When we think of Roman leaders, be them emperors or solely consuls, we visualize a sagacious face encompassed by a golden laurel wreath, a well-built body veiled by a stately toga and an aura of greatness which outlines their innumerable victories and fierceness. Resolute, forceful and cunning, they have ruled everything within their reach. Yet dazzled by this glorious conception we tend to forget they were just like us, people with abundant flaws and countless vices.
I consequently developed a list of less known facts which should provide you with a better insight into these seemingly resplendent lives and a sound acknowledgement of their concrete personalities. So let’s relinquish the limited view history manuals provide us with, and dive into the mesmerizing depths of Ancient Rome.
1. Sulla being picked up by a 25 year old when he was 60
Short before retreating from his controversial political career, 60 years old Sulla was relishing in a spectacle at the beloved Circus, the utmost entertainment of the time. Upon noticing a stray hair laying on the dictator’s toga, young Valeria heedlessly stooped and removed it with two fingers. Astonished by such recklessness he turned and incredulously gazed at her.
“Do not take offence, dictator, for I only wish a hair’s-breadth of your luck”.
Not long after this they were married, and she turned out to be the only disinterested love he has ever had.
2. Julius Caesar, the “cheeky bald head”
Perhaps renowned as the most distinguished Roman leader that has ever existed, Caesar had a minor flaw that has followed him throughout his life: he was semi-bald. Hence soldiers used to call him ‘moechus calvus’, which means ‘cheeky bald head’. Nevertheless he had a striking success with women, which made military men yell on the streets of Rome when parades took place: “Hey, men, keep your wives at home for the hairy allurer has come!”
3. An Emperor’s response to his city being on fire
One of the greatest fires that has ever struck mighty Rome occurred in 64 A.D., and was unimaginatively destructive. It began in the Circus and fanned by the wind, the conflagration swept the whole place. Then the flames hastily absorbed the hapless city.
While this was taking place, the eminent Emperor, Nero, was tranquilly dwelling in Antium, his birth-place. Upon hearing about the fire, he did not take any measures, for he preferred to do something more suited to his character: he sang. He went to his private stage and, comparing modern calamities with ancient ones, he sang of the destruction of Troy.
Of Rome’s fourteen districts only four remained intact. Yet the Emperor/Singer did not find this too discouraging, for he was thus able to build himself a new palace.
4. Julius Caesar captured by pirates and his conceited demeanor
Given his familial relation with the at the time despised Marius, Caesar was pressured to flee the city. While at sea, the still young Julius was piteously captured by some filthy pirates. The demanded ransom was of 20 talents of silver (about 40.000 £ today). The future Consul laughingly contested the sum, asserting that it was not enough for his value and subsequently asking for the sum to be raised to 50 talents.
While his slaves were off to collect the money, Caesar spent his time writing poems and speeches. He additionally treated the pirates as his subordinates, giving orders and even going so far as asking them not to utter a sound while he was asleep. After the ransom was payed, he instantly gathered a small fleet and got his money back as well as killed all the pirates who had been idiotic enough so as to remain in the same place even when Caesar had threatened them.
5. Nero was the first Emperor to perform a same-sex marriage
After his treasured Poppea died, Nero was sorrowfully wandering astray when he encountered a feeble youth who happened to resemble the defunct. Enthralled by the precise resemblance he decided to marry young Sporus right after he castrated him. Extravagant public ceremonies were held both in Rome and in Greece to celebrate the couple.
Apparently, this was not even Nero’s first same-sex marriage. He is recorded to having married a freedman Pythagoras, to whom Nero took the role of the bride.
Should you know any other captivating anecdotes, please feel free to mention them in a comment!