The bloody history behind the EU summit
The mini-summit between Mr Hollande, Mrs Merkel and Mr Renzi has been taking place on the island of Ventotene off the Italian coast. It is, we have been reminded, a symbolic place. For it was in a prison here that during World War II a pair of Italians, Ernesto Rossi and Altiero Spinelli, wrote the "Ventotene Manifesto", laying out a plan for a federal Europe -- one of the inspirations of the EU. Apparently the trio of leaders are due to lay a wreath on Spinelli's grave, while they are there.
There are rather different associations of the place for any classicist. For Ventotene was ancient Pandateria/Pandataria, and a convenient place of confinement centuries before Mussolini, or the Bourbons, banged people up there. It was, in fact, where Roman emperors sent their inconvenient, treacherous, badly behaved or just plain unlucky women folk. They didn't need too many "facilities". The island is about two miles by half a mile in all, and a fairly inhospitably rocky. All the emperor needed to do was make sure that the "prisoner" didn't hitch a ride on a passing boat. At 30 miles from the coast of the mainland, swimming wasn't an option.
It was probably the first emperor Augustus who started the custom, when he banished his daughter Julia there in 2 BC, for the usual combination of adultery and treason.
On the plus side she had her mother for company, on the minus side she was forbidden any alcohol (the loaded implication being that abstinence would have been a considerable punishment for this particular princess). And she was only there for five years (only...?), before her father relented and let her back as far as Rhegium, though never to Rome itself. She managed to outive him, but died in mysterious circumstances only a few months after him. The finger of suspicion, of course, pointed at the new emperor, Tiberius.
The next prisoner had it a lot worse, Julia's daughter, Agrippina the Elder. She fell foul of Tiberius and ended up on Pandateria in 29 AD, where she was flogged, blinded in one eye and starved herself to death a few years later. She was probably followed by her daughter, another Julia. The evidence isnt quite so cut and dried in this case (it could possibly have been a different island), but she was certainly exiled once by her brother Caligula, then again by his successor and her uncle, Claudius -- who seems to have made sure she starved herself to death in the early 40s. By all accounts the most innocent of the lot was Nero's first wife Octavia, who was sent there on a charge of adultery, but really (it's usually supposed) to get her out of the way of his new partnership with Poppaea. A death sentence followed in 62 and her head was sent back from the island to Rome, for the delectation of the emperor and his new wife (that's a version of the scene by Giovanni Muzzioli above). And it didnt stop there. Vespasian's granddaughter was packed off to Pandateria by her uncle Domitian -- it is sometimes fancifully suggested that the charge was Christianity.
So all in all a grisly place, whose inheritance isnt just to be found in the seeds of a united Europe. I hope Mrs Merkel, in particular, spares a moment to think of its female victims.