This week in history: Caligula

This week in 41 CE, a faction Roman leaders assassinated their emperor, Caligula. The emperor had oppressed the nobles and the Senate (though not necessarily the common people), so this was not the first plot against his rule. The trigger for this final and successful conspiracy isn’t entirely clear, but Caligula had recently announced plans to move his seat of power from Rome to Alexandria, in Egypt. That would have robbed the Roman elite of much of their power. Another theory suggests Caligula was just too dangerous, since he was mentally imbalanced and possibly insane. His enemies claimed Caligula considered himself a god – and not just holy and exalted, like the two Roman emperors before him, but actually a living deity, on par with Jupiter and Minerva. They also say he slept with his sisters, as gods do, made his horse a senator, declared war on Neptune, and worst of all, executed high-ranking Romans on a whim. Whatever the cause, a faction of the imperial Praetorian Guard and some senators attacked Caligula as he addressed a troupe of actors near his palace. Caligula’s more loyal German guard – foreigners from the wild lands of the north – arrived quickly to rescue the emperor, but too late: the conspirators had stabbed him 30 times. The conspirators also killed Caligula’s wife and young daughter, no doubt to avoid repercussions, but they did not catch the emperor’s old uncle, the lame, stammering scholar Claudius. Loyal member of the Praetorian Guard escorted Claudius to safety and soon proclaimed him emperor. So it fell to Claudius to execute the conspirators and restore order, and possibly sanity, to the Roman Empire. Continue reading “This week in history: Caligula”

This Week in 30 BC: Augustus in Egypt

Caesar Augustus, f.k.a. Octavian
Caesar Augustus, f.k.a. Octavian

During this week in 30 BC, Roman strongman Octavian completed his invasion of Egypt. He ordered the execution of Marcus Antyllus, eldest son of his defeated rival, Marc Anthony, who’d committed suicide. He also executed Caesarion, teenage son of his great uncle and adoptive father, Julius Caesar. Caesarion’s mother was Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt and lover of both Caesar and Antony, who’d also committed suicide a few weeks before. The boy held the Egyptian throne for only a few weeks after the death of his mother, and he wielded no power. But he was the last ruler of Egypt’s Ptolemaic dynasty and the ancient country’s last Pharaoh. His death ended 3,000 years of Egyptian monarchy.

Octavian went on to establish a new form of government for the Roman world, which he ruled as Caesar Augustus, Rome’s first emperor.


© 2019 by David W. Tollen. All rights reserved.

The Roman Empire Survived Unbalanced Executives — Maybe America Can Too

The early Roman Empire survived two mentally unbalanced emperors: Caligula and Nero. In fact, neither seems to have harmed the economy or disrupted the lives of the common people, despite bizarre behavior. That’s encouraging in the age of Donald Trump.

Nero entertains the crowds
Nero entertains the crowds

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Star Wars and History: Roman Republic and Empire

~ This is the first of a six-post series called Star Wars and History. (See below for the six posts’ titles.) ~

In Revenge of the Sith, the evil Palpatine transforms the Galactic Republic from the top, creating the Empire — without overthrowing the state. Palpatine is already Chancellor of the Republic, though he’s held office longer than normal, thanks to a civil war. He simply switches his title to Emperor. He also centralizes power in his own hands, at the expense of the elected Senate. But he leaves the Senate in place, along with the rest of the republican government.

Star Wars and history: Augustus, first Roman emperor -- Palpatine's counterpart
Caesar Augustus

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The Magic of History

Last year, I spoke at a TEDx Youth conference — to an audience of smart, motivated high school students. My topic was the magic of history. I told the students many of my favorite short stories from past times. I wanted to reveal history’s endless well of fun, excitement, and humor, and to explain how reading history might enrich the kids’ lives. The message applies with equal force to adults and to younger kids. Check it out:

(Don’t be confused by use of the name “David Carthage” on the screen. It’s a former pen name.)

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© 2013 by David W. Tollen. All rights reserved.

Is America Falling, Like the Roman Empire?

Historians have never gotten together on a reason for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. The question is more than just academic because the West’s great powers have often compared themselves to Rome and wondered if they might go the same way. Nowadays, the obvious comparison is with the United States. I’m going to describe the key theories for Rome’s fall and argue that even the good ones tell us little about America’s future.

fallen - the Roman Empire
An architectural capriccio with figures among Roman ruins, Giovanni Paolo Panini

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