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How well do you know stories and events from Roman sources? [QUIZ]

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Bust of an older man – the so-called patrician Torlonia. Considered to be a likeness of Cato the Elder
Bust of an older man – the so-called patrician Torlonia. Considered to be a likeness of Cato the Elder

If there were no preserved Roman sources, our knowledge of ancient Rome would not be so complete. Some of the stories seem to be fantasy, others reflect the seriousness of events and present facts unknown to us. Check how much you know about the events from the Roman world described by ancient writers.

  1. When in 79 CE Vesuvius erupted, few people realized the tragedy of the situation. Pliny the Elder was a Roman explorer and official who set out to help the civilian population close to the volcano. How did Pliny the Elder come to help, according to the account of his nephew Pliny the Younger?
    1. Pliny the Elder was the commander of the fleet stationed at Misenum and sailed the ship.
    2. Pliny the Elder was known for his horsemanship, so he went on horseback.
    3. Pliny the Elder was in Pompeii at the time of the explosion and tried to organize the evacuation of more people.
  2. For hundreds of years, in Rome and around the world, the model of civic virtue was Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (“Curly”), also known as Cincinnatus. He was a patrician and Roman consul in 460 BCE. In 458 BCE he was proclaimed dictator of Rome by the Roman Senate during the war with the Aequi people. At what point, according to records, did the senators come to Cincinnatus and announce their election to him?
    1. While making love with his slave. The Romans were known for their love of sex.
    2. While plowing the field. Cincinnatus, as befits a true Roman, apart from public life, was engaged in agriculture.
    3. While writing a patriotic work that was supposed to raise the spirits of the fighting Romans.
  3. According to Pliny the Elder, already in ancient times, there was visible jealousy and disbelief towards other people if they achieved great success. A great example is Gaius Furius Cresimus – a farmer from Italy. He was accused of using witchcraft because he achieved large crops, and was therefore summoned before the aedile. When he arrived in the city, he was to say before an official: “Here, Roman citizens, are my implements of magic […]”. What did Croesimus take with him?
    1. His faithful and hard-working slave who managed his farm.
    2. A book written by Cato the Elder about running a farm (De agri cultura).
    3. Tools preserved in excellent condition and well-groomed and well-fed animals and servants.
  4. Scipio Nasica was a Roman politician active in the mid-2nd century BCE who was of distinguished aristocratic origins. Scipio Nasica, like every politician before the elections, once walked the streets of Rome and tried to gain the support of voters by courteously talking to ordinary citizens and giving them gifts. During his walk, he accidentally came across a man returning from farming, whose hands were extremely tired and hard. What did Scipio say that made him lose the support of the people and lose the election?
    1. “Roman, your hands weep over your fate”
    2. “By the gods, do you go on them?”
    3. “I’m glad Jupiter gave me a villa, rather than such hands”
  5. Polybius in “The Histories” describes the character of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the son of King Antiochus III the Great, who, after the defeat of the Seleucid monarchy in the war with Rome in 188 BCE, had to live in Rome as a hostage for over ten years. When his brother Seleucus IV Philopator died, there was an exchange of hostages and Antiochus IV was to take the Syrian throne, and Seleucus’s son went to Rome. Interestingly, Antiochus IV was so fascinated by Rome that he exhibited strange behavior, and the inhabitants of his country began to call him “crazy” (Epimanes). What was Antiochus IV doing?
    1. Walking around the city, he greeted passers-by and gave them gifts. Interestingly, he was dressed in a toga and behaved like Roman politicians seeking voters’ votes before the elections.
    2. He spoke Latin and dressed up as a Roman soldier, as he believed it was the perfect infantryman.
    3. In his free time, he went outside the city and farmed, imitating Roman models – a Roman devoted to agriculture.
  6. Scipio Metellus, after the death of his father-in-law Pompey the Great, continued the fight against Julius Caesar in Africa. Once, while traveling to Spain, in 46 BC, his ship was attacked by Caesar’s troops. Without thinking much, he pierced himself with a sword and answered the questions of the enemy soldiers who boarded the unit about where the commander was:

    1. “There was a leader, there is no leader” – Scipio was famous for his jokes and sense of humor.
    2. “The commander is well” – he emphasized that it is better to say goodbye to life than to live without honor.
    3. “Certainly not on your board, traitors” – Scipio despised the commanders, which were fighting for Caesar.
  7. Pliny the Elder in his work “Natural History” describes horses and their ability to cooperate with humans. Pliny also tells an interesting story from the reign of Emperor Claudius (41-54 CE), when chariot races were organized in the Circus Maximus. During the competition, right at the start, the driver of the “white” team fell out of the harness. What did the horses do that made Pliny decide to mention this event?
    1. Despite the lack of a driver, the horses ran in the race and took first place.
    2. The horses stopped and took care of their master, demonstrating their affection for humans.
    3. The horses stopped and ran away from the arena so as not to pose a threat to other teams.
  8. In 294 CE King of Persia – Narses, son of the great Shapur I, led a surprise invasion of the Roman Empire. Galerius, acting as Caesar, used smaller forces to delay the Sassanid attack, waiting for the arrival of Augustus Diocletian’s reinforcements. Once, there was a battle at Satala. Roman troops unexpectedly approached Narses’ large camp and captured it by deception. How did Galerius achieve it?
    1. Galerius used rotting animal carcasses from the area and catapulted them en masse over the walls of the camp. This caused an epidemic and the surrender of the defenders.
    2. Galerius, taking advantage of the fact that a daughter of the defenders’ commander had a soft spot for one of his generals, persuaded her to betray the defenders and open the gates.
    3. Galerius personally chose two men and went with them to the gates of the camp, pretending to be cabbage sellers. There, while selling vegetables, he looked for weak points in the enemy’s fortifications and after leaving the camp, he pointed out the weak sections of the walls.
  9. Gaius Mucius Scaevola was a Roman hero who became famous for his courage. In 508 BC Rome was at war with the Etruscans, and Scaevola volunteered to kill the ruler of the city of Clusium – Porsenna – in his camp. However, Scaevola was captured by the Etruscans and decided to show his resistance to pain and strength. What did he do?
    1. He took a skewer from the table and stuck it into the eye, which he then placed before the king.
    2. He put his hand into the sacrificial fire and held it, showing no pain or suffering.
    3. He took a sword and wrote on his body, in Latin, “Republic”.
  10. In 171 BCE Antiochus IV Epiphanes, king of the Seleucid monarchy, tried to strengthen his state at the expense of weak Egypt. Therefore, he went to war, wanting to take advantage of Roman involvement in another region of the Mediterranean Sea. The Syrians began the siege of Alexandria when, in mid-July, the Roman envoy Gaius Popilius Laenas arrived at Antiochus and handed the king an order issued by the Senate to leave Egypt. King Antiochus said that he must consult his friends first. To his surprise, the Roman envoy reacted in such a way that the king decided to immediately act in accordance with the will of the Romans. What did Gaius Popilius do?
    1. He looked at the ruler for a long time and then laughed.
    2. He drew a circle on the ground around Antiochus with a stick of vine and ordered him to answer immediately.
    3. He approached the king and threatened him, pointing his sword.


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