Category Archives: History

Cicero’s end: why did he just ‘let go’?

HOW EMOTIONS CAN DECIDE THE COURSE OF HISTORICAL EVENTS

The inglorious end of Cicero had always been a stain in the pages of Roman political history. He met his end out in the Italian countryside (near modern-day Gaeta), slaughtered by Roman sword.  Marc Antony saw the return of the proscription as an opportunity to eliminate his most powerful enemy. In the end, he had Cicero’s hands cut off and nailed on the rostra (the speakers’ platform) at the Forum. A symbolic but utterly barbaric act. Such was the end of the last honest defender of the Roman Republic and her democratic principles.

Marcus Tullius Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero
Marcus Antonius
Marcus Antonius

Escape or surrender?

The tragic events of that winter of 43 BC have been discussed quite thoroughly over the centuries. But there’s one detail that is overlooked:

-Oddly enough, most scholars ignore the fact that Cicero had the option to escape but in the end he didn’t. He could actually have saved himself by resisting arrest. Still, it was his decision to stay, even though he was in the act of fleeing! He offered himself to be put to death. -Why?

This appears to have been a spur-of-the-moment decision… Cicero knew that Antony was coming after him and he planned his escape beforehand. So it’s easy to understand that his aim was to continue his political struggle, defending the Republic.

Arch of Septimus Severus
Part of the Roman Forum. On the right of the Arch of Septimus Severus, is where the Rostra was located.

Sadness and grief

What made him change his mind and decided to give up after he was tracked? The most obvious answer is that he felt (for different reasons) so disappointed that he decided to give up. His bad psychological state can only be explained if we take into account an -otherwise neglected detail of Roman history of the period: the unexpected death of Cicero’s daughter, Tullia. Just a year earlier, in the winter of 47–46 B.C.E. he went through a painful divorce with his wife, Terentia. He re-married but his new wife was pathologically jealous of Tullia, a reality that saddened Cicero even more. The loss of his daughter in the following summer, was an event too tragic for him to cope with.

He was so grief-stricken that he couldn’t find comfort in anything. His two most favorite things in the world- books and friends- failed to provide him with any consolation. He tried very hard. His friends were worried. They tried to help as best as they could. Cicero threw himself into a sea of philosophy and books. Yet, nothing could ease the pain in his heart. His childhood friend, Titus Pomponius Atticus, tried to comfort him the best he could by inviting Cicero to his estate that included a huge library. All was in vain. Cicero declared, “my sorrow defeats all consolation”.

Cicero - Palace of Justice, Rome
Cicero – Palace of Justice, Rome

A moment’s decision?

The loss of his only daughter, his dear Tulliola as he liked to call her, made him care less and less about all the other things that he was passionate in the past. It’s easy to understand why he decided to finally give up. His whole perception of life had changed. For him, it made no sense to resist being arrested and to survive. ‘What’s the point?’ he must have asked himself when Antony’s executioner found him. His life had little purpose now, that’s why he ordered his servants not to resist and he let himself to be put to death.

His life had recently lost all meaning. How do we know? Cicero himself tells us in one simple phrase. He wrote to Atticus: “I have lost the one thing that bound me to life”.

Maybe this explains everything.

G. Kokkos

Parian Marble

The Parian Chronicle is a chronology of events, inscribed on a marble stele, covering more than 12 centuries of Ancient Greek history. Focusing a lot on events linked with the city-state of Athens, this chronicle presents us with a timeline from the year 1582 BC to 299 BC.

It’s a unique timeline that, surprisingly enough, few scholars are familiar with. Most people don’t even know that a chronicle like that exists! Let’s see a few important events we all know:

1581 BC : Cecrops becomes king of Athens

The name of the city isn’t yet ‘Athens’ but instead ‘Cecropia’, named after king Cecrops. This obviously provides us with a ‘terminus post quem’ when it comes to the famous story of the contest of Poseidon and Athena! Note that this rivarly between the two gods, as they vied for control of the city of Cecrops and its surrounding territory, Attica, is NOT mentioned in the Parian Marble.

1528 BC : Great flood of Deucalion

There are, literally, dozens of cataclysms recorded by different civilizations all over the globe. A cataclysm is seen by different cultures as an act of divine retribution, sent by God or some other deity to destroy civilization and initiate a rebirth of a new, ‘improved’ breed of humans. The most famous of those flood myths (or deluge myths as they’re also known) is Noah’s Flood as narrated in the Bible, which can be placed about a thousand years earlier than Deucalion’s Flood.

HAMN0531
Paros, Archaeological Museum

1520 BC : Greeks renamed as ‘Hellenes’.

Hellen (Deucalion’s son) becomes king of Phthiotis. His kingdom is situated in the heart of the Greek peninsula. His people are now named after him, changing from ‘Greeks’ to ‘Hellenes’, giving their name to most other neighboring populations. The Romans however continue to use the ancient name (Graikos) instead of the later ‘Hellen’. Thanks to the Romans, the name ‘Greek’ is used up until today… but only in the western world.

 

1294 BC : King Minos rules in Crete. King Aegeas rules in Athens

1259 BC : Theseus assumes the throne of Athens

The young hero immediately introduces a constitution and sets the foundations for Democracy. It was obviously on that same year that his father, old king Aegeus, tragically perished.

1256 BC : The Amazons invade Athens!

Theseus at the last moment, manages to stop the Amazons at the Hill of the Muses and defeats them.

1218 BC : War of Troy starts

1209 BC : Troy is conquered

Section of the Parian Marble (3rd c. BC)
Paros, Archaeological Museum

907 BC : Homer appears

895 BC : Aegina mints silver coins.

From this date on, we have sound archaeological and historical evidence and we can be almost certain about the events recorded on the Parian Marble.
From this year on, all dates, events and names of people are spot on! It’s very tempting to assume that all previous dates and events are correct too. I wish…

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“MAKE ATHENS GREAT AGAIN”

As far back in time as 632 BC, an athlete tried to establish a tyranny in Athens. His name was Kylon. An ambitious Olympic Victor that came really close to taking over absolute power so as to Make Athens Great Again. For many, Kylon was just some guy… He wasn’t a member of the royal family his actions were not ‘dictated’ by some God. He wasn’t even some high-ranking officer of the army.

But he was armed with burning ambition, a group of dedicated friends, a few good ‘connections’ (the ruler of the neighboring city of Megara, Theagenes, happened to be his father in law) and decided to seize power. Why? As absurd as it may sound, the answer is: why not?? The amazing thing was that this is one of the earliest examples of someone trying to be #1, not because he is chosen by the gods or because he inherited this right by his king-father. He was trying, just because he could! faliro0

Bear in mind that  the word ‘tyrant’ didn’t actually mean a ruler that brutally exercised absolute power. Today, when we hear of a tyrant, we think of an autocrat, unrestrained by law or constitution.

In 6th century BC Greece, things were different: for a citizen of a Greek city-state, a tyrant was someone that took control of power by the use of force, without possessing any legitimate rights. He was then judged according to his deeds and the good he did to his city. So, there could be good tyrants and bad tyrants.

What’s really unique here, is that a former nobody, could now be somebody!

From the Pharaohs of Egypt and the Great Kings of Persia, to the Mycenaean monarchs and Jewish chieftains, most rulers were ‘God sent’ chosen by some god or/and they were members of some elite social cast, like, a royal family. Most rulers up until then claimed  direct descendant from some god. Either that or God personally chose them to rule over their subjects. Strangely enough (or naturally enough, if you prefer) most societies accepted this claim as almost self-evident, accepting at the same time the rule of that ‘divine’ monarch. We can see why the ‘tyrant phenomenon’ in archaic Greece was so unique and introduced new ground-breaking ideas about politics to the masses.

Kylon inspired to become a tyrant of Athens.

Unfortunately for Kylon his attempt failed. Lack of popular support followed by the violent reaction of his opponents led to the total failure of Kylon’s plan, himself barely escaping. What followed next was notoriously terrible as Kylon’s followers where all put to death! Even though they were promised safe conduct, in the end they were all executed. This savage act was so brutal that it was limiting blasphemy and it became known as ‘Kylonion Agos’ (the word ‘agos’ having a meaning of an impious crime of sacrilege and desecration)  it felt as if a curse sent by the gods, fell upon the city.

 

 

faliro1
View of the site at Faliron (SNFCC) were the executed were buried

Recent excavations near the south coast of Athens (at Faliron) have unearthed mass burials of around 80 men that were executed. There is a good chance that these poor men, can be followers of Kylon. All the victims are of relatively young age, they all appear to have been in good health when put to death and the most chilling detail is that all their hands were tied up.

 

faliro2
The excavations at Faliron will continue throughout 2018

We have to be very careful jumping into conclusions here, as the same area of Faliron, is known since the beginning of the 20th century for being rich in different burials of people that were executed in different horrible ways, most of them using the method of ‘apotympanismos’. Those condemned, were chained on a wooden plank and were left to die there exposed to the elements (much like what the Romans used to do later when they used crucifixion as a method of execution). That’s the way that the city of Athens executed criminals and those skeletons that were excavated back in 1920s by Greek archaeologists Kourouniotis and Pelekidis. Those executed may have been pirates and according to a well-documented study by professor Keramopoulos that was published in 1923, execution by chaining on a wooden board was relatively common from the 7th c. BC till the 4th c. BC

Ο αποτυμπανισμός : Συμβολή αρχαιολογική εις την ιστορίαν του ποινικού δικαίου και την λαογραφίαν  -ΑΝΤΩΝΙΟΣ ΚΕΡΑΜΟΠΟΥΛΟΣ (εκδ.Εστια, 1923)

We have to wait for the forensic examination of the human remains unearthed at Faliron. This data, combined with the study of different findings that were excavated and the re-reading of ancient sources, will give us a clearer picture of the twilight of the Athenian Democracy. Kouros on a horse

JFK s Solon

John F. Kennedy’s Address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association, April 27, 1961

‘Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed–and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution- -not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants”–but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.’

The politically fertile ground of Athens needed someone to sow the seeds of Democracy. That someone was Solon.

‘Society is well governed when its people obey the magistrates, and the magistrates obey the law’

Growing up in 6th c.BC Athens, he was fortunate enough to receive his education by the best teachers and he used to frequent among the most respected philosophers of the day. That superior education earned him the reputation of not only being the most learned Athenian of the day but also one of the wisest law-givers of the ancient world, admired both by Greeks and Romans.

SOLON
SOLON (640-558 BC, Athens)

Athenian society was on the brink of collapse and Solon was called in to save the day. He immediately introduced a number of measures:

  • He cancelled all debts
  • He forbade loans
  • He freed the enslaved

All this was possible after he persuaded all citizens of Athens that from now on, the Law and only the Law shall be above all.

We have to keep in mind that Solon lived during an age of tyrants. Athens was governed by rulers that were in possession of political power through violence and force. Solon’s behavior in this politically hostile and perilous environment was always dictated by his zest for freedom, equality and social justice.

‘Men keep their agreements when it is an advantage to both parties not to break them; and I shall so frame my laws that it will be evident to the Athenians that it will be for their interest to observe them’

Even when he was really old he never stopped reminding his fellow citizens that it was their duty to get rid of all tyrants as soon as possible -and he did this publicly, displaying unprecedented boldness.

He even ignored the continuous threats of the notorious Peisistratus -one of the most powerful and feared demagogues of the day. Even though Peisistratus’ rule was actually fair and temperate (Aristotle notes that his administration was ” more like constitutional government than a tyranny”) in the eyes of Solon, Peisistratus was still a tyrant, as he wasn’t chosen by ‘The People’. When the ruler’s attempts to shut the wise statesman ‘s mouth proved fruitless, Peisistratus asked him what makes him so determined to continuously oppose his government! Solon answered: “My old age” [Diod.Sic. Book 9,4]

jfk

Senate of Rome

I know that it may be just a detail but whenever I see depictions of the Roman Senate in session (in movies, paintings etc) senators are seated in a semicircular fashion around an open space where the speaker stands and addresses the Senate. Uhm… Sorry. That’s actually wrong.

The spot in the Forum of the building that housed the Senate of Rome
The spot in the Forum of the building that housed the Senate of Rome

Senators’ seats -at least since J.Caesar’s time- were arranged in straight and parallel lines on either side of the interior of the Curia Julia (i.e the Senate House).

roman-senate-2

Fatherhood

A few months ago the US President was photographed crawling on the floor of the Oval Office, playing with a baby. This was seen as inappropriate by many as the Head of State isn’t supposed to be seen on his knees, especially inside the White house.

Obama and baby
[Pete Souza / White House]
Let me remind you of a short story from Ancient Greece. It involves a great king of the 4th c.BC

Agesilaus, the feared and respected leader of mighty Sparta, was famous for being very loving and affectionate with his kids. When his children were very young he used to play with them, doing ‘stupid’ things, rolling on the floor and generally behaving in a non-serious, non-‘kingly’ fashion; even in public.

fath
A father helping his kid on a swing

One day, while playing with his children out on his front yard, he was pretending to be a horse that his kids would ride. One of his friends saw him. He was shocked to see a Spartan king on his knees!

Agesilaus told his friend: “Please don’t judge me before you become a father too.”

 

Spartan officer
Spartan king [art-girona]

General Patton: Decision-making and Leadership

‘A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later’

I consider him to be one of the top 5 field commanders in the history of the United States Army and definitely their most successful combat General.Patton3

You would always see him where fighting was fiercest, carrying his trademark ivory-handled revolver on his hips (yep, that was his side-arm).

This unorthodox but determined soldier was exactly what the Allies needed right after D-Day.

Patton’s armor and infantry rushed through German lines cutting through enemy territory winning amazing victories and capturing one town after the other -spreading panic and confusion to Wermacht soldiers.

‘Always do everything you ask of those you command’

Patton1
Patton honoring the commander of 101st Airborne Division (www.generalpatton.org)

While at a conference with his officers he declared: ‘Some goddamn fool once said that flanks have got to be secure. Since then sonofabitches all over the globe have been guarding their flanks. I don’t agree with that. My flanks are something for the enemy to worry about, not me. Before he finds out where my flanks are, I’ll be cutting the bastard’s throat.’

He attacked, attacked and then attacked again! His armored divisions roared through six different countries! France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria; his Shermans were rolling… Patton trained one of the most famous military units of the US Army, the 2nd Armored Division, nicknamed “Hell on Wheels”. On March the 2nd, 1945 a message from General Dwight Eisenhower instructed Patton to bypass the German city of Trier because it would take four divisions to capture it. Patton’s answer was: ‘Have taken Trier with two divisions. What do you want me to do? Give it back?’ Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, added: ‘The American generals showed themselves to be very advanced in the tactical handling of their forces, although we had to wait until the Patton Army in France to see the most astonishing achievements in mobile warfare.’

Ok, we all know that people have strengths and weaknesses. But there are times in our lives that our strengths must prevail. Patton is famous for:

  • His refusal to accept defeat as an option.
  • His determination to maintain the initiative.
  • His determination to be in total control.
  • His determination to win!

‘Accept the challenges, so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory’

Patton2