<![CDATA[ AMICVLVS: A Secret History - Blog]]>Mon, 19 Feb 2018 00:00:58 -0500Weebly<![CDATA["Sugar Creek," Ohio History and Horror]]>Wed, 31 Jan 2018 05:00:00 GMThttp://amiculusrome.com/blog/sugar-creek-ohio-history-and-horrorPicture
Happy New Year, Amiculi!

(It's still January, so I can still say that.)

It's a bit strange to be in this position. After so many years, and building an amazing catalog of art, story and content with the Amiculus series, to be back again at square one with a new project. No finished art, just concepts and a wildly different story to tell. It is distantly related to Amiculus, in that its roots are in history, but it is a history a world away and centuries apart from ancient Rome, and it directly touches the present in the storytelling. It is a story that envisions the toll that history, particularly violent, bloody history, can take on the present. In this case, the toll is a literal one. Sugar Creek is a horror story, a ghost story, set in an unlikely place: the rural landscape of western Ohio.

"Waitaminute...Ohio? That bland, boring, flat place between a lake and a river? Sometimes notable during presidential elections but rarely otherwise? 'Gateway to Indiana' Ohio?"

I know what you're thinking and, nope, that's not the place I'm talking about. The Ohio I'm referring to has a deep and fascinating history, stretching back at least 3,000 years to the mound-building Adena tribe, responsible for such amazing earthworks as the Great Serpent Mound. 

Great Serpent Mound, Adams County, Ohio
PictureGeorge Rogers Clark's march on Vincennes, Indiana in 1779. Clark clashed with British and Native American forces in the Ohio River Valley throughout the American Revolution.
Ohio also has a long history as a battleground. The indigenous tribes of Ohio were largely wiped out or driven out by the Iroquois Confederacy during the Beaver Wars of the 17th century. For the English in the 18th century, Ohio was the "wild west," the site of clashes with the French in the French and Indian War. Pontiac's rebellion in the 1760s saw the British nearly driven out of Ohio by Native American uprisings. During the American Revolution, the American Midwest saw pitched battles, campaigns and guerrilla clashes between British and native forces and Continental militia, including the Battle of Piqua in western Ohio in 1780.

PictureBattle of Fallen Timbers, 1794
The fighting between Ohio's Indian tribes and the Americans only intensified after the Revolution. The Northwest Indian War erupted in 1785 between the native Western Confederacy, American settlers from Kentucky and American militia and regular troops. What followed was ten bloody years of battles, massacres, reprisal killings and exterminations of Indian and American settlements in Ohio, only ending with the American victory over the Confederacy at Fallen Timbers in 1794. This war was as brutal, savage and deeply personal as any of the more famous conflicts of the mid-to-late 19th century further west. 

PictureIndian ambush and American rout: St. Clair's Defeat, 1791
This war also produced the most disastrous defeat of an American army at the hands of a native force in our nation's history: The Battle of the Wabash, or St. Clair's Defeat. An expedition in 1791 led by General Arthur St. Clair advanced into Ohio, ready to smash the Western Confederacy and avenge an American defeat at their hands from a year earlier. What resulted was "The Battle of a Thousand Slain": a total ambush and rout of the American forces that succeeded in wiping out a full quarter of the standing American army at the time. 

The ultimate defeat of the Western Confederacy and the Treaty of Greenville in 1795 ended this conflict, but Ohio's battleground status continued into the War of 1812, where British, natives and Americans clashed one last time across its forests, fields and lakes. Peace fell, and the land at last grew quiet.

Or did it? What of places that were the sites of repeated violence, repeated chaos and bloodshed, for over two hundred years? We know how this kind of trauma can affect and change us: can a place experience the same trauma? Can it be twisted, corrupted by so much death?

Can it become hungry for it?

This is the subject that Sugar Creek examines. This fictional village in western Ohio sits atop such a place, whose hidden history of violence and death goes far deeper than the two centuries mentioned above. On a normal day in 2015, as the town prepares for its bicentennial, a pair of local policemen respond to a frantic call for help, little realizing they are driving into the very epicenter of this darkness, just as the barriers holding it in are on the verge of giving way completely...

<![CDATA[Some Amiculus Resolutions for 2018]]>Sun, 31 Dec 2017 20:23:44 GMThttp://amiculusrome.com/blog/some-amiculus-resolutions-for-2018Picture
Salvete, Amiculi!

The year 2017, or the year 2770 A.U.C. (ab urbe condita - from the founding of the City), as the Romans would call it, was a pivotal year for Amiculus. It saw the completion of the Amiculus Trilogy, a passion project a decade in the making. In this time, Amiculus has grown from just one history nerd's flight of fancy to the foundation of an institution, with backers and readers on five continents and a growing reputation locally and regionally.  For this, let me say thanks to the comic creator and artistic communities of my hometown of Columbus, Ohio (particularly the good people of Madlab and Sunday Comix Group), my artistic team and my creative partner Giancarlo Caracuzzo,  my Kickstarter backers who have stayed with me since my very first (failed) campaign in 2013, my family, and most of all my wife Becky for her ridiculous faith in me.

Now that the project is finished, it leaves me at a bit of a crossroads, an appropriate place to be on December 31. We've briefly looked back, so let's take a glimpse at some resolutions for 2018 and beyond!

Resolution I: More Projects!

I'm sure if you've checked out my newsletter or have seen recent updates via Kickstarter, you know about these coming projects. However, as excited as I am, I really can't shut up about them! So, once again, here are the planned Amiculus Books of the Future:

1) Sugar Creek is a smaller project, 22-32 pages in length, that features a modern horror story with roots in primordial history.  As a small town in western Ohio prepares to celebrate its 200th anniversary, a frantic call for help to the Sugar Creek police department is cut off, prompting two officers to investigate a home on the edge of town. What greets them is a horror centuries in the making. Long-buried at the headwaters of the creek that is the town's namesake, the dark secret underlying its origins now threatens to burst forth and consume them all...look for an announcement sometime in 2018!

2) Amiculus: A Secret History reveals the identity of the shadowy title character, and illuminates his motives. But what of his true origin? In Amiculus: Domina, we track the path of Amiculus's creation from a fateful day on a Mediterranean beach to the catastrophic Battle of Ticinum, a path that is intertwined with the tragic tale of another mysterious figure: the mother of Romulus Augustulus. 
The timeline on this project is a bit more ephemeral, but I'm looking at a potential campaign in 2019-2020.

3) Pythia takes place i
n A.D. 362, when Christianity is ascendant and paganism is breathing its last. Apollo's Oracle of Delphi barely subsists on the waning faith of the god's remaining followers. But the newly-crowned Roman emperor Julian promises a return to the old gods. All he requires from the Pythia is a prophecy of triumph in the coming wars, and Apollo will bask in the glory of an Olympian renaissance.  The Pythia must do everything in her power to stop this from happening. This project will likely follow Domina. 

Resolution II: More History!

I had to take a little time following my year-long blog series The Decline and Fall of the Roman Republic because, well, it ended up depressing the hell out of me. The point was to illustrate similarities between the Roman Republic and our modern one, and in the process it brought a lot of things a little too close to home.  Also, I thought the quality of the content varied significantly between posts, and could ramble at times as it descended into historical rabbit holes and cul de sacs. I aim to work on providing better, more consistent content in the future. 

Fortunately, there are also a lot of other things connecting ancient Rome to our modern times that fall into the positive column, and I plan to revert back to the format used in my "Roman Debauchery Fun Facts" posts, such as this timely tidbit: 

PictureTwo-faced Janus, Roman god of gates, beginnings and never-ending bad hair days.
This will likely not shock you, but it was the Romans who formalized January 1 as New Year's Day. Going back at least as far as the Babylonian calendar circa 2000 B.C., most societies started the New Year at the vernal equinox, or sometime in mid-late March. (New Year's Day for the Romans was originally around March 15, insert eyebrow waggle.) In 153 B.C., the Romans made January 1 the day that incoming consuls assumed office, effectively making it New Year's Day for the Roman government. Julius Caesar made this custom official for all Romans in 45 B.C. with his eponymous Julian Calendar. 

Fun Fact Extra: the Roman calendar was so far out of whack by the time Caesar changed it that 80 days had to be added to the year 46 B.C. to get the months back in sync with the seasons for the year 45. I don't know if this makes 46, with 445 days, the longest year on record, but it's definitely a contender. 

Resolution III: New Look!

PictureExpect to see this logo gracing the website soon!
With Amiculus done, I feel that my mission and, with it, my website and branding, will need to evolve somewhat in 2018. Therefore, this site will change from being dedicated solely to the Amiculus Trilogy to one for all projects appearing under the aegis Amiculus Books. This will of course include more comic book and graphic novel content, as well as possible prose works. As you've seen above, new Amiculus storylines are being planned, but so are completely original projects. Who knows? Perhaps one day you will see short films offered, in which case we would need to evolve again to Amiculus Media.

So Happiest of New Years to you all, and as always, more to come!

<![CDATA[Decline and Fall of the Roman Republic, Part XIII]]>Tue, 31 Oct 2017 19:57:31 GMThttp://amiculusrome.com/blog/decline-and-fall-of-the-roman-republic-part-xiiiPART XIII: PAST AS PROLOGUE?
Picture"A man in my position long ago once said, to paraphrase, 'enrich the soldiers, f@*k all the rest.' I see no reason to quibble with this wisdom."
Augustus's reign was later called "The Augustan Age" for the long stretch of peace, prosperity and culture it inspired. In Roman history, it was largely unprecedented: four solid decades of  (nearly) unbroken peace, which, after nearly a century of off-again, on-again civil wars, must have seemed like a miracle. This spun off an even longer period, two hundred years, of unchallenged Roman hegemony in the ancient world, lovingly known as the Pax Romana. This age of the high Roman Empire has been regarded enviously by later cultures as a height of civilization and order that most societies dare not dream of. 

Never mind that censorship and stifling of free speech, which Augustus engaged in in earnest, was a price of this Roman order. That wealth and power continued to be gathered to a smaller and smaller oligarchy until the emperor had nearly become a self-styled god. That the privatization and professionalization of the Roman army created a permanent breach between soldier and civilian, elevating the former at the expense of the latter. That the role of an emperor as absolute ruler largely discouraged anything resembling peaceful transfer of power once an emperor died.  That in the power struggle that inevitably followed the death of an emperor,  the army itself became a force for major destabilization and chaos that helped deal a fatal blow to Roman civilization. 

Rome ultimately had no one to blame for the death of its republic other than its own feckless representatives. The Senate, divided, short-sighted and crippled by self-interest, proved itself unworthy of the task of managing a far-flung empire, and paid the price. But did it have to fail?  Did a body politic founded in freedom and dedicated in principle to the will of its citizens have to become so dysfunctional and broken that autocratic rule seemed like a blessing by comparison? 

Rome came to a crossroads all rising powers reach, where, having outgrown their initial identity as a state among states, must decide what kind of power they must be. It is a question of cui bono: who benefits? A rise in power comes with a significant increase of wealth, and for the lawmakers controlling access to it, the temptation is powerful, almost irresistible, to funnel it upward. Divisions arise, class differences widen. The common good becomes less and less for the benefit of the common. Resentment flares. Parts of a society start to see other parts as a threat for wanting what they have, others for being denied what was previously theirs by right. Lines between classes become battle lines, with the Senate House as the battlefield. Representative factions become bitter enemies, no longer looking for a common good but the opportunity to destroy the other.

This happened in Rome. I believe any hope for this to be curtailed, for a new common good to be established, died with the Gracchi. Just my opinion. But it was beyond this point that the rule of law had been so abrogated, so many red lines crossed, so many traditions holding Senatus Populusque Romanus together erased, that men of ambition began taking the law into their own hands. 

All empires have this turning point. Hard choices often have to be made to prevent it from turning for the worse. And hard choices are deeply unattractive to even the most self-aware of societies, let alone ones like Rome. I'm sure you're waiting for me to ask "when will our hard choice come?" I hope that is the question, and not "when did we make our choice?"

<![CDATA[Decline and Fall of the Roman Republic, Part XII]]>Sun, 10 Sep 2017 19:49:41 GMThttp://amiculusrome.com/blog/decline-and-fall-of-the-roman-republic-part-xiiPART XII: HERE WAS A CAESAR; WHEN COMES SUCH ANOTHER?
Another nickname was "Dramaticus Looktavius."
Gaius Octavius was the son of Julius Caesar's niece, Atia.  His father died when he was four years old, and the boy spent the next seven years in the care of his grandmother, Julia. It was likely at Julia's funeral in 52 B.C., where Octavius read her eulogy, that his great-uncle Julius first noticed him. Their relationship grew stronger in 46 B.C., when the 17-year-old braved a shipwreck and crossed enemy territory to join Caesar's army in Spain. He clearly left an impression on the dictator, who next sent him to Illyria for military training, ostensibly to join Caesar on his coming Parthian campaign. However, it was in the midst of this training that Octavius learned of Caesar's murder, and, more shockingly, of his adoption as Caesar's heir. 
Picture"Does anyone else have a terrible, TERRIBLE feeling about this?" Octavian goes to war against Antony.
Octavius officially changed his name to Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus ("Caesar, formerly known as Octavius") and leveraged the name for all it was worth - and it was worth a lot. Arriving in Italy in May, 44 B.C., he drew Caesar's veteran soldiers to him in a trickle that soon became a flood. He challenged Mark Antony for control of Caesar's vast Parthian war chest, a move that encouraged Antony's enemies in the Senate to champion the young Octavian as a counterbalance to Caesar's increasingly autocratic former lieutenant. It emboldened Cicero to rail against Antony as a virtual criminal in a series of speeches called the Philippics. When Antony left Rome to make war on one of Caesar's assassins, Decimus Brutus, in Cisalpine Gaul, the Senate seized the opportunity to declare him an enemy of the state. They invested Octavian, along with the consuls Hirtius and Pansa, with legions to relieve Decimus and destroy Antony. 

Picture"Yes, just like that...keep cringing...just watch those guys, they know the drill!"
The Senatorial forces clashed with Antony at Mutina, where Antony was besieging Decimus. Antony was soundly defeated and forced to flee to Gaul, but in the course of the battle, Hirtius and Pansa were both killed. This left the 20-year-old Octavian in sole command of the army. It was at this point that the young man demonstrated just how much like his great-uncle he really was. Instead of turning command over to Decimus, who was senior to him, Octavian declared he had no interest in aiding one of Caesar's murderers. Decimus's legions - who had formerly served Caesar - then deserted him overnight for Octavian. In a final move that gobsmacked the Senate, Octavian made peace with Antony, then common cause with him. Decimus tried to flee, but was captured and executed. Together, they marched on Rome, and forced the Senate to surrender power into their hands. 

Picture"Additionally, Octavian claims the right to store his boat in Lepidus's garage in perpetuity, while Antony gets use of his wife every third Wednesday..."
Octavian, Antony and another general of Caesar, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, formed a coalition known as the Second Triumvirate, after the previous one created by Caesar, Pompey and Crassus. The Triumvirate then used this power, ostensibly at Antony's insistence but with full compliance of all three, to launch a bloody purge of the Senate, liquidating 300 senators and confiscating their property. (This included Antony's bitter enemy Cicero.) Following this, they moved to crush Brutus and Cassius's forces at the Battle of Philippi.
Next, they divided control of the empire, with Octavian taking the west, Antony the east. Lepidus, who was by far the junior partner, got the short end of the stick, receiving nominal control of Africa. In reality, the empire was divided between the heir of Caesar and his former lieutenant, and the hot war between them would subside into a simmering cold war that would last for the next eleven years. 

Picture"Mmm-HMM!" Antony and Cleopatra give one another their seals of approval.
On the face of it, it was Antony who got the better part of the deal. The west was a poorer, less-developed region, with a number of loose ends that remained to tie up from the civil wars. Octavian was left to deal with a sullen, angry Senate, a populace enraged by his land appropriations for settlement of his troops, and an at-large son of Pompey (the aforementioned Sextus), now turned to piracy and strangling Rome's grain supply. He even had to stamp out a rebellion mounted by Antony's wife and brother!

Antony, on the other hand, inherited the wealthy, cosmopolitan east, where kings were worshiped as gods and cities shone with gold, marble and silk. Most of all, he inherited Caesar's strategic and romantic alliance with Egypt's Queen Cleopatra, about which much ink has been spilled in prose and poetry both high and low.  From his base in Alexandria, Antony could rely on his lover's support militarily and financially, which he intended to use to achieve the one goal that had escaped Julius Caesar: the conquest of Parthia. With this new glory, he was certain to eclipse his younger rival and wrest total control of Rome's destiny from his hands. 

Picture"Hey, Antony, good idea gulling the mob with a will! Mind if i borrow that?"
And yet, this was not to be. From his moment of brilliance at Caesar's funeral, Antony was a figure on the wane. Whether it was the riches of the east dulling his senses, his persistent inferiority to Octavian as a grand strategist, or his utter political tone-deafness, Antony blundered time and time again in his endeavors, giving his rival advantage after tactical advantage. His invasion of Parthia was a disaster almost on par with that of Crassus, the saving grace being that he did not share Crassus's fate. Meanwhile, the revolt of his family members in Italy tarnished his star further, while Octavian's rose with his triumph over the pirate Sextus Pompey. Antony attempted to patch the breach with his rival, taking Octavian's sister Octavia as his wife. Ultimately, however, he decided to cast his lot with Cleopatra, abandoning Octavia in Athens and rejoining the queen in Egypt. Octavian made great political hay out of this spurning, particularly after he seized Antony's will from the Temple of the Vestals. The will reportedly promised to cede Roman territory to Egypt, and to name Antony's children with Cleopatra as its rulers. Painting him as a scoundrel who had forsaken Rome for a foreign queen, he persuaded the Senate to revoke Antony's consular powers and declared war on him in 32 B.C.

PictureThe Battle of Actium, or Clash of the Floating Wedding Cakes.
The final conflict between Octavian and Antony came at Actium in Greece in September, 31 B.C., and was over almost before it started. Octavian's ships slipped across the Adriatic Sea before Antony could stop them and cut off his army in Greece from their supply lines from Egypt. He landed his army across the Bay of Actium from the Antonian forces, placed a blockade on the entrance of the bay, and waited. Eventually, facing supply shortages and daily desertions, Antony made an attempt to run the blockade with his fleet. The ensuing sea battle was short and one-sided. Plutarch said that Antony earned ignominy by abandoning his fleet and chasing Cleopatra's ship as it cut and ran, but there was likely little else he could do. His land army surrendered, and less than a year later, Antony and Cleopatra were dead by their own hands. 

The 500-year Roman Republic had breathed its last. For the first time since Tarquin the Proud, the reins of power rested in the hands of one man: Caesar Octavian, who after 27 B.C. would be known as Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor. This consolidation would be disguised for a time in a Republican package, with control appearing to be returned to the Senate, but with each successor to Augustus, this facade would slip, until rule was openly autocratic. Sadly, by this point, there were few who remembered or cared for what had been lost. 


<![CDATA[Decline and Fall of the Roman Republic, Part XI]]>Tue, 01 Aug 2017 20:29:25 GMThttp://amiculusrome.com/blog/decline-and-fall-of-the-roman-republic-part-xiPART XI: AN EMPIRE RISES
"Yeah, that's right! What is your centuries-long system of representative government worth next to this autocrat you all really, really liked?" Antony working the Roman mob.
​Plutarch described Marcus Antonius as a man with “simplicity in his nature, and slowness of perception.” In this, he had always been a mixed blessing for Julius Caesar. On one hand, He was one of his most loyal supporters, and an inspired field commander. He had rescued Caesar from potential destruction at Pompey’s hands at Dyrrachium, showing up with reinforcements in the nick of time, and had performed masterfully at the Battle of Pharsalus. However, in matters political, Antony was a mess. He was an infamous drinker and debaucher, showing up at state matters hung-over and even vomiting drunk on occasion. When Antony stood as Caesar’s surrogate in overseeing Rome, he governed impulsively, high-handedly and with disdain for anyone but the military. The violence sparked by his personal clash with the tribune Dolabella was easily the low point of his tenure. The ill will he generated toward Caesar had to have given the dictator pause in trusting his lieutenant with more than limited responsibility. 
Picture"I'd call it a win if he doesn't puke on my shoes during the meeting..." the conspirators discuss Antony.
​For Brutus, Cassius and the conspirators, Antony was even more of a conundrum. As Caesar’s close friend, he held the potential for tremendous influence, yet never seemed to make much of it in practice. Would he be an asset, a liability, a needless distraction or a mortal threat? In the debate over killing Caesar, the subject ranged from recruiting Antony to killing him. Ultimately, they decided to do neither. 

Picture"Why are you all sitting so far away?" "Avoiding the 'splash zone,' Marcus." "What?" "Nothing."
In the moment of Caesar’s assassination, Antony initially reacted true to form, fleeing to his house disguised as a slave. However, when he realized the Liberators were not planning a general slaughter, he approached them with the offer of a general amnesty. The Liberators had misread the political zeitgeist badly in killing Caesar, and were in no position to rein in the political chaos they had touched off on their own. Reluctantly, they allied with Antony, hoping to utilize him in the short term as a junior partner in restoring order. 

Picture"Wait, there's a Cinna the conspirator, too? I'm just trying to get ee cummings here to stop monopolizing open-mike night at the Capitol..."
As William Shakespeare famously demonstrated, Antony surprised virtually everyone with his uncharacteristic quick thinking and strategy. He seized control of the vast war-chest Caesar had stockpiled for his Parthian War and got his hands on Caesar’s will with the assistance of his widow Calpurnia. This revealed that Caesar planned to leave a substantial fortune to the people of Rome, which Antony would use to garner sympathy. At the dictator’s funeral, he undermined the Liberators with the subtlety of a pitcher plant, lulling them first with sweetness, then turning that nectar into acid against them. He whipped the Roman mob into such a frenzy that they rioted in the streets, burning Brutus and Cassius’s houses and murdering a poet who shared the name of a conspirator (Cornelius Cinna). The conspirators fled for their lives, leaving Antony in place as the new master of Rome.

Picture"Guys, I was just mad because he wouldn't pay for my dry cleaning! Do you know how HARD it is to get wine and stomach acid out of white wool?" The death of Cicero.
This was Marcus Antonius at the height of his fortunes.  He wasted no time in attending to Caesar’s mistakes, separating friend from foe in the Senate and brutally massacring those who fell into the latter category. This included Marcus Tullius Cicero, a lifelong foe who Antony had beheaded for his personal attacks in the Senate. Over the next two years, Antony destroyed the murderers of Caesar one by one, ultimately felling Brutus and Cassius in spectacular fashion at the Battle of Philippi.

Picture"No wine for me, thank you...massive caffeine injections are obviously my drug of choice..."
​Philippi effectively ended the Roman Republic as we know it. Yet it was not quite the beginning of a new Roman world order. For all of his success, Antony was not to be the coming man. He had displayed brilliant tactical prowess and opportunism, but remained a poor long-term strategist. These weaknesses would be laid bare all too soon by the man who would actually usher in Rome’s new, autocratic age.


<![CDATA[Decline and Fall of the Roman Republic, Part X]]>Thu, 13 Jul 2017 16:10:04 GMThttp://amiculusrome.com/blog/decline-and-fall-of-the-roman-republic-part-xPART X: THE HAIRY MAN FALLS
You could make a literal flip-book from all of the paintings of Caesar being stabbed to death, but just try to find ONE image of Pompey winning a battle...
This segment focuses on two key, opposing yet oddly complementary  failures: Caesar's ultimate failure to become king, and his successors' failure to halt Rome's slide toward one-man rule. It seems fitting that, since I began the section on Julius Caesar on the anniversary of his death,  I am concluding it on the anniversary of his birth (July 13).

​In the last segment, our intrepid dictator was at last on the top of the heap, wallowing in victory, reveling in praise, and drunk with glory. But as any victorious politician quickly discovers, the champagne runs dry, the balloons deflate, the bunting comes down, and the hard, ugly work of governing must begin. This was harder and uglier for Caesar than for your average head-of-state. The Senate had declared him dictator in perpetuum, or dictator-for-life, effectively giving him one-man rule. However, his position remained tenuous, as it depended on the compliance of the existing system. Caesar wanted to uproot this system, firmly cementing his power to become nothing less than an absolute monarch. The way to this goal was through the Roman people and the legions, with whom he was tremendously popular. The mob was his base of support, the legions a cudgel against his enemies, and as long as he had their backing, the Senate could do nothing against him. 
Picture"They're not buying it, what do I do?" "Vamp! Vamp!"
The irony was that the Roman masses upon whom he depended would never accept him (or anyone else) as a king. Hatred for monarchs burned just as brightly in Rome as it had nearly five hundred years before, when Lucius Junius Brutus toppled Tarquin the Proud. Caesar came up hard against this reality during an incident at the Festival of Lupercalia in February, 44 B.C. He staged an event where Mark Antony would present him with a crown wrapped in laurel, which Caesar would refuse. He hoped that his enormous popularity would stir the crowd to demand that he accept the office of king, but they cheered loudly only when he refused it. Antony offered it twice more, with Caesar refusing both times, and each time the crowd cheered louder. This infuriated the dictator, and he later took his frustrations out on two tribunes who were removing similar crowns from his statues (to great public acclaim) by stripping them of their offices. This was a very unpopular move with the public, and was one of the few public relations missteps the otherwise savvy Caesar made. Yet it spoke to the tremendous difficulty he was suddenly finding in moving his agenda forward.

PictureBrutus and Cassius, poster boys of sneering patriotism.
Ultimately, Caesar's grand experiment never got to play out, due to his other great failing: his incredible hubris. Caesar had come to believe (like many of his supporters had) that he was invincible, as no enemies remained to challenge him. He had made a practice of forgiving the followers of his vanquished enemies, perhaps to avoid appearing as a bloodthirsty tyrant as Sulla had, perhaps to make the Romans amenable to his potential example as king, or perhaps because he just had a pathological need to be loved. Anyway, he surrounded himself with these "friends", not considering that to be forgiven was not the same as to be reformed. As a result, a conspiracy coalesced around a group of these men, senators calling themselves "The Liberators" and led by Marcus Junius Brutus (descendant of the king-toppling Brutus) and Gaius Cassius Longinus. The incident at the Lupercalia was the last straw in Caesar's mountainous hay bale of tyranny, and to preserve representative democracy, they made the obvious choice on March 15, 44 B.C....

Twenty-three stab wounds later, Caesar lay dead at the feet of a statue of Pompey, symbolically defeated by his enemy (and don't think this wasn't intentional on the part of the Liberators). Having righted one wrong with another, Brutus and his fellow Underpants Gnomes lay back on their giant pile of skivvies and waited for the profits to roll in. Or, if you aren't familiar with this South Park reference, they reclined upon their laurels and waited for democracy to re-assert itself. 

PictureThis guy is the reason there would never be a play titled "Brutus and Cleopatra."
Like the Underpants Gnomes, the conspirators skipped their own Step 2 in restoring the Republic: making sure that they had a popular base of support for committing tyrannicide. Sure, the senatorial class hated Caesar, just as they had hated every popular reformer since the Gracchi. As part of this class, the Liberators were certain of the justness of their cause. But being the insular, classist snobs that they were, they did not deign to ask what the plebs thought about it. As it turned out, they misread the popular reaction badly. Rather than rescuing the Republic, they had sped it to its doom, one that would reach out and claim all of them only five days later, at the dictator's funeral. The harbinger of this doom would be one that none of them (save perhaps Cassius) would have expected.


<![CDATA[Decline and Fall of the Roman Republic, Part IX]]>Wed, 28 Jun 2017 02:41:37 GMThttp://amiculusrome.com/blog/decline-and-fall-of-the-roman-republic-part-ixPART IX: THE HAIRY MAN TAKES IT ALL
Caesar routs Pompey at Pharsalus
​In the last segment, it was 48 B.C. Caesar was on his way to Greece, in hot pursuit of Pompey the Great and his enemies in the Senate. Caesar had displayed some incredible chutzpah so far, winning hand after hand in this game of poker mostly through elaborate bluffing. However, his tricks were running out, his moves were becoming more predictable, and the risks were becoming greater and greater with each new confrontation. 
Picture"Finally! I get my own heroic victory image in this thing!" "Actually, sir, it's a repeat of Caesar at the Rubicon." "Don't ruin this for me."
​Caesar’s army clashed with Pompey first at Dyrrachium in Epirus, and was very nearly destroyed. Pompey finally realized that he had more troops than Caesar (outnumbering him two to one), and did his level best to trap his adversary and nearly overwhelm him. He delivered the dictator his first tactical defeat, but failed to capitalize on it by moving too slowly to pursue Caesar as he retreated. Caesar managed to escape to fight another day. 

Picture"NOW you manage to find a picture of me??? Shut up, never mind, ride faster!"
That day came on the plain of Pharsalus in Thessaly. Caesar was still badly outnumbered by Pompey, and his troops were in a state of low morale and exhaustion. Yet Pompey seemed terminally afflicted with indecision and doubt, partly inflicted by Caesar’s veneer of invulnerability and partly from all of the contradicting advice he was getting from his Senate allies. He did not order a charge against Caesar’s forces, but waited defensively as Caesar covered the distance between the two armies and initiated the first attack. Had Pompey gone on the offensive, it is possible he could have broken Caesar’s precariously thin battle lines and won the day, but by not taking the initiative, he let Caesar establish the terms of battle.  Through skillful placement of his best troops and the use of subterfuge and surprise, Caesar routed Pompey’s cavalry and smashed his left wing, then aggressively pursued his army as it turned to flee. 

Picture"WATCH THE HAAAAAIR!!!" Pompey dies in Egypt.
​Pompey threw off his general’s cloak and fled the field, soon quitting Greece altogether. He sailed to Egypt, hoping to find refuge with the family of his old ally, Ptolemy XII, as well as a new base from which to recruit. But the 13-year-old Ptolemy XIII now ruled Egypt, and he felt it more prudent to acquiesce to a conquering enemy than to defend a defeated friend. Pompey was stabbed to death and beheaded by a Roman mercenary, one of his own former soldiers, as he was stepping onto the shore.

PictureCleopatra invents shag carpeting.
Pursuing Pompey to Egypt, Caesar was enraged to discover Ptolemy had murdered him, which may have influenced him to to take sides in a civil war against the boy-king. Of course, the fact that Ptolemy’s rival was the crafty, charismatic and charming Cleopatra VII likely enticed the old goat as well. (The story goes that she had her servants smuggle her into Caesar's quarters rolled in a carpet, and he then proceeded to...unroll...her.)

​Once again, Caesar waded into circumstances that threatened to overwhelm him, only to triumph by the force of sheer ballsiness, crushing Ptolemy’s forces and setting the young Cleopatra on the throne as Egypt's queen and Rome's client. Notably, their infant son, Caesarion, was next in line to the throne. 

Picture"You've GOT to stop thinking with your junk, Antony!" "Says a guy who started a war over a chick in a carpet."
Meanwhile, back in Rome, Mark Antony, the young rapscallion who represented Caesar’s interests so poorly to the Senate, was now continuing his losing streak. Antony was a skilled soldier and a competent commander in the field, but he was no Caesar in the political arena. Lacking any real interest in winning friends and influencing people, he vetoed popular legislation (including a debt forgiveness bill that would have benefitted Caesar’s own troops) and picked personal fights with lawmakers, including a tribune named Dolabella who he suspected had slept with his wife. This escalated into open conflict, with Dolabella seizing the Forum and Antony unleashing the troops on him and his supporters, creating so much chaos that Caesar had to pause the pursuit of his enemies to return and restore order. This likely created a rift between Caesar and his lieutenant that sowed the seeds for later discord, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. 

PictureIt's catchier than "I was shot, I fell, I was trampled to death..." Caesar battles Cato's elephants at Thapsus, 46 B.C.
The next three years were a wild race around the Mediterranean for Caesar. He chased his Senatorial enemies to every corner of the compass, swatting King Pharnaces of Pontus like a fly and conquering northern Asia Minor in a war so brief that it produced his famously glib phrase “Veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered). Caesar raced to North Africa next, trouncing Marcus Porcius Cato and his phalanx of elephants at Thapsus and biting off Numidia as a Roman territory. 

Picture"Guys! I am NOT used to sweating like this!" Caesar wades in at Munda.
It was in Spain that Caesar’s luck nearly ran out. At Munda in 45 B.C., he faced off against Pompey’s sons Gnaeus and Sextus. Gnaeus was a significantly more aggressive general than his father, and his troops much more desperate; no trickery or bluff would help Caesar prevail this time. Munda was a bloody slugfest, an eight-hour pushing match that included Caesar and generals on both sides fighting in the ranks with their troops. Tens of thousands of Romans died in the onslaught. Caesar, much less glibly this time, said of the battle that he had fought many times for victory, but at Munda he had to fight for his life.

Picture"Um...Caesar is requesting that something called 'We Are The Champions' be played? Does anyone know this?"
And yet, ballsiness once again carried the day. Caesar out-pushed Gnaeus’s forces, forcing him and Sextus to flee, Gnaeus was captured and executed, while Sextus escaped. Nonetheless, Pompeian resistance was broken, and the civil war was over. Caesar returned to Rome to celebrate a quadruple triumph (Gaul, Egypt, Asia, Africa). An exhausted, cowed and compliant Senate appointed him dictator for ten years and then in perpetuum, effectively for life. Crapulent with success, Caesar went about remaking the Roman world in his image, revising the calendar (Julian, for those of you wondering), getting a month renamed in his honor (do I need to say which one?) and prepping for the hardest sell of his life: convincing the Romans to declare him a king. 

Picture"I will be a benevolent god, provided all mention of my male-pattern baldness is studiously avoided..."
Caesar also made plans for one last flourish of military glory: the conquest of the Parthian Empire. This was purportedly to “avenge” Crassus’s completely justified beheading. “Invasion Tour 44” planned to sweep the entire Middle East (and possibly India?) into the Roman dominions, then turn north and west to conquer the rising kingdom of Dacia and environs in-between, leaving time for lunch and a relaxing bath before returning to Rome and a new golden age. Caesar would finally surpass all other conquerors, including his idol Alexander, and unite the known world under the rule of a god-king. 

This undertaking was to begin on March 18, 44 B.C.

Barring any complications, of course…


<![CDATA[Decline and Fall of the Roman Republic, Part VIII]]>Wed, 31 May 2017 04:55:45 GMThttp://amiculusrome.com/blog/decline-and-fall-of-the-roman-republic-part-viiiPART VIII: THE HAIRY MAN GOES TO WAR (2)
No, this is NOT AT ALL like Washington crossing the Delaware.
When last we left our intrepid Hairy Man, it was 49 B.C., and he was crouched in Cisalpine Gaul like a spider, ready to descend into Italy with his army in an act of war against the Senate and the people of Rome. However, we are not ready to cross this Rubicon yet. Before we can irrevocably cast the die, we must rewind seven years and revisit the rest of the supporting cast in Gaius Julius Caesar's tragicomedy, namely our old friends Pompey, Crassus and Cicero.
PictureThis is one way to avoid a government shutdown...
Julius Caesar was a master multi-tasker two millennia before the term would even be conceived, keeping plates spinning from one end of the Roman world to the other, maintaining his hegemony as he fought his war in Gaul. However, one of these plates started to wobble badly almost as soon as he left Rome. Clodius Pulcher, the hedonistic aristocrat-turned-tribune Caesar had used to avoid prosecution, had very nearly gone mad with power. He ran roughshod across Rome, using gangs of thugs to enforce his will and to attack and harass anyone who crossed him. He had turned on Pompey after the general had dared to criticize his excesses, laying siege to him in his own home with his gang army and even attempting an assassination. This led to Pompey raising his own gangs to combat Clodius, with titanic violence breaking out every time a vote on legislation came to the Senate or the tribunal. Crassus played both sides against the middle, angering Pompey and threatening the Triumvirate. Somewhere in all of this, Clodius turned against Caesar and tried to have all of his legislation declared illegal. Something had to be done. 

Picture"No, I mean it, Julie! If you're going to make us all kiss, at least tell Pompey to shave first!"
In 56 B.C., Caesar called Pompey and Crassus to the northern Italian city of Lucca to save their three-way bromance. Caesar arranged for the two to run jointly for the consulship in 55 B.C. Caesar would send thousands of his own soldiers to Rome to vote for them. Following this, Crassus would be awarded control of the province of Syria, and Pompey would be allowed to retain his political stronghold in Spain. In exchange for this, Pompey and Crassus would extend Caesar's provincial control for another five years. A new deal was struck, and there were kisses all around.

Picture"Let's see 'Game of Thrones' HOPE to be as hardcore as this..." the death of Crassus.
Yet despite his efforts, this Romancing of the Bros began to fall apart only a few years later, culminating with the death of Crassus. Crassus had very good reason to want control of Syria. It was to be the staging ground for his massive invasion of the Parthian Empire (modern Iraq and Iran). Crassus, though wildly successful in all realms fiduciary, could never get past his crazy jealousy of his fellow triumvirs' military glory, of which he had none. No matter how many times they told him how pretty he was, this insecurity gnawed, and from this came his idea to confront one of Rome's last great rivals in an unprovoked attack. 
Unfortunately, an army and a chip on your shoulder does not a brilliant general make, and in 53 B.C., Crassus very quickly blundered into trouble only shortly after entering Parthian territory, near the city of Carrhae. The Parthians' secret weapons were the armored knight (called a cataphract) and the horse-archer, and they used them to great effect against Crassus's largely horseless legions. Much of his army was pincushioned with arrows, and Crassus himself was taken prisoner while negotiating his surrender. One version of his death says that he was beheaded. Another far more lurid version says that the Parthians, well-aware of his vast wealth, forced Crassus to drink molten gold for his avarice. 

Picture"It was easy turning on Caesar...after Cato told me all the shade he threw on MY HAIR..."
Things had already begun to deteriorate with Pompey. To seal the deal with him at the launch of the Triumvirate, Caesar had given his daughter, Julia, away to Pompey in marriage. It was apparently a love-match, but it ended in tragedy in 54 B.C., when Julia died in childbirth. From this point, relations between Caesar and Pompey, which were already on the rocks due to their respective envy, became irreparable. Optimate resistance to Caesar rallied about Pompey. Cicero was recalled from exile by the general in another swipe at his former ally. Pompey even married the daughter of a prominent Optimate senator. Pushed by the virulently anti-Caesar senator Marcus Porcius Cato, he supported the Senate, albeit hesitantly, when, in 50 B.C., they recalled Caesar to Rome to stand trial for crimes committed during his consulship, on his behalf by Clodius and in the Gallic Wars. (Clodius, by-the-by, was stabbed to death in a brawl between his supporters and a rival gang leader. Neither here nor there, but a fitting end to the douchebag, IMHO.)

Picture"I think I've already proved I'm more of a dice man than a card player..."
So, whither Caesar? His tricks had run out. His allies in Rome had turned against him. His loyalists in the Senate, Quintus Cassius and a young rapscallion named Mark Antony, had been run out of town on a rail after trying to veto legislation against him. The Senate gave him an ultimatum: resign your command, return to Rome or be branded an "enemy of the people." It looked pretty rough, until you considered that Caesar had a much better understanding of who the people were. The ones that mattered, the mob, was on his side. His army was fanatically loyal to him. The hand he held was powerful. But did he dare consider playing it?


Picture"You know, Big Caes, there IS a bridge...right over there...just off-panel right...just saying, before we ALL get our feet wet..."
With a single legion, Caesar marched to the Rubicon River on January 10, 49 B.C. This was the border of Italy, which if crossed in arms by a Roman general meant civil war. Caesar inspired his troops with something nonchalant and ballsy ("Alea iacta est" - the die is cast) and crossed into history, or infamy, depending on which side of the Rubicon you were watching from. 

PictureTechnically, Caesar doesn't get one of these for another four years, but it seemed appropriate for the feel of the moment.
Caesar's entry into Italy did not surprise Pompey so much as his speed did. Unaware that he possessed only one legion, this sent the Senate into a panic. Pompey had raised levies of his own, and technically outnumbered Caesar, but many of his soldiers were raw recruits, while Caesar's were battle-hardened veterans of Gaul. Moreover, a goodly number of Pompey's soldiers were veterans of Caesar's armies, and it was uncertain how they would perform against their former general. Showing significantly more indecisiveness than he did against Mithridates, Pompey dithered until it was almost too late, then gave the order for his legions and supporters to evacuate Rome. He retreated south to the heel of Italy, eventually giving up the boot entirely as he fled to Greece. Caesar succeeded in trapping thirty cohorts of his army, which surrendered and joined his forces. He then marched to Spain in an unheard-of 27 days to destroy Pompey's forces at Ilerda, absorbing them into his army as well. In December, he returned to Rome and was declared dictator by the remaining Senate. 

Was the war over, the Republic now dead? Far from it. Pompey was still at large, with a sizeable force in Greece and several of his worst enemies in tow. As his uncle Marius had discovered the hard way, bad pennies like these kept turning up if they weren't dealt with. He would have to take the fight to them to secure his coveted one-man rule, and do a lot of hard-selling to convince the Roman people to accept it. He would ultimately find the former far less difficult than the latter. 


<![CDATA[Decline and Fall of the Roman Republic, Part VII]]>Sun, 30 Apr 2017 23:47:12 GMThttp://amiculusrome.com/blog/decline-and-fall-of-the-roman-empire-part-viiPART VII: THE HAIRY MAN GOES TO WAR (1)
"As a matter-of-fact, Vercy, those bird hats your men wear are the most idiotic things I've ever seen." The Gallic king Vercingetorix surrenders to Julius Caesar following the Siege of Alesia, 52 B.C.
PictureCaesar traverses Gaul in an age before Eurorail.
So, Julie C! 
You've just completed one of the most contentious consulships in Roman history, checkmated your wealthy enemies in the Senate, and left a virtual criminal in Rome to maintain your policies with the threat of mob violence, terror and bloodshed! What do you do next?

"I'm going to Gallic-land!"

And that's precisely what he did in 58 B.C., setting off from Rome to take command of the Roman province of  Transalpine Gaul. Caesar was in a precarious position politically. He was deep in debt from his political campaigns, and had made hundreds of powerful foes in Rome who were sharpening their knives. He had secured a provincial governorship (and immunity for prosecution) for an unprecedented five years, but would be at the mercy of his enemies the very moment it ended. Caesar had to use his time wisely if he was going to escape scot-free. But what could he possibly do to effect this? 

Picture"These waifs and invalids aren't threatening my army on MY watch!" Caesar attacks the Helvetii.
1. Create a national emergency​.  Transalpine Gaul sat just south of Gaul proper, home of the fierce warrior people who had infamously sacked Rome three hundred years earlier (See Part II). As a result, Rome hated and feared the Gallic people beyond almost all others. At the moment Caesar became governor, a tribe of Gauls, the Helvetii, were planning a migration from the Gallic interior to the coast that would pass through Roman territory. The chieftains of the tribe promised the Romans it would be a peaceful migration, but Caesar deliberately stalled the negotiations to buy time to mobilize his legions and fortify the province. Caesar claimed that the kings of the Helvetii and another tribe, the Sequani, were colluding to use the migration as a pretext to conquer the rest of Gaul. The Helvetii did attack the Aedui, a Roman ally, who called to Caesar for help. He sent three legions to attack the Helvetii, warriors and non-combatant families both, as they were crossing a river. Following a slaughter, Caesar sent his legions after the portion of the tribe that had gotten away, launching a war that would last for seven years and drag in the entire Gallic nation.  This war was considered an illegal act by many in the Senate, but it thrilled the hearts of the average Roman citizen, who saw Caesar as defending Roman national interests against a mortal enemy. 

Picture"They can take my pants, but they can't take our freedom!" The Ludovisi Gaul statue group of a chieftain and his wife committing suicide to avoid capture
2. Kill a LOT of people, and take their wealth. 
Gaul was actually not the barbaric nation of stereotype, but was organized and civilized on relative par with Rome, down to cities, technology, trade and agriculture. However, it was divided along tribal lines, which made unity against a common threat difficult.  Caesar recognized this, and used the Roman alliance with the Aedui as an excuse to cudgel tribe after tribe that presented a threat to them, certain that others would not come to their aid. He swathed his way back and forth across Gaul this way, conquering tribe after tribe and even warring against nations and kings that were friends to the Roman Senate. The historian Plutarch estimated that  2 million Gauls were killed or enslaved, numbers that today would rank Caesar as one of the bloodiest war criminals in history. Caesar's senatorial rivals concurred, although not out of any real concern for the Gauls, but fear of  how bloody popular it was making him with the plebs! It goes without saying that the wealth Caesar raked in from his conquests and proscriptions was utterly staggering, and more than eliminated his debts from his consulship.

Picture"Okay, could one of you Britons PLEASE explain what a 'Chunnel' is and why we didn't know about this before?"
3. Stunts. Lots of 'em. The wackier the better.
It can be argued that Caesar may very well have been operating in the interests of national security by attacking the Gauls (at least at first). However, several of the side campaigns he engaged in were little more than showboating for the crowd. He led a raid into Germany, literal terra incognita to the Romans, to punish the Suebi and other German tribes for interfering in Gaul, and built the first bridges across the Rhine. His campaigns led him to the shores of Europe, where he subdued the seafaring Veneti tribe in a protracted sea campaign. But his biggest daredevil coup was leaving the Continent entirely to invade the shadowy island of Britain in 55 and 54 B.C. To the Romans, Caesar might as well have launched an invasion of Mars. Never mind that it was very nearly a debacle and held no strategic importance whatsoever; it was exotic, and daring, and pushed Caesar's reputation to heights that threatened to eclipse Pompey the Great.

PictureHow many licks would it take to get to the center of Caesar's Alesia fortifications? The Gauls would never know.
4. Gamble like a madman.
"Go big or go home" might have been Caesar's motto; he was a man who delighted in pushing the envelope, and it very nearly cost him his life on a number of occasions. In 57 B.C., his army was taken by surprise during a battle against the Belgae by the Nervii tribe, one of the fiercest warrior nations in Gaul. A massive force of them inflicted horrendous casualties on the Romans, killing most of Caesar's officers and threatening to envelop and annihilate them. It took Caesar picking up a shield and personally rallying the legions to give them the will to hold out until reinforcements arrived, whereupon they eventually repulsed and wiped out the Nervii force. 

However, Caesar's ballsiest move in the Gallic Wars was during the siege of Alesia. The Gallic tribes, faced with utter defeat, finally united in a confederation under the chief Vercingetorix to repulse the Romans. Vercingetorix initially brought the fight to Rome in a big way, laying siege to Roman legions at Avaricum and actually defeating the Romans at Gergovia.  However, Vercingetorix ultimately settled on a defensive strategy, fortifing and holding the strategic town of Alesia against the Romans and counting on reinforcements to break any attempted siege. Caesar did lay siege to Alesia, encircling it with a wooden wall. However, he also built a second wall around his own army to defend against a gigantic Gallic relief force. Outnumbered two-to-one and attacked from both sides, Caesar's army repulsed every assault, holding out even when the outer defenses were breached. In spite of the overwhelming odds of defeat, the Romans succeeded in breaking Vercingetorix's army, and effectively ending the war in Gaul. This launched Caesar's fame into the stratosphere and gave him a reputation of invincibility in battle. 

Picture"The real test of its greatness is how many positive reviews I can gin up on Amazon..." Caesar writes his history.
5. Own the message.
Caesar owed a significant amount of his success to the fact that he was a better communicator than most of his rivals. His optimate enemies took pride in the fact that they were "superior" to the hoi polloi, and they dressed, spoke and behaved in the rarified manners that underscored this separation. Caesar understood that his power lay with the plebs, and he did not hesitate to speak directly to their level. As a result, he was able to convince them that, in his heart, he was "one of the people." This public relations genius extended to his messaging for the wars in Gaul. Caesar wrote his own historical account of the Gallic Wars (officially called "Commentaries" to avoid being taken to task for its many glaring historical mistakes and omissions) in the vernacular of the common people, with no rhetorical flights of fancy. Clean, straightforward and dynamic, Caesar's account remains one of the most readable and approachable Latin texts to this day. By controlling the message, Caesar was able to whitewash his defeats and his egregious crimes against Gallic civilians, once again hamstringing his critics and embellishing his image to near godlike proportions with the people. 

Picture"This is a really awesome scene, guys! It would look great as a die-cast replica! Get it? "Die-cast?"
Still, all wars, good and bad, have to end sometime. Caesar had strung things out for as long as he could, working allies, dividing enemies and utilizing every loophole he could to avoid a return to private citizenship. But by 50 B.C., all of his tricks had run out. The Senate was frothing at the mouth to prosecute him, and demanded he relinquish control of his province and his legions and return to Rome, where he was sure to be branded an "enemy of the state" and likely executed. Yet the Caesar that returned to Rome was a far more powerful beast than the one that left, with the support of several battle-tested legions and the vast plebeian classes cheering him on. The master gambler had taken the house for its shirt, pants and suspenders, and was now in a position to strip it of the keys to the front door. We'll see just how hard a republic can fall in the next segment.


<![CDATA[The Decline and Fall of the Roman Republic, Part VI]]>Wed, 15 Mar 2017 04:13:49 GMThttp://amiculusrome.com/blog/the-decline-and-fall-of-the-roman-republic-part-viPART VI: THE ARRIVAL OF THE HAIRY MAN
Picture'It's a lot less illustrious when you realize that we've been calling ourselves 'hairy' for 400 years..."
In ancient Roman culture, all men had two names, and some had three or more. The first name was the praenomen, one of about twenty or so first names that every man had as a formality. The second name was the nomen, the family name, which told which gens, or clan, you came from. The third name was the cognomen, a nickname that was ascribed to you, or, in later history, one inherited from an ancestor to identify your branch of the gens.

Today, we recognize ancient Romans most readily by their cognomen. When translated, a lot of them sound oddly similar to old-fashioned mob nicknames, such as Caligula ("Little Boots"), Cicero ("Chickpea"),  and Scaevola ("Left-Handed"). However, the most famous of these cognomen, and one of the strangest under the circumstances, is also believed to mean "Hairy":

BTW, the Germans had it right - it was originally pronounced "Kaiser."
And no bearer of this cognomen leaps more immediately to mind than the man who signaled the beginning of the end of Rome's republic: GAIUS JULIUS CAESAR.
PictureHis nickname apparently didn't apply to the top of his head.
Yet for the first forty years of his life, this man with the famous (if silly out-of-context) name did little of historical note.  Born circa 100 B.C., he hailed from an old if undistinguished patrician family whose fortunes were beginning to rise around the time of his birth. (Tellingly, Caesar's uncle was none other than Gaius Marius.) Caesar's personal fortunes took a dive when his father died when he was just 15, and went into free-fall after his uncle's faction was annihilated by Sulla. Offered the choice of divorcing his wife (the daughter of a Marian ally) and losing his life, Caesar did neither and went into hiding, and his inheritance was confiscated. He was only pardoned after the vociferous lobbying of his mother's family, which included prominent Sullan allies. Sulla did this reluctantly, and was reputed to say he saw "many a Marius" in Caesar. 

PictureI'd be interested to hear this version of Caesar sing "Roxanne."
Even after Sulla died, Caesar's career only managed to bump along for the next decade. He served with distinction in the army, was captured by pirates, was freed, hunted down the pirates with his own resources and had them crucified, and eventually began a political career around the age of 30. Caesar did not lack for ambition. Yet his relative lack of success was stark next to that of his contemporaries Crassus and Pompey. Encountering a statue of Alexander the Great in Spain, he broke down weeping upon realizing how much Alexander had achieved, while he by the same age had done nothing.  

Perhaps this was the moment that galvanized him, and drove his rapacious arc through the Senate over the next decade. Caesar was nothing if not a student of history, and history had taught him the following: the Senate had lost the ability to govern the empire; institutions of government were only as strong as the will to preserve them; and a man backed by troops and popular support could do whatever he liked. Every move he made from this point on was not to replicate the achievements of Crassus and Pompey, but to surpass them. 

PictureThis one seems incomplete without a forked, flicking tongue...
Caesar churned through the Senate during the 60s B.C. as a one-man political machine. He wormed his way into Crassus's confidence and, bankrolled by the plutocrat's vast wealth, cut deals, forged alliances, made bribes, and aligned himself with anyone who could advance him another step up the ladder toward the consulship. He surprised his contemporaries by defeating two powerful opponents in the election for chief priest, elections that were marred by bitter accusations of bribery from both sides. He made a few missteps, aligning himself with the would-be usurper Catiline in 63 B.C. Yet slick as ever, he avoided being labeled as a co-conspirator.  During this period, he also positioned himself as one of the populares, a step toward earning the favor of the common people, and Crassus's wealth went a good distance in greasing these wheels as well. 

Yet the act that cemented his standing and secured a base of power was the alliance he secured between Crassus and Pompey in 60 B.C., who had been bitter rivals since their consulship. Between the three of them, there was enough gold, swords and political will to master the Senate and Rome. This alliance was referred to by historians as the First Triumvirate ("Rule of Three Men"), and it was with this unchecked political capital that the beast was finally unleashed. 

PictureOK, there is no WAY he's not flipping us the bird here - "I got your executive restraint right here, MFers!"
The consular elections of 60 B.C. were the nastiest, most sordid and brutal elections the Romans had seen in years.  Caesar was determined to become consul, and his optimate opponents, who loathed him,  were determined to defeat him, with even the reputedly-incorruptible Cato resorting to bribery to advance one of Caesar's opponents. Yet it was all in vain. Caesar was elected consul for the year 59 B.C., and from here, the gloves were off.  With Pompey's troops stationed throughout the city as intimidation, he rammed a populist bill redistributing public lands to the poor through the Senate against the loud protests of the optimates. After all, this was the sort of thing they had murdered the Gracchi for seventy years earlier. Now the shoe was on the other foot. They implored Caesar's co-consul Bibulus to stop him, but when he tried, he was assaulted by Caesar's supporters, who dumped a large basket of manure on his head and wounded two magistrates accompanying him. Bibulus fled to his home and did not return for the rest of his consulship, leaving Caesar unimpeded. 

Picture"Yeah, I don't really do restraint, either." Clodius's supporters terrorize Rome.
Unfortunately for him, consulships only lasted a single year. Once he was out of office, he was no longer immune to prosecution by his enemies, who were chomping at the bit to attack him with the full force of the law. However, it was common practice for consuls to govern a foreign province in the year following their term, thus extending their immunity. Caesar outmaneuvered his enemies in three ways: he had his term governing a province extended from one year to five; he successfully wrangled control of three provinces instead of one, which included the command of four legions;  and he orchestrated the election of his ally, Publius Clodius Pulcher, as tribune of the plebs. Clodius could veto any attempt by the Senate to prosecute Caesar or repeal his laws. In addition, Clodius was a massively destabilizing presence in the city, fully embracing violence and intimidation as a tactic against his (and Caesar's) opponents. One of his victims was the former savior of Rome, Cicero, whom he successfully drove into banishment and confiscated his property. Against the evil genius of Caesar, there seemed to be no resistance. 

With Rome secure at his back, Gaius Julius Caesar marched off to govern Cisalpine Gaul in 58 B.C. Having bent the Roman state to his will, he was now ready for his military career to truly begin. It is at this point that the image of Caesar the world knows, and has even admired, comes into view: the larger-than-life colossus bestriding the world with his armies, the brilliant general seizing his destiny. The collateral damage, apart from thousands of Roman and non-Roman lives, would be nothing less than Rome's tradition of representative government. 
Thought I recognized this picture from earlier. Glorious, isn't it?