Read an article a while back that referred to states having “natural life cycles” yes all political institutions have a beginning, middle and end and I’m sure there’s an average length of time for a state to exist but then when dealing with any finite duration there is always a begining, middle and end but this talk of life cycles or natural cycles usually implies some kind of inevitable in-built use by date and average. many states don’t survive for a century, fewer still make 500 years, a select few like Rome, which is used in said article as an example of state’s having such a cycle manage to endure for more than a millenium. If states were people and the average life expectancy was say 80, Rome would probably shuffle off it’s mortal coil long after it’s 400th birthday, I shouldn’t have to tell you that thats not how people work. You may think I’m taking this too literally and quite likely for the reference that triggered this rant I am but many people seriously believe that there is some kind of consistent and anthropomorphic lifecycle for states and institutions, probably with a midlife crisis in there somewhere where they buy a motorcycle/invade Persia…..ok maybe that part happens……
FYI: They don’t work like F*cking seasons or days either.
So I saw someone on my wall share and/or like this article and I read it and was distinctly unimpressed and decided some kind of response was in order but a lot of things came up and then my response got very long, longer than I intended or would like but I felt I had to address and explain at least a little all the things that bothered me about it…..which turned out to be a fair bit, so now it’s a post on my wall made late at night rather than just a comment made in more normal hours. https://medium.com/…/history-tells-us-what-will-happen-next…
“History tells us”, “as historians we” “historians will”, “based on history” do you get the impression he’s leveraging his presumed degree for credibility with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer and implying both prescience and uniformity of opinion to the mysterious and august order to which he claims membership? nah that’d be silly in any case using it in such a way would demonstrate pretentiousness and insecurity, definitly not true then. on the subject of things that are most definitly probably maybe not true this totally isn’t an exercise in pseudo-intellectual masturbation driven by an ego almost as big as his Cassandra complex.
In any case this is a very poor article it is the subsumation of Europe into the dominance of two world powers whom cheifly avoided war with each other due to the doctrine of mutually assured destruction and from other factors like war’s reduced profitability and the horrors of WW2, the EU probably has little to do with it. The biggest falacy in an article of falacies however is this idea that opponents of Brexit, Trump or Putin have been/are some kind of “few brilliant minds” dismissed as “hysterical, mad, or fools” such people are neither few nor funny enough nor are they usually brilliant (To get past partisan bias here on Putin at least they would include president Bush as well as most senior Republicans as well as legions of newscorp journalists in America, Australia and the UK) the great majority of the political establishment and media in the UK opposed Brexit as well as a large segment of the general population. Opposition to Putin in particular and Russia in general is the default position of government and media in the three countries just mentioned and has been for most of the 20th century and with exceptions of course a good deal longer than that at least in Britain, Trump has been openly opposed by more of the media than any major presidential candidate for a considerable period of time and may very well fail to defeat an extremely unpopular rival in Hilary Clinton. In the UK and here I’m confidant he is still more consistently reviled both by the media and political establishment and the populace then he is in the states.
By contrast it was the political system set up by the elites of Europe that lead to the first world war, not outsiders, not populists but the at the time usual suspects, in 1914 the Kaiser, Austrian emperor Tsar and establishments of the more democratic (at least exempting thier many colonies) British and french were not impotently imploring thier people to reject the siren call of warmongering demagogues. No they were in charge, they collectively constructed the system in Europe that lead to the crisis and they lead thier countries into war following said crisis, this is not even necesarily to say they all made the wrong decision but the first world war was not caused by the impotence of the traditional political class in the face of populist warmongering outsiders, I can’t believe I need to say this but Trump is not responsible for the Somme.
None of this directly addresses the principal point of the article however, that being that Brexit/the election of Donald Drumph and the existence of Putin dramatically increases the danger of WW3/the black death/the end times/ pineapple on pizza because apparently we hate that now and what we need is to reassurt the control and policies of the establishment because in it we (the special clever people) trust. However as mentioned above it was the decisions of the establishment that lead to the first of the wars we are warned we are in danger of repeating, not the Trumps and Brexits of the world but the Victoria’s and tea and biscuits as it were. Now thier are significant and concerning similarities between the current rise in populist nationalist insurgent political parties and the political situation of the 1930’s as he points out, I do not dispute this fact or argue it’s insignificance but in terms of the prospect of war I am more concerned with our business as usual current trajectory than a shakeup caused by America becoming more isolationist and less Russophobic in policy by far.
At this point I should state that Donald Trump is a transparently deplorable human being who would make an awful (and very embarrasing president) in electing him America would effectively be deciding that really when it’s all said and done they really think the best person for the job is a vulgar egomaniac manchild conman whose election would discredit America as the leader of the “civilized” and free world enormously overnight. That said Hilary Clinton is a warmonger utterly committed to the furtherance of present trends in American foreign policy, a foreign policy that has seen nigh on continous escalation with Russia and China over the previous severel years. As secretary of state Hilary was integral in this process but while she frankly made the situation worse she is the establishments pick because her policy has the broad support of the elite and in particular that of the military industrial complex (sorry it does need to be said sheeple) and thus would likely broadly continue under the direction of most establishment candidates.
This policy is an impressive combination of immoral, incompetant and terrifying and is supported by the establishments of Britain and Australia and it is about power and driven by greed and fear, it involves networks of alliance based on the perceived mutual interests of the elites in the countries within said alliances making the deal (note interest of elites, not interest of people)for profit, control and against mutual enemies who are picked because they are threats to these interests (or thier own enemies make a better offer) not out of any sense of ethics or generally for the general betterment of the broader population. As such propaganda campaigns, regime change and proxy wars are the order of the day. Make no mistake though this policy has not proven effective but when it fails Hilary’s instinct is to double down on foreign policy she is more than just unscupulous she is unimaginative and inflexible and as a consequence of her and people who share her approach America has become involved with multiple proxy wars against Russia and Iran in service of Saudi Arabia. The largest of which in Syria they have become extremely involved long after any chance of achieving thier goal of removing Assad had evaporated but the longer they are thier working at cross purposes to the Russians the higher the chance of an incident…….
While continuing to escalate tensions in the South China Sea even after losing the support of one of thier previusly most committed allies in the Phillipines. America has been trying ever since the 90’s to maintain it’s breif and absolute pr-eminence in all corners of the globe, the more threatened this status is the more they double down, it is not enough merely to be the most powerful country in the world you must also be the dominant power in every region. Greater than China in East Asia and then Russia in it’s neck of the woods this is both megalomania and put simply no longer feasible. The 90’s are over and America simply does not have the resources or willpower to maintain the level of military and strategic ascendency to which it feels bizarely entitled and so they feel vulnearable and that makes them dangerous, simply put a Nato under the leadership of a traditional candidate much less the hawkish Clinton would be much more likely to start a war with Russia then stop one. If a Trump presidency leads to a deescalation or even just less escalation with Russia and China and a distancing from allies like the Saudi’s it would not be wholly a bad thing.
Episode 4- The End of the World: In this final episode Terry talks about the Huns, the Vandals and the fall of the Roman Empire, principally through the tale’s of Attila and Gaiseric the most famous leaders of the Huns and Vandals respectively before summing up. We begin with a very brief pre-title introduction illustrating just this ending: “with Rome gone Europe would enter a thousand years of ignorance and chaos: the dark ages…..well at least that’s what I was told.” First up both the term dark ages and the view of the time encompassed by it implied by the name are no longer fashionable in scholarship and have not been for decade’s but (perhaps in part because popular understanding lags behind academic trends) such was probably not the case when Terry was in school, so that part of what he’s saying is fine (leaving aside that I suspect the show’s target audience is significantly younger than our presenter) it’s the thousand year claim that’s the problem. That would bring the dark ages well into the 1400’s, not even the most generous definitions of the term had it last that long, I have difficulty believing Terry was taught that either. Again I would like to remind you that Terry claims some medieval expertise.
“If I’ve learn’t one thing making these programs about barbarians it’s that nothing is ever as simple as it seems” “the Greatest achievement of the Romans…..was propaganda” “2000 years after Rome’s collapse I was still being peddled their version of the past at school” I didn’t know you were from the future Terry! this explains everything! No wonder you know so much about history, you have a time machine! Stop the press everyone! Turns out Life of Brian is the most historically accurate recreation of the time of Jesus, so the History Channel was right aliens did visit Roman Jerusalem http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2sI8vIJQY8 ! besides it’s the only way this makes any sense: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Uvt83YWWWY
What follows is a summary of what Jones wants us to take from the preceding three episodes if you’ve read my previous posts in this series than you can guess what he says and my rebuttle (even brings up the Rome stopped an industrial revolution thing again…..still a heck of a claim to just toss around) he then sets the scene “by this time [by which he seems to mean roughly the fourth and fifth century’s] the empire was too unweildly and spawling to be managed solely from Rome, so at the end of the fourth century the Roman empire was split into two, now thier would be two empire’s East and West.” While Terry is saying this sadly often repeated fallacy a map appears showing the division into two empires and the locations of Rome and Constantinople (Now Istanbul, just ask the Turks) in the Western and Eastern Empire respectively. Now the empire was divided administratively with multiple emperors and multiple courts a number of times even discounting periods of civil war and a binary roughly East West form of division had also occured repeatedly but here Jones is almost certainly refferring to the division upon the death of emperor Theodosius I in 395 CE which split the empire between East and West for the final time before the Wests fall, but it would hardly matter if he were not. The map clearly implies that each is the capital of it’s respective part of the empire and if it is the Theodosian division we are dealing with this holds true for Constantinople and the East but not for Rome and the West, since the very founding of Constantinople Rome (and indeed earlier Constantine’s breif residence there notwithstanding) had not been what could be called a capital of empire, not in the same way as post-Theodosian Constantinple the emperor and his court resided at the Norther Italian city of Ravenna making that the political capital of the West, Rome still mattered, it was still a large city and as among other things the residence of the senate and the Western Empire’s only patriarch of the Church it was of considerable symbolic importance but it was not Constantinople’s Western Equivalent (though as Constantinople with Senate emperor and patriarch was beggining to take on similar symbolic importance to Rome you could argue that Ravenna was not it’s equivalent either…..). But as often I have wasted too much time on in many ways the least important but also least excusable error.
It is often claimed that the empire was eventually divided into two and in the case specifically of the administrative arrangements of the emperor Diocletian (late 3rd very early fourth centuries) 4 parts because the empire was simply too big to be managed by one emperor and/or one capital, it is less frequently explained however how the empire managed just fine (and for the last 60 or so years before Diocletian well…..managed……) with one of either for around 3 centuries. The empire’s territories were not substantially smaller under Augustus Diocletian and the succesors of Theodosius under Trajan and over a century of his succesors they were bigger still yet the empire endured and functioned well for a long time. Most states do not last three century’s at all, not even close. There are other far more plausible explanations for the division of empire that have nothing to do with administrative necesity or even efficiency due to an excess of territory but this is a complex and contentious issue and it is best to leave it here for now. Suffice to say Terry is wrong here but he has a lot of company including in scholarship so I must grudgingly accord him some leeway.
We then move on after some emotively charged but vague stuff about the empire being Christian now and the resulting new framing of the us vs them narrative to the first of this weeks barbarians: The Huns, Terry claims they migrated from Mongolia, many scholars think so, many don’t, I don’t have a strong opinion myeself and don’t know the details but I thought you should know thats contentious as is the degree to which the Hunnic invasians sparked a wave of Germanic migrations westward into the empire, the extent of Hun caused migrations is played up by many scholars such as Terry favoured consultant Peter Heather whereas others such as Paul Halsall contend convincingly that the Hun caused migrations have been exaggerated though in Terry’s defense he could not have read the book of Halsall’s from which I gathered that information and the Huns certainly played a key role in the Germanic migrations that resulted in the famed battle of Adrianople (see my second Terry post).
For the next while Terry adds a good dose of padding and investigates the nature of the Huns, putting foreward thier warlord style socio-political structure as something distinctive (only perhaps in that they took it to extremes) then we get to Attilla and his short lived empire aside from the usual hyperbole and some of the visual subtext (equating Attilla with Soviet style personality cut leadership etc. Uncle Attilla indeed….) it’s all very conventional and decently accurate in terms of the actual information conveyed. The Huns as Walter Pohl Terry’s onscreen historian for this segment explains to Terry and as Heather (as previusly mentioned a clear source for Terry dealing with late Antique barbarians who shows up later in the episode) claims in his writing were a society of parasites, Attilla being merely the biggest parasite of all (though Pohl does not put it quite so explicitly or nearly so negatively) Terry interestingly enough essentially runs with thier conclusion (even making a mafia reference in regards to the way Attilla operated), one with which I am also esentially in agreement, I know,I know this is scary not only am I agreeing with Heather but Jones himself! Fear not for something is still very wrong here (aside from me agreeing with Terry) that being Terry’s tone, how he chooses to emotively portray this data, he clearly admires (if perhaps ruefully) Attilla despite the fact that he seems to think (not as I have said without good cause) he’s the godfather, I quote: “It seems that Attilla really did think he was destined to rule the world, well he certainly made everyone around him believe it. But he didn’t want to rule the world the way the Romans did- you know actually having to run things, making laws and organizing administrations thats, thats a mug’s game. No all he needed was one secretary and a big army to get everyone to bow down before him, humbly submit and hand over the money, in the evenings he would come home to singing maidens holding white cloths over his head and watch everyone grovel. Now thats ruling the world!” Now you may be thinking this makes perfect sense he’s having some lighthearted fun, loads of people think Vikings or pirates and yes the Mafia are cool it doesn’t mean they approve of them morally no need to be a prude loads of documentaries have a bit of fun some badass warlords.
Yes all of this is true and in many circumstances perfectly fine (historical comedy and selective admiration of historical figures is a complicated social issue, why is it ok to make jokes about Viking sacks and not Soviet Gulags or genuinly admire the military genius of Genghis Khan but not the charisma of Adolf Hitler seperate from thier policies and broader persons etc.) I wrote for an ancient history revue for years (and will probably do so again) and wrote skits involving comedy about crucifiction, persectution, murder, oppression etc, and on the selective admiration side of the coin have long admired many of the qualities of historical figures of shall we say suspect characters Genghis Khans determination and energy, Stalin’s cunning etc. and there can be no denying the awesome badassery of the likes of Sulla, Tamerlane, Baibars, Robert Guiscard, (Tywin Lannister;)) etc. Which brings me to the first of my two objections: Terry? Attilla, really!? HE”S your badboy historical crush (well one of, the great thing about this is you can have as many as you want)? oh Terry……….you can do SO much better, I know his name’s kinda cool and you add in the nickname “the Scourge of God” and it starts sounding really cool and he’s got this sword called the sword of Mars (supposedly) and that story from Priscus you related about him is just awesome isn’t it practically dreamy. But Honey they’ve like ALL got swords it don’t matter what you call it it’s what you do with it that counts, like how many people has he killed in single combat? Oh none……Heraclius emperor of Byzantium killed like loads, total f*cking badass, like seriusly but maybe he’s too much of a goodie goodie for you and as for strength well Theodoric the Ostrogoth like cut a guy in two at dinner before he could blink then joked that the poor bastard wouldn’t have had time to sh*t. In terms of badass nicknames there was this guy called Nicephorus Phocas who’s nickname was “pale death of the saracens” no idea what the pale part refers to but thats pretty damn cool, you want badass barbarians did Attilla make a drinking cup out of the skull of a Roman emperor he’d killed? Did Attilla even kill a Roman emperor? wow talk about overrated, he at least sacked Rome right?…………why is this guy famous again? ok so Attilla probably outmaneurverd and killed his brother Bleda to attain sole rulership but thats like ruthless backstabbing 101 a million monarchs did that. You want your ruthless intriguers, your machiavellian masterminds? you got your Wu Zetian empress of China your Tokugawa Ieyasu Shogun of Japan, Your Joseph Stalin your Basil I or every fourth Byzantine emperor and have you even met Augustus?! Play the field girl. And then there’s the Khan, face it Terry Attilla the (very) poor mans Genghis, Genghis rose from an outcast child eating roots in the wilderness to stay alive to found and rule an empire severel times larger than Attilla’s. He was more loved by his men and more widely feared by everybody else, and his empre survived his death. Attilla wasn’t just an ephemeral parasite he was also despite his fearsome reputation a mediocre general. dump his ass. Skank.
Now to my more serious objection namely the manipulative inconsistency you see while an analysis of the information provided by Terry and co on the huns may lead one upon reflection to disaprove of Attilla and his society to judge them a net detriment to civilisation Terry crucially does not do the job for you, this would be fine perhaps even commendable (depending on the documentary’s point) if he extended the same courtesy to the Romans. If you recall way back in episode one in regards to Caesar and the gaul’s, Caesar’s actions are not described with roguish admiration but with moral outrage and self-righteous indignation, the Roman desire to “rule the world” (if they had any such) is condemned in episode 3, their supposed leeching role in regards to the societies they conquered, thier avarice condemned. Caesar is judged, Rome is condemned even for that that she should not be while Attilla is forgiven even praised. By this point the series has well established itself as a work of revisionist moral instruction and its treatment of Attilla undermines Terry’s little witch-burning.
Terry then relates Attilla’s final campaigns first his invasian of Gaul in which he claims the battle that stopped Attilla’s invasian killed more people than any other battle in history, the battle of the Cautalonian fields would certainly have seen immense slaughter but here Terry is almost certainly taking ancient sources on the matter at face value. If one were to take all Ancient sources on face value I suspect it would have been some Chinese enagagement but even modern historians often ignore Chinese history when proclaiming this or that to the biggest city, the greatest empire, the largest battle up to that point in history but it’s just that a strong suspicion. Regardless one shouldn’t take the numbers provided in ancient sources at face value anyway and I strongly suspect considering it’s previusly superior resources and resource management that the Roman army had fought bigger and bloodier battles whose numbers were less inflated than this struggle couched in apocalyptic terms probably was.
Next he relates Attilla’s final campaign his invasian of Italy, well he doesn’t really relate the campaign just pope Leo the Great’s meeting with Attilla to convince him not to sack Rome, he in my view correctly surmises that the view put foreward by the Catholic Church that Attilla was threatened by saints Peter and Paul and the pagan fled from Italy of his own accord through fear of divine wrath is shall we say very, very, (very) suspect. He then blithely implies that it was probably because the Pope paid him off, while papal bribery may certainly have played a part Terry omits to mention three important details, one, that the Eastern Empire was taking advantage of Attilla’s (and his army’s) abscence to invade his territories, two, that at long last the Western Romans were approaching with an army of thier own and finally that Attilla’s army had come down with plague. All three factors may have convinced Attilla to withdraw his already booty laden army but would undermine Terry’s portrayel here that Attilla was strong and the empire weak (which it was just not near as much as portrayed).
Terry goes on to inflate the importance of Pope Leo’s propaganda coup to the Catholic Church and the Papacy in particular claiming Attilla created the Pope and “All he left behind was his last rival the pope, who would dominate Europe for the next millenium, Rome didn’t fall to the barbarian it fell to the church, Attilla’s only real achievement was inadvertently to establish the pope of Rome as the unquestioned leader of the Roman Catholic Church, his legacy was not the foundation of a magnificent barbarian kingdom but a Catholic one.” Leo and the papacy made great currency on his supposed saving of Rome from Attilla but this massively overstates the case, the papacy most certainly could not claim to have dominated Europe for the next thousand years, as discounting non-Christian Europe (be it Islamic, Polytheist etc) the pope’s were often deposed by or puppets of local Roman nobility and strong men much less Byzantine or Holy Roman emperors or other monarchs, there were often rival pope’s and the papacy very often failed to control Rome much less Europe, it was a powerful and very important institution but not that powerful, indeed before the schism with the East in the 100’s CE the papacy certainly couldn’t claim unquestioned dominance of the church even amongst fellow bishops as the patriarch of Constantinople could attest and Byzantine and Holy Roman emperors had their own claims to spiritual authority. Over the centuries following Leo the papacy would on the whole increase it’s importance at times dramatically but this was a long and complicated process that began before Leo and was not inevitable and anyone claiming that from Leo onward for the next Thousand years the papacy would dominate the Catholic Church and Europe doesn’t have any idea what thier talking about, at all.
As for the Church destroying Rome, if your going to parrot Gibbon Terry then please explain why the Eastern Empire survived or at least try to make a case, it’s possible it contributed but it doesn’t really hold water as some kind of primary cause.
And with that we are done with Attilla and the Huns and on to Gaiseric and the Vandals. Terry relates How the Vandals (though he omits that thier were two seperate Vandal polities at the time) fled across the Rhine as a migrating people fleeing the Huns and looking for somewhere to settle, the devastation that follows throughout France and then Spain in the wake of the wandering people’s (other groups such as the Alans were migrating through the region at the same time though Terry doesn’t mention this) is blamed on the Romans and others attacking them with Terry focusing on the sufferings of the vandals not the inhabitants of France and Spain, blaming them and the Romans for the violence against the poor vandals who were just looking for a place to settle, with thier political structure intact of course, and seemingly indignant and incredulous that the Romans wouldn’t leave them alone. Migrating people’s in the ancient world were dangerous, desperation to survive brings out the thief and murderer in people, food would have been scarce and they would have had little means of purchasing it and even if they had wished to the Vandal leaders would have found it extremely different to control thier people in these circumstances and stop looting, murderering and raping and these all happened. Despite Terry’s claims that the Vandals were a peaceful people they had raided the empire before and this was an invasian, that’s what settling in someone else’s territory through force is called Terry and that should prove sufficient explanation for why the Romans weren’t so keen on the Vandals.
We then move on to Gaiseric and the Vandals Arianisim (though thats not what they would have called it) which Terry claims was more reviled by the Catholics (to the extent we should remember to which our understanding of the term Catholic is applicable to the time period, much of present doctrine for the Catholic Church had not yet been established) than the beliefs they would entitle Pagan, giving as evidence it’s outlawing by Rome at the time as “paganisim” was also outlawed this isn’t a very good argument and broadly speaking was untrue there was a lot of hostility between Arians and Catholics but probably less than between Catholics and “pagans”, case in point contrary to Terry’s portrayel it is the pagan Attilla not the Arian Gaiseric who is painted as more of the sinister other, though both men are treated with hostility.
Terry then goes on to claim that the primary reason for Roman opposition to Arianisim was that as the emperor was associated with Jesus (Terry plays up the association considerably) the Arian doctrine that the son was not the equal of the father diminished the emperor and threatened the concept of Imperial infallibility in which the Romans believed. Considering the early Christian emperors Constantine I (the first “Christian” emperor) and his son Constantius had arian sympathies and were most definitly autocratic personalities it is difficult to justify this explanation but Terry’s case is further weakened by the fact that there was never a widely held belief in the empire that the emperors were infallible nor did they claim to be so, this is a basic error or a lie and suits Terry’s attempts now and later in this episode to liken the emperor to the pope and the papal doctrine of infallibility, the comparison is not even remotely apt and besides the papal doctrine itself would not exist for some centuries. The very few other comments on religion and state mentioned such as the political independence asserted from the emperor and empire by a king being Arian rather than Catholic essentially holds true.
What follows is a few minutes of largely ineffectual but not very informative stuff on Gaiseric and his people’s invasian ended by the downplaying of Vandal persecutions of catholics mocking them for complaning that Gaiseric banned thier hymns, one can’t help but think that the banning of key and inoffensive rituals for other faiths would get him up in arms, what follows is a description of the wealth and sophistication of late Roman North Africa and it’s largest city Carthage in particular and it’s strategic importance to Rome through taxation of it’s wealth and the supply of free grain to Italy and Rome in particular, here Heather’s influence shows yet again and he is one of the experts consulted in this section, the picture of ruins are pretty and the picture is essentially accurate (to the extent of my knowledge) and I’m grateful for a few minutes repreive from the stupid and asinine. Though Terry only mentions one of a number of Roman attempts to retake North Africa to emphasize another legacy of Attilla for thematic reasons it is only with the account of the Vandal sack of Rome that we again enter truly dodgy territory Terry strongly implies that the infamous Vandal sack of Rome despite going on for 14 days was practically bloodless and minimal and essentially insignificant in it’s levels of destruction, if you believe that of a three week sack of an ancient city well, I can’t think of anything clever to say so basically: you are a moron. It shoyld be noted that the peaceful civilised Vandals under Gaiseric’s penchant for large scale Meditteranean piracy and conquest of islands (such as Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica) is never so much as mentioned.
Finally we come to how civilsed the Vandals were mentioning thier poets and architects/engineers I don’t know enough to comment on poetry specifically but like the writers of most early barbarian kingdoms most would have been culturally Roman, outside the class of society deemed by both the Vandals themeselves and the Roman empires as Vandals and this is certainly the case with engineers and architects, not much calling for that proffession in the tribe’s of Germania, my only real problem with this is that cultural Greeks who were Roman citizens are usually not counted as Romans by Terry so why should cultural Romans residing in Vandal ruled North Africa? Otherwise this breif section is ok, the Vandals did not utterly destroy the wealth and culture of the society they conquered, well done. Finally it should also be mentioned that this like prior episodes takes favourable accounts or opinions of barbarian people’s or leaders as in previous episodes at face value while questioning more hostile accounts only, shades of Tacitus, the Germans and episode 2……….
Finally we get to the last roughly five minutes and wrapping up the series, in which Terry explains if the Roman empire fell and the barbarians were like super cool guys why is it that the Roman view has prevailed? Because Catholicism. Well thats simple, The Catholic Church was responsible for the preservation of most surviving Ancient literature and was an institution of the Roman empire, it’s language was Latin, the Vandals were Arians, the Huns non-christians as were the earlier barbarians. Of course there was bias in what the church chose to preserve and yet more in what they themeselves wrote but the bias was not absolute, Catholic scribe’s dutifully copied texts that contained anti-Christian material and plenty of material complimentary to non-Romans and Non-Greeks and it should be noted that often no-one was stopping the various groups Terry has mentioned from writing and preserving thier own material, it is natural for any society, political, social or ideological to focus on there own society put simply if the huns didn’t write anything or leave a sufficient cultural legacy then they shouldn’t go blaming the Catholic Church for not making sure they were remembered in appropriately loving detail.
Terry: “If I’ve learn’t one thing making these programs about barbarians it’s that nothing is ever as simple as it seems”
Thus Terry relates is how “we”, by which I assume he means Western Europeans (and to an extent ex-colonies of such), lost our history and forgot the story of our ancestors, while you would be hard pressed to find a European without “barbarian” blood in his veins considering Vandals and Goths, Huns, franks etc. merely composed a small fraction of the population of the regions thier kings came to politically control compared to the local Roman citizenry and basically everybody at some point is related to everybody else, especially in Europe that’s essentially meaningless, this surface elite it should be noted largely culturally assimilated into the local populations, French, Spanish and Italian are easily more influenced by Latin than the Germanic languages of thier conquerors, the literature, religion, architecture and legal systems of Western Europe are also easily more influenced by Rome than any of the barbarian groups mentioned except perhaps the Greeks who should never have really been in this doco series anyway (for reasons explained in the opening paragraphs of my third post on this subject), this is not to say that the history and culture of the Vandals, Huns, Goths, Celts etc. Aren’t important, they are but the implication here in calling this the real history is to claim that they were more important or at least more legitimate, the first implication is simply untrue the second insidious. There are many history’s and there’s nothing inherantly wrong with revisionisim, perhaps this history corrected some of the myths you held to about Antiquity but if so it probably replaced them with even more, jumping on bandwagons and proclaiming old perspectives as revolutionary and new isn’t very clever, demonising one side and idolising another isn’t very clever, lying to your audience isn’t very………respectable, this series isn’t very clever and those proffesional scholars who associated themeselves with it if they had any idea what was going on should be ashamed.
Brian: Look, you’ve got it all wrong! You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re all individuals!- Monty Python’s life of Brian.
In conclusion regardless of what you think of his politics Terry Jones demonstrates amply in this politically correct pompous propaganda piece that unlike everyone’s favorite non-messiah he doesn’t want you to think for yourself, He doesn’t wish to try to persuade you fairly, adult to adult, mind to mind and respect you and the evidence, Terry wants you to follow him, because he knows better and he doesn’t have the time to let the truth get in the way of convincing you so, instead he relies on spin and outright lies, after all he has all that smug lazy sarcasm to fit in…..that and the cross-dressing…….your not the messiah Terry your just a Very naughty boy.
Hi all, I’ve kinda been thinking lately about how so many that mattered in the generation of senators who replaced the initial cabal of senior statesman dominant in Roman politics upon Sulla’s death (eg. Catulus, Hortensius, Lucullus etc) regardless of faction had a Sullan defiance story. Pompey, Cicero, Caesar and Cato all had such a story. Sort of like the Bolsheviks and the October revolution or the generation of Brits who fought in the first world war or (in some ways closer to the mark) Germans and the third Reich. Roman politicians, in particular those old enough to have been viewed as adults at the time of Sulla’s dictatorship but not senior enough to have been considered politically significant (the glaring exception there is Pompey who achieved great political significance at a very young age) asked each other where were you and what did you do when Sulla came to town. Seemingly everyone had to have a story that in many cases would form an integral part of the construction of their public Persona, It was clearly important to be seen to have in some way stood up to the dictator, similarly implication in the perceived excesses of the Sullan regime became the starting point for Character assassinations (see Catilina and Crassus (both enemies of Cicero who thus get their reputations blackened) and to an extent also Pompey).
So now let’s (crudely, oh so very crudely) relate and compare these stories in regards to their likelihood and impressiveness, by which I mean how much bravery they would have taken. Of All these stories Cicero’s is in many ways the least direct as it consisted of his defending a client of his (Sextus Roscius) on a charge of murder in court in one of Cicero’s first great cases, he did this by turning the trial into an attack on the corruption of Chrysogonus, Sulla’s freedmen who was overseeing the administration of much of the proscriptions in doing so Cicero was at least implicitly criticizing Sulla’s regime publicly, before a large crowd in the Roman forum itself. However Cicero went to pains to make it plain that he was not criticizing Sulla himself, even praising the man, laying all the excesses in question at the foot of a few corrupt individuals. As such Sulla was able to scapegoat Chrysogonus as he may have already intended (or not, either way) and Cicero a nobody with no army was clearly little threat. In terms of reliability though the speech handed down to us of the trial by Cicero has likely been slightly revised by him after the fact, this was a well known public event and if Cicero had not in fact said something like what is recorded his enemies (in which he was seldom deficient) would have exposed it easily, the gist of this Sullan defiance story is thus in my view highly reliable, this one happened ladies and gentlemen. Oh and he won the case btw.
Now to Pompey whose defiance story is as brazen, direct and impudent as they come, but that’s Pompey for you (another reason these stories likely survived is that they were likely reflected the public perception of these historical personages as well as helping to create it in a sort of cyclical effect), Firstly according to Plutarch after Pompey had defeated the Marian/Cinnan/Carbo (rapid turnover of leadership among the faction, I don’t even think Carbo was the leader any more by the time of Pompey’s victory in Africa) faction in Africa Sulla commanded him to dismiss most of his legions and await replacement as governor, instead Pompey’s army mutinied and returned to Rome, Pompey claimed (and Plutarch believes him, more fool him) that he the mutiny was against his wishes and he tried to stop it, and if you believe this of Pompey I have a house I’d like to sell you…..nevertheless Sulla backed down and welcomed Pompey back, Pompey then demanded a triumph, Sulla refused to grant it to him in the words of Plutarch “intimating that he could not by any means yield to his request, but if he would persist in his ambition, that he was resolved to interpose his power to humble him” to which Pompey replied that “More people worship the rising than the setting sun” implying that while his own power was rising that Sulla’s was waning, or to point out the sheer impudence, gall and hubris of such a statement: “it’s my time old man, you’ve had yours, get out of my way”. Seemingly stunned by the sheer gall of this Sulla backed down immediately exclaiming “let him triumph”.
As to the reliability of the above, the mutiny and march on Rome could hardly be a made up anecedote (“Yo remember when Pompey’s army marched on Rome in defiance of Sulla”, “hang on when did that happen”, you get the point, this isn’t the kind of thing that turns out to be an after the fact myth) so the earlier parts definitely solid, except in regards to Pompey’s motivations and role in the ‘mutiny’ to which I feel as evidenced by Pompey’s record for egotisim and treachery I must say liar! liar! Toga on fire! As to the stuff about the triumph, well we know Pompey triumphed for his campaign in Africa and as to the famous exchange Plutarch makes it clear that others were present but he gives no detail as to who those others were, this part is more likely to be apocryphal but still unlikely to be, both Pompey and especially Sulla were important people at the time, at the heart of Public life as such if this were in some way a public exchange (even if just among Rome’s elite) there are important people who would have known about it. As to the impressiveness of the defiance we have already mentioned it’s brazenness and audacity but it should always be remembered that unlike any of the others I’m covering he had a personal army to back him up. People with their own armies tend to get a bit of leeway with the boss, keep that in mind while angling for your next promotion.
Next up is Caesar, Now Caesar was a bit younger than Cicero and Pompey and held (or was scheduled to hold) a priesthood -the Flamen Dialis, that was really restrictive in its rules as well (for instance the Flamen Dialis could not have contact with iron, ride a horse or go far from the city and thus obviously could not lead an army or have much of a chance at a significant political career, at some point Sulla removed his priesthood carving the way ironically considering what I am about to convey for Caesar’s brilliant future politico/military career) and thus had not really entered public life, his family was patrician but was not prominent among Rome’s senatorial families and until recently had been outright obscure and for someone of a senatorial family the young Caesar was outright poor. He was however Marius nephew by marriage and married to Cinna’s daughter. In Sullan Rome this was a problem, Sulla demanded that Caesar divorce his wife, Caesar refused, indeed according to my plutarch (Plutarch doesn’t connect this explicitly with Sulla’s demand for Caesar’s divorce but it is normally associated with it and as we have no other accounts of a disagreement between the two aside from a confused reference to a priesthood by Plutarch that is likely a mistake for something else….) Sulla threatened him with his power to which Caesar answered him with a smile, “You do well to call it your own, as you bought it.” referring to allegations that Sulla won election to the office of Praetor through bribery. As a consequence of his defiance Caesar’s property was seized and a price put on his head, he went into hiding, supposedly having to bribe a soldier who captured him after he caught Malaria. Fortunately for Caesar his family also had connections with Sulla and pressured him to pardon the boy, Caesar was no threat and his connections to Sulla’s enemies old and made as a child, with Cinna long dead Caesar’s marriage to his daughter did not mean that much in practical terms.
This is one impressive story a young political nobody with no private army defying the dictator to his face and seemingly even calmly insulting him when subsequently threatened, this is in my opinion the most impressive of all the stories and it is important to note that of the four men discussed here he was the only one who was actually proscribed (this time around Cicero turn would come……), even if it was later revoked, that has got to win you some serious street cred. What’s more is that just like the preceding 2 tales it’s even likely to be true. Proscriptions and appeals would have been matters of public record and knowledge, the social world that Sulla, Caesar and Caesar’s relatives lived in was such that if a young patrician (the son-in-law of the late Cinna no less) was proscribed then pardoned people would know about it, furthermore like Cicero Caesar had many enemies throughout his career and there is a significant anti-Caesarean strain in much literature including much of Cicero’s prolific writings, if this wasn’t true he was unlikely to get away with it. The one aspect of the story on shaky ground is Caesar’s retort to Sulla’s threat, it is not near as well represented in the sources as the actual refusal, threat and flight and smacks more of anecedote, besides unlike the essential facts of the matter who would remember the gritty details of Caesar’s exchange with Sulla well enough to be able to deny a zinger. It could still easily be true however.
Finally we come to Cato Uticenses or Cato the Younger (we are just going to call him Cato), with his reputation as a particularly stubborn arch-conservative Cato is often depicted in film and popular culture as older than he actually was. For example in the novel series “emperor” Cato is portrayed as much older than Caesar (as well as a fat hedonistic amoral Machiavellian senior Sullan who dies during the Spartacus rebellion………I don’t know where to start………) in HBO”s Rome he is played by an actor who looks older than the guy they got for Pompey, much less Caesar and the same is the case for the 2002 mini-series called Julius Caesar where Christopher Walken plays Cato as a senator of long standing at the time of Sulla’s takeover of Rome and decades older than Caesar and again significantly older than Pompey (Richard Harris, the first Dumbledore, played Sulla in one of his last performances….so there’s a contrast…….). In reality Cato was the youngest of the four and unfortunately for him seemingly on the very edge of this generation, old enough to be expected to have such a story perhaps but not old enough to have much of a chance at actually having one, Caesar had not yet begun his public career and Cato was roughly 5 years his junior. His story is that his tutor was wont to take him to Sulla’s house to wait on him (this was possible due to Sulla’s relationship with Cato’s family) in order for him and the boy to attain favour, Cato seeing the excesses of The Sullan regime up close and sensing the terror of those around him enquired of his tutor “Why does nobody kill this man?” his tutor replied that it was because they feared him more than they hated him, “why then” inquired Cato “did you not give me a sword, that I might stab him, and free my country from this slavery?” and afterwards seeing that he meant it his tutor kept a closer eye on him.
Well doesn’t that sound bold?! None of the previous stories go as far as muting a likely suicidal assassination attempt! and all this from a teenage boy!…………it does indeed SOUND bold but I just highlighted the key word for you in that statement, sound. All the other stories mentioned include some ACTUAL defiance of Sulla (Pompey, Caesar) or at the very least open criticism of his regime (Cicero), the declaration is audacious but it is made in anger to his tutor, not to a crowd, not to other members of the Senatorial class and certainly not to Sulla and as to actions well let’s just say he obviously never got that sword (Cato must decided to put off the whole martyrdom thing till a more futile time after he’d achieved his professional goal of starting a Civil war). We’ve all said some pretty daring things (especially when very young) when no-one, only close friends or someone less important than us is around.
As to it’s reliability well for the reasons given in the previous paragraph this story is extremely unreliable too, there are no reliable witnesses, just Cato and his tutor, a socially inferior employee of his family. What’s more it’s case as something impressive is based entirely on Cato’s tutor (Sarpedon) believing according to Plutarch that he’d do it too, that’s a few too many degree’s of separation for my liking all other stories mentioned involved something notably more public or at least involved witnesses of equal or greater standing to the putative politician in question. Incidentally this isn’t even supposed to be Cato’s first defiance of a powerful figure, Plutarch (who else?) records that he stood up to the threats of Poppaedius Silo a leader of the Socii people the Marsi (Italian allies of Rome) who had playfully asked the children of Drusus’s household (where Cato grew up) to support him and Drusus in their bid to gain the Roman citizenship for the Italian allies. As this soon happened (after a war, thanks to people who shared Cato’s attitude) It seems even as a small child Cato was determined to stubbornly back history’s losing sides.
In conclusion I think I’ve shed a little light on Sulla’s effect on what Erich Gruen dubbed “the last generation of the Roman Republic” and shown how for
politicians of this generation your perceived actions during the dictatorship and terror of Lucius Cornelius Sulla formed an integral part of your origin story, for better or worse. Indeed this seems to have been so Important that Cato or those who supported or sympathized with him felt the need to claim that a very young Cato would have killed the Dictator for being a tyrant………if his tutor hadn’t stopped him….., in other words it was inconceivable to those who saw Cato as the greatest defender of the Republic’s narrow conception of liberty of his generation that he had had not in some way stood up to Sulla and so he or those who sought to believe in him clutched at/constructed rumors. In light of the less dubious and arguably more impressive defiance of all the others mentioned for someone whose authority was heavily reliant on moral pre-eminence by comparison to his rivals (Pompey the absurdly rich accomplished general and administrator, Cicero the extremely talented lawyer and orator and Caesar, Cato’s great enemy, who was not only a great orator, politician, administrator and general but also had the most impressive Sulla defiance story) this was especially important as Cato had no great conquests to his name, no brilliant reputation in the courts and never even reached the consulship too bad he or some supporter had to lie to give it to him. Finally it is interesting to note that despite continued political instability, violence and outright civil war it is only with the emergence of a new and younger generation who were outright children or (In Octavian’s case) not even born at the time of Sulla’s proscriptions that the ugly practice returns, it is in a strange and morbid way fitting that the last survivor of these four dictator defiers died as a result of these second proscriptions and that though they survived Sulla none died of natural causes make of that what you will.
By the way I don’t much care for Cato, thought you should know.
Regards,Samuel ‘I said someone should kill Robert Mugabe once, where’s my medal’ Runge.
A long time ago (in my second post) I talked about/compared the various layers of historical bias in favour of the Roman political figures Marius and Sulla and at one point I mentioned how Sulla’s writing of his own memoirs (even though they haven’t survived) lead to bias in his favour as other ancient writers (whose writings have survived, at least in part) used said memoirs as a source without being sufficiently critical (which was kinda their thing…..). For example I believe insufficiently critical use of Sulla’s memoirs as a source is responsible for the content of the following extract (keep in mind that if I’m wrong about the present extract there’s no shortage of other potential examples) from Sallust’s Jugurthine war, more specifically the extract is about Sulla’s negotiations with king Bocchus of Mauretania and the negotiations of Jugurtha and his representative with the same king:
“On the next day the king [Bocchus] called Aspar, Jugurtha’s legate, and said that through the agency of Dabar he knew from Sulla that the war could be laid aside under certain conditions: could he therefore find out the opinion of his king. Delightedly the man set off for Jugurtha’s camp; then, fully informed by the latter, he sped on his way and returned to Bocchus after eight days and reported that, while Jugurtha desired to do everything that was being commanded, he had little confidence in Marius: often before, a peace agreed with Roman commanders had proved fruitless; but, if Bocchus wanted the interests of both of them to be consulted and a certified peace, he should do his best to ensure that they all convened for a dialogue as if concerning peace, and should there hand Sulla over to himself: when he had such a man in his power, that would be the time for a treaty to be made on the order of senate or people! A noble individual in the power of the enemy not through his own cowardly apathy but for the sake of the commonwealth would not be abandoned.”
Now to me this seems suspect, Sulla at this time was not a very important Roman magistrate or a figure of much standing, he was a Quastor, the lowest rung on the cursus honorum, furthermore his family though patrician were obscure and he himself was born into (by Senatorial standards at the very least) poverty. As members of Rome’s elite go he was not at the time important, lacking office’s and achievements and likely money and friends as well. Why then would his capture result in much better conditions of peace for Jugurtha? At least ones that would last,on a few occasions whole Roman armies (with thier commanders) had been surrounded facing nearly certain destruction and their commanders had signed peace treaties with the enemy in order to get themselves and/or their men home alive. However on all occasions once the Roman army had gotten safely away the treaty was repudiated. Jugurtha himself early in the same war had by his surrounding of a Roman army provided an example of this behaviour. Furtheremore during the First Punic war Carthage captured Marcus Atilius Regulus, a Roman pro-consul, who had been consul twice (one suffect but still) and
refused to bargain for his safe return.This extract smacks of Sulla building himself up after the fact, with hindsight on Sullust’s part projecting Sulla’s later importance to his very early career (Ancient biographers/historians loved over projecting stuff from the later years of a key figure to thier early life/career, indeed thier over and inappropriate use of projecting would make the modern motivational industry proud) this and the lack of other available sources conspired succesfully to obtain Sullust’s credulity.
Hello all, in the interests of laziness this is a longer list of funny ancient quotations with commentary composed of the stuff that wasn’t Alexander the Great related, to explain context efficiently (for me not for you, heavens forbid that) I just slightly edited the intro from my Alexander the Great amusing quotations list to serve as this one’s intro.
Hello All, I realize I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought I’d remedy that. As you’ve no doubt noticed this isn’t the fourth and hopefully final post on Terry Jones Barbarians. No I’m far too lazy to do that right now, what this is is a collection of amusing soundbites with pithy and generally silly commentary by me largely but exclusively from Plutarch that I put up on facebook quite some time ago (courtesy of my lack of a social life finding it was much easier than you might assume). The Plutarch stuff was from a thing I did called Plutarch week where I read through a Penguin Classics volume of Greek lives by Plutarch (theoretically one every day or so….) and posted amusing quotes on my wall with what I hoped passed for amusing commentary, the idea was that it would motivate me to keep reading by adding a social dimension etc. I got the idea from doing a bit of the same kind of thing while reading through Suetonius, only it turns out Suetonius is much better suited to that kind of thing (should have seen that one coming). Plutarch is chock full of the weird, the amusing and the absurd.
But his style is different and didn’t lend itself that well to the Facebook format (which may well be a form of praise…..), quotations often had to be longer to establish context and a lot of stuff that was funny to me would be extremely difficult to explain, This fact and the lack of general responsiveness to my quotes made the task more of a chore than a motivator but I had committed myself and so Plutarch week ended up being more like Plutarch month. Basically this is not a list of the most interesting and certainly not close to the most profound or useful of Plutarch’s passages nor those of Suetonius as passage’s from him were selected along the same lines. Nor are they even necessarily the funniest just the humorous ones I happened to post that were deemed serviceable (ish) as wall posts.
Before we begin a note on Suetonius: Among the lost works of Suetonius are treatise on bodily defects, on correct terms for clothing, on famous courtesans and “on Greek terms of abuse”- So basically he wrote a book on Greek insults……why is it all the cool works are lost……
“The great toe of his right foot was also said to possess a divine power, so that when the rest of his body was burned after his death, this was found unharmed and untouched by the fire.”- Plutarch, life of Pyrrhus, 3. Just like his purported ancestor Achilles part of Pyrrhus body was apparently invincible- only rather than having an Achilles heel Pyrrhus had an Achilles absolutely everything except the right toe….and now I’m imagining the adventures of a super hero with one invulnerable toe……
“The enemy became all the more elated when Pyrrhus was struck on the head with a sword, and retired a little way from the fighting. One of the Mamertines, a man of giant stature clad in shining Armour ran out in front of the ranks and challenged Pyrrhus in a loud voice to come foreword if he were still alive. This infuriated Pyrrhus, and in spite of the efforts of his guards to protect him, he wheeled round and forced his way through them. His face was smeared with blood and his features contorted into a terrible expression of rage. Then before the barbarian could strike, he dealt him a tremendous blow on the head with his sword. So great was the strength of his arm and the keenness of the blade that it cleft the man from head to foot, and in an instant the two halves of his body fell apart.”- Plutarch, life of Pyrrhus, 24. So yeah incidentally invincitoe here was pretty badass- at least personally, that and he could supposedly cure diseases of the spleen with his right foot (coincidence that it was the right foot? I don’t think so!) and ladies, he’s polygamous!
“Demetrius went to war with the people of Rhodes because they were allies of Ptolemy and he moved up against thier walls the greatest of his so-called ‘city-takers’. This was a seige tower with a square base, each side of which measured seventy-two feet at the bottom. It was ninety-nine feet high with the upper part tapering off to narrower dimensions……The machine never tottered or leaned on its base, advancing with an even motion and with a noise and an impetus that inspired mingled feelings of alarm and delight in all who beheld it”.- Plutarch, life of Demetrius, 21. And so the Rhodians oooed and ahhh’d as they watch the oversized “firm and upright” phallic symbol approach to breach their walls………….
“On another occasion when Demetrius had been drinking for several days continuously, he excused his absence by saying that he had been laid up with a severe cold. ‘So I heard’, remarked Antigonus, ‘but did your cold come from Chios or from Thasos?’ Another time after hearing that his son was sick, Antigonus went to visit him and met one of his beautiful mistresses coming away from his room. Antigonus went inside, sat down by his side, and felt his pulse. ‘The fever has left me now’, Demetrius told him, ‘Yes, so I see’, his father replied, ‘I met it just now as it was going away’.”- Plutarch, life of Demetrius, 19. Ah, classic father-son banter, Antigonus and Demetrius should have a sitcom.
“Demosthenes, one of the orators who opposed his policies, said to him, ‘One of these days, Phocian, the Athenians will kill you, if they lose their heads,’ to which Phocian replied, ‘Yes, but they will kill you, if they get them back again”- Plutarch, life of Phocian, 9. Classic.
“So when they complimented Phillip as the most eloquent speaker, the handsomest man and the drinker with the biggest capacity in the company, Demosthenes could not from belittling these tributes and retorting sarcastically that the first of these qualities was excellent for a sophist, the second for a woman, and the third for a sponge, but none of them for a king”- Plutarch, life of Demosthenes, 16. Chauvinist? yes, hypocritical? very, but still pretty good.
“However he himself was one of the first to be brought to court [he had been bribed with stolen goods, at least according to Plutarch], and when the case was heard, he was found guilty, sentenced to a fine of fifty talents, and committed to prison in default of payment…….he escaped thanks to the negligence of some of his gaolers, and the active assistance of others.”- Plutarch, life of Demosthenes, 26. ladies and gentlemen I present to you Demosthenes, orator spectacular, champion of liberty (in this case his own) and Democracy.
“At any rate the people of Athens were so pleased with Demosthenes efforts that they voted for him to be recalled from exile. The degree was introduced by Demon of Paenia, who was a cousin of Demosthenes”- Plutarch, life of Demosthenes, 27. Considering the disaster that would befall Athens in Demosthenes latest and last attempt to throw off Macedonian Hegemony it is perhaps fitting that he was called forth by a Demon….
“When reports came in that Antipater and Craterus were marching upon Athens, Demosthenes and his supporters escaped secretly from the city, and the people condemned them to death…Antipater sent troops to scour the country and arrest them: these detachment were under the command of Archias, who was known as ‘the exile-hunter’. This man was a citizen of the colony of Thurii in Italy, and it was said that he had been a tragic actor, and that Polus of Aegina, the finest actor of his time, had been a pupil of his. According to Hermippus, however, Archias had been one of the pupils of Lacritus the rhetoritician, while Demetrius of Phalerum says that he was a pupil of Anaximenes the historian.”- Plutarch, life of Demosthenes, 28. Does anyone else think it’s a tragedy *wink* that Archias the dramatically, rhetorically and historically trained all singing, all dancing exile-hunter isn’t yet a TV show?
“Telecleides…the most distinguished and influential man in Corinth rose and appealed to Timoleon to show all his valor in the enterprise he was undertaking. ‘If you fight bravely’, he said, ‘we shall think of you as the man who destroyed a tyrant, but otherwise as the man who killed his brother'”- Plutarch, life of Timoleon, 7. ‘This is your moment of vindication Timoleon, hero or fratricide, no pressure.’ Mind in Ancient Greece their pretty much the same thing.
“For Sicily is sacred to Persephone: it is the scene of her mythical rape by Hades, and the island was presented to her as a wedding gift”- Plutarch, life of Timoleon, 8. Hades: ‘Yo Persephone dear, you know that Island where we first met?’ Persephone: ‘…..yes…..’ Hades: ‘Well I got it for you as a wedding gift, so you can revisit all the happy memories anytime you want!’ Persephone: ‘……………’
“He [Timoleon] had it proclaimed that any Syracusan who wished could come with a crowbar and help to cast down the bulwarks of tyranny. Thereupon the whole population went up to the fortress, and taking that day and its proclamation to mark a truly secure foundation to thier freedom, they overthrew and demolished not only the citadel but also the palaces and tombs of the tyrants.”- Plutarch, life of Timoleon, 22. So basically a Syracusan Bastille day, fitting, considering the “freedom won” on that day lasted about as long as the freedom of the French during the revolution……
“He [Plato] maintained that the life of the just is happy, while the life of the unjust is full of misery….Accordingly, as Plato was by then anxious to leave Sicily, they arranged passage for him on a tirireme which was taking Pollis the Spartan envoy back to Greece. But Dionysius secretly approached Pollis and asked him to have Plato killed on the voyage, or, if not, at least to sell him into slavery. This he argued, would not do Plato any harm, since according to his own doctrines he would, as a just man, be equally happy even if he became a slave. Pollis therefore took Plato to Aegina, so we are told, and sold him into slavery”- Plutarch, life of Dion, 5. Is it bad that part of me feels Plato deserved this? I don’t think he learned a lesson though….
“The story goes that the young man [Dionysius II] once kept a drinking party going for ninety days in succession, and that during the whole of this time no person of consequence was admitted or business discussed, while the court was given over to carousing, scurrilous humour, singing, dancing and every kind of buffoonery”- Plutarch, life of Dion, 7. Move over Dionysus, theirs a new god of partying in town, and the best part is: we barely have to alter the temple inscriptions!
“All of these urged him [Plato] to make the journey, establish his influence over this youthful soul [dionysius II, tyrant of Syracuse], which was now being tossed and buffeted about as it were on seas of great power and absolute rule, and steady it with his balanced reasonings. So Plato yielded to these requests”- Plutarch, life of Dion, 11. “Oh that poor youthful *weak willed and impressionable* soul, burdened with absolute power, how could he cope without my guidance, without me to share the load, take the burden from his shoulders…..what?! how dare you question my motives! for I am the great Plato/Seneca/Aristotle, what could possibly go wrong?
“Dion sprang up on this, addressed the citizens, and urged them to defend their liberty. Then the people in an excstacy of joy and gratitude appointed Dion and Megacles generals with absolute powers” – Plutarch, life of Dion, 29. Dionysius reign of terror is over! now begins my reign of terr…iffic management!
“Now that the moment of opportunity seemed to have arrived, the conspirators set out in two parties. One, led by Pelopidas and Damocleides, was to attack Leontides and Hypates who lived near one another: the other under Charon and Melon went to Archias and Phillip. The men had put on women’s gowns over their breast-plates and wore thick wreaths of pine and fir which shaded thier faces. For this reason when they first came through the door of the dining-room, the company shouted and clapped their hands, imagining that the long-awaited women had at last arrived. The conspirators looked carefully around the party, took note of each one of the guests as they reclined, and then drawing their swords they threw off their disguise and made a rush for Archias and Phillip. Phillidas prevailed upon a few of the guests to stay quiet: the rest who staggered to their feet and tried to defend themselves and help the polemarchs were so drunk that they were easily dispatched”- Plutarch, life of Pelopidas, 11. *Ahem* “Are their any women here?”
“This is very like the answer which a less well known Spartan gave to an Argive who had said, ‘Many of you Spartans lie buried on Argive soil’, to which the Spartan retorted ‘Yes, and not one of you lies buried in Laconia.’- Plutarch, life of Agesilaus, 31. gotta love a little laconic wit;).
“So one solitary error turned the scale and destroyed the city’s strength and prosperity….The Spartan constitution was admirably designed to promote peace and virtue and harmony within the bounds of the state. But the Spartans had added to it an empire and a sovereignty won by force, something which Lycurgus would have regarded as quite superfluous to the well-being of a city, and it was for this reason that they lost their supremacy.”- Plutarch, life of Agesilaus, 33. I’m not sure that Lycurgus can talk considering the constitution of Sparta attributed to him depended on a large class of serfs acquired and suppressed by force and terror and near constant war and resulted in such a limited franchise as to leave the state incapable of absorbing defeats, if you create a constitution which requires constant war, but hampers the ability of said state from fully exploiting its victories or absorbing its defeats this kind of thing is only a matter of time- in short I’m calling bullsh*t on this one Plutarch.
“At the beginning of his [Domitian’s] principate he would spend hours every day closeted on his own, occupied with nothing other than catching flies and impaling them with a very sharp writing implement”- Suetonius, life of Domitian, 3. and thus we encounter villain cliche 14, from this alone we can determine that Domitian was either evil or a previous incarnation of Mr. Miyagi.
“Finally, seized with a passion for handling money, he would often walk with bare feet on the huge heaps of gold pieces he had piled up in the most public places and sometimes he would even roll about in them with his whole body.”- Suetonius, life of Caligula. So Scrooge Mcduck was based on Caligula, who knew.
“As regards lawyers, he acted as if he was going to abolish the profession, often threatening that he would make sure, by Hercules, that none of them could give an opinion that went against his own.”- Suetonius, life of Caligula. So you see kids Caligula wasn’t all bad.
“meanwhile those who had been instructed to dig their way through underground emerged inside a house where a woman miller happened (even though it was still dead of night) to be grinding flower. As she was about to cry aloud she was killed by a blow from the man who had surfaced first, Superantius, a worthy from the cohort of the victores.”- Zosimus on the storming of a town by Julians army in Persia.
haven’t you always wanted to know who killed the female miller? I can think of few more important things to know, I mean isn’t that something you want to be in the history books for? and with a name like Superantius and a position as august as a “worthy from the cohort of the victores” you just know that anything he does is going to be both heroic and epic! I the great Superantius, worthy from the cohort of the victores! was the one who slew the female miller in her house at the dead of night! tremble before me, for truly I am a defender of the weak and a slayer of the mighty!
And now I present for your entertainment the sack of Nero: “A lock of hair was placed on the head of his (Nero’s) statue, with a greek inscription: ‘Now finally there is real competition and you must give in at last’. a sack was tied to the neck of another together with the tag ‘I did what I could but you deserve the sack’.”- Suetonius, life of Nero.
“Near the end of his (Nero’s) life, indeed, he publicly made a vow that, if his regime survived, he would perform at the victory games on the water-organ, the flute, and the bagpipes”- Suetonius, life of Nero. Now part of me wishes Nero weathered that storm just to know that a Roman emperor played the bagpipes publicly……..bagpipes………
“among other parts, he (Nero) sang those of Canace giving birth, Orestes the matricide, Oedipus blinded, and Hercules insane.”- Suetonius, life of Nero. Those last three songs seem particularly fitting…..
singing Canace’s giving birth….origins of screamo anyone? but seriously Orestes killed his mother, Oedipus slept with his mother, Hercules went insane and killed his wife, Nero supposedly killed his wife in a fit of rage by assaulting her when she was pregnant causing her death soon after the pregnancy..supposedly (also blamed for the death of his first wife), I hardly need to point out the parallels to Oedipus and Orestes though…..it’s just too perfect..
from the Wei-lio: “the sea-water being bitter and unfit for drinking is the cause that few travellers come to this country (Ta-tsin, roughly Roman Syria…ish)” ……………..Now I’m fairly sure (haven’t personally tested it mind you) that ALL sea water is unfit for drinking…….
Hello All, I realize I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought I’d remedy that. As you’ve no doubt noticed this isn’t the fourth and hopefully final post on Terry Jones Barbarians. No I’m far too lazy to do that right now, what this is is a collection of amusing soundbites with pithy and generally silly commentary by me on Alexander the Great from his biography by Plutarch and the history of his campaigns by Arrian that I put on my Facebook wall a long time ago. The Plutarch stuff was from a thing I did called Plutarch week where I read through a Penguin Classics volume of Greek lives by Plutarch (theoretically one every day or so….) and posted amusing quotes on my wall with what I hoped passed for amusing commentary, the idea was that it would motivate me to keep reading by adding a social dimension etc. I got the idea from doing a bit of the same kind of thing while reading through Suetonius, only it turns out Suetonius is much better suited to that kind of thing (should have seen that one coming). Plutarch is chock full of the weird, the amusing and the absurd.
But his style is different and didn’t lend itself that well to the Facebook format (which may well be a form of praise…..), quotations often had to be longer to establish context and a lot of stuff that was funny to me would be extremely difficult to explain, This fact and the lack of general responsiveness to my quotes made the task more of a chore than a motivator but I had committed myself and so Plutarch week ended up being more like Plutarch month. Basically this is not a list of the most interesting and certainly not close to the most profound or useful of Plutarch’s passages nor those of Arrian as passage’s from him were selected along the same lines. Nor are they even necessarily the funniest just the humorous ones I happened to post that were deemed serviceable (ish) as wall posts.
Fair warning Alexanderphiles, I don’t like Alexander. This dislike does not come from any aversion to the concept of the Great man in history (I have my hope’s/delusions for myself where that is concerned) nor a distaste for dead white males (I am morbidly aware that one day- barring expensive surgery or enough tattooing to give me ink poisoning- I will become one myself) or Conquerors for that matter. I find him and his times fascinating and acknowledge his genius. I do however think him overrated and think he gets off far too easily as far as the Ancient sources are concerned, particularly in regards to people he is often compared to like Caesar, above all I just think he was frankly more than a bit of a spoiled narcissistic ego-maniacal dick. Their disclaimer given we can have a serious or semi-serious conversation about Alexander another time for now: amusing quotes!
“It was Stasicrates who had remarked to Alexander at an earlier interview that of all mountains it was Mount Athos which could most easily be carved into the form and shape of a man and that if it pleased Alexander to command him, he would shape the mountain into the most superb and durable statue of him in the world: its left hand would enfold a city of ten thousand inhabitants, while out of its right would flow the abundant waters of a river which would pour, like a libation, into the sea.”- Plutarch, life of Alexander, 72. When founding a city and naming it after yourself isn’t enough what is left but to BE the city! Interesting coincidence that Mount Athos is now a very prominent Eastern Orthodox Holy site, littered with monasteries. Still at least it wasn’t Olympus…..
Note: this idea was almost certainly never actually mooted (at the very least on this scale) and according to the story Alexander declined the suggestion anyway.
“Aristobulus declares that his drinking bouts were prolonged not for their own sake- for he was never, in fact, a heavy drinker- but simply because he enjoyed the companionship of his friends”- Arrian, The campaigns of Alexander, book 7. Aha, sure Aristobulous you just keep telling yourself that your man crush wasn’t an alcoholic, and he didn’t like fighting either, after all he only did it socially;).
“He founded a city in his [his favorite horse] memory on the banks of the Hydraspes and called it Bucephalia, and there is a story that when he lost a dog named Peritas of which he was very fond and which he had brought up from a puppy, he again founded a city and called it after the dog”- Plutarch, life of Alexander, 61. He must have been barking mad…
“Alexander was also more moderate in his drinking than was generally supposed. The impression that he was a heavy drinker arose because when he had nothing else to do, he liked to linger over each cup, but in fact he was usually talking rather than drinking: he enjoyed long conversations, but only when he had plenty of leisure. Whenever there was urgent business to attend to, neither wine, nor sleep, nor sport, nor sex, nor spectacle could ever distract his attention….The proof of this is his life-span, which although so short, was filled to overflowing with the most prodigious achievements…He sat long over his wine, as I have remarked, because of his fondness for conversation…When the drinking was over it was his custom to take a bath and sleep, often until midday, and sometimes for the whole of the following day.”- Plutarch, life of Alexander, 21.
So let me get this strait Plutarch, Alexander gained a reputation for excessive drinking because, when he had the time he liked to linger over his drinks for social purposes? time which judging by how busy you claim he was, he rarely had, quick question, just how often (and for how long) do you have to be seen “lingering” over drinks with friends to secure a reputation as a raging alcoholic? Considerably more so I imagine than if you were in the habit of downing the good stuff by the gallon as soon as you sat down at the court social, time old Alex may well not have had. Furthermore sleeping through the whole of the next day is not what typically happens after lingering over a few drinks. it’s time you attended a meeting of the AAAA (Alexander’s alcoholism apologists anonymous) Plutarch, Arrian’s there, you’d like him.
note: highly selective quoting has been used here and as such the above does not fully represent Plutarch’s views on Alexander’s drinking habits.
“Not long afterwards a Macedonian named Pausanias assasinated the king: he did this because he had been humiliated by Attalus and Cleopatra and could get no redress from Phillip [the translater notes that Pausanias had been “outraged” by Attalus some eight years prior…EIGHT YEARS!]”- Plutarch, life of Alexander, 10. Isn’t it interesting how often an assassination seems to be perpetrated by a lone assassin (mind to be fair to Plutarch he does briefly cast some suspicion on old Alex) motivated by insanity or “personal reasons”, but aside from the fact that he had people waiting for him with get-away horses, I find it difficult to believe he waited 8 years to act on his grudge? Which you know only directly harmed one (Phillip) of the people he bore a grudge against.
Attalus, the guy who actually “outraged” him could not be harmed as he was in Asia with Parmenio (a general and relative), though you’d think he’d be first on Pausanias list. However as a result of Pausanias actions Alexander came to power and he and his mother were enemies of Attalus and Cleo who as a result were soon killed, Pausanias himself being cut down by close friends of Alexander as he fled the scene before he could talk. I’ve sat on the fence on this one for a while but I’m now of the opinion that Alexander probably had his own father assassinated in a fairly well planned and orchestrated coup d’etat (seriously I’m a little impressed), that Olympias likely knew and Antipater may have.
“In Uxia, once, Alexander lost him [his horse Baucephalas], and issued an edict that he would kill every man in the country unless he was brought back- as he promptly was”- Arrian, The campaigns of Alexander, book 5. Imagine that on a modern sign for a lost pet. “My horse! My horse! your lives for my horse!”. Good old Alexander threatening genocide over lost pets…….
in fairness to poor old Alex, I have my doubts that this actually happened.
“One of these daughters was named Roxane. She was a girl of marriageable age, and men who took part in the campaign used to say she was the loveliest woman they had seen in Asia, with the one exception of Darius’s wife. Alexander fell in love with her at sight; but, captive though she was, he refused, for all his passion, to force her to his will, and condescended to marry her. For this act I have, on the whole, more praise than blame”- Arrian, The campaigns of Alexander, Book 4. I Arrian hereby declare that, on balance, the lack of extra-marital rape was probably a good thing, I am Arrian, that is all.
“While he was in camp on the Oxus( Amu Darya), a spring of water and another of oil quite near it came up from the ground close to his tent…………Aristander declared that the spring of oil was a sign of difficulties to come”- Arrian, The campaigns of Alexander, Book 4. You can say that again Aristander! Also Translater guy claims this is the ‘first mention of petroleum in Greek literature’, I thought that was worth noting.
“Alexander was compelled to make a temporary withdrawal to his original position”- Arrian, the campaigns of Alexander, book 3. What a dissimulating way to describe a retreat…….nothing to see here folks where simply advancing in the opposite direction!
“We are also told that while he was in Egypt he listened to the lectures of Psammon the philosopher, and especially approved his saying to the effect that all men are ruled by God, because in every case that element which imposes itself and achieves the mastery is divine.”- Plutarch, life of Alexander, 27. I can think of two ways of interpreting this saying, 1. that whatever actions or behavior comes most naturally to you or otherwise prevails is the right one- therefore you can literally do no wrong, but simply acting in accordance with your divinely appointed nature. 2. might isn’t just right, its divine…..no wonder Alexander approved….
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:).
In this installment of Terry Jones is a barbarian we look at the first two episodes, by which I mean I re-watch the first two episodes as a refresher and write down things I hate about them in a stream of consciousness rant as I watch. I then dress up my rant in paragraphs, touch one or two things up, add pictures because I’m creative and fun but mostly because I don’t trust you to remain focused without them. I then unleash my rant on the unsuspecting internet in the hopes it will frighten some small Celt loving children. I should mention before we begin that at the time of writing all 4 episodes of Terry Jones Barbarians are available in full on YouTube (though episode one at least ends up suffering from a significant time lag between sound and image by the end), normally I’d recommend supporting the creators, buying the DVD etc but………….don’t! please, please don’t! Terry doesn’t need your money and in doing so you would be funding a hate filled propaganda piece aimed at the naive (and probably young) layman, so yeah….f*ck that.
Finally I should mention that I am not against hard-hitting comparisons between various states and cultures in history that don’t pull punches, on the contrary I think we need more of that, it’s too easy, too safe and just too plain wrong to say just like we do in politics that their all as bad as each other and all the same, it’s a cop-out and it teaches us nothing. But for such comparisons to be truly valuable they have to be honest and they have to be fair and as a result probably quite nuanced, my principal problem with Terry’s barbarians is that it makes no attempt to do any of the above and indeed at times Terry seems to positively revel in his dishonesty.
Episode 1, the primitive Celts: This is probably the least offensive of the episodes and only starts moving from your typical and tolerable flashy obnoxious revisionism into outright politically
motivated fallacies over 20 minutes in, sucking the unsuspecting audience in to this atrocious series. In this episode the existence of two large and recently rediscovered wooden trackways within the so-called “Celtic world”, one in Ireland, one in Western Germany (this second locale is in an area that is funnily enough normally identified at this time with Germanic rather than Celtic peoples) dated to about the same time in the 100’s BC (In Ireland’s case the later half of said century, the German case is not specified), wooden trackways of considerably lesser scale existed elsewhere in the Celtic world. It’s more impressive than it sounds but based on this evidence Terry argues that the Celts beat the Romans to road building and were the first great road builders of Europe. Firstly there are Roman roads that predate the Celtic road they bothered to date, many Roman roads are of vast scale, They are normally made of stone and paved and many have endured the ravages of time to the modern era.
He then goes on to claim that the Celts unlike the Romans were not into dominating others, he provides no evidence for this view at all, doesn’t even try to argue it just states it out of the blue flat out and moves on, blithely ignoring that he started this episode relating how a Celtic tribe sacked Rome indeed it is clear that many Celtic tribes were warlike (He also notes the existence of Celtic societies in Turkey- though doesn’t mention how they got there, here’s a hint: it wasn’t by asking nicely). This is followed by praise of the Celtic world’s lack of a center and it’s small smattering of large towns over a very large area, again in comparison and contrast with Rome. In this comparison the Celtic world’s lack of center is portrayed more like an enlightened policy of federal decentralization (indeed later towards the end of the program he goes on to call the Celts or at the very least those of Britain a federation, basic knowledge of the Roman conquest alone reveals this for the fallacy it is) than the simple fact that there was never anything close to political unity in the Celtic world, states and tribes had their centers but these political units were seldom much larger than your average province in modern day France.
There was no Celtic state, the term is merely a catch all for a vast variety of peoples of iron age Europe, many of whom we know little about and who despite similarities used to justify the shared cultural label varied considerably from region to region, the exact extent of their differences because of our lack of information will likely never be understood. Jones is aware of this but this is definitely not the picture of the Celts he always chooses to draw, when it suits his agenda he talks of the Celts as if they self-identified as one people and acted as one political unit. Then we move on to the Gallic wars where Jones claims that Julius Caesar claimed that the Helvetti he destroyed in battle in the first phase of the Gallic wars were not a migrating people, his source for deriding Caesar on this count is Caesar’s own commentaries of the Gallic wars……so yeah….go figure, Also the tone very much implies that this migratory group was not dangerous, in the ancient world people migrations were usually very much so.
This is followed by the claim that Caesar needed to invade Gaul to pay back his debts, debts he may well have repaid after his earlier Spanish campaigns, there’s certainly no mention of them at this point, admittedly this part is nitpicking, one of Caesar’s motivations was certainly to get rich. Furthermore Terry Jones condemns Caesar for a hypocrite for defending a Roman ally in Gaul the tribe of the Aedui (actually he doesn’t mention the Aedui just sells the Gauls and no mention is made of defending an ally) from the Helvetti on the ground that they were both Celts, that line of reasoning makes as much sense as critiquing the Americans for helping the French against the Germans solely on the grounds that their both Europeans- true but meaningless, the purpose of it’s inclusion here is to make the Romans look bad by attempting to apply insipid modern nationalists sentiments to ancient Gaul (if not “the celtic world” at large) Caesar’s motives in Gaul were clearly imperialistic, I am not blind. But the conflicts of the Gallic tribes provided him good material to work with when it came to pretexts.
Credulity is really stretched when Jones uses a rich burial of a Celtic women in France centuries before Vercingetorix and 7th century (at absolute earliest) texts in Ireland to argue that between the two dates (a thousand years or so) Celtic society was not only more sexually egalitarian (In SOME ways this is likely even true but let’s just say that I don’t remember any Gallic chieftains from Caesar’s Gallic wars…..and there were a LOT of chieftains) but relying for the rest exclusively on projecting back in time (over 500 years..) from 7th century Ireland and across countries and seas that their society was superior and kinder in their provisions for the elderly, handicapped and children as well to contrast with this the truly horrible Roman (Greek as well, though Terry the very soul of fairness never mentions this Hellenic trait when it comes time to cover the Greeks) practice of infanticide by exposure.
Of course what good ol’ Terry fails to mention is that by the 7th century when we according to this very program obtain the first actual EVIDENCE for this more enlightened and compassionate view of the young, the practice had ceased being socially acceptable in mainstream Roman society, due in large part to the spread of Christianity, which also helped to develop more compassionate attitudes to the handicapped it is very much possible (indeed probable) that the spread of the same religion via the Roman empire to Ireland helped to develop these more compassionate social views, Rome and Christianity certainly helped spread the writing system by which all these enlightened social practices are revealed to us.
Finally as Terry says after the rest of the Celtic world had been conquered by Rome, Rome invaded Britain “where the spirit of freedom still lived on” and a consulted Celtic scholar (no Roman historian is interviewed in this episode) calls the druids freedom fighters…..I’m sorry were all Celtic states some form of democracy? And if any where would we describe them as egalitarian? This is the first I’ve heard of this. Roman tales of Druidic human sacrifice are mentioned than excused, dismissed and brushed under the carpet on the grounds simply that Roman sources are biased and the Romans were meanies too- If this excuse doesn’t sound familiar yet, watch the next three episodes we are going to hear it over and over and over again and of the Romans themselves are never allowed the same kind of excuse.
Episode 2: The Savage Goths: This episode despite it’s title is divided into roughly three parts looking at three cultures in turn, after a brief introduction we move to the Germanic tribe’s of roughly
west Germany of the 1st century AD then to Dacia, principally in the second century AD then finally to the titular Goths, those of Adrianople fame and those of Alaric. The first two sections barring one or two major gafe’s are not terrible by doco standards (though the Dacian section is helped out by being brief), just like in the previus episode we work up into paroxysms of awfulness by the end. Once again we are off to a slow if more bombastic start, complete with multiple shots of a stationary actor with a big nose and wearing a helmet starring vacantly into the camera, yep this still passes for good production values for a documentary (hey at least violence and the sacking of cities isn’t normally portrayed by replaying the same footage of a pot falling and breaking in slow motion over and over again, things like that are very common in ancient themed doco’s).
As usual the importance of the battle of Teotoberg Wald, at least in the short to medium term is exaggerated and far be it from me to criticize Terry for saying something that could be deemed complimentary to the Romans but Rome did not have as Terry claims the first ever professional army, on that count Phillip II’s Macedon beats them to the punch and possibly other states depending on how you define professional. The Roman policy of incorporating local elites is described as a con, perhaps copying Tacitus and taking his view uncritically, Tacitus himself being almost certainly of provincial (and probably Gallic) aristocratic background and new to the senate had much reason to be glad for this policy himself and his criticism of the furtherment of this policy to new territories should not be taken uncritically, there’s nothing the nouvou rich like better than forgetting their origins after all.
Also Terry attaining recognition as a member of the class of Equites was never the equivalent of being knighted, that’s a pretty basic thing to get so very very wrong……..you conceited git. Later he describes the contrast between Germany between the Rhine and Elbe (roughly) and provinces like Syria (and Roman territories in general) in regards to development “it’s not that they were more primitive” let me stop you right there Terry that’s exactly what it is, where not saying it’s anyone’s fault or that they were worse people but their society was less economically developed and less effectively organized, that is a demonstrable fact.
Superior cultural resistance of the Germans to Roman culture and domination is claimed on the basis of one unusually successful revolt in the early stages of Roman consolidation,there had been many such revolts in earlier regions during the early phase of consolidation (successful and otherwise) and from all accounts the success of this one was due primarily to the cunning of the rebel leader (Arminius) and the incompetence of the Roman commander (Varus) it’s enduring success (in keeping Roman administration out not Arminius/Hermann in power) it could be argued was due more to lack of Roman willpower to continue the policy of annexation (Rome demonstrated clearly that they were still very much as terry would put it “top dog”) than any purported special love for independence on the part of the Germans.
An argument could be made (could but isn’t) that the difference between the Germans and Roman society was greater in many ways than that between the Romans and most culture’s they succeeded in incorporating into their state on account of the Germanic tribe’s greater separation from Mediterranean culture and civilization, plausible enough but definitely contentious and in all likelihood not a complete explanation, to his credit Terry doesn’t go so far as claiming it was or that Rome lacked sympathizers in Germania- though he does go so far as to at the very least heavily imply that those who fought Rome fought for liberty (again as if Germanic tribe’s were all democracies with a charter of human rights) and those for Rome out of greed, on the basis of an uncritical reading of Tacitus (an activity Terry is very fond of) ignoring political points Tacitus was often trying to make at home and Roman stereotypes of the noble savage that Tacitus and others used as a mirror to make critiques of contemporary Roman society compared also to an idealized Roman past.
One theory about the location and nature of the battle of the Teutoberg forest is not portrayed adequately as just one theory considering the controversy over the battle. judgement is layed on thickly in Terry Jones description of Germanicus’s punitive expeditions into Germania for it’s brutality, mention earlier of German raiding into roman Gaul contains no such overtones and is not dwelt on.
Terry Jones insipid claim referring to Trajan’s column that “there can’t be many monuments in the world that celebrate an act of genocide”…………………..WHAT!!!?
want to FU*KING bet you Charlatan! If you add monuments celebrating massacres and conquests to the list (the word genocide is thrown around much too flippantly these days) than that list gets mighty long. Loaded with hyperbole as it is, soon after that statement of arrant nonsense the beginning of this episode’s second part- the part on the Dacians, goes well enough (I am not by any stretch of the imagination an expert on Dacia) until Terry claims that strained relations between Dacia and Rome only broke down into war soon after the ambitious and imperialistic Trajan became emperor, ignoring the prior conflict under emperor Domitian not so very long ago during which Decebalaus (probably spelt that wrong, don’t care) the Dacian king at the time of Trajan’s wars had led armies.
Terry must surely know this but what’s the truth compared with a neat little parable about the evils of Imperialism. The degree to which the conquest of Dacia financed the grandeur of Ancient Rome that remains visible today is overstated blatantly and irresponsibly (not so subtly visually attributing the funding for buildings not financed by the conflict to said conflict), this section is topped off with a not so subtle allusion equating Trajan’s conquest of Dacia with the Iraq war……….*takes a deap breath* ORIGINAL!!!!!.
Now begins the third part, our Gothic epilogue and now where in territory I find more familiar, and it is here finally that we see Terry interview an unambiguously Roman historian for the first time- albeit one who is also a historian of the Goths and other late Antique barbarian peoples, and one of some prestige at that, Peter Heather. It is true that the Romans mishandled the famous Gothic migration of refugee’s across the Danube during the reign of Valens and that the officials on the spot engaged in corruption and local merchants in exploitation (though our sources may have exaggerated the incompetence and venality of said people in much the same way they may have done so with Varus to add drama and a moralizing element, after all it’s often safer to demonize failures, particularly if they didn’t survive to give their own version). However it is also true that the Romans resources were stretched by the vast numbers of migrants and they only admitted one of the large groups that crossed the Danube at this time by choice, others taking advantage of the lack of manpower to police the Danube frontier that caused by the Romans having to take care of this large force of frankly dangerous refugee’s.
Now we move on to Alaric contrary to what Terry says (bet you thought I’d never say that….) we know nothing of his life before he emerges as a commander of Gothic soldiers in the Roman army but Terry’s claim that he migrated with one of the aforementioned groups is nevertheless plausible. The claim that Alaric was a leader of a Gothic people and who decided to play Imperial politics for the selfless goal of securing land for his refugee people is complete and utter drivel. Unfortunately it is often repeated drivel, with many supporters in academia (at least this time Terry has an excuse) mentioned in many history doco’s and books on Roman history including Peter Heather’s own book on the fall of the Western Empire, Heather is clearly a big influence on Jones here.
Alaric enters history as a general and there’s precious little evidence he was ever the leader of a distinct and pre-existing people (certainly not before the death of Stilicho at any rate), or a people period. In any case, either as Heather believes (and likely as Terry does too) the Romans gave the aforementioned Gothic migrants land as part of the peace treaty ending the war between them and the Romans and thus if Alaric’s goths are from the same group then they already had land, or they were broken up as a people in which case what pre-existing tribal federation is Alaric meant to be leading? no comparable group exists and if Alaric’s forces are composed of Goths who entered the empire by more conventional means then well they either already had land or it certainly it wasn’t a case of a people looking for a home, more that of mercenaries looking for a better deal, in a flash changing Alaric’s motivations from altruisim to greed and lust for power- motives much more in keeping with the late empire’s political norms.
While it is nice to redress stereotypical images of the Gothic sack as apocalyptic modern apologists can go too far, Terry goes so far as to say: “They didn’t rape or murder”, this is quite frankly
insulting and few apologists have gone close to that far, 40,000 frustrated soldiers looting a large city, a genteel sack (which it seemingly was) ladies and gentlemen is still a sack! After the sack Terry Jones is at pains to point out how life went back to normal “slaves became slaves again, women became the property of men again and unwanted children could be dumped upon the town rubbish heap again- which was the tradition in ancient Rome. In the arena wild animals were once again slaughtered to the delight of the crowd and prisoners were once again torn to pieces by the wild animals”……………..LYING TOAD FACED SH*T!
At the time of Alaric’s sack of Rome (and Terry’s knowledge of things like Alaric’s religion and clear influence from Peter Heather would suggest he would know this) due to the influence of Christianity (though I suspect they were slowly going out of favour regardless) gladiatorial matches etc were banned and had been for some time, likewise due to the influence of Christianity Roman (and Greek etc) attitudes to infanticide had changed, it was no longer acceptable in mainstream society (doubtless it still happens, anywhere were there are poor people and/or unwanted pregnancies and/or “handicapped” children infanticide will happen, though also as previously noted Christianity changed attitudes to them as well) I’m actually in favor of this dark side of the classical world (Greece was at LEAST as guilty as Rome when it comes to infanticide and then there’s the Phoenicians…..who you’d think would get a mention somewhere but…..oh well they have “Carthage: the Roman holocaust” to make up for their omission) being discussed more but not like this, not when the odium is applied solely to the Roman empire and regardless of time period.
Women at least in earlier Imperial times could own property and run businesses, they were never remotely close to equal to men in rights and its certainly possible that by the time of Alaric’s sack of Rome women’s rights may have declined, even so I know it is a stretch to say they were on the same level of slaves, Terry is of course silent on the rights of Gothic women, as he is with Dacian and 1st century Germanic ones. Real inspiring way to top off an episode Terry starting slow as always but as before coming back to comparing the Christianized and Romanised barbarians to classical era Romans……and still getting it horribly wrong. But you say it best Terry not just for this but for all your episodes when you wrap the episode up with this gem “The Romans feared and despised the barbarians for their otherness. But human beings are just human beings and thinking in terms of us and them isn’t really a very civilized thing to do, in fact it’s downright barbaric” Couldn’t have said it better myself…….you barbarian scum.
Reg: But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, viticulture, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
PFJ Member: Brought peace?
Reg: Oh, peace? SHUT UP! – Monty Pythons life of Brian (as if you needed me to tell you that).
Terry Jones is not a historian, he’s a very naughty (and smug) propagandist.
Hello all and welcome to my first “review” of a TV series, Now growing up I watched a lot of documentaries, especially history documentaries (it helps that we had cable/have cable for most of my young life) and thus it is unsurprising that I’ve seen my share of absolutely terrible ones, in large part courtesy of the history channel but if you were to ask me which history documentary I despise above all others, I would not reply with one of the many conspiracy theory or American propaganda or macabre Nazi fetish world war II doco’s that are the virtually exclusive fair of the history channel….at least when their making a pretense of covering, you know…..history.
This is in part because these all quickly blur together and it quickly becomes difficult to identify one from another, also they are generally so cheap, poorly made and just so transparently ridiculous that they can become funny and are in any case not to be taken seriously- their audience is minimal and in the case of the crazy conspiracy theory ones (aliens, Nostradamus etc), one is tempted to think that those credulous enough to fall for them are somewhat beyond help (bad world war II doco’s are often more insidious but are alas a dime a dozen).
No my most detested doco is partly so because it hits closer to home by which I mean it bastardizes an era of history I’m deeply passionate about, the doco in question is a well funded, well produced documentary series airing when I first saw it on BBC knowledge with a celebrity presenter and writer noted for his sense of humor and consulting some of the most prominent historians in their fields, notably for me Peter Heather (in two episode’s) a very influential scholar in the fields of late Antiquity, particularly on the so called barbarian tribes and their influence on the late Roman empire and vice versa. The 4 part series of documentaries in question is called Terry Jones’ Barbarians, and as you might have guessed from my continuous dropping of his name (you know aside from the fact that it’s in the doco’s damn title) is written and presented by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame (Jones also co-wrote a book to accompany the documentary, and while I’m normally against burning books if as seems probable it is much like the series a little page out of the nazis book (you know…one of those they didn’t burn…) might be in order, thanks history channel!) and came out in 2006.
Now let’s get this out of the way, Monty Python’s the Holy Grail and the life of Brian are two of the funniest films I have ever seen and are works of comic genius. Jones has every right to be proud of his work on those films and much of the rest of his career as a comedian (aside from those two films I find the Pythons very hit and miss, even as far as comedians go but there’s definitely lots of good stuff there).
There, we can move forward now, so what’s this series about? well on the surface it is and purports to be a work of revisionism that views (and very loosely tries to tell) Roman history from the perspective of the barbarian- the infamous other, as well as investigating several of these so-called barbarian cultures, peoples and/or states and attempting to overturn negative biases against them (no attempt is made to overturn any pr-existing positive bias’s) which are traced back to the Romans.
I say on the surface because what the series is really about is the politics of our own time, Rome was the greatest Western power of it’s time and has become the dominant symbol for the very concept of empire in Western culture, holding that distinction for over a thousand years. In Terry Jones elaborate and confused metaphor, as in so many others it is a stand in for the dominant power of the present day (especially in the West): the United States of America (with a little bit of the Catholic church throw in for good measure at the end). The barbarians naturally represent the more enlightened, cultured and peaceful (and socially equitable, of course) Europeans…..well we certainly haven’t seen this before, I wonder where this is going to go? Sarcasm may indeed be the lowest form of wit but at least that means it qualifies, whereas this theme and metaphor is so overdone that it requires no imagination whatsoever.
In terms of structure the series is divided into 4 roughly hour long episodes each focusing on different barbarian groups and their interactions with Rome, the first episode covers the Celts, the second the Goths and other so called Germanic peoples as well as the Dacians, the third covers people’s Terry Jones calls the “brainy barbarians” (though according to him by comparison to the Romans everyone seems to look sophisticated), namely the Greeks the Parthians and Persians (we’ll get to the problems with this), the 4th and final episode deals with the Huns, the Vandals and fall of the Western Roman empire.
Before we dive headfirst into this vomitorium you should know if you don’t already that I’m approaching this series from a Roman bias, Rome is my primary historical interest, it is the state I know the most about and I am a definite Romanophile,.I believe that for all their many faults Rome often comes out shining compared to its contemporaries and indeed many cultures that came afterwards, you don’t become the longest lasting state in history without doing something right, it would in short these days not be inaccurate to call me a Roman apologist and as such I have my work cut out for me because contrary to Terry’s portrayal of this series as a mind-blowing work of revisionism, whereby Terry for the first time shatters the dominant view of the Romans as enlightened bearers of civilization and the greatest state of Antiquity. Terry is hardly the first to try and knock the Romans down a few pegs or even the first to outright demonize them (that said he takes it incredibly far at times, if he has any claim to originality it is in this, at least in far as mainstream well-known products are concerned), especially at the time it came out.
In Western society as stated earlier Rome has come to represent the very symbol of empire and after the second world war and decolonization, we in the West by in large and particularly those of a scholarly bent decided we hate empire’s, the US, the great Western Empire of our tine’s invasion of Iraq (still relatively recent as of 2006) further intensified those anti-imperial sentiments and added an extra political dimension, the comparison with Rome was obvious and Rome’s very success came back posthumously to bite it. The ancient world was a violent place and the great majority of states then (and since) owed their existence and expansion to violence, Rome however was particularly successful and particularly influential in regards to Western society so it gets stuck with the odium. As such anti-Roman popular documentaries aimed at the impressionable and largely anti-American youth of Britain, Europe and the commonwealth were common around the time Terry’s effort came out, many (like Terry’s) presented by the BBC such as “Carthage: the Roman holocaust”, Britain BC, it’s sequel Britain AD (to an extent) and the docudrama “Ancient Rome- the rise and fall of an empire”.
There now you know where Terry’s coming from and where I’m coming from what and so in my next installment I can get down to ranting about the first two episodes.