Why is Cato the younger always portrayed in popular culture as a really old man he was younger than Caesar and much younger than Cicero and Pompey yet is frequently portrayed as older than all the above yet he may not have reached 50. In the HBO series Rome the actor playing him is clearly much older than either Pompey, Caesar or Cicero or indeed any other important Roman political figure shown. In the Conn Igguldon young adult novels following Caesar and Brutus he’s one of Sulla’s senior supporters and again older than Pompey much less Caesar (mind as previusly mentioned in these books that play particularly…..loose…with the facts he is also a machiavellian hedonist killed by Pompey in revenge for the murder of his daughter before Caesar’s praetorship……I still don’t know where to start with all that) and in a tv miniseries about Caesar that came out in the very early 2000’s he is a senatorial leader played by Christopher Walken at the time of Sulla’s march on Rome. In reality at this time Cato was STILL A CHILD not a man in his 40’s/50’s! Cato the younger indeed……
I think in part it’s because we associate Cato with oligarchy, austerity, stubborness and conservatisim, he is the cantakerous stubborn old man bordering on senility who just can’t stomach no more change god’s dang it! These young fashionable playboys like Catilina and Caesar (both of whom were older than Cato, especially Catilina) are scandalous, well in my day etc. And of course when we think of arch conservative’s especially oligarchs we think of old established politicians. But Cato wasn’t an old rich Republican senior statesman, no Romney or Bush but a tea-party demagogue his stubboreness and uncompromising conservativisim driven by youthful fanaticisim rather than senility or simply the hardening that often comes with age. Of course this is reading into things but considering how destructive an influence Cato turned out to be perhaps a reminder of the dangers of youthful fanaticisim wouldn’t be out of place here. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to write letters to the editor about the moral decline of our time. Now in my day!……….
Recently finished Final Fantasy XV. On the whole a good game and there’s plenty yet for me to in it but I have finished the principal story and am somewhat disapointed with it. I was expecting a greater variety of locations, especially for the key missions. Venice, sorry I mean Altissia is lovely but not fully utilized (and the leviathan fight is awful both as battle and spectacle) you basically don’t do anything in Tenebrae and the less said about the fortress in Nifleheim’s capital the better, they were going for menacing what they got was plodding and oppressively drab and Insomnia at night proved not to be much better. As in Final fantasy XIII the storytelling particularly for the latter chapters proved confusing though it has to be said it’s still clearly better than the utter mess that was 13 even in this area. Dramatic moments also struggle to have an impact when they involve characters we barely interact with or see (poor suchandsuch we hardly knew thee……but thats just it we hardly knew thee), this is made all the more noticeable by the fact that the interactions and banter between your 4 companions is often excellent, written and conveyed so much more effectively than much of the rest of the writing and storytelling as to threaten whiplash and does a lot paradoxically to both salvage the game and damn much of the rest of the writing further. The end boss fight is also pretty terrible (though not as bad as Leviathan…..very few things are). Despite this the game’s clearly a step in the right direction after 13 even if the actual storytelling is still awful.
How Venice was supposed to compete with a series of emerging nation states bordering the Atlantic for Atlantic trade is I confess as a non-innovator somewhat beyond me particularly as the dominant early Atlantic colonial power of Spain controlled the only sea lane leaving the mediterranean but I’m sure other non Atlantic bordering European countries became maritime and colonial powers in the America’s and Europe………I just can’t think of any right now………..Also aren’t we ignoring the centralisation of European states (leading usually to the nation state) and the rise of the Ottomans as factors here? it’s hard to think how Venice could have fought the former and they did fight the latter but unsurprisingly they could not ultimately succesfully contest with the Ottoman juggernaut for dominance of the Eastern med: which was the heart of Venice’s colonial empire and trade network. In the end I suppose what I’m saying is that if innovators are to learn any lesson from the fall of Venice it’s not explore more (Venice never really explored, the whole mediterranean was already known to all states around it) or focus production for markets you can’t compete in but be better at fighting Turks. But the real lesson for “innovators” to learn from the decline of Venice is that sometimes your just screwed.
Back in 2011 I saw a movie (with freinds……yes I once had them) that came out that year called the Immortals. It was one of those films inspired very loosely by greek mythology that came out in the years following 300 (seriusly it seemed to be almost a cinematic subgenre for about 5 years) and the following are (for the most part) my thoughts immediately after viewing said…………..why!? why are the Titans imprisoned in a fuse ball cube, why is thier a boat in a village located on a sheer cliff, why is everyone, including dead people! fighting in the sky at the end, why do we see up someone’s kilt, why is thier a guy wearing a barbed metal bull’s head mask (why would anyone wear that!?) why is thier no F*cking grass! or Soil! or trees or anything other than stone, sand or saltflats anywhere! including anywhere near any settlements? why does the bad guy make almost any of his decisions? for that matter why does Zeus! Why do the gods have a prime directive? why does the sidekick join the hero? come to think of it what does the hero even achieve? And why above all does everyone wear such patently ridiculous hats!
Of course there is an answer to the last of these questions for the hats at least are fabulous, their are a distinct lack of immortals in this movie but these fashion choices are surely forever:
Read an article a while back that referred to states having “natural life cycles” yes all political institutions have a beginning, middle and end and I’m sure there’s an average length of time for a state to exist but then when dealing with any finite duration there is always a begining, middle and end but this talk of life cycles or natural cycles usually implies some kind of inevitable in-built use by date and average. many states don’t survive for a century, fewer still make 500 years, a select few like Rome, which is used in said article as an example of state’s having such a cycle manage to endure for more than a millenium. If states were people and the average life expectancy was say 80, Rome would probably shuffle off it’s mortal coil long after it’s 400th birthday, I shouldn’t have to tell you that thats not how people work. You may think I’m taking this too literally and quite likely for the reference that triggered this rant I am but many people seriously believe that there is some kind of consistent and anthropomorphic lifecycle for states and institutions, probably with a midlife crisis in there somewhere where they buy a motorcycle/invade Persia…..ok maybe that part happens……
FYI: They don’t work like F*cking seasons or days either.
Step one: Drink, continue step one during all other steps.
step 2: play serene music and burn incense or something.
step 3: play videogames until result, or at least till when result is probable. In keeping with your declining motorskills (see step 1) and general state of apprehension that repititive grinding from that rpg you’ve been playing that you’ve been putting off is recommended. Compared to the election it shouldn’t feel monotonous and pointless at all.
step 4. Watch result.
Step 5. feel happy or sad depending upon the victory or defeat of your preffered candidate.
step 6. feel shame that you felt happy or sad for one of these shitheads.
step 7. check social media. Because well your going to anyway.
step 8. And this one’s important…..get off social media, it’s not going to help you.
and here’s where you can go one of two directions for the rest of the day/electoral period: wallowing and denial/repression let’s start with wallowing which we’ll call option A.
Option A. Wallowing in fatalisim, nihilisim, misery and despair. Now the intinct is to do this on social media via memes and run of the mill rant posts and article links but everyone will be doing that and your insight into how everything is shit is unique so it should be conveyed in a unique way……and THEN posted to social media because misery loves company as much as Trump loves attention and Hilary loves power (aka far more than anyone loves you). Now what I want you to do is go outside, feel the sun (if it’s sunny) on your face, the wind in your hair, watch the leaves rustle in the breeze, contemplate flowers and beauty and art, listen to the birds, the rain (if it’s raining) and beautiful music and contrast all these with the political developments and realities to which you have just borne witness. realise all beauty is transient. Watch the election coverage again breifly. Compose Japanese (“style”) death poetry. post to social media, bask in the accolades. reflect on the transience and emptyness of fame, compose some more death poetry.
Option B. shut out the world, eat ice cream from the container and watch a ghibli movie…..or three.
About 2 weeks ago at my work for the dole at a store, I did soceity a great service and by that I don’t mean my contributions at said store and necesarily self-flaggelation for being impertinent enough to be unemployed (I mean these go without saying) but I personally disposed of 3 dreaded dragons before they could do further damage to the good citizens of Sydney and all in the shadows (or you know the backsection of said store, much the same, I’m basically batman). I am speaking of course of three cursed tomes each more dreadful than the last.
The first such foe to catch my eye was a book on “healing and Autism” (thats the actual title) co-written by celebrity Jenny Mccarthy and some Dr. It promises advise on a wide range of other diagnosis such as ADHD (wish I could come up with a better example, my memory is failing me) as well obvously as other parts of the autistic spectrum. I should mention at this point for those who are unaware that I was diagnosed with aspergis as a child. After disposing of this beast of pseudo-science I then faced the high dragon itself………….
Cursed tomes 2 & 3 made cursed tome 1 seem benign by comparison despite my personal skin in the game. Tome the 2nd, the aforementioned high dragon to tome 1’s more common beast of pseudo-science was more pamphlet than tome in truth (like a pocket high dragon, a sort of pocket monster, a……..look it’s basically a high level Dragonite, that’s clearly where this was going) but perhaps all the dealier for it’s portability and ease of reference. it’s title was basically and I shit thee not “homeopathy for emergencies”…………and if the reasons for concern there are not abundantly obvious to you than I’m afraid courtesy of your mother not heeding cursed tome the 1st you came down with a serious case of stupid as a result of a childhood injection.
I scanned it very breifly and it seemed at least as bad as the title suggests. Curiously the cover made reference to some of the serious conditions it would detail “treatment” of within, which included Syphilis. Treatments (not necesarily for Syphilis, didn’t check) included the use of hellabore, which is poison and by that I don’t mean like most medication dangerous in high doses (though obviously depending on the dose that is how poison works there is still a functional distinction) I mean poison, well known for that. I believe some ancient cultures did appropriate it for medical use and with some effect but even then with serious caution and this along with syphilis (a serious and still very much extant condition but one with a distinctly old timey vibe) and the seeming adherence to the miasma theory of disease (yep…….miasma, the dominant pre-germ theory…..if I’d looked properly I probably would have found reference to the body’s humours (almost certainly spelling that wrong, can’t be arsed to check).
Anyway needless to say if some idiot decided to treat a serious or life threatening illness with “basically just water” or worse you know……poison (probably statistically negligible amounts but I don’t trust this book nor those who put into practice with deciding how much that is, I’d rather no poison thanks). That person could actually die. I regret not purchasing the book myeself but I would have to wait till the end of the day and I was not going to let this out of my site, no way that was going on the shelves. Homeopathy for emergencies…………….
We now come to a danger of a different sought (this one with pictures!)…..ideological and 6 million jews agree (or would if they……you know could……) it’s at least as dangerous as the former. In the depths of a kids display panel in the store’s booksection (ok their really isn’t any depth, it’s a shelf, work with me here) next to a bunch of brightly illustrated books for small children was an epic novel (the third volume in a saga) entitled “lebensraum!” and subtitled “the dream of land and peace” my curiosity piqued I picked it up thinking this can’t possibly be what it looks like…….and now we both know that it was.
Right (wing) there among the children’s picture books facing you standing on an eye-level end of alcove display in a charity shelf was a nazi apologist novel written by a prominent holocaust denier whose very title is a reference to the excuse for basically unprecedented mass murder and whose implementation formed a key role in said murder and deportation of millions of east europeans. “Lebensraum: the dream of land andpeace”……in reply to whose title I will now attempt paraphrase Tacitus: Romans. Deserts. Peace. Anyone who purchased this for the kiddies (maybe that can pass it around at scouts….) was in for a rapid and shocking awakening (kinda like operation Barbarossa) at least you would hope………..naturally I thought getting rid of it to be in the organization’s best interest, not a good thing for PR, or so you’d hope.
One final question remains (ok many questions remain, shut up, it’s a rhetorical device), who donated it and WHY!? was it a joke or is this part of an elaborate plan to distribute Nazi propaganda. *insert Pauline Hanson joke here*. Of course disposing of books was a beloved hobby of the Nazis, so the irony on my part is palpable (and dare I say pulpable……..I’m not sorry) so we can reasonably ask who the real villain is here, the Nazis or your freindly neighbourhood book binner……..wait……..This has been Samuel Runge not the hero you deserve (I’m way too good for you people) but the one you’ve got signing off.
So I saw someone on my wall share and/or like this article and I read it and was distinctly unimpressed and decided some kind of response was in order but a lot of things came up and then my response got very long, longer than I intended or would like but I felt I had to address and explain at least a little all the things that bothered me about it…..which turned out to be a fair bit, so now it’s a post on my wall made late at night rather than just a comment made in more normal hours. https://medium.com/…/history-tells-us-what-will-happen-next…
“History tells us”, “as historians we” “historians will”, “based on history” do you get the impression he’s leveraging his presumed degree for credibility with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer and implying both prescience and uniformity of opinion to the mysterious and august order to which he claims membership? nah that’d be silly in any case using it in such a way would demonstrate pretentiousness and insecurity, definitly not true then. on the subject of things that are most definitly probably maybe not true this totally isn’t an exercise in pseudo-intellectual masturbation driven by an ego almost as big as his Cassandra complex.
In any case this is a very poor article it is the subsumation of Europe into the dominance of two world powers whom cheifly avoided war with each other due to the doctrine of mutually assured destruction and from other factors like war’s reduced profitability and the horrors of WW2, the EU probably has little to do with it. The biggest falacy in an article of falacies however is this idea that opponents of Brexit, Trump or Putin have been/are some kind of “few brilliant minds” dismissed as “hysterical, mad, or fools” such people are neither few nor funny enough nor are they usually brilliant (To get past partisan bias here on Putin at least they would include president Bush as well as most senior Republicans as well as legions of newscorp journalists in America, Australia and the UK) the great majority of the political establishment and media in the UK opposed Brexit as well as a large segment of the general population. Opposition to Putin in particular and Russia in general is the default position of government and media in the three countries just mentioned and has been for most of the 20th century and with exceptions of course a good deal longer than that at least in Britain, Trump has been openly opposed by more of the media than any major presidential candidate for a considerable period of time and may very well fail to defeat an extremely unpopular rival in Hilary Clinton. In the UK and here I’m confidant he is still more consistently reviled both by the media and political establishment and the populace then he is in the states.
By contrast it was the political system set up by the elites of Europe that lead to the first world war, not outsiders, not populists but the at the time usual suspects, in 1914 the Kaiser, Austrian emperor Tsar and establishments of the more democratic (at least exempting thier many colonies) British and french were not impotently imploring thier people to reject the siren call of warmongering demagogues. No they were in charge, they collectively constructed the system in Europe that lead to the crisis and they lead thier countries into war following said crisis, this is not even necesarily to say they all made the wrong decision but the first world war was not caused by the impotence of the traditional political class in the face of populist warmongering outsiders, I can’t believe I need to say this but Trump is not responsible for the Somme.
None of this directly addresses the principal point of the article however, that being that Brexit/the election of Donald Drumph and the existence of Putin dramatically increases the danger of WW3/the black death/the end times/ pineapple on pizza because apparently we hate that now and what we need is to reassurt the control and policies of the establishment because in it we (the special clever people) trust. However as mentioned above it was the decisions of the establishment that lead to the first of the wars we are warned we are in danger of repeating, not the Trumps and Brexits of the world but the Victoria’s and tea and biscuits as it were. Now thier are significant and concerning similarities between the current rise in populist nationalist insurgent political parties and the political situation of the 1930’s as he points out, I do not dispute this fact or argue it’s insignificance but in terms of the prospect of war I am more concerned with our business as usual current trajectory than a shakeup caused by America becoming more isolationist and less Russophobic in policy by far.
At this point I should state that Donald Trump is a transparently deplorable human being who would make an awful (and very embarrasing president) in electing him America would effectively be deciding that really when it’s all said and done they really think the best person for the job is a vulgar egomaniac manchild conman whose election would discredit America as the leader of the “civilized” and free world enormously overnight. That said Hilary Clinton is a warmonger utterly committed to the furtherance of present trends in American foreign policy, a foreign policy that has seen nigh on continous escalation with Russia and China over the previous severel years. As secretary of state Hilary was integral in this process but while she frankly made the situation worse she is the establishments pick because her policy has the broad support of the elite and in particular that of the military industrial complex (sorry it does need to be said sheeple) and thus would likely broadly continue under the direction of most establishment candidates.
This policy is an impressive combination of immoral, incompetant and terrifying and is supported by the establishments of Britain and Australia and it is about power and driven by greed and fear, it involves networks of alliance based on the perceived mutual interests of the elites in the countries within said alliances making the deal (note interest of elites, not interest of people)for profit, control and against mutual enemies who are picked because they are threats to these interests (or thier own enemies make a better offer) not out of any sense of ethics or generally for the general betterment of the broader population. As such propaganda campaigns, regime change and proxy wars are the order of the day. Make no mistake though this policy has not proven effective but when it fails Hilary’s instinct is to double down on foreign policy she is more than just unscupulous she is unimaginative and inflexible and as a consequence of her and people who share her approach America has become involved with multiple proxy wars against Russia and Iran in service of Saudi Arabia. The largest of which in Syria they have become extremely involved long after any chance of achieving thier goal of removing Assad had evaporated but the longer they are thier working at cross purposes to the Russians the higher the chance of an incident…….
While continuing to escalate tensions in the South China Sea even after losing the support of one of thier previusly most committed allies in the Phillipines. America has been trying ever since the 90’s to maintain it’s breif and absolute pr-eminence in all corners of the globe, the more threatened this status is the more they double down, it is not enough merely to be the most powerful country in the world you must also be the dominant power in every region. Greater than China in East Asia and then Russia in it’s neck of the woods this is both megalomania and put simply no longer feasible. The 90’s are over and America simply does not have the resources or willpower to maintain the level of military and strategic ascendency to which it feels bizarely entitled and so they feel vulnearable and that makes them dangerous, simply put a Nato under the leadership of a traditional candidate much less the hawkish Clinton would be much more likely to start a war with Russia then stop one. If a Trump presidency leads to a deescalation or even just less escalation with Russia and China and a distancing from allies like the Saudi’s it would not be wholly a bad thing.
Episode 4- The End of the World: In this final episode Terry talks about the Huns, the Vandals and the fall of the Roman Empire, principally through the tale’s of Attila and Gaiseric the most famous leaders of the Huns and Vandals respectively before summing up. We begin with a very brief pre-title introduction illustrating just this ending: “with Rome gone Europe would enter a thousand years of ignorance and chaos: the dark ages…..well at least that’s what I was told.” First up both the term dark ages and the view of the time encompassed by it implied by the name are no longer fashionable in scholarship and have not been for decade’s but (perhaps in part because popular understanding lags behind academic trends) such was probably not the case when Terry was in school, so that part of what he’s saying is fine (leaving aside that I suspect the show’s target audience is significantly younger than our presenter) it’s the thousand year claim that’s the problem. That would bring the dark ages well into the 1400’s, not even the most generous definitions of the term had it last that long, I have difficulty believing Terry was taught that either. Again I would like to remind you that Terry claims some medieval expertise.
“If I’ve learn’t one thing making these programs about barbarians it’s that nothing is ever as simple as it seems” “the Greatest achievement of the Romans…..was propaganda” “2000 years after Rome’s collapse I was still being peddled their version of the past at school” I didn’t know you were from the future Terry! this explains everything! No wonder you know so much about history, you have a time machine! Stop the press everyone! Turns out Life of Brian is the most historically accurate recreation of the time of Jesus, so the History Channel was right aliens did visit Roman Jerusalem http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2sI8vIJQY8 ! besides it’s the only way this makes any sense: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Uvt83YWWWY
What follows is a summary of what Jones wants us to take from the preceding three episodes if you’ve read my previous posts in this series than you can guess what he says and my rebuttle (even brings up the Rome stopped an industrial revolution thing again…..still a heck of a claim to just toss around) he then sets the scene “by this time [by which he seems to mean roughly the fourth and fifth century’s] the empire was too unweildly and spawling to be managed solely from Rome, so at the end of the fourth century the Roman empire was split into two, now thier would be two empire’s East and West.” While Terry is saying this sadly often repeated fallacy a map appears showing the division into two empires and the locations of Rome and Constantinople (Now Istanbul, just ask the Turks) in the Western and Eastern Empire respectively. Now the empire was divided administratively with multiple emperors and multiple courts a number of times even discounting periods of civil war and a binary roughly East West form of division had also occured repeatedly but here Jones is almost certainly refferring to the division upon the death of emperor Theodosius I in 395 CE which split the empire between East and West for the final time before the Wests fall, but it would hardly matter if he were not. The map clearly implies that each is the capital of it’s respective part of the empire and if it is the Theodosian division we are dealing with this holds true for Constantinople and the East but not for Rome and the West, since the very founding of Constantinople Rome (and indeed earlier Constantine’s breif residence there notwithstanding) had not been what could be called a capital of empire, not in the same way as post-Theodosian Constantinple the emperor and his court resided at the Norther Italian city of Ravenna making that the political capital of the West, Rome still mattered, it was still a large city and as among other things the residence of the senate and the Western Empire’s only patriarch of the Church it was of considerable symbolic importance but it was not Constantinople’s Western Equivalent (though as Constantinople with Senate emperor and patriarch was beggining to take on similar symbolic importance to Rome you could argue that Ravenna was not it’s equivalent either…..). But as often I have wasted too much time on in many ways the least important but also least excusable error.
It is often claimed that the empire was eventually divided into two and in the case specifically of the administrative arrangements of the emperor Diocletian (late 3rd very early fourth centuries) 4 parts because the empire was simply too big to be managed by one emperor and/or one capital, it is less frequently explained however how the empire managed just fine (and for the last 60 or so years before Diocletian well…..managed……) with one of either for around 3 centuries. The empire’s territories were not substantially smaller under Augustus Diocletian and the succesors of Theodosius under Trajan and over a century of his succesors they were bigger still yet the empire endured and functioned well for a long time. Most states do not last three century’s at all, not even close. There are other far more plausible explanations for the division of empire that have nothing to do with administrative necesity or even efficiency due to an excess of territory but this is a complex and contentious issue and it is best to leave it here for now. Suffice to say Terry is wrong here but he has a lot of company including in scholarship so I must grudgingly accord him some leeway.
We then move on after some emotively charged but vague stuff about the empire being Christian now and the resulting new framing of the us vs them narrative to the first of this weeks barbarians: The Huns, Terry claims they migrated from Mongolia, many scholars think so, many don’t, I don’t have a strong opinion myeself and don’t know the details but I thought you should know thats contentious as is the degree to which the Hunnic invasians sparked a wave of Germanic migrations westward into the empire, the extent of Hun caused migrations is played up by many scholars such as Terry favoured consultant Peter Heather whereas others such as Paul Halsall contend convincingly that the Hun caused migrations have been exaggerated though in Terry’s defense he could not have read the book of Halsall’s from which I gathered that information and the Huns certainly played a key role in the Germanic migrations that resulted in the famed battle of Adrianople (see my second Terry post).
For the next while Terry adds a good dose of padding and investigates the nature of the Huns, putting foreward thier warlord style socio-political structure as something distinctive (only perhaps in that they took it to extremes) then we get to Attilla and his short lived empire aside from the usual hyperbole and some of the visual subtext (equating Attilla with Soviet style personality cut leadership etc. Uncle Attilla indeed….) it’s all very conventional and decently accurate in terms of the actual information conveyed. The Huns as Walter Pohl Terry’s onscreen historian for this segment explains to Terry and as Heather (as previusly mentioned a clear source for Terry dealing with late Antique barbarians who shows up later in the episode) claims in his writing were a society of parasites, Attilla being merely the biggest parasite of all (though Pohl does not put it quite so explicitly or nearly so negatively) Terry interestingly enough essentially runs with thier conclusion (even making a mafia reference in regards to the way Attilla operated), one with which I am also esentially in agreement, I know,I know this is scary not only am I agreeing with Heather but Jones himself! Fear not for something is still very wrong here (aside from me agreeing with Terry) that being Terry’s tone, how he chooses to emotively portray this data, he clearly admires (if perhaps ruefully) Attilla despite the fact that he seems to think (not as I have said without good cause) he’s the godfather, I quote: “It seems that Attilla really did think he was destined to rule the world, well he certainly made everyone around him believe it. But he didn’t want to rule the world the way the Romans did- you know actually having to run things, making laws and organizing administrations thats, thats a mug’s game. No all he needed was one secretary and a big army to get everyone to bow down before him, humbly submit and hand over the money, in the evenings he would come home to singing maidens holding white cloths over his head and watch everyone grovel. Now thats ruling the world!” Now you may be thinking this makes perfect sense he’s having some lighthearted fun, loads of people think Vikings or pirates and yes the Mafia are cool it doesn’t mean they approve of them morally no need to be a prude loads of documentaries have a bit of fun some badass warlords.
Yes all of this is true and in many circumstances perfectly fine (historical comedy and selective admiration of historical figures is a complicated social issue, why is it ok to make jokes about Viking sacks and not Soviet Gulags or genuinly admire the military genius of Genghis Khan but not the charisma of Adolf Hitler seperate from thier policies and broader persons etc.) I wrote for an ancient history revue for years (and will probably do so again) and wrote skits involving comedy about crucifiction, persectution, murder, oppression etc, and on the selective admiration side of the coin have long admired many of the qualities of historical figures of shall we say suspect characters Genghis Khans determination and energy, Stalin’s cunning etc. and there can be no denying the awesome badassery of the likes of Sulla, Tamerlane, Baibars, Robert Guiscard, (Tywin Lannister;)) etc. Which brings me to the first of my two objections: Terry? Attilla, really!? HE”S your badboy historical crush (well one of, the great thing about this is you can have as many as you want)? oh Terry……….you can do SO much better, I know his name’s kinda cool and you add in the nickname “the Scourge of God” and it starts sounding really cool and he’s got this sword called the sword of Mars (supposedly) and that story from Priscus you related about him is just awesome isn’t it practically dreamy. But Honey they’ve like ALL got swords it don’t matter what you call it it’s what you do with it that counts, like how many people has he killed in single combat? Oh none……Heraclius emperor of Byzantium killed like loads, total f*cking badass, like seriusly but maybe he’s too much of a goodie goodie for you and as for strength well Theodoric the Ostrogoth like cut a guy in two at dinner before he could blink then joked that the poor bastard wouldn’t have had time to sh*t. In terms of badass nicknames there was this guy called Nicephorus Phocas who’s nickname was “pale death of the saracens” no idea what the pale part refers to but thats pretty damn cool, you want badass barbarians did Attilla make a drinking cup out of the skull of a Roman emperor he’d killed? Did Attilla even kill a Roman emperor? wow talk about overrated, he at least sacked Rome right?…………why is this guy famous again? ok so Attilla probably outmaneurverd and killed his brother Bleda to attain sole rulership but thats like ruthless backstabbing 101 a million monarchs did that. You want your ruthless intriguers, your machiavellian masterminds? you got your Wu Zetian empress of China your Tokugawa Ieyasu Shogun of Japan, Your Joseph Stalin your Basil I or every fourth Byzantine emperor and have you even met Augustus?! Play the field girl. And then there’s the Khan, face it Terry Attilla the (very) poor mans Genghis, Genghis rose from an outcast child eating roots in the wilderness to stay alive to found and rule an empire severel times larger than Attilla’s. He was more loved by his men and more widely feared by everybody else, and his empre survived his death. Attilla wasn’t just an ephemeral parasite he was also despite his fearsome reputation a mediocre general. dump his ass. Skank.
Now to my more serious objection namely the manipulative inconsistency you see while an analysis of the information provided by Terry and co on the huns may lead one upon reflection to disaprove of Attilla and his society to judge them a net detriment to civilisation Terry crucially does not do the job for you, this would be fine perhaps even commendable (depending on the documentary’s point) if he extended the same courtesy to the Romans. If you recall way back in episode one in regards to Caesar and the gaul’s, Caesar’s actions are not described with roguish admiration but with moral outrage and self-righteous indignation, the Roman desire to “rule the world” (if they had any such) is condemned in episode 3, their supposed leeching role in regards to the societies they conquered, thier avarice condemned. Caesar is judged, Rome is condemned even for that that she should not be while Attilla is forgiven even praised. By this point the series has well established itself as a work of revisionist moral instruction and its treatment of Attilla undermines Terry’s little witch-burning.
Terry then relates Attilla’s final campaigns first his invasian of Gaul in which he claims the battle that stopped Attilla’s invasian killed more people than any other battle in history, the battle of the Cautalonian fields would certainly have seen immense slaughter but here Terry is almost certainly taking ancient sources on the matter at face value. If one were to take all Ancient sources on face value I suspect it would have been some Chinese enagagement but even modern historians often ignore Chinese history when proclaiming this or that to the biggest city, the greatest empire, the largest battle up to that point in history but it’s just that a strong suspicion. Regardless one shouldn’t take the numbers provided in ancient sources at face value anyway and I strongly suspect considering it’s previusly superior resources and resource management that the Roman army had fought bigger and bloodier battles whose numbers were less inflated than this struggle couched in apocalyptic terms probably was.
Next he relates Attilla’s final campaign his invasian of Italy, well he doesn’t really relate the campaign just pope Leo the Great’s meeting with Attilla to convince him not to sack Rome, he in my view correctly surmises that the view put foreward by the Catholic Church that Attilla was threatened by saints Peter and Paul and the pagan fled from Italy of his own accord through fear of divine wrath is shall we say very, very, (very) suspect. He then blithely implies that it was probably because the Pope paid him off, while papal bribery may certainly have played a part Terry omits to mention three important details, one, that the Eastern Empire was taking advantage of Attilla’s (and his army’s) abscence to invade his territories, two, that at long last the Western Romans were approaching with an army of thier own and finally that Attilla’s army had come down with plague. All three factors may have convinced Attilla to withdraw his already booty laden army but would undermine Terry’s portrayel here that Attilla was strong and the empire weak (which it was just not near as much as portrayed).
Terry goes on to inflate the importance of Pope Leo’s propaganda coup to the Catholic Church and the Papacy in particular claiming Attilla created the Pope and “All he left behind was his last rival the pope, who would dominate Europe for the next millenium, Rome didn’t fall to the barbarian it fell to the church, Attilla’s only real achievement was inadvertently to establish the pope of Rome as the unquestioned leader of the Roman Catholic Church, his legacy was not the foundation of a magnificent barbarian kingdom but a Catholic one.” Leo and the papacy made great currency on his supposed saving of Rome from Attilla but this massively overstates the case, the papacy most certainly could not claim to have dominated Europe for the next thousand years, as discounting non-Christian Europe (be it Islamic, Polytheist etc) the pope’s were often deposed by or puppets of local Roman nobility and strong men much less Byzantine or Holy Roman emperors or other monarchs, there were often rival pope’s and the papacy very often failed to control Rome much less Europe, it was a powerful and very important institution but not that powerful, indeed before the schism with the East in the 100’s CE the papacy certainly couldn’t claim unquestioned dominance of the church even amongst fellow bishops as the patriarch of Constantinople could attest and Byzantine and Holy Roman emperors had their own claims to spiritual authority. Over the centuries following Leo the papacy would on the whole increase it’s importance at times dramatically but this was a long and complicated process that began before Leo and was not inevitable and anyone claiming that from Leo onward for the next Thousand years the papacy would dominate the Catholic Church and Europe doesn’t have any idea what thier talking about, at all.
As for the Church destroying Rome, if your going to parrot Gibbon Terry then please explain why the Eastern Empire survived or at least try to make a case, it’s possible it contributed but it doesn’t really hold water as some kind of primary cause.
And with that we are done with Attilla and the Huns and on to Gaiseric and the Vandals. Terry relates How the Vandals (though he omits that thier were two seperate Vandal polities at the time) fled across the Rhine as a migrating people fleeing the Huns and looking for somewhere to settle, the devastation that follows throughout France and then Spain in the wake of the wandering people’s (other groups such as the Alans were migrating through the region at the same time though Terry doesn’t mention this) is blamed on the Romans and others attacking them with Terry focusing on the sufferings of the vandals not the inhabitants of France and Spain, blaming them and the Romans for the violence against the poor vandals who were just looking for a place to settle, with thier political structure intact of course, and seemingly indignant and incredulous that the Romans wouldn’t leave them alone. Migrating people’s in the ancient world were dangerous, desperation to survive brings out the thief and murderer in people, food would have been scarce and they would have had little means of purchasing it and even if they had wished to the Vandal leaders would have found it extremely different to control thier people in these circumstances and stop looting, murderering and raping and these all happened. Despite Terry’s claims that the Vandals were a peaceful people they had raided the empire before and this was an invasian, that’s what settling in someone else’s territory through force is called Terry and that should prove sufficient explanation for why the Romans weren’t so keen on the Vandals.
We then move on to Gaiseric and the Vandals Arianisim (though thats not what they would have called it) which Terry claims was more reviled by the Catholics (to the extent we should remember to which our understanding of the term Catholic is applicable to the time period, much of present doctrine for the Catholic Church had not yet been established) than the beliefs they would entitle Pagan, giving as evidence it’s outlawing by Rome at the time as “paganisim” was also outlawed this isn’t a very good argument and broadly speaking was untrue there was a lot of hostility between Arians and Catholics but probably less than between Catholics and “pagans”, case in point contrary to Terry’s portrayel it is the pagan Attilla not the Arian Gaiseric who is painted as more of the sinister other, though both men are treated with hostility.
Terry then goes on to claim that the primary reason for Roman opposition to Arianisim was that as the emperor was associated with Jesus (Terry plays up the association considerably) the Arian doctrine that the son was not the equal of the father diminished the emperor and threatened the concept of Imperial infallibility in which the Romans believed. Considering the early Christian emperors Constantine I (the first “Christian” emperor) and his son Constantius had arian sympathies and were most definitly autocratic personalities it is difficult to justify this explanation but Terry’s case is further weakened by the fact that there was never a widely held belief in the empire that the emperors were infallible nor did they claim to be so, this is a basic error or a lie and suits Terry’s attempts now and later in this episode to liken the emperor to the pope and the papal doctrine of infallibility, the comparison is not even remotely apt and besides the papal doctrine itself would not exist for some centuries. The very few other comments on religion and state mentioned such as the political independence asserted from the emperor and empire by a king being Arian rather than Catholic essentially holds true.
What follows is a few minutes of largely ineffectual but not very informative stuff on Gaiseric and his people’s invasian ended by the downplaying of Vandal persecutions of catholics mocking them for complaning that Gaiseric banned thier hymns, one can’t help but think that the banning of key and inoffensive rituals for other faiths would get him up in arms, what follows is a description of the wealth and sophistication of late Roman North Africa and it’s largest city Carthage in particular and it’s strategic importance to Rome through taxation of it’s wealth and the supply of free grain to Italy and Rome in particular, here Heather’s influence shows yet again and he is one of the experts consulted in this section, the picture of ruins are pretty and the picture is essentially accurate (to the extent of my knowledge) and I’m grateful for a few minutes repreive from the stupid and asinine. Though Terry only mentions one of a number of Roman attempts to retake North Africa to emphasize another legacy of Attilla for thematic reasons it is only with the account of the Vandal sack of Rome that we again enter truly dodgy territory Terry strongly implies that the infamous Vandal sack of Rome despite going on for 14 days was practically bloodless and minimal and essentially insignificant in it’s levels of destruction, if you believe that of a three week sack of an ancient city well, I can’t think of anything clever to say so basically: you are a moron. It shoyld be noted that the peaceful civilised Vandals under Gaiseric’s penchant for large scale Meditteranean piracy and conquest of islands (such as Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica) is never so much as mentioned.
Finally we come to how civilsed the Vandals were mentioning thier poets and architects/engineers I don’t know enough to comment on poetry specifically but like the writers of most early barbarian kingdoms most would have been culturally Roman, outside the class of society deemed by both the Vandals themeselves and the Roman empires as Vandals and this is certainly the case with engineers and architects, not much calling for that proffession in the tribe’s of Germania, my only real problem with this is that cultural Greeks who were Roman citizens are usually not counted as Romans by Terry so why should cultural Romans residing in Vandal ruled North Africa? Otherwise this breif section is ok, the Vandals did not utterly destroy the wealth and culture of the society they conquered, well done. Finally it should also be mentioned that this like prior episodes takes favourable accounts or opinions of barbarian people’s or leaders as in previous episodes at face value while questioning more hostile accounts only, shades of Tacitus, the Germans and episode 2……….
Finally we get to the last roughly five minutes and wrapping up the series, in which Terry explains if the Roman empire fell and the barbarians were like super cool guys why is it that the Roman view has prevailed? Because Catholicism. Well thats simple, The Catholic Church was responsible for the preservation of most surviving Ancient literature and was an institution of the Roman empire, it’s language was Latin, the Vandals were Arians, the Huns non-christians as were the earlier barbarians. Of course there was bias in what the church chose to preserve and yet more in what they themeselves wrote but the bias was not absolute, Catholic scribe’s dutifully copied texts that contained anti-Christian material and plenty of material complimentary to non-Romans and Non-Greeks and it should be noted that often no-one was stopping the various groups Terry has mentioned from writing and preserving thier own material, it is natural for any society, political, social or ideological to focus on there own society put simply if the huns didn’t write anything or leave a sufficient cultural legacy then they shouldn’t go blaming the Catholic Church for not making sure they were remembered in appropriately loving detail.
Terry: “If I’ve learn’t one thing making these programs about barbarians it’s that nothing is ever as simple as it seems”
Thus Terry relates is how “we”, by which I assume he means Western Europeans (and to an extent ex-colonies of such), lost our history and forgot the story of our ancestors, while you would be hard pressed to find a European without “barbarian” blood in his veins considering Vandals and Goths, Huns, franks etc. merely composed a small fraction of the population of the regions thier kings came to politically control compared to the local Roman citizenry and basically everybody at some point is related to everybody else, especially in Europe that’s essentially meaningless, this surface elite it should be noted largely culturally assimilated into the local populations, French, Spanish and Italian are easily more influenced by Latin than the Germanic languages of thier conquerors, the literature, religion, architecture and legal systems of Western Europe are also easily more influenced by Rome than any of the barbarian groups mentioned except perhaps the Greeks who should never have really been in this doco series anyway (for reasons explained in the opening paragraphs of my third post on this subject), this is not to say that the history and culture of the Vandals, Huns, Goths, Celts etc. Aren’t important, they are but the implication here in calling this the real history is to claim that they were more important or at least more legitimate, the first implication is simply untrue the second insidious. There are many history’s and there’s nothing inherantly wrong with revisionisim, perhaps this history corrected some of the myths you held to about Antiquity but if so it probably replaced them with even more, jumping on bandwagons and proclaiming old perspectives as revolutionary and new isn’t very clever, demonising one side and idolising another isn’t very clever, lying to your audience isn’t very………respectable, this series isn’t very clever and those proffesional scholars who associated themeselves with it if they had any idea what was going on should be ashamed.
Brian: Look, you’ve got it all wrong! You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re all individuals!- Monty Python’s life of Brian.
In conclusion regardless of what you think of his politics Terry Jones demonstrates amply in this politically correct pompous propaganda piece that unlike everyone’s favorite non-messiah he doesn’t want you to think for yourself, He doesn’t wish to try to persuade you fairly, adult to adult, mind to mind and respect you and the evidence, Terry wants you to follow him, because he knows better and he doesn’t have the time to let the truth get in the way of convincing you so, instead he relies on spin and outright lies, after all he has all that smug lazy sarcasm to fit in…..that and the cross-dressing…….your not the messiah Terry your just a Very naughty boy.
All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat, All spin and no facts make Terry a toad-faced twat……………….
Hello and Welcome back to the third part of what was intended to be a trilogy on Terry Jones Barbarians, This however is not the final part as it only covers episode 3: “The brainy barbarians”. This episode is bad, really really bad, so bad that it drove me up the wall….as evidenced by the preceding paragraph (added for dramatic effect obviously but trust me, I’ve wanted to just stop multiple times while covering this episode). The sheer horribleness of this episode is partly why my rant on it is so long, other things that have contributed to this have been the episode’s structure, it’s very premise and the fact that I am more familiar with its subject matter than with those of the prior two episodes, please continue if you wish to read my poorly edited rambling thoughts on what is quite possibly my most hated episode of my most hated documentary, that’s quite an accomplishment, that said it might just be quicker to watch the damned thing yourself (though on youtube the audio does get out of sync again, though not as badly as in episode 1) and that too is quite an accomplishment, perhaps in the same light.
Episode 3- The brainy barbarians: this episode is divided roughly as follows the first section deals with the Greeks then we move on to the Parthians and Persians before returning to the Greeks briefly for the conclusion. We begin with the mother of all straw men, leaving aside whether the Romans considered the Greeks barbarians at all- it’s a complicated issue, in some ways the Greeks represent their own category separate from Roman and barbarian just as I think the Romans in many ways come to represent their own category separate from Greek and barbarian alike to the Greeks, Terry at least acknowledges that the term Barbarian is Greek in origin and that the Romans by and large didn’t consider the Greeks uncivilized as such. No this mother of all straw men consists in manufacturing the profound revelation that “for centuries we’ve been told that the Romans were the inventive geniuses of the Ancient world….this (referring to the Antikythea mechanism) confirmed that it wasn’t the Romans who were the brains of the ancient world but the barbarians” By which we will find out soon he means in particular the Greeks (responsible for said mechanism).
less than a minute after this straw elephant we are introduced to an outright fallacy whose timing within the series could not be less appropriate, “our whole picture of the time (referring to the ancient world) comes from Rome”- this just as your about to start looking at the Greeks, Rome’s twin pillar of the Classics which have dominated studies of Antiquity for centuries, The Greeks unquestionably left far more literary sources than any of the other so-called “barbarians” Terry covers in this series, indeed we are more reliant on literary sources in Greek (Thucydides, Herodotus, Xenophon, Polybius, Plutarch, Arrian, Plato, Aristotle etc) for our understanding of the Ancient world than those in Latin. Manifestly untrue does not begin to describe that statement from a Greek perspective…….Greek was the lingua franca, Hellenistic culture the dominant culture of the Eastern Mediterranean and highly influential in the Western Med, particularly in you know….ITALY!!!! and a little place called ROME!!! GAHHHRRR!!!!
But now to return to the straw elephant in the room: what I want to know Terry is what school you attended exactly? It must have been the only school in Britain at the time not going on about
Ancient Greece as the birthplace of Western Civilization, history, democracy, science and philosophy at many times in Western history particularly among the intelligentsia Greece has been placed on a pedestal as the Greatest ancient civilization, for the majority of Western history since the renaissance the argument for “greatest” as it were was one almost exclusively between Greece and Rome the two linked closely by a limited rivalry, the cult of Greece in scholarship and popular understanding is near as great or even greater than Rome’s and not sullied in recent years by near the same association with Imperialism as Rome (an association which in the past often benefited Rome). What exactly is Terry playing at “Hey guys turns out there were these guys called the Greeks and they were a really big deal” Even most pro-Romans and many many Romans themselves considered the Greeks were the great theoretical scientists, the intellectuals and the most “cultured”….whatever that means. It is extraordinarily dishonest to portray a centuries old traditional view of the Greeks, held by the Romans themselves by and large as some kind of great anti-establishment revisionist revelation. Simply put you’d be hard to state a more conservative position, in my view the cultural worship of the Greeks could actually do with a little revising but on this matter Terry is more traditional than your great grandmother, this is a total red herring.
Some time is spent in describing the Roman siege of Syracuse as is often and understandably the case Archimedes role in the city’s defense is highlighted and in all likelihood exaggerated, This goes back to an extent to the ancient sources (in my view) likely because it makes the story more interesting (certainly more unique) and perhaps by way of excusing initial Roman difficulties in taking the city, the first reason plays in to modern attempts to hype it up as well (that said Mythbusters has not yet convinced me that Archimedes death ray couldn’t have worked….). That said it’s not like there’s much reason to wonder that the Romans had considerable difficulty taking the place, it was a vast, heavily fortified, wealthy city with a large Garrison- that’s usually enough of an explanation (that and the Romans had to contend with Carthaginian forces helping the defenders from outside the city) , prior to the Romans the Athenians had famously failed to take the city and the Carthaginians advance across the territories of Magna Graecia had been repeatedly halted by it’s walls….often because their army got sick (I think from nearby marshes…) but I digress. The Romans are curtly judged with sarcasm (Terry like myself often utilizes this highest form of wit) for killing Archimedes going on soon afterwards to say that “In fact the murder of Archimedes could stand as an epitaph for the Roman destruction of the barbarian world of learning and ideas, except that it was only the beginning.” DUN DUN DUN!!!
In all seriousness I remember many years ago when I read the Horrible histories books (I recall thinking that the Romans got a raw deal there too, seriously “The Awesome Egyptians”, “The Groovy Greeks” and “the Rotten Romans”, I think the series was primarily written by another Terry too (Terry Deary) so maybe Terry’s just hate Romans…..Also half the Rome stuff was on Roman Britain, nobody cares poms! still it was easily fairer than this piece of cr*p) that the Groovy Greeks books epilogue ended with the Roman sack of Syracuse and the death of Archimedes itself so this isn’t a new trope, even for Terry’s. Still there are to my mind limits as to how indignant you can be about Archimedes murder, firstly Terry (both Terry’s actually) are good enough to point out that the murder was against the Roman commander’s order and punished, secondly this was during a sack of a city after a long siege. In the brutal world of the time it was normal for the Romans, the Greeks and others to do far worse when sacking cities, particularly ones that had given them this much trouble. Finally Archimedes was not some innocent old tinkerer as the story of his death suggests, Terry is at pains to point out his contributions to the cities defense, Archimedes may not have fought with a sword or shield but he was one of his cities leaders and even by conservative estimates his machines killed many Romans and were designed by him to do so. He was defending his home and there was no point to killing him anyway but if we look at Archimedes as an artillery and/or engineering officer rather than as a harmless eccentric inventor it does start to make more sense. All in all though I’ve seen much worse than this section on Syracuse.
We now move briefly to cover Terry Jones claim mentioned between the transition between Greece and Persia/Parthia as a topic for the second time this episode (less than 20 minutes in) that the Romans were obsessed seemingly from early days (it’s not specific when he thinks they embraced this goal but it’s certainly implied by the end of the second Punic war and definitely by the first
century) with world domination, The Mongols and at least some Caliphates as well as possibly Alexander embraced notionally at least such a goal, the Roman Republic never did nor for practical
purposes did the empire (I say for practical purposes because it’s a really long period of time and some crazy emperor or other that didn’t last might have embraced the notion and some aggressive emperors we don’t know enough about might have had some thoughts on the matter, but we don’t know). Roman expansion during the Imperial period was directed but for the most part with limited goals based on defense (Britain being an exception) of Rome’s already largely established empire. Roman expansion during the Republican period was seldom so directed and largely driven by threats real or perceived by foreign powers to them or their interests as Rome won wars, the Roman world expanded creating fresh opportunities for conflict and there was of course the political/social need of Roman politicians for military glory and the wealth and clients brought by conquest.
However a Cassus Beli however dodgy was always required for a war because Romans possessed the concept of the Just war, Roman wars had to be Just (obviously as implied in the preceding sentence they often weren’t) and Roman politicians and writers weren’t above criticizing their own state on this ground (the Third Punic war comes to mind), states that believe in their divine right to rule the world seldom bother with all that, this state/people/city does not acknowledge me as its overlord or I’m bored or “because I’m a god b*tch! RAWR!!!!!” usually does nicely without the need to dress it up with claims of self-defense or a violated treaty. Roman expansion during the Republican period was ugly, haphazard, and seldom virtuous but it was not the grand plan of a bond villain, here Jones is simply being infantile.
Now for Parthia/Persia and we’re off to a bad start, first by implying political continuity between the Parthians and the Achaemenid Persian Empire (the first and most famous empire to be labelled Persian, though not the first Iranian empire) but of course it is reasonable to assume some cultural continuity of which there is some evidence but not as much as you would think, the Parthians being in origins a steppe tribe called the Parni the first Seleucid satrapy (Achaemenid administrative unit, basically a province, the name and the system were by and large retained by the Seleucids who were the Hellenistic successor kingdom that occupied most of the old Persian empire’s Asian territories at the time) they conquered was Parthia, thus they were not actually from there, as foreigners and nomads who entered the Persian empire’s former territories after it’s fall, their can be no argument of political continuity between the two and they likely had less of a cultural link than the Sassanian Persian dynasty that replaced them, with it’s origins in roughly the same region as the first empire.
Almost in the same breath when this continuity is first implied Terry claims that the Parthian’s territories reached into Eastern Turkey and demonstrates this with a map which clearly indicates that the Parthian’s also controlled upper Syria including Antioch (in modern Turkey today but for historical purposes part of the Syrian region). Parthia never securely controlled these territories, the map portrays a time when Parthia attempted and failed to wrest such territories from a distracted Rome, it was during the triumviral period when Mark Antony ruled the East, his general Ventidius Bassus (the only person I can think of who marched in a Roman triumph as a foreign prisoner and a triumphant Roman general) defeated the Parthians and those Romans who had allied with them (long story, suffice to say this was not just a forgotten foreign war but a forgotten episode of the civil wars) in three battles and expelled them from North Syria and East turkey alike- the map depending on your definition of conquest may not technically be inaccurate (though I don’t think it would count by most) it is however likely to be highly misleading.
He then goes on to talk about Persia for a bit, so vaguely that I’d be impressed if you learnt anything before going on to describe the first Parthian-Roman conflict, the famous/infamous battle of
Carrhae where in reference to the first contact between Rome and the Parthian Cataphracts “the desert sun reflected off of the Armour of thousands of mounted warriors, each mounted on an armored horse…a sight that wouldn’t be seen in Western Europe for another 1500 years, knights in shining armor”………..before I go on I just want to mention that the battle of Carrhae took place in the first century BC and that Terry Jones considers himself a medievalist, indeed he’s done a series of documentaries on the Western European medieval world and is in many ways quite fond of it, quite biased in its favor as we’ve seen hints of before with his veneration of early medieval Celtic lore and seeming total indifference to Rome’s fall and as we will see again more explicitly as he talks more about the Parthian empire, one of the episodes of his series “Medieval lives” was specifically on knights………..
………*takes a gulp of air* ALL THIS MAKES IT COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY INEXCUSABLE THAT HE IS CLAIMING THERE WERE NO KNIGHTS IN WESTERN EUROPE BEFORE WELL INTO THE F*CKING 1300’s!!!!!!!!!!! In case my excessive use of capitalization is unclear, there were knights then! their were knights in the 1000’s by most definitions (knighthood being an evolving social class as well as a type of soldier) certainly if the definition of knight is armored melee orientated horseman with armored horse, they had been around for centuries by the 1300’s, maybe I’m being harsh, maybe Terry knows his medieval history very well and he just failed basic math in school or maybe he’s just exaggerating for dramatic effect (or in layman’s terms: lying).
Anyway back to Carrhae, just a few things the Romans actually repulsed the initial charge of the Cataphracts, maybe they fled intentionally, either way they did not shatter the Romans lines. Secondly I suspect considering future Roman success in battle against Parthia and the fact that the Romans didn’t discover adamantium armour between Carrhae and their next clash with Persia that the effectiveness of Parthian archery against Roman Armour and shields was somewhat overstated, but that’s just my suspicion finally Terry relates the less highly regarded account of Crassus death that claims the Parthians killed him by pouring molten gold down his throat (A literary trope for ironic justice for greedy villains) rather than the account more popular with scholars of Crassus being cut down in a parley gone wrong. However these are all minor issues and are in practically every doco that mentions Carrhae (and as a battle, like Teuotoberg Wald it’s a popular choice)
Now to continue with why the EU, I mean medieval Europe! I mean Parthia was better than Rome, because of the Parthian “knights” code of “chivalry” for evidence of which we talk to a leader of an organization of an Ancient Iranian martial art…….because you know that’s as reputable as it gets! At the conclusion of this interval Terry blanketly claims that “These were values that could be traced back to the culture of the Parthian knights” Maybe Terry, maybe, if I recall correctly (if) there is some evidence that the Parthian cataphractoi formed a social class with some similarities with Western European knights, they certainly seem to have had a feudal structure in Parthia, there certainly isn’t much evidence though, the truth of the matter is that we know very little about Parthia, certainly less than we know about the Achaemenid Persians and the Sassanian Persians who succeeded them.
And now for the outright equation of Parthia with Achaemenid Persia, we start our journey down fantasy lane with a visit to Persepolis- a site the Parthians neglected and only really received
attention again under the Sassanian regime. Terry claims that you can tell a lot about a state by the monuments they put up-in this context referring in particular to their capital’s. True enough I suppose, Terry goes on to claim that the overall impression you get from Roman monuments is “Fear us” showing at the time imagery of the Colosseum and in particular Trajan’s column with it’s engravings of surrendered or killed Dacians, of course this is nonsense these monuments weren’t built with barbarian’s in mind at all, much less their intimidation, they were built (funnily enough in Rome…) with Romans in mind, often to communicate to his fellow Romans (as in Trajan’ case) how awesome, he was and Rome was.
Of course Terry neglects to mention the Romans marked inclination for practical building’s such as Baths, Basilicas, Aqueducts and Forums (practical reasons certainly wasn’t the only reason they were built…but still…) and so by contrast Terry show’s us some Parthian monuments: ……………………………..Terry?…………..*crickets chirp*………Terry?………..*grass grows*………TERRY! some time today would be nice! oh what’s that? you don’t have any Parthian monuments to show us? What’s that Terry from like 10 minutes later? No Parthian buildings have survived! well I’m sure they were awesome and you have some ancient Parthian writers who can tell us all about them? ……………..*paint dries*………….
So your just going to keep harping on about the ruins of Persepolis……….ok then, oh and Terry those engraving’s in Persepolis of various people in procession to give tribute….yeah that art is likely meant to demonstrate to foreigners how mighty we are, nothing wrong with that but still. They were also conquered btw, subjugated, perhaps that was a good thing, the middle East (like everywhere) was no stranger to war, Persian domination brought peace and efficient administration to a vast area, for their time the Achaemineid Persians were enlightened in many ways but they did not establish an empire from India to Macedonia by asking nicely nor were all regions always happy to be part of the fold, after his invasion of Greece Xerxes had to deal with large revolts in Egypt and Babylonia, under Darius there was the Ionian revolt and there were multiple other large Egyptian revolts throughout the empire’s history, the Persians were pretty cultural tolerant but not universally so (no-one is and that can be a a good thing). Terry Jones claims that by contrast to Persia Rome was culturally intolerant because “For the Romans you either learned to look like, dress
like and be like them or you were a barbarian” There is truth in this (even if Roman culture is more adaptable than this implies) but if you weren’t interested in entering Roman politics no-one was forcing you, Rome did persecute some cultural groups, every once in a while some weird Eastern cults followers or/and priests were expelled from Rome, the druids were persecuted, as were at times the Christians, and as for the Jews….well they found it difficult to get on with anyone trying to rule over them….and most people who weren’t……(that said ironically considering present circumstances Iranian regimes seemed to have fared better in their relations with the Jews than others) by and large however you could worship, dress and speak how you liked and during the imperial period virtually anyone could become a roman citizen and in theory enter the senate- perhaps even become emperor. This was not the case in Persia.
On the Cyrus cylinder I will simply say this, I find it quite amusing that Terry is using a piece of ancient Persian propaganda to prove to us that what he’s been saying isn’t just ancient Persian propaganda……go figure….
As Terry Jones wraps up his section building up Parthia by praising their culture, thinkers and architectural legacy I’ll naturally wrap up my counter argument by tearing them down. Let’s start with architecture, it is here that Terry claims “The Parthians were also great builders” just before admitting “although no actual Parthian structures have survived intact” but then goes on to insist “we know that they developed styles and building techniques that influence Islamic architecture even today” and you know what that’s probably even true, Sassanian architecture had a massive influence on Islamic architecture (Just like Rome did) and Parthian architecture no doubt had some influence on Sassanian. How much? we don’t know we do however know that by comparison to the Achaemenids that preceded them and the Sassanids who came after the Parthian era was an architectural black hole and has no business comparing itself to those eras or Rome or the Caliphates on those grounds. He then claims that the Parthians used a quick-drying cement, quite unknown to the Romans. I have no idea whether it would be the same cement but the Romans had quick-drying cement.
Moving on to culture, to the writers and the thinkers Terry claims that Parthia produced some “that could knock the socks off the Romans” and goes on about the superior learning culture and education of the Parthians, without providing any details aside from the Roman record of the Parthian king Orodes watching the play Euripedes when Crassus’s head arrived to be used as a prop (he doesn’t mention the head as prop part just the Euripides….I wonder why…..seemed like the height of good taste to me but then what would I know I’m a Romanophile!) or any examples, he doesn’t even interview a martial arts society official! No I’m sorry he eventually names one poet: Hafez a twelfth century Islamic poet but you know close enough, I think the legendary poet Ferdowsi’s in here too (could be wrong, isn’t mentioned by name) but he lived and wrote well and truly into the Islamic era, his work being strongly influenced by Sassanid Persian culture. In fact I’m fairly certain not a single Parthian literary text, be it history, poetry, philosophical treatise etc has survived. In short this claim is frankly laughable.
We now move briefly by way of hamfisted Iranian 1979 Islamic revolution analogies to the oft-mentioned (in this blog post not in this episode) Sassanian Iran. First up you should know that the Sassanian Persian empire is sexy, it’s name is sexy, it’s history is sexy, it’s conflicts with Rome were EPIC……ally sexy, Parthia is a damn cool name too actually but aside from that their just not as cool. Right now for said hamfisted analogies, Terry says: “Rome’s defeat at the battle of Harran (Carrhae)……had started a historic struggle between Rome and Persia and constant war so destabilized Parthian civilisation that in 200 AD their rule crumbled beneath the hoofs of a new more brutal Persian dynasty the Sassanids.” and then a bit later “The Romans had provoked a reaction in Persia that produced a state even more centralized, better organized and less tolerant than the Romans themselves”.
Following this is a brief speel about the military triumphs of Sassanid Shahanshah (king of kings) Shapur I against Rome during which he gives purely an abridged version from Shapur’s own self-glorifying account, this is not to say it’s nonsense at all but that the Roman account often differed and historians (and myself) are inclined to believe Shapur some of the time and the Romans some of the time depending on the matter in question, if this kind of thing looks like it might interests you btw and you go to Macquarie Uni then I’d recommend taking a look at the course AHIS 242 or 342: Rome’s Persian wars which is I’m fairly sure the same course I did almost 2 years ago then called Rome’s Eastern Frontier.
Anyway Terry wraps up his the Sassanians are bad guys and the Romans fault with a speel about reduced cultural tolerance, increased centralization (Terry is that peculiar type of person whose views are quite socialist but loathes centralization that I suspect is typical of EU supporters, the kind of person who thinks the state should do everything for you provided it is as inefficient as possible, you know idiots) and decreased religious tolerance while the camera pans over iconic images of Islamic Iran like women in full burqas, subtle. Now there is some truth behind the claim that Rome was responsible for the fall of the Parthians and rise of the Sassanids, Rome had relatively soon before the Parthian dynasty’s fall fought and won significant conflicts with Parthia (though I think the very last major battle Parthia and Rome fought was either a draw or a Parthian victory) however contrary to what Terry Jones first quote implies Rome and Parthia during the period when they were neighbors (and obviously when they weren’t) were at peace far more often than not.
This regime change was not the result of near continuous external conflict for a century or more, constant internal strife would have definitely plaid a part though, Parthia had for well over a century before it’s fall been in a state of civil war or marked internal instability considerably more often than not, this was a state of affairs that Rome definitely encouraged with marked success by supporting one candidate or another for the throne (Augustus by inaugurating this policy (in my view it was a policy) in my view may have done more damage to Rome’s Eastern rival than any Roman general who faced them in battle….and all without any war…..*sigh* Augustus you brilliant, devious son of a b*tch!) but it’s origins were again internal, the inherent weaknesses of a feudal system and the degeneration of the dynasty along with the state’s halt in effective expansion after running into Rome must also again in my view have had a role to play.
Secondly there is far less evidence than is often supposed or asserted for Sassanian Iran being as different an animal from Parthia as is often claimed, the issue is contentious in scholarship as to what changed and when, as mentioned in parts I and II of this blogpost Peter Heather is a significant source for Terry Jones and there is a good chance he follows his view here just as he did with his account of Alaric, Heather supported the view that Sassanian Iran was a very different kettle of fish from the prior Parthian regime practically right from the outset, whereas I lean more to the school of thought that says otherwise (at least initially), Terry should also be castigated (as for so many things) for equating weak and frankly parasitic rule and lack of information for an enlightened secular and culturally liberal regime, a little secret here: feudalism sucks, things certainly got worse for certain religious minorities after the Sassanian’s started aggressively favoring Zoroastrianisim but once the state really did begin to centralize further life likely became better for the poorer segments of society as the state became more efficient and the power of local lords was curtailed, this is of course just my own fairly poorly informed supposition.
But this is all almost irrelevant because Terry is talking about the USA and the Iran of the ayatollah’s and the former’s considerable responsibility for the existence of the latter, it is also an attempt to paint the two as one and the same. The USA and UK do really have a lot to answer for when it comes to Iran, if Terry had just said what he actually wanted to say here I might have even agreed with him as it is he drags Ancient history through the mud to make a political point and neither his thoughts or his methods are nearly as original or clever as he seems to think they are.
Now finally to return to the Greeks, whom Terry claims by comparison to the Parthians/Persians “the Greeks were easier meat because they lived in fiercely independent city-states. The Romans
could pick them off one by one.” That was true for the most part before Alexander the Great Terry but by the time Rome is off conquering the Eastern Mediterranean it hadn’t been true for centuries, ya see since Pericles a little thing called the Hellenistic era had begun, Greek city states still existed but the majority of Greeks lived in Hellenized kingdoms of varying size, such as Ptolemaic Egypt, Macedonia and the vast Seleucid empire, along with some smaller kingdoms like Pergamum and Bithynia, and in the initial phases of Rome’s expansion into the Eastern med it was these large kingdoms with which Rome had to primarily contend.
Terry then goes on about Rhodes for a little while and how awesome it was etc, as I don’t know much about Rhodes and as he seldom goes into specifics (incredible I know, Jones has been so in to backing his sweeping statements up previously) I don’t have much to say, and I am immensely grateful for this roughly ten minutes respite, but then it’s back slowly to business when Jones starts discussing Rome again, first he seems to imply based on the writings of Philo of Byzantium and the previously mentioned Antikythera mechanism that Hellenistic Greece was on the verge of becoming steampunk (awesome but untrue) before Rome showed up and that the Romans weren’t interested in engineering……funny in my view they were the greatest engineers of the ancient world and anyone who claims they lacked interest in the subject would have to be talking out of their arse, how strange to finally disagree with you Mr. Jones! And we’d been getting on so well!
“And it wasn’t just Rhodes, The whole Greek world of learning sank into oblivion” Between this bold claim relating to the sack of Rhodes by the assassin of Julius Caesar Gaius Cassius Longinus in order to raise money for his civil war and the continuation of it’s theme and argument we have a several minute long discussion of the antikythea mechanisim (which apparently “proves” the Greeks were “light years ahead of the Romans” scientifically, just this one mechanism apparently, one used it’s believed primarily for horoscope’s, no other evidence whatsoever is required….apparently….) after being lulled into this state of (relative) security by these digressions we get down to business with our epilogue and it’s….it’s….it’s….shamelessly, brazenly, smugly awful, because of it’s structure and how almost uniformly horrendous it is I will give you most of it straight out, we begin with:
“it wasn’t the Romans who were the clever ones in the ancient world, it was the barbarians, all the Romans could do was steal their gadgets and and ship them back to Rome to admire as novelties
without ever really understanding them. Astronomy, mathematics, scientific speculation these are all the province of the barbarian worlds of the Persians, the Indians, the Greeks…..The Antikythera mechanisim proves that the ancient Greeks were intellectually light years ahead of the Romans, one of their astronomers even came up with the proposition that the Earth might revolve around the sun rather than the other way around but nobody could get their heads around that one. I suppose they might have done if the Greek centers of learning had kept going in places like this (he’s in Rhodes at the time he says that) but they didn’t. What happened? Rome happened. Could you name one famous Roman mathematician? No? well that’s because there weren’t any, the Romans didn’t want new inventions and discoveries, new ideas were a threat to the system….in their paranoid grab for world domination Rome crushed and destroyed other cultures and in destroying them it destroyed knowledge.”
………….but………..but…………but……….”But there’s a happy ending because Rome failed to crush all the barbarians and knowledge survived in the land that Rome could never obliterate: Persia. If Rome had succeeded the whole world of ancient scientific knowledge might have been stamped out forever but scholars in Persia would translate the works of the Greeks and the Babylonians and keep it safe. Hundreds of years later their knowledge would re-emerge in the west carried by the successors to the great Persian civilization: the Arabs”
………………….CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM!……….GAHHHRRRRR!!!!!! You know this level of smug dishonest shameless bullshit should not go unpunished, he must pay! troll and spam his email and other digital outlets, let him know your outrage! and illegally download (or otherwise pirate) all python material! He must not get another cent! He owes us for what he’s put us and our beloved field through! As for the other Pythons I’m sorry but you owe us for helping make this man famous rather than you know killing him and using his body as a high end prop, you’ve been rewarded for your comedy now it’s time you were punished for your dereliction of civic duty………….this is despicable…….I’m calm, I’m calm…..In all seriousness please don’t pirate things, except if you absolutely must have this series.
Now let’s go through this epilogue and I’ll try and make it quick (infamous last words….or in my case infamous many words), Firstly to finish off with the Antikythera mechanisim, the wreck it was on was dated to a time (an early time but still) when Rome controlled most or all of the eastern Med, at least very loosely through client kingdoms. I’ve covered the world domination thing earlier and as for Roman mathematicians well no if you mean the theoretical sort that wrote in Latin but then I’m an undergrad with a focus on political history, plenty of engineers though those aqueducts, bridges, bath houses and colossally big dome’s don’t design themselves but hey I’m sure you can name loads of Parthian mathematicians? or scientists? Geographers? poets? historians? I’ll accept agricultural treatise writers……..or florists? Thought not Terry, better luck next time. Now if we include those writing in Greek who were Roman citizens or others who were otherwise Roman subjects the list of then I should be able to come up with a few after a quick wiki: Ptolemy (Roman citizen), Anthemius of Tralles (Roman citizen), Isidore of Miletus (Roman citizen), Diophantus (Roman citizen) and Heron of Alexandria (not sure of citizenship) speaking of Heron he studied at Alexandria, just like many others under Rome did (scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, scholars, literati) and if anyone was going to bring about your steam punk Classical world Terry it was this man’s astonishing discoveries and inventions combined with the industry and development Rome had brought to the Classical world.
Which brings us to the big one: Rome killing Greek culture and suppressing learning. Alexandria continued as a major scholarly center along with many other’s like Athens (A city whose importance had declined well before its absorption by Rome) and newer centers of culture and knowledge like Rome itself and Constantinople, Rome brought literature- it’s own and Greek, scientific and otherwise to new areas of the world. It is in large part due to Rome that Western Europe gives a damn about Greece in the first place.
Jones provides no evidence for the assertion that Rome felt “new ideas were a threat to the system” frankly that sounds like a paranoid delusion, how was new astronomical information a threat to the system? how was advanced mathematics? how the bloody hell were clocks a threat to the system? what system!? arguments have been made that steam power was a threat to the system because of slavery (linking steam power perhaps a bit too closely to industrialization) but the Greeks were more than a little bit fond of that institution themselves, besides if the actual industrial revolution taught us anything it’s that there’s plenty of use for the poor, vulnerable and expendable and what master wouldn’t want to get more out of his slaves, besides at the empire’s height slaves definitely did not compose the entirety of the shall we say “working class”- though that’s a difficult term to apply to a per-industrial society.
As for the suppression of culture and literature, well there’s always some but if Roman censorship and curtailing of freedom of speech was as harsh as Terry suggests
than there’s no way works and information critical of emperors deemed legitimate and praise of Republican martyrs would ever have been permitted, and in the literature it’s freaking everywhere! Augustus for instance sometimes honored and always tolerated the historian Asinius Pollio who was highly critical of him, in general you could say or write things about Roman government or emperors that would simply not be tolerated in Ancient Egypt or the Hellenistic monarchies or Parthia and I shouldn’t have to remind you about Athens and Socrates. Much of our criticisms of Rome come from her own writers, ironically giving Rome in the eyes of many a reputation for tyranny and censorship that she might not have had if her culture and government were more repressive.
Finally once more to the Parthians, Persians and Arabs (oh my!), after long neglect it has become politically correct to emphasize the role of the Arabs in bringing about the renaissance and I feel it’s gotten somewhat out of hand, don’t get me wrong I love me some gorgeous Andalusian architecture but it’s gotten to the point where credit is being taken away from other cultures who contributed to the revival of Classical learning in Western Europe and things are attributed to the Arabs as if they likely wouldn’t have happened anyway.
As some of you may know the Eastern half (roughly) of the Roman empire endured after the fall of the Western half for roughly a thousand years, Greek quickly became the official language of and was always the dominant tongue of this half, thus it is in Byzantium (a modern name for this half of the empire for the rough thousand years between the west’s fall and it’s own….it’s complicated) which was Rome that Greek learning principally survived and later this state had a significant role in transferring this knowledge back West. It is worth emphasizing that Byzantium WAS Rome and it’s inhabitants proudly identified as such but also unmistakably Greek in it’s dominant culture and it was one of the most advanced states in Europe or the Middle East for most of its history. This is more than enough by itself to render the claim that learning was only preserved in Persia patently absurd.
But there’s more, Terry would have us believe that the Arabs acquired the classical tradition they eventually spread to Europe (by way of invasion btw) from Sassanian Persia (also by way of invasion), you know the Iranian dynasty he isn’t so fond of…funny how they stopped being a “monster”, intolerant and just like the Romans when Terry needs them to be enlightened preservers, there is a lot of truth in this, particularly in so far as things like administration, architecture and poetry go the Arabs were heavily influenced by the Sassanians but at the same time the Arabs conquered Roman Syria, Egypt and soon after North Africa and as such the influence of Byzantium was immense and it was from Byzantium not Persia that the Arabs absorbed the bulk of their Greek learning and they did so through conquering much of their territory, whose to say that Byzantium might not have done yet more of the work directly to return Greek learning to the West if they had not been so busy trying to avoid oblivion at the hands of the Arabs. Arab scholars came to add much but initially what they preserved was already being preserved and added too before they essentially nicked it (full props for further synthenisation of Graeco-Roman and Iranian culture though).
And that is that, if you actually read all that, thank you, well done and I hope you found it interesting and/or amusing and if it made your blood boil and neither my punctuation nor my Parthia bashing was the primary cause then good news you have a sense of honesty, a dislike for hypocrisy and a sense of integrity in scholarship…..that or your a definite Romanophile, but there practically the same as far as I’m concerned:).