“The Fall of the Roman Empire”, 1964 – The Final ‘Sword and Sandal’ Epic

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The amazing cast of The Fall of the Roman Empire. From left to right; Anthony Quayle, Mel Ferrer, James Mason, Stephen Boyd, Alex Guiness, Sophia Loren, Christopher Plummer, Omar Sharif and John Ireland

The Fall of the Roman Empire was produced by Samuel Bronston, directed by Anthony Mann (el Cid) and filmed in Spain in the winter and spring of 1963. This is my favorite movie of all time, so I will say emphatically that I cannot be objective about it. I simply love it too much. The film not only has an outstanding international cast, incredible performances and an amazing musical score by Dmitri Tiomkin (that pipe organ introduction still gives me goose-bumps each time I hear it!), but it also features some absolutely stunning set pieces, realistic Roman battles, Roman architecture and stunning scenery. The Fall of the Roman Empire is actually a favorite flick among Roman scholars because it truly captures the mood and tone of Gibbon’s dark second century Rome brilliantly. Gore Vidal, in his book Palimpsest, says “the only ‘accurate’ Roman film that I’ve ever seen- in appearance that is- was The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” In fact historian Will Durant was on-set to offer his advise about the script. I’m sure he received a handsome paycheck to overlook some of the historical inaccuracies. Nevertheless this film is as close as you can get to a true depiction of Roman Imperial life in the 2nd century A.D (at least, Hollywood-style).  It is full of quandaries and conflicts, none of which are truly resolved. In my opinion it is a film that reflects a Stoic perspective on life itself.

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It contains an assorted of characters, all of which are flawed in one way or another; the philosophic emperor (Alex Guinness) who is idealistic and grand yet the father of a profligate son (Christopher Plummer); the daughter of the emperor (Sophia Loren) who is beautiful yet bitter and hateful towards her mother; the imperial son (Commodus) who not worthy of his father but who ends up ruling anyway, only to discover he is the bastard son of a gladiator (Anthony Quayle); the emperor’s advisor (James Mason) who is a philosopher himself despite being born a slave; and finally the Roman General (Stephen Boyd) who is loved by the emperor, his son and his daughter because he is a moral man and the ideal stoic Roman, but yet is a tacit force in the downfall of the Empire he so loves. Livius is powerless to control the events taking place around him, or at least unwilling to take power himself until no options are left. He walks away from his chance to become Emperor…twice! But after we see the kind of conniving and evil men in the political machine, do we blame him for giving up and walking away at the end of the film? Its questions like these which make me watch this movie over and over again. Besides that, it perfectly captures the Roman world teetering on the brink of the “Time of Chaos”, which would take place at the end of the Severan era around 235 AD, 55 years after the death of Marcus Aurelius.

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To summarize the movie, Marcus Aurelius, played superbly by Sir Alex Guinness, prefers to have the morally upright Livius to his corrupt son Commodus.  Livius is in love with the Emperor’s daughter, and his is good friends with the Emperor’s son as well. The Emperor reveals his desire to name Livius his heir to become the next Emperor. Livius i stunned – if not downright shaken by the prospect. He reveals this turn of events to none other than Commodus himself, who has just arrived from Rome. The revelation sinks into Commodus and produces taut friction between the two men. A stunning chariot race is the product of this tension which careens down the road of a steep mountain and alongside a rushing river. It has the shades, of course, of the famous “Ben-Hur” race, especially seeing Stephen Boyd in the mix, but this time he is driving the team of white horses!

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However, when the Emperor dies abruptly due to poisoning by a scheming haruspex (Mel Ferrer) without officially declaring Livius to be his heir, Livius is presented with a huge quandary. Should he stage a takeover and risk an ugly civil war and at the same time marry the woman he loves, keeping her from the King of Armenia? The risk is paramount: he would be doubted as the legitimate heir. ‘Caesar must be undoubted Caesar,’ he gently tries to explain to his love, Lucilla. So instead Livius does the only thing left for him to do. He presents the logical successor to Marcus Aurelius – his friend and already co- emperor Commodus – the the troops as Caesar. This ensures continued peace in the Empire and the undying loyalty of Commodus as well. Unfortunately, this choice comes at a huge cost; Livius loses Lucilla to an Armenian Prince (Omar Sharif) and he puts the power of the Empire into hands of the unstable and reckless Commodus. As Livius states: “There are only two possibilities, and both are impossible. That is a dilemma.”

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Once Commodus has consolidated his power, a battle of wills ensues between his favorite General – our Livius- and Timonides (James Mason) and the Senate concerning the settlement of German tribes within the territory of Rome and offering them citizenship. Timonides and Livius win the Senate, the barbarians are settled, but Livius’s defiance of Commodus’ wishes create a discord between himself and Commodus, especially with Lucilla’s scheming as well.  Livius is banished to a lonely patrol back up in the Danube. Commodus softens his stance after a while as a plague ravishes Rome. He invites Livius back to his confidence and construes upon him the task of quelling an Eastern Rebellion (which Livius will soon find out has been instigated by Lucilla herself, along with her Armenian husband (Omar Sharif). Livius is relectant (once again) to accept a position of high authority and tells Commodus, prophetically, “Do not give me this power.” Commodus disregards the warning, fatefully.

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After defeating a rebellion of the Eastern Provinces, Livius himself turns his army against Rome and ends up confronting his friend Commodus in a riveting hand to hand javelin battle in the midst of the Roman forum. Commodus dies while embracing Livius in a touching reflection of their earlier friendship. Livius rescues Lucilla from the flames of the burning sacrificial pier and carries the dead Commodus with dignity (and ease) up the steps to the Roman altar. Livius is offered the chance to be Caesar once again by the same men who had rallied around Commodus. In one of the best last lines of any film, Livius turns to them and says, “I don’t think you’d find me suitable, for my first official act would be to have you all crucified.” Fin!!! Queue the dark pipe organ music again as the camera sweeps upwards, following the billows of smoke carrying the ashes of Germanic people being burned alive at the stake, their cries of “Wotan Avenge Us!” echoing the revenge Germany will have in the final days of Rome starting with the Battle of Adrianople in 378 AD and ending when the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 AD, the beginning of the end for the Western Roman Empire. How can you not love this?

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The Fall of the Roman Empire is dark movie with a pessimistic, albeit epic ending. The marketing for the film was astounding – see here for all the many beautiful slides and booklets! It even had a theme song performed by none other than 1960’s top crooner Johnny Mathis. Because of its tone, or perhaps because of audience burn-out for Roman epics (the ‘Cleopatra” hullabaloo had just been released less than a year before), it failed at the U.S. box office, although it did well internationally. Another perspective is that the film was was released in April of 1964, just shy of five months after the John F. Kennedy assassination. A dark epic about the slow decline and collapse of Western Civilization did not serve as a good touchstone for the American public at this point!

With his blond locks and blue eyes, Stephen Boyd really does look amazingly handsome in this film. Boyd is more muted than usual in his screen performance here and some people would probably say it is a dull performance (compared to Messala in Ben-Hur) but I disagree. I have always loved Stephen’s quiet, thoughtful and powerful performance in this movie. Maybe it’s the blond hair; maybe it’s the regal way he carries himself in the Roman armor (has anyone ever looked more handsome in a Roman helmet?); maybe it’s the soft, gentle way he speaks; or maybe it’s the way he seems totally in awe of Sophia Loren. He has some truly tender and touching scenes with Italian super-star Sophia Loren. They look absolutely stunning together on screen as well.

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The script has its good and bad moments. Most of the actors were displeased, especially coming at the heels of some really excellent epic scripts like “Lawrence of Arabia”. Some of the dialogue reminds me of ‘George Lucas speak’. In fact some of the lines (especially in the romantic scenes) are used almost verbatim in Star Wars- Attack of the Clones and Star Wars – Revenge of the Sith. And the fact that you have Alec Guinness being about as Jedi as a Roman-philosopher-Emperor could be, I can’t help but see Star Wars-isms in The Fall of the Roman Empire as well.

It’s very fitting that The Fall of the Roman Empire, which essentially ended the ‘sword-and-sandal’ film era, would be the tacit inspiration 36 years later for Ridley Scott’s Oscar winning epic Gladiator, which kick started a whole new era of ‘sword-and-sandal’ movies in the 2000’s like The 300, Alexander and TroyGladiator seems to owe more to Spartacus than The Fall of the Roman Empire, but nonetheless it is a fitting conclusion to the amazing inspiration of The Fall of the Roman Empire. 

Enjoy Turner Classic Movie’s airing of The Fall of the Roman Empire on January 17th, 2019!!!

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Sword and Sandal – Thursdays in January on TCM

http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/1459193%7C0/Sword-and-Sandal-Thursdays-in-January.html

HOLY CAESAR!! Alert to all Stephen Boyd fans. Finally TCM is airing my favorite all time movie The Fall of the Roman Empire this month on January 17th. Ben-Hur is airing again on January 3rd as well! Strap on your Roman helmets and get ready to watch some amazing peplums. Maybe FOTRE will gather a few more fans….!

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The Gods and Religions of Rome

Happy Solstice, or Sol Invictus Day! Sol Invictus, or Invincible Sun, was a popular Roman solar deity which gained preeminence in the later Roman Empire courtesy of the Emperor Aurelian (and before him the Emperor Egalabalus). In fact, the first Christian Emperor Constantine initially was a worshiper of Sol Invictus as well. The ‘radiant crown’ of Sol Invictus was transferred to Christ and remained popular with Constantine and Christian Roman emperors thereafter in iconography and coins. December 25th (which used to be the solstice) was the celebratory date of Sol Invictus, and this date is still popular today as it was adopted by Christianity in the late 3rd century. So what other deities and religions were popular during the Roman Empire?

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The Emperor Probus ( 276 to 282 AD) and Probus, with Sol Invictus on the reverse

The Imperial Cult

The best way to start describing this cult is by the word Apotheosis, which means to become divine, or to reach divine status. In the summer of 44 AD, after the death of Julius Caesar, a great comet was seen in the sky. Using this imagery his adopted son Octavian (soon to be Augustus) developed a divine cult for Julius Ceasar, including temples and priests. Octavian himself was divi filius (“The son of a deified one”). This concept was common in Greek and Roman religion. Hercules himself had joined the Gods on Olympus after his death, and so did Julius Caesar. Octavian, when he became Emperor (or Princeps of the Republic), allowed cult temples made in the honor of his own divine genius. This genius, or divine spirit, is what was worshiped around the empire. Empresses too and the offspring of the Emperor would also be considered worthy of divine status. Of course this made sense to people in the empire, especially in the East. The Emperor ruled over most of the known world, and anyone wielding such power would of course be divine!

So when Messala tells Ben-Hur that the Roman Emperor Tiberius is God, the “only God” for the power he wields on earth, this is exactly what he means! Failure to worship the Gods of Rome (including the Emperor) is what led Christians into trouble in the 1st and 2nd centuries because lack of worship meant that this person (or persons) did not want to reap the benefits of divine favor to the Empire. It was considered political and social defiance. The Jews, because of their ancient religion, were exempt from worshiping the Imperial Cult and Roman Gods, but the Christians were not.

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“He is power, real power in Earth” Ben Hur, 1959
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As Sheik Ilderim in Ben-Hur says, “The Divine Tiberius is merciful as always!” Photo taken in London.
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rare Roman marble relief from the Julio-Claudian period, circa early 1st century A.D. It depicts the Emperor Tiberius standing before a seated Genius (a manifestation of his divine side) with the goddess Concordia between them as intermediary.

Some megalomaniac Emperors took this imperial cult worship a step further and declared themselves actual gods (not just the worship of their genius) while they were still alive. Such notables would be Caligula (whose memory was condemned), and Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius, who posthumously regained his divinity during the reign of Septimus Severus.

The modest and humorous Emperor Vespasian summed this all up best, I think, with his death-bed exclamation: ‘Vae, puto deus fio’ – ‘oh dear, I think I’m becoming a god. ’ (Suentonius, The Twelve Caesars)

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“You could have become a God,” Commodus tells Livius in “The Fall of the Roman Empire”

The Olympians

The traditional Gods of Ancient Greece were still the most popularly worshiped Gods in the Roman Empire. Jupiter, Apollo, Venus, Hera, Artemis, Mars and the like all had temples throughout the Empire in various manifestations. Many Middle Platonist‘s rationalized the worship of many Gods or the properties of God in their various guises or manifestations of the one God Logos, or Truth (see Plotinus, for example). The world is a place teeming with variety, so it makes sense that several aspects of Nature and Human Emotions and Passions are represented by the many Gods of Olympus.

Messala and Ben-Hur remember childhood games when they evoke “Down Eros, Up Mars!” to each other. Mars, or Ares, the God of War, would surely have appealed to a militaristic solider like Messala, as he was the god of strife and war. However it seems Eros, the god of sensual love and desire, could perhaps be the God Messala really wants to summon here?

 

Messala also offers praise to Jupiter before the chariot race begins. “The Roman people worshiped Jupiter more extravagantly and more frequently than all other gods; therefore, the worship of Jupiter is almost monotheistic. Jupiter was the most powerful and the greatest of the gods so much so that the Romans sometimes called him Jupiter-Optimus-Maximus. The Romans considered Jupiter to be the protecting entity of their empire, and they even believed that Jupiter would provide them with the greatest empire the world had ever seen.” (https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Roman_Culture/Roman_Myths/Jupiter)

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Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill in Rome from The Fall of the Roman Empire, 1964
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“Hail Jupiter and give me victory!” says Messala in Ben Hur, 1959

Stoicism

Philosophy could sometimes take on the trappings or demeanor of religion as well. If we take Marcus Aurelius, played so brilliantly by Alec Guinness in “The Fall of the Roman Empire”, and his Meditations, you can get a glimpse of some of the amazing philosophies of the late Roman Empire. Stoicism, founded by Zeno in Athens in 313 BC, matched the Roman mentality very well. Stoics were seekers after the Unknown God. They believed in Fate and Providence (hence they paid particular heed to Oracles and Omens). The God of the Stoics was the Creator of all Things, and obeyed the ‘natural law’. They valued above all things moderation, courage, justice, prudent self control and practical intelligence. Reason and living in agreement with Nature were the basic tenants of Stoicism. There is a world weary tone in The Meditations, but also hope behind the belief of a coherent, ordered, purposeful Universe.

If then, whatever the time may be when thou shalt be near to thy departure, neglecting everything else thou shalt respect only thy ruling faculty and the divinity within thee, and if thou shalt be afraid not because thou must some time cease to live, but if thou shalt fear never to have begun to live according to nature—then thou wilt be a man worthy of the universe which has produced thee, and thou wilt cease to be a stranger in thy native land, and to wonder at things which happen daily as if they were something unexpected, and to be dependent on this or that. (Meditations, 12.1)

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Alec Guinness as the stoic philosopher Emperor Marcus Aurelius in The Fall of the Roman Empire, 1964

Mithras

Last but not least we come to the mysterious Roman cult of Mithras, which displayed the Persian trappings of the ancient Zoroastrian God from Persia. The worship of Mithras seems to have come to Rome around the reign of Domitian and continued well into the 3rd century. Like the Eleusinian and Isis mystery cults, Mithraism also maintained secrets oaths and a hierarchy of ascension (seven ‘grades’ of initiation – Crow, Numphus, Solider, Lion, Persian, Heliodromus and Father). The grades of this hierarchy mirrored the regiments and order of an army, so this religion because popular with the Roman troops, especially on the Danube and the Rhine. The cult excluded women. It revolved around Mithras and his ritual sacrifice of a bull (called a tauroctony), as the giver of ‘seed’ and procreation. This sacrifice and be seen in many statues around the Roman world, showing Mithras (wearing a Persian cap), holding a knife and wrestling the bull. Out of the blood from the bull ears of corn or trees can be seen growing from the ‘gift’ of this sacrfice. Because of the celestial aspects of Mithraism, equinoxes and solstices also were important dates of worship including, once again, December 25th, the day if the solstice during Roman times. The ceremonies for Mithras were mostly performed in caves or underground chambers, many of which can still be seen today.

Religion is only obliquely referred to in “The Fall of the Roman Empire”. For example, the Emperor is a Stoic; his Greek counselor Timonides is a quiet Christian (he can be seen wearing the “chi-rho” symbol around his neck). However, our hero Livius’ religion is never revealed. In my opinion it’s most likely that Livius would have been a follower of Mithras. As a solider on the Danube, Livius would have been exposed to this religious sect and most of his troops were likely followers as well. Most telling of all, Livius’ friend, the Emperor Commodus, was “admitted among the adept and participated in their secret ceremonies.” (Franz Cumont, the Mysteries of Mithra).  Once the cult of Mithras found favor in the person of the highest imperial power it truly gained a reputation and following from the common solider to the highest aristocracy.  “Until the downfall of paganism the aristocracy remained attached to the solar god that has so long enjoyed the favor of the princes.” (Franz Cumont, the Mysteries of Mithra)

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Livius, a likely follower of Mithras in “The Fall of The Roman Empire”

“…Mithras had a militant character, always ready for battle, prepared to assist others in their fight for good and to bring them victory. One of the grades in the mysteries was called Miles, the soldier. The Mithraic cult was a form of military service; life on earth a campaign led by the victorious god. It is therefore little wonder that soldiers of all ranks in the Roman legions, orientals included, felt the lure of Mithras. Observance of the cult guaranteed assistance to all who pledged their lives to the Roman eagle. The assurance of divine aid on the battlefield, the military discipline and the taking of an oath as part of that discipline, were very important factors in the spread of the Mithras cult and its official recognition.” (http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Religions/iranian/Mithraism/m_m/pt3.htm)

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Mithras Head in the London Museum
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The Tauroctony, London Museum

So Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to everyone out there! And from me, a nod of recognition to the Ancient Gods – whether it be Sol Invictus, Mithras, Augustus or Zeus – as Messala would say, “In the Name of All the Gods!”

“The Fall of the Roman Empire” – Film Review and Photos

The Leaf- Chronicle, Clarksville, Tennessee – Jan 22, 1965

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A tender moment for Sophia Loren and Stephen Boyd in the Samuel Bronston epic production for Paramount, “The Fall of the Roman Empire” which opens Sunday at the Sunset Theatre. Boyd plays Livius, a Roman military tribune and Miss Loren is Lucilla, daughter of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Also included in the cast are Alec Guinness, James Mason and Christopher Plummer.

“THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE”

The long awaited Samuel Bronston epic spectacular, “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” opens Sunday at the Sunset Theatre. Starring such outstanding names as Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, James Mason, Alec Guinness and Christopher Plummer, “The Fall of the Roman Empire” is destined to become one of the great film re-creations of all time.

The story begins approximately 180 years after the birth of Christ. The Roman Empire is at the height of its glory under Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guinness), but after several years of warfare, Aurelius feels that his time to live is short and he must find a new heir to his throne.

Under normal circumstances the new Caesar would be Commodus (Christopher Plummer) his son, but Aurelius feels that he is not worthy and instead decides to name Livius (Stephen Boyd), one of his ranking generals and the sweetheart of his beautiful daughter (Sophia Loren).

This decision is well and good but before Aurelius can officially announce that he wants Livius to succeed him, he suddenly dies. Because there is no tangible proof that Livius is to be Caesar, Commodus ascends the throne and with his corrupt rule the Empire starts tumbling downward.

Sophia Loren is stunning as Lucilla, her performance ranging from poignant love scenes to intense drama, is superb. Stephen Boyd as Livius gives a powerful portrayal of a Roman general torn between the love for a woman and love for his country.

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Boyd with Anthony Mann and Sophia Loren on set in Sierra de Guadarrama

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Above FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE photos updated to Fall of the Roman Empire Gallery as well.

Part 11. “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Harry Whittington – Chaos in the Curia

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Sweat poured along Livius’ forehead. His heart beat erratically. He drew a deep breath, trying to control the irregular pounding of his heart, the spreading tension in the pit of his stomach.

He shook his head, moving his gaze across the faces of the senators, and they were like faces seen in a nightmare.

He stared at them, his voice lifting harshly, as though trying to waken them from their dream-state of unreality that seemed so serene to them and such a nightmare to him. “Hear me, fathers of Rome. The army is at the gates of the city!”

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The faces of the elders remained stolid, impassive. Livius licked his dry lips, ceased speaking. He realized something was desperately wrong, as if all reason and intelligence had been removed from this august body, leaving a motley gang of clowns to simper and giggle.

He glanced around, bewildered…

Livius stared at Commodus. The emperor lounged on the throne, a dreamy, half-contemptuous smile on his face…

Commodus turned suddenly, the wan, lost look gone and his face hard and chilled, unsmiling. He stared across the forum space at Livius.

Livius straightened, his gaze meeting Commodus’. He was ill because for the moment Commodus had won. Even the Roman senate had been perverted, debased, demoralized. They were so spiritless they failed to see they had signed their own death warrants and sealed the doom of their existence.

Commodus gestured toward Livius and from the foyer Cornelius and Praetorian Guards appeared. They marched toward Livius and silence settled across the curia.

Commodus and the senators watched in silent fascination as the Praetorians moved toward Livius. They flinched, startled, when a voice rang out across the chamber, cracking like some dry whip. Even the Praetorian Guards halted, staring at the aged Senator Caecina who had walked down to the place where Julianus and Niger had stood in the center of the forum.

In the chilled silence the old senator surveyed the faces of the other politicians wrathfully, letting his fiery gaze linger accusingly on each man.

His aged voice lashed at them, “What are you? Who are you? What have you let yourselves become? Heirs of a great empire. You have here today destroyed and despoiled your heritage. You are worse than the hordes of Vandals which stand poised to the north! You are worse than all the enemies of Rome who are armed on all our frontiers. You are traitors! Traitors!

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“You are traitors, each of you. Traitors not only to your nation–but betrayers of the whole civilized world and of centuries to come. Generation after generation will weep in misery and curse your memory. Cowards! You are cowards! Cowards who did not come forward when Rome called you.”

He moved his bitter gazed across them. He shook his head, “I will not leave to see the horror you have sown, the tumult and convulsive agony that will come after you.”

The Praetorian Guards, prodded by Cornelius, moved in both side of Livius and led him slowly toward the foyer.

Caecina stared at the guards surrounding Livius, heeled around, gesturing at the senate. “I will not live to see it, but you will!” He rocked himself, in terrible mourning, “Some day when the Vandals enter Rome–they will not find a city–only its tomb–for you have today killed Rome. Rome is no more!”

The old man swung around, gesturing at the senators and finally throwing out his arm, pointing at Commodus before the throne.

Julianus was standing a few feet away. He cried out in rage when Caecina pointed accusingly toward Caesar. He drew a dagger from his girdle and sprang suddenly, the knife upraised before the stunned gaze of the senate, and plunged it into the old man’s back.

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Caecina straightened, let his arm drop to his side. His gray head twisted, not to see who attacked him, but as if to look one last time upon the place where he had spent most of his long and honorable life. He staggered and fell.

Julianus wheeled around with the stained dagger and stood over the crumpled body. He lifted his voice, shouting, “Hail Caesar!”

There was a hesitation of less than a fraction of a second and the entire senate cried out in answer, acclaiming, “Hail Caesar!”

The Praetorians led Livius through the doorway and out of the curia. He glanced back only once, looking at Commodus. The cheers rang around the emperor, but Commodus, shuddering, was gazing at the dead body of Caecina.

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Part 10. “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Harry Whittington – A Filthy Task

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A detachment of Praetorian Guards met Livius, Claudius and Claudius’ aides at the bridge over the Tiber and accompanied them through Rome to the emperor’s palace on the Palatine Hill.

As Livius was escorted up the palace steps, he glanced out at the yellow eyes of Rome by night, the flickering candles and oil fires, the thick shadows and the glow of torches illumining the obelisks and temples. He was home and he felt as excited as a small boy.

Claudius remained with him as the Praetorian Guards escorted them across the entry into the state room where slave girls and the patrician youth of the city drank and laughed together. But as Livius came in sight, the laughter ebbed and silence spread over the place like a shroud.

Cornelius, the chief of the Praetorians, came forward, and led Livius along along the corridors to Commodus’ private chambers.

This suite looked out on the palaestra. as though Commodus was truly happy as long as he was in sight of the gymnasium and his gladiators.

The spacious room was softly lit by oil lamps suspended on delicate clains from the ceilings and walls. Commodus looked lonely, a brooding figure in the shadowy chamber. Behind him on the cavernous walls were huge maps of all the Roman provinces.

Commodus did not look up, seeming not to notice that Livius and Cornelius had entered his presence. Cornelius glanced at the emperor, then at Livius. He withdrew, leaving Livius alone some distance from Commodus.

Commodus spoke in low tones, “Oh Livius. My friend – my brother! Why did you leave me?”

Commodus descended from the throne, moved slowly toward Livius. Livius hesitated only a second longer and than rushed to him. They embraced fiercely, then parted.IMG_0013-007

Livius, only now looking at his great friend, realized how much he had missed Commodus and all he represented. Gazing at Commodus, he found it hard to credit all the rumors and whispers Timonides had retailed to him at Ravenna.

“I am alone, Livius.” Commodus’ voice was odd, ready to break. “This is a fiercely lonely place I exist in, Livius. I try to lighten my terrible burdens with some pleasures– music, gladiators, excitements–and terrible talk starts about me. I imagine you have heard much of it–even as far away as Ravenna.”

Livius smiled. “I’ve heard whispers.”

Commodus sighed. “And I suppose you disapproved, too?”

“I didn’t believe everything I heard.”

“But you disapproved what you did believe?”

“It was not for me to approve. You are undoubted Caesar. You must become disheartened, tired–”

“Oh, I do, Livius, you’ll never know how tired I become. If it were not for my pleasures, I couldn’t endure it all…Still, I can see by your face that you don’t apporove.”

“You can’t see that, Commodus, for it is not there in my face. I have no right to censure you. You do not live as I would, but your tastes are not mine.”

“How I’ve missed you, Livius! Why can’t the world understand me as you do?”

Livius didn’t speak, and Commodus persisted. “What’s the mater, Livius, is it my fault the world does not understand?”

Livius shrugged.

“I need you here, Livius,. I am so alone. There is no one like you. No one I can trust. No one I can talk to, ask advice, speak my heart to. They all want something of me. I can never know what they’re thinking.” He smiled at Livius, great love showing in his face. “Only you, when you speak, I know it’s the truth–and for my good.”

“I have not wanted to be away, Commodus.” He spoke tensely. “I have been isolated. I have hear only rumors. What really has happened?”

Commodus’ face shadowed, tightening in helpless frustration. He spoke in a whisper. “Rebellion– the whole East has rebelled. Syria, Egypt.”

Livius shook his head, staggered. “Syria? Egypt? That is Virgilianus, Marcellus. It cannot be! They were soldiers with me. They were the most loyal.”

Commodus laughed in rage.

“They were loyal to my father. Now they are raising armies against me–against Rome.” he glared about him, eyes bitter. “They’re always hated me. Marcellus. Virgilianus. They’re waited all these years for the right moment.”

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Livius turned away, prowling the huge room as though it were suddenly a breathless cage. He was deeply disturbed.

Commodus said, “Even Sohamus has joined them.” When Livius heeled around, scowling, Commodus peered into his face, studying it. “He forced Lucilla to flee with him.”

At the sound of Lucilla’s name, Livius felt something flare inside him and he winced as if an old wound that had lain dormant were suddenly ripped open, raw and bleeding.

Commodus stared into his face. “And there is more, Livius. More I haven’t told you. The rebellion is spreading in your name.”

“What?”

Livius looking squarely at Commodus, their gazes clashing. In the deep silence, the remove sounds of the palaestra filtered through the heavily curtained windows.

At last Livius said in a quiet, hard voice, “Rebellion cannot be made in my name, Commodus.”

“Yet they are using it that way. Your name has spread over the whole East–as the new Caesar.” His mouth taut, Commodus quoted, ” ‘Bring in the new Rome–the Rome of Livius Gaius Metellus.’ And now there are echoes of that same cry in the North and West. Do you say you have not even heard it?”

“I do say that, Commodus. I remain loyal to my country, my Caesar, my oath.” He prowled the carpeting, staring at the map of the provinces, the shadowed walls, the old lamps, the emperor waiting. He heeled around, mouth bitter. “Why did you recall me, Commodus?”

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“I wanted to hear from your own mouth that you loved me still, Livius.”

“You knew that.”

“The whispers are shouts, the rebellion is real, growing.”

“Why do you call on me, Commodus? Where is your Eastern Army?

There was a protracted silence. At last, as Livius waited tensely, Commodus gave a weary gesture of his hand. “Our Roman legionnaires have been so long in the East, they are no longer Roman.” His voice lowered, becoming almost inaudible. “The Eastern Army has gone over to the rebels.”

Livius retreated as if struck physically, staggered by this news. Commodus straightened, eyes bitter. “Why do I call on you, Livius? Because you are the only man the Northern Army will follow in battles against–other Roman legions.”

Livius stared at the emperor inn the thick silence. At least he said, “This is a filthy task you impose on me–to throw Roman against Roman.”

“It must be done. if the empire is to survive, it must be done. And even more, Livius. It will have to be as in the old days old punishing armies. Cities destroyed. Evey living thing killed. Before the rebellion spreads. Before our enemies attack. The whole world must know we have again become the Rome of old.”

Commodus waited, but Livius did not speak. Commodus lowered his voice to a wild, urgent whisper. “We are fighting for survival.”

Livius was shaken. “That Rome should have to fight for survival.”

“It’s true! I haven’t told you all. I–have to behead the chief of the Praetorian Guards and–give that head to the people of Rome to–to quiet them. We are in desperate trouble, Livius–everywhere. Even here at Rome. We must show them that we are strong, that we will destroy out own people if they oppose us.”

Livius barely heard him. “I’ve fought a dozen battles alongside of Virgilianus and Marcellus. They were my friends.”

Commodus swung his arm in a savage, cutting arc. “Friends? Jackals ready to destroy us. No. No. Destroy them! What other way is there?”

Livius stared at the emperor in the shadowed room, feeling his face ache with the ruts pulled into it. “What other way is there?” Neither spoke because there was no answer, they had said it all.

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Happy Lupercalia & “Fall of the Roman Empire” Magazine Photos

For Ancient Romans, today was a festival day celebrating Lupercalia! This was an ancient pagan ritual for cleansing the winter days and also to rejuvenate health and fertility in the land. After a religious sacrifice young Roman men would race naked, or nearly naked, around the Palantine Hill in Rome and strike young women in the crowd with leather thongs called februum (yes, February comes from this word!) in order to endow them with a health pregnancy, or (if not yet pregnant), grant them fertility, or so they believed. The word februa in Latin means “Purifications” or “Purgings”. So to honor the season before spring and to get the earth ready to be fruitful again, a fertility ritual like Lupercalia took place to welcome the season.

So, welcome Lupercalia!

Pictures below of “The Fall of the Roman Empire” taken from a French Magazine called Bonnes Soirées, April 1964. https://stephenboydblog.com/fall-of-the-roman-empire/

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