All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat……………….
Hello and Welcome back to the third part of what was intended to be a trilogy on Terry Jones Barbarians, This however is not the final part as it only covers episode 3: “The brainy barbarians”. This episode is bad, really really bad, so bad that it drove me up the wall….as evidenced by the preceding paragraph (added for dramatic effect obviously but trust me, I’ve wanted to just stop multiple times while covering this episode). The sheer horribleness of this episode is partly why my rant on it is so long, other things that have contributed to this have been the episode’s structure, it’s very premise and the fact that I am more familiar with its subject matter than with those of the prior two episodes, please continue if you wish to read my poorly edited rambling thoughts on what is quite possibly my most hated episode of my most hated documentary, that’s quite an accomplishment, that said it might just be quicker to watch the damned thing yourself (though on youtube the audio does get out of sync again, though not as badly as in episode 1) and that too is quite an accomplishment, perhaps in the same light.
Episode 3- The brainy barbarians: this episode is divided roughly as follows the first section deals with the Greeks then we move on to the Parthians and Persians before returning to the Greeks briefly for the conclusion. We begin with the mother of all straw men, leaving aside whether the Romans considered the Greeks barbarians at all- it’s a complicated issue, in some ways the Greeks represent their own category separate from Roman and barbarian just as I think the Romans in many ways come to represent their own category separate from Greek and barbarian alike to the Greeks, Terry at least acknowledges that the term Barbarian is Greek in origin and that the Romans by and large didn’t consider the Greeks uncivilized as such. No this mother of all straw men consists in manufacturing the profound revelation that “for centuries we’ve been told that the Romans were the inventive geniuses of the Ancient world….this (referring to the Antikythea mechanism) confirmed that it wasn’t the Romans who were the brains of the ancient world but the barbarians” By which we will find out soon he means in particular the Greeks (responsible for said mechanism).
less than a minute after this straw elephant we are introduced to an outright fallacy whose timing within the series could not be less appropriate, “our whole picture of the time (referring to the ancient world) comes from Rome”- this just as your about to start looking at the Greeks, Rome’s twin pillar of the Classics which have dominated studies of Antiquity for centuries, The Greeks unquestionably left far more literary sources than any of the other so-called “barbarians” Terry covers in this series, indeed we are more reliant on literary sources in Greek (Thucydides, Herodotus, Xenophon, Polybius, Plutarch, Arrian, Plato, Aristotle etc) for our understanding of the Ancient world than those in Latin. Manifestly untrue does not begin to describe that statement from a Greek perspective…….Greek was the lingua franca, Hellenistic culture the dominant culture of the Eastern Mediterranean and highly influential in the Western Med, particularly in you know….ITALY!!!! and a little place called ROME!!! GAHHHRRR!!!!
But now to return to the straw elephant in the room: what I want to know Terry is what school you attended exactly? It must have been the only school in Britain at the time not going on about
Ancient Greece as the birthplace of Western Civilization, history, democracy, science and philosophy at many times in Western history particularly among the intelligentsia Greece has been placed on a pedestal as the Greatest ancient civilization, for the majority of Western history since the renaissance the argument for “greatest” as it were was one almost exclusively between Greece and Rome the two linked closely by a limited rivalry, the cult of Greece in scholarship and popular understanding is near as great or even greater than Rome’s and not sullied in recent years by near the same association with Imperialism as Rome (an association which in the past often benefited Rome). What exactly is Terry playing at “Hey guys turns out there were these guys called the Greeks and they were a really big deal” Even most pro-Romans and many many Romans themselves considered the Greeks were the great theoretical scientists, the intellectuals and the most “cultured”….whatever that means. It is extraordinarily dishonest to portray a centuries old traditional view of the Greeks, held by the Romans themselves by and large as some kind of great anti-establishment revisionist revelation. Simply put you’d be hard to state a more conservative position, in my view the cultural worship of the Greeks could actually do with a little revising but on this matter Terry is more traditional than your great grandmother, this is a total red herring.
Some time is spent in describing the Roman siege of Syracuse as is often and understandably the case Archimedes role in the city’s defense is highlighted and in all likelihood exaggerated, This goes back to an extent to the ancient sources (in my view) likely because it makes the story more interesting (certainly more unique) and perhaps by way of excusing initial Roman difficulties in taking the city, the first reason plays in to modern attempts to hype it up as well (that said Mythbusters has not yet convinced me that Archimedes death ray couldn’t have worked….). That said it’s not like there’s much reason to wonder that the Romans had considerable difficulty taking the place, it was a vast, heavily fortified, wealthy city with a large Garrison- that’s usually enough of an explanation (that and the Romans had to contend with Carthaginian forces helping the defenders from outside the city) , prior to the Romans the Athenians had famously failed to take the city and the Carthaginians advance across the territories of Magna Graecia had been repeatedly halted by it’s walls….often because their army got sick (I think from nearby marshes…) but I digress. The Romans are curtly judged with sarcasm (Terry like myself often utilizes this highest form of wit) for killing Archimedes going on soon afterwards to say that “In fact the murder of Archimedes could stand as an epitaph for the Roman destruction of the barbarian world of learning and ideas, except that it was only the beginning.” DUN DUN DUN!!!
In all seriousness I remember many years ago when I read the Horrible histories books (I recall thinking that the Romans got a raw deal there too, seriously “The Awesome Egyptians”, “The Groovy Greeks” and “the Rotten Romans”, I think the series was primarily written by another Terry too (Terry Deary) so maybe Terry’s just hate Romans…..Also half the Rome stuff was on Roman Britain, nobody cares poms! still it was easily fairer than this piece of cr*p) that the Groovy Greeks books epilogue ended with the Roman sack of Syracuse and the death of Archimedes itself so this isn’t a new trope, even for Terry’s. Still there are to my mind limits as to how indignant you can be about Archimedes murder, firstly Terry (both Terry’s actually) are good enough to point out that the murder was against the Roman commander’s order and punished, secondly this was during a sack of a city after a long siege. In the brutal world of the time it was normal for the Romans, the Greeks and others to do far worse when sacking cities, particularly ones that had given them this much trouble. Finally Archimedes was not some innocent old tinkerer as the story of his death suggests, Terry is at pains to point out his contributions to the cities defense, Archimedes may not have fought with a sword or shield but he was one of his cities leaders and even by conservative estimates his machines killed many Romans and were designed by him to do so. He was defending his home and there was no point to killing him anyway but if we look at Archimedes as an artillery and/or engineering officer rather than as a harmless eccentric inventor it does start to make more sense. All in all though I’ve seen much worse than this section on Syracuse.
We now move briefly to cover Terry Jones claim mentioned between the transition between Greece and Persia/Parthia as a topic for the second time this episode (less than 20 minutes in) that the Romans were obsessed seemingly from early days (it’s not specific when he thinks they embraced this goal but it’s certainly implied by the end of the second Punic war and definitely by the first
century) with world domination, The Mongols and at least some Caliphates as well as possibly Alexander embraced notionally at least such a goal, the Roman Republic never did nor for practical
purposes did the empire (I say for practical purposes because it’s a really long period of time and some crazy emperor or other that didn’t last might have embraced the notion and some aggressive emperors we don’t know enough about might have had some thoughts on the matter, but we don’t know). Roman expansion during the Imperial period was directed but for the most part with limited goals based on defense (Britain being an exception) of Rome’s already largely established empire. Roman expansion during the Republican period was seldom so directed and largely driven by threats real or perceived by foreign powers to them or their interests as Rome won wars, the Roman world expanded creating fresh opportunities for conflict and there was of course the political/social need of Roman politicians for military glory and the wealth and clients brought by conquest.
However a Cassus Beli however dodgy was always required for a war because Romans possessed the concept of the Just war, Roman wars had to be Just (obviously as implied in the preceding sentence they often weren’t) and Roman politicians and writers weren’t above criticizing their own state on this ground (the Third Punic war comes to mind), states that believe in their divine right to rule the world seldom bother with all that, this state/people/city does not acknowledge me as its overlord or I’m bored or “because I’m a god b*tch! RAWR!!!!!” usually does nicely without the need to dress it up with claims of self-defense or a violated treaty. Roman expansion during the Republican period was ugly, haphazard, and seldom virtuous but it was not the grand plan of a bond villain, here Jones is simply being infantile.
Now for Parthia/Persia and we’re off to a bad start, first by implying political continuity between the Parthians and the Achaemenid Persian Empire (the first and most famous empire to be labelled Persian, though not the first Iranian empire) but of course it is reasonable to assume some cultural continuity of which there is some evidence but not as much as you would think, the Parthians being in origins a steppe tribe called the Parni the first Seleucid satrapy (Achaemenid administrative unit, basically a province, the name and the system were by and large retained by the Seleucids who were the Hellenistic successor kingdom that occupied most of the old Persian empire’s Asian territories at the time) they conquered was Parthia, thus they were not actually from there, as foreigners and nomads who entered the Persian empire’s former territories after it’s fall, their can be no argument of political continuity between the two and they likely had less of a cultural link than the Sassanian Persian dynasty that replaced them, with it’s origins in roughly the same region as the first empire.
Almost in the same breath when this continuity is first implied Terry claims that the Parthian’s territories reached into Eastern Turkey and demonstrates this with a map which clearly indicates that the Parthian’s also controlled upper Syria including Antioch (in modern Turkey today but for historical purposes part of the Syrian region). Parthia never securely controlled these territories, the map portrays a time when Parthia attempted and failed to wrest such territories from a distracted Rome, it was during the triumviral period when Mark Antony ruled the East, his general Ventidius Bassus (the only person I can think of who marched in a Roman triumph as a foreign prisoner and a triumphant Roman general) defeated the Parthians and those Romans who had allied with them (long story, suffice to say this was not just a forgotten foreign war but a forgotten episode of the civil wars) in three battles and expelled them from North Syria and East turkey alike- the map depending on your definition of conquest may not technically be inaccurate (though I don’t think it would count by most) it is however likely to be highly misleading.
He then goes on to talk about Persia for a bit, so vaguely that I’d be impressed if you learnt anything before going on to describe the first Parthian-Roman conflict, the famous/infamous battle of
Carrhae where in reference to the first contact between Rome and the Parthian Cataphracts “the desert sun reflected off of the Armour of thousands of mounted warriors, each mounted on an armored horse…a sight that wouldn’t be seen in Western Europe for another 1500 years, knights in shining armor”………..before I go on I just want to mention that the battle of Carrhae took place in the first century BC and that Terry Jones considers himself a medievalist, indeed he’s done a series of documentaries on the Western European medieval world and is in many ways quite fond of it, quite biased in its favor as we’ve seen hints of before with his veneration of early medieval Celtic lore and seeming total indifference to Rome’s fall and as we will see again more explicitly as he talks more about the Parthian empire, one of the episodes of his series “Medieval lives” was specifically on knights………..
………*takes a gulp of air* ALL THIS MAKES IT COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY INEXCUSABLE THAT HE IS CLAIMING THERE WERE NO KNIGHTS IN WESTERN EUROPE BEFORE WELL INTO THE F*CKING 1300’s!!!!!!!!!!! In case my excessive use of capitalization is unclear, there were knights then! their were knights in the 1000’s by most definitions (knighthood being an evolving social class as well as a type of soldier) certainly if the definition of knight is armored melee orientated horseman with armored horse, they had been around for centuries by the 1300’s, maybe I’m being harsh, maybe Terry knows his medieval history very well and he just failed basic math in school or maybe he’s just exaggerating for dramatic effect (or in layman’s terms: lying).
Anyway back to Carrhae, just a few things the Romans actually repulsed the initial charge of the Cataphracts, maybe they fled intentionally, either way they did not shatter the Romans lines. Secondly I suspect considering future Roman success in battle against Parthia and the fact that the Romans didn’t discover adamantium armour between Carrhae and their next clash with Persia that the effectiveness of Parthian archery against Roman Armour and shields was somewhat overstated, but that’s just my suspicion finally Terry relates the less highly regarded account of Crassus death that claims the Parthians killed him by pouring molten gold down his throat (A literary trope for ironic justice for greedy villains) rather than the account more popular with scholars of Crassus being cut down in a parley gone wrong. However these are all minor issues and are in practically every doco that mentions Carrhae (and as a battle, like Teuotoberg Wald it’s a popular choice)
Now to continue with why the EU, I mean medieval Europe! I mean Parthia was better than Rome, because of the Parthian “knights” code of “chivalry” for evidence of which we talk to a leader of an organization of an Ancient Iranian martial art…….because you know that’s as reputable as it gets! At the conclusion of this interval Terry blanketly claims that “These were values that could be traced back to the culture of the Parthian knights” Maybe Terry, maybe, if I recall correctly (if) there is some evidence that the Parthian cataphractoi formed a social class with some similarities with Western European knights, they certainly seem to have had a feudal structure in Parthia, there certainly isn’t much evidence though, the truth of the matter is that we know very little about Parthia, certainly less than we know about the Achaemenid Persians and the Sassanian Persians who succeeded them.
And now for the outright equation of Parthia with Achaemenid Persia, we start our journey down fantasy lane with a visit to Persepolis- a site the Parthians neglected and only really received
attention again under the Sassanian regime. Terry claims that you can tell a lot about a state by the monuments they put up-in this context referring in particular to their capital’s. True enough I suppose, Terry goes on to claim that the overall impression you get from Roman monuments is “Fear us” showing at the time imagery of the Colosseum and in particular Trajan’s column with it’s engravings of surrendered or killed Dacians, of course this is nonsense these monuments weren’t built with barbarian’s in mind at all, much less their intimidation, they were built (funnily enough in Rome…) with Romans in mind, often to communicate to his fellow Romans (as in Trajan’ case) how awesome, he was and Rome was.
Of course Terry neglects to mention the Romans marked inclination for practical building’s such as Baths, Basilicas, Aqueducts and Forums (practical reasons certainly wasn’t the only reason they were built…but still…) and so by contrast Terry show’s us some Parthian monuments: ……………………………..Terry?…………..*crickets chirp*………Terry?………..*grass grows*………TERRY! some time today would be nice! oh what’s that? you don’t have any Parthian monuments to show us? What’s that Terry from like 10 minutes later? No Parthian buildings have survived! well I’m sure they were awesome and you have some ancient Parthian writers who can tell us all about them? ……………..*paint dries*………….
So your just going to keep harping on about the ruins of Persepolis……….ok then, oh and Terry those engraving’s in Persepolis of various people in procession to give tribute….yeah that art is likely meant to demonstrate to foreigners how mighty we are, nothing wrong with that but still. They were also conquered btw, subjugated, perhaps that was a good thing, the middle East (like everywhere) was no stranger to war, Persian domination brought peace and efficient administration to a vast area, for their time the Achaemineid Persians were enlightened in many ways but they did not establish an empire from India to Macedonia by asking nicely nor were all regions always happy to be part of the fold, after his invasion of Greece Xerxes had to deal with large revolts in Egypt and Babylonia, under Darius there was the Ionian revolt and there were multiple other large Egyptian revolts throughout the empire’s history, the Persians were pretty cultural tolerant but not universally so (no-one is and that can be a a good thing). Terry Jones claims that by contrast to Persia Rome was culturally intolerant because “For the Romans you either learned to look like, dress
like and be like them or you were a barbarian” There is truth in this (even if Roman culture is more adaptable than this implies) but if you weren’t interested in entering Roman politics no-one was forcing you, Rome did persecute some cultural groups, every once in a while some weird Eastern cults followers or/and priests were expelled from Rome, the druids were persecuted, as were at times the Christians, and as for the Jews….well they found it difficult to get on with anyone trying to rule over them….and most people who weren’t……(that said ironically considering present circumstances Iranian regimes seemed to have fared better in their relations with the Jews than others) by and large however you could worship, dress and speak how you liked and during the imperial period virtually anyone could become a roman citizen and in theory enter the senate- perhaps even become emperor. This was not the case in Persia.
On the Cyrus cylinder I will simply say this, I find it quite amusing that Terry is using a piece of ancient Persian propaganda to prove to us that what he’s been saying isn’t just ancient Persian propaganda……go figure….
As Terry Jones wraps up his section building up Parthia by praising their culture, thinkers and architectural legacy I’ll naturally wrap up my counter argument by tearing them down. Let’s start with architecture, it is here that Terry claims “The Parthians were also great builders” just before admitting “although no actual Parthian structures have survived intact” but then goes on to insist “we know that they developed styles and building techniques that influence Islamic architecture even today” and you know what that’s probably even true, Sassanian architecture had a massive influence on Islamic architecture (Just like Rome did) and Parthian architecture no doubt had some influence on Sassanian. How much? we don’t know we do however know that by comparison to the Achaemenids that preceded them and the Sassanids who came after the Parthian era was an architectural black hole and has no business comparing itself to those eras or Rome or the Caliphates on those grounds. He then claims that the Parthians used a quick-drying cement, quite unknown to the Romans. I have no idea whether it would be the same cement but the Romans had quick-drying cement.
Moving on to culture, to the writers and the thinkers Terry claims that Parthia produced some “that could knock the socks off the Romans” and goes on about the superior learning culture and education of the Parthians, without providing any details aside from the Roman record of the Parthian king Orodes watching the play Euripedes when Crassus’s head arrived to be used as a prop (he doesn’t mention the head as prop part just the Euripides….I wonder why…..seemed like the height of good taste to me but then what would I know I’m a Romanophile!) or any examples, he doesn’t even interview a martial arts society official! No I’m sorry he eventually names one poet: Hafez a twelfth century Islamic poet but you know close enough, I think the legendary poet Ferdowsi’s in here too (could be wrong, isn’t mentioned by name) but he lived and wrote well and truly into the Islamic era, his work being strongly influenced by Sassanid Persian culture. In fact I’m fairly certain not a single Parthian literary text, be it history, poetry, philosophical treatise etc has survived. In short this claim is frankly laughable.
We now move briefly by way of hamfisted Iranian 1979 Islamic revolution analogies to the oft-mentioned (in this blog post not in this episode) Sassanian Iran. First up you should know that the Sassanian Persian empire is sexy, it’s name is sexy, it’s history is sexy, it’s conflicts with Rome were EPIC……ally sexy, Parthia is a damn cool name too actually but aside from that their just not as cool. Right now for said hamfisted analogies, Terry says: “Rome’s defeat at the battle of Harran (Carrhae)……had started a historic struggle between Rome and Persia and constant war so destabilized Parthian civilisation that in 200 AD their rule crumbled beneath the hoofs of a new more brutal Persian dynasty the Sassanids.” and then a bit later “The Romans had provoked a reaction in Persia that produced a state even more centralized, better organized and less tolerant than the Romans themselves”.
Following this is a brief speel about the military triumphs of Sassanid Shahanshah (king of kings) Shapur I against Rome during which he gives purely an abridged version from Shapur’s own self-glorifying account, this is not to say it’s nonsense at all but that the Roman account often differed and historians (and myself) are inclined to believe Shapur some of the time and the Romans some of the time depending on the matter in question, if this kind of thing looks like it might interests you btw and you go to Macquarie Uni then I’d recommend taking a look at the course AHIS 242 or 342: Rome’s Persian wars which is I’m fairly sure the same course I did almost 2 years ago then called Rome’s Eastern Frontier.
Anyway Terry wraps up his the Sassanians are bad guys and the Romans fault with a speel about reduced cultural tolerance, increased centralization (Terry is that peculiar type of person whose views are quite socialist but loathes centralization that I suspect is typical of EU supporters, the kind of person who thinks the state should do everything for you provided it is as inefficient as possible, you know idiots) and decreased religious tolerance while the camera pans over iconic images of Islamic Iran like women in full burqas, subtle. Now there is some truth behind the claim that Rome was responsible for the fall of the Parthians and rise of the Sassanids, Rome had relatively soon before the Parthian dynasty’s fall fought and won significant conflicts with Parthia (though I think the very last major battle Parthia and Rome fought was either a draw or a Parthian victory) however contrary to what Terry Jones first quote implies Rome and Parthia during the period when they were neighbors (and obviously when they weren’t) were at peace far more often than not.
This regime change was not the result of near continuous external conflict for a century or more, constant internal strife would have definitely plaid a part though, Parthia had for well over a century before it’s fall been in a state of civil war or marked internal instability considerably more often than not, this was a state of affairs that Rome definitely encouraged with marked success by supporting one candidate or another for the throne (Augustus by inaugurating this policy (in my view it was a policy) in my view may have done more damage to Rome’s Eastern rival than any Roman general who faced them in battle….and all without any war…..*sigh* Augustus you brilliant, devious son of a b*tch!) but it’s origins were again internal, the inherent weaknesses of a feudal system and the degeneration of the dynasty along with the state’s halt in effective expansion after running into Rome must also again in my view have had a role to play.
Secondly there is far less evidence than is often supposed or asserted for Sassanian Iran being as different an animal from Parthia as is often claimed, the issue is contentious in scholarship as to what changed and when, as mentioned in parts I and II of this blogpost Peter Heather is a significant source for Terry Jones and there is a good chance he follows his view here just as he did with his account of Alaric, Heather supported the view that Sassanian Iran was a very different kettle of fish from the prior Parthian regime practically right from the outset, whereas I lean more to the school of thought that says otherwise (at least initially), Terry should also be castigated (as for so many things) for equating weak and frankly parasitic rule and lack of information for an enlightened secular and culturally liberal regime, a little secret here: feudalism sucks, things certainly got worse for certain religious minorities after the Sassanian’s started aggressively favoring Zoroastrianisim but once the state really did begin to centralize further life likely became better for the poorer segments of society as the state became more efficient and the power of local lords was curtailed, this is of course just my own fairly poorly informed supposition.
But this is all almost irrelevant because Terry is talking about the USA and the Iran of the ayatollah’s and the former’s considerable responsibility for the existence of the latter, it is also an attempt to paint the two as one and the same. The USA and UK do really have a lot to answer for when it comes to Iran, if Terry had just said what he actually wanted to say here I might have even agreed with him as it is he drags Ancient history through the mud to make a political point and neither his thoughts or his methods are nearly as original or clever as he seems to think they are.
Now finally to return to the Greeks, whom Terry claims by comparison to the Parthians/Persians “the Greeks were easier meat because they lived in fiercely independent city-states. The Romans
could pick them off one by one.” That was true for the most part before Alexander the Great Terry but by the time Rome is off conquering the Eastern Mediterranean it hadn’t been true for centuries, ya see since Pericles a little thing called the Hellenistic era had begun, Greek city states still existed but the majority of Greeks lived in Hellenized kingdoms of varying size, such as Ptolemaic Egypt, Macedonia and the vast Seleucid empire, along with some smaller kingdoms like Pergamum and Bithynia, and in the initial phases of Rome’s expansion into the Eastern med it was these large kingdoms with which Rome had to primarily contend.
Terry then goes on about Rhodes for a little while and how awesome it was etc, as I don’t know much about Rhodes and as he seldom goes into specifics (incredible I know, Jones has been so in to backing his sweeping statements up previously) I don’t have much to say, and I am immensely grateful for this roughly ten minutes respite, but then it’s back slowly to business when Jones starts discussing Rome again, first he seems to imply based on the writings of Philo of Byzantium and the previously mentioned Antikythera mechanism that Hellenistic Greece was on the verge of becoming steampunk (awesome but untrue) before Rome showed up and that the Romans weren’t interested in engineering……funny in my view they were the greatest engineers of the ancient world and anyone who claims they lacked interest in the subject would have to be talking out of their arse, how strange to finally disagree with you Mr. Jones! And we’d been getting on so well!
“And it wasn’t just Rhodes, The whole Greek world of learning sank into oblivion” Between this bold claim relating to the sack of Rhodes by the assassin of Julius Caesar Gaius Cassius Longinus in order to raise money for his civil war and the continuation of it’s theme and argument we have a several minute long discussion of the antikythea mechanisim (which apparently “proves” the Greeks were “light years ahead of the Romans” scientifically, just this one mechanism apparently, one used it’s believed primarily for horoscope’s, no other evidence whatsoever is required….apparently….) after being lulled into this state of (relative) security by these digressions we get down to business with our epilogue and it’s….it’s….it’s….shamelessly, brazenly, smugly awful, because of it’s structure and how almost uniformly horrendous it is I will give you most of it straight out, we begin with:
“it wasn’t the Romans who were the clever ones in the ancient world, it was the barbarians, all the Romans could do was steal their gadgets and and ship them back to Rome to admire as novelties
without ever really understanding them. Astronomy, mathematics, scientific speculation these are all the province of the barbarian worlds of the Persians, the Indians, the Greeks…..The Antikythera mechanisim proves that the ancient Greeks were intellectually light years ahead of the Romans, one of their astronomers even came up with the proposition that the Earth might revolve around the sun rather than the other way around but nobody could get their heads around that one. I suppose they might have done if the Greek centers of learning had kept going in places like this (he’s in Rhodes at the time he says that) but they didn’t. What happened? Rome happened. Could you name one famous Roman mathematician? No? well that’s because there weren’t any, the Romans didn’t want new inventions and discoveries, new ideas were a threat to the system….in their paranoid grab for world domination Rome crushed and destroyed other cultures and in destroying them it destroyed knowledge.”
………….but………..but…………but……….”But there’s a happy ending because Rome failed to crush all the barbarians and knowledge survived in the land that Rome could never obliterate: Persia. If Rome had succeeded the whole world of ancient scientific knowledge might have been stamped out forever but scholars in Persia would translate the works of the Greeks and the Babylonians and keep it safe. Hundreds of years later their knowledge would re-emerge in the west carried by the successors to the great Persian civilization: the Arabs”
………………….CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM!……….GAHHHRRRRR!!!!!! You know this level of smug dishonest shameless bullshit should not go unpunished, he must pay! troll and spam his email and other digital outlets, let him know your outrage! and illegally download (or otherwise pirate) all python material! He must not get another cent! He owes us for what he’s put us and our beloved field through! As for the other Pythons I’m sorry but you owe us for helping make this man famous rather than you know killing him and using his body as a high end prop, you’ve been rewarded for your comedy now it’s time you were punished for your dereliction of civic duty………….this is despicable…….I’m calm, I’m calm…..In all seriousness please don’t pirate things, except if you absolutely must have this series.
Now let’s go through this epilogue and I’ll try and make it quick (infamous last words….or in my case infamous many words), Firstly to finish off with the Antikythera mechanisim, the wreck it was on was dated to a time (an early time but still) when Rome controlled most or all of the eastern Med, at least very loosely through client kingdoms. I’ve covered the world domination thing earlier and as for Roman mathematicians well no if you mean the theoretical sort that wrote in Latin but then I’m an undergrad with a focus on political history, plenty of engineers though those aqueducts, bridges, bath houses and colossally big dome’s don’t design themselves but hey I’m sure you can name loads of Parthian mathematicians? or scientists? Geographers? poets? historians? I’ll accept agricultural treatise writers……..or florists? Thought not Terry, better luck next time. Now if we include those writing in Greek who were Roman citizens or others who were otherwise Roman subjects the list of then I should be able to come up with a few after a quick wiki: Ptolemy (Roman citizen), Anthemius of Tralles (Roman citizen), Isidore of Miletus (Roman citizen), Diophantus (Roman citizen) and Heron of Alexandria (not sure of citizenship) speaking of Heron he studied at Alexandria, just like many others under Rome did (scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, scholars, literati) and if anyone was going to bring about your steam punk Classical world Terry it was this man’s astonishing discoveries and inventions combined with the industry and development Rome had brought to the Classical world.
Which brings us to the big one: Rome killing Greek culture and suppressing learning. Alexandria continued as a major scholarly center along with many other’s like Athens (A city whose importance had declined well before its absorption by Rome) and newer centers of culture and knowledge like Rome itself and Constantinople, Rome brought literature- it’s own and Greek, scientific and otherwise to new areas of the world. It is in large part due to Rome that Western Europe gives a damn about Greece in the first place.
Jones provides no evidence for the assertion that Rome felt “new ideas were a threat to the system” frankly that sounds like a paranoid delusion, how was new astronomical information a threat to the system? how was advanced mathematics? how the bloody hell were clocks a threat to the system? what system!? arguments have been made that steam power was a threat to the system because of slavery (linking steam power perhaps a bit too closely to industrialization) but the Greeks were more than a little bit fond of that institution themselves, besides if the actual industrial revolution taught us anything it’s that there’s plenty of use for the poor, vulnerable and expendable and what master wouldn’t want to get more out of his slaves, besides at the empire’s height slaves definitely did not compose the entirety of the shall we say “working class”- though that’s a difficult term to apply to a per-industrial society.
As for the suppression of culture and literature, well there’s always some but if Roman censorship and curtailing of freedom of speech was as harsh as Terry suggests
than there’s no way works and information critical of emperors deemed legitimate and praise of Republican martyrs would ever have been permitted, and in the literature it’s freaking everywhere! Augustus for instance sometimes honored and always tolerated the historian Asinius Pollio who was highly critical of him, in general you could say or write things about Roman government or emperors that would simply not be tolerated in Ancient Egypt or the Hellenistic monarchies or Parthia and I shouldn’t have to remind you about Athens and Socrates. Much of our criticisms of Rome come from her own writers, ironically giving Rome in the eyes of many a reputation for tyranny and censorship that she might not have had if her culture and government were more repressive.
Finally once more to the Parthians, Persians and Arabs (oh my!), after long neglect it has become politically correct to emphasize the role of the Arabs in bringing about the renaissance and I feel it’s gotten somewhat out of hand, don’t get me wrong I love me some gorgeous Andalusian architecture but it’s gotten to the point where credit is being taken away from other cultures who contributed to the revival of Classical learning in Western Europe and things are attributed to the Arabs as if they likely wouldn’t have happened anyway.
As some of you may know the Eastern half (roughly) of the Roman empire endured after the fall of the Western half for roughly a thousand years, Greek quickly became the official language of and was always the dominant tongue of this half, thus it is in Byzantium (a modern name for this half of the empire for the rough thousand years between the west’s fall and it’s own….it’s complicated) which was Rome that Greek learning principally survived and later this state had a significant role in transferring this knowledge back West. It is worth emphasizing that Byzantium WAS Rome and it’s inhabitants proudly identified as such but also unmistakably Greek in it’s dominant culture and it was one of the most advanced states in Europe or the Middle East for most of its history. This is more than enough by itself to render the claim that learning was only preserved in Persia patently absurd.
But there’s more, Terry would have us believe that the Arabs acquired the classical tradition they eventually spread to Europe (by way of invasion btw) from Sassanian Persia (also by way of invasion), you know the Iranian dynasty he isn’t so fond of…funny how they stopped being a “monster”, intolerant and just like the Romans when Terry needs them to be enlightened preservers, there is a lot of truth in this, particularly in so far as things like administration, architecture and poetry go the Arabs were heavily influenced by the Sassanians but at the same time the Arabs conquered Roman Syria, Egypt and soon after North Africa and as such the influence of Byzantium was immense and it was from Byzantium not Persia that the Arabs absorbed the bulk of their Greek learning and they did so through conquering much of their territory, whose to say that Byzantium might not have done yet more of the work directly to return Greek learning to the West if they had not been so busy trying to avoid oblivion at the hands of the Arabs. Arab scholars came to add much but initially what they preserved was already being preserved and added too before they essentially nicked it (full props for further synthenisation of Graeco-Roman and Iranian culture though).
And that is that, if you actually read all that, thank you, well done and I hope you found it interesting and/or amusing and if it made your blood boil and neither my punctuation nor my Parthia bashing was the primary cause then good news you have a sense of honesty, a dislike for hypocrisy and a sense of integrity in scholarship…..that or your a definite Romanophile, but there practically the same as far as I’m concerned:).
As for you Terry: