Thursday, February 24, 2011

Monaco and the Roman Empire

During the time of ancient Rome and the birth of the Roman Empire the area of Monaco, while not central, was certainly not unknown. The region, the Maritime Alps, Liguria etc was conquered by the Romans but as with many places never totally subdued. In Monaco, the Port of Hercules went by that name far back into ancient times as the Greek historian Strabon recorded that, “In Monaco there is a temple dedicated to Hercules” and the Roman naturalist and author Pliny the Elder also wrote of the “Port of Hercules at Monaco”. Julius Caesar was quite familiar with the area and when he completed his conquest of Gaul he boarded ship at the port in Monaco for his return to Rome. The Ligurians were, for the most part, loyal to the faction of Caesar and even rebels fought for Julius Caesar in his war against Pompey the Great in spite of the fact that the area of Monaco and Liguria had not been totally pacified at that time.

As we know, Julius Caesar ultimately met a tragic and bloody end, murdered and betrayed by his friends, and his legacy was inherited by his young nephew Octavian who, in time, became Augustus Caesar, the first Roman Emperor. It was Augustus who completed the work of his great uncle in bringing Liguria firmly under Roman control. The Romans built a road to connect the area with the rest of the empire, a road which followed almost exactly the same path as the later narrow road connecting Menton and Nice; famous for being narrow and rather hazardous if one were not a veteran at navigating it. We also have the remnants of that famous bastion La Turbie, which would long play a part in Monegasque history in numerous disturbances and dramatic historical events over the centuries, which was built by the Romans to commemorate the great victory of Augustus Caesar over the Ligurians at that place. Today La Turbie is also the name of a commune in the French Alps-Maritimes department. The name comes roughly from ‘trophy of Augustus’.

Later in the history of Rome, after the reign of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, the rival emperors Otho and Vitellius fought a battle in the area over control of Monaco. Emperor Otho won three battles in the area but was ultimately defeated in what was called the contest “between Monaco and Lumone” and after addressing his troops took his own life. Vitellius, however, did not go long unchallenged as Vespasian was proclaimed emperor in Alexandria. He sent a trusted friend named Fabius Valens to Monaco but he was captured before he could reach the port by Valerius. Monaco then goes unmentioned in Roman history until the reign of Emperor Pertinax. Although today it is widely disputed, it was once asserted that Pertinax, the son of a slave and a charcoal burner before his rise to the purple, had been born in Monaco. Was Pertinax the one and only Monegasque Roman Emperor? We may never know for sure but he did built two fortified towers in Monaco to defend Port Hercules. His successor, Emperor Septimus Severus, also built fortifications in the region. We also know that it was Emperor Diocletian who instituted the persecution of Christians which led to the death of St Devote, patron saint of Monaco and the House of Grimaldi. Not long after the era of Roman rule came to an end and the time of the barbarian invasions commenced.
Even today the legacy of Eternal Rome remains very much on display in Monaco, flowing over the country with such ease that one can easily miss it. There is the language itself (French and Monegasque), the very titles of "Prince" and "Principality" come from the Latin princeps which was used as a title by Augustus. Traces of the Roman style can be seen in many of the monuments, villas and so on, the Roman Catholic Church remains the faith of the vast majority and even the throne of Monaco is very Roman in style, designed after the revival of all things Roman during the Napoleonic era in France. Monaco was also later associated with the Holy Roman Empire, successor state of the Western Roman Empire, and was ruled by the aforementioned French Emperor Napoleon who, from his laurel crown to his Imperial Eagles, very much tried to copy the style of the Roman legions and their caesars. Like all the rest of the children of western civilization, Monaco can be justly proud of their deep roots in the Roman Empire.

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