Exams: A few quick coping tips


Being a First Year Classicist at Cambridge does have its perks, among them, the fact that I have already managed to navigate the tricky seas of exams. However, many of my contemporaries are still firmly gripped by the throes of university exams, as well as A levels and dissertations. The following are just a few tips I have found in and around the web, as well as some home remedies to reducing stress during exams.

  1. Take Time Off- while this may seem like the last thing that you can do, giving your brain some time to switch off, will help your concentration both while revising and in the exam themselves.
  2. Don’t start revising too early- if you do, at some point you will become bored and your productivity and motivation will take a nosedive. Make sure you feel like you are peaking, not plateauing  at the time of your exams.
  3. Sleep- with study leave, no reason you cannot get a solid 8 hours. And if you can’t sleep…
  4. Convince yourself that you have had a good night sleep- if you don’t believe me check out this article:  http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/01/study-believing-you-ve-slept-well-even-if-you-havent-improves-performance/283305/
  5. Endorphins– these are the chemicals that released in your brain that give you that good feeling. To achieve this there are many options- swim, run, cycle, walk, or my personal favourite, dark chocolate.
  6. Be alcohol free- this will better your memory.
  7. Think of your goals- to remind yourself why you are doing this and to put you in a generally better mood, think of what your ultimate goal is, either a university place or job or anything else.
  8. Think of freedom-  this is the sweetest thought of all and hopefully should give a quick thrill.
  9. Read this blog- this is more of a quick 10 minute break that you should give yourself anyway during revision.

I sincerely hope that this help you in your trials this year.

Best of luck to everyone!

Tacitus has one message: look beneath the surface.


It is no secret that the Annals written by Tacitus were at least to some extent a criticism of the new regime that was instituted by Augustus, this is clear from the first chapters of the first book of the Annals. The characterisation of the other books of the Annals, which are not to be covered by this essay, demonstrate this even more, an effect greatly emphasised and achieved through the use of negative characterisation of the emperors and their acts. However, it is clear that one of his main messages is that to look under the surface of the change in government that has occurred with the beginning of the Principate and the rise of the Empire. This may be because the wool was being pulled over the eyes of the people as to the true nature of what the new government was. Nevertheless, it is not possible to consider this his only message within the Annals. Another one is that it is necessary to distrust power and especially people with power. The reasons for this are varied within Tacitus’ Annals and clear to such an extent that it could be considered as the main message in the first book of the Annals. A further possible message that Tacitus could be trying to convey in this first book is that history is a cycle, and that it will repeat itself and that it is necessary to heed history’s advice.

The idea that Tacitus’s writings have a hidden message which takes the form of looking beneath the surface of whatever version of the facts that people were presented with. The first evidence which suggests this is at the very beginning of the first book of the Annals, when he mentions that the histories of other emperors were “ob metum falsae”, or falsified through fear. Immediately he brings it to the readers’ and audience’s attention that whatever is written in history may not ostentatiously be the truth and therefore refers not only to other writings, but also to his own. By doing so, he may be alluding, straight away that in his writings there is a message which permeates throughout that is much deeper and much more significant than that which can be understood from the first reading. Continuing with the theme of how Tacitus aims to add layers to his narrative at the beginning of the Annals by directly telling the audience that Augustus’ rise to power was not as righteous as he attempted to portray. He first states that Augustus bought “militem donis, populum annona, cunctos delcedine otii” and in the chapter that follows declares that the only reason for promoting his relatives to powerful positions within government, for his “subsidia dominationi”. The message here is to look beneath the surface of the version of events that has been around since the death of the Augustus. It is suggesting that the events recalled in the RGDA are only a veil which has been drawn across in order to perceive the ‘republica restituta’ was only a title rather than a reality. This becomes even more evident in the beginning of chapter ten when it seems to be a direct comparison to the RGDA. Furthermore, Tacitus uses a speech and the soldiers react to it in order to further highlight the need to look below the surface, this is most clear with the phrase “sensit miles in tempus conficta”. Therefore, it is clear that while this is a very clear message that Tacitus is trying to convey in the Annals, it is not the only one.

Another message that it is possible to consider that Tacitus is trying to convey is that it is necessary to distrust power and especially people in power which ties in closely with the need to look beneath the surface. Tacitus puts emphasis on the fact that Augustus promoted “sororis filium” to very high office. The subtle message here is that there is a need to distrust the powerful, even an emperor, because of the corruption and favouritism which is rife within the powerful. This theme carries on when he mentions that “higher a man’s rank, more eager his hypocrisy” which again serves the purpose to show how it is necessary not to believe everything that the powerful say and do, because the line between the truth and lies is too blurred to be trusted. There seems to be more power to this argument because he seems to talk about all sorts of different types of power, relating it to both the ultimate power that  was the emperor but also about less powerful people, as just has been mentioned, like the senators and equites who have managed to gain money and influence.  The argument seems to be that power of any sort cannot be trusted straight away. Tacitus reinforces the point that power is to be distrusted because he quotes people as saying “filial duty and State necessity were just assumed as a mask.” While this does link to the fact that it was necessary to look beneath the surface to find the true meaning and purpose behind the actions of others, it more importantly relates to the fact the assumption of power by a single man, is to be distrusted because there is no way of knowing how he will act now that he has so much power, people must be wary of such individuals. Considering the precedent that was set with Sulla, Pompey, Caesar and other dictators or generals beforehand, it makes sense that Tacitus wants to accentuate the importance of the repetition of history. The range of power that Tacitus believes is necessary to distrust is further extened with attacks against the Senate who according to him “stooped to the most abject supplication” and “multa partum et in Augustam adulation”. By emphasising that the Senate could also act in such a sycophantic way, Tacitus demonstrates how even power has checks and can be as easily influenced as a group, just like an individual can. The argument is strengthened by the fact that this should not happen to the Senate, the ultimate sign of legislative power. The argument that Tacitus’ message is that one must distrust power s very strong because t is present throughout the book and takes many different forms, this may look like the strongest argument but there is still one more which has to be looked at.

The final message that Tacitus may be trying to advocate for is that history is a cycle and the events from  the past are the key to understanding events in the present or in the future. This is most clear when talking about succession and the events that immediately follow the ascension of a new emperor. First there are the murders of possible pretenders to the imperial purple, “primum facinus novi principatus fuit Postumi Agrippae caedes”; then came the huge largesses “quadringenties tricies quinquies” to the people of Rome; there was the possibility of military revolt, such as the one in Pannonia which he puts down to “nullis novis causis nisi quod mutatus princeps”. This is a pattern which can be traced from the first emperor to feature chrconologocallly in his writing, right up until the time when Tacitus was writing, with the fall of Trajan and the rise of Hadrian. There were more or less the same events accompanying the ascension of each new emperor. The audience reading this history would have recognised this pattern as being true, and would have subsequently taken any repetitive event as being a sign as to how events would play out in the future. This can be seen when Tacitus writes about the reasons for the hampering of Roman progress which essentially he puts down to problems of not being able to adapt to and deal with the foreign terrain that could be found in Germany. These problems never resolved themselves and constantly in non central Mediterranean climates, the Roman legions were hampered by unfamiliar climates and territories, most evidently in the Near East and on the Danube. By highlighting the shortcomings of the Roman army, he emphasises the repetition of history because he is indirectly accentuating the problems that would be tricky to solve in the present when he was writing and in the future of Rome as a whole. Repetition and precedent is further developed when Tacitus writes about “secuti exemplum veteran”. This is not an isolated use of the word for example, showing that there was always a clear and distinct reason for the way that people acted. However, this argument is weaker than the others that Tacitus is trying to convey because he himself mentions that “diversum omnium quae umquam accidere civilium armorum facies” which seems to suggest that there was something different about this round of massacres of agitators. However, when he goes onto describe them, they have an eerie resemblance to the proscriptions of Sulla, Caesar and Augustus, which gives reason to doubt the sincerity of Tacitus in this case.

Overall, it is clear that Tacitus has various message within the Annals book 1, even above the three that have been discussed. It cannot be said in the slightest that Tacitus only has one message, although inflections of it permeate through the whole work. It is possible to even consider the necessity to distrust power, and more specifically the supremely powerful, as a more important and obvious message that Tacitus is attempting to convey within book 1 of the Annals.

The Athenians were the only beneficiaries of their fifth-century empire


The Athenian Empire, is a topic which has been widely discussed among ancient historians, not in any small part about whether or not the Delian League, as it was originally known as by historians, can actually be described as an empire true and proper. However, this essay is not the place to discuss such technicalities therefore, for ease, this conglomeration of city states will be referred to as the Athenian Empire. The Athenian Empire that will be analysed shall be the one which began with the formation of the Delian League in 478 BCE and ended with the loss of Athens’ power with her defeat at the hands of the Spartans at the conclusion of the Peloponnesian War. The opinion which has long pervaded the history books is that the Empire was solely for the benefit of the Athenians and Athens and that it ruled over the empire with ruthless force and unbending cruelty. However, this may not completely be the case. In order to evaluate whether this opinion has any force, it is necessary to look at three different aspects of the Empire: economic benefits, military security and political and judicial benefits. Through these three features of the Athenian Empire it is possible to get a more complete picture as to whether or not the Athenians were the only beneficiaries of their fifth-century empire.

The main reason for the expansion and takeover of territories is for an increase in available resources and for economic prosperity. The motivation for an empire has not changed in the hundreds that have risen and fallen throughout history, therefore there is no reason to think that the Athenians were not driven by a similar to desire. Their empire had a system of tributes, one of which was a monetary one, the other was for ships. Ostensibly, it would appear that only the Athenians could benefit from such a system because the money was flowing out of the allies and into the hands of the Athenians, indirectly until the Athenians transferred the League treasury from Delos onto the Acropolis in 454BCE, which can be seen as passive aggressive attempt to fund their own building programmes. However, it is necessary to look deeper into the tribute system to understand whether or not the Athenians were the only economic beneficiaries of their empire. One point that is often overlooked is the nature of how the tribute was collected among the allies. An aspect of the tribute system is the fact that each ally was assessed before having to pay any tribute whatsoever. This means that it would only pay proportionally to its means, making it a much fairer system, demonstrating that while the Athenians were beneficiaries of their fifth-century empire, they were not the only ones. This is because while each ally had to pay a different amount of money, the access and trade that they benefitted from was also very extensive. While they had to pay in addition to the tribute, a certain sum for access to the sea, the revenue that was recouped from this access was more than cost efficient. Furthermore, there is reason to believe that the tribute system was based on the traditionally Greek taxation system, which as Croix highlights, that the in most cases “the tribute fell on the propertied classes”. This would mean that the majority of citizens would not have been as greatly affected as one might assume in the first place. Another possibility is that the poor may have actually been better off in the empire because in oligarchies they would have not been treated in such a proportional way. Nevertheless, it is overwhelmingly clear that the Athenians  benefitted grossly more than their allies with regards to the economy. Davies accentuates this because he mentions how “Chersonose- Lemnos- Inbro- Sagros” which were taken over by Athens during the formation of the Empire, created a perfect “corn route” from the Black Sea to Athens. This cannot be seen as anything other as a direct benefit to Athens. This is because, while it had naval power, it lacked, much like Rome, the capacities to grow enough corn for the whole population. Davies adds to this by mentioning the “takeover of fertile lands” in allied territory. This seems quite a despotic and tyrannical way to rule a confederacy, but quite expected from an empire. This sort of behaviour from Athens is repeated through various edicts such as a “restriction on leasing land” which is mentioned by Figueira, who gives it the name the Salamis Decree. The restriction was put on allied territories so that Athens could send out its own citizens there and then they could farm the land, which Finely estimated to have benefitted “8-10% of poor Athenian citizens”. Such behaviour has been described as a “remedy to poverty” because by reducing the population of Athens, therefore reducing the expenditure of the city itself, a clear indication that the Athenians were the only beneficiaries of their fifth-century empire. Another aspect of economics which has been previously alluded to is a tax on access to the sea, which has been quantified as “5% on imports and exports”, however, the same historian who mentions this, Figueira, claims that Athens had “no revenue from tax” from its allies. While this may seem a direct contradiction to the statement made, it is possible that it means that there was no direction taxation or tithe from its allies. This would explain this dichotomy. Finally, the Athenians benefitted greatly from their empire because they removed the right to mint coins from the allies and transferred that power directly into the hands of Athens. This is of huge positive effect for Athens because by controlling the flow of precious metals through its empire, it can control prices and inflation so that it is of greater profit to them. Therefore, it is clear that with regards to the economy and money, the Athenians did benefit a great deal more than its allies from the fifth century empire.

Another aspect of the empire which is important to consider and potentially one which supersedes the economic factors, and that is the military benefits of the empire. The two reasons for the creation of the Delian league in the first place were: first to repel any current or future Persian threats to Greece and the second was to rid the Aegean of piracy once and for all. Finley dates the eradication of piracy in the Aegean to no later than 466 BCE and Davies similarly states that the year 451 BCE was the year that “the hostilities between the League and the Persians ceased definitively”. This would suggest that the Delian League could have been dissolved after this, however, some historians would claim that this was the actual moment when the League became the Athenian Empire because Athens was in charge of the fleet, was receiving tributes and there was no longer a need to have such an alliance. This would suggest that at least in military respect, the empire was solely beneficial to the Athenians. The suggestion is supported by the fact that in the end, only two cities, Chios and Lesbos, remained as cities who gave the Athenians ships instead of a tribute. This would demonstrate how the Athenians had such military and naval superiority that there was no longer such an urgent need to increase the size of the fleet. Croix suggests that these naval tributary allies were “autonomous” however, this claim is easily dismissed because they were subject to exactly the same regulations as the others, for there is no evidence to the contrary.  Furthermore, according to Finley, one hundred ships, which was the number that was actively sent out, required about twenty thousand people. The population of Athens, of around thirty thousand could not have supported such a large number of ships alone, and therefore it “drew on metics” to complete the number of oarsmen that were needed. However, these did not come only from Athens, but from its allies as well. In order to maintain its naval superiority, Athens had to ensure that there were enough men to man the triremes, thus it had to use citizens from its allies which would show how the empire was solely beneficial to the Athenians. This is compounded by the fact that in times of war, it would be these people who were affected the most through casualties. By employing its allies, Athens ensured that the effect on its own citizenry was nowhere near as drastic as it could have been. Meyer also states that with regards to the military, the empire was an “Athenian instrument of compulsion”. In order to support his idea, one must simply look at the treatment of rebellious city-states by the Athenians such as the brutally crushed revolts in Naxos and Thasos, which once again goes to demonstrate that Athenians were the only beneficiaries of their fifth-century empire. While the naval power was the greater military aspect of the Athenian Empire, garrisons and the land army cannot be overlooked. Figueira straight away claims that the empire guaranteed “military safety for Athens” and that the “garrisons were a trip wire” which cannot be denied. By setting up garrisons at the edges of the territory that someone controls allows for a fast method of response to incoming danger. This is because it allows preparations to be made in the centre of the empire to repel attackers or deal with the threat. This can be seen as solely beneficial to the Athenians because it secures their borders and allows for a swift counterattack, however, by placing garrisons around the empire, each ally is assured that Athens will come to their help if necessary. It also means that each ally has at least a contingent of professional soldiers in case of an attack, a benefit for both Athens and themselves. Yet, as Neuse mentions the allies “had to pay for the Athenian garrisons” which could be taken as a sign that the allies were not getting as good of a deal from the Empire as the Athenians themselves. However, it makes perfect sense, because the garrisons, while hoplites, were essentially mercenaries, people not from the same polis, brought in to fight for them. Therefore, there is not much of a case against the allies not benefitting from the empire: the Athenians ensured that any local disturbances were dealt with swiftly and the allies had protection from internal and external trouble. All of this, once again leads one to believe that it is impossible to consider that Athenians were the only beneficiaries of their fifth-century empire, because it is quite clear that there were advantages on both sides.

Finally, political and judicial benefits were gained by the Athenians from their empire. The Old Oligarch mentions how by having certain cases tried in Athens itself, the Athenians made money on “court fees” and “preserved partisans of democracy”. The former of these claims is undeniable however, the second while quite a neat and probable claim, is more uncertain. This is because the courts were made up of ordinary citizens, chosen at random by ballot, this would make it a lot harder to preserve the supporters of democracy and destroy the supporters of oligarchies. The interpretation that he has is one which would require greater power in one individual to convince all the jurors to act a certain way. It also assumes that ordinary citizens would have the acute awareness and conviction of the superiority of democracy. This is extremely unlikely due to the lack of education of the average citizen. The Old Oligarch also claims that the trials in Athens as well as the presence of Athenian rulers in the allied states, allowed for the allies to be “powerless to harbour treacherous designs”.  This can directly be refuted by the fact that there were various revolts against Athens both before and during the Peloponnesian War, which strengthens the argument that Athenians were the only beneficiaries of their fifth-century empire. This is supported by the fact that Wing claims that trials at Athens were not beneficial to the allies because “they were clumsily carried out” This claim could be used to support the view of the Old Oligarch to an extent, because the bumbling of the courts may have lead to the accidental support of pro-Athenian parties. While all the evidence so far points to unilateral benefits to Athenians, Robertson points out that the allied states took up Athenian legal terms and procedures. This is possibly the greatest judicial benefit to the allies because it gifted them with one of the most sophisticated and fair, although admittedly slow, systems that were available at the time. This is of huge benefit because it meant that the people had less reasons to be displeased as the courts and laws were probably much fairer than they had been previously. However, as Bradeen claims, all these measures, combined with presence of phrouarchoi and archontes in the allied city-states were just another measure for Athens to establish full control over its allies.

Overall, it is clear that the Athenian Empire brought huge benefits to the Athenians because, after all, they were the greatest power in the Aegean and it was under their responsibility to command the fleet and ultimately lead the other city-states. No other polis was able to take on such a huge burden and therefore it is quite logical that Athens would reap the greatest benefits from the Empire. However, in an empire, it is impossible to rule without benefits to ruler and ruled alike. The allies, or subjects, depending on the source,  benefitted from exclusive trading routes and privileges which were not available to others, security from external threats by land and sea, as well as possibly the most advanced and fair judicial system that was present at the time. As a result, it is not correct to say that Athenians were the only beneficiaries of their fifth-century empire, because it is clear that there were others who were receivers of such bounties. However, it is very fair to say that in each of the three aspects of the empire- economics; military; political and judicial- the Athenians were the greatest by far of the beneficiaries, not necessarily by direct intervention but as Robertson puts it, Athens “gained her ends by indirect means” which also explains the very few examples of uprising in the empire.