Roman Honor: The Fire in the Bones

By Carlin A. Barton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Stone and Ice
The Remedies of Dishonor

“What happens to you here is forever, ” O'Brien had said.

GEORGE ORWELL, NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR1

Being was ephemeral, but nonbeing was absolute. Valor was glass and fire, but humiliation was stone and ice. The captured Jewish generals were, according to Josephus, displayed on the triumphal floats of Titus and Vespasian frozen in the postures in which they had been taken (Bellum Iudaicum 7.139–147).2 Ovid's prostrate and defeated Phineus was turned to stone by the victorious Perseus in the very act of begging for his life (Metamorphoses 5.210–235). Every day in the slave's life was an exhibition of defeat; as Reginald Haynes Barrow expressed it, “To enslave an enemy rather than to slay him was a device to reap his labor, but it was also a way of enjoying a perpetual triumph over him. ”3 In the words of the tennis star Billy Jean King, “Victory is fleeting, but losing is forever. ”

____________________
1
Nineteen Eighty-Four, New York, 1963, p. 128.
2
Frozen images of humiliation, naked, bound, and defeated figures, were a common sight in Rome, especially in the Empire. A few examples: C. H. V. Sutherland, Roman Coins, New York, 1974, no. 351: a sesterces of Titus (80–81 C. E.) inscribed with Judea capta, showing a captive with his hands behind his back; no. 355: a denarius of Trajan (107–111 C. E.) with a bound Dacian; Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae, vol. 3.2, no. 8995: an inscription honoring Cornelius Gallus, surmounted by a relief showing a mounted cavalryman trampling a prostrate enemy. Suetonius describes a similar relief (Nero 41.2). See Jean Gagé, “La théologie de la Victoire Impériale, ” Revue Historique 171 (1933): 1–43, esp. pp. 28–31; A. C. Levi, Barbarians on Roman Imperial Coins and Sculpture, New York, 1952; Richard Brilliant, Gesture and Rank in Roman Art, New Haven, 1963, pp. 72–74, 96–98, 109–110; Paul Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, trans. Alan Shapiro, Ann Arbor, 1988, pp. 187, 230–232.
3
Slavery in the Roman Empire, New York, 1928, p. 2. The soldier, once defeated and captured, was irremediably dishonored. “Let them speak however fiercely, the spirit of the conquered has been diminished” (et quamquam atrociter loquerentur, minorem est apud victos animum [Tacitus, Historia 3.1]). “Wool died with purple never regains the hue it once has lost, … nor true virtus, once lost, cares to be restored to the diminished spirit” (neque amissos colores / lana refert medicata fuco, / nec vera virtus cum semel excidit, / curat reponi deterioribus [Horace, Carmina 3.5.26–29]). The color purple was the color of the blush, the color of the sense of shame. For the blush see part 3.

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