I was watching some show on the History channel about Alchemy and how there was (still is) a lot of very serious search for the “sorcerer’s stone” (yes, the one made famous by the Harry Potter book) that would turn “base metals” into gold and provide for long lasting life.
It got me to thinking… how do we know that all these books we find weren’t just the new age quacks of the day? Go into a bookstore right now and I can pretty much guarantee that you will find plenty of books that describe how you can… make amazing amounts of money by doing no real work and live “forever” through some vague medicines or diets. The average person would not take these things seriously, yet we assume that “back then” this was all completely mainstream. I’m just not so sure.
There’s certainly the argument that today it is significantly easier to get a book published, but having money doesn’t mean that you’re sane. If anything, it’s often the nutters who have managed to mass enough money to publish whatever pops into their whacky brains.
Same goes for a lot of historical stuff that we take as being just how people thought back then. Who knows, perhaps the majority of Greeks and Romans though it was pretty ridiculous to think (as we do now) that there were a bunch of gods living up in the mountains who would come down in the guise of humans (and animals). Perhaps it was just the totally zealous ones who put mosaics and floor coverings and wrote poems on it.
It’s only the people with strong opinions that generally feel the need to talk about it.
Ok, the title turns out to pretty much make any summary I can do irrelevant as it grabs all the salient points. Nonetheless…
Marcus‘ son Commodus succeeded him and three years later, in 183, his sister Lucilla attempted to have him killed but was herself exiled and then executed. The attempt was falsely made in the name of the Senate but it still made him suspicious of them. As a result, many senators and their families were murdered. Eventually a plot by his favorite concubine and head of the Praetorian Guards had him poisoned and then strangled in his sleep.
A senator born of slaves, Pertinax, was chosen to succeed Commodus. He recalled from exile, and pardoned, many of those who had experienced the wrath of Commodus’ suspicion. Many administrators of the empire, as well head of the Praetorian Guards, Laetus, were angered by the fact that Pertinax wasn’t quite so loose and luxurious with them than Commodus had been and attempted to have him killed. He failed but a mob of guards later seiged the palace and brutally killed him. Pertinax’s reign lasted 86 days.
The only viable way to preserve a constitution against the tyranny of an aspiring prince is to have governence by constitutional assemblies of the nobility and armed “commons.” Augustus convinced the Senate to give him (and his successors) lifetime power to head the civil, military, and tribunal offices in addition to being head of the religious authority as supreme Pontiff. This essentially made him the law in addition to being the law. Even with so much military and civil authority being vested in one person, for 200 years from August to Commodus there was virtually no outbreaks if internal bloodshed htrough military might.
In order that the Empire wasn’t left headless upon the death of an emperor, he was able to “adopt” another man as his son in the line of Caesar and vest with them some, or all, of the powers of the empire. During Hadrian’s time, he chose a fifty year old senator named Antoninus Pius and a seventeen year old boy named Marcus (later Marcus Aurelius) to succeed him. This pair was known as the “Antonines” and ruled for 42 years with wisdom and virtue. The reign of Nerva through the reign of the Antonines could be considered the happiest the world has known
Those in the outer Roman provinces had freedom to practice their local religions, which were often seen as being merely different expressions of worship of the same basic deities. The philosophers, senataors and emperors generally paid lip service to the religion of the people as it kept them content. Throughout the empire, all essentially had the same privileges as well as the expectation of absolute servitude to the Empire. Anyone of moderate education, of approximately 120 million people covered by the Empire, was generally conversant in both Latin and Greek. Latin was the language of all civic administration. Approximately 4000 Roman miles of straight and well-made roads traversed the Empire. This absolute equality and ease of transport of goods and culture created content minds that fed a slow poison in the empire that helped lead to the eventual decay of this culture.
Before the time of Augustus (the first emperor) the Roman Empire had acquired a huge area of land. During the reign of Augustus he decided that the natural limits seemed to be the Atlantic Ocean (to west), the Euphrates river (to the east), the Rhine and Danube (to the north) and finally the deserts of Arabia and Africa (to the south). But Britain was really easy to take so that was taken as well. Later, Trajan attempted to venture more east but Hadrian pulled back out during his reign, maintaining Augustus’ borders. Marcus Aurelius (the second of the Antonines) later managed to capture Germany, north of the Danube. All in all, the Roman Empire encompassed about 160,000 square miles during the “age of the Antonines.”