Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Numidian Chief, Tacfarinas, And His Persistent Wars Against Rome



In the first two decades of the 1st century, a peculiar military leader named Tacfarinas asserted himself as a constant thorn in the side of the Roman Empire by unrelentingly threatening their interests in North Africa. Thankfully for us, the Roman historian and statesman, Tacitus (c. 56-117), kept fairly detailed records of Tacfarinas’ campaigns within his book, The Annals of Imperial Rome. Even though The Annals focused on the actions of the imperial family, especially Emperor Tiberius (r. 14-37), Tacfarinas’ name made numerous appearances in the pages, popping up each time he launched another invasion of Rome, which seemingly occurred every other year. So, even though Tacitus often sidelined describing Tacfarinas’ reign of terror in favor of discussing political maneuverings in Rome, a decent sketch of Tacfarinas’ life can be drawn from The Annals of Imperial Rome.

Tacfarinas was born in Numidia, and like many of Rome’s greatest threats, he began his career in the Roman military as an auxiliary soldier serving in North Africa. He eventually deserted from the Roman military and started a new life as a bandit. His ambitions, however, were too broad for common thievery. He gathered a large band of marauders and began to teach them Roman military discipline and tactics. Once he had gathered enough resources, he even equipped an elite core of his forces in Roman-styled weaponry and armor. Finally, Tacfarinas somehow maneuvered himself into becoming chief of the Musulamian tribe, a strong Numidian people known for their great warriors. With his newfound power, Tacfarinas was able to strike up a secret alliance between his own troops and other anti-Rome factions in North Africa. Along with Tacfarinas’ own bandits and Musulamian soldiers, the Cinithii tribe and dissidents from the Roman-aligned kingdoms of Mauretania and Garamantes also joined the growing coalition.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Light Of The Moon Suppressed A Roman Army Mutiny In Pannonia



Shortly after the death of Augustus in 14 CE, the civilian soldiers in the three Roman legions stationed in Pannonia were incited into mutiny. Most of the known information about this event was recorded by two statesmen-historians of the Roman Empire, Tacitus (c. 56/57 – 117) and Cassius Dio (c. 163-235). Tacitus, perhaps the greatest orator of his time, gave the lengthier and more detailed account of the mutiny, but he was also known to take artistic license with some of his historical descriptions. Nevertheless, both historians claimed that the goal of the mutiny was to bring about military reforms, specifically a restriction of military service to 16 years, as well as an increase in pay from one sesterce a day to one denarius (4 sesterce) per day. Without these changes, the mutineers claimed that the excessively long period of military service, combined with the harsh discipline and severe punishments in the Roman Army, were simply unfair.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Outrageous Childhood Of the Semi-Mythical Viking-Poet, Egil Skallagrimsson



Egil Skallagrimsson was one of several prominent Vikings whose lives were recorded by the Icelanders in the form of a saga. Egil’s Saga was anonymously composed around the 13th century, with the Icelandic historian and scholar, Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), being one of the likeliest authors of the piece. While most of Egil’s Saga is folklore and embellished history, many historians think that the plentiful poems contained in the saga may have indeed been written by a historical Viking-poet from the 10th century. So, like many other figures from the sagas, Egil Skallagrimsson is often considered to be a historical person whose reputation, over time, became exaggerated to the point of bordering on mythical.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Edgar Allan Poe Wrote A Short Story Based On An Actual Murder


The poet and author, Edgar Allan Poe, worked several jobs in or around New York City during his life. While he was there, Poe, along with other writers and reporters, frequented a tobacco shop owned by a Mr. John Anderson. Surprisingly, many of John Anderson’s customers were not venturing into his shop for the fine selection of cigars. Instead, most of the men were lining up to talk to Anderson’s star employee, the twenty-year-old Mary Rogers. Young Mary was a woman of legendary beauty, and the promise of catching a glimpse of her was more than enough enticement to lure in an eager crowd. Edgar Allan Poe was not the only famous writer who was lured by her beauty into the tobacco store; James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving also took the bait and went to see Miss Rogers.

  ((Newspaper Clipping) Mary Rogers, the cigar girl, murdered at Hoboken, July 25, 1841 via The New York Public Library Digital Collections)

During the time she was working at John Anderson’s tobacco store, Mary Rogers lived in a New York City boarding house located on Nassau Street, which was run by her mother. On a fateful day, Mary voiced her desire to travel from New York to New Jersey. The reason that she gave to her family and to her fiancé, a certain Daniel Payne, was that she wanted to meet up with relatives. Therefore, on Sunday, July 25, 1841, Mary Rogers set off from her home to undertake what would become a one-way journey.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Wrathful Tale Of Amestris, Wife Of The Persian King Xerxes



Although Xerxes I (r. 486-465 BCE) is mainly remembered for his massive invasion of Greece, his reign continued for around fourteen more years after his Greek ambitions were crushed at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BCE.  This later period of his life, after Xerxes withdrew from Greece and returned to the heartland of his empire, remains a fairly undefined part of the king’s reign. What we do know about Xerxes’ final years is that he began to focus a great deal of his empire’s resources on construction projects. Nevertheless, he eventually started to lose the support of several key governing satraps and advisors, ultimately leading to a violent end for the king.

Herodotus, one of the main sources on Xerxes’ life, lightly glossed over a few of the events that supposedly occurred in the Achaemenid Empire during the years after the Persian King of Kings returned home from Greece. By far, the most dramatic of these episodes (located in The Histories, Book IX) was a story about how one of Xerxes’ affairs led to the extermination of nearly all of his brother’s family. This story, which will be told shortly, is considered to be largely a fiction created by the father of history, Herodotus (490-425/420 BCE). Yet, many historians believe the core elements of the story were likely based on factual events.