Dec 31, 406 A.D. – “The Crossing of the Rhine”

 

One of the most famous and haunting tales of the late Roman Empire was the winter of 406 A.D. During this period, the barbarian incursions across the border into the Empire had begun to take their toll. In 376 A.D. the Goth tribes had crossed over the Danube, initially with Rome’s permission, to escape a new threat from the  the roving hordes of Huns which had pressured the Goths out of their settlement. After crossing the Danube, this refugee civilization had been cruelly exploited by the Romans, and in turn they took their revenge. In the Battle of Adrianople, August 9, 378 A.D.,  the hollow shell of the once great Roman military power was encircled by Gothic cavalry and surprised in a terrible defeat. The Emperor of the East, Valens, was killed in the struggle. The next Emperor, the virulently Christian Theodosius, allowed the Goth tribes to settle within the Empire itself. They actually served as a barrier and as troops for the Empire. However,  a Visigoth king named Alaric wanted more power, and he took his tribe on a rampage throughout Greece and eventually into Italy. Theodosius’ sons, Arcadius in the East and Honorius in the West, were left to deal with the situation after their father’s death. The Master of Both Services (Foot and Cavalry), Stilicho, a German-born Roman officer who wielded inordinate control of the West and Honorius himself, pursued and battled Alaric throughout the Balkans and Italy. Without a decisive battle, however, some even questioned Stilicho’s own loyalty to the Empire. Because of these battles, the critical troop detachments along the Rhine frontier were mostly withdrawn to protect Italy. This left Gaul critically exposed.

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Amidst this backdrop came the brutal winter of 406 A.D.  A restless hordes of Germanic Tribes (Franks, Burgundians, Macromanni, Vandals, Alemanni) and non-Germanic Alans were poised across the Rhine River from Confluentes (Koblenz) to Rufiniana (Heidelberg), ready to move into more fertile, warmer lands to the south. Their intention was to invade and settle into Gaul, Spain and eventually Africa. When the cold winter froze the river, on December 31, 406 A.D., they crossed and changed the map and history of Europe forever. This was the Fall of the West and the Dark Ages were upon it. Britain was cut off from the Empire, and eventually the entire western Roman Empire came under the dominion of Germanic Tribes. All that Marcus Aurelius and countless other Roman Emperors had fought against in those dark, Germanic forests had been for naught!

“This memorable passage of the Suevi, the Vandals, the Alani, and the Burgundians, who never afterwards retreated, may be considered the fall of the Roman Empire in the countries beyond the Alps; and the barriers, which had so long separated the savage and civilized nations of the earth, were from that fatal moment levelled with the ground.”  (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chap. XXX)

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As if to mirror the drama it was meant to portray,  “The Fall of the Roman Empire” began filming in Spain during the harsh winter of 1962-1963. Ironically enough, the Rhine froze over this year as well! This was one of the coldest winters in modern Europe. Stephen Boyd lamented about Sunny Spain at the time: “The snow is up to my waist–the temperature is around zero. I could take it if I could wear long underwear buy you can’t wear longies under a Roman toga!” (January 27,1963, Santa Cruz Sentinal)  See below for some snowy pictures during this abnormally brutal winter season.

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s-l500I highly recommend this novel, “Eagle in the Snow”, by Wallace Breem for a great read about the later Roman Empire and the Crossing of the Rhine. The tale follows a no-nonsense follower of Mithras, General Maximus, as moves from Hadrian’s wall to help fortify the town of Moguntiacum (Mainz) and the Roman territory west of the Rhine against the forthcoming Germanic onslaught. It’s a fascinating tale of the new Christian era, the loss of Paganism, and the changing world of the late Romans.

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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Stephen Boyd: Born to Play a Roman

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Anyone who has read this blog may have noticed I have a fondness for Ancient Rome and Greece. And I do – I have studied it most of my adolescent and adult life and is one of my great passions. One of the reasons I got into the history of that period was from seeing movies like Ben-Hur, Cleopatra & The Fall of the Roman Empire when I was a teen. So in honor of all the Romans I love to read about, I thought I would collect a few quotes from Stephen Boyd about Ancient Rome and the famous Romans he studied for many of the roles he played (or would have played). If anyone was born to play a Roman, it was Stephen Boyd.

Quotes about Mark Anthony/Cleopatra

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Never was any actor so prepared for a role. I had studied Anthony from every possible angle, reading everything about him I could lay my hands on. (July 11, 1961, Petaluma Argus Courier)

I am interested if Anthony is played as a warrior, as he was in the original script. But I’m not interested if he is only a lover. He can be shown as a warrior making love. But no actor can convincingly play a warrior-like figure as a lover. Marlon Brando found that out when he did Napoleon in ‘Desiree.’ (July 11, 1961, Corpus Christi Caller Times)

She (Cleopatra) was an ambitious housewife who dabbled in politics and who wanted Egypt to share the honors with Rome. So she romanced Ceasar, and they had a child. Then later with Anthony, with whom she had four children.

I love the Mark Anthony role; I believe the film will be a tremendous success. It’s not often you get to play a role summed up in the classic line: ‘Who lost Marc Anthony the world? A woman. (Screenland Magazine, July 1961)

Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon and Marcus Aurelius

And strangely enough, in a flash, the conversation veered off from romance to Stephen’s other interests: the science of cybernetics, self-hypnosis, and then to historian Edward Gibbon and his classic work, “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” as well as to the stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome! ….But far more goes into a role. He (Boyd) reads everything he can find on the period of the film, particularly if it has an historical background. Before he portrayed the evil Messala, and while he was working on “Cleopatra,” he immersed himself in Roman history. All this scholarly reading paid off, for once again he will be involved in the Roman Empire, but this time on a broader canvas. It was this reading which gave him an interest in the philosophy of Marcus Aurelius (Why, even Freud was influenced by him.) (Silver Screen Magazine, April 1963)

Quotes about Rome, Romans and Chariots

I may be tempted to settle down in Rome because I had such a big part in building the place. (September 17,1 1962, Standard Speaker)

Try walking down a street someday and make believe you’re a Roman. You have to walk like a Roman, talk like a Roman and act like a Roman. It’s much harder than just playing a modern man–then, all you have to do is act, but you don’t have to think about your walk or your costume or your speech. (June 26, 1966 Brownwood Bulletin)

Chariot racing cannot be mastered without complete muscular control. Enormous pressures challenge the driver every second of the way. To pull of galloping horseflesh, the weight of the Roman two-wheeler and unpredictable terrain features constantly threaten the charioteer. He must be prepared to react with violent resourcefulness to stay alive. (Salt Lake Tribune Nov 16, 1963)

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Stephen Boyd studies his Ancient Romans at the Prado Museum in Madrid before staring the filming of The Fall of the Roman Empire.

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Stephen Boyd at the Prado with statue of Nero (?)
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Stephen Boyd at the Prado viewing the statue of Agrippina, mother of Caligula
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Stephen Boyd at the Prado with statue of the Emperor Vespasian
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Stephen Boyd at the Prado with the statue of the Emperor Augustus

Stephen Boyd in Roman costume

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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Was Stephen Boyd the inspiration for this 1965 paperback artwork?

I came across this book in one of my many book store visits one day, and was startled to pick it up and see Stephen Boyd’s face on the cover! This Pocket Cardinal edition was published in December 1965, just around the time of “The Bible” and “Genghis Khan”. “The Fall of the Roman Empire had been out the year before. It seems that the artist took Stephen’s face and modified it (he did not include Stephen’s magnificent cleft chin, for example!) for the Greek warrior on the cover.

By the way, this novel “The Shining” written by Stephen Marlowe (not to be confused with Stephen King’s horror novel of the same name – so many Stephen’s in this post!) is an excellent ancient Greek novel written in a very Mary Renault sort of fashion. It is about a fictional character who is an actor turned warrior called Hiero of Marathon. Hiero gets caught in all sorts of Peloponnesian war adventures, including the siege of Syracuse and ending with Xenophon’s famous march of the Ten Thousand through Asia. There are some excellent character sketch’s of historical figures, such as Alcibiades, Socrates, Cyrus, Lysander and Gylippus.  It’s a hard one to find, but if you love ancient Greek fiction, it’s worth tracking down. And the added bonus- you have Stephen Boyd inspired artwork on the cover!

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