Roman Gate Cordoba
The Romans had their king emperors - real people, and as far as they were concerned the Christians were inciting unrest. So they fed them to the lions, tigers and other carnivorous beasts in one last attempt to make the Christians happy. By making them martyrs.
Gaius Julius Caesar
We have now covered the history of the Romans in Andalucia into the 1st Century BC and looked at some of their cities and engineering feats. The Roman period in Andalucia was a relatively peaceful time, unlike in the more northern parts of Spain and other parts of the Roman Empire where the Roman Republic was almost continuously in a state of war. Not difficult to see then why peaceful Andalucia was so attractive to retiring soldiers and wealthy Romans who wanted or needed to escape the intrigue of Rome.
In Rome during this period the social and political world was undergoing a violent transformation. There are many reasons why the late Republic created two political parties, the Optimates, basically Conservative old established wealthy families such as that of the great general Pompey and the Populares extolling the virtues of the common man but itself, as a party, led by renegade members of Optimate families, like that of Gaius Julius Caesar.
Small farms were bought up by the Optimates to make vast estates that were then mismanaged as a result of which Rome could not always feed itself. Hundreds of thousands of freed slaves from occupied territories, now employed on farms in Italy and more settled areas of the Empire, created a class of jobless, idle Romans who moved to the cities. The vast wealth pouring into Rome from all corners of the occupied territories provided the temptation and opportunity for corruption. Altogether a recipe for disaster that was to bring the Republic down through a series of civil wars and internal political strife. It fell to a man called Gaius Julius Caesar to grab the reins and become the first dictator and for Augustus in 27 BC to become the first Roman Emperor although he never gave himself that title.
Fine Roman Architecture – Aqueduct at Merida
Before that however in 69 BC Caesar made his first visit to Spain as an administrative official. It was on this visit that at Gades he saw a statue of Alexander the Great and it was said that he broke down and cried in front of it. When asked why he would have such a reaction, his response was: “Do you think I have not just cause to weep, when I consider that Alexander at my age had conquered so many nations, and I have all this time done nothing that is memorable?”
In 61 and 60 BC Julius made his mark in Spain, developing his reputation as a military commander by winning considerable victories over the Spanish Calaici and Lusitani tribes and even marching into the north west of Spain that had never before been subdued. After an eventful interim subduing Gaul and Britain he came back to Spain in 49 BC, by now a committed Populares, to defeat Pompey’s legions at the Battle of Ilerda. This was the occasion of the famous 27 day forced march from Rome to Spain.
He returned in 46 BC to fight Pompey’s sons Gnaeus and Sextus. At the Battle of Munda, near Osuna in Seville province Caesar, who in his own words, ‘always fought to win’, fought his ‘first and only battle for his life’ in 45 BC. Sextus garrisoned Corduba after his defeat and then fled Spain altogether. He later became a pirate preying on Roman merchant shipping in the Mediterranean.
Roman Forum – The Hub of Roman Life
The Pax Romana or Roman Peace was a period of relative peace throughout the Empire that lasted from 27 BC, the accession of Augustus to 180 AD, the death of Marcus Aurelius, a period that saw the Romanization of the western world. Spain, in particular Baetica, is often seen as the ultimate example of this process.
It was this period of peace that allowed the development of art, architecture, science, law, medicine, music and literature. Perhaps the greatest achievement of this age was the creation of the concept that ‘all men are equal under the law’, that they ‘have a right to face their accuser’ and should be considered ‘innocent until proven guilty’, concepts that were later written down and called the ‘Laws of the Twelve Tables’.
The Colosseum – Centre of Entertainment
Romanization simply meant that the local population were peacefully converted to the cultural and social practices of the Romans, including the use of Latin, and adopted their governing systems and architecture, farming methods and so on. One aspect of Roman life the conquered territories were not forced or even enticed to adopt was the religion of the Romans.
Roman tolerance of other religions came about because they believed that their many gods looked after them and that other gods looked after other nations and areas of the earth. This belief was born out as they conquered more territories and encountered more religions. In many cases if the new god or gods looked like being a good thing the Romans added them to their own pantheon. The more the merrier, literally, since each god had a feast day. The Romans also believed that there was no after life. They were determined to extract as much pleasure from this life as they could and they were happy to allow the local population to share that pleasure.
It is this belief that allows us today to judge the size and worth of a particular Roman site. There were three main centres of entertainment, the theatre, the amphitheatre and the hippodrome. The Romans made sure that these places could, if necessary, seat the entire population. The hippodromes or circuses were built in major cities like Merida and used for chariot racing. The one in Merida could seat 40,000. Amphitheatres were round structures usually with subterranean passages, used for gladiatorial contests, displaying wild animals and other spectaculars. Amphitheatres are much more common than hippodromes, there are good examples at Malaga, Italica and Acinipo. Theatres were semi circular structures used for plays, poetry readings and concerts. They normally had a wooden stage. There is a nice example at Baelo Claudia.
Remarkably, given the Roman tolerance and desire to provide the entire citizenry with pleasures, there was one group of people who made such a bad impression they often made involuntary visits to the amphitheatre where they were put on the menu. It must have taken a lot to push the Romans to such extremes but the members of the new faith, Christians, managed it. They had diametrically opposite views to the Romans. They for instance believed that there was no pleasure meant for this life, that came later, after death, if you proved worthy enough. They believed in one god, which the Romans would have accepted, except the Christians maintained there were no others. Apart from the multifarious gods worshipped by the Romans that they were entirely happy with the Romans could not understand how the Christians could know theirs was the only god since there were huge areas of the world with unknown races and unknown religions.
The Christians also did not believe in personal hygiene. Contemporary writers repeatedly remark on the nefarious aroma surrounding Christians, their lank, untrimmed hair, their unwashed, unrepaired rags. The Romans would probably have managed to cope with all that, by staying upwind and ignoring them, if the Christians had not really pushed them too far. They not only preached that their god was a king they tried to convert everybody they came across. This the Romans could not accept. They had their king emperors, real people, and as far as they were concerned the Christians were inciting unrest. So they fed them to the lions, tigers and other carnivorous beasts in one last attempt to make the Christians happy. By making them martyrs.
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