The History of Rome Podcast Good grief. Things are going from bad to worse. Now we have six emperors in one year 238 CE! Episode 107: The Year of Six Emperors sees the start of 50 years where the loyalty of the army turned on a dime, and the empire was buffetted by war, disease, famine. They had dominated for 400 years- perhaps this is going to be the end? But no. One of the first things that Maximus Thrax (Emperor 1) did was double the pay of the army to keep them onside, but that then meant that they had to fill the coffers. So Maximus led the army into Germany for plunder, and killed all the Severan supporters. Except the regional and elderly governor of Africa, Gordian, who for some reason was not touched. He went on to lead an uprising and had his much younger son declared co-emperor with him (Emperors 2 and 3). The Senate recognized the Gordians, but then they were defeated at a battle in Carthage. Gordian I committed suicide when his son Gordian II died in battle. So the Senate, realizing that Maximus would kill all of them if he got back to Rome, chose Emperors 4 and 5, two elderly senators Pupienus (an army guy) and Balbinus (a poet and administrator). The people were not happy and demanded that Gordian III, the grandson of Gordian I, be appointed Emperor as well, making 6 emperors. Episode 108 Gordian’s Knot saw Maximus marching into northern Italy, on the way back to Rome. The countryside was deserted, but the city of Aquileia defied him. There was a siege, but in this case it was the besiegers who were hungry. Maximus became even more tyrannical, and the ranks turned against him and the officers killed him and his son. This started off a cycle where the army would become arrogant and murderous, then would become contrite, then start sacking and murdering again. Meanwhile, back in Rome there was conflict between Pupienus and Balbinus, so they divided up the Imperial Residence between them (like Antonius and Getta had done). Then there was a disastrous fire (a familiar trope). The Praetorian Guard, judging them both useless, assassinated them after 4 months, and acclaimed Gordian III as their emperor. In 241, at his mother’s urging, Gordian married Tranquilina which brought her father Timesitheus to the position of Prefect of Rome and de-facto leader. He was acclaimed by all. But the Sasanians began stirring again, and Timesitheus died of illness while on campaign in Syria. Gordian filled the Prefecture with Phillip the Arab, who with his brother Gaius, filled the power vacuum. Big mistake.
Emperors of Rome Just before I leave the Severans completely, I thought that I would backtrack and finish off the series of podcasts about Roman women. Episode CLXI – Syrian Matriarchy finishes off by looking at “The Julias”. The Severan dynasty was founded in 193CE by Septimius Severus, but in many ways it was his wife Julia Domna and her sister Julia Maesa who would guide the family. The family came from Syria, probably from the Roman/Arabic royal family. When Septimius Severus took the purple, he elevated Syrians and Libyans into Roman politics. Julia Domna was the mother of Caracella and Getta (who died in his mother’s arms when his brother killed him). The image on the left shows Julia Domna and her husband Septimus Severus and their two sons Caracella and Getta (and it’s Getta whose face is erased, no doubt at Caracella’s order ). Julia Maesa was Julia Domna’s sister, and she had two daughters Julia Soaemias and Julia Mamaea. Julia Maesa called claimed the title of ‘Grandmother of the Emperor’, on account of her grandsons Elagabalus and Severus Alexander. She was clearly running the family, and she was able to insist that Elagabalus ‘adopt’ his cousin Severus Alexander, and she was ruthless in killing off her own son Elagabalus when he went rogue. Julia Mamaea was the mother of Severus Alexander, and once he became emperor, Julia Maesa went into the background, leaving Julia Mamaea to be designated “mother of the whole human race”. The Julian women are important in that the Severan empire generally saw ‘foreigners’ becoming part of the Empire, forcing the Italian Romans to look at the East differently. Their influence was as mothers (and grandmothers) rather than as wives – a much more powerful position because although you can divorce a wife, it’s harder to get rid of a mother.
And so, back to the chronology of the Emperors, catching up with Maximus. Episode CXLVI – The Sun is Getting Real Low (Maximinus). Wow – the next 50 years were really unstable, with 26 emperors in the next 50 years. Some were just fleeting, others had more substantial (but still short) reigns. The empire was split into two with the Gallic empire acting independently. Maximus has had a rough time from historians, who characterize him as a barbarian. He doubled the army’s pay again, meaning that army pay had increased sixfold in about 40 years. He had to squeeze the people for money, which is what the enemy would have done to them, and which led to unrest. Episode CXLVII – The Vagaries of Chance goes with the ultimate short-term emperors, Gordian I and Gordian II. The impetus for the uprising that appointed them was over-harsh tax collection to pay for Maximus’ wages bill. The Senate, who didn’t like Maximus, were waiting for a catalyst to act and so when the Gordians came along, they endorsed them. But by the time that Maximum marched on Rome, Gordians I and II were already dead, having ruled for between 20 and 22 days- the short imperial reign ever. Episode CXLVIII – The Always Unpredictable Outcome of War looks at Gordian III. He was very young and was appointed a Caesar, a lower position than Pupienus and Balbinus. When the Praetorians killed Pupienus and Balbinus they didn’t just kill them: they tortured them. We need to remember that the Year of Five Emperors was still in living memory, and Rome survived that, and it expected to get through this too. But why and how? Dr Caillan Davenport suggests that it was because there was still a provinical attachment to the idea of Rome, beyond any individual emperor. Episode CLXIV – Gordian III sees Gordian III reign for six years, despite his youth, although he was brought down more by external forces than internal ones. Dr Caillan Davenport sees him as a pawn of his father-in-law Timesitheus, who more or less forced Gordian to marry his daughter to cement his position. We don’t know whether Gordian III died in battle, or as part of the mutiny led by Phillip. Gordian III was left with a fairly good reputation, even though the army he led was defeated in battle. But it was his successor Phillip to had to sign a humiliating peace treaty, not him.
The Coming Storm (BBC) I started listening to this in the middle of the night, and have caught up with it during the day. I’ve heard plenty about the rise of QAnon and the right wing in America, but this is different in that it is a British journalist, Gabriel Gatehouse, who finds links back to Britain in what is increasingly becoming an international movement. Episode 1 The Dead Body starts off with the QAnon shaman, whom Gatehouse interviewed when he was in America for the election. He dismissed him as a nutter, and was horrified to see him in the White House on 6 January. Gatehouse then goes back to the suicide of the Clinton aide, Vince Foster, which is a foundation myth of the QAnon movement. Episode 2 Sex, Lies and a videotape looks at the Arkansas Project, an Arkansas- led attempt to inject lurid stories about the Clinton into the mainstream media (aided by the Daily Telegraph in Britain). This conspiracy theory has Hilary Clinton as the main target, and was weaponized by Jerry Falwell who injected Satan into the whole story.
Rear Vision (ABC) Well, if we weren’t aware of passports and borders, we sure are now after two years of border closure because of COVID. Passports, borders and identity examines the history of the Australian passport. Wealthy people had travelled with ‘papers’ , but these became more important during WWI when ordinary soldiers were travelling overseas. Australian passports weren’t issued until 1948, and since the 1970s, they have been used as a form of identity check. Australian governments used the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 to keep out people of non-European ethnic background, and they could refuse to issue a passport, as they did with Wilfred Burchett. Visas and ‘permission to enter’ have become increasingly complex, as we saw with Novak Djokovic.