Saturday, 28 June 2008

The Birds of Rome

Tacitus calls the legionary standards lost by Varus in AD 9 "the birds of Rome, the guardian spirits of the legions" (Annals 2.17). In a recent post, I suggested that the gathering of eagles found in Matthew's Gospel represented Roman legions, rather than the vultures found in many translations.

So I was gratified to see that precisely the same conclusion was drawn in a scholarly paper which I recently found. In "Are there imperial texts in the class?" (Journal of Biblical Literature vol. 122/3, 2003), the author Warren Carter discusses "Intertextual eagles and Matthean eschatology as 'Lights Out' time for Imperial Rome". He argues that, throughout the Bible, imperial powers function as God's agents in punishing people's sins, and are often envisaged as eagles. If Rome were the imperial power used in this way, a gathering of eagles would be a doubly appropriate symbol, as the birds were already the dominant symbol of Rome.

Finally, Carter argues that Rome was seen as the agent of God's punishment in destroying the Temple at Jerusalem in AD 70. But God uses, then judges and destroys. The scene of the corpse and the eagles gathered together thus represents the final punishment of the punisher.

Uncomfortable reading for an emperor ...


  1. Or maybe it was the mescalin kicking so much other prophesy.


    Do you think they will make the lupinarium (sp?) on the palantine hill a UNESCO site?

  2. Could be, Stag!

    The Lupercal is pretty amazing!

    I'm not sure if the Unesco Historic Centre of Rome site covers the Palatine, though.