Battle of Actium

The Battle of the Actium paved the way for Augustus (Octavian) to become the leader of Rome. While Antony and Cleopatra were trapped in Actium 400 ships and 80,000 infantrymen under Octavian's command approached Anthony's army from the north and cut of his supply lines in the south. Cleopatra reportedly was the one who urged Antony to make a final stand at sea. Cleopatra was put in charge of third of the fleet and ultimately showed that her military skill did not match her political skills

During the naval Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. the forces of Antony and Cleopatra were defeated by Octavian, whose navy was made up of smaller, faster ships that outmaneuvered the larger ships of Antony and Cleopatra's fleet after hard fighting and a lot of bloodshed. Many of the ships had battering rams, and many of the ships that sunk burned and were dragged down by their heavy battering rams. In 1993, objects believed to be from Anthony's fleet were discovered two miles off the west coast of Greece.

Before the battle had even begun, Cleopatra is said to have withdrawn her 60 ships, including her flagship containing Egypt's treasury. According to one account Antony abandoned his forces to pursue Cleopatra. In the run up to the battle Antony and Cleopatra staged a theater festival at Samos and neglected their supply lines.

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Fighting During the Battle of at Actium

Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: When it had been decided to deliver a sea battle, Antony burned all the Egyptian ships except sixty; but the largest and best, from those having three to those having ten banks of oars, he manned, putting on board twenty thousand heavy-armed soldiers and two thousand archers. It was on this occasion, we are told, that an infantry centurion, a man who had fought many a battle for Antony and was covered with scars, burst into laments as Antony was passing by, and said; "Imperator, why dost thou distrust these wounds and this sword and put thy hopes in miserable logs of wood? Let Egyptians and Phoenicians do their fighting at sea, but give us land, on which we are accustomed to stand and either conquer our enemies or die." To this Antony made no reply, but merely encouraged the man by a gesture and a look to be of good heart, and passed on. He had no good hopes himself, since, when the masters of his ships wished to leave their sails behind, he compelled them to put them on board and carry them, saying that not one fugitive of the enemy should be allowed to make his escape. [Source: Parallel Lives by Plutarch, published in Vol. IX, of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1920, translated by Bernadotte Perrin]


“During that day, then, and the three following days the sea was tossed up by a strong wind and prevented the battle; but on the fifth, the weather becoming fine and the sea calm, they came to an engagement. Antony had the right wing, with Publicola, Coelius the left, and in the centre were Marcus Octavian and Marcus Insteius. Caesar posted Agrippa on the left, and reserved the right wing for himself. Of the land forces, that of Antony was commanded by Canidius, that of Caesar by Taurus, who drew them up along the sea and remained quiet. As for the leaders themselves, Antony visited all his ships in a row-boat, exhorting the soldiers, owing to the weight of their ships, to fight without changing their position, as if they were on land; he also ordered the masters of the ships to receive the attacks of the enemy as if their ships were lying quietly at anchor, and to maintain their position at the mouth of the gulf, which was narrow and difficult. Caesar, we are told, who had left his tent while it was still dark and was going round to visit his ships, was met by a man driving an ass. Caesar asked the man his name, and he, recognizing Caesar, replied: "My name is Prosper, and my ass's name is Victor." Therefore, when Caesar afterwards decided the place with the beaks of ships, he set up bronze figures of an ass and a man. After surveying the rest of his line of battle, he was carried in a small boat to his right wing, and there was astonished to see the enemy lying motionless in the narrows; indeed, their ships had the appearance of riding at anchor. For a long time he was convinced that this was really the case, and kept his own ships at a distance of about eight furlongs from the enemy. But it was now the sixth hour, and since a wind was rising from the sea, the soldiers of Antony became impatient at the delay, and, relying on the height and size of their own ships as making them unassailable, they put their left wing in motion. When Caesar saw this he was delighted, and ordered his right wing to row backwards, wishing to draw the enemy still farther out from the gulf and the narrows, and then to surround them with his own agile vessels and come to close quarters with ships which, owing to their great size and the smallness of their crews, were slow and ineffective.

“Though the struggle was beginning to be at close range, the ships did not ram or crush one another at all, since Antony's, owing to their weight, had no impetus, which chiefly gives effect to the blows of the beaks, while Caesar's not only avoided dashing front to front against rough and hard bronze armour, but did not even venture to ram the enemy's ships in the side. For their beaks would easily have been broken off by impact against vessels constructed of huge square timbers fastened together with iron. The struggle was therefore like a land battle; or, to speak more truly, like the storming of a walled town. For three or four of Caesar's vessels were engaged at the same time about one of Antony's, and the crews fought with wicker shields and spears and punting-poles and fiery missiles; the soldiers of Antony also shot with catapults from wooden towers.”

Defeat of Antony’s and Cleopatra’s Forces at Actium

After Antony and Cleopatra fled, their sailors fought on until their fleet was destroyed. Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: “Presently not a few of their heavy transport ships and some of their friends began to gather about them after the defeat, bringing word that the fleet was destroyed, but that, in their opinion, the land forces still held together. So Antony sent messengers to Canidius, ordering him to retire with his army as fast as he could through Macedonia into Asia; he himself, however, since he purposed to cross from Taenarum to Libya, selected one of the transport ships which carried much coined money and very valuable royal utensils in silver and gold, and made a present of it to his friends, bidding them divide up the treasure and look out for their own safety. They refused his gift and were in tears, but he comforted them and besought them with great kindness and affection, and finally sent them away, after writing to Theophilus, his steward in Corinth, that he should keep the men in safe hiding until they could make their peace with Caesar. This Theophilus was the father of Hipparchus, who had the greatest influence with Antony, was the first of Antony's freedmen to go over to Caesar, and afterwards lived in Corinth. [Source: Parallel Lives by Plutarch, published in Vol. IX, of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1920, translated by Bernadotte Perrin]

Battle of Actium

“This, then, was the situation of Antony. But at Actium his fleet held out for a long time against Caesar, and only after it had been most severely damaged by the high sea which rose against it did it reluctantly, and at the tenth hour, give up the struggle. There were not more than five thousand dead, but three hundred ships were captured, as Caesar himself has written. Only a few were aware that Antony had fled, and to those who heard of it the story was at first an incredible one, that he had gone off and left nineteen legions of undefeated men-at arms and twelve thousand horsemen, as if he had not many times experienced both kinds of fortune and were not exercised by the reverses of countless wars and fightings. His soldiers, too, had a great longing for him, and expected that he would presently make his appearance from some quarter or other; and they displayed so much fidelity and bravery that even after his flight had become evident they held together for seven days, paying no heed to the messages which Caesar sent them. But at last, after Canidius their general had run away by night and forsaken the camp, being now destitute of all things and betrayed by their commanders, they went over to the conqueror.

“In consequence of this, Caesar sailed to Athens, and after making a settlement with the Greeks, he distributed the grain which remained over after the war among their cities; these were in a wretched plight, and had been stripped of money, slaves, and beasts of burden. At any rate, my great-grandfather Nicarchus used to tell how all his fellow-citizens were compelled to carry on their shoulders a stipulated measure of wheat down to the sea at Anticyra, and how their pace was quickened by the whip; they had carried one load in this way, he said, the second was already measured out, and they were just about to set forth, when word was brought that Antony had been defeated, and this was the salvation of the city; for immediately the stewards and soldiers of Antony took to flight, and the citizens divided the grain among themselves.

Battle in the Teutoburg Forest

The land of fierce German tribes was held for only about 20 years under the reign of Augustus. German tribes frequently raided towns in Gaul near the border. The land, divided among several German tribes, was lost when three Roman legions were slaughtered at Teutoburg Forest in A.D. 9.

A Roman army under Quictilius Varus was sent in to quell the Germanic tribes but it marched right into a trap. The Battle of Arminius in the Teutoburg Forest brought the Roman expansion into Germany to a halt. Almost every member of a 50,000-member Roman army led by Varus was killed or enslaved. Varus committed suicide.

Sarah Bond wrote in“There is no doubt that the Roman emperor Augustus was successful in expanding and securing the Roman empire, but in the strike column was one of the worst defeats that the Roman empire ever suffered. In 9 CE, Varus, the emperor’s general in Germany, lost three legions and to all intents and purposes halted Roman expansion across the Rhine river. It was then that a number of German tribes, led by Arminius, attacked the legions and massacred them in the Teutoburg Forest, in northern Germany. The impact on the Roman imperial psyche was dramatic. [Source: Sarah Bond, Forbes, July 1, 2016]

Battle of Teutoburg Forest

The defeat kept Rome from absorbing German territory. The Germans captured the Roman standards. Augustus was so upset he didn't shave and let hair grow for months. He reportedly also banged his head against a wall, shouting, "Varus! Give me back my legions."

Siege of Jerusalem by the Romans

Jerusalem was reclaimed by the Romans after a siege by Titus's army. In A.D. 70, Titus put down the revolt, captured Jerusalem, and punished rebellious Jewish zealots by salting agricultural land, slaughtered and enslaved thousands of Jews, and looted menorahs and other sacred objects. Thousands of Jewish slaves were brought to Rome from Judea. During a huge triumphal procession, commemorated by the Arch of Titus, Jewish prisoners were paraded through the streets and strangled at the Forum. Josephus claimed that all together over 1 million Jews died as a result of the Roman crackdown.

L. Michael White at the University of Texas at Austin told PBS: “The siege of Jerusalem is a sad story. Josephus tells us about some of its events, and it's in gruesome detail in the story of the Jewish war. Josephus describes walking around the walls of Jerusalem and pleading with people on the inside to give up rather then go through the suffering and agony that would come from a long protracted siege. Josephus also tells us that there's a lot of infighting going on in the city among the different rebel factions who occupy different parts of Jerusalem. The loss of life must have been catastrophic to the Jewish population as a whole. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 \=/]

“For two years then Jerusalem was under siege. Starvation, disease, murder were the order of the day. In the final analysis, by the month of August in the year 70 the fate of Jerusalem was a foregone conclusion. The Roman armies were masked. They were ready to break through. Everyone knew it. It was just a matter of when but they were going to fight to the death, and many of them did die. So on that fateful morning when they broke through, Josephus describes the events of them breaking through the walls. The Roman soldiers running through the streets. Going into every house. Killing everyone they find. \=/

“It's a pretty awful slaughter and we have lots of evidence of it now between the artifacts that one finds of the first revolt that are scattered throughout this layer of the archaeological record. Arrowheads, spears, other kinds of indications of pretty serious hand-to-hand combat in all parts of the city. The lower city of Jerusalem remains to this day largely uninhabited but in Jesus' day in up to the time of the first revolt that was the most populous part of the city. But in the first revolt in those final hours of the battle it was burned to the ground. \=/

Josephus on the Siege of Jerusalem

Describing what Jerusalem was like during the siege, Josephus wrote: "Throughout the city people were dying of hunger in large numbers and enduring indescribable sufferings. In every house the merest hint of food sparked violence, and close relatives fell to blows, snatching from one another the pitiful supports of life. No respect was paid even to the dying." [Source: Eyewitness to History, edited Jon Carey, Avon Books, 1987]

"Gaping with hunger, like mad dogs, lawless gangs went staggering and reeling through the streets, battering upon the doors like drunkards, and so bewildered they broke into the same house two or three times in an hour. Need drove the starving to gnaw at anything. Refuge which even animals would reject was collected and turned into food. In the end they were eating belts and shoes, and leather stripped off their shields. Tufts of withered grass were devoured, and sold in little bundles for four drachmas."

"Among the residents...was a woman called Mary...Famine gnawed at her vitals, and the fire of rage was even fiercer than famine. So, driven by fury and want, she committed a crime against nature. Seizing her child, and infant at the breast, she cried, 'My poor baby why should I keep you alive in this world or war and famine? Even if we live till the Romans come, they will make slaves of us...Come, be food for me."

"With these words she killed her son, roasted the body, swallowed half of it, and stored the rest in a safe place. But the rebels were on to her at once, smelling roast meat and threatening to kill her instantly if she did not produce it. She assured them she saved them a share, and revealed the remains of her child, Seized with horror and stupefaction, they stood paralyzed by the sight. But she said, 'This my own child, and my own handiwork. Eat, for I have already eaten."

Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70

The Romans burned and sacked the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The Arch of Titus in Rome has a frieze showing legionnaires carrying candelabra and silver trumpets from the Temple. The Roman's added insult to injury by razing the Roman standard on the ruin of the Temple with an image of a pig (Jews like Muslims refrain from eating pork).

Jesus is said to have predicted the destruction of the Temple and that Titus would "leave not a stone unturned" as . Omens before 70 A.D., bright lights on the altar, a cow that gave birth to a lamb, chariots speeding through the sky at sunset.

Destruction of the Jewish Temple

Today the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) is all that remains visible today of the Second Jewish in Jerusalem . A retaining wall of a huge platform on which Herod's temple was built in 20 B.C. the Western Wall is about 60 feet high, 16 foot thick and composed of large blocks of stone (the largest of which are 30 feet long and weigh 50 tons) and is believed to have supported an esplanade. A 20 foot upper extension of the wall, made of smaller stones, is part of the ramparts of the Temple Mount, which belongs to the Muslims.

The Western Wall is just 55 meters long. An additional 325 meters runs underground, mostly in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem. Along side some sections are dimly-lit tunnels with vaulted ceilings, Roman columns and a musty smell. The stones in the walls are chiseled with an inset rectangular border, forming a perfect fit at the joints, A Jerusalem stone cutter told the U.S. News and World Report, “It's the most beautiful stone worker ever done in history. We can not do today what they did 2,000 years ago." The 13-meter-long, four-meter-high, 500-ton “huge stone” is used to stabilize the wall. Many building experts regard it as the largest building stone ever made. About 100 meters behind this area is where it is said the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Some think it still there.


Historians mark the end of the Jewish wars in A.D. 73 when 960 Jewish zealots committed suicide at Masada, rather than surrender and submit to Roman rule, after withstanding a siege by 15,000 Romans for nearly two years (A.D. 72-73). Some regard it as the world's largest known mass suicide (909 died in the mass suicide at Jonestown in Guyana in 1978).

First identified in 1838, this cliff-top fortress of Masada is located in Israel near the Dead Sea and was the site of a last stand during a rebellion against the Romans. A team led by archaeologist Yigael Yadin in the 1960s found out that King Herod (74 B.C.– 4 B.C.) built two palaces with support buildings surrounded by a wall, nearly a mile long, with 27 towers. After a rebellion against the Romans was crushed in A.D. 70, a group called the Zealots occupied the fortress with 960 people and tried to hold it against a Roman army of about 9,000. In A.D. 73 or 74 the Romans succeeded in building a siege ramp up to the wall, and the remaining defenders decided to take their own lives rather than surrender.

Masada (35 miles southeast of Jerusalem) was originally a fortress palace used by King Herod, the builder of the second Jewish temple, built on a mesa which is 300 meter wide, 600 meters long and 450 meters above the Dead Sea. According to the Roman historian Josephus, the Zealots were some of the last holdouts during a Roman campaign to break Jewish resistance in Palestine. It is believed that they lasted as long as they did at Masada because they had a large food and water supply and they carefully rationed what they had.

The Roman general, Flavius Silva, commanding the Tenth Legion, finally breached Masada's wall in A.D. 73 after spending a year building an earthen ramp on the west side of the mesa. When the Romans were about to reach Masada the Jewish commander, Eleazar ben Yair, exhorted his followers in an impassioned speech to commit suicide rather than become Roman slaves.

Eric Meyers at Archaeology Duke University told PBS: “When the Romans attacked Jewish citizens in Caesarea on the coast, the home of their administrative offices in the year 64, there was an enormous outbreak of opposition and hostility in the Jewish community to this distant Roman administrative force. This is really what precipitated the war, which broke up, literally, four years later, and led to the cataclysmic conclusion, the burning of Jerusalem in the year 70. [Source: Eric Meyers, Professor of Religion and Archaeology Duke UniversityFrontline, PBS, April 1998 \=/]


“The Rock of Masada, one of the most glorious places in all Israel, became the major refuge point for some of the most extremist elements opposing Rome. The zealots, and their most ardent supporters, fled right in the middle of the war - 66, 67, 68 - to Masada, where [over 600] of them took residence... in the splendor of this gorgeous place to eke out a futile existence which had such an unhappy ending. \=/

“If one looks to the site of Masada and observes these ruins there, we can see on the northern corner a three-tiered magnificent palace. This is where Herod and his retinue stayed, and they got the cool afternoon breezes there every day, an absolutely beautiful place.... On all the four corners, on the whole edge of the rock, was a wall. And here the zealots located most of their homes when they resettled the place after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70. There were the great storerooms in the middle of the rock... full of foodstuffs and an arsenal of weapons.... And you had another palace, and even underground cisterns that were tremendous, the size of football fields, so that water could be provided to this remote place. Here these... Zealots situated themselves for nearly four years after the loss of Jerusalem. And they could observe from their perch upon this rock, the Romans in the six encampments all around them.... \=/

“It was a refuge for Herod, and it became even a greater refuge now for these Zealots following the war, even though the war, for all intents and purposes, had ended in 70 on the 9th of Ab, some time in July. So they went on, and they built little hovels in the casement wall, and they built other little residences in the trappings of Herod's splendor. And they watched Flavius Silva built a ramp on the western side, as it stepped up the mountain. [That] took a long time, and there were six Roman camps all the way around on the eastern side, coming around the northern and southern corners as well. And they watched that, and then the tale gets confusing. The tale gets confusing because we have one major written source, and that's the tale of Josephus himself. And he tells us a story of mass suicide before Flavius Silva and the troops could come up. The Roman general Flavius Silva, who built this ramp, decided suddenly on the day that the ramp was completed to let his soldiers go back and get a good night's sleep before they would invade the camp. And this is one of the clues that tips off modern day scholars and readers of Josephus that this is not the thing you would expect from a brilliant Roman strategist. Send the troops back and have a good meal, a good rest before they take on these 600 some men, women, children. They're not exactly the strongest opposition that you could imagine.” \=/

Josephus (37- after 93 CE) on Masada

The “Wars of the Jews, Book 7,” Chapter 9, Josephus wrote: “1. (389) Now as Eleazar was proceeding on in his exhortations, they all cut him off short, and made haste to do the work, as full of an unconquerable ardor of mind, and moved with a demoniacal fury. So they went their ways, as one still endeavoring to be before another, and as thinking that this eagerness would be a demonstration of their courage and good conduct, if they could avoid appearing in the last class; so great was the zeal they were in to slay their wives and children, and themselves also! (390) Nor, indeed, when they came to the work itself, did their courage fail them, as one might imagine it would have done, but they then held fast the same resolution, without wavering, which they had upon the hearing of Eleazar's speech, while yet every one of them still retained the natural passion of love to themselves and their families, because the reasoning they went upon appeared to them to be very just, even with regard to those that were dearest to them; (391) for the husbands tenderly embraced their wives, and took their children into their arms, and gave the longest parting kisses to them, with tears in their eyes. [Source: “The Works of Josephus,” translated by William Whiston Hendrickson Publishers, 1987]

“(392) Yet at the same time did they complete what they had resolved on, as if they had been executed by the hands of strangers, and they had nothing else for their comfort but the necessity they were in of doing this execution to avoid that prospect they had of the miseries they were to suffer from their enemies. (393) Nor was there at length any one of these men found that scrupled to act their part in this terrible execution, but every one of them dispatched his dearest relations. Miserable men indeed were they, whose distress forced them to slay their own wives and children with their own hands, as the lightest of those evils that were before them. (394) So they being not able to bear the grief they were under for what they had done any longer, and esteeming it an injury to those they had slain to live even the shortest space of time after them,-they presently laid all they had in a heap, and set fire to it. (395) They then chose ten men by lot out of them, to slay all the rest; every one of whom laid himself down by his wife and children on the ground, and threw his arms about them, and they offered their necks to the stroke of those who by lot executed that melancholy office; (396) and when these ten had, without fear, slain them all, they made the same rule for casting lots for themselves, that he whose lot it was should first kill the other nine, and after all, should kill himself. Accordingly, all these had courage sufficient to be no way behind one another in doing or suffering; (397) so, for a conclusion, the nine offered their necks to the executioner, and he who was the last of all took a view of all the other bodies, lest perchance some or other among so many that were slain should want his assistance to be quite dispatched; and when he perceived that they were all slain, he set fire to the palace, and with the great force of his hands ran his sword entirely through himself, and fell down dead near to his own relations. (398) So these people died with this intention, that they would leave not so much as one soul among them all alive to be subject to the Romans. (399) Yet there was an ancient woman, and another who was of kin to Eleazar, and superior to most women in prudence and learning, with five children, who had concealed themselves in caverns under ground, and had carried water thither for their drink, and were hidden there when the rest were intent upon the slaughter of one another. (400) Those others were nine hundred and sixty in number, the women and children being withal included in that computation. (401) This calamitous slaughter was made on the fifteenth day of the month Xanthicus [Nisan].

“2. (402) Now for the Romans, they expected that they should be fought in the morning, when accordingly they put on their armor, and laid bridges of planks upon their ladders from their banks, to make an assault upon the fortress, which they did, (403) but saw nobody as an enemy, but a terrible solitude on every side, with a fire within the place as well as a perfect silence So they were at a loss to guess at what had happened. At length they made a shout, as if it had been at a blow given by the battering-ram, to try whether they could bring anyone out that was within; (404) the women heard this noise, and came out of their underground cavern, and informed the Romans what had been done, as it was done, and the second of them clearly described all both what was said and what was done, and the manner of it: (405) yet they did not easily give their attention to such a desperate undertaking, and did not believe it could be as they said; they also attempted to put the fire out, and quickly cutting themselves a way through it, they came within the palace, (406) and so met with the multitude of the slain, but could take no pleasure in the fact, though it were done to their enemies. Nor could they do other than wonder at the courage of their resolution and the immovable contempt of death, which so great a number of them had shown, when they went through with such an action as that was.”

Roman View of Masada

Holland Lee Hendrix of the Union Theological Seminary told PBS: “From the point of view of a Roman soldier, Masada would have been a truly awful but, at the same time, greatly relieving phenomenon. The Romans had been trying to scale Masada for a long time and had used all of their best strategies and tactics.... But the Romans, you know, also liked a good fight and the fact that that remarkable group of people who protected and fortified Masada committed suicide would probably have been seen as a source of great disappointment for the Romans. They would have wanted to punish them themselves, or at least to vanquish them themselves, but it would have been an enormous relief because Masada posed a huge strategic military challenge to the Roman legions. [Source: Holland Lee Hendrix, President of the Faculty Union Theological Seminary, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 \=/]

“You had this extremely steep, high, plateau on which Masada was built, and the fortifications put up, and if you were a Roman soldier approaching Masada, I think your heart would sink because you know that you would have to first to spend a lot of time building a lot of ramps, massive ramps to move the army up the sides in order to breach the walls, but you would know in the process that you were on a suicide mission because, all the while the fortifiers and guardians of Masada would have been pelting you with any number of lethal objects, at no doubt great losses to the army. So if you were a Roman soldier or a Roman general you would be very concerned about the enormous toll on the attacking army. The irony, of course, is that when the soldiers breached the walls finally, it was not they who had been subject to the suicide attack, it was those who had been guarding Masada who had committed suicide. So there is a cruel irony in the whole breach of Masada.” \=/

Battle of Milvian Bridge

Battle of Milvian Bridge and Constantine's Conversion to Christianity

In 310, Constantine decided he was going to take Rome. He lead a small army to the Alps for an important battle outside Rome on the Tiber River against his rival Maxentius, the emperor of Rome. According to the historian Eusebius, while on his way to the battle, Constantine had a vision while staring up at the sky. He reportedly saw a flaming cross above the sun with the words " In hoc signo vinces " ("in this sign you will conquer"). The words " In hoc signo vinces " are featured on the label of Pall Mall cigarettes.

That night Constantine dreamed that Jesus told him to take the cross as his standard. Constantine ordered that new standards be made up, emblazoned with the cross. The next morning at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, on October 28, 312 he scored a victory against great odds against Maxentius, whose forces were swept into the Tiber, where Maxentius drowned.

Constantine attributed his military victory to the Christian faith and entered Rome with Maxentius's head on a pike. He erected the triumphal Arch of Constantine in Rome and took control of the western half of the Roman Empire. Maxentius had been the strongest member of the Tetrarchy. By 323, Constantine had unified the Roman Empire and brought it under his control by defeating another rival, the eastern co-emperor Licinius. Hans A. Pohlsander of SUNY wrote: “Lactantius, whom Constantine appointed tutor of his son Crispus and who therefore must have been close to the imperial family, reports that during the night before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge Constantine was commanded in a dream to place the sign of Christ on the shields of his soldiers. Twenty-five years later Eusebius gives us a far different, more elaborate, and less convincing account in his Life of Constantine. When Constantine and his army were on their march toward Rome - neither the time nor the location is specified - they observed in broad daylight a strange phenomenon in the sky: a cross of light and the words "by this sign you will be victor" (hoc signo victor eris or ). During the next night, so Eusebius' account continues, Christ appeared to Constantine and instructed him to place the heavenly sign on the battle standards of his army. The new battle standard became known as the labarum. [Source: Hans A. Pohlsander, SUNY Albany, Roman Emperors]

“Whatever vision Constantine may have experienced, he attributed his victory to the power of "the God of the Christians" and committed himself to the Christian faith from that day on, although his understanding of the Christian faith at this time was quite superficial. It has often been supposed that Constantine's profession of Christianity was a matter of political expediency more than of religious conviction; upon closer examination this view cannot be sustained. Constantine did not receive baptism until shortly before his death (see below). It would be a mistake to interpret this as a lack of sincerity or commitment; in the fourth and fifth centuries Christians often delayed their baptisms until late in life.”

Battle of Adrianopole

In the late A.D. 4th century, a great event occurred that set in motion a chain of events that would ultimately bring down Rome. That event was the irruption of the Huns, horsemen from the steppes of Central Asia, into Europe. They pressed upon the Goths and drove them from their homes into the Roman territory. It was now necessary for the Romans either to resist the whole Gothic nation, which numbered a million of people, or else to receive them as friends, and give them settlements within the empire. The latter course seemed the wiser, and they were admitted as allies, and given new homes south of the Danube, in Moesia and Thrace. But they were soon provoked by the ill-treatment of the Roman officials, and rose in revolt, defeating the Roman army in a battle at Adrianople (A.D. 378) in which Valens himself was slain. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org]

Ammianus Marcellinus wrote: “When the day broke which the annals mark as the fifth of the Ides of August, the Roman standards were advanced with haste, the baggage having been placed close to the walls of Hadrianopolis, under a sufficient guard of soldiers of the legions; the treasures and the chief insignia of the emperor's ranks were within the walls, with the prefect and the principal members of the council. Then, having traversed the broken ground which divided the two armies, as the burning day was progressing towards noon, at last, after marching eight miles, our men came in sight of the wagons of the enemy, which had been stated by the scouts to be all arranged in a circle. According to their custom, the barbarian host raised a fierce and hideous yell, while the Roman generals marshaled their line of battle. The right wing of the cavalry was placed in front; the chief portion of the infantry was kept in reserve. But the left wing of the cavalry, of which a considerable number were still straggling on the road, were advancing with speed, though with great difficulty; and while this wing was deploying, not as yet meeting with any obstacle, the barbarians being alarmed at the terrible clang of their arms and the threatening crash of their shields (since a large portion of their own army was still at a distance, under Alatheus and Saphrax, and, though sent for, had not yet arrived), again sent ambassadors to ask for peace. [Source:Ammianus Marcellinus (330-395 A.D.): The Battle of Adrianopole, 378 A.D. “The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus During the Reigns of The Emperors Constantius, Julian, Jovianus, Valentinian, and Valens,” translated by C. D. Yonge (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1911), pp. 609-618]

“The emperor was offended at the lowness of their rank, and replied, that if they wished to make a lasting treaty, they must send him nobles of sufficient dignity. They designedly delayed, in order by the fallacious truce which subsisted during the negotiation to give time for their cavalry to return, whom they looked upon as close at hand; and for our soldiers, already suffering from the summer heat, to become parched and exhausted by the conflagration of the vast plain; as the enemy had, with this object, set fire to the crops by means of burning faggots and fuel. To this evil another was added, that both men and cattle were suffering from extreme hunger.

“In the meantime Fritigern, being skillful in divining the future, and fearing a doubtful struggle, of his own head sent one of his men as a herald, requesting that some nobles and picked men should at once be sent to him as hostages for his safety, when he himself would fearlessly bring us both military aid and supplies. The proposition of this formidable chief was received with praise and approbation, and the tribune Equitius, a relation of Valens, who was at that time high steward of the palace, was appointed, with general consent, to go with all speed to the barbarians as a hostage. But he refused, because he had once been taken prisoner by the enemy, and had escaped from Dibaltum, so that he feared their vengeful anger; upon this Ricimer voluntarily offered himself, and willingly undertook to go, thinking it a bold action, and one becoming a brave man; and so he set out, bearing vouchers of his rank and high birth.

Fighting in the Battle of Adrianopole

Ammianus Marcellinus wrote: “And as he was on his way towards the enemy's camp, the accompanying archers and Scutarii, who on that occasion were under the command of Bacurius, a native of Iberia, and of Cassio, yielded, while on their march, to an indiscreet impetuosity, and on approaching the enemy, first attacked them rashly, and then by a cowardly flight disgraced the beginning of the campaign. This ill-timed attack frustrated the willing services of Ricimer, as he was not permitted to proceed; in the meantime the cavalry of the Goths had returned with Alatheus and Saphrax, and with them a battalion of Alans; these descending from the mountains like a thunderbolt, spread confusion and slaughter among all whom in their rapid charge they came across. [Source:Ammianus Marcellinus (330-395 A.D.): The Battle of Adrianopole, 378 A.D. “The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus During the Reigns of The Emperors Constantius, Julian, Jovianus, Valentinian, and Valens,” translated by C. D. Yonge (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1911), pp. 609-618]

“And while arms and missiles of all kinds were meeting in fierce conflict, and Bellona, blowing her mournful trumpet, was raging more fiercely than usual, to inflict disaster on the Romans, our men began to retreat; but presently, roused by the reproaches of their officers, they made a fresh stand, and the battle increased like a conflagration, terrifying our soldiers, numbers of whom were pierced by strokes from the javelins hurled at them, and from arrows. Then the two lines of battle dashed against each other, like the beaks of ships, and thrusting with all their might, were tossed to and fro, like the waves of the sea. Our left wing had advanced actually up to the wagons, with the intent to push on still further if they were properly supported; but they were deserted by the rest of the cavalry, and so pressed upon by the superior numbers of the enemy, that they were overwhelmed and beaten down, like the ruin of a vast rampart. Presently our infantry also was left unsupported, while the different companies became so huddled together that a soldier could hardly draw his sword, or withdraw his hand after he had once stretched it out. And by this time such clouds of dust arose that it was scarcely possible to see the sky, which resounded with horrible cries; and in consequence, the darts, which were bearing death on every side, reached their mark, and fell with deadly effect, because no one could see them beforehand so as to guard against them.

“But when the barbarians, rushing on with their enormous host, beat down our horses and men, and left no spot to which our ranks could fall back to deploy, while they were so closely packed that it was impossible to escape by forcing a way through them, our men at last began to despise death, and again took to their swords and slew all they encountered, while with mutual blows of battle-axes, helmets and breastplates were dashed in pieces. Then you might see the barbarian towering in his fierceness, hissing or shouting, fall with his legs pierced through, or his right hand cut off, sword and all, or his side transfixed, and still, in the last gasp of life, casting round him defiant glances. The plain was covered with carcasses, strewing the mutual ruin of the combatants; while the groans of the dying, or of men fearfully wounded, were intense, and caused great dismay all around.

“Amidst all this great tumult and confusion our infantry were exhausted by toil and danger, until at last they had neither strength left to fight, nor spirits to plan anything; their spears were broken by the frequent collisions, so that they were forced to content themselves with their drawn swords, which they thrust into the dense battalions of the enemy, disregarding their own safety, and seeing that every possibility of escape was cut off from them. The ground, covered with streams of blood, made their feet slip, so that all they endeavored to do was to sell their lives as dearly as possible; and with such vehemence did they resist their enemies who pressed on them, that some were even killed by their own weapons. At last one black pool of blood disfigured everything, and wherever the eye turned, it could see nothing but piled up heaps of dead, and lifeless corpses trampled on without mercy.

“The sun being now high in the heavens, having traversed the sign of Leo, and reached the abode of the heavenly Virgo, scorched the Romans, who were emaciated by hunger, worn out with toil, and scarcely able to support even the weight of their armor. At last our columns were entirely beaten back by the overpowering weight of the barbarians, and so they took to disorderly flight, which is the only resource in extremity, each man trying to save himself as well as he could. While they were all flying and scattering themselves over roads with which they were unacquainted, the emperor, bewildered with terrible fear, made his way over heaps of dead, and fled to the battalions of the Lanccarii and the Mattiarii, who, until the superior numbers of the enemy became wholly irresistible, stood firm and immovable. As soon as he saw him, Trajan exclaimed that all hope was lost, unless the emperor, thus deserted by his guards, could be protected by the aid of his foreign allies.

“When this exclamation was heard, a comes names Victor hastened to bring up with all speed the Batavians, who were placed in the reserve, and who ought to have been near at hand, to the emperor's assistance; but as none of them could be found, he too retreated, and in a similar manner Ricimer and Saturninus saved themselves from danger. So now, with rage flashing in their eyes, the barbarians pursued our men, who were in a state of torpor, the warmth of their veins having deserted them. Many were slain without knowing who smote them; some were overwhelmed by the mere weight of the crowd which pressed upon them; and some were slain by wounds inflicted by their own comrades. The barbarians spared neither those who yielded nor those who resisted. Besides these, many half-slain lay blocking up the roads, unable to endure the torture of their wounds; and heaps of dead horses were piled up and filled the plain with their carcasses. At last a dark moonless night put an end to the irremediable disaster which cost the Roman state so dear.

Battle of Châlons

During the Battle of Châlons-Sur-Marne during the Wars of the Western Roman Empire in A.D. 451 an army of Romans and Germanic Visigoths, along with Burgundians, and Franks, led by Flavius Aëtius and Theodoric I drove Attila the Hun's 40,000 member army across the Rhine, ending the invader's thrust into western Europe. The Huns were more hated by the Germans than by the Romans.

Attila has entered Gaul under the pretext of rescuing Honoria, the sister of the West Roman emperor, from an arranged marriage. Honoria had reportedly sent Attila a ring and Attila claimed her as his bride and demanded half of the West Roman Empire.

The Huns besieged Orleans in central Gaul. The Roman-Visigoth army rescued Orleans and forced Attila retreat to the Catlaaunian Plains near Châlons-Sur-Marne, where the Hun army reared around and engaged the Roman-Visigoth army on June 20, 451. The Huns repeated charged the Roman-Visigoth army and were repulsed.

The turning point was when the Visigoth king Theodoric was struck with a javelin and died. The Visigoths were enraged by the death of their king and fiercely attacked the Huns let flank, forcing the entire Hun army to retreat to its camp. By the end of the battle 3,000 Romans and 6,000 Huns were dead.

Attila was almost killed in this battle when he was surround by Germanic horsemen. He had to hide in the back of a covered wagon and fled under the cover of arrows. The day after the battle Attila was allowed to retreat back across the Rhine. The battle was his first and only defeat. The Huns returned two years later and scored a victory in the same area.

The battle was fought near Châlons has been called one of the great decisive battles of the world, because it relieved Europe from the danger of domination by horsemen from Central Asia. Aëtius later became the victim of court intrigue, and was murdered by the jealous prince Valentinian III. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

Battle of Chalôns: Defeat of Attila.

On The Battle of Chalôns, the Gothic historian Jordanes wrote in “History of the Goths”: “The armies met in the Catalaunian Plains. The battlefield was a plain rising by a sharp slope to a ridge which both armies sought to gain; for advantage of position is a great help. The Huns with their forces seized the right side, the Romans, the Visigoths and their allies the left, and then began a struggle for the yet untaken crest. Now Theodoric with his Visigoths held the right wing, and Aetius with the Romans the left [of the line against Attila]. On the other side, the battle line of the Huns was so arranged that Attila and his bravest followers were stationed in the center. In arranging them thus the king had chiefly his own safety in view, since by his position in the very midst of his race, he would be kept out of the way of threatened danger. The innumerable peoples of divers tribes, which he had subjected to his sway, formed the wings. Now the crowd of kings — if we may call them so — and the leaders of various nations hung upon Attila's nod like slaves, and when he gave a sign even by a glance, without a murmur each stood forth in fear and trembling, or at all events did as he was bid. Attila alone was king of kings over all and concerned for all. [Source: Jordanes (fl.c.550 A.D.): “History of the Goths” Chap. 38: The Battle of Chalôns, 451 A.D., William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 322-325]

“So then the struggle began for the advantage of position we have mentioned. Attila sent his men to take the summit of the mountain, but was outstripped by Thorismud [crown prince of the Visigoths] and Aetius, who in their effort to gain the top of the hill reached higher ground, and through this advantage easily routed the Huns as they came up. When Attila saw his army was thrown into confusion by the event he [urged them on with a fiery harangue and . . .] inflamed by his words they all dashed into the battle.

Huns in Italy

“And although the situation was itself fearful, yet the presence of the king dispelled anxiety and hesitation. Hand to hand they clashed in battle, and the fight grew fierce, confused, monstrous, unrelenting — a fight whose like no ancient time has ever recorded. There were such deeds done that a brave man who missed this marvelous spectacle could not hope to see anything so wonderful all his life long. For if we may believe our elders a brook flowing between low banks through the plain was greatly increased by blood from the wounds of the slain. Those whose wounds drove them to slake their parching thirst drank water mingled with gore. In their wretched plight they were forced to drink what they thought was the blood they had poured out from their own wounds.

“Here King Theodoric [the Visigoth] while riding by to encourage his army, was thrown from his horse and trampled underfoot by his own men, thus ending his days at a ripe old age. But others say he was slain by the spear of Andag of the host of the Ostrogoths who were then under the sway of Attila. Then the Visigoths fell on the horde of the Huns and nearly slew Attila. But he prudently took flight and straightway shut himself and his companions within the barriers of the camp which he had fortified with wagons. [The battle now became confused: chieftains became separated from their forces: night fell with the Roman-Gothic army holding the field of combat.]

“At dawn on the next day the Romans saw that the fields were piled high with corpses, and that the Huns did not venture forth; they thought that the victory was theirs, but knew that Attila would not flee from battle unless overwhelmed by a great disaster. Yet he did nothing cowardly, like one that is overcome, but with clash of arms sounded the trumpets and threatened an attack. [His enemies] determined to wear him out by a siege. It is said that the king remained supremely brave even in this extremity and had heaped up a funeral pyre of horse trappings, so that if the enemy should attack him he was determined to cast himself into the flames; that none might have the joy of wounding him, and that the lord of so many races might not fall into the hands of his foes. However, owing to dissensions between the Romans and Goths he was allowed to escape to his home land, and in this most famous war of the bravest tribes, 160,000 men are said to have been slain on both sides.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardianand various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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