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Kicked to the Curb: 5 Romans in Exile

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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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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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WWI Centennial: Battle of Mărăști

By summer 1917 the outlook for the Allies on the Eastern Front was grim at best, as Russia descended into chaos and a combined Austro-German counterattack routed demoralized troops on the Galician front following the failure of the Kerensky Offensive, while everywhere the once-great Russian Army was rapidly hollowed by mutiny and mass desertions.

Against this gloomy backdrop, late July brought a rare and unexpected bright spot on the Romanian front, where the Romanian Second Army (rested, reorganized and resupplied after the disaster of 1916) mounted a surprise offensive along with the Russian Fourth and Ninth Armies against the junction of the German Ninth Army and Austro-Hungarian First Army, and scored an impressive tactical victory at the Battle of Mărăști, from July 22 to August 1, 1917. However the larger planned offensive failed to materialize, and Romania’s isolated success couldn’t shore up the crumbling Eastern Front amid Russia’s collapse.

Map of Europe July 22 1917
Erik Sass

The Allied success at Mărăști was due to a number of factors, most notably the careful artillery preparation, which saw two days of heavy bombardment of Austro-German positions beginning on July 22, guided by aerial spotters. The Austro-German forces were also deployed on hilly terrain in the foothills of the Vrancea Mountains, meaning their trenches were discontinuous, separated in many places by rough terrain, although they tried to compensate for this with heavily fortified strongholds. Pockets of forest and sheltered gorges also allowed the Romanians to advance in between the zigzagging enemy trenches undetected; on the other hand, the hills and tree cover also made it difficult to move up artillery once the advance began (a task made even more difficult by torrential rain, the familiar companion of the First World War). 

After two days of fierce, concentrated bombardment, on July 24 at 4 a.m. the Romanians and Russian infantry went over the top, with the Romanians advancing along a 30-kilometer-long stretch of front behind a “creeping barrage” of the type recently adopted by the French and British on the Western Front. With three divisions from the Russian Fourth Army supporting them on the southern flank, 56 Romanian battalions advanced up to 19 kilometers in some places – a major breakthrough by the standards of trench warfare. Engineers followed close behind to create roads bypassing the most inaccessible terrain, but unsurprisingly it still proved difficult to move heavy guns as the new roads quickly turned to mud in the rain.

On July 25 the Romanians began to consolidate their gains, spelling the end of major offensive operations during the battle, although smaller actions continued until August 1. The decision was prompted by events elsewhere on the Eastern Front (above, Romanian civilians look at enemy guns captured during the battle). The Battle of Mărăști was supposed to be part of a larger pincer movement by Romanian and Russian forces, including an attack by the Romanian First Army and Russian Sixth Army to the southeast, which were supposed to outflank the German Ninth Army from the southeast. However the disastrous defeat of Russian forces further north in Galicia and Bukovina, widespread insubordination in the Russian Army, and political turmoil in the Russian rear all combined to derail the Allied plan, forcing them to go on the defensive.

The victory at Mărăști was not fruitless: along with an even bigger defensive victory atMărășești two weeks later, Mărăști seriously complicated the Central Powers’ strategy for the remainder of the year, which called for knocking Romania and Russia out of the war before returning to the Western Front to finish off France. 

But the big picture was bad and getting worse, as hundreds of thousands of Russian troops deserted or refused to fight, effectively paralyzing the Allied war effort along most of the Eastern Front, while in Galicia the Austro-German advance continued. Florence Farmborough, a British nurse serving with a Red Cross unit in the Russian Army, described a typical day during the Russian retreat in her diary entry on July 25, 1917 (and noted the growing hostility of ordinary Russian soldiers towards the foreign nurses, representatives of the Western Allies, whom the Russians accused of leaving them in the lurch):

And then there came again that peremptory voice we dreaded. It roused us as no other could ever do, for it was the voice of Retreat. ‘Wake up! Get up at once! No time to lose!’ We started up, seized what we could and helped the orderlies collect the equipment. We were told it was a proruiv [breakthrough] on the right flank of our Front and that the enemy was pouring through the gap. The Sister-on-duty began to weep… Troops were passing quickly by in the darkness; whole regiments were there. We were given a lantern and told to stand by the gate and await transport. Some soldiers entered the yard swearing; we hoped they would not see us. But they did, and soon they were shouting ugly things about us. I too felt like weeping, but we had to keep a straight face and pretend that we had not heard… The soldiers who had always been our patient, grateful men, seemed to have turned against us. Now for the first time we realised that our soldiers might become our enemies and were capable of doing us harm.

This was not an isolated occurrence, but rather one small incident in a rising tide of insubordination and sheer chaos. Later Farmborough noted another encounter:

More soldiers went by in the darkness. There were no officers with them, they too were deserters. Curing and shouting they made their way along the highroad. We were frightened and crouched low against the fence so that they could not see us, and we dared not speak lest they should hear… The night was very dark and the confusion great. Wheels creaked and scrunched; frightened horses slid forwards by leaps and bounds; cart grated against cart; whips twanged and swished; and agitated voices shouted and cursed in one and the same breath... All around us were fires; even in front of us buildings were blazing. My driver said that some of the soldiers thought that they were already surrounded by the enemy.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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