Gee, Caesar, What Should We Do About the Barbarians?

The love-hate relationship (one-sided) between Rome and the Germanic “barbarians” is very complicated yet very interesting. There are so many stories about Rome’s ransack of Germanic homelands and the heroic uprisings from the barbarians who almost took over the hub of the Roman Empire. Nonetheless, while the Germanic people wreak havoc in the city, surviving Romans gathered at the hill and was able to protect themselves with cunning deceits and its disciplined military, thus originated the meme — “when you bribe a barbarian tribe you bribe to get rid of a barbarian tribe you bribe to get rid of a barbarian tribe you bribe…(you know that this is going to go on f.o.r.e.v.e.r….or…maybe not)”. And this is how the Romans annexed the barbarian lands into their own provinces.

Over the time period 753 BCE to 476 CE, Rome’s relationships with foreign peoples reversed chronologically from a dominant power an unstable and declining empire. Rome’s change in power is directly relevant to its political shifts, which closely resembles that of a roller coaster — first it went upward. The escalation towards the peaks precedes the rapid downward gradient until it crashes to the ground. The early conquering of Germanic states was gory and violent, it laid foundation of enmity in the hearts of the barbarians. It raises up from the rules of the seven kings to a republic, around 500 BCE as Rome’s early expansion.

Then in 27 BCE, the establishment of the Roman Empire made way for a golden era of peace and prosperity, and that is when the roller coaster reached its peak. Rome’s superior power has become insuppressible, and the Roman Empire has had enough of bloodshed as well as warfare. As a turning point, Rome changed their approach to its conquered peoples, granting them Roman citizenships instead of treating them as war slave. In return, the subordinate provinces were willing to fight for Rome and acknowledged the Empire’s dominance and superiority (whether forcibly or voluntarily). Nevertheless, they fear Rome.

However, Rome entered its downfall in 5th century CE. The riders and citizens of Rome alike are screaming with shock and agitation against this quick turn of events. Along the downward slope, emperors came and died and was replaced by another, whether they were barbarians or natives, they could not survive the curse of the Third Century Crisis.

But who knew that a even greater danger was coming towards Rome amidst of this chaotic era?

The entrance of Attila the HUN, famous for his nosebleed, changed the relationship between the century-old nemeses. When previously, the two groups fought each other with contempt for their ill-treatments to each other “vanished” under Attila’s banners. The once glorious Roman Empire “bowed down” to the Germanic people and “humbly” asked for alliances to defeat the horrifying monster-from-the-east.  The Visigoths consented to Emperor Valentinian’s wish. The consent signified the decline of Rome’s military power, as it was insufficient to defend itself from the Huns.

Funny thing is, Emperor Valentinian’s sister Honoria once wrote a letter to Attila for help, as she expressed her love for Attila and her desire to escape from Rome. In return, she would give half of western Europe as her dowry. This scheme was uncovered by Emperor Valentinian, but it showed that Rome was not a unified state any longer, its internal instability helped the to ensure its faltering authority.

Eventually, Rome was sacked by the Visigoths few years after their “alliance”. The once omnipotent empire collapsed at the hand of its Germanic enemies.

-Kate L.

Film Review: Gladiator — When Rome Comes Back to Light

“There was a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile.” ― Marcus Aurelius

What was Rome like? Based on all the historical texts and books we read, and the movies and videos that we watched — extravagant and grandiose couldn’t be more pertinent here. In the magnificent villas surrounded by luxurious furnishings, rich men and women in crimson, indigo, and saffron yellow silk tunics were served with cornucopia and exotic dishes. Servants and singers chanted carmens and played tibias along with Roman poetry written by Virgil, Horace, and Ovid. A Roman bath at the end of the day and away from partying lives would be more than one could ask for…

Maximus Decimus Meridus made Rome’s march to victory against the barbarians possible.  He brought prosperity and glory to Rome and the Empire. Yet, the greatest General of the Roman Empire had not even set foot in this Xanadu once in his life. He was out on the battlefields when Commodus, the son of the Emperor, hid in the carriage. It was not because of Maximus’ bravery and excellence in war that earned him the trust of the man in purple, but it was his heart for the people that ‘persuaded” the emperor to give him Rome.

He declined. All he ever wanted was to return to his family. He turned his back from this beautiful city, the fruit of his accomplishment.

But…it was too late…

Fate seemed to detest a hero who did not follow the conventional path. No one would have thought Maximus would eventually enter the gates of Rome invited by vengeance. Sold as a slave who is “a father to a murdered son and a husband to a murdered wife, Maximus became a gladiator. Driven by intense grief and the desire for revenge, he fought his way to most grandeur fighting pit in all of history only to discover the truth about himself and Rome.

The reality was antithetical. Under the facade and the rule of a tyrant, daily lives of the people were casted over with a shadow of suffering and fear.  It is till then that Maximus understood why Marcus Aurelius trusted him instead of his very own son. The emperor’s words of responsibility, “To give power back to the people of Rome and end the corruption that has crippled it. ”

The story of Maximus’ return of power to Rome is intertwined with trust and betrayal, hope and despair, as well as love and camaraderie. Rome is the light of the world, but it can be dimmed if misruled. Is Maximus truly the one to bring back and turn on this light?

The ending is very sentimental (not going to spoil anything, just my personal feeling). But Maximus Decimus Meridus will be forever known by time as the general who became a slave, the slave who became a gladiator, and the gladiator who defied an emperor.

There was a dream that was Rome. It was light.

-Kate L.

The film Gladiator is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library