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Caesar's birthday

Tomorrow is the 13th July – Julius Caesar’s birthday. For the Romans it was the third day before the Ides of Quinctilis. The Romans had no number zero, so they counted the Ides itself (the 15th) as one, the 14th was two days before the Ides, and the 13th three days before. In Caesar’s honour, Quinctilis was named after him.

I have always found it interesting that an army unit stationed in Dura Europos on the Euphrates in the third century AD was still celebrating Caesar’s birthday with the sacrifice of an ox. A calendar, known as the feriale duranum, lists the festivals celebrated each year. (A few people think the document is civil rather than military, but I can’t say I am convinced by this). Most of the emperors who were deified are mentioned. One of the more surprising inclusions is the birthday of Germanicus (24th May), the father of the Emperor Caligula, and a man who died young and was never emperor himself. This may just be a reflection of his popularity, although if so, it is striking that this lasted for two centuries. Alternatively, it may reflect a military association with his campaigns. If this is the case, then the tradition must originally have come from another unit – perhaps a legion – since the cohort on Dura was formed long after Germanicus’ death.

In the last few years I have gone out with friends to celebrate Caesar’s birthday, and hope to make this a tradition. We always go to an Italian restaurant, simply because it seems appropriate, even if the modern menus have little in common with ancient Roman cuisine. (Apart from that, I just like Italian food). It has been an enjoyable each time. One of the regular guests is a primary school teacher, so there is now a generation of children in a nearby town who know when Caesar’s birthday was. Tomorrow I have to be in London for a meeting, and it looks like I’ll be spending the evening travelling back home. We will probably have to do the Italian meal another night. However, if anyone is of a mind, it is a nice gesture tomorrow to raise a glass or spare a thought for Caesar. He has been good to me!


Last week I was in Rome filming for a National Geographic Series called Rome Unwrapped. We filmed in the Forum, on the Palatine, on the Capitol, and around the Colosseum. All great fun, with a really nice team from Atlantic TV. Here is a picture of the Arch of Constantine taken while we were waiting to be let up onto the Palatine.

Later that morning we filmed in the House of the Gryphons, which still has its early first century BC wall paintings. I had never been in there before, so that was really nice. Later, they found a bit of scaffolding on the edge of the Palatine which looked out over the Forum and filmed on that. I am not too bothered by heights, but had to kneel down so that the angle was right and the shot would have the Forum in the background, and that was tough on the knees. I ended up taking more than 300 pictures while I was in Rome, which just goes to show how trigger happy you get when you have a digital camera. I'll post a few more of these over the next few days.

A horse and a cow town!
My apologies for the exceptionally long silence. The initial cause was being very busy with work. This has been followed by taking a tumble while riding so that I now have one arm in a sling. It makes typing rather slow. In particular, it will mean that I will not be able to reply to e-mails to the site as quickly as I would like. Not much news, but I was in Brighton over a week ago and went along to the Komedia club to see the 'Hot Club of Cow Town' perform. It was tremendous fun, and I'd highly recommend the experience. Especially liked the song 'Reunion' which I am told is from their latest album.
Cleopatra and coffins

Another short posting this time, and one that is also rather behind the times. There has been a fair bit about Cleopatra in the news of late. The BBC showed a documentary which claimed, on the basis of no convincing evidence whatsoever, that they had found the tomb and skeleton of her sister Arsinoe IV at Ephesus. They aged the skeleton to 17, and while these things are not exact it certainly did not fit with her probable age when she was killed on Antony’s orders – middle to late twenties. Then an Egyptian team announced that they were hoping to find Cleopatra and Antony’s tomb. On the evidence released so far I cannot really see the basis for any confidence.

However, interesting though it would be to carry out a full scientific analysis, I must confess that a big part of me hopes that their remains are never found. There is something uncomfortable about looking at human remains in a museum cabinet, or indeed the knowledge that plenty of other bones are stored in their basements. Antony and Cleopatra were not the nicest of people – few famous figures from Antiquity were – but they had pretty turbulent lives, and I can’t help thinking they deserve a bit of peace. Not that I would not eagerly read the reports if they were found and analysed.

On a vaguely connected note, I happened to be looking at the Egyptian galleries in the British Museum just recently. A mother and a child of about four were there, and the little girl seemed very taken with the painted coffins. You could tell she really fancied the idea of sleeping in one of those. So in an impatient voice she suddenly asked, ‘When can we die, mummy?’

New Books in History interview

Just a quick post to say that earlier today I did an interview about How Rome Fell with Marshall Poe for his website New Books in History.

You can listen to it here

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