27 May 2007

More Uppity Woman: The 4 Julia's (Part IV) ... the end

Mamaea’s Last Post

Alexander Augustus, may the gods keep you! Persicus maximus, may the gods keep you! Parthicus in truth, Persicus in truth. We behold your trophies, we behold your victories too.

Thus, according to the Roman version of Fox News – the Life of Alexander in Historiae Augustae – the Senate acclaimed the imaginary victories of Severus Alexander. And this was followed, if The Life can be believed, by a triumph in September 233 AD, when Mamaea and her son were briefly back in Rome:

With the greatest glory and accompanied by the senate, the equestrian order, and the whole populace, with the women and children, particularly the wives of the soldiers, crowding about him on every side, he went up on foot to the Palace, while behind him four elephants drew his triumphal chariot. On the following day he gave games in the Circus and spectacles on the stage....

I would take this as the stuff of purest fantasy but for a handful of coins and medallions that vaunt the Emperor’s victories in the east: on one, Alexander is crowned by the goddess of Victory as he tramples on the Tigris and Euphrates; another (pictured left) shows Victory crushing a miniature captive under her shield. Even Mamaea seems to join in the celebration, with coins proclaiming Fortuna Redux (‘Fortune restored’). Given her good sense, I like to think that these coins were issued before 233 – a wish and her prayer, as it were. But I don't know....

No matter. Suspend disbelief, if you like. I’d like to focus instead on what Alexander did immediately after his triumph: in the most unmilitary action imaginable, he “founded an order for [destitute] girls and boys, to be called Mamaeanae and Mamaeani.”

This seemingly innocuous detail stopped me in my tracks.

Not because it’s a post-triumphal let-down. Nor that Alexander probably had nothing to do with it - an emperor is automatically credited with all good deeds done in Rome during his reign (tradition demands it): it was Mamaea, surely, who made the endowments herself. That's hardly surprising. No, what brought me to an abrupt halt is this: charitable institutions for poor children are almost unheard-of in the pagan world. The very words ‘the poor’ is particular to the vocabulary of Christians and Jews: paganism does not have this concept. In a nutshell, it was a very Christian thing to do.

The Poor are always with us.

Rare was the wise man, as Seneca wrote, “who will give a coin to a beggar without dropping it in a contemptuous manner.” Pagans did not give regular alms to the poor or to widows and orphans, but usually abandoned them to their fate without much sign of remorse; and, when they gave up the ghost, their bodies were not buried, but dumped on refuse heaps. Of course, pagan society was not always hard-hearted. Civic-minded rich men (and some women) came to the aid of fellow citizens in times of need, and many undertook public services at their own expense – this was the price of public honour.

Imperial Giving

The imperial Alimenta, which channelled money to poor boys in Italy, is often mistaken for a Roman charity, but that wasn’t really its purpose: although it spread a little relief to some lucky boys, it was a scheme to raise the low birth-rate and produce more citizens. Similarly, when an emperor ‘gave’ a building or an aqueduct or bread & circuses to ‘his’ people, it was meant to reflect his own glory, an act of self-aggrandizement that might have been useful (though often was not). Such aims are far from the Christian ideal of almsgiving out of pity for the disinherited or even the less lofty goal of saving one's soul for the next life – through alms a Christian could redeem a whole lifetime of sins.

In short, pagan benevolence did not run to endowing old people’s homes, orphanages, hospitals and so on – these are institutions that appear only with the Christian epoch.*

So what was Mamaea doing?

Two earlier ‘good emperors’, Antonius Pius and the sainted Marcus Aurelius had made endowments for destitute girls in the names of their wives, Faustina the Elder, who died in 141 AD and was deified, and Faustina the Younger, who joined her in the heavens in 175 AD. So, there was some tradition for ‘good’ Empresses having aided poor girls in Rome.

With two big differences:

1. The earlier endowments were not made by the Empresses themselves but after their deaths.

2. The funds were probably used to dower the lucky Puellae Faustininianae (Faustina’s Girls), the unfortunate daughters of citizens who lacked a patrimony. As a jurist wrote: “it is useful to the state that women should have dowries and so be able to marry” – the tacit agenda being ‘to have lots of children and increase the population’. Thus, these memorials, too, fall within the hoary tradition of civic munificence.

Mamaea, however, was still alive and as active as ever – and her charity was not restricted to the second sex. She was casting a wider net. And this, as far as I know, was unprecedented.

It seems natural to wonder if Mamaea's Girls & Boys reflects in any way her meeting with Origen in Antioch: had those talks with the great Christian teacher made her more sensitive to poverty? For Christians, charity was a moral duty and "the poor" covered anyone who needed alms. Remember that Bishop Eusebius had praised Mamaea as "a religious woman if ever there was one." Was she, in fact, copying Christian practice?

Or was she combatting it?

Did she intend to use her money to fight the Christians with their own weapons – to deny them “the credit they win for such practices,” as Julian the Apostate grumbled more than 100 years later? When he tried to revive the ancient rites, he found that, even then, the pagan priests still neglected and overlooked the poor. They had learnt nothing from the Christian success.

Was Mamaea that much sharper? In the 3rd century, it could still have gone either way. What did she plan for her Boys & Girls - a life as semi-Christians or as pagan religionists? I don't know. Perhaps she didn’t know herself and, now, there was almost no time left.

Make War, Not Love

Having declared victory and left the east, Alexander now had to defend the empire in the west. German tribes, particularly along the Rhine and Danube, had taken advantage of the withdrawal of Roman troops for the eastern war, crossed the rivers and invaded Roman territory.
Reluctantly and sadly (through sheer necessity) Alexander issued the proclamation of a new expedition ... and marched against the Germans.
Mamaea again went with him. Marching northward hastily, the Romans crossed the Rhine on a bridge of boats. In 235, Alexander and Mamaea were in Moguntiacum (Mainz), the capital of Upper Germany. An ambitious offensive campaign was planned.

Either because of his natural docility or cleverly playing for time against just one of the many threats on the northern frontiers, he tried to buy off these barbarians rather than risk the chances of war.
He decided to send a mission to the Germans to discuss peace terms, with a promise to meet all their requirements and saying that he had plenty of money. This was the most effective bargaining counter with the Germans, who were avaricious and always ready to trade peace with the Romans in exchange for gold. But the soldiers bitterly resented this ridiculous waste of time. In their opinion Alexander showed no honourable intention to pursue the war and preferred chariot-racing and a life of ease....

What you see is what you get

In the army there was a man called Maximinus, from one of the semi-barbarous tribes of the interior of Thrace (nowadays Bulgaria): his father may have been a Goth, his mother of the Alani. In any case, he was of lowly origin, perhaps having started life as a shepherd-boy. When he came of age, he was drafted into the army, where, with the help of a bit of luck, he progressed through all the ranks in the army and was given charge of legions and commands over provinces.

As fighting flared up against the Germans, Maximinus was placed in charge of raising and training recruits. These young soldiers were fiercely loyal to Maximinus, whose four decades of harsh military service placed him in stark contrast to the tender, indecisive Alexander. The troops were ready to revolt, and Maximinus was ready to lead them.
... the young men, of whom the greater majority were Pannonians, admired Maximinus' courage and despised Alexander for being under his mother's control and for the fact that business was conducted on the authority and advice of a woman, while he himself presented a picture of negligence and cowardice in his conduct of the war.
Regular readers of my blog can guess what Maximinus did next. Herodian tells us.
The soldiers found the current state of the empire annoying because of the length of Alexander's rule, and unprofitable now that all his munificence had dried up.... To assure his popularity and their enthusiasm, Maximinus doubled their pay [and] promised an enormous bonus of cash and kind.
The mutiny came in early March 235. The end is really rather sad:
Going out on to the parade ground, Alexander mustered his troops and begged them to fight for him and protect the emperor whom they had brought up and under whose rule they have lived for fourteen years without complaint.... Maximinus' army was by now in sight and the young recruits began to call out, urging their fellow soldiers to desert their '[stingy] little sissy" or "their timid little lad tied to his mother's apron strings" and to come over to the side of a man who was brave ... and devoted to a life of military action.
Trembling and terrified out of his wits, Alexander just managed to get back to his tent. There, the reports say, he waited for his executioner, clinging to his mother and weeping and blaming her for his misfortunes.

Start as you mean to go on

Maximinus didn't do the deed himself but sent soldiers who burst into the imperial tent and slaughtered the emperor, his mother and all those thought to be his friends or favourites. Some of them managed to escape or hide for a brief time, but Maximinus soon caught them and killed them all.

Alexander had reached the age of 26½ years and had been emperor for almost precisely half his life. Julia Mamaea was a little less than 55 years old and had been in or near the purple for most of her life.
I'm going to miss her.

With the accession of Maximinus Thrax, the Severan dynasty came to an end.

* My discussion of Christian versus pagan philanthropy is very much indebted to P. Veyne, Bread and Circuses (London 1976) Ch. 1.

The photographs of Maximinus and Julia Mamaea come from the excellent site of Bill Storage & Laura Maish

13 May 2007

More Uppity Women: the 4 Julia's (Part IV) ... still onwards!

Mamaea's Travels in the East

For there flowed to [Antioch] like rivers to the sea, all the soldiers, all the bowmen and horsemen and the horses, both those of the fighting men and those carrying burdens, and every camel and every band of soldiers, so that the ground was covered with men standing and men sitting; the walls were covered with shields hung up and spears and helmets were to be seen everywhere....
This is how the great orator, Libanius, described the situation in his native city as soldiers from all the Roman provinces gathered in the eastern capital, in a force to match the reported size of the Persian invasion.

The catch is that all these troops were assembling more than a hundred years later, in 360 AD, when the Emperor Constantius II was preparing yet another Persian campaign. For the war that Severus Alexander was about to begin would continue, with only intervals of comparative peace, for more than 400 years. Imagine, if you would, a war like Europe's Hundred Years' War, but four times as long – with all the concomitant destruction, slaughter, betrayals, revolts, and plagues, that would mark such endless battles. And, really, in the end, it was all for naught: war between the Romans and Sassanian Persians would drain the lifeblood and treasures of both empires – until the rivalry was finally settled in favour of neither, but by the Arab conquest of the east.

Of course, in the years 230/231 AD, one had reason to be optimistic, even if the whole Roman empire was in a state of complete upheaval. As Alexander and Mamaea journeyed eastward, they collected additional large forces from the Illyrian provinces. The Roman legions were brought up to full strength. The cost of raising the extra troops, however, meant that Alexander had to reverse Caracalla’s double pay for the soldiers – a necessary policy but one that stored up trouble for the future. Still, it must have seemed worthwhile: all who saw the army of Alexander, we are told (and we may well believe):
immediately realized the power of Rome. In short, [Alexander] made every effort to appear worthy of his name and even to surpass the Macedonian king.
And now, if ever, he may have made that puerile boast that there should be a great difference between a Roman and a Macedonian Alexander.

Unlikely words from an unwarlike emperor. Herodian says that he was "naturally gentle and docile," and that "since childhood he had been brought up in conditions of peace and had always been attached to the comforts of the city." It was more in character that he first tried to negotiate with the Persians rather than fight. He sent letters to Ardashir from Rome, and, when this didn't work, he tried again as soon as he reached Antioch:

[sending]another diplomatic mission to the Persians to discuss a peaceful alliance, in the hopes of persuading them or frightening them by his actual presence. But the barbarian king sent back the representatives empty-handed.


Now, he really needed Good Fortune, and she appeared to be at hand. The goddess Fortuna ('Tyche' in Greek) was a colossal bronze statue made for the city of Antioch in the early 3rd-century BC, but, in these times, she took on an entirely new significance: the traditional gods had become much more dubious entities, and of much less significance than the universally recognized and overriding power of Chance. Her statue disappeared long ago: the image at the top of the page shows a Roman marble copy which gives us some idea of how she looked: now magnify it into a bronze female colossus! The goddess was not just Fortune in the abstract, but the fortune of this particular city, Antioch on the Orontes. Her turreted mural crown represents the actual city walls, and the boy river-god swimming out from under her feet is the river Orontes.

I think she was placed at the main city gates.

This medieval parchment is a copy of an ancient Roman map (probably 4th-century AD). Obviously, the artist had never seen the Fortune of Antioch, but he had heard of her: he drew a huge female statue seated on a throne, with a nude boy standing next to her. She is clearly set within the walls and near a great gateway. So, Fortune might well have been the first sight that greeted the imperial eyes as Alexander and Mamaea entered Antioch.

But, as an ancient saying goes, 'What depends on the chances of Fortune is very rarely secure'.

Alexander at War

This was the plan.

The army was divided into three columns, the first having orders to reconnoitre the northern region and, marching through Armenia, attack the Persians in the north. Armenia then, by the way, was not where Armenia is today, but quite far to the south, roughly in the Kurdish-inhabited mountains of modern Turkey and Iraq. This part of the plan made good sense as the Armenian king was a Parthian, related to the dynasty recently deposed by the Persians. He was now a bitter enemy of the Persians, and a Roman ally. The second column probably intended to sail down the Euphrates from Dura Europos to attack the Persians from the southern flank, and later to reunite with the main force of the third column. The third column, the cream of the army, was led by Alexander, and presumably would have entered Persian territory by a central route, meeting up with the southern column once the territory between them was under control.

But, first, the Emperor made a great detour through the desert and came with part of his army to Palmyra.

This time, Mamaea did not go with him.

Perhaps she felt that, being almost 50 years old, she wasn't in shape to prance through the Syrian desert. And, although Antioch was a city of legendary pleasures, I cannot believe she was impressed by that aspect of the city...
...where life was a continuous round of social festivities. So little do [Antiochenes]take exercise, but so much do they enjoy luxury, that they use their gymnasiums as baths, and when they bathe they anoint themselves with costly oils and perfumes, every day, as if it is a feast day. And when they’re not at the baths, they practically live in the eating halls, stuffing themselves with rich foods and wine for the better part of the day.
In keeping with her serious side, we know of only one thing that she did at Antioch and that was absolutely extraordinary: she invited Origen, the most famous Christian teacher of the time to visit her.

Origen, a native of Alexandria, was born of pagan parents (his Egyptian name means 'son of Horus') who converted to Christianity: his father later lost his life in a persecution. Perhaps inspired by his father's martyrdom, Origin adopted a relentlessly ascetic way of life. While still a young man, in an excess of frenzy against the temptations of the flesh, he castrated himself.

This was not a good idea. Besides the obvious disadvantage, it proved a stumbling-block to his career: tradition opposed the ordination of a eunuch as priest. So, he taught instead, attaining such fame that pagans as well as Christians were attracted to his lectures. Where he differed from most Christian teachers is that he was able to accommodate Christian revelation to Greek philosophy. Unsurprisingly, his bishop did not agree: he complained that Origen's work was more fit for a pagan philosopher than a simple follower of Christ. One sees something of his point: Origen believed in an innumerable succession of worlds, in the pre-existence and reincarnation of the soul: if Christ cannot win a human soul in this life, he defers it to the next.

In Alexandria, he was in ecclesiastical disgrace.

So, by the time Mamaea arrived in the East, Origen had moved to the easier religious environment of Caesarea on the coast of Palestine. Here, he founded a school that soon surpassed that at Alexandria in renown.

When the Empress invited Origen, she must have considered him best qualified to explain to her the tenets of Christianity in a language she could appreciate. That he was a eunuch was no obstacle; it might even have reminded her of the eunuch priests of the Syrian goddess and the ecstatic rites in the Emesa in her youth. His teaching was also not utterly opposed to the ideas and values of pagan society. Discussing those who ascribe divinity to the sun and moon, as did the priests of Elagabal, he declared that, although they erred, it was a stage in the process whose culmination was the coming of Christ.

Eusebius, a later bishop of Caesarea [in the early Christian empire (314-340 AD)] records their meeting in his Ecclesiastical History
Origen's fame was now universal, so as to reach the ears of the Emperor's mother, Mamaea by name, a religious woman if ever there was one. She set great store on securing a sight of the man, and on testing that understanding of divine things which was the wonder of all. She was then staying at Antioch, and summoned him to her presence with a military escort. And when he had stayed with her for some time, and shown her very many things that were for the glory of the Lord and the excellence of the divine teaching, he hastened back to his accustomed duties.
This brief report does scant justice to an event without parallel in the history of the Empire -- an official invitation to a Christian leader to confer with the Emperor's mother, who held more effective authority than the Emperor himself. Like her aunt, Julia Domna, Mamaea was interested in ideas, and ready to listen no matter where they came from. While the Christians with whom Julia Domna came in contact repelled her by opposing faith to reason, Origen was able to link revelation to philosophy and fit it into the familiar background of Greek culture.

What would have happened, one wonders, if Mamaea and Origen had been given the time to collaborate, and the new religion had attained recognition in these tolerant times? It was, in any event, a momentous meeting and reason enough not to go with Alexander to Palmyra.

Alexander in Palmyra

As far as we know, this was the first time that Roman legions were at the city. What were they doing there? Was it to warn the Palmyrans not to treat with the Persians - as they might have been tempted to do? For the Persians had already conquered Charax, the port on the Persian Gulf (near modern Basra) which was the departure point for the fleets sailing to India -- perhaps choking off the Palmyran end of the Silk Route. Of course, it might have been merely to give his soldiers training under field conditions. We simply don’t know; but it does seem that Palmyra’s balancing act between East and West was over.

The city’s leading citizen, J. Aurelius Zenobius, gave the emperor a royal welcome to the city, for which he got his statue, raised high above the crowds in the Great Colonnade, and an inscription in Greek and Palmyrene which tells us what he did:
Statue of Julius Zabdilah (Greek: Zenobios), son of Malkho, son of Malkho, son of Nassum, who was general of [Palmyra] at the time of the coming of the divine Emperor Alexander; who assisted Rutilius Crispinus, the general in chief, during his stay here, and when he brought the legions here ... It is why the senate and People have raised this statue) to him to honour him.
This Zenobius, you will recall, is the father of the future queen Zenobia. He will almost certainly have attached his troops to the Roman army and participated in the invasion of Mesopotamia; if he did, it is only too likely that many of them died there. The emperor’s campaign, which began splendidly, soon turned into disaster: as the second column advanced deeper into enemy country, the Persians unexpectedly attacked. Outnumbered, the Romans were unable to stem the attack of the Persian cavalry; firing their arrows from all sides at the encircled soldiers, they massacred the whole army. It was a staggering disaster for Rome.

Alexander had failed to link up with them.
Perhaps it was due to fear -- no doubt he wanted to avoid risking his own life and limb for the Roman empire. Or his mother may have restrained him because of her womanly timidity and excessive love for her son ... convincing him that it was other people's job to take risks for him, not his to get involved in the battle.
But Herodian, in blaming Mamaea, forgot that she was not with the Emperor: in 232/233, she was still in Antioch.

Now Alexander fell seriously ill, as had the greater part of his army. The Mesopotamian climate is often insalubrious, to say the least.
He refused to endure his indisposition and the stifling air any longer. The entire army was sick and the troops from Illyricum especially were seriously ill and dying, being accustomed to moist, cool air and to more food than they were being issued.
Alexander led his own force back to Antioch, and many of them perished too, while the first column, caught between the mountains and plains (somewhere between modern Mosul and Kirkuk) was almost totally destroyed and only a handful of those who started the march managed to reach Antioch.

"Mission Accomplished"

Both Alexander's judgment and his luck had failed, with the result that of the three ... army groups he had lost the greater part in a series of different disasters, disease, war and cold.

Despite the reality of "this terrible disaster, which no one likes to remember", Alexander took on the titles of Persicus Maximus (Conqueror of Persia) and Parthicus Maximus (ditto of Parthia?!?), and now devoted himself to enjoying the pleasures which Antioch offered. He -- or was it Mamaea? -- attempted to restore the morale of the soldiers and calm their anger with a generous distribution of money, believing this to be the only remedy which would restore his popularity with them. For a time, it seemed to work.

But, then, dispatches arrived from the governors in Illyria that the Germans were on the march across the Rhine and Danube, devastating the Roman empire. The presence of Alexander and the entire army, they said, was essential.

As another old saying has it, 'Fortune is not content with hurting anyone once'

Next, Mamaea's Last Posting.

05 May 2007

More Uppity Women: the 4 Julia's (Part IV) ... onwards!

I entered [Alexandria] by the Sun Gate, as it is called, and was instantly struck by the splendid beauty of the city, which filled my eyes with delight. From the Sun Gate to the Moon Gate – these are the guardian divinities of the entrances – led a straight double row of columns, about the middle of which lies the open part of the town, and in it so many streets that walking in them, you would fancy yourself abroad while still at home.
(Not an extract from Mamaea’s diary, but from Leucippe and Clitophon, a late-2nd-century potboiler written by Achilles Tatius, a native of “the most glorious city of the Alexandrians”.)

Sometime between August 228 and August 229, when her son was not quite 21, Mamaea apparently dared to leave Alexander alone in Rome and took herself off to Alexandria. We have no idea why she travelled to Egypt, but there must have been a more compelling reason than sightseeing, despite the city’s many famous monuments (affairs of state would have been put aside, however, for a visit to the pyramidal tomb of Alexander the Great: could she have shared the dream of her son’s foolish boast – that there would be “a great difference between a Roman and a Macedonian Alexander ”? If he truly said it, it boomeranged: the difference, indeed, would soon become stark).

Turning round and round to face all the streets, I grew faint at the sight and at last exclaimed, like a luckless lover, ‘Eyes, we have met our match.’”

The Empress, too, must have been impressed, for she celebrated her visit by giving the city a gift: this Alexandrian coin* (which dates her visit) shows her holding the model of a gateway with two arches and three towers. This is numismatic shorthand for saying that she had a gateway built in the city, presumably inscribed with her name to record the gift for all posterity.

Mamaea thus seems to have been the only Empress between the very early days of empire and the time of Constantine to initiate a public building project. Urban embellishments and imperial gifts were the perogative of Emperors, not their females – even if emperors built rather more rarely than we suppose (outside Rome at least) and grandly put their names on monuments very often constructed with local money.

A Palmyran Visitor?

I just wonder, without any evidence at all, if J. Aurelius Zenobius, the father of Zenobia, travelled to Alexandria to meet the Empress. He was governing Palmyra in the year 229, so he would have been likely to lead any official embassy, such as might be sent to convey his city's greetings to the Empress. Especially since he was a distant relative of hers, having two Emesene paternal ancestors: one a Samsigeramus, a traditional name in Emesa’s once-royal family, and a C. Julius Bassus, whose name recalls that of Julius Bassianus, high priest of the Sun at Emesa, and the father of Julia Domna.

The idea of their meeting is a pleasant conceit.

Meanwhile, back in Rome

Sometime in 228 Cassius Dio returned to Rome after having governed wild Upper Pannonia [roughly present-day Hungary, with chunks of Slovenia and Croatia] where he had kept his troops under firm discipline and managed to suppress a mutiny without being killed (“I ruled the soldiers in Pannonia with a strong hand.”). He was rewarded by the emperor by being appointed consul, with the Emperor himself as his colleague, and entered office, no doubt with appropriate fanfare, on January 1, 229. This was Dio’s second consulship, a great honour ... and his political swan song.

It may be that Mamaea had judged him a safe and trusted pair of hands, thus freeing her to travel to Egypt. Dio had served in high positions under the family since the early days of Septimius Severus (as praetor, proconsul of Africa, Dalmatia, and lately Upper Pannonia). Best yet, he was in his seventies and unlikely to change either his life-style or his loyalties: a devoted public servant, keeping a fatherly eye on Alexander, and controlling the Praetorian Guards as he had controlled the soldiers in Upper Pannonia.

If so, a sound plan went awry. She probably had to cut short her trip.

The Awry Praetorians

The Praetorians were unhappy about Dio’s appointment as consul. Dio himself tells us, in the last book of his Roman History, about their antagonism:
The malcontents evinced displeasure at this, and they demanded my surrender, through fear that someone might compel them to submit to a régime similar to that of the Pannonian troops.... [Severus Alexander] became afraid that they might kill me if they saw me in the insignia of my office, and so he bade me spend the period of my consulship in Italy, somewhere outside of Rome. And thus later I came both to Rome and to Campania to visit him, and spent a few days in his company, during which the soldiers saw me without offering to do me any harm.
He didn't push his luck, but prudently asked to be excused, and "set out for home, with the intention of spending all the rest of my life in my native land" [in far-away Bithynia], leaving Homer's words behind:

...out of range of the missiles. Out of the dust and the slaying of men and the blood and the uproar.(Il. XI 189-92)

Imperial Pork

Despite this unfortunate precedent, Mamaea planned a second trip to Egypt, this one with Alexander in tow, for the year 333 AD.

After arriving at Alexandria, the imperial party apparently intended to sail down the Nile at least as far as Middle Egypt. Two papyri attest to this expected itinerary. One instructs the local governors and royal scribes of Middle Egypt to prepare for the visit.

In the second, an overseer of pigs informs the governor of the Oxyrhynchite nome, under oath, that he has on hand:

the pigs which are being prepared for the propitiously impending visit of our lord Imperator Severus Alexander and his mother Julia Mamaea Augusta ... I have with me the collected pigs, numbering forty, each weighing 50 pounds, totalling two thousand pounds

Small pigs (but not unlike the lean pigs in Coptic villages today); yet the overseer must have had a very experienced eye to round out the chubby and the thin, and take his oath on exactly 2,000 pounds of pork. It was also his job to maintain the pigs at this or better weight until the imperial visitors and their party reached the nome capital, where they presumably were to be fed and entertained.

They never got there.

Regime Change in Iran

In 228 the Persian vassal king of the Parthians overthrew his master in battle and proclaimed the new Persian empire. Whereas the Parthians had often been content to defend themselves against attack, the Sassanian Persians – as they are known – were just as aggressive as the Romans. They were out for conquest, not defense. Ardashir, their first king, took on the title King of Kings and claimed the inheritance of his imagined forefathers whose kingdom Alexander the Great had destroyed. He boasted that he would win back everything that the ancient Persians had once held as far as the Grecian Sea – Anatolia, Syria, and all of the East. Two years later, he drove the Romans out of Mesopotamia...

One of Cassius Dio’s last thoughts in the Roman History reads
The danger lies not in the fact that he [Ardashir, king of the Persians] seems to be of any particular consequence in himself, but rather in the fact that our armies are in such a state that some of the troops are actually joining him and others are refusing to defend themselves.
He was wrong about the first danger, right as rain about the second.

Severus Alexander was forced to attempt to recover the lost territories with the army he had (not the army he needed). In the spring of 231, he made a generous distribution of money to the soldiers and, with tears in his eyes, left Rome, arriving in Antioch by the late summer. His mother went with him. A tiny detail preserves a record of their route: a milestone appears in Thrace with the name of Mamaea upon it – the first recorded case of a milestone with the name of an empress.

I think she was enjoying herself.

Next, Mamaea’s Travels In The East

* I apologise for the poor quality of this photograph (though I've Photoshopped it to bits): it was taken in 1917, and I haven't found a more recent image. You'll probably have to take my word for the arches and towers, or believe, if you prefer, J.G. Milne, the eminent numismatist who originally published it.

[I warmly thank Prof. Peter van Minnen for sending me a copy of his article on the papyrus in the Duke University Papyrus Archive, Imperial Pork, AncSoc 27, 1996.]

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