Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Fleshpots of Antioch

We have noted elsewhere George Haddad's very thorough and enlightening thesis at the University of Chicago in 1948. This took as its subject the social life and population composition of the ancient city.

As many have noted, Antioch was regarded as a place of dubious morals and multiple temptations to the weak of will. One of the most startling comments from ancient times on the corrosive nature of the Antioch laisser faire style was made by the Roman orator (and tutor to two emperors, Marcus Aurelius and Antoninus Pius),
M. Cornelii Frontonis, commonly know as Fronto. He left a collection of letters which can be found at this interesting site. Fronto happened to visit Antioch and made the following comments of the army in Antioch in a rhetorical outburst to his onetime pupil, Marcus Aurelius:

"The army when you took it in hand was sunk in luxury and revelry, and corrupted with long inactivity. At Antiochia the soldiers had been wont to applaud at the stage plays, knew more of the gardens at the nearest restaurant than of the battlefield. Horses were hairy from lack of grooming, horsemen smooth because their hairs had been pulled out by the roots ; a rare thing it was to see a soldier with hair on arm or leg. Moreover, they were better drest than armed ; so much so, that Laelianus Pontius, a strict man of the old discipline, broke the cuirasses of some of them with his finger-tips, and observed cushions on the horses' backs. At his direction the tufts were cut through, and out of the horsemen's saddles came what appeared to be feathers pluckt from geese. Few of the men could vault on horseback, the rest clambered up with difficulty by aid of heel and knee and leg ; not many could throw a lance hurtling, most did it without force or power, as though they were things of wool. Dicing was common in the camp, sleep lasted all night, or if they kept watch it was over the winecup. By what regulations to restrain such soldiers as these, and to turn them to honesty and industry, did you not learn from Hannibal's sternness, the discipline of Africanus, the acts of Metellus recorded in history ?"

Soldiers will be soldiers but the plucked hairs add further evidence of the triumph of the beautician's art as practiced in the Capital of the Roman East! Clearly it was not only those devious mimes of which one needed to be wary.

4 comments:

Charles Ellwood Jones said...

This thesis is in print and available for sale from ProQuest/UMI. Code No. AAT T-00410

Libanius_Redux said...

Thanks for that... I found a copy through a circuitous route a few years back. I would be grateful to anyone who knows more about George (or Jurj as I have sometimes seen it). I know he went on to be a museum director in Damascus and I have seen a short article he wrote on another Antioch linked theme (I think it was the Palace) otherwise another great Antioch scholar disappeared without trace..

Tulin said...

I'm an amateur. How do I get to an order page for ProQuest? Thanks.

Libanius_Redux said...

I got one through the library of NYU..