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Time of Opportunity

I'm always overjoyed to see the Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus. It was half of the topic of my thesis — the other half being the sarcophagus of Junius Bassus — and I have yet to see a more striking example of the form. I'm determined to be interred even a tenth so grandly.

The Roman Ludi Saeculares of 248 were an astonishing spectacle. Featuring exhibitions of hundreds of animals ranging from giraffes and elk to lions and rhinoceroses, as well as gladiatorial matches, banquets, and theater, the commemoration of the thousand-year existence of the city was intended as the greatest expression of Roman longevity ever shouted from the rooftops.

But while these festivities represent a date historians would eagerly dial into their time machines, the Roman Empire of 248 was anything but triumphal. The host of the games, Emperor Marcus Julius Philippus — more commonly known by his epithet Philip the Arab — was beset by scandal and whispered rumor. Not only had he overseen the death of his predecessor while serving as his bodyguard (awkwaaard), but he had also paid the Sassanids of Persia a tribute of half a million denarii to leave the Empire’s eastern border alone. In the same year as the millennial games, dissatisfied legions rose against Philip to appoint a new emperor of their own, spurring opportunistic Goths to flood across the Danube. Philip the Arab died in battle after fewer than five years as emperor. And that was considered an above average tenure for an emperor during the Crisis of the Third Century.

Barbarians. Famine. Civil war. Plague. Assassination. Inflation. Any game about Rome’s half-century of near disaster will have to grapple with a wide range of issues. And even though Wray Farrell and Brad Johnson’s Time of Crisis somehow touches on all of them, that’s only the second-best thing about it.

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