The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest was a stunning defeat of the Roman legions by Germanic tribesmen. 2000 years ago today, the three day battle began, when elements of six different Germanic tribes under the overalll command of Arminius of the Cherusci ambushed three Roman legions under the command of Publius Quinctilius Varus.
The batttle was the first engagement of a war that would last for the next seven years, and end with a Roman defeat. The Romans would end up withdrawing to the opposite bank of the Rhine, which became the border of the Roman Empire for the next four hundred years.
Armininius (or Hermann, as he is known in Germany) has become a folk hero to the German people, a symbol of resistance against invaders, especially Napolean.
Claudius was the fifth Emperor of Rome, and the first truly able ruler since Augustus, the first. He succeeded the previous Emperor, his nephew Caligula, upon the assassination of the latter. He was 50 years old, but still full of energy – although widely seen as a weakling, after serious illnesses when he was younger. As a result, Claudius often had to shore up his power with a few senatorial executions.
Claudius achieved much during his reign – Thrace, Noricum, Pamphylia, Lycia and Judea were all conquered during his reign, and the invasion of Britain also took place. In addition, Claudius ordered great amounts of construction, with roads, canals and aqueducts built at his command all over the empire. He also took a keen interest in the law, presiding over trials in Rome, often several of them in the one day.
The sixth and final ruler of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Nero was the grand-nephew of his predecessor, the Emperor Claudius and the nephew of Caligula, Claudius’ predecessor. He would become legendary for his cruelty, although most of the accounts attesting to it are from contemporaries who disliked him, and may have been exaggerated. Nero was only 17 when he ascended to the throne – it was only because both these Emperors died without issue that he even got that close to power. If either of the two had had a son, Nero would today be a footnote.
Instead, he would reign for 13 years, being the Emperor during the great fire of Rome in 64 CE (history records that Nero was instrumental in the rebuilding of Rome afterwards – the business about the fiddling seems to have been a rumour spread by his political enemies), and the famed revolts of Britannia (led by Boudicca) and Judea (which ended in the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the beginnings of the Jewish Diaspora). Upon his death in 68 CE, (also without issue,) Nero threw the Empire into the chaos and civil war of what became known as the Year of the Four Emperors.
Looking at the history of the last three Julio-Claudian Emperors, one can only conclude that for a people so infamous for their orgies, the Romans must have known a thing or two about birth control.
It’s an iconic image, symbolising madness, decadence and a corrupt lust for power. But did it actually happen?
In all probability, it didn’t. For a start, the fiddle would not be invented for another thousand years – Nero played the lyre. And according to Tacitus, Nero not only wasn’t in Rome when the fire occurred, but raced back to organise the relief efforts and funded a large portion of the reconstruction of the city from his own purse. Hardly a picture of a depraved monster, is it?
The fire is believed to have started near the Circus Maximus. It burned for seven days and five nights – on the fifth day, it was nearly quelled before flaring up with renewed strength. Of the city’s 14 districts, seven were damaged and three destroyed outright.
One of the most notoriously debauched and wicked Roman Emperors, over the course of his reign, Caligula’s name would become a byword for evil. One of the two joint heirs of Tiberius, Caligula may have ordered the murder of his predecessor and definitely ordered the disinheriting of his co-heir. Although Caligula started off popular with the people, his mood soured after an illness later in the year of his ascension to the throne and the deaths of beloved family members.
A financial crisis brought on by Caligula’s over-spending made him unpopular with both the Senate and the people of Rome, especially after it escalated into a famine. His lowered reputation, as sexually predatory, a drunkard and a killer with a hair-trigger temper, date from this time, and their veracity in unclear. What is certain is that Caligula’s reign lasted only until 41 CE, when he was assassinated and succeeded by Claudius.
Septimius Severus was the fifth and final Emperor of the infamous “Year of the Five Emperors” – and as that suggests, also the most successful. He reigned as the Roman Emperor for eighteen years, and founded a dynasty that would last for another 24 years beyond him.
Aside from Septimius himself, the best known of the Severans is probably Elagabalus (a.k.a. Heliogabalus). The dynasty’s record is mixed: although Septimius Severus successfully restored peace following the civil war of the late 2nd century, the dynasty was disturbed by highly unstable family relationships, and constant political turmoil. It was the last Imperial Roman dynasty of the Principiate (i.e. the Emperorship as founded by Augustus).
One of the least successful Emperors of Rome, Florianus reigned for only 88 days – although which 88 we’re not quite sure. He proclaimed himself Emperor at some point in June 276 without the consent of the Senate, and eventually died after losing a battle against rival Imperial claimant (and his eventual successor) Probus – he was, in fact, assassinated by his own troops.
Florianus had little basis for his claim to the throne – he was allegedly the half-brother of the previous Emperor, Tacitus – and little experience at political or military leadership – as Probus’ defeat of Florianus’ larger army clearly showed. In the end, he was little more than a blip in Roman history, albeit an indicator of an Empire in decay.
Eparchius Avitus was a member of the Gallo-Roman aristocracy of the empire in his day. He was a strong proponent of keeping Gaul in the empire, even holding his coronation in Toulouse. However, these views were unpopular with the Roman establishment, or rather, what remained of it after the city was sacked by the Vandals earlier that year.
However, he allowed the Vandals to take Hispania, and along with his appointment of other Gallo-Romans to important roles in his administration, this made him immensely unpopular, and he was deposed as Emperor after little more than a year on the throne.
Olybrius is one of the least distinguished Emperors in Roman history. He reigned over the Western Roman Empire for only seven months, and for that whole time, he was little more than the puppet of the men who had put him on the throne, the general Ricimer and his nephew Gundobad.
Olybrius was of the Roman senatorial class, and by his marriage (to Placida, daughter of Emperor Valentinian III) a member of the Imperial House of Theodosius – the last of that House, in fact. He spent most of his reign distracted by religious matters while Ricimer and (after Ricimer’s death) Gundobad ruled in his name. He died of dropsy, and only three more Emperors followed him before the western empire died too.
Initially appointed as Co-Emperor by Leo II, Zeno was the son in law of Leo I, married to his daughter Ariadne. Leo II was his and Ariadne’s son, only seven years old in February 474, having become emperor in January upon the death of his grandfather. When Leo II unexpectedly sickened and died in November of that year, he left his father, who had never been intended to be Emperor, the sole ruler of the Byzantine Empire.
Zeno was not well-liked – he was seen as a foreigner (his real name was Tarasis – he’d changed it to the Greek Zeno in hopes of being more acceptable to the Byzantines) and an interloper. He was dethroned in a rebellion a year later, only to claw his way back to the top eighteen months after that.
The Roman Empire had been in decline for centuries by the time Odoacer deposed the child emperor Romulus Augustus in 476 and declared himself ruler of Italy – the first time any non-Roman had done so.
His Italy remained more or less a client state of the Eastern Empire (the portion of the old Roman Empire that would become better known as Byzantium, and last for just under another millennium), and that in itself helps to illustrate the decay of Rome. From the point several centuries earlier at which Roman expansion ceased, to the splitting of the Empire into East and West in 395 after the death of Emperor Theodosius, the signs had been present for some time, and only growing stronger.
Even Odoacer’s sack of Rome was the third in less than seventy years, and when a nation can no longer defend its capital, you know things aren’t going well. Even so, the use of this date as the official Fall of Rome is fairly arbitrary – there are no shortage of other dates that have a just claim to the title.
The First Battle of Ypres began with the first major assault by German forces in the vicinity. Until then, although there had been fighting in the area, it had mostly been limited to skirmishing, as each side attempted to capture ground in what became known as the Race to the Sea. But on October 19, 1914, the German Chief of General Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, ordered an assault. The dying began in earnest the next day.
The battle marks one of the first instances of truly modern warfare – and shows how ill-prepared for it both sides were. Poor communications and a failure to understand just how mobile armies could now be occurred in each command. More than two hundred thousand men were killed, wounded or declared missing in action in the course of this battle, which lasted until November 22, 1914, and ended with both sides entrenching across the front. Indeed, the First Battle of Ypres marksed the last major mobile operations on the Western Front until 1918, and began the stalemate that would last another four years, and encompass four more battles at Ypres, including the bloodiest day of the entire war.
Charles I, King of the Franks, was one of the most influential men in European history. His becoming King of the Franks was due to the death of Pepin the Short, “Mayor of the Palace” and king in all but name. But Charles – soon to be known variously as Charlemagne or Carolus Magnus (in the Latin) – found that not all of the Franks assented meekly to his rule. Acquitaine rebelled and had to be reconquered. Meanwhile, Charles had married the heiress to the throne of Lombardy, adding King of the Lombards to his titles in 770.
Before he was done, Charlemagne would succeed in uniting under a single rule more territory than anyone had done since the glory days of Rome, and would in fact be crowned the first Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (which was, in fact, none of these three things) and known as ‘the father of Europe’. No one would rule as much territory as Charlemagne bequeathed to his heirs for a thousand years, until Napoleon became an Emperor too.