Columnae Herculis II (Nova Roma)

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" The race for the honours " - First part
Article and English translation: Marcus Iulius Perusianus
From: Italia Nova Roma webzine: POMERIUM - L. Arminio Ti. Galerio cos. MMDCCLX a.u.c. edition.

For centuries the main goal for a young Roman coming from of noble family was, with some exceptions, to be appointed in all the public career offices, step by step, one after the other to the top. That is to say to walk on the route of the cursus honorum, a race to get the greatest recognition in ordinary times for the Res Publica, to be a Consul, even better if made at the right age. The Consulship was a very longed-for office, so important that the Romans used to cite the year in connection to the names of two Consules ruling that same year (eponym). Technically the very last passage in this path to get the honour was the office of Censor, but even if you got there later, it was a position of smaller importance. The more you climbed in this pyramidal system the more importance and responsibility you got, like in a game to successive levels of difficulty; rules were established by law and more often from the tradition and habit. The mos maioroum, the custom of the ancestors, regulated it still before the Lex Villia De Annalis in 180 BC was written (Livy XL, 44). The roots of the cursus sank in the royal age, probably imported from the Etruscans. The Romans exalted the public career so that you often find all the different offices kept by a man in his honorary or funerary epigraphs (ascending, descending or on a personalised order).

Such writings were so common that the understanding of the abbreviations wasn’t really a problem for the simple citizen (from the simple and prestigious "COS" for Consul, to the most enigmatic one "IIIVIR AAAFF" for the tresviro monetalis aere auro argento flando feriundo, a man appointed to control coin making process).

Of course the complete steps of the cursus honorum had dozens variations in time and different also at the same age. We try to describe here a senatorial path, with any doubt the most prestigious, open only to young free male and elected members (ingenuous), having a specific age. And trying to describe what happened in Rome in the last century BC. In imperial age the cursus underwent several transformations, mainly because the emperor took charge of what were earlier free elective offices. At the apex of the republican period at least another standard route was commonly followed: the equestrian career, not counting many others to get the top of the local governments in the towns or for the professionals in the collegia (profession groups).

The election in the assemblies was a characteristic of the offices of the magistracy, and a magistrate was called anyone had an assignment of the cursus honorum. Men through the public career were involved in different fields: from being a soldier to a mere administrative duty or in trials, on both sides of advocacy and the judgement. Being the magistracy a duty with no remuneration, it was often reserved for the most noble and rich families, the only ones who could afford a whole year or more without expecting any formal rewards, but honours. Besides big capitals served to the young noble man also to influence the masses making favours or organising games during the expensive election campaigns, in a system where nepotism and corruption commonly were accepted and put into practice.

Another feature of the magistracy was the collegiality: the power derived from a position (potestas or imperium) was shared with at least another person. A magistrate was able to exercise a power unless a veto was raised, which could be imposed from a colleague or from a superior magistrate in the public career order; it was well described in the following sentence par maiorve potestas plus valeo, that is to say “ an equal or greater power does matter”. The magistracy lasted always for one year, except for the Censorship with eighteen months; in that period the officer could not be persecuted for his deeds when made according to his position: he was supposed to be judged only after the duty was over. Other common features for the magistrates were: the prohibition for a new election immediately at the conclusion of the other, and the prohibition of having more than a position at a time.

Stepping into the cursus honorum happened with a smaller magistracy, as a military Tribune, with the relevant power that the office guaranteed. Ten military years of service, usual from 17 to 27, and mainly employed in a General staff, was this first step. The twenty-four young Tribune, elected from the assemblies of the tribes (the name Tribune came from this term), were appointed as prefectus cohortis, tribunus militum or, if in the chivalry, as praefectus alae. These ranks were mainly honorary assignments, a distant memory of the period from 444 to 367 BC when the Tribunes were elected often in place of the Consules to cover their functions. Besides the military Tribunes were called either angusticlavius (angustus = narrow) or laticlavius (latus = wide) according to the width of the purple band that adorned their toga (wide only if they came from the senatorial rank).

Instead of the military career it was possible to run for some administrative offices that took the generic name of vigintiviri (that is "of twenty men"), vingintisexviri (twenty-six) before Augustus that abolished some positions. The vigintiviri of Augustus were constituted from three viri monetalis (employers in the mint for the coinage), ten stilibus iudicandis (presidents of smaller tribunals), four viarum curandum (two employers to the cleanliness of the urban streets and two for suburban) and three capitalis (employers for the executions).

After that the very political career began with an office called Questorship. The minimum age to be candidate to the twenty available positions, was 28; if the man wasn’t already in its ranks, the election allowed to enter the Senate (up to the Censors to replace the vacant places). The Quaestores were mainly helping some greater magistrates with often financial tasks.

After this position a double possibility: Aedilship (plebeian or curules) or the Tribunate of the Plebs. The Aediles were four: the curules two were chosen among the patricians and curules indicates a status coming from being able to put on the praetexta, a type of bordered toga with of a purple coloured wide band. Another symbol was the sella curulis, the seat inlaid in ivory. Once the same position, the Aedilis curulis and the plebeian Aedilis were separated in 367 BC, when from two they were made four to better follow their tasks as the surveillance on the maintenance of temples, public buildings and roads, as well as the organisation of the several games along the year in Rome. This was the reason why this position was very longed-for, for the great reputation that the games organisation gave .

The other step after the Questorship was, as said before, the Tribunate of the Plebs: ten Tribunes representing the Roman people or the defence of their own interest, a conquest obtained previously against the patricians after the rebellion of 494 BC (at first the tribunes plebis were only in two). Their more important privilege was to be able to cast a veto on the proposals of the Senate, as well as the inviolability of their persons, this been derived from the holiness that was them attributed during the mandate. No one of the described positions could draw the auspices maiora (the greatest auspices) and hold the imperium: these were up to the greater magistracies, which we going to describe next

(to be continued)

" Mechanical systems in ancient Roman shows "
Article by: Publius Memmius Albucius
From Provincia Gallia webzine: QUIRINUS L. Arminio Ti. Galerio cos. MMDCCLX a.u.c. June edition.

Professor Philippe Fleury, co-header of "Plan de Rome" project, and Sophie Madeleine, engineer, both from the University of Caen, France, have given this wednesday 6th June 2007 in Caen M.R.S.H, a pretty interesting conference on the 'Mechanical systems in ancient Roman shows'.

This conference has showed how a computer sharp and scientific reconstitution may bring to the understanding of the daily life in the ancient imperial Rome.

Four systems, used in show places, have been presented this 6th June : the velum, the musical organ, the stage curtain and the piston pomp. A remind of the existing textual (wood, stone etc.), iconographic, or archeological sources, was followed by a sheme of every system. Last, the conference tried to test, thanks to the computer reconstitution, the hypothesis made.

The piston pomp, the same one used by the urban vigils to fight the flames, was thus used during the shows. Placed on the ground of the theater orchestra, it allowed the spectators to get a perfumed and refreshing atomizing.

Piston pomp.jpg

What brings here, for instance, the virtual reconstitution, is to show that three pomps were enough for this task, and that every one of them could just throw its cloud to a limited distance. The experiments made by Pr Fleury’s team have shown that the scope of this splashing covered, in the theater of Pompey, in Rome, the seats where the senators sat. Height of refinement, water was mixed with saffron.

Pomp orchestra.jpg
Pomp jet.jpg

Applied to the same theater, the reconstitution of the stage curtain, which rose from a groove which separated the orchestra from the scene stage, has been conducted according the datas recorded in Arles and Lyons, where a 5 meters high curtain seems to be proved. Virtual reconstitution then let us see that, even from the 37 meters high upper seats rank, the curtain perfectly hided the whole stage. On the contrary, from the seats beyond an approximative angle of 60°, right and left from the stage, spectators could see the stage, but only from a certain distance of the curtain. Must then one consider that the curtain was higher in the Theater of Pompey, if we put that a seat was a lower priced one if you could see, from it, behind the stage curtain?

How to conciliate the fact that these 'angle' seats had roughly the same view on the stage than the emperor’s one, from his lobby, located above the right wing (from the stage) vomitorium? May a default for the first ones become a privilege for the last one?

The musical organ asks less questions. This organ itself has to be set on a small rolling trolley, as have been, since, the modern barrel organs. Particularly thanks to materials excavated in Aquicum (Budapest, Hungary), Philippe Fleury has succeeded reconstituting the working plan of the system: an ingenious tank, filled with water, allowed the organist to let the air entering it. The air was then pomped in pipes, thanks to pomps located on both sides of the central part of the organ, and operated by third persons, usually slaves. The quantity of air impulsed determined the sound obtained through the ‘keyboard’. The last one thus allowed the organist to close or to open the tubes through which the air escaped. These tubes had different lengths – as in a panpipe - which gave the different notes. This organ was used during the shows, and maybe also during the burial ceremonies.

The reconstitution by the Caen team of the Coliseum’s velum shows that it – or rather these 'vela' – formed a huge spider web made of hemp ropes that covered, as a roof, the amphitheatre. The vela slided along main ropes that had been tight from the top of the Coliseum to the center arena zone. This juxtaposition of these long web slats formed the velum as a whole.

What also shows out the reconstitution, is the probable use, remained mysterious until then, of the stones placed outside the Coliseum, on the ground of the place surrounding the amphitheatre. It seems that the function of these stones was to shelter the pin of the winches thanks to which the ropes were pulled up and the vela unfurled down, through a pulley inserted on the top of the masts which stood all around on the top of the amphitheatre. Last, what virtual reconstitution provides here is to show us that yards vela, which suited small theaters (like Pompeï's) could not work over large size ones, as in roman Theater of Pompey, for they could not protect, at the hottest hours of the day, an important part of the audience, particularly the Optimes.

Ph Fleury book.jpg

All our thanks to Pr Fleury for his kind authorization to use the pictures which illustrate the present article. To order the reference book by Philippe Fleury, click here

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