Episode 42 – The Appian Way

— And more than once, it happened that clients would get the wrong door, and walk into the school, before they realized, there were no girls there, but young students instead.

The Roman road that would make Rome the undisputed powerhouse of Italy. And the life of Appius Claudius, the maker of that road.

Partial Transcript

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

The Tale of Rome, Episode 42 — The Appian Way.

No other road, path, or route of communication has changed the history of the western world as much as the Appian Way, today also known as the Old Appian Way.

Natural passage points, or itineraries, that people used by land — such as the Silk Road, the Amber Road, and their maritime counterparts — such as the Strait of Gibraltar — they all can claim their own importance, and yes, they did their fair share, to alter history in their own ways.

As another example, we have the pathway between the locality of Marathon and Athens, which was traveled by a Greek soldier in record time, so that he could pass the news, that the Persians had been defeated. Of course, the mere concept of this distance proved of so much importance in our western world, that today we have an Olympic sport, bearing the name and the distance, of that very pathway.

Marathon!

But — all these are not proper routes — properly designed, planned, traced out, and set up.

The Silk Road was never marked along the whole way. Yes, there were milestone points, and there were knots where people just had to pass through, but those were mostly dictated by nature, or by a government. Not by a designer.

And the Silk Road has never been methodically curated, kept up, and renovated, not by any stretch of the imagination. It served its purpose, sure. But the purpose was very different.

So, when we talk about a road, a cobbled road — and, to make it more specific, a Roman road, this road — the one we are talking about today, truly changed the course of the history of Rome.

Not only because it was the first of its kind, but also because until today, it still remains being the most famous one. And that’s just one of the reasons.

So, today we are dedicating our entire episode to the reasons behind this road.

And to why a Roman Censor, named Appius Claudius, a man of Sabine origin, was pushing so hard through the political system, to get this road done.

And — last but not least, we also wanna learn that this man wouldn’t be stopped from building this road, even as total blindness set in, during the last 15-or-so years of his illustrious life.

So much so, that we will know him as Appius Claudius, the Blind.

And since we will be talking of this man, we should not forget the other masterpiece of his, the just as famous Aqua Appia — in other words, the first aqueduct that brought clean water to Rome, from the mountains.

Yes — it was a subterranean waterway, but the merit still stands.

But before we go talk about Appius Claudius, and the Appian Way, or the Aqua Appia, I want to tell you guys about the dilemma I had to face this week.

When it was time to pick a celebrity phrase, to put it as some kind of GRAND SUBTITLE, for the Appian Way, I found out I had way too many choices.

Too many strategists, generals, writers, historians — past and present, had their say about the Appian Way, and so — it really wasn’t easy to make a choice.

So…

In the end, I picked what a certain Publius Papinius Statius said about the Appian Way, around the year 69 after the birth of Christ.

It was the year when this man — Statius, moved from Neapolis to Rome, and this is what he said:

APPIA LONGARUM — TERITUR REGINA VIARUM

[…]

How many times did Romans have to march from Rome to Capua, during the last — say, 10 years?

Yep. I didn’t count, but for sure — many, many times.

It becomes clear — almost immediately, that — rather sooner than later, someone would show up, and say, hey — we can’t keep dragging ourselves through the swamps that lay between Rome and the south.

— Let’s do something about it!

And this man, was Roman Censor Appius Claudius.

And yes — this was not a matter of “if” the road was going to be built some day. It was a matter “when.”

Besides, those swamps along the Italian coast were a breeding ground for disease.

Those swamps, called the Paudine Swamps, also known as the Pontine Marshes, were very characteristic of the region, where rivers were often short, and had not enough drag to make it through the lowlands, west of the Apennines.

That created large areas of marches. Breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

[…]

Episode 41 – The End of the Great War

— In the end, Gaius Pontius saw that his old father — Herennius Pontius, had been right all along. Samnia now had a deadly enemy called Rome, and all Romans could think of, was vengeance.

The end of the Second Samnite War, from the fall of Apulia, to the inspection of Samnia, by Consul Publius Sempronius.

Partial Transcript

Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Sanya, in the south of China. Welcome to my podcast.

The Tale of Rome. Episode 41 — The End of the Great War.

We are in the year 435 of the Founding of the City. By our accounts, that is the year 319 BC.

Early morning. It’s the first day of the year.

Not the first day of the Julian Calendar — that would come centuries later — but, the first day of the Calendar, as it was set by Romulus, and Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome.

And the business of this first day of the year, was to elect the two new Consuls for the year.

Serious business.

Senators old and young, were hurrying to the building of the Curia, for — two really important decisions, depended on today’s vote.

On one hand, somebody would have to deal with the consequences of what happened at the Caudine Forks.

And, on the other hand, there was a law that was going to — either pass, or not pass.

And that law, had nothing to do with war, or the humiliating defeat at the Caudine Forks.

That law, if passed, would take away one certain power from Consuls, and would give it to the new guys in town.

The Censors.

That’s right — if today’s law passed, Censors would become the ones, who would have the power to remove someone from the Senate, and there was a myriad of reasons why this could happen.

So, anyways.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what was going on, I would like to read a short list of six items, on how a Senator’s day went on, when it was time to pass new laws, welcome new Senators into the house, and other (smaller) business at hand.

ONE — Before the start of any important session, Senators would go to the Augurs, or Oracles, and see if the day in question, was actually good for passing new laws, or any other business.

At that time, there were four guys with sufficient authority in all of Rome, to decide whether the day was auspicious or not.

We’ll talk more about this further down the line.

TWO — Before any voting, there were speeches. Always. Even if the voting was as trivial as the naming of a street, a speech was to be had.

THREE — Sometimes these speeches went really long. And I mean, long!

[…]

A huge army from Tarentum showed up on the horizon, just as Romans and Samnites were about to get running into each other’s throats.

Their trumpets stopped everyone, and the Tarentines announced that this battle was being ordered, canceled.

That’s right! Canceled! And the Tarentines even said that whoever made a move to attack the other side, the army of Tarentum would immediately join the other side, and make the aggressors lose the whole fight.

Right away, the Romans called up their oracle, and checked on their sacred chicken.

The chicken said — well, they didn’t say a thing — the oracle said, the gods were totally in favor of a frontal, brutal, battle, and that Rome was not to be afraid of the new arrival.

And so — they made their battle formations, and started to walk forward.

[…]

Episode 38 – The First Gladiators

— The Romans are a people who do NOT know how to remain quiet after a defeat.

Part two of the Roman defeat, at the Caudine Forks. Also, a tribute to those very first gladiators of Rome.

Partial Transcript

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

The Tale of Rome, Episode 38 — The First Gladiators.

If last episode’s thing was closure — or loss, then today’s episode thing is SHAME.

Yep — SHAME.

Last episode we had closures.

The Latin War. Decius Mus. Villages and peoples of Italy.

Marcus, the Gladiator. And his mother, Aeliana, who died less than a month after Marcia.

In this episode, the topics are shame and humiliation, and we’ll see why.

In Rome, news arrived that the troops got caught at the Caudine Forks.

No-one knew exactly, how many were caught, and all the details of the event, but this was more than enough for an emergency session at the Senate of Rome.

And even before that EMERGENCY SESSION went into gear, the Senators dispatched orders. A new army would be raised, because they didn’t know what exactly happened.

For all intents and purposes, the army could be dead by now. All of them.

Less than a week later, however, fresher — and more reliable news broke.

And that’s when the entire city felt the humiliation of the event.

Unbearable shame.

50,000 Roman soldiers surrendered — without ever drawing a single sword, to a guy called Gaius Pontius.

[…]

Well, to make a long story short, our old Marcus, knew that his next fight might as well be his last one.

And because of that, he invited his nephew, to watch him die.

—”Spurius,” Marcus said,  as they walked past markets and shops, “Rome will soon be the master of this whole region. Not just Capua, but the whole south of Italy. And I don’t want to be alive, by the time that happens.”

—”What are you trying to tell me,” Spurius asked.

—”In seven days I get to face Croccus,” Marcus said.

— “Croccus — The lion killer?”

— “That’s right.”

[…]

Episode 37 – The Caudine Forks

— Aeliana’s body was placed on the left side of her husband Lucius’ body.

Everything was going fine for the Romans, until they walked into a canyon, and got trapped. The most humiliating defeat for 50,000 Roman soldiers, at the Caudine Forks.

Partial Transcript

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

The Tale of Rome, Episode 37 — The Caudine Forks.

During our last episode, we saw the end of many things. Many, many, things.

The end of Publius Decius Mus, for he sacrificed himself on the battlefield.

The end of Titus Manlius Torcuatus, in the books of Livy, for Livy banned him from his books, after the sacrifice of his own son.

The end of the war against the Latins. The end of many peoples of Italy, such as the Sidicines, the Auruncians, the Volsci, and the Campanians, as free people. Yes, some lived on — under the strict yoke of Rome.

It was also the end of the Latin League.

And, yes — I was also the end of a respected Senator from Tusculum. Latin landowner and aristocrat Annius saw the end of his life, when he rolled down the stairs, at the very Roman Senate.

We also saw the end of the Athenian resistance against King Philip II of Macedon, who just married yet another wife — a girl named Cleopatra of Macedon.

I think, she was like, his sixth or seventh wife.

And finally, I sadly announce that today we have yet another loss — this time from Ostia.

In an event that happened all too often in Rome, and in cities built by Romans, the three-story insulae, where our good old slave lived, burst into flames, on a moonless night.

Our slave had no time of getting down the stairs from his third floor, and while people were trying to get themselves to safety, a woman slipped on the stairs and — grabbing her husband, she dragged them both to their death.

The fire devoured the entire block by the port of Ostia.

[…]

Well, before the Romans entered the valley through the narrow pass, the Consuls sent troops ahead, to go see if something was amiss.

The soldiers returned saying that everything seemed just fine, and that the valley was completely empty.

But when the Roman troops began to march through the gorge, the Triarii, the most veteran soldiers, began to sense that something, was wrong indeed.

It was just too calm, and they didn’t like it at all.

And just when the last regiment of the Romans passed through the canyon, and just when the first part of the forces reached the exit of the canyon, they found it blocked with rocks and logs.

Noticing they were trapped, they quickly began to walk back, but by then, the first entrance was blocked, too.

Samnites were standing there, watching the Romans from above.

[…]

Episode 36 – Death by the Volcano

— For thinking that the enemy sent his Triarii too early, the Latins ended up sending their own ones too early, and that cost them the battle.

Latins against Romans, on the slopes of Italy’s most famous volcano. And in this battle, we see the death of Publius Decius Mus — the same guy who earned the renowned Grass Crown, years earlier.

Partial Transcript

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

The Tale of Rome, Episode 36 — Death by the Volcano.

— “You snake!”

— “You are the snake!”

— “Coward!”

— “I’ll show you who’s the coward!”

— “I dare you!”

When Decius he wanted to step forward, his heart beating like a drum, he hit the dry, hard floor next to the bed. With an insult, the Consul was now really awake from his sleep.

The dream was gone.

And in that dream, the volcano was talking to Decius.

The volcano was taunting him, all the while spewing fire serpents, and eating up the entire Roman army.

— “One of the two will die before sundown,” he heard the volcano say.

A bit later, he told Manlius Torquatus about the dream.

[…]

ONE — Just as the trumpets sounded, and as was customary in the Roman legion, the oracles of the army threw food at the sacred hens, and they confirmed what everyone feared.

A whole Roman flank, and one of the consuls of Rome, would end up dying.

TWO — Decius Mus rode out on the left side of the Roman army, and Torquatus on the right side.

In other words, Decius was on the slope of the volcano, and Torquatus on the side to the sea, being that they were facing in a south-southeast direction.

THREE — Latins began to tighten the ranks on both sides, but during the first clash neither of the two side gave up a single yard.

One of the flanks of Torquatus was deployed about a hundred meters behind, due to some irregularities of the terrain, while the troops of Decius were face to face with the Latins.

FOUR — the Sidicines, who, fearing a night attack, did not get a lot of sleep, were the first to fall.

This allowed Torquatus to create a wider row, while maintaining the depth of his Phalanx.

But to Decius, this was neither an advantage nor a disadvantage, and his troops began to break for two reasons. The end of the row was in difficulty with the slope of the volcano, and the cavalry of the Latins threatened to break the row of the Hastati, a lot sooner than they both anticipated.

[…]

Episode 35 – Alexander of Epirus

— Alcetas, Arymbas, Aeacides, and Pyrrhus. Great-grandfather, grandfather, father, and son.

Alexander I of Epirus crosses the sea and comes to Italy, to help Greek cities there. He later dies in a battle against the very people people he came to rescue.

Partial Transcript

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

The Tale of Rome, Episode 35 — Alexander of Epirus.

Last week we left off with five open topics, which we will cover in this episode. They are — as follows:

ONE — Our weekly report from Ostia, brought by our loyal slave, who spends entire days on the docks and markets of the port of Rome. This way we get to know what is going on in Greece, since we are in the times of Alexander the Great, and events are too important, to just let them “hang in there” until our episode of the State of the Union.

TWO — The tactics of the Phalanx, at the time of the Roman King Servius Tullius.

As a side note — at the time of Romulus, Romans fought using a system of just one strong leader, leading his equally strong warriors into hand-to-hand fights.

No Phalanxes there, whatsoever.

THREE — The continuation of the situation between Rome and the Latins, after the Roman Senate rejected what they asked from Rome.

FOUR — The continuation of our family saga, now that we know the whereabouts of Marcus, Falvius, and Spurion, the son of Spurious.

AND FIVE — The part where Alexander of Epirus, the uncle of two famous nephews, arrives in Italy, does his thing, and ends up dying in Italy.

[…]

But, just in case, I might as well explain it — briefly.

We already know that the people in southern Italy were somewhat peculiar, and we have already seen how the Campanians turned against Rome, after Rome helped them against the Samnites, in the First Samnite War.

Well, these people —  the people of the Greek colonies in Italy, they were made of the same cloth.

After all the help that Alexander of Epirus gave them — they began thinking that the man would suddenly get ideas of making himself some kind of a king in the region.

Without even checking, if these were facts or fake news, the people of the city of Tarentum created a huge alliance with all the other cities in the south — and they all went up, against Alexander.

What a turn of events!

[…]

Episode 34 – From Crete to Campania

— Our great-grandfather killed for his country. He was defending Rome.

Rome and the Latins ready up for war. Romans begins to change battle tactics, gradually abandoning the Phalanx system. And in Greece, Alexander is 16 years old, by now.

Partial Transcript

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

The Tale of Rome, Episode 34 — From Crete to Campania.

If the ship is to be saved, every man must do his duty,

While the ship is still unscathed.

The efforts are futile when the ship sinks.

So, as for Athens, my proposals are ready.

We must make complete preparations for the war.

Athens, at least, must do his duty.

This was part of the oratory of the Athenian Demosthenes, during his speech in what we now know, as the third Philippic, in the year 341 BC.

And it wasn’t strange to compare cities to ships, in those days, I think.

Now, in the year 340 BC, Demosthenes continued to incite Athenians, against the father of Alexander the Great, King Philip the Second.

Alright. We are in the year of the consulship of Titus Manlius Torcuatus and Publius Decius Mus.

Yes, I’m talking about the same Publius Mus, who won the Grass Crown, a few years earlier.

And now, first let’s go to our new segment — News from Ostia.

This will soon become a custom in our podcast — at least for a couple of decades, so let’s see what our slave has learned from merchants, and other people who roamed the streets and docks of Ostia.

[…]

Latins, who sought equality, ended up getting even less equality from Rome.

But we will also see that Rome was not that unfair, at the time of distributing punishments and rewards, because when war ended, Rome began to judge the actions of the Latins, town by town.

Those who joined Rome will become Roman citizens with full rights, including the right to vote.

Those who started out against Rome, but then put themselves on the side of Rome, would get basic rights, that is, the right to trade, and the right to inter-marry, but not the right to vote.

Finally, those who fought up to the last drop of blood, were simply wiped off the map, and sold as slaves, or as gladiators.

[…]

Episode 33 – Latins and Romans

— The Gauls never stopped being a nightmare, deep in the subconscious of the Roman psyche.

Latins and Romans speak the same language, and worship the same gods. But after the first Samnite War, the Latins felt they were stronger than Rome. And they started to hatch plans, and gather allies.

Partial Transcript

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

The Tale of Rome, Episode 33 — Latins and Romans.

In those days, news did not travel to Rome — or any other city, they way they do today.

News travelled with the travelers of the time, and of these, the three best known were merchants, soldiers, and prisoners of war. And I dare to say — in that exact order.

And as we are now entering a pivotal time in the history of Greece, Persia, and Macedonia, we are going to send one of our slaves, down to Ostia.

That’s right, we’ll get him a place to live, near the port, if possible on the street that goes along the docks.

His place will consist of a simple room, on a third floor — the worst, in one of the newly built so-called “islands.”

Romans called their buildings islands, or in Latin — INSULAE.

They were horrible to live in, and at this time, the tallest ones were three floors high. I should also mention that these buildings were not exactly fireproof.

And, on a side note, this road near the house where our slave will reside, will probably have a milestone somewhere close, too.

Romans used milestones everywhere, letting travelers know what road they were on, who built the road, and even the name of the local curator for any particular piece of the road.

Travelers would sometimes also get to know how far they were from the nearest rest stop, and the total distance from Rome.

Well — anyways. That employee of ours will have to spend some time in Ostia, and his job will be to simply hang around the docks, and get news, for us.

This means, he will wake up at the earliest hour, get down from his third floor — staircases had no railings at that time, and direct himself to the small square that lay between the forum of Ostia, the marketplace, and the street that leads to the docks.

There, he will try to see if anything worth letting us know, happened during the night.

A fire. A murder. Perhaps someone important might have arrived during the night, on his way to Rome. Anything.

Our slave will then have his brief breakfast. A round loaf of bread, and some olive oil. Not bad, actually. In winter it might be stew, with lettuce or cabbage.

He will hang around the docks until the evening hours, and he’ll be on the lookout for news that ships bring. More precisely, of what is going on between Alexander the Great, and the Persian Empire.

And since these next few years, we expect big changes — our slave will be busy.

And this means, that at the beginning of each episode, or somewhere in the middle, we’ll have a short segment about “NEWS FROM OSTIA” just like we have our “Latin Word of the Week.”

I think this way, we can keep track of both Rome, and Alexander the Great, for the while being.

[…]

When peace was signed between the Samnites and the Romans in the year 341 BC, the Samnites immediately went to attack of their favorite victims: the Sidicines.

These, seeing what Campania did a few years earlier, sent a delegation to Rome to do the same as Capua.

Submit to the authority of Rome, and force the Samnites to find someone else to bully.

But, when this delegation arrived in Rome, the senators told them that by seeing that hostilities between the two peoples were already in full march, it was too late to ask for such a favor.

The truth was, that Rome did not see much interest in the lands the Sidicines occupied, and the Romans allowed the Samnites to continue bullying them.

That’s when the Sidicines went to ask the Campanians for help. These, still angry about the Samnites, agreed to help. They even convinced the Latins to join in the fight.

Of course, the Latins did not need much convincing, because they were already pissed at Rome.

[…]

Episode 32 – Marcus Valerius Corvus

— Apparently, the gods of the Romans didn’t feel like going to bed, on that day.

He was a Consul of Rome at the age of 23. He would be Consul five more times, and dictator twice. And he lived to be 100. This is our small tribute.

Partial Transcript

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

The Tale of Rome, Episode 32 — Marcus Valerius Corvus.

The year 342 was hotter than others, and the legionaries garrisoned in Campania felt it firsthand.

Unlike the inhabitants of Capua, and other cities, in the soft and fertile plains of Campania, Roman soldiers lived with the hard life of a legion, as their job — given to them by means of their oath, was to protect the people, and to defend Roman territory, and not necessarily in that order.

And that was what the soldiers were doing — day in, day out.

Left there, to garrison the southern fringes of this new Roman land, they all fulfilled their duties, but inside they all wanted to be in Rome.

Yep.

Further north.

Where it’s not so hot, by Mercury!

That’s right.

While some of them left for Rome, where they would get a triumphal march, this group of soldiers from both Valerius and Cossus, were practically left all alone there, right outside of Capua.

Entertainment was nil. Contact with the locals was almost non-existent.

And so, very soon, these soldiers decided it was not fair that the people of Capua, a bunch of weaklings who could not even defend themselves from the Samnites, were having all the fun, while they — hard-working legionaries had to babysit them.

And, worse, they were not getting any of the fun.

In less than a storm needs to gather, and build up some dark clouds, the ringleaders of the two halves — the guys left by Valerius, and the guys left by Cossus, began to hatch a plan.

A plan of rebellion.

[…]

The Gaul almost fell right there, but he soon got back on his feet.

The black crow just wouldn’t go away!

An then, one second later, the animal made another attack, and this time he tried to get his beak into one of the eyes of the Gaul.

Valerius did not waste any time, and he crouched down, pulled his sword, and he placed the short sword between two ribs of the giant.

The huge warrior now had to worry about the crow, watch his eyes, and he had to fend off the boy.

Bleeding from his stomach, the Gaul ran towards the boy, but again, the raven began to flutter both wings in the face of the barbarian.

That’s when Valerius saw the opening for the second hit.

Another move, and Valerius had his sword half inside the giant’s abdomen, while the raven was still trying to gauge one eye out.

There was no need for a third hit.

The giant fell to his knees, and Valerius let his sword stay there, deep in the giant’s body.

And when the giant fell — face down, the tip of Valerius’ sword came out of the giant’s back.

Three long seconds of silence, and then the Romans began to scream.

[…]

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.

[…]