Sunday, October 18, 2009

Scalae Gemoniae.

I was reading at that today is the anniversary of Sejanus' execution for treason. Sejanus (occasionally, and properly, Seianus) was the head of the Praetorian guard and under Tiberius managed to establish huge control over the city of Rome, operating tyrannically with a legion of agents and informers that had the whole of Rome in fear. To my mind he's always been somewhat like the head of the Empire Gestapo.

In 31 C.E his conspiratorial plans were rumbled and reported to Tiberius who had the "partner of [his] labours" (Tacitus, Ann. 4.2) promptly executed. Cassio Dio tells us (58.11) that:

"By their order (The Senate's) he was executed and his body cast down the stairway, where the rabble abused it for three whole days and afterwards threw it into the river".

The stairway in question was the (in)famous Scalae Gemoniae or Gemonian Stairs. We have no record of their use prior to Tiberius, but it seems that they overtook the Tarpeian Rock as the favoured spot for bloody executions (the rock being "popular" during the Republic). From Tiberius onwards criminals would be strangled and cast upon the stairs for the people to desecrate their bodies, dogs to eat them and then after a few days tossed in the Tiber.

This interesting article suggests that the exact location of the stairs is unknown, but that they were near the Capitoline and were perhaps where the current Via Di San Pietro In Carcere is, which is a place I've visited during my time in Rome.

What made me especially interested in the stairs today (the anniversary of Sejanus' execution aside) is that they make a rather gruesome set piece in I, Claudius which I was watching recently. After Sejanus' execution (eerily seen from his point of view) he is tossed on the stairs and left to rot.

All in all it's rather harrowing, and goes someway to illustrate just how brutal ancient Rome truly was. Despite the overwhelming evidence of said brutality, it's a fact often overlooked as we study the humanity of the Romans or their achievements, but they were a gruesome lot, and the Gemonian Stairs illustrate that perfectly.

No comments:

Post a Comment