In the course of reviewing Aldo Schiavone’s Spartacus (just published in English translation by Harvard), Mary Beard explains just how little we actually know about the gladiator-leader of a servile revolt.
In the entrance hall of a fairly ordinary house in ancient Pompeii, buried beneath layers of later paint, are the faint traces of an intriguing sketch of two men fighting on horseback. They are named in captions above their heads, written in Oscan—one of the early languages of South Italy that was eventually wiped out by the Latin of the Romans. The name of one is scarcely legible, but probably says “Felix the Pompeian” (or “Lucky from Pompeii”). The other reads clearly, in Oscan, “Spartaks,” which in Latin would be “Spartacus”—a name best known to us from the slave and gladiator who in the late 70s BC led a rebellion that, it is said, very nearly managed to defeat the power of Rome itself.
At first sight, the scene painted on the wall looks like a military battle. But the trumpeters on either side of this pair of fighters match those often found next to gladiators in ancient paintings. So this is probably meant to depict mounted gladiatorial combat. The men must be the equites, or “horsemen,” who sometimes appeared in those bloody Roman spectacles, alongside the more familiar, heavily armed characters who fought on foot.
It is, of course, possible that the painting has nothing to do with the famous Spartacus, and that it refers to some other gladiator who just happened to have the same name; that is certainly what some skeptics argue. But there are nevertheless good reasons for linking the painting to the famous rebel: it very likely dates to the lifetime of “our” Spartacus, in the early years of the first century BC (as both the archaeological setting and the use of the Oscan language suggest); and Pompeii was, in any case, less than forty miles from Capua, where Spartacus underwent training for combat and from where he is said to have launched his rebellion—the two towns were presumably on the same gladiatorial circuit. There is a fair chance that this image gives us a glimpse of the future enemy of Rome when he was still just an ordinary gladiator—and to judge from the picture, not a totally successful one. For “Felix the Pompeian” is certainly getting the better of the retreating Spartaks. In fact, we might guess that it was to celebrate the victory of the local man that the Pompeian householder put up this image in his front hall.
“This university believes that the way of the amateur is the only one to provide satisfactory results.”
—Master of Caius College, “Chariots of Fire” (1981).
As the Wall Street Journal reports, a Baltimore hairdresser is proving the college master right.
By day, Janet Stephens is a hairdresser at a Baltimore salon, trimming bobs and wispy bangs. By night she dwells in a different world. At home in her basement, with a mannequin head, she meticulously re-creates the hairstyles of ancient Rome and Greece.
Ms. Stephens is a hairdo archaeologist.
Her amateur scholarship is sticking a pin in the long-held assumptions among historians about the complicated, gravity-defying styles of ancient times. Basically, she has set out to prove that the ancients probably weren’t wearing wigs after all.
“This is my hairdresserly grudge match with historical representations of hairstyles,” says Ms. Stephens, who works at Studio 921 Salon & Day Spa, which offers circa 21st-century haircuts.
Her coiffure queries began, she says, when she was killing time in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore back in 2001. A bust of the Roman empress Julia Domna caught her eye. “I thought, holy cow, that is so cool,” she says, referring to the empress’s braided bun, chiseled in stone. She wondered how it had been built. “It was amazing, like a loaf of bread sitting on her head,” says Ms. Stephens.
A hairstylist by day, Janet Stephens has become a “hair archaeologist” studying the intricacies of ancient Greek and Roman hairstyles. As WSJ’s Abigail Pesta reports, she’s been published in the academic community on her research, which she says proves the intricate hairstyles were not wigs.
She tried to re-create the ‘do on a mannequin. “I couldn’t get it to hold together,” she says. Turning to the history books for clues, she learned that scholars widely believed the elaborately teased, towering and braided styles of the day were wigs.
She didn’t buy that. Through trial and error she found that she could achieve the hairstyle by sewing the braids and bits together, using a needle. She dug deeper into art and fashion history books, looking for references to stitching.
In 2005, she had a breakthrough. Studying translations of Roman literature, Ms. Stephens says, she realized the Latin term “acus” was probably being misunderstood in the context of hairdressing. Acus has several meanings including a “single-prong hairpin” or “needle and thread,” she says. Translators generally went with “hairpin.”
The single-prong pins couldn’t have held the intricate styles in place. But a needle and thread could. It backed up her hair hypothesis.
In 2007, she sent her findings to the Journal of Roman Archaeology. “It’s amazing how much chutzpah you have when you have no idea what you’re doing,” she says. “I don’t write scholarly material. I’m a hairdresser.”
John Humphrey, the journal’s editor, was intrigued. “I could tell even from the first version that it was a very serious piece of experimental archaeology which no scholar who was not a hairdresser—in other words, no scholar—would have been able to write,” he says.
He showed it to an expert, who found the needle-and-thread theory “entirely original,” says Mr. Humphrey, whose own scholarly work has examined arenas for Roman chariot racing.
Ms. Stephens’ article was edited and published in 2008, under the headline “Ancient Roman Hairdressing: On (Hair)Pins and Needles.” The only other article by a nonarchaeologist that Mr. Humphrey can recall publishing in the journal’s 25-year history was written by a soldier who had discovered an unknown Roman fort in Iraq.
All that remains now of the former splendid edifice is the famous archway. Latest scientific investigations clearly prove that it was originally erected as a quadrifrons (Greek tetrapylon), a monument with pillars and four archways, which was built from 354 to 361 AD as a triumphal arch in honour of Emperor Constantius II and which rose protectively over the statue of the Emperor.
The name ‘Heidentor’ dates from the Middle Ages when the archway was thought to have been erected by non-Christians and was therefore called ‘heydnisch Tor’ (heathen gate).
Here is an intriguing plot line for an alternative history series along the lines of the Eric Flint’s 1632
Prufrock451 took us somewhat cursorily through the first week of the 35th MEU’s adventures in Ancient Rome. He has a series franchise here if he continues.
The Marines aren’t going to have any problems dealing with local military forces, as long as they still have ammunition and fuel. But when they inevitably run out of cartridges, what then? One detail I’d suggest to assist in plotting is to be sure to bring along a Navy support ship with an on-board machine shop.
Wikipedia tells us that a typical Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU, pronounced “Myuu”) has approximately 2,200 Marines and sailors. It is equipped with:
4 M1A1 main battle tank
7 to 16 Light Armored Vehicle
15 Amphibious Assault Vehicle
6 155mm howitzer: M198 or M777
8 M252 81mm mortar
8 BGM-71 Tube Launched, Optically Tracked, Wire Guided (TOW) missile weapon system
8 FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile
4 to 6 AH-1W SuperCobra attack helicopters
3 UH-1N Twin Huey utility helicopter
12 CH-46E Sea Knight medium lift assault helicopter
4 CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift assault helicopter
6 AV-8B Harrier jet
2 KC-130 Hercules re-fueler/transport aircraft
Note: usually maintained in the continental United States
2 Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit
1 LMT 3000 water purification unit
4 Tractor, Rubber Tire, Articulated Steering
2 TX51-19M Rough Terrain Forklift
3 D7 bulldozer
1 Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement dump truck
4 Mk48 Logistics Vehicle System
7 500 gallon water containers
30 Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement trucks
A Marine Infantry Battalion constitutes essentially the ground portion of an MEU, and may contain 2–5 companies, with a total of 500 to 1,200 Marines in the battalion.
ROME (Routers) Diligent investigative reporters were shocked to learn today that many, indeed most of the captured slaves in yesterday’s battle in Lucania who proclaimed “I am Spartacus” were actually misleading military authorities, and not the famous rebel leader at all.
One of the investigators, Probius Ani, lead chiseler at the Tempus Romae, shared the details. “We looked into their backgrounds, and while they were all slaves at one time or another, few of them had formal gladiator training, nor did they universally use the Thracian style of combat for which he was well known.”
After the defeat, when authorities demanded to know which of the defeated was the leader, at first one of them jumped up and declared himself Spartacus**. But the situation quickly grew confused as another, and then another, and then dozens and hundreds of the defeated curs shouted out the same claim. Legitimate demands of proof of identity, gladiators’ licenses, and tax and divorce records from them were met with a sullen resistance, making it impossible to tell which to properly punish.
“These slaves have no credibility,” noted a proconsul on the scene. “Why should we grant any respect to a campaign based on false pretenses? Why should we not just spread their wealth around, and crucify them all?”
Eugéne Delacroix (1798-1863), (detail) Atilla suivi de ses hordes, foule aux pieds l’Italie et les arts (Attila followed by his Horde, Trampling under Foot Italy and the Arts), Bibliothèque, Palais Bourbon, Paris, 1843-47
Bruce Bartlett, at the Cato Journal, describes how the same policies pursued by today’s democrat party produced the downfall of Rome.
In the end, there was no money left to pay the army, build forts or ships, or protect the frontier. The barbarian invasions, which were the final blow to the Roman state in the fifth century, were simply the culmination of three centuries of deterioration in the fiscal capacity of the state to defend itself. Indeed, many Romans welcomed the barbarians as saviors from the onerous tax burden. 
Although the fall of Rome appears as a cataclysmic event in history, for the bulk of Roman citizens it had little impact on their way of life. As Henri Pirenne (1939: 33-62) has pointed out, once the invaders effectively had displaced the Roman government they settled into governing themselves. At this point, they no longer had any incentive to pillage, but rather sought to provide peace and stability in the areas they controlled. After all, the wealthier their subjects the greater their taxpaying capacity.
In conclusion, the fall of Rome was fundamentally due to economic deterioration resulting from excessive taxation, inflation, and over-regulation. Higher and higher taxes failed to raise additional revenues because wealthier taxpayers could evade such taxes while the middle class—and its taxpaying capacity—were exterminated. Although the final demise of the Roman Empire in the West (its Eastern half continued on as the Byzantine Empire) was an event of great historical importance, for most Romans it was a relief.
On Tuesday, the Italian government released photographs of a deep cavern found under the ruins of Emperor Augustus’s palace on the Palatine Hill where some archaeologists claim that ancient Romans initiated the festivities of the Lupercalia. Photographs taken of the cave by a camera probe show a domed cavern decorated with extremely well-preserved colored mosaics and seashells. At the center of the vault is a painted white eagle, a symbol of the Roman Empire.
Nicolò dell’Abbate, Horatius Cocles défendant un pont
16th century, lithograph, 39.8×55.5 cm. (15.7×21.9”), Louvre
Horatius Cocles’s gallant defense of the Sublican Bridge was mentioned in despatches by Livy, and sung of in the poem by Thomas Babbington Macauley
Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the gate:
‘To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods,
‘And for the tender mother
Who dandled him to rest,
And for the wife who nurses
His baby at her breast,
And for the holy maidens
Who feed the eternal flame,
To save them from false Sextus
That wrought the deed of shame?
‘Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul,
With all the speed ye may;
I, with two more to help me,
Will hold the foe in play.
In yon strait path a thousand
May well be stopped by three.
Now who will stand on either hand,
And keep the bridge with me?’
Then out spake Spurius Lartius;
A Ramnian proud was he:
‘Lo, I will stand at thy right hand,
And keep the bridge with thee.’
And out spake strong Herminius;
Of Titan blood was he:
‘I will abide on thy left side,
And keep the bridge with thee.’
‘Horatius,’ quoth the Consul,
‘As thou sayest, so let it be.’
And straight against that great array
Forth went the dauntless Three.
For Romans in Rome’s quarrel
Spared neither land nor gold,
Nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life,
In the brave days of old.
Then none was for a party;
Then all were for the state;
Then the great man helped the poor,
And the poor man loved the great:
Then lands were fairly portioned;
Then spoils were fairly sold:
The Romans were like brothers
In the brave days of old.
More recently, Colonel W. C. Hall had some fun imagining what Horatius’ citation would read like in our modern era (printed in the British Army Journal, January 1953).