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Kicked to the Curb: 5 Romans in Exile

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Wikimedia Commons

Banishment from Rome was many things—a political trick, an act of revenge, and a terrible verdict even its best citizens fell prey to. When you own much of the known world, it’s easy to stick someone in a corner. Here are five people the Romans booted.

1. Agrippa Postumus

Exiled to: Planasia, 9 CE
Cause: It’s not quite clear
Recalled: Never

Agrippa Postumus (top) was Caesar Augustus’ grandson through his daughter, Julia. When Agrippa's father and brothers died, he moved up in the line of succession. The other option to inherit the throne was Tiberius, a man Augustus wasn't fond of. At 44, Tiberius was an experienced general, while Agrippa Postumus was a brawling, cavorting 15 year old. Like it or not, Augustus decided Tiberius was the better choice. The next year, Augustus sent Agrippa away from Rome and in 9 CE he permanently banished him to Planasia (now Pianosa), a minuscule island off Tuscany.

Under guard, Agrippa was forbidden any news of home. He died about the same time as Augustus in 14 CE, likely murdered on the orders of the now-ruling Tiberius. His mother Julia, also in exile, died shortly after.

And then ... he came back. A man claiming to be Agrippa traveled toward Rome in 16 CE, shoring up the lingering support Agrippa's father and brothers had built long ago. In reality, this was Agrippa’s slave Clemens. The man was fake, but Tiberius feared a very real conspiracy and executed Clemens later that year.

Agrippa Postumus may have been exiled for political reasons or simply because he was an uncontrollable wild child. But his exile and death (twice!) helped Tiberius hold the power Augustus didn't want to give to him.

2. Metellus Numidicus

Exiled to: Rhodes, 100 BCE
Cause: Revenge
Recalled: 99 BCE

Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus was, by most accounts, an aristocrat beloved by the common Roman. Even rumors of war profiteering in Africa, which were spread by his lieutenant Gaius Marius, couldn’t dim his popularity. Marius ended up taking Metellus’ consulship and command, but Metellus was nonetheless received by Rome in triumph in 107 BCE.

When he was elected censor in 102 BCE—which put him in charge of maintaining the census, supervising areas of the government's finances, and policing public morality—Metellus tried and failed to expel Marius' political ally, the tribune L Appuleius Saturninus, from the senate. 

Marius and Saturninus brought legislation that was deliberately offensive to the aristocracy. Metellus refused his oath and paid the necessary fine. After Saturninus charged him with treason, friends of Metellus armed themselves and prepared to prevent it. Metellus wanted no civil unrest on his account, so he told them to stand down and he went quietly into exile in 100 BCE.

In Rhodes, Metellus was able to study Greek philosophy and cultivate an interest in war and the arts far from the machinations of Rome. Saturninus was killed that same year, and Marius’ power wasn’t enough to keep Metellus away. Metellus' son called for the exile to be lifted, and Metellus Numidicus was recalled to a hero’s welcome, after which he retired to private life. A little time away can work wonders.

3. Gaius Marius

Exiled to: Africa, 87 BCE
Cause: Sulla
Recalled: He marched back in 87 BCE

Gaius Marius was once considered the “3rd founder of Rome.” Country-bred, Marius raised a successful army from Rome’s poor and landless and won five consulships through foreign wars between 104 and 100 BCE (in addition to his first, earned in 107). Only one other Roman had ever held six consulships. Nearing old age, Marius felt destined to break that record.

In 88 BCE, consulship over the war in Asia went to Marius’ one-time subordinate, Cornelius Sulla. Nearly 70, Marius wanted the command. A political tussle led to street fighting. Sulla lost, but he bet on the loyalty of his army, who refused Marius and followed Sulla into Rome.

No Roman had ever marched on the immortal city before, and the invasion was a struggle. Unable to pay his own army to fight for him, Marius sent his son to Africa and fled across Italy. Bad winds kept Marius from sailing. Separated from friends, he hid in a swamp until he was captured and held in a house in a town south of Rome. A German slave was sent in to execute him, but Marius’ loyalty to the poor and landless paid off. The slave ran away, crying, “I cannot kill Gaius Marius.” Freed thereafter, Marius found his allies waiting on an island off Naples.

They sailed for Africa and half were killed in Sicily when they stopped for supplies. When they reached Africa, they were denied entry. Disheveled and weary, Marius camped in the ruins of Carthage before finding his son.

Rousing a force of his old soldiers, Marius got a second wind. Besieging Roman ports on the way, he landed in Italy, adding freed slaves to his growing army. Joining forces with the ousted consul Cinna, Marius again marched on Rome.

Marius returned a conqueror, but in a fine display of passive-aggressiveness he declared he could not legally enter as a fugitive. Voting to repeal his exile began, but Marius got bored and entered anyway, his fanatical slave army killing at the slightest nod of his head. Cinna had to slaughter the Marians as they slept to stop the bloodshed.

Amazingly, exile restored Marius’ clout. Duly elected in 86 BCE, he finally earned his seventh consulship. Sulla was exiled and Marius died just weeks later.

4. Cicero  

Exiled to: Macedonia, 58 BCE
Cause: Executing citizens without trial
Recalled: 57 BCE

There were degrees to every banishment. Full exile stripped wealth and citizenship and would be a devastating loss. Cicero felt its sting at the hands of a noble he unsuccessfully charged with blasphemy, P Clodius Pulcher.

Cicero was well-respected, and in 63 BCE, he was named "father of the fatherland" for uncovering a plot against the state.

Using his own good connections as tribune, Clodius charged Cicero with executing the conspirators without due process. Cicero appealed, but the consuls were in Clodius’ pocket and mobs waited to uphold the guilty verdict with violence. Even Cicero's ally—and one of Rome's most powerful men—Gnaeus Pompey stood back.

Banished to Macedonia, his houses destroyed and lands dedicated to the goddess of Liberty, Cicero fell into a depression. In letters home, he despaired at the shame he had brought on his family. But people were sympathetic. Pompey needed Cicero back and had the new tribune, Milo, campaign for his return. Clodius’ thugs campaigned in opposition and days of street fighting ended only when Milo’s own gang guarded the senate while it voted for Cicero’s recall. Clodius cast the only vote against.

5. Ovid 

Exiled to: Tomis, 8 CE
Cause: He wouldn’t say
Recalled: Never

Getting kicked out of Rome was bad enough. Worse, sometimes, was where you ended up.

Ovid, a man about town and a poet with no political motivations, loved Rome for Rome. Famed for erotic poetry, he ran up against moral reforms that Augustus enacted. However, this might have been a smokescreen to punish Ovid for a less tangible “mistake.” Ovid writes it was not a crime but more of a "fault" that greatly offended Augustus and that it was not safe to talk about. Scholars agree it was something he saw or heard, perhaps entangled with Augustus' family life.

Tomis, a coastal town on the Black Sea, was wild and untamed. A rural exile for an urbane man was a twisted punishment. Ovid missed Rome's vines and orchards.

Technically, Ovid was not fully exiled, just “relegated,” but still able to keep his property. He left his wife in Rome to manage their estate and he addressed poetry to Augustus asking to be forgiven. Augustus was unmoved by his verse.

His early work was stripped from public libraries and his exile poetry was circulated privately. His most famous poem completed in exile, the Metamorphoses, ends, "wherever Roman might extends ... in my fame forever I will live."

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History
When Lexicographer Samuel Johnson Became a Ghostbuster
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Getty Images (Johnson) / iStock (ghosts)

Dr. Samuel Johnson is today best known for his Dictionary of the English Language (1755), which remained the foremost authority on the English language until the Oxford English Dictionary appeared more than a century later. The dictionary took Johnson nine years to complete, for which he was paid the princely sum of 1500 guineas—equivalent to $300,000 (or £210,000) today. Although it wasn’t quite the commercial success its publishers hoped it would be, it allowed Johnson the freedom to explore his own interests and endeavors: He spent several years editing and annotating his own editions of all of Shakespeare’s plays, and traveled extensively around Britain with his friend (and eventual biographer) James Boswell—and, in 1762, helped to investigate a haunted house.

Johnson—who was born on this day in 1709 and is the subject of today's Google Doodle—had a lifelong interest in the paranormal, once commenting that he thought it was “wonderful” that it was still “undecided whether or not there has ever been an instance of the spirit of any person appearing after death. All argument is against it, but all belief is for it.” According to Boswell, however, he was more of a skeptic than an out-and-out believer, and refused to accept anything without seeing the evidence for himself. So when the news broke of an apparently haunted house just a few streets away from his own home in central London, Johnson jumped at the chance to perhaps see a ghost with his own eyes.

The haunting began in the early 1760s, when a young couple, William and Fanny Kent, began renting a room from a local landlord, Richard (or William—sources disagree, but for clarity, we'll use Richard) Parsons, at 25 Cock Lane in Smithfield, London. Soon after the Kents moved in, Richard’s daughter, Betty, began to hear strange knocking and scratching sounds all around the house, and eventually claimed to have seen a ghost in her bedroom.

Richard soon discovered that William was a widower and that Fanny was in fact his deceased wife's sister; under canon law, the pair couldn't be married, and Richard became convinced that the ghost must be that of William's deceased first wife, Elizabeth, blaming William’s presence in the house for all of the strange occurrences. He promptly evicted the Kents and the noises soon subsided—but when Fanny also died just a few weeks later, they immediately resumed and again seemed to center around Betty. In desperation, a series of séances were held at the Cock Lane house, and finally Fanny’s ghost supposedly confirmed her presence by knocking on the table. When questioned, Fanny claimed that William had killed her by poisoning her food with arsenic—an accusation William understandably denied.

By now, news of the Cock Lane Ghost had spread all across the city, and when the story broke in the press, dozens of curious Londoners began turning up at the house, queuing for hours outside in the street hoping to see any sign of supernatural activity. According to some accounts, Parsons even charged visitors to come in and “talk” to the ghost, who would communicate with knocks and other disembodied noises.

But with the suspicion of murder now in the air, the Cock Lane haunting changed from a local curiosity into a full-blown criminal investigation. A committee was formed to examine the case, and Johnson was brought in to record their findings and investigate the case for himself.

On February 1, 1762, one final séance was held with all members of the committee—Johnson included—in attendance. He recorded that:

About 10 at night the gentlemen met in the chamber in which the girl [Betty] supposed to be disturbed by a spirit had, with proper caution, been put to bed by several ladies. They sat rather more than an hour, and hearing nothing, went down stairs, when they interrogated the father of the girl, who denied, in the strongest terms, any knowledge or belief of fraud … While they were enquiring and deliberating, they were summoned into the girl’s chamber by some ladies who were near her bed, and who had heard knocks and scratches. When the gentlemen entered, the girl declared that she felt the spirit like a mouse upon her back.

But the committee were suspicious. Betty was asked to hold out her hands in front of her, in sight of everyone in the room:

From that time—though the spirit was very solemnly required to manifest its existence by appearance, by impression on the hand or body of any present, by scratches, knocks, or any other agency—no evidence of any preternatural power was exhibited.

Johnson ultimately concluded that it was “the opinion of the whole assembly that the child has some art of making or counterfeiting a particular noise, and that there is no agency of any higher cause.” And he was right.

As the investigation continued, it was eventually discovered that Richard Parsons had earlier borrowed a considerable amount of money from William Kent that he had no means (nor apparently any intention) of repaying. The two men had a falling out, and Parsons set about elaborately framing Kent for both Fanny and Elizabeth's deaths. The ghostly scratching and knocking noises had all been Betty’s work; she hidden a small wooden board into the hem of her clothing with which to tap or scratch on the walls or furniture when prompted.

The Parsons—along with a servant and a preacher, who were also in on the scam—were all prosecuted, and Richard was sentenced to two years in prison.

Although the Cock Lane haunting turned out to be a hoax, Johnson remained open minded about the supernatural. “If a form should appear,” he later told Boswell, “and a voice tell me that a particular man had died at a particular place, and a particular hour, a fact which I had no apprehension of, nor any means of knowing, and this fact, with all its circumstances, should afterwards be unquestionably proved, I should, in that case, be persuaded that I had supernatural intelligence imparted to me.”

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The King of Kong © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery
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geography
The Mountains of Kong: The Majestic West African Range That Never Existed
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The King of Kong © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

If you look closely at a 19th century map of Africa, you’ll notice one major way that it differs from contemporary maps, one that has nothing to do with changing political or cartographical styles. More likely than not, it features a mountain range that no longer appears on modern maps, as WIRED explains. Because it never existed in the first place.

A 19th century map of West Africa
From Milner's Descriptive Atlas, 1850

The “Mountains of Kong” appeared on almost every major commercial map of Africa in the 1800s, stretching across the western part of the continent between the Gulf of Guinea and the Niger River. This mythical east-west mountain range is now the subject of an art exhibition at London’s Michael Hoppen Gallery.

In "Mountains of Kong," stereoscopic images by artist Jim Naughten—the same format that allowed Victorians with wanderlust to feel like they’d seen the world—reveal his view of the world of wildlife that might have existed inside the imagined mountains. As the gallery describes it, “he imagines a fictitious record made for posterity and scientific purposes during an expedition of the mountain range.” We’ve reproduced the images here, but to get the full effect, you’ll have to go to the gallery in person, where you can view them in 3D with a stereoscope (like the ones you no doubt played with as a kid).

Toucans fight a snake in two almost-identical side-by-side images.
The Toucans © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

Naughten created the images by taking two photographs for each, and moving the camera over some 3 inches for the second photo to make a stereoscopic scene. The landscapes were created by shooting images of Scottish and Welsh mountains and dioramas in natural history museums, using Photoshop to change the hues of the images to make them seem more otherworldly. His blue-and-pink-hued images depict fearsome apes, toucans sparring with snakes, jagged peaks, and other scenes that seem both plausible and fantastical at the same time.

The Mountains of Kong appeared in several hundred maps up until the 20th century. The first, in 1798, was created by the prominent geographer James Rennell to accompany a book by Scottish explorer Mungo Park about his first journey to West Africa. In it, Park recounts gazing on a distant range, and “people informed me, that these mountains were situated in a large and powerful kingdom called Kong.” Rennell, in turn, took this brief observation and, based on his own theories about the course of the Niger River, drew a map showing the mountain range that he thought was the source of the river. Even explorers who later spent time in the area believed the mountains existed—with some even claiming that they crossed them.

Two colobuses stand in a tree on a mountaintop.
The Colobus © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

The authority of the maps wasn’t questioned, even by those who had been to the actual territory where they were depicted as standing. Writers began to describe them as “lofty,” “barren,” and “snow-covered.” Some said they were rugged granite peaks; others described them as limestone terraces. In almost all cases, they were described as “blue.” Their elevation ranged from 2500 feet to 14,000 feet, depending on the source. Over the course of the 19th century, “there was a general southward ‘drift’ in the location,” as one pair of scholars put it.

Though geographers cast some doubt on the range’s existence as time went on, the Mountains of Kong continued to appear on maps until French explorer Louis-Gustave Binger’s Niger River expedition between 1887 and 1889, after which Binger definitively declared their nonexistence.

By 1891, the Mountains of Kong began dropping off of maps, though the name Kong still appeared as the name of the region. By the early 20th century, the mountains were gone for good, fading into the forgotten annals of cartographic history.

[h/t WIRED]

All images courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery.

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