The Flâneur

Miscellany > Calendrical Quiz > August


"Ah yes, that would be the brat formerly known as Octavian."

Thus, doubtless, might have been the view of Mark Antony had he managed to make it along to the coronation.

Difficult really to avoid the Romans this month given that it is named after one of them. When all around were apparently 'barbarians', they excelled in two fields that distinguished them from their neighbours, namely: politicking and military organisation. Augustus' Machiavellian nous was quite exceptional: truly a master of the art of lulling the competition into a false sense of security, getting them to play his game, pre-emption, the laying of traps, the chicanery, the knife in the back, the lubrication of the machinery of state with corruption etc. But who's complaining, at least it produced the Pax Romana (aka: Pax Augusta) and got the trains to run on time. Nothing much new under the sun, it's simply "the racket of the ruling class" (as Al Capone once expounded on the relationship between capitalism, politics and the law). Today, the Italians describe this talent as being 'furbo' (cunning), and they are delightfully unhypocritical about the contradiction, with the result that they turn out in droves to vote for the most furbo politico they can find on their ballot papers; this is quite in contrast to the mendacious, self-righteous protestations of moral rectitude that emanate from the great and the good of British politics, who have reduced turnouts to practically the same level as the divorce rate! It is also quite difficult to identify much that the Romans can take sole credit for actually inventing, with the notable exception of the professional army. This of course provided them with an ideal platform from which they could refine their skills in those noble arts of mass murder, rape and pillage, not to forget the enslavement of millions and the odd bout of genocide thrown in for good measure.

1 With reference to the last of the above, which despicable edifice, still standing today in central Rome, commemorates the notorious liquidation of the Dacians by the empire?

The following contemporary description perhaps best sums up what Rome stood for.

"Robbers of the world; having exhausted the world by their universal plunder, they rifle the deep. If their enemy is rich, they are rapacious; if he is poor, they lust for power; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. Robbery, slaughter and plunder they misname 'empire'; they make a wilderness and call it peace."

2 Who wrote this? Below is a picture of the chap to help you out.

But they didn't always have things their own way. Take the time when the infamous Roman property speculator Crassus figured the Parthians ought to be a soft touch for a spot of gold, and thereby having pillaged their lands he might be able to enhance his position downtown at the senate and within the republican triumvirate of himself, Julius Caesar and Pompey. Needless to say, the Parthians had other ideas. Despite being outnumbered four to one, the Parthians thrashed the Romans at the Battle of Carrhae/Harran. In fact, the Romans were never able to colonise Parthian territory, nor that of their successors, the Sassanians (the only enemies of Rome to actually capture an emperor).

3 Poor old Crassus: his son, along with 20,000 other Romans, died during the rout. He did get his gold though, how?

However, back to Octavian. As the adopted son of his great-uncle Julius Caesar, and along with being the main beneficiary of Caesar's will, he quickly and effectively plied his political talents with the result that soon after his adoptive father's murder, he became a member of the next great triumvirate along with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus. Antony and Octavian never really hit it off. But whilst Antony was a formidable commander of legions, he was no match for Octavian's political cunning in the senate (it should be mentioned though that he had become a tad distracted by Cleopatra at the time). Nor was Antony much of a sailor.

4 Ultimately Octavian prevailed on the high seas. Where?

Above is an illustration of the interior of the house to all the Roman Gods: probably the best preserved classical building still standing in Rome today.

5 What is the inscription carved upon the entablature above the entrance? (Here are some blanks to help you out)

"_ . _ _ _ _ _ _ _ . _ . _ . _ _ _ . _ _ _ _ _ _ _. _ _ _ _ _"

6 What is the connection between this building and Mark Antony's last battle?

Another individual who got Augustus' goat was not in fact a Roman, though he received his military training courtesy of them. He was a noble prince who hailed from a territory to the north - and which, like Parthia, was to become largely out of bounds to the empire.

7 Who was this highly successful leader, who drove Augustus to such distraction that the emperor neglected to shave, trim his hair or be seen in public for months by inflicting the worst military defeat upon the Romans since the Battle of Carrhae? Both Roman and English names please. (A clue: he is today commemorated by an immense statue in the Teutoburger Forest)

(Normal rules apply: one point for each correct answer plus one extra for fastest finger)

The Answers

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