Portents And Divination: Themis, Iris, And The Goddesses Of Fate

The belief in portents and auguries was common before the modern era.  We moderns, comfortably ensconced in our towers of science and “rationalism,” are likely to view with extreme skepticism the notion that future events can be foretold.  Such a view would appear to some as a superstitious relic from a less enlightened era.  Or so we would like to imagine.

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The Brutal Siege Of Amida

The Persian king Shapur II (A.D. 309–379) decided early in his reign to recover by force several of the Roman Empire’s eastern provinces, especially the rich lands of Mesopotamia and Armenia.  In the year 359 he focused his attention on capturing the city of Amida; the city was located in the spot currently occupied by Diyarbakir in Turkey.  Its extended siege and dramatic fall are recounted in detail by Ammianus Marcellinus, whose account (Res Gestae XVIII.9) forms the primary source for the present article.  The historian was personally present during the siege and took part in its defense, and his account of the battle forms one of the most dramatic episodes of his book.

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Comment On Latest Article At Return Of Kings: Lawyer Hate Is Of Old Date

My latest article at Return of Kings takes an amusing look at an example of ancient anti-lawyer sentiment.  Not that anyone had any doubt about it, of course.

We take a look at an anti-attorney tirade that appears in Ammianus Marcellinus’s history, called the Res Gestae.  This phrase could be loosely translated as “Events” or “Chronicles.”  The full article can be found by clicking here.  

I wanted to address a question about something in the article asked by an astute reader.  Samuel B. Roberts (@SBRoberts10) asks:

Why do you suppose Ammianus’s [legal] scammers went after single men? Modern single men aren’t known for a propensity for lawsuits.

Good question, Sam.  The reason why the “forensic orators” of Ammianus’s day targeted rich widows and single men was because of the great importance of wills and trusts in Roman society.  The act of drafting a will and preparing one’s estate for the testamentary process was very important.

There was, for example, a certain type of woman (called a “legacy hunter”) who would target single men for resource extraction.  Think of it as the ancient version of a gold-digger.

If a scammer could get his fingers on someone’s legacy, or have a hand in preparing its documents, he could find a ready source of profit.  The testator left property on trust to an heir, who was bound to transfer the property to a person (e.g., a woman) by a certain date.

Then, as now, there were abuses of the system.  We probably should not take too seriously Ammianus’s complaints.  Against his scowling disapproval of the legal system, we find the exemplary guidance offered by Quintilian.

In every age, vices achieve the limelight, and goodness remains in the shadows.

Those wishing to read Ammianus can find his history here.