My Attempt at Productivity

I have gotten complaints from several sources about the fact that I have not published the second Julian post that I promised so long ago. I regret my laxness, but I have good reason. You see, my Ancient Civilizations class at school started a unit on Rome. Let me pause for a moment to thank God—not that I believe in Him—for all the great teachers in this world. One of them—again, thank God—happens to be my teacher for this Ancient Civilizations course. She decided that I did not need to attend class during the unit on Rome so long as I was being “productive.” Well, I like being productive when it comes to Rome. Thus, I have devoted all of the energy that I ought to have spent on researching Julian to writing a paper about Lucius Cornelius Sulla for my history class. After three weeks of work, I am quite done and I think it only fair that all my devoted readership should get to see what it is that has been absorbing me so thoroughly. Without further ado, therefore, here is my paper. I hope you enjoy it.

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Apostates, Bookworms, and Other Deviations from Normality

I suppose this is the point at which I should make some apology for my long absence from the blog. This apology should be eloquent, funny, and should instantly make you all forgive me for my neglect of the blog. I have no such apology to make. I am not even going to try. I refuse! And, since I am a 14-year-old girl—and therefore, by the estimations of all adults, incapable of politeness—you should be satisfied with the acknowledgment that an apology might have been appropriate.

There. Now that that’s settled, let’s talk about bookworms. The particular bookworm in whom I am currently interested went by the name of Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus. As this name is slightly too lengthy to type over and over again, let’s just call the guy Julian. Now, any Catholic priest reading over my shoulder would at this point start giving me a hard time about omitting Julian’s full title. All right, imaginary Catholic priest. We’ll call him Julian the Apostate.

I decided that Julian (the Apostate) required a post some time ago when I realized two things. First, that if Julian had not died young, we would probably not be living in a Christian world. Second, if Julian were alive today, he would be exactly the sort of person that I would want to spend my time talking to. Thus, as a fascinating historical might-have-been and as the kind of nerdy bookworm that I love to spend time with, he deserves my attention. So I’m giving it to him.

In this post, I will tell half the story of Julian the Apostate. Why half the story? I have decided to divide the story of Julian into two separate posts, one documenting his life before he became emperor and one his life afterwards. I know that this is not my usual protocol, but since I want to cram in as much information as possible and much of what I find fascinating about Julian relates to his early life, I thought this would be the best way to do it. So, off we go.

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Vindicating the Electoral College

Well here it is. My very delayed election post. I had planned to release it on election day, as would have been logical, but I didn’t work on it early enough and then it required more work than I thought it would…and, anyway, here it is.

For the last month or so, I’ve been hearing people moaning and complaining about the electoral college and about how we ought to have a popular vote election and how it just isn’t fair that Ohio should decide the presidential race…blah blah blah. Now, I am not a generally rude person, so I don’t say this, but whenever I hear this lecture, I think “Seriously, guys, it could be so much worse.” And it could. Here is a (very) brief survey of the Roman electoral systems (yes, plural, all you popular vote people), how they worked, and why they were each much less fair than any system we have in the U.S.

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Freakin’ Hot God(s)

Confession time: I was planning to do a big election post, but I procrastinated. Then the post in question turned out to require way more research than I anticipated and the result is that I ended up with nothing to post on Tuesday. Oh well. The post should come out sometime this weekend, but just so that you know that I’m alive, I’ve decided to do a quick follow-up to my post last week about Antinous.

Anima cognata mea (that means “my soul sister” in latin), better known as Kat Urquhart, wrote to me when she read my last post to say that the inimitable Dan Savage had recently written something about Antinous in a column. For those of you who do not know who Dan Savage is, let me just say that he is a gay-rights activist, the originator of the “It Gets Better” campaign, and the writer of the hilarious Savage Love sex-advice column. (A warning for the squeamish and for any of my grandparents who are reading this: The excerpt that you are about to read is slightly…um…racy.)

Someone sent Dan Savage the following letter:

I know you were raised Catholic but are now an atheist. I’m curious if you might still believe in God if you took the time to expose yourself to other faith traditions that are more accepting of gay people. Have you looked at Buddhism or Hinduism? There is a great deal of evidence for reincarnation, and what better way to say “it gets better” than by saying you get to do it again and again until you get it right?

Born Again And Again

To which Dan Savage responded:

The Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality gave me a big sad when I was an adolescent, it’s true, but I didn’t come to the conclusion that there is no God based solely on that big sad. My sexuality prompted me to question not just the faith in which I was raised, BAAA, but all faiths. And none, in my semi-informed opinion, stood up to scrutiny. I simply don’t know how any reasonable person can look at all world religions, living and dead, and come to the conclusion that one particular tribe or prophet or science-fiction writer got it right and every other tribe, prophet, and science-fiction writer got it wrong.

But if I was gonna pick a faith based on gayness alone, I would go with Antinous. He was the big gay lover of the big gay second-century Roman emperor Hadrian, the dude who built the wall that kept Mary Queen of Scots from sneaking into Roman Britain and stealing the scones of stones or something. Hadrian, a bearish guy in his 40s, was hopelessly in love with Antinous, a Bithynian teenager. Hadrian’s Bithynian, like the NWATB’s Dominican, must have given amazing head, because after Antinous died—he drowned while swimming in the Nile—Hadrian had him declared a god. Take it away, Wikipedia: “The grief of the emperor knew no bounds, causing the most extravagant veneration to be paid to Antinous’ memory. Cities were founded in his name, medals struck with his likeness, and cities throughout the east commissioned godlike images of the dead youth for their shrines and sanctuaries… As a result, Antinous is one of the best-preserved faces from the ancient world.”

My husband Terry looks like Antinous—it’s true—so, yeah, I’d hit and/or worship that.

So, yeah. Admittedly Savage’s history is a teensy bit mixed up vis a vis Hadrian’s Wall and Mary Queen of Scots, but I think that we can forgive him in light of the point that he is actually trying to make: The cult of Antinous died out pretty fast in the ancient world, but I like the idea that it might have a resurgence now. Homophobes claim to know a god particularly well—apparently some especially intolerant iteration of Jesus Christ—so why shouldn’t gays have a really freakin’ hot god of their very own?

From Ancient Love Break to New Intolerance

Breaking news: Huge scandal in my ninth grade class. So-and-so slapped her ex-boyfriend Such-and-such because he held hands with (gasp!) a boy: What’s-his-name. Big deal, you say, being (I would hope) a non-homophobic adult. But, actually, in a high school, it is a big deal—still. It’s at times like these that I thank the gods for this blog, because here I can write about real romance, the kind that involves no slapping or hysterical and intolerant girls, but instead is about ideals of beauty, drowned lovers, and (possibly) ritual sacrifices to ensure long life. But oddly enough, this story too is about a love and a fourteen-year-old boy. His name was Antinous, and he was the lover of the emperor Hadrian.

Yes, I know that sounds awful, and it is, but bear with me and I’ll explain why this compares favorably in at least one respect to what happened today.

So-and-so would probably have been at least a bit mad if Such-and-such had been holding hands with a girl, but I doubt that she would have accused him during the slapping as follows if What’s-his-name had been female: “You are such a fa—-t, Such-and-such. I can’t believe I was going out with a f—ing fa—t!” Naturally, this dressing down left Such-and-such really upset, and I and the others who were there expressed sympathy and condemned So-and-so. I intend to do what I can for Such-and-such, and that’s all very well. But this blog post, for whatever it’s worth, is for me. I’m angry that this could possibly happen, that anyone could possibly object to love, no matter the genders of the parties involved, so I am going to write about real romance, and I consider that there are few better examples than Hadrian’s tragic love for Antinous.

We know very little about Antinous’s life before he met Hadrian. We think that he came from Bithynion-Claudiopolis, a town in the Roman province of Bithynia, which comprised the western part of modern-day Turkey. We know that his family members were not Roman citizens. We have good evidence that Antinous was in his early teens when he and Hadrian met, but we do not know exactly how old he was. In the absence of better evidence, I have simply decided that Antinous was 14, since that is my current age. We do know that Antinous was beautiful. Or, at least, I think that he was. You’ll just have to judge for yourself.

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As I found myself stuck inside the house because of the highly dangerous hurricane currently manifesting itself as some rain and a bit of wind, I really had nothing better to do than to read some Livy. As I was reading, I happened across the passage describing one of my favorite battles in all of Roman history, and I felt myself called to write a post about it. What is this battle? It is a great Roman defeat. Which one? It is not the battle of Adrianople, or of Abrittus, of Aurausio, or the Teutoburg Forest. It is not one of the Sacks (yes, plural) of Rome in 390 B.C., 410 A.D., and 455 A.D., and it is not Jovian’s surrender to Shapur in 363 A.D. Those of you who know anything about Roman history will have figured out which battle I am talking about simply by process of elimination. Yes, you’re right. It is the battle of Cannae.

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Deficit Reduction, Vespasianic Style

One of the major issues of this presidential campaign is undoubtedly the national debt, which all sides agree has reached egregious proportions: $16,176,049,744,059.39 Egregious indeed. Both candidates have mildly constructive (or maybe not so constructive) plans to reduce the debt. Well, I am here to present my own, far superior plan, based on the exploits of one of my favorite emperors—Titus Flavius Vespasianus, better known as Vespasian.

Vespasian came into office in 69 A.D, shortly after the fall of the infamous emperor Nero. In the year since Nero’s suicide, Rome had endured a crazy, harsh disciplinarian, his political assassination by a usurper who paid soldiers way to much, a civil war between the aforementioned usurper and a gluttonous idiot, another civil war between said idiot and Vespasian himself, and finally the sacking of Rome by Vespasian’s own troops. Needless to say, 69 A.D. is a year which will eventually get its own post, or maybe more than that, as each individual emperor switch is in itself interesting. But the only real point right now is that all of this cost money.

Thus, when Vespasian came into office, he inherited a huge national debt. He is said to have estimated, at the beginning of his reign, that he would need “forty thousand million sesterces” to get the books balanced again. We can’t really convert between ancient and modern currencies (See this post for my rather feeble attempt to convert in one specific context), so let’s use a technical term for this sum of money: a boatload. Continue reading

How to Do Too Much Work: The Causes of the Great Jewish War

First of all, I suppose my loyal readers—of whom there are none—deserve an apology for my long absence from the blog. Rumors of Aelia’s death, and yes, I have gotten some questions about her health, are grossly exaggerated. Here she is—ready, willing, and able to provide you with more useless and inexplicably interesting information about dead Romans.

The subject of today’s lecture stems from a homework assignment which I completed several weeks ago for my class on—wait for it!—Ancient Civilizations. Yes, this class involves a unit on Rome which will likely be too abbreviated for any discussion of, say, Aelia Pulcheria. Oh, the humanity!

The particular assignment in question related to a book which we had been required to read over the summer. The book, Masada: The Last Fortress by Gloria Miklowitz, is a fictionalized account of the famous siege of Masada by the Romans at the end of the Great Jewish War. I do not feel the need to give an account of the siege, as the events are pretty generally known, but for those of you who have been living in a cave (or maybe just aren’t Jewish) here is the Wikipedia article on the subject, which should give you a good overview. (Hint: 967 Jews on big rock, attack by Romans, mass suicide…Sound familiar?)

The assignment itself was relatively simple: answer a series of generic questions relating to the book. The trouble is that the book—being, after all, fiction—was not exactly scrupulously accurate and was really an exercise in Jewish mythology rather than in real, actual history. Which brings me to the subject that I want to discuss today: the causes of the Great Jewish War.

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To the Parents of Zenobia

I am currently staying in a beach house with a six-year-old girl named Zenobia. When I heard of this girl’s existence, I burst out laughing—and not out of offense to her or her parents. Zenobia has always been one of my favorite characters from all of Roman history. But today, when I asked Little Zenobia’s parents about their choice of name, I discovered that they knew very little about the historical character for whom they had named their daughter. Immediately, I sat down and began writing a post on this most excellent of women.

“…did they but know what manner of woman she is, how wise in counsels, how steadfast in plans, how firm toward the soldiers, how generous when necessity calls, and how stern when discipline demands. I might even say that it was her doing that Odaenathus defeated the Persians…I might add thereto that such was the fear that this woman inspired…that neither Arabs nor Saracens nor Armenians ever moved against her. Nor would I have spared her life, had I not known that she did a great service to the Roman state…What of the Deified Claudius, that revered and honoured leader? For he…suffered her, or so it is said, to hold the imperial power, doing it of purpose and wisely…”

This is a passage from the Historia Augusta, a collection of imperial biographies, which claims to be quoting a letter from the Emperor Aurelian to the Senate, defending his decision to march a woman named Julia Aurelia Zenobia through the streets of Rome to celebrate his triumph over her Palmyrene empire. The idea of parading a woman through the streets was quite ludicrous to many of the senators. After all, she was only a woman. What could she have done? Quite a lot, as it happens.

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My Advice to You, Barack

Dear Mr. President,

For the last year or so, we have all been hearing the impassioned rhetoric of the Republican candidates on the subject of Obamacare. “It’s wrong and ineffective,” they cry, “And we will repeal it.” Although I personally like Obamacare, I make a point of keeping politics out of my digital footprint, so I’m not going to discuss the merits of the law. No, I just have a few suggestions to offer you as to how to handle this rather tricky situation.

When Julius Caesar became consul on New Year’s Day, 59 BC, he came into office with reform on his mind. The Roman republic was stagnating under the weight of corrupt and inefficient systems, which it had long outgrown. Caesar decided that this had to change. Although Caesar’s first consulship is a fascinating story in itself, and I hope to address it eventually, it will suffice for now simply to say that by the end of his term Caesar had initiated a huge land redistribution program, ratified Pompey’s conquests in the Eastern Mediterranean, passed an anti-extortion law that would remain in force well into the Byzantine age, and generally tidied up.

But here was the problem: the conservative bloc in the Senate hated Caesar. Hated him. The moment he left office, they would repeal his laws, cancel the private war that he was planning to undertake in Gaul, bring him back to Rome, prosecute him for bribery and sacrilege, and exile him to the most desolate corner of the Empire that they could find. Which, I think we can all agree, would suck.

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