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Historical novels from the 2nd für das 21st century


Mittwoch, 13. Mai 2015

The House of Balbilli and the last Kings of Commagene

For the purposes of our series of historical novels, "Romanike", we have recreated the family tree of the House of Balbilli, a notorious clan in Imperial Rome whose history has never been fully written yet. Some of its more prominent members may need a few comments:

  • Tiberius Claudius Thrasyllus was a trusted friend of emperor Tiberius who met him first during his self-imposed exile on Rhodes. Thrasyllus was a dubious court astrologer but also a respectable philosopher who edited the works of Democritus and those of Plato, arranging the latter into the still familiar sets of four volumes.
  • Claudius Balbillus, his son, was court astrologer of the emperors Claudius and Nero. His career included the head office of the Library of Alexandria and the prefecture of Egypt. The city of Ephesus - followed by Smyrna and Pergamon - installed the Balbilleian Games in his honour; the last games ever to be named for an individual person.
  • Ennia Thrasylla, grand-daughter of Thrasyllus, was wife of the Praetorian Prefect Macro and mistress of Caligula. At one point, Caligula promised her marriage. If he had not withdrawn that promise, the Balbilli would have advanced into the Iulio-Claudian house of emperors.
  • Antiochos IV was another associate of Caligula but suffered from the emperor's impredictability. Claudius restored his throne but Vespasian ultimately removed him and annexed his realm to the province of Syria. Commagene would never be a sovereign kingdom again.
  • Iulia Capitolina, daughter of Balbillus, was the first member known to claim royal descent through the kings of Commagene.
  • Prince Philopappus is chiefly known from the Philopappus-Monument in Athens, a major tourist attraction up to this day, on which he prides himself of royal blood through the kings of Commagene. It has been suggested by researchers that Iulia Balbilla may have financed the monument that commemorates his somewhat premature death.
  • Princess Iulia Balbilla (also of royal blood, according to her self-description) was an associate of Hadrian's empress, Sabina, and with their entourage in Egypt. Common consensus among historians makes her Capitolina's daughter and Philopappus' sister, assuming that Capitolina was married to king Epiphanes before she wed Iunius Rufus. This assumption is entirely unfounded; worse, Epiphanes seems to be too old to be her father. We have moved her one generation forward, therefore, and made her Philopappus' daughter which deemed us more plausible. In our "Romanike" series, her desire to reclaim the power of her ancestors Thrasyllus and Balbillus is the prime motivation of the political crisis arising.
  • Avidius Cassius is of course the hero of the Parthian war in the age of emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus who, somewhat unintentionally, would become a short-lived usurper of the Imperial Purple. In our "Romanike" series it is indicated that the Balbilli had a part in this.
  • The two Iulii Balbilli appear as high priests of the Severan dynasty. It is not known whether they were actually related to Claudius Balbillus, but the fact that this rare cognomen was still prominent at the Imperial Court is striking, particularly considering the close relations of the Severan dynasty to Syria (and Commagene). For narrative purposes we have assumed that Balbillus Aquila was a nephew of Princess Balbilla.

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