Empires: The Roman Empire in the First Century (2001) s01e02 Episode Script

Winds of Change & Years of Eruption

"Dearest Mother: "What other place could be so desolate "with cliffs so steep, as this rock? What else so barren, so uncivilized?" Near the middle of the first century a man named Seneca was banished for offending the Roman emperor.
He was a living reminder that absolute power could bring absolute ruin.
And he was not alone.
"One man's exile," Seneca wrote "was but a drop in the sea of human upheaval.
" For in the first century, no one was immune from imperial abuse.
The emperor's whim was law and the emperor's law could be harsh, especially under Nero.
During his erratic rule, fire would gut the city of Rome Christians would pay the price and brutality would sweep the empire.
Soon, winds of change would begin to blow first in the provinces, then in the very heart of the Roman Empire in the first century.
In his youth, Claudius set out to write a history.
His first public reading was nerve-wracking.
At the beginning, a fat man sat down and broke some benches.
The audience burst into roars of laughter.
Even when the crowd settled Claudius could not control himself but kept remembering the incident and dissolving into laughter.
Writing 2,000 years ago an imperial biographer describes a world ruled by Rome and Rome ruled by an unlikely man.
His name was Claudius.
Claudius limped and stuttered.
An embarrassment to his imperial family he lived most of his life in the shadows.
He found solace as an amateur scholar without power or influence.
But as the first century neared its midpoint a twist of fate had left Claudius emperor and his critics amazed.
For Claudius took the helm of the world's greatest empire with more confidence than any man since the dynasty began.
Claudius expanded Roman territory.
To the south, he completed Rome's conquest of North Africa.
To the north he subdued the fiercely independent tribes of Britain.
From Turkey to Morocco from the Red Sea to the North Sea the many faces of the ancient world had become part of one empire.
But Claudius did more than expand the empire.
He passed laws protecting sick slaves.
He allowed conquered peoples to become citizens even members of the Senate.
I like Claudius.
I find Claudius very winning not just because of the adversity of his youth His illness, his limp, his stutter But when he does come to power he's truly humane towards slaves.
He cares about the peoples of the empire and he seems to be quite remarkable for a man who had no chance whatever of attaining the imperial throne.
But the tranquil years would soon veer sharply off course and the empire would confront the ugly face of imperial rule.
Despite his power, Claudius was fragile.
His life had been plagued by plots and betrayal.
Most of his family had been killed by political enemies and Claudius himself had endured the execution of a disloyal wife.
Now in the year 49, Claudius was seeking a new wife.
Roman society mobilized; the rivalry was intense.
Many families sought to link their bloodlines with the emperor's.
While they schemed, Claudius hesitated, and tensions grew.
Finally, Claudius made a decision that startled Rome.
Writing some years later a historian named Tacitus explained why: The emperor chose to wed his own niece a woman of steely resolve and questionable character.
Her name was Agrippina.
From this point, the empire was changed.
All obeyed a woman.
But this was a woman without feminine frivolity.
She was openly severe and often arrogant.
Agrippina's dominance was almost masculine.
The most tragic thing about Agrippina is that she wrote memoirs and they have been lost.
And I would give anything to hear her side of the story.
The frustrating thing about recovering Roman women is that so little from them survives.
It may not have been very different from what Roman men would have said about them but it would be wonderful to hear her rationale for why she did what she did her way.
Agrippina turned her back on Roman ideals of feminine virtue.
She seized power directly, and used it proudly.
Agrippina struck down her rivals founded a colony in her own name and reversing her new husband, Tacitus tells us she secured the pardon of one of his exiles The writer and philosopher Seneca.
Agrippina did not want to be known only for wicked deeds so she obtained a pardon for Seneca.
She assumed this would please the public because he was a popular author.
She also wanted Seneca to tutor her young son.
Her son was Nero, a 12-year-old boy by a previous marriage and still just a pawn in Agrippina's drive for total control.
Another pawn was Seneca, all too eager to leave exile behind him.
Seneca, she believed, would join her plans for supremacy out of gratitude for her favors.
As Seneca returned to the capital's ruthless politics he faced a stark dilemma.
He had always scorned luxury and power and condemned moral slackness.
But Seneca was obliged to Agrippina and driven by ambition.
After languishing for a decade in obscurity he was drawn to the promise of influence and to the thrill of Rome.
Look around at the huge influx of people which even a city as large and diverse as Rome can scarcely house.
From the whole world they converge.
Ambition draws some; others are compelled by duty.
Many thirst for liberal studies; others crave spectacles.
Some put their beauty on sale; others sell their eloquence.
The entire human race has flocked here a city offering rich returns for both virtues and vices.
Inside the imperial palace Seneca would encounter far more vice than virtue for after luring Claudius into marriage Agrippina had begun to weave an elaborate plot.
First, pushing aside Claudius's son she convinced the emperor to adopt Nero and designate him heir.
With the line of succession now clear, Tacitus says Agrippina's only remaining obstacle was her husband.
Her plans for murder were firm.
As she bided her time, waiting for opportunity Agrippina sought the right poison.
A specialist in the field was chosen and by her skill, a potion prepared.
It was delivered to Claudius by the eunuch who served and tasted his food.
Claudius collapsed, teetered on the brink of death then began to recover.
Horrified, Agrippina quickly enlisted the emperor's own physician in her crime.
While pretending to help Claudius vomit his tainted food the doctor put a feather dipped in poison down the emperor's throat.
"Dangerous crimes," Tacitus commented, "bring ample reward.
" Claudius, the emperor of Rome, was dead.
Within hours, the palace gates were thrown open.
Agrippina's son was declared emperor and Seneca was launched on a path that would batter his deepest convictions.
The reign of Nero had begun.
I am a Jewish man educated strictly according to the law of our fathers.
In the Roman province of Judea during the lifetime of the emperor Claudius an ardent young Jew named Saul headed for dilemmas all his own.
He was seeking the arrest of religious heretics Members of a tiny Jewish sect known as the Followers of Jesus.
Saul was dedicated to wiping them out.
Indeed, that is what I did in Jerusalem.
I imprisoned many and cast my vote against them when they were marked for death.
In my extreme fury, I pursued others even into foreign cities.
But as he walked the road from Jerusalem to Damascus Saul's future suddenly changed, and with it the future of his troubled province, its Roman rulers and of world religion itself.
Around midday a mighty light from the heavens flashed around me.
I fell to the ground and heard a voice say "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" I replied, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said to me, "I am Jesus of Nazareth.
" I said, "What should I do, Lord?" And the Lord said to me, "Get up and go to Damascus and there you will be told all that has been ordained for you.
" Since I could not see those who were with me took my hand and led me to Damascus.
Saul became Paul, and he dedicated the rest of his life to spreading the word of Jesus with the same zeal he had once directed to wiping it out.
Paul's fervor drew converts and hatred.
One night, his claim that Jesus was messiah drew a violent mob.
Trapped in a top-floor apartment Paul avoided death by hiding in a basket.
Supporters lowered him to safety through a window.
It was but one in a lifetime of narrow escapes.
For the next 30 years Paul traveled some 10,000 miles across territory ruled by Rome.
He preached in the empire's great cities: Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, Athens and others Cities that enjoyed imperial grandeur but cities teeming with poor and desperate subjects of Rome.
They made eager audiences for Paul's message of eternal life.
There's a legend that says that Paul's family was originally enslaved by Romans and then later liberated from slavery by Romans and this is how Paul's family received Roman citizenship.
That is, Paul has internalized the experience of slavery and freedom.
Paul speaks a message that finds power in this powerlessness that finds community where community has been destroyed.
Paul is the premier poster child for the real Roman Empire in this way: that he speaks to the underside of the Roman imperial experience.
Like Jesus before him Paul spoke to people in their homes and synagogues.
But while Jesus had preached only to Jews Paul believed his message should be taken to non-Jews To the Gentiles of the Roman Empire And that meant relaxing timeless Jewish laws about food and circumcision.
It was a radical slap at Jewish tradition and key to the spread of this new faith.
The fact that Paul was a staunch advocate of going to the Gentiles not requiring of them that they circumcise themselves or follow the Jewish dietary laws was certainly, in the long run, of the greatest importance because it did mean that Christianity could develop into something that was independent of Judaism.
In Paul's day, Christianity was still an outgrowth of Judaism.
Paul's abandonment of the laws of his ancestors horrified many Jewish followers of Jesus but Paul was adamant.
As he left the region of Galatia, now part of Turkey Paul learned that his disciples were backsliding and requiring converts to be circumcised.
Paul sent an angry letter.
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? I wish those that set you adrift would castrate themselves! You were running well.
Who kept you from pursuing the truth? Look! I, Paul, say that if you are circumcised Christ will bring you no reward.
For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision nor foreskins prevail but only faith acting through love.
Paul was a man of very deep convictions passionate convictions.
He is very invested in these people to whom he is writing.
They are his life.
And he takes that very seriously.
So that passion and the pathos of those troubled relationships that he's negotiating long distance come through in his letters.
Tradition holds that Paul returned to Jerusalem intent on forcing his views; that he was imprisoned for causing a riot by bringing noncircumcised men into the Temple.
In jail, Paul reportedly revealed his Roman citizenship and was sent to Rome.
Along the way, he was shipwrecked.
Three times I was shipwrecked; five times I received the 40 lashes minus one; once they stoned me.
I've been in danger from robbers danger from my own people, danger from false brothers hungry and thirsty, often without food.
And in addition to these threats every day I am weighed down by my worry for all the churches.
It's been said that Christianity might have been possible without Jesus but it was certainly not possible without Paul.
And that is a very accurate statement because Paul was able to spread that message to various parts of the Mediterranean from Palestine to Rome.
No one knows how or where Paul died; on this the Bible is silent.
But wherever he spent his final years Paul's success outstripped his boldest dreams.
He had been stubborn and proud, but Paul had transformed a Jewish splinter group into the beginnings of a world church a church that would one day conquer Rome itself.
There is a proverb: "You have as many enemies as you have slaves.
" But in truth, we make them our enemies.
We abuse them as if they were beasts of burden.
When we recline for dinner, one wipes our spittle another picks up the scraps and crumbs thrown down by drunkards.
The point of my argument is this: Treat your inferior as you would like to be treated.
The new emperor's tutor, Seneca had devoted much of his life to ethical problems.
He was a follower of Stoic philosophy.
In an age of slavery Stoics advanced the notion of universal humanity a brotherhood of man, that predated Christian doctrine.
In an age of opulence, Stoics shunned ostentatious living.
And in an age of absolute rule Stoics walked a narrow path between integrity and hypocrisy.
Seneca was the leading Stoic philosopher of his day.
The main teaching of Stoicism was the acceptance of one's fate to play the role that one had been assigned by fate in the world.
And so Seneca's fate was to participate in court politics.
Seneca participated in court politics through Nero now a 16-year-old boy whose path to the imperial palace had been bathed in blood.
Seneca's task was to mold this spirited son of a power-hungry family into a tolerable world leader And at first, his chances were good for the young Nero had a sensitive nature.
He loved theater, music and, the biographer Suetonius reports the popular pastime of horse racing.
Nero had been passionate about horses from early childhood.
At the beginning of his reign he played every day with toy chariots made of ivory.
Soon he wished to drive a chariot himself.
So first, practicing with his slaves he appeared before the whole city in the Circus.
The Roman Circus, or racetrack, was a rough and raucous place.
Chariot drivers were usually slaves or former slaves and fans often cursed rival teams with ferocious partisanship.
I entreat you, O demon, whoever you are and demand of you from this hour, from this very moment you crucify the horses of the green and white teams and that you kill the drivers Clarus and Felix and crush them! Do not leave any breath in them! Nero's enthusiasm for the sport of commoners scandalized Rome's elite, but it endeared him to the masses.
"For such is a crowd," sneered the stately historian Tacitus "eager for excitement and thrilled if the emperor shares their taste.
" Nero did, long past his childhood years.
It is not clear to me that Nero ever changed or that Nero ever grew up and that was both his strength and his weakness.
Nero was an extraordinarily popular emperor.
He was like Elvis.
But in ancient Rome, popularity was a mixed blessing and as the pliable young emperor indulged his various passions efforts to control him reached a fevered pitch particularly between the emperor's mother and Seneca.
Seneca exerted power discreetly but Agrippina would not tread lightly.
She heard stories that her son seduced married women and young boys that he castrated and "married" a male slave and, according to the gossipy Suetonius, much worse.
As soon as it was dark he was in the habit of going to the taverns wearing a wig.
He would wander the streets, looking for action and not just juvenile pranks either.
He attacked people on the way home from dinner stabbed them when they fought back and threw their bodies into the sewers.
As stories of Nero's degeneracy increased so, too, did Agrippina's disapproval.
Relations between mother and son deteriorated fast.
As Nero grew older he quickly, I think, began to realize that he could not rule in his own right as long as Agrippina still had the ambition to rule through him.
So it was the clash between two titans, you might say People both of enormous egos and people with great power lusts.
The system didn't allow both of them to rule so she had to disappear.
And if she wouldn't go voluntarily well, that left Nero little choice.
He decided to kill her.
The plot began at a seaside resort.
Nero invited his mother to sail down to reconcile their differences.
When the reunion ended, Agrippina set out for home.
Tacitus tells the story.
The ship had just set sail.
Agrippina was attended by two servants.
One of them stood near the rudder the other leant over her feet happily recalling the apologies of Nero and Agrippina's restored favor.
Then a signal was given.
The roof collapsed under weights of lead.
Agrippina's attendant was crushed and died instantly.
But chance intervened: Agrippina was saved by her sturdy couch.
Amid the confusion, Agrippina swam to safety.
Nero was stunned to learn that his mother had survived.
Back in the imperial palace, he called for Seneca and the commander of his palace guard, a man named Burrus.
It is unclear if they'd been advising Nero from the beginning but the emperor summoned these men immediately.
Shuddering, Nero shouted that Agrippina could appear at any moment.
She could incite the soldiers.
She could arm her slaves.
Seneca and Burrus were silent for a long time.
Then Seneca ventured to ask whether Burrus's troops should complete the murder.
Burrus refused to involved his elite battalion so Nero sent some regular soldiers to finish the job.
An armed and threatening force circled her villa and broke down the doors.
They found her in a dimly lit room with a single maid.
The assassins surrounded her bed.
First, the captain struck her head with a club.
Then another soldier drew his sword for the deathblow.
Agrippina cried out, "Stab my womb!" Again and again they thrust their swords and she was stabbed to death.
Rome was appalled.
Matricide was among the worst impieties a Roman could commit.
Nero solemnly informed the Senate that the Imperial Mother had conspired to overthrow him her own son.
But the excuse was obviously a fiction and it was not Nero's idea.
Seneca had concocted the story to justify his pupil's acts.
The moral philosopher was increasingly implicated in the brutal realities of imperial politics.
I write this to you from my winter quarters.
I salute you.
Britain was the northern limit of the Roman Empire.
Soldiers and their families found it a remote, hostile land with few amenities.
I ask that you send me what I need for the use of my lads things I need as soon as possible Since I've just been transferred here Six woolen cloaks and five tunics.
Lonely letters preserved in mud for 2,000 years echo with yearning for loved ones and the for the comforts of home.
I have sent you some socks, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underwear.
In the year 60 Britain had been a province for less than 20 years.
Like other provinces far from Italy supply lines were thinly stretched.
Without hope of quick reinforcements three legions and a few forts held the entire province.
Some settlements, such as the infant community of Londinium were cities in the making.
Rome held tenuous control by maintaining client kings from local tribes and by encouraging tribes to war among themselves.
As long as Rome's governor kept them divided the imperial army was the strongest force on the island.
That equation, common throughout the empire broke down just four years after Nero became emperor.
It started among the Iceni, a local tribe allied with Rome.
When their king died he left half his estate to his two daughters.
He offered the other half in tribute to the emperor Nero.
The historian Tacitus tells the story.
The king hoped by such subservience to safeguard his kingdom and home from harm.
What happened was just the opposite.
First, his wife, Boudicca, was whipped and his daughters were raped.
Then the army laid waste to his land and his household was raided.
The king's own relatives were enslaved.
In response to these outrages Boudicca, the widowed queen, rallied neighboring tribes.
Together they attacked Londinium.
The British tribes routed Roman forces.
It was an astonishing upset, and it was not the last.
As the Romans fell back in retreat the tribes of Britain seemed poised to reclaim their native land.
And Boudicca, defying all odds, was poised to enter history among the most fearsome and charismatic leaders ever to defy Rome.
As her emboldened forces prepared for another attack Tacitus has Boudicca mounting a rostrum of piled earth and issuing a rallying cry worthy of dread and admiration.
I do not fight to reclaim my birthright but like you, I fight to avenge my stolen freedom my abused body and my raped daughters.
The gods bring vengeance to the just.
The one legion that dared raise arms against us has fallen.
The others yearn to escape.
If you consider our numbers and our reasons for war you will conquer the Romans or die trying.
It could be said that Boudicca was the object of respect to some Romans who must have admired the courage that a woman displayed in mounting rebellion against Roman troops.
And, of course, at first she was very spectacularly successful.
She, um, led an uprising which made the Romans really seriously think about the limits of their power in Britain and they had to respond to her very quickly indeed.
The startled Romans did respond quickly.
Soon, reinforcements arrived and the battle-tested Roman army turned the tide.
Some 80,000 Britons were massacred.
Boudicca poisoned herself.
Suicide was better than slavery The predictable fate for defeated enemies of Rome.
Tacitus called the outcome a "glorious victory comparable with bygone triumphs" but he meant to be ironic.
The Roman "peace," Tacitus knew, was imposed by brutal war and prosperity in the capital was often bought with the blood of conquered peoples.
"Rome creates a desert," Tacitus later wrote "and calls it peace.
" This year saw many omens: unlucky birds settled on the Capitol houses fell in numerous earthquakes and the weak were trampled by fleeing crowd.
Britain had been stabilized.
But in Rome the situation was worsening rapidly for the empire and for Seneca.
New advisers had gained the emperor's ear.
They criticized Seneca for his excessive wealth and unseemly popularity.
They urged the emperor to discard his childhood teacher.
Perhaps recognizing his weakened position perhaps losing his appetite for affairs of state Seneca asked Nero for permission to retire.
The emperor refused.
For the next two years, Seneca's life was precarious.
Then, in A.
64, a new disaster struck.
Fire began in shops near the Circus.
Fanned by the winds and fed by merchandise the flames engulfed the entire district.
They surged up the hills consuming all in their path gaining strength in the city's narrow, twisting roads.
The cries of women, children, invalids, frantic people trying to help themselves or others, all added to the panic.
The great fire of Rome lasted for six days and seven nights.
Of Rome's 14 districts, only four remained untouched.
Countless temples, homes and shops were destroyed.
When the fire burnt itself out Nero surveyed the smoldering ruins.
He opened public buildings, even his own property to the homeless.
But according to Tacitus, the emperor's aid was cold comfort.
However well intended, his relief measures were in vain because a rumor had spread that while fire ravaged the city Nero was on his private stage singing.
Nero hadn't "fiddled while Rome burned" but his gaiety was equally damning.
And worse, it was even said that Nero started the fire himself to clear land for a new palace.
The emperor's popularity plummeted.
Hostile lampoons appeared on city walls.
Insolent citizens even dared to insult Nero in person.
Rumors of his role in the fire were so widely believed that the emperor decided to divert attention away from himself.
He found a scapegoat in Rome's strange new religious sect, the Christians.
To suppress the rumor, Nero shifted the blame for the fire onto that band called the Christians hated for their shameful practices.
Jesus had been crucified barely 30 years before and while his followers were spreading his word the number of Christians in Rome was still very small.
But already, as Tacitus reveals Christian converts were viewed with suspicion.
The founder of that sect, Christ, had been executed.
His death had briefly suppressed the destructive cult but again erupted, not only in Judea The birthplace of the evil But also in Rome, where shameful atrocities fester and spread.
The Christians would have made a good target.
After all, their main hero was a criminal who'd been put to death by Roman order.
In addition to this, they were doing things like exchanging a kiss among brothers and sisters at their meetings, which sounded a little bit like incest.
They were also eating the body and drinking the blood of their god, which sounded a bit like cannibalism.
Nero rounded up all the Christians in the city.
They were hideously tortured and executed.
Then Nero plundered the empire for funds.
Temples were robbed of their statues.
Treasures that generations had dedicated to the greatness of Rome were absorbed into imperial coffers.
For Seneca, this was the last straw.
He pretended illness and confined himself to bed.
Eventually Nero allowed his aging tutor to retire to the country.
There, on his private estate Seneca could reflect on the tattered remnants of his honor.
If someone who barks against philosophy should ask the standard question "Why do you preach more boldly than you live?" I will someday reproach myself more strongly still.
But for now, I make this defense: I am not wise and never will be.
Demand not that I be equal to the best but better than the wicked.
Seneca, of course, knows very well that he isn't a perfect man.
To play around with the court is to be trapped in a system of hypocrisy.
And quite frankly, he pushes Stoicism at the end of his life when he's trying to distance himself from the vast embarrassments he's got involved in as he's gradually realized that he can't control the young Nero.
Nero was beyond anyone's control.
With his mother dead, his tutor retired Rome was subject to the whims of an unstable tyrant.
Only one course of action could remove him.
A conspiracy was born and grew a plot which senators, knights and even women competed to join out of hatred for Nero.
In the year 65, a few defiant Romans began talking of murder.
But stymied by fear, they hesitated.
Finally, a freed slave named Epicharis took charge.
She found a disgruntled officer who had access to the emperor.
Meeting him in secret, she begged the officer to strike the first blow, to free Rome of the tyrant.
Epicharis began by listing the emperor's crimes.
There was only one way, she said, to punish Nero and the officer could expect a worthy reward.
It was a fatal mistake.
The officer betrayed Epicharis to Nero and Nero sought revenge.
He demanded the names of the plotters.
Epicharis refused.
He raged, he threatened and worse.
Assuming a woman's body was not equal to the pain of torture he ordered her torn to pieces.
But neither whips nor fire could break her iron will.
Even when dragged back a second day on dislocated limbs she did not betray her coconspirators.
Thus, this freed slave woman outshone freeborn men, knights and senators.
The next day Epicharis tied a noose around her neck and ended her life.
With the plotters still at large Nero redoubled his guard and unleashed a reign of terror.
Countless people, some innocent, some guilty were sucked into the fury of Nero's revenge Seneca was one of them.
On meager evidence, the emperor sent an officer to demand the philosopher's suicide.
Seneca embraced his wife and gently begged her to live and temper her grief but she chose to die with him.
With a single stroke of the blade they sliced their arms.
Seneca, hardened by frugal living, did not bleed easily.
He cut the veins of his knees and thighs but still he did not die.
He asked his doctor to dispense some poison hemlock.
He drank it in vain.
Finally, he was carried into the baths where he suffocated in vapor.
Few philosophers had reached such powerful heights.
Few paid so dearly.
Seneca's actions fell short of his ideals but history, he hoped, would judge him well.
The man who considers his generation alone is born for few.
Many thousands of years and people will come after him.
Look to these.
If virtue brings fame, our reputation will survive.
Posterity will judge without malice and honor our memory.
As Seneca's lifeblood drained away the wicked were left ruling Rome alone.
While Rome was besieged by its own ruler the empire's distant subjects were once again chafing under Roman rule this time in the province of Judea.
After 70 years of subjugation the region was slipping into chaos.
Bandits prowled the countryside and Jewish terrorists began attacking people who collaborated with Rome, people like Josephus a wealthy Jewish priest who feared for his life.
These criminals would kill men in broad daylight in the middle of the city.
Especially during festivals, they would mingle in the crowd hiding small daggers under their clothes and using them to stab their enemies.
Many were killed each day and terror stalked the city.
Judea was one spark away from revolt.
That spark came in the year 66.
Someone emptied a chamber pot outside a synagogue defiling the holy site.
The Jews were outraged; rioting erupted.
During the melee, some Jews shouted insults at the Roman governor, a man named Florus.
Enraged, Florus pulled Jewish leaders before a tribunal.
It was a pivotal moment in Josephus's life and in the lives of others struggling between cooperation with Rome and their Jewish heritage.
Florus demanded the Jewish leaders hand over the hecklers.
The men refused, insisting they could not identify the guilty from the innocent.
Florus, they said, should pardon the unknown scoundrels for the sake of the whole city.
Provoked even more by this impudent speech Florus shouted to the soldiers to plunder the market and to kill all they saw.
Even prominent citizens were taken to Florus who had them whipped and crucified.
Florus conducted a wholesale massacre in the streets of Jerusalem and the brutality and viciousness reached a point where Josephus himself or so he tells us That Josephus decided that under these circumstances there's no way that he could do anything other than take up his post as a leader of the Jews.
Within months, the former priest was leading a full-scale Jewish rebellion and confronting a battle-tested Roman army as it swept across his homeland.
"From one end of Galilee to the other," Josephus recounted "there was an orgy of fire and bloodshed.
" Eventually, Josephus and his beleaguered troops took refuge within the walled city of Jotapata.
The Romans surrounded it.
On the 47th day, just before dawn Roman soldiers scaled the city's high walls.
While the Jews slept, Roman troops streamed into the city.
40,000 Jews were killed.
Josephus and 40 others fled to a concealed cave.
There was no escape, and choosing death over surrender his followers prepared to kill themselves but Josephus argued that Jewish law prohibited suicide.
Trusting God, I staked my life on a fateful gamble.
"Since we expect to die," I said, "let us draw lots "and assign our deaths to each other.
"He who draws the first shard "will fall by the hand of the next, and so on and in this way, no one will kill himself.
" My listeners were convinced, and I drew with the rest.
Each died in turn.
Soon, whether by chance or God's will I was left with only one man and eager to avoid the fate of the lottery I persuaded him to stay alive.
Josephus tells us this story You would think that it would be embarrassing, humiliating and utterly self-destructive, in a way, to tell this story.
Why does he tell it? I don't think anybody has come up with an adequate explanation of Josephus's psyche here.
One can talk about guilt feelings and so on.
There may be a much simpler explanation; namely, that he got out of the siege of Jotapata alive when nobody else did.
I think it was a source of considerable hostility to the Jews so he needed to come up with some explanation.
The "explanation" took shape just hours later.
When Josephus emerged from the cave he was brought before Vespasian, the victorious Roman general.
Josephus was sure to face death or slavery.
But his guile did not desert him.
Jewish prophets had predicted that a new world leader would emerge from the East.
Josephus declared that Vespasian was that man.
Bemused, Vespasian let Josephus live.
But as the Roman army prepared for its final attack events in Rome brought the campaign to an abrupt halt and the imperial household to a frenzy of panic.
Nero's biographer reports that the emperor's reign of terror had finally gone too far and in the year 68, Josephus's prediction was becoming reality: Nero was losing his grip.
Having endured such a tempestuous emperor for almost 14 years the world at last dismissed him.
The uprising began in the northern territories.
Nero had tried to purge the ranks of the military.
Armies from two provinces rebelled and began to march towards the capital.
When Nero learned of the revolt he collapsed and lay on the floor stunned and deathly silent.
When word reached him that other armies had also defected he tore up the dispatches and tried to enlist his officers to flee with him.
Some turned their backs and others openly refused.
Senators also turned on Nero.
They declared him a public enemy permitting him to be killed with impunity.
Terrified, the emperor fled to the country with his few remaining slaves.
Although he was barefoot and wearing only a tunic he grabbed a hooded cloak and galloped away to an old villa.
While waiting for servants to prepare a secret entrance he cleaned his torn cloak of thorns, then crawled in.
He ordered them to dig his own grave.
Weeping as he spoke, he moaned over and over "Such an artist dies in me!" With the help of his secretary he drove an iron blade into his throat.
The dynasty of Augustus was extinct.
The empire was rudderless.
As the year 68 drew to a close rival generals began marching towards the capital.
Civil war closed in on Rome.
My mind trembles to remember, but I will begin.
The earth had been shaking for many days.
We weren't very frightened, because that's common here.
But by night, the tremors had grown so strong that everything shook and fell.
In the twilight of the first century the Roman Empire shook to its foundations.
The buildings around trembled with such force that we were sure to die if we stayed.
As we fled, I took my mother's hand.
The sea swallowed itself and then hurled back a huge wave.
You could hear women wailing, babies bawling and men shouting.
A few were so afraid of death, they prayed it would come soon.
The author would survive the eruption of Mount Vesuvius but other disasters would rock his life and the lives of millions around the empire.
For as the first century passed its midpoint civil war would be unleashed and despotism would once again stalk the capital city.
Many wondered if Rome would collapse after a century of glory, if the years of eruption would destroy the Roman Empire in the first century.
As the year 68 unfolded the city of Rome was approaching a century of unbroken peace.
Prosperity reigned and dangerous times seemed buried in history as people pursued lives of comfortable routine.
They rose at dawn and prepared to make, or receive, morning visits.
Women used cosmetics of mineral and ash and imported perfumes.
The more affluent dressed in dazzling colors wore fine jewelry and elaborate hairstyles.
Fashion required men be clean-shaven but according to one ancient humorist the tools of the day made fashion a painful pursuit.
These scars on my chin make me look like an old boxer.
They were not made by my wife in a fit of anger but by the criminal hand and evil razor of my barber.
The billy goat is the only animal to have the courage to wear a beard and avoid the blade.
Such peaceful vanities, however, were swept aside in 68 A.
The year the emperor Nero was overthrown and with him the dynasty that had ruled Rome for a century.
The revolt had begun in Gaul and spread quickly to Spain.
The imperial army posted there rose up and marched toward Rome.
Nero committed suicide.
The empire echoed with the fury of civil war.
Generals worldwide wondered if they, too, should enter the fray.
In the province of Judea one man was already hardened by battle.
His name was Vespasian and he was one of the empire's most successful generals.
For three years Vespasian had been fighting to suppress a local revolt.
With victory in sight Vespasian's ambitions suddenly turned in directions unprecedented for a man of his station.
Vespasian was not from the old aristocracy.
His family comes from a small town not very far from Rome but a world away in social class.
His father and grandfather had been tax collectors and soldiers and he himself liked to put on the image of a man of the people a man of the camp, a man who is one with his soldiers.
Vespasian's troops urged him to seize power.
Soldiers in other provinces backed him, too.
Emboldened by the opportunity Vespasian directed them to march on the capital.
Vespasian's advance troops began in the Balkans.
They rounded the Adriatic Sea and descended on Rome.
Upon reaching Italy they found themselves face-to-face with the enemy and for the first time in 100 years "the enemy" were fellow Romans.
The historian Cassius Dio describes the tragedy.
They fought as if against foreigners and not kinsmen.
Even when night fell, they would not relent.
But whenever the moon broke through the shifting clouds you could see exhausted opponents talking.
While over here, some battled on over there, others rested, leaning on their swords.
Occasionally, one would take another aside and say, "Fellow soldier, citizen, what are we doing? "Why are we fighting? Defect to my side.
" The other would reply, "No indeed, you come to mine.
" And so they spent the night alternately fighting and talking, until sunrise.
In the morning, Vespasian's forces gained the upper hand.
They cut down their countrymen, ransacked a nearby town and, inflamed by blood and plunder, they closed on Rome.
Soon the empire's capital was a battleground for competing armies and Rome's civilians were caught in the middle.
The city of Rome was under siege and the inhabitants were fighting or fleeing or even joining the looting hoping that they may be taken for invaders and save their lives.
Some 50,000 were killed.
Vespasian's forces won the day and the feeble Senate ratified the result: Vespasian, a rustic man of the camp, was now emperor of Rome.
The civil war revealed the dirty secret of the empire: that power really rested on military force.
Anyone who had sufficient military might at his back could make a run at the imperial throne and any emperor in the future would have to bear that in mind.
Rome was now a military dictatorship and the empire's citizens braced for an uncertain future.
Greetings, my friend.
I write to you in deepest sadness: The younger daughter of our mutual friend, Fundanus has died.
Pliny the Younger was a witness to his age.
His letters, published during his lifetime show Pliny striving to reconcile with turbulent times in his public and private life.
I've never seen a girl more cheerful and friendly more worthy of long life.
Barely 14, she blended virginal modesty with the wisdom and dignity of a mature woman.
And her early death was all the more tragic since she was soon to marry a fine young man.
The day had been chosen and the invitations sent.
Such joy has turned to such sorrow.
Pliny was just a child during Rome's civil wars.
He was born into a wealthy family from the countryside of northern Italy.
Far from the capital he was spared the immediate violence of war.
But he was not spared personal tragedy.
His own father died while young Pliny was still a boy.
It was a life-changing blow, but it was hardly unusual.
Apart from the hazards of war many Romans died young from infectious disease, famine and women, from childbirth.
Funerals and mourning were painful staples of daily life and ancient monuments immortalize the timeless emotion of loss.
Here I'm laid to rest.
I lived 27 years and was married for 16.
I was a faithful wife who gave birth to six children.
Only one survives me.
To my most beloved wife, who lived with me for 18 years and gave me no cause for complaint.
But now I complain and I beg you, spirits, to return my wife to me that I may not experience such criminal separation any longer.
These were laments young Pliny could easily understand for the events of Pliny's childhood taught him early and well that life was fleeting.
Fame, he concluded, was the only tonic.
By chronicling his times, Pliny hoped he might shape the empire's legacy and write his own.
Death seems bitter and premature for those composing timeless works.
My own mortality, my own writings, come to mind.
No doubt the same thoughts frighten you.
While life is with us, we must struggle to make our mark so that death finds little it can wipe away.
While Pliny confronted the precarious nature of first-century life the new emperor Vespasian was in Egypt confronting the realities of late-century politics.
His troops controlled Rome but Vespasian knew that Egypt was a key to supremacy.
He needed to control Rome's food supply The grain growing along the Nile.
He needed to control the army stationed there and he needed the aura of grandeur that Egyptian culture readily supplied.
The unexpected and still new emperor lacked authority and majesty.
But both these traits were offered to him.
The biographer Suetonius recalled the new emperor's awkward first steps towards a new persona.
As Vespasian held court before a large audience two men approached.
They begged Vespasian to cure their afflictions.
They told him a dream had predicted that sight would return if Vespasian spit in the blind man's eyes; that the other would walk if Vespasian's heel touched his lame leg.
The emperor was dubious, and at first refused.
But his friends persuaded him to try, openly, before the crowd.
To Vespasian's amazement the invalids were cured.
All emperors needed legitimacy.
They needed authority.
They needed some sign that their power came from outside had the will of the gods behind it.
And it's very common to have miracle-type stories hovering around emperors Vespasian particularly, because he comes to power from nowhere.
He's not part of the reigning dynasty.
He needs these signs of authority.
Vespasian embraced his newfound stature but he knew image alone could not hold the empire together That his real power came from the military and nothing would cement it more surely than a foreign victory.
Vespasian fast returned his attention to Judea to the province he left in haste the year before.
Judea was still aflame.
For five long years, the Jewish population had been waging a full-scale war of independence against Rome.
The revolt showed stunning audacity and brought staggering costs.
By the year 70 Roman forces had reduced much of Judea to smoldering ruins.
The Jewish army had been decimated and the few surviving rebels were now besieged inside the walled city of Jerusalem with one notable exception.
His name was Josephus.
Josephus was a Jewish aristocrat.
He was educated as a Pharisee.
He was very much a freedom fighter for his people and a military leader.
But he became convinced Or perhaps convinced himself That God was on the Roman side in this battle, in this war.
Just months before, Josephus had been a rebel fighter.
But he had been captured and changed sides.
Now he operated freely in the Roman camp outside Jerusalem's walls and he offered useful information to the invading army.
Josephus's former allies Even his own family Were still besieged inside the city but on the Romans' behalf Josephus now urged his fellow Jews to surrender.
I circled the wall.
I begged them to spare themselves and their country and their temple.
They knew Roman strength was irresistible.
What land had escaped the Romans? Fortune's favor had turned to Rome and God was now in Italy.
"You stubborn men! "Throw down your weapons and pity your collapsing city! "My family is trapped inside with you.
"Perhaps you think that's why I urge surrender.
"But kill them! "Take my blood as the price for your salvation.
I, too, am ready to die if that will teach you sense.
" The defenders ignored his appeal.
The Roman noose continued to tighten.
Roman soldiers stripped the countryside of trees for miles around.
They built a giant siege tower to scale the Jewish fortress.
But supply tunnels dug by the rebels had weakened Jerusalem's walls.
To the amazement of all, one of them suddenly collapsed and the astonished Romans flooded in.
Romans and Jews fought face-to-face through the narrow, winding streets.
Soon the surviving Jews were driven back into their last bastion: the walled sanctuary of Jerusalem's sacred temple deep inside the city.
The Temple was the symbol of the faith and not just for the Jews who happened to live in Jerusalem.
This was true of the Jews all over the Mediterranean most of whom had never been to Jerusalem had never seen the Temple but for whom it was the emblem of continuity of Judaism.
However sacred the walls of the Temple could not withstand the onslaught.
A Roman soldier flung some burning wood into the temple grounds.
Immediately the Temple burst into flames and Roman troops invaded.
Josephus witnessed the massacre.
Passion alone took charge.
Flight and death were everywhere.
Most of those killed were unarmed citizens butchered wherever they were caught.
Around the holy altar, corpses piled up and slid in a river of blood down the steps.
The cries of the stricken spread everywhere.
I can imagine nothing more horrifying than those cries.
The rebellion was broken.
Thousands died.
But for many Jews the fate of the Temple was even more devastating than the human carnage.
With no place to conduct their timeless rituals the Jews of Jerusalem braced for the extinction of their religion.
But Judaism would not die.
Jews outside Jerusalem would keep their practices and memories alive.
Ironically, one of them was Josephus.
The rebel-collaborator followed the conquering army back to Rome, even became a Roman citizen but he did not abandon his heritage.
Perhaps to ease his conscience Josephus would dedicate his remaining life to recording the events he had witnessed.
He would become one of the great chroniclers of Jewish history.
Recently, I have spent all my time among writing tablets and books.
"How is that possible with the races on?" you ask.
They're not the kind of spectacle I find tempting.
I marvel that thousands are so childish and long to see, again and again galloping horses pulling men standing in chariots.
While Judea burned the empire's capital returned to the rhythms of peace and Pliny, to the rhythms of a young Roman gentleman.
Pliny and his widowed mother had moved to Rome.
Only the capital, his family decided could provide the boy a suitable education.
But writing later, the bookish newcomer found Rome a city of contrasts both richly endowed and wasteful with its culture.
This year has produced a great crop of poets despite the reluctance of the public to come and listen.
People say that in our parents' day, things were different.
Once the emperor Claudius was walking on a rare break from work when he learned that a poetry reading was in progress.
So great was his love of letters that unexpectedly, he joined the audience.
But today, even men with ample leisure neglect the arts.
The lost refinement that Pliny mourned may have been more imagined than real but Rome had changed over the course of the first century.
Many old families had died out and new ones, such as Pliny's own, were rising to prominence.
Foreigners also enjoyed growing influence and their cultures left a strong mark on Rome.
New religions such as the worship of Isis and Mithras were absorbed from the East, and philosophy from Greece.
The Romans were not cultural imperialists who came in and said "You've got to do just like we are doing.
Quite the opposite.
They gave a lot of freedom.
It is not simply Rome coming in, laying things down from the top.
The local cultures are being given the opportunity to make their own contributions in many different ways.
Rome's willingness to embrace cultures not its own was one key to the empire's strength.
But for some, it was also profoundly unsettling.
Towards the end of the first century a man named Juvenal wrote scathing satire voicing the frustrations of many Romans.
Few groups escaped Juvenal's poison pen.
Now, let me say something about that race that most appalls me.
I just can't stand our city full of Greeks.
For too long now the East has dumped this scum into our beloved Tiber carrying with them their language and habits their flutes and ridiculous stringed instruments.
What a travesty! Foreigners just blown into Rome get a better deal than I do I, who drew my first breath in the city.
With Juvenal, what you've got is a satirist who will fire at any target that moves.
But in firing, he creates a consistent figure for himself.
And the figure is of a good Roman what a Roman really ought to be in a city where everything is going wrong Where Rome has ceased to be Roman where it's flooded with immigrants.
Juvenal is a voice of the old-fashioned Roman protesting about the way the world is changing around him.
Really aggravating is that woman who sits down at a dinner party and immediately starts holding forth weighing the merits of Virgil against Homer.
Words spew from her mouth, clattering like pots and pans.
Lawyers and vendors and even other women dare not speak.
Such matters are men's concerns.
Juvenal's bitterness was not universal.
Indeed, as the century entered its final decades most Romans were enjoying a surge of optimism a sense that the empire was back on course.
Now with Jerusalem conquered the capital was marking its first foreign victory in years.
The former rebel Josephus was there.
That day, the city of Rome celebrated the victory over her enemies, the end of civil war and the beginning of hope for a prosperous future.
In the procession, spoils of war flowed like a river of gold, silver and ivory fashioned into all forms.
Marvelous statues of the gods were carried huge and made with great skill.
And there were creatures of many lands.
But what stood out above the rest were those objects captured in the Temple of Jerusalem.
Josephus well understood that this was a pivotal moment.
It symbolized the revival of an empire traumatized by civil war the mending of Rome's frayed society and the unassailable authority of the new emperor, Vespasian.
Vespasian restored the war-torn capital.
He built temples, a theater and began a massive amphitheater later called the Coliseum.
But Vespasian also constructed something less tangible: He constructed a fresh image for the position of emperor.
Vespasian was almost always in high spirits his sense of humor often scurrilous and off-color.
Once his son Titus scolded the emperor for his unseemly new tax on public toilets.
Vespasian held a coin up to his son's nose and asked whether the odor caused offense.
And when Titus denied it Vespasian said, "But it comes from piss.
" Vespasian approached the business of government with an earthy humor and common sense rarely shown by his predecessors.
He was frugal.
Expenditures were financed by new taxes.
And he was approachable.
Vespasian was stocky with strong, firm limbs and a strained expression.
Once, when Vespasian invited a local wit to take a jab at him the man replied "I will, when you have finished unloading your bowels.
" The emperor roared with laughter and the empire sighed with relief.
For after decades of abuse and uncertainty Vespasian became much more than a conquering general.
He became the empire's hope for stability.
Vespasian, an adventurer in politics was able to found the new dynasty and he held on to power for ten years against the odds, one might say.
He was able to restore the stability that Augustus had first introduced many decades earlier.
All of Rome benefited by Vespasian's steady hand.
But for young Pliny the unconventional emperor opened the world.
He was not yet a teenager when Vespasian took control and for the next decade of his life Rome would be an exhilarating place to live.
Pliny studied with famous teachers particularly his uncle a man born far from the center of power whose prodigious talents brought him to the attention of the emperor and into the inner circle of imperial advisers.
Pliny's uncle was an accomplished scholar and a prolific author.
He compiled a 37-volume encyclopedia on the natural world.
His writings covered everything from marine life to planetary motions and provide a unique glimpse into the world view of ancient Rome.
An octopus, when he fears capture, emits a dark ink which he has instead of blood and is able to conceal himself in the darkened water.
The whole world is divided into three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa.
When bees die, some think they can be brought back to life by covering them with the stomach of a newly killed cow.
"We are now in such a happy time of peace" the elder Pliny wrote, "under an emperor who welcomes the pursuit of research and writing.
" Young Pliny was deeply impressed by his uncle's exhaustive curiosity and exhausting efforts.
Industry and proficiency, the boy observed paved the road to success and made his revered uncle a celebrated figure.
You marvel how my uncle could have written so many volumes when he was so busy.
His enthusiasm was unbelievable, and he would rise before the sun to pursue his studies by lamplight.
Sometimes while working, he would nod off and wake again.
Still before dawn, he would go to the emperor Vespasian who also worked at night and only then start his professional duties.
Vespasian rewarded Pliny's uncle with important posts in Spain, Gaul, Africa and the boy rejoiced when the elder returned to Italy to command the Roman fleet.
But in the year 79, a shadow fell across young Pliny's path.
After ruling for a decade, the family patron the emperor Vespasian, became gravely ill.
The emperor knew he was dying but his humor remained to the end.
"Dear!" he quipped Mocking Rome's habit of deifying dead emperors "I think I'm becoming a god.
" Vespasian had brought Rome through the gravest crisis of the century, civil war and left the empire stronger and more resilient than ever.
But Vespasian passed on a troubled legacy, too.
"My sons will succeed me," he declared openly "or no one will.
" The empire was still plagued by the scourge of hereditary rule.
Vespasian had done nothing to change that.
And so the day came.
The people had already gathered for the spectacle of our punishment and those who were about to die were forced to march through the arena.
Ritualized violence had been a favorite entertainment of the Roman populace for centuries.
Criminals, slaves and war captives were often sent to the arena where they fought to the death before roaring crowds.
All around I could hear the instruments of death.
I could hear the sound of a blade being sharpened of metal weapons heating in the fire the clatter of sticks, the cracking of whips.
The trumpets sounded the death knell.
Stretchers for the dead were brought on a funeral parade before death.
Everywhere there were wounded men, groans, gore Nothing but danger before my eyes.
We have to recognize that the Romans actually enjoyed the spectacle of seeing people die.
This is one of the fundamental characteristics of Rome.
They were a militaristic society from their very beginnings.
And when they saw gladiatorial combats they were seeing in many ways a symbol of their own martial prowess and enjoying the bloodlust that was always part of the national character.
While most had no choice some volunteered to enter the arena.
Ancient graffiti hint at the attraction.
The gladiator called Celadus is the heartthrob of all the girls.
Crescens, who fights with a net, ensnares his female fans.
In many ways, gladiators were like movie stars today.
They could achieve great fame, great success and become extremely wealthy.
There was almost a show-business atmosphere to what went on there and the desire for popularity certainly must have impelled many gladiators to go out into the amphitheater and fight despite all the risks that were involved.
Suettius Certus presents a band of gladiators to fight in Pompeii on May 31! Shade will be provided.
In the summer of 79, the city of Pompeii was a thriving community of some 10,000 people.
Many are known to us, thanks to a twist of fate that preserved their world for 2,000 years.
Like most Roman cities, Pompeii boasted a stadium theaters, temples, public baths and shops.
On any given day, the residents of Pompeii ate, drank and socialized in the cafés and taverns that lined the streets.
Here a decent drink costs a few coins.
Twice that buys something better and for four times the price, you can savor the best wine.
The wine may have been supplied by Pompeii's Vettii brothers.
Former slaves, they entered the wine trade and prospered.
Their home was large and elegant radiating signs of newly acquired wealth.
This couple is thought to have owned a bakery.
They posed for their portrait holding symbols of education and status.
Across town lived a woman named Julia Felix a wealthy landowner who rented real estate on the grounds of her expansive villa.
On the estate of Julia Felix, the following are for rent: luxurious baths, shops, cafés, workspaces and second-story apartments.
And then there was Eumachia, a woman of wealth and authority so esteemed for her contributions to Pompeii's civic life that a statue was erected in her honor.
These people and countless others, rich and poor lived and flourished in the region.
Ancient graffiti reveal the vitality of their everyday lives.
A copper pot has vanished from this shop.
Whoever returns it, the reward is yours.
Pompeiian graffiti are wonderful because they give a sort of unedited voice an informal voice, when we're so used to hearing from antiquity those very formal voices of formal literature or imperial pronouncements, or so on.
You go into a bar, and you find this little inscription about the barkeeper's daughter.
Successus the weaver loves the handmaiden Iris who does not care for him, but he begs her to pity him.
And then, written in another hand beneath: "Ha! So says the jealous rival.
Eat your heart out.
" You're bursting with jealousy! I wish you wouldn't harass the handsomer man the one who is the most noble.
I have said this to you and now I have written.
You love Iris who doesn't care for you.
Such rivalries would all be forgotten on the afternoon of August 24.
On that day, Pliny the Younger, now 17 years old was vacationing with his mother on the Bay of Naples across the water from Pompeii.
His uncle had come down from Rome on naval business.
Suddenly, an unusual cloud appeared in the sky above Mount Vesuvius.
The cloud was shaped like an umbrella pine with a long trunk that branched at the top.
It was so remarkable, my uncle wanted to study it closer.
He ordered a boat to be prepared.
Fearlessly, he headed across the bay straight for danger, all the while making notes of the movements and shapes of the clouds.
Soon, ashes were falling, hot and dense.
Next came pumice stones, black and scorched by fire.
He came ashore near his friend's villa and hoping to calm him by his own composure my uncle asked to bathe and rest.
Soon the courtyard outside his room filled with ash.
The buildings swayed with heavy tremors.
The sky turned blacker than night.
Then flames and sulfur fumes sent everyone into flight.
He asked for water, then stood up and suddenly collapsed his breath choked by the thickening fog.
Daylight came three days later.
The young Pliny survived.
But his uncle, Pliny the Elder, felled by his own curiosity was one of thousands who perished.
Pompeii and the nearby city of Herculaneum were buried in a torrent of ash and mud and lost to history for the next 1,600 years.
We hired a porter called Corax who turned out to be more trouble than help.
He often dropped his load, complaining about the pace and griping, "What do you think I am, a horse? "I am no less free than you even if my father left me a pauper.
" Not content with cursing us, he lifted his foot and filled the air with the noise and stench of his fart.
The people who toiled to earn their living rarely wrote about their lives.
The vibrant mass of porters, cooks, builders and merchants was mostly illiterate.
Even those who could write had little time to reflect.
Instead, we hear of them through the voices of their patrons Men whose ancestral fortunes often freed them from the need to work.
Some trades are too coarse and vulgar for a gentleman.
We disdain customs officers and moneylenders.
Also beneath us are all occupations requiring labor alone without skill.
They are no better than slavery.
Even less vocal were the throngs of slaves who kept the empire running.
They worked everywhere: in Roman mines, fields and households.
Many came as war captives.
Others were born into bondage.
And while the ancient institution festered with the same abuses seen later in history in the Roman Empire, it had a different complexion.
Slavery was not based on race.
In fact, it was what you could call an equal-opportunity condition.
Anyone was liable to become a slave at any time.
And, in fact, the biggest difference between ancient forms of slavery and modern forms of slavery is this absence of a sharp color contrast.
Roman slaves merged so well into the population that the Senate once considered a plan to distinguish them by special dress.
The idea was rejected.
If slaves saw how numerous they were, the Senate decided they might be emboldened to rebel.
Pliny the Younger was no stranger to slavery.
His family owned a large country estate, several homes and, like most affluent Romans, many slaves.
While secure that full-scale revolts were rare Pliny knew well that discontent simmered beneath the surface.
I must tell you what has happened.
The atrocity Larcius Macedo suffered at the hands of his slaves deserves public outrage.
He was washing in his bathhouse.
Suddenly, his servants surrounded him.
One grabbed his throat, others beat him and, it sickens me to say, they even crushed his genitals.
You can see what danger of violence what outrageous contempt we live under! He was an arrogant and cruel master but there is no security for anyone not even those who are lenient and gentle.
For slaves kill not to bring justice to their master but from their criminal nature.
For Pliny and for the ancients in general slavery was just part of the natural order of things.
When it was rationalized it could be rationalized quite simply in terms of the natural superiority and inferiority that's built into nature.
In such an ordered society landed gentry such as the family of Pliny the Younger had rich prospects.
At age 18, after inheriting his uncle's fortune young Pliny set out to follow his elder's footsteps.
He launched a career in law and politics.
But while his uncle had flourished under a good emperor the younger man would seek his fame and fortune under very different circumstances.
In the year 81, Vespasian's youngest son ascended to power.
His name was Domitian and as the biographer Suetonius recounts he would prove to be as terrible a tyrant as any who came before.
Early in his rule, he would seclude himself for hours catching flies and sticking them with sharpened pens so that once when someone asked whether anyone was inside with the emperor a palace wit cleverly replied, "Not even a fly.
" Domitian's savagery was unexpected.
He once called a steward into his bedroom to dine.
The next day the man was crucified.
Domitian indulged mercurial whims.
He launched treason trials and executed or banished even his mildest critics.
He terrorized the Roman elite and presented Pliny the Younger with the greatest challenge of his life: how to navigate treacherous times without compromising his values; how to maintain honor while climbing the ranks of a despotic system.
Pliny admired, even befriended those who balked at Domitian's rule but the martyr's path was not for him.
Instead, Pliny staked his morality on a ground of compromise, befitting his compromised times.
He was efficient and dutiful to friend and tyrant alike.
Even while serving the emperor, he brokered marriages for the children of worthy exiles promoted their careers, lent money.
And through it all, Pliny's career thrived.
But his success was tinged with remorse.
I have avoided shame, but deserve no praise.
Admittedly, when Domitian expelled his critics from Rome I visited one, even loaned him money though this jeopardized my own position.
Seven of my friends had already been killed or exiled.
I was clearly standing amid a rain of thunderbolts and there were signs that a similar end was in store for me.
The fact remains that Pliny the Younger was a very successful career politician and he prospered under Domitian as did many of his social class.
And what I think we can see going on here is a recognition on the part of upper-class individuals like Pliny that it was perfectly possible for them to collaborate with a political system that provided good government even if the emperor of the day was an absolute tyrant.
Pliny, like the empire itself would outlast the troubling times.
In the year 96, Rome once again shed its despot.
Domitian was murdered by a group that included his own wife.
And once again, the army would command Rome's future.
From here events followed a remarkable new course.
For the first time Roman generals cooperated to choose the next emperor and they compelled him to adopt an acceptable heir from outside his own family.
It was startlingly innovative and the result was resoundingly successful for the next major emperor to rule Rome was a Spanish-born senator and general named Trajan.
His reign took Rome one more step toward universality.
Now educated and wealthy men from all over the empire became eligible for the highest office.
Trajan expanded the Roman Empire to its greatest geographic size.
He extended prosperity to levels of society not before reached.
He launched public works, tax relief, a child welfare program and among his most trusted aides was Pliny the Younger.
As the century turned Pliny now reveled in the benefits of success and publicly praised the new emperor, Trajan.
We are suffering no longer.
There is no need to flatter him as a god.
We speak not about a tyrant, but a fellow citizen; not a master, but a parent.
He is one of us and remembers that though he rules over men, he is himself a man.
Trajan would close the door on the empire's defining epoch.
He would set the course for generations to come and project the collective voice of the first century across two millennia, where it resonates today.
Europe today draws on the power of an image created by the Roman Empire.
Rome takes the cultural systems developed initially in the eastern Mediterranean and spreads them in a dramatic way, and lays the foundations of a whole cultural zone that is our modern Europe.
The first century provided us with a powerful model for a global society consisting of people from different ethnicities and different cultures who were able to unite on certain fronts and remain distinct and separate in others.
In the first century, we see in the midst, in the very teeth of the most powerful system of imperial domination that the world had ever seen up to that time we see right in the midst of that the florescence of a notion of human freedom that grows up like a lotus out of the mud pond of Roman domination.
All around us, how much things have changed.
My work brought me success, then danger, then success again.
Towards the end of his life Pliny the Younger prepared to enter history as a spokesperson for his age.
Few had basked longer in the might and majesty of imperial Rome.
Few knew better its darker side.
But Pliny's perspective was long and like those who came before he trusted that his better side would endure.
Whether posterity will remember us I do not know.
But we certainly deserve distinction Not for our genius, for this would sound arrogant but for our dedication, labor and concern for the future.
We will continue on the road that we have taken which, while it carries few into the full light of fame leads many from the shadows of oblivion.
The Roman Empire would survive for centuries to come.
But the men and women of the first century left a legacy for the ages deserving forever "the full light of fame.
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