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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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How the Log Cabin Became an American Symbol
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Many Americans have a special fondness for the log cabin, viewing it as the home of heroic pioneers, or at least a great weekend escape. But it wasn’t always this way. The log cabin was originally disdained here in America—and it took decades of pop culture and political shifts to elevate the structure to the vaunted status it holds today.

THANK THE SWEDES

While there’s plenty of imagery portraying log cabins in the English colonies of Plymouth and Jamestown (established in Massachusetts and Virginia, respectively), these depictions couldn’t be further from the truth. The English had no history of log cabins—they preferred more “refined” frame houses, and would sometimes squat in subterranean dugouts until they could be built. In fact, the log cabin was first constructed in the New World in the short-lived colony of New Sweden, established in the Delaware River Valley in 1638. Such structures had been around continental Europe for centuries, and the Swedish colonists were simply using a skill that had been passed down through generations.

Log cabins might have remained a Swedish anomaly in the New World had it not been for the German and Scots-Irish who adopted them after arriving in the mid-1700s. But none of these log cabins looked much like the quaint, cozy structures we revere today. They often had dirt floors, were crawling with lice and other pests, and were prone to drafts; as one traveler remarked around 1802, the gaps between logs were "filled up with clay, but so very carelessly, that the light may be seen through in every part." Yet as uncomfortable as these cabins were, they offered impoverished immigrants an invaluable slice of freedom. Cheaper and far easier to construct than finer homes, the log cabin thus became the go-to home for newcomers to the New World, helping millions of desperate refugees turn their dreams of settling in America into a reality.

But the practicality of the structure did nothing for the log cabin's public image, or that of its inhabitants. Benjamin Franklin wrote that there were only two sorts of people, "those who are well dress'd and live comfortably in good houses," and those who "are poor, and dirty, and ragged and ignorant, and vicious and live in miserable cabins or garrets." Dr. Benjamin Rush, Surgeon General of the Middle Department of the Continental Army and a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, said the cabin dweller was “generally a man who has out-lived his credit or fortune in the cultivated parts."

As for cabins themselves, they were generally seen as “rude” and “miserable,” and no self-respecting American would deign to live in one. Not permanently, at least. Cabins back then were temporary stepping stones meant to be abandoned once something better could be afforded; barring that good fortune, they were to be covered with clapboard and added to as the cornerstone for a finer home.

LOG CABIN PRIDE

But the log cabin and its inhabitants’ public image got a makeover after the War of 1812. The nation had just defeated the British for a second time, and Americans were feeling good, forging their own identity and distinguishing themselves from the old world. Log cabins—ubiquitous and appropriately rustic—started taking on an all-American sheen.

Soon enough, writers and artists were portraying them in a positive light. One notable example is James Fenimore Cooper’s 1823 novel The Pioneers, where the house of protagonist Natty Bumppo is described as being “a rough cabin of logs.” That scene in turn is thought to have inspired artist Thomas Cole’s 1826 painting, Daniel Boone Sitting at the Door of His Cabin on the Great Osage Lake. Together, these works helped spark an entire movement that saw the pioneer as a hero. Log cabin dwellers were no longer disdained for their rough edges; these same edges were what made them romantic and distinctly American.

A "Harrison & Tyler" woodcut used in the 1840 campaign
A "Harrison & Tyler" woodcut used in the 1840 campaign
Library of Congress // Public Domain

Similar shifts occurred in the political realm during the 1840 election. President Martin van Buren faced an uphill battle for reelection that year, and a politically aligned newspaper thought it could give him a leg up by launching a classist attack against rival William Henry Harrison: “Give [Harrison] a barrel of Hard Cider, and settle a pension of $2000 a year on him, and my word for it, he will sit the remainder of his days in his Log Cabin.” In other words: Harrison was an ignorant hick.

It was a lie—the wealthy Harrison actually lived in a mansion—but most of the public didn’t know it, and his rivals assumed voters would scorn Harrison’s poverty. They were wrong: Millions of Americans still lived in log cabins, struggling day-in-and-day-out, and they were not impressed. (“No sneer could have been more galling,” John McMaster wrote in his 1883 A History of the People of the United States from the Revolution to the Civil War.)

In no time at all, Americans rich and poor were displaying their Harrison love and log cabin pride by holding cabin raisings and patronizing specially-constructed log cabin bars, marching in massive parades with log cabins pulled by teams of horses, and purchasing heaps of Harrison-themed, log cabin-stamped merchandise, including tea sets, hair brushes, and hope chests. With his eye on the prize, Harrison gamely played into this fib, telling frenzied crowds that he’d rather relax in his log cabin than run for president, but that he had heeded their call to run for the White House. That fall, he won handily.

Though Harrison died 32 days into his term, his log cabin campaign became a reliable template for candidates in the years ahead. Franklin Pierce downplayed his family’s wealth in 1852, instead focusing on a brief time spent in a log cabin as a baby. James Buchanan did the same in 1856, and Lincoln’s log cabin youth was brought up consistently come 1860. “Like President Harrison, Mr. Lincoln has spent about one third part of his life in a log cabin,” one biography read.

"Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way" by Frances Flora Palmer
"Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way"
Frances Flora Palmer, Library of Congress

Log cabins became an even more persistent presence in the arts, culture, and commerce in the decades ahead, making cameos in iconic images like Frances Flora Bond Palmer’s 1868 painting Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way, in which the cabin is the symbol of an ever-expanding American empire. The log cabin also figured into tales high and low, such as The Log-Cabin Lady—a prescriptive memoir about escaping low-class drudgery—and The Log-Cabin Bishop, an uplifting account of a man who brought religion to the frontier. The Log Cabin Library dime novels even peddled swashbuckling adventures to young boys.

FALSE MEMORIES

Most powerful in terms of ingraining log cabin adoration in young Americans, though, were the scores of false histories that projected the log cabin back onto Plymouth and Jamestown. Historians of the late-19th century had heard so much about the log cabin that they just assumed it was key to American growth and expansion, leading to assertions like John G. Palfrey’s 1860 claim, “[Settlers] made themselves comfortable in log-houses,” and images like W.L. Williams 1890s painting, Plymouth in 1622. The latter shows the colony as a smattering of log cabins and was widely distributed to elementary school classrooms, cementing the image of a cabin-laden Plymouth.

A set of 1970s Lincoln Logs
A set of 1970s Lincoln Logs
Tinker*Tailor loves Lalka, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

From then on, the log cabin was portrayed as the ultimate proverbial rag from which the rich nation of the U.S. had emerged, as when historian Warder Stevens declared in 1916, “The story of America is written in log cabins.” It’s this tradition of myth-making and believing that inspired subsequent outpourings of log cabin nostalgia: Lincoln Logs in the interwar years, log cabin chic of the 1990s, and today’s reality programs showing urbanites fleeing to the woods.

These days, the log cabin is emblazoned on money and sewn onto flags; it fascinates modern artists like Will Ryman (who created a gold-resin-covered log cabin at the New Orleans Museum of Art); and it appears in music of all genres, from country crooner Porter Wagoner’s 1965 track “An Old Log Cabin for Sale” to T-Pain and Lil Wayne’s 2008 romantic rap “Can’t Believe It.” That said, perhaps the log cabin itself is the nation’s greatest rags-to-riches story; it went from being sneered at as a poor immigrants’ hovel to being revered as an American icon. Not bad for something that writer John Filson, discussing Boone’s home circa 1784, described as “not extraordinary.”

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Did Queen Victoria Really Save Prince Albert From Drowning in an Icy Lake?
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Not many British queens have also served as daring emergency rescuers. But when the moment arose, Queen Victoria was ready to save the day. In 1841, she saved her husband, Prince Albert, from an icy lake he had fallen into while skating.

The incident didn't need much dramatization when it was included in an episode of the PBS drama Victoria. It really was a life-or-death situation, and 21-year-old Victoria was the hero.

On a cold February day in 1841, Victoria and Albert, who had married almost exactly a year earlier, went for a walk around the gardens of Buckingham Palace. Albert, an avid sportsman who loved to skate and play hockey, strapped on his ice skates and headed out onto the lake. In a diary entry, Victoria wrote that the ice was smooth and hard that day—mostly. As he skated toward her, she noticed that the ice around a bridge looked a little thin.

"I, standing alone on the bank," she wrote in her journal that evening, "said, ‘it is unsafe here,' and no sooner had I said this, than the ice cracked, and Albert was in the water up to his head, even for a moment below." By her own telling, Victoria screamed and reached out her arm to him, holding onto her lady-in-waiting, the only attendant present.

Albert grabbed Victoria's arm and she was able to pull him to safety. He had cut his chin and was dripping wet, but returned home, took a hot bath and a nap, and was up a few hours later to socialize when their uncle Leopold (Victoria and Albert were first cousins) came to visit.

"Her Majesty manifested the greatest courage upon the occasion, and acted with the most intrepid coolness," an account of the event that appeared in The Times a few days later proclaimed. "As soon as the Prince was safe on dry land, the queen gave way to the natural emotions of joy and thankfulness at his providential escape."

Albert recounted his side of the experience in a letter to his step-grandmother, Duchess Caroline of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. "I was making my way to Victoria, who was standing on the bank with one of her ladies," he described, when "I fell plump into the water, and had to swim for two or three minutes in order to get out. Victoria was the only person with the presence of mind to lend me assistance, her lady being more occupied in screaming for help." (Both the queen's diary entry and the newspaper account give the lady-in-waiting a little more credit, suggesting that she at least served as an anchor for the queen as she reached out to the prince.)

According to The Times, the problem was bird-related. That morning, the groundskeepers in charge of the various waterfowl that called the lake home had broken the ice around the edges of the water so that the birds could drink. By the time the queen and the prince arrived, those spots had frozen over with a deceptively thin layer of ice.

Thanks to Victoria, though, Albert emerged from the incident with little more than a bad cold and went on to live for another 20 years.

Had Albert died that day on the ice, it could have completely changed European history. Victoria and Albert had already had a daughter, and the future King Edward VII was conceived around this time. If Albert had died, seven of Victoria’s children wouldn’t have been born—children who were married to nobles and rulers across Europe (during World War I, seven of their direct descendants were on thrones as king or queen). And if the future Edward VII hadn’t been conceived, Albert died, and everything else remained the same, it’s possible Kaiser Wilhelm II may have become the ruler of both Germany and the United Kingdom.

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