Archaeology Magazine …
The Athens Acropolis is a famous ancient site that is visited by tourists each year. It is getting a clean up job, only this time using laser technology to remove the dirt, stains and grime without ruining the valuable ancient world wonder. Evi Papaconstantinou, a chemical engineer, states:
If you remove something you cannot put it back in place, so we must be quite sure that we remove unwanted pollutants and leave … all the information on the original surface.
Archaeologists are still searching for the tomb of Genghis Khan, the famous ruler/conqueror of Asia, announced by Albert Yu-Min Lin, a researcher at the University of California’s Center for Interdisciplinary Science in Art, Architecture, and Archaeology.
In reading about the current excavations in Rome, more information has been posted on the discovery of a cryptoportico on Palatine Hill, where Emperor Caligula is said to have been stabbed to death. What has also been found and photographed by the BBC News is the tomb of the general that archaeologists believe was the inspiration for the film Gladiator Marcus Aurelius. So, after researching and consulting old notes about the philosopher Roman emperor, I present a background story as well as links to stories in the media concerning this fantastic archaeological find. …
depicting a Roman general faithful to
Do every act of your life as if it were your last.
In the film the general’s name is Maximus Decimus Meridius and the opening scenes are much of what may have been the conditions in the battles against the Germanic tribesmen who were considered barbarians by the Romans. The year is 180 AD and the scene depicts the ending of a long war (Marcomannic Wars). Marcus Aurelius’ son, Commodus, based on a real person with some Hollywood changes. Marcus Aurelius, in the film, is dying and wishes to make his favorite, trusted general a temporary leader of Rome in order to return the power to the Roman Senate. The glory and prestige of the general ends with the death of the emperor, but instead of Maximus, the son declares himself the emperor and after Maximus refuses loyalty to the deranged new emperor, which then leads to the order for him to be executed, as well as his family. Escaping Maximus races home to discover he is too late and after burying his wife and son he faints. The next time he awakes he finds himself property of a slave trader, an ex-gladiator himself, being taken to Zucchabar, a place in North Africa to a gladiator training academy there. While training he befriends a Germanic barbarian (Hagen) and a Nubian hunter by the name of Juba who cared for Maximus wounds while he was on the journey to the gladiator training facility.
The character general in the film is believed to have been based upon Marcus Nonius Macrinus. But, what is known about this famous ancient general?
Archaeologists found an epigraphic on the base of a statue in 1903 in the agora [i] in Ephesus. The words are written in Greek and describes General Macrinus as
Consul of Rome, proconsul of Asia, quindecimvir sacris faciaundis … legate and battlefield companion of Marcus Aurelius.
He is also described as the consular governor of Pannonia Superior, governor of Pannonia inferior and commander of Legion XV. Other inscriptions have been fond since 1903 around the Brescia area where Macrinus was born. In the film he is depicted as a Spaniard. Then recently his tomb has been found which is hoped to reveal even more information. Thus far there is no mention that the general had been during his lifetime a gladiator. The tomb was found on the banks of the Tiber River near the Via Flaminia, which is north of Rome.
No inscription has recorded the famous line from the film that he addresses to his troops:
What we do in life, echoes in eternity. [ii]
There are parts of the film that is true, like the fact that Commodus is the only Roman emperor to have ever taken part in gladiatorial battle contests. In 2007, archaeologists in Rome found a mosaic which they believe represents the favorite sparring partner of Commodus, Montanus. However, Commodus did not die in the gladiator ring like shown in the film, but died at the hands of a wrestler who strangled him to death in his palace.
Marcus Aurelius (April 26th, 121 to March 17th, 180) was an interesting historic figure, who considered Macrinus a confidant, especially in matters of military. His full name was Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, often referred to as “the wise” or the philosopher ruler. He was the last of what historians and scholars refer to as the Five Good Emperors, and he was considered one of the most important of the Stoic philosophers in ancient times. During his reign he fought the wars in Asia and reestablished the Parthian Empire, fought the Germanic tribes in Gaul and across the Danube River. There was a revolt in the East, led by Avidius Cassius, but it failed.
While on campaign between 170 and 180, Marcus Aurelius wrote Meditations in the Greek language and it is still among the classic works and used as a testament to government service and duty. Marcus’ original name was Marcus Annius Catilius Serverus, and when he married he took the name Marcus Annius Verus. He is known as the name given when he became emperor as Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, and Augustus added as an official name. His father’s aunt was Vibia Sabina, who was the wife of Roman Emperor Hadrian. Other relatives were related in some way to famous emperors like Trajan and Antoninus Pius. Marcus’ father’s family was from Spain and served as a praetor and died when Marcus was but three years old.
Marcus received the best education available during his time and tutored by the greatest scholars of his lifetime: Euphorion, literature; Geminus, drama; Andron, geometry; Caninius Celer and Herodes Atticus, Greek Oratory; Alexander of Cotiaeum, Greek language; Marcus Cornelius Fronto, Latin studies. Marcus corresponded with Fronto frequently, and this is where much of the details of Marcus’ life have been revealed.
When Emperor Antoninus Pius died on March 7th, 161, Marcus accepted the throne on the condition that it would be a joint reign with Verus Augusti. However, Verus was younger and seemingly less popular, so he ended up to be the subordinate to Marcus. Marcus did this act because it was requested by their stepfather, Some scholars believe it was also motivate by military experiences and the fact that Marcus Aurelius was constantly on war campaigns being among the troops which he felt was his duty instead of ruling just from Rome. However, when required, Marcus sent Versus to command the legions in the east and Versus remained loyal to Marcus throughout his life, dying in 169.
As soon as Marcus became emperor he began issuing law reforms, mainly to stop abuse in the civil jurisprudence. He championed causes for the slaves, widows, and children and issued a law that recognized blood relationships of field promotions. However, the law was different in the fact that there were laws for the “more distinguished” citizens and those considered “the more lowly” of Rome’s citizens. In respect to Christians, Marcus kept the same attitude as Trajan did, but they were only punished under legal circumstances and rarely were the Christians persecuted. In 177 a group of Christians were executed at Lyon, but is it was under the orders of a local governor and not Marcus Aurelius.
Marcus Aurelius had two sons, Commodus and Annius Verus. When Commodus was five and Annius was three, both were elevated to the status of Caesar.
The biggest tragedy during Marcus Aurelius’ reign was the Antonine Plague or the Plague of Galen, brought to Rome by the returning Army from campaigning. It spread through the Roman Empire between 165 and 180, which also killed Lucius Versus, in 169, and Marcus Aurelius who died when the plague broke out nine years after the first. According to the Roman historian Dio Cassius, it caused 2,000 deaths a day in Rome with a total of deaths in the empire at an estimated five million people.
When Germanic tribes and other “barbarians” began raiding along the Northern border, mostly in Gaul and across the Danube in the 160s, the Roman army was kept busy. Marcus personally led the Roman legions in the struggle against invading Germans for the most of his remaining life.
When Marcus Aurelius died on March 7th, 180, in the city of Vindobona, which is now known as Vienna, his son Commodus became successor to the throne. Marcus’ was declared a deity and his ashes were returned to Rome where they were placed in Hadrian’s mausoleum at the modern place called Castel Sant’Angelo until the Visigoth sacked the city in 410. Marcus’ campaigns against Germans and Sarmatians were commemorated on a column and temple in Rome. Commodus was not like his father, a benevolent, wise and prudent man. Commodus was an extreme egotist and suffered from neurotic problems. Thus, at Marcus Aurelius death, it was the end of the Pax Romana. [iii]
Meditations, written between 170 and 180 were first published for public reading in 1558 in Zurich, Switzerland, from a manuscript copy that has since been lost.
Marcus didn’t believe in the afterlife, writing:
We live for an instant, only to be swallowed in complete forgetfulness and the void of infinite time on this side of us Think how many ere now, after passing their life in implacable enmity, suspicion, hatred … are now dead and burnt to ashes.
Yet, Marcus Aurelius was an advocate of rational virtue. Marcus disliked the brutalities of life. As an emperor, he persecuted Christians and frequently was on military campaigns. He justified this by declaring that world affairs were insignificant.
Marcus Aurelius has been popular in written material as well as figures in Hollywood screenplays. Along with the film Gladiator, Marcus being played by Richard Harris – another film depicting the philosopher emperor was The Fall of the Roman Empire in 1964, where Marcus is played by Alec Guinness.
Commodus, the egotistical son of Marcus Aurelius was born as Lucius Aurelius Commodus in Lanuvium, near Rome.
In 182 conspiracies against Commodus began with Lucilla, eldest of his four sisters. She arranged for an attempt on Commodus’ life by eliciting help from her loves, Marcus Ummidius Quadratus and Appius Claudius Quintianus, who attempted the murder as Commodus entered a theatre in Rome.
Not as studious as his father, he mostly enjoyed physical activity like horse racing, chariot racing, and combat with beasts and men, mostly in private combat, but also in public at the famous Roman arena known as the Coliseum. Considered handsome and well-built, Commodus ordered statues to be made depicting him dressed as Hercules with a lion’s hide and club. It is because he thought that he was the reincarnation of Hercules and sometimes reenacting the legendary battles with beasts in the fighting arena. Cassius Dio wrote (Augustan History) that Commodus was an excellent archer, who could shot the heads off ostriches on horseback at full gallop, as well as killing a panther attacking a person in the arena.
Each time Commodus appeared in the Roman arena, he charged the city of Rome one million sesterces. Needless to say, this didn’t do much for Rome’s economy. More often than not, the soldiers he fought against were wounded or amputees. Another gruesome episode of Commodus cruelty was when he had citizens of Rome who were missing feet taken to the arena where they were tied together for Commodus to club to death – pretending that they were giants. No wonder he was assassinated.
Talk about cruelty to animals: Commodus once killed 100 lions in one day. Commodus also killed three elephants in the arena by himself. Commodus thought giraffes were strange beasts, and much to the horror of the spectators killed one.
Finally the prefect Laetus had enough of this brutal egotistical emperor, who had threatened members of the Roman senate at gladiatorial games and formed a conspiracy with Eclectus. After an unsuccessful attempt to poison Commodus, they sent the wrestler Narcissus to strangle him while he bathed. After his death, the Senate declared Commodus a public enemy (de factor damnation memoriae) and restored the original name of the city of Rome, which Commodus had renamed Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana. Statues of Commodus were destroyed. People that who have portrayed Commodus in film were Christopher Plummer The Fall of the Roman Empire, 1964) and Joaquin Phoenix (nominated for Academy Award for his performance in Gladiator).
[i] An Agora, in the ancient city-states of Greece was a public place of assembly usually centered in the middle of the city. The Romans, who borrowed much from the Greeks, used it in the same manner where free citizens would meet in the agora to report for military duty, to hear public statements from the ruler or city’s council, as well as a place where merchants would set up stalls to sell their goods under the colonnades built there. When you look at the ruins, all one can see remaining are stones and columns, but once these columns held wooden roofs to protect the shop owners and their goods as well as those shopping from the elements. Usually public buildings surrounded this area set aside which the center square was usually about 600 to 750 yards in dimension.
[ii] But Marcus Aurelius did write interesting words pertaining to the same subject: “Execute every act of thy life as though it were thy last.”