Posted tagged ‘Valentian I’

The Roman heritage

March 28, 2010

Today – March 28 – is a significant date as regards Roman history. On this day in 37 AD the new Roman emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus entered Rome to take up his throne. The event was seen as one of great significance and was greeted with major public celebration. The new emperor, who succeeded the eventually despotic and unpopular Tiberius, took a number of early decisions that cemented his popularity. That this did not last long may be clearer when we give him his more common name, Caligula. Within a short space of time he became unpredictable and cruel, a development sometimes now supposed to have been brought about by illness, perhaps syphilis. Increasingly mad, he eventually tried to appoint his horse Incinatus to the Senate. Eventually he was assassinated by members of the Praetorian Guard.

March 28 is also the date on which the Praetorian Guard, this time in 193 AD, assassinated another emperor, Pertinax, who only managed to reign for 86 days. The reason for his assassination was perhaps highly symbolic in the context of current Irish events: the Praetorian Guard had suffered a pay cut.

And also on March 28, in 364 AD, the emperor Valentian appointed his brother Flavius to be co-emperor. Their joint reign came at a turning point in Roman history, with the western empire beginning to fall apart; it would not last much longer.

The history of Rome is, as I frequently discover when I talk with young people, now largely unknown to the general population today, and yet it is hugely important to us. The general structure of western society, including Ireland, owes much to the Roman empire. Concepts of public administration, and the general legal framework, can be traced back to Roman practices and regulations. Furthermore the academic discipline of history was largely formed during that era, as were aspects of science.

It is perhaps time to restore Roman history in the public consciousness, as part of a move to widen our understanding of this important part of what we have inherited.