After the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 AD, his son Commodus commissioned a memorial column depicting the events of the Marcomannic War to honor his father. It’s a fascinating monument to the Emperor, and equally brutal in it’s depiction of the battle on the Danube frontier. It was inspired by the monument erected by Trajan documenting the Dacian Wars (101–102, 105–106) which stands today near Trajan’s Forum in Rome. There are some fascinating scenes of soldiers, barbarians, battles and the like. The most riveting image is the fascinating “Rain Miracle”.
Two famous miracles apparently occurred during the the year of 174 AD against the treacherous Quadi and Iazyges tribes on the Danube frontier. The first incident happened in June and the Iazyges and became known as the ‘Lightening Miracle”. It involved a thunderbolt which came from heaven and destroyed an enemy siege engine. The emperor himself was said to have summoned it. This incident was later commemorated with coin propaganda showing Marcus Aurelius with a thunderbolt in hand.
The other incident in July of the same year did not involve the Emperor directly but one of his generals, Pertinax (yes, the same mis-fortunate who would rule the Empire after Commodus’ death for about 3 months!) and a very intense battle his troops had with the Quadi. The Romans were apparently surrounded and desperately short of water (it was July, of course). A terrible disaster like Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (during Augustus’ reign) loomed. Preventing the Romans from reaching fresh water supplies, the Quadi were prepared to hold back and let the Romans die of thirst. Outnumbered, exhausted and thirsty, the Romans prepared for the worst. Then suddenly, out of a clear blue sky, a rain burst! The thirsty and thankful Romans captures the delicious rain from the sky in their helmets and shields. The gods were on their side! The Roman morale soared as the Quadi initiated their attack, the Roman soldiers apparently gulping water and blood in equal measures. Then riotous lightening strikes and hailstorms rattled the Quadi so much that they fled the field, leaving the Romans victorious. This was henceforth known as “The Rain Miracle.”
Several sources tried to proclaim the miracle as their own, including the Christians (who forged letters from the Emperor to try establish their link), Egyptian mystics, Chaldean priests and representatives of the Roman religion. The figure on the Aurelian column, however, looks like no specific god – it is a hoary looking Nature God with dripping outstretched arms who seems to encompass the carnage of battle around him. It was amazing to see this figure on the column in person!
When in Rome, one must visit the incredible Capitoline Museum. Below are some of my favorite highlights, including the incredible equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius; Commodus as Hercules; the Capitoline Wolf (the symbol of Rome) and the Dying Gaul, and incredibly detailed statue of a barbarian warrior.
While in Rome I also had the pleasure of celebrating Rome 2,772nd Birthday on April 21st! The Gruppo Storico Romano (a historical reinactment troupe) had a ton of amazing activities going on in the Circus Maximus, including a parade by the Colosseum, and a battle re-enactment of Masada/ During this battle re-enactment they played the “Roman March” from “Ben-Hur”, which just gave me chills. It was special – I captured a snippet below on my camera. Where’s Messala?!!
For more about this re-enactment group, see their Twitter account at https://twitter.com/Gru_Sto_Romano