Virtutes Romanae: Richard Armitage and LIBERALITAS

When most people think of the ancient Romans, I suspect that one of the last things to come to mind is generosity – although the Romans were surely generous in “sharing” their culture with the entire Mediterranean basin!  In this context, we might be surprised to find that LIBERALITAS (generous giving) was included among the public virtues modeled by Roman society as a whole over the course of it’s nearly 1500 year cultural span (not including the Byzantines…quite a different variety of Roman).  

This time span is a concept that my students always struggle with…namely, the fact that it is difficult to make wide generalizations about the Romans because their culture, like all cultures, changes over time.  I wrapped up the ROME film class last week and will read final research papers this week.  Despite cautioning that they should be careful to include only info relating to the Late Republic, I’ve no doubt that I will read a good bit about Imperial Military tactics or the sexual mores of early Christian Rome.  It’s all Rome right?  Well, not exactly.  What LIBERALITAS meant to Julius Caesar is not precisely the same as what it meant to Constantine 350 years later…there are subtleties that vary over time as the culture evolved.  What does remain the same though is the primary definition of the term:

“Generosity, nobility, kindliness, magnanimity”

“Munificence, open-handedness, liberality”

which developed further to mean also,

“An instance of generosity, a gift, donation, contribution”

Interestingly (to me anyway 🙂  )  the majority of visual representations of LIBERALITAS come from the well into the Imperial Period of Rome.

The coin above dates to the Severan Dynasty (195-235 CE), specifically to the reign of the emperor Elagabalus (if you are looking for wild and woolly Imperial Roman hijinks, look no futher than Elagabalus)  The coin sports a portrait of the emperor on the obverse and a depiction of the personification of Liberalitas on the reverse.  The goddess is loaded up with all sorts of goodies to be distributed.  In her right hand she holds a coin shaker, in her left, an overflowing cornucopia.  I don’t see it in the descriptions of the coin, but it looks to me as if she has some variety of water fowl (looks goose-y to me) draped over her left arm as well.  The inscription describes her as “Liberalitas of Augustus,”  that is, the generosity of the emperor.

This seems to be a quite common coin reverse during the rule of a number emperors both before and after the Severan clan.  The emperor Constantine takes his display of imperial LIBERALITAS up a notch on the triumphal arch that bears his name…

This panel, on the NW corner of the arch, shows Constantine bestowing his generosity on his subjects…well actually, it shows Marcus Aurelius doing this – the Arch of Constantine is a really quirky example of imperial thrift as Constantine pillaged and retooled the monuments of his predecessors to quickly and cheaply construct his own massive celebration of self.  The panels depict scenes of the seated emperor passing out coins to his assembled subjects…Liberalitas Augustorum…

In this very cursory glance at imperial LIBERALITAS, it becomes pretty evident that such generosity might well be expected to have provided political returns for the munificent emperor.  In general, it does seem that the Roman ideal of LIBERALITAS usually did come with some strings attached…quid pro quo you know…

I think that it’s safe to say that as it relates to Richard Armitage, LIBERALITAS is more like quid pro no quo…shall we say, LibeRAlitas?  You know where I’m going now right?  Doodledom of course!

Brief recap:

Richard Armitage is asked and agrees to provide a doodle for the NF Network Celebrity Doodle auction, and then pledges to match the winning bid…


Bids on said doodle are vigorous from the start…

doodle snip

and finish at an impressive amount that elicits a generous response from the artist

finish doodle

LibeRAlitas indeed…and not just from the man himself but also from so many people in this fandom whose generosity is inspiring.  It’s one of my very favorite things about Richard Armitage…that he seems to possess a great spirit of generosity, and that it attracts a collection of people who are incredibly generous themselves.  You don’t have to take my word for it.  If you look back through the annals of the fandom, you’ll find a wide variety of fundraising efforts spearheaded and supported by Armitage fans from all over the world.  As I type there is fantastic auction (Here, Here and Here) and a special distribution of Amazon sales (Here) to raise funds for relief efforts in Nepal.  Generous giving at work.  I am proud to be among you!

LibeRAlitas for all!!   

Virtutes Romanae: Richard Armitage and Clementia

An abundance of CLEMENTIA... Source

An abundance of CLEMENTIA…

Although Richard Armitage exhibits them readily, kindness/indulgence/mildness/forbearance are not exactly qualities that most people would associate with the bellicose Romans.  Nevertheless, CLEMENTIA was counted among the VIRTUTES ROMANAE, the qualities to be aspired to by all citizens.  The closest English cognate to CLEMENTIA is clemency or mercy.  The unlikely poster boy for this aspect of CLEMENTIA was none other than Julius Caesar.

"Chiaramonti Caesar"  Vatican Museum

“Chiaramonti Caesar”
Vatican Museum

Incoming…another historical side trip…

Julius Caesar, the conqueror of Gaul, the dictator of Rome, the last nail in the coffin of the flailing Republic, started out as impoverished but ambitious Roman aristocrat.   A man of tremendous political and military acumen, he maneuvered himself into immense power first by allying with the voting power of the working classes, despite his elite pedigree, and then by forming an “unholy trinity” with two other ambitious men, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Marcus Licinius Crassus.  The three pooled their resources in order to pull an end run around the beleaguered and corrupt political process of the last stage of the Republic.  A power play that would serve their individual purposes well.  As happens with alliances of ambitious and power hungry people, this one ended up in civil war in 48 BC.  Guess who came out on top?  

Caesar was not the first individual to seize sole power in 1st century BC Rome…in fact, he had run afoul of Sulla as a very young man.  Evidently Caesar learned something from the experience.  Lucius Cornelius Sulla had cut a bloody path through the Roman elite, purging any and all political opponents in order to “clean up” the corruption in the government.  By contrast, in the wake of the civil war, Caesar famously offered full pardon – Clemency – to anyone who had fought against him.  He went one step further and included many of his former enemies in high positions within his dictatorship (this turned out rather badly for Caesar in the end obviously)  The actual sincerity of Caesar’s mercy has long been suspect, but it served it’s purpose in that whether the pardoned elites believed it sincere or not, the common people of Rome – Caesar’s power source – certainly did…especially after the consecration of a temple of CLEMENTIA CAESARIS in 44BC.  

So, CLEMENTIA certainly has a famous instance of association with mercy and clemency, which actually seems to have slanted how the term has cognated into modern English usage.  In Latin however, this word appears much more commonly with a slightly different meaning related to indulgence, forbearance, mildness and kindness…or so says the literature on the Roman Virtues.  I was skeptical, since it fit my purposes almost too nicely, so I looked it up via the PERSEUS PROJECT:

There in black and white (and blue hyperlink)

There it is in black and white (and blue hyperlink)

As you can plainly see, the entry for definition II of CLEMENTIA shows that this sense of the word appears quite commonly among prose writers…especially with writers like Cicero and Seneca…who had a great interest in Roman moralia.

CLEMENTIA in progress... Source


We have had daily proof in recent weeks that Richard Armitage embodies the Roman Virtue of CLEMENTIA as he graciously appears at the Old Vic stage door night after night…only minutes after what pretty much everyone describes as a physically grueling performance…to indulgently and kindly interact with fans.  Account after account confirms that despite the fact that he must be tired, he is kind and pleasant, signing autographs and taking selfies.  He appears to be very well aware how much it means to fans to meet him, however brief the meeting might be.  CLEMENTIA in the flesh it seems!


Virtutes Romanes: Richard Armitage and Firmitas

Yesterday, I had every intention of writing a Roman virtues post on CLEMENTIA (mildness or gentleness), a quality that has been on display in Richard Armitage’s public appearances lately…contrasting nicely with the intensity of his performance as John Proctor in The Crucible.  I had definitely planned to do it…and then I took my son, his new learner’s permit in hand, out for a driving lesson.  After an hour of trying to mildly instruct him to “stop…Stop….STOP!” or helplessly but gently navigate him through the space between the asphalt truck and the asphalt roller or around a ginormous oncoming combine…

Him: "We won't fit!"   Me:  "It's OK honey...we will.  Just move over a little to the, no, not that much that's the ditch!"

Him: “We won’t fit!”
Me: “It’s OK honey…we will. Just move over a little to the right…no, no, not that much that’s the ditch!”

…any trace of CLEMENTIA in me had been eradicated.

Consequently, we’ll leave gentle and mild for the moment and move on to another virtue…FIRMITAS.  Probably the most ubiquitous modern association with firmitas lies in Vitruvius who wrote *the* book on Roman architecture.  Vitruvius combined FIRMITAS, (firmness, durability or strength) with UTILITAS (usefulness) and VENUSTAS (beauty) into what has come to be called the Vitruvian Virtues of Architecture.

As evidenced by the recent images shot by Francesco Guidicini for the Sunday Times/News Syndication, there is very little about Richard Armitage that is not FIRMITAS by literal definition.  However, while the ancient Romans certainly valued a strong physical form, the Roman virtue of firmitas was connected to its alternate meaning of tenacity or steadfastness.

Rome didn’t emerge as a Mediterranean super power overnight.  It started out as a dinky west central Italian city state ruled by a fratricide king and populated mostly by felons and malcontents who’d been kicked out of every other place in the area.  They had to scrap for just about everything…they even had to steal wives from their neighbors the Sabines, but they held fast and fought forward.  The power and extent of Roman influence grew over centuries of tenacious expansion during which they suffered a number of crushing defeats that could well have ended it all.  But as a culture, the Romans seemed to possess this sort of iron spine of perseverance...firmitas… that propelled them onward.  This was true on an individual level as well.  Although access to high political influence was limited to a very few elites, Roman society actually had a great deal of potential for upward economic mobility, which over time…with a healthy dose of firmitas… could lead to social and political mobility as well.  Stick-to-it-ness was a highly prized virtue for the Romans.

Reading through the “annals” of Richard Armitage’s career, one will find that there is a similar concept at work, beginning when he was an adolescent badgering his parents about the school he wanted to attend.  Despite a paucity of roles early on, he stuck it out…waiting tables, laying floors, doing whatever it took to fill in the gaps while he continued to tenaciously work toward an acting career.  More recently, (notably in the Telegraph article by Chris Harvey) we’ve seen him recount his firmitas in the steadfast determination to gain access to desirable stage roles by first building a reputation and a name as a screen actor.  It took years, and there may well have been times when he was ready to chuck it all, but he didn’t…he steadfastly pushed forward and then, there it was…

From the Old Vic Newsletter

From the Old Vic Newsletter




Virtutes Romanae: Industria et Salubritas per Richard Armitage

Yes, I’m still alive…up to my eyeballs in a backlog of THDOS premiere and press tour materials.  I’m tired from just watching the video of events – I can only imagine the energy it must take to be an integral part of a tour like this.   Promotion is a huge part of the overall film making process these days, and it is a part that Richard Armitage has been less than enthusiastic about in the past.  Nevertheless, he’s really stepped up to the plate again, thus embodying the Roman virtue of industria.  Hard work, diligence, industriousness – all characteristics that can be easily identified in Richard Armitage’s approach to his career.   Over the past two weeks he, joined by many fellow cast members, has walked the red carpet at premieres on two continents, met legions of fans, signed autographs and posed for seemingly thousands of cameras…smile, smile, smile.

Richard Armitage works the red carpet in Berlin Source:  Guylty Pleasure

Richard Armitage works the red carpet in Berlin
Source: Guylty!!

That’s just the tip of the iceberg…in addition to the premieres, he’s also done countless interviews, press conferences , promos, “Hangouts” and Q/A’s.  Maybe it’s my indulgent eye, but it seems to me that he makes an effort to offer a bit more info in answer to oft repeated questions that must feel like a single song on perpetual repeat to him by now. daybreak interview It would be really easy for us to shrug this all off and say, “It’s all part of the job.”  This is a true statement,  but by his own admission, it is not a part of his job that Richard Armitage particularly relishes.  However, despite the travel, the fatigue and the reality of being “on”, not as a character but as himself, for two solid weeks, he doesn’t just go through the motions, he does it to the best of his ability.  Industria. So how does salubritas (good health, wholesomeness) fit in here?  Just look at him! Movie boyfriend is in fine form bringin’ the industria!!

*sigh* Source:  Guylty

Source: Guylty

Virtutes Romanae: Richard Armitage and FRUGALITAS

Wow, it seems like ages since I’ve blogged! The forces of nature and the academic calendar are conspiring against me. Today’s installment of Virtutes Romanae will serve as an “Armitage Intervention” for me. I’m not going through the list of the Roman virtues in any particular order, but I happened to be thinking about the grey shirt.  You know the one I mean, this one….

Company of dwarves a'song Source:

Company of dwarves a’song

(the one that may have been closer to black a few years ago…)

A good shirt is a good shirt!! Richard Armitage reads

A good shirt is a good shirt!!
Richard Armitage reads “Flat Stanley” on CBeebies (my cap)

and FRUGALITAS came to mind.   One of the things that I’ve come to admire about Richard Armitage is that he seems to know the value of a dollar (or a pound, or whatever currency he’s currently spending 🙂 )  In an industry where fortunes are made and lost in the blink of an eye, this is a pretty rare commodity.   The Romans defined FRUGALITAS as economy or frugality… defines it further as, “”Frugalness” Economy and simplicity of style, without being miserly.”   The important distinction (one that I’m constantly trying to make to my kids) is that exhibiting FRUGALITAS doesn’t mean he’s a tight fisted cheapskate, but rather that he chooses carefully where he spends his money.

That is not the suit of a skinflint:
Wellington premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
can be viewed at Getty Images by searching Richard Armitage

Maybe the quality stems from lessons learned from his parents, or maybe from years of lean living where well paying acting gigs were few and far between.  It could well be a combination of both these reasons and more, but it seems quite clear that while Richard Armitage is willing to outlay significant amounts of cash when he chooses, he also appears equally able to economize,    Try not to get too distracted by all the other visual yumminess below, but look closely at the circled area…

This shirt is still good…so what if the edge is torn?
(I believe the original image hails from one of the WETA books from The Hobbit.

**correction: The image above comes from, The Hobbit, The Original Guide by Brian Sibley. (Thank you morrighansmuse!) A man who can stun in a designer suit but  recycles some articles of clothing diligently , seems to me to embody the very essence of FRUGALITAS.  🙂


A couple of weeks ago, I was talking about Richard Armitage and how he embodies the Roman quality  known as GRAVITAS.  This quality, along with fourteen others, made up what the ancient Romans called VIRTUTES ROMANAE – Roman Virtues.  The root word virtus, derives from the Latin word vir, meaning simply, man.  Virtus essentially refers to “acting like a man,” and in the context of Roman culture this was tied up with bravery and military achievement. (Interestingly, this very manly term is actually a feminine noun in Latin…so is the word for beard – go figure)   In a broader scope, VIRTUTES ROMANAE were the character traits that all Romans, especially citizen class men aspired to…essentially, they made up the ideology upon which the Roman Republic was based.

Roman history is full of stories of virtus in action…it was a prerequisite of a successful political and military career in Ancient Rome, and ancient authors love to record the activities of the rich and powerful.  Vergil’s Aeneid is a great place to look for a literary model of VIRTUTES ROMANAE.  Vergil was writing at the turn of the first century BC/AD, under the patronage of the emperor Augustus.  Augustus was very interested in a revival of traditional Roman values, and Vergil’s version of Aeneas, the founding father of the Roman race, was written with Augustus’ agenda in mind.  As the legendary poster boy for Rome’s new era, Aeneas became the embodiment of VIRTUTES.

Aeneas saves his elderly father and young son from the destruction of Troy (I love me some Bernini!) Source:

Aeneas saves his elderly father and young son from the destruction of Troy (I love me some Bernini!)

The more I think about this, the more I think that Richard Armitage would be perfect in the role Aeneas.  It would be a case of art imitating life in a way, since he seems to embody so many of the VIRTUTES ROMANAE.  You don’t have to take my word for it…periodically, I’ll bring you a new virtue and illustrate how Richard Armitage personifies it.  Take COMITAS for example.  It means humor, ease of manner, courtesy, openness, friendliness  (  This one is almost too easy.

Whether it’s

Red carpet events Source:

Red carpet events


or interview

Drinking wine at 8am?  OK!

Drinking wine at 8am? OK!

after interview,

Miming...or is it meme-ing?

Miming…or is it meme-ing?

or being upstaged be an iconic muppet,



Richard Armitage seems to approach it all with humor, courtesy and friendliness.  In a word – COMITAS!

Richard Armitage and Batman?

Far be it from me to not jump into the Batman mania.  There has been a ton of buzz about Richard Armitage being amongst the pool of actors in consideration for the role of Batman in an upcoming Superman/Batman effort.  If he were so inclined, I’m sure Mr. Armitage could nail that part.  Batman is in his wheelhouse – a flawed, but heroic character.  It’s all speculation at this point, I suppose.  As I understand it, there is not even a script for the film as yet.  Reading the comments on some of the reports has been extremely interesting. One particularly struck me in it’s reference to Richard Armitage as possessing the gravitas to do justice to the character of Batman.  “Yes!” I thought, that is the perfect term.


Latin authors, of both prose and verse, often refer to the mos maiorum (“the customs of the ancestors”) as models of correct Roman behavior.   According to the poet Ennius:

Moribus antiquis res stat Romana virisque.” (“The Roman state stands on ancient customs and heroes.”)

The Romans measured their Romanitas or “Roman-ness” via a series of qualities known jointly as The Roman Virtues.  Gravitas was one of these virtues.  Translated literally it means gravity or seriousness, but in the context of a personal trait, sums it up really nicely as:

“A sense of the importance of the matter at hand, responsibility and earnestness.”

I also find it interesting that secondary definitions of the term refer to heaviness or dullness – things that Richard Armitage has accused himself of on more than one occasion.   (He’s a bit hard on himself if you ask me…)

Richard Armitage reacts and responds to a question with gravitas

Richard Armitage reacts and responds to a question with gravitas

Gravitas is certainly a quality Richard Armitage possesses in his approach to his work.  His seriousness, responsibility and earnestness would all contribute beautifully to his characterization of Batman should he inhabit the role one day.

Incidentally, there are 14 other Roman Virtues, so we may just revisit this topic in the future 🙂