is banned from Rome.

Partial Transcript

Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Beijing, China. Welcome to my podcast.

The Tale of Rome, Episode 25 — Here come the Gauls.

Last week we saw how Marcus Furius Camillus was exiled from Rome, after having conquered Veii, and after having doubled Rome’s landmass.

As for Veii, the city became a ghost town.

The peasants around Veii — who were initially not disturbed by Rome, were quickly absorbed by a few patrician senators, who took their farms, livelihood, and anything else they had left.

In fact, most of Rome’s new lands fell into the hands of a really small group of Patricians, and Rome felt like the king of the heap.

But — as the saying goes, the higher you fly, the harder you fall, and this was no exception to the rule.

[…]

And then, something that wasn’t supposed to happen, happened.

One of the Roman ambassadors, to be more exact, Quintus Ambustus put a sword in the guts of a Gaul. The Gaul turned out to be one of Brennus’ own counselors.

I can imagine blood swelling out of his guys’ chest like a Roman fountain, until the tall, thick guy finally collapsed on the floor.

Dead.

Everyone stopped for an instant, and Brennus himself jumped back.

After a pause that must have felt like a whole century, Brennus withdrew from the Hall, and all his Gauls followed suit.

People still did not understand what exactly happened, but the only thing everyone understood, was that the chief of the Gauls was more furious than a caged lion, in a city that had its lion games banned, by imperial decree.

Immediately, the three brothers left the Senate, and embarked on their way back to Rome, at full speed.

The diplomatic mission failed, and the brothers — as ambassadors, they were supposed to be totally neutral, failed as well.

A day later, envoys of Brennus arrived at the gates of Rome, and they were immediately escorted to the Senate of Rome.

[…]

 

Episode 24 – Marcus Furius Camillus

— “Don’t do anything halfway through, son.”

Five times appointed Dictator of Rome. Four times Military Tribune. Three triumphs along the streets of Rome. So then, why was he kicked out of the city?

Partial Transcript

Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Beijing, China. Welcome to my podcast.

The Tale of Rome, Episode 24 — Marcus Furius Camillus.

“Father.”

Even though Lucius’ voice was firm and audible, old Marcus did not move a single muscle, in his bed.

Lucius tried again, placing a hand on the old man’s shoulder. Very gently, for he feared to cause him pain with his touch.

“Father Marcus!”

Slightly, Marcus opened his eyes, and a smile showed on his face.

“Did you beat them, boy?”

“Yes, Father,” said Lucius, proudly. “We destroyed them, Father. And I got you this.”

Lucius raised a few scrolls at the height of his father’s eyes, so that he could see them.

Without waiting for the old man to ask, Lucius explained that the parchments were blueprints of machines to stretch leather and animal hides, such as they had never seen them before.

The Etruscans, it turned out, were much more technologically advanced than the Romans, and part of the loot was of immense value to Roman scientists and engineers.

From how to build arches with three center points, all the way to how to improve their sewers systems.

From how to deal with leaking water in pipes, to how to hoist ship sails with the strength of a single man, almost everything in Veii was entirely new to the engineers of Rome of those times.

“Father!  This machine can even stretch reindeer leather,” said Lucius, excited. “We’ll have soooo much work,” the young man figured.

“Ah, the reindeer,” said old Marcus. “There won’t be reindeer in a few more years, son. You’ll see… “

And the old man was right.

In less than two generations the climate slowly began to return to temperatures like those that reigned in Rome, before.

Reindeer, alpine lions, and the long winters, they all began to disappear from Rome.

Never again, did the river Tiber freeze over.

It should add here, that alpine lions were the flowers that we know today as the Edelweiss, and I’m not talking about the African felines.

Lions, as such, had been gone from Italy — and from almost all of Europe, for more than a thousand years now, and the flowers, named Leontopodium Alpinum, or Alpine lions, were now also vanishing from the vicinity of Rome.

“Tell me, son. With all that science, how did you guys manage to get into Veii?”

[…]

Disgusted with the teacher’s stupid idea, Camillus ordered him tied up on the spot, and then tortured with wooden sticks under his fingernails, and other parts, that I don’t even want to mention here.

After that, Camillus went to Falerii, and told the citizens what just happened, and Camillus returned all the innocent children unharmed, and he also gave them the sneaky, stupid teacher.

The people of Falerii were so grateful for Camillus for his attitude, that they immediately cancelled all plans of war, and submitted to Rome, without any conditions whatsoever.

Personal comment: I don’t even want to imagine what that teacher went through, after Camillus was gone.

[…]

Episode 23 – Don’t Cry for me, Veii

— And at the end of that day, no one cried for Veii. Not Lucius, and certainly not the slaves.

In this episode we get to see the end of Veii. Forever. We also see the emergence of Marcus Furius Camillus.

Partial Transcript

Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Beijing, China. Welcome to my podcast.

The Tale of Rome, Episode 23 — Don’t Cry for me, Veii.

It’s not for nothing that there is a saying like “Home Sweet Home,” in the English language.

I do not believe — not even for a minute that there is any language in the world, that does not have a phrase or expression along those lines, and I think, this also applies to the ancient Rome.

But, as we will see in this episode, this also counts for the enemies of Rome, and today we speak of two of Rome’s enemies: Fidenas and Veii.

The first was the only city south of the river Tiber, and the second was the most well-known Etruscan city, and probably the strongest city, in the entire Etruscan confederation.

Firstly, let’s remember that Veii and Rome were something like an image reflected in a mirror, each having power on one side of the Tiber, and each holding a small piece of land on the other side of the river.

The Etruscan holdout on the southern side of the Tiber, was some 5 miles upstream from Rome.

The Romans, meantime, kept control of the northern side of the Tiber, right in front of their own city gates.

[…]

The main Roman camp was commanded by Verginius, who refused to help unless Sergius actually asked for help.

Sergius — much too proud to do that, was finally forced to retire, and return to Rome.

The other guys, now alone, also had to other choice but to flee back to Rome.

Good job, you two!

Needless to say, both idiots were fired from their posts once the Senate heard the news.

Anyways, let’s go on.

Nothing of importance happened in the years 401 and 400 BC.

But in the year 399 BC the Capenats and the Faliscans made a second attempt to get rid of the Romans.

But, this time around, the Romans worked as a true team, and while the enemies attacked the Roman trenches, they were attacked by the Romans from behind, and they were forced to flee.

They suffered a second defeat, when they stumbled upon a Roman assault team, as they were returning home.

And then again, the next two years nothing of importance happened.

Finally, the year 396 BC was different. Really different!

Marcus Furius Camillus was named dictator, and this is a name we need to keep in our memory, because our next episode bears his name.

[..]

Episode 22 – Decades of Death and Plagues

— And believe me, every citizen of Rome had a personal explanation of why the gods abandoned Rome.

The decades that followed. Thousands died, and thousands more wished they could die.

Partial Transcript

Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Beijing, China. Welcome to my podcast.

The Tale of Rome, Episode 22 — Decades of Death and Plagues.

When we talked about the life and death of Lucius Quinctius Cinncinatus, we saw a time when Rome was standing at the gates of one its greatest and most challenging centuries, even though Rome couldn’t know it.

And Rome did not know that for a good reason, because things were not going well in Rome.

And when I say “things” I mean the following five aspects:

ONE – from the south of Italy, commercial caravans were showing up with less and less frequency, and the ones that did, were not bringing good news to Rome.

A new tribe — well, new in our podcast, and relatively new to the ears of common Romans, began to cause troubles in what we today know as the Italian Campania.

I’m talking about the Samnites — the tribes from the hills.

Campania spread all the way to the south of our well known Latium, and went all the way to the Apennine Mountains in the east. To the south it went to the bay of what we know as Naples, next to the famous volcano, Mount Vesuvius.

Among those bad news, as we will see, was the fall of a city called Capua, which fell after a long, long siege, set by the Samnites.

But we’re not there yet, so let’s go to the next point.

TWO – The climate has begun to decline for reasons that the Romans had no way of understanding. Today we know this as a wave of climatic variation throughout Western Europe, which stretched to the center of the Mediterranean Sea.

Although scientists today have a very well-defined name for this brief period of temperature drops, in ancient times this was interpreted as a bad omen from the gods, who had surely put themselves against Rome itself.

And believe me, every citizen of Rome had a personal explanation of why the gods abandoned Rome.

[…]

Popular belief was that if they slept one night inside the temple, they would get a dream, which would give them an interpretation of what they had to do, in order to cure themselves of whatever disease they had.

But, if they had no dream during that first night, patients used to stay up to three consecutive nights in the temple, after which, the priests generally told them to go home, because obviously the gods did not want to communicate with them, and that meant that even the gods wanted them dead.

FIVE – While many bibliographic sources only cite the year 441 BC as a year of famine in Rome, these same sources do admit that many other hunger waves followed.

[…]