Thematic questions creative writing

– Who is Octavian and how does he come to power? What are some of the things Octavian does once he is in power? Why is Octavian so important in Roman history?
Octavian or Augustus as he later became known was the first Roman Emperor, the man who ended the civil war that followed the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Although adopted by Julius Caesar Octavian came to power after defeating his main opponent Antony and his ally Cleopatra of Egypt at the battle of Actium in 31 BC. He then established the Principate, in which he became the ruler of the Romans but as the first among equals and not as a dictator, a clever diplomatic move that aimed at establishing peaceful relations between Octavian and the nobility. Octavian was not important only for establishing the Roman Empire and ending the civil war. He was also the man who established the famous Pax Romana, the Roman peace, in all the Roman territories by fixing the borders of the Empire and beginning the process of equality of the provinces with Rome by giving the Roman citizenship to people outside Italy. He shared –at least seemingly- power with Senate and did not hold all the public offices in order to avoid possible coups or rebellions that would lead to another civil war. He gave pieces of land to thousands of veteran soldiers and created an equal system of grain distribution for the poor citizens of Rome. He reformed the justice system and was determined to implement it even if his own family was involved. With these reforms Octavian put the basis for the greatest period of Roman history, an era of peace and prosperity that lasted for more than two hundred years.
– What made the Colosseum such an important part of Roman life? What was its overall purpose? What are some of its characteristics?
The Colosseum, perhaps the most impressive amphitheater created by the Romans, began during the reign of Vespasian in 72 AD and was completed in 80 AD during the rule of his successor, Titus. The building is impressive in size, architecture and technology. The area used was symbolic as it was originally part of a park that belonged to the much hated Nero whose rule caused many serious social problems and clashes. The Colosseum was a place the vast majority of Romans could enjoy as it was where magnificent and often bloody spectacles (such as the gladiator combats that cost the lives of thousands) open to all were held. It was the perfect embodiment of the idea of “ bread and circuses” as a way to keep the masses peaceful. The oval shape and the stepped design allowed great view for all 50 thousand spectators the Flavian Amphitheater –as it was known in antiquity- could hold. At the same time the 76 exits, the various passageways and stairways allowed the easy circulation and safe exit of everyone inside. Technically the building could not have been created if the Romans had not invented concrete. Its interior skeleton is made of concrete and is based on a series of arches and arched passageways which intersecting created groin vaults. This construction helped to sustain the massive weight of the building and enhance its deep foundations. Underneath the central arena was created a second equally impressive structure with cages for the lions and other wild animals, rooms for the gladiators and special equipment that could raise stage settings, animals and humans. As in later times most of the limestone and marble from the Colosseum has been removed in order to be used in other buildings these features are now visible for modern visitors.
The exterior was made of a local limestone, called travertine and was divided into four horizontal bands which were decorated with Doric, Ionian and Corinthian columns. The fourth, highest band was decorated with Corinthian pilasters.
– Compare and contrast the Parthenon of Athens and the Pantheon in Rome in terms of construction, form, function, size and purpose.
The Parthenon was created between 447 and 438 BC by Iktinos and Kallikrates. It is situated on the hill of the Athenian Acropolis, it belongs to the Ancient Greek classical civilization and its creation was part of the great building project initiated by Pericles in 5th century BC Athens. The Pantheon on the other hand, was created six centuries later in Rome at the height of its Empire. It was a project of the emperor Hadrian and was completed in 125 AD. While the Parthenon has sustained various damages during its long history, the Pantheon is one of the best preserved buildings of antiquity. Both are big and impressive constructions. The Parthenon is a rectangular building created in the Doric order using the post and lintel technique. The exterior is dominated by Doric columns and a series of sculptural decorations with themes from ancient Greek mythology. On the contrary, the Pantheon is a circular building, a dome, constructed with concrete, a material unknown to the Greeks. While in the Parthenon light enters freely through the columns, in the Pantheon it can only enter from a small opening at the top of the dome. The Pantheon has however influences from Greek architecture, like the Corinthian columns that decorate the façade and the pediment on top of them. Both the Parthenon and the Pantheon were buildings dedicated to gods. The Parthenon was dedicated to Athena, protector of the city of Athens and was central of the cult of the goddess housing the cult statue. The Pantheon was also a temple, dedicated to all gods, as its name suggests. Both buildings signify the greatness achieved by the cultures that created them and this was the message their creators wanted to transmit to their contemporaries.
– Who is Paul of Tarsus? Why is he such an important figure for the development of early Christianity?
Paul of Tarsus was born Saul, the son of a Jew from Tarsus (a city in Anatolia) who had become a Roman citizen. Saul, a Roman citizen himself and a Pharisee, was initially involved in the persecution of Christians. However, this changed in the mid thirties AD when after claiming to have seen a vision of Jesus, he converted to Christianity and served it with passion for the rest of his life. It was at this time that he changed his name to Paul. Paul became a pioneer in establishing the Christian faith and in setting many of its doctrines and beliefs. Paul is believed to be the second most important figure –after Christ- in the creation of Christianity as an independent religion. Placing at the center of the faith the death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection as a symbol of hope, he distanced Christianity even more from Judaism. He rejected Jewish customs like circumvention something that helped make the new religion even more appealing. He wrote extensively about the new faith and the morality that should be observed by those converted to it. Furthermore, he travelled extensively for almost twenty years around the Eastern part of the Roman Empire and reaching even Rome itself in order to preach the new religion. Being fluent in three of the most important languages of the region, Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek, he was able to pass the word of Christ for the first time to great numbers of non Jews and establish his churches in every place he visited. It was thanks to him that Christianity left the boundaries of Palestine and Judea and spread to the Greco-Roman world.
– What were living conditions like for early Christians in the Roman Empire? How did this influence the development of early Christian art? Provide examples.
The early Christians lived in communities having regular meetings in churches, which at that stage were usually houses of members of the community. As the religion attracted more and more followers from all classes who denied vehemently paying any respect to the traditional gods of the Roman pantheon, several emperors considered the new religion a threat to their power and the stability of the empire. Persecutions began and the early Christians turned to the creation of their first buildings underground. The catacombs as they became known were extensive webs of galleries and chambers. In some cases the catacombs went five levels down, each layer connected to the other with staircases. They were used for the burial of Christians, among them many martyrs. They were also a place of refuge in times of persecution as their various secret passages and entrances denote. As a result, all early Christian art can be found inside the catacombs. These were mainly paintings on the walls of their galleries and chambers and pieces of sculpture. It was only after Christianity became the official religion of the Empire under the emperor Constantine in the 4th century AD that the catacombs stopped being used and Christian art became public. As part of a persecuted religion, early Christians often chose themes for their art that would not only convey the principles of their faith, but would also be symbolic of the expected salvation of their souls. For example, the story of Jonah, who was thrown in the sea, eaten by a whale but saved by God, is prominent in many early Christian establishments. The parallels with Rome, Christian persecution and eventual salvation in heaven are obvious. One of the most beautiful representations of the story of Jonah can be seen on the ceiling of the catacomb of Sts Peter and Marcellinus in Rome and dates from the early 4th century AD.