Dealing with Rome - Always a tricky business...

Blacksmith tombstone, York Museum Trust (Author photo)

When looking at Julia’s home town of Virunum in an earlier post, I sketched lightly over Roman involvement. Never a good idea… Seriously, it was a long relationship lasting from the 2nd century BC through to the 5th century AD.

Dealing with Rome

The Celts of Noricum had discovered around 500 BC that their local deposits of iron ore made superior steel, so they built up a major metalworking industry. Traces have been found on the Magdalensberg (the pre-Virunum settlement on the hill) of a major production and trading centre where specialised blacksmiths crafted metal products, including sophisticated tools and weapons.

By 200 BC, the tribes of Noricum had united into one kingdom, the Regnum Noricum. During the Republican period, the Romans discovered the high quality of the weapons coming out of Noricum and, never ones to miss an opportunity, started negotiations with the Regnum Noricum and its craftsmen.

The resulting trade agreements led to the kingdom becoming a key ally of Rome, benefitting from Roman military protection in exchange for the constant supply of high-quality products.

The proverbial hardness of Noric steel is even expressed by Ovid: “…durior […] ferro quod noricus excoquit ignis…” which roughly translates to “…harder than iron which Noric fire tempers [was Anaxarete towards the advances of Iphis]…”.

Erzberg today (Photo: CC licence, Gerald Senarclens de Grancy)

The iron ore was quarried at two mountains in modern Austria still called Erzberg (‘ore mountain’ in German) today, one at Hüttenberg, Carinthia and the other at Eisenerz (‘iron ore’ in German!), Styria, with only  70 km between them. The latter is the site of the modern Erzberg mine.

Back to Roman times… Noricum thus became a major provider of weaponry for the Roman armies from the mid-Republic onwards and a strategic asset that needed protection.

This was demonstrated in 113 BC, when the German tribes Teutones and Cimbri invaded Noricum. In response, the Roman consul Gnaeus Papirius Carbo led an army over the Alps to repel these Germanic tribes. He ambushed them near Noreia (wherever that was). Although Carbo had the advantage in terrain and surprise, his forces were overwhelmed by the sheer number of tribal warriors and roundly defeated. He was afterwards accused by Marcus Antonius (yes, that one) for losing the battle through incompetence. Convicted, Carbo committed suicide rather than go into exile.

Noricum (West). Circa 170-150 BC. Silver tetradrachm (21mm, 12.09 g, 12h). Kugelreiter type (Photo: Carlomorino CC Licence)

Roman rule

For a long time, the Noricans enjoyed independence under their own local rulers while continuing to trade profitably with the Romans. In 48 BC, they took the side of Julius Caesar in the civil war against Pompey – a savvy move.

However… (you knew there was going to be a ‘however’…)

In 16 BC, having joined with their neighbouring Pannonians in invading Histria, they were defeated by Publius Silius Nerva, proconsul of Illyricum – not such a good move.

For all its virtues, Rome was a robust military society which did not tolerate rebellion or invasion. As a result, Noricum was annexed and, although called a Roman province, it was not organised as such but remained a kingdom with the title of Regnum Noricum, yet under the supervision of an imperial procurator.

Antoninus Pius, Glypotek, Munich

For practical reasons, mostly trade and administrative creep, Noricum was fully integrated into the Roman Empire during the reign of Claudius and apparently the Noricans offered little resistance. It was only in the time of Antoninus Pius (AD 138–161) that troops in the form of the Second Legion Pia (later renamed Italica) were stationed in Noricum; their commander became the governor of the province.

Under Diocletian (AD 245–313), Noricum was divided into Noricum ripense (Noricum along the right bank of the Danube, the northernmost part of the original province), and Noricum mediterraneum (landlocked Noricum, the southern, more mountainous area). Each division was administered by a civilian governor called a praeses, and both belonged to the diocese of Illyricum in the Praetorian prefecture of Italy. But pragmatism often led to a praeses leaving fully Romanised local community leaders like Julia’s father to manage local affairs.

Noricum and Christianity

Saint Florian, Francesco del Cossa, 1473 (Public domain)

Rome’s many nationalities practised widely different forms of religion, but all priests and communities recognised the overarching authority of the emperor, especially as he was the pontifex maximus (chief priest) for the whole empire. Diocletian and his immediate successors strongly promoted the traditional Roman pantheon of gods.

When members of the Christian cult refused to make sacrifice to the established gods, which included deified past emperors, they were deemed by the emperor to have rejected imperial rule, i.e. committed treason. And treason tended to have only one outcome.

In AD 304, Florianus, a Christian serving as a high-ranking imperial military commander in Noricum who had amongst other achievements set up an extremely effective firefighting unit, refused to sacrifice and was executed. He was later canonised as Saint Florian and to this day is the patron of firefighters in the German-speaking world.

 

Traditional religion still flourished in Noricum and a new temple to the god Mithras, especially revered by the military, was dedicated in Virunum around AD 311.

Mithras relief, originally from Rome, now in the Louvre (Photo: CC Licence by Jastrow)

Only when Constantine (reigned AD 306–337) became emperor, and in practice only from AD 312, did Christianity begin to take hold in Noricum. By AD 343, there were at least five bishops with well-established circuits of congregations. By the end of the fourth century, statues of gods in the Virunum baths quarter had been destroyed.

In the fifth century, enthusiastic Christian mobs smashed the most important shrines and traditional temples throughout Noricum. Pagan cults survived in patches as late as the second half of the fifth century, but those practising the rites were officially shunned and courting death.

Proof of an early Christian church, whose existence had been presumed for a long time, has recently been found in the northern section of Virunum.

The transition from Roman to barbarian rule in Noricum is well documented in Eugippius‘ Life of Saint Severinus, providing information which could be used as possible examples in other regions where primary sources from the period are lacking.

———

Knowledge of Roman Noricum has been extensively documented by Géza Alföldy in his work Noricum (Routledge, 1974, rev. 2014) to which I am much indebted.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, is now out.

Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Julia's dilemma – Roman families, marriage and divorce in Late Antiquity

Detail from 2nd century sarcophagus
© Trustees of the British Museum

Our heroine Julia Bacausa’s problem in JULIA PRIMA is that she is caught between Roman law and Christian dogma; divorced legally under the first, but bound to her unpleasant (ex-) husband under the second.

The late Roman family inherited its basic form from the high empire. Monogamy was a strong cultural value, whatever the personal sexual behaviour of the spouses.

Late Roman law, following social practice, tended to recognise the nuclear family unit when considering the rules for marriage, guardianship and succession.

Christianity reinforced this but introduced two distinctive and revolutionary ideas: the doctrine of indissolubility of marriage and the ideal of sexually exclusive marriage.

The basics of Roman families

Familia in the Roman sense meant the legal group under the power of a paterfamilias, not only of biological descendants, but extended family including cousins, sometimes brothers, sisters, sons- and daughters-in-law, protégés and slaves. It was a complex organism, but the conjugal bond and parent–child relationships were at its core.

The marriage bond in classical Roman law was only lightly regulated by the state. Marriage was a relationship formed procreandorum liberorum causa (for the purpose of producing children); it required no formal ceremony or even property exchanges, only marital intent, consent from all those who were a party to the marriage (including the patres familias), and legal capacity to marry (age, degrees of separation, status and citizenship). Because mutual intent defined marriage in classical law, a marriage could be dissolved by either one of the spouses.

Family of Drusus (38 – 9BC), from the Ara Pacis, Rome. Author photo

By Late Antiquity, things had changed

Betrothals became increasingly formalised and enforced by public law; moreover, men began making a contribution similar to the dowry, the donatio ante nuptias, allotting part of their property as a donation to a conjugal fund. Already in the imperial period, men were known to have made engagement gifts to cement the process of contracting a marriage.

Third-century texts show that these gifts could be reclaimed by the man if the engagement was broken, unless he was responsible for breaking it off. At some point before AD 380, Roman legislators instituted a system in which betrothals were ensured by the exchange of earnest payments, called arrhae. Breaking the engagement entailed repayment of four times the arrhae.

Corbridge hoard, British Museum. Author photo

Whatever its origins, the practice of the donatio ante nuptias, the gift from groom to bride, extended rapidly over the fourth and fifth centuries. These gifts, which joined the dowry as part of the conjugal fund in the wife’s ownership, would be considered a form of insurance that was especially useful in situations where the man’s social position or social intentions were less than fully defined. The donatio functioned more like a safety deposit than a true exchange, since the property went to the wife rather than her natal family, thus remaining under the husband’s control unless he ended the marriage.

Constantine takes a step back (Quelle surprise!)

Bronze of Constantine’s head, Capitoline Museum, Rome. Author photo

Abandoning law and practice of centuries, Constantine issued his own regressive law restricting the grounds for divorce to the most heinous crimes. If a woman repudiated her husband for any other cause, she not only lost her dowry, but she was also deported.

Nevertheless, women could breathe a sigh of relief when during the later reign of Julian (AD 361–363), the classical regime of free, unilateral divorce was re-established. This is how Julia was able to divorce her unsatisfactory husband perfectly legally under Roman law. But it wouldn’t last…

Christianity’s enduring effect

However, the doctrine of indissolubility which prevailed in late Roman Christianity held that a marriage was the joining of two into one flesh which meant the early Christian Church strongly opposed both divorce and remarriage. Moreover, to discourage remarriage further, bishops could evoke the belief in an afterlife and insist that a couple joined on earth continued to exist after death. Divorce was therefore impossible, and remarriage would be considered bigamous, even for a widow or widower.

Elements of the traditional Roman marriage would go on to blend with Christian dogma, leading to the purpose of marriage being defined from Late Antiquity as ‘procreation, partnership, and preventing fornication’ (Isadore of Seville, Etymologiae c. 600-625). But easy divorce and the lack of need to have a blessing or sanction from the state or religious authorities vanished until the twentieth century.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, is now out.

Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

JULIA PRIMA is out today!

And here’s where you can see more…

Readers have urged me to tell the foundation story of Roma Nova. this meant jumping on a time machine and going back to the 4th century. (Channelling H G Wells…)

Not really, but it meant writing standard, straight historical fiction. And I loved it!

I burble on about JULIA PRIMA here: https://youtu.be/s0nhhQQQnl4

We all need a background, a sense of belonging, roots in the past. JULIA PRIMA is the first of the ‘Foundation Stories’ which will give Carina, Aurelia and the other modern Roma Novans theirs. And yes, there will be at least one more. 😉

If you’d like to watch the progress of that second book and keep up with other news, do subscribe to my newsletter. You’ll be able to download a free book containing a modern Roma Nova adventure plus a prequel to my contemporary thriller series.

In the meantime, enjoy JULIA PRIMA!

Available from Amazon   Apple   Kobo   Barnes & Noble  Waterstones  Book Depository

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, will be out on 23 August.