Terry Jones is a barbarian part III: Return of the bullshit

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

The straw Elephant

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.

The kind of straw man that I wish Terry Jones would become intimately familiar with....

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

Vorenus: "We must prepare for tomorrow night" Pullo: "What are we going to do tomorrow night?" Vorenus: The same thing we do every night, Pullo- try to take over the world!"

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

"Will no one rid me of this terrible python!?"

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.

Roman monument.

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

Parthian monument.

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

The Cyrus cylinder: Persian propaganda, the persians were highly influenced by Zarathustra, Nietsche wrote "thus spake Zarathustra", Nietschie influenced the Nazis, Iran means "land of the Aryans". The Cyrus Cylinder, first declaration of human rights or ancient Mein Kampf? You be the judge.

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.

Augustus: "I am as they say, the shit."

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

the Hellenistic world, clearly dominated by city-states but if you squint your eyes and look real closely you might just see the Seleucid Empire!

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!

The Antikythera Mechanisim: It's practically the holy grail and the fountain of youth rolled into one only sciency!

“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

You Greeks may have been intellectually light years ahead but we Romulans are literally.....well you can guess.....also we can blow you up, just saying.

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.

"So yeah, apparently this exists."

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

Do you know why this is funny? because it never happened. The complaining that is, not the violence!.......yeah that happened a lot...

than there’s no way works and information critical of emperors deemed legitimate and praise of Republican martyrs would ever have been permitted, and in the literature it’s freaking everywhere! Augustus for instance sometimes honored and always tolerated the historian Asinius Pollio who was highly critical of him, in general you could say or write things about Roman government or emperors that would simply not be tolerated in Ancient Egypt or the Hellenistic monarchies or Parthia and I shouldn’t have to remind you about Athens and Socrates. Much of our criticisms of Rome come from her own writers, ironically giving Rome in the eyes of many a reputation for tyranny and censorship that she might not have had if her culture and government were more repressive.

Finally once more to the Parthians, Persians and Arabs (oh my!), after long neglect it has become politically correct to emphasize the role of the Arabs in bringing about the renaissance and I feel it’s gotten somewhat out of hand, don’t get me wrong I love me some gorgeous Andalusian architecture but it’s gotten to the point where credit is being taken away from other cultures who contributed to the revival of Classical learning in Western Europe and things are attributed to the Arabs as if they likely wouldn’t have happened anyway.

As some of you may know the Eastern half (roughly) of the Roman empire endured after the fall of the Western half for roughly a thousand years, Greek quickly became the official language of and was always the dominant tongue of this half, thus it is in Byzantium (a modern name for this half of the empire for the rough thousand years between the west’s fall and it’s own….it’s complicated) which was Rome that Greek learning principally survived and later this state had a significant role in transferring this knowledge back West. It is worth emphasizing that Byzantium WAS Rome and it’s inhabitants proudly identified as such but also unmistakably Greek in it’s dominant culture and it was one of the most advanced states in Europe or the Middle East for most of its history. This is more than enough by itself to render the claim that learning was only preserved in Persia patently absurd.

But there’s more, Terry would have us believe that the Arabs acquired the classical tradition they eventually spread to Europe (by way of invasion btw) from Sassanian Persia (also by way of invasion), you know the Iranian dynasty he isn’t so fond of…funny how they stopped being a “monster”, intolerant and just like the Romans when Terry needs them to be enlightened preservers, there is a lot of truth in this, particularly in so far as things like administration, architecture and poetry go the Arabs were heavily influenced by the Sassanians but at the same time the Arabs conquered Roman Syria, Egypt and soon after North Africa and as such the influence of Byzantium was immense and it was from Byzantium not Persia that the Arabs absorbed the bulk of their Greek learning and they did so through conquering much of their territory, whose to say that Byzantium might not have done yet more of the work directly to return Greek learning to the West if they had not been so busy trying to avoid oblivion at the hands of the Arabs. Arab scholars came to add much but initially what they preserved was already being preserved and added too before they essentially nicked it (full props for further synthenisation of Graeco-Roman and Iranian culture though).

And that is that, if you actually read all that, thank you, well done and I hope you found it interesting and/or amusing and if it made your blood boil and neither my punctuation nor my Parthia bashing was the primary cause then good news you have a sense of honesty, a dislike for hypocrisy and a sense of integrity in scholarship…..that or your a definite Romanophile, but there practically the same as far as I’m concerned:).

As for you Terry:

"now go away or I shall taunt you a second time!"

Terry Jones is a barbarian part II: The Doco of doom!


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

preserved part of almost uniquely big Celtic trackway, Ireland.
the via Appia Antica, one of many, many Roman roads that went for hundreds of kilometers, and still do.

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.

As your chieftain that’s my job! Now bring the human sacrifice!

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

Alaric: My nose is sacking you!

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.

totally not a victory monument……those kneeling guys……back problems…..totally back problems…..

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!!!?

Totally a monument to peaceful co-existence…..after Napoleon whooped your ass!

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

“We were gentle, we swear!”

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!

“oh stop it! your making me blush.”

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.

Terry Jones is a barbarian part I: A new rant

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.

Istanbul not Constantinople

Edit: So yeah it seems the date I published this was the date it happened according to the Julian calender, not the Gregorian which we use, The Gregorian date of the fall is June 7th. I don’t know why modern Byzantinists don’t use the Gregorian calender or why they refuse to even mention that their using the Julian one but they do.

On this day in the year 1453 AD Constantinople capital of the Byzantine empire for roughly a thousand years fell after a brutal seige to the Ottoman Turks under Mehmed II Fatih (the conqueror) and with it fell the Byzantine empire (Though there are some who argue that the state technically endured for a few more years the fall of Constantinople is generally taken as the symbolic end of the empire) and some would argue after roughly two thousand years the Roman state, though Byzantine remnant territories and a state in Trebizond with its own claim to being the Byzantine (and thus the Roman) empire limped on for a few years, they were all swiftly devoured by the Ottomans under the same sultan Mehmed. Byzantinists let us give a moments silence in remembrance of this fascinating phase of the Roman empire’s existence and then let us toast to its august memory to this song!

Istanbul not Constantinople

Long live Byzantium!

Regards, Samuel.

Marius vs Sulla- The many layers of historical bias

Hello all, I hope my last first post wasn’t too long, confusing, repetitive or just plain bad for you, I should probably clarify what I’m aiming to do with this post, I’m not planning to compare the two men to decide who was better in anyway (at least not directly) or who would have defeated the other in battle, be it hypothetically with both at their prime or if Marius had lived longer and faced Sulla on his return from the first Mithridatic war. No, nothing nearly as fun as any of that!

My aim is to explore the question: “who is history more biased towards Marius or Sulla?” to many who did the course Rome: from Republic to Empire as I did at Macquarie University the answer must seem obvious, “Sulla! He wrote his own memoirs praising himself and damning Marius and the naive and uncritical ancient “historians” like Plutarch lapped it up like calcium deficient kittens! Not to mention his filling the senate with his Cronies- the winners write the history books!” Others  I’ve met would say with equal fervour “Marius! the overrated hack gets all the glory and credit and none of the bad press, if you look at the actual details Sulla was clearly the better general and the greater man, besides it was Marius who pushed- indeed forced Sulla to march on Rome because of his use of illegal public violence just to gain himself one more burst of Glory!, so you see the cycle of violence started with him!”

However in my opinion, the answer depends so much on how you look at it, indeed perceptions of Marius and Sulla both independently and in comparison differ so widely depending on both the class, political views and period of time in which a historian dealing with either is writing as well as both the specific action or phase of either’s life being discussed and finally the type of source used by the historian. Indeed If one were to read all the information and opinions on Sulla and Marius available without constantly considering the nature of bias we would end up with an extremely schizophrenic view of either figure. lets start with Ancient sources and perspectives.

Now as most Romanophiles would know in Roman society it was typically the senatorial class (of Rome itself) that wrote the history’s (at least until well into the period of the emperors), more often then not when it wasn’t it was written by Greeks who however for the period in question were largely dependent on said sources for their information, this in my opinion goes some way to explaining for instance what I deem Plutarch’s seemingly incompatible strong sympathy for the Grachii with the way events in his lives of them are actually portrayed.

Thus directly or indirectly virtually every text from the Ancient world on these two men (and indeed on almost any topic) is strongly affected by the biases and vested interests of Rome’s landed aristocracy, in particular those of senatorial rank. This accounts for much of the bias against Marius, though likely a significant land owner around his hometown of Arpinum, he was a novous homo and though a member of Italy as a whole’s broader aristocracy, moderately wealthy and landed he may have been but he was far from a member of Rome’s true elite as Cicero another upstart from Arpinum was to discover to his chagrin some decades later. This in itself would be unlikely to arouse any hostility (if perhaps disdain) from Rome’s aristocracy. If Marius  hadn’t risen above his station (as many senators may have seen it) and made a point of doing so at their expense, attaining his first consulship by fanning and utilizing a wave of popular resentment against said elite as well as his populist actions both as a tribune himself and in his support for the radical populist tribune’s Saturninus (who he was eventually prevailed upon to suppress) and Sulpicius, I imagine his military innovations were not uncontroversial either.To Rome’s elite Marius wasn’t just an upstart he was an upstart that built himself up by knocking them down and threatening their interests.

That said Sulla’s own origins would not wholly recommend him to Rome’s establishment, he was a Patrician that was true and doubtless counted for much but his family had long been obscure and he was born into little money, indeed seemingly far less than Marius, if Plutarch is to be believed (he likely exaggerates somewhat) Sulla for a time in his life owned no land and lived in an insula, making him a member of Rome’s lowest economic class of citizens the Proletarrii, Only coming into sufficient money to pursue a political career after inheritances from two wealthy women. His poverty and obscurity and all that entailed are likely why according to Plutarch he wasn’t deemed good enough by many of Rome’s aristocrats to marry (as he did) Metella Dalmatica, from the extremely prominent Metelli clan. Plutarch also records that many disapproved of his shirking off of his inherited poverty (as it is was also considered shameful to squander one’s inherited wealth- thats a very convenient set of attitudes for Rome’s establishment), though no doubt part of thats a roundabout attack on the man’s purported avarice.

Next we come to partisan bias for or against either one. Naturally such political giants as Sulla or Marius played a large role in making or breaking the careers of many other men and also became symbols of certain viewpoints, ideas and values with which people could and did identify (then and now). For instance, though too young to have been involved in politics whilist Marius lived a young Julius Caesar would later use the memory of his famous uncle by marriage to jump start his career, the historian Sallust however was one of Caesar’s supporters (and dare I use the loaded term…a Popularis) and like Marius himself a novous homo (according to some site, so if some good reader of mine could check that with something more reliable it’d be appreciated) wrote a work entitled ‘the Jugurthine war’ which needless to say deals with Marius a lot and Sulla too not insignificantly. This doubtless goes some way to explaining some of his favourable treatment of Marius- though far from all treatment of Marius in said work is positive.

partisan support for Sulla ties in to the vested interests of the senatorial class, but they are far from one and the same. Yes Sulla enlarged and further empowered the senate through his

Lucius Cornelius Sulla- caption courtesy of Nicholas Schwapol

reforms while also purging it of his enemies (and the enemies of his friends) and filling it and the magistracies with his friends, not to mention rewarding his partisans with the property of his victims and avenged many of those slain in Marius’s own reign of terror, Indeed he is said to have chosen as his own epitaph “no man did more harm to his enemies or more good for his friends” those are unlikely to be the exact words (for one thing the exact words were likely Latin) but I’m very confidant that thats an accurate gist of it, one doesn’t forget such a fitting summation so easily. No doubt many of these actions brought him the goodwill or at least the approval of much of the aristocracy, his removal of most powers of the Tribune’s of the Plebs and his granting control of the law courts to the senate (juries would now until the law was again altered be composed entirely of senators) seem to have been particularly popular with a significant group of senators (and increasingly unpopular with many other people), not to mention the fact that building Sulla up could be and was used to take credit from and attack the reputation of Marius.

However It was never a matter of hate the one and love the other and neither class or background count for everything. Cicero Arpinum’s second famed upstart, despite his very similar background (or perhaps to an extent because of it) had little liking for Marius or his populist policies but yet one definitely would not call him an admirer of Sulla. Indeed he had strong sympathies for Sulpicius and found the proscriptions abhorrent, as did many others amongst Rome’s elite, even amongst it’s conservative and pro-senate membership. Sulla by being the first to march on Rome and the first to introduce proscriptions as well as bringing civil war to Italy and establishing himself as dictator (in our sense of the word as well as the theirs, dictator being an emergency Roman magistracy) indefinitely by force had ensured that his name would live on in infamy. So much so that in many ways during his own civil war Caesar used the example of Sulla as a guide of what not to do if you want your legacy to endure and (very importantly for Caesar) your reputation to remain intact (unfortunately for Caesar and Rome as a whole Sulla’s methods were sometimes more effective then he seems to have estimated).

statue of Cicero in modern day Arpino (ancient Arpinum) his hometown- the warlike stance seems more akin to his fellow Arpinite Marius whose statue stands across the square......

Though many benefited financially and in the longer term politically from Sulla’s dictatorship, he had done so through actions abhorrent to the values of most of Rome’s aristocracy, pro-senatorial or otherwise, his defenders could and did claim that the actions of Marius, Sulpicius, Cinna, Carbo and their ilk forced him to take these measures to protect his life, defend his dignitas or for the greater good of the Republic, but the very fact that these actions seemed to call for defending, as well as the reasons given should tell you that the actions in and of themselves were widely regarded as shocking and horrendous even by some of  their defenders. Yes Sulla packed the senate with many of his supporters but that does not mean they were all terribly enthusiastic (doubtless some were), some may have become enemies of the Marius-Cinna-Carbo faction and thus had little alternative (see Crassus) or others may have judged him the lesser of two evils, others still amongst Rome’s elite remained largely neutral throughout the conflict or only joined Sulla after being rebuffed by the other side out of opportunism (see Pompey) or joined at the last minute out of opportunism (again) or fear and finally not all those with significant ties, sympathy for or similar ideas to Sulla’s principal enemies was killed (see Caesar and Lepidus). Furthermore Roman society was not so rigidly divided as to suggest that those of the elite left unproscribed would not have lost friends or relatives to the proscriptions.

Sulla by marching on Rome, securing ultimate power by force and initiating the proscriptions set a series of dangerous precedents as far as that same elite he built up in his reforms were concerned, he had shown that a general with the support of his troops could seize power by force, robbing them of their political powers, rights and freedoms and that he could use that power to kill any of their number he chose, despite all the good he had done them there was no greater threat to the senatorial elite then a military dictator, as would be proven time and time again, Sulla may have promoted and enriched many senators but as long as he was dictator they were robbed of the preciously held view that they had no master, that they were a member of an exclusive club whose members were all the equal of kings, in doing so Sulla threatened the ego and self worth of Rome’s elite (an ego tied to ideology) which was something they found particularly hard to forgive or forget (as Caesar would find out).

Marius it is true also marched on Rome with an army, attaining his seventh consulship by force and initiating his own reign of terror, however its not at all clear that his power was as great as Sulla’s (Cinna for instance- his co-consul, had raised an army independent of Marius) nor did it last nearly as long, according to Plutarch Marius died seventeen days after attaining his seventh consulship, cutting short his campaigns of perceived retribution and any tyranny he may have established. Sulla on the other hand reigned for a few years, not a

Marius- With eyebrows to put John Howards to shame no wonder he won re-election so many times;)

number of days. Furthermore unlike Sulla most of Marius’s accomplishments are not tainted by association with civil war, he attained six of his seven consulships, he reformed the army, defeated the Numidians and the Germans and for the last of these was hailed as the third founder of Rome (as its saviour) all well before Sulla’s first march on Rome. Indeed his defeat of the Germans(and In the case of the Modern world his military reforms) certainly rival his deadly rivalry with Sulla as a candidate for what the Romans (and us) chiefly remember him for.

Sulla doesn’t seem so fortunate, he too proved himself against Rome’s enemies, serving as a capable subordinate in the Jugurthine wars and the invasions of the Cimbri and Teutones etc. as well as as a general in the social and 1st Mithridatic wars, however he suffers from marching on Rome during his first consulship, not after his sixth, everything afterwards, the height of his career and fame has the spectre of civil war and/or dictatorship blemishing and obscuring it. Sulla for instance performed brilliantly in the first Mithridatic war (even if he says so himself…) but as Mithridates was not as obvious a threat to Rome’s existence as the Germans of Marius he had already marched on Rome once, would do so again immediately following said war, it is for marching on Rome, dictatorship and proscriptions that he is chiefly remembered, perhaps it is Marius who should be dubbed Felix;)

“So advantage to Marius then?” At this point I would tentatively say yes but Sulla has one more trick up his sleeve (one mentioned earlier), that being that unlike Marius (so far as we know) he wrote his own memoirs, unfortunately they have not survived down to the present day (Octavius wrote memoirs too early in his rise to power….the gems we have lost!:(…) so its difficult to tell precisely how much surviving sources relied upon them and how critically they were used, but we know they did. Plutarch makes many references to them in his life of Sulla and seems to rely heavily on them and a squizz through the last 10 or so pages of Sallust’s the Jugurthine war has me thinking he made use of them too. Unfortunately even the finest Ancient historians tend to fall well short of modern standards when it comes to critical source analysis (they were not necessarily less intelligent, They often wrote their works for a different purpose to many modern academics and besides we stand on their shoulders) and seem to take Sulla’s memoirs with a pinch of salt rather than the recommended spoonful (we historians love our salt nowadays). So maybe Sulla was lucky after all?

-for a look of what I believe to be an interesting, if slightly less obvious example of insufficiently critical use of Sulla’s memoirs creeping into the surviving historical tradition of the ancient world see my next post, coming soon….ish.

“Well then then the answer is Sulla then, hooray! were done then!? because I’m pretty sure Archduke Franz Ferdinand had just been assassinated when I started reading this, do you think I missed much?” Well yes and no, yes you missed a lot, though you really should thank me that you missed some of it (the Somme, Spanish flu, Hitler, Pol Pot and Pauline Hanson), no I’m not quite done yet, what remains is to discuss more modern perspectives of these two figures.

In the Britain of the late 1920’s a biography of Sulla was written by a G.P. Baker entitled ‘Sulla the Fortunate: Roman General and Dictator’ http://www.amazon.com/Sulla-Fortunate-Roman-General-Dictator/dp/0815411472 , I have not read the book in full, or even most of it but I got it out from Macquarie university’s library for help with a tute paper, I did however read the author’s foreword (I think its called that) in full, a lot of which was about how in the author’s opinion the present age Europe was entering (in the late 1920’s) was much like the era dawning on Rome at the time of Sulla an era in which dictatorship was both on the rise and beneficial, Sulla indeed seems to have been likened with the fascist dictator Mussolini but in a complimentary way (remember the British government was not hostile to Mussolini from the outset of his dictatorship, indeed they initially seemed to have high hopes for him) and I read enough of the biography to deduce that it has a very positive view of Sulla. I do not know whether this work represented the views on Sulla in anyway of the majority (or largest minority) of British, much less European scholars at the time (though Scullard who wrote much later I admit seems to have had a good deal of Sympathy for him), not that the book is very scholarly, but it is certainly an example of a very different perspective on Sulla than that held by most Ancient history undergrads today (if they have an opinion) nor I suspect does a generally pro-Sullan view prevail in academic circles today.

Oh and a note on the book in question, while interesting in some ways and some what quaint, I am in no way recommending it, aside from the fascist association the book when it gets to Pompey and describes his character at some length, amongst many other (in my opinion) seriously misguided and very positive views of the man, he is described as………..wait for it…….humble!!! That’s like saying George Bush Jr is well spoken, Hilary Clinton is unambitious, John I of england was competent or that Katy Perry can sing! If one had to list all the things Pompeius ‘Magnus’ wasn’t, it’d be vying for top of the list with an albino black sheep, I lost all remaining faith in the book at that moment. Now to wrap this epic post up:

Fast forward to the present day and I believe attitudes have shifted decisively in Marius’s favour- at least in comparison to Sulla. In a lecture for Macquarie universities brilliant course: Ciceronian Rome Sulla was like in G.P. Baker’s book likened to a fascist leader but the implication of that comparison for Sulla is very different, Fascism isn’t quite as popular these days (for good reason). Furthermore Sulla has long been associated with oligarchy, aristocracy and the interests of the rich as well as with dictatorship, Sulla’s association with the entrenched elite which once led to much bias in his favour has ironically been a principal cause for the largely negative light he seems to be held in these days. Much of the Western world is now democratic and has developed a cultural aversion to dictatorship and a egalitarian ethos has to varying extents been adopted that sometimes, as in Australia develops into an ingrained dislike and distrust of the society’s elite, known colloquially as tall poppy syndrome in one way or another, be it the highly educated, the rich, the “cultured”, politicians, the “aristocrats”- not that we really have any, etc. etc. (In Australia tall poppy syndrome does not seem to apply to actors, musicians or sports stars….bread and circuses much?).

All this results in a very negative perception of Sulla and what he is seen to stand for, Marius however benefits from being seen (rightly or wrongly) as Sulla’s opposite, the tough, gritty no nonsense  outsider making it big and saving his country and standing up for the little guy, despite the constant attempts of the jealous snooty blue bloods to stop him. A radical, a reformer and fair dinkum working class hero. This is a particularly extreme way to look at it but the current culture does seem to favour Marius over Sulla (not that either lack thier detractors or defenders) as the culture prevalent at other times and place’s has favoured Sulla.

Thus in a sense their rivalry continues down to the present day, are their any takers on who will win the next round?



Tribune hunting season! senator slaying season! Tribune hunting season! Senator slaying season! Tribune hunting season! Tribune hunting season! Senator slaying season fire!

Hello all my name is Samuel Runge and welcome to my blog.

Hello all my name is Samuel Runge and welcome to my blog, one that my brother Nathan long ago first suggested I start, no doubt to transfer the burden of listening to my rants from himself to bored and assumedly nerdy individuals surfing the Internet. Nevertheless it was only at the beginning of my uni holidays (now drawing to a close) that I resolved to create one as I had many things I wished to rant about and precious few people to rant too. Which is I imagine why many people have blogs, so they can pretend their not talking to themselves, the nearest wall or the family pet. Unfortunately it was still quite some time till I got a blog as I required technical assistance and in the meantime I lost my ‘inspiration’- If you can call it that and had no idea what to say. Thus now you know why this place has been postless for so long.

Anyway we’ll start our adventures in history on the (relatively) well trodden path of the late Roman Republic, specifically by revisiting in blog form some musings I made while doing the excellent course Ciceronian Rome at Macquarie University. Those of you who (like me) had the pleasure of doing this course would have assumedly also done its predecessor: Rome: from Republic to Empire (itself an excellent course),  which covered the immediately preceding period in Roman history to Ciceronian Rome, that being roughly from the 3rd Punic war till the death of Sulla.

Now the decline and fall of the Republic is generally portrayed as well…..a decline, at least in terms of stability (Rome continued to expand its territories at quite a pace during this period) with some exceptions until Augustus and the Principate and there’s a lot to be said for this conception, certainly civil wars, the first of which occurred near the end of the period covered in the Rome: from Republic to Empire with Sulla squaring off against Marius, Cinna, Carbo and co. (for simplicities sake lets not count the Social war as a civil war, I know thats a stretch but I want to get to my point before 5 in the morning). In the period between the death of Sulla and the death of Cicero (roughly the Ciceronian Rome timespan-and well under a century) you have quite a few more civil wars, with more still following between Cicero’s death and the suicide’s of Antony and Cleopatra, we also have proscriptions and mob and gang violence on a grand scale (Clodius and Milo and their homeboys in particular) as well as the most formidable slave revolt in Roman history (though I suspect the slave part has been overstated).

Yet one form of violence and civil strife appears to have become notably less prevalent (at the very least in comparison with the rise in other forms of political violence) post Sulla then in the decades preceding him beginning all the way back with the Grachii (in other words very roughly the Rome from republic to empire period) when Rome’s social fabric is just beginning to visibly tear (pedants you get what I mean), that being the assassination, murder and lynching of radical tribune’s of the plebs by and large by irate aristocrats. Seriously in the period from the Grachii up to and including Sulla’s first march on Rome, it seems like whenever Rome’s aristocracy had a slow day in the senate, discussing tax reform in Sardinia or something they decided to blow off steam by going on a tribune hunt (like a fox hunt except without woods, without horses, with Togas, furniture legs instead of guns and rabid old blue bloods frothing at the mouth instead of pedigree breed hunting dogs frothing at the mouth….see not much difference at all…..oh and a tribune instead of a fox). You know kinda like Africa and military coups and French uni students and rioting, we all need to pass the time of day somehow.

alright to illustrate my point lets go through them, first off Tiberius Gracchus bites the dust, followed by his little brother Gauis, then Saturninus and Lucius Equitius followed by Livius Drusus and then finally Sulpicius (please tell me if I missed anyone), all supposedly inviolate Tribune’s of the plebs cut down while in office (not that some of them left their rivals much choice) most killers facing nor form of formal punishment (though often the enmity of much of Rome’s non-senatorial orders). By comparison  in the period covered by Ciceronian Rome (after which Tribunes seem to become an irrelevancy) while there was much violence incited by and against active tribune’s (though if of a serious nature this was normally limited to some of their followers), nor were threats rare such as those made by the consuls (I think it was them…) against the tribune’s Marcus Antonius and Cassius (the famous assassins brother) that led to thier flight from Rome to their patron, Julius Caesar and the threats made by the same Caesar against a tribune that tried to deny him access to the state reasury.

All the same I can not name a single tribune known to have been cut down in office during this time period, a speech attributed to the tribune Macer in one of the fragments of Sallust’s history seems to imply that a certain Sicinius was murdered by a faction of nobles but that seems to be contested and its very difficult to find more information on him (particularly If your lazy and presently only have access to the internet and your own books) but thats about it.  yet little seems to suggest that this was due among the nobility to a newfound respect for the sacrosanctity of Tribunes of the Plebs (or the sacrosanctity of anyone else for that matter as Caesar was to find out the hard way…) as evidenced by the above threats and intimidation as well as violence on a lesser scale.

So why then? how with everything else going to Tartarus in a vomitorium did being an uppity tribune actually become safer (allowing for the fact that it was generally speaking becoming more dangerous to be a politician- or even just rich period)!?

Ironically the tribune’s of Cicero’s time may at least in part have Sulla to thank, Sulla who marched an army on Rome and killed Sulpicius, Sulla who did to the powers of the Tribune’s what the words “Democratic republic of” before the name of a nation do to that nations chances of being either. Sulla, Sulla, Marius, Pompey and Crassus.

let’s start at the beginning with Marius himself an uppity Tribune once, why Marius? Because he started two important precedents that I believe were key role in redefining the role of the active, populist tribune in particular and tribunes in general. The first precedent- Marius’s reform of the army is well known to Roman Republican history buffs (even if some of what he supposedly did is contested), the Marian army reforms were key in switching the primary loyalty of many an army from the state at large to the general of the army in question and secondly he was the first of the new model of Roman general to bring into his service violent, agitating demagogue tribunes (both Saturninus and Sulpicius) in order to further his own aims, in exchange he offered the political support of the most distinguished living Roman, not that Saturninus and Sulpicius were small fish (especially Saturninus who appears to have been the most prominent tribune of his time) but one suspects that they and Marius were not equal partners. Indeed After Pompey and Crassus restored the rights of the Tribunes ambitious generals using tribune’s as their instruments seems to almost become the norm (see Curio, Vatinius and the aforementioned Antony and Cassius for Caesar and Manlius and Gabinius for Pompey etc).

This is significant as from the little I know of the Grachii despite their youth  and the support that they possessed from a number of highly influential elder statesmen as tribunes they don’t seem to have been anyone’s junior partners, neither (by the even less I know about him) does Drusus -who I believe was after Saturninus, so the transition from “independent” (no Roman politician could thrive without allies and supporters) player to junior ally of a bigger fish for the tribune of the plebs was neither a complete transformation nor accomplished overnight.

Then comes Sulla, though his rival Marius had no qualms with violence and the legally dubious, it was Sulla who backed into a corner by Marius that raised the stakes, marching an army on Rome, not once but twice, showing for the first time the full scope of what Marius’s reforms allowed an ambitious (or otherwise finished) general to do. The precedent was set, the era of civil wars had begun. Sulla’s army on his first march on Rome demonstrated that a mob whipped up by a radical tribune was no match for a professional army, after his second seizure of Rome he initiated a reign of terror, robbed the tribune’s of the plebs of virtually all their authority and demonstrated that it was from generals and their armies not Tribune’s and their rabble rousing that the greatest threat to the aristocracy, the senate and its power came from.

Between the death of Sulla and the 1st consulship of Pompey and Crassus there was much agitation and pressure to restore the powers of the tribune’s of the plebs, slowly a few powers were given back until Pompey and Crassus two generals who had camped their respective armies just outside Rome before the consular elections, something which doubtless played a large role in getting them elected gained great popularity by restoring all the rights of the Tribune’s of the plebs as they stood pre-Sulla.

I think its important to note who and under what circumstances the powers of the tribunes were both taken away and returned in full on both occasions a powerful general/generals who had risen to his/their position/s by the use or the threat of force was responsible, the Imperator giveth and taketh away. I can not think of a better example of the shift in power, the fate of Sulpicius had shown that even if a tribune gained control of Rome through violence, enemies and opportunists could use the opportunity to march an army on Rome, one wonders whether a Saturninus or Sulpicius would ever have dared go as far as they did in post-Sullan Rome, Sulla had shown the tribunes (and those who would oppose them) the limits of their power, however the years following Sulla up to and including Pompey and Crassus’s first consulship revealed another truth to the many senators opposed to the restoration of the tribune’s powers, that being that the tribunate still had its place and those that aimed to return its powers would receive great accolades and influence and those that opposed it, mounting pressure and popular hostility.

Thus I suspect that the notable decline in the tribune assassination rate has something to do with both the tribunes and those senators opposed to populist tribunes coming to realise just how far they could effectively push each other with any degree of success, radical tribunes had a habit of being killed and attempts by them to run roughshod over all opposition by force risked military intervention on the one hand, on the other hand however the attempt to turn the tribunate into a lame duck had been both dangerous and an abject failure. Furthermore as mentioned above many of the most prominent tribunes of the post Sulla period achieved their prominence acting as the agents of powerful generals, threatening much less actually killing a Pompey or a Caesar’s representative could leave them feeling the need to recourse to more direct methods (like crossing a certain small stream in North Italy…..) to get what they want or merely to ensure their own safety (If someone offs your supposedly sacrosanct political representative with impunity in broad daylight thats rather easy to take as a personal threat), the threats directed at the tribune’s Antony and Cassius, though no doubt also aimed at disposing of a nuisance were primarily in effect a (in my opinion) a declaration of war against Julius Caesar.

None of this is to say that violence disappeared or that Tribune’s of the Plebs were never important or powerful post Sulla.

In conclusion if a primary cause (secondary cause mentioned at beginning of preceding paragraph) must be given for the marked reduction in the assassination of Tribune’s it was the rise of generals whose soldiers were loyal to them above the senate this created an atmosphere in which it was increasingly inviable (or rather more obviously so) for a radical tribune to control the Republic by controlling Rome and simultaneously it was often both less beneficial and more dangerous for a Tribune’s opponents to resort to Assassination.

With Sulla Rome moved into a new hunting season: senators and Equites.